NBA Power Rankings: Warriors bring circus to town, hold serve at No. 1
We’re back with another set of Power Rankings, the Warriors are still undefeated, and to start the week off we checked out Golden State’s traveling carnival, which left Brooklyn Sunday night with a convincing win over the Nets. For the sake of history-in-progress, some quick observations on literally everyone’s No.1 ranked team:
1. Can we please kill the “Steph is just a normal-looking guy who plays basketball” thing for good? He hit one 35-footer from behind a screen on which I probably had a better view of the rim from the stands. It’s insane how much space he still finds in transition after a year or so of extended dominance. Curry created 13 straight Warriors points and flipped a two-point deficit into a seven-point lead that all but sealed the game at the end of the third. These are not normal things for anyone else on this planet, although Curry did miss three (!) free throws and flung a bizarre half court inbounds pass directly to Brooklyn’s Shane Larkin. Shane Larkin, normal guy, can do everything Steph Curry can, you just have to squint hard enough.
2. Someone asked Curry, who scored 28, if for him, in his mind, there was such thing as a bad shot. He responded yes, because “there are circumstances like time and score,” which is a really nice way of saying “no.”
3. The Warriors really do not appear worried about this streak (now at 26 games dating to last season). During a very, very crowded postgame scrum, Curry kept getting asked about history, and reiterated how difficult those types of questions were to process in the moment. Discussing the streak, Draymond Green put the group’s resiliency above all else. And Luke Walton said the idea of pressure might actually be helping.
“I don’t think there is [any burden] with us … would we be winning all these games if we had a loss already? I don’t know,” Walton explained. “On a 14-day road trip out of our time zone, it [would be] natural to just not have it. Our guys don’t want this first loss … the bigger the stage gets, I’ll keep saying it, the better our guys play.”
4. Said stage has ballooned. Fans showed up to the Barclays Center 90 minutes early to watch the Warriors warm up. Golden State’s half of the floor was filled with cell-phone-wavers hoping to catch a glimpse of Curry’s pregame cookout. Through a highly-scientific eye test, I counted more Steph jerseys than Nets jerseys from my seat.
5. The machine has become self-aware. Draymond Green was asked about the circus-like nature surrounding games. “It’s not going away,” he said, “so it is what it is. We rock out how we rock out.”
Coincidentally enough, “we rock out how we rock out” is also the motto of Sports Illustrated’s weekly Power Rankings.
(All records and stats through Dec. 7)
“I’ve never been 22–0 before,” Stephen Curry admitted after Sunday’s game. Neither had the 72–10 Bulls, who were 20–2 at this stage of the 1995–96 season. Too soon? Maybe not for long.
These guys remain unbeaten at home and have only allowed more than 90 points once in the past 10 games. As Ben Golliver points out, Gregg Popovich is leaning heavily on his starting five early on, so as usual, major minutes for aging legs will eventually become a topic. For now, guys like Manu Ginobili look just fine.
The Heat beat the Thunder and Cavs (with LeBron resting) this week, but slide into the three-hole more based on Cleveland’s struggles. Still, the defense has been outstanding and Miami holds the league’s third best net rating. And rookie Justise Winslow, 19, has emerged as a valuable, versatile stopper.
Amidst a series of stumbles, the Cavs fall out of the top three for the first time this season, though it’s likely to be temporary. The overall effort has been inconsistent, and while they’re still the class of the East, their throne hasn’t looked quite-so-stable. A two-game week should afford some helpful rest.
Indiana took a couple of lumps this week but remains in good shape, with its faster, smaller lineups having proven effective. After scoring a career-high 48 points against the Jazz, Paul George will lead the troops with a chance to end the Warriors’ vaunted winning streak.
Just when they started to look comfortable, OKC dropped close ones to playoff-quality teams in Atlanta and Miami. They’re healthy and have yet to play their best ball, but I’m a little concerned about their bench. It probably wouldn’t hurt to see Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook’s minutes staggered a bit more.
Although the Bulls hold the East’s third-best record, it’s been difficult to feel too great about them: they’re top five in defensive efficiency but sit in the bottom five on offense. The longer Derrick Rose’s iffy shooting persists, the harder it is to see that mark changing much, but the win-loss results still deserve respect.
Kyle Lowry poured in a career-high 41 against the Warriors, and his team gets credit for pushing Golden State to the brink a second time. The Raptors have been extremely competitive through the first quarter of the season and should take advantage of juicy home tilts with the Lakers, Bucks and Sixers this week.
Paul Millsap’s quietly in midst of the best season of his career, posting career-high marks in points (18.2), rebounds (9.5), assists (3.5), steals (1.9) and blocks (1.2). He’s one of the league’s most uniquely-skilled players and has been Atlanta’s rock during an inconsistent campaign to date.
After winning five of seven, L.A. creeps back into the top 10, although Chris Paul and J.J. Redick are concurrently injured for the second time this season. The Clippers could be pressed to keep it together the rest of the month, with just two of the next 14 games on its home court.
The Celtics weathered the first leg of an extremely tough 10-game stretch, adding a road win over the Heat and becoming the first team in three weeks to hang 100 on the Spurs, despite a close loss. Note the strong play of Isaiah Thomas and Avery Bradley, and remember they’re still without Marcus Smart for a couple more weeks.
There was a lot to be excited about this week in Memphis, with Marc Gasol’s career-high 38 points against the Pelicans and Jeff Green’s buzzer-beating oop to take down the Suns. Also encouraging: the Grizzlies have recovered from their concerning start and are allowing the league’s fewest points in the paint.
Nice to see you, Wesley Matthews. His off-season Achilles surgery brought with it some major shooting woes, but a 36-point breakout with 10 threes against the Wizards has to have everyone feeling good. The Mavs have navigated the earlygoing just fine, and are still nowhere near in peak health.
The Pistons are back on another roll, and not surprisingly, Reggie Jackson’s strung together quality games. Eight of Detroit’s nine losses have come with him shooting under 45%, and because Andre Drummond is a walking double-double, it’s no surprise Jackson’s performance has often dictated results. The question is whether he can come through enough to steer this team all season.
Though a five-game win streak fell apart late against the Clippers, the Magic’s strides can’t be ignored. True to his reputation, Scott Skiles has instilled an identity and been a plus for Orlando’s young talent so far. Consider the fact that they were 7–13 at this stage last season, and then note that they’re currently 4–5 in games decided by five points or less.
Al Jefferson’s calf strain sidelines him a few weeks, and makes for the first big snag of Charlotte’s season. Even without him, the Hornets beat the Bulls for the second time this season, and a loss to the Warriors was excusable. The recently extended Steve Clifford continues to get results out of this roster.
It doesn’t sound like the Jazz will get Rudy Gobert back anytime soon, which bodes poorly for a team that had trouble stringing together wins even with him on the floor. Derrick Favors (a career-high 35 points) and Gordon Hayward (22) stepped up big-time in an overtime win against the Pacers, suggesting Utah might be up for the challenge.
The slowly rebounding Rockets aren’t beating anyone too impressive and James Harden is shouldering way too many minutes, but they’re chugging along in games they needed to win to stay afloat. If they can keep it up, they’ll be in decent shape, and their next six games come against sub-.500 teams.
Things could be way worse for the Blazers, who got a lift from Meyers Leonard returning to the rotation, albeit off the bench. His status should change quickly, with young Noah Vonleh managing just 3.4 points and 3.2 rebounds in nine starts.
The up-and-down Knicks look like the best team in the five boroughs after drubbing the Nets to back up Kristaps Porzingis’s first efforts at smack talk. Their case has been made even clearer with Arron Afflalo coming on, shooting 61.5% in the last four games to add stability to the backcourt.
Washington appears to have dodged a big one with John Wall’s knee injury reportedly manageable in midst of his best stretch of the season. But injuries continue to bog this team down, and with five of the next six games on the road, the Wizards can ill-afford a long absence from their superstar.
The Wolves gave away a 17-point lead, took two one-possession losses and thankfully got a bit of rest before they begin an extremely inviting two-week stretch of schedule. Also promising: Karl-Anthony Towns just turned in the strongest showing of his young career (27 points, 12 rebounds).
Losing eight of 10 has dropped Phoenix out of the pack, and a brutal week saw them drop three games by three points or less and another one by five in overtime to Detroit. They’ve been one of the league’s worst defensive teams during the slide, allowing 48.2% shooting and more than 108 points per possession.
Maybe beating Cleveland in overtime will spark something for these guys, who are out of excuses with Anthony Davis looking like himself and Tyreke Evans back in the lineup (with 28 assists in his first three games, too). I still think there’s a team in there, somewhere.
Things just aren’t getting better for these guys, DeMarcus Cousins is becoming self-effacing and the talent isn’t correlating to wins, to the surprise of few. Even their positive storylines come with related issues: Rajon Rondo’s had a nice resurgence on a cheap one-year deal, but now the Kings will likely have to pay up accordingly to keep him.
Jabari Parker had his best game of the season in a win over the Knicks, but now Giannis Antetokounmpo has cooled from his breakout start. Nothing’s been easy for the Bucks, who look lottery-bound in the tricky East.
The Nets are playing Joe Johnson, Brook Lopez and Thaddeus Young heavy minutes and don’t really have much of a choice if they want to compete. Brooklyn’s next five games come at home, which may only help them in theory given Barclays Center's attendance patterns.
Denver snapped an eight-game losing streak with wins over Toronto and Philly, but that did little to inspire new confidence. As Gary Harris deals with a concussion, their other main guards (Emmanuel Mudiay, Randy Foye, Jameer Nelson) have been anemic offensively, averaging less than 20 points combined the past five games.
Well, this might be rock bottom. The Lakers shoot at the league’s worst clip, have posted its worst net rating (-10.5) and lost to the Sixers. All these trials and tribulations, and Kobe’s barely been affected. And to top it off, Swaggy P got ejected.