- The Bulls went from unintentional comedy to full-on disaster last week. In happier news, a new squad makes its debut in the top 10 of this week's NBA Power Rankings.
Another week, another month, another set of NBA Power Rankings. As emotions flare around the league—the Banana Boat boys find themselves in respectively dire straits—and soap operas unfold, it’s been an unexpectedly juicy stretch. And given all the distractions, it’s been tough to look away.
Apologies in advance for the unintentional farm-themed rankings, yep, featuring the Mavericks, Bulls and Cavs. Let’s get into it, because after all, nobody is here for the intro anyway. Get ready for February.
(All stats and records through Jan. 29)
30. Brooklyn Nets (9–38)
Last Week: 30
Net Rating: -8.3
The Nets have allowed triple-digit points in all but three games this season and in 23 straight games. In that span, they’re 2–21. Maybe consistently playing at a higher pace than every team in the league—including the Warriors and Rockets—isn’t the solution…
29. Los Angeles Lakers (16–34)
Last Week: 29
Net Rating: -7.0
Although the struggling Lakers have lost a teeny bit of their long-term shine for the moment, note a pair of double-doubles from 19-year-old Ivica Zubac this week. Yep, it’s tough being patient.
28. Phoenix Suns (15–32)
Last Week: 24
Net Rating: -4.6
Eric Bledsoe, trendy trade-rumor subject, dropped a career-high 41 points in a loss to Denver. Phoenix lost twice to Denver this week to complete a four-game sweep of the season series. That says plenty about the state of the Suns.
27. Orlando Magic (19–30)
Last Week: 28
Net Rating: -5.9
A homecoming win for Bismack Biyombo in Toronto was also a nice showcase for Nikola Vucevic, who’s been almost-traded in the rumor mill for as long as I can remember. This has been his best month of the season (15.5 points, 52% shooting, 8.3 boards and three assists in 15 games).
26. Dallas Mavericks (17–30)
Last Week: 27
Net Rating: -2.9
Despite hovering around the bottom of the West, the Mavs have slowly trended up this season and have a couple of positives to carry forward. Start with a successful gamble on Harrison Barnes, figure in a healthy Wesley Matthews, and even if that’s where the major revelatory items end, that’s still not insignificant. Dallas began the season in limbo and has shown enough signs of life to keep us interested. They’re also 6–3 since moving Seth Curry (who dropped 24 with 10 rebounds and five assists against the Spurs) into the starting lineup.
The optimistic take: if you factor in a decent lottery pick plus the Mavs’ demonstrated ability to lure free agents, this may not require a full-on dismantling. Money will come off the books and let Dallas throw big numbers around. That, and there will be a major emphasis on striking big in the lottery with Dirk’s career winding down. The big issue is there’s not much of a core to work around beyond Barnes, so one or both of those methods will have to work out, or this could stay bad. The Mavs could be bad enough for a top-three pick or float accidentally upward, and given the long-term stakes I wouldn’t be shocked to see several veterans go elsewhere at the deadline while the team bottoms out and tries out D-Leaguers in March.
25. Milwaukee Bucks (21–26)
Last Week: 18
Net Rating: +0.5
Make that eight losses in nine games for the Bucks, presently the NBA’s premier intersection of “fun” and “bad.” Somebody check if basketball Vine still exists.
24. Philadelphia 76ers (17–29)
Last Week: 23
Net Rating: -5.5
The Sixers playoff fever dream is probably over. But the fact we can’t be sure is a small miracle in itself. Hurry back, Joel.
23. Sacramento Kings (19–28)
Last Week: 25
Net Rating: -3.8
Ever-streaky, the Kings pulled out three road wins this week and are apparently starting to mesh better. Boogie Cousins is averaging 6.2 assists over his last 15 games, to go with his typical 26 and 10. This type of adjustment can only be a good thing.
22. Miami Heat (18–30)
Last Week: 26
Net Rating: -2.4
It really, honestly looked like the Heat had bottomed out. Then they won seven straight games, beat the Warriors, beat the Rockets and…still own the second-worst record in the East. A packed February road slate looms.
21. Minnesota Timberwolves (18–29)
Last Week: 20
Net Rating: -0.7
Give me three good reasons why Zach LaVine is not going to be in the Dunk Contest. Come on, man!
20. Chicago Bulls (24–25)
Last Week: 16
Net Rating: -0.6
Oh, man... where to start? The slow downfall of this Bulls team hit its nadir last week in a manner more public than we’re used to in this league. It went beyond unintentional comedy and into full-on dysfunction as Chicago blew some winnable games, Dwyane Wade and Jimmy Butler called out teammates in the media, Rajon Rondo called out Wade and Butler over Instagram, and the whole “Three Alphas” thing was justified in their inability to co-exist. Observers speculated all summer that this experiment might not work, and now I think we can fairly state that it doesn’t. And it’s not even about the on-court fit.
Of course, everyone put a smile on for the public the next day, and remember, the Bulls are still in playoff position, however mercifully. But also remember that GM Gar Forman took no questions from the media, and that Fred Hoiberg’s tenuous grasp on the locker room (and his point guard rotation, for that matter) might be the first domino here. Forman is the one who should assume the blame, but the odds of him being the fall guy are less favorable than Hoiberg, whom the front office hand-picked, and who’s become ostensibly the main scapegoat, deservedly or not.
There are infinite questions you can ask about this team. As Chicago enters a two-week, six-game road trip out west that includes the Thunder, Rockets and Warriors, those doubts will likely grow as we go into the All-Star break. Spending a whole lot of time together on the road could be what the Bulls need, or it could amplify the internal fragmenting that’s dragged them down this month. This is not an organization with a history of major in-season shakeups, but if you had to hedge a bet on a different-looking team post All-Star break, you’d feel pretty damn good about it.
19. New York Knicks (21–28)
Last Week: 22
Net Rating: -2.9
Lost in all the Phil–Melo passive-aggressive hubbub: the Knicks are playing better basketball right now. That said, I watched a majority of their loss to the Hawks on Sunday, and nobody needs to sit through 4OT Knicks losses…especially the Knicks.
18. Detroit Pistons (21–26)
Last Week: 14
Net Rating: -1.9
Stan Van Gundy says he told Reggie Jackson they aren’t trading him for Ricky Rubio. The key aspect of that sentence is probably for Ricky Rubio.
17. New Orleans Pelicans (19–29)
Last Week: 21
Net Rating: -2.1
Tangent time: the Pelicans’ sleeved purple Mardi Gras jerseys are crucial. They’d be better without sleeves, but we’ll take what we can get.
16. Portland Trail Blazers (21–28)
Last Week: 19
Net Rating: -2.3
Here’s a list of players with 8,000 points and 2000 assists in their first five NBA seasons: Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Damian Lillard. Of course, the Blazers’ Twitter account wants you to know that.
15. Charlotte Hornets (23–25)
Last Week: 10
Net Rating: +1.6
The attrition police are coming down hard on the Hornets: four straight losses have dropped Charlotte into the East’s messy middle ground. (All-Star!) Kemba Walker can only do so much.
14. Denver Nuggets (21–25)
Last Week: 17
Net Rating: -1.5
Winners of seven in nine games, the Nuggets are achieving their destiny of stumbling upward into the No. 8 seed and giving us a weirdly entertaining but one-sided playoff series with the Warriors.
13. LA Clippers (30–18)
Last week: 13
Net Rating: +4.4
I’m not sure a Carmelo deal that sacrifices backcourt depth will make L.A. better, but it might help them re-sign Chris Paul and stay relevant next season. If I’m the Clippers I go for it, but realistically it may not change much. Then again, Super Teams.
12. Indiana Pacers (25–22)
Last Week: 15
Net Rating: -0.7
The Rockets were a nice win for the Pacers, who are getting it together. I'm leaving this here for the morning crowd.
11. Atlanta Hawks (28–20)
Last week: 7
Net Rating: -0.1
Your interesting Crossover deep dive of the week: Rob Mahoney on the evolution of Kent Bazemore.
10. Oklahoma City Thunder (28–20)
Last Week: 11
Net Rating: +1.0
Enes Kanter breaking his hand while punching a chair is exactly what the Thunder didn’t need. It could certainly bolster Russell Westbrook’s MVP campaign, however. Look for his numbers and workload to rise and OKC’s bench units to struggle to score.
9. Toronto Raptors (29–19)
Last Week: 8
Net Rating: +6.0
Despite the Raptors’ midseason blues, Kyle Lowry seeing himself on the Jumbotron was my favorite weird moment of the week:
8. Washington Wizards (27–20)
Last Week: 12
Net Rating: +1.9
The Wiz debut in the Top 10 on a 13–2 streak. Remember when we thought enmity between John Wall and Bradley Beal was the NBA’s most notable bad chemistry situation?
7. Utah Jazz (30–19)
Last Week: 4
Net Rating: +4.9
Utah’s season-best streak came to an abrupt halt with three losses in four games amid six games in nine nights. Regardless, to reiterate, the Jazz are legit.
6. Memphis Grizzlies (28–21)
Last Week: 9
Net Rating: +0.5
Marc Gasol’s January: 24 points, six rebounds, 4.4 assists, a block, a steal and 52.3% shooting. He dropped a career-high 42 points last week. I still feel like we don’t appreciate him as much as we should.
5. Houston Rockets (35–16)
Last Week: 3
Net Rating: +5.4
Six of their next seven games at home looks welcoming for the Rockets, who have been seriously taxed by January travel. James Harden’s scoring is up this month, but the peripherals have taken a small, indicative dip, too.
4. Cleveland Cavaliers (32–14)
Last Week: 5
Net Rating: +3.8
You might have heard about the annual discord seeping through the Cavalier ranks as LeBron complains, Cleveland loses games it shouldn’t, and pundits break down body language and read into every tweet. “It’s January…That’s my answer. It's January.” Cavs owner Dan Gilbert told ESPN this week. He’s right. It is January. And as we’ve learned over the past several seasons, this is oftentimes when playoff complacency can set in… and when cranky LBJ rears his head.
The Cavs have rich-team problems, which is to say, not major ones. This is both from a figurative standpoint (crying panic when sitting atop the conference) and a literal one (when LeBron says he wants a "f*ing playmaker," there’s not much financial flexibility to go and do that). Is he trying to tell Kyrie something? Does he really want to play with late-career Deron Williams? Did he forget about the significant sums Cleveland has committed to fellow Klutch Sports clients Tristan Thompson and J.R. Smith? Objectively, it’s annoying, and I’d probably be a little annoyed if I were a Cavs fan, front office employee or teammate.
The Cavs did just string together a pair of wins for the first time in three weeks. They’re going to win the East and probably going to the Finals, with or without a trade. Smith will eventually be back, and this team will have a chance to beat the Warriors barring injury. The thing about LeBron’s political posturing is he usually gets what he wants, and it usually makes his teams better in the end, and so we have no choice but to go along with it. The arduous “Upset LeBron” news cycle is typically worse than anything he actually does. We’ll all make it through this together. We always do.
3. Boston Celtics (29–18)
Last Week: 6
Net Rating: +2.9
What if the Celtics don’t need to make a major trade? They obviously can, but things are moving in the right direction
2. San Antonio Spurs (36–11)
Last week: 2
Net Rating: +8.9
San Antonio’s dropped back-to-back games for just the second time this season and the fourth time in two calendar years. With the top of the league as messy as it is, it’s not enough to budge them from their perch this week.
1. Golden State Warriors (41–7)
Last Week: 1
Net Rating: 12.6
If Steve Kerr wants to deploy his four stars together during the All-Star Game, he should have to go four-on-five, mostly because I’m afraid of Boogie or DeAndre Jordan sniffing a single hint of the recruiting aphrodisiac that is playing with the Warriors.