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NBA Power Rankings: Cavaliers Continue to Sink Without LeBron James

After a week of (multiple) 50-point performances, weird losses and a bewildering coach firing, this week's power rankings have a new feel. While the Raptors remain on a torrid pace, we have a new team at the bottom of the league.

We are around two weeks in to the NBA season and it's about damn time a front office acted way too quickly and unnecessarily fired its coach. We had to wait three extra games this year—the 0–3 Suns fired Earl Watson last season—before some team admitted to botching its entire summer and deciding it can’t possibly wait any longer to make a drastic change. But I guess the Suns might technically still have the crown since they got rid of their general manager about a week before the season started.

I digress.

The Crossover is back to make brash judgments about your favorite NBA teams based off a really small sample size in this week’s Power Rankings.

Plenty of fanbases should be unreasonably optimistic about their chances this year after these first few games, and some people should be unjustifiably demanding for coaches of GMs to get fired. Let’s see which end of the spectrum you end up on.


30. Cavaliers | Record Last Week: 0-3 | Overall Record: 0-6 | Previous Ranking: 26

Where do we begin with Cleveland?

For starters, the coach is already gone, so there’s one less person to blame as the root of the issues when the team looks back at this start to the year.

With Kevin Love potentially out for an extended period of time to rest his sore foot, it gets harder by the second to find a reason to watch this team. Love's ability to throw perfect outlet passes was essentially the only highlight you could bank on from the Cavaliers.

Cleveland fans should've already been prepared for this possibility though, right? Y’all remember the first time Bron left? It was really bad. Like three No. 1 picks in four years bad.

It’s heading back in that direction, unless a hologram of Red Auerbach is the next coach.

29. Suns | Record Last Week: 0-4 | Overall Record: 1-5 | Previous Ranking: 21

Phoenix took four beatdowns in one week. The Cavaliers are the only reason the Suns didn’t drop to last. Devin Booker's absence in OKC combined with the Thunder's desperate need for a win made Sunday feel like a setup for failure, so keeping things within 20 might be a small accomplishment. Finding a way to help Deandre Ayton consistently get to the free-throw line should be the main goal going forward. If he’s going to be the next Joel Embiid, the Suns will have to count on him to keep opposing frontcourts in foul trouble and earn easy points at the line.

28. Knicks | Record Last Week: 0-3 | Overall Record: 1-5 | Previous Ranking: 27

The Knicks battled the Bucks to start the week, but then proceeded to play six of the eight total quarters in their next two games. The third quarter against Miami on Wednesday and Kevin Durant’s 25-point fourth quarter in the Garden on Friday are the type of outpourings New York can’t allow. Wins are going to be at a minimum, so keeping games close like they did in Milwaukee will mean a lot for the Knicks' younger players and the state of the Knicks when Kristaps Porzingis returns.

27. Bulls | Record Last Week: 2-2 | Overall Record: 2-4 | Previous Ranking: 30

Outside of the game in Charlotte, it was a great week for Chicago. A home win over the Hornets after playing the Mavericks close was a great way to break into the win column. And bouncing back from the blowout loss in the second half of that home-and-home with the Hornets by topping the Hawks was big too. Zach LaVine is going to need to pick up the production even more with Kris Dunn out, but it feels like he won’t have an issue letting shots fly.

26. Hawks | Record Last Week: 1-1 | Overall Record: 2-3 | Previous Ranking: 25

Getting consecutive wins is a good sign for Atlanta. Beating the Cavaliers gets less and less impressive the longer you think about it, but winning against the Mavericks deserves some love. Trae Young is going to need to keep running the offense smoothly as he tries to establish his shot in the league. You can get past the rough shooting nights, particularly when he gets to the line like he did this week, but he also needs to make sure he’s helping all the others get going.

NADKARNI: Tyronn Lue is better off without the Cavaliers

25. Kings | Record Last Week: 2-1 | Overall Record: 3-3 | Previous Ranking: 29

Sacramento is riding a two-game winning streak and looking like a team that warrants some respect... at least at home. De’Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield might not be the starting backcourt of the NBA’s next super team, but they are off to good starts and look like a solid pairing. Fox running the show and Hield lighting it up from beyond the arc could could lead to the start of a formidable future for the Kings.

24. Magic | Record Last Week: 1-2 | Overall Record: 2-4 | Previous Ranking: 28

Going into Boston and getting a W is the only reason the Magic are up this high. They were in position to beat the Trail Blazers, but Damian Lillard proved to be way too much. Still, all the big men Orlando has invested in over the past few years appear to have chemistry with each other. But they also lost by 22 to the Bucks, so it still feels impossible to know what expectations should be going forward.

23. Wizards | Record Last Week: 1-3 | Overall Record: 1-5 | Previous Ranking: 23

The Wizards did a great job of making their week worse by the game. Defeating the Trail Blazers in overtime with Markieff Morris drilling everything he could from downtown was a nice way for this team to forget its 0-2 start. Then they gave up 51 to Steph, which happens to everyone. Losing in Sacramento is where the real issues start to emerge. Losing to the Clippers by 32 is where the line gets drawn. I need a reason to think you’re still going to the playoffs, Wizards, and it’s challenging to find one in the present.

22. Timberwolves | Record Last Week: 1-2 | Overall Record: 2-4 | Previous Ranking: 20

Karl-Anthony Towns needs to have a good game playing alongside Jimmy Butler at some point this season. He’s yet to eclipse 20 points when two take the court together, but put up 31 in the one game Jimmy missed. You have to think Buckets is out of Minnesota sooner or later, but since he's been around this season, the 2015 No. 1 pick has looked like a shell of himself.

21. Thunder | Record Last Week: 1-1 | Overall Record: 1-4 | Previous Ranking: 16

When the fifth game of the season is a must-win, there are real problems with a team. Oklahoma City threw away a home game against the Celtics on Thursday and made Sunday’s contest with the Suns way more crucial than an October game against the Phoenix should ever be. But to their credit, the Thunder showed up and took care of business, leading by as many as 26 in the 117-110 win.

Russell Westbrook looked angry against Phoenix, and unlike the contest against Boston, he appeared more relaxed when it was time for him to takeover the game. Getting to play off the ball more with Dennis Schroder around should lead to big things, but only once the offense adds a real rhythm to it.

Billy Donovan has relied on Russ and every other Thunder player who feels fine playing isolation ball with Westbrook doing all the heavy lifting. They need more, though. Nerlens Noel is looking like a great pickup and his 20 points and 15 boards against the Suns in place of Steven Adams in the starting lineup were game-changing. However, the Thunder need to know they can consistently count on somebody besides Russ and Paul George on any given night, and using Schroder as a third iso option and throwing the starting center as many lobs as he can get at the rim won’t be enough if they want to really contend for something this year.


20. Nets | Record Last Week: 1-2 | Overall Record: 2-4 | Previous Ranking: 24

The Nets’ two losses this week were both near wins. If Joe Harris connects on his corner three attempt Sunday against the Warriors, the Nets might have finished off an energetic comeback that had Barclays Center rocking.

Caris LeVert coming out the gates as the leading scoring option is a shock considering what he did on the scoring end last season and the expectation by many that D’Angelo Russell would likely shoulder more responsibility, but here we are. If his three-pointers start to fall, LeVert might show this is a duty he can handle in the long-term, and if he proves to be that foundational of a piece, Brooklyn’s future could be on a drastic upswing.

Jarrett Allen’s rim protection in Year Two is also a welcome sight that could be a building block for years to come in Brooklyn. He will need to be a better rebounder with his size, though.

At the end of the day, as you could see at the end of the Golden State game, Brooklyn’s pieces can only take them but so far. Playing harder than the competition through the end of each game will give them a shot on plenty nights, but losses still count the same no matter how they feel.

19. Mavericks | Record Last Week: 1-3 | Overall Record: 2-4 | Previous Ranking: 22

A losing record won’t normally bring a team up this much in a week, so consider this an anomaly, Mavericks fans. But when expectations are only so high and you stay in every game with two young guards running the show, I’ll start to buy the hype a little bit.

I’m not super high on Luka Doncic. I’m also not super low on him. I think he’s crafty and will have a chance to carve out his spot in the league, but I’m not sure exactly what that is just yet. He’s been respectable from deep shooting 35.1%, but his 43.4% overall field-goal percentage leaves something to be desired. As does his low assist total through the first six games. Yes, J.J. Barea and Dennis Smith Jr. are doing great work in that regard, but Doncic can’t lead the team in minutes and average less than four assists, even if the Mavericks aren’t using him as a true point guard.

But, as mentioned previously, Barea and Smith have the ball moving plenty in Dallas and the team is seventh in the league in assists per game to start the year. Even DeAndre Jordan was getting in on the action on Sunday, recording a career-high nine dimes in the loss to the Jazz.

Rick Carlisle can’t bank on Wesley Matthews to give him nearly 20 points a game for too much longer, so the more they can keep the ball flowing to get everyone involved and happy on the offensive end, the better chance they have to continue to grow throughout the year. There’s something to be said about playing the Raptors and Jazz close, but there is also something to be said about losing to the Hawks.

18. Rockets | Record Last Week: 0-2 | Overall Record: 1-4 | Previous Ranking: 12

It would be really easy and really lame of me to make a joke about Houston having a problem right now. Instead, I will simply make note of the fact that there are issues to address. Another week of blowout losses and Mike D’Antoni is going to need to do something major with his lineups. There’s only so long into the season until the Rockets are going to need to show if they are good or not, and considering how the last season ended, it needs to be sooner rather than later.

17. Hornets | Record Last Week: 1-3 | Overall Record: 3-4 | Previous Ranking: 14

The loss in Chicago was one Charlotte really needed to avoid. The Hornets got them back in the rematch, but having Philadelphia on the second night of a back-to-back on the road really put a damper on a week that already had a bad start. At least Kemba Walker is still doing everything he can to put up all the buckets. For that, we thank him.

16. Grizzlies | Record Last Week: 2-1 | Overall Record: 3-2 | Previous Ranking: 19

It’s not going to be Grit N’ Grind, but Memphis is making life hard on opponents with quick hands and lots of steals. They held all three of their opponents this past week under 100 points, but they also failed to reach the century mark in two of those games. Only scoring 92 on the Kings in particular should cause a hint of concern.

GOLLIVER: Rondo or no Rondo, the Lakers should start Lonzo Ball

15. Lakers | Record Last Week: 2-2 | Overall Record: 2-4 | Previous Ranking: 13

And y’all thought Kobe was going to have to come back to save this team.

The suspensions to Brandon Ingram and Rajon Rondo might have forced Luke Walton into discovering his best starting lineup. Getting Josh Hart more minutes is also going to be a key for this team to weather the early-season struggles that come with learning to play with LeBron James. But that’s just it. They have LeBron James. Like, just relax for a minute with all the hot takes and foolish tweets about what Kobe would have done and let this team figure out its identity.

14. Heat | Record Last Week: 2-0 | Overall Record: 3-2 | Previous Ranking: 17

Josh Richardson and Rodney McGruder have been the perfect wing compliments for Goran Dragic to start this season. If Hassan Whiteside continues to rebound and block shots like he has, Heat fans might actually be excited about him playing and he might not have as many ugly stretches where he becomes unplayable. With Justise Winslow just getting back to the lineup, it will be interesting to see how long Erik Spoelstra has eight guys averaging double figures.

13. Clippers | Record Last Week: 2-1 | Overall Record: 4-2 | Previous Ranking: 15

Running through the Rockets and Wizards should have the Clippers feeling good. Tobias Harris and Danilo Gallinari are having no trouble putting up points and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Patrick Beverley have the perimeter defense to cause fits for opposing guards.

12. Trail Blazers | Record Last Week: 1-2 | Overall Record: 3-2 | Previous Ranking: 8

I was waiting for that moment when Dame starts tapping his left wrist to remind everybody what time it is. It never came inn Monday’s overtime contest with the Wizards. His game-winning attempt got blocked by Otto Porter. It seemed like we were on the verge of that precious moment against the Heat on Saturday in Miami, but the last two minutes belonged to the Heat and Dame Time never came. I just want to see Dame end someone in the fourth quarter of a close game. Is that too much to ask?

11. Pistons | Record Last Week: 2-1 | Overall Record: 4-1 | Previous Ranking: 18

Blake Griffin is good at basketball for everyone who forgot. The 50 points he gave Philadelphia to start last week were the perfect cherry on top to Detroit’s great start to the season. Andre Drummond is still a rebounding machine and the two of them together give the Pistons a shot against just about anyone. They can control the paint and Blake can almost always create some sort of mismatch with his defender either at the top of the key, on the wing or on the block.

Dwane Casey, similar to Griffin, is here to remind us all he is a good basketball coach. It doesn’t feel like forgot, but Toronto letting him go made it easy to not think about how well Casey was doing.

The 20-point loss to Boston was a reminder that there’s still tons of room for improvement even with the great start, but on Tuesday they can make up for it. If Reggie Jackson stays healthy, the Pistons will be in the playoffs. If Blake plays like the All-NBA caliber player he was back in Los Angeles, they could be competing for a top-four seed.


10. Spurs | Record Last Week: 2-1 | Overall Record: 3-2 | Previous Ranking: 11

Two wins in a week is something to be happy about, even if they were against the same team. Holding on to win the overtime thriller in Los Angeles on Monday over the Lakers showed just how tough this team is to finish off now that it has two All-Stars again. Losing to the Pacers by 20 shows how low the floor could be in San Antonio, however, when DeMar DeRozan is left to do a large chunk of the distributing because of injuries at the point guard spot. Seeing DeRozan excel at that role at the level he has so far (26 assists in the last three games) is a welcome surprise.

9. Pacers | Record Last Week: 2-1 | Overall Record: 4-2 | Previous Ranking: 10

Why is Victor Oladipo so bad at free throws this season? I doubt this holds, but it’s something to think about after Russell Westbrook saw a 10-point dip in his foul-shot percentage last season.

Outside of that statistical blip, it’s been a nice start for the Pacers. The 20-point win over San Antonio was the highlight of the week in terms of actual play, but being the last team to defeat the Cavaliers before Tyronn Lue's firing has to have some sort of rewarding feeling after the first-round loss to the Cavaliers last season. 

8. Nuggets | Record Last Week: 1-1 | Overall Record: 4-1 | Previous Ranking: 9

If the Nuggets had held on against the Lakers, I might have been inclined to put them in the top five. But they didn’t, and now the image of Paul Millsap getting rim-stuffed on that dunk attempt at the end of the first half is stuck in my head. Jokic will probably put up 23-12-11 in two nights and the Internet will go nuts and then I’ll think about raising them higher for next week. Or they’ll lose to New Orleans and Utah to start and end next week, and their likely wins over Cleveland and Chicago won’t mean anything to me.

7. 76ers | Record Last Week: 1-2 | Overall Record: 3-3 | Previous Ranking: 6

It was an interesting week for the 76ers. Losing back-to-back to the Pistons and Bucks was not ideal, but getting the win over the Hornets to close the week was what a good team does to stay on track after a bump in the road. Joel Embiid was 100% correct when he said he’s “so much better” than last year and that is what keeps Philly in the top 10. Ben Simmons obviously provides an immeasurable amount of help, and the 20 points a night J.J. Redick is producing right now are making Brett Brown’s bench units more lethal than initially expected, but for right now, it all comes down to Embiid being so much better.

6. Jazz | Record Last Week: 3-1 | Overall Record: 4-2 | Previous Ranking: 3

The loss to the Grizzlies was a harsh wake-up call for Donovan Mitchell and the Jazz offense, and they responded well. Utah is currently 3-0 on a road trip that started with Mitchell’s 38 in Houston. The Jazz’s undefeated record on the road is probably the main thing to keep in mind with this team as the season goes on. They already have a great home court, but the better their game travels on the road, the better shot they have at coming for the Warriors.

FISCHER: 'What if it does work?' Nick Nurse could key Toronto's reset

5. Pelicans | Record Last Week: 2-1 | Overall Record: 4-1 | Previous Ranking: 5

Anthony Davis is continuing to make you all question exactly when he will officially become the best basketball player on the planet and Nikola Mirotic is continuing to make you all question when exactly he will officially become the best shooter on the planet. OK, maybe only one of those things is real. But Mirotic shooting 45.5% from deep to start the year is huge. There will probably be a drop off like he had last season, but for now New Orleans should keep feeding the hot hand.

4. Celtics | Record Last Week: 2-1 | Overall Record: 4-2 | Previous Ranking: 4

Winning is all that matters, and Boston generally finds a way to do that no matter how ugly it might get in the process.

Thursday’s win in Oklahoma City had every reason to be a loss going into halftime, but Brad Stevens had everything turned around during the break, and the Celtics came away with the six-point victory.

The offense is still looking a bit shaky. It’s the second-lowest scoring group in the NBA and they are only 21st in the league in assists. You’re justified in holding out faith it will pick up and take off, but you’re also correct in thinking maybe Stevens’s system just doesn’t set this team up to score but so many points night to night.

Kyrie Irving averaging 14 points per game feels like the Twilight Zone. Jayson Tatum is great, but giving him the same amount of touches seems like a mistake when we know what Irving can do as a scorer with more looks. If the group can’t click with the ball going to everybody, Stevens will need to decide on one of his two Kobe proteges to take the lead. Tatum might be up next, but that can’t be the reason you’re not maximizing Kyrie’s MVP potential right now. Maybe a few guys have to get traded to create a clear hierarchy within the offense.

No matter what happens though, they’ll probably just keep winning games even when you think they should lose, and in the end, you don’t have to outscore the whole league, just the team you’re playing.

3. Bucks | Record Last Week: 4-0 | Overall Record: 6-0 | Previous Ranking: 7

Khris Middleton is putting together an early campaign to make the All-Star Game this year. A lot of attention is going to go toward Giannis Antetokounmpo, and deservedly so, but Middleton’s emergence as a legit second star is what makes this team so scary. There’s going to be a stretch when somebody who isn’t 6’11” with the ability to jump over the competition needs to carry the team, and Middleton’s sharp shooting and tough defense are the skills the Bucks will lean on when that time comes.

2. Warriors | Record Last Week: 4-0 | Overall Record: 6-1 | Previous Ranking: 2

Golden State is doing that thing again where Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry can’t be guarded by anybody. The only real recourse is to just sit back and watch them make jump shots from wherever they feel like pulling up. It was just rude for Wardell to give the Wizards 51 right before the Slim Reaper put on a show in the Garden just to tease Knicks fans. Going up big on the Nets just to crush their hopes of a comeback with a combined 10 points in the final two minutes after Brooklyn made it a two-point game was mostly just funny. Also a bit rude. But mostly funny.

1. Raptors | Record Last Week: 3-0 | Overall Record: 6-0 | Previous Ranking: 1

The Raptors continue to look the best of any team in the league. Playing basically every game at home helps make that way easier, but it’s not like they are in charge of constructing their schedule. Monday’s game in Milwaukee should be a great one and an even better test of where this team is. Plus, Kawhi vs. Giannis. What could possibly keep you from watching that matchup?