- The Warriors are still the overwhelming favorite to win the NBA title but slide in this week's power rankings after the feud between Kevin Durant and Draymond Green and a couple losses.
The team everybody loves to hate had a very interesting week to say the least, and now the top of the league looks more muddled than ever. The bottom of the league, while also a bit of a hodgepodge is nowhere near as exciting, unless you also root for Duke in addition to one of the league’s bottom-dwellers. Injuries and mid-season roster movement are starting to make an impact on how projections are looking for various teams, and as always, there is so much to laugh about in this league. Here's to hoping your favorite team isn’t in the middle of a losing stretch.
30. Hawks | Record Last Week: 0-3 | Overall Record: 3-13 | Previous Ranking: 28
Luckily for the Hawks, they don’t have to play three games on the road this upcoming week. Unfortunately, the Clippers, Raptors, Celtics and Hornets will probably have the same type of success against Atlanta as the Warriors, Nuggets and Pacers had these past seven days. Maybe Trae Young won’t score just 19 combined points over the next three games though.
29. Cavaliers | Record Last Week: 1-1 | Overall Record: 2-12 | Previous Ranking: 30
What do you do after you pick up your second win of the season by beating your opponent by 24 points? If you’re the Cavaliers, you lose your next game by 24 points. Wednesday’s game against the Wizards is much more of the norm for what will go down in Cleveland this season, but game’s like Tuesday’s trouncing of the Hornets are needed to give fans and young players hope that there is light at the end of the tunnel. There might not be a long-term option at coach to guide them there, but they can address that after they land the No. 1 pick.
28. Bulls | Record Last Week: 0-4 | Overall Record: 4-13 | Previous Ranking: 25
A week that started off with some intrigue thanks to a five-point loss to the Mavericks expeditiously turned into a dumpster fire during Friday’s third quarter against the Bucks. The last three losses Chicago had all came by at least 19 points. Although the loss to Milwaukee by only 19 points might be the worst of those three because it featured the Bulls surrendering a 22-point lead.
Almost any success Chicago has while Lauri Markkanen and Kris Dunn are still out will rely heavily on Zach LaVine justifying his four-year, $78 million contract. For the bulk of this season, he’s done just that. But the last two games he played in (the 29-point loss to the Celtics and 19-points defeat to the Bucks) left a lot to be desired.
While LaVine is doing his part on most nights to keep fans motivated about the direction of the rebuild, Justin Holiday has also proven to be a helpful piece for the future. He’s fourth in the NBA in made three-pointers and 10th in makes per game from deep. His 40% mark from range will also be a big help whenever things do start to look up for the Bulls as LaVine is only shooing 31.3% on attempts from downtown.
With the Suns, Heat and Timberwolves on the horizon, the Bulls could easily find themselves back in the winning column in the immediate future. Or they could see themselves get into slightly better draft position.
27. Knicks | Record Last Week: 0-3 | Overall Record: 4-13 | Previous Ranking: 26
The good news for the Knicks is four of the five defeats in their current losing streak took place away from home, so there’s reason to believe they will find a few more wins once they’re not on the road. The bad news is the home loss during that spell was by 26 points, and their next game at Madison Square Garden is against the Trail Blazers. Maybe Trey Burke will stay hot and turn it into a scoring duel between himself and Damian Lillard or C.J. McCollum.
26. Suns | Record Last Week: 1-2 | Overall Record: 3-12 | Previous Ranking: 27
A 20-point win over the Spurs stopped a four-game losing streak for Phoenix, but it will also probably just end up being one of the flukiest wins of the season.
Devin Booker is making more of his two-point shots this season, but his three-point percentage has dipped. So he’s doing the exact opposite of what you want to see out of a player in today’s game in regards to shooting to start the season. He’s shooting a career-worst 33.3% from distance, but he is putting up a career-high 7.3 assists, so there is some growth this season.
The problem in Phoenix is the opposition is scoring and passing effectively whenever it feels like it, which is basically every game against the Suns. Richaun Holmes is the only player who’s seen significant minutes and has a defensive rating below 112. Trevor Ariza hasn’t been able to make a real difference with this unit, and there’s no reason to think this about to get better.
There’s a young core here with Booker, T.J. Warren, Deandre Ayton and Mikal Bridges that you want to see grow together, but when you can’t defend, it’s hard to make but so much progress.
25. Wizards | Record Last Week: 2-2 | Overall Record: 5-11 | Previous Ranking: 29
Following the win against the Cavaliers on Wednesday, the Wizards seemed to be headed in the right direction. Three consecutive wins, two big games from John Wall and a total team effort to take down Cleveland had it looking like Scott Brooks and his team might have hit their stride. But two games later and we’re right back to where we were last week wondering if this team is going to completely crater this season or drag us along until April, raising hopes just to dash them as quickly as it can in the postseason.
24. Heat | Record Last Week: 1-3 | Overall Record: 6-10 | Previous Ranking: 21
For the first time since his first stint with the Cavaliers, the Heat lost to LeBron James in Miami. As if losing out on a seven-game winning streak against one of the franchise’s most important players wasn’t bad enough, it was also the Heat’s fourth loss in four games wearing the Miami Vice jerseys. What’s the point of having the sauciest uniforms in the league if you’re never going to win in them? It’s almost like this team doesn’t even play in Wade County anymore.
23. Nets | Record Last Week: 1-3 | Overall Record: 7-10 | Previous Ranking: 17
Caris LeVert going down was a gut-punch to the entire NBA, not just the Nets. Brooklyn is going to have a difficult time replacing his scoring, as a lot of the responsibility will fall on D’Angelo Russell and Joe Harris. If those two can keep shooting from beyond the arc the way they have been to start the season, the Nets could have a chance to stay within shouting distance of a postseason spot before LeVert’s eventual return to mount a late-season playoff push.
22. Kings | Record Last Week: 1-2 | Overall Record: 8-8 | Previous Ranking: 19
The desire to see what the younger players can do should be a major focus for Sacramento this season. But Dave Joerger is winning games. And in case the front office hasn’t been paying attention since Rick Adelman left in 2006, that hasn’t been a common occurrence for the Kings. As long as Buddy Hield and De’Aaron Fox are at the heart of what’s happening this season and they keep playing how they are, it won’t be the worst thing to sacrifice a few minutes for Marvin Bagley III right now so guys can better learn how to win next to veterans who might not be around for long.
21. Timberwolves | Record Last Week: 3-1 | Overall Record: 7-10 | Previous Ranking: 23
Did the water taste better in Minnesota this past week too? The Jimmy Butler cloud has drifted East and the days have been a significantly brighter in the Twin Cities. Dario Saric is another body off the bench that Tom Thibodeau could use to make sure he doesn’t run his starters into the ground, but let’s not start thinking too far ahead with how much life could change for the Timberwolves now that it’s truly Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins’s team.
20. Magic | Record Last Week: 3-1 | Overall Record: 9-8 | Previous Ranking: 24
A three-game winning streak at home has Orlando above .500 and their ball movement has a lot to do with it. The Magic saw their assists climb each contest during this three-game winning streak, with Sunday’s 35 dimes against the Knicks representing a season-high. Orlando already has three games this season with at least 30 helpers and is tied for sixth in the league in assists per game.
19. Mavericks | Record Last Week: 3-0 | Overall Record: 7-8 | Previous Ranking: 22
The Mavericks have won four straight and their last two victories are some of the most impressive ones they’ll have all season. There’s a lot going on with the Warriors right now, but holding Klay Thompson to 2-for-11 from three is always a bit remarkable, no matter how many of his All-Star teammates are out with injury. And beating the Jazz by a 50-piece? Bruh.
BRRRRUUUUUUUUUHHHHHHHHH! Dallas might not have a better moment than that all season, and they could end up with the Rookie of the Year on the roster.
18. Hornets | Record Last Week: 0-2 | Overall Record: 7-8 | Previous Ranking: 10
The Hornets got two very different versions of Kemba Walker last week and suffered the same fate in both games. After struggling in a way nobody could have imagined against the Cavaliers, Walker bounced back and set the franchise record with 60 points against the 76ers. And then Jimmy Butler ruined his career-day in a 15-second span. Life is cold like that sometimes.
17. Pistons | Record Last Week: 1-0 | Overall Record: 7-6 | Previous Ranking: 20
Look at how much of a difference-maker Blake Griffin can be when he’s not getting ejected for making unnecessary contact with people going up for layups. Dwane Casey got to get his revenge in Toronto thanks to Blake showing just how dominant he can be on his best days and Reggie Bullock deciding he couldn’t settle for an 1-for-8 performance.
16. Jazz | Record Last Week: 2-2 | Overall Record: 8-8 | Previous Ranking: 13
Utah had an interesting road trip that gets to come to a close Monday in Indiana. Fans should be happy about good defensive wins over the Grizzlies and Celtics. But the Jazz scored 68 points in a game and lost by 50. That’s what’s hot in the streets of Utah? That’s a loss that negates basically everything else you do for the next week and a half if not the entire month. It doesn’t matter that the Jazz already had two wins against the Mavericks this season before Wednesday’s blowout. Saturday, Feb. 23 (their final game against Dallas) needs to be marked on everybody’s calendar just because.
15. Rockets | Record Last Week: 3-0 | Overall Record: 8-7 | Previous Ranking: 18
Houston is starting to figure it out. For now, the wins are most important, but the offense still needs to find that next gear if this team wants to get back to the Western Conference finals. Outside of the 132 the Rockets hung on the Kings on Saturday, you haven’t seen Mike D’Antoni’s offense go full throttle and just dare opponents to keep up as James Harden and Chris Paul take turns running the show. If the defense isn’t going to be as pesky as it was last season, the offense needs to torment more teams on defense. But you also need to walk before you run, and Houston is just getting its legs right with this four-game winning streak.
14. Pelicans | Record Last Week: 3-1 | Overall Record: 9-7 | Previous Ranking: 15
Anthony Davis was in MVP-esque form as he got the New Orleans offense back on track last week. Saturday’s win against the Nuggets is one that will likely mean a lot when it’s time to figure out playoff tiebreakers, and it could also be a galvanizing win that helps the Pelicans sustain this current hot streak in which they’ve won five of their last six.
13. Lakers | Record Last Week: 2-1 | Overall Record: 9-7 | Previous Ranking: 16
There will be plenty more bumps in the road waiting up ahead for the Lakers, but for now, just enjoy the ride. I’m not sure if the version of LeBron James we’ve seen the past two games is him after he’s lost his patience and decided he was tired of losing or him getting more relaxed and happy playing with his teammates. Either way, we want more of this guy.
LeBron is always performing at an MVP-level, but we might need more of these scoring outbursts if the Lakers want to assure themselves a playoff spot.
Tyson Chandler was a major pickup for this team. Switching off between him and JaVale McGee at center is great for a young team that still needs to figure itself out as it deals with the additions of lots of new players. Knowing that more times than not there is a rim protector who can go grab lobs on offense playing in the middle means life is easier for everyone at all times.
Luke Walton is still going to have to keep tinkering with lineups as he tries to figure out just what works best. Especially when key guys like Brandon Ingram haven’t been as effective as expected going into the season.
But there’s only but so much that will happen in Los Angeles barring a groundbreaking trade. So let’s watch Bron try to climb up the record books and hit up Diddy parties without stressing over if he can beat the Warriors in the postseason.
12. Nuggets | Record Last Week: 1-2 | Overall Record: 10-6 | Previous Ranking: 8
Denver’s been going downhill for the past two weeks, but they’ll have a chance to stop the skid in their coming games. Juan Hernangomez’s insertion into the starting lineup could be the jolt that brings some life into this team as it gets ready to play three of its next four on the road while in need of a win. He’s been strong so far this season, and back-to-back 20-point outings make it seem like he’s ready for the increased role.
11. Spurs | Record Last Week: 1-3 | Overall Record: 8-7 | Previous Ranking: 9
The Spurs have two wins on the road this season and they were the overtime thriller against the Lakers and a 30-point drubbing of the Suns. Luckily a rough week ended with a home game against the reeling Warriors or else the three-game losing streak San Antonio was riding might have continued. Now it’s time to see if Sunday’s victory can carry over as it gets set for road matchups with the Pelicans, Pacers and Bucks this week.
10. Warriors | Record Last Week: 1-4 | Overall Record: 12-6 | Previous Ranking: 3
It won’t be time to ring the alarm in Golden State until the Warriors have lost four games out of seven against one opponent at some point between late April and June. But for all the folks waiting for the demise of the NBA’s current dynasty, it’s time to start believing The Lie. This season, The Lie isn’t going to be putting faith in a Mike D’Antoni squad to advance to the Finals. No. We’re more educated and too jaded to fall for that one again. This year’s Lie is that Draymond Green will once again find a way to play a major role in stopping the Warriors from achieving all they can. All we need is a few hits to opposing players’ groins and for him to reportedly call Kevin Durant out of his name one more time. Stephen Curry not playing would also go a long way in making them more beatable as the four losses in the last five games have indicated.
9. Celtics | Record Last Week: 2-1 | Overall Record: 9-7 | Previous Ranking: 11
Uncle Drew was in his bag to start the week. The whole starting five was finally clicking the way we expected it would in the game against the Bulls, and then Kyrie Irving punished the Raptors to capture an overtime victory. On the second night of a back-to-back against the Jazz though, Boston’s offense regressed heavily outside of Irving’s scoring. After having 11 assists in the win over Toronto, he had just one against Utah as only one other player scored in double figures.
8. Pacers | Record Last Week: 2-0 | Overall Record: 10-6 | Previous Ranking: 14
Indiana’s offensive output has not been one to marvel at this season, but the team’s efficiency has been teetering on remarkable. The seventh-best field-goal percentage in the NBA and third-best three-point percentage belong to the Pacers even though they are 26th in points per game.
Although the team’s 51.9% showing from three in the 99-91 win against the Heat will be more fun to remember, Indiana’s stout defense in those two wins is what really points to just how good this team is. The Pacers have the league’s best field-goal percentage defense, just a tick below the Bucks, and that was on display against Miami and Atlanta. The Heat shot 37.6% and the Hawks 35.6% in their respective losses.
With Victor Oladipo hounding ball handlers and using his speed to shoot passing lanes when needed, the tone gets set for Indiana on that side of the ball by their most important player, which isn’t the case for a lot of teams. Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis holding down the paint allows for the guards to stay in the chest of their opponent without too much fear about what happens if they do get beat.
7. Clippers | Record Last Week: 3-0 | Overall Record: 10-5 | Previous Ranking: 12
Lou Will, I’m listening, and I’m trying to do my best to talk about you all winning the way you deserve it. No matter how the season goes for the Clippers though, if the Warriors don’t win the title, we will all remember what went down on Monday, Nov. 12 in Staples Center. And for that, we will forever be indebted to you, Lou Williams.
6. Thunder | Record Last Week: 3-0 | Overall Record: 10-5 | Previous Ranking: 6
Is this: A. The Ewing Effect; B. Paul George taking on a bigger role and showing out because of it; C. Favorable scheduling; or D. Some mix of all the above? The Thunder were one of the last teams in the league to win a game, and since losing Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City has gone 5-1, including two wins over the Suns and a victory against the Knicks this past week. If the defense remains just as intense and turnover happy when Westbrook gets back, this team could be real contenders out West with the assumed addition of Andre Roberson at some point this season. For now, at least keep beating the teams most expect you to beat with or without the former MVP.
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5. Grizzlies | Record Last Week: 3-1 | Overall Record: 10-5 | Previous Ranking: 7
A healthy Mike Conley makes a big difference in Memphis. As do Garrett Temple, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Shelvin Mack.
Life is so much easier for Marc Gasol this season as his team is really looking like it knows how to play together and doesn’t need for everything to go through Big Spain. Jackson protecting the rim, Temple helping to stretch the floor and Mack bringing a punch off the bench in the backup point guard spot all make this team drastically better than what it was last season.
Trading for Temple was a big get to stabilize the wings and give a two-way presence at the two-guard spot that Conley didn’t get to enjoy with Tony Allen. Jackson being able to immediately provide impact on both sides gives Gasol a level of comfort he probably only ever had next to prime Zach Randolph. And Mack gives this team a second point guard to really trust after not having one for most of last season that could be relied upon.
But this all starts with No. 11. Conley’s shooting hasn’t been anything to write home about, but his on-ball pressure is key for the league’s second-best scoring defense. His chemistry with Gasol is at the heart of making this offense go, and even though it will never be one that puts the fear of God into opponents, it can be consistent and formidable enough that you have to give it more respect than the last few times the Grizzlies were in the postseason.
4. 76ers | Record Last Week: 3-1 | Overall Record: 11-7 | Previous Ranking: 4
Blowing a 16-point fourth quarter lead to the Magic was not how anybody expected the Jimmy Butler era to start off in Philadelphia. Buckets hitting a game-sealing shot off a Ben Simmons’s assist to beat the Jazz and then proving why he’s one of the league’s top two-way players by raining all over Kemba’s 60-point masterpiece in the final seconds of overtime is how you get 76ers fans to start naming their kids after you though.
3. Blazers | Record Last Week: 1-2 | Overall Record: 11-5 | Previous Ranking: 5
Did you expect Damian Lillard to do anything besides put 40 on the Wizards to end Portland’s two-game losing streak? Even with a not-so-great week, the Trail Blazers have moved into a tie for first in the West. Upcoming contests against the Bucks, Warriors and Clippers will be a litmus test for just how good this team is right now. Dame and C.J. are sure to do their thing in those meetings, but seeing how the role players perform in those games and just how well the two stars can create for them will say a lot about just how excited people should be about this team come April.
2. Raptors | Record Last Week: 1-3 | Overall Record: 13-4 | Previous Ranking: 1
Beating the Bulls by 39 points doesn’t mean Toronto’s three-game losing streak to start the week doesn’t matter, it just means they already moved past it. Not too many teams can shoot 54.5% against the Raptors like the Pelicans did. Not as many teams will be as jazzed up to be in Toronto as the Pistons were. And there’s only one Kyrie Irving. That’s one hell of a perfect storm to mess up a week, but nothing to fret over when you’ve handled business like this team has for the bulk of its games.
1. Bucks | Record Last Week: 1-1 | Overall Record: 11-4 | Previous Ranking: 2
Milwaukee’s first home loss of the season was a tough one to swallow, but it came against a quality opponent. Going down by as many as 22 to the Bulls nearly inspired some panic in the city. But then Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Eric Bledsoe guided the club to win the third quarter 46-17 to take the game 123-104 and order was restored in the Bucks’ universe.