Another coach is gone and it’s not even Christmas yet. This time, it was the Bulls who moved on from their leader, replacing Fred Hoiberg on the sidelines because the Bears are doing all the winning in Chicago, apparently.
Elsewhere in the league, some teams are starting to see injuries pile up at this point in the season as other clubs have key players getting back on the court after extended absences.
Rumors are swirling about potential roster moves, and with Dec. 15 approaching, some teams are gearing up to trade free agents they signed this past offseason as others figure out how to make a play for guys they missed out on in the summer.
The Crossover is here, as always, to sort through all the junk and evaluate all the games so you know which teams are in the best position at this point in the season.
30. Bulls | Record Last Week: 1-2 | Previous Ranking: 29
Friday’s win over the Thunder made me want to place some faith in the Bulls since Lauri Markkanen is just getting back on the court and they fired coach Fred Hoiberg. Then came Saturday.
I don’t care what the team felt like it had to address in the meetings it held Sunday, the Bulls clearly still need to practice playing basketball together. When you lose by 56 points, you need to run some drills and get some shots off the next day just because. Talking things through might be much more important for establishing just who they are going forward, but the Bulls need to remind themselves they can play basketball as a team by actually taking the court in addition to having intimate conversations about how to improve.
29. Suns | Record Last Week: 0-3 | Previous Ranking: 30
Nobody expected many positives from the Suns without Devin Booker, but they still found a way to fall short of expectations. Phoenix scored 18 points combined in the first quarter in its first two games of last week. At least the Suns kept the majority of their games within 20 points. That counts for something. Right?
28. Knicks | Record Last Week: 0-4 | Previous Ranking: 23
We all knew what this season was going to be for the Knicks.
As much fun as it was seeing this team win three straight around Thanksgiving, losing six of seven in the immediate aftermath is much more on brand for who this team will be.
Courtney Lee’s return means there’s another body in the backcourt competing for minutes, and Frank Ntilikina saw what it’s like to be the odd man out because of that addition. But when he got back on the court after three straight DNPs, Frankie Smokes showed the fight that made so many Knicks fans get in his corner after questioning why he was drafted in the lottery. His 18 points against the Hornets were impressive, even though he failed to get to the free throw line or set up his teammates much. It’s no surprise to anyone that the offensive end will be where Ntilikina struggles most, especially with limited minutes, but showings like Sunday’s might convince David Fizdale to make sure the Frenchman stays a regular in the rotation.
Kevin Knox scoring 26 points in the loss to Charlotte was also a great sign from another young piece on this roster. But part of the reason Knox and Ntilikina were able to go off like they did was because Allonzo Trier was sidelined. If those three can produce at a high-level while on the court together throughout this season, it will be way easier for fans to take the losing in stride. Until players start to distinguish themselves from the pack to demand more minutes and touches though, just take pride in knowing New York's 28-point loss to Boston was only half as bad as what happened to the Bulls.
27. Hawks | Record Last Week: 1-2 | Previous Ranking: 27
John Collins is going to be a problem for big men across the association for years to come. And if he can consistently stretch the floor like how he was able to against the Wizards and Nuggets (5 for 10 from three in those games), he will certainly be an All-Star in the near future. He set his career-high for points on Monday. Then broke it on Wednesday. Then broke it again in Saturday’s victory over the Nuggets. And he had his three highest rebounding totals for the season last week as well. It’s a shame his great play won’t change too much for the Hawks’ hopes this season.
26. Wizards | Record Last Week: 2-1 | Previous Ranking: 25
Washington matched a season-high three-game winning streak before losing to the Cavaliers on two days of rest because Wizards. Bradley Beal was sensational over the last three games, and whether or not he’s around for the long-haul with the Wizards, fans can at least count on him to be one of the team’s most reliable and entertaining players as long as he’s on the roster. Surprisingly, the only lowlight for Beal is his three-point percentage. He’s shooting a career-low 32.4%, about six points below his career average, while taking the second-most attempts per game of his career.
25. Cavaliers | Record Last Week: 2-2 | Previous Ranking: 28
Collin Sexton saw his scoring and shooting improve each game this past week. The rookie has scored at least 20 for three straight games, which is the longest streak of his short career. He tied his career-high with 29 points in Saturday’s win over the Wizards and he also set a career-high with six assists in that contest. There’s still a long way to go for Sexton, but Cleveland has plenty of time to see just how he keeps developing.
24. Magic | Record Last Week: 1-2 | Previous Ranking: 22
After getting back to .500, Orlando dropped two straight at home. It seemed like the Magic were on a roll after forcing overtime against the Nuggets, but they didn’t have enough in the extra period. With two of their next five against the Bulls, the door is open for Orlando to get better situated in the Eastern Conference standings. But it will take a few more games of 30-plus assist nights if this team is going to really establish itself in the playoff picture.
23. Nets | Record Last Week: 2-2 | Previous Ranking: 26
You never want to blow a 23-point lead at home. But if you do, it’s nice to follow it up with a win over the team with the best record in the league, as the Nets did last week. Losing to the Cavaliers and blowing that massive lead against the Thunder will stick with Brooklyn for a while. But so should the defense Rondae Hollis-Jefferson played on the last possession against the Raptors and the performance Spencer Dinwiddie had off the bench against the Knicks. Those bright spots help in a dark season, but without Caris LeVert healthy the losses will be more common even though the wins might be more in tune with this team’s future.
22. Rockets | Record Last Week: 0-3 | Previous Ranking: 16
The good news for the Rockets is there’s almost no way they can have a three-game road trip go any worse than the one they took this week. However, that means we also got to see just what rock bottom looks like in Houston. Assuming it can’t get worse than what we just saw. But if this team can find a way to outdo a stretch where they lost the fourth quarter 17-9 in a 12-point loss to the Timberwolves, lost to the Jazz without Rudy Gobert (basically) by 27 and blew an eight-point lead in the final four minutes to the Mavericks’ rookies, that might be an accomplishment.
21. Heat | Record Last Week: 2-1 | Previous Ranking: 24
With the eighth-best defensive rating in the NBA, the Heat are a difficult matchup for just about everybody. Yet they haven’t been able to win consistently this season.
Injuries have been a big part of that, and as the return of Dwyane Wade has shown, a healthy vet to take pressure off the backcourt goes a long way. Miami didn’t need much from Flash against the Suns, but he was pivotal in the Clippers contest, scoring 25 points and shooting 5 for 10 from three. It was the fourth time in 18 games this season Wade made at least four triples. If the Heat can count on him hitting from outside like that with any type of regularity, Wade could have an immeasurable impact on what this team becomes when Goran Dragic is fully healthy.
For now though, Justise Winslow is running the point, and he was great in the most recent victories. There’s no telling just what Winslow will be with the ball in his hands on the regular, but his 15 assists over the last two games will always be welcome. Whether alongside Dragic or as the main option off the bench, Winslow creating could be the biggest key in improving this bottom-five offense. After health.
20. Kings | Record Last Week: 2-1 | Previous Ranking: 21
Sacramento has had a solid road trip so far. With the Bulls up next before returning home, it’s important the Kings take care of business like they did against the Suns and Cavaliers. De’Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield continue to play like arguably the best young backcourt in the NBA, as Fox averaged 21.3 points and 8.3 assists over the last three games and Hield averaged 21.7 points on 48% shooting overall and from deep.
19. Pistons | Record Last Week: 0-4 | Previous Ranking: 9
This week couldn’t have gone much worse for Dwane Casey’s club. Blowout losses to the Thunder and Bucks are reminders that there is still a gap between the Pistons and the teams at the top of the league. Close losses to the 76ers, who were without Joel Embiid, and the Pelicans in a game in which Anthony Davis only scored six put into question just how good this team really is. No Ish Smith or Reggie Bullock makes a decent difference for Detroit’s depth, but if the Pistons can’t win when Blake Griffin is putting up 30+ points, it’s going to be problem.
18. Spurs | Record Last Week: 2-2 | Previous Ranking: 17
The Spurs had lost four of their last five and three straight on the road after losing to the Lakers on Wednesday. The thumping the Jazz put on San Antonio one night prior had it seeming like this team was simply too depleted to compete out West. But then the squad returned to AT&T Center.
DeMar DeRozan continued torching the Lakers like he has all season and posted his fourth 30-point game against his hometown team this season. Patty Mills, Davis Bertans and Jakob Poeltl combined with DeRozan to score 42 of San Antonio’s 44 fourth-quarter points as the Spurs picked up a 13-point win to split the series with Los Angeles.
On Sunday, San Antonio picked up another 13-point victory as DeRozan (26), Rudy Gay (23) and LaMarcus Aldridge (20) led the charge against the Jazz.
Maybe the second half of the week was just a matter of playing at home versus on the road. Maybe it was Gregg Popovich’s genius being on display as his team got revenge on two clubs it lost to earlier.
Whatever it was, it all starts and ends with DeRozan. Sure, Aldridge, Gay and Mills are all veterans with plenty of playoff experience who Popovich will lean on to right the ship when times get rough, but DeRozan is the heart of this whole operation. He’s posting the most assists per game of his career and the second-most points, but both of those marks might need to be career-bests if San Antonio is going to rise from the pack to get in the playoffs.
17. Pelicans | Record Last Week: 2-2 | Previous Ranking: 18
The Pelicans’ last three losses have come by a combined 12 points. In their last four wins, all but one have come by double figures. It’s hard to tell if this team is starting to turn a corner or stuck in a place where it can never get much better than .500 for the time being. However, Sunday’s win over the Pistons in which Anthony Davis scored just six points makes it seem like the former might be slightly more in line with this team’s current direction.
16. Hornets | Record Last Week: 2-1 | Previous Ranking: 20
Charlotte’s three-game losing streak following the defeat to the Timberwolves was its longest of the season. And with the Nuggets up next, it seemed likely the slump would reach four. A 40-point second quarter helped return the Hornets to the win column, though. As did a matchup with the Knicks.
Kemba Walker has cooled down from the start of the season. He still looks great, but he’s not putting on the Allen Iverson impersonation he mastered during October and the opening part of November.
Tony Parker was big in the last two triumphs, with 19 points and then 16 points after he was blanked against Minnesota. But the 2007 Finals MVP can only do so much for this group on a consistent basis. Jeremy Lamb is looking more and more reliable as a scorer even though his seven-point outing against the Nuggets doesn’t reflect that. However, he still isn’t bringing much as a facilitator. So although he’s a player outside of Walker that can be trusted to make something happen on a nightly basis with the ball in his hands, he can only make one thing happen, and that’s getting a bucket.
Touting the fifth-best offensive rating in the league and a top-10 net rating makes it seem like Charlotte should be performing better. But as long as nothing is certain outside of Walker, it will continue to be an up-and-down season.
15. Jazz | Record Last Week: 2-1 | Previous Ranking: 19
The Jazz had lost two straight at home before running roughshod on the Spurs and Rockets for consecutive wins. The victory over Houston was particularly notable because it came with Rudy Gobert playing fewer than three minutes due to an early ejection. Sunday’s loss in San Antonio though was indicative of where this team is at currently: near the bottom of the jumbled West. Monday’s meeting with the Thunder offers a chance to ascend up the standings as well prove this team is as formidable as most projected at the start of the season. Or we might have to wait until January before we see the Jazz really hit their stride.
14. Timberwolves | Record Last Week: 2-1 | Previous Ranking: 14
Even without Robert Covington anchoring the defense Saturday, the Timberwolves were right there against the Trail Blazers on the road until Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum shut the door. It’s not often a team can undoubtedly get better by trading away its best player, but Minnesota was able to do just that. Just how much longer can this team bank on Derrick Rose scoring the most points of his career since his ACL injury, though?
13. Mavericks | Record Last Week: 2-1 | Previous Ranking: 15
Do you feel that? There’s a strange feeling in the air in Dallas and it can only be explained through visuals.
Luka Doncic was not shooting well in the first three quarters of Saturday’s game against the Rockets. But in the fourth, The Matador took over. When you hit three triples—two of which were step-backs—to complete a comeback against the reigning MVP, we can overlook a 3 for 12 performance to start the game.
12. Trail Blazers | Record Last Week: 2-1 | Previous Ranking: 12
Portland had lost six of seven before picking up consecutive wins to close out this week. The bulk of those loses were on the road, but the Trail Blazers were only 1-2 at home during that stretch, with all three games going down to the wire. Getting wins against the Suns and Timberwolves could be the perfect jolt before this upcoming back-to-back in Houston and Memphis. Especially with the way Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum closed out Saturday’s victory over Minnesota.
11. Grizzlies | Record Last Week: 2-1 | Previous Ranking: 11
The Memphis defense was looking great this past week before the Lakers came to town. Zach Randolph and Tony Allen are long gone, yet the Grizzlies still operate as one of the NBA’s toughest teams and possess one of the stoutest defenses in the association. Keeping the Clippers under 90 and slowing down the Pelicans’ fast-paced attack says a lot more about this team than giving up 16 threes to the Lakers does.
10. Pacers | Record Last Week: 3-0 | Previous Ranking: 13
Life without Victor Oladipo isn’t too bad right now in Indiana. Sure, playing the Bulls, Magic and Kings is a bit of a help, but Sacramento just beat the Pacers last week. This time around though, Indiana walked away from the contest riding a three-game winning streak instead of a two-game slump. Getting Tyreke Evans going will make a huge difference in just how long this team can sustain itself without Oladipo, but for now, the Pacers keep finding a way.
9. Celtics | Record Last Week: 2-0 | Previous Ranking: 10
It’s hard to have a week as favorable as the Celtics just had. After getting four days of rest before hosting the Knicks, Boston got to see the Bulls in Chicago on the second night of a back-to-back. The Celtics did more than just take care of business in these two games, though. They've got the Bulls players calling meetings after discussing whether or not they should skip practice. That’s how you know Boston is back following its ugly start to the season. Sure, the Bulls aren’t that good, but when you got a team re-evaluating what it should do with its off day because you just handed it the worst loss in franchise history, things are going really well.
8. Lakers | Record Last Week: 2-1 | Previous Ranking: 8
As much fun as it would be to have LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony on the same team just to say two of the Banana Boat Boys got together, it would be much more practical for the Lakers to bring in Trevor Ariza. Grabbing another veteran cast off from Phoenix’s squad would help bolter Los Angeles’s defense and provide James another reliable shooter to space the floor for him on offense.
7. Nuggets | Record Last Week: 2-2 | Previous Ranking: 3
With Gary Harris and Paul Millsap on the shelf for the foreseeable future, the Nuggets are going to need everything they can get out of the rest of this roster. After running their winning streak up to seven thanks to wins over the Raptors and Magic, the Nuggets fell to the Hornets and Hawks and dropped out of the top spot in the West.
Nikola Jokic’s 23 points, 11 rebounds and 15 assists in Toronto are the exact reason why he’s one of the internet’s favorite players. It also helps when he commands so much attention he can force a foul before the inbounds pass to put Denver in position to win. But without Millsap and Harris, he will need to elevate his play even more to keep the Nuggets near the top of the pack. Last season the Nuggets were 24-20 in games without Millsap compared to 22-16 with him in the lineup. With the West just as tight, if not even more compact than it was last season, Denver can’t stand to see a drop off without the four-time All-Star healthy.
The next seven games will be very telling for what the Nuggets will be without Harris and Millsap as they face the Grizzlies, Thunder, Raptors, Mavericks, Clippers and get a home-and-home with the Spurs. The schedule lightens up a bit after that, but Denver can’t let this upcoming stretch sink it too much lower in the standings. Jamal Murray can’t have anymore four-point games if the Nuggets are going to remain among the elite teams either.
6. Clippers | Record Last Week: 1-2 | Previous Ranking: 4
And just like that the Clippers have lost three of their last four and are on just their second losing streak of the season. With the Suns up next, there is little reason to believe this team will lose a third consecutive game. But with the Raptors coming to town the very next day after Phoenix, the Clippers need to make sure they address the issues that led to them scoring just 86 points in Memphis and losing by 23 in Miami. Tobias Harris shooting better than 10-for-32 from the field and scoring more than 27 points over two games could go a long way in correcting whatever problems there might be.
5. Thunder | Record Last Week: 2-1| Previous Ranking: 6
If Playoff P is supposed to be the same guy who posted 25 in the fourth quarter in Brooklyn to lead cap off a 23-point comeback, the Thunder should expect to play more than six games this postseason.
However, they need to show some anger after surrendering a fourth-quarter lead to the Bulls. Oklahoma City shouldn’t think it’s going to win a game where Russell Westbrook has 10 turnovers and Paul George shoots just 6 for 16, but it also shouldn’t be doing that against the Bulls.
4. Warriors | Record Last Week: 3-0 | Overall Record: 18-9 | Previous Ranking: 7
I would highly suggest other teams do even more than they already are to make sure they stick the guy wearing No. 30 in Golden State going forward. Since returning from injury, Stephen Curry is shooting 52.4% from three. and in the last three contests he connected on 19-of-33 attempts. And on Monday, Draymond Green returns to the lineup. So, unless this team wants to argue about Kevin Durant’s upcoming free agency in late-game huddles a few more times, it looks like these guys are going to beat everybody like we’ve become accustomed to over the last four seasons.
3. 76ers | Record Last Week: 1-1 | Overall Record: 18-9 | Previous Ranking: 2
The 76ers had a chance in Toronto, but too many turnovers and a disastrous fourth quarter did them in. Bouncing back against the Pistons the way they did was a huge sign of where this team is mentally. But until Joel Embiid is truly happy, particularly in matchups against the other top teams in the East, the ceiling on this team will be slightly lower than it should be.
2. Bucks | Record Last Week: 2-1 | Overall Record: 17-8 | Previous Ranking: 5
Closing out Sunday’s win in Toronto with a 10-2 run over the final minute and change was big time. And when Malcolm Brogdon is the guy hitting clutch threes in a game where Brook Lopez already went 5 for 8 from distance, you have to feel good about the trust the Bucks have in each other. If Milwaukee is really going to take the next step in the playoffs this season, a lot will come down to just how good Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton are. But knowing the team can rely on guys like Brogdon and Lopez and Ersan Ilyasova and Tony Snell to step up from time-to-time and deliver in clutch moments ways will make life easier for Giannis and Middleton.
1. Raptors | Record Last Week: 1-3 | Overall Record: 21-7 | Previous Ranking: 1
Despite the results this past week, I still firmly believe Nick Nurse knows what he’s doing. Especially when it comes to baffling Ben Simmons. Well, that might have more to do with Kawhi Leonard, but either way, the coach knows how to use his MVP candidate. The three close losses to the Nuggets, Nets and Bucks help make Toronto look much more beatable to the rest of the league than they appeared a week ago. But when you realize the Raptors didn’t lose the fourth quarter in any of those games (they lost overtime to the Nets 8-7 after winning the fourth quarter 19-18), it puts into perspective just how good you need to be to knock them off. Cause they will keep fighting for all 48 minutes.