- The Nuggets are surging after securing impressive wins over the Raptors and Thunder. Who else is rising in The Crossover's latest power rankings?
Hopefully, the only people who embarrassed your favorite team this past week did it on the basketball court and not in a city council meeting.
But if an elderly woman did happen to come through and go viral by talking down on your squad’s owner, The Crossover is here to provide some comfort.
Whether you’re in need of stadium renovations or a bench upgrade, just about every team is looking for a way to improve right now. Some teams are banking on internal growth or a player coming back from injury, and others are looking around to find a piece to bring into the fold to take them up another level.
With Dec. 15 in the rearview, look out for players who signed in the summer to become trade chips. But while you wait for your team to bring in that key veteran piece that solidifies the rotation, let’s revisit what went down last week and examine just how good all 30 teams are.
30. Hawks | Last Week: 0-3 | Overall: 6-23 | Previous Ranking: 27
The road was a hostile place for the Hawks.
Wednesday’s meeting with the Mavericks showed what happens when Trae Young can get going and knock down shots. But with no one on the bench to help on the offensive end, Atlanta just used the game to begin its next losing streak. And Young, and the team as a whole, did not look as good in the other two defeats.
Taurean Prince being out this past week was hard to overcome, but failing to get a 20-point scorer in Boston was probably a slightly bigger deal that better encapsulates this team’s issues.
The Hawks have young talent that show flashes from time-to-time, but in the end, they are still ways away from making any real noise. John Collins has been good since getting back from injury, but there’s still plenty of improvement to be made. He held off on shooting the three for most of the week, but it’s still something he needs to get much better at considering he’s taking more than two per game and shooting 23.3% on those attempts. For a young big man, that number isn’t too wild, but still needs to be addressed.
For Young, though, it’s a gigantic issue that he’s still only at 23.7% from distance. The rookie is handling his point guard duty of getting others involved and had two more double doubles in these past three games thanks to his assists. He is still struggling to get his shot going, however, and part of the reason is his reliance on deep bombs. Young’s ability to pull it from anywhere was a big part in making his college season so special and led to Stephen Curry comparisons, however premature it may be. But those bombs aren’t landing. He’s been solid on his two-point attempts, and the threat of him taking a 30-footer is part of what opens the rest of the floor for him, but he needs to start relying on other skills to create looks.
As he continues to dissect defenses with his passing, he might be able to start creating more opportunities by getting the opposition to focus more on where they think the ball is going, instead of watching him try to create. It’s going to take time, but it’s probably better to start focusing on finding new ways to get looks instead of hoping he will start making more shots from the logo. Those shots will always be there. Creating other quality looks will take more effort.
29. Cavaliers | Last Week: 1-3 | Overall: 7-23 | Previous Ranking: 25
Let’s check in with LeBron James to see just what’s going on with his former team without him.
28. Bulls | Last Week: 1-2 | Record: 7-23 | Previous Ranking: 30
Each game felt like improvement for Chicago this week. And getting back in the win column by staging a 21-point comeback in San Antonio was the most ridiculous thing to happen to this team since its last two-and-a-half-hour practice.
27. Wizards | Last Week: 1-3 | Overall: 12-18 | Previous Ranking: 26
Only the Wizards would wait until they are down two rotation players and facing the best team they have all week to put on their best performance.
John Wall looked like the guy who dazzled in the 2017 postseason by staying in attack mode and tormenting his matchup with energetic defense. He stuffed the stat sheet on Sunday (40 points, 14 assists, six rebounds, three steals, two blocks) as if his life depended on it, and for at least one day, Washington fans could take pride in just how lethal the team’s one-two combo can be. When Bradley Beal is putting up 25 and 12 rebounds and is very clearly second fiddle for the night, it means big things. And maybe the addition of Trevor Ariza in place of Kelly Oubre Jr. and Austin Rivers will open the door for more games like this from the pair.
But nothing we’ve seen this season should make people think the Wizards are ready to build off any type of success just yet.
Washington has been streaky at best this season. And the majority of those streaks consisted of losing. A shakeup to the rotation could be exactly what’s needed to jumpstart this team, especially since Ariza isn’t going to look to do much with the ball in his hands on offense. But that also means added pressure on Wall and Beal, especially with Austin Rivers out of the mix.
But if the defense is going to remain toward the bottom of the pack and there is no player to count on to turn this team’s rebounding around while Dwight Howard is banged up, it’s going to take a lot out of Wall and Beal to get things going in the right direction.
Maybe some creative lineups involving Ariza, Jeff Green, Otto Porter and Sam Dekker could be the answer. More 6’9” guys to play positionless ball is always a plus, right?
ROSENBERG: Suns Need a Better Owner
26. Suns | Last Week: 2-2 | Overall: 6-24 | Previous Ranking: 29
The Suns are on a two-game winning streak. Is it time to start buying into Phoenix?
No. They are coming off a 10-game losing streak and the victories over the Mavericks and Timberwolves were their first consecutive wins all season. They also start a five-game East Coast road trip this week. But they might be able to beat the Knicks. A three game-winning streak might get the taste of Greta Rogers dunking all over Robert Sarver out of everybody’s mouth.
25. Knicks | Last Week: 1-2 | Overall: 9-22 | Previous Ranking: 28
Emmanuel Mudiay was great during the three-game road trip this past week. His 34 points, eight assists and game-sealing buckets in Charlotte were big time. And doing just enough to have a good game while still losing to the Cavaliers will make Knicks fans really fall in love. They can’t imagine him playing with Zion Williamson if he’s also ruining their chances of getting Zion.
24. Magic | Last Week: 2-1 | Overall: 14-15 | Previous Ranking: 24
The Magic have won more games in Mexico this month than they’ve won in Florida. And the one win in Florida wasn’t even in Orlando. They are going to need to get comfortable in their real home arena if they want to hold onto the playoff spot they currently have.
23. Pelicans | Last Week: 1-2 | Overall: 15-16 | Previous Ranking: 17
Now is not a good time for the Pelicans to lose Julius Randle. Losing to the Heat at home is enough reason to feel like you might be in a bit of trouble, but losing your top bench player in the process makes it insurmountably worse. Especially when Anthony Davis' first shot attempt in the second half comes with fewer than six minutes remaining in the game.
22. Hornets | Last Week: 1-2 | Overall: 14-15 | Previous Ranking: 16
The Hornets are 0-2 since Michael Jordan smacked Malik Monk in the back of the head. Coincidence?
21. Timberwolves | Last Week: 0-3 | Overall: 13-16 | Previous Ranking: 14
Which is worse: losing by double digits in a game in which you scored 130 points, giving up 141 points in regulation or losing to the Suns? At least the Timberwolves can get revenge on the Kings next week.
20. Pistons | Last Week: 1-2 | Overall: 14-13 | Previous Ranking: 19
Ending a six-game losing streak has to feel great. And when the victory also snaps the opposition’s eight-game winning streak, that’s just a cherry on top. But, Detroit still has some work to do to get back on track after a rough couple of weeks.
19. Nets | Last Week: 3-0 | Overall: 13-18 | Previous Ranking: 23
Spencer Dinwiddie dropping his career high in Philadelphia and then getting a contract extension the next day is what dreams are made of.
MANNIX: Heat Have No Interest in Tanking
18. Heat | Last Week: 2-2 | Overall: 13-16 | Previous Ranking: 21
I like to believe there’s an alternate timeline where Dwyane Wade hits the game-tying three against the Lakers and we see him and LeBron go at it in overtime one last time. This clutch floater to close out the Pelicans win will have to suffice though.
17. Spurs | Last Week: 2-1 | Overall: 15-15 | Previous Ranking: 18
The Spurs were on their way to a third blowout win last week that would have given them a season-high five-game winning streak. Then they blew the second-largest halftime lead in team history to the Bulls. That one is going to sting for a while.
16. Jazz | Last Week: 1-2 | Overall: 14-16 | Previous Ranking: 15
After starting the season 9-6 away from home, the Jazz are now on a four-game losing streak on the road. They have trips to Houston and Portland this coming week to fix that issue and get away from the bottom of the standings.
15. Grizzlies | Last Week: 1-3 | Overall: 16-13 | Previous Ranking: 11
The Grizzlies have lost four of their last five and three of their last four in Memphis. They get to play in Oracle to start this week, and as we all know, that’s not the best place to go when your team has been struggling.
14. Rockets | Last Week: 3-0 | Overall: 14-14 | Previous Ranking: 22
When you go into practically every game with the expectation you will have the best player on the court, it makes it easy to not panic even when things look rough.
James Harden had himself a week, and as a result, the Rockets crept a little closer into the playoff mix. Houston is still only 8-11 against Western Conference opponents, but the three wins over three teams currently in the top eight inspire hope that a major turnaround is coming. This stretch should be a confidence boost for a squad that was on a three-game losing streak to conference foes just one week prior.
This upcoming week, the Rockets will have a strong chance to continue this run and climb even higher up the standings as they get the Jazz, Wizards and Spurs at home, and the Heat on the road.
While Harden gets into a groove though, at least one more player is going to need to step up to make sure this team elevates just as high as it can. Chris Paul’s shooting touch still isn’t back to what it normally is, but he’s creating for others with no problem, keeping his turnovers low and creating extra possessions through steals. Clint Capela is a walking bucket inside the paint, but mostly when he gets a solid feed from Harden or Paul.
While those three do the bulk of the damage, some combination of Eric Gordon, P.J. Tucker, Gerald Green and Danuel House Jr. will need to provide strong wing defense and reliable spot-up shooting. Houston can’t expect to have many more perfect weeks when Gordon is 1-for-17 from deep. But if Tucker, Green and House can do enough to fill in the gap, Harden can keep this team afloat until it either adds another piece or one of these complementary players starts providing even more.
It’s got to be nice having the reigning MVP on the roster. It’s probably even nicer having the refs on Twitter calling out announcers for questioning fouls called in favor of the MVP.
13. Clippers | Last Week: 1-3 | Overall: 17-12 | Previous Ranking: 6
Losers of five of their last six, the Clippers are a very vulnerable team without Lou Williams holding down the bench. But even with Williams, they needed overtime to get past the Suns. Los Angeles surrendered at least 110 points in each game last week, and lost a game by 38 in San Antonio.
12. Mavericks | Last Week: 2-2 | Overall: 15-13 | Previous Ranking: 13
The Mavericks are currently 0-2 against the Suns this season, and no matter where they finish in the standings, they are going to look back on those two losses in Phoenix and think about what could have, and probably should have, been. But, Dirk Nowitzki is back on the court and we can be hype about that even if he’s only playing seven minutes per game and his return coincided with a two-game slump.
11. Trail Blazers | Last Week: 1-2 | Overall: 16-13 | Previous Ranking: 12
Friday’s win over the Raptors was much needed after road losses to the Rockets and Grizzlies. Too bad for the Trail Blazers, they probably won’t have to worry about a tiebreaker scenario with Toronto. Can’t say the same about Houston and Memphis though.
10. Kings | Last Week: 3-1 | Overall: 16-13 | Previous Ranking: 20
It might be time to just believe the Kings are good if you’ve still been holding out expecting a drop-off. Sunday’s win in Dallas wasn’t groundbreaking, but it was a sign that De’Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield can go into any arena and do what they need to walk out with a victory.
9. Lakers | Last Week: 2-2 | Overall: 18-12 | Previous Ranking: 8
The NBA can’t fine me, so I’ll say blame the refs for the loss to Houston to make sure Kyle Kuzma saves his money. The loss to the Wizards though was just ugly. Second night of a back-to-back or not, it was a bad look.
NADKARNI: Thunder Nearing Post-KD Peak
8. Thunder | Last Week: 2-2 | Overall: 18-10 | Previous Ranking: 5
It was a mixed bag for the Thunder this past week as they won both of their home games, but let their two road contests get away from them. Oklahoma City’s three-game road losing streak should not cause people to sound the alarm, but it does point to the struggles that come with closing out a game when you can’t just bank on Russell Westbrook taking over.
The Thunder have been great so far this season, and a large part of it has been Paul George taking over as the team’s leading scorer. Westbrook has been focusing more on finding the right balance of attacking and distributing to keep the offense humming, and conceding a bit more to PG is going a long way in creating that balance. Backing off and allowing Dennis Schroder to run the point at times when they are sharing the court is another sign of Westbrook figuring out the best way to play off his teammates while giving them a chance to get in the groove.
With the best defensive rating in the NBA, the Thunder look like legit contenders. They have the ability to go on a big run at any point thanks to the way they force turnovers, get out on the break, and close out (or extend) possessions with their rebounding. And this is without the team’s best defender on the court. When Andre Roberson gets back and acclimated, the Thunder could find another gear on the defensive end, and if that happens, they will be a nightmare for everyone.
However, as Friday’s game in Denver showed, sometimes you will need Westbrook to just be the best player on the floor to make things happen. For all his flaws, Westbrook knows how to close out a game. But if he’s still struggling at the free-throw line (61.1%) and not attacking the rim with the same ferocity and effectiveness as we’ve become used to, it will mean they need to play ahead almost all the time, and hope they hold on like in Saturday’s win over the Clippers.
7. Celtics | Last Week: 3-1 | Record: 18-11 | Previous Ranking: 9
Boston’s eight-game winning streak was huge.
It lifted the Celtics’ record and got them closer to the top of the East where we expected them to be. It helped Brad Stevens find a starting lineup for the time being that could be a substantial difference-maker for a team still figuring out exactly how to play together. And because of these two turns of events, pressure is taken off the original starting five, who were all expected to play near All-Star levels going into the season.
But it should be taken with a grain of salt. None of the teams Boston defeated during the streak are currently above .500. However, everybody can’t beat the teams they are supposed to, and especially not consecutively over a couple weeks. Beating the Cavaliers, Knicks, Bulls, Wizards and Hawks doesn’t make you equal to the Raptors, but it does build confidence. Particularly since the last four wins during the streak came without Al Horford.
The Pistons were finally able to get the Celtics’ number this week, but it was the second night of a back-to-back and on the road, so it’s nothing to fret over.
What does matter is four different players scoring at least 20 in a game this past week with Gordon Hayward, Jaylen Brown, Terry Rozier and Horford not being among that group. Boston’s depth is looking much more productive than it was to start the season, and letting Kyrie Irving just go off and be the main scoring option has a lot to do with it. When Uncle Drew gets to go out there and just dance with his defender, it makes life easier for everyone else in green. The opposing team probably doesn’t have as much fun though.
6. 76ers | Last Week: 2-2 | Overall: 20-11 | Previous Ranking: 3
Philadelphia tripled its number of home losses on the season this past week and its depth without Jimmy Butler was really put to the test. Maybe a healthy Markelle Fultz can bring in another quality rotation player in a trade. Or maybe a healthy Markelle Fultz will turn out to be the extra piece the 76ers need to shore up the bench.
5. Bucks | Last Week: 2-1 | Overall: 19-9 | Previous Ranking: 2
Wednesday’s loss to the Pacers was gross, and there’s almost no way this team can expect to win when Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton combine for 22 points. But they also got to play the Cavaliers twice, and that will almost always make a team forget what problems it might have had in other games.
4. Pacers | Last Week: 4-0 | Overall: 20-10 | Previous Ranking: 10
Indiana is hot right now. With Victor Oladipo back in the lineup, the Pacers are in position to go on a wild tear as they ride the wave they created while their All-Star was dealing with injury.
3. Warriors | Last Week: 2-1 | Overall: 20-10 | Previous Ranking: 4
That 20-point loss to the Raptors might not mean much come June, but for now, it matters. With the team back healthy, the wins will keep coming, but you would like to see more from them in a matchup against another top tier team.
2. Raptors | Last Week: 2-2 | Overall: 23-9 | Previous Ranking: 1
Topping the Clippers and Warriors on consecutive nights was an impressive way to start a West Coast swing. It’s a shame the fans in Portland and Denver didn’t get to see just what Kyle Lowry brings to this team.
1. Nuggets | Last Week: 3-0 | Overall: 20-9 | Previous Ranking: 7
Jamal Murray’s 16-point fourth-quarter spurt to grab the win over the Raptors was simply amazing. While the Warriors got swept by the East’s top team, the Nuggets went 3-0. The regular season means way more to Denver, but it’s always nice to have some signature wins to look back on.