I would like to welcome all of you who have decided to convert to basketball season now that your favorite NFL team is out of games. And for those of you who are still holding onto hope that your team wins the Lombardi Trophy, I’ll see you sometime before the All-Star break to catch you up on what’s been going on.
For people in Minnesota, Kirk Cousins might make you want to call into the local radio station to complain about Rick Spielman, but Robert Covington will have you excited about who else Scott Layden might be able to bring in. Aaron Rodgers might need a new coach, but Mike Budenholzer is looking like the perfect guy for Giannis Antetokounmpo, Wisconsin.
So while fans in Philadelphia and New Orleans ignore blah weeks from the basketball teams in the city because “PLAYOFFS!,” the rest of us will dig into what the Association is looking like as 2018 wraps up in this week’s Power Rankings.
30. Knicks | Last Week: 0-3 | Overall: 9-28 | Previous Ranking: 30
The one thing the Knicks didn’t need this season (in addition to a 32-point loss) is whatever the heck is going on with Enes Kanter right now. Getting tossed for trying to fight Giannis? Giving really sad quotes about playing time getting adjusted on a team filled with young players that has been shifting playing time for everybody all year? Maybe the new year will improve some things in New York.
29. Cavaliers | Last Week: 0-3 | Overall: 8-29 | Previous Ranking: 28
In his first pro game in his home state, Collin Sexton had a rough fourth quarter as the Cavaliers missed out on a chance at a nice comeback win. But his 18 points, six assists and no turnovers are a sliver of hope that there’s a lot more to come from him to help this Cavaliers squad that would take any sign that there’s a brighter future.
28. Wizards | Last Week: 1-2 | Overall: 14-23 | Previous Ranking: 29
Does John Wall being done for the season make things better or worse? Because now the Wizards should have an easier time getting a good draft pick and trying to reset everything by making some trades since the season seems like it should be over. Or, they could catch fire real quick and convince themselves to fight for a playoff seed because the fans in D.C. can’t wait to watch this team get swept in the first round.
27. Suns | Last Week: 1-2 | Overall: 9-28 | Previous Ranking: 25
Devin Booker continues to take strides in year four that make you think about just how good is he going to look with a roster that can compete for the playoffs.
It would be cool if he and Deandre Ayton really are the young duo that will grow together and change the culture for the Suns. Hopefully he doesn’t spend the back end his contract extension in constant trade rumors like what happens to so many other young stars after they sign their first big extension. Maybe next year they will get their magical run that makes people think something big is brewing out in the desert.
Or maybe they’ll follow up almost every victory with a losing streak.
The Suns started a seven-game home stand with two losses and the next five seem like losses waiting to happen.
Maybe Ayton will continue with the tear he’s been on during the last eight games (21.4 points on 68.1% shooting and 14.1 rebounds) and the team can improve keep up with winning it has done during that time.
But they’ll probably just rack up more losses and continue to be the doormat of the West.
26. Bulls | Last Week: 1-2 | Overall: 10-27 | Previous Ranking: 26
Chicago fans should really want a long playoff run from the Bears because there is not too much to look forward to from the Bulls. Wendell Carter Jr. was efficient this past week shooting 64.5% while averaging 15 points, and Kris Dunn’s 7.7 assists per game during those three contest were nice as well. But when finishing 11th in the East would make this a good season, fans should spend the first week of January thinking about Khalil Mack instead of what’s going to happen to Jabari Parker.
25. Pelicans | Last Week: 1-2 | Overall: 16-21 | Previous Ranking: 23
Are the Pelicans going to be the first team outside of Phoenix to fall out of playoff contention in the West? Anthony Davis had to do so much just to get one win this week. Maybe Elfrid Payton coming back will bring about a major change. But the ball might already be rolling to fast in the wrong direction.
24. Pistons | Last Week: 1-2 | Overall: 16-18 | Previous Ranking: 24
The Pistons went 4-11 in December. That’s everything you need to know about the Pistons right now.
23. Magic | Last Week: 2-1 | Overall: 16-19 | Previous Ranking: 27
There’s still a long way to go, but the playoffs are in reach for the Magic.
Orlando has a legitimate shot to make a run for the postseason if it can just find a way to stay afloat. Sunday’s buzzer-beating win over the Pistons kept Detroit on it’s downward spiral that has brought the Magic into contention. Fans should keep hope that the Magic stay in contention, but also remember this team also lost at home to the Suns.
Nikola Vucevic has emerged as an All-Star this season, and his three games this week (22 points, 13 rebounds and two steals; 30 points, 20 rebounds, eight assists and two steals; 22 points, 11 rebounds, four assists and two blocks) were further proof that he deserves to play in the February showcase.
Every time I’m ready to count out D.J. Augustin and think he can’t be the starter on a playoff team, he puts together a stretch like last week—23.3 points, 6.7 assists, 19-for-36 from the field, 9-for-18 from three, 23-for-24 from the free-throw line with only five turnovers.
Evan Fournier and Terrence Ross are going to need to supply a little bit more on the regular, but coming in with the occasional game-winner will suffice for now.
With a six-game road trip on the horizon, a lot can go wrong very quickly into 2019 for the Magic. Or, maybe they can take advantage of the four teams currently below .500 on that trip (Hornets, Bulls, Timberwolves and Jazz) and climb into the eighth seed in the East. They’re only a ½ game of th Pistons right now, and there’s no reason to think Detroit is about to turn it around soon.
22. Hornets | Last Week: 1-2 | Overall: 17-18 | Previous Ranking: 21
Kemba really scored 47 points (24 in the fourth quarter) just to lose to the Wizards. That’s a perfect depiction of who the Hornets were in 2018. Their All-Star was amazing, but they still lost and are just below .500. It’s almost like the universe won’t allow them to be any other way.
21. Hawks | Last Week: 2-1 | Overall: 11-24 | Previous Ranking: 22
This upcoming week will tell us if the Hawks are really turning a page with this current stretch in which they’ve won five of their last six. No matter what the team is doing though, expect John Collins to continue putting up numbers like the 18.7 points and 11 rebounds he averaged over the last three. We should also enjoy every 20-point performance we can get from Vince Carter, because who knows which one will be the last.
20. Timberwolves | Last Week: 2-1 | Overall: 17-19 | Previous Ranking: 20
Karl-Anthony Towns had scored less than 20 points in five of Minnesota’s last six games before he put up 20 against the Bulls Wednesday. His consecutive 30-plus-point performances would be much cooler if the first of those outings didn’t come in a home loss to the Hawks.
19. Heat | Last Week: 1-2 | Overall: 17-18 | Previous Ranking: 14
The Heat seemed like they were in position to go on a run and solidify their spot in the East standings. Then they let one get away against the Raptors at home and then let the Timberwolves grab a victory in Miami. Luckily, there’s only five good teams in the East right now, so Miami is still tied for sixth.
18. Grizzlies | Last Week: 1-1 | Overall: 18-17 | Previous Ranking: 18
Giving up a 19-point lead at home is the type of loss that stays with you and could haunt you throughout the season. With the Rockets, Pistons, Nets and Spurs on the schedule for this week, the Grizzlies need to put that tough defeat behind them and see if they can right the course from this current run in which they’ve gone 3-7 over the last three weeks.
17. Nets | Last Week: 1-2 | Overall: 17-21 | Previous Ranking: 12
After surviving a ridiculously high-scoring overtime, the week went downhill for the Nets. They had their worst three-point shooting outing of the season (4-for-27 in Friday’s loss to the Hornets) and then couldn’t even enjoy responding well to that performance (15-for-35 in Saturday’s game) because Giannis had a triple double and the Bucks made 21 threes to put Brooklyn on a two-game skid.
16. Mavericks | Last Week: 2-1 | Overall: 17-18 | Previous Ranking: 19
The Mavericks are flat out atrocious record-wise (2-15) when they are away from home. And their most recent road loss with Dennis Smith Jr. not even getting a shot off on a night when Luka Doncic went for 34 has to make the fans even more sick. But he made up for it at home against the Thunder when Russ and Dennis Schroder got lost on defense.
15. Lakers | Last Week: 2-2 | Overall: 21-16 | Previous Ranking: 11
First things first, this is my mood for all of 2019.
And this will be me on my “off days”.
That’s my GOAT and who I want to be like.
And after getting revenge on the Kings for Bogdan Bogdanovic ripping their hearts out with his buzzer-beater, the Lakers might be walking with this energy even with LeBron James out for the immediate future. They did outscore the Warriors by 10 after LeBron left with a groin injury. And they did go on an 18-4 run to close out Sacramento to snap a two-game losing streak.
Kyle Kuzma has done a great job getting buckets, but he was not a threat from distance this past week (35.8% on threes) and his 10 turnovers in the two losses set the tone for the entire team when it came to maintaining possession. Although Kuz has not had trouble holding onto the ball this season, his shooting stroke from deep has been down from his rookie campaign.
While Lonzo Ball inspires Laker fans by slightly increasing his touch from deep and by pestering opposing guards on defense, Kuzma has put together an even better season than his rookie year despite struggling from beyond the arc.
But with LeBron on the shelf, Kuzma, Ball, Josh Hart and Brandon Ingram are going to need to take over. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope might go for a game-high 26 here or there, but he’s just as likely to put up four points in 28 minutes of action.
So the young guys will need to keep things going without LeBron.
Because if things go sideways while LeBron is out, the internet might not be able to handle the LeBron fans and the Lakers fans and the Kobe fans arguing about whatever they think they need to be arguing about.
14. Spurs | Last Week: 2-1 | Overall: 20-17 | Previous Ranking: 13
Prior to Friday’s loss to the Nuggets, the Spurs were on a ridiculous run.
And bouncing back on the second night of the back-to-back in Los Angeles right after that loss with an impressive win says that hot streak is still alive in San Antonio. Maybe LaMarcus Aldridge (29.7 points on 59.4% shooting with only two turnovers last week) and DeMar DeRozan (23.3 points, 8.3 rebounds, 5.3 assists and 50% shooting last week) are a good duo in today’s game despite only making one three last week.
13. Jazz | Last Week: 2-1 | Overall: 18-19 | Previous Ranking: 16
Coming off a 2-2 four-game homestand, the Jazz get to start a four-game road trip in Toronto. Getting off to a good start in 2019 will be crucial if the Jazz want to get out of 11th in the West.
12. Clippers | Last Week: 2-1 | Overall: 21-15 | Previous Ranking: 17
Sweeping the the weekend back-to-back in Los Angeles would have been a great way for the Clippers to close out 2018, but at least they beat their in-state rivals of the Kings and Lakers. And with Lou Williams continuing to show out since his return from injury (22.2 points and 6.7 assists), it’s mostly positive vibes in Los Angeles going into 2019.
11. Kings | Last Week: 1-2 | Overall: 19-17 | Previous Ranking: 8
I’m not sure which part of the Kings is making me more excited right now. It might be De’Aaron Fox being De’Aaron Fox.
Or it might be how good they are in the fourth quarter this season.
Both are pretty awesome.
Going 3-for-16 and letting the Lakers end Sunday’s game on an 18-4 run was a bad look though.
10. Trail Blazers | Last Week: 2-2 | Overall: 21-16 | Previous Ranking: 9
All season, I’ve been waiting to see Damian Lillard hit a clutch three-pointer under storybook circumstance just so I could watch him do his celebration where he points at his wrist to inform all in attendance that it’s Dame Time. But what happened when Dame delivered the game-winner in overtime in his hometown of Oakland?
Really Dame? Are you kidding me? Nothing? Not even just a look at the wrist?
Nah, it’s cool. I don’t even like staying up to watch the Trail Blazers anyway.
9. Thunder | Last Week: 1-2 | Overall: 22-13 | Previous Ranking: 6
Paul George has been one of the best players in the league this month. He was truly incredible throughout December and was probably the main reason the Thunder are within striking distance of the top seed out West. But all I’m going to think about when I think about PG heading into the New Year is this.
8. 76ers | Last Week: 1-2 | Overall: 23-14 | Previous Ranking: 5
Outside of Ben Simmons going into Utah to talk trash and anger the losers who complained all last season about his rookie status, this was an ugly start to a five game road trip for the 76ers. They lost to the Celtics, again, and then got rocked in Portland. But at least the Eagles are back in the playoffs.
7. Rockets | Last Week: 3-0 | Overall: 20-15 | Previous Ranking: 15
When he’s showing up to the arena looking like this, it’s no wonder why James Harden is averaging 39.4 points over the last 10 games.
It’s even better that the Rockets are 9-1 in those contests. It might be hard to keep climbing up the West standings if they need Harden to be this absurd to get wins. But Austin Rivers is giving some hope that with a healthy Chris Paul, this team could have a deep enough bench to keep rising.
6. Warriors | Last Week: 1-2 | Overall: 24-13 | Previous Ranking: 1
Remember back when Oracle Arena was an impenetrable fortress where opponents went to get embarrassed by a barrage of Stephen Curry threes? Now the Lakers go in there and win by 26 with LeBron James missing the bulk of the second half.
NADKARNI: 2019 NBA Wish List
5. Celtics | Last Week: 2-1 | Overall: 21-14 | Previous Ranking: 10
Boston could have just as easily gone 0-3 this week, but Kyrie Irving can go for 40 points and get buckets like this over Jimmy Butler.
And this team just won’t die, so it can come back from down 19 in Memphis.
4. Pacers | Last Week: 2-0 | Overall: 24-12 | Previous Ranking: 7
The Pacers had a great week for themselves. Not only did they only have to play two games, but those games were against the Hawks and Pistons. Weeks don’t get much better than that.
Especially when Indiana is winning by 37 in a game where Victor Oladipo goes 2-for-9 for 7 points. Like, when you’re trashing teams like that, with your best player putting in his scoring performance of the season, that says a lot about just how good you are. Now, Oladipo has done his job as a distributor in his last three games in which he’s failed to score 20 points (7.7 assists per game in last three), so even if he can’t get the ball in the bucket, he will find somebody else to do it.
Against the Pistons Friday, it was basically every body not named Oladipo who could get a bucket. Domantas Sabonis and Darren Collison led the way with 19 points each, but Myles Turner (17), Thad Young (17), Bojan Bogdanovic (12), Doug McDermott (12) and Tyreke Evans (10) were all able to help get the job done.
Turns out, playing without Oladipo for so long really paid off as the team learned how to perform without the All-Star there to lead the way.
And Oladipo, just being a great player, known how to still keep things flowing even when he’s off.
The Pacers will likely need to make some sort of move if they want to be taken seriously as a contender in the East, but they might just maybe have enough on their roster already.
3. Raptors | Last Week: 2-1 | Overall: 27-11 | Previous Ranking: 2
The week without Kyle Lowry was fine for the most part. But the Raptors did get smacked by the Magic. It’s all good up North, but if you’re one of those people who just wants to automatically count out the Raptors just because, bring up the 29-point loss in Orlando as your justification.
2. Nuggets | Last Week: 2-1 | Overall: 23-11 | Previous Ranking: 4
This team will go as far as Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic take it. In two wins last week, those two were sensational. Jokic averaged 22 points, nine assists, 8.5 rebounds and shot 18-for-25 while Murray had 31 in Friday’s win and then 46 on Saturday. But the two combined for 13 on 5-for-23 shooting in a loss Wednesday.
1. Bucks | Last Week: 3-0 | Overall: 25-10 | Previous Ranking: 3
Just about any team would look good in a week it plays the Knicks twice, but that was the Bucks’ Christmas present and they couldn’t share it even if they wanted to.
The only thing better than three-straight 30-point games from Giannis Antetokounmpo is the three games he put together last week. His Christmas debut—30, points, 14 rebounds, four steals, three assists, two blocks, 13-for-21 shooting—brilliant. His follow-up—31 points, 14 rebounds, eight assists, four blocks, one steal, 10-for-20 shooting—remarkable. His follow-up to the follow-up—31 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists, three blocks, two steals, 13-for-17 shooting—well that’s just silly. If you did that in 2K people would claim you’re not playing on a hard enough level. And Giannis did that against professional basketball players. Simply put, the man is a cheat code.
After a couple lackluster performances from the team that averages the second-most makes from three per game, the Bucks knocked down 21 of their 51 attempts against the Nets. It was the second-most they’ve made in a game this season, and ito no one’s surprise, Brook Lopez, Khris Middleton and Malcolm Brogdon did most of the damage from distance.
Lopez (tied for 12th in the NBA with 88 made threes) and Middleton (14th in the 87 made threes) have been one of the best duos from three this season. And when you add in Brogdon’s 57 triples and the fact that he’s shooting 44.2% from deep, and this team is one of the scariest from distance despite its best player shooting a career-worst 15.4% from outside.
Mike Budenholzer can make the three work for everybody but Giannis, but since everything besides the three is going great for Giannis, it’s hard to care that he’s not a threat to shoot. He’s just as likely to dunk from the three-point line as he is to make a jumper and I’m ok with that.