- Between their showdown with Kawhi Leonard and win in Boston, the Spurs are proving that their turnaround isn't a flash in the pan. Gregg Popovich, DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge have finally righted the ship.
It’s a new year, and like the Timberwolves, I’ve decided to it’s time to switch things up a bit.
For the next few weeks, The Crossover’s Power Rankings are going to highlight a specific player from the five teams that are discussed in greater detail. This first time through, we’ll look at a few guys who are performing like All-NBA players. In other weeks we'll discuss players who should catch your eye in other ways. But we'll table that for now and jump into this week’s rankings.
30. Cavaliers | Last Week: 0-3 | Overall: 8-32 | Previous Ranking: 29
The only thing more puzzling than what the Cavaliers did with Patrick McCaw is their decision to bring in Cameron Payne. But I’m not here to complain. I’m excited to see at just what points during blowout games the Dap Master General may decide to just start dancing. Who knows how good he feels after leaving Chicago.
29. Knicks | Last Week: 1-1 | Overall: 10-29 | Previous Ranking: 30
All the Knicks needed to stop their season-long, eight-game losing streak was a chance to play the Lakers without LeBron James and Kyle Kuzma. If only they had more opportunities this season to play teams missing their two leading scorers.
28. Suns | Last Week: 0-4 | Overall: 9-32 | Previous Ranking: 27
The Suns are currently in the midst of their third losing streak of at least six games. The previous two lasted for seven and nine games, respectively. It will be hard to avoid matching that season-high slump of nine this week if Devin Booker’s back is acting up.
27. Bulls | Last Week: 0-3 | Overall: 10-30 | Previous Ranking: 26
Call me a pessimist, but I don’t think MarShon Brooks and Wayne Selden Jr. are going to right the ship in Chicago. And I might be tripping, but I think the joy Cameron Payne brought to the bench was likely quite helpful in keeping together a team that was on the verge of having a mutiny.
26. Hawks | Last Week: 1-3 | Overall: 12-27 | Previous Ranking: 21
Of the Hawks’ 12 wins, three have come against the Heat. Now this squad just needs to figure out how to play the other 29 teams in the league as well as it plays Miami.
25. Magic | Last Week: 1-3 | Overall: 17-22 | Previous Ranking: 23
So this road trip is not going well for the Magic. And after they play two more away from Orlando, the Celtics and Rockets will be waiting for a back-to-back over the weekend. If the Magic are going to do something different than this season compared to their last six, now would be a good time to figure that out.
24. Grizzlies | Last Week: 0-4 | Overall: 18-21 | Previous Ranking: 18
Memphis is sinking fast in the standings, Chandler Parsons is working his way out the of the door and players are literally coming to blows with each other.
I’m not going to post a photo here, but if I were to, you all know exactly what it would be, because we all know that just like drinking a hot cup of coffee in hell, losing 12 of your last 15 games is not fine.
23. Wizards | Last Week: 2-1 | Overall: 16-24 | Previous Ranking: 28
The Wizards had never won a game in Oklahoma City prior to Sunday. But you all know the saying about broke clocks. When Washington wins, it feels like it provides a level of insight into this team that is equivalent to what you learn about the day by watching the second hand tick forward just to immediately tick back to where it came from. It appears Sunday was finally that time.
22. Pelicans | Last Week: 2-1 | Overall: 18-22 | Previous Ranking: 25
I have no idea what else Anthony Davis can do to help this team win.
It seems like at least once a week, Davis puts up a stat line that leaves your jaw on the floor, but then you look over and realize the Pelicans still lost. This past week it was a 34-point, 26-rebound performance in Brooklyn. The week before there was the 32-point, 18-rebound effort in Dallas. And prior to that he had 30 and 20 in Los Angeles against the Lakers. And so on and so forth.
You get the picture.
Anthony Davis can do a lot and has been doing a lot, but the Pelicans pick up losses more often than they crack into the win column. At some point if things don’t turn around this season, fans will have to come to grips with the idea that Davis’s departure might be imminent. It’s rough, but so is watching AD go bonkers just to potentially disappear for a long stretch in the middle of dominating. Or even worse, lose on a night when they didn’t stop feeding him.
This is a big week coming up as the wounded Grizzlies and Cavaliers come to New Orleans before a trip to Minnesota. A big week from Davis can have this team just below .500 and in position to make a jump back into playoff contention. Or it could mean a 0-3 week for the Pelicans in which everyone ponders how this team loses when Davis goes off like he does.
21. Pistons | Last Week: 1-2 | Overall: 17-20 | Previous Ranking: 24
After a brutal December, January is not off to a much better start for the Pistons. With the Spurs coming to Detroit Monday and a four-game West Coast swing following that up, the Pistons look like they are about to fall even further behind the Hornets and the Nets in the battle for the East’s last two playoff spots.
20. Hornets | Last Week: 2-2 | Overall: 19-20 | Previous Ranking: 22
Other websites will spend more time talking about how Kemba Walker put up 18 points in the fourth quarter against the Suns and had this absurdity drop through the net as time expired to cap-off his performance.
But I’m way more interested in the fact that the Hornets cannot escape being within a game of .500 (either one game ahead, one game behind or an even record). Seriously. Before beating the Suns Sunday, Charlotte was 18-20 after losing to the Nuggets on Saturday. The only other time this team wasn’t within a game of .500, was when it was 11-13 for two days in December before beating the Nuggets. I want to see this team put together a five-game stretch that isn’t 3-2 or 2-3 at some point this season.
19. Lakers | Last Week: 0-3 | Overall: 21-19 | Previous Ranking: 15
I’ll let everybody else rattle off whatever conspiracy theories they have about why those three were standing together. All I know is they weren’t discussing a plan to make sure they don’t lose by 22 to a team that was literally moments away from firing its coach.
18. Wolves | Last Week: 2-2 | Overall: 19-21 | Previous Ranking: 20
Sometimes, the writing is on the wall. And in those instances it doesn’t matter what you do, because the final outcome has already been determined. Such was life for Tom Thibodeau on Sunday, when his team won a game by 22 points, and then he was fired shortly after.
17. Mavericks | Last Week: 1-3 | Overall: 18-21 | Previous Ranking: 16
The Mavericks finally got their third road win of the season and it was a blowout over in Charlotte. They also ran out of timeouts in the third quarter during their loss in Oklahoma City, and came up empty in Boston and Philadelphia. So, road games are still a pretty horrible experience for the Mavericks.
16. Heat | Last Week: 2-1 | Overall: 19-19 | Previous Ranking: 19
I’m pretty confident the Heat’s season is not going to get any better than this play.
It is such a shame it had to happen in one of the worst losses the team will suffer this season. Maybe Miami (0-3 against the Hawks this season) can get some revenge and finally topple Atlanta when the squads meet in March.
15. Kings | Last Week: 0-3 | Overall: 19-20 | Previous Ranking: 11
The Kings might not have won any games in the new year, but they are currently winning Twitter.
Unfortunately, we’re already on the seventh day. You don’t want to panic, but with a young team in the crowded West, if things don’t turn around quickly in Sacramento, the Kings could easily fade out of the playoff picture.
14. Clippers | Last Week: 2-1 | Overall: 23-16 | Previous Ranking: 12
After consecutive losses to the Spurs and 76ers, it was good for the Clippers to pick up expected wins by beating the Suns and Magic. With the Hornets and Pistons coming to Los Angeles this week and a trip to Denver sandwiched between, the Clippers should go at least 2-1 again this week. If not, maybe we can deduce that their 6-9 December record was more indicative of who they are.
13. Nets | Last Week: 3-0 | Overall: 20-21 | Previous Ranking: 17
The Nets have brushed off that 2-3 stretch they were on entering last week and are back on a winning tear. If they can win in Boston on Monday, they’ll be .500 for the first time since Nov. 9 when they were 6-6 and defeated the Nuggets on the first leg of a road back-to-back.
12. Jazz | Last Week: 2-1 | Overall: 20-20 | Previous Ranking: 13
After nearly stealing one in Toronto but coming up just short, the Jazz handled business on the next two stops of their road trip (Cleveland and Detroit). Now Utah gets to see how it stacks up against the Bucks in Milwaukee.
11. Trail Blazers | Last Week: 2-1 | Overall: 23-17 | Previous Ranking: 10
It just so happened that Jusuf Nurkic’s weakest stat line of the week (22 points, eight rebounds, three steals, one assist one block vs. Oklahoma City) was also the only game Portland lost. The Blazers big man took care of business against the Kings (24 points, 23 rebounds, seven assists, five steals and five blocks) and Rockets (25 points, 15 rebounds, three assists).
10. Spurs | Last Week: 3-0 | Overall: 23-17 | Previous Ranking: 14
The recent run by the Rockets deserves the love that it’s been receiving, but what the Spurs have done in their last 15 games (12-3) is also pretty remarkable. Now, it has consistently been a better group effort in San Antonio than in Houston, but the lead man in the silver and black this season does deserve more time in spotlight than he has gotten.
DeMar DeRozan has displayed growth in his game throughout the season, and to see it culminate with his first career triple double with the Raptors in town was just great. It was like his ex came by and saw him with his new partner for the first time and realized there’s even more to the man than people ever knew.
In addition to averaging career highs in assists (6.4) and rebounds (6.2), DeRozan is shooting 47.4% from the field on 18 shots per game. That’s the best mark of his career since he shot 49.8% on 6.6 shots per night as a rookie.
To see DeRozan elevate his game like he has is simply splendid. And to see the Spurs catch fire the second their record dropped to 11-14 is simply to perfect. An improved DeRozan is ready to explore life in a new conference while also showing his old team he can do things he never accomplished in The North.
9. Warriors | Last Week: 2-1 | Overall: 26-14 | Previous Ranking: 6
There will never be reason to worry about the Warriors during the regular season. However, blowing that 20-point lead to James Harden of all people does give me reason to be slightly down on them right now.
8. 76ers | Last Week: 3-0 | Overall: 26-14 | Previous Ranking: 8
So maybe Joel Embiid and Jimmy Butler both find a need to express their frustrations about their roles in the offense at times. At least Ben Simmons is taking more jump shots. That’s the only thing that really matters, isn’t it?
7. Thunder | Last Week: 3-1 | Overall: 25-14 | Previous Ranking: 9
Lakers fans might think they don’t need Paul George, but they would be lying if they said they wouldn't have accepted him on their squad last summer.
Even before PG came to Staples Center and put up 37 in his first meeting against the Lakers since spurning them in free agency, he was looking like one of the top 10 players in the league, if not higher.
The recent fascination with two-way stars has been a bit out of hand, but when it comes to George, it truly is the best way to talk about his game. In addition to helping anchor the league’s best defenses, he has also transitioned into being Oklahoma City’s most-needed offensive piece. Now, playing alongside Russell Westbrook does mean he can do things like tell Billy Donovan not to run plays for him, but he still needs to find the time to score 26.8 points each game without having his own number called but so much. That means helping to make sure the fast break is running. Doing a good job of making strong and impactful cuts when he’s supposed to be a secondary or tertiary option on a play. Helping to close out defensive possessions and extend offensive possessions. He has a a career-high 1.5 offensive boards this season.
But even with all the good, there can still be a night like Sunday where the Wizards come into your arena and you lose by 18. It’s been largely thanks to George that the Thunder haven’t had losses spill over this season, and he will have to continue to be that stabilizing force while Westbrook tries to work out his shooting woes.
6. Celtics | Last Week: 2-1 | Overall: 23-15 | Previous Ranking: 5
Gordon Hayward really likes playing the Timberwolves. His 35 points on Wednesday in Boston were a season-high that topped the previous mark of 30 points, which he posted in Minnesota at the start of December. Maybe Hayward will establish a magic touch against another team, preferably one the Celtics play more than twice.
5. Rockets | Last Week: 2-1 | Overall: 22-16 | Previous Ranking: 7
James Harden’s run of 40-point games might have ended in conjunction with a Rockets loss, but he’s still in the same mode currently. For better or for worse, everything in Houston right now comes down to how much Harden can continue to carry this team. For now, he’s doing a great job of just doing what he does, but doing even more of it. He took 27 free throws against Memphis and then put up 23 threes in Oracle.
It is very possible this leads to him wearing down. Houston struggled during the early part of the season when Harden wasn’t putting up these ostentatious numbers, and it is hard to think the team could stay afloat without him doing any less that he is. However, despite putting himself in prime position to go grab a second MVP, Harden has had some difficulties. For the fourth time in the last five years Harden is leading the league in turnovers, and the 5.6 per game average equates to the second-worst total of his career. And while his three-point shooting percentage is at the second-best mark of his career (38.6%), his overall field-goal percentage is the lowest it’s been in Houston (43.7%).
But when he’s leading 20-point comebacks and posting 40-point triple doubles like he did against the Warriors last Thursday, everything else goes out the window. You sit back, relax and watch a master of his craft go to work.
4. Pacers | Last Week: 2-1 | Overall: 26-13 | Previous Ranking: 4
A win over the Raptors could have been great for Indiana. Maybe the Pacers can get a victory in Boston this week to make up for the one they missed out on in Toronto last week.
3. Bucks | Last Week: 2-1 | Overall: 27-11 | Previous Ranking: 1
Just like the Pacers, you want to capitalize against the Raptors. Confidence in the matchup is helpful, but so is locking up a tiebreaker when you get a chance. The Bucks are now 2-1 against the team they are currently jockeying with for the top seed in the East, and the two teams meet for the final time in the regular season on the last day of January. With one more win in Toronto this season, Milwaukee would take a big step toward getting the No. 1 seed in the East.
2. Raptors | Last Week: 3-1 | Overall: 30-12 | Previous Ranking: 3
So the return to San Antonio wasn’t ideal. The fans said some things, the team took a bad loss and now it’s all water under the bridge. In the game that actually mattered most for the Raptors last week, Kawhi Leonard put up 30 points with only eight made field goals as Toronto picked up a win in Milwaukee.
And prior to his lukewarm performance against his old team, Leonard set a career-high with 45 points in a hard-fought win over the Jazz.
You would love to see Kawhi play in a back-to-back at some point this season, but you would also prefer he be healthy all year. So, we’ll all deal with him regularly missing a game here and there if it means we know he’s available to produce a career-high 27.2 points a game and supply lockdown defense like the five steals he had against the Bucks on Saturday.
As Leonard continues to look better than ever while playing for one of the top teams, it’s going to be hard to avoid looking at him in the MVP race. But at the same time, his team is performing so well with or without him that it might be hard to properly value him.
One interesting stat about the Raptors thus far:— Tim Bontemps (@TimBontemps) January 7, 2019
In games Toronto has both Kawhi Leonard and Kyle Lowry, the Raptors are 15-6.
In games one of them is missing, Toronto is also 15-6 (8-2 with Lowry playing, 7-4 with Leonard playing).
Because as good as the new-look Raptors have been, Leonard is the most important factor in the new-look and the main reason people would feel comfortable picking this team to avenge its ghosts of postseasons past.
1. Nuggets | Last Week: 3-0 | Overall: 26-11 | Previous Ranking: 2
The Nuggets are on a five-game win streak after a stretch of eight contests that saw them go 4-4. With everybody besides Will Barton back healthy, now could be the time we see Denver go on a really big winning streak. Like, one that might maybe make people forget about the Broncos for long enough to acknowledge that the Nuggets have been holding down the top spot in the West for a little while now.