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NBA Power Rankings: Warriors and Nets Battle for No. 1

The two best teams in the NBA are set to clash this week. Which team should take the top spot?

The unpredictable nature of this NBA season continues to make it one of the more enjoyable in recent memory. In the early going, it remains super hard to know which teams are actually good, which teams are pretty bad and how many of them actually have what it takes to make a deep playoff run. Last week saw losing streaks by a few contenders, impressive wins by up-and-comers and devastating losses from all the above. It’s been only a week since our last Power Rankings, but we’ve already seen how fluid this list can be. If we’re lucky, that trend will continue the rest of the year.

(Note: SI’s NBA staff is ranking every team from best to worst all season long, taking into account how each squad is currently playing.)

1. Golden State Warriors

Current record: 11–2

Previous ranking: 1

It’s honestly jarring to watch this team pick up where it left off four, five years ago. The hypnotic offense. The uptempo small-ball lineups. The back cuts and flare screens and aesthetically pleasing wonderland they turn every possession into is all such a delight. Steph Curry is the MVP, Draymond Green is the Defensive Player of the Year and both are still waiting for Klay Thompson to join the party. Golden State’s dominance coincides with a cupcake early schedule, but for now the Warriors are clearly the NBA’s best team.

2. Brooklyn Nets

Current record: 10–4

Previous ranking: 4

James Harden is (almost) back, Kevin Durant is (easily?) the best player on the planet and the Nets are steadily trending toward the juggernaut status many expected them to enjoy all year long. Their ball movement is excellent and their starting five’s defensive rating is good for best in the NBA. (A quick note on Harden: Last year he drew a foul on 5.48% of all his three-point attempts. This year he’s at 6.8%, which pretty much leads the league.)

3. Phoenix Suns

Current record: 9–3

Previous ranking: 8

Even without Deandre Ayton the Suns have straightened out a bumpy start and look again like a formidable championship contender. Frank Kaminsky has provided some quality minutes in a backup capacity and Chris Paul continues to dominate the assists leader board. There are no revelations beyond that: Phoenix is very good. 

4. Denver Nuggets

Current record: 9–4

Previous ranking: 14

Michael Porter Jr.’s back injury would be one of the biggest stories in the league if the Nuggets weren’t winning without him. Michael Malone said his third max player will be out for the “foreseeable future.” Until then, Denver continues to visit us from Bizarro World: The Nuggets' defense is excellent and they can’t really score. The offensive glass used to be their best friend—Denver finished top three in offensive rebound rate each of the last six seasons and currently sit below league average—and when Nikola Jokić sits everything falls to pieces. The good news? Bones Hyland is pretty good!

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5. Washington Wizards

Current record: 9–3

Previous ranking: 7

The Wizards are ... the best team in the Eastern Conference? The standings are fluid and so much seems to change every night, but elements of Washington’s success feel real and sustainable. Its defense over the past five games is more stout than any other in the entire league, while Kyle Kuzma and Montrezl Harrell continue to have a positive impact on both ends every night. And Bradley Beal—whose PER is just 16.1—hasn’t even really looked like Bradley Beal yet! 

6. Chicago Bulls

Current record: 9–4

Previous ranking: 6

The absences related to injuries/health and safety protocols keep on hitting the Bulls. Patrick Williams has been out all month, and Nikola Vučević has been impacted by COVID-19. A sizable loss on national television against the Warriors isn’t anything to panic over, though. Lonzo Ball is shooting 41.6% from behind the arc (including 45.8% of his pull-up tries) and his touch passes are pure elegance. DeMar DeRozan is a real MVP candidate, making only 38.9% of his midrange shots (down from 47.1% last year and 45.9% two seasons ago). That number will rise, and when it does Chicago’s offense will be that much more difficult to handle. (Just ask the Clippers.)

Los Angeles Clippers forward Paul George dribbles the ball against Minnesota Timberwolves guard Anthony Edwards.

7. Miami Heat

Current record: 8–5

Previous ranking: 2

Winning without Jimmy Butler in Utah on Friday night was good to see, especially for Duncan Robinson, who finally broke out of an abnormally long slump to hit six threes and score a season-high 22 points. Tyler Herro hasn’t missed a beat filling in for Butler in the starting five, but winnable losses against the Lakers and Clippers were a reminder of how important their best player truly is.

8. Los Angeles Clippers

Current record: 8–5

Previous ranking: 16

After a wretched start scoring the ball, the Clippers’ offense has finally woken up. Over the course of a seven-game winning streak (mostly against poor defensive teams but also the Heat), they registered the fourth-highest true shooting percentage in the league. Reggie Jackson, Luke Kennard and Nicolas Batum have all exploded from behind the arc, while their defense has been terrific. Without Kawhi Leonard, Paul George is a legitimate MVP candidate and the Clippers aren’t going anywhere.

9. Cleveland Cavaliers

Current record: 9–5

Previous ranking: 10

Overshadowed by deserved praise heaped on Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen (I will never stop banging the “Allen for DPOY” drum) is the fact that Cleveland can’t really score when those two share the floor (and are actually really good when Mobley is out there by himself). This isn’t a crisis. These two giants are still figuring out how to leverage each other’s offensive gifts at the same time and that will take time. But now that the Cavs are a decent team that’s crawling out of rebuild mode, meaningful big-picture partnerships deserve a closer look. In the meantime, Friday’s comeback win against the Celtics shows how resilient and real this team is.

10. Dallas Mavericks

Current record: 8–4

Previous ranking: 11

Luka leads the NBA in usage for the second year in a row. He’s averaging 25.1 points, 8.3 rebounds and 7.7 assists per game. These numbers are, um, excellent. But at the same time, Dončić has not not been negatively impacted by how referees are officiating games. He’s averaging a career-low 5.8 free throws per game (down from 9.2 two seasons ago) and his true shooting is only 52.6%. It’s too early to read too deeply into any on/off splits with someone this talented, but the Mavericks are a lot better on both ends when Luka isn’t on the court. That should change as the season progresses, but for now it’s intriguing, considering the Mavs’ record is way better than their net rating suggests it should be. 

11. Utah Jazz

Current record: 8–5

Previous ranking: 5

The Jazz are slumping just a bit, losing four of their last five games. But through the pain, it’s interesting to watch this team try to figure out different ways to play, sacrificing regular-season games and understanding that short-term struggle can potentially yield big-picture success. They’re switching a little more and working through the miscommunication issues that prop up anytime something so fundamental to their identity starts to mutate into something else. They’ll be fine, even if it looks rough right now.

12. Milwaukee Bucks

Current record: 6–8

Previous ranking: 15

It’s hard to penalize the Bucks when they lose, knowing so many key players who fill critical roles in a system that typically steamrolls through the regular season have been out of the lineup. Giannis Antetokounmpo is obviously on another level, seemingly the only star whose game is entirely unbothered by the more conservative whistle that’s been adopted by referees. But it’s also worth pointing out how dead-eye Grayson Allen has been from distance. When taking volume and accuracy into account, he might be the best three-point shooter in the league (non-Curry edition).

13. Philadelphia 76ers

Current record: 8–6

Previous ranking: 3

The Sixers have predictably fallen back to Earth, losing four straight with Joel Embiid, Tobias Harris and Matisse Thybulle all missing several games due to health and safety protocols. That’s the bad news. The good news: Tyrese Maxey. The second-year point guard is averaging 17.6 points on 51.9/41.3/87.5 shooting splits, and dropped 88 points in the Sixers' most recent three games. Maxey hardly ever turns the ball over, lives in the paint and complements blinding speed with a knockdown floater. There are nights Philly misses Ben Simmons. But there have also been moments when Maxey makes the city feel like they found a new franchise point guard.

LeBron James and Anthony Davis

14. Los Angeles Lakers

Current record: 8–6

Previous ranking: 23

Despite Frank Vogel finally opting to deploy Anthony Davis at center—instead of starting games with DeAndre Jordan clogging up the paint—the Lakers had their worst loss of the season Friday night against the Timberwolves, a fall that was steep enough to make Davis vent in his postgame press conference. They bounced back two nights later against the Spurs (thanks to Talen Horton-Tucker’s season debut), and it’s not easy to judge this team without LeBron James or several role players being healthy enough to contribute. But right now, the Lakers are very beatable.

15. New York Knicks

Current record: 7–6

Previous ranking: 9

New York’s starters have played more than any other five-man unit, which is interesting considering few, if any, are worse. Kemba Walker can still split a pick-and-roll and his pull-up threes are a weapon. But the cost of having him and Evan Fournier on the floor at the same time is defensive competency that’s 9,000 miles below what Tom Thibodeau considers acceptable. Change may come to that group sooner than later.

16. Charlotte Hornets

Current record: 8–7

Previous ranking: 17

The Hornets dug themselves out of a mini-tailspin on their West Coast road trip, with big wins against the Grizzlies and Knicks, followed by Sunday night’s narrow victory against the seemingly unbeatable Warriors. Miles Bridges’s outside shot has cooled off quite a bit—though he did have time to dominate Julius Randle in their one-on-one matchup—and Charlotte’s defense at times looks as bad as any other team’s. But the biggest issue here is probably their bench. Since P.J. Washington went down, their lacking depth has been the easiest way to explain everything that ails this team.

17. Toronto Raptors

Current record: 7–7

Previous ranking: 13

Last week I wrote about one unusual reason the Raptors are one of the least enjoyable teams to battle: They bombard the offensive glass without sacrificing much in transition, which is almost impossible. They’re about to jet out for a challenging tour of the Western Conference, and if they stumble out there don’t be surprised. Toronto isn’t a championship contender; it’s a bubbly science experiment. Bask in their glorious weirdness. 

18. Boston Celtics

Current record: 6–7

Previous ranking: 22

Dennis Schröder’s 38-point explosion against the Giannis Antetokounmpo/Khris Middleton–less Bucks on Friday was impressive, but it’s Boston’s defense that should have Ime Udoka smiling. Since Marcus Smart called out Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown (who’s been sidelined almost two weeks with a hamstring injury) on Nov. 1, the Celtics have the best defense and second-slowest pace in the NBA. They were starting to look like a team that found itself before blowing a late double-digit lead in Cleveland. But there’s enough reason to believe that when healthy, this team will be fine.

Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young (11) reacts after a play in the second quarter against the Denver Nuggets.

19. Atlanta Hawks

Current record: 5–9

Previous ranking: 18

The Hawks are searching for last year’s magic in the face of an incredibly tough schedule that’s included losses against the Jazz, Suns, Warriors, Nuggets and Nets; fair or not, they’ve been one of the most disappointing teams in the entire league, with midrange obsessed shot selection and atrocious defense that’s back near the bottom of the league. It feels wrong to suggest that De’Andre Hunter’s wrist injury could be good for this team, but the Hawks may need fewer cooks in the kitchen as they search for the right track.

20. Indiana Pacers

Current record: 6–8

Previous ranking: 21

No result involving the Pacers should surprise you, which is probably more troubling than a reason to feel optimistic. On one night they could lose their balance against the Jokić-less Nuggets, while the next will see them manhandle the Jazz, in Salt Lake City. After 14 games, their net rating is 0.2 and, under Rick Carlisle, have predictably become the least transition-friendly offense in the league. TJ Warren will provide some pop once healthy, but he might not be back before Christmas.

21. Memphis Grizzlies

Current record: 6–7

Previous ranking: 12

Ja Morant remains excellent and unstoppable with a live dribble, but his team’s defense hasn’t been able to keep up. The Grizzlies allowed 117 to the Wizards, 118 to the Hornets, 119 to the Suns and (gulp) 112 to the Pelicans in four recent losses. Some of that is due to poor three-point luck, but Memphis also has quite a bit to clean up even after they do run a shooter off the line. Help rotations don’t come when they need to. The Grizzlies rank dead-last in defensive rating after a seventh-place finish last season. Something is very wrong in Memphis.

22. Portland Trail Blazers

Current record: 6–8

Previous ranking: 19

Damian Lillard missed Sunday night’s loss with an abdominal injury and despite stellar play from his backcourt mates CJ McCollum and Anfernee Simons (a springy Most Improved Player/Sixth Man of the Year candidate), nothing really matters here unless Lillard is healthy enough to look like a top-10 force of nature. That hasn’t really happened yet this season.

23. Oklahoma City Thunder

Current record: 5–7

Previous ranking: 27

We might be at the point when losing to the Thunder isn’t that embarrassing. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is on track to make his first All-Star team, Josh Giddey’s passing regularly demands a tap of the rewind button on my remote (his assist-to-usage ratio is already elite) and when Lu Dort scores (he’s crossed the 20-point line in three straight games), they look like the best second-class team in basketball.

24. Sacramento Kings

Current record: 5–8

Previous ranking: 20

It’s still hard to get a read on this team. Tyrese Haliburton is clearly a special building block who, when healthy, invigorates everyone around him by making selfless play after selfless play. Davion Mitchell’s three-ball is starting to fall and Harrison Barnes is living at the free throw line. But De’Aaron Fox, ostensibly this team’s franchise player, still can’t string together the type of dominant performances Sacramento needs him to have. Following up a 37-point night against the Spurs with a 5-for-14 dud in a loss against the Thunder can’t happen.

25. Minnesota Timberwolves

Current record: 4–8

Previous ranking: 25

Karl-Anthony Towns is Minnesota’s best player by, still, a wide margin. He also currently ranks third on the team in usage rate. If the Timberwolves want to turn things around and avoid blowout losses and late-game collapses, they need to figure out better ways to get Towns involved on offense—especially in the fourth quarter, where the gap between his usage rate and those held by Anthony Edwards and D’Angelo Russell actually widens. This team has the third-worst crunch-time offense in the league, partially because their top threat isn’t utilized as often as he should be.

26. San Antonio Spurs

Current record: 4–9

Previous ranking: 24

The Spurs may not be good enough to send any players to All-Star weekend, but Dejounte Murray’s nightly triple-double watch (and excellent on- and off-ball defense) should keep his name in consideration. He’s one of five players averaging at least 18 points, seven assists and seven rebounds per game. San Antonio also completely falls apart when Murray isn’t in the game.

27. Detroit Pistons

Current record: 3–9

Previous ranking: 30

Every morning, Pistons GM Troy Weaver should wake up and make at least 10 phone calls around the league to see if anyone wants Jerami Grant, the team’s 27-year-old inefficient leading scorer who makes so much more sense in a winning situation than jacking up contested 18-foot fadeaways in Detroit’s wasteland. During a season when roughly a third of the league can talk themselves into making a deep playoff run, the Pistons could/should be able to get something valuable for him.

28. Orlando Magic

Current record: 3–10

Previous ranking: 26

Orlando had the worst offense in the NBA last week, but with so little at stake in any of their games, it’s still easy to see a bright future here given how well Cole Anthony and Franz Wagner look. Jalen Suggs has yet to find his groove, but shooting woes haven’t stopped him from keeping his foot on the gas, with aggressive drives and physical on-ball defense. The Magic are horrible right now. But, at the very beginning of their lengthy rebuild, already have some things to be excited about.

29. New Orleans Pelicans

Current record: 2–12

Previous ranking: 29

A win against the reeling Grizzlies on Saturday night was, well, better than a loss. But the Pelicans are still one of the NBA’s worst teams, with foundationless offense and Zion Williamson’s extended rehab hanging over the entire organization. Brandon Ingram’s return after a seven-game absence (all Pelicans losses) was nice to see, though.

30. Houston Rockets

Current record: 1–12

Previous ranking: 28

The Rockets are bad. In the last 20 years, only two teams have a worse turnover rate than they currently do. This team wants to play fast, but in reality their first-ranked pace is more a byproduct of flimsy defense than an ability to take advantage of as many open-floor opportunities as they can. (Defensive possessions against Houston are a league-short 14 seconds, on average.) They also rank 28th in transition frequency off live rebounds.

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