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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!

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