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NBA Power Rankings: Warriors Regain Top Spot, Lakers Continue to Fall

Golden State made a strong statement against Phoenix on Christmas, while a five-game skid has thrust the Lakers into temporary limbo.

Happy Holidays! If it feels impossible to make sense of the NBA right now, much less keep track of which players are on which teams and who’s in health and safety protocols, well, you’re onto something. We’re here to break things down anyway. The strange morass that is the standings are not the whole story, not in a season like this.

(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: 27-6

Previous ranking: 2

Beating the full-strength Suns on the road for Christmas was a strong statement from the Warriors, who should get Klay Thompson back in January.

Draymond Green, Jordan Poole and Andrew Wiggins are currently in COVID-19 protocol, but Golden State hasn’t been this enjoyable in some time, and their ongoing quest for another title is approaching must-watch territory.

2. Phoenix Suns

Current record: 26-6

Previous ranking: 1

Phoenix remains a very real foil for Golden State, and whoever else, and has four starters healthy during this key stretch of midseason games. If you could guarantee seven playoff games between the Suns and Warriors right now, you’d take that deal, right?

3. Utah Jazz

Current record: 23-9

Previous ranking: 3

Ho hum, it’s just the Jazz winning 11 of their last 13. Utah hasn’t been as dominant defensively as in years past, but boasts the league’s top offense by a strong margin at this juncture. They’re deep, experienced and, entering Sunday, had nobody in the COVID protocol. Can’t ask for more.

4. Milwaukee Bucks

Current record: 22-13

Previous ranking: 9

Giannis made his return to lead a Christmas Day win over the Celtics, which the Bucks will hope is a good omen. Whether or not you’re superstitious, Milwaukee’s next five games are against the Magic twice, the Pelicans, Pistons and Raptors, so yeah.

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5. Chicago Bulls

Current record: 20-10

Previous ranking: 6

The Bulls lost head coach Billy Donovan to the health and safety protocol on Friday, with Lonzo Ball right behind him. Still, now mostly healthy, they should have a chance to catch a rhythm with a couple weeks of very winnable games ahead. Chicago has more to prove as far as contention goes, but clearly, this is a stable short-term recipe.

6. Brooklyn Nets

Current record: 22-9

Previous ranking: 4

The ultra-shorthanded Nets benefited from three game postponements and may not miss much of a beat: James Harden is out of COVID protocol, Kevin Durant should be back sooner than later, and Kyrie Irving should eventually return. What it looks like with everyone back together is the spicy part.

7. Cleveland Cavaliers

Current record: 20-13

Previous ranking: 5

The Cavs have forcefully flipped their own script this season, although winning with neither Jarrett Allen nor Evan Mobley in the lineup may prove a bit difficult. Koby Altman deserves a lot of credit for fixing a situation many people had written off before the season started, and J.B. Bickerstaff’s new contract extension reflects that.

8. Memphis Grizzlies

Current record: 20-14

Previous ranking: 7

Formerly red-hot Memphis has struggled a bit since Ja Morant returned to the lineup last week. Should we be worried? No, we probably shouldn’t be.

9. Miami Heat

Current record: 21-13

Previous ranking: 8

Losing Kyle Lowry to COVID protocol is a big blow, but Jimmy Butler returned on Sunday to make life easier. At this point, I trust pretty much whoever the Heat decide to roll out there. Max Strus was one of my favorite undrafted sleepers in 2019, but nobody would have predicted the type of tear he’s on.

10. Denver Nuggets

Current record: 16-16

Previous ranking: 12

It remains hard to say if the Nuggets are underachieving or overachieving at any given time. They deserve some sympathy with Jamal Murray still out and Michael Porter Jr. potentially done for the season, but they’re still blowing winnable opportunities, and they still have Nikola Jokić. January is crucial, as Denver’s next 13 games come against Western Conference opponents. If the Nuggets can get Murray back in the second half of the season, maybe the calculus changes.

11. Washington Wizards

Current record: 17-16

Previous ranking: 16

Bradley Beal entered the health and safety protocol at a terrible time for the Wizards, who spent much of December backsliding toward .500, but continue to hang around the play-in cut line. On the bright side, recent first-round draftees Deni Avdija and Corey Kispert may be stepping up to help.

12. Los Angeles Clippers

Current record: 17-16

Previous ranking: 10

With Paul George out for at least 3-to-4 weeks with an elbow injury, things are getting serious for the Clippers, who are entering a road-heavy January slate and are short on quality rotation options. Then again, so is a large chunk of the NBA. Still, this could get bad quickly.

13. Boston Celtics

Current record: 16-17

Previous ranking: 11

Boston has been racked by COVID as hard as any team in recent days with Jayson Tatum joining the long list of players in health and safety protocols). 

14. Philadelphia 76ers

Current record: 17-16

Previous ranking: 21

It’ll be tough to know exactly what to make of the inconsistent Sixers until Ben Simmons gets traded. Of course, it’s tough to know exactly when that will happen. This should be a playoff team, but it’s not that simple.

15. Charlotte Hornets

Current record: 17-17

Previous ranking: 13

The Hornets’ attractive brand of basketball hasn’t been accompanied by much winning this month, and Miles Bridges and P. J. Washington just entered the protocol, which makes life a lot more difficult. But at least the franchise still has hope in LaMelo Ball.

16. Dallas Mavericks

Current record: 15-17

Previous ranking: 15

The Mavs are more reliant on Luka Dončić than arguably any other team and their superstar, and his absence due to health and safety protocols lays that bare. In the big picture, Dallas is going to need to find a second star at some point, and it’s probably not going to be Kristaps Porzingis.

17. Minnesota Timberwolves

Current record: 15-17

Previous ranking: 14

Pretty much every important Timberwolves player is in the COVID protocol right now, which is a shame after a four-game, mid-December win streak inspired some hope. There’s legitimately enough talent here for Minnesota to make the playoffs, and the fact the Wolves are as close to .500 as they are isn’t a terrible spot to be in.

18. Atlanta Hawks

Current record: 15-17

Previous ranking: 17

After losing to the Knicks on Christmas, the Hawks lost John Collins to the health and safety protocol and are still without Trae Young a bit longer. The playoff push feels like a battle of attrition for Atlanta, which apart from a seven-game November win streak, hasn’t been particularly good.

19. New York Knicks

Current record: 15-18

Previous ranking: 20

Maybe the one real heartwarming story of the week was Kemba Walker setting the NBA on fire after briefly being exiled from the Knicks’ rotation. Who knows how many more 40-minute outings his knees can take, but clearly, Kemba has something in the tank.

Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James (6) moves to the basket against Brooklyn Nets forward Nic Claxton (33) during the second half at Crypto.com Arena.

20. Los Angeles Lakers

Current record: 16-18

Previous ranking: 18

Anthony Davis is out for a while, and a five-game skid has thrust the Lakers into temporary limbo. There’s not much more LeBron can do right now. Russell Westbrook isn’t who he once was. Reinforcements likely aren’t coming. It’s not great!

21. Indiana Pacers

Current record: 14-20

Previous ranking: 22

We’ll see whether the purported Pacers fire sale actually happens—I don’t think Rick Carlisle will ever sign up for tanking—but it hasn’t felt for some time like Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis will work as a long-term tandem. As the NBA at large returns to health (knock on wood), facilitating a trade or two should at least be easier.

 22. San Antonio Spurs

Current record: 14-18

Previous ranking: 24

Given the Spurs aren’t exactly pushing for the playoffs, I’d love to see them find minutes for 12th overall pick Josh Primo, who has been showing good stuff in the G League and looks like a huge part of their future. The question is where that playing time comes from, given San Antonio’s range of young perimeter players.

23. Toronto Raptors

Current record: 14-16

Previous ranking: 19

Well, the Raptors really got screwed by COVID. But if you’ve ever felt compelled to watch Svi Mykhailiuk and Yuta Watanabe play 40 minutes a night, this is a big week for you.

24. Portland Trail Blazers

Current record: 13-19

Previous ranking: 23

All the injuries and COVID-related issues have laid bare Portland’s lack of depth, which should stand as one of the failures of Neil Olshey’s tenure. It’s not a coincidence that the Blazers are the last team without a G League affiliate. They’ve also wasted a two-way contract slot on Damian Lillard’s cousin for the last two seasons. Sometimes, you make your own bed.

25. Sacramento Kings

Current record: 13-19

Previous ranking: 25

Are we ready to talk about Tyrese Haliburton as the long-term centerpiece of this team? Considering his production sans De’Aaron Fox, we probably should be.

26. New Orleans Pelicans

Current record: 12-22

Previous ranking: 27

The Pelicans have finally benefited from some health and continuity and put together a pretty good December, all things considered. There’s at least one play-in spot very much up for grabs in the West. It’s hard to count on Zion Williamson returning, but the fact New Orleans is still trying doesn’t hurt, at least.

27. Oklahoma City Thunder

Current record: 12-20

Previous ranking: 28

My Christmas wish was to send Shai Gilgeous-Alexander to a relevant team. I didn’t get it.

28. Houston Rockets

Current record: 10-23

Previous ranking: 26

Surprise! The random seven-game Rockets win streak was a mirage. As far as lottery odds go, Houston is still amongst the three worst teams in the league, so no harm done.

29. Orlando Magic

Current record: 7-27

Previous ranking: 29

There have been some bright spots amid Orlando’s losing, with Cole Anthony and Wendell Carter Jr. finding their footing and Franz Wagner looking like an excellent pick at No. 8. If the Magic can get all of Jalen Suggs, Markelle Fultz and Jonathan Isaac back on the court in early 2022, they should finally get a full assessment of what they have.

30. Detroit Pistons

Current record: 5-27

Previous ranking: 30

The expectation should never have been that Cade Cunningham would turn this around by himself. With some lottery luck, the Pistons will be able to pair him with a future go-to scorer in Jabari Smith Jr. or Paolo Banchero, either of whom would be a strong fit.

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The NBA Has Chosen Its Path Against COVID
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