NBA Power Rankings: NBA pecking order starting to take shape
There’s always a heightened level of optimism to start the NBA season.
But with no overwhelming favorite coming into the season, those positive vibes seemed more justified than they have been in most seasons.
We’re nearly a third of the way through this season, and the separation we were looking for is beginning to take shape.
The teams at the top of the standings aren’t going anywhere, anytime soon. And that next level of squads, those that are above average but not quite front-of-the-pack status — like the Boston Celtics — are establishing their footing for this season.
And those that weren’t expected to do much this season that began the season struggling … they’re doing their part to hold things down at the back of the line and better position themselves for the NBA lottery and a shot at landing the top overall pick.
(Games played through Dec. 18)
30. Atlanta Hawks (6-22)
Rank last week: 26
The Hawks aren’t just losing; they’re getting blown out with an average margin of defeat of 10.2 points per game, which is the second-largest scoring discrepancy in the NBA.
29. Golden State Warriors (5-24)
Rank last week: 29
The Warriors have had some lean seasons, but their current pace would rank among the franchise’s worst seasons ever.
28. New Orleans Pelicans (7-22)
Rank last week: 27
The losing skid had reached a baker’s dozen for the Pelicans before beating the Karl-Anthony Towns-less Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday night. That still doesn’t change the fact that this team has been a huge disappointment even with Zion Williamson not playing yet due to injury.
27. Cleveland Cavaliers (7-21)
Rank last week: 28
Every quarter of play has been a struggle, but the second quarter stands out with the Cavs averaging a league-low 24.3 points per game.
26. New York Knicks (7-21)
Rank last week: 30
The Knicks are playing their best basketball of the season now, with wins in three of their last four games.
25. Washington Wizards (8-18)
Rank last week: 25
Rookie forward Rui Hachimura will be out at least another five games after suffering a “groin contusion” after getting kicked by a teammate. It has been that kind of season for the Wizards.
24. Minnesota Timberwolves (10-16)
Rank last week: 23
My how the mildly competitive have fallen, with the Timberwolves currently riding an eight-game losing streak.
23. San Antonio Spurs (10-16)
Rank last week: 22
Opponents have done a good job of moving the ball and getting good shots against the Spurs this season, which explains why the Spurs rank 29th in the league in opponent assists-to-turnover ratio (1.930)
22. Chicago Bulls (11-19)
Rank last week: 20
Winnable stretch coming up with three games against teams with sub-.500 records (Detroit, Orlando and Atlanta).
21. Phoenix Suns (11-16)
Rank last week: 15
DeAndre Ayton returned to the Suns’ lineup after a 25-game suspension to tally a double-double of 18 points and 12 rebounds, an impressive performance considering the lengthy layoff.
20. Memphis Grizzlies (10-18)
Rank last week: 24
The Grizzlies have won four of their last six games, doing it by scoring 117.8 points per game, which is tied for the second-highest scoring average in that period of time.
19. Detroit Pistons (11-17)
Rank last week: 17
Injuries have been an issue for Detroit, but even when healthy the Pistons struggle at both ends of the floor.
18. Charlotte Hornets (13-18)
Rank last week: 19
The Hornets' struggles defensively are due in large part to their inability to limit the passing game of their foes who are averaging a league-high 27.2 assists against them this season.
17. Portland Trail Blazers (12-16)
Rank last week: 21
An opportunity to sniff the .500 mark is on the horizon with four straight — and six of the next seven — at home.
16. Orlando Magic (13-14)
Rank last week: 18
Teams have been lighting up the Magic from 3-point range lately which has been a major contributing factor in them losing five of their last six games.
15. Sacramento Kings (12-15)
Rank last week: 13
The return of De’Aaron Fox makes one of the most exciting, on-the-rise teams all that more enjoyable to watch going forward.
14. Oklahoma City Thunder (12-14)
Rank last week: 16
Billy Donovan has been doing one of the better under-the-radar coaching jobs this season with the Thunder playing a far more competitive brand of basketball than expected while competing for a playoff spot in the always-rugged Western Conference.
13. Brooklyn Nets (15-12)
Rank last week: 14
The Nets have won five of their last seven games, fueled by a top-five defense in that span.
12. Utah Jazz (16-11)
Rank last week: 11
It’ll be interesting to see how the Jazz handle this upcoming three-game road trip without Mike Conley, who re-aggravated a hamstring injury that had sidelined him for five games earlier this year.
11. Houston Rockets (18-9)
Rank last week: 9
Coming off the largest comeback win in franchise history, the Rockets and that explosive offense remind us that there’s no lead safe when they’re in the building.
10. Philadelphia 76ers (20-9)
Rank last week: 6
Their unbeaten streak at home is over, but the Sixers are showing that deep playoff potential they have, with Joel Embiid leading the way.
9. Indiana Pacers (19-9)
Rank last week: 10
No need for a midseason trade for the Pacers; not with the way they’re playing and the addition of Victor Oladipo on the horizon.
8. Denver Nuggets (18-8)
Rank last week: 12
Nikola Jokic is back to playing like an MVP candidate, leading the Nuggets to four straight wins while averaging 22.8 points, 10.8 rebounds and 8.8 assists in that span.
7. Miami Heat (20-8)
Rank last week: 5
Bam Adebayo is more than just a candidate for the league’s Most Improved Award. He’s playing his way into the conversation of being an All-Star this season.
6. Toronto Raptors (19-8)
Rank last week: 8
The Raptors’ transition defense has been really good lately, allowing a league-low 11.6 points off turnovers in their last five games — four of which ended with a Toronto victory.
5. Boston Celtics (18-7)
Rank last week: 4
The injuries continue to pile up for the Celtics, with the latest one — and maybe the most concerning one of the bunch — being a foot injury suffered by Gordon Hayward.
4. Dallas Mavericks (18-9)
Rank last week: 7
Luka Doncic may be out with an ankle injury, but the Mavericks have a plug-and-play system that’s impressive with or without the 20-year-old MVP candidate on the floor.
3. Los Angeles Clippers (21-8)
Rank last week: 3
They may not have the league’s best record, but the balancing act that they have with elite scoring talent and a bench full of gritty, grinder-type players will make them a tough out come playoff time.
2. Milwaukee Bucks (24-4)
Rank last week: 2
Their 18-game winning streak may be over, but the Bucks are still the clear-cut team to beat in the East.
1. Los Angeles Lakers (24-4)
Rank last week: 1
LeBron James and Anthony Davis get a lot of credit for the Lakers’ success, but their supporting cast has shown that they are pretty damn good, too.