NBA Power Rankings: Western Conference teams again setting pace
We are more than a month into the season and things are starting to settle down. Teams that got off to surprisingly quick starts have fallen back to earth and those who were legitimately better than expected continue to prove their naysayers wrong.
But more than anything else, we’re starting to see the stars of the NBA do more than just put up big numbers but also big wins.
And that is why the movement this week isn’t quite as all-over-the-map as we’ve seen the first couple of weeks.
Here are NBC Sports Boston’s latest Power Rankings.
29. New York Knicks (4-17)
Rank last week: 28
We know the Knicks are bad, but 44-point beatdown bad to Milwaukee? Losing is one thing. To not compete… it’s the straightest pathway towards getting your head coach fired.
28. New Orleans Pelicans (6-15)
Rank last week: 23
Wins. Interest among fans. TV ratings. The impact of Zion Williamson’s injury continues to be felt by anyone within arm’s reach of this Pelicans franchise which is going nowhere fast, just as long as Williamson remains out.
27. Atlanta Hawks (5-17)
Rank last week: 29
Their last two losses came by 47 points to Houston, and 22 points to Brooklyn. It’s still early, but the Hawks look like they will once again spend the postseason watching others as they gear up for another trip to the NBA lottery.
26. Cleveland Cavaliers (5-15)
Rank last week: 26
The Cavaliers reportedly want to re-sign Tristan Thompson this offseason, but with so many teams needing bigs, it would be no surprise if the Cavs — for the right price of picks, talent, etc. of course — move on from Thompson, who is averaging a double-double (13.9 points, 10.6 rebounds) this season.
25. Memphis Grizzlies (6-15)
Rank last week: 27
Look for the Grizzlies to be overly cautious with Ja Morant and his back issues, which may keep him sidelined longer than expected.
24. Washington Wizards (6-13)
Rank last week: 21
Life will only get rougher for the Wizards with games coming up against Philadelphia, Miami and the Los Angeles Clippers.
23. San Antonio Spurs (8-14)
Rank last week: 24
Sacramento, Cleveland, and Phoenix are up next for the Spurs which should be good opportunities for the Spurs to get on a nice roll. But as we’ve seen this season, things are anything but business as usual for the Spurs.
22. Chicago Bulls (8-14)
Rank last week: 20
The Bulls are in a tough spot these days. They have too much talent to totally suck, but not nearly enough to compete anytime in the near future.
21. Oklahoma City Thunder (8-12)
Rank last week: 19
The Thunder are starting to win a few more games, in large part by simply shooting the ball better. In their last five games, they have connected on 47 percent of their field goal attempts, which ranks eighth in the league during that span.
20. Portland Trail Blazers (9-13)
Rank last week: 22
Before folks get too caught up in Melo-mania over the Blazers winning four of their last five games, remember this: half of those wins came over the Chicago Bulls who are … the Chicago Bulls.
19. Phoenix Suns (9-11)
Rank last week: 15
The Suns could heat up again soon with four of their next six games at home, and five of those against teams with a sub-.500 record.
18. Detroit Pistons (8-14)
Rank last week: 17
Blake Griffin is at that career crossroads where it’s not clear if his struggles are due to him still being on the mend, or whether he’s no longer the high-impact, difference-maker that we’ve seen for so many years.
17. Charlotte Hornets (9-14)
Rank last week: 25
Devonte’ Graham continues to play well, looking more and more like one of the NBA’s biggest breakout performers this season.
16. Sacramento Kings (8-12)
Rank last week: 16
Two cornerstones of the Kings’ youth movement, De’Aaron Fox (ankle) and Marvin Bagley III (thumb), are slowly but surely getting close to returning to the lineup.
15. Minnesota Timberwolves (10-10)
Rank last week: 14
The Timberwolves’ next three games are on the road ... and that’s a good thing, actually. Among Western Conference teams, only the Los Angeles Lakers (10-1) and Dallas Mavericks (8-2) have fared better on the road this season than the Timberwolves, who are 7-3.
14. Orlando Magic (10-11)
Rank last week: 18
The Magic don’t take a lot of 3’s but lately they have been making them count. Winners in three of the last four games, Orlando has shot 39.8 percent from 3-point range in that span, which ranks fifth in the league.
13. Brooklyn Nets (11-10)
Rank last week: 13
The Nets are in no rush to get Kyrie Irving (shoulder) back on the court soon. Can you blame them? With Kyrie, they’re 4-7. Without him? They’re 7-3.
12. Utah Jazz (12-10)
Rank last week: 11
The Jazz are currently 10th in the league in defensive rating (104.9), a far cry from the top-3 finishes they have had in each of the last three seasons.
11. Houston Rockets (13-7)
Rank last week: 12
San Antonio’s DeMar DeRozan thinks James Harden can score 100 points in a game. Well, Harden and the Rockets would be fine with another two that officials wiped out that should have counted and would have extended Houston’s winning streak to three straight.
10. Indiana Pacers (14-7)
Rank last week: 10
It looks like Pacers fans hoping for an early Christmas present in the form of a healthy Victor Oladipo are likely to be disappointed. There still remains no timetable for when he’ll be back after suffering a ruptured quad tendon in January.
9. Toronto Raptors (15-5)
Rank last week: 6
You can add Terence Davis to the list of undrafted rookies turning heads this season while playing an important role for a playoff contender. The 6-foot-4 guard is averaging 6.8 points off the bench while shooting 42.6 percent from 3-point range.
8. Miami Heat (15-6)
Rank last week: 8
Jimmy Butler gets a lot of praise for his scoring and defense, but his playmaking has been really good this season. He’s averaging a career-high 6.5 assists per game.
7. Philadelphia 76ers (15-6)
Rank last week: 9
The Sixers defense has been as good as advertised this season with a defensive rating of 102.6, which ranks third in the NBA.
6. Boston Celtics (15-5)
Rank last week: 5
Jaylen Brown or Jayson Tatum? Who is closer to being an All-Star? The lines of distinction between these two continues to get blurry which is a good thing for the Celtics as both continue to have career seasons.
5. Dallas Mavericks (15-6)
Rank last week: 7
The Luka Doncic hype is a thing of the past now. His numbers … the Mavericks success … he is a legitimate league MVP candidate this season.
4. Denver Nuggets (13-5)
Rank last week: 3
The recent loss at the hands of the Los Angeles Lakers, at home, is a reminder that this Nuggets team isn’t quite on the same level as the game’s established title contenders this season.
3. Los Angeles Clippers (16-6)
Rank last week: 2
They know where their missed shots are going to land more times than not, which factors into them averaging a league-best 15.8 second-chance points per game.
2. Milwaukee Bucks (19-3)
Rank last week: 4
The Bucks have been feasting off a lot of bad teams during their current 13-game winning streak, and that’s not going to change anytime soon with four of their next five games against teams with a below-.500 record.
1. Los Angeles Lakers (19-3)
Rank last week: 1
Anthony Davis continues to be the best two-way player in the NBA this season. Along with his 26 points, 9.1 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game, he’s also delivering a league-high 2.7 blocks per game while altering countless other attempts at the rim. It’s LeBron James’ team, but the play of Davis at both ends of the floor is what has propelled the Lakers into being the team everyone is chasing now.