NBA Power Rankings: Post-Christmas Day edition

NBA Power Rankings: Post-Christmas Day edition

TORONTO — NBA fans were treated to some cold-blooded performances on Christmas Day, ranging from Boston’s Jaylen Brown dropping 30 points in Boston’s road win over the Toronto Raptors, or Philly’s Joel Embiid filling up the stat sheet in the Sixers’ surprisingly easy win over Milwaukee. 

The select few teams that played on Christmas delivered performances that were indeed factors in this week’s power rankings, and also served as a reminder of some of the hidden gems in the NBA this season who will be vying for All-Star consideration with voting for fans beginning on Christmas Day.

For players like Embiid, James Harden, LeBron James, and Kawhi Leonard, playing on Christmas is just another big stage for them to do big things on that will be part of their All-Star résumé this season. 

But for the likes of Brown, one of the more promising two-way players in the NBA under the age of 25, coming up with big shots and big plays at both ends of the floor on Christmas Day provided the perfect launching pad for what he hopes will be his first All-Star selection. 

And as you look at this week’s power rankings, it should come as no surprise that some of the biggest movers and shakers are being carried not only by their established stars but also youngsters on the rise. 

With that said, here are NBC Sports Boston’s latest NBA Power Rankings.

NBA Power Rankings: Pecking order beginning to take shape

NBA Power Rankings: Pecking order beginning to take shape

Throughout the NBA season, there are a handful of games billed as "potential previews of the NBA Finals."

Thursday's Bucks-Lakers is one such tilt, with the two conference leaders sporting identical 24-4 records entering the game.

Both teams have opened a several-game lead in their respective conferences as separation is happening all across the league about a third of the way through the season.

LIVE stream the Celtics all season and get the latest news and analysis on all of your teams from NBC Sports Boston by downloading the My Teams App.

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. 

Click here for this week's NBA Power Rankings.

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Pistons, which tips off Friday at 7 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live, and then Mike and Tommy have the call at 7:30 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.

Marcus Smart fires back at Patrick Beverley's comparison: 'I'm just on another level'

Marcus Smart fires back at Patrick Beverley's comparison: 'I'm just on another level'

DENVER — After Los Angeles Clippers guard Patrick Beverley scoffed at a reporter's suggestion that Marcus Smart brings a similar intensity on the court, Smart fired back Friday while suggesting he’s a more impactful player than Beverley.

After the Celtics-Clippers showdown on Wednesday in Los Angeles, won by L.A. in overtime, Beverley had been asked about going against a player that matches his intensity level. Beverley dismissed the question, saying only, “That’s funny.”

Smart was asked for a response before the Celtics’ shootaround on Friday morning in Denver and upped the ante a bit.

"I’m not surprised at all. I’d have done the same thing,” said Smart. "What I am surprised about is for Pat to think that I’m below him or anything, in that standpoint where you [and] me head up against Pat, I think we know who’d win that battle. I think my play speaks for itself. I’m not saying Pat’s not a good ballplayer, good defender, I’m just on another level right now.”

Pressed on his respect for Beverley, Smart stressed an appreciation for Beverley’s defensive ways. But he doubled down on the notion of who’s the better player overall.

“[The respect is] still there. Nothing’s changed,” said Smart. "He has heart. You gotta respect a guy like that, that goes out there and plays like that every night, fearlessly, and really stands down to nobody.

"The respect factor is there but, at the same time, I’m on another level. When it comes to me, if you had to choose me [or] Pat, I think I’d be getting that nod. So no offense to Pat but step his game up a little bit more and we’ll see.”

Beverley scorched Boston for 14 points and 16 rebounds, highlighted by four 3-pointers, including some clutch shots. Smart had one of his poorer shooting nights, going 7-of-20 overall from the field but finishing with 15 points and 8 assists.

In limited head-to-head matchups Wednesday night, neither player scored against the other, according to the league’s matchup data.

The Celtics and Clippers meet again on Feb. 13 in Boston, the final game before the All-Star break.

Don’t miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Nuggets, which tips off tonight at 8 ET with Celtics Pregame Live, then Mike & Scal have the call of the game at 9 p.m. You can also stream the game through the MyTeams App.