NBA Power Rankings
30. New York Knicks (4-16) (Last week: 29)
Embattled Knicks’ coach David Fizdale is trying everything he can to find some successful lineup combinations, but it’s tough to build any consistency when Julius Randle is the only player who’s started all 20 games this season. The Knicks have lost six in a row with only Randle, Marcus Morris and rookie R.J. Barrett averaging in double figures.
29. Atlanta Hawks (4-16) (Last week: 28)
Trae Young is an amazing talent, but it’s become pretty obvious he can’t win games by himself. Young matched his career high with 49 points in an overtime loss at Indiana last week, and the Hawks gave up 158 points in getting blown out at Houston on Saturday. The losing streak is now at 10 games and suspended forward John Collins can’t get back soon enough.
28. Golden State Warriors (4-17) (Last week: 30)
Draymond Green returned to action to provide some leadership to this rag-tag bunch. Of course, they did manage to beat the Bulls last Wednesday, led by second-round find Eric Paschall. Things should get a little better when D’Angelo Russell comes back from an ankle injury, and Steph Curry is still hoping to play late in the season. But the Warriors are already looking forward to next season and their return to being one of the better teams in the West.
27. Cleveland Cavaliers (5-14) (Last week: 26)
You have to wonder if first-year Cavs coach John Beilein was feeling any regrets after watching the Michigan team he left behind win a Thanksgiving tournament in the Bahamas, beating North Carolina and Gonzaga. Beilein does have a talented young backcourt to work with in Cleveland, featuring lottery picks Collin Sexton and Darius Garland. Garland had one of his best games in a loss to Milwaukee on Saturday with 21 points and six assists.
26. Memphis Grizzlies (6-13) (Last week: 22)
The young Grizzlies had been doing a nice job of playing exciting, competitive basketball, but now they’ll have to get along without the early season Rookie of the Year favorite Ja Morant, who’s being shut down for at least a week because of back spams. Morant will miss the Grizzlies’ only game in Chicago this season on Wednesday, which is too bad for Bulls’ fans who would love to see one of the most exciting young talents in the game.
25. Chicago Bulls (6-14) (Last week: 21)
Another winless week for Jim Boylen’s team which continues to rank near the bottom of the league in offensive efficiency. The Bulls looked better at both ends of the court in a close loss at Portland Friday night, but they’re still waiting for Lauri Markkanen to emerge from his puzzling slump to provide another fourth quarter scoring option with Zach LaVine and rookie Coby White.
24. Washington Wizards (6-12) (Last week: 20)
The Wizards continue to be among the league’s highest scoring teams, and the unlikely frontcourt rotation of Thomas Bryant, Mo Wagner, Davis Bertans and rookie Rui Hachimura has been better than expected. Credit to veteran guard Bradley Beal for the way he handled a question about whether he regretted signing a contract extension with the Wizards. Beal said he’s happy where he is and “the grass isn’t always greener” jumping to another team.
23. Charlotte Hornets (8-13) (Last week: 27)
The Hornets continue to get production from the unlikely duo of Devonte Graham and P.J. Washington, plus offseason addition Terry Rozier is coming on after a slow start. Given the lack of talent on the roster, getting to the quarter pole at 8-13 really isn’t all that bad.
22. San Antonio Spurs (7-14) (Last week: 19)
Wonder if Gregg Popovich is regretting his decision to sign a new contract to coach the Spurs? Pop looked stunned after losing 132-98 in Detroit on Sunday, and will have a tough time finding answers for a veteran team built around mid-range shooters LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan. Apparently moving Rudy Gay and Jakob Poeltl into the starting lineup wasn’t enough to turn things around.
21. Detroit Pistons (7-13) (Last week: 25)
The Pistons gave their fans a look at what this team could become in rolling up a 34-point win over San Antonio on Sunday. Detroit shot 59% from the field and 48% from the 3-point line in rolling up 132 points against the floundering Spurs. Journeyman forward Christian Wood had the best game of his NBA career with 28 points and 10 rebounds.
20. New Orleans Pelicans (6-14) (Last week: 18)
The Pelicans are finally starting to get healthy again and are looking forward to the return of prized rookie Zion Williamson sometime in December. Lonzo Ball is back to add some playmaking and defense to the backcourt, and Brandon Ingram continues to enjoy a breakout season. This could be a fun team to watch during the second half of the season.
19. Orlando Magic (8-11) (Last week: 17)
Defense continues to keep the Magic from sinking to the bottom of the East. Steve Clifford’s team is limiting opponents to just 102.3 points per game. All-Star center Nik Vucevic is still out with an ankle injury, but Evan Fournier has picked up his scoring, averaging 21.8 points over his last 10 games.
18. Oklahoma City Thunder (8-11) (Last week: 24)
Chris Paul is still capable of leading the Thunder to close wins. The veteran point guard keyed a late 12-0 run in New Orleans on Sunday as OKC posted a come from behind 107-104 win. Paul has been a model citizen so far, but you have to wonder if he’ll push for a trade as we get closer to the February deadline. An even bigger question, will any team to be willing to take on Paul’s bloated contract?
17. Portland Trail Blazers (8-12) (Last week: 23)
Who would have predicted Carmelo Anthony would give Portland such a huge lift? The 35-year-old Anthony had been out of the league for an entire calendar year, but he’s been very good in his six games with the Trail Blazers, averaging 17.7 points and 6 rebounds a game while shooting 37% from 3-point land. Of course, we should point out two of those games were against the Bulls.
16. Phoenix Suns (8-10) (Last week: 13)
Injuries have taken their toll on Monty Williams’ young team. The Suns have cooled off after a torrid start, but they should start to stabilize now that Ricky Rubio and Aron Baynes have returned to the lineup. Swingman Kelly Oubre Jr. is playing the best basketball of his career, averaging 17.5 points, 5.9 rebounds and 1.3 steals per game.
15. Sacramento Kings (8-10) (Last week: 16)
The Bulls will get a look Monday night at the resurgent Kings, who’ve bounced back nicely after an 0-4 start. Harrison Barnes came through with 30 points in an overtime win over Denver on Saturday, and Sacramento has been able to play winning basketball while high lottery picks Marvin Bagley and De’Aaron Fox continue to rehab from injuries. Lockport native Richaun Holmes has done an excellent job filling in for Bagley, averaging 11.1 points and 8.2 rebounds while shooting 64.9% from the field.
14. Minnesota Timberwolves (10-9) (Last week: 15)
The T-Wolves have been road warriors so far, winning seven of their nine games away from the Twin Cities. On the other hand, they’ve won only 3 of 10 in front of the home fans at Target Center. Karl-Anthony Towns appears to be headed to another All-Star Game appearance, averaging 26.3 points and 12.6 rebounds. Towns is shooting 51.3% from the field and 44.4% from 3 point range.
13. Brooklyn Nets (10-10) (Last week: 14)
Kyrie Irving continues to sit out because of a shoulder injury, but the Nets are still in a playoff position as we head into December. A good portion of the credit goes to Bulls’ castoff Spencer Dinwiddie, who signed a long-term contract extension with Brooklyn late last season, and has proved to be a bargain, averaging 23.4 points and 7 assists over his last 10 games. To be fair, Dinwiddie was still rounding into top shape from a serious knee injury when the Bulls had him in training camp in 2016.
12. Indiana Pacers (12-7) (Last week: 12)
The challenge for Nate McMillan and company was to try to hang in the Eastern Conference playoff race until All-Star guard Victor Oladipo is ready to return sometime around Christmas. Well, the Pacers have done much more than that, thanks in large part to a 9-2 home record. And, they’ve done it with key players like Myles Turner, Domantas Sabonis, Jeremy Lamb and Malcolm Brogdon all missing games because of injuries. The Pacers begin the week with a 12-7 record and a +5 point differential.
11. Utah Jazz (12-8) (Last week: 10)
Like several teams out west, the Jazz are still looking for some consistency. Head coach Quin Snyder moved veteran Joe Ingles to the bench, hoping to add some firepower to the second unit, but the reserve group has been unreliable through the first 20 games and veteran point guard Mike Conley is still struggling to find his rhythm on offense, shooting just 36% from the field.
10. Houston Rockets (13-6) (Last week: 11)
The Rockets definitely can score. They’re currently tied with Milwaukee for the highest team scoring average at 120.3 points per game. But Houston is also giving up 114.5 PPG and that will have to improve if the Rockets hope to make a deep playoff run. James Harden is running away with the league scoring race, averaging a Jordan-like 38.9 points. Harden turned in the fourth 60-point game of his career on Saturday against the Hawks (matching M.J.’S total) in just 31 minutes of court time.
9. Miami Heat (14-5) (Last week: 8)
Miami continues to roll along with one of the best records in the East, but you know they would love to move on from the distraction caused by veteran guard Dion Waiters, who was suspended in early November after suffering a panic attack on the team charter from ingesting an edible drug. Waiters has recently been reinstated and allowed to rejoin practices, but good luck to Pat Riley in finding an interested team to take Waiters’ contract off his hands.
8. Dallas Mavericks (13-6) (Last week: 9)
The Luka Doncic show is big box office all around the league. I know I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating, the Suns, Kings and Hawks’ front offices will always be remembered for passing on Doncic in the 2018 draft. It’s not Sam Bowie instead of Michael Jordan, but passing on a transcendent talent like Doncic is tough to explain away.
7. Boston Celtics (14-5) (Last week: 6)
Kemba Walker only missed one game after suffered a scary neck injury, and his toughness and unselfish attitude has been a perfect fit for a Celtics’ team trying to rebound from the Kyrie Irving experience. Young perimeter players Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown continue to improve with bigger roles and more shot attempts. Tatum scored 30 points in a win at Madison Square Garden on Sunday, with Brown adding 28.
6. Denver Nuggets (13-4) (Last week: 4)
The Nuggets’ six-game winning streak came to an unlikely end when they blew a 17-point lead in Sacramento on Saturday and wound up losing in overtime when star point guard Jamal Murray dribbled out the clock without getting off a shot attempt. Denver’s 13-4 record is solid, but their point differential of +4.9 doesn’t exactly paint the picture of a championship contender.
5. Philadelphia 76ers (14-6) (Last week: 7)
Joel Embiid’s puzzling season continues. He failed to score in a loss to Toronto last Monday, missing all 11 of his shots from the field, but then came back with a vengeance, averaging 30.7 points and 14.8 rebounds in three straight Philadelphia wins. The Sixers could be suffering from a case of buyer’s remorse in choosing to offer a max contract to Tobias Harris instead of Jimmy Butler.
4. LA Clippers (15-6) (Last week: 2)
Doc Rivers is still working on the best rotations to utilize two-way stars Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. The Clippers only shot 39% from the field in a puzzling loss at San Antonio on Friday, and it’s no secret they could use another outside shooting threat on the perimeter. Getting second-year guard Landry Shamet back from injury will help, but the Clips will probably be on the lookout for another veteran shooter down the road.
3. Toronto Raptors (13-3) (Last week: 5)
Can’t say enough what an incredible job Nick Nurse has done leading the defending champs to a 15-4 record with Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka missing most of the season because of injuries. Pascal Siakam has moved seamlessly into the leading scorer role vacated by Kawhi Leonard, and Nurse has been excellent in mixing and matching his bench players to win consistently. The Raptors begin the new week on a seven-game winning streak.
2. LA Lakers (17-3) (Last week: 1)
The Lakers’ Sunday afternoon loss to Dallas snapped their longest winning streak in 10 years and knocked them out of the top spot. The superstar duo of LeBron James and Anthony Davis looks like a perfect match, and the Lakers have been getting nightly contributions from the supporting cast. Former Bulls’ point guard Rajon Rondo has improved his 3-point shooting, knocking down 44.8% of his attempts from beyond the arc.
1. Milwaukee Bucks (17-3) (Last week: 3)
Giannis Antetokounmpo vowed to be even better after winning the MVP award last season, and he’s been true to his word, increasing his numbers in just about every statistical category while also showing an improved touch from 3-point range. The Bucks have reeled off 11 straight wins to tie the Lakers for the league’s best record and they should be even better with all-star Khris Middleton back from a quad injury. The Bucks’ +10.8 point differential ranks first in the NBA.