After a short absence from the top of the class, the Warriors regain the No. 1 spot in this week’s updated NBA Power Rankings.
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1. Golden State Warriors
After some hiccups in November, the Warriors have won eight of their last ten and seem to be back on track. Obviously, the return of a healthy Stephen Curry makes a world of difference. On Sunday night, he made a layup with 0.5 seconds left to lift the Warriors to a win over the Clippers. Golden State is 18-3 in the 21 games in which Curry has scored at least 20 points this season. They are just 5-8 in the 13 games in which Curry has not played or scored 10 points or fewer.
2. Denver Nuggets
Heading into Saturday’s matchup vs. the Clippers, the Nuggets had won four straight contests and had not lost a game by double-digits all season. Both of those streaks came to an end in Los Angeles, as L.A. pounded Denver, 132-111. It didn’t help that Nikola Jokic got ejected in the third quarter for arguing with the refs. Prior to Saturday, Jokic was averaging 26.6 points (on 54.9 percent shooting), 12.8 rebounds, 6.0 assists and 2.4 steals over his previous five games.
3. Toronto Raptors
After pouring in a season-high tying 37 points on Friday, Kawhi Leonard (rest) did not suit up to face the Sixers on Saturday night. However, encouragingly, coach Nick Nurse said that Kawhi would likely begin to play in both sets of back-to-backs starting in January. Serge Ibaka, who is dealing with swelling in his right knee, has missed each of Toronto’s last three games but the Raps did get Kyle Lowry (back spasms, thigh contusion) and Danny Green (left knee contusion) back in action over the weekend.
4. Milwaukee Bucks
After beating the Celtics in Boston on Friday night in a nationally televised game, the Bucks didn’t get to their hotel room in Miami until 4:00 am on Saturday morning. Somewhat unsurprisingly, they came out flat against the Heat and scored a season-low eight points in the first quarter. They tried to rally back but ran out of gas in the fourth quarter. In the loss to Miami, Milwaukee, the NBA’s top-ranked offense, scored a season-low 87 points and shot a season-worst 37 percent from the floor.
5. Oklahoma City Thunder
Is anyone in the NBA playing better than Paul George right now? Over OKC’s last six games, PG-13 is averaging 34.3 points, 9.5 rebounds, 4.7 assists, 4.0 treys and 2.0 steals, while shooting a scorching 52.2 percent from the floor and 49.0 percent from downtown. He deserves to be included in the early MVP conversations.
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6. Philadelphia 76ers
The Sixers begin a five-game road trip when they travel to Boston for a showdown with the Celtics on Chrismas Day. From there they head to Utah, Portland, Los Angles and Phoenix. Markelle Fultz certainly won’t play on this upcoming trip, and when speaking with reporters over the weekend, Sixers GM Elton Brand seemed unsure if Fultz would re-join the team at any point this entire season. Brand said it was "to be determined" and that Philadelphia planned to update Fultz's status in "a few weeks." Yikes.
7. Indiana Pacers
The Pacers, thanks in large part to some recently inspired play from big man Myles Turner, have won nine of their last 11 games. Indiana hopes to build off that momentum with the help of a favorable upcoming stretch in their schedule. The Pacers play only four games over the next 13 days, and they’ll be heavily favored in each contest, as they play the Hawks (twice), the Pistons and the Bulls.
8. LA Clippers
After losing four straight and six of seven in the middle of the month, the Clippers righted the ship last week by beating the Mavericks and Nuggets at home. Playing on the second the back end of a back-to-back, the Clips almost beat the Warriors in Golden State on Sunday before Steph Curry sealed their fate late in the final frame.
9. Portland Trail Blazers
The Blazers have won four of their last five games, including impressive wins over the Raptors, Clippers and Grizzlies. However, their one loss during this stretch was an embarrassing 120-90 beat down by Utah. It was Portland’s worst defeat at home since 2003. They will look to get revenge on the Jazz when they travel to Utah on Christmas Day.
10. Los Angeles Lakers
With both JaVale McGee (flu) and Tyson Chandler (back spasms) sidelined, Ivica Zubac has stepped in and stepped up. Zubac has started each of the past two games for L.A. and tallied a combined total of 35 points, 15 rebounds and six blocks, while shooting 72.7 percent from the floor and 75 percent from the free-throw line.
11. Boston Celtics
After an embarrassing 120-107 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks at the TD Garden, the Celtics held a team meeting in the locker room. "Much needed," Celtics guard Kyrie Irving said of the discussion. "Much needed. I think everyone can see that we've obviously had some inconsistencies regarding our play, so I think it was just time to address it." The C’s seemed to respond positively, beating the Hornets by 16 points at home on Sunday night. It also helped that they got back a key cog in Al Horford, who had missed seven games with a sore left knee.
12. Houston Rockets
The Rockets are expected to be without Chris Paul for between 2-4 weeks after an MRI revealed he has a Grade 2 left hamstring strain. However, Houston has won six of their last seven games, as James Harden has been posting MVP-quality numbers on a nightly basis. Harden has tallied at least 30 points, five assists and three treys in six straight games (the longest such streak in NBA history). Over this six-game stretch, he’s averaging 39.7 points, 6.8 boards, 9.5 dimes, 5.0 triples and 2.5 steals.
13. San Antonio Spurs
The Spurs blew out the Timberwolves at home on Friday, 124-98. Incredibly, it was their fifth win by at least 25 points over their previous six contests. Per StatMuse, San Antonio is just the second team in NBA history to win five games by 25 or more points in a six-game span. The other is the 1971-72 Milwaukee Bucks, who did so in January 1972.
14. Sacramento Kings
The Kings, now three games over .500, keep on finding ways to win. Sacramento was trailing the Grizzlies by 19 in the first half on Friday but stormed back to beat the Grizz. Then, on Sunday vs. New Orleans, the Kings found themselves down 19 once again. And, once again, they came all the way back to win. They are the first team since the 2010 Indiana Pacers to trail by 19 and win in consecutive games.
15. Memphis Grizzlies
The Grizz had lost five consecutive contests when they traveled to L.A. on Sunday night to take on a Lakers that had won six straight at home. But Memphis pulled off the upset in Los Angeles, thanks in large part to a game-high 27 points and nine rebounds from rookie sensation Jaren Jackson Jr., who at 19 years old, is the youngest player in the NBA.
16. Charlotte Hornets
For better or worse, the Hornets have been remarkably consistent this season, neither winning or losing more than three consecutive games. Incredibly, Charlotte was 1-1 after two games, 2-2 after four games, 3-3 after six games, 4-4 after eight games, 5-5 after ten, 6-6 after 12, 7-7 after 14, 8-8 after 16, 9-9 after 18, 10-10 after 20, 11-11 after 22, 13-13 after 26, 14-14 after 28, 15-15 after 30. And now, the Hornets are 16-16 through the first 32 games of the 2018-19 campaign.
17. Utah Jazz
The Jazz are still trying to find their footing this season. After losing to Oklahoma City on Saturday, Utah has lost five of their last eight contests and are now two games below .500. They will look to get back on track this week when they play three home games, beginning with the final Christmas Day game on Tuesday vs. Portland.
18. Miami Heat
After stringing together five consecutive wins (the longest active winning streak in the NBA), the Heat are back at .500 for the first time since October 29th, when they were 3-3. Sunday’s victory was also the 500th regular season win in the coaching career of Erik Spoelstra. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, he is the 13th head coach in NBA history to reach 500 wins with a single team and the eighth-fastest to achieve the feat with one team. The only coaches to do so faster are Phil Jackson (twice), Pat Riley, Gregg Popovich, Jerry Sloan, Red Auerbach and Don Nelson. Additionally, Spoelstra, at 48 years old, is the sixth-youngest coach to hit the mark with one team. The only coaches younger are Red Auerbach, Pat Riley, Alvin Attles, Don Nelson and John MacLeod.
19. Detroit Pistons
Being a Pistons fan must be frustrating. Just when you think they are ready to take a big leap forward, they take a giant step backward. Last Saturday, they snapped a six-game losing streak with an impressive over the Celtics. But they then lost two nights later to the Bucks. However, on Wednesday in Minnesota, they pull off a miraculous come-from-behind victory to beat the Wolves in overtime. Well, Detroit would surely take advantage of the momentum built off that win, right? Wrong. The Pistons came out flat against the Hornets two nights later, and scored 86 points in a loss. Then, they compound that defeat with an indefensible loss to the Hawks at home on Sunday.
20. Dallas Mavericks
Mavs rookie Luka Doncic, aka the Slovenian Switchblade, has been wowing NBA fans across the country. His latest performance included a last-second buzzer-beater Sunday night in Portland to force overtime. However, Dallas was unable to pull out the victory in the extra session. The Mavs are now mired in a six-game losing streak, with five of those losses coming away from home. On the season, Dallas has the second-best home record in the Western Conference but is just 2-14 on the road, which the worst road record in the NBA. Not ideal considering they play five of their next seven on the road.
21. Brooklyn Nets
The surging Nets were on a seven-game winning streak before losing to the Pacers on Friday night. It tied their longest win streak in the Brooklyn era (2012-present). Remarkably, the Nets had lost eight consecutive contests prior to the winning streak. Per NBA.com, they are just the fifth team in NBA history to win seven or more straight immediately after losing eight or more straight.
22. New Orleans Pelicans
This was NOT the best week for Pelicans fans. Not only did New Orleans lose four games in a row, but in an interview with Yahoo Sports after the Pels lost to the Lakers, Anthony Davis, when asked about his pending free agency, said he'd "take legacy over money." Here’s a full quote from Davis: "I want to have a legacy. All my people that look up to me, the younger kids, I want them to know about AD’s legacy. Championships, the things I do in the community, being a good teammate, playing hard. All that stuff matters the most to me. Don’t get me wrong, money is amazing. But I think in that sense, money or legacy, I think my legacy will win that battle every time."
23. Minnesota Timberwolves
The Wolves, who had they lost six of seven, badly needed a win on Sunday night. However, they were playing in Oklahoma City against a Thunder team that had won four straight. Minnesota was just 2-13 on the road this season and had yet to beat a Western Conference opponent away from home. Yet, the Wolves got the job done, downing OKC 114-112. Andrew Wiggins scored a season-high 30 points, including the game-winner with less than 15 seconds remaining.
24. Orlando Magic
Losers in six of their last eight games, the Magic are in a major tailspin. It’s primarily because of their suddenly sputtering offense that they’ve been unable to register wins. During this current eight-game stretch, Orlando is ranked dead last in the NBA in Offensive Effeicny. The Magic are averaging just 95.6 points per 100 possessions, while 26 of the other 30 teams in the league are averaging more than 105.5 points per 100 possessions.
25. Washington Wizards
After playing a season-high 53 minutes and scoring a season-high 40 points in his first career triple-double (15 assists and 11 rebounds to go along with those 40 points) in a triple-overtime win on Saturday night, Bradley Beal came crashing back down to earth on Sunday vs. the Pacers, scoring a season-low seven points on 2-of-11 shooting. The Wizards have lost seven of their last nine games and are now seven games under .500.
26. Atlanta Hawks
Break up the Hawks! After winning just six of their first 29 games this season, Atlanta has reeled off three straight wins. In Sunday’s win over the Pistons, Vince Carter led the way, scoring a team-high and season-best 18 points. It was the first time this season he’s led Atlanta in scoring. The first time Vince Carter led his team in scoring in his NBA career was all the way back on February 9th, 1999 during his rookie year as a Raptor. Hawks first-round pick Trae Young was six months old in February of 1999.
27. Chicago Bulls
After beating the Magic on Friday, the Bulls knocked off the Cavs in Cleveland on Sunday. It’s the first time this season that Chicago has won consecutive games. The Bulls have played ten games since Jim Boylen replaced Fred Hoiberg on December 3rd and are 4-6 in those ten contests. They were 5-19 under Hoiberg.
28. New York Knicks
Has there been a more shocking and more pleasantly surprising fantasy development this month than Emmanuel Mudiay in New York? Over New York’s past five games, he’s scored more than 30 points three times. Over this current five-game stretch, Mudiay is averaging a whopping 25.4 points, 5.8 assists and 2.8 rebounds, while shooting 54.1% from the floor.
29. Phoenix Suns
The Suns had unexpectedly won four straight games heading into last weekend. They came very close to making it five in a row, before falling to the Wizards in a triple-overtime thriller on Saturday night in Washington. They then had to travel to Brooklyn and play less than 20 hours later. The Suns hung tight but couldn’t keep up in the fourth, falling to a hot Nets squad.
30. Cleveland Cavaliers
Larry Nance Jr. remained red-hot on Sunday, pouring in a season-high 20 points in Cleveland’s loss to the Bulls. Over the four games the Cavs played last week, Nance averaged 15.3 points (on 61.9 percent shooting), 12.3 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 2.3 steals and just 1.8 turnovers in 32.6 minutes.