Winners of three straight and seven of their last eight games, the Milwaukee Bucks lay claim to the top spot in the final NBA Power Rankings of 2018.
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1. Milwaukee Bucks
Milwaukee beat Brooklyn handily on Saturday night, 129-115, behind a 30-point triple-double from Giannis Antetokounmpo. It was the Bucks 17th victory this season by 10 or more points, which is the most in the NBA in 2018-19. That’s just one of the many categories in which Milwaukee leads the league. The Bucks rank first overall in Offensive Rating (scoring 112.7 points per 100 possessions) and Net Rating (outscoring their opponents by 8.6 points per 100 possessions). With the NBA’s best winning percentage thus far this season, they deserve the No.1 spot as we head into 2019.
2. Toronto Raptors
After a dominating for first six weeks fo the season, the Raptors went just 8-7 in the 15 games they played in the month of December. They hope to get a healthy Kyle Lowry back in the lineup soon. The Raps starting point guard is dealing with lower back pain and has been on the shelf for seven of Toronto's last eight contests, and has already been ruled out of Tuesday's game vs. the Jazz.
3. Denver Nuggets
Not only have the Nuggets posted the Western Conference's best record heading into 2019, but they have done so without many of their key contributors. However, Paul Millsap returned to game action this past weekend, playing in his first game since he broke a toe on December 7th. In addition, head coach Mike Malone intimated last week that Will Barton (hip) is nearing a return. And Gary Harris (hip) went through a full-court scrimmage on Thursday. A fully healthy Nuggets squad is a scary prospect for the rest of the West.
4. Golden State Warriors
Kevin Durant currently ranks second in the NBA in scoring at 28.6 points per game. Stephen Curry (28.5) is tied for third with Anthony Davis. The last time two teammates finished the regular season ranked in the top five in scoring was in 2011-12 when Durant (first) and Russell Westbrook (fifth) did it while with the OKC Thunder.
5. Indiana Pacers
The Pacers have won their last four games to improve their record to a season-best 12 games above .500. Dating back to December 4th, Indiana has won 11 of its last 13 games. Per NBA.com, over that span, all 11 victories have come by six points or more and an average of 14.0 points per game, while their two losses have been decided by a total of four points. In addition, the Pacers will end the 2018 calendar year as the only team in the NBA that has not lost three consecutive games.
6. Oklahoma City Thunder
Russell Westbrook’s shooting struggles continued in OKC’s loss to the Mavs on Sunday. Russ was just 4-of-22 from the floor and 0-of-8 from downtown. Dating back to the start of last season, the Thunder are 8-21 when Westbrook attempts more than five 3-pointers. In 2018-19, they are 14-3 when he attempts five or fewer 3-pointers.
7. Philadelphia 76ers
Joel Embiid sat out Sunday’s loss to the Blazers due to soreness in his left knee. Fortunately, the Sixers downplayed the severity of the issue. "It’s not anything that we’re concerned about," said coach Brett Brown. "We’re just reacting to his and the medical staff’s thoughts that it might be best to sit." The Sixers next game is Tuesday in Los Angeles vs. the Clippers.
8. Houston Rockets
The Rockets have resurrected their the season by winning nine of their last ten games. James Harden has performed like a true MVP over this ten-game stretch, averaging a ridiculous 39.4 points, 5.9 rebounds, 8.0 assists, 2.1 steals and 5.5 treys in 38.1 minutes over these ten contests.
9. Los Angeles Lakers
In order to maintain momentum with LeBron James (groin) sidelined, the Lakers are going to need to get contributions from all over their roster. That was the case Sunday night, in an impressive comeback victory over the Kings. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope hit a season-high five 3-pointers and scored a team-high 26 points off the bench. Josh Hart chipped in a season-high 22 points, seven rebounds and three assists. JaVale McGee returned to the starting lineup and contributed eight points and 12 rebounds. Kyle Kuzma had 18/9/6. Brandon Ingram had his best all-around game of the season, flirting with a triple-double while tallying 21 points, seven rebounds, nine assists, a steal and two blocks in 39 minutes.
10. Boston Celtics
When Kyrie Irving gets in a groove, he has the ability to post jaw-dropping numbers while dropping defenders attempting to guard him. Uncle Drew has been locked in over the last few weeks and it’s been fun to watch. Dating back to December 12th (nine games), Irving is averaging 27.3 points, 7.1 assists, 5.8 rebounds, 3.1 treys and 1,7 steals, while shooting 49.2 percent from the floor, 46.7 percent from downtown and 95.2 percent from the free-throw line.
11. LA Clippers
The Clippers have been one of the NBA’s most pleasant surprises this season. Some pundits predicted that Los Angeles might fire head coach Doc Rivers and commit to a rebuild this offseason. However, at 21-15, the Clips currently sit fourth in the stacked Western Conference and are on pace to win 47 games. Through 36 games in 2017-18, L.A. was just 17-19.
12. Portland Trail Blazers
The Blazers went 2-1 last week thanks in large part to the efficient and effective play from Jusuf Nurkic. Over Portland’s three contests, Nurk averaged 20.7 points, 9.7 rebounds and 4.7 assists, while shooting 58.1 percent from the floor and 75.0 percent from the charity stripe.
13. San Antonio Spurs
Not only is DeMar DeRozan pouring in points (23.1 PPG) as the Spurs had expected, he’s also contributing across the board. San Antonio has had numerous well-rounded stars over its illustrious history; however, DeRozan is on pace to become the first player in Spurs history to average at least 20.0 points, 5.0 assists and 5.0 rebounds over the course of a full season.
14. Sacramento Kings
The Kings have pulled off a number of impressive comebacks this season, thanks in large part to their often spectacular play in the third and fourth quarters. Sacramento leads the NBA in second-half scoring (58.3 points) while shooting 47.5 percent from the floor (tied with the Bucks for the third-best mark in the league).
15. Utah Jazz
Utah is slowly but surely inching its way back towards .500. However, they have a challenging week ahead, as they are about to embark on a four-game road trip, beginning Tuesday night in Toronto.
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16. Dallas Mavericks
After a driving layup put them up in the closing seconds, the Mavs held on to beat the Thunder on Sunday in Dallas. They have now won 13 of the last 14 games they’ve played at the American Airlines Center. Their 15-3 record at home this season is the best in the Western Conference.
17. Memphis Grizzlies
After a surprisingly hot start to the season, the Grizz have come crashing back down to earth. Memphis was 15-9 on December 7th, but have lost eight of the 11 games they’ve played since. On Saturday, they blew a 19-point lead to the Celtics. It was the second time this season they held a 19-point lead in a game they would eventually lose.
18. Minnesota Timberwolves
Karl-Anthony Towns had a game for the ages in Minnesota's victory over the Heat on Sunday. KAT scored 34 points (on 12-of-24 shooting), ripped down 18 rebounds, dished out seven assists and still found time to record three steals and block six shots. Per the Elias Sports Bureau, no other player in NBA history has ever equaled or bettered all of those numbers in a game since 1973-74, when steals and blocks were first tracked.
19. Miami Heat
After entering last week on a five-game winning streak, the Heat lost two of three, with their only victory coming against the lowly Cavs. However, Miami has a chance to rack up some wins this week, as they play Cavs once again, as well as the Wizards and Hawks.
20. Charlotte Hornets
Charlotte’s loss to the Wizards on Saturday was their third defeat in their last four games. However, the failure can’t be pinned on Kemba Walker, who exploded for 47 points, including 24 in the fourth quarter in a tremendous performance just to keep the Hornets within striking distance.
21. Detroit Pistons
The Pistons are in the midst of a stretch in which they play eight of ten games on the road, with the only two home games coming against the Jazz and Spurs. Detroit has also lost four of five, including the first two road contests on this trip.
22. Brooklyn Nets
Despite losing their final two games of the month, the Nets still won nine games in December. Impressive for a team that hasn’t compiled ten wins in December since they went 10-4 in 2005.
23. Orlando Magic
It looked as if the Magic’s 2018-19 season might be headed for disaster in the middle of last week. After a bitterly disappointing home loss to the Suns on Wednesday night, Orlando had fallen to 14-19, five games below. 500. However, the Magic closed out the week in very impressive fashion, crushing the Raptors 116-87 on Friday and then knocking off the Pistons on Sunday. Unfortunately, Orlando is now forced to embark on a six-game road trip.
24. New Orleans Pelicans
Julius Randle and Jrue Holiday have played well. And Anthony Davis has been as incredible as expected. However, the Pelicans have lost six of seven and now find themselves in 14th place in the ultra-competitive Western Conference. They’ve missed forward Nikola Mirotic (ankle) who has been ruled out of Monday's game vs. Minnesota, which will be his ninth straight game on the sideline. Fortunately, Elfrid Payton (finger) has a chance to return to action on Monday night.
25. Washington Wizards
The Wizards season took a significant turn on Saturday when it was announced that John Wall would undergo a "debridement and repair of a Haglund’s deformity and a chronic Achilles tendon injury in his left heel” that will end his season, sidelining him for 6-8 months. The Wiz will still have a chance to sneak into the playoffs due to the relative mediocrity in the Eastern Conference. They are going to need Tomas Satoransky to step in as the team’s starting point guard, and step up. The beat the Hornets on Saturday, behind solid games for Satoransky, Trevor Ariza and burgeoning big man Thomas Bryant.
26. Atlanta Hawks
How about these Hawks? After winning just six of their first 29 games, Atlanta has won five of their last six. However, it will be a tough task for the young Hawks to continue their winning ways, as they play six of their next seven games on the road, and then return home to host the Bucks, Thunder and Celtics in succession in mid-January. In addition, it was announced on Sunday that Kent Bazemore (right ankle) would miss at least the next two weeks.
27. Phoenix Suns
Deandre Ayton has been on fire of late. On Saturday he exploded for 33 points (on 16-of-20 of shooting) with 14 rebounds and four steals in 39 minutes against the Nuggets. Per Basketball-Reference, he became the first NBA rookie to shoot at least 80 percent from the field on 20+ attempts since Hakeem Olajuwon shot 18-of-22 (81.8%) in December of 1984.
28. Chicago Bulls
After posting relatively pedestrian numbers over the first few weeks of December, Wendell Carter Jr. closed out the month in fine fashion. Over the Bulls three games last week WCJ averaged 15.0 points, 11.0 rebounds, 1.3 assists and 1.7 blocks, while shooting 64.5 percent from the floor and knocking down all five of his free-throw attempts.
29. New York Knicks
The Knicks have lost 12 of their last 13 games, and there are likely many more losses on the way. New York still has four games left on its current six-game road trip. In addition, their next four home games are against the Pacers, Sixers, Thunder and Rockets. Oh, and Enes Kanter is bellyaching about his playing time. "I don't why they're shutting me down," Kanter said after going scoreless in 17 minutes on Saturday. "I just want to go out there and play basketball and win… I'm trying to stay positive, but I just don't understand what the situation is. I don't know why they're shutting me down this early." It’s worth noting that the Knicks are 2-8 when Enes Kanter plays more than 30 minutes this season. Dating back to last season, the Knicks are 8-35 when Kanter attempts more than ten shots.
30. Cleveland Cavaliers
It will be interesting to see if Larry Nance Jr. continues to log heavy minutes once Tristan Thompson and Kevin Love return to the lineup. It certainly could be argued that he deserves it, as Nance has been putting up phenomenal all-around numbers for the struggling Cavs. Over Cleveland’s past seven games, Nance is averaging 13.7 points, 11.4 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 2.4 steals, while shooting 57.6 percent from the floor.