NBA Power Rankings: Celtics, Suns separating themselves; Lakers, Nets on the rise; Hawks, Wolves tumble

22 Min Read


Jayson Tatum has been the best player in basketball of late, so surely the Celtics would struggle when he was forced to miss a game, right? Nah. All they did was drop 130 points in a win over the Wizards with seven players scoring in double-figures, led by Jaylen Brown’s 36 points. This offense has been absurd, scoring 134.2 points per 100 possessions in four more wins this week. Tatum averaged 38 points on 57/44/91 splits in the three games he played, while Marcus Smart averaged 12.5 points and nine assists. There’s just no stopping the Celtics right now. — 19-5

Devin Booker. That’s it. That’s the blurb. He almost single-handedly willed the Suns to four more wins this week with Chris Paul and Cam Johnson still on the shelf, averaging 35.8 points, 7.5 rebounds and 5.5 assists, punctuated by a 51-point performance on 20-for-25 shooting in 31 minutes during Wednesday’s win over the Bulls. He got some help from Deandre Ayton, who put up 26.8 points, 14.8 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game, looking like the dominant big man the Suns desperately want him to be. Finding ways to win through adversity, Phoenix has been a great early-season story. 2 16-7

Milwaukee went undefeated this week with solid wins over the Cavs, Mavs and Knicks. The league’s best defense remained strong, but the offense was jump-started this week, averaging 121.1 points per 100 possessions thanks to 35 points, 11 rebounds and 5.7 assists per game from Giannis Antetokounmpo. He got help from his shooters, as the Bucks knocked down 40 percent of their 3-pointers this week, and five other Bucks averaged double-figures. The best news of all: Khris Middleton is expected to return to the lineup on Friday. 4 16-6

CJ McCollum missed all three games this week and Brandon Ingram only played 18 minutes, which means that Zion Williamson was unleashed in full. The big man put up 23.3 points, 7.7 rebounds and 5.7 assists per game on 64 percent shooting in a 2-1 week for the Pels. Trey Murphy III gladly stepped into the scoring void left by McCollum and Ingram, averaging 22.3 points per game this week on 36 percent 3-point shooting. 1 15-8

The Nuggets cruised to three comfortable victories this week, one over the Clippers and two against the Rockets. Denver fans have to be elated to see Jamal Murray regaining his old form — he put up 26 points and 5.3 assists per game this week on 55/48/82 shooting splits while committing just three total turnovers. Nikola Jokic was his normal, brilliant self, while both Aaron Gordon and Bruce Brown have stepped up with Michael Porter Jr. out of the lineup. 4 14-9

Cleveland’s four-game winning streak was snapped this week, with losses to the Bucks and Raptors to go along with wins over the Pistons and 76ers. The Cavs uncharacteristically struggled to put the ball in the basket, as Donovan Mitchell and Darius Garland both shot 42 percent from the field. Absences from Caris LeVert and Jarrett Allen surely helped lead to the lack of scoring, but Evan Mobley stepped up with 15.5 points and 11 rebounds per game on 52 percent shooting. 4 15-9

The Grizzlies started off the week with wins over the Pelicans and Knicks before losing to the Wolves without Karl-Anthony Towns on Wednesday. Ja Morant averaged 24.7 points, 10.3 assists and 6.3 rebounds for the week, but his hot 3-point shooting to start the year seems to be deviating to the mean. Jaren Jackson Jr. has been excellent since returning to the lineup, averaging 19 points, 6.7 rebounds and 1.5 blocks in 25 minutes per game this week on 40 percent 3-point shooting. The Grizzlies defense still isn’t quite there, but remember that they were dead last in the league on Dec. 1 last season and wound up finishing sixth. 7 14-9

Welp. A brief stint with both Kawhi Leonard and Paul George on the active roster came to an end, with both out indefinitely due to injuries. The Clippers know this story well, however, and managed to pull out two gritty victories this week thanks to the play of Norm Powell and Reggie Jackson, who carried the offense. John Wall missed the win over the Blazers, but averaged 19.7 points and five assists in 24 minutes in the other three games. We’ve buried the lede here a bit, but Ivica Zubac put up a gargantuan line of 31 points, 29 rebounds and three blocks in the win over Indiana, becoming the first player since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to post those numbers. 2 13-11

The Kings ran into two tough opponents this week, losing to the Celtics and Suns, but got back on the winning track on Wednesday against the Pacers. Sacramento continues to play at a torrid pace, which has led to some big point totals for both itself and opponents. De’Aaron Fox was held to seven points below his season average this week, while Malik Monk led the way with 19.7 points and 5.7 assists per game off the bench, including a 30-point, eight-assist effort in the loss to Phoenix. Operating as the hub of the offense, Domantas Sabonis put up 7.7 assists per game. 3 13-9

The most thrilling moment in a 2-2 week for the Pacers was Andrew Nembhard’s game-winning 3-pointer as time expired to cap a 17-point fourth-quarter comeback against the Lakers on Monday. Indiana’s other rookie, Bennedict Mathurin, led the team with 18.5 points per game this week, though his 3-point shooting did fall off a bit. Tyrese Haliburton just decided he’s not going to give the ball away anymore, putting up an astounding 40 consecutive assists without a turnover over a three-game stretch, the first time that’s happened since the NBA began tracking turnovers. The streak finally ended at 44, and he averaged 17.3 points and 12.5 assists per game this week. 2 12-11

The Nets lost to the Pacers to start the week, but bounced back to gain a little momentum with wins over the Blazers, Magic and Wizards. Kevin Durant was just jaw-dropping this week, averaging 37.8 points on unbelievable 62/42/96 shooting splits. Kyrie Irving is starting to find his way back into the offense, putting up 22.3 points and 4.5 assists per game on 37 percent from deep, while Nic Claxton has been impressive in the middle with 12 points, 9.8 rebounds and 2.8 blocks per game this week. 8 13-12

The depleted Sixers rattled off consecutive wins over the Magic before welcoming Joel Embiid back with open arms in a win over the Hawks. Philly finally ran out of gas in a blowout loss to the Cavs on Wednesday, but they have to be thrilled with the way they’ve navigated injuries to Embiid, Tyrese Maxey and James Harden, who could return in the next few games. Shake Milton has been the savior in the backcourt offensively, averaging 22 points, 6.8 assists and 5.5 rebounds this week on 47 percent 3-point shooting. Embiid averaged 24.5 points, seven rebounds and 6.5 assists in two games after returning from a four-game absence. 1 12-11

The Raptors shook off a short two-game losing streak with wins over the Mavs and Cavs this week, but they lost to the Pelicans on Wednesday. Pascal Siakam returned from an adductor strain for the final two games of the week, a welcome sight for Raptors fans, and the All-NBA forward put up 20.5 points, 8.5 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game. Gary Trent Jr. broke out of his prolonged shooting slump in a big way, going 6-for-11 from deep en route to 35 points in the loss to New Orleans. 8 12-11

The Warriors beat the Jazz and Wolves convincingly before dropping a thriller in Dallas. Steph Curry continued his absurdity of a season, averaging 30 points, seven rebounds and 5.7 assists this week, though he probably turned the ball over more than Steve Kerr would like. Jordan Poole contributed 17.3 points and seven assists per game, but he’s still having trouble finding the 3-point range. Even with the loss, the Warriors certainly appear to be on the upswing on both ends of the floor. 3 13-11

Utah’s losing streak reached five games with losses to the Warriors, Suns and Bulls this week, but they were able to get off the schneid with a victory over the depleted Clippers on Wednesday. A curious decision not to foul in the final seconds may have cost them the game against Phoenix, and Will Hardy has been tinkering with the rotations to try to find the right combinations. Lauri Markkanen kept up his brilliant season, averaging 23.5 points this week on 54/49/80 shooting splits, while Jordan Clarkson added 21 points and 7.3 assists per game. Collin Sexton has also looked good filling in for Mike Conley in the starting lineup, averaging 17.8 points and six assists per game this week on 43 percent 3-point shooting. 4 14-12

The Hawks got off to a rough start this week, losing to the Rockets, then the undermanned Heat and 76ers. They finished up with a solid win over the Magic to end their slide. Trae Young averaged 28.5 points an 10.8 assists for the week, but shot just 24 percent from 3-point range. Backcourt mate Dejounte Murray was much more efficient, putting up 24 points per game on 46 percent 3-point shooting (surprisingly, on more attempts than Young). Atlanta has been solid defensively all year long, but the offense continues to hover below expectations. 11 13-10

They’re surely relieved that it wasn’t worse, but the Wolves will navigate the next month or so without Karl-Anthony Towns, who suffered a strained calf in Monday’s loss to Washington. It was the down point of a rough week for Minnesota that started with bad losses to the Hornets, Warriors and Wizards, but they showed some grit by beating the Grizzlies on Wednesday in the first game since Towns’ injury. Anthony Edwards went off for 29 points, including 17 in the fourth quarter, and the Wolves will need more of that from him in Towns’ absence. 9 11-12

Slowly getting their horses back, the Heat rattled off three straight wins before running into the buzzsaw Celtics. Bam Adebayo is proving that he’s capable of being a No. 1 offensive option when necessary, posting 31 points, 8.7 rebounds and three assists per game this week on 62 percent shooting. With Tyler Herro and Kyle Lowry struggling from the field, Max Strus stepped up with 19.5 points in two games this week on 45 percent 3-point shooting. Miami locked up defensively against the Wizards and Hawks before being overwhelmed by Boston. 5 11-12

Luka Doncic and the Mavs only had one win this week, but it came in impressive fashion over the defending champs. Jason Kidd has resisted scrutiny from both fans and media to start Christian Wood, and the results have not been great. The team’s mediocre offensive rating with Doncic playing this well just isn’t going to cut it, especially if they’re going to defend the way they did in a rough overtime loss to the Pistons on Thursday. 4 11-11

Trail Blazers
The Blazers beat the Knicks in OT last Friday, but then dropped three straight to the Nets, Clippers and Lakers. Common sense would say they’re missing Damian Lillard, but offense hasn’t really been the problem thanks to Anfernee Simons and Jerami Grant, who combined to average 61 points per game this week on 43 percent 3-point shooting. Portland gave up 123.4 points per 100 possessions this week, which is simply not going to get it done, particularly against struggling offenses like the L.A. teams. 4 13-11

It was a rough week for the Wizards, who lost to the Heat, Celtics and Nets while beating the Timberwolves. They put some impressive point totals on the board, including 142 against Minnesota, but also allowed 130 to Boston. The Big Three of Bradley Beal, Kristaps Porzingis and Kyle Kuzma each averaged over 25 points this week, but the next-highest scorer was Monte Morris at nine per game. 1 11-13

The Bulls followed up wins over the Celtics and Bucks with an overtime loss to the Thunder to start the week, then beat the Jazz before giving up 51 points to Devin Booker in three quarters in a blowout loss to the Suns. DeMar DeRozan led the team with 28.3 points per game on 50 percent shooting, while Zach LaVine averaged 22.7 points and 5.7 assists, but shot less than 40 percent from the field. 4 9-14

The Knicks lost to the Blazers, Grizzlies and Bucks this week, with their lone win coming against the Pistons. Scoring wasn’t an issue for the first three games — they dropped 140 points in the win over Detroit — but getting stops certainly was. Jalen Brunson, Julius Randle and RJ Barrett all averaged over 20 points for the week, while Brunson and Randle also dished out over five assists per game. Mitchell Robinson averaged a double-double of 12.3 points and 12 rebounds while adding 3.3 blocks per contest. 1 11-13

The Lakers won consecutive games against the Spurs before blowing a 17-point fourth-quarter lead and losing on a buzzer-beater to the Pacers at home. They showed significant resolve, however, by beating the Blazers handily on Wednesday. That’s now six wins in eight games for L.A., who will face a tougher schedule to close out the calendar year. LeBron James had an inauspicious return to the lineup against the Spurs, committing nine turnovers, but he put up a LeBron-like 28 points, 8.3 rebounds and 4.8 assists on 50 percent 3-point shooting for the week. Anthony Davis continued his dominant ways, averaging 25.7 points, 13.3 rebounds and 3.3 blocks in three games. — 10-12

The Rockets won consecutive games for the first time all season on back-to-back nights against the Hawks and Thunder, then dropped two straight to the Nuggets. Jalen Green led the team with 22.8 points per game, while also dishing out six assists. Big man Alperen Sengun went off for 21 points, 19 rebounds and seven assists in the win over OKC, averaging 19 points and 12.3 rebounds for the week. Rookie Jabari Smith Jr. has been on fire from deep, knocking down 48 percent this week while putting up 14.5 points and 7.3 rebounds per game. 5 6-17

OKC won its two home games this week against the Bulls and Spurs, while dropping road games to the Rockets and Pelicans. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander couldn’t make a shot from 3-point range, but he still averaged 31 points and 4.7 assists in the three games he played. He missed Wednesday’s win over the Spurs, when rookie Jalen Williams broke out for a career-high 27 points on 11-for-15 shooting. 1 10-13

Charlotte only had two games this week, picking up a good win over the Wolves before being destroyed by the Celtics. Kelly Oubre Jr. led the way with 28 points in the win over Minnesota, while Terry Rozier added 22 points and a team-high eight assists. Unfortunately, Gordon Hayward is now out indefinitely with a shoulder fracture, though LaMelo Ball should be inching closer to a return. 1 7-16

The Pistons have rarely enjoyed a full complement of players of late, which led to a 1-3 week, but the win was an impressive one over Luka Doncic and the Mavs in overtime on Thursday. Killian Hayes took over down the stretch, hitting two huge 3-pointers on his way to a season-high 22 points to beat Dallas. Marvin Bagley III had a strong week as well, putting up 16 points and 10.5 rebounds per game, while hitting 55 percent of his 3-pointers. 3 6-19

Four more games, four more losses for the Magic, who have now dropped six in a row and eight of their last 10. The defense continues to be a significant problem, but at least rookie Paolo Banchero returned this week to provide an offensive boost. He and Franz Wagner each averaged over 20 points per game, while Cole Anthony made his return from a lengthy absence against the Hawks on Wednesday, putting up 11 points, four rebounds and two assists in 24 minutes. 3 5-19

There’s not a whole lot to be excited about in San Antonio, as the Spurs have now dropped nine straight games and own the league’s worst defensive rating. Devin Vassell and Keldon Johnson are doing the heavy lifting offensively, each averaging 20-plus points this week, while Tre Jones averaged 19 points and dished out a team-high 7.7 assists. Shrug. 1 6-18

Source link

Find Us on Socials

Share this Article
Leave a comment