NBA Power Rankings: Luka Doncic, Mavericks on fire; Celtics undeterred by loss; Pelicans, Grizzlies rising

22 Min Read


Oh hey, the Celtics lost a game — in overtime, but the rest of the league will take what it can get. Naturally, they responded with consecutive wins over the Nets, Raptors and Suns. Jaylen Brown had himself a week, averaging 29.5 points, 9.8 rebounds and 4.5 assists on 38 percent 3-point shooting. Jayson Tatum didn’t shoot as well and turned the ball over a ton, but he still averaged a 25-point double-double. As if Boston wasn’t terrifying enough, Robert Williams III will reportedly be back in the next couple of weeks. — 21-5

Even with Brandon Ingram out, the Pelican train keeps on rolling. They beat the Spurs, Nuggets and Pistons this week to run their winning streak to five games and claim sole possession of first place in the Western Conference. The defense has been excellent all season, and they took it to another level this week by allowing just 99.3 points per 100 possessions. Zion Williamson was a maniac, as usual, averaging 28 points, 10.3 rebounds and 5.7 assists per game on 62 percent shooting. Jose Alvarado erupted for 38 points in the win over Denver, the most points scored off the bench by an undrafted player since the NBA began tracking starters in the 1970-71 season. 2 16-8

The Bucks started the week off with a somewhat shocking home loss to the Lakers in Khris Middleton’s season debut. That must have made them angry, however, as they rattled off three straight wins to make it six of their last seven. Milwaukee even managed to beat the Hornets without Middleton, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jrue Holiday. Antetokounmpo went wild in the three games he did play, averaging 36.3 points, 8.7 rebounds and 5.7 assists on 64 percent shooting, including 44 percent from deep and, notably, 78 percent from the free throw line on nearly 11 attempts per game. — 18-6

The Grizzlies won all four games this week, making things look pretty easy in the process with a plus-12.2 net rating. Even with Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. resting (and Desmond Bane still injured), Tyus Jones, Santi Aldama and the deep Memphis roster managed to beat the full-strength Heat on Monday. Morant was brilliant in the three games he played, averaging 29 points, 8.7 rebounds and eight assists on 39 percent 3-point shooting. 3 16-9

The Cavs went 2-1 this week on the strength of their defense, which allowed a stingy 99.7 points per 100 possessions. The other end wasn’t as pretty, scoring just 81 points in a loss to the Knicks on Sunday. They got a boost from Jarrett Allen, though, who put up 24 points in his return from a back injury in Tuesday’s win over the Lakers. Donovan Mitchell continued his excellent season, averaging 33.3 points this week on 43 percent 3-point shooting. 1 16-9

Don’t look now, but here come the Mavs. Blowout wins over the Knicks and Suns were followed by an impressive victory in Denver on Tuesday, as Tim Hardaway Jr. went off for 29 points. He’s been giving Dallas a much-needed offensive boost, averaging 24.7 points per game this week on searing 63 percent 3-point shooting. Luka Doncic continues to just do Luka things, putting up 28.3 points, nine assists and eight rebounds per game this week on 44 percent 3-point shooting, helping the Mavs to a robust 123.6 offensive rating in the three wins. 13 13-11

The Kings lit the beam after wins over the Clippers and Bulls this week before a loss in Milwaukee on Wednesday. Six players averaged double figures for Sacramento, led by Domantas Sabonis’ 19.3 points, 11.3 rebounds and 7.7 assists per game. Rookie Keegan Murray has come on of late, averaging 16.3 points this week on 47 percent 3-point shooting. 2 13-10

It was a dim week for the normally bright Suns, who lost three of four games — one to the Rockets and two non-competitive efforts against the Mavs and Celtics. On the plus side, Chris Paul returned on Wednesday against Boston, putting up four points, four assists and four rebounds in 24 minutes. Devin Booker scored fewer points this week, partly due to the blowouts, but still shot 41 percent from the 3-point line. 6 16-9

The Nuggets are grateful for Jamal Murray, whose game-winning, step-back 3-pointer against the Blazers on Thursday saved them from a winless week after losses to the Hawks, Pelicans and Mavs. Porous defense was largely to blame for the brief skid, as Denver allowed 120 points per 100 possessions on the week. Nikola Jokic has looked for his own offense a bit more, putting up 27.5 points per game this week to go with 11 rebounds and 8.5 assists. Aaron Gordon has been incredible all season, and he kept that up with 20 points and 6.5 rebounds per game this week on 68 percent shooting. 4 15-10

The Nets beat the Raptors and Hornets this week, while managing only 92 points in a loss to the dreaded Celtics. Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant each averaged 26 points per game this week and both shot better than 50 percent from the field. After a substandard shooting start to the season, Joe Harris went 10-for-16 from 3-point range this week, one of the few Nets to consistently make shots. And no, your eyes did not deceive you — that was TJ Warren on the court for Brooklyn in the past three games, seeing NBA action for the first time in almost two calendar years. 1 14-12

The Raptors have been almost a perfectly .500 team this season, so it makes sense that they went 2-2 this week, with wins over the Magic and short-handed Lakers to go along with losses to the Nets and Celtics. Pascal Siakam is showing no ill effects from his adductor injury, putting up 26 points, 8.3 rebounds and seven assists per game this week, while the rest of the team struggled mightily from 3-point range. Scottie Barnes averaged a double-double for the week with 17 points and 11.8 rebounds per game. 2 13-12

Utah’s 2-1 week was punctuated by a miraculous win over the short-handed Warriors on Wednesday, in which the Jazz erased a four-point deficit in just over 13 seconds. Simone Fontecchio threw down the game-winning dunk, capping a week in which he averaged 10 points in just under 18 minutes per game. Collin Sexton has been playing well, putting up 18 points per game on 50 percent shooting this week, but he suffered a hamstring injury in the win over Golden State. The Jazz scored 139 points in their other victory this week over the Pacers. 3 15-12

After wins over the Bulls and Rockets, the Warriors had trouble finishing their stretch of four games in six days. They lost at home to a very thin Pacers roster before watching victory slip from their clutches in the final 13 seconds against Utah with Steph Curry, Draymond Green and Andrew Wiggins resting. Jordan Poole took advantage of the extra opportunity against the Jazz, putting up 36 points and eight assists. Jonathan Kuminga, who has recently earned praise from Steve Kerr, went off for 24 points, five rebounds and four assists in that Utah game. 1 13-13

The bad news is the Clippers went 1-3 this week, with their only win coming by a single basket against the Hornets. The good news is that Kawhi Leonard and Paul George both returned to the court, and both averaged 30 minutes per game — though Leonard did miss Wednesday’s loss to the Heat. He shot just 11-for-30 from the field, but one of the shots he did make happened to be the game-winner against Charlotte. George averaged 19.7 points, 6.3 assists and six rebounds on 43 percent 3-point shooting in three games this week. 6 14-13

The Wolves only played two games this week, a loss to the Thunder and a win over the Pacers. Offense wasn’t a problem despite the absence of Karl-Anthony Towns, as D’Angelo Russell averaged 27.5 points for the week and Anthony Edwards added 26. Jaylen Nowell was an incredible spark off the bench, putting up 17.5 points per game on 38 percent 3-point shooting and finishing at a combined plus-23 in the two games. 2 12-12

The Pacers went 1-3 this week, but the one win was as special as they come. Without Tyrese Haliburton and Myles Turner, rookie Andrew Nembhard put on a dazzling 31-point, 13-assist clinic to defeat the reigning champion Warriors on their home floor. It got to the point where even Steph Curry was shaking his head when Nembhard knocked down a contested step-back 3-pointer. The performance led Indiana coach Rick Carlisle to say that Nembhard, who was taken with the first pick in the second round, has vaulted himself into the top 10 of the 2022 draft class. 6 13-12

The 76ers lost to the Grizzlies last Friday and then got James Harden back on Monday (yay!), but they lost to the Rockets in overtime (boo!). Harden played 38 minutes in his first game in over a month, putting up 21 points and seven assists on understandably rusty 4-for-19 shooting (all of his made field goals were 3-pointers). Joel Embiid tore it up in the two games, averaging 37 points, nine rebounds and 5.5 assists. Despite the poor shooting in the loss to Houston, it’s safe to say that Harden’s return will be a net positive for Philadelphia. 5 12-12

Trail Blazers
Portland started off the week with back-to-back wins over the Jazz and Pacers, and nearly made it three in a row before Jamal Murray’s dagger gave Denver the win on Thursday night. Damian Lillard returned from a seven-game absence against Indiana, and then went off for 40 points and 12 assists with just one turnover in the loss to the Nuggets. Jerami Grant kept up his productive season, averaging 26.3 points for the week, while Anfernee Simons added 24.3 points and five assists per game. 2 13-12

After a shellacking at the hands of Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks on Saturday, the Knicks bounced back with tremendous defensive efforts in wins over the Cavs and Hawks, allowing fewer than 90 points in both games. Julius Randle led the way offensively with averages of 25.3 points, 10.3 rebounds and four assists, while knocking down 37 percent of his nine 3-point attempts per game. Tom Thibodeau has shaken up the rotation, leaving Derrick Rose and Cam Reddish on the outside looking in as Miles McBride gets an extended look. 4 12-13

Yeesh. A short-handed win over the Nuggets was soured by a report that Trae Young had missed shootaround that day without approval, leading to his absence at the game. McMillan denied the report, but did acknowledge that “a situation happened.” Then, just four minutes into a 24-point loss to the Knicks, Dejounte Murray went down with an ankle injury that will sideline him for at least two weeks. Rough sledding for Atlanta this holiday season. The silver lining is that Bogdan Bogdanovic made his season debut and played in all three games this week, so he can at least make up for some of Murray’s offensive production. Defense will be another story. 4 13-12

It was a weird week for the Heat, who picked up a statement road win in overtime against the Celtics, but also got clobbered at home by the Pistons. Butler missed the loss to the Detroit, but averaged 23 points, 8.7 rebounds and 6.3 assists in the other three games while shooting 64 percent from the field. Tyler Herro caught fire, putting up 25.5 points per game this week on 46 percent 3-point shooting, and Bam Adebayo racked up 31 points and 10 rebounds in Thursday’s win over the short-handed Clippers. 3 12-14

Some brave souls were starting to wedge the Lakers into the NBA title conversation after a huge win in Milwaukee and a trouncing of the Wizards in which Anthony Davis went for 55 points and 17 rebounds. The team struggled, however, after Davis left early with an illness in Tuesday’s loss to Cleveland, and then both he and LeBron missed Wednesday’s back-to-back in Toronto. Davis is playing like an MVP candidate, and James averaged 26 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists in the three games he played this week. There’s not much room for error, but the Lakers have looked solid over the past few weeks. 2 10-14

The offensive juggernaut OKC Thunder put up 256 total points in wins over the Wolves and Hawks to start the week before running out of gas in a loss to the Grizzlies on Wednesday. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander continues to score at will, averaging 31 points this week despite shooting just 22 percent from 3-point range. His young backcourt mate Josh Giddey was also excellent, putting up 16 points, nine rebounds and five assists per game on 50 percent 3-point shooting. 3 11-14

Mercifully, the Bulls’ West Coast swing came to an end after losses to the Warriors and Kings to start the week, and the homecoming was a pleasant one with a win over the Wizards. The offense has been borderline anemic, and that’s with Zach LaVine averaging 29 points per game on 49/44/86 splits this week and Nikola Vucevic dropping 20 per game on 44 percent 3-point shooting. DeMar DeRozan was uncharacteristically inefficient, shooting just 39 percent from the field. 2 10-14

Not a good week for Washington, which lost to the struggling Hornets and Bulls, also allowing 55 points to Anthony Davis in between. Bradley Beal left the loss to the Lakers with a hamstring strain that will sideline him for at least a week, so Kristaps Porzingis and Kyle Kuzma took the lead offensively. Porzingis averaged 25.3 points in the three games, but went a ghastly 1-for-18 from 3-point range. Kuzma averaged 23.5 points against the Lakers and Bulls after Beal’s injury. 4 11-14

The same week that the Rockets beat the Suns and 76ers, they get blown off the court by the free-falling Spurs without two of their best players. Ah, the fickle saga of a young team. Jalen Green averaged 21 points for the week but was not efficient in the slightest, shooting 35 percent from the field with as many turnovers as assists. Rookie Jabari Smith Jr. had perhaps his best week as a pro, putting up 15.5 points and 6.5 rebounds per game on 55 percent shooting, including a career-high 23 points in Thursday’s loss to San Antonio. 1 7-18

The Pistons picked up a nice win over the Heat this week, also losing to two of the best in the West in the Grizzlies and Pelicans. Bojan Bogdanovic caught fire from deep in the win over Miami, going 7-for-9 from the 3-point line en route to 31 points. Saddiq Bey led the team with 21 points per game for the week, while Killian Hayes averaged 12 points and eight assists on 43 percent 3-point shooting in the three games. 1 7-20

Charlotte narrowly avoided a massive collapse against the Wizards last Friday, but hung on for the win after watching a 17-point fourth-quarter lead nearly evaporate. The downward momentum continued in consecutive losses to the Bucks, Clippers and Nets. The good news is that Terry Rozier and Kelly Oubre Jr. are putting the ball in the hoop, each averaging 25 points for the week. 1 7-18

Things were getting pretty bleak in Orlando as the Magic saw their losing streak reach nine games, but they managed to pull out an overtime victory over the Clippers on Wednesday to break the skid. Markelle Fultz has quickly gotten up to a solid minutes load and has looked good, putting up 9.5 points and four assists per game this week while knocking down a couple of 3-pointers. Paolo Banchero led the team in scoring for the week with 18.5 points per game, but he shot less than 40 percent from the field. — 6-20

All bad things must come to an end, and the Spurs finally got in the win column, snapping their 11-game slide on Thursday against the Rockets — even more impressive since it came without Devin Vassell and Jakob Poeltl. Keldon Johnson shot terribly from deep in the two losses, but made up for it with 32 points on 14-for-21 shooting against Houston. Tre Jones went for 26 points and five assists in the win. — 7-18

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