2015-16 NBA Power Rankings: How Every Team Stacks Up After 3 Weeks of Action
The NBA's 30-team hierarchy is stabilizing after roughly three weeks of play, separating into a trio of distinct categories: a woeful underclass of hapless failures, a select few superpowers and a teeming horde of around 20 middle-class outfits.
Actually, make that four categories. The Golden State Warriors continue to set themselves apart from all the others. But you already knew that.
The best and worst are distinguishing themselves, but there's still a ton of jostling happening in between. And that's where most of the changes from last week's rankings took place.
As a reminder, the primary factors in these rankings include a combination of overall record, recent performance, advanced metrics such as net rating and, of course, a little bit of gut feeling—which is still necessary with only about 15 percent of the season played.
30. Philadelphia 76ers
Last Week: 30
There's not a lot of intrigue here, as the still-winless Philadelphia 76ers went 0-4 last week, set and reset the single-game high for turnovers this season and were assessed a technical foul for having six players on the court in a 112-85 loss to the Indiana Pacers Nov. 18.
Please withhold all jokes suggesting that even with an extra man, the Sixers couldn't have moved out of the 30th spot on our rankings. They're too cruel, and crazy as it sounds, the players on this roster deserve better than that.
Given the circumstances, these dudes play hard. That's a testament to head coach Brett Brown, who is routinely exasperated but always positive. How you instill any semblance of competitive culture in this scenario is beyond me.
Anyway, that's why we're giving the Sixers a positive play: Jahlil Okafor's sweet ball fake against Indy.
Please enjoy this tiny lifeboat of goodness in a roiling sea of bad.
29. New Orleans Pelicans
Last Week: 27
The Sixers are the worst team in the league because they're supposed to be. They're bad by design.
We expected the New Orleans Pelicans to be at least good and maybe great, yet they've sunk all the way to No. 29 after a winless week and an Anthony Davis shoulder injury (which came right after a hip strain) that kind of feels like the citric acid in the paper cut that has been their season.
The sting just isn't going away.
Perhaps worst of all, the Pelicans can't even get enough healthy bodies on the floor to use this lost season as a way to gauge who's worth keeping around as Davis' sidekicks. And whenever guys like Tyreke Evans, Norris Cole, Quincy Pondexter and Jrue Holiday are ready to play big minutes, the stakes will be too small for them to matter.
"We're just frustrated—the coaches, players and everybody—because we didn't anticipate this," head coach Alvin Gentry said, per John Reid of the New Orleans Times-Picayune.
28. Los Angeles Lakers
Last Week: 28
Though he only played in two games (of a possible three) and shot a mere 38.2 percent, the week since the last edition of these rankings was probably the best of Kobe Bryant's season. He scored 19 points in a Nov. 13 loss to the Dallas Mavericks and then flirted with a triple-double in a win over the Detroit Pistons Nov. 15.
The Lakers are still just 2-9, and Bryant continues to generally do more harm than good, so we can't get too crazy and, like, hope something better is on the horizon for the Los Angeles Lakers. Because it's almost definitely not—until they tangle with the Sixers Dec. 1.
In other positive news, D'Angelo Russell is starting to see more fourth-quarter minutes—a welcome development in his rough early-season narrative—and Metta World Peace is enjoying his most efficient shooting season in more than a decade.
So it's not all bad. Just mostly.
27. Brooklyn Nets
Last Week: 29
The Brooklyn Nets easily had their best week of the season, and it could have been even better.
They had the Golden State Warriors beaten about four different times Nov. 14, only to watch an Andre Iguodala desperate game-tying three drop with 5.9 seconds remaining in the fourth. Making matters even worse, Brook Lopez missed an absolute, no-doubt gimme of a tip-in on the other end as the buzzer sounded. It would have been a game-winner—should have been a game-winner...against the best team in the league...in the least forgiving road arena.
"I don't know what to say about that. [Joe Johnson] put it on a platter, and I just—I blew it," Lopez told reporters afterward. "It's a long flight home so it's not going to be fun."
The Warriors would, of course, go on to win in overtime.
That one didn't go the Nets' way, but they recovered to clip the Atlanta Hawks three days later, giving them what we'll call 1.99 wins on the week.
26. Portland Trail Blazers
Last Week: 17
Quite a slide here, folks. Quite a slide—though not an altogether unforeseeable one.
The Portland Trail Blazers snatched the early-season darlings label with some sweet backcourt scoring, giving fans who were expecting the worst a "hey, these guys aren't going to stink after all" sense of relief. Since the last ranking, Portland's schedule got road-heavy and ugly, which has stretched a losing streak to seven games—painfully underscored by Corey Brewer's 40-foot, game-tying heave Nov. 18.
"I wouldn't bank on him hitting that shot another time out of 20," Gerald Henderson told Joe Freeman of the Oregonian. "But it went in."
The desperate Houston Rockets went on to take the game in overtime, capping an improbable comeback and highlighting the fact that the Blazers' early Cinderella run was over.
Stay strong, Blazers. At least you have your youth, which is really all you thought you had when the season started anyway.
25. Sacramento Kings
Last Week: 26
Say what you will about Cousins' on-court demeanor, his temper (that 33rd loss came Nov. 19, when Cousins was suspended for dinging Al Horford with an elbow) and the Kings' organizational ineptitude, but that is a persuasive stat.
Cousins determines the fate of the Kings, which is to say: He decides whether they're bad but dangerous or abjectly terrible.
Sacramento went 2-2 this past week, knocking off Brooklyn and Toronto behind 76 combined points from Boogie. Rajon Rondo has been putting up crazy numbers, notching two triple-doubles and nearly a third while flat-out hunting for assists like he did in his later Celtics years.
The Kings are a compelling watch, and they've been a bit better lately. So they move up a hair.
24. Houston Rockets
Last Week: 15
It's been an eventful week for the Houston Rockets, marked by three ugly losses, obviously waning intensity on defense, a players-only meeting, Kevin McHale's ouster and, finally, Brewer's possibly season-saving prayer against Portland.
Forgive me if I don't see that win over the Blazers as some kind of transformative event, even if the Rockets showed serious heart down the stretch for the first time this year. James Harden remains inefficient and inconsistent in the effort department (he's shooting 36.6 percent from the field over his last five games and recently allowed noted speedster Raymond Felton to blow by him on the perimeter). That's a bad look from Houston's de facto leader.
Canning McHale felt inevitable; whatever the source of the team-wide malaise, the Rockets weren't playing hard for him.
Sports Illustrated's Ben Golliver explained:
McHale is an affable, straight-talking, title-winning basketball lifer who oversaw the Rockets’ steep rise in recent years. This season, though, he had no answers for the most important questions facing a coach: his team was struggling, its effort was lagging, its superstar was dragging, its shiny new toy wasn’t unboxed and its margin for error was shrinking with every loss.
Will anything change under interim head coach J.B. Bickerstaff? He at least got off to a good start, finally benching ill-fitting Ty Lawson in favor of Jason Terry.
Houston has lost the benefit of the doubt, and it's going to stay in the bottom tier of the rankings until it proves it deserves to move up.
23. Denver Nuggets
Last Week: 25
The Denver Nuggets have been one of the most resilient teams in the league this year, overcoming the absences of key starters Jusuf Nurkic and Wilson Chandler by getting ace performances from stand-ins such as Nikola Jokic (23 points and 12 rebounds in a Nov. 18 loss to the San Antonio Spurs) and Will Barton (averaging 14.1 points per game on 48.1 percent shooting).
In a literal sense, they've also been among the least resilient, losing all three of their games on the second night of a back-to-back set.
Head coach Mike Malone has gotten premium effort from his roster all season, and it's intriguing to imagine what this team might accomplish when Nurkic returns and, hopefully, rookie Emmanuel Mudiay gets more comfortable.
A 2-2 week since the last rankings results in a small move up the ladder, though a daunting schedule featuring the Phoenix Suns, Warriors, Los Angeles Clippers and Spurs looms ahead.
22. Milwaukee Bucks
Last Week: 21
The growing pains are real for the young Milwaukee Bucks, who went 1-2 last week with the kind of offensive troubles we've come to expect from a group missing strong play at the point and shooting on the perimeter.
The real shocker for this group, which posted the league's second-best defense a year ago, has been the strange lack of stopping power. Milwaukee has featured the second-worst defense in the league through its first dozen games, per NBA.com.
Discouraging signs, to be sure.
But Milwaukee's lone win last week came against the Cleveland Cavaliers, which is a big deal. And Giannis Antetokounmpo set a career high with 33 points in the Bucks' second meeting with the Cavs just a few days afterward.
So there have been positive developments as well.
That's why they don't lose much ground.
21. Memphis Grizzlies
Last Week: 23
Well, hey there, Memphis Grizzlies! Nice to have you back—even if it's hard to recognize you this week with all the winning and respectable scoring outputs.
Coming off four straight defeats that sent the scoring-starved blowout victims spiraling down the rankings, Memphis has rallied with three straight victories over West foes. Granted, the Grizzlies didn't rack up that record against the conference's best; Portland, the Minnesota Timberwolves and a Kevin Durant-less Oklahoma City Thunder squad weren't a murderers' row by any stretch.
But look, the Grizz hit nine threes against the Wolves and shot 56 percent overall and then hung 122 on the Thunder's shaky D behind another 12 triples and a red-hot 29 points from new addition Mario Chalmers. You can poke holes in that progress by citing opponent and small sample size, but at least Memphis is working to address its broken, perimeter-challenged system by adding players and embracing the long ball a bit more.
Chalmers, traded from the Miami Heat, could actually be a key piece. He wasn't happy with a bench role in Miami and has the built-in confidence to take plenty of deep shots—as long as the Grizzlies continue to make that a priority.
Memphis will live and die with its veterans and defense, but it sure won't hurt anything if it loosens up and keeps scoring like this.
20. Minnesota Timberwolves
Last Week: 11
You don't have to look far to find the Timberwolves' most important player. They're 0-4 without Ricky Rubio and 5-3 with him.
The numbers go even deeper than that, per John Schuhmann of NBA.com, who noted the Wolves have lost their last 16 games without Rubio.
Maybe that seems surprising, as both Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins are more valuable in Minny's long-term plans. But a pair of 20-year-olds (even ones who combined for a game-tying score and a game-saving block in a barnburner loss to the Orlando Magic Nov. 18) still need an organizer to help them succeed most nights.
Unbridled talent is one thing, and the Wolves have that every time they take the floor. An intuitive, unselfish floor leader is what Minnesota needs to harness that talent, though, and Rubio is clearly such a player. What's more, he's among the league's best defenders at the point, which is another important asset for a young team with inexperienced players comprising the rest of the D.
A tough 1-3 week was largely the result of a hamstring that cost Rubio two games (and another two the previous week), but he looks healthier since returning in a win over the Heat Nov. 17.
Here's hoping Rubio stays on the floor and keeps Minnesota among the ranks of the respectable awhile longer.
19. Orlando Magic
Last Week: 22
Orlando used wins over the Utah Jazz (whoa!) and Timberwolves to reach .500 for the first time all year. If you'd been running off names before the season started in search of which young stud would be the biggest reason for a solid record, you'd have gone through a half-dozen before getting to the guy who's been Orlando's best player so far: Evan Fournier.
Nikola Vucevic's supporters will take issue with that, but Vooch has played three fewer games than Fournier, and the big man's presence on the floor has coincided with consistently poorer team defense, per NBA.com.
Fournier drilled a game-winning triple to beat the Timberwolves Nov. 18, and his 19.4 points and 39.2 percent accuracy rate from deep make him Orlando's early-season folk hero.
As does this, per Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel: "Evan Fournier could barely get out of bed on Monday and Tuesday because he was sick. On Wednesday, he finished with 26 points."
Best of all, his hot start has alleviated pressure on fellow young studs Victor Oladipo, Elfrid Payton, Mario Hezonja, Aaron Gordon and Tobias Harris—all of whom have played well in stretches and should improve over the course of the season.
Fournier has provided the right kind of confident, fearless example.
18. Washington Wizards
Last Week: 24
The Washington Wizards have played fewer games than anyone through the first three weeks of the season, yet they've still struggled to keep Bradley Beal healthy. The shooting guard missed contests against the Magic and Milwaukee Bucks last week, both wins, and has now sat out three overall.
Jorge Castillo of the Washington Post reported Nov. 19 that Beal finally practiced again, so hopefully his bum shoulder is nearly ready for game action.
Though the modest 2-0 week has Washington above .500, the team has still been outscored on the season. A busy schedule is coming up, including a four-games-in-five-nights stretch from Nov. 24-28. With dates against Detroit, Indiana, Charlotte and Boston, we'll soon see if Washington belongs in the East's increasingly crowded middle class...or if its fragile health and shaky D will doom it to a lottery berth.
17. Detroit Pistons
Last Week: 13
You can say this for Reggie Jackson: He's a listener.
After his habitual tunnel vision and dubious pick-and-roll decisions got him yanked in the fourth quarter of a 97-85 loss to the Lakers Nov. 15 (the Pistons' fourth straight), Jackson caught an earful from coach Stan Van Gundy.
"Tonight his decision–making was terrible,” Van Gundy told reporters. "He was trying to go behind his back in the middle of the lane. Up in the air. He just had a really bad night. ... His decision–making was bad. Guys are going to have bad nights, and he had an awful one tonight."
After a deserved tongue-lashing, Jackson responded with 23 points and 12 assists in a win over the Cleveland Cavaliers the next time out.
Andre Drummond continues to be the most productive center in the league, but we're learning that Jackson's performance tends to matter more for Detroit's success. His uneven play and turnover issues were key factors in a couple of bad recent losses.
As Jackson goes, so go the Pistons. That's why they slip a few spots this week.
16. New York Knicks
Last Week: 14
Every edition of power rankings this season has featured a New York Knicks slide devoted to Kristaps Porzingis, so in the interest of keeping things fresh...feels hands guided by unseen forces...cannot...resist...Zinger is the alpha and the omega...he descends from on high to bathe us all in his holy glow...
That was weird. Anyway, as I was saying:
Porzingis hit up the Charlotte Hornets for a career-high 29 points Nov. 17, and he scored in double digits in every game since last week. So guess what: He's the subject of the Knicks slide again because he deserves to be.
“Everybody was saying that I was a project, to wait a few years,” Porzingis told Scott Cacciola of the New York Times. “I will get better in a few years, but I knew I was able to play right now. That was my mentality.”
Thought to be a long-term investment, the 7'3" phenom is paying dividends already by playing with inspiring intensity, startling inside-out skill and, often, flair. He hit a Hakeem Olajuwon-esque turnaround over fellow rookie Frank Kaminsky that spontaneously caused the virgin births of 637 children in New York, all named Kristaps.
The Knicks are really fun again, and Porzingis is the reason.
Maybe we'll spend time on someone else next week. (But probably not.)
15. Charlotte Hornets
Last Week: 12
Maybe it's too much of a downer to consider, but just imagine what last week's Eastern Conference Player of the Week, Nicolas Batum, could do if he didn't have to spend so much time checking the opponent's biggest wing threat.
The thought invariably brings Michael Kidd-Gilchrist to mind, one of the league's pre-eminent stoppers and the guy the Charlotte Hornets won't get back until next season. Thanks a lot, dislocated shoulder.
Batum has been terrific, posting career highs in scoring average and three-point percentage while still hitting the boards and handing out nearly four assists per game. Always a pass-first player, Batum has stepped into the scoring void in Charlotte—in a way that will likely get him handsomely paid in free agency this summer.
Charlotte split its four games last week amid Batum's strong showing, but a monstrous homestand is on the horizon. The Hornets won't be on the road again until Dec. 5. That could be good news for the win-loss record and future power rankings.
14. Indiana Pacers
Last Week: 16
Disclaimer: We might be underselling the Indiana Pacers with a ranking this low.
Since an 0-3 start, they've gone 7-2, and those two defeats were narrow ones on the road to the Cavs and Bulls. No shame there.
Additional disclaimer: We cannot afford to undersell Paul George anymore.
George is lighting the league up, hitting threes at a 42.7 percent clip and averaging over 25 points per game through his first 12 contests. But that's just part of it.
"The shooting is great," wrote Jared Wade of Fansided.com. "The scoring is fantastic. The all-around stat lines are impressive. But the return of what made him special before the injury—his individual defense—has been the most encouraging sign.
That's right: George is clamping down like he did before his broken leg, which, combined with the scoring, means he's a full-on superstar again. And even if the Pacers are missing some rotation guys (Myles Turner's broken thumb will cost him six weeks), having that anchor in place means there might not be slippage ahead.
As the Pacers get farther and farther from that ugly start, it'll only get harder to keep them out of the top 10.
13. Phoenix Suns
Last Week: 20
Brandon Knight and Eric Bledsoe haven't had a problem producing as part of the Phoenix Suns' dual-point guard lineup (which should really be called a dual-combo guard lineup since neither player is a pure distributor at heart). Their play has been a big reason Phoenix continues to climb in these rankings.
Knight bludgeoned the Lakers with a 30-point, 10-rebound, 15-assist triple-double Nov. 16, two days after Bledsoe hung 30 points on the Denver Nuggets. Both efforts resulted in Suns wins.
As long as those two are getting loose and Tyson Chandler (who we might as well nickname "The Pillar" for his career-long habit of stabilizing any team he joins) keeps anchoring the defense and setting screens, it's safe to believe in the Suns.
12. Toronto Raptors
Last Week: 9
The Raptors really aren't that far from a five-game winning streak, which is a strange thing to say about a club on a three-game slide. But you can certainly say it after a week that featured three single-digit losses on the road, as Toronto dropped close ones to Sacramento, Golden State and Utah after starting the week off by beating the Pelicans.
Toronto gives it to you ugly; DeMar DeRozan shoots (and generally makes) horrendous, low-percentage contested twos off the dribble, Kyle Lowry runs into bodies in the paint, and basketball games turn into mess grinds—which is a weird way to describe a team whose defense is just average so far.
Competitive losses are still losses, though, and the Raps have to slip a bit after cracking the top 10 last week.
And if you believe Toronto should fall farther, just know that it's getting a significant boost because DeRozan pulled off the above play last week.
Ours is a fickle ranking system.
11. Dallas Mavericks
Last Week: 19
Take away Chandler and Monta Ellis, give up Jae Crowder in the Rajon Rondo trade, replace steady rotation fixtures with injury question marks such as Wesley Matthews and Deron Williams, get and then lose DeAndre Jordan, toss in Zaza Pachulia as a last resort...
At some point, we have to concede that it just doesn't matter who takes the court for the Mavericks. They just keep competing and finding ways to play better-than-average ball. It's just never going to change, as SB Nation's Paul Flannery tweeted amid Dirk Nowitzki's 23-point night in a win over the Celtics: "These Mavs are resilient and Dirk looks like he can do this forever."
All of the main preseason concerns still exist for the Mavs, who ran off four straight wins this week: Nowitzki breaking down, Matthews and Chandler Parsons being unreliable coming off surgeries and the lack of a premier interior stopper. In fact, we could see a rough upcoming stretch against Utah, OKC, Memphis and the Spurs expose some of those issues.
For now, the Mavs are hot, and they deserve this big leap to the edge of the top 10.
10. Chicago Bulls
Last Week: 10
The Bulls have gotten little from a banged-up Derrick Rose and less from an alarmingly unproductive Joakim Noah, yet they've managed to log notable wins over the Cavs and Thunder so far this season. Last week, they went undefeated, toppling Charlotte, Indiana and Phoenix—all quality opponents.
That's impressive, as is the overall record of 8-3 through Nov. 19—even if it comes with an underwhelming average margin of victory and ongoing concerns about an offense that ranks in the league's bottom 10, per NBA.com. Despite the wins, those last two factors are the reason Chicago doesn't rank higher.
Jimmy Butler has earned every cent of his extension, taking on more playmaking duties than ever while continuing to log high-stress minutes guarding every opposing team's best scorer.
Thanks to the annual circus trip, the Bulls won't play in Chicago again until Nov. 30. If they can survive their recent point guard troubles (Aaron Brooks is dealing with a pulled hamstring as Rose works his way back from a sprained ankle), it'll be time to take this team seriously as a contender in the East.
9. Utah Jazz
Last Week: 8
Following a Nov. 18 win over the Raptors, Ben Dowsett of SaltCityHoops.com wondered whether it was a good thing that the Jazz took care of business against a quality opponent despite lapses in scoring and effort.
It's a question worth asking, as it applies to the win against Toronto and Utah's season as a whole: Are the Jazz merely a talented, young, inconsistent team that'll hover around .500, or are these growing pains we'll see give way to a real leap forward down the line?
I guess continuing to rank them this high tells you where I stand on that.
The Jazz play terrific defense, anchored by Rudy Gobert's total control of the restricted area (DeRozan's throwdown notwithstanding). And Derrick Favors remains one of the most underrated bigs in the game. He scored 23 points and grabbed nine boards in an impressive road win over the Hawks last week and then added 18 and 11 in beating the Raptors.
Once Gordon Hayward finds his stride and head coach Quin Snyder trusts his three-wing lineups to play more minutes, Utah's record should improve substantially.
8. Boston Celtics
Last Week: 18
The Celtics are the big leapers this week, and they could have hopped even higher if they'd been able to knock off the Mavericks to complete a four-game winning streak. After they defeated the Hawks, Thunder and Rockets (with the last two coming on the road), we can forgive them for a minor letdown at home against Dallas.
Side note: Is it weird that Boston, in coming back from a deep hole to give a lethargic Rockets team its fourth straight loss, sort of cost Celtics legend Kevin McHale his job?
Anyway, the C's earned the respect of one of the league's most consistent winners in the process. Or, at least Kelly Olynyk did when he tried Nowitzki's patented one-legged fadeaway against Nowitzki himself.
"That was cold-blooded," Nowitzki said, per Chris Forsberg of ESPN.com. "But it looked pretty good, and it almost went in. So I was a little fortunate there. I said, ‘Don’t give me my own move.'"
Look for a run of success ahead as the Celtics face an all-East slate (and a back-to-back against the Nets) this week.
7. Los Angeles Clippers
Last Week: 7
The Clips played just two games during this ranking period. One, a 101-96 win over the Pistons, didn't move the needle much.
The other, a 124-117 loss against the Warriors on four days' rest, was more significant. It showed the Clips had a gear that allows them to play with anyone, as they built a massive advantage against the league's best team. But it also highlighted the chippiness, porous defense and proclivity for panic that have cut their playoff runs short in recent years.
Ultimately, we learned the Clippers are very good—but a clear rung below the league's absolute best.
The rule here has generally been that a loss to Golden State isn't grounds for losing spots in the rankings. Though the gut-punch nature of the defeat will hurt L.A.'s psyche, it doesn't kill the team here.
The Clips hold steady, but they clearly have issues to resolve.
6. Oklahoma City Thunder
Last Week: 5
Russell Westbrook predictably went bonkers the moment Kevin Durant went down with a pulled hamstring, ringing up a triple-double against the Sixers, 40 points and 14 assists against the Grizzlies and 43 points against the Pelicans.
Unfortunately, there was something else foreseeable about Durant's absence: As great as we all knew Westbrook would play, last season taught us OKC is a mediocre team without the former MVP on the floor. So a 2-2 week since the last rankings can't be all that shocking.
There's little doubt that once Durant is healthy, the Thunder will statistically profile and play like a top-five squad. That's just how it's always worked in seasons past, and that's how it was working before KD got hurt this year.
Erik Horne of the Oklahoman says Durant's return is drawing near, so this small drop following a ho-hum week will soon correct itself.
5. Atlanta Hawks
Last Week: 4
Paul Millsap summed up the frustrated mood of his Hawks after ending a three-game slide with a win over the Kings Nov. 18, per Chris Vivlamore of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:
A bunch of guys who were pretty much (expletive) off. Not ticked off at the coach or the other team. Ticked off at ourselves. The effort hasn’t been there. The intensity hasn’t been there. The focus hasn’t been there. So, we can only be mad at ourselves for the losses. Hopefully, tonight moves us toward the right direction.
Listen, Paul, I'm frustrated too. I ranked you guys fourth last week, and you went out and lost three in a row before recovering against the generally nonthreatening Kings. How do you think I feel?
Here's the defense for not dropping Atlanta further after a tough week: The Hawks have played more games than anybody, had scarce practice time and have gone without Jeff Teague (ankle) for a crucial stretch. Their net rating is still a solid plus-3.4, and even if their schedule has been softer than average, per Basketball-Reference.com, we've learned that the fatigue accompanying back-to-backs and loaded schedules is a real thing.
The Hawks aren't their best right now, but they're still very good. And when that schedule eases up, they'll be in fine shape.
4. Miami Heat
Last Week: 6
Dwyane Wade reversed a precipitous scoring slide by putting up 24 points (the first time he'd scored more than 12 since Nov. 5) in a Nov. 19 win over the Kings, and his welcome outburst served as a good symbol of why this Heat team is so dangerous.
Hassan Whiteside has generally posted great stats this season, even notching a triple-double with 10 blocks last week, but Chris Bosh has stuffed the box score whenever the hulking center has had an off night. Likewise, Amar'e Stoudemire has stepped in with scoring when necessary, Tyler Johnson has contributed a handful of big games off the bench, Justise Winslow has defended brilliantly...the list just keeps going.
The point is: Miami is deep, and it doesn't need everyone firing on all cylinders to be successful. The Heat know they have enough quality players to get a big night from somebody every time out.
That top-to-bottom quality has also manifested itself in the form of a dominant defense—one led, of course, by Whiteside's imposing presence in the middle.
Only the Warriors and Spurs have higher net ratings through games played Nov. 19. If not for a Nov. 17 loss to the Timberwolves, we'd be talking about a top-three team.
3. Cleveland Cavaliers
Last Week: 3
The Cavs suffered a pair of road losses last week, and neither LeBron James nor David Blatt was happy about the way those defeats played out.
Chris Haynes of Northeast Ohio Media Group wrote: "Cavaliers head coach David Blatt and his superstar James have been overly critical of the team's demeanor and effort on the court in recent games. Blatt had a Wednesday film session where he pointed out their many miscues of late. And according to James, Blatt let them have it."
Whatever Blatt said worked. Cleveland bounced back with a win over a spirited Bucks squad Nov. 19, led by James and his 27 points on 9-of-13 shooting.
A 2-2 week would normally drop a team a spot or two, but no serious contenders for the top three played the kind of flawless ball necessary to overtake the Cavs, who have still won eight of their first 11 games.
2. San Antonio Spurs
Last Week: 2
The Spurs are right where they need to be, cruising on the strength of a deep roster, continuity and general professionalism. But they haven't exactly dominated yet.
LaMarcus Aldridge continues to search for his role, and Tony Parker has spent most of the season at three-quarters speed. That last thing, Parker's diminished burst, is a real issue for San Antonio, which desperately needs its 33-year-old point guard to kick-start the offense by darting into the lane like he has for 15 years.
Well, it was a real issue—until Parker's burst returned in a win over the Nuggets, per Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News:
With an overmatched 19-year-old in front of him – but not really – and no true shot-blocking threat at the rim, Parker got where ever he needed to go. By half, Parker had 15 points and seven assists, and the Spurs had registered their highest-scoring first-half of the season, up 65-58. He scored on drives and jumpers and more than one acrobatic finish.
Danny Green summed up Parker’s night this way: "Tony was Tony."
Be advised: If Parker is himself again, the Spurs could put some distance between themselves and the 28 teams below them.
As for catching the one above, well...good luck.
1. Golden State Warriors
Last Week: 1
The Warriors flirted with losses against the Raptors and Nets but managed to preserve their perfect record behind inspired play from Draymond Green and Stephen Curry. Then they ran into a well-rested and motivated Clippers squad Nov. 19, and the undefeated run suffered its most serious threat.
L.A. amassed a 20-point lead in the first quarter, only to see it dwindle for the ensuing three. When the dust had settled, the Dubs' closing 22-5 run resulted in a 124-117 road win.
That game against the Clippers, perhaps more than any other this season, emphasized the Warriors' fundamental misunderstanding of how to lose games. It's just not in their programming—not a part of whatever natural laws govern their play.
Sometimes, and the game against the Clips was one of those times, asking the Warriors to lose feels like asking gravity to stop pulling things downward.
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