NBA Power Rankings: Los Angeles Clippers Lead the Way 1 Week into 2019-20 Season

Grant Hughes@@gt_hughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistOctober 28, 2019

NBA Power Rankings: Los Angeles Clippers Lead the Way 1 Week into 2019-20 Season

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    A new season means a fresh start to our NBA Power Rankings, the first edition in more than a half-decade that doesn't begin with the assumption that, no matter what the rankings look like, the Golden State Warriors are the league's best team.

    We live in a post-Warriors world now, and things are different. Parity is back in vogue, and you could talk yourself into nearly a dozen teams occupying the top spot at some point this year.

    This early, rankings depend largely on last season and any major roster moves from the summer. We'll consider recent performances, but barring a few obvious first-week developments, we won't lend such a small sample too much influence.

    Records, advanced stats and health are all considerations, just like they've always been. And as an apology up front, sorry, an undefeated record in the first week doesn't mean you automatically deserve to rank No. 1. Relatedly, a rough start doesn't necessarily mean a trip to the cellar is in order.

    That's good news for the aforementioned Warriors.

30-26

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    30. New York Knicks

    Rookie RJ Barrett contributed 21 points on 13 shots in his NBA debut on Wednesday, standing out as a bright spot in a 120-111 New York Knicks loss that was otherwise most notable for the strange starting lineup head coach David Fizdale employed. Allonzo Trier was the nominal point guard alongside Barrett and a trio of offseason power forward signings: Marcus Morris, Bobby Portis and Julius Randle.

    The experiment was short-lived. Trier logged a grand total of seven minutes, and Elfrid Payton contributed 26 quality minutes in relief. The latter finished the nine-point loss with a plus-14 plus/minus.

    New York is 0-3, but Barrett's two-way potential is already shining through. He's shown the ability to make multiple efforts defensively, run a pick-and-roll and use his strength to coax fouls from opposing bigs. He's got to do better than 6-of-14 from the foul line, but any time you've got a rookie averaging 21.0 points on 51.0 percent shooting, it's a hugely positive development.

           

    29. Memphis Grizzlies

    Ja Morant's nightly hunt for highlights will produce as many cringe-worthy failures as jaw-dropping successes, but the rookie's confident, high-wire approach is what makes him special. Morant isn't afraid to fail, often spectacularly.

    The Grizzlies are 1-2 after Sunday's thrilling overtime win against the Brooklyn Nets, not the worst start in what’s expected to be a rebuilding year.

    Morant is learning, Jaren Jackson Jr. has been consistently solid and rookie Brandon Clarke continues to look like a steal. He even hit a three against the Miami Heat on Wednesday, a fantastic sign for a player whose defensive future is as bright as any young player's. If Clarke is even remotely dangerous from deep, he becomes the kind of rotation talent you could envision playing huge minutes in high-stakes playoff moments.

    Those are a long way off in Memphis, but still.

           

    28. Cleveland Cavaliers

    Wednesday's 94-85 loss to the Orlando Magic saw the Cleveland Cavaliers defense, worst in recorded history last year, hold an opponent to 39 second-half points and allow 43 percent shooting overall. That was one game, and the Magic aren't exactly a proven scoring powerhouse, but all signs of defensive progress are welcome in Cleveland.

    That made Saturday's 110-99 win over the Indiana Pacers even more exciting. Cleveland sustained the defense (against yet another suspect attack, to be fair) and got enough on the other end to notch head coach John Beilein's first NBA win.

    Tristan Thompson has a pair of double-doubles so far, Kevin Love was one assist shy of a triple-double against Indy, and rookie Darius Garland doesn't look half bad in two starts.

            

    27. Washington Wizards

    There are going to be dozens (and dozens and dozens) of rough nights for the Washington Wizards, so it's encouraging that solo star Bradley Beal is setting a resilient tone early.

    He came into the fourth quarter of Wednesday's loss to the Dallas Mavericks with his Wizards down 14 points and scrapped. Ultimately ejected following a pair of technical fouls, Beal's tenacity was encouraging in a game that wasn't salvageable when he entered it.

    Washington got a 97-85 road win against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday. Thomas Bryant's 21 points and 11 boards led the way in that one, and the Wizards also get credit for their effort on the second day of an early-season back-to-back despite falling 124-122 in San Antonio on Saturday.

    Rookie Rui Hachimura appears extremely confident. He's scored at least 14 points in each of his first three career games, but reliance on mid-range shots might put a low ceiling on his efficiency. 

            

    26. Charlotte Hornets

    Add PJ Washington to the list of Kentucky Wildcats who clearly weren't allowed to spread their wings in college. He drilled seven threes on Wednesday, a record for an NBA debut, and scored 27 points, the 12th-highest total ever recorded in a player's first NBA game.

    Washington made multiple threes in just eight of the 72 collegiate games he played, never hitting more than five. He shot 42.3 percent in his sophomore season but only attempted 78 long balls.

    Tyler Herro. Bam Adebayo. Jamal Murray. Devin Booker. At some point, we're just going to have to start assuming every draftee from Kentucky can do much more than he showed in college.

    Washington's outburst was part of a Hornets onslaught that set a franchise mark for made triples (23) and produced 126 points in Wednesday's one-point win over the Chicago Bulls. Charlotte is 1-2 but might avoid the bottom-five offensive rating that seemed likely before the season.

25-21

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    25. Sacramento Kings

    Panic and a groundswell of disapproval for head coach Luke Walton has infested Sacramento Kings Twitter, but the alarmists out there shouldn't forget the Kings' 17,000-mile roundtrip to India during the preseason. Though there appear to be real issues with rotations, defensive schemes and the playbook, a whole lot of what we saw from Sacramento in a ghastly 0-3 opening week could be attributable to fatigue.

    That's the charitable way to frame things.

    So far, the Kings haven't defended at all, and everyone should be freaked out by the assist-to-turnover ratio of 50-to-62 through three games.

    If De'Aaron Fox intends to make the leap to stardom, now would be a good time to shake out the cobwebs and get to it.

              

    24. Oklahoma City Thunder

    It's been a while since teams in need of a win could look to the Golden State Warriors and see a "get right" game on the schedule, but here we are.

    The Thunder trounced the Dubs in a Sunday matinee, earning their first win of the season by a final of 120-92 behind a team-high 22 points from Dennis Schroder. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander led OKC with 28 and 26 points in their back-to-back losses to start the season, and he topped everyone with nine rebounds against Golden State.

    Oklahoma City plays five of its next six games against West opponents, so there's a good chance its win total will stay at one for a while. Although, the Warriors are on the docket again Nov. 9, so...

            

    23. Detroit Pistons

    Blake Griffin may not play until November, and if he misses significant time over the course of the season, Detroit's playoff hopes are probably kaput. Unless, of course, Andre Drummond's ongoing transformation into an ankle-breaking ball-handler is for real.

    Drummond looked especially shifty registering 32 points and 23 rebounds in a 119-110 win over the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday, the Pistons' lone victory in three tries to open the season. There were just 10 30-20 games all of last year, and I'm guessing none featured crossovers like the ones Drummond unveiled.

    The only way Derrick Rose won't wind up on the very short list for Sixth Man of the Year is if he continues to outplay starter Reggie Jackson so severely that it forces head coach Dwane Casey to include him in the first unit.

    Rose, playing on a minutes limit, was arguably Detroit's best player this past week. He's averaging 25.3 points and 5.0 assists on a 64.6/50.0/92.9 shooting split. Most remarkably, his quick-twitch burst looks more potent than it has at any point in the last several years.

              

    22. Indiana Pacers

    Myles Turner has a filthy step-back three now, so...good luck with that, opposing bigs.

    Unfortunately for Indiana, Turner's expanding offensive game was one of the few positive indicators in an 0-2 start. Malcolm Brogdon cracking 20 points and 10 assists in both of his efforts as a Pacer was another.

    Beyond that, Indiana had a hard time defending shaky offenses against Detroit and in Cleveland. And despite going with a two-big lineup, the Pacers haven't rebounded well at all. Their 45.7 percent rebound rate is cause for concern, as last year's worst rebounding outfit, the Phoenix Suns, checked in at 46.4 percent.

    Maybe this is just what it looks like when a team is integrating several new pieces while also fundamentally changing the makeup of its starting frontcourt. Indiana tends to figure things out through effort and team play. Let's give the Pacers a chance to find themselves before dumping them down a few more spots.

           

    21. New Orleans Pelicans

    If it's possible for an 0-3 start marked most notably by a budding superstar's meniscus surgery to be encouraging, well...the New Orleans Pelicans may have pulled it off. And that's with New Orleans' defense allowing entirely too many good looks from deep and at the rim.

    Brandon Ingram is scoring in heaps, with Saturday's 35-point outing coming as a fine follow-up to his work against Dallas the night before. In that one, Ingram posted 25 points and showed a keen competitive edge against Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis. It was as if he wanted everyone to understand he belonged in the same starring category as those two.

    With Zion Williamson out and Jrue Holiday nursing a left knee sprain, Ingram appears comfortable operating as New Orleans' focal point.

    The Pels' losses were all of the single-digit variety, the schedule has been tough, and it's difficult to overstate how sweeping the offseason personnel changes were. With Josh Hart, Lonzo Ball and rookie Nicolo Melli showing plenty of flashes, and with Ingram balling out, there's enough on the plus side of the ledger to keep high preseason hopes afloat for now.

    If the alarmingly confident Nickeil Alexander-Walker could get a shot to fall (4-of-23 to start his career), that'd be nice, too.

20-16

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    20. Chicago Bulls

    Lauri Markkanen kicked off his 2019-20 season with 35 points and 17 boards in Wednesday's one-point loss to the Charlotte Hornets, but the third-year big man's outburst wasn't enough to offset duds from the rest of Chicago's starting five. Particularly odd in the season's first week: Markkanen isn't hitting the long ball yet (14.3 percent), but Thaddeus Young (41.7 percent) is.

    Tomas Satoransky was supposed to stabilize the Bulls' operation at the point, but Kris Dunn and rookie Coby White both outplayed him against Charlotte. Dunn's defensive intensity sparked a late surge, and White ripped holes in the Hornets defense, scoring 17 points and handing out seven assists in 27 minutes.

    In Chicago's lone win, a 110-102 comeback against Memphis, White put up 21 of his 25 points in the second half.

    The Bulls get New York, Cleveland and Detroit next week. They need to get a clunky offense on track and come away with at least two wins in that stretch.

                  

    19. Golden State Warriors

    Is it a learning experience if you're too punch-drunk to process the lesson? That's an important question for a very young, very defensively inept Warriors team as it attempts to develop an inexperienced roster during what should be a brutally difficult season on the defensive end.

    The Clippers are going to hammer most opponents this year, but Golden State surrendered 141 points to L.A. in its season-opening loss, the highest total permitted on head coach Steve Kerr's watch. The Clips got whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted it for the entire 48 minutes of a sobering Chase Center christening.

    The Oklahoma City Thunder, who, to understate it, are not on the Clips' level, pounded the Warriors just as thoroughly. OKC was up 70-37 at halftime of the 120-92 laugher. At 0-2, Golden State has looked more like the league's worst team than one some pegged as a low-end playoff participant.

    With Stephen Curry around to raise the floor, the Warriors offense can only get so bad. There may be no lower limit, though, to the defensive depths ahead.

                 

    18. Atlanta Hawks

    The Atlanta Hawks got off to a strong start against a weary Pistons squad on Thursday as Trae Young shrugged his way to 38 points and nine assists. De'Andre Hunter defended, finished inside and hit a pair of threes in his regular-season debut. Unhurried, versatile and polished, the rookie forward was key in the Hawks' 117-100 road win.

    Young did himself one better during a 103-99 win over the Orlando Magic on Saturday, scoring 39 points on 16-of-25 shooting.

    The Hawks have downed two teams that made the East playoffs last year, and if you didn't get your bets in on Young making the All-Star team, it's probably too late now. These next three games, which feature the Philadelphia 76ers and two dates with the Miami Heat, offer a real opportunity for the Hawks to validate an excellent first week.

                

    17. Brooklyn Nets

    Kyrie Irving's 50 points and missed overtime game-winner against the Timberwolves made for a bittersweet debut, but he and the Brooklyn Nets recovered to win their next tilt against the New York Knicks. Irving hit a step-back dagger with 22 seconds left to ice the win over New York.

    Brooklyn sits at 2-1, but it could benefit from more consistent bench play. With Irving off the floor against Minnesota, the Nets posted a 68.6 offensive rating in 15 minutes. The bench was better in Brooklyn's win (How could it have been worse?), and Spencer Dinwiddie should be able to prevent that Irving-less blip from becoming a season-long issue.

              

    16. Phoenix Suns

    There wasn't a more impressive opening-week win than the Suns' 130-122 success against the Los Angeles Clippers on Saturday. Phoenix was playing the second leg of a back-to-back set without starters Ricky Rubio (bruised knee) and DeAndre Ayton (suspension) and still handed it to a Clips team that looked unbeatable coming in.

    Devin Booker hung several of his 30 points on Patrick Beverley, whose trademark intensity didn't seem to bother Phoenix's ultra-confident guard. Meanwhile, Frank Kaminsky stepped into the backup big role and added 18 points, eight boards and six assists.

    The Suns are 2-1, and head coach Monty Williams has them playing with the right mix of humility and grit.

    "There are teams in the league that have so much talent that they can turn the switch on. We can't, and our guys understand that," Williams told Gina Mizell of The Athletic.

    There's a chance Phoenix is finally turning this thing around.

15-11

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    15. Orlando Magic

    If Markelle Fultz's confidence spike sticks, maybe the Orlando Magic won't have made quite as large of a bet on continuity as it seemed. Al-Farouq Aminu was Orlando's only real free-agent addition, and a somewhat ill-fitting one at that. But if Fultz keeps probing the lane, warping the defense and diming up teammates, the Magic will have effectively added a dynamic new backup point guard.

    His misses were ugly, but Fultz got up six three-point attempts in Saturday's 103-99 loss to the Hawks, hitting two of them. With 12 points in both of his games to date, not to mention a nine-to-three assist-to-turnover ratio on the season, Fultz is already a quality reserve with ample room to be more than that.

    The Magic, 1-1, will need to get their shots to fall at a higher rate if they intend to better last season's 42-40 finish. That 47.1 true shooting percentage, worst in the league so far, won't cut it.

             

    14. Minnesota Timberwolves

    Karl-Anthony Towns set a career high with seven made threes and looked improved in drop pick-and-roll coverage during Wednesday's overtime win in Brooklyn. There's no doubt Towns, on his own, can make Minnesota a top-10 offense. But if he consistently anchors things on the other end, he'll no longer live a notch below the league's true superstars.

    Another 37 points from Towns led to a 121-99 victory on the road in Charlotte, and he keyed that result with a 17-point third quarter that featured even more solid defense.

    You've got to be careful trusting in talk of a young player taking on a larger leadership burden, and chatter about team unity sometimes gets quieter when losses mount. But if you can watch KAT present the game ball to head coach Ryan Saunders on the four-year anniversary of his father's passing and not start to believe in the Wolves—just a little—you're a robot.

          

    13. Portland Trail Blazers

    Damian Lillard caught several bodies against the Denver Nuggets, spinning past a sprawling Mason Plumlee before throwing it down on a handful of half-hearted challengers in the lane.

    Unfortunately, Lillard's Blazers came up short in that game, falling by a final of 108-100. A 121-119 nail-biter in Dallas on Sunday, in which CJ McCollum finally woke up and scored 35 points, moved Portland to 2-1 on the season. 

    Though Lillard has talked up new addition Hassan Whiteside, the stat-stuffing big man's presence hasn't done much to shore up a defense that lost Al-Farouq Aminu and Moe Harkless (not to mention Jusuf Nurkic, who excelled in the Blazers' drop coverage before injury last year).

    The best version of this Blazers team involves Zach Collins at center, but the third-year big man only looked incrementally improved before suffering an injury. Portland needs him to make a leap, but Sunday's dislocated shoulder could have Collins out of action for a while.

           

    12. San Antonio Spurs

    Nobody will hand the Spurs a medal for beating the New York Knicks and Washington Wizards in a 2-0 start, but every win counts for a squad likely to be near the cut line for playoff entry in the West.

    LaMarcus Aldridge, who'll be draining mid-post turnarounds when he's 75, led San Antonio scorers in both games, but Dejounte Murray averaged a cool 18.5 points in 23.5 minutes per game to kick off his comeback from last year's ACL injury. With 18 boards in two contests, the Spurs point guard also reminded everyone he'll be a serious grab-and-go threat for a San Antonio offense that needs some transition zip.

    Better tests are coming. The Spurs get the Portland Trail Blazers, Los Angeles Clippers, Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Lakers in the four-game week ahead.

           

    11. Dallas Mavericks

    "There's so many more levels we can go higher with this team," Kristaps Porzingis told The Athletic's Tim Cato after his 23-point Dallas debut in a comfortable 108-100 win over the Washington Wizards.

    Sacramento and New Orleans haven't looked as good as Dallas in the early going, and if Porzingis is right about his Mavs, the West's jumble of up-and-coming playoff hopefuls might sort itself out in a hurry. KP has defended the rim exceptionally, and Luka Doncic has taken a step forward, looking more and more like a strange hybrid of past greats.

    Already this year, he's shown the patient, probing drives of Steve Nash, the step-back moxie of James Harden and the cross-court vision of LeBron James. Hyperbolic praise, sure, but Doncic, already with a 34-point outing in one Mavs win and a triple-double in another, has leveled up.

10. Miami Heat

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    Early signs suggest the Miami Heat's talent evaluation and player development departments are due raises. Rookie Tyler Herro started Wednesday's opener, and his 14 points, while impressive, were just a small part of a broader youth movement.

    Kendrick Nunn, Justise Winslow and Bam Adebayo—all 24 or younger—combined for 65 points in a 120-101 win over the visiting Memphis Grizzlies. Derrick Jones Jr. may have already turned in one of the five best dunks we'll see all year.

    Saturday's overtime win against Milwaukee featured a 21-point comeback, and the energy Miami expended had something to do with its defeat in Minnesota on Sunday. Still, the Heat are deep, scrappy and propelled by some exciting youth.

    Jimmy Butler, absent due to the birth of his child, hasn't even played yet.

9. Boston Celtics

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    The Philadelphia 76ers' length bothered Kemba Walker during Wednesday's 107-93 loss, and that game seemed to raise some concerns about a Boston attack that lost Kyrie Irving and Al Horford. Turns out it's not a good idea to use games involving the Sixers defense as a gauge.

    Boston's attack trended up in each of its next two outings, wins over the Toronto Raptors and New York Knicks, peaking with a 115.7 offensive rating against New York. That's more like it.

    Jayson Tatum's progress toward stardom is accelerating, rookie Grant Williams has already forced his way into the center rotation, and Marcus Smart is even seeing minutes at the 5 in Boston's delightfully named "Cobra Five" lineup.

    The Celtics, 2-1, are fun.

8. Houston Rockets

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    Remember when we all thought the Houston Rockets' season hinged on whether Russell Westbrook could adjust his game to fit alongside James Harden?

    Maybe this should have been the expectation, but Russ has been largely the same guy he was in OKC. It's Harden who hasn't looked quite right, as evidenced by his 3-of-26 shooting from deep and 15 turnovers through two games. Harden is still suckering opponents and officials to the tune of 13 free-throw attempts per contest, and he handed out 14 assists in the season-opening loss to the Milwaukee Bucks.

    But he clearly hasn't gotten the playing-with-Westbrook calibration quite right yet.

    Houston, 1-1, needs to tighten up its switching, as opponents have capitalized on some laziness in that area. If it's going to take time for everyone to adjust to Westbrook on offense, the Rockets should at least make sure they're on the same page defensively.

    Oh, and no, you don't need to sound the alarm because Westbrook and Harden had a short, semi-heated discussion against the Bucks. It's too early to read much into that. If Harden looks out of sorts for another couple of weeks, we can readdress.

7. Utah Jazz

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    The Sacramento Kings defense, ruled clinically dead by several medical professionals this week, helped the Utah Jazz shake off an unexpectedly poor offensive start. Utah put up 113 points on 67.8 percent true shooting in its blowout victory Saturday, upping its record to 2-1.

    Prior to that, the Jazz had true shooting percentages of 50.6 and 54.3 against the Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Lakers, respectively.

    Even after an offseason overhaul that swapped out size and stopping power for scoring, Utah's defense remains stout. The Jazz are tops in the league with a 91.9 defensive rating so far.

    Finally, backup point guard looked like a potential trouble spot, but it won't be if Emmanuel Mudiay is going to push the pace, attack the lane and avoid low-percentage shots as he has in the early going of 2019-20.

    He's hit double figures in all three games, helping make up for a slow start by Mike Conley.

6. Toronto Raptors

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    Important news: Marc Gasol got "Grit & Grind" engraved on his championship ring. He can do no wrong.

    Gasol's gesture was nice, but not as nice as Pascal Siakam's start to his first go-round as Toronto's No. 1 option. He's been so nice—28.7 points, 10.7 rebounds and 3.7 assists while hitting 47.1 of his threes and going 20-of-21 from the foul line—that you have to italicize the word to properly convey the extremity of his niceness.

    Like this: Siakam has been nice.

    Toronto got blitzed on the boards by Boston in Friday's 112-105 loss, its only defeat in a 2-1 start, allowing the Celtics a 21-5 edge on the offensive boards. That disparity and an ugly 23 turnovers led to the Celtics taking 31 more field-goal attempts than the Raptors. It's hard to win that way.

5. Los Angeles Lakers

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    The Lakers posted up Anthony Davis too often and suffered from a lack of non-LeBron James playmaking (especially concerning because James couldn't consistently beat the likes of Montrezl Harrell off the dribble on switches) in their 112-102 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers. If Danny Green hadn't erupted for 28 points, the margin would have crossed into blowout territory.

    A 95-86 rebound against the Utah Jazz on Friday saw L.A. tighten the screws on defense as James got back in form. His 32 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds led all Lakers players.

    Through three games, some of the Lakers' anticipated flaws have been present. The lack of a quality conventional point guard is, predictably, a problem—not one Rajon Rondo figures to solve. Still, with serious defensive potential, good wing defenders and capable shooters around Davis and James, the outlook remains rosy.

    It'll get rosier when they inevitably snag a key contributor (cough, cough, Andre Iguodala, cough) on the buyout market later this year.

4. Denver Nuggets

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    Jamal Murray scored 16 of his 27 points in the fourth quarter and overtime of Saturday's 108-107 escape against the Phoenix Suns. Denver shouldn't have needed an extra period to beat Phoenix, but Malik Beasley fouled Ricky Rubio on a halfcourt attempt with 1.5 seconds left in regulation. Rubio sank all three freebies, and so: overtime.

    Denver's offense has yet to rev up, but individually, Nikola Jokic is firing on all cylinders. He posted a triple-double in the win over Phoenix and is averaging 21.5 points, 13.5 rebounds and 7.0 assists through two games. Once the rest of the Nuggets get things going, we'll see the potential No. 1 seed we all expected.

    Oh, and if Michael Porter Jr. could get a little action, that'd be great. He's 2-of-2 in the DNP department so far despite flashing legitimate shot-making skills in preseason play.

3. Philadelphia 76ers

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    From the looks of it, the Philadelphia 76ers are going to win more ugly games than anyone this season.

    The Sixers' size and length on defense will stifle just about every opponent, which is a good thing because the offense is cramped, turnover-prone and limited by a nonexistent pick-and-roll attack. Ben Simmons' much-ballyhooed improvement as a shooter won't impact this season; it'll take years of him proving to be a threat from the perimeter before any sensible defense worries about his jumper.

    Philadelphia held the Celtics to 36.7 percent shooting and bludgeoned them on the boards 62-41 in Wednesday's 107-93 win, trotting out supersized lineups that illustrated the diversity of roster-building approaches now available in a post-Warriors world. The hulking Sixers might be the first sign that a very 1990s emphasis on muscle could be coming back into vogue.

    Even without their heftiest option, Joel Embiid, who missed Saturday's game against the Pistons with an ankle sprain, Philadelphia leaned on its defense and Tobias Harris' scoring outburst to overcome a 13-point third-quarter deficit. The 117-111 victory moved the Sixers to 2-0.

    Finally, Matisse Thybulle is a menace. Kemba Walker suckered the rookie more than once on Wednesday, but Philly's lithe and rangy defensive prospect validated his ballhawk credentials by lurking in passing lanes and surprising Boston's offense with trailing blocks.

    He'll be a rotation mainstay regardless, but if Thybulle's jumper falls, he'll quickly become indispensable.

2. Milwaukee Bucks

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    A 39-point fourth quarter propelled the Bucks to a stirring road win over the Rockets on Thursday. The victory was all the more impressive considering Giannis Antetokounmpo fouled out with 5:18 left in the fourth quarter of a six-point game. Despite the early exit, the reigning MVP broke the seal on 2019-20 with his 15th career triple-double.

    More encouraging still, he was 5-of-8 on shots outside the paint, including 2-of-5 from long range. After an ugly air ball on his first attempt, Antetokounmpo's increasingly smooth jumper found the net often.

    Milwaukee might be the league's most trustworthy top-end team, but it's still capable of the occasional letdown. The Bucks blew a 21-point third-quarter lead against the Heat on Saturday, ultimately losing in overtime by a final of 131-126—all this despite a Herculean statistical effort from Antetokounmpo, who also tipped in Khris Middleton's air ball at the buzzer, sending the game to OT.

    Antetokounmpo's 29 points, 17 rebounds and nine assists were for naught.

    The Bucks will be fine. If anything, an early hiccup like the one against Miami will refocus them ahead of a schedule in which six of their next eight games come on the road.

1. Los Angeles Clippers

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    The Clips, even without Paul George, looked scarier than most imagined in besting the Lakers and Warriors to start their season. And that's no small achievement, considering the Lakers entered the year with a title-ready profile.

    So deep as to be unsporting, purpose-built to crush second units behind the devastating Lou Williams-Montrezl Harrell pick-and-roll and sparked by Patrick Beverley's manic intensity, the Clippers cracked the Lakers and Warriors to open the season as kings of California.

    The Suns spoiled what could have been a 3-0 week with an improbable upset Saturday, which goes to show nobody's invincible in this new era of post-Warriors parity.

    "You have a couple of these games where you're just late on everything," head coach Doc Rivers told reporters after the loss in Phoenix. "I thought we were late on everything. On the offensive end, we had no pace. We deserved to lose."

    It's telling that we've gone four paragraphs without mentioning Kawhi Leonard, who's also on the Clippers, and who might be the best basketball player walking the earth. Leonard is averaging 26.0 points and 6.3 rebounds on 50.8 percent shooting, but he's also showcasing improved facilitation skills. His nine assists against Golden State set a new career high...which he broke by handing out 10 helpers against Phoenix 48 hours later.

               

    Stats courtesy of NBA.com and Basketball Reference unless otherwise indicated. Accurate through games played Sunday, Oct. 27.