NBA Power Rankings: LeBron, Lakers Look Dominant After 4-0 Week
If not for those meddling Sacramento Kings, the Boston Celtics might have given us a new No. 1 in this week's NBA Power Rankings.
But because Boston saw its 10-game winning streak snapped, and because LeBron James and the Lakers just refuse to quit taking down everyone in their path, we finish yet another week with the Lake Show on top.
Meanwhile, the regular residents of the top 10 are probably wondering what the Phoenix Suns and Miami Heat are doing in their neighborhood again. Those two surprise teams continue building on hot starts and occupying top-10 positions, which is bad news for the Philadelphia 76ers, who took a tumble to make room for the revived Houston Rockets.
As always, rankings are based on record, advanced stats and health, with an emphasis on recent play.
Let's get to it.
30. Golden State Warriors (29)
Add D'Angelo Russell to the list of walking Warriors wounded, as he'll be out for up to two weeks after spraining his right thumb during Friday's 105-100 loss to the Celtics. The defeat was Golden State's sixth in a row, a total the Warriors added to with Sunday's failure in New Orleans.
The last time Golden State gagged away this many consecutive games was down the stretch in 2011-12, when it was abjectly tanking in an attempt to keep its top-seven-protected first-rounder.
With the worst record and defensive efficiency in the NBA, Golden State has hit its nadir...so far. Things can always get worse.
29. New York Knicks (28)
The Knicks won one game this week, but they probably got the one they wanted, a 106-103 victory marked by a cascade of boos for the returning Kristaps Porzingis and his Dallas Mavericks on Thursday.
Marcus Morris finished that contest with 20 points and hit the go-ahead triple with 13.2 seconds remaining.
Dennis Smith Jr., one of the key pieces coming to New York in last year's Porzingis trade, chipped in 13 points, eight assists and six rebounds in a season-high 30 minutes off the bench. The Knicks might want to start pretending they're playing Dallas every night if that's all it takes to get a vengeful effort out of the third-year point guard.
New York is 3-10, probably getting ready to fire its coach and has overtaken Orlando as the worst offense in the league. But hey, it sent Porzingis home with a loss and a whole lot of boos.
28. Memphis Grizzlies (30)
Ja Morant's game-winning lefty layup, which he converted despite contests from just about every Charlotte Hornets defender in a five-mile radius, gave the Grizzlies' first-year point guard yet another clip for his Rookie of the Year highlight reel. That 119-117 thriller on Wednesday followed a 113-109 victory in San Antonio last Monday, giving the Grizz their first back-to-back road wins since 2017.
Back home against the Jazz on Friday, Morant added another 25 points and registered a slightly less dramatic go-ahead bucket with 1:32 left in the fourth quarter. The Grizzlies held the lead and won 107-106, so you could stretch the definition of game-winner to give Morant two straight.
A home loss to Denver resulted in a 3-1 week, and with Morant's habit for heroism and more consistent production from Jaren Jackson Jr. (a combined 8-of-12 from deep in Memphis' wins over San Antonio and Charlotte), the Grizzlies have done more than enough to get out of the cellar.
27. New Orleans Pelicans (26)
Maybe Paul George was rusty, but remember, this is Jrue Holiday we're talking about. One of the league's best backcourt defenders ripped PG three times in the fourth quarter of Thursday's 132-127 win over the Clippers, capping a tremendous 36-point, seven-assist, six-steal night.
Holiday had been slumping ahead of the win over L.A., and he couldn't have picked a better time to get right. New Orleans was missing five key players: Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart, Lonzo Ball and Jahlil Okafor.
Nickeil Alexander-Walker had 26 points combined in his first six November games, and then he scored 27 in Saturday's 109-94 loss to the Heat. If the rookie who looked so good in summer league and preseason play can find his game after a rough start, it'd be a huge boost to a banged-up Pels team.
26. Chicago Bulls (24)
It took an NBA rookie record seven fourth-quarter threes from rookie Coby White, but the Bulls beat the Knicks 120-102 on Tuesday. White hit six more in a 124-115 loss to the Bucks on Thursday, making him the first rookie in league history to can at least six treys in consecutive games.
The Bulls have yet to beat a team with a winning record, and in addition to their penchant for blown leads, they've also made a habit of getting smoked on the boards. Chicago has a bottom-three rebound rate and is now 4-9 after dropping three of its last four games.
25. Atlanta Hawks (20)
Plucky as the Hawks have been, their five-game journey through the West ended predictably, with a 1-4 mark that dropped them to 4-9 on the year. Overall, Atlanta has lost six of its last seven games.
On the bright side, Trae Young became the youngest player in league history to string together three straight games with at least 30 points and 10 assists, concluding the run with 42 points and 11 assists in Tuesday's win at Denver.
With John Collins' suspension ongoing and Kevin Huerter now set to miss two weeks with a shoulder injury, Young's responsibilities won't diminish any time soon.
24. Cleveland Cavaliers (23)
If Kevin Love's deep three in the waning seconds of Tuesday's 98-97 loss to the Sixers had gone down, Cleveland would have had itself a three-game winning streak—something it never accomplished last year.
More consistent ball movement would help the Cavs string those wins together.
"I just think we're trying to find out how the pass that nobody talks about—anywhere, any of you guys talk about—really leads to the assist," head coach John Beilein told reporters after Thursday's 108-97 loss to the Heat. "And we can't make that play just yet. Or that guy that's wide-open and I have a little leverage, I got a shot, but my teammate has got a better shot."
Collin Sexton isn't a true point guard, and rookie Darius Garland had virtually no college seasoning before being thrust into the Cavs' starting five. Without an established facilitator, Cleveland, 0-3 this week, will continue to endure stagnant stretches.
23. Detroit Pistons (22)
Blake Griffin and Derrick Rose returned to action on Monday, though Griffin's season debut was more significant than Rose's availability after four games off with a hamstring injury. Griffin put up 19 points, seven rebounds and six assists in just 24 minutes of the 120-114 loss to the Timberwolves, and he rested on Tuesday as Detroit fell to the Heat, netting a third straight defeat.
If the Pistons intend to play it cautiously with Griffin (a wise move given his long injury history), somebody will have to fill the scoring and playmaking void.
Luke Kennard is ready to pick up the slack. He led all Detroit scorers with 25 points in Griffin's return and has already cracked the 20-point mark six times after registering just six such games all of last year.
The Pistons have dumped four straight games and five of their last six overall, due mainly to a defense that has slipped all the way to 27th.
22. Washington Wizards (27)
Bradley Beal's 44 points weren't enough to get the Wizards a win in their Thursday shootout with Boston, but another 44-point outburst got the job done on Friday as Washington spanked the Timberwolves by a final of 137-116.
Rather quietly, the Wizards offense has been elite. It's true that we're still seeing some statistical residue from that ridiculous 159-158 loss to the Rockets on Oct. 30, but Washington has had no trouble scoring against the rest of the league.
To be fair, the rest of the league has also had no trouble scoring against Washington. Here's hoping Moritz Wagner, who had 30 points and 15 boards in the win over Minnesota, continues to make almost every shot he takes. Because the Wizards aren't going to win any games on D.
21. Charlotte Hornets (25)
Wednesday's 119-117 loss to the Grizzlies marked the first start of the year for early standout Devonte' Graham. As Dwayne Bacon nursed a swollen right knee, Charlotte paired Graham with Terry Rozier in the first unit, sacrificing size to get its best backcourt players on the floor together to start the game.
The lineup shuffle didn't prevent a fourth straight loss, but it paid dividends shortly afterward, when Graham hit nine threes to beat the Knicks on Saturday. Expect Graham to retain the gig.
Before Graham's explosion, Malik Monk's game-winning, buzzer-beating three lifted Charlotte to a 109-106 win over the Pistons on Friday.
If the postseason started today, Charlotte, 6-7, would be a playoff team. Drink that in.
20. Brooklyn Nets (17)
Caris LeVert's thumb injury will cost him 4-6 weeks, according to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski. With their No. 2 scorer out of action, the Nets will put a larger burden on Spencer Dinwiddie.
Kyrie Irving rested a sore shoulder on Saturday against the Bulls, and Dinwiddie delivered with 20 fourth-quarter points in the 117-111 win, which halted Brooklyn's three-game skid.
The Nets are 5-7 and managed a paltry 103.2 points per 100 possessions in a 1-2 week.
19. San Antonio Spurs (14)
The Spurs force the fewest turnovers and have the lowest three-point attempt rate in the league, which means they've got a razor-thin margin for error. If you're not creating extra offensive possessions by taking the ball away from the other team, and you're not going to accept the math (three is more than two) embraced throughout the league, you've got to be almost perfect to compete.
This seems like a good time to mention San Antonio has lost five games in a row for the first time since 2011.
The Spurs are 5-8, and it feels like some panic is appropriate. Of course, every time we count San Antonio out, it finds a way to make us look dumb. Don't forget, these guys were thee games under .500 last year (11-14) before figuring things out.
18. Portland Trail Blazers (16)
Things haven't been great for the Blazers, and that's with Damian Lillard giving them everything they could ask for.
Lillard leads the league in minutes, and he's not exactly standing around racking up low-stress miles. No player has been involved as the ball-handler in more pick-and-rolls than Portland's superstar guard, and despite the demands of such a high-volume roll, Lillard is thriving. He's in the 99th percentile in scoring efficiency on such plays.
In Wednesday's 114-106 loss to the Raptors, the mileage and workload may have caught up to him. Toronto forced the ball out of his hands, sent help repeatedly and limited a frustrated Lillard to just nine points on 2-of-12 shooting. It was his lowest single-game scoring total since Nov. 9, 2016.
Portland is 2-6 in its last eight games, and it's difficult to imagine how Carmelo Anthony is going to help.
17. Oklahoma City Thunder (18)
Danilo Gallinari scored 28 points on an obscenely efficient 7-of-11 shooting night, and Chris Paul saved 16 of his 27 points for the fourth quarter and overtime of Oklahoma City's 127-119 win against the Sixers on Friday.
Paul isn't the same play-to-play dominant force he was in his prime, but his steadying influence (zero turnovers in 38 minutes against Philly) meshes perfectly with a youthful collection of athletic guards and developing talents like Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. It also helps that CP3 is hitting a career-best 42.0 percent from long range and is running more pick-and-rolls than he did in either of his Houston years.
The Thunder started the season 1-4 but, thanks mostly to Paul and a defense that ranks just outside the top 10, have recovered to reach a respectable 5-7 ahead of next week's tough two-game road swing against both L.A. teams.
16. Sacramento Kings (19)
De'Aaron Fox is going to miss an extended period with a Grade 3 ankle sprain, according to James Ham of NBC Sports. Though he'll be re-evaluated in 3-4 weeks, it's worth noting that this is the same type and degree of injury that Lonzo Ball suffered last January. He didn't play again that season.
Jason Anderson of the Sacramento Bee noted that Reggie Jackson and Matthew Dellavedova each missed at least 11 weeks with a Grade 3 sprain last year.
Cory Joseph, Yogi Ferrell and Bogdan Bogdanovic will now shoulder heavier loads with Sacramento's franchise point guard sidelined.
Though Bogdanovic is one of the league's top reserve guards, he'll be tested as a higher-minute playmaker and scorer. Consider Tuesday's 107-99 win was a solid start; Bogdanovic put up 25 points and 10 assists on the Blazers in that one. Buddy Hield hung 35 on the Celtics to end their 10-game winning streak on Sunday.
The Kings were already without Marvin Bagley III when Fox went down, and an 0-5 start put them in a hole. But here they are, 5-2 in their last seven games and looking lively.
15. Minnesota Timberwolves (15)
Andrew Wiggins has always had a low turnover rate for a player with such consistently high usage, but he’s been especially mistake-free this season.
Among players averaging at least 25.0 points, he's the only one averaging under two turnovers per game this year. The typical pushback against a Wiggins stat like this involves a joke about how you can’t turn it over if every possession ends with a contested 19-footer off the dribble, but Wiggins has made strides in cutting those low-percentage looks from his repertoire this season.
He put up 33 points in Monday’s win over Detroit and then 30 more to lead the Wolves in a 129-114 defeat of the Spurs on Wednesday. His clutch performance has been heroic, his shot profile improved. The previous five years of disappointment still count, but if you were a Wiggins optimist when he went first overall in 2014, this is the type of player you imagined.
The standing ovation Wiggins received as he walked off the floor on Wednesday might matter more than anything else. After years of pariah status, he’s winning over a huge swath of once-entrenched detractors.
The Wolves just finished a 3-5 stretch that all but erased their 4-1 start, but it's safe to say there's one big, redemption-story positive in Minnesota.
14. Orlando Magic (21)
Markelle Fultz continues to start, but the Magic's offense remains ineffective. That's largely why D.J. Augustin played the final 17 minutes of Wednesday's 112-97 win over the Sixers. With Augustin at the helm, Orlando outscored the Sixers (who were playing without Joel Embiid) 32-15 in the final frame.
Jonathan Isaac's sprained ankle is a concern, but Al-Farouq Aminu rendered it moot on Friday, starting and putting up 13 points and 13 boards just two days after head coach Steve Clifford told him he was out of the rotation.
The Magic have quietly shaken off a horrendous start on offense that saw them fail to break the century mark in their first seven games. They've gotten over 100 in each of their last six contests and have won four of their last five games overall.
13. Indiana Pacers (13)
Victor Oladipo practiced with Indiana’s G League affiliate this week, and Myles Turner made it back from an ankle sprain that sidelined him for two weeks in time to lead Indiana in scoring against the Bucks on Saturday.
The Pacers still fell to Milwaukee by a final of 102-83, a game Malcolm Brogdon missed after suffering lower back soreness on Friday in Houston. So it's not exactly like Indy is all the way healthy. Still, with such bad injury luck to this point, good news on Oladipo and Turner's comeback count as major positives.
Two straight losses against quality opponents in Houston and Milwaukee underscored a point of concern: Indiana has had the league's easiest schedule. When the slate inevitably toughens, the Pacers will need their key players healthy. Otherwise, we could see this team slip into the morass of East mediocrity.
12. Dallas Mavericks (11)
Dallas may go on to do great things this year, and the more distant future is bright. Luka Doncic is a no-questions-asked cornerstone who might average a triple-double in his age-20 season. He is getting better by the game and is playing with the craft and guile most 10-year veterans wish they had, as evidenced by 19 free-throw attempts in Saturday's 110-102 win over the Raptors.
But two losses to the Knicks? Within the span of a week?
There's a price to pay for that, and it comes in the form of rankings slippage.
11. Philadelphia 76ers (8)
Even if they came on the road, back-to-back losses against Oklahoma City and Orlando are a bad look for a Sixers team that fancies itself a title threat. And that's without considering Philadelphia was a Joel Embiid game-winner away from falling to Cleveland before those two concerning defeats.
Though the 76ers managed to bookend their week with another win over the Cavs on Sunday, it's hard to avoid feeling discouraged.
Tobias Harris went five straight games without making a three from Nov. 6-13, and a Sixers defense that was supposed to be as dominant as any in recent memory is barely clinging to top-10 status through 13 games. A sky-high foul total is part of the problem; Philadelphia is last in the league in opponent free-throw rate.
It doesn't matter how great your defense is if you aren't allowed to defend the guy shooting foul shots. Those are called freebies for a reason.
Ben Simmons and Embiid are the Sixers' most important offensive players, and both turn the ball over far too often. If Philadelphia can get out of its own way by taking care of the ball and avoiding ill-advised fouls, it'll get this mess sorted out. Still, in the wake of a sloppy 3-5 stretch, that 5-0 start seems like it never even happened.
10. Phoenix Suns
Last Week: 10
Devin Booker has taken a leap, and we've lauded his defensive growth in this very space. But it's still telling that the Lakers hunted him on defense on Tuesday, repeatedly setting screens with Booker's man to generate switches designed to get him matched up on LeBron James.
These are the nits you have to pick when a team, Phoenix, and a player, Booker, perform well enough to eliminate larger points of criticism.
Will Aron Baynes keep shooting 46.8 percent from deep? Will Ricky Rubio sustain his own uncharacteristic accuracy on threes (37.5 percent)? Your first instinct should be to say no, but don't forget to consider the quality of shots these Suns are generating. Phoenix, remarkably, leads the league in catch-and-shoot three-point attempts per game. That's after finishing 23rd a year ago.
The Suns were just 1-1 this week, but we're running out of ways to frame a 7-4 start as a mirage. This feels real.
9. Utah Jazz
Last Week: 7
Utah closed out our last rankings session with consecutive W's over the Sixers and Bucks, and it took down Golden State and Brooklyn to run up a four-game winning streak before slipping in Memphis on Friday. Mike Conley's homecoming didn't quite go to plan, as he endured an ugly 5-of-19 shooting night and Utah suffered a 107-106 loss.
The Jazz are still undefeated at home, and their defense is second-best in the league. Though Donovan Mitchell's efficiency spike (career-high 57.1 true shooting percentage) is encouraging, it's worth noting his gains are built on unsustainably high conversion rates from the mid-range area. He's making over 50 percent of his looks from 10-23 feet, and he's attempting more shots from those generally out-of-favor distances than ever.
When regression comes, a Utah offense that already ranks just 24th in the league could get even worse.
The Jazz have a soft stretch of schedule to figure out their scoring issues. On Dec. 1, they hit a daunting sequence that will include the Sixers, Raptors and Lakers. They'll need to be their best selves by then.
8. Houston Rockets
Last Week: 12
Should we just designate this space "The Weekly James Harden Did Something Ridiculous" section from now on?
Harden posted 49 points (on a career-high 41 shots) against the Wolves in Saturday's 125-105 win, giving him a scoring average of 39.5 points per game through 13 contests. He was better than that this week, though, averaging 44.8 points per game as the Rockets went 4-0 to run their winning steak to seven games.
Without Russell Westbrook, Eric Gordon, Clint Capela and Danuel House Jr. against Minnesota, Houston got 20 points from Ben McLemore, 19 from Chris Clemons and 16 rebounds from Isaiah Hartenstein. In addition to Harden and unexpected step-ups from the bench, the Rockets have also significantly improved their defense.
Since this run started back on Nov. 4, they've ranked second in defensive efficiency.
Probationary period over. Welcome back to the top 10, Rockets!
7. Miami Heat
Last Week: 9
Tuesday’s 117-108 win over the Pistons improved the Heat’s record to 7-3, four games above .500. That’s a strong start, one made all the more impressive by the fact that Miami was never four games above .500 at any point last season. The Heat never looked back, winning twice more to close out a 3-0 week with a 9-3 record and the third-best net rating in the East.
Jimmy Butler hasn't found the range yet, as he's hitting just 24.0 percent of his threes. Fortunately, he's averaging a career-best 7.2 assists (including 13 dimes in Saturday's win over the Pels) and also leading the league in steals per game.
Not to be forgotten, Bam Adebayo is one of only two players averaging at least 10 rebounds, four assists and one block. Giannis Antetokounmpo is the other.
The Heat have been fantastic to this point, driven by contributions from stars, rookies, vets and everyone in between. But if you're in search of a reason to doubt them, you might start with unsustainable shooting. Miami has run hot from deep, which is a major reason it ranks first in effective field-goal percentage.
If that normalizes, Miami will still have that dominant defense to lean on. So the floor here remains high.
6. Denver Nuggets
Last Week: 6
Opponents are begging Jokic to shoot from the perimeter, which makes sense considering he's considerably under 30 percent from three this year. You'd think giving Jokic so much pressure-free room to scan the floor would allow him to carve up the defense with his passing, but when his man is effectively zoning up in the lane, his options diminish.
That's just part of the explanation for Denver's strangely inverted route to success. The Nuggets, a top-10 offense in each of the last two seasons, are 9-3 because of their top-five defense. On offense, where a bevy of scoring options and Jokic's facilitation should be producing elite numbers, Denver is below average.
If you're searching for the driver of Denver's increasingly gritty identity, look no further than 34-year-old Paul Millsap. When the Nuggets have needed a spark on either end, Millsap has often been the one to provide it.
"Paul is playing like he's 21, not 77," Jokic told The Athletic's Nick Kosmidor. "He's a beast right now."
Denver's early season has been a little strange, and far from perfect, but you look up and see a 9-3 record with six wins in its last seven games. Most teams would love to "struggle" like this.
5. Toronto Raptors
Last Week: 5
Pascal Siakam is playing at an All-NBA level, flashing refined skills that weren't just unpolished last year; they were nonexistent. It's almost as if he powered off over the summer, downloaded the full superstar software update and restarted.
Just one example: Last year, 68.2 percent of Siakam's three-point attempts came from the corners, and 97.5 percent of his made triples were assisted. Now, only 26.0 percent of Siakam's long range shots come from the corners, and just 63.0 percent of them have been assisted.
Toronto's excellent start has been about more than Siakam, though. Reserves (and we're talking deeeeeep-bench types) have continually impressed in roles much bigger than they could have expected before the season started.
Terence Davis isn't Kyle Lowry, and Chris Boucher isn't Serge Ibaka. But the Raps' backups are making injuries to key rotation players manageable.
Toronto finished up a five-game road trip with a 3-2 mark after falling to the Mavs on Saturday.
Considering all the circumstances (injuries and five road games against West foes in just nine days), that's a pretty solid result.
4. Los Angeles Clippers
Last Week: 3
Paul George is back and, if his first two games are any indication, better than ever.
He totaled 70 points in only 44 minutes spread across Thursday's loss in New Orleans and Saturday's 49-point bludgeoning of the Hawks.
Unfortunately for the Clippers, George's return coincides with Kawhi Leonard missing a pair of games because of a left knee contusion. When Leonard sits one leg of a back-to-back, it's one thing. But missing consecutive contests might be cause for a bit more concern—especially with Landry Shamet also on the shelf with a sprained ankle.
Few teams came into the season with more depth than the Clips, so disaster is hardly imminent. Still, L.A. just had its first two-loss ranking session of the season and isn't particularly healthy at the moment. A slight drop feels warranted.
3. Boston Celtics
Last Week: 4
Friday's victory over the Warriors, a loose collection of G Leaguers who give up more points per possession than any other team, ran Boston's winning streak to 10 games. Everything comes to an end eventually, though, and Sunday's 100-99 loss in Sacramento served the Celtics their first defeat since opening night.
Jayson Tatum was a woeful 1-of-18 last Monday, but his shooting percentages were disappointing before that frigid effort in Monday’s 116-106 win over Dallas. So far, he's hitting at a career-low rate from the field. Good thing Jaylen Brown and Kemba Walker have been so effective lately. If not for them, the loss of Gordon Hayward might have sunk the Celtics offense.
Boston has three more games out West—at the Suns, Clippers and Nuggets—before it gets to head home. If the Celtics recover from the Kings loss to keep this run going, it might be time to acknowledge that Kemba Walker is a better fit for this Celtics team, and possibly a better player overall.
Walker is an MVP candidate leading a squad that just went three weeks without losing. Irving is still getting his numbers, but he won't sniff the MVP race, and his Nets are 5-7.
2. Milwaukee Bucks
Last Week: 2
Khris Middleton will be sidelined 3-4 weeks with a left thigh contusion, suffered during Milwaukee's 121-119 win against Oklahoma City on Nov. 10.
The Bucks didn't have much trouble in a two-game week without their second-best player, racking up victories over the Bulls and Pacers to improve their record to 9-3. They're one of just three teams to rank in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency—a good shorthand method for determining serious championship contenders.
If you don't have Giannis Antetokounmpo atop your MVP rankings, you're doing it wrong. Despite playing nearly the same minutes per game as last year, Antetokounmpo is exceeding his 2018-19 averages in points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks, all while posting an even higher effective field-goal percentage.
1. Los Angeles Lakers
Last Week: 1
Avery Bradley has a hairline fracture in his right leg that will hold him out at least a couple of weeks. In the 11 games before Bradley's injury sidelined him, the Lakers defensive rating changed by just one-tenth of a point whether he was on or off the floor. Though that stat squares with the notion that Bradley's on-ball intensity tends to oversell his true impact, the Lakers will still miss his tone-setting presence in the backcourt.
Of course, when tones really need to be set, we all know LeBron James and Anthony Davis can handle it.
James, the league's assist-per-game leader, continues to blow away his previous career bests in that category, and even when Davis isn't stuffing the stat sheet, he's saving games with high-leverage defense at the rim. His contest (which might have been a foul) on Harrison Barnes' last-second attempt preserved L.A.'s 99-97 win over Sacramento on Friday.
The Lakers followed that up with another victory against the Hawks on Sunday to complete a 4-0 week. Since that season-opening loss to the Clippers, the Lakers have won 11 of their last 12 games. All that winning is impressive no matter how you frame it, but what's going to happen if L.A.'s offense gets in gear?
A start this dominant with an offensive efficiency outside the top eight is remarkable.