NBA Power Rankings: Utah Closes in on Lakers, Bucks as League Mourns Kobe Bryant

Grant Hughes@@gt_hughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistJanuary 27, 2020

NBA Power Rankings: Utah Closes in on Lakers, Bucks as League Mourns Kobe Bryant

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    Tributes rolled in for Kobe Bryant on Sunday as news of his tragic death in a helicopter crash quickly spread through a devastated NBA community. It was enough to make you wonder how anyone could care about the games on the schedule.

    There is no appropriate transition from real-life sorrow to the day-to-day practicalities of ranking 30 NBA teams every week, and I hope you'll seek out solace in the flood of memorial pieces on B/R and elsewhere. I also hope you'll hug your loved ones and express appreciation and affection for them however you can.

    Players across the league did what they could under the circumstances, acknowledging Bryant's memory by wearing his signature shoes, donning honorific jerseys and taking eight- and 24-second violations in honor of the numbers he wore.

    The numbers here are suddenly far less important than they usually seem. But as we say every week, the goal is to organize all 30 teams into an order that reflects the league's current power structure. We'll consider record, advanced stats, health and recent play.

    With a heavy heart, these are the latest NBA power rankings.


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    30. Golden State Warriors (30)

    It's still a tough sell to say D'Angelo Russell makes sense at a max salary for a future Warriors team featuring Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, but there's no denying his usefulness for the current version of the squad.

    Despite almost no quality support, Russell is posting career highs in both true shooting percentage and usage rate. He's getting to the foul line more than ever and taking a career-high percentage of his shots from deep, which is all the more impressive in light of the extreme defensive attention he commands in an offense this underwhelming.

    His 37 points against a stout Indiana Pacers defense on Friday were all that kept the second half remotely competitive.

    Golden State dropped all three of its games this past week and is 1-13 since that inexplicable four-game winning streak in late December. Last in offensive efficiency and leading the league in losses, the Dubs are stuck at No. 30 again.


    29. Cleveland Cavaliers (28)

    The Cavs' skid hit seven games with Saturday's loss to the Chicago Bulls, continuing a trend of failures against weak competition. Cleveland is 1-7 in its last eight games against opponents currently in lottery position. 

    Kevin Love's resuscitation skills, it seems, do not extend to saving the Cavaliers' flat-lining season. 

    Collin Sexton's rim attacks are different, though. If your pulse doesn't spike when he sneaks in one of his posterizations (this one a lefty special against the Washington Wizards on Thursday), you might need medical help.


    28. Minnesota Timberwolves (26)

    Karl-Anthony Towns' 40 points weren't enough to prevent a 117-110 loss in Chicago on Wednesday, Minnesota's fourth straight road defeat. Overall, the Wolves have dropped nine in a row. If they fall on Monday to the Sacramento Kings, they'll have the ignominious distinction of two double-digit losing streaks this season.

    And while there's no such thing as a good nine-game slide, some are better than others. The Wolves have only lost three of the games in their current free-fall by double digits, and each of this past week's four losses came by nine points or fewer.

    Add in the fact that Towns followed Wednesday's 40-pointer with 30 on Friday and 37 on Saturday, and you can find tiny nuggets of positivity in the heap of disappointment brought on by Minnesota's struggles. 


    27. Atlanta Hawks (29)

    Without context, it's impressive that Trae Young is on pace to be the fourth player in league history to average at least 29 points per game in his age-21 season. But when you consider the particular conditions under which he works, all those points are even more remarkable.

    Atlanta ranks among the league leaders in percentage of plays finished by the roll man and ball-handler, marking it as an extremely high-usage pick-and-roll outfit. That's a tough strategic tack to take when you rank 29th in three-point percentage, as opponents can send extra bodies at the two players involved without worrying too much about the perimeter threats posed by the other three.

    Despite those restrictions, Young, the league's most frequent pick-and-roll ball-handler, ranks in the 83rd percentile in scoring efficiency on such plays. We might actually be underrating his offensive value.

    Then again, his All-Star starter nod and inspired 45-point, 14-assist performance on Sunday cut against any argument that he's flying under the radar.

    Atlanta went a solid 2-2 this week. 


    26. Charlotte Hornets (24)

    The Hornets have piled up way too many turnovers in 2020, though that's not the only reason they're a depressing 2-14 in their last 16 games.

    Devonte' Graham ranks last in two-point field-goal percentage among players who've attempted at least 200 shots inside the arc, which is partly why Charlotte is in the bottom five for field-goal percentage at the rim this season.  

    At least the Hornets offset their offensive struggles by rarely giving up freebies at the foul line. Only the Cavs allow a lower opponent free-throw rate. Of course, anytime you're in the same statistical neighborhood as Cleveland, it's usually not a sign you're doing something right.

    Malik Monk's 31 points against the Milwaukee Bucks in Paris on Friday couldn't keep the Hornets from dropping their eighth game in a row.


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    25. New York Knicks (27)

    If the Knicks don't deal Marcus Morris Sr. by the deadline, it'd constitute roster-management malpractice. Morris, a burly and able wing defender when incentivized to try, is further inflating his value as a piece every contender should want by drilling standstill threes at an absurd rate.

    He sits third in the league in catch-and-shoot three-point percentage (among players with at least 100 attempts). What playoff-bound team wouldn't want a combo forward sniper who can credibly compete on defense with the top superstar wings?

    It may not make much sense, but the Knicks' two losses this week may have been more impressive than their pair of victories. New York lost by only eight points to the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday and fell by just six to the Toronto Raptors on Friday. Sticking relatively close to the league's elite means more than drubbing the woeful Cavs and Brooklyn Nets.

    The Knicks are still just 13-34, so we can't get too carried away. But they deserve another bump up the rankings.


    24. Sacramento Kings (21)

    Up three, the Kings gave up an open triple to Duncan Robinson, maybe one of the four or five players in the league you'd least want to ignore beyond the arc, late in last Monday's 118-113 overtime loss in Miami. 

    Sacramento has hurt itself in several ways this season (not to mention the literal one, a rash of injuries), but it's mistakes like the one against the Heat that especially sting.

    Following another ugly road loss, this one by a final of 127-106 on Wednesday in Detroit, Sacramento finally put the brakes on its six-game skid, beating the Chicago Bulls 98-81. The result may have had more to do with Chicago's anemic offense than anything else, but it's still worth noting Buddy Hield came off the bench for the first time this season and scored a team-high 21 points.

    There's no good way to spin benching a guy you gave $86 million in October, and the vibes are decidedly negative around Sacramento on the whole. But at least a change brought better results. 

    As relief, an unmitigated positive: De'Aaron Fox's increased free-throw rate, up over 40 percent this season, an elite number, is a key sign of progress. He's developing craft and earning respect from officials, learning how to initiate contact and attack with a mindset to get to the foul line. It's generally more fun when he avoids contact and scores spectacularly, but extra free throws always help in the efficiency department.


    23. Washington Wizards (25)

    Though he's voiced frustration and relaxed the intensity on defense, Bradley Beal is still competing admirably during a lost Wizards season. He's attempting a higher percentage of shots inside 10 feet than in any previous year, and he was even more committed to attacking this past week.

    It'd be easy to take the path of least resistance and fire off jumpers, but that hasn't been Beal's approach.

    He scored 40 points in Sunday's loss to the Hawks, a game that underscored Washington's extreme one-way play. You're not supposed to put up 133 points in regulation and lose by 19, but that's the kind of thing that happens to a Wizards team with a league-worst defense squandering a top-10 offense. 

    Despite the loss to Atlanta, Washington still salvaged a 2-2 week and is a respectable 5-8 in January.


    22. Detroit Pistons (22)

    Derrick Rose's run of 20-point games is up to a career-high 12 games, and he hasn't just been piling up all those buckets with a high-volume approach. He's shooting 51.6 percent from the field in that stretch.

    After 42 games off, Reggie Jackson's back finally felt good enough for him to rejoin the Pistons on the floor for Wednesday's 127-106 home win over the Kings. Though Jackson's impact on winning has long been suspect, Detroit isn't exactly in a position to refuse help. His 22 points and four assists in only 19 minutes were more than anyone could have asked for after such a long layoff.

    The Pistons only managed a 1-3 mark this past week, but they're still within shouting distance of the eighth-seeded Brooklyn Nets. That shouldn't dissuade them from being sellers at the deadline, though, particularly if someone desperate offers a first-rounder for Rose.


    21. Chicago Bulls (23)

    In addition to learning head coach Jim Boylen isn't so great at player comparisons, this past week also taught us the Bulls can handle themselves against weak competition. They're 5-4 in their last nine games, and all five wins came against teams with losing records.

    Zach LaVine ended the last ranking session with 42 points against the Cavs, and he concluded this one with 44 in a return engagement with Cleveland on Saturday. He's been Chicago's leading scorer in 11 straight games, and his January scoring average of 30.0 points per game is the highest of any single month in his career.

    Lauri Markkanen's pelvic stress reaction, which will cost him four-to-six weeks, is a concern. The Bulls can't afford to lose scorers from an anemic offense.


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    20. Brooklyn Nets (19)

    A sore hamstring put Kyrie Irving back on ice for last Monday's loss to the Philadelphia 76ers, but he was healthy enough to suit up against LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday. He couldn't prevent that defeat either, but his 45 points against Detroit on Friday were integral to a 121-111 overtime win.

    Spencer Dinwiddie returned to a bench role in that contest, and hopefully he and Caris LeVert can get Brooklyn's reserve scoring back up to snuff.

    Only the Warriors have been worse than the Nets offensively in 2020.


    19. Portland Trail Blazers (20)

    Whatever disappointment you attach to this Blazers season, headed for the lottery after last year's Western Conference Finals appearance, none of it belongs on Damian Lillard.

    During Monday's win over the Warriors, Lillard scored 61 points and drilled 11 threes, a first in NBA history, continuing an individual campaign that isn't getting nearly enough attention. He's never averaged more points or posted a higher true shooting percentage in a career that already features four All-NBA nods.

    He's nearly leading the league in minutes played, a testament to his durability and commitment but also a clear sign of how little the Blazers have supporting him.

    In Thursday's dispiriting loss to the Dallas Mavericks, Lillard seemed particularly driven to turn his team's season around, pulling up from especially deep several times. He finished that defeat with 47 points on 16-of-28 shooting. But as has been the case so often, Portland's defense let him down.

    At least his 50 points got the Blazers past the Indiana Pacers on Sunday, 139-129.

    The Blazers rank 28th in points allowed per possession since the calendar flipped. Even Lillard can't score enough to offset a defense that bad.


    18. Phoenix Suns (16)

    Phoenix owns the league's highest free-throw rate since Jan. 1, which has helped offset a dreadfully low effective field-goal percentage over that same span. 

    It's hard to fathom the Suns struggling to generate efficient scoring from the field when they've got Devin Booker posting the highest true shooting percentage among scorers averaging at least 25 points per game. 

    Phoenix's lone victory this week, a 103-99 win over the San Antonio Spurs, came via 35 points from Booker. But his 36 weren't enough to get the Suns past the Memphis Grizzlies on Sunday.


    17. Orlando Magic (18)

    The Magic handily beat Charlotte last Monday, but it was all downhill from there. Three home losses—to the Oklahoma City Thunder, Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Clippers—followed, dropping Orlando's record to 21-26 on the season.

    Those three defeats shouldn't incite panic. That was a tough slate to close the week, and the Magic are still a respectable 7-7 in January. Fueled by a defense in no danger of falling out of the top 10, Orlando can get enough stops to take down weaker opponents with relative ease. Just look at that 17-6 record against teams with records of .500 or below.

    Scoring remains the problem, though, as Orlando's offensive rating is easily the worst among teams in playoff position from either conference.


    16. San Antonio Spurs (17)

    DeMar DeRozan's scoring binge was the most obvious side effect of LaMarcus Aldridge's increased three-point volume, but the open lanes created by his gunning have also sparked one of the best stretches of Derrick White's season.

    He rattled off a season-high 25 points in last Monday's 120-118 win over Phoenix and has scored in double figures in five straight games. Lacking craft or much of a start-and-stop game off the dribble, White excels when he can attack in straight lines. Those lines are now unobstructed by help defenders glued to Aldridge inside the arc.

    Collectively, San Antonio has hit at least 14 threes five times since Christmas. It made 14 or more treys just nine times all of last season. 

    The Spurs (2-2 this week) are just 6-7 in January, but there's no denying the product looks better with this modernized offense.


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    15. New Orleans Pelicans (15)

    Zion Williamson may not make four threes in a game again this season, but his perimeter-fueled scoring barrage defined his debut Wednesday. It also illustrated one of the key elements that makes him so exciting: thrilling unpredictability.

    New Orleans lost Williamson's first two games as the top pick shuttled to and from the bench on a strict minutes limit, but his double-double got the Pels past the Boston Celtics on Sunday, 123-108.

    In three games so far, Williamson is averaging 19.3 points and 8.0 rebounds on 66.7 percent shooting in only 22.2 minutes per game. Other than looking a little tentative in the first three quarters of his debut, Williamson has been as advertised.

    Which is to say: spectacular.


    14. Memphis Grizzlies (14)

    Memphis' seven-game winning streak, which vaulted it into playoff position and earned some much-deserved attention for Ja Morant and Co., ended with Monday's loss to the Pelicans. Boston plastered the Grizz by 24 points on Wednesday, as well, giving them just their second set of back-to-back defeats since early December.

    As Memphis continues its surprising pursuit of a playoff spot, it'll do well to remember that pace and passing played significant roles in its season-altering run.

    The Grizzlies got out in transition on 18.9 percent of their possessions during their seven-game winning streak, which ranked second in the league over that span. They were also second with a 67.7 assist percentage. Both figures were better than Memphis' full-season rates, and both had plenty to do with a spike in scoring efficiency.

    So did luck, though. And the Grizzlies will need to focus on the defensive end, where it ranks 21st, in order to offset inevitable offensive regression.

    It'll also help if Morant keeps breaking out the shiftiest hesitation moves in the game, one of which he used to help beat Phoenix on Sunday and close the week with a 2-2 mark.


    13. Houston Rockets (8)

    Russell Westbrook has done some stat-stuffing in his day, but it had been a while since he had a game like Friday's 131-124 win over the Wolves. Though it was his eighth career game with at least 45 points and 10 assists, it was the first time he'd produced those totals since 2017.

    James Harden was just 3-of-13 from the field in that contest, continuing a wretched January in which he's shooting 35.6 percent from the floor and 25.2 percent from deep. He's missed 80 of his last 100 threes.

    He also missed Sunday's 117-110 loss in Denver, during which Westbrook did what he could do shoulder a suddenly unmanageable playmaking load. Russ' 10 turnovers were a season high, but we could see him approach that number again if Harden misses more time.

    The Rockets, 2-2 this week, have lost five of their last seven games and will face the Utah Jazz and Trail Blazers on the road to start the final week of January. Things have been better in Houston.


    12. Indiana Pacers (12)

    Indiana responded to Monday's 30-point shellacking in Utah with a 112-87 road win over Phoenix on Wednesday. T.J. Warren led the way in that bounceback with 25 points, hit the Warriors with 33 on Friday and is definitely overdue for some praise in this space.

    Warren has played in every game for a Pacers squad that has struggled to keep its rotation healthy all year, and his reliable scoring has been critical to his team's consistency. Indiana hasn't lost more than two games in a row since starting 0-3, and though it defends a bit better with Warren off the floor, he's been increasingly tasked with difficult assignments on that end.

    Earlier in his career, Warren wasn't trustworthy enough on D to warrant consideration for high-stress matchups. That head coach Nate McMillan trusts him against tough opponents counts as real progress.

    Indy finished its five-game trip out West with a 3-2 mark and is 7-2 in its last nine games. 


    11. Philadelphia 76ers (13)

    Fresh off winning Eastern Conference Player of the Week, Ben Simmons was "ridiculously dominant" in last Monday's 117-111 win over the Nets.

    In addition to a career-high 34 points, Simmons also turned in 12 rebounds and 12 assists while cranking up the defensive intensity during the fourth quarter. With fellow perimeter-harassment specialist Matisse Thybulle also causing havoc, the Sixers collected a whopping six steals in the game's final 12 minutes. Simmons swiped five on his own in the game.

    He can't let up.

    Joel Embiid is still out, and the Sixers will also be without Josh Richardson for at least a couple of weeks after the guard had to leave Wednesday's loss to the Toronto Raptors with a strained left hamstring. Earlier this year, he missed six games with an injury to his right hamstring, and we should expect Philly to exercise at least that much caution with this one.

    Winners in five of its last six (Wednesday's road stumble in Toronto being the only blemish), Philadelphia looks stabler than it has in a while. Its defense, despite the absences of Richardson and Embiid, was still sturdy enough to hold the Los Angeles Lakers to 91 points Saturday. Prior to that, nobody had held L.A. under 95 points this season.

10. Dallas Mavericks

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    Alex Goodlett/Getty Images

    Last Week: 7

    Dwight Powell's torn Achilles, suffered Tuesday against the Los Angeles Clippers, will end his season and remove Luka Doncic's favorite lob pick-and-roll partner. No Mavs big man had received more setups from Doncic than Powell, and though both Kristaps Porzingis and Maxi Kleber present defenses with challenges by popping to the perimeter, nobody on Dallas' roster can roll with force like Powell did.

    Willie Cauley-Stein, acquired from the Warriors, will do what he can to fill the void.

    Dallas dropped two of its three games this week, and its defeat in Utah on Saturday featured the continuation of an alarming trend. Doncic scored just two points in the final period as the Jazz took control of a game in which they trailed for almost the entire second half.

    On the year, Doncic is shooting just 23.8 percent from deep and averaging 8.7 assists per 100 possessions in fourth quarters. Both are his worst of any period.

    Losses at home to the Clippers and on the road against the Jazz aren't disasters, but now would be a good time for Porzingis to prove he can take over when defenses swarm Doncic down the stretch of close games.

9. Oklahoma City Thunder

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    Last Week: 11

    The Thunder took out the Rockets, Magic, Hawks and Wolves (with Atlanta as the only home game) in a perfect week that suddenly has them within a game of the West's No. 5 seed. OKC's Monday date with Dallas, the team that currently holds that spot, just got more interesting.

    We've credited Chris Paul (late-game heroics) and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (general slitheriness) in this space before, but perhaps Dennis Schroder has gotten short shrift. He's the other member of the Thunder's wildly productive closing trio of guards, and he's in the midst of a clear career season.

    He led the way with 31 points against the Magic and also topped the Thunder with 26 points to beat the Wolves on Saturday.

    With averages of 18.8 points and 3.9 assists on a 47.3/38.3/81.9 shooting split, the seventh-year guard is on the shortest of short lists for sixth man of the year. When he, CP3 and SGA share the floor, Oklahoma City bludgeons opponents by 29.3 points per 100 possessions, the best figure for any three-man group in the league among those who've played at least 300 minutes.

    Since Dec. 16, OKC is 17-5 with the league's No. 6 net rating. That's good enough to get back into the top 10.

8. Boston Celtics

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    Last Week: 10

    Boston didn't waste any time righting itself after last week's tumble down the rankings, smoking the Los Angeles Lakers by 32 points Monday, their largest regular-season margin of victory against their historic rivals in almost 60 years.

    Wins against Memphis and Orlando followed, though Jayson Tatum had to leave Wednesday's 119-95 victory over the Grizzlies with a strained groin. Kemba Walker picked up the scoring slack with 37 points against the Magic on Friday and 35 more in Sunday's loss to the Pelicans.

    Boston's offensive efficiency has been far better with Tatum on the floor, largely because there's just not enough punch on the bench. In their loss to New Orleans on Sunday, the Celtics got a grand total of eight points from the six reserves who saw action.

    Walker might need to keep his scoring in the mid-30s until Tatum gets back.

Miami Heat

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    Last Week: 9

    Often down but rarely out, the Heat might be the league's most resilient team.

    Up 19 points at halftime, Miami found itself trailing by three with 1:35 to go in regulation Wednesday against the Wizards. Usually, momentum only shifts at such an extreme once in a game, but the Heat went on to win anyway, running their overtime record to 8-0 with a 134-129 escape. 

    As NBA analyst Couper Moorhead noted, they're a remarkable 10-6 in games where they trailed by five or fewer points in the final minute.

    The Heat couldn't quite wrap up a perfect ranking session Friday, as Kawhi Leonard's 33 points handed them a 122-117 home loss to the Clippers. But they head into the final week of January with a 31-14 record and more nail-biting late-game theater than anyone else in the league.

6. Denver Nuggets

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    Last Week: 5

    Gary Harris rejoined the lineup for Friday's 113-106 win against New Orleans, but Jamal Murray, Paul Millsap and Mason Plumlee remain sidelined for a Nuggets team that still somehow managed to go 3-1 this past week.

    It helps that Nikola Jokic is wrecking shop again. He put up 24 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists in Sunday's 117-110 win over the Rockets, his second triple-double of the week.

    Not only that, but Michael Porter Jr. looks like the best imaginable version of the high-risk, high-reward prospect Denver drafted in 2018. He tallied 20 points, 14 boards and four assists against Minnesota last Monday and is playing with a thrilling combination of star-level shot-making craft and end-of-the-bench hustle around the bucket.

    With Jerami Grant also performing much better of late, the Nuggets are getting excellent frontcourt production.

    Denver is a solid defensive stretch away from being in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency, the mark of a legitimate contender.

5. Los Angeles Clippers

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    Last Week: 4

    Montrezl Harrell scored 30 points but was powerless to stop the Hawks' offensive-rebound assault during Wednesday's embarrassing 102-95 loss. Atlanta inhaled 23 offensive boards (L.A. had just eight) and won the overall rebound battle by a margin of 63-45, keying a shocking 61-35 edge on the second-half scoreboard.

    Granted, the Clips were without Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and Patrick Beverley. But this was against the Hawks, one of the league's worst teams and one that certainly isn't known for overpowering inside play.

    Leonard scored 33 points and logged his first career triple-double to fend off the Heat on Friday, producing a 122-117 win that came despite an early 15-point deficit. Then, he extended his streak of 30-point games to eight with 31 points (plus 14 rebounds and seven assists) in Sunday's win over the Magic.

    So, as has been the case all year, the Clips (3-1 this week) can look pedestrian or terrific—depending on how many of their key players suit up on a given night. They're 28-8 in games Leonard has played.

4. Toronto Raptors

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    Last Week: 6

    You can't credit Pascal Siakam's return for all of Toronto's recent uptick in play. He'd been solid but unspectacular in his first seven games back from a groin injury before erupting for 35 points (25 of which came during an incendiary first quarter) in Sunday's 110-106 road win over the Spurs.

    The Raptors have been forcing more turnovers of late, one reason they've gotten their defensive rating all the way up to second in the league. And in addition to Siakam's improving health, Fred VanVleet, Marc Gasol and Norman Powell all returned to the lineup during this recent stretch of success.

    Still, it's hard to look at the Raptors' 7-1 mark since Siakam rejoined the lineup and dismiss it as coincidence.

    Other than trouble on the glass evidenced by bottom-10 rankings in both offensive rebound rate and opponent offensive rebound rate allowed, it's hard to find many holes in Toronto's statistical profile. Though there are four other candidates for the spot, it's starting to feel like the healthy Raptors have the best claim to status as the East's second-best team.

3. Utah Jazz

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    Melissa Majchrzak/Getty Images

    Last Week: 3

    Nobody's been as good as the Jazz over the last month. They're 14-1 in their last 15 games, and since Christmas, they lead the league in winning percentage, net rating, offensive efficiency and true shooting percentage.

    Donovan Mitchell, posting career highs across the board, led Utah in scoring in four of its last five games. But it's been dominance by committee during the Jazz's surprising offensive onslaught. Over the last month, Bojan Bogdanovic (21.1), Rudy Gobert (17.2), Jordan Clarkson (13.8) and Joe Ingles (13.4) have all averaged double-figure scoring. Among that group, Clarkson's 53.5 true shooting percentage is the only one below the league average in that span.

    Lest anyone forget amid all this perimeter scoring that Utah is still capable of winning games with potent interior play, Gobert's closing flurry in Saturday's 112-107 win over Dallas stood as a reminder. He finished the game with 22 points, 17 boards and five blocks, but it was his "tip-in, block, rebound and game-icing free throw" sequence in the late going that settled the contest.

    The Jazz are only seventh in net rating on the season, but we're going on six weeks in which they've been as good as anybody.

2. Los Angeles Lakers

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    Last Week: 2

    Kobe Bryant's tragic death Sunday renders every other NBA-related thought an utter triviality.

    Bryant scored 33,643 points and, in a gesture of genuine appreciation, congratulated LeBron James for overtaking him on the all-time scoring list just a day before he died. With 18 All-Star trips, 15 All-NBA nods, two scoring titles, an MVP, five championships and two Finals MVPs, Bryant will be remembered as one of the greatest, most driven and gloriously skillful talents to ever play.

    It's strange to talk about anything other than Kobe right now, but it'd feel especially wrong to devote this particular space to anything but his memory.

1. Milwaukee Bucks

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    Last Week: 1

    The Bucks went intercontinental this week, extending their dominance to Europe with Friday's 116-103 win over the Hornets in Paris. Giannis Antetokounmpo finished that game with 30 points, 16 rebounds and six assists, and he's led Milwaukee in points, rebounds and assists in five of its last six games.

    The Bucks have won eight straight and 13 of their last 14 overall while extending their lead in defensive efficiency. A month ago, their 101.6 defensive rating was 2.3 points per 100 possessions stingier than the two teams tied for second, Denver and Boston. Now, at 101.2, Milwaukee is 3.3 points clear of Toronto's No. 2 defense.

    This is not a team in cruise control, even if the ever-expanding gap between the top-seeded Bucks and everyone else in the East would allow for it.

    Tops in record, net rating and currently on the league's longest active winning streak, Milwaukee's reign continues.


    Stats courtesy of NBA.comBasketball Reference and Cleaning the Glass unless otherwise indicated. Accurate through games played Sunday, Jan. 26.


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