NBA Power Rankings: Where Every Team Stands After Wild First Week

Mo DakhilFeatured Columnist IDecember 28, 2020

NBA Power Rankings: Where Every Team Stands After Wild First Week

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    Kyusung Gong/Associated Press

    The NBA season is hardly a week old and there have already been two overtime thrillers, a great tip-in buzzer-beater, a few game-winners and a few 40-point games. Also a few surprise wins in the Eastern Conference. 

    The East is the toughest it has been in years, and the Western Conference is going to be a battle on a nightly basis. A few teams are off to surprising starts, and some are struggling mightily. It is tough with so few games to figure out what is a blip and what is an actual trend. 

    There is definitely the challenge of certain players being unavailable due to health and safety protocols. The NBA is going to get its first look at how these miniseries will play out with several teams about to play back-to-back games a la Major League Baseball style. 

    Here’s where the teams stack up after six days of games.

30. Detroit Pistons

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    Duane Burleson/Associated Press

    Last Week's Ranking: 28

    The Pistons could easily be 2-0 instead of 0-2. Their clutch play cost them against Minnesota and Cleveland. They had a five-point lead heading into the fourth quarter against the Wolves and then had multiple chances to beat the Cavaliers in regulation and overtime. Dwane Casey will have to put more focus into closing games.

    Casey has started rookie Killian Hayes early in the season, and he has struggled, shooting only 30.8 percent from the field. Hayes didn’t play at all in the fourth or any of the overtimes against the Cavs.

    The good news is Derrick Rose (14.0 PPG) and Blake Griffin (20.5 PPG) have both looked good. As long as they can continue to play well, their trade value should rise.

29. Chicago Bulls

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    Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

    Last Week: 21

    It is one thing to lose your season opener; it is another thing to get blown out by 20. 

    The Chicago Bulls were lucky to get it within 20, as they were down as many as 40 points against the Atlanta Hawks. They gave up 83 points in the first half! Let that sink in for a moment: EIGHTY-THREE points. 

    In their next game against the Indiana Pacers, they gave up 66 points in the first half on their way to a 19-point loss. 

    The Bulls defense has struggled, but the offense has not fared much better. Zach LaVine and Coby White going a combined 2-of-15 from three did not help the cause in the Hawks game. Then they could only muster up 15 points in the third quarter of the Pacers game.

    Then, just when it looked like they were going to get a win against the Warriors in their third game, they gave up a game-winning three. Oh, not to Stephen Curry, but to Damion Lee, who snatched victory away from the Bulls.

    Chicago is shooting 43.2 percent from the field to the start season. It is a new system under Billy Donovan, and the struggles are a product of a shortened training camp.

28. New York Knicks

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    Last Week: 30

    The New York Knicks opened up their season with losses to the Indiana Pacers and Philadelphia 76ers, but then they shocked the Milwaukee Bucks. Rookie Obi Toppin struggled in his debut, shooting only 3-of-12 from the field and collecting just three rebounds. The team announced Toppin has a calf strain, and he will be re-evaluated in 7-10 days. It’s not the start the Knicks were hoping for to his rookie season. 

    RJ Barrett has had a great start, tallying 26 points, eight rebounds and five assists while knocking down all of his threes in the season opener. He followed it up with a dud against the Philadelphia 76ers, going 2-of-15 and 0-of-6 from three. The hope is that he’ll find consistency as the season goes on. 

    Shooting an unreal 59.3 percent from three to shock the Bucks is worth climbing two spots in these rankings. 

27. Charlotte Hornets

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    Chris Carlson/Associated Press

    Last Week: 24

    The Charlotte Hornets started the season 0-2, dropping a game on opening night when Terry Rozier put up 42 points and Gordon Hayward added 28 points. Then, Charlotte lost a close one to the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Hornets also lost Cody Zeller to a broken hand that will require surgery. That’ll keep their starting center out for four to six weeks.

    Despite the slow start in those two games, they ended the week with a huge upset over the Brooklyn Nets. They got another stellar night from Hayward with 28 points, seven assists and six rebounds, but it was a total team effort. Rozier added 19 points, and the Hornets had six players in double figures. Even though this just counts as one win, it is big enough to spark a run.

    There is talent on this roster, and James Borrego is capable of getting a lot out of his guys.

26. Cleveland Cavaliers

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    Tony Dejak/Associated Press

    Last Week: 29

    The Cleveland Cavaliers knocked off the Joel Embiid-less Philadelphia 76ers on Sunday to remain unbeaten, and it’s clear the chemistry between Darius Garland and Collin Sexton is growing. Garland has shown his ability to initiate the offense while Sexton operates off the ball.

    Sexton is averaging 27.0 points per game, while Garland is putting up 19.0 points and 8.3 assists. Rookie Isaac Okoro won the starting job over Cedi Osman and has shown off his defensive skills. Andre Drummond continues to be a double-double machine.

    Cleveland is off to a good start—with wins over the Hornets and Pistons in addition to the 76ers surprise—but still has a lot to prove before it climbs out of the 20s.

25. Memphis Grizzlies

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    Brandon Dill/Associated Press

    Last Week: 23

    Ja Morant put on a show on opening night against the San Antonio Spurs, dropping 44 points and nine assists while committing just one turnover. Despite all of this, it did not turn into a win. Then, against the Atlanta Hawks, he put up 28 points and seven assists in another loss.

    Grizzlies guards not named Morant have struggled: Grayson Allen has shot just 30.8 percent from the field, Tyus Jones is at 33.3 percent, and the news of De'Anthony Melton not being with the team due to the NBA's health and safety protocols is going to hurt their depth.

    The defense has struggled, as the Grizzlies have given up 131 and 122. It is going to be a tough go on that end with Jaren Jackson Jr. still a few weeks away from returning.

    The schedule gets tougher with four of their next five games against the Brooklyn Nets, Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers. In a stacked West and with a shortened schedule, starting out with a bad stretch could hurt the Grizzlies' playoff chances.

24. Oklahoma City Thunder

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    Chris Carlson/Associated Press

    Last Week: 27

    It’s hard to judge the Thunder considering their first game was postponed and they’ve only played one so far. But their one game this season was exciting. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander showed off his potential, dropping 24 points, nine assists and seven rebounds—not to mention the game-winner—against the Hornets.

    This season is going to be all about the development of the young players. Darius Bazley put up a 15-point, 10-rebound double-double, while Luguentz Dort poured in 15 points. There is plenty of room for improvement: The three young kids shot a combined 3-of-15 from three. For the game, OKC shot an abysmal 27.8 percent from deep.

    George Hill was great in his Thunder debut. In 24 minutes, he scored 21 points on 8-of-9 shooting, including 4-of-4 from three. If he can play like this all season, it can pave the way for a trade at the deadline for the Thunder to net another asset.

23. Golden State Warriors

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    Last Week: 18

    The Warriors right off the bat had a challenging schedule: an East Coast swing starting in Brooklyn and Milwaukee before heading to Chicago. 

    Offensively, the Warriors lack shooting and playmaking besides Stephen Curry, who is in a mini-slump from deep, shooting just 25.7 percent from three. Defenses are keying in on him and willing to live with Andrew Wiggins and Kelly Oubre Jr. trying to carry the offense. Oubre is off to a very slow start, shooting 17.5 percent from the field and has yet to hit a three. 

    Offense isn’t their only worry, though. Their defense has not consistently come up with stops. They have given up 125, 138 and 128 points in their first three games. Draymond Green’s return should help stabilize things, but there is only so much he can cover.

    The lone bright spot for the Warriors has been rookie James Wiseman. In his first two games, he averaged 18.5 points and seven rebounds while shooting 50 percent from the field. He’s even flashed his three-point range, knocking down five triples. This is a great start considering he missed most of training camp, all of preseason and had not played a meaningful game since the start of the last college season. 

    With the loss of Marquese Chriss for the year, the Warriors will need Wiseman to continue playing well.

22. Washington Wizards

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    Geoff Burke/Associated Press

    Last Week: 16

    With Russell Westbrook running the show, the Washington Wizards are a chaotic freight train flying down the rails. Westbrook already has two triple-doubles while Bradley Beal has picked up where he left off from last season, scoring 31, 39 and 29 points in their first three games. Thomas Bryant has already begun to see the benefits of playing alongside Westbrook. He has become his second-most frequent target behind Beal.  

    Unfortunately, these have not translated in wins. They have run into problems in the fourth quarter, averaging just 24.0 points while going cold from three.

    The Wizards are going to be a fun watch and will be in the top three in pace this season, but if they are going to make a run at the playoffs, they have to figure out how to play disciplined defense.

21. Minnesota Timberwolves

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    Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

    Last Week: 26

    The Wolves got off to a nice start with a come-from-behind win against the Pistons and then an upset win against the Utah Jazz. Karl-Anthony Towns followed up his emotional 22-point, 11-rebound, seven-assist performance on opening night with a 16-point, 12-rebound, four-block showing in their win against the Jazz. The Wolves have also gotten strong starts from D’Angelo Russell and Malik Beasley.

    Things were looking up for the Wolves until they got the latest injury report. Towns, who finished the game against the Jazz despite injuring his wrist, will miss time with a wrist dislocation and be re-evaluated weekly. Without him, Minnesota took a 36-point drubbing by the Lakers on Sunday.

    Even though rookie Anthony Edwards struggled against Los Angeles, he has shown potential, contributing 15 and 18 points off the bench in his first two games, and he has put in strong defensive efforts. With the lack of production from Jake Layman and Juancho Hernangomez, it may not be long before Edwards is starting.

    Hopefully the Towns injury will not lead to an extended absence. If it does, that could be a critical blow for their playoff chances.

20. Houston Rockets

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    Steve Dykes/Associated Press

    Last Week: 17

    The Rockets were the first team to get hit by the COVID protocols. They had to postpone their first game of the season, and due to safety protocols, they will be without John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Eric Gordon and Mason Jones until Thursday. All of this is going on while the James Harden saga continues and his trade list reportedly expands.

    Then they opened the year on Saturday against Portland, and all those issues fell to the wayside. Despite being short-handed, Harden and Christian Wood teamed up to push the Blazers to overtime. Harden reminded everyone why he has been an MVP candidate over the past few seasons with 44 points and 17 assists. Wood looked like a massive bargain with 31 points and 13 rebounds.

    If the Rockets can maintain this effort for a few games, help is on the way in the form of Wall, Gordon and Cousins.

19. San Antonio Spurs

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    Darren Abate/Associated Press

    Last Week: 25

    The Spurs climbed up a few spots after nice wins over the Grizzlies and Raptors. They averaged 125 points in their first two games, and more impressively, they’ve played at a pace higher than we are accustomed to seeing.

    The youth movement is in full bloom with Dejounte Murray, Keldon Johnson and Lonnie Walker IV all in the starting lineup. Murray put up his first career triple-double in their second game with an 11-point, 10-rebound, 10-assist performance. Johnson and Walker have been attacking the paint relentlessly. Gregg Popovich is trusting these young Spurs to push the tempo.

    With all the young talent on the Spurs, their veterans are still delivering and helping them seal wins. DeMar DeRozan nearly dropped a triple-double in Game 1 with 28 points, nine rebounds and nine assists. LaMarcus Aldridge had 32 points in the first two wins, while Patty Mills and Rudy Gay are providing a boost off the bench.

    In their one loss, they failed to score 100 points and were forced to play at a much slower pace. In what seems to be very un-Spurs like, when they run they win, and when they do not they lose.

18. New Orleans Pelicans

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    Joel Auerbach/Associated Press

    Last Week: 22

    As good as Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram are, the New Orleans Pelicans are at their best when they have a balanced attack. In their season-opening win against the Toronto Raptors, they had five scorers in double figures, while Ingram was a rebound shy of a triple-double.

    That was not the case in their Christmas Day loss to the Miami Heat, despite getting 32 and 28 points from Williamson and Ingram, respectively, with only one other Pelican scoring in double figures. Their starting backcourt of Lonzo Ball and Eric Bledsoe combined to go 4-of-18, including 3-of-14 from three. Add in JJ Redick’s 1-of-7 performance off the bench and the Pelicans have to get better production if they are going to make the playoffs.

    The Pels’ shooting did not get better in their win against the Spurs. They shot 20.8 percent from three as a team. But they were able to pull off the win with their defense. This has to delight coach Stan Van Gundy, as they limited the Spurs to 95 points. 

    It is still a learning process for these young Pelicans, but if the defense stays as locked in as it was against the Spurs, a lot of wins are coming their way.

17. Toronto Raptors

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    Darren Abate/Associated Press

    Last Week: 12

    It looks like losing key rotation players over the past few seasons is beginning to catch up to the Toronto Raptors. They are starting games smaller than last season with OG Anunoby at the power forward spot. This size disadvantage has proved challenging on the glass, as they’ve been out-rebounded 98-81 in two games.

    This is something Nick Nurse must figure out because besides Aron Baynes there is not much physical size on the roster. Fred VanVleet and Kyle Lowry will have to pitch in and gang-rebound. This will prove even more challenging in their upcoming game against the Philadelphia 76ers.

    Still, no one should count out the Raptors with everyone adjusting to not just new roles but also new homes, as they are based in Tampa Bay this season due to COVID-19.

16. Portland Trail Blazers

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    Craig Mitchelldyer/Associated Press

    Last Week: 11

    After a celebrated offseason, the first game of 2020-21 did not go according to plan. The Trail Blazers opened their year with a blowout loss to the Utah Jazz. Their defense struggled to contain the three-point attack and gave up 12 offensive rebounds. Damian Lillard also had an uncharacteristic performance going 4-of-12 and 1-of-7 from three.

    It looked like the Blazers were heading for another loss against the Rockets, giving up 68 first-half points. Then things began to click in the second half defensively, and Portland held Houston to just 17 third-quarter points. CJ McCollum poured in 44 points, and Lillard came alive with 32 of his own, as the Blazers avoided an 0-2 start with a 128-126 overtime win.

    There have been a lot of additions to the roster, and coach Terry Stotts still has to work out the rotation. Besides the rotation, the Blazers are changing up their defensive system from a conservative scheme to a more aggressive style. It will take some time to get everyone on the same page, but the pieces are there for a big run.

15. Orlando Magic

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    Shawn Thew/Associated Press

    Last Week: 19

    The Orlando Magic are not known for their offense, but they are averaging 121 points. They pulled off a big win against the Miami Heat to open the season and then pulled off two close wins against the Washington Wizards in their miniseries. 

    This has been the same Magic team for years; they know who they are and how Steve Clifford wants them to play. 

    The player to watch is Markelle Fultz for Orlando. If he can attack the paint and finish, it will open up opportunities for his teammates. Late in the first game against the Wizards, he attacked Thomas Bryant off a pick-and-roll and then flipped the ball back to a cutting Nikola Vucevic for an important bucket. 

    The Orlando Magic are the Joey Knish of the NBA. They are not flashy or fancy, but they grind out just enough wins to make the playoffs. 

    They look on track to be that team again if this past week was any sign.

14. Sacramento Kings

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    Rich Pedroncelli/Associated Press

    Last Week: 20

    The Sacramento Kings scored a thrilling overtime win against the Denver Nuggets in their season opener. Then they split their series against the Phoenix Suns.

    De’Aaron Fox is off to a good start, especially shooting from three. He has connected on 36.4 percent from downtown. As a team the Kings are struggling, shooting 32.5 percent. They have made up for it so far by dominating the paint, where they are averaging 55.3 points.

    NBA fans in general should get to know Tyrese Halliburton now because he has come in as a rookie and immediately made an impact off the bench. He is shooting 41.7 percent from three, dropping five dimes a night and averaging 9.7 points. More importantly, he comes in games and is comfortable enough to run the offense.

    It will not be a surprise to see Luke Walton use a few lineups with Fox, Halliburton and Buddy Hield, their three best shooters at the moment.

    Shooting issues aside, it has been a good start for the Kings, who are looking to end their long playoff drought. It is extremely important to bank wins early. 

13. Atlanta Hawks

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    Brandon Dill/Associated Press

    Last Week: 15

    All the money the Atlanta Hawks invested in this team is paying immediate dividends. They won their opener by 20 over the Bulls, and then they picked up a closer victory against the Grizzlies.

    The injury bug has already begun lurking with Danilo Gallinari missing the game against the Grizzlies with a foot contusion. Clint Capela has yet to play a regular-season game for the Hawks with left Achilles soreness. Also out with injuries are Kris Dunn, Tony Snell and rookie Onyeka Okongwu.

    All of these injuries gave some of the younger Hawks a chance to shine. Kevin Huerter, John Collins, De’Andre Hunter and two-way player Nathan Knight all came up big in Atlanta’s win over Memphis. Those four players combined for 63 points on top of Young’s big 36-point performance.

    Besides injuries, the Hawks must get Bogdan Bogdanovic going. He struggled in the preseason, and that has carried over. As a key offseason acquisition, Bogdanovic needs Lloyd Pierce to create more opportunities for him going forward.

12. Dallas Mavericks

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    Kyusung Gong/Associated Press

    Last Week: 10

    Not the easiest start for the Dallas Mavericks with three road games.

    The Mavs lost a close one against the Phoenix Suns, and it was one of those games that came down to a few bounces that could have gone either way. After being so bad in the clutch last season, Dallas will have to figure out how to win close games.

    Then the Mavericks headed to Los Angeles to play the Lakers in Doncic’s first Christmas Day game. Doncic stood out, but LeBron James and Anthony Davis showed why they’re arguably the best duo in the game, rivaled only by Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving this season. Dallas lost 138-115.

    After falling to 0-2, the Mavs rebounded with a monster performance against the Clippers in a Sunday matinee. Doncic got it started with a 13-point, six-rebound, four-assist first quarter. They went into halftime with a 50-point lead, the largest in NBA history, on their way to an easy 124-73 win.

11. Phoenix Suns

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    Rich Pedroncelli/Associated Press

    Last Week: 13

    Expectations are high in the valley of the rising Suns. They have the playoffs in their sights, and not making it this year will be a failure. They started the season with a close win against Dallas, with Devin Booker leading the way (22 points). Chris Paul had a relatively quiet game until the final minute when he came to life, knocking down a mid-ranger to go up three, and then Booker followed up with an 18-footer of his own to ice the contest.

    This season might come down to the development of Deandre Ayton. With Paul in town, he should see more opportunities to affect games as a roller. Paul has a history of turning bigs into dynamic rollers.

    Then the Suns split their miniseries with the Sacramento Kings. For these two teams, these games are going to carry significant weight, as winning the season series could be the difference between earning a playoff berth, qualifying for the play-in tournament or being sent home. 

10. Indiana Pacers

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    Last Week: 14

    This has been a great three-game start from Domantas Sabonis. Against the New York Knicks, he put up 32 points and grabbed 13 rebounds while hitting two threes. Then he put up 22 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds against Chicago. Then he scored 19 points, including the game-winner, to go with 10 rebounds against the Celtics. His play has been the key to the Pacers’ 3-0 start.

    Nate Bjorkgren has already transformed the offense. The Pacers are getting out in transition much more, scoring 21.0 fast-break points per game. They have also done a good job taking advantage of second-chance points, averaging 15.7 a night.

    This faster tempo the Pacers are playing with is creating more opportunities for Victor Oladipo and Malcolm Brogdon. Last season, they struggled to find synergy on the court, but in the two games they’ve been on the court together this year, they have found their shots and gotten into a flow.

    The overall energy on the court has changed with the new coach, and the faster pace should fit Indiana’s players better than last year’s system.

9. Denver Nuggets

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Last Week: 4

    The Denver Nuggets could be suffering from a Western Conference Finals hangover. The loss to the L.A. Clippers on Christmas Day was not a surprise, but losing the way they did on opening night to the Kings was. They are the more experienced team with championship expectations. There are no bad teams in the West, but teams like the Nuggets must make sure they win when they are supposed to, and that was one they let slip away.

    Jamal Murray struggled in his first game, going 1-of-9 and fouling out. He was better against the Clippers, scoring 23 points. 

    The focus has been Murray’s shot-making and whether that will continue from the bubble, but another thing to watch for is his playmaking. Nikola Jokic has done his job with a triple-double in the opener and nearly a second one against the Clippers. But if the Nuggets will take the next step, Murray has to use his secondary playmaking skills.

    Will Barton, who missed the bubble, has done a great job filling the role Jerami Grant had, coming off the bench, scoring and taking on larger wing assignments. If he can sustain this play, the Nuggets will be just fine.

    They have a shot at redemption this week when they face the Kings again on Tuesday.

8. Utah Jazz

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    Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

    Last Week: 9

    The Jazz answered the bell on opening night against the Blazers with a nice blowout win. They are continuing to let it rain threes, as they attempted 50 in that game.

    Then they got out-worked and out-played in their next game against the Wolves. Despite that, Utah nearly pulled the game out.

    In that game, the Jazz had only 37 three-point attempts, which just shows that Quin Snyder’s plan to get more threes is a work in progress.

    Fresh off receiving a $205 million extension, Rudy Gobert has delivered early in the year, averaging 19 points and 17 rebounds while remaining a deterrent around the rim. The Jazz often get lost in the shuffle when discussing teams out West, but their continuity is better than that of any of their competitors. That continuity should help them bank wins early.

7. Milwaukee Bucks

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    Mike Strobe/Associated Press

    Last Week: 3

    Christmas came early for the Milwaukee Bucks when Giannis Antetokounmpo signed the supermax extension. They were stunned by Jayson Tatum’s banked go-ahead three and Antetokounmpo’s ensuing missed free throw that would have tied the game. The Bucks did what they were supposed to do against the Warriors, blowing them out on Christmas Day.

    The bigger surprise came when they got blown out by the New York Knicks on Sunday. Yes, those Knicks. Losing to the Knicks is one thing, but to get dominated by them warrants a big drop in the rankings.

    It has been an odd start to the season. Even with the big numbers Antetokounmpo has put up, it has not felt like he has turned the type of performance fans have become accustomed to. Jrue Holiday’s shot has yet to arrive in Milwaukee as he is learning the system.

    So far the most consistent Buck has been Khris Middleton, who is leading them in scoring and shooting 45.5 percent from three (52.8 percent from the field).

    After the dominance the Bucks enjoyed the past few seasons, this season they are a work in progress.

6. Boston Celtics

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    Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

    Last Week: 8

    If not for a Jayson Tatum miracle banked three against the Milwaukee Bucks, the Celtics would be 0-3.

    Their Christmas Day loss against the Brooklyn Nets and subsequent defeat to the Indiana Pacers revealed their biggest problem: a lack of playmaking. Before the injuries, the Celtics were a bit thin, but now with Kemba Walker out, their offense is struggling. It is not so much scoring as much as the amount of energy it takes to get a bucket.

    Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum will be relied upon to not only score more but also create for the other guys. That is a skill that both players are still developing. In particular, anytime just one of them is on the court, the Celtics become much easier to lock in on defensively.

    With the inability to generate consistent offense, there will be extra stress on the defense, and the C’s were not able to slow down the Nets on Christmas or the Pacers on Sunday.

5. Philadelphia 76ers

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    Chris Szagola/Associated Press

    Last Week: 7

    Philadelphia has shown the defensive intensity everyone was expecting from last year's team. Granted, their two great defensive performances came against the Wizards and Knicks, but the Sixers have shown the ability to lock down for stretches. Ben Simmons clamped down on RJ Barrett, leaving him frustrated.

    Offensively, the pieces fit better and Doc Rivers is moving Simmons around the court, using him as a pick-and-roll ball-handler, a cutter or putting him in the dunker spot. Joel Embiid is looking like his dominant self in the post and scoring at a high clip, averaging 28 points a night.

    But as soon as Embiid sat out a game for rest, the Sixers struggled. They took their first loss of the season against the Cleveland Cavaliers. They were only able to muster up 94 points and got outscored in the paint 68-38. All of this shows the importance of having Embiid available on a regular basis. He stabilizes their offense and anchors their defense.

    Even though they added better shooters this offseason, the shots have not fallen yet. That might be more of a small sample size issue. Over the long run they should find the range in Rivers' offense. The bigger issue for the Sixers is whether they can find a way to win games when Embiid sits.

4. Miami Heat

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    Joel Auerbach/Associated Press

    Last Week: 5

    One of the surprises on Wednesday was the Miami Heat’s loss to the Orlando Magic. But that might have been a case of looking ahead to playing on Christmas Day. 

    The Heat got a lot of production from the sharp-shooting Duncan Robinson, who had six threes in the first half, and they never looked back, winning the Dec. 25 matchup against New Orleans 111-98. 

    Not too much has changed for the Heat. Bam Adebayo is still good. Goran Dragic is still as tough as it gets. 

    Precious Achiuwa looks like a steal in the draft and someone who can contribute right away. Miami’s biggest question is whether Tyler Herro is ready for a starting role. He has started slow in both games and did better after his first stint off the bench. 

    Jimmy Butler did have to sit out the second half of the Christmas Day game with ankle stiffness but should have enough time to recover since the Heat do not play their third game until Tuesday. 

3. Brooklyn Nets

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    Kathy Willens/Associated Press

    Last Week: 6

    Right off the bat, the Nets have looked like the best team in the East. Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving have been dominant in their games so far. They beat up on Durant’s old team, the Golden State Warriors, to start the season, and then they crushed Irving's old team on Christmas Day in Boston.

    Then they ran into the not-so-mighty Charlotte Hornets, who pulled off the upset. Where the first two games highlighted all their positive features, this one showed what it looks like when they are not clicking.

    They struggled defensively containing drive-and-kicks from Gordon Hayward, Terry Rozier and Devonte’ Graham. They got crushed in the paint 64-26.

    The Nets offense devolved as the game went on, going away from good ball movement to pick-and-roll after pick-and-roll. This team is still a work in progress as Durant and Irving are continuing to learn how to play with each other. Caris LeVert and Joe Harris are trying to pick up their role in the offense.

    Losing the game was not the only problem for Brooklyn. Spencer Dinwiddie had to leave the game with a sprained knee, which turned out to be a partially torn ACL that will force him to miss the season. It's a big loss for the Nets as this was another weapon who creates for himself and others. Already, coach Steve Nash will have to adjust his rotation as he tries to make up for the absence of Dinwiddie.

    That's a tough way to end what was shaping up to be a good start to the season.

2. Los Angeles Clippers

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    Kyusung Gong/Associated Press

    Last Week: 2

    Before Sunday’s disaster of a game against the Mavericks, the L.A. Clippers looked like a well-oiled machine. They stole the show against the Lakers on ring night and then got a little revenge against the Denver Nuggets on Christmas Day.

    Sunday’s debacle does highlight that they are a little thin when Kawhi Leonard sits. This was not a load management game—he took an elbow that would drop most UFC fighters. It required eight stitches.

    Excusing Sunday’s loss, the offense looks to have much more flow and rhythm to it. Tyronn Lue is doing a good job of mixing in different actions on offense. Serge Ibaka is fitting right in as a pick-and-pop option, creating more seams for Leonard and Paul George to attack. 

1. Los Angeles Lakers

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    Ringo H.W. Chiu/Associated Press

    Last Week: 1

    The Lakers looked really sloppy the first night of the season. The Clippers jumped them from the start of the first quarter. That might have had to do with some of the Lakers being distracted from the ring ceremony. The defense looked very disjointed and blew several coverages.

    It was easy to see this was something they focused on as they bounced back on Friday against the Mavericks. Their defensive communication and connectedness had gone up another notch.

    Then the defense got even better against the Wolves. A good example came when LeBron James seamlessly switched with Marc Gasol while the center was defending a guard. Switching someone off a guard with a live dribble is very difficult to do, but the Lakers made it look easy.

    Then offensively Gasol found cutters all game, dishing eight assists to guys like James and Kyle Kuzma.

    The bigger concern in Laker land is Anthony Davis, who missed their game against the Minnesota Timberwolves with a calf injury. This is why the Lakers went to great lengths to strengthen their bench, but it’s not something they wanted to test out this early.

    Overall, they are still the best team as long as they don’t take their foot off the pedal.

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