NBA Power Rankings: Stephen Curry, Golden State Playing Like Vintage Warriors

Andy Bailey@@AndrewDBaileyFeatured ColumnistNovember 26, 2021

NBA Power Rankings: Stephen Curry, Golden State Playing Like Vintage Warriors

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    Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

    The Golden State Warriors are giving us some deja vu this season.

    After two seasons outside the playoff picture, they aren't just the best team in the NBA, they're dominating the league in a way we haven't seen since, well, the 2015-16 Warriors.

    And more help may be on the way.

    This week, ESPN's Nick Friedell wrote, "Golden State Warriors swingman Klay Thompson participated in a full team practice on Tuesday for the first time since tearing his left ACL in Game 6 of the 2019 NBA Finals and his right Achilles in November 2020."

    If Thompson is anywhere near his old self, it's tough to imagine anyone catching this team in the 2021-22 regular season. While there's plenty of movement behind them, their spot atop the power rankings is more than safe.

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30. Houston Rockets

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    Noah K. Murray/Associated Press

    Previous Rank: 30

    Record: 2-16

    Net Rating: -9.9

    The Houston Rockets landed what may have been the least expected win of the NBA season Wednesday when they beat the upstart Chicago Bulls after trailing by double figures in the first half.

    Jalen Green left that one with an injury after 11 minutes and 11 points on 4-of-5 shooting, but another Rockets rookie might be more impressive right now.

    Alperen Sengun was plus-seven in 16 minutes against the Bulls and put a tally in every stat column but blocks. His wide-ranging contributions make him a potentially ideal playmaking 5 in today's skill-heavy NBA.

    Title Odds: +25000

29. Orlando Magic

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    Previous Rank: 27

    Record: 4-15

    Net Rating: -9.6

    Cole Anthony has missed the last three games with a sprained ankle, and the Orlando Magic's competitiveness has mostly gone with him.

    A 31-point loss to the Bucks contributes an awful lot to this, but Orlando is minus-15.7 per game since Anthony left the lineup. For anyone paying attention to Anthony's on-off splits, that result probably isn't surprising. Orlando is minus-1.3 points per 100 possessions when he plays and minus-31.5 when he doesn't.

    Still, there are positive signs here after Anthony. Franz Wagner is sixth among rookies in points per game, Wendell Carter Jr. is shooting 41.2 percent from three and Mo Bamba is among the league leaders in blocks.

    Title Odds: +25000

28. Detroit Pistons

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    Previous Rank: 28

    Record: 4-14

    Net Rating: -9.3

    Cade Cunningham is moving the needle as a playmaker and rebounder for the Detroit Pistons. After going for eight boards and seven assists in Wednesday's loss to the Milwaukee Bucks, he's up to averages of 6.2 and 4.9 for the season. Dreadful scoring efficiency has limited his impact, though.

    After scoring nine points on 10 shots Wednesday, Cunningham has now put up fewer points than field-goal attempts in eight of his 13 games. He's shooting 33.9 percent from the field and 25.0 percent from three.

    He won't be this bad forever (or, at least, he won't likely be this bad), but Pistons fans may still be recovering from the last season in which they had a rookie playmaker with decent size and horrifying shooting numbers, and Killian Hayes still hasn't turned a corner.

    Title Odds: +25000

27. New Orleans Pelicans

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    Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

    Previous Rank: 29

    Record: 4-16

    Net Rating: -6.9

    Among the 199 players who've attempted at least 40 threes this season, Jonas Valanciunas' 53.5 three-point percentage ranks first. That's right, Jonas Valanciunas, stretch 5.

    And though that range hasn't translated to many wins, it should be encouraging from a team-building perspective.

    Valanciunas is under contract through 2023-24 for under an average of $15 million per season. If this shooting is for real, that's a cost- and basketball-effective fit next to Zion Williamson. With a 5 who can pull bigs from the paint, Zion should be able to do even more damage inside.

    Title Odds: +24000

26. San Antonio Spurs

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    Andy Clayton-King/Associated Press

    Previous Rank: 25

    Record: 4-13

    Net Rating: -3.1

    For a while, the San Antonio Spurs' net rating suggested they might be a little better than their record, but the losses keep piling up. And the scores are getting uglier.

    Over the course of this current six-game losing streak, San Antonio is minus-13.3 points per 100 possessions, a net rating that beats only the Houston Rockets' minus-14.0 over the same stretch.

    And what makes the Spurs' situation more dire than those of the Rockets, Orlando Magic, Oklahoma City Thunder or other tanking teams is the feeling that there's just no potential star power on this roster. Their best player is arguably 25-year-old Dejounte Murray, who's probably somewhere around fifth or sixth in the pecking order on a good team.

    Title Odds: +49000

25. Oklahoma City Thunder

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    Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

    Previous Rank: 26

    Record: 6-12

    Net Rating: -7.2

    Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is the most obvious reason for optimism for Oklahoma City Thunder fans. He missed Wednesday's game against the Utah Jazz with an ankle injury, but 20.6 points, 5.4 rebounds and 4.2 assists over his two-plus seasons with OKC has more than established his upside.

    Returning to playoff contention will require one or two of the other youngsters on the roster to join SGA on the star (or near-star) tier, and rookie Josh Giddey might be the best candidate.

    Over his last five games, the 6'8" playmaker is averaging 15.4 points, 9.0 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 1.4 threes while shooting 47.8 percent from the field and 35.0 percent from three.

    Title Odds: +25000

24. Sacramento Kings

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    Previous Rank: 22

    Record: 7-12

    Net Rating: -1.5

    It's been an eventful week for the Sacramento Kings, who witnessed a fan vomit all over himself and the floor Saturday, fired their coach the next day and ended a four-game losing streak Wednesday.

    Lost in all the chaos is the fact that De'Aaron Fox seems to be turning a corner. Over his last 10 games, Fox has averaged 21.5 points while shooting 46.2 percent from the field.

    The problem is that Fox's production isn't leading to positive minutes this season. The Kings are minus-5.8 when he's on the floor, compared to plus-7.1 when he's off.

    Lack of defense and shooting can be crippling in today's NBA, and both are areas in which Fox can improve.

    Title Odds: +24000

23. Cleveland Cavaliers

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    Tony Dejak/Associated Press

    Previous Rank: 18

    Record: 9-10

    Net Rating: -0.1

    The good vibes are wearing off fast for the Cleveland Cavaliers. They're in the middle of a five-game losing streak and are without Evan Mobley and Collin Sexton. The latter is gone for the season. And Cleveland looks like it'll be on the outside of the playoff picture looking in by the time the former returns.

    Another cause for concern is the cooldown from Ricky Rubio, which probably should've been seen as inevitable, given his career shooting numbers. In the eight games since then, Rubio is at 16.9 points with a 33.6 field-goal percentage and a 29.8 three-point percentage.

    Title Odds: +24000

22. Denver Nuggets

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    Abbie Parr/Getty Images

    Previous Rank: 11

    Record: 9-9

    Net Rating: -0.5

    After acquiring Aaron Gordon at last year's trade deadline, the Denver Nuggets looked like a bona fide title contender. However, Jamal Murray suffered a torn ACL shortly thereafter, torpedoing their title hopes.

    Now, less than a quarter of the way through the 2021-22 campaign, Michael Porter Jr. is out with a back issue that could cost him the entire season, reigning MVP Nikola Jokic has missed multiple games with a wrist injury, and P.J. Dozier is feared to have torn his ACL Tuesday, according to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski.

    Even if Jokic returns soon, the Nuggets' injury issues may cause them to slide into the play-in tournament. The reigning MVP is arguably the best player in the game, but everyone in that conversation would struggle for wins if they were missing their second- and third-best players.

    Title Odds: +2100

21. Indiana Pacers

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    Michael Conroy/Associated Press

    Previous Rank: 23

    Record: 8-12

    Net Rating: +1.3

    The Indiana Pacers were on track for their first three-game win streak of the season Wednesday, when they led the Anthony Davis-less Los Angeles Lakers by 12 in the second half.

    Their inability to hang on to some momentum in that one was a microcosm of the entire season. Every time it looks like Indiana is about to turn a corner, it loses a game it probably should've won.

    Individually, there are plenty of good seasons in the works. Jeremy Lamb, Malcolm Brogdon, Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis are all either over or within shouting distance of an All-Star-level box plus/minus, but that just hasn't coalesced into wins yet.

    Title Odds: +13000

20. Memphis Grizzlies

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    Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

    Previous Rank: 17

    Record: 9-9

    Net Rating: -5.5

    The Memphis Grizzlies are one of the toughest teams in the league to assess right now.

    This week, they beat last season's top seed in the West, the Utah Jazz, on the road and with a buzzer-beater from Jaren Jackson Jr. But that victory was sandwiched between a 43-point beatdown by the Minnesota Timberwolves and a home loss to the Toronto Raptors.

    On paper, there's a dynamic point guard in Ja Morant and a decent amount of talent around him, but the 25th-ranked net rating in the league suggests there's a lot of work to be done.

    Title Odds: +8000

19. Toronto Raptors

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    Previous Rank: 21

    Record: 9-10

    Net Rating: +0.6

    It hasn't translated to a positive plus-minus yet, but Pascal Siakam's return has given the Toronto Raptors a bit of a boost. He's averaging 17.8 points, 6.6 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 1.5 threes while shooting 41.4 percent from three.

    Unfortunately, Siakam re-entering the lineup overlapped with OG Anunoby's departure with a hip injury. To this point in the season, Siakam, Anunoby and Fred VanVleet have shared the floor in just three games.

    Toronto is outside the play-in tournament right now, but if it can get everyone healthy for an extended stretch, there's plenty of time to sneak back in.

    Title Odds: +13000

18. Boston Celtics

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    Previous Rank: 19

    Record: 10-9

    Net Rating: +1.1

    A Wednesday loss to the Brooklyn Nets, notwithstanding, the Boston Celtics are slowly but surely turning things toward the right direction. They're 8-4 in their last 12 (and 3-1 in their last four), and the return of Jaylen Brown should help maintain the momentum.

    Still, even with things generally trending up, Boston could use a little help off the bench. Brown, Jayson Tatum, Al Horford and Robert Williams have combined for 5.7 wins over replacement player (value over replacement player times 2.7, according to Basketball Reference). The rest of the roster is minus-0.8.

    If the Celtics are going to return to the heart of the playoff race in the East, someone among the group of role players including Marcus Smart and Dennis Schroder has to be better.

    Title Odds: +8000

17. Los Angeles Lakers

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    Previous Rank: 16

    Record: 10-10

    Net Rating: -3.1

    The return of LeBron James saved the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday, when he had 39 points (on 13-of-29 shooting) in an overtime win over the sub-.500 Indiana Pacers.

    And while the continued struggles of the team as a whole are concerning, the lack of chemistry could easily be chalked up to poor health. Kendrick Nunn has yet to play. Talen Horton-Tucker is still working his way back into form. And even in Wednesday's win, Anthony Davis was out with flu-like symptoms.

    Lack of spacing and an excess of hero ball from Russell Westbrook could doom the Lakers regardless of health, but it's fair to withhold judgment till we see the whole roster together for a few games.

    Of course, even that might not be a given, thanks to the age and injury history of those involved.

    Title Odds: +1000

16. Minnesota Timberwolves

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    Andy Clayton-King/Associated Press

    Previous Rank: 24

    Record: 9-9

    Net Rating: +2.6

    You could've taken the Minnesota Timberwolves' four-game winning streak against the Sacramento Kings, San Antonio Spurs, Memphis Grizzlies and New Orleans Pelicans with a grain of salt. But stretching the run to five games with a double-digit victory over the Miami Heat gives it some legitimacy.

    And while the Timberwolves are still 10th in the West, they're actually fifth in point differential. If their record starts to catch up with that mark, Minnesota should be in the playoff (or, at least, play-in) hunt throughout the season.

    The fact that the bottom five in the West contains multiple tankers and the ever-dysfunctional Kings, you can't blame any Wolves fans for starting to feel some guarded optimism.

    Title Odds: +13000

15. Dallas Mavericks

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    Adam Pantozzi/Getty Images

    Previous Rank: 15

    Record: 10-7

    Net Rating: -1.2

    The Dallas Mavericks remain up and down, with a 21st-ranked net rating that suggests they should be further down the standings, but there are some good signs to point to.

    For one, Luka Doncic missed every contest in a recent three-game losing streak. He has the worst raw plus-minus on the team, but it's still easy to credit those three losses to his absence.

    More importantly, Doncic has returned to the lineup right as Kristaps Porzingis seems to be rounding into form. Over his last six games, KP is averaging 26.7 points, 8.8 rebounds, 2.5 threes and 1.7 blocks while shooting 38.5 percent from deep.

    In Tuesday's overtime win over the Los Angeles Clippers, he and Doncic combined for 56 points (exactly half of the team's total).

    Title Odds: +4200

14. New York Knicks

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    Jessie Alcheh/Associated Press

    Previous Rank: 13

    Record: 10-8

    Net Rating: +0.7

    For the second season in a row, the New York Knicks are being carried by their bench.

    That was a bit more predictable in 2020-21, when Elfrid Payton was the Knicks' starting point guard. With the addition of Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier, this season was supposed to be different.

    However, New York is minus-12.1 points per 100 possessions when Kemba is on the floor, compared to plus-14.7 with Derrick Rose. Other reserves like Obi Toppin, Immanuel Quickley and Alec Burks are rocking comfortably positive net ratings, too.

    Getting back in the hunt for home-court advantage, which the Knicks secured last season, will likely require better play from Walker, Fournier, Julius Randle and the rest of the starting five, but the bench keeping them afloat is a good thing.

    Title Odds: +8000

13. Portland Trail Blazers

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    Sam Forencich/Getty Images

    Previous Rank: 14

    Record: 10-9

    Net Rating: +1.1

    The Portland Trail Blazers managed to keep their heads above water while Damian Lillard worked through one of the slowest starts of his career. And now that he seems to be coming out of that, the Blazers should be a tough out on most nights.

    Lillard has played in 18 games this season. In his first 13, he averaged 20.0 points while shooting 38.0 percent from the field and 26.8 percent from three. Over his last five, Lillard is at 28.4 points with a 46.2 field-goal percentage and a 39.6 three-point percentage.

    Unsurprisingly, Portland is 4-1 in those five games.

    Title Odds: +8000

12. Charlotte Hornets

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    Previous Rank: 12

    Record: 12-8

    Net Rating: -0.1

    The Charlotte Hornets, winners of seven of their last eight, are on fire. And the recent dominance isn't the product of any one player going off.

    Since this run started, LaMelo Ball, Miles Bridges, Terry Rozier, Kelly Oubre Jr. and Gordon Hayward are each averaging between 19.1 and 14.8 points. And this kind of well-rounded scoring distribution is probably close to what was envisioned as this roster was finalized over the offseason.

    Ball, Hayward and Mason Plumlee are all plus passers for their positions. And though Rozier and Bridges aren't known as much for that, they're not ball-stoppers either.

    Title Odds: +12000

11. Atlanta Hawks

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    Hakim Wright Sr./Associated Press

    Previous Rank: 20

    Record: 10-9

    Net Rating: +1.6

    The Atlanta Hawks finally got their record over .500 and extended their win streak to six games with a 124-106 blowout against the San Antonio Spurs on Wednesday.

    And while there's plenty of credit to go around for the success, the obvious catalyst is Trae Young.

    During the streak, Young is averaging 27.2 points, 8.8 assists and 3.3 threes while shooting 49.1 percent from the field and 41.7 percent from three.

    The return of Kevin Huerter to the rotation hasn't hurt either. In his last six, he's putting up 12.3 points and 2.2 threes while shooting 50 percent from deep.

    Title Odds: +4600

10. Philadelphia 76ers

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Previous Rank: 8

    Record: 10-9

    Net Rating: +1.3

    Seth Curry, Matisse Thybulle, Danny Green and Tobias Harris have all missed multiple games for the Philadelphia 76ers. Star Joel Embiid has missed more than half their games.

    So, it should come as little surprise that the 76ers have gone from looking like a contender in the opening days of the season to struggling to stay above .500.

    Despite appearing in just nine games, Embiid still leads the team in raw plus-minus at plus-54. And he could return from health and safety protocols as early as this weekend. So, the end of this struggle tunnel could be in sight.

    Title Odds: +1800

9. Washington Wizards

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    Previous Rank: 7

    Record: 11-7

    Net Rating: +0.6

    The last five games offered something of a reality check for the Washington Wizards, who'd thoroughly outperformed expectations before that point. Following a 127-102 thrashing by the 4-16 New Orleans Pelicans, Washington has lost four of its last five and is sliding down the standings.

    This stretch could look like a minor slump in a few weeks. The defense remains stout, and Bradley Beal seems to be rounding into form. But Washington's 28.4 three-point percentage in its last five games is a bit of a concern.

    For the season, Beal, Deni Avdija, Davis Bertans, Corey Kispert and Raul Neto are shooting a combined 26.7 percent from deep.

    Title Odds: +13000

8. Los Angeles Clippers

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    Adam Pantozzi/Getty Images

    Previous Rank: 10

    Record: 10-8

    Net Rating: +2.8

    After a red-hot start to the season, Paul George has cooled off, and the Los Angeles Clippers have cooled right along with him.

    During L.A.'s 8-4 start, George averaged 26.4 points and 3.2 threes while shooting 46.5 percent from the field and 37.3 percent from deep. Over his last six, a stretch in which the Clippers are 2-4, he's at 26.3 points and 2.7 threes, but his percentages are down to 37.6 from the field and 28.6 from three.

    L.A. banked on the two-stars-and-depth model when it acquired George and Kawhi Leonard, but that gets thoroughly tested when one of those stars is out. All season, the Clippers will likely go as George goes.

    Title Odds: +2000

7. Chicago Bulls

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Previous Rank: 6

    Record: 12-7

    Net Rating: +2.9

    The Chicago Bulls ran into a wall of regression this week, losing to the sub-.500 Indiana Pacers by 32 and the worst-in-the-league Houston Rockets two days later.

    The little losing streak took their net rating from plus-5.4 to plus-2.9.

    It's still safe to assume these Bulls are better than many anticipated this season. When DeMar DeRozan, Zach LaVine and Lonzo Ball are on the floor, Chicago is plus-10.9 points per 100 possessions (90th percentile).

    Title Odds: +3000

6. Milwaukee Bucks

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    John Fisher/Getty Images

    Previous Rank: 9

    Record: 11-8

    Net Rating: +2.4

    In the long run, all the absences to core pieces during this early portion of the season could prove beneficial to the Milwaukee Bucks, who have now won five straight and are starting to look like their old selves.

    With Khris Middleton, Jrue Holiday, Brook Lopez and Donte DiVincenzo all out at various times (and at the same time for a bit), Grayson Allen broke out with 14.4 points, 3.3 threes and a 42.3 three-point percentage. Bobby Portis is averaging 15.7 points and 2.1 threes while shooting 46.2 percent from deep.

    As everyone gets healthy and those two are nudged back to smaller roles, Milwaukee's depth will benefit.

    Title Odds: +700

5. Miami Heat

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    Previous Rank: 4

    Record: 12-7

    Net Rating: +6.3

    The Miami Heat have lost two of their last three games, but we probably have enough of a sample now to take them seriously as a contender.

    The starting five of Kyle Lowry, Jimmy Butler, Duncan Robinson, P.J. Tucker and Bam Adebayo is stifling opponents and outscoring them by 9.1 points per 100 possessions.

    And their first player off the bench, Tyler Herro, looks like the early favorite for Sixth Man of the Year. He's averaging 21.8 points, shooting 39.8 percent from three and rocking a better net rating than Butler.

    Title Odds: +1200

4. Brooklyn Nets

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    Tony Dejak/Associated Press

    Previous Rank: 5

    Record: 14-5

    Net Rating: +4.4

    The Brooklyn Nets are restoring order to the title contenders' universe with 12 wins in their last 14 games, including an inter-division beatdown of the Boston Celtics on Wednesday.

    And while Kevin Durant rightfully got most of the credit for keeping Brooklyn on cruise control while James Harden adjusted to the rule changes, Patty Mills deserves a shout too.

    Much of the focus on the Nets' supporting cast has been on disappointments, but Mills is averaging 12.5 points and 3.2 threes while shooting 50.4 percent from three.

    Title Odds: +260

3. Utah Jazz

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    Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

    Previous Rank: 3

    Record: 12-6

    Net Rating: +9.0

    The Utah Jazz trail only the Golden State Warriors in net rating, and their offense (114.2 points per 100 possessions) is over a full point better than second place.

    And what's scariest about that for opponents is that the Jazz are 16th in three-point percentage at 34.2. Last season, they shot 38.9 percent from deep.

    If Donovan Mitchell (31.4 percent) and Jordan Clarkson (26.9 percent) catch fire, that number should climb, and Utah's hold on the first-place offensive rating will tighten.

    Title Odds: +1000

2. Phoenix Suns

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    Matt York/Associated Press

    Previous Rank: 2

    Record: 15-3

    Net Rating: +6.4

    The Phoenix Suns hit Thanksgiving with 14 straight wins and a very real argument to be considered the best team in the NBA. While plenty around the league are struggling to integrate new players, deal with injuries or both, the Suns are just rolling along with most of the same squad that went to the Finals last season.

    The continuity is paying off, particularly for the All-Star backcourt of Chris Paul and Devin Booker.

    After scoring 35 in Wednesday's win over the Cleveland Cavaliers, Booker is now averaging 23.1 points while shooting a career-high 39.3 percent from three. Paul, meanwhile, pulled his league-leading assist average up to 10.4, a mark that would rank third all time for a player in his age-36 (or older) season (behind two Steve Nash campaigns).

    Title Odds: +1600

1. Golden State Warriors

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    Previous Rank: 1

    Record: 16-2

    Net Rating: +13.2

    This start to the season for the Golden State Warriors feels eerily similar to that of the 2015-16 squad that won 73 games.

    After a come-from-behind blowout over the Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday, the Warriors are on pace for just under 73 wins. And they're beating opponents in a similar fashion to the record-setting team.

    The Warriors outscored Philly by 29 points in Wednesday's second half, bringing their second-half net rating to a staggering plus-22.4. It's 29.6 in the third quarter alone.

    The trademark, after-the-break, game-ending runs that made the 2015-16 Warriors so compelling are back. And Klay Thompson's return is right around the corner.

    Title Odds: +650