NBA Power Rankings: Celtics claim top spot; Pelicans, Kings make huge leaps; Lakers climb out of cellar
Four more wins this week for the Celtics, who have now rattled off eight in a row overall. Even more impressive, they played all four games this week without Malcolm Brogdon, while Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart and Al Horford also missed games. Jayson Tatum is the common denominator, putting up over 30 points, 8.8 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game this week. Grant Williams took advantage of extra playing time, averaging 14.3 points on 48 percent 3-point shooting in over 33 minutes per game. Depth was expected to be one of the few weaknesses for Boston this season, so it’s a bad sign for the rest of the league that they’re winning relatively handily with key players out of the lineup.
A solid week for the Pelicans, who won by double digits over the Rockets, Grizzlies and Bulls — the latter two coming without Zion Williamson. As expected, CJ McCollum and Brandon Ingram took the lead offensively, with each hitting over 39 percent from 3-point range while combining for nearly 40 points and 14 assists per game. Larry Nance Jr. has filled in extra minutes nicely with Williamson out, putting up 16.3 points and 7.3 rebounds per game this week, and the team defense has been on point.
The Bucks have run into some injury problems after a hot start to the season, going 1-2 this week as Jrue Holiday missed all three games and Giannis Antetokounmpo missed one. Jevon Carter has manned point guard duties with Holiday out, averaging 14.7 points and 6.7 assists on 46 percent 3-point shooting this week. Antetokounmpo shot an uncharacteristic 36 percent from the field in his two games, making things difficult offensively for the limited Milwaukee roster.
Sacramento fans must be leery of celebrating too early, but the Kings rattled off four more impressive wins this week as their exciting start continued. The offense has been absolutely masterful, not just in transition but also in the half-court, while they’ve gotten bench contributions from up and down the roster. This team looks like it’s having a ton of fun under Mike Brown, and if the defense can slowly creep up the rankings, the Kings might turn themselves into a real contender.
Portland beat San Antonio this week, but also lost close games to the Mavericks and Nets. Jerami Grant had a scorching start to the week, averaging 33 points against Dallas and San Antonio before cooling off in the loss to Brooklyn. Damian Lillard did not shoot well from the field, but still put up over 25 points per game. Anfernee Simons picked up the slack when it came to shooting, hitting nearly 50 percent from beyond the arc.
For some reason the Hawks have no problem beating the Bucks, but they lost to the 76ers and Celtics this week in tests against a few of the top teams in the Eastern Conference. Despite the addition of Dejounte Murray, who has been playing well, the Hawks offense still falls off a cliff (nearly 10 points per 100 possessions) with Trae Young on the bench. Bogdan Bogdanovic could help in that department, though he has still yet to resume full practices, so his return does not seem imminent.
Denver lost to the Celtics and Knicks this week, with a win over the Bulls in between. Wednesday’s home loss to New York was particularly disappointing, as Denver held a 10-point lead almost halfway through the fourth quarter without Nikola Jokic and was unable to generate clean looks on either of its final two possessions. Jokic averaged 18.5 points, 8.5 assists and seven rebounds in the two games he played, while Jamal Murray put up 19.3 points, six assists and five rebounds per game.
The honeymoon may be over for the Jazz, who lost to the Wizards, 76ers and Knicks this week as the offense floundered. Lauri Markkanen came back down to earth, which meant more scoring responsibility for Kelly Olynyk, Malik Beasley and Jordan Clarkson. This is still a deep and talented team, but they were bound to hit a bump in the road sooner or later. It will be interesting to see how they respond.
Memphis beat the Wolves to start the week, then lost to the Wizards and Pelicans after getting the news that Desmond Bane will be out at least a couple of weeks with a toe injury. Ja Morant missed the Washington loss, but averaged 32 points, nine rebounds and six assists in the other two games — though he went just 4 of 16 from 3-point range. Jaren Jackson Jr. made his season debut in the loss to New Orleans, and while he showed some rust by going 0 for 7 from 3-point range, his defensive impact was immediate with five blocks.
Luka Doncic received a well-earned night of rest after leading the Mavs to wins over the Blazers and Clippers to start the week, and the offense predictably cratered against the normally porous Rockets in a home loss on Wednesday night. All Doncic did was average 38.5 points, 12 rebounds and 7.5 assists per game in the two wins while shooting 55 percent from the floor. Tim Hardaway Jr. (28 points) and Christian Wood (26) carried the load offensively in the loss, while Spencer Dinwiddie added 10 assists, but the Mavs managed just 92 points against Houston.
The Clippers went 2-2 this week, but that’s burying the lede. Kawhi Leonard actually played basketball in Thursday’s win over the Pistons, putting up six points, five rebounds and four assists in 25 minutes. His return couldn’t come at a better time, as Paul George hit a dry spell from the field this week. Marcus Morris continued to find the range from deep, averaging 15.5 points per game this week on 46 percent 3-point shooting.
Phoenix dropped consecutive games to the Magic and Heat in Florida, but bounced back to score 130 points in a win over the Warriors on Wednesday. Devin Booker averaged 23 points, 6.7 assists and six rebounds per game, but struggled (relatively) from the field as Chris Paul missed all three games. Cam Payne continued to fill in for Paul, putting up 20 points and 5.3 assists per game on 46 percent 3-point shooting, while Mikal Bridges added 15.3 points and 5.7 assists per game, hitting 47 percent of his 3s.
This is starting to look a lot like last year for the Raptors with the injuries piling up, but they managed to go 2-2 this week with wins over the Pistons and Heat, and losses to the Thunder and Pacers. OG Anunoby led the team with 22.5 points per game, while he and Scottie Barnes were the only regular starters to play all four games. Barnes took on occasional point guard duties, putting up 12.5 points and 4.8 assists per game this week, as Fred VanVleet missed two games. Chris Boucher, Dalano Banton, Thaddeus Young and Juancho Hernangomez all contributed with the regulars in and out of the lineup.
Joel Embiid might as well have been escorted off the court in a James Brown-style robe after scoring 101 total points in wins over the Hawks and Jazz on back-to-back nights. His line of 59 points, 11 rebounds, eight assists and seven blocks against Utah is one of the greatest in NBA history, and the Sixers needed every bit of it. Tyrese Maxey played second fiddle, averaging 22 points and six assists in the two games, but this week was all about Embiid willing his team to victory.
JB Bickerstaff was fed up with the Cavs after losses to the Warriors, Wolves and Bucks this week brought their skid to five games. He called out the defense, saying the team developed a “fat cat mentality” after its strong start. We certainly know the Cavs can score — Darius Garland dropped 51 points while launching a late comeback against Minnesota and Donovan Mitchell averaged 26 points in his two games this week, but the defense will determine their ceiling. Jarrett Allen’s return will help, but Bickerstaff has clearly picked up on some undesirable habits forming over the past couple of weeks.
Indiana moved over .500 this week with victories over the Raptors and Hornets, and has won four of its last five. Myles Turner has been playing inspired basketball through rampant trade rumors, putting up 19.5 points, 10 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game this week on 60 percent 3-point shooting. Tyrese Haliburton didn’t shoot well, but averaged 15 points, 13 assists and 2.5 steals per game, dropping a season-high 15 dimes in the win over Toronto. Buddy Hield and rookie Bennedict Mathurin continue to shoot the lights out, bolstering a potent Pacers offense.
Yes, the Knicks gave up 145 points in a loss to the Thunder this week, but they won their other three games against the Pistons, Jazz and Nuggets for an overall good week. Julius Randle and Jalen Brunson each averaged over 20 points per game this week, with Randle adding 8.5 rebounds and Brunson dishing out 7.3 assists per game. Jericho Sims has made the most of extra run with Mitchell Robinson out, averaging 6.3 points and 7.8 rebounds this week in fewer than 20 minutes per game.
The Nets went 2-2 this week as some not-so-flattering comments from Kevin Durant about his teammates were revealed. He received plenty of help in Thursday’s win over the Blazers from Royce O’Neale, however, who logged his first career triple-double and tipped in the game-winning basket off Durant’s miss in the final second. K.D. was no slouch, of course, averaging 30 points for the week on 46 percent 3-point shooting.
The Heat took care of the Hornets to start the week, then picked up an impressive victory over the Suns before losing to the Raptors on Wednesday without Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro. They flirted with disaster at the end of the Phoenix game, giving the Suns multiple opportunities at a game-winner, but Jimmy Butler picked up consecutive stops on Devin Booker to close it out. Adebayo averaged 27 points and 12.5 rebounds in the two wins, while Max Strus put up 18.7 points per game for the week on 44 percent 3-point shooting.
The Wizards were seconds away from a five-game winning streak, but Shai Gilgeous-Alexander put an end to that with a step-back, game-winning 3-pointer on Wednesday. That said, Washington picked up solid wins over the Jazz and short-handed Grizzlies this week, and also got Bradley Beal back from health and safety protocols. He put up 25 points, six assists and six rebounds in the loss to OKC, while Kristaps Porzingis had an excellent week with 27.7 points and 8.3 rebounds per game on red-hot 56 percent 3-point shooting.
A loss to the Grizzlies to start the week brought the Wolves’ skid to three games, and then they nearly blew a 24-point lead to a Cavs team without Donovan Mitchell and Jarrett Allen — but they didn’t! Minnesota followed that up with a win over the Magic to perhaps create some forward momentum. Anthony Edwards is starting to hit his stride, putting up 24.3 points per game this week, including a season-high 35 against Orlando, on 50 percent 3-point shooting. Karl-Anthony Towns was close behind with 24 points per game on sterling 63/40/89 shooting splits.
OKC’s offense suddenly looks like the 2015-16 Warriors, averaging 130 points per game in a 3-1 week with wins over the Raptors, Knicks and Wizards. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is just unstoppable, putting up 34 points and 6.8 assists per game this week, including a beautiful step-back 3-pointer in the closing seconds on Wednesday to beat Washington and tie his career high with 42 points. Lu Dort and Josh Giddey have provided support, combining to average 35 points this week on 46 percent 3-point shooting.
Steve Kerr said his team was “scattered” and lacked “grit” after a loss to the Suns on Wednesday made Golden State 0-8 on the road for the first time since 1989. The Warriors were able to pick up solid wins over the Cavs and Spurs, but there’s clearly something wrong when your coach says you’re playing like it’s a Drew League game. Steph Curry continues to be otherworldly, averaging 33 points for the week — including a 50-piece against the Suns — with 58/50/92 shooting splits. Jordan Poole also put up 36 points as a starter against San Antonio with Klay Thompson sitting out, but he followed it up with a two-point showing in the loss to Phoenix.
Only two games this week for the Bulls, and they weren’t pretty — losing convincingly to the Nuggets and Pelicans. Chicago couldn’t get anything going on either end of the floor, and it’s never a good sign when Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan and Nikola Vucevic are a combined minus-91 in two games. At least DeRozan was efficient offensively, averaging 22 points on 65 percent shooting.
San Antonio started off the week with a win over the short-handed Bucks, but the defense disappeared in ensuing losses to the Warriors, Blazers and Kings. Keldon Johnson missed the loss to Sacramento, but led the team with 21.3 points per game on 46 percent 3-point shooting for the week. Jakob Poeltl averaged a double-double, and will continue to pop up in trade rumors until a deal is made or the deadline hits.
Orlando picked up an impressive win over the Suns last Friday, but followed that up with losses to the Hornets and Wolves, as rookie Paolo Banchero missed all three games. Franz Wagner took the reins of the offense, averaging 19.3 points and 3.3 assists on 40 percent 3-point shooting, while Jalen Suggs put up 13.7 points and six assists per game. Bol Bol notched a career-high 26 points to go with 12 rebounds and three blocks with Wendell Carter Jr. out of the lineup in the loss to Minnesota.
Houston suffered double-digit losses to the Pelicans and Clippers before taking advantage of a Luka Doncic-less Mavs team for a solid win on Wednesday. Jalen Green kept up his hot stretch, averaging 25 points and 6.3 assists per game this week on 48/41/93 splits, while Kevin Porter Jr. put up 20 points and 6.3 rebounds per game, but had as many turnovers as assists.
The Lakers saw their losing streak hit five games after dropping a game to the Kings last Friday, but they notched a tick in the win column with an impressive showing against the Nets without the services of LeBron James. Anthony Davis was an absolute beast against Brooklyn, going for 37 points and 18 rebounds on 15-for-25 shooting, causing many Laker fans (and perhaps even players) to exclaim, “FINALLY!” in unison. Lonnie Walker IV has been their second-best scorer in James’ absence, putting up 22 points per game this week on 67 percent 3-point shooting, while Russell Westbrook averaged 17.5 points, 11.5 assists and five rebounds per game, but shot just 31 percent from the field.
The Hornets were happy to welcome LaMelo Ball back to the court this week, but an ankle injury late in Wednesday night’s loss to the Hornets could mean more time on the shelf for the All-Star guard, who averaged 19.3 points and seven assists in his first three games of the season. Without him and Gordon Hayward, the Hornets have struggled offensively all season long. Terry Rozier and Kelly Oubre Jr. are both putting up points, but the percentages have not been pretty recently.
The Pistons continued to struggle without Cade Cunningham, dropping all four games this week to the Knicks, Celtics, Raptors and Clippers. Bojan Bogdanovic led the team with 24.7 points per game, but shot less than 30 percent from 3-point range. Jaden Ivey put up 18.8 points per game this week, though the efficiency left something to be desired.