There are some tough calls at the top of the power rankings right now as a number of teams are playing well — each with questions but ones they are answering so far — that make it a challenge to rank them. Things are still shaking themselves out as we head into Thanksgiving. At least the bottom of the rankings is simple.
1. Warriors (10-2, Last Week No. 3). They are playing the best defense in the NBA and have turned the corner on their early turnover issues. Plus, they are about to get David Lee back (bring him off the bench?). Didn’t expect to say this: Steve Kerr should win NBA Coach of the Month in his first month on the job.
2. Raptors (11-2, LW 8). Winners of five in a row and that includes victories over Memphis, Cleveland, and Phoenix they are besting teams by an average of 11.6 points per 100 possessions (third best in the NBA). However their long run of home games — they have maybe the best home court advantage in the league — is over with four of the next five on the road.
3. Grizzlies (11-2, LW 2) Marc Gasol continues to play ridiculously well. He dropped 30 on the Clippers (who inexplicably left him wide open for midrange jumpers early, shots everyone knows he can hit) and he is averaging 19.9 points a game on 50 percent shooting. Remember a couple years ago Gasol surprised casual observers winning DPOY? How do you feel about him as a potential MVP candidate?
4. Trail Blazers (9-3. LW 5). Winners of seven in a row but not against any of the other likely playoff teams in the West (New Orleans and a depleted Chicago team have been the best victories in this streak). Still, they are beating the teams in front of them, however now they head out on the road for a stretch that will be a bigger test. Well, not in Philly but the rest of the games.
5. Spurs (9-4, LW 6). They have won four in a row and at the ends of close games have executed like we know the Spurs can. What’s should be scary is that they have key guys out — Patty Mills, Tiago Splitter — and have not yet started to really hit their stride.
6. Rockets (10-2, Last Week No. 1). Houston has won games with fantastic defense and in spite of a struggling offense (which has been the second worst in the league the past eight games). They struggled with their starting front line of Dwight Howard and Terrence Jones injured (they are 15 points per 100 better with Howard on the court), so it’s good news Howard should return this week (if not Monday) from his strained knee.
7. Mavericks (10-4, LW 4). This is what makes the rankings hard this time of year, seven feels low for Dallas. However, that loss to Houston was a reminder they still are not playing well against the league’s better teams. Good test on the road at Toronto this week.
8. Wizards (9-3, LW 10). Bradley Beal is back and shooting 51.2 percent overall and 45.5 percent from three. That win last week over Cleveland had to be good for the egos in Washington — Paul Pierce handled LeBron and the Wizards were clearly the better team.
9. Bulls (8-5, LW 7). Media and some Bulls fans like to get uptight and make a lot of noise about Derrick Rose (and to a lesser extent Pau Gasol) missing games right now but their teammates Joakim Noah and Jimmy Butler get it and have their back — this team needs to be right for the playoffs, not games around Thanksgiving. that said, don’t be shocked if he is back this week.
10. Suns (9-5, LW 14). They picked up four wins last week against the dregs of the Eastern conference, but a couple of those were closer than they should have been. Tougher slate up this week with a game at Toronto then with a home-and-home against a Nuggets team that is playing better ball of late.
11. Kings (8-5, LW 13). We have not thrown enough praise DeMarcus Cousins’ way this season — he is the NBA’s leading rebounder, is averaging 23.2 points a game while shooting 51.9 percent and has been one of three dominant bigs in the West so far (with Anthony Davis and Marc Gasol). Cousins has been fantastic, the Kings defense is improved but needs to get better to get where they want to be at the season’s end.
12. Pelicans (7-5, LW 12). Anthony Davis has been the best player in the NBA the first month of the season, with a PER of 35.7, which he is not likely to maintain but even if he comes back to earth in the low 30s that’s peak Jordan territory. Davis has been that efficient this season.
13. Clippers (7-5, LW 11). The Clippers were challenged with a tough schedule last week and fell to the Bulls and Grizzlies (but did beat the Heat). Their defense against the Grizzlies was uninspired and just sloppy — DeAndre Jordan laid off Gasol early and let him get his midrange feel, and from there they were doomed. Doc has a lot of work to do here.
14. Heat (8-6, LW 15). So maybe the answer to the Mario Chalmers puzzle was to play him at the two — since Dwyane Wade went down injured and Chalmers started he has averaged 20 points and 7 rebounds a game. Can’t yell at him about that… well, you can but it wouldn’t be right.
15. Hawks (6-5, LW 16). There have been things to like with the Hawks this season — hello Jeff Teague, we’re looking at you — but we are going to get a better sense of them with tough week ahead — the Wizards, Raptors, Pelicans and Hornets. (Well, not so much the Hornets lately.)
16. Bucks (7-7, LW 17). Question: Can this team maintain this pace and make the playoffs in the East? We will see. What we do know is Giannis Antetokounmpo’s length and athleticism make him one of the toughest guys to beat in isolation in the NBA, and he showed that against Joe Johnson in a 3OT thriller against the Nets.
17. Cavaliers (5-7 LW 9). They have lost four in a row and things are rough. Kevin Love doesn’t like where he’s getting the ball in the offense (remember when Chris Bosh took heat for suggesting Love would struggle to adjust to playing with LeBron…). The Cavs offense has slipped but it’s still not the end of the floor that is the real issue, they have the NBA’s 26th ranked defensive efficiency and that is costing them games.
18. Nuggets (6-7, LW 28). Last week there were a number of “what is wrong with the Nuggets?” story lines going around and they responded with four straight wins. They have gotten fantastic guard play in that stretch from Ty Lawson and Arron Afflalo. Now we’ll see if they can sustain it against the Bulls, then a home-and-home with the Suns.
19. Magic (6-9, LW 23). Elfrid Payton is inserting himself onto the list of guys to watch as we start to think about rookie of the year — he was the spark in a comeback against Charlotte last week. That said, the Magic have struggled against good teams and there are a few on the docket this week (Cavaliers, Warriors, Suns).
20. Celtics (4-8, LW 19). Jeff Green came out after the last Celtics game saying he did not want to be traded. Which was odd because nobody said he was on the trade block (as much as you can say that about anyone on Danny Ainge’s roster). The story out of CSNNE.com said he would have a strong free agent appeal to teams, that he will have options next summer. That is true.
21. Jazz (5-9, LW 20). Quin Snyder was bought in to develop players and see who fits with whom, and one answer seems to be Gordon Haywood fits with everyone (an efficient 19.1 points a game). Another answer more seems to be they need Rudy Gobert to get run up front for defensive reasons.
22. Pacers (5-8, LW 22). The injury curse does not seem to let up on this team, but the thing is once they get guys like David West, George Hill and C.J. Watson back they could still make the playoffs in the East. Which really speaks to the East more than anything.
23. Nets (5-8, LW 18). They have lost six of seven and the interesting news around this team is the shopping of Andrei Kirilenko in the trade market. They can dump him to the Sixers at any point but expect them to wait until Dec. 15, when players signed this summer can be traded, to see if there is a better offer out there that could roll in.
24. Knicks (4-10, LW 24). Jose Calderon is back and that should be big for the Knicks offense, a smart player who can space the floor with his shot is always welcome. He’s not going to help their woeful defense, but you take what you can get and this is a start.
25. Hornets (4-10, LW 21). They have lost five straight games and we haven’t seen the offensive boost we expected them to get from Lance Stephenson. More than that, this is a pedestrian defensive team (they were top 5 last year) and that is holding this team back.
26. Lakers (3-11, LW 29). Nick Young returns and the Lakers outscore their opponents for a couple wins. This is still a train wreck of a team defensively but it’s entertaining to see if Young’s contested looks and Kobe Bryant’s fadeaways can get them a win any given night.
27. Timberwolves (3-9, LW 27). Kevin Martin was having his best offensive season as a pro before he broke his wrist last week. That is a real blow. Andrew Wiggins had a career high in points last week but he was 2-of-13 from the midrange in that contest, there is still a lot of work to do with him.
28. Thunder (4-11, LW 25). It is possible that Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant will be back sooner rather than later. That will be huge. But could they go 45-22 the rest of the way with them back, because that’s about what it will take to make the playoffs in the West.
29. Pistons (3-10, LW 26). Even Stan Van Gundy’s magic can’t get the Andre Drummond/Greg Monroe/Josh Smith offense to work, as they are in the bottom three in the league. And they struggle to score in the paint, which is a sign of how much teams are packing it in on them. Van Gundy the GM has a lot of work to do so Van Gundy the coach has a chance.
30. 76ers (0-13, LW 30). We all get the grand strategy in Philly of being bad and stockpiling picks to get talent but you have to ask this question: What are Michael Carter-Williams, Nerlens Noel and the rest of them really learning from this experience?