The top three in the rankings remain the same teams, although two and three switched spots, but after them there is still a lot of volatility in the rankings, and a lot of surprises. The Clippers fell fast after an ugly week, while Dallas is on the rise. And right now, the East is the stronger conference top to bottom.
1. Warriors (15-0, last week No. 1). They have tied the record for fastest start ever by an NBA team. The Warriors’ small-ball lineup — Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Harrison Barnes, Draymond Green — has played 56 minutes this season and is outscoring opponents by 70.8 points per 100 possessions. They are scoring 160.9 per 100.
2. Spurs (10-3, LW 3). They have been the clear second best team in the NBA this young season (based on net point differential), and after a slow first handful of games to the season the Spurs’ starting five has found it’s groove of late (+33 per 100 last three games).
3. Cavaliers (10-3, LW 2). LeBron James struggled from the outside to start the season, but in his last four games is shooting 47.5 percent on them. So that’s back. Kyrie Irving is doing more and more in practice, but there is still no timetable for his return (think Christmas present for Cavs fans).
4. Heat (8-4, LW 6). They have strung together wins during a homestead (5-1), but games such as the need for a furious fourth quarter rally to beat the Sixers make me question how good this team really is. That said, the defense is still carrying the Heat and keeping them in games (the offense has been a bit flat).
5. Thunder (8-6 LW 5). They have gone 3-3 without Kevin Durant, who is expected to return this week. Russell Westbrook is putting up crazy numbers, including 31 and 11 on Dallas Sunday in a big win for OKC. Reggie Jackson returns to OKC this week with the Pistons, for whom he is playing very well.
6. Mavericks (9-5, LW 12). They were on a six-game winning streak until Sunday’s loss. Deron Williams is having a bounce-back season in Dallas, not all the way back to All-Star form but back to quality point guard form. His shooting has improved and the key reason is he’s finishing better inside 10 feet than a year ago.
7. Raptors (8-6, LW 7). Losing center Jonas Valanciunas for the next six weeks is really going to hurt: while there is a lot of noise in the numbers, Toronto has outscored opponents by 7.2 points per 100 possessions when he plays, but gets outscored by 4.8 per 100 when he sits. Their offense and defense are worse without him, but especially the offense.
8. Bulls (8-4, LW 9). Winners of four in a row, which included a dramatic win over the Pacers with Jimmy Butler blocking Paul George on the final shot. That was big in a crowded East. Fred Hoiberg still struggling to find lineups that can give him both offense and defense (for example, Tony Snell helps the defense and kills the offense).
9. Pacers (8-5, LW 10). They have gone 8-2 in their last 10 and have been playing great defense, but that will be put to the test as they have five of their next eight on the road. Indiana faces Chicago and Washington this week, the kinds of teams they need to beat to climb up the conference standings.
10. Hawks (9-6, LW 8). The Hawks were in a soft part of the schedule and still found a way to go 5-5 in their last 10, including a loss to Brooklyn. It’s about to get tougher with Boston then a swing through the West including Minnesota and San Antonio.
11. Celtics (7-6, LW 11). Avery Bradley has been a defensive beast off the bench, with a personal defensive rating of 85.7 (points allowed per 100 possessions), which is good because he moves into the starting lineup the next few weeks with Marcus Smart out injured.
12. Knicks (8-6, LW 20). Kristaps Porzingis mania in New York is not at Linsanity levels, but it’s climbing fast. With good reason. KP6 has become first player in NBA history with more than 180 points, 120 rebounds, 20 blocks and 10 hit threes through his first 14 games.
13. Wizards (6-4, LW 15). There is a real clump in the middle of the East, but we may start to see where the Wizards fit in that group with this week’s schedule: Pacers, at Hornets, at Celtics, Raptors. The Wizards starters need to play better if Washington is going to climb that ladder, the small ball lineup has not impressed.
14. Pistons (7-6, LW 14). Quality win over the Cavaliers last week helps their cause. Andre Drummond may be putting up ridiculous numbers, and Reggie Jackson may have a great pick-and-roll chemistry with him, but the Pistons are still 25th in the NBA in offense. Stan Van Gundy has them eighth in defense and that is what keeps this team afloat.
16. Hornets (7-6, LW 18). They have been strong at home and have their next five games in the Hornets’ nest (although Washington, Cleveland, and Milwaukee will not be easy wins). Kemba Walker as the starter and Jeremy Lin off the bench have pushed the Hornets to the fourth best offense in the NBA this young season.
17. Clippers (6-7, LW 4). Thursday’s loss to Golden State summed up the Clippers ability to showcase their talent and challenge anyone (that big early lead), and their struggles to maintain that level of play consistently (blowing that lead and losing). The Raptors’ is another example of that inconsistency, they were horrible in the first half, especially on defense. Lance Stephenson was benched for the entire Warriors game, started the next night in Portland, played just five minutes Sunday vs. Toronto. What’s going on there, Doc?
18. Jazz (6-6, LW 13). Derrick Favors has come into his own for this team, becoming the fulcrum for their offense and averaging 16 points and nine rebounds per game. Still, it’s the Utah defense that keeps this team in every game. Fun test Monday against Oklahoma City, then they get the Clippers later in the week.
19. Grizzlies (7-7, LW 21). Unleashed Mario Chalmers has been great for Memphis, getting them to play faster and knocking down threes (7-of-15 since the trade). If the Grizzlies have gotten things turned around we’ll see against Dallas, Houston, and Atlanta this week.
20. Magic (6-7, LW 23). Scott Skiles is sending messages about effort and playing his way — Victor Oladipo and Nikola Vucevic were benched for the second half of a game last week. The lack of shooting on the roster kills this team’s spacing and has it 28th in offensive ranking.
21. Timberwolves (5-8,LW 22). Kevin Martin will start and Tayshaun Prince is moving to the bench, to which I say “about time.” However, Martin has struggled with his shot this season and if he isn’t back on track this will backfire quickly. Mine should get their first home win Monday against Philly.
22. Bucks (5-8, LW 17). If you had asked me before the season which team would have the worst defense in the league almost a month into real games, the Bucks would have been about my last guess. But at 109 points allowed per 100, and after a rough week, they are behind the Pelicans and Lakers on that end of the floor. Jabari Parker missed some time with a sprained foot, and the Bucks have lost three in a row.
23. Nuggets (6-8, LW 19). I think Mike Malone is establishing a culture in Denver they can build on, but it’s not without its challenges on the defensive end. On the bright side, Emmanuel Mudiay is looking improved and his turnovers are dropping.
24. Trail Blazers (6-9, LW 25). They had lost seven in a row until they got some help from Los Angeles, beating both the slumping Clippers and the just bad Lakers. More interesting test against Chicago this week, but the Blazers may have found their footing again on defense, so it’s not just the Damian Lillard/C.J. McCollum show.
25. Kings (5-9, LW 24). This pretty much sums up the Kings this season: They are 5-4 when DeMarcus Cousins plays, 0-5 when he sits. Rajon Rondo is putting up numbers, but the big key is he’s shooting 36.4 percent from three this season, some spacing the Kings need on offense.
26. Rockets (5-9, LW 26). Since J.B. Bickerstaff took over the Rockets they have one overtime win and two losses — but they are losing by less, so that’s improvement, right? We knew the coaching wasn’t the problem, but the change has not part of the solution so far. Could they actually lose to Philly this week? Probably not.
27. Pelicans (3-11, LW 28). Ryan Anderson has found his shooting groove and that has sparked some big offensive games for the Pelicans, who have looked improved the past week or so. Tough stretch though on the road this week at the Suns, Clippers, and Jazz.
28. Nets (3-11, LW 29). Don’t look now, but the Nets have been playing better (that includes a win over the Hawks on Tuesday). So maybe they start racking up some wins? Probably not this week playing at Oklahoma City, at Cleveland, then hosting Detroit.
29. Lakers (2-11, LW 27). Byron Scott said he wants to get the ball in Kobe Bryant’s hands more to help the team’s ball movement. That pretty much sums up the Lakers right now — take the ball out of the hands of the developing young point guard D’Angelo Russell so that Kobe can preach ball movement. And up is down.
30. 76ers (0-14, LW 30). When Jahlil Okafor and Nerlens Noel are on the court together, the Sixers have an offensive rating of just 80.7 points per 100 possessions, and they are getting outscored by 25.7 per 100. And that’s the Sixers’ two best players, it only goes downhill as you move into the backcourt.