NBA Power Rankings Week 6: So it turns out the Warriors are very, very good


The Warriors are off to a 15-2 start that has them on pace for 72 wins… I thought we weren’t going to go through this again. But their point differential suggests we will. While the top of the board remained fairly stable, Brooklyn earned its new ranking at the bottom.

Warriors small icon 1. Warriors (15-2, Last Week No. 1). That terrible Warriors’ defense? Seems to be a thing of the past, they are up to eighth in the NBA in defensive rating. Dean Oliver (an NBA stats pioneer now working for ESPN) noted online that the Warriors defense was good for a while, except in garbage time, and that’s what dragged down the overall rating. Not that it matters much when Stephen Curry can’t miss in the third and the team is moving the ball and scoring like it is — the Warriors have had 30 or more assists as a team in 10 straight games until Saturday.

Cavaliers small icon 2. Cavaliers (13-2, LW 3). Cleveland has the second best offense in the NBA this season, which makes sense considering they start a fair amount of possessions with a 1-3 pick-and-roll involving LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. Their starters are +16.5 per 100 possessions when on the floor (better than Golden State buy a point). Good test this week when the Cavs host the Clippers on Thursday, followed by traveling to take on the Bulls on Friday.

Spurs small icon 3. Spurs (14-3, LW 4). Winners of nine in a row, which has more do to their offense than defense so far this season. The Spurs make more catch-and-shoot two-point jumpers (13.1) and shoot a higher percentage on those (45.6 percent), than any team in the league, plus they hit a league best 43.4 percent on catch-and-shoot threes, for an eFG% of 58.4% on catch-and-shoots (second only to the Warriors). Winnable games this week with Orlando, Dallas, and Washington on the schedule, but San Antonio has played down to its competition at times this season.

Clippers small icon 4. Clippers (14-4, LW 2). They were winning their road games by an average of 12.1 per contest, until they dropped sloppy games in Detroit and Indiana by a combined 32 points. Their defense has slipped in the last couple games, and they turned the ball over on 19.6 percent of their possessions vs. Indiana. The Clippers have three more games on the road this week, maybe they can get right against Brooklyn Tuesday because then they are at Cleveland Thursday, followed by a brutal back-to-back in New Orleans Friday.

Bulls small icon 5. Bulls (10-6, LW 6). One statistical sign of a contender is a top 10 offense and defense (per possession). Only three teams have that right now, and the Bulls are one of them (Warriors, Clippers are the others). The Bulls just went 4-2 on their final Circus road trip, with the two losses being by a total of 10 points. Good tests against the surprising Lakers and the as-expected Cavaliers this week, the schedule will get tougher as the Bulls have played the third easiest one this season in the league.

Grizzlies small icon 6. Grizzlies (11-6, LW 10). Great note from Zach Lowe: The Grizzlies are +91 (total points) this season when Marc Gasol and Mike Conley are on the court together, they are -79 when they are not. The Grizzlies have won seven of eight overall and six in a row on the road, however they are mostly home the next few weeks… although there is a tough trip to Toronto this week (better now than February).

Rockets small icon 7. Rockets (11-6, LW 9). The Rockets starting five are +16.8 points per 100 possessions together, which is a better number than the Cavaliers or Warriors starters. It all starts with James Harden, who is as good a D’Antoni system point guard as you can find. Houston won its first two games of a five-game road trip (Sacramento and Portland) but things are about to get much tougher with the rest of the trip being at Utah, Golden State, then to a back-to-back at altitude in Denver.

Raptors small icon 8. Raptors (10-6, LW 8). They continue to play well, but in large part thanks to their bench as the usual starting five are actually outscored by almost a point per possession when on the court this season. DeMar DeRozan saves them some, and Kyle Lowry still thrives with the bench unit. The Raptors are home for six in a row now, and they have played the second toughest schedule in the league so things will get easier.

Celtics small icon 9. Celtics (9-7, LW 12). Here’s the stats that stands out to me: Boston is 5-2 when Al Horford plays, and they are 17.9 points per 100 possessions better when he is on the court rather than off. By the end of the season, if healthy, I still think Boston could be better than Chicago or Toronto as the second best team in the East. Soft schedule this week gives the Celtics a chance to fatten up.

Hawks small icon 10. Hawks (10-7 LW 5). The loss to the Lakers Sunday has them dropping five of six, mostly due to struggles with the starters and the offense (the Hawks remains a good defensive team). There has been a players-only meeting, Kris Humphries shattered a backboard, and still the slump has continued. They face the Warriors and Raptors on the road this week, but the better tests are how they do on a back-to-back Monday in Phoenix, then back home against the Pistons.

Jazz small icon 11. Jazz (9-8, LW 15). In its last 10 games, Utah has the third best net rating of any team in the NBA, including being better than the Spurs. They are fifth overall this season, all of which suggests their record is going to improve dramatically, especially now that George Hill has returned. Injuries continue to mess with this team (Derrick Favors has missed a couple of games), but things will get sorted out. A fun test of offense vs. defense against Houston this week (the Rockets won this matchup on their home court recently).

Hornets small icon 12. Hornets (9-7, LW 7). They split a home-and-home with New York, which has them at 3-6 after a hot start to the season. The biggest problems have been on the defensive end, which has to drive Steve Clifford crazy, and it’s not likely to get better with Marvin Williams missing time with a knee injury so Frank Kaminsky will get more run. They are home this week against Detroit, Dallas, and Minnesota, we’ll see if they can turn the ship around.

Thunder small icon 13. Thunder (10-8, LW 11). Russell Westbrook is one rebound short of averaging a triple-double for the season, if he can get 11 against the Knicks Monday he reaches the Oscar Robertson benchmark (albeit with 3/4 of the season to go). Westbrook has seven triple-doubles this season, but the team is “just” 5-2 in those games. By the way, at his current pace Westbrook ends up with 32 triple-doubles this season, and that number suddenly seems low (he is hunting them).

Lakers small icon 14. Lakers (9-9, LW 14). Lou Williams has become the Lakers’ go-to guy in the fourth, he had 13 in the win against Atlanta Sunday and the only players with more fourth-quarter points are Russell Westbrook and Damian Lillard. He and Nick Young helped hit key shots (even if Young was stealing them from Williams) to get the wins. The Lakers are about to head out on the road for a brutal four games in five nights stretch in New Orleans, Toronto, Chicago, and Memphis. It gets easier; the Lakers already have the third toughest schedule in the league so far.

Knicks small icon 15. Knicks (8-8 LW 17). The Knicks won both games Joakim Noah recently sat out ill, then beat the Hornets in the game where he barely played in the second half. It’s not a coincidence. The other place the Knicks are tough to beat is Madison Square Garden, where they have won six in a row — which is good as they are home for three of four this week (there is a home-and-home with the Timberwolves).

Pacers small icon 16. Pacers (9-9, LW 16). Paul George has been out with a sore ankle (and will be to start this week as well) yet the Pacers have won three of their last four. They are doing it with strong defense and offense from unexpected sources (Glen Robinson III). The Pacers are 1-5 on the road this season and are heading out on a five-game West Coast road trip.

Blazers small icon 17. Trail Blazers (9-10, LW 13). Portland has scored 100 points or more in 17 of their 19 games, yet they are below .500 thanks to a terrible defense. They are getting destroyed on the pick-and-roll, with small guards and non-mobile bigs. It’s the reason they have dropped seven of their last nine. The schedule softens up for a while, which might help them pick up some wins.

Pistons small icon 18. Pistons (8-10, LW 18). They handed the Clippers their first road loss of the season, which is something to build on. The challenge for Stan Van Gundy’s crew is obvious: Take that same energy on the road. The Pistons are 1-8 away from The Palace and will spend most of the next three weeks on planes and in hotels.

Bucks small icon 19. Bucks (7-8, LW 22). Here’s what would worry me most if I were a Bucks’ fan: They have played the third easiest schedule in the NBA so far. And the home-and-home with Brooklyn this week off doesn’t make it much tougher. Have the Bucks banked enough wins for the tough months ahead? They are getting surprising strong play out of Michael Beasley.

timberwolves small icon 20. Timberwolves (5-11, LW 19). I tend not to buy the rumor that a frustrated Tom Thibodeau is going to trade a piece of his young core for a veteran because the Timberwolves are not on a playoff track — it’s far, far too early to make a panic move like that. But Thibs has a right to be frustrated with his team’s bottom-10 defense, and the way it just falls apart in the second half game after game. Home-and-home with the Knicks this week, sandwiched by games against the Jazz and Hornets.

Pelicans small icon 21. Pelicans (6-12, LW 25). They enter a brutal stretch of the schedule the next few weeks, and they will have to go through it without Dante Cunningham, who fractured his fibula last week. Anthony Davis continues to lead the NBA in scoring (31.6 per game) and is blocking three shots a night, getting Jrue Holiday back sparked a four-game winning streak, but the depth questions continue.

Heat small icon 22. Heat (5-11, LW 21). Monday night Justise Winslow will miss his eighth consecutive game, and Goran Dragic’s elbow has sidelined him for a bit, which has Eric Spoelstra scrambling for rotations and players (help Rodney McGruder). Credit their defense from keeping this from being worse, but as they fade from playoff contention will Pat Riley be a seller at the trade deadline?

Nuggets small icon 23. Nuggets (7-10, LW 23). Jamal Murray is the real deal, and he’s starting to get comfortable in the NBA — just ask the Bulls, he dropped 24 on them last week, one of three games with 20 or more last week. Wilson Chandler had 25+ in two games, yet through that the Nuggets still lost to the Jazz and Thunder. Starting Saturday the Nuggets head out on a six-game road trip.

Kings small icon 24. Kings (6-10, LW 24). Forget all the talk of offensive fit, the real problem on the court in Sacramento is on the other end — they have the forth worst defense in the NBA. As for the DeMarcus Cousins trade rumors, until owner Vivek Ranadive changes his mind all the talk is moot. However, Omri Casspi and Rudy Gay could well get moved. Kings opened a six-game road trip with a win in Brooklyn Sunday.

Wizards small icon 25. Wizards (5-10, LW 27). The Wizards are +3.2 points per 100 possessions when John Wall and Bradley Beal share the court, and the pair have had some strong games of late (Beal had 42 in Phoenix), but it’s not enough to make up for what happens when they both sit. Westbrook vs. Wall on Wednesday night should be entertaining.

Magic small icon 26. Magic (6-11 LW 20). Winnable games last week (Suns, Wizards, Bucks) and the Magic did not pick up one “W.” Sunday Frank Vogel tried to shake things up by moving Nikola Vucevic and Elfrid Payton out of the starting lineup (the new starters were +1 for the game), but didn’t help because the bench was still outplayed. Now things get hard as they head out on the road this week with stops in San Antonio and Memphis.

Sixers small icon 27. 76ers (4-13, LW 30). While it didn’t come in a win, you have to love the fight the Sixers showed Sunday vs. the Cavaliers. So far this season, the Sixers defense is 9.9 points per 100 possessions better when Joel Embiid is on the court (the offense basically remains the same). The defense is 3.1 per 100 worse when Jahlil Okafor is on the court (and the offense drops, although that is in part the players around him).

Suns small icon 28. Suns (5-12, LW 27). Phoenix’s biggest problem in a nutshell: They got 35 points from Eric Bledsoe and 30 from Devin Booker on Sunday, yet still lost to Denver. The problem on offense is a lack of ball movement, they have the lowest percentage of assists on buckets in the NBA. This week they face two teams that do whip the ball around the floor in Atlanta (although it has struggled lately) and Golden State.

Mavericks small icon 29. Mavericks (3-13, LW 23). They had lost eight in a row until a come-from-behind win over the Pelicans on Sunday, thanks to big fourth quarters from Wesley Matthews and Harrison Barnes. That’s the good news. The bad news is Dallas has played the toughest schedule in the NBA so far and that’s not changing this week with San Antonio, Charlotte, and Chicago on the rocket.

Nets small icon 30. Nets (4-12, LW 26). Losers of seven in a row, and it’s not just the losses but how bad they are — by an average of more than 19 points a game. The combination of an absolutely terrible defense and no Jeremy Lin to create some unlikely offense has this team both losing and being almost unwatchable.

LeBron James passes Magic Johnson for sixth all-time in assists

Los Angeles Lakers v Milwaukee Bucks
Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

Magic Johnson is one of the greatest, most creative passers the game has ever seen.

Friday night, LeBron James passed Magic for sixth all-time in assists in the NBA. For LeBron, doing that in a Lakers’ jersey like Magic wore was special.

It happened with 8:41 remaining left in the game, LeBron found Anthony Davis for a 3-pointer on the right wing.

LeBron finished the night with 11 assists and 28 points, which along with a monster 44-point night from Anthony Davis led the Lakers to an impressive win over the Bucks in Milwaukee.




Jimmy Butler returns, hits clutch shots to lift Heat past Celtics

Miami Heat v Boston Celtics
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BOSTON (AP) — Bam Adebayo scored 28 points, Tyler Herro had 26 and the Miami Heat completed a split of two games in Boston, beating the Celtics 120-116 on Friday night after Jaylen Brown banked in a long 3-pointer to force overtime.

Heat leading scorer Jimmy Butler returned to the lineup and had 25 points in 36 minutes after missing the previous seven games with a sore right knee. He added 15 rebounds.

“Obviously having JB back is big time for us,” Herro said. “He helps us in so many different ways.”

Kyle Lowry chipped in with 20 points before fouling out in OT for the Heat, who sent Boston to just its second loss in 16 games.

“My team welcomed me back and let me do what I do,” Butler said. “It was a big `W’ for the team.”

Brown sent the game to overtime by banking in his long 3 with 1.7 seconds to play in regulation. He finished with 37 points.

“It felt good coming off my hand,” Brown said. “I know we wanted to get a shot up off the rim as fast as possible, just in case we missed we could get a rebound, a tip out.”

The Celtics had won 10 straight at TD Garden.

Boston star Jayson Tatum scored just 14 points on a cold shooting night, going 5 of 18 from the floor, including 0 of 7 on 3-point attempts. He had 49 points in the Celtics’ 134-121 victory on Wednesday night.

“That’s the biggest thing about the league; you’re not going to stop anybody from just scoring,” Adebayo said. “I feel like (we’re) making him take tough shots every time we play him and living with the result.”

Butler hit a clutch jumper over Al Horford, making it 110-107 with 5.1 seconds left in regulation before Brown took a pass near midcourt, dribbled to his right and nailed his shot.

In OT, the teams were tied twice before Butler nailed a foul-line jumper over Horford with 1:45 left, but Brown hit two free throws to tie it.

Adebayo nailed two free throws and, after Tatum misfired on a 3, Butler hit a jumper to seal it.

“Jimmy made two tough, tough baskets,” Brown said. “That’s just a credit to his work and his skill and his development. He gets going in games like this; on the road in a hostile environment. … Tonight, two shots that in our defensive scheme we could live with, but Jimmy a big-time player made both of them.”

Unlike Wednesday, when shots were open more and both teams were making them effectively (each shot over 50%), defense was tighter and it resembled more of the postseason matchup last season between the pair that went seven games before Boston captured the Eastern Conference title.

Anthony Davis scores 44, outduels Antetokounmpo (40) leading Lakers past Bucks


MILWAUKEE (AP) — Anthony Davis and LeBron James tore apart the NBA’s top-rated defense and gave Los Angeles Lakers coach Darvin Ham a triumphant return to Milwaukee.

Davis scored a season-high 44 points and James passed Magic Johnson on the NBA’s career assists list Friday night in the Lakers’ thrilling 133-129 victory over the Bucks.

It marked Ham’s first game in Milwaukee since taking over as Lakers coach after working as an assistant on Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer’s staff from 2018-22.

Ham and Budenholzer shared a big hug before the game.

“It was a beautiful night,” said Ham, who also played for the Bucks from 1999-2002.

It also was quite a night for Davis, a Green Bay Packers fan who delivered his big performance with Aaron Rodgers in the stands. Davis spoke with the Packers’ four-time MVP quarterback before and after the game.

“I saw him before the game and he said, `I need 30 tonight,”‘ Davis said. “I just saw him and he said, `I only said 30, not 40.’ It’s always good for him to come out and watch the Lakers play.”

James made a tiebreaking 3-pointer with 3:22 left and finished with 28 points, 11 assists and eight rebounds. He upped his career assist total to 10,144 and moved into sixth place, ahead of Johnson’s 10,133.

“It means a lot, obviously,” James said. “The way Magic approached the game, it was very infectious. His teammates loved playing with him because of the joy he played with and the ability to pass the ball and get other guys involved. He was always excited about seeing his teammates be great. I always admired that in him. What’s even more humbling and super duper cool is the fact that I’m doing it in a Laker uniform and knowing how much Magic means to the Laker franchise.”

The Lakers had the highest point total and field-goal percentage (.536) the Bucks had allowed all season. Milwaukee entered Friday with the NBA’s top defensive rating.

“It was too easy, too easy, too easy,” Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo said. “They were living in the paint. That’s not who we are.”

Los Angeles withstood a 40-point performance from Antetokounmpo, who also had seven rebounds and five assists.

The Lakers also spoiled the 2022-23 debut of Milwaukee’s Khris Middleton, who had 17 points and seven assists in his return from offseason wrist surgery.

Milwaukee missed two potential tying 3-pointers in the final 20 seconds.

After Davis missed a fadeaway jumper, the Bucks called a timeout with 21.4 seconds left and then found an open Grayson Allen, whose 3-point attempt went off the side of the rim.

The Lakers’ Russell Westbrook missed two free throws with 13.3 seconds remaining, but Jrue Holiday couldn’t connect on a 3-pointer with just over five seconds left. Davis made a clinching free throw with 4.5 seconds left.

“Grayson got a good look,” Budenholzer said. “Good execution. Good screening. We’ll live with that shot all the time. And Jrue, similar. We got the kick ahead, playing against a defense that’s not set. Jrue, kind of a good rhythm shot for him. It was contested, but Jrue was 6 of 12 tonight (from 3-point range). He was feeling it.”

Holiday had 28 points for the Bucks, and Bobby Portis added 15 points and 10 rebounds. Westbrook had 15 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds for the Lakers.

Hawks’ Collins out weeks with sprained ankle, Hunter also at least a week

Atlanta Hawks v Philadelphia 76ers
Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

ATLANTA (AP) — The Atlanta Hawks will be without both of their starting forwards for at least the next three games.

John Collins will miss at least the next two weeks with a sprained left ankle and De'Andre Hunter will be sidelined for at least one week with a right hip flexor strain, the Hawks said Thursday.

Both departed with injuries during Wednesday night’s win over Orlando. Hunter played only seven minutes and Collins was hurt after a dunk that didn’t count at the halftime buzzer.

Hunter is third on the Hawks in scoring at 14.9 points per game, and Collins is fourth at 12.3 points.

Hunter, a fourth-year player out of Virginia, has yet to play a full season because of various injuries.