The Golden State Warriors and Phoenix Suns switched places at No. 1 and 2 in the NBC Sports NBA Power Rankings, but those two continue to set the bar and everyone else is trying to get to their level.
1. Warriors (20-4, Last Week No. 2). Stephen Curry is just 15 made 3-pointers away from passing Ray Allen to own the NBA record for most made 3-pointers in his career — and Curry will do it in more than 500 fewer games. For all the praised heaped on him — and he continues to play at an MVP-level this season — I don’t think we stop and appreciate what an amazing player he is often enough. Starting Saturday in Philadelphia, the Warriors go on a five-game road swing through the East.
2. Suns (20-4, LW 1). It will be interesting to see if and how the Warriors and Suns make roster tweaks for this potential playoff matchup specifically. In those matchups, the Warriors didn’t have a counter for Deandre Ayton, but they may think they have one coming in James Wiseman. The Suns may look for a backup, floor-spacing five to play behind Ayton to better handle small-ball lineups. The Suns remain without Devin Booker (hamstring) but have reached a quiet part of the schedule, with plenty of days off, to minimize the loss.
3. Jazz (16-7, LW 4). Rudy Gobert has been playing the best basketball of his career to start the season — 14.9 points a game but on 73.1% shooting, plus a career-high 14.7 rebounds a night (the man has a 25.1 rebound rate, he is grabbing a quarter of the available rebounds when he is on the court). Against the Pelicans this past week, Gobert had 20 rebounds and five blocks. He has been a force this season and shouldn’t be flying under the radar like he has. The Jazz have won four in a row.
4. Nets (17-7, LW 3). Kevin Durant is dismissive of the topic, but it’s a legitimate concern: He is sixth in the NBA in minutes played per game (36.2), has played at least 37 minutes in each of his last eight games, and on track to play the most minutes since he was in Oklahoma City. Durant is a hooper who loves the game and would play 48 minutes a night if he could, but Steve Nash needs to think bigger picture having guys healthy come May. Easier said than done. Nash was honest recently about the dilemma he faces: “It’s not ideal to have him have such a burden, but I don’t know what options we have other than to play him less and lose more.”
5. Bucks (16-9, LW 5). Bad news on the injury front: Brook Lopez underwent back surgery this week and may be done for the season (he played opening night and has been out since with this back issue). Lopez anchors the drop-back defense that helped the Bucks win the title last season, and he can space the floor on offense. Bobby Portis and Giannis Antetokounmpo have filled in at the five, but don’t be shocked if the Bucks make a move/trade to bring in some depth. Good news on the injury front: Donte DiVincenzo has been working out in the G-League and could return soon.
6. Bulls (17-8, LW 7). In the East, 1.5 games separate the No. 4 seed and home court in the first round of the playoffs, from the No. 11 seed and missing the play-in all together. Chicago’s four-game winning streak — with wins over the Nets, Hornets, and Knicks — has helped the Bulls create a little space and look like a playoff lock. One key reason for the wins: DeMar DeRozan leads the NBA in fourth quarter points scored, with Zach LaVine third, and both of them are shooting 50% or better in the fourth. When the Bulls can close games like that, they are hard to beat.
7. Hornets (14-12, LW 10). This ranking feels high for a team with the 29th ranked defense in the NBA, but the Hornets’ No. 4 offense has been able to largely cover up the issue. This ranking also feels high for a team decimated by the coronavirus right now, with LaMelo Ball, Terry Rozier, Mason Plumlee and Jalen McDaniels all missing time. But this team did beat Atlanta last weekend behind 32 points from Miles Bridges, and this team will get healthy. Once that happens, Charlotte needs to find some wins and break out a crowded middle of the East.
8. Hawks (13-12 LW 11). Trae Young has stepped up his game this season. While he gets to the foul line less often (down 2.7 a game) he has made up for it with more efficient shooting, including 39.2% from 3, and while he’s taking more long twos he’s hitting 48.5% of them. Young is playing at an All-NBA level and leading the second-best offense in the league, but the Hawks can’t win consistently because of their bottom-five defense. After facing the Nets Friday, the Hawks schedule lightens up a bit and they may be able to string together wins.
9. 76ers (13-11, LW 13). The Indiana Pacers being willing to trade players such as Caris LeVert and Domantas Sabonis could revive some dormant Ben Simmons talks (that would likely become a three-team deal at least using OKC’s cap space, maybe involving Sacramento, but it’s a start). Joel Embiid dropped 43 on the Hornets and said he’s still not close to 100% after COVID, a reminder both of just how great a player he is and how the 76ers need to maximize his prime, not waste a year playing around trying to get the perfect deal.
10. Celtics (13-12, LW 8). Boston’s defense, which remains top 10 in the league for the season, has fallen to 20th in the league over the past seven games. Tuesday night the defense regressed more, letting the Lakers parade to the rim with little resistance. While coach Ime Udoka is frustrated, it ultimately will fall to Brad Stevens to change this roster around — the Celtics need more shooting desperately, plus some better defenders. Jaylen Brown isn’t 100% from his hamstring issue, but that alone will not fix the Celtics’ problems.
11. Heat (14-11, LW 6). With Jimmy Butler (tailbone, again) and Bam Adebayo (thumb surgery) both missing time, more is falling on the shoulders of Tyler Herro, who has already been critical for the Heat this season. He averages 21.4 points a game off the bench, shooting 39.6% from 3, but more importantly, handles key playmaking duties and closing games for Miami. He will be in the mix for Sixth Man of the Year. Due to injuries, the Heat have dropped 4-of-5 and have the Bucks and Bulls as their next two.
12. Clippers (13-12, LW 12). The offensive paradox of the Clippers is they have he 26th ranked offense in the NBA for the season, but get them into the clutch (within five points in the final five minutes) and they have the second best offense in the league (nearly 27 points per 100 possessions better in those minutes). Is it because more of the offense goes through Paul George and he is in attack mode more, or is it something else? The Clippers have dropped 4-of-6, with their top-10 defense looking very average through that stretch.
13. Cavaliers (13-12, LW 16). With Darius Garland stepping up and looking like a future cornerstone, Cleveland has been solid since losing Collin Sexton for the season. The Cavaliers are 6-8 without Sexton, but have a +2.9 net rating in those games (they should be 8-6 with a little better luck), and they are a tough out nightly. After wining four in a row — including over the Heat and Wizards — the Cavaliers ran smack into reality against two of the league’s best, the Bucks and Jazz.
14. Wizards (14-11, LW 9). The top-10 defense that carried Washington off to a fast start this season has been a mess, 27th in the league (117.2 rating) over the past eight games. Spencer Dinwiddie also started the season strong but has looked more like a guy trying to figure out how to play with Bradley Beal and the rest of his new teammates. The Wizards are 0-2 on this road trip and have 8 of their next 10 away from home.
15. Grizzlies (14-10, LW 21). Not only is Memphis on a five-game winning streak, they haven’t trailed in any of those games. The Grizzlies are doing it without Ja Morant (now also in COVID protocols) thanks to their defense, which is allowing less than a point per possession in this streak. Jaren Jackson Jr. is developing into a strong rim protector. Meanwhile, can we talk about the shirt Kyle Anderson wore to Monday night’s game? Does shop exclusively from the Guy Fieri line?
i swear my mom bought me this exact shirt from tj maxx in 1999 pic.twitter.com/Gzg7P9J76C
— brain stew (@Crabmeat) December 7, 2021
16. Lakers (13-12, LW 18). When it’s time to close the game (and on the seemingly rare occasion nobody is injured), Frank Vogel has largely settled on Russell Westbrook, LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Carmelo Anthony, and Malik Monk as his closing lineup. That group has been dynamic offensively and has a +2.1 net rating so far. The Lakers have been in a league-leading 16 clutch games (within five points in the final five minutes) and are 9-6 but with a -0.9 net rating (meaning they have been a little lucky).
17. Knicks (12-12, LW 14). Tom Thibodeau made the big move, but since Alec Burks was inserted into the starting lineup, New York is 3-2 with a -1.3 net rating (RJ Barrett did miss some time in that stretch). The offense has been top 10 in the league in those five games, but the defense is 24th – the Knicks slide on that end is how they slid down the standings this season compared to last. Is it time for more changes? Evan Fournier has been okay but not what they hoped for, and RJ Barrett is inconsistent. Would Thibodeau switch out one of them? The Derrick Rose bench continues to save this team, but that’s not the long-term solution.
18. Timberwolves (11-13, LW 15). Karl-Anthony Towns leads the Timberwolves with 24.3 points and 9.3 assists a game, but he told NBC Sports his favorite part of the game is being a facilitator. “It’s probably my favorite part of the offense, getting my teammate involved, making those great passes and getting assists… It’s the reason why I where 32, because I loved watching Magic Johnson getting his teammates involved.”
19. Mavericks (11-12, LW 20). Dallas is 2-8 in their last 10 games with a bottom-10 offense in the league in that stretch, a streak that started when Luka Doncic sprained his knee and ankle and missed some time. Doncic’s conditioning and complaining to the referees are drawing the headlines, but the injury and the lack of a second high quality shot creator in the Mavericks’ starting five are the bigger problems short term. It doesn’t help that Kristaps Porzingis has missed time because of a bruised knee.
20. Nuggets (11-12, LW 19). We can talk about injuries, roster construction, Reggie Bullock‘s surprisingly horrific shooting this season, bad luck or anything else you want, but it still comes down to this with Denver: They outscore opponents by 12.9 points per 100 possessions when Nikola Jokic is on the court and get outscored by 15.3 per 100 when he sits. The Nuggets have lost 5-of-6 and now head out on the road for three.
21. Raptors (11-13, LW 23). A quarter of the way into the season, the Raptors still feel like a team trying to find their groove. Pascal Siakam missed the start of the season, returned, and suddenly settles for a lot more long twos. As soon as Siakam got back, OG Anunoby went out. Scottie Barnes has been everything the Raptors could hope for in a rookie, but he’s still a rookie and is inconsistent. The Raptors are home for 10-of-11, a chance to find that groove, but are 2-2 to start that stretch.
22. Pacers (10-16, LW 22). The most interesting note out of the news that the Pacers are open to trading Domantas Sabonis, Myles Turner, Caris LeVert, or basically anyone else on the roster is that owner Herb Simon, at age 87, is finally leaning into a rebuild. In the past, the mandate was not to bottom out, to spend as needed to avoid that, and the result was a lot of mid-pack finishes, first-round exits, and a stable but not thrilling product. We’ll see what ultimately comes of a rebuild in Indiana, but better than them just jogging along on the treadmill, not going anywhere.
23. Trail Blazers (11-14, LW 17). It’s tough to make the call: Is Portland more of a dumpster fire or tire fire right now? Either way, it’s not good. Injuries have sidelined Damian Lillard (abdominal issue, they have dropped 3 in a row without him) and CJ McCollum (collapsed lung), the team has lost 6-of-7 and has the worst defense in the NBA. Off the court, they need to find a new GM, then pick a direction: Extend Lillard next summer and build around him — what Lillard says he wants, he has not asked out — or trade him and let the new GM rebuild.
24. Spurs (8-15, LW 24). The Spurs are playing better than this ranking (and better than their record) the past two weeks, with a 4-3 record and a +2.5 point differential in their last seven. Dejounte Murray averaged 22.3 points and 10 rebounds a game during the recent four-game win streak and has played well all season. It will be interesting to watch the Spurs as the trade deadline approaches, what will they ask to part with Thaddeus Young, Doug McDermott, or other veterans.
25. Kings (10-14, LW 25). Sacramento is 4-3 under Alvin Gentry, including sweeping two games from the Clippers, but they’ve been a little lucky considering they have a -5.3 net rating in that stretch. Gentry is trying different things, such as taking the ball out of De'Aaron Fox‘s hands to Tyrese Haliburton, Harrison Barnes, and other shot creators. There is pressure from ownership to push for the play-in, but if it gets to the trade deadline and the Kings are still on the outside looking in would they move Buddy Hield or Barnes. Sacramento as a seller is a team to watch.
26. Rockets (7-16, LW 27). Houston became the first team in NBA history to win six games in a row directly after losing 15 in a row. The Rockets have done with an offense playing 23-points per 100 possessions better during the win streak than the losing streak — the Rockets are moving the ball more and finding balance. They also have some veterans stepping up: Christian Wood has played well, and Eric Gordon drained the game-winner against Orlando.
ERIC GORDON WINS IT FOR THE ROCKETS 🚀
Houston has won 5 games straight 👀 pic.twitter.com/8A1vPS7U6V
— NBA TV (@NBATV) December 4, 2021
27. Pelicans (7-19, LW 26). There have been some legitimate bright spots the past couple of weeks as New Orleans has won 4-of-7. For example, the play of Willie Hernangomez, who has stabilized the bench unit. Or the fact Jonas Valanciunas has shot 12-of-17 from 3 against the Clippers, and the fact he is shooting 46.9% from deep for the season. Brandon Ingram dropped a 40 spot on the Rockets, it just didn’t lead to a win. There are positives around this team, even if that is not what anyone is focused on.
28. Thunder (7-16, LW 28). There’s bad, and then there’s that 152-79 loss in Memphis — that was just ugly. The positive news is the Thunder got three days off after that, caught up on their sleep, and came out and beat Detroit Monday to snap an eight-game losing streak. This team just needs to get healthy, we all want to see more Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Josh Giddey together, to see if that can develop into something.
29. Magic (5-20, LW 30). It’s not a surprise Orlando snapped a seven-game losing streak when Cole Anthony returned to the lineup, they have been 19.6 points per 100 possessions when he is on the court this season. Jalen Suggs‘ fracture thumb is a setback, more of him playing next to Anthony in the backcourt has some interesting potential. Also, it will be strange at the end of the year — but possible the way things are going — if Franz Wagner makes the All-Rookie Team but Suggs doesn’t.
30. Pistons (4-19, LW 29). Cade Cunningham seems to be finding his footing in the NBA: In his last three games he’s averaged 24.3 points on 55.8% shooting in those games, with 5.3 rebounds a game, too. It’s a small sample size, but watch the No. 1 pick play and you can see him looking more confident and starting to put things together. Despite that the Pistons have dropped nine in a row.Follow @basketballtalk