NBA Power Rankings: Warriors reclaim top spot after Christmas win


The Christmas Day slate of games shook up these NBA Power Rankings, starting at the top with the Warriors moving back to No. 1. It’s also one of the harder power rankings I have ever done because of the uncertainty caused by this COVID wave.

Warriors small icon 1. Warriors (27-7, Last Week No. 2). The little adjustments to their attack that the Warriors were able to make on Christmas Day to beat the Suns — and the fact they could do that without Jordan Poole or Andrew Wiggins (not to mention Klay Thompson) — is why the Warriors are in the pole position in the chase for a title. And on top of this ranking. The Warriors looked flat coming out of that emotional game and lost to the Nuggets, but they are hopefully back to themselves for a New Year’s Day matchup with the Jazz.

Jazz small icon 2. Jazz (24-9, LW 3). Utah has the best offense in the NBA, but a lot of people miss just how great it’s been. The Jazz’s 116.6 offensive rating is 3.8 points per 100 better than the second-place Hornets; step another 3.8 back from Charlotte and you encompass 15 teams. Utah’s offense is lapping the field. I get the “they need to show it in the playoffs” viewpoint after the way the Kawhi-less Clippers took the Jazz out a year ago, but the Jazz have a chance to put a dent in that argument with a showdown against the Warriors on New Year’s Day. Donovan Mitchell may not get enough fan votes to be the second starting guard in the West (with Curry), but he’s probably going to get my vote.

Suns small icon 3. Suns (26-7, LW 1). Phoenix has been the best clutch team in the NBA this season (they had won 12 straight games within five points in the final five minutes), but a couple of tough clutch losses at home this week put a dent in that. Sort of. To be honest, Stephen Curry doing Curry things and Ja Morant doing his acrobatics in the closing seconds are not bad losses. Now Phoenix heads out on the road with targets on their backs — starting Friday in Boston, the Suns have 8-of-10 away from the warmth of the Valley of the Sun.

Nets small icon 4. Nets (23-9, LW 5). The Nets swept through both Los Angeles teams and now get Kevin Durant and LaMarcus Aldridge back from COVID protocols (Kyrie Irving is cleared as well, but Steve Nash said it will be a little while still before he is on the court). Even with all that star power, the Nets just look better with Nicolas Claxton on the court. He brings defensively switchability, however, his athleticism really shows on offense where the team is +6.5 per 100 better with him on the court. Plus Claxton can do this to LeBron.

Bucks small icon 5. Bucks (23-13, LW 6). injuries and COVID have hit the Bucks as hard as anyone, but sees through the haze — it gives Milwaukee a 25% chance of repeating as NBA champions, a higher percentage shot at the title than any other team (including the Warriors). Their Christmas win over the Celtics felt like the season in Milwaukee — a bit sloppy and disjointed at times, but they hung around, and when it mattered Giannis Antetokounmpo was playing like an MVP, and the Bucks were getting stops. Milwaukee has a three-game winning streak and a soft part of the schedule coming up for the next week.

Heat small icon 6. Heat (22-13, LW 7). No team has shown the strength of culture more over the past few weeks than the Heat. Injuries hit them hard first — Jimmy Butler was out (and is out again Wednesday) and Bam Adebayo still is sidelined — then just as that ended P.J. Tucker injured his knee, and Kyle Lowry went into protocols, and yet Miami has won 7-of-9 with a +8.5 net rating in that stretch. Guys like Max Strus and Gabe Vincent are stepping up and making plays (but both just entered protocols). Starting Wednesday in San Antonio the Heat are on the road for seven straight.

Bulls small icon 7. Bulls (21-10, LW 8). You have to hunt for flaws in this Bulls’ season, but one area of concern is they are 29th in the league in bench scoring. That may well have them active at the trade deadline. Still, you would have thought the scoring depth would be exposed during the recent run of COVID and injuries. Nope. They have won 8-of-9, and nothing mattered once DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine returned and started lighting teams up. Like the 65 they combined for against the shorthanded Hawks.

Cavaliers small icon 8. Cavaliers (20-14, LW 4). Evan Mobley returning from protocols gives me a chance to mention my favorite unexpected stat of the season: The Cavaliers have a +10.6 net rating when they roll out three 7-footers in Mobley, Jarrett Allen, and Lauri Markkanen. Due to COVID Markkanen had a chance to step up recently but didn’t, and now the Cavaliers will need someone to step up with Darius Garland entering protocols, and now with Ricky Rubio expected to miss an extended period following a knee injury (the Cavaliers already lost Collin Sexton for the season as well).

Grizzlies small icon 9. Grizzlies (21-14, LW 9). When thinking ahead to the Most Improved Player award, Desmond Bane is going to get a lot of love. The second-year wing out of TCU has doubled the number of shots a game he is taking this season without losing any efficiency, is scoring 17.2 points a game, shooting 42.6% from 3, and is a key defensive cog for the surprising Grizzlies. Ja Morant is back from protocols and in his second game he hit an acrobatic game-winner against the Suns that showed why he is must watch.

Sixers small icon 10. 76ers (17-16, LW 10). Philadelphia knows drama. No team has been in more clutch games this season — within five points in the final five minutes — than the 76ers with 22. Philly is 11-11 in those games, befitting a season where they have hung around .500 the whole time. The 76ers might be worse than that if not for the play of Tyrese Maxey this season, who is averaging 16.5 points a game, running the offense and dishing out 4.5 assists, and is playing quality defense. His play changes the dynamic of what the 76ers need back in a Ben Simmons trade.

Nuggets small icon 11. Nuggets (17-16, LW 11). We keep saying Nikola Jokic is playing at an MVP level, and this is the best proof of that: The Nuggets outscore opponents by 9.7 points per 100 possessions when he is on the court and get outscored by 13.9 when he sits — the Nuggets are +23.6 when he plays. That is the definition of value. Jokic’s jumper has been a little off since his wrist injury, but he keeps finding ways to impact games and get his team some wins.

Clippers small icon12. Clippers (17-17, LW 12). The timing could hardly be worse. Not that there was a good time for Paul George to go down with a torn ligament in his elbow — the history of others with this injury suggests he will be out at least a month, maybe more — but the Clippers are about to hit a tough part of the schedule. Tuesday’s loss to Brooklyn started 21 games in 37 days, with two-thirds of those on the road. The Clippers are 3-5 on the season in games George doesn’t play, and the team has been +2.3 points per 100 possessions better with him on the court.

Mavericks small icon 13. Mavericks (16-17, LW 15). Dallas has kept its head above water and gone 4-4 while Luka Doncic has been out (ankle injury then health and safety protocols). Kristaps Porzingis has helped with that the past couple of games, putting up big numbers since his return (27 points against Utah and 34 against Portland). The Mavericks need that kind of improvement from other players — Tim Hardaway Jr. and Reggie Bullock in particular, they have been in a slump all season — because help from the outside in the form of a trade is unlikely (Dallas doesn’t have the trade assets to make a significant move).

Hornets small icon 14. Hornets (18-17, LW 20). Charlotte’s bottom-three defense has been marginally better of late, 18th in the NBA over the last six games, but the Hornets are 3-3 in that stretch as the offense has not been as dominant. If you’re looking for a bright spot going forward it may be that the Hornets have played the sixth toughest schedule in the league, with a heavy dose of road games, and as that balances out there is the chance to rack up wins.

15. Timberwolves (16-18, LW 17). Greg Monroe, playing on a hardship contract himself right now, summed up Minnesota’s current state perfectly after a win over Boston: “I’m not gonna lie: Jaylen Nowell played awesome tonight. I didn’t know who he was. I think he played awesome, but that was my first time seeing him.” The Timberwolves will just try to keep their head above water the next week with Karl-Anthony Towns, Anthony Edwards, D'Angelo Russell, Patrick Beverley, Jarred Vanderbilt and others in health and safety protocols.

Celtics small icon 16. Celtics (16-18, LW 16). The blown lead on Christmas Day to Milwaukee was another example of how much Boston has struggled in the clutch this season — they are 6-13 in games within five points in the final five minutes after another clutch loss Tuesday, this time to the Timberwolves. Only Indiana has as many losses in tight games. “At the end of the day, we kind of have to look in the mirror at ourselves individually and as a team. It’s something that we have to do,” Al Horford said after the latest clutch loss.

Hawks small icon 17. Hawks (15-18 LW 14). Atlanta’s offense is third best in the NBA for the season, but it is 23rd over the last six games because of injuries and COVID sidelining key players, such as no Trae Young in Madison Square Garden on Christmas. The Hawks can’t generate enough offense without Young, they score 16.2 points more per 100 possessions when he is on the court. Losers of 8-of-11, the Hawks set out this week on a six-game road trip.

Spurs small icon 18. Spurs (14-19, LW 18). If the play-in started today San Antonio would be in — and they would be a threat. The Spurs are 6-4 in their last 10 games with a 118.7 offensive rating that is the best in the NBA over that stretch. The Spurs have a +7.2 net rating over their last 10, and picked up road wins over the Jazz and both Los Angeles teams. With players such as Dejounte Murray developing and the team winning, it’s not crazy to mention Gregg Popovich in the Coach of the Year category — name a coach who has done more with less. Not that Pop cares if he gets another award, he’s focused and having fun teaching again.

Lakers small icon 19. Lakers (17-18, LW 13). For most of the season, the Lakers needed LeBron James to play at an All-NBA level to win games. Of late, and without Anthony Davis, even that has not been enough. Before Tuesday night’s win in Houston, LeBron had scored 30+ in the four games and the Lakers lost all four. More than that, in the five-game losing streak before the Rockets game, Los Angeles had the worst offense in the NBA over that stretch scoring less than a point per possession. LeBron started at center against the Rockets, expect to see more of that coming up. Laker fans are looking for Russell Westbrook trades, good luck with that.

Knicks small icon 20. Knicks (16-18, LW 21). We are living in the upside-down right now so take with a grain of salt, but Kemba Walker is on fire — he is your Eastern Conference player of the week — and the Knicks have won 4-of-6. New York has a top-10 offense and defense in that short couple of weeks span and looks like a team that could bounce out of the bottom of the play-in up to a more secure position. Nothing has come easy for the Knicks, but they are entering a soft part of the schedule for a couple of weeks and it’s a chance for New York to right the ship and look more like last season’s No. 4 seed. If they can just get some consistency from their stars.

Wizards small icon 21. Wizards (17-17, LW 23). In the long term, there is good news: Apparently spurred on by the vaccine mandate coming to Washington D.C. next month, Bradley Beal has decided to get the jab. That’s good for the Wizards, good for him, and good for those around Beal. Short term, COVID is still hitting the Wizards hard — including Beal being out — and with that the Wizards have fallen all the way back to .500. Washington has lost 8-of-11 and has the third-worst defense in the league over that stretch. Washington is home for the next 12-of-14 (they are 8-5 there this season, this is a chance for the Wizards to get back on track).

Pelicans small icon 22. Pelicans (13-22, LW 26). New Orleans has put some things together behind Brandon Ingram, and this is starting to look like a play-in team having won 6-of-8 with a +3 net rating in that time. All of that without He Who Shall Not Be Named seeing the court. When Ingram tweaked his knee and had to miss Tuesday’s game it opened the door for Herbert Jones. He scored 26 in beating the Cavaliers and has become a player the Pelicans need to focus on developing the rest of this season.

Raptors small icon 23. Raptors (14-17, LW 19). The schedule turned tough just as the Raptors watched 11 players enter health and safety protocols, so losing 3-of-4 is not surprising. Toronto remains the ultimate “what if” team: what would their record look like if Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet, Scottie Barnes and OG Anunoby had played more games together (maybe with some Gary Trent Jr. mixed in)?

Pacers small icon 24. Pacers (14-20, LW 22). Caris LeVert is on a tear, averring 23 points with 6.4 assists a game over his last four, and hitting 34% from 3. While it may not have sparked wins for the Pacers, it has sparked trade discussion as a lot of teams could use an athletic wing heading into the playoff push. (All of the trade talk around Indiana and the league has died off the past couple of weeks as front offices are just focused on signing hardship/replacement players and trying to get through this, but it will come back around.) Tough stretch of games coming up for the Pacers including the Bulls, Nets, and Jazz over the next couple of weeks.

Blazers small icon 25. Trail Blazers (13-20, LW 24). Good news that CJ McCollum is recovering well, and if there is one silver lining to the recent postponed Blazers games it’s that he will miss fewer of them now. A lot of questions around the league Portland interim GM Joe Cornin heading into the trade deadline: He has the authority to make trades, but what about big, sweeping ones? Could he trade McCollum or Jusuf Nurkic (assuming he could find a trade he liked), or is his power more limited than that?

Kings small icon 26. Kings (14-21, LW 25). De'Aaron Fox being out may have crystalized a path forward for Sacramento: Tyrese Haliburton has blossomed with 20/10 games in his last six games, and he has been far more efficient running half-court pick-and-roll offense than Fox While it’s fair to ask if Haliburton is the long-term answer at the one he is more consistent and reliable than what the Kings have been getting. Sacramento reportedly will listen to an offer for Fox, something they would not do last offseason.

Thunder small icon 27. Thunder (12-21, LW 27). Oklahoma City has won 4-of-6, play hard every night, and have some promising young talent in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Lu Dort and Josh Giddey (who has just entered protocols). There will be teams calling about Gilgeous-Alexander at the trade deadline, but more teams will be calling about the Thunder being the third team in a massive trade because they are the lone team with cap space right now (up to $34 million, with a couple of moves).

Magic small icon 28. Magic 7-28, LW 29). Franz Wagner has inserted himself into an unsettled and unusual (because of COVID) Rookie of the Year conversation. The rash of COVID absences and injuries gave him a chance to run the offense and he has shown promise there. Wagner is averaging 15.6 points a game, playing efficiently, and had a coming out party dropping 38 on the defending champion Bucks.

Rockets small icon 29. Rockets (10-25, LW 28). Houston has had some success on the court this season when it had to lean into its veterans such as Christian Wood and Eric Gordon, but job No. 1 this season has to be the development of Jalen Green and the other young players on the roster. It’s a fine line to walk for coach Stephen Silas because he needs to continue to show what the veterans can do for trade reasons, but the youngsters have to drive the bus. Green scoring 24 against the Lakers was a promising sign.

Pistons small icon 30. Pistons (5-27, LW 30). If there’s one player I would bet on getting moved by the trade deadline it would be Jerami Grant of the Pistons — he is the kind of versatile player who can be a small-ball four that teams around the league want on the roster. The challenge? What will the good teams give up to get him? The teams that could most use him (think Lakers) have next to nothing to offer a rebuilding team. We’ll see what Troy Weaver eventually settles on.

LeBron scores 19 off bench in return, Bulls spoil party with 118-108 win


LOS ANGELES (AP) — LeBron James scored 19 points off the bench in his return from a monthlong injury absence, but Zach LaVine scored 32 points to lead the Chicago Bulls to a 118-108 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday.

DeMar DeRozan added 17 points for the Bulls, who easily overcame James’ return for their seventh win in nine games. LaVine hit 11 of his first 14 shots to lead an offensive effort that snapped the Lakers’ three-game winning streak despite the return of the NBA’s career scoring leader.

James sat out 13 games with right foot soreness, missing four weeks during the Lakers’ run at a playoff berth. The team provided few updates on his recovery, and his return came with little advance warning.

“I felt confident in the workouts that I had this week,” James said. “And the day after the workouts, when I woke up, stepped out down off the bed, I could possibly play today. And after my workout early before the game today, I knew I could play.”

For only the second time in his 20-year, 1,958-game NBA career, James wasn’t a starter. He came in as a reserve midway through the first quarter, doing his standard pregame chalk toss while receiving a standing ovation from Lakers fans. James got a field goal in every quarter, and he finished with eight rebounds, three assists and five turnovers in 30 minutes.

“You could see him getting his rhythm, his timing, his finishes, all of that,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said. “He’s a savvy veteran, one of the greatest ever to do it, so it’s not going to take all that much.”

Chicago largely controlled play despite James’ return, streaking to a 20-point lead in the second quarter. Los Angeles briefly got the lead down to single digits down the stretch, but got no closer.

“There are going to be swings, and that was the encouraging part,” Bulls coach Billy Donovan said. “I’m seeing a response back competitively.”

Patrick Beverley had 10 points and five assists in his first game against the Lakers since they traded him last month. Beverley has been outspoken about his desire to hurt the Lakers’ playoff hopes during this home-and-home series between the teams, but Davis and the other Lakers just smiled at his provocative talk.

When Beverley made a little hook shot with 1:12 left to boost Chicago’s lead back to double digits, Beverley slapped the floor and made the dismissive “too small” gesture sometimes used by NBA players to taunt their opponents, in this case James.

“I was just playing basketball,” Beverley said. “Obviously it’s good to see some old teammates, old coaching staff.”

Troy Brown Jr. and Malik Beasley scored 18 points apiece, but Anthony Davis managed just 15 points and nine rebounds as the Lakers (37-38) failed to get above .500 for the first time since Jan. 9, 2022.

The Lakers were without D’Angelo Russell, who missed his second straight game with a right hip injury. Los Angeles went 8-5 in James’ absence, but his return will force an adjustment of the chemistry built by his teammates in his absence.

“We came out a little flat, turned the ball over early, just weren’t aggressive enough, physical enough,” Ham said.

The Bulls largely controlled Davis even after Nikola Vucevic was ejected in the second quarter with two quick technical fouls when he argued what appeared to be a good call against him. Donovan jokingly wondered how Vucevic could be ejected when he was arguing in his native Serbian.

“Obviously it was a bad decision by me to react the way I did,” Vucevic said. “My mistake. I’m just glad my teammates came through for us. I obviously overreacted, for sure.”

Watch Dončić pick up 16th technical, will result in one-game suspension


Luka Dončić barks at the referees more than any player in the league, and with that he does not get the benefit of the doubt when he’s flirting with the edge of a technical foul.

That caught up with Dončić on Sunday, when he didn’t get a call on a leaning baseline jumper, said something to the nearby official, and racked up his 16th technical this season. That will mean an automatic one-game suspension unless it is rescinded (which is unlikely in this case).

Dončić likely will have to sit out Monday when the Mavericks play the Pacers on the second game of a back-to-back.

This suspension comes on the heels of Dončić being fined $35,000 — but not being given a technical foul at the time — for making a money gesture towards a referee in frustration after another recent Mavericks loss.

Dončić went on to have 40 points Sunday but the Mavericks lost again — their second time in a row to the tanking Hornets, their fourth in a row overall and they have now dropped 7-of-9. That has dropped them out of even the play-in to 11th in the West. The Mavericks need to rack up wins over the season’s final two weeks to even make the postseason.

And they must get that next win Monday without Dončić in the lineup.


UPDATE: LeBron “active,” will make return to court Sunday vs. Bulls

Celebrities At The Los Angeles Lakers Game
Allen Berezovsky/Getty Images

UPDATE: LeBron James has officially been upgraded to active and will make his return to the team on Sunday against the Chicago Bulls.


A couple of days ago, reports said LeBron James hoped to return and play the final few games before the season ended and he said there was no timeline for his return.

In less than 24 hours the Lakers have moved LeBron from “out” last game to “doubtful” and now — as of Sunday morning — questionable for the Lakers game against the Bulls. While nothing is confirmed, these are the steps a team takes before a player returns from injury. LeBron is going to test his foot pregame and make a decision.

LeBron had been pushing to return from a foot tendon injury that had sidelined him for 13 games. The Lakers have gone 8-5 in those games behind the second-best defense in the league over that stretch. What has struggled during those games has been the offense (23rd in the league) and LeBron instantly fixes that. He has averaged 29.5 points, 8.4 rebounds and 6.9 assists per game this season and the Laker offense has been six points per 100 possessions better when he has been on the court.

The Lakers currently sit tied for the No.7/8 seeds in the West, with an outside shot at climbing into the top six (they are 1.5 games back of the Lakers and Clippers who are tied for sixth, but if those teams go 4-3 the rest of the way the Lakers need to go 6-2 over their last eight just to tie them). The Lakers are also one game ahead of the 11-seed Dallas Mavericks and missing out on the playoffs entirely.

The Lakers need wins the rest of the way to secure a playoff spot, and some time to build chemistry heading into the playoffs. Having LeBron James helps with all of that.

Nets thrash Heat, move back up to No.6 seed in East

Brooklyn Nets v Miami Heat
Megan Briggs/Getty Images

MIAMI (AP) — All the Brooklyn Nets needed, coach Jacque Vaughn insisted, was one win.

They got it, and made it look easy.

Mikal Bridges scored 27 points, and the Nets opened the third quarter on a 31-6 run on the way to rolling past Miami 129-100 on Saturday night and leapfrogging the Heat back into the No. 6 spot in the Eastern Conference.

Cam Johnson added 23 points and Spencer Dinwiddie scored 15 for the Nets (40-34), who snapped a five-game slide. They’re only a half-game up on Miami (40-35) in the race for the sixth and final guaranteed playoff berth, but swept the Heat 3-0 this season and would also own a head-to-head tiebreaker.

“We had the mindset coming in that this was a playoff game,” Johnson said.

Max Strus scored 23 for the Heat, all of them in the first half. Tyler Herro scored 23, Jimmy Butler had 18 and Bam Adebayo finished with 16 for the Heat. Miami was outscored 64-31 after halftime.

“We have not been defending at a world-class level, the way we’re capable of … and the second half just became an avalanche,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.

Strus came off the bench and made his first nine shots, one of them putting Miami up 51-37 midway through the second quarter. Over the next 14 minutes, the Nets outscored Miami 54-24 – completely turning the game around, eventually leading by 32 and, for now, putting Brooklyn in position to escape the play-in tournament that’ll decide the final two East playoff berths.

“You see how this March Madness is and you’re one and you’re done,” Vaughn said. “And that’s part of it. I have not discussed any of the standings with this group. Really, we have gone day to day and tried to get a win.”

The Heat could have moved 1 1/2 games up on Brooklyn for sixth with a win.

“There has been nothing easy about this season and that doesn’t necessarily mean that has to be a negative thing,” Spoelstra said. “You have to embrace the struggle. You have to figure out ways to stay together … but we just got categorically outplayed tonight.”

It was Brooklyn’s second trip to Miami this season. The first was Jan. 8 – which ended up being the last time Kevin Durant played for the Nets, and the last time Durant and Kyrie Irving played together. Durant left that game with a knee injury, then got traded to Phoenix, and Irving has since been dealt to Dallas, as well.

The Nets were 27-13 after that night, second in the East, just a game behind Boston for the best record in the NBA. They’re 13-21 since, yet still have the Heat looking up at them in the standings – which Vaughn insists he hasn’t discussed with his team.

“You need the momentum, the confidence, the reassurance that you can get it done,” Vaughn said. “So, haven’t tried to complicate it more than that.”