NBA Power Rankings: Celtics remain on top but Suns jump up to second

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We head into the holiday season and the Boston Celtics are still rolling atop the NBC Sports NBA Power Rankings this week. The Suns jumped up to second with a few wins while the Bucks stumbled, but the Pelicans remain in the top 10 and a surprise to be there.

 
Celtics small icon 1. Celtics (17-4, Last week No.1). Joe Mazzulla is going to get some Coach of the Year votes. It may be too early to start thinking about awards not voted on until April, but Mazzulla was thrust into an awkward situation with the suspension of Ime Udoka for the season, and all he has done is preside over the best offense in the history of the NBA — a 120.9 net rating (for comparison, the Jazz had the best offense in the NBA the previous two seasons at 116.2 and 116.5). Mazzulla didn’t mess with what works and kept the team focused. He deserves credit for that. Two interesting games this week against the Miami Heat, both in Boston (and the second one may see Jimmy Butler return).

 
Suns small icon 2. Suns (14-6, LW 3). The Suns are not the same team away from the Footprint Center in Phoenix — they are 11-1 at home and 3-5 on the road so far this season. Starting Sunday that will be put to the test as the Suns head out on the road for 6-of-7. Will Phoenix have Chris Paul for those games? Suns just-extended head of basketball ops James Jones said “he’s close” to a possible C3P return (he has missed 10 games with a heel injury), but there is no official return date set (he is out Wednesday vs. Chicago). One of the games on the upcoming road trip is against Dallas and Luka Doncic, the first time the playoff foes from last season have met since opening night.

 
Bucks small icon 3. Bucks (14-5, LW 2). After their 9-0 start to the season, the Bucks are a .500 team, with a pedestrian defense and a bottom-10 offense in that stretch. It’s hard to read too much into that with Khris Middleton still out — although he is poised to return this week, a massive boost for the team in the half-court — all of which may be a sign there are vulnerabilities in Milwaukee. Giannis Antetokounmpo set a career-best with nine dunks against the Cavaliers, a team with generally good rim protection but not in transition last Friday night.

 
Cavaliers small icon 4. Cavaliers (13-8, LW 4). Donovan Mitchell has been everything the Cavaliers have hoped for and more, but the first quarter of the season has shown Jarrett Allen is the most valuable Cavalier — he solidifies their paint defense and provides quality screen setting on offense. The Cavaliers have been 6.9 points per 100 possessions better with him on the court this season, but it’s the defensive end that comes apart when he misses games. Cleveland is a team of streaks: Win eight in a row, lose five in a row, win 5-of-6, then they fell again Monday in Toronto. LeBron and the Lakers come to town next Tuesday.

 
Grizzlies small icon 5. Grizzlies (12-8, LW 12). Memphis may only be 3-2 in games Jaren Jackson Jr. has played since his return, but they have outscored opponents by 13.9 points per 100 possessions in the minutes he is on the court — he matters that much to this team. We also need to give some love to Santi Aldama, who played well with Jackson out and his defense and finishing are going to help this team win games when it matters. A couple of interesting games against the East are coming up, Friday night against the 76ers then Monday against the Heat.

 
Pelicans small icon 6. Pelicans (12-8, LW 9). Is New Orleans for real? On paper they are one of a handful of teams with a top-10 offense and defense, the traditional sign of a contender (it’s also a flawed measure, Boston doesn’t have a top-10 D right now but they are clearly contenders). Doubters will point to the fact opponents are shooting just 33.2% from 3 against the Pelicans (something likely to go up), plus that the Pelicans are 8-1 against teams under .500 but 4-7 against teams over that mark. Still, you have to beat the teams in front of you and the Pelicans have the fourth-best net rating in the league. Good tests are coming up with games this week against Toronto and Denver.

 
Sixers small icon 7. 76ers (12-9, LW 16). James Harden is expected to return on Philadelphia’s three-game road trip, maybe in Houston next Monday night (good soft landing spot). The 76ers are 8-4 in the dozen games Harden has missed so far and have the best defense in the NBA over that stretch — that is the end of the floor where they need to thrive after Harden (and, eventually, Tyrese Maxey) returns. The 76ers have those eight wins without Harden because B-Ball Paul Reed, Shake Milton and others (including Tobias Harris) have stepped up in recent games.

 
Nuggets small icon 8. Nuggets (13-7, LW 11). Denver outscores its opponents by 12.8 points per 100 possessions when Nikola Jokic is on the court, but gets outscored by 13.9 per 100 when he sits — the team is +26.7 when he plays. That’s the kind of wild on/off differential that helped him win back-to-back MVPs, but it was supposed to be different this season with the return of Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr., the maturation of Bones Highland and the addition of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. The issues with the Nuggets bench remains and it’s something they need to solve if they want to challenge the teams above them in this ranking.

 
Clippers small icon9. Clippers (13-9, LW 7). It’s still hard to figure out what these Clippers are. They won the first three games Kawhi Leonard was back, and they have a ridiculous +31.7 net rating in the limited minutes that Paul George and Leonard are on the court together. But this team can’t stay healthy — Leonard was out with a sprained ankle — and gets its rotations set, so it just keeps treading water. Tuesday night in Portland started 6-of-7 on the road for Los Angeles.

 
Pacers small icon 10. Pacers (12-8, LW 13). Indiana and Myles Turner came through Los Angeles — the Pacers beat the Lakers on a dramatic game-winner by rookie Andrew Nembhard, but fell to the Clippers — and that revived trade speculation going back to this summer. While Turner works to ignore the noise and is having a career year so far, the bigger question becomes would the Pacers still trade him? Or do they want to keep him with Tyrese Haliburton long-term? Even if Indiana doesn’t want to trade him, if they think he will bolt in free agency next summer they may not have a choice, but for now the buzz around the NBA is the Pacers are not eager to deal (and would need to be blown away by an offer).

 
Mavericks small icon 11. Mavericks (10-10, LW 6). Tuesday night’s win over the Warriors sums things up for the Mavericks:
On any given night they can compete with anyone and win, but it takes a 41-point triple-double from Luka Doncic (12 rebounds, 12 assists) to have a chance. There is no secondary shot creation (off-season acquisition Christian Wood is coming off the bench), and with that the workload on Doncic is incredible. How long can he keep this up? That one game explains why no team wants to face the Mavericks in the playoffs, but what it will take for Doncic to get this team to the postseason is a lot to ask.

 
Warriors small icon 12. Warriors (11-11, LW 19). Golden State is 8-4 in last 12 and has found its footing. A key part of that was a move by Steve Kerr to split more of the minutes of Draymond Green and Stephen Curry more, having Green play with the second unit in place of the youngsters who did not work out as a group. The result has been something steady that works and doesn’t blow leads. Throw in Klay Thompson finding his legs again and the Warriors are starting to look like the Warriors again.

 
Raptors small icon 13. Raptors (11-9, LW 17). Pascal Siakam returned from a 10-game absence Monday and looked like his best self, getting downhill, attacking the rim, grabbing rebounds, and pushing the pace. Toronto went 5-5 without Siakam but it didn’t take long to see why they missed him. Scottie Barnes is back on the court as well, and with OG Anunoby playing at an All-Star — maybe Defensive Player of the Year — level, it could be time for the Raptors to string tother a few wins (doing so at Brooklyn and at New Orleans will not be so easy, however).

 
Jazz small icon 14. Jazz (12-11, LW 5). Losers of five in a row and 8-of-10, Utah has come back to earth after its fast start. The Jazz’s problems are on the defensive end, where they are second worst in the league over the last 10 games. The bad news is that in a very tight West, even a little losing a few games means a quick tumble down the standings (the Jazz fell to eighth in the West, part of the play-in). The good news is they are home for 7-of-8 coming up, a chance to rest and turn this thing around (the Jazz lost the opener of the homestead to the Bulls).

 
Kings small icon 15. Kings (10-9, LW 8). Sacramento looks at the way De'Aaron Fox is thriving, the way Domantas Sabonis fits in with them, and yes, the way Tyrese Haliburton has blossomed in Indiana, and think they nailed the trade (something Sam Amick talked about at The Athletic). Maybe they were right, if they can hold on to a playoff spot. The Kings have had one of the easiest schedules in the league but that is about to change with a 7-of-8 on the road starting Saturday against the Clippers.

 
Nets small icon 16. Nets (11-11, LW 21). The Nets could be getting T.J. Warren back on Friday night, which could be a huge boost if Warren can get back close to his vintage self. Warren was one of the breakout stars of the bubble, averaging 26.6 points and 6.3 rebounds a game for the Pacers. However, he has played just four games since the bubble due to stress fractures in his foot. Kevin Durant may want nothing to do with the MVP conversation, but he continues to play at that level: 30 points per game on an insane 65.9 true shooting percentage, plus 6.6 rebounds and 5.5 assists a night.

 
Wizards small icon 17. Wizards (11-10, LW 15). Consistency has not been in the Wizards’ vocabulary this season. Last week they dropped two games to the Heat, then watched Kristaps Porzingis go off for a career-high 41 against the Timberwolves in a win. Sometimes consistency can come when a team bonds on the road, which is what Washington needs to happen — 14 of its next 20 games are outside DMV. Bradley Beal seems to be finding his scoring groove again, which would help bring some consistency to the table.

 
Blazers small icon 18. Trail Blazers (11-10, LW 10). Good news in Portland: Damian Lillard is targeting Sunday to return from his latest calf strain. They need him. The Trail Blazers have gone 1-4 without him this time, including their worst loss of the season, a blown 18-point second-half lead to a Clippers team without either of their stars. Lillard is averaging 26.3 points and seven assists a game this season, showing the explosion we were used to from the perennial All-Star. Hopefully he gets back to being that player quickly.

 
Hawks small icon 19. Hawks (11-10, LW 19). This team’s success seems fragile at times — Clint Capela has to sit a couple of games with dental pain and the defense comes apart, leading to losses. Trae Young and Dejounte Murray are blending fairly well together (+4.7 net rating when both are on the court) but the players around them have not meshed with the duo, and we thought the offense would thrive but it is 22nd in the league. Atlanta needs to pick up some wins in a soft part of the schedule this week (Orlando, OKC, and the New York Knicks).

 
Bulls small icon 20. Bulls (9-11, LW 20). After a 6-10 start, the Bulls beat the Celtics and Bucks in back-to-back games and have now won 3-of-4. Part of that can be tied to Patrick Williams, who started the season slowly but has averaged 10.8 points and 5.2 rebounds a game in November, with a fantastic 63.2 true shooting percentage. Plus he plays solid defense. Chicago is 2-1 on its six-game road trip, but things do not get easier with Phoenix, Golden State, and Sacramento remaining.

 
Heat small icon 21. Heat (10-11, LW 24). With the roster shorthanded (Jimmy Butler is out for his seventh straight Wednesday due to right knee soreness) the Heat have leaned heavily into more zone defense. Couper Moorhead noted on Heat Twitter that in the six games including Sunday the Heat had over 330 possessions in the zone, “more than 21 teams used all of last year.” All the roster issues are part of why the Heat have been in 15 clutch games this season (within 5 points in the final five minutes), tied for most in the NBA, and they are 7-8 in those games despite a +9.4 net rating in those minutes.

 
Knicks small icon 22. Knicks (10-11, LW 20). RJ Barrett continues to present a challenge for Tom Thibodeau and Knicks fans. On the one hand, he gets you buckets — 18.4 points a game, plus 5.4 rebounds. But he’s terribly inefficient doing it, shooting 27.4% from 3 this season and with an ugly 49.9 true shooting percentage. He has a four-year, $107 million extension that kicks in next season, and while that is not wildly out of line he is not living up to it, either. Thibodeau has given Barrett plenty of room to be Barrett, but if this team wants to take the next steps either he needs to start making more shots, or those shots need to go to someone who will.

 
23. Timberwolves (10-11, LW 18). Karl-Anthony Towns is now out 4-6 weeks with a calf strain, and even if he beats that timeline it’s concerning for the Timberwolves — it’s never good to be without your franchise player for an extended period. What’s more, the Timberwolves have a -11.8 net rating this season when Rudy Gobert and Anthony Edwards are on the court together but Towns is not. That can change, maybe going to a more conventional one-big lineup and some D'Angelo Russell pick-and-roll will work, but the pieces have not fit well yet in Minnesota and this isn’t going to help matters.

 
Lakers small icon 24. Lakers 7-12, LW 25). The Lakers did what they needed to do, racking up wins (5-of-6) through a soft part of the schedule. Now things get serious, and it didn’t start well with the heartbreaker loss to the Pacers. There are positives with the Lakers — Russell Westbrook‘s play off the bench, a more consistent Lonnie Walker IV — but if the losses start piling up again as the schedule gets tougher, tension around this team is going to rise quickly.

 
Thunder small icon 25. Thunder (8-13, LW 22). After a strong start to the season, OKC has hit a rough patch losing 5-of-6, with a bottom-10 offense and defense in that stretch. There are positives to take away from the first quarter of the season, beyond the fact Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has ascended to All-NBA level star. Rookie Jalen Williams (the wing out of Santa Clara) has impressed. Aleksej Pokusevski has taken a step forward and is contributing. This team was never going to win a lot of games but there are positives.

 
Hornets small icon 26. Hornets (6-15, LW 26). Gordon Hayward‘s fractured left shoulder has added drama on and off the court in Charlotte, Terry Rozier is not meant to play point guard but is forced into the role with LaMelo Ball still out, and the lack of shooting and depth has left the Hornets with the worst offense in the NBA this season. Still, there are positives, such as the recent play of center Nick Richards, who has shown potential at the five (and deserves more run over Plumlee).

 
Rockets small icon 27. Rockets (5-15, LW 28). After a rough start to the season, rookie Jabari Smith Jr. has looked better of late, averaging 15.8 points per game and shooting 40% from 3 over his last five. What’s more he’s +19 in those five games (for context, he is -125 for the season). It will be a process with him, but he’s showing improvement. Rough stretch for the Rockets this week with three on the road — Denver, Phoenix, Golden State — then coming home to a healthy Philadelphia 76ers team.

Pistons small icon 28. Pistons (5-18, LW 29). If you hear one name more than any other starting Dec. 15 (when most players signed this summer can be traded, unofficially the start of NBA trading season) it will be Bojan Bogdanovic. He is playing well, averaging 20.3 points a game and shooting 39.7% from 3. A lot of teams are going to be calling, the Pistons just extended him at a fair price, but the question is do they want to keep him to help speed the turnaround next season (with a healthy Cade Cunningham), or should they get younger players and continue the rebuild? One thing is for sure, they are not giving him away, it will take an impressive offer to land him.

 
Magic small icon 29. Magic 5-16, LW 27). Paolo Banchero is back on the court after missing seven games, and scored at least 18 points in each of those games, including 24 on 9-of-17 shooting against the Nets. Markelle Fultz is also close to a return, as is Cole Anthony, adding more ball handlers and shot creators to the mix for the Magic. When healthy, this is an entertaining team to watch, if not one winning many games because of their defense.

 
Spurs small icon 30. Spurs (6-15, LW 30). It’s challenging to find bright spots on a Spurs team that has lost eight in a row and 13-of-14, but the one worth talking about might be Devin Vassell. The third-year wing out of Florida State has made a leap this season, averaging 20.4 points, shooting 41.9% from 3, and being more efficient overall despite a massive jump in usage. He deserves consideration for the Most Valuable Player award, even if it’s going to be tough to win it on this team.

Watch Deandre Ayton put up 29 points, 21 rebounds, lead Suns past Jazz 113-112

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PHOENIX — There was much debate during the NBA offseason about whether Deandre Ayton was worth a max contract.

On nights like Saturday, the answer is a resounding yes.

Ayton notched season highs with 29 points and 21 rebounds, Devin Booker added 27 points and the Phoenix Suns held on for a hard-fought 113-112 win over the Utah Jazz.

The Jazz led 81-78 after three quarters, but the Suns pushed ahead 99-93 by midway through the fourth. The game remained tight through the final minutes, but Phoenix never lost the lead. On top of Ayton’s scoring and rebounding, he also had a crucial steal in the final minutes that helped thwart a final Jazz rally.

“I don’t know what he ate for Thanksgiving,” Booker said. “I should have been over there.”

Ayton grabbed his 21st rebound of the game on the final possession, securing Booker’s miss off a 3-pointer to keep the Jazz from a final possession. Ayton signed a four-year, $133 million deal during the offseason after the Suns matched an offer sheet from the Indiana Pacers.

“That young man has been coming to the gym at crazy hours, lifting with (coaches), so that he can be prepared for moments like this,” Suns coach Monty Williams said. “It’s just good to see the work pay off. It’s good to see him have monster games against really good teams on a back-to-back. That’s pretty impressive.”

Ayton was the first player to have at least 28 points and 20 rebounds in a game for the Suns since Amar’e Stoudemire in 2007. He shot 11 of 19 from the field and added three assists and two blocks.

“I want to do more, I feel like I can do more,” Ayton said. “I’m just trying to do what I can to contribute to my team.”

Curiously, the Jazz didn’t foul the Suns on their final possession, essentially allowing them to run out the clock. Utah coach Will Hardy said the last play simply didn’t unfold like the team expected and there was some miscommunication.

“We wanted to get the ball out of Booker’s hands, and then foul,” Hardy said.

Ayton scored a season high for the second straight night. He poured in 28 points against the Pistons in a 108-102 win on Friday. Booker had a tough night shooting, making just 8 of 27 shots.

Utah was one of the NBA’s surprise teams in the first few weeks of the season, starting with a 10-3 record. The Jazz are just 3-7 since that point.

“One game, one stretch of the season doesn’t define your season,” Jazz forward Kelly Olynyk said. “You’ve got to go through ups-and-downs. Adversity – learn from it and come out the other side better for it.”

The Suns have an 11-1 record at home this season and have won four straight games.

Jordan Clarkson scored 22 points for the Jazz. Collin Sexton added 20 while Lauri Markkanen had 15 points and 10 rebounds.

The Jazz had a 54-51 lead at halftime. Clarkson led the Jazz with 12 points while Ayton had 11 points and seven rebounds.

NBA Power Rankings: Celtics, Bucks on top of Thanksgiving edition

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It’s the Thanksgiving edition of the NBC Sports weekly NBA Power Rankings, and in this one we talk a little about what each fan base should be thankful for this year. Spurs fans, you should be thankful for Gregg Popovich.

 
Celtics small icon 1. Celtics (13-4, Last week No.1). Boston has to be thankful for coach Joe Mazzulla, who has struck just the right tone with this team after being thrust into the head coaching position days before training camp. He didn’t try to reinvent the wheel, trusted what had been built and what these players had worked on, and struck the right tone. The Celtics are now home for six straight with some interesting tests: Luka Doncic and the Mavericks (Wednesday) and the red-hot Kings on Friday.

 
Bucks small icon 2. Bucks (12-4, LW 2). Milwaukee has to be thankful for the return of peak Brook Lopez, who leads the NBA in total blocks (44) and blocks per game (2.8), and who has played at a Defensive Player of the Year level. He is the reason they have the second-best defense in the NBA. Giannis Antetokounmpo is averaging 30.1 points, 11.6 rebounds and 5.4 assists a game, but some people don’t see him as a top-five MVP candidate so far because his two-point shooting has fallen to 57% this season. Really?

 
Suns small icon 3. Suns (11-6, LW 4). Phoenix fans should be thankful Devin Booker is their anchor. This team has gone 4-3 without starters Chris Paul and Cameron Johnson because Booker has been phenomenal this season, averaging 27.6 points a game, shooting 38% from 3, and dishing out 5.8 assists daily. Cameron Payne also deserves credit for stepping up with CP3 nursing a sore heal. The Suns get the two upstart teams in the West, the Jazz and Kings, in some interesting tests this week.

 
Cavaliers small icon 4. Cavaliers (11-6, LW 6). Be thankful for a front office with Koby Altman (and an owner) willing to go all in on Donovan Mitchell because it has worked out (29.8 points and 6 assists a game). He has been better than advertised, and with Darius Garland (23.9 points and 7.8 assists), the Cavs may have the best backcourt in the league. The one thing that would keep them from that crown is Garland’s turnovers. A couple of good tests to see where this team really stands in the East coming up with games in Milwaukee and Toronto.

 
Jazz small icon 5. Jazz (12-7, LW 10). A little wind has come out of the sails as the Jazz have dropped 4-of-6 but Jazz fans have to be thankful that Lauri Markkanen has found himself and been maybe the biggest surprise in the NBA this season. He’s averaging 22.4 points and 8.5 rebounds a game, shooting 36.1% on 3-pointers, and he looks like the hometown All-Star in Salt Lake City. It’s not the offense that has been the issue of late, it’s the 28th-ranked defense over the last six games. Will Hardy has to come up with a way to get some stops for this team.

 
Mavericks small icon 6. Mavericks (9-7, LW 5). Dallas has taken its foot off the gas — and Luka Doncic has looked a little low on gas — in some ugly losses lately (Pelicans without Zion Williamson, Magic without Paolo Banchero, Wizards without Beal or Porzingis). It’s concerning long term that this team needs an MVP night from Doncic to have a chance against the best teams. Mavericks fans need to be thankful that Spencer Dinwiddie is doing as much as he is to be the No.2 shot-creating option on this team (17.1 points and 5.1 assists a game, shooting 40.7% from 3), as Jason Kidd clearly isn’t leaning into Christian Wood because of defensive concerns.

 
Clippers small icon7. Clippers (11-7, LW 13). The Clippers are thankful Kawhi Leonard is back, and they are 3-0 since he returned to the starting lineup. They are top 10 in the league in offense and defense in those games (Leonard is out Wednesday night with an ankle issue). Tyronn Lue has said he wants to build an offensive identity of” drive, touch the paint, kick, swing” and we started to see that when they hit 21 3-pointers against the Spurs. Their front office and coaches talked about the return of Leonard as meaning it was time to drill down and start building good habits, and even with Paul George and Luke Kennard out there are some promising early returns.

 
Kings small icon 8. Kings (10-6, LW 16). Kings fans need to be thankful for The Beam — it’s a rallying point the team has bought into, and it has them winning six in a row. The other reason for the winning streak (and another reason for Kings fans to be thankful) is the team has gone against the easiest schedule in the league so far this season. That will change, but right now the Kings are doing what playoff teams do and beating the teams they are supposed to beat. And they are lighting the beam.

 
Pelicans small icon 9. Pelicans (10-7, LW 12). So much of the focus on this team is whether Zion Williamson is in or out of the lineup, but even with the changes New Orleans has the fourth-best net rating in the NBA for the season. It helps to pick up quality wins when the Warriors sit everyone you can name in both games in the Big Easy, but still those count as wins. New Orleans fans should be thankful for Brandon Ingram finding his 3-point shot — 48.2% on 4.3 attempts per game this season, a big leap for him that helps open up the court.

 
Blazers small icon 10. Trail Blazers (10-7, LW 7). Losers of four in a row and now they will be without Damian Lillard a while longer (while heading into a tough road stretch: at Cleveland, then both New York teams, then the Clippers at home). Trail Blazers fans should be thankful for Jerami Grant, who has fit in beautifully playing next to Lillard and is scoring 19.6 points per game while shooting an unsustainable 47.1% from 3. Grant remains a much-needed plus defender on this team as well. He has been worth every penny as a pickup.

 
Nuggets small icon 11. Nuggets (10-7, LW 3). Denver stumbled with Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray in health and safety protocols, but the bigger questions are how long they can keep winning with a bottom 10 defense. Nuggets fans should be thankful for the play on that end of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who remains a much-needed plus defender on the wing. Fun measuring stick game Friday at home against the Clippers, who are surging of late.

 
Grizzlies small icon 12. Grizzlies (10-8, LW 9). Memphis fans should be thankful for the health and return of Jaren Jackson Jr. — it’s only been three games but their rim protection is much better, plus he has provided some offensive versatility scoring 18 a night. Ja Morant missed only one game with his Grade 1 ankle sprain, and clearly he was fine dropping 34 in the loss to the Kings. One of the biggest long-term questions the Grizzlies have to answer is how to strike a balance that can keep Morant on the court — he’s an aggressive, attacking player with insane hops and history suggests though kinds of players battle injuries (think Dwyane Wade, Derrick Rose). Morant will push through, but the Grizzlies must find a way to keep him healthy long-term.

 
Pacers small icon 13. Pacers (10-6, LW 19). This might be too low a ranking for a Pacers team where everything is going well (winners of four in a row heading into Wednesday). They are playing at one of the fastest paces in the league (18% of their possessions start in transition), they have a potential Rookie of the Year in Bennedict Mathurin, and Pacers fans should be thankful the team held on to Myles Turner because he is having one of the best rim protection seasons of any big in the league. With Tyrese Haliburton running the offense, there is no reason this team can’t sustain a playoff level this season.

 
Hawks small icon 14. Hawks (10-7, LW 8). Atlanta fans should be thankful for this optimistic sign: Two of the Hawks wins have come against the Bucks, which both times did have Antetokounmpo in the lineup. The surprising stat about this team is the lack of 3-pointers a game, they are making 9.2 a night, tied for last in the league with the Lakers. The Hawks aren’t taking them (28.7 a game, second-fewest in the league) and not making the ones they take (32% as a team). Trae Young is part of the problem, hitting just 30.4% of his 3s this season. The Hawks are 2-3 in their last five, but this bucket by A.J. Griffin gave them a dramatic victory.

 
Wizards small icon 15. Wizards (10-7, LW 18). Washington fans should be thankful for Kristaps Porzingis‘ health, he has played in all but one game so far this season and is giving them 20.4 points and 8.8 rebounds a game. They don’t win games like the one against the Heat without him. While Bradley Beal has been in seemingly constant trade rumors for years, there is some buzz around the league that the name teams are calling Washington about now is Kyle Kuzma. He’s averaging 19.1 points and 8.2 assists a game this season, and he has a player option for next season he is not expected to pick up, making him a free agent. If the Wizards aren’t going to pay up and re-sign him this summer, they may have to consider a trade.

 
Sixers small icon 16. 76ers (9-8, LW 11). Tuesday’s win against Ben Simmons and the Brooklyn Nets — done without Joel Embiid, Tyrese Maxey or James Harden — is something this team can build upon, a win that was about culture and depth, not top-end talent. The Sixers just played harder than the Nets. With three games on the road this week but against Charlotte, then two against the Magic, the 76ers could keep racking up wins and start to turn around a season that has been slow to start and gotten Doc Rivers seat warm. Embiid should be the first of the big three to return to the court, but the 76ers will not rush him.

 
Raptors small icon 17. Raptors (9-8, LW 14). Toronto has kept its head above water with Pascal Siakam out, having gone 4-4 so far in his absence. Despite a rash of injuries — which has become an unfortunate Toronto tradition — this team has the net rating of a 10-7 team, something that holds promise for what they might be if they can just get everyone healthy at the same time. They are home for three this week but no easy ones with the Nets, Mavericks, and Cavaliers coming north of the border.

 
18. Timberwolves (9-8, LW 24). After a disappointing start to the season, the Timberwolves have rattled off four wins in a row (including solid wins against the Cavaliers, 76ers and Heat) and they are playing better on both ends of the floor (top 10 offense and defense over those four). Anthony Edwards is attacking again and Minny is getting stops. With a relatively soft schedule coming up (Pacers, Hornets, Warriors, Wizards) a hot Minnesota team could get on a run and climb the ladder in the West that remains very compact (the Timberwolves sit at No. 10 as of this writing but are just two games out of first place).

 
Warriors small icon 19. Warriors (8-10, LW 17). It seems obvious, but Warriors fans should be thankful for the throwback, vintage, MVP-level season Stephen Curry is having so far: 32.3 points, 7.1 assists, 6.7 rebounds a game shooting 44.7% from 3 and carrying a ridiculous workload. Those Warriors fans can also be frustrated with the rest of the franchise for squandering his play, but there have been a couple of positive signs. They picked up a road win, for one. Second, a couple of strong games from Klay Thompson as he seems to be getting his legs back under him. They are not out of the mix in a tight West, but it will be challenging to string together wins this week against the Clippers, Jazz, Timberwolves and Mavericks.

 
Knicks small icon 20. Knicks (9-9, LW 20). Knicks fans should be thankful that Jalen Brunson has been even a little better than advertised, not just in raw numbers but in providing a steady hand guiding the offense and getting guys in position. As discussed in my podcast this week with Tommy Beer, the Knicks still feel like a team that needs to do something to shake up the roster at the trade deadline and that could mean shopping Julius Randle. Although the market for him may be limited.

 
Nets small icon 21. Nets (8-10, LW 21). The Nets got Kyrie Irving back, strung a couple of wins together and you started to think “maybe this team can figure it out,” Then they have maybe their ugliest loss of the season to the shorthanded 76ers on Tuesday. The Nets tried to build a contender, went through pain this summer to keep this potential contender together, and for what? Watching them now, we can all just forget them getting to the level of the Bucks and Celtics, instead we need to ask if they even get to the level of the Cavaliers? Hawks? Raptors?

 
Thunder small icon 22. Thunder (7-10, LW 23). Thunder fans need to be thankful for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander — forget the need to tank for a franchise cornerstone, the Thunder already have the kind of player other teams tank and hope for. Gilgeous-Alexander is playing at an All-NBA, maybe bottom-of-the-MVP-ballot level averaging 31.1 points and 6 assists a game, shooting 39.1% from 3. His play this season may have Sam Presti and company speeding up the timeline for turning this team around, which is not a bad thing.

 
Bulls small icon 23. Bulls (7-10, LW 22). Billy Donovan called out his players before Friday’s game against Orlando, then benched Zach LaVine for the final 3:43 of it, with the game in doubt, trying to send a message. It worked the Bulls played maybe their best game of the season Monday beating the Celtics, snapping a four-game losing streak. Now Chicago heads out on a six-game road trip and if they don’t bring that Boston energy things could get ugly fast.

 
Heat small icon 24. Heat (7-11, LW 15). Miami has been ravaged again by injuries this season and it makes it difficult to say where this team truly stands — we haven’t seen them whole long enough to have an idea. Who is the only Heat player to start every game? Kyle Lowry (I didn’t see that one coming before the season). Their preferred starting five hasn’t started together since Nov. 1. What’s different from last season is that when guys went down the Heat leaned into players such as Max Strus, Gabe Vincent and the guys nobody knew about who Erik Spoelstra and company turned into solid role players. This season, there haven’t been those new guys. The other thing that is clear now, the Heat need the shot creation of Tyler Herro in the offense or they are a bit predictable.

 
Lakers small icon 25. Lakers 5-11, LW 27). Anthony Davis is on a tear — four straight games of at least 30 points and 15 rebounds — and that combined with a soft part of the schedule as the Lakers going 3-1 in their last four. LeBron James is set to return to the lineup Friday, and with the next two games against the Spurs, Los Angeles has the chance to go on a little run and start to turn their season around. If that happens, and Rob Pelinka looks at a West where no team has run away and hid, might he be more likely to go all-in on a move and try to give his team a puncher’s chance in the postseason? Should he?

 
Hornets small icon 26. Hornets (4-14, LW 28). The basketball gods are cruel. LaMelo Ball gets back on the court for three games before injuring the same ankle on a fluke play stepping on a fan’s foot. That happened just as the Hornets were getting Gordon Hayward back from his injury (he has 33 points across two games, shooting 50%). There have been other bright spots for Charlotte, such as the play of Kelly Oubre Jr. and Dennis Smith Jr., but it hasn’t been enough to earn more than one win so far in November.

 
Magic small icon 27. Magic 5-13, LW 25). Orlando has gone 3-4 with Paolo Banchero out due to a sprained ankle (he could return on Friday), but that includes having dropped 4-of-5. Still, Magic fans need to be thankful their front office went with Banchero because he is unquestionably the real deal, the kind of shot-creating franchise cornerstone they need. Franz Wagner also continues to play well, averaging 19.3 points per game (we’ll see how he responds emotionally to the German’s loss to Japan in their opening World Cup game).

 
Rockets small icon 28. Rockets (3-14, LW 29). On the bright side, the Rockets are forcing more close games this season, they have 10 clutch games (within 5 points in the final 5 minutes). The problem is they have the worst offensive net rating of any team in those minutes (71.9) — the young stars in Houston have not yet figured out how to score against focused defenses). The bright side, the thing to be thankful for in Houston, is the play of Alperen Şengun and Kenyon Martin Jr. so far this season. There is real promise there.

Pistons small icon 29. Pistons (4-15, LW 30). It may just be the silver lining, but Pistons fans should be thankful for the deep draft coming up next June. This team hoped to be thinking postseason not lottery, but with Cade Cunningham now out for an extended period of time, the Pistons may be the first team that had play-in aspirations to fully pivot to “Brick for Vic” (or whatever we’re calling the Victor Wembanyama sweepstakes). The Pistons had lost eight in a row until they beat the Nuggets, but still have the Jazz and Suns left on this road trip.

 
Spurs small icon 30. Spurs (6-12, LW 26). Gregg Popovich on getting his team through a rough season focused on player growth: “You have to assess an individual’s development based on where they started from, and how much they continue to glean from whether it’s you know, practice or film or shootarounds, game situations, that sort of thing. So it’s about values and goals and that’s how you get through it. And beyond that, you kind of slap yourself. It’s really a tough life. I can’t pay my electric bill. The players can’t pay their gas bills and gas is too expensive for them to buy — come on, give me a break. You know, it’s the greatest job in the world. So if you complain, you’re an idiot.”

After fast start, Jazz reportedly to keep Markkanen, Clarkson, likely Vanderbilt

Utah Jazz v Portland Trail Blazers
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Nobody saw this coming, and in a moment of honesty Danny Ainge would probably admit he didn’t either. While the Jazz would tell anyone who would listen they were not tanking and had some veteran depth on the roster, the idea of a 12-7 start that had them sitting second in the West with a +3.2 net rating (eighth best in the NBA) was beyond even their dreams.

Yet here they are, and the Jazz are shifting course and keeping the band together — they are not trading these stars to chase Victor Wembanyama, something Jake Fischer reports at Yahoo Sports. In fact, the Jazz might push some of their chips in to add a player for this season.

Utah has so far signaled an intent to keep breakout star forward Lauri Markkanen plus franchise favorite Jordan Clarkson, and have established a high asking price for Jarred Vanderbilt, sources told Yahoo Sports, leaving Malik Beasley and Kelly Olynyk, along with Conley, as the obvious veterans the Jazz could move before the Feb. 9 trade deadline. Olynyk is known to be a favorite of Ainge.

But what if Utah is no longer content with joining the race for prized prospect Victor Wembanyama? The Jazz’s interest in Hawks forward John Collins is real, league sources said, and would seem to indicate Utah is considering how to add to this winning unit rather than subtract from it. Right now, the likelihood of Collins landing in Salt Lake City, though, seems low. Atlanta approached the Jazz about swapping Collins for Markkanen, sources said, which did not generate any traction.

Markkanen has been maybe the biggest surprise in the NBA this season, a player who has always had potential but never lived up to the expectations of the No.7 pick due to injuries and situations. He is now, playing at an All-Star level with 22.4 points and 8.5 rebounds a game, shooting 36.1% on 3-pointers. There is zero chance the Jazz would trade him for Collins (but nice try by Travis Schlenk).

The Jazz can’t go in on the tank at this point for two key reasons. The biggest: The fan base has bought in and loves this team. You could sell the need to break up the Gobert/Mitchell era because everyone had seen what they were, what their limitations and ceiling were. While not all the fans loved it at the time, it wasn’t hard to sell the idea that the team was going to implode in a couple of years anyway, better to make deals and get back massive trade hauls now. This new team however, nobody knows what it can be, what it can grow into with some tweaks. This team is fun and the fans love it, to break it up would be a punch to the gut of the core fans.

Second, because of the fast start tanking probably doesn’t work anyway. Marc Stein broke the numbers down in his latest newsletter, but the only team to kind of pull this off was the 2018-19 Grizzlies (they started 12-6 but traded Marc Gasol and everyone else, finished 33-49, then got lottery luck to jump from the eighth place odds to the No.2 pick, which they used on Ja Morant). Aside from them, teams that started as fast as the Jazz and missed the playoffs just ended up in the high lottery.

Plus, the players in Utah love this experience and don’t want out. Take Malik Beasley, who a lot of teams are eyeing as a potential trade target but told Michael Scotto of Hoopshype he wants to stay (he has a $16.5 million team option on his contract for next season).

I would love for them to pick that option up for me to continue my journey here in Utah. If not, then I’ve got to make the best of it. I’m very thankful for this landing spot since I came here. There are a lot of great people here in Utah and a great fan base. I think it’s the perfect opportunity to show I’m a changed man in Utah.

Whether or not the Jazz keep Beasley or Collin Sexton (another player drawing interest, according to league sources), the Jazz are not breaking this team up. How good they are over the final three-quarters of the season and into the playoffs remains to be seen, but the Jazz want to see what they have, not break it up and tank. Not anymore.

Reports: Jazz among teams interested in trade for Hawks’ Collins

Charlotte Hornets v Atlanta Hawks
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As he has been for over a year, Atlanta’s John Collins is available in a trade.

The Utah Jazz, who traded their two best players and other veterans last offseason and were expected to be in the Victor Wembanyama sweepstakes, instead sit atop the West at 12-6. The sense around the league now is that the Jazz will let this play out. They look like a playoff team, and Lauri Markkanen is playing the best basketball of his career, and Danny Ainge and company are not going to blow this team up.

But they might add to it, they have expressed interest in a John Collins trade, according to multiple reports. First, there was Shams Charania of The Athletic.

 

Next up was Marc Stein in his latest substack missive.

A report that the Suns have interest in Collins was forcefully shot down by Phoenix-based radio host and insider John Gambadoro, but league sources confirmed Utah is among the teams to express interest in the Atlanta forward…

Collins is averaging just 12.4 points per game and shooting 23.4% from 3-point range for the Hawks to go with 7.9 RPG, accounting for his lowest scoring average since his rookie season in 2017-18, but the 25-year-old is obviously still far closer to the win-now line than developmental prospect.

Yet another illustration of Utah’s apparent willingness to let its current team land wherever it lands in the standings… One rival team official told me he thinks that the Jazz are more likely to extend organizational favorite Jordan Clarkson‘s contract before they consider trading him. Clarkson, 30, is averaging career-highs in scoring (18.6 PPG) and assists (4.6 APG).

It seems very Danny Ainge to pick up an athletic, young player while he is struggling — and his trade value is low — and try to prop him up.

The Jazz have veterans and a variety of larger salaries to make a trade work. For example, Mike Conley for Collins works straight up, although the Hawks have their backcourt set (Trae Young and Dejounte Murray) and would they want to trade young for old like that? Malik Beasley and Talen Horton Tucker combine for a salary match, but the Hawks will want picks or other players to make that work. That said, a deal could be worked out.

Nothing is imminent, but a Collins trade seems like it’s coming at some point and Utah might be the best landing spot for him.