NBA Power Rankings: Suns keep dominating; Anthony Davis’ return gives Lakers hope; Cavs taking league by storm


1


Suns
Ho hum, another week, another four wins for the Suns, who have now rattled off eight in a row. The win over the surging Mavs was impressive, and Phoenix played all week without big man Deandre Ayton, as Bismack Biyombo, JaVale McGee and Jalen Smith filled in the center minutes. This team really does seem to be plug and play, and with Devin Booker and Chris Paul at the peak of their powers, they are incredibly difficult to beat. — 38-9
2


Cavaliers
Holy moly, Cleveland just keeps on rolling. Lauri Markkanen went down with an ankle injury and Jarrett Allen missed a game this week — pfft, so what? Three more victories for the Cavs, including a statement win over the Bucks on Wednesday. Kevin Love stepped up with Markkanen and Allen out, putting up 22.5 points and 10 rebounds on 11-for-21 3-point shooting over the last two games. Darius Garland averaged 18.3 points and 10.3 assists in three games, while Evan Mobley added 15.3 points and 12 rebounds. The Cavs are a game and a half out of FIRST PLACE in the Eastern Conference. Let that sink in. 4 30-19
3


Heat
Jimmy Butler inexplicably missed an alley-oop layup in the final 20 seconds and then clanked a potential game-winning 3-pointer in the Heat’s loss to the Hawks to start the week, but they bounced back to beat the Lakers and Knicks. Miami played all week without Kyle Lowry, who’s out for personal reasons, which allowed Gabe Vincent to step in and average 11 points and 6.7 assists per game on 41 percent 3-point shooting. Speaking of 3-point shooting, Duncan Robinson caught fire this week, going 18 for 32 from long distance en route to 23 points per game. 1 31-17
4


Warriors
After beginning the week with a ghastly overtime home loss to a depleted Pacers team, Steph Curry saved the Warriors from similar embarrassment the next night with his first career game-winning buzzer-beater against the visiting Rockets. From there things got much better, with wins over the Jazz, Mavs and Wolves to close out the week. Curry shot just 25 percent from 3-point range in the first four games of the week but went 6 for 10 from deep in the win over the Wolves, as every fan in the Bay Area prays this is the end of his prolonged shooting slump. — 36-13
5


Grizzlies
Memphis beat the Nuggets and Spurs this week, with a loss to the red-hot Mavs. Ja Morant was on another planet in the three games, averaging 38 points, eight rebounds and 6.7 assists as he prepares for his first All-Star appearance. Desmond Bane returned from protocols on Wednesday to put up 20 points in the win over San Antonio, as the Grizzlies sit firmly in the No. 3 spot out West. 2 33-17
6


76ers
The Sixers suffered a disappointing loss to the Clippers to start the week, but bounced back with wins over the Spurs, Pelicans and Lakers as the train keeps on rolling. They’re now just two games behind the first-place Heat despite not having Ben Simmons for the entire season, which is a credit to Doc Rivers, Joel Embiid and the entire organization. Embiid kept up his MVP campaign this week with 36.5 points, 12 rebounds and 5.8 assists per game on 52 percent shooting. Trust the process, indeed. 2 29-19
7


Mavericks
The Mavs lost to the Suns and Warriors this week, but those are obviously tough opponents and this team is still playing well, as it showed in wins over the Grizzlies and Blazers. Luka Doncic led the way, as usual, with 26.3 points, 9.3 rebounds and 8.8 assists per game this week, while Kristaps Porzingis struggled to shoot the ball as he put up 16 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game. Jalen Brunson has been consistent all season, and they’ll need him even more with Tim Hardaway Jr. out indefinitely with a fractured foot. — 28-21
8


Bucks
The Bucks beat the Bulls and Kings to start the week, but came up short against the Cavs on Wednesday. Giannis Antetokounmpo missed the win over Sacramento, and averaged 28 points and 10.5 rebounds in the other two games. Khris Middleton kept up his red-hot shooting, averaging 23.7 points and knocking down 50 percent of his 3s in three games this week. Jrue Holiday saw his minutes increased to the 30s as he gets back into the swing of things after missing two weeks with an ankle injury. 2 30-20
9


Bulls
The Bulls lost to the Bucks and got stomped by the lowly Magic before escaping with wins against the Thunder and Raptors. Alex Caruso is expected to miss at least six weeks with a broken wrist he suffered after a flagrant foul by Milwaukee guard Grayson Allen, a difficult blow for Chicago to absorb with Lonzo Ball already on the shelf. The good news is that Zach LaVine returned and looked pretty good, putting up 23 points, 7.5 rebounds and 7.5 assists in two games. DeMar DeRozan got a day off against OKC, but averaged 35 points on 60 percent shooting in the other three games. 4 30-17
10


Nuggets
After a loss to the Grizzlies to start the week, the Nuggets took care of business in back-to-back games against the Pistons, then beat the Nets without any of their Big Three. We’re running out of superlatives for Nikola Jokic, who averaged 28.5 points, 12.8 rebounds and 9.3 assists per game this week on 59/40/93 shooting splits. Will Barton missed a game this week, but averaged 20.7 points, seven rebounds and 5.7 assists in the other three. 3 26-21
11


Nets
Brooklyn’s only win this week came against the Spurs, with losses to the Wolves, Lakers and Nuggets. They’re now 2-4 since Kevin Durant went down with a knee injury, as James Harden and (sometimes) Kyrie Irving try to pick up the slack. Irving has been phenomenal when he’s been on the court, averaging 27 points on 51/43/100 shooting splits in two games this week. Harden also missed a game, but put up 27.7 points, 11.7 assists, and nine rebounds per game in the other three. 2 29-19
12


Hornets
Charlotte punctuated a 2-2 week with a franchise-record 158 points in Wednesday’s win over the Pacers, in which LaMelo Ball, Terry Rozier, Miles Bridges and Kelly Oubre Jr. all scored 20 or more points. Bridges continued his strong play (and bid for Most Improved Player) with averages of 21.3 points and seven rebounds on efficient 61/40/88 shooting splits. Oubre scored 39 points in the historic win over Indiana while filling in for Gordon Hayward, who has missed the last three games in protocols. 1 27-22
13


Jazz
The Jazz started off the week by getting revenge on the Pistons, but lost to the Warriors and twice to the Suns as their downslide continues. Utah was without Donovan Mitchell all week and only had Rudy Gobert for two games, but overall they’ve lost nine of their last 11 — this from a team that was No. 1 in the Power Rankings not too long ago. The league’s leading offense took an expected dive this week without Mitchell, who is suddenly popping up in trade rumors. Yeah, things aren’t great in Utah. 1 30-19
14


Celtics
The Celtics lost to the Blazers to start the week, but bounced back for demonstrative wins over the Wizards and Kings. Those wins might have been just what the doctor ordered for the Celtics offense, as they scored over 115 points in both games, something they hadn’t done for two weeks. Jayson Tatum scored a season-high 51 points against Washington and followed that up with 36 in 31 minutes in the win over the Kings, while going 16 for 28 from 3-point range over the two games. — 25-24
15


Timberwolves
The Wolves started off the week with a win over the Nets, then beat the Blazers on D’Angelo Russell’s game-winning, goal-tended layup before losing to the Warriors on Thursday. Anthony Edwards dropped 40 points in the win over Portland, and averaged 30.7 for the week while getting to the free throw line nearly nine times per game. Karl-Anthony Towns, steady as ever, averaged 23.7 points, 12 rebounds and two blocks on 41 percent 3-point shooting. 2 24-24
16


Hawks
We’ve been waiting all season for the Hawks to look like the Hawks, and they might be starting to put it together with five straight wins, including three this week over the Heat, Hornets, and Kings. It’s not rocket science — when the Hawks play defense, they tend to win games, and that was the case this week as they held their three opponents to 103.4 points per 100 possessions. Offensively, the sky is the limit, with Trae Young averaging 25 points and seven assists this week on 44 percent 3-point shooting. 3 22-25
17


Clippers
The Clippers won three of four games this week, including an historic 35-point comeback to beat the Wizards on Tuesday. This team continues to chug along without its two stars, with the likes of Luke Kennard, Amir Coffey, Reggie Jackson and Terance Mann tasked with much more responsibility. Kennard was the hero against Washington, scoring seven points in the final nine seconds, including a game-winning four-point play. 4 25-25
18


Raptors
Toronto went 2-2 this week, beating the Wizards and Hornets with losses to the Blazers and Bulls. Likely All-Star Fred VanVleet missed two games this week, and Gary Trent Jr. took advantage of the extra burn, leading the team with 22.5 points per game on 47 percent 3-point shooting. Pascal Siakam stepped up as a playmaker, averaging seven assists to go with 7.8 rebounds and 21.3 points, while Scottie Barnes notched a career-high 27 points in the win over Washington. 2 23-23
19


Lakers
The Lakers went 2-2 this week, but the light at the end of the tunnel has finally arrived in the form of Anthony Davis, who looked spry and aggressive while putting up 31 points, 12 rebounds and four blocks in Thursday’s loss to the Sixers with LeBron James sidelined with a knee issue. Now the trick will be Davis keeping this up when James returns, and both performing consistently and staying healthy. Russell Westbrook seemed to respond well to his fourth-quarter benching, averaging 19.3 points, 7.5 rebounds and 5.8 assists this week on 54 percent(!) field goals. 1 24-25
20


Trail Blazers
The Blazers started off the week with impressive road wins over the Celtics and Raptors, before losing to the Timberwolves and Mavericks. Portland is now 6-4 over their last 10 games, a step in the right direction for a team that’s struggled all season. Norman Powell returned to the lineup this week, but Nassir Little is likely lost for the season with a shoulder injury. CJ McCollum, Jusuf Nurkic and Anfernee Simons continue to lead the way offensively with Damian Lillard on the shelf. 2 20-28
21


Pelicans
The Pelicans started off the week with wins over the Knicks and Pacers, before falling to the 76ers without Brandon Ingram and Jonas Valanciunas. As a fill-in starter, Willy Hernangomez went toe-to-toe with Joel Embiid, putting up 29 points and 10 rebounds in a losing effort. Devonte’ Graham also missed a game this week, but averaged 20 points on 9-for-19 3-point shooting in the other two. 2 18-29
22


Knicks
Rough week for the Knicks, who beat the Clippers but lost to the Pelicans, Cavs and Heat, and have now dropped five of their last six. The offense has been anemic, and Julius Randle’s 38 percent shooting from the field this week certainly didn’t help. Kemba Walker looks like that fun stretch leading into his Christmas Day triple-double may have been a bit misleading, as he averaged just 6.7 points on 33 percent shooting in three games this week. 4 23-26
23


Pacers
The Pacers pulled off one of the more miraculous results of the season to start the week, beating the Warriors in overtime with four of their top five scorers out of the lineup. Unfortunately Indiana followed that up with three losses, allowing a franchise-record 158 points to the Hornets on Wednesday. Chris Duarte stepped up to lead the team in scoring with 17.3 points per game this week on 48/44/93 shooting, while Goga Bitadze held down the middle for the injured Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis, putting up 14.5 points and 7.8 rebounds per game. 1 17-32
24


Wizards
This was not a good week for the Wizards, who lost to the Celtics by 29 points at home on Sunday, then blew a 35-point lead in a disastrous loss to the Clippers two nights later. Bradley Beal continues to struggle from 3-point range, shooting 27 percent on fewer than four attempts per game this week. Kyle Kuzma nearly averaged a double-double with 15.5 points and 9.5 rebounds in two games, but Spencer Dinwiddie shot a brutal 28 percent from the field this week. 9 23-25
25


Spurs
The Spurs lost to three of the league’s best teams this week and beat one of the worst, handing the Rockets a 30-point loss on Tuesday. Gregg Popovich said that Dejounte Murray would be an All-Star if San Antonio’s record were better, and he backed it up this week with averages of 19.8 points, 10.8 assists and nine rebounds per game. Jakob Poeltl continued his under-the-radar strong season with 19 points, 9.3 rebounds and 3.3 blocks per game this week. 2 18-31
26


Magic
The Magic were nabbed at home by both L.A. teams this week, but they managed to pick up a 19-point win over the Bulls in between. Seven Magic players scored in double-figures in the impressive win over Chicago, led by Wendell Carter Jr.’s 19 against his former team. Despite the rare tick in the win column, Orlando has still lost 15 of its last 17 games. 3 9-40
27


Pistons
The bad news? The Pistons lost three more games this week. The good news? Cade Cunningham is really starting to figuring it out, which has led to more consistent performances. The 2021 No. 1 overall pick put up 25.7 points, seven assists and 6.3 rebounds per game this week on 50/44/100 shooting splits, including a career-high 34 points in Tuesday’s loss to Denver. He also contributed 2.7 blocks and 1.7 steals per game on the other end. Pistons fans are getting a glimpse of what they hope is a long and fruitful career for Cunningham. 2 11-36
28


Thunder
OKC almost completed a double-digit fourth-quarter comeback against the Bulls on Monday, but ended up losing their third game of the week and sixth in a row overall. That’s certainly not the fault of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who slithered his way to 29.7 points, 7.3 assists and 5.7 rebounds per game this week on 40 percent 3-point shooting. He simply hasn’t gotten any help offensively, which led to the Thunder’s paltry 98.7 points per 100 possessions over the last three games. — 14-33
29


Rockets
Steph Curry’s game-winner prevented the Rockets from picking up an upset win at Golden State, but things weren’t nearly as close in a 30-point loss to the Spurs a few nights later. Houston spread the wealth offensively this week, with seven players averaging 8.5 points or more. Christian Wood led the way with 17 points and 11 rebounds per game on 50 percent 3-point shooting. 3 14-34
30


Kings
The single word, “PAIN,” could suffice for this week’s entire Kings entry, given the drubbings they suffered at the hands of the Celtics and Hawks after losing to the Giannis-less Bucks. Sacramento has lost five games in a row and 10 of its last 12, and shaking things up before the trade deadline — in some way, shape or form — is looking more and more likely. — 18-32

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