NBA Power Rankings: Surprising Jazz earn top spot; Nets jelling without Kyrie Irving; Lakers hit rock bottom


1


Jazz
A couple good weeks could have been written off as a fluke, but the Jazz have ensured that we take them seriously by rattling off four straight wins and moving into first (!) place in the Western Conference. They truly are one of the most remarkable stories so far this season, as many had written them off as a tank candidate whose parts, while interesting, weren’t exactly a fit. Yeah, we were all wrong. The league’s second-best offense was paced this week by Lauri Markkanen, who put up 25 points and 8.3 rebounds per game on 56/46/96 shooting splits. Collin Sexton has only bolstered their attack as he’s gotten healthier and received more minutes. At 34 years old, Will Hardy is the early favorite for Coach of the Year. 3 10-3
2


Celtics
Boston went streaking this week with wins over the Bulls, Knicks, Grizzlies and Pistons, bringing its record to 8-3. The offense is clicking, putting up 122.6 points per 100 possessions this week behind 33 points per game from Jayson Tatum on 38 percent 3-point shooting. Jaylen Brown added over 24 points per game, while Sam Hauser has filled a valuable rotation spot by averaging 13.5 points per game on 54 percent 3-point shooting for the week. 3 9-3
3


Bucks
Well, the Bucks won’t go undefeated this season, but they still won three of four games this week, including a gritty overtime victory over the Thunder without Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jrue Holiday. In their absence, Brook Lopez turned back the clock for an old-school performance in the post, scoring 24 points while pulling down 13 rebounds and blocking five shots. In the same game, Jevon Carter put up a career-high 36 points and 12 assists while knocking down five 3-pointers. 2 10-2
4


Trail Blazers
The Blazers are one of the most exciting teams in the league right now, having picked up four more wins this week with their only loss coming in the second half of a baseball-style two-game series in Phoenix. Two of those wins, over quality opponents in the Suns and Pelicans, came without Damian Lillard. It helps that Jerami Grant caught fire, averaging 23.5 points on 55 percent 3-point shooting and hitting the game-winner in the first Phoenix game (forget about that pesky last two minute report). This is just a cohesive unit that’s just finding ways to win games, no matter who’s on the floor. Credit to Chauncey Billups, and to the players for buying in. 2 9-3
5


Hawks
The Hawks went 3-1 this week, notably delivering the Bucks their first loss of the season on Monday. The defense has been on point, allowing 103.1 points per 100 possessions this week with Trae Young and Dejounte Murray each averaging two steals per game. Those dudes can score too, with Young putting up 27.3 points per game and Murray adding 20.8, while each dished out nearly eight assists per game. It’s impressive that the Hawks have gotten off to an 8-4 start while making the fourth-fewest 3-pointers in the NBA. For reference, last season they made the 11th-most. 5 8-4
6


Nuggets
The Nuggets finished off a 3-0 week in style, erasing an 18-point lead while Nikola Jokic sat on the bench with five fouls against the Pacers. Jokic averaged 23.7 points, 8.7 assists and six rebounds for the week, while Michael Porter Jr. continued his incredible marksmanship from 3-point range, hitting 48 percent. Bones Hyland is making an early bid for Sixth Man of the Year, averaging 20 points over his last four games. 5 8-4
7


Grizzlies
The Grizzlies went 3-1 this week, but will wonder what could have been if Ja Morant didn’t slip in the backcourt with a chance to tie the game on the final possession against the Celtics. Morant averaged 24.3 points and 7.8 assists this week, while Desmond Bane continues to scorch nets in every arena he visits, putting up 24.5 points per game this week on 45 percent 3-point shooting. 2 9-4
8


Clippers
The Clippers put together a good week, beating the Spurs, Cavs and Lakers with a loss to the unstoppable Jazz. Kawhi Leonard is out indefinitely (not great!) but Paul George has no problem filling in as the primary scorer and playmaker, as he put up 30.3 points and 4.3 assists per game this week on 42 percent 3-point shooting. Marcus Morris, Norm Powell and Ivica Zubac contributed double-digit scoring, while John Wall averaged 12.3 points and six assists in just over 26 minutes per game. George’s contorting, and-one layup gave the Clippers the lead for good in the big win over Cleveland on Monday. 7 7-5
9


Cavaliers
The Cavs started off their four-game road trip on a high note with wins over the Pistons and Lakers, but the defense slipped a bit in losses to the Clippers and Kings. Darius Garland has struggled to get his shooting bearings after returning from injury, but he still orchestrated the offense with nine assists per game this week. Donovan Mitchell kept up his high-volume, high-efficiency scoring, averaging 33.7 points on laughable 60/47/88 shooting splits in three games. 7 8-4
10


Suns
The Suns went 2-2 this week, splitting with the Blazers to go along with a win over the Wolves and a loss to the 76ers. Chris Paul was hampered by a heel issue for most of the week, finally missing Wednesday’s win over Minnesota. That allowed Cam Payne to thrive in the starting role, as he put up 23 points, eight assists and six rebounds. Devin Booker continued his onslaught, averaging 27.3 points and 5.8 assists this week on 50 percent 3-point shooting. 7 8-4
11


Raptors
Toronto went 2-2 this week, splitting a two-game set with the Bulls, beating the Rockets and losing to the Mavericks. They’ve played their last three games without Pascal Siakam, an early All-NBA candidate who will be out for at least two weeks with an adductor strain. Fred VanVleet has picked up the slack since returning from his own injury, putting up nearly 30 points and six assists per game this week on 46 percent 3-point shooting. OG Anunoby had a strong week as well, averaging 22.3 points, 6.8 rebounds and 3.5 steals on 46 percent 3-point shooting. He’s recorded at least three steals in six consecutive games. 4 7-6
12


Mavericks
The Mavericks beat the Raptors and Nets by a combined three points, then suffered disappointing losses to the Magic and short-handed Wizards to close out the week. It begs the question as to whether there’s just too much burden on the shoulders of Luka Doncic, whose remarkable streak of 30-point games to start the season came to an end on Wednesday (he also “only” scored 22 on Thursday). Spencer Dinwiddie has flourished of late as a secondary playmaker and scorer, averaging 21.3 points and 5.8 assists this week on 48/42/93 shooting splits, but the Mavs only managed 104.5 points per 100 possessions. Luckily, the defense has been good enough to keep them in most games, but they’re going to need some role players to step up. 4 6-5
13


Nets
Kevin Durant said it best after Brooklyn’s win over the Knicks on Wednesday: “We’re on the same page.” That applies to on-court performance, but could also explain why the team has won three of four games (the only loss was by two points to Dallas) since a certain distraction was removed from the equation. The Nets also scrapped persistent Ime Udoka rumors by making Jacque Vaughn the permanent head coach, creating at least temporary stability within the organization. Durant inexplicably missed his second of three free throws that could have tied the game against the Mavs, but intentionally missed the third one so well that the Nets got another chance. He’s been absolutely breathtaking of late, averaging 27.5 points, 8.3 rebounds and 7.3 assists this week despite subpar 3-point shooting. 16 5-7
14


Pelicans
The Pelicans beat the shell Warriors roster and the Bulls this week, while taking an overtime loss against the Hawks. More perplexing were the losses to the Pacers and the short-handed Blazers without Damian Lillard or Jusuf Nurkic. Leading the way was Zion Williamson, who averaged 23.8 points this week on 61 percent shooting, while Brandon Ingram returned from concussion protocols to put up 21.4 points per game on 52 percent 3-point shooting. 1 6-6
15


76ers
The Sixers put together an impressive win over the Suns this week, but it was sandwiched between losses to the Knicks and Hawks. You don’t often go 1-2 when holding opponents to just 98 points per 100 possessions, but the Sixers offense bordered on anemic this week with James Harden out of the lineup. Joel Embiid provided a much-needed boost, returning from an illness to average 29.5 points and 11.5 rebounds against the Suns and Hawks, but he also had four more turnovers than assists. Tyrese Maxey needs to play at an All-Star level if the Sixers are going to survive with Harden out, and he shot below 30 percent from the field this week — just not going to cut it. 1 5-7
16


Pacers
The Pacers appeared to be on their way to a perfect week, but a furious comeback by the Nuggets forced them to settle for 2-1. Still, those wins over the Heat and Pelicans are quality, and they were led by a quartet of 20-plus-point scorers this week in Myles Turner, Tyrese Haliburton, Buddy Hield and rookie Bennedict Mathurin. Turner added 10 rebounds and three blocks per game, while Haliburton averaged a double-double with 11.3 assists per game. Mathurin scored 30 points in 25 minutes in the loss to Denver. This really is a fun team to watch. 6 5-6
17


Bulls
The Bulls lost to the Celtics and Pelicans this week, while splitting consecutive games with the Raptors. The Alex Caruso-Goran Dragic lineups continue to be a juggernaut, now sitting at a plus-25.8 net rating in 162 minutes. Things haven’t fared so well for the more high-profile DeMar DeRozan-Zach LaVine combo, which has a net rating of minus-10.2 in 188 minutes. DeRozan led the team with 27 points per game this week, while Nikola Vucevic averaged 18.8 points and 11 rebounds on 50 percent 3-point shooting. 1 6-7
18


Wizards
The Wizards played three of their four games this week without Bradley Beal, who is in health and safety protocols, and they went 2-1 without him, including an impressive win over Dallas on Thursday with Kristaps Porzingis also out of the lineup. Kyle Kuzma went wild, putting up 36 points, 11 rebounds and six assists on 5-for-11 3-point shooting to help take down the Mavericks. Rui Hachimura also had a solid week, averaging 14 points on 53.5 percent shooting, while Jordan Goodwin came out of nowhere to average 9.3 points, 6.3 rebounds and 5.3 assists in the last three games without Beal. 2 6-6
19


Knicks
The Knicks took care of business against the 76ers and Wolves this week, while falling to the Celtics and Nets. The offense continues to struggle, even with Julius Randle, RJ Barrett and Jalen Brunson all averaging over 20 points for the week. Randle led the way with 25.3 points per game on 48.5 percent 3-point shooting, but the Knicks simply haven’t gotten the necessary production from the bench. Their offensive rating drops from 112.4 to 99.2 when Brunson sits. 5 6-6
20


Kings
The Kings’ record may say 2-1 this week, but they’ll contend that it should be 3-0, as the league admitted that Kevin Huerter should have received three free throws on his final attempt to tie the game against the Warriors (not the first time Kings fans have been rightfully upset after reading a last two minute report). De’Aaron Fox played hero with a buzzer-beating logo 3-pointer to take down the Magic, and Wednesday’s win over the Cavs was Sacramento’s best offensive effort of the season. Fox continued his prolific start, averaging 26.7 points and 5.7 assists this week, while Domantas Sabonis chipped in 21.7 points, 10 rebounds and six assists on 57 percent shooting. 3 5-6
21


Heat
After losses to the Pacers and Blazers, the Heat needed some major heroics from Jimmy Butler to narrowly escape with an overtime win at home against the struggling Hornets on Thursday. He put up a season-high 35 points to go along with 10 rebounds and eight assists, scoring 11 points in the final three minutes of regulation and overtime. Tyler Herro has missed the last two games with an ankle sprain, opening the door for Max Strus and Gabe Vincent to get more opportunity. 4 5-7
22


Timberwolves
Chris Finch said his team “short-cutted a few things” because they thought they were going to be good. Well, he knows they’re not good right now, with their only win this week coming against the bottom-dwelling Rockets. Losses to the Bucks, Knicks and Suns showed the Wolves are nowhere near the contender many expected them to be … at least not right now. Rudy Gobert has shored up the defense, as expected, but the offense has been abysmal with him on the court, generating just 102.1 points per 100 possessions, compared to 116.2 when he sits. 3 5-8
23


Warriors
The Warriors only had two games this week — and that’s probably a good thing with the way they’re playing. They DNP’d four of the five starters to complete a winless road trip with a loss to the Pelicans, then scratched and clawed to get a three-point home win over the Kings, though the league admitted that Kevin Huerter should have earned three free throws to potentially tie the game after an incorrect no-call on the final possession. Steve Kerr switched up the bench rotation against Sacramento with hopes of getting some semblance of help, adding Anthony Lamb and Jonathan Kuminga while dropping JaMychal Green and James Wiseman, but it didn’t make much difference. Steph Curry, Andrew Wiggins and Draymond Green were all plus-16 or higher in the win, while every bench player had a negative plus-minus. 5 5-7
24


Spurs
Rough week for the Spurs after a hot start, as they dropped four straight games to three strong opponents. The offense went cold and the defense got porous — not a good equation for winning games. Devin Vassell was a bright spot, averaging 22 points per game on blistering 52 percent 3-point shooting, while Keldon Johnson was right behind him, putting up 21.8 points per game on 37 percent from deep. 12 6-7
25


Thunder
OKC missed opportunities for wins against the Pistons and depleted Bucks this week, settling for an 0-3 record. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was nearly the hero in Wednesday night’s loss to the Bucks, but his go-ahead 3-pointer with less than a second left was followed by Brook Lopez getting fouled on a lob play, which led to overtime. The Thunder guard continues his stellar season, putting up 30 points and four assists per game this week on 52 percent shooting. 7 5-7
26


Magic
Orlando lost close games to the Kings and Rockets to start the week, but bounced back for an impressive win over the Mavericks without the services of Rookie of the Year favorite Paolo Banchero. Give credit to the Magic defense for holding Luka Doncic to fewer than 30 points for the first time this season. Before his injury, Banchero scored 30-plus points in back-to-back games, while Franz Wagner put up 25.3 points and 6.3 assists per game this week on 61 percent shooting. — 4-9
27


Pistons
The Pistons lost to two good teams this week in the Cavs and Celtics, but managed to pick up a win over the Thunder in between. Offense was hard to come by this week, with Saddiq Bey leading the team with 20.3 points per game, though he shot just 25 percent from 3-point range. Rookie guard Jaden Ivey flashed his rebounding skills, collecting nine per game this week to go along with 17 points and five assists. It’s hard to win games when you shoot 28 percent from the 3-point line, so in a way Detroit should be happy to have come away with one victory. — 3-10
28


Rockets
The Rockets found a team they could beat this week, taking the Magic down in a barnburner in Orlando, but they also lost to the Wolves and Raptors. Jalen Green looked more like the player who closed last season, averaging 25.3 points per game this week on 39 percent 3-point shooting, while dishing out 4.3 assists per game. Kevin Porter Jr. struggled from the field, but Houston received a nice boost from another junior, Kenyon Martin Jr., who averaged 17 points on 56 percent 3-point shooting in fewer than 27 minutes per game. 2 2-10
29


Hornets
It’s rare to get a five-game week in the NBA, and it’s even rarer to lose all five. Thus is the current state of the Hornets, who have suffered from injury problems all season long. Thursday’s overtime loss to the Heat was a valiant effort, with Kelly Oubre and Terry Rozier doing their best to will Charlotte to victory. They averaged 20 and 21 points for the week, respectively, though neither was particularly efficient. With a healthy LaMelo Ball and Gordon Hayward, this team could at least be a fringe contender, but right now they’re in a tailspin. 4 3-10
30


Lakers
It’s not quite panic time for the Lakers with some more favorable games coming up, but after four more losses and the NBA’s worst net rating this week, it’s getting close. As if the dismal record weren’t enough, LeBron James is expected to miss some time with an adductor injury. This team plays hard, but so far they just haven’t been good enough to keep the score close against quality opponents. Most of us are aware of the offensive struggles, but the Lakers’ defense has fallen off after a strong start, putting even more strain on James, Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook to create points. The good news is, Westbrook has continued to play well off the bench, averaging 20.3 points and 7.5 assists per game this week on 52/50/94 shooting splits. 9 2-10

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