NBA Power Rankings: Cavs, Nets duke it out for top spot; Warriors’ tumble continues; 76ers quietly climbing



The Cavs got off to a 4-0 start to their homestand this week, beating the Pacers, Mavs, Jazz and Bucks. The defense has been lights out, allowing just 105.4 points per 100 possessions over Cleveland’s five-game winning streak. Donovan Mitchell continues to deliver on a nightly basis, averaging 31.3 points this week on 51/42/91 shooting splits. Darius Garland has embraced his role as a facilitator next to Mitchell, putting up 19.5 points and a team-high eight assists per game this week. The win over Milwaukee was a statement to the rest of the league that the Cavs belong in any discussion about the East’s top teams. 6 22-12

Brooklyn extended its winning streak to seven games this week by beating the Raptors and Pistons, then dropping 143 points (including 91 in the first half) against a skeleton Warriors roster. This team is just clicking on all cylinders, with Kevin Durant serving as the engine — he averaged 31.3 points per game this week on ungodly 61/55/96 shooting splits. The man is simply unstoppable right now. Kyrie Irving missed the Warriors game, but hit his first-career game-winning buzzer-beater in Toronto and then scored 38 points on 23 shots against Detroit. The Nets have won 11 of their last 12 games and are 2.5 games out of first place in the East. Wild. 4 21-12

The Bucks beat the Jazz and Pelicans before losing to the Cavs in a matchup of Eastern Conference heavyweights. Khris Middleton’s absence left a lot on the shoulders of Giannis Antetokounmpo, who scored 44 against New Orleans and followed that up with 45 in the loss to Cleveland. Brook Lopez found his shooting stroke, going for 30 points against the Pelicans on 12 of 17 from the field, while averaging 20.7 points for the week. 1 22-10

The Nuggets defense looked terrible in a loss to the Lakers last Friday, and Nikola Jokic made sure they didn’t drop another winnable game to the Hornets, putting up an unfathomable line of 40 points, 27 rebounds and 10 assists. He followed that up with another triple-double of 13 points, 13 rebounds and 13 assists in a big win over the Grizzlies on Tuesday to bring Denver back into a tie for first place in the West. Aaron Gordon was second on the team with 20 points and 6.7 rebounds per game this week, while Jamal Murray struggled from the field in the two games he played. 1 20-11

The 76ers have quietly (maybe not for Philly fans) put together a six-game winning streak after wins against the Warriors, Raptors and Pistons this week. Joel Embiid’s efficiency wasn’t up to his usual standard, but he still averaged 28 points, 11.3 rebounds and 4.7 assists. Meanwhile James Harden has been an excellent running mate, putting up 18.7 points and 8.3 assists per game this week. The defense locked down, allowing just 97.7 points per 100 possessions, which makes the Sixers incredibly difficult to beat. 5 19-12

The Power Rankings curse is in full effect, as the Grizzlies dropped two straight games after being freshly minted as the NBA’s No. 1 team last week. Ja Morant was controversially tossed from the OKC game, then a 21-point first-quarter deficit against the Nuggets was too much to overcome. Never shy about letting it fly, Dillon Brooks averaged 19.5 points on 19 shots in the two games, while Morant put up 35 points and 10 assists in the loss to Denver. 5 20-11

Well OK then. The formerly unbeatable Celtics suddenly can’t win a game, losing to the Pacers and twice to the Magic this week — all at home — to make it five losses in their last six games, with their only win coming in overtime against the Lakers. The offense, which was the best in NBA history for a good chunk of the season, mustered a paltry 102 points per 100 possessions in the three losses, with Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown both struggling from 3-point range. One piece of good news is that Robert Williams III made his season debut this week, averaging 7.0 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.3 blocks in 19 minutes over the three games. 5 23-10

The Clippers handled two of the league’s worst teams in the Wizards and Hornets this week, with Kawhi Leonard averaging 23.5 points and eight rebounds in over 30 minutes per game. Luke Kennard has provided some much-needed floor spacing, averaging 16 points in the two games on 8-for-14 3-point shooting. Norm Powell also made his return to the lineup after a 10-game absence, putting up 14 points in 19 minutes in Wednesday’s win over Charlotte. — 19-15

You can’t win ’em all, but the Knicks certainly looked like they were trying to. The Raptors finally put an end to their eight-game winning streak after victories against the Bulls, Pacers and Warriors this week. RJ Barrett, Julius Randle and Jalen Brunson all averaged at least 20 points this week, while Quentin Grimes has been a spark plug on both ends of the floor since being inserted into the starting lineup. He averaged 15.7 points this week on 50 percent 3-point shooting, and in the one game he missed, Pascal Siakam dropped 52 points and the Knicks lost. Coincidence? 3 18-15

The Suns are 18-10 this season with Devin Booker, and 1-3 without him, but it was still surprising that they lost to the Wizards at home on Tuesday without Booker’s services. Two games prior, Booker caught the attention of the entire league by going nuclear with 58 points as he brought his team back from a 24-point deficit to beat the Pelicans. Deandre Ayton returned for the two games that Booker missed, averaging 25.5 points and 12 rebounds, while Chris Paul put up 19.3 points and nine assists per game, shooting 60 percent from 3-point range. 4 19-14

Sacramento went on a scoring spree this week, averaging 125 points per game, but the Kings only came away with two out of three wins thanks to a home loss to Charlotte. De’Aaron Fox averaged 27.7 points and 5.7 assists per game this week, which makes it hard to believe he wasn’t even the best player on his own team. Domantas Sabonis has been dominant, averaging 21.3 points, 19 rebounds and 8.7 assists this week on 66 percent shooting. It certainly helps the offense when Kevin Huerter, Harrison Barnes and Keegan Murray all shoot better than 43 percent from 3-point range, as they have in the past three games. 2 17-14

The Jazz lost to two good teams this week (Bucks, Cavs) before beating two bad teams (Pistons, Wizards). Lauri Markkanen went off for a career-high 38 points and nine 3-pointers against Detroit, continuing his All-Star-caliber season. He shot 58 percent from behind the arc this week, and now sits at 44 percent on nearly seven attempts per game for the season. Collin Sexton returned from a hamstring injury on Thursday and put on a show, scoring 18 points on 6-for-7 shooting in just 17 minutes. 3 19-16

The Pelicans’ losing streak reached four games after losses to the Jazz, Suns and Bucks to start the week, but luckily the Spurs came to town on Thursday. New Orleans handily won without the services of Zion Williamson, who is in health and safety protocols. After a slow start following his own return from the dreaded protocols, CJ McCollum heated up this week in a big way, averaging 32.7 points on 55 percent 3-point shooting, including a near triple-double of 40 points, nine assists and eight rebounds in the win over San Antonio. 10 20-12

The Wolves got some forward momentum going this week with wins over the Thunder, Bulls and Mavs, before dropping the second of two straight games against Dallas. Minnesota scored a franchise-record 150 points against Chicago on 66 percent shooting, led by 37 points from Anthony Edwards and 28 from D’Angelo Russell. Rudy Gobert made his return to the lineup in the loss to Dallas, putting up 19 points and 15 rebounds on 9-for-11 shooting. Naz Reid made the most of Gobert’s absence, scoring 28 and 27 points, respectively, in the two full games he played. He left early in the Bulls game due to a trapezius injury, but had already scored 10 points in 12 minutes without missing a shot. 5 16-17

Dallas beat the Blazers on Friday, then lost to the Cavs in overtime before splitting with the Wolves in consecutive games. The offense exploded for 130 points in the win over Portland, but put up just 106.9 points per 100 possessions in the next three games. Luka is Luka — he averaged 25.7 points, 8.7 assists and seven rebounds this week on 41 percent 3-point shooting — but the question is, as it always has been, who will come with him? Christian Wood was finally inserted into the starting lineup for the Mavs’ last three games, and he put up 17.7 points, 10.7 rebounds and two blocks per game. With most of the rotation players resting against Cleveland, vintage Kemba Walker made an appearance, as he dropped 32 points and seven assists in 42 minutes while nearly leading the Mavs to an improbable win. 3 17-16

Indiana lost to the Cavs and Knicks this week, but picked up a big road win over the Celtics on Wednesday. Tyrese Haliburton continued his incredible assist-to-turnover magic, putting up 10.7 assists compared to just 2.0 turnovers per game this week. He also averaged 21.7 points, including 33 in the win in Boston. Aaron Nesmith, whom head coach Rick Carlisle called “a dream to work with,” has come on of late as the starting power forward, averaging 17.3 points and 6.7 rebounds this week on 47 percent 3-point shooting. — 17-16

The Heat split games with the Spurs and Bulls this week, as injury problems continue to rear their ugly head. Bam Adebayo was excellent, averaging 24.5 points, 12.5 rebounds and 4.5 assists in the two games, while Tyler Herro cooled off a bit, but still averaged 20 points. Pressed into duty, Victor Oladipo played 34 minutes in each game, a great sign for his health after dealing with so many injuries. 2 16-17

Trail Blazers
Rough week for the Blazers, whose only win came against the Rockets while losing to the Mavs and dropping consecutive one-possession games to the Thunder. Damian Lillard averaged 23.3 points but shot just 40 percent from the field, while Anfernee Simons added 17.5 points per game on 39 percent 3-point shooting. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander beat them with an unguardable game-winner in the first OKC loss, but still, Portland isn’t playing its best basketball on either end. 7 17-16

The Hawks took care of the Hornets on Friday before two single-possession games — beating the Magic by one after nearly losing a 13-point lead with seven minutes left, then losing to the Bulls on a reversal of their own last-second win in the same matchup a week ago. Dejounte Murray returned from his five-game absence, during which the Hawks allowed 117.5 points per 100 possessions and went 2-3. He averaged up 16 points, 6.5 assists and five rebounds in two games, while Trae Young caught fire from distance, putting up 34 points and 9.3 assists per game for the week. 1 17-16

Are the Magic suddenly the best team in the NBA? They beat the Celtics in two straight road games to extend their win streak to six, then saw it snapped in a loss to the Hawks by a single point before picking things right back up again with a win over the Rockets. The big difference is the defense, which allowed 107.6 points per 100 possessions this week compared to 113.9 for the season. Paolo Banchero led the way offensively with averages of 23 points and 4.5 assists, while Markelle Fultz was solid, putting up 13.8 points, 5.3 assists and four rebounds per game. 4 13-21

In a great week, OKC beat the Grizzlies and the Blazers twice, with their only loss coming by two points to the Wolves. Once again the Shai Gilgeous-Alexander show was in full effect, as he put up 32.3 points per game this week on 44 percent 3-point shooting. But the Thunder also managed to beat the Grizzlies without him, with Lu Dort scoring 24 points and sharpshooter Isaiah Joe pouring in 23 on 5 for 8 from beyond the arc. SGA proved his worth, however, by hitting the game-winner as time expired in the first Portland win, then making two clutch free throws late in the second. 6 14-19

In a post-AD injury world, the Lakers rattled off wins over the Nuggets and Wizards before losing to the Suns and Kings. LeBron James is doing his best to keep his team afloat, averaging 31.3 points, 8.0 assists and 7.3 rebounds in three games this week. He also shot 56 percent from the field despite going just 2 for 12 from 3-point range. Dennis Schroder transitioned into a secondary scorer, averaging 18.8 points in four games this week, while Thomas Bryant has stepped up admirably in place of Davis, putting up 17.5 points and 7.8 rebounds per game. 1 13-19

The Bulls had a proverbial airing of grievances midway through allowing 150 points in a loss to the Wolves on Sunday, and they responded with wins over the Heat and Hawks during which they gave up just 105.5 points per game. Ayo Dosunmu was the hero in Wednesday’s win over Atlanta, collecting DeMar DeRozan’s airball and getting the putback to fall just before the final buzzer sounded, exacting revenge on the Hawks for their last-second win in the same matchup last week. Zach LaVine, who is/was reportedly unhappy with the direction of the team, averaged 20.5 points and 5.3 assists this week on 48 percent 3-point shooting, while DeMar DeRozan put up 23.8 points per game on 53 percent shooting. 1 14-18

The Warriors were able to salvage one win against the Raptors this week, as the road trip from hell mercifully comes to an end. Golden State went 1-5 on the sojourn, losing by a combined 68 points in the final two games against the Knicks and Nets. Jordan Poole was tasked with carrying the scoring and playmaking load for the Steph Curry-less, Andrew Wiggins-less offense, averaging 27.8 points per game this week, including a career-high 43 in the win over Toronto — though he averaged more turnovers than assists. Klay Thompson struggled in a larger offensive role, averaging 13.3 points in three games this week on 35 percent shooting. The Warriors have to be elated to be back in San Francisco, as they await a Christmas Day matchup with the Grizzlies. 7 15-18

You just never know in the NBA. The Raptors looked out of sorts, losers of six straight games, including one at home to the Warriors without Steph Curry and Andrew Wiggins. And then, boom, they go out and beat the red-hot Knicks to snap their eight-game winning streak. Toronto can thank Pascal Siakam, who put up a career-high 52 points in the win at MSG, which boosted his average to 33.5 points for the week on 43 percent 3-point shooting. Fred VanVleet put up 24.5 points per game, while OG Anunoby returned for the last two games of the week after four games on the shelf, averaging 14 points and five rebounds. 4 15-18

Well the good news is, the Wizards won a game this week. The upset victory in Phoenix was surrounded by three more losses, however, making it 11 losses in their last 12 games. Bradley Beal returned from a hamstring injury for the final three games of the week, averaging 28.7 points and 4.7 assists but failing to make a single 3-pointer. Kyle Kuzma kept doing his thing with 22.3 points and 8.3 rebounds per game, while Kristaps Porzingis has missed the last two games due to an illness. Washington has been much better with all three of them on the court, so perhaps a healthy stretch will help turn things around. 3 13-21

Steve Clifford called out the defense last week, and hey, it led to marginal improvement. Charlotte allowed 115.6 points per 100 possessions, compared to 126.8 last week, and managed to pick up a much-needed win over the Kings, their only victory in their last 10 games. They also lost to the Hawks, Nuggets and Clippers, with LaMelo Ball averaging 26.5 points, eight assists and 5.8 rebounds for the week on 44 percent 3-point shooting. Gordon Hayward made his return to the lineup this week after missing eight games with a shoulder injury, putting up 12.3 points and 6.8 rebounds per game. 3 9-24

San Antonio lost to the Heat and Pelicans this week, with a win over the Rockets in between. It’s probably not a good sign when the most notable news surrounding your team is that Jeremy Sochan started shooting one-handed free throws, but they are a sight to behold. Since the change, the rookie has gone 8-for-14 (57 percent) from the stripe — a modest upgrade over the 46 percent he shot using two hands. If anything, the newfound confidence made him more aggressive offensively, as he scored a career-high 23 points and made seven of 10 free throws in Thursday’s loss to the Pelicans. 2 10-22

It was an ugly week for the Pistons, who lost four games including non-competitive efforts against the Jazz and 76ers. The defense allowed 121.6 points per 100 possessions, which isn’t going to lead to many wins with Detroit’s limited offense. Bojan Bogdanovic led the team in scoring this week at 18.3 points per game, while rookie Jaden Ivey put up 18 points per game and knocked down 42 percent of his 3-pointers. Fellow rookie Jalen Duren is opening some eyes as a starter, putting up 11.3 points and snatching 11.8 rebounds per game (4.3 on the offensive end) this week. 1 8-27

If the Rockets are going to lose at home to the Spurs and Magic, there’s not much hope for wins this season. They’ve now lost four straight home games as the offense sputtered to 104 points per 100 possessions this week. Jalen Green is mired in one of his cold streaks, so Kevin Porter Jr. led the team with 19.7 points and 4.3 assists per game. Kenyon Martin Jr. has been a nice boost off the bench, putting up 13 points, 5.7 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game this week on 65 percent shooting — plus more than a few highlight dunks, as usual. 5 9-23

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