NBA power rankings: Warriors hold onto the top spot by a thread
The Warriors had a rough week, but they’re hanging on by a thread at the top of our power rankings while they bide their time until Andrew Bogut returns.
1. Golden State Warriors (24-5, Last week: 1)
They might be from California, but they weren’t dreaming about it through the holiday week. Back-to-back losses in Los Angeles were an ugly look for Golden State, especially trailing by 20 through much of their game against the Lakers — without Kobe Bryant. The Warriors are trying to reintegrate David Lee into their lineup while Andrew Bogut misses time, which is a big personnel shift for a team that’s been very consistent through the first trimester of the season. But nobody else has stepped up enough to shove them off the top spot.
2. Portland Trail Blazers (25-7, Last week: 2)
The Trail Blazers are 8-2 over their last 10 games, and a loss to the Rockets isn’t anything to worry about. Portland should stack up some wins over the next two weeks, sitting back in the
Rose Garden Moda Center until Jan. 11. Portland did close out the week with three wins, but victories over the Kevin Durant-less Thunder, Philadelphia 76ers and New York Knicks aren’t anything to get excited over.
3. Houston Rockets (21-9, Last week: 4)
The acquisition of Josh Smith, at the cost of waiving Tarik Black, makes sense. How that translates for the Rockets over the rest of the season and what they hope is a deep playoff run remains to be seen. Growing pains with new pieces in Smith and Corey Brewer are to be expected, but quality wins over the Portland Trail Blazers and Memphis Grizzlies are dashed by back-to-back losses to the San Antonio Spurs and Washington Wizards.
4. Memphis Grizzlies (22-8, Last week: 3)
The Grizzlies were skidding on a four-game losing streak following their triple-overtime win over the Spurs, but finally stopped the bleeding against the Heat, who were without Chris Bosh. Memphis didn’t capitalize on their chance to leap up after snapping the Warriors’ winning streak and the Trail Blazers and Rockets could make that even harder now.
5. Dallas Mavericks (22-10, Last week: 5)
The Mavericks split their week with two losses and two wins, but this team is still undergoing a big shift with Rajon Rondo on board. Until things smooth out over the next few weeks, the Mavericks will continue bouncing around wins and losses. But Rondo’s pretty good about reminding folks why he’s so valuable still:
On the other hand, Dallas no longer holds the top offensive rating in the NBA, as it now trails the Toronto Raptors by .2 points per 100 possessions. Their offensive efficiency has dropped in each game since Rondo’s arrival:
6. Chicago Bulls (22-9, Last week: 9)
Chicago is en fuego, going on a seven-game winning streak. December has been a great month for the Bulls, who’ve lost just three games (Mavericks, Warriors, Hawks) as they find their groove. It’s still strange that the Bulls’ offense is their key so far, giving them a 5.1 point differential.
7. Washington Wizards (22-8, Last week: 7)
The Wizards are fresh off a statement win over the Rockets but have a tough Western Conference road trip ahead after spending much of their season playing Eastern Conference opponents. Seriously though, Washington played Boston THREE TIMES in December, wrapping up the season-series with the Celtics in roughly three weeks. Scheduling, folks.
8. Atlanta Hawks (22-8, Last week: 6)
The only team that might be enjoying a better December than Chicago is the Hawks, though their losses aren’t to top teams (Magic, Bucks). The Hawks will be put to the test with games against the Cavaliers, Trail Blazers, Clippers and Grizzlies over the next week or so. That “soft” schedule is fading away, so it’s time to prove this is real.
9. Toronto Raptors (24-7, Last week: 8)
Toronto went 8-2 over its last 10 games, and the loss to Chicago was an amazing one if nothing else. Please give us a playoff series of Kyle Lowry and Derrick Rose going shot-for-shot through the game. Please. The Eastern Conference isn’t so bad when the top five-or-so teams are playing one another.
10. San Antonio Spurs (19-13, Last week: 12)
The Spurs are doing that thing where they play possum during the regular season and save up their energy until the playoffs…. maybe. At some point their trio is going to hit a bit of a stumbling block, and we may be seeing it. The reason it’s so glaring is fairly obvious though — the player expected to carry them beyond the Tim Duncan era has been out. Kawhi Leonard has the best net rating of any Spurs player that’s played more than 100 minutes.
11. Los Angeles Clippers (21-11, Last week: 10)
The Clippers’ strength of schedule was low while they rattled off a win streak in late-November. Now you can almost call out the losses without looking at the result because it’s gotten tougher: Wizards (loss), Bucks, Nuggets, Spurs (loss), Hawks (loss), Raptors (loss), Jazz. The only thing going for the Clippers was catching the Warriors on a night where Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry combined to shoot 3-of-15 from deep.
12. Phoenix Suns (18-14, Last week: 15)
The Suns have an important week coming up with road games against the New Orleans Pelicans and Oklahoma City Thunder lined up. Phoenix currently holds the keys to the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference, and winning both of those games could go a long way in securing that spot when the 82-game season comes to an end.
13. Cleveland Cavaliers (18-12, Last week: 11)
The Cavaliers are having a rough time with this “superteam” thing, sometimes sounding about as dysfunctional as the Dwight Howard-led Lakers. Take this “ringing” endorsement of head coach David Blatt from LeBron James:
LeBron James when asked if David Blatt is the “right” coach for the Cavs: “Yeah, I mean, he’s our coach, what other coach do we have?”
— Dave McMenamin (@mcten) December 29, 2014
Fortunately for Cleveland, there’s a lot of basketball to be played still. Let’s not bury the Cavaliers just yet.
14. Oklahoma City Thunder (15-17, Last week: 14)
The Thunder are still awaiting the full return of Kevin Durant, but Russell Westbrook is doing his best to keep them afloat. Oklahoma City has gone 11-5 since his return and he’s already scored at least 30 points in eight of the 18 games he’s played in. Westbrook is playing out of his mind, though his crunch time failures against Portland and New Orleans are a problem.
15. New Orleans Pelicans (15-15, Last week: 13)
The Pelicans have done a very good job of taking care of the “winnable” games on their schedule all season, losing 15 games and notching a .500 record. Eight of those losses were against Western Conference playoff teams, four were against Eastern Conference playoff teams (Hawks, Wizards, Bulls, Cavaliers), and only three were “ugly” losses. Their loss last week to the Pacers, however, is the kind of thing that will keep Anthony Davis out of the playoffs when it’s time to count wins against the the teams vying for that coveted last spot out West.
16. Milwaukee Bucks (16-16, Last week: 16)
The Bucks are the chugging along, chanting “I think I can” while trying to remain a step above the lower-tier of the Eastern Conference. Milwaukee is starting to slide, though, with their net rating now just hitting the negative-zone at -.1. The tough defense they played early in the season has slipped a bit.
17. Miami Heat (14-18, Last week: 17)
The Heat lost to the Philadelphia 76ers? Miami led by 23 points in the second half and still lost? Oh, how the mighty have fallen.
18. Brooklyn Nets (14-16, Last week: 18)
It’s disappointing the Nets are such an afterthought in what sounds like it’ll be the final season of Kevin Garnett’s career. When Deron Williams and Brook Lopez are the seventh and eighth men off the bench, things haven’t gone according to plan.
19. Denver Nuggets (13-18, Last week: 20)
Three losses with a lone win over the Minnesota Timberwolves made for a bad week of Nuggets basketball. Both their offense and defense are bottom-10, and Kenneth Faried’s numbers are down across the board after being rewarded a hefty extension following his strong run with Team USA.
20. Indiana Pacers (11-21, Last week: 23)
George Hill made his season debut for Indiana and is already averaging a team-high 12.8 points per game while he plays off the bench. The Pacers have been cleaned out by injuries and any return will help them at this point.
21. Orlando Magic (13-21, Last week: 19)
22. Sacramento Kings (13-18, Last week: 21)
The Kings are now floating in space following the firing of Michael Malone, but it’s still damn fun to watch DeMarcus Cousins play basketball. Today we bring you the tale of Cousins vs. the Knicks’ defense:
Which is about as good as Cousins dunking all over the Nets’ froncourt:
23. Utah Jazz (10-21, Last week: 25)
Let’s check in on Dante Exum, who had plenty of hype heading into the draft. The rookie is clocking in 18 minutes per game while averaging 4.9 points, 1.6 assists and 1.2 turnovers per game. On 40 percent shooting. It’s not been a stellar, or even good, first campaign for Exum, but at least he’s stayed healthy through 30 games.
24. Charlotte Hornets (10-22, Last week: 24)
The Hornets in a nutshell: Kemba Walker dropped a career-high 42 points on the Magic and Charlotte still lost by eight. The Hornets have gone 4-3 without Lance Stephenson, but their schedule is about to get much harder, which means more losses are on the way.
25. Boston Celtics (10-18, Last week: 22)
Boston has won one game since trading Rajon Rondo (Minnesota Timberwolves), dropping its last four outings. They’ve begun getting Brandan Wright involved, but he’s playing just 10.8 minutes per game and — hold on to your seats — his .748 field goal percentage has dropped to .571 with the Celtics.
26. Detroit Pistons (7-23, Last week: 27)
The Pistons played just two games, but they weren’t short on surprises. How about a 23-point drumming of the Cavaliers that included an 18-0 run! So, yes, Detroit is 2-0 since released Josh Smith. Put that in your diet Pepsi and sip it.
27. Los Angeles Lakers (9-22, Last week: 26)
Kobe Bryant sat out three games, came back, clocked in another 32 minutes and the Lakers still lost. Whether Kobe is “hurting” the Lakers or not, this team is not good and won’t do anything with or without him.
28. Minnesota Timberwolves (5-24, Last week, 29)
Good news: Ricky Rubio is getting ready to return after one of the nastier ankle sprains of the season. Bad news: He’ll be returning to a team currently tied for the longest losing streak in the NBA at eight straight losses.
29. Philadelphia 76ers (4-25, Last week: 30)
How did the 76ers crawl out of the basement this time? By winning four times as many games as the Knicks since they snapped their 17-game losing streak.
30. New York Knicks (5-28, Last week: 28)
So…. the Knicks have won just one game since Nov. 24 (Celtics). Carmelo Anthony’s health isn’t getting any better, and he had to ask out of the Knicks’ blowout loss to the Trail Blazers. Perhaps it’s time for New York to shut him down before it gets any worse.