NBA Power Rankings: Bucks, Lakers keep streaks alive; 76ers making a move; Mavs face life without Luka Doncic
The Bucks and Lakers have clearly separated themselves from the pack, but there are a few teams ready to strike
As the immortal Frank "The Tank" Ricard (not to be confused with Frank "The Tank" Kaminsky) once said: We're going streaking! The last few weeks have been dominated by the Milwaukee Bucks, who have grown their robust winning streak to 18 games en route to a 24-3 record. Not to be outdone, the Los Angeles Lakers have matched their record, and have a modest seven-game winning streak of their own along with 13 straight road wins.
The teams below them in the standings aren't going quietly, though, as the Philadelphia 76ers had a five-game winning streak of their own before Sunday's loss to the Nets. Joel Embiid put on a show against the Celtics, and it appears Philadelphia is starting to hit its stride. Out West, the Dallas Mavericks, owners of the best offensive rating the NBA, are going to face a tough stretch as MVP candidate Luka Doncic heals his sprained ankle. Kristaps Porzingis will have to assume the role of top dog and the role players will have to step up for however long Doncic is out of the lineup.
|1||Bucks||Milwaukee continued its assault on the NBA, dispatching four of the league's worst teams with relative ease. We thought the only prayer for opposing teams was for Giannis to be out of the lineup, but the Bucks smashed the Pelicans with the Greek Freak on the sidelines. The 18-game streak could be in jeopardy this week with games against the Mavericks (without Luka Doncic) and the Lakers, but Milwaukee is playing inspired basketball.||--||49-8|
|2||Lakers||The Lakers kept pace with the Bucks with a 3-0 week, including an impressive victory in Miami over a resilient Heat squad. Their tremendous size was apparent in that win, repeatedly securing offensive rebounds in crucial moments toward the end of the game. Avery Bradley and Rajon Rondo returned healthy, and the Lakers are firing on all cylinders right now.||--||43-12|
|3||Clippers||After three straight wins to start the week, including a big one in Kawhi Leonard's return to Toronto, the Clippers lost to the Bulls with Kawhi, Lou Williams, Patrick Beverley and JaMychal Green sidelined. Paul Geoge went over the 30-minute mark in all four games this week, so it looks like he's back to full strength conditioning-wise, and he dropped 46 points in a win over the Timberwolves.||2||38-19|
|4||Heat||The Heat suffered their first home loss this week at the hands of the Lakers, but gained valuable experience for young players like Kendrick Nunn, Bam Adebayo and Duncan Robinson in the process. This team is deep, talented and unafraid -- don't expect them to drop in the standings any time soon.||--||36-21|
|5||76ers||The Sixers saw their five-game winning streak snapped on Sunday against the Nets without Joel Embiid, but they put up impressive victories over the Nuggets and Celtics to start the week. Embiid responded to trash talk from Charles Barkley and Shaquille O'Neal by going for 38 points and 13 rebounds in the win over Boston. Tobias Harris has been excellent of late, and the Sixers crave his consistency with Embiid, Al Horford and Josh Richardson all in and out of the lineup this season.||2||36-22|
|6||Mavericks||The two games this week for the Mavericks couldn't have been more opposite. First Luka Doncic dropped a 41-point triple-double in a win over the Pistons in Mexico City, and two nights later fans watched him hobble to the locker room after spraining his ankle. Doncic will likely miss at least a few games, so it's time for Kristaps Porzingis to step up and become the No. 1 option. It will be interesting to see what that looks like for a Mavericks team that has been so dependent on Doncic offensively.||--||35-23|
|7||Celtics||The Celtics missed Marcus Smart this week, allowing 38 and 34 fourth-quarter points, respectively, in losses to the Pacers and 76ers. Gordon Hayward returned from a broken hand this week, however, and looked sharp against Philly. When this team has its main guys on the court at the same time, it's dangerous. Credit to the Celtics for being able to win this season even when that's not the case.||4||39-17|
|8||Nuggets||The Nuggets bounced back from a road loss to the 76ers to win the first three games of their five-game homestand. Jamal Murray and Paul Millsap have both been banged up, but Denver has been playing well over the last couple of weeks. Perhaps having played himself into a little bit better shape, Nikola Jokic is looking like the All-Star we expected to see, averaging nearly 25 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists over his last six games.||2||39-18|
|9||Raptors||The Raptors appear to be getting back on track after a slight drop-off. They lost badly against the Clippers in Kawhi Leonard's return game, but looked much better offensively in a win over the Nets. Fred VanVleet has missed the last few games with an injury, which could be a blessing in disguise since he's among the league leaders in minutes played.||--||42-15|
|10||Pacers||Indiana has now won six of eight games, and its only loss this week came to the Clippers. The Pacers are doing more than a respectable job holding down the fort while they wait for Victor Oladipo, with different players stepping up each night. The word "solid" seems to have been invented to describe this group -- they're not flashy, but there are no glaring weaknesses to speak of.||1||33-24|
|11||Rockets||James Harden put on a scoring display by dropping 109 combined points in back-to-back wins over the Cavs and Magic this week. Despite the scoring outburst, there could be one area of concern: Harden has gotten to the free throw line fewer than 10 times in each of his last four games after averaging nearly 14 attempts per game for the season. It might just be a blip, but perhaps the refs are being a little tighter with their whistle or defenses are playing a little smarter. It's definitely worth monitoring moving forward.||3||37-20|
|12||Jazz||The Jazz got back on the winning track against the Timberwolves and Warriors to close out the week, but they didn't exactly look great in the process. Mike Conley remains out with a hamstring injury and the Jazz just haven't looked right on either end despite Joe Ingles stepping up in his absence.||1||36-21|
|13||Nets||The Nets salvaged the week by beating the Joel Embiid-less 76ers after losses to the Hornets and Raptors. Kyrie Irving has yet to be cleared for contact, so Brooklyn will continue riding Spencer Dinwiddie, who has been excellent in Irving's absence. The Nets have cranked up the defense of late, allowing just 101.3 points per 100 possessions over their last three games.||1||26-30|
|14||Kings||The Kings would have had a perfect week were it not for a perplexing home loss to the Knicks. Coach Luke Walton said his team simply stopped playing in the loss, but they bounced back to defeat the Warriors on Sunday. Marvin Bagley is back on the court and De'Aaron Fox is getting closer, which should help the Kings jumpstart their offense.||3||23-33|
|15||Magic||The Magic were victims of a rough schedule this week with losses to the Bucks, Lakers and Rockets. They did, however, take care of business against the Pelicans on Sunday. The big news is that Nikola Vucevic returned to the lineup in the win over New Orleans, putting up 20 points and nine rebounds in 29 minutes.||1||25-32|
|16||Thunder||OKC picked up a big road win in Utah, but then lost to the Kings and Nuggets to close out its road trip. Chris Paul trade rumors will likely resurface now that most players who signed contracts this summer can be traded, but there's little indication that he'll be moved. Danilo Gallinari, on the other hand, should have plenty of suitors.||1||35-22|
|17||Spurs||The Spurs must have a thing for extra basketball, as their last four games have gone to overtime. They suffered a horrific home loss to the Cavs after DeMar DeRozan missed two free throws that could have sealed the game, then beat the struggling Suns in Mexico City. The Spurs' defense has gotten better recently, allowing just 104 points per 100 possessions over their last four games. That could foreshadow some more wins in the future.||1||24-32|
|18||Hornets||Charlotte keeps winning games, and Devonte' Graham is looking like a genuine stud. He averaged 24.3 points and 5.5 assists on 39 percent 3-point shooting in a 3-1 week for the Hornets. Their net rating of minus-6.7 suggests a regression may be on the way, but we can enjoy it while it lasts.||7||19-37|
|19||Suns||The Suns had a chance to put together a small winning streak against some sub-par opponents this week, but they failed to do so. They beat the Timberwolves, but lost to the Grizzlies before falling to the Spurs in Mexico City without Devin Booker. Aron Baynes is slowly working his way back into the rotation, and Ricky Rubio has been excellent, averaging 21 points and almost 12 assists over the Suns' last three games.||--||24-34|
|20||Trail Blazers||The Blazers blew out the Knicks at home, then got blown out by the Nuggets on the road. It will be interesting to see if Portland considers itself close enough to contention to be buyers between now and the trade deadline. The bottom of the West has been so bad that it might make sense -- the Blazers are only 1.5 games out of the eight seed despite their disappointing record.||--||26-32|
|21||Pistons||Detroit showed some real grit by beating the Rockets in Houston without Andre Drummond and Blake Griffin (for most of the game). Reggie Jackson is still at least two weeks away from a return, but Bruce Brown and Luke Kennard have picked up the slack on the perimeter. Brown did an especially noteworthy job guarding Harden and "holding" him to 39 points on 4 of 13 from 3-point range.||--||19-40|
|22||Bulls||Chicago continues to lack any semblance of consistency, playing the Raptors close and destroying the Hawks before losing to the Hornets in a hideous offensive game. Then it turned around and beat the (shorthanded) Clippers on Zach LaVine's game-winning and-one. We have no idea what to expect from night to night with the Bulls, but they're doing enough to at least convince themselves they're still in the playoff race.||--||20-38|
|23||Grizzlies||The Grizzlies won three out of four this week, with their only loss coming to the bulldozer Milwaukee Bucks. It was all about Jaren Jackson Jr. for the Grizz: He scored a career-high 43 points and hit 9-of-15 3-pointers in the loss to the Bucks, and averaged nearly 25 points on 46 percent 3-point shooting for the week. If he can continue to progress with Ja Morant, the Grizzlies are going to have a nice core for the rebuild. Dillon Brooks has also turned into a reliable wing scorer.||5||28-29|
|24||Timberwolves||The Wolves continue to plummet in the standings, losing seven straight after a hot start to the season. Their defense, which had looked much better, has fallen back to the bottom third of the league. Karl-Anthony Towns is shooting 35 percent on 3-pointers during the losing streak after shooting 44 percent before that.||6||16-40|
|25||Knicks||Break up the Knicks! They picked up back-to-back wins over the Warriors and Kings before giving the Nuggets all they could handle in Denver. Maybe it's the effect of having their head coach fired, but they seem to be playing with a bit more energy and purpose. Marcus Morris erupted for 36 points in the overtime win over the Warriors and later reinstated his desire to be in New York as trade season begins, saying "I'm built for New York."||5||17-40|
|26||Cavaliers||The Cavs expectedly lost to the Celtics, Rockets and Bucks this week, while beating the Spurs in a Kevin Love throwback game. The Cavaliers don't have one player on their team averaging three or more assists, which seems almost impossible. Even if they trade Love for decent assets, it's going to be a long road back to relevance for Cleveland.||3||16-41|
|27||Wizards||The Wizards played both games this week with Ian Mahinmi as their only healthy center, which certainly didn't help matters as they dropped winnable games against the Hornets and Grizzlies. Davis Bertans scored a career-high 32 points on blistering 8-of-12 3-point shooting against the Hornets, and as a result was pretty much face-guarded all game by Memphis, going 1-for-6 on 3s with minimal clean looks.||4||20-36|
|28||Hawks||Four more losses for the Hawks this week, but at least they played the Heat and Lakers close. It's pretty bleak in Atlanta right now, and the organization has reportedly assured Trae Young that help is on the way. Other than John Collins returning in the near future, we're not sure what they could mean by that, but the Hawks are certifiably one of the worst teams in the league after garnering some faint playoff buzz to begin the season.||4||17-42|
|29||Pelicans||New Orleans is chasing the Warriors for the most losses in the NBA, and an 0-4 week helped that cause. The defense continues to be awful, and the excitement surrounding this team heading into the season has largely dissipated. It appears that only a return for Zion Williamson, which still might be a ways off, could help the Pelicans now.||3||25-32|
|30||Warriors||If the Warriors aren't going to beat the Grizzlies and Knicks at home, then who are they going to beat? Steve Kerr said his team needs to learn to close out games better, which is difficult with a younger group, but they did play well in Utah. The defense has gotten after from an atrocious start to the season, but offense continues to be a struggle.||3||12-45|
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