NBA Power Rankings: Heat make statement; Luka Doncic helps Mavs pick up where they left off; Jazz tuned up
Christmas Day taught us a few lessons, but the rest of the week made things more complicated
Christmas is the most important day of the early NBA season, as it gives us a chance to take stock of the league and see which teams are truly contenders. The results are in from the 2019 edition, with the Clippers, 76ers and Celtics emerging from the day's games with convincing wins over tough opponents.
There was a bit of a hangover, however, as all three of those teams suffered post-Christmas losses, proving once again that in this league, the only thing we truly know is that we know nothing. One thing we know right now is that the Miami Heat are scorching hot (masterful pun, we know). They picked up three wins over quality teams this week, and made a jump in the Power Rankings as a result. And despite the Bucks' concerning loss on Christmas, their performance in the final two games of the week without Giannis Antetokounmpo were enough to maintain the top spot.
Also moving up are the Utah Jazz, who appear to be hitting their stride despite Mike Conley being on the shelf, and the Mavericks received a shot in the arm with the return of Luka Doncic, who picked up right where he left off with ridiculous stat lines and contagious energy.
Here are this week's NBA Power Rankings.
|1||Bucks||The Christmas Day loss to the 76ers has to scare Bucks fans, since Philly showed an ability to at least contain Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Greek Freak missed the next two games with back soreness, but the well-oiled Bucks machine beat the Hawks and Magic without much trouble. Ersan Ilyasova was an absolute monster in the two games without Antetokounmpo, averaging 17.5 points and 15.5 rebounds while hitting 7-of-8 3-pointers. Next man up, indeed.||--||49-8|
|2||Heat||Jimmy Butler and the Heat passed a series of difficult tests this week, defending their home court with narrow wins over the Jazz, Pacers and 76ers to run their winning streak to five games. These types of nail-biters against quality opponents only further prepare the Heat for their potential playoff battles, and Butler has proven himself to be the leader they expected him to be. He averaged 21.7 points, 8.7 rebounds and 5.7 assists in the three wins this week, compared to just 1.7 turnovers. They continued to receive great play from Bam Adebayo, and Tyler Herro had the biggest clutch moment of his young career in the win over the 76ers.||5||36-21|
|3||Nuggets||Denver kept rolling this week, with the exception of a rough loss to the Pelicans at home on Christmas. The Nuggets' depth has been on display recently, as they've been able to manage injuries to Paul Millsap and Gary Harris thanks to role players like Jerami Grant, Mason Plumlee, Malik Beasley and Monte Morris. Nikola Jokic has found his form of late, averaging 22.4 points, 10.0 rebounds and 7.8 assists with 48 percent 3-point shooting over his last 10 games.||1||39-18|
|4||Clippers||After once again asserting their L.A. superiority against the Lakers on Christmas, the Clippers dropped a home game to the Jazz on Saturday. The team continues to play up and down as Doc Rivers attempts to figure out the rotations for what is now almost a completely healthy roster (Montrezl Harrell missed the loss to the Jazz due to illness). The Christmas game proved, however, that when the Clippers are clicking they're the best team in the NBA.||4||38-19|
|5||Lakers||The Lakers dropped their fourth straight game -- a loss on Christmas to the Clippers -- but they ended the streak against the Blazers and then picked up a big win against Dallas at home on Sunday. Despite the wins, the concern about the health of LeBron James and Anthony Davis remains -- both are listed as questionable seemingly before every game. Kyle Kuzma looked like he was turning the corner, but then had a rough night against the Mavs. If he doesn't get more consistent, the Lakers may need to look elsewhere for that much-needed third scorer.||1||43-12|
|6||Celtics||The Celtics were absolutely rolling, winners of five straight before a rough home loss to the shorthanded Raptors. They had just beaten the same Raptor team in Toronto on Christmas, with a win over the Cavs in between. Gordon Hayward has looked solid since returning from a vaguely described foot injury, while Jaylen Brown has put together the best scoring stretch of his career. He scored 30 points on Christmas before putting up a career-high 34 against the Cavs two days later.||3||39-17|
|7||76ers||The Sixers gave us a glimpse of what they could be in a dominant win over the Bucks on Christmas, and then proceeded to lose to the Magic before a late-game collapse against the Heat. It's so hard to figure this Philly team out, but their ceiling is clearly as high as any team in the East, maybe any team in the NBA. The question is, how often will we get to see it?||4||36-22|
|8||Jazz||The Jazz have won eight of their last 10 games, and punctuated the strong run with a big road win against the Clippers on Saturday. Donovan Mitchell is making a strong All-Star case, averaging 26 points and 7.7 assists on 38 percent 3-point shooting over the team's last three games. The Jazz defense still isn't where Quin Snyder would like it to be, but the offense has carried them over the last 10 games with a 114.4 rating, good for fifth in the NBA.||4||36-21|
|9||Mavericks||The Mavs lost to the Lakers on a back-to-back to close out the week, but all is right in the world because Luka Doncic is back in action. He was breathtaking in a win over the Warriors, alleviating any concerns of lingering issues from his ankle injury. Dallas continues to have one of the more explosive offenses in the NBA, and the confidence the role players gained from Doncic's absence only helps matters.||1||35-23|
|10||Raptors||The Raptors deserve a ton of credit for not just surviving, but thriving with the various injuries that they've endured all season. Without leading scorer Pascal Siakam, starting center Marc Gasol and key contributor Norman Powell, Toronto had a 1-3 week with losses to the Pacers, Celtics and Thunder. They got revenge on the Celtics in Boston, however, two days after Christmas in an impressive win. The Raptors are a serious Eastern Conference threat -- they just need to have all their guys playing at the same time.||6||42-15|
|11||Rockets||In one of the biggest upsets in NBA Christmas history, the Rockets lost to the pesky Warriors in an uninspired effort. They beat the Kings and the Nets and finished the week with the B-squad losing to the Pelicans without James Harden or Russell Westbrook. When the Rockets are engaged, they're one of the league's top teams, but they tend to have focus issues and play down to their competition.||6||37-20|
|12||Pacers||The Pacers battled their way to an overtime win in Toronto before dropping a one-point game to the Heat, and it must have worn them out since they lost to the Pelicans by 22 on Saturday. Malcolm Brogdon missed all three games, which gives the Pacers an excuse for the losses, but also raises concerns given Brogdon's injury history. Aaron Holiday stepped up in his absence, leading the team with 20.3 points and seven assists over the last three games.||3||33-24|
|13||Thunder||OKC suffered an unexpected home loss to the Grizzlies coming off a win over the Clippers, but bounced back with an impressive one-point win in Toronto. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander continued his phenomenal play, tying a career-high with 32 points to go alond with seven rebounds in his native Toronto. The Thunder continue to look like a playoff team in the West.||--||35-22|
|14||Nets||The Nets had four days off over the holidays, and they were a little sluggish after the break. They lost to the Knicks ... at home ... by 12 ... and then watched James Harden drop 44 on them in a loss in Houston. Kyrie Irving has been ruled out for another week, and the extra offensive load may finally be getting to Spencer Dinwiddie, who shot 31 percent from the field and 19 percent 3-pointers in the two losses this week.||--||26-30|
|15||Spurs||The Spurs offense exploded in wins this week over the Grizzlies and Pistons, putting up 281 points combined. They sputtered against the Mavericks, however, and dropped a close game in Luka Doncic's return. LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan each averaged over 25 points per game for the week, and Aldridge went 9 for 13 from the 3-point line in the three games -- a good sign for the team that makes the fewest 3s per game in the NBA.||1||24-32|
|16||Magic||The Magic picked up a big home win over the 76ers (though they almost gave it away at the end), but followed that up by losing to the Bucks without Giannis Antetokounmpo. The offense has gotten marginally better since the return of Nikola Vucevic, but the defense has gotten worse. Terrence Ross is on one of his hot streaks, which usually bodes well for Orlando, but Aaron Gordon's offensive struggles have continued -- he's dropped five percentage points since last season in both field goals and 3-pointers.||5||25-32|
|17||Grizzlies||Memphis beat the Thunder and Hornets but lost to the Spurs and Nuggets this week, but it continues to improve as the season goes along. Brandon Clarke is looking like a good find at No. 21 overall, averaging 14 points and 1.3 blocks in just 22 minutes per game this week.||1||28-29|
|18||Bulls||The Bulls split two games this week -- a loss to the Magic and a blowout win over the Hawks without Trae Young. Zach LaVine continues to fill it up, while Lauri Markkanen has turned up his offense recently, averaging 18.8 points on 52 percent field goals and 36 percent 3-pointers over his last five games.||1||20-38|
|19||Pelicans||Nothing like a loss to the Warriors to get things on the right track! The Pelicans have played inspired basketball, putting together consecutive wins over the Blazers, Nuggets, Pacers and Rockets in a 4-0 week. This is just what the doctor ordered in New Orleans, and gives them hope that they can start moving in the right direction when Zion Williamson returns, hopefully before the All-Star break.||10||25-32|
|20||Trail Blazers||The Trail Blazers missed a chance to run their win streak to five games by losing to the Pelicans on Monday, then followed that up with losses to the Jazz and Lakers. Anfernee Simons, who came into the season with quite a bit of hype, has played better of late, averaging 12.3 points on 40 percent 3-point shooting over the last three games. Portland's defense has been a problem all season, and it had trouble getting stops again this week.||5||26-32|
|21||Warriors||Golden State is coming off of by far its best stretch of the season -- a four-game winning streak that included one of the biggest upsets in NBA Christmas history over the Rockets -- and they went toe-to-toe with the explosive Mavericks until an injury to D'Angelo Russell derailed them. Steve Kerr says the biggest difference is that they're playing much better defense, and the young players are clearly starting to find their roles. The playoffs are likely still out of the picture, but the Warriors are no longer a laughing stock.||7||12-45|
|22||Hornets||Charlotte came back from four days off to lose to the Thunder in overtime, before dropping a winnable game against the Grizzlies on Sunday. They're coming back down to earth a bit, as their net rating suggested they would, and have now dropped five straight games. Perhaps getting a healthy PJ Washington back will help steer the ship back in the right direction.||3||19-37|
|23||Suns||The Suns appeared to hit rock-bottom after blowing a double-digit fourth-quarter lead to the Warriors for their seventh straight loss, but they bounced back on Saturday to beat the Kings, who were in the business of ending long losing streaks this week. Devin Booker found a way to produce this week, averaging 25.7 points despite being mired in an epic shooting slump -- he's made just two of his last 21 3-point attempts.||1||24-34|
|24||Knicks||The Knicks were 4-18 before they fired David Fizdale, and are now 5-6 since. Maybe it was a wake-up call for the players, but New York only has a minus-2.5 net rating since Mike Miller took over, compared to a minus-10.9 this season under Fizdale. Julius Randle has looked like the player the Knicks thought they signed, averaging 32.7 points, 9.7 rebounds and 3.3 assists in a 2-1 week.||2||17-40|
|25||Cavaliers||The Cavs beat two struggling teams this week in the Hawks and Timberwolves, but Cleveland will take all the wins it can get. Kevin Love missed the win over his former team, but put up 25 points, 7.5 rebounds and 4.5 assists in his two games this week, as the Cavs continue to explore trade possibilities. Darius Garland has come on after a rough start to the season, averaging 13.7 points on 46 percent 3-point shooting over his last three games.||--||16-41|
|26||Pistons||Detroit was blown out by the 76ers and Spurs this week, while beating up on the Wizards in between. Blake Griffin has looked like a shell of his former self, a troubling development for a team that depended on him so heavily last season. Griffin's averaging 15.5 points and 4.7 rebounds on 24 percent 3-point shooting after putting up 24.5 points and 7.5 rebounds on 36 percent 3s last season.||3||19-40|
|27||Timberwolves||The Wolves snapped their lengthy losing streak in overtime to the best team they played this week, the Sacramento Kings, while losing to the Warriors and Cavs. Karl-Anthony Towns hasn't played since Dec. 13 due to a knee injury, and the Wolves desperately need him. They've put up a putrid offensive rating of 95.7 points per 100 possessions in the last six games that Towns has missed.||3||16-40|
|28||Kings||Buddy Hield is complaining about the franchise not having confidence in him. Dewayne Dedmon reportedly wants out. Marvin Bagley is injured again. Things aren't great in Sacramento right now, after it looked like they were ready to turn things around. They have lost seven games in a row, and ended the long losing streaks of both the Timberwolves and Suns in back-to-back games. The good news is De'Aaron Fox's back seems healthy ... right?||8||23-33|
|29||Wizards||The Wizards have been devastated by injuries, but at least it's led to the emergence of Gary Payton II, who looks like a potentially solid rotation player. They split with the Knicks this week (the second time hopelessly without Bradley Beal), and were blown out by the Pistons. When the Wizards are healthy, they're at least interesting and entertaining. But until they get Thomas Bryant, Rui Hachimura and Moe Wagner back, it's going to be a struggle.||2||20-36|
|30||Hawks||John Collins put up big numbers in his first three games coming off of a 25-game suspension (23.3 points, 11.3 rebounds, 2.7 blocks), but it did nothing to turn around the Hawks' losing ways. It didn't help that Trae Young went down with an ankle injury against the Bucks, resulting in an ensuing blowout loss in Chicago. The defense has been atrocious, but we at least thought Atlanta would be able to score -- right now they're dead-last in the NBA in offensive rating.||--||17-42|
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