The theme of this week's edition of Power Rankings is continuity. We're seeing the fruits of continuity all over the league as the season begins.
The Clippers, our No. 1 team, have had the same core for four years, the same coach for three. They've grown together through good times and bad, and it's made them stronger. The Cavaliers are in their third season with this core, and Ty Lue has been around the team for that span, even as an assistant. The Raptors under Dwane Casey are excelling not just because of how good DeMar DeRozan has been (which is great) but their foundational structures of discipline and focus. The Spurs are the Spurs. Enough said.
The Hawks aren't thriving because of Dwight Howard or the shift to Dennis Schroder. They're thriving because they play lockdown defense and the principles of what Mike Budenholzer has put in place are rock solid. Most of the team knows one another, and there's repetition and consistency. Things can surely go stale, but there's real value in having the same personnel on the floor and sideline every night, game after game, night after night, year after year.
Many of the teams in the middle and back end are dealing with change. You need to know your team before you can be the best version of it. It's something to remember as teams reach the panic point and look to change direction. Sometimes the only way out is through.
Here are this week's power rankings.
|Straight up, this team reminds me of the 2011 Dallas Mavericks. From the aging point guard to the star power forward whose impact is overlooked, to how everyone has dismissed them because of past playoff performances. All the way down. In November of 2011, I said the Mavericks were playing like a legitimately dangerous playoff team. Then Nowitzki got hurt and everyone overlooked them for six months. Don't lose sight of how this team is playing, not just in terms of wins, but the style and fun energy they're playing with.||1||11-10|
|They finally "took that L," but the Cavs remain the class of the East.||1||11-10|
|The thing about super villains is that even when they are defeated, they always come back stronger. So it goes as the Warriors have looked nearly invincible since the Lakers loss a week ago.||1||18-3|
|DeMar DeRozan's run right now is flat out incredible, and a blast to watch. The key, though, is that the Raptors are good enough to not need this outlier performance from DeRozan to be the second best team in the East.||4||9-13|
|The Spurs remain top ten in both offense (6th) and defense (6th), and they're hitting 3's now, which is a big deal for a roster not stocked with shooters. They slipped after the Rockets loss but don't be surprised if they climb back to the top in short order. They have a soft schedule ahead with four straight vs. teams under .500.||2||6-13|
|The Hawks have won four straight, including wins over Houston and the Cavaliers' first dip. They are 10th in offense and 2nd in defense. Maybe next time instead of worrying about Dennis Schroder or Dwight Howard, we should just trust Mike Budenholzer. Let's all write that down as they move up five spots.||5||12-10|
|If you're going to make a big jump in the standings, the first step is beating teams you're supposed to. The Jazz, despite injuries, don't have a bad loss on their resume. They've lost to good teams on the road, and the Spurs at home. They've got a winnable four-game stretch coming up as well.||3||14-7|
|Their worst loss of the season came in just under the power rankings wire, at home on Sunday night to the Magic. They're 26th in offense currently. That's going to cost them over the long run if they don't figure out some options ... or make a trade.||3||6-14|
|James Harden is a nuclear-inferno phoenix, soaring through the night sky. Patrick Beverley is nearing a return. They've got a big week coming up against other playoff hopefuls.||--||4-16|
|Truth be told, I still kind of think the Hornets are the second-best team in the East. But they are short on signature wins. Kemba Walker is playing insane basketball right now. He's the Eastern Conference Dame.||4||13-10|
|Back-to-back better defensive performances have them back in the swing of things, and Al Horford likely returns this week. A matchup with the Warriors looms next Friday.||2||11-10|
|They look great in wins, and very much what we expected in losses. They struggle with consistency and defensively there are real signs of slippage. They needed that Wolves game Sunday, because they face the pesky Nets, then a real stretch vs. playoff teams the next two weeks.||--||12-11|
|Damian Lillard is tremendous. C.J. McCollum is great. The rest, especially with Al-Farouq Aminu out? Not so much. The Blazers are just 14th in offense and 27th in defense. There's reason for concern. They begin an east coast road trip later this week that presents a challenge and opportunity.||6||11-11|
|They've got a six-game road trip that starts with four west coast teams with records over. 500. Things are about to get pretty rough, especially on that 14th ranked defense.||1||14-8|
|Tobias Harris is keeping them afloat. Imagine if they hadn't made that trade? Imagine if Orlando hadn't!||2||4-17|
|New coach, still can't shoot. (29th in effective field goal percentage.) Added Chandler Parsons, still can't shoot. Added new roster components, still can't shoot. Can't shoot, can't shoot, can't shoot.||2||11-10|
|Giannis Antetokounmpo is becoming a must-watch, nightly show in the NBA. Block on one end, pick-and-roll pass for a bucket on the other, steal on the other, graceful finish in traffic on the other. He's putting it together.||5||13-8|
|The television broadcast for the loss to Chicago should have included a live feed of a mood ring on Pat Riley's hand. (It probably would have just stayed black the entire time.)||2||13-8|
|Ricky Rubio coming back has fixed a whole lot of problems, but they're also just starting to click. It was a rough start, but they have winnable games coming up to get back on track. Andrew Wiggins is making the leap as a scorer, at least.||8||11-11|
|Pesky Nets strike again! This team is so not-terrible, the Celtics might be under some pressure to actually deal that pick before it loses too much value. Who'd have thought? Kenny Atkinson is doing work in Brooklyn.||4||15-6|
|This is not a totally worthless team, so that's a plus. They just have these stretches where the entire thing completely falls apart. They're like the cooky machine of a zany scientist in one of those 1970's Disney films whose wild contraptions keep failing.||1||11-10|
|Got their best win of the season Sunday vs. the Thunder. I still can't buy into this team but just when I think they're going off the cliff, they pull themselves back.||3||4-18|
|Sure, they've had another irritatingly predictable spate of injuries, and their prized second-year point guard's biggest problem involves dribbling and not giving it to the guys wearing the other laundry, and their frontcourt is such a logjam you think Michael Malone might be just spinning a random wheel on the sideline for rotations. But other than that, things are pretty good in Denver.||5||10-10|
|Those of us who chose to believe in the Pacers in preseason are having that Gob Bluth "I've made a huge mistake" moment.||3||9-15|
|They're not definably awful in any one area except hitting high-value shots. They're 23rd in spot-up shots out of the pick and roll and 26th in spot-up shots out of the post via Synergy Sports.||--||18-3|
|Shaq, a Kings minority owner, said publicly that the Kings might look to go in another direction if the Cousins situation doesn't turn around. That's a pretty interesting crack in the Kings' "never trade" position.||3||8-14|
|They keep barking at the officials, Marcin Gortat said they have the worst bench in the league, and there's a general "waiting for implosion" sense with this team. Even when they win, they seem really tense with one another. Maybe that's just perception, though. Most of their losses, save a back-to-back without Wall loss to Orlando, were against good teams.||1||14-8|
|The scary part is that all this is happening WITH Harrison Barnes playing well. What happens if he hits a slump? Their lack of size and athleticism in the backcourt is just crushing them on a nightly basis.||--||10-9|
|Here's an SAT analogy question for you. The best of times : worst of times :: Joel Embiid : (BLANK). The answer is "The Sixers."||--||11-10|
|Did you know Anthony Davis has one fewer 30-point performance than DeMar DeRozan so far this season? One. The Raptors have six more wins. Let this forever end the debate of whether one player can "do it all."||--||6-17|