NBA Power Rankings: LeBron vs. Zion lives up to hype; Clippers starting to click; Rockets keep rising
It was an exciting week in the NBA, with plenty of movement in the Power Rankings
It's hard to live up to expectations when the bar is so high, but the first meetings between LeBron James and Zion Williamson might have exceeded them. We got two battles between one of the most exciting young players and one of the most exciting old players we've ever seen, with the Lakers beating the Pelicans in two extremely entertaining games.
At the top of this week's Power Rankings, the Bucks just keep on winning, with Giannis Antetokounmpo putting up a monster stat line on Sunday. The Clippers were the only other team to go 4-0 this week as they're finally starting to get healthy, and they shot up the rankings accordingly. Finally, the Rockets seem to have unlocked a winning formula and treated us to one of the most thrilling games of the season against the Celtics.
Here are this week's NBA Power Rankings:
|1||Bucks||Four more games, four more wins for the Bucks this week, including an impressive one in Toronto and another without Khris Middleton. The Raptors did a relatively good job containing Giannis Antetokounmpo (19 points on 5-of-14 shooting), so it was a good sign for the Bucks that they were able to pull out the win against a potential playoff opponent on the road. Then Giannis reminded everyone what he's capable of by dropping 41 points and 20 rebounds on the Hornets. With 22 games left in the season, the Bucks have eight losses. Remarkable.||--||53-12|
|2||Lakers||We were treated to the first matchup between LeBron James and Zion Williamson on Tuesday, then got the encore on Sunday. Neither disappointed, with Zion more than holding his own but LeBron eventually winning out, both individually and as a team. James scored a season-high 40 in the first meeting, then put up a 34-point triple-double in New Orleans. In between for the Lakers was a win over the Warriors without LeBron and a bizarre road loss to the Grizzlies. The Lakers hold a comfortable 5.5-game lead as the top seed in the West.||--||49-14|
|3||Rockets||Houston won all three of its games this week, including an overtime thriller in Boston to take down a hot Celtics team. Russell Westbrook missed a game this week, but averaged 37 points, 8.5 rebounds and 6.5 assists on 61 percent shooting in the other two. He's been playing as well as anyone in the NBA since the calendar turned to 2020, averaging nearly 33 points, 7.8 rebounds and 7.3 assists per game for the surging Rockets.||2||40-24|
|4||Clippers||The Clippers are finally getting healthy, and they're looking like title contender most expected to see at the beginning of the season. They went 4-0 this week, including a convincing win over the Nuggets, who are among their competition for the No. 2 seed out West. The Clippers' incredible depth was on display this week, with six players averaging double figures over the four wins.||5||44-20|
|5||Celtics||The Celtics continued to power on this week without Kemba Walker, with Jayson Tatum keeping up his phenomenal play. Boston beat the Blazers and Jazz on the road before an overtime home loss to the Rockets, one of the most entertaining games of the season. Tatum is averaging nearly 35 points on 50 percent 3-point shooting (nine attempts per game) over his last six games.||1||43-21|
|6||Nuggets||Denver beat the Pistons and Raptors at home this week, while being blown out on the road by the Clippers. It was a disappointing game for the Nuggets, who are in a battle for the No. 2 seed in the West with the Clippers and Rockets. Nikola Jokic went to work against a Raptors team that was thin up front due to injury, putting up 23 points, 18 rebounds and 11 assists to avoid back-to-back losses.||1||43-22|
|7||Raptors||In a rare off week, the Raptors lost to the Bucks, Hornets and Nuggets amid injuries to Fred VanVleet and Serge Ibaka, with Marc Gasol already on the shelf. The losing streak is a bit surprising given how this team has overcome injuries all season long, but this is what happens to normal teams when they're missing key parts. Speaking of injuries, Norman Powell returned to the lineup and contributed immediately, averaging 23 points in two games, while OG Anunoby set a career-high with 32 points in Sunday's loss to Denver.||4||46-18|
|8||Thunder||The Thunder won close games against the Bulls and Kings before being blown out by the Bucks on national TV. OKC sorely missed Danilo Gallinari against Milwaukee -- he averaged 24 points and made 9-of-18 3-pointers in the two wins this week.||2||40-24|
|9||76ers||The 76ers lost Joel Embiid during Wednesday's loss to the Cavs, as he joined Ben Simmons on the inactive list for the rest of the week. In a win over the Knicks and a loss to the Clippers, Shake Milton proved he's much more than a serviceable backup. He averaged 29 points in the two games, making 12-of-14 3-pointers, including an incredible 39-point performance against the Clippers, during which he tied an NBA record with his 13th straight made 3-pointer over the course of three games.||1||39-26|
|10||Heat||After horrific losses to the Cavs and Timberwolves, the Heat bounced back to get much-needed victories over the Mavericks and Nets to close out the week. Kendrick Nunn, Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo and Goran Dragic all averaged over 18 points per game for the week, with Duncan Robinson shooting 50 percent 3-pointers.||1||41-24|
|11||Mavericks||The Mavs' only loss of the week came to the Heat, beating the Wolves twice and the Spurs once. Seth Curry poured in 37 points in the loss to Miami, a game in which Luka Doncic struggled, while Kristaps Porzingis put up 38 points and 13 rebounds in Sunday's win over the Hornets with Doncic sidelined. Porzingis averaged 26.3 points and 11.8 rebounds on 39 percent 3-point shooting for the week.||1||40-27|
|12||Pacers||Indiana needed a good week, and it got one with wins over the Hornets, Blazers and Cavs. Victor Oladipo has struggled since returning from a year-long injury, but he averaged 17 points on 50 percent shooting in the wins over Portland and Cleveland after sitting out the Charlotte game. TJ Warren has been on a tear, averaging over 21 points on 57 percent 3-point shooting for the week.||1||39-26|
|13||Jazz||The Jazz saw their losing streak extend to four games by falling to the Suns and Celtics to start the week, but they bounced back to beat the Wizards on Friday to get back on the winning path. The team reportedly decided to send Mike Conley to the bench, but then changed course and had Joe Ingles captain the reserve unit. Donovan Mitchell has taken over the offense of late, averaging 35 points on 48 percent 3-point shooting over the past week.||3||41-23|
|14||Pelicans||The Pelicans beat one of the worst teams in the NBA in the Cavs, and lost twice to the Lakers, the best team in the West. Both losses were close, with Zion Williamson faring just fine in his first two games against LeBron James. It seems like Williamson is just going to score 20 or more points in every game of his career from here on out, and he put up a career-high 35 in the second loss to the Lakers. Despite the losses, the Pelicans are making a strong run for the eighth and final Western playoff spot.||--||28-36|
|15||Grizzlies||The Grizzlies were reeling, losers of five straight, when they absolutely blitzed the Lakers in Memphis for a huge morale boost. The remaining schedule is tough, particularly with injuries to Jaren Jackson Jr. and Brandon Clarke, so Ja Morant will have to be special down the stretch if they're going to hang onto their playoff spot. Morant was certainly special in the Lakers win, posting 27 points and tying a career high with 14 assists.||--||32-33|
|16||Kings||The Kings have gotten back into the playoff race with a 3-1 week -- this without frontcourt mainstays Marvin Bagley and Richaun Holmes for significant time. Harry Giles stepped up this week, averaging 15 points and 7.3 rebounds in 25 minutes per game. De'Aaron Fox, who averaged 23 points this week, missed the team's only loss this week at OKC.||3||28-36|
|17||Spurs||The Spurs lost to the Mavericks and beat the Magic in a light week, with LaMarcus Aldridge missing both games due to a shoulder issue. Trey Lyles stepped up in his absence, averaging 13 points and nine rebounds in the two games. San Antonio is two games out in the loss column of the final West playoff spot.||--||27-36|
|18||Magic||The Magic narrowly missed a perfect week, losing to the Spurs by a single point on Saturday. Terrence Ross, Evan Fournier, Aaron Gordon and Nikola Vucevic all averaged 19 points or more this week, and Gordon notched his first career triple-double in the team's win over the Timberwolves. Orlando is now in the No. 7 spot in the East.||2||30-35|
|19||Nets||It was a rough week for the Nets, who lost all four games and dropped into the No. 8 spot in the Eastern Conference playoff standings with a loss to the Magic. Spencer Dinwiddie and Caris LeVert continue to lead the charge offensively with Kyrie Irving out for the season -- both averaged over 20 points per game for the week.||3||30-34|
|20||Trail Blazers||The Blazers dropped all three games this week as Damian Lillard continues to nurse a groin injury, and lost valuable ground in the race for the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference. CJ McCollum has been carrying the offense in Lillard's absence, averaging over 30 points and nearly eight assists over his last three games. Hassan Whiteside also put up monster numbers this week, averaging 19 points, 16 rebounds and almost three blocks per game.||2||29-37|
|21||Hornets||Charlotte went 2-2 this week, and the highlight was a gritty win over the Raptors in Toronto. Five players had 13 or more points for the Hornets in that win, and Miles Bridges hit a clutch go-ahead 3-pointer down the stretch. The Hornets now have 12 road wins, compared to just nine at home.||1||23-42|
|22||Suns||After an impressive win over the Jazz to start the week, things went downhill quickly for the Suns. They lost their next three, including bad ones to the Pistons and Warriors to close out the week. Ricky Rubio has been excellent of late, averaging 15.5 points and 10.5 assists for the week. The Suns' faint playoff hopes may have been extinguished, as they now sit six games back of the Grizzlies in the loss column.||1||26-39|
|23||Wizards||Washington forced overtime against the Bucks -- an accomplishment in itself -- then beat the Nets and Warriors while dropping a game to the Jazz. Bradley Beal is going absolutely insane, averaging 40 points over the four games despite seeing double-teams and box-and-one defenses throughout. He shot a blistering 25 of 46 from the 3-point line this week, and he set a franchise record with 25 or more points in 18 straight games.||3||24-40|
|24||Hawks||The Hawks started off the week with losses to the 76ers and Magic, but finished strongly with wins over the Nets and Trail Blazers. Trae Young averaged 28 points and 12.5 assists for the week, compared to just 2.5 turnovers per game, while John Collins averaged 26 points and 9.8 rebounds.||--||20-47|
|25||Cavaliers||The Cavs picked up back-to-back wins over the Heat and 76ers -- probably not something you imagined would happen at any point this season -- then finished up the week with losses to the Pelicans and Pacers. Cleveland is now 3-3 since J.B. Bickerstaff took over for John Beilein following the All-Star break, and deadline acquisition Andre Drummond had his best game as a Cavalier against the Pacers on Saturday, putting up 27 points and 13 rebounds.||--||19-46|
|26||Pistons||Detroit lost to the Nuggets to start the week, then snapped its seven-game skid with a road win over the Suns and finished the week with a loss to the Kings on Sunday. The Pistons are getting a good look at Christian Wood, who averaged 19.7 points and 10.3 rebounds this week. Derrick Rose left Sunday's game with an ankle injury, not good news for a Detroit team that desperately needs his scoring and leadership. Brandon Knight -- yes, that Brandon Knight -- also came out of nowhere to average 16.3 points and 5.7 assists this week.||2||20-46|
|27||Knicks||The Knicks extended their losing streak to six by dropping games to the Rockets, Hornets and 76ers to start the week, but finally picked up a win when the Bulls came to town on Sunday. Mitchell Robinson, who's had an up-and-down season, had a strong week with averages of 12.8 points, 10.5 rebounds and 3.3 blocks in just over 29 minutes per game.||--||21-45|
|28||Bulls||The Bulls lost to the Thunder and the Knicks this week, but at least they had some good news with the return of Wendell Carter Jr. to the lineup. The big man had six points and nine rebounds in his return from a right ankle injury. Chicago is now seven games out of the playoffs in the loss column, so that ship has probably sailed.||5||22-43|
|29||Timberwolves||The Wolves lost to the Mavericks twice this week, with a big win over the Heat in Miami and a loss to the Magic in between. The new-look Wolves have proven they can put points on the board, even without Karl-Anthony Towns, but defense has been a major issue. D'Angelo Russell hasn't needed much of an adjustment period since coming over from the Warriors -- he averaged 25 points and 6.3 assists in four games this week.||--||19-45|
|30||Warriors||Golden State lost home games to the Kings, Lakers and Wizards this week, but got an elusive win on the road against the Suns. Steve Kerr talked about how necessary it is to get a win, even in a rebuilding year or whatever you call this for the Warriors, and the team responded by playing well in Phoenix. Stephen Curry had his return from a broken hand delayed, but is expected to take the court in the next week or so.||--||15-50|
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