NBA Power Rankings: Red-hot Raptors move up; Lakers drop after win streak gets busted; Carmelo saving Blazers?
A loss to the Mavericks dropped the Lakers from the top spot this week, but who took their place?
One thing that helps make the NBA so exciting is that it can change incredibly quickly. The Los Angeles Lakers were riding a 10-game winning streak with Anthony Davis playing his best basketball of the season. They were cruising with a 10-point first-half lead on Sunday, when suddenly a third-quarter onslaught by Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks in three weeks.
And just like that, the Lakers fall from the top spot in the Power Rankings. There were plenty of worthy candidates waiting to fill the vacancy -- the Mavericks themselves, the Lakers' in-building rival Clippers or the scorching hot defending champion Raptors -- but in the end the Milwaukee Bucks, owners of an 11-game winning streak and an inhuman superstar in Giannis Antetokounmpo, could not be denied.
There was more shuffling throughout the rankings, as the Portland Trail Blazers, looking like one of the worst teams in the league just last week, put together a mini winning streak of their own, thanks to some spectacular play from a resurgent Carmelo Anthony. But that's why we love the Power Rankings -- things that appear to be certainties one week can leave us scratching our heads the next.
|1||Bucks||Ho hum, another undefeated week for the Bucks, who have now won 11 games in a row. The victories over the Hawks, Cavs and Hornets were expected, but Giannis Antetokounmpo added to his resume for a back-to-back MVP with a signature 50-point, 14-rebound performance against a strong Jazz defense (albeit without Rudy Gobert). Milwaukee didn't exactly struggle without Khris Middleton (it went 7-0 and won by an average of 11 points in his absence), but he's back to make the Bucks even more formidable.||1||19-3|
|2||Raptors||The Raptors are on fire, and they're just starting to get healthy again. Serge Ibaka rejoined the lineup for Sunday's lambasting of the Jazz and Kyle Lowry should make his return soon, but it's not like Toronto missed them at all. The defending champs have proven they can beat you in multiple ways, in offensive shootouts or defensive battles, and they're now second in the league in both net rating and defensive rating with the fifth-best offense. Next week should be a good test with the Heat, Rockets and 76ers on tap.||5||15-6|
|3||Lakers||The Lakers had their 10-game winning streak snapped by Luka Doncic and the Mavericks, which only increased the whispers that Los Angeles' early success has been the result of a favorable schedule. Either way, the Lakers can only play who's on the schedule, and they've done a phenomenal job so far. They still have a top-five defense and a top-six offense, a tried and true predictor of an elite team. LeBron James and Anthony Davis are only getting better, but an injury to either one of them could spell disaster given their top-heavy roster construction.||2||19-3|
|4||Clippers||The Clippers bounced back from an inexplicable loss to San Antonio by dropping 150 points on the Wizards at home on Sunday night. Paul George, who scored just five points against the Spurs, went off for 31 points in 30 minutes against Washington, while Kawhi Leonard added 34 in 26 minutes. The Clippers have the fourth-best defense in the NBA since George and Leonard first played together.||1||16-6|
|5||Mavericks||Dallas ran into a buzzsaw Clippers team in Los Angeles, but followed up the loss with impressive road wins over the Suns and Lakers. Luka Doncic continues his MVP-caliber play, but Kristaps Porzingis has struggled mightily on the offensive end recently, averaging just 10.7 points on 28 percent shooting over the last three games. The fact that the Mavs are 13-6 with Porzingis yet to find his stride bodes well for them moving forward.||--||15-6|
|6||76ers||The Sixers bounced back from a loss to the Raptors (and a befuddling scoreless game from Joel Embiid) to rattle off three wins to close out the week. Ben Simmons showed how dominant he can be on the defensive end with his length, size and speed, picking up three steals in the final 14 seconds to close out Saturday's win over the Pacers. The 76ers are nowhere near their ceiling and they're 14-6, which should cause some optimism among Philly fans.||--||15-7|
|7||Nuggets||In a light week, the Nuggets handled the Wizards before blowing a 17-point lead to lose to a solid Kings squad. Denver continues its diverse offensive attack, with five players now averaging double-digit points. Nikola Jokic has yet to find his stroke from downtown, shooting just 23 percent from beyond the arc this season, but Denver's league-best defense has made up for some offensive lulls.||3||14-5|
|8||Heat||The Heat's only loss of the week came without Jimmy Butler at the hands of the Rockets, and Miami continues to look like a legit contender in the Eastern Conference. Justise Winslow and Derrick Jones Jr. also returned this week, providing even more depth for one of the league's best bench units.||1||15-6|
|9||Celtics||Kemba Walker returned to the lineup after a scary head and neck injury to lead the Celtics to a 3-1 week. Now it appears to be Marcus Smart's turn to go on the shelf, after taking a hard elbow to the oblique area in Sunday's win over the Knicks. If the Celtics have proven anything, it's that they can make due with an incomplete roster. But Smart does so much for them defensively, particularly when they go small, it will be interesting to see how they cope.||1||15-5|
|10||Rockets||Continuing to get the most out of role players like Ben McLemore and Gary Clark, the Rockets picked up a win over the Heat without Jimmy Butler before James Harden absolutely exploded against the Hawks. Harden scored 60 points on 24 shots in three quarters, proving just how unstoppable he is when he has it rolling (needless to say, the Hawks defense wasn't providing much resistance).||1||14-7|
|11||Pacers||Malcolm Brodgon returned to the lineup and didn't miss a beat, leading the Pacers to a 3-1 week, with their only loss coming in a close one at Phildadelphia. Even better news for the Pacers? Victor Oladipo was once again assigned to the team's G League affiliate to join practices as part of his rehab. There's still no timetable for his return, but the Pacers could be a dark-horse contender if he's able to come close to his previous form.||1||14-7|
|12||Jazz||It was not a good week for the Jazz, whose only win came against the Grizzlies with losses to the Bucks, Pacers and Raptors. Utah fell behind by 40 at halftime to the Raptors on Sunday, an exclamation point on a week that saw the Jazz defense slip considerably from its usual elite standards. It appears they're still trying to work in all the new pieces, so they should continue to improve as the season goes along.||4||12-10|
|13||Nets||The Nets have played well without Kyie Irving, thanks to some spectacular individual effort from Spencer Dinwiddie and Jarrett Allen, but they ran into a rough stretch this week with with Celtics and Heat on the schedule. They managed to beat the Celtics in the second of their two games, however, and look to be recapturing some of the magic they experienced last season. We'll see if they can keep it up when Irving comes back.||--||11-10|
|14||Timberwolves||The Wolves beat the Hawks and Spurs, but then suffered what Karl-Anthony Towns called a "traumatic loss" at home to the Grizzlies without Ja Morant to close out the week. Andrew Wiggins is picking up where he started this season after missing a few games due to illness and the Wolves are hovering around the top 10 in defensive efficiency. If they can stay there, they'll remain competitive all season.||2||10-10|
|15||Thunder||OKC had a soft schedule this week, beating the Pelicans twice and the Warriors once while losing to the Blazers on the road. The Thunder have been starting games slowly, but have managed to pull out some close victories to keep their record respectable. Their net rating is right about even, so the path to a .500 season could be inevitable.||4||8-12|
|16||Kings||The Kings lost two of three games this week, but they're still playing much better after a horrific start to the season. They lost at Boston and Philadelphia before picking up a huge comeback win over the Nuggets at home. Sacramento has managed to avoid disaster after injuries to De'Aaron Fox and Marvin Bagley, who should both be back in the lineup in the near future.||2||8-12|
|17||Magic||Orlando lost to the Pistons and Raptors this week, while beating the struggling Cavs and Warriors. The Magic have predictably had trouble generating offense with Nikola Vucevic (and recently Aaron Gordon) out of the lineup. Evan Fournier has picked up the bulk of the scoring load, averaging 24.5 points per game since Vucevic's injury. Their defense will keep them competitive, but they're going to need Vucevic to come back healthy to do any real damage.||5||10-11|
|18||Trail Blazers||All hail Carmelo Anthony, savior of the Portland Trail Blazers! Well, maybe not quite, but both the Blazers and Carmelo played well in a much-needed 3-0 week. Playing the Bulls twice helps, but those are games the Blazers were losing in the not-too-distant past. After a rocky start to his Blazers tenure, Anthony has averaged 22.3 points on 57 percent shooting and 46 percent 3-pointers during Portland's win streak. It's an incredibly small sample size, but so far this season the Blazers are a plus-4.4 in defensive rating and a plus-14.5 in overall net rating when Anthony is on the floor.||8||9-13|
|19||Suns||After a surprising start, the Suns have now lost five of six games, including both this week. The home loss to the Wizards particularly stings, especially since they gave up 140 points after the defense had been strong to begin the season. Aron Baynes returned to the lineup in Friday's loss to Dallas, and could help restore some order for the reeling Suns.||4||10-11|
|20||Hornets||The Hornets were demolished by the two good teams they played this week, the Heat and Bucks, pulling off back-to-back close wins over the Pistons in between. Give James Borrego credit for helping to make the Hornets respectable when most expected them to be competing for the worst record in the NBA. Their minus-8.6 net rating, however, suggests a precipitous drop may be forthcoming.||7||9-14|
|21||Pistons||Back-to-back losses to the Hornets were sandwiched between wins over the Magic and Spurs this week for the Pistons. Blake Griffin is slowly starting to make his way back to the All-Star form he displayed last season, but he clearly still has a ways to go. Luke Kennard continued his breakout season, averaging 19.3 points on 54 percent 3-point shooting over Detroit's four games this week.||--||8-14|
|22||Spurs||Just when we think the Spurs are ready to turn things around after a huge home win over Kawhi Leonard and the Clippers, they turn around and lose by 34 to the Pistons. It appears San Antonio's problems may require a more dramatic fix, as it now lost 11 of its last 13 games.||2||8-14|
|23||Wizards||The Wizards were simply outmatched this week in road losses to the Nuggets, Lakers and Clippers, but they were able to come away with a win over the Suns by throwing a 140 on the scoreboard. It's pretty simple with Washington: It's only chance to beat you is to outscore you. The Wizards have averaged 135 points in their last four wins, and their defensive rating is the worst in the NBA.||6||7-13|
|24||Grizzlies||Memphis received the bad news that Rookie of the Year favorite Ja Morant will be considered week-to-week with a back injury, and followed that up by beating the Timberwolves on the road. Tyus Jones is a capable fill-in starter and De'Anthony Melton had a big game on Sunday as the next man up, but the entertainment value of Grizzlies games will take a serious hit until Morant returns.||1||6-15|
|25||Pelicans||The Pelicans lost three close games this week -- once to the Lakers and twice to the Thunder -- to fall to 6-14 on the season. Alvin Gentry's club just hasn't been able to figure out the defense as of yet, but Jrue Holiday has been steady offensively. Brandon Ingram is still scoring, but his efficiency has dropped over the last week.||7||6-16|
|26||Cavaliers||Cleveland continued its losing ways this week, dropping three home games to the Nets, Magic and Bucks. If you're looking for positives, Cedi Osman had a strong week, averaging over 16 points on 53 percent shooting and 40 percent on 3-pointers, while Larry Nance has averaged a double-double of 16.3 points and 10.7 rebounds over his last three games.||1||5-15|
|27||Warriors||Golden State picked up its fourth win of the season against the Bulls this week, but also became the league's first 17-loss team. Since getting destroyed by nearly 50 points by the Mavericks, the Warriors have been much better defensively, allowing 106.7 points per 100 possessions in their last five games. In the 16 games prior to that stretch, they allowed 116.1 points per 100 possessions.||2||4-19|
|28||Bulls||Zach LaVine thought his game-winner against the Hornets could be the "turning point" of the season for Chicago. It was not. The Bulls proceeded to lose twice to the Blazers and once to the lowly Warriors this week as their nightmarish year continues. The defense is in the middle of the pack, but the offense is pushing toward the worst in the NBA. The Charlotte game at least seemed to spark LaVine, who is averaging nearly 33 points on 55 percent 3-point shooting over his last four games.||8||8-14|
|29||Knicks||No surprises here, as the Knicks lost to three superior division opponents in the Raptors, 76ers and Celtics. There's not a whole lot for Knicks fans to be excited about right now, and it doesn't get any easier next week with the Bucks, Nuggets and Pacers on the schedule.||1||4-18|
|30||Hawks||Who would have thought that after starting the season 2-0, the Hawks would only get two more wins in their next 18 games? The losing streak is now up to 10, with the most recent being a 47-point loss in which James Harden dropped 60 points in three quarters. Atlanta is eagerly awaiting the end of John Collins' suspension, which will come in late December, and could use a healthy Kevin Huerter to help space the floor and give Trae Young more room to operate.||--||5-17|
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