NBA Power Rankings: Bulls go streaking behind heroics of DeMar DeRozan

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The NBA continues to deal with the latest coronavirus outbreak but it appears as though the league is through the worst of it with players and coaches returning to games.

The situation has created plenty of opportunities for under-the-radar players to showcase their skillsets on a bigger stage. Some teams have found success during this trying time and that has enabled them to maintain ground in the playoff races.

The past week of basketball gave fans plenty to get excited about, highlighted by some fascinating performances by DeMar DeRozan and the Chicago Bulls. Elsewhere around the league, the Milwaukee Bucks and Memphis Grizzlies are among those teams trending upward.

To further make sense of it all, Rookie Wire took a look at the NBA and ranked each team from worst to first. We will come back each week and provide our latest assessment on the best teams and those that are rising.

Houston Rockets (10-27)

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Last Rank: 29

The Rockets are in the midst of a rough stretch, losing seven straight games. They have lost by 14.7 points per game during that span and even had to sit down Kevin Porter Jr. and Christian Wood for a game after they got into a verbal altercation with an assistant coach. The team has had a roller coaster of a season, and this is certainly among the low points.

For more coverage on the Rockets, visit Rockets Wire

Orlando Magic (7-30)

Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports

Last Rank: 28

The Magic gave the Boston Celtics everything they had on Sunday, narrowly falling in overtime. Despite a five-game losing streak, Franz Wagner continues to perform at a high level and has firmly put himself in the Rookie of the Year conversation. Wagner has scored in double figures in 19 consecutive games, the longest streak by a rookie this season.

Detroit Pistons (6-28)

Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images

Last Rank: 30

The high point of the week certainly came on Saturday as Saddiq Bey drained the go-ahead shot with 1.9 seconds versus the San Antonio Spurs. With several players sidelined in the health and safety protocol, the Pistons have relied on the likes of Hamidou Diallo, Luka Garza and others. Along with Bey, those three became the third trio of teammates to each record at least 20 points and 14 rebounds in the same game.

Portland Trail Blazers (13-22)

Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Last Rank: 27

The Trail Blazers get head coach Chauncey Billups back from the health and safety protocol on Monday but there hasn’t been much else that has gone right for the team lately. They have dropped four straight games, highlighted by a 33-point defeat to the Los Angeles Lakers.

Oklahoma City Thunder (13-23)

AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki

Last Rank: 25

The Thunder recently lost Shai Gilgeous-Alexander to the health and safety protocol and is still without head coach Mark Daigneault. However, Josh Giddey on Sunday became the youngest player in NBA history to register a triple-double, which was certainly one of the highlights of the week.

For more coverage on the Thunder, visit Thunder Wire

Indiana Pacers (14-23)

Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Last Rank: 24

Without several individuals due to the health and safety protocol, the Pacers were forced to sign some replacement players, including Lance Stephenson. He had six points and three assists on Sunday in a four-point loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

New Orleans Pelicans (13-23)

Michael McLoone-USA TODAY Sports

Last Rank: 23

New Orleans picked up a win over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Tuesday as rookie Herb Jones produced a career-high 26 points to lead the way. He is averaging 18.3 points and 6.3 rebounds on 40% shooting from 3-point range over his last three games.

San Antonio Spurs (14-21)

Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

Last Rank: 22

The Spurs have dropped three straight after falling to the Pistons on a game-winner by Saddiq Bey. In other news, the team will be losing assistant coach Becky Hammon to the WNBA after agreeing to a five-year deal with the Las Vegas Aces that will make her the highest-paid head coach in the league. Congratulations, Becky!

Sacramento Kings (16-22)

AP Photo/José Luis Villegas

Last Rank: 26

The Kings have won three out of their last four games, including one over the Dallas Mavericks in which Chimezie Metu hit the game-winner as time expired. Tyrese Haliburton has stepped up to lead the Kings as of late as the second-year guard averaged 16.5 points, 8.8 assists and 4.1 rebounds on 47.1% shooting from 3-point range in December.

Minnesota Timberwolves (16-20)

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Last Rank: 18

The Timberwolves have dropped three straight games since beating the Boston Celtics on Monday. The team received a career performance from Jaylen Nowell with 29 points in that win. Greg Monroe also logged his first minutes in the NBA since 2019, registering 11 points, nine rebounds and six assists in 25 minutes of action versus the Celtics.

Atlanta Hawks (16-19)

Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Last Rank: 20

The Hawks have Trae Young back from the health and safety protocol after a three-game absence. He has responded by averaging 30 points, 10.3 assists and 2.7 rebounds to lead the short-handed Hawks. With so many players out of the lineup, it was a good sign to get Young back but the team continues to struggle. They will look to start building some positive momentum this week as they continue a six-game West Coast road trip.

New York Knicks (17-20)

Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

Last Rank: 17

New York has lost two straight games as it wrapped up a four-game road trip with the Raptors on Sunday. They are still without several players due to injury and the health and safety protocol, including Kemba Walker (knee) and Julius Randle (protocol), so they will certainly be hoping those two can return sooner than later.

Toronto Raptors (16-17)

Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Last Rank: 21

On Sunday, the Raptors had their full rotation available for the first time this season as players returned from the health and safety protocol and other injuries. The team is back near .500 after winning each of its last two games. It is rather remarkable to see how well they have performed with all things considered.

Boston Celtics (18-19)

Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

Last Rank: 16

Jaylen Brown became the seventh player in team history on Sunday to score 50 points in a game with 24 coming in the fourth quarter and overtime to lead the Celtics to a win over the Magic. After missing four games last month with a hamstring injury, Brown is averaging 28.1 points, 7.2 rebounds and 3.3 assists in 10 games since returning.

Washington Wizards (18-18)

Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Last Rank: 12

The Wizards were, unfortunately, on the wrong end of a shot by DeMar DeRozan on Saturday as time expired but the recent play of Bradley Beal has him squarely in the mix for another All-Star appearance. Despite a stint in the health and safety protocol, Beal averaged 24.4 points, six assists and 4.1 rebounds during the month of December. The Wizards’ campaign to get Beal into the All-Star Game is fantastic. Consider voting just for the shirt alone.

Dallas Mavericks (18-18)

Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

Last Rank: 19

Luka Doncic returned on Sunday with 14 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds to lead the Mavericks to a win over the Thunder. The Mavericks went 5-5 without him in the lineup and managed to stay right around .500 during that stretch. With him back, they will certainly be hoping they can put together some wins and maintain ground in the Western Conference playoff picture.

Los Angeles Lakers (19-19)

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Last Rank: 15

Behind the ageless LeBron James, the Lakers have won three out of their last four games. James, 37, recently joined the 36,000-point club and also had another triple-double on Tuesday in a win over the Rockets. He averaged 30.7 points, 9.3 rebounds and 6.5 assists on 40.4% shooting from 3-point range during the month of December.

For more coverage on LeBron James and the Lakers, visit LeBron Wire

Los Angeles Clippers (19-18)

Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

Last Rank: 11

The Clippers posted an impressive win over the Brooklyn Nets on Saturday to ring in the new year. Terance Mann drained the go-ahead 3-pointer with 23 seconds left to give the Clippers the win over Kevin Durant and James Harden. The team is managing to move along without several key players as it hangs onto the sixth seed in the Western Conference.

Denver Nuggets (18-16)

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Last Rank: 14

Denver has seven players sidelined with injuries or the health and safety protocol but continues to perform after winning three straight games. The Nuggets have likely exceeded all expectations this season with Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. out but the culture in Denver is a large part of why they remain successful. They also have Nikola Jokic playing like the MVP, so that certainly helps.

Charlotte Hornets (19-18)

Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

Last Rank: 13

Charlotte has won three of four games as the team gets more players back from the health and safety protocol. LaMelo Ball continues to perform well after missing six games, averaging 18.1 points, 6.4 rebounds and 6.3 assists over his last seven games. He also continues to do insane things with the basketball, like this pass to Gordon Hayward.

For more coverage on LaMelo Ball and the Hornets, visit Lonzo Wire

Cleveland Cavaliers (21-16)

Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Last Rank: 7

Since winning 10 of 12 games last month, the Cavaliers have gone just 2-4. The team did get Evan Mobley back from the health and safety protocol as the rookie has shown little rust, scoring at least 20 points in three of his last four games.

Philadelphia 76ers (19-16)

Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Last Rank: 10

The 76ers are surging right now after winning four out of their last five games, including three in a row. They posted an impressive win over the Nets on Saturday, which proved to be very chippy toward the end. Tobias Harris has served as a nice No. 2 option recently after averaging 16.8 points, seven rebounds and 3.6 assists during the month of December. He also just had his first career triple-double with 19 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists in a win over the Raptors.

For more coverage on the 76ers, visit Sixers Wire

Miami Heat (23-14)

Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Last Rank: 6

Miami continues to get great production off the bench from third-year guard Tyler Herro, who has three 30-point games this season; he had three total prior to this year. The Heat were without several key players in December but still managed to post the sixth-best record in the NBA during that time. Miami should be a force to be reckoned with once it can get fully healthy again.

Memphis Grizzlies (23-14)

Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

Last Rank: 9

What a week for Ja Morant! The Grizzlies cornerstone drained a game-winning shot with 0.5 seconds left on Monday over the Phoenix Suns and responded with 41 points in a win over the Lakers two nights later. It shouldn’t be a surprise, then, to learn that Morant was named the Western Conference Player of the Week after averaging 34.7 points, 6.7 rebounds and 4.7 assists on the week.

Brooklyn Nets (23-11)

Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Last Rank: 5

The Nets, who are second in the Eastern Conference, will soon be back to full-ish strength as Kyrie Irving is expected to make his season debut on Wednesday versus the Indiana Pacers. Of course, Irving, who is unvaccinated, will still not be able to play in home games in Brooklyn but the team will soon have him back in the lineup on the road. With Irving back, we can soon find out just how dangerous the Nets can be this season.

For more coverage on the Nets, visit Nets Wire

Chicago Bulls (24-10)

Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Last Rank: 8

DeMar DeRozan had a week no player has ever experienced. He became the first player in NBA history to hit game-winning buzzer-beaters on consecutive days to down the Pacers and Wizards and send the Bulls to a seven-game win streak. Behind his heroics, the Bulls are 14 games over .500 for the first time since 2015. Given his insane week, it was only right the NBA named him the Eastern Conference Player of the Week.

Milwaukee Bucks (25-13)

Michael McLoone-USA TODAY Sports

Last Rank: 4

Milwaukee has the second-longest winning streak in the NBA at six games after recently going through a relatively easy schedule. They have a couple of easier games coming up with the Pistons and Raptors before a key showdown with the Nets on Friday. The Nets will not have Kyrie Irving available since it is in Brooklyn but it still should be a tough matchup against Kevin Durant and James Harden.

Utah Jazz (26-10)

Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

Last Rank: 3

The Jazz posted the best record in the NBA during the month of December at 12-2 as the team currently sits third in the Western Conference. They are set to begin a five-game road trip on Monday with the Pelicans and will look to build on its 12-3 record away from Salt Lake City.

Phoenix Suns (28-8)

Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

Last Rank: 2

The Suns went 2-2 last week after falling to the Grizzlies on a last-second shot by Ja Morant and losing to the Celtics on New Year’s Eve. They went 9-5 in December so they will certainly be looking to continue to build on that record to begin 2022. With that being said, we leave you with a Jalen Smith poster dunk.

Golden State Warriors (28-7)

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Last Rank: 1

The Warriors continue to be perhaps the most dominant team in the league at the moment, and that should only continue with Klay Thompson set to return this week. The team is reportedly targeting Sunday for a return after a two-year absence and he is expected to start right away. The addition of Thompson figures to only take the Warriors to the next level, which could be scary for the rest of the league.

For more coverage on the Warriors, visit Warriors Wire

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