The Pistons jump into the top-10, and the Sixers climb all the way up to No. 2, but the Raptors retain the top spot in this week’s updated NBA Power Rankings.
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1. Toronto Raptors
The Raptors simply refuse to slow down. Despite playing without starting point guard Kyle Lowry (sore back), Toronto captured their eighth consecutive victory Saturday night in Cleveland. With a league-best 20 wins through 24 games, the Raps have reached the 20-win mark more quickly than at any other time in their franchise's history. (Their previous best start was 20-6 in 2014-15.) Toronto will be tested early and often this week. They host the Nuggets on Monday, the Sixers on Wednesday and the Bucks on Sunday. Fortunately, Lowry is expected to return to the lineup Monday night.
2. Philadelphia 76ers
The Sixers are streaking, having won four in a row and eight of their last nine games. After knocking off the pesky Grizzlies at the Wells Fargo Center on Sunday, Philly is now a league-best 13-1 at home this season. Their next game is Wednesday in Toronto, a matchup featuring the only two teams in the NBA that currently have more than 15 wins.
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3. Denver Nuggets
2018-19 has been a season full of peaks and valleys for the Nuggets. They started the year 9-1. Disappointingly, Denver then went 1-6 over their next seven games. However, the Nuggets are back on the upswing, as they are currently riding a five-game win streak. During this current run, it’s been the defense that has sparked their success. Denver is allowing just 98.8 points per 100 possessions. Quite impressive considering they finished last season ranked 23rd in Defensive Efficiency, allowing 109.9 points per 100 possessions.
4. Milwaukee Bucks
The Bucks are coming off a less-than-impressive week. Milwaukee lost to the Hornets and the Knicks, and needed a game-winning 3-pointer from Khris Middleton to beat the Bulls. However, the recent struggles can’t be pinned on Giannis Antetokounmpo. Over the Bucks last six games, the Greek Freak is averaging 31.8 points (on 63.8 percent shooting), 14.5 rebounds, 7.3 assists, 2.0 steals and 1.2 blocks. He’s widely considered the current favorite to take home this season’s MVP trophy.
5. Golden State Warriors
The Warriors welcomed back Stephen Curry on Saturday night in Detroit, after he had missed each of their last 11 games with a groin injury. However, Golden State didn’t play with much effort and lost to the Pistons 111-102. With Curry back in the mix, Kevin Durant will see his usage rate scaled back. Prior to Saturday, Durant had been flat-out on fire. KD averaged 48.0 points, 10.0 rebounds, 7.3 assists and 1.3 blocks over the Dubs previous three contests, while shooting 52.2% from the floor, 40% from 3-point territory and 95.2% from the free-throw line. Durant was averaging 30 FG attempts per game during that stretch but took just 19 shots with Curry back in action.
6. L.A. Clippers
The Clippers were red-hot when they arrived in Dallas on Sunday night, having had won nine of their previous ten games, before the Mavs cooled them off. Nonetheless, the Clips are ahead of the Warriors in the Pacific Division standings and are tied with the Nuggets for the best record in the Western Conference.
7. Oklahoma City Thunder
Many casual fans might assume that a team spearheaded by Russell Westbrook would rely on offense to wins games, but the Thunder have hung their hat on their defense this season. OKC currently ranks 17th in Offensive Efficiency, but leads the league in Defensive Rating, as they are the only team in the NBA allowing fewer than fewer than 103 points per 100 possessions.
8. Detroit Pistons
The Pistons have been a roll since the middle November, winning seven of their last eight contests. Over that eight-game stretch, Blake Griffin has been doing plenty of heavy lifting, averaging 26.0 points, 8.4 rebounds, 5.3 assists and 2.4 3-pointers in 36.9 minutes. Detroit is currently fourth in the Eastern Conference but has a tough upcoming string of games. Their next five opponents are the Thunder, the Bucks, the Sixers (twice) and the Pelicans.
9. Los Angeles Lakers
It’s somewhat rare for a team to play three games in four days in today’s NBA; yet, the Lakers played Thursday, Friday and Sunday of last week and managed to win all three contests. L.A. is now five game over .500 as LeBron James settles into his Los Angeles digs. LeBron leads the Lakers in points, assists, rebounds, steals and 3-pointers. (He’s also second in blocks behind JaVale McGee.)
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10. Boston Celtics
Last week, Boston looked more like the team we thought they’d be entering the 2018-19 season. The Celts have won three in a row and four of their last five. Over this five-game stretch, they are scoring 117.4 points per 100 possessions and allowing just 104.2 points. Their Net Rating of plus-13.2 is the second-best in the NBA.
11. Memphis Grizzlies
The Grizzlies are 6-6 on the road this season, which means they have already tied their 2017-18 total for road victories, when they won just six of 41 away from home. Memphis has also compiled a 5-4 record versus the Eastern Conference. That’s already more wins vs. the East than they had all of last season (4-26).
12. Portland Trail Blazers
The Blazers are trending in the wrong direction. They’ve lost five of their last six games and have allowed over 123 points per loss during this current stretch. Dating back to the start of November, the Blazers rank 27th in Defensive Rating, just behind the Atlanta Hawks.
13. Indiana Pacers
The Pacers announced on Friday that Victor Oladipo would be “out indefinitely” as he continues to deal with a sore right knee. However, the hope is he’ll be able to ramp up his rehab work this week and see some positive results. Founrtuanetly for Indiana, they play just three games this week and don’t face a team with a winning record until they host the Bucks next Wednesday. Also, four of their next five games are at home.
14. Houston Rockets
After a bitterly disappointing four-game losing skid at the end of November, the Rockets won back-to-back games over the weekend to pull themselves back to .500. James Harden is currently leading the league in scoring (30.6 ppg) and, over Houston’s last eight games, he’s averaging 35.3 points, 6.1 rebounds, 10.6 assists, 2.3 steals and 2.5 treys and 7.0 turnovers.
15. Dallas Mavericks
The Mavs knocked off the surging Clippers on Sunday. The win was especially impressive because Dallas was playing without rookie sensation Luka Doncic. The prohibitive favorite for Rookie of the Year suffered a right hip strain Friday against the Lakers an was unable to suit up. However, coach Rick Carlisle said he didn’t believe the injury is serious. Hopefully, Doncic can return when the Mavericks host Portland on Tuesday.
16. New Orleans Pelicans
How crucial is Anthony Davis to the success to the Pelicans? Well, not only is New Orleans 0-4 in games in which he is unable to play this season, they are 9-2 when AD shoots 50.0 percent or better from the floor and just 3-8 when he shots below 50 percent.
17. Minnesota Timberwolves
The Wolves had won four in a row before falling to the Celtics on Saturday night. They host the Rockets on Monday. It’s the first time these two squads have squared off since Houston eliminated Minnesota in the playoffs last Spring.
18. Charlotte Hornets
The Hornets are dealing with a number of injuries to important players. Cody Zeller (left rib contusion) was unable to play in Sunday's loss to the Pelicans. Marvin Williams sprained his right shoulder on Sunday, failed to return to the game, and exited the arena in a sling. Kemba Walker sprained his right ankle in a collision with Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Fortunately, Kemba was able to return but finished with just 13 points on 5-of-16 shooting.
19. San Antonio Spurs
The Spurs got blown out twice last week. They lost by 39 points (128-89) to the Wolves in Minnesota on Wednesday and by 31 points (136-105) to Rockets in San Antonio on Friday night. Per the Elias Sports Bureau, it’s only the second time in franchise history the Spurs have lost consecutive games by 30 or more points (the only other occasion was back in November of 1987). The lopsided defeat to Houston is the Spurs second largest home loss ever.
20. Sacramento Kings
Bogdan Bogdanovic has poured in at least 20 points in each of the Kings last three games. It’s the first time in his NBA career he’s scored 20-plus in three consecutive contests. Over this current three-game stretch, Bogdanovic is averaging 22.0 points, 3.0 rebounds, 5.0 dimes and 2.7 made 3-pointers.
21. Orlando Magic
The Magic wrap up a six-game road trip Tuesday night in Miami. Orlando then goes on to play nine of their next 11 games at home in the Amway Center.
22. Utah Jazz
For a team that planned to make a deep run into the playoffs this season, sitting at two games below .500 in December is not what Utah fans had in mind coming into the year. However, it is important to note that the Jazz have had a brutal schedule to start the season. Of the 24 games they’ve played, 16 have been on the road (a league-high) versus just eight at home (a league-low).
23. Miami Heat
The Heat were down 19 points to Utah on Sunday but came all the way back to win. Hassan Whiteside led the way, scoring 23 points, grabbing 20 rebounds and blocking three shots. Dating back to the start of the 2015-16 season, Whiteside has ten games with at least 20 boards and 20 points, and four contests with 20/20 and three blocks. Andre Drummond is the only player in the league with more such games.
24. Washington Wizards
The Wizards' season began in nightmare fashion. Not only did they lose seven of their first eight games, but there was a ridiculous amount of sniping within the locker room — rumors of trades and coach Scott Brooks potentially getting fired popped up on a seemingly daily basis. However, the Wiz have been able to right the ship a bit, going 8-7 over their past 15 games. They currently sit in ninth place in the Eastern Conference.
25. New York Knicks
Many Knicks fans thought coach David Fizdale was foolish for having faith in Emmanuel Mudiay and inserting him into the starting lineup. However, Mudiay has rewarded Fizdale by exceeding expectations. Mud scored a season-high 28 points with three rebounds, seven assists, one steal and four 3-pointers in the Knicks surprising overtime victory over the Bucks on Saturday and, over New York’s last five games, he is averaging 16.8 points, 2.8 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.6 treys and 1.6 turnovers.
26. Brooklyn Nets
The Nets have suffered a handful of heartbreaking defeats this season, but the loss to the Grizzlies at home on Friday night was the worst of all. Brooklyn was up by seven points with 27 seconds left in regulation but allowed Memphis to force overtime. Then, Brooklyn was up four points with 36 seconds left in first OT, but allowed the Grizz to force a second OT. Brooklyn eventually lost 131-125 in double overtime. The had no legs the next night playing the Wizards in Washington and got blown out. The Nets have now lost six straight.
27. Atlanta Hawks
Credit new head coach Lloyd Pierce for imploring his young Hawks to hustle. Per NBA.com’s advanced stats, Atlanta is first in loose balls recovered per game (10.8), second in charges drawn (0.87), and third in deflections per game (15.4).
28. Chicago Bulls
The Bulls welcomed back scoring big man Lauri Markkanen on Saturday night after he had missed the first six weeks of the season due to a sprained right elbow injury he initially he sustained in training camp. Markkanen tallied 10 points and four boards across 26 minutes in his season debut. Most importantly, he didn’t suffer any setbacks. However, Lauri won’t be playing for Fred Hoiberg any longer. Chicago canned Hoiberg on Monday morning. Jim Boylen will take over as the permanent head coach for the remainder of the season.
29. Cleveland Cavaliers
The Cavs lost all four games they played last week. In their most recent three defeats, they have been outscored by a combined total of 61 points (273-334). George Hill returned the Cleveland lineup after missing 11 games with a sprained right shoulder, but coach Larry Drew decided to keep rookie Collin Sexton in the starting lineup at point guard and will continue to do so. Hill started at shooting guard.
30. Phoenix Suns
Interesting factoid via Ben Golliver, which speaks to just how badly Phoenix has been outplayed this season: The Suns now have three more losses by 20+ points (seven) than they have wins by any margin (four). No other NBA team has more losses by 20-plus points than wins.