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The Bucks and Lakers, both owners of identical 24-3 records, have established themselves as the clear-cut class of the league a quarter of the way through the 2019-20 NBA campaign.
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1. Milwaukee Bucks
The Bucks league-wide domination continued last week, as they ran their winning streak to a whopping 18 straight contests. It's been five weeks since Milwaukee lost a basketball game. Their current streak is the second-longest in franchise history, trailing only the 20-game stretch by the 1970-71 squad, which went on to capture the NBA championship. Oh, and the Bucks have also won 22 of their last 23.
2. Los Angeles Lakers
As well as Milwaukee has been playing, the Lakers refuse to give up ground. LeBron James scored 32 points and tacked on 13 rebounds, seven assists, three blocks and one steal in 37 minutes in LA's victory over the Hawks in Atlanta on Sunday. Incredibly, it was the 14th straight road win for the Lakers. If the Lakers beat the Pacers in Indiana on Tuesday, they will head to Milwaukee on Thursday for a showdown with the Bucks, riding a 15-game road winning streak. If the Bucks beat the Mavs on Monday, they will welcome LeBron and company riding a 19-game winning streak of their own. Get your popcorn ready, folks.
3. LA Clippers
Kawhi Leonard logged 37 minutes on the front end of a back-to-back on Friday, racking up 42 points, 11 rebounds, two assists and three triples in 37 minutes. Unfortunately, that meant he'd sit out Saturday vs. the Bulls. Paul George and Montrezl Harrell did all they could Saturday evening in Chicago, but the Clippers still ended up losing.
4. Miami Heat
This past Tuesday, Bam Adebayo became the youngest player in the history of the Heat franchise to record a triple-double. On Saturday, he did it again, tallying 18 points, 11 rebounds and ten assists in an overtime victory over the Mavs. Over Miami's last five games, Bam The Beast is averaging a whopping 21.0 points (on 63.6% shooting), 12.2 rebounds and 7.2 assists.
5. Philadelphia 76ers
Joel Embiid (illness) was unable to play in Sunday's game against the Nets. And Brooklyn, despite playing on the backend of a back-to-back, whipped the Sixers, 109-89. Fortunately for Philly, the 76ers don't play again until Wednesday, so hopefully Embiid will be able to rest up and get healthy by then.
6. Boston Celtics
After a hot start to the season, the C's came back down to earth last week. On Wednesday, they lost to the Pacers in Indiana and then dropped a home contest to the Sixers on Thursday. Currently enjoying a nice stretch of six straight days off, Bostin isn't back in action until Wednesday when they take on the Doncic-less Mavericks.
7. Toronto Raptors
Over the first 19 games of the season, the Raps ranked fifth in the NBA in Offensive Efficiency, scoring 111.2 points per 100 possessions. However, over their next five contests, Toronto scored just 98.4 points per 100 possessions, which ranked dead last in the league. The Raps lost four of those five games. Fortunately, Toronto has finished off a tough stretch of its schedule and plays its next three games against subpar opponents (the Cavs, Pistons and Wizards).
8. Denver Nuggets
Nikola Jokic has been far more forceful of late, which is what coach Mike Malone has been hoping for. Jokic recorded a triple-double in a win over the Thunder on Saturday, scoring 28 points (11-of-14 FGs, 3-of-4 FTs) with 14 rebounds and 12 assists. He then racked up 25/10/5 to beat the Knicks on Sunday night. On the season, the Nuggets are 11-3 when Jokic scores more than 15 points. They are 6-5 when he scores 115 points or less.
9. Dallas Mavericks
Luke Doncic was diagnosed with a "moderate right ankle sprain" Saturday night, but it sounds like he avoided a serious injury. Tim MacMahon of ESPN is reporting that Doncic is likely to return within the next couple of weeks. That qualifies as good news, considering how badly the ankle rolled over. Unfortunately, the Mavs have a brutal schedule this week, as they play four of the top Eastern Conference teams (Bucks, Celtics, Sixers, Raptors), with three of those four on the road.
10. Indiana Pacers
The Pacers have been impressively holding down the fort with Victor Oladipo, who is still recovering from knee surgery. Based on the reports of his improved progress in rehab last month, there was some hope that he would return by Christmas. Yet, coach Nate McMillan said 'Dipo still has hurdles to clear before playing in games. "I don't see him coming back anytime in the near future," McMillan told reporters on Wednesday.
11. Houston Rockets
Although Russell Westbrook rested Saturday night, the Rockets were still heavy favorites at home after Andre Drummond (eye) was ruled out prior to tip-off. Then, the Pistons' other star, Blake Griffin (left knee soreness), started the game but was unable to finish it. He retreated to the locker room in the second quarter and never checked back in. Somehow the Rockets still let a winnable game slip away. Despite Harden's scoring explosions, Houston is just 6-6 in their last 12 games.
12. Utah Jazz
Mike Conley (left hamstring tightness) has missed five straight games, and even though he has struggled a bit this season, it's clear just how much the Jazz miss their point guard running the show. However, Conley went through portions of Sunday's practice and appears to be inching closer to a return.
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13. Brooklyn Nets
The Nets cut Iman Shumpert last week to make room for Wilson Chandler, who returned from a 25-game suspension on Sunday. Chandler had tallied two points, seven rebounds, two assists, one steal and one block in 19 minutes in his debut vs. the Sixers.
14. Sacramento Kings
When De'Aaron Fox was initially diagnosed with a grade-3 left ankle sprain, some suspected he might be sidelined into January. However, Fox has recovered quicker than expected. He told reporters he has an increased range of motion in his ankle and plans to return to action during the team's road trip, perhaps as early as Tuesday vs. the Hornets.
15. Orlando Magic
The Magic welcomed Nikola Vucevic back to action on Sunday, after the big man spent 11 straight games on the sideline. Vooch picked up right where he left off, racking up 20 points, nine rebounds, two 3-pointers, two assists, one steal and two turnovers in 29 minutes in a win over the Pelicans.
16. Oklahoma City Thunder
OKC wrapped up a four-game road swing on Saturday and was able to go 2-2 on the trip. On Monday, they begin a five-game homestand. Better yet, four of their five opponents currently have losing records. OKC has a chance to get back to .500 by Christmas.
17. Phoenix Suns
Deandre Ayton will finally step back on the floor Tuesday night when the Suns host the Clippers, as Ayton will have finished serving a 25-game suspension for using a banned diuretic. Considering he has not played since opening night, the big man will be well-rested but will need to knock off some rust.
18. Charlotte Hornets
The Hornets got spanked by the Pacers on Sunday but looked terrific earlier in the week, notching three straight victories over the Wizards, Nets and Bulls. They play the Kings and Cavs on a back-to-back starting Tuesday.
19. Portland Trail Blazers
Over the weekend, Jusuf Nurkic said he is about "60 percent" in his recovery from the compound fracture of his left tibia and fibula. The good news is he is starting to increase his on-court rehab work, telling The Athletic, "I'm right where I want to be." However, it's clear he won't be medically cleared for game action any time soon. It will be interesting to see if the Blazers search for much-needed reinforcements of their front line via trade.
20. Minnesota Timberwolves
The Wolves' solid start to the 2019-20 campaign seems like a distant memory right now, as the Wolves are mired in a nasty seven-game losing skid. Minnesota hosts the Pelicans on Wednesday night, but then have to embark on a tough four-game road trip, which starts with a back-to-back at Denver and Portland this weekend. This losing streak could hit ten if the Wolves don't win Wednesday.
21. San Antonio Spurs
Incredibly, the Spurs have gone to overtime in each of their last four games. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that's the longest such streak in NBA history. San Antonio went 3-1 in those four contests.
22. Detroit Pistons
Despite playing without Andre Drummond (eye) and then seeing Blake Griffin (left knee soreness) ruled out after just 15 minutes, the Pistons were still somehow able to knock off the Rockets in Houston on Saturday night. The good news Detroit plays five of its next six games at home. However, both Drummond and Griffin are questionable for Monday's game vs. Washington.
23. Chicago Bulls
The Bulls have won two of their last three games, including registering a solid win over the Clippers on Saturday in Chicago. Zach LaVine scored 35 points in that victory vs. LA, and also topped the 30-point plateau in a win over the Hawks on Wednesday
24. Memphis Grizzlies
Ja Morant is the odds-on favorite to take home the 2019-20 Rookie of the Year award, but the Grizzlies' other first-round pick as exceeded expectations as well early on. Brandon Clarke scored a career-high 25 points in Saturday's win over the Wizards, converting 11 of his 14 FG attempts. On the season, he is averaging 12.7 points and 5.9 rebounds in 21.4 minutes, while posting a league-leading 69.0% effective FG percentage.
25. Washington Wizards
Isaiah Thomas has missed each of the Wizards' previous five games due to a left calf strain but is on the verge of making his return to the lineup. IT went through Washington's shootaround Monday morning and is a game-time decision for Monday's matchup with the Pistons.
26. Atlanta Hawks
Not only did the Hawks lose to the Lakers on Sunday, but they may have also lost Kevin Huerter for a bit. Atlanta's young wing left Sunday's game with a left shoulder contusion and was unable to return. Unfortunately, this is the same shoulder that he had a rotator cuff issue with earlier this season.
27. New Orleans Pelicans
The Pels' loss to the Magic on Sunday was their 12th straight. It's the franchise's longest losing streak since moving to New Orleans. The Pelicans average margin of defeat during this 12-game slide is 12.8 points.
28. New York Knicks
The Knicks won two of their final three games last week, and their success was due in large part to improved point guard play. Elfird Payton is finally healthy and is averaging 13.3 points, 6.7 assists, 5.0 rebounds and 1.0 steals in 27.3 minutes per game off the bench in New York's last three contests.
29. Cleveland Cavaliers
The Cavs snapped an eight-game losing streak with an overtime win over San Antonio on Thursday night but then ran into the buzzsaw that is the Bucks on Saturday in Milwaukee, and were blown out of the building.
30. Golden State Warriors
ESPN's Zach Lowe and Adrian Wojnarowski discussed the Warriors potentially trading D'Angelo Russell on the duo's "Woj & Lowe Show," broadcast on Sunday night. Wojnarowski stated that he believes it's unlikely that Russell will be dealt during the season, as Golden State will take calls but "won't be actively shopping him" around the league. Instead, the Warriors will likely reassess the situation, and the trade market, this summer.