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NBA Power Rankings: Wizards showing strong mental toughness originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington
Four weeks into what could be the first 82-game NBA season in three years, not everything makes sense. We don’t know the Boston Celtics, can’t believe the Cleveland Cavaliers and won’t trust the rampaging Washington Wizards.
The league being the league, it doesn’t stop. Neither do the weekly endeavor we call the NBA Power Rankings. The latest:
30. Houston Rockets (1-13): Worst record, longest losing streak (12) and leading the NBA in turnovers per game is quite the ugly trifecta. The only option for poor Stephen Silas, a good dude, is to stay patient and hope to be there two years from now. Meanwhile: Free John Wall.
29. New Orleans Pelicans (2-13): After scrounging on the basement floor for a couple of weeks, losing seven in a row by an average of 15 points, the return of Brandon Ingram – who missed all seven games – pulls them to the bottom of the basement stairs.
28. Detroit Pistons (3-10): A 20-point loss at home Friday leads to a team meeting Saturday morning, which may or may not be related to a victory Saturday night. We’re warming to the presence of Cade Cunningham.
27. Orlando Magic (3-11): After beating Utah, Cole Anthony delivers a vainglorious postgame interview that goes viral. Here come the Magic? Well, no. They lose the next three games and face a five-game roadie.
26. Minnesota Timberwolves (4-9): Despite Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell pulling down a combined $61.7 million in salary this season, the closest thing the pups have to a leader is a second-year guard who turned 20 this month. That’s unfair to Anthony Edwards.
24. Sacramento Kings (6-8): Sixth Man Buddy Hield can get buckets. The starting lineup is OK but won't get much better until De’Aaron Fox finds himself.
23. Oklahoma City Thunder (5-8): They’re bound to win some games behind the goodness of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and the defense of Lu Dort. They won’t lose 60, but they will lose 50.
22. Indiana Pacers (6-9): Much of the blame for the 1-6 start can be traced to the team adjusting to new coach Rick Carlisle. He’s an acquired taste but a good coach. See: Five wins over the last eight.
21. Portland Trail Blazers (7-8): Damian Lillard has not been right all season and now he’s sidelined with lower abdomen tendinopathy. If Dame is out for more than a few games, this team will have trouble beating anybody.
20. Charlotte Hornets (8-7): No team has played more road games as of Monday, but now they’re at home and have a chance to get busy. The LaMelo Ball-Miles Bridges two-man game is real. Beating the Warriors at this stage is a huge morale boost.
19. Boston Celtics (7-7): Big man Robert Williams has been very good for first-year coach Ime Udoka, but Boston is without Jaylen Brown, getting subpar offense from Jayson Tatum and lacks a true point guard. They’ll get better, but Dennis Schroder has no bag of miracles.
18. Dallas Mavericks (9-4): Nice surge in Big D, winning four of five, but nothing obscures a weak defense better than a meringue-soft schedule. Show us what you’ve got over the next five games: Nuggets, Suns, Suns, Clippers, Clippers.
17. Memphis Grizzlies (7-7): They’ve lost four of the last six, mostly because there is no D without Dillon (Brooks). He returned five days ago, so we expect improvement. Otherwise, shed a tear for Ja Morant, whose brilliance can take them only so far.
16. Atlanta Hawks (6-9): The six-game skid is history, and this team’s offense is too good for that. The defense, however, is keeping coach Nate McMillan up at night. No way they should be so low in defensive rating, but the numbers don’t lie.
15. Toronto Raptors (7-8): With every sprint, there is a stumble. Three straight losses greeted the return of Pascal Siakam, and now Fred VanVleet (groin) goes out. This team won’t be able to sustain much of anything unless both are at full strength.
14. New York Knicks (8-6): We all remember when Tom Thibodeau was considered a master of defense. Well, his team is bottom 10 in defensive rating. Moreover, New York is dead last in fourth-quarter defensive rating.
13. Milwaukee Bucks (6-8): Giannis is back. But Khris Middleton, Brook Lopez and Donte DiVincenzo remain out, and Jrue Holiday continues to search for his shot. The defending champs will recover (we think), but the first four weeks have been brutal.
12. Cleveland Cavaliers (9-6): “We’re here and we’re not a slouch anymore.” Those are the words of Darius Garland, the best player on the most surprising team in the league. He’s right, and their big-man duo of Jarrett Allen and rookie Evan Mobley is quite the load.
11. Chicago Bulls (10-4): At age 32, DeMar DeRozan is averaging 25 points per game and shooting the 3-ball better than ever. We know Zach LaVine is legit. They’re pretty good now, but they could make a leap as they get healthy.
10. Los Angeles Lakers (8-7): Desperate times call for desperate measures, so coach Frank Vogel puts Melo in the starting lineup, along with Talen Horton-Tucker, making his season debut, and it’s a win. Meanwhile, Kenny Baze goes from starter to DNP-CD.
9. Philadelphia 76ers (8-7): They’re 0-5 without Big Joel, and they still have ways to go on their West Coast swing. He could return this week. Meanwhile, send positive vibes to assistant coach Dave Joerger, who will spend the coming weeks getting cancer treatment.
8. Utah Jazz (9-5): This bunch rarely strays from its perplexing nature. They’re good, they’re bad, they’re great, they’re awful. We don’t care to see Rudy Gobert throwing or taking punches, but we’ll cheer when good guy Rudy Gay (R heel) makes his Utah debut.
7. Washington Wizards (10-3): They were 3-9 after 12 games last season. We’re impressed with how hard they compete and we’re delighted for rookie coach Wes Unseld Jr. They’ve yet to lose after building a halftime lead, which testifies to mental toughness.
6. Miami Heat (9-5): Great leadership, good depth and the best first-quarter defense in the NBA. It’s been a tough road trip (1-3), but Jimmy Butler (ankle), who missed two games, will be back in the mix. This team is not built to sink.
5. Los Angeles Clippers (9-5): The seven-game winning streak ends on a night when an overworked Paul George reverts to human status and Reggie Jackson (4-of-17 shooting) remembers who he really is. That said, Ty Lue is doing a commendable job without his best player.
4. Denver Nuggets (9-5): After preaching defense for four years, Michael Malone finally getting results. It’s startling to see the Nuggets ranked top five in defensive rating. Can this continue?
3. Brooklyn Nets (10-5): My MVP through four weeks is Kevin Durant. Two-plus years after rupturing his Achilles’ tendon, he’s shooting 59 percent from the field, leading the Nets in scoring and rebounding. He’s on track for his fifth NBA scoring title – and first in eight years.
2. Phoenix Suns (10-3): After a puzzling start, they’ve won nine in a row, the longest streak in the league. They’re back to being the team that can smack any opponent. JaVale “Pierre” McGee is holding it down in the middle while Deandre Ayton heals from a leg contusion.
1. Warriors (12-2): The seven-game win streak is over, but the Warriors should be pleased with the arrival of Andrew Wiggins and building a cushion in the West. Now comes the road. They were slapped on Sunday, but they rebounded big time against the Nets on Tuesday.
Story written by NBC Sports Insider Monte Poole