This week's Power Rankings are saddened by the news that the Golden State Warriors have descended to the very depths of the NBA universe – the foot of the Inside Sports NBA Power Rankings.
10. Utah Jazz (Down 3)
(9-5) Last week: 1-2
The Jazz continue to play well, but can't quite put it all together. Joe Ingles has struggled mightily, returning to the 6th man role this season. His numbers are down across the board, but the woeful 34% shooting is most concerning. Perhaps he's just best suited as a secondary option with the starters instead of leading the bench unit? With backup centre Ed Davis injured, Rudy Gobert has gone on a tear, averaging around 19 points, 16 boards and 3 blocks in his last five outings.
9. Philadelphia 76ers (Down 1)
(9-5) Last week: 2-1
A win in Cleveland broke a 5 game losing streak on the road. For a team with #1 seed aspirations, that has to improve. On the positive, the Sixers finally have their starting unit back together after injury and suspension enforced absences. Oh, by the way, Ben Simmons hit a 3!
8. Toronto Raptors (Down 2)
(10-4) Last week: 2-1
The Raptors continue to ride out the absence of Kyle Lowry through the strong play of Fred Vanvleet (averaging about 21 points, 8 assists and 3 steals since Lowry's injury) and Norman Powell (14 points, 4 boards on 36.7% from deep as a starter). In a tight race at the top of the East, the Raps sit 4th, but only a game off 1st place. A showdown with Philly this week is mouthwatering.
7. Miami Heat (Up 3)
(10-3) Last week: 3-0
Is Miami for real? Whilst this side was expected to make the playoffs, sitting a half game off the top of the conference wasn't on the radar. Jimmy Butler has lead by force of personality since his return. Bam Adebayo has rounded out his offensive game, and continues to make strides at the other end. Perhaps the most positive point for Heat fans? According to Tankathon, the Heat have played the 2nd toughest schedule in the NBA so far. They still have yet to face the Knicks or Warriors.
6. Houston Rockets (Up 3)
(11-4) Last week: 3-1
James Harden is unguardable. A bricky start to the season was concerning, but he's put that to bed. Since the the 2nd week of November Harden has averaged over 40 points per game. His step back is as lethal as ever and the floater game is vastly improved. He's seen just about every defense – gimmick or otherwise – and it hasn't fazed him. The man is the single best offensive player we've seen since peak Jordan.
5. Denver Nuggets (Steady)
(10-3) Last week: 3-0
Nikola Jokic continues to look sluggish and his numbers are down across the board. Yet the Nuggets keep winning. How? A number of ways. It could be a total defensive effort led by Paul Millsap and Jerami Grant, it could be Jamal Murray tearing up the Grizz with 39 points, 8 assists, 3 steals and 7 three's. This team is deep and versatile. If the Joker gets back on track, look out.
4. Los Angeles Clippers (Steady)
(10-5) Last week: 3-1
Yesterday, we finally got to see the Clippers, fully operational. The result? Taking down the previously league leading Celtics. Kawhi was rusty after missing 3 games, and Paul George has still only played 4 games this season, not that you'd know it. PG has come back with the loudest of bangs, laying down 28.3 points, 6.3 boards and 4.8 assists per game so far. Let's check back in a week, and see if Doc Rivers can get his muscle car finely tuned.
3. Boston Celtics (Down 2)
(11-3) Last week: 2-2
No Hayward? No problem? Not quite. The Celtics 10 game winning streak was ended in a heartbreaking loss to the Kings. They also lost the Clips in OT. Whilst it's great that the Celtics were in both road games, a closer like Hayward might have (against the Kings especially) been able to put them over the top. In the race to the top of the East, the margins are that fine.
2. Milwaukee Bucks (Up 1)
(11-3) Last week: 4-0
The loss of ace sidekick and secondary scorer/play maker Khris Middleton seems to have galvanised the Bucks. Of course, there's a really simple reason that they've flourished without the All Star: Giannis. The Greek Freak has the ball ALL the time, with Middleton out. And that's a problem for opposition defences. The numbers are preposterous: 30.5 points, 13.8 boards, 6 assists, 2.9 stocks and a career high 1.4 3's per outing with an incredible 33.1 PER. Back to back MVP's is clearly in play for Giannis.
1. Los Angeles Lakers (Up 1)
(12-2) Last week: 3-0
Boston's loss to the Kings handed the Lakers the NBA's best record and the #1 spot in our Power Rankings. They're doing it despite some ghastly shooting from deep (34.2% on 29.6 attempts – both below average at best) and ranking 26th in free throw attempts. LeBron and AD are monsters inside, which is rendering the lack of outside pop irrelevant right now. The defense is superb. If LA can improve it's shot profile a touch, 65 wins might be there for the taking.