July 19, 2024

NBA Power Rankings: Luka and Mavs impress in the West, as Celtics remain the team to beat


We’re a week out from 2024, and every NBA team is writing its New Year’s resolutions as the season is far from over and a fresh start is welcomed … for some more than others.

The Boston Celtics are seemingly untouchable as they top the rankings for the sixth week in a row. But the Milwaukee Bucks and Philadelphia 76ers are not far behind them as the Eastern Conference begins to heat up.

In the West, the LA Clippers continue to cook, but Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks are also putting on quite a show. Doncic capped a Christmas Day slate of games with 50 points to eclipse 10,000 for his career.

Meanwhile, the Detroit Pistons made history Tuesday night by dropping their 27th straight game — setting a new single-season record for the most consecutive losses.

Will some teams turn a new leaf in the new year? While we wait to see whether some can round out 2023 on a high note, let’s take a look at this week’ Power Rankings.

Note: Throughout the regular season, our panel (Kendra Andrews, Tim Bontemps, Jamal Collier, Andrew Lopez, Tim MacMahon, Dave McMenamin and Ohm Youngmisuk) is ranking all 30 teams from top to bottom, taking stock of which teams are playing the best basketball and which teams are looking most like title contenders.

Previous rankings: Post-Finals | Nov. 1 | Nov. 8 | Nov. 15 | Nov. 22 | Nov. 29 | Dec. 6 | Dec. 13 | Dec. 20 |

Jump to a team:


1. Boston Celtics
2023-24 record: 23-6

  • Previous ranking: 1

  • Next games: vs. DET (Dec. 28), vs. TOR (Dec. 29), @ SA (Dec. 31), @ OKC (Jan. 2)

After Boston’s overtime loss to Golden State on Dec. 19, fortunes quickly improved for the Celtics during their California tour. In their wins over Sacramento, the Clippers and the Lakers over the past week, Boston outscored its opponents by a combined 73 points — including a 37-point win over the streaking Clippers on Saturday. Boston closes 2023 with games against Detroit, Toronto and San Antonio, and a clear opportunity to finish the month with a sterling 13-2 record and the top mark in the league. — Tim Bontemps

2. Denver Nuggets
2023-24 record: 22-10

The Nuggets will never forget 2023, the year they won their first NBA championship. And as the calendar year closes, the champs appear to be back on track. After going through a stretch in which they lost four of seven games, the Nuggets are now winners of five in a row after handling the Warriors on Christmas Day. Jamal Murray is finally healthier and more comfortable, and it’s showing: He is shooting 15-for-28 (53%) from 3 and has an eye on securing his first All-Star appearance. — Ohm Youngmisuk

3. Milwaukee Bucks
2023-24 record: 22-8

The Bucks dropped only their second game of the month with a Christmas Day loss to the Knicks, but they have been rolling in December thanks to an offense that looks like the juggernaut everyone expected it would be coming into the season. Since the start of the month, Milwaukee owns the No. 2-ranked offense in the NBA, with Damian Lillard averaging 27.2 points and 7.4 assists next to Giannis Antetokounmpo, who is averaging 32.4 points and 11.3 rebounds. But only one of Milwaukee’s next six games is at home; the Bucks are just 6-6 away from Fiserv Forum this season. — Jamal Collier

4. Minnesota Timberwolves
2023-24 record: 22-7

Minnesota’s league-leading defense held Sacramento’s 12th-ranked offense to 98 points over the weekend, the ninth time this season it has held a team under 100 points, the most in the NBA. And Anthony Edwards is heating up again, putting up five straight games with at least 25 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists, including a 34-point, 10-assist performance against the Kings. — Collier

5. Philadelphia 76ers
2023-24 record: 20-9

  • Previous ranking: 4

  • Next games: @ ORL (Dec. 27), @ HOU (Dec. 29), @ CHI (Dec. 30), vs. CHI (Jan. 2)

Joel Embiid missed the Sixers’ Christmas Day game against the Heat, but his play last week was still good enough to claim his second Eastern Conference Player of the Week award. In the process, he became one of four players in NBA history to rack up at least 13 consecutive 30-point, 10-rebound games. The other three? Hall of Famers Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Elgin Baylor. — Tim Bontemps

6. Oklahoma City Thunder
2023-24 record: 19-9

  • Previous ranking: 6

  • Next games: vs. NY (Dec. 27), @ DEN (Dec. 29), vs. BKN (Dec. 31), vs. BOS (Jan. 2)

Saturday’s loss to the Lakers was the Thunder’s first this season in which forward Jalen Williams scored at least 20 points. Oklahoma City had gone 7-0 when Williams, last season’s Rookie of the Year runner-up, hit the 20-point milestone. Williams and Chet Holmgren have established themselves as the efficient 2A and 2B behind superstar Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, averaging 17.4 and 17.2 points per game, respectively, for a Thunder team that ranks in the top 10 in both offense and defense. — Tim MacMahon

7. LA Clippers
2023-24 record: 17-12

After enjoying his healthiest start to a season, Kawhi Leonard has been out for three games because of a left hip contusion suffered in a win against Dallas last week. Coach Ty Lue says Leonard is feeling better and is day-to-day (their next game is against Memphis on Friday). After playing eight games in 13 days with two back-to-backs packed in that stretch, the Clippers have just two home games this week. That gives Leonard time to rest. The Clippers will need a fresh Leonard, as they open 2024 with eight games in the first 14 days of January. –Youngmisuk

8. Miami Heat
2023-24 record: 18-12

Rookie Jaime Jaquez Jr. has made the most of his opportunities this season for the Heat, who, despite having had 13 different players start a game this year and using 16 different starting lineup combinations, are No. 5 in the East. The No. 18 overall pick in last year’s draft has five 20-point games this season, tied with Brandon Miller for the second most among rookies (only Victor Wembanyama has more with 11). In the Heat’s win over the 76ers on Monday, Jaquez became the fifth rookie ever to have 30 points and 10 rebounds on Christmas Day, joining Patrick Ewing, Walt Bellamy, Oscar Robertson and Wilt Chamberlain. — Andrew Lopez

9. Dallas Mavericks
2023-24 record: 18-12

  • Previous ranking: 9

  • Next games: vs. CLE (Dec. 27), @ MIN (Dec. 28), @ GS (Dec. 30), @ UTAH (Jan. 1)

Kyrie Irving has been ramping up his on-court workouts as he nears his return from a right heel contusion that has sidelined him since Dec. 8. But even after his return, coach Jason Kidd plans to keep guard Dante Exum in the starting five, bumping Grant Williams to the bench to prioritize playmaking and on-ball defense. The lineup of Luka Doncic, Irving, Exum, Derrick Jones Jr. and Dereck Lively II is plus-35 in 22 minutes. The four-man group, excluding Irving, is plus-76 in 71 minutes. The trio of Doncic, Exum and Lively is plus-86 in 180 minutes. Lively, who had 20 points and 10 rebounds in the Mavs’ Christmas Day win over the Suns after missing the previous four games with a sprained ankle, has been a driving force in Dallas’ success. The Mavs are 17-7 when Lively plays and 1-5 when he doesn’t. — MacMahon

10. New York Knicks
2023-24 record: 17-12

  • Previous ranking: 12

  • Next games: @ OKC (Dec. 27), @ ORL (Dec. 29), @ IND (Dec. 30), vs. MIN (Jan. 1)

After another tremendous performance — scoring 38 points in 37 minutes against the Bucks on Christmas — Jalen Brunson is on pace to make his first All-Star team. But dig a little deeper and the stat that really stands out about his season is his 3-point shooting. The 27-year-old guard is not only attempting a career-high 6.4 3-point attempts per game, but he’s making 45.9% of those shots, leading the Knicks’ 10th-ranked offense. — Bontemps

11. Sacramento Kings
2023-24 record: 17-12

The Kings’ offense is still working its way back to their elite level from a year ago. A good sign? Sacramento is plus-4.6 in transition — fifth best in the league — but in their two losses last week, they struggled on the move. It doesn’t help that Kevin Huerter has struggled to knock down shots (a career-worst 35.7% from deep), and Keegan Murray has been inconsistent, too. But lucky for the Kings, they still have De’Aaron Fox, who gives them the spark they need. — Kendra Andrews

12. Orlando Magic
2023-24 record: 18-11

  • Previous ranking: 10

  • Next games: vs. PHI (Dec. 27), vs. NY (Dec. 29), @ PHX (Dec. 31), @ GS (Jan. 2)

Need any more proof that the Magic’s No. 4-ranked defense is real? Consider their performances this season against the Pacers, owners of the NBA’s most explosive offense. Orlando held Indiana to just 110 points Thursday, and 116 back in November. Those are two of the eight lowest-scoring games Indiana has had this season (they scored at least 120 in every other game). They’ll need every bit of that defense again this week, as they face two top-10 offenses in the 76ers and the Knicks. — Lopez

13. New Orleans Pelicans
2023-24 record: 17-14

Pelicans forward Trey Murphy III has been a major force for New Orleans since returning to the floor Dec. 1 after missing the start of the season with a torn meniscus. The Pelicans are averaging 118.9 points per possession in the 301 minutes Murphy has played this season, while allowing just 102.4 points per possession. Murphy, 23, is averaging 15.5 points per game while flirting with a 50/40/90 season (.487/.437/.848). He had a season-high 28 points against the Cavaliers on Thursday, and New Orleans is 7-3 in games he has played. — Lopez

14. Cleveland Cavaliers
2023-24 record: 17-13

With their depth already depleted with injuries to Darius Garland (jaw) and Evan Mobley (knee), Cleveland could little afford Donovan Mitchell catching an illness that has sidelined him for three games straight. But then Max Strus saved Christmas. The offseason free agent pickup has averaged 18 points and 4.5 assists in the Cavs’ past four wins, and with a 4-1 mark in their past five, Cleveland has improbably managed to gain ground in the standings in the immediate aftermath of that bad string of injuries. — Dave McMenamin

15. Houston Rockets
2023-24 record: 15-13

Jabari Smith Jr. is developing into the kind of two-way player the Rockets envisioned when they selected him with the No. 3 overall pick of the 2022 draft. Smith, 20, had the best three-game stretch of his career last week, averaging 27.0 points, 10.7 rebounds and 1.7 blocks with .634/.600/.909 shooting splits. After struggling with inefficiency as a rookie, Smith’s effective field goal percentage has leaped more than 10 points this season to 58.0. — MacMahon

16. Los Angeles Lakers
2023-24 record: 16-15

At the start of the Lakers’ recent three-game road trip, Darvin Ham used a team meeting in Chicago to show that the only team with a better defensive rating in last year’s postseason to make it as far as the Lakers was the eventual champion Denver Nuggets. Denver held teams to 110.2 points per 100 possessions; the Lakers were just behind that at 110.3. Then he showed his team its defensive rating this season: 113.0 — 11th in the league. The message? If we don’t start getting more stops, we can stop thinking about a deep postseason run. A few nights later, Ham swapped Jarred Vanderbilt for D’Angelo Russell in the starting five to help his team “lean into” the Lakers’ defensive identity. — McMenamin

17. Golden State Warriors
2023-24 record: 15-15

The Warriors remain a fickle team. They won five games in a row, but played in 14 consecutive crunch-time games, most of which ended up so close because they’d relinquished a big early lead. They did close out a tight one against the Celtics in OT last week — their best win of the season — but their inconsistencies make it hard to tell what to make of this team. Are they simply average? They’re 15-15, 10th in the West, with the 13th-ranked offense and 15th-ranked defense. Golden State’s group of rookies continues to show promise, but what does that mean for Stephen Curry and the team’s immediate success? — Andrews

18. Indiana Pacers
2023-24 record: 15-14

The Pacers finally got a win last week against the Hornets but have struggled since reaching the in-season tournament finals, going 2-6 since leaving Vegas, their only victories coming against the Pistons and Hornets. Still, Pacers guard Tyrese Haliburton is putting together a special season, with six games with 25 points and 15 assists, the most in a season by any player since James Harden (eight) and Russell Westbrook (seven) did so in 2016-17. — Collier

19. Phoenix Suns
2023-24 record: 14-15

  • Previous ranking: 15

  • Next games: @ HOU (Dec. 27), vs. CHAR (Dec. 29), vs. ORL (Dec. 31), vs. POR (Jan. 1)

Phoenix’s Christmas Day flop against the Mavericks is as good a prompt as any to assess where things stand for a franchise that not too long ago held a 2-0 lead in the 2021 NBA Finals. The Suns are 3-7 in their past 10 games and 11th in the West, a half-game behind the final play-in spot. They are 19th in defense, 16th in offense and 26th in bench points. The question is, how many of these problems can solely be attributed to Bradley Beal missing 23 out of 29 games? — McMenamin

20. Brooklyn Nets
2023-24 record: 15-15

  • Previous ranking: 20

  • Next games: vs. MIL (Dec. 27), @ WAS (Dec. 29), @ OKC (Dec. 31), @ NO (Jan 2)

Brooklyn had lost five games in a row before a home-and-home with the Pistons. So after Tuesday’s win against the league’s worst team, the Nets are now riding a two-game winning streak. Between now and a trip to Paris to face Cleveland in mid-January, however, the schedule toughens — beginning with Wednesday’s second night of a back-to-back against Milwaukee, followed by a four-game road trip to Washington, Oklahoma City, New Orleans and Houston before a return engagement with Oklahoma City back in Brooklyn on Jan. 5. — Bontemps

21. Chicago Bulls
2023-24 record: 14-18

Although a 9-3 stretch has saved the Bulls’ season, Chicago is about to be tested by an Eastern Conference stretch that includes matchups against the Pacers, 76ers twice and the Knicks. With Zach LaVine out, DeMar DeRozen has been the heart of this team’s offense, leading the Bulls in points (22.3) and assists (5.4). But with center Nikola Vucevic out for an undetermined period of time with a groin injury, the Bulls will need to find a way to at least maintain their already below-average rebounding against those top-10 teams. — Collier

22. Atlanta Hawks
2023-24 record: 12-18

One step forward for these Atlanta Hawks — and one step back. The team finally saw the return of Jalen Johnson on Tuesday night after the third-year forward missed more than a month with a left wrist injury. Johnson was enjoying a breakout campaign, averaging 14.2 points and 7.3 rebounds on 59.4% shooting in the first 15 games he played. In the Hawks’ loss to the Bulls on Tuesday, Johnson had 10 points, four assists and nine rebounds. However, forward De’Andre Hunter underwent a non-surgical procedure on Tuesday to address right knee inflammation. The team said he will be reevaluated in two weeks. — Lopez

23. Memphis Grizzlies
2023-24 record: 10-19

  • Previous ranking: 26

  • Next games: @ DEN (Dec. 28), @ LAC (Dec. 29), vs. SAC (Dec. 31), vs. SA (Jan. 2)

Ja Morant hit the ground running after his 25-game suspension, injecting life into a Memphis offense that ranked last in the league in efficiency without him. Morant, Desmond Bane and Jaren Jackson Jr. all scored at least 20 points in each of the point guard’s first three games this season, a feat the trio accomplished just four times in their previous three seasons playing together. The Grizzlies are 7-0 all time when Morant, Bane and Jackson all score at least 20. — MacMahon

24. Toronto Raptors
2023-24 record: 11-18

  • Previous ranking: 22

  • Next games: @ WAS (Dec. 27), @ BOS (Dec. 29), @ DET (Dec. 30), vs. CLE (Jan. 1)

Three weeks ago, Dennis Schroder declared the “next 20 games” would tell a lot about where Toronto’s season was going. At the time, the Raptors were 9-11. Now, heading into Wednesday’s game against the Wizards, Toronto is 11-18, having dropped seven of its past nine games to start that stretch. As for the rest of those 20 games? It begins with matchups against Washington, Boston, Detroit and Cleveland, followed by a six-game West Coast road trip. — Bontemps

25. Utah Jazz
2023-24 record: 13-18

Jordan Clarkson returned from a six-game absence Saturday and scored 30 points in 30 minutes in a win over the Raptors. It was the first time during coach Will Hardy’s tenure that Clarkson, the 2020-21 Sixth Man of the Year, came off the bench. But that’s the role teams who pursue the 31-year-old Clarkson in the trade market will likely have in mind for him. He signed a contract extension this summer, but his salaries of $14.1 million and $14.3 million the next two seasons, respectively, are considered quite reasonable for a prolific scorer. — MacMahon

26. Charlotte Hornets
2023-24 record: 7-20

  • Previous ranking: 25

  • Next games: @ LAL (Dec. 28), @ PHX (Dec. 29), @ DEN (Jan. 1), @ SAC (Jan. 2)

The Hornets had to play without LaMelo Ball, out for the 13th straight game with an ankle injury, No. 2 overall pick Brandon Miller (right ankle) and center Mark Williams (lower back) against the Clippers on Tuesday. Coach Steve Clifford wasn’t sure of a timetable for Ball’s return. “He’s back on the court now,” Clifford said before facing the Clippers. “And he’s working hard with his rehab, his treatment and everything. I think he feels a lot better, but I really don’t know how close we are.” — Youngmisuk

27. Portland Trail Blazers
2023-24 record: 8-21

Beating the Suns last week was a statement win, and while it might say more about Phoenix than Portland, Anfernee Simons has risen for the Trail Blazers as a proven centerpiece for this team. In seven of their last nine games Simmons has led the team in scoring, and is averaging 26.9 points and 5.5 assists per game. If they can get more out of Scoot Henderson and Deandre Ayton, they could have more building blocks to rely on. — Andrews

28. Washington Wizards
2023-24 record: 5-24

Washington is ready to kiss a rough 2023 goodbye. But perhaps the Wizards are starting to see some positive signs despite all the losses. Jordan Poole is showing signs of life with his second 30-point game in six games, and Tyus Jones is beginning to resemble the consistent point guard the Wizards were counting on. Over his last six games, Jones is averaging 18.5 points, 7.6 assists, 4.5 rebounds and 1.1 turnovers while shooting 18-for-25 from behind the arc. Washington also got Delon Wright back after a 20-game absence due to a sprained left knee. –Youngmisuk

29. San Antonio Spurs
2023-24 record: 4-25

  • Previous ranking: 28

  • Next games: @ POR (Dec. 28), @ POR (Dec. 29), vs. BOS (Dec. 31), @ MEM (Jan. 2)

Spurs forward Keldon Johnson is the latest player to take a turn coming off the bench as San Antonio continues to search for their best lineups to put on the floor. Over the past four seasons, Johnson had started 230 of the last 233 games he’s played for the Spurs before coming off the bench against Dallas on Thursday. He had 16 points against the Mavericks and followed that up with 26 points against Utah on Tuesday. The only player to start every game he’s played this year for San Antonio? Victor Wembanyama. — Lopez

30. Detroit Pistons
2023-24 record: 2-28

The Pistons broke the single-season losing streak — dropping their 27th straight game to the Nets on Tuesday night. The next historical mark for the Pistons? The NBA’s overall losing streak, at 28 games, which the Sixers accumulated over the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons. Their upcoming schedule almost promises such history. They travel to Boston on Thursday to face the Celtics before hosting Toronto on Saturday and starting a West Coast road trip to begin the year. — Collier

Source link

About The Author

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *