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NBA Power Rankings: Red-hot Jazz clear No. 1; Lakers drop after lackluster week; Suns, Blazers making moves


1


Jazz
Another week, three more blowout wins for the Jazz, who have taken Mike Conley’s absence in stride with extra contributions from Joe Ingles and Jordan Clarkson. Donovan Mitchell’s 3-point shooting has cooled off a bit in the last two games, but he still averaged 29 points for the week, including a brilliant 36-point, nine-assist effort in Tuesday’s win over the Celtics. That’s now 18 wins in 19 games for Utah, with absolutely no signs of slowing. — 22-5
2


Clippers
Give the Clippers credit for winning all three games this week without the services of Paul George, and Sunday’s blowout win over the Cavs came without Kawhi Leonard as well. George’s absence has been a blessing in disguise for Lou Williams, who averaged 24.7 points and 6.3 assists this week on 45.5 percent 3-point shooting, and definitely appears to have his swagger back. Leonard was brilliant in the two games he played, averaging 34.5 points on 50 percent 3-point shooting, so hopefully the leg contusion that kept him out Sunday doesn’t linger. 3 20-8
3


Suns
The Suns won all four games this week, making it six in a row and eight of their last nine. It’s safe to say this team has found its stride, evident in big wins over the Bucks and 76ers. Devin Booker exploded this week, averaging 32.3 points on 48 percent 3-point shooting, while Chris Paul put up 19.3 points and 8.7 assists on 57 percent from deep. Phoenix also added another weapon with the return of Dario Saric, who scored 15 points in 20 minutes and was a plus-18 against his former Sixers. 4 17-9
4


Lakers
The Lakers aren’t exactly playing the best basketball of the season, and it’s a testament to their championship pedigree — and the greatness of LeBron James — that they were able to come away with a 3-1 week. Slow starts led to two arduous overtime victories over the Thunder and a comeback win over the Grizzlies. Then the other shoe dropped when the Lakers met an elite Nuggets team in Denver, losing by 17. Even worse, Anthony Davis aggravated the Achilles injury that forced him to miss both OKC games. If he’s out for extended time, it’s going to put even more strain on LeBron. 2 21-7
5


Trail Blazers
Damian Lillard must have seen his name being left out of recent MVP discussions, as the superstar point guard went on a tear this week, leading his short-handed Blazers to a perfect week to make it seven wins in nine games. Lillard averaged 30 points and 7.3 assists this week, while Carmelo Anthony came up clutch, averaging 21.3 points, including nine in the fourth quarter, on 45 percent 3-point shooting during the four games. Portland put up an impressive 122.5 net rating this week as Gary Trent continues to fill in admirably for CJ McCollum. 8 16-10
6


Nuggets
Denver bounced back nicely from three straight losses by starting a modest three-game winning streak, including exacting revenge against the Lakers in a convincing win on Sunday. There’s not much more you can say about Nikola Jokic, who averaged 23 points, 11.8 rebounds and 9.3 assists this week. Jamal Murray has scored 22 and 25 points in his last two games, and the Nuggets hope this is the start of him breaking out of the funk he’s been in for most of the season. 4 15-11
7


Nets
The Nets gave up 122 points in a loss to the Pistons to start the week, but looked much better defensively in wins over the Pacers and Warriors. Brooklyn improved to 5-2 when Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving play together, but that trio won’t share the court for at least the next two games due to Durant’s hamstring injury. It’s poor timing, as Durant had just returned as the Nets continue their West Coast swing with the Suns, Lakers and Clippers on tap. 1 16-12
8


Spurs
San Antonio split with the Warriors to start the week before consecutive wins over the Hawks and Hornets. The guard-heavy attack with LaMarcus Aldridge on the shelf has been successful, as San Antonio has now won five of its last six. Derrick White seems to be getting back to his old self, scoring a season-high 25 points in 27 minutes in Sunday’s win over Charlotte. The strong play poses an interesting question about how to handle Aldridge when he comes back. — 16-11
9


76ers
The Sixers beat the Kings to start the week, but then suffered back-to-back losses to the Blazers and Suns. Joel Embiid was a monster as usual, averaging nearly 32 points and 11.3 rebounds for the week. The Suns are a very good team and Devin Booker continued his yearly assault on Philadelphia with 36 points in the win, but losing to the Blazers without CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic is a tough blow to a 76ers team with designs on the No. 1 seed in the East. 5 18-9
10


Bucks
Milwaukee started off the week with a big road win over the Nuggets, but Jrue Holiday’s absence was felt in subsequent losses to the Suns, Jazz and an injury-riddled Thunder squad. The defense that looked to be turning the corner last week regressed, likely due to Holiday being out, as Donte DiVincenzo, DJ Augustin and Bryn Forbes attempted to fill in his minutes. Giannis Antetokounmpo did all he could, averaging 32.5 points, 13 rebounds and 5.3 assists for the week, but it wasn’t enough to stop the Bucks’ skid. 7 16-11
11


Warriors
The Warriors split with the Spurs to start the week before beating the severely short-handed Magic and then being blown out by the Nets in Kevin Durant’s return to the Bay Area. Even with a relatively subpar game against the Nets, Steph Curry averaged 32.8 points on 45 percent 3-point shooting for the week, as he continues his MVP push. Kelly Oubre Jr. has produced much more consistently after a horrid start, and had some strong games this week with averages of 17.5 points and 8.5 rebounds on 40 percent 3-point shooting. 3 14-13
12


Mavericks
Luka Doncic had a clean look to send the Blazers game to overtime on Sunday night and give the Mavs a chance for a perfect week, but it rimmed out. Still a good week, though, with wins over the Wolves, Hawks and Pelicans as Dallas finds itself back in the playoff picture. Doncic has continued his bonkers stat lines, averaging 36 points (including a career-high 46 against New Orleans), nine assists and 8.3 rebounds this week on 43 percent 3-point shooting. Kristaps Porzingis looks more comfortable as well, averaging 24 points on 46 percent from deep, including a career-high eight triples in the win over the Pelicans. 6 13-15
13


Pacers
Wednesday’s loss to the Nets was the Pacers’ sixth in their previous seven games, so it must have felt good to close out the week with wins over the Pistons and Hawks. TJ McConnell has been a difference-maker off the bench and is playing the best basketball of his career, averaging 8.7 points, 7.7 assists and 5.3 rebounds in over 30 minutes per game this week. Doug McDermott entered the starting lineup for Jeremy Lamb in the Pacers’ two wins, going off for 26 points in Saturday’s win over Atlanta. 4 14-13
14


Celtics
The Celtics have now lost five of six games, and back-to-back losses to the Pistons and Wizards to close out the week have officially triggered the alarm bells. Jayson Tatum shot just 35 percent from the field this week, while Kemba Walker shot 38 percent. Walker had back-to-back 20-plus-point games to end the week, so that could be a sign that he’s on the verge of getting things going. Marcus Smart said he’s not close to returning, so it’s up to the rest of the Celtics to right the ship. 3 13-13
15


Raptors
The Raptors won their first two games of the week, but ended on a sour note with a loss to the Celtics, then to the Wolves without D’Angelo Russell after Pascal Siakam missed a potential game-tying layup with seven seconds left. Siakam had a tremendous week before the tough luck, averaging 24.8 points on 58 percent 3-point shooting, while Norman Powell added 23.5 points per game on 55 percent 3-point shooting. Toronto finds itself in a jumble of Eastern Conference teams, as the Nos. 4 through 11 seeds are separated by just three games. — 12-15
16


Grizzlies
Jonas Valanciunas led the Grizzlies in a 2-2 week with 21.5 points and 14 rebounds per game, while Dillon Brooks scored 19 points per game on 42 percent 3-point shooting. Memphis misses Desmond Bane and De’Anthony Melton, but Grayson Allen performed well in the extra minutes while Ja Morant continues to work his way back into form after a nasty ankle injury. 5 11-11
17


Hornets
There might not be a more entertaining backcourt in the NBA right now than LaMelo Ball and Terry Rozier. Scary Terry has caught fire, scoring 34, 41 and 33 points in the final three games of the week while shooting 15 for 26 from 3-point range. Ball was no slouch himself, averaging nearly 20 points and putting up nearly a triple-double with 17 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists in Sunday’s loss to the Spurs. Charlotte went 2-2 this week, but they’ve become must-watch TV. 3 13-15
18


Heat
Miami won close games over the Knicks and Rockets before running into a buzzsaw Jazz team on Saturday. That’s now four wins in five games for the Heat, albeit not against the league’s best competition. Jimmy Butler led the way this week with averages of 22.7 points, 8.7 rebounds and 8.3 assists, and made his first three 3-pointers of the season. Max Strus took advantage of some rare extended minutes, averaging 18 points on 8-for-14 3-point shooting in the final two games of the week. 5 11-15
19


Knicks
The Knicks were one RJ Barrett missed layup away from forcing overtime in a loss to the Heat, and they followed that up with blowout wins over the Wizards and Rockets. Derrick Rose has immediately acclimated to his role as a bench spark plug, averaging 14.7 points and 4.0 assists on 43 percent 3-point shooting in the first three games of his second stint in New York. It’s also a good sign that the Knicks were able to win during a relatively rough week for Julius Randle, who shot just 40 percent from the field. They’re going to have to get creative at the center position moving forward with Mitchell Robinson expected to miss 4-to-6 weeks with a fractured right hand. 5 13-15
20


Thunder
This was about as impressive of a 1-3 week that a team can have, losing in overtime to the Lakers in consecutive games, falling to the Nuggets by two, then beating the Bucks in a game that they led for virtually the entire second half. Oh, and did we mention that they only had Shai Gilgeous-Alexander for the first Lakers game? OKC has gotten contributions up and down the roster with players coming in and out of the lineup, and Justin Jackson was the latest hero against Milwaukee, scoring 22 points and hitting all four of his 3-pointers, including the one that sealed the game with 15 seconds left. 2 11-15
21


Kings
Just when we thought the Kings were turning things around, they dropped all three games this week, including a poor effort against the depleted Magic during which Luke Walton pulled all five starters at one point early in the third quarter, and a game that was never close against the Grizzlies on Sunday. This is the polar opposite of the team we saw the last two weeks. Their horrendous defense from the beginning of the season has reappeared, while the offense simply couldn’t keep up this week. 12 12-14
22


Pistons
This has to feel good for the Pistons, who won three games this week over the Nets, Celtics and Pelicans. Mason Plumlee notched his first career triple-double on Sunday, and rookie Saddiq Bey broke out with 17.8 points per game this week on absurd 16-for-23 3-point shooting. Detroit managed to win even with Jerami Grant having a rough week scoring-wise, which seemed like an impossibility earlier this season. 7 8-19
23


Wizards
It was an up-and-down week for the Wizards, who beat the Bulls and Celtics but were blown out by the Raptors and Knicks. Bradley Beal rested in the loss to the Knicks, but averaged 31.3 points and 5.7 assists in the other three games. It’s going to be tough for the Wizards to win consistently if Russell Westbrook doesn’t improve, as he shot 41 percent from the field and 21 percent from 3-point range for the week. Don’t look now, but the Wizards had a 104.5 defensive rating this week, and they’re in the top 10 in the NBA over their last eight games. 4 7-17
24


Bulls
Zach LaVine was a human torch this week (he basically has been all season), averaging nearly 36 points in three games on 16-for-29 3-point shooting. Unfortunately it only resulted in one win for the Bulls, who lost to the Wizards and Clippers while beating the Pelicans. Rookie Patrick Williams struggled offensively in extra minutes with Lauri Markkanen still out of the lineup, shooting 26 percent from the field in the three games. Tomas Satoransky played well this week, averaging 9.7 points and 6.0 assists over 24 minutes per game. 1 10-15
25


Pelicans
This team is so weird. It looked like they had pulled themselves out of a tailspin with four straight wins, then they closed out the week by losing three straight games, including to the Bulls and Pistons. Whatever defensive improvement had taken place has vanished, as New Orleans has given up a whopping 136.7 points per 100 possessions during the losing streak. Oof. Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram have been solid offensively, but there’s clearly something off with this team. 13 11-15
26


Hawks
The Hawks came down to the wire with the Mavs on Wednesday, but the next two losses to the Spurs and Pacers weren’t pretty. The defense was bad and the offense couldn’t keep up, even with Trae Young averaging 21.7 points and 10.7 assists with just 2.7 turnovers per game. Danilo Gallinari is starting to ramp up his minutes, so maybe that will give the offense a shot in the arm with De’Andre Hunter and Bogdan Bogdanovic both sidelined for an extended period. 7 11-15
27


Rockets
Injuries have caught up to the Rockets, as they lost all four games this week, none of which were particularly close down the stretch. John Wall looked good in the three games he played, averaging 22.7 points and 5.7 assists on 39 percent 3-point shooting. This team was already going to have trouble scoring, and having key players out of the lineup this week led to a paltry 99.5 offensive rating. It’s very hard to win NBA games when you need your defense to pitch shutouts. 11 11-15
28


Magic
Even Magic coach Steve Clifford had to admit that injuries are a legitimate excuse for Orlando’s recent struggles. Their games were painful to watch at times as they attempted to play multiple games without a true point guard available. They were able to pick up a win over the Kings, who were missing De’Aaron Fox and Marvin Bagley, thanks to a phenomenal 42-point effort from Nikola Vucevic, who averaged 27 points and 11.8 rebounds per game this week on 48 percent 3-point shooting. — 10-18
29


Cavaliers
Yikes. After a promising start to the season, the Cavs have cratered, losing nine of their last 10 games, and their last three by an average of nearly 25 points. Collin Sexton has struggled to get anything going, while Andre Drummond was virtually absent against the Nuggets and Blazers before being rested in Sunday’s loss to the Clippers. As the trade/buyout rumors swirl, it will be interesting to see how much Drummond plays moving forward, and how engaged he is. 3 10-18
30


Timberwolves
The Wolves went 1-3 this week, but the good news is that Karl-Anthony Towns returned to the court after recovering from COVID-19. The franchise big man looked good in three games, averaging 21 points and 9.7 rebounds on 9-for-18 3-point shooting in 31.9 minutes. D’Angelo Russell played only five minutes before hitting the shelf with a leg issue. Malik Beasley took advantage of the extra opportunity, averaging 25.5 points and making nearly six 3-pointers per game this week. — 7-20

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