After some movement over the last couple of weeks, the Lakers find themselves back in the No. 2 spot
Congratulations, NBA fans — we’ve made it to 2020.
With the change of the calendar, we’ve also seen a change in the Power Rankings, as teams continue to mix in impressive wins with almost unfathomable losses. Chief among the risers this week are the Houston Rockets, behind spectacular individual play from James Harden and some slight relief on the injury front. Harden is now averaging 38.4 points per game, which seems like a typo, and there’s no decline in sight. Also moving up were the Los Angeles Lakers, who appear to be getting back on track after a four-game skid, and the Boston Celtics, who manage to churn out wins despite a different key player being sidelined virtually every night.
And then, of course, there’s the looming Feb. 6 trade deadline, which makes us think about which contenders need to be buyers, and which pieces on rebuilding teams might be made available. Now let’s kick off the new year with the first NBA Power Rankings of 2020.
|1||Bucks||The Bucks continue to roll, having reeled off five straight wins after the bad Christmas Day loss to the 76ers. Giannis Antetokounmpo returned to the lineup after missing two games with back soreness, and picked up right where he left off. He’s playing fewer than 31 minutes per game this season, the lowest total since his rookie year, due to the Bucks’ depth and penchant for blowout wins.||—||32-5|
|2||Lakers||The Lakers have taken care of business since their Christmas Day loss to the Clippers, but they let some teams hang around a bit longer than they’d like in their three wins this week over the Suns, Pelicans and Pistons. Anthony Davis is asserting himself as a DPOY candidate, swatting away an absurd eight shots against the Pistons, and LeBron continues to lead the league in assists. Most of the focus now is on Kyle Kuzma, and whether the Lakers believe he’ll be able to become their third scorer, or if they’ll try to deal him before the deadline.||3||29-7|
|3||Celtics||The Celtics took care of three inferior opponents this week in the Hornets, Hawks and Bulls, and they still can’t seem to get their five best players on the court at the same time. Marcus Smart returned, but Kemba Walker missed two games due to illness, leaving more scoring and playmaking opportunity for Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and Gordon Hayward. Despite the sporadic injuries, the Celtics are second in the NBA in net rating.||3||25-8|
|4||Rockets||The Rockets picked up big wins over the Nuggets and 76ers this week, and also welcomed Eric Gordon back into the fold after a lengthy absence. Houston has desperately craved another consistent scorer and shooter all season, so hopefully Gordon can provide his normal production. James Harden’s efficiency has been off the charts as of late, averaging 41 points, eight rebounds and 7.7 assists over his last three games on ridiculous 58.8 percent shooting from the field and 58.1 percent 3-pointers.||7||24-11|
|5||Clippers||The Clippers went 3-1 this week, but the loss raised some red flags. They were blown out by the Grizzlies on their home court, and have now allowed 272 points in their last two games. They have four days off until their next test, which should give them some much-needed practice time for some fine-tuning.||1||26-12|
|6||Jazz||A series of favorable matchups has the Jazz rolling, winners of nine of their last 10 games. They’ve found a familiar formula with Donovan Mitchell playing more point guard and Joe Ingles picking up additional playmaking duties with Mike Conley out. They’re also knocking on the door of the top five in defensive efficiency after a slow start to the season on that end.||2||23-12|
|7||Heat||The Heat suffered an inexplicable loss to the Wizards without Bradley Beal — a shot to the gut of those of us who had just proclaimed Miami an official Eastern Conference contender after big wins last week. They also were blown out by the Magic, while picking up wins over the Raptors and Blazers. Goran Dragic turned back the clock with a 29-point, 13-assist performance in the win over Portland without Jimmy Butler, a good sign as he continues to work his way back into the mix after missing two weeks of December with a groin injury.||5||26-10|
|8||Raptors||Toronto lost a slugfest with the Heat this week, but also picked up solid wins over the Cavs and Nets. This team is a true Eastern Conference contender with all the pieces intact — we just never get to see it. Pascal Siakam and Marc Gasol remain out, with no imminent return in sight. But, as always, they figure out ways to win with their big guns on the sideline.||2||24-12|
|9||Nuggets||The roller coaster ride continues for the Nuggets, as they lost badly to the Rockets before beating the Pacers and somehow being run off the court by the Wizards in the first three games of their road trip. Nikola Jokic uncharacteristically averaged just 2.7 assists per game in the three losses, compared to his season average of 6.4.||6||24-11|
|10||Thunder||The Thunder continue to steamroll through their schedule, winning three more games this week to make it five in a row and nine of their last 10. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Dennis Schroder each averaged over 20 points per game this week, with Danilo Gallinari returning to provide some extra shooting. Now that they’re playing so well, OKC will have some interesting decisions to make as the trade deadline nears.||3||20-15|
|11||Mavericks||The Mavericks lost two of three games this week, and have now dropped three of their last four. Luka Doncic has been brilliant since returning from his ankle injury, but Kristaps Porzingis missed all three games this week with a sore right knee. Rick Carlisle has preached the importance of Porzingis all season, despite his subpar numbers, and we’re seeing that play out in his absence.||2||22-13|
|12||76ers||Something is rotten in the city of Philadelphia, with the Sixers dropping four straight since their impressive Christmas Day win over the Bucks. This week it was the Pacers and Rockets taking it to Philly, which led star center Joel Embiid to say that all the losing was “taking a toll” on him. Things don’t get any easier either, with upcoming games against the Thunder, Celtics, Mavericks and Pacers.||5||23-14|
|13||Pacers||Indiana started off the week with a big win over the 76ers, but then lost to the Nuggets and Hawks. It has missed Malcolm Brogdon, who was playing at an All-Star level before missing all but seven minutes of the last six games with back spasms. TJ Warren and Jeremy Lamb have picked up the scoring in Brogdon’s absence, and Victor Oladipo is reportedly hoping to make a late-January return. At full strength, the Pacers will continue to be a dangerous team.||1||22-14|
|14||Grizzlies||Could the Grizz be for real? They picked up a statement win over the Clippers on their home court and are now just a game out of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. They’re also just two games ahead of the 14th-place Pelicans, but that’s no fun. The young talent of Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. has been bolstered by veterans like Jonas Valanciunas, Jae Crowder and Tyus Jones to provide an interesting team. It will be fun to watch how they handle the next few weeks as reaching the playoffs has now become a real possibility.||3||15-22|
|15||Magic||In a strange week, the Magic lost to the Hawks then picked up an improbable win over the Heat without Jonathan Isaac, who is expected to miss at least two months with a left knee injury. The Isaac loss is a huge blow to the Magic, who were relying on their defense to win games. A possible silver lining is that it forces Aaron Gordon, who has had a down year, to be more aggressive on both ends.||1||16-20|
|16||Nets||The Nets are back under .500 after losses this week to the Wolves, Mavs and Raptors, and it sounds like Kyrie Irving isn’t any closer to making his return from a lingering shoulder issue. Brooklyn did get a boost with the return of Caris LeVert, who played well in his first game since Nov. 10, scoring 13 points on 5-of-7 shooting in the loss to the Raptors.||2||16-18|
|17||Hornets||Charlotte picked up its biggest win of the year in overtime against the Mavericks on Saturday behind outstanding backcourt play from Terry Rozier and Devonte’ Graham. Rookie PJ Washington has played well since returning from a broken finger, averaging 16 points and 5.7 rebounds on 5-of-9 3-point shooting over his last three games.||5||15-23|
|18||Spurs||The Spurs beat the Warriors before losing to the Thunder and Bucks, and a season-saving winning streak seems more and more unlikely. Derrick White and Dejounte Murray haven’t made the leap San Antonio fans hoped for, and the steady production of DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge just hasn’t been enough to overcome their bottom-10 defense.||3||14-20|
|19||Pelicans||The Pelicans lost to the Lakers before beating the Kings on JJ Redick’s last-second lefty scoop floater. The real story of the week, however, was Lonzo Ball, who’s averaging 24.7 points, 8.3 assists, six rebounds and two steals over his last three games while hitting 13 of 31 from 3-point range. New Orleans has a little bit of momentum going as it looks forward to a possible late-January debut for Zion Williamson.||—||12-24|
|20||Suns||The Suns picked up wins over the Blazers and Knicks this week while losing to the Lakers and Grizzlies. Devin Booker has broken out of his mini-slump in a big way, averaging 35.8 points and 6.8 assists over the team’s last four games. Deandre Ayton is finding his way back into the mix as well, averaging nearly 13 points and 13 rebounds per game over the same stretch, and Kelly Oubre has caught fire from 3-point range. While the offense has looked good, however, defense continues to be an issue.||3||14-22|
|21||Timberwolves||The Wolves had a 3-1 week and their loss was a close one to the Bucks — quite surprising since they’re still without Karl-Anthony Towns, and Andrew Wiggins missed three of the four games. Shabazz Napier has been excellent as the starting point guard, averaging 21.8 points and 6.3 assists on 55 percent 3-point shooting in his last four games.||6||14-21|
|22||Bulls||There are no moral victories in the NBA, but the Bulls played well in close losses to the Jazz and Celtics in an 0-3 week. Chicago actually has the fifth-best defense in the NBA, but offense has been an utter struggle. Zach LaVine has been carrying the team on that end, and Lauri Markkanen was starting to come on before suffering an ankle injury on Saturday against the Celtics.||4||13-23|
|23||Trail Blazers||After a tough loss to the Suns, the Blazers were absolutely blown off the court by the Knicks in one of their worst losses of the season. They avoided the same fate against the Wizards before losing to the Heat in a game without Jimmy Butler and CJ McCollum. They’ve gotten great production from Damian Lillard, McCollum and Hassan Whiteside all season, but their 119 defensive rating this week isn’t going to result in many wins.||3||15-22|
|24||Wizards||Just when you think you’re getting a grip on the NBA season, the Wizards beat the Heat and Nuggets by a combined 32 points — and the Heat win was without Bradley Beal. This league, indeed. Of course, being the Wizards, they also lost to the Magic and Trail Blazers by a combined 40 points in the two games in between. One benefit to Beal missing a couple of games is that we got to see Jordan McRae, professional bucket-getter, unleashed. He scored 29 points in the win over the Heat and dropped 35 in the loss to Portland. The Wizards haven’t been good this season, but they’ve certainly been entertaining.||5||11-24|
|25||Kings||The Kings continue to struggle with a bottom-10 offensive rating while playing at one of the slowest paces in the league, after finishing third in the NBA in pace last season. The personnel changes, including hiring Luke Walton as head coach, may have something to do with that, but it stands to reason that a team with De’Aaron Fox as its best player should be playing fast. We’ll see if the style changes if they keep having trouble scoring.||3||13-23|
|26||Hawks||The Hawks finally gained some positive momentum this week, with wins over the Magic and Pacers and a tight loss to the Celtics. The Pacers win came without John Collins, who had played well since returning from suspension before he suffered a back injury in the Boston loss. In the win over the Magic, Atlanta held an opponent under 100 points for just the third time this season.||4||8-28|
|27||Knicks||The Knicks went 1-2 this week, but they’ve clearly been a different team since the firing of David Fizdale earlier this season. Marcus Morris says he wants to stay in New York, but his strong play recently probably has a lot of teams interested. He averaged 27 points and five rebounds per game on scorching 12-for-22 3-point shooting in the three games this week.||3||10-26|
|28||Pistons||The Pistons’ injury issues are almost laughable at this point, and they put up valiant efforts with the likes of Blake Griffin, Luke Kennard, Reggie Jackson and Markieff Morris out of the lineup. They only had one win to show for it this week, over the Warriors, as the trade talks heat up surrounding Andre Drummond. Dwane Casey said he talked to Drummond about the rumors and that he doesn’t think it will be a distraction, but Pistons owner Tom Gores has hinted that changes may be on the way. Derrick Rose is another name that might get thrown around a lot as the trade deadline nears.||2||13-24|
|29||Cavaliers||Kevin Love looks like the unhappiest player in the NBA, receiving a fine for an off-court blowup and viral status for the on-court variety. It may not help his trade value, but the Cavs have to find some way to handle the situation. They went 0-4 this week but, on a positive note, Dante Exum exploded for a career-high 28 points in Sunday’s loss to the Wolves. If they can unleash some of the potential that made Exum such an exciting prospect a few years ago, it’ll be a major plus for Cleveland.||4||10-26|
|30||Warriors||Golden State has followed its surprising four-game winning streak with four straight losses, including three this week. D’Angelo Russell hasn’t played since suffering a shoulder injury against the Mavericks, and the Warriors offense has struggled accordingly. Steve Kerr also hinted at more rest for Draymond Green in the future, so another lengthy winning streak may be a tall order.||9||9-28|
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