Sports

NBA Power Rankings: Celtics and Suns surging into December

There’s no way around it, the Boston Celtics are the hottest team in the NBA.

Four straight wins and nine wins out of their last 10 games have been enough for Boston to claim the best record in the league at 17-4. But while the Celtics and the Milwaukee Bucks are in a class of their own record-wise, there are a few under-the-radar contenders in the East that might have the juice to challenge them down the stretch.

The Miami Heat will have another chance to avenge their Eastern Conference Finals loss to Boston in their second and third meetings of the season over the next three days, and Miami will do so with their own momentum having won three straight after a slow start. The Chicago Bulls and Atlanta Hawks haven’t had the consistency to match Boston in the standings, but both teams have proven to be giant slayers so far this season with wins against Boston and Milwaukee.

Meanwhile, the Western Conference has slowly fallen back into order after a chaotic start headlined by the Utah Jazz holding the conference’s best record for a number of weeks, including last week. But a recent five-game losing streak by Utah has allowed some of the expected contenders in the West to get back in the driver’s seat.

The Phoenix Suns are riding the NBA’s longest active win streak with five in a row to claim the top seed in the West, while the Denver Nuggets, New Orleans Pelicans and Memphis Grizzlies round out the top four.

Note: Throughout the regular season, our panel (Kendra Andrews, Tim Bontemps, Jamal Collier, Nick Friedell, 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 now and which teams are looking most like title contenders.

Previous rankings: Week 1 | Week 2 | Week 3 | Week 4 | Week 5 | Week 6

1. Boston Celtics
2022-23 record: 17-4
Previous ranking: 1

Boston’s offensive onslaught to start the season continued with a rout of the undermanned Hornets Monday. The Celtics now have a staggering 120.9 offensive rating on the season — a full five points ahead of Phoenix in second; the same gap between Phoenix and the Wizards in 19th. — Bontemps


2. Milwaukee Bucks
2022-23 record: 14-5
Previous ranking: 2

Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said forward Khris Middleton is “getting close” to making his 2022-23 season debut. Middleton has been practicing with the team’s G-League affiliate over the past few weeks and went through a light practice with Milwaukee earlier this week. Middleton’s return should help inject some life into a Bucks offense ranked 18th in the NBA in points per 100 possessions. — Collier


3. Phoenix Suns
2022-23 record: 14-6
Previous ranking: 3

With the Suns once having the best record in the West through 20 games, Phoenix announced that general manager James Jones was being promoted to also serve as the president of basketball operations. “It’s a great time because when you’re winning games, there’s a lot of excitement and enthusiasm,” Jones said at a news conference Tuesday. “But at the same time, it creates an internal pressure to achieve more. And that’s what we have to continue to do if we want to achieve our dreams of winning championships.” — McMenamin


4. Denver Nuggets
2022-23 record: 13-7
Previous ranking: 6

Jamal Murray put together his best game since returning from injury on Tuesday night, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope has been tremendous on both ends for Denver. It appears that Nikola Jokic is finally getting the support he needs for the Nuggets to take the team to the next level. So far that’s gotten them to the No. 2 spot in the West. — Andrews


5. Cleveland Cavaliers
2022-23 record: 13-8
Previous ranking: 4

Donovan Mitchell scored fewer than 10 points for the first time all season — his first single-digit scoring effort since Jan. 26, 2021 — and the Cavs loss to the Raptors on Monday. Toronto is now 2-0 against Cleveland this season which could make things interesting down the line. If the playoffs started today, the No. 3-seeded Cavs would host the No. 6-seeded Raps in the first round. — McMenamin


6. Memphis Grizzlies
2022-23 record: 12-8
Previous ranking: 7

Jaren Jackson Jr., who missed the first month of the season while recovering from foot surgery, is performing like a franchise cornerstone again. After a poor shooting night in his season debut, Jackson has averaged 22 points with a 64.8 true shooting percentage over a four-game span. He’s also been a defensive force, as Memphis is allowing only 104.5 points per 100 possessions with Jackson on the floor. — MacMahon


7. New Orleans Pelicans
2022-23 record: 12-8
Previous ranking: 9

Zion Williamson has proven to be an offensive force in his first 100 career games, but he’s starting to show progress on the defensive end as well. In Monday night’s 105-101 win against Oklahoma City, Williamson held the Thunder to 2-14 (14%) shooting as the closest defender according to Second Spectrum data. That’s the lowest percentage he’s allowed in any game in his career (min. 10 shot attempts against, regular season and playoffs). — Lopez


8. Philadelphia 76ers
2022-23 record: 12-9
Previous ranking: 17

Joel Embiid declared Philadelphia’s season began on Nov. 7, when he returned from an illness and the Sixers beat the Phoenix Suns. Since then, not only has Philly had the league’s best defense, but it has by a significant amount. Only Boston has a better net rating over that span of 11 games, in which the 76ers have gone 8-3. — Bontemps


9. LA Clippers
2022-23 record: 13-9
Previous ranking: 8

While the Clippers wait for Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and Luke Kennard to return, Ivica Zubac made a case to get the ball more while the stars are out. Call him “Shaq Zu” because Zubac put up Shaq-like numbers on Sunday against Indiana, detonating for 31 points, 29 rebounds and 3 blocks. He became just the sixth player to record 30 points, 25 rebounds and shoot 80% in a game, joining Wilt Chamberlain, Shaquille O’Neal, Charles Barkley, Satch Sanders and Bob Pettit. The earliest Leonard and George — who are both out during the Clippers’ two-game road trip in Portland and Utah — could return will be Saturday against Sacramento. But until they are back, Zubac is growing his game. — Youngmisuk


10. Golden State Warriors
2022-23 record: 11-11
Previous ranking: 21

The Warriors finally got their second road win, but that’s still all they have, as they’re 2-11 away from home. However, there are signs of improvement from the defending champs, especially on the defensive end and from their bench unit. Jonathan Kuminga in particular has been a breathe of fresh air, and against Dallas he played what Steve Kerr called “the best game I’ve ever seen him play.” — Andrews


11. Indiana Pacers
2022-23 record: 12-8
Previous ranking: 14

The Pacers continue to surprise. Their 12-8 start has been led by guard Tyrese Haliburton, who is averaging 19.9 points, a league-leading 11.2 assists and 4.7 rebounds with 1.8 steals. He squares off against his former team in Sacramento on Wednesday. — Collier


12. Toronto Raptors
2022-23 record: 11-9
Previous ranking: 16

With Pascal Siakam back on the court, Toronto can push ahead after surviving the last few weeks without their all-NBA forward. It has to be considered a success that the Raptors still sit within 1.5 games of third place despite a series of injuries a quarter of the way through the season. — Bontemps


13. Portland Trail Blazers
2022-23 record: 11-10
Previous ranking: 11

The Blazers have lost seven of their last nine games and could use Damian Lillard back as soon as possible. If there is a silver lining from this tough stretch it is Jerami Grant continuing his impressive start with the Blazers. Grant had 32 points in a loss to the Clippers and 44 against New York. He’s scored at least 21 in 10 of his 14 games in November, something that should benefit the Blazers when Lillard returns from injury. Anfernee Simons also has been impressive, scoring 37 and 38 points in two of his last three games. — Youngmisuk


14. Sacramento Kings
2022-23 record: 10-9
Previous ranking: 12

The Kings have lost three games in a row, albeit to teams atop their respective conferences, so there’s no need for Sacramento to panic. What should be a cause of concern though is their defense. Mike Brown was the defensive mastermind and coordinator behind Golden State’s championship-caliber defense, and yet the Kings sit 26th in the league in that category. — Andrews


15. Washington Wizards
2022-23 record: 11-10
Previous ranking: 15

After winning six of seven games, the Wizards dropped three straight, including two in a row at Miami. Still, they didn’t let the slide linger any longer, handling Minnesota at home thanks to Kristaps Porzingis doing something no Washington big man has done since Moses Malone. Porzingis exploded for 41 points — the most by a Washington center since Malone scored 50 in 1987. Porzingis also became the fifth 7-footer to have 40 points and make at least five 3’s in a game. The Wizards will need a lot more of this because they are about to enter a brutal stretch in which they will play 14 of their next 19 on the road. — Youngmisuk


16. Dallas Mavericks
2022-23 record: 10-10
Previous ranking: 13

Luka Doncic‘s favorite statistic from his 41-point, 12-rebound, 12-assist performance in Tuesday’s skid-stopping win over the Warriors: four steals. Doncic said he is proud of having “taken a huge step forward” defensively this season. He ranks fourth in the league with 1.8 steals per game and is tied for 12th in deflections (3.2). — MacMahon


17. Brooklyn Nets
2022-23 record: 11-11
Previous ranking: 20

The good news: Kevin Durant is still on the Nets and remains awesome — evident by his 45 point domination of the Magic on Monday. The bad news: Ben Simmons‘ left knee problems continue to be an issue, and the Nets still can’t find the consistency they need to start making noise in the East. — Friedell


18. Atlanta Hawks
2022-23 record: 11-10
Previous ranking: 10

Trae Young had 10 assists for the 139th time in his young career on Monday night when the Hawks faced the Philadelphia 76ers. That gave him the most double-digit assist games in franchise history. The previous owner of the record: Doc Rivers, the same Doc Rivers coaching Philadelphia, which the Hawks faced on Monday. — Lopez


19. Miami Heat
2022-23 record: 10-11
Previous ranking: 22

Bam Adebayo has really come on strong as the Heat wait for Jimmy Butler (knee) to come back. Adebayo is averaging 35 points and 10 rebounds over his last two games and racked up 22.3 points and 10.3 rebounds in the month of November. — Friedell


20. Utah Jazz
2022-23 record: 12-11
Previous ranking: 5

Utah has lost eight out of 10 games, including five in a row without point guard Mike Conley Jr., who is sidelined with a strained muscle near his knee. The Jazz offense has continued to rank among the league’s most efficient, but Utah has been dreadful defensively, allowing 119.6 points per 100 possessions during the 10-game slump. — MacMahon


21. New York Knicks
2022-23 record: 10-11
Previous ranking: 19

New York continues to play right about to the level it was supposed to be, generally winning the games it should and losing the ones it shouldn’t, with a couple exceptions on each side of the ledger. But over the next eight days, four games with playoff-caliber teams loom, which could quickly dump the Knicks in a hole if that trend doesn’t change. — Bontemps


22. Minnesota Timberwolves
2022-23 record: 10-11
Previous ranking: 18

The Timberwolves continue to struggle, and to make matters worse they will be without Karl-Anthony Towns for several weeks after he left Monday’s game against the Wizards with a right calf strain. It is unclear who will keep Minnesota afloat in his absence when the team as a whole is still not gelling. — Andrews


23. Chicago Bulls
2022-23 record: 9-11
Previous ranking: 23

The Bulls have won three of their last four games, including victories over the Celtics, Bucks and Jazz to help stabilize an already rocky season. Chicago went 1-10 against the top three seeds in the East last year, so now already owning victories over Milwaukee, Miami and Boston (twice) this season could go a long way in proving that this year’s team is different. — Collier


24. Oklahoma City Thunder
2022-23 record: 8-13
Previous ranking: 24

Oklahoma City’s three-point shot has seemingly gone missing in the last three games as the team has shot just 29-of-111 (26.1%) over that span. However, they defeated the Bulls in overtime and played the Pelicans tough on Monday because of the continued excellence of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and his ability to draw fouls. Gilgeous-Alexander was 14-of-15 from the line against the Bulls and then set new career highs in free throw makes and attempts going 16-of-18 against the Pelicans. Gilgeous-Alexander is fourth in the league in free-throw attempts per game trailing just Giannis Antetokounmpo, Joel Embiid and Luka Doncic. — Lopez


25. Los Angeles Lakers
2022-23 record: 7-12
Previous ranking: 25

There were plenty of things that went wrong down the stretch of the Lakers’ 17-point collapse to the Pacers on Monday. But one stat was inexcusable: Anthony Davis only had four touches in the final three minutes, with the ball in his hands for 10 seconds total and leading to no shot attempts, per ESPN Stats & Information research. “That’s something we have to do better,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said of the lack of touches. “I, myself, have to do better, for sure.” — McMenamin


26. Charlotte Hornets
2022-23 record: 6-15
Previous ranking: 27

Charlotte actually won two straight before getting demolished by the Celtics on Monday. Kelly Oubre Jr. continues to be the offensive spark plug for a beleaguered group that will be missing Gordon Hayward for a while with a shoulder injury. Oubre is averaging 21.2 points and 5.3 rebounds a game in the month of November. — Friedell


27. Orlando Magic
2022-23 record: 5-16
Previous ranking: 26

Orlando has dropped five straight and continues to be overwhelmed by injuries. On a bright note, young big man Bol Bol had a good night against the Nets on Monday and continues to show improvement. Bol had 24 points, six rebounds, two assists, two blocks and a steal in 39 minutes. — Friedell


28. Houston Rockets
2022-23 record: 5-15
Previous ranking: 30

Second-year shooting guard Jalen Green is showing major progress as a playmaker, averaging 6.1 assists along with 22.6 points over the last nine games. To put that in perspective, Green had six or more assists in only three games as a rookie. He had a career-high nine assists in Saturday’s win over the Thunder, which came the night after Green’s first 30-5-5 performance in a victory over the Hawks. — MacMahon


29. San Antonio Spurs
2022-23 record: 6-15
Previous ranking: 28

San Antonio has lost a league-high eight consecutive games, tying the team for the longest losing streak ever under coach Gregg Popovich (they also lost eight in a row in Nov. 2019). San Antonio did have a season-high 138 points last Saturday in a five-point loss to the Lakers. It was the third-highest scoring output for the Spurs in a loss under Popovich. San Antonio did hit a season-high 18 threes in the defeat with six players hitting multiple triples. — Lopez


30. Detroit Pistons
2022-23 record: 5-18
Previous ranking: 29

The Pistons find themselves in a holding pattern with second-year guard Cade Cunningham, who has missed the past 11 games with a shin injury. Both he and the team are still trying to determine the best path forward with the hope of avoiding what would be a season-ending surgery. — Collier


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