Monday, December 17, 2018
After an undefeated week, including an impressive victory over the Raptors on Sunday night, the Denver Nuggets jump into the top spot in the updated NBA Power Rankings.
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1. Denver Nuggets
After a few hiccups in November, the Nuggets have won 10 of their last 12 games and now possess the best record in the Western Conference. Denver has beaten the team with the most wins (Toronto) twice already this season and has also knocked off the Warriors and Celtics. Their recent success is that much more impressive when you consider they are currently playing without three of their five Opening Night starters (Gary Harris, Paul Millsap and Will Barton).
2. Golden State Warriors
The Warriors have been at less than full strength for the majority of the 2018-19 campaign; however, they will get some healthy bodies back this week. Shaun Livingston (bruised pelvis) practiced with the team on Sunday and is probable to play Monday vs. Memphis. Andre Iguodala, who has missed each of the last three games due to a hip injury, is probable to for Monday as well. In addition, DeMarcus Cousins (Achilles) has started to ramp up his rehab work and was a full participant at Sunday’s practice.
3. Toronto Raptors
The Raptors started off last week on a high note by beating the Warriors in Golden State on Monday night. The Raps, who also knocked off the Dubs in Toronto in late November, and are just the second Eastern Conference squad in the last five years to sweep a season series vs. the Warriors. However, the Raptors then lost to Blazers in Portland on Wednesday and fell to the Nuggets in Denver on Sunday.
4. Milwaukee Bucks
Khris Middleton surprisingly struggled mightily with his shot over the first couple weeks of December, and then missed Friday’s game due to a right pinkie injury. Fortunately, he is listed as probable for Monday’s game vs. Detroit. Malcolm Brogdon, who did not play Friday because of left hamstring soreness is also expected to suit up Monday night.
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5. Boston Celtics
The Celtics had their eight-game winning streak snapped Saturday at Detroit, but they have firmly re-established themselves as one of the NBA’s elite teams. Dating back to Thanksgiving, the Celtics have a league-high nine wins, and they rank first in Offensive Efficiency (118.1), third in Defensive Effeicny (102.1) and first in Net Rating. In fact, Boston’s Net Rating of 16.8 is seven points higher than the second-ranked Pacers.
6. Oklahoma City Thunder
Remarkably, Russell Westbrook is averaging a triple-double once again this season. However, the Thunder point guard is struggling with his offensive efficiency again as well. Over OKC’s last six games, Russ is averaging over 18 field goal attempts per contest, but is shooting just 35.5 percent from the floor, 29.4 percent from 3-point territory and 55.6% from the free-throw stripe.
7. Indiana Pacers
The Pacers were impressively able to maintain positive momentum while a knee injury sidelined Victor Oladipo, but Indiana needs their star guard to dominate if they want to make a serious playoff run this season. In Sunday’s victory over the Knicks, ‘Dipo showed he is rounding back into peak form, as he finished with 26 points, eight rebounds, seven assists, five 3-pointers and five steals in 36 minutes. “I’m almost there. I’m still trying to get my legs back under me. But I’m almost there,” said Oladipo after the game.
8. Philadelphia 76ers
Jimmy Butler returned from a two-game absence (Philly lost both contests) due to a strained groin on Sunday, as the Sixers easily beat up the Cavs, 128-105. The star of the show was Ben Simmons, who tallied 22 points, 11 rebounds and 14 assists for his third triple-double of the season. Simmons, who has played a total of 111 games, now has 15 triple-doubles in his career. According to Basketball-Reference, the only player with more trip-dubs through the first 111 games of his career is Oscar Roberston.
9. Los Angeles Lakers
In Saturday’s blowout victory in Charlotte, LeBron James and Lonzo Ball became just the eighth pair of teammates in NBA history to record a triple-double in the same game. Per the Elias Sports Bureau, Lonzo and LeBron are the first tandem to accomplish this feat since Jason Kidd and Vince Carter did it for the New Jersey Nets in 2007, and the only second pair of Lakers ever, joining Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
10. Portland Trail Blazers
Portland’s lack of production from their bench has been a significant issue all year. However, in a much-needed and impressive victory over the Raptors last Friday, four Blazers scored in double-figures: Zach Collins (16 points), Seth Curry (13 points), Nik Stauskas (13 points), and Evan Turner (12 points). The team’s 58 points off the bench were the most is the most Trail Blazers reserves have scored in a game this season.
11. LA Clippers
After racing out to a 15-6 start this season, we wondered aloud if the Clippers might come crashing back down to earth sooner rather than later. Welp, they’ve lost five of their last six games and are just 2-6 in the eight games they have played in December. The only team in the NBA with fewer wins and a worse winning percentage this month is the Atlanta Hawks.
12. Memphis Grizzlies
Prior to Saturday night, the Grizzlies had used the same starting lineup in 25 straight games (Mike Conley, Garrett Temple, Kyle Anderson, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Marc Gasol). However, that streak came to an end Saturday night vs. Houston, as Anderson was sidelined due to a left ankle sprain. Shelvin Mack started in place of Slo-Mo. The Grizz were defeated by the Rockets and have now lost four in a row. Worse yet, they begin a four-game road trip Monday in Golden State, before traveling to Portland, Sacramento and then Los Angeles to take on the Lakers.
13. Houston Rockets
Good luck trying to figure this Houston team out. Last week at this time, they had lost three straight, and it appeared they might be sinking. This past week, they won all three games they played, beating the Blazers, the Lakers and the Grizzlies in Memphis. James Harden, the league’s leading scorer, is scorching hot at the moment. He’s averaging 41.0 points (on 57.5 percent shooting), 11.0 rebounds and 10.5 assist over the Rockets past two wins.
14. Sacramento Kings
The Kings’ complete turnaround this season has been stunning. In 2017-18, they ranked last in pace, last in True Shooting percentage, and 29th overall (second-to-last) in Offensive Rating. In 2018-19, Sacramento ranks second overall in pace, eighth overall in True Shooting percentage and 12th in Offensive Rating.
15. Dallas Mavericks
The Mavs fell to the Kings on Sunday, but the loss can’t be pinned on rookie Luka Doncic, who racked up 28 points (on 9-of-15 shooting), nine assists, six rebounds and one steal. Before the game, Kings coach Dave Joerger told reporters, “Perhaps there was an idea that there was a ceiling on [Doncic]. I don’t see it, unfortunately for us.” Incredibly, the 19-year old Slovenian Switchblade leads the Mavs in scoring and is second on the team in assists, rebounds, steals, and made 3-pointers.
16. Detroit Pistons
Losers of six straight heading into their matchup with the Celtics on Saturday, the Pistons badly needed to beat Boston and did just that. However, there’s no rest for the weary, as Detroit hosts the Bucks on Monday night and then go to play 10 of their next 14 games on the road. They need Blake Griffin to stay hot. Over his last five, BG is averaging 29.8 points (on 51.4% shooting), 8.8 boards, 5.3 dimes and 2.0 treys.
17. New Orleans Pelicans
It’s been nearly a full calendar month since the Pelicans won consecutive contests. Dating back to November 19th, New Orleans is just 5-9. Nikola Mirotic was sidelined last week due to a nagging ankle injury, and, in Sunday’s home loss to the Heat, Julius Randle sprained his right ankle. Afterward, coach Alvin Gentry said Randle would likely miss Wednesday’s game at Milwaukee.
18. Utah Jazz
Jazz fans were hoping that Donovan Mitchell would take another step forward this season after an incredibly impressive rookie campaign. However, compared to his 2017-18 averages, Mitchell is averaging fewer rebounds, assists and 3-pointers, while shooting a lower percentage from the floor and from 3-point territory.
19. San Antonio Spurs
The Spurs were streaking, having reeled off four straight wins, including impressive victories over the Lakers, Jazz and Clippers. It sure looked they were a lock to make it five in a row, as they were up nearly 20 points on the bumbling Bulls at halftime on Saturday night in San Antonio. Instead, the Spurs allowed Chicago to score 55 points in the second half and walk away with a shocking road win, dropping San Antonio back to .500 on the season.
20. Minnesota Timberwolves
It appeared the Wolves were back on track after they strung together a solid winning streak following the Jimmy Butler trade. However, Minny is now sliding backward again. The Timberpups lost all four games on their recently completed four-game road swing. The most disappointing defeat came on Saturday night against the lowly Suns. Minnesota is 0-11 on the road against Western Conference teams this season.
21. Charlotte Hornets
Kemba Walker struggled again to locate his jumper on Saturday, missing 11 of his 13 field goal attempts and finishing with just four points. This is part of a larger trend for Kemba, who has seen scoring average drop as the temperature dips in December. Over the Hornets first 16 games this season, Walker averaged 29.6 points (second in the NBA) and 4.1 treys, while shooting 46.5 percent from the floor and 38.9 from downtown. In the 13 games since, he’s averaging 19.2 points and 2.1 triples, while shooting 35.1% from the floor and 27.% from 3-point range.
22. Orlando Magic
The Magic had lost three games in a row before heading south of the border for a pair of contests in Mexico City last week. Orlando enjoyed their trip down south, beating the Bulls on Thursday and then knocking off the Jazz on Saturday night to get back within one game of .500.
23. Brooklyn Nets
After losing eight straight from the end of November through early December, the Nets have surprisingly strung together five consecutive victories. It’s the first time they’ve won five straight since the end of the 2014-15 season. Suddenly, Brooklyn finds themselves just two games back of the seventh-seeded Hornets in the Eastern Conference, and the Nets play four of their next five games at home.
24. Miami Heat
The Heat looked to be in dire straights as of last Thursday. The team was five games under .500, Goran Dragic remained sidelined by a bum knee, and Miami still had two games remaining on their daunting six-game west coast road swing. However, the Heat closed out their tough trip in impressive fashion, beating the Grizzlies in Memphis and then taking down the Pelicans in New Orleans. Yet, despite coming home, they still have a tough road ahead, as three of their next four games are against the Rockets, Bucks and Raptors.
25. Washington Wizards
Slumping their way through the first two months of the season, the Wizards decided to shake up their roster over the weekend. After a proposed three-team deal involving the Grizzlies fell apart due to a misunderstanding over which Brooks (Dillon or MarShon) was included in the trade, Phoenix and Washington consummated a deal themselves, with Trevor Ariza heading to Washington in exchange for Kelly Oubre and Austin Rivers. On Sunday, the Wiz knocked off the Lakers, as John Wall exploded for 40 points, six rebounds, 14 assists, three steals, two blocks and four 3-pointers.
26. New York Knicks
Emmanuel Mudiay has played surprisingly well this month for the Knicks, scoring at least 13 points in seven of the eight games New York has played in December, and averaging 18.5 points, 3.3 rebounds and 8.5 assists, while shooting a respectable 46.2 percent from the floor, 37.5 percent from downtown and 82.4 percent from the free-throw stripe.
27. Cleveland Cavaliers
It’s not often that a power forward/center leads a team in assists, but that’s been the case for the Cavaliers of late. In the three games Cleveland played last week, Larry Nance averaged a team-high 6.3 assists, to go along with 8.3 rebounds, 2.3 steals and 1.3 blocks.
28. Chicago Bulls
The Bulls pulled off one of the more surprising victories of the season Saturday in San Antonio. Playing without their leading scorer, Zach LaVine (ankle), and down 19 at half-time, Chicago stormed all the way back for the win. They outscored the Spurs 55-31 in the second half, and ended the game on 13-4 run. Chicago coach Jim Boylen, a former assistant under Gregg Popovich, is now 2-4 since replacing Fred Hoiberg.
29. Phoenix Suns
Breakup the Suns! Entering Thursday’s matchup with the surging Mavericks, Phoenix was riding a ten-game losing streak and was just 4-24 on the season. However, the Suns knocked off the Mavs and then backed it up with another win over the Timberwolves on Saturday. It’s the first time this season they have won consecutive games. Ther last winning streak was in late December of 2017. Better yet, Devin Booker (hamstring) returned to the lineup on Saturday night and tallied 28 points, seven rebounds, seven assists and didn’t appear to suffer any setback with his hamstring issue. Unfortunately for Phoenix, they begin a five-game road trip Monday in New York.
30. Atlanta Hawks
Over the Hawks last 15 games, Trae Young is shooting 33.3 percent from the floor and 19.5 percent from downtown. He has a chance to become the first NBA player in 15 years to average at least four turnovers per game and post a True Shooting percentage below 48 percent.