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NBA Power Rankings – Bucks bounce back, Lakers rise with NBA Cup, Warriors fall

After an exciting inaugural in-season tournament ended with the Los Angeles Lakers raising the NBA Cup and pocketing a few extra dollars, the regular season continues to play out.

We’re close to the finish of 2023 but far from the end of the thrills, as the race for the top five teams in our rank is tight.

The Orlando Magic and Dallas Mavericks have both made a surprising push in the first quarter of the campaign.

Tyrese Haliburton and the Indiana Pacers have made themselves known in the Eastern Conference after a successful run in the tournament, led by a league-leading offense that isn’t slowing down anytime soon.

But anything can happen this holiday season. Can the Miami Heat and Houston Rockets break out from the middle of the pack? When will we finally see the Phoenix Suns’ big three in action? There’s a lot to keep an eye on as we look at this week’s 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

Jump to a team:

1. Boston Celtics
2023-24 record: 17-5

  • Previous ranking: 1

  • Next games: vs. NY (Dec. 13), @ PHI (Dec. 15), @ TOR (Dec. 17), @ MEM (Dec. 19)

After beating Cleveland on Tuesday night, Boston is now 3-1 to begin December. It’s an impressive start to an 11-game stretch running through Christmas that features only one game against a team under .500. And given that one game is on the road against the Warriors, it’s certainly not a layup. But Boston is now tied with Minnesota for the league’s best record, and the Celtics’ now-reunited starting five is outscoring teams by an absurd 27.5 points per 100 possessions across more than 200 minutes. — Tim Bontemps

2. Minnesota Timberwolves
2023-24 record: 17-5

The Wolves had their six-game winning streak snapped by New Orleans on Monday. Despite an off night, they remain atop the Western Conference at 17-5, which is the best start in franchise history. Minnesota’s offense has been stagnant without Anthony Edwards, who has been limited by a hip injury for the past five games. The Wolves have scored 114.1 points per 100 possessions during that span (19th in the NBA). — Jamal Collier

3. Philadelphia 76ers
2023-24 record: 15-7

  • Previous ranking: 6

  • Next games: @ DET (Dec. 13), vs. DET (Dec. 15), @ CHA (Dec. 16), vs. CHI (Dec. 18)

Philadelphia took advantage of missing out on the knockout rounds of the in-season tournament, claiming victories over the Wizards and Hawks to kick off what should be a very favorable stretch in its schedule. Already riding a three-game winning streak, the 76ers have just two road games — versus Detroit on Wednesday and Charlotte on Saturday — and only face one winning team (Minnesota) between now and Christmas. It’s a golden opportunity for the Sixers to solidify their position inside the top four in the East. — Bontemps

4. Milwaukee Bucks
2023-24 record: 16-7

  • Previous ranking: 5

  • Next games: vs. IND (Dec. 13), vs. DET (Dec. 16), vs. HOU (Dec. 17), vs. SA (Dec. 19)

Following a quick stay in Las Vegas before being ousted by Indiana in the NBA Cup semifinals, the Bucks began a six-game homestand this week, hoping to bounce back from some recent uneven performances. Milwaukee has been dominant at home, though, with an overtime victory against the Bulls on Monday improving its record there to 11-2, which is tied with the Magic for the most home wins in the league. More good news? The Bucks play their next five contests in the comfort of Milwaukee’s Fiserv Forum. — Collier

5. Oklahoma City Thunder
2023-24 record: 15-7

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is making a strong MVP case in OKC. He has the league’s first three-game streak of 30-point, three-steal performances since James Harden in 2020, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. It’s a feat that had never been accomplished in franchise history. Gilgeous-Alexander is tied for fifth in the NBA in scoring (30.4 points per game) and leads the league in steals (2.8). The only players to average as many points and steals in a season: Hall of Famers Allen Iverson, Michael Jordan and Rick Barry. — Tim MacMahon

6. Denver Nuggets
2023-24 record: 16-9

The Nuggets didn’t just lose three straight games last week; Nikola Jokic looked human for once. The two-time MVP shot 9-for-32 and 9-for-26 in losing efforts against the Clippers and Rockets, respectively. Jokic missed short floaters and putbacks that he almost always converts. The center bounced back on Monday, making 9 of 13 shots in a win at Atlanta, only to then get ejected for arguing a non-call on Tuesday night in Chicago. Still, Denver topped the Bulls despite Jokic playing just 16 minutes and Jamal Murray sitting after tweaking his ankle in Atlanta. It’s been an eventful week for Jokic, but the Nuggets will now have three games at the friendlier confines of Denver’s Ball Arena, where they are 9-1 this season. — Ohm Youngmisuk

7. Orlando Magic
2023-24 record: 16-7

Orlando got back to its victorious ways after its nine-game win streak was snapped. Paolo Banchero finished with 20 points and 10 rebounds in Monday’s triumph against the Cavaliers. The Magic rediscovered one of their strengths while playing Cleveland by scoring 56 points in the paint, which is right in line with their average of 56.6 that is third best in the league. — Andrew Lopez

8. Los Angeles Lakers
2023-24 record: 14-10

The Lakers won’t have to wait long to receive their winnings from the in-season tournament. The payout of $500,000 per player will be deposited into individual accounts as a lump-sum payment on Friday, sources told ESPN. While the Lakers wait for those payments to clear, they will need to avoid performances like the 127-125 loss in Dallas on Tuesday, when they allowed 71 first-half points. — Dave McMenamin

9. Indiana Pacers
2023-24 record: 13-8

  • Previous ranking: 10

  • Next games: @ MIL (Dec. 13), @ WAS (Dec. 15), @ MIN (Dec. 16), vs. LAC (Dec. 18)

The Pacers quickly bounced back from their loss to LeBron James and the Lakers in the NBA Cup final with a victory in Detroit on Monday thanks to 14 points and 16 assists from guard Tyrese Haliburton. It’s the sixth game this season Haliburton has finished with at least 15 assists, which is twice that of the second-ranked player (Nikola Jokic). Indiana’s offense continues to lap the league, ranking first at an absurd 123.4 points per 100 possessions. — Collier

10. Dallas Mavericks
2023-24 record: 15-8

Mavs superstar Luka Doncic has not disappointed this season, averaging 35.2 points, 9.2 rebounds and 12.4 assists in the past five games. That stretch includes a pair of extraordinarily rare triple-doubles. He had 36 points, 15 rebounds and 18 assists in a failed comeback attempt against the Thunder on Dec. 2. The Mavs have been hit hard by injuries, including Kyrie Irving’s right heel contusion, so Doncic’s workload is as heavy as ever. He played more than 40 minutes in four of those five games, the lone exception being the blowout of the Jazz, as he sat the whole fourth quarter. “Everything hurts,” Doncic, 24, said after back-to-back wins over the Grizzlies and Lakers this week. “I’m getting old, man.” — MacMahon

11. Sacramento Kings
2023-24 record: 13-9

The Kings’ 12th-ranked offense isn’t as good as it was this time last year, but it’s trending in the right direction. Alongside De’Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis, Malik Monk has been a bright spot coming off the bench. Monk had 13 points in their win over the Suns and posted 21 points and nine assists Monday against the Nets. But for the Kings to return to the same level as last season, they’ll need more from Keegan Murray off the bench. After missing a handful of games due to lower back injury, the second-year forward had his best performance Monday since returning against the Nets, going 9-for-13 on 24 points. — Kendra Andrews

12. New York Knicks
2023-24 record: 13-9

  • Previous ranking: 9

  • Next games: @ UTAH (Dec. 13), @ PHX (Dec. 15), @ LAC (Dec. 16), @ LAL (Dec. 18)

The Knicks were dealt the worst hand of any team as a result of the in-season tournament, as it left them with only 40 home games and an extremely difficult pair of road games in Boston and Milwaukee — both of which, predictably, became losses. That Celtics game became even more painful because of the loss of Mitchell Robinson, who is out for eight to 10 weeks after surgery to take care of a stress fracture in his ankle. Robinson, the league’s leader in offensive rebounds per game (5.3), is in the middle of the best season of his career, and his absence will force the Knicks to lean on the combo of Jericho Sims and Isaiah Hartenstein to compensate. — Bontemps

13. LA Clippers
2023-24 record: 13-10

The Clippers were enjoying a surprising 22-point halftime lead over the Kings on Tuesday night when their first worrisome injury news of the season came: Paul George was ruled out for the second half with a sore left groin. Up until this, the Clippers had enjoyed their healthiest start in the Kawhi Leonard-George era. Both played in all 23 games, the longest stretch of consecutive games played together since they became Clippers in 2019. The injury came as the team was getting increasingly more comfortable together with James Harden and Leonard especially, has been locked in and is on an offensive tear. The Clippers face Golden State and the Knicks at home in the next four days before hitting the road for a three-game swing through Indiana, Dallas and Oklahoma City — the last two games of that trip on a back-to-back. — Youngmisuk

14. Phoenix Suns
2023-24 record: 13-10

  • Previous ranking: 7

  • Next games: vs. BKN (Dec. 13), vs. NY (Dec. 15), vs. WAS (Dec. 17), @ POR (Dec. 19)

Here’s a list of things that have happened more often this NBA season than the zero games that Kevin Durant, Devin Booker and Bradley Beal have played together for the Suns so far: one inaugural in-season tournament win by the Lakers; two 50-point games by Sixers players (Joel Embiid and Tyrese Maxey); four 140-plus point games by the Indiana Pacers; five technical fouls for Houston Rockets coach Ime Udoka. And the absences are catching up to Phoenix, which has dropped four out of its past six games. — McMenamin

15. Miami Heat
2023-24 record: 13-10

  • Previous ranking: 12

  • Next games: vs. CHA (Dec. 13), vs. CHI (Dec. 14), vs. CHI (Dec. 16), vs. MIN (Dec. 18)

Bam Adebayo (hip) missed his fourth consecutive game Monday, but Orlando Robinson and Kevin Love have helped to keep the Heat’s season afloat. Robinson, an undrafted free agent who earned a standard contract, has averaged 10.8 points and 7.8 rebounds in four starts. And the 35-year-old Love had a season-high 19 points against the Hornets and a 14-point, 12-rebound performance against Cleveland on Friday. — Lopez

16. Cleveland Cavaliers
2023-24 record: 13-11

In the span of six days last week, the Cavs and Magic played two games against each other. Cleveland won the first at home by 10 and Orlando won the second at home by 10. If the playoffs started today, the No. 2 Magic would host the No. 7 Cavs in a matchup that shows just how quickly things can change in the East. This time last season, Cleveland was the up-and-coming darling and Orlando was still in rebuild mode. If Cleveland can continue to lean on Donovan Mitchell (27.3 points per game) and Darius Garland (6.0 assists per game) it should enter an upcoming four-game home stretch with confidence. — McMenamin

17. New Orleans Pelicans
2023-24 record: 13-11

  • Previous ranking: 14

  • Next games: @ WAS (Dec. 13), @ CHA (Dec. 15), @ SA (Dec. 17), vs. MEM (Dec. 19), @ CLE (Dec. 21)

How did Zion Williamson bounce back from his lackluster performance in the in-season tournament semifinals? By dropping a season-high 36 points on the league’s top defense in Minnesota. CJ McCollum had 23 points and Brandon Ingram had 20 against the Wolves, just the second time all three players scored 20 points in the same game. The last time it happened? The very first game all three played together — the season opener last year against Brooklyn. The trio has played in only 18 games together because of injuries. — Lopez

18. Brooklyn Nets
2023-24 record: 12-10

  • Previous ranking: 16

  • Next games: @ PHX (Dec. 13), @ DEN (Dec. 14), @ GS (Dec. 16), @ UTAH (Dec. 18)

After missing a few weeks with an ankle injury, Cam Thomas has returned to the court — but his efficiency hasn’t joined him. After going 8-for-21 in 31 minutes against Sacramento on Monday night, Thomas has now shot under 40% in all four games Brooklyn has played this month. It is a reminder that, for as impressive as his early-season scoring outburst was before the injury, questions still remain about his ability to be a consistent impact player on a quality team. And with Ben Simmons still out with a nerve issue in his back, there is a lack of shot creation on this team, giving Thomas the opportunity to prove he’s a player the Nets can count on moving forward.. — Bontemps

19. Houston Rockets
2023-24 record: 11-9

  • Previous ranking: 20

  • Next games: vs. MEM (Dec. 13), @ MEM (Dec.15), @ MIL (Dec. 17), @ CLE (Dec. 18)

The Rockets sit at seventh in the West behind the recent play of second-year center Alperen Sengun, who leads the team in points (20.5) and rebounds (9.1) per game. Their defense — currently second in the league — is keeping them afloat in a competitive West. After missing the previous 15 games due to an ankle sprain, No. 4 pick Amen Thompson had two points, five rebounds and an assist in 10 minutes during Monday’s win over the Spurs. Thompson averaged 21.5 points, 10.5 rebounds and 7.5 assists during a two-game rehab stint in the G League. With Thompson back in the rotation, veteran reserve guard Aaron Holiday has made a strong case to continue getting minutes posting net rating of plus-8.5 points per 100 possessions. — MacMahon

20. Golden State Warriors
2023-24 record: 10-13

  • Previous ranking: 19

  • Next games: @ LAC (Dec. 14), vs. BKN (Dec. 16), @ POR (Dec. 17), vs. BOS (Dec. 19)

The Warriors don’t like to compare themselves to last season’s team, but the resemblance is striking. Turnovers remain a huge issue — they committed the league’s season-high 29 on Friday in their OT loss to the Thunder — they’re squandering big leads, can’t finish close games and lack consistency. With the first quarter of the season behind them, sitting below .500, it might be time to start asking if this is more than just a slow start. — Andrews

21. Atlanta Hawks
2023-24 record: 9-13

  • Previous ranking: 21

  • Next games: @ TOR (Dec. 13), @ TOR (Dec. 15), @ CLE (Dec. 16), vs. DET (Dec. 18)

On Monday, Bogdan Bogdanovic hit 10 3-pointers in a game, but he still couldn’t help Atlanta avoid a defeat to the Nuggets. Despite having a top-5 offense, the Hawks’ defense is still a sore spot — they rank 27th, after ranking 22nd last season. In their past four games, teams have shot 51.7% from the field and 40.3% from 3-point range, all losses. — Lopez

22. Chicago Bulls
2023-24 record: 9-16

The Bulls have to be encouraged by the recent production of guard Coby White. White is averaging 26.8 points, 7.0 rebounds and 5.3 assists while shooting over 50% his past five games and providing a spark to a disappointing season. However, the Bulls’ upcoming schedule will test whether that streak, and a moral victory OT loss to the Bucks on Monday, is more mirage than real. — Collier

23. Toronto Raptors
2023-24 record: 9-14

After dropping a game at Madison Square Garden on Monday night, Toronto sits five games under .500 and has lost four in a row heading into a pretty critical two-game series at home against the Hawks — who currently sit a half-game ahead of the Raptors in the 10th and final play-in tournament spot in the Eastern Conference standings. Fail to win one or even both of those games, and the temperature could start to rise in Toronto. Whispers about the future of this team, and specifically, the futures of pending free agents Pascal Siakam and O.G. Anunoby, could get much louder. — Bontemps

24. Memphis Grizzlies
2023-24 record: 6-16

As Ja Morant nears his return from a 25-game suspension — he’s expected to return Dec. 19 against the Pelicans — fellow franchise cornerstones Desmond Bane and Jaren Jackson Jr. are in their best offensive grooves of the season. Jackson broke out of an extended funk by averaging 30.8 points on .536/.520/.909 shooting splits in the Grizzlies’ past four games. Bane, who has been Memphis’ most consistent player, has averaged 30.0 points on .564/.514/.857 shooting splits in his past five games, highlighted by a career-high 49 points in a win over the Pistons. Still, even with those dynamic performances from Bane and Jackson, the Grizzlies have lost three of their past four games to fall to 6-16, putting Memphis in a deep hole. — MacMahon

25. Utah Jazz
2023-24 record: 7-16

  • Previous ranking: 23

  • Next games: vs. NY (Dec. 13), @ POR (Dec. 14), @ SAC (Dec. 16), vs. BKN (Dec. 18)

Utah has lost five of its past six games, with all of the defeats coming by a double-digit margin. The Jazz hit rock-bottom with a 50-point loss in Dallas that coach Will Hardy declared to be “a masterpiece of dogs—.” Rookie forward Taylor Hendricks, the No. 9 pick, has gotten extended playing time during the stretch due to injuries. He has averaged 5.8 points, 1.5 rebounds, 1.0 block and 1.0 steal in the past four games after playing a total of only two minutes for the Jazz in the first 19 games. With Jordan Clarkson out for at least two weeks, the Jazz will have to lean heavily on Keyonte George and their second unit. — MacMahon

26. Charlotte Hornets
2023-24 record: 7-14

  • Previous ranking: 25

  • Next games: @ MIA (Dec. 13), vs. NO (Dec. 15), vs. PHI (Dec. 16), @ TOR (Dec. 18)

As Charlotte waits for guard LaMelo Ball to return, Terry Rozier is doing all he can to keep the Hornets in games. Rozier had 34 points and 13 assists in Monday’s loss to Miami, becoming the third player in franchise history with multiple games of 30 points and 10 assists in a single season, joining Ball and Kemba Walker. Rozier will have to do even more heavy lifting as the Hornets play three games in four days against the Heat, Pelicans and Sixers. — Youngmisuk

27. Portland Trail Blazers
2023-24 record: 6-16

  • Previous ranking: 26

  • Next games: vs. UTAH (Dec. 14), vs. DAL (Dec. 16), vs. GS (Dec. 17), vs. PHX (Dec. 19)

The good news: Anfernee Simons made his return last week after tearing a ligament in his right thumb on opening night. The bad news: they are now without Jerami Grant, Deandre Ayton and Malcolm Brogdon. Those four have played a total of 3.1 minutes together through the team’s first 21 games. It’s not to say the Blazers would be higher in the rankings if they all were active, but it would give a much clearer picture as to who Portland really is, and a clearer direction on how to continue to rebuild. Until they are healthy, this team is in a holding pattern. — Andrews

28. Washington Wizards
2023-24 record: 3-19

  • Previous ranking: 29

  • Next games: vs. NO (Dec. 13), vs. IND (Dec. 15), @ PHX (Dec. 17), @ SAC (Dec. 18)

Washington might have just one victory over the past month, but management might be celebrating a different victory — with its first lottery pick Bilal Coulibaly. The 6-8 guard, picked seventh overall, is ahead of schedule. He had his first career double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds against Brooklyn last week and has now scored in double figures in four straight games — one of the lone bright spots in a dark season in Washington. — Youngmisuk

29. San Antonio Spurs
2023-24 record: 3-19

  • Previous ranking: 28

  • Next games: vs. LAL (Dec. 13), vs. LAL (Dec. 15), vs. NO (Dec. 17), @ MIL (Dec.19)

The Spurs’ third-quarter ineptitude has been part of the reason for San Antonio’s franchise-record 17-game losing streak. The Spurs are a league-worst minus-149 in the third frame this season. No other team is minus-100 in any other quarter. Out of 22 third quarters this season, the Spurs have won just one of them. Spurs guard Devin Vassell called the team’s third quarters the “elephant in the room” after loss No. 17 on Monday against Houston, a game in which they were only outscored 18-15 in the third. — Lopez

30. Detroit Pistons
2023-24 record: 2-21

  • Previous ranking: 30

  • Next games: vs. PHI (Dec. 13), @ PHI (Dec. 15), @ MIL (Dec. 16), @ ATL (Dec. 18)

What can we say? Detroit’s losing streak has reached 20 games, making it the sixth longest in NBA history and the longest single-season slide in team history. The Sixers hold the NBA record for the longest single-season losing streak. The Pistons can avoid such history if they can eke out one win — just one! — over the next 14 nights. — Collier


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