NBA Power Rankings: Can Boston Challenge Toronto?
Toronto Raptors forward Kawhi Leonard (2) moves around Boston Celtics forward Gordon Hayward (20) during second half NBA action in Toronto on Friday, October 19, 2018. (Frank Gunn/CP)
On this week’s edition of the NBA Power Rankings, I am happy to report that there is finally some consistency in the NBA. Teams we pegged to be powers are finally starting to look like them, while young upstarts like the Clippers and Grizzlies are starting to look, well, like the Clippers and Grizzlies. So let’s get into these rankings before the Bulls decide to boycott again, shall we?
1. Toronto Raptors (23-9) Previous Rank: 1
The fact that these rankings come out every two weeks makes it so that there are a lot of things that happen in between each ranking. The Raptors win in Golden State is one of them. Toronto won convincingly in Oakland without Kawhi Leonard against a Golden State team that was fully locked and loaded. Does this change my Finals prediction? Of course not. But a top-heavy Eastern Conference is starting to separate into a two-horse race, with the Raptors in control of their own destiny. Toronto is coming off back to back West Coast defeats against Portland and Denver, and a Wednesday home game against the Pacers won’t be easy. Indiana is riding a seven-game win streak so this stretch will prove an important test for a battle-tested Raptors squad.
2. Denver Nuggets (20-9) Previous Rank: 2
The Nuggets are the hottest team in the West right now, with three wins over good teams in Memphis, Oklahoma City, and Toronto. However, the injury bug continues to bite this Denver team. Gary Harris and Paul Millsap have joined Will Barton, Isaiah Thomas, and Michael Porter Jr. on the shelf. The Nuggets will have to rely on Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray even more than they already are, but if there’s a battery that can handle it it’s them. Early Coach of the Year favorite Mike Malone anyone?
3. Golden State Warriors (21-10) Previous Rank: 3
The Warriors are sitting pretty in the West’s second seed, biding their time. There is really nothing to say about the Warriors except that Kevin Durant continues to release soundbites for the national media to fawn over daily. However, it is certainly harder to peg this team than in past years. Their loss to the Raptors at home was puzzling, as outside of Durant, every Warrior was held under 15 points. This team needs to get hot, especially Klay Thompson, who is having an anemic offensive season by his standards.
4. Milwaukee Bucks (20-9) Previous Rank: 4
The Bucks are still at four, and there is no reason to change them. The problem for them? They haven’t played that many games, only 29. The schedule will get busy and tougher down the stretch, starting with a Friday night matchup against Boston. Milwaukee showed it could beat Boston last year in the regular season, but looked lost in Beantown come the playoffs. A win over the Celtics in prime time could do wonder for their confidence, as well as strengthen Giannis Antetokounmpo’s MVP case.
5. Oklahoma City Thunder (19-10) Previous Rank: 6
Remember when Oklahoma City was 0-4? Neither do I. The Thunder are on a roll and playing tremendous defense. The problem? Their offense is far from perfect. They rank 20th in offensive rating, and dead last in three-point percentage at an atrocious 32.1 percent. The Thunder possess a dynamic duo of Russell Westbrook and Paul George, but they need to pick it up on the offensive end, otherwise, this pace won’t be sustainable.
6. Boston Celtics (18-11) Previous Rank: 7
Remember when I said it was a two horse race in the East? Well, meet the other half of that race. The Celtics and Raptors are rounding into form, and Boston is finally looking like the team experts predicted would challenge Golden State before the year began. Fresh off an eight-game win streak in which they scored over 120 points in six of the eight wins, the Celtics are doing it without C Al Horford and have had Jaylen Brown, Kyrie Irving, and Gordon Hayward all miss games throughout the eight wins. Watch out, here comes Boston. The scary part? They haven’t even unlocked their full strength. The real test will be Friday night in Boston against the Bucks.
7. Philadelphia 76ers (20-12) Previous Rank: 8
With Jimmy Butler sidelined, the Sixers have struggled. They lost a measuring stick game against Toronto, and have also lost to Indiana and Brooklyn. The problem with the Sixers is that everything about them is ordinary. They rank middle of the pack both offensively and defensively. Ben Simmons still can’t shoot, and Joel Embiid is having to carry the load too often. Coming up are two more prove-it games for Philly—home against Toronto on Saturday, and at Boston on Christmas. Philly came into the year with Finals aspirations, but they need to show something to have fans believe in the City of Brotherly Love.
8. Los Angeles Clippers (17-13) Previous Rank: 5
The Clippers have dropped off since capturing the top seed in the West but are still in the playoff picture. However, they already have their sights set on next season. The Clippers sent multiple scouts and executives to see Leonard play, apparently attending as much as 75 percent of Raptor games. The Clippers are looking to add glitz and glamour to their roster because they are perhaps the most irrelevant team in Los Angeles—and that’s hard to do. Leonard will do that, and the Clippers should look to package players and picks to make the roster even more appealing for the San Diego State product and California native.
9. Los Angeles Lakers (18-12) Previous Rank: 9
The Lakers are stumbling, bumbling, rumbling and tumbling higher and higher up the ranks of the West. LeBron James and Lonzo Ball became the first Laker teammates to post triple-doubles in the same game since 1982, and the first pair of teammates in the NBA since 2007. Luke Walton is heavily criticized, yet despite a slow start is slowly gaining traction. The Lakers have several easy games, but the big one everyone has their eyes on is the Christmas Day showdown with the Warriors. With JaVale McGee, Rajon Rondo and Brandon Ingram hurt, it will be an interesting week again for the Lakers as they mull their trade options and future.
10. Indiana Pacers (20-10) Previous Rank: 11
Indiana is the hottest team in the Association, owners of the aforementioned seven-game win streak. This includes wins over the Bucks, Sixers, and Kings. The problem is that six of the seven wins game at home. The Pacers are a decent 9-6 on the road, but they need to prove that they can win away from Bankers Life Fieldhouse because they will almost certainly not be finishing top three in the East. The return of Victor Oladipo helps, and Nate McMillan deserves recognition for the tremendous job he has done following Frank Vogel.
Here are the rest of the rankings:
11. Dallas Mavericks (15-13) Previous Rank: 12
12. Memphis Grizzlies (16-14) Previous Rank: 10
13. Portland Trail Blazers (17-13) Previous Rank: 14
14. Sacramento Kings (16-14) Previous Rank: 20
15. Houston Rockets (15-14) Previous Rank: 16
16. Charlotte Hornets (14-15) Previous Rank: 17
17. Detroit Pistons (14-14) Previous Rank: 13
18. San Antonio Spurs (16-15) Previous Rank: 18
19. New Orleans Pelicans (15-16) Previous Rank: 15
20. Orlando Magic (14-15) Previous Rank: 19
21. Utah Jazz (14-16) Previous Rank: 21
22. Brooklyn Nets (13-18) Previous Rank: 26
23. Minnesota Timberwolves (14-17) Previous Rank: 22
24. Miami Heat (13-16) Previous Rank: 24
25. Washington Wizards (12-18) Previous Rank: 23
26. New York Knicks (9-23) Previous Rank: 25
27. Cleveland Cavaliers (7-23) Previous Rank: 27
28. Chicago Bulls (7-24) Previous Rank: 28
29. Atlanta Hawks (6-23) Previous Rank: 29
30. Phoenix Suns (7-24) Previous Rank: 30