As everyone turns their calendars to 2022, the NBA is hoping the New Year will bring better fortune for them. COVID cases are surging through the league right now, leaving many teams fielding G-League level rosters. Some have managed to stay competitive, but others are struggling to maintain. As players return and the NBA rules on COVID quarantine are relaxed, look for the playoff race to finally start taking full form.
You can find last week’s rankings here.
30. Detroit Pistons (+0)
It is hard enough for the Pistons to win with a healthy roster, but COVID is taking this team apart at the moment. Detroit lost all three games this week and continued to look like the worst team in the NBA. The best thing that can be said about Detroit at the moment is that Saddiq Bey is showing that he can be a long-term piece for this team in the future.
29. Orlando Magic (+0)
Orlando suffered another 0-3 week, losing to the Pelicans, Heat, and Bucks. Franz Wagner put up a career-high 38 points this week and looks to be one of the pieces for the Magic in the future. Cole Anthony is also continuing his good play, it is just not resulting in a lot of wins for Orlando right now.
28. Houston Rockets (+0)
Houston was another team that had an 0-3 week, but they did look competitive at some points. The Rockets lost to the Lakers, Pacers, and Hornets, but did see some key players return. Second overall pick Jalen Green and guard Kevin Porter Jr returned to the court and played well after missing time. Houston is carrying a five-game losing streak after their winning streak a few weeks ago.
27. Oklahoma City Thunder (-2)
The Thunder had a 1-3 week and that is disappointing considering how well the team was playing. Oklahoma City took losses to the Kings and two losses to the Suns. It is never a shame to lose to the defending Western Conference champions, but they are losses. The worst news for the Thunder was that star rookie Josh Giddey is now in COVID protocols. An unsung hero for the week for the Thunder has to be Aaron Wiggins. He played more this week and averaged 16 PPG in doing so.
26. Portland Trail Blazers (-2)
The Blazers had a rough week. While they only played two games, they lost both of them by double digits. What makes it worse is that both teams were missing their star players. Portland lost to Dallas without Luka Doncic and Utah without Donovan Mitchell. Their defense was an issue again and remains among the worst in the NBA. Damian Lillard is at least playing better, but it does not seem to matter much for Portland at the moment.
25. New Orleans Pelicans (+2)
The Pelicans have shown signs of life in recent weeks and continued that trend, going 2-1 this week. New Orleans beat Cleveland and Orlando while losing to the Thunder. New Orleans has won five of six and doesn’t look like the worst team in the NBA like they did at the beginning of the season. Josh Hart was a key player for the Pelicans this week and Brandon Ingram is continuing to carry this team in Zion Williamson‘s absence.
24. Indiana Pacers (-3)
The Pacers went 1-2 this week and had some tough losses to the Bulls and Hornets. Malcolm Brogdon has continued to miss time and that has left the point guard duties to Caris LeVert. LeVert has done a good job of running the offense in Brogdon’s absence. However, he does not bring the same defensive presence and that is what the Pacers are missing.
23. Toronto Raptors (-4)
The Raptors finally got to play some games this week. It was a mixed bag of results, getting blown out by Cleveland and losing a closer game to the 76ers. Now that the Raptors are getting their best players back minus Fred VanVleet, they are playing better. Chris Boucher and Pascal Siakam played great this week, despite losing two games.
22. Atlanta Hawks (+0)
It feels unfair to move the Hawks too far down with everything they have going on. Atlanta is experiencing the worst COVID outbreak in the NBA and can barely field a competent team on a nightly basis. Atlanta pulled out a great win over Philadelphia, but lost games to the Knicks and twice to the Bulls. Trae Young returned and Cam Reddish has looked good, but most of the Hawks roster is in health and safety protocols.
21. Sacramento Kings (+5)
The Kings are finally healthy and had good performances this week. Sacramento won games against Dallas and Oklahoma City but did have a blowout loss to Memphis. This team has the capability of challenging for a spot in the playoffs if they can stay healthy. But it is Sacramento we’re talking about here.
20. Dallas Mavericks (-5)
It has been tough sledding for Dallas without Luka Doncic. The Mavericks had a 1-3 week without their superstar. The worst loss for Dallas was losing to the Kings on a game-winning shot from Chimezie Metu. It is hard to judge this team too harshly without their best player, but things are not going well in Dallas at the moment.
19. San Antonio Spurs (+4)
What a job that head coach Gregg Popovich has done with this team this season. San Antonio is only 14-19, but this team has been playing really well here lately after a tough start. There is not a lot of high-end talent on this team, but they have become a force on offense. They also have a better point net rating than some teams ahead of them in the standings. The offense has been fantastic this week. What is even more surprising is that the Spurs won two games without Dejounte Murray.
18. New York Knicks (+2)
The good news for New York is they were able to finally put together some consecutive wins. The kinda bad news was that the teams that they were able to beat did not have complete rosters. The Knicks scored a Christmas day win over the Hawks, but Atlanta’s roster is laughable right now. Kemba Walker has been great as of late and that would be huge news for New York if he can keep this up.
17. Boston Celtics (-3)
Boston is yet another team that has a star player in health and safety protocols. Jayson Tatum was the latest player to miss time and Boston is missing him. Boston blew a lead on Christmas to Milwaukee, lost to a Minnesota team missing some of their best players, then lost to the Clippers. Boston is missing its biggest star and needs to find a way to make up for his absence.
16. Minnesota Timberwolves (+1)
Minnesota gets a slight bump because of the way they performed without some of their best players. Without Karl-Anthony Towns, D’Angelo Russell, and Anthony Edwards, Minnesota did manage to go 1-2 and stay in the playoff picture. Malik Beasley and Jaylen Nowell were the bright spots for Minnesota this week and will have to continue to play well in their absence.
15. Los Angeles Lakers (+3)
It was an interesting week for the Lakers. LeBron James has had to do all of the heavy lifting for this team and has put up incredible numbers. However, the rest of this team is just brutal at the moment. The defense is abysmal and is the weakest point of the team. The Lakers lost a lead in loss to the Grizzlies and were non-competitive in a Christmas day loss to Brooklyn until late in the game. This team needs Anthony Davis back.
14. Washington Wizards (-1)
In a week in which Washington did not have their best player in Bradley Beal, they managed to go 1-2. The Wizards beat the Knicks but dropped games to the Heat and 76ers. As usual, when Beal is out, Spencer Dinwiddie did most of the work on offense. Rui Hachimura entered the health and safety protocols and he is a player that the Wizards could really use right now.
13. Denver Nuggets (-1)
Denver went 2-1 this week and with Kevin Durant out in Brooklyn, Nikola Jokic is making a great case to be the second-leading candidate for MVP. Jokic was outstanding this week, averaging nearly 26 points per game and 20 rebounds per game. That is ridiculous production, but his defense needs to be mentioned as well. Jokic has made strides on that end of the court and had a game-winning block in their win over the Warriors this week.
12. Philadelphia 76ers (-1)
Philadelphia may have had the worst loss of any NBA team this year when they lost to the Hawks this past week. Atlanta had a depleted roster and it was inexplicable for the 76ers to lose that game. They found a way to move past that and did pick up wins over the Wizards and the Raptors. The highlight for Philadelphia was the first career triple-double for Tobias Harris.
11. Los Angeles Clippers (-1)
The worst news possible was dealt to the Clippers this week. Paul George has a torn ligament in his elbow and is going to miss time. This team is already dealing with not having Kawhi Leonard and now they are going to miss George as well. These next few weeks or even months could be the deciding factor on if the Clippers can find a way into the playoffs.
10. Charlotte Hornets (+6)
One of the biggest movers this week was the Charlotte Hornets. Charlotte found a way to go 3-0 this week while not having Miles Bridges and P.J. Washington. The Hornets got wins over the Nuggets, Rockets, and Pacers and still are an offensive juggernaut. This team is going to get healthy and could make a run.
9. Cleveland Cavaliers (-2)
Cleveland suffered a big blow to the team when point guard Ricky Rubio suffered a torn ACL and is out for the season. Rubio was playing well in the absence of Collin Sexton and he is going to be sorely missed. Darius Garland also entered health and safety protocols, leaving Cleveland without a capable leader of the offense for now. This team is still playing well, but the offense is going to be shaky without Rubio.
8. Miami Heat (-3)
It feels wrong to drop a team three spots when they go 3-0, but some other teams were also great this week. The big thing in front of the Heat is that they are also having trouble fielding a team due to having so many players in health and safety protocols. Tyler Herro and Jimmy Butler were fantastic this week, especially Herro. Herro should be the clear front-runner for the sixth man of the year right now.
7. Memphis Grizzlies (+2)
Ja Morant has returned and he is playing the best basketball of his career right now. Morant hit the game-winner against Phoenix and then put up 41 points in a comeback win over the Lakers. The burden on Morant grew this week with Dillon Brooks and De’Anthony Melton out in protocols. The other highlight for the Grizzlies was Desmond Bane, who is having a great season.
6. Milwaukee Bucks (+2)
When Milwaukee has their big three on the court together, they make a case to be the best team in the NBA. This is great news for the defending champs and should give them confidence as the playoff approach. Giannis Antetokounmpo is continuing to play at an MVP level, but the impact that Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday have on the team cannot be understated either.
5. Chicago Bulls (+1)
The Bulls might be the hottest team in the Eastern Conference, but they don’t get a huge move up due to the teams they beat this week. Getting two wins over the Hawks would usually be an accomplishment, but not how the Hawks are in their current state. The offense remains elite and Zach LaVine showed no signs of being slowed after coming out of protocols.
4. Brooklyn Nets (+0)
With the Nets missing Kevin Durant and other key pieces, it was up to James Harden to keep the team playing well. Harden responded by playing his best basketball of the season. Now, the Nets will be getting Durant back and at some point, Kyrie Irving. This is the most talented team in the NBA and they are about to be all together for the first time this season.
3. Phoenix Suns (-1)
Phoenix had a solid week but was not good enough to stay in the top two spots. The Suns had two wins come against the Thunder but lost close games to Golden State and Memphis. Head coach Monty Williams and center Deandre Ayton entered health and safety protocols this week. Phoenix is facing the most adversity it has in a while and it will be interesting to see how they respond.
2. Utah Jazz (+1)
Utah is carrying a five-game winning streak after a 4-0 week. That was enough to propel the Jazz over the Suns for this week in the power rankings. What is more impressive is that two of the wins for Utah this week came without Mitchell and the offense just keeps rolling. Utah is flying a bit under the radar because of their past regular-season success not translating to the playoffs. That is fair, but this team looks as good as any right now.
1. Golden State Warriors (+0)
Another week has gone and it is another week that the Warriors are number one in the power rankings. This team got another win over the Phoenix Suns and has shown they can go head-to-head with them. Golden State also got a win over the red hot Grizzlies this week but did suffer a loss to the Nuggets. That was not enough to knock them out of the top spot.
Follow Jackson Caudell on Twitter @jacksoncaudell
Main Image Credit: via New Castle News