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NBA Power Rankings: A double dose of history for LeBron

NBA Power Rankings: A double dose of history for LeBron

We’re about six weeks into the 2023-24 NBA season and already close to crowning the inaugural in-season tournament champion. The final day of group play ended Tuesday, and the quarterfinals begin Monday.

Some teams have dominated in the tournament, while others have continued to focus more on regular-season play. But all must be considered when it comes to our rankings.

The Minnesota Timberwolves are making themselves known as they lead the Western Conference. And the Orlando Magic have found their rhythm after a rocky start to the season, riding a seven-game winning streak as they sit right behind the Boston Celtics in the East.

With a couple of teams slipping out of the top 10, which team will be the next to scale the ranks? Can Zion Williamson and the New Orleans Pelicans continue their ascent? Will Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors bounce back from a rough start? Are we seeing a changing of the guard in the Western Conference? Questions abound in this week’s NBA 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 |

Jump to a team:
ATL | BOS | BKN | CHA | CHI | CLE
DAL | DEN | DET | GS | HOU | IND
LAC | LAL | MEM | MIA | MIL | MIN
NO | NY | OKC | ORL | PHI | PHX
POR | SAC | SA | TOR | UTAH | WAS

1. Boston Celtics
2023-24 record: 14-4

Not only are the Celtics off to a league leading 14-4 record, but there’s still plenty of room for improvement. One example: The Celtics sit eighth in the NBA in offensive rating while taking the most 3-pointers per game in the league (43.3) — and making 36%, good for 15th in the league. Last season, Boston was closer to 38% and could easily get back in that neighborhood again. — Tim Bontemps


2. Philadelphia 76ers
2023-24 record: 12-5

There’s been a ton of attention on Tyrese Maxey’s ridiculous start to this season in the wake of the James Harden trade. But Maxey’s emergence has overshadowed perhaps an even bigger development: Joel Embiid’s improvement as a facilitator. Embiid — who is leading the league in scoring for a third straight year — is averaging 6.6 assists per game — easily the most of his career, and is 10th in the league in assist percentage (33.5%). It has created an entirely new facet of Philadelphia’s offense, which ranks second in the league. — Bontemps


3. Denver Nuggets
2023-24 record: 12-6

The Nuggets hit a rocky stretch on the road, dropping five of seven, but they’ve since won two straight, including perhaps their most impressive victory of the season coming Monday against the Clippers without Nikola Jokic (lower back), Jamal Murray (hamstring) and Aaron Gordon (heel). That win came on the second night of a back-to-back while Reggie Jackson enjoyed a 35-point revenge game against the Clips. The Nuggets are hopeful Murray is nearing a return to the starting lineup. The champs can use him considering after a home game against Houston, they hit the road again for three straight at Phoenix, Sacramento and the Clippers.. — Ohm Youngmisuk


4. Minnesota Timberwolves
2023-24 record: 13-4

At 13-4, the Timberwolves are off to their best start through 17 games in franchise history, sitting atop the Western Conference. Minnesota is led by its defense, which is first in the NBA in field goal percentage allowed (43%), No. 2 in defensive rating (106.8) and has held teams under 100 points six times this season, tied for the most in the NBA. And the Wolves’ offense is starting to come alive, fifth in the league in points per 100 possessions in their past five games. Minnesota will be heavy favorites in its next two games, hosting the Jazz on Thursday before traveling to Charlotte on Saturday. — Jamal Collier


5. Milwaukee Bucks
2023-24 record: 13-5

Both Giannis Antetokounmpo and Damian Lillard have acknowledged they are still feeling out how best to play together, but promising signs are emerging. They each scored 30 points in back-to-back wins against the Wizards and Trail Blazers last week, and the team has won seven of their past eight games. After Thursday’s game in Chicago, the Bucks will play seven straight at home, giving the team’s dynamic duo even more time to jell. — Collier


6. Oklahoma City Thunder
2023-24 record: 11-6

Reserve guard Isaiah Joe had a rare off night in Saturday’s loss to the 76ers, snapping a remarkable run from 3-point range. Joe made at least 50% of his 3s in every game of the Thunder’s six-game winning streak, highlighted by his 7-of-7 night in a win over the Warriors. Joe shot 75.9% from 3 (22 of 29) during that span. Entering Tuesday night, the Thunder had outscored opponents by 114 points with Joe on the floor, the eighth-best overall plus-minus in the league and by far the best for a bench player. — Tim MacMahon


7. Phoenix Suns
2023-24 record: 11-6

A seven-game winning streak has lifted the Suns to 11-6, meaning they’ve basically won two out of every three games this season with only two of their Big Three available, as Bradley Beal (back) has been out. They’ll have their biggest test thus far with a playoff rematch versus the Nuggets on Friday — a team they could beat only two times in six tries in the postseason before trading for Beal. — Dave McMenamin


8. Orlando Magic
2023-24 record: 12-5

Riding a seven-game winning streak, Orlando is one of just two franchises never to have a 10-game winning streak in team history (along with the Wizards). The Magic have a chance to cross that one off the list this week as they play Washington in back-to-back games. If they do so, it will be because of the team’s defense, which ranks second in the league (107.3 points per 100 possessions) and first in points off turnovers (21.1 per game). — Andrew Lopez


9. Dallas Mavericks
2023-24 record: 11-6

Rookie center Dereck Lively II has quickly established himself as one of the Mavs’ most impactful players. Dallas, owner of the league’s No. 3 offense and No. 24 defense, had a plus-5.2 net rating with the 19-year-old on the court — the best of any Mavs starter — and minus-2.8 without Lively entering Tuesday night. “Being a rookie is hard, obviously, but he has amazing potential and you can see it,” Luka Doncic said after the Mavs lost to the Clippers when Lively was sidelined by a lower back contusion. “Even in his first season, he’s made a big, big impact for us.” Lively was questionable for Tuesday’s game but had eight points and five rebounds in the win over Houston. — MacMahon


10. Miami Heat
2023-24 record: 10-8

Jaime Jaquez Jr. has stepped up for a Heat team that has already had to start 11 different players this season due to a variety of injuries. Jaquez, the No. 18 pick in the 2023 NBA draft, has scored in double digits in 10 of the past 11 games and has 15 or more in six of those games during that stretch. The only other rookie to score 15 points or more in four consecutive games this season is Oklahoma City’s Chet Holmgren, the No. 2 pick in the 2022 draft. As Miami continues to deal with injuries, having role players like Jaquez and Duncan Robinson, pacing toward a 50-40-90 season, will be critical. — Lopez


11. Sacramento Kings
2023-24 record: 10-6

De’aaron Fox continues to take his game to a new level, leading the Kings in points (29.9 points per game) and steals (1.6). Even as they continue to search for their defense — which is 18th in defensive rating — there is no need to panic in Sacramento. The Kings are the sixth seed in the West and play nine of their next 10 games at home. — Kendra Andrews


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

A 44-point loss to the Sixers on Monday — the largest margin of defeat in LeBron James‘ career and tied for fifth worst in Lakers franchise history — prompted James to say “a lot” has to change in Laker Land. Let’s start with the obvious: L.A. gives up more second-chance points than any team (18.1), while scoring the fewest in the league (9.4). It has trailed after the first quarter in 12 out of 18 games, including by 10 or more eight times and ranks 30th in 3-pointers made per game and 28th in 3-point percentage. That’s … “a lot.” — McMenamin


13. New Orleans Pelicans
2023-24 record: 9-9

After a shaky start to the season by his lofty standards, Zion Williamson is starting to look like himself again. In his first eight games, Williamson averaged 21.6 points on 51.5% shooting. In the past six, he’s averaging 25.7 points on 59.0% shooting. After Monday’s loss to the Jazz, Williamson had his fifth consecutive game of at least 25 points, five assists and 50% shooting. The only other person to have that long of a streak this season is Nikola Jokic. The Pelicans, should get back CJ McCollum (lung) and Trey Murphy (knee) soon and be able to spread the floor out even more for Williamson after that. — Lopez


14. New York Knicks
2023-24 record: 10-7

Thanks to a blowout win over the Hornets, the Knicks got themselves the wild card in the Eastern Conference’s half of the in-season tournament. It also ensured they’ll play the Bucks five times this season — three times in December. But Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau will be happy his team has picked up eight wins in its past 11 games, climbing to 11th in offense and sixth in defense. — Bontemps


15. Indiana Pacers
2023-24 record: 9-7

Although the Pacers cruised through East Group A at 4-0 to advance in the in-season tournament, they have struggled to win consistently in non-tournament games, where they are 5-7, punctuated by a loss Monday night against Portland. The Pacers still have the No. 1 offense in the NBA (122.6 points per 100 possessions), but they have dropped to 29th in defense (119.8). Indiana has two games in Miami this week before it advances to the in-season tournament quarterfinals Monday. — Collier


16. Houston Rockets
2023-24 record: 8-7

The Rockets have the NBA’s third-best home record at 8-1, ranking behind only the Nuggets and the Celtics. A primary reason for Houston’s success at the Toyota Center is its stingy defense, which entered Tuesday night tied for the league lead in defensive efficiency (106.8 points per 100 possessions), and has allowed only 102.1 at home. Shooting guard Jalen Green has also played much better at home than on the road, averaging 22.0 points on 57.9% true shooting in Houston and 15.4 points on 47.7% true shooting in away games. The bad news? Five of their next seven games are on the road. — MacMahon


17. Cleveland Cavaliers
2023-24 record: 10-8

In seven of the Cavs’ past eight games, one of their All-Star guards — either Donovan Mitchell three times and Darius Garland four — has led them in scoring. The eighth game belonged to rookie guard Craig Porter, who had 16 points against Miami and dropped 21 points on 7-of-10 shooting in a win over Denver. The two-way contract signee has given the Cavaliers some unexpected depth — and perhaps a temporary insurance policy should Mitchell’s or Garland’s hamstring issues resurface. — McMenamin


18. Atlanta Hawks
2023-24 record: 8-9

With Jalen Johnson set to miss time with a left distal radius fracture, Atlanta has turned back to Saddiq Bey to return to the starting lineup. Bey started three of the first five games of the season for Atlanta before Johnson took over as the full-time starter, and he averaged more points coming off the bench (12.5 points per game) than as a starter (11). The 24-year-old wing, averaging 12 and 6 in 28 minutes per game, is shooting a career-high 62% on 2s and will now have a chance to make an even greater impact as the Hawks play seven of their next nine on the road. — Lopez


19. Golden State Warriors
2023-24 record: 8-10

After a stormy stretch in San Francisco, Klay Thompson seems to have shaken off the cobwebs; Andrew Wiggins is showing signs of life; and Draymond Green is back from his five-game suspension. But it won’t be as easy as having all of their players available. After having the most efficient five-man group in the league the past two years, this season’s starting five have struggled immensely as Stephen Curry, Kevon Looney, Thompson, Wiggins and Green are minus-21 in the 87 minutes played together. That, combined with their lack of bench production, has left Steve Kerr in search mode. When, exactly, he’ll find a nine-to-10-man rotation he likes is up in the air. — Andrews


20. Brooklyn Nets
2023-24 record: 9-8

Brooklyn continues to methodically churn out victories and is on a three-game winning streak, even while dealing with a very difficult schedule — sixth toughest in the NBA, per ESPN’s Basketball Power Index — and myriad injuries, including Ben Simmons‘ back issues. But Nic Claxton finally returned for Tuesday’s win over Toronto, and Cam Thomas is on the verge of returning from the sprained ankle that cost him the past few weeks after his red-hot start. — Bontemps


21. LA Clippers
2023-24 record: 7-9

Before Monday’s game against Denver, Ty Lue said he may need more than 10 games to figure things out with James Harden, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and Russell Westbrook. He wasn’t joking. The Clippers then went out and lost to a Nuggets team without Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray and Aaron Gordon, and Lue couldn’t contain his disgust with his offense and defense. Harden looks like he doesn’t want to shoot and is deferring to the other stars, Westbrook, who has looked better the past two games in his new role off the bench, still isn’t comfortable. And Leonard isn’t in any sort of rhythm and needs more shots. Now the Clippers go to Sacramento and Golden State before facing the Warriors again at home Saturday. — Youngmisuk


22. Toronto Raptors
2023-24 record: 8-10

The Raptors were eliminated from the in-season tournament even before Tuesday night’s game in Brooklyn. In the meantime, it’s been a slow start for rookie shooting guard Gradey Dick, who entered Tuesday’s game shooting 27% from the field — largely because he’s taken close to two-thirds of his shots from 3-point range, where he’s gone 10-for-41. Three-point shooting is not a new concern for Toronto, though; the Raptors were 28th in the NBA in 3-point percentage last season and are 24th this year. — Bontemps


23. Utah Jazz
2023-24 record: 6-11

Center Walker Kessler came off the bench in his first two games back after missing 2½ weeks with an elbow injury, and he averaged 12.5 points, 9.5 rebounds and 2.0 blocks in 23.5 minutes as the Jazz swept the Pelicans in a two-game series. Kessler, a first-team All-Rookie selection last season, will return to the starting lineup soon, but coach Will Hardy seems to be in no rush to make that change after fill-in starter Omer Yurtseven’s 17-rebound and 13-point performance helped Utah put together a pair of wins. — MacMahon


24. Charlotte Hornets
2023-24 record: 5-11

Just as LaMelo Ball started cooking, the Hornets’ franchise point guard went down again with yet another right ankle injury — the same one that required surgery last March — and is expected to miss multiple weeks, sources told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. Ball opened this season averaging 24.7 points, 8.2 assists and 5.5 rebounds and had scored 30 or more points in seven of the previous nine games prior to his injury Sunday. His absence will open considerable opportunities for Terry Rozier, back from his groin strain, and rookie and No. 2 pick Brandon Miller, who in the Hornets’ past five games has averaged nearly 17 points per game and shot 48% from 3. — Youngmisuk


25. Portland Trail Blazers
2023-24 record: 5-12

Portland broke its eight-game losing streak with a win over the Jazz with its best offensive game of the season. The Blazers’ offense, overall, has started to improve, as they were able to build up a 26-point lead over Milwaukee on Sunday before they blew it, scoring only 14 points in the fourth quarter. But another positive is that Scoot Henderson is back on the floor after a nine-game absence. He shot just 1-for-7 against Utah but had seven assists in less than 17 minutes and scored a career-high 13 points in Milwaukee. With another good win against the Pacers on Monday, there is finally some optimism in Portland. — Andrews


26. Chicago Bulls
2023-24 record: 5-14

The Bulls have dropped five straight games, eight of their past nine and have fallen to 13th in the Eastern Conference, a tough start for a team with preseason playoff aspirations. “We’re disappointed, but I’m not running from it,” team vice president Arturas Karnisovas told reporters in Boston on Tuesday. “It’s my responsibility.” And Chicago, the NBA’s sixth-oldest team, playing the league’s slowest pace, won’t find reprieve on the schedule: Its next five games? Milwaukee, New Orleans, Milwaukee, Denver and Miami. This could get even uglier — and fast. — Collier


27. Memphis Grizzlies
2023-24 record: 3-13

The Grizzlies are the league’s only team that remains winless at home, having gone 0-8 at FedExForum with an average margin of defeat of 10.4 points. It reached a low point during Sunday’s 22-point loss to the Timberwolves, when injured guard Marcus Smart adamantly admonished his teammates about their “embarrassing” performance during a late timeout. “Guys are definitely frustrated,” coach Taylor Jenkins said postgame. “They know that we’ve got to play better. We got to play with more urgency. More togetherness. We got to be more dialed in, and we just got to be better. I mean, these guys are pissed.” — MacMahon


28. Washington Wizards
2023-24 record: 3-14

The Wizards took out their frustrations on the lowly Pistons with a much-needed 126-107 blowout win in Detroit. Kyle Kuzma put on a show in his home state with 32 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists to snap a nine-game losing streak. Jordan Poole, though, remains an enigma, providing more head-scratching viral moments than highlights. Through 16 games, Poole is averaging 17.3 points, down from 20.4 a season ago. And he’s averaging 2.9 turnovers and shooting just 28% from behind the arc. The Wizards might have to nurse this lone win for a while as they’re set to face the Magic in a back-to-back pair of games. — Youngmisuk


29. San Antonio Spurs
2023-24 record: 3-14

One thing that could help the Spurs break an 11-game losing streak — and thus avoid last year’s franchise record-setting 16-game streak – is the return of a healthy Devin Vassell to the starting lineup. Vassell has missed five games this season because of a left adductor strain. He missed two games earlier in November, returned for four games, then missed three more. He’s come off the bench in the past three, averaging 20.3 points on 40.0% shooting from deep in 26.8 minutes per game. — Lopez


30. Detroit Pistons
2023-24 record: 2-15

After a blowout loss at home to the Wizards in a matchup of the NBA’s two worst teams, Pistons coach Monty Williams called out his team for its lack of fight. Detroit hoped this season would show signs of a team emerging from its rebuild, but instead the Pistons have lost 14 consecutive games — second longest in team history — to drop to 2-15, now owning the league’s worst record. Little seems to be going right in Detroit. — Collier


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