NBA Power Rankings: Lakers, Jazz battle for top spot; Bucks turn up the defense; scorching Kings make big jump – CBS Sports


1


Jazz
Utah remained the league’s hottest team this week, with wins over the Pistons, Hawks, Hornets and Pacers. The offense has somewhat come back to Earth, but the Jazz clamped down defensively with a 103.3 rating this week. Donovan Mitchell was phenomenal this week, like he has been all season, averaging 26.8 points and 5.5 assists on 53 percent 3-point shooting. Mike Conley’s hamstring injury could be the only thing that slows down the Jazz at this point, since their guard rotation has been pretty shallow, but Joe Ingles can provide the missing playmaking and shooting. — 19-5
2


Lakers
The Lakers have gotten back on the winning track, rattling off four straight victories after back-to-back losses last week. After beating the Hawks, they put a second-half blitz on the Nuggets in a big win on Thursday, then hung on to beat the pesky Pistons in double-overtime on Saturday. LeBron James averaged 27 points, 10 assists and 7.3 rebounds for the week, while Dennis Schroder added nearly 20 points per game on absurd 20-for-28 field goal shooting in the three wins. 2 18-6
3


Bucks
Milwaukee found its defensive stride this week as the offense continues to be a juggernaut, and that formula has resulted in four straight wins by an average of 23 points. Seven Bucks averaged double-figure scoring for the week, led by Giannis Antetokounmpo at 24 points per game. The Bucks also caught fire from deep, making over 16 3-pointers per game at a 44.5 percent clip in the four wins. 6 15-8
4


76ers
The Sixers’ loss this week was truly baffling, as they were blown out by the Blazers without Damian Lillard or CJ McCollum. They bounced back to beat the short-handed Nets on Saturday behind a dominant Joel Embiid, who averaged 34.7 points and 8.3 rebounds this week as his MVP campaign tour continues. Tobias Harris has quietly put together a fantastic season, and he averaged nearly 20 points, 10 rebounds and five assists this week. 2 17-7
5


Clippers
Three losses and a worrisome foot injury to Paul George make this a rough week for the Clippers, who take a slight tumble in the rankings. They struggled to make up for George’s production after he went out, though Lou Williams appears to finally be finding a rhythm. He put up a season-high 23 points in the loss to the Kings on Sunday, and they’ll need him to get back to his bucket-getting ways for as long as George is out. Kawhi Leonard averaged 26.3 points for the week, but shot just 22 percent from 3-point range. 2 17-8
6


Nets
A huge win over the Clippers to start the week was followed by two odd games. First, Kevin Durant went in and out of the lineup before finally being removed from the loss to the Raptors due to NBA health and safety protocols. Both Durant and Kyrie Irving then missed Saturday’s loss to the 76ers, so it was a hard week to gauge. Their one game at full strength was impressive, however, so we won’t penalize them too much this week. James Harden averaged 22 points, 12 assists and nine rebounds in the three games. — 14-11
7


Suns
Phoenix went 3-1 in a week that saw Devin Booker return to the court after a four-game absence. Booker averaged 22.5 points and 3.8 assists on 35 percent 3-point shooting, while Chris Paul continued his steady production with 19.8 points and six assists per game. It’s clear the offense still isn’t fully clicking, but the Suns defense has been tenacious enough to keep them in the win column. Frank Kaminsky has been a nice offensive spark off the bench, averaging 10.3 points in 18 minutes per game this week, while shooting 61.5 percent from the field. 3 13-9
8


Spurs
The Spurs shook off their second straight loss to the Grizzlies to pick up back-to-back wins over the Wolves and Rockets to close out the week. LaMarcus Aldridge missed the two wins and could be out for extended time with a hip injury, which makes the Spurs look a lot like the team that impressed in the bubble last summer. Derrick White continued to ramp up his minutes this week, drawing the start and scoring 14 points in 29 minutes in Saturday’s win. DeMar DeRozan led the way with averages of 24.7 points, seven rebounds and 6.3 assists for the week. 1 13-10
9


Kings
Just try and stop the Kings. Sacramento won all four games this week, making it six of seven overall, and the loss was by a single point to the Heat. This week’s wins were impressive — over the surging Pelicans, Celtics, Nuggets and Clippers (despite the latter three missing key players) — providing the sense that the turnaround could be for real. The biggest difference, of course, is getting the defense to a passable level after a historically bad performance to start the season. De’Aaron Fox has been incredible, averaging 31 points and 8.8 assists for the week, while rookie Tyrese Haliburton put up career-high point totals in back-to-back games this week, and has become one of the team’s best clutch players. We don’t know how long this will last, but the Kings sure are fun to watch right now. 12 12-11
10


Nuggets
The Nuggets only played two games this week after Monday’s matchup with the Pistons was postponed. A disappointing second-half effort resulted in a loss to the Lakers, then Nikola Jokic’s career-high 50 points weren’t enough to get Denver past Sacramento on Saturday without Jamal Murray. Mike Malone wasn’t happy with the turnovers in the collapse against the Lakers, and the defense that had gotten the Nuggets on the right track took a step back this week. 5 12-10
11


Celtics
It’s hard to even remember a time when the Celtics had all their key players fully healthy at the same time, and that trend continued this week with Jaylen Brown missing two games. Jayson Tatum averaged 27.8 points and 7.3 rebounds per game, but Kemba Walker has yet to find his offensive stride. He hit a clutch go-ahead jumper to beat the Clippers, but has made just 32 percent of his field goals over his last four games, including a dreadful 4-for-20 performance in Sunday’s loss to the Suns. 3 12-10
12


Pelicans
The Pelicans have responded after coach Stan Van Gundy questioned their effort a couple of weeks ago, going 3-1 this week to make it five wins in their last seven games. Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson led the way offensively this week, averaging 25 and 23 points per game, respectively. Lonzo Ball found his 3-point stroke, making 15 of 27 from deep in the four games. New Orleans is still probably playing a bit too slowly given its personnel, but it looks like it has figured some things out offensively. 7 10-12
13


Trail Blazers
Portland’s most impressive win of the week unexpectedly came without Damian Lillard, a drubbing of the 76ers in Philadelphia. Lillard averaged 26 points and eight assists in the three games he played, and the Blazers have pieced together the scoring effort around him with CJ McCollum still out of the lineup. Gary Trent has stepped up as a consistent contributor, averaging 19.3 points on 43 percent 3-point shooting this week. Defense continues to be a problem. 4 12-10
14


Warriors
Steph Curry, goodness gracious. The Warriors followed up a loss to the Celtics with two incredible offensive efforts against the Mavericks. They scored 147 points in Thursday’s win, then Curry went off for 57 points, including 11 3-pointers, in a losing effort in Saturday’s rematch. Kelly Oubre Jr. broke out of his season-long shooting slump by dropping a career-high 40 points on Thursday, while Draymond Green relished his role as small-ball center (he’s the only option left due to injuries), dishing out 15 assists in back-to-back games against the Mavericks. But still, Golden State only has one win to show for it. 1 12-11
15


Raptors
It was a strange game against the Nets with Kevin Durant in and out of the lineup, but give the Raptors credit for hanging on for a big win. The offense exploded for Toronto in a 2-1 week, as Fred VanVleet scored 54 points in Tuesday’s win over the Magic, the most ever for an undrafted NBA player. Pascal Siakam and Norman Powell each averaged 20 points for the week, while Kyle Lowry added 17.7 points, 7.3 assists and 6.0 rebounds on 42 percent 3-point shooting. Nick Nurse said OG Anunoby could return soon, which should only help Toronto on both ends. 7 10-13
16


Rockets
The Rockets ran their win streak to five games before losing to the Thunder on Wednesday, and wound up with a 2-2 week. The defense continues to be outstanding, and the question is whether they’ll get enough offense on any given night, particularly with their best scorers in and out of the lineup with injuries. Eric Gordon has been the most consistent of the bunch, averaging 23.3 points on 44 percent 3-point shooting this week. Christian Wood’s ankle injury should provide extra opportunity for DeMarcus Cousins, who put up a double-double as the starter in Saturday’s loss to the Spurs. 5 11-11
17


Pacers
It was a rough week for the Pacers, who have now lost five of their last six games. Some of the team’s best minutes actually came when coach Nate Bjorkgren allowed the bench unit to close out the game against the Pelicans, erasing an 18-point deficit before eventually suffering a one-point loss. Malcolm Brogdon has cooled off from his hot start to the season, and the Pacers simply can’t afford that with TJ Warren and Caris LeVert sidelined. Domantas Sabonis averaged 23.3 points, 10.0 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game this week, and went 7 for 12 from 3-point range. 5 12-12
18


Mavericks
The Mavericks went 2-2 this week, and the energy looks to be returning as the team gets healthy. They allowed 147 points to the Warriors on Thursday, but got revenge on Saturday in one of the most entertaining games of the season. Luka Doncic has been on another planet recently, averaging 30.3 points and 9.8 assists on 43 percent 3-point shooting for the week. Kristaps Porzingis has struggled at times, but he’s starting to get more consistent minutes, which should eventually help him find a rhythm. 5 10-14
19


Hawks
Atlanta went 1-3 this week with losses to the Lakers, Jazz and a hungry Mavericks team. Trae Young missed the Utah game, but ended the week with a 28-point, 13-assist performance in the Hawks’ win over the Raptors. John Collins had a strong week, averaging 23.3 points and 8.3 rebounds on 43 percent 3-point shooting. 5 11-12
20


Hornets
Injuries to Terry Rozier, and later Devonte’ Graham, allowed LaMelo Ball to enter the starting lineup this week for the first time in his NBA career. The 19-year-old did not disappoint, averaging 22.3 points, 5.8 assists and 5.8 rebounds on 48 percent 3-point shooting in four starts. The Hornets went 2-2 in those games, including an overtime win against the Heat and a blowout of the Wizards. It certainly feels as if Ball has done enough to remain in the starting lineup even when Graham returns, but we’ll have to watch James Borrego’s plan unfold. 2 11-13
21


Grizzlies
The Grizz beat the Spurs handily to start the week before embarking on a three-game skid as they continue to get back into rhythm after an extended layoff. Ja Morant had a rough week offensively, averaging 13.5 points on 37.5 percent shooting, but Memphis got a boost with the return of Jonas Valanciunas, who put up 23 points and seven rebounds in 24 minutes in Saturday’s loss to the Pelicans. 6 9-9
22


Thunder
Some of the lineups might have been unrecognizable to casual fans, but the Thunder went 2-2 this week, splitting series with the Rockets and Timberwolves. Al Horford was good in the three games he played, averaging 18.3 points, 6.7 rebounds and 4.7 assists on 54 percent 3-point shooting, while Hamidou Diallo averaged 15.5 points, 4.8 rebounds and 4.5 assists as he’s been given extra opportunity with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander missing two games. 6 10-12
23


Heat
The Heat lost close games to the Hornets and Wizards to start the week, but beat Washington handily in the rematch before taking down the Knicks on Sunday. Miami’s defense is starting to get to the level we’ve come to expect since the bubble, and the offensive flow should only improve as players who missed large chunks of time get more games under their belt. Jimmy Butler has been doing a little bit of everything, averaging 18.8 points, 8.8 rebounds and 8.0 assists for the week, while Bam Adebayo led the team with 21.3 points per game. 3 9-14
24


Knicks
The Knicks made a move that suggests the playoffs are a priority, giving up a couple of assets to get Derrick Rose back in the mix with former coach Tom Thibodeau. It’s a bit curious given the recent emergence of rookie Immanuel Quickley, but we’ll see how the rotation shakes out. As for this week, the Knicks went 2-2, led by 24.5 points, 10.3 rebounds and six assists per game from Julius Randle, who made 48 percent of his nearly six 3-point attempts per game. Alec Burks is rounding into form as a bench scorer, putting up 12.5 points per game on 48 percent 3-point shooting this week. — 11-14
25


Bulls
The Bulls split a pair of series with the Knicks and Magic, and ended the week with an impressive win over Orlando without Lauri Markkanen in the lineup. Coach Billy Donovan felt Zach LaVine wasn’t aggressive enough in the first game against the Magic, and that’s all LaVine needed to hear. He made 16-of-25 shots, including 5 of 6 from deep, en route to 39 points in Saturday’s win. 2 9-13
26


Cavaliers
The Cavs beat the Wolves to start off the week before being blown out three times, first by the Clippers and then twice by the Bucks. The offense continues to be a slog, and that’s just not going to cut it against prolific offenses like the ones they faced this week. To add injury to insult, Larry Nance Jr. returned to the lineup on Saturday, only to suffer a broken finger that is expected to sideline him for 4-to-6 weeks. Collin Sexton kept up his strong play, averaging 22.3 points on 42.9 3-point shooting for the week. 1 10-14
27


Wizards
The Wizards won the only close game they played this week, beating the Heat in Miami, but they dropped the other three by a considerable margin. Ho-hum, Bradley Beal averaged 26.8 points per game this week, but he received virtually no help from his supporting cast. Russell Westbrook averaged 14 points in the three games he played, shooting 14 percent from 3-point range. 1 5-15
28


Magic
The Magic lost two games this week that weren’t particularly close, but between them came a masterful performance from Nikola Vucevic, who put up a career-high 43 points to go along with 19 rebounds in Friday’s win over the Bulls. That was the lone bright spot for Orlando, however, which had a league-worst 122.4 defensive rating this week. With Aaron Gordon out for the next month or so in addition to Jonathan Isaac and Markelle Fultz being done for the year, it will be tough for the Magic to string together wins. 1 9-15
29


Pistons
The Pistons really like playing against the Lakers, apparently. After losing their first two games of the week to the Jazz and Suns, Detroit took the Lakers to double-overtime but couldn’t quite finish things off. Josh Jackson capped off a strong week with 28 points and eight rebounds in the loss to the Lakers, while Jerami Grant averaged 26.7 points in the three games. Dennis Smith Jr. is coming over from the Knicks in the Derrick Rose deal, so we’ll see if he gets the opportunity to earn rotation minutes. 3 5-18
30


Timberwolves
The Wolves played four close games this week, but only came away with a win on Friday against the Thunder. Naz Reid scored a career-high 29 points in the rematch on Saturday, but missed a late hook shot that could have sent the game to overtime. The good news is that Karl-Anthony Towns is ramping up his activity, according to coach Ryan Saunders, and could get back on the court in the near future. — 6-17

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