We just witnessed our first decent shuffle at the top of ESPN.com's weekly NBA Power Rankings.
Decent is the word of choice when Golden State returns to the top two after an absence of four weeks and the LA Clippers tumble two spots to No. 4 -- but also when the reigning champs from Cleveland hold firm in the No. 1 spot for the seventh successive edition of the rankings.
The Warriors, to be fair, are as close to No. 1 as they can possibly be, toting an 11-game winning streak and the NBA's most-feared offense into Monday's showdown with the Atlanta Hawks and the league's top-ranked D. Golden State is averaging a ridiculous 118.4 points per game -- something no team has done for an entire season since the Chris Mullin/Tim Hardaway Warriors of 1991-92 -- and is bidding to become the first team to average at least 31 assists per game since the Showtime Lakers of 1984-85.
The only real hoops concern in the Bay Area at the moment is the state of Draymond Green's tender left ankle, but the Cavaliers and the only player in league history to rank in the top 10 in all-time scoring as well as the top 20 in assists -- LeBron Raymone James -- have simply refused to open the door yet for the Warriors or anyone else to bump them off the top.
Hopefully you'll see plenty more to dissect and discuss throughout our 1-to-30 ladder, with many thanks, as always, going to ESPN Stats & Information and the Elias Sports Bureau for supplying much of the background data that helps your Committee arrange things.
After becoming the first team ever to sink at least 20 3-pointers in consecutive games in wins over Portland and Dallas, Cleveland predictably did only as much as it had to in Philly to pad what already must feel like an insurmountable lead to the rest of the East. Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love and LeBron James combined for a mere 90 points against the Sixers -- with memories of Love's 34-point quarter against the Blazers still fresh. The Cavs are just toying with teams.
The Warriors have won 11 games in a row and recorded 30-plus assists in 10 of them. They're also very quietly up to No. 2 in the league as a team in blocked shots and No. 7 overall in defensive efficiency, despite the well-chronicled lack of a top-shelf rim protector. The truth, of course, is that a schedule on the soft side so far has helped to this point. But they're coming together in a fun (and assist-laden) fashion that's precisely what Kevin Durant was looking for when he made his momentous move.
For weeks now I've been reluctant to put the Spurs in the Cavs-Warriors-Clippers orbit. Not an easy thing to admit when they just became the fifth team in history to open 10-0 on the road. Of the previous four to pull that off, only last season's Warriors failed to win a championship. So it's probably time, in other words, for the Committee to have a long talk with itself. (The Spurs also happen to be the first team to go 10-0 on the road and win all 10 by at least five points.)
We have a feeling that, fair or not, what looked like an admirable dose of team bonding -- staying over in Dallas for an extra day to watch the Dallas Cowboys post a Thanksgiving Day win over Washington Redskins -- is going to be billed as the wrong sort of tone-setter for the Clippers' six-game road trip. L.A. suffered its first road loss of the season in Detroit after the football excursion, got throttled by the Paul George-less Pacers on Sunday in Indy and have sunk to No. 3 in defensive efficiency.
A five-game road trip that felt even longer because of what happened in Sacramento is finally over for the Raptors, who squeezed out a 3-2 finish with a narrow triumph in Milwaukee. The Raps also wedged a good bounce-back win in Houston into the journey and will relish playing the next six games back on Canadian soil, even though they surely know the protest they've filed in hopes of getting a do-over of those last 2.4 seconds against the Kings has pretty much no shot.
How perfect. The Bulls have only one game left this month: Wednesday night's date with the Lakers. The same Lakers who stand as the only team that can realistically deny Jimmy Butler & Co. from being crowned November's Biggest Surprise Team. Chicago awoke Monday on a short list of three teams, alongside only Golden State and the L.A. Clippers, that find themselves in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency -- as predicted by absolutely no one.
I'm prepared to go out on a limb right now and say James Harden -- responsible for a league-leading 58.4 points per game with his scoring and passing -- will not be snubbed by a league full of All-NBA voters in April. I'm also prepared to admit that I'm not sure how to choose between Mike D'Antoni and his rival from Hollywood (please see the Lakers comment) for Western Conference Coach of the Month honors given the huge impact his system has made in Harden's profound rebound.
The Grizzlies are as good in their past 10 games (8-2) as any team on the map not named Golden State (10-0) or San Antonio (9-1). Friday's win in Miami, avenging a home loss to the Heat that snapped a six-game overall winning streak, was particularly satisfying, not just for the Fizdale Factor -- with Memphis' new coach winning his Miami homecoming after eight seasons as a Heat assistant -- but because it materialized without both Zach Randolph and Chandler Parsons.
Fans of net rating -- derived by subtracting a team's defensive efficiency reading from its offensive efficiency -- will be pleased to hear that the Jazz are in the top five at plus-5.3, trailing only the Warriors (plus-13.5), Clippers (plus-10.4), Cavaliers (plus-8.3) and Spurs (plus-7.2). George Hill has been back for two games, steered Utah to home wins over Denver and Atlanta by a combined 52 points and looked as highly efficient as he did before the thumb sprain that cost him eight games.
With almost a quarter of the regular season gone, I think we can all agree that Toronto has the lead on Boston and anyone else you wish to nominate in terms of making the most compelling case for No. 2-in-the-East status behind the mighty Cavs. But credit Boston for hanging in there while Al Horford (concussion) and Jae Crowder (ankle) were recuperating. Let's see how much progress they make in a week filled with sub-.500 opposition as their respective loads are increased.
The Thunder were 18-0 last season when Russell Westbrook delivered a triple-double. This season? They're a pretty passable 5-2 so far, with Westbrook on pace for (gulp) 32 triple-doubles. The question, then, is whether you really think, as some skeptics suggest, that OKC would be wiser for the long term if Angry Russ touched the ball less. Speaking purely for us, 31.2 PPG, 11.1 APG and 9.9 RPG is too much fun to denounce this running-every-possession-through-him thing.
Slippage on defense and on the boards, as much as the quality of opposition, have contributed to the Hornets' 3-6 drop-off since a 6-1 start. Losses by a combined 12 points to the Cavs and Spurs, especially, can be rationalized away if you're willing to do so based on who inflicted the defeat. But Steve Clifford isn't that kind of coach. He's been vocal in his displeasure with the Hornets' dip on D, even as Kemba Walker and Cody Zeller continue to play the ball of their lives.
As much as we'd love to focus on the backboard Kris Humphries shattered with a dunk at a weekend practice, Atlanta's alarming loss of form won't allow us that luxury. The Hawks, seemingly in recovery after winning in Indiana to halt a three-game skid, opened a four-game trip with a 27-point hammering in Utah in which they managed just 68 points, then faded to a 15-point loss to the Lakers. Turns out there was a players-only meeting between the past two losses, too.
The Pacers aren't getting any easier to understand, folks. On successive Sundays now, they've managed to win in overtime at Oklahoma City and thoroughly shredded the visiting Clippers -- achieving both of those momentous victories without Paul George. The only game out of five that PG-13 was healthy enough to play in since Nov. 16, thanks to his recent ankle and back woes, was an 11-point home defeat to Atlanta that prompted him to call for a players-only meeting. #stumped
Remember last November when the league office had to make a formal ruling on whether Luke Walton was indeed eligible to win November Coach of the Month honors in the Western Conference because the Warriors' 19-0 start officially belonged to ailing coach Steve Kerr? The issue this November is whether Walton, at a stunning 9-9 after his young upstarts completed a season sweep of Atlanta, deserves to win the award again on the back of a .500 start that no one saw coming.
Despite Stan Van Gundy's dismay with his team's weekend resistance against Russell Westbrook, Detroit had to come away from the past week feeling pretty positive about everything that happened. The Pistons made the not-so-small announcement that they're moving to downtown Detroit starting next season after nearly 30 years in Auburn Hills, then celebrated with home triumphs over the Heat and the Clippers, with the latter counting as the season's best W so far.
Road games continue to be a problem, but the Knicks have become borderline compelling at home after a team meeting that appears to have been strangely productive. But most crucial? The way Kristaps Porzingis keeps developing in tandem with a still-dangerous Carmelo Anthony. Who wouldn't want to be at Madison Square Garden on Monday night when the Human Triple-Double from Oklahoma City makes his annual visit? Who doesn't have Porzingis Fever yet?
The Nets are higher than the Blazers in the latest defensive efficiency standings. The Brooklyn Nets. As a result of its increasingly porous ways, Portland is suddenly a sub-.500 outfit that sports a more worrisome average nightly point margin (minus-4.1) than any team in the West outside of 5-13 Phoenix (minus-6.1) or 3-13 Dallas (minus-8.9) and finds itself at 2-8 against .500-or-better opposition. Things have actually gotten worse since Damian Lillard's "we kind of suck right now" lament.
The Nuggets could actually draw some positives from hanging on to win in Phoenix despite surrendering a 20-point halftime lead because close games have generally turned out so badly lately. Denver is 2-5 in games decided by three points or fewer and winless in three trips to overtime. But they managed to turn back the Suns' rally in the only game of Denver's four last week that rookie guard Jamal Murray (who missed his first 17 shots as a pro) didn't manage to score in the 20s.
The Bucks have faced the league's third-easiest schedule to date and will be treated to a home-and-home with the Nets this week right after the chore of playing host to LeBron James on Tuesday night. They are advised, in other words, to sweep the Nets before the degree of difficulty rises as it must. Interesting weekend development. Greg Monroe, after we noted the mere 17 minutes he logged over a span of four games, totaled 36 in a loss to Toronto and win over Orlando.
Despite the arrival of Tom Thibodeau, Minnesota's defense continues to hover in the league's bottom 10. Its bench is the league's least productive to date. And the Wolves, though it's still early, are only winning when they score big: They're 4-1 when they reach the 110-point plateau but only 1-9 when they don't. I doubt this will work for poor Thibs, but frequent replays of Zach LaVine dunks may (stress: may) help dull the pain for the die-hards out there.
Settling for a split with Memphis in last week's home-and-home reunion with longtime Miami assistant-turned-Grizzlies head coach David Fizdale will have to do for the Heat, considering Goran Dragic missed both games after a brief four-game return to the lineup. Fizdale's old boss Erik Spoelstra just doesn't have much margin for error when Dragic (elbow) isn't running the show, especially since Justise Winslow (wrist) has missed eight straight games of his own.
How can we not root for Anthony Davis? He's trying to assemble the first 30 PPG/10 RPG/3 BPG season since Bob McAdoo did it for the Committee's beloved Buffalo Braves in 1973-74. The Brow, at present, is on course to become the first player to lead the league in both scoring and blocked shots since swats became a stat in 1973-74. But the Pels, after a 6-2 uptick, took a step back over the weekend, falling to 3-7 against sub-.500 teams with road losses to the struggling Blazers and Mavs.
The Kings have been wasting DeMarcus Cousins' biggest games, so Sunday's second-half eruption in Brooklyn -- fueled by Cousins' 18-point third quarter -- was important on multiple levels. Sacramento was just 1-6 when Boogie cracked the 30-point plateau before blowing the Nets out and frankly had to win to launch a vital six-game road trip, which certainly got off to a worrisome start for the visitors when they surrendered 59 points by halftime to the Jeremy Lin-less Nets.
A big week looms for John Wall, who on Monday hosts ex-Kentucky colleague DeMarcus Cousins and then will try to improve on a 1-8 lifetime mark against Russell Westbrook two nights later. Yet you can make the case that the Wiz take the first tangible dose of momentum into the Sacramento game after their first two-win week of the season (beating Phoenix at home and winning in Orlando) and with Ian Mahinmi finally back to give the much-maligned bench a boost.
Frank Vogel is trying. He made three changes to the starting lineup to jolt some life into Orlando's bottom-three offense, but the moves -- D.J. Augustin in for Elfrid Payton, Bismack Biyombo in for Nikola Vucevic and Aaron Gordon in for Jeff Green -- couldn't prevent a home loss to the Bucks to go with an L in Milwaukee to start the week. Seven of nine on the road await the Magic now, with Gordon coming off an 0-for-12 shooting showing and sporting a PER of just 10.48.
Sunday was setting up to be a special afternoon for the Sixers, when Cleveland missed its first 14 shots and the home team took its upset bid all the way to the end before succumbing to the inevitable frustrating narrow defeat. Credit Philly, though, for continuing to faithfully obey the minutes restrictions placed on Joel Embiid. We know we write about him too much here but, well, how can you blame us when there's only one other rookie in the whole league with an above-average PER?
Eric Bledsoe and Devin Booker just became only the second pair of Suns teammates in the past 30 seasons to each score 30-plus points with at least four 3-pointers in the same game, joining Jason Richardson and Leandro Barbosa, who pulled that feat off in February 2009. But it wasn't enough for a much-needed win against Denver and didn't do much for Booker's efficiency levels, which aren't where Phoenix had hoped. The Suns' top scorer checks in a mere 13.16 PER-wise.
The whole "to tank or not to tank" discussion makes it sounds like the Mavs have lots of say in this. With Dirk Nowitzki in and out of the lineup, J.J. Barea still out indefinitely and precious little else on the roster in the shot-creation department, Dallas is bound to hover near the bottom of the standings and this ladder. And it might turn out to be the best thing for them -- given what the experts say about the talent projected to be available in the lottery -- as painful as the present is.
30. Brooklyn Nets
2016-17 record: 4-12
Previous ranking: 26
Third-quarter issues are not exclusive to Minnesota. It's become a thing for the Nets as well, intertwined with the overall defensive struggles that have led to rout after rout since the 4-5 start that made them mid-November darlings. The reality is that 4-12 is still probably a better record for first-year coach Kenny Atkinson than most of us know-it-alls would have expected at this point, but these guys are getting harder and harder to watch since they can't stop, well, anyone.