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Power Rankings: Rockets, Spurs Jump Ahead after Warriors Stumble

2017-01-10 11:40:16 | Author:Marc Stein | Source:ESPN
Abstract: The Golden State Warriors still haven't lost two regular-season games in a row‎ since early in the 2014-15 season.



The Golden State Warriors still haven't lost two regular-season games in a row‎ since early in the 2014-15 season.


But the Warriors have unavoidably lost some ground in ESPN.com's ‎weekly NBA Power Rankings.


The combination of Golden State's fourth-quarter collapse at home to the Memphis Grizzlies on Friday night and the scalding-hot form of both the Houston Rockets and San Antonio Spurs has conspired to bump the Warriors down to an unfamiliar No. 4 in the latest power poll from your faithful Committee (of One).


The Cleveland Cavaliers narrowly retained this week's top spot, earning bonus points for their acquisition of Kyle Korver to offset the damage of a loss to Chicago with both Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love out sick. But Houston and San Antonio simply had ‎to move up, as hot as they've been lately.


The Toronto Raptors have slipped to No. 7 and the Los Angeles Clippers -- thanks to the return of Chris Paul -- are back in the top 10 in other notable developments in the upper third of our ladder on this Rankings Monday.


Read on for the rest of our 1-to-30 order, with many thanks, as always, going to ESPN Stats & Information and the Elias Sports Bureau -- with ESPN research ace Micah Adams running the point -- for all the helpful background data provided to assist the Committee ‎as we arrange things.


1. Cleveland Cavaliers
2016-17 record: 28-8
Previous ranking: 1

A team that ranks as one of the three best in the league in the catch-and-shoot business, alongside Houston and Golden State, just added catch-and-shoot maestro Kyle KorverLeBron James unexpectedly responded to what looks like such a favorable deal by pointedly calling for the Cavs to follow up by acquiring a seasoned point guard to back up Kyrie Irving, but the beauty of the Korver trade is that the Cavs, by virtue of shedding Mo Williams along with Mike Dunleavy, have the roster room to make another addition. On the scheduling front: Cleveland, believe it or not, is on the West Coast for the first time all season.


2. Houston Rockets
2016-17 record: 30-9
Previous ranking: 3

The NBA has never witnessed a season in which two players accounted for at least 20 triple-doubles. But James Harden is up to 10 triple-doubles -- only seven behind Russell Westbrook -- with 43 games left on the Rockets' schedule. Besides that glittering 19-2 mark since Dec. 1, what's helped Houston climb to a season-high No. 2 is the increasing dominance of its bench. The rest of the Rockets are shredding opposition benches by 14.1 points per 100 possessions with Harden off the floor during these last 21 games, compared to Houston's plenty gaudy advantage of plus-9.9 points per 100 possessions with The Beard out there.


3. San Antonio Spurs
2016-17 record: 30-7
Previous ranking: 4

LaMarcus Aldridge has been crazy efficient of late, Danny Green is up to No. 3 in the league in 3-point shooting (.458) after last season's struggles, and Latvian rookie Davis Bertans -- in one of my favorite stat finds of the season from the ESPN research crew -- has never lost an NBA game in which he's scored. The Spurs are 14-0 when Bertans scores at least one point and a tidy 26-4 since that jarring stretch to open November when they lost three games in four outings ... all of them at home. As a team, furthermore, San Antonio has moved into the top spot in defensive efficiency and, as tracked by my NBA.com colleague John Schuhmann, have rung up nothing but big leads lately. Stop us if you've heard this one before: Write San Antonio off at your own peril.


4. Golden State Warriors
2016-17 record: 32-6
Previous ranking: 2

No one in Oakland is panicking. There are still at least 27 or 28 teams ‎that would trade for Golden State's problems. The Warriors, don't forget, are the only team on the NBA map to have won 30 of its first 35 games for three seasons running. But the Dubs' 0-5 record against the Cavaliers, Rockets, Spurs and Grizzlies can't be ignored. Two losses to Memphis stand out particularly because A) you won't find many pundits willing to put the Grizz in the same class with those other top-five outfits and B) Golden State just made NBA history by going the entire 2015-16 regular season without losing twice to the same team.


5. Boston Celtics
2016-17 record: 23-14
Previous ranking: 6

Who should be the East's two starting guards in the All-Star Game in New Orleans on Feb. 19? I'm legit asking for suggestions here, because it's getting harder by the day to make this call with Isaiah Thomas forcing his way into a crowded conversation that already features Irving, DeMar DeRozan Kyle Lowryand John Wall. Thomas is up to 10 30-point games this season, tying the career best he established last season, after he rumbled for 38 points in a home win over New Orleans. Thomas' 17 points alone in the fourth quarter marked the league-leading sixth time this season he's crossed the 15-point threshold in the final period.


6. Memphis Grizzlies
2016-17 record: 24-16
Previous ranking: 7

A week that began dreadfully, with the league's then-No. 1-ranked defense shredded by the Lakers and short-handed Clippers in both ends of a Hollywood back-to-back, will be remembered with great fondness because of the Grizzlies' response. Perhaps you've heard the stat by now, but it bears repeating that NBA teams had won 662 consecutive regular-season games with a lead of 19 points or more entering the fourth quarter before Memphis' stunning rally from 19 down Friday night in Oakland to move to 2-0 for the season against the mighty Warriors. Winning a more Grizz-esque grindfest over visiting Utah, with some promising minutes from Chandler Parsons, only made the weekend sweeter.


7. Toronto Raptors
2016-17 record: 24-13
Previous ranking: 5

The Raptors lost their final game of 2016 in Phoenix on the second night of a back-to-back and frankly look like they haven't recovered. Toronto just absorbed an absolute shredding in San Antonio, found a way to lose its ninth successive regular-season meeting to the turmoil-drenched Bulls and capped its most frustrating week of the season by surrendering 129 points at home to unstoppable Raps nemesis James Harden and his Rockets pals. Boston's four-game winning streak, meanwhile, means that the Raptors are no longer alone with the Cavaliers on the list of the Eastern Conference residents on a 50-wins-or-better pace.


8. Atlanta Hawks
2016-17 record: 21-16
Previous ranking: 11

Four games into the 2017 portion of its schedule, Atlanta has only suffered one loss: Kyle Korver. Korver's stunning departure via trade to Cleveland leavesPaul Millsap as the last remaining starter from a 60-win team in 2014-15, but these guys are suddenly playing their best ball of the season amid management's decision to disassemble things. The highlights of a season-high-tying win streak that has reached six games: Dennis Schroder's quarterbacking,Tim Hardaway Jr.'s growing impact and Dwight Howard's high efficiency. The question now, of course, is how the winning impacts Atlanta's plans with Millsap. And as if the Hawks were short on drama: What sort of reception awaits Al Horford on his return to town Friday night?


9. LA Clippers
2016-17 record: 26-14
Previous ranking: 15

Chris Paul just joined Gary Payton, Jason Kidd and John Stockton as the only players in league history to rank in the top 10 in career assists and the top 15 in career steals. What this means most, of course, is that Paul is back in the Clippers' lineup after an eight-game run in which he was only able to play once thanks to a hamstring problem. Skepticism abounds in the wake of Doc Rivers'recent vow that both he and his players will endeavor to cut down on the techs they rack up, but credit the Clips for mustering consecutive double-digit wins (over Phoenix and Memphis) in their final two games without CP3 ... and in the wake of six-game losing streak.


10. Utah Jazz
2016-17 record: 23-16
Previous ranking: 9

The Jazz didn't place a single player in the top 10 in the first batch of Western Conference All-Star voting returns. Utah hasn't had an actual All-Star, of course, since Deron Williams back in 2010, but the fact neither Gordon Hayward norRudy Gobert are even in the fan conversation at the minute is rather disappointing. Sunday night's loss in Memphis, for the record, was Utah's first this season with both Hayward and George Hill in the lineup. The Jazz are 8-1 when Hayward and Hill are in uniform, 3-3 with Hill only, 12-11 with Hayward only and 0-1 without both.


11. Indiana Pacers
2016-17 record: 20-18
Previous ranking: 14

Remember when Paul George, right before Christmas, publicly shared how frustrating and, well, un-fun this season has been? The Pacers have responded to PG-13's laments with a flurry of gaudy offensive performances and a season-high five straight wins since, sending Indy overseas with some real momentum for the first time since preseason prognosticators were touting this team as the East's sleeper. They'll next be seen Thursday in London against the reeling Nuggets and their porous D. In other words: If the Pacers don't savor every moment of a trip we can only dream of taking, rest assured that it'll be the Committee (of One) doing the ranting.


12. Oklahoma City Thunder
2016-17 record: 22-16
Previous ranking: 8

Didn't take long for the well-chronicled concerns about the Thunder's January schedule to prove justified. They began the new year with three frustrating road losses and will end up traveling more than 12,000 miles by month's end; road dates still loom against the Clippers (Jan. 16), Warriors (Jan. 18), Jazz (Jan. 23), Cavs (Jan. 29) and Spurs (Jan. 31). Here are some more numbers, meanwhile, that aren't going in Westbrook's favor: He's now 0-for-6 on potential go-ahead shots from 3-point range in the final 10 seconds of the fourth quarter and overtime after that two-point loss in Houston in his latest duel with Harden.


13. Washington Wizards
2016-17 record: 18-18
Previous ranking: 13

Forget what we wrote here last week. Let the ledger show that, for the Wizards, Christmas actually arrived on Jan. 8. The Wiz pulled into Milwaukee this weekend with all of three road wins this season -- fewer than any team in the league apart from the 1-17 Nets -- but found a way to capitalize on Sunday's absence of a flu-ridden Greek Freak to overturn a double-digit deficit and nudge themselves back into a tie for eighth in the East with those same Bucks. Wall was just recognized as the Eastern Conference Player of the Month and, in the part we got right in this comment cyberspace last time out, he's starting to get help more consistently.


14. Milwaukee Bucks
2016-17 record: 18-18
Previous ranking: 12

Do the Bucks merit two All-Stars? For all of our constant (and justifiable) slobbering over Giannis Antetokounmpo, let's not forget that Jabari Parker has a better field-goal percentage than all but three of the other 29 players (James,Kevin Durant and Antetokounmpo) averaging 20+ PPG, sports a higher PER than Carmelo Anthony, George, Kristaps Porzingis, Millsap and Horford and his hiked his success rate from 3-point range to better than 40 percent after shooting in the mid-20s in each of his first two seasons. The Bucks, though, have dropped two in a row after coming back from deficits of 15 and 16 to escape with the W in their previous two outings against visiting OKC and in New York.


15. Charlotte Hornets
2016-17 record: 20-18
Previous ranking: 10

Confession time: I did not want to put the Hornets in the No. 10 slot last Monday. The Clippers' six-game losing streak necessitated moving someone new into the league's upper third and Charlotte, at the time, looked like the closest thing to promotion-worthy. But that's actually a touchy word for Steve Clifford's team at the minute ... close. Going to Detroit on the second night of a back-to-back after dealing with Westbrook on your home floor isn't the easiest assignment, but Charlotte's 115-114 loss to the Pistons was particularly galling, given Detroit's recent funk and the fact that the Hornets are now a potentially costly 0-5 in games decided by three points or less.


16. Chicago Bulls
2016-17 record: 19-18
Previous ranking: 21

For all the (figurative) ink spilled in recent weeks about Fred Hoiberg, Rajon Rondo and the Bulls' miserable 6-11 mark in December, Jimmy Butler deserves double the press props for the way he's started 2017. There was the 52-point eruption against Charlotte, 14 points in the fourth quarter to take down Cleveland and then 42 more points to enable the Bulls to torture Toronto for the ninth consecutive regular-season encounter. Ready for a number to blow your mind? According to the inimitable Micah Adams, Butler's ‎Player Efficiency Rating in his three January outings in the fourth quarter and over: 75. We repeat: Seventy-five!


17. Detroit Pistons
2016-17 record: 18-21
Previous ranking: 18

Could it be that Marco Belinelli's ruled-out potential game-winner on the Pistons' floor will be remembered as the turning point in their season? Detroit escaped that scrap with Charlotte by a solitary point despite Belinelli's inventive near-heroics, had to wait an extra day to open a five-game Western Conference swing in Portland because of extreme weather and then outlasted the Blazers on Sunday night in double overtime by just one point again. The Pistons' sudden good fortune after a nightmarish December is such that, even after they were forced to push their game in Portland back by 24 hours, they'll still face only one back-to-back (Golden State/Utah on Thursday/Friday) on this whole trip.


18. New York Knicks
2016-17 record: 17-20
Previous ranking: 16

We frankly wanted to drop the Knicks a lot farther than we did last week in the wake of a four-game skid, but the league's 10-to-20 middle third is as underwhelming as we can remember, which gave them some insulation. The Knicks' funk, however, has reached the depths of 3-10, with Anthony (shoulder) and Porzingis (heel) trying to play through injuries to keep their early season momentum alive. New York did manage to avenge its home defeat to Milwaukee by rallying from 13 points down entering the fourth quarter on the Bucks' floor two nights later ... after the Knicks had lost 109 consecutive games when trailing by at least 13 points entering the final period.


19. Portland Trail Blazers
2016-17 record: 16-23
Previous ranking: 20

Take our advice and tune in Wednesday night when the defending champions visit Portland. Especially now that Damian Lillard is back after a five-game absence. Lillard scored 40 points in the teams' first meeting this season. Something tells me you haven't forgotten that Irving scored 55 points on the Blazers' floor in the teams' previous regular-season meeting before that. Our guess here, furthermore, is that ESPN's cameras and crew aren't assigned to be there by accident.


20. Sacramento Kings
2016-17 record: 15-22
Previous ranking: 17

The Kings' hold on the eighth seed in the West didn't last long at all. An indefensible home loss to the injury-ravaged Heat, followed by two more home L's -- to the Clippers in Paul's return and one of the fall-from-ahead variety to the Warriors in Golden State's first game following its Memphis debacle -- puts them at a worrisome 0-3 in the midst of a crucial seven-game run at the new Golden 1 Center that, remember, will be followed by a merciless eight-game road trip from Jan. 20-31. You can't help but wonder where Sacramento will be in the standings at month's end with Cleveland and Oklahoma City still to come on this homestand before they even start traveling.


21. Denver Nuggets
2016-17 record: 14-23
Previous ranking: 19

Mike Malone publicly and privately apologized to his veterans for calling out his team for a lack of leadership in a recent loss to Sacramento that dropped Malone to 0-4 against his previous employers since parting ways with the Kings in December 2014. Malone's issues with the Nuggets' defense, by contrast, are unlikely to be recanted after a five-game stretch in which they've allowed 124, 127, 120, 127 and 121 points. The momentum generated by a recent 5-2 stretch and the solid December numbers that came from Nikola Jokic (17.0 PPG and 8.9 RPG on crazy 67.5-percent shooting last month) apparently didn't make the trip with the Nuggets into 2017.


22. New Orleans Pelicans
2016-17 record: 14-24
Previous ranking: 22

The Pelicans shouldn't let themselves get hugely discouraged by last week's results. It was an 0-3 week, true, but road losses to the Cavs and Celtics -- sandwiched around a home loss to the team (Atlanta) sporting the league's second-longest active win streak -- can be rationalized. The Pels, though, are going to have to start winning some road games if they hope to become the first team in the league since Chicago in 2004-05 to start a season 0-8 and still make the playoffs. New Orleans' total of four road wins to date is tied for the West's lowest current total, which injects some undeniable urgency into its first two games this week at New York and Brooklyn.


23. Phoenix Suns
2016-17 record: 12-26
Previous ranking: 26

The Suns will relocate to Mexico City for the week coming off a couple much-needed wins for morale and a spirited fight back from 22 points down against the mighty Cavs to give LeBron James & Co. more than a scare in their first game of the season in a faraway time zone. Eric Bledsoe fans, meanwhile, will be pleased to learn that A) we've got a fun little TrueHoop Conversations podcast coming with him this week that delves deep into the whole "Beldsoe" jersey scandal and B) Bled has joined Westbrook, Harden, Antetokounmpo and King James on the short list of players averaging at least 20 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists this season.


24. Dallas Mavericks
2016-17 record: 11-26
Previous ranking: 24

The Mavericks return to Mexico City this week for the first time in nearly 20 years, dating to a narrow loss to Houston in December 1997 that was covered first-hand by a much sleeker version of the Committee in our Dallas Morning News days. That was the last Mavericks team, incidentally, to know how it feels to fall 15 games under .500 like the current squad; those Mavs finished 20-62 to set up a draft that netted both Dirk Nowitzki and Steve Nash via draft-night deals. A ray of positivity: Harrison Barnes (20.6) trails only Durant (25.9) in terms of scoring average this season for players who changed teams over the summer.


25. Philadelphia 76ers
2016-17 record: 10-25
Previous ranking: 28

Robert Covington hushed the home fans who've been giving him a rough ride lately with the game-winning bucket to beat Minnesota by a deuce and seal the second win in the Sixers' current 3-1 boomlet. The rest of the news in Philly, rather predictably, centers around Joel Embiid, who recently became the first Sixers rookie to post 100+ points and 25+ rebounds over a four-game stretch since Allen Iverson in November 1996. The Sixers are quietly 7-7 when Embiid scores at least 20 points ... and have not-so-quietly matched last season's win total already thanks to Sunday's matinee triumph in Brooklyn.


26. Minnesota Timberwolves
2016-17 record: 11-26
Previous ranking: 23

We're running out of things to say to console our dear friend Mardy Fish, who's best known for rising all the way to No. 7 in the brutally competitive world of men's tennis but who's known to the Committee as the biggest Wolves fan we've ever met. What can we possibly offer in the form of comfort or rationalization at this point when 'Sota seems determined to lose in the same agonizing fashion over and over and over? It happened again Saturday night at home to Utah when the Wolves, just a few days removed from a similarly agonizing loss in Philly, went without a field goal for the final 4:41 to drop to an unfathomable 0-10 in games decided by four points or less.


27. Los Angeles Lakers
2016-17 record: 15-26
Previous ranking: 29

Leave it to Julius Randle to do what Westbrook and Harden weren't able to manage: Randle assembled a triple-double against the Grizzlies last week to bring Memphis' league-leading run of 177 consecutive regular-season games without surrendering one to a halt. Randle thus passed both Kobe Bryant andJerry West on the list of most triple-doubles by a Laker at the age of 22 or younger; Randle is up to three ... second only in franchise history to Magic Johnson's 31 by that stage. Rookie swingman Brandon Ingram, meanwhile, just matched his career high of 17 points in each of the Lakers' last two games, contributing to much-needed wins over Miami and Orlando that account for L.A.'s first winning streak since it went from 4-4 to 6-4.


28. Orlando Magic
2016-17 record: 16-23
Previous ranking: 25

The Magic's January schedule isn't quite as demanding as Oklahoma City's, but it's close. Eleven of this month's 16 games are on the road, which has to be daunting even if you buy into the notion that Orlando -- 9-9 away from the Amway Center and 7-13 on its home floor leading into a 16-point drubbing by the Lakers -- is a better team on its travels. We'll see if folks in the Magic Kingdom are still saying that after this six-game trip against Western Conference opposition. Following Sunday night's defeat at Staples Center, Frank Vogel's squad will be off for two nights in L.A. (dangerous) before taking on the Clippers. "It's a critical time in our season," Vogel says.


29. Miami Heat
2016-17 record: 11-28
Previous ranking: 27

The return of Hassan Whiteside for Sunday's matinee in L.A. against the Clippers, after the double-double machine missed four games with an eye issue, allowed the Heat to play as close to full strength as they can get right now. The Whiteside/Goran Dragic tag team has been stripped of second-year swingmanJustise Winslow for the rest of the season due to shoulder surgery, just bade farewell again to Josh McRoberts (whose out indefinitely with further foot trouble) and, as we all know, can't expect to see Chris Bosh in a Miami uniform ever again. The Heat's current 1-8 nosedive has dropped them below the Sixers in the standings ... if South Beach-ers can bear to look.


30. Brooklyn Nets
2016-17 record: 8-28
Previous ranking: 30

The Nets have been almost respectable at home, but their familiar issues with second-half fades popped up again Sunday in a battle of basement-dwellers in the Atlantic Division that wound up sending Brooklyn to a sixth straight defeat despite an 11-point lead at the half. Brook Lopez leads all NBA centers in 3-pointers, with a 63-51 lead over Memphis' Marc Gasol, but we're hearing that the Nets would be willing to part with him before the Feb. 23 trade deadline if a team out there is willing to surrender two first-round picks. Next up for the team with the league's worst record: Atlanta import Kenny Atkinson coaches against the Hawks for the first time.


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