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NBA Power Rankings: Bucks stay on top, get pressure from streaking Cavs; Warriors, Nets plunge amid struggles

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1


Bucks
The league’s only undefeated team put up four wins this week, continuing to send a message without All-Star Khris Middleton. The defense has been absurdly stingy, allowing just 101.3 points per 100 possessions this season with a new emphasis — they’ve allowed the third-fewest 3-point attempts per game this season (30.3) after giving up the most of any team (40.6) last season. The change hasn’t seemed to come with much of a sacrifice inside, as they’ve allowed the fifth-fewest points in the paint as well. Meanwhile, we’re running out of words to describe Giannis Antetokounmpo, who averaged a ho-hum 31.8 points, 12.5 rebounds and 4.8 assists this week, while Jrue Holiday added 25.3 points per game on 51/45/81 shooting splits. — 7-0
2


Cavaliers
In case you thought the Cavs’ hot start was a fluke, they put any doubts to rest by beating the Celtics twice in overtime this week, with Wednesday’s win turning into an instant classic of the early season. Donovan Mitchell has been as advertised, and then some, putting up a robust 34.7 points and seven assists per game on absurd 53/52/86 shooting splits. As if Cleveland needed more help, Darius Garland played for the first time since the opener in the most recent win over Boston, putting up 29 points and 12 assists. Yeah, this team is really good. 6 6-1
3


Suns
No Deandre Ayton this week for the Suns, but they just kept on rolling with wins over the Pelicans, Rockets and Wolves. Cam Johnson has helped fans forget about the Jae Crowder situation by averaging 21.3 points per game this week, including 29 in the win over Minnesota, on 50 percent 3-point shooting. Devin Booker and Chris Paul combined to go 4 for 28 from 3-point range this week, and Phoenix still won all three games without its starting center. That’s a really good sign. — 6-1
4


Jazz
Utah lost to two pretty good teams this week in the Nuggets and Mavericks, but pulled off consecutive home wins over the Grizzlies to continue their unexpected start to the season. Collin Sexton is hitting his stride, scoring at least 13 points in all four games this week while making 39 percent of his 3-pointers. Lauri Markkanen kept up his hot start to the season, leading the team with 21.3 points and 9.3 rebounds per game. 2 6-3
5


Celtics
A Celtics win over the Wizards was sandwiched between two overtime losses to the Cavs, the second of which was a thoroughly entertaining thriller. No cause for panic, but that’s now three losses in the last four games for Boston, whose defensive rating is down to 18th after being No. 1 in the league last season. Jaylen Brown led the team with 28.7 points and 8.7 rebounds per game this week, while Jayson Tatum averaged 27 points on 49/39/94 shooting splits, though he did have more turnovers than assists. 1 4-3
6


Trail Blazers
Only two games this week for the Blazers, who beat the Rockets before losing to the Grizzlies. Damian Lillard has yet to return from his calf injury, which allowed Anfernee Simons to take advantage of the extra opportunity to the tune of 30 and 31 points, respectively, on 42 percent 3-point shooting. Jusuf Nurkic was also a beast on the inside this week, putting up 25 points and 14 rebounds per game while shooting 65 percent from the field. He also hit all four of his 3-pointers. 4 5-2
7


Raptors
Toronto started off the week by losing to the 76ers, then took it out on the poor Hawks and Spurs, beating them by a combined 73 points. Anyone not paying attention to what Pascal Siakam is doing should be ashamed of themselves. He’s in the thick of the early MVP race, averaging 26.3 points, 10.7 rebounds and 7.7 assists this week to add to his gaudy season totals. Scottie Barnes took over point guard duties in the two wins with Fred VanVleet out, averaging 18 points, 6.5 assists and 5.5 rebounds on 46 percent 3-point shooting. 9 5-3
8


Mavericks
Luka Doncic is doing everything he can to drag the Mavs to victory, joining Wilt Chamberlain as the only players to ever score at least 30 points in each of their team’s first seven games. Not bad company, particularly when you realize that Doncic is also averaging nine assists and nine rebounds. Spencer Dinwiddie provided the most help this week, putting up 17.3 points per game, though he didn’t shoot particularly well. Speaking of not shooting well, Christian Wood has cooled off after a torrid start to the season, going just 1 for 8 from 3-point range in three games this week. 6 4-3
9


Grizzlies
The Grizzlies lost consecutive games to a buzzsaw Jazz team, then finished off the week by beating the Blazers on the road. Desmond Bane missed the second Utah loss, but has continued his incredible scoring tear to start the season. He put up 29 points in Wednesday’s win in Portland, narrowly missing his fourth straight 30-point game. Ja Morant was also out for a game this week, but averaged 28.5 points, seven rebounds and 5.5 assists in the other two. Side note, David Roddy is taking steps toward becoming the latest excellent Memphis draft pick, scoring in double figures twice this week while hitting 39 percent of his 3-pointers. 4 5-3
10


Hawks
The Hawks went 2-2 this week, beating the Pistons and Knicks while losing to the Bucks and Raptors. Trae Young usually puts on a show in the Garden, but in the win over the Knicks he ceded the spotlight to new teammate Dejounte Murray, who put up a career-high 36 points and dished out nine assists. Young was no slouch this week, however, averaging 27.3 points and 8.5 assists on 43 percent 3-point shooting. 1 5-3
11


Nuggets
Denver beat the Jazz and the Thunder this week, with a loss to the Lakers in between. The best news may be that Jamal Murray is starting to look more like his old self, ramping up his minutes to 28.3 per game this week and averaging 19.3 points on 53 percent 3-point shooting. Nikola Jokic isn’t scoring the way he did last season, but he put up 16.7 points, 12.3 rebounds and 8.7 assists per game this week, and the team’s net rating is 31.6 (!) points per 100 possessions better when he’s been on the court this season. 1 5-3
12


Spurs
This is why we love the NBA. There’s no good reason, on paper, why the Spurs should be sitting at 5-3 after beating the Bulls and Wolves this week (we won’t talk about the 43-point loss to the Raptors on Wednesday). It’s no surprise that the Spurs struggled against Toronto without Keldon Johnson, who averaged 29 points and six assists on 50 percent 3-point shooting in the two wins this week. San Antonio also won both games without Devin Vassell, their second-leading scorer. Gregg Popovich may be doing some of the best coaching of his legendary career. 5 5-3
13


Pelicans
Still without Brandon Ingram, the Pelicans went 1-2 this week with a win over the Clippers and losses to the Suns and Lakers. New Orleans almost pulled off a comeback in L.A., but Matt Ryan ruined their party. Zion Williamson returned to the court for the final two games of the week, averaging 24 points, 8.5 rebounds and seven assists. Naji Marshall has earned Willie Green’s trust in Ingram’s absence, leading the team with over 37 minutes per game this week and averaging 15.7 points, 5.7 rebounds and four assists. 6 4-3
14


76ers
The good news is, the Sixers shook off a rough start to go 3-1 this week with Joel Embiid only playing in one game. The bad news is that James Harden is expected to miss a month with a foot injury. At least now Philadelphia fans will get to see an unlocked version of Tyrese Maxey, who averaged almost 30 points per game this week, including a career-high 44 in the win over Toronto. How he and Embiid play over this stretch without Harden will largely determine their fate. 10 4-5
15


Clippers
Ty Lue called out the Clippers after a 21-point loss to the Pelicans on Sunday, saying they were “not a very good basketball team right now,” and it worked — sort of. They picked up consecutive wins over the Rockets, but neither was particularly impressive. Still, the Clippers will take any win that they can get at this point. The most concerning development is that Kawhi Leonard has played in just two games this season, missing the last five while managing his recovery from knee surgery. It could simply be part of the plan, but it seems odd that he would miss that many games in a row. Certainly something to keep our eye on. 5 4-4
16


Bulls
It was a 2-2 week for the Bulls, who lost to the unexpectedly powerful Spurs and the 76ers before beating the Nets and Hornets. Zach LaVine went berserk against Brooklyn, scoring 20 points in the fourth quarter to help put the game away, and it looked like his knee issues weren’t bothering him much. DeMar DeRozan led the team with 21.5 points per game this week, while Nikola Vucevic added 13.3 points and 13 rebounds per game on 42 percent 3-point shooting. 1 5-4
17


Heat
The Heat started off the week with a loss to the Kings, but bounced back strong to beat the Warriors and then get their revenge on Sacramento, thanks to Tyler Herro’s game-winning 3-pointer. Jimmy Butler struggled from the field in two games before missing Wednesday’s win, with Herro and Bam Adebayo picking up the slack. Adebayo put up 20.7 points, eight rebounds and 5.3 assists for the week, while Herro averaged 30 points in the two full games that he played (he left the Warriors game early with an eye injury). 2 4-5
18


Thunder
OKC launched a furious comeback to beat the Mavs in overtime to start the week, then beat the Magic before seeing its four-game win streak end against the Nuggets on Thursday. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has complete mastery of his offensive game right now, averaging a ridiculous 36.3 points this week to go along with six assists and 4.7 rebounds. Perhaps even more amazing — he put up those point totals without making a single 3-pointer. Josh Giddey also returned from an ankle injury this week, averaging 11.5 points and 7.5 assists in two games. 5 4-4
19


Timberwolves
So … too early to worry about the Wolves? They’re .500, but have played a relatively soft schedule and have lost to the Spurs twice. The Karl-Anthony Towns-Rudy Gobert lineups have been rough offensively, putting up 103.9 points per 100 possessions so far this season. Towns and Anthony Edwards led the team in scoring this week, with Edwards shooting 41 percent from 3-point range. So far, the Wolves have been a bottom-10 offense, which just isn’t going to cut it for a team with designs on a high playoff seed. 1 4-4
20


Wizards
The Wizards suffered a three-game losing streak this week, but bounced back to beat the 76ers in the second half of a home-and-home series. Bradley Beal’s subpar 3-point shooting from last season has carried over into the beginning of this year, and his scoring average is down nearly 10 points from the 31.3 that he averaged in 2020-21. Kristaps Porzingis had a prolific scoring week, putting up 25.3 points and 9.3 rebounds per game on 58 percent shooting. Washington’s defense simply didn’t get it done, however, allowing 119.7 points per 100 possessions in the four games. 11 4-4
21


Lakers
Matt Ryan season is upon us! Who knew shooting would help the Lakers? Russell Westbrook’s move to the bench has been successful thus far, with the Lakers winning two out of three games this week as Westbrook put up 16.3 points, 7.7 rebounds and 6.7 assists per game on 46 percent shooting. Troy Brown Jr. has been the biggest beneficiary of the extra minutes, averaging 11.7 points and eight rebounds this week and hitting 42 percent of his 3-pointers. The best news for the Lakers is that they’ve managed to win without LeBron James and Anthony Davis having monster scoring games. They may not be the most talented team in the league, but they play hard and are trending in the right direction. 8 2-5
22


Pacers
An offensive onslaught led the Pacers to wins over the Wizards and Nets to start the week, but they were cooled off a bit in Monday’s loss in the second game against Brooklyn. Tyrese Haliburton and Buddy Hield have been dynamic, hitting on 50 percent and 43 percent of their 3-pointers this week, respectively. Bennedict Mathurin continued his early Rookie of the Year campaign, going off for a career-high 32 points in 33 minutes in the win over the Nets, including 6-of-9 3-point shooting. 4 3-5
23


Kings
The Kings got in the win column this week, beating the Hornets and splitting a home-and-home set against the Heat. Offseason signing Kevin Huerter has lived up to his Red Rocket nickname, lighting up arenas with 25 points per game this week on 59 percent 3-point shooting. De’Aaron Fox suffered an injury during the win over Charlotte, so Domantas Sabonis took the lead playmaking role in the loss to Miami, putting up 22 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists. 5 2-5
24


Knicks
After a 3-1 start, the Knicks went 0-3 against some tougher teams this week, the Bucks, Cavs and Hawks. New York had trouble generating offense, putting up just 104 points per 100 possessions. RJ Barrett led the way with 18 points per game, while Jalen Brunson and Julius Randle both struggled from the field. Obi Toppin was a bright spot, averaging 10.7 points on 43 percent 3-point shooting in less than 17 minutes per game. 14 3-4
25


Hornets
The Hornets went 1-3 this week, with their win coming against the defending champs in overtime. Charlotte continues to deal with injury problems, as Terry Rozier missed all four games this week in addition to LaMelo Ball, who has yet to make his season debut. PJ Washington, Kelly Oubre Jr. and Gordon Hayward led the offense, each putting up over 15 points per game this week, but there’s just a lack of oomph with the team without their engines. 3 3-5
26


Magic
The Magic couldn’t win a game to start the season and suddenly they’re beating the defending champs? That’s got to be a huge confidence boost for the young group, who also took down the Hornets this week while losing to the Mavericks and Thunder. Six Orlando players averaged double figures, led by Paolo Banchero’s 19 points per game, while Jalen Suggs returned from an ankle sprain this week and put up a career-high 26 points and four steals in Thursday’s win over Golden State. Bol Bol has also been impressive in extended minutes, averaging 11 points, nine rebounds and 2.5 blocks this week on 68 percent shooting. 4 2-7
27


Pistons
Detroit picked up a quality win over the defending champs, but also lost to the Hawks and dropped back-to-back games against the juggernaut Bucks. Cade Cunningham has struggled from 3-point range, but filled the stat sheet this week with 23.8 points, 7.8 rebounds and seven assists per game. Bojan Bogdanovic continued his scorching start to the season, going 12 for 25 from deep in four games this week. Jalen Duren’s injury led to more minutes for Isaiah Stewart, who came through with 17 points and 10.5 rebounds per game. — 2-7
28


Warriors
Well, OK then. The championship is pretty much all the Warriors have been defending recently, allowing 120.8 points per 100 possessions in four straight road losses this week to the Hornets, Pistons, Heat and Magic. Golden State is sending opponents to the free throw line way too frequently, especially on the road. In addition to the defense, the bench minutes have been the main problem. When Steph Curry is on the court, the Warriors have a 118.4 offensive rating. When he’s on the bench, it’s 92.5. Doesn’t take a genius to figure out the causes for the Warriors’ recent struggles. 15 3-6
29


Nets
You’d like to stick to basketball, but it’s just impossible with the Nets. Kyrie Irving has been suspended for at least five games and his future with the team appears to be unclear. Steve Nash is no longer the coach, and Ime Udoka — who was suspended for the season by the Celtics — is reportedly on his way in. And then there’s Kevin Durant, who requested a trade earlier this summer and has to at least be thinking about bumping that up in Sean Marks’ inbox. On the court, it’s ugly. They went 1-2 this week and now sit at 2-6 with the worst defensive rating in the league. It probably can’t get much worse, but you never know with this organization. 8 2-6
30


Rockets
Houston’s defense let it down in losses to the Blazers and Suns to start the week, then the Clippers pulled away late in consecutive games. Kevin Porter Jr. led the team with 19.3 points per game this week, but he and Jalen Green both struggled from 3-point range. Alperen Sengun returned from injury and averaged a double-double of 17.5 points and 10.5 rebounds in the four games. Rookie Jabari Smith Jr. is learning about the ups and downs of an NBA season, shooting just 23 percent from the field this week. 5 1-8

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