As we approach mid-November, each NBA team has played at least seven games. From Reggie Jackson in Detroit to Khris Middleton in Milwaukee to Gordon Hayward in Utah, injuries have already become an issue in the early going. There have been some good surprises (such as the Charlotte Hornets, who clock in at 6-1 through seven games) and some not so good ones (how is it that the New Orleans Pelicans and Washington Wizards continue to struggle?).
Now that we have an idea of who the NBA teams are, Basketball Insiders drops its first weekly Power Rankings. Check back each Friday afternoon to see how your favorite team stacks up against its competitors across the league.
30. Philadelphia 76ers (Overall: 0-7, Last Week: N/A)
The Sixers haven’t exactly made a habit of winning games in November and December, but we are all in on Joel Embiid and have to acknowledge how competitive these guys have been.
29. New Orleans Pelicans (Overall: 1-8, Last Week: N/A)
The Pelicans got their first win of the season on Thursday night at the Bucks, but it was Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical’s Friday morning report that Jrue Holiday is returning to the team next week that is the better news.
28. Dallas Mavericks (Overall: 2-6, Last Week: N/A)
The Harrison Barnes era in Dallas hasn’t gotten off to a fantastic start, and it’s not a good sign when your team makes more headlines for banning respected journalists as opposed to spirited play. Bright side: Dirk is on his way back.
27. Minnesota Timberwolves (Overall: 2-5, Last Week: N/A)
Perhaps the T-Wolves are this season’s version of the Pelicans? Maybe they’re a team whose potential made us lose sight that becoming a winner in the league takes time? And can someone explain how they are allowing 108.5 points per 100 possessions (24th in the league)? We need help (just like they do).
26. Miami HEAT (Overall: 2-5, Last Week: N/A)
Dwyane Wade’s return to Miami on Thursday night was about as emotional as one would expect. The 98-95 loss to the Bulls was somewhat expected, but if there’s a silver lining it would have to be the improved play of Justise Winslow. He’s nearly doubling and tripling his scoring and assists from last season.
25. Washington Wizards (Overall: 2-5, Last Week: N/A)
If things don’t change in D.C. soon, the team needs to consider making a drastic change. There is simply no reason or excuse for these guys to rank in the bottom half of offensive efficiency. The lone bright spot? Their two wins have come over tough competition (Hawks, Celtics).
24. Denver Nuggets (Overall: 3-5, Last Week: N/A)
The Nuggets have six players averaging double figures points with another player (Nikola Jokic) at 9.9 per game. We love the strength in numbers approach, but without an alpha-scorer and a superstar, these guys will continue to pull up the rear in the Northwest.
23. Phoenix Suns (Overall: 3-6, Last Week: N/A)
It’s gonna be a long season out in Phoenix, but the 20-year-old Devin Booker (who was our pick for Most Improved Player) will make it enjoyable to watch.
22. Orlando Magic (Overall: 3-5, Last Week: N/A)
After winning three straight, the Magic have lost their last two. Word on the street is that if there’s no playoff berth this season, general manager Rob Hennigan may be shown the door. Of those two scenarios, the latter appears more likely at the moment.
21. Brooklyn Nets (Overall: 3-5, Last Week: N/A)
With everyone in the world expecting the Nets to be a lottery team, let’s acknowledge the brilliant job Kenny Atkinson has done coaching these guys. And let’s also acknowledge that the Nets are proving that, despite the names on the back of the jersey, if you play with effort, you’ll have a chance to win in the NBA.
20. Sacramento Kings (Overall: 4-6, Last Week: N/A)
The only thing more suspenseful than waiting to see where the Kings trade Rudy Gay is going to be watching to see if they manage to lose all five of the games on their upcoming homestand. Beginning Wednesday, they host the Spurs, Clippers, Raptors, Thunder and Rockets.
19. Boston Celtics (Overall: 3-4, Last Week: N/A)
The Celtics sputtering shouldn’t come as a major surprise considering they’ve been without Al Horford, who has been absent due to a concussion. No need to panic in Boston quite yet.
18. New York Knicks (Overall: 3-4, Last Week: N/A)
Wednesday’s win over the Nets (playing without Jeremy Lin) was one the Knicks absolutely needed. Not because of any crosstown rivalry, but because 3-4 looks much better than 2-5. Far too often, their effort leaves something to be desired and that’s not good considering what’s at stake for the franchise.
17. Indiana Pacers (Overall: 4-4, Last Week: N/A)
If only the Pacers played defense as well as Paul George kicked basketballs into the stands… Indy honestly hasn’t played a difficult schedule and, on paper, should be at least 6-2. The bright spot thus far would probably be Myles Turner with his 16.3 points and 7.1 rebounds per game.
16. Milwaukee Bucks (Overall: 4-4, Last Week: N/A)
For the Bucks to fulfill their potential, Jabari Parker will have to fulfill his. His 33-point, nine-rebound effort on Thursday night was a welcomed sight, with the only unfortunate thing being that it came in a loss to the lowly Pelicans. We are still waiting for the Bucks to turn the corner.
15. Memphis Grizzlies (Overall: 4-4, Last Week: N/A)
With just two games over the past week, the Grizz got some much-needed practice time. They still seem to be a step slow, but we’ll attribute that to head coach David Fizdale still figuring things out.
14. Detroit Pistons (Overall: 4-4, Last Week: N/A)
Both Tobias Harris and Andre Drummond have played about as well as you could expect, but without Reggie Jackson, there’s only so far this team can go. Jackson recently began limited on-court activities but is still weeks away from returning.
13. Chicago Bulls (Overall: 5-4, Last Week: N/A)
On Thursday night, Dwyane Wade made his only visit to Miami this season in what was an emotional 98-95 victory. They’ve been inconsistent thus far, have lost four of their last six and have a six-game road trip beginning on Tuesday. We’re still trying to figure them out.
12. Portland Trail Blazers (Overall: 5-4, Last Week: N/A)
Wednesday’s 31-point drubbing at the hands of the Clippers and the 23-point home loss to the Dubs on November 1 show us that the Blazers may not be ready for the top tier out West just yet. We’d also like to see a little more from Evan Turner; 6.4 points per game ain’t cutting it.
11. Utah Jazz (Overall: 5-4, Last Week: N/A)
Despite missing the first six games of the season, Gordon Hayward hasn’t skipped a beat – 25.3 points, 6.3 rebounds and three dimes per game comes in handy, especially when Rudy Gobert is proving himself to be the NBA version of the Eiffel Tower. The early returns are in: these guys are good.
10. Los Angeles Lakers (Overall: 5-4, Last Week: N/A)
These aren’t Kobe Bryant’s Lakers… And that might be a good thing. Luke Walton’s team is playing hard, playing together and have scored victories over the Rockets, Hawks and Warriors. No other team in the league can boast that, even if they did lose to the Jazz.
9. Charlotte Hornets (Overall: 6-1, Last Week: N/A)
We admit that the Hornets haven’t had an incredibly difficult strength of schedule to start, but Kemba Walker has looked every bit like an All-Star and after losing Al Jefferson, Jeremy Lin and Courtney Lee, it’s fair to say they’ve wildly exceeded expectations (through seven games).
8. San Antonio Spurs (Overall: 5-3, Last Week: N/A)
Kawhi Leonard’s game-tying layup didn’t drop on Wednesday night, and the Rockets took a 101-99 decision from Gregg Popovich’s team. Still, they’re holding opponents to a sixth-best 97.6 points per game and ranked eighth in the league in both offensive and defensive efficiency. They’re flirting with 60 wins. Again.
7. Houston Rockets (Overall: 5-3, Last Week: N/A)
We have no problem admitting when we’re wrong. And as it relates to the Rockets, we were wrong. Their defense has been better than expected and James Harden is proving quite the capable floor general. The MVP thus far, “the Beard” is giving you 30.6 points per game along with 13 assists.
6. Atlanta Hawks (Overall: 6-2, Last Week: N/A)
Sure, they lost to the Lakers and Wizards, but when you follow that up by beating the Rockets and Tuesday night’s 110-106 victory over the Cavs, the Hawks solidified themselves as a team to watch out East. I’ll admit that I had my doubts about the partnership between Dennis Schroder and Dwight Howard, but these guys look phenomenal.
5. Oklahoma City Thunder (Overall: 6-2, Last Week: N/A)
We are big believers in Team Westbrook, but their 6-2 start may be fool’s gold. Still our favorite in the Northwest, only one of their wins have come over a team that made the playoffs last season (Clippers) and in each of their two losses (Warriors and Raptors), they’ve looked outmatched.
4. Toronto Raptors (Overall: 5-2, Last Week: N/A)
Considering that DeMar DeRozan has a career scoring average of 18.3 points per game and that last season’s 23.5 points per game was his career-high, we are surprised to see him as the league’s leading scorer at 34.1 points per game. More importantly, the Raptors have continued to look like the second best team out East.
3. Golden State Warriors (Overall: 7-2, Last Week: N/A)
After looking a step slow against the Lakers in the 117-97 drubbing on Nov. 4, the Dubs have shot a combined 47-98 from three-point land in the three games since—all wins. Steph Curry’s three-point streak ended, as did Kevin Durant’s 20-point streak, but these guys have their eyes set on other history.
2. Cleveland Cavaliers (Overall: 6-1, Last Week: N/A)
After barely squeaking out a win against the Sixers, the defending champs lost their first game of the season to the Hawks on Tuesday. Still, they’ve looked head and shoulders above everyone else in the conference.
1. Los Angeles Clippers (Overall: 7-1, Last Week: N/A)
Despite a pretty difficult strength of schedule, the Clippers own the league’s best record. Not to take anything away from the Thunder (the only team to beat them), but the win came on the third game in four nights. Team CP3 are clearly the top dogs in the league right now.
2018 NBA All-Star Sunday Recap
Michael Petrower recaps the All-Star Game from Sunday in Los Angeles.
The 2018 NBA All Star Game had some added appeal this year, with Captains LeBron James and Stephen Curry selecting playground style from the pool of All-Stars. Although it was not televised, it drew a lot of interest to say the least.
Team Lebron was headlined by Kevin Durant (the alleged first pick), Anthony Davis, Russell Westbrook, and Kyrie Irving. Sadly, Team Lebron suffered big losses with John Wall, Demarcus Cousins, Kevin Love and Kristaps Porzingis going down with injuries. Team Stephen was led by Giannis Antetokounmpo, James Harden, Joel Embiid and Demar DeRozan.
NBA fans were ready to indulge on the highlight real of plays to commence…That was, until the NBA inflicted a marathon-like performance that seemed a bit unnecessary, to say the least. Kevin Hart was at the center of theatrics that had NBA fans scratching their heads questioning what was on their television screen. Fergie topped off the saga with what was one of the more questionable national anthems we’ve seen in recent years. However, if you stuck around long enough, the game started at 8:40 PM EST and the flashy plays that we hoped for, began.
Joel Embiid made his first A;l-Star game appearance and kicked off the scoring festivities for Team Stephen with a ferocious and-one dunk. Team Stephen led all of the first quarter and won the quarter 42-31. Karl Anthony Towns led the first quarter scoring with 11 points. Team LeBron, however would storm back and cut the lead to two, 78-76 at half. LeBron came into his 14th straight All-Star game and lead his team at the half with 15 points. Klay Thompson also lead Team Stephen with 15 points at half.
The second half ensued and after some back and forth between the two teams, Team Stephen was leading by three going into the fourth quarter, 112-109. Team Stephen grew their lead to 11 while LeBron and KD got some rest. But after the two came back in, the 11-point deficit was erased after a LeBron three and the teams were now tied at 144 with 1:16 left in the fourth quarter.
DeRozan would make a free throw to put Team Stephen up one point, but Lebron followed with a strong two-pointer to put his team up one. DeRozan tried to answer, but threw away a pass which resulted in an easy two points for Russell Westbrook to ice the game. Team LeBron was the 2018 All Star Game winner with a score of 148-145.
LeBron James went on to win his third All Star MVP after finishing with 29 points to go along with 10 rebounds, eigh assists and a steal on 12-17 shooting. DeRozan and Damian Lillard lead Team Stephen with 21 points each.
Rest Assured, the 1-16 NBA Playoff Format Is Coming… Kinda
Based on Adam Silver’s comments, it’s safe to assume that the NBA will soon reformat the playoffs.
If there’s one thing Adam Silver has proven in his four years as the NBA’s Commissioner, it’s that he isn’t afraid to do things his way.
And if Silver has his way, the league will eventually figure out how it can implement a system that results in a more balanced playoff system. On Saturday, though, he revealed that it’s probably closer to a reality than many of us realize.
During his annual All-Star media address, Silver admitted that the league will “continue to look at” how they can reformat the playoffs to both ensure a better competitive balance throughout and pave the way for the league’s two best teams to meet up in the NBA Finals, even if both of those two teams happen to be in the same conference.
“You also would like to have a format where your two best teams are ultimately going to meet in the Finals,” the commissioner said on Saturday night.
“You could have a situation where the top two teams in the league are meeting in the conference finals or somewhere else. So we’re going to continue to look at that. It’s still my hope that we’re going to figure out ways.”
Since Silver took over the league, he’s been consistent in implementing dramatic changes to improve the overall quality of the game. Although Silver didn’t take over as the league’s commissioner until 2014, he was instrumental in getting the interested parties to buy into the notion that the “center” designation on the All-Star ballot was obsolete.
As a result, beginning with the 2013 All-Star Game, the Eastern and Western Conference teams have featured three “frontcourt” players, which essentially lumps centers in with forwards and eliminates the requirement that a center appear in the All-Star game. That wasn’t always the case.
From overhauling the league’s scheduling to reducing back-to-back games to implementing draft lottery reform to, this year, eliminating the traditional All-Star format which featured the Eastern Conference versus the Western Conference, it’s become clear that Silver simply “gets it” and isn’t afraid to make revolutionary changes if he deems them to be in the overall best interest of the league.
At this point, everyone realizes that something needs to be done about the league’s current playoff system.
Last season, for example, the Western Conference first round playoff series featured the Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder squaring off against one another. Only one series—the Los Angeles Clippers versus Utah Jazz—went seven games.
Meanwhile, in the Eastern Conference, the first round series that were contested weren’t exactly compelling.
The Cleveland Cavaliers steamrolled the conference to the tune of a 12-1 run to their third consecutive trip to the NBA Finals. It wasn’t the first time that the public questioned the wisdom behind separating the playoff brackets by conference, but the dominance of the Cavs and LeBron James specifically (who is expected to win the Eastern Conference for the eighth consecutive time this season) has caused renewed scrutiny.
The most common solution offered to this point has been to simply take the 16 best teams across the league, irrespective of conference, and conduct the playoffs as normal.
From afar, this solution seems simple enough, but the obvious concerns are twofold.
First, if the Celtics and Clippers, for example, were pitted against one another in a first round series, the travel would be considerable. Private charter flight or not, traveling is taxing, and the prospect of having to make five cross-country trips over the course of a two-week span would certainly leave the winner of such a series at a competitive disadvantage against the opponents they would face in subsequent rounds, especially if the future opponent enjoyed a playoff series that was contested within close proximity.
Atlanta to New Orleans, for example, is less than a one-hour flight.
Aside from the concerns about geographic proximity, the other obvious issue is competitive balancing of the schedule, which seems to be an easier issue to fix.
Using the Pelicans as an example, of the 82 games they play, 30 are played against the other conference—in this case, the Eastern Conference. The other 52 games would all be played within the conference. If playoff seedings were going to be done on a simple 1-16 basis, the scheduling would have to be realigned in a way to essentially pit all teams against one another evenly. It wouldn’t be fair for a team like the Celtics to be judged on the same standard as the Pelicans if the Celtics faced inferior teams more often.
On Saturday night, Silver revealed that the league’s brass has been thinking about this and is trying to find a solution, and in doing so, he may have tipped his hand.
* * * * * *
As a multinational conglomerate, the NBA values the inclusion of as many markets as possible. Wanting to improve the overall quality of the product, though, there are interests that may not align fully.
What’s obvious with this year’s All-Star game is that the NBA has found a way to balance the two.
Rather than eliminating the conference designations altogether and simply choosing the “best” 24 players to be in the All-Star game, the league still chose All-Stars based on their conference, but then distributed them within the pool to allow for better competition.
That’s exactly what Silver revealed the NBA is considering doing with the playoffs. It makes perfect sense, and it’s probably just a matter of time before it’s implemented.
A report from ESPN notes that the idea that the league is kicking around would essentially do exactly what the league did with the All-Star selections with the playoff teams: choose the best from each conference, then disburse them in a way that allows for competitive balance.
The proposal would have the league’s teams compete as they normally do and would still feature the top eight teams from each conference getting into the playoffs.
Once the teams are qualified, however, they would be re-seeded on a 1-16 basis and crossmatched, on that basis.
It’s not perfect, but compromises never are. The travel issues would still persist, but the league would accomplish two goals: the less dominant conference wouldn’t be underrepresented and discouraged from competing, but the two best teams would still be on opposite ends of the bracket.
An NBA playoffs that featured 11 or 12 teams from the Western Conference would be a ratings nightmare for the league. Eastern Conference cities are less likely to stay up past midnight during the week to watch playoff games, and less competitive markets would frown at the prospect of having to compete against the other conference for a playoff spot. For many small market teams, the millions of dollars generated from a single playoff game often has a significant impact on the team’s operations, so there would naturally be discord.
This system would at least eliminate that contention.
On the positive side, it would allow for the Rockets and Warriors, for example, to meet in the NBA Finals. In both the NFL and MLB, geography hasn’t been a determining factor on which teams battle for the league’s championship.
Why does it have to be in the NBA?
* * * * * *
With the league having begun regular season play earlier this season, at the All-Star break, most teams have played about 57 games. A lot can change over the final 25 games of the season, but if the seeds were frozen today and the league took the top eight teams from each conference and then crossmatched them, the Los Angeles Clippers would be the team that got the short end o the stick.
Although the Clippers have the 16th best record in the league, they would be the ninth-seeded Western Conference team and would thus be eliminated from postseason contention by the Miami HEAT. The HEAT have the 17th best record in the league but are the eighth-best team in the Eastern Conference, so to preserve the conference weight, the HEAT would win out.
This is what the seedings and matchups would look like…
(1) Houston Rockets versus (16) Miami HEAT
(2) Golden State Warriors versus (15) New Orleans Pelicans
(3) Toronto Raptors versus (14) Philadelphia 76ers
(4) Boston Celtics versus (13) Portland Trail Blazers
(5) Cleveland Cavaliers versus (12) Denver Nuggets
(6) San Antonio Spurs versus (11) Oklahoma City Thunder
(7) Minnesota Timberwolves versus (10) Milwaukee Bucks
(8) Washington Wizards versus (9) Indiana Pacers
Here, the Celtics would face the nightmarish scenario of having to travel to and from Portland for their playoff series, while virtually every other series would feature much more friendly travel (especially the Spurs-Thunder and Raptors-Sixers).
The Cavs would have a very tough road to the Finals, having to beat the Nuggets, Celtics and Rockets if the seeds held. The Celtics would have a similarly tough road, as they’d have to get past the Blazers, Cavs and Rockets.
At the end of the day, the Rockets and Warriors would be aligned in such a way as to avoid one another until the championship, but each of the two would face daunting competition. The Rockets would have to go through the HEAT, Wizards and Celtics, while the Warriors would have to face the Pelicans, Timberwolves and Raptors—again, assuming the seeds held.
It would be a benefit to all observers.
One of the unintended consequences of implementing this system would be to make every single game count. If the Celtics were able to move up to the second seed, for example, their road to the Finals, in theory, could become much much easier, comparatively speaking.
The end result would be less resting of players during the course of the season and certainly less instances in which star players take the final week of the regular season off in other to be fresh for the postseason.
No, there’s no perfect solution, but just as the league has found a clever way to serve multiple interests as it relates to the All-Star game’s competitiveness, Silver has revealed that the league is at least considering following suit with the playoffs.
It’s only a matter of time before we see it actually see it happen.
It simply makes too much sense, and if there’s one thing the commissioner has already proven, it’s that he isn’t afraid of changing tradition.
NBA All-Star Saturday Recap
Brian Slingluff recaps All-Star Saturday from Los Angeles.
Basketball Insiders is here to recap an eventful All-Star Saturday that led to three first-time champs in the various skills contests. Let’s get right to it.
Taco Bell Skills Challenge
In Saturday night’s Taco Bell Skills Challenge, the “Bigs” team, boasting 3 All-Stars, set out to claim a third straight title. The competition kicked off with Joel Embiid coming from behind to best Al Horford, and sharpshooter Lauri Markkanen swishing his first 3 point attempt to eliminate Andre Drummond. On the Guard side, Buddy Hield had an early lead before losing out to Spencer Dinwiddie, and Jamal Murray upset hometown favorite Lou Williams.
In the semifinals, Markkanen was able to dispatch Joel Embiid, who struggled with the pass portion of the competition, and Dinwiddie topped Jamal Murray by making his first 3 pointer for the second consecutive round.
In the Final round, Dinwiddie finally missed a 3 pointer, but it did not matter as he finished with a wire to wire victory over Lauri Markkanen. Dinwiddie, competing in front of his friends and family, was able to end the Bigs’ two year win streak in impressive fashion.
JBL Three Point Contest
The event started off with Tobias Harris scoring a solid 18 points. Wayne Ellington was next, sporting the hot new alternate Miami Vice jersey. Ellington started off cold and heated up on his last three racks, ending up with a score of 17. Devin Booker and former three-point champion Klay Thompson tied for a round-high 19 points. Paul George, Bradley Beal, and Kyle Lowry struggled from the start and never found a rhythm, falling short of making the championship round. Defending champion Eric Gordon never got it going, and would not defend the title, scoring only 12 points.
In the Championship round, Tobias Harris was on fire through the first 3 racks, but quickly got cold, scoring 17 points. Devin Booker was next and could not miss, scoring 28 points, leaving Klay Thompson a high number to match. Thompson fell just 3 points short, and Devin Booker was crowned the 2018 JBL Three Point Champion.
Verizon Slam Dunk Contest
The final and most anticipated event of the night started with Donovan Mitchell bringing out a second hoop, bouncing it off the second backboard and finishing with an impressive windmill dunk, scoring a 48. Victor Oladipo followed with a difficult look-away alley oop dunk attempt that he was unable to complete, totaling 31 points from the judges. Dennis Smith Jr. had a nice reverse double pump that got 39 points and Larry Nance Jr., in a throwback Phoenix jersey, payed homage to his father’s cradle dunk, nailing it almost exactly for a score of 44 points.
Oladipo started the next round of dunks by borrowing Chadwick Boseman’s Black Panther mask, and scoring 40 points with a tomahawk windmill dunk. Smith Jr. hit a seemingly impossible reverse 360, through the legs, switching hands dunk for a perfect score of 50. Nance Jr. pulled off a Vince Carter level windmill, nearly missing a perfect score. Mitchell jumped over comedian Kevin Hart to advance to the finals against Larry Nance Jr.
In the Finals, Nance started things off with a windmill alley-oop with some help from Larry Nance Sr., garnering a score of 46. Mitchell completed the difficult one handed alley-oop he had attempted in the previous round, scoring a perfect 50. Nance Jr. answered with an incredible double pass off the backboard dunk, scoring yet another 50 points. Mitchell ended the contest with a Vince Carter tribute dunk, coming out on top by just two points. It capped off an exciting Saturday night, setting things up for the main event on Sunday, Team LeBron versus Team Stephen.