One-fourth of the way through the 82-game schedule, there's a new No. 1 at last atop ESPN.com's NBA Power Rankings.
After one of the wildest regular-season weeks in recent memory, Golden State rose to the summit of our ladder despite its double-overtime home loss to Houston, capitalizing on stunning three-game losing streaks suffered by the reigning champs from Cleveland as well as the LA Clippers to knock the Cavaliers out of the top spot for the first time all season.
Toronto is the other big mover on this Rankings Monday, rising to No. 2 on the strength of an impressive six-game winning streak fueled by a scorching offense and helped along by the rash of upsets that, at its most extreme, saw San Antonio (home loss to Orlando), Cleveland (loss at Milwaukee) and the Clippers (double-overtime loss at Brooklyn) all fall on Tuesday night.
To put the shock level of those outcomes in Vegas terms: Investing $100 in a three-team parlay on the Magic, Nets and Bucks that night would have netted nearly $21,000.
Things should stay plenty intriguing this week, too, with the Cavs and Raptors meeting Monday night in Toronto and the Warriors and Clippers dueling Wednesday night in L.A. Many thanks, as we await those battles, go to ESPN Stats & Information and the Elias Sports Bureau -- with research ace Micah Adams running the point -- for supplying such helpful background data to help your Committee arrange things from 1-to-30.
The Warriors have scored at least 125 points seven times already this season; no team in the NBA universe did so more than five times in its first 20 games of the season since the 1990-91 campaign. But we should note that the Dubs, who'll take a six-game winning streak over their old friends from Clipperland into the teams' Wednesday night showdown at Staples Center, are somehow only 1-2 at home when the Committee (of One) is in the building and 16-1 in all other games. Hopefully Golden State doesn't hold us responsible.
You'll read similar sentiments in the Hawks comment, but this is worth saying twice: A 44-point thrashing of conference rival Atlanta, even with Paul Millsap (hip) sidelined, is a shock to the system to rival DeMar DeRozan's leading the league in scoring for that recent span of 19 days. The Raps, not surprisingly, now sport the East's most robust average nightly point margin, but that's also because the defense has tightened up considerably (94.1 PPG allowed during the six-game winning streak vs. 105.3 in Toronto's first 14 games).
What would you do if you were us? Laud the Spurs for becoming just the third team in history, along with the 1969-70 Knicks and last season's Warriors, to win their first 11 road games? Or light into them Pop-style for the inexplicable setback to Orlando that, along with earlier L's to the Jazz and Clippers, saddled San Antonio with three losses at home by at least 12 points in November? The Spurs have previously lived through only two months like that (both in the 1996-97 season that led to the draft pick that became Tim Duncan) in the whole Gregg Popovich era.
We've been asked countless times on our Facebook Live Power Rankings postmortems what it would take for the Cavs to finally surrender the top spot on this ladder. Never did we expect, when it came up last Monday afternoon, that the Cavs would soon spiral into a three-game skid that also made them the league's first defending champions to suffer back-to-back losses by 17 or more points since the Three-Peat Lakers way back in March 2003. J.R. Smith, meanwhile, has a variety of concerns mounting after the Jason Terry defense debacle.
Turns out that halting their recent three-game slide with a stirring rout of the Cavs in Cleveland on TNT didn't completely fix the Clippers. Yet it seems safe to suggest Clips fans will be happy come Thursday no matter what happens Wednesday night in their first meeting of the season with the Warriors. Reason being: Thursday marks the five-year anniversary of David Stern blocking the three-way trade that would have sent Chris Paul to the Lakers, which enabled the Clippers to acquire CP3 days later and change the course of franchise history.
Outlasting Golden State in double overtime on the Warriors' floor, landing in Denver around 5 a.m. and then running the Nuggets off their floor in the famed mile-high altitude is about as impressive as it gets when it comes to a back-to-back set. That's what Houston just pulled off to join the aforementioned Warriors on the most impressive of short lists and improve to 3-0 this season in the second game of a back-to-back set. James Harden & Co., by the way, are outscoring the opposition by 18 PPG in those three wins.
Coming off a 4-2 ride on what's being billed as the last-ever Circus Trip, followed by what they did to the reigning champs after LeBron James paid off his World Series bet to Dwyane Wade, we frankly expected a better showing from the Bulls than what we got in Dallas on Saturday night, whether or not D-Wade was in uniform. The Bulls nonetheless continue to rank as one of pleasant surprises of the season's opening quarter, with Jimmy Butler clearly determined to force his way into the East MVP of the First Trimester conversation.
Our pal Zach Lowe made the recent observation that Russell Westbrook's bid to become the first player since Oscar Robertson in the '60s to average a triple-double over an entire season is basketball's answer to a great hitter flirting with a .400 season. It's a wonderful comparison that also pinpoints the bonus of Westbrook's quest, which is giving us more-than-usual cause to tune into regular-season basketball in December. Quite handy for a league that's so widely expected to deliver the same Finals matchup we've seen the past two Junes.
A one-point loss at home to Miami was such a shock to the system because the Jazz had just won their previous four games by a whopping 80 points combined, something they hadn't achieved since late in the 2007-08 season. Gordon Hayward is back in a nice scoring groove and up to 23.0 in Player Efficiency Rating terms, but Utah continues to look like a different squad when George Hill is in uniform. Monday's absence on the road against the Lakers means Hill will have missed half of Utah's 22 games to date.
With its East-leading seven road wins, Boston awoke Monday at plus-3 in the trusty team plus/minus metric that NBA old-schoolers cherish, which is derived by subtracting a team's total of home losses from its road wins. That ties the Celts at No. 2 in the East with Toronto behind only Chicago (plus-4), although we must point out that three teams in the West (Warriors, Spurs and Rockets) are all already at plus-7 while the Clippers are a plus-6. Trivia time: Test your friends' knowledge of NBA minutiae by asking them this Avery Bradley stumper.
New coach, same stubborn resilience we saw last season when the Grizzlies scrapped their way into the playoffs despite employing an NBA-record 28 players. All David Fizdale's Grizzlies have done since the crushing loss of Mike Conley is squeak out home wins over the Magic and Lakers by a combined four points and generate this touching picture to try to boost the spirits of a grieving Zach Randolph. The offense was performing at a worst-in-the-league level with Conley off the floor at the time he went down.
Before the Pacers can celebrate Larry Bird's 60th birthday Wednesday, they have to visit Golden State, which won the teams' first meeting this season by 37 points. Yet you could argue that Bird's team already scored him a nice present with Sunday night's comeback from an early double-digit deficit to stun the Clippers. Indiana had seven players in double figures and, in even better news, had all 15 of its players healthy and available for the first time all season, most notably Paul George after PG-13's recent ankle woes.
The goal was to stay afloat while floor leader Reggie Jackson was sidelined. Detroit has certainly had its issues on the road, but you'd have to say that the 11-10 mark that Stan Van Gundy & Co. lugged into Jackson's season debut Sunday night against SVG's old friends from Orlando would have to qualify. Especially because the Pistons, before the disappointment of losing that seemingly favorable home date with the Magic despite Jackson's 18 points, have endured what the ESPN computer sees as the league's second-toughest schedule.
The Hornets are understandably struggling to come to grips with what happened Saturday night in what turned out to be loss No. 4 in their past six home dates. Up seven points against the perpetually unclutch Wolves with less than a minute remaining in regulation, Charlotte couldn't hold the lead -- thanks to triples by Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine and, yes, Ricky Rubio -- and wound up losing in overtime, thus bringing a halt to a run of 22 consecutive wins at home after taking a lead of 10 points or more into the final quarter.
The Knicks' resurfacing mojo at Madison Square Garden has reached the point that they just won two weekend home dates in a row with Derrick Rose scoring in the 20s after a 4-8 mark in D-Rose's first 12 games as a Knick with 15-plus points. The 2011 MVP has quietly nudged his PER to a fairly healthy 16.6, while Kristaps Porzingis has clocked six games already with at least 25 points after just five as a rookie. Let's see, though, how MSG copes with LeBron James' maiden visit of the season Wednesday night after his triple-double in Cleveland against the Knicks on opening night.
What had to make last week's rout of Cleveland doubly sweet is how often the Bucks have been reminded already about the favorable schedule they've enjoyed to this point. Our mandatory Giannis Antetokounmpo update, meanwhile, reveals that The Greek Freak is on course to join Bucks legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on the short list of players who have averaged at least 20 points, five assists and two blocks per game over an entire season. Kareem did it in 1975-76 and '78-79; Giannis is right on pace.
The Blazers announced Sunday that Al Farouq-Aminu is likely to return to the lineup Monday night against the Bulls after missing the past 14 games with a calf injury. Rest assured that Portland, even after stopping the defensive bleeding (to a degree) with home wins over Indiana and Miami in a light week, will be thrilled to welcome the rangy forward back after seven of its first 11 games without him. The game against Chicago is the opener of a five-game trip and starts a rough stretch where the Blazers play eight of nine on the road.
The injuries, unfortunately, are really starting to pile up, but what made the 10-10 start so fun was that the Lakers, facing one of the league's three hardest schedules to date, were the underdog in 17 of those 20 games, according to our trusty Basketball Power Index. The only games in which they were favored: Nov. 6 vs. Phoenix (W), Nov. 8 vs. Dallas (L) and Nov. 15 vs. Brooklyn (W). Don't forget that they didn't win their 10th game last season until Feb. 2. Or that they were forced to play without D'Angelo Russell in seven games.
Local pressure is mounting on Magic GM Rob Hennigan. But the Magic, in response, just assembled their finest week of the season under new coach Frank Vogel, stunning the Spurs in San Antonio and spoiling Reggie Jackson's return in Detroit under former Magic coach Stan Van Gundy to give themselves a shot a 4-1 road trip when they visit Washington on Tuesday night. Orlando has quietly risen to No. 3 in defensive efficiency and easily could have been 4-0 on the trip, don't forget, if not for a one-point loss at Memphis.
Looking at the "Last 10" category in the standings is somewhat remedial in this era of advanced stats, but it's worth a glance on this Rankings Monday as we try to make sense of what's happening to the unraveling Hawks. For all of the various issues we can try to pinpoint -- hopefully these tweets shed some light on the sudden struggles we've seen from these guys at both ends -- but who ever imagined Atlanta going 1-9 in any stretch of games and losing two in a row (even with Paul Millsap out) by a combined 80 points? Eighty!
The Heat are about to face Dwyane Wade again, this time in Chicago on Saturday night, after D-Wade triumphed in his return to South Beach last month despite 5-for-17 shooting in that emotional homecoming. Those in Miami who no longer keep close tabs on the former pride of Wade County might be interested to know that No. 3's 2016-17 numbers (19.1 PPG, .447 shooting and 20.3 PER in 30.8 MPG) are almost identical to his 2015-16 numbers. Or maybe that's a topic still too raw to discuss.
Figures that the Wolves, after all their well-chronicled woes in third quarters, busted out of a 1-7 funk with a second-half comeback in Charlotte, home to what has been one of the NBA's best third-quarter teams all season. We should note, though, that the Hornets were up 10 heading into the fourth quarter. In Minnesota's previous game, Karl-Anthony Towns became just the second player all season to post a 45-and-15 game. The problem: KAT and Anthony Davis are a combined 0-3 in those games.
Will Barton is back in the lineup, Wilson Chandler is averaging a career-best 18.6 PPG and we're talking about Jamal Murray in this cyberspace for the second successive week because his recovery from the misery of missing his first 17 shots from the field as a professional has reached the point that he's the newly minted Western Conference Rookie of the Month. The bad news: Denver stands as the only team in the league to date that hasn't won a game this season in which it trailed during the fourth quarter or overtime.
The Wizards survived the season's first 35-point, 20-rebound game -- from Sacramento's DeMarcus Cousins -- to get last week started with a welcome overtime win. Late-game execution, however, continues to be a concern for new coach Scotty Brooks after the Wiz followed up that triumph over the Kings with agonizing losses on the road in both Oklahoma City and San Antonio. One source of positivity for a 6-12 squad: John Wall and Bradley Beal are starting to play a lot and play better together.
Anthony Davis' latest ridiculous line (37 points, 15 boards and four blocks) was somewhat obscured in OKC by Angry Russ Westbrook uncorking his seemingly unfathomable fifth consecutive triple-double and returning Sooners star Buddy Hield hitting four 3-pointers in his first game on Oklahoma soil since leading the school to last season's Final Four. But rest assured that Davis has our full attention after this recent podcast visit and because he merely happens to be leading the league in scoring at the quarter mark (among other things).
The Kings' issues with slow starts have become no less of a talking point that Minnesota's well-chronicled struggles after halftime. It happened again Sunday night in Gotham, where Sacramento fell into a deep hole early, scrambled back to make a game of it and then looked raggedy down the stretch of a loss to the Knicks that dropped the Kings to 1-3 on what was billed as a crucial road trip entering Wednesday's final stop at Dallas. DeMarcus Cousins had 36 points in the defeat, but his 21 missed shots were a career high.
This one legit surprised us: Despite the presence of Devin Booker, Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender on its roster, Phoenix began the week at No. 4 in terms of percentage of points scored by players 21 or younger. Minnesota not surprisingly leads the league at 64 percent, followed by Milwaukee (43 percent), Denver (34 percent) and then the Suns (27 percent). Maybe we shouldn't have been surprised, though, given that Suns coach Earl Watson is apt to rely on vets like Jared Dudley and P.J. Tucker as much as he's trying to help Chriss and Bender develop.
It's one of the statistical oddities of the early season: Dallas has a league-low four wins, but all of them have come by double digits. Although the Mavs want to believe that the worst is behind them, heading into a slew of home games in December after dealing with what (as of Monday morning) still ranked as the league's toughest schedule to date, clarity on Dirk Nowitzki's health situation remains elusive. The rise of the undrafted Dorian Finney-Smith, meanwhile, continues to be one of the better NBA fairy tales no one talks about.
We lamented in this cyberspace last week how hard it's been to watch Brooklyn lately ... so what happens? The Nets helped spark a week of absolutely zany scores by beating the Clippers in a double-overtime circus. Blake Griffin wasn't playing, true, but it was Brooklyn's first comeback from as many as 13 points down entering the fourth quarter since March 2012 -- after 77 consecutive losses in such circumstances. Nothing but props for Cinderella story Sean Kilpatrick and his 38 points in the victory.
The first 25-and-10 game of the Joel Embiid Experience came in a lopsided home loss to Orlando, which has to count as a significant disappointment given how competitive the Sixers have been against Cleveland twice at home, Indiana home and away and Boston at home as recently as Saturday night. The consolation: Dario Saric put together his best game as an NBAer (21 and 12) in the heartbreaker against the Celts after giving us only occasional cause in his first 19 games as a Sixer to go nuts like we do nearly daily for Embiid.