Now, in week four of the season, the NBA has seen more “actualizing” of teams across the association. The farther away we get from opening night, the more teams are settling into their “expected” performance for the year. While some teams have been decimated by injuries leading to uneven results — Utah and New Orleans, for example — others, like once critical darlings Minnesota, have shown they can’t get out of their own way. But the top teams have stayed relatively consistent, with your Golden State Warriors now finding their way to the top of the rankings after Monday’s win against Atlanta. Meanwhile, the Cavaliers — courtesy of the Bucks on Tuesday — are on a downward slide.
Here’s a look at the major power-rankings reports from the major news sources across the internet. Our goal is to identify trends and outliers, find out which teams the league agrees are pretenders and which are underachievers.
Here are your main rankings:
What everyone agrees upon
The Warriors are getting better
Golden State of Mind has chronicled this daily, but it seems the Warriors are finally figuring things out. While ESPN & CBS still think the Cavs are #1, the rest of the major players have made the jump.
Jeremy Woo at SI said it best:
“It’s been a little hard to gauge exactly how well the Warriors have been performing, because entering the season, their perceived ceiling was fantastically abstract. Nobody knew quite what the Golden State demolition crew would look like, even after we saw it so many times over a two-year period, because Kevin Durant’s presence shook up the expectations so much. The first month of the Warriors’ season has been less about chasing 73 wins and more about just how sexy they could look while doing that. Well, this week, we basically found out.”
Can the Warriors keep this up? They continue a five-game home stand this week against the Rockets, Suns and a healthy Pacers squad.
The Mavs are getting worse
Poor Harrison Barnes ...
His team finds themselves 3-13 after a home win against the Pelicans. He just got the news that Dirk Nowitzki remains out with an ankle injury. His outgoing owner said recently his team is not tanking, but Barnes finds himself as the only bright spot on a decimated team that features unproven, inconsistent rookies and veterans that can’t stay on the court.
Mark Stein at ESPN sums it up:
“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.”
Stein’s views about the draft are not shared with everyone. The consensus so far is that the draft will be balanced with no clear-cut number one. Could this rebuild see itself last a few years?
The Clippers are falling off
Chris Paul and crew, once league darlings, are starting to show their warts. Maybe that bench isn’t as strong as previously thought? The Clips are currently on a three-game losing streak, capped off by a loss last night in Brooklyn in double overtime where the Nets gave them every possible chance to win. While Doc Rivers is getting thrown out of games at key moments and sitting Blake Griffin for no reason, the roster is starting to question itself. USA Today still views the team as #2, but they have been dropped as low as #6 by CBS Sports and #4 by ESPN, NBA.com and others.
John Schuhmann at NBA.com explains:
“Chris Paul may need a refund on that LASIK surgery he had this summer. Paul shot 5-for-20 and had an uncharacteristic nine turnovers as the Clippers scored less than 95 points per 100 possessions and suffered their first double-digit losses of the season (in Detroit and Indiana, with the Pacers missing Paul George) over the weekend. And just like that, after a franchise-best 14-2 start and though they're still the only team in the top six on both ends of the floor, the Clips are in third place in the Western Conference.”
Will this swoon continue? The Clippers first head to Cleveland before ending their road trip in New Orleans — two tough games before returning to LA. Will we see more complaining in the near future by this always-volatile crew?
What nobody can agree upon
How good are the Lakers? No, seriously. Are they any good?
The Lakers have been a great story so far this year. Warriors’ friend Luke Walton has done a fantastic job with his young core of talent. Their problem has not been effort, but rather consistency because of injury. D’Angelo Russell finds himself sidelined because of a bum knee that might hold him out for an extended period. Nick Young just went down with an Achillies injury. And they have missed time from superstar forward, Julius Randle. After a hot streak, the Lakers now find themselves at 9-10, holding on to the 8th spot in a weak-ish Western Conference.
The rankings have responded accordingly, with the Lakers falling to 18th on the USA Today poll. But NBA.com still puts them right at the cusp at 13. Sports Illustrated, however, has them at 14, and Jeremy Woo again writes them a nice “love letter”:
“Nick Young intercepting a pass intended for Lou Williams, blatantly traveling and then nailing the game-winning shot was far and away the best moment of the first month of the season. It’s also the neat epitome of why you should love the Lakers right now. There’s not a ton of rhyme or reason, they aren’t really guarding anyone and it’s fairly unclear who’s actually leading this team on the floor, but don’t question Luke Walton’s SoCal cult of personality. Just inhale. This team is fun. This team may not be good, but when it’s midnight on the East Coast and you’re weighing whether or not to stay up and watch basketball, the Lakers’ answer has more often than not been a yes.”
While I do agree that this team has been fun to watch, any team that counts on streaky shooters like Nick Young, Lou Williams & Co. should be met with skepticism. I would love this team to give the Spurs or Clippers a challenge. But they would need to move up into the 6th or 7th seed to get away from the Warriors — their obvious worse match-up.
The top-five teams — for now
Across the rankings, each site has its own take on the league’s top five. While the Cavs and Warriors typically go 1-2, some think that the Spurs should hold the three spot while others view their recent slide as a sign of things to come. The Bulls get consideration for a top spot, which is amazing considering how hesitant many were to call them “good” after their roster rebuild in the offseason. The Hawks and Raptors fight for top consideration, each taking a dip as they both have been traveling out West for respective road trips.
The consensus is that there is a top “tier” in the league right now, and the rankings are relative. Outside of that top tier, which holds about 7-8 teams, the second tier is made up of contenders that are still figuring themselves out after recovering from time loss (Boston and Utah). This should shake itself out in weeks to come but, as usual with any trends picked after four weeks, it should be taken with a grain of salt.
Garbage Time Musings
• My new favorite weekly stat, courtesy of NBA.com:
Toughest Schedule in the NBA through Sunday: 1. Dallas 2. Lakers 3. Washington
Easiest Schedule in the NBA through Sunday: 1. Cleveland 2. Orlando 3. Chicago
This might be the reason that Cuban still thinks there is hope, everyone is writing off the Magic already, and some think Chicago isn’t for real.
• Warriors fans let out a collective sigh as Draymond Green returned to the floor on Monday against the Hawks. But nobody is giving the credit deserved to Ian Clark for his return as well, to go along with his play so far this season.
I’m giving all his credit to his relationship with Kevin Durant:
The veteran Durant has seemed to take Clark under his wing, and the payoff is showing. These two end up on the court at the same time with the second unit often and, so far, Clark has responded by averaging 17.7 points per 36 minutes played. While fans were ready to crown Patrick McCaw the second coming, Clark has silently and professionally played his way back into his role. His shooting has been fantastic — 47% from three — and he is showing a knack for finishing at the rim. Keep it up, Clark!
That’s it for the week as we get ready for a big showdown Thursday in Oakland against the Rockets. For the Warriors — KEEP STREAKING!!