AP Photo via Bob Leverone
We have reached Martin Luther King Day in the NBA and the midway point of the season. With the teams starting to assert themselves as contenders or pretenders, we take a look at the rankings for this week of NBA action.
10. Philadelphia 76ers (29-16)
Previous Ranking: 9
The 76ers have been a very inconsistent team this season. One day they would dominate the mighty Milwaukee Bucks, and two days later, lose to Orlando. They have been without star center Joel Embiid for the last six games, and have won the last four games. Although they have been against teams with losing records, they needed that stretch to give their depth some nice experience and keep pace in the Eastern Conference. They will be tested as they head to Toronto and face the Los Angeles Lakers at home this week.
9. Dallas Mavericks (27-15)
Previous Ranking: 10
Luka Doncic is starting to build a solid case for Most Valuable Player as in the last two games, Doncic has been nothing short of sensational. At Sacramento, he scored 25 points, grabbed 15 rebounds and dished out 17 assists in a close Mavericks win. Then, on national television this past Friday vs the Trail Blazers, he scored 35 points, including a long-range three in the final minute to seal the game that left everyone who saw it in awe. Dallas will again be in the spotlight this week as they will face the Los Angeles Clippers and head to Portland for another national television matchup.
8. Denver Nuggets (29-13)
Previous Ranking: 4
The Nuggets continue to win games as role players have stepped up. Michael Porter Jr. scored 19 in a win vs the Hornets and Malik Beasley scored 27 in a comeback overtime win at Golden State. The Nuggets lost to the Pacers yesterday as for the second game in a row, they were without Gary Harris, Jamal Murray and Paul Millsap. They will be at Minnesota, Houston and New Orleans this week and they will need at least one win to tread water with their injury issues.
7. Miami Heat (30-13)
Previous Ranking: 2
While the Heat remain in the second seed in the Eastern Conference, they have been inconsistent as of late, losing to the Spurs and Knicks but beating the Pacers prior to those losses. The Heat are a very balanced team as their top five scorers score at least 13 points a game. Rookie Kendrick Nunn has been spectacular as earlier today, he scored 25 in an overtime win over the Sacramento Kings. The Heat will get a chance to show how great they are when they host the Clippers Friday night.
6. Toronto Raptors (29-14)
Previous Ranking: 7
The Raptors have taken care of business against non-playoff teams and that is vital to do when competing for playoff seeding. While Siakam is the go-to scorer on the team, other players including Norman Powell, Fred VanVleet and Kyle Lowry, step up when duty calls. They will face the 76ers this Wednesday night for a game that may be a Eastern Conference Playoffs preview.
5. Indiana Pacers (28-15)
Previous Rankings: NR
Besides Milwaukee, there is currently not a scarier team in the Eastern Conference. The Pacers are currently on a five-game winning streak. They are loaded as they have seven players scoring double digit points a game, including bench players Aaron Holiday and Doug McDermott. And the best part is they should get star guard Victor Oladipo back in late January or early February. This is not a team I want to face when fully healthy.
4. Los Angeles Clippers (30-13)
Previous Ranking: 5
Despite the absense of Paul George for the last five games, the Clippers continue to win with the best player in the NBA, Kawhi Leonard, leading the way. The Clippers’ offense has scored more than 122 points their last three games and Leonard has been as dominant as ever. The Clippers are one game into their six game road trip, culminating in their third showdown with the Lakers next Tuesday. With the Jazz surging, it will be intriguing to see if they are still the West’s two seed after this road trip.
3. Utah Jazz (29-13)
Previous Ranking: NR
The Jazz on December 4th were 12-10 and struggling to find an offensive rhythm. Since then, they have exploded for 17 wins in 20 games. The biggest factor has been the increasing chemistry between Bojan Bogdanovic and Donovan Mitchell, who put on 21.3 and 24.7 points per game respectively. They will face the red-hot Pacers tonight and it will be a great test to see how they stack up against very good teams.
2. Los Angeles Lakers (34-8)
Previous Ranking: 5
The Lakers have been impressive road warriors as of late. In the past 10 days, the Lakers have won at Oklahoma City, Dallas and Houston without Anthony Davis. In Saturday’s win at Houston, KCP, Danny Green and Kyle Kuzma all stepped up and helped LeBron James lead the Lakers to a primetime road victory. The Lakers will spend the next four games on the road before facing the Clippers again, a team they are 0-2 against.
1. Milwaukee Bucks (39-6)
Previous Ranking: 1
Simply put, the Bucks are the best team in basketball. They are the NBA’s highest scoring team and Giannis Antetokounmpo is flat-out dominating this season for the Bucks. They have won eight games in a row and they have shown no signs of slowing down. They should continue to cruise through the easier part of their schedule before late February where they will play four nationally televised games in six games.