NBA Power Rankings: Are the Suns, Thunder on the brink of toppling Nuggets?

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We’re nearing the end of the NBA’s inaugural in-season tournament, with the Western and Eastern semifinals set for Thursday.

But the regular season continues to push along as teams look to wrap up 2023 on a high note and enter the new year swinging.

The Oklahoma City Thunder have made a jump into the top 5 in this week’s ranks, led by rookie Chet Holmgren and All-Star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. And as the Western Conference continues to shake up, the Boston Celtics have yet to be dethroned in the East.

The Orlando Magic and Indiana Pacers are not far behind. With Tyrese Haliburton having a breakout season, leading the league in assists (11.9) and second in 3s (4.0). The Pacers will face the Milwaukee Bucks, and the New Orleans Pelicans will face the Los Angeles Lakers to determine who will play in the in-season tournament finals on Saturday in Las Vegas.

Note: Throughout the regular season, our panel (Kendra Andrews, Tim Bontemps, Jamal Collier, Andrew Lopez, Tim MacMahon, Dave McMenamin and Ohm Youngmisuk) is ranking all 30 teams from top to bottom, taking stock of which teams are playing the best basketball and which teams are looking most like title contenders.

Previous rankings: Post-Finals | Nov. 1 | Nov. 8 | Nov. 15 | Nov. 22 | Nov. 29 |

Jump to a team:
ATL | BOS | BKN | CHA | CHI | CLE
DAL | DEN | DET | GS | HOU | IND
LAC | LAL | MEM | MIA | MIL | MIN
NO | NY | OKC | ORL | PHI | PHX
POR | SAC | SA | TOR | UTAH | WAS

1. Boston Celtics
2023-24 record: 15-5

Boston was the favorite to win the in-season tournament — only to go down after a hellacious second-half performance from budding superstar Tyrese Haliburton Monday night. Now, the Celtics will spend their next few days licking their wounds until they host the Knicks Friday at home. The one positive thing: Boston, which still tops the East and ranks in the top 10 in both offense and defense, will spend the next couple of weeks at home, before going out West later this month. — Tim Bontemps


2. Minnesota Timberwolves
2023-24 record: 15-4

The Wolves sit atop the Western Conference with the best record in the NBA, and despite Anthony Edwards missing the past two games with a hip injury, they’re on a four-game win streak. Edwards participated in practice the past two days, and coach Chris Finch said he was trending toward playing on Wednesday against San Antonio. Minnesota tops the NBA in defense and ranks No. 4 in net rating, behind just the Celtics, Thunder and Sixers. — Jamal Collier


3. Denver Nuggets
2023-24 record: 14-7

  • Previous ranking: 3

  • Next games: @ LAC (Dec. 6), vs. HOU (Dec. 8), @ ATL (Dec. 11), @ CHI (Dec. 12)

The champs got some much-needed rest after playing five games in seven nights last week, but now they simply need to get healthy. Jamal Murray returned from a hamstring injury that kept him out of 11 straight games only to hurt his ankle against Houston and miss the past two games. Nikola Jokic, on the other hand, has been absolutely dominating in points (29), rebounds (12.8) and assists (9.8). They will need to continue to lean on him as Murray’s return is still up in the air, and three of their next four games are on the road. — Ohm Youngmisuk


4. Oklahoma City Thunder
2023-24 record: 13-6

Oklahoma City is fifth in the league in both offense and defense and is the only team in the NBA to rank in the top five in both. OKC’s net rating (plus-8.4) is a tenth of a point behind Boston for league best, while Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has emerged as an early MVP-candidate with the NBA’s second-best overall plus-minus (plus-163). — Tim MacMahon


5. Milwaukee Bucks
2023-24 record: 14-6

The addition of Damian Lillard has transformed the Bucks into the best clutch team in the NBA. Milwaukee has won nine clutch games — defined as a game with the final five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime when the score is within five points — the most in the league, and owns the best net rating in those games. Lillard tops the league in clutch plus-minus, with an absurd plus-41 in 49 minutes. That poise down the stretch led the Bucks to victories over the Heat and Hawks last week and will help them against the Pacers on Thursday. — Collier


6. Philadelphia 76ers
2023-24 record: 12-7

Philadelphia was one of the big winners among teams left out of the knockout round of the in-season tournament, getting a road game against Washington and a home game against Atlanta. Beyond that, the few days off between Friday’s loss in Boston and Wednesday’s game in D.C. will allow the 76ers to reset, as both Joel Embiid and Tyrese Maxey will have recovered from being sick last week, and Kelly Oubre Jr. will be back in the lineup for the first time since being in a hit-and-run accident last month. — Bontemps


7. Phoenix Suns
2023-24 record: 12-9

Kevin Durant and Devin Booker’s chemistry is obvious, from the way they complement one another’s games in media sessions to their mutual easy, laidback demeanors meshing off the court. Durant is shooting a ridiculous 81% on 3-pointers assisted by Booker — a big factor in the Suns’ eighth-ranked offense. — Dave McMenamin


8. Orlando Magic
2023-24 record: 14-6

Cole Anthony has settled into his role as the Magic’s sixth man and was a key part of their nine-game win streak, scoring in double figures in eight of those contests and at least 20 points in three of his last four. Orlando climbed to a 14-6 record despite getting just five games from Wendell Carter Jr. and Markelle Fultz because of injury. But Anthony and reserve center Mo Wagner (13.0 points per game), have stepped up, and the team hasn’t missed a beat. Orlando’s bench is averaging a league-best 47.3 points. — Andrew Lopez


9. New York Knicks
2023-24 record: 12-8

New York was very excited to make the in-season tournament last week when it blew out Charlotte. Its reward: road games in Milwaukee and Boston against the top two teams in the Eastern Conference entering the season. Winding up with 40 home games, and playing about as difficult a pair of opponents as possible, is a tough break for the Knicks, who had a streak of seven wins in nine games snapped with Tuesday’s loss to the Bucks. — Bontemps


10. Indiana Pacers
2023-24 record: 11-8

Indiana continued its undefeated in-season tournament run with an upset victory over the Celtics on Monday to advance to the tournament semifinals in Las Vegas. Tyrese Haliburton led his team with his first career triple — 26 points, 10 rebounds and 13 assists with zero turnovers — and is off to one of the best starts in the league. He is averaging 26.9 points, 11.9 assists and shooting 52%; no player in NBA history has put up 25-10 and shot 50% for an entire season. –– Collier


11.Sacramento Kings
2023-24 record: 11-8

The Kings’ in-season tournament run ended Monday night when they blew an early lead to the Pelicans and could never recover, but overall they’re picking up nice wins — particularly against the Wolves and Nuggets — putting them at fifth in a competitive Western Conference. Their consistency on both ends of the floor is still an issue. When they win, they look like they could beat anyone. But when they lose, it’s a completely different team. — Kendra Andrews


12. Miami Heat
2023-24 record: 11-9

Jimmy Butler highlighted his return from a two-game absence with back-to-back 30-point games against the Pacers last week. Miami is at its best when Butler is getting to the free throw line; he was 18-of-20 on Saturday. The Heat are 3-0 this season when Butler attempts at least 10 free throws and were 16-8 when Butler attempted 10 shots from the stripe last season. — Lopez


13. Dallas Mavericks
2023-24 record: 11-8

  • Previous ranking: 9

  • Next games: vs. UTAH (Dec. 6), @ POR (Dec. 8), @ MEM (Dec. 11), vs. LAL (Dec. 12)

Forward Grant Williams, the Mavs’ most significant free agency addition, is mired in a slump after a sizzling shooting start to his Dallas tenure. After shooting 48% on 3s in the first 13 games, Williams is 7-of-31 (22.6%) from long range in the last six games, four of which were losses. The three days off before Wednesday’s home game against the Jazz might help. Williams is a full-time starter for the first time in his career, and his 28.8 minutes per game are a career high. –– MacMahon


14. New Orleans Pelicans
2023-24 record: 12-10

In the Pelicans’ in-season tournament quarterfinals victory over the Kings, Herbert Jones had his first career 20-point, five-assists, five-rebound game. When Jones contributes on offense, the Pelicans are at their best. New Orleans is 5-1 this year when Jones scores at least 15 points, and in an offense with Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram, CJ McCollum and the returning Trey Murphy III, any offense Jones brings is a huge bonus for New Orleans. — Lopez


15. Los Angeles Lakers
2023-24 record: 13-9

LeBron James led the Lakers past the Suns on Tuesday with 15 of his 31 points in the fourth quarter to punch his team’s ticket to Las Vegas for the in-season tournament semifinals against the Pelicans. “I want to continue to defy the odds, continue to have this battle with Father Time that for so long has, everybody said has, been undefeated,” James said of his production in his 21st season. “So, I’m trying to give him one loss.” — McMenamin


16. Brooklyn Nets
2023-24 record: 10-9

Brooklyn has managed to hang around in the Eastern Conference playoff picture thanks to one of the more bizarre stats in the NBA this season: leading the league in rebounds per game with 48.2 boards per contest. The Nets were 29th last season; Nic Claxton and Ben Simmons have both missed large chunks of the season; and Brooklyn is known for playing small, switchable lineups. But Nets coach Jacque Vaughn said improvement on the glass was a priority coming into the season, and so far it’s been one of the biggest turnarounds in any one single stat in the league. — Bontemps


17. Cleveland Cavaliers
2023-24 record: 11-9

  • Previous ranking: 17

  • Next games: vs. ORL (Dec. 6), @ MIA (Dec. 8), @ ORL (Dec. 11), @ BOS (Dec. 12)

It’s time to talk about the Cavs’ offense. Or lack thereof. While Cleveland has built a sturdy defense in the last few seasons under coach J.B. Bickerstaff — it’s currently 8th in defense — the scoring has sputtered. This season, the Cavaliers are 25th in points per game and 23rd in offensive efficiency. Donovan Mitchell is averaging 27.1 points, but he won’t be able to carry the Cavs alone. They’re set to play top-10 defenses in the Celtics and Magic, each twice in the next five games. — McMenamin


18. LA Clippers
2023-24 record: 9-10

  • Previous ranking: 21

  • Next games: vs. DEN (Dec. 6), @ UTAH (Dec. 8), vs. POR (Dec. 11), vs. SAC (Dec. 12)

The Clippers continue to ride the roller coaster they have been on since the James Harden trade. After suffering their worst loss of the season to a Nuggets team without Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray and Aaron Gordon last Monday, they rebounded with a win at Sacramento that provided Ty Lue with what he called “the blueprint” for how the Clippers need to play. It was during that 131-117 win against the Kings that Harden, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George all took turns attacking the defense with balanced shot distribution. The next night, they lost at Golden State but returned home and overcame a 22-point deficit last Saturday topped by George’s game-winning 3 with 9.2 seconds left to stun the Warriors. The Clippers had a much-needed three-day break before they take on the defending champs at home on Wednesday and start a tough 10-game stretch. — Youngmisuk


19. Golden State Warriors
2023-24 record: 9-11

It’s hard to get excited about the product the Warriors are putting on the court. After blowing a 24-point lead to the Kings last Tuesday, they bounced back with a close win against the Clippers, only to drop the next game against them, blowing a 22-point lead and giving up the 3-point game winner with 9.2 seconds left. With Chris Paul’s return up in the air, they need Stephen Curry to work miracles. As incredible as he is and as much magic as he can produce, he needs help — ASAP. — Andrews


20. Houston Rockets
2023-24 record: 8-9

The Rockets remain the league’s only team that is winless on the road. Houston is 0-8 in away games, matching the second-longest road losing streak to start a season in franchise history. Only the 2021-22 team started with a longer road losing streak (11 games), according to ESPN Stats & Information research. The primary road problem: The Rockets’ defense hasn’t traveled. Houston is allowing 118.8 points per 100 possessions on the road and only 102.1 at home, where Houston is 8-1. — MacMahon


21. Atlanta Hawks
2023-24 record: 9-10

There have been signs of growth in Trae Young’s game on both sides of the floor. He’s averaging a career-high 10.7 assists and his turnovers are down — a category he has led the NBA in the past two years. His turnover percentage (13.7%) is the lowest of his career, and Young is averaging a career-best 1.6 steals. Still, the Hawks remain firmly in the play-in race, with a difficult two-week stretch coming up. — Lopez


22. Toronto Raptors
2023-24 record: 9-11

Dennis Schroder summed up the state of the Raptors on Tuesday when he told reporters in Toronto, “The next 20 games are going to show who we really are. The next 20 games are going to be really important to the team.” For a group that needs to choose a direction, and is already sitting outside of the play-in mix in the East, this felt like an admission that the Raptors need to start improving or changes could be coming. — Bontemps


23. Utah Jazz
2023-24 record: 7-13

There is some optimism All-Star forward Lauri Markkanen could return from his hamstring injury this week, but the Jazz have managed to go 3-2 in the five games that Markkanen has missed. Simone Fontecchio averaged 11.8 points, 4.2 rebounds and 3.2 assists during that span and often defended the opponent’s best wing scorer. Fontecchio is a rare true wing on a Jazz roster that is heavy with combo guards and big men. Could Fontecchio stick in the starting lineup, allowing the 7-foot Markkanen to play his natural power forward position? That would mean moving John Collins, an established veteran who is playing well, to a sixth man role. — MacMahon


24. Chicago Bulls
2023-24 record: 7-14

The Bulls have won back-to-back games for the first time all season against the Bucks and Pelicans. Despite missing guard Zach LaVine, the Bulls put up two of their best performances of the year, recording a season-high 32 assists in each game, sparking an offensive flow that’s lacked. The Bulls will look to extend their win streak as they take on the lowly Hornets and Spurs next, and lean on DeMar DeRozan (21.5 PPG) and Nikola Vucevic (10 RPG) with LaVine expecting to miss the next two games with a foot injury. — Collier


25. Charlotte Hornets
2023-24 record: 6-12

The positive: Charlotte had an encouraging 129-128 win at Brooklyn without the injured LaMelo Ball last week, and were up four with under five minutes left against a surging Minnesota on Saturday. Terry Rozier is picking up the slack with Ball sidelined. He had 37 points and 13 assists in the win over the Nets and 23 points, 7 assists and 6 rebounds against the Wolves. Miles Bridges also has provided a boost, averaging 20.5 points and seven rebounds since his return from suspension. The not-so-positive? They sit 12th in the East and now rank dead last in defense. — Youngmisuk


26. Portland Trail Blazers
2023-24 record: 6-13

The good news for the Trail Blazers is that their young players remain intriguing. Shaedon Sharpe combined for 54 points over two games, and Scoot Henderson scored a career-high 17 in 21 minutes Sunday. Their defense has improved to 10th in the league, and while most of their wins have been against bottom-tier offensives, their win over Indiana should give them confidence that their defensive strategy is working. — Andrews


27. Memphis Grizzlies
2023-24 record: 5-14

Among a Grizzlies team riddled with injury, Desmond Bane is averaging career highs of 23.8 points and 5.2 assists per game. His efficiency has dipped — his true shooting percentage is a career-low 57.3% — as he’s dealt with being the focus of the defense during Ja Morant’s suspension, which will end in six games. Bane believes this experience has been beneficial for his development. “When he comes back, obviously he’s going to be the head of attention and that’ll take some stress off of me,” Bane told ESPN. “But if for some reason defenses do throw out different coverages, I’ll be prepared.” — MacMahon


28. San Antonio Spurs
2023-24 record: 3-16

For the second consecutive season, the Spurs are on the verge of setting a franchise record for most consecutive losses. During the 2022-23 season, the Spurs lost a record 16 straight games dating from Jan. 20 to Feb. 28. After a loss to New Orleans on Friday, this year’s version of the Spurs has lost 14 in a row. But it’ll be a tough mark to avoid as they’ll have to get by either the team with the best record in the Western Conference (Minnesota) or defeat former Spur DeMar DeRozan and the Chicago Bulls on Friday at home. — Lopez


29. Washington Wizards
2023-24 record: 3-16

It’s only December but Kyle Kuzma has already seen enough to know what will likely ail the Wizards all season. “We can’t guard a stop sign,” Kuzma told The Athletic. Washington has lost 11 of the last 12 games and has allowed 130 points in eight of those games. After ending a nine-game slide with a win over a struggling Detroit last Monday, the Wizards could be staring at another lengthy losing streak. Following consecutive losses at Orlando, Washington plays the Sixers at home before traveling to Brooklyn and Philadelphia. — Youngmisuk


30. Detroit Pistons
2023-24 record: 2-18

The Pistons’ losing streak has extended to 17 games. After a close loss to the Cavaliers on Saturday. Detroit left November winless, making it the first team since the 2015 Process-era Sixers to hit such a mark. The Pistons’ best chance at snapping this streak will be their next game, against Memphis (5-14), before a stretch that includes Orlando, Indiana, Philadelphia (twice) and Milwaukee. — Collier



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