With Christmas just around the corner, it means we’re finally getting a bit of clarity in the NBA. More specifically, the teams who are legitimate contenders are making their presence felt while the pretenders are (somewhat) falling by the wayside. That hasn’t always proven to be the case, though, as the Western Conference has been a wild ride to this point.
Following the action on Sunday, December 16, the difference in the West from the top-ranked Denver Nuggets and No. 14 team, the Minnesota Timberwolves is just seven games. Even the current No. 8 seed in the Portland Trail Blazers are just four games back of first place.
With all that said, let’s take a look at the latest NBA power rankings. These rankings aren’t purely based on the record of teams, as they factor in multiple things including recent play and quality of both wins and losses, among other things.
1. Toronto Raptors
There are destined to be plenty of hot takes about how the Raptors, who boast the NBA’s best record at 23-9, are falling off after two-straight road losses. Those two losses came to the Portland Trail Blazers and Denver Nuggets, both of which are on this list, not surprisingly.
But when you dive deeper, the Raptors are dealing with a few injuries which have left Kawhi Leonard and Kyle Lowry, among others, on-and-off the court. Even with that said, prior to the two losses to end the week, Toronto knocked off both the Los Angeles Clippers and Golden State Warriors on the road.
And for good measure, each win came with Leonard sidelined, which is pretty terrifying for the rest of the league.
Upcoming week’s schedule: vs. Pacers, vs. Cavaliers, at 76ers
2. Golden State Warriors
A healthy Warriors team is a very, very good Warriors team. Although Golden State has spent the better part of this season with either Stephen Curry or Draymond Green (both together for a bit) sidelined, they still won games. Obviously, that’s one of the perks of having two additional playmakers in Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson.
Regardless, the Warriors are 5-1 in their last six, and their only losses in the last 11 games came against the Raptors (twice) and Detroit Pistons. Golden State is locked in and ready for their post-Christmas run.
Upcoming week’s schedule: vs. Grizzlies, at Jazz, vs. Mavericks, vs. Clippers
3. Indiana Pacers
The Pacers are on absolute fire right now, winning seven-straight games through Sunday. Although some of the wins came over bottom-tier teams, Indiana also won some tough games during that stretch as well, and also did so without Victor Oladipo for the bulk of it.
During the most recent run, the Pacers have wins over the Sacramento Kings, Milwaukee Bucks, and Philadelphia 76ers, with the latter two coming in the past week. With Oladipo now healthy as well, it only makes Indiana more dangerous.
Upcoming week’s schedule: vs. Cavaliers, at Raptors, at Nets, vs. Wizards
4. Denver Nuggets
Speaking of a red-hot team, the Nuggets have proven themselves to be legit as of late. With an 8-2 record over the last 10 games and a three-game winning streak to finish of the week, Denver is on the rise. Behind the exceptional play of Nikola Jokic, who led the team in points, rebounds and assists in each of the past four games, the Nuggets had an impressive week.
Their wins didn’t come against mid-level competition either, as they defeated the Raptors, Oklahoma City Thunder and Memphis Grizzlies.
Upcoming week’s schedule: vs. Mavericks, at Clippers
5. Milwaukee Bucks
I’m not going to knock the Bucks for losing the Pacers this week, as they found themselves on the road in the middle of that impressive run. But Milwaukee has gone about business, winning the other two games against a poor Cleveland Cavaliers team.
Going back one step further than that, the win over the Toronto Raptors last Sunday was an eye-opening one and helped them to jump in these rankings. Milwaukee is 19-9 but for some reason still seems to fly under the radar.
Upcoming week’s schedule: at Pistons, vs. Pelicans, at Celtics, at Heat
6. Oklahoma City Thunder
If the Thunder had pulled off a win in one of their two losses this week, they may have jumped the Bucks. Neither loss was bad, as road games against Anthony Davis and the New Orleans Pelicans and the aforementioned Nuggets are tough. That’s why Russell Westbrook and company are still No. 6 on this list.
Oklahoma City sits at 18-10 currently and have lost just six of their last 24 games. That’s not a “what have you done for me lately” outlook, but just a general insight into how good this team can be.
Upcoming week’s schedule: vs. Bulls, at Kings, at Jazz, vs. Timberwolves
7. Philadelphia 76ers
It’s time to evaluate everyone’s favorite stat – the record of the Sixers both with and without Jimmy Butler. The newest member of Philly’s three-headed monster missed two games this week due to a groin injury and the Sixers went 0-2 in that span. Since he was acquired, the team is 11-3 in games he plays.
For at least the time being, we can safely say that new general manager Elton Brand made a wise move acquiring Butler, as this is a different team than the one from earlier in the year.
Upcoming week’s schedule: at Spurs, vs. Knicks, vs. Raptors
8. Boston Celtics
The Celtics have quietly put their heads down and gone to work. It’s finally getting noticed as well, and sooner than later this group is going to jump very high in the power rankings. They’ve won eight of their last nine games, with the only loss coming to end the week in a road game against the Detroit Pistons.
One big key to the Celtics’ hot run has been the play of Kyrie Irving, who’s led the team in scoring in six of the last 10 games and has even stepped up his defense.
Upcoming week’s schedule: vs. Suns, vs. Bucks, vs. Hornets
9. Los Angeles Lakers
I probably flipped the Celtics and Lakers back-and-forth roughly 10 times before deciding on this. While the Lakers have looked good as of late and posted a 7-3 record in their last 10 games, I just can’t see to figure this team out. It’s a mixed bag of both good and bad, and while there’s no question they’re a better group than early in the season, LeBron James and company aren’t there just yet.
The Lakers went 2-2 last week, with respectable, but not eye-opening wins over the Miami Heat and Charlotte Hornets. But they also lost by double-digits to the Houston Rockets and then a shorthanded Washington Wizards team.
Upcoming week’s schedule: at Nets, vs. Pelicans, vs. Grizzlies
10. Sacramento Kings
There’s a rumor going around that the Kings (16-13) might be for real. This would mean the whole long and brutal rebuild could slowly be winding down, and I’m buying into it a bit. They’ve won six of the last eight games and that stretch included victories over the Pacers and Dallas Mavericks (more on them later).
The Kings also narrowly fell to the Warriors 130-125 in a great game this past week. Sacramento is getting production from all over, but De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, Bogdan Bogdanovic, and Willie Cauley-Stein all deserve a tip of the cap.
Upcoming week’s schedule: at Timberwolves, vs. Thunder, vs. Grizzlies, vs. Pelicans
11. Houston Rockets
The Rockets began this week with fans ready to throw in the towel on their season. They had lost three straight and seven of 10 with a tough stretch ahead. But games against the Blazers, Lakers and Grizzlies were apparently just what the doctor ordered to flip a switch for James Harden and company.
Houston reeled off wins in each of those games with Harden scoring a combined 121 points and some well-rounded play. The Rockets are still just 14-14, but with how close the West is, they’re very much within striking distance.
Upcoming week’s schedule: vs. Jazz, vs. Wizards, at Heat, vs. Spurs
12. Dallas Mavericks
Oh, Luka Doncic. The Mavericks are dealing with injuries at various spots, but have specifically seen very little of second-year point guard Dennis Smith Jr. due to a risk injury. Yes, a loss to the lowly Phoenix Suns this week was ugly, but Doncic and company have picked up some quality wins over the recent weeks.
The Mavericks don’t have the same impressive recent stretch as some other teams, but they’ve won 13 of the last 19 games. That run includes victories over the Thunder, Warriors, Celtics, Rockets (twice), Clippers, and Blazers.
Upcoming week’s schedule: at Nuggets, at Clippers, at Warriors, at Trail Blazers
13. Portland Trail Blazers
The recent 4-6 stretch over the last 10 games has me a bit concerned about the Trail Blazers. More specifically, it adds to my belief that they need to get another piece to pair with Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic.
Fortunately, right when I began getting a bit concerned over the Blazers, they go and knock off the Raptors to wrap up the week. For what it’s worth, the losses aren’t that concerning for Portland, as each loss they’ve had over the last 12 games came against teams in these power rankings.
Upcoming week’s schedule: at Clippers, vs. Grizzlies, vs. Jazz, vs. Mavericks
14. Los Angeles Clippers
There’s not a huge reason to be down on the Clippers after their three consecutive losses. Sure, it dropped them in both the standings and the power rankings, but these were quality losses for the most part. Specifically speaking on that three-game stretch, Doc Rivers’ squad fell to the Raptors, Spurs and Thunder, with the last two coming on the road.
The Clippers still sit at 17-12 on the year and while I’m not buying them as a legitimate contender, they’re far better than anyone thought they’d be.
Upcoming week’s schedule: vs. Trail Blazers, vs. Mavericks, vs. Nuggets, at Warriors
15. Memphis Grizzlies
I’ve mentioned the Grizzlies as a quality loss to teams in these rankings multiple times, so obviously, they weren’t getting left off. Mike Conley and company may have hit a rough patch with losses against good teams, but it’s not enough to push them out of the rankings.
Memphis has lost four of five, falling to the Lakers, Nuggets, Heat, and Rockets. I’d only consider one of those a “questionable” loss, but the Heat aren’t a bad team by any means. The Grizzlies, who sit at 16-13, will be just fine.
Upcoming week’s schedule: at Warriors, at Trail Blazers, at Kings, at Lakers
16. San Antonio Spurs
Look at Gregg Popovich and company battling through a plethora of preseason injuries to hang out at 15-15 through the start to the season. Their loss to the Chicago Bulls on Saturday hurt a bit, but they won four straight prior to that, knocking off the Lakers and Clippers in the process.
I have quite a few questions about the Spurs still and I’m not sold on them just yet. Their road woes (4-10 record) are concerning, but the home record (11-5) looks good. San Antonio has a few interesting tests on the horizon, facing the Philadelphia 76ers on Monday and a brutally tough run just after Christmas.
Upcoming week’s schedule: vs. 76ers, at Magic, vs. Timberwolves, at Rockets