NBA Power Rankings: Sixers streaking, Knicks falling back to earth

Who are the best teams in the NBA right now?

The Milwaukee Bucks certainly don’t look like a team that belongs in the upper tier of the league. The defending champs, who continue to be without Khris Middleton after the All-Star tested positive for COVID-19 last week, have lost five of their past six games to drop into a tie for 10th in the Eastern Conference.

The Philadelphia 76ers, who are dealing with a star sidelined for a different reason, have risen to the top of the East as Ben Simmons continues to be away from the team. The Miami Heat are on their heels after knocking off the Utah Jazz on Saturday night.

And don’t forget about the Brooklyn Nets, who have won five straight games and have the look of the team many projected to win the title.

In the Western Conference, the Golden State Warriors have continued their hot start to the season, while some weekend magic from Luka Doncic helped the Dallas Mavericks stay in the conference’s top three.

The Los Angeles Lakers, meanwhile, are fighting to stay in the conference’s top eight spots after back-to-back defeats.

Where does your team stand? Our NBA experts are breaking down all 30.

Note: Throughout the regular season, our panel (Tim Bontemps, Jamal Collier, Nick Friedell, 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 now and which teams are looking most like title contenders.

1. Philadelphia 76ers
2021-22 record: 8-2
Previous ranking: 8

When Tobias Harris got yanked off the court minutes before tipoff Monday night due to the league’s health and safety protocols, an ugly week appeared to be in store for Philly. Instead, the 76ers ripped off four straight wins and have the East’s best record. It’s been an impressive stretch to begin the season for a team with plenty of chaos surrounding it. — Bontemps

This week: NYK, MIL, TOR, @IND


2. Golden State Warriors
2021-22 record: 8-1
Previous ranking: 4

Golden State just keeps on rolling, having won four in a row in advance of Monday’s game against the Hawks. Aside from the strong play of Stephen Curry and Draymond Green to start the season, Steve Kerr has gotten an unexpected lift from Gary Payton II. The younger Payton, who was waived right after the preseason only to be signed just before the regular season as the team’s 15th man, has given the group a strong defensive jolt off the bench while providing the kind of highlight-reel dunks that leave his teammates jumping for joy. — Friedell

This week: ATL, MIN, CHI, @CHA


3. Miami Heat
2021-22 record: 7-2
Previous ranking: 2

Miami pulled off a nice win over the Jazz on Saturday night as Tyler Herro and Jimmy Butler combined for 56 points. Herro’s hot start to the season continues — he’s averaging 21.3 points a game so far this season. The Heat have an interesting week coming up as they begin a five-game West Coast swing, including a rematch with Donovan Mitchell & Co. in Utah this Saturday. — Friedell

This week: @DEN, @LAL, @LAC, @UTAH


4. Brooklyn Nets
2021-22 record: 7-3
Previous ranking: 3

While the Bucks have both injuries and losses piling up, the Nets have quietly reeled off five in a row to sit one win behind the 76ers for the top spot in the East. Given Brooklyn has clearly been taking its time rounding into form, that’s a scary sight for the rest of the conference. — Bontemps

This week: @CHI, @ORL, @NOP, @OKC


5. Utah Jazz
2021-22 record: 7-3
Previous ranking: 1

Two of the Jazz’s three losses have occurred when Mike Conley rested, as Utah is sitting the veteran point guard in one game of back-to-backs as part of his maintenance plan. Donovan Mitchell has averaged 25.5 points, 7.0 rebounds and 6.5 assists in the pair of losses without Conley, but he hasn’t been efficient without his backcourt partner (17-of-51 from the floor, nine turnovers in the two games). — MacMahon

This week: ATL, IND, MIA


6. Dallas Mavericks
2021-22 record: 6-3
Previous ranking: 11

It’s becoming a tradition for Luka Doncic to make a miraculous buzzer-beater to beat the Celtics when they visit Dallas. He has ended each of Boston’s past two visits in such fashion, including Saturday’s fadeaway 3 from the left wing to put the exclamation point on a 33-point, 9-rebound, 5-assist performance. It was the third game-winning buzzer-beater of Doncic’s career, including the playoffs. According to Basketball-Reference.com, that matches Dirk Nowitzki for the most in Mavericks history. — MacMahon

This week: NOP, @CHI, @SAS


7. Phoenix Suns
2021-22 record: 5-3
Previous ranking: 15

Another week, another step into history for Suns guard Chris Paul, who jumped up to No. 3 on the all-time assists list. He passed Mark Jackson and Steve Nash on Tuesday night against the Pelicans as he finished with 18 assists. It was the second most he has had in a game as a Sun. The most was 19 assists last season against the Pelicans, one shy of the 20 he had in 2016 when he was playing for the Clippers against — you guessed it — the Pelicans. — Lopez

This week: @SAC, POR, @MEM, @HOU


8. Milwaukee Bucks
2021-22 record: 4-6
Previous ranking: 5

Milwaukee has dropped five of its past six games — the lone victory coming against the Pistons — and its offense is struggling while missing so much of its starting lineup. Jrue Holiday is back from an ankle injury, but Khris Middleton entered the NBA’s health and safety protocols and Brook Lopez is dealing with a back issue that has kept him off the court. The Bucks have failed to score 100 points in their past four losses. — Collier

This week: @PHI, @NYK, @BOS, @ATL


9. Chicago Bulls
2021-22 record: 6-3
Previous ranking: 9

Back-to-back losses against the Sixers slowed the Bulls’ early-season momentum, and more tough games are on the way this week — a meeting with the Nets before a West Coast swing begins. But DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine have meshed together nicely so far. Only three players in the NBA are averaging more points per game than DeRozan (26.8) and LaVine (26.4). — Collier

This week: BKN, DAL, @GSW, @LAC


10. Denver Nuggets
2021-22 record: 5-4
Previous ranking: 6

Nikola Jokic continues to try to do it all for Denver. The Nuggets needed Jokic to provide a game-clinching block to survive the Rockets 95-94 on Saturday. And now they might need Jokic to do even more with Michael Porter Jr. nursing lower back pain. It was already a rough start to the season for Porter Jr., who had struggled with his shot. Without Jamal Murray, Nuggets coach Michael Malone was already concerned that Jokic was having to shoulder too much for Denver. If Porter Jr. misses more time, Jokic will really have to do serious heavy lifting. — Youngmisuk

This week: MIA, IND, ATL, POR


11. Washington Wizards
2021-22 record: 7-3
Previous ranking: 12

Washington is off to a 7-3 start, its best since the 2014-15 season. And the Wizards got their seventh win, over the defending champion Bucks, with something they didn’t do much of last season: playing defense. In Washington’s past two wins, it held Memphis and Milwaukee to 87 and 94 points, respectively. Montrezl Harrell continues to give the Wizards’ bench a lift and Kyle Kuzma has four double-doubles so far on the season to provide Bradley Beal with help. — Youngmisuk

This week: @CLE, @ORL


12. New York Knicks
2021-22 record: 6-4
Previous ranking: 7

Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau was predictably sour after Sunday’s loss to Cleveland, New York’s third in four games. “If we’re gonna rely just strictly on offense, we’re gonna pay a price for it,” Thibodeau said. Anyone who knows his coaching style knows that isn’t how he expects his teams to be wired. — Bontemps

This week: @PHI, MIL, @CHA


13. Memphis Grizzlies
2021-22 record: 5-4
Previous ranking: 16

Dillon Brooks is nearing his season debut after being sidelined by a broken left hand. He was assigned to the G League’s Memphis Hustle for a day last week to participate in a simulated game. Brooks is Memphis’ best defender and ranked second on the team in scoring last season, when he averaged 17.2 points per game. — MacMahon

This week: MIN, CHA, PHX, @NO


14. Toronto Raptors
2021-22 record: 6-5
Previous ranking: 18

Losses to the Cavaliers and Nets over the weekend won’t change the mood in Toronto, thanks to the combination of the five-game winning streak that preceded them, the emergence of rookie Scottie Barnes and the return of Pascal Siakam. What’s clear already is that Toronto is going to be a very uncomfortable opponent on a nightly basis with its size and length across the board. — Bontemps

This week: @BOS, @PHI, DET


15. Los Angeles Lakers
2021-22 record: 5-5
Previous ranking: 10

After going 1-for-13 in a loss to the Trail Blazers in a game where the Lakers trailed by as many as 34 points, Russell Westbrook sounded undeterred. “I’m very elite at what I do, and I believe that every single night, and that’s how I need to play,” he said Saturday. L.A. could use some big nights out of Westbrook with games against Charlotte and Miami to start the week with LeBron James still out with an abdomen strain. — McMenamin

This week: CHA, MIA, MIN, SAS


16. Cleveland Cavaliers
2021-22 record: 7-4
Previous ranking: 22

Eleven games into his 11th season — Game No. 642 of his career — Ricky Rubio might have had his finest performance as a pro. The point guard pumped in a career-high 37 points, going 13-of-19 from the floor (8-of-9 from 3) with 10 assists in a win over the Knicks at the Garden. Most impressive? Stealing the spotlight from Cavs phenom Evan Mobley, who balled out with 26 points, 9 rebounds and 5 assists for a special night of his own to help Cleveland to a 7-4 record out of the gates. — McMenamin

This week: WAS, DET, BOS


17. Charlotte Hornets
2021-22 record: 5-6
Previous ranking: 13

Charlotte has dropped four in a row after letting a possible win over the Clippers slip away in the fourth quarter Sunday night. The good news for the Hornets is that Miles Bridges continues to put up big numbers — as evidenced by a 32 point, 9-rebound performance in a loss to the Warriors on Friday night. The Hornets still have two more games on this West Coast swing before returning home Friday to face the Knicks. — Friedell

This week: @LAL, @MEM, NYK, GSW


18. Portland Trail Blazers
2021-22 record: 5-5
Previous ranking: 17

The Blazers capped off a tumultuous week by winning their second straight game and blowing out the short-handed Lakers 105-90. But it was a tough week in Portland, not only because they were on a three-game slide earlier in the week. The franchise announced last week that it had hired an independent firm to investigate and review concerns about the workplace environment under general manager Neil Olshey. It’s just another storyline to add to the drama that has surrounded the Blazers since the offseason, with speculation surrounding Damian Lillard‘s future and some pushback over the hiring of Chauncey Billups as head coach. — Youngmisuk

This week: @LAC, @PHX, @HOU, @DEN


19. Atlanta Hawks
2021-22 record: 4-6
Previous ranking: 14

John Collins‘ efficiency has been on full display in the first 10 games. In the previous three seasons, Collins’ usage rate hovered between 22.2% and 23.7%. This season, it has dropped to 18.4%, but he’s making the most of his time with the ball. He has started off shooting 59.6% from the field and 42.9% from 3-point range — both would be career highs if he sustains those numbers. — Lopez

This week: @GSW, @UTAH, @DEN, MIL


20. LA Clippers
2021-22 record: 5-4
Previous ranking: 23

After a slow start, the Clippers have that fight back in them that helped them reach the conference finals last season. They’ve won four straight and rallied from deficits in three of the victories. They came back from 20 down to beat Minnesota in one of their two wins over the Wolves last week. And they put the clamps on the Hornets’ offense in the fourth on Sunday. And the Clippers got Serge Ibaka back from the back surgery he underwent last postseason. Ty Lue’s team is beginning to look more like itself. — Youngmisuk

This week: POR, MIA, MIN, CHI


21. Sacramento Kings
2021-22 record: 5-5
Previous ranking: 20

Two nights after dropping 140 points on the Hornets, one of the surprise success stories in the early going thus far, Sacramento mustered just 91 in a home loss to a Pacers team that came into the game with a 3-7 record. — McMenamin

This week: PHX, @SA, @OKC


22. Boston Celtics
2021-22 record: 4-6
Previous ranking: 19

What a wild week in Boston. The Celtics had a fourth-quarter collapse Monday at home against the Bulls, and an inexplicable foul by Marcus Smart that helped lead to Luka Doncic’s heroics against Dallas on Saturday. But those two losses were on both sides of an impressive sweep of Orlando and Miami in a road back-to-back. Boston’s roller-coaster season continues. — Bontemps

This week: TOR, MIL, @CLE


23. Indiana Pacers
2021-22 record: 4-7
Previous ranking: 25

The Pacers have won three out of their past four games, notching a win on the road for the first time this season on Sunday against the Kings, even without their leading scorer Malcolm Brogdon, who missed the past two games with a non-COVID-related illness. — Collier

This week: @DEN, @UTAH, PHI


24. Minnesota Timberwolves
2021-22 record: 3-5
Previous ranking: 21

A winless homestand put the Wolves on a four-game losing streak and has sapped the swagger out of the team after a 3-1 start. And Minnesota is about to hit the road for a difficult stretch, facing the Grizzlies, Warriors, Lakers and Clippers this week. — Collier

This week: @MEM, @GS, @LAL, @LAC


25. San Antonio Spurs
2021-22 record: 3-7
Previous ranking: 24

Dejounte Murray has continued his strong start to the season with averages of 18.4 points, 8.2 assists, 8.1 assists and 2.1 steals per game. Those statistics would put him in rarefied air if he were able to maintain them throughout the season; only two other players have hit that mark since steals became an official NBA stat in 1973-74: Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson. — Lopez

This week: SAC, DAL, @LAL


26. Oklahoma City Thunder
2021-22 record: 3-6
Previous ranking: 30

Oklahoma City is riding a two-game winning streak for the first time since early March, which not coincidentally was when Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was shut down for the season. Gilgeous-Alexander’s brilliant performance in the Thunder’s comeback win over the Lakers on Thursday — a clutch 3 from the logo highlighted his 28-point, six-assist outing — reminded NBA fans that he ranks among the league’s rising stars. Since the start of last season, the Thunder are 19-25 when he plays and 6-31 when he doesn’t. — MacMahon

This week: @NO, SAC, BKN


27. Orlando Magic
2021-22 record: 3-8
Previous ranking: 28

Second-year guard Cole Anthony had another big night in Sunday’s surprising win over the Jazz — scoring a career-high 33 points, while young forward Wendell Carter Jr. poured in 22 points and 15 rebounds. The Magic get a full week at home to take advantage of plenty of rest and practice time with only Wednesday’s game against the Nets and Saturday’s game against the Wizards on the schedule. — Friedell

This week: BKN, WAS


28. Houston Rockets
2021-22 record: 1-9
Previous ranking: 26

Big man Christian Wood, the Rockets’ leading scorer, indicated after Saturday’s loss to the Nuggets that he’d like to be featured more prominently in the offense. “I think it could have been better if I was more involved in the offense,” Wood said after scoring 12 points on 4-of-11 shooting. He didn’t get his wish in a loss to the Warriors on Sunday, when Wood had four points on 2-of-5 shooting, the fewest points and field goal attempts he has had in any game with the Rockets. — MacMahon

This week: DET, POR, PHX


29. Detroit Pistons
2021-22 record: 1-8
Previous ranking: 29

A 17-point, four-rebound performance from Cade Cunningham in his fourth game earned the Pistons rookie some high praise from Nets star Kevin Durant, who said Cunningham is “going to be a tough, tough player for a long, long time.” Detroit has won only one game since Cunningham’s debut, but there have been flashes of the skills that made him the top prospect in this year’s draft class. — Collier

This week: @HOU, @CLE, @TOR


30. New Orleans Pelicans
2021-22 record: 1-9
Previous ranking: 27

It was Willie Green’s reunion tour last week for New Orleans as the first-year head coach traveled back to Phoenix (where he was an assistant the past two seasons) and Golden State (where he worked prior to that). Unfortunately, the Pelicans couldn’t gift him a win as the team continues to struggle without Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram, who has missed the past four games with a right hip contusion. — Lopez

This week: @DAL, OKC, BKN, MEM

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