This is the Thanksgiving edition of the weekly NBC Sports NBA Power Rankings, and in it we’re going to talk a little about what every fanbase should be thankful for this year. Spurs fans, you should be grateful to Gregg Popovich.
1. Celtics (13-4, #1 last week) Boston should be grateful to coach Joe Mazzulla, who set the right tone with this team after he was named head coach a few days before training camp. He didn’t try to reinvent the wheel, he trusted what was built and what these players were working on, and set the right tone. The Celtics are playing six consecutive games at home with interesting tests: Luka Doncic and the Mavericks (Wednesday) and a red-hot Kings on Friday.
2. Bucks (12-4, LV 2). Milwaukee should be grateful for the return of the peak Brooke Lopez, who leads the NBA in total blocks (44) and blocks per game (2.8) and plays at the level of the best defenseman of the year. Thanks to him, they have the second-best defense in the NBA. Giannis Antetokounmpo is averaging 30.1 points, 11.6 rebounds and 5.4 assists per game, but some people don’t see him as an MVP candidate just yet because his two-point scoring has dropped to 57% this season. Really?
3. Suns (11-6, LW 4). Phoenix fans should be grateful Devin Booker is their anchor. This team went 4-3 with no starts Chris Paul as well as Cameron Johnson because Booker has been phenomenal this season, averaging 27.6 points per game, shooting 38% of 3 and 5.8 assists per day. Cameron Payne also to be commended for activating with CP3 healing the sore spot. This week the Suns will play two upstart teams from the West, the Jazz and the Kings, in some interesting tests.
4. Cavaliers (11-6, LV 6). Be thankful for a front office with Kobe Altman (and owner) willing to go to any lengths. Donovan Mitchell because it worked (29.8 points and 6 assists per game). It was better than advertised and Darius Garland (23.9 points and 7.8 assists), the Cavs may have the best backcourt in the league. The only thing keeping them from that crown is Garland’s turnovers. A couple of good tests to see where this team really stands in the East, representing games in Milwaukee and Toronto.
5. Jazz (12-7, DW 10). A little wind came out of the sails as the Jazz lost 4 out of 6, but Jazz fans should be thankful for that. Lauri Markkanen found himself and became perhaps the biggest surprise in the NBA this season. He’s averaging 22.4 points and 8.5 rebounds per game, shooting 36.1% from threes, and looks like an All-Star from his hometown of Salt Lake City. The problem lately hasn’t been the offense, but the fact that the defense has been 28th in the last six games. Will Hardy has to figure out a way to stop this team.
6. Mavericks (9-7, LV 5). Dallas took off the gas pedal – and Luka Doncic looked a little out of sorts – he’s suffered nasty defeats lately (Pelicans without Zion WilliamsonMagic without Paolo Bankero, Wizards without Beal and Porzingis). Long term, this team needs Doncic’s MVP Night to stand a chance against the best teams. Mavericks fans should be grateful for that. Spencer Dinwiddie is doing everything in his power to be the second player on this team (17.1 points and 5.1 assists per game, shooting 40.7% of 3), as Jason Kidd is clearly not leaning towards Christian Wood for reasons of protection.
7. Clippers (11-7, LV 13). The Clippers are grateful Kawhi Leonard came back and they’re 3-0 since he’s back in the starting lineup. In those games, they are in the top 10 in the league on both offense and defense (Leonard was out on Wednesday night with an ankle problem). Tyrone Liu said he wanted to create an offensive “drive, paint-touch, hit, swing” identity, and we started to see that when they hit 21 3s against the Spurs. Their front office and coaches talked about Leonard’s return as it was time to go deeper and start building good habits, and even with Paul George as well as Luke Kennard there are some promising early returns.
8. Kings (10-6, DX 16). Kings fans should be grateful for The Ray – it’s a rallying point that the team believed in, and thanks to him they won six times in a row. Another reason for the winning streak (and another reason Kings fans should be thankful) is that the team went against the league’s easiest schedule this season. That will change, but right now the Kings are doing what playoff teams do and beating teams that should be winning. And they light the beam.
9. Pelicans (10-7, DX 12). The focus on this team is whether Zion Williamson is on the roster or not, but even with the changes, New Orleans is fourth in the NBA this season. It helps to get quality wins when the Warriors land everyone you can name in both games in the Big Easy, but it still counts as a win. New Orleans fans should be grateful for Brandon Ingram find his 3-point shot — 48.2% on 4.3 attempts per game this season, a big jump for him that helps open the floor.
10. Trail Blazers (10-7, LW 7). Losers four in a row and now they’ll be without Damian Lillard a little more (on the way to a difficult road: in Cleveland, then both New York teams, then the Clippers at home). Trail Blazers fans should be grateful for Straw Grant, who has fitted in nicely alongside Lillard and is averaging 19.6 points per game while shooting 47.1% of 3. Grant also remains a much-needed defensive player on this team. It was worth every penny like a pickup truck.
11. Nuggets (10-7, LV 3). Denver tripped with Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray in the health and safety protocols, but the more important questions are how long they can continue to win with a last 10 defense. Nuggets fans should be thankful for playing on the other end Centavius Caldwell-Pope, who remains a much-needed plus-back on the flank. A fun measuring stick game on Friday at home against the Clippers who have been on the rise lately.
12. Grizzlies (10-8, LV 9). Memphis fans should be thankful for health and comeback The Jackson Jr. — it was only three games, but their defense under the basket is much better, plus he showed some attacking versatility, scoring 18 on the night. I am Morant only missed one game with a 1st degree ankle sprain and apparently he was fine, dropping 34 points in the loss to the Kings. One of the biggest long-term questions the Grizzlies have to answer is how to find the balance that can keep Morant on the court – he’s an aggressive, offensive player with crazy jumping, and history shows some players struggle with injuries ( Remember Dwyane Wade Derrick Rose). Morant can handle it, but the Grizzlies must find a way to keep him healthy for years to come.
13. Pacers (10-6, LV 19). This may be too low a ranking for the Pacers, who are doing well (four consecutive winners move to Wednesday). They play at one of the fastest paces in the league (18% of their possessions start in transition), they have a potential Rookie of the Year in Benedict Maturinand Pacers fans should be grateful to the team for Miles Turner because he has one of the best rim defense seasons of any major league player. FROM Tyrese Halliburton Driving offense, there’s no reason this team can’t maintain playoff levels this season.
14. Hawks (10-7, DX 8). Atlanta fans should be grateful for this optimistic sign: The Hawks’ two victories came against the Bucks, who both had Antetokounmpo in their roster. The team’s amazing statistic is they don’t make 3-pointers per game, they make 9.2 per night, tied for last place in the league with the Lakers. The Hawks don’t take them (28.7 per game, second in the league) and don’t do what they take (32% on the team). Trae Young is part of the problem, as he has only hit 30.4% of his triples this season. Hawks 2-3 in their last five but that’s a bucket AJ Griffin brought them a dramatic victory.
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15. Wizards (10-7, LW 18). Washington fans should be grateful for Kristaps Porzingishealth, he has played in all but one game this season and gives them 20.4 points and 8.8 rebounds per game. They don’t win games like the one against the Heat without him. Bye Bradley Beal there has been seemingly constant trading rumors for years, there are rumors around the league that team names are now ringing Washington. Kyle Kuzma. He is averaging 19.1 points and 8.2 assists per game this season, and next season he has the option of a player he is not expected to pick, making him a free agent. If Wizards isn’t going to pay and re-sign him this summer, they might have to consider a trade.
16. Seventy 66ers (9-8, LV 11). Tuesday win over Ben Simmons and Brooklyn Nets – did without Joel Embiid, Tyrese Maxi or James Harden is something this team can build on, a victory that was based on culture and depth rather than top-notch talent. It’s just that the Sixers played harder than the Nets. With three games on the road this week, but against the Charlotte and then two against the Magic, the 76ers can continue to pick up wins and start a turnaround in a season that started off slow and warmed up Doc Rivers’ spot. Embiid should be the first of the Big Three back on the court, but the Sixers won’t rush him.
17. Raptors (9-8, LW 14). Toronto keeps its head above the water with Pascal sorry out by going 4-4 so far in his absence. Despite a string of injuries that has become an unfortunate Toronto tradition, this team has a net team rating of 10-7, which promises what they could be if they could just heal everyone at the same time. They’re home for three this week, but it’s not easy with the Nets…