The Bucks and Cavaliers, the two hottest teams in the NBA, extended their winning streaks last week and continue to put distance between themselves and the rest of the league. Milwaukee is miraculously still undefeated, and Cleveland hasn’t lost since opening night.
Below the top two teams, there’s a crowded second tier which then gives way to a large and confusing middle. Teams like the 76ers, Nets and Warriors are still below .500, and injuries, suspensions and even firings are beginning to play a part in the early-season playoff picture.
Here’s how the league looks heading into the fourth week of the season.
1. Milwaukee Bucks
Previous ranking: 1
The Bucks extended their win streak to start the season to a franchise-record nine games with a victory against the Thunder, and they did so with Giannis Antetokounmpo (knee soreness) on the bench. Milwaukee’s schedule has been extremely friendly so far, with only two games away from FiServ Forum, one of which was a double-digit win last week in Minnesota. That will change in the days ahead, when the Bucks hit the road for a three-game trip that begins Monday in Atlanta.
2. Cleveland Cavaliers
Previous ranking: 3
Darius Garland (eye) returned to the lineup after five missed games, and the Cavs just kept on winning. He had 29 points and 12 assists in his first game back, and Cleveland beat the Celtics in overtime, again. Two more victories against the Pistons and Lakers followed to close out the week undefeated and stretch the winning streak to eight in a row. Between Donovan Mitchell’s elite offensive play and the front court’s defensive prowess, the Cavaliers have the league’s best net rating (yes, better than the Bucks). Their California road trip continues this week, and they return home Sunday.
3. Phoenix Suns
Previous ranking: 2
The Trail Blazers are the only team that’s beaten the Suns, and they’ve done so twice already. Phoenix avenged those losses Saturday when it beat Portland by 20 at home in its best defensive showing of the season. The Suns are the only team in the league that ranks inside the top five in offensive and defensive rating, though they lost Cam Johnson, one of their key contributors to their success on both sides of the ball, to a torn meniscus. Johnson, who had been elevated to a full-time starting role, is out indefinitely, and Torrey Craig figures to slot in at the four in his absence.
4. Boston Celtics
Previous ranking: 4
The Celtics fell in overtime to the Cavaliers once again and responded with two straight wins. Boston’s defense still ranks in the bottom third of the league, but its second-ranked offense propelled it to high-scoring victories against the Bulls and Knicks. Through three weeks, Jayson Tatum has maintained his 30 PPG average, and the Celtics’ 16 three-pointers per game pace the league by a healthy margin. Upcoming games against the Grizzlies and Nuggets will test Boston’s beleaguered defense.
5. Memphis Grizzlies
Previous ranking: 8
The Grizzlies held both the Hornets and Wizards below 100 points in home victories over the weekend. After a poor start on defense, Memphis seems to be slowly putting it together on that side of the ball. There are no concerns about its chops on offense. Desmond Bane or Dillon Brooks led the team in scoring across their past three victories. Ja Morant, the team’s top scorer, dropped 37 points in Utah days earlier, but the Grizzlies came up short. Memphis hosts a pair of big games against the Celtics and Timberwolves in the coming days; one against a Finals favorite and the other against the team it battled for six games last postseason.
6. Utah Jazz
Previous ranking: 7
Three weeks into the season, the Jazz are tied for the second-most wins in the league. They logged another one against the Grizzlies and swept the L.A. teams on the road last week. Utah’s only loss came on the road against the Mavericks in a rematch of the first round of the playoffs. The longer this run of undeniably good basketball goes on, the less fluky it becomes. The Jazz grade out as one of the best teams in basketball on offense and defense. They face the Lakers at home Monday before a three-game East coast road trip.
7. Dallas Mavericks
Previous ranking: 10
The Mavericks scored a pair of close wins over quality opponents to get above .500 for the first time. Luka Dončić, whose 36 PPG leads the league, continued his streak of 30-plus point games to start the season with 33 in a three-point win against the Jazz and 35 more in a one-point win against the Raptors. Dallas, which operates at the second-slowest pace, owns the No. 1 offensive rating and ranks in the top-five in most shooting efficiency metrics. That all boils down to Dončić, the one-man wonder with the near-40% usage rate.
8. Denver Nuggets
Previous ranking: 9
Denver played just two games over the last seven days—on the road in Oklahoma City and at home against the Spurs—and dominated both. The Nuggets got strong offensive outputs from players not named Nikola Jokic, though the back-to-back MVP played well, too. Against the Thunder, Aaron Gordon led the way with 27 points and Bones Hyland lit up the Spurs for 47 points (including six threes) off the bench. Denver’s defense still has plenty of room to improve but its offense is back among the league’s elite.
9. Portland Trail Blazers
Previous ranking: 5
Losses to the Grizzlies and Suns are certainly justifiable for the Trail Blazers, who are still playing without Damian Lillard (calf). The offense has expectedly struggled with Lillard out for the last four games and Anfernee Simons (foot) sidelined for the last two as well. Portland did get its second win against Phoenix last week thanks to Jerami Grant’s season-high 30 points, which he capped off with a game-winner (that should have been called a travel). This week’s four-game road trip will be a challenge for the Blazers without their starting backcourt.
10. New Orleans Pelicans
Previous ranking: 6
The Pelicans dropped two tight games in overtime on the road last week. New Orleans was without Brandon Ingram when it lost to the Lakers and then fell against Atlanta at full health. The one win for the Pels came at home against a shorthanded Warriors squad that sat its stars. Only two teams score more than New Orleans—which gets 20-plus PPG each from Ingram, Zion Williamson and C.J. McCollum—and neither defend nearly as well. Perhaps that’s a sign Willie Green’s squad is playing better than its record shows. Its four-game schedule this week presents an opportunity to prove it.
11. Toronto Raptors
Previous ranking: 17
Toronto’s point differential spiked after a pair of lopsided victories. The Raptors shut down Trae Young and the visiting Hawks in a 139–109 win on Halloween and then left San Antonio with the scoreboard reading 143–100 in their favor. Not only were the Spurs off to a 5–2 start when they ran into the Raptors, but that 43-point margin of victory was the largest in the league so far. The upset bid in Dallas came just short, but Toronto rebounded at home a few nights later behind Fred VanVleet’s season-high 30 points.
12. Atlanta Hawks
Previous ranking: 11
The Hawks began the week with a 30-point loss North of the border to the Raptors. It was a terrible game for Trae Young, who committed a season-worst 10 turnovers, and he played poorly again a few nights later at Madison Square Garden. Luckily for Atlanta, Dejounte Murray didn’t. The offseason addition had his best game as a Hawk: 36 points and nine assists in a win over the Knicks. He kept it going a few nights later with a triple-double in an overtime win over the Pelicans and Young returned to form with a 34-point, 10-assist outing.
13. Chicago Bulls
Previous ranking: 19
After defeating the Nets and Hornets handily, the Bulls simply ran into better teams. DeMar DeRozan scored a season-high 46 points at TD Garden and it wasn’t enough as the Celtics walked away with the win. Chicago lost again a few nights later in Toronto without Zach LaVine. Somewhat surprisingly, the Bulls defense has propped the team up through the early parts of the season while its offense has wavered. A three-game homestand for Chicago begins Monday night with a second consecutive game against the Raptors.
14. Minnesota Timberwolves
Previous ranking: 14
The T-Wolves don’t have a single win against a team that currently has a winning record. Minnesota lost to the Suns and Bucks last week, its two toughest opponents to date, and got back in the win column over the weekend against the Rockets. The defense is a top-10 unit but the offense—specifically the outside shooting—is lacking, especially compared to last season. Rudy Gobert, the team’s defensive anchor, missed the last game due to health and safety protocols and he’s already been ruled out for Monday’s game against the Knicks. The T-Wolves will hope to have him back in the lineup later in the week against the Suns and Grizzlies.
15. New York Knicks
Previous ranking: 16
The Knicks didn’t defend home court well last week and logged double-digit losses to the Hawks and Celtics. They did go on the road to Philadelphia and score a narrow win against the 76ers, who were without Joel Embiid and James Harden. This is a middle-of-the-road team that’s playing as such. Jalen Brunson has elevated the offense, but he can only do so much. The Knicks and Nets meet for the first time in a nationally televised game Wednesday, though the way both teams have played it’s not necessarily a marquee matchup.
16. Brooklyn Nets
Previous ranking: 25
The Nets parted ways with their coach and suspended Kyrie Irving and it was still their best seven-day stretch of basketball this season. They won three games last week after having won only one previously. And though the quality of their opponents (Indiana, Washington, Charlotte) wasn’t overly impressive, wins are wins for a team struggling like they were. Brooklyn was reportedly set to replace Steve Nash with suspended Celtics coach Ime Udoka, a move that drew ire from many within the league and is reportedly being reconsidered. Irving was also suspended for no less than five games by the team after he shared an antisemitic film on social media and did not initially apologize—the earliest he could return is Sunday against the Lakers.
17. Philadelphia 76ers
Previous ranking: 18
The Sixers had seemingly corrected course a week ago after a third consecutive road win brought their record back to .500. Then they lost two in a row at home (which dropped their record at Wells Fargo Center to 1–4) and, more importantly, lost James Harden for the next month to a strained foot tendon. Philadelphia dropped its first contest without Harden against the Knicks in a game that Joel Embiid also missed with an illness. Tyrese Maxey has been the most consistent and available 76er so far and Doc Rivers will continue to rely on him with a difficult schedule ahead.
18. San Antonio Spurs
Previous ranking: 13
It was a winless week for the Spurs and they were on the wrong side of a couple blowouts. A 43-point loss to the Raptors began the three-game losing streak, which was followed by a seven-point defeat against the struggling Clippers and then they fell by 25 in Denver. San Antonio’s offense faltered and its defense entirely collapsed after a surprising 5–2 start. Things won’t get any easier when the Nuggets, Grizzlies and Bucks come to town this week.
19. Los Angeles Clippers
Previous ranking: 24
The Clippers mercifully stopped their four-game skid last week, albeit with an ugly, two-point win over the Rockets. They beat Houston again a few nights later, this time on the road, and left Texas with another win against the Spurs. Utah put an end to their streak Sunday at home and L.A. will look to start a new one this week with home games against the Cavaliers, Lakers and Nets ahead. Kawhi Leonard (knee) remains out without a firm timetable for his return and the Clippers’ 29th-ranked offense remains at odds with its No. 4 defense.
20. Golden State Warriors
Previous ranking: 12
The Warriors dropped five in a row on what Klay Thompson called a “road trip from hell.” It wasn’t a gauntlet schedule that Golden State faced on the East coast, but it couldn’t get by any of its opponents. The losing streak began two weeks ago in Charlotte and continued last week in Florida against the Heat and Magic and then in New Orleans—though most of the starters rested against the Pelicans. Beyond Stephen Curry, the team hasn’t defended its title very well. It ranks in the bottom third of the league in offensive and defensive rating. The Dubs will look to put an end to their skid against the Kings at home Monday night.
21. Oklahoma City Thunder
Previous ranking: 21
The Bucks were the first team to slow Shai Gilgeous-Alexander down all year; he scored 18 and OKC fell by 14 on the road over the weekend. He finished with 37 just a few nights prior against the Nuggets for his fifth 30-plus-point game, albeit in a losing effort. SGA has been the lone bright spot on offense for the Thunder, but their defensive effort, which includes 9.1 steals per game, has been mighty impressive. They’ll look to get back in the win column Monday in Detroit and then they get the Bucks again Wednesday.
22. Indiana Pacers
Previous ranking: 22
The Pacers lost the second of their back-to-back games against the Nets to start the week despite a career-high 30 points from Chris Duarte. A few days later, during a two-point win against the Heat, the second-year guard went down with what was revealed to be a Grade 2 ankle sprain that will keep him out for 4-6 weeks. It’s a blow to a young, fun Indiana team though it could open the door for coach Rick Carlisle to start stud rookie Bennedict Mathurin.
23. Miami Heat
Previous ranking: 23
Miami won as many games last week as it did the first two. The Heat downed the Warriors at home and then bested the Kings on a Tyler Herro game-winner (that apparently was aided by a missed travel call). A two-point road loss to Indiana prevented a perfect week, but the last several days did plenty to turn things around. And it’s probably no coincidence that improved play followed Jimmy Butler’s championship guarantee.
24. Washington Wizards
Previous ranking: 20
The Wizards were embarrassed on their homecourt by Kevn Durant and the Nets, sans Irving. A 42-point defeat stings, no matter the venue, and it was only worsened by Durant’s viral highlight. Washington split a back-to-back with Philadelphia with the road team winning each meeting. Bradley Beal and Kristaps Porzingis combined for 59 points in the lone Wizards win last week, and they closed things out with a six-point loss to the Grizzlies on the road Sunday. Beal (health and safety protocols) missed that contest and Washington will hope to have its top scorer back for a tough three-game stretch at home against the Mavericks, Jazz and Grizzlies.
25. Sacramento Kings
Previous ranking: 26
Things are looking up for Sacramento after its 0–4 start. The Kings have now won three of their last four and two of three on the road last week. They downed the Hornets and Magic (in overtime) and were a Tyler Herro game winner away from beating the Heat, too. The offense is starting to pick up as Domantas Sabonis comes on and De’Aaron Fox builds on his hot scoring start. Sacramento gets two more shots at Golden State this week after the Warriors won the first meeting of the season a few weeks ago.
26. Charlotte Hornets
Previous ranking: 15
The wheels fell off for the Hornets last week. Just when Terry Rozier returned to the lineup, Gordon Hayward went out with a shoulder injury. Injuries have plagued Charlotte early on as LaMelo Ball has yet to make his season debut. His return, which is reportedly coming soon, would certainly help this offense, which finds itself in the bottom five in defensive rating after it was held under 100 points in three of its last four games. The Hornets will attempt to avoid dropping their fifth game in a row Monday night against the Wizards.
27. Orlando Magic
Previous ranking: 29
The Magic are playing much more competitive basketball of late. They have a one-point win against the Warriors to show for it as well as a couple of close losses to the Thunder and Kings. Paolo Banchero put together 33 points and 16 rebounds in the overtime loss to Sacramento, by far his finest game of what’s already been an awesome start to his career. Orlando has five more games to go on its current seven-game homestand and its only two victories so far have come at the Amway Center.
28. Los Angeles Lakers
Previous ranking: 27
November has been a much better month already for Russell Westbrook. He’s shooting the ball much better and even led the team in scoring against the Jazz. But even with Westbrook’s improved play, wins are still hard to come by for the Lakers. They beat a shorthanded Pelicans team at home and then lost by double-digits to Utah and Cleveland. Los Angeles still has the distinct dishonor of having the league’s worst three-point percentage, which is at the heart of its offensive issues.
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29. Detroit Pistons
Previous ranking: 28
After an upset win against the Warriors last Sunday, the Pistons came oh-so-close to handing the Bucks their first loss of the season the following night on the road. Milwaukee survived and stomped Detroit by 25 points two nights later. And then the Cavaliers came to Motor City and left with a 24-point win without either of their star guards in the lineup. The Pistons own the league’s worst offensive rating and net rating despite Cade Cunningham’s strong start to his sophomore season.
30. Houston Rockets
Previous ranking: 30
Houston’s problems continued with an 0–3 week that brought their losing streak to six games—that’s more losses than half the league has for the season. No matter the type of game, the Rockets can’t seem to come out on top. They dropped an extremely low-scoring game against the Clippers and a shootout a few days later to the Timberwolves. Houston is on the road this entire week as its four-game trip continues.