NBA Power Rankings Week 11: Trouble Brewing For LeBron And The Cavs?

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The calendar turned over on Monday and 2018 is upon us. The arrival of January means that the Cleveland Cavaliers are doing what the Cleveland Cavaliers do. LeBron James and company famously went 7-8 during the month of January a season ago and, while the team’s struggles are actually beginning a little bit early this time around, they aren’t overly surprising in nature.

Cleveland has dropped four of five at the end of the calendar year and, of course, that isn’t ideal. It should be noted that all four defeats came on the road with the lone victory coming at home but the final two (against Sacramento and Utah) did not paint the prettiest picture. Of course, there is absolutely no need for panic given the team’s track record and the presence of the best player on the planet but, in the same breath, the encouraging signs (especially on defense) from its previous run of 18 wins in 19 games seem to have evaporated over the latest stretch.

The concept of “trouble” for the current iteration of the Cavs is perilous, simply because almost nothing in the regular season actually matters for this squad. Home-court advantage in the East? Optional. Regular season consistency? Eh, who needs it. With that said, the Cavs don’t quite have the some fear factor this season in the post-Kyrie Irving, pre-Isaiah Thomas era and, until they are at full strength and firing on all cylinders, some level of skepticism could actually be warranted in terms of pure upside.

Where will the Cavs be in the first 2018 edition of our Dime Power Rankings? Let’s find out.

1. Golden State Warriors (29-8, Last week — 1st)

The return of Stephen Curry went very well for the Warriors and, um, there isn’t much debate about the top spot right now. Let’s just move on.

2. Houston Rockets (26-9, Last week — 2nd)

The Rockets are 16-2 when Chris Paul plays and he is back. One of those losses did come this week but it was in Paul’s return (when he played 26 minutes) so we’ll leave Houston in this spot despite recent struggles. If the Rockets keep scuffling, though, change will arrive and the absence of James Harden for at least two weeks won’t help in that regard.

3. Boston Celtics (30-10, Last week — 8th)

Brad Stevens’ team is buoyed by three straight wins, including one over the Rockets. There are peripheral reasons to think that Boston isn’t quite as good as Toronto (or even San Antonio) right now but winning at a 75 percent clip always helps.

4. Toronto Raptors (25-10, Last week — 3rd)

DeMar DeRozan absolutely exploded on Monday evening and the Raptors were able to get another win over a playoff-bound team. It hasn’t always been pretty this season for Toronto but, in general, this is a team playing at a high level that is being underrated as a result of its recent playoff past. Don’t sleep on the Raps.

5. Minnesota Timberwolves (24-14, Last week — 7th)

Only a tight road loss to the Bucks keeps Minnesota from a nine-game winning streak and things are really clicking. Over that nine-game sample, the Wolves are in the middle of the pack defensively and, while that may not seem like much, competence on that end of the floor is all Tom Thibodeau needs with this roster.

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6. San Antonio Spurs (25-12, Last week — 4th)

The most recent performance from San Antonio was less than optimal, with a 79-point showing in a loss to Detroit. Before that, the Spurs were fine and, after that, the Spurs are… fine. Moving right along.

7. Cleveland Cavaliers (24-12, Last week — 5th)

Thomas will be back on Tuesday (but not on Wednesday) and that should be fun. Again, no one is actually worried about the Cavs but they also aren’t playing well right now and that gets reflected in this drop.

8. Washington Wizards (21-16, Last week — 9th)

After a gross loss in Atlanta, John Wall had some choice words to say about the Wizards. From there, Washington picked up two straight wins and, even through the prism of the defeat against the Hawks, the Wizards have won four of five. There isn’t too much to nitpick with that.

9. Detroit Pistons (20-15, Last week — 13th)

Best of luck trying to figure out this Pistons team. Detroit has won six of eight and that is, quite obviously, good. The two losses, though, came to the Magic and Mavericks. That is not so good.

10. Oklahoma City Thunder (20-17, Last week — 6th)

One week after fully buying in to Oklahoma City, we are forced to sink them again. The reason? Back-to-back home losses to the Bucks and Mavericks. That’ll do it.

11. Portland Trail Blazers (19-17, Last week — 15th)

With Damian Lillard set to return on Tuesday, the Blazers will be back at full strength. In his absence, Portland managed to post a 3-2 record and, while that may not seem like much, it was actually huge for Terry Stotts and company from a standpoint of playoff positioning.

12. Milwaukee Bucks (19-16, Last week — 12th)

The Bucks ran into the DeMar DeRozan buzzsaw on Monday night but, prior to that, Jason Kidd’s team posted impressive wins over the Wolves and Thunder. Defensively, this is still a maddening team on a near-nightly basis but, when it’s good, it’s really good.

13. Miami Heat (19-17, Last week — 17th)

Miami’s been lucky to achieve their current record, with a -2.0 net rating that places the Heat at No. 21 overall in the league. For whatever reason, though, they’ve remained afloat and, until their record regresses to the mean, here they will sit.

14. Los Angeles Clippers (16-19, Last week — 19th)

This may be the high-water mark for the Clippers and that’s okay. Los Angeles has won three straight (and five of six) and the 40-point explosion from Lou Williams (off the bench!) in the team’s last game was a great deal of fun.

15. Philadelphia 76ers (17-19, Last week — 16th)

After weirdly dropping nine of ten games, the Sixers appear to have regained their footing. Joel Embiid gave them a scare with a hard fall on Sunday but, provided he is good to go, Philly is still in strong shape moving forward to snag a playoff berth in the East.

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16. Denver Nuggets (19-17, Last week — 11th)

Until Denver regains its full-blown mojo offensively (No. 9 in the league right now), there is a ceiling on what the Nuggets can achieve. That was reinforced with a home loss to a Joel Embiid-less Sixers team over the weekend.

17. New York Knicks (18-18, Last week — 18th)

The Knicks stopped the bleeding in the form of a win over New Orleans on Saturday. That head-to-head result is the tiebreaker here and it doesn’t get any simpler than that.

18. New Orleans Pelicans (18-18, Last week — 14th)

While the loss to the Knicks determined positioning, it was the (home) loss to Dallas that was more troubling last week for the Pels. Still, this is a .500 team that feels a lot like a .500 team.

19. Utah Jazz (16-21, Last week — 20th)

This is truly a bizarre basketball team. Over the past 13 contests, Utah owns a 3-10 record that wouldn’t impress anyone. However, Quin Snyder and company have wins over the Celtics, Spurs and Cavs. What a world.

20. Indiana Pacers (19-18, Last week — 10th)

Indiana owns the biggest tumble this week and it isn’t difficult to discern the reasoning. The Pacers are riding a four-game losing streak and, even if none of the losses are embarrassing (thanks to Chicago’s surge), it hasn’t been great.

21. Dallas Mavericks (13-25, Last week — 29th)

Out of seemingly nowhere, the Mavs just rattled off a four-game winning streak against playoff-caliber opponents. Is that real? I have no idea, but the utterly dismal start (1-10) is the only thing keeping Dallas from (fringe) playoff contention.

22. Phoenix Suns (14-24, Last week — 26th)

Phoenix might be a good, bad team. The Suns have recent wins over the Mavs, Grizzlies (twice) and Kings. While that doesn’t tell you much, it does indicate they are better than the bottom tier.

23. Chicago Bulls (13-24, Last week — 25th)

The Bulls are finally cooling off but there is no way around the reality that Chicago is just playing better than anyone expected right now. Losses to playoff-bound teams like the Wizards and Blazers will happen but it’s just a different outlook.

24. Brooklyn Nets (14-23, Last week — 23rd)

It isn’t often that the Nets can simply show up and take care of business on the way to a win but that occurred on Monday against the hapless Magic. With that victory and a bludgeoning of the Heat earlier in the week, Brooklyn continues to be a cut above the dregs of the league.

25. Charlotte Hornets (13-23, Last week — 21st)

The Hornets won in Oakland this week. I have no idea how that happened, but it happened.

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26. Atlanta Hawks (10-26, Last week — 28th)

Somehow, the Hawks have won three of four games. That comes on the heels of Atlanta failing to win even back-to-back games all season long and there is no question that Mike Budenholzer’s squad is playing its best basketball of the season. Frankly, this is more like what many expected from this bunch but it remains to be seen if it can be sustained and the Hawks hit the road for a west coast trip beginning on Tuesday that could bring a cold dose of reality.

27. Memphis Grizzlies (12-25, Last week — 27th)

Memphis is also playing improved basketball and, if not for a scheduling quirk (i.e. playing the Warriors), the standings would reflect that a bit more. Mike Conley returning would certainly be helpful but, until he is able to, it would be nice if the Grizzlies were just competitive.

28. Sacramento Kings (12-24, Last week — 22nd)

One could certainly argue this is too low for the Kings but there are reasons for it. Sacramento owns the worst net rating (-10.3) by a wide margin and the team’s last two losses came at home against the Suns and Grizzlies. That isn’t the best combination of factors and it leads to a slide.

29. Los Angeles Lakers (11-25, Last week — 24th)

The Lakers have dropped seven straight and they are legitimately in the discussion for the No. 30 spot now. The team’s last win (on the road in Houston) was impressive but, offensively, Los Angeles just isn’t the team that some expected at the outset.

30. Orlando Magic (12-26, Last week — 30th)

This season once included so much promise. Now, with 11 losses in 12 games, that optimism is completely gone and Orlando’s bottom-five net rating for the entire campaign illustrates why the basement is a reality.