The Milwaukee Bucks are the best team in the NBA.
Sometimes, plain statements are required to bring full gravity to a situation but, in case there was any doubt, I’ll say it again.
The Milwaukee Bucks are the best team in the NBA.
After a lopsided loss on the league’s biggest regular season stage on Christmas, the whispers began in earnest about the Bucks and, honestly, it is easy to see why. After all, Milwaukee won 60 games a season ago but fell at the hands of Kawhi Leonard and the Toronto Raptors in the Eastern Conference Finals. However, the Bucks have answered every question since the Christmas Day flop, and there just isn’t much else that Milwaukee can do.
The Bucks are in the midst of a seven-game winning streak and, at 39-6 for the season, Mike Budenholzer’s team is on pace to win 71 games. It should be noted that Milwaukee did pedal off in 2018-19 after starting 48-14, but at any rate the Bucks are sitting four games ahead of the Lakers and a whopping eight games ahead of the rest of the NBA before the end of January. Milwaukee’s net rating (+12.0) is also more than three full points better than any other team, as they are simply bludgeoning opponents nearly every game. On the defensive end, the Bucks are utterly dominant, posting a 101.2 defensive rating that leads the league by a substantial margin.
Since Christmas, the numbers have been even better for the Bucks, with a 12-1 record that goes along with a blistering 99.0 defensive rating. In fact, Milwaukee is now 37-4 in their last 41 games (after a 2-2 start) and the team has the ability to rack up more wins with four consecutive home games on the horizon. The Bucks are clearly led by Giannis Antetokounmpo, who has to be considered a leading MVP contender, and the 25-year-old superstar is averaging 30.0 points, 12.9 rebounds and 5.6 assists in only 30.6 minutes per game. Milwaukee isn’t a one-man show, however, with Khris Middleton, Brook Lopez, Eric Bledsoe and others leaving their mark on the proceedings.
In some respects, everyone knows the deal with the Bucks, ranging from the impossibility of “proving” anything before the playoffs to the inevitable, even if silly, talking point of Antetokounmpo’s looming free agency in 2021. Still, Milwaukee should be drawing more praise for what has been a completely ridiculous regular season performance to this point in time. For now, it’s the Bucks in their own tier and everyone else falling in line behind them.
While there is no mystery in the top spot this week, let’s get to the full DIME power rankings.
1. Milwaukee Bucks (39-6, Last week — 1st)
For the full explanation… see above. The Bucks are the only choice for this slot.
2. Los Angeles Lakers (34-9, Last week — 2nd)
It’s going to feel weird to have the Lakers in this spot after a 32-point drubbing in Boston on Monday. That was a horrendous performance, but if we’re being honest Los Angeles has (easily) the best resume of any non-Bucks team this season and they’ll hang around No. 2 as a result.
3. Utah Jazz (30-13, Last week — 3rd)
The Jazz did lose a basketball game this week, but the defeat came on the road, in overtime, against a scorching hot Pelicans team. Utah is 17-2 in the last 19 games and that speaks for itself in terms of quality.
4. L.A. Clippers (30-13, Last week — 7th)
There is a giant tier of teams with (very) similar profiles right now. In the end, I’m leaning on the fact that I simply trust the Clippers. L.A. has navigated a stretch without Paul George in strong fashion, and the entire league will be interested in the Clippers-Mavs game in a standalone spot on Tuesday night.
5. Toronto Raptors (29-14, Last week — 13th)
Toronto basically forgot how to dribble in the fourth quarter against Atlanta on Monday afternoon and it almost cost them a game. The Raptors pulled out the victory, though, and Nick Nurse’s team has won four straight, including three on the road.
6. Denver Nuggets (30-13, Last week — 6th)
The Nuggets are a bit puzzling. They’ve won six of eight, but the two losses came at home in maddening fashion. Maintaining the status quo from last week seems appropriate.
7. Dallas Mavericks (27-15, Last week — 11th)
As noted above, the Mavs will have the chance to send a message against the Clippers on Tuesday. In the meantime, Dallas has won four straight and they’ve done it without Kristaps Porzingis. That Luka Doncic fellow is pretty good.
8. Miami Heat (30-13, Last week — 8th)
The Heat just keep winning every home game. It’s been a bit of an adventure on the road lately, but Miami holds the NBA’s best home record at 19-1 and that is making their profile look better than it would otherwise.
9. Boston Celtics (28-14, Last week — 5th)
It was a strange week for the Celtics. They began by losing three games in a row, with two losses coming at home to the Pistons and Suns. That isn’t ideal under any circumstances, but Boston turned around and thrashed the Lakers on national television. That helps keep them in the top 10.
10. Philadelphia 76ers (29-16, Last week — 12th)
Joel Embiid hasn’t played in two-plus weeks, but the Sixers have done a nice job weathering the storm. Ben Simmons was fantastic in a road win over Brooklyn on MLK Day, and that capped a four-game winning streak for Philly at a good time.
11. Indiana Pacers (28-16, Last week — 9th)
Monday’s blowout loss in Utah was foreseeable in that it came on the second night of a brutal back-to-back. It wasn’t the best data point for the Pacers but, prior to that, Indiana won five in a row, including wins over Philly and Denver. They keep cruising along.
12. Oklahoma City Thunder (25-19, Last week — 10th)
If you told the Thunder they would split a four-game stretch against the Raptors, Heat, Blazers and Rockets, they would probably be okay with that. Well, that’s what happened this week, as OKC continues to keep a stranglehold on a playoff spot out West.
13. Houston Rockets (26-16, Last week — 4th)
Dropping the Rockets nine spots doesn’t even feel like enough after their showing this week. Houston lost all four games and, despite reasonable competition, looked bad doing it.
14. New Orleans Pelicans (17-27, Last week — 16th)
The Pelicans are 11-5 in the last 16 games and they haven’t lost to a non-playoff team since Dec. 20. Oh, and Zion is back this week. Watch out for New Orleans as a team capable of crashing the playoff party in the West.
15. Orlando Magic (21-23, Last week — 17th)
Orlando is benefiting greatly from a wretched East but, in truth, the Magic are playing better basketball lately. They are 8-4 without Jonathan Isaac in the lineup, and with Markelle Fultz flashing signs there is room for excitement.
16. Memphis Grizzlies (20-23, Last week — 14th)
We touched on Memphis last week and the Grizzlies finally lost a game on Monday. Even then, the defeat came at the hands of the similarly hot Pelicans and there is no reason to pour cold water on the Grizzlies.
17. San Antonio Spurs (19-23, Last week — 15th)
The Spurs lost to the Hawks at home this week and, while that isn’t great regardless of circumstance, it was the first home loss by San Antonio against Atlanta since 1997. The Spurs did follow that up with two wins, to be fair, but everything has to factor in.
18. Portland Trail Blazers (19-26, Last week — 20th)
It probably isn’t a great sign for Portland’s overall prospects that Damian Lillard had to score 61 (!) points to beat the Warriors in overtime on Monday evening. In the same breath, Damian Lillard scored 61 points on Monday evening and fun was had by all.
19. Phoenix Suns (18-25, Last week — 19th)
Quietly, the Suns have won four of six and Phoenix is only two games out of the playoffs. Attention is (rightly) being paid to the Pelicans and Grizzlies, but Devin Booker and company are right in the thick of the postseason race.
20. Brooklyn Nets (18-24, Last week — 18th)
If anything, this ranking gives the Nets too much credit. Brooklyn is 2-11 in the last 13 games and the Nets have lost four straight at the time of this post. Because the rest of the East stinks, FiveThirtyEight gives the Nets a 74 percent chance to make the playoffs, but that doesn’t mean Brooklyn is playing well. They aren’t.
21. Chicago Bulls (16-29, Last week — 24th)
The Bulls did what they were supposed to do this week. Chicago beat Washington and Cleveland at home. Chicago also lost (by double figures) to Philly and Milwaukee on the road. Ho-hum.
22. Washington Wizards (14-28, Last week — 23rd)
Washington still has the NBA’s worst defense, but a home win over Detroit on Monday allows them to rise as other teams sink. Their offense is legitimately fun, too.
23. Detroit Pistons (16-28, Last week — 27th)
The Pistons are probably in deep trouble for this season but, within the confines of the last seven days, Detroit went 2-1 with a pair of road wins. The victory over Atlanta wasn’t exceedingly noteworthy other than the 33-point margin, but winning in Boston is no small task.
24. New York Knicks (12-32, Last week — 25th)
New York is still bad. They’re mostly rising because of issues with other clubs. But hey, they won their last game and did it on the road by 20.
25. Sacramento Kings (15-28, Last week — 22nd)
If we’re being honest, the Kings are better than the Knicks, and they’re probably better than a few other teams ahead of them. Sacramento has lost five in a row, though, and even with schedule-related issues in there, the results aren’t ideal.
26. Minnesota Timberwolves (15-28, Last week — 21st)
Karl-Anthony Towns is back and that is unquestionably a positive thing for Minnesota. The Wolves have still lost six in a row.
27. Atlanta Hawks (10-34, Last week — 29th)
Trae Young and company almost pulled off a miracle on Monday afternoon, nearly erasing a 21-point fourth quarter deficit against the Raptors. Ultimately, though, the Hawks fell short and Atlanta’s (very) lopsided loss to the Pistons on Saturday wasn’t great.
28. Golden State Warriors (10-35, Last week — 30th)
Behind D’Angelo Russell, the Warriors snapped a 10-game losing skid this week. Golden State also gave Portland all it could handle on Monday night and, despite the worst record in the NBA, there are gains being made.
29. Charlotte Hornets (15-30, Last week — 28th)
Charlotte has the NBA’s longest active losing streak and the most recent datapoint is an ugly one. The first six losses during the Hornets’ skid weren’t brutal on the surface, but Charlotte lost by 23 at home to Orlando on Monday. The Magic are better than the Hornets, but that isn’t a great look.
30. Cleveland Cavaliers (12-32, Last week — 26th)
Some of Cleveland’s recent play has been explainable during a five-game losing streak. What isn’t excusable, though, is losing by 20 points at home to the Knicks on MLK Day. That’s the impetus for this slide to the league’s basement for this week.