Small samples can be dangerous. That is particularly true in the modern NBA, where three-point variance often dictates results and overreactions can be prevalent, particularly in the “dog days” of the season in March. With that said, the Phoenix Suns might just be terrifying.
This isn’t a hot take, of course, as Phoenix packaged considerable current and future capital to land Kevin Durant at the 2023 trade deadline. While Durant wasn’t immediately available to play due to injury, the Suns are 6-2 in the last eight games and on a three-game winning streak that showcases the team’s considerable ceiling. The Durant era began with the team leaning on its defense to pick up a win over Charlotte, which was a reminder that Durant is also a heck of a defender when engaged. Then, Phoenix zoomed to two of its top four offensive performances of the season in wins over Chicago and Dallas, with the latter coming in front of a large national audience.
In three appearances, Durant’s numbers are essentially out of a video game. He is averaging 26.7 points and 7.3 rebounds in fewer than 33 minutes per game, making 69 percent of his shots and posting a ludicrous 80.8 percent true shooting mark. Durant’s individual success is already translating to team dominance as well, with the Suns scoring 1.28 points per possessions when he’s on the floor with a +21.3 net rating. Throw in Devin Booker alongside Durant and that already absurd net rating jumps to +31.2, even when acknowledging it only covers 67 minutes of court time.
No team can keep up this pace, but the Suns do project to be a virtually unstoppable offense. After all, Booker is already a bonafide star, Deandre Ayton has less offensive pressure with Durant on board, and the presence of the two superstars creates a bevy of open looks for Chris Paul and a rotating cast of wing characters. Granted, the team needs to figure some things out, as Phoenix will ask someone from the group of Josh Okogie, Damion Lee, Terrence Ross, Ish Wainright, Torrey Craig, T.J. Warren, etc. to emerge, defend, and make shots.
Still, it would be wise to view Phoenix through a dangerous lens. The Suns do have a difficult remaining schedule (top-five in the league), but Phoenix is already in the top four of the West and within striking distance of both Sacramento and Memphis. At full strength, Durant lifts the Suns to a different stratosphere, even amid depth and defensive challenges, and the early returns are glowing for a project that already had many on the edge of their seats.
Where does Phoenix land in this week’s DIME power rankings? Let’s go.
1. Milwaukee Bucks (47-18, Last week — 1st)
Milwaukee no longer has the league’s longest active winning streak after losing to Philadelphia in narrow fashion this week. The Bucks were at risk of falling out of the top spot as a result, but Milwaukee turned around and won the next two games. An 18-1 record in the last 19 games is enough.
2. Denver Nuggets (46-19, Last week — 2nd)
The Nuggets have won 23 consecutive home games with Nikola Jokic in the lineup. Unsurprisingly, that leads Denver to the NBA’s best home record (30-4) and helps to provide the huge cushion the Nuggets now have over the field in the West. Some of that probably gets neutralized in a playoff atmosphere with less travel, but it’s an impressive run by any description.
3. Philadelphia 76ers (43-22, Last week — 5th)
Joel Embiid, James Harden, and company are playing great. The Sixers just finished a five-game road trip at 4-1, beating the Heat, Bucks, and Wolves along the way. With home games against Portland and Washington to come this week, the uptick could continue, and Philadelphia is only 1.5 games back of Boston for the 2-seed.
4. Phoenix Suns (36-29, Last week — 9th)
As noted above, Phoenix’s remaining schedule isn’t easy, but the Suns will have a home-heavy run in the next week-plus to get settled. The Suns have four of the next five in Phoenix wrapped around a quick trip to San Francisco to face the Warriors on national TV.
5. New York Knicks (39-28, Last week — 6th)
We focused on the Knicks last week and, if not for what happened on Tuesday, New York would be even higher. However, the Knicks lost at home to the Hornets. That’s a weird result that shouldn’t inspire concern, but it did happen.
6. Cleveland Cavaliers (41-26, Last week — 7th)
The vibes weren’t perfect in Cleveland as they trailed by 14 points after three quarters against Boston on Monday. The Cavs ended up tying the game, forcing overtime, and winning to avenge a loss at TD Garden earlier in the week. Cleveland does have a tough, two-game road test against Miami on Wednesday and Friday, but it’s sometimes interesting to gauge how much the feeling can change based on one quarter.
7. Boston Celtics (45-21, Last week — 3rd)
For the fourth time this season, the Celtics have lost three straight games. None of the losses were horrendous on paper, but Boston totally melted in blowing leads to both the Nets and Cavs. The Celtics did lose a heartbreaker to the scalding-hot Knicks but, in the big picture, there probably isn’t much to worry about. Granted, Boston does have an upcoming six-game road trip that could compound any lingering issues.
8. Sacramento Kings (38-26, Last week — 8th)
If you’re waiting for the Kings to fade, you’re still waiting. Sacramento is 6-1 since the All-Star break and the only loss came by four points on the second night of a back-to-back. That won’t stop the perception that teams should be lining up to face Sacramento in the first round of the playoffs, but the Kings are good. You can’t fake the No. 1 offense in the NBA over 64 games.
9. Memphis Grizzlies (38-26, Last week — 4th)
Ja Morant is away from the team. Brandon Clarke is out for the season. Oh, and the Grizzlies are 7-13 in the last 20 games. This ranking may be generous with how things are going for Memphis, and only the season-long profile keeps the Grizzlies here.
10. Brooklyn Nets (37-28, Last week — 18th)
It’s not as if any concern evaporated, but the Nets just won three games in a row. Only one of those wins came against a quality opponent, but Brooklyn erased a huge deficit against Boston and kept it rolling from there. As noted last week, the Nets’ talent is considerably better than the initial results after the trade deadline but, ultimately, Brooklyn remains an enigma.
11. Miami Heat (35-31, Last week — 14th)
Just a few days ago, the Heat were in the mud, losing six of seven games. Two home wins over Atlanta won’t change everything, but the Heat needed both of them. Now, the Heat are closer to the No. 6 spot than the No. 8 spot in the East, and Erik Spoelstra’s team still seems dangerous when everything comes together.
12. Golden State Warriors (34-32, Last week — 10th)
No one can figure out the Warriors. Everyone is trying, but nothing makes sense. Golden State has the fourth-most home wins in the NBA. Golden State has the fifth-most road losses in the NBA. The good lineups are good. The bad lineups are bad. Shrug.
13. Dallas Mavericks (34-32, Last week — 15th)
Dallas lost to Phoenix on Sunday and it honestly might have helped the perception of the Mavs. Luka Doncic blew a bunny on the final possession and, given that it was a shot he normally makes, it would be reasonable to conclude the Mavericks did everything they needed to beat the full-strength Suns. Dallas still has major defensive questions, but the offense is terrifying.
14. Minnesota Timberwolves (34-33, Last week — 13th)
It’s hard to be terribly inspired by the Wolves, but they’re just hanging around here. Minnesota is 3-1 in the last four games with the only loss to the Sixers. There is nothing wrong with that result (other than Joel Embiid torching Rudy Gobert), and the Wolves are still in the top eight of the West.
15. L.A. Clippers (34-33, Last week — 11th)
The Clippers finally won a game after the All-Star break. L.A. lost the first five games of the Russell Westbrook era and the takes were flying as a result. Admittedly, it took the Clippers facing a Grizzlies team without Ja Morant, Dillon Brooks, Steven Adams, and Brandon Clarke to get back on the board with a win, but it happened nonetheless. The Clippers also have the chance to keep the momentum flowing with four straight at home, none of which are on a back-to-back.
16. Toronto Raptors (32-34, Last week — 12th)
The Raptors have been showing encouraging signs for about a month. Toronto is 9-4 in the last 13 contests, including a close loss to Denver on Monday. A two-game set in Los Angeles should provide another intriguing test this week, but the Raptors are back in the middle of the East playoff pursuit.
17. Los Angeles Lakers (32-34, Last week — 19th)
LeBron is out, but the Lakers aren’t folding. The biggest reason is Anthony Davis, who is averaging 33 points, 13.8 rebounds, and 2.8 blocks per game in his last five appearances. Los Angeles is 3-2 since LeBron went down, and that is a big win.
18. Oklahoma City Thunder (31-34, Last week — 26th)
Every time the Thunder look to be cooked, they rise up. OKC is on a three-game winning streak behind stellar efforts from Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Josh Giddey. Things get more difficult with a road game in Phoenix on Wednesday, but this is a resilient bunch.
19. Washington Wizards (31-34, Last week — 16th)
Washington and Atlanta meet for a mini-series on Wednesday and Friday in the nation’s capital. That is a wildly important three-day stretch for the Southeast Division rivals, with valuable evaluation information sure to emerge.
20. Atlanta Hawks (32-33, Last week — 17th)
It continues to feel as if the Hawks are running in place. Atlanta made a quality hire in Quin Snyder, but that wasn’t going to change things overnight. The Hawks just got swept in a mini-series in Miami, failing to hold onto a double-digit lead on Monday. Atlanta still projects to reach the playoffs more often than not, but the Hawks are 32-33 despite clearly pushing hard for wins in the short term.
21. Portland Trail Blazers (31-34, Last week — 20th)
Portland is in the middle of a six-game road trip, which could’ve been a make-or-break stretch of the season. The Blazers are 2-1 to begin things, though Boston, Philadelphia, and New Orleans await this week. Long story short, it helps to have Damian Lillard carrying an immense workload.
22. New Orleans Pelicans (31-34, Last week — 22nd)
The downturn continues for the Pelicans. New Orleans is 8-22 in the last 30 games, which is mind-blowing after the team’s incredibly strong start. After all of that, the Pelicans are still in the play-in race, which speaks to how good things once were. Perhaps a four-game homestand, beginning Wednesday, can stop the bleeding.
23. Chicago Bulls (29-36, Last week — 24th)
Chicago is teetering on the edge of falling out of the play-in race. The Bulls are 3-9 in the last 12 games, and Chicago has to visit Denver on Wednesday. Given how the Nuggets have played at home, that’s a tough spot.
24. Charlotte Hornets (21-46, Last week — 27th)
This is probably too high for Charlotte with LaMelo Ball out. With that said, the Hornets are technically 6-3 in the last nine games, and Charlotte ended New York’s winning streak in surprising fashion on Tuesday.
25. Utah Jazz (31-35, Last week — 21st)
A four-game losing skid pushes Utah to the No. 13 spot. That is as far as the Jazz can possibly fall in the pecking order and, admittedly, Utah isn’t even dead in the play-in race. The Jazz are only halfway through a six-game road trip, however, and the losses could keep coming.
26. Orlando Magic (27-39, Last week — 23rd)
Efficiency has been a challenge for Paolo Banchero, even as he leads the Rookie of the Year race. He did put together a nice run recently, though, as Banchero is averaging 22.3 points on 47 percent shooting in the last six games. The next step will be boosting his season-long true shooting mark of 52.6 percent, because everyone can agree that won’t be enough in the current offensive environment across the league.
27. Indiana Pacers (29-37, Last week — 25th)
Since the All-Star break, Tyrese Haliburton is averaging 27.6 points and 12.2 assists per game. That is bonkers enough, but Haliburton also has a 74 percent true shooting mark. It’s not enough to give the Pacers a ton of short-term optimism to make the playoffs, but Haliburton is still the most important thing in Indiana.
28. Houston Rockets (15-50, Last week — 30th)
Other than the potential loss of ping-pong balls, it was a good week for the Rockets. Houston doesn’t usually win twice in a seven-day period and, even with a blowout loss to Brooklyn in the most recent game, the Rockets found something, albeit briefly.
29. Detroit Pistons (15-51, Last week — 28th)
Detroit now has the worst record, worst home record, and worst division record in the NBA to go along with the league’s longest active losing streak (nine). A case could be made for No. 30, but the Spurs just lost to the Rockets twice, so that is the difference.
30. San Antonio Spurs (16-49, Last week — 29th)
The Spurs recently won two games in a row. They give it back, though, losing to the Rockets in both games of a set. Given that Houston has been San Antonio’s closest competitor in the race for the bottom and the Spurs still have hideous underlying metrics, that explains this position.