NBA Power Rankings Week 6: The Roller Coaster Continues In Minnesota

On Thanksgiving morning, the Minnesota Timberwolves were 10-8 and all was mostly right with the world. The ongoing Rudy Gobert experiment was admittedly receiving mixed reviews, but the Wolves were on pace for 46 wins, sitting with a +1.4 net rating and operating firmly in the middle of the Western Conference playoff picture. Moreover, the Wolves didn’t lose a game for two weeks, won five in a row, and posted a +9.3 net rating over a stretch that included wins over Cleveland, Philadelphia, and Miami.

With that said, the Wolves have crashed back to Earth again. Minnesota is on a three-game losing skid, the team’s third of the still-young season, and the Wolves just allowed 1.23 points per possession to the Hornets, Warriors, and Wizards. Granted, Golden State’s demolition of Minnesota was something that simply happens when dealing with the unique Warriors, but giving up 142 points to the Wizards (including at least 32 points in every quarter) was unsightly at best.

In the midst of Monday night’s loss, Karl-Anthony Towns had to be helped to the locker room with an injury that will seemingly cost him more than a month, and that throws another wrench into the mix. The most optimistic case for the Wolves includes the clear need for time to mix the pieces together, and the partnership between Towns and Gobert is a big part of that. The Towns-Gobert partnership hasn’t been disaster on the court overall, with the defense playing well, but Minnesota has been out-scored for the season across 401 minutes when they play together, and the offense doesn’t have any flow whatsoever.

Broadly speaking, the Wolves might be fine, and Minnesota is in the playoff race despite the stumbles. This could be a pivotal upcoming stretch for the Wolves, however, with Chris Finch’s team facing a tough schedule that includes a five-game road trip to the west coast between Dec. 9 and Dec. 16. Towns’ injury status will be paramount but, if nothing else, the Wolves made a big bet on the Gobert experience bringing immediate results, and it wasn’t supposed to be this through the first 21 games.

Where does Minnesota stack up this week in our DIME power rankings? Let’s explore.

1. Boston Celtics (17-4, Last week — 2nd)

No. 1 is an easy call this week. Boston is 13-1 in the last 14 games, vaulting to a two-game lead over the rest of the league in the standings. The Celtics are scoring 1.24 points per possession with a +12.6 net rating over that 14-game run, and they are doing it all without Robert Williams.

2. Phoenix Suns (14-6, Last week — 4th)

Phoenix has the longest active winning streak in the league at five games and the Suns sit alone atop the West. The Suns have been elite on both ends of the floor during that run, and Phoenix is doing it while not lighting the world on fire from a shooting perspective. Cam Johnson hasn’t played in almost four weeks, Jae Crowder is still away from the team, and the Suns haven’t slowed down.

3. Milwaukee Bucks (14-5, Last week — 1st)

The Bucks are a pedestrian 5-5 after a 9-0 start, but Milwaukee is 12-4 when Giannis Antetokounmpo plays. That is more indicative of team quality overall, and the Bucks should get Khris Middleton back in the not-too-distant future. Milwaukee’s floor is incredibly high, and the team’s ceiling isn’t bad, either.

4. Denver Nuggets (13-7, Last week — 8th)

This isn’t new at all, including in this space, but we have to talk about Nikola Jokic’s on-off splits. The Nuggets have a +14 net rating when Jokic plays and a -14.4 (!!) net rating when Jokic sits. Jokic is really, really good, but this is preposterous. We should also note that the Nuggets are on a three-game winning streak with a home game against Houston on Wednesday.

5. Philadelphia 76ers (12-9, Last week — 13th)

Philly would like to be better than 12-9 but, given all the injuries, this is fine. The Sixers have won three in a row, including a comeback win over Atlanta on Monday, and Philadelphia won that game without either Tyrese Maxey or James Harden available. They did get Joel Embiid back, which is the most important thing, but it’s at least solidly encouraging that Philadelphia is hanging tough and playing good basketball. Shake Milton hive, assemble.

6. Cleveland Cavaliers (13-8, Last week — 3rd)

Cleveland slides a bit this week, but a closer look should create no panic. The Cavs lost twice, but both were road games against quality opponents in Toronto and Milwaukee. Cleveland maintains the second-best net rating (+5.8) in the East and that’s a nice place to be.

7. Memphis Grizzlies (12-8, Last week — 16th)

Memphis picked up a blowout win over New Orleans, and the Grizzlies are in prime position. Point differential isn’t as kind to the Grizzlies right now, but Memphis has missed both Jaren Jackson Jr. and Desmond Bane, with room to grow over the course of the long season.

8. New Orleans Pelicans (12-8, Last week — 9th)

The Pels are 6-2 in the last eight games, with the losses coming to Memphis and Boston. The loss to the Grizz becomes a tiebreaker here to have New Orleans at No. 8, and quietly, the Pelicans are firmly in the top third of the league in both offense and defense.

9. Golden State Warriors (11-11, Last week — 15th)

The Warriors nearly completed a comeback win over Dallas on Tuesday that would’ve vaulted them even higher. There is no shame in a three-point road loss to a good opponent, and Golden State throttled the Clippers, Jazz, and Wolves by double-digits this week.

10. L.A. Clippers (13-9, Last week — 5th)

After a 2-2 week, the Clippers slide a bit here, but L.A. picked up a nice win on Tuesday. The Clippers erased an 18-point deficit to beat the Blazers on the road, and that comes just a few days after Ivica Zubac went off for 31 points and 29 (!) rebounds in a win over Indiana.

11. Toronto Raptors (11-9, Last week — 18th)

It’s been a very on-brand start for the Raptors. Toronto is outlier good in some areas, and Pascal Siakam returned to great anticipation on Monday. The Raptors just beat the Cavs and Mavericks, earning a bump in the rankings, and they remain dangerous.

12. Brooklyn Nets (11-11, Last week — 19th)

Things were pretty rough in Brooklyn earlier this season, even before you touch on anything with Kyrie Irving. The Nets were 2-6 and seemingly in the wilderness. Now, Brooklyn is 9-5 in the last 14 games, owning a +5.2 net rating over that time. The Nets might just be good when they’re normal.

13. Miami Heat (10-11, Last week — 25th)

It hasn’t been pretty, but you look up and the Heat are right there. Miami won three in a row this week, including a nice road win over Atlanta. With Jimmy Butler out, staying afloat is basically the charge. Erik Spoelstra might be a wizard.

14. Indiana Pacers (12-8, Last week — 7th)

It was “only” a 2-2 week for the Pacers, but it’s not as if that is disastrous. Indiana beat Brooklyn and the Lakers, and the Pacers have a positive point differential and a top-10 offense through 20 games. To say that was not expected would be an understatement.

15. Sacramento Kings (10-9, Last week — 6th)

We touched on the Kings last week and, after another nice win over Memphis, the bottom fell out a bit with three straight losses. There is no reason to worry after losses to Atlanta, Boston, and Phoenix, with two of those three defeats on the road. Sacramento remains a top-five offensive team, which helps with any overall projection.

16. Washington Wizards (11-10, Last week — 14th)

The Wizards put 142 on the Wolves on Monday evening, prompting additional panic about Minnesota. The rest of the week wasn’t great, though, as Washington lost twice to Miami and once to Boston. Granted, the Wizards aren’t “supposed” to win any of those games, so only a minor tumble.

17. New York Knicks (10-11, Last week — 21st)

The Knicks went only 1-2 this week and rose in the rankings. New York took Portland to overtime and lost by a small margin to Memphis. That was followed by a thrashing over Detroit on the road. The Knicks are squarely in the middle of the pack.

18. Chicago Bulls (9-11, Last week — 22nd)

Chicago is 3-1 in the last four games and, despite some shaky vibes, the Bulls are very much alive in the playoff race through 20 games. The Bulls are basically dead-even in point differential, though this week brings the rest of an extended, five-game road trip that could be challenging.

19. Dallas Mavericks (10-10, Last week — 17th)

A four-game losing streak means Dallas does have to drop some in the rankings, but the Mavs did beat the Warriors in a wild one on Tuesday. Luka Doncic dropped a 41-12-12 and withstood an early exit by Spencer Dinwiddie. Also, the losses came to Denver, Boston, Toronto, and Milwaukee, and you can find all four of those teams pretty high on this list.

20. Minnesota Timberwolves (10-11, Last week — 10th)

Before Minnesota hits the road for five games, the Wolves do have three contests at home against Memphis, OKC, and Indiana. With due respect to the Pacers, the Wolves should be favored in two of those three games, even without Towns, so perhaps a turnaround can happen soon.

21. Utah Jazz (12-11, Last week — 11th)

The Jazz have given way to other teams in the “positive story of the season” race. Utah is on a five-game losing streak and it comes with a 122.9 defensive rating during the slide. The Jazz are still scoring in bunches, but it’s hard to win with that level of ugliness on the other end.

22. Portland Trail Blazers (11-10, Last week — 20th)

Like Utah, Portland is in free fall. The Blazers are 1-6 in the last seven games, including a loss on Tuesday in which Portland blew an 18-point lead at home. None of the losses are hideous on paper, but they are stacking up in a hurry.

23. Los Angeles Lakers (7-12, Last week — 23rd)

With how they looked earlier in the season, the Lakers winning five of seven games is a huge step forward, no matter the context. At the same time, Los Angeles beat San Antonio three times (scroll down!) and beat Brooklyn and Detroit at home. They’re going to have to do more.

24. Atlanta Hawks (11-10, Last week — 12th)

It was a nightmarish week for the Hawks that included three straight losses. Atlanta led in the second half against Houston, Miami, and Philadelphia, and the Hawks are weirdly shaky on offense right now. They are clearly better on defense this year, with Clint Capela putting together a stealth All-Defense candidacy, but it is strange to see a Trae Young-led offense below the league average in efficiency.

25. Oklahoma City Thunder (8-13, Last week — 24th)

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander maintains an All-NBA caliber profile with 31.1 points and 6.1 assists per game, but the Thunder have cooled off. OKC climbed to 7-8 but are 1-5 in the last six with a defensive rating approaching 1.15 points allowed per possession.

26. Charlotte Hornets (6-15, Last week — 28th)

Charlotte was actually going to rise even more than this before a comical 35-point loss to Boston on Monday. Granted, the Hornets barely had a legal and functional NBA roster in that game, but it was gross. Charlotte did beat Philadelphia and Minnesota earlier in the week, so perhaps there is some life on the horizon.

27. Houston Rockets (5-15, Last week — 29th)

After a four-day break, Houston had a very nice come-from-behind win over Atlanta and followed it up by beating OKC. The Rockets gave some back with a double-digit loss to Denver, but it was definitely a good week.

28. Detroit Pistons (5-18, Last week — 30th)

Detroit won the first two games this week, and that was enough to get the Pistons out of the bottom spot. The rest of the week wasn’t good, though, as the Pistons finished it off with three losses and a home-court walloping at the hands of the Knicks on Tuesday.

29. Orlando Magic (5-16, Last week — 26th)

Orlando is skidding again. The Magic have lost five in a row with a -14.3 net rating and a defensive rating that is NSFW. Orlando does get the scuffling Hawks at a good time on Wednesday, but this is a bottom-five defensive team that probably shouldn’t be that bad on that end of the floor. On the positive side, Markelle Fultz is set to make his season debut against Atlanta.

30. San Antonio Spurs (6-15, Last week — 27th)

The Spurs are really, really bad. San Antonio is 1-13 in the last 14 games and on an active eight-game losing streak. The Spurs are also No. 30 (last) in defense and No. 29 in offense during November, with three losses to the Lakers in a short period of time. I don’t know that San Antonio is actually the worst team, but they’ve earned the bottom spot.