NBA Power Rankings: Can KD carry Brooklyn into the top five?

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It’s not too early to put Jacque Vaughn in the NBA Coach of The Year conversation. The Brooklyn Nets head coach has helped spearhead one of the league’s most dramatic turnarounds in the early season, as the Nets have gone from controversy-laden underachievers to one of the hottest teams in the Eastern Conference.

Vaughn’s leadership and some brilliant play from Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving over the past few weeks have Brooklyn looking like the type of contender it was during the 2020-21 campaign. The team’s stars look focused and motivated to make a run, and the Nets could end up being a real threat to the now-struggling Boston Celtics.

The Celtics appear mortal for the first time in weeks after dropping four out of their past five games, including back-to-back losses to the lowly Orlando Magic. The Milwaukee Bucks have taken over first place in the conference as a result, but the Nets and Cleveland Cavaliers are within striking distance as the top of the East tightens up.

Speaking of former first-place teams that have tumbled lately, the New Orleans Pelicans‘ seven-game win streak and surge to the top of the Western Conference has been buried by a four-game skid. The Pelicans’ recent cold streak has allowed the Memphis Grizzlies and Denver Nuggets to rise into a share of the conference lead.

Note: Throughout the regular season, our panel (Kendra Andrews, Tim Bontemps, Jamal Collier, Nick Friedell, Andrew Lopez, Tim MacMahon, Dave McMenamin and Ohm Youngmisuk) is ranking all 30 teams from top to bottom, taking stock of which teams are playing the best basketball now and which teams are looking most like title contenders.

Previous rankings: Week 1 | Week 2 | Week 3 | Week 4 | Week 5 | Week 6 | Week 7 | Week 8 | Week 9

1. Milwaukee Bucks
2022-23 record: 22-8
Previous ranking: 2

The new East leaders just keep rolling. They beat the Jazz by 26 points over the weekend without Giannis Antetokounmpo, improving to 4-1 on the season without their MVP. — Collier

2. Boston Celtics
2022-23 record: 22-9
Previous ranking: 1

Robert Williams III has returned following surgery on his left knee in September, but it was an ugly weekend for the Celtics after dropping a pair of home games to the Orlando Magic, making it four losses in five contests for Boston. That has allowed the Bucks to surge past the Celtics and into the top spot in the Eastern Conference — adding another spicy element to what already is the juiciest Christmas Day matchup of the five-game slate. — Bontemps

3. Memphis Grizzlies
2022-23 record: 19-11
Previous ranking: 4

Memphis has the West’s best home record at 13-2, including six of the seven victories during its recent winning streak. But it has been a mediocre 6-9 on the road. The Grizz started a four-game trip with losses to Oklahoma City and Denver to slip into a tie for first in the West standings. — MacMahon

4. Cleveland Cavaliers
2022-23 record: 21-11
Previous ranking: 6

Since Jarrett Allen returned from a hip injury, the Cavs are 6-2. Cleveland has held its opponent below 100 points in three out of the four games during its four-game winning streak. The stingy stretch has pushed the Cavaliers back to the No. 1 defensive rating in the league after allowing 106.8 points per 100 possessions. — McMenamin

5. Denver Nuggets
2022-23 record: 19-11
Previous ranking: 5

Nikola Jokic became just the third player in NBA history to register a 40-25-10 game when he scored 40 points and had a career-high 27 rebounds in his first of two triple-doubles this week. The Nuggets are tied for first place in a jam-packed Western Conference. — Andrews

6. Brooklyn Nets
2022-23 record: 19-12
Previous ranking: 8

With six wins in a row and 10 in their past 11 games, the Nets just keep churning out victories as they follow the lead of Kevin Durant, who continues to play at an MVP level. Durant is averaging 30.4 points a game, and he tallied 43 in Sunday’s triumph over the Pistons. Durant is shooting 60.6% from the field in December. — Friedell

7. Phoenix Suns
2022-23 record: 19-13
Previous ranking: 7

The Suns were all over the news in the past week, from Devin Booker‘s sublime 58-point performance against the Pelicans and Baxter Holmes’ report detailing a troublesome workplace culture beyond disgraced owner Robert Sarver to Adrian Wojnarowski announcing the impending sale of the franchise to Mat Ishbia in the neighborhood of $4 billion to coach Monty Williams getting into a shouting match with Deandre Ayton on the bench during a loss to the inferior Wizards. It makes you wonder what will come next. — McMenamin

8. New Orleans Pelicans
2022-23 record: 18-12
Previous ranking: 3

After a seven-game winning streak, the Pelicans stumbled into four consecutive defeats while dropping two games to Utah and one each to Phoenix and Milwaukee. Against the Bucks, Jonas Valanciunas had 37 points, 18 rebounds and five assists while shooting 7-of-10 from deep. Meanwhile, CJ McCollum had 31 points, eight rebounds and nine assists on 6-of-10 shooting from 3. They became the first teammates in NBA history with 30 points, five rebounds, five assists and six 3s in the same game. — Lopez

9. Philadelphia 76ers
2022-23 record: 17-12
Previous ranking: 10

An overtime decision versus the Raptors on Monday was the fifth win in a row for Philadelphia, which is now 16-8 since the dismal 1-4 start to the season — the fourth-best record in the league over that span. With Tyrese Maxey expected back as soon as Christmas, per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, perhaps Philadelphia also will finally be at full strength for the first time since that stretch began. — Bontemps

10. LA Clippers
2022-23 record: 18-14
Previous ranking: 9

The Clippers finally got a break in their packed schedule with a rare three-day respite between games. They needed the rest, with Paul George, Ivica Zubac, Reggie Jackson and Norm Powell all nursing injuries. The relief, though, came right as Kawhi Leonard is playing his best basketball since his ACL injury. Leonard made 10 of 12 shots and had 25 points, nine rebounds and six assists to lead the Clippers to a 20-point rout over the Celtics on Dec. 12. He registered 19 points and eight rebounds against Minnesota, followed by a season-high 31 points and nine rebounds against Washington. Leonard is starting to find a rhythm, but the Clippers need a long stretch of games with all their players healthy to form some much-needed continuity. — Youngmisuk

11. New York Knicks
2022-23 record: 18-13
Previous ranking: 15

What a difference two weeks makes. After beating Golden State on Tuesday, the Knicks have won eight games in a row, and now get the struggling Raptors Wednesday before facing the fading Bulls at home Friday night. A month ago, no one would’ve guessed Philly and New York would be among the hottest teams in the league heading into their Christmas Day matinee, but here we are with that exact scenario taking place. — Bontemps

12. Portland Trail Blazers
2022-23 record: 17-14
Previous ranking: 12

Damian Lillard passed Clyde Drexler as the Trail Blazers’ all-time leading scorer, but the Thunder’s Shai Gilgeous-Alexander spoiled the moment by hitting a jumper at the buzzer to beat Portland on Monday. After winning five of six games, the Blazers have lost two of their past three games. Lillard gets a chance at payback when Portland faces OKC again on Wednesday before finishing a six-game trip at Denver on Friday. — Youngmisuk

13. Sacramento Kings
2022-23 record: 16-13
Previous ranking: 11

The Kings suffered some tough losses on their six-game East Coast trip then started their homestand with another defeat, against a lowly Hornets team. But the bright side is that Kings coach Mike Brown says De’Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis are playing at All-Star levels. — Andrews

14. Miami Heat
2022-23 record: 16-16
Previous ranking: 20

The Heat have won four of their past five outings while getting a big contribution from Tyler Herro. He went off for a combined 76 points in victories over the Thunder and Rockets last week. Herro is averaging 24.9 points a game and shooting 48.0% from beyond the arc this month. — Friedell

15. Atlanta Hawks
2022-23 record: 16-15
Previous ranking: 16

The Hawks got a significant boost to their lineup on Monday night with the returns of Dejounte Murray and John Collins, who were both dealing with left ankle sprains. Murray missed five games, and Collins sat out for eight. Collins had 12 points and seven rebounds in 20 minutes of action, while Murray had 17 points, five rebounds and three assists in 38 minutes. After a 12-point Atlanta lead with three minutes left evaporated, Murray hit two free throws with 1.2 seconds left to give the Hawks a 126-125 win over the Magic. — Lopez

16. Dallas Mavericks
2022-23 record: 15-16
Previous ranking: 14

Dallas has lost 10 of its past 16 games, allowing 115.6 points per 100 possessions during that span, which ranks near the bottom of the league. More bad news is that the Mavs’ three best defenders are injured now. Maxi Kleber is out indefinitely with a torn right hamstring. Josh Green has missed the past six games with a sprained right elbow. And Dorian Finney-Smith exited Monday’s loss in Minnesota due to a strained right adductor. — MacMahon

17. Utah Jazz
2022-23 record: 18-16
Previous ranking: 17

Lauri Markkanen scored 38 points in Tuesday’s win over the Pistons, matching his career high set earlier this season. He was 9-of-13 from 3-point range, tying Channing Frye for the most 3s hit by a 7-footer in a game, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. Markkanen is averaging 22.8 points while shooting 53.5% from the floor and 44.0% from 3-point range. — MacMahon

18. Golden State Warriors
2022-23 record: 15-17
Previous ranking: 13

Things are looking drab for Golden State. Stephen Curry is sidelined for a few weeks with a left shoulder subluxation, and there are no answers for how the Warriors will overcome his absence, as he has been their most significant contributor this season. They thought they had a blueprint for success without Curry when they tallied their third road win of the season against Toronto, but just two days later, the Warriors got blown out by the Knicks at Madison Square Garden. — Andrews

19. Minnesota Timberwolves
2022-23 record: 16-15
Previous ranking: 21

The Timberwolves had their worst offensive performance of the season last Wednesday, shooting just 18% from 3-point range and scoring just 88 points. But on Sunday, they had their best showing, shooting 53% from 3 and putting up 150 points. — Andrews

20. Indiana Pacers
2022-23 record: 15-16
Previous ranking: 18

After being one of the surprise teams early in the season, the Pacers have fallen back to earth, dropping eight of their past 11 contests to go under .500. Their next three games are against Boston, Miami and New Orleans. — Collier

21. Los Angeles Lakers
2022-23 record: 13-17
Previous ranking: 22

The Lakers’ season could pivot in either direction based on what the team finds out about Anthony Davis‘ right foot injury. Davis had been playing some of the best basketball of his career before suffering the injury against Denver. Davis has missed two games so far, with L.A. going 1-1. Lakers coach Darvin Ham said the team was still evaluating treatment options for Davis days after the injury occurred — which, generally, is not a good sign. — McMenamin

22. Toronto Raptors
2022-23 record: 13-18
Previous ranking: 19

The hits just keep on coming for Toronto, which simply can’t buy a basket. The Raptors are 29th in the NBA in 3-point percentage over their past 11 games — which coincides with a 2-9 record (that also ranks 29th over the span, ahead of the Wizards). It’s safe to say this is not what the Raptors were expecting from their season, as they now sit five games below .500 despite having scored exactly the same number of points as they’ve given up this season. — Bontemps

23. Oklahoma City Thunder
2022-23 record: 13-18
Previous ranking: 25

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander hit a baseline jumper at the buzzer to defeat the Trail Blazers on Monday night. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, it was Gilgeous-Alexander’s third go-ahead field goal in the final two seconds of the fourth quarter/overtime this season. The only player with more in a single season over the past 25 years is Kobe Bryant, who had four such shots during the 2009-10 season. — Lopez

24. Orlando Magic
2022-23 record: 11-21
Previous ranking: 26

Orlando is in the midst of its best stretch of the season, having won six out of its past seven games, including back-to-back decisions over the Celtics in Boston last week. Paolo Banchero continues to add to a strong potential Rookie of the Year campaign, averaging 20.6 points, 6.4 rebounds and 4.6 assists in December. — Friedell

25. Chicago Bulls
2022-23 record: 12-18
Previous ranking: 23

The Bulls have lost seven of their past 10 games, dropping them to 11th in the Eastern Conference. They surrendered 150 points to the Timberwolves on Sunday, the most the team has given up since 1982. — Collier

26. Washington Wizards
2022-23 record: 12-20
Previous ranking: 24

Bradley Beal is back after straining his right hamstring, and he helped the Wizards snap a 10-game losing streak in Phoenix. Beal made four free throws in the final 13.1 seconds left, and Kyle Kuzma had 29 points, six rebounds and six assists to get the Wizards back in the win column. After opening the season 10-7, the Wiz lost 13 of 14 before the victory in Phoenix. Washington still has six of its next eight games on the road. — Youngmisuk

27. San Antonio Spurs
2022-23 record: 10-20
Previous ranking: 27

In his first two NBA seasons, Devin Vassell had seven 20-point games. Just 24 games into his third season, Vassell has scored at least 20 points in 14 of them. Vassell tied a career high with five 3-pointers in a win against the Rockets on Monday. On the season, Vassell’s scoring (20.0 points per game), shooting rate (45.5 FG%, 41.2 3P%) and assists (3.5) are all at career-best levels, while his volume (10.8 FGA to 16.0 FGA per game, 5.4 3PA to 7.1 3PA, 1.4 FTA to 3.1 FTA) are all up, as well. — Lopez

28. Houston Rockets
2022-23 record: 9-21
Previous ranking: 28

The Rockets are confident that rookie forward Tari Eason, selected with the No. 17 overall pick acquired from the Nets, will be a long-term part of their core. Eason leads all rookies with 1.2 steals per game and is one of five players in the draft class who have positive plus-minuses as regular rotation players. He has improved offensively over the course of the season, averaging 9.7 points on .493/.438/.800 shooting splits in December. — MacMahon

29. Charlotte Hornets
2022-23 record: 8-23
Previous ranking: 29

Steve Clifford called out his team publicly last week, and Charlotte finally responded by beating the Kings on Monday night to snap an eight-game skid. Having LaMelo Ball back certainly makes things smoother, as the third-year guard is averaging 26 points and 7.8 assists over four games since returning from an ankle injury last Wednesday. — Friedell

30. Detroit Pistons
2022-23 record: 8-25
Previous ranking: 30

Detroit has put together one of the highest-scoring benches in the league this season. Their second unit averages 38.5 points, the seventh highest in the NBA, and is paced by Alec Burks, who is averaging 13.6 points off the bench. — Collier

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