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NBA Power Rankings: The Jazz Are Delivering Some Sweet Chin Music

A snapshot of The Association’s balance of power. Can anyone stop the Jazz? Or Damian Lillard? Which LA team is ranked higher? Where are the surprising Knicks, Warriors and Spurs? Can Luka, Zion, and Trae make moves for their disappointing squads? All of this below.

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While The Intermission is constantly observing, monitoring, and wagering on everything that is the NBA, every couple of weeks, I’ll be entering some keystrokes that will officially comprise these Rankings. Prepare yourself for some statistical anomalies, entertaining commentary, and certainly some judgemental takes. If you take issue with the order, hit that comment box.

With the blink of an eye, the NBA season is now inching ever so closely to the “All-Star Game.” I use the term loosely, as some players have been outspoken about canceling the game entirely, amid this ongoing and life-altering pandemic. But postponements and missed games aside, the NBA season has actually been very exciting, with narrative-defining moments and storyline advancement on a nightly basis.

But at this very moment, it’s fun to take the temperature of the balance of power throughout the league. Who has taken the league by storm? Who’s fallen off a cliff? Who’s shocked us (Knicks)? It’s always a fun exercise to not only measure these squads but to observe who has momentum and who sees their chances dwindle by the day.

Naturally, rankings of power are based on several factors, including but not limited to overall record, momentum (winning and losing streaks), performance, quality of wins/losses, the strength of schedule, injuries, and a good old-fashioned gut feeling. Let’s roll out the first edition.


1. Utah Jazz (24-5)

Point Differential: +9.6
Current Streak: Won 9
Last 10: 9-1

Let’s finally acknowledge the Utah Jazz for what they currently are: The NBA’s deepest (and hottest) team. A second 9-game win streak in 29 games earns the podium here. By the time the next set of rankings goes up, the Jazz will have finally battled the Lakers head-to-head (though it’ll be without Anthony Davis). When the regular season ends, this Utah team could end up featuring two All-Stars, the Defensive Player of the Year, and the Sixth Man of the Year. Finally, for the bettors out there: The 19-1 run the Jazz have compiled against the spread is the best mark over a 20-game stretch in the league in 30 years.

2. Los Angeles Lakers (22-8)

Point Differential: +6.5
Current Streak: Lost 1
Last 10: 8-2

On the flip side, despite the success of the Jazz, deep down and until proven otherwise, the defending-champion Lakers are still the team to beat. Though, the loss of Anthony Davis (4 weeks) certainly opens the door for other teams to enjoy the top of these rankings. When he’s not busy punking Barbie dolls and/or juice heads on the sideline, LeBron is doing the unfathomable by putting up 25.9 points, 8.2 rebounds, 7.9 assists while averaging the fewest minutes (34.6) of his entire career. I mean, it’s only Year 18, right?

3. Brooklyn Nets (19-12)

Point Differential: +4.0
Current Streak: Won 5
Last 10: 6-4

It feels like the Nets ranking should be deemed “inconclusive,” based on the fact that the league’s most recent installment of the Big Three hasn’t seen much floor time together. As expected, the offensive output has been impressive, while the defense… has not. Last week, Kyrie Irving anointed James Harden as the team’s “point guard,” and it’s clearly worked. Harden is averaging 11.7 assists in his 17 games with the team. Impressively, the Nets just knocked off the hot Suns in Phoenix and the Lakers in LA with no Durant.

4. Los Angeles Clippers (21-9)

Point Differential: +6.8
Current Streak: Lost 1
Last 10: 6-4

The Clippers are undeniably good, but aside from the occasional Pat Beverley highlight/lowlight, this team is a bit on the boring side. Kawhi and PG are pacing the team with All-Star seasons once again and the supporting cast is above average. Such has been the Clippers formula the past few seasons. Of course, the Clippers will choose to be good rather than “exciting” every day of the week. Lou Williams is finally showing signs of life in the recent absence of the two stars.

5. Philadelphia 76ers (19-10)

Point Differential: +2.9
Current Streak: Won 1
Last 10: 6-4

Let’s first applaud Ben Simmons’ career night of 42-9-12 against the Jazz, though it wasn’t quite enough to get the win. He still stuffed the stat sheet. Then there’s Joel Embiid, who’s likely the leader in the MVP clubhouse at the moment, with a ridiculous line of 29.7 points, 10.8 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 1.3 steals, 1.2 blocks (and improved efficiencies). But Philly needs to stop the recent bleeding to keep his MVP case intact.

6. Portland Trail Blazers (18-10)

Point Differential: +0.7
Current Streak: Won 6
Last 10: 8-2

If you don’t consider Damian Lillard part of the MVP conversation, you are delusional. Here are the final minutes of his last three games:

It’s not a coincidence that all of these clips look almost identical. The Blazers have been missing three starters for most of the season, but as long as Dame Lillard keeps operating on Dame Time, this team always has a shot (literally). He’s almost undeniably the best closer in the league today. His clutch gene, his shot-making, and his limitless range are remarkable. The fact that he’s not an All-Star starter is a complete travesty. Portland is en Fuego right now.

7. Phoenix Suns (17-10)

Point Differential: +3.3
Current Streak: Lost 1
Last 10: 8-2

The Suns have been figuratively (and literally) on fire. This team is on a RUN. They just finished their 7-game homestand at 6-1, where they punished all of the bad teams and took down two of the beasts in the East (Bucks and Sixers). The most surprising element with this squad is its depth, as they currently have seven players averaging double figures. Meanwhile, Devin Booker has morphed into badass mode.

8. Milwaukee Bucks (16-13)

Point Differential: +6.7
Current Streak: Lost 5
Last 10: 5-5

The Bucks look like they had righted the ship, but have now dropped five straight. I still believe, but the faith meter has sprung a leak. They just got handled by the Raps at home. They’ve been a puzzling team all year, but somehow still own the league’s third-best point differential (+6.7). Giannis continues to operate at an MVP level, while Middleton will be on the All-Star bubble. Lastly, and unrelated, a shout out to Bucks analyst/legend Marques Johnson for celebrating his birthday in style by showing off his impressive 65-year old hops! God bless Raymond from White Men Can’t Jump lore.

9. Denver Nuggets (15-13)

Point Differential: +3.7
Current Streak: Lost 2
Last 10: 4-6

Maybe a slight reach for the Nuggets here in the Top 10, given their mediocre record. So long as they continue to pile up more wins, Nikola Jokic is producing at a pace to be the actual MVP of the league (sorry Joel) at the season’s end. His numbers are absolutely immortal: 27.4 points, 11.1 rebounds, 8.6 assists, 1.6 steals, and perhaps more impressively, just a hair shy (literally a couple of free throws percentage points) of the vaunted “50/40/90 club” with a slash line of 57/40/87%. Incredible stuff, especially for a big man.

10. Toronto Raptors (14-15)

Point Differential: +2.5
Current Streak: Won 2
Last 10: 7-3

The Raps are rounding into form, and Nick Nurse seems to have finally settled on a regular and consistent rotation. Blowing one to the Wolves “at home” strings, but manhandling the Bucks in Milwaukee (without Lowry) more than makes up for it. One silver lining to this limited start is the emergence of domestic product Chris Boucher, who’s quickly established himself as one of the premier rim protectors in the league (4th in blocked shots at 2.0 per game – in only 23.3 minutes). With the Raps being dead last in rebounding, could Masai Ujiri have another master plan as the Andre Drummond rumors swirl?

11. Indiana Pacers (15-14)

Point Differential: +1.5
Current Streak: Won 1
Last 10: 4-6

Even though the win total and consistency isn’t there yet, I’m still impressed with the Pacers’ depth at every position. Sabonis now produces at a superstar level, Brogdon is a true floor general, Turner protects the rim and now stretches the defense, Warren and LeVert will eventually be potent scorers (when healthy), the Holiday brothers can ball, and Jeremy Lamb can also fill it up. I expect a flurry of wins as the team gets healthier.

12. San Antonio Spurs (16-11)

Point Differential: -0.4
Current Streak: Won 2
Last 10: 7-3

Don’t look now, but Pop has the San Antonio Spurs relevant again! Their collection of young guys, Murray, Walker, Johnson, Vassell, and even Poeltl are super fresh and intriguing. And could you guess who ranks 11th in the league in assists at 6.9 per game, ahead of point guards like Curry, Conley, SGA, and his good buddy Lowry? That would be DeMar DeRozan, who continues to be one of the most valuable and underrated playmakers in the entire league.

13. Golden State Warriors (16-13)

Point Differential: +1.9
Current Streak: Won 2
Last 10: 6-4

Draymond Green is one of the biggest statistical enigmas this game has ever seen. One 2021 stat to behold is this one: Green, a power forward, currently ranks 6th in the entire league in assists at 8.3 per game, yet ranks only 11th on his own team in scoring at 5.2 points per game. The lack of scoring drags his PER down to 10.28 (league average is considered 15.00). Yet outside the box score, he still carries one of the biggest impacts on the game in terms of ball movement and on defensive versatility. And the Dubs keep winning ball games. Hilarious.

14. Boston Celtics (14-14)

Point Differential: +0.9
Current Streak: Lost 1
Last 10: 4-6

I don’t get it. Yes, there’s injuries, but the C’s have two All-Star cailber wing player who excel on both ends of the floor, yet their a .500 team? As Kemba Walker works his way back to playing every game, this team is slightly more hit than miss. I’ll cut a bit of slack as they’ve played the fewest amount of home games in the league. It’s remarkable to see how much this team misses Marcus Smart and his antics. As well, expect the Celtics to be in on any trade conversations involving an upgrade at center.

15. Dallas Mavericks (13-15)

Point Differential: -1.7
Current Streak: Lost 1
Last 10: 5-5

This team has developed a penchant for blowing games in the fourth quarter and hasn’t exactly lived up to the promising hype so far. Injuries have been killer. Now, with the team running at near full capacity, we’re about to see what they can really do to support Luka. Ranking them at No. 15 seems about right. I expect this team to be at least over .500 by the next rankings.

16. New York Knicks (14-16)

Point Differential: -0.2
Current Streak: Lost 1
Last 10: 5-5

For better or worse, I’ve witnessed an exorbitant amount of New York Knicks basketball this season. My conclusion: They are not terrible. They’re not even a punchline anymore. The defense has been shockingly good, allowing the fewest points per game (103.7) in the entire league. And let’s bow down to Julius Randle for just a second here. Given his numbers (including the gaudy assist totals) and his commitment to getting in great shape for the season, the guy absolutely deserves an All-Star spot. And, he’s fresh off dropping a 44-9-5 on the Hawks! If he gets snubbed, I will riot.

17. Charlotte Hornets (13-15)

Point Differential: -0.4
Current Streak: Lost 1
Last 10: 6-4

The Hornets have been far better than originally advertised. While 13-15 doesn’t appear all that impressive, it’s good right now for a playoff spot in the East. LaMelo Ball has been even more fun and productive than projected, Gordon Hayward looks like the player from a few years ago, P.J. Washington and Miles Bridges look like major defensive assets, and Terry Rozier is having a career year.

18. Memphis Grizzlies (12-12)

Point Differential: -0.7
Current Streak: Won 1
Last 10: 4-6

Such an interesting team. I personally like a team like the Sacramento Kings a little bit more, but since the Grizz slid through Sactown and beat them up, the rankings must reflect such an event. But referencing the Kings, let’s go on a slight tangent for a second and play the mystery comp game with a couple of young point guards:

PlayerMinsPointsAssistsTOsStealsShooting
A30.318.88.33.20.946/25/80%
B29.412.25.21.61.250/44/82%

You’d be more apt to choose Player A because of the scoring and assist totals, right? Perhaps. But look closely at the bigger package. Player B’s assist-to-turnover ratio is better, steals are up, and he shoots the ball better from all three faucets (especially from distance). Player A is Grizzlies “superstar” Ja Morant, while Player B is Kings rookie Tyrese Haliburton, whose all-around numbers are equally as good, but without the acclaim (yet). I love me some Ja, but Memphis is essentially a team without a true superstar. My point is, the two players aren’t far apart, much like their two respective teams in these rankings.

19. Chicago Bulls (12-15)

Point Differential: -0.8
Current Streak: Won 2
Last 10: 5-5

Zach LaVine is one of my favorite players in the league and putting up an absolute monster season (28.2 points, 5.5 rebounds, 5.3 assists), with ridiculous efficiency (52/43/85% shooting). The nonsense that Josh Jackson recently tried on Zach was cute. The Bulls are very young, but they have some hoopers. Coincidentally, one of their recent wins was thorough handling of the Pelicans, who they get to leapfrog in these rankings.

20. New Orleans Pelicans (12-16)

Point Differential: +0.1
Current Streak: Lost 1
Last 10: 5-5

Certainly one of the streakier (and disappointing) teams in the league this year, the Pels have been hard to figure out. While Zion and Ingram have absolutely excelled in the frontcourt, the Ball-Bledsoe backcourt is just not working, as both have seen their typical production fall off dramatically. Stan Van Gundy is going to have to start running these guys harder in practice.

21. Atlanta Hawks (12-16)

Point Differential: +0.2
Current Streak: Won 1
Last 10: 3-7

Speaking of disappointing, I thought the Hawks, with all the young blood, stockpiled draft picks, and recent high-profile acquisitions would be much, much better than this. Yes, injuries have played a big part, as Bogdanovic and Gallinari have both missed significant time. But with an all-world scorer like Trae Young and defensive stalwart like Capela in the middle, they should be better than 10th in the conference. This Russillo stat is telling.

22. Miami Heat (12-17)

Point Differential: -3.3
Current Streak: Won 1
Last 10: 5-5

Even though there have been small signs of improvement, this is just not the same team that was in the bubble and that went to the NBA Finals last season. Of course, much of the slow start can be attributed to Jimmy Butler missing 12 games, but they just don’t seem to carry that same swag. He’s back now, so let’s see how Miami finishes up this 7-game western road trip (they’re currently 2-3).

23. Sacramento Kings (12-16)

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Point Differential: -5.6
Current Streak: Lost 5
Last 10: 4-6

Ugh, I was so high on this team making a legitimate run toward a playoff berth. They’re young, athletic, exciting. They’re still a tough out most nights and have notched some quality wins. They’d be higher in the rankings if not for the recent five-game slide that I can’t just ignore. I love Fox’s blistering speed, Buddy’s shooting, Bagley’s length, Barnes’ fluidity, Holmes energy, Haliburton’s potential. Sacramento deserves to have some nice things after a lengthy period of pain, suffering, and perennial mismanagement. They’re trying, guys.

24. Houston Rockets (11-17)

Point Differential: -1.9
Current Streak: Lost 7
Last 10: 2-8

The Rockets are officially a mess, having lost SEVEN straight games. Is the -1.9 point differential any form of “comfort?” Is it a coincidence that Christian Wood (22.0 points, 10.2 rebounds, 1.5 blocks), the team’s most significant offseason acquisition and a serious contender for Most Improved Player, has missed all seven of these losses? Probably not. They need his presence back in a big way.

25. Oklahoma City Thunder (11-17)

Point Differential: -5.9
Current Streak: Lost 2
Last 10: 3-7

When the dust finally settles, the Thunder won’t be threatening to break through to the postseason, but damn these guys play hard! Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is pressing to get an All-Star nod, and it’s guys like Hamidou Diallo, Luguentz Dort, Darius Bazley, and Isaiah Roby that have come out of nowhere to make this team dangerous on a nightly basis. This team is pesky.

26. Washington Wizards (9-17)

Point Differential: -5.6
Current Streak: Won 3
Last 10: 5-5

You know, the Wiz actually might not be the league’s worst team, so we’ll give ’em some shine this week. Bradley Beal, the league’s leading scorer (and first-time All-Star starter), claims he wants to stay in D.C., so things must be somewhat healthy internally. Meanwhile, Russell Westbrook certainly seems like he’s having a good time:

And just like that, the Wizards have won three games in a row.

27. Orlando Magic (11-18)

Point Differential: -6.1
Current Streak: Won 1
Last 10: 3-7

Orlando just isn’t good, period. But one hill that I will die on, is that Nikola Vucevic (23.4 points, 11.6 rebounds, 3.4 assists) remains one of the most underrated players in the league, season after season. The dude is a walking double-double, durable as hell, and now shoots 41.4% from deep? Oh, and he just dropped a 42-9-4 in Sacramento. Unless he lands in a bigger market, he’ll continue to waste away in Orlando.

28. Cleveland Cavaliers (10-19)

Point Differential: -9.1
Current Streak: Lost 8
Last 10: 1-9

So it looks like Andre Drummond has played his last game for the Cavs, who have come out and stated that they won’t be playing him again. Draymond Green’s comments on the whole situation are MUST-SEE TV. And he’s on point. There are some nice building blocks on this team, including the backcourt of Collin Sexton and Darius Garland, Jarrett Allen in the middle, as well as Larry Nance Jr., Cedi Osman, and Isaac Okoro on the wings. And don’t forget about Kevin Love still being on the roster.

29. Detroit Pistons (8-20)

Point Differential: -4.0
Current Streak: Lost 1
Last 10: 4-6

Similar to former teammate Drummond above, Blake Griffin won’t play for the Pistons again, while he also waits for a trade or a buyout. What is happening? The fall of Blake Griffin has been rather tragic. Once considered the league’s best dunker, hasn’t dunked in an NBA game since December 6th, 2019! Insane.

30. Minnesota Timberwolves (7-22)

Point Differential: -7.4
Current Streak: Lost 2
Last 10: 2-8

Are we sure that the Timberwolves didn’t whiff on Anthony Edwards as the #1 overall pick? He’s been alright, but in particular, Wiseman, Ball, and Haliburton all look like better picks/fits. On the bright side, let’s all welcome back Karl-Anthony Towns, who missed a bunch of time battling Covid. And he went right to work upon returning. Good to see, even though it’s for arguably the worst team in the league.


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