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After an impressive 9-3 start, the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers are the top dog in ESNY’s NBA Power Rankings.

Danny Small

The NBA season is off and running. Well, not exactly running due to COVID-19 issues and a rash of injuries decimating nearly every team in the league. This season has not featured the best basketball, but the show must go on.

Here are the first official ESNY NBA power rankings of the 2020-21 season.

30. Detroit Pistons (2-8)

Jerami Grant is putting up huge numbers for the Pistons, but it’s not translating into wins yet. Injuries to rookie Killian Hayes and Derrick Rose aren’t helping anyone either. The Pistons are cruising towards one of the top spots in the lottery.

29. Toronto Raptors (2-8)

Clocking in at 29 are…the Raptors? Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Pascal Siakam is starting to bounce back after a slow start to the season, but the Raptors are going to need to claw their way out of an early hole to get back to the playoffs.

28. Minnesota Timberwolves (3-7)

So much talent, so few wins. To be fair to the Timberwolves, they are playing without Karl-Anthony Towns for the most part. They are 2-1 in games that KAT plays and 1-6 when he’s out of the lineup. Minnesota has some nice pieces on the roster, but they don’t have enough firepower in the frontcourt without Towns.

27. Houston Rockets (3-6)

What a disaster it is in Houston right now. John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins are trying to find their rhythm again while James Harden is trying to find the door. The big silver lining for Houston fans is that Christian Wood is a stud.

26. Washington Wizards (3-8)

Bradley Beal said it best — the Washington Wizards can’t stop a parked car right now. The offense is electric but the defense is 27th in the NBA in defensive rating. If you are trying to keep track at home of all the teams on pause due to COVID-19, yes, the Wizards are one of them.

25. Chicago Bulls (4-7)

The Chicago Bulls are on a three-game winning streak, but they are actually playing better of late. They have three consecutive losses by four or fewer points and before that, they had won four of five. Billy Donovan is starting to get a feel for this young team.

24. Memphis Grizzlies (4-6)

Even without Ja Morant, the Memphis Grizzlies are figuring out how to get it done. Back-to-back wins over the Nets and Cavaliers give the Grizzlies the chance to move back to .500 in their next two games. They play the Timberwolves and Towns is still nursing a sore wrist.

23. New Orleans Pelicans (4-5)

The Pelicans are just one game below .500, but they are about to embark on a six-game Western Conference road trip. This could get a whole lot worse before it gets better.

22. Cleveland Cavaliers (5-7)

Although the Cavaliers came out of the gates with three wins to start the season, they have since cooled off. An ankle injury is plaguing Collin Sexton, who averaged 25.1 points on over 50% shooting from the floor and three-point range. He’s missed Cleveland’s last four games.

21. Miami Heat (4-5)

It’s not a complete surprise to see the Miami Heat struggling early. They were playing up through October and some of their key contributors are on the wrong side of 30. COVID-19 issues have also crept up to bite the Heat. Look for Miami to come on strong in the second half.

20. Sacramento Kings (5-6)

Is there any rookie out there more exciting than Tyrese Haliburton? He is currently 12th in the NBA in points per fourth quarter (6.6) and leads all rookies by a mile in that category.

19. New York Knicks (5-6)

The Knicks (and their fans) have come back down to Earth after a 5-3 start. Injuries are piling up and fatigue may be setting in on the guys who can actually play. Julius Randle is playing at an All-Star level but the majority of his teammates have been too inconsistent.

18. Charlotte Hornets (6-5)

The Hornets are fresh off a win over the Knicks. LaMelo Ball notched his first triple-double over the weekend and became the youngest NBA player to ever do so. Ball is far from a perfect player at this point, but he’s flashing massive potential.

17. Oklahoma City Thunder (5-5)

People keep doubting the Thunder and they keep proving everyone wrong. After trading away Chris Paul and parting ways with Billy Donovan, everyone assumed the Thunder were going into tank mode. Not so fast. They lost to the Spurs on Tuesday night but won three in a row prior to that.

16. San Antonio Spurs (6-5)

Speaking of the Spurs, San Antonio is staying afloat in a crowded Western Conference. Gregg Popovich’s squad isn’t the perennial championship contender that it used to be, but they have a good mix of veterans and young talent.

15. Orlando Magic (6-5)

The Magic have been brutalized by injuries early in the year. Jonathan Isaac was lost before the season, but Markelle Fultz’s year is done after an ACL tear. Orlando’s season began spiraling downward when Evan Fournier was forced to leave the lineup. They are 4-0 when Fournier is able to play a full game and 2-5 without him.

14. Atlanta Hawks (5-5)

The Atlanta Hawks are one of the most exciting teams in the NBA. They have talent and depth at every position. Trae Young is off to a slow start, but once he figures out how to play with his new teammates, the Hawks should be off and running.

13. Denver Nuggets (5-6)

The Nuggets fell to Kevin Durant and the Brooklyn Nets on Tuesday night, but they are starting to put the pieces together. Michael Porter Jr.’s absence and Jerami Grant’s offseason departure have slowed Denver down a bit.

12. Brooklyn Nets (6-6)

While Kyrie Irving is on sabbatical, Kevin Durant is reminding everyone who he is. He’s Kevin Durant. The two-time Finals MVP came one rebound shy of a triple-double in a win over the Nuggets on Tuesday. His 13 assists were a season-high and his 34 points led the way to an important win for Brooklyn.

11. Portland Trail Blazers (6-4)

Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum might be the best backcourt in basketball right now. The duo is averaging 54.2 points per game and has Portland on a three-game winning streak. The Blazers will be in the mix in the Western Conference when it is all said and done.

10. Dallas Mavericks (5-4)

Luka Doncic is not playing his best basketball at the moment and he’s still averaging close to a triple-double on 26.6 points per game. Dallas will get a boost when Kristaps Porzingis returns to the lineup after offseason surgery. Porzingis represents one of the most unique bigs in the game and he can really space the floor with his deadly three-point shot.

9. Indiana Pacers (6-4)

The Pacers have three players averaging 20 or more points per game — Malcolm Brogdon, Domantas Sabonis, and Victor Oladipo. It’s also worth mentioning Myles Turner is picking up 4.0 blocks per game. Indiana has dropped a few head-scratching games, but they still look dangerous to start the season.

8. Golden State Warriors (6-4)

Stephen Curry is absolutely willing his team to victory, even when he has poor shooting nights. Teams are loading up to stop him and it opens up looks for his teammates. Draymond Green’s return has helped to stabilize the defense.

7. Utah Jazz (7-4)

The Jazz went on the road and absolutely buried the Cavaliers on Tuesday night. Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell secured their respective bags in the offseason and it’s paying off early for Utah.

6. Phoenix Suns (7-4)

The addition of Chris Paul has helped provide a Hall-of-Fame presence in the lineup even if he’s not putting up the best numbers of his career. Devin Booker is doing Devin Booker things and Mikal Bridges is turning into an elite three-and-D wing.

5. Los Angeles Clippers (7-4)

Despite the embarrassing losses, the Clippers are still a top-five team in the NBA. During a season where nearly every team has looked out of sync, the Clippers are 7-4 even after some significant roster turnover in the offseason.

4. Boston Celtics (7-3)

The Celtics deserve a ton of credit for surging out to seven wins in their first 10 games without All-Star point guard Kemba Walker. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are the top dogs in Boston now.

3. Milwaukee Bucks (7-4)

The Bucks have four losses, including a blowout against the Knicks, but when they win, they don’t leave any room for interpretation. All seven of their wins have come by double digits and three of those have come by 30 or more points. Giannis Antetokounmpo’s numbers are down slightly, but he’s positioning himself to be in yet another MVP conversation.

2. Philadelphia 76ers (8-4)

Doc Rivers is breathing new life into a once-stagnant Philadelphia 76ers team. Despite COVID-19 issues following this team around, they are still winning ballgames. Joel Embiid put up 45 points, 16 boards, four assists, and five steals in a win over the Heat on Tuesday. Ben Simmons only took two shots, but he posted 12 assists in the win.

1. Los Angeles Lakers (9-3)

It’s the Los Angeles Lakers and everyone else. The defending champions are No. 1 for a reason. Well, two reasons — LeBron James and Anthony Davis. The purple and gold have the best record in the NBA.

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