With the James Harden trade done, the Brooklyn Nets are one of the clear favorites to win the 2021 NBA Finals.
The James Harden trade is in the books and the Brooklyn Nets are the immediate favorite in the Eastern Conference. Brooklyn is 2-0 since trading for Harden and the superstar looks like he’s already in peak condition. The rest of the NBA is officially on notice.
Here is this week’s edition of the ESNY NBA power rankings of the 2020-21 season.
30. Minnesota Timberwolves (Previous Ranking: 28) (Record: 3-9)
Minnesota has lost two games since our last power rankings. Karl-Anthony Towns continues to deal with injuries, but he put up 25 points and 14 rebounds against the Memphis Grizzlies. Still, it wasn’t enough to secure the win. The Timberwolves are struggling right now.
29. Detroit Pistons (30) (3-10)
The Pistons went 1-3 during a week in which they had to play the Utah Jazz, Milwaukee Bucks, and Miami Heat (twice). It wasn’t a terrible week for Detroit, so they get a slight bump up to 29.
28. Houston Rockets (27) (4-8)
After losing Harden in the trade, the Rockets are facing an uphill battle. The addition of Victor Oladipo will help Houston in a lot of ways, but a good portion of the roster is going to have to get used to playing without Harden.
27. Sacramento Kings (20) (5-9)
The Kings are scuffling with three consecutive losses, including a 38-point loss to the Clippers. The early mojo that Sacramento had appears to be fading a bit. Tyrese Haliburton is starting to come back down to earth.
26. Washington Wizards (26) (3-8)
The Wizards haven’t played a game since last week due to COVID-19 issues. It felt a bit unfair to move them at all given their lack of games.
25. New Orleans Pelicans (23) (5-8)
Despite a massive effort from Zion Williamson on Tuesday night, the Pelicans fell to the Jazz for their sixth loss in their last seven games. They have a six-game homestand starting on Monday.
24. Miami Heat (21) (5-7)
We are still waiting for the Miami Heat to fully catch their stride, but it hasn’t happened yet. With four road games with two apiece against the Raptors and Nets, things could get worse before they get better.
23. Charlotte Hornets (18) (6-8)
Charlotte went 0-3 this week, seeing the second-biggest drop of any team in the power rankings. The Hornets could be a team that goes in waves this year. They already have two three-game losing streaks and a four-game winning streak already this season.
22. Cleveland Cavaliers (22) (6-7)
The Cavaliers won their only game of the week against the Knicks last Friday. They are another team who is going through some COVID-19 issues and therefore, they stick right at 22.
21. Chicago Bulls (25) (6-8)
The Chicago Bulls have stabilized themselves with two crucial wins after a rough opening to the season. They have five of their next seven games at home following a brutal six-game Western Conference road trip.
20. Toronto Raptors (29) (5-8)
The Raptors are like the Heat — we are just waiting for the full-scale resurgence. Toronto may have finally figured it out, winning three consecutive games since Wednesday. The Eastern Conference stalwarts seem to finally be figuring out their new living situation in Tampa.
19. Orlando Magic (15) (6-8)
The Magic looked horrendous on offense against the Knicks on Monday afternoon, but the Knicks have done that to their fair share of teams so far this year. Injuries are decimating Orlando, but they are still going to be in the mix for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
18. Oklahoma City Thunder (17) (6-7)
The Thunder are overperforming so far in 2020-21, but a drop-off feels inevitable for this young squad. They only played twice since our last rankings, winning in overtime against the Bulls and suffering a blowout loss at the hands of the Nuggets.
17. Atlanta Hawks (14) (6-7)
The Hawks had two major chances to get statement wins but fell to both the Jazz and the Trail Blazers. Plenty of people picked Atlanta to make a major leap into relevancy this season. So far, they are traveling in the middle of the pack.
16. New York Knicks (19) (7-8)
The Knicks are one of the biggest surprises of the 2020-21 season thus far. The 7-8 record only tells one part of the story. New York ranks fifth in defensive efficiency and already has wins over the Bucks, Pacers, Celtics, and Jazz.
15. Memphis Grizzlies (24) (7-6)
Ja Morant is back and even though he isn’t quite full-strength yet, he’s fueling the Grizzlies. He closed out the Phoenix Suns on Monday with a flurry of heady plays to lead Memphis to its fifth consecutive win.
14. Portland Trail Blazers (11) (8-6)
Portland is going to be without CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic for the foreseeable future. McCollum was having an All-Star caliber season, averaging career-highs in points and assists.
13. San Antonio Spurs (16) (8-6)
The Spurs continue to be steady in this crazy season. It’s easy to overlook the ho-hum Spurs, but a convincing win over the Blazers on Monday shows that San Antonio is not to be taken lightly.
12. Dallas Mavericks (10) (6-7)
The Dallas Mavericks should not be this high on the list based on their record, but we can’t overlook the fact that they have Luka Doncic. In addition to the Wonderboy, Kristaps Porzingis is back in the lineup, slowly easing his way back into the swing of things after offseason surgery.
11. Denver Nuggets (13) (7-7)
Nikola Jokic is a bad man. Again, the Nuggets should not be this high on the list based on their record, but they are clearly one of the better teams in the league simply because of Jokic. The center is averaging a triple-double and willing his team to wins.
10. Golden State Warriors (8) (7-6)
The Warriors have been up and down so far this year, but people forget just how good Stephen Curry can be when he’s locked in. The Los Angeles Lakers learned that first-hand when Curry dropped 19 points in the second half to lead the Warriors to victory.
9. Indiana Pacers (9) (8-5)
The Pacers are going to be a different team without Oladipo, but the core is still in tact. Malcolm Brogdon and Domantas Sabonis are the two leaders of this team, but they are going to be shorthanded in the meantime. Myles Turner recently suffered a fracture in his hand and newly-acquired Caris LeVert is dealing with a mass on his left kidney.
8. Phoenix Suns (6) (7-5)
The Phoenix Suns only played one game since last Wednesday. They couldn’t contain Ja Morant late in the game, but that’s no reason to drop the Suns too far on our rankings.
7. Boston Celtics (4) (8-4)
The Boston Celtics looked like a disaster in Kemba Walker’s debut on Sunday. They only managed to score 75 points against the Knicks and even though it was only one game, there is serious competition at the top of these rankings.
6. Utah Jazz (7) (10-4)
The Jazz are quietly putting together a fantastic start. While the vast majority of NBA teams are running somewhere in the middle of the pack, the Jazz are separating themselves.
5. Milwaukee Bucks (3) (9-5)
The Milwaukee Bucks are in the top tier of Eastern Conference teams, but they are no longer the frontrunner in the group. The Bucks are right there with the 76ers and the Nets at the top of the group.
4. Philadelphia 76ers (2) (9-5)
The Philadelphia 76ers are turning over a new leaf under Doc Rivers this year. Joel Embiid is playing like an MVP candidate and Ben Simmons is playing his typical point forward role to perfection. But they didn’t get Harden.
3. Los Angeles Clippers (5) (10-4)
The Clippers have won four games in a row with their last two coming by 30+ points. Sure, they flamed out in the bubble, but they are still a bonafide championship contender.
2. Brooklyn Nets (12) (9-6)
The James Harden trade vaults the Nets up further than any other team on our power rankings. Harden plus Kevin Durant was phenomenal in their first two games. Now, we’re adding Kyrie Irving to the mix? It’s hard to see how any team can stop them from scoring.
1. Los Angeles Lakers (1) (11-4)
OK, the Lakers suffered a loss to the Warriors on Tuesday, but they have still won nine of their last 11. LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and the Lakers are staying on top.
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