The murkiness is clearing on the picture of legitimate contenders in the Eastern Conference, while the West is increasingly mysterious.
Atlanta’s dominance of Milwaukee has allowed the reigning East champion Boston Celtics to jump into the top seed in the midst of a seven-game win streak.
The Celtics will have to defend their streak and top seed against the Hawks in Wednesday’s tilt (7:30 p.m. ET on ESPN).
Meanwhile, the Portland Trail Blazers and Utah Jazz have come back to earth a bit after shattering expectations through the first few weeks, but they still stand atop the Western Conference alongside the Denver Nuggets. The West still doesn’t have any clearly defined favorites, and plenty of other fringe contenders could get into the conversation with a win streak.
Let’s see where all 30 teams check in this week.
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.
1. Boston Celtics2022-23 record: 11-3Previous ranking: 4
It’s now seven wins in a row for the NBA-best Celtics. Even more impressive than the hot start under coach Joe Mazzulla is the fact that Boston has the NBA’s best offense by a massive amount. The gap between the Celtics in first and the Kings in second is nearly as large as between Sacramento and No. 6 Utah. — Bontemps
2. Milwaukee Bucks2022-23 record: 10-3Previous ranking: 1
The Bucks’ rotation has been hit hard by recent injuries. In Monday’s loss to the Hawks, Milwaukee was without Khris Middleton, Jrue Holiday and Pat Connaughton, then Grayson Allen and Wesley Matthews left the game injured. With so many top players sidelined, Milwaukee has dropped to 23rd in offensive efficiency.
3. Denver Nuggets2022-23 record: 9-4Previous ranking: 6
*All times Eastern
Heading into the season, Nuggets coach Michael Malone expressed his desire for the team to excel on defense. But five weeks in, the Nuggets have the eighth-worst defense in the league, and they allowed the Celtics to score 131 points on Friday.
4. Portland Trail Blazers2022-23 record: 10-4Previous ranking: 8
The Blazers have won four out of five games, and Jerami Grant is rolling. He is averaging 25.4 points this month, including 37 in a loss to Dallas, and has scored 23 or more points in four straight outings. The Blazers will play the Nets and Jazz at home before measuring themselves on the road versus Milwaukee, Cleveland, New York and Brooklyn. — Youngmisuk
5. Memphis Grizzlies2022-23 record: 9-6Previous ranking: 7
The Grizzlies will have to wait a while before they have their full starting five available. Desmond Bane went down with a Grade 2 sprain of his right big toe just as Jaren Jackson Jr. was ready after recovering from offseason surgery to repair his broken right foot. Jackson looked rusty in his season debut, scoring seven points on 3-of-14 shooting. — MacMahon
6. Phoenix Suns2022-23 record: 8-5Previous ranking: 3
The Suns have lost four of six after starting 6-1. Chris Paul has been out the past three games with a heel injury. His absence allowed an opportunity for Duane Washington Jr. to fill it up with 21 points (including a 5 for 8 mark from 3) and four assists against the Heat.
7. Cleveland Cavaliers2022-23 record: 8-5Previous ranking: 2
The Cavs have followed up their eight-game winning streak with a four-game losing skid. All of the defeats have been by seven points or fewer, including a 129-124 defeat to Minnesota after Darius Garland scored 51 points. So it’s not like Cleveland fell off a cliff, but it doesn’t get any easier, with two games against Miami plus Atlanta and Portland in the next six contests.
8. Atlanta Hawks2022-23 record: 9-5Previous ranking: 10
The Bucks have lost three games this season, and the Hawks have accounted for two of them. On Tuesday night, Atlanta defeated the Bucks 121-106 in Milwaukee, handing them their first home loss of the season. Trae Young and Dejounte Murray combined for 40 points — their third-lowest output of the season — but Atlanta came away with the victory. Earlier in the week in a win against Philadelphia, the duo combined for 36 points, which was the second fewest they scored together. The Hawks are learning to pull out games without their star guards needing to put up 25 apiece per outing. — Lopez
9. Utah Jazz2022-23 record: 10-6Previous ranking: 5
The Jazz have lost three in a row, matching Utah’s loss total in its first 13 games. Utah’s guard trio — Mike Conley, Jordan Clarkson and Collin Sexton — is in the midst of a mini-slump. They have combined to average only 28.7 points on 30.3% shooting (25% from 3-point range) during the losing streak. — MacMahon
10. Dallas Mavericks2022-23 record: 8-5Previous ranking: 9
Reggie Bullock was in a 3 of 25 funk from 3-point range before making four 3s in the fourth quarter Tuesday night to help the Mavs hold off a Clippers comeback bid. “I was so happy for him,” Luka Doncic said. “A lot of people put a lot of pressure on Reggie, talk about he can’t make a shot. But the things he does on the court for us don’t show up in the statistics a lot.” — MacMahon
11. Philadelphia 76ers2022-23 record: 7-7Previous ranking: 14
A week ago, it was unclear where Philadelphia was headed. Today, the 76ers are in a much better place. Why? Because the version of Joel Embiid who was an MVP contender each of the past two seasons has returned. An iconic 59-point performance on Sunday against Utah saw him score 26 of his team’s 27 points in the fourth quarter to give the Sixers a third win in four games. — Bontemps
12. LA Clippers2022-23 record: 8-7Previous ranking: 13
The Clippers almost pulled off another ridiculous comeback from down 25 but ran out of magic in Dallas. Despite their schedule being jam-packed with games — they’ve played four back-to-backs already — the Clippers are competing and playing loose. Kawhi Leonard (knee) is getting closer to a return, according to coach Ty Lue. Once Leonard is back, the Clippers will have to adjust with several veterans going back to sacrificing minutes and roles. — Youngmisuk
13. Washington Wizards2022-23 record: 8-6Previous ranking: 19
Despite Bradley Beal going into the league’s health and safety protocols, the Wizards won four straight games, including quality decisions over the Mavs, Jazz and Grizzlies. Kristaps Porzingis and Kyle Kuzma stepped up and led the Wizards in scoring and/or rebounding during the streak, and Washington made 19 3s in the triumph over Memphis. — Youngmisuk
14. Toronto Raptors2022-23 record: 8-7Previous ranking: 11
Toronto is dealing with an injury crisis, but it still managed to finally get a win against former Raptors coach Dwane Casey and the Pistons on Monday behind a career-high 27 points from Dalano Banton. Until Pascal Siakam & Co. get back on the court, it’s going to be a bit of an adventure for Toronto to stay in the thick of a competitive Eastern Conference playoff picture. — Bontemps
15. New Orleans Pelicans2022-23 record: 8-6Previous ranking: 12
In Saturday’s win against the Rockets, Zion Williamson finished with 26 points on 8-of-9 shooting. That’s the most points any player has had this season on fewer than 10 shots in a game, and it’s the most Williamson has had in his career on fewer than 10 shots. It also was Williamson’s fourth game of his career with at least 25 points while shooting 85% from the field. All other players in Pelicans history have combined for five such games, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. (Bobby Jackson, Emeka Okafor, Robin Lopez, Anthony Davis and Julius Randle each have one.) — Lopez
16. Miami Heat2022-23 record: 7-7Previous ranking: 20
Miami has won three straight and seems to be getting back on track, thanks in part to the solid play of Bam Adebayo, who registered 54 points, 25 rebounds and five assists over his past two outings. Adebayo is averaging 19.1 points and 9.1 rebounds this season.
17. Golden State Warriors2022-23 record: 6-8Previous ranking: 15
The Warriors posted their biggest win of the season (by scoring margin) against the Spurs. More importantly, it was their most complete performance on both ends of the floor for close to 48 minutes. Still, the Warriors are winless on the road — the first time a defending champion has gone 0-7 in away games at any point in a season since the Mavericks in 2011-12.
18. Sacramento Kings2022-23 record: 7-6Previous ranking: 26
The Kings went 4-0 last week and have won seven of their past nine games. During this stretch, the Kings haven’t just been beating weaker opponents; they have tallied wins over teams that are either at the top of their conferences or expected to be. Sacramento fans should be feeling good, but the remaining area of concern is its bottom-five defense. — McMenamin
19. New York Knicks2022-23 record: 7-7Previous ranking: 18
After being routed by Brooklyn last week and giving up 145 points to Oklahoma City on Sunday, the Knicks desperately needed the victory they notched in Utah on Tuesday night to kick off a five-game trip. That’s especially true considering the next three opponents on the schedule: Denver, Golden State and Phoenix. For now, New York is back to .500. — Bontemps
20. Indiana Pacers2022-23 record: 6-6Previous ranking: 23
Tyrese Haliburton, who leads the NBA with 10.3 assists per game, is expected to play Wednesday despite spraining his right ankle in Indiana’s most recent victory. He also is averaging 20.5 points to help lead Indiana’s offense to rank seventh in offensive efficiency this season.
21. Minnesota Timberwolves2022-23 record: 6-8Previous ranking: 17
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The Timberwolves are struggling. Their loss to the Suns was their second straight home game in which they trailed by 25 or more points. Minnesota has dropped from ninth to 19th in defense in just five games.
22. Brooklyn Nets2022-23 record: 6-9Previous ranking: 22
The Nets have dropped two straight after winning four of five. In Tuesday’s loss to the Kings, Sacramento shot 59.6% from the floor and played harder than a Brooklyn team that finishes up a West Coast swing on Thursday in Portland. The only good sign for the Nets is that Ben Simmons played his best game of the young season on Tuesday, scoring 11 points and grabbing five rebounds. — Friedell
23. Chicago Bulls2022-23 record: 6-8Previous ranking: 16
The Bulls have lost four out of their past five contests. On one hand, they can take solace in the fact that they’ve played the second-toughest schedule in the NBA this season; on the other hand, their offense is struggling, ranking 22nd in points per 100 possessions.
24. Oklahoma City Thunder2022-23 record: 6-8Previous ranking: 24
On Sunday at the Knicks, Josh Giddey had 24 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds to become just the third player in NBA history to record triple-doubles in each of his first two career road games versus a single opponent, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. The other two? Luka Doncic and Oscar Robertson. — Lopez
25. San Antonio Spurs2022-23 record: 6-9Previous ranking: 21
After a 5-2 start, the Spurs came crashing back down to many preseason expectations with a five-game losing streak. However, they did snap that skid with an 18-point win over Milwaukee. Keldon Johnson has continued his strong start by scoring at least 15 points in each of his 14 games this season. That’s the longest such streak by a Spur since Kawhi Leonard had 17 consecutive games of at least 15 points or more in 2015-16. — Lopez
26. Charlotte Hornets2022-23 record: 4-11Previous ranking: 25
Charlotte snapped an eight-game losing streak with a win over the Magic on Monday night, but the better news is that LaMelo Ball is actually back on the floor after missing the beginning of the season with an ankle injury. Ball has 15 assists over his first two games — but with seven turnovers.
27. Orlando Magic2022-23 record: 4-10Previous ranking: 29
Orlando actually picked up nice wins over the Mavs and the Suns in the past week, and it has continued to ride the solid play of Wendell Carter Jr., who is averaging 18.4 points, 9.1 rebounds and 3.4 assists in November.
28. Los Angeles Lakers2022-23 record: 3-10Previous ranking: 28
LeBron James is on track to pass Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the NBA’s all-time leader in regular-season points this season. We’ll have complete coverage all year long.
Could this week be the chance for the Lakers to start looking like a decent basketball team? They get four days without a game after beating the Nets to prepare for the Pistons on Friday, when L.A. is hoping LeBron James, Dennis Schroder and Thomas Bryant will all be available.
29. Detroit Pistons2022-23 record: 3-12Previous ranking: 27
After a win on opening night against the Magic, the Pistons have lost 12 straight against Eastern Conference opponents. Detroit also has been without Cade Cunningham, who has missed three games in a row with a sore shin and is expected to be reevaluated this weekend.
30. Houston Rockets2022-23 record: 2-12Previous ranking: 30
Jalen Green has scored at least 20 points in his past six games, averaging 26.0 points on 53.8% shooting during that span. He had 25 points, six rebounds and a career-high-tying seven assists in Monday’s loss to the Clippers, joining teammates KJ Martin and Kevin Porter Jr. as the only 20-or-younger players in franchise history to post lines of at least 25-5-5. — MacMahon