The Boston Celtics loaded up this offseason in order to attempt to knock the Cleveland Cavaliers off their perch in the Eastern Conference. While it remains to be seen if the Celtics are really capable of challenging the Cavs for conference supremacy, there is no doubt they are playing the best basketball in the league despite dealing with a slew of injuries.
Boston (12-2) has not lost since losing the first two games of the season. The Celtics 12-game winning streak is currently the longest in the league and is tied for the franchise’s third longest in the last 30 years.
A big reason for the Celtics success is their defensive tenacity. Boston has limited their opponents to 92.2 points a game during this winning streak as they have kept 11 of these opponents to under the century mark. Overall, the C’s rank first in scoring defense as well as defensive rating. They also rank second in opponent field goal percentage, third in three-point field goal percentage, fourth in defensive rebounding percentage and 10th in steals. Additionally, the Celtics have done an excellent job in limiting second chance and fast break opportunities.
Boston’s biggest issues are on the offensive end.
Kyrie Irving is a shot-maker and is having an MVP type season. In the meantime, veteran center Al Horford is having an all-star type season and Jaylen Brown as well as rookie Jayson Tatum are capable of big games. Yet, with Brown and Tatum being so young they have problems with consistency.
The good news is that the Celtics have a veteran laden bench featuring Marcus Morris, Aron Baynes, Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier. Baynes and Smart are defensive oriented players who aren’t afraid of mixing it up. But in the same token, both are limited on the offensive end. Rozier has also been excellent on the defensive end and has shown the ability to score on occasion. He is averaging a career-high 10 points and has scored in double-figures in each of his last three games, marking the first time he has done so in his career. Morris has done a nice job scoring since returning from injury.
1. Boston Celtics (12-2), no movement
2. Golden State Warriors (11-3), no movement
The Dubs have run off six straight wins, each by at least 17 points. Golden State, which is averaging a league-high 120.3 points, has thrived in the third quarter this year. The Warriors are outscoring their opponents by a league-high 6.5 points in the period as they are scoring 32.6, which is nearly three more points more than anyone else in the Association. They kicked up their third quarter production up a little last week as they averaged 36.0 in their three games which counteracts their recent slow starts. Over the last three games, Golden State outscored their opponents by just 1.7 points a game in the opening period (10th) as they scored just 25.7 points a game (19th).
Kevin Durant has been the most consistent Warrior since the calendar turned to November. Durant, who missed the Minnesota game on Wednesday, has tallied 20 points, five rebounds, four assists and four assists in each of his four games. He is averaging 24.8 points, 7.0 rebounds and 5.5 assists along with 2.5 assists while shooting 54.8% from the floor and 41.7% from beyond the arc.
Like the Celtics, the defense has been a key for the Warriors recently. The Dubs are 23rd in scoring defense, but they are ninth in defensive rating and ninth in opponent field goal percentage as well as 11th in opponent three-point percentage. They have held their last three opponents to an average of 98.0 points a game. Golden State has recorded at least seven blocks in 12 of their first 13 games.
3. Houston Rockets (11-3), no movement
The Rockets have won six straight and have the best record in the Western Conference. A key for Houston this year has been getting off to good starts as they are averaging a league-high 31.1 points a game --including 36.0 points a game over their last three contests -- which is 1.2 points more than they produced in the opening quarter last season.
The three-point shot is once again a big part of Houston’s offense. The Rockets have made at least 10 triples in 13 of their 14 games and are averaging 15.4 made three-pointers a game. 41.5 % of their 111.1 points a game have come off of three-pointers. Three of the top-8 three-point shooters in the league (in terms of makes) are Rockets.
James Harden has been terrific in November, producing four double-doubles and two triple-doubles this far. Harden has compiled season-high in points, rebounds and assists since the calendar turned. And is averaging 35.8 points along with 11.0 assists and 5.0 rebounds while shooting 49.2% from the field and 44.7% from beyond the arc. He currently leads the league with 61 three-pointers.
Eric Gordon and Clint Capela have also been excellent. Gordon has topping the 20 point mark in each of his last five games and 11 of 13 total. Gordon, who is second in the league with 52 triples, has sank 3 or more shots from downtown on 11 occasions. In the meantime, Capela is anchoring the Rockets interior. He has produced eight double-doubles thus far, which is seven less than his career-high which he set last year. Capela is averaging 13.3 points, 11.5 rebounds and 1.9 blocks while shooting 69.6% from the floor for the season.
The best news for the Rockets might be that they are actually playing defense this year. Houston currently ranks eighth in scoring defense giving up 102.9 points a contest, which is 6.4 fewer points a game then they gave up last season. The Rockets, who are eighth in defensive efficiency, are 5-1 in games they have held their opponents below the century mark
4. Detroit Pistons (10-3), no movement
The Pistons are off to their best start since 2005-06 when they began the season 15-3. Detroit finished off a perfect five-game homestand to improve to a league-best 7-1 at home.
Andre Drummond has been a monster on the boards in the early going, collecting 12 or more boards in each of the Pistons 13 games, which includes two games of 20 or more rebounds this past week. Drummond, who has posted nine double-doubles, leads the league in rebounds (15.6) and offensive boards (5.3). The 6-11 center also is doling out 3.2 assists and making free throws at a 63.2% clip, which both are personal-bests.
5. San Antonio Spurs (8-5), +1 spot
The Spurs have been plagued by injuries in the early going this year. San Antonio, the 23rd highest scoring team in the league at 103.0 points a game, topped the century mark for just the seventh time all year when they tallied a season-high 133 points in a win over the Bulls on Saturday. Rudy Gay is second on the team in scoring, despite coming off the bench for the first time in his career, as he has reached double-figures in scoring 10 of the team’s first 13 games.
6. Washington Wizards (8-5), +1 spot
The Wizards have won three of four. Bradley Beal, the team’s leading scorer, produced just 21.3 points a game in three games which is 16 points a game less than he averaged during the first week of November when he tallied at least 36 points in a three-game stretch. John Wall has missed 17 free throw attempts this month which is noteworthy as he is shooting a career-low 72.8% from the charity stripe so far this season.
7. Toronto Raptors (7-5), +1 spot
The Raptors have won five of eight. DeMar DeRozan has scored at least 20 points in his last seven games and is averaging 22 points a contest during that stretch. Kyle Lowry, who had a subpar start to the season, moved into fourth place on the Raps all-time scoring list on Sunday and is averaging 18 points a game over the last three contests.
8. Minnesota Timberwolves (8-5), -3 spots
The Wolves have lost two-straight as they have given up 118 points in each of the last two games. Andrew Wiggins, who is averaging a career-high 1.5 triples a game, has made a three-pointer in four straight games and is averaging 20 points a contest in the month of November. Minnesota leads the league in loose balls recoveries at 8.2 a game.
9. Memphis Grizzlies (7-6), no movement
The Grizzlies lost to the Rockets for the first time in three games on Saturday as they gave up 111 points, they held Houston to 89.5 points a game in their two wins. Tyreke Evans is becoming one of the best sixth men in the league, averaging 23.0 points along with 4.6 assists and 1.6 steals over his last six contests.
10. New Orleans Pelicans (7-6), +3 spots
The Pelicans have won four of five. DeMarcus Cousins leads the league in charges taken (five) and turnovers committed (68). New Orleans is second in the league with 52.3 paint points in the game, which equates to 48.5% of their total points (107.5).
11. New York Knicks Knicks (8-5), +4 spots
The Knicks possess a winning record after 12 games for the first time since 2012-13. Kristaps Porzingis continues his torrid pace to start the season, scoring 30 or more points eight times. New York leads the league with 16.5 second-chance points a game.
12. Milwaukee Bucks (7-6), +5 spots
The Bucks have won two in a row following the acquisition of Eric Bledsoe. Milwaukee improved to 3-3 in the six games they have played on back-to-back games after defeating the Spurs (Friday) and the Lakers (Saturday). Giannis Antetokounmpo, who has steadily increased his scoring and PER averages in his five seasons, currently leads the league in both categories.
13. Denver Nuggets (8-6), +7 spots
The Nuggets finished their recent five-game homestand undefeated to improve to 6-2 at the Pepsi Center. Second-year guard Jamal Murray, who scored a career-high 32 points on Saturday, has increased his scoring average by over three points from last year as he has been more efficient. Denver is the only team ranked in the top three of the league in fast break points, second-chance points and points in the paint.
14. Orlando Magic (8-6), -3 spots
The Magic have lost three of five. Point guard Elfrid Payton returned to the floor this week for the first time since injuring his hamstring in the second game of the season, recording his first double-double of the season on Wednesday. Orlando scored 128 points in at Phoenix on Friday, marking its third-highest scoring output in a road contest in the last 20 years (non-overtime games).
15. Portland Trail Blazers (7-6), -3 spots
The Blazers have failed to top the century mark in their last two games to fall to 0-3 on the season when held under 100 points. Damian Lillard, who scored 30-plus points in four of his last six games, has totaled just 31 points in his last two contests. Portland is doing yeoman’s work on the boards, leading the league in rebound percentage and total rebounds despite not having a single player grabbing over nine caroms a game.
16. Philadelphia (7-6), no movement
The 76ers have dropped two of their three games on their current five-game trip out west and now 4-4 away from home. J.J. Redick, who got off to a slow start to the season, has scored in double-figures in four straight games and is averaging 18.0 points a game while shooting 47.1% from the floor in the month of November. Philadelphia ranks second in the league both assists per game and assists percentage while also ranking dead last in turnovers and turnover percentage.
17. Los Angeles Lakers (6-8), -2 spots
The Lakers have lost three straight, all on the road, and is now 1-5 in games away from the Staples Center. Lonzo Ball became the youngest player in the league, and just the fourth player in the franchise history, to post a triple-double when he accomplished the feat in a loss to the Bucks on Saturday. Los Angeles has done most of their damage in the paint, tallying 52.7% of their points, as the Lakers lead the league with 54.6 points a contest.
18. Oklahoma City Thunder (6-7), +1 spot
The Thunder have won consecutive games for the second time this season and are now 6-2 in games they have scored at least 100 points. Paul George has scored 79 points, on 25-of-44 shooting (56.8%) from the field including 11-of-19 (57.8%) from beyond the arc, to go along with 17 rebounds and 12 assists over the last two games.
19. Cleveland Cavaliers (7-7), +4 spots
The Cavs have won three of five. JR Smith is averaging 2.8 triples a game this month as he has made multiple three-pointers in five of the six games in November after doing so once in the first seven games. Cleveland, which ranks last in defensive rating, has allowed 112 or more points in 10 of its last 11 games.
20. Miami Heat (6-7), +4 spots
The Heat are 3-3 in their last six games. Hassan Whiteside picked up his fifth double-double in his eight games this season in a loss to the Pistons on Sunday. Miami has allowed the second most second-chance points in a game (14.8).
21. Los Angeles Clippers (5-8), -11 spots
The Clippers are on a league-high five-game losing streak. Los Angeles has given up 100 points in six of its seven losses while they have only surrendered that many points once in their five wins. Blake Griffin surpassed the 2,000 career assist plateau on Saturday becoming the fifth player in franchise history to do so.
22. Utah Jazz (6-8), -4 spots
The Jazz snapped a four-game losing streak with a victory over Brooklyn on Saturday. The 114 points Utah put on the board against Brooklyn was a season-high and marked just the sixth time the third-lowest scoring team (98.3 ppg) in the league has reached the century mark. Star center Rudy Gobert is out four-to-six weeks with a bone bruise.
23. Indiana Pacers (6-8), +1 spot
The Pacers went 1-3 this past week and have lost five of six overall. Victor Oladipo has scored 20 points in each of his last three games and now has 10 such games this season. 18.3% of Indiana’s points have come from mid-range, which ranks second in the league.
24. Charlotte Hornets (5-7), -3 spots
The Hornets have lost their last four games, all on the road, to fall to 1-5 away from home. Kemba Walker, who made a career-high 204 three-pointers last season at personal-best 39.9% clip, has made just 8-of-29 (27.6%) shots from beyond the arc in the month of November. Charlotte has done a better job at taking care of the ball over the last three games, committing a league-low 12.7 turnover a game, to move up to No. 2 in the league in fewest turnovers a game.
25. Phoenix Suns (5-10), no movement
The Suns snapped a season-long four game losing streak with a victory over the Wolves (Saturday) to improve to 1-3 on their current six game homestand. Leading scorer Devin Booker has had an up-and-down November so far, tallying at least 30 points in three of the seven games though he also been held to single digits twice. Recently acquired Greg Monroe has yet to play for the Suns as he is still nursing a calf injury that has limited to five games thus far.
26. Brooklyn Nets (5-8), no movement
The Nets went 2-2 this past week. But the bad news continues for the franchise as D’Angelo Russell is expected to miss several games with a left knee contusion. Brooklyn is 2-6 on the road this season though the Nets have not won consecutive road games since 2015-16.
27. Sacramento Kings (3-10), +2 spots
The Kings had their first winning streak this week with wins over the Thunder and 76ers. Buddy Hield has stepped up his production in November, averaging 15.2 points while shooting 51.9% from the field which is up from the 10.2 points and 35.4% shooting in October. Sacramento ranks second to last in defensive rebound percentage and total rebound percentage.
28. Chicago Bulls (2-9), -1 spot
The Bulls have lost four straight. Bobby Portis has looked good since coming back from his eight game suspension, compiling 19.2 points and 10.0 rebounds in three games. Chicago ranks last in offensive rating, scoring, field goal percentage and second to last in three-point percentage.
29. Atlanta Hawks (2-12) no movement
The Hawks are the lone remaining winless team at home. Reserve guard Marco Belinelli has scored in double-figures in three straight games. Atlanta is a league-worst 0-7 in games decided by double-digits.
30. Dallas Mavericks (2-12), no movement
The Mavericks earned their first road win on the season with a victory in Washington on Wednesday. Howard Barnes has picked up double-doubles in his last two games to give him three on the season, which is one more than he had the last two years combined. Dallas, which ranks fifth in the Association with 11.8 triples a game, has made at least nine three-pointers in each of its 14 contests.