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NBA Week: Trending up, treading water and in trouble - every team's Thanksgiving break power rankings

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25th November, 2021

It’s a turkey of a day for NBA fans in Australia, with no games scheduled due to Thanksgiving Day.

The season is pretty much a quarter done, so it’s time to take a look at who’s trending up, who’s treading water and who’s already in trepidation about finishing in the NBA draft lottery.

Tier 1: Teams that are legit contenders

Golden State Warriors (16-2)
Steph Curry is back in MVP form, Draymond Green is looking spry and the leading candidate for defensive player of the year, Andrew Wiggins is scoring and actually defending, plus they’ve still got Klay Thompson to integrate back into the line-up, probably in the next few weeks.

Phoenix Suns (15-3)
It’s tough to have an active 14-game win streak and not be in top spot, but that won’t faze the Suns – with Chris Paul again pulling the strings, they have more than shown last season’s run to the finals was not just down to injuries on rival teams.

Utah Jazz (12-6)
Stability has bred success. They’re motoring along nicely even though sixth man of the year Jordan Clarkson has not been giving as much of a bump from the bench.

Brooklyn Nets (14-5)
If it all clicks, they have arguably the best roster in the league, but even if Kyrie Irving comes back, they’re still super skinny at the defensive end, lacking legitimate size in the paint.

Miami Heat (12-7)
Jimmy Butler will never be an MVP, but his importance to Miami is as valuable as any star in the league. A few teams could use a player like him – let’s say Philadelphia, Minnesota and Chicago.


Milwaukee Bucks (11-8)
They’ve had a few hiccups with Jrue Holiday, Brook Lopez and Khris Middleton being sidelined, so it’s way too early to have any level of concern, especially when Giannis Antetokounmpo is feasting on opponents at will.

Dallas Mavericks (10-7)
Kristaps Porzingis has strung together seven 20-plus games in a row for the first time in his career to finally give Luka Doncic a legitimate secondary star, but questions will always remain over the Lithuanian beanpole’s ability to stay injury free until he can go a lot longer without one of his all-too-frequent spells on the sidelines.

LA Clippers (10-8)
They’re stealth contenders if Kawhi Leonard can come back from knee surgery before the end of the regular season. Paul George looks like he can carry the team directly into a playoff seed with his ragtag supporting cast.

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Tier 2: Teams that need to make a move of it’ll be playoffs and no further

Philadelphia 76ers (10-9)
You can’t count them out just yet, because Joel Embiid is in his prime, and despite Daryl Morey saying he will let the Ben Simmons saga drag on potentially for years, he’s clearly bluffing. They’ll surely make a move mid next month when a bunch of players become trade eligible. They’re unlikely to get equal value for Simmons, but that may still be enough to back up Embiid’s exceptional output.

Chicago Bulls (12-7)
The loss of sophomore forward Patrick Williams to season-ending injury is the only sour note for the Bulls this season, but it means they lack a defensive presence with size. The additions of Nikola Vucevic, DeMar DeRozan, Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso over the past 12 months have complemented Zach LaVine perfectly, but they’re still lacking the final piece in the puzzle to be contenders.

Washington Wizards (11-7)
They’re the surprise packets of the NBA, but they’re fragile, as evidenced by a blowout loss to the lowly Pelicans on Thursday. Bradley Beal’s numbers are down, but the rest of the team for once is not actually dragging the chain around him.

LA Lakers (10-10)
Signing Russell Westbrook and a bunch of old dudes, except for Carmelo Anthony, has been a disaster. LeBron James has missed time, and the King will have to put this Humpty Dumpty of a squad back together again by the trade deadline.

Charlotte Hornets (12-8)
They’re still a couple of years away from being a couple of years away, but the rise of Miles Bridges means they have a second young star to pair with LaMelo Ball. Next they have to find a big body to complement these two whose surname is not Zeller or Plumlee.

New York Knicks (10-8)
They’re at risk of plateauing, as teams tend to do under Tom Thibodeau. Hopefully the relatively new executive regime will not make the mistakes of the past and continue to build around the young core of Julius Randle, RJ Barrett, Mitchell Robinson and Immanuel Quickley instead of looking for a free agency quick fix.


Atlanta Hawks (10-9)
They’ve regrouped after a slow start, but lightning is unlikely to strike twice after last season’s run to the eastern conference finals. And that’s okay – they overachieved ahead of schedule, and they don’t need to rush things with Trae Young and John Collins still only just entering their prime.

Boston Celtics (10-9)
Another team which has rebounded after a mediocre start, and the fact they’ve done so largely with Jayson Tatum as the solo go-to guy while Jaylen Brown has been injured will only fuel the speculation that they’d potentially look to trade him for a mega deal in return.

Denver Nuggets (9-9)
With Michael Porter Jr potentially sidelined for the year and Jamal Murray still at least a couple of months away from a comeback after his torn ACL, this looks like a probable gap year for the Nuggets even though Nikola Jokic has continued his MVP form into the new season.

Portland Trail Blazers (10-9)
They’re stuck in the middle of the pack, pretty much as always. Damian Lillard looks to be out of his shooting funk, but Portland are in perennial playoff purgatory at best the way this roster is constructed.

Memphis Grizzlies (9-9)
Growing pains are to be expected for the Grizzlies – they showed their hand by trading Jonas Valanciunas for Steven Adams and a draft pick to the Pelicans that they’re happy to bide their time while Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr develop into bona fide stars.


Minnesota Timberwolves (9-9)
Just like Karl-Anthony Towns, they’re hot and cold. This guy was compared to Anthony Davis a few short seasons ago, but while he rivals AD on the offensive end, his defensive skills have stagnated, and questions remain as to whether he will stick around to see if he and last year’s No. 1 draft pick, Anthony Edwards, can develop into one of the league’s top duos.

Cleveland Cavaliers (9-10)
They’ve had a horrific last three seasons post LeBron, but there are glimmers of hope on the horizon, with rookie big Evan Mobley the most impressive newbie of the season and Darius Garland looking like he will be a legit star in the backcourt.

Tier 3: Teams that are already making up the numbers

Toronto Raptors (9-10)
It’s a rebuilding year north of the border, but they’re probably too good to get a high lottery pick with Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet and the improving Ogugua Anunoby playing like an OG.

Indiana Pacers (8-12)
Rick Carlisle’s return was never going to be about producing an immediate turnaround – he will feel out the squad, decide who fits in with his system and who doesn’t, and the Pacers will start turning their roster over in the lead-up to February’s trade deadline.

Oklahoma City Thunder (6-12)
They were never going to be doing anything other than developing their prospects, like Aussie young gun Josh Giddey, and losing a lot of games this season. It might sound glib to say they’ve overachieved even though they are 6-12, but if their record gets any higher, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander might again develop a mysterious case of unavailability later in the season.

San Antonio Spurs (4-13)
It’s hard to see a pathway out of this blancmange for the Spurs. They have a lot of good young players, but it’s hard to see a potential star. Whether Gregg Popovich gets the 26 wins needed to break Lenny Wilkens’s all-time record is one of the few interesting aspects of their season.


Sacramento Kings (7-12)
They were red-hot favourites to be the first team to fire their coach this season, and they’ve already rewarded that faith by canning Luke Walton, replacing him with assistant Alvin Gentry. Their most recent high draft pick, Marvin Bagley Jr, is barely playing and wants out, while De’Aaron Fox, Harrison Barnes and Buddy Hield are also likely to be on the trading block if they’re not already.

New Orleans Pelicans (4-16)
Without injured star forward Zion Williamson they were never going to be playoff prospects, but they shouldn’t be this bad. Brandon Ingram and Jonas Valanciunas have been solid, but their youngsters have not stepped up despite getting more minutes.

Detroit Pistons (4-14)
No. 1 pick Cade Cunningham’s entry into the league was delayed due to injury, but he has quickly silenced the sceptics who were wondering whether the Pistons took the wrong guy. Anything apart from him staying on court and learning the ways of the NBA force will be a bonus for the franchise this season.

Orlando Magic (4-15)
There isn’t enough magic in this universe to rescue this team’s season. They’ve invested in youth after saying goodbye to the post-Dwight Howard remnants in Aaron Gordon, Evan Fournier and Nikola Vucevic, and it looks like another long rebuild on the horizon.

Houston Rockets (2-16)
They wouldn’t want to be anywhere else – ensuring they have the best lottery odds seems to be their only goal. No. 2 pick Jalen Green has been hot and cold as a rookie, which is to be expected, but surely it’s time to put John Wall on the court rather than pay him US$92 million to watch games while hoping a team gets desperate enough to trade for the former All Star’s albatross contract until the end of next season.

Weekend must-watch

Saturday: Memphis Grizzlies vs Atlanta Hawks, 12pm AEDT
Two of the best young point guards in the NBA go head to head, with Trae Young’s Atlanta side (10-9) on the up after a poor first few weeks and Ja Morant’s Grizzlies (9-9) also on the 500 bubble following a varied run of form.

Sunday: Brooklyn Nets vs Phoenix Suns, 11.30am AEDT
The most democratic on-court team goes against the side with a couple of the best individuals. After 14 wins on the bounce, Phoenix are second in the western conference, while Brooklyn has surged to top spot in the east.