Kuwait Times - - SPORTS - By Ah­mad Jabr

KUWAIT: In ad­di­tion to its usual cov­er­age of NBA news, Kuwait Times in­tro­duces a new fea­ture this year: the NBA Power Rank­ings. It is a weekly list rank­ing each team based on its per­for­mance dur­ing the week. The ac­tual record for each team (put be­tween brack­ets, for games played as of yes­ter­day) does play a role in the assess­ment process but is not the main fac­tor for de­cid­ing each team’s rank­ing, thus mak­ing it dif­fer­ent from league standings. A new team sky­rock­eted this week fu­eled by a 10-game win­ning streak. (For any com­ments or sugges­tions, e-mail the writer at: a.jabr@kuwait­times.net)

1- Golden State War­riors (24 - 4) Last week: 1 -

Com­mand­ing of­fense and di­verse scor­ing op­tions of­ten take the spot­light when talk­ing about the War­riors from their equally im­pres­sive de­fense. They ranked fifth in the league in de­fen­sive rat­ing in the last 10 games.

2- San An­to­nio Spurs (21 - 5) Last week: 4 -

Last night saw the Spurs re­tire the num­ber 21 jersey of prob­a­bly the great­est player in fran­chise his­tory. But de­spite be­ing re­tired, Tim Dun­can still showed up to prac­tice last Mon­day to teach cen­ter Pau Ga­sol a few post­plays of his own.

3- Hous­ton Rock­ets (21 - 7) Last week: 5 -

Dur­ing their cur­rent 10-game win­ning streak, not only did the Rock­ets soar to third place in of­fen­sive rat­ing, but they also ranked sec­ond in de­fen­sive rat­ing, which is out­stand­ing con­sid­er­ing that de­fense was one of the main con­cerns when early-sea­son Coach of the Year can­di­date Mike D’An­toni was brought to Hous­ton.

4- Cleveland Cava­liers (19 - 6) Last week: 3 -

The Cavs have won six of their last seven games, with their only loss com­ing against Mem­phis on Wed­nes­day in a match where LeBron James, Kyrie Irv­ing and Kevin Love sat for rest, shed­ding more light on the in­creas­ing phe­nom­e­non of teams fre­quently rest­ing their starts dur­ing the long sea­son.

5- Toronto Rap­tors (18 - 8) Last week: 2 -

The Rap­tors con­tinue to lead the league in of­fen­sive rat­ing, but their de­fense has been abysmal as of late, rank­ing 26th in de­fen­sive rat­ing in the past five games, which was shown ev­i­dent in their 125-121 Fri­day night loss to a Hawks team that has been strug­gling with of­fense all year.

6- Los An­ge­les Clip­pers (20 - 7) Last week: 6 -

Ev­ery young player who wants to learn how to be­come a great point guard should watch Chris Paul play. A true floor gen­eral and pure point guard, Chris Paul is the first player since 1973-74, when steals be­came an of­fi­cial stat, to have 4,987 points, 7,943 as­sists and 1,855 steals in his first 800 games, ac­cord­ing to the Elias Sports Bureau.

7- Utah Jazz (17 - 7) Last week: 10 -

Win­ning six of their last seven - with the only loss com­ing against the War­riors - is per­haps not the most im­pres­sive thing that the Jazz have done lately (nor is it their solid de­fense). Utah has been fly­ing un­der the radar with their of­fense, rank­ing 2nd in the league in of­fen­sive rat­ing in the last 10 games.

8- Mem­phis Griz­zlies (18 - 10) Last week: 6 -

With his eight points in his first match back from in­jury on Fri­day, Mike Con­ley be­came the Griz­zlies’ all-time lead­ing scorer, in ad­di­tion to lead­ing the team in as­sists and steals. Though his re­turn couldn’t pre­vent a loss to the Kings, the Griz­zlies surely wel­come their co-cap­tain back.

9- Oklahoma City Thun­der (16 - 11) Last week: 8 -

In Oklahoma’s win against Phoenix Satur­day night, Rus­sell West­brook had a ca­reer-high 22 as­sists in his 50th ca­reer triple­dou­ble (13th this sea­son). He also had the NBA’s first 20-point, 20-as­sist triple-dou­ble in 18 years. His hero­ics couldn’t pre­vent losses to the Jazz and Blaz­ers last week, though.

10- Mil­wau­kee Bucks (13 - 12) Last week: 14 -

Fresh off beat­ing the Bulls in back-to-back games be­hind strong play from Gian­nis An­te­tok­oun­mpo and Jabari Parker, the Bucks look to do the same against the Cavs on Tues­day and Wed­nes­day.

11- Chicago Bulls (13 - 13) Last week: 9 -

Fol­low­ing dis­ap­point­ing losses to the Wolves and twice against the Bucks, the Bulls hope to find ways to win and build up some mo­men­tum in their next three games be­fore squar­ing off against the Spurs in the Christ­mas Day spe­cials.

12- Bos­ton Celtics (14 - 12) Last week: 11 -

Bos­ton’s bench has been medi­ocre as of late, forc­ing coach Brad Stevens to play his starters for ex­tended min­utes. In his first game back from in­jury, Isa­iah Thomas played the en­tire fourth quar­ter to lead his team to vic­tory against the Hor­nets Fri­day and end the Celtics’ three-game slide.

13- Char­lotte Hor­nets (15 - 13) Last week: 12 -

The Hor­nets had a much-needed win over the Hawks on Satur­day, which snapped their four-game los­ing streak. They need to be wor­ried about their of­fense which dropped to 26th in the league in the past 10 games.

14- New York Knicks (14 - 13) Last week: 13 -

The Knicks suf­fered their third straight loss on Satur­day against the Nuggets; a game that Carmelo An­thony called a ‘must-win’. And al­though he did well dur­ing that game, he re­ceived lit­tle help from his team­mates, es­pe­cially on de­fense which al­lowed the Nuggets to shoot 56 per­cent.

15- In­di­ana Pac­ers (14 - 14) Last week: 16 -

Af­ter losses to the Heat and Pel­i­cans, the Pac­ers im­proved their de­fense on Satur­day, hold­ing the Pis­tons to 38 per­cent shoot­ing en route to a 105-90 vic­tory. Their next six games come against East­ern Con­fer­ence teams with sim­i­lar records.

16- Detroit Pis­tons (14 - 15) Last week: 15 -

Af­ter losses to the Wizards and Pac­ers in backto-back games last Fri­day and Satur­day, the Pis­tons hope to beat the Bulls tonight and pre­vent a third straight loss against an East­ern Con­fer­ence play­offs con­tender.

17- At­lanta Hawks (13 - 14) Last week: 17 -

A win against the Rap­tors pre­vented the Hawks from slip­ping fur­ther down the rank­ings this week. But they might not be sim­i­larly lucky next week with three of their next four games played on the road.

18- Wash­ing­ton Wizards (11 - 14) Last week: 19 -

The Wizards have won six of their last 10 games, and four of their last five be­hind solid play from their start­ing back­court of John Wall and Bradley Beal. Matches against the Pac­ers (twice), Bulls and Bucks (twice) this month of­fer a chance that could make or break their hopes in the East’s play­offs hunt.

19- Port­land Trail Blaz­ers (13 - 16) Last week: 18-

The Blaz­ers beat the Thun­der on Tues­day af­ter hold­ing Rus­sell West­brook to 719 shoot­ing, be­fore los­ing the next two matches against the Nuggets and War­riors, in games in which they al­lowed their op­po­nents to score 132 and 135 points re­spec­tively. And in an­other blow to their de­fense, it was an­nounced Satur­day that cen­ter Fes­tus Ezeli was likely to un­dergo a sea­son-end­ing surgery on his in­jured left knee.

20- Den­ver Nuggets (11 - 16) Last week: 21 -

Im­pres­sive play from Nikola Jo­kic forced coach Michael Malone to put him back into the start­ing lineup, which trans­lated into two straight wins for the Nuggets fol­low­ing a dis­ap­point­ing loss to the Mavs on Mon­day. But the lineup reshuf­fle has come at the ex­pense of other stand­out cen­ter Jusuf Nur­kic, whose min­utes dropped con­sid­er­ably in his team’s past two games.

21- Sacra­mento Kings (10 - 16) Last week: 22 -

DeMar­cus Cousins’ off-court is­sues (in­clud­ing his lat­est tirade at a colum­nist fol­low­ing last Mon­day’s game) is not the only thing that is draw­ing com­par­isons be­tween him and Rasheed Wal­lace. His im­proved midrange and three-point shot this year com­bined with his stel­lar post play is rem­i­nis­cent of that of the four-time All-Star and one-time NBA Cham­pion.

22- Los An­ge­les Lak­ers (11 - 19) Last week: 20 -

In the Lak­ers’ loss to the Cavs on Satur­day, 19-year-old rookie Bran­don In­gram nearly be­come the youngest player ever to record a triple-dou­ble, fin­ish­ing with nine points, nine as­sists and 10 re­bounds.

23- Mi­ami Heat (9 - 18) Last week: 24 -

Has­san White­side scored 26 points and grabbed 22 re­bounds in 34 min­utes in Mi­ami’s win over the Pac­ers on Wed­nes­day - his sec­ond ever game with at least 25 points and 20 re­bounds in a game in less than 35 min­utes. He joins Ka­reem Ab­dul-Jab­bar and DeMar­cus Cousins as the only play­ers to have mul­ti­ple games with at least 25 points and 20 re­bounds with fewer than 35 min­utes played over the last 50 sea­sons (per Elias Sports Bureau).

24- Orlando Magic (12 - 16) Last week: 23 -

The Magic av­er­aged 118.4 points over the last five games, which is nearly 18 points over their to­tal av­er­age so far this year. On the other hand, they al­lowed their op­po­nents to score 108 points in av­er­age dur­ing that span, which is up by eight points com­pared to their to­tal av­er­age.

25- New Orleans Pel­i­cans (9 - 19) Last week: 26 -

What can be worse than be­ing on the re­ceiv­ing end of an NBA-record 24 three­p­oint­ers in Fri­day’s loss against the Rock­ets? An­thony Davis leav­ing that game with left leg bruise.

26- Phoenix Suns (8 - 19) Last week: 25 -

With only 12 points in Satur­day’s loss to the Thun­der, Eric Bled­soe failed to record his fourth straight game with at least thirty points, and thus couldn’t re­main on pace to break the team’s record of five games in a row last recorded by Charles Barkley in 1993.

27- Min­nesota Tim­ber­wolves (7 - 19) Last week: 27 -

Karl-An­thony Towns and An­drew Wig­gins are av­er­ag­ing a com­bined 43.6 points per game, the best mark by a young duo in the NBA and slightly bet­ter than that of the Bucks’ Gian­nis An­te­tok­oun­mpo and Jabari Parker.

28- Dal­las Mav­er­icks (6 - 20) Last week: 29 -

Deron Wil­liams took the blame for his team’s loss to the Jazz on Fri­day af­ter shoot­ing with 10 sec­onds left and the score tied, al­low­ing for Rod­ney Hood’s game-win­ner and a heart­break­ing loss in his re­turn to Utah. The Mavs should be more wor­ried about their re­bound­ing which re­mains good for last in the league.

29- Brook­lyn Nets (7 - 18) Last week: 28 -

The Nets en­tered Fri­day night’s match against the Magic car­ry­ing mo­men­tum from beat­ing the Lak­ers two nights ear­lier and hav­ing Jeremy Lin back in the lineup, but couldn’t cap­i­tal­ize on that and lost to the league’s fourth worst of­fense.

30- Philadel­phia 76ers (6 - 20) Last week: 30 -

Fri­day’s loss to the Lak­ers pro­vided the first op­por­tu­nity to see how cen­ters Ner­lens Noel, Joel Em­biid and Jahlil Okafor would fair play­ing to­gether, and the re­sult was in Noel’s min­utes be­ing heav­ily cut. The young prospect re­sponded by voic­ing his frus­tra­tion to the me­dia af­ter the game, be­fore meet­ing with coach Brett Brown Satur­day to dis­cuss his lack of play­ing time. Seem­ingly the odd man out, it would be sur­pris­ing to see him re­main with the team past the mid-Fe­bru­ary trade dead­line.

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