Celtics riding historic 12-game streak
On the surface, the Boston Celtics’ league-leading 12-game winning streak is impressive.
Beneath the surface, it’s historic. The Celtics are the first team in NBA history to reel off a dozen consecutive wins after starting a season with backto-back losses and, per Elias Sports Bureau, are the first team to go on a winning streak of at least 10 games with six rookies appearing in at least one game during that stretch.
Did we mention that besides losing Gordon Hayward for the season on opening night, Kyrie Irving and Al Horford have missed time as well and that the Celtics boast the NBA’s best defense, allowing 95.4 points per 100 possessions?
With four weeks down, here’s how we view the league’s current power structure. (Notes: Records, stats and rankings are through Sunday. Voters, listed at the bottom of this page, include NBA reporters from across the USA TODAY Network.)
1. (Last week 1) Celtics (12-2): This should come as no surprise. The Celtics, who are already 51⁄2 games ahead of Cleveland, are the real deal.
2. (2) Warriors (10-3): The defending champs have won six consecutive games by a combined 129 points, a 21.5point average margin of victory.
3. (3) Rockets (11-3): As far as earlyseason MVPs go, James Harden, who’s averaging 35.8 points on 49.2% shooting, 11.5 assists and five rebounds during Houston’s six-game winning streak, sits comfortably at the top.
4. (5) Pistons (10-3): Winners of five in a row and eight of their last nine, it’s time to start taking these Pistons seriously. Tobias Harris is playing like an All-Star, Andre Drummond is leading the league in rebounds (15.6 per game) and Avery Bradley has “changed” Detroit’s demeanor, says coach Stan Van Gundy.
5. (8) Spurs (8-5): Kawhi Leonard, who has been sidelined since before the preseason with right quadriceps tendinopathy, is “coming along more slowly” than injured teammate Tony Parker, according to coach Gregg Popovich.
6. (21) Nuggets (8-5): Nikola Jokic has stolen all the headlines, but the Nuggets have to be ecstatic about Emmanuel Mudiay’s hot start. The thirdyear point guard is shooting 42.3% from the field and 46.9% from beyond the arc, significant improvements over his first two seasons.
7. (10) Raptors (7-5): Could Kyle Lowry, who has scored 17 or more points on 52.7% shooting in his last three games, be headed back to his All-Star ways?
8. (9) Wizards (7-5): Otto Porter Jr. is one of two NBA players (Aaron Gordon) averaging at least 16 points on 55% shooting from the field and 50% from three.
9. (7) Grizzlies (7-5): Mike Conley, who’s dealing with a sore left Achilles, has the lowest shooting percentages (39.7% from the field, 31.4% from three) of his 11-year career.
10. (4) Timberwolves (7-5): Just when things started looking up for the T’wolves, they dropped two consecutive games.
11. (11) Magic (8-5): The Magic have come back down to earth a bit, losing three of their last five, but have nonetheless been one of the league’s biggest surprises throughout the early portion of the season, ranking in the top 10 in offensive and net rating, three-pointers made and three-point percentage.
12. (15) Pelicans (7-6): The Pelicans are on the right track — they’ve won four of their last five and Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins are dominating — but they need more consistency out of Jrue Holiday. The $126 million man followed up Thursday’s 34-point, 11-assist outing with six points and seven turnovers Saturday.
13. (6) Trail Blazers (6-6): Portland’s six losses have been by an average of 5.3 points, the lowest in the league. Two (Memphis, Los Angeles Clippers) were decided by one point.
14. (12) Thunder (6-7): As tumultuous as the beginning of the season has been for the Thunder, the recent play of Paul George — he has a combined 79 points on 25-for-44 shooting, 17 rebounds, 12 assists and five steals in Oklahoma City’s last two games — has given fans a much-needed sigh of relief.
15. (16) Knicks (7-5): You have to admire how the Knicks took exception to LeBron James’ comments that the team should have drafted Mavericks rookie Dennis Smith Jr. with the No. 8 overall pick instead of Frank Ntilikina. “I don’t know why he made those comments,” said star big man Kristaps Porzingis, who has scored 30 or more points in eight games. “But all I can say is we love Frank. We’re happy with him . ... I would not change Frank for anybody. Simple.”
16. (20) Bucks (6-6): The addition of Eric Bledsoe led to a move to the bench for 2016-17 Rookie of the Year Malcolm Brogdon, which the Bucks hope will help bolster their second unit in the long run.
17. (23) Cavaliers (6-7): LeBron James, who turns 33 in December, is averaging a league-high 38.3 minutes per game — his highest mark since the 2010-11 season with Miami. Add in his ailing left ankle, and you can’t help but wonder: Is he being run into the ground?
18. (14) 76ers (6-6): Since joining the starting lineup, Dario Saric is averaging 14 points and six rebounds and the Sixers have won five of seven games.
19. (24) Heat (6-7): Dion Waiters made headlines after his dive to the floor in Friday’s win left Utah’s Rudy Gobert with a bone bruise in his right leg. Gobert, who’s expected to miss at least four weeks, dubbed the play as dirty.
20. (13) Clippers (5-7): The Clippers have been without Patrick Beverley for two games, Danilo Gallinari for three and Milos Teodosic since the second game of the season. But as losers of five consecutive games and seven of their last eight, this team’s issues go deeper than the injury bug.
21. (17) Jazz (6-7): It’s a small sample size, sure, but Derrick Favors shined in his first game as Utah’s starting center in Rudy Gobert’s absence, putting up 24 points, 12 rebounds and two blocks in a win over Brooklyn.
22. (19) Pacers (6-8): Domantas Sabonis, once viewed on the wrong side of the Paul George trade, is leading the Pacers in plus-minus (+2.9), rebounds (9.8) and field goal percentage (63%).
23. (22) Lakers (5-8): Lonzo Ball’s shooting struggles (31.4% from the field, 25% from three) are amplified by the spotlight, but other aspects of his game — he’s already the youngest player in NBA history to record a triple-double and ranks second among rookies in assists and rebounds per game — have given fans a glimpse of his true potential.
24. (18) Hornets (5-7): Starting shooting guard Nicolas Batum is on the verge of returning from the elbow injury that has kept him sidelined since early October.
25. (26) Nets (5-8): Early reports indicate that D’Angelo Russell avoided a major knee injury in Saturday’s loss to Utah. The third-year guard is averaging 20.9 points, 5.7 assists and 4.7 rebounds.
26. (25) Suns (5-9): Devin Booker and TJ Warren each scored 35 points in the win over Minnesota on Saturday, the first time two Suns teammates scored 35 or more since 2008.
27. (30) Kings (3-9): Sacramento followed up two impressive wins — against Oklahoma City and Philadelphia — with a 27-point drubbing at the hands of the Knicks. Behold ... Kings basketball.
28. (27) Hawks (2-11): The Hawks, who have made the playoffs in each of the last 10 seasons, have 11 losses before December for the first time since 2005.
29. (28) Bulls (2-9): The Bulls were trounced Saturday by the Spurs, who were without six players and three starters.
30. (29) Mavericks (2-12): Owner Mark Cuban says the Mavs won’t tank until they’re officially eliminated from playoff contention. That day might be just around the corner.
This week’s Power ranking voters: USA TODAY Sports’ Sam Amick, Jeff Zillgitt, Michael Singer and AJ NeuharthKeusch; Detroit Free Press’ Vince Ellis; Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Matt Velazquez; The (Bergen County, N.J.) Record’s Steve Popper; The Indianapolis Star’s Clifton Brown; HoopsHype’s Raul Barrigon.
Terry Rozier celebrates at the buzzer after the Celtics won their 12th in a row on Sunday.