Celtics rid­ing his­toric 12-game streak

USA TODAY International Edition - - SPORTS - AJ Neuharth-Keusch

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.

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