Power Rankings
Power Rankings
Power Rankings
Power Rankings

Power Rankings: Warriors, Cavs poised for third straight Finals meeting

john_schuhmann

John Schuhmann NBA.com

Oct 24, 2016 10:52 AM ET

1:20

We never get things right, especially when no real games have been played yet.

Last year, we whiffed on the Portland Trail Blazers, ranking them 25th to start the season, and had two teams that failed to make the playoffs -- New Orleans and Chicago -- in the preseason top 10. Two years ago, it was the Atlanta Hawks and Milwaukee Bucks who surpassed expectations, while it was hard to see how hard the Phoenix Suns would fall when the three-point-guard thing didn't work out.

This year, there are sure to be some rankings below that look silly six months from now. After the top three teams in each conference, there's potential volatility all over the place. Changes could work or backfire. Old guys will start to look old and young guys will step up. Injuries will happen, of course. And some teams will be greater than the sum of their parts, while others will be much worse.

That's what makes sports so fun.

It would be really fun to predict something other than Cavs-Warriors in The Finals again. But how do you envision that without an injury to the guy who's played 6,000 more minutes than anybody else over the course of his career without missing just a few games here or there, or without at least two injuries to the Warriors' star quartet?

In the 70-year history of the NBA, we've never had the same Finals matchup three seasons in row. But we never had a team come back from a 3-1 deficit to win The Finals either ... until the Cavs did it four months ago.

Anything is possible. It's just hard to predict anything other than Cleveland and Golden State playing again in June. For now, the Warriors are ahead of the champs in the rankings. The Cavs made history in 2016, but then Bob Myers added Kevin bleeping Durant to the team that won 73 games.

  • Hero team of the preseason: Golden State (6-1) -- Preseason doesn't count, but that doesn't mean that the Warriors weren't going to look like the best team in the league.
  • Zero team of the preseason: Brooklyn (1-5) -- After beating the Pistons in their opener, the Nets lost their last five games, allowing their opponents to shoot 49 percent.
  • High jumps of the summer: Utah (+8), Houston (+6), New York (+6)
  • Free falls of the summer: Miami (-15), Oklahoma City (-8), Milwaukee (-5)
  • Team to watch this week: LA Clippers -- The Clips play only two games, but it's the start of what could be a franchise-defining season and they're playing two teams - Utah and Portland - that should be in the mix for a top-four seed in the West.

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Pace: Possessions per 48 minutes (League Rank)
OffRtg: Points scored per 100 possessions (League Rank)
DefRtg: Points allowed per 100 possessions (League Rank)
NetRtg: Point differential per 100 possessions (League Rank)

The league averaged 98.1 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes and 103.9 points scored per 100 possessions last season.

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NBA.com's Power Rankings, released every Monday during the season, are just one man's opinion. If you have an issue with the rankings, or have a question or comment for John Schuhmann, send him an e-mail or contact him via Twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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1
Last week:
1

2015-16 record: 73-9
Pace: 101.6 (2) OffRtg: 112.5 (1) DefRtg: 100.9 (4) NetRtg: +11.6 (2)

Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson combined to shoot 46 percent from 3-point range in the preseason. The Warriors are going to look unbeatable more often than not and are probably going to have the greatest offense of all time. How well they can defend without Andrew Bogut is the more important question, but they don't play one of the other three potentially elite offenses -- the Cleveland Cavaliers, Houston Rockets or the LA Clippers -- until Dec. 1 (when they host the Rockets) and have a relatively easy schedule over the first six weeks.

This week: vs. SAS, @ NOP, @ PHX

2
Last week:
3

2015-16 record: 57-25
Pace: 95.5 (28) OffRtg: 108.1 (4) DefRtg: 102.3 (10) NetRtg: +5.8 (4)

Finally re-signing J.R. Smith doesn't exactly make the championship Cavs whole. Matthew Dellavedova didn't play much in The Finals, but was a critical piece over the course of 82 games, handling the ball and defending opposing point guards. The offense could be as explosive as it was in the playoffs, but defensive consistency will still be an issue, unless Kevin Love defends every switch like he did at the end of Game 7. Friday's visit to Toronto is one of only two road games in October or November against teams that finished with winning records last season.

This week: vs. NYK, @ TOR, vs. ORL

3
Last week:
2

2015-16 record: 67-15
Pace: 95.7 (26) OffRtg: 108.4 (3) DefRtg: 96.6 (1) NetRtg: +11.6 (2)

The Spurs always find a way. Last season, they figured out how to build a top-five offense around a high-volume, mid-range shooter. Now, they'll need to maintain a top-five defense without the guy who's been their anchor for the last 19 years. As they deal with (rare) trade rumors, they'll need young guys beyond Kawhi Leonard to help them transition into the next era. Danny Green (quad strain) is out a few weeks and their first-week schedule somehow takes them from Northern California on Tuesday and Thursday to South Florida on Sunday.

This week: @ GSW, @ SAC, vs. NOP, @ MIA

4
Last week:
6

2015-16 record: 53-29
Pace: 98.0 (17) OffRtg: 106.5 (6) DefRtg: 100.9 (6) NetRtg: +5.5 (5)

When you depend on jump-shots as much as the Clippers do, it's not good when your top five guards combine to shoot 33 percent. But this is a veteran team that's surely happy to move on to the games that count and forget about that drubbing the Warriors put on them a few weeks ago. They don't face those guys again until Dec. 7, but still play 16 of their first 23 games against teams that finished with winning records last season. And two of their other seven are against the up-and-coming Utah Jazz and Minnesota Timberwolves. Coach Doc Rivers may shake things up a bit by finally staggering Chris Paul's and Blake Griffin's minutes.

This week: @ POR, vs. UTA

5
Last week:
5

2015-16 record: 56-26
Pace: 95.3 (29) OffRtg: 107.0 (5) DefRtg: 102.7 (11) NetRtg: +4.3 (6)

DeMar DeRozan shot well in the preseason, but the Raptors' rank in assist percentage (AST/FGM) was the same as it was last season: dead last. With Jared Sullinger needing foot surgery, rookie Pascal Siakam could be thrown into the fire right away. But a healthy DeMarre Carroll, along with more Norman Powell than we saw last season, gives coach Dwane Casey the opportunity to play a lot more small ball and, maybe, make the Raptors a little more fun to watch. They play five of their first six games at home.

This week: vs. DET, vs. CLE

6
Last week:
9

2015-16 record: 48-34
Pace: 101.1 (3) OffRtg: 103.9 (13) DefRtg: 100.9 (5) NetRtg: +3.0 (9)

Give the Raptors a slight Power Rankings edge to start the season, but the Celtics have a higher ceiling and are the only East opponent -- if Al Horford is as good a fit as he seems -- that might put a scare in the Cavs. The ball movement, early offense and creativity from the bench will matter more with the talent upgrade. But they should still be better on the other end of the floor with the frontline combo of Horford and Amir Johnson, along with Avery Bradley terrorizing opposing ball-handlers. At the same time, we're still waiting for Danny Ainge to make the big trade to raise the ceiling even higher.

This week: vs. BKN, @ CHI, @ CHA

7
Last week:
15

2015-16 record: 40-42
Pace: 93.3 (30) OffRtg: 103.1 (17) DefRtg: 101.6 (8) NetRtg: +1.6 (12)

The top three teams in each conference are fairly easy to predict. Here is where the guessing really starts. Placing the Jazz this high seems a little presumptuous, but they had the point differential of a 47-win team last season, made a huge upgrade at point guard, added veteran depth, and aim to get into their offense faster. Of course, they were still a bottom-five team in pace in the preseason and they'll have a tough first few weeks without Gordon Hayward (broken finger), playing nine of their first 13 games against teams that had winning records last season.

This week: @ POR, vs. LAL, @ LAC

8
Last week:
7

2015-16 record: 48-34
Pace: 99.4 (8) OffRtg: 103.0 (18) DefRtg: 98.8 (2) NetRtg: +4.1 (7)

The Hawks picked up where they left off, ranking No. 1 on defense in the preseason. That end of the floor will keep them in the top five in the East even if Dwight Howard doesn't fit in the offense and Kyle Korver shoots more like he did last season than he did the year before. And there's some promise in that Howard averaged 21.6 points per 36 minutes and Korver made 11 of his 22 threes. They play their first six games against teams that finished at or below .500 and ranked no higher than 14th defensively last season.

This week: vs. WAS, @ PHI

9
Last week:
10

2015-16 record: 48-34
Pace: 97.8 (18) OffRtg: 105.1 (9) DefRtg: 101.8 (9) NetRtg: +3.3 (8)

The Hornets need Roy Hibbert to clean off the stink of the 2015-16 Lakers, so they can improve defensively as much as they regress on offense (where they ranked last in the preseason) with the departures of Al Jefferson, Courtney Lee and Jeremy Lin. And maybe they don't regress that much offensively if Frank Kaminsky takes a step forward, Marco Belinelli recovers from the worst shooting season of his career, and Nicolas Batum maintains last season's level after getting paid and playing a lot of hoops for France this summer. As usual, they'll keep themselves in games by rebounding and taking care of the ball.

This week: @ MIL, @ MIA, vs. BOS

10
Last week:
11

2015-16 record: 44-38
Pace: 98.3 (12) OffRtg: 106.1 (7) DefRtg: 105.6 (20) NetRtg: +0.6 (13)

On the surface, the Blazers might feel like a team that will take a step backward after surpassing expectations a year earlier (see last season's Bucks). But with as many skilled guards and wings as they have to throw at you for 48 minutes, their offense will be tough to stop. And their starting lineup is one that allowed less than a point per possession in 290 minutes last season. They have the flexibility to seek out an upgrade on the frontline, but Mason Plumlee (6.7 assists per 36 minutes in the preseason) has quietly developed into one of the league's best passing big men.

This week: vs. UTA, vs. LAC, @ DEN

11
Last week:
17

2015-16 record: 41-41
Pace: 100.1 (7) OffRtg: 105.5 (8) DefRtg: 105.6 (21) NetRtg: -0.2 (15)

Patrick Beverley's knee injury (he's set to have surgery on Tuesday) isn't a good sign for the Rockets' defense. But with Ryan Anderson, Trevor Ariza and Eric Gordon on the perimeter, the offense is going to be incredibly potent and James Harden will have a chance to lead the league in scoring or assists. Maybe he'll be the second player in NBA history (joining Tiny Archibald -- 1972-73) to lead the league in both. Harden averaged 24.7 points and 13.1 dimes per 36 minutes in the preseason with the Rockets scoring a league-high 111.1 points per 100 possessions.

This week: @ LAL, @ DAL, vs. DAL

12
Last week:
4

2015-16 record: 55-27
Pace: 99.4 (9) OffRtg: 109.9 (2) DefRtg: 103.0 (12) NetRtg: +6.9 (3)

The last time the Thunder didn't have Kevin Durant (when he missed 55 games two seasons ago), they missed the playoffs. But at that point, Steven Adams wasn't the player he is now on either end of the floor and the bench wasn't as deep. Still, with only one top-10 talent left on the roster, the ball clearly needs to move more than it has in the past. Adams is really good, but Russell Westbrook needs to empower guys 3-15. It was just preseason, but still a little scary that they almost went 0-2 against ACB teams this month.

This week: @ PHI, vs. PHX, vs. LAL

13
Last week:
12

2015-16 record: 45-37
Pace: 99.0 (10) OffRtg: 102.4 (23) DefRtg: 100.2 (3) NetRtg: +2.2 (11)

Do the Pacers take a bigger step forward on offense, with the additions of Jeff Teague, Thaddeus Young and Al Jefferson? Or, do they take a bigger step backward on defense, with the departures of George Hill, Ian Mahinmi and coach Frank Vogel? The man who could answer that question is Myles Turner. Paul George is the star and Glenn Robinson III looks ready for a bigger role, but Turner's improvement, on both ends of the floor, will determine just how good this team is. A top-four seed in the East is certainly a possibility.

This week: vs. DAL, @ BKN, @ CHI

14
Last week:
18

2015-16 record: 41-41
Pace: 100.6 (5) OffRtg: 102.9 (19) DefRtg: 103.6 (14) NetRtg: -0.7 (17)

The Wizards played pretty well -- 18-13, with the league's biggest defensive improvement -- after acquiring Markieff Morris last season (even though they were missing either John Wall or Bradley Beal in nine of those 31 games). There's a bit of a reset with Scott Brooks taking over on the bench, but Wall is a star and the preseason numbers indicate that they're going to slow things back down after trying to push the pace last year. Most of the rotation guys surrounding Wall shot well from 3-point range in the preseason.

This week: @ ATL, @ MEM

15
Last week:
13

2015-16 record: 44-38
Pace: 97.4 (20) OffRtg: 103.3 (15) DefRtg: 103.4 (13) NetRtg: -0.2 (16)

Reggie Jackson's knee injury (he could miss 20 games) will force the Pistons to add some diversity to their offense, which could benefit them in the long run. In the preseason, the usage rate of the other four starters was pretty balanced, with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Tobias Harris and Marcus Morris all seeing a jump from last season. On the other end of the floor, Detroit needs to take the league's best shot location defense and turn it into a top-10 efficiency defense by contesting shots better.

This week: @ TOR, vs. ORL, vs. MIL

16
Last week:
14

2015-16 record: 42-40
Pace: 96.4 (23) OffRtg: 104.8 (10) DefRtg: 104.3 (16) NetRtg: +0.6 (14)

Harrison Barnes sure didn't look like a $94 million man in the preseason, shooting 24 percent, the second worst mark among 102 players who took at least 50 shots, with half of his shots coming between the restricted area and the 3-point line (a.k.a. "Inefficientland"). As they did last season, the Mavs ranked last in layups in the preseason. Andrew Bogut will help the starting-unit defense, but it will be the reserves that get up and down the floor and attack the basket. The Mavs obviously need Barnes to produce, but the development of his back-up -- Justin Anderson -- could be critical.

This week: @ IND, vs. HOU, @ HOU

17
Last week:
16

2015-16 record: 42-40
Pace: 98.2 (13) OffRtg: 102.1 (25) DefRtg: 103.9 (15) NetRtg: -1.8 (18)

If Rajon Rondo and Dwyane Wade stay somewhat disciplined, the Bulls' starting lineup -- with Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson and Robin Lopez up front -- could be a fantastic defensive unit. There are more "ifs" on offense, so we'll see how quickly coach Fred Hoiberg calls on Doug McDermott and/or Nikola Mirotic (who's dealing with a back issue) to provide perimeter shooting from game to game. But the ball moved pretty well in the preseason and Gibson gave them some offense (24.9 points per 36 minutes) at the four.

This week: vs. BOS, vs. IND

18
Last week:
21

2015-16 record: 29-53
Pace: 97.6 (19) OffRtg: 104.3 (11) DefRtg: 107.1 (27) NetRtg: -2.8 (20)

Expectations are high for the Wolves. The offense was better than you might remember last season, especially when Ricky Rubio and Zach LaVine shared the floor. The defense should be much better under coach Tom Thibodeau and ranked second in the preseason. Karl-Anthony Towns, the guy GMs would most like to start a franchise with, looks ready to take his place as a top-10 player. We could get a decent idea of where they stand in the West early on, with their first five games against the Memphis Grizzlies (x2), Sacramento Kings, Denver Nuggets and Oklahoma City Thunder.

This week: @ MEM, @ SAC

19
Last week:
19

2015-16 record: 42-40
Pace: 95.7 (27) OffRtg: 102.6 (22) DefRtg: 105.4 (19) NetRtg: -2.9 (22)

It's a new day (Yes, it is!) in Memphis. From last season to the preseason, the Grizzlies saw the league's fourth biggest increase in pace and second biggest increase in percentage of shots that came from 3-point range, and it's preseason style-of-play numbers that correlate most to their regular season equivalents. Zach Randolph will be shooting threes (and grabbing Z-bounds) off the bench, with JaMychal Green spacing the floor as the starting four. It would have been nice to have seen Tony Allen and/or Chandler Parsons in the preseason, though. Is there another wing that can produce?

This week: vs. MIN, @ NYK, vs. WAS

20
Last week:
26

2015-16 record: 32-50
Pace: 95.8 (24) OffRtg: 102.0 (26) DefRtg: 104.8 (18) NetRtg: -2.8 (21)

The Knicks' defense was pretty bad in the preseason and is depending on Joakim Noah getting healthy and staying healthy. So chances are that they'll be a below-average defensive team for the 15th time in the last 16 seasons (with the only exception being the lockout-shortened '11-12 season). Depth is an issue up front and in the backcourt, but Brandon Jennings is already one of Madison Square Garden's three favorite players. His pace, showboating and passion for harassing fringe-roster point guards gave New York's preseason games some life.

This week: @ CLE, vs. MEM

21
Last week:
20

2015-16 record: 35-47
Pace: 98.2 (14) OffRtg: 102.6 (21) DefRtg: 104.6 (17) NetRtg: -2.0 (19)

The Magic's length and athleticism, along with the hiring of coach Frank Vogel, gives them the potential to take a big step forward on defense, but they ranked 29th defensively in the preseason. Logic tells you that a Vogel is going to like a Serge Ibaka-Bismack Biyombo frontcourt pairing better than anything involving Nikola Vucevic, and the defense was at its best with Biyombo on the floor. Whether this team takes a step forward will depend heavily on the progress of Elfrid Payton, who shot just 6-for-22 (27 percent) from outside in the paint in the preseason.

This week: vs. MIA, @ DET, @ CLE

22
Last week:
24

2015-16 record: 33-49
Pace: 98.2 (15) OffRtg: 102.7 (20) DefRtg: 106.4 (24) NetRtg: -3.7 (25)

The Nuggets got good preseason signs from guys that were injured last season. Both Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari shot well, (with Gallinari getting to the line 12.4 times per 36 minutes) and Jusuf Nurkic averaged a double-double in less than 24 minutes per game. Coach Mike Malone is starting Nurkic and Nikola Jokic together, with Chandler and Kenneth Faried coming off the bench. The vets give this team a chance to compete for a playoff spot and the kids -- including Jamal Murray and Juan Hernangomez -- need to play. If everybody stays healthy, this team is deep.

This week: @ NOP, vs. POR

23
Last week:
8

2015-16 record: 48-34
Pace: 95.7 (25) OffRtg: 104.2 (12) DefRtg: 101.5 (7) NetRtg: +2.6 (10)

Another Miami Heat, NBA adventure begins with a lot of questions. Coach Erik Spoelstra should keep the defense decent, Goran Dragic will run, Justise Winslow will blossom, and Dion Waiters will surprise you with his passing skills (when he chooses to use them). But this team lost so much from last year's 48-win squad and needs a more disciplined and consistent Hassan Whiteside to be the anchor. Less than two years after the Heat took a mid-season flyer on him, Whiteside is suddenly the franchise player.

This week: @ ORL, vs. CHA, vs. SAS

24
Last week:
23

2015-16 record: 33-49
Pace: 102.2 (1) OffRtg: 103.3 (14) DefRtg: 106.3 (23) NetRtg: -3.0 (23)

Six of the Kings' first eight games are on the road, three of them are the second night of a back-to-back, and all eight will be played without the suspended Darren Collison. That leaves Garrett Temple and Ty Lawson to run the point. Coach Dave Joerger's defense ranked 17th in the preseason, but was much better with rotation guys than with non-rotation guys on the floor. Maybe that streak of 10 straight seasons as a below-average defense (and a below-average offense) will come to an end this year.

This week: @ PHX, vs. SAS, vs. MIN

25
Last week:
27

2015-16 record: 23-59
Pace: 100.9 (4) OffRtg: 99.4 (28) DefRtg: 107.0 (26) NetRtg: -7.6 (28)

It's hard to like the collective group until they show a lot more cohesion than they had last season. But it's easy to love some of the Suns' individual pieces. Devin Booker is the real deal (just ask the Blazers), and Marquese Chriss is super bouncy and ready to contribute. In the preseason, the Suns had an interesting combination of the league's fastest pace and the lowest 3-point rate (3PA/FGA). If opposing defenses can get back in transition, they should have success packing the paint. Only the Los Angeles Lakers shot worse in the last 12 seconds of the shot clock last season.

This week: vs. SAC, @ OKC, vs. GSW

26
Last week:
25

2015-16 record: 30-52
Pace: 98.9 (11) OffRtg: 103.2 (16) DefRtg: 107.3 (28) NetRtg: -4.1 (26)

At this time last year, we had the Pelicans at No. 9 and 86 percent of GMs said Anthony Davis was the player they'd most like to start a franchise with. This year, Davis got just one vote and, even if he plays more than 68 games for the first time in his career, some of his complementary weapons are no longer around. Buddy Hield could be a rare rookie who makes a positive impact on his team's performance, but the Pels are already banged up, are missing Jrue Holiday for an unknown period of time, and ranked last in preseason defense.

This week: vs. DEN, vs. GSW, @ SAS

27
Last week:
22

2015-16 record: 33-49
Pace: 96.6 (22) OffRtg: 102.2 (24) DefRtg: 105.7 (22) NetRtg: -3.5 (24)

Point guard Giannis Antetokounmpo will go coast to coast in three steps and Matthew Dellavedova complements the Greek Freak really well. Jabari Parker's development is an important variable, but believing that the Bucks can take a real step forward is ignoring how awful they were (outscored by 12.6 points per 100 possessions) when Khris Middleton was off the floor last season. With Middleton (torn hamstring) out for all or most of this season, they need an unproven wing or two to make some shots.

This week: vs. CHA, vs. BKN, @ DET

28
Last week:
28

2015-16 record: 17-65
Pace: 98.0 (16) OffRtg: 98.6 (29) DefRtg: 109.3 (30) NetRtg: -10.7 (30)

Now that he's been unshackled from the Kobe Farewell Tour, it's D'Angelo Russell's time to shine. Consistency is an issue, but at times in the preseason, he's looked like the league's next great shooter off the dribble, one that will punish defenses for sitting back on pick-and-rolls. Luke Walton (and Luol Deng missing a few games) may have also revived the career of Nick Young, who trailed only the Splash Brothers in preseason 3-pointers. If Young is on the second unit with Jordan Clarkson and Brandon Ingram, the rookie will have to figure out how to deal with not getting touches for a few minutes at a time.

This week: vs. HOU, @ UTA, @ OKC

29
Last week:
29

2015-16 record: 21-61
Pace: 97.4 (21) OffRtg: 100.9 (27) DefRtg: 108.5 (29) NetRtg: -7.6 (27)

On the Nets' first possession of the preseason, they set a flare screen for a Brook Lopez three. Many more threes (33.7 attempts per game) would follow. They will space the floor and move the ball under Kenny Atkinson, but the footspeed of their bigs could be a serious problem with the kind of aggressive defense they're trying to play. They could get shredded by offenses (like that of their first regular-season opponent) that move the ball quickly and have multiple guys who can attack close-outs. Of course, it will be difficult to be worse defensively than they were last season.

This week: @ BOS, vs. IND, @ MIL

30
Last week:
30

2015-16 record: 10-72
Pace: 100.2 (6) OffRtg: 96.6 (30) DefRtg: 106.7 (25) NetRtg: -10.0 (29)

For now, injuries and minutes restrictions have put the frontcourt logjam issue on the backburner. As it has been for the last three years, putting the ball in the basket is going to be the Sixers' biggest problem. With Ben Simmons out, Sergio Rodriguez is the playmaker, and he kept the offense somewhat afloat when he was on the floor in the preseason. Joel Embiid flashed those tantalizing skills of his and averaged 27.9 points and 14.7 rebounds per 36 minutes, but it may be a long time before he actually plays 36 minutes in a game.

This week: vs. OKC, vs. ATL


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