Clashes between many of the NBA’s top teams, in part brought on by the Christmas showcase, revealed a lot about the current makeup of the league.
The Celtics corrected course against the Bucks in a big way, the Nuggets rose to the top of the Western Conference, the Grizzlies showed cracks against the Warriors and the Nets and 76ers just kept on winning. Further down the standings, the Raptors and Magic both made steps in the right direction as well.
In the final power rankings of 2022, see where all 30 teams in the association stand.
1. Boston Celtics
Previous ranking: 1
The Celtics scored their most impressive and important win of the year on a national stage on Christmas to put their rough patch behind them. A 139–118 win against the Bucks on Christmas in the first meeting since the teams met in the second round put Boston back on top in the East and capped off a 2–1 week. Jayson Tatum outdueled Giannis Antetokounmpo in the head-to-head showdown, finishing with 41 points—his second 40-point performance in three games. The defense, which has been better in December, will continue to improve with Robert Williams III back in the lineup, even for limited minutes.
2. Denver Nuggets
Previous ranking: 7
The Nuggets moved into first place in the West after a 3–0 week stretched their win streak to four. And they got the best of some tough competition: Memphis by 14, Portland by 13 and Phoenix by three in overtime on Christmas. Michael Porter Jr. scored 18 against the Trail Blazers in his return from a heel injury that held him out for a month. Nikola Jokić didn’t slow down at all with a healthy lineup around him. The back-to-back MVP triple-doubled twice and went for 41 points, 15 rebounds and 15 assists against the Suns, continuing his magical month.
3. Cleveland Cavaliers
Previous ranking: 4
Cleveland wrapped up its homestand with back-to-back losses, though it scored a huge win earlier in the week at home against Milwaukee. The Bucks won the first two matchups by double digits but the Cavaliers got past them this time behind Donovan Mitchell’s 36 points. Mitchell finished with 23 the previous game in a win over the Jazz in his first game against his former team since he was traded last summer. The wheels fell off against the Raptors, who downed the Cavs by 11 as Mitchell and Darius Garland combined for just 29 points, and the Nets got the best of them Monday, despite Garland’s 46-point outing.
4. Milwaukee Bucks
Previous ranking: 2
Milwaukee played poorly against its competition in the Eastern Conference last week. After beating the Pelicans by nine on the road behind 42 points from Antetokounmpo, the Bucks dropped three in a row for the first time all season. The Cavaliers beat them by eight, the Nets by eight as well and then the Celtics did so by 21. Milwaukee lost its hold on the No. 1 seed and is still without Khris Middleton (knee), who’s only played seven games so far. Its next six games, four of which are at FiServ Forum, are against sub-.500 teams, an opportunity to turn things back around.
5. New Orleans Pelicans
Previous ranking: 5
The Pelicans lost to the Bucks last week and extended their losing streak to four games, a season-high. Jonas Valanciunas went for 37 points and 18 rebounds, but it wasn’t enough against Antetokounmpo, who finished with 42, and New Orleans lost at home for the first time in a month. The Pelicans responded with three straight wins—all without Zion Williamson—over the Spurs, Thunder and Pacers. CJ McCollum led the way with 40 points to beat San Antonio and then Trey Murphy and Naji Marshall led the team in scoring against Oklahoma City and Indiana, respectively.
6. Brooklyn Nets
Previous ranking: 8
Brooklyn’s winning streak is up to nine games after it mowed down Golden State by 30, Milwaukee by 18 and Cleveland by eight last week. The Nets are 10–1 in December, have just two losses since Thanksgiving and are on the heels of the Bucks and Celtics for the best record in the East. Even without Kyrie Irving, nine players finished in double figures in the blowout against Golden State. Kevin Durant continued his run of remarkable shooting efficiency and Ben Simmons is finally playing like the distributor this team needs.
7. Memphis Grizzlies
Previous ranking: 3
The Grizzlies only came away with one win across three games last week against some of their toughest opponents out West, where Ja Morant notably said he didn’t view any teams as threats. Memphis lost to Denver and Golden State, both by 14 points, and beat Phoenix (without Devin Booker) by 25. The Christmas Day loss to the Warriors, who were without Steph Curry and Andrew Wiggins, was the first matchup between the teams since their postseason series in a budding rivalry. The Grizzlies, who have lost three of four, have games against the Suns, Raptors, Pelicans and Kings ahead.
8. Philadelphia 76ers
Previous ranking: 12
The 76ers doubled their win streak to eight games last week with four more wins on the backs of the artful duo of Joel Embiid and James Harden. The Raptors, Pistons, Clippers and Knicks were the latest victims of the league’s leading scorer and top distributor. That was on full display against Los Angeles when Embiid finished with 44 points and Harden put up a ludicrous box score of 20 points, 11 rebounds and 21 assists. Philadelphia humbled the surging Knicks on the national stage on Christmas Day, which began a four-game road trip.
9. Phoenix Suns
Previous ranking: 6
The Suns need Booker badly. He essentially missed all four games last week with a groin injury (he gave it a go against the Nuggets and exited after just four minutes) and the team went 1–3 without its leading scorer, who finished with 58 points last time out. Phoenix blew out the Lakers, lost a tight game to the Wizards, and got embarrassed by the Grizzlies. The Suns pushed the Nuggets to overtime on the road but came up just short on Christmas. Phoenix, which is just 5–10 in away games, is in the midst of a six-game road trip that runs through the New Year. It resumes Tuesday in Memphis.
10. Dallas Mavericks
Previous ranking: 10
The Mavericks picked up three wins last week to edge closer to a top-six seed in the West. They avenged a loss to the Timberwolves on the second night of a two game-set in Minnesota, sunk the Rockets thanks to Luka Dončić’s season-high 50 points and edged out the Lakers on Christmas Day. Dallas has not performed well away from the American Airlines Center this season, so adding a pair of victories on the road last week carries a good deal of weight for Jason Kidd’s squad.
11. Los Angeles Clippers
Previous ranking: 13
L.A. capitalized on Phoenix’s slide to move into a top-four seed in the conference after a 2–1 week. Its only loss came on the road in Philadelphia against a surging 76ers squad in a game where Kawhi Leonard led the team with 28 points. Beyond that, the Clippers beat the Hornets by 21 and ran away from the Pistons in overtime, outscoring them by 11. Despite a negligible positive point differential, Los Angeles is well above .500 thanks to its 12–7 mark in clutch situations and its No. 3 defensive rating.
12. Sacramento Kings
Previous ranking: 9
The Kings have raised outside expectations exponentially this season, which is why a 1–2 week with losses to the Hornets and Wizards, two of the worst teams in the Association, constitutes a disappointment. Domantas Sabonis threw up three dominant stat lines, finishing with two triple-doubles and a pair of 20-rebound games, but a thumb fracture has his status for Tuesday’s game against the Nuggets in question. The end of the year schedule for Sacramento (a back-to-back against Denver, a visit from Utah and a trip to Memphis) is unforgiving.
13. Portland Trail Blazers
Previous ranking: 11
After a tough 2–4 road trip, the Trail Blazers returned to the Pacific Northwest and handled the Hornets on Monday. Portland lost twice to Oklahoma City and dropped a game in Denver last week. It’s been a difficult stretch of games for Damian Lillard and Anfernee Simons, the team’s two top scorers. Simons was held under 20 in the last four games and that happened to Lillard twice in that same span. Jerami Grant and Jusuf Nurkic stepped up against Charlotte and combined for 60 points.
14. New York Knicks
Previous ranking: 14
New York crashed last week, losing three in a row after assembling eight straight victories. That losing streak, which matches a season long, came on the heels of a 132-94 win against the Warriors at MSG. Then came a loss to the Raptors, then another versus the Bulls (despite R.J. Barrett’s 44 points) and finally a defeat against the 76ers on Christmas—all three losses were at home. The Knicks face all three Texas teams on the road this week to close out the year.
15. Utah Jazz
Previous ranking: 15
It’s almost January and the Jazz are still above .500. They went 2–2 last week, losing to the Cavaliers and Spurs and defeating the Pistons and Wizards. It’s still unclear if a move from the front office is imminent or even which direction one would be aimed in moving the team; closer to a top-six seed or a more favorable lottery draw. If the playoffs began today, Utah would be play-in bound. The Jazz get Golden State and Sacramento on the road and return home to host Miami on New Year’s Eve.
16. Golden State Warriors
Previous ranking: 16
The Warriors haven’t won a lot of games lately, but they tend to show up for the ones that matter. Just like they beat the Celtics a few weeks ago, the Dubs, without Steph Curry, downed the Grizzlies by 14 on Christmas behind Jordan Poole’s 32 points and were sure to relish every moment. That victory followed consecutive 30-plus-point losses to the Knicks and Nets and last week’s results continued the curious case of Golden State’s home vs. away splits. The team is 13–2 at the Chase Center and 3–16 on the road.
17. Atlanta Hawks
Previous ranking: 17
The Hawks welcomed back Dejounte Murray last week and got back on the right side of .500. He drained a pair of game-winning free throws to beat the Magic in the game’s final seconds and led the way with 26 points to beat the Pistons handily. In between, Atlanta dropped a tight game at home to the Bulls on a last-second putback but still gained ground on the Knicks, who are holding onto the No. 6 seed.
18. Indiana Pacers
Previous ranking: 19
Indiana braved a brutal schedule last week and emerged 2–1. Behind Tyrese Haliburton’s wizardry, the Pacers upset the Celtics and Heat on the road. Haliburton went for 33 in Indiana and 43, capped off by a game-winning three-pointer, in Miami. He couldn’t keep it up in New Orleans, which handed Indy a 10-point loss. The Pacers are back in the Hoosier State against the Hawks, Cavaliers and Clippers this week.
19. Miami Heat
Previous ranking: 18
The injury bug struck the Heat once again. Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo and Kyle Lowry each missed at least one game last week and Miami went 2–1 with losses to the Bulls and Pacers and a close win over the Timberwolves. The Heat have a home game against the Lakers on Wednesday before they embark on a two-week, six-game West Coast road trip.
20. Toronto Raptors
Previous ranking: 22
It took Pascal Siakam scoring a career-high 52 points at Madison Square Garden to end his team’s six-game skid. That performance, which led to a seven-point win against New York came a few days after a three-point, overtime loss in Philadelphia in which Siakam went for 38, a season-high at the time. Siakam and O.G. Anunoby each scored 26 to beat the Cavaliers and give Toronto back-to-back wins for the first time in nearly a month. The Raptors have three games at home to close out the year.
21. Minnesota Timberwolves
Previous ranking: 20
Last week began on the right foot for the Timberwolves, who held Dončić to 19 points in a win against the Mavericks for their third victory in a row thanks to Anthony Edwards’s big night. A few days later, Dallas got the best of Minnesota to even the season series. After that, the T-Wolves kicked off a four-game road trip with losses to the Celtics and Heat that continues this week in New Orleans and Milwaukee, both tough opponents for Minnesota, which is still without Karl-Anthony Towns (calf).
22. Orlando Magic
Previous ranking: 25
If it weren’t for a one-point loss to the Hawks on a pair of last-second free throws, the Magic would be winners of nine in a row. As it stands, they’ve won eight of their last nine and added victories against the Rockets and Spurs last week. Orlando is still a few games out of the play-in game even with their recent run, but the advanced stats this month tell the story of a team that has figured things out: 12th in offensive rating, eighth in defensive rating, sixth in net rating and a few highlight plays by Bol Bol almost every night.
23. Oklahoma City Thunder
Previous ranking: 24
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander turned in a career-high 44 points against the Pelicans to bolster his All-Star case on Friday. OKC still came up just short in overtime, which prevented an undefeated week. The Thunder took both games of a two-game home set with the Trail Blazers a few days prior, once again led by none other than SGA. Oklahoma City has San Antonio, Charlotte and Philadelphia on the schedule to wrap up 2022.
24. Chicago Bulls
Previous ranking: 23
The Bulls’ good fortune ran out Monday against the Rockets. After winning back-to-back games in the waning seconds, one against the Hawks on an Ayo Dosunmu putback and the other versus the Knicks on a DeMar DeRozan jumper, Chicago lost by 15 to Houston at home. It was still a positive week for the Bulls, who scored three rare road victories. They’re in the Windy City for a trio of games this week, though two are against the Cavaliers and Bucks.
25. Los Angeles Lakers
Previous ranking: 21
The Lakers are going backwards. An 0–4 week has them behind the Thunder in the West and only ahead of the Spurs and Rockets. Losses to the Kings and Mavericks can be explained away, even if L.A. can’t really afford to drop many more games at this point, but losing to the Booker-less Suns and the Hornets at home is inexcusable. A trio of 30-point games by LeBron James, including 38 on Christmas against Dallas, could not stop the bleeding and Los Angeles is now 2–6 without Anthony Davis this season, who’s out indefinitely with a stress fracture in his foot.
26. Washington Wizards
Previous ranking: 26
The Wizards finally won a game last week, and it happened in a hostile environment nonetheless. Washington’s first win since Nov. 28, which came on the road against the Suns with Booker out, snapped a 10-game skid. Next came a loss in Salt Lake City, but the Wizards wrapped up their road trip with a victory over the Kings on Friday thanks to Kyle Kuzma’s 32-point outing. They’re back home for two quick games against the 76ers and Suns and then hit the road again.
27. San Antonio Spurs
Previous ranking: 28
San Antonio split its four-game schedule last week. It was victorious against the Rockets and Jazz and lost to the Pelicans and Magic. The story for the Spurs was not those results but rather rookie Jeremy Sochan’s breakout game in New Orleans. He finished with a career-best 23 points, nine rebounds and six assists in a tough matchup. San Antonio is 5–5 over its last 10 but is still firmly in the basement of the Western Conference alongside Houston.
28. Houston Rockets
Previous ranking: 27
Houston snapped its losing streak Monday in Chicago behind Kevin Porter Jr.’s season-best 36 points, which he paired with seven rebounds and nine assists. Prior to that, the Rockets had lost five in a row, all at home, including three games last week to the Spurs, Magic and Mavericks. Even though it came in a loss, rookie Jabari Smith Jr. posted perhaps his best game of the season against Dallas, finishing with 24 points and 10 rebounds.
29. Charlotte Hornets
Previous ranking: 30
Charlotte built on its meager win total last week with a pair of victories on the road. A win in Sacramento prevented the Hornets from stretching their losing streak to nine games, which would have been a new season-high. The league’s worst offense went for at least 125 points in wins against the Kings and Lakers and returned to form in losses to the Clippers and Trail Blazers. A game against the Warriors on Tuesday concludes the six-game road trip and then Charlotte is home for four in a row through New Year’s.
30. Detroit Pistons
Previous ranking: 29
Even though they took the Clippers to overtime, the Pistons still managed to lose all four of their games last week by 10-plus points, though it wasn’t an easy slate with the Jazz, 76ers, Hawks and Clippers all on the schedule. Rookie Jaden Ivey went for a career-best 30 points against Utah and fellow first-year player Jalen Duren continued his strong rebounding run. The winless week has Detroit below Charlotte for the worst record in the NBA, for now.