NBA Power Rankings: Cousins returns as Warriors retake No. 1

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Tuesday, January 22, 2019

The Golden State Warriors have won seven straight games and just welcomed a four-time All-Star onto the roster. Sure, DeMarcus Cousins is working his way back from an Achilles tendon injury, but if his first bucket in a Warriors uniform is any indication, Golden State won't be giving up its No. 1 ranking anytime soon.

Throughout the regular season, our panel (ESPN's Kevin Arnovitz, Tim MacMahon andAndre'Snellings, The Undefeated's Marc J. Spears and FiveThirtyEight's Chris Herring) is ranking all 30 teams from top to bottom, taking stock of which teams are playing the best basketball now and which are looking most like title contenders.

Week 14 |13 |12 |11 |10 |9 |8 |7 |6 |5 |4 |3 |2 |1 | Camp

1.Golden State Warriors

Record: 32-14

Lost in all the hoopla in the return of DeMarcus Cousins is the Warriors also added some bench depth in the process. Kevon Looney has gone from being a starting center after the Warriors lost Damian Jones to injury to coming off the bench with Cousins back. Looney is averaging 6.6 points on 62.1 percent shooting from the field (13th in the NBA) and 5.8 rebounds this season.-- Spears

2. Milwaukee Bucks

Record: 33-12

Milwaukee already has pieced together four separate winning streaks of four games this season, matching the number the Bucks had in 2016-17 and 2017-18 combined. Eric Bledsoe has averaged almost 22 points on 60 percent shooting during the four-game streak, all while logging 20 assists against just one turnover.-- Herring

Record: 35-13

The last time Kawhi Leonard played in a game and did not lead the Raptors in scoring was Nov. 27. Yet the Raptors continued their no-Kawhi, no-problem routine this week as Leonard sat for consecutive games in wins over Phoenix and Memphis, bringing their record to 10-2 without Leonard. Though let's not kid ourselves: This speaks more to the Raptors' depth than anything, and Toronto is still three points per 100 possessions better when Leonard is on the floor.-- Arnovitz

4. Denver Nuggets

Record: 31-14

The Nuggets got blown out by the Warriors in a potential statement game last week to lose the top spot in the Western Conference, but they have still won three of their past four and remain only a half-game out. Nikola Jokic turned in his 22nd career triple-double on Saturday to move into second place all time in triple-doubles by a center -- he now trails only Wilt Chamberlain's 78 -- and has averaged a robust 25 points, 11 rebounds and 9 assists during his past 11 games. --Snellings

5. Indiana Pacers

Record: 31-15

Before Sunday's win over the Hornets, Victor Oladipo had gone seven straight games without hitting the 20-point mark -- his longest stretch by far since joining the Pacers. But he deserves credit for his defense Saturday on Luka Doncic. Oladipo held the Rookie of the Year favorite to just eight points on 3-of-14 shooting (and a second-half ejection).-- Herring

6.Philadelphia 76ers

Record: 30-17

The Sixers were a Paul George heave away from closing out a perfect week. The chemistry questions offensively feel overwrought when you consider that the Embiid-Simmons-Butler-Redick quartet scores 113 points per 100 possessions. If the Sixers want to catch the Raps and Bucks, they need to recapture last season's defensive magic. That means Ben Simmons, who has been solid, returning to an elite, All-NBA level.-- Arnovitz

7.Houston Rockets

Record: 26-19

Eric Gordon didn't need any time to get back in rhythm after missing eight games due to a right-knee contusion. He had 50 points in 53 minutes in his first two games back, hitting half of his 18 3-point attempts, including the double-clutch shot that sent Sunday's game against the Lakers into overtime. Houston was plus-29 with Gordon on the floor during those games. -- MacMahon

8.Boston Celtics

Record: 28-18

The Celtics have won three straight games and seven of their past 10, but they have been unable to progress beyond the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference. With that said, they turned in a signature win over the Raptors last week and still sport the third-best point differential in the NBA (plus-6.2) in a measure that often correlates highly with postseason success. -- Snellings

9. Oklahoma City Thunder

Record: 27-18

Russell Westbrook continues to make headlines, with his renewed feud with Joel Embiid as the most recent attention-grabber in a season in which he's still on-pace to average a triple-double for the third straight time. However, quietly, Paul George continues to rank third in the NBA in real plus-minus in an MVP-caliber campaign that is keeping the Thunder in contention out West.-- Snellings

10. Utah Jazz

Record: 26-21

The Warriors are the only team with a longer active winning streak than the Jazz, who have reeled off six straight wins despite injuries to the three point guards on the roster. Utah is allowing only 97.2 points per 100 possessions during the streak -- and only 86.3 with reigning Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert on the floor. Gobert also became the first Utah player since Karl Malone in 1988 to have consecutive 20-rebound games when he ripped down a total of 47 boards in wins over the Pistons and Clippers.-- MacMahon

11.Portland Trail Blazers

Record: 28-19

So why are the Blazers, winners ofseven of the past 10 games, suddenly playing so much better? Portland has had the fourth-best defensive rating in the league over the past 10 games. But before you get too excited about the Blazers' D, coach Terry Stotts added that they have been aided by playing teams with poor records, too. Next up for Portland are tough back-to-back road games, starting Monday with Utah and Oklahoma City.-- Spears

12. San Antonio Spurs

Record: 27-21

January hasn't been kind to DeMar DeRozan, who might be fighting fatigue after often carrying the Spurs in the first two and a half months of the season. DeRozan is averaging 15.3 points and 3.8 turnovers while shooting 39.0 percent from the floor in January, compared to 22.9 points on 47.7 percent shooting while committing only 2.4 turnovers per game through December. San Antonio has lost five of the nine games DeRozan has played this month, and he sat out Friday's win over the Timberwolves due to left ankle soreness. -- MacMahon

13. Brooklyn Nets

Record: 24-23

Remember when the knock on the Nets was their inability to close out games? In 2019, the Nets rank second overall in net rating during clutch minutes -- the last five minutes of games when the margin is five points or fewer -- and are 4-0 in these nail-biters. Sitting at the No. 6 position in the East, Brooklyn now plays seven of its next 10 games at Barclays Center, including home tilts against Orlando, New York and Chicago (twice).-- Arnovitz

14.Los Angeles Lakers

Record: 25-22

The Lakers and LeBron James are in the ultimate quandary: His presence on the court is desperately needed to bolster the Lakers' chances of qualifying for the postseason in the super-competitive West. But as James' agent, Rich Paul, made clear this week, any premature return could compromise LeBron's capacity to play at peak performance when the games matter most. For the time being, the Lakers are consigned to scrap with the Clippers and upstart Kings in 8-9-10 seed purgatory.-- Arnovitz

15. Sacramento Kings

Record: 24-22

After having nothing left from the DeMarcus Cousins trade, the Pelicans are probably regretting trading guard Buddy Hield to the Kings. The Bahamian is a averaging 20.5 points and 45.6 percent shooting from 3-point range. Hield also scored 35 points and made the game-winning 3-pointer in a 103-101 win over the Pistons on Saturday.-- Spears

16. LA Clippers

Record: 25-21

The Clippers shook off a rough five-game losing streak with a gritty win at San Antonio, clinging to the No. 8 seed as we enter the week. The defense, which has ranked 28th since Dec. 1, put together one of its best performances in weeks. But on a troubling note, Lou Williams and Danilo Gallinari, two of the Clippers' three most prolific scorers, have suffered injuries, and could miss additional time. -- Arnovitz

17.Miami Heat

Record: 22-22

The Heat kicked off a stretch of nine road games in 12 contests with a blowout loss to the Bucks and a close loss to the Pistons, but Miami did come back with a solid win over the struggling Bulls. This week begins with a tough game in Boston, but the next four are all winnable matchups against teams that are a combined 5-35 in their past 40 games.-- Snellings

18. Charlotte Hornets

Record: 22-24

The Hornets are expected to have a dunk contest participant at the 2019 NBA All-Star Weekend in rookie Miles Bridges, Yahoo Sports reports. Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma responded by saying, "dude was windmilling in the seventh grade" and has been preparing for the contest his whole life. The Hornets have never had a slam dunk champ, but owner Michael Jordan did win twice.-- Spears

19.Minnesota Timberwolves

Record: 22-24

While the fans are voting for Derrick Rose for the All-Star Game, should the media and the players get on that bandwagon, too? Rose scored 29 of his 31 points in the second half and nailed the game winner against Minnesota on Sunday. But the 2011 NBA MVP is averaging 19.3 points and 4.8 assists, which will make it tough to make a West All-Star roster loaded with superstar guards. -- Spears

20.New Orleans Pelicans

Record: 21-25

New Orleans' fading hopes to contend for a playoff spot took another hit with the news that Anthony Davis will miss a week or two with a sprained left index finger. The Pelicans are 1-4 when Davis doesn't play this season. With or without their superstar, a stretch starting Thursday of five straight games against West playoff teams will be tough.-- MacMahon

21.Dallas Mavericks

Record: 20-25

Mavs point guard Dennis Smith Jr. will rejoin the team Tuesday against the Clippers. A deal that moves him before the trade deadline is unlikely because the Mavs refuse to sell low on a lottery pick with two years remaining on his rookie deal. If Smith wants out of Dallas, his best bet is to restore his value for the rest of the season and have the Mavs revisit trade talks this summer.-- MacMahon

22. Detroit Pistons

Record: 20-25

Detroit, 1.5 games out of eighth place in the East, is looking at a huge three-game road trip this week: at Washington, New Orleans and Dallas. The first of those matchups is key, as the Pistons can earn the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Wizards -- who are a game behind Detroit -- with a victory.-- Herring

23.Washington Wizards

Record: 19-26

Washington escaped what would've been a bad loss across the pond when Thomas Bryant scored alast-second basket thanks to a goaltend by Knicks guard Allonzo Trier. Going forward, they could use a bit more consistency out of guard Tomas Satoransky, who has shot 6-for-8, 2-for-13, 7-for-10 and 1-for-6 over his past four contests.-- Herring

24. Orlando Magic

Record: 19-27

The Magic have lost three straight games and seven of their past nine to fall to 11th place in the Eastern Conference, tied for the sixth-worst record in the NBA. They are still only three games out of the final playoff spot, but it wouldn't be surprising to see the Magic start giving more minutes to their recent high lottery picks, 21-year-oldJonathan Isaacand 20-year-old Mo Bamba, as the season progresses.-- Snellings

25. Memphis Grizzlies

Record: 19-27

It's time for the Grizzlies to seriously consider fully committing to a rebuilding process, which would mean trading Grit 'n Grind era cornerstones Marc Gasol and Mike Conley. It's hard to imagine that the possibility didn't come up during the rare meeting that Grizzlies owner Robert Pera had this week with the two players whose numbers will surely be retired by the franchise one day.-- MacMahon

26. Atlanta Hawks

Record: 14-31

The Hawks have been running out a good-looking lineup of rookie guards Trae Young and Kevin Huerter, along with DeAndre' Bembry, John Collins and Dewayne Dedmon -- and the effect has been positive. This unit has been an offensive juggernaut (against some quality defensive opponents such as Boston, Miami, Milwaukee and Philadelphia), and has compiled a net rating of plus-10.7 per 100 possessions.-- Arnovitz

27. Phoenix Suns

Record: 11-37

Veteran guard Jamal Crawford played in 1,300th career NBA game on Sunday against one of his old teams in the Timberwolves. Crawford tied Hall of Famer Ray Allen for 22nd all time in games played. With eight more games played, Crawford can surpass Allen, Elvin Hayes, Andre Miller and Buck Williams on the list to move up to 19th all time.-- Spears

Record: 10-34

The Knicks lost their only game this week, a one-point loss to the Wizards in a marquee matchup in London. Center Enes Kanter didn't travel with the team, but rookie center Mitchell Robinson (groin) rejoined the Knicks' on-going youth campaign in which four of their five starters were 23 years old or younger.-- Snellings

29.Cleveland Cavaliers

Record: 9-38

Center Ante Zizic has been a bright spot in extended minutes as of late, logging double-figure scoring (23, 15, 16, 18 and 10) and shooting at least 50 percent in each of the past five games he has gotten at least 20 minutes of playing time.-- Herring

30. Chicago Bulls

Record: 10-36

The Bulls had just recently gotten back to full strength, but now lose one of their best defenders in rookie Wendell Carter Jr., whose left thumb will likely require surgery and keep him out the next few months. The team carries 10 consecutive losses into Monday's bottom-of-the-barrel matchup with Cleveland.-- Herring

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