It’s been a scintillating start to the season, with action, controversy and drama galore in both the Eastern and Western Conferences. If you’ve missed out at any point, then you’ll want to dive into the 30-team analysis below, with all the latest insight on your favourite franchises.
1) Milwaukee Bucks
The Milwaukee Bucks and the Boston Celtics cannot decide who wants to top the East Conference standings. Leaders last week, MVP frontrunner Giannis Antetokounmpo and co have now returned as the number two seed after their 118-100 defeat to the Brooklyn Nets on Friday. In doing so, they handed over an eighth consecutive victory to their opponents, who are now operating in their longest active winning streak since 2012.
2) Boston Celtics
Back with a bang atop the East Conference standings, it was once again the mesmerising duo of Jayson Tatum and Jalen Brown who demoted the Bucks, with a 121-109 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves. It was a much-needed win after the Celtics racked up consecutive defeats to the Orlando Magic and appeared in turmoil ahead of the Christmas run-in with four losses in five games. Fortunately, Tatum and Brown, who scored 23 of his 36 points on Friday in the fourth quarter, was able to help turn things around. His team will need more of the same when they face off the Bucks in a tantalising Christmas Day match-up.
3) Memphis Grizzlies
No Ja Morant, no trouble. Indeed, the return of Desmond Bane, who had been sidelined for months with an injury, has revitalised the Grizzlies attack. Against the Devin-Booker-less Phoenix Suns this weekend, he racked up 17 points alongside Jaren Jackson Jr. Now tied with the Denver Nuggets for the Western Conference lead at 20-11, the Grizzlies will be looking to build on this promising victory ahead of their next stretch of fixtures on the road.
4) Cleveland Cavaliers
Do not be fooled by their positioning in our standings. Since the return of Jarrett Allen, the Cavs have quietly risen to 6-2, reinstating their defensive strengths with victory over the Utah Jazz this week. Operating on a four-game winning streak, it seems that the stars might be finally lining up for Donovan Mitchell and co ahead of this February’s All-Star game.
5) Denver Nuggets
With Nikola Jokic in the kind of form he has been of late, there’s no denying the Nuggets warrants a mention as they battle to snatch the No 1 seed from the Grizzlies. Indeed, Jokic became the third player to register a 40-25-10 game last week against the Charlotte Hornets. Alongside the returning Jamal Murray, there’s has been a notable difference; in this Saturday’s 120-107 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers the pair combined for 54 points.
Continue in this form, and his positioning amongst the MVP standings will only flourish.
6) Brooklyn Nets
There’s something special happening under new head coach Jacque Vaughn. Indeed, the Nets have claimed eight wins in a row, including 11 of their last 12 across all competitions. Couple that with the fact Kevin Durant is in MVP-form, averaging 30.4 points a game, with the Kyrie Irving debacle behind them, and the hype around the Nets at the moment is more than warranted. The fact they put away the Milwaukee Bucks this Saturday is perhaps far more telling than any of their individual assets.
7) Phoenix Suns
The Suns have been all the rage recently, for reasons that concern the basketball, as well as action away from the court. For starters, Devin Booker exploded with 58 points last week against the New Orleans Pelicans. Then, within days of that victory, the impending sale of the franchise was announced by NBA insiders, to Mat Ishbia in the neighbourhood of $4bn. Of course, as soon as things started going well, they were hit with injuries, which is why you can never quite tell whether “things going well” truly equates to anything. They certainly are keeping fans on their toes in this Christmas stretch.
8) New Orleans Pelicans
After a seven-game winning streak, led by the transcendent Zion Williamson, the Pelicans stumbled back down to earth with four consecutive defeats, picking up losses to the Jazz, the Suns, and the No 1 seed in the East, the Bucks. It seems whatever gears Williamson and co were levelling up to, were not sustainable. It took a performance to remember from Trey Murphy III to overturn a nine-point deficit that led to their first victory in five games against the Oklahoma City Thunder this Saturday.
The return of Brandon Ingram, and steady rehabilitation of CJ McCollum will be key in the upcoming weeks.
9) Philadelphia 76ers
Since their tense overtime win over the Toronto Raptors on Monday, the 76ers are now enjoying a sixth consecutive win, and that’s without Tyrese Maxey. With Maxey set to return after the Christmas period, Joel Embiid has pulled off a mammoth job to keep the offense ticking along. In Saturday’s win over the Los Angeles Clippers, he racked up another 44 points as his side overcame a 20-point deficit in the first half to steal all the glory. They’ll need his prowess on Christmas Day when they face off the Boston Celtics.
10) Los Angeles Clippers
Injuries and illnesses have plagued the Clippers for weeks, with Paul George, Reggie Jackson, Ivica Zubac and Norm Powell out. The silver lining, however, is that Kawhi Leonard seems to be in the form of his life, after having spent the better part of a year recovering from an ACL tear. The Clippers star put up 25 points against the Celtics this month, and then followed it up with a season-high 31 against the Wizards. The Clippers will need Leonard to continue in this form as his team-mates return to fitness.
11) New York Knicks
After breezing their way past the Golden State Warriors on Monday, the Knicks had racked up eight wins on the trot. It should have been nine this Friday against a Chicago Bulls side languishing at 12-18. But DeMar DeRozan flipped the script, hitting a jumper with less than a second left to play to give the Bulls a 118-117 win. It should not be too concerning, given that RJ Barrett and Julius Randle have consistently been in fine form, enough to suggest they should be able to get back on track.
12) Portland Trail Blazers
The Blazers have lost three of their last four games, but the more inspiring news is Damian Lillard is back, like *back* back. He’s averaging 28.3 points per game, with seven assists to add against teams that found it difficult to contain him. None more so evident than in the defeat to the Oklahoma City Thunder. It took a scintillating performance from Shai Gilgeous-Alexander to spoil the party.
13) Sacramento Kings
The Kings might be on their way to a first playoff visit since 2006, led by the formidable pairing of De’Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis. Sure, they have suffered questionable defeats to the Charlotte Hornets, New York Knicks, and most recently, the Washington Wizards. But they are the number six seed in the Western Conference, and aside from facing the Denver Nuggets, have a winnable set of fixtures in the post-Christmas stretch.
14) Miami Heat
It’s hard to have any real faith in the Heat when they are so inconsistent in their results. One week they are winning against the Rockets, the next they are losing to the tanking San Antonio Spurs and fading Indiana Pacers. Should we be excited that they have won four of their last five outings? That Tyler Herro is averaging 24.9 points a game? Or that they seem to have a functional defensive setup? Only time will tell.
15) Atlanta Hawks
Things have not been all that rosy in Atlanta, but at least the return of Dejounte Murray and John Collins will be welcome news.
The pair were sidelined for a combined 13 games, both dealing with ankle injuries. In their absence, the Hawks lost consecutive games to the Magic, slipping to the seventh seed in the standings.
Both dove straight back into the action on their return; Murray added 26 points to the win over the Pistons on Friday, while Collins racked up 12 rebounds.
The Hawks will need both in their next stretch of games, featuring the Brooklyn Nets, Los Angeles Lakers, and the Indiana Pacers.
16) Dallas Mavericks
The Mavericks are led by arguably the best player in the league in Luka Doncic, evident in Friday’s career-high, 50-point performance against the Houston Rockets.
They are also flaunting one of the worst defensive records in the league. Not only have they lost 10 of their last 17 games, but they have allowed over 115 points per game too.
It’s no surprise, considering the injuries rife in their defensive setup. But unless they are able to outscore opponents, which might be aided in their trade conversations, not even Doncic will be able to save them.
Upcoming games on Christmas Day, including the Timberwolves, Rockets and Lakers, should be able to halt their slide at least temporarily.
17) Utah Jazz
They started off as the league’s surprise team, at one stage the No 1 seed in the West. Many said it would not last – it didn’t. The Jazz are now the number eight seed, though one thing has not changed; they are still being led by the attacking prowess of Lauri Markkanen, who scored a career-high 38 points against the Detroit Pistons last Monday. More impressively, he was 9-of-13 from three-point range, tying Channing Frye for the most threes hit by a seven-footer in a game.
18) Golden State Warriors
Things are nor all that golden at all for the Warriors at the moment. With Stephen Curry out for a month with a shoulder injury, joining Klay Thompson and Andrew Wiggins, a torrid record on the road, and all responsibility laden upon James Wiseman and Jordan Poole, the reality of an early exit from the action is setting in.
Can the Warriors even snatch a play-in spot if things continue in this vein? Will coach Steve Kerr be forced to make trades to shake things up? Is Draymond Green right in labelling this franchise as ‘fragile’? How will the defending champions respond to their abysmal 143-113 defeat to the Brooklyn Nets?
19) Minnesota Timberwolves
The Timberwolves do not look like a side sure of where they stand in the fight to remain a decent team in the standings, or a team looking to claim a future first-round pick. Just last week they racked up a franchise-record 150 points, before showcasing their worst offensive performance last Wednesday, following it up with defeat to the Milwaukee Bucks on Friday. They will need to show up as the former in their next run of fixtures on the road.
20) Indiana Pacers
The Pacers have lost eight of their last 11 games, but they are still capable of flashes of brilliance. This week, against the Miami Heat, it was Tyrese Haliburton leading the charge.
Indeed, Haliburton exploded with 43 points, including a winning three-pointer in the final four seconds of the game – all this, on the back of a 33-point game in the win against the Boston Celtics on Wednesday. Can the Pacers rely on him, and to that extent, rookie Andrew Nembhard to continue to defy the odds?
21) Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers seemed in good spirits – and then they were hit with an injury to their best player, Anthony Davis. Davis had been in MVP form, racking up 40 + points in consecutive games before he was struck down with flu-like symptoms and a right foot injury. Updates since that wretched day suggest a stress injury that will put Davis out of the action for weeks, which means it could be down to LeBron James and his support act to drag the Lakers through their next round of games.
22) Toronto Raptors
When they say, “things couldn’t get any worse”, they are definitely talking about the Toronto Raptors this season. Indeed, they rank 29th in the NBA in three-point percentage, have lost nine of their last 12 games and currently are the number 10 seed in the East. Yet, where there’s a Pascal Siakam, there’s a way. Indeed, the Raptors star has been the leading man in recent games. On Wednesday, he scored a career-high 52 points against the New York Knicks, nabbing another 26 on Saturday.
If Siakam can maintain his form alongside Fred VanVleet, there still might be hope yet in this Christmas run in.
23) Oklahoma City Thunder
It’s the Shai Gilgeous-Alexander show in Oklahoma, enough to warrant his place in our MVP predictions and picks. On Monday night, he hit a baseline jumper on the buzzer to beat the Portland Trail Blazers. Not as lucky this Friday when his side lost to the New Orleans Pelicans, SGA was still able to contribute with 44 points and 10 rebounds.
Should he remain fit, he has more than made an argument for his inclusion in the All-Star conversations.
24) Orlando Magic
Orlando are in the midst of their best period of basketball this season. Having now won eight of their last nine games, which included two victories over the Boston Celtics, and more recently, a 133-poinr rout over the San Antonio Spurs, it’s their talisman, Paolo Banchero, orchestrating the enchantment.
Averaging over 20 points in the games he starts this season, Banchero is leading the Rookie of the Year charts, and more importantly, the Magic’s claim to better picks come this July.
25) Chicago Bulls
The Bulls have lost seven of their last 10 games but were able to snap that streak on Friday against the New York Knicks thanks to DeRozan’s attacking contributions.
Though their talisman might have got them through that particular venture, there still remains plenty of concerns surrounding their defence; they gave up 150 points to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Sunday far too easily. How will they fare against the Milwaukee Bucks?
26) Washington Wizards
Bradley Beal’s return has resulted in a collective sigh of relief in Washington. The Wizards forward had been sidelined with a hamstring injury for months. His first call to action? Helping his team snap a 10-game losing streak against the Phoenix Suns. Beal made four three-throws in the final 13 seconds. He then followed that up with 24 points to beat away the Sacramento Kings on Friday. They will need him to pick up from alongside Kyle Kuzma if they are to climb up the Conference, with six of their next eight games on the road.
27) San Antonio Spurs
The San Antonio Spurs are in full tanking mode. They did not put up much of fight when they lost DeRozan last year in the trade permutations and seemed all too happy to claim four future first-round picks. This season, they are the 14th seeds in the East Conference, and have 20 defeats already racked up. Though Gregg Popovich claims they are in it to fight, this one is already seeming a losing battle from the onset. Expect the losses to continue flowing.
28) Houston Rockets
The Rockets have been experimenting in quite a few ways this season, chiefly in starting rookie Tari Eason – the number 17 overall pick – as their guard. Surprisingly, it has paid off. For starters, Eason picked up two buzzer-beater performances in the last few weeks and remains one of five players in the draft class with positive plus-minuses. Whether he can continue his streak of success is yet to be seen.
29) Charlotte Hornets
The Hornets were able to halt an eight-game skid with victory over the Los Angeles Lakers and Sacramento Kings, but it seems more and more like they should embrace the tanking and try to snap up Victor Wembanyama while they have the chance. The returning LaMelo Ball does slightly complicate that approach. But their upcoming fixture list, which includes the Golden State Warriors and Oklahoma City Thunder, could provide too much punch to overthrow.
30) Detroit Pistons
The Pistons might be the 15th seed in the Eastern Conference, but they are impressing with Alec Burks leading the offence. The issues within the franchise come from their defence, or their lack of. Sure, the Pistons have scored a franchise-record 141 points against the Hornets, but they routinely conceded over 120 points, and that will prove to be their biggest downfall.
Catch all of the Christmas Day NBA action live with Sky Sports.