NBA Power Rankings: The Blazers are hot, the Lakers are not

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The 2022-23 NBA hierarchy already saw a few shake-ups in its first week.

The Portland Trail Blazers have taken an early lead on the title for biggest surprise of the season with a 4-0 start. Damian Lillard & Co. have not only won but have notched meaningful victories over Western Conference rivals at the top of this week’s rankings, including the Phoenix Suns and Denver Nuggets.

The Utah Jazz joined Portland in the surprisingly undefeated club with its three wins coming against contenders, including Denver and the Minnesota Timberwolves, before coming back down to earth against the lowly Houston Rockets.

Still, at least one team confirmed some recent pessimism this week: The Los Angeles Lakers started the season 0-3, and they appear lost from beyond the 3-point line. The Brooklyn Nets look like they could be a star-studded mess themselves, with Ben Simmons lowlighting one of the NBA’s worst defenses in the early going.

Note: The NBA Power Rankings have found a new home — on Wednesdays! Throughout the regular season, our panel (Kendra Andrews, Tim Bontemps, Jamal Collier, Nick Friedell, Andrew Lopez, Tim MacMahon, Dave McMenamin and Ohm Youngmisuk) is ranking all 30 teams from top to bottom, taking stock of which teams are playing the best basketball now and which teams are looking most like title contenders.

Previous rankings: Week 1

1. Milwaukee Bucks
2022-23 record: 2-0
Preseason ranking: 2

As evidenced by their opening-night victory against Philadelphia, the Bucks’ offense might be a slog while Khris Middleton and Pat Connaughton remain sidelined, but Giannis Antetokounmpo looks ready to pick up the slack. Antetokounmpo put up 44 points on 81% shooting to go with 12 rebounds in 28 minutes against the Rockets, the first time in his career he scored 40 in less than 30 minutes of playing time. — Collier


2. Boston Celtics
2022-23 record: 3-1
Preseason ranking: 4

Monday’s dud against the Bulls aside, it’s been an impressive start to the season for Boston, with the Celtics looking like they haven’t missed a beat from last season’s NBA Finals run — even as they adjust to life under interim coach Joe Mazzulla. Malcolm Brogdon, in particular, has been a seamless fit coming off the bench, giving Boston the kind of off-the-dribble juice this team simply didn’t have during the playoffs. — Bontemps


3. Phoenix Suns
2022-23 record: 3-1
Preseason ranking: 8

What a whirlwind of emotions for the Suns this week, as they shook off any notion of offseason slippage by beating three Western Conference contenders in the Clippers, Warriors and Mavs. The win over Golden State was a 29-point drubbing — and a possible statement on how Phoenix’s season will end up going. — McMenamin


4. Memphis Grizzlies
2022-23 record: 3-1
Preseason ranking: 6

Ja Morant and Desmond Bane evenly split 76 points in Monday’s win over the Nets, breaking Memphis’ franchise record for the highest-scoring performance by a duo. The spectacular has been routine for Morant, the league’s leading scorer (35.3 points per game). Bane, whom the Grizzlies believe can make the step to All-Star status this season, broke out of a season-opening shooting funk against Brooklyn, registering more field goals (14-of-21) and 3s (8-of-11) than he did in the first three games combined. — MacMahon


5. Golden State Warriors
2022-23 record: 2-2
Preseason ranking: 1

Following Golden State’s loss to the Suns, which saw Klay Thompson get his first career ejection, the Warriors offered a blunt assessment of their 2-2 start. “A decent offensive team and a bad defensive team,” Draymond Green said Tuesday night. And he’s correct. The Warriors have allowed opponents to score at least 70 points in one half in three out of their four games. — Andrews


6. Cleveland Cavaliers
2022-23 record: 2-1
Preseason ranking: 13

Welcome to Cleveland, Donovan Mitchell. Mitchell has been every bit as good as advertised to start things off for the Cavs, scoring 30 points or more in each of the team’s first three games while also dishing out seven assists a night. The next step will be integrating Evan Mobley, with the second-year star’s shots per game down from 12 a season ago to only 8.3 in the early going. — McMenamin


7. LA Clippers
2022-23 record: 2-2
Preseason ranking: 3

It’s going to be a while before the Clippers see what they truly can be at full strength. There’s early concern with Kawhi Leonard, who will travel back to L.A. and miss both games at Oklahoma City after experiencing stiffness in his surgically repaired knee. Leonard was already coming off the bench, having played three stints, with totals of 21 minutes (twice) and 28 minutes. John Wall has looked good in limited minutes, Reggie Jackson has had to deal with a groin issue and Paul George missed Tuesday’s game with non-COVID illness. And the Clippers’ schedule is packed, with 18 games in 32 days, starting on Sunday. — Youngmisuk


8. Portland Trail Blazers
2022-23 record: 4-0
Preseason ranking: 21

There’s something brewing in Portland. The Blazers are 4-0, with an overtime win against Phoenix, a thrilling two-point victory over the Lakers and a rout of the Nuggets. Damian Lillard is heating up with two 41-point games, Anfernee Simons drilled seven 3s against Denver, Jusuf Nurkic is healthy and offseason addition Jerami Grant is starting to fit in. — Youngmisuk


9. New Orleans Pelicans
2022-23 record: 3-1
Preseason ranking: 14

Zion Williamson is back. Despite the fourth-year forward missing Tuesday night’s matchup because of a right posterior hip/lower back contusion, Williamson made waves in his first three contests. He is back to his bruising self in the paint, as he scored at least 25 points on 50% shooting twice in three games. It was the 48th time he accomplished the feat in 88 career contests. Only Walt Bellamy (57) and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (54) registered more such games in their first 100 career games, and Williamson has 12 more to go. — Lopez


10. Denver Nuggets
2022-23 record: 2-2
Preseason ranking: 7

Sure, the Nuggets lost to the Jazz, but Denver rebounded nicely over the Warriors, scoring 70 points in the first half. Nikola Jokic has already tallied two triple-doubles and tied Wilt Chamberlain for most triple-doubles by a center in NBA history. — Andrews


11. Dallas Mavericks
2022-23 record: 1-2
Preseason ranking: 10

Luka Doncic and Christian Wood rank first and second, respectively, in Player Efficiency Rating. But those great numbers only add up to a 1-2 record after the Mavs blew a 22-point lead to the Suns in the opener and managed to lose to a New Orleans team missing Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram and defensive stopper Herb Jones. — MacMahon


12. Atlanta Hawks
2022-23 record: 2-1
Preseason ranking: 16

The Trae YoungDejounte Murray partnership is going to be a work in progress, but early returns are encouraging. Young is averaging 25.3 points and 11.7 assists despite low shooting numbers. (His 32.4% shooting and 25% clip from 3-point range are sure to increase.) And Murray is averaging 19.7 points, 8.3 assists, 7.3 rebounds and 3.3 steals in his first three games as a Hawk. Young and Murray are both in the top 10 in total assists in the league and, according to ESPN Stats & Information research, could become just the fourth set of teammates since 2000 to each finish in the top 10. — Lopez


13. Utah Jazz
2022-23 record: 3-1
Preseason ranking: 28

The Jazz became the second team over the past three decades to start 3-0 despite being at least seven-point underdogs in each game, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. The other: the 2013-14 76ers, who finished … 19-63. Lauri Markkanen (21.5 points per game, 8.8 rebounds per game) is off to an awesome start in Utah, following up on his phenomenal EuroBasket performance for Finland. — MacMahon


14. New York Knicks
2022-23 record: 2-1
Preseason ranking: 18

Through three games, Jalen Brunson has been everything the Knicks could have hoped for this season, and then some: 17 points and seven assists per game as compared to just one turnover per contest, and, most importantly, a steady hand on the wheel. It’s been a very encouraging start for the Knicks. Brunson is a big reason. — Bontemps


15. Toronto Raptors
2022-23 record: 2-2
Preseason ranking: 15

No Eastern Conference team has had a more difficult start than Toronto, with a home game against Cleveland followed by road tilts versus Brooklyn and Miami (twice). What do the Raptors get as a reward for going 2-2 through that stretch? A baseball series at home against Philadelphia, followed by a visit from Trae Young and the Hawks on Halloween. It’s the perfect encapsulation of the difficulties that life in the conference is going to provide on a daily basis. — Bontemps


16. Washington Wizards
2022-23 record: 3-1
Preseason ranking: 22

The Wizards got off to a 10-3 start last season, so it’s best to wait before making any quick judgments on Washington’s start to this season. Bradley Beal hasn’t had to do a lot of heavy lifting so far, setting up his teammates and averaging six assists so far. Kristaps Porzingis has remained healthy, and Kyle Kuzma is off to a great start, scoring at least 22 points in three of his four games. — Youngmisuk


17. Minnesota Timberwolves
2022-23 record: 2-2
Preseason ranking: 12

The Timberwolves lost to the Jazz and had two close games against the Thunder that, on paper, should have been easy tasks. It will take some time for the Wolves to find their identity around new defensive anchor Rudy Gobert, but in the world of instant gratification, Minnesota has a lot of work to do. — Andrews


18. San Antonio Spurs
2022-23 record: 3-1
Preseason ranking: 27

Gregg Popovich joked on media day that no one should be heading to Las Vegas to place bets on the Spurs to win the NBA championship, but that hasn’t stopped San Antonio from getting out to a 3-1 start. After a disappointing loss at home to the Hornets to start the campaign, San Antonio rattled off road wins against Indiana, Philadelphia and Minnesota. Devin Vassell has averaged 22.7 PPG during the win streak, marking the first time in his career he has scored at least 20 in three consecutive games. — Lopez


19. Philadelphia 76ers
2022-23 record: 1-3
Preseason ranking: 5

Philadelphia’s basketball team should be thanking its lucky stars that the city’s baseball team is in the World Series and its football team is the NFL’s lone remaining undefeated team this season. While Monday’s win over the Pacers briefly calmed things down, the 76ers’ quiet, drama-free preseason now feels like a distant memory. — Bontemps


20. Charlotte Hornets
2022-23 record: 2-1
Preseason ranking: 24

Kelly Oubre Jr. has provided a nice lift for Steve Clifford in the coach’s first regular-season week back on the job. Oubre is averaging 17.3 points and six rebounds while shooting 40% from beyond the arc. Meanwhile, Gordon Hayward is averaging 19.3 points and has provided a solid presence while the Hornets wait for LaMelo Ball to return from an ankle injury. — Friedell


21. Miami Heat
2022-23 record: 1-3
Preseason ranking: 9

This has not been the start that Erik Spoelstra & Co. were hoping for. Jimmy Butler has started off strong, averaging 23 points, 6.8 rebounds and 4.3 assists over his first four games, but he hasn’t yet gotten the kind of consistent help he needs. Kyle Lowry went a combined 6-for-28 during Miami’s three losses. — Friedell


22. Brooklyn Nets
2022-23 record: 1-2
Preseason ranking: 11

The Nets are struggling to find any kind of defensive rhythm. They have a league-worst 124.7 defensive rating, according to NBA.com/stats. While coach Steve Nash remains confident his team will catch its rhythm, the larger issue for Brooklyn is Ben Simmons. He did not have much of an impact over his first week and fouled out of two of his first three regular-season games. — Friedell


23. Chicago Bulls
2022-23 record: 2-2
Preseason ranking: 17

After going 1-14 against the four East semifinalists (Milwaukee, Boston, Miami and Philadelphia) last season, the Bulls picked up wins against the Celtics and Heat in the season’s opening week. The Bulls still have offensive issues to iron out (25th in offensive efficiency and 28th in 3-pointers per game), but they have been about league average on defense to help fuel a .500 start. — Collier


24. Detroit Pistons
2022-23 record: 1-3
Preseason ranking: 23

Detroit’s roster features 10 players 24 or younger, so some ups and downs should be expected throughout the season. However, the Pistons have to be encouraged by the starts of their two rookies. Jalen Duren, 18, is averaging nine points and seven rebounds while shooting 58% off the bench. And Jaden Ivey is averaging 17 points, six assists and five rebounds while shooting 45% from 3. — Collier


25. Los Angeles Lakers
2022-23 record: 0-3
Preseason ranking: 19

Things aren’t just bad in L.A. They’re historically bad. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, a team has attempted at least 100 3-pointers in a three-game span more than 6,100 times in NBA history. The Lakers’ 21.2% showing from deep in their 0-3 start to the season is the second worst out of all those instances, besting only the Hawks 21.0% in 2018. — McMenamin


26. Indiana Pacers
2022-23 record: 1-3
Preseason ranking: 26

What a start for Pacers rookie guard Bennedict Mathurin. After a strong preseason, the No. 6 pick put up 22.3 points, 5.8 rebounds and 2.0 assists in his opening week, which included hitting 42.9% of 3s on seven attempts per game. Mathurin will be someone to keep an eye on playing next to guard Tyrese Haliburton. — Collier


27. Houston Rockets
2022-23 record: 1-3
Preseason ranking: 30

Rookie Jabari Smith Jr. responded to a spot start at center with by far the best performance of his young career in Monday’s win over Utah. He had 21 points, 9 rebounds and 3 blocks, sealing the Rockets’ first victory of the season with a pair of clutch free throws. — MacMahon


28. Sacramento Kings
2022-23 record: 0-3
Preseason ranking: 20

Sacramento has been within five points of its competition in the last five minutes during each of its games, all loses, and the Kings nearly overcame a 50-point second quarter by the Warriors and fought back from a 26-point deficit. The Kings are struggling on the margins, such as free throws, negating stellar starts from rookie Keegan Murray and star guard De’Aaron Fox. — Andrews


29. Oklahoma City Thunder
2022-23 record: 1-3
Preseason ranking: 29

The Thunder took advantage of a Clippers squad without Kawhi Leonard and Paul George to pick up win No. 1 on the season Tuesday night, as Shai Gilgeous-Alexander continued his strong start. Gilgeous-Alexander had 33 points, 8 assists, 5 rebounds, 3 blocks and 3 steals. It was the third time in his career he has had at least three blocks and three steals, and the Thunder have been victorious in all three contests. — Lopez


30. Orlando Magic
2022-23 record: 0-4
Preseason ranking: 25

The good news: No. 1 pick Paolo Banchero appears to be that good. In his first four games, the rookie averaged 22.8 points, 7.5 rebounds and 3 assists. The bad news is that the Magic still don’t have a win. After re-signing in the summer, big man Mo Bamba has had little impact off the bench, averaging 3 points and 2.8 rebounds in just over 13 minutes a contest. — Friedell

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