Bulls trending down in 2022-23 NBA Power Rankings

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The more time that passes, the more difficult it is to parse the hierarchies of the 2022-23 NBA season.

Out East, the Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks have distinguished themselves as favorites, with the Cleveland Cavaliers not far behind. The Phoenix Suns have done the same out West, with the upstart New Orleans Pelicans and Memphis Grizzlies snapping at their heels.

We have had surprises good, in the Utah Jazz and Indiana Pacers, and bad, in the sputtering Minnesota Timberwolves and reigning champion Golden State Warriors. Fun, in the Sacramento Kings, and chaotic, in the Brooklyn Nets.

In all, the landscape outside of the elite teams in each conference is muddled, potentially foreshadowing a contentious stretch run and postseason.

For now, let’s take stock of where each team stands at the beginning of December:

30. San Antonio Spurs, 6-17: While the Spurs have not yet sunk to the league’s worst record, they have lost 11 straight games — and 16 of the last 17 — to firmly plant their flag in the Victor Wembanyama sweepstakes. Only three teams in NBA history have finished a season with a worse point differential than their current mark of -11.8. (Last ranking: 28)

29. Orlando Magic, 5-20: If San Antonio is the coldest team in the NBA, the Magic are not far behind. Monday’s loss to the Milwaukee Bucks marked their ninth straight defeat. At least Orlando fans can take solace in Rookie of the Year frontrunner Paolo Banchero’s ascent. (Last ranking: 26)

28. Detroit Pistons, 6-19: Cade Cunningham remains out indefinitely with a shin injury that could require surgery, a damper on what began as a promising season for the Pistons. On the bright side, Killian Hayes has stepped up in his absence, averaging 15.8 points and 7.4 assists in the last five games. (Last ranking: 29)

27. Charlotte Hornets, 7-17: LaMelo Ball has played just three of the Hornets’ 24 games. That is all you need to know about a season fast careening off the rails. (Last ranking: 27)

26. Houston Rockets, 7-17: Recent wins over the higher-ranked Atlanta Hawks, Phoenix Suns and Philadelphia 76ers place the Rockets a notch above the league’s deepest cellar. But expect them near the bottom by the time the draft lottery rolls around. (Last ranking: 30)

25. Chicago Bulls, 9-14: Against one of the more difficult schedules in the league, the Bulls are off to an uninspiring start, highlighted by a -6.3 net rating when their “Big Three” of DeMar DeRozan, Zach LaVine and Nikola Vučević are on the court together. They hope LaVine’s recent 41-point breakout in a loss to the Kings is a sign of things to come. (Last ranking: 24)

24. Minnesota Timberwolves, 11-12: It has been two games since Karl-Anthony Towns went down with a calf strain that is expected to hold him out four to six weeks. Another piece of adversity for the underwhelming Timberwolves to reckon with. (Last ranking: 14)

23. Washington Wizards, 11-13: The Wizards have lost six of seven games since the last edition of these power rankings, a stretch which featured a defeat to the lowly Hornets and Anthony Davis dropping 55 points on them over the weekend. (Last ranking: 17)

22. New York Knicks, 11-13: The Knicks are not playing to Tom Thibodeau’s expected standard of defense, as evidenced by their 23rd-ranked rating at that end of the floor. Perhaps a recent win over the Cleveland Cavaliers will be a spark. (Last ranking: 19)

21. Oklahoma City Thunder, 11-13: This group is feistier than even their above-expectation record indicates, in large part due to the play of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Averaging 31.3 points per game, he is third in the league in scoring. (Last ranking: 25)

20. Miami Heat, 11-13: Winners of five of their last six games, the Heat are finding their way. Recent victories over the Hawks and Celtics give credence to this jump in the rankings. (Last ranking: 24)

19. Los Angeles Lakers, 10-12: Following a 2-8 start, the Lakers have won eight of their last 10 to join the Western Conference playoff picture. Better yet, Anthony Davis is playing like his old self. He has averaged 35.3 points, 15.6 rebounds and 2.9 blocks during the Lakers’ surge, posting 44 and 55 points in his last two games. (Last ranking: 23)

18. Toronto Raptors, 12-12: Pascal Siakam, who is authoring another stellar season, is five games back from a groin strain. But the Raptors are just 2-3 in those contests. Despite a scrappy stable of defenders, they have yet to establish their footing on a consistent basis. (Last ranking: 16)

17. Philadelphia 76ers, 12-12: James Harden returned from a month-long injury absence on Monday… And the 76ers fell to the Rockets in double overtime for their third consecutive loss. Tyrese Maxey can’t get back soon enough. (Last ranking: 18)

16. Brooklyn Nets, 13-12: The Nets are 11-7 since Jacque Vaughn succeeded Steve Nash as coach, and Kevin Durant is off to one of the more efficient starts to a season in his career, averaging 29.9 points on 66.2 percent true shooting. But this group still has much to prove in the wake of early season drama. (Last ranking: 20)

15. Indiana Pacers, 13-11: No Tyrese Haliburton, no problem for the Pacers in San Francisco Monday night, when Andrew Nembhard’s career night (31 points, 13 assists) propelled them to a losing-streak-snapping win over the Golden State Warriors. In one of the surprises of the season, Indiana sits fifth in the East. (Last ranking: 9)

14. Atlanta Hawks, 13-11: The Hawks currently sit fourth in the Eastern Conference, but unfortunately, the preeminent headline surrounding the team centers on palpable tension between Trae Young and head coach Nate McMillan. (Last ranking: 15)

13. Portland Trail Blazers, 13-11: With Damian Lillard in and out of the lineup, the Trail Blazers have come back to earth after their scalding start, having lost seven of their last 10 games. With their superstar returned, perhaps they can regain their early-season form. (Last ranking: 13)

12. Los Angeles Clippers, 14-11: The Clippers will not scratch their potential until Kawhi Leonard and Paul George are available on a consistent basis. They are 5-1 with Leonard in the lineup this season, 11-6 with George. Perhaps both playing — and Leonard sinking a game-winner — against the Hornets Monday night will catalyze a run. (Last ranking: 10)

11. Utah Jazz, 14-12: The Jazz were atop of the Western Conference when our last power rankings were published. Now, they have lost six of their last eight games and have fallen to eighth. Incidentally, that reality check has directly coincided with Mike Conley Jr. nursing a hamstring injury. (Last ranking: 4)

10. Golden State Warriors, 13-12: Monday’s loss to a shorthanded Pacers squad splashed some cold water on a solid 7-2 stretch for the reigning champion Warriors. Nevertheless, they have begun to right the ship after a slow start. And Stephen Curry is as relentless as ever. (Last ranking: 22)

9. Dallas Mavericks, 12-11: The Mavericks are a difficult bunch to figure out. One night, a loss to the lowly Pistons; another, a rout of the Western Conference leading Suns. One thing is certain, though: Luka Dončić is playing at an MVP level and this squad can hang with anyone on the right night. (Last ranking: 11)

8. Denver Nuggets, 14-9: The Nuggets remain a well-oiled offensive machine. But concerning for the time being is Michael Porter Jr.’s six-game absence — and counting — with a foot injury, the latest in a long line of ailments for the team’s third-leading scorer. (Last ranking: 5)

7. Sacramento Kings, 13-9: The last 10 months have been quite a hot streak for the Kings' front office. Even while Tyrese Haliburton thrives, Domantas Sabonis is supplying All-Star level production as De’Aaron Fox’s running mate. Kevin Huerter and Malik Monk have been lethal additions. And Keegan Murray, the fourth pick in the 2022 draft, fits right in. All good vibes for the Beam Team. (Last ranking: 7)

6. Memphis Grizzlies, 15-9: The Grizzlies have picked up right where they left off after finishing as the West’s No. 2 seed last season. Unsurprisingly, Ja Morant has again taken his game to another level. (Last ranking: 12)

5. Cleveland Cavaliers, 15-9: The Donovan Mitchell acquisition has somehow exceeded expectations, as the three-time All-Star is averaging a career-high 28.4 points per game. Even while enduring early-season injuries to Darius Garland and Jarrett Allen, the Cavaliers sit third in the East. (Last ranking: 3)

4. New Orleans Pelicans, 15-8: Winners of six of their last seven, the Pelicans are rolling — and just a half game back of the West’s No. 1 seed. Jose Alvarado’s career-high 38 points on Sunday remind of the team’s stellar depth behind the star talents of Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram and CJ McCollum. (Last ranking: 8)

3. Phoenix Suns, 16-8: Even weathering injuries to Chris Paul and Cam Johnson, plus Jae Crowder’s ongoing holdout, the Suns sit atop the Western Conference just over a quarter of the way through the season. Averaging career-highs in points (29.1) and assists (6), Devin Booker looks to have made another leap. (Last ranking: 6)

2. Milwaukee Bucks, 17-6: The Bucks were 15-5 with the best defensive rating in the league before returning Khris Middleton from injury. While the three-time All-Star may take some time to find his rhythm, Milwaukee won the title the last time they had him, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jrue Holiday all healthy to close a season. (Last ranking: 1)

1. Boston Celtics, 20-5: No need to overthink this one. The Celtics boast the best offensive rating in NBA history, are led by MVP front-runner Jayson Tatum, and will soon return Robert Williams from knee surgery rehab. The reigning East champions are the class of the association. (Last ranking: 2)

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