* Through games played 12/301.
Golden State Warriors (27-7)
Last week: 2
The Warriors return to the top spot after taking down the Suns in a marquee Christmas Day matchup in Phoenix. Stephen Curry followed a 46-point game against the Grizzlies with a 33-point performance against Phoenix, helping the Warriors improve to 2-1 against the Suns. The Warriors lost a close game to the Nuggets on Tuesday before Thursday’s home-and-home rematch in Denver was postponed because the Nuggets didn’t have enough players available. The Warriors, who are holding opponents to a league-low 100.9 points per game, have another big showdown with the Jazz on New Year’s Day.
2. Phoenix Suns (27-7)
Last week: 1
Devin Booker scored 38 points in Wednesday’s win over the Thunder after the Suns suffered back-to-back losses to the Warriors and Grizzlies. The Suns have not been at full strength with Deandre Ayton, Jae Crowder, JaVale McGee and Abdel Nader out due to NBA health and safety protocols. Coach Monty Williams missed the past two games after entering the league’s protocol system on Monday. The Suns are fourth in the NBA in scoring (111.8 ppg) and third in opponent points per game (104.4)
3. Utah Jazz (25-9)
Last week: 4
Utah has won five in a row and 13 of 15 behind Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert. Mitchell had 33 points in a win over the Mavericks. Gobert had 22 points and 14 rebounds in a win over the Blazers. The Jazz will play the Timberwolves on Friday before facing the Warriors for the first time this season in a New Year’s Day matchup of Western Conference powers. Utah has the best point-differential in the NBA at +10.3, averaging a league-high 115.9 ppg while holding opponents to 105.6 ppg.
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4. Brooklyn Nets (23-10)
Last week: 3
Kevin Durant returned from NBA health and safety protocols Thursday, but he was greeted rather rudely by Joel Embiid in a 110-102 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers. Durant and Embiid exchanged words as the game ended. Embiid pointed to the exit and told Durant to “go home,” returning the gesture after Durant did something similar in a Dec. 16 victory over the 76ers. James Harden has been tremendous in three games since he returned from protocols, averaging 36.0 points, 10.7 rebounds and 11.7 assists.
5. Chicago Bulls (22-10)
Last week: 5
The Bulls are rolling behind DeMar DeRozan, Zach LaVine and Nikola Vucevic. They’ve won five in a row and nine of 11 despite a COVID-19 outbreak that prompted the NBA to postpone three of their games. LaVine scored 32 points in a win over the Pacers. DeRozan had 35 in a win over the Hawks. Vucevic had 52 rebounds over the past three games. The Bulls will only get stronger with the return of Lonzo Ball (health and safety protocols) and Alex Caruso (left midfoot sprain).
6. Milwaukee Bucks (24-13)
Last week: 7
Giannis Antetokounmpo returned from health and safety protocols last weekend to post 36 points and 12 rebounds in a win over the Celtics. He had 33 points and 12 rebounds in Thursday’s win over the Magic. The Bucks have won five in a row, but the schedule has been a little soft with games against the Rockets, Mavericks, Celtics and Magic (2). The Bucks will play the Pelicans, Pistons and Raptors before they face a tougher test in Brooklyn on Jan. 7.
7. Miami Heat (22-13)
Last week: 8
Wednesday’s game against the Spurs was postponed because Miami didn’t have eight healthy bodies due to injuries and COVID-19 protocols, but the Heat has won four in a row and six of its last seven. Tyler Herro scored 32 points in Tuesday’s win over Washington. Rookie Omer Yurtseven averaged 13.0 rebounds over the past six games, well above his season average of 4.6.
8. Memphis Grizzlies (22-14)
Last week: 9
The Grizzlies have won three in a row with victories over the Kings, Suns and Lakers. Ja Morant scored 33 points in the win over Phoenix. He had 41 points and 10 rebounds in Wednesday’s victory over the Lakers. The Grizzlies will play the Spurs on New Year’s Eve before traveling to Brooklyn to face the Nets on Monday.
9. Philadelphia 76ers (19-16)
Last week: 14
The 76ers jump five spots this week after winning three in a row and four of their last five with victories over the Celtics, Wizards, Raptors and Nets. Joel Embiid has been a beast. He had 41 points in the win over Boston, 36 against Washington and 36 against Toronto. He scored 34 in a 110-102 victory over the Nets on Thursday in Brooklyn and then pointed to the locker room, telling Kevin Durant to leave the premises.
10. Cleveland Cavaliers (20-15)
Last week: 6
The Cavaliers have been one of the league’s biggest surprises this season, but they are not in a great place after losing three of their last four. Ricky Rubio suffered a season-ending injury when he tore his ACL in Tuesday’s game against the Pelicans. Darius Garland, Jarrett Allen and Cedi Osman are all out due to health and safety protocols. They were reportedly on the verge of making a trade to acquire Rajon Rondo from the Lakers on Thursday night.
11. Denver Nuggets (17-16)
Last week: 11
The Nuggets are coming off back-to-back wins over the Clippers and Warriors. Reigning MVP Nikola Jokic had 26 points, 22 rebounds and eight assists against the Clippers. He had 22 points and 19 rebounds against the Warriors. Thursday’s rematch with the Warriors was postponed because the Nuggets didn’t have enough available players due to a COVID-19 outbreak. Coach Michael Malone entered the league’s protocol system Thursday.
12. Los Angeles Clippers (18-17)
Last week: 10
The Clippers had lost five of six, including losses to the Thunder and Spurs, before Marcus Morris Sr. and Ivica Zubac led them to a win over the Celtics on Wednesday. The road ahead could be very difficult for the Clippers with Paul George expected to miss a minimum of three to four weeks with a torn ligament in his elbow.
13. Charlotte Hornets (19-17)
Last week: 18
The Hornets have bounced back to win three in a row after losing six of eight, including an impressive victory over the Nuggets. Terry Rozier had 27 points in Monday’s win over the Rockets and 35 in Wednesday’s win over the Pacers.
14. Washington Wizards (18-17)
Last week: 13
Bradley Beal scored 29 points to help the Wizards pick up a much-needed 110-93 victory over the Cavaliers on Thursday. Washington had lost nine of 12 dating back to Dec. 3. The Wizards will play the Bulls, Hornets and Rockets at home before visiting Chicago next week.
15. New York Knicks (17-18)
Last week: 21
Julius Randle, Kemba Walker and Alec Burks have helped the Knicks win three in a row and four of their last five during a soft spot in their schedule with victories over the Pistons (2), Hawks and Timberwolves. They will face the Thunder, Raptors and Pacers before a back-to-back set against the Celtics.
16. Los Angeles Lakers (17-19)
Last week: 12
The Lakers have been a mess with Anthony Davis out due to an MCL sprain. They have lost six of their last seven despite some big games from LeBron James, who averaged 34.8 points over his last six outings. Maybe the Lakers can get back on track with upcoming games against the Blazers, Timberwolves, Kings and Hawks.
17. Boston Celtics (16-19)
Last week: 15
The Celtics have lost three in a row and eight of 11. Jaylen Brown averaged 29.0 points over the last five games but wasn’t very efficient, making 50 of 122 (.409) from the field and 13 of 47 (.277) from 3-point range. He had 30 points on 13-of-36 shooting Monday against the Clippers, going 1 of 13 from beyond the arc.
18. Dallas Mavericks (16-18)
Last week: 17
Isaiah Thomas entered health and safety protocols Thursday, just 24 hours after joining the Mavericks on a 10-day contract. Luka Doncic, Tim Hardaway Jr., Trey Burke, Maxi Kleber, Brandon Knight, Boban Marjanovic and JaQuori McLaughlin are still in protocols going into Friday’s game against the Kings.
19. Atlanta Hawks (15-19)
Last week: 16
Cam Reddish had 33 points and a career-high eight 3-pointers against the Bulls on Monday, but that wasn’t enough for the Hawks, who have lost three in a row and five of their last six. Trae Young has scored 55 points in two games since clearing protocols.
20. Minnesota Timberwolves (16-18)
Last week: 20
Karl-Anthony Towns is out due to health and safety protocols and the Timberwolves have lost three of their last four with a New Year’s Eve game against the Jazz on tap. Anthony Edwards could return soon after clearing protocols Tuesday.
21. Toronto Raptors (14-17)
Last week: 19
A COVID-19 outbreak has decimated the Raptors’ roster. Three of their last six games have been postponed. The Raptors have lost three of four, including a 144-99 loss to the Cavaliers with Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby, Scottie Barnes, Precious Achiuwa and Gary Trent Jr. all out.
22. San Antonio Spurs (14-19)
Last week: 24
The Spurs had won three in a row prior to Monday’s 110-104 loss to the Jazz. Keita Bates-Diop scored a career-high 30 points in a 138-110 victory over the Lakers last week. Wednesday’s game against the Heat was postponed.
23. Sacramento Kings (15-21)
Last week: 25
The Kings have won back-to-back games, beating the Thunder 117-111 on Tuesday and the Mavericks 95-94 on Wednesday. Several players have returned from health and safety protocols, including De’Aaron Fox, but GM Monte McNair might have to pull off a trade to improve his team’s playoff chances.
24. Indiana Pacers (14-21)
Last week: 22
The Pacers have lost three of four and five of their last seven to fall to 13th in the Eastern Conference, two games behind the Celtics for the final play-in spot. The upcoming schedule is daunting with games against the Bulls, Cavaliers, Knicks, Nets, Jazz, Celtics (2), Suns (2), Clippers, Lakers and Warriors.
25. Portland Trail Blazers (13-21)
Last week: 23
The Blazers are in the midst of a three-game losing streak with the Lakers, Hawks, Heat and Cavaliers coming up on the schedule. Damian Lillard had 39 points against the Pelicans and 32 against the Jazz, but Portland lost both games by double digits.
26. New Orleans Pelicans (13-22)
Last week: 26
This season has not gone as planned in New Orleans with Zion Williamson’s injury setbacks, but the Pelicans have won five of their last six games. They beat the Cavaliers 108-104 on Tuesday despite the absence of Brandon Ingram, who is day-to-day with an Achilles injury.
27. Oklahoma City Thunder (12-22)
Last week: 27
The Thunder had won four of five before suffering back-to-back losses to the Kings and Suns. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander had 33 points against the Kings, but that wasn’t enough with Darius Bazley, Josh Giddey and others out due to health and safety protocols.
28. Houston Rockets (10-25)
Last week: 28
The Rockets won a couple of games in mid-December, but now they’ve lost five in a row with some tough games coming up against the Heat, Nuggets, 76ers, Wizards and Mavericks.
29. Orlando Magic (7-29)
Last week: 29
The Magic has lost four in a row and suffered back-to-back beatings at the hands of the Bucks this week, losing 127-110 on Tuesday and 136-118 on Thursday. Rookie Franz Wagner poured in 38 points in one of those games.
30. Detroit Pistons (5-28)
Last week: 30
The Pistons have lost four in a row and 18 of 19 dating back to Nov. 19. Rookie Cade Cunningham, the No. 1 pick in the 2021 NBA draft, has missed the past three games due to health and safety protocols.
Source : https://www.sacbee.com/sports/nba/sacramento-kings/article256955782.html2615