Power Rankings: Time to believe in the Magic?

The last of the undefeated fell this week, with an LA Clippers loss on Saturday night to the suddenly red-hot Detroit Pistons. This leaves a group of mystery guests near the top of the league standings, with the remnants of the Memphis Grizzlies‘ “Grit ‘N Grind” crew joining the Clippers as the only NBA teams with just one loss as we turn the corner into November.

Early-season power rankings are a tough exercise, because it’s difficult to know which teams are showing their true selves, and which are just subjects of small sample-size theater. Are Orlando, Memphis and Detroit for real? Is Dallas really this bad? Is Oklahoma City not the juggernaut many thought they’d be? Figuring out where to slot a struggling Cleveland Cavaliers team is also a challenge because whatever the record might indicate in autumn, few believe the Cavs will be anything other than a top-five team come April.

Editor’s note: Every Monday throughout the regular season, our panel — ESPN’s Kevin Arnovitz, Amin Elhassan and Ramona Shelburne, The Undefeated’s Marc J. Spears and FiveThirtyEight’s Chris Herring — will rank the league’s 30 teams from top to bottom.

Previous rankings: Week 2 | Week 1

1. Houston Rockets
2017-18 record: 5-2
Previous ranking: 1

The Rox are 0-2 against Memphis, and undefeated against the rest of the league. Friday night’s win at Charlotte was Houston in technicolor. The Rockets set a record for the fewest 2-pointers attempted in a game, with 28. It also was only the third time in NBA history a team attempted 57 3-pointers or more. The other two occasions? The 2016-17 Houston Rockets.


2. Golden State Warriors
2017-18 record: 4-3
Previous ranking: 3

Are the Warriors turning into a spring “switch-flipping” team right in front of our eyes? Through the first couple of weeks of the season, the Dubs look a lot like the brainy kid who starts the term paper the night before it’s due — witness the comeback from 18 down against the Wizards on Friday — and still coast to an A-minus. Not so against Detroit on Sunday night, when the Warriors got blitzed for 33 points in the fourth quarter.


3. San Antonio Spurs
2017-18 record: 4-2
Previous ranking: 2

The Spurs finally took their first L of the season on Friday night at Orlando, then followed it up by blowing a late lead to the Pacers on Sunday. Though he hasn’t shot the ball well, Dejounte Murray has proved to be a quick study, and whatever LaMarcus Aldridge and Gregg Popovich schmoozed about in Pop’s office should be preserved for posterity. After a date at Boston, the Spurs settle in at home for a couple of weeks — a chance to bank a few more wins before Kawhi Leonard returns.


4. LA Clippers
2017-18 record: 4-1
Previous ranking: 9

The glow of Blake Griffin‘s game winner at the buzzer in Portland on Wednesday faded with a loss to Detroit on Saturday, their first of the season. The Clips still own the NBA’s best defense by a considerable margin. They can get greedy this week, with four games at home. The first will be against the Warriors, against whom the Clippers are 1-11 since defeating the Dubs in a first-round playoff series in 2014.


5. Memphis Grizzlies
2017-18 record: 5-1
Previous ranking: 14

Another week, another impressive display for the Grizzlies, who are showing few signs of coming back to Earth. They’re doing it in classic Grizzlies fashion — elite defense coupled with a passable offense predicated on the Conley-Gasol combo. The Grizzlies rank in the top three in points per pick-and-roll possession and are getting needed offensive output from James Ennis and Tyreke Evans.


6. Boston Celtics
2017-18 record: 4-2
Previous ranking: 15

The C’s found their footing with a 3-0 week, as they continue to navigate life without Gordon Hayward. The Celtics still rank below league average in offensive efficiency, but a second-ranked defense should keep them in the mix at the top of the conference. Brad Stevens has called on rookie Jayson Tatum and he has continued to deliver, averaging 18 points on a true shooting percentage of 76.5 for the week.


7. Cleveland Cavaliers
2017-18 record: 3-4
Previous ranking: 4

Surrendering 112, 123 and 114 points in three consecutive losses to non-playoff teams is the stuff of panic attacks in Cleveland. The Cavs rank in the bottom quarter of the league defensively, and the lineup experiments haven’t produced success on either end of the floor. Are the Cavs bored, old or poorly assembled? Or are they toying with us, as they traditionally do, until it’s time to flip the switch?


8. Toronto Raptors
2017-18 record: 3-2
Previous ranking: 6

Two full weeks into the season and the the Raptors are in full Raptor mode. They’ve won each of the three games they entered as the favorite, and have lost both contests in which they were the underdog, including a couple of road tilts this week at San Antonio and Golden State. Some good news: The Raps are getting quality production from young big men Pascal Siakam and Jakob Poeltl.


9. Milwaukee Bucks
2017-18 record: 4-2
Previous ranking: 8

Giannis Antetokounmpo maintained his pole position for the MVP race with another eye-popping week, posting point totals of 32, 28 and 33 in the Bucks’ three games, with high rebounding and assist numbers to boot. This season’s League Pass darlings are getting positive results from most of their high-usage lineups, except the one that matters most — the starters.


10. Portland Trail Blazers
2017-18 record: 4-2
Previous ranking: 12

If not for the heartbreaker against the Clippers on Thursday night, Rip City would’ve recorded a clean three-game sweep at home this week. Defense has long been the iffy variable in Portland during the Lillard-McCollum era, so the Blazers have to be thrilled about their early-season stinginess. They currently rank sixth in defensive efficiency, and are the NBA’s top rebounding team.


11. Oklahoma City Thunder
2017-18 record: 3-3
Previous ranking: 7

Nothing jells a team trying to incorporate new personnel like a matchup with a doormat. Accordingly, the Thunder took out a couple of weeks worth of frustration on Chicago on Saturday night. Getting the choreography right will take some time. But can someone explain how OKC, a team that led the NBA last season in rebounding rate, can rank 30th on the defensive glass?


12. Orlando Magic
2017-18 record: 4-2
Previous ranking: 19

Break up the Magic! Though if they keep this up, the front office might not! A big win over San Antonio on Friday turned heads, and Aaron Gordon has established himself as a contender for Most Improved Player — and toss Evan Fournier into the mix, too. One notable difference this season? A middle-of-the-pack pace team last season, Orlando ranks a zippy third in possessions per game this season.


13. Minnesota Timberwolves
2017-18 record: 3-3
Previous ranking: 10

Last season, the Pups ranked 28th during the final four minutes of one-possession games with a net rating of minus-24.9. But this season’s older, wiser, clutchier Wolves are getting it done in crunch time. They’ve outscored opponents 25-19, and notched a big win in a nail-biter on Friday against OKC. That allowed Minny to salvage an otherwise forgettable week that included losses to Indiana and Detroit without Jimmy Butler.


14. Washington Wizards
2017-18 record: 4-2
Previous ranking: 5

The Wizards finished up a western swing a somewhat unsatisfying 2-2, including a lazy overtime loss to the Lakers and a blown lead to the Warriors after leading by 18. On a positive note, the starting unit with Kelly Oubre Jr. slotted next to Otto Porter Jr. at forward has been one of the league’s most efficient with a net rating of plus-23.6.


15. Detroit Pistons
2017-18 record: 5-2
Previous ranking: 16

The Pistons enjoyed a productive weekend out west, winning back-to-back over the Clippers and Dubs. To make a dent in the Eastern Conference, the Pistons needed a player or two from their starting core to outperform expectations — and Tobias Harris obliged. He and CJ McCollum are the only players in the NBA this season to score 100 points while turning over the ball five times or fewer.


16. Denver Nuggets
2017-18 record: 3-3
Previous ranking: 13

The Nugs have fallen short of early expectations, but after a date at the Garden with the Knicks on Monday night, they can fatten up back at the Pepsi Center with a six-game homestand. Once Paul Millsap and Jamal Murray turn it on, and the Nuggets start taking care of the ball, a solid, versatile offensive team should emerge from its early-season jitters.


17. New Orleans Pelicans
2017-18 record: 3-3
Previous ranking: 18

A huge week for a team that desperately needs a playoff berth in April. After a loss in Portland, the Pellies got a DeMarcus Cousins vengeance win at Sacramento, then bludgeoned Cleveland at home. Boogie assembled player-of-the-week-worthy numbers, averaging 36.3 points, 16 rebounds and 6.3 assists with a 65.7 true shooting percentage.


18. Utah Jazz
2017-18 record: 3-3
Previous ranking: 11

Finding quality shots in life after Hayward has challenged the Jazz, who rank 26th in offensive efficiency. The starting lineup of Rubio-Hood-Ingles-Favors-Gobert has been particularly unproductive with the ball, with a net rating of minus-11.3. But rookie Donovan Mitchell showed promise this week, with two big games, including a 22-point effort in a win over the Lakers on Saturday.


19. Miami Heat
2017-18 record: 2-3
Previous ranking: 17

There are only so many shots to be created for this squad, overachievers as they are. The Heat have only one rotation player with a positive net rating — Josh Richardson at plus-0.1. At No. 27 in rebounding rate, the Heat desperately need Hassan Whiteside to return from a knee injury. He returned to practice on Friday, but was a no-go in Saturday night’s loss to Boston.


20. Charlotte Hornets
2017-18 record: 3-3
Previous ranking: 20

The good news for the Hornets? A league-average defense last season has vaulted to seventh with the arrival of Dwight Howard from Atlanta. The bad news? A league-average offense last season has tumbled to 21st. Now Charlotte faces a week when they’ll play three tough road games at Memphis, San Antonio and Minnesota, along with a home date against Team Giannis.


21. Brooklyn Nets
2017-18 record: 3-4
Previous ranking: 26

The gutsy win over Cleveland on Wednesday had the feel of a franchise-turning moment, but the good vibes faded as the Nets laid an egg over the bridge at the Garden on Friday night. Still, the Nets are shooting the ball exceptionally well in the early going. Only Caris LeVert has posted a true shooting percentage below 54 percent among Nets regulars.


22. Indiana Pacers
2017-18 record: 3-3
Previous ranking: 24

The offensive output from the post-PG Pacers defies earthly logic. How is the league’s No. 4 offense getting it done without Myles Turner, who still hasn’t been cleared to play after suffering a concussion? Look no further than Victor Oladipo, who is averaging 26 points per game on a true shooting percentage of 64.3. Domantas Sabonis, his fellow traveler from OKC, has also been a net positive for Indy. He scored 22 points on Sunday in a win over the Spurs, shooting a perfect 9-for-9 from the floor.


23. Philadelphia 76ers
2017-18 record: 2-4
Previous ranking: 25

If not for Eric Gordon‘s buzzer-beater, the Sixers would be celebrating an undefeated week of basketball, with road wins over Detroit and Dallas. Ben Simmons turned in a monster week: 19.3 points, 8.7 rebounds and 9 assists per game with a 60.1 true shooting percentage. Brett Brown has been faithful with the restrictions on Joel Embiid — he has yet to play 30 minutes in a game.


24. Sacramento Kings
2017-18 record: 1-5
Previous ranking: 21

The Kings found themselves on the receiving end of a DeMarcus Cousins revenge game during a winless week. On the upside, De’Aaron Fox has shown Sacramento flashes of everything they hoped he’d be for the rebuilding franchise — a lightning-quick guard who can get to his spots with ease, shoot from distance, and finish at the rim. In the restricted area, Fox has converted 14 of 22 shots — a cool 63.6 percent.


25. Los Angeles Lakers
2017-18 record: 2-4
Previous ranking: 22

Aside from acclimating rookie Lonzo Ball to an NBA starting point guard gig, the first item on the Lakers’ agenda this season was improving their woeful 30th-ranked defense. The early results have been auspicious, as the Lakers enter the week ranked 11th in defensive efficiency. The offense remains a work in progress as Luke Walton tinkers with lineup combos and the young’uns adapt to the read-oriented scheme.


26. New York Knicks
2017-18 record: 2-3
Previous ranking: 28

This past week saw the debut of first-round draft choice Frank Ntilikina on Friday night in a win over Brooklyn. The Knicks then followed it up by crushing the Cavs. They enter one of their most forgiving weeks of the season, and a chance to pick up a couple of wins with four games at MSG. To do so, they’ll need to shoot better. They rank 27th in true shooting percentage entering play this week.


27. Dallas Mavericks
2017-18 record: 1-6
Previous ranking: 23

The Mavs’ win over Memphis on Wednesday is their only win during a home-heavy opening stretch — now they hit the road for five of their next seven. Dallas is the league’s worst rebounding squad and the defense has been porous. Dennis Smith Jr. has turned some heads with his nose for the rim, but Harrison Barnes has been inefficient.


28. Phoenix Suns
2017-18 record: 2-4
Previous ranking: 30

While the league waits for an outcome on Eric Bledsoe‘s pending departure from Phoenix, the Suns played a downright dignified brand of basketball last week, picking up a couple of home wins over Sacramento and Utah. Though there haven’t been any individual standouts in the inefficient offense, Mike James has been a pleasant surprise. Now the Suns take the road for four games this week.


29. Atlanta Hawks
2017-18 record: 1-6
Previous ranking: 27

What do you do when your top two usage players are Dennis Schroder and Kent Bazemore, both of whom sport true shooting percentages below 51? Likely answer: lose a lot of basketball games. The Hawks haven’t won since an opening night win at Dallas, and will start November with five of seven on the road, and home games against Houston and Boston.


30. Chicago Bulls
2017-18 record: 1-4
Previous ranking: 29

The Bulls found their first win of the season over Atlanta on Thursday, but this is still a roster that practically invites misery. The Bulls rank dead last in offensive efficiency, last in net rating, and last in workplace harmony, as Nikola Mirotic told management that it’s either him or Bobby Portis. On the bright side, sweet-shooting rookie Lauri Markkanen looks like a keeper.

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