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NBA Power Rankings Week 2: Early Buzz Vindicated In Miami

The Miami Heat received buckets of attention in advance of the 2021-22 NBA season. Though the Heat lost to the Milwaukee Bucks in blowout fashion during the 2021 NBA Playoffs, the team is just 12 months removed from a run to the 2020 NBA Finals in the Orlando Bubble, and the Bucks team that defeated the Heat went on to win the 2021 title. On top of that, Miami made a big splash in fortifying the backcourt with a deal for Kyle Lowry, all while bringing back Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, Duncan Robinson and Tyler Herro.

Though any six-game sample should be met with some level of skepticism, the Heat have answered the bell at the outset of the season. Miami is 5-1 with the NBA’s best net rating (+16.5) and, even with the caveat of a 42-point win against a shorthanded opponent in the opener, the Heat are passing both the statistical and eye tests. The Heat are leading the NBA in defensive rating, allowing 95.1 points per 100 possessions, and that figure dips to 88.3 points per 100 possessions with Adebayo on the floor. Miami has allowed 103 points or fewer in every game, dominating the defensive glass and holding opponents to a 46.4 percent effective field goal shooting mark.

Miami’s defense was always supposed to be its calling card, but the offense is also showing early signs of encouragement. The Heat currently rank in the top five of the NBA in offensive efficiency, and Miami is scoring nearly 1.15 points per possession during an active, four-game winning winning streak. Miami has been relentless on the offensive glass, grabbing 32.2 percent of their own missed shots, and the Heat are getting enough from Herro (22 points per game, 39.5 percent from three) to feel more optimistic about a bench that doesn’t have overwhelming depth.

In an overarching sense, the Heat couldn’t answer every question in October, largely because this team was built with the playoffs in mind. However, Miami has performed at a higher regular season level than many projected at the outset, and Butler is playing at an All-NBA level in helping all of the pieces fit together. The Heat still have a lot to prove in this iteration, but Miami profiles as a team that could be trouble in the East, and it could be happening earlier than expected.

Where do the Heat land in this week’s DIME power rankings? Let’s dig in.

1. Miami Heat (5-1, Last week — 13th)

Miami gets a TNT showcase against Dallas on Tuesday and that will be a nice measuring stick. Objectively, though, the Heat have played the best basketball in the NBA this season.

2. Chicago Bulls (6-1, Last week — 4th)

The NBA’s only six-win team checks in at No. 2 and it’s been a wild start for Chicago. After four wins over shaky opponents and a close loss to the Knicks, the Bulls just beat the Jazz and Celtics in back-to-back games. Chicago totally embarrassed Boston in the fourth quarter and, even if there may be some smoke and mirrors here, it’s been fun.

3. Utah Jazz (5-1, Last week — 2nd)

Utah was the best team in the NBA during the 2020-21 regular season, and the Jazz may be on their way again. They have one loss, on the road to Chicago, and a statistical profile that isn’t exactly porous. The Jazz haven’t hit a meaty portion of their schedule yet, but they’ve earned the benefit of the doubt anyway.

4. Golden State Warriors (5-1, Last week — 3rd)

Golden State has only played one team with a winning record right now, but the results are strong. Golden State’s only loss came in overtime on the road, and the Warriors are also in the middle of an eight-game homestand that could allow them to rack up even more wins.

5. Philadelphia 76ers (5-2, Last week — 8th)

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Ben Simmons is still out and now Tobias Harris may be sidelined for a bit. That will probably harm the Sixers’ ability to continue to win at a lofty clip, but Philly is on a three-game winning streak that includes wins over Atlanta and Portland. Philadelphia will face Chicago twice in the next few days, and that will help to reveal answers on both sides.

6. Milwaukee Bucks (3-4, Last week — 1st)

Milwaukee just lost three games in a row at home. Without context, that might set off alarm bells, but the Bucks continue to operate without Brook Lopez and Jrue Holiday. In fact, roster absences have been the No. 1 theme of the season so far in Milwaukee, and there is no reason to worry about the champs just yet.

7. Brooklyn Nets (4-3, Last week — 5th)

James Harden seemed to find himself this week and, if that holds, the Nets are still terrifying on offense. Brooklyn has not been dominant in the way that was expected, but they have enough to get by… and more.

8. Toronto Raptors (5-3, Last week — 22nd)

Toronto has been a lot of fun. The Raptors have won four in a row, including a very nice road win at MSG on Monday. This is a top-eight defense and a team with a +4.3 net rating through eight games. Will that hold? We’ll see, but the run is impressive.

9. New York Knicks (5-3, Last week — 12th)

New York would’ve been even higher if not for the aforementioned loss to Toronto on Monday. The Knicks still have a top-three (!) offense, and the “Bing Bong” rallying cry is ongoing.

10. Los Angeles Lakers (4-3, Last week — 14th)

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One would think the Lakers would be higher than this after winning four of the last five games. The loss, though, was brutal in that it came against the lowly Thunder in a game in which Los Angeles led by 26 points. The Lakers still have a lot to work out, but just staying afloat as they sort through details will be helpful.

11. Atlanta Hawks (4-3, Last week — 7th)

After a pair of disappointing road losses to Washington and Philadelphia, the Hawks got right in a breezy win over the Wizards on Monday. That game showcased Atlanta’s offensive ceiling and, even with a few early-season hiccups, the Hawks are 4-3 and in perfectly solid shape.

12. Denver Nuggets (4-3, Last week — 6th)

As expected, the Nuggets are being carried by a defense that is allowing fewer than a point per possession. Wait, what? There was an injury scare to Nikola Jokic last week but, since he returned, I can say that the Nuggets will be just fine as long as he is the centerpiece.

13. Phoenix Suns (2-3, Last week — 9th)

Phoenix is the only team in the league with only fives games on their ledger. The Suns also haven’t played since Saturday and, while the early results are not good at all, we just have to see more. It’s also possible that Phoenix found itself with a solid win against Cleveland over the weekend.

14. Washington Wizards (5-2, Last week — 20th)

Washington lost on Monday to Atlanta, but the Wizards beat the Hawks last week and the only other loss came on the road in Brooklyn. The Wizards haven’t had their full roster available, but they are playing slower and scoring enough to get by. This is one of those teams where a larger sample is truly needed to find out where the real level is.

15. Dallas Mavericks (4-2, Last week — 16th)

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Given the large sample of effectiveness, it would be unwise to assume that Dallas is simply bad on offense. At the same time, they have fallen off a cliff in terms of efficiency, Luka Doncic is slumping early, and the Mavs can’t seem to make threes despite lofty volume from beyond the arc. Dallas has also managed to be 4-2 and they can break out against Miami in a national TV spot on Tuesday.

16. Memphis Grizzlies (4-3, Last week — 11th)

Memphis is really intriguing. The Grizzlies beat the Nuggets on Monday, and Ja Morant continues to put up gaudy numbers (28.3 points, 7.7 assists per game) in keying the offense. They’ve been outscored by 3.4 points per 100 possessions, though, so perhaps there is some unevenness under the surface.

17. LA Clippers (2-4, Last week — 15th)

Offense is down across the league, but it is jarring to see the Clippers scoring only a point per possession. In fact, L.A. would be lower than this if the rankings were based solely on this season, and the 2-4 mark is deserved with how the Clippers have played.

18. Charlotte Hornets (5-3, Last week — 10th)

As of Nov. 2, the Hornets have the No. 2 offense in the NBA. LaMelo Ball is shining, Miles Bridges is breaking out, and this is a fun group. In contrast, Charlotte ranks No. 28 in defense and the Hornets lost at home to the Cavs on Monday.

19. Cleveland Cavaliers (4-4, Last week — 21st)

The Cavs have four solid wins and no bad losses. Cleveland beat Atlanta, Denver, Charlotte and the Clippers in the first two weeks, and they are flummoxing opponents with odd lineup combinations. Oh, and Evan Mobley is very, very exciting.

20. Portland Trail Blazers (3-4, Last week — 19th)

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No one should worry about Damian Lillard, but his early struggles are one of the reasons why Portland is scuffling. Lillard is shooting 34.9 percent from the floor, headlined by 15-of-65 (23 percent) from three-point range. The Blazers would’ve been higher if not for a disappointing loss on Monday, falling by 10 points to a Sixers team that was missing its best pieces.

21. Minnesota Timberwolves (3-3, Last week — 17th)

The results are encouraging for Minnesota, but the profile is strange. For a team with offense-first personnel, the Wolves are floundering on that end, scoring only 1.01 points per possession. On the flip side, the defense has been quite a bit better than projected, but Minnesota’s home loss to Orlando on Monday forces a bit of a tumble in the rankings.

22. Sacramento Kings (3-3, Last week — 23rd)

Sacramento keeps playing close games and they are breaking even through six contests. That is far from disastrous and, when looking for optimism, the Kings have been leaps and bounds better defensively so far in 2021-22. Sacramento has still been a bottom-10 defense, but from where they came from, that feels acceptable.

23. Indiana Pacers (2-6, Last week — 24th)

Indiana stopped a four-game losing streak with a home win over San Antonio on Monday. That kept the Pacers from falling in this space, but the start hasn’t been encouraging for a team with reasonable expectations. The Pacers haven’t been full strength, but there also isn’t a lot to get excited about on paper right now.

24. San Antonio Spurs (2-5, Last week — 25th)

With early-season caveats attached, the Spurs have a net-neutral (0.0) point differential. That doesn’t override a 2-5 start, but San Antonio’s offense has been better than expected. Unfortunately, part of the hope with the Spurs is that the defense could be quite good, and that hasn’t manifested just yet.

25. Boston Celtics (2-5, Last week — 18th)

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The danger zone is here in Boston. The Celtics are below-average statistically on both ends of the floor, including a surprising bottom-five figure in defensive rating. On top of those shaky peripherals and a 2-5 record, Marcus Smart made a few interesting comments after Monday’s loss, pouring gas on the fire. Boston is better than this on paper, but it could be teetering.

26. Orlando Magic (2-6, Last week — 28th)

Orlando jumped a couple of spots on the strength of a nice road win in Minnesota on Monday. The early start of Jalen Suggs has been concerning, but Franz Wagner is playing well and Cole Anthony is hot at the outset. Anthony is averaging 19.4 points, 7.6 rebounds and 5.6 assists per game with a 59.6 percent true shooting clip. That may not continue, but it’s been encouraging.

27. New Orleans Pelicans (1-6, Last week — 26th)

Zion is going to miss a few more weeks and that is disastrous news for the Pelicans. They are drowning without him and, for every game he misses, the buzz gets louder about the dysfunction in New Orleans. Other than that, it’s going great.

28. Houston Rockets (1-5, Last week — 27th)

Houston has a lot of talent, but the Rockets are a mess on offense. They are scoring 97.8 points per 100 possessions right now, with the worst assist-to-turnover ratio (1.09) in the NBA and a turnover rate (18.6 percent) that is all-time bad. The flashes are fun, and they did beat the Thunder, but woof.

29. Detroit Pistons (1-5, Last week — 29th)

Cade Cunningham is on the court now, which is almost all that matters for Detroit. The Pistons still have ghastly offensive numbers, but simply having the No. 1 pick available to play should do wonders in bringing optimism. Detroit is also totally fine on defense, and the offense is due for some level of positive regression.

30. Oklahoma City Thunder (1-6, Last week — 30th)

The Thunder won a game this week! That may not happen often, but it was a wild one in which OKC overcame a 26-point (!) deficit against the Lakers. That is worth celebrating, but the Thunder have the worst record and net rating (-12.8) in the league and it feels worse than that if you watch them for any length of time.