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NBA Power Rankings Week 5: The Kings Are Lighting The Beam

The Charlotte Hornets have the longest active playoff drought in the Eastern Conference, last appearing in the postseason in 2015-16. While that is a long time to be out of the postseason mix, Charlotte doesn’t hold a candle to the Sacramento Kings. The Kings haven’t made the playoffs since 2006, essentially spanning an entire generation of players. Sacramento entered the 2022-23 season with increased expectations and a fun roster, but the Kings still were not projected to make the playoffs, instead forecasted to be on the fringe of the play-in discussion. Through 15 games, however, the Kings are having fun. And in recent days, Sacramento is rolling.

The Kings are on a six-game winning streak that continued with a 137-point outburst against Detroit on Sunday. It’s the first of that length for the organization since 2005, and it pushes the Kings to 9-6 overall. Of course, that 15-game mark does not ensure anything with regard to 82-game performance, but Sacramento’s offense appears to be real.

Led by De’Aaron Fox and a six-player group averaging at least 12 points per game, the Kings are No. 1 in the NBA in offensive efficiency. Sacramento is scoring 118.6 points per 100 possessions and, during the winning streak, the Kings scored at least 120 points in every contest and put up a whopping 128.9 points per 100 possessions. While per-possession data is more indicative of overall success, Sacramento is also the first team since the 1984-85 season to average least 121.4 points per game in the first 15 contests of a season, and the Kings are in the top quartile of the NBA in a bevy of stats. In fact, the Kings lead the NBA in field goal percentage and two-point percentage (to go along with points per game), and Sacramento is also near the top of the league in assists (28.3 per game), free throw attempts (25.1 per game), and three-point accuracy (38 percent).

Fox is playing the best basketball of his career, averaging 25.4 points and shooting almost 56 percent from the floor. Domantas Sabonis adds another dynamic offensive element with 17.5 points, 10.9 rebounds, and six assists per game, while newcomer Kevin Huerter is scalding-hot from long distance, making 49.5 percent of more than seven three-point attempts per game. Inevitably, the Kings will cool off a bit, and Sacramento is currently a bottom-five team in defensive efficiency. Mike Brown will need his team to take a step forward on that end of the floor in order to compete for the final top eight in the West, but the “light the beam” movement is alive and well in Sacramento, and it is a lot of fun to watch.

Where do the Kings rank this week in our DIME power rankings? Let’s take a glance.

1. Milwaukee Bucks (12-4, Last week — 2nd)

Milwaukee isn’t flying as high in recent days, losing three of the last five. The Bucks still have the best defense in the NBA to this point, and a double-digit loss by Boston on Monday opened the door for this swap. Just don’t get between Giannis and the free throw line in postgame.

2. Boston Celtics (13-4, Last week — 1st)

The Celtics won nine in a row before losing on Monday, and they were probably due for one. The crazy thing is that Boston continues to operate without Robert Williams, but the Celtics are only behind the aforementioned Kings in offensive rating.

3. Cleveland Cavaliers (11-6, Last week — 14th)

It’s been a little bit weird in Cleveland. The Cavs opened 8-1, then lost five in a row, and now have won three in a row. That may not seem like the No. 3 team in the league, but Cleveland has a +6.9 net rating and the underlying metrics are strong. The Cavs also just beat the Heat and Hawks by 38 combined points.

4. Phoenix Suns (10-6, Last week — 6th)

Phoenix has a TNT slot on Tuesday against the Lakers with a chance to build on this market. In keeping with the fact that nothing seems to matter in the regular season for the Suns, Phoenix actually leads the league in net rating (+7.0). Phoenix did lose three of the last five games, but it’s hard to ignore the overall profile.

5. L.A. Clippers (11-7, Last week — 15th)

The Clippers are 9-3 in the last 12 and looking more like the Clippers. L.A. is behind only Milwaukee in defense, and Kawhi Leonard has now played in three straight games. That doesn’t fix everything, especially since he isn’t KAWHI just yet, but a rough start has evaporated.

6. Sacramento Kings (9-6, Last week — 18th)

We’re about to learn more about Sacramento. The vibes are fantastic, but the Kings now face the Grizzlies, Hawks, and Celtics on the road over a four-day period beginning on Tuesday. Even getting one win in that run would be encouraging.

7. Indiana Pacers (10-6, Last week — 19th)

Look at the Pacers. Indiana has won five in a row and nine of the last eleven games. A deeper look is a little bit less exciting than you might think, in part because the last four wins came against bad teams, but the Pacers are No. 7 in offense and playing a fun brand of basketball.

8. Denver Nuggets (10-6, Last week — 3rd)

Denver is 9-4 with Nikola Jokic and 1-2 without him. There is a bit of punishment in this ranking after three losses in five games, but Denver did avenge a bad loss to Dallas with a win in the rematch.

9. New Orleans Pelicans (10-7, Last week — 13th)

It’s been quiet, but the Pelicans are really playing good basketball. New Orleans is in the top five of the NBA in net rating and just completed a five-game run with four wins and a close loss to Boston.

10. Minnesota Timberwolves (9-8, Last week — 23rd)

A 13-spot jump isn’t something that is easy to accomplish, but it was a great week for Minnesota. The Wolves went 4-0 with wins over Cleveland, Philadelphia, and Miami. It’s been a season of fits and starts for the Wolves, but maybe that run is a springboard.

11. Utah Jazz (12-7, Last week — 8th)

No need to panic just yet, but the Jazz are 2-4 in the last six games. The cracks are beginning to show on defense with 117.5 points allowed per 100 possessions over that six-game period. Utah gets a friendly home game against Detroit on Wednesday, but then it’s a Thanksgiving weekend back-to-back against Golden State and Phoenix on the road.

12. Atlanta Hawks (10-7, Last week — 4th)

The Hawks have alternated wins and losses in eight straight games. Being .500 over an eight-game period is generally fine, but three of the losses came by double figures. Atlanta has been out-scored for the season, and the Hawks have work to do on offense in particular.

13. Philadelphia 76ers (8-8, Last week — 7th)

The offense hasn’t been as good as it should be in Philly, but the Sixers are really guarding. The Sixers are giving up about 1.01 points per possession in the last seven games, going 4-3, and the last two losses came against quality opponents in close-fought games.

14. Washington Wizards (10-7, Last week — 17th)

We dove into Washington’s uptick last week and, right on cue, the Wizards lost to the Thunder at home. That may have prompted an “uh oh,” but the Wizards responded with back-to-back wins over Miami and Charlotte.

15. Golden State Warriors (8-10, Last week — 11th)

The Warriors finally won a road game this week, toppling the Rockets after a hideous start away from San Francisco. The ensuing game was a blowout loss but, well, nobody played for the Warriors in that game. Wednesday’s matchup with the surging Clippers on national TV should be interesting for the champs.

16. Memphis Grizzlies (10-7, Last week — 9th)

Three double-digit losses in the last four games have the Grizzlies dipping in the rankings. Memphis is 0-3 without Ja Morant, and he may miss a decent stretch of time with an ankle injury. It’s something to monitor after how well the Grizzlies managed to play without their star last year.

17. Dallas Mavericks (9-7, Last week — 5th)

Dallas was over-inflated in this space last week, and now the Mavs are probably too low. That’s the nature of it being November. At any rate, the Mavs lost to Houston at home (yikes), and even with Luka out, that’s not great. It still feels like Dallas isn’t quite firing on offense, and the sledding is tough with road games against Boston, Toronto, and Milwaukee this week.

18. Toronto Raptors (9-8, Last week — 12th)

Toronto came close to a third straight win, only to fall to Atlanta in memorable fashion at the buzzer. The Raptors are better than this ranking suggests, but an eight-game absence from Pascal Siakam makes Toronto look a lot more ordinary.

19. Brooklyn Nets (8-9, Last week — 20th)

The Nets got absolutely obliterated by the Kings to start last week, which hurts the metrics, but Brooklyn is generally playing better basketball in recent days. Kyrie Irving is now back with the team just in time for a three-game Thanksgiving road trip that includes a national TV game in Philly on Tuesday.

20. Portland Trail Blazers (10-7, Last week — 10th)

A bit of regression is here for Portland. The Blazers are 1-4 in the last five and the only win came at home against San Antonio. At the same time, none of the losses were of the “bad” variety, and Portland’s defense is still above-average by the numbers. We’re going to need more info.

21. New York Knicks (9-9, Last week — 22nd)

New York is hovering in the middle. The 9-9 record paints that picture, but the Knicks are underwater from a point differential standpoint. It was a status quo week with two explainable road losses, and New York has six of the next seven at home to maybe set up a run.

22. Chicago Bulls (7-10, Last week — 21st)

The Bulls were on the way to the bottom five before a nice win over Boston on Monday. Chicago is playing pretty well on defense, but the offense just isn’t quite there yet. Some of that can be traced to 41 percent shooting for Zach LaVine.

23. Los Angeles Lakers (5-10, Last week — 26th)

Welcome back, Anthony Davis? Davis has at least 20 points in 13 of 14 games this season, and he just put up 35 points and 17.3 rebounds per game during a three-game winning streak. Beating Brooklyn, Detroit, and San Antonio shouldn’t launch a party, but it’s at least improving in Los Angeles from a team standpoint.

24. Oklahoma City Thunder (7-10, Last week — 24th)

The Thunder would probably be even higher if they weren’t the Thunder. Oklahoma City has a very respectable -1.5 net rating, and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is on All-NBA watch at this point. Three losses in the last four games keeps OKC down, but they are frisky.

25. Miami Heat (7-11, Last week — 16th)

A winless four-game road trip sinks Miami on this list. It’s not as if there is overarching panic for the Heat but, at 7-11 and with the No. 23 offensive rating, it doesn’t feel like Miami will be repeating its top-seeded effort from last season.

26. Orlando Magic (5-13, Last week — 28th)

Orlando won the first two games with Paolo Banchero, but reality is now setting in. The Magic are 1-4 in the last five games and, even worse, Orlando now plays 14 consecutive games against teams that were projected for the playoffs before the regular season began.

27. San Antonio Spurs (6-12, Last week — 25th)

The Spurs were 5-2. You can do the math on how things have gone since. San Antonio has a hideous -16.3 net rating in the last 11 games, giving up more than 1.2 points per possession on defense. During an active five-game losing streak, four of the losses came by at least 18 points, and it’s really off the rails now after a somewhat promising start.

28. Charlotte Hornets (4-14, Last week — 27th)

Charlotte has the worst record in the league since Halloween at 1-11. LaMelo Ball has played only three games, which explains things a little bit, but he doesn’t change that much to explain away a 4-14 start and an ugly 106 offensive rating. As a reminder, the Hornets won 43 games last season.

29. Houston Rockets (3-14, Last week — 30th)

A nice road win over Dallas this week gets Houston out of the basement. The Rockets are still struggling quite badly (-7.5 net rating), but that victory was a nice bright spot. Now, Houston has a four-day break between games on Sunday and the next contest on the agenda against Atlanta on Friday.

30. Detroit Pistons (3-15, Last week — 29th)

Seven straight losses are bad enough but, with Cade Cunningham out due to injury, it feels dire for Detroit. The Pistons don’t have adequate shot creation right now and, on defense, only the Spurs have been worse by the numbers.