The 76ers start at No. 2 in this season’s Inquirer NBA power rankings. The defending NBA-champion Los Angeles Lakers are No. 1, and the Clippers are No. 3.
The Sixers’ 9.3-point scoring differential is third in the NBA, behind only Milwaukee (13.5) and the Los Angeles Lakers (11.1).
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Here is a look at the first power rankings.
Since the Lakers’ championship season ended Oct. 11, there has been speculation that LeBron James might sit out more games than usual. Even though he is averaging a career-low 32.1 minutes, James hasn’t missed a game. Having turned 36 on Dec. 30, he remains the most impactful player in the NBA.
The schedule hasn’t been overly demanding, but the one loss to Cleveland came in the only game Joel Embiid has missed. Eastern Conference player of the week Tobias Harris is shooting 47.3% from three-point range.
Paul George is up and down, but in the Clippers’ two biggest wins, he had 33 against the Lakers and 39 in Sunday’s win over the Phoenix Suns.
The Bucks have been up and down, too. One day after setting an NBA record with 29 three-pointers in a win at Miami, the Bucks lost to the Heat, 119-108. Jrue Holiday should prove to be a great No. 3 option, but is Khris Middleton a legitimate No. 2? Two-time reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo is coming off a season-high 43 points in Monday’s 125-115 win over Detroit.
Jaylen Brown had 42 points and shot 7-for-10 from three in a 126-107 win over Memphis. Jayson Tatum scored 40 in Monday’s 126-114 win at Toronto, but the Celtics have missed Kemba Walker, who has yet to play because of a knee injury.
Chris Paul has made a major difference on this young team, averaging 13.4 points, 8.3 assists and 2.0 turnovers. Devin Booker has to cut down his 5.3 turnover average.
Domantas Sabonis had 25 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists in a New Year’s Eve, 119-99 win over Cleveland. This is becoming the norm for Sabonis, who made his first All-Star appearance last year, and is playing better this year. He will need to keep it up since T.J. Warren is now out indefinitely with a stress fracture in his left foot.
Mike Conley (20.3 ppg) is having a bounce-back season for a Utah team that could battle to be a top-four seed in the Western Conference.
Former Sixer Jimmy Butler, who missed two games with an ankle injury, is averaging just 10.8 points, but did have 18 points in Monday’s 118-90 win over Oklahoma City. The Heat will be in Philadelphia to face the Sixers next Tuesday and Thursday.
The Nets have to compensate for the loss of Spencer Dinwiddie, who suffered a partially torn ACL injury. Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving have been a high-scoring duo, but the Nets need more help. Durant is expected to miss at least seven days and the next four games, including Thursday against the Sixers, because of COVID-19 protocol.
The narrative of Luka Doncic’s being an MVP candidate could be losing steam. He has admittedly not been in NBA shape, although he had 33 points, 16 rebounds and 11 assists in Monday’s 113-100 win over Houston.
How about Stephen Curry, going for 62 in Sunday’s 137-122 home win over Portland? Curry shot 18-for-31, including 8-for-16 on threes and 18 of 19 free throws. It was also a game in which Kelly Oubre Jr. and Andrew Wiggins both played well, which is what the Warriors need to be a playoff team.
Armed with a new contract, Brandon Ingram has found another gear. He is averaging 25 points and shooting 38.3% from three-point territory.
The Nuggets have been among the disappointing teams, but the talent is undeniable. Center Nikola Jokic is averaging a triple-double: 22.3 points, 11.2 rebounds, and 12.8 assists. Denver will visit the Sixers for a 3 p.m. Saturday game.
The Magic were the final NBA team to lose a game after starting 4-0, falling in a rout to the Sixers, 116-92. In Monday’s 103-83 win over Cleveland, the Magic had three former Sixers in the starting lineup: Nikola Vucevic, Markelle Fultz and Michael Carter-Williams.
CJ McCollum and Damian Lillard, the Blazers’ elite guard tandem, are averaging a combined 54.3 points. Portland will need more scoring help from the frontcourt, and has to improve defensively to be a playoff team.
John Wall, who has missed nearly two seasons because of injury, has played well, averaging 21.3 points in three games. James Harden is still working himself into shape while averaging 33 points.
The Raptors need another key scorer off the bench. Pascal Siakam, an All-Star last year, has not played well. In a 100-93 loss to the Sixers, he shot just 8-for-23.
A team that lost to the Sixers by 109-99 but was down five points at the half, the Knicks have shown a competitive spirit under new coach Tom Thibodeau. Last year, it took the Knicks 14 games to earn four wins.
The only team to beat the Sixers has been an early-season surprise. Saturday’s 96-91 win at Atlanta behind 27 points by Colin Sexton was an impressive showing.
Four players had 20 or more points in the Hawks’ wild 145-141 loss to the Brooklyn Nets, led by John Collins and Trae Young, who each had 30. The Hawks, despite being banged up, are among the more improved teams in the East and should challenge for a playoff berth.
The Kings have two wins over Denver and a victory over Phoenix.
The big news last week was assistant coach Becky Hammon’s taking over the team in the second quarter after Gregg Popovich received two technicals and was ejected in a 121-107 loss to the Lakers. Hammon became the first woman to serve as a head coach in a regular-season NBA game and is considered a future head-coaching candidate.
The Bulls are coming off their most impressive game, a 118-108 win over visiting Dallas as Zach LaVine scored 39 points. Rookie forward Patrick Williams has fit well into the starting lineup.
The Wizards enter Wednesday’s game in Philadelphia on a two-game win streak, with victories over Minnesota and Brooklyn. Russell Westbrook is shooting just 22.7% from three-point range.
The Timberwolves won their first two games, but Karl-Anthony Towns suffered a dislocated wrist in the second game. The Wolves then lost four in a row.
This has been a rough start, especially with last season’s Rookie of the Year, Ja Morant, out with a Grade 2 ankle sprain that is expected to sideline him another two to four weeks. Plus, top big man Jaren Jackson Jr. has yet to play while recovering from a knee injury.
LaMelo Ball is still coming off the bench, but the No. 3 overall pick in the draft is starting to come on. He had 22 points (4-for-5 on threes) in a 118-99 win over Dallas and scored 25 in two games against the Sixers.
Former Sixer Al Horford is the starting center for the Thunder, and he is averaging 9.0 points and 7.0 rebounds in 26.2 minutes. Last year, the Thunder were among the NBA’s biggest surprises and qualified for the playoffs, but that’s not likely to happen this year.
In the Pistons’ first win of the season, a 96-93 victory over Boston on Jan. 1, rookie Saddiq Bey from Villanova had 17 points and seven rebounds. Bey is averaging 8.8 points and 4.2 rebounds in 22 minutes.