The NBA in-season tournament remains unclear and more than a little confusing in its purpose, but the games have been much more competitive than typical regular season affairs. LeBron James mentioned the Lakers were motivated to win against the Suns due to $500,000 being on the line. If more money motivates the athletes to play better, the fans benefit as well! Here is where everyone lines up entering week four of the season.
1. Denver Nuggets
Even without Jamal Murray, Denver finds new ways to win games. When you have Nikola Jokic, it seems easy to stay above everyone else, though. The x-factor of the season has been the way Aaron Gordon continues to improve.
2. Philadelphia 76ers
Philadelphia has emerged as the early-season dark horse in the East with the surprise play of Kelly Oubre Jr. Unfortunately, the Sixers will be without Oubre for a while due to him being hit by a car while on a walk.
3. Minnesota Timberwolves
Is Anthony Edwards taking the leap? He combines the athleticism of Michael Jordan with the shotmaking of someone like Devin Booker. The Timberwolves are having one of their best starts in years thanks to his stardom.
4. Boston Celtics
The Celtics’ hot start cooled a little bit this past week with two losses, but they are getting some good contributions from their bench. Sam Hauser’s nine points per game has been a pleasant unearthed gem.
5. Dallas Mavericks
Luka Doncic had his fifth 40 point game of his career against the Clippers this past week. If there is an impressive stat to be had, Luka will take it and make it his own.
6. Golden State Warriors
Andrew Wiggins must start playing better if the Warriors are to contend in the West. Steph Curry needs a second scoring option, and Wiggins or Klay Thompson are the top candidates.
7. Milwaukee Bucks
Giannis scored 54 points in a losing effort against the Indiana Pacers, but it’s nice to know the Bucks’ star still has those types of offensive performances in him. He’s been relying on Damian Lillard for a lot of the scoring load, especially late in games.
8. Indiana Pacers
Indiana is playing with swag, including wins against top contenders like Milwaukee. Now, if we could just get their jerseys to match the vibes of their play on the court…
9. Oklahoma City Thunder
Chet Holmgren doesn’t get as much attention as Victor Wembanyama, but his versatility and offensive skills are evident in every game. The Thunder have had a few growing pains in close games, though.
10. Houston Rockets
Is that the Houston Rockets in the playoff picture in the West? It sure is! Fred VanVleet’s stability and scoring have helped a lot, and coach Ime Udoka makes players accountable.
11. Atlanta Hawks
Trae Young is finally starting to look more like the star point guard we’ve come to expect, scoring 41 points in a win against Orlando last week, but then they turn around and lose to Miami without Jimmy Butler.
12. Miami Heat
Bam Adebayo is bolstering his offensive attack this season, averaging a career high 23 points per game. The Heat’s star center has improved his scoring average every year of his career, a testament to his work ethic and commitment.
13. Orlando Magic
Orlando continues to impress with quality wins against teams like Milwaukee. The Magic’s core of the Wagner brothers, Paolo Banchero, and Jalen Suggs should flourish with more time together.
14. Los Angeles Lakers
Lakers fans claim the team needs a third star, but perhaps Austin Reaves should just play the way he’s supposed to. Los Angeles’s third option is suffering from a shooting slump, and the team's offense is often a mess.
15. Phoenix Suns
Even with the return of Brad Beal, the Suns absolutely need Devin Booker back on the floor as soon as possible. They also need to figure out why the Lakers have been a bad matchup so far.
16. New York Knicks
R.J. Barrett is shooting a career-high from the three-point line this season, something that really opens up the New York offensive attack. The Knicks need to keep building win streaks against poor teams this coming weekend like the Hornets and Wizards.
17. Sacramento Kings
Domantas Sabonis has turned into the Kings’ Swiss Army knife of sorts during De’Aaron Fox’s absence. The center’s playmaking has especially been crucial for Sacramento’s offense.
18. New Orleans Pelicans
It’s the same old story for the Pelicans. A good start has evaporated within a single week due to a four-game losing streak. New Orleans ranks low in many offensive categories, such as total points.
19. Toronto Raptors
Pascal Siakam, Scottie Barnes, and O.G. Anunoby have turned into a dynamic trio for Toronto. Dennis Schroder also has taken on more of a scoring load since leaving Los Angeles.
20. Brooklyn Nets
Cam Thomas has been the breakout star of the Nets with nearly 27 points per game. Lonnie Walkers has also flourished with more responsibility and playing time since leaving the Lakers.
21. Cleveland Cavaliers
If the Cavs could play the Golden State Warriors every night, they would have the best record in the Eastern Conference. Cleveland’s length and athleticism led to wins against the Dubs, and now they need to take advantage of their strengths against other foes.
22. San Antonio Spurs
Devin Vassell has been a solid second option for Gregg Popovich after Wemby, but the Spurs are struggling mightily in the last week. Blowout losses to the Knicks and Pacers by 21 and 41 don’t look too good.
23. Los Angeles Clippers
The James Harden experiment isn’t working in Los Angeles so far. Coach Ty Lue has his hands absolutely full trying to figure out how to balance four different scorers, especially when Harden refuses to play off the basketball.
24. Chicago Bulls
The trade machine is getting warmed up in Chicago. Where will Zach LaVine be traded if the Bulls decide to blow it up? Golden State and New Orleans make sense as destinations.
25. Charlotte Hornets
Domestic abuser Miles Bridges returns to the Hornets this week, adding insult to injury for a team that has no pride or self-respect. Charlotte needs to move on from Bridges immediately.
26. Portland Trail Blazers
Scoot Henderson will miss two to three weeks with an ankle injury, an unfortunate development for the struggling rookie point guard. Dandre Ayton’s 13 rebounds per game show his potential to be a cornerstone with the Blazers.
27. Utah Jazz
The Jazz got off to a terrific start a year ago, but the reverse has happened this year. With Lauri Markkanen, Jordan Clarkson, and John Collins healthy, expect the Jazz to start eking out a few more wins.
28. Detroit Pistons
Detroit has been in several games this year, especially against Milwaukee and Philadelphia, but their youth and undisciplined nature get in the way of victories. Monty Williams is still trying to find a winning combination with his lineups.
29. Washington Wizards
Jordan Poole claims he’s alright with having his own team in Washington because he won a title in Golden State, but he must play with a more calculated presence if he wants to make a name for himself outside of Steph’s mentorship.
30. Memphis Grizzlies
The maturity of the Grizzlies indeed seems to be in question. They aren’t handling adversity well, and their coach, Taylor Jenkins, is part of the problem. Ja Morant’s return could either help the team or add to their dysfunction.