NBA Power Rankings: Rockets retain No. 1 spot over Warriors

As the Golden State Warriors are proving they can keep winning without the injured Stephen Curry, both the Houston Rockets and San Antonio Spurs are keeping pace as the trio of teams starts to separate themselves from the pack out West. And speaking of pace, there's something brewing in Indiana as Victor Oladipo is showing the Indiana Pacers that life after Paul George -- who visits his old team this week -- isn't so bad after all.

Every Monday throughout the regular season, our panel (this week: ESPN's Kevin Arnovitz, Adam Reisinger 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, with research notes on each team provided by ESPN Stats & Information.

Previous rankings: Week 8 | 7 | 6 | 5 | 4 | 3 | 2 | 1

1. Houston Rockets
2017-18 record: 20-4

There's far more to Chris Paul's playmaking than simply pointing toward his assist totals. The Rockets are shooting 61 percent directly off passes from Paul so far this season, according to Second Spectrum. That's the best in the NBA among the more than 125 players who have made at least 100 passes leading directly to a shot. -- Micah Adams

2. Golden State Warriors
2017-18 record: 21-6

The Warriors' 6-0 road trip was the first time in franchise history they swept a trip of at least six games. They are now home for nine of the next 10 and do not leave the state of California until after the new year. Can they win out entering the Christmas clash with Cleveland? BPI gives Golden State a 52 percent chance of winning its next six games, which would put the defending champs on a 12-game winning streak entering the NBA Finals rematch. -- Micah Adams

3. Boston Celtics
2017-18 record: 23-5

Al Horford has been worth every penny this season, at least per ESPN's real plus-minus, in which he ranked seventh in the NBA entering Sunday. Horford ranked 14th among power forwards last season. This season he's second, ahead of Giannis Antetokounmpo and Anthony Davis and trailing only Draymond Green. And Horford's passing has been on point: The Celtics are 10-0 when he records at least six assists. -- Mark Simon

4. San Antonio Spurs
2017-18 record: 19-8

While everyone else is busy choosing a side in the "can Houston beat Golden State" discussion, the Spurs are quietly just two games behind the Warriors and on the verge of getting back Kawhi Leonard. At the heart of San Antonio staying in the thick of the race atop the Western Conference is the play of LaMarcus Aldridge, currently sporting a career-high player efficiency rating of 25.3. -- Micah Adams

5. Cleveland Cavaliers
2017-18 record: 19-8

LeBron James currently leads the NBA in points scored and assisted in the clutch this season, and it's an area he holds a distinct advantage over James Harden as the two have started to build some separation from the rest of the MVP pack. James has scored or assisted on 77 percent of Cleveland's clutch-time points, compared to 50 percent for Harden in Houston. -- Micah Adams

6. Toronto Raptors
2017-18 record: 17-7

The Raptors' two best players have each improved significantly in a specific phase of their games. Kyle Lowry is averaging 6.5 rebounds per game after never averaging five in a season. The Raptors are 15-3 when he grabs five or more boards and 2-4 when he doesn't. DeMar DeRozan is averaging 5.1 assists per game, also a career high. The Raptors are 13-1 when he has five or more assists this season and 4-6 when he doesn't. -- Vincent Johnson

7. Milwaukee Bucks
2017-18 record: 15-10

The Greek Freak's dunk on Rudy Gobert might have been the play of the week and continued what has been a season-long string of posterizations for Giannis Antetokounmpo. According to Second Spectrum, he has more contested dunks than any other player in the league this season while an NBA-best 32 different defenders have been victimized. -- Micah Adams

8. Minnesota Timberwolves
2017-18 record: 16-11

Taj Gibson has gotten more minutes this season than he ever has, and for good reason: He leads the team in net rating. The Timberwolves are a far better team at both defending and rebounding when Gibson is on the floor. He's scoring some too. He just came off a three-game stretch in which he averaged 16.7 points. -- Mark Simon

9. Indiana Pacers
2017-18 record: 16-11

The Pacers ended the week in a big way, with a win over the streaking Cavaliers on Friday and an overtime win featuring Victor Oladipo's 47-point performance on Sunday. The Pacers defeated a Cavs team that had won 13 straight, the sixth time in franchise history Indiana had won a game against a team that entered with a winning streak of 13 or more games since they joined the NBA in 1976. -- Sarah Langs

10. Denver Nuggets
2017-18 record: 14-12

Gary Harris ranks third in the NBA in real plus-minus among shooting guards (two spots better than Klay Thompson). Why? The Nuggets are 8.4 points per 100 possessions better with him on the court than off on offense and 5.3 points per 100 possessions better on defense. -- Mark Simon

11. Detroit Pistons
2017-18 record: 14-12

The Pistons are showing they may not be able to hang with the NBA's big boys, dropping six straight with losses to the Spurs, Warriors and Celtics among them. The problem Detroit has against these teams? It just can't score. The Pistons are shooting 40.8 percent from the field this month (worst in the NBA) and scoring 96.8 points per 100 possessions (second-worst in the NBA). -- Mark Simon

12. Philadelphia 76ers
2017-18 record: 13-13

Ben Simmons added his third career triple-double to his résumé on Thursday in the 76ers' loss to the Lakers . With his next triple-double this season, Simmons would tie Jason Kidd (1994-95) for fifth-most triple-doubles by a rookie in a season, according to research by Elias Sports Bureau. It should come as no surprise that the leader of that rookie triple-doubles list is Oscar Robertson, with 26 in the 1960-61 season. -- Sarah Langs

13. Washington Wizards
2017-18 record: 14-12

Bradley Beal's clutch-time numbers are disconcerting. He's 9-of-36 for the season, and his 25 percent field goal percentage is third-lowest among those with at least 15 such shots taken. Beal made one to put the Wizards ahead of the Clippers late in Saturday's game, ending a streak of 10 straight misses. But there was no reward, as Lou Williams beat the Wizards with a clutch shot of his own. -- Mark Simon

14. Portland Trail Blazers
2017-18 record: 13-12

After suffering a fourth straight loss, the Trail Blazers embark on a five-game road trip in which they visit the Warriors, Heat, Magic, Hornets and Timberwolves before returning home to face the Spurs. Portland, however, may be able to withstand it, as its 6-4 record on the road is better than its 7-8 home mark. -- Mark Simon

15. Oklahoma City Thunder
2017-18 record: 12-13

In Saturday's win over Memphis, Russell Westbrook notched his 34th triple-double of 2017, which tied Oscar Robertson for the most in a calendar year in league history. However, we'd be remiss if it came without mentioning the fact that he also shot 7-for-29. Since the start of last season, Westbrook has 14 triple-doubles in which he also missed more than 15 shots. The rest of the NBA has combined for two of them. -- Micah Adams

16. Utah Jazz
2017-18 record: 13-14

It's amazing how quickly a six-game win streak can feel like a lifetime ago. After dropping three straight, Utah looks ahead at a daunting December schedule that is the hardest month any team will face all season, according to BPI. That includes a four-game gauntlet against Boston, Cleveland, Houston and Oklahoma City to close out the current six-game road trip. Utah's final nine games to close out 2017 is the hardest nine-game stretch any team will face all season. -- Micah Adams

17. New Orleans Pelicans
2017-18 record: 14-13

The Pelicans scored 44 points in the fourth quarter on Sunday against the 76ers, which was tied for the most points scored in a single quarter in franchise history. Earlier in the week, DeMarcus Cousins became the third player with multiple 40-point, 20-rebound games in a season over the past 40 seasons, the first player to accomplish that since Patrick Ewing in 1989-90. -- Harrison Marder

18. Miami Heat
2017-18 record: 12-13

You probably wouldn't guess this, but the Heat are the NBA's best in clutch-time field goal percentage this season, shooting 56.5 percent. That's paced by Dion Waiters, who is 17-of-28 in clutch time. His 60.7 percent field goal percentage ranks second to Boston's Jayson Tatum among those who have taken at least such 15 shots this season. -- Mark Simon

19. New York Knicks
2017-18 record: 13-13

Doug McDermott has been a nice acquisition for the Knicks, as New York is 9-3 this season when he scores at least eight points. McDermott is one missed shot away from shooting 50 percent from the field this season. With Tim Hardaway Jr. out, they'll need scoring wherever they can get it. They got 23 points in 31 minutes off the bench from Dougie McBuckets in Sunday's win. -- Mark Simon

20. Los Angeles Lakers
2017-18 record: 10-15

Brandon Ingram has fared well with Lonzo Ball on the court this season. Ingram is shooting 47 percent when paired with Ball and 39 percent when on the floor without him. Ingram had his biggest basket with Ball assisting last week: the last-second 3-pointer that beat the 76ers. -- David Gordon

21. Orlando Magic
2017-18 record: 11-17

Nikola Vucevic has been shooting better than he ever has from 2-point range. Per Second Spectrum, he's hitting at 76 percent in the restricted area after shooting 63 percent last season. Saturday, Vucevic became the first Magic player with at least 30 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists in a game since Tracy McGrady in February 2003. -- Mark Simon and James Howat

22. Charlotte Hornets
2017-18 record: 9-16

Dwight Howard turned back the clock on Friday against the Bulls with 25 points, 20 rebounds and six blocks, becoming the first player in Bobcats/Hornets history to accomplish that trio of feats in a single game. Unfortunately, his monster effort was not enough as the Hornets ended up losing to the Bulls at home by eight points in overtime. -- Harrison Marder

23. LA Clippers
2017-18 record: 9-15

The Clippers' 9-15 record is the team's worst 24-game start since 2010-11 (5-19). But there was a bright spot this weekend from Lou Williams, who hit a game-winning 3-pointer with 1.2 seconds to go in Saturday's game. Prior to Saturday, Williams was 0-of-10 on potential game-winning field goal attempts in the last two seconds of the fourth quarter or overtime, according to Elias Sports Bureau research. It was also his second game this season with at least 35 points off the bench. He's the only player in the NBA with more than one such game this season. -- Sarah Langs

24. Brooklyn Nets
2017-18 record: 10-15

The Nets acquired 2015 No. 3 overall pick Jahlil Okafor from the 76ers this past week. After dealing for D'Angelo Russell this summer, the Nets have traded for the Nos. 2 and 3 picks in the 2015 NBA draft. The Nets made two picks of their own in that draft: Chris McCullough with the 29th pick and Pat Connaughton with the 41st pick. They traded Connaughton on draft night and McCullough in February 2017 after just 38 career games with Brooklyn. -- Sarah Langs

25. Phoenix Suns
2017-18 record: 9-19

After their loss Saturday night at home, the Suns have now dropped 11 of their past 12 games against the Spurs, with the only win coming outside of the U.S. -- Phoenix defeated San Antonio last season in Mexico City. -- ESPN Stats & Information

26. Sacramento Kings
2017-18 record: 8-18

Zach Randolph had a vintage performance on Friday against the Pelicans, pouring in a season-high 35 points with 13 rebounds in an overtime victory. It was Randolph's first game with at least 35 points and 10 rebounds since 2012. Z-Bo is averaging 23.8 points and 10.8 rebounds per game in his past five games. -- Harrison Marder

27. Memphis Grizzlies
2017-18 record: 8-18

The Grizzlies are in the midst of a brutal stretch having lost 14 of their past 15 games. During this free fall, they've held a double-digit lead in six of the contests ... and lost them all. Overall, Memphis is 5-8 when leading by 10 or more points this season. They were 34-7 in those games last season. -- Vincent Johnson

28. Dallas Mavericks
2017-18 record: 7-20

The Mavericks' loss Sunday night to the Timberwolves was Dirk Nowitzki's 65th regular-season game against Minnesota, the most for any player. It was the 1,421st game of Nowitzki's career, three behind Kevin Willis for No. 6 on the NBA's all-time list. -- ESPN Stats & Information

29. Atlanta Hawks
2017-18 record: 6-20

The Hawks are 6-20, their worst 26-game start since 2004-05 when they started 5-21 and their second-worst start since moving to Atlanta before the 1968-69 season. One reason why? Not much defense: This season, the Hawks are 26th in defensive efficiency after ranking fourth leaguewide in 2016-17. -- Sarah Langs

30. Chicago Bulls
2017-18 record: 5-20

Break up the Bulls! After blowing a 16-point fourth-quarter lead against the Pacers, the Bulls bounced back with their first back-to-back wins of the season. The wins have coincided with the return of Nikola Mirotic, who scored a team-high 19 points off the bench in just 20 minutes in Saturday's win over the Knicks. -- Micah Adams