Arizona Republic's NBA power rankings: Suns, Warriors 1-2 heading into Tuesday's showdown in Phoenix

Duane Rankin
Arizona Republic

NEW YORK — Be honest.

Who thought before the season began that little more than a month into it Golden State and Phoenix would be 1-2 in the league going into their first matchup Tuesday at Footprint Center?

No one saw the Warriors (17-2) having the NBA's best record or the Suns (17-3) donning the league's longest current win streak of 16 in a row after a 1-3 start.

So The Republic's Top 5 power rankings should start with those two teams.

The only question is the order through Saturday's games.

More:Arizona Republic's NBA power rankings: Warriors, Suns keep rising, Hornets buzzing

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 27:  Devin Booker #1 of the Phoenix Suns celebrates after he drew the foul against the Brooklyn Nets at Barclays Center on November 27, 2021 in New York City.

1. Phoenix Suns (17-3, Last week 3rd)

The Suns make their way atop the rankings after going 4-0 on a road trip with back-to-back wins over the Knicks and East-leader Nets.

Now, is that enough to overtake the Warriors for No. 1?

For now, yes, but Golden State can prove otherwise Tuesday — or the Suns can further validate their position.

"I'm looking forward to it, man," said Devin Booker about facing the Warriors as he's averaged 32.3 points in Phoenix's last three wins. "Obviously not a make-or-break game, not a playoff game, but we know it's going to be high energy. Two best records in the NBA. It's going to be high intensity and a fun game." 

Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green, left, celebrates after scoring, next to Portland Trail Blazers center Jusuf Nurkic (27) during the second half of an NBA basketball game in San Francisco, Friday, Nov. 26, 2021. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu).

2. Golden State Warriors (17-2, Last week 1st)

How good are the Warriors?

They're first in the league in defensive rating and second in offensive rating behind Utah.

They have the leading MVP candidate in Stephen Curry, who is not only second in the league in scoring at 28.4 points a game, but shooting 41.7% from 3 on 13.1 attempts.

To put that number in perspective, Kevin Durant is making 41.4% of this 3s on 4.7 attempts.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 27:  Kevin Durant #7 of the Brooklyn Nets reacts in the first quarter against the Phoenix Suns at Barclays Center on November 27, 2021 in New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

3. Brooklyn Nets (14-6, Last week 2nd)

There's no shame in losing to the hottest team in the NBA.

How they fell is the problem.

Not only did the Nets trail the entire game on the their home floor, they hadn't played since Wednesday while the Suns were on the second of a back-to-back to end a four-game road trip.

Brooklyn committed 20 turnovers that led to 20 Phoenix points. James Harden (7) and Durant (5) combined for 12 of those.

Looking forward to seeing how they finish this four-game homestand that continues Tuesday against the Knicks and ends Dec. 4 versus the Bulls, who beat them by 23 Nov. 8 in Chicago.

Miami Heat guard Gabe Vincent, right, shoots against Chicago Bulls guard Lonzo Ball during the second half of an NBA basketball game in Chicago, Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021. The Heat won 107-104. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh).

4. Miami Heat (13-7, Last week 5th)

Huge win over the Bulls in Chicago without Tyler Herro (illness) to conclude a four-game road trip after a rough loss at Minnesota as Kyle Lowry scored 11 of his 19 in the fourth.

The veteran guard is known for being clutch, but what about Gabe Vincent?

Undrafted in 2018, Vincent scored 16 of his team-high 20 in the fourth, hitting 4-of-6 from 3. Lowry and Vincent combined to score 27 of Miami's 35 points in the quarter.

Insane, but so is this.

Vincent, a 6-3 guard out of Santa Barbara, is averaging just 4.7 points in his career and shooting 30.8% on 3s. Just an incredible night for a player whose first taste of the NBA came on an Exhibit 10 contract in 2018 with Sacramento.

Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal drives during the second half against the Dallas Mavericks in Dallas, Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021.

5. Washington Wizards (13-7, Last week Next 5)

With bounce-back wins at Oklahoma City and Dallas in its four-game road trip that began with a lopsided 25-point loss to New Orleans, Washington cracks the Top 5.

Chicago could easily be here, but is 1-3 in its last four games with one defeat coming at Houston, which has the NBA's worst record. 

Utah has a stronger case. The Jazz have split their last four games with the second loss coming against the Pelicans on a last-second 3 shot by Devonte' Graham with 1.3 left.

Still, Washington is doing this with a first-year head coach Wes Unseld Jr., a roster overhaul from the Russell Westbrook trade — and defense.

The Wizards are 11th in defensive rating, nine spots from where they finished last season.

Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell moves the ball up the court during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the New Orleans Pelicans Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Alex Goodlett).

Next five

Utah Jazz (13-7) — The Jazz responded from a home defeat to New Orleans with a beatdown of the Pelicans the next night, 127-105. The Jazz, Warriors and Suns are the only three teams in the top 10 of offensive and defensive rating, but Utah isn't playing nearly as well as Golden State or Phoenix. Hard team to figure out.

Chicago Bulls (13-8) — Not only did they lose to Houston, but Indiana trucked them by 32 in Chicago the game before. Four of their next six are on the road against the Knicks, Nets, Cavs and Heat with home matchups versus the Hornets and Nuggets, the only team in the bunch with a losing record as they're slumping minus reigning MVP Nikola Jokic (wrist). 

Milwaukee Bucks (12-8) — Winners of six straight, the defending NBA champions are rolling. Now, two wins were against Orlando, which has the East's worst record. The Nuggets were without Jokic. The Thunder and Pistons are rebuilding and the Lakers are a mess, but the Bucks haven't lost since the return of Khris Middleton (COVID-19).

Khris Middleton #22 of the Milwaukee Bucks dribbles the ball against Saddiq Bey #41 of the Detroit Pistons in the first half at Fiserv Forum on November 24, 2021 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Charlotte Hornets (13-9) — Maybe the Rockets aren't as bad as their record as they're on a two-game win streak after beating the Bulls and Hornets. However, Charlotte remains one of the NBA's surprise teams. The Hornets are not only 8-2 in their last 10 games, they're just two games behind the Nets in the East. 

Los Angeles Clippers (11-8)  They have a chance to make a statement Sunday against the Warriors, who edged them by only two in their season opener. The Clippers are hanging in there with defense as they're second in the league in defensive rating. That trend must continue to stay afloat without Kawhi Leonard.

One last thing

LeBron James has had an interesting return to say the least after missing eight games with an abdominal strain.

James has served a one-game suspension for "recklessly hitting" Isaiah Stewart in the face on a boxout that left the Pistons' big bloodied and enraged, but doesn't feel the play warranted a suspension.

He comes back from the suspension, scores 39 in an overtime win over Indiana, but was fined $15,000 for  an "obscene gesture" in that game that Sam Cassell was known to do in his playing days.

The irony of that is James had two fans ejected from courtside seats in that game for going "outside the line with obscene gestures and words" as he put it.

Then the Lakers lose in three overtimes at home to Sacramento in falling below .500 again.

What's next? A rematch Sunday with the Pistons in Los Angeles. 

You can't make this stuff up.

LeBron James' late celebration Wednesday night cost him $15,000.

Have opinion about current state of the Suns? Reach Suns Insider Duane Rankin at dmrankin@gannett.com or contact him at 480-787-1240. Follow him on Twitter at @DuaneRankin.

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