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NBA Power Rankings: Raptors bump Warriors for No. 1; LeBron James-led Lakers continue to climb

Ah, yes, the National Basketball Association, the most predictable of professional sports leagues, the league in which, more than a quarter into the regular season, the Los Angeles Clippers are one of the hottest teams in the league and at the top of the West, the Detroit Pistons have won five in a row and have a better record than the Boston Celtics, and the Sacramento Kings have the same record as the Houston Rockets. Are you kidding me?

Utterly and completely predictable.

When anybody points to the Golden State Warriors‘ string of dominance as a reason why the NBA is too predictable, point to the first two months of the 2018-19 season. The Warriors themselves might be the best example of how nothing is given in the NBA. They’ve lost six road games in a row, they’re in fourth place in the West, and two core players — Draymond Green and Kevin Durant — had a very public spat that could mean very bad things for the Warriors’ dynasty going forward. (This is the moment to point out that Vegas still has the Warriors as favorites over the field, but it feels like a much closer call than it was in the preseason. Plus, they just got Steph Curry back from injury, Green is due back soon, followed thereafter by DeMarcus Cousins. So the Warriors are still the greatest, et cetera, ad nauseum.)

And while I was higher on the Toronto Raptors than most during the preseason — I picked them to win the East by a hair over the Celtics — I never could have predicted just how quickly they became this good. At 20-4, the Raptors are exactly on pace for where the Warriors were in 2016-17, their first season with Durant, when they started 20-4 en route to a 67-win season in which they lost one game the entire playoffs. The way these guys have jelled this quickly — with a first-year head coach in Nick Nurse and two new starters in Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green — is one of the more unpredictable things of the first quarter of this NBA season.

After the Raptors, back in action on Monday against the Nuggets (7:30 p.m. ET — watch on fuboTV with the NBA League Pass extension), beat the Warriors in overtime last week in their first meeting of the season, I finally elevated the Raptors — perhaps belatedly — to the No. 1 spot in this week’s Power Rankings.

Yes, the game was in Toronto, and the Warriors were minus two starters, and Durant nearly willed the Warriors back after being down 17 midway through the third quarter, and the Warriors at full strength are a better team than the Raptors at full strength. All these things are true. But another truth is that records matter, and the Raptors have been the better team through the first quarter of this season. So these power rankings have their first official change at the top.

Our theme this week: The hottest players and hottest teams in the NBA.

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