NBA Power Rankings: Where has LeBron's scoring spree sent the Lakers?

by Gordon Dixon - LeBron James just turned 38, but he has been turning back the clock with some vintage performances to power the Lakers' recent surge.

NBA Power Rankings: LeBron James making a push for scoring record -- and winning record 7:50 AM ET ESPN.com It's officially 2023, and time is ticking for the Los Angeles Lakers to get in position to make the playoffs -- though LeBron James is doing everything he can to give them a chance. As James closes in on the NBA's all-time scoring record, he has helped the Lakers win three of their past four games in a stretch that includes back-to-back 40-point performances. James, at 38, is hardly ever off the floor, and he has willed the Lakers from obscurity into the conversation for a play-in spot. Things will get much harder for James & Co. to start the new year, however, as they will run through a gauntlet that includes the Western Conference-leading Denver Nuggets , Memphis Grizzlies , Dallas Mavericks , Philadelphia 76ers , Brooklyn Nets , Boston Celtics and a host of other fringe contenders this month. The Nuggets are the latest team to take over the top spot in the West in what has been a weekly shuffle of potential front-runners. Nikola Jokic is making his claim for a third straight MVP title, as Denver looks capable of overpowering any team -- even the mighty Celtics -- with Jokic on the floor. Boston has done just enough to capitalize on the Milwaukee Bucks' recent slide to retake the top spot in the Eastern Conference, but each week it looks more and more like the Nets are the team to beat in the East -- and potentially the entire NBA. Note : Throughout the regular season, our panel (Kendra Andrews, Tim Bontemps, Jamal Collier, Nick Friedell, Andrew Lopez, Tim MacMahon, Dave McMenamin and Ohm Youngmisuk) is ranking all 30 teams from top to bottom, taking stock of which teams are playing the best basketball now and which teams are looking most like title contenders. Previous rankings: Week 1 | Week 2 | Week 3 | Week 4 | Week 5 | Week 6 | Week 7 | Week 8 | Week 9 | Week 10 | Week 11 ESPN 2022-23 record: 26-12 Previous ranking: 1 After Tuesday night's beatdown at the hands of the Thunder -- who were missing Shai Gilgeous-Alexander -- Boston is now just 8-8 across its past 16 games after going 18-4 to begin the season. Yes, the Celtics are still, barely, ahead of the Nets atop the East, but the heady days of the first six weeks of this campaign feel very far away. -- Bontemps 2. Brooklyn Nets 2022-23 record: 25-12 Previous ranking: 4 Make that 12 wins in a row, as Brooklyn continues to be the hottest team in the league and is following Kevin Durant 's MVP-type lead every night. The players have bought into new coach Jacque Vaughn's less-is-more approach and are building more confidence with each contest. A three-game trip this week to Chicago, New Orleans and Miami should provide a good test for a squad that cruised through the month of December with a 12-1 record. -- Friedell 2022-23 record: 24-13 Previous ranking: 2 Editor's Picks Why Robert Sarver still has power to sway the Suns' trade deadline plans 1d Brian Windhorst 2 Related The Timberwolves snapped a six-game losing streak on Monday against the visiting Nuggets, but Denver still sits atop the Western Conference and, overall, is playing as one of the best teams in the league. It's becoming hard to find new ways to describe the pure dominance Nikola Jokic has been displaying. Denver still has to figure out how to thrive in the non-Jokic minutes, but the continued emergence of Bones Hyland and a healthy Michael Porter Jr. gives the Nuggets options. -- Andrews 4. Memphis Grizzlies 2022-23 record: 23-13 Previous ranking: 5 The Grizzlies have won three in a row, recovering from a funk of four losses in five games. Center Steven Adams has dominated the glass during the winning streak, averaging 20.3 rebounds, the most ever by a Memphis player over a three-game stretch. "It's just a man amongst boys," teammate Ja Morant said after Adams matched his career high with 23 rebounds (13 offensive) in Sunday's win over the visiting Kings. -- MacMahon 5. Milwaukee Bucks 2022-23 record: 24-13 Previous ranking: 3 The Bucks have been leaning on star Giannis Antetokounmpo , who dropped a career-high 55 points on Tuesday -- even more heavily with his co-stars recently sidelined by injuries. Khris Middleton will miss his 10th straight game on Wednesday, and Jrue Holiday has been absent for three of the past four contests. Antetokounmpo owns the highest usage rate in the league at 38.6%, according to Basketball-Reference.com. -- Collier 2022-23 record: 24-14 Previous ranking: 9 Take a bow, Donovan Mitchell . The Cleveland guard became just the seventh player in league history to score 70 or more points in a game with his masterful 71-point performance during an overtime win against the Bulls on Monday. Mitchell finished 22-of-34 from the field and 20-of-25 from the free throw line while adding 11 assists and eight rebounds on the historic night. -- McMenamin 7. Philadelphia 76ers 2022-23 record: 22-14 Previous ranking: 8 Tyrese Maxey has finally returned after several weeks on the sideline with a foot injury, and Doc Rivers opted to have him come off the bench. Philadelphia's current starting lineup has outscored opponents by 10.6 points per 100 possessions with De'Anthony Melton in Maxey's place, as opposed to 5.2 points per 100 with Maxey in the starting five. It will be intriguing to see how long Rivers sticks with this alignment moving forward. -- Bontemps 2022-23 record: 23-14 Previous ranking: 6 The Pelicans went 10-5 in December without Brandon Ingram , and it was good enough to earn Willie Green the Western Conference Coach of the Month Award. Green became the fourth coach in franchise history to be so honored, joining the late Paul Silas (April 2003), Byron Scott (January 2008, December 2008) and Monty Williams (January 2011). Green will have a challenging January coming up, as Zion Williamson is slated to miss at least three weeks with a right hamstring strain . -- Lopez 9. Dallas Mavericks 2022-23 record: 22-16 Previous ranking: 11 Luka Doncic is averaging 41.7 points, 11.0 rebounds, 9.9 assists and 2.3 steals during the Mavericks' seven-game winning streak. It is Dallas' longest such streak since winning eight in a row in February and March 2011, during the Mavs' championship season. They are missing a starter and two key reserves due to injuries, but they have outscored opponents by 73 points with Doncic on the floor during the streak and been outscored by 27 when he rests. -- MacMahon 10. LA Clippers 2022-23 record: 21-18 Previous ranking: 7 The NBA on ESPN and the ESPN App Wednesday Friday *All times Eastern Yet again, the Clippers can't stay healthy. Kawhi Leonard missed Monday's loss to Miami with a non-COVID illness, and Paul George tweaked a right hamstring injury that previously kept him out of seven games. It remains to be seen if they will have their two stars for the upcoming back-to-back trip to Denver and Minnesota. Leonard will almost certainly be held out of at least one of those games due to his normal injury management. -- Youngmisuk 11. Sacramento Kings 2022-23 record: 20-16 Previous ranking: 13 After it was unclear what Domantas Sabonis ' availability would be due to a right thumb avulsion fracture, he delivered three straight double-double performances, including a 30-point game against the Nuggets. Sabonis has now put up 14 consecutive double-doubles. -- Andrews 12. Miami Heat 2022-23 record: 20-18 Previous ranking: 17 Miami has won four of its past five games, and it received a huge performance from Bam Adebayo in Monday's win over the Clippers, as he scored 31 points and grabbed 13 rebounds. Sunday's showdown against the Nets should provide a good litmus test for both teams as the Heat try to climb back up the East's standings. -- Friedell 2022-23 record: 21-17 Previous ranking: 19 The Pacers are in the middle of a four-game winning streak, and they own the best offensive rating in the NBA during that span at 127.7 points per 100 possessions. -- Collier 14. Golden State Warriors 2022-23 record: 20-18 Previous ranking: 16 The Warriors are riding a five-game winning streak -- their longest of the season. This is crucial as they play eight straight games at home, where they have the best record in the NBA (as compared to their league-worst road record). Draymond Green said they're starting to form an identity while their roster is depleted with injuries and illness. If they can get healthy at the right time, Green said no one will want to see them in the postseason. -- Andrews 15. Phoenix Suns 2022-23 record: 20-18 Previous ranking: 10 Phoenix's nightmarish road trip hit its nadir with an 11-point first quarter at the Mecca of basketball in New York City. The Suns went 1-4. And while the win in Memphis was notable, Devin Booker can't return soon enough from his left hamstring injury as his team slips in the standings. -- McMenamin 16. Portland Trail Blazers 2022-23 record: 19-17 Previous ranking: 15 The Blazers got a much-needed blowout win over the hapless Pistons, thanks largely to Jerami Grant 's 36 points. But Portland has lost five of its past eight entering a three-game road swing, and the team will certainly need Jusuf Nurkic , who was limited to just 14 minutes against Detroit due to illness. -- Youngmisuk 17. New York Knicks 2022-23 record: 20-18 Previous ranking: 12 NBA on ESPN+ Get access to exclusive original series, premium articles from our NBA insiders, the full 30 for 30 library and more. Sign up now to unlock everything ESPN+ has to offer . New York's topsy-turvy play has lasted for more than a month now. In a span of 17 games since Nov. 30, the Knicks have either won or lost consecutive games: two losses followed by eight wins followed by five defeats followed by a pair of victories. The Knicks will be hoping to continue their ascent and start a winning streak anew Wednesday night at home against the lowly Spurs. -- Bontemps 18. Utah Jazz 2022-23 record: 19-21 Previous ranking: 18 The Jazz's losing streak was extended to five games when Lauri Markkanen 's would-be game winner against the Kings was a split second too late. Utah's past three defeats were all by a single-possession margin. Markkanen continues to make a strong case to represent the Jazz in the upcoming Salt Lake City All-Star Game, averaging an efficient 30.1 points over his past eight outings. -- MacMahon 19. Atlanta Hawks 2022-23 record: 17-20 Previous ranking: 14 It was a rough week for Atlanta, starting with a one-point loss to the Nets on Dec. 28. On Friday, the Hawks fell again after giving up 47 points to LeBron James on his 38th birthday. After coming back from 21 points down against Golden State on Monday, the Hawks took a nine-point lead in the fourth quarter only to see Warriors guard Donte DiVincenzo send the contest to overtime on a 3-pointer with seven-tenths of a second left in regulation. In double overtime, the Hawks then watched the game slip away, as Kevon Looney 's putback was good at the buzzer. -- Lopez 20. Washington Wizards 2022-23 record: 17-22 Previous ranking: 26 It was a night to forget in Milwaukee, as the Wizards not only had their five-game winning streak snapped but also lost Bradley Beal , again. Beal aggravated a left hamstring issue and was ruled out for the second half with hamstring soreness. He had just missed three straight games due to the injury. To make things worse, Daniel Gafford left late in the game with an injury, as well. -- Youngmisuk 21. Los Angeles Lakers 2022-23 record: 16-21 Previous ranking: 24 LeBron James topped 40 points for the second straight game in a win at Charlotte on Monday, becoming the only player other than Michael Jordan to do so past the age of 38. James also played at least 39 minutes in both games, but Darvin Ham said the aging superstar is equipped for the workload. "I just want to ride him," Ham said. "And he allows you to do that because he takes such great care of himself. So, it's a great luxury to have." -- McMenamin 22. Minnesota Timberwolves 2022-23 record: 17-21 Previous ranking: 20 The 2022 calendar year ended on a sour note for the Timberwolves in dropping six consecutive games. They started the new year right, however, by beating the Nuggets. But the Wolves still have a long way to go to prove their summer trade fireworks centered around Rudy Gobert can actually amount to something. -- Andrews 23. Toronto Raptors 2022-23 record: 16-21 Previous ranking: 21 Toronto continues to miss open shots and perform poorly in half-court offense and transition defense -- a combination that has led to 12 losses in the past 17 games heading into Wednesday's showdown with the Bucks on ESPN. With a six-game homestand beginning with the Milwaukee tilt, now would be a very opportune time for the Raptors to get themselves out of the rut they've been in for the past several weeks. -- Bontemps 2022-23 record: 16-21 Previous ranking: 23 LeBron chasing the scoring record LeBron James is on track to pass Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the NBA's all-time leader in regular-season points this season. We'll have complete coverage all year long. • Game-by-game points tracker • Windhorst: Who's assisted LeBron the most? • Goldsberry: The 3's impact on LeBron • Nearing 38, LeBron's focus: 'I want to win' • The first player born after LeBron's debut After winning on buzzer-beaters against the Hawks and Knicks a few weeks ago, the Bulls suffered back-to-back close losses to the Cavs this week -- on a DeMar DeRozan missed jumper at the buzzer and when Donovan Mitchell's 71-point game erased a 21-point Chicago lead. -- Collier 2022-23 record: 16-21 Previous ranking: 22 The Thunder put up 150 points in a Tuesday night victory against the Celtics, marking the most scored since the team moved to Oklahoma City in 2008. The last time the franchise scored at least 150 in a game was April 6, 2008, when a Seattle SuperSonics rookie named Kevin Durant posted 37 points in a 151-147 win in double overtime versus the Allen Iverson /Carmelo Anthony -led Nuggets. Against the Celtics -- and without Shai Gilgeous-Alexander -- Oklahoma City had five different players tally at least 20 points, led by a season-high 25 from Josh Giddey .-- Lopez 2022-23 record: 13-24 Previous ranking: 25 After rattling off eight wins in nine games earlier in December, Orlando dropped three straight to close the calendar year. The good news is that Jonathan Isaac appears to finally be getting closer to a return after missing over two years because of a knee injury. The Magic have good young players in place; now they just need to find consistency and health in the new year.-- Friedell 27. San Antonio Spurs 2022-23 record: 12-25 Previous ranking: 27 In his first three seasons, Keldon Johnson had three 30-point outings -- and all of them came within an eight-game span in March. It was a sign of things to come, and Johnson has picked up where he left off. After putting up 30 points in back-to-back games against the Knicks and Mavericks, Johnson is up to five 30-point performances in 33 contests this season. -- Lopez 28. Houston Rockets 2022-23 record: 10-27 Previous ranking: 28 Kevin Porter Jr. is in the midst of an outstanding offensive stretch, averaging 24.0 points and 6.9 assists while shooting 52.6% from the floor over the past seven games. However, Houston lost six of those, in large part due to lousy defense, with the Rockets allowing 121.6 points per 100 possessions with Porter on the floor during that span. -- MacMahon 29. Charlotte Hornets 2022-23 record: 10-28 Previous ranking: 29 The hits just keep on coming for the Hornets in another lost season: They're still losing, and the defense is bad. But at least LaMelo Ball is back. He finished December averaging 25 points, 8.2 assists and 6.6 rebounds in 10 games. -- Friedell 30. Detroit Pistons 2022-23 record: 10-30 Previous ranking: 30 The Pistons will be without Marvin Bagley III for an extended period of time after the forward injured his right hand during a loss at the Blazers on Monday. Bagley has averaged 10.6 points and 5.9 rebounds. -- Collier