The Los Angeles Lakers are quickly establishing themselves as the best team in the NBA.

NBA power rankings: Week 3

Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

As the NBA enters Week 3 of the regular season, the Los Angeles Lakers are quickly establishing themselves as the best team in the NBA, while the Philadelphia 76ers remain the top of the East.

1. Los Angeles Lakers Record 5-1

Last week, LeBron James recorded two impressive triple-doubles while helping the Los Angeles Lakers ride a five-game winning streak into Week 3. In a win over the Dallas Maverick on Friday, James recorded 39 points, 16 assists, and 12 rebounds. Two nights later, he recorded 21 points, 13 assists, and 11 rebounds in a win over the San Antonio Spurs.

2. Philadelphia 76ers Record 5-1

The 76ers were the last undefeated team to start the season after receiving their first loss of the year in a 114-109 defeat to the Phoenix Suns Monday night. Philadelphia is proven to be the team to beat in the East, finishing the week on a 3-1 record on the West coast. Their most impressing win came in a 129-128 comeback victory over the Portland Trail Blazers Saturday night.

3. Miami Heat Record 5-1

The Miami Heat are quickly establishing themselves as one of the top teams in the league. They have won five of their first six games, which includes a 129-100 victory over the Houston Rockets. More importantly, every player has chipped in their early-season success, with Kendrick Nunn leading the Heat in scoring, averaging 19.2 points per game.

4. LA Clippers Record 5-2

Last week, the Clippers went 2-1, but their lone loss came in a game where MVP candidate, Kawhi Leonard, did not play due to rest. Leonard helped the Clippers bounced back in a 103-97 victory over the San Antonio Spurs, where he scored 30 points in the win.

5. Boston Celtics Record 4-1

The Boston Celtics are starting to surprise everyone behind their All-Star point guard, Kemba Walker. He led the Celtics to a perfect 3-0 week, averaging 32.3 points, 6.0 rebounds, and 5.0 assists. It also helps that Jason Tatum is coming into his own following a game-winner over the New York Knicks.

6. Milwaukee Bucks Record 5-2

The Milwaukee Bucks entered the season with high championship aspirations, but they cannot afford to lose games against the Boston Celtics. However, they did finish Week 2 with wins over the Raptors, Timberwolves and Magic.

7. San Antonio Spurs Record 4-2

If it was not for the play of LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard, the Spurs would still be undefeated heading into Week 3 of the regular season. Rising star Dejounte Murry has looked great as he works his way back from an ACL injury, as he recorded 18 points, 11 rebounds, four assists, two steals, one block Sunday, in a loss to the Lakers.

8. Toronto Raptors Record 4-2

After starting the season with four straight wins, the defending NBA champions dropped their first game of the season in a hard-fought loss to the Bucks. Standing at 4-2 on the season, the Toronto Raptors have started the season better than many have expected following the departure of Kawhi Leonard.

9. Dallas Mavericks Record 4-2 

Luke Doncic has proved that the Dallas Mavericks are a focus to be reckoned with in the West. The Mavericks picked up a huge victory over the Denver Nuggets and put on a show in a loss to the Lakers on Friday. Sunday, Doncic recorded his second straight double-double with 29 points, 15 assists, and 14 rebounds in a win over the Cavaliers.

10. Minnesota Timberwolves Record 4-2

The Minnesota Timberwolves has had a fairly easy schedule to start the season but dropped two statement games against the 76ers and Bucks. They get a pass due to the fact that both games were played with their All-Star center, Karl Anthony-Towns, who was suspended following his fight with Joel Embiid.

11. Phoenix Suns Record 5-2

The Phoenix Suns closed out the week with a huge victory over the 76ers, and are currently riding a three-game win streak entering Week 3 of the regular season. One of the NBA's biggest surprises.

12. Denver Nuggets Record 4-2 

The Nuggets have not lived up to their preseason expectations following a loss to the Mavericks and the Pelicans last week. Standing 4-2, it's been a slow start for the Nuggets.

13. Utah Jazz Record 4-3

The Utah Jazz had a sub-par week splitting two games with the Clippers, losing the one game Kawhi Leonard played and handing the Sacramento Kings their first win of the season. Utah will look to recover following a 1-2 week.

14. Houston Rockets Record 4-3 

The Houston Rockets picked up a much-needed victory to close out the week with a 107-100 win over the Memphis Grizzlies. Sadly, it's not enough to make up for losing by 29 points to the Heat on Sunday and blowing a 15-point lead to the Nets.

15. Indiana Pacers Record 3-3

The Indiana Pacers are entering Week 3 of the season riding a three-game winning streak defeating the Nets, Cavs, and Bulls. Although they have yet to beat a top tear team, must respect for the Pacers standing at .500 still waiting for the return of Victor Oladipo.

16. Portland Trail Blazers Record 3-4

The week started well for the Trail Blazers with a win over the Thunder, but Portland enters Week 3 of the regular season on a two-game skid, following losses to the 76ers and depleted Warriors team.

17. Brooklyn Nets Record 3-4 

The Nets went 2-1 the previous week but picked up an impressing win against the Houston Rockets. Kyrie Irving is doing all he can to lead the Nets to wins, averaging 32.0 points on 47.2% shooting from the field.

18. Detroit Pistons Record 3-5

With losses to the Bulls, Wizards and Raptors, the Pistons had a rough week going 1-3 heading into Week 3 of the season. ESPN reported on Monday that Blake Griffin is close to making his season debut after battling knee, and hamstring injuries.

19. Atlanta Hawks Record 2-3

The Hawks drop both of their games last week in a home-and-home against the Miami heat. Much was expected for a team who is missing their best player in Trae Young, who missed all of last week with an ankle injury.

20. Charlotte Hornets Record 3-3

With a record over .500, the Charlotte Hornets have been the league's most pleasant surprises over the first two weeks of the season. Last week, the Hornets picked up an impressing victory over the Kings in a hard-fought victory.

21. Oklahoma City Thunder Record 2-4

The Thunder went 1-1 last week with their only win coming against the New Orleans Pelicans. The Thunder has been a respectable team with Danilo Gallinari and Chris Paul leading the way.

22. Cleveland Cavaliers Record 2-4 

Not much is expected from the Cavs, but they did pick up an impressing win over the Bulls last week. Despite the losing, Kevin Love is returning to his all-star form, averaging 19.2 points and 15.3 rebounds thus far this season.

23. Orlando Magic Record 2-4

The Magic has been one of the most disappointing teams to start the season, and last week was the same after 1-2 record. the only bright spot for the Magic has been the arrival of Markelle Fultz, who started his first game with Orlando in a loss to the Nuggets.

24. Chicago Bulls Record 2-5 

The Chicago Bulls said they have enough talent to make the playoff in 2020. Yet the Bulls found a way to lose to the Cleveland Cavaliers and post a 1-2 record last week.

Washington Wizards Record 2-4

Despite the lack of talent, the Wizards have stayed competitive against the Rockets and Spurs. Washington ended the end on a high note with a win over the Pistons.

26. Sacramento Kings Record 2-5

After losing their first five games of the season, the Kings are riding a two-game winning streak heading into Week 3. They gained a huge victory over the Jazz and followed it up with an encore against the Knicks.

27. Golden State Warriors Record 2-5

Oh, how the mighty have fallen. For five straight seasons, the Warriors have sat atop of the NBA. Now, they are nearly the worst team in the league. Not sure how, but the Warriors picked up one win in a 127-118 victory over the Trail Blazers.

28. Memphis Grizzlies Record 1-5

Young and inexperienced, the Grizzlies put up a good fight against the Rockets and Suns despite going 0-3 (Lakers) in Week 2.

29. New Orleans Pelicans Record 1-6

In all except for one game, the Pelicans have put up a good fight. Behind rising star Brandon Ingram, the Pelicans picked up their first win of the season against the Jazz but dropped their final two games of the week against the Thunder and Nets. Unfortunately, New Orleans' record does not reflect how great this team has played so far this season.

30. New York Knicks Record 1-6

It's the Knicks, enough said.

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Jose Altuve is on a roll. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images.

And then there were six. Games left in the Astros’ regular season. Three vs. Tampa Bay then three vs. Philadelphia, all at Minute Maid Park. The first three are important for the Rays as they jockey for Wild Card positioning with the Blue Jays and Mariners. The second three games decide playoffs or no playoffs for the Phillies as they try to stave off the Brewers. The Astros have nothing to play for with regard to the standings but it’s still a fun finish to another fabulous season. 102-54! Matching or topping the franchise record of 107 regular season wins would be grand, but it’s not a goal they’re going to push the limits to achieve. There are a couple individual pursuits of note this final week. We’ll hit those then get to truly important stuff to be settled on before the Astros start their postseason October 11.

Crunching the numbers

Three weeks ago I wrote that Jose Altuve needed a tremendous finishing kick to get there, but that his first .300 batting average season since 2018 was within striking distance. He promptly went one for eight over his next two games, lengthening the odds against him. In 15 games since Altuve has sizzled, banging out 21 hits in 54 at bats for a .389 average. So with six games to go he’s at .297. If Altuve gets 20 more official at bats he needs eight hits.

Yordan Alvarez’s assorted maladies sure cause some indigestion. The knee history, the hands, and now an ankle roll. Yordan is still four RBI short of joining Kyle Tucker with 100+. They’d be the Astros first 100+ tandem since…just three years ago when Alex Bregman (112) and Yuli Gurriel (104) did it.

Setting the playoff rotation

The playoff schedule is stupid in spots, dictated by television. The Astros against To Be Determined in their best-of-five American League Division Series will have game one Tuesday October 11, then a day off before game two Thursday, then a day off before game three Saturday (same is true for Yankees vs. To Be Determined). That’s ridiculous, and gives longtime Astros fans Kevin Brown nightmares (see 1998 NLDS). Unless there’s a three game sweep, game four would be Sunday. Should the series go to a decisive fifth game, there is no off day between games four and five. This impacts starting pitcher planning. Obviously the Astros go Justin Verlander in game one and Framber Valdez in game two. Almost certainly Lance McCullers gets the ball in game three. Then (unless the series is a sweep) there is a decision to be made. First, with the two off days Verlander would be available on four days rest. Up 2-1 last year, after a rainout the Astros brought back McCullers on a shorter four days rest (game one was a night game, game four a day game) and Lance blew out his arm again. If up two games to one, pitching Verlander on “normal” four days rest to go for the kill would take him out of the American League Championship Series until game three, and that would be his only starting availability in the ALCS unless you’d foolishly bring him back on three days rest if there was a game seven. So, if up 2-1 the smarter play is to start Cristian Javier in game four which has Verlander ready to go in a do-or-die game five or if the Astros advance in four, game one of the American League Championship Series. If down 2-1 and you pitch Verlander, if there’s a game five it’s the guy you passed over in game four, or Framber on three days rest.

Yes, Javier in game four, over Jose Urquidy and Luis Garcia because quite simply, Javier is better. Unless Verlander or Valdez gets knocked out early, committing Javier to a bullpen role where he’d throw two or three innings vs. the six or so you’d expect out of him as a starter doesn’t make sense, definitely not with the first round schedule. Presumably Urquidy or Garcia will be on the roster for long reliever duty (carrying both would be poor roster management). The Astros have the best bullpen in the Major Leagues. Getting cute and using Javier over Ryne Stanek, Rafael Montero, or Ryan Pressly would be silly. Over Hector Neris or Bryan Abreu? Maybe. When Javier is vulnerable it’s walks and home runs that typically get him, so bringing him in in a tight seventh or eighth inning spot would be a dubious choice given the high caliber alternatives.

As for the roster, teams can change it round by round. Carrying 13 pitchers in a best-of-five with two scheduled off days is impractical. The Astros should carry Yainer Diaz or Korey Lee as a third catcher and David Hensley as an extra utility option. 12 pitchers: Verlander, Valdez, McCullers, Javier, Urquidy OR Garcia, Pressly, Montero, Stanek, Neris, Abreu, Will Smith, Hunter Brown OR Phil Maton.

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