NBA Power Rankings: Few first-half surprises in the league
BOSTON -- The midway point of the season is upon us with very few surprises at the top.
The Milwaukee Bucks had the best record in the East a year ago. With most of their core guys back, they remain at the top. And Giannis Antetokounmpo remains a strong contender to repeat as league MVP.
Chances are good that the road to the NBA Finals in the Western Conference will go through Los Angeles with both the Lakers and the Clippers among the top teams.
While those are the front-runners, there’s a bunch of teams bringing up the rear.
In addition to the usual cellar-dwellers, you can add the injury-depleted Golden State Warriors to the mix of bad teams this season.
But the second half of the season will be even more exciting with key players such as Indiana’s Victor Oladipo and New Orleans’ Zion Williamson returning to action to help their respective teams make a strong playoff push.
The first half of the season was good on many fronts, with the second half shaping up to be even stronger.
30. Golden State Warriors (10-34)
Rank last week: 29
Although Stephen Curry is slated to return sometime in early March, don’t be surprised to see him play minimal minutes, in part to as best they can ensure he doesn’t re-aggravate his injury but to also not move up too high in the power rankings and worsen their chances at the top overall pick in June’s NBA draft.
29. Atlanta Hawks (10-33)
Rank last week: 30
Jeff Teague is back with the Hawks who are better now but will still fall well short of being a playoff contender.
28. New York Knicks (11-32)
Rank last week: 28
Since a post-Christmas winning streak of three in a row, the Knicks have gone back to their losing ways, suffering defeats in eight of their last nine games.
27. Washington Wizards (13-28)
Rank last week: 26
The cycle of losing continues with the Wizards doing this week what they usually do … riding a multi-game losing streak.
26. Sacramento Kings (15-27)
Rank last week: 24
The Kings added a couple of likely rotation players in Anthony Toliver and Kent Bazemore in their trade with the Blazers, and on top of that acquired a couple of second-round picks for what most agree was a solid trade for the Kings.
25. Cleveland Cavaliers (12-31)
Rank last week: 25
The biggest news this week for the Cavs was Tristan Thompson getting ejected for slapping former teammate Jae Crowder’s backside which was a timely distraction from their four-game losing streak with the average margin of defeat being by 16 points per game.
24. Minnesota Timberwolves (16-27)
Rank last week: 23
The phones will continue to ring off the hook to see if the Timberwolves are interested in moving Karl-Anthony Towns. So far, the Timberpups have consistently maintained a “thanks, but not interested” stance.
23. Charlotte Hornets (15-29)
Rank last week: 21
The Hornets are riding a six-game losing streak and their struggles come down to one thing - scoring points. In the last six games, Charlotte has averaged a league-low 99.3 points per game.
22. Chicago Bulls (16-28)
Rank last week: 19
The defense has been solid all season, but the offense - consistently among the bottom-5 in most categories - remains a work in progress; that progress has been moving with the speed of a glacier.
21. Detroit Pistons (16-27)
Rank last week: 27
A 7.8 points per game scorer this season, Sekou Doumbaya has reached double figures in three of Detroit’s last four games which includes wins in their last two games.
20. Portland Trail Blazers (18-26)
Rank last week: 20
Trading for Trevor Ariza is a big help to the team’s defense as well as its payroll which will make the team’s struggles and potential absence from the playoffs more palatable.
19. New Orleans Pelicans (16-27)
Rank last week: 22
Much of the talk surrounding the Pelicans has been about the impending return of Zion Williamson. Overlooked is the fact that they’re starting to play some good basketball with wins in five of their last eight, and nine of their last 13 games.
18. Brooklyn Nets (18-23)
Rank last week: 16
Kyrie Irving’s back and the Brooklyn Nets aren’t any better. Without him, they are 12-13 this season. When he has played, they have twice as many losses (10) as wins (5).
17. San Antonio Spurs (17-23)
Rank last week: 17
Four of San Antonio’s next five games are against teams with sub-.500 records, providing them with a golden opportunity to continue pushing towards being a .500 club themselves and secure their place as a playoff team.
16. Phoenix Suns (18-24)
Rank last week: 18
Deandre Ayton is playing very much like a former No. 1 overall pick, registering double-doubles in each of his last three games for a Suns team that has won four of their last five games.
15. Memphis Grizzlies (20-22)
Rank last week: 15
The Grizzlies, winners of seven straight, are one of just three teams in the NBA ranked among the top 10 in offensive and defensive rating during the last seven games played.
14. Orlando Magic (20-23)
Rank last week: 14
The Magic continue to hover around .500 which should be good enough to get them in the playoffs for the second year in a row.
13. Oklahoma City Thunder (24-19)
Rank last week: 12
The Thunder are an elite transition defensive team, allowing a league-low 10.6 fast-break points.
12. Houston Rockets (26-15)
Rank last week: 13
The Rockets look like a grounded bunch these days, with three straight losses by an average of 10 points per game.
11. Boston Celtics (27-14)
Rank last week: 8
Boston’s top-5 defense has been middle-of-the-pack lately. That has played a big factor in the Celtics losing six of their last eight games.
10. Philadelphia 76ers (28-16)
Rank last week: 7
Setting the tone early is a huge part of the Sixers’ success. They are allowing just 25.6 first-quarter points per game which is second in the NBA.
9. Toronto Raptors (28-14)
Rank last week: 9
The Raptors have looked good since Pascal Siakam’s return, posting a 3-1 record since then with the lone defeat being a 1-point loss to San Antonio.
8. Indiana Pacers (27-15)
Rank last week: 11
Here’s hoping the doctors who have advised Domantas Sabonis that he can play with the deep bone bruise on his left knee, are right in their assessment.
7. Dallas Mavericks (27-15)
Rank last week: 10
The Mavs are finally figuring out how to win without Kristaps Porzingis. They are currently 7-4 when he doesn’t play which includes wins in their last four games.
6. Miami Heat (29-12)
Rank last week: 4
The wins keep piling up, providing more evidence that maybe just maybe, the Heat have enough as-is to make a deep playoff run in the East.
5. Utah Jazz (29-13)
Rank last week: 3
Strong defense is usually what we talk about when it comes to Utah’s success. But this year, it’s the 3-point shot where they are connecting on a league-best 38.8 percent this season.
4. Los Angeles Clippers (30-13)
Rank last week: 6
The Clippers hit the road for five straight. They enter that trip playing well with wins in five of their last six and seven of their last nine games.
3. Denver Nuggets (29-12)
Rank last week: 5
As good as they have played lately, there’s still a growing sense among NBA executives that the Nuggets need to add at least one more player (wing defender?) to be a legit title contender coming out of the West.
2. Los Angeles Lakers (34-8)
Rank last week: 2
No Anthony Davis, no problem apparently for the Lakers, who are getting the league MVP version of LeBron James in Davis’ absence.
1. Milwaukee Bucks (38-6)
Rank last week: 1
The supporting cast around Giannis Antetokounmpo doesn’t get nearly enough love for what they’ve brought to the game this season.