The OKC Thunder jumps up to No. 7, while the LA Clippers fall to No. 8 in this week's updated NB Power Rankings.
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1. Milwaukee Bucks
After demolishing the Sixers on Saturday night, the Bucks improved to 48-8. They now need to win 22 of their final 26 games to become just the third team in NB history to win 70 regular-season games in a single season. The only two squads currently in this exclusive club are the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls (who won 72 games) and the 2015-16 Golden State Warriors, who won an all-time record 73 contests. In addition, despite the fact that the playoffs don't start for another 55 days, the Bucks clinched a playoff berth on Sunday when the Wizards lost to the Bulls. It's the earliest any team has ever clinched a spot in the postseason.
2. Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers won their fifth straight game on Sunday, as LeBron James knocked down a fadeaway with 30 seconds left to seal the victory for LA. After the game, General Manager Rob Pelinka announced that the Lakers signed forward Markieff Morris, who previously agreed to a buyout with the Pistons. LeBron and company will get an up-close look at rookie sensation Zion Williamson twice this week, as the Lakers play the Pelicans (a possible first-round opponent) on Tuesday in LA and on Sunday in New Orleans.
3. Toronto Raptors
The surging Raptors have had plenty of impressive performances this season, by Sunday's pounding of the Pacers was tops in terms of sheer dominance over an opponent. Toronto won 127-81, which was the most lopsided victory in Raptors' history. On Tuesday, the Raptors host the Bucks in a battle between the two best teams in the East.
4. Boston Celtics
The Celtics fought valiantly but fell to the Lakers on Sunday afternoon in a very entertaining regular-season game. Jayson Tatum was the best player on the floor for stretches of that contest, finishing with 41 points on 12-of-20 shooting. According to Basketball-Reference, Tatum became just the sixth player 21 years of age or younger to score more than 40 points on 20 or fewer FG attempts in an NBA game.
5. Denver Nuggets
Nikola Jokic's slow start to this season is but a memory at this point, as the Joker has been a beast this month. Over the eight games the Nuggets have played in February, Jokic is averaging 27.3 points, 10.8 rebounds, 8.3 assists, 1.8 steals and 1.6 blocks, while shooting 64% from the floor and 88% from the charity stripe.
6. Houston Rockets
The small-ball Rockets have gone all-in on their unconventional space-and-pace roster construction, and the early returns have been encouraging. After beating the Celtics in their final game before the break, Houston crushed the Warriors in Golden State on Thursday and then beat the Jazz by double-digits Saturday night in Utah. Russell Westbrook continues to score efficiently for the Rockets. Over his last 16 appearances, Russ is averaging 33.2 points while shooting over 53% from the floor.
7. Oklahoma City Thunder
The Thunder's depth has been a critical component to their surprising success all season, and it was on full display Sunday night. Remarkably, eight OKC players scored in double-figures in their win over the Spurs. It's the first time that's ever happened in OKC history.
8. LA Clippers
The Clippers lost two of their final three games before the All-Star break and dropped a winnable home game to the Kings in LA on Saturday afternoon. Kawhi Leonard scored a team-high 31 points vs. Sacramento but showed rare signs of outward frustration towards his teammates late in the fourth quarter.
9. Utah Jazz
Utah's loss to the Rockets on Saturday night was a bitter, costly defeat for the Jazz. Not only did it allow Houston to tie Utah for the fourth-best record in the Western Conference, but the Rockets claimed the season series, 2-1. That could be a very important tie-breaker at the end of the regular season.
10. Miami Heat
Prior to Saturday's game vs. Cleveland night, the Heat had lost five of their past six games. However, despite playing without Jimmy Butler (personal), Tyler Herro (right foot soreness) and Meyers Leonard (left ankle), Miami pounded the Cavs, scoring a franchise-record 82 points (on 77% shooting!) in the first half alone, as they cruised to a 124-105 victory on Saturday. The Heat improved to 23-3 at home on the season.
11. Philadelphia 76ers
Ben Simmons tweaked his back in Saturday's loss to the Bucks, and fans in Philly are holding their breath. Per Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN, Simmons will undergo further testing on his lower back Monday and "there is some level of concern surrounding the possible nature of the injury."
12. Dallas Mavericks
Luka Doncic (right ankle soreness) sat out Saturday's loss vs. the Hawks, which was the second night of a back-to-back. Speaking with reporters before the game, coach Rick Carlisle said he doesn't believe that Luka will miss multiple games, but that more will be learned Monday. "I don't expect it to be, but I don't know for sure," Carlisle said. Kristaps Porzingis (left knee, injury recovery) was also unavailable. KP missed his third straight back-to-back to rest his surgically repaired left knee.
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13. Indiana Pacers
Losers in seven of their last nine games, including Sunday's 127-81 shellacking at the hands of the Raptors, the Pacers are most definitely trending in the wrong direction. Indy has two home games this week (vs. the Hornets and Blazers) before embarking on a five-game road trip.
14. Memphis Grizzlies
Memphis has a three-game lead over the rest of the pack for the eighth seed in the Western Conference; however, they will have to fight to hold onto that final playoff spot. According to NBA.com, the Grizz have the NBA's toughest post-ASB schedule, both regarding opponent strength (cumulative opponent winning percentage of .554) and amount of road games (16 of their final 28 games are on the road). In addition, Jaren Jackson Jr. will be sidelined for at least two weeks due to a sprained knee.
15. New Orleans Pelicans
One of the teams chasing the Grizzlies for that eighth and final spot in the postseason out West are the Pelicans. And, unlike Memphis, the Pels should benefit from a favorable schedule. Of the Pels' 27 post-All-Star break games, only nine of them are against teams with a winning record.
16. Brooklyn Nets
General manager Sean Marks officially announced on Thursday that Kyrie Irving would undergo arthroscopic surgery on his right shoulder and will miss the rest of the season. However, the Nets have won three out of their last four games and have a better record this season without Kyrie on the court. Brooklyn has received a significant boost of late from Caris LeVert, who is averaging 23.1 points, 4.0 boards and 4.7 assists over his last seven games.
17. Portland Trail Blazers
With Damian Lillard (groin strain) sidelined, the Blazers needed strong games from their supporting cast Sunday night vs. Detroit. And that's just what they got. Carmelo Anthony scored a season-high 32 points (on only 16 FG attempts), C.J. McCollum recorded a season-high 41 points, a season-high nine rebounds, and a career-high 12 assists, while Hassan Whiteside chipped in 16 points, 17 rebounds, three assists and four blocks.
18. San Antonio Spurs
The Spurs finally ended their arduous eight-game rodeo road trip Sunday night in OKC with a loss to the Thunder. San Antonio plays only twice this week and doesn't go back on the road until March 3. If the Spurs want to keep their incredible playoff streak alive, they need to make up some ground immediately.
19. Orlando Magic
Orlando has lost seven of their last ten games, but still holds a 3.5 game lead over the Wizards for the eighth and final playoff spot in the East. The Magic are 2.5 games back of the Nets for the seventh seed and play in Brooklyn on Monday night.
20. Sacramento Kings
Sacramento has played well out of the gates in the second half, beating both the Clippers and Grizzlies in the two games they played last week. The road win over the Clippers was the second time the Kings have beaten the Clips in LA in less than a month.
21. Phoenix Suns
In his final game before the All-Star break, Deandre Ayton poured in 28 points and ripped down 19 rebounds. Then, in the Sun's second game back from the break, Ayton was at it again, tallying - you guessed it - 28 points and 19 rebounds in Saturday's victory over the Bulls.
22. Washington Wizards
Bradley Beal exploded for a career-high 53 points vs. the Bulls on Sunday, knocking down 15-of-27 FG attempts and 18-of-20 free throws, to go along with five 3-pointers, five rebounds, four assists, two steals and one block. However, it wasn't enough to carry the Wiz to win.
23. Charlotte Hornets
The Hornets had won three games in a row, all on the road, heading into this past weekend. However, they got demolished by the Nets, 115-86, on Saturday night. Over Charlotte's last two games, Devonte' Graham is a combined 1-of-17 from the floor and 0-of-8 from downtown. He has as many turnovers (6) as points scored.
24. Atlanta Hawks
John Collins tallied a whopping 35 points, 17 rebounds, two blocks and three 3-pointers in Saturday's comeback victory over the Mavs. Per Basketball-Reference, Collins became the first player in Atlanta franchise history with at least 35 points, 15 boards and three triples in a non-overtime game. Over his last seven games, Collins is averaging 25.9 points and 10.6 rebounds while shooting 63.6% from the floor and 82% from the FT line. Not to be outdone, Trae Young is averaging 35.9 points, 10.0 assists and 4.6 treys, while shooting 41% from downtown and 92% from the charity stripe.
25. Chicago Bulls
The Bulls snapped an eight-game losing streak on Sunday, thanks to another impressive performance from Coby White. After pouring in 33 points on Saturday, White matched his career-high with 33 more in Sunday's victory. He joined Michael Jordan as just the second Bulls rookie ever to score 30+ points in consecutive contests. Per the Elias Sports Bureau, White also joined Allen Iverson and Trae Young as the only rookies since 1992 with 33 or more in consecutive games.
26. New York Knicks
The Knicks were relying on Dennis Smith Jr. to have a much-improved bounce-back season in 2019-20. It hasn't happened. In fact, per Basketball-Reference, DSJ is on pace to become the first player in NBA history to attempt more than 200 FG's in a season and shoot below 35% from the floor, below 50% from the free-throw line and at or below 30% from 3-point territory. However, with both Elfrid Payton (sore right ankle) and Frank Ntilikina (sore groin) questionable for Monday's matchup with Houston, Smith may get an opportunity to start at PG.
27. Detroit Pistons
Christian Wood was at it again Sunday night, notching a team-high 26 points on 9-of-15 shooting, to go along with nine rebounds, two triples and two blocks. Over his last seven games, Wood is averaging 20.7 points, 10.1 rebounds and 1.7 treys, while shooting 53% from the floor and 81% from the FT line.
28. Minnesota Timberwolves
The Wolves announced last Friday that an MRI on Karl-Anthony Towns left wrist confirmed a fracture and that he is expected to be out for at least the next two weeks. However, Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic reported over the weekend that KAT badly wants to get back on the floor. Per Krawczynski: "Towns desperately wants to return to the court this season to play with Russell, Malik Beasley and the rest of a completely revamped Wolves roster. He and Russell have been talking for years about playing together, and watching Gersson Rosas engineer the trades just before the deadline energized him for the stretch run."
29. Cleveland Cavaliers
Kevin Love (sore right Achilles) has sat out two of the Cavs last past games. The one game he did play in, on Friday night, he logged just 23 and finished with only nine points, one rebound, and one assist. With the Cavs already 25 games under .500, we may not see all that much Mr. Love over the final six weeks of the season.
30. Golden State Warriors
Warriors fans got some encouraging news over the weekend when Stephen Curry (left hand) told reporters that his target date has "always been March 1st" and that he is optimistic he'll be cleared to make his return this Sunday against the Wizards.