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NBA Power Rankings: Brooklyn moves into top spot (even with Durant sitting out)

Brooklyn added yet another weapon to their already-impressive arsenal with Blake Griffin. Tom Haberstroh examines if the "Big Three" and Griffin are enough to lead the Nets to a championship in a COVID shortened season.

Today’s NBA power rankings have a lot of focus on what teams might do at the trade deadline next week (March 25). As for the rankings themselves, Brooklyn jumps into the top spot as they keep winning even without Kevin Durant in the lineup, and Philly is second, having won a couple of games without Joel Embiid.

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1. Nets (27-13, Last Week No. 2. Brooklyn wants to be a trade deadline buyer, adding depth, wing defense, and help along the front line, but it’s more likely they get something done on the buyout market. The question is, do they need to do anything? The Nets have won 13-of-14 and done much of that damage without Kevin Durant in the rotation. There are questions about their defense in the playoffs to answer, but since the All-Star break (and a little before) the Nets have looked like the best team in the land.

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2. 76ers (28-12 LW 6). Philadelphia would like to be a buyer at the trade deadline (although it’s tough to see how they can bring Kyle Lowry home, his $30 million salary makes any trade difficult). Much like other contenders, it’s more likely they end up just looking for help on the buyout market. The Sixers are 2-0 since MVP-candidate Joel Embiid went out, and he is going to miss a few weeks with a bone bruise in his knee. And yes, those missed games are going to hurt Embiid’s MVP chances (availability matters).

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3. Suns (26-12 LW 3). Phoenix was strong in the running for LaMarcus Aldridge as a free agent before he went back home to Texas, could they land him now off the buyout market? It’s possible. Phoenix would like an upgrade over Frank Kaminsky starting at the four, but maybe they shouldn’t mess with what is working. Phoenix is already a deep team — their bench showed that sparking a couple of come-from-behind wins right after the break — so don’t expect much out of Phoenix at the deadline.

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4. Bucks (25-14, LW 5). Milwaukee would love to add some depth in a deadline trade, but the reality is the team is already close to the hard cap, making any trade difficult, plus they don’t have a lot of picks or young players of interest they can throw in a trade. Maybe they get someone off the buyout market, but the moves will be on the fringes, not to the core. Milwaukee has won four in a row and 9-of-10, with Giannis Antetokounmpo looking like his MVP-self again. This team has found its groove.

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5. Lakers (27-13, LW 4). The Lakers want to be buyers at the trade deadline, but they are up against the hard cap, so they need to send out as much or more salary than they bring in, plus it will be tough to tempt teams unless L.A. wants to put Talen Horton-Tucker in a deal. L.A. may be more likely to land players on the buyout market. Los Angeles has gone 6-6 without Anthony Davis and what’s been impressive is their defense is back to being top-10 in the last five games without AD. He’s going to be out a few more weeks recovering from Achilles tendinosis and a calf strain.

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6. Jazz (29-10, LW 1). Utah is willing to be a buyer at the trade deadline, but it has to be a player who fits the team’s culture and style of play. They are not going to be aggressive buyers. The Jazz did add Ersan Ilyasova as a stretch big off the bench; that may be their only move to adjust the roster. Interesting note via Statmuse: Jordan Clarkson is hitting 96.7% from the free-throw line this season, which would be the second-highest single-season free throw percentage in NBA history.

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7. Nuggets (23-16 LW 8). Denver has been one of the more active teams looking to add a shot creator at the trade deadline, but whether they can find a deal is another question. Jamal Murray admitted he didn’t touch a basketball during the All-Star break, that he didn’t want to and just wanted to get away. That’s understandable, but the rust was evident upon his return when he had a couple of rough games. He’s back closer to his old self now and dishing sweet behind-the-back dimes to Nikola Jokic.

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8. Trail Blazers (23-16, LW 11). Portland is looking to be a buyer at the trade deadline — GM Neil Olshey is aggressive — but it’s a long shot they can land someone who is a serious boost to their rotation. The Trail Blazers have the second-worst defense in the NBA — it has not gotten better in recent weeks — but they keep finding a way to win because Damian Lillard keeps playing at an MVP-level and does things like drop a 50 spot on the Pelicans in just 20 shot attempts.

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9. Clippers (26-15, LW 7). “It’s very concerning. If we want to have a chance at anything, you gotta be consistent. That’s what the great teams do, they’re consistent.” Kawhi Leonard understands his leadership role with the Clippers and doesn’t drop words like this lightly or without thought — that he is talking about consistency is a real wake-up call for a stumbling Clippers team that has dropped 5-of-7. The Clippers would love to add a quality point guard or depth at the 4/5 in the trade and buyout market, but they are almost up against the hard cap, so it will not be easy.

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10. Spurs (20-16, LW 10). San Antonio is looking hard for a trade partner to take for LaMarcus Aldridge, but finding a team willing to match a $24 million salary for a guy who is, at this point in his career, a backup center is a long shot at best. Most teams around the league expect a buyout of Aldridge. Part of the reason Aldridge is available: Jakob Poeltl is playing so well. Most importantly, and the Spurs defense is 9.3 points per 100 possessions better when he is on the court.

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11. Mavericks (20-18, LW 13). Dallas is looking for another cornerstone piece to go with Luka Doncic and (maybe) Kristaps Porzingis, and if the opportunity to land such a player comes along at the deadline they will jump. But that is unlikely. Josh Richardson has stepped up for the Mavs in recent weeks, hitting threes and playing strong defense (he was fantastic Sunday against Denver matched up on Jamal Murray). Dallas has a tough second-half schedule, and they get into the meat of it on Friday in Portland, the first of 9-of-11 on the road.

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12. Heat (22-18 LW 17).How much does Jimmy Butler matter to the Heat? As Statmuse noted: Miami was 6-12 when Butler returned from having COVID-19, and since they are 15-6 and playing elite defense. They sit fourth in the East and Butler has played at an All-NBA level since his return. Miami wants to be a buyer at the deadline and pick up a stretch four, but there’s doubt the team has the players or picks it is willing to surrender to make a trade happen.

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13. Celtics (20-19, LW 14). Boston is one of the most interesting buyers at the trade deadline because they have the $28.5 million trade exception from the Gordon Hayward deal (the largest exception in league history). But is there anyone worth using it on (they can save it until the offseason). Marcus Smart has returned (they went 9-9 without him) and his defense has been an instant boost, but this week showed they are not at the level of Brooklyn or Utah right now even with him.

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14. Hornets (20-18, LW 21). Charlotte is one of the teams with almost no buzz around the league heading into the trade deadline. Devonte’ Graham is the guy coming off the bench so LaMelo Ball can stay in the starting lineup, and Graham has thrived in that role as a playmaker (he is also the one player rumored to be available via trade at the deadline). Terry Rozier has become the Hornets’ shot creator and scorer in the clutch — and Michael Jordan loves it.

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15. Warriors (20-20, LW 09). Don’t expect the Warriors to add players at the trade deadline; they already are paying a massive luxury tax bill this season for a .500 team and aren’t going to look to add to it. Most likely, they stand pat. Golden State lost 5-of-6 going through a stretch against the top teams in the West (the one win against Utah on Stephen Curry’s 33rd birthday was impressive), but things soften up the next couple of weeks, starting with Houston on Wednesday (Philly is in that stretch of games but Embiid is likely still sidelined for that one).

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16. Hawks (20-20 LW 24). The buzz around the league has been Atlanta is leaning toward trading John Collins at the trade deadline, if they get an offer they like. It’s a risk because Collins is a part of the Hawks winning this season — and winning and making the playoffs is a priority of ownership. Atlanta is 6-0 for new coach Nate McMillan and sits as the seven seed in the East. One sad Atlanta note: Tony Snell’s streak of minutes played without attempting a free throw came to an end Saturday against the Kings at 471. That is a single-season NBA record.

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17. Knicks (20-21, LW 16). New York has both cap space ($15.7 million) and expiring contracts (Alec Burks, Nerlens Noel, Derrick Rose, Reggie Bullock, Elfrid Payton) which makes them both a potential buyer at the trade deadline, or a team that could take on a bad contract if it gets them picks or a young player. The Knicks have flexibility, which is a good place to be. New York also has lost 3-of-4 and has slid back to the eighth seed in the East. If the Knicks do make any deadline moves, they need to think long-term, not about these playoffs.

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18. Grizzlies (17-19 LW 15). Memphis has been calling teams ahead of the deadline, seeing if they can land anything for Gorgui Dieng’s $17.3 million expiring contract. The likely answer is no, and if so, the Grizzlies will keep their powder dry until the offseason (where they may be busy). The Grizzlies currently hold the final play-in spot in the West (the 10th seed), which is why blowing a 12-point lead in the fourth to Oklahoma City (when Memphis had the rest advantage) was so painful. Memphis’ packed schedule gets a lot tougher the next couple of weeks.

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19. Bulls (18-20, LW 18). Billy Donovan shook things up this week and took Wendell Carter and Coby White out of the starting lineup and put Tomas Satoransky and Thaddeus Young in it — and the Bulls are 2-0 with the new rotation. To their credit, Carter and White handled it like veterans. The Bulls could be buyers or sellers at the trade deadline — other teams are calling about Thaddeus Young and Tomas Satoransky — but the sense is they will be quiet this time around. However, with a new front office, nobody really knows what will happen.

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20. Pelicans (17-23, LW 20). Teams have started to use the Antetokounmpo strategy against Zion Williamson, forming a wall in the paint to cut off his drives. This is where we have seen Zion’s improved playmaking: He averaged one assist a game in December, but in January that was up to 2.8, and by February it was 4.5 a game as his playmaking skills have improved and been on full display. The Pelicans are sellers at the trade deadline, with plenty of interest in J.J. Redick both via trade and buyout.

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21. Pacers (17-21, LW 19). Don’t expect any trades out of Indiana at the deadline — they are focused on getting healthy and seeing what this lineup can do. Caris LeVert is back on the floor — which is some of the best news of the season for any team — and T.J. Warren should follow at some point. Indiana has lost 7-of-9 and things don’t get easier with Brooklyn, Miami, and Milwaukee next up on the schedule.

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22. Raptors (17-21, LW 12). There’s a lot of trade buzz around the Raptors, but the reality is nothing is likely to happen. Kyle Lowry may have said he expects to be traded, but he makes $30 million and can be a free agent after the season. That is a difficult trade to construct, even for Masai Ujiri. Toronto is 0-3 since the All-Star break and has lost 7-of-8 overall, and they have been bottom 10 in the league on both sides of the ball since the break. My favorite thing out of Toronto this week? Nick Nurse getting the most casual technical ever.

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23. Thunder (17-23, LW 25). One of the few sure sellers in this market, expect George Hill and Trevor Ariza to have new teams by the deadline — and you can expect Thunder GM Sam Presti to keep holding picks in the process (he has 18 first-round picks already over the next seven drafts, and a bunch more second-rounders). OKC would love to find a new home for Al Horford and his large contract, but that seems highly unlikely. Aleksej Pokusevski knocking down shots and carving out a role has been one of the more fun stories of the last couple of weeks (he has taken advantage of Darius Bazley being out).

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24. Kings (15-24, LW 26). They should be sellers at the trade deadline — there is a lot of buzz around Harrison Barnes and Buddy Hield being on the move — and the Kings need to think long term and add young players on the De’Aaron Fox and Tyrese Haliburton timeline. Sacramento will be without Marvin Bagley for a while due to his fractured hand, they have some tough decisions to make with him coming up in the offseason (the Kings’ new front office didn’t draft him, so it doesn’t have the same connection and be more willing to make hard choices with the former No. 2 pick).

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25. Wizards (14-24 LW 22). Don’t even ask about a Bradley Beal trade at the deadline. It’s not happening. Neither Beal nor the Wizards want it. (Teams will start asking again this offseason.) Part of the reason there is no Beal trade is the Wizards are paying $70 million for a backcourt of Beal and Russell Westbrook and want to win now and make at least the play-in, but they have dropped 6-of-7 and are now 3 games back of the 10 seed. The playoff hopes are fading in our nation’s capital unless they get on a winning streak soon.

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26. Timberwolves (9-31, LW 30). Minnesota reportedly has a lot of interest in Atlanta’s John Collins — and he would be a great fit next to Karl-Anthony Towns — but it seems a long shot a deal gets done (do the Wolves have the players and picks to entice the Hawks?) What feels more likely is a possible Ricky Rubio trade. Anthony Edwards has ramped up his aggressiveness in recent weeks, averaging more than 21 shots a game over his last eight. That’s Bradley Beal shot attempts territory.

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27. Cavaliers (14-25, LW 23). One of the true sellers at the trade deadline and one-stop shopping for teams that need a center — both Andre Drummond and JaVale McGee are available (Kevin Love is as well, but nobody is taking on that contract right now). Cleveland has a young core it likes with Darius Garland, Collin Sexton, Isaac Okoro, and Jarrett Allen, and they want picks back in deals or young players who fit on that timeline. That young core is learning some hard lessons, the Cavaliers have the worst offense in the NBA this season.

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28. Pistons (9-29 LW 28). Detroit has already traded Blake Griffin and would be open to deals for Derrick Rose, Delon Wright, or any other veteran on the roster. This is a team rebuilding with Jerami Grant looking like the one solid piece of the future. Now the Pistons are looking for young players to go with him. That was the idea behind the trade for Hamidou Diallo, who played well in Oklahoma City but was behind players holding his minutes back. Expect the Pistons to take a long look at Diallo the rest of this season.

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29. Magic (13-26 LW 27). Orlando is maybe the biggest seller in the league this year: Aaron Gordon is drawing a lot of buzz, but the Magic also would be open to deals for Nikola Vucevic, Terrence Ross, Evan Fournier, Khem Birch, and James Ennis. Every veteran is available. On the court, Orlando has dropped eight in a row, mostly because their offense — which has not been good all season — has been dreadful during this stretch.

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30. Rockets (11-27 LW 29). Lose 17 in a row and you end up on the bottom of the power rankings, but the good news is Christian Wood — not so coincidentally out for all of those games with a sprained ankle — is set to return on Wednesday. That will help. The Rockets will be sellers at the trade deadline, with P.J. Tucker almost certainly finding a new home on a playoff-bound team. The Rockets would love to find new homes for Victor Oladipo and Eric Gordon, but their large contracts make that unlikely.

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