NBA Power Rankings: Nuggets, Celtics, Grizzlies win streaks keep top three in place
Nothing changes at the very top of the NBC Sports NBA Power Rankings because the Nuggets, Celtics and Grizzlies are all on winning streaks. Philly moves up to fourth with a streak of its own, while Brooklyn is struggling without KD.
1. Nuggets (31-13, Last week No. 1). While the Nuggets’ league-best offense rightfully grabs the headlines, Denver has the third-best defense in the NBA over their last 10 games — it is that end of the floor that leads to questions about a playoff run, but when they play like this they have the answers. Also, they have Nikola Jokic. On a night the Nuggets were sloppy in the second half and almost gave a game away a 15-point halftime lead, Jokic bailed them out with a step-back 3 game-winner on a busted play. He is making a heck of an MVP case.
2. Celtics (33-12, LW 2). Brooklyn is stumbling without Kevin Durant, the Bucks have never been healthy this season, and Boston has taken advantage of all that and opened up a comfortable four-game lead in the East. They should finish the season as the No. 1 seed in the East and maybe in the entire NBA. Boston has won seven in a row — mostly due to their shooting returning to normal (after it deserted them in December) — and on Thursday they can make a statement hosting the Golden State Warriors in a Finals rematch.
3. Grizzlies (30-13, LW 3). The most concerning thing that could slow a deep Grizzlies playoff run was Desmond Bane’s admission on JJ Redick’s and Tommy Alter’s “Old Man and the Three” podcast that he likely will need foot surgery in the offseason to really clean things up. The Grizzlies need peak Bane and he has looked close to that of late: in his last five games he’s averaged 22 points a night shooting 51.9% overall and hitting 59.4% from 3. He’s been playing under 30 minutes a night, the real test comes when his minutes ramp up to the mid-30s a game (closer to playoff numbers). Memphis has won 10 in a row and, after the Cavs at home Wednesday, heads out on an interesting five-game trip through the West.
4. 76ers (28-16, LW 5). Watch the 76ers in person (as I did this past week) and the path to a deep playoff run jumps out in one action: The James Harden/Joel Embiid pick-and-roll is nearly unstoppable. It’s the kind of signature action with elite players that can have a team playing late into May and maybe June. There are other questions about a Sixers playoff run — defense at the guard spots, Embiid staying healthy, Harden not melting down in an elimination game — but you can see a path for this team to a place they haven’t been since Allen Iverson was stepping over Tyronn Lue. Philly is an impressive 3-0 to start their road trip through the West.
5. Cavaliers (28-17, LW 6). Cleveland is not going to find its long-term answer at the three at the trade deadline, but it’s possible — getting someone such as Malik Beasley from Utah or Bojan Bogdanovic from Detroit — could help the next season or two while the search for a long-term answer takes place. Kevin Love may be in a shooting slump but he still had the moment of the week, playfully smacking Larry Nance Jr. during a dead ball and Nance trying to draw a foul out of that somehow.
6. Bucks (29-16, LW 8). Milwaukee has held its head above water so far going 2-2 with Giannis Antetokounmpo out (knee soreness), but he is expected to return this weekend. What has kept the Bucks going all season — through a crushing run of injuries to key players — has been they found their defense again. Milwaukee lost that defense last regular season (14th in the league) but has bounced back this season with the third-ranked defense, led by potential Defensive Player of the Year Brook Lopez (and that Antetokounmpo guy). The Bucks got a lot of rest this week (Tuesday to Saturday) but get a good test when they return against the Cavaliers.
7. Nets (27-16, LW 4). The Nets have started 0-3 without Kevin Durant because they can’t generate offense — they are scoring less than a point per possession over those three games. A lot is being asked of Kyrie Irving, but going all the way back to Cleveland he has worked better next to another star rather than having to generate the offense himself. And Ben Simmons... well, he is dishing out assists, which is nice. He is what he is at this point. Things do not get easier for the Nets, who are on the road out West and have the Suns, Jazz, Warriors, then fly to Philly to deal with their old friend James Harden and his new, red-hot 76ers team.
8. Kings (24-18, LW 10). Best way to ensure your team makes the playoffs: Take care of business against the teams you should beat. The Kings did that this past week, handling the Rockets (twice) and Spurs (plus the Magic before that). Things get tougher now at home with the surging Thunder, followed by the 76ers and Grizzlies. Domantas Sabonis will be an All-Star in the West (will he get a starting nod because of the injuries to Anthony Davis and Zion Williamson is another question), but will De’Aaron Fox join him in Salt Lake City? Fox is deserving, but cracking the list of top guards in the West is brutal. There are no easy choices for the coaches.
9. Knicks (25-20, LW 11). Jalen Brunson is on fire — and making his All-Star case to the coaches — averaging 33 points a game over his last five, on 48.3% shooting with 4.3 assists a night. Nobody is noticing as the trade talk starts to ramp up around the team, with New York listening to offers for Cam Reddish but turning away teams asking about Immanuel Quickley. The Knicks have won 7-of-9, but head out for 4-of-5 on the road starting Friday in Atlanta.
10. Pelicans (26-20, LW 7). Impressive stat of the week: The Pelicans are 7-5 in games both Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson have missed. That’s a credit to CJ McCollum, who has been fantastic filling in of late, and to Willie Green and his defense. It also shouldn’t have to happen this much. Fans are frustrated, and reportedly there is frustration inside the Pelicans organization that — for the second straight season — Brandon Ingram has missed significant time with an injury that didn’t seem like it should have sidelined him this long. He should be back soon, but nobody is going to believe it until they see it at this point.
11. Mavericks (24-21, LW 9). Dallas went 1-4 on a recent road trip, and the one win took double overtime, some insane Luka Doncic magic and a favorable call late to get there. More than that, Doncic looked exhausted during the trip. Paint over the mural if you want, but the sentiment expressed — that Doncic needs some help — is both true and how many fans feel. The Mavericks are now home for 6-of-8 and have interesting tests this week against. The Heat and the Clippers (they lost to Los Angeles in L.A. last week).
12. Heat (24-21, LW 13). Credit Bam Adebayo for growing his game. A couple of years ago he was a mess in the playoffs when his path to the rim was cut off and he was dared to take a short floater. Now, his floater from 10 feet out is close to automatic, making him much tougher to cover. Don’t read too much into last week’s wins over a shorthanded Bucks team (no Middleton or Antetokounmpo), but you take the wins where you can get them. Fun test coming up this Friday against Luka Doncic and the Mavericks, then next Tuesday against the Celtics.
13. Warriors (22-22, LW 16). It remains one of the strangest stats of a strange NBA season: The Warriors are 17-5 at home and 5-17 on the road. Maybe that is starting to change.
The Warriors are 2-1 so far on their road trip — maybe Stephen Curry was right and playing in front of 68,000 people is just what this team needed to light a fire under them. We all keep waiting for the Warriors to flip the switch, go on a run and climb back up into the top four in the West, maybe that comes now. Of course, doing that while traveling to Boston for a Finals rematch, then taking on a strong Cavaliers team on the second night of a back-to-back will not help matters.
14. Clippers (23-23, LW 14).If you’re looking for bright spots, Kawhi Leonard has played in five consecutive Clippers games for the first time this season. He averaged 28.6 points and 6.8 rebounds a game while playing 36 minutes a night — it’s a step in the right direction. (Both he and Paul George are out Wednesday against the Jazz.) The downside is the Clippers went 2-3 in those games, including a loss to Philadelphia where Los Angeles looked overmatched. The continuity issues remain for this squad. They are looking to add some depth at the trade deadline — a backup center or point guard, help on the wing — but what this team needs more than anything is just guys to play every night and the chance to build some winning habits.
15. Jazz (23-24, LW 17). A lot of trade speculation floating around about the Jazz as possible sellers at the deadline — Mike Conley, Malik Beasley — but they played their way out of the best lottery odds with their hot start to the season, so a tanking pivot makes less sense. There is also talk of the Jazz as buyers at the deadline (John Collins, who would be an odd fit next to Lauri Markkanen). This roster confuses other teams, and it likely confuses Danny Ainge as well, the only smart bet is this roster will look very different in a couple of years. What could be a tough couple of games coming up, but who the Clippers and Nets decide to roll out for those games will determine just how tough they are.
16. Pacers (23-22, LW 12). How important is Tyrese Haliburton to Indiana? He went down with elbow and knee injuries in the Knicks game last Wednesday and will miss at least a couple of weeks, and the Pacers are 0-4 in those games — with tough ones against the surging Thunder and Nuggets up next. This is a team that many thought would pivot to a tank, but the play of Haliburton and others — hello Bennedict Mathurin — makes it unlikely they move Myles Turner or Buddy Hield at the trade deadline now (although anything is possible).
17. Suns (21-24, LW 15). The Suns are 2-9 since Devin Booker got injured and they have fallen all the way to 12th in the West. On the bright side, Cameron Johnson is set to return this week. The Suns’ slide has them coming up a lot in trade rumors, looking to upgrade at the point while finding a new home for Jae Crowder (the Phoenix front office held off so long on making a move that his value has slid because now teams will get him for less than half a season, plus nobody seems to want to give him the P.J. Tucker-level contract for the next three years that he is asking for).
18. Bulls (20-24, LW 18). The Bulls won three in a row, then lost DeMar DeRozan to a quad strain and promptly lost three in a row. This team lacks consistency, which is one of the reasons they miss Lonzo Ball. He said he hopes to play this season still. “I have really no timetable,” Ball said. “It’s going day by day. I’m trying to just do more every week, pretty much, loading up the workload. I’m finally moving around again so that’s nice, but I don’t really have a timetable.” The Bulls are in Paris for croissants and to play the Pistons on Thursday.
19. Timberwolves (22-23, LW 19). Rudy Gobert and Anthony Edwards are starting to find a little chemistry and the Timberwolves have gone 6-2 in their last eight, with a top-10 offense during that stretch. They have done this without Karl-Anthony Towns, who remains out, but what happens to that chemistry when he returns? The most disappointing thing about this season’s Timberwolves — and it’s a long list — is the defense that Gobert was brought in to improve is 2.2 points per 100 possessions worse than it was a season ago.
20. Trail Blazers (21-23, LW 20). It’s not getting enough attention outside the Pacific Northwest, but Damian Lillard is having an All-Star/All-NBA level season for the Blazers, averaging 29.3 points and 7.1 assists a game. His play was enough for Portland to take both games of a weekend set against Dallas, but his 44 could not lift Portland past Denver on Tuesday. That loss and the inability to get stops down the stretch sums up this team (and the Trail Blazers’ biggest issue for years): They have the eighth-ranked offense in the league but the 22nd-ranked defense. That’s not a contending mix.
21. Thunder (21-23, LW 24). Josh Giddey is figuring it out this season. Or, maybe that should be has figured it out. Over his last 10 games he is averaging 20.3 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 6.1 assists. More importantly, working with the legend Chip Engelland, he has fixed/found his 3-point shot and is shooting 33.9% from deep this season. Pair Giddey with All-Star to be Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and a healthy Chet Holmgren next season — plus whoever the Thunder land in this year’s draft — and you’ve got the foundation of something special in a few years. They’ve also got something special now, the Thunder have won 6-of-8 and are the current 10 seed in the West.
22. Hawks (22-22, LW 23). It’s a few days old, but the John Collins put-back winner to beat the Pacers was telling. Trae Young was given the ball and asked to make the read, but what he did was pound the ball into the ground then launch a low-percentage shot from the logo. Dejounte Murray read the rebound and got a second shot up that missed, but all of that put Collins in position to tip it in. Collins is in the headlines now as a likely trade candidate, with the Jazz an interesting frontrunner.
23. Raptors (20-25, LW 22). No team is being watched more closely heading into the trade deadline than the Raptors — other GMs are waiting to see if Toronto will pivot and blow this thing up. Much like the trade deadline overall, this appears headed for disappointment. Gary Trent Jr. likely is on the move (and a lot of teams could use a solid two-way wing), but the idea the Raptors would send out Fred VanVleet or OG Anunoby seems more and more unlikely by the day. Any bold moves by the Raptors may come n the offseason. Tough back-to-back test for the Raptors this weekend against the Celtics then Knicks (followed by a seven-game road trip).
24. Lakers 20-24, LW 21). The Lakers have gone 8-8 without Anthony Davis and it’s obvious watching them how much the Lakers need him — even with LeBron playing out of his mind — so when will AD return? Coach Darvin Ham said there is no timeline, and when asked what he needs to see, “Just ramp up the on court stuff, getting him running up and down. Right now, he’s basically been regulated to stay in the half court but just once we see him running and then coming in the following day, just to see how his body responds — his foot in particular how that response — to just an increased workload within the workout.”
25. Wizards (18-26, LW 25). Bradley Beal is back from his hamstring injury and will start against the Knicks on Wednesday, his first game back since hamstring tightness, and the Wizards dropped 4-of-5 while he was out, falling to 12th in the East. The Wizards want to keep Kyle Kuzma at the trade deadline and re-sign him this summer, but the buzz about him wanting out of town to play for a contender is pretty strong, which will make things interesting. The Wizards have seven of their next nine on the road as they try to get some traction in the season.
26. Magic 16-28, LW 26). Too overlooked because of the rightful spotlight on Paulo Banchero, Franz Wagner is having a fantastic season for the Magic in his sophomore campaign. He is averaging 20.3 points per game (second on the team) as well as 3.9 rebounds a night. Another non-Banchero player doing well right now is Markelle Fultz, who dropped 20 points against the Nuggets on Sunday and played well throughout January. Orlando went 2-3 on their recent road trip, now they have some tough games this week with the Pelicans and Celtics coming up.
27. Pistons (12-35, LW 28). Bojan Bogdanovic remains one of the most talked about players heading into the trade deadline, with a number of teams interested — Lakers, Bucks, Pelicans, Cavaliers and Mavericks — and with so much demand the Pistons are keeping the price high and asking for an unprotected first-round pick (plus matching salaries in players). Not sure they get it, but the price remains high three weeks from the deadline. Saddiq Bey has been pushed into the starting lineup due to injuries and has stood out in several games, including dropping 31 on the Timberwolves (he’s also been mentioned in trade rumors).
28. Spurs (14-31, LW 27). In an ideal world the Spurs would keep Jakob Poeltl at the deadline, re-sign him this summer (he could command $20 million a season) and pair him with another young big man they draft next June (ideally Wembanyama). In reality, Poeltl wants to play for a contender and not a rebuilding team and may bolt this summer, which puts pressure on the Spurs to find a trade so they don’t lose him for nothing. It’s something to watch. Also, well done by the Spurs and their fans, who filled the Alamo Dome with 68,323 fans – the most ever to attend an NBA regular season game — and put on a great show with the Warriors.
29. Hornets (11-34, LW 29). The Hornets will be seller sat the deadline and are open to talking trade about anyone on the roster not named LaMelo Ball: Terry Rozier, Mason Plumlee, Jalen McDaniels and Kelly Oubre Jr. all are drawing levels of interest. Rozier is reportedly the most likely guy to be on the move. The Hornets have dropped five in a row, eight of nine, and now head out on the road for nine of their next 12.
30. Rockets (10-34, LW 30). Is this the deadline where Eric Gordon finally gets traded after years of rumors? Maybe. But don’t hold your breath. While the Rockets have dropped 11 in a row, there is a silver lining: Alperen Sengun has stood out and looks like a future cornerstone of the organization. The 20-year-old had an impressive triple-double against the Lakers with 33 points on 14-of-17 shooting, 15 rebounds, and six assists (plus four blocks).
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