NBA Power Rankings: Suns still on top, Grizzlies second, Celtics climbing
The trade deadline has passed, the buyout market is heating up, but the top of the NBA Power Rankings doesn’t change with the Suns sitting on top, although Memphis leapfrogged the Warriors into second place this week.
1. Suns (47-10, Last Week No. 1). Coaches will tell you there are no statement games in February, but the Suns easily handling the Bucks last Thursday was as close to a statement as it gets. These Suns are better than the team that went to the Finals a year ago (the Bucks are about the same, and that gap was evident). Phoenix now has a 5.5-game lead over the second-best team in the West (and the NBA) in Golden State, and the Suns have a much easier schedule the rest of the way. The Suns will finish as the top seed. The road to an NBA championship will run through Phoenix this season. Chris Paul and Devin Booker can relax and enjoy All-Star weekend.
2. Grizzlies (41-18, LW 4). Good on the Memphis front office for standing pat at the trade deadline and not making a “we need to capitalize on this” short-sighted move. This team is winning now with this core — the Grizzlies have won 9-of-10 with a top 10 offense and defense in that stretch. Of course, the hot stretch for the Griz is longer than that, they are a league-best 22-4 since Christmas. Why mess with that? Too many teams would, but the Grizzlies played it right at the deadline.
3. Warriors (42-16, LW 2). The Warriors defense that was the best in the league and the core of this team early in the season has stumbled of late with Draymond Green sidelined — they are 23rd in the NBA over their last five games. The Clippers beat the Warriors over the weekend because a shorthanded Los Angeles team watched Reggie Jackson and others get the matchups they wanted, then beat their man at the point of attack. The Warriors keep winning because of their offense, including Klay Thompson finding his grove.
4. Heat (37-21, LW 3). The Heat are 5-1 since the return of Kyle Lowry, but most of the success has been about the defense locking opponents down (103.3 defensive rating over last six games, second best in the league for that stretch). Bam Adebayo is at the heart of this winning streak. both on the defensive end and averaging 22 points on 53.6% shooting and 118 rebounds over his last five games. Miami’s one trade at the deadline opened up a roster spot, expect them to be aggressive in trying to fill it with some veteran help.
5. Bucks (36-23, LW 5). The emergence of Grayson Allen and the step forward from Pat Connaughton allowed the Bucks to trade Donte DiVincenzo to bring in Serge Ibaka for needed frontline help (with Brook Lopez still out but expected to return later this season). Unfortunately, Connaughton broke a finger on his shooting hand just after the trade, which means a lot more Jordan Nwora for a few weeks. The Bucks keep on winning most nights, and it helps to have Giannis Antetokounmpo continuing to play at an MVP level.
6. Jazz (36-21, LW 9). Everybody calmed down in Salt Lake City now? The Jazz have rattled off six wins in a row, and Donovan Mitchell sat down for an interview and said, “I’m happy right now” and came off as very chill and comfortable with the situation. The buzz I have heard around the league is it still all comes down to the playoffs: If this Jazz team makes a deep run, then they stay the course as a franchise, but an early or ugly exit and new ownership and Danny Ainge will want to change things up. Flipping Joe Ingles’ contract at the deadline for Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Juancho Hernangomez may have felt a little cold because Ingles was part of the franchise culture, but it is a solid basketball moe.
7. Celtics (34-25, LW 10). Boston continues to play lock-down defense — a 97 defensive rating over their last 10 games — and the addition of Derrick White should only improve them on that end. Boston sacrificed some size and versatility trading out Josh Richardson to get him, but White and Marcus Smart form a serious defensive backcourt. However, Smart’s sprained ankle is a bit of a concern going forward. The Celtics’ 9-game winning streak has locked them into the sixth seed in the East, out of the play-in, and the way the team is finally clicking it’s hard to imagine them sliding back in the standings.
8. 76ers (34-23, LW 8). Daryl Morey and the 76ers got their man in James Harden. Now they will bet on the idea that superstar players can figure out how to make it work together even if their games do not perfectly mesh (Harden prefers a big man who rolls to the rim, which is not Embiid, he wants touches but Harden gets lazy off-ball). Giving up Seth Curry stings but it’s the price of doing business — Philly is fully in its championship window now. Doc Rivers will unfairly get too much credit or blame for how this pairing goes, but it’s really up to Embiid and Harden to make it work. It needs to for both of them.
9. Mavericks (34-24, LW 7). Dallas made the right trade, it was time to move on from Kristaps Porzingis. They brought him in to be a No. 2 next to Luka Doncic, they paid him to be a No. 2, and he couldn’t stay healthy enough to fulfill that promise. Mark Cuban and company will make a bold move to find a real No. 2 to pair with Luka Doncic eventually, but they have to be patient and wait for that play to come available. For the rest of this season and playoffs, it back to Doncic against the world. We can only hope for another playoff series against the Clippers — Doncic now has seven 42+ point games against them and last Thursday set a career-high with 51 against LA.
10. Cavaliers (35-23, LW 6). Caris LeVert is still finding his way with the Cavaliers, averaging 13.3 points a game (down 5 from with the Pacers) on 39.7% shooting, but there have been impressive moments. Such as when he scored eight points in the final five minutes of a comeback win over his former team, the Pacers. And there have been flashes of chemistry with Darius Garland. The young Cavaliers do not strike fear in the hearts of the top teams in the East (at least compared to other teams in the top six), but their gritty and surprising play this year means they will be a tough out no matter where they land in the playoffs.
11. Bulls (37-21, LW 12). When you get mentioned in the same sentence as Wilt Chamberlain, you know you’re doing something right. As noted by Justin Kubatko of basketball-reference.com, DeMar DeRozan now has scored 35+ points for 7 straight games, shooting at least 50% in each of those games, and the only other player to do that is Wilt. DeRozan has pulled the Bulls to a 5-2 record in those last seven, he and the offense continuing to cover up for a bottom-10 defense that is lost without Alex Caruso and Lonzo Ball.
12. Raptors (31-25, LW 11). Flipping Goran Dragic for Thaddeus Young was a great move by Masai Ujiri, he will fit right in with the switchable and versatile Toronto roster. We will see if there are any last-minute All-Star Game dropouts from the East (maybe Zach LaVine?) because Pascal Siakam should be the next man up. He started the season a little slow but is averaging 22 points, 8.7 rebounds and 5.1 assists a game (he might have gotten the previous All-Star Game call-up, but with the game itself in Cleveland Adam Silver went with Jarrett Allen). The Raptors had won eight in a row before dropping their last two, and they come out of the All-Star break with three games on the road.
13. Nuggets (32-25, LW 13). Part of Nikola Jokic’s bid to repeat as MVP is his improved defense this season, which was highlighted by his game-saving block against OG Anunoby. The biggest impediment to Jokic repeating is whether Denver will get enough wins and rank high enough in the standings to please some voters — they currently sit sixth in the West. Of course, what would really boost that standing is the healthy return of Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr., both of which are reportedly going to be back this season but there is no timetable for either.
14. Timberwolves (31-27, LW 14). Minnesota stood firm at the deadline, deciding to keep their core together with the belief it can lead them to the playoffs (one could argue they should have kept the core of Karl-Anthony Towns, Zach LaVine and Andrew Wiggins together because how would that look now, but that’s for another timeline). The Timberwolves sit just 1.5 games back of the Nuggets and the No. 6 seed (avoiding the play-in games) but Minnesota has a much tougher schedule the rest of the way.
15. Nets (30-27, LW 15). Brooklyn’s front office and Kevin Durant finally got the message from James Harden’s passive-aggressive ways, and traded him for Ben Simmons (although the steal of that trade could be Seth Curry). On paper, Simmons is a perfect fit next to Durant and part-timer Kyrie Irving, but he would need to accept more of a Draymond Green style role as a leader of the defense and secondary playmaker on offense. Is Simmons ready to do that, or does he still see himself as a point guard and a primary offensive option? Because in the halfcourt, Steve Nash can’t take the ball out of Durant’s or Irving’s hands.
16. Hawks (27-30 LW 16). The up-and-down nature of Atlanta this season — beating Cleveland, losing to the Spurs this week — could be chalked up to “that’s how it is” when you have the second-ranked offense and 27th ranked defense in the league. Clint Capela told The Athletic it is more than just that: “Our approach the entire season, we were already thinking we were going to the playoffs. Our approach wasn’t about the next game; it was, ‘Oh, we won this. We won that.’ That’s the problem with teams that are not used to this.” That’s concerning.
17. Clippers (29-31, LW 17). It fits with the Clippers’ luck this season that they trade for Norman Powell, he looks good in a few outings, then he fractures his foot and is out indefinitely. This team lines up to be a title contender next season — if they can keep everyone healthy. I’m not sure even Steve Ballmer can afford enough bubble wrap to make that happen. As for this season’s gritty Clippers, their next five games are against the rebuilding Rockets and struggling Lakers, get on a little run through those games and they can all but secure a play-in spot.
18. Hornets (29-30, LW 19). Picking up Montrezl Harrell at the trade deadline — plus a week off at the All-Star break — hopefully can snap the Hornets out of the funk they have been in. The Hornets’ once top-10 offense this season is 29th in the league over the last nine games, dragging down an improved defense. Charlotte needs Harrell to fire up the role players around LaMelo Ball and Terry Rozier, because that group seems to have hit a wall.
19. Lakers (26-31, LW 18). The Lakers stood pat at the trade deadline, and while that frustrated some of the fan base it was the right move considering the options in front of them (well, they could have dumped DeAndre Jordan or Kent Bazemore salaries to save tax money, but they chose not to). While LeBron James continues to play at an All-NBA level (and set records passing Kareem), this stat from Andy Bailey sums up the frustration with everyone else: During Anthony Davis’ nearly 3 seasons in LA, the Lakers are -2.6 per 100 possessions when he is on the floor without LeBron.
20. Spurs (22-36, LW 22). San Antonio did what a rebuilding team should do at the trade deadline and move veterans — Thaddeus Young and Derrick White — for first-round picks. Still, it’s disappointing not to see White next to Dejounte Murray, they had the promise of a long-term backcourt, but the pairing wasn’t good enough to take the Spurs where they wanted to go. San Antonio sits 12th in the West, only two games out of the play-in, but considering both New Orleans and Sacramento went all-in to get that spot, it feels like the Spurs will be comfortable with a few more lottery balls for the draft.
21. Pelicans (23-35, LW 21). CJ McCollum averages 26 points a game on 50.6% shooting coming to the Big Easy, both numbers that are up from his Portland numbers this season (however, his 3-point shooting percentage has fallen to 33.3%). He’s thriving with more responsibility on his plate. But the Pelicans have still lost 3-of-4 and are not gaining ground on the Trail Blazers. It looks like Zion Williamson could need another surgery, a reminder that even if New Orleans makes the play-in, he is not going to return this season. Does he still get a max contract extension this summer?
22. Knicks (25-33, LW 20). The #freeCamReddish movement fell short at the trade deadline, the former Hawk is still a member of the Knicks and still buried on the bench of Tom Thibodeau (who didn’t want him in the first place). The Knicks head into the All-Star break as the 12th seed in the East. The good news is they are just 2.5 games out of the play-in, the bad news is they have one of the toughest remaining schedules in the NBA. New York’s only real hope at the postseason is Julius Randle and RJ Barrett turn it around and have spectacular final months of the season. Not sure anyone is betting on that, however.
23. Trail Blazers (24-34, LW 24). Portland stripped down its roster at the trade deadline to retool fast around Damian Lillard in the next couple of years. There is skepticism around the league that the Blazers can land the level of players Lillard wants, which could ultimately force him to leave. The vultures are still circling. As for this season, the Trail Blazers have won three in a row, including one over the Bucks, and have a much easier remaining schedule than the Kings or Pelicans. Portland could hold on to this spot.
24. Wizards (26-30, LW 23). There were serious chemistry issues in the Washington locker room — players have talked about the fight for minutes and touches — so it was time to make a change. But is Kristaps Porzingis the answer? If healthy his shooting and interior defense are welcome, but we saw how things panned out in Dallas, and a similar scenario in our nation’s capital could have Bradley Beal thinking about moving on. Porzingis is going to get his chance, however.
25. Kings (22-37, LW 26). Domantas Sabonis’ numbers are a little off since being traded to Sacramento — 15.7 points a game on 53.8 shooting, plus 11.3 rebounds a game, all of that down from what he did in Indiana — but it feels like an upgrade for the Kings, so they will take it. The Kings made their moves to get into the play-in this season (and be a playoff team next season) and they sit 13th in the West, 2.5 games out of the 10 seed, but they come out of the All-Star break with a home game against the Nuggets then five straight on the road. Sacramento has a much tougher remaining schedule than the Portland team they are trying to catch.
26. Pacers (19-40, LW 25). It’s just three games, but Tyrese Haliburton has put up some serious numbers since coming to Indiana: 20.7 points a game with a 56.3 eFG% and 10 assists a game. Once they Pacers get Myles Turner, Malcolm Brogdon and everyone else healthy and on the court together, this should look like a modern and pretty good NBA team. But that is not going to salvage this season. The Pacers have lost seven in a row and 11-of-13, they are not making a push for the postseason this year.
27. Thunder (18-39, LW 27). There are legitimate reasons to be hopeful in Oklahoma City. For one, the Thunder have the second-best defense in the NBA over their last 10 games, an impressive if improbable stat, and their play on that end of the court is keeping them in games. The other positive of late is the play of Josh Giddey, especially since Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is out with a sprained ankle. Giddey had a triple-double in the win over the Knicks and Giddey has shown off some pinpoint passing off the dribble.
28. Magic 13-46, LW 28). If there was a big surprise at the trade deadline, it was that Terrence Ross was not traded. Now all eyes are on Orlando to see if Gary Harris or anyone else gets bought out and becomes a free agent. The Magic have lost 5-of-6, but this still feels like a season with some bright spots for them because of the emergence of Cole Anthony, Franz Wagner and Wendell Carter Jr. Combine them with a healthy Markelle Fultz, R.J. Hampton and Jonathan Isaac next season and this could be an interesting, league-pass favorite team.
29. Rockets (15-41, LW 29). A little surprised Eric Gordon is still wearing red after the trade deadline, but the team traded Daniel Theis and waived Enis Freedom to create more playing time for rookie Alperen Sengun. Houston has lost 9-of-10 and they will shrug about that as they are happy to get the minutes for Kevin Porter Jr., Jalen Green, Sengun and the rest of a young core. Looking forward to seeing what Green and all that athleticism can do in the All-Star Saturday Dunk Contest.
30. Pistons (12-45, LW 30). A little surprised Jerami Grant didn’t find himself traded at the deadline, but Detroit was not liking the offers it got. Grant heads into the summer looking for a $112 million max extension and the Pistons are looking for the team that wants to pay it. Also, not opposed to taking a run at Marvin Bagley III. Probably nothing comes of it, but not a bad roll of the dice for a rebuilding team.
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