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NBA Power Rankings: Suns, Warriors remain on top, talking trades for everyone else

Michael Smith explains why he's had enough of discussing the Los Angeles Lakers as contenders with the trade deadline approaching.

The Phoenix Suns and Golden State Warriors remain the clear two top teams in the NBA, so of course they are on top of these power rankings, and we think about trades for just about everyone else, trying to get them up to that level (or, at least better).

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1. Suns (44-10, Last Week No. 1). In a week where the focus is on trades, let’s focus on the Suns’ big one: The deal that brought them Chris Paul. The Suns surrendered Ricky Rubio, Kelly Oubre Jr., Jalen Lecque, Ty Jerome and a protected 2022 first-round pick. At the time I called it a “smart and bold move by the Suns front office” that should get them back to the playoffs, but nobody saw just how smart it was or how perfect CP3 would fit. As for this year’s trade deadline, the Suns are not doing anything meaningful because they don’t have to — Phoenix is the defending Western Conference champs and has the best record in the NBA. Don’t fix what ain’t broke.

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2. Warriors (41-13, LW 2). If we’re looking back at great trades, the Warriors one that sent D’Angelo Russell to Minnesota for Andrew Wiggins and the No. 7 pick (which became Jonathan Kuminga) now looks like a stroke of genius. The Warriors are winners of nine in a row with a +10.7 net rating in that stretch, and a top-five offense and defense — and all of that without their Defensive Player of the Year candidate Draymond Green. With things flowing like that, don’t expect a trade from the Warriors at the deadline (if they do anything, it will be on the margins).

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3. Heat (35-20, LW 5). Miami traded KZ Okpala to the Thunder for a second-round pick, but what’s more interesting is the two sides changed the protections on the 2023 first-rounder OKC is owed, making it a 2025 pick. That matters because now Miami can trade this year’s or next year’s first-round pick. Kyle Lowry returned to the lineup last week and Miami rattled off three straight wins on the road (against teams they should beat, but still). The Heat’s defense has been key to their recent run, it is fourth best over the NBA in the last 10 games. continues to project the Heat as finishing with the best record in the East (52-30), in large part because they have an easier schedule than the other teams near the top of the East (except the Cavs).

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4. Grizzlies (38-18, LW 4). Desmond Bane will be part of the 3-point contest All-Star weekend, which is good because he deserves all the recognition he can get this season (he will be in the Rising Stars game Friday as well on Team Isiah). The 3-point shooting is notable because it’s the one thing the Grizzlies could use more of come the playoffs — they are elite at getting to the rim (sixth in the league in shots in the restricted area) but take the third-fewest 3-pointers in the league. Come the playoffs teams will pack the paint more, defend smarter and take away those drives, and as acrobatic as Ja Morant can be the threes will need to fall.

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5. Bucks (35-21, LW 7). Watching him in person (as I did this week when the Bucks beat the Clippers) was a reminder of how Giannis Antetokounmpo impacts the game in every facet. Scoring, of course, but his passing is underrated, his gravity opens up shooters and he’s an intimidating defensive presence. The Bucks are still without Brook Lopez, but of late they have started to look like a championship team again after a rough stretch. “We tried to set a tone, we tried to build good habits, and man, these last couple of games have been fun,” is how Antetokounmpo put it. He’s also taken to ending his press conferences with a dad joke.

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6. Cavaliers (33-21, LW 6). The Cavaliers went in on making a deep playoff run this season by trading for Caris LeVert at the deadline, bringing in someone to fill Ricky Rubio’s shoes next to All-Star Darius Garland. Did the Cavaliers give up too much with their first and a high second-round pick? Maybe. Koby Altman has bet big on LeVert staying healthy and contributing this season and next. The All-Star Game is coming to Cleveland in a little over a week, but in April a first-round playoff series likely will be hosted there — Cleveland sits fourth in the East, has the easiest remaining schedule of any of the top five teams, and they have added LeVert.

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7. Mavericks (32-23, LW 8). We’ve seen this movie before from Mark Cuban’s Mavericks: Lots of talk, lots of trade deadline buzz, but there doesn’t seem likely to be any action. Dallas tends to make its moves in the offseason (such as the draft-night trade that brought the franchise Luka Doncic). Standing pat may be okay, as Dallas is playing well, 3-1 so far on their six-game homestand (with the final two games against the feisty but shorthanded Clippers).

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8. 76ers (32-22, LW 3). Ben Simmons has become a full-on distraction at this point, and while it may not be the reason Philadelphia has dropped 3-of-4 (losses to good teams such as the Mavs and Suns are understandable) it hasn’t helped. Maybe he gets traded for James Harden at the deadline (if the 76ers are willing to throw in more players/picks the 76ers want), or he doesn’t, but either way the situation will be shelved until around the draft. If Simmons stays, Embiid said he would be open to Simmons returning to the team and playing; the problem is Simmons seems to have zero interest in that.

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9. Jazz (33-21, LW 11). The Jazz made their move, trading the expiring contract of Joe Ingles (out for the year with an ACL tear) for Nickeil Alexander-Walker of Portland and the Juancho Hernangomez of the Spurs. Unlike Ingles, not sure that Utah can count on either one of them come the playoffs (the Jazz don’t need another stretch four and Alexander-Walker has struggled with his shot this season). The Jazz are winners of three straight at home despite not having Rudy Gobert back in the lineup, and while that streak likely ends Wednesday against the Warriors at least the ship feels righted. isn’t bothered by the recent losses, it still projects the Jazz to finish third in the West.

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10. Celtics (31-25, LW 13). Plenty of trade buzz around the Celtics as they are very likely to trade point guard Dennis Schroder (they can’t pay the market rate to re-sign him, so they may as well). Teams are calling about Marcus Smart, too, but the Celtics are maybe the hottest team in the NBA, winners of 14-of-16 games to shoot up the standings. Do they want to mess with what’s working (including a defense that has given up an average of less than a point per possession the last 10 games)?

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11. Raptors (29-23, LW 15). They are almost certain to trade Goran Dragic at the deadline, the only question is where and what Toronto gets in return? Outside of Dragic, not much trade buzz around Toronto. Nick Nurse has tightened up the rotation and the Raptors have won six in a row, despite a jam-packed schedule (due to makeups for postponements). Toronto’s win Monday in Charlotte kicked off a stretch of 8-of-9 on the road.

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12. Bulls (33-21, LW 9). Chicago has been one of the most active teams on the phones heading into the trade deadline, but in the end it could be a lot of smoke with no fire. What the Bulls really need is defense — and for Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso to get healthy. Chicago is 5-5 in their last 10 games but that is inspite of a defense that ranks 27th in the league with a 119.5 defensive rating in that stretch. Zach LaVine is back in the All-Star Game but also, for a third time, he will compete in the All-Star Saturday 3-point contest — something he badly wants to win.

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13. Nuggets (30-24, LW 10). While there have been rumors Denver has made Facu Campazzo and JaMychal Green available in a trade, neither one seems likely to be on the move. Denver is going to ride into the playoffs banking on Jamal Murray and hopefully Michael Porter Jr. being healthy enough to play and have a real impact. The Nuggets have four-of-five coming up on the road, although the All-Star break separates that last road game from the others.

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14. Timberwolves (29-25, LW 17). Good to see the coaches voted Karl-Anthony Towns as an All-Star reserve, he deserved it. projects the Timberwolves as the No. 7 seed in the West, the top spot in the play-in tournament (but it has Minnesota three games back of sixth seed Dallas). That seven seed would mean winning one of two games (likely against the Pelicans and one of the two Los Angeles teams) and they are in the playoffs proper — a big step forward for the organization. Minnesota has won five in a row and has the best offense in the NBA — a ridiculous 124 offensive rating — in that stretch.

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15. Nets (29-25, LW 12). There is still a lot of smoke around the idea of a James Harden for Ben Simmons trade, but as of this writing sources tell me it likely doesn’t become a fire. We’ll see. Mixed signals are everywhere. The idea behind keeping Harden was that once he and Kevin Durant get healthy and are paired with even a part-time Kyrie Irving, this team will return to its status as title favorites. That’s harder to see in an East where the Bucks and Heat are deep with talent, have formed their identities, and look sharper. The Nets have dropped nine straight, and no team with a seven-game or longer losing streak in a season has ever won the NBA title that season.

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16. Hawks (26-28 LW 16). Rumors have bounced around that Atlanta is open to trading Danilo Gallinari or Delon Wright (John Collins is off the table, for now at least) but there hasn’t been a lot of Heat around those talks for a while. Part of that is the Hawks have won 9-of-11, including snapping the Suns’ 11-game winning streak. It’s a little early to start “the Hawks are back” talk, they are still climbing out of a deep hole they dug to start the season, but things are looking up. And nobody wants to face them in the play-in.

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17. Clippers (27-29, LW 18). Norman Powell is a fantastic fit for this team, and not just next season (as a sixth man or next to Leonard and George, depending on what direction Tyronn Lue wants to go). This season he fits in well with a gritty Clippers team that is hard to play against. However, these Clippers lacked someone who could draw fouls and get to the line with their two stars out, Powell does that well, which is a key reason he scored 28 in his debut. Robert Covington also fits with this season’s team, then this summer if they want to bring him back the Clips have his Bird rights.

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18. Lakers (26-29, LW 20). No meaningful trade deadline moves to come for the Lakers, and while they will be a potential force on the buyout market that only means getting another older player some team was willing to pay to go away. Any hope the Lakers have is centered around internal improvement, Westbrook accepting a smaller role, and keeping LeBron James healthy — they went 1-4 when he was just out with knee soreness, and for the season are 20-17 when he plays and 6-11 when he sits. Frank Vogel sitting Westbrook late in games he is struggling is the right move, even if the player himself doesn’t see it.

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19. Hornets (28-27, LW 14). Somebody put the Hornets offense on a milk carton because it has gone missing. The Hornets have been a top-five offense all season, but during their current five-game losing streak they have scored less than a point per possession (the second-worst offense in the league over that stretch). Their shooters have gone cold from 3 and now Gordon Hayward is out indefinitely with an ankle injury. Things are not getting easier for the Hornets with the Bulls, Grizzlies and Heat in their next five games.

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20. Knicks (24-31, LW 19). After getting used as public leverage by the Blazers to get the Pelicans deal done, if the Knicks are making a deadline trade, it’s likely to ship a guard or wing out of town, forcing Tom Thibodeau to start playing Cam Reddish, who the front office gave up a first-round pick to get and evaluate, yet has been glued to the bench. New York may be upping the tempo on offense, but they still have dropped four in a row, the last three on the road (and the trip doesn’t get easier with the Warriors up next).

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21. Pelicans (22-32, LW 25). New Orleans is all in... for the play-in games. Which is as good as it’s going to get, but it’s something. Adding CJ McCollum means the Pelicans have another shot creator so their offense doesn’t collapse when Brandon Ingram goes to the bench. Next season, if healthy, this could be an interesting and dangerous offensive team with a starting five of McCollum, Devonte’ Graham, Ingram, (*knocks on wood*) Zion Williamson, and Jonas Valenciunas. That would be an entertaining lineup.

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22. Spurs (20-34, LW 22). San Antonio has been open to trading Thaddeus Young, but the calls they have been getting ask more about Jakob Poeltl, and nobody has come close to meeting a fair asking price for the big man. Zach Collins returned after 18 months off and two foot surgeries and looked good in his debut — 10 points and 7 rebounds in 13 minutes. That’s a positive sign. Also, good to see Dejounte Murray get the All-Star game call up thanks to Adam Silver, he deserved it the leap he has made this season.

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23. Wizards (24-29, LW 23). Montrezl Harrell, what’s the mood in the Wizards locker room right now? “It sucks, bro. That’s the mood of the f****** team. It sucks… that’s the energy in the room right now. It f****** sucks.” Yes, that is a real and direct quote. Washington has lost 8-of-9 and fallen out of even the play-in games in the East. The wheels have come off a team that looked so promising to start the season.

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24. Trail Blazers (21-34, LW 21). Portland has cleared the decks — Powell and McCollum are gone, salaries have been dumped, and this team could have up to $60 million in cap space next offseason for a fast rebuild around Damian Lillard. Except, who are they going to get? Harden isn’t coming to Portland. Don’t bet on Bradley Beal finally bolting the nation’s capital, and leaving a bunch of money on the table, to be the second option in Lillard’s orbit. Kyrie Irving? That’s a pass from both sides. So Portland hopes that Jaylen Brown decides to push his way out of Boston and they can swing a deal? Portland did fine with the tear down but the rebuild will not be easy.

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25. Pacers (19-37, LW 24). Indiana has traded away two-thirds of its best players entering the season and, in doing so, set a franchise direction and set itself up for future success. Landing Tyrese Haliburton in the Kings’ trade was a steal, and he will pair well with Malcolm Brogdon long term. Myles Turner is now the man at center (and should get the larger offensive role he craves), and if TJ Warren returns eventually with a healthy foot, suddenly this is an interesting team. The Pacers have done what they always do, make good moves to stay relevant and, as of next season, be a playoff team, but not a contender.

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26. Kings (20-36, LW 27). Sacramento’s short term plan is to go all-in on catching an improved New Orleans team for the 10 seed and making the play-in (which does not count in ending their playoff drought, but let’s not get into that today). They are not trading Harrison Barnes in an effort to make that push. Good luck with that. On the upside, the Kings held onto their 2022 first-round pick and got the best player in the trade with the Pacers in landing Sabonis, but the questions about how he fits with De’Aaron Fox at the point and Richaun Holmes at center are real. I just don’t see the long-term plan.

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27. Thunder (17-36, LW 29). Oklahoma City made one small trade, getting KZ Okpala (worth a flier) from Miami, but the real key is the first-round pick change: OKC did have a heavily protected 2023 Heat first-rounder, that is now a lottery protected 2025 first-rounder that is unprotected in 2026. That’s good advanced planning for OKC. They also are lurking around at the trade deadline as the one team with serious cap space that can help facilitate a big trade involving a bad contract. OKC will take it on, but the prices is picks/young players.

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28. Magic 13-43, LW 26). If you asked me a month ago if there was one player I would have bet on being traded before the deadline, I might well have said Terrence Ross. It could still happen, but this has dragged out longer than expected. Gary Harris should be drawing interest as well. Tough week ahead on the road to Utah, Phoenix, and Denver.

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29. Rockets (15-39, LW 30). Watching what is going on in Brooklyn, it’s hard not to reminisce about James Harden in Houston putting together a 65-win season and pushing the Warriors (with Durant) to seven games paired with Chris Paul, only to have Harden demand CP3 be sent away a year later. CP3 rehabbed his image in OKC and Phoenix, Harden is rumored to be frustrated in Brooklyn. That trade sending away CP3 for Russell Westbrook was the beginning of the end in Houston, although now they have a few nice young players, Jalen Green will eventually become more efficient, and this could be a dangerous team.

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30. Pistons (12-42, LW 28). The Pistons are demanding two first-round picks for Jerami Grant (which is reasonable considering what the Pacers got for Sabonis) and some contenders would pay it, but Grant wants to be a featured offensive player not option No. 3. It’s his call, but it shrinks his trade market, and this process could well drag out into the summer. The Pistons have lost 9-of-10 and if their fans tune out games to watch Jabari Smith at Auburn or Chet Holmgren at Gonzaga, it’s hard to blame them.

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