NBC’s NBA Power Rankings: Memphis falling, Utah climbing as season winds down

Associated Press
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Welcome to the penultimate NBA power rankings for the season. While the top of the board remains steady, Memphis is falling and it feels like the middle of the pack is all bunched together and could be put in almost any order and be “right.”

source: 1. Warriors (69-8, last week No. 1). They need to go 4-1 the rest of the way to beat the Bulls’ 72-win record. Where it gets interesting is if they win their next three games (which is likely), they will go for the record next Sunday at San Antonio, where the Spurs are undefeated this season. Coach Steve Kerr has expressed concern that this record chase is taking a mental toll on his team, not ideal heading into the playoffs.

source: 2. Spurs (64-12, LW 2). Locked in at the two seed, Gregg Popovich has gone into full “we will rest guys” mode, but as you expect the Spurs keep winning (LaMarcus Aldridge has played well). Expect the heavy rest to include Thursday’s game at Golden State, where no Spur you can name outside Boban probably plays.

source: 3. Cavaliers (55-22, LW 4). The Cavaliers team that played the first half against Atlanta Friday night moved the ball, played with pace, defended, and could play with anyone. But Cleveland couldn’t sustain that for 48 minutes (the game went to overtime, where the Cavs eventually won). Kyrie Irving and LeBron James have gotten rest, expect key guys to get nights off this week as Cleveland heads out for three games on the road (Bucks, Pacers, Bulls).

source: 4. Thunder (53-24 LW 3). Blowing leads has been a disturbing trend for Oklahoma City all season, and Sunday a desperate Houston team out executed them over the final six minutes to get the win. They become too predictable on offense, but their defense struggles as well late in close games.

source: 5. Raptors (51-25, LW 6). They set a franchise record for wins in a season getting to the 50 mark, but everyone knows this team will be judged on winning at least one playoff round, if not making the conference finals (for the first time in Raptors history). Health remains a concern with that, including Kyle Lowry battling elbow issues. DeMarre Carroll would help if healthy, he says he wants to return but the team is less optimistic.

source: 6. Hawks (45-32, LW 5). The Hawks had been playing well but last week lost to the top two teams in the East, Cleveland and Toronto. Makes you wonder how far they can go come the playoffs, and how far that defense can take them. Seeding will matter, and they are in the group clumped in the east from 3-6, key games for Atlanta this Thursday (Toronto) and Saturday (Boston).

source: 7. Clippers (48-28, LW 9). Blake Griffin is back — he played 24 minutes and looked understandably rusty Sunday, but with flashes — and Doc Rivers will want to get him in a rhythm while getting core guys like Chris Paul some rest. Austin Rivers has played better of late, particularly his shooting, if he can do that in the playoffs it would be a big boost for the Clips.

source: 8. Hornets (44-32, LW 7). While the Hornets are in that bunched group in the middle of the East, their focus needs to be on getting guys healthy over wins — Al Jefferson missed Sunday’s game (quad) and Nicolas Batum had to leave it with a knee issue. Home court would be huge for them in the postseason, but it can’t come at the expense of health.

source: 9. Celtics (45-32, LW 10). They went 3-2 on a tough West Coast swing, they ended Golden State’s home winning streak, and with the win over the Lakers they clinched a playoff spot. “It’s a stepping stone,” Isaiah Thomas said after the Lakers game. “Definitely a goal of ours to make the playoffs, we definitely want more.”

source: 10. Heat (44-32, LW 8). Similar to Charlotte, this is a team that could really use home court in the first round (they are much better at the AAA) but getting healthy is the priority, especially Dwyane Wade. Interesting games against Detroit and Chicago this week.

source: 11. Jazz (39-38, LW 13). They have a one-game cushion on staying in the playoffs heading into a week where the games are tough — Spurs, Clippers, and improved Nuggets. Their defense has been stout, and if Alec Burks returns this week it would boost an inconsistent offense.

source: 12. Pistons (41-36, LW 12). With a huge win over Chicago Saturday the Pistons should feel secure about making the postseason, but when was the last time Stan Van Gundy relaxed and felt secure in season? Reggie Jackson, Tobias Harris, and Marcus Morris have all played well for the Pistons of late and the playoff experience they will all get will be invaluable for this team moving forward.

source: 13. Trail Blazers (41-37, LW 16). They have a real shot to move up to the five seed and get the Los Angeles Clippers in the first round (and avoid the Thunder), Portland is just half a game back of slumping Memphis for that slot. Some winnable games this week, plus a real test against Oklahoma City.

source: 14. Pacers (41-36, LW 11). Indiana’s loss to Chicago last Monday made the playoff chase at the bottom of the East much more interesting. And the fact the Pacers didn’t impress with wins over Philly and New York complicates matters. The Pacers are just a game ahead of the Bulls for the final playoff slot in the East, and they have a tough schedule with Cleveland and Toronto up this week.

source: 15. Mavericks (39-38, LW 19). This is the make-or-break week for Dallas’ playoff hopes. Dallas is clinging to a one-game lead over Houston, and those two teams face off Wednesday. Then after a soft game against Memphis the Mavericks close out the season with at the Clippers, at the Jazz, and against San Antonio. Tough patch. Even if Memphis loses out from here (a possibility) Dallas needs to win two of these five to catch them.

source: 16. Rockets (38-39, LW 14). Of the teams chasing a playoff slot at the bottom of the West, Houston has the easiest schedule by far. There is a big showdown with Dallas on Wednesday, but after that they go Suns, Lakers, Timberwolves, Kings. Houston should win it’s last four (but consistency has not been this team’s strength).

source: 17. Bulls (39-38, LW 18). They beat Indiana (giving Chicago the tiebreaker) but lost to Detroit, leaving Chicago two games back of those teams with five games left to play. The Bulls are going to need some help, and they need wins against Miami and Cleveland this week to have a chance.

source: 18. Wizards (37-40, LW 17). They are all but officially out of the playoffs and Bradley Beal (who struggled with his shot Sunday) summed it up well after a loss to the Kings last week: “To me, it felt like we gave up. I guess we kind of figured we’re already in the playoffs some reason. It’s either that or we want to get to the offseason. But as far as why, I have no idea.”

source: 19. Magic (33-44, LW 24). This is the team playoff-bound teams suddenly don’t want to face — the spoiler Magic beat the Pacers, Bulls, and Grizzlies recently. This week they face the Pistons, then have a home-and-home with Miami. Nikola Vucevic has found his groove post-injury and is playing well.

source: 20. Grizzlies (41-36, LW 15). The injuries have caught up with Memphis — six losses in a row, 10-of-12, and the team’s defense is atrocious. With a tough schedule ahead they could lose their last five, and then have to hope that Dallas/Utah/Houston stumble and don’t pass them. They will lose the five seed, which just a couple weeks ago seemed a lock for them.

source: 21. Bucks (32-45, LW 21). Who is third in triple-doubles in the NBA this season (behind Westbrook and Green)? Giannis Antetokounmpo. That’s why Jason Kidd said he will still use the Greek Freak as a point-forward to initiate the offense next season.

source: 22. Kings (31-46, LW 23). Saturday night will be the final game at the old Arco, now Sleep Train, Arena. There were some good Kings teams, like the Chris Webber years, that played in that building. The Kings cracked 30 wins for the first time in five years this season, so maybe that’s a small step forward.

source: 23. Pelicans (29-47, LW 26). Jrue Holiday and Anthony Davis are shut down, they are about to pull a guy out of the third row to play 15 minutes for depth, and yet the Pelicans have won three of four. They have done it playing quality defense (which seems odd with Davis out, but that’s what the numbers say).

source: 24. Nuggets (32-46, LW 20). The Nuggets have improved as the season wore on and started to really find some players and an identity for coach Mike Malone, but the schedule maker did them no favors to close out the season. This week they face the Thunder, Spurs, and Jazz.

source: 25. Timberwolves (25-52,LW 25). They feel like a team just playing out the string, waiting for Karl-Anthony Towns to go and pick up his Rookie of the Year award. They have lost four of five and seem listless on offense.

source: 26. Knicks (31-47, LW 22). This team is going to see big changes over the summer — a new coach and an entirely new backcourt, for starters. The question is what kinds of free agents can the combination of Phil Jackson and Carmelo Anthony entice to come to Manhattan?

source: 27. Nets (21-56, LW 27). No Brook Lopez or Thaddeus Young for the rest of the season — which is the smart play by GM Sean Marks. Why risk injury to your two best players and trade assets for meaningless games? But nobody may be as happy about the news as Celtics fans (Boston has Brooklyn’ pick, unprotected).

source: 28. Suns (20-57, LW 28). It’s been a disappointing season in the Valley of the Sun and this is going to be an interesting summer of change for them. That will start with a new coach, although the players like Earl Watson.

source: 29. Lakers (16-60, LW 29). They honored long-time trainer Gary Vitti Sunday and coach Byron Scott told a great story: Vitti started in the 1984-85 season and he had a radical idea — players should lift weights a lot more than they did. Back then few guys lifted regularly, the conventional wisdom was they would get too bulked up. Vitti said they would reduce injuries and it could help their athleticism. Looking back 30 years later, every team now does what Vitti got resistance trying to get his Lakers to do during the Showtime era.

source: 30. 76ers (9-68, LW 30). They have lost 12 in a row and need to get one more win to avoid tying the record for fewest wins in an 82-game season. There are winnable games in there, particularly against the Pelicans and Bucks this week. Those may be the best chance for the Sixers to avoid history.

LeBron James NBA all-time scoring record tracker

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Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has held the NBA all-time scoring record at 38,387 points since he retired in 1989. It is one of the most iconic records in sports and one thought by many that would never be broken, but LeBron James is on the verge of breaking that scoring record and doing it at age 38. How many more points does LeBron need to take over the scoring record? When is it projected to happen? Let’s break down the latest numbers (this will be updated after every Lakers game until the record is set).

How many points does LeBron James need to set the scoring record?
63

Abdul-Jabbar career points: 38,387
LeBron career points: 38,325

Lakers’ upcoming schedule:

Feb. 4 at Pelicans
Feb. 7 vs. Thunder
Feb. 9 vs. Bucks
Feb. 11 at Warriors
Feb. 13 at Trail Blazers

When is LeBron projected to break the all-time scoring record:

LeBron is averaging 30.2 points per game this season, at that pace he would set the record on Feb. 9 at home against the Milwaukee Bucks, although a hot game on Feb. 7 against the Thunder could make that game a possibility.

How long has Kareem held the scoring record?

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar set the all-time scoring record — to far less fanfare than is happening with LeBron — on April 5, 1984, when he scored his 31,420th point, breaking the record which had been held by Wilt Chamberlain. This was the height of the Showtime Lakers era and the team made the Finals that season but lost in seven games to Larry Bird and the Celtics. The Lakers would win the NBA title three of the next four years and Kareem would keep adding to that point total and his legacy until he retired after the 1989 season.

News and notes on LeBron’s quest for the record:

• LeBron scored 26 points and added seven rebounds and seven assists on Thursday night. He also gave the Lakers their first lead of the game on a 3-pointer with 2:35 left, and the Lakers held on to beat the Pacers 112-111. LeBron shot 11-of-19 from the floor and 2-of-5 from 3 for the game.

• LeBron had his first triple-double of the season — and became the first player ever with one in his 20th season — scoring 28 points with 10 rebounds and 11 assists — to help lead the Lakers past the Knicks in overtime on Tuesday night. With those 11 assits LeBron moved past both Mark Jackson and Steve Nash to be fourth on the NBA’s all-time assists list.

• LeBron James did suit up to play Tuesday night against the Knicks (in Madison Square Garden on national television, that shouldn’t have been a surprise). Anthony Davis was cleared to play as well.

• After sitting out against the Nets on Monday, LeBron is officially questionable to play Tuesday in Madison Square Garden against the Knicks and will be a game-time decision. Lakers coach Darvin Ham said LeBron has “really significant soreness” in his left foot (after playing 44 minutes against Boston). LeBron and the medical staff will speak after LeBron starts to warm up Tuesday to determine if LeBron can play in Madison Square Garden, a game he hates to miss because he loves playing in that venue.

• The Lakers have officially listed LeBron (and Anthony Davis) as out for the game Monday night in Brooklyn. That is the first game of a back-to-back for the Lakers, and they have rested LeBron in half of those for most of the season. This will push back the date he breaks the record, making it likely it happens at Crypto.com Arena.

• LeBron scored 41 points — and felt he should have had a couple more — in the Lakers’ overtime loss to the Celtics Saturday on national television.

• Sixers Doc Rivers on what impresses him in LeBron’s run to this record: “LeBron has done it so differently to me [thank Kareem]. Because LeBron is not a natural scorer. LeBron is a playmaker. He got criticized early in his career for making the right decisions. And the fact that he’s now about to break the scoring record, it really points out his greatness.”

• LeBron scored 20 points in the Lakers’ win over the Spurs, a game in which Anthony Davis returned from injury and Rui Hachimura made his debut as a Laker after being traded from the Wizards.

• What has Kareem Abdul-Jabbar said about LeBron passing his record? There has been a bit of frostiness between the two men, but Abdul-Jabbar was gracious in comments to Marc Stein back in 2021 about the possibility of his record falling: “I’m excited to see it happen. I don’t see records as personal accomplishments, but more as human achievements. If one person can do something that’s never been done, that means we all have a shot at doing it. It’s a source of hope and inspiration. Roger Bannister broke the four-minute mile back in 1954. Since then, not only have 1,400 runners beaten that time, but the new record is 17 seconds less. We all win when a record is broken and if LeBron breaks mine, I will be right there to cheer him on.”

Watch altercation that leads to Donovan Mitchell, Dillon Brooks ejections

Memphis Grizzlies v Cleveland Cavaliers
David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images
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Donovan Mitchell was already having a rough night — six points on 2-of-11 shooting — but at the end of the third quarter it got worse.

With a little less than six minutes left in the third quarter, the Grizzlies’ Dillon Brooks drove the lane and went right into the body of Michell, knocking him back. Brooks went up to shoot, but the Cavaliers’ Evan Mobley slid in for the block and knocked Brooks to the ground. The ball bounced to Mitchell, who started to go the other way when Brooks swung his arm and — it looked like intentionally — hit Mitchel in the, um, family jewels. Mitchell fell to the ground, threw the ball at Brooks, and then the two had to be separated.

Both Brooks and Mitchell were given Flagrant 2 fouls and ejected.

While Cavaliers coach JB Bickerstaff complained that what Mitchell did was a justified reaction — and it was the reaction most of us would have had — throwing the ball at another player then trying to go at him is an ejection every time. After the game, Mitchell said he would appeal the flagrant and any fine, saying he should be able to defend himself.

Both Mitchell and Brooks can expect to hand over some of their next paychecks to the league.

The incident initially sparked a little run from Ja Morant, but then the Cavaliers picked up their offense and Cleveland pulled away for a 128-113 win behind 32 from Darius Garland.

 

Embiid, Morant, Lillard headline list of All-Star Game reserves

Memphis Grizzlies v Portland Trail Blazers
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images
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Joel Embiid was a lock. Few others were.

The fans made their voice heard and selected the five All-Star game starters from each conference. Embiid was the odd man out in the East frontcourt (there was going to be a snub no matter who was left off), and we can debate if Zion Williamson has played enough games to deserve being named a starter, but there were no egregious choices.

The brutal selections are always the last couple of reserves — there are more deserving players than spots — and that choice falls to the league’s coaches, who vote to pick the seven bench players from each conference (three frontcourt players, two guards, and two wildcards).

Here are the 2023 All-Star Game reserves.

WEST

Ja Morant (Memphis Grizzlies)
Domantas Sabonis (Sacramento Kings)
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (Oklahoma City Thunder)
Paul George (Los Angeles Clippers)
Damian Lillard (Portland Trail Blazers)
Lauri Markkanen (Utah Jazz)
Jaren Jackson Jr. (Memphis Grizzlies)

West Biggest Snubs: Anthony Davis, Devin Booker, De'Aaron Fox, Anthony Edwards

EAST

Joel Embiid (Philadephia 76ers)
DeMar DeRozan (Chicago Bulls)
Jaylen Brown (Boston Celtics)
Bam Adebayo (Miami Heat)
Jrue Holiday (Milwaukee Bucks)
Julius Randle (New York Knicks)
Tyrese Haliburton (Indiana Pacers)

East Biggest Snubs: Trae Young, James Harden, Jimmy Butler, Pascal Siakam, Jalen Brunson

Here are some thoughts and notes on the selections:

• This is the first All-Star game for Gilgeous-Alexander, Markkanen, Jackson and Haliburton — and they all deserved it.

• For my money, the biggest snub is Pascal Siakam of the Raptors. While the team has disappointed, Siakam has played not just at an All-Star level but at an All-NBA level averaging 24.9 points, 8 rebounds and 6.2 assists a game, plus solid defense. He is a top 15 player in the league, let alone top 24.

• Davis and Booker not making the roster must be solely a matter of games missed for the coaches, because both are deserving.

• Jaren Jackson Jr. making it may be the biggest surprise — he’s an elite defender and solid offensive player, but he also missed the first 14 games of the season and defense-first players have a hard time getting the nod for a fan exhibition (especially over Davis, who has been better). The coaches voting in Adebayo from the Heat over Butler was thinking along the same lines, the coaches appreciate the defense and well-rounded game of the Miami big man.

• The coaches put one Heat player and one Knick on the team, balancing the scales for two teams who could have made a case for two players.

• A few players make some extra scratch by making the All-Star game thanks to bonuses in their contracts: Brown $1.5 million, Sabonis $1.3 million, Randle $1.2 million, and Holiday $324,000.

Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee Bucks) and LeBron James (Los Angeles Lakers) will be the team captains this season (as voted by the fans), who will select their starters from a pool consisting of Kevin Durant (Brooklyn Nets), Jayson Tatum (Boston Celtics), Donovan Mitchell (Cleveland Cavaliers), Kyrie Irving (Brooklyn Nets), Nikola Jokic (Denver Nuggets), Zion Williamson (New Orleans Pelicans), Stephen Curry (Golden State Warriors), and Luka Doncic (Dallas Mavericks).

• In a change to the format this year, James and Antetokounmpo will pick their teams on the court — playground style — just before the All-Star Game. They will choose from a pool of starters, and then the backups from the group of reserves above.

• The Celtics’ Joe Mazzulla will coach Team Giannis, while the Nuggets’ Michael Malone will coach Team LeBron.

• The All-Star Game will take place Feb. 19 in Salt Lake City. The entire weekend of events will be broadcast on TNT.

• As it has been the past few years, teams will play the first three quarters somewhat traditionally (although the winner of each quarter individually raises money for its team charity). Then the clock will be turned off for the fourth quarter and the first team to reach a target score — 24 points (in honor of Kobe) higher than the total of the team leading after three quarters. Meaning simply, if team Giannis leads 100-99 after three quarters, the first team to get to 124 wins.

Anunoby hottest name at trade deadline… or would be if Raptors decide to trade him

Toronto Raptors v Phoenix Suns
Chris Coduto/Getty Images
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The Knicks are standing at the front of the line, but if the door opens Memphis Grizzlies, Phoenix Suns and New Orleans Pelicans will be among the teams trying to push their way through the door.

O.G. Anunoby trade rumors are maybe the hottest topic around the league in the run-up to the trade deadline, something sources have told NBC Sports but is not breaking news at this point, recent reporting by both Zach Lowe of ESPN and Chris Haynes of Bleacher Report have detailed exactly that. Lowe said on his podcast that the “entire league” is interested in the young wing. Teams are calling Massai Ujiri about Anunoby, but the Raptors have yet to tip their hand about whether they will be sellers at the deadline, stand pat, or become buyers.

Anunoby has not publicly or privately asked for a trade, but would “embrace a change of scenery” Haynes said on the podcast (it should be noted there are similar rumblings about a number of dispirited Raptors this season, the losing has worn on them). Haynes added that part of the motivation for the Grizzlies and Pelicans in this case is to keep the other team from landing him.

The Knicks are reportedly offering three first-round picks for Anunoby, and while it’s up for debate which of the seven first-round picks they control are in the mix — and how protected they are — that is now the floor for an offer to interest the Raptors. Lowe said Anunoby could draw a Donovan Mitchellsized trade package.

There are obvious reasons the league is calling, Anunoby is an All-Defensive Team level wing averaging 16.9 points per game, can finish at the rim and hit threes. It doesn’t hurt that he is just 25 and is locked in next season at $18.6 million.

Everybody wants to talk about Anunoby, but it’s all moot until Ujiri and the Raptors do.