NBA Power Rankings: Nuggets, Trail Blazers early season surprises in Top 5

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The Warriors being on top is not a surprise, but the Nuggets, Trail Blazers, and Bucks all being in the top five? That is not what we expected coming in. The Cavaliers remain in dead last in these rankings, but the Suns are pushing hard for that spot.

Warriors small icon 1. Warriors (10-1, last week No 1). It is far, far too early to talk about the MVP race… but if one did, one would say Stephen Curry has been fastest out of the gate in that race. Curry, hunting his own shot like it’s 2015 again, has averaged 31.3 points per game while shooting 50.8% from three, with a PER of 30. He just changes the game when he’s on the court and it’s been a joy to watch this season. Fun showdown Thursday night against the red-hot Bucks.

Raptors small icon 2. Raptors (10-1, LW. 3). Kyle Lowry has found a comfort level as a playmaker in Nick Nurse’s system — he is averaging 11.5 assists a game and is assisting on 45.6 percent of his teammates buckets when he is on the floor this season, both career highs by a country mile. Lowry and teammates beat the Lakers and Jazz on the road, back-to-back, without Kawhi Leonard (foot injury, hopefully he and the team can stay on the same page about treatment). That speaks to the depth of this roster. Toronto is top six in both offense and defense.

Nuggets small icon 3. Nuggets (9-1, LW 4).. Jamal Murray dropping 48 on Boston was a statement — both for him and for the Nuggets, a one-loss team that has now beaten both the Warriors and the Celtics this season. Note to Kyrie Irving, if you want to stop Murray from going for 50 points with a meaningless shot at the end of the game, do something about the first 48. Interesting early tests coming up against the Bucks (Sunday) and a Rockets team finding itself again (Tuesday).

Blazers small icon 4. Trail Blazers (8-3, LW 5). While the Portland starting five — Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum, Al-Farouq Aminu, Jake Layman, Jusuf Nurkic — is outscoring teams by 8.4 points per 100 possessions so far this season, it has been the team’s strong bench play led by Zach Collins and Evan Turner that has keyed the team’s fast start. When that bench struggles, as it did against the Lakers, the Blazers fall (also they just couldn’t buy a three against Los Angeles). McCollum dropped 40 on the Bucks and make a statement, now the Clippers and Celtics are up next.

Bucks small icon 5. Bucks (8-2, LW 2). The Celtics and their hot three-point shooting knocked the Bucks from the ranks of the unbeaten, but we’re more interested in seeing how Milwaukee fairs on a tough four-game West Coast swing that started with a loss in Portland Tuesday where they had no answer for McCollum. Next up are the Warriors. Also, we need to revisit the Greek-on-Greek crime of this Gianni Antetokounmpo’s dunk of the year entry over Kosta Kufos.

Pacers small icon 6. Pacers (7-4, LW 9). Just a friendly reminder that back in 2013 the Cavaliers picked Anthony Bennett No. 1 in the draft over Victor Oladipo (most teams did not have Bennett near that high). Ouch. The Pacers are now built around Oladipo, who has averaged 23 points and 7.2 rebounds a game this season, but maybe more importantly has been a force of nature in the clutch (8-of-11 shooting this season) and is doing things like this to the Celtics.

Spurs small icon 7. Spurs (6-3, LW 12). The offense, with DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge knocking it down from the midrange, has always been fine, but the recent four-game winning streak was sparked more by a defense that has moved from last in the league to middle of the pack during those games. Well, the D was at least until it regressed at home against Orlando. Now things get tougher with 9-of-11 coming up on the road (and the first home game in that stretch is a Rockets team now finding itself).

Celtics small icon 8. Celtics (6-4, LW 6). The Celtics have played the toughest schedule in the NBA so far this season. Their offense has been improving, but it’s not yet intimidating — 27th in the NBA for the season but 15th over the last three games. Late in games, Brad Stevens has trusted Marcus Morris over Gordon Hayward, and that’s the right play because Hayward is still struggling to start the season (as we should expect, remember that a year ago his leg was literally shattered).

Clippers small icon 9. Clippers (6-4, LW 11). The Clippers are better than their record would indicate (and their record is better than many expected). This is a top 10 team in offense and defense, and they are outscoring teams by 6 points per 100 possessions (meaning they should be 7-3 at least). Tough next four: At the Blazers, then home to the Bucks, Warriors, and Spurs.

Thunder small icon 10. Thunder (5-4, LW 22).. Oklahoma City catches a break with Russell Westbrook’s sprained ankle not being as bad as it looked, so he will not miss much time. The Thunder, winners of five in a row, also catch a break this happened as they hit a soft spot in the schedule: Cleveland, Dallas, Phoenix twice, and Sacramento are six of next seven. The Thunder should keep on winning and making up for the slow start.

Hornets small icon 11. Hornets (6-5, LW 14). Charlotte has been the least lucky team in the NBA — they are one game over .500 but with a +8.9, that of an 8-3 team. This is not a new problem, last season the Hornets struggled to close out close games, too, and it was one reason they missed the playoffs. Interestingly, the Hornets are +15.2 per 100 when Tony Parker runs the point and Kemba Walker is at the two, that may be a way James Borego tries closing games.

Grizzlies small icon 12. Grizzlies (5-4, LW 13). The Grizzlies continue to defend well but their offense — especially with Kyle Anderson and Jaren Jackson Jr. in the starting lineup — is struggling mightily. Mike Conley has not found consistency with his jumper, and that is part of the offensive issues, too. Memphis needs to figure out how to get buckets quickly because they have lost two in a row and the next four games — Denver, Philadelphia, Utah, and Milwaukee — are against quality teams.

Kings small icon 13. Kings (6-4, LW 16). Why are the Kings playing so well? They found an identity in pace — last season the Kings averaged 95.6 possessions a game, dead last in the league, this season they are at 108.1. That’s 12.5 possessions a game faster, a ridiculous leap. Synergy has them getting 21.9 percent of their offense in transition and scoring 128 per 100 on those chances. The real test of their new identity comes this month with a brutal schedule.

Sixers small icon 14. 76ers (6-5, LW 15). With all the focus on how Markelle Fultz and Ben Simmons can’t play together (to his credit, Brett Brown is playing them as a tandem less and less), it’s been overlooked by some that Joel Embiid has been an absolute beast carrying this team. He is averaging 28.4 points and 12.6 assists per game, and he even has time to build condos in Andre Drummond’s head. Right now, the Sixers go as Embiid goes, but that is not going to get them where they want this season.

Rockets small icon 15. Rockets (4-5, LW 23). Winners of three in a row, the last two of those with James Harden back from injury. The Rockets are looking much better. Carmelo Anthony’s offense is coming around as well, but it’s not making up for his defense — the Rockets are 10.3 points per 100 possessions worse defensively when he is on the court. Great news that Jeff Bzdelik is returning, a sign the Rockets are going to focus on defense again, but his switching style is still going to run into a personnel problem when Anthony is on the court.

Heat small icon 16. Heat (4-5, LW 17). Josh Richardson is the rare case of a player forced to take on more offensive responsibility — his usage rate has jumped from using 18.2 percent of the team’s possessions when he is on the court to 24.1 percent, however, his true shooting percentage also is up to 57.1 (from 55.1), his PER is up to 17.4, and he is now scoring 21.4 points per game (up from 12.9 last season). He dropped 31 on Miami, 32 on Atlanta, and 27 points on Detroit. However, he can’t get the team wins unless they clean up the defense, which has been bottom 10 the last five games, in a very un-Heat kind of way.

Jazz small icon 17. Jazz (4-6, LW 7). No team has had a harder time adjusting to the “freedom of movement” rules on defense than the Jazz. Utah is giving up 109.3 points per 100 possessions, 17th in the league this season and 6.4 per 100 worse than last season. The Jazz like to be physical on defense, slowing guys off picks with a bump and grab, but that draws a whistle this season, and the Utah defenders have not mastered getting their feet in the right place and making the play that way. They need to if this team is going to reach its goal of being home for the first round of the playoffs.

Pistons small icon 18. Pistons (4-5, 10). Detroit has played the fourth easiest schedule in the NBA so far, and as it has gotten tougher the team has dropped five in a row. The problem in the losing streak has been the offense, which is scoring less than a point per possession in those five games. Teams have started to adjust to Blake Griffin having the ball in his hands as a playmaker, and Detroit has yet to counter.

Lakers small icon 19. Lakers (4-6, LW 21). Magic gave Luke Walton a stern talking to about the offensive system and defense, but at the same time he should be taking a look in the mirror — what did he expect with this roster. When you add LeBron James, he is the system. Also, the pace the Lakers are playing at is a system. Los Angeles picked up Tyson Chandler to help on defense, but it’s fair to ask if he still has that in him at age 36. Either way, it’s a low-risk move for Los Angeles.

Pelicans small icon 20. Pelicans (4-6, LW 8). Won their first four, but then dropped their next six, all against quality teams in the West (and five of those losses are on the road). During the losing streak New Orleans has had a bottom-10 offense, but the real problem is on the defensive end where they surrendered 116.7 per 100. Games against the Bulls and Suns next give them a chance to right the ship.

Nets small icon 21. Nets (5-6, LW 24). The most up-and-down team in the NBA — they got blown out by the Knicks, but turn around and blow out the Sixers. That said, the inconsistency has still been good enough — if the playoffs started today the Nets would be the seven seed. Tuesday’s win in Phoenix is the start of 7-of-9 on the road, with some rough stops against the West at the start of the trip.

22. Timberwolves (4-7, LW 18). Jimmy Butler is missing time for “precautionary rest” and “general soreness” which everyone around the league sees as pressure to force a trade, no matter what Butler and the team try to sell. There are times it looks like the Timberwolves are close to figuring it out (Lakers) and other times they look close to imploding. At least Derrick Rose dropping 50 was a great distraction and one of the best stories of the season.

Magic small icon 23. Magic (4-6, LW 26). They have won two in a row and it’s not a coincidence it happened when Jonathan Isaac had to sit (ankle), so Aaron Gordon could move back to his more natural spot at the four and the offense could start to flow. Coach Steve Clifford may have to stick with this rotation for a while. Orlando has 6-of-8 coming up at home — if they are going to make a push up into the East playoff discussion, it has to start during this homestand.

Knicks small icon 24. Knicks (3-8, LW 23). There have been stretches this season where the Knicks have started to show some spark and have looked competent — and then they lose to the hapless Wizards, and then drop a punch-to-the-guy double OT game to the Bulls. It’s fun to watch Mitchell Robinson play, there are reasons to tune in some nights, but with 6-of-8 coming up on the road it feels like the losses could start piling up even faster.

Mavericks small icon 25. Mavericks (3-7, LW 20). Dallas has played the second easiest schedule in the NBA so far, so their slow start should be even more concerning. So is the fact there seems to be tension between Luka Doncic — who keeps putting up good numbers — and some of the veterans on the team. It’s not just DeAndre Jordan going over Doncic’s back to get a rebound, just watching their interaction gives one the sense some veterans aren’t sure Doncic has yet earned his status. On the bright side, Dirk Nowitzki should be back in about three weeks.

Hawks small icon 26. Hawks (3-7, LW 25). Atlanta has played the easiest schedule in the NBA to date, just to put the early record in perspective. That said there are things to like (besides the up-and-down play showing the potential of Trae Young), for one moving Omari Spellman into the starting lineup. That worked well against Miami. Also, Dewayne Dedmon is back and averaging 8.7 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 1.8 blocks a night — he is going to generate trade interest from contenders as we get closer to the deadline.

Bulls small icon 27. Bulls (3-8, LW 27).. Zach LaVine continues to prove his doubters wrong, the latest example the 41 points — including the game-winning free throw — Monday against the Knicks. That was a deserved win for the Bulls, they had been competitive but lost three home games to good teams (Denver, Indiana, Houston), Monday the basketball gods smiled on them. There are winnable games coming up at home against Cleveland and Dallas.

Wizards small icon 28. Wizards (2-8, LW 28). Washington earned a win over the Knicks and if they are going to turn things around it is now — the Wizards enter a soft part of the schedule with five more games against teams below .500. Of course, they dropped one in Dallas on Tuesday in another game where there was just a lack of effort on defense. No team has worse body language around the league than the Wizards.

Suns small icon 29. Suns (2-8, LW 29). Devin Booker’s return almost makes this team watchable again, and he had 14 fourth-quarter points in a win over the Grizzlies. He also had 20 points against Brooklyn but needed 21 shots to get there. Let the Suns be a lesson: In today’s NBA you need a decent point guard to run the show. The Suns front office remains incredibly active trying to land a decent point guard, the problem is there are not many available right now, plus everyone around the league knows how desperate the Suns are for one, which leads to teams trying to fleece them in a trade.

Cavaliers small icon 30. Cavaliers (1-9, LW 30). Cleveland finally reached a deal to turn Larry Drew from “the voice” into an actual coach of the team. That’s great, he gets a team where Kevin Love is out with foot surgery for a couple of months, J.R. Smith and Kyle Korver want to be traded, and the veterans don’t think Collin Sexton knows how to play the game. Congrats on that new gig, Drew. Have fun storming the castle!

Three things to Know: Breanna Stewart is headed to New York, WNBA must seize moment

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Three Things To Know is NBC’s five-days-a-week wrap-up of the night before in the NBA. Check out NBCSports.com every weekday morning to catch up on what you missed the night before plus the rumors, drama, and dunks that make the NBA must-watch.

1) Breanna Stewart is headed to New York, WNBA must seize moment

The biggest free agent in WNBA history has chosen to form maybe the first super team in league history — and that’s a real opportunity for everyone.

Former league MVP and two-time WNBA champion Breanna Stewart has chosen to leave Seattle and play for the New York Liberty.

Just a few weeks ago, the Liberty traded for 2021 WNBA MVP Jonquel Jones to pair with Sabrina Ionescu, forming one of the best pick-and-roll threats in the league. Now add Stewart and her playmaking to a roster filled with quality players —  Michaela Onyenwere, DiDi Richards, Joceyln Willoughby, Kayla Thornton — and this is a team that’s a legitimate threat to win the WNBA title next season. This is a superteam.

New York’s move comes just days after two-time former MVP and WNBA champ Candace Parker chose to join the defending WBNA champion Las Vegas Aces with reigning MVP A’ja Wilson and quality players around her such as Kelsey Plum, Jackie Young and Chelsea Gray. This is also a superteam.

It’s not a coincidence Stewart and Parker chose to go to teams with newish WNBA owners willing to spend to win, Joe Tsai in New York (also the owner of the NBA’s Nets) and Mark Davis in Las Vegas (owner of the NFL’s Raiders). Two owners who came into the WNBA wanting to spend to pay players but also improve their experience — a new practice facility in Las Vegas, for example — and grow the sport that way. Owners with the vision to know they must spend money to make money — grow the league and its popularity and franchise values will skyrocket.

Stewart in her free agency pushed charter flights for players to the top of the list of ways to improve the league. Right now, the WNBA CBA requires teams to fly commercial. It’s part of a penny-pinching mindset from some quarters that sometimes feels like it will choke off the growing league. Charter flights for every team to every game — something common in professional sports and high-level college sports, including women’s college basketball — would cost about $30 million for the league.

There’s a divide among WNBA owners, not all want to pay that added charter flight cost out of their pocket, but the league has to find a way. As Corey Robinson of NBC Sports noted in the video above, this feels a lot like when his father — Hall of Famer David Robinson — wrote an open letter in 1991 to then San Antonio Spurs owner Red McCombs asking to fly charter to games because of the competitive advantage (McCombs agreed after the public pressure, now charter flights are just expected in the NBA).

Beyond just flights, this is an inflection point for the WNBA — it has to intensify its marketing, its outreach, and do whatever else it takes to grow the league.

Stewart, a recognizable face and name to any sports fan in America (even casual ones who only know her Olympics efforts) just formed a superteam in the biggest media market in the nation. They have a natural, high-profile rival in Las Vegas with their own superstars and big names. If you can’t sell this, you’re doing it wrong — this will be great basketball (and that’s not even mentioning Brittney Griner and the Phoenix Mercury, and other good teams out there).

New York vs. Las Vegas could be the 1980s Lakers vs. Celtics moment for the WNBA. Stewart vs. Wilson can be a version of Magic vs. Bird — a rivalry and must-watch matchup that took the NBA off tape-delayed late-night television and vaulted it into prime time, putting it on the course for what it is now. This feels like that moment for the WNBA, but will WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert be able to grab the opportunity the way David Stern did? Can she get her owners to buy in the way Stern did? The WNBA must spend, it must take advantage of this opportunity. Chances and players like this don’t come around very often.

2) Timberwolves outplay Warriors in clutch, pick up quality win

Right now, this Warriors team just does not have the aura of its championship teams of years past. Even last year’s team didn’t enter the playoffs as the favorites in the West (that was the 64-win Suns), but we had seen enough to know they could be a threat to win it all with a couple of breaks. Which they got.

This year’s team… the Warriors had a 13-point lead on the Timberwolves Wednesday night with less than 11 minutes left and then got outplayed the rest of the way. While D'Angelo Russell was draining key 3-pointers, Stephen Curry, Donte DiVincenzo and  Andrew Wiggins were missing theirs, and Jonathan Kuminga was committing illegal screens. The result was the Warriors blowing their lead and the Timberwolves took advantage of it — with some critical plays by Naz Ried.

“I thought we had control of the game and then I thought we just kind of gift-wrapped it,” Kerr said postgame, via NBC Sports Bay Area. “And not to take anything away from Minnesota, I thought they were great. They took advantage of our mistakes and lack of execution. [D’Angelo Russell] got hot and guys made big shots, but we missed box-outs, we threw the ball away, we took really difficult shots.

“So everything we had done to that point to have control of the game, we stopped doing. We got what we deserved.”

This year’s Warriors are 13-14 in the clutch (games within five points in the final five minutes), with a -1.8 net rating. Make that a game within three points in the final three minutes and the Warriors are 10-12 this season.

The Warriors had won 4-of-5 before this and it felt like they may be flipping the switch, but then games like this happen and it gives you pause. These Warriors are not there yet.

3) Celtics put on a show, romp past shorthanded Nets

Boston has cooled off following its hot start to the season, but there are nights when they get focused, turn the burner back on high, get hot and remind everyone why they are the title favorites this season.

The Nets ran into those Celtics on Wednesday — Boston outscored Brooklyn 46-16 in the first quarter, hitting eight straight 3-pointers to open the game.

From there the Celtics romped to a wire-to-wire 139-96 win. Boston stayed hot from deep and hit 48.1% from 3 for the game (26-of-54). Jayson Tatum scored 31 points,  Jaylen Brown added 26, and both got to sit in the fourth quarter and watch.

The Celtics needed a win like this.

The Nets… life is tough sometimes without Kevin Durant. This is a game Brooklyn can flush and move on, even with KD it would not have helped much the way the Celtics were shooting.

ONE BONUS THING TO KNOW (or see): Give Tari Eason credit, he did not give up. That is persistence.

Nuggets’ Michael Malone to coach Team LeBron in All-Star Game

DENVER NUGGETS VS LOS ANGELES LAKERS, NBA
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Denver is comfortably in first place in the West and looking like a contender.

Which is bad news if Nuggets coach Michael Malone purchased any non-refundable plane tickets for the start of the All-Star break, because now he is headed to Salt Lake City.

With Portland beating Memphis on Wednesday, it ensured that the Nuggets will have the best record in the West on Sunday ( two weeks out from the All-Star Game, meaning Malone is now the head coach of Team LeBron.

This is Malone’s second All-Star Game as a coach, but the captains should be familiar to him. In 2019 he coached Team LeBron to a win against Team Giannis 178-164.

Boston’s Joe Mazzulla will coach Team Giannis.

The coaches do not know which players they will coach — Malone doesn’t know if he will be coaching Nikola Jokić or not. This year team captains LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo will pick their teams live, just before the game. We know the pool of starters the captains will pick from, with the reserves being announced Thursday.

Report: New Hawks front office lowered asking price for Collins trade

Los Angeles Clippers v Atlanta Hawks
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John Collins could help a team, an athletic forward averaging 13.5 points and 7.7 rebounds a game, and he feels like the kind of player who would benefit from a change of scenery. However, teams looked at the $76.2 million he is guaranteed over the three seasons and balked (the final year of that is a player option).

The old front office — which gave Collins that contract — wanted real value back in any trade. However, new GM Landry Fields and his front office has dropped the price and the demand for a first-round pick, reports Sam Amick at The Athletic.

The same goes for Murray. Collins is the most likely one on the way out, of course, and it’s worth repeating that the asking price is known to have decreased significantly from recent years (per league sources, there is a focus on landing a quality player, or players, in return but no mandate for a first-round pick). That development is clearly a reflection of the focus on salvaging this season, as opposed to recouping the vast assets lost in the Murray trade with San Antonio in the summer. As we’ve reported recently, the Jazz and Rockets are known to be among the teams in pursuit.

Both the Jazz and Rockets see Collins as potentially part of what they are building (in Utah he makes an interesting frontcourt partner with Lauri Markkanen). He would make sense for teams such as Miami looking for help at the four, but that much money on the back end of this team would have them cautious.

Keep Collins on your radar, he (along with Bones Hyland in Denver and Cam Reddish with the Knicks) is one of the players most likely to be traded at the deadline.

NBA Power Rankings: 76ers move into top spot with Celtics, Bucks in top three

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The Philadelphia 76ers move into the top spot in the NBC Sports NBA Power Rankings on the back of their statement win over the Nuggets. Boston and Milwaukee make it an all-East top three.

 
Sixers small icon 1. 76ers (32-17, Last week No. 2). P.J. Tucker has taken heat for his lack of scoring this season, but he reminded everyone why he was brought in on Saturday — he was the defensive answer that slowed and befuddled Nikola Jokić in the second half. His play, and Joel Embiid making an MVP statement with 47 points, earned the 76ers a statement win (and a spot on top of this week’s rankings). On another note, never say James Harden doesn’t play defense — here he rushes onto the court to help defend, once he realizes they only have four players and nobody subbed in for him.

 
Celtics small icon 2. Celtics (36-15, LW 3). Joe Mazzulla tried to play it down, but he and his staff being named to coach Team Giannis in the All-Star Game is a big deal and a sign of the impressive work he has done this season (and a reason they may want to take that “interim” tag off his title, although that gets complex with the Ime Udoka suspension). Mazzulla’s Celtics lost three straight — and it should have been four after the no-call on LeBron James — which followed a nine-game win streak. What changed? The offense fell off a cliff, they have a 108 offensive rating over their last five games that would be 26th in the league over that stretch. It isn’t just those five games, the Celtics offense has been down throughout January (19th in the league for the month).

 
Bucks small icon 3. Bucks (34-17, LW 5). Great stat from Justin Kubatko: In beating the Pacers on Friday night, the Bucks became the first team in NBA history to score 80+ points in the first half of consecutive road games. They scored 140+ in those road games as well. That’s just one sign of a hot Milwaukee team that has won 6-of-7 with a top-10 offense and defense in that stretch. Tough tests this week though with the Clippers and Heat, both at the Fiserv Forum.

 
Nuggets small icon 4. Nuggets (35-16, LW 1). Bones Hyland has become one of the hottest names on the trade market — Denver (particularly coach Michael Malone) is ready to move on, and Hyland wants to be somewhere he gets a little more run. Expect a deal to get done in the next week, and what the Nuggets want in return is some defense (they aren’t going to get much for Hyland alone, but they are looking). Denver went 1-2 on its recent road trip and it wasn’t just P.J. Tucker causing them second-half problems — they almost blew a second-half lead against the Pelicans, then got blown out in the second half by the Bucks.

 
Cavaliers small icon 5. Cavaliers (31-22, LW 8). Donovan Mitchell is back, but while he was out Darius Garland has stepped up and ran the offense well, making his All-Star case (it’s not going to be enough in a crowded East, at least not this season). Mitchell is a deserving starter but likely is the lone Cavalier to make it this season (Evan Mobley will play in the Rising Stars Challenge Friday night). The Cavaliers would love to be buyers at the trade deadline and fill that 3&D wing spot, but no long-term answers appear to be out there on the market, meaning Isaac Okoro will continue to get his chance to prove that job should be his.

 
Nets small icon 6. Nets (31-19, LW 6). Brooklyn has gone 4-6 since Kevin Durant went out, with Kyrie Irving carrying the load averaging 31.2 points per game in that stretch, shooting 41.4% from 3 and dishing out 7.1 assists per night. Nic Claxton playing the best basketball of his career of late has helped their cause the last 10, too. Minimal Brooklyn buzz at the trade deadline, not sure they will make a move one way or the other, just wait for KD to get healthy and make their run at the postseason. (Durant said he wants to be back and play in the All-Star Game in two weeks, we’ll see. The smart move might be to hold him out past the ASG and let him get an extra week of rest.)

 
Grizzlies small icon 7. Grizzlies (32-18, LW 4). There is not a lot of talk from sources about the Grizzlies being eager to make a big splash at the deadline, but no team may be better positioned to do so. Memphis has a boatload of picks they can trade, a very movable contract in Danny Green (who made his return this week), and if they could land someone who would spark their half-court offense, it would make a lot of sense. That said, this has been a franchise with a build-from-within mindset and that doesn’t seem likely to suddenly change with a bold move. Memphis dropped all five games on their recent road trip, and how much they miss Steven Adams doing all the little things is painfully obvious (he is out another month or so).

 
Heat small icon 8. Heat (29-23, LW 9). The Heat are looking for a trade at the deadline, ideally help at the four — hello Jae Crowder — or a way to move Kyle Lowry for an upgrade at the point. However, neither option seems likely. Miami has played better and looked more dangerous of late as they start to get healthy, having won 8-of-11, but then they have a loss like the one to Charlotte that makes you understand why Heat fans might be the angriest on Twitter (according to a recent study). Miami has been winning thanks to a couple of All-Star level players in Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo, but it’s unlikely the coaches will give the Heat two All-Stars as reserves. The smart money is on Adebayo making the cut, coaches love the way he plays the game, but both are on the bubble.

 
Kings small icon 9. Kings (28-21, LW 7). With the Kings looking every bit the playoff team sitting third in the West, they are active at the trade deadline trying to improve their defense — the thing that would hold them back from winning a round in the postseason. All sorts of rumors about them chasing the 76ers’ Mattise Thybulle, but there are other quality defenders available they might go after. The Kings are 1-1 to start their seven-game road trip, but this is a relatively soft trip (two games against the Rockets, one against the Spurs) and it’s a chance for them to rack up more wins and solidify their spot in the top four in the league.

 
Warriors small icon 10. Warriors (26-24, LW 14). Is this the Warriors run we’ve all been waiting for? They are largely healthy (save Andre Iguodala) and have won 5-of-7, climbing up to fifth in the West as of this writing. Don’t expect an in-season trade to spark the Warriors, it’s generally not been Bob Myers MO anyway, but unless they want to see what they can get for James Wiseman — and sources say the Warriors remain reluctant to part with the former No.2 pick — it’s difficult to see a meaningful move. Golden State has an interesting test against Denver on Thursday, but with the game being the second night of a back-to-back don’t expect peak Warriors.

 
Mavericks small icon 11. Mavericks (27-25, LW 12). The Mavericks have made it clear they are looking for a second star to put next to Luka Dončić, but unless the Raptors change their stance and throw Pascal Siakam into the trade mix, there isn’t that level of star out there. This ranking may be a little high for a team that has gone 4-8 in its last 12, but this team showed real grit getting a win over Phoenix in a game Doncic left early. Plus, they have Dončić, that makes them a threat any given night (ask the Pistons, who are the poster child reminder not to try and piss off Dončić). Starting Saturday in Golden State (on national television), the Mavericks hit the road for six-of-7 games.

 
Knicks small icon 12. Knicks (27-25, LW 10). Will the Knicks have an All-Star? There’s a case for both Jalen Brunson and Julius Randle, but both are on the bubble and it’s highly doubtful both of them get in. One, is more likely (as with the Adebayo and Butler situation in Miami). Remember it’s a vote of the coaches who pick the reserves, and they love the way Butler has shown to be a floor general in New York, that may win him the day. The Knicks are up against a tough schedule this week with the Heat, Clippers and 76ers.

 
Clippers small icon13. Clippers (29-25, LW 17). Los Angeles has won 6-of-7 and climbed to fourth in the West, yet the advanced stat projection systems aren’t sold they can sustain this. For example, fivethirtyeight.com predicts them to be a 44-win team (in a 5-way tie for 4-8 seeds with the Kings, Suns, Mavericks and Warriors). What the Clippers have going against them in the playoff push is the toughest remaining schedule in the league (based on opponent win percentage). The biggest bright spot of late has been the play of Norman Powell who has come off the bench and in January averaged 18.5 points a game shooting 47.8% from 3.

 
Jazz small icon 14. Jazz (26-26, LW 11).They are likely sellers at the trade deadline, but after this summer — particularly the Rudy Gobert trade — teams are cautious doing deals with Danny Ainge. Still, multiple teams are looking at Mike Conley and Malik Beasley, they are the most likely to be traded, with Jordan Clarkson available at the right price as well. Lauri Markkanen is not going to get traded at the deadline, but he is going to make the All-Star team this season, he is all but a lock — and it is well deserved.

 
Suns small icon 15. Suns (27-25, LW 16). Phoenix is going to do something at the trade deadline, at least trading away Jae Crowder, but as time has gone on the package they are going to get back for him has shrunk (other teams see him as a rental at this point). Milwaukee is rumored to be the frontrunner, but the Heat still get mentioned even if there is no way to put that trade together smoothly. The real wild card for the Suns, both at the deadline and into the offseason, is new primary owner Mat Ishbia — are the Suns going to be bigger spenders? What are the limits? What direction does the new owner want to see the team move? Winners of 6-of-7, Friday the Suns head out on a five-game East Coast road trip that includes Boston and Brooklyn.

 
16. Timberwolves (27-26, LW 18). Minnesota has won 5-of-7 to start creeping up the standings in the East, and a lot of that is driven by Anthony Edwards. He is averaging 32 points per game in his last five games, shooting 51.2% from 3 in that stretch, grabbing 6.8 rebounds and dishing out 5.6 assists. He’s got to take care of the ball better — also 4.8 turnovers a game — but you can see what the future looks like in Minnesota. As for Karl-Anthony Towns, he remains out with a strained calf that has sidelined him for two months, and there is no current timetable for his return.

 
Thunder small icon 17. Thunder (24-26, LW 15). Shai Gilgeous-Alexander will unquestionably be named an All-Star reserve on Thursday (there was a good case for him to be named a starter but he wasn’t going to win a popularity contest against Curry and Dončić. His play, along with Josh Giddey and others has the Thunder on the cusp of the postseason (11th in the West as of this writing, one game back of the Pelicans). One thing this OKC push for the playoffs has this going for it: The Thunder have the easiest remaining schedule in the league (based on opponent win percentage).

 
Hawks small icon 18. Hawks (25-26, LW 19). While the Hawks have given lip service to the new front office wanting to keep John Collins, the price asked in return for him has reportedly dropped, a clear sign they actually are ready to move on (as is he), but the remaining three years, $78.2 million on his contract has slowed teams from making the kind of offer the Hawks had hoped for. Still, expect a deal to get done. There are also reports of the Hawks getting calls about Bogdan Bogdanović, who isn’t a great fit with Dejounte Murray and Trae Young in the backcourt, if the plan is to stick with those two then moving on from Bogdanovic makes sense. However, with a new front office heading into its first trade deadline, nobody is quite sure what to expect.

 
Pelicans small icon 19. Pelicans (26-26, LW 13). The Pelicans have dropped nine straight games and have fallen from the ranks of the elite in the West. Injuries to Zion Williamson (still out with a strained hamstring, he was voted an All-Star starter but don’t expect him to play) and Brandon Ingram (back from his foot injury, but he doesn’t look like himself yet) certainly have a big role in the slide. However, so does the lack of defense from New Orleans — opponents are shooting a league-best 75.2% in the restricted area against them (via basketball-reference). Willie Green had this team playing quality defense to start the season, but some shooting luck was involved, and it has caught up with them.

 
Raptors small icon 20. Raptors (23-29, LW 22). Will they or won’t they? The entire trade deadline seems to be hanging in the balance, waiting to see what the Toronto Raptors are going to do. The buzz was the Raptors wanted to see what happened on their current road trip through the West before deciding, they are 2-2 so far with games left against the Jazz, Rockets and Grizzlies. The smart money is on Gary Trent Jr. getting traded, but what about the big three of Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby, and Pascal Siakiam? The Raptors may listen to offers for them, but getting them to part with one of those players will take a massive deal.

 
Wizards small icon 21. Wizards (24-26, LW 24).Is this ranking too low? Probably. The Wizards are winners of six in a row, and they are 12-5 over the last five weeks, with a +5.3 net rating in their last 15 games (fourth best in the league. Bradley Beal is still averaging 22 points a game this season (in the 30 he has played), but during this streak it’s become clear Kyle Kuzma and Kristaps Porzingis are more critical to the Wizards’ success right now. Kuzma will want to be paid this summer because of it.

 
Blazers small icon 22. Trail Blazers (24-25, LW 25). Chauncey Billups leans hard into his starting five — Damian Lillard, Anfernee Simons, Josh Hart, Jerami Grant, and Jusuf Nurkic — but it’s been a little above average offensively and a little below average defensively, giving it a +1.4 net rating (via Cleaning the Glass). Don’t expect the Blazers to get much bench help at the trade deadline, while some rumors are swirling it sounds more like the Trail Blazers will ride the roster they have the rest of the way. That means a lot of Damian Lillard, who should be a lock All-Star reserve (and frankly a lock All-NBA player at the end of the season).

 
Lakers small icon 23. Lakers 24-28, LW 23). The Lakers made one trade landing Rui Hachimura and are looking to do more — likely sending out Patrick Beverley — but this would be another minor move, looking for a player who is a better fit but not going to move the needle all that much. The focus for the next week will be less on the trades that do or do not happen and more on LeBron James passing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the NBA’s all-time leading scorer. As it should be, this is a historic moment in the league. However, while all that is going on the Lakers need to start stringing together some wins if they are going to climb up into the playoff picture — they can’t just keep talking about how close they are to the playoffs. Anthony Davis being back in the starting lineup should help.

 
Pacers small icon 24. Pacers (24-28, LW 20). Indiana is 1-9 since Tyrese Haliburton went down injured, a sign of how much he means to this team and why he should unquestionably be an All-Star this year. The Pacers reached a contract extension with Myles Turner that is a good deal for both sides — Turner came out of this with a lot of money and a couple of seasons of security, and the Pacers locked down a shot blocking and defensive force who pairs well with Haliburton (and is on a still tradable contract, if it comes to that). The Pacers have slid down to 10th in the East and need to pick up some wins this week against the Lakers, Kings and Cavaliers.

 
Bulls small icon 25. Bulls (23-27, LW 21). While there was a lot of early buzz about the Bulls’ potential to make some big trade deadline moves, things are quiet now. The market for Nikola Vucevic is not strong, and while teams are calling about Alex Caruso the Bulls don’t want to give him up. Maybe those moves are coming this summer. For now, the Bulls cruise along sitting just outside the play-in in the East, but with some winnable games this week against the Hornets, Trail Blazers and Spurs.

 
Magic small icon 26. Magic 20-31, LW 26). While this team is lottery bound — and more likely to make a big move this offseason rather than now at the deadline — there are real signs of hope. And not just Paolo Banchero (who will play in the All-Star Friday Night Rising Stars challenge), the pairing of Wendell Carter Jr. and the just-back Jonathan Isaac can form a formidable front line. The Magic pulled off an impressive win in Philadelphia to start a four-game road trip (it’s a baseball two-game series against the Sixers, so it is going to be tough to sweep that one).

 
Hornets small icon 27. Hornets (15-37, LW 27). One of the few sellers at the trade deadline, they will trade just about anyone on the roster not named Ball: Terry Rozier, Gordon Hayward, Kelly Oubre Jr., Mason Plumlee and P.J. Washington are all available. Good luck finding someone to take on Hayward’s $31.5 million next season, but they can try. Washington may be on this list, but the Hornets like him so it will take a strong offer to pry him free.

 
Pistons small icon 28. Pistons (13-39, LW 28). More and more it looks like they will hold on to Bojan Bogdanovic through the trade deadline. The Pistons have not backed off their demand of an unprotected first to get Bogdanovic (plus matching salary) and teams are unwilling to part with the pick. The Pistons want to make a step forward next season and be part of the play-in, once Cade Cunningham returns healthy, and Bogdanovic would be a good veteran to have with that young core as they take a step forward. All that said, never say never, a Bogdanovic trade could happen.

 
Rockets small icon 29. Rockets (12-38, LW 29). Is this the trade deadline where Eric Gordon finally gets moved? Both he and Kevin Porter Jr. are available and the Rockets are looking for picks or young players back — they are all in on the Wembanyama sweepstakes and are not looking to win it all now. That said, the Rockets did snap their 13-game losing streak with a couple of wins recently (beating the Timberwolves and Pistons). The Rockets have three players — Jabari Smith Jr., Jalen Green and Alperen Sengun — in the All-Star weekend Rising Stars Game.

 
Spurs small icon 30. Spurs (14-37, LW 30). Rookie Jeremy Sochan is one of the rookies headed to Salt Lake City later this month for the All-Star weekend Rising Stars challenge. It’s a just reward for his play. One of the biggest holes in his game had been his free throw shooting, but in mid-December he switched to shooting a funky one-handed motion, and as Kevin O’Connor of the Ringer noted, he’s hitting 75% of his free throws since the change. He’s also started to knock down his 3s. The Spurs may have something here.