NBA Power Rankings: Brooklyn moves into top spot (even with Durant sitting out)


Today’s NBA power rankings have a lot of focus on what teams might do at the trade deadline next week (March 25). As for the rankings themselves, Brooklyn jumps into the top spot as they keep winning even without Kevin Durant in the lineup, and Philly is second, having won a couple of games without Joel Embiid.

Nets small icon 1. Nets (27-13, Last Week No. 2. Brooklyn wants to be a trade deadline buyer, adding depth, wing defense, and help along the front line, but it’s more likely they get something done on the buyout market. The question is, do they need to do anything? The Nets have won 13-of-14 and done much of that damage without Kevin Durant in the rotation. There are questions about their defense in the playoffs to answer, but since the All-Star break (and a little before) the Nets have looked like the best team in the land.

Sixers small icon 2. 76ers (28-12 LW 6). Philadelphia would like to be a buyer at the trade deadline (although it’s tough to see how they can bring Kyle Lowry home, his $30 million salary makes any trade difficult). Much like other contenders, it’s more likely they end up just looking for help on the buyout market. The Sixers are 2-0 since MVP-candidate Joel Embiid went out, and he is going to miss a few weeks with a bone bruise in his knee. And yes, those missed games are going to hurt Embiid’s MVP chances (availability matters).

Suns small icon 3. Suns (26-12 LW 3). Phoenix was strong in the running for LaMarcus Aldridge as a free agent before he went back home to Texas, could they land him now off the buyout market? It’s possible. Phoenix would like an upgrade over Frank Kaminsky starting at the four, but maybe they shouldn’t mess with what is working. Phoenix is already a deep team — their bench showed that sparking a couple of come-from-behind wins right after the break — so don’t expect much out of Phoenix at the deadline.

Bucks small icon 4. Bucks (25-14, LW 5). Milwaukee would love to add some depth in a deadline trade, but the reality is the team is already close to the hard cap, making any trade difficult, plus they don’t have a lot of picks or young players of interest they can throw in a trade. Maybe they get someone off the buyout market, but the moves will be on the fringes, not to the core. Milwaukee has won four in a row and 9-of-10, with Giannis Antetokounmpo looking like his MVP-self again. This team has found its groove.

Lakers small icon 5. Lakers (27-13, LW 4). The Lakers want to be buyers at the trade deadline, but they are up against the hard cap, so they need to send out as much or more salary than they bring in, plus it will be tough to tempt teams unless L.A. wants to put Talen Horton-Tucker in a deal. L.A. may be more likely to land players on the buyout market. Los Angeles has gone 6-6 without Anthony Davis and what’s been impressive is their defense is back to being top-10 in the last five games without AD. He’s going to be out a few more weeks recovering from Achilles tendinosis and a calf strain.

Jazz small icon 6. Jazz (29-10, LW 1). Utah is willing to be a buyer at the trade deadline, but it has to be a player who fits the team’s culture and style of play. They are not going to be aggressive buyers. The Jazz did add Ersan Ilyasova as a stretch big off the bench; that may be their only move to adjust the roster. Interesting note via Statmuse: Jordan Clarkson is hitting 96.7% from the free-throw line this season, which would be the second-highest single-season free throw percentage in NBA history.

Nuggets small icon 7. Nuggets (23-16 LW 8). Denver has been one of the more active teams looking to add a shot creator at the trade deadline, but whether they can find a deal is another question. Jamal Murray admitted he didn’t touch a basketball during the All-Star break, that he didn’t want to and just wanted to get away. That’s understandable, but the rust was evident upon his return when he had a couple of rough games. He’s back closer to his old self now and dishing sweet behind-the-back dimes to Nikola Jokic.

Blazers small icon 8. Trail Blazers (23-16, LW 11). Portland is looking to be a buyer at the trade deadline — GM Neil Olshey is aggressive — but it’s a long shot they can land someone who is a serious boost to their rotation. The Trail Blazers have the second-worst defense in the NBA — it has not gotten better in recent weeks — but they keep finding a way to win because Damian Lillard keeps playing at an MVP-level and does things like drop a 50 spot on the Pelicans in just 20 shot attempts.

Clippers small icon9. Clippers (26-15, LW 7). “It’s very concerning. If we want to have a chance at anything, you gotta be consistent. That’s what the great teams do, they’re consistent.” Kawhi Leonard understands his leadership role with the Clippers and doesn’t drop words like this lightly or without thought — that he is talking about consistency is a real wake-up call for a stumbling Clippers team that has dropped 5-of-7. The Clippers would love to add a quality point guard or depth at the 4/5 in the trade and buyout market, but they are almost up against the hard cap, so it will not be easy.

Spurs small icon 10. Spurs (20-16, LW 10). San Antonio is looking hard for a trade partner to take for LaMarcus Aldridge, but finding a team willing to match a $24 million salary for a guy who is, at this point in his career, a backup center is a long shot at best. Most teams around the league expect a buyout of Aldridge. Part of the reason Aldridge is available: Jakob Poeltl is playing so well. Most importantly, and the Spurs defense is 9.3 points per 100 possessions better when he is on the court.

Mavericks small icon 11. Mavericks (20-18, LW 13). Dallas is looking for another cornerstone piece to go with Luka Doncic and (maybe) Kristaps Porzingis, and if the opportunity to land such a player comes along at the deadline they will jump. But that is unlikely. Josh Richardson has stepped up for the Mavs in recent weeks, hitting threes and playing strong defense (he was fantastic Sunday against Denver matched up on Jamal Murray). Dallas has a tough second-half schedule, and they get into the meat of it on Friday in Portland, the first of 9-of-11 on the road.

Heat small icon 12. Heat (22-18 LW 17).How much does Jimmy Butler matter to the Heat? As Statmuse noted: Miami was 6-12 when Butler returned from having COVID-19, and since they are 15-6 and playing elite defense. They sit fourth in the East and Butler has played at an All-NBA level since his return. Miami wants to be a buyer at the deadline and pick up a stretch four, but there’s doubt the team has the players or picks it is willing to surrender to make a trade happen.

Celtics small icon 13. Celtics (20-19, LW 14). Boston is one of the most interesting buyers at the trade deadline because they have the $28.5 million trade exception from the Gordon Hayward deal (the largest exception in league history). But is there anyone worth using it on (they can save it until the offseason). Marcus Smart has returned (they went 9-9 without him) and his defense has been an instant boost, but this week showed they are not at the level of Brooklyn or Utah right now even with him.

Hornets small icon 14. Hornets (20-18, LW 21). Charlotte is one of the teams with almost no buzz around the league heading into the trade deadline. Devonte’ Graham is the guy coming off the bench so LaMelo Ball can stay in the starting lineup, and Graham has thrived in that role as a playmaker (he is also the one player rumored to be available via trade at the deadline). Terry Rozier has become the Hornets’ shot creator and scorer in the clutch — and Michael Jordan loves it.

Warriors small icon 15. Warriors (20-20, LW 09). Don’t expect the Warriors to add players at the trade deadline; they already are paying a massive luxury tax bill this season for a .500 team and aren’t going to look to add to it. Most likely, they stand pat. Golden State lost 5-of-6 going through a stretch against the top teams in the West (the one win against Utah on Stephen Curry‘s 33rd birthday was impressive), but things soften up the next couple of weeks, starting with Houston on Wednesday (Philly is in that stretch of games but Embiid is likely still sidelined for that one).

Hawks small icon 16. Hawks (20-20 LW 24). The buzz around the league has been Atlanta is leaning toward trading John Collins at the trade deadline, if they get an offer they like. It’s a risk because Collins is a part of the Hawks winning this season — and winning and making the playoffs is a priority of ownership. Atlanta is 6-0 for new coach Nate McMillan and sits as the seven seed in the East. One sad Atlanta note: Tony Snell’s streak of minutes played without attempting a free throw came to an end Saturday against the Kings at 471. That is a single-season NBA record.

Knicks small icon 17. Knicks (20-21, LW 16). New York has both cap space ($15.7 million) and expiring contracts (Alec Burks, Nerlens Noel, Derrick Rose, Reggie Bullock, Elfrid Payton) which makes them both a potential buyer at the trade deadline, or a team that could take on a bad contract if it gets them picks or a young player. The Knicks have flexibility, which is a good place to be. New York also has lost 3-of-4 and has slid back to the eighth seed in the East. If the Knicks do make any deadline moves, they need to think long-term, not about these playoffs.

Grizzlies small icon 18. Grizzlies (17-19 LW 15). Memphis has been calling teams ahead of the deadline, seeing if they can land anything for Gorgui Dieng’s $17.3 million expiring contract. The likely answer is no, and if so, the Grizzlies will keep their powder dry until the offseason (where they may be busy). The Grizzlies currently hold the final play-in spot in the West (the 10th seed), which is why blowing a 12-point lead in the fourth to Oklahoma City (when Memphis had the rest advantage) was so painful. Memphis’ packed schedule gets a lot tougher the next couple of weeks.

Bulls small icon 19. Bulls (18-20, LW 18). Billy Donovan shook things up this week and took Wendell Carter and Coby White out of the starting lineup and put Tomas Satoransky and Thaddeus Young in it — and the Bulls are 2-0 with the new rotation. To their credit, Carter and White handled it like veterans. The Bulls could be buyers or sellers at the trade deadline — other teams are calling about Thaddeus Young and Tomas Satoransky — but the sense is they will be quiet this time around. However, with a new front office, nobody really knows what will happen.

Pelicans small icon 20. Pelicans (17-23, LW 20). Teams have started to use the Antetokounmpo strategy against Zion Williamson, forming a wall in the paint to cut off his drives. This is where we have seen Zion’s improved playmaking: He averaged one assist a game in December, but in January that was up to 2.8, and by February it was 4.5 a game as his playmaking skills have improved and been on full display. The Pelicans are sellers at the trade deadline, with plenty of interest in J.J. Redick both via trade and buyout.

Pacers small icon 21. Pacers (17-21, LW 19). Don’t expect any trades out of Indiana at the deadline — they are focused on getting healthy and seeing what this lineup can do. Caris LeVert is back on the floor — which is some of the best news of the season for any team — and T.J. Warren should follow at some point. Indiana has lost 7-of-9 and things don’t get easier with Brooklyn, Miami, and Milwaukee next up on the schedule.

Raptors small icon 22. Raptors (17-21, LW 12). There’s a lot of trade buzz around the Raptors, but the reality is nothing is likely to happen. Kyle Lowry may have said he expects to be traded, but he makes $30 million and can be a free agent after the season. That is a difficult trade to construct, even for Masai Ujiri. Toronto is 0-3 since the All-Star break and has lost 7-of-8 overall, and they have been bottom 10 in the league on both sides of the ball since the break. My favorite thing out of Toronto this week? Nick Nurse getting the most casual technical ever.

Thunder small icon 23. Thunder (17-23, LW 25). One of the few sure sellers in this market, expect George Hill and Trevor Ariza to have new teams by the deadline — and you can expect Thunder GM Sam Presti to keep holding picks in the process (he has 18 first-round picks already over the next seven drafts, and a bunch more second-rounders). OKC would love to find a new home for Al Horford and his large contract, but that seems highly unlikely. Aleksej Pokusevski knocking down shots and carving out a role has been one of the more fun stories of the last couple of weeks (he has taken advantage of Darius Bazley being out).

Kings small icon 24. Kings (15-24, LW 26). They should be sellers at the trade deadline — there is a lot of buzz around Harrison Barnes and Buddy Hield being on the move — and the Kings need to think long term and add young players on the De'Aaron Fox and Tyrese Haliburton timeline. Sacramento will be without Marvin Bagley for a while due to his fractured hand, they have some tough decisions to make with him coming up in the offseason (the Kings’ new front office didn’t draft him, so it doesn’t have the same connection and be more willing to make hard choices with the former No. 2 pick).

Wizards small icon 25. Wizards (14-24 LW 22). Don’t even ask about a Bradley Beal trade at the deadline. It’s not happening. Neither Beal nor the Wizards want it. (Teams will start asking again this offseason.) Part of the reason there is no Beal trade is the Wizards are paying $70 million for a backcourt of Beal and Russell Westbrook and want to win now and make at least the play-in, but they have dropped 6-of-7 and are now 3 games back of the 10 seed. The playoff hopes are fading in our nation’s capital unless they get on a winning streak soon.

26. Timberwolves (9-31, LW 30). Minnesota reportedly has a lot of interest in Atlanta’s John Collins — and he would be a great fit next to Karl-Anthony Towns — but it seems a long shot a deal gets done (do the Wolves have the players and picks to entice the Hawks?) What feels more likely is a possible Ricky Rubio trade. Anthony Edwards has ramped up his aggressiveness in recent weeks, averaging more than 21 shots a game over his last eight. That’s Bradley Beal shot attempts territory.

Cavaliers small icon 27. Cavaliers (14-25, LW 23). One of the true sellers at the trade deadline and one-stop shopping for teams that need a center — both Andre Drummond and JaVale McGee are available (Kevin Love is as well, but nobody is taking on that contract right now). Cleveland has a young core it likes with Darius Garland, Collin Sexton, Isaac Okoro, and Jarrett Allen, and they want picks back in deals or young players who fit on that timeline. That young core is learning some hard lessons, the Cavaliers have the worst offense in the NBA this season.

Pistons small icon 28. Pistons (9-29 LW 28). Detroit has already traded Blake Griffin and would be open to deals for Derrick Rose, Delon Wright, or any other veteran on the roster. This is a team rebuilding with Jerami Grant looking like the one solid piece of the future. Now the Pistons are looking for young players to go with him. That was the idea behind the trade for Hamidou Diallo, who played well in Oklahoma City but was behind players holding his minutes back. Expect the Pistons to take a long look at Diallo the rest of this season.

Magic small icon 29. Magic (13-26 LW 27). Orlando is maybe the biggest seller in the league this year: Aaron Gordon is drawing a lot of buzz, but the Magic also would be open to deals for Nikola Vucevic, Terrence Ross, Evan Fournier, Khem Birch, and James Ennis. Every veteran is available. On the court, Orlando has dropped eight in a row, mostly because their offense — which has not been good all season — has been dreadful during this stretch.

Rockets small icon 30. Rockets (11-27 LW 29). Lose 17 in a row and you end up on the bottom of the power rankings, but the good news is Christian Wood — not so coincidentally out for all of those games with a sprained ankle — is set to return on Wednesday. That will help. The Rockets will be sellers at the trade deadline, with P.J. Tucker almost certainly finding a new home on a playoff-bound team. The Rockets would love to find new homes for Victor Oladipo and Eric Gordon, but their large contracts make that unlikely.

LeBron scores 19 off bench in return, Bulls spoil party with 118-108 win


LOS ANGELES (AP) — LeBron James scored 19 points off the bench in his return from a monthlong injury absence, but Zach LaVine scored 32 points to lead the Chicago Bulls to a 118-108 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday.

DeMar DeRozan added 17 points for the Bulls, who easily overcame James’ return for their seventh win in nine games. LaVine hit 11 of his first 14 shots to lead an offensive effort that snapped the Lakers’ three-game winning streak despite the return of the NBA’s career scoring leader.

James sat out 13 games with right foot soreness, missing four weeks during the Lakers’ run at a playoff berth. The team provided few updates on his recovery, and his return came with little advance warning.

“I felt confident in the workouts that I had this week,” James said. “And the day after the workouts, when I woke up, stepped out down off the bed, I could possibly play today. And after my workout early before the game today, I knew I could play.”

For only the second time in his 20-year, 1,958-game NBA career, James wasn’t a starter. He came in as a reserve midway through the first quarter, doing his standard pregame chalk toss while receiving a standing ovation from Lakers fans. James got a field goal in every quarter, and he finished with eight rebounds, three assists and five turnovers in 30 minutes.

“You could see him getting his rhythm, his timing, his finishes, all of that,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said. “He’s a savvy veteran, one of the greatest ever to do it, so it’s not going to take all that much.”

Chicago largely controlled play despite James’ return, streaking to a 20-point lead in the second quarter. Los Angeles briefly got the lead down to single digits down the stretch, but got no closer.

“There are going to be swings, and that was the encouraging part,” Bulls coach Billy Donovan said. “I’m seeing a response back competitively.”

Patrick Beverley had 10 points and five assists in his first game against the Lakers since they traded him last month. Beverley has been outspoken about his desire to hurt the Lakers’ playoff hopes during this home-and-home series between the teams, but Davis and the other Lakers just smiled at his provocative talk.

When Beverley made a little hook shot with 1:12 left to boost Chicago’s lead back to double digits, Beverley slapped the floor and made the dismissive “too small” gesture sometimes used by NBA players to taunt their opponents, in this case James.

“I was just playing basketball,” Beverley said. “Obviously it’s good to see some old teammates, old coaching staff.”

Troy Brown Jr. and Malik Beasley scored 18 points apiece, but Anthony Davis managed just 15 points and nine rebounds as the Lakers (37-38) failed to get above .500 for the first time since Jan. 9, 2022.

The Lakers were without D’Angelo Russell, who missed his second straight game with a right hip injury. Los Angeles went 8-5 in James’ absence, but his return will force an adjustment of the chemistry built by his teammates in his absence.

“We came out a little flat, turned the ball over early, just weren’t aggressive enough, physical enough,” Ham said.

The Bulls largely controlled Davis even after Nikola Vucevic was ejected in the second quarter with two quick technical fouls when he argued what appeared to be a good call against him. Donovan jokingly wondered how Vucevic could be ejected when he was arguing in his native Serbian.

“Obviously it was a bad decision by me to react the way I did,” Vucevic said. “My mistake. I’m just glad my teammates came through for us. I obviously overreacted, for sure.”

Watch Dončić pick up 16th technical, will result in one-game suspension


Luka Dončić barks at the referees more than any player in the league, and with that he does not get the benefit of the doubt when he’s flirting with the edge of a technical foul.

That caught up with Dončić on Sunday, when he didn’t get a call on a leaning baseline jumper, said something to the nearby official, and racked up his 16th technical this season. That will mean an automatic one-game suspension unless it is rescinded (which is unlikely in this case).

Dončić likely will have to sit out Monday when the Mavericks play the Pacers on the second game of a back-to-back.

This suspension comes on the heels of Dončić being fined $35,000 — but not being given a technical foul at the time — for making a money gesture towards a referee in frustration after another recent Mavericks loss.

Dončić went on to have 40 points Sunday but the Mavericks lost again — their second time in a row to the tanking Hornets, their fourth in a row overall and they have now dropped 7-of-9. That has dropped them out of even the play-in to 11th in the West. The Mavericks need to rack up wins over the season’s final two weeks to even make the postseason.

And they must get that next win Monday without Dončić in the lineup.


UPDATE: LeBron “active,” will make return to court Sunday vs. Bulls

Celebrities At The Los Angeles Lakers Game
Allen Berezovsky/Getty Images

UPDATE: LeBron James has officially been upgraded to active and will make his return to the team on Sunday against the Chicago Bulls.


A couple of days ago, reports said LeBron James hoped to return and play the final few games before the season ended and he said there was no timeline for his return.

In less than 24 hours the Lakers have moved LeBron from “out” last game to “doubtful” and now — as of Sunday morning — questionable for the Lakers game against the Bulls. While nothing is confirmed, these are the steps a team takes before a player returns from injury. LeBron is going to test his foot pregame and make a decision.

LeBron had been pushing to return from a foot tendon injury that had sidelined him for 13 games. The Lakers have gone 8-5 in those games behind the second-best defense in the league over that stretch. What has struggled during those games has been the offense (23rd in the league) and LeBron instantly fixes that. He has averaged 29.5 points, 8.4 rebounds and 6.9 assists per game this season and the Laker offense has been six points per 100 possessions better when he has been on the court.

The Lakers currently sit tied for the No.7/8 seeds in the West, with an outside shot at climbing into the top six (they are 1.5 games back of the Lakers and Clippers who are tied for sixth, but if those teams go 4-3 the rest of the way the Lakers need to go 6-2 over their last eight just to tie them). The Lakers are also one game ahead of the 11-seed Dallas Mavericks and missing out on the playoffs entirely.

The Lakers need wins the rest of the way to secure a playoff spot, and some time to build chemistry heading into the playoffs. Having LeBron James helps with all of that.

Nets thrash Heat, move back up to No.6 seed in East

Brooklyn Nets v Miami Heat
Megan Briggs/Getty Images

MIAMI (AP) — All the Brooklyn Nets needed, coach Jacque Vaughn insisted, was one win.

They got it, and made it look easy.

Mikal Bridges scored 27 points, and the Nets opened the third quarter on a 31-6 run on the way to rolling past Miami 129-100 on Saturday night and leapfrogging the Heat back into the No. 6 spot in the Eastern Conference.

Cam Johnson added 23 points and Spencer Dinwiddie scored 15 for the Nets (40-34), who snapped a five-game slide. They’re only a half-game up on Miami (40-35) in the race for the sixth and final guaranteed playoff berth, but swept the Heat 3-0 this season and would also own a head-to-head tiebreaker.

“We had the mindset coming in that this was a playoff game,” Johnson said.

Max Strus scored 23 for the Heat, all of them in the first half. Tyler Herro scored 23, Jimmy Butler had 18 and Bam Adebayo finished with 16 for the Heat. Miami was outscored 64-31 after halftime.

“We have not been defending at a world-class level, the way we’re capable of … and the second half just became an avalanche,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.

Strus came off the bench and made his first nine shots, one of them putting Miami up 51-37 midway through the second quarter. Over the next 14 minutes, the Nets outscored Miami 54-24 – completely turning the game around, eventually leading by 32 and, for now, putting Brooklyn in position to escape the play-in tournament that’ll decide the final two East playoff berths.

“You see how this March Madness is and you’re one and you’re done,” Vaughn said. “And that’s part of it. I have not discussed any of the standings with this group. Really, we have gone day to day and tried to get a win.”

The Heat could have moved 1 1/2 games up on Brooklyn for sixth with a win.

“There has been nothing easy about this season and that doesn’t necessarily mean that has to be a negative thing,” Spoelstra said. “You have to embrace the struggle. You have to figure out ways to stay together … but we just got categorically outplayed tonight.”

It was Brooklyn’s second trip to Miami this season. The first was Jan. 8 – which ended up being the last time Kevin Durant played for the Nets, and the last time Durant and Kyrie Irving played together. Durant left that game with a knee injury, then got traded to Phoenix, and Irving has since been dealt to Dallas, as well.

The Nets were 27-13 after that night, second in the East, just a game behind Boston for the best record in the NBA. They’re 13-21 since, yet still have the Heat looking up at them in the standings – which Vaughn insists he hasn’t discussed with his team.

“You need the momentum, the confidence, the reassurance that you can get it done,” Vaughn said. “So, haven’t tried to complicate it more than that.”