NBA Power Rankings: Suns still on top, Grizzlies second, Celtics climbing

Phoenix Suns v Memphis Grizzlies
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The trade deadline has passed, the buyout market is heating up, but the top of the NBA Power Rankings doesn’t change with the Suns sitting on top, although Memphis leapfrogged the Warriors into second place this week.

 
Suns small icon 1. Suns (47-10, Last Week No. 1). Coaches will tell you there are no statement games in February, but the Suns easily handling the Bucks last Thursday was as close to a statement as it gets. These Suns are better than the team that went to the Finals a year ago (the Bucks are about the same, and that gap was evident). Phoenix now has a 5.5-game lead over the second-best team in the West (and the NBA) in Golden State, and the Suns have a much easier schedule the rest of the way. The Suns will finish as the top seed. The road to an NBA championship will run through Phoenix this season. Chris Paul and Devin Booker can relax and enjoy All-Star weekend.

 
Grizzlies small icon 2. Grizzlies (41-18, LW 4). Good on the Memphis front office for standing pat at the trade deadline and not making a “we need to capitalize on this” short-sighted move. This team is winning now with this core — the Grizzlies have won 9-of-10 with a top 10 offense and defense in that stretch. Of course, the hot stretch for the Griz is longer than that, they are a league-best 22-4 since Christmas. Why mess with that? Too many teams would, but the Grizzlies played it right at the deadline.

 
Warriors small icon 3. Warriors (42-16, LW 2). The Warriors defense that was the best in the league and the core of this team early in the season has stumbled of late with Draymond Green sidelined — they are 23rd in the NBA over their last five games. The Clippers beat the Warriors over the weekend because a shorthanded Los Angeles team watched Reggie Jackson and others get the matchups they wanted, then beat their man at the point of attack. The Warriors keep winning because of their offense, including Klay Thompson finding his grove.

 
Heat small icon 4. Heat (37-21, LW 3). The Heat are 5-1 since the return of Kyle Lowry, but most of the success has been about the defense locking opponents down (103.3 defensive rating over last six games, second best in the league for that stretch). Bam Adebayo is at the heart of this winning streak. both on the defensive end and averaging 22 points on 53.6% shooting and 118 rebounds over his last five games. Miami’s one trade at the deadline opened up a roster spot, expect them to be aggressive in trying to fill it with some veteran help.

 
Bucks small icon 5. Bucks (36-23, LW 5). The emergence of Grayson Allen and the step forward from Pat Connaughton allowed the Bucks to trade Donte DiVincenzo to bring in Serge Ibaka for needed frontline help (with Brook Lopez still out but expected to return later this season). Unfortunately, Connaughton broke a finger on his shooting hand just after the trade, which means a lot more Jordan Nwora for a few weeks. The Bucks keep on winning most nights, and it helps to have Giannis Antetokounmpo continuing to play at an MVP level.

 
Jazz small icon 6. Jazz (36-21, LW 9). Everybody calmed down in Salt Lake City now? The Jazz have rattled off six wins in a row, and Donovan Mitchell sat down for an interview and said, “I’m happy right now” and came off as very chill and comfortable with the situation. The buzz I have heard around the league is it still all comes down to the playoffs: If this Jazz team makes a deep run, then they stay the course as a franchise, but an early or ugly exit and new ownership and Danny Ainge will want to change things up. Flipping Joe Ingles‘ contract at the deadline for Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Juancho Hernangomez may have felt a little cold because Ingles was part of the franchise culture, but it is a solid basketball moe.

 
Celtics small icon 7. Celtics (34-25, LW 10). Boston continues to play lock-down defense — a 97 defensive rating over their last 10 games — and the addition of Derrick White should only improve them on that end. Boston sacrificed some size and versatility trading out Josh Richardson to get him, but White and Marcus Smart form a serious defensive backcourt. However, Smart’s sprained ankle is a bit of a concern going forward. The Celtics’ 9-game winning streak has locked them into the sixth seed in the East, out of the play-in, and the way the team is finally clicking it’s hard to imagine them sliding back in the standings.

 
Sixers small icon 8. 76ers (34-23, LW 8). Daryl Morey and the 76ers got their man in James Harden. Now they will bet on the idea that superstar players can figure out how to make it work together even if their games do not perfectly mesh (Harden prefers a big man who rolls to the rim, which is not Embiid, he wants touches but Harden gets lazy off-ball). Giving up Seth Curry stings but it’s the price of doing business — Philly is fully in its championship window now. Doc Rivers will unfairly get too much credit or blame for how this pairing goes, but it’s really up to Embiid and Harden to make it work. It needs to for both of them.

 
Mavericks small icon 9. Mavericks (34-24, LW 7). Dallas made the right trade, it was time to move on from Kristaps Porzingis. They brought him in to be a No. 2 next to Luka Doncic, they paid him to be a No. 2, and he couldn’t stay healthy enough to fulfill that promise. Mark Cuban and company will make a bold move to find a real No. 2 to pair with Luka Doncic eventually, but they have to be patient and wait for that play to come available. For the rest of this season and playoffs, it back to Doncic against the world. We can only hope for another playoff series against the Clippers — Doncic now has seven 42+ point games against them and last Thursday set a career-high with 51 against LA.

 
Cavaliers small icon 10. Cavaliers (35-23, LW 6). Caris LeVert is still finding his way with the Cavaliers, averaging 13.3 points a game (down 5 from with the Pacers) on 39.7% shooting, but there have been impressive moments. Such as when he scored eight points in the final five minutes of a comeback win over his former team, the Pacers. And there have been flashes of chemistry with Darius Garland. The young Cavaliers do not strike fear in the hearts of the top teams in the East (at least compared to other teams in the top six), but their gritty and surprising play this year means they will be a tough out no matter where they land in the playoffs.

 
Bulls small icon 11. Bulls (37-21, LW 12). When you get mentioned in the same sentence as Wilt Chamberlain, you know you’re doing something right. As noted by Justin Kubatko of basketball-reference.com, DeMar DeRozan now has scored 35+ points for 7 straight games, shooting at least 50% in each of those games, and the only other player to do that is Wilt. DeRozan has pulled the Bulls to a 5-2 record in those last seven, he and the offense continuing to cover up for a bottom-10 defense that is lost without Alex Caruso and Lonzo Ball.

 
Raptors small icon 12. Raptors (31-25, LW 11). Flipping Goran Dragic for Thaddeus Young was a great move by Masai Ujiri, he will fit right in with the switchable and versatile Toronto roster. We will see if there are any last-minute All-Star Game dropouts from the East (maybe Zach LaVine?) because Pascal Siakam should be the next man up. He started the season a little slow but is averaging 22 points, 8.7 rebounds and 5.1 assists a game (he might have gotten the previous All-Star Game call-up, but with the game itself in Cleveland Adam Silver went with Jarrett Allen). The Raptors had won eight in a row before dropping their last two, and they come out of the All-Star break with three games on the road.

 
Nuggets small icon 13. Nuggets (32-25, LW 13). Part of Nikola Jokic‘s bid to repeat as MVP is his improved defense this season, which was highlighted by his game-saving block against OG Anunoby. The biggest impediment to Jokic repeating is whether Denver will get enough wins and rank high enough in the standings to please some voters — they currently sit sixth in the West. Of course, what would really boost that standing is the healthy return of Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr., both of which are reportedly going to be back this season but there is no timetable for either.

 
14. Timberwolves (31-27, LW 14). Minnesota stood firm at the deadline, deciding to keep their core together with the belief it can lead them to the playoffs (one could argue they should have kept the core of Karl-Anthony Towns, Zach LaVine and Andrew Wiggins together because how would that look now, but that’s for another timeline). The Timberwolves sit just 1.5 games back of the Nuggets and the No. 6 seed (avoiding the play-in games) but Minnesota has a much tougher schedule the rest of the way.

 
Nets small icon 15. Nets (30-27, LW 15). Brooklyn’s front office and Kevin Durant finally got the message from James Harden’s passive-aggressive ways, and traded him for Ben Simmons (although the steal of that trade could be Seth Curry). On paper, Simmons is a perfect fit next to Durant and part-timer Kyrie Irving, but he would need to accept more of a Draymond Green style role as a leader of the defense and secondary playmaker on offense. Is Simmons ready to do that, or does he still see himself as a point guard and a primary offensive option? Because in the halfcourt, Steve Nash can’t take the ball out of Durant’s or Irving’s hands.

 
Hawks small icon 16. Hawks (27-30 LW 16). The up-and-down nature of Atlanta this season — beating Cleveland, losing to the Spurs this week — could be chalked up to “that’s how it is” when you have the second-ranked offense and 27th ranked defense in the league. Clint Capela told The Athletic it is more than just that: “Our approach the entire season, we were already thinking we were going to the playoffs. Our approach wasn’t about the next game; it was, ‘Oh, we won this. We won that.’ That’s the problem with teams that are not used to this.” That’s concerning.

 
Clippers small icon17. Clippers (29-31, LW 17). It fits with the Clippers’ luck this season that they trade for Norman Powell, he looks good in a few outings, then he fractures his foot and is out indefinitely. This team lines up to be a title contender next season — if they can keep everyone healthy. I’m not sure even Steve Ballmer can afford enough bubble wrap to make that happen. As for this season’s gritty Clippers, their next five games are against the rebuilding Rockets and struggling Lakers, get on a little run through those games and they can all but secure a play-in spot.

 
Hornets small icon 18. Hornets (29-30, LW 19). Picking up Montrezl Harrell at the trade deadline — plus a week off at the All-Star break — hopefully can snap the Hornets out of the funk they have been in. The Hornets’ once top-10 offense this season is 29th in the league over the last nine games, dragging down an improved defense. Charlotte needs Harrell to fire up the role players around LaMelo Ball and Terry Rozier, because that group seems to have hit a wall.

 
Lakers small icon 19. Lakers (26-31, LW 18). The Lakers stood pat at the trade deadline, and while that frustrated some of the fan base it was the right move considering the options in front of them (well, they could have dumped DeAndre Jordan or Kent Bazemore salaries to save tax money, but they chose not to). While LeBron James continues to play at an All-NBA level (and set records passing Kareem), this stat from Andy Bailey sums up the frustration with everyone else: During Anthony Davis‘ nearly 3 seasons in LA, the Lakers are -2.6 per 100 possessions when he is on the floor without LeBron.

 
Spurs small icon 20. Spurs (22-36, LW 22). San Antonio did what a rebuilding team should do at the trade deadline and move veterans — Thaddeus Young and Derrick White — for first-round picks. Still, it’s disappointing not to see White next to Dejounte Murray, they had the promise of a long-term backcourt, but the pairing wasn’t good enough to take the Spurs where they wanted to go. San Antonio sits 12th in the West, only two games out of the play-in, but considering both New Orleans and Sacramento went all-in to get that spot, it feels like the Spurs will be comfortable with a few more lottery balls for the draft.

 
Pelicans small icon 21. Pelicans (23-35, LW 21). CJ McCollum averages 26 points a game on 50.6% shooting coming to the Big Easy, both numbers that are up from his Portland numbers this season (however, his 3-point shooting percentage has fallen to 33.3%). He’s thriving with more responsibility on his plate. But the Pelicans have still lost 3-of-4 and are not gaining ground on the Trail Blazers. It looks like Zion Williamson could need another surgery, a reminder that even if New Orleans makes the play-in, he is not going to return this season. Does he still get a max contract extension this summer?

 
Knicks small icon 22. Knicks (25-33, LW 20). The #freeCamReddish movement fell short at the trade deadline, the former Hawk is still a member of the Knicks and still buried on the bench of Tom Thibodeau (who didn’t want him in the first place). The Knicks head into the All-Star break as the 12th seed in the East. The good news is they are just 2.5 games out of the play-in, the bad news is they have one of the toughest remaining schedules in the NBA. New York’s only real hope at the postseason is Julius Randle and RJ Barrett turn it around and have spectacular final months of the season. Not sure anyone is betting on that, however.

 
Blazers small icon 23. Trail Blazers (24-34, LW 24). Portland stripped down its roster at the trade deadline to retool fast around Damian Lillard in the next couple of years. There is skepticism around the league that the Blazers can land the level of players Lillard wants, which could ultimately force him to leave. The vultures are still circling. As for this season, the Trail Blazers have won three in a row, including one over the Bucks, and have a much easier remaining schedule than the Kings or Pelicans. Portland could hold on to this spot.

 
Wizards small icon 24. Wizards (26-30, LW 23). There were serious chemistry issues in the Washington locker room — players have talked about the fight for minutes and touches — so it was time to make a change. But is Kristaps Porzingis the answer? If healthy his shooting and interior defense are welcome, but we saw how things panned out in Dallas, and a similar scenario in our nation’s capital could have Bradley Beal thinking about moving on. Porzingis is going to get his chance, however.

 
Kings small icon 25. Kings (22-37, LW 26). Domantas Sabonis‘ numbers are a little off since being traded to Sacramento — 15.7 points a game on 53.8 shooting, plus 11.3 rebounds a game, all of that down from what he did in Indiana — but it feels like an upgrade for the Kings, so they will take it. The Kings made their moves to get into the play-in this season (and be a playoff team next season) and they sit 13th in the West, 2.5 games out of the 10 seed, but they come out of the All-Star break with a home game against the Nuggets then five straight on the road. Sacramento has a much tougher remaining schedule than the Portland team they are trying to catch.

 
Pacers small icon 26. Pacers (19-40, LW 25). It’s just three games, but Tyrese Haliburton has put up some serious numbers since coming to Indiana: 20.7 points a game with a 56.3 eFG% and 10 assists a game. Once they Pacers get Myles Turner, Malcolm Brogdon and everyone else healthy and on the court together, this should look like a modern and pretty good NBA team. But that is not going to salvage this season. The Pacers have lost seven in a row and 11-of-13, they are not making a push for the postseason this year.

 
Thunder small icon 27. Thunder (18-39, LW 27). There are legitimate reasons to be hopeful in Oklahoma City. For one, the Thunder have the second-best defense in the NBA over their last 10 games, an impressive if improbable stat, and their play on that end of the court is keeping them in games. The other positive of late is the play of Josh Giddey, especially since Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is out with a sprained ankle. Giddey had a triple-double in the win over the Knicks and Giddey has shown off some pinpoint passing off the dribble.

 
Magic small icon 28. Magic 13-46, LW 28). If there was a big surprise at the trade deadline, it was that Terrence Ross was not traded. Now all eyes are on Orlando to see if Gary Harris or anyone else gets bought out and becomes a free agent. The Magic have lost 5-of-6, but this still feels like a season with some bright spots for them because of the emergence of Cole Anthony, Franz Wagner and Wendell Carter Jr. Combine them with a healthy Markelle Fultz, R.J. Hampton and Jonathan Isaac next season and this could be an interesting, league-pass favorite team.

 
Rockets small icon 29. Rockets (15-41, LW 29). A little surprised Eric Gordon is still wearing red after the trade deadline, but the team traded Daniel Theis and waived Enis Freedom to create more playing time for rookie Alperen Sengun. Houston has lost 9-of-10 and they will shrug about that as they are happy to get the minutes for Kevin Porter Jr., Jalen Green, Sengun and the rest of a young core. Looking forward to seeing what Green and all that athleticism can do in the All-Star Saturday Dunk Contest.

Pistons small icon 30. Pistons (12-45, LW 30). A little surprised Jerami Grant didn’t find himself traded at the deadline, but Detroit was not liking the offers it got. Grant heads into the summer looking for a $112 million max extension and the Pistons are looking for the team that wants to pay it. Also, not opposed to taking a run at Marvin Bagley III. Probably nothing comes of it, but not a bad roll of the dice for a rebuilding team.

Jimmy Butler returns, hits clutch shots to lift Heat past Celtics

Miami Heat v Boston Celtics
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BOSTON (AP) — Bam Adebayo scored 28 points, Tyler Herro had 26 and the Miami Heat completed a split of two games in Boston, beating the Celtics 120-116 on Friday night after Jaylen Brown banked in a long 3-pointer to force overtime.

Heat leading scorer Jimmy Butler returned to the lineup and had 25 points in 36 minutes after missing the previous seven games with a sore right knee. He added 15 rebounds.

“Obviously having JB back is big time for us,” Herro said. “He helps us in so many different ways.”

Kyle Lowry chipped in with 20 points before fouling out in OT for the Heat, who sent Boston to just its second loss in 16 games.

“My team welcomed me back and let me do what I do,” Butler said. “It was a big `W’ for the team.”

Brown sent the game to overtime by banking in his long 3 with 1.7 seconds to play in regulation. He finished with 37 points.

“It felt good coming off my hand,” Brown said. “I know we wanted to get a shot up off the rim as fast as possible, just in case we missed we could get a rebound, a tip out.”

The Celtics had won 10 straight at TD Garden.

Boston star Jayson Tatum scored just 14 points on a cold shooting night, going 5 of 18 from the floor, including 0 of 7 on 3-point attempts. He had 49 points in the Celtics’ 134-121 victory on Wednesday night.

“That’s the biggest thing about the league; you’re not going to stop anybody from just scoring,” Adebayo said. “I feel like (we’re) making him take tough shots every time we play him and living with the result.”

Butler hit a clutch jumper over Al Horford, making it 110-107 with 5.1 seconds left in regulation before Brown took a pass near midcourt, dribbled to his right and nailed his shot.

In OT, the teams were tied twice before Butler nailed a foul-line jumper over Horford with 1:45 left, but Brown hit two free throws to tie it.

Adebayo nailed two free throws and, after Tatum misfired on a 3, Butler hit a jumper to seal it.

“Jimmy made two tough, tough baskets,” Brown said. “That’s just a credit to his work and his skill and his development. He gets going in games like this; on the road in a hostile environment. … Tonight, two shots that in our defensive scheme we could live with, but Jimmy a big-time player made both of them.”

Unlike Wednesday, when shots were open more and both teams were making them effectively (each shot over 50%), defense was tighter and it resembled more of the postseason matchup last season between the pair that went seven games before Boston captured the Eastern Conference title.

Anthony Davis scores 44, outduels Antetokounmpo (40) leading Lakers past Bucks

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MILWAUKEE (AP) — Anthony Davis and LeBron James tore apart the NBA’s top-rated defense and gave Los Angeles Lakers coach Darvin Ham a triumphant return to Milwaukee.

Davis scored a season-high 44 points and James passed Magic Johnson on the NBA’s career assists list Friday night in the Lakers’ thrilling 133-129 victory over the Bucks.

It marked Ham’s first game in Milwaukee since taking over as Lakers coach after working as an assistant on Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer’s staff from 2018-22.

Ham and Budenholzer shared a big hug before the game.

“It was a beautiful night,” said Ham, who also played for the Bucks from 1999-2002.

It also was quite a night for Davis, a Green Bay Packers fan who delivered his big performance with Aaron Rodgers in the stands. Davis spoke with the Packers’ four-time MVP quarterback before and after the game.

“I saw him before the game and he said, `I need 30 tonight,”‘ Davis said. “I just saw him and he said, `I only said 30, not 40.’ It’s always good for him to come out and watch the Lakers play.”

James made a tiebreaking 3-pointer with 3:22 left and finished with 28 points, 11 assists and eight rebounds. He upped his career assist total to 10,144 and moved into sixth place, ahead of Johnson’s 10,133.

“It means a lot, obviously,” James said. “The way Magic approached the game, it was very infectious. His teammates loved playing with him because of the joy he played with and the ability to pass the ball and get other guys involved. He was always excited about seeing his teammates be great. I always admired that in him. What’s even more humbling and super duper cool is the fact that I’m doing it in a Laker uniform and knowing how much Magic means to the Laker franchise.”

The Lakers had the highest point total and field-goal percentage (.536) the Bucks had allowed all season. Milwaukee entered Friday with the NBA’s top defensive rating.

“It was too easy, too easy, too easy,” Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo said. “They were living in the paint. That’s not who we are.”

Los Angeles withstood a 40-point performance from Antetokounmpo, who also had seven rebounds and five assists.

The Lakers also spoiled the 2022-23 debut of Milwaukee’s Khris Middleton, who had 17 points and seven assists in his return from offseason wrist surgery.

Milwaukee missed two potential tying 3-pointers in the final 20 seconds.

After Davis missed a fadeaway jumper, the Bucks called a timeout with 21.4 seconds left and then found an open Grayson Allen, whose 3-point attempt went off the side of the rim.

The Lakers’ Russell Westbrook missed two free throws with 13.3 seconds remaining, but Jrue Holiday couldn’t connect on a 3-pointer with just over five seconds left. Davis made a clinching free throw with 4.5 seconds left.

“Grayson got a good look,” Budenholzer said. “Good execution. Good screening. We’ll live with that shot all the time. And Jrue, similar. We got the kick ahead, playing against a defense that’s not set. Jrue, kind of a good rhythm shot for him. It was contested, but Jrue was 6 of 12 tonight (from 3-point range). He was feeling it.”

Holiday had 28 points for the Bucks, and Bobby Portis added 15 points and 10 rebounds. Westbrook had 15 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds for the Lakers.

Hawks’ Collins out weeks with sprained ankle, Hunter also at least a week

Atlanta Hawks v Philadelphia 76ers
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ATLANTA (AP) — The Atlanta Hawks will be without both of their starting forwards for at least the next three games.

John Collins will miss at least the next two weeks with a sprained left ankle and De'Andre Hunter will be sidelined for at least one week with a right hip flexor strain, the Hawks said Thursday.

Both departed with injuries during Wednesday night’s win over Orlando. Hunter played only seven minutes and Collins was hurt after a dunk that didn’t count at the halftime buzzer.

Hunter is third on the Hawks in scoring at 14.9 points per game, and Collins is fourth at 12.3 points.

Hunter, a fourth-year player out of Virginia, has yet to play a full season because of various injuries.

Draymond Green wants to play 4-5 more years, ideally with Warriors, not stressed about contract

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Jordan Poole got a contract extension from the Warriors this summer. So did Andrew Wiggins.

Draymond Green did not — and he punched Poole and was away from the team for a time.

All this has led to speculation about the future of Green in Golden State. He has a $27.6 million player option for next season, but he could become a free agent this summer. With the Warriors’ payroll through the roof — Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson are on max extensions, Poole and Wiggins just got paid, and contract extensions for Jonathan Kuminga and the rest of the young players are coming — there are questions about how long Green will be in the Bay Area.

In an open and honest interview with Marc Spears of ESPN’s Andscape, Green talked about everything from his relationship with Poole after the punch to his future. Here are a few highlights:

“I want to play another four or five more years. That would be enough for me.”

“You can look around the NBA right now. There are five guys that’s been on a team for 11 years-plus. We have three of them [along with Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson]. It’s a very rare thing. There’s 470, 480 players in the NBA? There are five guys that’s been with his team for 11 years plus. That’s amazing. So, you don’t just give that away. So, absolutely I’d be interested in that.”

On rumors he wants to play with LeBron James and the Lakers: “I never said that. People can say what they want. I’m also not really one to react much to what one may say. I react to things when I want to react to it. I don’t react to things just because somebody said it.”

Is he worried about his next contract: “No, not at all. I have a great agent [Rich Paul]. The best agent in the business. That’s why you align yourself with an incredible agent, because they handle the business. I play basketball. That’s what I want.”

I don’t doubt there is mutual interest in Green staying with the Warriors, the question is at what price. It’s not a max. As for the threat of him bolting, Green is still an elite defender and secondary playmaker, but it’s fair to wonder what the free agent market would look like for him. Green is not the scoring threat he once was, and his unique skill set is not a plug-and-play fit with every roster and system (does he really fit on the Lakers, for example).

The conventional wisdom around the league right now is that Green will opt into the final year of his contract with the Warriors — especially if they make another deep playoff run — because that level of money is not out there for him. That said, it only takes one owner to fall in love with the idea and send his GM out to get the deal done. The market may be there for him after all, or he may be open to the security of three or four years with another team but at a lower per-year dollar amount.

Green also talks about his relationship with Poole in the Q&A and makes it sound professional and business-like. Which is all it has to be, but it’s not the “playing with joy” model the Warriors are built upon.