NBA Power Rankings: Bucks top post trade deadline edition


The Milwaukee Bucks have won nine in a row — and added a quality player at the trade deadline in Jae Crowder — which puts them on top of this week’s NBC Sports NBA Power Rankings, the post trade deadline edition.

Bucks small icon 1. Bucks (38-17, Last week No. 3). Winners of nine in a row and doing it mostly with defense — a defense that is about to get better with the addition of Jae Crowder at the deadline. “I just feel like Jae is a winner at the end of the day,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “His teams are either in the conference finals, or the NBA Finals, seems like every year for the last five or six years. You just look up and he’s playing. And there’s a reason you know, I think his toughness, his defense, what he brings on that end of the court is special, and his shotmaking and his IQ on the offensive end. He does a lot of things that are about winning.”

Celtics small icon 2. Celtics (39-16, LW 2). Boston made a small move at the trade deadline bringing in veteran big man Mike Muscala from the Thunder, and it’s a move all about the playoffs. Not that Muscala will get a lot of postseason run (he will likely be a human victory cigar), but it’s about getting Robert Williams III and Al Horford to the playoffs healthy. Boston has a packed schedule the rest of the way, with five back-to-backs, and Muscala is the kind of solid veteran Joe Mazzulla can trust to put out there in those games and keep the key players rested for the games that matter in April. Big tests heading into the All-Star break against Grizzlies and Bucks.

Sixers small icon 3. 76ers (34-19, LW 1). Jalen McDaniels is in and Matisse Thybulle is out as part of a four-team trade for the 76ers. McDaniels is a 6’9″ forward who is a good defender (not as good as Thybulle, but good) who brings more offensive juice than the guy he replaces (37.4% from 3 this season, can finish through contact at the rim). Philly’s schedule looks much easier this week after the deadline, they have a tough game against the Knicks but then get the new-look Durant-less Nets. After the All-Star break the Sixers will be tested with a tough schedule.

Cavaliers small icon 4. Cavaliers (35-22, LW 5). One of the few teams to do nothing at the trade deadline, and it makes some sense: The front office likes its young team and wants to see what it looks like in the cauldron of the playoffs before making changes. The Cavs are not buying out Kevin Love, either, he will be sticking around. Evan Mobley has been playing better of late (after a flat start to the season) averaging 18.9 points per game on 54% shooting (plus six rebounds a night) over his last 10 games. The Cavaliers have a soft week coming up and should be able to pick up some wins.

Nuggets small icon 5. Nuggets (38-18, LW 4). Denver made a nice upgrade at a position of need at the deadline — Bones Hyland is out and center Thomas Bryant is in after a trade from the Lakers. Bryant was a fan favorite in Los Angeles as an offense-first big man and he should be able to give the Nuggets a solid 15 minutes a night off the bench while Nikola Jokić gets a little rest. If the Nuggets want another point guard, there are plenty on the buyout market. On the court the Nuggets have won 4-of-6 and are on the road until the All-Star break, with a showdown next Monday against the Heat looking interesting.

Grizzlies small icon 6. Grizzlies (33-21, LW 7). The Grizzlies have lost 8-of-10, nobody feared them, and while they made a nice small move — bringing in sharpshooter Luke Kennard — the West was hit with an influx of elite talents such as Durant and Irving. CJ McCollum thought that was some karmic retribution for Ja Morant saying he did not fear anyone in the West. Memphis needs some wins, and getting one Sunday in Boston won’t be easy.

Nets small icon 7. Nets (33-22, LW 6). In a matter of days, the Nets superstar era ended, collapsing under the weight of its own expectations and player egos. Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant are gone, but the Nets aren’t rebuilding from nothing — they have a roster of good role players that other teams will covet in future trading windows, plus they replenished their supply of draft picks. Also, with 27 games to go the Nets have a 3.5-game cushion for a top 6 seed and a 6.5-game cushion to make the postseason in the play-in. This is to say, these Nets will be playing after the season ends, they are not falling out of the postseason (and the playoffs are a real possibility).

Heat small icon 8. Heat (30-25, LW 8).While Miami kicked a lot of tires on the trade market, it all returned to Kyle Lowry. The Heat tried to find him a new home, but there were no takers, including the Nets who liked the Suns’ massive package for Durant better than a Lowry-based one from Miami. The Heat made a small trade with Dewayne Dedmon to free up cap space and a roster spot, which could see them make moves on the buyout market. Miami has some winnable games to help pad their record this week against Houston and Orlando, and the Heat have to be focused for the teams they should beat, not something they have done consistently this season.

Kings small icon 9. Kings (31-23, LW 9). Sacramento became part of Brooklyn’s Kessler Edwards salary dump because Edwards has shown potential as a defensive-minded wing and this was a good roll of the dice on a young, inexpensive player (cheaper than Matisse Thybulle, who the Kings also were in discussions about but did not land). Sacramento has held its own, going 4-3 on its 7-game road trip, and now the team is home for two games against the new-look Dallas Mavericks, games that will carry a lot of weight in West when it comes to playoff/play-in seedings.

Mavericks small icon 10. Mavericks (30-26, LW 11). It was a move of desperation, it could backfire in the long run, but adding Kyrie Irving to a lineup with Luka Dončić could lead to the most dynamic offense in the NBA the rest of the season (and beyond, if they re-sign him). We’re talking about is two elite shot creators, and Irving has shown before in multiple stops he knows how to play off the ball with a superstar. The question is defense — the Mavericks were already bottom 10 and just traded away their best defender. How far can they go just trying to outgun teams?

Suns small icon 11. Suns (30-27, LW 15). Credit Mat Ishbia, not just for coming in as the new owner and looking to make a splash, but for being willing to pay for a contender the way Sarver would not — adding Kevin Durant adds $45 million to this season’s payroll and luxury tax numbers and he jumped in with both feet. A core four of Kevin Durant, Devin Booker, Chris Paul and Deandre Ayton is a threat to come out of the West, but they need to get stops (Ayton needs to be the rim protector he shows in flashes) and some of the role players beyond that top four have to step up. The roster is thin right now (it can be addressed this summer) but the Suns are now the betting favorite in the West. And with good reason.

Clippers small icon12. Clippers (31-27, LW 13). The Clippers did what they set out to do at the trade deadline, they remade their point guard rotation — Eric Gordon and Bones Hyland are in — and they got some depth at center in Mason Plumlee. Does that make the Clippers better? Marginally. But it doesn’t change the core issue — this team needs as much time as possible over the coming months with Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and the rest of the rotation playing games and developing some good habits. Because right now they don’t have enough of those to win in the playoffs. Still, they’ve hung on to a top-five seed in the West. As an aside, did we know Norman Powell could do this?

Warriors small icon 13. Warriors (28-27, LW 10). It wasn’t easy to give up on a former No.2 pick, but the Warriors are a win-now team and James Wiseman just is not on that timeline. It was the right move, as was bringing back Gary Payton II to add depth and much-needed defense to the rotation. Stephen Curry is out “weeks” with a shin injury (probably close to a month, the Warriors hope it is less than that). The Warriors have gone 8-8 this season when Curry has sat, if they can continue that level of play, they should be able to keep their heads above water until he returns (then maybe the Warriors can flip the switch).

Knicks small icon 14. Knicks (30-26, LW 12). This was a trade deadline Tom Thibodeau should love — Cam Reddish is out and Josh Hart is in. Reddish was never a fit with Thibodeau (or in his previous stops), but he gets a chance in Portland, while Josh Hart reunites with Villanova teammate Jalen Brunson. Hart is a rock-solid role player on both ends that Thibodeau can trust.

Pelicans small icon 15. Pelicans (29-27, LW 19). New Orleans added a little veteran stability at the trade deadline bringing in Josh Richardson as a 3&D wing who will not be rattled by the moment. The Pelicans as an organization have leaned into guys who spent at least three years in college: CJ McCollum, Larry Nance Jr., Herb Jones, Jose Alvarado and now Richardson. Brandon Ingram has started to look comfortable again and not coincidentally the Pelicans have won three in a row, with three games coming up — the Cavaliers, Thunder, and Lakers — that could give them a little bump before the All-Star break.

16. Timberwolves (30-28, LW 16). D'Angelo Russell and his shoot-first game was not a fit with this roster, and specifically with Rudy Gobert (there was some tension there). Veteran point guard Mike Conley should be a better fit, he is a pass-first point guard and high-level floor general that can direct this team on the court, and is a slightly better defender than Russell (not a high bar). Tough tests are heading into the All-Star break this week, with games at Memphis and new-look Dallas.

Hawks small icon 17. Hawks (28-28, LW 18). John Collins is now, and forever shall be (apparently), a member of the Atlanta Hawks. He once again was at the forefront of trade rumors, topping lists of guys likely to be traded, only not to be moved when the deadline came. Atlanta made other moves at the trade deadline, but adding another athletic forward in Saddiq Bey was the group’s biggest and potentially most impactful. For all the talent on this roster, including Bey and Collins, not to mention Trae Young, the Hawks should have a better record than this. They have a couple of winnable games before the deadline, then a game against the Knicks the night before the All-Star break starts where they need their heads in the game and not in Cancun.

Raptors small icon 18. Raptors (26-30, LW 20). All eyes were on the Raptors in the run-up to the trade deadline, teams were calling and talking O.G. Anunoby (and getting shot down if they asked about Pascal Siakam they got shot down), but the move they made was adding center, Jakob Poeltl. He brings skills they need — primarily a defensive presence at the rim, but he sets a good screen and has a rounded offensive game — but it’s also a sign Masai Ujiri isn’t ready to blow this up. The Raptors are at home against Utah, Orlando and New Orleans before the break.

Thunder small icon 19. Thunder (26-28, LW 17). Oklahoma City moved around big men at the deadline, sending out Mike Muscala (to Boston) and bringing in Dario Saric (from Phoenix) and in the process they added three more second-round picks to their already massive collection of those. The Thunder are thinking play-in and with good reason — they sit just half a game out of the No. 10 seed, and OKC has the easiest remaining schedule in the West. Getting into the top 10 is within reach.

Jazz small icon 20. Jazz (27-29, LW 14). It may have disappointed some fans, but this pivot toward tanking was the right move to make, the best version of this team isn’t that good, the fast start just threw everyone off. Was getting the Lakers’ 2027 first-round pick — top four protected — worth giving up Mike Conley, Malik Beasley and Jarred Vanderbilt? It isn’t a bad outcome, but it seemed a little below his standard after the hauls Danny Ainge swung this summer for Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell. Still, that could be a very valuable first-rounder. Russell Westbrook will be bought out, both sides agree he is not a fit playing in Utah for the Jazz.

Blazers small icon 21. Trail Blazers (27-28, LW 22). Portland made a few moves at the deadline, but they add another wing with potential in Matisse Thybulle (his defense replaces Gary Payton II, who was traded back to the Bay Area), and they got Cam Reddish out of New York. None of these trades moves the needle for a team trying to find its way into the play-in, but the Blazers were not trading Lillard either (teams did call). The Trail Blazers face the Thunder, Lakers and Wizards before Lillard heads to Salt Lake City for the All-Star Game.

Bulls small icon 22. Bulls (26-29, LW 25). The Bulls stood pat at the trade deadline, and now they will talk with Nikola Vucevic about an extension (both sides seem open to it). The Bulls are three games below .500 and a move at the deadline might have given the squad the jolt it needs (especially with Lonzo Ball unlikely to return this season). What direction are the Bulls headed? In the short term they are headed to Cleveland as they face the Cavs, Magic and Pacers before the All-Star break.

Wizards small icon 23. Wizards (25-29, LW 21). Washington was quiet at the trade deadline, with only the Rui Hachimura to the Lakers move to mention. There are big issues of direction and roster for this franchise to address, but GM Tommy Sheppard told NBC Sports Washington “I’d rather address it in the much bigger picture and that’s something for the summer.” The Wizards need to start racking up some wins if they are going to make the postseason and they hit the road to face the Curry-less Warriors, Trail Blazers, then Timberwolves before the All-Star break.

Lakers small icon 24. Lakers 25-31, LW 23). The Lakers got better at the trade deadline, their four acquisitions — Hachimura, D’Angelo Russell, Malik Beasley, Jarred Vanderbilt, Mo Bomba — provide depth, defense and most importantly much more shooting around LeBron James and Anthony Davis. It’s not enough to make the Lakers contenders, but it’s enough to strike fear into teams — if LeBron and Davis are healthy — come the playoffs. First, the Lakers have to get to the playoffs, they are six games below .500 and have lost three in a row. They face the warriors, Trail Blazers and Pelicans before the break.

Pacers small icon 25. Pacers (25-31, LW 24). Indiana made some moves around the edges — adding Serge Ibaka, Jordan Nwora, George Hill, and getting an extra second-round pick — but management signaled their direction when they extended Myles Turner with a massive contract. =All-Star Tyrese Haliburton is back on the court but he hasn’t been the same guy his last five games, with his scoring and shooting efficiency off. He could use the coming All-Star break (once his duties in Salt Lake City are done).

Magic small icon 26. Magic 22-33, LW 26). Orlando swapped Mo Bomba for Patrick Beverley (who they will buyout and make a free agent) and got a second-round pick for their troubles, but otherwise were quiet during the trade deadline. The Magic continued their run of good play the past couple of weeks beating the Nuggets on Thursday, giving Orlando four wins in their last six, with one of those victories against the 76ers. They face the Heat, Bulls and Raptors before the All-Star break.

Hornets small icon 27. Hornets (15-40, LW 27). Charlotte made a couple of moves around the deadline, trading out Jalen McDaniels and Mason Plumlee, and in return getting Reggie Jackson (who the Hornets will buy out), Svi Mykhailiuk and a handful of second-round picks. However, no big moves sending out Terry Rozier or something of that level. The rest of this season will be Charlotte in the Wembanyama sweepstakes, but they have some big roster questions to answer this coming offseason.

Pistons small icon 28. Pistons (14-42, LW 28). If you’re wondering what happened to all the centers in the NBA, they are in Detroit. The Pistons traded for former No.2 pick James Wiseman, and he will now move into a frontcourt with Isaiah Stewart, Marvin Bagley, Jalen Duren and
Nerlens Noel. Wiseman is a good roll of the dice by the Pistons (much as Bagley was), there’s a lot of talent, maybe a new setting — and in a system better suited to his skill sets than the read-and-react system of the Warriors — Wiseman will find his groove.

Rockets small icon 29. Rockets (13-42, LW 29). Houston was one of the big winners of the trade deadline, not because they sent out Eric Gordon and got Danny Green and John Wall (Wall will be waived). No, they win because they control every Nets’ first-round pick between now and 2027 — either outright or have swap rights — and Brooklyn got a lot worse over the last few days. Those are going to be valuable picks to use or trade going forward.

Spurs small icon 30. Spurs (14-41, LW 30). San Antonio traded out Jakob Poeltl and got back Khem Birch, but more importantly a protected 2024 first-round pick, plus two future second-round picks. The Spurs keep racking up good draft picks for their rebuild. It was the same thing in the trade with the Heat, where Dewayne Dedmon changed teams and the Spurs added the Heat’s second-round pick in 2028.

Luka Dončić fined for money gesture toward referee after loss


The Mavericks were livid about the officiating in their loss to the Warriors, particularly the miscommunication about a third-quarter out-of-bounds play that gave Golden State an uncontested bucket in what ended up being a two-point game.

Frustrated or not, everyone knew Luka Dončić crossed a line and would get fined when he made a gesture suggesting the referees were paid off.

Friday the NBA came down with a $35,000 fine for Dončić “for directing an inappropriate and unprofessional gesture toward a game official.” While that’s a steep price it could have been much worse — the referee did not give Dončić a technical foul at the time, which would have been his 16th and triggered a one-game suspension without pay.

Dončić wasn’t the only person fined by the league for snapping at the officials, Suns coach Monty Williams was fined $20,000 on Friday “for public criticism of the officiating.” Williams was frustrated after losing to the Lakers on a night where Los Angeles got to the line 46 times to Phoenix’s 20.

“Where do you see a game with 46 free throws for one team?” Williams said after the game. “That’s just not right. I don’t care how you slice it. It is happening to us too much. Other teams are reaching, other teams are hitting, and we’re not getting the same call, and I’m tired of it. It’s old… I’m over it. Been talking about the same thing for a while. Doesn’t matter what team it is.”

It doesn’t matter what team it is for a reason. First, the Suns do not draw a lot of fouls because they are not a team that puts a lot of pressure on the rim (especially without Kevin Durant), they settle for jump shots. Second, they have the highest foul rate in the league — they foul a lot. Those two things will lead to a free throw disparity nightly (they had players who could draw fouls, Mikal Bridges is doing it now in Brooklyn, but the Suns didn’t put the ball in his and ask him to attack as the Nets have, Phoenix used him as a shooter and cutter off the ball more often).

The tensions between players and referees feel ratcheted up this season, and these are just the latest examples.

Report: Kevin Durant targeting March 29 return vs. Timberwolves


When Kevin Durant sprained his ankle during warmups, the Suns said he would be re-evaluated in three weeks. It turns out it may be more than a re-evaluation.

Durant is targeting a return almost three weeks to the day from when he injured himself, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

There has been no official update from the Suns, but Durant’s camp has always been optimistic about a return.

The Suns have gone 2-5 without Durant and slid into a virtual tie with the Clippers for the No. 4 seed in the West. If Durant returns Wednesday, Phoenix would have seven games left to hold off Los Angeles and retain home court in the first round of the playoffs. More importantly, they could generate some chemistry before the postseason begins.

Durant averaged 26.7 points and 7.3 assists a game with a ridiculous 80.8 true shooting percentage in his three games with the Suns, and the team won all three games. The fit seemed almost seamless and if the Suns can get back to that they are a threat to win the wide-open West.

It’s going to be a wild final couple of weeks in the West.

Where’s the beef? Anthony Davis says ‘Me and Bron have one of the best relationships’ in NBA


Whispers and reports of a split in the Lakers’ locker room and a beef between Anthony Davis and LeBron James gained momentum after Davis’ reaction to LeBron James breaking the all-time scoring record went viral. Talking Lakers drama is always an excellent way to get clicks/eyeballs/listeners and so once a rumor like a beef between the team’s two biggest stars begins rolling down the hill it does not stop.

Even if Davis says there is nothing to it, everything is good between him and LeBron. Here’s the quote he gave to Dave McMenamin of ESPN.

“Me and Bron have one of the best relationships I think in the NBA as far as duos or teammates, regardless,” Davis said. “But they don’t see that. They don’t see the stuff we do off the court and time we hang out with each other. They see on-court stuff.”

The reality is it doesn’t matter if LeBron and Davis are buddies, hanging out together drinking a lovely Pinot Noir and laughing behind Frank Vogel’s back. What matters is whether they can get along and thrive on the court. There’s a banner hanging in Arena that says they can if they stay healthy and management puts the right kinds of role players around them.

The healthy part is in the way right now, with LeBron out for at least a couple more weeks with a tendon foot injury (whether he returns before the season ends is up in the air). The Lakers are 7-5 in the dozen games he has missed with this injury thanks to a defense — anchored by Davis — that is third-best in the NBA over that stretch. That has kept their head above water, but the Lakers are in a tight race where six teams — from the 7-12 seeds, making up all the play-in teams and a couple that will miss out — are tied in the loss column at 37. The Lakers need more wins, including Friday night in a critical game against the Thunder.

The Lakers will need LeBron back — and LeBron and Davis to rekindle their on-court chemistry — if they are going to make any kind of a playoff run. First they just have to get to the postseason, which will fall more on Davis. Of late, he has looked up to the task.


Rumor: Could Tyronn Lue step away from Clippers after season?

Oklahoma City Thunder v LA Clippers
Juan Ocampo/NBAE via Getty Images

Clippers coach Tyronn Lue has clearly been frustrated this season.

It’s been the things out of his control — injuries and load management forcing constant lineup shuffling, and with that difficulty in building continuity — that have left Lue exasperated at points. However, is that enough to make Lue walk away from the Clippers this summer? That rumor is out there, Jake Fischer of Yahoo Sports said during the new No Cap Room podcast with Dan Devine. (Hat tip Hoopshype.)

Ty Lue, as respected head coach as they come, but there has been chatter, let’s say about potentially him, in theory, removing himself from the situation at a certain point in time. So there’s a lot I think, at stake on the other side of L.A. where the Lakers get all the attention and LeBron’s quest for a fifth ring is always soaking up the headlines, the Clippers could end up becoming a super buzzy team in the postseason and but again, that could be a situation for a lot of organizations.

This is the fourth year of the Kawhi Leonard/Paul George era with the Clippers, with iffy results at best. It cost a lot of money — not to mention draft capital and talent like giving up Shai Gilgeous-Alexander — to bring this roster together and they have one Western Conference Finals trip to show for it (2021, Lue’s first year as coach). This season they will head into the playoffs with an injured George trying to get back on the court (the good news is he doesn’t need knee surgery, but it may be closer to the second round before he can play).

Both Leonard and George are locked in for next season — at a combined $91.3 million — with player options for the season after that, but there is a sense around the league that if these Clippers don’t make a run in this year’s wide-open West playoffs there could be changes. Steve Ballmer has money to spend, but he wants results for all the checks he’s writing and there is real pressure on this organization to make that happen.

Lue could have had enough and choose to step away from that situation. Or be told to step away. Lue is in the third year of a five-year contract he signed to take over from Doc Rivers in Los Angeles, but it may be decision time for both sides.

What happens over the next couple of months will have a lot of influence over what comes next for these Clippers, but there could be changes coming to this Los Angeles team. They will be one of the more interesting teams to watch this coming off-season.