The trade deadline has passed, rosters are set (sort of, the buyout market does exist), and still the Bucks are locked in at the top. The Lakers slip back to third behind a Raptors team that has won 15 in a row.
1. Bucks (46-7, Last Week No. 1). Milwaukee makes a quality pickup getting Marvin Williams on the buyout market, he is a stretch four at this point in his career, he spaces the floor well and is a reliable defender. He can eat up some minutes for Khris Middleton and others down the stretch of the season, keeping them fresh. Milwaukee continues to be carried by an elite defense, best in the NBA by a wide margin for the season, and it has been even better the past 15 games allowing less than a point per possession.
2. Raptors (40-14, LW 3). Pascal Siakam will head to Chicago this weekend for a much-deserved All-Star Game start, the leap he made this season is impressive. Toronto has won 15 in a row, and has the best offense in the NBA over that stretch, which is what has carried them (the defense is sixth-best, not shabby at all). All of that despite a rash of injuries, the most recent of which is Kyle Lowry out with whiplash. How do they do it, what is Toronto’s secret weapon? Serge Ibaka’s scarf.
3. Lakers (40-12, LW No. 2). It wasn’t for lack of effort, but the Lakers stood pat at the trade deadline, which was always the most likely outcome considering how hard it was to construct a good deadline around Kyle Kuzma. The bigger blows are the Clippers getting Morris and Darren Collison deciding to stay retired. J.R. Smith/Dion Waiters are not the answer. Still, the Lakers sit atop the West by 3 games and have won 4-of-5 because they continue to beat up weak teams (26-2 against teams below .500).
4. Celtics (37-16, LW 4). This trade deadline was like so many others in Boston: a lot of rumors, smoke and mirrors, and when it all clears away the Celtics stood pat. That’s a good decision with this roster, a team that just had a seven-game win streak (snapped Tuesday by Houston), has won 11-of-13, and they have done it against a much tougher schedule than the Raptors have faced. Still, this team could use a little more size and toughness in the middle for the playoffs, and the buyout market may not offer that this year.
5. Nuggets (38-16, LW 7). Nikola Jokic’s strong play of late moves him into the MVP “on the ballot” discussion (he’s not in the “can he win it” talk this season). He could well get some fourth and fifth place votes. Denver has won 8-of-10 because it has gotten healthy (or, healthier) and started to play good defense again, seventh best in the NBA over those 10 games.
6. Clippers (37-17, LW 5). Doc Rivers’ team is treating the regular season like a team that has just won back-to-back titles — some nights they take it seriously (and handle Miami comfortably), then a few nights later they let Minnesota snap a 13-game losing streak against them. The Clippers upgraded at the deadline landing Marcus Morris, this is an incredible team on paper but just a good one on the court. After the All-Star break, can the Clippers put together a run and start to build some good habits?
7. Heat (35-18, LW 6). The addition of Andre Iguodala at the trade deadline has gotten all the headlines, but picking up Jae Crowder in the Memphis trade could be key for Miami down the stretch. In his first two games with Miami Crowder has averaged 19.5 points per game, shooting 56.3% from three, and is pulling down 9.5 boards a night. Miami is 1-3 on their current road trip, with 3-of-4 still to come away from South Beach.
8. Jazz (38-18, LW 10). Since his return from injury, Mike Conley has looked much more like the point guard the Jazz thought they were getting last summer: 18.6 points per game, shooting 45.2% from three, with four assists a night in his last five games. Utah snapped out of its slump and won three in a row. Highlight of the week goes to Bojan Bogdanovic for going playground on Kristaps Porzingis.
9. Rockets (34-20, LW 9). Houston has gone 3-2 since going all-in on the small-ball lineup, and the team’s offensive rating hasn’t taken off yet like we expect (small sample size and all). The one guy who is thriving with this style is Russell Westbrook: 34 points, 7.2 rebounds and 6 assists a game in his last five. Good test against the Jazz Saturday night in Utah.
10. 76ers (34-21, LW 13). Joel Embiid “shushing” the Philly crowd then trolling everyone on social media grabbed a lot of headlines, as did the idea that other teams are watching the Sixers thinking they might break up Ben Simmons and Embiid. The All-Star duo answered that with their best game together — maybe ever in Brett Brown’s mind — in a big win over the Clippers Tuesday night. That was impressive, but let’s see them take this show on the road and make it work before we celebrate too much.
11. Thunder (32-22, LW 12). While there was some flirtation with the idea of sending Danilo Gallinari to Miami, Oklahoma City came out of the trade deadline deciding to ride or die with this group. The Thunder are good with their core five on the floor — Chris Paul, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Dennis Schroder, Danilo Gallinari, and Steven Adams — but the lack of depth is the only issue. Still, this team sets up to be a tough playoff out for whomever lands them.
12. Mavericks (32-22, LW 11). Luka Doncic returns from his sprained ankle Wednesday night, and the Mavs went 3-4 without him. The league-leading offense was still clicking without him (119.5 offensive rating, actually 3.2 per 100 better than their season average) but the defense has been bottom 10 in the league in that stretch (5.6 points per 100 worse than their season average). Dallas added Michael Kidd-Gilchrist on the buyout market, he will provide some defensive depth on the wing (but don’t count on much offense).
13. Pacers (31-23, LW 8). Losers of six in a row, and if it wasn’t for that long game-tying Victor Oladipo three in his return game against the Bulls it would be eight. While the offense has been bottom 10 in the league during the losing streak, the real issue is the usually solid Pacers defense is off more than 7 points per 100 in this stretch (with a good defender in Oladipo back in the lineup). Indiana gets Milwaukee right before the much-needed All-Star break.
14. Grizzlies (27-26, LW 15). Zach Kleiman, the guy with the hammer in Memphis basketball operations, must love Justise Winslow, because they gave up their 2020 cap space and took on a lot of dead salary to get him. “To be able to add one player that we believe in as a key piece to fit what we’re building, that was plan A. That was the deal that we were hoping to get.” Winslow is that guy? He will get a chance next to Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr.
15. Trail Blazers (25-30, LW 14). Portland is still fuming over the blown goaltending call on a Damian Lillard driving layup to tie the game against Utah last Friday — in a tight playoff chase that call might come back to bite them. That said, they bounced back with a win against Miami, not letting the anger over one loss become two. Lillard has returned to being human, averaging “only” 28.4 points per game over his last five.
16. Nets (24-28, LW 16). Brooklyn has won 3-of-4 time time around without Kyrie Irving, thanks in large part to Caris LeVert stepping up and playing like the guy the Nets thought they had at the start of last season. Brooklyn is four games below .500 and sits as the seven seed in the East, but their playoff spot looks secure (they have a five-game cushion over the nine-seed Wizards, and the eight-seed Magic are not looking like a team about to make a run to get past the Nets).
17. Pelicans (23-31, LW 18). Zion Williamson is becoming must-watch television averaging 21 points and 7.7 rebounds a game, and he apparently has a quote of at least one spectacular dunk a game. The Pelicans kept the roster together at the deadline, and New Orleans is 5-4 since Williamson entered the lineup, but the team remains 4.5 games out of the playoffs because the Grizzlies are not coming back to the pack.
18. Magic (23-31, LW 19). Here is everything you need to know about the bottom of the East: Orlando is 2-8 in its last 10 games with a -8.6 net rating, yet they maintain a three-game playoff cushion over the Wizards (and 4.5 over the Bulls) because nobody can string together some wins. Coming out of the All-Star break, Orlando has 7-of-10 on the road.
19. Kings (21-32, LW 20). Sacramento came into this season with dreams of ending the longest playoff drought in the NBA; instead they head into the All-Star break six games out of the playoffs in the West. Injuries certainly played a part in that, but roster building and player development have not been strong suits in Sacramento — to put it kindly — and now it seems owner Vivek Ranadive is finally setting his sites on team president Vlade Divac as part of the problem. If Ranadive makes a change, will he give the new president the authority to clean house as needed?
20. Spurs (23-31, LW 17). San Antonio is 1-6 so far on the rodeo road trip (with two more games after the break), the lone win coming in Oklahoma City. As it has been all season, the challenge on this road trip for the Spurs has been defense — a 118.3 defensive rating that is third worst in the league over the last eight games. The Spurs stood pat at the deadline, but this trip has knocked them 4.5 games behind Memphis for the last playoff spot, it seems the Spurs historic playoff streak will end at 22.
21. Suns (21-33, LW 21). Despite plenty of Kelly Oubre trade rumors flying around, the Suns held on to him at the deadline (and they could have gone ahead with Oubre bobblehead night, an event they wisely cancelled last week, just in case). Since getting healthy and joining the starting lineup, Deandre Ayton has averaged 19.9 points and 12.3 assists a game, shooting 54.3%.
22. Pistons (19-37, LW 23). That the Pistons found a taker for Andre Drummond is a win — despite the numbers Drummond put up and his solid play as an old-school big, he was an anchor on their rebuild. The Pistons were wise to value the salary cap space more, which is what they should have done during a rebuild. What the front office does with that cap space this summer (and there are a variety of options) will be the next step in the drive to get the Pistons back to the top of the East.
23. Wizards (19-33, LW 24). Washington is just three games back of Orlando for the final playoff spot in the West, and the Magic are stumbling down the stretch. The playoffs are within reach, but Orlando has one of the easiest remaining schedules and the Wizards have the sixth toughest in the league. It was a smart long-term move by the Wizards to trade out point guards at the deadline — 31-year-old Isaiah Thomas for 22-year-old Jerome Robinson — but I’m still sorry to see Thomas go.
24. Knicks (17-37, LW 25). Superagent Leon Rose is the next in line to save the Knicks (without World Wide Wes), and that’s not a bad choice. If owner James Dolan wasn’t willing to wait and do the dance to land a Sam Presti/Masai Ujiri level experienced POBO, then Rose is a good roll of the dice. Sometimes having an agent in charge works (Bob Myers, Golden State) and sometimes not (Lon Babby, Phoenix) but Rose is smart and connected. There’s a lot of work to do to build a Knicks culture and foundation, only then will the elite talent come.
25. Timberwolves (26-36, LW 30). They got their man in D’Angelo Russell, a good move because it makes Karl-Anthony Towns happy, and it gives Minnesota a a genuine pick-and-roll combo. I just picture a lot of games like Monday’s in their future: Minnesota put up 126 points with an impressive 115 offensive rating, but they lost because Toronto put up 137 — Russell and Towns could be a defensive disaster. Gerson Rosas has to get quality defenders around those two.
26. Bulls (19-36, LW 22). The All-Star Game is coming to the basketball Mecca that is Chicago this weekend, but the Bulls mostly need the break to get healthy. Here’s the current list of their walking wounded: Otto Porter Jr. (broken foot), Wendell Carter Jr. (ankle), Lauri Markkanen (hip), Kris Dunn (knee), and Daniel Gafford (ankle). In theory, the Bulls could make a run at grabbing the eight seed and getting to the postseason, but they need to get healthy, and even then 4.5 games would be a challenge to make up.
27. Hawks (15-40, LW 26). Atlanta got its center at the deadline in trading for Clint Capela, and it was a nice pickup to get Dwayne Dedmon behind him. The real question now becomes what does this mean for John Collins? He’s athletic and has played better at the four than the five this season, but is he going to be worth what some team likely will pay him as a restricted free agent in a couple of seasons? Expect a lot of Collins trade rumors this summer.
28. Hornets (17-36, LW 27). Charlotte is trying to do a spring cleaning on their roster, and that started with buying out Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Marvin Williams (who were signed by Dallas and Milwaukee, respectively. Expect more of the same this summer as they try to find a taker for Nicolas Batum’s contract. There is a lot of rebuilding to do in Charlotte, but at least they found one piece to that puzzle this season in Devonte Graham.
29. Warriors (12-42 LW 29). In terms of a pure positional fit, I get why the Warriors traded for Andrew Wiggins and set out D’Angelo Russell. The Warriors are selling that the combination of their culture and a smaller role (next season, when everyone’s healthy) is going to be good for Wiggins and make him productive. A lot of Timberwolves fans just laughed at that. Bottom line, could the Warriors have found a better wing (at a better price) by the start of next season?
30. Cavaliers (13-40, LW 28). On one hand, the Cavaliers got a former All-Star, productive NBA center for pennies on the dollar in trading for Andre Drummond. Cleveland looked at the free agent market and said this was a better use of their cap space for 2020. Drummond and Love next season will form a $60 million front line that may be the slowest in the league.