NBA Power Rankings: Bucks hold on to top spot but 76ers, Celtics close


Not much movement at the top of the NBC Sports NBA Power Rankings this week as teams racked up wins as they jockeyed for playoff seeding. A few teams, such as Miami, are climbing.

Bucks small icon 1. Bucks (51-20, Last week No. 1). If you believe the MVP should be the best player from the best team, then Giannis Antetokounmpo is your guy — and he has been gaining support in recent weeks (helped in part by the Nuggets’ slide). Antetokounmpo himself is less focused on that award and more on securing the No.1 seed in the East and its easier path through the playoffs. The Bucks have a cushion (three games in the loss column over the 76ers and Celtics) and just have to hold on to it through the four-game road trip that starts Friday in Utah. The most interesting game of that trip is Saturday in Denver, a battle of No.1 seeds.

Sixers small icon 2. 76ers (48-23, LW 2). Tyrese Maxey has found his groove of late, averaging 22.1 points and 3.4 assists a game in March — his attacking offense has been a critical part of the 76ers’ hot streak (eight straight wins until a loss to the Bulls on Monday). Joel Embiid‘s play — and with its resurgent MVP case — has also been at the heart of that run, but can he keep it going during a four-game road trip. The game everyone has circled on their calendar is Monday when the 76ers travel to Denver and Joel Embiid squares off against Nikola Jokić in a game that will take on outsized importance.

Celtics small icon 3. Celtics (50-23, LW 3). Robert Williams III returned to the court Tuesday night in an impressive win over the Kings. This matters — Williams will be key for this Celtics team to match up with Milwaukee and Philadelphia, and maybe even in the first round if they face Miami. They simply are not the same defensively or on the glass if he is not right. The other thing the Celtics need to be changed? Jayson Tatum is hitting just 29.2% of his 3-pointers since the All-Star break. Winnable games this week against the Pacers, Spurs, and Wizards.

Cavaliers small icon 4. Cavaliers (46-28, LW 4). Cleveland has won 7-of-9, but the two losses (one to the Heat in Miami, the other to Philadelphia) raise some questions about what kind of playoff threat the Cavaliers really are. The loss to the 76ers was the second night of a back-to-back, and Jarrett Allen was out, but it was still troubling. The Cavaliers appear headed for a 4/5 first-round playoff showdown with a scrappy Knicks team, but Cleveland will have the best player on the court in that series in Donovan Mitchell (the one they let get away in New York), and he can do things like this.

Nuggets small icon 5. Nuggets (48-24, LW 5). Denver won 2-of-3 on the road this week, at least stemming the recent slide (although it will take more than just a couple of wins to give a jolt to the narrative around Nikola Jokic’s MVP candidacy). The real tests are awaiting when they arrive home: Milwaukee on Saturday and Joel Embiid and the 76ers on Monday. Those games are measuring sticks for the Nuggets as they prepare for the postseason, but they also will take on outsized importance in the narrative about the MVP (fair or not).

Grizzlies small icon 6. Grizzlies (44-27, LW 7). Ja Morant is set to return to the court Wednesday, but Dillon Brooks will be out that night due to a suspension, and that gets at the heart of the bigger issue with the Grizzlies — they have to be disciplined if they want to make a deep playoff run. NBC Sports basketball analyst Corey Robinson talks about the Grizzlies’ “punk rock attitude” which has both been part of what fuels them and part of what trips them up. In a West open for the taking, the Grizzlies have the talent, but they must be disciplined. They also have to get Steven Adams back, they miss him badly on the court and it appears he might be back for the playoffs, but nothing is for sure.

Kings small icon 7. Kings (43-29, LW 6). The Kings will make the playoffs as a No.2 or 3 seed, but the ugly loss to the Celtics at home only fuels the questions about how deep a run this team can make in the playoffs with its 24th-ranked defense. (It should be noted that the Celtics game was the second night of a back-to-back for the Kings and their fifth game in seven days.) The Kings have a run in them with their versatile, impossible-to-stop offense, but it will depend on matchups — there are some dangerous teams in the bottom half of the West bracket. Who will the Kings’ face, how healthy will they be and matchups will be deciding factors. The Kings are good enough to make the conference finals, but there will be no easy paths in the West this year.

Knicks small icon 8. Knicks (42-31, LW 8). Josh Hart wants to stay in New York and the feeling is mutual among Knicks faithful, but the question, as always is money. The Knicks can offer four years, $51 million, but if another team comes in over the top at the restricted free agent (likely with a poison-pill Arenas rule offer) New York’s front office will have a decision to make. The Knicks appear headed for the No. 5 seed, but two of their next four games are against the Heat, New York needs a split there and not to go on a little losing streak to hold on to that spot.

Suns small icon 9. Suns (38-33, LW 10). Phoenix has dropped 4-of-5, and them holding on to the No. 4 seed no longer feels like a sure thing, the Clippers are just one game back and the Warriors two games. The problem over those five games has been the Suns’ offense, which is 26th in the league for those games — that’s something Kevin Durant would fix just walking in the door. Durant (left ankle sprain) will be re-evaluated next week and back for at least a handful of the Suns’ remaining games. That means the Suns need wins and they have a tough week ahead with the Lakers, Kings and 76ers on the schedule.

Clippers small icon10. Clippers (38-35, LW 12). The Clippers have won 5-of-7, with one of those losses coming in the game Kawhi Leonard sat out. That is not a coincidence, as Law Murray of The Athletic noted, the Clippers have lost seven in a row when Leonard sits and are 3-14 in their last 17 without him. Now the Clippers will need to win the next couple of weeks without Paul George, who will be re-evaluated from a knee sprain in 2-3 weeks. The Clippers are just one game out of four seed with some winnable games this week against OKC, the Pelicans and Bulls.

Heat small icon 11. Heat (39-34, LW 11). Miami is making a push to catch the stripped-down Nets for the No.6 seed and avoiding the play-in — they are only half a game back, but Brooklyn has the tiebreaker so it is more like 1.5 games. That makes the Saturday night showdown against the Nets must win. Beyond that one game, the on-again/off-again Heat — beat the Grizzles and Cavaliers, lose to the Bulls — need consistency. And they need Max Strus and some other role players to start hitting their 3-pointers.

Warriors small icon 12. Warriors (37-36, LW 9). The Warriors snapped their 11-game road losing streak against lowly Houston, but that “winning streak” will get put to the test Wednesday night against Dallas — most importantly, can the Warriors start getting stops on the road? Their defense is 28th in the league on the road, but third-best (and more than 11 points per 100 possessions better) at home. After Wednesday the Warriors have 5-of-6 at home and they need to take advantage of that stretch and lock in their place in the top six in the West. Really good test at home Friday against the 76ers and MVP-candidate Joel Embiid.

Mavericks small icon 13. Mavericks (36-36, LW 14). Dallas went 2-3 in games Luka Dončić missed with a left thigh strain, but the good news is he will be back Wednesday night in a critical showdown against the Warriors, two teams battling for the No.6 seed in the West (Golden State currently hold the spot, but the teams are tied in the loss column). The bad news for Dallas is Kyrie Irving will be out with right foot soreness after Dillon Brooks stepped on his foot in the Memphis game. The Mavericks could use a big night (or few games, if Irving is out) from Jaden Harvey, who will see a minutes bump. After the Warriors the Mavs have winnable games this week against the Hornets (twice) and the Pacers).

Thunder small icon 14. Thunder (36-36, LW 17). Look who sits at the No.7 seed in the West — the Thunder are not tanking, they are thinking postseason. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is leading that charge and cementing his All-NBA status, scoring 40 points Sunday in a win over the Suns, then dropping 31 on the Clippers on Tuesday. One thing that makes stopping the Thunder difficult is the size of their backcourt — Gilgeous-Alexander is 6’6″ and Josh Giddey is 6’8″. The Thunder started 1-0 on their West Coast road trip (a quick-trigger referee helped with that) and they have the Clippers (again), Lakers and Blazers to round out the trip.

Nets small icon 15. Nets (39-33, LW 13). The Nets have dropped four in a row and can feel the Heat… sorry, that joke/line bothered even me. And I wrote it. But with Miami just one game back and eyeing the No. 6 seed and avoiding the play-in, Brooklyn needs wins (and to get some stops, it’s their defense that is letting them down right now). The good news is the Nets have the third easiest schedule in the NBA the rest of the way, but it doesn’t show in the shop term with the Cavaliers up next then a critical game against those Heat.

Raptors small icon 16. Raptors (35-37, LW 19). It’s the story of their season — Toronto has a +5.1 net rating over its last six games, but just a 3-3 record. For the season, they have the point differential of a team that is 38-34 (which would only move them up one spot to eighth in the East). The Raptors have a three-game cushion, and they are not falling out of the play-in, but the real target is the Hawks at No. 8 — the Raptors are just one game back of that easier path to the playoffs. They have winnable games this week against the Pacers, Pistons and Wizards, the Raptors just need to keep their focus.

Lakers small icon 17. Lakers 35-37, LW 18). Austin Reaves is earning the big payday he has coming this offseason (four years, $50ish million sounds about right), but the Lakers need more than that to get into the playoffs. They need peak Anthony Davis for a full 48 minutes. And they need LeBron James back from his foot tendon issue, he should be coming up for re-evaluation soon and has hinted on social media he is getting closer to a return. The Lakers have three more at home this week (Suns, Thunder, Bulls) before heading out on the road for five.

18. Timberwolves (36-37, LW 15). Karl-Anthony Towns is returning Wednesday after missing 51 games with a calf injury, a huge boost to the Timberwolves — but also presents a challenge. It’s hard to integrate any player who deserves a lot of offensive touches back into the rhythm of a team used to playing without him, and the fit the 21 games Towns played to open the season was clunky. It should be easier with a distributor in Mike Conley at the point (as opposed to D'Angelo Russell). Anthony Edwards‘s status is still up in the air as of this writing, but it’s good news that he will not miss much time. The Timberwolves need wins and face the Hawks, Warriors and Kings up this week.

Hawks small icon 19. Hawks (36-36, LW 16). Fans in Atlanta who remember the bump the team got when Lloyd Pierce was pushed out and Nate McMillan became the head coach have wondered why there hasn’t been the same thing with Quin Snyder in the door. It’s a very different situation, and Snyder hasn’t had the chance to install his offense (or tweak the roster). Snyder was a long-term hire. In the short term the goal is to hang on to the No.8 seed and hold off the surging Raptors, which means finding wins in games against the Timberwolves, Grizzlies, Pacers and Cavaliers. No easy task.

Bulls small icon 20. Bulls (34-37, LW 23). The Chicago Bulls needed a fire lit under them this season — that’s what Patrick Beverley excels at. The Bulls are 8-4 since signing Beverley on the buyout market with the second-best net rating in the league over that stretch (+7.9), and that has moved them up to the No.10 seed and the play in with a 2.5 game cushion to keep it. Beverley is not a quiet guy who just leads by example, his voice made a difference. It also helps  Zach LaVine is averaging 29.9 points a game and shooting 45% from in those dozen games as well.

Jazz small icon 21. Jazz (35-36, LW 21). So much for tanking. We thought the Jazz bought tickets for the Wembanyama sweepstakes last summer, but they started the season 10-4. After trading away a lot of depth and quality at the deadline it was thought the tanking would start in earnest, but after a dip the Jazz are back into the top 10 and looking like a possible play-in team. Walker Kessler is drawing the headlines with his play this season, but guard Ochai Agbaji has stepped up in recent weeks, including 27 points against the Kings. Utah has a couple of keepers on the roster.

Pelicans small icon 22. Pelicans (35-37, LW 20). Zion Williamson will be out at least two more weeks (through April 5) while the Pelicans are making their playoff push. Not good news for a team that has fallen to the No.12 seed and needs to string together some wins to make the postseason (things have gotten so bad they have the same record as the Lakers — with whom they have a pick swap this year). The Pelicans head out on the road Saturday for four, facing the Clippers, Blazers, Warriors and Nuggets — a tough challenge for a team needing wins.

Wizards small icon 23. Wizards (32-40, LW 22). Washington has gone 3-11 since the All-Star break and fallen 2.5 games out of the final play-in spot in the East. They will need help from teams currently playing well in the Bulls and Raptors to have a shot at making the postseason. That’s troubling for a team that entered the season with top-six aspirations — some hard questions are coming this summer. This week the Nuggets, Spurs and Raptors are on the schedule.

Pacers small icon 24. Pacers (32-40, LW 25). There are bright spots on this roster — Tyrese Haliburton, Myles Turner, Bennedict Mathurin — but it has just not come together, particularly on the defensive end. The Raptors are on the road for their next three, and it will be a tough trip: Toronto, Boston and Atlanta.

Magic small icon 25. Magic 30-43, LW 26). Orlando is playing the role of spoiler well with some quality on the court in recent wins against Miami, the Clippers and the Wizards. While Paolo Banchero draws the headlines (and will win Rookie of the Year) it’s been the backcourt of a revived Markelle Fultz along with some good nights from Cole Anthony that has these Magic looking like a team that will not go quietly into the offseason.

Blazers small icon 26. Trail Blazers (31-40, LW 24). While some media outlets ran with this, don’t take Damian Lillard‘s recent comments as a sign he wants out of Portland. The Blazers aren’t going to trade him unless he asks out and league sources have told NBC Sports nobody expects him to (at least for the next year). He’s just frustrated with the losing and is at least considering shutting it down for the season, which is understandable. Portland has lost six in a row and are four games out of the last play-in spot — their postseason dreams are done. Starting Friday against the Bulls, the Blazers are home for five in a row.

Hornets small icon 27. Hornets (23-50, LW 27). Michael Jordan selling his majority shares of the Hornets has generally been seen as a positive for the franchise around the league. This is a team in need of new investments in practice/training facilities and more, and the new owners can step in and make a difference there right away. It’s also good for the league that Jordan will hang on to a minority ownership share of the team, it’s important for the GOAT to remain involved with the league.

Rockets small icon 28. Rockets (18-54, LW 28). With a bottom three record (and with it the best possible lottery odds) locked up, coach Stephen Silas has been able to lean into his young core and turn them loose, and they picked up some quality wins against the Celtics, Lakers and Pelicans (New Orleans even that out a couple of nights later). This week Jalen Green and the Rockets head out on the road, starting with two games against Memphis, followed by the Cavaliers.

Spurs small icon 29. Spurs (19-53, LW 29). The 24-point comeback win against the Hawks showed some heart from San Antonio, but this has been a rough season. Which was to be expected, but this will be the Spurs’ fourth straight season of missing the playoffs and the turnaround has been slow. Some luck — first with the draft, then with health — could turn things around pretty quickly. Part of the challenge this season was all the time Devin Vassell and Keldon Johnson missed due to injuries.

Pistons small icon 30. Pistons (16-57, LW 30). No team is poised for a faster bounce back next season — get Cade Cunningham back healthy and put him next to Jaden Ivey, Isaiah Stewart, James Wiseman (who has spread his wings a little in the Motor City), veteran Bojan Bogdanovic, plus whoever they draft, and the Pistons could easily be in the play-in mix. Up on the schedule this week for Detroit are the Raptors and Bucks, to tough asks.

NBA Power Rankings: Bucks hold on to top spot but 76ers jump up to second


The Bucks stay on top but the 76ers climb to second as the Nuggets slide and the East again dominates the top of these NBA Power Rankings.

Bucks small icon 1. Bucks (50-19, Last week No. 1). The Bucks are 16-2 since Feb. 1 and have outscored opponents by 9 points per game on average since the All-Star break — they have been the best team in the league. Not only has that given them a 3-game cushion for the best record in the league, but it has also fired up Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s MVP candidacy. That candidacy lagged earlier in the season when Khris Middleton (now back in the starting lineup) and Jrue Holiday missed time and Antetokounmpo had to take on a different role, but with the team finding its groove Antetokounmpo is back playing to his strengths and is an unstoppable force. He may or may not win a third MVP, but he will finish top three. Soft schedule this week for the Bucks, which should help them secure the top seed overall in the league.

Sixers small icon 2. 76ers (46-22, LW 5). The 76ers have won six in a row and 7-of-10, but they have done it in spite of a defense that is ranked 27th in the league over those last six games. MVP candidate Joel Embiid is carrying the offense (and getting blocks where he can), but the defensive concerns about a backcourt leaning on James Harden and Tyrese Maxey have come to fruition (the defense hasn’t been great on the wing, either). Philly is one game back of Boston for the No.2 seed in the East, but the Sixers have the second toughest schedule in the East the rest of the way, including 6-of-7 coming up on the road.

Celtics small icon 3. Celtics (48-22, LW 4). The loss in Houston was a shock to the system, but the concerns are bigger than that with Boston having dropped 5-of-9 and looking pedestrian on both sides of the court during that stretch. It’s concerning with the Bucks and Sixers playing much better ball over that stretch. Injuries have played a part in recent Celtics’ stumbles, with Robert Williams missing time and Marcus Smart back on the court but not looking 100%, but it is not the entire answer. The Celtics are 2-2 on their six-game road trip and they need wins to hold off a hot 76ers team aiming for the No.2 seed.

Cavaliers small icon 4. Cavaliers (44-28, LW 6). One thing we have seen over the recent month that could be a good thing long-term in Cleveland is the improvement of Isaac Okoro on the offensive end. He is not putting up massive stat lines — 9.2 points per game over his last five games — but he is shooting 57.1% from 3 in that stretch (2.8 attempts a game) and 56.7% overall. More importantly, he’s playing smart, taking the corner 3 when it is there, but also attacking closeouts and making smart cuts. Two interesting games coming up against the Nets in Brooklyn.

Nuggets small icon 5. Nuggets (46-23, LW 2). Losers of four in a row and they are looking passive — and MVP candidate Nikola Jokić is looking passive. He had a couple of games where he took fewer shots, but it’s also been evident on defense with him calling and playing more drop coverage rather than being up at the point of attack. The Nuggets still have a 4.5 game lead in the West and feel like a team that has just taken their foot off the gas, but that’s not what Mike Malone will want to see this time of year. The Nuggets are in the midst of a five-game road trip with the Pistons, Knicks and Nets up next.

Kings small icon 6. Kings (41-27, LW 7). Everyone had a laugh when Kings fan Sean Chew rolled out of a California Classic Summer League win screaming his team would get to 40 wins this season. Who’s laughing now? Saturday night, with De'Aaron Fox leading another comeback win (this time against the stumbling Mavericks), the Kings got to 40 wins. projects the Kings to finish with 47 wins (although that feels a little low) and be the three seed (but with the Grizzlies stumbling the two seed is in play). Finally, a stat courtesy of our friend Matt Moore of the Action Network: The Kings are the only team in the West with a road record above .500.

Grizzlies small icon 7. Grizzlies (41-27, LW 9). Ja Morant was given an eight-game retroactive suspension — he can come back in theory on Monday against Dallas but will be out longer than that — and had one genuine moment in his interview with ESPN’s Jalen Rose, saying “I didn’t realize what I had to lose.” He has lost more than $650K with the suspension, lost a Powerade ad, and now could miss making an All-NBA team, impacting the size of his contract extension. Hopefully the time he reflected has helped him find the right path forward. The Grizzlies are home for 7-of-8, Morant likely returns in that window, and the Grizzlies need wins to hold on to the No. 2 seed.

Knicks small icon 8. Knicks (41-30, LW 3). It’s not a coincidence that the Knicks’ three-game losing streak (which was snapped Sunday against the Lakers) came when Jalen Brunson is out. Consider it the 47,356th reminder what a steadying hand the point guard has been for this offense and team. With a 3-game cushion, the Knicks should be able to hold off the Heat and stay in the top six in the East, especially if they keep playing the way they are right now. Interesting test Saturday against the suddenly slumping Nuggets.

Warriors small icon 9. Warriors (36-34, LW 11). The Warriors are on an eight-game winning streak at home and a nine-game losing streak on the road, but there has been enough home games lately that they have climbed into the top six in the West. For those who believe these Warriors still have a title run in them this season, this video is what you need to watch on a loop — Stephen Curry taking over the final two minutes of regulation and OT to lift the Warriors to a win over the Bucks (shorthanded Bucks without their MVP candidate, but still).

Suns small icon 10. Suns (37-32, LW 8). The Suns are 1-3 in the games Kevin Durant has missed with his fluke sprained ankle, which has put them at risk of losing the No.4 seed to the surging Clippers (the losses also killed any dream of catching the Grizzlies for the No.3 seed). The real key is getting Devin Booker and company going, eventually getting Durant back, and racking up enough wins to hold on to a top-six seed in the West and avoid the play-in (top four remains the ultimate goal). Interesting test against the Thunder Sunday, they are good when SGA plays.

Heat small icon 11. Heat (38-33, LW 12). If close games and high-pressure situations during the regular season prepare a team for the playoffs, the Heat may be the most ready team in the NBA. Fifty of the Heat’s 70 games have been considered clutch (inside five points in the final five minutes), which is insane. Miami is 28-22 in those games with a +11.3 net rating. Jimmy Butler‘s 16 second-half points against the Jazz in the 28th of those clutch wins is a reminder of what a great clutch player he is. Winnable games on the docket this week with the Bulls and Pistons, but Miami has to bring the focus every night (for a change) to hang on to the No.7 seed.

Clippers small icon12. Clippers (37-33, LW 16). Winners of four in a row and — as it has been all season — when healthy they look like a threat. Leonard is starting to look like his peak self, his ability to get to his midrange spots and hit is as good as anyone in the league. When Leonard and Paul George are both on the floor, the Clippers have a +7.4 net rating (add Russell Westbrook to that duo and it drops to -4.3, but that’s a topic for another day). The Clips are closing in on the stumbling Suns for the No. 4 seed and have winnable games coming up with the Magic, Blazers and Thunder.

Nets small icon 13. Nets (39-30, LW 13). Still looking for a little more depth at center, the Nets have moved on from Nerlens Noel and have signed Moses Brown (who had his moments with the Clippers). Brooklyn went 4-3 on a recent run of road games (including a big comeback win against Boston and topping Denver) and with that are in a good position to hold off Miami and keep a top-six seed in the East avoiding the play-in. That said, they have a tough game with the Kings, Nuggets and Cavaliers this week (and a showdown with those Heat the following week).

Mavericks small icon 14. Mavericks (35-35, LW 10). While there is no official timeline, both Luka Dončić and Kyrie Irving could return to the lineup this week — and Dallas needs them. The rest of the Mavericks broke the team’s three-game losing streak, but it took overtime against the tanktastic Spurs on Wednesday to do it. Dallas is in a tie for the 7/8 seeds with Minnesota, and the Mavs need to rack up wins to hold off the Thunder and Lakers just behind them. Critical game Friday night against those Lakers, followed by the Grizzlies on Monday.

15. Timberwolves (35-35, LW 14). Karl-Anthony Towns is expected to return in the coming weeks, before the postseason starts, but fitting him back into a team starting to find a style without him will be a challenge. The Timberwolves are hanging in the West play-in, tied for 7/8 with the Mavericks, and they are doing it with a defense that is top 10 in the league over their last 10 games. However, they have a bottom 10 offense in those same 10 games — Towns could pump up the offense, but it’s going to feel like starting the season over again. The Timberwolves have three games on the road this week against the East: the Bulls, Raptors and Knicks.

Hawks small icon 16. Hawks (34-35, LW 15). Atlanta is 3-5 since the coaching change to Quin Snyder and it’s been a case of “meet the new Hawks, same as the old Hawks.” Not only has the offense not changed much, but this since the All-Star break this team has had the statistical markings of last year’s Hawks: Third in offense and 26th in defense. Atlanta needs to find enough D to win some games and hold off the Raptors for the eighth seed (and a much easier path through the play-in). The Hawks have winnable games this week with the road Warriors, then the Spurs and Pistons.

Thunder small icon 17. Thunder (34-35, LW 20). The Thunder are 4-0 in the last four games Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has played, and they are 1-5 in the six he has missed — he means that much to this team and its offense. If Gilgeous-Alexander can stay healthy, this team has a real shot at the postseason (they currently sit ninth in the West). Things don’t get easier for OKC with games at the Raptors, then the Suns and two games against the Clippers.

Lakers small icon 18. Lakers 34-36, LW 18). The Lakers are 5-4 without LeBron James (foot injury), and Tuesday’s blowout win over the Pelicans was a big step in the race to get a spot in the postseason. As evidenced by the win over the Pelicans — or the loss to the Knicks when he was just “good” or the loss to the Rockets when he was out — the Lakers need elite Anthony Davis to compete and get into the postseason. He has to be the team’s true No.1 option. Speaking of LeBron, he is out of the walking boot and doing some on-court work towards a return, but it is expected it will be close to the playoffs (or in them) before he returns. Winnable games this week (Mavericks, Magic) that the Lakers need to pick up in a tight race. The Lakers have one of the league’s easiest schedules the rest of the way.

Raptors small icon 19. Raptors (33-36, LW 19). The Raptors are 7-6 since the trade deadline and adding Jakob Poeltl, and they have been solid defensively over those 13 games but have struggled on the offensive end. The biggest concern is keeping Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet healthy and on the court — both are in the top four in minutes played per game this season. The Raptors had lost 4-of-5 on the road before coming up to an upset win over Dallas, and now they face some desperate West teams in the Thunder and Timberwolves.

Pelicans small icon 20. Pelicans (33-36, LW 23). If the Pelicans are going to get into the play-in — with or without Zion Williamson — they need to win at least three out of their next four: Two games at Houston, followed by hosting the Spurs and Hornets (four teams in tank mode). It’s a critical stretch, but the Pelicans didn’t look ready for it when getting blown out by a LeBron-less Lakers team Tuesday. Brandon Ingram is back on the court and he needs to find his groove and carry this team’s offense. And do it fast.

Jazz small icon 21. Jazz (33-36, LW 22). In Utah, the fans are doing the math to see how far their team can fall and how good a draft pick they could potentially land (the eighth-worst record is most likely). But in the locker room this is a team half-a-game out of the play-in that is not going to just roll over. The bad news for those in the locker room (and the good news for fans that want a tank) is the Jazz have the toughest remaining schedule in the league — this week that includes the Celtics and Kings. Jazz fans can watch Walker Kessler in those games and dream of who the team might put next to him.

Wizards small icon 22. Wizards (32-37, LW 21). Washington has won just two games in their last seven, and both were against the Pistons — not a good sign for a team trying to hold off the Bulls and get the final play-in spot in the East. Bradley Beal scored 36 points in that Tuesday win against the Pistons and it’s his potential for a big night — and that of Kristaps Porzingis — that makes the other teams in the play-in a bit nervous about facing the Wizards in a win-or-go-home scenario. However, things are not getting easy for Washington with the Cavaliers and Kings up next.

Bulls small icon 23. Bulls (31-37, LW 24). When Patrick Beverley signed with the Bulls he told Zach LaVine to stop passing so much (that was Beverley’s job) and to start shooting. Since that day LaVine has averaged 31.2 points per game on 62% shooting. That’s good news for some fantasy teams out there and also good news for the Bulls, who are 5-3 in those games. The Bulls are the 11 seed and have the fourth toughest schedule in the East the rest of the way, which includes the Heat and 76ers in the next week.

Blazers small icon 24. Trail Blazers (31-38, LW 19). Remember how coach Terry Stotts was shown the door because the team didn’t play defense (and the front office swore it wasn’t the roster)? A couple of years later with a new coach and a revamped roster, and the Blazers are 27th in the league in defense (and dead last in the league over the past eight games). They can’t blame it on CJ McCollum anymore. Portland sits 2.5 games out of the last play-in spot and needs to rack up wins, which will not be easy this weeks with the Celtics and Clippers on the schedule.

Pacers small icon 25. Pacers (31-38, LW 26). Tyrese Haliburton has missed the last two games, and while the Pacers won the first of those (against the Pistons) they are 3-12 on the season when he is out (he is questionable Thursday against the Bucks). Haliburton is in a crowded mix for an All-NBA guard spot despite the struggles of the Pacers, he has been that good this season averaging 20.8 points and 10.4 assists a game. Tough couple of games coming up against the Bucks and 76ers.

Magic small icon 26. Magic 28-41, LW 25). Paolo Banchero is a lock to win Rookie of the Year — and deservedly so — but he has some places he needs to improve his game over the coming years. Shooting 28.7% on 3-pointers is one, but that’s part of a general need to be a more efficient scorer (his 52.8 true shooting percentage is below league average). Shooting is something the Magic need almost across the board, they have a lot of cap space money to spend this summer and look for them to go after guards who can space the floor for them (and take some shot creation responsibility off Banchero’s shoulders).

Hornets small icon 27. Hornets (22-49, LW 27). The Hornets may not be winning many games, but this is still a Steve Clifford team — they have the fifth-best defense in the league over their last 15 games. They aren’t winning because without LaMelo Ball and his creativity this offense can be hard to watch. Charlotte hosts Philadelphia and Indiana this week to close out a five-game homestand.

Rockets small icon 28. Rockets (17-52, LW 28). Break up the Rockets, they have won two in a row, knocking off the Celtics and the shorthanded but desperate Lakers. They are winning with a balanced, team attack — nobody scored more than 30 in either game (Jalen Green had 28 against the Celtics, Kevin Porter Jr. had 27 against the Lakers). That kind of growth is a good sign a team on the rise. Next up for Houston are two games against New Orleans.

Spurs small icon 29. Spurs (18-51, LW 29). The Spurs are going to miss the playoffs for the fourth straight season, which is not unheard of for a rebuilding team but is unheard of for a Spurs franchise that was the very model of consistency during the Tim Duncan years (although, it helps when you have Tim Duncan). San Antonio has won 2-of-4 and has gotten strong play of late from rookie Jeremy Sochan, who was a top-10 pick out of Baylor but has exceeded expectations this season.

Pistons small icon 30. Pistons (16-54, LW 30). A split of two games against the Pacers gave the Pistons their first win since before Valentine’s Day, but the upcoming schedule — Denver, Miami, Atlanta — does not give a lot of reason to hope another win is on the horizon. It’s good to see Jalen Duren back on the court.

NBA Power Rankings: Bucks stay on top, Knicks vault up to third


The Bucks hold on to the top spot in this week’s NBC Sports NBA Power Rankings, but the news is just below them where the Nuggets have climbed up to second and the Knicks have vaulted up to third.

Bucks small icon 1. Bucks (47-18, Last week No. 1). Milwaukee’s 16-game win-streak was snapped when its top-three defense let Philadelphia put up 48 in the fourth quarter. The Bucks bounced back from that bad 12 minutes with a couple of wins since, and with Boston slipping Milwaukee has a 2.5-game cushion for the top seed in the East. That matters because it puts them on the opposite side of the bracket from the Celtics and 76ers, who would have to go through each other before facing Giannis Antetokounmpo and company. The Bucks are happy to let them beat each other up. Three game road trip starts Saturday in Golden State in a nationally televised showdown against Stephen Curry and friends.

Nuggets small icon 2. Nuggets (46-19, LW 3). The Nuggets have won four straight and 8-of-9. What should give Nuggets fans the most hope heading into the playoffs is they are a league-best 30-4 at home. The big playoff concern about this team is on the defensive end, but over their last 15 games Denver’s 112 defensive rating is eighth best in the NBA — if they are playing top-10 defense come the postseason their chances of getting to the Finals jump dramatically. Starting Friday in San Antonio, Denver has 6-of-7 on the road, but most of this week is a relatively soft schedule.

Knicks small icon 3. Knicks (39-28, LW 6). In a reminder of how much Jalen Brunson means to this team, the Knicks’ nine-game winning streak was snapped by a Wembanyama-chasing Hornets team because he was out. While there is still time for things to go sideways in a way Knicks fans are all too familiar with, this team seems destined for a 4/5 matchup with the Cavaliers and the goal the rest of the way should be getting home court for that series. The other sign of how much Brunson meant to the team is New York having the fifth-best offense in the league this season, although part of that is Julius Randle going off and winning games with shots like this.

Celtics small icon 4. Celtics (45-21, LW 2). The Celtics have lost three in a row and 4-of-5, and the question is whether this is a structural issue or they are just a little bored with the regular season. I think it’s the latter, but this little slump has them 2.5 games back of the Bucks and looking at the No. 2 seed, which is a much rougher path through the playoffs. As things stand today they would get a beatable but physical and challenging Miami team in the first round, win that and it’s likely Philadelphia in the second round, with Milwaukee waiting at the end of the road. That is a gauntlet. Starting Saturday the Celtics head out on a six-game road trip.

Sixers small icon 5. 76ers (43-22, LW 4). Can the 76ers make it to the second seed? Philly has Gond 5-3 since the All-Star break and with the Celtics scuffling a little, find themselves just one game back of Boston, which would mean hosting a second-round series. If the Sixers are going to make it to the conference finals or beyond this season, they will need the James Harden that showed up in the fourth quarter against Milwaukee.

Cavaliers small icon 6. Cavaliers (41-26, LW 7). The Cavaliers have the best defense in the league for the season (109.5 defensive rating) but that has slipped a little of late, up to 112.1 over the last 10 games (that’s still ninth best in the league for that stretch). Cleveland appears headed for a showdown with New York in the first round of the playoffs and what the Cavs have going for them is the best player in that series — Donovan Mitchell had a 40 burger against the Celtics on Monday, he can carve up the Knicks defense and key a win in that series. Two big games against a desperate Miami team this Wednesday and Friday.

Kings small icon 7. Kings (38-26, LW 8). Back during Summer League in Las Vegas, some rowdy (perhaps intoxicated) Kings fans were chanting “40 wins” and talking playoffs, which led to chuckles in the NBA world. Nobody is laughing now — the Kings are about to blow by that optimistic outlook, just like they did the Vegas over/under on wins. The Kings moved up to the No. 2 seed in the West as they continue to play well (winning 6-of-7) while the Grizzlies deal with multiple issues and fall back. Things are going so well their Thursday night game against the red-hot Knicks was moved into the late game on TNT slot — the nation will get another look at the Kings.

Suns small icon 8. Suns (36-29, LW 9). Phoenix is 3-0 since Kevin Durant entered the lineup with a +13.5 net rating in those games — they have looked like contenders, even if it is one with some flaws. They have executed well when they have needed to, such as against the Mavericks, a game where Devin Booker and Durant combined for 73 points. The Suns sit as the No. 4 seed, three games back in the loss column from the Kings and Grizzlies. While Sacramento is not coming back to the pack, there is a chance the Suns can catch the stumbling Grizzlies for the No. 3 seed. The Suns play those Kings Saturday, then have a brutal back-to-back against the Warriors and Bucks Monday and Tuesday.

Grizzlies small icon 9. Grizzlies (38-26, LW 5). Ja Morant remains “away from the team” following him flashing a gun on social media and there is no return date set. There are bigger issues at play and Morant finding the right path for himself matters most, but they miss him dearly on the court as they slide down the West standings. Losing Brandon Clarke for the rest of the season and the playoffs to a torn Achilles is another big blow, he is a key part of their rotation. He likely is out until some point in the second half of next season (and missing all of it is not out of the question).

Mavericks small icon 10. Mavericks (34-32, LW 10). Dallas is 3-3 since the All-Star break, with a top-five offense and a bottom-10 defense that makes them dangerous but inconsistent. Despite Luka Dončić and Kyrie Irving having four games already where both score 30+, they are 3-5 playing together. The Mavs are tied with the Warriors as the five and six seeds in the West and it’s hard to see them moving up, the Suns (2.5 games ahead) will be tough to catch, and while Memphis is falling back making up five games with 16 to go is asking a lot. Dallas heads out on the road for 11 of their next 14 games.

Warriors small icon 11. Warriors (34-32, LW 12). Signs the Warriors are turning things around: They have the best defense in the NBA over the last seven games. They also got Stephen Curry back in the rotation, although that is an adjustment. “I think Steph is a really unique player to play with because most dominant players are on the ball constantly, and Steph is off the ball half the time,” Steve Kerr said. “And so you have to be ready not just to, you know, catch and shoot when he penetrates and kicks it to you but you got to recognize what he’s doing. Go set a screen for him, slip, be ready to take advantage of him with or without the ball.”

Heat small icon 12. Heat (35-31, LW 11). Erik Spoelstra has gone to staggering some of the minutes of Bam Adebayo and Jimmy Butler, needing to keep one of them on the floor to keep the team from cratering for stretches during a game. Still, there are rotation questions to answer: Kyle Lowry is nearing a return, should he start or should the steady Gabe Vincent keep the job? Max Strus was knocking down 3s and playing well as a starter with Kevin Love out, does he keep the job? Behind back-to-back wins against the Hawks last week, Miami has positioned itself well for the No. 7 seed, and now they can target trying to catch the Nets for a top-six finish, but to make up 2.5 games will take a hot hand and a little help. After a couple of games against the Cavaliers, the schedule softens up.

Nets small icon 13. Nets (37-28, LW 14). On a team with Devin Booker (and Deandre Ayton demanding touches), Mikal Bridges was not showcased offensively in Phoenix. He is getting his chance in Brooklyn and has grabbed it — he is averaging more than 30 points a game over his last four, and the Nets have won three of those (including a 28-point comeback against the Celtics). Brooklyn is a playoff team, and they have a 2.5-game lead over Miami with 17 to play (and the Nets have the tiebreaker), if the Nets can play around .500 ball the rest of the way they have a good chance of staying in the top six and avoiding the playoffs.

14. Timberwolves (34-33, LW 17). Nothing is locked in, but the sweep of the Los Angeles teams last weekend has helped the Timberwolves’ play-in positioning — if you’re stuck in the play-in you want to be the 7/8 seeds so you only need one win to advance. As of now, Minnesota is seven seed and looks likely to hold on to a 7/8 seed. Minnesota is 4-5 since the arrival of Mike Conley and will try to add to that with games against the Hawks and Nets (two teams fighting for playoff positioning themselves) this week.

Hawks small icon 15. Hawks (32-33, LW 16). Atlanta is 1-3 in the Quin Snyder era, although that is unfair as he was never going to have a chance to make meaningful changes to the system 60+ games into the season. They are shooting a few more 3-pointers a game, and Dejounte Murray went off for 41 against the Trail Blazers, but nothing has changed. It was interesting to see owner Tony Ressler go on a media tour to push back on the idea of meddling ownership (with his son working in the team’s front office) leading to frustration and the mid-season changes in the front office and coaching staff. Time will tell, but Snyder has the contract that gives him leverage.

Clippers small icon16. Clippers (34-33, LW 13). The Clippers snapped their five-game losing streak since the arrival of Russell Westbrook and him starting at point guard — but it took big games and a late push from Kawhi Leonard and Paul George to beat the shorthanded and stunned Grizzlies team. As of this writing, the Clippers sit as the No. 8 seed, just half a game (one in the loss column) back of Golden State and Dallas as the No. 5/6 seeds. The Clippers can avoid the play-in if they find an identity and start building some chemistry, but the stylistic change of Westbrook at the point has set that process back (even with him playing efficiently, he just plays a very different game than they had been).

Raptors small icon 17. Raptors (32-34, LW 15). Toronto is 4-3 since the All-Star break with their defense covering up an offense that has struggled with Fred VanVleet missing time then struggling with his shot upon his return. The Raptors appear locked into a play-in spot (they have a three-game cushion over the 11-seed Bulls) but the real question is can they pass the Hawks and climb up to the No. 8 seed and make their path through the play-in much easier? The schedule isn’t making things easier with both Los Angeles teams followed by Denver.

Lakers small icon 18. Lakers 32-34, LW 20). The Lakers have gone 3-2 since LeBron James went out with a foot injury — thanks in large part to Anthony Davis getting back to his All-NBA form from earlier in the season — and that combined with the slides of New Orleans and Utah has the Lakers up to ninth in the West and in the play-in. Maybe the best sign for Lakers fans from this run: They are doing it with defense. The Lakers have the fourth-best defense in the NBA over those five games (and a bottom-10 offense). A critical game for the Lakers next Tuesday against the Pelicans.

Blazers small icon 19. Trail Blazers (31-34, LW 21). Damian Lillard has carried Portland’s offense, scoring 30+ points in nine of his last 10 games (and that includes the insane 71-point night against the Rockets), but he is going to have to keep that up and get more help if the Trail Blazers are going to make the postseason. The next couple of weeks will be critical for Portland as they face a brutal schedule that could sink their playoff hopes: Boston, Philadelphia, New Orleans, New York, Boston, L.A.

Thunder small icon 20. Thunder (31-34, LW 23). Steven Adams is expected to return soon from injury. Jalen Williams may be playing himself onto the All-Rookie First team with his play of late — he’s averaging 21.3 points a game on 58.8% shooting since the All-Star break. OKC is in the bunch between 9 and 11 in the West with the Lakers, Pelicans and Trail Blazers battling for the final couple of play-in spots. The Thunder will have to earn this on the road, with 8-of-10 away from home (the Thunder are 11-19 away from home so far this season). The key game is this Sunday at New Orleans.

Wizards small icon 21. Wizards (31-34, LW 24). Washington has the roster of a dangerous play-in team. Bradley Beal could go off at any time, like he did last week dropping 37 on the Hawks. Kyle Kuzma is playing for his next contract and is capable of 30+ any given night. Kristaps Porzingis is another guy on the roster who can get hot and win the Wizards one game. And even with all of them, it was Daniel Gafford who got free for the game-winner against the Pistons, a put-back at the buzzer.

Jazz small icon 22. Jazz (31-35, LW 18). As expected after their moves selling off veterans at the trade deadline, the Jazz are struggling — they have lost four straight and fallen out of the play-in picture in the West. With the second toughest remaining schedule in the NBA, it’s tough to picture the Jazz turning it around. This season was supposed to be, in part, about developing players for the future in Utah and not only has Walker Kessler lived up to that, but of late Kris Dunn has impressed with solid minutes off the bench. The Jazz are 0-3 to start their six-game road trip.

Pelicans small icon 23. Pelicans (31-34, LW 19). Zion Williamson will be out at least a couple more weeks, the team announced, and that may be optimistic. If the Pelicans look like they are out of the play-in mix in two weeks, they might sit him for the remainder of the season. Huge games this week against other teams in the play-in mix: at home against the Thunder, Trail Blazers and Lakers. New Orleans needs a couple of wins in that trio of games.

Bulls small icon 24. Bulls (29-36, LW 22). Can the Bulls still climb up to the No. 10 seed and get into the play-in? They will need a little help from the Raptors or Wizards — Chicago sits two games back of Washington with 17 to play. It doesn’t help that Chicago has the fourth toughest schedule in the East the rest of the way. Zach LaVine has been putting up numbers of late, but the defense that was impressive earlier in the league has slipped and is bottom 10 in the league over the last five games.

Magic small icon 25. Magic 27-39, LW 25). Orlando isn’t headed to the playoffs but this season was always supposed to be about development and Paolo Banchero certainly has lived up to that — he will be the Rookie of the Year — but there have been other bright spots as well with second-year player Franz Wagner taking another step forward, and Wendell Carter Jr. looks like a rotation big. Losing Jonathan Isaac for the season again after just 11 games is a blow, but hopefully, he can bounce back from adductor surgery and be ready to roll next season.

Pacers small icon 26. Pacers (29-37, LW 26). There are so many signs of how much Tyrese Haliburton means to this team beyond the 40 points and 16 assists he put up against the 76ers on Monday. The best example may be Indiana’s season fell apart starting mid-January when Haliburton missed 10 games and the team went 1-9 without him. Haliburton has played at an All-NBA level this season, however the league is so deep with elite guards that picking the top six for All-NBA honors is going to mean some very good players are going to get left off.

Hornets small icon 27. Hornets (21-46, LW 27). Tuesday’s win snapping the Knicks’ nine-game winning streak was one of the team’s best wins, especially without LaMelo Ball (out for the season). Kelly Oubre Jr. is happy to take more shots and has picked up some of that scoring slack and is averaging more than 24 points a game since Ball went down. They have more winnable games this week against the Pistons and Jazz.

Rockets small icon 28. Rockets (15-50, LW 29). The Rockets are firmly entrenched in the bottom three teams in the league — they will have a 14% chance at landing Victor Wembanyama — so a couple of wins against the Spurs this week is not going to hurt their cause. For all the focus on Jalen Green and his impressive athleticism, Alpren Şengün looks like the guy who could be a key part of this team’s rotation in the future. Starting Saturday against the Bulls the Rockets have a six-game homestand.

Spurs small icon 29. Spurs (16-49, LW 30). San Antonio won two games in the past week (Pacers and Jazz) and that was enough to get them out of the cellar of these NBA Power rankings, but then they go and lose both games of a home-and-home with Houston, so how much can we really move them up? On the bright side for Spurs fans, outside of scouring YouTube for Wembanyama highlights they can watch Devin Vassell, who returned to action this week.

Pistons small icon 30. Pistons (15-51, LW 28). Losers of nine in a row and 12-of-13, the Pistons have slid into the bottom of these NBA Power Rankings. Adding to their woes, Detroit has lost Hamidou Diallo for the rest of the season with a Grade 2 right ankle sprain. This team could make a leap next season with whoever they draft and the return of Cade Cunningham (the guy who brings this entire offense together), but the next few weeks will not be pretty.

NBA Power Rankings: Bucks just keep on winning to stay on top


This week’s NBA Power Rankings come a day behind schedule due to unanticipated hindrances in the Helin household. However, nothing changes as the Bucks and Celtics remain on top, with Denver still the team to beat in the West even with Kevin Durant making his return.

Bucks small icon 1. Bucks (45-17, Last week No. 1). Winners of 16 in a row and the foundation of the streak remains the defense (best in the NBA over that stretch). They also have an insane 11.4 net rating for those 16 games. Giannis Antetokounmpo didn’t miss any time with the sprained wrist — unless you count the All-Star Game as time, and nobody should — and only one game with the knee injury, which keeps the offense flowing (just 13th in the league during the streak, but good enough). Extending the streak means more than the big showdown with the 76ers on Saturday, they have another game against a Magic team playing better of late (5-5 in their last 10), sleep on games and they can be upset, and the Celtics remain on their heels.

Celtics small icon 2. Celtics (45-18, LW 2). Boston got to roll out its preferred starting lineup — Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Al Horford, Robert Williams III — for a whopping two games after the All-Star break (wins over the Pacers and 76ers) before Brown was out against the Knicks. It speaks to the depth and versatility of this team that they are in the mix for the best record in the league despite the disruptions — and that depth provides the versatility that will make them such a dangerous playoff team. A challenging week with the Nets, Knicks and at the Cavaliers on the schedule.

Nuggets small icon 3. Nuggets (44-19, LW 5). Nikola Jokić may be the frontrunner for MVP but despite some recent polling don’t think he is not running away with the award — however his Nuggets are running away with the West. Denver has a 5 game lead over the Grizzlies and are four up in the loss column with 19 games to play. Back to the MVP race, that top seed one of the things — along with averaging a triple-double and his continuing insane on/off numbers — that Jokić needed to overcome the doubts of some voters about his candidacy for a third-straight MVP. Interesting showdown with the Grizzlies on Friday, a potential Western Conference Finals showdown.

Sixers small icon 4. 76ers (40-21, LW 3). While Jokić may be the frontrunner, Joel Embiid has a very strong MVP case — 33 points and 10.4 rebounds a game, plus elite defense. He won’t play that many fewer games and minutes than Jokić this season. Beyond an MVP candidate, if you’re looking for reasons to be positive about this team heading toward the playoffs, look at their +11.9 net rating (and 20-13 record) in clutch games this season, the fifth-best net rating in the league (despite recent close losses to the Celtics and Heat). Tough tests ahead this week with the Mavericks and Bucks, both games on the road (part of a five-game trip).

Grizzlies small icon 5. Grizzlies (38-23, LW 6). The Grizzlies have won three in a row, all comfortable wins, which is why they are back in the top five of these NBA Power Rankings. However, of concern come the playoffs is their -12.2 net rating in clutch games, 25th in the league. That number is about more than an offense that can become stagnant in a slowed-down, half-court setting; the Grizzlies’ defense has been bottom 10 in those clutch minutes as well. How the Grizzlies do in tight games over the season’s final weeks is something to watch. Tough tests on the road this week at Denver, then both Los Angeles teams.

Knicks small icon 6. Knicks (37-27, LW 10). Winners of seven in a row, including a quality win at home against the Celtics on Monday night — New York seems headed for at least the five seed in the East, and the four seed is not out of the question (they are just 1.5 games back of the Cavaliers). Whoever hosts, a first-round showdown with Cleveland seems the direction things are pointing. Jalen Brunson remains hot, averaging 27.1 points a game on 53.8% shooting over his last 10 games, hitting 43.4% from 3 and dishing out 5.9 assists a night. Big road showdowns over the weekend against the Heat and then the Celtics again.

Cavaliers small icon 7. Cavaliers (39-26, LW 4). Cleveland is the team with the easiest schedule in the NBA the rest of the way, which is a huge advantage in holding off the Knicks and keeping the No. 4 seed. The Cavaliers are 1-3 coming out of the All-Star break, although it’s a good sign they played the Celtics tight on Wednesday night thanks to 44 points from Donovan Mitchell (the Cavs play those Celtics again Monday, this time at home). They also have a couple of games against the Heat coming up, but the schedule does start to soften up in 10 days and could keep the Cavs home for the first round of the playoffs (likely against the Knicks).

Kings small icon 8. Kings (36-25, LW 8). Mike Brown appears to be the man to beat for the Coach of the Year award, having steered this Kings roster to the three seed in the West — this is a team destined to host a first-round series in the playoffs. That is, unless they stumble down the stretch — and they do have the toughest remaining schedule in the conference (based on opponent winning percentage). That said, they still have a 4.5-game cushion over the fifth-seeded Warriors and should be able to hold them off the rest of the way. Also on postseason award watch, De'Aaron Fox appears the frontrunner for the new Clutch Player award handed out by the league. Rematch of that high-scoring, 2OT game Friday night against the Clippers.

Suns small icon 9. Suns (34-29, LW 11). Kevin Durant made his Suns debut Wednesday and it couldn’t have gone much smoother — 23 points on 10-of-15 shooting (against what’s left of the Hornets, but still). Durant’s presence seemed to get Devin Booker better matchups, turned Chris Paul into more of a floor general and distributor than a shooter (which is a good thing), and it provides opportunities for Deandre Ayton. Just one game, but a good start. Fun test Sunday against the Mavericks.

Mavericks small icon 10. Mavericks (32-31, LW 9). They are 1-4 so far with Luka Dončić and Kyrie Irving in the lineup. As expected, the Mavs offense is top three in the league over that stretch, but it’s not able to cover up the bottom-10 defense. That was obvious in the blown 27-point lead against the Lakers, when LeBron James and Anthony Davis got to their spots without much resistance and made buckets. Also evident in that game, the Mavs have been awful in the clutch despite the pedigree of Dončić and Irving. They have some time to figure out the chemistry on this team, and Maxi Kleber‘s return soon should help the defense a little, but the Mavs are just going to have to outscore people to win.

Heat small icon 11. Heat (33-30, LW 7). For all the talk of injuries and holes in the lineup, the biggest reason the Heat have fallen off this season is they inexplicably just can’t shoot 3s. Last season they shot 37.9% from deep on 35.8 attempts a game, this season it’s 33.2% on essentially the same volume (34.9 attempts per game). It’s across the board: Tyler Herro fell from 39.9% to 36.8%, Max Strus from 41% to 33.5%, Caleb Martin 41.3% to 36.3%, Gabe Vincent 36.8% to 31.8%, and Duncan Robinson went from 37.2% to out of the rotation shooting 32.5%. They need those shots, big week ahead with games against the Knicks and two against the Hawks.

Warriors small icon 12. Warriors (32-30, LW 14). The Warriors have impressively gone 5-4 (winning three straight) without Stephen Curry, and that is with Andrew Wiggins and Draymond Green missing time in there as well. It has pushed them up to the fifth seed in the West as teams around them tumble. According to reports, Curry is nearing his return, but no date has been set (publicly, at least). Everyone is waiting for these Warriors to flip the switch — they particularly need to on the defensive end — and if it’s going to happen it better happen soon after whenever Curry returns because there isn’t a lot of time to build chemistry.

Clippers small icon13. Clippers (33-31, LW 13). They are 0-3 since the addition of Russell Westbrook, but he is not the problem — he’s not perfect, but he’s averaging 16 points on efficient shooting and dishing out 9.3 assists a game since coming to Los Angeles. However, his presence at the point changes the pace and style of the Clippers’ offense and that has shown up in turnovers and losses (plus, he does not help their defense much). With 18 games to go it’s hard to tell who these Clippers are, it’s the same questions we have had about their identity all season. Things don’t get easier with the Warriors, Kings and Grizzlies next up this week.

Nets small icon 14. Nets (34-28, LW 12). Losers of four in a row and 8-of-10, unsurprisingly the wheels have come off since the Irving and Durant trades (and despite a roster filled with solid role players). The Nets need to find some chemistry and their footing fast if they are going to hold off the Heat (or maybe the Hawks) for the No. 6 seed and avoid the play-in. If you’re looking for a bright spot, it’s the play of Mikal Bridges, who is averaging 23.8 points and 5.2 rebounds a game since coming to Brooklyn. The Nets have 6-of-7 coming up on the road (starting Friday in Boston).

Raptors small icon 15. Raptors (31-32, LW 18). The Raptors are 5-2 since the arrival of Jakob Poeltl, with the defense improving behind him finally giving the team a solid rim protector (he had six blocks against the Magic next week). However, the offense has fallen off and the team has a negative net rating over that span because of it. The Raptors need some wins to hold on to a postseason spot and try to climb up into at least the top eight, but they will have to do it on the road for the next five games, including two in Washington against the Wizards.

Hawks small icon 16. Hawks (31-31, LW 17). Quin Snyder lost his first game as Hawks head coach (to the Wizards), but Atlanta had a couple of days off, which allows Snyder time to practice and make some tweaks to offensive sets or defensive plans, although there is only so much he will have time to do before next training camp. Eventually there will be hard decisions to be made about Trae Young and where/how he fits in the Hawks’ long-term plans, however, the challenge directly in front of Atlanta is to hold on to a top-eight seed (making it easier to get out of the play-in) despite having the third toughest schedule in the East the rest of the way. Big games in Miami Saturday and Monday that will have seeding implications.

17. Timberwolves (32-32, LW 15). Watching this team in person — even during a win over the Clippers Tuesday — it was hard to see what the identity of this team is, what the plan is. Part of that may be due to the extended absence of Karl-Anthony Towns (and no, they are not planning to trade him, even if other teams are calling), but even so it’s hard to see the master plan. Mike Conley at the point does appear a better fit than D'Angelo Russell. The Timberwolves should be able to hold on to a top-eight seed in the West, but a win Friday over the Lakers would be a big boost along those lines.

Jazz small icon 18. Jazz (31-32, LW 20). Talen Horton-Tucker is getting his shot, he will be the starting point guard and primary playmaker for the Jazz the rest of the season. Horton-Tucker has always had an athletic burst and can score for himself, but can he take over a more classic playmaker role (the one Mike Conley filled for this team before he was traded). Even after another round of trades, the Jazz both remain in the play-in as of today (nine seed) and they are competitive and not just falling away behind the Lakers and Trail Blazers. If those teams are going to make the postseason, they are going to have to earn it.

Pelicans small icon 19. Pelicans (31-32, LW 16). The Pelicans have gone 8-18 since Zion Williamson went out and — even with the return of Brandon Ingram — have looked like a team falling out of even the play-in (Wednesday’s win over Portland felt like a mild reversal of that trend). It doesn’t help now that Jose Alvarado (right shin stress fracture) and Larry Nance (sprained ankle) are missing time. Tough week ahead with the Warriors, Kings and Mavericks on the schedule.

Lakers small icon 20. Lakers 30-33, LW 24). No LeBron James for a couple of weeks due to a foot injury (no surgery, fortunately) has dampened the hype around this team’s play right out of the All-Star break. Still, the play-in is within reach — projects them as the nine seed at 41-41 — and the win against OKC without LeBron or Davis helped. Los Angeles is home for 10-of-12 and can make up some ground, and this Friday’s game against the Timberwolves takes on added importance in this chase.

Blazers small icon 21. Trail Blazers (29-33, LW 21). Damian Lillard is trying to will this team into the postseason and if that means dropping a career-high 71 points – tied for the most in the NBA this season – with 13 3-pointers, he’ll do it. That insane night from Lillard earned the Trail Blazers a win that snapped a two-game win streak at the expense of the stumbling Rockets. The Trail Blazers now head out on the road for six and need some wins to stay in the play-in mix.

Bulls small icon 22. Bulls (29-34, LW 22). There’s a case to be made these Bulls are better than their record indicates (and better than this ranking), mostly based around the fact they have the point differential of a 33-win team. It’s also been under-discussed how the Bulls have the fifth best defense in the NBA this season despite not having Lonzo Ball at the point all season — give coach Billy Donovan credit for that. The Bulls remain just one game out of the play-in and can get into the postseason if they go on a run, but it won’t be easy to start this week with the Suns and Nuggets two of their next three games.

Thunder small icon 23. Thunder (28-34, LW 19). The Thunder have dropped five in a row, the last four with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander out due to what the team has called an abdominal strain. They have now slid to 13th in the West and it’s hard to see them making up the needed ground fast enough to get into the play-in, which is disappointing. It’s going to be espeically difficult to start a run this week with two games against the Jazz, then the Warriors and the Suns to follow.

Wizards small icon 24. Wizards (29-32, LW 23). The Wizards are hanging on to the No. 10 seed in the East (it’s where projects them to finish), but after a win over Atlanta recently — and with three more meetings coming up — they have their eyes on climbing up to the No. 8 seed. Kristaps Porzingins returning to the lineup after a two-game absence (left knee soreness) will help with that. Tough week ahead with two against the Raptors then they face the Bucks, all on the road.

Magic small icon 25. Magic 26-37, LW 25). Could the Magic make the playoffs? It’s a long shot, but they need to get on a hot streak (and they have the fourth toughest schedule in the East the rest of the way). Orlando is four games out of the final play-in spot, and they need to string together wins starting this week when they have a game against the bucks and one against Lillard and the Trail Blazers. The Magic need more plays like Wendell Carter Jr.‘s tip in of Paolo Banchero‘s missed layup at the buzzer to beat the Pistons.

Pacers small icon 26. Pacers (28-35, LW 26). Indiana is still within a couple of games of the last play-in spot and this is a team with an All-Star (and, in my book, All-NBA) player in Tyrese Haliburton, who keeps racking up assists. That is to say, there’s a chance, especially after beating Dallas on Tuesday. If they are going to make a run the upcoming games against the Spurs and Bulls are a chance to build some momentum and climb up in the standings.

Hornets small icon 27. Hornets (20-44, LW 27). They had won five in a row, but news that LaMelo Ball fractured his ankle and is done for the rest of the season has put a damper on any postseason dreams in Charlotte. They seemed locked into having the fourth worst record in the league this season, which would give them just under a 25% chance of landing one of the top two picks in the draft (those are two prized picks, Victor Wembanyama and Scoot Henderson).

Pistons small icon 28. Pistons (15-48, LW 28). James Wiseman is getting a chance to prove himself in Detroit, and while he dropped 23 on the Hornets his efficiency has dropped with the expanded role in Detroit. If he’s looking like just a role player, it’s unlikely the Pistons would want to bring him back, they are deep along the front line already. The Pistons have lost six straight and face teams fighting for postseason in the Cavaliers, Trail Blazers and Wizards this week.

Rockets small icon 29. Rockets (13-49, LW 29). Losers of 10 in a row, the buzz continues about James Harden wanting to return to Houston in the offseason. There was a lot of speculation about it during All-Star weekend, and there are personal reasons as to why Harden would welcome a return to the Rockets. The interest appears to be mutual, but Philly can offer more money and a chance to contend. It will come down to what Harden prioritizes when this offseason hits.

Spurs small icon 30. Spurs (15-47, LW 30). The Spurs 16-game losing streak is over thanks to the Utah Jazz — all that losing is just not good for the mindset of young players or the psyche of their soon-to-be Hall of Fame coach. Mark the calendars for a battle for the bottom of these rankings — a home-and-home against Houston is on the schedule this week.

Three things to Know: Can Lakers still make playoffs despite LeBron’s injury?


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

1) Can Lakers still make playoffs despite LeBron’s injury?

This photo strikes at the heart of Lakers fans.

After the trade deadline, the new-look Lakers with their improved roster were hitting their stride. However, there was always a lot of work to do to climb back into the playoffs, there was not much margin for error.

Then came the word LeBron James would be out weeks with a foot injury. News of the injury led to a lot of “the Lakers are done” talk around the league.

But are they?

“The mission has not changed for us,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said, via the Associated Press.

It is possible the 12th-seed Lakers could push through the coming weeks, playing well enough to give LeBron reason to come back as quickly as he can for a postseason run — the Lakers remain just one game out of the 10 seed. However, to get there the Lakers need wins — instead, they racked up a loss against the Grizzlies Tuesday night. The Lakers had no answer for Ja Morant, who scored 28 in the third quarter alone on his way to 39 points and a triple-double for the game, and the Grizzlies picked up a 121-109 win.

The Grizzlies had struggled since their last loss in Los Angeles to the Lakers, and their social media team knew how to celebrate this win.

The Lakers are now 5-10 without LeBron this season, getting outscored by 7.9 points per 100 possessions when he is off the floor. Most of those losses came before this new lineup — they are now 1-2 without LeBron with this roster, the one win being against the Warriors — but there is a path to them picking up enough wins to hang around.

It requires Anthony Davis to continue to play like “bubble Davis” — he did that against the Grizzlies with 28 points, 19 rebounds and five blocks. It requires D'Angelo Russell to come back soon from his ankle injury and then be the shot creator for others and floor general he was not in Minnesota for most of this season. It requires other role players to step up nightly — Malik Beasley, Dennis Schroder, Austin Reaves, whoever — and pick up the slack.

The Lakers have the advantage of both New Orleans and Utah — the current ninth and 10th seeds — struggling and falling back towards them. However, the Lakers need enough wins to climb over both just to make the bottom of the play-in, that’s because a motivated Damian Lillard and the Trail Blazers are the 11 seed and are fighting to get into the postseason themselves.

Also know, the Lakers are not going to rush LeBron back — and where they are in the standings when he gets close will play a role in if and when he comes back to the court.

“As an organization, we’re going to make sure we kick the tires and look at everything that needs to be looked at,” Ham said. “Never in a hundred million years will we put a guy out there that has a risk of further damaging what’s going on. That’s not just with LeBron. That’s with any of our players.”

The Lakers can make the postseason, but their margin for error is now completely gone. They need a lot of things to go right just to make it to the part of the play-in where they need to win two games to get the No. 8 seed.

But it is possible.

2) Dallas loses again, this time at home to struggling Pacers

The Dallas Mavericks are now 1-4 since Kyrie Irving and Luka Dončić both joined the lineup.

Once again on Tuesday night the offense was not the problem, the Mavericks had an outstanding 121 offensive rating behind 39 points and nine rebounds for Luka Dončić.

However, the Pacers had a 126.5 offensive rating against a struggling Mavs defense. Tyrese Haliburton had 32 points on his birthday, while Myles Turner pitched in 24. The Pacers are just two games out of the play-in and have not given up hope.

Over those last five games with Irving and Dončić the Mavericks have a 121.6 offensive rating, fourth best in the league over that stretch. They also have a 120 defensive rating (25th in the league). That’s a positive net rating and maybe they should be more like 3-2 over those five, but when a team doesn’t get stops, this happens.

The offense should get smoother over the coming games, and the return of Maxi Kleber to the lineup Tuesday should help the defense a little, but Dallas does not have the personnel to be a good defensive team and there is only so much coach Jason Kidd can do.

3) Spurs snap 16-game losing streak

Maybe Gregg Popovich did his best Kyrie Irving impression and walked around Vivint Arena burning sage before Tuesday’s game. Or, perhaps he just sat in his office in the arena and drank a lovely Pinot, but whatever he did, it worked.

The Spurs snapped their 16-game winning streak, beating a seemingly disinterested Jazz team 102-94. Utah shot 35% for the night and didn’t score. In the final three minutes of the game.

Keldon Johnson led the way for San Antonio with 25 points, while Doug McDermott added 19.

It’s the first road win for the Spurs since December.

It’s good to see for San Antonio. While their focus is the Victor Wembanyama sweepstakes, that much losing is just rough on any organization.

Bonus thing to know: Quin Snyder loses opener as Hawks coach. Snyder is a good hire by the Hawks, someone who can build the organizational culture ownership craves.

He won’t be able to do much to turn this campaign around more than 60 games into the season. As evidence we present his opening game, a 119-116 loss to the Washington Wizards at home. It’s going to be a work in progress in Atlanta.