NBA Power Rankings: Where Every NBA Team Stands with 1 Month Left

Andy Bailey@@AndrewDBaileyFeatured Columnist IVMarch 10, 2023

NBA Power Rankings: Where Every NBA Team Stands with 1 Month Left

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    Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokić
    Jamal Murray and Nikola JokićBart Young/NBAE via Getty Images

    With one month left to go in the 2022-23 NBA season, the bona fide title contenders are starting to reveal themselves.

    Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks have won 19 of their last 20. The Boston Celtics had a disappointing stretch early in the week but had an "everybody calm down" win to close the week. The Denver Nuggets have the best net rating in the NBA since January 1. And the Bucks are the only team with fewer losses than the Philadelphia 76ers since that same date.

    Injuries (or other reasons for unavailability) have somewhat clouded the futures of the Phoenix Suns and Memphis Grizzlies, but they could certainly be in the above conversation too.

    Where things get tricky is outside the top five or six teams. This NBA season has brought more parity than any other in recent memory. The middle of the league is tightly packed. And there isn't a ton of separation between them and the contenders.

    That makes the power rankings a particularly difficult exercise, but with our same trusty guides as usual (championship chances, recent performance, numbers and loads of subjectivity), we press on.

30. San Antonio Spurs (16-49)

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    Devin Vassell
    Devin VassellPhotos by Michael Gonzales/NBAE via Getty Images

    Previous Rank: 29
    Net Rating: -10.2

    The San Antonio Spurs authored an unexpected two-game winning streak just ahead of last week's power rankings, but they were very much back to their old selves this week.

    In back-to-back battles between the West's two worst teams (the Spurs and the Houston Rockets), San Antonio lost twice, and thereby won in the race to the bottom of the standings.

    Although, thanks to recent bouts with competence for the Charlotte Hornets, the Spurs-Rockets miniseries may prove meaningless in the end. The bottom three teams all have the same 14 percent shot at the No. 1 pick, and those two and the Detroit Pistons seem borderline locked in at the bottom.

29. Houston Rockets (15-51)

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    Jabari Smith Jr. and Jalen Green
    Jabari Smith Jr. and Jalen GreenRon Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images

    Previous Rank: 30
    Net Rating: -8.5

    Much of this season has been a struggle for this past summer's third overall pick, Jabari Smith Jr.

    On the year, he's averaging 12.1 points while shooting 39.3 percent from the field and 30.0 percent from three, concerning marks for a prospect who was billed as a potential three-and-D star.

    But over his last four games, Smith is showing signs of the upside that made him a top pick. In those contests, he's putting up 17.0 points while shooting 53.3 percent from the field and 47.1 percent from deep.

    If this version of Smith is here for a while, it'll be a lot easier to buy back into his long-term potential.

28. Detroit Pistons (15-52)

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    James Wiseman
    James WisemanChris Schwegler/NBAE via Getty Images

    Previous Rank: 28
    Net Rating: -7.3

    Things couldn't be going much better for the rebuilding Detroit Pistons, and I write that knowing full well that they've lost 10 in a row and 13 of their last 14.

    Because, of course, all the losing has pretty much secured Detroit's spot in the league's bottom three. And that means a 14 percent chance to add Victor Wembanyama to a roster that already includes a playmaker in Cade Cunningham who should make his adjustment to the NBA easier.

    A handful of solid games from the recently acquired James Wiseman is a consolation for the losses too. On Thursday, he went for 16 points and 13 rebounds and was a plus-13 in a loss to the Charlotte Hornets. He's now hit double figures in scoring in six of his nine games with the Pistons.

    Of course, it might be hard for him to hang onto his current role if Wembanyama joins the team this summer, but Detroit would probably prefer to have a potential center controversy than to have Wiseman struggling the way he did with the Golden State Warriors.

27. Charlotte Hornets (22-46)

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    Terry Rozier
    Terry RozierBrian Sevald/NBAE via Getty Images

    Previous Rank: 27
    Net Rating: -5.7

    The Charlotte Hornets are suddenly 7-3 in their last 10, but the most recent two wins came without LaMelo Ball.

    As it turns out, veterans Terry Rozier, Gordon Hayward and Kelly Oubre Jr. can still play a little bit. During this 10-game stretch, they're averaging 19.8, 17.8 and 20.9 points, respectively. Hayward (5.2) and Rozier (5.1) are both handing out over five assists per game too.

    Thing is, this little run of competence doesn't really change much for the Hornets, who are 4.5 games away from a bottom-three spot and a 14 percent chance at the No. 1 pick in one direction and 5.5 games away from worse odds in the other direction.

    Right now, it looks like Charlotte is pretty much locked into 12.5 percent lottery odds.

26. Orlando Magic (27-40)

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    Paolo Banchero
    Paolo BancheroFernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images

    Previous Rank: 25
    Net Rating: -2.7

    Paolo Banchero had a truly brutal stretch from February 1 through March 1, in which he shot 68-of-184 (37.0 percent) from the field and 1-of-35 (2.9 percent) from three.

    But this week, he's broken out of that slump in a big way.

    The Orlando Magic went 1-3 (which is just fine for their lottery odds), but Banchero averaged 25.8 points while shooting 47.4 percent from the field and 42.1 percent from deep over four games.

    If there was any doubt about his grip on Rookie of the Year honors, Banchero spent this week tightening it.

25. Indiana Pacers (30-37)

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    Tyrese Haliburton
    Tyrese HaliburtonMichael Hickey/Getty Images

    Previous Rank: 26
    Net Rating: -2.4

    Tyrese Haliburton is on an absurd run as the Indiana Pacers cling to some shred of hope for the play-in tournament.

    After going for 29 points and 19 assists in a win over the Houston Rockets on Thursday, Haliburton is now averaging 27.8 and 13.3 over his last six appearances.

    If he, Myles Turner and Buddy Hield are generally available down the stretch, Indiana might still make the playoffs. It's plus-4.7 points per 100 possessions when all three are on the floor.

24. Portland Trail Blazers (31-35)

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    Damian Lillard
    Damian LillardBrian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

    Previous Rank: 24
    Net Rating: -1.1

    Most of Damian Lillard's performances over the past month and a half have looked superhuman. And on the rare occasions he's not at that level, the Portland Trail Blazers don't seem to have a prayer.

    Over his past 25 games, Lillard is averaging 37.8 points, 7.2 assists and 4.7 threes while shooting 39.3 percent from deep.

    And after going for 27 points on 7-of-16 shooting in Wednesday's loss to the Boston Celtics, Portland is now 1-5 when he doesn't get to 30 points during this 25-game run.

23. Utah Jazz (32-35)

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    Talen Horton-Tucker
    Talen Horton-TuckerFernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images

    Previous Rank: 20
    Net Rating: +0.1

    Plenty has been made of Lauri Markkanen and Walker Kessler exceeding expectations this season, but they're not the only first-year Utah Jazz players making some noise recently.

    After going for 23 points and eight assists in Thursday's win over the Orlando Magic, Talen Horton-Tucker is averaging 13.9 points and 5.7 assists since Mike Conley was traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves.

    And while it feels like THT has been in the league for a bit, he turned 22 in November. There's still plenty of time for him to develop into a full-time starting guard alongside Markkanen, Kessler, Ochai Agbaji and potentially another lottery pick this summer.

22. Oklahoma City Thunder (31-35)

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    Josh Giddey
    Josh GiddeyBarry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images

    Previous Rank: 23
    Net Rating: +1.1

    It's hard to watch the Oklahoma City Thunder without a hint of suspicion that they're angling to hang onto their own lottery pick.

    Shai Gilgeous-Alexander played in the All-Star Game and OKC's first contest afterward (when he had 39 points), then he sat for five games.

    Of course, an abdominal injury and the league's health and safety protocols were certainly legitimate reasons for the absence, but then he combined for 71 points in back-to-back wins this week and followed that up with an "injury management" absence.

    Justin Termine @TermineRadio

    Why isn't 24yr old SGA playing one night after he was healthy enough drop 33 against the Warriors--- with his team a half game out of the playoffs at the most important time of the year???<br><br>What type of competitive environment are the Thunder trying to create?

    The Thunder lost by 31 points to the Kevin Durant-less Phoenix Suns in SGA's most recent absence, and their seasonlong minus-2.5 net rating without their leading scorer probably means they can stay out of the play-in tournament if they continue to manage his injuries like this.

    On the bright side, rookie Jalen Williams (who's missed the past two games with a wrist injury) has averaged 23.3 points and 5.3 assists over his past six appearances. And a 17-point, 17-assist performance in this week's win over the Golden State Warriors helped lift sophomore Josh Giddey's averages to 18.2 and 11.0 over his past five games.

21. Los Angeles Lakers (32-34)

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    Dennis Schröder, Rui Hachimura and Anthony Davis
    Dennis Schröder, Rui Hachimura and Anthony DavisHarry How/Getty Images

    Previous Rank: 22
    Net Rating: -0.5

    The Los Angeles Lakers were supposed to finally fall out of the playoff race altogether when news broke in early March that LeBron James would be out at least three weeks with a foot injury.

    Anthony Davis and the rest of the Lakers had other ideas.

    L.A. is 3-2 during LeBron's current absence, and AD is averaging 33.8 points, 13.5 rebounds, 2.8 blocks, 2.8 assists and 1.0 threes, having played four games during this stretch.

    Perhaps most surprising of all, the Lakers even won the only game Davis missed out of those five. Contributions from Dennis Schröder, Troy Brown Jr. and Austin Reaves are making a difference, and if they can continue to play this way and LeBron gets back in time for the play-in tournament, L.A. might be a tough out.

20. Chicago Bulls (30-36)

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    Patrick Beverley, Zach LaVine and Coby White
    Patrick Beverley, Zach LaVine and Coby WhiteGarrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

    Previous Rank: 21
    Net Rating: +0.7

    The Chicago Bulls shellacked the Denver Nuggets 117-96 on Wednesday. While buyout additions for a number of other teams around the league have yielded mixed results, Patrick Beverley has undoubtedly been a plus in Chicago.

    The Bulls are 4-3 in games he's played, and they're plus-7.2 points per 100 possessions when he shares the floor with Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan and Nikola Vučević.

    That impact isn't the product of Beverley's per-game averages of 4.4 points and 4.0 assists, at least not entirely. His aggression on defense and willingness to play off the ball in a lineup with ball-dominant wings are the immeasurables that could be giving Chicago this rhythm.

    With a month left to play and that rhythm setting in, the Bulls are only one game back of the Washington Wizards for the final spot in the East's play-in tournament.

19. New Orleans Pelicans (32-34)

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    CJ McCollum
    CJ McCollumJonathan Bachman/NBAE via Getty Images

    Previous Rank: 18
    Net Rating: +0.7

    The New Orleans Pelicans raced out to a big lead over the Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday, and they were able to ride that to a seven-point win. But there is still plenty of cause for concern.

    New Orleans is 9-20 during Zion Williamson's current injury absence (the fifth worst record in the NBA during this stretch), and he's reportedly out for another couple weeks.

    Adrian Wojnarowski @wojespn

    Zion Williamson (hamstring) will miss a minimum of two more weeks, Pels say.

    As if that wasn't bad enough, Brandon Ingram left Wednesday's win during the second quarter with a sprained ankle. If he misses a few games with that, the Pelicans' spot in the play-in tournament is very much in jeopardy.

    Basketball Reference's Playoff Probabilities Report currently gives New Orleans a 20.2 percent chance to finish 11th or worse in the West.

18. Washington Wizards (31-35)

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    Kristaps Porziņģis
    Kristaps PorziņģisKenny Giarla/NBAE via Getty Images

    Previous Rank: 16
    Net Rating: -0.2

    The Washington Wizards are 1-3 in their past four and are clinging to the final spot in the play-in tournament, but it's tough to blame Kristaps Porziņģis for that.

    After going for 43 points on 17-of-22 shooting in Wednesday's loss to the Atlanta Hawks, Porziņģis is now averaging 27.0 points, 7.9 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 2.9 threes and 1.3 blocks while shooting 57.4 percent from the field and 49.4 percent from three since February 1.

    Over the same stretch, the Wizards are plus-1.8 points per 100 possessions with KP on the floor and minus-4.6 when he's off.

17. Toronto Raptors (32-35)

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    Fred VanVleet
    Fred VanVleetAdam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images

    Previous Rank: 17
    Net Rating: +0.3

    It's been a "scratching and clawing" kind of season for the Toronto Raptors, who fought to get their record within a game of .500 on February 25 but are 2-4 since and seemingly reeling from disagreeable officiating.

    On Monday, Toronto was on the wrong end of two challenged calls in the final few minutes against the Denver Nuggets before an ejection of Scottie Barnes for the use of "verbiage that which directly questioned the integrity of the crew," sealed the loss.

    Two days later, a loss to the Los Angeles Clippers and a second-half technical foul called on Fred VanVleet pushed the Raptors point guard to deliver a lengthy, profanity-laced criticism of the officials after the game.

    Frustration is often a natural result of basketball, especially for a team whose record is probably a little worse than expected. But the Raptors will have to refocus over the next five—in which they face the Los Angeles Lakers on the road and the Denver Nuggets and Milwaukee Bucks at home—to stay in play-in range.

16. Brooklyn Nets (37-29)

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    Mikal Bridges
    Mikal BridgesGary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images

    Previous Rank: 19
    Net Rating: +1.1

    On the first night of a back-to-back, coach Jacque Vaughn pulled the plug on his starters after about 11 minutes of Thursday's loss to the Milwaukee Bucks, but the Brooklyn Nets had won three straight before then.

    And over eight games from February 15 to March 7, recently acquired wing Mikal Bridges put up 29.4 points, 5.3 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 2.8 threes, 1.1 steals and 0.9 blocks while shooting 47.8 percent from deep.

    For most of his time with his new team, the 26-year-old has looked like an All-Star, which means the Nets might not have to do much rebuilding at all in the wake of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving's departures.

15. Atlanta Hawks (33-33)

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    Trae Young
    Trae YoungG Fiume/Getty Images

    Previous Rank: 15
    Net Rating: -0.1

    Things got off to a rocky, 1-3 start under new coach Quin Snyder, but that criticism can largely be confined to the defensive end.

    After beating the Washington Wizards 122-120 on Wednesday, Atlanta is 2-3 and averaging 120.8 points per game with Snyder at the helm (compared to 116.9 without him).

    Snyder, of course, built a perennial defensive powerhouse with the Utah Jazz, but he also had three-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert there. Engineering an average defense with this Atlanta roster might be a little trickier.

14. Minnesota Timberwolves (34-33)

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    Mike Conley
    Mike ConleyDavid Berding/Getty Images

    Previous Rank: 14
    Net Rating: -0.1

    The Minnesota Timberwolves got rocked by the James Harden-less Philadelphia 76ers on Tuesday, but they'd won three straight before then.

    And swapping D'Angelo Russell for Mike Conley in the starting five already appears to be paying dividends.

    Dane Moore @DaneMooreNBA

    Wolves shot attempts per 100 possessions this season…<br><br>before the trade / after the trade<br>Edwards: 25.0 / 25.5<br>McDaniels: 13.3 / 14.6<br>Anderson: 10.8 / 14.7<br>Gobert: 11.6 / 15.6<br>Reid: 19.8 / 25.7<br>Nowell: 22.5 / 27.8<br>Prince: 13.8 / 16.7<br>McLaughlin: 9.9 / 10.4<br>Rivers: 9.5 / 11.5

    Conley has never been the kind of point guard to tally massive assist totals, but he's also far from the kind of shoot-first option D-Lo was. And his more team-oriented approach is opening up opportunities for just about everyone on the roster.

13. Dallas Mavericks (34-33)

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    Kyrie Irving
    Kyrie IrvingSean Gardner/Getty Images

    Previous Rank: 11
    Net Rating: +0.5

    Is it officially time to start worrying about the Kyrie Irving-Luka Dončić combination?

    After losing to a New Orleans Pelicans team that has been reeling for much of the past two months, the Dallas Mavericks are now 3-6 when both superstars play.

    But this looks more like a rotation or depth issue. The Mavs are plus-9.2 points per 100 possessions with a 97th percentile offense when Luka and Kyrie are both on the floor.

    They're also plus-7.9 when Kyrie plays without Luka, which is encouraging, given a hamstring injury that could sideline Dončić for a bit.

    What's scary, of course, is that the Mavericks will now be forced to play a few more minutes per game without either, and they're minus-6.2 in those situations.

12. Golden State Warriors (34-33)

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    Stephen Curry
    Stephen CurryAdam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images

    Previous Rank: 10
    Net Rating: +0.4

    The Golden State Warriors more than held up their end of the bargain during Stephen Curry's latest injury absence. They went 7-4 without Curry from early February to early March, and it felt like the team was accumulating some momentum just in time for the return.

    But after a borderline embarrassing loss to the Ja Morant-less, Steven Adams-less, Brandon Clarke-less Memphis Grizzlies that came on the heels of a viral video of Draymond Green cutting a promo on Dillon Brooks, the Warriors are now 0-3 since Curry came back.

    It's hard to blame him, though. Curry averaged 32.0 points in those three losses, and over the course of the entire season, Golden State is outscoring opponents by 5.6 points per 100 possessions when he plays.

    The problem, ultimately, was that the Warriors turned the second unit over to the young core too early. And during prolonged stretches without a starter, like the current one without Andrew Wiggins (who's been away from the team with a family matter since mid-February), the lack of depth becomes painfully apparent.

11. Miami Heat (35-32)

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    Caleb Martin
    Caleb MartinIssac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images

    Previous Rank: 13
    Net Rating: -0.9

    It may be a little early to pull the plug on the Kevin Love experiment. In theory, his three-point shooting and rebounding should help the starting five, but the old group was doing just fine.

    On the season, Miami is plus-7.5 points per 100 possessions when Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo and Caleb Martin are all on the floor. Butler and Adebayo have only played 127 minutes with Love, but that trio's net rating is minus-5.3.

    A few good stretches could flip that second number, but Miami might be better served leaning into the defense-first, gritty approach of the previous starting group.

10. Los Angeles Clippers (35-33)

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    Russell Westbrook
    Russell WestbrookAdam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images

    Previous Rank: 12
    Net Rating: -0.3

    After going 0-5 in Russell Westbrook's first five games in the lineup, the Los Angeles Clippers may have stumbled into the key for making this addition work.

    The Clippers have won their past two games, and they happen to be the only two in which Westbrook had a usage percentage below 20.

    On this team, he can't be the same kind of ball-dominant guard he's been for much of his career. He probably shouldn't even be close to the 27.8 percent usage he had as a Los Angeles Laker.

    If he operates instead as an opportunistic driver and chaos merchant who's looking to pass more than shoot, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George will be able to finish more plays, and L.A. will be better for it.

9. Memphis Grizzlies (39-26)

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    Dillon Brooks
    Dillon BrooksTyler Ross/NBAE via Getty Images

    Previous Rank: 6
    Net Rating: +4.0

    NBA weeks don't get much worse than what the Memphis Grizzlies just went through.

    After losing to the Denver Nuggets on Friday, Ja Morant was seen on his own Instagram Live, displaying a handgun in a Colorado night club. The incident led to an investigation by the Glendale Police Department (which didn't lead to any charges), and now Morant is away from the team indefinitely.

    As if that wasn't bad enough, Brandon Clarke was lost to a torn Achilles in the Nuggets loss. And on Thursday, news broke that Steven Adams had had a stem cell injection in his knee that would likely end his regular season.

    Oh, Memphis lost its next two games after Denver too.

    In dire need of a win, the remaining Grizzlies finally gave the fans something to cheer for in their return home. Fresh off some heated, shall we say, criticism from Draymond Green, Dillon Brooks was plus-22 and had six assists in a win over the Golden State Warriors on Thursday.

    The depleted Memphis squad looked like the one that went 20-5 without Ja in 2021-22, as the Grizzlies deployed an equal opportunity offense and flew around on the other end all night.

    As long as Brooks, Desmond Bane, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Tyus Jones are available, the Grizzlies should stay in the hunt for second place in the West, but they'll certainly need Morant back to reenter the championship conversation.

8. New York Knicks (39-29)

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    Julius Randle
    Julius RandleAl Bello/Getty Images

    Previous Rank: 8
    Net Rating: 2.7

    Julius Randle came up with some late-game heroics (five straight points to cut a lead to two with under 30 seconds left, to be precise) that made Thursday's loss to be the Sacramento Kings a little more interesting, but he finished the game 8-of-22 from the field.

    And now, the New York Knicks are 5-11 in games in which Randle fails to shoot at least 40 percent from the field.

    It's not much of a shocker, of course, to point out that a team struggles when its leading scorer is missing shots, but with Randle, you can almost feel the bad shooting games brewing early. Once he starts missing, his aggressive style lends itself to pressing. And the Knicks generally lose when he gets into that mode.

    Still, New York had won nine in a row before closing the week with back-to-back losses (and back-to-back sub-40-percent shooting nights from Randle), and Randle averaged 29.6 points while shooting 50.8 percent from the field during that run.

7. Sacramento Kings (39-26)

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    De'Aaron Fox
    De'Aaron FoxRocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images

    Previous Rank: 9
    Net Rating: 2.8

    De'Aaron Fox winning the first NBA Clutch Player of the Year Award is starting to feel like a foregone conclusion.

    He had another game enter crunch time on Thursday, and a driving layup with under 30 seconds doubled the Sacramento Kings lead from two to four. His team hit enough free throws from then on to knock off the New York Knicks.

    His 15-point final frame that night tied him with Giannis Antetokounmpo for the league lead in 10-plus-point fourth quarters:

    Sacramento Kings @SacramentoKings

    De'Aaron Fox has scored 10+ points in the 4th quarter 23 times this season. <br><br>He's now tied for the most in the league with Giannis. <a href=""></a>

    And he's the runaway leader in total points scored in the clutch this season.

6. Phoenix Suns (37-29)

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    Devin Booker
    Devin BookerChristian Petersen/Getty Images

    Previous Rank: 4
    Net Rating: +2.5

    A couple weeks ago, the Phoenix Suns were vaulted back into the top 10 on little more than the promise of Kevin Durant joining the rotation. He hadn't even played a game with his new team, but it was just too easy to imagine how well he'd fit.

    And for three games, that optimism looked more than warranted. Phoenix went 3-0 with KD in the lineup, and he averaged 26.7 points on just 14.0 field-goal attempts in those games.

    Then, during warmups on Wednesday, ahead of what would've been his first home game with the Suns, a bad plant put Durant back on the injury report.

    Bleacher Report @BleacherReport

    KD listed out tonight after tweaking ankle during pregame shootaround 😳<br><br>Tonight was supposed to be his Suns home debut<br><br>(via <a href="">@sportingnews</a>)<a href=""></a>

    Now, there's reportedly concern that Durant could miss four to six weeks with a Grade 2 ankle sprain, which means the absence could extend into the playoffs.

    Obviously, this isn't ideal, if only from a chemistry standpoint. KD is one of the most adaptable superstars in NBA history, but these last few weeks could've done wonders for the rest of the Suns learning how to play with him.

    The more short-term reaction shouldn't be all that dire, though. Devin Booker scored 44 in Wednesday's blowout win over the Oklahoma City Thunder, and Phoenix's seasonlong net rating with him on the floor and Durant and Mikal Bridges (who was lost in the KD trade) off is plus-4.2.

    If the fourth-place Suns can keep that up for the next few weeks, their three-game cushion between themselves and fifth place has a good chance to hold.

5. Cleveland Cavaliers (42-26)

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    Evan Mobley and Jimmy Butler
    Evan Mobley and Jimmy ButlerMegan Briggs/Getty Images

    Previous Rank: 7
    Net Rating: +5.6

    The Cleveland Cavaliers had a 3-0 week and clawed their way into a tie with the Boston Celtics for the league's best net rating.

    And we're now working on a nearly two-month sample size of Evan Mobley playing like a borderline star.

    After starting the season with what felt like a bit of a plateau, Mobley is averaging 18.9 points, 9.3 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 1.5 blocks over his past 26 games.

4. Denver Nuggets (46-20)

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    Aaron Gordon, Nikola Jokić, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Jamal Murray
    Aaron Gordon, Nikola Jokić, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Jamal MurrayAAron Ontiveroz/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images

    Previous Rank: 3
    Net Rating: +4.2

    The Denver Nuggets have arguably the best basketball player in the world in Nikola Jokić, and FiveThirtyEight's projection system gives them a 17 percent chance to win the championship, but you never know when a performance like Wednesday's is lurking with this team.

    Denver entered its game against the Chicago Bulls having won eight of its past nine and boasting a 30-4 home record, but the Nuggets played flat for three and a half quarters and lost by 21 to a sub-.500 team.

    They looked disjointed on offense, disinterested in defense and generally disengaged after the bench's first stint of the contest.

    Parity reigns in today's NBA, so every team gets a little leeway for performances like this, but Denver can't get away with a lack of focus if it wants to stay in the hunt for the league's top record and the potential of home-court advantage throughout the playoffs.

3. Philadelphia 76ers (43-22)

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    James Harden
    James HardenMichael Hickey/Getty Images

    Previous Rank: 5
    Net Rating: +4.2

    Philadelphia 76ers point guard James Harden may be on the verge of achieving a somewhat unusual honor.

    Fifty-six players in league history made an All-NBA team despite missing out on an All-Star selection, and Harden's post-break excellence could make him No. 57 (Jimmy Butler might have a shot at this too).

    After handing out 20 assists in his last appearance, Harden is up to 24.9 points, 10.7 assists, 6.9 rebounds and 3.7 threes, with a 46.4 three-point percentage since All-Star Weekend.

    And over the entire season, the only guards with more estimated wins (the cumulative version of Dunks and Threes' estimated plus/minus, one of the game's most trusted catch-all metrics) are Luka Dončić, Damian Lillard, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Donovan Mitchell and Darius Garland.

2. Boston Celtics (46-21)

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    Derrick White
    Derrick WhiteBrian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

    Previous Rank: 2
    Net Rating: +5.6

    Unbeknownst to maybe even the Boston Celtics, they acquired what is starting to seem like a Marcus Smart upgrade with last year's Derrick White trade.

    After he went for 21 points on 8-of-12 shooting, seven assists and five rebounds in Wednesday's win over the Portland Trail Blazers, White is now averaging 17.6 points and 5.0 assists while shooting 37.7 percent from deep over his past 19 games.

    Over the course of the entire season, White tops Smart in net rating swing (where he leads the entire team), estimated plus-minus, points per game and three-point percentage.

    This isn't necessarily meant as a slight to Smart, either. He's still been a solid playmaker and perimeter defender. This is more about the depth Boston has cultivated all over the roster.

    Last season, they had plenty of defense and firepower on the wings and in the frontcourt. Now, with Smart, White and Malcolm Brogdon, they're also loaded in the backcourt.

    That's part of why their recent 1-4 stretch was far from bad enough to sound any alarms.

1. Milwaukee Bucks (48-18)

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    Giannis Antetokounmpo
    Giannis AntetokounmpoPatrick Smith/Getty Images

    Previous Rank: 1
    Net Rating: +4.0

    The Milwaukee Bucks had their 16-game winning streak ended at home by the Philadelphia 76ers on Saturday, but they quickly started a new run and are now a remarkable 19-1 in their last 20 games.

    And they didn't even have Giannis Antetokounmpo for the last two wins.

    As his supporting cast has gotten healthy in recent weeks, it's become clear that the Bucks are one of the league's deepest, most playoff-ready teams.

    Despite having an offense that ranks outside the top half of the league, Milwaukee is now seen as the title favorite by both FiveThirtyEight's projection system and FanDuel's sportsbook.

Stat of the Week

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    Stephen Curry
    Stephen CurryAdam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images

    Few numbers highlight the offensive revolution we're currently enjoying more than true shooting percentage.

    Defined by Basketball Reference as "a measure of shooting efficiency that takes into account field goals, 3-point field goals, and free throws," the league average in 2022-23 is a whopping 58.1.

    Ten years ago, the average was 53.5. Twenty years ago, it was 51.9, and Shaquille O'Neal and Dirk Nowitzki were the only players who averaged 20-plus points with a true shooting percentage that eclipsed the 2022-23 average.

    This season, there are 36 players with 20-plus points per game and a 58.1-plus true shooting percentage.

    Of course, the proliferation of three-point attempts over recent years has contributed to the uptick, but an overall increase in skill deserves a mention, too.

    The NBA is far less about battles in the trenches than it was in the past. With the exception of outliers like Nikola Jokić and Joel Embiid, it's mostly a perimeter game in which everyone (or almost everyone) needs to be able to dribble, pass and shoot. Even those two bigs have guard skills that players of their size could only dream of in earlier eras.

    Positional checklists that once required point guards to be able to run the offense, wings to be able to shoot and bigs to be able to rebound are rapidly being replaced by the idea that everyone on the floor should simply be a basketball player.

    And that's led to a more wide-open, free-flowing and, well, efficient game.

The Sixth Man of the Year Race

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    Immanuel Quickley and Malcolm Brogdon
    Immanuel Quickley and Malcolm BrogdonMaddie Meyer/Getty Images

    Last week, we used this space to examine some dark horse Rookie of the Year candidates for an award that's felt like a foregone conclusion for Paolo Banchero for months.

    This week, we'll look at a tighter race, where the departure of Russell Westbrook from the Los Angeles Lakers' bench has given way to Immanuel Quickley and Malcolm Brogdon.

    Both are currently -110 bets to win the award, and Norman Powell is a more-than-distant third at +3000, per FanDuel's sportsbook.

    It'll almost certainly come down to the backup guards for the New York Knicks and Boston Celtics, and your preference there might depend on how you feel about advanced stats.

    Andy Bailey @AndrewDBailey

    Player A is 2022-23 Malcolm Brogdon. Player B is 2022-23 Immanuel Quickley.<br><br>Both are currently -110 at FanDuel's Sportsbook for Sixth Man of the Year. <a href=""></a>

    Brogdon's counting numbers and shooting percentages are better, but catch-all metrics like estimated plus-minus prefer Quickley's defense. That's backed up by his impact on New York's plus-minus.

    Brogdon's on the better team overall, but New York's point differential is around that of a 57-win team with Quickley on the floor, while Boston's is around that of a 47-win team with Brogdon.

    For now, we'll give the edge to Quickley for the less traditionally tangible impact he's having.