NBA Power Rankings: Where All 30 Teams Rank Entering All-Star Weekend
The NBA All-Star break is less a halfway point than a quick breather before the final sprint. Unfortunately, its proximity to the end of the 2017-18 season doesn't mean much is settled in our rankings.
Over the campaign's last 25 contests, we'll see a ton of shuffling because only four-and-a-half games separate the Western Conference's third seed from the 10th. In the East, the third-seeded Cleveland Cavaliers are just five games up on the No. 8 Miami Heat.
Extensive clustering and extreme surges and slides are turning order to chaos. Take the Utah Jazz as an example. They have the league's longest active winning streak (11 games) but aren't in playoff position. This will get wild.
As always, our rankings consider advanced stats, full-season play and recent performance with some gut feeling mixed in. They're designed to organize all 30 teams into an order that reflects the league's up-to-the-minute hierarchy.
That task only seems to be getting harder.
Last Week's ranking in parentheses.
30. Phoenix Suns (30)
Nobody takes a beating like the Suns, whom the Golden State Warriors trampled by 46 points Monday (without Devin Booker, who sat with a hip pointer, but still). The Suns have lost four games by 40 or more points and 11 by at least 20.
Don't look now, but Phoenix has overtaken the Sacramento Kings for a dubious honor: the league's lowest net rating.
29. New York Knicks (29)
"I wish I could make a f--king shot. Yes, I am frustrated," Tim Hardaway Jr. told reporters after going 0-of-8 from deep against the Philadelphia 76ers on Monday. "I'm kind of in a slump right now, and I just gotta try to shoot my way out of it... I'm not gonna lie and sit here and laugh about it. It's frustrating. It's pissing me off."
The Knicks have lost eight straight, blew a 27-point lead in Wednesday's loss to the Washington Wizards and are maddeningly trimming Frank Ntilikina's minutes. But at least Hardaway hit a shot. He scored 37 points, including 32 in the first half, against Washington.
28. Brooklyn Nets (28)
Brooklyn dropped its last seven games before the All-Star break and has forced fewer opponent turnovers than any team in the league. Allen Crabbe averaged 25.3 points per game over his final four contests leading into the break, making him one of precious few bright spots.
27. Dallas Mavericks (27)
Dallas hits the break having lost nine of its last 11 games (the wins came against the Los Angeles Lakers and Sacramento Kings), and its young players are seeing increased minutes. Dennis Smith Jr., Yogi Ferrell, Dwight Powell and Maxi Kleber are all logging more floor time lately, which is a great way to tank under the guise of giving the kids valuable experience.
Dirk dunked, though, which is cool.
26. Memphis Grizzlies (22)
This is as good of a time as any to note how difficult it is to rank teams in this cluster. Memphis has lost seven straight, which you'd think would necessitate a precipitous fall. But there are three other teams with losing streaks at least that long. We can't rank them all in the bottom three!
Marc Gasol has logged at least 30 minutes in 10 of his last 12 games. It might be time to scale that back. Nobody'll begrudge the Grizz for shutting down their 33-year-old center for the last third of a lost season.
25. Sacramento Kings (26)
A 1-3 record, and specifically a win over the Mavs, keeps the Kings from slipping. But if this isn't the worst team in the league, it's the most absurdly run.
Kudos for trying to sneak Georgios Papagiannis into a trade without telling anyone, Kings. What was the plan on that one? "Maybe nobody will notice!"? Add another one to the long list of transactional face-palms in Kings lore.
"Yakety Sax" must run on a loop all day in the front office.
24. Atlanta Hawks (24)
Atlanta cut a 30-point deficit to four against the Detroit Pistons on Wednesday but couldn't quite make it all the way back. The Hawks can't be too upset. Showing real fight without three starters and preserving the tank with a loss is about as good an outcome as they could have asked for.
At 18-41, Atlanta has the East's worst record.
23. Orlando Magic (23)
The Magic dropped three single-digit games this week, but Mario Hezonja scored at least 21 points in all of them, resuscitating the idea that he might stick in the league after a disappointing first two years.
Rookie Jonathan Isaac, who hasn't played since Dec. 26, is practicing with the team and nearing a return from an ankle injury. If the Magic can use these final 25 games to get a clearer idea of what they've got in the promising first-year player, the season's final two months won't be meaningless.
22. Chicago Bulls (25)
A banner stretch for Zach LaVine included a hefty 35 points in a win over his former team, the Minnesota Timberwolves, on Friday and a pick-six dunk to beat the Magic on Monday. Relatedly, it has not been a banner stretch for Chicago's tanking efforts. The Bulls head into the break following a 2-2 week.
21. Detroit Pistons (18)
We should have seen this coming when NBA.com's John Schuhmann pointed out Detroit's success in the Blake Griffin trade's immediate aftermath was flimsy. Its first four wins came against opponents playing the second night of a back-to-back set.
The Pistons salvaged the week with a victory over the Hawks on Wednesday, a game in which seven of Griffin's 10 field-goal attempts (and all four of his makes) came from beyond the arc.
20. Los Angeles Lakers (20)
Isaiah Thomas' Lakers debut was encouraging—22 points on 7-of-12 shooting—but came in a defense-optional 130-123 loss to the Mavs. Another blowout defeat at the hands (wings?) of the New Orleans Pelicans made L.A.'s four-game winning streak earlier this month seem like ancient history.
19. New Orleans Pelicans (21)
New Orleans has no margin for error with DeMarcus Cousins out with a torn Achilles—no matter how transcendent Anthony Davis may be. That's why wasting minutes on DeAndre Liggins (minus-13.4 net rating) and Rajon Rondo (minus-4.9) is so inexcusable.
The Pelicans can't space the floor when either player is on the court, which only makes life harder for Davis.
It didn't matter much this week, as New Orleans ran off a 3-1 record, but can the Pels expect AD to keep compensating for lineup mismanagement? Actually, considering Davis is responsible for four of the league's last six 40-point, 15-rebound games, don't answer that.
18. Charlotte Hornets (17)
When you've lost four straight and are struggling against the lowly Magic, you've got to get desperate. So the Hornets, a bottom-10 team in turnovers forced, started blitzing Orlando's ball-handlers Wednesday.
It was out of character, and it worked. The Hornets won 104-102.
"We had such a sluggish start there that we just sold out a little bit," head coach Steve Clifford told Brendan Marks of the Charlotte Observer. "We were more aggressive with our pick-and-roll coverages just to try to get our energy up."
Five-and-a-half games out of the East's eighth spot, Charlotte should approach the post-break schedule with similar abandon.
17. Miami Heat (16)
If you play the Heat, it doesn't matter how good you are. You'll wind up in a close game once the fourth quarter rolls around.
A remarkable 22 of Miami's last 23 games have been decided by single digits, including its last 16 in a row. There are different ways to produce tight contests, and the Heat would probably like to avoid the kind they found themselves in Wednesday after blowing a 24-point lead to the Sixers. In that one, they lost by a deuce when Dwyane Wade's three-pointer bounced around and failed to fall at the buzzer.
In related news, Wade's on the Heat again! Neat!
16. Los Angeles Clippers (19)
So...is it OK to say we kind of like the Clippers' first unit these days?
Austin Rivers, Avery Bradley, Tobias Harris, Danilo Gallinari and DeAndre Jordan posted a plus-13.7 net rating in their first week together, running up a 3-1 record that included three blowout victories.
Those guys, plus Lou Williams off the bench, give L.A. a real shot to stick in this playoff race.
15. Washington Wizards (13)
Shout out to Bradley Beal for assuming all aspects of alpha-ness in John Wall's absence. Check out his comments after he shut down Tim Hardaway Jr. over the final 20 minutes Wednesday: "I told him he wasn't going to score for the rest of the game...and he didn't."
Washington went 2-0 this week, and Tomas Satoransky looked like a guy who should retain rotation minutes even after Wall returns from his knee injury. Satoransky scored 25 points to lead the Wizards against Chicago then topped the team with 11 assists in the win over New York.
14. Portland Trail Blazers (15)
Damian Lillard scored 50 points in three quarters against the Kings on Friday (matching CJ McCollum's similar feat from just over a week prior), added 39 in Sunday's loss to the indomitable Jazz and blitzed the Warriors with 44 points in Thursday's thrilling win.
The Blazers have had trouble on D after a surprising start, ranking 23rd on that end since Jan. 1, but with Lillard this hot, they can score with anyone.
13. Minnesota Timberwolves (8)
Karl-Anthony Towns remains an efficiency monster who needs more shots. He ranks second in the league in effective field-goal percentage but just 41st in attempts per game. Perhaps a little more volume for KAT (and a lot more defense from everybody) will shake the Wolves out of their monthslong mediocrity. They're just one game over .500 in 2018.
12. Denver Nuggets (11)
Nikola Jokic had a hard time wrangling the more mobile Clint Capela in a 130-104 loss to the Houston Rockets last Friday, but the Nuggets' do-it-all center has otherwise been the key to his team's recent surge.
He logged a triple-double in a comeback victory over the San Antonio Spurs on Tuesday, and his February averages in points and assists are the best of any month so far. Denver fell to .500 on Jan. 19 but has fought back to the thick of the West playoff race behind Jokic's stellar play.
11. Indiana Pacers (14)
Victor Oladipo averaged a clean 30 points per game in Indy's 3-0 week, helping down the Boston Celtics, Knicks and Nets. He's as deserving of a first-time All-Star as there's been.
As the Pacers head into the break eight games over .500, it's important to note that nobody thought they'd be here.
"In the beginning of the season no one knew [Oladipo] would be playing like this where he's taking over games," Lance Stephenson told ESPN.com's Mike Wells. "I underestimated Victor and Domas when the trade happened. Now I think it was a hell of trade."
10. Oklahoma City Thunder
Last Week: 5
Not all 2-1 weeks are created equal.
For example, when both wins come against the Grizzlies, it's hard not to discount the record.
The Oklahoma City Thunder were competitive against the Cavs in a 120-112 loss Tuesday, and both Russell Westbrook and Carmelo Anthony returned from ankle injuries this week. But the Thunder still haven't gotten anything from the shooting guard spot since Andre Roberson ruptured his patellar tendon Jan. 27, and the man occupying that role changes day to day.
Alex Abrines, Josh Huestis and Terrance Ferguson are all getting turns, and head coach Billy Donovan has to hope somebody claims the job.
Finally, consider Steven Adams your glass-half-full guru. Fred Katz of the Norman Transcript noted recently: "Adams when asked how Russell Westbrook looked today: 'Still above ground.'"
As are the Thunder, despite a drop after finishing the pre-break slate with six losses in their last nine games.
9. Milwaukee Bucks
Last Week: 6
There's room for skepticism about the Milwaukee Bucks.
The "fire Jason Kidd and immediately field an elite defense" angle has merit, but it's too clean a connection to be real. And there's also the luck angle to consider.
Over the dozen games since Kidd's Jan. 22 ouster, the Bucks' opponents have the lowest three-point percentage in the league. Some of that might be because of better scheming, but most of it is probably random. It's notable, though, that Milwaukee's own three-point shooting has been mediocre during that span. So at least we're not dealing with a double dose of good (and probably unsustainable) shooting fortune.
That's not to say the Bucks are immune to going cold. They managed just eight points in a pivotal third quarter of a 91-85 loss to the Heat last Friday.
Still, a blistering stretch since Kidd's departure has Milwaukee's playoff position looking stabler than ever.
8. San Antonio Spurs
Last Week: 7
The rodeo trip is bucking the Spurs, hard.
San Antonio has lost five of its last six (with Kawhi Leonard still nowhere in sight because of a quad injury), and the extended road trip that annually galvanizes the team is instead adding losses to the ledger. After posting a winning record in 14 of the last 15 years on the trip, the Spurs are assured of a record no better than .500 this time around—and that's only reachable if they knock off Denver and Cleveland after the break.
If the Spurs' .593 winning percentage holds, it'll represent their worst such figure since 1996-97, the tanktastic season that preceded Tim Duncan's rookie year.
Injuries are mounting as well. In addition to Leonard's prolonged absence, LaMarcus Aldridge missed San Antonio's last two games (losses to Utah and Denver) with a sore right knee, and Manu Ginobili had to leave the contest against the Nuggets with foot soreness.
Never count out the Spurs. That's the rule.
It is, however, fair to worry.
7. Philadelphia 76ers
Last Week: 12
I'm geared up and ready for the pushback on this one.
But look: The Sixers have been better than this ranking for a long time. Go back over the last month, and you'll see they sit fourth in net rating during that span. Not a big enough sample? Fine, go back two months, and Philly looks just as good.
The Sixers are fourth in net rating since Dec. 16.
Granted, Philadelphia's record has lagged behind its differential all year. But we've always prized the latter more than the former around here. And though it's difficult to quantify, we also value infectious confidence, something Joel Embiid has in abundance.
He'll point and laugh when Robert Covington dunks on someone's head, he'll pump up T.J. McConnell (who had a triple-double with six steals on Monday) and he'll go at you on social media with his real account.
Because he does not care.
Having already run up their longest home winning streak in a decade (seven games), per Elias, the Sixers, winners of five straight, head into the break having earned this spot.
6. Boston Celtics
Last Week: 4
It's not a great omen that the last two times the Celtics squared off with a potential conference finals opponent, they got blasted.
The latest worrisome portent came when the Cavaliers buried them 121-99 Sunday, which came less than a week after the Toronto Raptors hammered them by 20. Though the recent struggles against top-end competition bode worst for Boston's playoff outlook, this team's key weakness makes it vulnerable against everyone.
The Celtics have played 59 games this year, and over that stretch's latter half (30 games), they've scored with bottom-10 efficiency. The first 29 games still count, but Boston was only in the middle of the pack in offensive rating during that period. Elite defense may only get this team so far; eventually, it will have to prove it can score.
Despite a 0-3 week and the broader offensive concerns, the Celtics' overall profile is still solid. Second in the East and owners of the league's No. 1 defense at the All-Star break, Boston isn't exactly struggling.
5. Utah Jazz
Last Week: 9
Several sources have combined to produce Utah's remarkable 11-game winning streak, but it's difficult to single out anyone who deserves more credit than Joe Ingles—a man posting shooting splits of 53.4/54.2/100.0 during the surge.
He combined with Derrick Favors down the stretch of the Jazz's comeback win over the Spurs on Monday, probing the center of the floor with languid, eyes-up pick-and-rolls until a double-digit deficit morphed into an advantage that would hold up until the final buzzer. Most impressively, the Jazz engineered their comeback with Rudy Gobert on the bench.
Don't be misled, though. Utah is 12-2 since Gobert returned from a knee injury Jan. 19.
Ricky Rubio was on fire before hurting his hip Feb. 9, but all that did was open space for Donovan Mitchell to play the point while new addition Jae Crowder absorbed minutes on the wing and at the 4. Even rookie Royce O'Neale logged productive late-game time.
Over the last month, Utah has ranked among the league's top five in effective field-goal percentage and effective field-goal percentage defense. And the longer these guys keep winning, the easier it is to believe this version of the Jazz is closer to the real thing than the one we saw for the season's first half.
4. Cleveland Cavaliers
Last Week: 10
Bad news, everyone other than the Cavs: LeBron James is having fun again.
More active, quicker to celebrate, bouncier and appearing rejuvenated in every way, James is playing like a guy who needed (and got) a fresh set of teammates and a cleaned-out locker room. Since turning over six roster spots at the trade deadline, Cleveland is 3-0 with an average margin of victory (15.3 points per game) that should concern the league.
James tallied a career-high 19 assists in an easy win over the Hawks last Friday before all his new toys showed up, then he synergized with Jordan Clarkson, George Hill, Larry Nance Jr. and Rodney Hood to stomp the Celtics by 22 Sunday. That one featured a pleased James flinging the ball around and reveling in teammates' success while on the bench.
To close out the pre-break schedule, James found his missing jumper and buried the Thunder with 37 points in a perimeter barrage Tuesday.
The pieces fit. Hill defends and hits shots at a standstill, Clarkson is excellent as a catch-and-shoot option (38.9 percent on catch-and-shoot threes), Nance Jr. sucks in the defense as a roll man and Hood can create for himself.
"I thought our spirit was different," head coach Tyronn Lue told reporters after Cleveland took the Celtics apart. "I didn't know what the outcome would be. But I knew we would compete and play hard. Move the basketball and move bodies. Those guys are flying around, and it was good to see."
Last week, Cleveland got a bump up the rankings because it theoretically got better. Having now seen the new version of this team in practice, it's clear another jump is in order.
3. Golden State Warriors
Last Week: 3
There's no sugar-coating it: The Warriors' failure to consistently summon the effort required to reach their potential is a problem. Maybe it's not something that'll matter when the games start to count in April, but failures of focus have cost the Dubs their lead on Houston in the standings, and there's always the concern that bad habits won't disappear when the stakes elevate.
That's why head coach Steve Kerr got unconventional in Golden State's blowout win over the Suns on Monday, staying out of the huddle and allowing players to draw up schemes.
Kerr told Suns coach Jay Triano afterward he meant no disrespect.
"It had to do with me reaching my team," he told reporters. "I have not reached them for the last month. They're tired of my voice. I'm tired of my voice. It's been a long haul these last few years and I wasn't reaching them, and we just figured it was probably a good night to pull a trick out of the hat and do something different."
To Kerr's credit, Golden State responded, taking down a soft opponent with a ruthless, dialed-in efficiency that has so often eluded it. The 46-point win included no letup, as the Warriors stepped on the Suns, outscoring them 67-38 in the second half.
They fell behind by 20 in the first quarter of Wednesday's 123-117 loss to the Blazers, though, proving the Phoenix approach wasn't a cure-all. You shouldn't lose a game in which Kevin Durant scores 50 points on 27 shots.
Maybe the break (and the fact Golden State is second in the West) will bring about a more lasting focus.
2. Toronto Raptors
Last Week: 2
Another week, three more wins and a 41-16 record at the break mean the Raps only have to go 16-9 over their final 25 games to set the franchise's single-season victory mark.
Toronto has had close calls. The Heat capitalized on some snoozy Raptors play down the stretch of Tuesday's contest, forcing a frantic finish that left head coach Dwane Casey dissatisfied...and vividly descriptive.
"I'm upset, even though we won, because I know—I know what's coming around the corner," Casey told reporters after the escape against Miami. "Like you're going down a dark alley, here comes a group of guys with a baseball bat and you say, 'oh, hey, where's the baseball game?' It's 12 o'clock at night, you know what's coming around the corner."
Still one of just two teams in the top five on offense and defense, the Raptors have a schedule that should make that 16-9 mark reachable and keep Casey content. From now until the end of the regular season, Toronto won't face a Western Conference foe on the road. Light travel like that bodes well—both for the Raptors' chances at retaining the East's top seed and for their freshness come playoff time.
1. Houston Rockets
Last Week: 1
The Warriors may be getting closer to top form, but the Rockets refuse to slip. Heading into the break on a 10-game winning streak, Houston is performing exceptionally on both ends. Over the past month, the Rockets rank first in offense, and though scoring remains Houston's calling card, it can field shutdown defensive lineups.
Since the winning streak started Jan. 28, Houston has produced a defensive rating right in line with Boston's overall league-leading figure whenever Clint Capela, Luc Mbah a Moute and PJ Tucker have shared the floor.
With things going so well, head coach Mike D'Antoni has had the freedom to tinker.
When Ryan Anderson's ankle sprain opened a spot in the first unit last week, D'Antoni slid Tucker into the vacancy. Liking the defensive upgrade, he stuck with it. Anderson, of course, recovered fine and is now flamethrowing off the bench. He scored 21 points on 12 shots Tuesday night, contributing to a fourth-quarter run that included 10 made Houston triples—a barrage that buried the Timberwolves in Houston's 126-108 road win.
"There's all kinds of combos we can use, but whatever combo you have, it looks pretty good," D'Antoni told reporters last Friday.
Everything's coming up Rockets.