NBA Power Rankings: Where Every Team Stands Post-Trade Deadline

Grant Hughes@@gt_hughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistFebruary 10, 2020

NBA Power Rankings: Where Every Team Stands Post-Trade Deadline

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    Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks have spent most of the season blowing the doors off the rest of the NBA, but their dominance clearly hasn't extinguished hope from several teams beneath them in our power rankings.

    The Houston Rockets, Miami Heat and Los Angeles Clippers are all in our top 10, and each of them made win-now moves at Thursday's trade deadline.

    It may be the case that nobody can catch the Bucks, but the chase is clearly on. 

    As always, rankings weigh record, advanced stats, recent play and health to organize all 30 teams into an order that reflects the league's current hierarchy.

    Health and the buyout market can still alter rosters going forward, but the big changes are done. Here's where things stand as we begin the final third of the season.


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    30. Golden State Warriors (30)

    Alec Burks scored 30 points in his final game with the Warriors, last Monday's 125-117 win over the Washington Wizards. That could be the last game Golden State wins for a while as Burks was joined on his way out by Glenn Robinson III and D'Angelo Russell.

    All told, the Warriors traded away three of their top four scorers at the deadline, plus Omari Spellman and Jacob Evans, both of whom had spent time in the rotation this season. Andrew Wiggins, the high-priced return in the Russell deal, has a lot of slack to pick up.

    He looked good in his Golden State debut, scoring 24 points on only 12 shots, finishing through contact at the rim and playing solid one-on-one defense when matched up against LeBron James on Saturday. The Dubs fell 125-120, but between Wiggins' strong game, Marquese Chriss' energetic 26 points and Jordan Poole's fourth-quarter scoring flurry, the Warriors managed to present an entertaining product.

    Wiggins is supposed to fill a role that'll look a lot like the one Harrison Barnes vacated in 2016. But we won't really see how he fits until Golden State is at full strength next year. The very earliest returns were promising.

    Already at the bottom of the league, the Warriors lost talent at the deadline. They may be here a while.


    29. Cleveland Cavaliers (28)

    The Cavs' decision to add Andre Drummond to a frontcourt that already had Tristan Thompson, Larry Nance Jr. and Kevin Love was one of the trade deadline's biggest surprises...right up there with how little it cost Cleveland to land a two-time All-Star who's on pace to lead the league in rebounding for the fourth time in five years.

    All it took was John Henson, Brandon Knight and a second-rounder.

    That's a damning assessment of the value old-school centers possess in a downsizing NBA. The Detroit Pistons decided they'd take back virtually nothing to eliminate the risk of Drummond opting into the final year of his deal this summer, and the Cavs now have to wring their hands over that possibility.

    Cleveland can afford the flier and may have wisely opted to take on Drummond's money now rather than try to spend its cap space in a barren 2020 free-agent market. It seems like the Cavs' ceiling with Drummond is the "occasionally half-decent" level Detroit has occupied for the last several seasons, but that looks pretty good when you've lost six in a row and sit at 13-40 for the year.

    Oh, and no, I'm sorry, but you'll never convince me Cedi Osman did this on purpose.


    28. Charlotte Hornets (26)

    Charlotte beat the New York Knicks back on Jan. 28. Let's cling to that for a moment, really savor it before this next bit. OK, ready? I'll make it quick.

    Outside of that lone win, the Hornets have been an absolute disaster for over a month. They're 1-13 in their last 14 games and haven't even managed to lose by single digits since Jan. 13.

    Malik Monk uncorks a highlight lob finish every now and then. But other than that, it's rough in Charlotte right now. At least Marvin Williams and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist get to finish their seasons elsewhere. The Hornets bought both of them out this week.


    27. Minnesota Timberwolves (29)

    D'Angelo Russell has his warts, but he's younger and cheaper than Andrew Wiggins, plays a position of greater need, is still improving and, most of all, is good pals with Karl-Anthony Towns, the guy whose personal satisfaction means more than anything to the Timberwolves' future.

    So, happier now, KAT?

    Russell, Malik Beasley and Juancho Hernangomez are part of a list that includes a whopping seven new players acquired around the deadline. Towns and Josh Okogie are the only current holdovers from last year's Wolves roster. Normally, you'd worry about chemistry with so many new additions. But Minnesota was so awful in the weeks leading up to the trade deadline that almost any shakeup is a benefit.

    Case in point: Beasley hit seven of Minnesota's franchise-record 26 threes in Saturday's shocking 142-115 obliteration of the Los Angeles Clippers—a game historians will puzzle over for centuries to come. The Wolves got 24 points and 11 assists from Jordan McLaughlin and basically buried the Clips by halftime. Paul George and Kawhi Leonard were both in L.A.'s lineup, which makes the whole thing even harder to explain.

    It was the Wolves' first win since Jan. 9, ending an interminable 13-game losing streak.


    26. Detroit Pistons (24)

    The Pistons made the right call in jettisoning Andre Drummond, removing any chance he'd opt in to the final year and $28.8 million of his deal this summer. Though the return was minimal, let's not discount the opportunity the Drummond trade created for another Detroit big man.

    Christian Wood started in Drummond's place Friday, totaling 27 points, 12 rebounds and five assists while shooting 3-of-6 from long range in a 108-101 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder. Though Drummond was no stranger to gaudy box-score figures, he never posted a game like that. Wood is going to shine over the next couple of months.

    Detroit has lost three of its last four, Derrick Rose hasn't played since Feb. 2 because of a strained left adductor, and Reggie Jackson might be nearing a buyout. That said, it's somehow easier to be optimistic about the Pistons' future in light of their wise decision to move off Drummond and the potential of Wood and rookie Sekou Doumbouya.


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    25. Chicago Bulls (22)

    The Bulls couldn't even enjoy the 15 points Adam Mokoka scored in just over five minutes of Thursday's 125-119 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans. Mokoka, a 21-year-old Frenchman on a two-way deal, made the last few minutes of that defeat interesting, but Zach LaVine wasn't in a celebratory mood.

    "That game was over by then in my book," he told K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago. "I don"t know what we were cheering for. I'm happy for Adam. But that game was over. We lost, got our ass whooped."

    That's basically the vibe for an injury-plagued, hangdog Bulls team that has now lost five in a row.

    It's a testament to the horrendous Eastern Conference that Chicago, 19-35 with zero upward momentum, is still within reasonable striking distance of the eighth seed.


    24. Atlanta Hawks (25)

    As the rest of the league marginalized centers, the Hawks prioritized one. They added Clint Capela in a four-team megadeal, hopeful he'll solidify flimsy interior defense and rebounding. Dewayne Dedmon is also back for a second tour.

    The Hawks were right to determine paying Capela now made more sense than waiting to sign a free agent this summer, assuming the sore heel that has dogged him lately isn't a long-term issue.

    Capela will fit better on the Hawks than he did in Houston, which had dramatically decreased its pick-and-roll frequency, negating much of what makes the 25-year-old center valuable. His skills as a roll man fit brilliantly with Trae Young, though John Collins will now have to prove he can space the floor reliably at the 4.

    Atlanta scrapped for a 2-2 week, staving off the Knicks in double-overtime on Sunday behind 48 points and 13 assists from Trae Young. The Hawks are 7-7 in their last 14 games.


    23. New York Knicks (27)

    Marcus Morris Sr. is gone, and the only surprise there is that he was the only one of the Knicks' bevy of offseason signees to leave at the deadline. In theory, all those short-term deals with partial guarantees and team options they handed out should have made Taj Gibson, Bobby Portis, Wayne Ellington, Elfrid Payton et al. more enticing trade assets.

    Yet here we are.

    On the court, the Knicks are in the midst of their best stretch of the season. In fact, the four-game winning streak they put together from Feb. 1-8, complete with victories over two East playoff teams (the Indiana Pacers and Orlando Magic), was their longest since December 2017.

    Sunday's double-overtime loss in Atlanta came on the second night of a back-to-back set, but New York fought back from a 15-point fourth-quarter deficit to make things interesting. The Knicks had trailed by double figures in each of their previous three wins.

    If they play this well after fans beg James Dolan to sell the team, those chants may not go away any time soon.


    22. Orlando Magic (20)

    The Magic's bottom-five offense doesn't hum so much as it sputters, sometimes choking and seizing up entirely. Turnovers are especially damaging when scoring is so difficult in the first place, and Thursday's 105-103 loss to the lowly Knicks showed just how thin the Magic's margin for error is.

    Orlando coughed the ball up 20 times in that defeat, a night after 17 giveaways contributed to a 116-100 loss in Boston.

    The Magic are 29th in true shooting percentage, but they've generally mitigated the damage that inaccuracy causes by taking care of the ball. Even with their recent carelessness, their full-season turnover rate is among the five lowest in the league. We got a taste of what happens when Orlando doesn't value its possessions this past week.

    Orlando has lost eight of its last nine games. Its hold on that No. 8 playoff spot hasn't looked this tenuous in a while.


    21. Washington Wizards (23)

    Hear those footsteps, Orlando? That's the Wizards stealthily shuffling up behind you, ready to snatch that eighth playoff spot you seem to have no interest in keeping.

    Bradley Beal hit a game-winning layup to ice the Dallas Mavericks on Friday, and new acquisition Shabazz Napier put up a tidy 14 points and three assists in his 18-minute Wizards debut, logging a plus-12 for the night. Though he's bounced around plenty during his career, Napier is now in position to make a difference for a Washington team that could use him off the bench. 

    Washington has won three of its last five games, with last Monday's 125-117 home loss to the Warriors standing out for the wrong reasons in an otherwise stellar recent resume.

    If all this success in Washington feels like a surprise, take solace in something more expected: The Wizards still have the worst defense in the league.


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    20. Phoenix Suns (18)

    Kelly Oubre Jr. was the only Suns player whose name surfaced, albeit briefly, in pre-deadline chatter. No deals materialized, and it sure seemed like he was glad to stick with Phoenix.

    He scored a career-high 39 points on 14-of-19 shooting, including a scorching 7-of-9 from deep, in Friday's 127-91 undressing of the Houston Rockets. This after hanging 30 points on the Pistons two days prior.

    Phoenix is just 1-5 in its last six games and is getting close to losing contact with the handful of West teams chasing the Memphis Grizzlies for the No. 8 playoff spot. At least Deandre Ayton is showing increasingly frequent flashes. He averaged 22.8 points, 13.5 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 2.3 blocks per game on 60.9 percent shooting in the Suns' four games this week.

    The postseason may be out of reach, but all's not lost if Phoenix's key young pieces keep developing down the stretch.


    19. San Antonio Spurs (17)

    The Spurs' annual rodeo trip is off to an 0-4 start, and it looks like they forgot their defense in San Antonio.

    The 123.2 defensive rating they posted in defeats against the Los Angeles Clippers, Los Angeles Lakers, Portland Trail Blazers and Sacramento Kings this week was 10.9 points worse than their full-season figure. We're dealing in small samples, and San Antonio's opponents shot an unreasonably high 47.2 percent from deep in those four losses.

    But those defeats are on the books nonetheless, and San Antonio now has to run the table on the road against the Denver Nuggets, Utah Jazz and Oklahoma City Thunder (twice) just to break even on its eight-game stint away from home.

    In years past, the rodeo trip has galvanized the Spurs, sometimes sparking a late-season run. That's not happening this time around.


    18. Sacramento Kings (21)

    The Kings admitted offseason defeat by dealing Dewayne Dedmon and a pair of second-rounders to Atlanta for the expiring contracts of Jabari Parker and Alex Len. At least Sacramento got two second-round picks when they offloaded Trevor Ariza, another of their offseason signees, to the Portland Trail Blazers in January.

    Though their transactional record remains suspect, the Kings have been better on the floor lately. They went 3-0 this week behind more elite sniping from new bench firestarter Buddy Hield. He was 9-of-10 from deep in Saturday's 122-102 win against San Antonio and has been undeniably more valuable as a reserve.

    In 44 games as a starter, Hield averaged 20.0 points on 53.8 percent true shooting in 34.4 minutes per game. In eight contests as a backup, he's at 23.1 points per game on 72.1 percent true shooting in 28.4 minutes per contest.

    It's a bad look for the franchise when the guy you signed to an $86 million deal gets relegated to reserve duty so soon after agreeing to a fat new contract, and Hield may never truly accept a bench role. But there's no denying how well this arrangement is working.

    Sacramento may be stabilizing, but not all the news is good. Marvin Bagley III's foot injury has limited him to 13 games, and the latest reports raise the possibility this will be a lost season for the No. 2 pick in 2018.


    17. Brooklyn Nets (19)

    Thanks to one of the most productive weeks of Caris LeVert's career, the Nets won two of their three games and are 4-2 over their last six. That's a welcome reversal of a downward trend that had seen them go 3-13 between Dec. 26 and Jan. 23. 

    A right knee sprain suffered against Washington on Feb. 1 kept Kyrie Irving out of all three Nets contests this past week. Considering how ugly the fall was that caused Irving's latest injury, it's encouraging that he might return before the All-Star break.

    The Nets are just 23-28, and LeVert's 29.7 points per game against the Suns, Warriors and Toronto Raptors weren't enough to get the team's offensive rating out of the bottom 10. But with Orlando looking likelier to fall out of the postseason picture than challenge the Nets for seventh in the East, the pressure's not exactly on.


    16. Portland Trail Blazers (16)

    The Blazers got themselves under the tax line with some marginal roster shuffling, but that was it for them at the deadline. If Portland is going to drag itself back into playoff position, the personnel on hand will have to make it happen.

    It would also help if the Blazers could catch a break on the officiating front, which they certainly didn't in Friday's 117-114 loss to the Utah Jazz. Though the Blazers were on the second night of a back-to-back set and were fading in the third and fourth quarters, Damian Lillard's layup, goaltended by Rudy Gobert, should have tied the game with 13.5 seconds left.

    The violation went uncalled, and the Blazers lost. Lillard, who continued his absurd scoring tear with 42 points (which should have been 44) was righteously upset.

    Portland deserved better than its 2-2 record against a brutal schedule this week that featured the Denver Nuggets, Spurs, Jazz and Miami Heat. 


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    15. Indiana Pacers (14)

    Indiana hit a franchise-record 19 threes against the Toronto Raptors on Wednesday but wasn't up to matching the Raptors' late-game spike in defensive intensity, ultimately surrendering an 11-0 run in the final 2:27 and falling 119-118 on Serge Ibaka's game-winner.

    The Pacers have to hope that loss wasn't a metaphor for their place in the East: admirably competitive but ultimately unready for the biggest moments against the best competition.

    Victor Oladipo is only shooting 28.1 percent from the field and 21.2 percent from deep in five games since returning from a year-long absence, but he's finding non-scoring ways to make a difference. His defensive speed and tenacity are at pre-injury levels, and he already has the team lead in charges drawn.

    Despite admirable tone-setting on D by Oladipo, the Pacers' offense has fallen off a cliff this month. They've lost five straight as a result.


    14. Philadelphia 76ers (13)

    Alec Burks and Glenn Robinson III bolster a thin Sixers wing rotation and should provide improved spacing and playmaking. Notably, neither new addition addresses Philadelphia's need for a pick-and-roll ball-handler.

    The price was right, though, as Burks and Robinson only cost the Sixers three future second-rounders.

    Friday's 119-107 win against the Memphis Grizzlies ended a four-game Sixers slide in which they'd dropped all four games by double digits. Joel Embiid's inconsistent energy since returning from injury is an issue, and it's starting to feel like the frayed connection between him and Ben Simmons extends off the floor. On it, the results have gotten progressively worse for three years running, as Simmons' and Embiid's two-man net rating continues to trend downward.

    The Sixers have high-end talent and the potential to beat anyone in the East—the Milwaukee Bucks included—when everything's working. And if they only ever played at home, they'd be the best team in the league.

    Lately, though, almost nothing's been working. Philly went 2-2 this week and is under .500 since Christmas.


    13. New Orleans Pelicans (15)

    Zion Williamson's streak of four straight 20-point games is already the longest by a rookie this season, and there's no secret to his success. He's jumping over, around and through all resistance at the rim. Since his debut on Jan. 22, only Russell Westbrook and Montrezl Harrell are averaging more points in the paint per 36 minutes.

    New Orleans busted up the Bulls on Thursday, 125-119, setting season highs in assists (38) and bench points (63), and Saturday's 124-117 road win over the Pacers, which Williamson missed with a sprained ankle, got the Pels to 22-31 on the year. Winners in five of their last seven games and 16-9 since their 13-game losing streak ended on Dec. 17, the Pelicans continue to profile as a real playoff threat.

    Their plus-3.7 net rating is fifth in the West since that skid ended.

    Do not sleep on the Pels.


    12. Dallas Mavericks (12)

    Kristaps Porzingis is taking a beating and putting up numbers without Luka Doncic. He logged 38 points and 12 boards to start the week off with a win over Indiana last Monday, then he fought through a broken nose to post 32 points and 12 more boards in Wednesday's loss to Memphis. Though he's still shooting just 35.0 percent from distance on the year, he was a combined 11-of-24 from long range in those two games.

    It's a testament to Dallas' depth beyond Porzingis that it owns a plus-4.6 net rating without Doncic on the floor.

    The rotation figures to get even deeper with the possible addition of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who could come aboard following his buyout from the Hornets. MKG offers little on offense, but he would give Dallas the physical multi-position defender it lacks and could work well as a roll man in units with floor-spacing centers.

    The Mavs would have finished the week 3-1 if not for Bradley Beal's game-winning layup Friday.


    11. Memphis Grizzlies (11)

    You could argue the Grizzlies got worse in the short term by trading Andre Iguodala, Jae Crowder and Solomon Hill for Justise Winslow, James Johnson (flipped for Gorgui Dieng) and Dion Waiters (waived). Even if Winslow is healthy enough to play, it'll still be difficult to pin down his role on a team that already has a dominant ball-handler in Ja Morant and plenty of forward depth.

    There's no denying Winslow's upside, and Memphis may be correct in valuing a still-promising 23-year-old more than veterans who might have helped in retaining the West's eighth playoff spot. It's not like it'd be the worst outcome for Memphis to stay competitive but ultimately fall short of the postseason.

    Its rebuild remains ahead of schedule either way.

    The Grizzlies went 3-1 this week and looked their best in hanging 41 points on the Mavs in the third quarter of Wednesday's 121-107 win in Dallas. Ja Morant led a spirited comeback Sunday in Washington, finishing with 27 points, 10 assists and 10 rebounds for his first career triple-double.

10. Utah Jazz

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    Last Week: 8

    Mike Conley looked solid offensively against the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday, but there was no mistaking Denver's intent to target him (often successfully) on the other end. His inability to stop anyone was a factor in that 98-95 loss to Denver, and it also contributed to him winding up on the bench for the last four minutes of the fourth quarter against Portland on Friday.

    Utah won that game by a final of 117-114, but it probably shouldn't have. The officials missed a clear goaltending call on a Damian Lillard layup that should have resulted in a tied score with 13.5 seconds left. In the very next game, it took an incomprehensibly tough Bojan Bogdanovic buzzer-beater to snatch a win from the Houston Rockets.

    The Jazz (a very suspect 2-1 this week) have been a mess lately and should probably be on a seven-game losing streak. But it's still hard to ignore that 19-2 run from Dec. 11 to Jan. 25. It's not like some other team put that ridiculous stretch together.

    There's no denying Utah is getting the benefit of the doubt here, as there's a case to dump them from the top 10 entirely. But most of their five losses over the last two weeks were close, and all but one came against quality West competition (sorry, Spurs).

    The Jazz are still seventh in net rating for the season. They're on thin ice, but they get another week to sort themselves out.

9. Miami Heat

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    Last Week: 9

    It'll be worth watching how Miami's revamped rotation affects its scoring.

    Minutes for Andre Iguodala and Jae Crowder have to come from somewhere, and it's possible Duncan Robinson and Tyler Herro could see reductions in their playing time. The tradeoff of shooting for versatility, defense and playmaking might be a net positive, but Miami's strong season to this point owes largely to the second-highest three-point percentage in the league.

    The Heat's defense was all over the place this past week. Last Monday saw them effectively wall off the lane and flummox the Sixers in a 136-107 blowout win. On Wednesday, though, the Los Angeles Clippers' passing cut Miami's zone looks to ribbons in a 128-111 loss.

    A welcome constant: Bam Adebayo wrecking dudes. He posterized 40 percent of the players Sacramento had on the floor with a vicious spike during Friday's 105-97 loss. Don't worry about the result; Miami took a skeleton crew into that game.

    The stay at No. 9 has more to do with the Heat's talent upgrade than its inconsistent work this past week.

8. Houston Rockets

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    Last Week: 10

    There's a nobility in Houston's commitment to stylistic novelty. By swapping out Clint Capela for Robert Covington, the Rockets are pushing their isolation-heavy, five-out, drive-and-kick style to the absolute extreme.

    Whether it works or not, this should be fun.

    While Thursday's 121-111 win over the Los Angeles Lakers was just one data point, you have to concede L.A. was the type of oversized opponent that should have given the shrunken Rockets fits. That Houston managed to beat the Lakers on a night James Harden went just 3-of-10 from the field speaks to the intriguing potential of this outside-the-box approach.

    Friday's 36-point loss to the Suns was the worst defeat Houston has suffered since 2002. Fatigue was a factor on the second night of a back-to-back, but that game was a good reminder that the Rockets didn't figure everything out against L.A.

    Can P.J. Tucker hold up at center indefinitely? Can the Rockets keep doubling, switching and mucking up the game enough to survive on defense? Will opponents have no choice but to downsize, playing right into the Rockets' hands?

    Questions abound, but the early returns on the Rockets' bold makeover are encouraging—particularly for Russell Westbrook, who's been better about focusing on attacking the basket of late. He stands to benefit most from the increased spacing Houston's lineups generate. He was 17-of-28 for 41 points in the win over Los Angeles.

    Houston has won four of its last six and should have fared even better, as its loss to Utah on Sunday was the result of a gutting Bojan Bogdanovic game-winning three at the horn.

7. Oklahoma City Thunder

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    Last Week: 6

    You could sense Oklahoma City warming to the idea of keeping this slapdash outfit together as the wins piled up. As the deadline came and went with just one close call (Danilo Gallinari appeared near to landing with the Heat), it became official: The Thunder were going to stay on this weird, unexpected ride until its conclusion.

    OKC isn't a championship threat, but it'll pose a challenge for anyone in the playoffs. So even if the long-term play probably should have been to offload short-timers for future assets, sometimes it's refreshing to see a team crack its knuckles and try to win games with what it has.

    With nine victories in its last 11 games, OKC is succeeding in that effort.

    Sunday's 112-111 loss in Boston ended a four-game winning streak, but the Thunder's 11 wins over the last calendar month are tied for most in the West during that span.

6. Los Angeles Clippers

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    Last Week: 5

    If Marcus Morris Sr. comes close to replicating the 43.9 percent he shot from deep with the Knicks (on a career-high 6.1 attempts per game), he'll make the Clippers more dangerous to the select few teams who pose a threat to them in the playoffs.

    You can never have too many sturdy, switchable wing defenders. The Clippers just proved that by prioritizing Morris over an upgrade at center. Then again, Morris could close some games at the 5—definitely against Houston, but possibly against others.

    The Clips eked out a 108-105 win against San Antonio to start the week and then shredded the Heat's zone defense in a 128-111 win on Wednesday. That first victory got them to 35-15, the best 50-game mark in franchise history. Friday's horrendous 142-115 loss to a Wolves team playing without D'Angelo Russell was one of the bigger upsets of the season, and it saw a checked-out Los Angeles team miscommunicate repeatedly on defense.

    Confirming the theory that L.A. doesn't get up for every opponent, the Clips are 10-3 in their last 13 games, with those losses coming against Atlanta, Sacramento and Minnesota.

5. Boston Celtics

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    Last Week: 7

    Don't look now, but the Celtics, winners in 10 of their last 11 games, are all the way up to second in net rating on the season. This doesn't appear to be the result of luck. Boston's actual effective field-goal percentage is right where it ought to be based on shot location. The same is true for its opponents' numbers.

    The Celtics' schedule has been the league's second-easiest (behind the Milwaukee Bucks), but that's about the best you can do if you're searching for holes in this team's resume. With five of the last 10 wins coming against squads in playoff position, even that detraction rings a little hollow.

    Jayson Tatum has scored at least 20 points in nine straight games, and he posted back-to-back contests of at least 30 points (33 against Orlando on Wednesday, 32 against Atlanta on Friday) for the first time this season.

    If the Toronto Raptors ever lose again, Boston has a great shot to slot into that No. 2 spot in the East. For now, it'll have to settle for another small move up our rankings.

4. Denver Nuggets

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    Last Week: 4

    As long as Giannis Antetokounmpo is around, talk of others nosing their way into the MVP race will always be a little pointless. But if there's a sub-Giannis tier of the MVP discussion, Nikola Jokic may be moving toward the top of it.

    Jokic, unbothered by the defense of Rudy Gobert, ripped off 30 points, 21 rebounds and 10 assists as a seven-man Denver squad earned a 98-95 road win over the Jazz on Wednesday. That, after Jokic went for 29 points, 13 rebounds and nine assists to beat the Blazers 127-99 on Tuesday. And if you're into clutch play, nobody's better than the Nuggets center.

    Denver moved on from Malik Beasley and Juancho Hernangomez at the deadline, prizing the first-round pick it got more highly than the looming offseason decisions it faced on both players' restricted free agencies. Beasley (ninth) and Hernangomez (12th) didn't rank high on the list of total minutes logged for the Nuggets this season, so their absences won't be all that hard to cover.

    Jordan McRae and Keita Bates-Diop, who'll effectively replace Beasley and Hernangomez, might even represent upgrades in their limited roles. And if Jamal Murray's 36 points on 14-of-17 shooting against the Suns on Saturday presage a hot streak, Denver, 3-0 this week, won't be short on scoring the rest of the way.

3. Toronto Raptors

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    Last Week: 3

    Serge Ibaka called game, drilling a three from the right wing to secure a 119-118 win over the Pacers on Wednesday and completing a comeback from a 19-point deficit. Pascal Siakam did the same from the foul line on Saturday, knocking down the go-ahead free throw with 22.9 seconds left in a matching 119-118 win over the Nets.

    Toronto's franchise-record winning streak now sits at 14 and counting, with the only speed bump being Kyle Lowry's neck injury during the second part of a home-and-home against Indy on Friday. Terence Davis picked up the slack after Lowry left, attacking with confidence and scoring 11 of his 17 points in the fourth quarter of that 115-106 win.

    On Saturday, Fred VanVleet was the one covering for Lowry's absence, scoring a team-high 29 points. To be fair, Davis also had 20 points starting in place of a whiplashed Lowry.

    The Raps have it easy until a Feb. 25 date with Milwaukee, so this streak could easily get to 18 in a row. Coincidentally, the Bucks are the only team in the league with a better record and net rating than Toronto since Jan. 1. 

2. Los Angeles Lakers

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    Last Week: 2

    Despite swinging no deals, the Lakers won't necessarily end the regular season with the same roster that started it.

    Darren Collison won't be coming out of retirement, which is a shame for the Lakers, who were on his shortlist. He would have addressed the playmaking void that opens up whenever LeBron James rests.

    The Lakers' asset pool is shallower than the Clippers', which is largely why Marcus Morris Sr. won't be wearing purple and gold the rest of this season. But confidence in its current personnel may have also been a factor in L.A's failure to outbid the Clippers.

    That confidence is well-founded. The Lakers are still second in the league in winning percentage and third in net rating. And they tend to suffer fewer lapses than the other L.A. team, which still seems to be treating the regular season like a low-stakes dress rehearsal.

    Thursday's loss to the miniaturized Rockets might raise some concern that all the size Los Angeles has is actually a disadvantage against smaller, quicker, more switchable opponents. But the Lakers shot 9-of-31 from deep against Houston, and Russell Westbrook was 6-of-13 on mid-range jumpers. Tweak the luck factors on either of those hit rates and we might be talking about how Houston has no answer for teams with L.A.'s interior heft.

1. Milwaukee Bucks

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    Stacy Revere/Getty Images

    Last Week: 1

    Milwaukee abstained from the trade flurry that gripped the league this past week, and while few teams are in a more obvious win-now mode, you can understand why the Bucks thought they were just fine with the roster they had.

    The 43-7 mark Milwaukee took into Thursday's deadline didn't exactly encourage tinkering.

    Giannis Antetokounmpo marauded Philly for 36 points, 20 boards and six assists in Thursday's 112-101 win, his fifth straight game with at least 30 points, 15 rebounds and five assists. That's a streak only Wilt Chamberlain has ever matched.

    Then, to close the week, Brook Lopez scored a team-high 23 points to beat Orlando 111-95 on Saturday. It was only the fourth time all year anyone other than Antetokounmpo or Khris Middleton led Milwaukee in scoring.

    Marvin Williams appears to be inbound, and he'll add depth up front. Against smaller, quicker opponents, he'll be a better option off the bench than Ersan Ilyasova.

    The Bucks are 45-7 with a plus-11.8 net rating, both of which lead the league by huge margins. The longer this season goes on, the wider the gap between the Bucks and everyone else gets.


    Stats courtesy of NBA.comBasketball Reference and Cleaning the Glass unless otherwise indicated. Accurate through games played Sunday, Feb. 9.


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