NBA Power Rankings: No Kawhi, No Problem for Paul George and the Clippers
The playoff race across the NBA is heating up, and more and more games are carrying significant weight with the end of the season on the horizon.
The No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference is a neck-and-neck race between the Philadelphia 76ers and Brooklyn Nets. Out West, the Utah Jazz are trying to hold off a run from the Phoenix Suns.
Meanwhile, the Boston Celtics and Miami Heat are heading in opposite directions with one team climbing the rankings and the other tumbling. The Atlanta Hawks are soaring to new heights, while the Washington Wizards have quietly started their ascension out of the bottom third.
A few new teams have played their way into the top 10 of the rankings this week, and a new team has worked its way into the top three. As always, the rankings criteria remain the same: How the team performed for the week, who they beat and where the season is heading based on the week’s worth of games.
30. Houston Rockets
Last Week's Rankings: 30th
The Rockets have gone 2-10 in their past 12 games, but were able to put an end to their five-game losing streak with a victory over the Orlando Magic on Sunday. Houston got six games from John Wall during this stretch and he was their leading scorer, averaging 20.7 points. The team has to hope he can maintain good health for the rest of the year and into next season.
Over the final month of this campaign and into the next one, the Rockets will need to address their rebounding, or rather, their lack of rebounding. The Rockets give up the most rebounds per game and are last in rebound percentage.
The next week of games is fairly challenging with games against the Heat, Jazz, Clippers and Nuggets. It is certainly possible Houston will start a new losing streak.
29. Minnesota Timberwolves
Last Week’s Rankings: 29th
The week started with two blowout losses for the Wolves with Karl-Anthony Towns out for personal reasons. With him back in the lineup, Minnesota picked up a win over Miami as Towns put up 24 points.
The real story for the Wolves has been the great play from Anthony Edwards. He has come to life since the All-Star break, averaging 23.4 points and getting to the line an average of 5.3 times a game. There is still work to be done as his shot selection and three-point shooting will all need work as he develops, but Minnesota should be encouraged by the improvement Edwards has shown under Chris Finch.
Since Finch took over the Wolves, the team has gone 8-19. It’s not the greatest record, but with how bad the Wolves were playing before he got there and all the injuries they’ve had to endure, it is a good starting point.
28. Cleveland Cavaliers
Last Week’s Rankings: 28th
Offense has been a real struggle for the Cavaliers. They have the second-worst offensive rating in the NBA and average the fewest points in the league. Cleveland just has so few offensive weapons that it can depend on.
Collin Sexton and Darius Garland are their two most potent threats. Sexton leads the team in scoring with 24.2 points and Garland follows behind with 17.1 points a night. Cleveland has gotten Kevin Love back, but his offensive game has been slow to come along shooting just 38.7 percent from the field.
The Cavs are looking toward the future and one priority has to be looking for more ways to score because right now there just aren’t enough options.
27. Orlando Magic
Last Week’s Rankings: 27th
The Magic got a little bit of revenge last week by stopping their six-game losing streak with a win against former teammate Nikola Vucevic and the Chicago Bulls. Orlando’s win over Chicago was just its second win in April. Wendell Carter Jr. put together a 19-point, 12-rebound performance in his return to Chicago.
Cole Anthony has been back for the past seven games and has done a good job playing the role as the distributor. The rookie guard is averaging 5.6 assists and just 1.7 turnovers since coming back from a fractured right rib.
Orlando followed its win with two losses to close the week and has gone 1-8 in its past nine games. But picking up a win against their former star is a nice moral victory that keeps the Magic from dropping in the rankings.
26. Oklahoma City Thunder
Last Week’s Rankings: 26th
The Thunder’s losing streak has extended to 10 games with the close loss to the Raptors, a game in which they scored just 47 second-half points. Oklahoma City’s offense has been abysmal all season long with the worst offensive rating in the NBA (103.6).
There have still been a few bright spots amid the prolonged losing skid. Luguentz Dort had a big game against the Jazz after coming out of the NBA’s concussion protocol. He dropped a career-high 42 points including a career-high seven made threes, but then missed the following game due to left shoulder soreness. Aleksej Pokusevski had a nice game in Oklahoma City’s loss to Toronto with eight points, seven rebounds, five assists and more impressively six blocks.
The young kids are playing hard for the Thunder and putting up a fight in each game, but they are just too young to be able to pull out some of these close games.
25. Detroit Pistons
Last Week’s Rankings: 24th
Losers in four out of their past five games, the Pistons have hit yet another rut in an overall disappointing season. To its credit, Detroit continues to play hard but the talent disparity is too much to overcome.
The Pistons are a team focused on the future. In that vein, there is certainly some promise in the young talent they do have. Saddiq Bey has been a bright spot all season and Isaiah Stewart has been a solid addition to the frontcourt.
Even Killian Hayes—now back from right hip injury—has shown flashes of what the Pistons brass saw in him when they drafted him seventh overall. In his limited minutes since his return, he is averaging 4.3 assists, including this wicked pass in transition to Bey for a bucket.
Detroit is very early in the rebuilding process, but it already has some nice building blocks for the future.
24. Sacramento Kings
Last Week’s Rankings: 22nd
Sacramento put an end to their second nine-game losing streak of the season with a great win in Dallas on Sunday. De’Aaron Fox put the team on his back with a 30-point and 12-assist night. The Kings had a response every time the Mavericks made a run and were able to hold on for a comfortable 14-point victory.
But the losing streak did highlight an underlying issue that has plagued Sacramento. During the streak the Kings were completely dominated on the glass. They were getting out-rebounded by an average of 12.1 rebounds a game. That simply is not conducive to winning.
With two nine-game losing streaks in the books this season, it seems like a pretty good bet that the Kings’ playoff drought will continue for another year.
23. New Orleans Pelicans
Last Week’s Rankings: 21st
The Pelicans followed up a three-game winning streak with a three-game losing streak. This puts New Orleans three games behind the San Antonio Spurs and Golden State Warriors for the last spot in the play-in tournament. TIme is running out on their opportunity to gain ground.
During this losing streak, the team is shooting just 22.9 percent from three. Only two players— Brandon Ingram and Naji Marshall—have been dependable shooters. The poor shooting is difficult to overcome considering New Orleans is dead last in three-point defense. In their past three games, the Pelicans were outscored 96-57 from three-point range—a deficit averaging 13 points per game.
With players like Eric Bledsoe, Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and Stevan Adams, the Pelicans have too much defensive talent on the roster to struggle as much as they do on that end.
22. Chicago Bulls
Last Week’s Rankings: 19th
There is not a lot of good news coming out of Chicago these days. The Bulls have lost 11 of their past 15 games, though a five-game losing skid finally came to an end Saturday night with a win over the Cavaliers.
As of now, the Bulls are in a three-way battle for the last spot in the play-in tournament. Their slide has dropped them into a three-way tie with the Raptors and Wizards for the last play-in spot, meaning their margin for error is tiny down the stretch.
To add insult to injury, the Bulls lost to the Magic—their trade partner in March—with Wendell Carter Jr. getting something of a “revenge game” with 19 points and 12 rebounds in his first game against the Bulls. Zach LaVine and Nikola Vucevic combined for 59 points, but only one other Chicago player scored in double figures.
Then, to make matters even worse, the Bulls lost LaVine to the COVID protocol for at least the next week. If he misses more time than that, it will be tough to envision this team even making it to the play-in tournament.
21. Toronto Raptors
Last Week’s Rankings: 23rd
After everything that has happened this season, the Raptors are still right in the mix for the play-in tournament. The problem is injuries might stop them from making a real run at it. Pascal Siakam missed games last week with a left shoulder issue, Fred VanVleet sat out with a hip injury, and Kyle Lowry did not play a game all week due to a right foot infection.
Despite so many guys being out, the Raptors got big games from Chris Boucher and Gary Trent Jr. to pull off a much-needed win over the Thunder to finish the week on a three-game winning streak. Boucher put up 31 points and 11 rebounds while Trent put up 23 points and five threes.
Toronto is in a three-way tie with Chicago and Washington for the final spot in the play-in. Getting healthy will be critical as their schedule gets much tougher next week with games against the Nets and Knicks.
20. Washington Wizards
Last Week’s Rankings: 25th
At 23-33, the Wizards still have hope of sneaking into the play-in tournament. They are tied with the Bulls and Raptors for the final spot and have won six of their past seven games. Their win in Utah shows how dangerous the Wizards could be in a single game.
Washington has averaged 119 points per game over its past seven games. Bradley Beal missed the only game the team lost in this seven-game stretch. He has not shot it great from three but is still putting up a team-high 29.7 points since April 7.
The Wizards also got efficient play from Russell Westbrook, who is averaging a triple-double while shooting 50.4 percent from the field over the past seven games. He has done a great job as a teammate trying to build up confidence in the younger players.
19. Indiana Pacers
Last Week’s Rankings: 18th
The Pacers have a little cushion to stay in the play-in tournament, but that buffer can disappear quickly if they continue to scuffle like they did while going 1-3 this week. Indiana struggled to come up with stops as they compiled a 116.6 defensive rating over the past week. That was up from their 111.7 defensive rating for the season.
The good news for Indiana is that Malcolm Brogdon broke out of his slump last week. He led the team in scoring with 24.3 points per game while shooting 50 percent from the field, 37.9 percent from three and collecting 6.8 rebounds and 6.3 assists.
Having Brogdon going at the same time as Caris LeVert and Domantas Sabonis gives the Pacers a bit of an edge, but they will have to regroup defensively.
18. San Antonio Spurs
Last Week’s Rankings: 20th
The Spurs took a gut punch in their loss to the Blazers as they blew a 16-point second-half lead. They did not hang their heads long because they followed that loss with a big win in Phoenix to end the week.
San Antonio is clinging to the last spot in the play-in tournament but has gone 3-7 in its past 10 games. Five of those losses were by single digits.
During this 10-game stretch, six games were within three points with three minutes left. The Spurs have gone 1-5 with a net rating of minus-22.3 in those games in large part due to poor late-game execution. One example is this turnover committed by Lonnie Walker IV that led directly to the Blazers scoring the go-ahead basket.
Due to an earlier COVID outbreak within the organization, the schedule has been unforgiving for the Spurs. Between the All-Star break and the end of the season, San Antonio doesn’t have two successive off-days at any point.
17. Charlotte Hornets
Last Week’s Rankings: 14th
Injuries are beginning to catch up to the Hornets, who lost straight games before Sunday’s win over the Portland Trail Blazers. P.J. Washington was added to the injury list last week with a right ankle sprain and Terry Rozier sat out a game too. Of course, LaMelo Ball has been out for nearly a month with a fractured right wrist.
Miles Bridges was great last week, scoring 21.3 points—including another poster dunk—shooting 46.7 percent from three and grabbing 7.0 rebounds per game. The injuries have robbed the Hornets of many of their offensive weapons, but they have also given Bridges an opportunity to spread his wings and see how high he can fly.
Charlotte banked enough wins earlier in the season to not have to worry too much about falling out of the play-in tournament. However, if they can Gordon Hayward (right foot injury) back sooner rather than later they might be able to work their way up the standings and out of the play-in altogether.
16. Golden State Warriors
Last Week’s Rankings: 17th
The Warriors were on a four-game winning streak before losing to the Celtics to end the week, putting them just a game below .500 and ninth in the West.
They are three games into a five-game road trip. The road has not been kind to Golden State this season as they are 11-19 away from the Chase Center. However, the good news is that after this road trip, the Warriors will only be away from home for four of their final 13 games.
Stephen Curry has taken his game to another level in April. He is averaging 39.9 points per game for the month, including a 53-point outburst against the Nuggets on April 12 and 47 against the Celtics on Saturday. He has scored 30 or more points in 10 straight games. Curry is just on the outside of the 50/40/90 club for the season, shooting 49.1 pecent from the field, 42.7 percent on three-pointers and 92.2 percent from the free-throw line.
Curry tweaked his ankle in the Boston game, but he was able to finish the game. Golden State can’t afford to have him missing time as it fights to maintain hold of its spot in the play-in tournament.
15. Memphis Grizzlies
Last Week’s Rankings: 16th
If it was not for a miraculous game-winning three by Luka Doncic, the Grizzlies would have gone 4-0 last week. Two games into a seven-game road trip, Memphis picked up a big, 13-point win in Milwaukee to end the week.
Grayson Allen has come on strong in the last week. He was the team’s third-leading scorer with 18.5 points on 54.1 percent from three. It could not come at a better time as Ja Morant struggled with his scoring, shooting just 39.3 percent from the field.
Memphis looks to have a solid footing for the play-in tournament sitting at the eighth seed, two games ahead of the Warriors and Spurs and five games up on the 11th-place Pelicans . The next week will be challenging though with games at the Nuggets and Clippers followed by a two-game miniseries against the Blazers.
14. Miami Heat
Last Week’s Rankings: 9th
The Miami Heat might be one of the most confusing teams in the NBA. They lost the last three games of their West Coast by an average of 15 points.
Jimmy Butler is doing all that he can for the team, averaging 20.3 points with 8.3 assists last week. But frustration started to show after Friday’s loss to the Wolves.
"We're just being soft. That's it," Butler said. "Not getting into bodies, scared of some contact. Soft overall." Miami has lost 11 of its past 17 games and is running out of time to turn things around.
The Heat responded to Butler’s comments with a physical performance in a win against the Nets on Sunday. Butler did not play due to a sprained right ankle, so it was Bam Adebayo who carried the team with 21 points, including a game-winner at the buzzer.
Even with their big win, Miami dropped in the rankings due to its 1-3 record last week.
13. Portland Trail Blazers
Last Week’s Rankings: 13th
The Blazers are trying to hold off the Mavericks to avoid the play-in tournament, but there is concern about Damian Lillard’s health. He had to sit out games against San Antonio and Charlotte last week with a strained right hamstring. It seems the load he has had to carry all season may be wearing on him a bit.
The good news for Portland is it was able to pick up a win with Lillard out, coming back from down 16 to stun the Spurs. The team got a big game out of CJ McCollum, who dropped 29 points on 13 of 26 shooting, while Norman Powell chipped in 22 points. That was not the case in their second game without Lillard as they fell to the Hornets.
It would certainly help the Blazers down the stretch if they can rack up a few more wins while Lillard recovers. Unfortunately, they face a challenging schedule next week with games against the Clippers, Nuggets and a miniseries with the Grizzlies.
12. Dallas Mavericks
Last Week’s Rankings: 10th
There is a lot of disdain for the play-in tournament coming from Dallas. Luka Doncic made it clear he does not like it and team governor Mark Cuban called it an “enormous mistake.” That stance might be different if Dallas was currently slotted seventh in the West.
The Mavericks have hit a little bit of turbulence, going 1-3 while dropping games to the Sixers, Knicks, and Kings last week. They would have gone winless if it was not for a miracle three-point floater from Doncic to defeat the Grizzlies at the buzzer.
The team has struggled with their shot last week shooting just 31.4 percent from three. That includes Doncic who went 28.2 percent from deep as well as Kristaps Porzingis’ 25 percent three-point shooting.
11. New York Knicks
Last Week’s Rankings: 15th
New York has ripped off a six-game winning streak behind an offensive explosion. The Knicks are averaging 116.8 points, a 10-point jump from their normal scoring average. They have six players scoring in double figures, led by Julius Randle’s 30.7 points per game during the streak.
Even with all the heavy minutes Randle has played this season, it has not slowed him down. He has shown no signs of wearing down despite leading the league in minutes played. The Knicks are right in the race with the Hawks and Celtics for home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
That thought alone is remarkable considering the expectations for this Knicks team were so low to start the season. He may not win the award, but Tom Thibodeau should be in the running for Coach of the Year for the job he has done.
The Mavs are two games behind the Blazers for the sixth seed. If they are going to make the playoffs outright, they are going to have to find their shooting stroke again.
10. Atlanta Hawks
Last Week’s Rankings: 11th
Atlanta had a nice little three-game winning streak going before a loss to Milwaukee on Thursday. The Hawks have gone 8-2 in their past 10 games and have risen to fourth in the East standings.
Bogdan Bogdanovic looks like he is completely in a groove. He led the Hawks in scoring, dropping 24.7 points and shooting 51.6 percent from three and 50 percent from the field last week. But the unsung hero of this Hawks team has been Clint Capela.
All season long Capela has been the model of consistency for the Hawks. He leads the league in rebounding (14.5), is third in blocks (2.2) and has 38 double-doubles out of 50 games. Atlanta’s defensive rating is notably worse when he is off the court, with Capela’s defensive rating sitting at 107.4 while the team’s overall number is 112.3. Capela’s rolling threat is something every team has to account for in the pick-and-roll.
At the start of the season, Atlanta’s goal was to make the playoffs. Based on how the Hawks have been playing, though, they now have every opportunity to earn home-court advantage for the first round.
9. Boston Celtics
Last Week’s Rankings: 12th
Boston has burst into the top 10 of this week’s rankings with an impressive six-game winning streak. The team is winner of eight of its last nine and swept its three-game West Coast trip. It looks as if things are beginning to stabilize for the Celtics, who are now tied for fourth in the East.
Jayson Tatum has erupted during the winning streak, averaging 32.7 points on 53.6/46.8/90.9 shooting splits while grabbing 9.0 rebounds. The more important stat relating to Tatum’s run is he is getting to the free-throw line 7.3 times a game—a drastic difference from the 4.7 he has been averaging this season. All of that was displayed in Tatum’s 44-point performance in the win over the Warriors.
The Celtics also signed Jabari Parker to help bring some scoring off the bench. Pairing him with Evan Fournier when he returns should help to give them a little more firepower.
8. Los Angeles Lakers
Last Week’s Rankings: 8th
Last week saw the end of the Lakers' seven-game road trip. Considering the number of injuries they have sustained, going 4-3 on it is a big win for the team. The most impressive aspect for the Lakers is that their defense has not missed a beat. Los Angeles has the best defensive rating in the NBA at 105.8.
Understandably without LeBron James and Anthony Davis, it’s been the offense that has fallen. The Lakers' offensive rating dropped from 111.3 before James got hurt to 105.9 afterward. The last week did not help, with the team shooting 34.0 percent from three.
The good news is that the cavalry is arriving soon. It seems the Anthony Davis return watch is in full effect. He has been cleared for full on-court activities and could be in the lineup within the next week.
7. Milwaukee Bucks
Last Week’s Rankings: 7th
After a three-game losing streak, the Bucks bounced back to run off three straight wins before falling to the Grizzlies. This has been the trend all season long for Milwaukee: Aside from an eight-game winning streak in March, the team has been very up-and-down with its play.
In some good news, Milwaukee got Giannis Antetokounmpo back after he missed six games with a knee issue. It also got P.J. Tucker back from a sprained ankle that kept him out for 10 games. The return of Tucker is important because the Bucks need him to get up to speed with the system if he is going to be a difference-maker in the playoffs.
The next week will bring some big games to Milwaukee with the Suns coming to town, a miniseries with the Sixers and the Hawks to round things out. The Bucks have gone just 13-14 against teams above .500, so this will be an opportunity to improve on that.
6. Utah Jazz
Last Week’s Rankings: 5th
The Jazz’s grip on the top seed in the West has loosened a bit, and their surprising loss at home to the Wizards did not help the case. That loss snapped Utah’s franchise-record 24-game home winning streak, and it knocked the team out of the top five of the rankings.
To make things more tenuous for the Jazz, Donovan Mitchell is expected to miss at least a week with a sprained ankle he suffered in their win over the Pacers. With health an issue, Utah also sat out several players, including Rudy Gobert and Mike Conley, in its loss to the Lakers.
The Jazz are in a precarious situation of weighing the value of rest and securing the top seed in the West. The Suns are right behind them and looking for an opportunity to overtake them in the standings.
It will be interesting to watch how Utah manages to rest its guys while trying to maintain its dominance over the West.
5. Brooklyn Nets
Last Week’s Rankings: 4th
The big news out of Brooklyn last week was the retirement announcement from LaMarcus Aldridge, who revealed he had an irregular heartbeat during his last game. He appeared in just five games for the Nets and had not fully solidified a role with the team.
The big matchup against the Sixers lost a little steam when Kevin Durant sat out the game for rest since it was the second leg of a back-to-back set. Then they dropped their game against the Heat to end the week 2-2. To complicate things even more, Durant left that game with a thigh contusion. No word has arrived yet if that will force him to miss time in the next week.
But the loss to Philadelphia might come back to hurt Brooklyn. That win gave the Sixers the tiebreaker should the two teams tie for the top record in the East.
4. Denver Nuggets
Last Week’s Rankings: 3rd
The Nuggets started the week with a loss to the Warriors, but it was the injury to Jamal Murray that crushed Denver. Murray’s season has come to an end because of a torn ACL in his left knee.
Without Murray, it feels as if Denver’s chances of making it to the NBA Finals are out the window. It will be difficult to replace his 21.2 points and 40.8 percent from three. It is going to require Will Barton, Aaron Gordon and Michael Porter Jr. to step up their games. But the Nikola Jokic-Murray two-man game that has been perfected over the last few seasons will be out of their arsenal.
Even though the Finals are likely out of the picture, the Nuggets still have plenty of talent on the roster to be a difficult out in the playoffs.
3. Phoenix Suns
Last Week’s Rankings: 2nd
Phoenix has been one of the best teams all season and has come on strong lately. The Suns have won 11 of their last 13 games and built a little cushion as the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference. The Suns finished the week with a ba loss to the Spurs. What made that loss particularly painful was that it was an opportunity to pull within half a game of the Jazz and the best record in the NBA.
This team has just about everything one could ask for. Devin Booker is its go-to scorer. Deandre Ayton is a double-double machine with 30 of them this season. Chris Paul is the maestro pulling all the right strings, and when it is needed, he pulls out his mid-range game to help close games. The Suns are getting key contributions from Mikal Bridges, Jae Crowder, Cameron Payne and Dario Saric. And in the end, they are well-coached by Monty Williams.
That loss to the Spurs might be a case of the team looking ahead at its upcoming road trip. Next week will start a five-game East Coast trip against some of the best. Stops in Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Boston, Brooklyn and New York will test the Suns. Taking their eyes off the ball is why the Suns dropped a spot.
2. Philadelphia 76ers
Last Week’s Rankings: 6th
The Sixers went on a four-game winning streak, including big matchups all last week. Philadelphia picked up wins over the Mavericks, the Nets and the Clippers. Joel Embiid has been on a tear during this stretch, averaging 34.5 points on 51.8 percent shooting from the field.
Philadelphia’s length and speed allow for its defense to suffocate teams. With Ben Simmons and Matisse Thybulle on the court together, the Sixers can wreck offenses. The Sixers have a defensive rating of 101.9 when the pair is on the court. It was evident in the Clippers game with their ability to rotate and recover back to their man.
Despite Brooklyn being without Kevin Durant and James Harden, that win had big implications. It gave the Sixers the season series and tiebreaker should the teams finish with the same record.
1. LA Clippers
Last Week’s Rankings: 1st
The Clippers' winning streak ended at seven with a loss to the Sixers. They rebounded nicely with a win over the Wolves to round out the week. L.A. has won 14 of its past 17 games and is sitting at third in the West standings.
Paul George has been outstanding for the Clippers during this stretch of games with 30 or more points in five straight games before scoring 23 points in 27 minutes during a blowout win over the Wolves. It has been more than just scoring, as he handed out nine assists against Detroit and eight against Indiana.
All of this success has come while the Clippers have been pretty banged up.
Serge Ibaka has missed the past 16 games, Patrick Beverley has played only twice and Kawhi Leonard has missed five straight games. Even George missed a couple of games during this stretch.
The loss to the Sixers did not cost the Clippers the top spot in rankings considering they were without several rotation players and still nearly pulled out the win.