NBA Power Rankings: LeBron, Lakers Stumble Further Down the List
The end of this NBA season is going to be wild with two weeks left. Seeding is up in the air in both conferences from the top seed to the play-in tournament. The standings are shifting almost after every game.
The top record in the NBA is also up for grabs between the Jazz and Suns, and the Sixers and Nets are duking it out for top seed in the East.
The race to get into the play-in tournament is just as thrilling as the race to avoid it. Even the jockeying within the tournament range has tightened up with teams trying to get in the upper bracket.
The games not only carry heavy significance; there have been some heavyweight bouts in the West and East. Just like the standings, there has been movement in the rankings. A new No. 1 team was crowned in the rankings, while a new one has hit the basement. There has been some shuffling in the top 10 with a few teams finding themselves on the outside looking in.
The criteria have remained the same: how the team performed for the week, who they beat and where the season is heading after the week's worth of games.
30. Oklahoma City Thunder
Last Week's Rankings: 27th
It was a brutal schedule last week for the Thunder with five games in seven days. Despite the circumstances, Oklahoma City was able to end its 14-game losing streak with a big road win against the Celtics. Then the team continued to lose the last three games of the week.
Ty Jerome provided some highlights for the Thunder, averaging 14.3 points on some sharp shooting from three. He connected 57.9 percent from three on five attempts. As Oklahoma City's season comes to a close, it is about seeing which young players the Thunder want to continue to invest in.
Even though they are tanking, losing by 57 points is enough of a reason to put them in the basement of the power rankings.
29. Cleveland Cavaliers
Last Week's Rankings: 29th
It has been rough times for the Cavaliers lately. They are on a six-game losing streak and 1-9 in the last 10 games. The schedule gets even tougher with games against the Suns, Blazers and Mavericks next week. All of these teams are still playing for something, meaning they cannot afford to not bring their A-game against Cleveland.
Losing games has been rough but even worse has been the optics from some of the losses. Kevin Love threw a mini-temper tantrum on the court in their loss to the Raptors. He has since apologized to the team but overall not a good look for Cleveland and Love.
Cleveland is in a bad spot with Love, who still has two more years left on the deal fully guaranteed with $60 million left. Maybe there will be traction on a buyout in the offseason but that seems a ways away. The Cavs will have to make a decision on how best to move forward with Love, who had a similar episode last season when John Beilein was the coach.
28. Houston Rockets
Last Week's Rankings: 30th
The Rockets announced early last week that John Wall's season was over. It was a difficult first year in Houston for him. Drama aside, Wall appeared in just 40 games because of injuries and injury management. When he did play, Wall was productive, averaging 20.6 points and 6.9 assists.
Spinning it forward to next season, getting him healthy and keeping him on the court will be critical.
Last week was a good week for the Rockets with an upset win over the Bucks. Kevin Porter Jr. showed all the promise he has, dropping 50 points and 11 assists in that game. That night put him in elite company, making him the fourth player to score 50 in a game before turning 21. The others before him: LeBron James, Devin Bookers and Brandon Jennings.
Houston's upset of Milwaukee was enough to move it out of the power rankings dungeon.
27. Orlando Magic
Last Week's Rankings: 28th
The best the Magic can do is play spoiler for the rest of the season having officially been eliminated from the playoffs. Orlando did just that in the last game of the week against Memphis. The Magic upset the Grizzlies behind 26 points, eight rebounds and six assists, including a game-winner from Cole Anthony.
The game-winner capped a productive week for Anthony. He led the Magic with an 18.5 scoring average and 52.9 percent long-range shooting to go with his 5.5 rebounds and 4.5 assists.
Orlando snapped its six-game losing streak with a win over the Cavaliers and went 2-2 last week.
26. Minnesota Timberwolves
Last Week's Rankings: 26th
The Wolves have gone on a four-game win streak, which is the first time they have won consecutive contests since the first two games of the season. Karl-Anthony Towns, Anthony Edwards and D'Angelo Russell have all led the way, but Minnesota got contributions from a few other guys, including Juancho Hernangomez, who chipped in 12.3 points with 58.6 percent shooting from the field (47.1 percent from three on 4.3 attempts).
A lot of credit has to go to Chris Finch and the job he has done. The organization was criticized (rightfully so) for how it handled the changeover, but it has been productive. Under Finch, the team is 13-21—a far cry from the 7-24 under Ryan Saunders.
Seeing this improvement should give Wolves fans some hope, just as long as they lose enough to keep their pick from going to Golden State.
25. Detroit Pistons
Last Week's Rankings: 25th
Despite making a big splash in free agency, the expectations for the Pistons were very low. The key to the year was to develop their young players. Detroit rookies Saddiq Bey, Isaiah Stewart and Killian Hayes all showed what they can bring to the table last week.
Bey has averaged 14.5 points, shot 50 percent from three on seven attempts while pulling down 8.0 rebounds. Stewart dropped 12 points, shot 40 percent from three and grabbed 10.5 rebounds. Also, he has one of the best nicknames in the league. (Who doesn't want BEEF STEW!?)
Hayes' rookie campaign was stalled with a hip injury, but since returning he's flashed his passing ability. Last week he handed out 8.0 assists and currently has eight straight games with at least five assists.
Continuing the rookies' development should be the Pistons' primary focus for the rest of the season.
24. Sacramento Kings
Last Week's Rankings: 24th
It is surprising with no De'Aaron Fox and Harrison Barnes that Sacramento went 3-1 last week and earned a couple of big wins. The Kings pulled off upsets over the Mavericks twice and Lakers. Richaun Holmes has come back from his injury and led the Kings in scoring.
With Fox out, rookie Tyrese Haliburton stepped up his game last week. He scored 15.3 points and 8.3 assists. This included a 23-point and 10-assist outburst in the Kings' big win, but he left their second game against Dallas with a knee injury. The team is hopeful that it is not serious, but the rookie will get an MRI to confirm.
Even though the Kings are not going to make the postseason, Sacramento fans should be enjoying the team's willingness to keep fighting even with all their injuries.
23. Toronto Raptors
Last Week's Rankings: 21st
The Raptors are hanging in the play-in race—but just barely. They are three behind the Wizards. Toronto pulled ahead of Chicago in the standings by half a game. The issue for the Raptors is that the Bulls have the edge on them, owning the tiebreaker for winning the season series.
The schedule was challenging last week with five games in seven days with the Raptors going 2-3. The week did end on a positive note with a big win over the Lakers, even though they were without Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby, Chris Boucher and Gary Trent Jr.
Making up for the loss of Boucher has been Khem Birch. After being waived by the Magic, he has been a pleasant surprise for Toronto. Since picking him up 11 games ago, he has become a solid contributor putting in 10.8 points and 7.7 rebounds while shooting 58.7 percent from the field.
Toronto's postseason hopes are still alive, but it may take a hit next week when they face off with Washington in a big showdown.
22. Chicago Bulls
Last Week's Rankings: 22nd
Going 1-3 last week may have put the Bulls in too big a hole to catch the Wizards for the final spot of the play-in game. Zach LaVine is still in COVID-19 protocols, and Nikola Vucevic missed the last game of the week against the Hawks.
Chicago was not able to muster up enough offense to avoid a three-game losing streak. The Bulls are averaging only 96.3 points during this current streak and shooting just 30.2 percent from three. Simply put, there is just not enough firepower on the roster to sustain when LaVine is out.
The Bulls are falling back in the race for some postseason action, and the schedule does not lighten up for them. Of their last eight games, only one is against a team that is out of the postseason hunt.
21. New Orleans Pelicans
Last Week's Rankings: 23rd
The Pelicans were a blown call at the end of their game against the Nuggets, New Orleans could have gone 4-0 last week. But even going 3-1 moves them up in the rankings with a nice win over the Clippers as the crowning jewel. As usual, Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram led the way in scoring for the Pelicans, but they also got a big week from Lonzo Ball.
Even though Ball struggled with his three-point shot, he found other ways to help New Orleans.
His 10.3 rebounds and 8.3 assists led the team last week. The need for help on the glass was necessary with Steven Adams out the last few games with a toe injury.
With all the struggles the Pelicans have had this season, they are just three games out of the play-in tournament. New Orleans has a huge opportunity next with a miniseries against the Warriors, who they are chasing. They almost have to sweep this series if they are going to have a chance to sneak into the play-in.
20. Indiana Pacers
Last Week's Rankings: 20th
The Pacers had a rough two games last week; they got blown out by the Blazers and the Nets. However, a 57-point win to end the week should help to quell the pain of those defeats. It certainly helped to get Domantas Sabonis back in the lineup. He had a triple-double with 26 points, 19 rebounds and 14 assists and was plus-49 on the court. Everyone got to eat in that game.
The win helps Indiana keep pace with Charlotte as it tries to overtake the Hornets for eighth in the East. The key will be getting healthy though. Despite Sabonis' return, the Pacers are still without Malcolm Brogdon and Myles Turner.
19. San Antonio Spurs
Last Week's Rankings: 19th
San Antonio continues to truck along with its incredibly tough schedule to end the season. All four of the Spurs' games last week came down to the wire. They stopped the Wizards' win streak in an overtime shootout 146-143, then lost to the Heat by five.
The worst of it may have been giving up a 32-point lead against Boston to fall in overtime. After all that San Antonio returned home, only to lose to the Sixers on a last-second tip in overtime. They lost their games last week by a combined 10 points.
The Spurs got unbelievable offensive output from DeMar DeRozan (29.0), Dejounte Murray (23.7), Keldon Johnson (17), Rudy Gay (16) and Lonnie Walker IV (16.3) but it was not enough to keep them from going 1-3.
In the standings, they are a game behind the Grizzlies for the eighth spot in the play-in tournament, but in reality, they are two games behind them, having lost the season series. The Spurs will have their work cut out for them to catch them with eight of their last nine games against teams all about .500.
18. Charlotte Hornets
Last Week's Rankings: 17th
The fun is back in Charlotte! That means LaMelo Ball has returned from a fractured wrist and he did not disappoint. In his first game, he handed out eight dimes to go with his 11 points and seven rebounds. His return helped put an end to a two-game losing streak, though it did not stop the Hornets from going 1-3 for the week.
Ball was not the only player to return. Malik Monk also came back to the lineup after missing the last 15 games. The Hornets are just waiting on Gordon Hayward to return so they can be at full strength.
The Hornets getting healthier could not come at a better time as they try to hold onto the eighth seed and play in the top bracket of the play-in tournament.
17. Washington Wizards
Last Week's Rankings: 18th
Even though Washington's winning streak was snapped at eight games, the Wizards have created a three-game lead for the final play-in spot. Even better than that, it has put them just a game-and-a-half away from the top of the play-in bracket.
The Wizards' resurgence in April has been off the backs of their defense. For April, they finished with the third-best defensive rating in the NBA at 108.0—a big difference from their 113.4 rating before April.
The postseason is not the only race to keep an eye on. Bradley Beal is neck-and-neck with Stephen Curry for the scoring title. As of posting Curry holds a slight 0.3 point lead over Beal. This one could go down to the last game of the year.
16. Golden State Warriors
Last Week's Rankings: 15th
Stephen Curry continues to go off, averaging 31.3 points in the last week. He got some help from Andrew Wiggins, who dropped in 20.7, and Mychal Mulder's 18 points per game. That did not stop the Warriors from going just 1-2 for the week and putting them in some danger of falling out of the play-in tournament.
What is not going to help Golden State is the news about Kelly Oubre Jr.'s wrist injury. He missed some games in April, came back and tried to play through a torn thumb ligament and fracture in his palm. He will be out as the team reevaluates the injury and decides steps going forward.
Looking ahead, the Warriors have a massive two-game series with the Pelicans to start next week. That could solidify their standing in the play-in or put them in a fight with the Pelicans, who are three games behind them.
15. Memphis Grizzlies
Last Week's Rankings: 14th
Going 1-3 last week has put the Grizzlies right in the mix for play-in seeding. Memphis's first two losses of the week were not even close as it lost by an average of 22.5 points before splitting a miniseries with Orlando.
The offense struggled last week, scoring just 102 points, shot 40.9 percent from the field and 25.8 percent from three. Only Kyle Anderson shot above 35 percent from three (minimum two attempts per game).
The losses have the Grizzlies just a half-game ahead of both the Warriors and Spurs to stay in the top bracket of the play-in tournament. Falling into the bottom bracket would mean it would take two wins to make the playoffs.
14. Los Angeles Lakers
Last Week's Rankings: 12th
It was a "good news, bad news" week for the Lakers. In good news, the King has returned from the high ankle sprain that kept him out of 20 games for Los Angeles. The bad news: Dennis Schroder has entertained the COVID protocols. Just as soon as they start to get healthy, the Lakers lose their starting point guard.
Los Angeles finished the week on a three-game losing streak. Their losses to the Kings and Raptors were a bit more painful with so many key players out of their rotations. Even with James back in the lineup, the Lakers could not find themselves in the winning column.
There is still some rust James will need to work off, but in his two games back, he averaged 17.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 6.5 assists. He also did average five turnovers, showing some rest as he returns. James had to miss the end of the game against the Raptors with a sore right ankle. Not too surprising as he is still working his way back.
The Lakers' playoff standing is still up in the air. Their losing streak has them in a three-way tie with the Blazers and Mavericks. The worst of the three will be in the play-in tournament. A lot can change in the next week with games against the Nuggets, Clippers, Blazers and Suns—not the easiest of schedules.
13. Boston Celtics
Last Week's Rankings: 13th
It was a tough end to the week for the Celtics. Boston's loss to the Blazers put it seventh in the East. But even more concerning was the end of the game when both Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum had to leave after getting tangled up with each other. Brown was not able to put any weight on his leg on his way to the locker room.
The end of the week put a damper on what Tatum was able to accomplish. He tied Larry Bird's single-game scoring record with 60 points against the Spurs. Boston needed every single point as it came back from a 32-point deficit to win the game in overtime.
The C's will be scoreboard-watching until the end of the season with Miami, New York and Atlanta all ahead of them. Some games on their schedule—including a miniseries with the Heat and their last game of the season against the Knicks—will carry big ramifications.
If Tatum and Brown are going to miss some time, Boston may not be able to stay out of the tournament.
12. Portland Trail Blazers
Last Week's Rankings: 16th
Portland has rebounded after going on a five-game losing streak to winning four straight games. Damian Lillard found his shooting stroke from deep last week connecting on 43.6 percent of his 10 attempts. CJ McCollum has kept up with his backcourt mate, shooting 52.4 percent from three, and was unstoppable in Boston with 33 points.
The Blazers have gotten an important jolt off the bench from Anfernee Simons. He averaged 12.5 points and shot 60.9 percent from deep. Jusuf Nurkic had his best week since coming back from his injury, averaging a double-double with 15.8 points and 10.3 rebounds.
Every game is going to matter down the stretch as the Blazers look to climb out of the play-in game and this three-way tie with the Lakers and Mavericks.
11. Atlanta Hawks
Last Week's Rankings: 9th
The Hawks have not been able to shake the injury bug off this season. Last week was no exception as Bogdan Bogdanovic missed games with a left hamstring issue and Trae Young has been in and out of the lineup. Both were able to return to the lineup and stop Atlanta's three-game slide.
Atlanta has continued to get great play out of its bigs. Clint Capela continues to lead the league in rebounds and should win the rebounding crown fairly easily. John Collins has come back from his own injury to put up 14.8 points last week with 57.5/42.9/87.5 shooting splits last week.
Even though the Hawks are sitting in the fifth seed and have a chance at getting home court in the first round, they just as easily can fall into the play-in tournament if they take their foot off the gas. Atlanta is a game ahead of the seventh seed, and going 1-3 last week has put it in a tough spot.
10. Dallas Mavericks
Last Week's Rankings: 10th
Dallas blew an opportunity to finish the week 4-1 with a bad loss to Sacramento. It was a tough schedule with five games in seven days, and it appears the Mavericks just ran out of gas at the end of the week. The margin to stay out of the play-in tournament is razor-thin. The Mavs are in a three-way tie with the Blazers and Lakers with the worst team finishing seventh.
Luka Doncic, who sat out one game, was incredible. He put up 31.0 points, 10.5 assists and 8.0 rebounds. This also included a career-high 20-assist game against the Wizards. It has not been just Doncic; Dorian Finney-Smith shot 44 percent from three on 6.3 attempts, including the game-winner against the Wizards.
A concern for the Mavericks will be Doncic's constant bickering with the referees. He was ejected at the end of their second loss to Sacramento, giving him 15 technicals. Assuming one of those techs is not rescinded, the next tech will lead to a suspension. With how little room for error Dallas has, it cannot afford him picking up the next one.
9. Miami Heat
Last Week's Rankings: 11th
The Heat closed the week on a three-game winning streak and have gone 7-2 in their last nine games. Their week has them now a game ahead of the Celtics for the sixth seed and out of the play-in tournament.
Miami has been without Tyler Herro for the last five games, but Jimmy Butler, Kendrick Nunn and Bam Adebayo have been carrying the load for the team, averaging a combined 62.8 points. Goran Dragic handed out 5.8 assists a game last week to go with his 13.3 points.
In a tight race, the Heat are going to need all hands on deck. With how tight everything is in the standings, Miami could climb as high as fourth but that would require a little help with the Hawks and Knicks losing games.
8. Los Angeles Clippers
Last Week's Rankings: 1st
The Clippers' reign at the top of the rankings has come to an end with a three-game losing skid. It started with a bad loss to New Orleans, then L.A. dropped two high-profile showdowns to Phoenix and Denver.
Those losses even knocked the Clippers down to fourth in the West standings. The Nuggets now own the season series, so the Clippers will have to finish better than them, not tied to earn a higher playoff seed.
In some good news, Kawhi Leonard made his return to the court after missing the past five games. In his 30 minutes against the Nuggets, he had 16 points, six assists and five rebounds—solid numbers—but Leonard still has some rust to work off.
Looking ahead, maintaining home-court advantage in the first round shouldn't be a big deal for the Clippers, but avoiding a first-round series against the Lakers is something they need to keep their eye on. It should not surprise anyone if there is some matchup jockeying over the final two weeks to make sure the Clips avoid them.
7. New York Knicks
Last Week's Rankings: 8th
New York's longest winning streak since 2013 was snapped at nine games by Phoenix, but it did not take the Knicks long to get back to their winning ways. They finished the week going 2-1.
Julius Randle has continued his campaign for an All-NBA roster spot. He averaged 27.7 points, 6.7 rebounds and 4.3 assists while shooting 50 percent from three last week. RJ Barrett is turning into a trusted second option with 20 points, 6.0 rebounds and 4.3 assists. Off the bench Derrick Rose comes in to settle things and keep the offense flowing.
The Knicks offense took a jump since the All-Star break. Prior to the All-Star Game, their offensive rating was 108.7. Since, it is 113.1. That would have them just on the outside of the top 10 during that span. With New York's defense sustaining, it is going to be a tough out in the playoffs.
The Knicks got a little break in the schedule with just three games last week and three days in between games. But their last game of the week kicked off a six-game West Coast road trip.
6. Brooklyn Nets
Last Week's Rankings: 2nd
The last time the Nets lost consecutive games was Feb. 9. Until this past week, that is, as Brooklyn ended the week with a pair of losses, opening the door for the Philadelphia 76ers to take over the top spot in the East.
Brooklyn got blown out by 19 against Portland in a game that Kevin Durant sat out. The bigger loss came at the front end of its series with the Bucks. It turned into a duel between Durant and Giannis Antetokounmpo before Milwaukee held on for a 117-114 win. The loss evened the season series with the deciding game coming on Tuesday.
Outside of the constant concerns about health for the Nets, one thing to watch for is Kyrie Irving's shooting slump. In the three games he played last week, he shot 23.8 percent from three. With James Harden out, the Nets will need to get him going again from deep.
5. Utah Jazz
Last Week's Rankings: 5th
Last week was always going to be a challenging one for the Jazz with Donovan Mitchell out because of a sprained right ankle, but then Mike Conley reaggravated a left hamstring injury. Add in the Suns surging and the picture atop the West has gotten complicated for the Jazz.
The latest report on Mitchell has him out at least another week. The Jazz are going to need Bojan Bogdanovic and Jordan Clarkson to kick their scoring up another level. Bogdanovic did just that in the last game of the week with a 34-point performance against the Raptors.
Utah finished the week 2-2, but the blowout loss to Phoenix was very damaging. The Suns already owned the season series and that tiebreaker could come into play now that Phoenix and Utah are tied atop the West heading into the season's final stretch.
This fight may not get settled until the last day of the season.
4. Milwaukee Bucks
Last Week's Rankings: 6th
The Bucks received a little bit of a scare when Giannis Antetokounmpo twisted his right ankle in their bad loss to the Rockets. It kept him out of their next game against the Bulls, but he was back in the lineup against the Nets.
Antetokounmpo's ankle did not appear to bother him as he dazzled with 49 points in Milwaukee's big win over the Nets on Sunday. That was the first of a series with Brooklyn, with Tuesday's game set to decide the season series between the two Eastern Conference heavyweights.
Besides Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee got big games from Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday against Brooklyn. The real story for the Bucks this past week has been the play of Bryn Forbes, who dropped 12 points off the bench in their win over the Nets. He also scored a career-high 30 points against the Rockets.
Milwaukee moved into the top five on the merits of its win over Brooklyn. The Bucks would have climbed even higher had they not blown that game to Houston.
3. Philadelphia 76ers
Last Week's Rankings: 7th
The Sixers ended their four-game losing streak and responded with a four-game winning streak. Philadelphia's recent run and Brooklyn's losses has the Sixers back in the No. 1 seed in the East. Up a half game on the Nets and owners of the season series, the Sixers could be in the driver's seat.
Philly did survive a bit of a scare against the Spurs to end the week. It took a Ben Simmons tip-in in overtime to secure the victory and reclaim the top spot. As a team the Sixers were connecting from deep all week, hitting 40.8 percent on their 31.3 attempts.
The schedule down the stretch is very kind to the Sixers with only one opponent with a winning record over their last eight games. Philadelphia controls its own destiny, so if the 76ers take care of business, they should be the top seed in the East.
2. Denver Nuggets
Last Week's Rankings: 3rd
Denver might be the most resilient team in the NBA. Most teams would crumble if they lost a player like Jamal Murray. The Nuggets' response has been to go 9-1 since Murray's injury and move into the third seed for now. Nikola Jokic has continued to dominate, but Michael Porter Jr. has taken a big step forward in these past 10 games.
Over that stretch, MPJ has averaged 25.6 points, on 57.2/51.3/83.3 shooting splits while pulling in 6.7 rebounds per game. More importantly, his chemistry with Jokic has hit overdrive. The ability to play a two-man game with that pair will help open things for the Nuggets offense.
Even though Denver's championship odds took a major hit with Murray's injury, their current run and last year's playoffs should remind everyone this team is not going to fold easily.
1. Phoenix Suns
Last Week's Rankings: 4th
The Suns moved into the top spot after going undefeated with some big games last week. Phoenix stopped the Knicks' win streak, outlasted the Clippers and tuned up the Jazz. It even managed to avoid the trap game against the Thunder.
Chris Paul has jumped into the MVP conversation with his play down the stretch of close games. He scored the final seven points in their win over the Knicks and helped to seal the win over the Clippers. Paul's 1.6 points in games with a three-point differential with three minutes leads the Suns. His veteran presence keeps Phoenix steady in those situations. Devin Booker is right behind him with 1.5 points; those two combining for 3.2 points is a great duo to have in close games.
The Suns now own not just the top spot of the power rankings, but the best record in the NBA. The one thing that may trip up Phoenix is that six of its eight remaining games are on the road.