NBA Power Rankings: Bucks hold on to top spot but 76ers jump up to second Watch Markelle Fultz untie Terrence Ross’ shoe before free throw Lakers rumors: LeBron not near return, team doesn’t plan to pursue Kyrie Irving Bogdanovic agrees to four-year, $68 million extension with Hawks Three things to Know: Lonzo Ball to have third knee surgery, may miss all of next season
The Bucks stay at the top, but the 6ers climb to second and the Nuggets slide down, with the East once again dominating this NBA strength rankings.
1. Bucks (50-19, #1 last week) The Bucks have been 16-2 since Feb. 1 and, after the All-Star break, are averaging 9 points per game ahead of the opposition—they were the best team in the league. This not only gave them a 3-game margin for the best record in the league, but also spurred Giannis AntetokounmpoMVP nomination. This candidacy lagged behind at the start of the season when Chris Middleton (on the main team again) and Jrue Holiday missed the time and Antetokounmpo had to take on another role, but when the team has found its place, Antetokounmpo once again shows his strengths and is an unstoppable force. He may or may not become the third MVP, but he will finish in the top three. A soft schedule this week for the Bucks, which should help them take first place overall in the league.
2. 76ers (46-22, LW 5). The 76ers have won six in a row and 7 of 10, but they did it despite the defense being 27th in the league in the last six games. Best Player Candidate Joel Embiid lead the offense (and get blocks where they can), but the defense is worried about the backcourt leaning on James Harden And Tyrese Maxi were crowned with success (defense on the flank was also not very good). Philadelphia is one game behind Boston and ranks second in the East, but the 66ers have the second-hardest schedule in the East the rest of the way, including 6 of 7 on the road.
3. Celtics (48-22, LV 4) The loss in Houston was a shock to the system, but more apprehensive than Boston, which lost 5 of 9 and looked like a walker on both sides of the court this stretch. This is due to the fact that the Bucks and 66ers are playing much better in this stretch. Injuries have played a part in the recent setbacks for the Celtics. Robert Williams missed time and Marcus Smart again on the court, but not looking at 100%, but that’s not the whole answer. The Celtics are leading 2-2 on their six-game road trip and need wins to keep a hot 76ers team looking for second place.
4. Cavaliers (44-28, LW 6). One thing we’ve seen over the past month that could be a good thing in the long run in Cleveland is an improvement Isaac Okoro at the attacking end. He’s not showing high numbers – 9.2 points per game in the last five games – but he shoots 57.1% of 3 in this stretch (2.8 attempts per game) and 56.7% overall. More importantly, he plays smart, taking the third corner when he has it, but also attacks on the close and makes smart cuts. There are two interesting games coming up against the Nets in Brooklyn.
5. Nuggets (46-23, LV 2). Losers four in a row and they look passive – and MVP candidate Nikola Jokic looks passive. He had a couple of games in which he made fewer shots, but it was also evident on defense when he called and played more often than when he was attacking. The Nuggets still have a 4.5-game lead in the West and feel like a team that just took off the gas pedal, but that’s not something Mike Malone wants to see this time of year. The Nuggets are in the midst of a five-game trip, with the Pistons, Knicks, and Nets next in line.
6. Kings (41-27, DX 7). Everyone laughed when Kings fan Shawn Choo is yelling after winning the California Classic Summer League that his team will have 40 wins this season.. Who is laughing now? Saturday evening with De’Aaron Fox with another comeback win (this time against the stumbling Mavericks), the Kings went on to 40 wins. Fivethirtheight.com predicts the Kings will finish with 47 wins (although that seems a little low) for third place (but with the Grizzlies tripping, there will be two seeds in the game). And finally, stats provided by our friend Matt Moore of Action Network: The Kings are the only team in the West with a road record above .500.
7. Grizzlies (41-27, DX 9). I am Morant was suspended eight games backdated — he could theoretically return on Monday against Dallas but be out longer — and he had one genuine moment in an interview with ESPN’s Jalen Rose when he said, “I didn’t realize I had to lose.” He lost over $650,000 in suspension, lost his Powerade ad, and may now be out of the All-NBA team, which will impact his contract renewal size. Hopefully his time thinking has helped him find the right one. The Grizzlies are at home for 7 of 8, Morant is likely to return in that window, and the Grizzlies need wins to hold on to the No. 2 seed.
8. Knicks (41-30, LV 3). It’s no coincidence that the Knicks’ three-game losing streak (which was snapped Sunday against the Lakers) began when Jalen Brunson outside. Consider this the 47,356th reminder of what a mainstay the point guard was for this offense and team. With three games in reserve, the Knicks should be able to beat the heat and stay in the top six in the East, especially if they continue to play the way they are now. An interesting test on Saturday against the suddenly collapsed Nuggets.
9. Warriors (36-34, LW 11) The Warriors are on an eight-win streak at home and a nine-loss streak on the road, but there’s been enough home games recently to see them climb into the top six in the West. For those who think these Warriors still have titles this season, this video is what you need to watch in the loop – Stephen Curry taking over the last two minutes of regulation and OT to lead the Warriors to victory over the Bucks (shortened Bucks with no MVP nominee, but still).
Watch how Steph fully takes over the last two minutes of the regulation to send the game to OT 👀 pic.twitter.com/VQ9B2U4V58
— Warriors on NBCS (@NBCSWarriors) March 12, 2023
10. Sans (37-32, LW 8). Suns 1-3 in games Kevin Duran missed with an accidental sprained ankle, putting them in danger of losing 4th to the rapidly rising Clippers (the loss also killed any dream of catching the Grizzlies for 3rd). The real key gets Devin Booker and company, eventually bringing Durant back and racking up enough wins to hold onto a top-six spot in the West and avoid a play-in (top-four remains the ultimate goal). An interesting test against Thunder Sunday, they are good when playing SGA.
11. Heat (38-33, DW 12). If intense games and tense situations in the regular season prepare a team for the playoffs, then the Heat may be the most prepared team in the NBA. Fifty of the Heat’s 70 games were classified as clutches (within five points in the last five minutes), which is insane. Miami is 28-22 in those games with a +11.3 net rating. Jimmy Butler16 points in the second half against the Jazz in the 28th of those clutch victories is a reminder of what a great clutch player he is. The Bulls and Pistons are on the winning streak this week, but Miami has to turn heads every night (for a change) to hold on to the No. 7 seed.
12. Clippers (37-33, LV 16). Four winners in a row, and as it has been throughout the season, when they are healthy, they look like a threat. Leonard is starting to look like he’s at his peak, his ability to get to midpoints and hit as good as anyone in the league. When Leonard and Paul George both on the floor, the Clippers have a net rating of +7.4 (add Russell Westbrook to this duet and it drops to -4.3, but that’s a topic for another day). The Clips are closing in on the stumbling Suns for 4th and setting up winning games with the Magic, Blazers, and Thunder.
13. Grids (39-30, LW 13). Still looking for more depth at center, the Nets moved on from Nerlens Noel and signed Moses Brown (who had his moments with the Clippers). Brooklyn went 4-3 in the recent road streak (including a big comeback win over Boston and a win over Denver), and with that, he’s well positioned to hold onto Miami and keep a top-six spot in the East by avoiding the game. V. However, they will have a tough game against the Kings, Nuggets and Cavaliers this week (and a showdown with the Heat next week).
14. Mavericks (35-35, LV 10). Although there are no official dates, Luka Doncic and Luka Doncic Kyrie Irving may return to the roster this week – and Dallas needs them. The rest of the Mavericks snapped the team’s three-game losing streak, but that required overtime against the tanky Spurs on Wednesday. Dallas is tied 7/8 seeds with Minnesota, and the Mavs must pick up wins to keep the Thunder and Lakers from following them. Critical game on Friday night against the Lakers, followed by the Grizzlies on Monday.
15. Timberwolves (35-35, LW 14). Karl-Anthony Towns He’s expected to return in the coming weeks before the postseason kicks off, but bringing him back to a team that’s starting to find style without him won’t be easy. The Timberwolves are hanging in the West play-in, tied 7/8 with the Mavericks, and doing so with a defense that has ranked in the top 10 in the league in the last 10 games. However, in the same 10 games they have 10 worst offenses – the Towns could step up the offense but it would be like starting the season all over again. The Timberwolves will play three road games this week against the East: Bulls, Raptors and Knicks.
16. Hawks (34-35, LW 15). Atlanta are 3-5 since the change of coach by Queen Snyder, and it was an opportunity to “meet the new hawks just like the old hawks.” Not only has the offense not changed much, but after the All-Star break, this team has the stats of last year’s Hawks: third on offense and 26th on defense. Atlanta needs to find enough D’s to win a few games and keep the Raptors for the eighth seed (and a much easier path through the play-in). The Hawks have winning games this week with…