NBA Power Rankings: Which reloaded teams are on the rise?

The battle for the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference is shaping up to be a three-team race. The Philadelphia 76ers, Brooklyn Nets and Milwaukee Bucks are separated by just 1.5 games. The rest of the conference, however, is in a logjam. Right now — with the No. 4 through No. 11 seeds separated by 6.5 games in the standings — a host of East teams are fighting to stay out of the play-in round.

Speaking of the play-in: Has the Los Angeles Lakers‘ slide reached the point where the defending champs need to start worrying about their seeding? As LeBron James and Anthony Davis remain sidelined due to injury, L.A. now has only a three-game cushion on the No. 7 seed.

As conference battles continue to take shape, here’s where our panel sees all NBA 30 teams ahead of Week 16.

Note: Throughout the regular season, our panel (ESPN’s Tim Bontemps, Nick Friedell, Andrew Lopez, Tim MacMahon, Dave McMenamin, Royce Young and Ohm Youngmisuk) is ranking all 30 teams from top to bottom, taking stock of which teams are playing the best basketball now and which teams are looking most like title contenders.

Previous rankings: Week 1 | Week 2 | Week 3 | Week 4 | Week 5 | Week 6 | Week 7 | Week 8 | Week 9 | Week 10 | Week 11 | Week 12 | Week 13 | Week 14 | Week 15

1. Utah Jazz
2020-21 record: 38-11
Previous ranking: 1

The Jazz have won their past nine games, giving them the three longest winning streaks in the league this season, led by Utah’s 11-game run in January. The Jazz’s pair of franchise pillars have been especially dominant during the streak. Donovan Mitchell is averaging 28.1 points and 5.6 assists per game with .531/.516/.953 shooting splits. Rudy Gobert is averaging 15.7 points, 12.0 rebounds and 3.3 blocks with a plus-30.6 net rating. — MacMahon

This week: @DAL, @PHX, POR, SAC

2. Brooklyn Nets
2020-21 record: 34-16
Previous ranking: 2

The Brooklyn Death Star is about to be fully operational. Kevin Durant is closing in on a return and we’ll finally have our look at the power the Nets wield. The Sixers have held the East’s top spot for most of the season, but the Nets have spent the past few weeks closing in, and with all their pieces available for the stretch run, they could hold home court for the postseason. And while Brooklyn chases the No. 1 seed, we’ll all have an eye on how Steve Nash handles rotations, combinations and minutes. — Young

This week: NYK, NOP, LAL

3. Philadelphia 76ers
2020-21 record: 34-16
Previous ranking: 3

The week might have ended with a thud thanks to a loss to the Grizzlies on Sunday night, but all that truly matters for the Sixers is that Joel Embiid is both healthy and back in the lineup. The Sixers remain tied atop the Eastern Conference with Brooklyn in time for a trip to Boston to face their rivals Tuesday night on national television. — Bontemps

This week: @BOS, @NOP, @OKC

4. Phoenix Suns
2020-21 record: 34-14
Previous ranking: 4

As Phoenix strengthened its grip on the second seed in the Western Conference, Devin Booker started to heat up this week, and the Suns pushed their win streak to five. In Wednesday’s game against the Bulls, Booker had a season-high 45 points — the most he has scored since putting up 48 on March 30, 2019. Booker followed that up with 32 points in the next game, against the Hawks on Friday. It marked just the second time this season he’s had back-to-back games with at least 32 points; he had 34 and 33 points on Feb. 22 and 24, respectively. — Lopez

This week: @HOU, UTA, @LAC, WAS

5. Milwaukee Bucks
2020-21 record: 32-17
Previous ranking: 6

Jeff Teague could prove to be one of the most useful buyout players picked up, if only because he can be a credible point guard for Milwaukee whenever it wants to give Jrue Holiday time off over the next several weeks. Meanwhile, Milwaukee sits just 1.5 games behind Philadelphia and Brooklyn for first in the East. It’s a vitally important race for all three teams, as the winner would have to beat only one of the other two, rather than both, to reach the NBA Finals. — Bontemps

This week: @GSW, @DAL, CHA, @ORL

6. LA Clippers
2020-21 record: 33-18
Previous ranking: 5

The Clippers continued their inconsistent act by routing Milwaukee at the start of last week for their sixth straight win only to lose the next two to Orlando and Denver. They looked tired after playing six games in nine days, and injuries to Paul George, Marcus Morris, Serge Ibaka and Patrick Beverley took a toll. But the Clippers recharged after two days off and Rajon Rondo made his debut in a 104-86 win over the Lakers. Beverley is nearing a return and the team is expected to sign DeMarcus Cousins to a 10-day contract to add depth. Head coach Tyronn Lue’s biggest challenge for the rest of the regular season is to get this team healthy and improve its continuity and chemistry as the playoffs lurk just around the corner. — Youngmisuk

This week: POR, PHX, HOU, DET

7. Denver Nuggets
2020-21 record: 31-18
Previous ranking: 7

The Aaron Gordon trade has given the Nuggets a major boost. The Nuggets have yet to lose with Gordon — they’ve won five straight, the past four coming with Gordon on the floor. They’ve beaten playoff contenders such as the Hawks, Sixers and Clippers. In the Nuggets’ win over the Clippers, Nikola Jokic wasn’t at his usual MVP level, but Michael Porter Jr., Jamal Murray, Will Barton and Gordon all made big plays in the final three minutes to show glimpses of how different the Nuggets could become this postseason. The addition of Gordon gives the Nuggets another big body to throw at the likes of Kawhi Leonard and presents Jokic with another target for assists. — Youngmisuk

This week: DET, SAS, SAS, BOS

8. Los Angeles Lakers
2020-21 record: 31-19
Previous ranking: 8

The Lakers’ loss to the Clippers dropped them to No. 5 in the Western Conference standings with a five-game East Coast trip beginning against Toronto on Tuesday. It seems like forever ago, but L.A. was 21-6 in mid-February before injuries took hold. The Lakers’ latest acquisition, Andre Drummond, couldn’t even make it through one half healthy, losing a toenail in his first game with the franchise. — McMenamin

This week: @TOR, @MIA, @BRK

9. Portland Trail Blazers
2020-21 record: 30-19
Previous ranking: 9

With CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic back, plus the acquisition of Norman Powell, the Blazers seem to be rolling. They’ve won five of six and just stomped the Thunder by 48 on Saturday. But there’s some context: Those five wins were against rebuilding teams. In their past three games against playoff teams (Brooklyn, Dallas and Milwaukee), the Blazers lost by an average of 20.6 points. With games against the Clippers and Jazz this week, the Blazers have a chance to measure their retooled roster. — Young

This week: @LAC, @UTA, DET, MIA

10. Dallas Mavericks
2020-21 record: 27-21
Previous ranking: 10

The Mavs went 4-1 on their longest road trip of the season, finishing with a four-game winning streak after Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis sat out the trip’s opener. The Mavs have won 18 of their last 25 games, giving them the league’s fourth-best winning percentage in that span, to soar from five games under to six games above .500. The development of Jalen Brunson into one of the league’s best backup point guards has been a big part of Dallas’ success. He has averaged 13.7 points and 4.1 assists with a 64.2 true shooting percentage during the 25-game span. — MacMahon

This week: UTA, @HOU, MIL, SAS

11. Miami Heat
2020-21 record: 26-24
Previous ranking: 16

The streakiness continues for a Heat team that has been up and down all season. Miami goes into Tuesday’s game against the Grizzlies on a four-game winning streak, which comes on the heels of a six-game losing streak, which came after the Heat won 11 of 12. New acquisition Victor Oladipo is off to a slow start, shooting just 5-for-21 during his first two games for Miami. — Friedell

This week: MEM, LAL, @POR

12. San Antonio Spurs
2020-21 record: 24-23
Previous ranking: 11

After splitting a pair of games with Sacramento to start the week, San Antonio finished with a pair of overtime losses; the Spurs fell in double OT to the Hawks on Thursday night before losing to the Pacers in overtime on Saturday. In the win over the Kings and then against Atlanta and Indiana, DeMar DeRozan led the Spurs in scoring each game. It was the first time all season the Spurs have had the same player lead them in scoring in three consecutive games. — Lopez

This week: CLE, @DEN, @DEN, @DAL

13. Atlanta Hawks
2020-21 record: 26-24
Previous ranking: 14

Atlanta finished off its eight-game road trip with several starters missing but was still able to finish with back-to-back wins, including against New Orleans on Friday on the second night of a back-to-back without Trae Young, John Collins and Danilo Gallinari. On Sunday, back in the friendly confines of State Farm Arena, Atlanta defeated Golden State — with Young and Gallinari in the lineup — to improve to 26-24 and take a top four seed in the Eastern Conference. — Lopez

This week: NOP, MEM, CHI, @CHA

14. New York Knicks
2020-21 record: 25-25
Previous ranking: 12

New York continues to remain smack in the middle of the morass of teams in the middle of the Eastern Conference, sitting one game out of fourth and two games ahead of ninth. More importantly, the Knicks are five losses up on the Raptors to remain among the top 10 in the East. Staying among that group, for a team that wasn’t expected to sniff the playoffs, would mark a significant step forward. — Bontemps

This week: @BRK, @BOS, MEM, TOR

15. Boston Celtics
2020-21 record: 25-25
Previous ranking: 13

In his first week with the Celtics, guard Evan Fournier has already made an impact. In the two games Boston lost, Fournier scored a combined six points. In the two games Boston won, he scored a combined 40. Having a shooter and scorer of his caliber coming off the bench has already given this team a different dimension, and at least gives it an opportunity to realize some of its preseason promise over the next couple of months. — Bontemps

This week: PHI, NYK, MIN, @DEN

16. Charlotte Hornets
2020-21 record: 25-24
Previous ranking: 15

Another week, another huge injury for the Hornets: Gordon Hayward will miss at least four weeks because of a sprained foot. With Hayward and LaMelo Ball (wrist) out, it will be up to Terry Rozier to continue to lead the way. The guard is averaging 20 points, 5.2 rebounds and 4.4 assists over his past 10 games. — Friedell

This week: @OKC, @MIL, ATL

17. Memphis Grizzlies
2020-21 record: 24-23
Previous ranking: 18

Jonas Valanciunas has recorded double-doubles in his past 10 games, matching the longest streak of his career, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. He has averaged 16.9 points and 14.6 rebounds in only 27.4 minutes per game during his streak. The Grizzlies are 6-4 in that span, outscoring opponents by 75 points with Valanciunas on the floor and getting outscored by 50 when he rested. — MacMahon

This week: @MIA, @ATL, @NYK, IND

18. Indiana Pacers
2020-21 record: 22-26
Previous ranking: 17

Caris LeVert had arguably his best game in a Pacers’ uniform on Saturday in a win over the Spurs. LeVert, in just his 12th game since returning from surgery to remove a cancerous mass on his kidney, had 26 points and nine assists while the Pacers were missing Domantas Sabonis and Malcolm Brogdon. The nine assists were the most he’s had since joining Indiana. — Lopez

This week: CHI, MIN, @ORL, @MEM

19. Golden State Warriors
2020-21 record: 23-27
Previous ranking: 19

Stephen Curry is as frustrated as he’s been in a long time — the Warriors have dropped seven of their past eight and can’t seem to get things together. What makes matters worse is that rookie center James Wiseman is really struggling and Curry isn’t getting the type of consistent help he’s had in the past; the Warriors’ bench was outscored 55-19 in Sunday’s loss to the Hawks. — Friedell

This week: MIL, WAS, HOU

20. New Orleans Pelicans
2020-21 record: 22-27
Previous ranking: 20

Things were looking up for the Pelicans after a win last Tuesday against the Celtics, but since then, things have been anything but. The Pelicans, who have the least amount of games lost to injury this season, according to Spotrac data, were hit with the injury bug: Zion Williamson (right thumb sprain) and Brandon Ingram (right first MTP irritation) missed three games. While Lonzo Ball returned after missing seven games, the Pelicans’ backcourt took major hits with injuries to Josh Hart (torn UCL in his right thumb) and Nickeil Alexander-Walker, who left Sunday’s game after getting his left ankle/lower leg rolled on. Also, Steven Adams left Sunday’s game after taking a blow to the back of the head. The 10-day contract for Isaiah Thomas could mean the 32-year-old plays a big role for New Orleans when he suits up on Tuesday night. — Lopez

This week: @ATL, @BRK, PHI, @CLE

21. Chicago Bulls
2020-21 record: 20-28
Previous ranking: 22

The good news is the Bulls snapped a six-game losing streak on Sunday against a depleted Nets team playing without KD and Harden. The bad news is the Nikola Vucevic deal hasn’t given the organization the jolt it was hoping for. Vucevic’s numbers have been fine, but the Bulls’ defense continues to be an issue. They have given up an average of 114 points a game over their past seven contests. — Friedell

This week: @IND, @TOR, @ATL, @MIN

22. Sacramento Kings
2020-21 record: 22-28
Previous ranking: 21

It didn’t take long for Terence Davis to make a splash in Sacramento, as he poured in 27 points in just his fifth game with the Kings — tying the second-highest scoring output of his two-year career. The 6-foot-4 shooting guard went 7-for-10 from 3 in Sacramento’s narrow loss to Milwaukee, giving head coach Luke Walton a high-level reserve behind Buddy Hield, who’s back to the full-time starter at the 2. — McMenamin

This week: @MIN, DET, @UTA

23. Toronto Raptors
2020-21 record: 19-30
Previous ranking: 24

With their rout of the Warriors Friday night, it took the Raptors two days to equal their win total for the entire month of March. That pretty much sums up the disaster that Toronto’s season has been since getting to 17-17 after a 2-8 start — only to be devastated by COVID-19 issues. On the bright side: Despite their immense struggles, the Raptors are still just 1.5 games behind Chicago for 10th place in the East and a spot in the play-in tournament. — Bontemps

This week: LAL, CHI, @CLE, @NYK

24. Oklahoma City Thunder
2020-21 record: 20-29
Previous ranking: 23

In their past two games, they lost by 37 to the Suns and by 48 to the Blazers. They had been winning in spite of their available roster, with injuries and other considerations reducing them down to a glorified G-League roster. And as they position for a high lottery pick in the stretch run of the schedule, they might be hitting their stride. — Young

This week: DET, CHA, CLE, PHI

25. Washington Wizards
2020-21 record: 17-31
Previous ranking: 25

Russell Westbrook is collecting triple-doubles like he’s back in OKC, but the Wizards continue to head in the wrong direction as injuries pile up. They’ve lost three straight, with Bradley Beal missing the past four games due to a bruised hip. Washington had Daniel Gafford for two games before he suffered an ankle injury. And Rui Hachimura, who had 30 points against Charlotte last Monday, also missed the Wizards’ last game against Dallas with a shoulder injury. And, oh yeah, the Wizards hit the road for six straight games. — Youngmisuk

This week: @TOR, @ORL, @GSW, @PHX

26. Cleveland Cavaliers
2020-21 record: 17-32
Previous ranking: 26

Cleveland has lost five in a row but got a sliver of good news toward the end of the week with Kevin Love returning to the lineup for the first time since mid-March. The five-time All-Star averaged 11.5 points, 7.0 rebounds and 3.0 assists in 21.5 minutes in two games against Philadelphia and Miami. They were just the fifth and sixth games that Love has played this season because of a persistent right calf strain. — McMenamin

This week: @SAS, @OKC, TOR, NOP

27. Orlando Magic
2020-21 record: 17-33
Previous ranking: 27

The rebuilding Magic had a couple of nice road wins over the Clippers and Pelicans this week, thanks in part to contributions from new forward Wendell Carter Jr. The former Bull is averaging 20 points and 12 rebounds over his past three games. Rookie guard Chuma Okeke is also playing well and taking advantage of expanded minutes. Okeke has scored in double figures in six of his past seven games. — Friedell

This week: WAS, IND, MIL

28. Detroit Pistons
2020-21 record: 14-35
Previous ranking: 28

Detroit was 2-1 on the week, with wins over Toronto and Washington before the bottom fell out in a 44-point loss to the Knicks on Saturday. The Pistons’ perimeter defense was nonexistent, allowing New York to go 19-for-39 from 3. Newcomer Hamidou Diallo was Detroit’s second-leading scorer with 14 points, but he also had a plus-minus of minus-36 in 24 minutes — which is hard to do. — McMenamin

This week: @OKC, @DEN, @SAC, @POR

29. Houston Rockets
2020-21 record: 13-36
Previous ranking: 29

Kelly Olynyk has been effective since arriving in Houston as part of what was considered an underwhelming return in the Victor Oladipo trade with Miami. Olynyk, who will be a free agent this offseason, has led the Rockets with an average of 18.5 points on 58.2% shooting from the floor in the five games he has played. The early returns on an Olynyk/Christian Wood combination have not been encouraging, however. Houston has been outscored by 27 points in the 48 minutes that duo has played together. — MacMahon

This week: PHO, DAL, @LAC, @GSW

30. Minnesota Timberwolves
2020-21 record: 12-38
Previous ranking: 30

There has been a lot of attention on Anthony Edwards — for good reason — but the Wolves’ other first-round pick is rising, too. Jaden McDaniels‘ defensive versatility is impressing teammates, and his trial by fire last week handed him assignments against James Harden and Ja Morant. The Wolves are looking for positive signs of development, and if McDaniels can grow into a stopper, that would be another good step. — Young

This week: SAC, @IND, @BOS, CHI

Products You May Like

Articles You May Like

Knicks clinch 2 seed; Sixers host Heat in play-in
Sources: Nets prepared to hire Kings’ Fernandez
Pencils down! The final Power Rankings of the 2023-24 season
Hurting Hawks say Johnson, Okongwu out weeks
Holiday lands 4-year, $135M extension from Celtics

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *