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Power Rankings: Risers and fallers as seeding battles heat up

With one week to go in the NBA’s regular season, only three postseason seeds are locked in: The Phoenix Suns will have the top seed in the Western Conference playoffs, the Memphis Grizzlies will have the second and the LA Clippers are locked into eighth.

The other 17 seeds remain up for grabs to set up what should be a frenetic race to the finish once play resumes Tuesday.

The top four teams in the Eastern Conference — the Miami Heat, Boston Celtics, Milwaukee Bucks and Philadelphia 76ers — could wind up finishing in almost any order. And while the Toronto Raptors and Chicago Bulls are in a fairly straightforward battle for fifth, the East’s race for the four play-in tournament spots offers just as many possibilities as the fight for No. 1.

Out West, the Golden State Warriors head into the final week one game up on the Dallas Mavericks for third, with Dallas holding the tiebreaker thanks to winning the season series between the two. The battle for fifth through seventh, meanwhile, is between a trio of Northwest Division teams — the Denver Nuggets, Utah Jazz and Minnesota Timberwolves — with Utah holding the tiebreaker over both teams thanks to winning both season series.

The New Orleans Pelicans and the San Antonio Spurs are the favorites to snag the final two play-in tournament spots after the Los Angeles Lakers lost twice this weekend to all but doom themselves to the lottery.

For now, one of the few certainties is this: The final week of the season is full of massive stakes up and down the standings.

— Tim Bontemps

Note: Throughout the regular season, our panel (Bontemps, Jamal Collier, Nick Friedell, Andrew Lopez, Tim MacMahon, Dave McMenamin 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.

1. Phoenix Suns
2021-22 record: 62-16
Previous ranking: 1

The Suns can afford to rest some of their starters, which is what they did Sunday, giving Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton and Jae Crowder the day off. At 62-16, the Suns have four more chances to top the franchise record for wins in a season. Phoenix went 62-20 in 1992-93 when they went to the NBA Finals, and in 2004-05 when they were the top seed in the Western Conference before losing in the conference finals. — Lopez


2. Memphis Grizzlies
2021-22 record: 55-23
Previous ranking: 2

The Grizzlies’ stunning win over the Suns, when only one Memphis starter played, improved their record to 20-2 without superstar Ja Morant. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, that’s on pace to be the best winning percentage by a team in games played without a 25-points-per-game scorer in NBA history (minimum 10 games). The next three teams on the list — Kevin Durant‘s Warriors in 2016-17, Kobe Bryant’s Lakers in 2000-01 and Kawhi Leonard‘s Raptors in 2018-19 — all won titles. (This season’s Suns, who are 8-3 without Devin Booker, rank fifth on that list.) — MacMahon


3. Miami Heat
2021-22 record: 51-28
Previous ranking: 6

Kyle Lowry helped Miami pull off a solid win in his return game in Toronto on Sunday. The Heat have righted the ship after a rocky few weeks — having won four in a row — and are in the driver’s seat for the East’s No. 1 seed. They’ve got games against Charlotte, Atlanta and Orlando to close the regular season and look like a team that is ready to make a push after strong road wins over the Celtics, Bulls and Raptors. — Friedell


4. Boston Celtics
2021-22 record: 49-30
Previous ranking: 3

Boston continues to soar through the regular season, as the Celtics have won 26 of their past 32 games after Sunday’s obliteration of the Wizards in Boston’s final home game of the regular season. Now comes a three-game road trip to wrap up the year in Chicago, Milwaukee and Memphis. The Celtics are still capable of finishing anywhere from first to fourth in the conference. — Bontemps


5. Milwaukee Bucks
2021-22 record: 48-30
Previous ranking: 5

Giannis Antetokounmpo loudly asserted himself in the MVP conversation with a pair of dominant performances this week: back-to-back 40-point games in wins over Philadelphia and Brooklyn, two of the other top contenders in the Eastern Conference. Antetokounmpo has seven games this season with at least 40 points and 10 rebounds while shooting better than 65%, per ESPN Stats & Information research. The only player with more in a single season? Wilt Chamberlain, with 11 in 1962-63. Milwaukee (the East’s No. 3) enters the week tied in the loss column with Boston (No. 2) and Philadelphia (No. 4) and could finish anywhere in the top four. — Collier


6. Philadelphia 76ers
2021-22 record: 48-30
Previous ranking: 4

After Sunday’s win over Cleveland, Philadelphia is tied with Milwaukee — and sits a half-game back of Boston — entering the final week of the season. Given all three teams are tied in the loss column, and Boston and Milwaukee face each other this week, Philadelphia can finish no worse than third if it wins its four remaining games. — Bontemps


7. Dallas Mavericks
2021-22 record: 49-30
Previous ranking: 8

Luka Doncic had another dominant performance against a fellow superstar in Sunday’s win over Giannis Antetokounmpo’s Bucks, when Doncic had 32 points, 8 rebounds and 15 assists. It was the third 30-point, 15-assist performance by Doncic this season, matching the total by the rest of the league. It was also Doncic’s fifth straight 30-point game, tying the second-longest such streak in franchise history, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. — MacMahon


8. Golden State Warriors
2021-22 record: 50-29
Previous ranking: 7

Klay Thompson offered a reminder that he is still capable of going off at any moment while pouring in 36 points and helping the Warriors climb out of a deep hole to beat the Jazz on Saturday night. Jordan Poole continues to rack up huge numbers, too, having scored at least 20 points in 16 straight games — including 38 in Wednesday’s loss to the Suns. The Warriors hope Stephen Curry comes back from a foot injury and instantly plays like his old self when the playoffs begin. — Friedell


9. Denver Nuggets
2021-22 record: 47-32
Previous ranking: 11

The reigning MVP enters the final week of the regular season doing MVP things. Nikola Jokic dropped 38 points, 13 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 steals and 2 blocks on Sunday to push the Lakers’ season to the brink. Jokic is the just the third player over the past 50 years with 35 points, 15 rebounds and five assists in consecutive games, joining Antetokounmpo (2020) and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (1972) — both went on to win the MVP that season. Denver has won four of its past five and is currently in fifth by a half-game over the Jazz. — Youngmisuk


10. Toronto Raptors
2021-22 record: 45-33
Previous ranking: 10

Kyle Lowry was given a well-deserved night of celebration by the Raptors on Sunday night, then he proceeded to do to them what he did countless times to Toronto’s opponents during his nine years with the franchise. The Raptors head into the final week of the season tied with the Bulls, who own the tiebreaker in the race for fifth. — Bontemps


11. Utah Jazz
2021-22 record: 46-32
Previous ranking: 9

It just keeps getting worse for the Jazz, who have lost six of their past seven, the lone win during that stretch coming over the Lakers’ leftovers. Utah blew big leads — 25 points over the Clippers and 21 points over the Warriors — in its past two losses. Mix in some public, passive-aggressive jabs being exchanged between co-stars Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert, and the Jazz have quite a mess to clean up before the playoffs begin. — MacMahon


12. Chicago Bulls
2021-22 record: 45-33
Previous ranking: 13

With Saturday’s loss to the Heat, the Bulls are now 1-12 against the top four teams in their own conference. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, that’s on pace to be the second-worst winning percentage in such games by a playoff team since 1984. The Bulls have two chances this week to improve that mark with home games against the Bucks and Celtics. — Collier


13. Minnesota Timberwolves
2021-22 record: 45-34
Previous ranking: 12

The Wolves have dropped four of their past seven games to lose some late-season momentum, but they have a favorable schedule this week in their attempt to avoid the play-in tournament. Minnesota trails the sixth-seeded Jazz by 1 1/2 games, with two of its final three coming against non-playoff teams. — Collier


14. Brooklyn Nets
2021-22 record: 40-38
Previous ranking: 14

Brooklyn is locked into the play-in but sits in 10th place in the East with a week left in the regular season. Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving remain confident their group can still get back on track once the postseason begins. The Nets wasted a career-high 55 points from Durant in Saturday’s loss to the Hawks and now have to deal with an ankle issue hampering Seth Curry. Goran Dragic, meanwhile, is in the league’s health and safety protocols. — Friedell


15. Cleveland Cavaliers
2021-22 record: 43-36
Previous ranking: 16

Cavs rookie standout Evan Mobley missed his fourth straight game Sunday because of a sprained left ankle — Cleveland has gone 1-3 in that stretch. The Cavs are now 4-8 when he misses time this season, another point for voters to consider when Rookie of the Year ballots are due in the coming weeks. — McMenamin


16. Atlanta Hawks
2021-22 record: 41-37
Previous ranking: 17

Trae Young had 36 points and 10 assists in Saturday night’s win over the Nets, his 50th career game with at least 30 points and 10 assists. Since the merger (1976-77), the only players with more are James Harden (99), LeBron James (94), Russell Westbrook (83) and Magic Johnson (58), according to ESPN Stats & Information research. — Lopez


17. LA Clippers
2021-22 record: 39-40
Previous ranking: 18

The Clippers had an eventful week. Paul George returned Tuesday to help erase a 25-point deficit against the Jazz and end the Clippers’ five-game losing streak. The Clippers lost in overtime in Chicago but won the next night in Milwaukee, where Robert Covington went for 43 points and 11 3s. And on Sunday, the Clippers cliched eighth place with a win over New Orleans, assuring them at least two chances to get into the postseason via the play-in tournament. Also, Norman Powell shot on the court before the game as he inches toward a return. — Youngmisuk


18. Charlotte Hornets
2021-22 record: 40-38
Previous ranking: 15

Gordon Hayward was in the Hornets’ lineup Saturday for the first time since Feb. 7 and now will have a week to get himself up to speed before the play-in tournament. They’ll need him, too, if they want to get into the playoffs for the first time since 2016. In the meantime, Charlotte will try to get up to eighth in the East to avoid having to win two games to get in. — Bontemps


19. New Orleans Pelicans
2021-22 record: 34-44
Previous ranking: 19

New Orleans will have to wait until Tuesday night to clinch its spot in the play-in tournament with a win against Sacramento or a loss by the Lakers to the Suns. If the Pelicans, who started 1-12 this season, can find a way to make it into the playoffs by winning both play-in games, they’ll become the first team since the 1996-97 Suns to start the season 1-12 or worse and still make the playoffs. — Lopez


20. San Antonio Spurs
2021-22 record: 33-45
Previous ranking: 23

San Antonio took a big step toward claiming the No. 10 seed and the final spot in the play-in tournament with a win over Portland on Sunday, coupled with the Lakers’ loss to Denver. The Spurs have a two-game lead on the Lakers with four games to go for each team. And the Spurs have the advantage over Los Angeles because they own the tiebreaker (conference record) after splitting the season series with the Lakers. — Lopez


21. Los Angeles Lakers
2021-22 record: 31-47
Previous ranking: 21

L.A. lost its sixth game in a row with Sunday’s defeat to Denver. The Lakers would have to somehow pick up three games over the final four-game stretch to overcome San Antonio for the No. 10 play-in spot in the West. Said Anthony Davis: “The biggest thing that I think about personally is what we could have been, had we stayed healthy all year.” — McMenamin


22. Washington Wizards
2021-22 record: 34-44
Previous ranking: 22

The Wizards crushed Dallas by 32 in Kristaps Porzingis‘ return Friday but followed that up by getting blown out by 42 on Sunday in Boston. Officially eliminated from the playoffs, the Wizards want to go into the offseason seeing glimpses of the future from key players like Porzingis and Rui Hachimura. — Youngmisuk


23. New York Knicks
2021-22 record: 35-44
Previous ranking: 20

With Julius Randle done for the season, the final few games will be a huge opportunity for second-year forward Obi Toppin to get a ton of minutes, as the Knicks begin to look ahead to what should be a very interesting offseason in Gotham. — Bontemps


24. Sacramento Kings
2021-22 record: 29-50
Previous ranking: 24

Damian Jones has made the most of the late-season minutes he has received during Richaun Holmes‘ absence from the team stemming from domestic violence allegations. Jones, the former Warriors first-round pick, is averaging 14.7 points, 8.0 rebounds and 1.7 blocks at center in his past seven games for Sacramento, a stretch in which the Kings have gone 4-3. — McMenamin


25. Portland Trail Blazers
2021-22 record: 27-51
Previous ranking: 25

The Blazers didn’t face the Lakers last week, but Portland played spoiler to their dwindling play-in hopes. The tanking Blazers lost consecutive games at San Antonio to help the Spurs take a two-game lead over the Lakers for the 10th spot. The Blazers have lost 17 of their past 19 games and have the next three on the road before hosting Utah in the season finale. — Youngmisuk


26. Indiana Pacers
2021-22 record: 25-54
Previous ranking: 26

The Pacers have lost seven straight games and are mired in a 6-21 skid to close out the season. Guard Tyrese Haliburton did snap out of a mid-March funk with a strong performance last week: three double-doubles and two games with at least 25 points. — Collier


27. Detroit Pistons
2021-22 record: 23-56
Previous ranking: 27

Although the Pistons will finish the season with one of the worst records in the league, they have been much improved since the All-Star break, going 10-11 in the second half. They have won just 23 games this season, but more than half of them (13) have come against teams over .500. — Collier


28. Oklahoma City Thunder
2021-22 record: 23-55
Previous ranking: 28

Aleksej Pokusevski posted his first career triple-double with a 17-point, 10-rebound, 12-assist performance in Sunday’s stunning win over the Suns. The Thunder are prioritizing, ahem, player development down the stretch, so the 20-year-old Pokusevski has seen his minutes increase significantly since the start of March. He’s averaging 12.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 4.6 assists per game in that span. — MacMahon


29. Orlando Magic
2021-22 record: 20-59
Previous ranking: 29

Orlando has dropped six in a row and got embarrassed in a 30-point blowout Sunday against the Knicks. Markelle Fultz showed some nice flashes with 19 points in 21 minutes during Wednesday’s loss to the Wizards. Fultz’s development over the summer after missing most of the year because of a knee injury is critical to any progress the Magic want to make. — Friedell


30. Houston Rockets
2021-22 record: 20-59
Previous ranking: 30

Jalen Green has joined some Hall of Fame company with his active streak of four straight 30-point performances. The last two rookies to accomplish that feat: Allen Iverson in 1996-97 and Michael Jordan in 1984-85. The only other Rockets rookie to have such a scoring run was Elvin Hayes in 1968-69. Green has six 30-point games this season, more than a third of the rookie class’ total. — MacMahon

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