The Bucks, Lakers and Clippers all have six wins since the All-Star break, meaning they have maintained their grip atop the league since our most recent power rankings. No surprise there.
The one other team tied with them at six wins isn’t the Celtics. It’s not the Raptors, nor is it the Nuggets, nor is it any of the squads within our previous top 10 teams, top 15 teams, or even top 20 teams in the rankings. Spoiler alert: there’s a shakeup in store in our rankings. But it shouldn’t mean we should jump to conclusions with this team which now finds itself in a legitimate position to make the postseason.
These rankings take into account the season as a whole, the injuries that have and are currently plaguing the roster, the realistic projections for the team going forward and several other factors. The Nets won’t be graded with the inclusion of Kevin Durant’s talent. The Sixers’ ranking will consider the injuries of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, both in how it may affect their short-term standing and their playoff standing. And the list goes on.
Without further ado, let’s reveal our power rankings a little over a month left to go in the regular season.
All stats from Basketball Reference and NBA.com.
Steph Curry's Return Boosts the Warriors
30. Detroit Pistons
29. Cleveland Cavaliers
28. Minnesota Timberwolves
27. Golden State Warriors
26. Charlotte Hornets
The Pistons finally ended a seven-game losing skid with a win over the Suns, but failed to build any momentum and have lost twice since. Three of the four leading scorers in their opening game -- Andre Drummond, Derrick Rose and Luke Kennard -- are either out of Detroit or missing time due to injury. The positive takeaway is clear, though, as PF Christian Wood has averaged 22 points and 10 rebounds since the All-Star break.
John Beilein’s resignation is both a positive step and an indication of just how far this season has spiraled out of control. The Cavs have three wins since the break, two of which seem impressive on paper. But the win against the Heat came without Jimmy Butler, and the win over the 76ers came without Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid for most of the game. They also have several big losses and rank dead last in two key factors: offensive turnover percentage and opponents’ effective field goal percentage.
“Scal and Pals” co-host Steve Ceruti listed the pair of Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell as two players with the most to prove in the second half, citing that he didn’t want to hear any more excuses for poor play. So what have we seen? Unfortunately, not much, as Towns broke his wrist and has not played in a game since the break. The bright side is that both Russell and newcomer Malik Beasley have averaged over 20 points per game over their last seven, and Naz Reid is showing signs of a formidable center.
All it took was one game of Steph Curry for a familiar sense of excitement to return to Oracle Arena. Steph dropped 23 in his return, with his usual dazzling displays of limitless range and ball-handling wizardry, but couldn’t get the win over the Raptors. It was close, though, and the Raptors are a very good team. A star like Curry returning means there’s a reason to monitor the Warriors the rest of the way and look forward to Klay Thompson’s return next season. They could certainly use a shooter like Curry, too, considering the team is shooting just 29% from deep in the second half (worst in the NBA). The Warriors are on the rise.
The Hornets are not good on offense, plain and simple. They score the fewest points per game post-break by a huge margin, with 96.9 -- the Detroit Pistons are in second with 104.7 -- and the problems have gotten worse after a pretty weak first half. Devonte’ Graham seems to have come back to Earth a little bit, hitting just 27.3% of his three-pointers in his last seven.
Trae Young and the Hawks Look Toward Exciting Future
25. Chicago Bulls
24. New York Knicks
23. Washington Wizards
22. Atlanta Hawks
21. Phoenix Suns
Chicago is 2-5 so far in the second half, but Coby White has been fueling the Windy City with more excitement than that record would suggest. He and Zach LaVine are both averaging over 25 per game in their last seven. White, a rookie out of UNC, also made history by recording over 30 points in three consecutive games off the bench, boosting his reputation as a future star. Both Otto Porter and Wendell Carter are back, too. On paper, this team seems like one that can do some damage when it all comes together for them.
The Knicks have a solid foundation in R.J. Barrett and Mitchell Robinson, both of whom have been playing well in the second half. Barrett’s 27 point outburst was a big factor in a surprising one over the Rockets, and Robinson’s 72.7% clip from the floor is an example of his potential as a post big. But the myriad of pieces around them without a definite future makes it difficult to forecast what’s in store for this team. What are they going to do with the extremely inconsistent point guard group of Frank Ntilikina, Elfrid Payton and Dennis Smith Jr., the last of which is barely a factor anymore? Are either Julius Randle or Bobby Portis in the team’s long-term plans? Will the team undergo yet another culture change after front office turmoil has dominated 2020?
Bradley Beal is on another level. His point totals since the All-Star break are 26, 53, 55, 30, 42, 34, 35 and 29. The team lost in both of his 50-point efforts, though, and that’s a testament to the lack of consistent production around him. Davis Bertans continues to drill the long ball and Rui Hachimura shows promise, but the rest of the roster is in limbo. Going forward, Bertans is playing to sign a sizable contract this offseason, meaning they may not be able to retain him.
Let’s get the bad out of the way first: the Hawks were absolutely embarrassed by the Grizzlies in a recent showing. But otherwise, things have looked quite good for Atlanta as they look to keep their record on the positive side in the second half of the season. Their wins have come against formidable opponents -- Miami, Dallas, Brooklyn and Portland -- and previously frustrating rookies Cam Reddish and De’Andre Hunter are finally starting to play convincingly good basketball. Those two, Trae Young, John Collins and Clint Capela make for an undeniably intriguing starting five.
Losing Kelly Oubre hurts a lot, and the Suns have lost four in a row after his injury despite a good start to the second half. That said, for a team without playoff aspirations this year, Oubre’s 2019-20 season should be encouraging for the future. If he’s a long-term fixture alongside Devin Booker and DeAndre Ayton, who give this team a chance to win on a nightly basis, the Suns could be trending toward a winning season in the near future.
C.J. McCollum Shoulders Load for the Blazers
20. San Antonio Spurs
19. Orlando Magic
18. Brooklyn Nets
17. Portland Trail Blazers
16. New Orleans Pelicans
There’s almost too much balance in San Antonio. DeMar DeRozan, the team’s top scorer in the second half with 15.7 points per game, is averaging just a little more than the team’s seventh-leading scorer in the same time frame, Rudy Gay (10.7 ppg). They don’t have a go-to weapon outside of DeRozan, who leaves the team vulnerable on the defensive end. Both T.J. Warren and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, for example, were able to score over 20 on efficient shooting percentages in Spurs’ recent losses.
The last team you’d expect to have three separate 20-point scorers since the All-Star break is doing just that, as Terrence Ross is on fire (35 points on 8-10 3Pt. shooting in Wednesday’s loss) and Nic Vucevic and Evan Fournier are continuing their consistent production. The biggest takeaway from the last seven games, though, is Aaron Gordon’s overall production. He notched his first career triple double and is averaging an impressive 7.3 assists per game to go along with 16.2 points and 9.2 rebounds.
It’s difficult to evaluate the Nets, but that’s what happens when the two primary pieces of the team are done for the year. Caris LeVert has emerged as a star in the past when the Nets have called upon him, and he demonstrated that ability in a phenomenal 51-point effort that boosted Brooklyn over Boston on Tuesday. The bad news is that they also got smattered a couple times over the past week, including a horrendous 118-79 loss to the Grizzlies.
Previously, we spoke about Damian Lillard’s incredible performances as a reason why the Blazers should still be considered playoff candidates in the power rankings. Now, it’s time to laud C.J. McCollum, who has been carrying the team on his back since Lillard’s injury. Lillard returned on Wednesday and played tremendously in a win over the Wizards. That duo should be able to carry the Blazers through a strong final month and potentially capture a playoff spot.
As good as Zion Williamson has been -- and he’s been really, really good -- the Pelicans still can’t seem to claim their stake as a legitimate threat for the playoffs. Going 3-4 since the break, they’ve beaten bad teams, lost to good teams (and the Timberwolves) and still can’t figure out if they’re ready to make a playoff run or not. A lot of their positives and negatives seem to hang heavily on Zion’s presence. One issue has been free throw shooting, as they’re converting from the charity stripe at a league-worst 67.3% since the break. But they’re also top in the league in assists and a top-five offensive rebounding team. It’s starting to look like they may need a little more time to gel before getting serious, even if that only means until next year.
De'Aaron Fox Propels Red-Hot Kings
15. Sacramento Kings
14. Memphis Grizzlies
13. Philadelphia 76ers
12. Oklahoma City Thunder
11. Utah Jazz
The mystery team mentioned alongside the Lakers and the Bucks in the intro? It’s the Kings. Yes, really. At 6-2 since the break (even after a bad loss to Philadelphia on Thursday night), Sacramento has been clicking as a unit. De’Aaron Fox is leading the charge with great scoring totals, as he’s tallied over 20 in every game since the break. Another surprising positive? Harry Giles, formerly touted as a potential lottery pick who fell in the draft after injury woes, has put up some solid numbers of the last week.
Similarly to how the Pelicans and the Blazers just don’t want to surge into the eighth seed, the Grizzlies just don’t seem to want to secure their status as a playoff team. They’re 3-5 since the break, but that total also factors in the recent injuries of stars Jaren Jackson and Brandon Clarke. The absence of those two makes the victory against the Lakers -- after a five-game losing skid -- even more shocking, as both LeBron James and Anthony Davis seemed to struggle all night long.
It’s frustrating to be a Sixers fan. Beating a team like the Kings without Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid or Josh Richardson must mean that they can beat anyone when everyone’s healthy. And though that’s true -- they can beat anybody -- they just don’t do it with a lot of consistency. Al Horford, the model of poise and consistency throughout his career, has not made the most of his starting opportunities and puts his position on the team in the future in question. On the bright side, Shake Milton is doing big things that nobody expected, including tying the record for the most consecutive three-pointers made (13).
The Thunder are capable of beating really good teams, such as when they opened up the second half with a 12-point victory over the Nuggets, but their two losses after the break have been by a large margin to squads who they’ll need to get through if they want any hope in the playoffs. The formula for success is there though, as the youth of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and the bevy of veterans around him make for a rock solid lineup.
Anchored by Rudy Gobert, the Jazz are supposed to be a defensively imposing squad with offensive upside in the explosiveness of Donovan Mitchell. One of those two factors has been there in the second half, as Mitchell is averaging 27.1 ppg over his last seven games. But the team has relinquished some lofty scoring totals, including 131 to Phoenix. Though they’ve turned around a four-game losing streak with three consecutive wins, those victories came against the Wizards, the Cavaliers and the Knicks. Nothing too reassuring there.
Doncic and Porzingis Keep Mavs Competitive
10. Indiana Pacers
9. Miami Heat
8. Dallas Mavericks
7. Denver Nuggets
6. Houston Rockets
A very specific brand of basketball represents what the Indiana Pacers are looking to do this season. They rank dead last in attempts from beyond the arc and rank first in attempts inside the three-point line. Thus, guys like Domantas Sabonis (who is putting up a fantastic stat line of 18 points, 12 rebounds and 6 assists per game since the break) and Myles Turner are crucial to the team’s success. Victor Oladipo definitely is not completely healthy, though, making you wonder if he’ll have time to mesh with the team before the playoffs. It’s worth noting that the team’s five post-break wins have not come against difficult competition, and the two losses have been large defeats against future playoff opponents in the Raptors and the Bucks.
Shutting down Giannis Antetokounmpo is a nearly impossible task, but the Heat did as good a job as I’ve seen in their 105-89 defeat of the Bucks on Monday. They’ve been doing a terrific job spreading the ball around, as Goran Dragic has come alive as both a scorer and a facilitator, helping lead the Heat to the second-highest assist totals and third-highest nightly scoring in the league over the last seven games.
The Kristaps Porzingis we’ve been waiting for has finally arrived. It’s not that he’s been bad as a Maverick, but his performances are often a little underwhelming. Clearly, getting him more involved has been a focal point as of late, as both he and Luka Doncic are both taking around 20 shots per game. Porzingis is converting at an efficient rate and has registered six double-doubles in his last seven.
Nikola Jokic still can’t figure out his three-point shot this season -- he’s shooting 32.4% on the year and just 22.2% in the second half of the year -- but is doing everything else extremely well. Denver leads the NBA with a team shooting percentage of 52% since the break, and Jokic’s presence as a five-tool big man helps to establish the flow needed for the Nuggets to have that kind of success.
Thursday night’s showing against the Clippers is an example of why the Rockets’ strategy is dangerous. All Clippers coach Doc Rivers had to do was tell his team to “play big”, via Michael C. Wright of NBA.com, and that was the easy solution of stymying the Houston offense. However, when the strategy works, it really works. The Rockets have scored 120 or more points in five of seven post-All-Star break games. Consider this: Russell Westbrook is playing the best he’s played all year and it hasn’t taken away from James Harden’s production either.
Giannis and the Bucks Remain on Top
5. Toronto Raptors
4. Boston Celtics
3. Los Angeles Clippers
2. Los Angeles Lakers
1. Milwaukee Bucks
If the Raptors had just stayed healthy they wouldn’t have slid down the list. Luckily (or maybe unluckily), Fred VanVleet’s injury coincided with the return of Norman Powell. It’s been Powell’s show since his return from a nine-game absence, as he has scored over 20 in each game since the break and quieted Oracle Arena during Curry’s return with a commanding 37-point performance. Powell’s performance is a perfect example of the depth that Toronto possesses beside their stars, and they’re a scary force in the East.
Is it too early to call Jayson Tatum an MVP candidate for 2021? He is absolutely locked on right now, averaging 33.7 points on 50% shooting from deep. It wasn’t Tatum but Jaylen Brown who almost propelled the Celtics to a miraculous win over the Rockets, showing that they’re ready for the spotlight in a game that had a playoff atmosphere. Yes, they lost that game, but they had no business forcing overtime and did just that.
Riding a six-game winning streak that consists mainly of dominant efforts -- the closest game was a 136-130 slugfest over the 76ers -- the Clippers are getting hot at the right time. Interestingly enough, Paul George and Lou Williams have both seen their scoring fall off during the run, as new addition Reggie Jackson has stolen some playing time and is fulfilling a nice role. Doc Rivers continues to coach up this tremendous squad to earn big victories with ease.
LeBron James continues to grow as a player which just violates all logic and sense that I thought I could make of professional basketball. Some of the shots he’s been taking, like the near half-court pull against the Sixers and the 40-foot answer to Zion Williamson’s dunk make for a display of unprecedented confidence. He seems untouchable out there. When he and Anthony Davis are on, this team looks unbeatable. But the team is beatable when they’re not completely on, as shown in the shocking loss to Memphis.
The Bucks stay on top. How can they not? They had one loss to a formidable Heat team, but bounced right back with a convincing 19-point tromping of the Pacers. Since the break, they’ve dominated the Thunder, the Sixers and the Raptors. A Friday night showdown against the Lakers will be a fun one to watch and a real possible preview of this year’s finals.