30. Minnesota Timberwolves (7-25)

The Timberwolves have been 1-8 since Karl-Anthony Towns’ return from COVID-19 and besides their 27 point loss to Milwaukee, each game they lost went to the very end… they struggled to close games. Because of the struggles of managing close games and misusing KAT’s talents, Ryan Saunders was dismissed of his duties and was quickly replace by Toronto’s Chris Finch. Finch has earned himself the reputation of being an offensive genius during his time with Toronto, New Orleans, and Denver, hopefully he quickly figures out how to use all the young talent Minnesota has, especially KAT.

29. Detroit Pistons (9-22)

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Even though Detroit has won three of their last six games, it’s clear that Detroit doesn’t have enough established talent outside of Jerami Great to consistently win. They have to be pleased with the way Saddiq Bey has developed, he has averaged 14.4 PPG his last 10 games and is looking destined for an All-Rookie spot. Detroit likely expects to continue losing games, hoping to get themselves in position for a shot at Cade Cunningham… it’ll be interesting to see what they do with the Blake Griffin situation.

28. Cleveland Caveliers

After a surprising 8-7 start, the Caveliers have free fallen all the way to the bottom of the league once again. A huge reason for that is their lack of offense outside of Colin Sexton, they are wildly inconsistent on that end and are 29th in real PPG. They are also, unlike the Knicks, not good enough defensively to make up for their limited offense. They need Darius Garland to take a bigger load, quick.

27. Houston Rockets

The reason why Houston is struggling to this degree after their six game win streak a while back is fairly simple, Christian Wood is out. Since Wood has been hurt, they have lost nine consecutive straight. Not having that offensive centerpiece has really impacted the way they play. It’ll be interesting to see if the Rockets will use this injury as an excuse to tank for a top pick or if they’ll try to remain competitive when Wood returns.

26. Orlando Magic

The Orlando Magic are continuing to look like one of the worst offenses in the game, scoring over 96 only once in their last five games. Nikola Vucevic earned that All-Star nod, averaging a relatively efficient 24 point double double. Without Vucevic, Orlando would be one or the worst offenses in league history.

25. Sacramento Kings

Believe it or not, at one point of the season, the Kings looked really respectable… now they are on an eight game losing streak and it’s looking bad. Their defense has been a huge issue, they haven’t allowed below 110 since the first day of February. De’Aaron Fox has remained super impressive, he deserved All-Star consideration for sure and Tyrese Haliburton has continued to look like the best late lottery pick since Donovan Mitchell. Other than those two, Marvin Bagley III has had his ups and downs and Buddy Hield continues to look like one of the most disappointing players in the league. Sacramento needs to shop Hield at the trade deadline.

24. Oklahoma City Thunder

Outside of the Pistons, the Thunder have the least talent in the league, by design. Despite their lack of talent, they are team that has played hard, making them a league average defense, which has put them in position to win some clutch games, including the one that just happened when Lu Dort hit a game winning three against San Antonio. Shai-Gilgeous Alexander has taken another leap this year as well, he’s averaged 33.3 PPG his last three games and is looking like a franchise level talent for the Thunder.

23. Atlanta Hawks

Trae Young got snubbed from the All-Star game for a simple reason, Atlanta isn’t winning enough. The Hawks continue to be plagued by injuries and seem to be for the foreseeable future. Their defense, especially without De’Andre Hunter, hasn’t been good enough to be a consistently competitive team in the East. If healthy, we would probably have a different story. Despite their unfortunate injuries, Lloyd Pierce has to be feeling his seat get mighty toasty around now, if he doesn’t turn this team around, his future in Atlanta may be in question.

22. Memphis Grizzlies

Jaren Jackson Jr. continuing to be out has been a major blow to Memphis’ offensive potential. They don’t have a true second star on that roster to make up for the absence of another one. Despite their below average offense, they have played incredibly gritty basketball, keeping them in most games, and giving them a chance to make the playoffs if Jaren Jackson Jr. comes back. Ja Morant has been good this year, averaging 19.1 PPG and 7.9 APG, but he needs to take his game to a whole other level so Memphis can at least be a tough out in the West.

21. Washington Wizards

The Wizards are somewhat getting their season back on track after winning five of their last six games. Russell Westbrook is returning to the player that fans love or hate, depending on the person, as he’s averaging 20 PPG, 11.5 RPG and 11.7 APG his last five games. Bradley Beal has also remained being one of the most deadly scorers in the game this year, averaging 32.5 PPG in his last six. The problem with Washington is they are probably the worst defense in the league, the only way they’ve been able to win during the stretch is through shootouts. In a league where there’s a lot of capable, talented scoring teams, you can’t consistently win like that. It doesn’t matter how deadly of the offensive pairing Russell Westbrook and Bradley Beal are, as long as this defense is this poor, there is a pretty evident ceiling to this core.

20. Boston Celtics

The Boston Celtics have been one of the weirdest teams in the league. Despite Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown approaching superstar tier, they have lost four of their five last games and are 7-14 in their last 21 games. A lot of that has to do with Marcus Smart being injured, Kemba Walker not being 100% yet, and their lack of playtime worthy veterans. The Celtics are certainly missing Gordon Hayward.

19. New Orleans Pelicans

The Pelicans continue to be a young team with a lot of talent and flashes of greatness… but also shown their vulnerability due to youth. On Friday, they lost by 29 in the fourth again the Suns, leading to a double digit blown lead, but the very next game made the largest comeback in franchise history as they came back from a 24 point deficit against the Celtics. We are seeing growth as Zion Williamson has gotten better as the year has gone on and has rightfully made the All-Star team, Lonzo Ball has averaged over 16 PPG and 47% from three his last 10 games, Brandon Ingram has also looked like the star he is . There may be questions about the balance of this roster, but they still have a legitimate shot to make the play-in because of the ascending talent they have at the top.

18. New York Knicks

The Knicks continue to be one of the most dangerous and effective defenses in the game, credit goes to Tom Thibadeau for that, but they still have the worst offense in the game. Derrick Rose hasn’t come together yet, RJ Barrett is still crazy inconsistent, fortunately they have their first All-Star since Kristaps Porzingis in 2017 in Julius Randle, who has been able to provide enough offense to win. The Knicks have a talent issue, they certainly don’t have a culture one right now.

17. Charlotte Hornets

If I had to be asked who is the most entertaining team in the league to watch right now, I probably wouldn’t say the Hornets, but they would be up there still. Lamelo Ball, at this point, is running away with the Rookie of the Year race as he’s becoming a star in front of our very eyes, Terri Rozier recently had a four game streak or scoring 30+, and Hayward looks like a steady All-Star talent. The Hornets need more defensive toughness, but they are developing something they haven’t had a while with this young core led by Gordon Hayward.

16. Indiana Pacers

A fanbase that deserves to be as upset as anyone about the All-Star results is the Pacers fanbase. Malcolm Brogdon and Domontas Sabonis had legitimate cases to make the team… but obviously they didn’t. The Pacers are a team that defends and scored at a pretty solid clip, they just aren’t great at either end of the ball. When they don’t have a TJ Warren to be a tertiary option, they will continue to struggle finding that offensive identity outside of Brogdon and Sabonis.

15. Chicago Bulls

When talking about the Bulls, we need to talk about Zach Lavine, Lavine is approaching the unstoppable tier on the offensive end. We know he’s a great athlete, but now he’s a fantastic shot creator with an elite jumper to go along with that raw athletic ability In his last six games, he’s averaging 31.8 PPG, they’ve won five of those games. The Bulls have been winning like this without Lauri Markkanen and continued inconsistency from Coby White. If Zach Lavine continues this play and Lauri comes back to form, the Bulls could have one of the scariest offenses in the league.

14. Toronto Raptors

The Raptors have nearly made a full comeback after having an incredibly sluggish start as they are now flirting with a top five seed in the East. Their offense has been underwhelming as of late, only scoring 103.2 PPG in their last five, but a lot of that has to do with Lowry missing the four games prior to the Miami game. Despite having a bottom 10 defensive rating their last three games (which also has a lot to with Lowry being out), they have been trending the right direction since they’ve jumped 2 spots in the league’s defensive rating standings in the last 10 days. The raptors also lost their top assistant Chris for lunch, who was hired by the Timberwolves to be their new head coach. Flinch was a big reason why the raptors of had a top 10 offense this season, it’ll be interesting to see how they react to his absence on that end of the floor.

13. Miami Heat

With Jimmy Butler healthy, Miami hasn’t looked like the disappointment they appeared to be the start of the season as they’ve now won five straight, showcasing Jimmy’s value to that core. Their defense hasn’t been an issue at all this season, it’s been their offense that’s been bottom 10 in the league. With Jimmy, their offense has looked respectable enough to allow the defense to do their job and that’s how they can win games. I’m sure Heat fans are unpleased with the fact Adebayo didn’t make the All-Star team… and I understand that because of how his defense is still elite while his offense has improved across the board. There are players you can make an argument deserve to get that level of recognition but it sometimes doesn’t go that way.

12. Golden State Warriors

The Warriors are finally getting healthy. Steph Curry seems to be fine after not playing in Charlotte being due to a sickness and James Wiseman is officially back from a wrist injury. During Wiseman‘s absence, Kelly Oubre has finally played like the player they were hoping to get after trading for him this off-season, averaging over 20 a night in February. With Wiseman back, implementing him into a core starting to find their groove is found to be exciting.

11. San Antonio Spurs

The Spurs have been one of the steadiest teams in the league, they haven’t often gotten too hot this season, but also not too cool. Their depth and overall discipline has been great, hence why they are still a top six seed in the West without Lamarcus Aldridge for a lot of the year. Demar Derozan has taken a massive leap as a passer, averaging a career high 6.9 APG with 40 assist his last five games. Demar may be under-appreciated, but he remains productive.

10. Portland Trailblazers

After shocking the world by winning six consecutive games without CJ McCollum and Jusif Nurkic, the Trailblazers have lost three consecutive games. It was unfortunately inevitable, especially during a long, exhausting season, it’s hard to consistently dominate the way they did without two of their three best players. That being said, what Damien Lillard is doing for Portland is absolutely extraordinary and he should be second and MVP voting, as a result. Not to mention, Gary Trent Jr. has broken out, dude is a problem. It’ll be fascinating to see how Portland bounces back from this drought and if they can remain in the home playoff seed conversation without Nurkic or McCollum

9. Dallas Mavericks

The Mavericks’ record my not reflect this ranking, but they’re up here because of the fact they have won 4 of their last five and that their generational talent, Luka Doncic, is tearing it up. Over Luka’s last 10 games, he’s averaging 31.7 PPG, 7.6 RPG and 8.8 APG on 44.7% from three. As a result, they have been one of the most exciting offenses in the game. Kristaps Porzingis has been good when healthy, but that’s the issue, he hasn’t been. If KP plays more consistently, big if, this Dallas team could go back to being similar to the historically dynamic offense we saw them have last year.

8. Denver Nuggets

Jamal Murray is having by the far the best regular season stretch of his career right now. He recently dropped 50 against Cleveland and is averaging a whopping 34.8 PPG in his last four games. Along with that, Nikola Jokic is still looking like an MVP contender. With that being said, the Nuggets have been pretty inconsistent on both sides of the ball, which is why they’ve only won 5 of their last 10. I’m still convinced it’s only a rough stretch in a long season, though.

7. Phoenix Suns

It’s truly amazing to see the suns be back in this position. They haven’t been this good since the Steve Nash and Amari Stoudimire. One thing that has been beautiful to see… is how this young core, led by Chris Paul, Devin Booker and Monty Williams, has matured add an exponential rate where are these players essentially know how to win in every situation. Last Friday against New Orleans (I happened to be at the game), they were trailing basically the whole game, whenever they were on a run, the Pelicans quickly countered and responded with a bigger run. Despite that game not going their way most of the time, they were able to fully lock in… leading to them out scoring the Pelicans by 29 points in the fourth quarter. That is incredibly telling about the great culture and how that has impacted their talent. Deandre Ayton needs to be more productive offensively if they want to compete, but the Suns have a super compete roster and a great culture to top it off.

6. Milwaukee Bucks

The Milwaukee Bucks are better than their record suggests. They’ve been missing Jrue Holiday due to COVID for nine games and they’ve been 4-5 as a result. Giannis Antetokounmpo, even though nobody talks about it, has been as productive as he’s been in his last two MVP seasons and Khris Middleton has been a 50/40/90 guy this season. Not to mention they are top four in 3P% and makes. The Bucks have not been as good defensively as they’ve been in other years, but I expect them to go back to form there, especially when Holiday returns.

5. Los Angeles Lakers

The Lakers are now 3-6 without Anthony Davis, who won’t be back till after the All-Star break. Their offense hasn’t been nearly as deadly and their defense has taken a hit too. Despite Anthony Davis’ underwhelming season, his impact is unquestionable and this team looks entirely different without him. Lebron James is still special, but he should not be a top two candidate for league MVP because did this bad run. I still believe in the Lakers when healthy, but they need Davis back, ASAP!

4. Philadelphia 76ers

It’s crazy to say, Joel Embiid has been the best basketball player in the game this regular season. He has improved his 3P% to 40% and has gotten in the post more consistently than last year, some credit has to go to both Doc Rivers for that. Tobias Harris also is having the best season of his career, once again, thanks to Doc. Even though the offense is middle of the road, efficiency wise, Philadelphia’s defense has been dominant to the point where their offense only has to do so much. Philadelphia has owned the first seed in the east for essentially the whole year and with the way they are playing, they are not going to let go of that spot easily.

3. Brooklyn Nets

Since James Harden has arrived in Brooklyn, they have had the best offensive efficiency ever! considering Kevin Durant has been out a lot, you can make the argument that James Harden has been the most valuable player for them. He completely changed this game to not being a leader in scoring, but running away with the assist title, not many offense of talents has been able to do that in nba history. With Kyrie Irving playing the way he has, Kevin Durant being healthy, nobody is going to stop their offense. The defense remains a question, but it has gotten better as the year has going on, not good enough yet, but better.

2. Utah Jazz

The Jazz have continued playing dominant basketball, which they have all season. Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell we’re all star locks from the start and you could’ve made a legit argument for Mike Conley making it, due to his two-way impact, leadership, and talent in the clutch. They remain a top three defense and the league leader in three point makes a night. I still have questions about how this team translates in the postseason, but they deserve credit for the way they have played.

1. Los Angeles Clippers

So now we have a new number one team in the league, for now. The Clippers secured this temporary spot when they beat Utah down the stretch last week. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George are still having ridiculously amazing seasons, Lou Williams is coming back to form as he’s averaging 17.6 PPG his last five games. Most impressively, the 42.2% from three they’re shooting right now is on track to crush the record for best team three point percentage in a season. The clippers need to address their 16th ranking in defensive efficiency, but we all know they have the talent to do it… and we have seen it when they get in close games. They are the best team in the league right now.

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By J. Wilder Adams

*League Alerts Writer * What's on TAP sports pages owner (podcast, NBA, NFL, MLB, NCAA *What's on TAP Podcast (founded on Spotify, IHeartRadio, Apple Podcasts, and Spreaker)