30. Minnesota Timberwolves
The Timberwolves weren’t a legit playoff team from the start, but you add that with the fact they have been the most affected with the unavailability of their best players, it is not a good recipe. Towns was out the majority of the first part of the season, plus D’Angelo Russell and Malik Beasley are out for at least a month. We don’t know what this young core is when healthy, but for right now, they are incredible youthful, they struggle to close games, and are inconsistent on both ends. Those are the main reasons why they have lost seven straight and only have seven wins all season.
29. Detroit Pistons
The Pistons are unlucky because in most years, they would be the clear worst team in the league with a guaranteed top five pick, but the Timberwolves exist this year so for now, they’re the second worst team in the league. The reason why they are at the bottom of the East isn’t actually because of their defense, they’re middle of the pack in defensive efficiency, it’s because they are a bottom five offense that’s scored 110+ points only three times the last 10 games. Jerami Grant is their only reliable offensive option at this point. With the trade deadline approaching, it wouldn’t be the worst idea to seek selling their vets such as Wayne Ellington, Mason Plumlee, Delom Wright, and it’s been reported that Blake Griffin won’t ever wear a Pistons uniform again. It’s tank time in the motor city.
28. Houston Rockets
The longer Christian Wood has been out, the more the Rockets have plummeted down the standings and down my power rankings. After Harden got traded, there was hope emerging as they were on a six game win streak at one point while being 11-11. They haven’t won since. Now Demarcus Cousins has been released and Victor Oladipo has declined a 2-year $45.3M extension. Even though John Wall has resurrected as a very good player in this league, it seems like Houston could be headed towards a new direction, especially if they trade Oladipo at the deadline. It might be the smart decision allow Christian Wood and a potential top four pick in a loaded draft to guide them to the future.
27. Orlando Magic
The Magic lost by double digits in every game they played last week and it hasn’t been looking good. They continue to have no real consistent offensive threat outside of Nikola Vucevic and Evan Fournier. Even though they’ve struggled, they’re not as poor as their record shows, injuries have hindered the point guard and offensive depth that they didn’t have a lot of from the beginning. Orlando probably won’t be sellers at the deadline, but this would be a great time to do so with Vucevic having the best season of his career.
26. Cleveland Cavaliers
The Cavaliers are on a little three game win streak at the moment, it’s their first tike winning multiple games in a row since the very beginning of the regular season. Huge reasons why they are winning games right now is because of the elevated play of both Isaac Okoro and Darius Garland. They need those players to play well to have a passable level offense. Since they’re young, although talented, they’re going to have their ups and downs, hence why I don’t view this win streak as a sign for better things this season.
25. Sacramento Kings
The Kings easily have the worst defense in the league. They’re bottom in defensive efficiency and have allowed 120+ in seven of their last 10 games and when they’ve allowed 120 in the last 10 games, they haven’t won. With Tyrese Haliburton, De’Aaron Fox, Harrison Barnes, Buddy Hield and Marvin Bagely III, they’re fully capable of scoring the ball. The problem is they can only beat teams in shootouts, you can’t consistently win like that in the west, which is why they are falling towards the bottom of the Western Conference standings.
24. Oklahoma City Thunder
Shai-Gilgeous Alexander is one of the biggest All-Star snubs this season. How may players are cabable of averaging 23.5 PPG and 6.5 APG on over 50%? Not many! If it wasn’t for his stardom, Oklahoma City would probably be the worst team in the league, which is what Sam Presiti frankly probably wants! Another reason why OKC is still somewhat competitive is the play and veteran presence both Al Horford and George Hill have provided that young core. Knowing Presti, he is probably going to flip those two for future picks!
23. Atlanta Hawks
The Danilo Gallinari signing, at this point, is looking like a bust for the Hawks. His scoring and efficiency have fallen significantly, he was never a defender, plus he was hurt early in the season. At 32 years old with nearly $42M remaining on his contract after this year, this has to be frustrating for Hawks fans. Also taking into account De’Andre Hunter, after taking a major step, being hurt along with Bogdan Bogdonivic, there’s nothing else to say but the Hawks have been plagued with bad luck this year. They should be a playoff team right now, but luck hasn’t gone there way and despite Trae Young averaging 26.5 PPG and 9.5 APG, he takes the punishment for their struggles by unrightfully not making the All-Star team.
22. Chicago Bulls
The Chicago Bulls are really starting to get their groove, when they are on a stretch in which they have won six of their last eight games, led by an emerging All-Star in Zach Lavine. Chicago hasn’t been able to take care of some of the big fish in the pond such as the Phoenix Suns or Philadelphia 76ers lately, but they have taken care of teams that they should beat as well as teams in their tier such as the Pelicans and Pacers, potential playoff teams need to take care of their business against teams they need to beat and they deserve a lot of credit for accomplishing that as of late. Lauri Markkanen, their second leading scorer, hasn’t been healthy during this stretch, but that should be encouraging because that may suggest there is another gear to this young Bulls team, their fans should be thrilled with their progress… Billy Donovan deserves some credit for that as well.
21. Indiana Pacers
I don’t care what people say, Domontas Sabonis deserved to be an All-Star replacement this year. Many fans, especially Heat fans, were upset about Bam Adebayo not being the replacement. Even though Bam had a legit case, Sabonis has averaged more points, rebounds, and assists this year, he has also kept Indiana around .500 without TJ Warren. Obviously Warren isn’t Jimmy, but the Heat did start out as one of the worst teams in the league. That has to be taken into consideration. Back to the Pacers, they need a break as bad as anybody not named the Pistons or Timberwolves, they have lost five of their last six games and most of these losses have been in close games. They haven’t been able to close at the end and with obviously no Caris LeVert and TJ Warren, which has made defenses able to concentrate on Sabonis and Brogdon. Unfortunately, reports have come out saying Warren will be out for months to come. On the bright side, LeVert could come back in the next month after a major scare when a little bit of cancer was discovered in LeVert’s left kidney. No Warren is unfortunate, but LeVert should make a difference when he’s back in shape. If this Pacers team was healthy, this would be a top team seed in the East, in my eyes. Sadly, injuries haven’t gone their way and that’s why they are awfully glad break is coming soon.
20. Memphis Grizzlies
Despite Jaren Jackson Jr. remaining out, the Grizziles continue to remain steady and in the playoff race. The reason why they have been so steady is because of their very strong depth and ball movement. They can effectively play 10 men deep, they are second in the league with 27.2 assists a night, and their later picks, such as Desmond Bane and Xavier Tillman have been awesome. Ja Morant hasn’t quite taken that All-Star leap I was hoping this year, his scoring has only increased by a point and his three point percentage has plummeted to only 21.6%. If the Grizzlies can get the Ja Morant the league expected as well as a healthy Jaren Jackson Jr., they could become a lot better.
19. Charlotte Hornets
After Sunday’s miraculous last second win against the Kings in which PJ Washington dropped 42, the Hornets and Nets are the only teams in the league that have three players that have dropped 40+ thus far this season. The more this team has gotten experience, the more confidence this young squad has obtained. LaMelo Ball since starting has averaged 20.1 PPG, 6.2 RPG and 6.7 APG on 59.22 True Shooting %, which crazily isn’t far off of Luka Doncic’s rookie season, in which he averaged 21.2 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 6.2 APG on 54.5 EFG%. Malik Monk has also been super productive lately, he hit that and one layup to win there Sacramento game, he has averaged 25 PPG his last three games, and averaged 16.6 PPG in January. As LaMelo Ball continues to evolve alongside Terry Rozier and Gordon Hayward, Charlotte will continue to emerge as one of the moist exciting teams in the league.
18. New Orleans Pelicans
The Pelicans have had their ups and downs, they had an especially horrid 5-10 start of the season, but are progressing tremendously as they have won eight of their last 15 and are fresh off of defeating the best regular season team in the league. Lonzo Ball is emerging as an elite shooter in the league, he is shooting 39.7% on over seven attempts and in his last 10 games, he has hit 38 on 44% from deep. Lonzo Ball emerging as elite shooter is helping him become legitimately a really good player in this league and that makes his future in New Orleans much more feasible. Zion Williamson is also playing awesomely, he is averaging 29.5 PPG… but now he is also becoming a big time playmaker, as he is now averaging 4.6 APG in the last 10 games. The Pelicans are emerging as one of the most dynamic young offenses in the league, what they need to work on at this point is for course… defense. Lonzo Ball and Eric Bledsoe haven’t shown the typical energy they normally do on that end and Zion Williamson has been disappointing there.
17. Washington Wizards
The beginning of the season was considerably ugly, but the Wizards had there composure of a champion and were able to get there season back on track.. back into the playoff conversation. Their defense has improved as a near league average defense in their last six games. Russell Westbrook is looking like the old Russell Westbrook, averaging a 20 point triple double his last 10 games. Bradley Beal has held one to the scoring title at thus point of the season as well. If the Wizards’ back court of Bradley Beal and Russell Westbrook continue clicking like this, they will keep pushing up the standings. I wish they unleashed Deni Avdija as a secondary or tertiary playmaker much more often, to me, he is still one of the most talented players from this past draft. If the Wizards unlock him, they could become especially intriguing.
16. Boston Celtics
The Boston Celtics have won their last two games against respectable teams such as Indiana and Washington, which is a good sign, since considering they only won eight of their last 22 prior to that. A major reason why they have won three two games is because Kemba Walker has looked like the Kemba Walker they anticipated… as he has scored 53 in his last two games. We know Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum are really dynamic, but because Gordon Hayward is gone, they need Kemba Walker to be that third star to win games. If Kemba Walker is truly returning back to form, Boston will be fine.
15. Toronto Raptors
The Raptors are an odd team because it sees like there are two clear different paths that could take. They aren’t quite talented enough to win it all anymore, making it reasonable to make players such as Kyle Lowry expendable. Perhaps they could get some young assets to add to the Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet nucleus if they choose to deal Lowry. They could also remain loyal to him and keep him for the duration of his career… aceepting they’ll be a good but not great team going forward. Also considering the act that Masai Ujiri could be on the move this summer, what Toronto will do at the deadline will be a major dictator of how the East will look in the upcoming years.
14. New York Knicks
When was the last time the Knicks have been in the top 14 in any power ranking? Man, it has been a while. The Knicks are currently on a three game win streak that has pushed them above the .500 mark, making them the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference! They simply know their identity, they’re an elite defensive team that prioritizes locking up the paint and forcing teams to beat them with the jumper. This may not work against every team, but it’s worked just fine as a whole, since they’re top three in defensive efficiency. As long as Julius Randle keeps producing the way he has offensive with the defense New York is playing, they will make their long waited playoff appearance.
13. Portland Trailblazers
Portland winning six straight without CJ McCollum and Just Nurkic seemed too good to be true, it seems it was. Portland has lost four of their last five and the most glaring reason seems to be because they can’t defend anybody, they are the 28th ranked defense in the league, efficiency wise. They also can’t find any sort of consistent offense besides Damian Lillard and Gary Trent Jr. If Portland wants to host a playoff game, they will need CJ McCollum and Jusif Nurkic to get healthy as soon as possible, they also should look to add some defensive depth at the deadline.
12. San Antonio Spurs
Demar Derozan maybe wasn’t recognized as an official All-Star in the West, but he is providing San Antonio All-Star production. We know his scoring is going to be there, but his playmaking adds another dynamic to that Spurs offense which makes them respectable on that end and because of their defensive ability, they are able to consistently win. There has not been Keldon Johnson lately, who has been out due to COVID-19 protocols. Dejounte Murray has really stepped up in the three games without Johnson, averaging 21.3 PPG in the games Johnson was out. Like the Raptors, I have no idea what their plan is at the trade deadline. There have been rumors that Demar Derozan and Lamarcus Aldridge have been discussed in trades, but the Spurs are still winning and Derozan has played very well. Are they ready to move on from Derozan already with the way they’ve played? Who knows!
11. Dallas Mavericks
Luka Doncic is shooting 45.8% from three in his last 10 games, it’s no coincidence his sudden improvement in shooting has led to Dallas winning eight of those games. With Kristaps Porzingis now just coming back from another injury, Dallas needs Luka Doncic to be nearly perfect on the offensive end. The playmaking and creativity inside the three point line is a givin for Luka, but when he shoots very well, that takes even more pressure off the players around him that can’t take major weight on their shoulders. As long as Luka Doncic keeps playing like this, Dallas will always be a top 12 team, if they can get a productive Porzingis, that makes them especially scary.
10. Golden State Warriors
With James Wiseman healthy, we finally have the opportunity to evaluate what this Klay Thompson-less Warriors truly are relative to the rest of their competition in the West. Yes, they got absolutely demolished by the Lakers the other day, but the Warriors were caught on their absolute worst night, Steph Curry, Andrew Wiggins and James Wiseman were all having one of their worst games of the season, I don’t think that is super telling about how good they really are. On a positive note, Kelly Oubre Jr. is officially back as he averaged 20.1 in February, Draymond Green led the league in assists in February, and we all know what Steph can do. With their high-end defense, if they are able to get the best out of players like Andrew Wiggins, Kelly Oubre Jr., and Draymond Green, they could have a great post All-Star break.
9. Denver Nuggets
The most important development Denver has had is the re-emergance of Jamal Murray. He may not be playing quote as amazing as he did in the bubble, but he averaged a stellar 25.8 PPG on approximately 51/47/88 splits. Denver is not a great defensive team and they may not be for a while, but that was never their identity. If Jamal Murray plays this dominantly with Nikola Jokic being Nikola Jokic, plus having complimentary pieces such as Will Barton and Michael Porter Jr., this is the identity Denver aspires to have, it is similar to the identity they had last year when they made the Western Conference Finals.
8. Miami Heat
The Heat are officially back, they are now on a six game with streak and the main reason for that is Jimmy Butler is back on full gear. In this stretch, the Heat have beaten notable teams such as the Jazz, Lakers, Raptors, and Warriors. It is clear the the reason why the Heat were struggling in the beginning was they were missing their alpha, their leader, their closer, not because they genuinely regressed, players like Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro, although talented and improved, weren’t able to replace the production of Butler. As long as Butler is healthy, Miami is one of the scariest teams in the East, regardless of record.
7. Phoenix Suns
Currently, the Phoenix Suns are one of the only two teams in the league that are top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency. They are also top five in average fourth quarter margins. That is a testament of yes, Chris Paul and Monty Williams, but they Suns young core is maturing beyond their years. I was a little worried why Devin Booker wasn’t nearly as productive as he usually he when he started the season, but his scoring has increased every month and his efficiency has remained elite for a two-guard. In February, Devin Booker averaged 27.9 on 52.3/39.58/85.2, that offensive improvement is a huge reason why Phoenix is looking better as the year has gone on.
6. Los Angeles Lakers
This might seem low for a team that just won two straight games, including winning by 26 against the Warriors the other night, but that caught that squad on their worst night. They also beat the diminished Trailblazers, who are struggling in their own right. Before these two wins, they lost four in a row, often convincingly, and it’s clear the team misses Anthony Davis. That being said, at the end of the year, I don’t believe there are five better than the Lakers, as a matter of fact, when healthy, I think they are the best team in the game, I anticipate them being right there at the end of the season, but they certainly lack a third option to take the weight off of both Lebron James’ and Anthony Davis’ shoulders, perhaps Demar Derozan? That would be cool.
5. Philadelphia 76ers
Ben Simmons has been pretty similar to Devin Booker where his production wasn’t up to par to other years and that made people questions “what’s up with him?” despite Philadelphia being the winningest team in the league for a while. But in February, Ben Simmons came back into form and them some as he averaged 21 PPG, 7.9 RPG, and 7.8 APG while now emerging as the favorite to win Defensive Player of the Game, according to nba.com. Between the offensive trio of Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Tobias Harris, Philly has one of the most dominant offenses in the league. If Philadelphia can become more than just 10th in fewest points allowed, that can be the difference between them heading to the finals and not.
4. Los Angeles Clippers
The Clippers in their last five games have lost a couple pretty big ones against teams in their caliber such as the Milwaukee Bucks and Brooklyn Nets, both in which they pretty much lost at the end. Their offense has been in a relative cold streak as of late, they have scored less than 110 in three of their last five games and a huge reason for that is the recent struggles of Paul George. In his last three games, he is only averaging 14 PPG on 36.4%. This still isn’t a massive concern to me, it is a long season and we are finally approaching the All-Star break, it’s natural to look a little in the future during this time of the season, not to mention these players need rest at this point… and Paul George is no exception. The reason why the fall from one to four in this week’s power rankings is simply because of the fact that have lost to both Milwaukee and Brooklyn, the creams of the crop in the East, who happen to be getting into their groove.
3. Milwaukee Bucks
The Bucks are coming back to life, they are now on a five game win streak and are really dialing in at this moment. I understand, Giannis Antetokounmpo has won the last two MVP’s, talking about his dominance can get boring. In the last 10 games, Giannis is averaging an absurd 33.5 PPG, 13.4 RPG, and 6.6 APG. He is clearly playing in great desperation to get back to one of those top two seeds in the Eastern Conference. He won’t win MVP because of his playoff struggles and the face there isn’t much spice into the story of a back-to-back MVP winner, but he’s playing as good as ever right now. Jrue Holiday is also finally back from health and safety protocols, his impact on both ends of the floor has been really crucial for Milwaukee and he’s coming back at the right time, when they are gaining momentum. I am expecting a fantastic and improved second half of the season for the Bucks.
2. Brooklyn Nets
Get this, Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving have only played three games together. They have won nine of their last 10 games… and their best player hasn’t even played. In those 10 games, James Harden has picked up the slack, averaging 27.3 PPG, 9.6 RPG and 10.6 APG. Harden has been able to adapt as a facilitator and initiator so quickly and be effective at it, it’s truly remarkable. When Durant comes back, you will see even more dimes from Harden. The Brooklyn Nets have a bottom five defense still, but they have played better on that end and Kevin Durant, arguably their best defender, has been out, we will see the defense play somewhat better. Because this may be the best offense we have ever seems, all the Nets need on defense is to be average…. then they can do whatever they want in the postseason.
1. Utah Jazz
Yes, they recently lost to the Pelicans, but they’ve been by far the most consistent regular season team, I have to give them their credit, even if I don’t peg them as a tier 1 contender, They are the only team that is top three and both offensive and defensive efficiency, they are third in three point percentage and first in makes. They are a dynamic two-way team with a lot of scoring depth at the guard spot and elite rim protection, they are a well balanced team. Of course, their star power is what I have questions with deep in the postseason, but as of right now, when the teams that I may believe in more in the postseason aren’t playing to my praises, they deserve the credit because they’ve been the most consistently great team in the league.