The Lakers are still the top dog in the NBA, but the elite teams in the league are jockeying for position in the top five.
The Lakers have been the top-dog on ESNY’s NBA Power Rankings all year long, but the rest of the league is seeing some movement. After playing about 25% of the season, we are starting to see who’s real and who’s not.
Here is this week’s edition of the ESNY NBA power rankings of the 2020-21 season.
30. Minnesota Timberwolves (Previous Ranking: 30) (Record: 5-16)
What has changed for Minnesota over the last week? Not much. Karl Anthony-Towns is still out and the Timberwolves are still the worst team in the NBA. Moving on…
29. Detroit Pistons (28) (5-16)
Speaking of bad teams, the Pistons aren’t much better than the Timberwolves right now. Detroit scored a big win over the Lakers last week, but they followed that up with two double-digit losses on the road. The Lakers will have a chance at revenge on Saturday.
28. Washington Wizards (29) (5-13)
The Wizards are showing signs of life over the last week, but not enough to give them a big bump yet. They stole a win away from the Nets on Sunday, but that seemed to be Brooklyn giving the game away more than Washington winning it.
27. Orlando Magic (19) (8-14)
Magic fans should be smashing that panic button right now. Jonathan Isaac, Aaron Gordon, Markelle Fults, Michael Carter-Williams, and Al-Farouq Aminu are all on the injury report. Orlando has lost four in a row and six of their last seven. Things are bad in Disney World.
26. Miami Heat (26) (7-14)
We’re still waiting for the Heat to emerge from this funk. Miami is another squad that has been decimated by injuries, but that’s no excuse for a 7-14 record. The Heat have lost seven of their last eight games.
25. New Orleans Pelicans (27) (8-12)
The Pelicans entered the 2020-21 season with dreams of making some noise in the Western Conference. Although they are starting to show some signs of life, they are still bottom feeders at the moment.
24. Oklahoma City Thunder (22) (9-11)
The rebuilding Thunder are one of the worst offensive teams in the league. That’s no surprise considering their youthful lineup. After starting off the season 5-4, Oklahoma City is 4-7 in their last 11 games.
23. Chicago Bulls (23) (8-12)
It’s hard to get a good read on this Chicago team. On some nights, they look like they might make a run at a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. During others, they go down by 20 points to the Knicks at home. We’ll see whether or not new head coach Billy Donovan can get the Bulls to start playing with some consistency.
22. New York Knicks (19) (10-13)
The Knicks are among the grittiest teams in the NBA this year. They might not have the talent of some of their counterparts, but they bring the defensive effort almost every single night. They currently rank sixth in the NBA in defensive rating (108.0).
21. Sacramento Kings (25) (10-11)
Don’t look now, but here come the Kings. Sacramento has won five of their last six and they are quickly becoming a threat to make a run at a playoff spot in the Western Conference. They have major tests coming against the Nuggets, Clippers, and 76ers this week.
20. Dallas Mavericks (16) (9-13)
Dallas stopped the bleeding with a win over the Hawks on Wednesday night, but it was their first win in seven games. Luka Doncic’s supporting cast is struggling this year and Dallas is underperforming as a result. Kristaps Porzingis and Tim Hardaway Jr. showed some life on Wednesday, combining for 46 points and 15 rebounds.
19. Charlotte Hornets (24) (10-12)
Charlotte is putting the pieces together this year and they deserve this bump in our power rankings. They knocked off the Pacers, Bucks, and Heat last week. LaMelo Ball is the leader in the clubhouse to win Rookie of the Year.
18. Houston Rockets (21) (10-10)
It’s another week and the Rockets are climbing in the rankings yet again. Obviously, the James Harden trade was incredible for the Nets (more on that in a bit), but it also allowed the Rockets to move on and focus on this season.
17. Toronto Raptors (18) (9-12)
Toronto is slowly but surely starting to turn things around after their dreadful start. Fred VanVleet set a franchise record with 54 points in Toronto’s win over the Magic on Tuesday night.
16. Cleveland Cavaliers (17) (10-12)
The Cleveland Cavaliers are hanging around in the Eastern Conference. Collin Sexton is emerging as a legitimate All-Star candidate with per-game averages of 24.3 points and 4.1 assists on 50/44/83 shooting splits.
15. Atlanta Hawks (14) (10-11)
The Hawks were a trendy pick to have a breakout season after they got busy in free agency. They are currently the six seed in the Eastern Conference but we aren’t sold on them yet. One good sign for Atlanta is the fact that they are 10th in the NBA in net rating (1.7).
14. San Antonio Spurs (13) (12-10)
The Spurs suffered two blowout losses at the hands of the Grizzlies last week, but they also secured wins over the Nuggets and Celtics. The Spurs are going to be in the mix for one of the last playoff spots in the Western Conference. You can write that down.
13. Memphis Grizzlies (15) (9-7)
Speaking of the Grizzlies, Ja Morant and company are one of the hottest teams in the NBA. They have won seven of their last eight despite the fact that they had a COVID-shutdown right in the middle of that run. Memphis is the real deal.
12. Portland Trail Blazers (12) (11-9)
Portland is managing to keep its head above water despite the absence of CJ McCollum missing extended time. Damian Lillard, Robert Covington, and Gary Trent Jr. have the best offensive rating (135.5) of any three-man lineup with at least 100 minutes played this season.
11. Phoenix Suns (11) (11-9)
Devin Booker is back and the Suns are still one of those teams in the Western Conference to keep an eye on. They are sixth in the conference, but they could be dangerous come playoff time. Booker, Chris Paul, Mikal Bridges, and Deandre Ayton could give somebody a run in a seven-game series.
10. Golden State Warriors (10) (11-10)
The Warriors are currently on the outside looking in at the Western Conference playoff picture, but their schedule eases up a bit in the coming weeks. The supporting cast on Golden State is inconsistent, but Stephen Curry is having a bounce-back season after missing most of last year.
9. Indiana Pacers (9) (12-10)
The Pacers are a top-10 team in the NBA this year. Sure, they are only two games over .500, but they have two guys who are legitimate All-Stars in Domantas Sabonis and Malcolm Brogdon. Not to mention, Myles Turner is an early contender to win Defensive Plyer of the Year.
8. Boston Celtics (6) (11-9)
The Celtics had a rough week, but we can’t drop them too far on our rankings here. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are becoming one of the most dynamic duos (on both ends of the floor) in the NBA. Brad Stevens still needs to figure out some of his lineups and rotations, but don’t sleep on Boston.
7. Denver Nuggets (8) (12-8)
Nikola Jokic was named Western Conference Player of the Month for January after averaging 25.6 points, 11.8 rebounds, and 7.3 assists per game. Denver has rebounded after a slow start and they are once again among the elite teams in the West.
6. Milwaukee Bucks (7) (13-8)
The Bucks haven’t received a ton of coverage this year, but they are still one of the best teams in the league. For Milwaukee, this season is all about what they can do in the playoffs.
5. Los Angeles Clippers (2) (13-5)
The Clippers are dropping in our rankings after losing to the Brooklyn Nets. Perhaps this is an unfair fall for LA, but they need to be lower than the Nets.
4. Brooklyn Nets (5) (14-9)
The Nets are an enigma. On Sunday night, they blew a lead to the Washington Wizards of all teams and lost in embarrassing fashion. On Tuesday, they bounced back with a convincing win over the Clippers. It’s clear that this Brooklyn team is going to have off nights here and there, but they are a bonafide championship contender.
3. Utah Jazz (4) (16-5)
The Utah Jazz have the best record in the NBA and are overachieving early in the season. Whether or not they can keep this up over the course of a 72-game season remains to be seen.
2. Philadelphia 76ers (3) (16-6)
The 76ers are the top dogs in the Eastern Conference and deserve to be at No. 2 on our list. In fact, after beating the Lakers last week, they have a strong case for No. 1.
1. Los Angeles Lakers (1) (16-6)
But despite strong pushes from the Jazz and Sixers, it’s going to be tough to unseat the Lakers from the throne. Even with a few slight bumps in the road, the Lakers are still the favorite to win it all this year and we have a hard time dropping them at all.