The NBA playoff picture is taking shape as some teams jockey for position at the top while others try to avoid the play-in tournament.
The Utah Jazz and Phoenix Suns are holding onto the top spots out in the Western Conference while the middle-of-the-pack teams in the Eastern Conference jockey for position.
Here is this week’s edition of the ESNY NBA Power Rankings.
30. Houston Rockets (15-43)
Not much has gone well for the Rockets this season. They traded away the franchise player and they currently own the worst record in the NBA.
29. Minnesota Timberwolves (16-43)
The Timberwolves have more raw talent than every other team in the cellar, but they still can’t win any games. Minnesota seems destined for another top-five pick in the draft.
28. Orlando Magic (18-40)
Orlando sold off most of its core at the trade deadline and their record is suffering for it. Injuries ultimately doomed the Magic this year and forced the front office to trade away Nikola Vucevic, Aaron Gordon, and Evan Fournier.
27. Cleveland Cavaliers (20-37)
Collin Sexton is having a breakout season, averaging 24.3 points per game on solid shooting numbers. Still, the Cavs are cellar-dwellers in the Eastern Conference.
26. Detroit Pistons (18-40)
The Pistons are kind of fun sometimes? They might not win many games, but they play compelling games. They leapfrog the Cavs here for beating them on Monday night.
25. Oklahoma City Thunder (20-38)
The Thunder have a bright future with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and their infinite amount of draft picks. This season was always going to be a rebuilding year where they try and focus on the future over the present.
24. Sacramento Kings (23-35)
Disappointment is an annual tradition for Kings fans. Sacramento has the worst defensive rating in the NBA (117.7).
23. Toronto Raptors (24-34)
The Raptors avoided the all-out tank by holding onto Kyle Lowry at the trade deadline, but that doesn’t mean they are going to make a run at the play-in tournament. This year feels like a wash for the Raptors.
22. Chicago Bulls (24-33)
The Bulls are missing Zach LaVine due to health and safety protocols. That leaves a lot of responsibility on Nikola Vucevic’s plate. Although he is putting up excellent numbers, the Bulls are 6-9 since trading for the two-time All-Star
21. Indiana Pacers (26-31)
The Pacers are riding a three-game losing streak, but the schedule softens up over their next three games (Thunder, Pistons, Magic). However, they are going to be without Myles Turner for the foreseeable future after the center injured his toe.
20.Washington Wizards (24-33)
The Wizards are as hot and cold as any team in the NBA, but the faucet is turned up to scalding hot temperatures right now. Washington has won five in a row and seven of their last eight. They are knocking on the door of the play-in tournament in the Eastern Conference.
19. New Orleans Pelicans (25-33)
The Pelicans are still a year away from really cementing themselves as a playoff team out West. Zion Williamson is flirting with an All-NBA season despite the fact that New Orleans is on the outside looking in when it comes to the play-in tournament.
18. Charlotte Hornets (28-29)
Charlotte is flailing after losing five of their last six games. They are in a good position to make the play-in tournament, but they desperately need LaMelo Ball and Gordon Hayward back to make some noise.
17. San Antonio Spurs (28-28)
These are not your father’s Spurs who could contend for a championship in any given year. However, the Spurs are keeping their heads above water in an uber-competitive Western Conference.
16. Memphis Grizzlies (29-27)
The Grizzlies are in the running for the most excited team in the NBA even if they still need to work on closing games out. They are led by a young star in Ja Morant and they are getting back Jaren Jackson Jr. from injury this week.
15. Miami Heat (30-28)
The Heat are a team that no one is going to want to see in the playoffs—if they get there. Miami is in danger of playing in the play-in tournament.
14. Boston Celtics (31-27)
This might be a bit low for Boston considering they just ripped off six wins before a Monday loss to Chicago, but it’s tough to put too much faith in these Celtics. They have the talent to make a run this year, but things just haven’t clicked.
13. Golden State Warriors (29-29)
Stephen Curry is an absolute flamethrower. He was named Western Conference Player of the Week and is almost single-handedly willing the Warriors into the thick of the Western Conference playoff race.
12. Atlanta Hawks (32-26)
It might be time for the Hawks to take the “interim” tag off of Nate McMillan’s job title. Since the veteran head coach took over for the ousted Lloyd Pierce, Atlanta is 17-6.
11. Dallas Mavericks (30-26)
Although the Mavericks are one of the most maddeningly inconsistent teams in the NBA, it’s impossible to count them out so long as they have Luka Doncic.
10. Portland Trail Blazers (32-25)
This is a blanket statement that applies to almost every team in the NBA, but the Blazers need to get healthy for the playoffs. With Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, and a strong supporting cast, they can shake things up in the Western Conference. But again, they need to get healthy first.
9. New York Knicks (32-27)
The Knicks might be the best story in the NBA this season. Picked to finish last in the league, they are now in fifth place in the Eastern Conference with a chance to grab fourth place with a win on Wednesday.
8. Milwaukee Bucks (35-22)
Don’t sleep on the Bucks, but they have been up and down since the All-Star break. They are sitting in a comfortable position in third place in the Eastern Conference, despite the fact that they have struggled to maintain consistency.
7. Denver Nuggets (37-20)
The Nuggets didn’t waste any time bouncing back from the devastating news that Jamal Murray will miss the rest of the season with an ACL injury. They are 3-0 since Murray went down and 10-2 since Aaron Gordon joined the lineup.
6. Los Angeles Lakers (35-23)
The Lakers have alternated wins and losses in 12 consecutive games. In the meantime, they are waiting for Anthony Davis and LeBron James to get healthy. As long as they are ready to go for the playoffs, the defending champions will be a force.
5. Los Angeles Clippers (41-19)
The Clippers have flown under the radar for most of this season. This isn’t a bad thing for the Clippers after they drew so much attention as the new kids on the block last season. Kawhi Leonard is nursing a sore foot, but that isn’t slowing down Los Angeles. They have won 15 of their last 18.
4. Phoenix Suns (41-16)
Most people expected Phoenix to take a jump after acquiring Chris Paul in the offseason. I don’t think anyone expected them to be a top team in the Western Conference and a legitimate NBA Finals contender.
3. Brooklyn Nets (39-19)
Although Brooklyn has more talent than any team in the league, it’s tough to put them any higher on this list. Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and James Harden are the best trio in the NBA, but they don’t have much time on the floor together. That’s the major concern for the Nets.
2. Philadelphia 76ers (39-18)
Much like the team that is in the top spot, Philly has playoff hurdles to overcome, but they are cruising in the regular season. While the Nets try to get healthy for the playoffs, the Sixers appear poised to lock up the No. 1 seed.
1. Utah Jazz (43-15)
There is no denying the Utah Jazz at this point. Sure, they have a lot to prove once the playoffs arrive, but they are a regular-season juggernaut.
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