The NBA regular season is winding down as teams jockey for playoff positioning and the Brooklyn Nets are the favorite to win it all.
Kevin Durant’s smooth return from a thigh contusion solidifies the Brooklyn Nets as the team to beat in 2021. Despite their lack of continuity, they simply have an overwhelming amount of talent on their roster.
Here is this week’s edition of the ESNY NBA Power Rankings.
30. Houston Rockets (Record: 15-47, Previous Ranking: 30)
What is there to say about the Rockets at this point in the season? They are entering a major rebuilding period, but having a chance at landing Cade Cunningham in this summer’s draft would be a nice consolation prize.
29. Orlando Magic (18-43, 28)
Speaking of rebuilding, the Magic sold off most of their big names at the trade deadline. It has been a steady decline in Orlando since then. Like Houston, Orlando is hoping to land a top pick to help rejuvenate the franchise.
28. Minnesota Timberwolves (19-44, 29)
Congratulations to the Minnesota Timberwolves for their best ranking of the season on ESNY. It’s worth noting that the T-Wolves are 9-6 when Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell play. They will probably run it back with this same roster hoping that everything works out.
27. Detroit Pistons (19-43, 26)
It’s easy to forget about the Pistons, but they tend to strike when we least expect it. They beat the brakes off of a shorthanded Atlanta Hawks squad on Monday night. Almost half of their wins have come against teams slated to make at least the play-in tournament.
26. Cleveland Cavaliers (21-40, 27)
Kevin Love’s antics are taking center stage for the Cavaliers this week, but don’t let that distract you from the fact that the Cavs have lost eight of their last 10.
25. Oklahoma City Thunder (21-41, 25)
The Thunder might not be at the bottom of our list, but they are tanking in a major way. Oklahoma City has a treasure chest of draft picks and they are looking to continue rebuilding through the draft.
24. Sacramento Kings (25-36, 24)
The Kings are on pace to miss the playoffs for the 15th consecutive season. They are five games back of the 10th seed in the Western Conference and need a miracle to qualify for the play-in tournament.
23. Chicago Bulls (26-35, 22)
Zach LaVine’s health and safety protocols absence couldn’t have come at a worse time for Chicago. Nikola Vucevic is doing an admirable job trying to keep the Bulls afloat in the race for the play-in tournament, but they are in trouble now.
22. Toronto Raptors (26-36, 23)
The Raptors have the pedigree and championship experience to make some noise in the Eastern Conference, but with each passing game, it feels like this isn’t their year. Although they have won six of their last 10, it’s going to be tough to catch the streaking Wizards.
21. Indiana Pacers (29-32, 21)
The Pacers entered the season with high expectations, but they have failed to live up to those lofty standards. Injuries have played a part, but Indiana looks like they will need to win two play-in games just to qualify for the eighth seed in the East.
20. New Orleans Pelicans (27-34, 19)
The Pelicans are very close to being a force in the Western Conference, but they aren’t quite there yet. Zion Williamson is a bonafide superstar who they can build around going forward.
19. Washington Wizards (27-34, 20)
The Wizards are one of the hottest teams in the NBA and they are making a strong run into the Eastern Conference play-in tournament. Bradley Beal has scored 30 points in eight of his last nine games. The only time he didn’t, he was held to 29 points.
18. Charlotte Hornets (30-31, 18)
The Hornets are another team that has been slowed down by injuries. Losing LaMelo Ball and Gordon Hayward took some wind out of Charlotte’s sails, but they still have a chance at finishing as high as the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference.
17. Boston Celtics (32-20, 14)
The Celtics are one of the biggest disappointments of the 2020-21 season by far. After making the Eastern Conference Finals in 2020, Boston doesn’t even seem like a lock to make the playoffs. They are flirting with the play-in tournament.
16. Portland Trail Blazers (33-28, 10)
No team is falling as fast as the Trail Blazers at the moment. They have lost seven of their last 10 games and their defense has been atrocious as of late. They rank 29th in the NBA in defensive rating this season.
15. Memphis Grizzlies (31-29, 16)
The Grizzlies are on a collision course for the play-in tournament again. Ja Morant is one of the most electric young players in the league and Jaren Jackson Jr. has looked decent since making his season debut.
14. Miami Heat (32-30, 15)
The Heat have not looked like a championship contender this season, but we all know what they are capable of in a seven-game series. Miami will need to finish the year strong to position themselves for another deep run into the playoffs.
13. San Antonio Spurs (31-29, 17)
Don’t look now but the San Antonio Spurs are going to be a tough out in the play-in tournament. Dejounte Murray and DeMar DeRozan have been carrying the scoring load for the Spurs lately.
12. Golden State Warriors (31-31, 13)
The Warriors are 10th in the Western Conference, but we are still giving them a bump above the other play-in teams. The reason for that bump? Stephen Curry. The two-time MVP gives the Warriors a significant advantage over any team they will meet in the play-in.
11. Atlanta Hawks (34-28, 12)
These upcoming games without Trae Young (ankle) will tell us a lot about the Hawks. They are tied with the Knicks for fourth place in the Eastern Conference, but this young team still has much to prove.
10. Dallas Mavericks (34-27, 11)
The Mavericks have a problem with playing down to their competition, but they always seem to get up for the big games. Dallas has been vocal about wanting to avoid the play-in tournament and it looks like they are going to be able to do that, barring a late-season slump.
9. New York Knicks (34-28, 9)
Simply put, the Knicks are the best story in the NBA this season. Plenty of media pundits and fans had the Knicks pegged to finish last in the NBA. They are on the verge of having home-court advantage in the first round. What a turnaround in New York.
8. Milwaukee Bucks (38-23, 8)
The Bucks are flying under the radar as far as championship contenders go. Philly and Brooklyn are the top teams in the East, but Milwaukee is always going to be dangerous with Giannis Antetokounmpo leading the charge.
7. Denver Nuggets (40-21, 7)
Nikola Jokic has done enough to win the MVP. He has been a consistent force all year long and now the Nuggets are starting to find their rhythm as they climb the Western Conference standings.
6. Los Angeles Lakers (36-25, 6)
The Lakers’ record might not look like that of a top-six team in the NBA, but don’t forget that they have been without LeBron James and Anthony Davis for much of the second half. As long as James and Davis are healthy, the Lakers are going to be fine.
5. Los Angeles Clippers (43-20, 5)
The Clippers have nothing left to prove in the regular season. They have shown that they can coast to a top seed during the regular season, but they will need to prove themselves in the playoffs after blowing a 3-1 lead to the Nuggets in the bubble.
4. Philadelphia 76ers (40-21, 2)
The 76ers are a top contender in the Eastern Conference, but they are falling a bit on our rankings. Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons have dominated the regular season, but it’s still unclear if their style can lead to a championship.
3. Phoenix Suns (43-18, 4)
Chris Paul has cemented the Suns as a legitimate championship contender. They have two bonafide closers in Paul and Booker. Not to mention, those two are surrounded by a strong supporting cast that includes Mikal Bridges, Deandre Ayton, and Cameron Johnson.
2. Utah Jazz (44-17, 1)
The Jazz have the best record in the NBA and they were the first team in the league to clinch a spot in the playoffs. But again, regular-season success only means so much. The Jazz are starting to turn their attention to an NBA Finals run.
1. Brooklyn Nets (42-20, 3)
Kevin Durant missed three games with a thigh contusion, but came back and didn’t miss a beat. He dropped 33 points in 28 minutes in his first game back. The Nets have an absurd amount of talent when healthy and they deserve to be the favorite to win it all this season.
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