After having a week off for the All-Star break, the NBA is back in full swing again. Now, it is going to be a full spring to the finish in the last month of the season before the playoffs. The battle for the Eastern Conference is as tight as ever and a few teams are vying for that top spot. Miami, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Milwaukee all have good chances to steal homecourt. Phoenix still has the separation in the Western Conference, but they are going to have to navigate some major absences. The playoffs are inching closer and it is going to be a fun month ahead.
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30. Houston Rockets (-3)
Houston picked up right where they left off before the All-Star break by losing more games. The Rockets losing streak is now sitting at 11 games, but they did have some close games this week. There were two losses to the Clippers and a close overtime loss to Utah, a game in which Houston played well. Jalen Green has been scoring the basketball well and that is a good sign for the Rockets.
29. Orlando Magic (+1)
The Magic started the week off by getting two wins, but they blew a double-digit lead to the Pacers on Wednesday. The best news for Orlando was that Markelle Fultz made his return to the court and did look impressive after such a long absence. Aside from Fultz, the most impressive players from Orlando this week were Franz Wagner and Wendell Carter Jr, who shot the ball and scored well.
28. Detroit Pistons (+0)
Detroit got a pair of impressive wins over Cleveland and Charlotte this week but did have losses to Boston and Washington. The Pistons have been competitive in most games lately and that has to be a positive sign for this team. Cade Cunningham continues to be impressive and looks like the future of this franchise. Jerami Grant on the other hand has had a tough couple of weeks and has been inefficient in scoring.
27. New York Knicks (+2)
The Knicks move up two spots, but that does not mean that they are playing well. New York has lost six games in a row and has lost 13 of the last 15 games. Kemba Walker has been shut down for the rest of the season and that will go down as one of the worst free agent moves this year. RJ Barrett has been scoring the ball well, but that has been the only source of good news for this team. The Knicks have been one of the most disappointing teams and the season appears to have slipped away for good.
26. Oklahoma City Thunder (+0)
The Thunder had a pretty solid week as a team thanks to Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Oklahoma City split their four games and one of those wins was an impressive win over the Nuggets. While Gilegeous-Alexander was impressive, the bad news for the Thunder is that rookie Josh Giddey looks like he will be out for a bit. The Thunder have overperformed and had a nice season, but don’t be surprised if they shut everyone down for tanking purposes down the stretch.
25. Indiana Pacers (-1)
It was a bit of an uneven week for Indiana. The Pacers got a big win over Boston but lost games to the Magic and Thunder as well. Indiana finally saw Malcolm Brogdon playing well and contributing on offense and the team has missed that. Tyrese Haliburton and Buddy Hield continue to impress and have been great additions to the team, especially Haliburton.
24. Portland Trail Blazers (-5)
Life has been rough for Portland this week with their beat-up squad. Portland lost all three games this week and all of the games were blowouts. To be fair, however, these games were against Phoenix, Golden State, and Denver, three really good teams. Anfernee Simons continues to impress as the main ball handler and Josh Hart has been equally as impressive since coming over from New Orleans. This team is now out of the play-in tournament and it will likely stay that way.
23. Sacramento Kings (+2)
It was a 1-3 week for the Kings, who are starting to play as they did before the Domantas Sabonis trade. The offense has not been a problem for the Kings with Sabonis and De’Aaron Fox, but the defense has been nothing short of horrible. Aside from those two players, it has been hard for any member of the Kings to play consistently well. It looks like this team is officially heading toward another year in the draft lottery.
22. San Antonio Spurs (-2)
The Spurs fall a couple of spots this week and they have their defense to blame for that. While they did win the game, San Antonio did give up 153 points to the Washington Wizards. In their losses to Memphis and Miami, the Spur’s defense was also bad. The Spurs are still within striking distance of the play-in tournament so the defense is going to have to play better.
21. Washington Wizards (+0)
Washington had a 1-2 week and remain a game behind Atlanta for the 10th seed and a spot in the play-in tournament. The defense had a rough week, giving up 157 points in a loss to the Spurs and not looking very good in games against Cleveland and Detroit. Kyle Kuzma continues to be the most impressive player on Washington and is the Wizard’s best offensive weapon.
20. Los Angeles Lakers (-2)
Don’t look now, but the Lakers are only 2.5 games from being outside of the play-in tournament. This team continues to disappoint and it looks like there is no return from this. Los Angeles lost to the Mavericks, Clippers, and Pelicans this week and are sinking further in the standings. This team just looks disinterested in playing basketball right now and even the fans are booing the team. The offseason can’t get here quick enough for the Lakers.
19. Charlotte Hornets (+3)
Charlotte went 2-2 this week and continues to be the ninth seed in the Eastern Conference. The week started off good with wins over the Cavaliers and Raptors, but those wins were followed up with losses to Toronto and Milwaukee. Terry Rozier has been playing great basketball since the All-Star and newly signed Isaiah Thomas has been a nice contributor off of the bench.
18. New Orleans Pelicans (+5)
What a week it was for the Pelicans. New Orleans now sits in the 10th spot in the Western Conference and the team got three wins over some pretty solid teams. The Pelicans beat the Lakers, Suns, and Kings and all were blowout wins. Brandon Ingram and CJ McCollum have fit together perfectly and have become a nice duo on offense.
17. Atlanta Hawks (-1)
The Hawks are still struggling with consistency, even after the All-Star break. After losing a close game to Chicago, Atlanta blew out the Raptors, then proceeded to blow a big lead against the Celtics. This team is without John Collins right now and they miss his contributions on both ends of the floor. Atlanta is still the 10th team in the Eastern Conference, but they could slip further if they can’t play better.
16. Brooklyn Nets (+1)
The Nets move up one spot this week and did have a great upset win over Milwaukee on Saturday. However, Brooklyn lost to Toronto twice and was blown out by the Celtics. The good news for the team is that Kevin Durant is slated to come back soon and that will help the team start winning games. The bad news is that it still looks like Ben Simmons is still a little bit away from making his Brooklyn debut.
15. Toronto Raptors (-2)
While the Raptors scored two big wins over Brooklyn to wrap their week up, they could not have started the week off any worse than they did. It started with a humiliating loss to the Hornets and then they followed that up with a blowout loss to the Hawks. Toronto is clearly one of the more hot and cold teams in the league and that is what can make them so intriguing come playoff time. It was a great week for rookie Scottie Barnes, who is getting better with each game.
14. Cleveland Cavaliers (-3)
A rough week for the Cavaliers, going 1-3 in their games this week and Cleveland is starting to fall down the standings. The lone win this week came against the Wizards, while the losses came against the Pistons, Timberwolves, and the Hornets. The good news for the Cavaliers is that All-Star point guard Darius Garland returned on Wednesday and looked like his usual self with a 33 point game. Cleveland is in danger of slipping to the play-in tournament, as they are only 1.5 games back of the seventh spot.
13. Los Angeles Clippers (+2)
The Clippers have a four-game winning streak going and three of those wins have come in the week after the All-Star break. They scored a nice win over their rivals, the Lakers, then got two wins over the Rockets. The two Clippers that stood out this week were Reggie Jackson and Ivica Zubac. Jackson was the best offensive player for Los Angeles and Zubac was a rebounding and shot-blocking machine this week.
12. Dallas Mavericks (+0)
It was a solid week for Dallas, scoring wins over the Lakers and Warriors and losing a game to Utah. A good sign for Dallas is that it appears that Spencer Dinwiddie looks to be fitting in with the team just nicely. He has become the secondary scorer for the team and is shooting the ball well since being acquired from the Wizards. Luka Doncic had another brilliant week and is playing phenomenal basketball.
11. Minnesota Timberwolves (+3)
While Minnesota did suffer a loss to Philadelphia, this team scored wins over Memphis, Cleveland, and Golden State to cap a 3-1 record. While it was a tough week individually for young star Anthony Edwards, Minnesota made up for it by having D’Angelo Russell and Karl-Anthony Towns having outstanding weeks. As good as this team is playing, they still have some ground to make up, as they are 2.5 games out of the sixth spot in the Western Conference.
10. Golden State Warriors (-4)
Golden State still can’t get back to playing at the top level that they were at the beginning of the season. The Warriors blew a big lead against the Mavericks and then followed that up with a loss to Minnesota. This team is looking like it misses Draymond Green in a big way, as they have not played well while Green has missed time with an injury. It should also be noted that Klay Thompson was unable to play in two of the Warriors games this week. This team can still win the championship when healthy, but they are not healthy at the moment.
9. Denver Nuggets (-2)
It was not a bad week for the Nuggets, but a loss to the Thunder will warrant a move down in the top ten. Denver did manage to scrape together three wins this week, beating Portland and then Sacramento twice. Will Barton and Nikola Jokic both struggled shooting the ball this week, but it did not seem to matter, as Denver went 3-1. The great news could be on the way for the Nuggets, as it might not be long before Michael Porter Jr and Jamal Murray return.
8. Chicago Bulls (-4)
Chicago could only manage a 1-2 week and it easily could have been 0-3 if it were not for DeMar DeRozan‘s brilliance against Atlanta. The losses came to Miami and Memphis and a lot of the blame for the losses can be put on the offense. Outside of DeRozan, nobody in Chicago is playing well on offense right now and that is why the team is struggling. This team is still second in the Eastern Conference but has hit a rough patch.
7. Utah Jazz (+3)
Utah is on a three-game winning streak currently and overall has won nine of their last 10. It is not hard to see why the Jazz is starting to look like contenders again. Donovan Mitchell has been incredible during this 10-game stretch and Rudy Gobert has been sound on both ends of the floor. At times, this looks like potentially the best team in the NBA and they are starting to hit their stride a month away from the playoffs.
6. Boston Celtics (-1)
Boston has been playing like one of the best teams in the NBA and now only sit 4.5 games out of first place in the Eastern Conference. That is still a bit of a large climb, but the way that Boston is playing, nothing is impossible. The worst news that Boston got this week is that Jaylen Brown was hurt early in the win against Atlanta on Tuesday, but it does not appear to be long-term. The Celtics have won 12 of their last 14 and continue to roll after the All-Star break.
5. Milwaukee Bucks (+2)
While the Bucks did have a confusing loss to Brooklyn on Saturday night, they were able to get wins over the Heat and the Hornets to make up for it. It was another great week for Giannis Antetokounmpo, who is putting together another MVP worth campaign. Khris Middleton, Jrue Holiday, and Bobby Portis were also fantastic this week.
4. Miami Heat (-1)
The only loss for Miami this week came at the buzzer to Milwaukee, but the Heat still remains at the top of the Eastern Conference. The Heat won three games this week against the Knicks, Spurs, and Bulls and have still looked like one of the favorites for the championship. With Kyle Lowry missing two games this week, it was Tyler Herro and Bam Adebayo that were picking up the slack for Miami.
3. Memphis Grizzlies (-1)
Memphis falls a spot in this week’s rankings, but not really because of anything that they did. Ja Morant continued to be must-see TV this week, dropping 52 points in a game against San Antonio and having a 46 point game in a win against the Bulls. Memphis has won 11 of their last 14 and Morant continues to make his case that he should be taken more seriously as an MVP candidate this season.
2. Philadelphia 76ers (+7)
So far, so good. Philadelphia is the biggest riser in this week’s rankings because of the way that the team is now playing with James Harden. Harden has rediscovered himself yet again and the 76ers look like one of, if not the best teams in the NBA. Harden and Joel Embiid appears to have established great chemistry already and look like a formidable duo. The rest of the Eastern Conference has been put on notice this week.
1. Phoenix Suns (+0)
They barely held on this week, but Phoenix still sits atop of the power rankings. The worrisome part for the Suns is that Chris Paul is going to be missing significant time. Now, Devin Booker is in the health and safety protocols and Phoenix is hitting their first bit of adversity in quite some time. Cameron Payne and Cameron Johnson were able to step up this week in their absence and Phoenix still owns the best record in the NBA.
Follow Jackson Caudell on Twitter @jacksoncaudell
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