Add in the fact that the top NBA Utah Jazz are showing signs of fatigue midway through the season, and the race for first place in the West is wide open.
In the Eastern Conference, Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks have rediscovered the formula for winning the regular season. Milwaukee is just two games behind the Philadelphia 76ers at the top of the East after six consecutive wins, but the Bucks are not the biggest story in the conference right now.
The Atlanta Hawks have won eight consecutive games, including Saturday’s victory over the Lakers in a game that saw LeBron get off to an early start. Can Trey Young & Co. hold on to fourth place?
That’s how our judges see the 30 teams right now.
Message: During the regular season, our panel (Tim Bontemps, Nick Friedell, Andrew Lopez, Tim McMahon, Dave McMahon, Eric Woodyard, Royce Young and ESPN’s Om Youngmisuk) evaluates all 30 teams from top to bottom to determine which teams are currently playing the best basketball and which teams are most likely to compete for the title.
Previous reviews: Week 1, week 2, week 3, week 4, week 5, week 6, week 7, week 8, week 9, week 10, week 11, week 12, week 13.
1. Philadelphia 76ers
2020-21 Record: 30-13
Previous ranking: 4
Philadelphia retained first place in the Eastern Conference last week, even without Joel Embiid, and stayed ahead of the Nets with three wins. President of basketball operations Daryl Morey is evaluating how to improve his team’s chances of getting out of the East. — Bontemps
This week: @GSW, @LAL, @LAC
2. Utah Jazz
2020-21 Record: 30-11
Previous Ranking: 1
Since coming to Utah, the Jazz are 24-5, 6-6 and rank 21st in defensive efficiency (113.9 points per 100 possessions) in that span. We have to understand that we haven’t reached Rudy Gobert said Thursday after a loss against the Wizards. We get upset when people make fun of and disrespect us on TV. We have to respect each other. We’re not champions. We’re not a team that can just pass the ball around in the playoffs. We have to stay hungry. — McMahon.
This week: @CHI, BRK, MEM
3. Brooklyn Nets
2020-21 Record: 29-14Previous ranking: 2
Blake Griffin made his debut against the Wizards on Sunday, and he did the most important thing: He took the plunge. It’s like he hasn’t done his fetish thing since 2019, and after assuring ESPN’s Malika Andrews last week that he could definitely still do it, the former Lob City mayor dropped one, and did so to score his first points on the network. He played 15 minutes, made two shots, scored two points and grabbed two boards. His role will increase as he acclimates, but the Nets don’t need much from Griffin. If he can step up even a little, he’s a big X-factor coming off the bench. — Young
This week: @POR, @UTA, @DET
4. Phoenix Suns
2020-21 Record: 28-13
Previous Assessment : 3
In Sunday’s game against the Lakers, Suns point guard Chris Paul joined the exclusive club. With his ninth assist, Paul became the sixth player in NBA history to reach the 10,000 assists mark in his career, alongside John Stockton (15,806), Jason Kidd (12,091), Steve Nash (10,335), Mark Jackson (10,334) and Magic Johnson (10,141). With his current average, Paul will pass Johnson later in the season. — Lopez.
This week: @MIA, @ORL, @TOR, @CHA
5. Milwaukee Bucks
2020-21 Record: 27-14Previous ranking: 7
Sunday was a well-deserved rest day for Milwaukee. After Saturday’s win over San Antonio, the Bucks have won six consecutive games and 11 of their last 12 and are looking to rebound in the Eastern Conference. With their recent success, the story around this team is whether they will make the playoffs, but so far reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo is fine. I like us to be under pressure, he said after the game against Spurs. — Woodyard.
This week: IND, FOREST, NYUK
6. LA Clippers
2020-21 Record: 27-16
Previous ranking: 6
Head coach Ty Liu put Marcus Morris Sr. in the starting five and Nicolas Batum came off the bench to allow the Clippers to play more consistently, and they have held their last three opponents to an average of 100.6 points. The Clippers need help at the point guard position, especially with Patrick Beverley out (knee). So it remains to be seen if they can do anything with their limited chips at the deadline. However, the Clippers play 11 of 13 games at home, giving Lue’s team more practice time pending the return of injured starters Serge Ibaka (back) and Beverly. -Youngomisuk
This week: ATL, @SAS, PHI
7. Los Angeles Lakers
2020-21 Record: 28-15Previous ranking: 5
Sunday against the Suns, the defending champion started Markieff Morris, Wesley Matthews, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Kyle Kuzma and Dennis Schroeder and ended the weekend with two defeats in a row. These are tough times for the Lakers: LeBron James is out indefinitely with a sprained upper ankle, Anthony Davis (calf strain and tendinitis) will need to rest for at least another week, and Mark Gasol is still working on his return after missing a few weeks due to health and safety protocols. These challenges strengthen you during the season….. and help you get to the playoffs, said head coach Frank Vogel. — McManaman.
This week: @NOP, PHI, CLE, ORL
8. Denver Nuggets
2020-21 Record: 25-17
Previous ranking: 8
MVP Nikola Jokic’s campaign remains strong, especially with Joel Embiid and LeBron James out with injuries. The Nuggets won three in a row before losing to New Orleans, despite another triple-double from Jokic. Before Michael Malone limited the Pelicans to 108 points, his offense averaged 127 points during the series. Michael Porter Jr. continues to have the hot hand, shooting 50% or better in 12 of his last 14 games. Denver, meanwhile, has lost three games in a row this week and could use an injured Monte Morris on the bench. -Youngomisuk
This week: @ORL, @TOR, @NOP, ATL
9. Portland Trail Blazers
2020-21 Record: 25-17
Previous ranking: 9
With the return of C.J. McCollum last week, the Blazers are about to be back to full strength. However, it’s a process to get him back, with reduced minutes and a return to game management. But he showed everything the Blazers need on Friday, scoring 32 points against the Mavs. Damian Lillard has loaded up so much so far that there are concerns about his late-season fatigue, especially with the schedule getting tighter. With McCollum and perhaps some of the more developed role players, that burden will be lifted. — Young
This week: BRK, @MIA, @ORL, @TOR….
10. Dallas Mavericks
2020-21 Record: 22-19Previous ranking: 10
Luka Doncic has scored 117 points in his last three games, with 59.5% from the field and 54.5% from 3-point range. This is the second-largest margin of victory in franchise history, after just 118 points in Doncic’s three games last month. When you feel like that, everything is great, said Doncic, who scored 37 points in three quarters (and made his first eight three-point attempts) in Sunday’s win over Portland. — McMahon.
This week: @MIN, IND, @NOP
11. Miami Heat
2020-21 Record: 22-21Previous ranking : 11
The Heat won 11 of 12 games before losing three in a row at the end of the week. The surprise comes from the fact that the newly formed group was eliminated on the bubble last season for the playoffs in a home game against the Pacers. Miami needs Tyler Herro to get back on track – he’s hit just 16-for-55 (29%) in his last four games. — Friedell.
This week: FO, POR, @CHA.
12. San Antonio Spurs
2020-21 Record: 22-17Previous: 13
San Antonio’s Keldon Johnson did well against the Cavaliers on Thursday. Johnson finished with 23 points and 21 rebounds – 11 of which were offensive – in the Spurs’ win. Johnson became the first Spurs since Tim Duncan in 2013 to record a game-high 20 points and 20 rebounds. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Johnson became the first player to grab 11 offensive rebounds in a game at 6-foot-6 or lower since Adrian Dantley did so at 6. April 1985 for the Jazz did. — Lopez.
This week: TEA, VARNISH, CHI.
13. Atlanta Hawks
2020-21 Record: 22-20Previous ranking: 17
Atlanta continued its winning streak under new interim coach Nate McMillan on Saturday with an eighth consecutive win over the Lakers. McMillan’s eight wins are the most for an interim coach since he took over the team, since Lawrence Frank started 13-0 for the New Jersey Nets in the 2003-04 season. The Hawks are working on that in a number of ways as well, including strengthening their defense. Since McMillan’s death on the 2nd. March took over, as the Hawks are second in the league in scoring defense with 105.2 points. — Lopez.
This week: @LAC, @SAC, @GSW, @DEN
14. Boston Celtics
2020-21 Record: 21-21
Previous ranking: 12
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– Celtics v Bucks, 7:30 p.m. on ESPN
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Friday, March 26.
– Celtics v Bucks, 7:30 p.m. on ESPN
– Hawks v Warriors, 10 p.m. on ESPN
Still in the East
After ugly losses in Cleveland and Sacramento, Boston beat Orlando on Sunday. The Celtics now embark on a four-game road trip, including two primetime games in Milwaukee on Wednesday and Friday, as the NBA trade deadline approaches. Everyone in Boston is waiting to see if Danny Ainge will use the $28 million exception to improve the roster. — Bontemps
This week: @MEM, @MIL, @OKC
15. Golden State Warriors
2020-21 Record: 22-21Previous ranking : 14
2-2 weeks is not bad considering all the injuries and COVID-19 problems the Warriors have. Stephen Curry missed two games with a bruised tailbone. James Wiseman, Eric Paschall and Kevon Looney all missed time due to health and safety protocols. Good news: Sophomore guard Jordan Poole continues to play well and earns more minutes almost every time he’s on the field. Since his return from the G-League bubble at 1. In March, Poole is averaging 20.9 points per game. — Friedell.
This week: PHI, @SAC, ATL.
16. New York Knicks
2020-21 Record: 21-22Previous ranking : 15
All four of the Knicks’ games this week were decided by fewer than five points, including a one-point win over Orlando on Friday and a one-point loss against Philadelphia on Sunday. In a tough rematch, every shot counts for a win, making the two games against Washington this week important as New York tries to stay out of tight playoff races in the East. — Bontemps
This week: WHAT?!
17. Charlotte Hornets
2020-21 Record: 20-21
Previous Classification : 16
With LaMelo expected to miss the rest of the season with a broken right wrist, the Hornets are facing the kind of injury that could derail the team’s season. Not only did he finish first in the Rookie of the Year election, but he broke through in his game for the first time in years and made the Hornets a national contender. If Ball is not there, Terry Rozier and Gordon Hayward will be even more free offensively. The Hornets’ problem, as it has been all year, is that their defense remains porous. Prior to Monday’s game against the Spurs, they had allowed at least 116 points in four consecutive games. — Friedell.
This week: @SAS, @HOU, MIA, PHX
18. Indiana Pacers
2020-21 Record: 19-22
Previous Rating: 18
Prior to the overtime victory over Miami, Indiana had lost four of its last five games and eight of its last 10 games and is also looking for answers with the signing of Caris LeVert. Indiana dropped to ninth place in the Eastern Conference – according to ESPN’s Basketball Power Index, the team had a 54.4 percent chance of making the playoffs on Sunday. — Woodyard.
This week: @MIL, DET, @DAL
19. Memphis Grizzlies
2020-21 Record: 19-20
Previous ranking: 19
Jah Morant’s jump shot is an obvious weakness in the point guard’s development. He is shooting just 22.9 percent from 3-point range this season, which is by far the lowest percentage of the 182 players with at least 100 attempts. This causes defenders to constantly go under screens when Morant goes on the pick-and-roll, forcing them to shoot and preventing them from reaping the benefits of his rare explosiveness. According to NBA.com/stats, Morant is averaging 0.82 points per possession as a pick-and-roll player, which is 36th among 41 players with at least 200 such ball possessions. — McMahon.
This week: FOREST, @OKC, @UTA….
20. Chicago Bulls
2020-21 Record: 19-22
Previous Rating: 22
All-star guard Zach LaVine has scored 30 points in 19 games this season, good for third in the NBA behind Bradley Bela and Damian Lillard. However, the Bulls continue to adjust their lineups and rotations to find sustainable success, for example. B. Using Thomas Satoransky and Thaddeus Young as starters instead of Kobe White and Wendell Carter Jr.
This week: UTA, CLE, @SAS
21. New Orleans Pelicans
2020-21 Record: 18-24Prior ranking: 21
It was another up and down week for the Pelicans. The Pelicans gave the Trail Blazers a 17-point lead in the final six minutes on Tuesday before losing an eight-point game at Portland two days later. They responded with a 113-108 victory over Denver on Sunday without starting guard Lonzo Ball (right hip sprain). Against the Nuggets, Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson each scored 30 points. They did so for the third time this season in the same game, which is first in the league among all duos, according to ESPN Stats & Information. — Lopez.
This week: LAL, DEN, DAL
22. Toronto Raptors
2020-21 Record: 17-25Previous ranking: 20
The Raptors have lost eight consecutive games, including Sunday against the Cavaliers, after losing to Utah in the final two minutes on Friday. After falling to 11th in the East, we’ll see if Toronto will say goodbye to Kyle Lowry and Norman Powell by Thursday’s trade deadline. — Bontemps
This week: @HOU, DEN, PHO, POR
23. Oklahoma City Thunder
2020-21 Record: 18-24Prior ranking: 23
Sunday’s game against the Rockets had something of an unstoppable force against an irresistible object, but not in a good way. The Rockets have lost 19 games. The Thunder used four starters and became the second-oldest team in NBA history. Houston was still 4.5 point favorites to kickoff, but if OKC has taught us anything this season, it’s that they can start with two members of their PR team and likely stay competitive. On Sunday, Lou Dort scored 23 points and provided the decisive block. There’s something about the Thunder’s ability to play within the system and maximize their lineup that evokes an extremely Spurian feel. — Young
This week: @MIN, MEM, BOS
24. Sacramento Kings
2020-21 Record: 17-25Previous ranking: 25
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More than halfway through the season, rookie Tyrese Haliburton says Sacramento is still finding itself. I don’t know if we’ve found our identity yet, Haliburton told reporters after Saturday’s loss in Philadelphia. I’m not sure we’ve found exactly what makes us play basketball the best. The quote fits the week the Kings had: 2-2 in the middle of their six-game road trip and the news that Marvin Bagley III won’t need surgery on his broken left arm, but will be out for at least another month. Not the best, not the worst. — McManaman.
This week: @CLE, ATL, GSW, CLE
25. Washington Wizards
2020-21 Record: 15-26
Previous ranking: 24
The Wizards are headed in the wrong direction after showing they can turn their season around. After winning seven of eight games in February, Washington has lost eight of its last 10. And it doesn’t get any easier: The Wizards’ loss at Brooklyn on Sunday marked the beginning of a 14-game series, including 10 on the road. They are five games behind in eighth place and will have to do without Davis Bertans for the next few weeks due to injury. -Youngomisuk
This week: @NYK, @NYK, DET
26. Cleveland Cavaliers
2020-21 Record: 16-26
Previous Rating: 26
What you liked about the Cavs’ win over the Raptors Sunday was that Collin Sexton (36 points, 4 assists, 2 steals) and Darius Garland (15 points, 6 assists, 5 rebounds) filled in the box score. What didn’t you like about Cleveland’s young performance in the backcourt? The duo accounted for 12 of the Cavs’ 26 turnovers, an insane number that kept the Raptors within reach despite Cleveland’s 17-for-33 shooting from long range (51.5%). — McManaman.
This week: BAG, @CHI, @LAL, @SAC
27. Orlando Magic
2020-21 Record: 14-28
Previous ranking: 27
Let’s start with the good news. The Magic pulled off a surprising victory over the Nets on Friday. Aaron Gordon scored 38 points in 36 minutes to end a nine-game losing streak. Bad news: The Magic are now 14-28, just ahead of the Pistons in the East. The biggest question for this team this season might be what the front office plans to do before Thursday’s trade deadline. — Friedell.
This week: DEN, PHX, POR, @LAL
28. Detroit Pistons
2020-21 Record: 12-30Prior ranking: 28
One of the highlights of the week for the Pistons was inflicting their 19th consecutive defeat on the Rockets on Friday night. For a team in Motown that is rebuilding, the Pistons should celebrate all their wins and use them as opportunities to grow. Detroit also beat Toronto on Wednesday with 28 points and 12 rebounds from rookie forward Saddique Bay. — Woodyard.
This week: @IND, BRK, @WAS
29. Minnesota Timber Wolves
2020-21 Record: 10-32
Previous ranking : 30
Before the game, it looked like there were no real first round prospects and the draw was generally weak. But Anthony Edwards is interested in all the top players. His 42 points against the Suns were the exclamation point of a breakthrough month: Ant-Man averaged 26.1 points per game in March, setting and breaking new career records almost overnight. — Young
This week: ALL RIGHT, FELLAS, HO, HO.
30. Houston Rockets
2020-21 Record: 11-30Prior ranking: 29
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Rockets now have an unfortunate NBA record: the longest losing streak by a team that started with a 500+ point streak. Houston has lost 20 consecutive games since an 11-10 start. Thursday’s trade deadline will focus on Victor Oladipo, whose postseason efficiency (25.0 points and 5.6 assists per game, 46.4 percent from the floor) could increase his trade value. — McMahon.
This week: TOR, CHA, @MIN
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