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NBA Power Rankings – Movement in the Middle

3 minute read

There wasn’t much change in the top 10 this week. However, there were many risers and fallers in the 10-20 range. Risers included the Lakers, Wolves and Thunder, while the fallers comprised of the Grizzlies, Clippers and Raptors.

Picture: Ryan
Picture: Ryan

Milwaukee Bucks 47-18

Last week: 1st

Milwaukee remains the in-form team across the NBA, and thus retain their top spot in this week's power rankings. The Bucks had their 16-game winning streak snapped this week by the Sixers in a game where Milwaukee lead by 18 points late in the third quarter. Alas, with the Celtics hitting a rough stretch, that loss to the Sixers didn't matter as much. Over the last 15 games, which is a good sample of the Bucks' winning stretch, they rank first in defensive rating and ninth in offensive rating. Also, With Khris Middleton playing 30 minutes for the first time this season on Wednesday, Milwaukee now becomes even scarier.

Denver Nuggets 46-20

Last week: 3rd

The Nuggets ended their week with somewhat of a dampener in an uninspiring loss to the Bulls. Even so, Denver was playing formidable basketball prior to that game, winning five straight. The Nuggets starting five has played with excellent chemistry all season long. The line-up of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Aaron Gordon, Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr, in just 16.7 minutes per game, scores 44.7 (!) points and dishes out 12.6 assists while shooting 55 per cent from the field and 43 per cent from three. Now, that line-up is going to play greater minutes in the playoffs, so extrapolating that data out is a scary proposition for opposing teams.

Boston Celtics 46-21

Last week: 2nd

Surprisingly, Boston was among this week's worst performers, going 1-3. The Celtics gave up a 28-point lead to fall to the Brooklyn Nets in what was undoubtedly their most embarrassing loss of the season. Following that, Boston lost its next two games to New York and Cleveland, before a "get right" win over Portland on Thursday. Granted, it is a tiny sample size, but over the last four games, the Celtics rank 25th in offensive rating, and 14th in assist percentage. Although awfully talented, this is a team that can get bogged down dribbling the basketball from time to time.

Philadelphia 76ers 43-22

Last week: 4th

Winners of four of their last five games, Philadelphia are starting to sneak up on Boston for the second seed in the East. The 76ers had what looked to be a season-defining win against the Bucks on Sunday; James Harden dropped 38 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds, while Joel Embiid had 31 points, 10 assists and six rebounds. Harden and Embiid feature in the Sixers' top four two-man line-ups this season; this means that, when either or both of those players are on the court, really positve things happen for the Sixers. For Harden in particular, this was not necessarily the case last season.

Cleveland Cavaliers 42-26

Last week: 7th

The Cavaliers pitched a shutout this week, winning all three of their games, two of which were against Boston and Miami. Donovan Mitchell is averaging a ridiculous 34 points, six assists and four rebounds in the month of March. Mitchell is also playing 38 minutes per game, and willing his squad over the line on some of these games.

Sacramento Kings 38-26

Last week: 6th

The vibes are immaculate right now in Sac Town, who have won nine of their last twelve games. Having said that, the same defensive issues are still ever-present with these guys. They score a lot of points, but give up equally as much. The Kings are truly a wildcard come playoff time… will they make a conference finals run, given they are now second in the West? Or, will their high-scoring formula break down in a slower style of game? Should be interesting.

New York Knicks 39-28

Last week: 8th

New York was the hottest team in the league, having won nine straight games, before their puzzling loss to Charlotte on Wednesday. Notwithstanding the Hornets defeat, New York has found the type of form that will have teams afraid to play them in the playoffs. Over the previous fortnight, the Knicks rank fifth in offence and 10th in defence. They have found a nine-man rotation that is just rock solid in all areas. Finally, how about Immanuel Quickley? The budding young star dropped a ridiculous 38 points in 55 (!) minutes against the Celtics in a double overtime victory.

Brooklyn Nets 37-28

Last week: 10th

After what was looking like a slide, Brooklyn has recovered to win three straight games this week. Most impressive in this stretch was a 28-point comeback to stun the Boston Celtics on their home court. Impressively, the Nets have continued to put the ball in Mikal Bridges' hands and see what he can do in a primary role. Of the Nets' players playing extended minutes, Bridges leads the team in usage at 25.6 per cent.

Memphis Grizzlies 38-26

Last week: 5th

Boy, oh boy… there is a lot to discuss with Memphis. Clearly, Ja Morant's off-court behaviour is disappointing. Morant's actions mean that he will be away from the team for an unknown amount of time. The Grizzlies have now lost three straight games, and not having their star player will obviously affect them on the court. Naturally, Memphis has looked to guys like Desmond Bane and Dillon Brooks to pick up the slack, but even they have been hit and miss. This is a team that has always relied on its depth. They will need it - now more than ever.

Phoenix Suns 37-29

Last week: 9th

Phoenix won all three of their games this week, two of which were blowouts, to make their record 4-0 with Kevin Durant on the team (although Durant sat out their final game after rolling his ankle in warmups). Obviously getting Kevin Durant significantly improves a team's offence, and that has shown through; the Suns have jumped up to fourth league-wide on that end since he's been playing. Additionally, Phoenix's defence, which was already great, has gotten even better.

Miami Heat 35-32

Last week: 12th

Miami went even this week at 2-2, a better result than they had been having previously. The Heat lost their first game to the Knicks by a measly two points, then won consecutive games against the Hawks, before dropping their last game to the Cavs by four points. Evidently, Miami is competing at a high level. However, late-game offence can be hard to generate for these guys, who rank 25th in fourth quarter offensive rating.

Golden State Warriors 34-32

Last week: 11th

Golden State continue to tread water, going 2-2 this week. The Warriors were able to win their first two games over the Clippers and Pelicans without Steph Curry. Then, Curry returned from injury against the Lakers, and wasn't at his best. Curry was much better in their last game of the week against the Thunder, but the rest of the team struggled and the Warriors lost. Golden State is still missing Andrew Wiggins, who is out for personal reasons. This team desperately needs the physicality that Wiggins brings on both ends of the court to succeed at an elevated level.

Minnesota Timberwolves 34-33

Last week: 16th

Excluding their final game against Philly, Minnesota had a solid week, beating the Lakers and Kings in their other games. Anthony Edwards has remained consistently awesome, and Rudy Gobert has continued to play much better. Since March began, Gobert's plus/minus stats have jumped from +0.2 to +8.5, and his rebounds have increased from 10 to 14. Currently a game back from the Warriors, the Wolves will need to run through the tape if they are to avoid the play-in tournament.

Dallas Mavericks 34-33

Last week: 14th

Dallas' form continued to oscillate this week, beating the Sixers, losing to the Suns, and defeating the Jazz. The Mavs' game against Philly was the prime example of what they can do when they are firing on all cylinders. Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving were literally taking turns attacking the 76er defence to combine for 82 points. Yes, Dallas is going to be an awfully bad defensive team… but finding chemistry between their two stars will make this a scary team to face in the playoffs.

LA Clippers 35-33

Last week: 13th

The LA Clippers snapped their losing streak to five games this week, before snapping it against the Grizzlies. Now that the sample size is somewhat useful, the stats tell a very interesting story about how the Clippers' new acquisitions have impacted their team. Offensively, LA ranks 24th on the season, but 14th since the all-star break. Defensively, they rank 18th on the season, but have dropped to 26th since the break. So, the offence has improved but the defence has gotten worse – basically to the same degree for both stats. This is something to monitor.

Los Angeles Lakers 32-34

Last week: 18th

The LA Lakers are officially playing good basketball for an extended period of time, winners of seven of their last 10 games. Since the All-Star break, LA is second (!) in defensive rating. Additionally, they are third in assist percentage, which means they are moving the ball and converting easier shots at a higher frequency. Even with LeBron James injured and out for a while yet, the Lakers actually look like a basketball team that makes sense. Ending the Russell Westbrook saga seemed to crystallise a lot of things for this squad.

Atlanta Hawks 33-33

Last week: 15th

Atlanta followed up a good run last week by treading water this week, going 2-2. The Hawks lost both of their games to the Heat, but beat the Blazers and Wizards to split their games. After hovering from 15th to 13th on offence, Atlanta is now up to 10th in that department, which is a good sign. That said, this team is still bad defensively (22nd), and they haven't gotten any better under the tutelage of new head coach Quin Snyder; in fact, they have gotten worse.

Oklahoma City Thunder 31-35

Last week: 21st

OKC hit a rough patch without Shai Gilgeous-Alexander last week, going on a five-game losing streak. However, the Thunder began this week with back-to-back wins over the Utah Jazz, and then defeated the Golden State Warriors to end the week. Jalen Williams, OKC's 12th pick in this year's draft, also became the Thunder's third rookie in franchise history to have 30 points, five rebounds, and five assists in a game. Williams joined Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook in that achievement.

New Orleans Pelicans 32-34

Last week: 19th

New Orleans went 1-2 this week. For a team that was once a top five offence, the Pelicans have dropped down to 20th on the season. CJ McCollum has done an admirable job trying to fill in for the injured Zion Williamson, but it just hasn't been not enough. With that said, the Pelicans have a better defence without Zion Williamson, as many might expect. However, this team does struggle in one key area of defence – rim protection. New Orleans ranks first in the NBA at opponent field goal percentage on shots taken less than five feet from the hoop.

Portland Trail Blazers 31-35

Last week: 23rd

Portland went 2-2 this week, with wins over the Magic and Pistons, and losses to the Hawks and Celtics. Damian Lillard is playing out of his mind; over his last seven games, Lillard has scored 71, 25, 41, 33, 41, 31 and 27. The problem, as it has been all season, is that no one else is coming to the party. Anfernee Simons remains sidelined, and the Blazers are now relying on consistent offence from Jusuf Nurkic, Cam Reddish and Matisse Thybulle as secondary creators. Not a great recipe for success.

Toronto Raptors 32-35

Last week: 17th

After a solid two week stretch, Toronto dropped three of their four games this week. The Raptors are still not particularly good offensively, but their defence has gotten markedly better since acquiring Jakob Poeltl. This team will have no problems keeping opposing teams to low scores, but they need to be better on the other end. Dropping games to teams like Washington and Toronto, who they are fighting for play-in positioning with, can't happen if they want to make the playoffs.

Washington Wizards 31-35

Last week: 22nd

Washington split their four games this week, continuing their quest for a play-in berth. This included a game-winning putback by Daniel Gafford to send the Pistons home as two-point losers. When Kyle Kuzma has played, Washington has been competitive. The problem has been Kuzma's health, who has been in and out of the line-up. In related news, the Wizards also announced this week that they have signed Aussie Xavier Cooks to a multi-year deal; Cooks will join the Wizards at the conclusion of the NBL Championship Series between Sydney and New Zealand.

Indiana Pacers 29-37

Last week: 25th

After a rough stretch, the Pacers are back to playing solid basketball. Indy has won four of their last seven games; they have even beaten the Mavericks and nearly defeated the 76ers. The stats bear this improved play out. The Pacers rank a staggering sixth in offensive rating over the last 10 games. With that said, they also rank dead last defensively over that same time period, which is largely why they haven't been able to win more close games. 

Utah Jazz 31-35

Last week: 20th

Utah has now dropped their last four games. Other than the obvious contributions from Lauri Markkanen, the Jazz are now relying on guys like Simone Fontecchio, Talen Horton-Tucker, and rookie Ochai Agbaji to contribute in a big way. Lack of experience loses out more times than not in the NBA.

Chicago Bulls 30-36

Last week: 24th

Chicago went 1-2 this week. They began by getting trounced by Phoenix, then lost on a game-winning basket to Indiana, and bounced back to notch a 21-point win over the in-form Denver Nuggets. The star of the show for the Bulls has been Zach LaVine, who has been an absolute bucket-getter over recent weeks.

Orlando Magic 27-39

Last week: 26th

Orlando went 1-2 this week, beating Charlotte and losing to Portland and Milwaukee. The Magic have grown significantly on the defensive end in recent weeks, ranking 10th in defensive rating over their last 10 games. However, they haven't had that same success offensively, where they have floated among the bottom five all season long. Lastly, Orlando has begun to give minutes to formerly-waived Indiana centre Goga Bitadze, who scored 12 points in 20 minutes on Wednesday.

Charlotte Hornets 21-46

Last week: 27th

The Hornets dropped their first three games this week since LaMelo Ball went down with a season-ending injury. However, there was light at the end of the tunnel for Charlotte, who defeated the streaking Knicks on Wednesday. Even without the services of Ball, Kelly Oubre Jr, Terry Rozier and Gordon Hayward combined for 75 points in Charlotte's seven-point win.

San Antonio Spurs 16-49

Last week: 29th

San Antonio notched two straight wins for the first time in a while this week, defeating Indiana to continue on from last week's improved form. Then, as young teams often do, the Spurs got trounced by the Rockets twice in a row. San Antonio has also signed recently-waived Milwaukee forward Sandro Mamukelashvili (just call him Mamu).

Houston Rockets 15-50

Last week: 30th

Houston enjoyed consecutive wins over San Antonio this week, with one of the victories coming in a 32-point blowout. Tari Eason dropped 20 points in the first game, and Jalen Green scored 31 in the second. Houston has also been giving Spanish second-year man Usman Garuba more minutes of late.

Detroit Pistons 15-51

Last week: 28th

The Pistons claim the bottom spot off Houston for the first time in a while. Detroit has lost its last nine games, but have competed well, losing five of those games within six points or less. The newly acquired James Wiseman has had some really encouraging performances, while also having some forgettable games.

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