NBA Power Rankings: Can the Nuggets catch the Lakers?


The 2020 NBA trade deadline has come and gone, and NBA All-Star Weekend is upon us. The week ahead represents a chance for many teams to get new additions situated before some time away.

The Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Lakers still lead their respective conferences, but the Toronto Raptors are coming. Winners of a franchise-record 14 straight games, the defending champs are quietly putting pressure on the Lakers for the second-best record in the NBA. And as anyone who watched last year’s NBA Finals will remember, that could matter in June for home-court advantage.

Throughout the regular season, our panel (ESPN’s Tim MacMahon, Andre’ Snellings, Royce Young and Bobby Marks and The Undefeated’s Marc J. Spears) is ranking all 30 teams from top to bottom, taking stock of which teams are playing the best basketball now and which teams are looking most like title contenders.

Previous rankings: Week 16 | 15 | 14 | 13 | 12 | 11 | 10 | 9 | 8 | 7 | 6 | 5 | 4 | 3 | 2 | 1 | Training camp | Free agency | Post-Finals

1. Milwaukee Bucks
Record: 45-7
Week 16 ranking: 1

Last week, Giannis Antetokounmpo became the fourth player in NBA history, and the first since the NBA/ABA merger, to average 30 points, 15 rebounds and 5 assists over a 10-game span. Antetokounmpo is accomplishing historical feats this season while still managing to rest, because the Bucks are blowing teams out with an average scoring margin of 12.5 points per game. Antetokounmpo’s 30.9 minutes per game are his fewest since his rookie season, before he became a full-time starter. — Snellings

This week: SAC, @IND

2. Los Angeles Lakers
Record: 39-12
Week 16 ranking: 2

The Lakers are 3-2 since the Jan. 26 death of Kobe Bryant. Los Angeles had a 10-3 record in January prior to the helicopter crash that killed Bryant, his daughter Gianna and seven others. A memorial for Bryant and his daughter is scheduled for Feb. 24. — Spears

This week: PHX, @DEN

3. Toronto Raptors
Record: 39-14
Week 16 ranking: 3

The Raptors pulled out two one-point victories last week over the Pacers and Nets to extend their franchise-record winning streak to 14 games. They continue to win despite consistent injuries to key players, the latest of which sidelined Kyle Lowry with whiplash. The All-Star break will help them rest up and get healthy to make a late-season push for the top playoff seeding in the Eastern Conference. — Snellings

This week: MIN, @BKN

4. Denver Nuggets
Record: 37-16
Week 16 ranking: 5

Isn’t it about time to start the “Should Nikola Jokic be in the MVP race?” conversation? Though the Nuggets have been hampered by injuries in the past month, they are second in the Western Conference. And in 2020, Jokic is averaging 24.8 points, 10.9 rebounds and 7 assists, while his team is 14-6. Sometimes it looks like Denver could play four random fans alongside him and still be competitive. The Nuggets, however, are finally getting healthy, and Jamal Murray — 67 points on 26-of-43 shooting in his past two games — has them looking like they have a one-two punch about as strong as anybody. — Young

This week: SAS, LAL

5. Boston Celtics
Record: 37-15
Week 16 ranking: 6

The pair of three-game losing streaks in January is a good example that the NBA regular season is a marathon and not a sprint. Since falling to Phoenix on Jan. 18, Boston has gone 11-1 and won seven straight. Despite some concern about the Celtics’ lack of frontcourt size, Boston ranks 12th in rebounding and had a 53-44 advantage in the win at Oklahoma City. The Celtics also have the third-best defensive rating, behind only Milwaukee and Toronto. — Marks

This week: @HOU, LAC

6. LA Clippers
Record: 37-16
Week 16 ranking: 4

Never mind their bizarre loss to the Wolves, as the Clippers watched Minnesota drill 26 3-pointers on 44 attempts. The Clippers won the week with their deadline deal for Marcus Morris Sr. At full strength, the Clips have the most impressive top-eight rotation in the league, and Morris adds a new mismatch dimension and lineup option for Doc Rivers to explore. And the biggest win of the Morris deal for the Clips: The Lakers didn’t get him. — Young

This week: @PHI, @BOS

7. Miami Heat
Record: 34-18
Week 16 ranking: 7

The Heat had a solid trade-deadline effort, but they stopped short of going all-in on this season by not also adding Danilo Gallinari. Andre Iguodala will boost Miami’s depth and lineup versatility, but don’t overlook the addition of Jae Crowder. In his debut on Sunday, Crowder had 18 points and 11 rebounds in 35 minutes. The Heat could use a jolt, having now lost three straight after their dominant win over the 76ers early in the week. It’ll help a little, though, seeing the return of Jimmy Butler, who has missed the past two outings. — Young

This week: @GSW, @UTAH

8. Houston Rockets
Record: 33-20
Week 16 ranking: 9

The Rockets are all-in on Russell Westbrook, which is why they’ve committed to being a full-time small-ball team after giving up center Clint Capela for 3-and-D center Robert Covington in a four-team, 12-player deal. Houston wants Westbrook surrounded with four perimeter shooting threats at all times. Westbrook has averaged 33.5 points on 50.4% shooting over four games since the Rockets started operating without a true center on a regular basis. — MacMahon

This week: BOS, @GSW

9. Utah Jazz
Record: 34-18
Week 16 ranking: 8

Since returning to the starting lineup, Mike Conley has looked like the point guard the Jazz expected to get when they shipped three players and a pair of first-round picks to the Grizzlies for him. Conley has averaged 20.3 points, 5.0 rebounds and 4.8 assists with a true shooting percentage of 59.8 in those four games. The problem: He is the only Jazz starter with a positive plus-minus in that stretch. — MacMahon

This week: @DAL, MIA

10. Oklahoma City Thunder
Record: 32-21
Week 16 ranking: 13

OKC’s roster survived the trade deadline intact, and the Thunder are ready to make a second-half run and see how good they really are. Sunday’s one-point loss to the Celtics was a high-level, intense test, with two intelligent teams trying to out-execute each other down the stretch. The Thunder have made a habit out of winning those, but they missed some chip shots and ran into the clutch-time stylings of Kemba Walker and Marcus Smart. Oklahoma City has spent the season surpassing expectations but also has gone just 8-17 versus teams .500 or better. — Young

This week: SAS, @NOP

11. Dallas Mavericks
Record: 32-21
Week 16 ranking: 11

Jalen Brunson is a big reason the Mavericks have been able to tread water without Luka Doncic, as Dallas has gone 5-5 in the games missed by the MVP candidate due to a couple of right ankle sprains. Brunson, a second-year point guard drafted early in the second round, has averaged 14.6 points and 6.6 assists in those games. — MacMahon

This week: UTAH, SAC

12. Philadelphia 76ers
Record: 33-21
Week 16 ranking: 12

General manager Elton Brand was transparent before Philadelphia beat Memphis on Friday night.

“Make no mistake, we are disappointed in how we’ve played recently,” Brand said. “The players understand how they have to do better. The whole organization has to do better.”

Those comments were in reference to the 76ers’ 9-19 record on the road, when they often resemble a team whose ceiling is a second-round playoff exit. Given that four of their remaining six games this month are against teams below .500, there will be few opportunities to truly evaluate the 76ers — one is Tuesday’s home game versus the Clippers and another is after the All-Star break when they travel to Milwaukee. In the meantime, expect new additions Alec Burks and Glenn Robinson III to give Philadelphia’s bench some much-needed depth. — Marks

This week: LAC, BKN

13. Indiana Pacers
Record: 31-22
Week 16 ranking: 10

The Pacers have lost five straight games to fall to sixth place in the Eastern Conference, four games off the pace for home-court advantage. They’ve struggled to integrate Victor Oladipo back into the lineup. Oladipo is a high-usage player who is battling a year of rust after rehabbing a quad injury. On the bright side, his scoring output and field goal percentage have increased in each game since taking a dive in his second contest back in a loss to the Knicks. The All-Star break comes at an opportune time in his acclimation. — Snellings

This week: BKN, MIL

14. Memphis Grizzlies
Record: 27-26
Week 16 ranking: 14

Add a triple-double to Rookie of the Year front-runner Ja Morant‘s list of impressive accomplishments after his 27-point, 10-rebound, 10-assist performance in Sunday’s win over the Wizards. Morant joined an exclusive club of players to score that many points in a triple-double at age 20 or younger. The others: Luka Doncic (14 times), LeBron James (five), De’Aaron Fox and former Vancouver Grizzlies forward Shareef Abdur-Rahim. — MacMahon

This week: POR

15. Portland Trail Blazers
Record: 25-29
Week 16 ranking: 15

Tough week for Damian Lillard, who averaged just 30.5 points in his three games. But it actually was a frustrating time for Lillard, who is still probably fuming over the missed goaltending call in Friday’s game at Utah. The Blazers have won seven of their past 10 contests, but that one loss against the Jazz sticks out. Bouncing back with an impressive win over the Heat on Sunday at least showed some fortitude and focus, by not allowing one bad loss to turn into two. As Lillard said in his postgame gripe in Salt Lake City, every single game matters for Portland from here on out. — Young

This week: @NOP, @MEM

16. Brooklyn Nets
Record: 23-28
Week 16 ranking: 18

The Nets were quiet during the week of the trade deadline. Caris LeVert, however, was not — putting together a stretch of three games worthy of Eastern Conference Player of the Week consideration. In the 2-1 week, LeVert averaged 29.7 points per game, shot 68.8% from 3 and had a career-high 37 points in a one-point loss at Toronto. This came after averaging 7.6 points and 21.4% from 3 in his previous five games. — Marks

This week: @IND, TOR

17. New Orleans Pelicans
Record: 22-31
Week 16 ranking: 17

There were rumors that Jrue Holiday would be the biggest prize on the trade block, but he remains in New Orleans after the deadline has passed. It makes sense for general manager David Griffin to take a patient approach and see how Holiday fits with Zion Williamson. New Orleans has outscored opponents by 14.5 points per 100 possessions with that pair on the floor together in 153 minutes this season. With Williamson and Brandon Ingram out Saturday due to injury, Holiday carried the Pelicans to a road win over the Pacers, scoring 14 of his 31 points in the final 2:26. — MacMahon

This week: POR, OKC

18. San Antonio Spurs
Record: 22-30
Week 16 ranking: 16

The Spurs were swept in the first half of their annual rodeo trip, going 0-4 during the West Coast swing, concluding with Saturday’s embarrassing blowout in Sacramento. Now 4.5 games out of the West’s eighth seed, San Antonio’s historic postseason streak is in serious jeopardy of not reaching a 23rd season. — MacMahon

This week: @DEN, @OKC

19. Orlando Magic
Record: 22-31
Week 16 ranking: 19

Seven of the Magic’s past nine games were against teams on pace to make the playoffs, and Orlando recorded just one win in that stretch. The Magic edged the Lakers by one point on Jan. 15, but their only victories since have been the two over the Hornets. On the bright side, six of the Magic’s next eight games are against teams that are on pace to miss the playoffs, giving them the opportunity to bounce back. — Snellings

This week: ATL, DET

20. Sacramento Kings
Record: 21-31
Week 16 ranking: 23

The Kings currently have a modest three-game winning streak going on. Is it time for Sacramento to make a push for the first playoff appearance since 2006? The Kings are 5.5 games behind Memphis for the eighth and final playoff spot in the West. — Spears

This week: @MIL, @DAL

21. Phoenix Suns
Record: 21-32
Week 16 ranking: 20

The trade rumors didn’t have a lasting effect on Kelly Oubre Jr., as he scored a career-high 39 points in a 127-91 home win over Houston on Friday, which also happened to be Oubre’s bobblehead night. It probably would have been awkward for the Suns to pass out his bobbleheads if he were traded. — Spears

This week: @LAL, GSW

22. Washington Wizards
Record: 18-33
Week 16 ranking: 22

The Wizards pull off just enough weird upsets to keep them barely interesting and slightly dangerous. After losing to the Warriors, they pulled a stunner on Dallas with a Bradley Beal buzzer-beater. Beal — not an All-Star, by the way — is what makes the Wizards both things. He has led them in scoring over their past 10 games, with at least 25 points in all of 10. — Young

This week: CHI, @NYK

23. Chicago Bulls
Record: 19-35
Week 16 ranking: 21

Even though Chicago is hosting All-Star Weekend, the Bulls badly need the break to get healthier. Otto Porter Jr. (broken foot) has been out since Nov. 6; Wendell Carter Jr. (ankle) has been out for 17 straight games; Lauri Markkanen (hip) has missed eight straight games; Kris Dunn (right knee) has missed three straight; and Denzel Valentine (hamstring) and rookie Daniel Gafford (ankle) have missed two straight. — Spears

This week: @WAS

24. Detroit Pistons
Record: 19-36
Week 16 ranking: 24

The Pistons’ trade of Andre Drummond represented only the second time in NBA history that a player averaging at least 15 points per game and 15 rebounds per game was dealt midseason, the first such move since Wilt Chamberlain was traded during the 1964-65 campaign. The Pistons are still only four games out of the eighth seed in the East, but their lineup moving forward strongly indicates that they are officially in the middle of a rebuild. — Snellings

This week: CHA, @ORL

25. New York Knicks
Record: 17-37
Week 16 ranking: 26

There was everything but normalcy in the world of the Knicks last week. New York put together its best week of the season, going 3-1 and winning four of its past five games. In the midst of rare on-court success, however, the Knicks catalyzed front-office and roster turnover. President Steve Mills was let go two days before the trade deadline, unofficially replaced by high-powered agent Leon Rose. In terms of their roster, the Knicks took a proactive approach by trading Marcus Morris Sr. for Maurice Harkless and a 2020 first-round pick from the Clippers. The Knicks also secured the right to swap first-round picks in 2021 with the Clips (protected through the No. 4 pick) and picked up a 2021 second-round pick via Detroit. — Marks

This week: WAS

26. Minnesota Timberwolves
Record: 16-35
Week 16 ranking: 27

There is a fresh optimism around the Timberwolves, as they finally broke their 13-game losing streak with an unexpected blowout win over the Clippers on Saturday. But the new hope traces back to the trade-deadline deal that brought in D’Angelo Russell to pair with his longtime friend Karl-Anthony Towns. Towns and Russell will be the eighth pair of top-two picks from the same draft to play together in NBA history. — Snellings

This week: @TOR, CHA

27. Charlotte Hornets
Record: 16-36
Week 16 ranking: 25

The Hornets are coming off an 0-3 week and a 1-13 record since Jan. 4. The next two months should not be about wins and losses but all about their young players not developing bad habits and the continued focus on player development. The Hornets have two open roster spots — a result of Marvin Williams and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist being waived as part of a buyout — and should scour the G-League for players to add. Remember, last year the Heat signed Kendrick Nunn and Duncan Robinson at the end of the season, and both are now starting for Miami. — Marks

This week: @DET, @MIN

28. Atlanta Hawks
Record: 15-39
Week 16 ranking: 30

Newcomer Clint Capela is sidelined with a right heel bruise and isn’t expected to debut for Atlanta until after the All-Star break. Head coach Lloyd Pierce, however, isn’t rushing the center. Meanwhile, Trae Young‘s Hawks are playing their best ball of the season, splitting their past 10 games. — Spears

This week: @ORL, @CLE

29. Golden State Warriors
Record: 12-41
Week 16 ranking: 29

The Warriors acquired small forward Andrew Wiggins from Minnesota on Thursday in exchange for — most notably — D’Angelo Russell. While Golden State fans are already debating whether Wiggins will live up to his potential, the newcomer got off to a hot start with 24 points, five steals and three 3-pointers in his debut on Saturday against the Lakers. — Spears

This week: MIA, @PHX

30. Cleveland Cavaliers
Record: 13-40
Week 16 ranking: 28

Normally, a team coming off a five-game losing streak and a 1-12 record (since Jan. 11) doesn’t become a buyer at the trade deadline. Considering that the Cavaliers only had to surrender a 2023 second-round pick along with Brandon Knight and John Henson, however, the move to acquire Andre Drummond was smart and proactive. The Cavs can now evaluate over the next two months whether Drummond is a long-term fit on the court. — Marks

This week: ATL

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