NBA Power Rankings: Big Questions Remain As Season Winds Down

NBA Power Rankings: Big Questions Remain As Season Winds Down

Where does each team stand with the NBA regular season coming to a close? Check out The Crossover’s final rankings of the regular season.

While there’s just a single week left in the 2020–21 NBA regular season, plenty still needs to be decided as teams’ 72-game campaigns come to a close. Our resident Power Rankings expert Michael Shapiro is off ranking duty this week (presumably preparing for what should be an exciting postseason), leaving me to play the role of a late-season, 10-day contract signee who is getting some ranking reps ahead of the season’s close.

Heading into the league’s final week, big questions remain about who will compete in next week’s play-in tournament (will the Lakers remain at No. 7?) and what will happen at the top of each conference (will Utah hold on to the No. 1 seed in the West? Will the Bucks catch the Nets for No. 2 in the East?). With the playoffs within arm’s reach, let’s dive into one final week of regular season power rankings.

30. Oklahoma City Thunder

No, the Thunder will not finish the 2020–21 season with the league’s worst record, but Oklahoma City enters Tuesday night’s game with the Kings riding a seven-game losing streak. Each of the Thunder’s last three losses have been by more than 20 points, and they’ll finish the season with the Kings, Jazz and Clippers, all of whom are still trying to compete for a playoff berth (Sacramento) or seeding (Los Angeles and Utah). The Thunder also should finish the year with a league-worst net rating and a league-worst offense. They’ve been outscored by more than 20 points per 100 possessions since the start of April.

29. Houston Rockets

While the Rockets’ front office continues hoping that Houston snags the league’s top pick as a function of having the NBA’s worst record, the current roster continued showing some competitive fight in recent games. The Rockets trailed the Bucks by just a single point at halftime of their May 7 game and would outscore Milwaukee by seven in the fourth quarter, to fall by just eight points. Kenyon Martin Jr. has taken particular advantage of the team’s recent string of games, recording 20-point performances against Philadelphia, Milwaukee and Utah.

28. Cleveland Cavaliers

The Cavaliers entered Monday night’s game against the Pacers having lost 10 consecutive games. The losing streak continued on Monday night as the Cavs were outscored by 16 in the second half vs. Indiana. It was a fitting mark for the league’s third-worst team in terms of overall net rating and worst in terms of net rating in the second half of games. Cleveland’s backcourt of Collin Sexton and Darius Garland showed flashes of promise this season, but the Cavs have a long way to go in their quest back to sustained NBA relevance.

27. Detroit Pistons

The Pistons will finish the year with the second consecutive sub-25 win season in Dwane Casey’s tenure with the team. But Detroit’s season will be remembered more for Jerami Grant’s jump in production, the sustained high-level play of rookies Saddiq Bey and Isaiah Stewart and flashes of excellence from fellow rookie Killian Hayes.

26. Orlando Magic

As my colleague Michael Pina wrote last week, the Magic currently possess several members of an “intriguing, talented and flawed youth movement,” in Cole Anthony, Wendell Carter Jr., Chuma Okeke, R.J. Hampton and Mo Bamba. Jonathan Isaac and Markelle Fultz also still factor into the team’s long-term plans. A future top-five pick would potentially go a long way in helping the Magic rebuild following a trade deadline teardown. However, a lot of work has to be done to improve the NBA’s second-worst offense and third-worst defense since the start of April.

25. Minnesota Timberwolves

Anthony Edwards’s 42-point explosion last Wednesday vs. Memphis made him the third-youngest player ever to record a 40-point game, and just the second 19-year-old or younger to do it more than once in a season. Since the All-Star break, Edwards has been a stat-stuffer for the T-Wolves, averaging 23.5 points and 5.6 rebounds per game. The question in future seasons will be if his production will translate into more team success for a franchise that has made just one playoff appearance since 2003–04.

24. Toronto Raptors

Toronto’s unusual season is coming to a close later this week with the franchise set to miss the playoffs for the first time since 2012–13. Questions loom about Kyle Lowry’s future with the team, but the Raptors do still possess a roster with a number of intriguing young pieces. Some lottery luck could go a long way in helping the Raptors return to their perennial playoff status.

23. Chicago Bulls

Chicago enters the final week of the regular season still holding a puncher’s chance at getting into the play-in turn tournament. They’ve played better of late, winning three straight games, but two games against the Nets and one against Milwaukee make the chances of a play-in tournament berth highly unlikely.

22. Sacramento Kings

The Kings have a chance to beat the Thunder for the third time in five games when the two teams meet yet again Tuesday night. The string of success against one of the league’s bottom-feeders, coupled with impressive wins over the Mavericks and Lakers have allowed the Kings to at least throw their name into the play-in tournament conversation. Still, elimination could come any day, marking the team’s 15th straight year without a playoff appearance. Yet one of the team’s foundational pieces still remains hopeful. “The competitors that we are, we want to win right now,” star guard De’Aaron Fox told Sports Illustrated’s Howard Beck. “But we know that we’re building for something in the future.”

21. Indiana Pacers

The Pacers are projected to make the play-in tournament, but a looming cloud of uncertainty hovers over the franchise. Last week, ESPN reported that head coach Nate Bjorkgren’s future with the team is uncertain as the season comes to an end. Per ESPN, Bjorkgren has significant work to do with his relationship among players throughout the team and with some members of the organization.

20. New Orleans Pelicans

The Pelicans remain in the hunt for the No. 10 spot in the Western Conference, but a left-hand injury to Zion Williamson will keep the New Orleans star out indefinitely. A left-ankle injury to Brandon Ingram has also left his status in question for the season’s remaining games. All told, it means the Pelicans’ season could be over sooner rather than later.

19. San Antonio Spurs

The Spurs had lost six of their last seven games heading into Monday night, but their drubbing of the Bucks helped extend a gap between San Antonio and the Pelicans for the West’s final play-in spot. Even with Monday night’s surprise result, it’s hard to imagine this particular Spurs team going on a deep postseason run.

18. Charlotte Hornets

The Hornets have not had a winning record since the 2015–16 season and recent losses to the Pelicans and Bulls haven’t made this year’s team’s quest to snap that streak any easier. Terry Rozier has scored 73 points in his last two games, but the Hornets have a brutal four-game stretch to end the season and are hanging on to the No. 8 seed by a thread.

17. Memphis Grizzlies

Jaren Jackson Jr. recorded his first start of the season on Saturday against the Raptors, scoring points and grabbing four rebounds in 26 minutes of action. He’ll look to build on that performance in Memphis’s playoff chase this coming week. A Game 72 meeting with the Warriors could end up being the deciding factor in determining what the Grizzlies’ play-in tournament situation looks like.

16. Washington Wizards

Wizards star Bradley Beal is dealing with a hamstring strain, causing a little bit of pause for one of the NBA’s hottest teams. But credit Washington for putting itself firmly in the play-in tournament draw so that Beal’s late-season injury isn’t entirely catastrophic. The Wizards have won 15 of their last 20 games with Beal and backcourt Russell Westbrook excelling down the stretch of the season. Westbrook also made history on Monday night, surpassing Oscar Robertson for most triple doubles in league history.

15. Boston Celtics

According to Basketball Reference, the Celtics enter the final week of the regular season the most likely team to finish No. 7 and, in turn, compete in the play-in tournament. A late-season ankle injury by Jaylen Brown (and a subsequent torn ligament in a wrist that will end his year) and a toe injury by Robert Williams III seem to be fitting ways to cap off what has been a very uneven season for the C’s.

14. Golden State Warriors

Stephen Curry scored 49 points in 29 minutes in Saturday’s win over the Thunder as the Warriors gear up for the postseason. A convincing win over Utah on Monday night further showed that on any given night the Warriors are capable of hanging with the league’s best teams. A possible play-in tournament game with the Lakers seems very much on the table and would surely make for a must-watch affair.

13. Atlanta Hawks

The Hawks hold the head-to-head tiebreaker with the Heat and will likely be preparing for a first-round series with the Knicks in one week’s time. Another game against the Wizards coupled with games against the Magic and Rockets give Atlanta a very realistic chance of climbing as high as No. 4 in the East.

12. Miami Heat

Since April 1, the Heat have the league’s sixth-best offense, scoring nearly 116 points per 100 possessions. They showcased that high-powered attack on Sunday as all five Miami starters scored in double figures in a 130–124 win over the Celtics. That win gave them a two-game cushion over the seventh-seeded C’s, but Wednesday’s game in Boston could draw the play-in tournament back into play for Miami. If the Heat do fall, midweek meetings with Philadelphia and Milwaukee will prove even more pivotal.

11. Los Angeles Lakers

Anthony Davis backed up a 36-point, 12-rebound, five-assist performance against the Blazers with a 42-point, 12-rebound, five-assist, three-block, three-steal game against the Suns. It was much-needed as the latter statline helped the Lakers pick up a key win against Phoenix. Major reinforcements are reportedly on the way, with LeBron James expected to return either Tuesday against the Knicks or Wednesday vs. the Rockets. A broader question remains, however: Will James’s return be enough to keep L.A. out of the play-in tournament?

10. Portland Trail Blazers

The Blazers couldn’t have picked a better time to welcome fans back into the Moda Center with Friday night’s win over the Lakers, making Portland the favorite to finish as the West’s No. 6 seed, according to Basketball Reference. Upcoming games against Utah, Phoenix and Denver give Portland a difficult final week of games, but Damian Lillard’s continued success makes the Blazers fully capable of hanging on to the No. 6 seed.

9. Dallas Mavericks

Kristaps Porzingis has missed nine of the last 10 games, but coach Rick Carlisle says he anticipates Porzingis returning before the postseason gets underway. The Mavs haven’t exactly missed the No. 4 pick of the 2015 NBA draft in that span, winning 10 of their last 12 with both losses coming vs. the Kings.

8. New York Knicks

The Knicks picked up what was arguably their best win of the season Sunday, defeating the Clippers in Los Angeles, 106–100. The stout New York defense held Kawhi Leonard and Paul George in relative check and saw key contributions from Julius Randle, Reggie Bullock, R.J. Barrett and Derrick Rose. Earlier in the season, the Knicks seemed like just a fun story. But the their top-five defense makes them a legitimate threat to knock off any team on any night.

7. Denver Nuggets

While the Nuggets were initially able to sustain the loss of guard Jamal Murray, they have slipped up of late, losing to the Jazz, Lakers and Nets in a span of four games. Games against Charlotte, Minnesota, Detroit and Portland make for a lighter closing stretch, however, and will hopefully allow Nikola Jokić’s surrounding core to get healthier ahead of the playoffs.

6. Los Angeles Clippers

Paul George and Kawhi Leonard have now played together in four straight games and the rest of the roster is slowly getting healthier. With Denver holding the tiebreaker, the Clippers need to stay ahead of the Nuggets to keep the No. 3 seed in the West, which could help them avoid a possible first-round matchup with the Lakers.

5. Milwaukee Bucks

The Bucks entered Monday night’s game with the Spurs having won straight games and playing some of their best basketball of the season. While they laid a dud against San Antonio, since the start of April, they operate the league’s second-best offense, scoring 117.1 points per 100 possessions and are fourth in net rating. Games this week against Orlando, Indiana, Miami and Chicago give Milwaukee a legitimate chance to hold the No. 2 seed when the postseason gets underway.

4. Brooklyn Nets

It’s increasingly hard to draw major conclusions from any of the Nets’ games at this point in the season. Their 125–119 win over the Nuggets was surely impressive, but it followed a stretch of four straight losses, all to playoff teams. James Harden remains out with a hamstring injury, though, he is “very confident” he’ll be able to return ahead of the postseason. So much of the Nets’ season will be evaluated based on how they perform when the games count most.

3. Phoenix Suns

Phoenix enters the final week of the regular season as one of just three teams in the league that ranks in the top seven on both ends of the floor. While the Suns have lost two of their last three games—falling to the Lakers and to the Hawks in a rare, blowout defeat—their consistent production all season long should bode well when postseason action gets underway.

2. Philadelphia 76ers

Yes, the 76ers’ eight-game winning streak doesn’t feature any wins against the NBA’s top teams, but credit to Philadelphia for acting like a legit No. 1 seed and handling its business against teams it should beat. During their winning stretch, the 76ers are allowing just 101.4 points per 100 possessions, by far the best mark in the NBA in that span. They’ve all but clinched the top spot in the conference and in doing so, have made their potential path to the NBA finals significantly easier by likely having to face just one of the Nets or Bucks.

1. Utah Jazz

Despite the Jazz’s starting backcourt of Donovan Mitchell and Mike Conley dealing with an ankle and hamstring injury, respectively, the Jazz had won five straight games heading into Monday night, and in turn took back first place in the Western Conference. The under-manned group had the win-streak snapped on Monday at the hands of the Warriors, but it still saw encouraging performances from Jordan Clarkson and Bojan Bogdanovic. Bogdanovic has starred of late, averaging more than 27 points in his past eight games and being named the NBA’s Western Conference Player of the Week for last week. They remain No. 1 in the NBA in net rating, with both a top three offense and defense. The Jazz are far from a lock to win, or even make, the finals, but they’ve been the NBA’s best regular season team for practically the entire season.

More NBA Coverage:
Triple Doubles: Hoops’ Holy Grail or Statistical Anomaly?
The Kings Are Building for the Future
How the Rockets Unlocked Kevin Porter Jr.
What Happened to Player-Coach Relationships?

Follow us on Twitter