NBA power rankings: MVP, playoff, play-in races taking shape

Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker (1) during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Los Angeles Lakers, Sunday, Jan. 13, 2022, in Phoenix.  (AP Photo / Rick Scuteri)

Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker (1) during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Los Angeles Lakers, Sunday, Jan. 13, 2022, in Phoenix. (AP Photo / Rick Scuteri)

AP

* Through games played 3/17

1. Phoenix Suns (56-14)

Last week: 1

We wondered if Phoenix’s lead in the Western Conference would begin to evaporate after Chris Paul suffered a right thumb avulsion fracture before the All-Star break, but that has not happened. In fact, the Suns have only strengthened their hold on the No. 1 seed with Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton, Cameron Payne and Co. leading the way for a team that has gone 55-11 since going 1-3 to start the season.

2. Memphis Grizzlies (48-22)

Last week: 2

Ja Morant is expected to return against the Hawks on Friday after missing Tuesday’s game against the Pacers due to a back injury. The Grizzlies have won four in a row. They won’t be able to overtake the Suns for the top spot in the West, but they have a good chance to hold off the Warriors for the No. 2 seed.

3. Miami Heat (46-24)

Last week: 3

Jimmy Butler has been in and out of the lineup over the past couple of weeks, but the Heat has won five of seven and 14 of 18 to rise to the top of the Eastern Conference standings. Miami has a two-game lead over the Bucks with 12 games remaining, including a big showdown with the 76ers on Monday.

4. Golden State Warriors (47-23)

Last week: 4

The Warriors got good news and bad news about Steph Curry on Thursday. Curry is out indefinitely with a strained ligament in his left foot, but the Warriors were optimistic he would be able to return before the start of the playoffs. They are one game behind the Grizzlies for the No. 2 seed going into Sunday’s game vs. the Spurs.

5. Milwaukee Bucks (44-26)

Last week: 6

The defending NBA champions are gearing up for another run at the title. The Bucks have won eight of their last nine behind Giannis Antetokounmpo, who is making a late push for his third MVP award. Milwaukee is two games behind Miami for the No. 1 seed in the East and one game ahead of the 76ers.

6. Utah Jazz (43-26)

Last week: 5

Jordan Clarkson scored a career-high 45 points in a win over the Kings on Saturday and Donovan Mitchell had 37 in a win over the Bulls on Wednesday, but after taking some losses over the past couple of weeks, the Jazz is tied with the Mavericks for fourth in the West.

7. Dallas Mavericks (43-26)

Last week: 10

Luka Doncic had 37 points, nine rebounds and nine assists in Wednesday’s victory over the Nets. The Mavericks have won three in a row and eight of nine to tie Utah for fourth in the West, setting up a fight for homecourt advantage over the next three weeks

8. Boston Celtics (42-28)

Last week: 8

The Celtics suffered a 95-92 loss to the Mavericks on Sunday, but they bounced back with a 110-88 road win over the Warriors on Wednesday. Boston has won 17 of 20 to climb to fourth in the East, one game behind the 76ers and a half-game ahead of the Bulls.

9. Philadelphia 76ers (42-26)

Last week: 7

The 76ers are third in the East after losing three of their last six, including a humbling 29-point loss to the Nets and a four-point loss to the Nuggets. Joel Embiid, one of the leading MVP candidates, had 35 points and 17 rebounds in Wednesday’s win over the Cavaliers.

10. Denver Nuggets (42-28)

Last week: 9

Nikola Jokic is building a strong case for his second consecutive MVP award. He had 29 points, 13 rebounds and eight assists in Wednesday’s win over the Wizards. The Nuggets have won six of eight and 12 of 15. They are sixth in the West, 1 ½ games ahead of the Timberwolves.

11. Chicago Bulls (41-28)

Last week: 11

The Bulls have lost seven of 10 to fall to fifth in the East. They are a half-game behind the Celtics for the No. 4 seed in a race that could determine homecourt advantage for a potential first-round playoff series.

12. Minnesota Timberwolves (41-30)

Last week: 12

Karl-Anthony Towns had 60 points and 17 rebounds in Monday’s win over the Spurs. The Timberwolves have won nine of 10 to solidify their hold on the seventh spot in the West.

13. Toronto Raptors (39-30)

Last week: 14

Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet have helped the Raptors win five in a row and seven of 10 to tie the Cavaliers for the No. 6 seed in the East.

14. Cleveland Cavaliers (39-30)

Last week: 13

The Cavaliers have lost significant ground over the second half of the season. They are tied with the Raptors for sixth in the East after losing six of 10.

15. Brooklyn Nets (36-34)

Last week: 16

Kevin Durant scored 53 points in a win over the Knicks and Kyrie Irving had a career-high 60 in Tuesday’s victory over Orlando. The Nets will be dangerous in the East if they make it through the play-in tournament.

16. Los Angeles Clippers (36-36)

Last week: 15

The Clippers appear to be locked in to the No. 8 spot in the West. They are 5 ½ games behind the Timberwolves and 5 ½ games ahead of the Lakers.

17. Charlotte Hornets (35-35)

Last week: 18

The Hornets have won three in a row. They are one game behind the Nets for the No. 8 spot in the East in a race that could determine which teams makes it through the play-in tournament.

18. Atlanta Hawks (34-35)

Last week: 17

After winning six of 10, Trae Young and the Hawks are 10th in the East, a half-game behind the Hornets, but they will miss John Collins, who is out indefinitely with a plantar fascia tear in his right foot.

19. Washington Wizards (29-39)

Last week: 19

The Wizards have lost five in a row and eight of 10 to fall 4 ½ games behind the Hawks for the 10th spot in the East.

20. New York Knicks (29-40)

Last week: 20

Looks like the Knicks are done. They are five games behind the Hawks for the 10th spot in the East with only 13 games remaining.

21. Los Angeles Lakers (29-40)

Last week: 21

The Lakers have lost three in a row and eight of 10 to fall to ninth in the West, 5 ½ games behind the Clippers for eighth. They will likely have to win two play-in games to get LeBron James and Anthony Davis into the playoffs.

22. New Orleans Pelicans (28-41)

Last week: 22

Brandon Ingram and the Pelicans appear to be headed for a first-round play-in game against the Lakers. They are 10th in the West, 1 ½ games ahead of the Spurs and Blazers.

23. San Antonio Spurs (27-43)

Last week: 23

The door was open for the Spurs to get into the play-in tournament, but they have lost seven of 10 to fall to 11th in the West.

24. Portland Trail Blazers (26-42)

Last week: 24

The Blazers are tied with the Spurs for 11th in the West, just 1 ½ games behind the Pelicans for the final play-in spot, but they have lost eight of their last 10.

25. Sacramento Kings (25-46)

Last week: 25

De’Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis led the Kings to an impressive win over the Bulls and a strong showing against the Bucks, but Sacramento has lost seven of 10 with a record 16-year playoff drought looming large on the horizon.

26. Indiana Pacers (23-47)

Last week: 26

Tyrese Haliburton and Buddy Hield have had some nice moments with their new team, but the Pacers have lost five of six.

27. Oklahoma City Thunder (20-49)

Last week: 27

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has scored 30-plus points in nine of the last 11 games, but the Thunder has lost seven in a row.

28. Detroit Pistons (19-51)

Last week: 28

Saddiq Bey scored a career-high 51 points in Thursday’s win over the Magic. Marvin Bagley III is averaging 15.8 points and 8.2 rebounds over the past seven games.

29. Orlando Magic (18-53)

Last week: 29

Orlando will have a 14% chance of securing the No. 1 pick in the draft and a 52.1% chance of landing in the top four if it finishes with one of the three worst records in the league.

30. Houston Rockets (17-52)

Last week: 30

The Rockets have lost eight of 10 despite some nice games from rookie Jalen Green, who is averaging 21.2 ppg in March.

Jason Anderson is an award-winning sportswriter for The Sacramento Bee. He started his journalism career at The Bee more than 20 years ago and returned to cover the Sacramento Kings in September 2018.

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