NBA Power Rankings – Bucks remain on top after shaky week for the top five

The Milwaukee Bucks are the NBA’s first team to win 50 games this season, the Houston Rockets are still streaking and the Boston Celtics are looking like Eastern Conference contenders again amid a successful West Coast trip. The Los Angeles Lakers, on the other hand? The losses continue to pile up as LeBron James & Co. find themselves closing in on a lottery pick.

Throughout the regular season, our panel (ESPN’s Kevin Arnovitz, Tim MacMahon and Andre’ Snellings, The Undefeated’s Marc J. Spears and FiveThirtyEight’s Chris Herring) ranks all 30 teams from top to bottom, taking stock of which are playing the best basketball and which are looking most like title contenders.

Previous rankings: Week 21 | 20 | 19 | 18 | 17 | 16 | 15 | 14 | 13 | 12 | 11 | 10 | 9 | 8 | 7 | 6 | 5 | 4 | 3 | 2 | 1 | Training camp | Free agency

1. Milwaukee Bucks
Record: 50-17

Milwaukee picked up its 50th win of the season on Friday, just the second time in three decades the franchise has reached that mark in a campaign. So just how good is this team? Here’s some context: As’s Micah Adams points out, Milwaukee’s point differential against teams .500 or better ranks fifth-best over the past 25 seasons. The four teams with a better margin over that span: The 72-win Bulls in 1995-96, the 73-win Warriors from 2015-16, and the 2016-17 and 2017-18 Golden State clubs that won titles. — Herring

2. Golden State Warriors
Record: 45-21

Warriors All-Stars Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry combined to miss 22 3-pointers in a stunning loss against Phoenix on Sunday. That’s the most missed combined 3s in any game by The Splash Brothers, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. Curry and Thompson combined to attempt 30 3-pointers, tied for their most combined such attempts in a regular-season game. — Spears

3. Toronto Raptors
Record: 48-19

Pascal Siakam has all but locked up the Most Improved Player Award. He has more than doubled his scoring output per game (7.3 to 16.4), while upping his true shooting percentage from 54.9 to 64.6. Yet more than statistically, Siakam has given the Raptors a scorer, playmaker and defender they can rely on unreservedly to make big decisions in big spots. — Arnovitz

4. Houston Rockets
Record: 41-25

“It feels good to win on the defensive end,” James Harden said after the Rockets extended the longest active winning streak in the league to eight games with a 94-93 victory over the Mavericks. It was a hideous offensive performance for Houston, but the Rockets never worry about their ability to score. They’ve made major progress on the other end since Clint Capela returned, ranking sixth in defensive rating (106.2) since the All-Star break. — MacMahon

5. Denver Nuggets
Record: 43-22

The Nuggets entered Friday night with a chance to catch the Warriors for the top seed in the Western Conference, but were blown out in a statement win by Golden State. The Nuggets have lost four of their past five games and now must contend with a surging Rockets squad that has leaped to the third seed and is only a few games behind the Nuggets with a month left in the season. — Snellings

6. Portland Trail Blazers
Record: 40-26

The Blazers are 25-9 at home and 15-17 on the road this season (Portland averages 117.1 points per game at home but 110.4 on the road, the third highest PPG drop in the league). That leaves the Blazers with seven home games and nine road games as they fight with Houston and Oklahoma City for the third and fourth seeds in the Western Conference playoffs. The Blazers still have a mixed bag left of road games against the Clippers, Pelicans, Spurs, Bulls, Hawks, Pistons, Timberwolves, Nuggets and Lakers. — Spears

7. Philadelphia 76ers
Record: 42-25

With Joel Embiid back in action on Sunday for the first time since the All-Star break, the Sixers restored order with a big win over a Pacers team directly above them in the standings. Embiid scored 33 points and grabbed 12 rebounds in 28 minutes, with the Sixers’ starters looking like a formidable unit. — Arnovitz

8. Oklahoma City Thunder
Record: 40-26

The Thunder have lost six of their past eight games to slide to a tie with the Blazers for the fourth seed in the West. The good news is that they are still within a game of the Rockets for the third seed and Paul George is back and healthy, but the bad news is that their next seven games are against playoff teams, starting Monday in Salt Lake City. –– Snellings

9. Boston Celtics
Record: 41-26

The Celtics have used their West Coast road trip to right the ship, starting with a huge win in Golden State and building a three-game California win streak going into Monday’s game with the Clippers. Gordon Hayward continues to be the best bellwether for the Celtics’ results, as the team has won 15 of the past 16 games in which Hayward has scored double figures. –– Snellings

10. San Antonio Spurs
Record: 38-29

The Spurs’ roller-coaster season continued with a five-game winning streak on the heels of a 1-7 rodeo trip. That matches San Antonio’s longest winning streak of the season. LaMarcus Aldridge (26.8 points, 55.6 field goal percentage) and DeMar DeRozan (20.2 points, 52.4 field goal percentage) have both been in great grooves during the Spurs’ run. — MacMahon

11. Utah Jazz
Record: 37-28

What a disappointing week for the Jazz. Coming off wins over the Nuggets and Bucks, Utah had positioned itself to make a run at the West’s No. 3 seed. That took a serious hit when the Jazz blew a double-digit fourth-quarter lead at home against the Pelicans and lost on the road to the Grizzlies. — MacMahon

12. LA Clippers
Record: 38-29

Lost amid the revolving door to the Clippers’ locker room is Danilo Gallinari, who has quietly assembled the best season of his 11-year tenure in the NBA. He’s posting career-best numbers in true shooting percentage (62.5), player efficiency rating (20.0), and win shares per 48 minutes. He also has been more durable than he’s been in quite some time, missing only 11 games this season. –– Arnovitz

13. Indiana Pacers
Record: 42-25

Indiana has basically traded off wins and losses over its past 10 games or so. But the more concerning thing, as the team readies for the playoffs, is that the Pacers haven’t beaten a team in playoff position in more than a month, dating back to a victory over the Clippers in early February. That has been their story this season, as the Pacers have more wins against sub-.500 teams than anyone in the East, but are far worse against the upper-echelon clubs than the other top contenders in the conference. — Herring

14. Detroit Pistons
Record: 34-31

Detroit has been the hottest team in the East, winning 12 of its past 14 games. The Pistons have worked themselves all the way up to sixth place (and a 99 percent playoff probability in FiveThirtyEight’s NBA projection model), which, depending on how the top of the conference shakes out, could be ideal positioning for them. You have to imagine the Pistons would feel best about their chances of advancing to the second round if they drew a first-round matchup with the Pacers, should Indy win the battle for the No. 3 seed. — Herring

15. Brooklyn Nets
Record: 35-33

It has been an inspiring season in the 718, but the Nets are about to embark on one of the most brutal 14-game stretches we’ve ever seen to conclude a season. With the exception of a road date against the Lakers, every Nets opponent is currently seeded for the playoffs except scrappy Sacramento, which sits just outside. The slate includes a pair of tussles against Milwaukee, and away games at OKC, Utah, the Clippers, Portland, Philadelphia and Indiana. — Arnovitz

16. Sacramento Kings
Record: 33-32

The Kings desperately need to get hot if they hope to make the playoffs for the first time since 2006. Sacramento is 5-6 since acquiring Harrison Barnes and Alec Burks in trades. The timing also couldn’t have been worse to lose Marvin Bagley III to a knee injury on Feb. 27 after he had the best month of his young career. — Spears

17. Orlando Magic
Record: 31-37

The Magic had a pedestrian week while the four teams ahead of them in the Eastern Conference standings went a combined 13-1. This has caused the Magic to slide back into the ninth seed in the East, but the Magic have a good chance to go on a run as they next face five straight lottery teams. — Snellings

18. Miami Heat
Record: 31-35

The Heat had a strong week to reclaim the eighth playoff spot in the East. They are set up for a tight race with the Orlando Magic and Charlotte Hornets for that spot, but the Heat have a tough upcoming schedule with six straight games against teams battling for playoff positioning. The good news is that Goran Dragic has returned from his calf injury and is once again giving the team good minutes at point guard. — Snellings

19. Minnesota Timberwolves
Record: 32-35

ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported Sunday that there is optimism about the MRI results on Karl-Anthony Towns‘ right knee after he injured it a day earlier versus Washington. Towns is averaging 24.5 points, 12.5 rebounds and 3.3 assists. With Minnesota six games out of the playoff race, is it worth bringing Towns back this season if healthy? — Spears

20. Los Angeles Lakers
Record: 30-36

A frightening and frustrating development for Brandon Ingram: After putting together one of his most impressive and efficient stretches of games of his young career, the 21-year-old wing has been diagnosed with blood clotting in his right arm and will miss the remainder of the season. The Lakers now play five games in eight days on the road, where they’ve won only a single game since the start of February. — Arnovitz

21. Charlotte Hornets
Record: 30-36

The Hornets are in a fight for the last playoff spots in the East with fellow Southeast Division members Miami and Orlando. Charlotte visits Miami next Sunday and plays their regular-season finale against Orlando. The Hornets haven’t been to the playoffs since 2015. — Spears

22. New Orleans Pelicans
Record: 30-39

Jrue Holiday‘s abdominal strain was another punch to the gut for the Pelicans. He will be re-evaluated next week, but there’s no reason to rush back the star guard who has basically replaced Anthony Davis as the face of the franchise. Holiday is good enough to give the Pelicans a chance to win, and that’s really not in the franchise’s best interest right now. — MacMahon

23. Memphis Grizzlies
Record: 28-40

Mike Conley must really want the Grizzlies to get rid of the top-eight-protected pick they owe the Celtics. The lone remaining member of the Core Four carried Memphis to a 3-0 mark last week. Conley averaged 31.3 points (15.3 just in fourth quarters) and 7.7 assists on 57.4 percent shooting in wins over the Trail Blazers, Jazz and Magic. — MacMahon

24. Washington Wizards
Record: 27-39

Trevor Ariza matched his season-high Saturday with a 27-point showing in an overtime loss to Minnesota. But much like the Wizards this season, Ariza’s performances have been somewhat uneven since the All-Star break, alternating between high-scoring outputs and single-digit ones — the opposite of the consistent reputation he has garnered over his career. — Herring

25. Dallas Mavericks
Record: 27-39

Dallas has dropped 10 of its past 11 games, drastically improving the Mavs’ odds to keep their first-round pick, which will go to the Hawks if it lands outside of the top five. At the moment, the Mavs would have 34.5 percent odds to land in the top four. But the losing might be taking a toll on Luka Doncic, who sat on the bench with his head down for a little while after Jalen Brunson‘s last-second shot was blocked to seal Sunday’s loss to Houston. — MacMahon

26. Chicago Bulls
Record: 19-49

The ending in Chicago’s bizarre, last-second victory over the Sixers on Wednesday was noteworthy for all sorts of reasons. Players had to come back on the floor after the game had seemingly ended, and Otto Porter Jr. didn’t participate in the do-over, as he was already in the midst of taking a postgame drug test. But the game-winning shot — Zach LaVine‘s layup — was indicative of something that has held true all season: LaVine is getting to the basket at will. A career-high 40 percent of his shots have come from within 3 feet of the basket this season. — Herring

27. Phoenix Suns
Record: 16-52

The Suns are now 5-4 when Kelly Oubre Jr. starts. Oubre averages 18.9 points and six rebounds as a starter with Phoenix. Oubre will be a restricted free agent this offseason. — Spears

28. Atlanta Hawks
Record: 23-45

No player in the league this season has initiated more pick-and-roll opportunities than Trae Young, and he’s leading by a healthy margin. The Hawks scored only 0.87 points per direct pick for Young in 2018, but 1.05 points per direct pick since Jan. 1. On Friday, Young notched his first triple-double of his career in the Hawks’ loss to the Nets. — Arnovitz

29. Cleveland Cavaliers
Record: 16-50

Guard Collin Sexton broke Kyrie Irving‘s franchise record for triples during a rookie season this past week, highlighting that he has actually been an above-average shooter (38.8 percent) from the perimeter amid his struggles. The next step in his maturation needs to come on defense in screen-and-roll scenarios. And next season he’ll seek to improve on his assist-to-turnover rate, which is only slightly better than 1-to-1. — Herring

30. New York Knicks
Record: 13-54

The Knicks have maintained a 5.5-game “lead” over the Chicago Bulls in the race for a bottom-three seed and an equal share of the best odds in the NBA lottery. Importantly, they have also surpassed the Suns for the worst record in the league, which would guarantee them no worse than the fourth pick in the draft. — Snellings

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