What does all this mean as we approach week 15? That’s how our judges see the 30 teams right now.
Message: During the regular season, our panel (Tim Bontemps, Nick Friedell, Andrew Lopez, Tim McMahon, Dave McMahon, Eric Woodyard, Royce Young and ESPN’s Om Youngmisuk) evaluates all 30 teams from top to bottom to determine which teams are currently playing the best basketball and which teams are most likely to compete for the title.
The Jazz are out of their mid-season slump. After losing five of eight games, Utah has won five consecutive games again, giving them the longest winning streak in the league. Donovan Mitchell has averaged 31.6 points on .557/.513/.968 shooting during this winning streak. Sixth man Jordan Clarkson was sluggish for most of the series, shooting 24.6 percent from the field in the first four games, but he broke out of his slump with 28 points on 11 of 21 attempts in Saturday’s win over the Grizzlies. — McMahon.
James Harden says he’s the MVP, and of course he has a case. It takes a bit of amnesia at the beginning of the season to forget what happened in Houston, but as far as his Nets alley, he’s averaging 26-9-11 in 31 games with a high output and a 24-7 record. Many of these games were without Kevin Durant or Kyrie Irving, a key component in Harden’s case as Rich continues to add to the mix by adding LaMarcus Aldridge this weekend. — Young
Philadelphia ultimately lost to the Clippers on Saturday in the first game against his former team in Los Angeles. But the big news came before the game when Joel Embiid and newly acquired guard George Hill were allowed onto the field. If the Sixers knew they’d still be first in the East when Embiid returned, they’d be ecstatic. They still lead Brooklyn in games and have a chance to do so if he returns to the team soon. — Bontemps
Key additions: George Hill… It’s on its way: Tony Bradley
This week: @DEN, @CLE, MIN, MEM
4. Phoenix Suns
2020-21 Record: 31-14
Previous Assessment : 4
It will be a quick trip for the Suns to the East with four games in five and a half days. After games in Florida on Tuesday (Miami), Wednesday (Orlando) and Friday (in Tampa against Toronto), Phoenix closed out the week with a matinee game against Charlotte. The Suns continued to hold onto 2nd place. Place in the Western Conference, but did not make a move within the allotted time. Instead, they picked up Torrey Craig for money as part of P.J. Tucker’s deal with Milwaukee. In four games with Phoenix, Craig averaged 8.3 points and 4.3 rebounds in 18.2 minutes while shooting 52.0% from the field and 45.5% from the three-point line. — Lopez.
Key additions: Torrey Craig
Main departure points : No
This week: ATL, CHI, OKC
5. LA Clippers
2020-21 Record: 31-16
Previous Ranking: 6
The Clippers had their best week of the season, which may determine how far they get in the playoffs. They held off the Hawks, won twice in San Antonio and ruined Doc Rivers’ return by beating Philadelphia and extending their win streak to five. But the Clippers made a crucial move by trading Lou Williams for Rajon Rondo and by freeing up Mfionda Kabengele two spots on the roster for potential key acquisitions. The Clippers hope Rondo will fill their biggest need for leadership, basketball IQ and an experienced point guard who can take the pressure off of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George in the playoffs. Terence Mann was also a key role player, averaging 15.2 points and 8.0 rebounds last week. -Youngomisuk
Key additions: Rajon RondeauMost senior departures : Lou Williams, Mfiondo Kabengele…
This week: MILF, EAGLE, DEN, LAL
6. Milwaukee Bucks
2020-21 Record: 29-16
Previous Rating: 5
After eight wins in a row, the Bucks have lost consecutively to Boston and New York this week with reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo out with a sprained left knee. His older brother, Thanasis Antetokounmpo, finished with 23 points against the Knicks, while the Bucks continue to try to integrate their new players, including former Rocket P.J. Tucker. — Woodyard.
Key additions: P.J. Tucker, Rodions Kurucs, Jeff Teague, Start Key: Torrey Craig, D.J. Augustine, D.J. Wilson.
This week: @LAC, @LAL, @POR, @SAC
7. Denver Nuggets
2020-21 Record: 28-18Prior ranking: 8
As the Lakers dragged themselves into the postseason, the Nuggets saw their chance and did what may be the biggest deal in the league, by signing Aaron Gordon. Gordon gives Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray another versatile and athletic scoring option above the belt. It also gives the Nuggets more power for the playoffs with LeBron James or Kawhi Leonard. JaVale McGee is back in Denver to protect the ring, experience in the championship and another big body to throw against Davis. These measures also provide relief for Michael Porter Jr, who has been out of action for over a month. -Youngomisuk
Key additions: Aaron Gordon, Jayvale McGee, Gary Clark 19 Kaye hit the road: Gary Harris, RJ Hampton, Isaiah Hartenstein…
This week: FI, @LAC, ORL.
8. Los Angeles Lakers
2020-21 Record: 30-17Previous: 7
It’s been a terrible week for Los Angeles: LeBron James sprained his ankle, the team didn’t win four games, Kyle Lowry was sold and things didn’t go so well for presumptive Lakers point guard Dennis Schroder, but in the end it was good news for the franchise. Andre Drummond, arguably the best player on the acquisition market in March, is the Lakers’ pick. With James and Anthony Davis back from injury, Drummond could be the difference maker in getting Los Angeles back on track after this season. — McManaman.
Key additions: Andre DrummondThe key is to walk away: Damian Jones
This week: MIL, @SAC, @LAC
9. Portland Trail Blazers
2020-21 Record: 28-18Prior ranking: 9
The addition of Norman Powell is very interesting for the Blazers. They’re clearly looking to upgrade in two directions and defensive versatility alongside Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, but it also opens the door for a small-ball lineup with Robert Covington at the 4. If Portland gets healthier and has more depth, this is a dangerous group that could be a bigger playoff threat than some think. — Young
Key additions: Norman Powell. Send buttons : Rodney Hood, Gary Trent Jr.
This week: @DET, MIL, OKC
10. Dallas Mavericks
2020-21 Record: 23-21
Previous ranking: 10
The Mavs prioritized protecting the health of their young stalwarts over avoiding a play-in scenario, opting to rest Luca Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis to allow some stalwarts to rest after the All-Star break. Since the break, Dallas is 5-5, Doncic and/or Porzingis have lost three games and the Mavs are 3.5 games behind in sixth place. The Mavs are 1-4 this season in games Doncic has missed. He was benched Friday with a sprained back and was expected to play Saturday before being benched for a non-VOCID-related health issue. — McMahon.
Key additions: JJ RedickBiggest leavers: James Johnson, Wes Iwundu…
This week: @OKC, @BOS, @NYK, @WAS
11. San Antonio Spurs
2020-21 Record: 23-20
Previous ranking: 12
San Antonio’s new starting lineup of Derrick White, Dejounte Murray, Keldon Johnson, DeMar DeRozan and Jacob Poeltl has made a positive impact in 10 games and 129 minutes this season. While the team is 6-4 in those starts, San Antonio has a plus-1.4 net rating in that group. In 16 games this season, the Spurs’ starting formation – DeRozan, Murray, Johnson, Lonnie Walker IV and the recently departed LaMarcus Aldridge – has scored minus-12.5 points in 219 minutes. — Lopez.
Key additions: Gorgui Dieng
Important departures : LaMarcus Aldridge, Marquess Criss.
This week: SACK, SACK, ATL, IND.
12. New York Knicks
2020-21 Record: 24-22Prior ranking: 16
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New York continues to win, even though they suffered a real loss when Mitchell Robinson broke his leg this weekend. But the Knicks remain in fourth place in the East, winning every game under Tom Thibodeau. There are two big games at home this week, against the slumping Heat and against Luka Doncic and the Mavericks. — Bontemps
Key additions: No. Main departures : Austin Rivers, Terrance Ferguson.
This week: MIA, @MIN, DAL, @DET
13. Boston Celtics
2020-21 Record: 23-23Previous ranking : 14
Boston collected the bulk of Gordon Hayward’s waivers Thursday and traded Evan Fournier to the Magic before winning two games without him over the weekend. The question now is whether Fournier, who missed Saturday’s win over Oklahoma City because of NBA health and safety protocols, will make his debut Monday against New Orleans. Another storyline to follow: Can Robert Williams III establish himself as a regular starter in Boston after the departure of Daniel Theis? — Bontemps
Key additions: Evan Fournier, Moritz Wagner, key leavers: Daniel Theis, Jeff Teague…
This week: NOP, DAL, HO, CHA.
14. Atlanta Hawks
2020-21 Record: 23-23Previous ranking : 13
Nate McMillan’s eight-game run of wins as interim coach of the Hawks ended earlier this week when Atlanta beat the Clippers. It will also be another long week on the road for the Hawks, who are currently on the longest road trip in the league this season: eight games. This week they travel to Phoenix, San Antonio and New Orleans before playing on the 4th. to play another home game against the Warriors in April. — Lopez.
Key additions: Lou Williams… Send the keys: Rajan Rondo
This week: @FHO, @SAS, @NOP, GSW
15. Charlotte Hornets
2020-21 Record: 23-22Prior ranking: 17
Charlotte has responded well to last week’s news that LaMelo Ball’s wrist injury would likely end his season, winning three of his last four games. The big event came in Friday’s win over the Heat, when Malik Monk contributed 32 points in 26 minutes off the bench. Terry Rozier has scored at least 22 points in four games since Ball’s injury was announced. — Friedell.
Key additions: The Brad Wanamaker
key is out: No
This week: @WAS, @BRK, @IND, @BOS
16. Miami Heat
2020-21 Record: 22-24Previous ranking : 11
After 11 wins in 12 games, the Heat fell back to earth and found themselves in the midst of a six-game losing streak this week. The protection that helped them get back on track is gone. During that period, the Heat gave up an average of 113 points per game and failed to win a number of exciting games. The arrival of Victor Oladipo should give the veteran group a much-needed boost next week. — Friedell.
Key additions: Victor Oladipo
Start key: Avery Bradley, Kelly Olynyk.
This week: @NYK, @IND, GSW, CLE
17. Indiana Pacers
2020-21 Record: 21-23Previous ranking : 18
Pacers won four of their last five games. In Indiana’s 109-94 win over Dallas on Friday, Texas-born Myles Turner had nine points and seven rebounds, along with seven blocks. Turner has 12 games with five or more blocks this season, which is third-most in Pacers’ NBA history, according to ESPN Stats & Information. — Woodyard.
Key additions: No. Main departures : No
This week: @WHAT, MIA, CHA, @SAS
18. Memphis Grizzlies
2020-21 Record: 21-22Previous ranking : 19
The Grizzlies have finally released a timetable for the return of forward Jaren Jackson Jr. following his surgery to repair the meniscus in his left knee. Executive Vice President Zach Klayman announced that Jackson will make his season debut before the end of April. Forward Justise Winslow, one of the other young players the Grizzlies hope to establish long-term, is dealing with rust after a lengthy injury hiatus. In his first 16 games with the Grizzlies, Winslow shot 34.2 percent from the field. — McMahon.
Key additions: No. Main departures : Gorgi Dieng
This week: @HOU, UTA, MIN, @PHI
19. Golden State Warriors
2020-21 Record: 22-24Previous ranking : 15
The Warriors have lost four in a row and are playing their worst basketball of the season. Stephen Curry is out after being injured on the 17th. March suffered a bruised tailbone – and the good news is that there’s a chance Curry will play Monday against the Bulls, after not practicing for the entirety of Sunday. But Curry’s return won’t be a panacea for the Warriors’ defensive woes. During their losing streak, they gave up an average of 121 points. — Friedell.
Key additions: No. Main departures : Brad Wanamaker, Marquess Criss.
This week: CHI, @MIA, @TOR, @ATL
20. New Orleans Pelicans
2020-21 Record: 20-25Previous note: 21
Zion Williamson ended the week with a tantrum. He surpassed his previous record of 36 points in back-to-back games on Friday and Saturday nights. He scored 39 points in the loss against the Nuggets on Friday and finished with 38 points in the win over the Mavericks the following night. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Williamson joins Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Adrian Dantley, Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal, Scottie Pippen and Giannis Antetokounmpo as the only players with at least 75 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists to make at least 70 percent from the field in two games. — Lopez.
Key additions: James Johnson, Wes Iwundu, go: J.J. Redick, Nicolo Mellie…
This week: @BOS, ORL, ATL, @HOU
21. Sacramento Kings
2020-21 Record: 21-25Previous ranking : 24
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The NCAA Tournament was underway this weekend, as Harrison Barnes’ victory over the Cavs on Saturday, on a pass from De’Aaron Fox with 1.6 seconds left, was reminiscent of Duke Grant Hill teaming up with Christian Lettner to beat Kentucky in 1992. Don’t look now, but the Kings have won four in a row and are last in the West. — McManaman.
Key additions: Terence Davis, Maurice Harkless, Chris Silva, Delon Wright,
Key dropouts: Nemanja Bjelica, Cory Joseph, Mfiondo Kabengele, Jabari Parker
This week: @SAS, @SAS, LAL, MIL
22. Chicago Bulls
2020-21 Record: 19-25Previous ranking: 20
Despite changes in the starting lineup and rotation, the Bulls struggled to keep pace this week with three defeats at Utah, Cleveland and San Antonio. In Nikola Vucevic’s debut, the two-time Bulls All-Star scored a game-high 21 points, nine rebounds and three assists in 32 minutes despite the loss in San Antonio. Expect Vucevic and Zach LaVine to get along and make the playoffs. — Woodyard.
Key additions: Nikola Vucevic, Al-Farouq Aminu, Daniel Theis, Javonte Green, Troy Brown Jr.
Main departures : Wendell Carter Jr, Otto Porter Jr, Daniel Gafford, Chandler Hutchison, Luke Cornett.
This week: @GSW, @PHO, @UTA, BRK
23. Oklahoma City Thunder
2020-21 Record: 19-26
Previous Rating: 23
With Al Horford out for the rest of the season, the Thunder aren’t hiding their intentions for the rest of the season. But also keep a few things in mind: With Horford, they were just 8-8 this season, and they still haven’t improved with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander out for a month or so with a foot injury. The Thunder also want to play with their young players. One of them was Horford’s protégé, Moses Brown, who scored 21 points and grabbed 23 rebounds Saturday. — Young
Key additions: No. Main departures : George Hill, Al Horford (seated).
This week: VALLEY, TOR, @PHO, @POR
24. Toronto Raptors
2020-21 Record: 18-28
Previous ranking: 22
Toronto promptly lost two games in a row to end a nine-game losing streak, putting the Raptors in 13th place instead of 10th in the standings relatively late in the season. Toronto still has time to improve, and defenseman Kyle Lowry will help with that – assuming the right foot pain that bothered him in Sunday’s loss against Portland doesn’t persist. But the idea of this team being a problem for a first-round opponent is becoming less and less likely. This makes the question of whether he can jump into the loaded lottery seem that much more pressing. — Bontemps
Key additions: Rodney Hood, Gary Trent Jr.
The key is out: Norman Powell.
This week: @DET, @OKC, GSW
25. Washington Wizards
2020-21 Record: 16-28
Previous ranking: 25
Russell Westbrook nearly led the Wizards to a triple-double against Detroit (19 points, 19 rebounds and 10 assists), halting a three-game losing streak. Although the Wizards have lost eight of their last 10 games and Bradley Beal is hampered by a hip bruise, they made a move they hope will keep their hopes alive in the playoffs. Washington traded Moritz Wagner and Troy Brown Jr. for Daniel Gafford and Chandler Hutchinson. The 6-foot-4 Gafford provides Washington with protection and should help fill the void left by the season-ending injury to Thomas Bryant. -Youngomisuk
Key additions: Daniel Gafford, Chandler Hutchison, Keystrokes: Moritz Wagner, Troy Brown Jr.
This week: IND, CHA, @DET, DAL
26. Cleveland Cavaliers
2020-21 Record: 17-29
Previous ranking: 26
The losses are piling up for the Cavs – eight in their last 11 games, including two defeats this weekend. Cleveland scored just 86 of LeBron’s points in Friday’s loss to the Lakers, and he scored just 10 in the third quarter. After that, Sacramento allowed just 98 points despite winning by seven fouls against 18 from the Kings. — McManaman.
Key additions: Isaiah Hartenstein
Key leavers: Javale McGee.
This week: @UTA, PHI, @MIA
27. Orlando Magic
2020-21 Record: 15-31
Previous Assessment : 27
Orlando is in the midst of another shake-up after the Magic sold their veteran core of Nikola Vucevic, Evan Fournier and Aaron Gordon before the deadline. Now they have to hope that some of their new first round picks become solid players in the future, and also hope that Jonathan Isaac and Markelle Fultz become solid players again after their serious knee injuries last year. — Friedell.
Key additions: Wendell Carter Jr, Gary ClarkKey is out: Nikola Vucevic, Aaron Gordon, Evan Fournier.
This week: @LAC, @NOP, @UTA, @DEN
28. Detroit Pistons
2020-21 Record: 12-33
Previous review : 28
The Pistons have lost four in a row, including a 106-92 loss at Washington on Saturday where they trailed by 30 points but cut the deficit to three in the fourth quarter. The Pistons eventually traded Delon Wright to the Kings for Corey Joseph in 2021 and 2024 and a second round pick. — Woodyard.
Key additions: Cory Joseph
Significant leavers: Delon Wright, Blake Griffin.
This week: DOOR, POKE, WHAT, NUKE
29. Houston Rockets
2020-21 Record: 13-32
Previous ranking: 30
Developing guard Kevin Porter Jr. is one of the Rockets’ top priorities for the rest of the season and one of the reasons why trading Victor Oladipo made sense, even if he didn’t get much in return from Miami. Porter scored 25 points in Saturday’s win over the Timberwolves. It was the third time he scored that many points in eight games for the Rockets. According to statistics and data from ESPN, the Rockets have only had such an appearance of 20 or more players twice in franchise history. — McMahon.
Key additions: Kelly Olynyk, Avery Bradley, D.J. Augustine, D.J. WilsonThe key is out: Victor Oladipo, P.J. Tucker.
This week: MADAM, @BRK, @BOS, NOP
30. Minnesota Timber Wolves
2020-21 Record: 11-35
Previous ranking: 29
One of the Wolves’ (many) problems is that they just don’t play competitive games. In a young squad, the experience of being involved in close games and coming on late in important matches is crucial. But of the Wolves’ last nine defeats, only one has been decided by two possessions. They are usually thrown out when they are 15-20, which makes it difficult to build a young team. — Young
Key additions: No. Main departures : No
This week: @BRK, NYK, @MEM, @PHI
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