NBA Power Rankings: Celtics cling to top spot, but rest of East is gaining ground

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Wednesday, February 1, 2023

The Boston Celtics didn't look like a first-place team for most of last week with three losses to lower-tier teams in the New York Knicks, Miami Heat and even a lopsided defeat to theOrlando Magic. They were on the verge of dropping their fourth straight to the Los Angeles Lakers on Saturday, but a controversial no-call on a LeBron James shot in the final seconds allowed the Celtics to escape in overtime.

So the Celtics remain the best team in the NBA, but by a smaller margin as their contending rivals in the Eastern Conference are gaining some ground. The Milwaukee Bucks have won fivestraight and are just 2.5 games behind Boston, while the Philadelphia 76ers have won eight of their past 10, and even the Kevin Durant-less Brooklyn Nets are stringing some wins together behind Kyrie Irving's leadership. Brooklyn will have their own chance to cut into Boston's lead on Wednesday (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN).

Meanwhile, the Denver Nuggets and Memphis Grizzlies are still vying for first place in the Western Conference, but the Sacramento Kings are looking more and more like a sneaky contender behind them. The Kings are one of the feel-good stories in the NBA this season, but they might prove to be more than just a fun underdog based on how they've been shooting the ball.

Note: Throughout the regular season, our panel (Kendra Andrews, Tim Bontemps, Jamal Collier, Nick Friedell, Andrew Lopez, Tim MacMahon, Dave McMenamin and Ohm Youngmisuk) 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 1| Week 2 | Week 3| Week 4| Week 5| Week 6| Week 7| Week 8| Week 9| Week 10| Week 11| Week 12| Week 13| Week 14| Week 15

1.Boston Celtics

2022-23 record: 36-15

Previous ranking: 1

Even after seeing their offense fall off over the past couple months following an incandescent start to the season, the Celtics enter Wednesday's game against Boston as the only team to reside within the top five in both offensive and defensive efficiency -- placing fourth in each.-- Bontemps

2.Philadelphia 76ers

2022-23 record: 32-17

Previous ranking: 3

Although Philadelphia saw its seven-game winning streak come to an end at the hands of the Orlando Magic on Monday, there's still plenty to be excited about in The City of Brotherly Love, where the 76ers arguably have the best team of the Joel Embiid era -- a view Embiid himself endorsed to ESPN after Saturday's win over Nikola Jokic and the Nuggets. -- Bontemps

3.Milwaukee Bucks

2022-23 record: 33-17

Previous ranking: 5

The Bucks won their fifth consecutive game with a 124-115 win against the Hornets on Tuesday, their second longest winning streak of the season after starting the year 9-0. Milwaukee has not lost since Khris Middleton -- who scored 18 points in 20 minutes off the bench in one of his best games recently -- returned to the lineup from a knee injury.-- Collier

4.Denver Nuggets

2022-23 record: 34-16

Previous ranking: 2

The Nuggets dropped tough back-to-back games, but one was without their stars and the other was their rivalry week matchup against the 76ers in a battle between Nikola Jokic and Joel Embiid. It was a game that Embiid took so personally that Denver shouldn't take the loss too hard. As the middle of the pack battle it out, the Nuggets are still by far the most dominant team in the Western Conference.-- Andrews

5.Memphis Grizzlies

2022-23 record: 32-18

Previous ranking: 4

The Reddit thread accusing Memphis scorekeepers of boosting Jaren Jackson Jr.'s block totals didn't need to be debunked to understand the Grizzlies rim protector's defensive impact. Memphis has a 103.4 defensive rating with Jackson on the floor, allowing eight fewer points per possessions than without him. He's by far the biggest factor in the Grizzlies having the West's best defensive rating (109.7, a tenth of a point behind the Cavaliers for the NBA lead). -- MacMahon

6. Brooklyn Nets

2022-23 record: 31-19

Previous ranking: 6

Brooklyn has found a little rhythm without Kevin Durant on the floor. That's due in large part to Kyrie Irving, who averaged 29.5 points per game during the month of January and hit a variety of clutch shots late in games to help secure victories. Nic Claxton continues to improve night after night -- as evidenced by a stretch last week where he set a new career high for points in a game three nights in a row, culminating with 27 points in a Jan. 26 loss to the Pistons.-- Friedell

7.Cleveland Cavaliers

2022-23 record: 31-21

Previous ranking: 8

Cedi Osman followed up one of the best games of his NBA career -- 29 points on 11-for-13 shooting, including 7-for-7 from 3 in 22 minutes in a blowout win over the Clippers -- by going 0-for-2 in seven minutes in a loss to the Heat. The seesaw for Osman underscores one of Cleveland's weaknesses this season, ranking 27th in the league in bench points at 28.9 per game.-- McMenamin

8.Miami Heat

2022-23 record: 28-23

Previous ranking: 10

Miami has won four of its past five including a solid road win over the Cavs on Tuesday night. Bam Adebayo continues his strong season on the verge of another All-Star appearance. He has 85 points and 36 rebounds over his last four games. -- Friedell

9.Sacramento Kings

2022-23 record: 28-21

Previous ranking: 7

The Kings have been showing their offensive prowess all season, and that was on full display early in the week. But their weak point is still their defense, and that was their Achilles' heel in their losses. If they want to stay near the top of the pack in the West, that will have to turn around.-- Andrews

10. LA Clippers

2022-23 record: 28-25

Previous ranking: 12

The Clippers are beginning to resemble the team they are supposed to be. They won for the sixth time in seven games on Tuesday in Chicago with their only loss coming on the second of a back-to-back in Cleveland where the Clippers rested the majority of their key players. It is no coincidence that the Clippers are winning;Kawhi Leonard is the strongest he's been in his comeback year. He's scored over 30 points in his past two games and logged 39 and a season-high 40 minutes in those wins. -- Youngmisuk

11.Golden State Warriors

2022-23 record: 26-24

Previous ranking: 14

Thanks to the absolute jumble that is the Western Conference, the Golden State Warriors find themselves in the fifth seed. And, having finally strung together consecutive wins on the road and with their roster practically fully healthy (besides Andre Iguodala), they could be on the brink of the momentum shift they've been waiting for. -- Andrews

12. Dallas Mavericks

2022-23 record: 27-25

Previous ranking: 11

Luka Doncic has five 50-point performances in his career, one more than the rest of the Mavs have combined for in the franchise's 43-year history. Over the past 50 years, only Michael Jordan (17) had more 50-point games in the first five years of his career, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. Doncic did drop to second behind Joel Embiid in the NBA scoring race recently, however, the result of the first scoreless performance of his career occurring when he exited a win over the Suns after only three minutes due to a sprained ankle. -- MacMahon

13. New York Knicks

2022-23 record: 27-24

Previous ranking: 16

It appeared New York had a chance to build some momentum after beating Cleveland and Boston, only to again fall flat with back-to-back losses to the Brooklyn Nets and Los Angeles Lakers. Now, New York is staring at a rough stretch of games, including battles against the Miami Heat, LA Clippers and 76ers in a four-day span this weekend. -- Bontemps

14. Phoenix Suns

2022-23 record: 27-25

Previous ranking: 13

The Suns' sinusoidal season continues, as they've now won six out of seven games after a stretch in which they lost nine out of 10. Now the countdown begins for the biggest question of Phoenix's season: What happens to Jae Crowder with the trade deadline fewer than 10 days away? -- McMenamin

15.Minnesota Timberwolves

2022-23 record: 27-26

Previous ranking: 19

The Timberwolves seem to be stabilizing, outside of a few discombobulated moments. The big but is: They'll still need to foldKarl-Anthony Townsback into the mix. Frankly, that didn't work so well at the start of the season. That should be a little bit of concern for Minnesota when it's time to bring him back.-- Andrews

16.New Orleans Pelicans

2022-23 record: 26-25

Previous ranking: 9

Things have changed drastically for the Pelicans over the last month. Once 23-12, the Pelicans have dropped 14 of their last 17 games, and Tuesday's loss to the Denver Nuggets was the team's ninth consecutive loss in a row. Part of the problem during January was the team's inability to keep leads. Since Jan. 6, the Pelicans held at least a 10-point lead in eight games. They lost six of those contests including Tuesday against Denver. -- Lopez

17.Atlanta Hawks

2022-23 record: 25-26

Previous ranking: 16

Dejounte Murray finished with 40 points, eight rebounds, seven assists and zero turnovers on Monday night against the Portland Trail Blazers, marking the first 40-point game of Murray's career. Murray's four highest-scoring games of his career have come this season and two have been when the Hawks haven't had Trae Young on the floor. In five games without Young this season, Murray averages 26.4 points, 7.8 assists and 6.4 rebounds per game. -- Lopez

18.Utah Jazz

2022-23 record: 26-26

Previous ranking: 17

Lauri Markkanen is widely expected to be selected by the Western Conference coaches as an All-Star reserve, as he has averaged 24.9 points per game with a 66.6 true shooting percentage. It would be his first All-Star appearance. "I've always said it's been a personal goal ever since I walked into the league," Markkanen said. "The last couple of weeks, it feels kind of like it's a real possibility. But I'm not celebrating yet." -- MacMahon

19. Oklahoma City Thunder

2022-23 record: 24-26

Previous ranking: 18

Josh Giddey, who doesn't turn 21 until the start of next season, had six assists on Monday night against the Golden State Warriors to give him 602 assists in his career. He's only the fourth player in NBA history to have 600 assists and 600 rebounds at age 20 or younger joining LeBron James, Luka Doncic and LaMelo Ball. -- Lopez

20.Washington Wizards

2022-23 record: 24-26

Previous ranking: 25

Continuing their topsy-turvy season, the Wizards are now the hottest team in the NBA, riding a six-game winning streak and did so without Kristaps Porzingis for three of those games. Now, Porzingis is back from injury, and Washington looks balanced. Since an 11-20 start, Washington has won 13 of its past 19 games. Without Rui Hachimura -- now a Laker -- Deni Avdija is averaging 16.2 points and 9.5 rebounds in his past four games.-- Youngmisuk

21.Portland Trail Blazers

2022-23 record: 24-26

Previous ranking: 24

The Blazers' win over Atlanta at home on Monday was big because they now have a three-game road trip that starts in Memphis before a back-to-back at Washington and against Chicago. Fresh off his West Player of the Week award, Damian Lillard remains red hot with 42 points against Atlanta -- the fifth time he has scored 40 or more in his past 10 games.-- Youngmisuk

22.Chicago Bulls

2022-23 record: 23-26

Previous ranking: 22

The Bulls blew a 19-point lead to the Clippers on Tuesday, the fourth time this season they have dropped a game when leading by 15 points or more, second most in the NBA (Rockets, 5).-- Collier

23. Los Angeles Lakers

2022-23 record: 23-28

Previous ranking: 21

Anthony Davis turned into LeBron James' hype man on Tuesday night after James moved up to No. 4 on the all-time assists list while drawing within 100 points on Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's all-time scoring record during a win against New York. James was asked if things felt "heavier" now that the scoring record is actually in reach. "No," he said. "I mean, I'm going to do it. It's just a matter of time when I'm going to do it." Davis, sitting next to James said, "S---, that's tough. That's tough. That's a tough-ass answer." -- McMenamin

24.Indiana Pacers

2022-23 record: 24-28

Previous ranking: 20

Myles Turner signed a two-year, $60 million extension this past weekend. It should silence longstanding trade rumors for the Indiana big man, at least for now. He is averaging 17.5 points and 7.8 rebounds while shooting 54.4% from the field and 39.3% from 3 this season, all of which are career-highs. -- Collier

25.Toronto Raptors

2022-23 record: 23-29

Previous ranking: 23

Toronto has three more games left on its current road trip -- at Utah, Houston and Memphis -- before returning home to play San Antonio the night before the trade deadline. The Raptors remain the team others around the league are most curious to see what they do between now and the deadline, given the potential difference-making players they could possibly move. --Bontemps

26.Orlando Magic

2022-23 record: 20-31

Previous ranking: 26

Paolo Banchero had 29 points in Monday's impressive win over the Sixers and finished the month of January averaging 20.1 points a game. Banchero continues to improve alongside a young core that seems to be finding its form a little more week after week.-- Friedell

27. Charlotte Hornets

2022-23 record: 15-36

Previous ranking: 27

Charlotte actually won two games in a row prior to dropping Tuesday's contest to the Bucks. The good news, as usual for the Hornets, is that LaMelo Ball continues to play well. Ball had a triple double in Tuesday's loss and is averaging 20.3 points, 9.3 rebounds and 8 assists a game.-- Friedell

28.San Antonio Spurs

2022-23 record: 14-37

Previous ranking: 28

Rookie forward Jeremy Sochan had a career-high 30 points in Saturday's overtime loss to the Phoenix Suns, and he's been on a tear as of late. He had 15 points in the first quarter on Monday against the Wizards, the most any Spur has had in the first quarter this season. In his last seven games, Sochan is averaging 18 points and 5.9 rebounds per game. And since switching to his one-handed free-throw shooting routine on Dec. 19, he's shooting 76.7% from the stripe.-- Lopez

29.Detroit Pistons

2022-23 record: 13-39

Previous ranking: 29

Despite their place at the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the Pistons are not guaranteed to be sellers at the trade deadline next week. Detroit wants to be competitive next season and could leave its veterans in place, including coveted players such as Bojan Bogdanovic, to help complement its young core.-- Collier

30.Houston Rockets

2022-23 record: 12-38

Previous ranking: 30

Rookie forward Tari Eason has started three of the past five games and fared well in that span, averaging 12.8 points and 8.4 rebounds while shooting 52.9% from the floor. He has double-doubles in each of the past two games after recording only one double-double in the first 48 appearances of his career.-- MacMahon

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