Monday, December 4

NBA Power Rankings: Suns, Grizzlies, Heat flying high for stretch run

By melissa rohlin
FOX Sports NBA Writer

With only two-and-a-half weeks remaining in the regular season, it’s time to take a look at where each team in the NBA stands.

It has been another roller coaster of a season that has defied prediction. Some of the favorites to win a title before the season began might not make the playoffs. And some teams that were initially overlooked are now championship contenders.

With most teams having 10 or fewer games remaining, here’s our breakdown of the league, with records and standings as of Wednesday morning.

1. phoenix suns: 58-14, first in the Western Conference

The Suns have the best chemistry of any team in the league — and they have a vendetta. That’s a dangerous combo. They’ve shown this season that reaching the NBA Finals last season was no fluke, as they’ve consistently been atop the standings all season.

Even after losing Chris Paul to an avulsion fracture in his right thumb before the All-Star break, the Suns have been rolling, winning 10 of their past 14 games without him. Now, he’s about to return, with the team on a mission to win the first championship in franchise history.

two. memphis grizzlies: 49-23, second in the West

Ha Morant? Desmond Bane? You might not have thought too much about those players last season. But they’ve both skyrocketed to the top of the league this year, proving that even though they’re in their early 20s, they should not be underestimated for a split second on the court.

3. Miami Heat: 47-25, first in the Eastern Conference

The Heat have the best record in the East, and Tyler Herro has emerged as a top contender for Sixth Man of the Year. With his improved scoring and proven ability to step up in big games, this team could be especially dangerous in the postseason.

Four. boston celtics: 45-28, fourth in the East

The Celtics are hitting their stride at just the right time, having won nine of their past 10 games. They’re 21-4 since Jan. 23 and have the best defensive rating (105.8) in the league.

5. milwaukee bucks: 45-27, second in the East

No one wants to play the defending champions, not when Giannis Antetokounmpo is seemingly capable of taking over games at will. He scored 30 or more points in five straight games before Tuesday.

Bucks should be favored to win the East — Colin I FOX BET LIVE

Bucks should be favored to win the East — Colin I FOX BET LIVE

FOX Bet has the Philadelphia 76ers, Brooklyn Nets and Milwaukee Bucks as the favorites to win the Eastern Conference this season. Colin Cowherd and Jason McIntyre discuss which team is the best bet.

6. Philadelphia 76ers: 44-27, third in the East

When James Harden is making his shots, this team looks like a contender. When he’s not, that’s a much tougher sell. The 76ers’ success from beyond the arc is going to be a big factor in how far they get in the postseason.

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7. Golden State Warriors: 47-25, third in the West

Here’s an unbelievable stat: Steph Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson have played together for only 11 minutes the past three seasons. Before that, they reached the NBA Finals five years in a row, winning three titles, so it shouldn’t take too much time for them to get reacquainted once Curry returns from a sprained ligament in his left foot, hopefully before the playoffs.

Warriors a threat to Suns in the West?

Warriors a threat to Suns in the West?

FOX Sports NBA Analyst Ric Bucher joins Colin Cowherd to discuss if the Warriors can challenge the Phoenix Suns in the Western Conference.

8. Utah Jazz: 45-27, fourth in the West

Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert are superstars, but despite this team’s strong roster, the Jazz always seem to fall apart in the playoffs. Here’s hoping this team can finally make a splash when it counts.

9. Dallas Mavericks: 44-28, fifth in the West

Spencer Dinwiddie’s game has opened up since he joined the Mavericks, and he and Luka Dončić are a highly effective combination. It wouldn’t be surprising if this team exceeds expectations in the postseason.

10. Toronto Raptors: 40-32, seventh in the East

Remember when some critics were skeptical about the Raptors’ choosing Scottie Barnes with the fourth pick in the 2021 draft? Well, he has made a mockery of the doubters. The Raptors are a scrappy team that will be a tough opponent for anyone.

eleven. chicago bulls: 42-30, fifth in the East

This team has experienced quite a slip from the way it began the season, winning only three of its past 12 games. Can the Bulls channel that early-season magic again? DeMar DeRozan has shown he can play MVP-caliber basketball. And when he does — and his teammates step up — this team is very difficult to beat.

12. minnesota timberwolves: 42-31, seventh in the West

One of the highlights of last week was when Karl-Anthony Towns scored a career-high 60 points against San Antonio and dedicated the performance to his mother, who died in 2020 from complications of COVID-19. The Timberwolves have hit their stride, winning 10 of their past 12 games.

13. Cleveland Cavaliers: 41-31, sixth in the East

The Cavs have been one of this season’s pleasant surprises. JB Bickerstaff is receiving Coach of the Year rumblings, and rookie Evan Mobley has proven he’s an elite defender. But losing Jarrett Allen to a fractured left finger at the top of the month was a big blow, though he’s reportedly hoping to return in the next three weeks.

14. Denver Nuggets: 43-30, sixth in the West

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The reigning MVP, Nikola Jokic, is having another spectacular season and keeping his team afloat without Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. It’s very impressive, but it’s tough to envision him carrying the Nuggets far into the playoffs without some major help.

Embiid or Jokic: Who’s the NBA’s best center?

Embiid or Jokic: Who's the NBA's best center?

Skip Bayless shares whom he prefers, given the choice of Joel Embiid or Nikola Jokic to play center.

fifteen. LA Clippers: 36-38, eighth in the West

You have to give this team credit. With Kawhi Leonard out all season and Paul George playing in only 26 games, the Clippers have somehow stayed afloat. It has been a total team effort, led by Reggie Jackson and Marcus Morris Sr. This team has grit, but unfortunately, there aren’t any postseason awards for effort.

16. Brooklyn Nets: 38-34, eighth in the East

Poor Kevin Durant. Will Ben Simmons return? Who knows? Will Kyrie Irving’s status change? Well, that’s up to him, and it’s not looking good. Durant is without a doubt one of the best players on this planet. But he can’t do it alone.

17. Los Angeles Lakers: 31-41, ninth in the West

This team has been bad all season. Russell Westbrook is inconsistent. Anthony Davis is injured. But here’s the thing: As long as LeBron James is on the court, anything can happen in the postseason. The question is: Will the Lakers even make the postseason? Right now, they’re in ninth in the West and 10 games below .500.

LeBron is a one-man show

LeBron is a one-man show

LeBron James scored 38 points en route to a triple-double Monday, and the Cleveland fans gave him a standing ovation for passing Karl Malone for a second on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. Colin Cowherd analyzes the latter stage of LeBron’s career.

18. Charlotte Hornets: 37-35, ninth in the East

The Hornets need Gordon Hayward, who has been sidelined since Feb. 7 due to an ankle injury. If he can return and play at a high level for the stretch run, this team has a playoff chance.

19. Atlanta Hawks: 36-36, 10th in the East

This team is likely headed for a play-in game. That’s a situation in which Trae Young could be very dangerous, especially considering that last week, he had 47- and 46-point performances, followed by a 45-point effort Tuesday.

twenty. New Orleans Pelicans: 30-42, 10th in the West

Jaxson Hayes has given this team a nice boost since he was upgraded to the starting power forward role. But would the Pelicans have enough umph to knock off a team such as the Lakers, should they meet in the play-in tournament?

twenty-one. San Antonio Spurs: 28-44, 11th in the West

The Spurs have heart, and they’ve won a lot of games they weren’t expected to win this season. Call them a “trap team,” if you will. Dejounte Murray has emerged as an All-Star. Gregg Popovich is the winningest NBA coach of all time. The Spurs could be a dark horse if they sneak into a play-in game.

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22. Washington Wizards: 30-41, 11th in the East

The good news is Kristaps Porzingis has shown glimpses of what he can do for this team. In the Wizards’ recent win over the Lakers, he scored 27 points, 16 of them in the fourth quarter.

23. New York Knicks: 30-42, 12th in the East

Last season, Julius Randle exceeded expectations. This season, I have experienced a major slide. RJ Barrett’s play has been the silver lining of an otherwise disappointing season for the Knicks.

24. Indiana Pacers: 25-47, 13th in the East

The Pacers recently announced that TJ Warren is officially out for the season after playing in only four games because of a left foot injury. After Warren’s strong performance in the bubble, that’s a huge bummer for this team.

25. Sacramento Kings: 25-48, 13th in the West

De’Aaron Fox has broken out on the offensive end recently, but it hasn’t been enough to get this team many wins. Meanwhile, many are still scratching their heads over the Kings’ decision to give up Tyrese Haliburton.

26. Portland Trail Blazers: 27-44, 12th in the West

The Trail Blazers just announced that Damian Lillard will miss the remainder of the season following abdominal surgery in January. There’s nothing for him to return to right now anyway. This team has lost 10 of its past 12 games.

27. Detroit Pistons: 19-53, 15th in the East

Cade Cunningham looks like every bit the franchise player the Pistons hoped he’d be. Now they just need to build around him.

28. Orlando Magic: 20-53, 14th in the East

The Magic have the second-worst offense (104) in the league. No one on the roster is averaging 20 or more points.

29. Oklahoma City Thunder: 20-52, 14th in the West

LeBron recently praised Thunder general manager Sam Presti, so here’s hoping he makes some great decisions this offseason.

30. Houston Rockets: 18-54, 15th in the West

The Rockets have a talented young core, so there’s that. Jalen Green should become something special. Right now, though, this team earns the distinction of having the worst record in the NBA.

Melissa Rohlin is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. She previously covered the league for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Times, the Bay Area News Group and the San Antonio Express-News. Follow her on Twitter @melissarohlin.

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