Sports

NBA Power Rankings – The Phoenix Suns rise; Kevin Durant returns ahead of a massive East battle


Let the battle for the Eastern Conference begin in the NBA.

With Kevin Durant back after missing nearly two months with a hamstring injury, the star-studded Brooklyn Nets are getting whole again — just in time for an epic matchup with the Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday night (7 ET on ESPN).

In the West, the battle for the No. 1 seed is heating up, despite the recent struggles of the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers. Don’t look now, but Devin Booker, Chris Paul and the Phoenix Suns have won 11 of their past 13 games, including last week’s overtime decision over the NBA-best Utah Jazz. The LA Clippers are keeping pace, as well, with five straight wins heading into a three-game road trip.

Here’s where our panel sees all 30 NBA teams ahead of Week 17.

Note: Throughout the regular season, our panel (ESPN’s Tim Bontemps, Nick Friedell, Andrew Lopez, Tim MacMahon, Dave McMenamin, Royce Young 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 | Week 16

1. Utah Jazz
2020-21 record: 40-13
Previous ranking: 1

Donovan Mitchell became the first Utah player since Karl Malone to score at least 35 points in three straight games, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. The Jazz’s wins this week over the Trail Blazers and Kings, which extended the franchise-record home winning streak to 24 games, marked the first contests this season that Utah won with Mitchell taking at least 25 shots from the floor. The Jazz were previously 0-5 in such games. — MacMahon

This week: WAS, OKC, IND, LAL


2. Phoenix Suns
2020-21 record: 37-15
Previous ranking: 4

Saturday’s victory over the Wizards gave Phoenix 37 W’s on the season. With a 72-game schedule, that locked up a winning season for the Suns for the first time since 2013-14, when the team went 48-34. However, that season, Phoenix finished a game out of the playoffs despite their 48 wins. This year’s version of the Suns likely won’t have that issue. The Suns continue to hold on to the No. 2 spot in the Western Conference standings. — Lopez

This week: HOU, MIA, SAC, SAS


3. Brooklyn Nets
2020-21 record: 36-17
Previous ranking: 2

Kevin Durant is back, and one thing about him is there really is no such thing as rust. He went a perfect 5-for-5 in his return Wednesday against the Pelicans. The potential issue for the Nets moving forward is less about working Durant back in and more about all the offensive weapons around him readjusting to his return. Which is why it’s not helpful for Kyrie Irving to be getting tossed with an opportunity to get some reps together. — Young

This week: @MIN, @PHI, CHA, @MIA


4. Philadelphia 76ers
2020-21 record: 36-17
Previous ranking: 3

There might not be a bigger game left in this regular season than Nets-Sixers in Philadelphia on Wednesday night. The teams are tied for first place in the East and have split the first two meetings — meaning Wednesday’s winner will hold the tiebreaker. But this is a huge week for Philly, which also plays in Dallas on Monday, before hosting the Clippers on Friday. — Bontemps

This week: @DAL, BRK, LAC


5. LA Clippers
2020-21 record: 37-18
Previous ranking: 6

The Clippers beat Portland, Phoenix, Houston and Detroit this past week, but they still experienced loss when Patrick Beverley fractured the fourth metacarpal in his left hand. While the Clippers kept pace with the Suns behind Utah in the West, their injuries continue to interrupt their ability to establish chemistry and cohesion. Beverley will be out at least three weeks, and Reggie Jackson and Rajon Rondo are the team’s point guards moving forward until he returns. Serge Ibaka (back) will not travel with the team on its three-game trip this week. — Youngmisuk

This week: @IND, @DET, @PHI, MIN


6. Denver Nuggets
2020-21 record: 34-19
Previous ranking: 7

The Nuggets finally experienced a loss in the Aaron Gordon era. Denver won its first seven games with Gordon on the floor, until dropping a 105-87 decision to the Celtics. Nevertheless, the Nuggets have been in a groove, having won 17 of their past 21 games. One concern is Jamal Murray‘s health. Murray has sat out the past four games with a sore knee. Denver, though, wants to have a healthy Murray down the stretch. At 34-19, the Nuggets are hot on the Clippers’ tails and looking to creep into the top three in the West. — Youngmisuk

This week: @GSW, MIA, @HOU


7. Milwaukee Bucks
2020-21 record: 33-20
Previous ranking: 5

While Milwaukee has to be concerned being three games behind both Philadelphia and Brooklyn — which means the Bucks will likely have to beat both to make the NBA Finals for the first time in nearly 50 years — the bigger concern is the health of Giannis Antetokounmpo, who has missed the past several games with knee soreness. It’s understandable that the Bucks would be cautious with their superstar, but everyone in Milwaukee will undoubtedly feel better when he is back on the court. — Bontemps

This week: @MIN, @ATL, MEM


8. Los Angeles Lakers
2020-21 record: 33-20
Previous ranking: 8

“Defensive scrappiness and the offensive confidence,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said after L.A.’s 25-point win in Brooklyn without LeBron James and Anthony Davis. “That’s been the formula.” With the Lakers’ big two finally nearing a return, there’s hope for the purple and gold that they’ve figured out a way to stay afloat and avoid the dreaded play-in scenario to begin their repeat bid. — McMenamin

This week: @NYK, @CHA, BOS, UTA


9. Dallas Mavericks
2020-21 record: 29-23
Previous ranking: 10

“Yeah, we’re trying to play together and help each other,” Kristaps Porzingis said when asked about the awkward lack of on-court interaction between him and Luka Doncic. “We want to win. At the end, we all want to win here, and that’s it.” Whether the franchise cornerstones are friends is not much concern to the Mavs, considering Dallas has won 15 of the past 20 games both have played and has scored 123.4 points per 100 possessions with the pair on the floor during that span. A more pressing issue: Dallas ranks last in the league in clutch defensive rating (127.2). — MacMahon

This week: PHI, @MEM, NYK, SAC


10. Portland Trail Blazers
2020-21 record: 31-22
Previous ranking: 9

After carrying the team for two months, the burden might be catching up to Damian Lillard. In six April games, Lillard is averaging just 20.1 points on 38.3% shooting — and the Blazers are 2-4, with wins over Detroit and OKC. They are finally healthy, and deadline addition Norman Powell is playing well. All signs pointed to them hitting a stride, but they go as Lillard goes, and until he finds his second wind, neither will the Blazers. — Young

This week: BOS, @SAS, @CHA


11. Miami Heat
2020-21 record: 28-25
Previous ranking: 11

Miami is rolling again, having won six of seven games. As usual, it has been Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo setting the tone for a Heat team that looks primed to make a late push up the East standings. The pair combined for 41 points and 14 rebounds in Thursday’s win and 42 points and seven rebounds on Sunday. The bad news for the Heat is that new guard Victor Oladipo injured his right knee during Thursday’s win over the Lakers, and his status remains unclear moving forward. — Friedell

This week: @PHO, @DEN, @MIN, BRK


12. Atlanta Hawks
2020-21 record: 29-25
Previous ranking: 13

Will Nate McMillan get some love when it comes time to vote for NBA Coach of the Year? Since McMillan took over on March 2, the Hawks have gone 15-5, the fourth-best record in the league. Only the Nuggets, Suns and Nets have had better marks in that stretch. Atlanta also has battled injuries throughout the season, but with Trae Young, Danilo Gallinari, Tony Snell and John Collins among those out on Sunday, the Hawks came away with a big win against Charlotte on the back of Bogdan Bogdanovic‘s season-high 32 points and a career-high eight 3-pointers. — Lopez

This week: @TOR, MIL, IND


13. Boston Celtics
2020-21 record: 28-26
Previous ranking: 15

It remains a strange and underwhelming season for the Celtics, who remain stuck in the morass of teams in the back end of the Eastern Conference playoff picture. But after Sunday’s massive comeback victory in Denver over the streaking Nuggets, Boston has won five of its past six and has a chance to really attempt to turn its season around, with games in Portland on Tuesday and in Los Angeles against the Lakers on Thursday. — Bontemps

This week: @POR, @LAL, GSW


14. Charlotte Hornets
2020-21 record: 27-25
Previous ranking: 16

Charlotte keeps chugging along without LaMelo Ball and Gordon Hayward, thanks in part to the recent play of Miles Bridges. The Michigan State alum is averaging 17 points and 6.2 rebounds in April in 33.2 minutes per game. The Hornets’ resilience will face a nice test on Friday against the Nets. — Friedell

This week: LAL, CLE, @BRK, POR


15. Memphis Grizzlies
2020-21 record: 26-25
Previous ranking: 17

Center Jonas Valanciunas has been the Grizzlies’ best player since the All-Star break, leading the team in scoring (18.5 points per game), rebounding (14.6 per game), field goal percentage (60.9%) and plus-minus (plus-78 total) in that span. His 34-point, 22-rebound performance in Sunday’s loss to the Pacers was only the second 30-point, 20-rebound outing in the NBA this season. According to ESPN Stats & Information data, Valanciunas joined Zach Randolph as the only players in franchise history with multiple 30-20 performances in their career. — MacMahon

This week: CHI, DAL, @CHI, @MIL


16. New York Knicks
2020-21 record: 27-27
Previous ranking: 14

The Knicks just keep on fighting. Despite a tough schedule, they continue to battle their way into playoff positioning, picking up a couple of more wins this weekend thanks to some late-game heroics from RJ Barrett. At .500, it’s going to take a lot for the Knicks to fall out of position for at least the play-in tournament. That alone would be a sign of significant progress in coach Tom Thibodeau’s first season at the helm. — Bontemps

This week: LAL, @NOP, @DAL, NOP


17. San Antonio Spurs
2020-21 record: 25-26
Previous ranking: 12

Despite snapping a five-game losing streak on Sunday against Dallas, the Spurs sunk under .500 last week for the first time since they were 3-4 on Jan. 5. San Antonio had a remarkable stretch of consistency from 1997-98 to 2018-19, when they made 22 consecutive playoff trips. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, in those 22 seasons, San Antonio spent a total of 65 days under .500. In the past two seasons combined, San Antonio has been under .500 for 147 days. — Lopez

This week: @ORL, @TOR, POR, @PHO


18. Indiana Pacers
2020-21 record: 25-27
Previous ranking: 18

T.J. McConnell had 19 points and 15 assists off the bench in Wednesday’s win against the Timberwolves. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, McConnell became the first player since starts were tracked in 1970-71 to have multiple 15-point, 15-assist games off the bench in a single season. (He did it on March 19, as well.) McConnell also leads the NBA with 83 steals; if he were to end up leading the league for the season, he would be the first player since Nate McMillan in 1993-94 to do so as a player primarily coming off the bench. — Lopez

This week: LAC, @HOU, @UTA, @ATL


19. New Orleans Pelicans
2020-21 record: 24-29
Previous ranking: 20

Zion Williamson is becoming even more of an offensive force. In his past seven games, Williamson is averaging 32.9 points, the highest seven-game average of his career. He has scored at least 37 points in four of those games, and the stretch includes a 16-point outing against the Nets. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, Williamson on Sunday had his eighth 30-point game this season without making a field goal outside of the paint. That’s more than the rest of the league (7) combined this season. — Lopez

This week: SAC, NYK, @WAS, @NYK


20. Golden State Warriors
2020-21 record: 25-28
Previous ranking: 19

With James Wiseman likely out for the season due to a tear to the meniscus in his right knee, as ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported Sunday, the Warriors are left to pick themselves up after yet another season-altering injury. The up-and-down play that has defined their season continues, as evidenced by a nice comeback win over the Bucks on Tuesday and a late-game meltdown against the Wizards on Friday. Stephen Curry is just 18 points away from passing Wilt Chamberlain and becoming the franchise’s all-time leading scorer. Curry is averaging 36.8 points and 7.2 rebounds per game over his first five games in April. — Friedell

This week: DEN, @OKC, @CLE, @BOS


21. Chicago Bulls
2020-21 record: 22-30
Previous ranking: 21

The Bulls still haven’t looked great since acquiring Nikola Vucevic, going only 3-6 since the All-Star center came to Chicago just before the trade deadline. The bright spot for the Bulls continues to be Zach LaVine‘s offense: The All-Star swingman poured in 50 points in Friday’s loss to the Hawks, and he is averaging 27.8 points, 6.4 assists and 6.0 rebounds a game over six April contests. — Friedell

This week: @MEM, ORL, MEM, CLE


22. Sacramento Kings
2020-21 record: 22-31
Previous ranking: 22

The Kings’ losing streak extended to six games on Saturday in Utah. And these aren’t just losses; they’re beatdowns. Five of the six losses were by 10-plus points, and the average margin of defeat, even including a one-point loss to Milwaukee, has been 12.3 points. The downturn has Sacramento three games out of the final play-in spot and fading fast. — McMenamin

This week: @NOP, WAS, @PHO, @DAL


23. Toronto Raptors
2020-21 record: 21-33
Previous ranking: 23

At the end of February, the Raptors were 17-17 and had seemingly righted themselves after a rough start. Since then, the Raptors have lost 16 of their past 20 games — including yet another disappointing defeat against the Knicks on Sunday night — and remain two games behind the Bulls for 10th in the East. This has been a season the Raptors will be ready to forget the moment it ends. — Bontemps

This week: ATL, SAS, ORL, OKC


24. Washington Wizards
2020-21 record: 19-33
Previous ranking: 25

The Wizards finally got back on track with two consecutive wins, over Orlando and Golden State. But then they suffered a 28-point loss to the Suns. Bradley Beal (back) is listed as probable to play in the next game, after missing the Suns rout, and the team just got back Daniel Gafford. The Wizards complete a difficult six-game road swing against Utah and Sacramento this week. — Youngmisuk

This week: @UTA, @SAC, NOP, DET


25. Cleveland Cavaliers
2020-21 record: 19-34
Previous ranking: 26

It was quite the week for the Cavs. The good: Darius Garland put up a career-best 37 points on 14-for-22 shooting, along with seven assists and two steals, in a win over San Antonio. The bad: Both Garland and Collin Sexton sat out the Cavs’ loss to the Pelicans with injuries, while New Orleans’ Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram combined for 65 points, serving as a flash point for how far along former Cleveland GM David Griffin’s rebuild is with the Pelicans compared to where the Cavs currently are. The ugly: Cleveland allowed Toronto — playing without Pascal Siakam, Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet — to score 87 points in the first half en route to a 20-point loss. — McMenamin

This week: @CHA, GSW, @CHI


26. Oklahoma City Thunder
2020-21 record: 20-33
Previous ranking: 24

While the Thunder are finally settling into their, ahem, developmentally focused strategy (aka losing games), they have battled against a rash of injuries that has thinned out the roster. But it also has allowed for more opportunity for their young players to learn and grow, particularly rookies Theo Maledon and Aleksej Pokusevski. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, against the Hornets they became the first pair of teammates, both teenagers, to each score at least 25 points in a game in NBA history. — Young

This week: @UTA, GSW, @DET, @TOR


27. Detroit Pistons
2020-21 record: 16-38
Previous ranking: 28

You probably saw Sacramento’s Maurice Harkless going all Vince Carter-on-Alonzo Mourning against Isaiah Stewart this week. What you might not have seen is Stewart’s line that game: 16 points on 8-for-10 shooting, 13 rebounds and four assists in the win, turning out to be one of the finest performances of the rugged rookie’s young career despite the posterization. — McMenamin

This week: LAC, OKC, @WAS


28. Orlando Magic
2020-21 record: 17-36
Previous ranking: 27

Orlando is in the midst of a five-game losing streak, punctuated by a 37-point blowout to the Bucks on Sunday. Some of the only good news for the Magic is that rookie Cole Anthony is finally back after missing two months with a rib injury. The bad news is that the rust is apparent: He is 13-for-42 from the field in his three games since returning. — Friedell

This week: SAS, @CHI, @TOR, HOU


29. Minnesota Timberwolves
2020-21 record: 14-40
Previous ranking: 30

It was a big week for the Wolves. Glen Taylor finally agreed to sell to the team, with new owners Marc Lore and Alex Rodriguez finalizing a deal to purchase the team, and D’Angelo Russell returned after missing more than a month. Russell played in four games this week, and in all four, he played well and the Wolves looked to be a far more competent team. They beat the Kings, played the Pacers and Celtics extremely close, and took down the Bulls on Sunday behind 27 points in 26 minutes from Russell. Before shutting down in late February because of a scope on his knee, Russell and Karl-Anthony Towns had only played eight total games together. Every explanation about the Wolves’ disappointing season started with that number; and with Russell back, they showed the kind of promise the front office hoped for when trading for him last year. — Young

This week: BRK, MIL, MIA, @LAC


30. Houston Rockets
2020-21 record: 14-39
Previous ranking: 29

The Rockets have allowed at least 118 points in seven of their past eight games. The exception is Houston’s lone win in that stretch, when the Rockets managed to hold the Mavericks to 93 points. Lineups featuring the Christian WoodKelly Olynyk combination have especially struggled to get stops, allowing 121.9 points per 100 possessions. — MacMahon

This week: @PHO, IND, DEN, @ORL



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