NBA Power Rankings, Week 20: The Philadelphia 76ers, Memphis Grizzlies, and Brooklyn Nets all did well over the weekend, making the top 10.
What happens when you combine a past NBA MVP with the current favourite to win the award this season? You get the most recent version of the Philadelphia 76ers, who have appeared unstoppable since James Harden’s debut with Joel Embiid on Friday night.
The duo combined for 127 points and 59 free throw attempts in two road games against the Minnesota Timberwolves and the New York Knicks, including 27 foul throws by Embiid on Sunday, the highest in a single game in almost three years.
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On the opposite side of the greatest blockbuster of the 2021-22 season, the Brooklyn Nets are still waiting for Ben Simmons to make his debut as well as Kevin Durant’s recovery from a knee injury, but Kyrie Irving ignited a dramatic comeback win over the Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday night. Irving scored a season-high 38 points in his first game back from the All-Star break. Following an 11-game losing run, Brooklyn has won three of its last five games.
This week, where do the East contenders and the rest of the league stand?
Note: Throughout the regular season, our panel (Tim Bontemps, Jamal Collier, Nick Friedell, Andrew Lopez, Tim MacMahon, Dave McMenamin, and Ohm Youngmisuk) will rank all 30 teams from top to bottom, determining which teams are playing the best basketball right now and which teams are most likely to win the championship.
The Suns lost consecutive games for only the third time this season, falling to the Pelicans and Jazz. Of course, both of those losses occurred in the absence of point guard Chris Paul, who is sidelined with an avulsion fracture in his right thumb. With Paul out, Suns guard Devin Booker has returned to his playmaking ways, averaging eight assists per game since the All-Star break, including a game-high 12 against Oklahoma City on Thursday. Those were Booker’s most in a game since Paul joined the Suns last season.
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Ja Morant’s 46 points in Saturday’s win over the Bulls set a new Grizzlies regular-season scoring record. It was his sixth 40-point game of the season; no other Grizzlies player had more than one in a single season. Morant scored at least 20 points in the paint for the 19th game this season. According to ESPN Stats & Information data, just five players have done so in a season in the last 25 years: Shaquille O’Neal, Amar’e Stoudemire, Anthony Davis, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Zion Williamson. MacMahon’s
The Warriors lost a 21-point lead over the Mavericks on Sunday night, and they now play five of their next six games away from home. Their title defence is predicated on Draymond Green’s return from a disc ailment. Green has resumed exercises in practise, but it is unclear when he will participate in games. While they wait for him to return, the Warriors must continue to tread water. Friedell’s
Miami has won three in a row and eight of its last nine games. Bam Adebayo has been putting up monster numbers this month, averaging 22.7 points and 11.3 rebounds. The Heat are rounding into shape as they close in on the Eastern Conference title. A win versus the No. 2 Bulls on Monday night would seal the season tiebreaker.
James Harden and Joel Embiid have had a fantastic start to the season. Yes, the 76ers have had some tough opponents to begin with in Minnesota and New York. But that doesn’t take away from how well the two superstars have gelled, as Embiid has stated multiple times. One thing is certain: With two of the league’s finest foul-drawers on the same team, 76ers games will be lengthy.
The Bulls have the NBA’s fifth-best record, but they are winless (0-7) versus the four teams ahead of them (the Suns, Warriors, Grizzlies, and Heat), including a loss to Memphis in their most recent game. The following four games for Chicago will be another challenge, beginning with a game against the Heat in Miami on Monday, followed by games against the Hawks, Bucks, and Sixers.
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The Jazz have won eight of their last nine games, including victory over the Mavericks and Suns after the All-Star break, to give themselves some breathing room in the first round. Donovan Mitchell has averaging 27.9 points and 5.4 assists while shooting.497/.469/.848 in eight games after returning from a two-week concussion hiatus. MacMahon’s
The Bucks have lost four of their last five games, including defeats to the Suns, Sixers, and Nets, as their defence has deteriorated in the absence of Brook Lopez. During that time, Milwaukee had the NBA’s second-worst defensive rating, trailing only the Rockets. It plays the Heat and Bulls this week before facing the Suns in a repeat of the Finals on Sunday.
The major purpose for the Mavericks’ trade-deadline transaction was to get rid of Kristaps Porzingis and his max salary, but Spencer Dinwiddie and Davis Bertans have been important players off the bench since coming over from Washington. Dinwiddie has averaging 14 points on 63.9 percent shooting from the field this season, including a 24-point outburst against the Warriors on Sunday. Bertans averages 9.8 points per game and shoots 39.3 percent from 3-point range.
The Celtics were due for a flop like the one they suffered against the Pacers on Sunday. However, after primarily feasting on poor or injury-depleted opponents during their recent ascension in the rankings, the Celtics’ next homestand against Atlanta, Memphis, and Brooklyn should offer a clearer indication of exactly how high this team’s ceiling has risen with its improved performance of late. – Bonne Chance
With Darius Garland (back) and CarVert (foot) out, the Cavaliers dropped to the Pistons in their first game back from the All-Star break on Thursday, while Rajon Rondo (toe) was out for the next several weeks. However, Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley combined for 32 points and 25 rebounds against the Wizards on Saturday, helping the Cavs to a resounding victory.
It’s time to send flowers to Michael Malone. He won his 300th game last week at Sacramento, where he was sacked as head coach during the 2014-15 season, and he continues to get the most out of the Nuggets, who have been beset by injuries. Denver defeated Portland for the sixth time in a row on Sunday. And Michael Porter Jr. and Jamal Murray might return within the next month. According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Porter is on his way to being cleared for on-court contact within the next week. Malone’s club will be even more dangerous in the playoffs if Nikola Jokic can receive reinforcements by then.
The Nets, a club with title hopes that is now in the play-in tournament, are on the rise. On Saturday, Kyrie Irving scored 38 points to lead Brooklyn to a stunning – and much-needed – victory over the Bucks. Kevin Durant is set to return this week as he recovers from a sprained left MCL. The Nets maintain that Ben Simmons is in a strong mental state as he adjusts to life in the NBA. In addition, the vaccination mandate in New York City may be lifted in the coming weeks, allowing Irving to play in home games.
Toronto has now lost four of its last five games following a stellar streak of performance. If Toronto wants to move into the top six in the East, it must act soon; the Raptors are 2.5 games out of sixth place with 23 games remaining.
Anthony Edwards has had an unexpected four-game slump, averaging 8.8 points on 21.4 percent shooting with 3.5 assists and 3.5 rebounds. He has made only two of his 23 3-point tries (8.7 percent) and is shooting 55.6 percent from the foul line. Edwards has recently battled persistent ankle and knee ailments, but he insists that he is fine and merely in a shooting slump.
Despite learning that Paul George would need extra time to recover from a damaged ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow, the Clippers continue to push for a playoff place. They have won four of their last five games and are doing well during a weaker stretch of their schedule. They defeated Houston for the second time in three games and edged the Lakers one more to win the season series. With another game in Houston on Tuesday and a rematch against the Lakers on Thursday, Ty Lue’s squad has a chance to not only pull away from the Lakers for the eighth slot, but also gain ground on seventh-place Minnesota.
Trae Young ended with 41 points and 11 assists on 17-of-24 shooting against the Raptors on Saturday. He became the only player this season to score at least 40 points and 10 assists while shooting over 70% from the field. According to ESPN Stats and Information, it was also Young’s third 40-10 game this season in which he shot at least 60% from the field. Only Nate Archibald has more such games in a season in 1972-73. (five).
Charlotte’s overtime loss against the Pistons on Sunday was the team’s tenth in the previous twelve games. What had been a promising season has abruptly come to an end. Charlotte now travels to Milwaukee on Monday for the second part of a back-to-back, and with games against Cleveland, Brooklyn, and Boston on the horizon, turning this thing around anytime soon will be difficult. – Bonne Chance
The Lakers have lost nine of their last 12 games and have only a 2.5-game cushion to avoid missing the play-in round entirely. “It’s very easy to lose up, throw in the towel, and say terrible things,” Lakers centre Dwight Howard said following the Lakers’ defeat to the Pelicans on Sunday. “I’m at a loss for words.” But we must maintain our good attitude. We can’t wallow in loss or give up on each other.
Kyle Kuzma is having the finest season of his career, scoring 36 and 34 points in his last two games. However, the Wizards lost both games, falling 157-153 in double overtime to San Antonio before falling 92-86 to a weakened Cavaliers club. Kristaps Porzingis has yet to make his Wizards debut, and Washington has fallen farther down the standings, having lost 12 of its last 16. — Youngmisuk
Prior to the Pelicans’ 15-point win against the Suns on Friday, Brandon Ingram and CJ McCollum had dinner with coach Willie Green in Phoenix. After going 1-4 in McCollum’s first five games, the duo had found a rhythm. They combined for 60 points on 57.1 percent shooting against the Suns, then 41 points, 16 assists, 10 rebounds, and 5 steals in a 28-point win against the Lakers.
After winning four straight, the Blazers have struggled in the days after the All-Star break. They were missing centre Jusuf Nurkic for at least four weeks due to plantar fasciitis, and they have already lost two games in a row without him. To maintain Portland in 10th place in the West, Anfernee Simons and Josh Hart will have to shoulder a heavy weight.
With Friday’s victory over the Wizards, Gregg Popovich moved one win closer to tying Don Nelson for the most wins by a coach all time. The Spurs accomplished it by scoring 157 points in double overtime, the highest they’ve ever scored in a game under Popovich. The only other occasion the Spurs scored at least 150 points for Popovich came on Jan. 10, 2019, when they defeated Oklahoma City in double overtime.
A sad season for Knicks fans was exacerbated on Friday when youngster Quentin Grimes sustained a dislocation of his right patella in the team’s defeat to the Heat. After losing five games in a row, it’s looking increasingly improbable that Gotham will make a late playoff push after last year’s march to the fourth spot fueled so much hope.
Donte DiVincenzo’s start with the Kings has been rocky. He scored one point in 18 minutes against the Nuggets on Saturday, increasing his career averages to 7.4 points on 28.9 percent shooting from the field and 23.1 percent from three. Since his arrival, Sacramento has gone 1-4. McMenamin’s
After missing 15 straight games due to an Achilles tendon injury, guard Malcolm Brogdon returned to the starting lineup on Friday, scoring 15 points and dishing out four assists despite being limited to minutes and sitting out the fourth quarter and overtime in a defeat to the Thunder. Nonetheless, it was Brogdon’s first opportunity to play with Tyrese Haliburton (14 points, 11 assists) in Indiana’s first look at their new backcourt pairing.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has rebounded well from an ankle strain that kept him out for ten games, averaging 34 points, five rebounds, and five assists in the Thunder’s first two games after the All-Star break. Gilgeous-Alexander will be given more opportunities to play off the ball, allowing youngster Josh Giddey to be the primary playmaker.
“It’s still not my Plan A,” Gilgeous-Alexander said, “but it’s something you have to give up to be a very strong team.” “I’m aware of it.”
Cade Cunningham scored 25 points against the Celtics over the weekend, his seventh game with at least as many points this season. According to ESPN Stats & Information, it’s the second-most 25-point games by a Pistons player before his 21st birthday, following only Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas (13). Collier’s
Guard Eric Gordon, who was the subject of considerable speculation prior to the trade deadline, has struggled since the Rockets decided to hold him for the rest of the season. Gordon, who had plantar fasciitis, has shot 39.0 percent from the field in five games since returning. With Gordon on the court, Houston has been outscored by 63 points.
On Monday, Markelle Fultz is set to make his long-awaited return from a ruptured left ACL. Fultz’s comeback will be a pleasant sight for a club in urgent need of some positive news after a season packed with losses and disappointment. Wendell Carter Jr., a young forward, has continued to show indications of development this month, averaging 18.2 points and 10.6 rebounds.
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