NBA Power Rankings, Week 21: Bucks, Nuggets overtake Celtics as Knicks ascend

The regular season of the 2022-23 NBA is nearing its 21st week, and the postseason race is heating up even more. Following the dramatic trade deadline and All-Star Break, teams continue to compete for position with only 16-19 games remaining per club. It goes without saying that we should expect even more entertaining and surprising NBA action in the coming weeks. Let’s take a look at where all 30 teams are in our NBA Power Rankings as we enter Week 21 of this season.

This time around, the Boston Celtics failed to keep their hold on the top spot. In fact, both the Milwaukee Bucks and Denver Nuggets were able to overtake the Celtics in our NBA Power Rankings. Meanwhile, the New York Knicks powered through to the top five for the first time this season. The highest climbers this week were the Minnesota Timberwolves (seven spots). On the other end of the spectrum, the New Orleans Pelicans were our biggest droppers (six spots). Additionally, the Utah Jazz, Washington Wizards, and Chicago Bulls each fell by four spots.

As always, take note that when making these NBA Power Rankings, we take into account the teams’ overall win-loss records, their performances in the current month, their most recent streaks or slumps, and their net rating differentials.

The Bucks not only took the top spot in our NBA Power Rankings. They also overtook the Celtics in terms of the best win-loss record in the league. The Nuggets, meanwhile also rose up to No. 2 overall. Boston fell to No. 3, though they’re still three games ahead of the Philadelphia 76ers. Right now, the Knicks are the hottest team right with nine straight wins, while the Detroit Pistons have lost seven in a row. How about the other teams, though? Where does each team stand when it comes to the most current NBA Power Rankings?

Previous 2022-23 NBA Power Rankings: Week 20 | All-Star Edition | Post-Trade Deadline | Week 17 | Week 16 | Week 15 | Week 14 | Week 13 | Week 12 | Week 11 | Week 10 | Week 9 | Week 8 | Week 7 | Week 6 | Week 5 | Week 4 | Week 3 | Week 2

Now without further ado, let’s look at our 2022-23 NBA Power Rankings entering Week 21 of the new season.

1. Milwaukee Bucks (+1)

Yes, the Bucks had a hiccup against the Sixers a couple of days ago, but they still own the best win-loss record in the league. That’s thanks to going through the entire month of February unbeaten and starting 3-1 in March. It’s still too early to say if the Bucks are peaking at the right time, but they sure look like a team on a mission.

2. Denver Nuggets (+1)

Winners of seven of their last eight, the Nuggets are in very good shape right now. They’re 6.5 games clear of the next-best team in the Western Conference and just seem to be hitting all the right notes. Also gotta love that 18-18-10 performance from MVP favorite Nikola Jokic as they bamboozled the Grizzlies, 113-97, in their last game.

3. Boston Celtics (-2)

It’s been a tough last couple of weeks for the Celtics. They’ve gone 4-4 in their last eight games, including 1-3 in their previous four assignments. These included losses to the Knicks (twice) and, of all teams, the Nets. Not having Time Lord out there hurts, and things won’t get any easier as they face the Cavs next.

4. New York Knicks (+3)

The Knicks have been 12-3 since the start of February. They’ve really ascended our NBA Power Rankings and the team standings, too. In fact, they’re now just a game behind the Cavs for homecourt advantage in the first round of the postseason. As we also mentioned, this is the hottest team in the league as of this writing. The Randle-Brunson duo has worked out well, while Immanuel Quickley also just exploded for 38 points!

5. Philadelphia 76ers (-1)

Sure, the Sixers are fresh from beating the Bucks. However, that came after losing three of their previous four games. Those losses came at the hands of the Celtics, Heat, and Mavs. The Embiid-Harden pairing still looks great but they certainly have to face big questions entering the season’s homestretch.

6. Cleveland Cavaliers (-1)

The Cavs slide down a spot in our NBA Power Rankings after a rough patch to bridge February and March. They’ve won just two of their last six games and are really falling behind the top three teams in the East. Heck, the Cavs have to look over their shoulders now as the red-hot Knicks are nipping at their heels.

7. Sacramento Kings (+1)

A four-point loss to the Wolves a couple of days ago shouldn’t dampen the mood too much in Sacramento. Remember that before that L, they did win five games in a row. They didn’t exactly beat any of the elite teams, but those wins helped the Kings keep their spot as the top Pacific Division team and third overall so far in the West.

8. Phoenix Suns (+1)

The Suns are so far undefeated in the Kevin Durant era in Arizona. Man, that sounds good for any diehard Suns fans out there. Sure, the best team they’ve beaten so far is Dallas, but they have still looked plenty dangerous. Oh, and KD is shooting just under 67 percent from the field and 54 percent from beyond the arc as a Sun so far. This team is hella scary right now.

9. Memphis Grizzlies (-3)

It’s been a crazy month-and-a-half for the Grizzlies. In mid-January, this team was at 31-13, seriously threatening the Nuggets. Since then, Memphis has won just seven games and lost nearly twice as many. They’ve continued to slip in the overall league table, though they still hold the second seed in the West. Also, the recent Ja Morant fiasco has surely not helped one bit, especially since there’s no clear timetable for his return.

10. Golden State Warriors (+1)

We won’t exactly say that the Warriors are cruising, but winning five of their last seven sure looks good. Of course, the flip side of that is that they lost twice to the Lakers in that stretch. That could be pretty significant down the road, especially if LA finds a backdoor to the playoffs. Still, it’s just nice to see Steph Curry back on the floor. We’re hoping he continues to stay healthy for a late run from the defending champs.

11. Toronto Raptors (+1)

We have to admit, we didn’t expect the Raptors to be clawing their way to the top-10’s doorstep in the NBA Power Rankings. Recall that this team was at 23-30 in early February. Now, they are closing in on .500 and are very much in the East’s play-in scenario. They’ve also had three different leading scorers in their last three games, which is a testament to their balance.

12. Brooklyn Nets (-2)
We have to give the Nets some props for playing like the rest of the season still matters. I mean, come on, right? This team will still likely make at least the play-in, but they’ve got nothing beyond that. Not even if Mikal Bridges averages 30 points a game the rest of the way.
13. Minnesota Timberwolves (+7)
The Wolves went 3-1 during their California road trip, which is something they should be pretty happy about. They’ve managed to stay at the sixth spot in the West and may even move up with a few more wins in the coming weeks. It was also great to see guys like Naz Reid and Jaden McDaniels step up big in the last few games.

14. Atlanta Hawks (no change)

The Hawks continue to just stay in or around .500. This is surely not a terrible team, but there’s just nothing magical or attractive in the Hawks right now. They’ve become quite forgettable, to be honest, though maybe a late-season run can change that.

15. Miami Heat (+6)

Wins over the Sixers and Hawks were mighty impressive for the Heat. They also very nearly upended the scorching Knicks a few days ago. Underneath it all, there’s a solid team here in South Beach. They may also overtake the Nets at the sixth spot very soon.

16. Los Angeles Lakers (+1)

Anthony Davis followed up a 38-point performance against the Wolves with a 39-piece against the Dubs. He is surely this team’s anchor now that LeBron James will be out for at least a few more weeks. A tough test against the Grizzlies comes up next.

17. Utah Jazz (-4)

The Jazz has lost three in a row, including four of their last six games. Considering that their last three defeats were against the Spurs and Thunder (twice) makes things feel even worse. Of course, Lauri Markkanen continues to be pretty amazing. Still, he alone won’t carry this team into the playoffs.

18. Dallas Mavericks (+6)

Well, this team is anything but boring. Granted, the Mavs won just one game since our last NBA Power Rankings. Still, that win was over no less than the Sixers. Also, they gave KD and the Suns all they could handle yesterday. In fact, their last three losses have all been by four points or less. This is still a pretty good team, as shown by their 0.6 positive net rating differential. Last week, we may have undervalued them by writing them off as sheep in wolves’ clothing. Count this as a bit of a course correction on that.

19. Washington Wizards (-4)

The Wizards still hold a 1.5-game lead over the Pacers for 10th place in the East. Having said that, Washington isn’t exactly looking stellar right now. They’ve lost four of their last six games, including tough Ls to the Bulls and the Raptors. They do have some winnable games this week against the Pistons and Hawks. Washington fans better hope their team comes out guns blazing.

20. Oklahoma City Thunder (+3)

Back-to-back wins over the Jazz are enough to push the Thunder up while still remaining in the bottom half of the NBA Power Rankings. Also, it was great to see Shai Gilgeous-Alexander back on the floor after missing a couple of weeks of action.

21. Los Angeles Clippers (-3)

Man, these Clippers just keep on sliding. Winning over the Grizzlies yesterday was great, but this team is barely above water now. They’re just half a game away from sixth place but also just two games away from falling outright out of the play-in. The jury is also still out on whether Russell Westbrook actually fits this team.

22. New Orleans Pelicans (-6)

The Pelicans enter Week 21 losers of five of their last six games. This team just isn’t the same without Zion Williamson. They are also half a game away from losing their play-in spot. We won’t be shocked if that actually happens. We have the Lakers sneaking in, and maybe it’s the Pels who lose their berth.

23. Chicago Bulls (-4)

The Bulls have dropped three of their last four games and will face the crazy strong Nuggets next. It’s a tough stretch for this squad, which didn’t really make marquee improvements at either the trade deadline or the buyout market. The Bulls are now reaping the “rewards” of watching the world go by these past few weeks.

24. Portland Trail Blazers (-2)

Look, we all love Damian Lillard. That’s also why it hurts so bad to see him on a team whose playoff chances get dimmer and dimmer each day. Their latest win over the Magic was nice, but it didn’t exactly vault them in terms of playoff contention.

25. Indiana Pacers (no change)

The Pacers have won four of their last six games and actually still have a shot at sneaking into the East play-in tournament. We doubt that will happen, though, as this team has a pretty solid schedule to finish off the regular season.

26. Orlando Magic (+1)

Beating the Pels and Hornets was good this past week for the Magic. Paolo Banchero continued to impress, but so did Wendell Carter Jr. The latter has pulled down double-digit rebounds in four of his last five games. We expect them to stay competitive as we wind down the season.

27. San Antonio Spurs (+3)

There have been some signs of life in San Antonio this past week. They recorded back-to-back wins for the first time since early December. These were wins over the Jazz and Pacers — both quite surprising. And then they lost back-to-back to the Rockets, which was perplexing.

28. Charlotte Hornets (no change)

The Hornets went 1-3 this past week, which was par for the course for this team. We don’t expect to see LaMelo Ball anytime again this season, but it has opened up some opportunities for other guys. Kelly Oubre, Jr., in particular, has been awesome of late. He has averaged close to 25.0 points per game to start March.

29. Houston Rockets (no change)

Stringing back-to-back wins sure felt sweet for the Rockets. Yes, that’s even if both wins were against the lowly Spurs. At least we’re seeing more Tari Eason potential actually become tangible on the floor.

30. Detroit Pistons (-2)

The Pistons have won just two games since February started. They’re also entering Week 21 with a seven-game slump. This is what a team looks like when they’ve pretty much given up on hope this season.

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