NBA Power Rankings: Celtics, Grizzlies playing like frontrunners; Luka can only carry Mavs so far

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Wednesday, January 18, 2023

For as much as Luka Doncic does for his team on the court, his team does that much less when he's not on the court. The Dallas Mavericks have recentered themselves in the Western Conference playoff picture courtesy of their young superstar, but they have failed to gain momentum despite Doncic's nightly MVP performances.

The Mavericks are one of the few teams in the Western Conference playoff picture that have not seen first place. The streaky West has seen nine other teams spend a day in first place so far this season, per ESPN Stats & Information research, and many of which don't boast a talent like Doncic.

Now the door might be closing for Dallas to make a run to the top of the conference, as the Denver Nuggets and Memphis Grizzlies are putting their feet on the gas with six and 10-game winning streaks, respectively.

The Boston Celtics might also be outpacing anyone in the Eastern Conference. The team that has spent much of the year with the NBA's best record has put together a seven-game winning streak and has returned to its early-season form.

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

1.Boston Celtics

2022-23 record: 33-12

Previous ranking: 1

After being 27th in offensive rating in December, Boston has catapulted back up to sixth in January, thanks in part to their shooting normalizing again. With space opening up between them and Milwaukee and Philadelphia in second and third, respectively, it's starting to look like the Celtics will have the opportunity to run away and hide in the race for the top spot in the conference.-- Bontemps

2.Denver Nuggets

2022-23 record: 31-13

Previous ranking: 2

Nikola Jokic is making a serious case for his third consecutive MVP with how he is leading the Nuggets, but Denver proved against the Los Angeles Clippers that they can still be successful without their triple-double machine center. That should make the league scared of what the Nuggets could continue to do this season.-- Andrews

3.Memphis Grizzlies

2022-23 record: 30-13

Previous ranking: 3

Desmond Bane wants to see how he fares when his minutes get pushed into the upper 30s before declaring himself fully back from the toe injury that sidelined him for more than a month, but Bane's shooting has certainly returned to form. He has averaged 22 points in the last five games while shooting 51.9% from the floor and 59.4% from 3-point range. The sizzling Grizzlies are winners of 10 in a row and have outscored opponents by 19 points per 100 possessions with Ja Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Bane on the floor this season.-- MacMahon

4.Milwaukee Bucks

2022-23 record: 29-16

Previous ranking: 5

Giannis Antetokounmpo missed his fourth straight game on Tuesday against the Raptors with left knee soreness as Milwaukee wanted to remain cautious with their star, but the Bucks do not play their next game until Saturday night. Antetokounmpo has gone through his usual pregame routine despite not playing in recent games.-- Collier

5. Brooklyn Nets

2022-23 record: 27-16

Previous ranking: 4

It feels like deja vu all over again for the Nets, who just aren't the same without Kevin Durant. The Nets come into Thursday's game against Phoenix having lost three straight after winning 18 of 20 with Durant healthy. The offensive rhythm hasn't been there, and the defense has been inconsistent without one of its key players on the floor. The Nets went 5-16 without Durant last season while he rehabbed an MCL injury in his left knee. They appear headed for a similar fate unless things turn around quickly as he rehabs an MCL in his right knee this year.-- Friedell

6.Philadelphia 76ers

2022-23 record: 28-16

Previous ranking: 7

Don't look now, but Philadelphia is sitting at third in the East, and has gone 27-12 since a 1-4 start to the campaign. What was supposed to be a huge game against Brooklyn next week has lost some luster with Kevin Durant going down with an MCL sprain, but the 76ers are looking like every bit of the threat to make a deep playoff run they hoped to be when the season began.-- Bontemps

7.Cleveland Cavaliers

2022-23 record: 28-17

Previous ranking: 6

Darius Garland's 30 points and 11 assists in a win over a very good, albeit Zion Williamson-less New Orleans Pelicans team, was impressive, but the best moment from Monday's game was hilariously captured by Richard Jefferson's Instagram account. I guess that's what reminiscing about the 2018 NBA Finals run looks like between Kevin Love and Larry Nance Jr.-- McMenamin

8.Miami Heat

2022-23 record: 24-21

Previous ranking: 14

Miami picked up back-to-back wins against the Bucks before dropping Monday's game to Atlanta -- in the middle of a tough week which includes two games against the Pelicans and a meeting with both the Celtics and Mavericks. Jimmy Butler appears to be finding a groove again as evidenced by the 23 points he's averaging in January and the 34 points he scored in Monday's loss to the Hawks.-- Friedell

9.Sacramento Kings

2022-23 record: 24-18

Previous ranking: 12

The Kings won all four of their games last week and scored no fewer than 132 in any of their wins, which makes sense since their offense leads the league in points per game. Their scoring makes up for their defense, but if they can figure that out, the Kings' beam could shine even brighter.-- Andrews

10. Dallas Mavericks

2022-23 record: 24-21

Previous ranking: 9

With half of the rotation injured, the Mavs were running on fumes by the end of a five-game road trip. The lone win on the trip came in double overtime over the Los Angeles Lakers, when Doncic played a career-high 53 minutes. He was held to a season-low 15 points in a loss in Portland two nights later and sat out the second end of the back-to-back, as he's done five times this season.-- MacMahon

11. New York Knicks

2022-23 record: 25-20

Previous ranking: 13

New York was a couple of inches away from a perfect 4-0 week, with Jalen Brunson's game-winning 3-pointer ending up just long in Monday's wild matinee loss in overtime to Toronto. Still, the Knicks continue to sit in sixth in the Eastern Conference, and Jalen Brunson is averaging more points than anyone but Joel Embiid among East players in the month of January. Brunson could be representing New York in the All-Star Game next month.-- Bontemps

12.New Orleans Pelicans

2022-23 record: 26-18

Previous ranking: 8

Despite Brandon Ingram not playing since Nov. 25, and Zion Williamson and Herb Jones being limited to just 29 games this season because of injuries, the Pelicans are still 26-18 and in third place in the Western Conference. Staying near the top of the standings has a lot to do with the play ofCJ McCollum. In the last 16 games, McCollum is averaging 27.0 points per game and shooting 47.9% from deep. In that stretch, McCollum has hit 70 3-pointers. Only Buddy Hield and LaMelo Ball (both at 71) have hit more.-- Lopez

13. LA Clippers

2022-23 record: 23-23

Previous ranking: 15

The Clippers got Paul George back from a hamstring injury that cost him five consecutive games. But George's return was not enough for the Clippers to overcome the Sixers or some of the issues they've had in losing eight of their past 10 games. The Clippers' offense stalls, they turn the ball over too much, can't rebound at times and lack continuity. With John Wall (abdomen) out at least two weeks andLuke Kennard(calf) still out, the Clippers need Reggie Jackson,whose back tightened up Tuesday, to stay healthy. -- Youngmisuk

14.Golden State Warriors

2022-23 record: 22-22

Previous ranking: 11

The Warriors are stuck in a cycle: Put together an OK game and find a way to close out in the fourth quarter, then lose the next game and repeat. When asked why they haven't been able to string together consistent play, no one seems to know the answer. Until they figure that out, they will continue to hover around .500 and just hope they turn a corner soon.-- Andrews

15.Indiana Pacers

2022-23 record: 23-22

Previous ranking: 10

Indiana is already finding out how difficult life without Tyrese Haliburton is going to be. They have dropped three games in a row since Haliburton injured his elbow last Wednesday and the Pacers are going to be without their emerging star point guard for at least two weeks.-- Collier

16.Atlanta Hawks

2022-23 record: 22-22

Previous ranking: 20

With Clint Capela dealing with a calf injury, Onyeka Okongwu made the most of his minutes in his absence. On Friday against the Indiana Pacers, Okongwu tied his season high with 18 points and set a new career high with 20 rebounds, besting his previous career mark by five. Okongwu had 18 points and 13 rebounds in the first half, marking the first time in his career he had a double-double in a single half.-- Lopez

17.Utah Jazz

2022-23 record: 23-24

Previous ranking: 21

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, rookie center Walker Kessler is the first player to average a double-double while shooting at least 70% from the floor in his first 10 starts since starters were first tracked on box scores in 1970-71. With his performance Monday against the Timberwolves -- the team that traded him to Utah in the Rudy Gobert deal -- Kessler joined Shaquille O'Neal and Alonzo Mourning as the only rookies since 1990 to have 20/20 nights while shooting at least 65% from the floor.-- MacMahon

18. Oklahoma City Thunder

2022-23 record: 21-23

Previous ranking: 25

Oklahoma City has won five of its last six games, and Josh Giddey has played some of his best basketball to date during that stretch. The 20-year-old is averaging 20.2 points, 8.2 rebounds and 7.8 assists in the last six games and capped that off with a 28-point performance in Sunday's win against the Nets. The 28 points ties Giddey's career high which he set last February against the Knicks.-- Lopez

19. Phoenix Suns

2022-23 record: 21-24

Previous ranking: 16

The wheels are starting to come off for last season's leader in wins during the 82-game slate. Phoenix has lost nine out of its last 10, including a 29-point drilling in Denver and a 30-point blowout loss to Memphis. As if it wasn't already urgent for the Suns to find a trade partner for Jae Crowder, help can't come soon enough.-- McMenamin

20.Minnesota Timberwolves

2022-23 record: 22-23

Previous ranking: 17

The Timberwolves are still figuring it out, but they have won six of their last eight games. The thing is, they are still without Karl Anthony-Towns. Yes, he is their franchise player, but the chemistry between him and Rudy Gobert was absent to start the year. So, how will they mesh once he's returned?-- Andrews

21.Portland Trail Blazers

2022-23 record: 21-23

Previous ranking: 18

The Blazers halted a five-game skid on the back of Damian Lillard, who led them to back-to-back wins at home against Dallas. Lillard is heating up with 35 or more points in four straight games. However, Lillard's 44-point game wasn't enough to upset Jokic in Denver. With the next six games at home, Portland has a chance to make up for its slide. -- Youngmisuk

22. Los Angeles Lakers

2022-23 record: 20-24

Previous ranking: 19

It wasn't the loudest of endorsements, and it almost went unnoticed, as it came in the aftermath of a disappointing last-second loss to Philadelphia, but LeBron James acknowledged some growth in the Lakers this week. "We're better than the start of the season," James said. The Lakers are 18-14 since their 2-10 start and could be getting Anthony Davis back in the lineup in about a week. Maybe the dog days are over.-- McMenamin

23.Chicago Bulls

2022-23 record: 20-24

Previous ranking: 22

DeMar DeRozan, who missed the last three games with a right quad strain, said he plans to play during the Bulls' lone game this week in Paris on Thursday against the Detroit Pistons. Chicago went 1-2 without their leading scorer, who is putting up another season worthy of All-Star consideration, averaging 26-5-5 on 51% shooting.-- Collier

24.Toronto Raptors

2022-23 record: 20-25

Previous ranking: 23

Toronto's topsy-turvy season continued over the weekend, with disappointing losses in winnable games against Atlanta and a depleted Milwaukee team, sandwiched around a thrilling overtime win over the Knicks across the past few days. Time is running out for the Raptors to salvage their season before some hard choices will have to be made ahead of next month's trade deadline.--Bontemps

25.Washington Wizards

2022-23 record: 18-26

Previous ranking: 24

The Wizards have dropped five of their last six since Bradley Beal injured his hamstring early in Milwaukee on Jan. 3. Beal was ruled out before the Wizards' last game against Golden State, so he could be nearing a return. Washington needs Beal back soon with six of the next seven games on the road.-- Youngmisuk

26.Orlando Magic

2022-23 record: 16-28

Previous ranking: 26

Orlando is finally home again after an up-and-down five-game West Coast swing. While Jokic broke their hearts by knocking a game-winning 3 at the buzzer on Sunday, the Magic continue to show signs of improvement. Markelle Fultz had 20 points in Sunday's loss and is averaging 14.1 points, 6.3 assists and 4.1 rebounds over seven games in January.-- Friedell

27. Charlotte Hornets

2022-23 record: 11-34

Previous ranking: 28

The losses just keep piling up in Charlotte. The Hornets have dropped five straight games and have given up an average of 124.8 points per game over that stretch. A small bright spot?LaMelo Ballis averaging 28 points over his last four games.-- Friedell

28.San Antonio Spurs

2022-23 record: 14-31

Previous ranking: 27

The Spurs set a new NBA attendance record on Friday night with 68,323 people inside the Alamodome -- the team's former home. Unfortunately for Spurs fans, the Warriors were in town and played spoiler to San Antonio's homecoming. The 144-113 loss narrowly avoided being the Spurs' worst loss ever in the Alamodome (33 points to the Raptors in Feb. 1997), but it was the most points the team had ever allowed there in 354 games.-- Lopez

29.Detroit Pistons

2022-23 record: 12-35

Previous ranking: 29

Pistons guard Killian Hayes grew up in Cholet, France, and played professionally in France for two years before getting drafted in 2020. He returns to the court in his home country for Detroit's game against Chicago in Paris on Thursday.-- Collier

30.Houston Rockets

2022-23 record: 10-34

Previous ranking: 30

Alperen Sengun has been a major bright spot for the Rockets in the midst of an 11-game losing streak. A few games after becoming the youngest player in franchise history to record a triple-double, the 20-year-old big man had 33 points on 14-of-17 shooting, 15 rebounds, six assists and four blocks in Monday's loss to the Lakers. He joined Kevin Garnett, Karl Malone and Patrick Ewing as the only players to post 30-15-5 lines on 80% shooting since 1995, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.-- MacMahon

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