NBA Power Rankings: Joel Embiid might have put a bow on the MVP race

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Wednesday, April 5, 2023

The bottom seven seeds in the Western Conference postseason picture are still a toss-up, but there is another serious NBA race that will be determined in the final week of the regular season. This year's MVP race betweenNikola Jokic,Joel EmbiidandGiannis Antetokounmpo will be decided in the next few days.

Jokic, the reigning back-to-back MVP, is looking to become the first player since Larry Bird to win a third consecutive MVP award. Jokic looked like a near-lock to win it in February, but a slide by him and the Denver Nuggets combined with a surge by the Philadelphia 76ers thrust Embiid into the lead, according to ESPN's latest straw poll. Embiid might have put the race to bed with his 52-point performance against the Boston Celtics on Tuesday -- his third 50-point performance of the season.

Antetokounmpo is the only other contender in the race, as he has led the Milwaukee Bucks to the best record in the NBA -- an accolade they can clinch for the season with one more win.

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 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| Week 17| Week 18| Week 19| Week 20| Week 21| Week 22| Week 23

1.Milwaukee Bucks

2022-23 record: 57-22

Previous ranking: 1

The Bucks moved closer to wrapping up the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference and best record in the NBA with a victory over the Washington Wizards on Tuesday. They lead the Celtics by three games with three remaining, and their magic number to clinch the top seed is two. The Bucks have the next two games at home against Chicago and Memphis before closing out on the road in Toronto.-- Collier

2.Boston Celtics

2022-23 record: 54-25

Previous ranking: 2

Boston's loss to Philadelphia all but cements the Celtics into the second seed in the East. Now, Boston will wait to see who will emerge from the play-in tournament as a first-round matchup.-- Bontemps

3.Denver Nuggets

2022-23 record: 52-27

Previous ranking: 3

The Nuggets have been the best team in the Western Conference all season long. They head into the playoffs with a fully healthy roster for the first time in years and are led by Nikola Jokic -- who could soon be picking up his third straight MVP award. There isn't much room for failure in the postseason for Denver, and certainly no excuses for any, even though the West still feels wide open for anyone to take. The pressure is on for the Nuggets to make a run.-- Andrews

4.Philadelphia 76ers

2022-23 record: 52-27

Previous ranking: 4

Joel Embiid's latest incandescent performance not only might have wrapped up the MVP race, but it also has left Philadelphia with little to play for over the final few days of the regular season, as the 76ers are pretty much locked into the third seed in the East. -- Bontemps

5.Memphis Grizzlies

2022-23 record: 50-29

Previous ranking: 5

The Grizzlies traded for Luke Kennard to address their glaring need for another 3-point threat, and he certainly has fulfilled expectations. Kennard has shot 53.1% from 3-point range since arriving in Memphis. He is poised to repeat as the NBA's 3-point percentage leader, shooting 48.4% for the season. The Grizzlies are 14-4 when Kennard has played at least 20 minutes and average 120.8 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor.-- MacMahon

6.Cleveland Cavaliers

2022-23 record: 50-30

Previous ranking: 6

Cleveland reached the 50-win plateau for just the 12th time in franchise history with a 117-113 victory over Orlando on Tuesday. Donovan Mitchell (four straight 40-point games) and the team (winners of seven of its past 10) appear to be peaking ahead of the postseason. -- McMenamin

7. Phoenix Suns

2022-23 record: 44-35

Previous ranking: 8

The Suns are streaking, winners of six in a row to cement their hold on the West's No. 4 seed. Tuesday's win in San Antonio was just the second time in Kevin Durant's seven games with Phoenix that he shot under 50% from the field, but Torrey Craig and Bismack Biyombo combined to shoot 12-for-16 off the bench to make up for it. -- McMenamin

8.Sacramento Kings

2022-23 record: 48-31

Previous ranking: 7

The Kings are heading back to the playoffs for the first time in 16 years, and while they aren't feared by most at the 3-seed, it doesn't matter. Sacramento is exceeding all expectations this season, taking far more strides in its quest to just get a bit better under a new head coach this season. Whatever happens from here is just icing on the cake.-- Andrews

9. New York Knicks

2022-23 record: 46-33

Previous ranking: 9

A four-game winning streak has virtually locked New York into the fifth seed in the East -- and into what should be a very entertaining first-round series with Donovan Mitchell and the Cleveland Cavaliers. The big question now, though, is what state will Julius Randle's sprained ankle be in by the time that series begins in a week and a half. -- Bontemps

10.Golden State Warriors

2022-23 record: 42-38

Previous ranking: 12

Andrew Wiggins is back after 50 days away from the team, but it's unclear how quickly he'll be able to help the Warriors. Golden State is fighting to stay out of the play-in, not only avoiding an early elimination but also giving Wiggins more time to get his conditioning back. Either way, the Warriors' margin for error is very small as they enter whatever version of the postseason they're in.-- Andrews

11. LA Clippers

2022-23 record: 41-38

Previous ranking: 10

The Clippers began the season with championship expectations but find themselves fighting to stay out of the play-in tournament in the final week of the regular season. Steve Ballmer's team has been plagued by injuries and inconsistency all season, and Paul George (sprained knee) remains out for the rest of the regular season. If the Clippers can't find a way to keep their regular-season dominance (10 straight wins) over the Lakers going on Wednesday, they will be staring at a three-game losing streak at the worst time of the season.-- Youngmisuk

12. Brooklyn Nets

2022-23 record: 43-36

Previous ranking: 13

Brooklyn dropped a tough one to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Tuesday but remains on track to finish the season in the sixth spot in the East and avoid the play-in tournament. Spencer Dinwiddie had 30 points in Tuesday's loss, and Mikal Bridges continues to improve each night. Bridges finished March averaging 28.8 points in 35.6 minutes per game.-- Friedell

13.Miami Heat

2022-23 record: 42-37

Previous ranking: 11

The Heat have won two straight, but they're still seventh in the East, a game behind Brooklyn, after dropping three straight games to the Nets, Raptors and Knicks earlier in the week. The good news for Miami is that Jimmy Butler is still rolling and continues to put up big numbers on most nights. He had 27 points, eight rebounds and eight assists in Tuesday's win over the Pistons.-- Friedell

14. Los Angeles Lakers

2022-23 record: 41-38

Previous ranking: 16

The Lakers escaped with a 135-133 overtime win in Utah on Tuesday after blowing a 10-point lead in the final two minutes of regulation. The victory meant they finally achieved their goal of securing the No. 6 seed in the West ... for about an hour. Golden State beat Oklahoma City later in the night to go back up a half-game on L.A. and push the Lakers back to No. 7. -- McMenamin

15.New Orleans Pelicans

2022-23 record: 40-39

Previous ranking: 15

The Pelicans have won seven of their past nine games, and a lot of that has had to do with the play of Brandon Ingram. He recorded his first two career triple-doubles in March and had his streak of consecutive 25-point games end at nine Tuesday. The only other player in franchise history to have a nine-game streak of scoring 25 or more points is Zion Williamson, who did it on two separate occasions.-- Lopez

16.Atlanta Hawks

2022-23 record: 40-39

Previous ranking: 17

Atlanta picked up a 123-105 victory Tuesday night over Chicago to improve to 3-5 in games Trae Young doesn't play this season. There's an outside chance Atlanta could slip out of the play-in tournament altogether, but it's likely the Hawks will be playing for seeding in their final three games. If they can finish in the Nos. 7 or 8 spots, they'll have at least two chances to make the postseason. The Hawks finish the year with games against Washington and Philadelphia at home before ending the season at Boston. -- Lopez

17.Toronto Raptors

2022-23 record: 40-39

Previous ranking: 21

After beating Charlotte on Tuesday night, the scenario for Toronto is pretty simple: win the remaining three games and hope Atlanta drops one of them to get into the eighth seed -- and, with it, two chances to win one game to make the playoffs. With two of Toronto's remaining games in Boston, that won't be easy. --Bontemps

18.Minnesota Timberwolves

2022-23 record: 40-40

Previous ranking: 14

The Timberwolves are a big question mark. Will they make the playoffs? Or the play-in? And if they do, what will they look like? Yes, they've been plagued by injuries this season, but even before Karl-Anthony Towns was sidelined for four months, the Timberwolves weren't clicking. Will they be able to put it together in time to be competitive?-- Andrews

19.Oklahoma City Thunder

2022-23 record: 38-42

Previous ranking: 18

The Thunder improved to 36-36 on March 21, but things have gone slightly awry since then as they dropped six of their past eight games. The Thunder remain in 10th place in the West and a game up on the Dallas Mavericks with the tiebreaker. If Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who has 45 30-point games this year, can score 30 in both of the Thunder's final two games, he'll tie Kevin Durant for the most 30-point games in a season since the team moved to Oklahoma City in 2008-09. Kevin Durant had 47 such games in 2009-10 and 2013-14. -- Lopez

20.Chicago Bulls

2022-23 record: 38-41

Previous ranking: 19

The Chicago Bulls clinched a spot in the Eastern Conference play-in tournament Tuesday thanks to a loss by the Orlando Magic. However, with a chance to move up in the standings, the Bulls lost by double digits at home to the Hawks, all but cementing their status as the No. 10 seed in the East.-- Collier

21. Dallas Mavericks

2022-23 record: 37-42

Previous ranking: 20

The Mavs are 4-11 when Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving are both in the lineup. The .267 winning percentage is by far the worst for a pair of teammates who both made the All-Star Game that season since the ABA-NBA merger, which includes 473 duos that played at least 10 games together, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. -- MacMahon

22.Utah Jazz

2022-23 record: 36-43

Previous ranking: 22

Talen Horton-Tucker, who has been starting at point guard since the All-Star break, has four of the six highest-scoring performances of his career in the past month. That includes a career-high 41 points in a win over the Spurs last week. Horton-Tucker, 22, has averaged 20.9 points, 5.2 rebounds and 6.6 assists in the past 14 games. -- MacMahon

23.Washington Wizards

2022-23 record: 34-45

Previous ranking: 23

The Wizards have been in shutdown mode with Bradley Beal, Kristaps Porzingis and Kyle Kuzma out. But Monte Morris and Deni Avdija have joined them on the sidelines as Washington gives Corey Kispert and Johnny Davis the green light in the final week. Having won just four of their past 17 games, the Wizards hope to increase their lottery odds yet again.-- Youngmisuk

24.Orlando Magic

2022-23 record: 34-45

Previous ranking: 26

Orlando is now officially out of play-in contention after Tuesday's loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers -- but despite the setback the Magic are confident there are a lot of positive signs for the future. Markelle Fultz had 23 points on Tuesday and continues to get better. Paolo Banchero added 20 points and should be named the Rookie of the Year after the season. Franz Wagner added 17 points and had plenty of big games throughout the season. The Magic play hard and should improve even more with the addition of a couple more lottery picks this summer.-- Friedell

25.Indiana Pacers

2022-23 record: 34-45

Previous ranking: 24

The Pacers were officially eliminated from play-in contention earlier this week, and it's unlikely guardTyrese Haliburton(ankle) will play again this season. He will miss his fifth consecutive game Wednesday and has missed 11 of the past 13 games because of the injury. -- Collier

26.Portland Trail Blazers

2022-23 record: 33-46

Previous ranking: 25

Even when the Blazers are trying to stack the deck to increase their lottery odds, they find a way to win at Minnesota on Sunday, picking up only their fifth victory since the All-Star break. At least it's Shaedon Sharpe season for three more games.-- Youngmisuk

27. Charlotte Hornets

2022-23 record: 26-54

Previous ranking: 27

The good news for Charlotte is it only has two games left. The Hornets dropped three straight and need to start hoping that lottery luck is on their side. Charlotte has given up at least 120 points in four straight games.-- Friedell

28.San Antonio Spurs

2022-23 record: 20-59

Previous ranking: 28

San Antonio was a 16-point underdog when they toppled the Sacramento Kings 142-134 in overtime Sunday. It was the largest upset victory the team has had under Gregg Popovich. They did it with a pair of firsts, too --Julian Champagnie (26 points) and Doug McDermott (30 points) marked the first time in Spurs history they've had multiple 25-point scorers off the bench in the same game and Tre Jones (17 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds) had his first career triple-double.-- Lopez

29.Houston Rockets

2022-23 record: 20-60

Previous ranking: 29

Some of the teams we saw during March Madness have older rotations than the Rockets. The nine players on Houston's active roster who have played the most minutes this season are all 22 or younger. The Rockets have two first-round picks in this draft, but Houston also has more than $60 million in salary cap space and plans to target established veterans. -- MacMahon

30.Detroit Pistons

2022-23 record: 16-63

Previous ranking: 30

The Pistons have lost 10 games in a row as they close out the final week of a disappointing season. Detroit is one loss away from securing the worst record in the league and has clinched top-three odds in the 2023 NBA draft lottery.-- Collier

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