NBA Power Rankings: Here comes Kevin Durant, there go the Celtics

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Wednesday, March 1, 2023

The NBA's plot is twisting in the final third of the 2022-23 regular season, and it could be just the beginning of more unexpected turns down the stretch.

The Boston Celtics have comfortably dominated the Eastern Conference this season but fell out of first place for the first time in 2023 after a lopsided loss to the New York Knicks on Monday. Boston now trails the Milwaukee Bucks by half a game in the standings.

Speaking of the Knicks, Tom Thibodeau's squad might be on track to reclaiming the heart of New York. With a six-game win streak, they have now surpassed their crosstown rival Brooklyn Nets in the standings. Despite some impressive moments from young players, the Nets haven't avoided the expected consequences of trading away Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, having lost seven of their past nine games, and are in danger of falling into the play-in tournament.

The other side of Brooklyn's trade deadline moves could soon cause turbulence in the Western Conference, too, as Durant is expected to make his debut for the Phoenix Suns on Wednesday against the Charlotte Hornets.

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

1.Milwaukee Bucks

2022-23 record: 44-17

Previous ranking: 2

The Bucks have the best record in the NBA thanks to their 15-game winning streak, the fourth longest in franchise history and their longest since winning 18 straight in 2019. Milwaukee went 10-0 in February, the fourth undefeated month in franchise history, to move past Boston for first place in the Eastern Conference for the first time since Christmas.-- Collier

2.Boston Celtics

2022-23 record: 44-18

Previous ranking: 1

After spending the final two weeks of February (including the All-Star break) away from home, the Celtics return to Boston for a fun three-game homestand against playoff teams -- Cleveland on Wednesday, Brooklyn on Friday and New York on Sunday; all televised on ESPN -- before heading to Cleveland on Monday. They will try to keep pace with the streaking Milwaukee Bucks atop the Eastern Conference.-- Bontemps

3.Denver Nuggets

2022-23 record: 44-19

Previous ranking: 3

Even after all of the trade deadline madness, the Nuggets remain the strongest team in the Western Conference. Finally healthy for the first time since Nikola Jokic's MVP reign, they're better than they were when they made the conference finals in the 2020 bubble, and have a real shot at the title this season.-- Andrews

4.Philadelphia 76ers

2022-23 record: 39-21

Previous ranking: 4

Close losses to Boston on Saturday and Miami on Monday have all but eliminated Philadelphia from having a realistic chance of moving up to the top two spots in the Eastern Conference standings. Barring a significant collapse, the Sixers should be more or less locked in to the third seed, setting them up for yet another titanic second-round playoff series with so much at stake. -- Bontemps

5.Cleveland Cavaliers

2022-23 record: 39-25

Previous ranking: 5

The Cavaliers play the Celtics on Wednesday for the first time since beating them twice in the span of a week in late October and early November -- winning both in overtime. They follow it up with another Celtics matchup on March 6. Playoff preview, anyone?-- McMenamin

6.Memphis Grizzlies

2022-23 record: 37-23

Previous ranking: 7

Ja Morant scored 30 points in the paint during his 39-point triple-double in Tuesday's win over the Lakers. It was the fourth time in his career he has scored at least 30 points in the paint, the most of any guard since play-by-play was first tracked in 1996-97, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.-- MacMahon

7.Sacramento Kings

2022-23 record: 36-25

Previous ranking: 8

The Kings' offense has been nearly unstoppable this season. So unstoppable that it has carried them into a comfortable spot in 3-seed and past the LA Clippers in one of the highest-scoring games in NBA history. Their defense, on the other hand, has been almost nonexistent. It's an issue -- especially considering their coach, Mike Brown, is considered to be a defensive wiz. But it also makes one wonder how much better they could be if they can figure out that end of the court. -- Andrews

8. Phoenix Suns

2022-23 record: 33-29

Previous ranking: 6

Kevin Durant will make his debut for Phoenix on Wednesday against the Charlotte Hornets, three weeks to the day since the Suns traded for the former MVP. "I was having fun out there before I got injured," Durant said. "So looking forward to going out there and picking up where I left off." -- McMenamin

9. New York Knicks

2022-23 record: 36-27

Previous ranking: 12

You know Tom Thibodeau is happy with his team when he describes his players as "a team full of leaders, and a team full of gym rats," as he did following Monday's win over the Celtics. New York is now 6-0 since acquiring Josh Hart, and one of the biggest games in the Knicks-Nets intracity rivalry looms Wednesday night, when New York can put some space between itself and Brooklyn for the East's fifth seed with a win at Madison Square Garden. -- Bontemps

10. LA Clippers

2022-23 record: 33-31

Previous ranking: 11

The Clippers are playing with better energy, and Kawhi Leonard is back to playing like he was before his ACL injury. But the Clippers' defense has struggled, and they've dropped three straight. Head coach Ty Lue has a lot of new pieces he's trying to put together. Russell Westbrook has fit in well so far and largely been what the Clippers have wanted him to be -- playing off Leonard and Paul George and not trying to do too much. The problem is the Clippers are in a difficult stretch playing West playoff contenders and head to Golden State and Sacramento next.-- Youngmisuk

11. Dallas Mavericks

2022-23 record: 32-31

Previous ranking: 9

Forward/center Maxi Kleber, who has been sidelined since tearing his hamstring in a mid-December practice, returned Tuesday night against the Pacers. His comeback could be critical to Dallas' hopes of a playoff run, as Kleber is the Mavs' most essential defender. Dallas has allowed 108.3 points per 100 possessions with Kleber on the floor this season and 116.2 without him.-- MacMahon

12.Miami Heat

2022-23 record: 33-29

Previous ranking: 10

Miami dropped four straight before Jimmy Butler pulled them across the finish line against the Sixers on Monday night. Butler closed up February with three straight solid games -- averaging 24.7 points, 5.3 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game. The Heat have a chance to get back on track as they start a six-game homestand with Wednesday's game, also against the Sixers.-- Friedell

13.Golden State Warriors

2022-23 record: 32-30

Previous ranking: 16

The Warriors have to be pleased that they've managed to avoid a major drop-off without Stephen Curry (again), in addition to absences from Draymond Green and Andrew Wiggins. The question now becomes, with no clear return timetables for Curry and Wiggins, will the Warriors be able to stay afloat, or even push their way out of the play-in?-- Andrews

14. Brooklyn Nets

2022-23 record: 34-27

Previous ranking: 13

Brooklyn has dropped seven of its past nine after Tuesday's loss to the Milwaukee Bucks. The Nets are still adjusting to life without Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, but Mikal Bridges continues to be a bright spot. He is averaging 23.8 points, 5.2 rebounds and 3.2 assists over his brief six-game Nets tenure. -- Friedell

15.Atlanta Hawks

2022-23 record: 31-31

Previous ranking: 17

After the Joe Prunty-era Hawks went 2-0, the Quin Snyder era got started Monday night. Snyder -- who agreed to a five-year deal to become Atlanta's head coach, ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported Sunday -- had a chance to begin his Hawks tenure with a victory, but the Wizards' late run prevented that. Still, Atlanta remains in the thick of things in the Eastern Conference play-in race and is at .500 with 20 games to go. -- Lopez

16.Minnesota Timberwolves

2022-23 record: 32-32

Previous ranking: 14

It's hard to know what to make of the Timberwolves this season. After their blockbuster trade to acquire Rudy Gobert over the summer, they struggled early on ... and badly. They improved after Karl-Anthony Towns was injured, yet there's no telling what they'll look like if and when Towns returns. -- Andrews

17.Utah Jazz

2022-23 record: 31-32

Previous ranking: 20

Talen Horton-Tucker will get an extended audition as a playmaker for the rest of the season after the Jazz traded Mike Conley Jr. and bought out Russell Westbrook. Horton-Tucker has averaged 13.3 points and 6.0 assists in eight games since Utah made the three-way trade. He did not play in the previous four games. -- MacMahon

18.Toronto Raptors

2022-23 record: 31-32

Previous ranking: 21

With the Nets in free fall, both Toronto and Atlanta will have opportunities to move into the top eight in the East. The Raptors in particular have looked rejuvenated in recent weeks, going 6-2 since the trade deadline after Tuesday's win over Chicago and 10-5 overall in their past 15 games. --Bontemps

19.New Orleans Pelicans

2022-23 record: 30-32

Previous ranking: 15

The Pelicans are struggling but are now dealing with even more injuries. Since Zion Williamson was injured on Jan. 2, the Pelicans have gone just 7-18 -- the fifth-worst record in the league over that span. Now the Pelicans will be without Jose Alvarado (right tibial stress fracture) for at least three weeks and Larry Nance (left ankle sprain) for at least two weeks. -- Lopez

20. Los Angeles Lakers

2022-23 record: 29-33

Previous ranking: 22

The Lakers lost their first test without LeBron James, who will miss at least two weeks while rehabbing a right foot injury. The team's 26 turnovers leading to 41 Memphis points were discouraging, but the overall mood remained determined. "The mission is the mission,"Anthony Davissaid."We have more than enough, in my opinion, to still win basketball games. And we have to. He's not coming back anytime soon." -- McMenamin

21.Portland Trail Blazers

2022-23 record: 29-32

Previous ranking: 18

Damian Lillard's ridiculous 71-point explosion will be the highlight of the Blazers' season, but Portland followed that up by blowing a 23-point lead in a road loss to Golden State. The Blazers have lost six of nine and have to find a way to take advantage of the Lakers losing James for an extended period of time. After a home game against New Orleans, the Blazers hit the road for a six-game swing.-- Youngmisuk

22.Washington Wizards

2022-23 record: 29-32

Previous ranking: 23

The Wizards came up with some big defensive stops for a win over Atlanta without Kristaps Porzingis and Monte Morris. The Wizards snapped a two-game slide, and the win came in the first of four meetings with Atlanta in the next month-plus. With the Hawks just a game and a half ahead of the Wizards for eighth in the East, those games could decide Washington's postseason fate.-- Youngmisuk

23. Oklahoma City Thunder

2022-23 record: 28-33

Previous ranking: 19

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has missed the Thunder's past three games with what the team is now calling an abdominal strain, and Oklahoma City's record has gone down with him. The Thunder have now lost four in a row after losing to Sacramento on Monday and slipped to 13th in the Western Conference playoff standings. -- Lopez

24.Chicago Bulls

2022-23 record: 28-34

Previous ranking: 24

The Bulls dropped a critical game Tuesday against the Toronto Raptors, losing to a team ahead of them in the Eastern Conference play-in race and dropping the season series and tiebreaker to Toronto.-- Collier

25.Orlando Magic

2022-23 record: 26-36

Previous ranking: 25

Paolo Banchero continues to pad a strong Rookie of the Year résumé. He had 29 points, eight rebounds and four assists in Monday's road win over the New Orleans Pelicans. The Magic have two big tests against the Milwaukee Bucks over the next week and need to find more consistency down the stretch to push into the play-In conversation.-- Friedell

26.Indiana Pacers

2022-23 record: 28-35

Previous ranking: 26

Tyrese Haliburton collected double-digit assists in each of his first two games out of the All-Star break. He has 30 games with at least 10 assists, tied for the most such games in the NBA this season. -- Collier

27. Charlotte Hornets

2022-23 record: 20-43

Previous ranking: 27

Charlotte's disappointing season got even sadder Monday night after LaMelo Ball fractured his right ankle during Monday night's win over the Detroit Pistons. The Hornets are in desperate need of some lottery luck as the franchise continues to be struck by injuries, inconsistency and poor roster building.-- Friedell

28.Detroit Pistons

2022-23 record: 15-47

Previous ranking: 28

James Wiseman put together his best game of the season, collecting 23 points on 9-of-11 shooting with seven rebounds in a loss to the Hornets on Monday. With Detroit going through some injury woes, Wiseman has been in the starting lineup the past two games.-- Collier

29.San Antonio Spurs

2022-23 record: 15-47

Previous ranking: 29

The Spurs' annual rodeo road trip ended in the team's 17th consecutive loss Monday night, before beating the Jazz on Tuesday. San Antonio was a league-worst 2-24 since Jan. 1 and hadn't won a game since Jan. 17 before taking down Utah. The good news: The Spurs play their first home game since Feb. 3 when the Indiana Pacers come to town Thursday.-- Lopez

30.Houston Rockets

2022-23 record: 13-48

Previous ranking: 30

The Rockets have the worst record in the NBA for the third consecutive season, putting Houston in position to get another pick at or near the top of the lottery. Jalen Green and Jabari Smith Jr. -- drafted with the No. 2 pick in 2021 and No. 3 pick in 2022, respectively -- rank first and second among the Rockets in total minutes played. Houston is minus-350 when Green and Smith are on the floor together -- the second-worst plus-minus of any tandem in the league this season.-- MacMahon

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