NBA Power Rankings: Warriors slump out of the break, fall to No. 2

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Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Will the final stretch of the season belong to the Milwaukee Bucks? Giannis Antetokounmpo & Co. are the hottest team in the NBA right now, taking over for a slumping Golden State Warriors squad atop our rankings.

Throughout the regular season, our panel (ESPN's Kevin Arnovitz, Tim MacMahon andAndre'Snellings, The Undefeated's Marc J. Spears and FiveThirtyEight's Chris Herring) ranks all 30 teams from top to bottom, taking stock of which teams are playing the best basketball and which are looking most like title contenders.

Week 19 | 18 |17 |16 |15 |14 |13 |12 |11 |10 |9|8 |7 |6 |5 |4 |3 |2 |1 | Training camp| Free agency

1. Milwaukee Bucks

Record: 45-14

Milwaukee has won nine of its past 10, the best mark in the NBA in that span. These contenders will be tested starting this week in their quest to obtain home-court advantage throughout the playoffs. Their next five games are on the road, and eight of their next 10 will be played away from home, including stops in Sacramento, Utah and San Antonio.-- Herring

2.Golden State Warriors

Record: 42-17

All is not heavenly in Warriors world since the All-Star break. Forward Draymond Green suffered a sprained left ankle against the Rockets on Saturday, a game the Warriors lost with James Harden sidelined. After a strong start following his return from an Achilles tendon injury, frustrated center DeMarcus Cousins has been struggling and has not been used down the stretch.-- Spears

Record: 44-17

The mutual love between Raptors fans and DeMar DeRozan genuinely displayed on Friday was one of the best moments of an NBA season beset by superstar discontent and transactional intrigue. On the heels of the big win, the Raptors suffered a letdown loss without Kawhi Leonard on Sunday at home to Orlando. By no means do the Raptors have an easy schedule ahead (not with Boston coming to town on Tuesday), but they will be favored in their next 10 games.-- Arnovitz

4. Denver Nuggets

Record: 41-18

The Nuggets lost three games by a combined 38 points shortly before the All-Star break while defensive anchor Paul Millsap was absent, and they gave up an average of 127 PPG in those outings. The Nuggets entered this week having won the past 10 games in which Millsap played by an average of 13.2 PPG and have thus surged back to within a game of first place in the West. --Snellings

5. Oklahoma City Thunder

Record: 38-21

Russell Westbrook did not manage a triple-double in either game since the All-Star break, but he might have finally found his shooting stroke. Westbrook has scored 88 points on 50.8 percent shooting from the field in the first two games post-break, and he has knocked down an eye-catching 11 3-pointers on 44 percent shooting. The 11 3-pointers are by far the most he has made in consecutive games this season, and the 15 he has made in his past three games are four more than the total he knocked down in the 12 preceding games. -- Snellings

6.Portland Trail Blazers

Record: 36-23

On Monday, newcomer guard Rodney Hood will face Cleveland for the first time since the Cavaliers traded him on Feb. 4. Hood has scored in double figures just once since joining the Blazers, averaging 8.3 points in 22 minutes in six games for Portland.-- Spears

7.Houston Rockets

Record: 34-25

The Rockets need Chris Paul to perform at a star level to be serious contenders, so his recent performances have been remarkably encouraging. Paul has been playing his best ball of the season. He has averaged 18.6 points and 9.9 assists in the past seven games, with a net rating of plus-11.8 points per 100 possession in that span. "I know how to play a little bit, know what I mean?" Paul said after his 23-point, 17-assist performance in Saturday's win over the Warriors. -- MacMahon

8.Philadelphia 76ers

Record: 38-22

Life just isn't the same in Philadelphia without Joel Embiid, who has missed both of the Sixers' games since the All-Star break. With Embiid on the floor, the Sixers are 5.4 points better offensively and 7.1 points better defensively per 100 possessions. For JJ Redick, whose chemistry with the big man is seamless, the effect is even more pronounced. The Sixers' offense is 23.5 points per 100 possessions more efficient when Redick plays with Embiid than when Redick plays without him.-- Arnovitz

9. Indiana Pacers

Record: 40-20

Indy dropped its first four games after losing Victor Oladipo for the season. Since then? The Pacers have gone 8-1, with the lone loss coming to the Bucks, who own the best record in basketball. The Pacers haven't played a tough schedule in that span, but give head coach Nate McMillan and his team credit for continuing to excel following their All-Star's injury.-- Herring

10.Boston Celtics

Record: 37-23

The Celtics came out of the All-Star break with a close loss to the first-place Bucks and an inexplicable 10-point loss to the Bulls. Boston has lost four of its past six games to remain three games behind the Pacers and one game behind the 76ers in the race for home-court advantage. The Celtics are in the midst of a brutal portion of the season and will try to break their two-game losing streak Tuesday on the road against the Raptors. -- Snellings

11. Utah Jazz

Record: 33-26

Anyone who still considers reigning Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert a one-way player isn't watching the Jazz. Gobert has established himself as an offensive force. He's averaging a career-high 15.4 points per game while leading the league in field goal percentage (.654) and screen assists (6.0 per game, generating 13.9 points). The Jazz average 109 points per 100 possessions with Gobert on the floor -- the best of any Utah player with at least 300 minutes -- and 102 points per 100 possessions when he sits.-- MacMahon

12. San Antonio Spurs

Record: 33-28

Well, that wasn't exactly the way the Spurs wanted to come out of the All-Star break. DeRozan's Toronto homecoming ended in nightmare fashion with Kawhi Leonard, the man the Raptors chose to replace him, ripping him at half court and cruising in for a game-deciding dunk. Then the Knicks ended an 18-game home losing streak by spanking the Spurs, who are only a game ahead of the ninth-place Kings in the West standings.-- MacMahon

13. LA Clippers

Record: 33-28

These are interesting times for the Clippers, who have essentially cycled through three rosters over the past 14 months. Word is that ownership would like to see the team qualify for the postseason, even if it means forfeiting a first-round pick in June's draft in exchange for being a first-round sacrificial lamb. To that end, Friday night's date at Sacramento suddenly has big implications. -- Arnovitz

14.Los Angeles Lakers

Record: 29-30

A loss to the Davis-less Pelicans on Saturday took the sheen off Thursday's plucky comeback win over Houston. LeBron James publicly wondered whether a young core that had never been to a postseason could possibly understand the magnitude of what's at stake for the Lakers over the next six weeks. On the bright side, Brandon Ingram has put together a pair of efficient 29- and 27-point performances since the break.-- Arnovitz

15. Sacramento Kings

Record: 31-28

Harrison Barnes is still adjusting to his new life as a member of the Kings. The veteran forward is averaging 12.2 points on 34.4 percent shooting from the field and 25 percent from 3-point range in his first five games. Barnes averaged 17.7 points per game with the Mavericks before being dealt to the Kings.-- Spears

16. Brooklyn Nets

Record: 31-30

Caris LeVert is still finding his rhythm since his return from a severely dislocated right foot, averaging nine points and four assists in 23.6 minutes per game with an effective field goal percentage of 39.1. A confident LeVert would be a boon for the Nets this spring, giving them another perimeter attacker who can challenge defenses off the dribble, off the pick-and-roll and on the break. The Nets lead the NBA in total drives this season, with league-average efficiency off those possessions.-- Arnovitz

17. Detroit Pistons

Record: 28-30

Detroit is 7-2 in its past nine, and the improved play of guard Reggie Jackson has been one of the biggest catalysts in that span. Jackson has shot 49 percent overall and 46 percent from deep in the past nine contests -- up from just 40 percent and 34 percent, respectively -- during his hot streak.-- Herring

18.Minnesota Timberwolves

Record: 28-31

All-Star forward Karl-Anthony Towns' streak of 303 consecutive starts ended when he was placed in the concussion protocol after being involved in a car accident Thursday. Towns is averaging team highs of 23.1 points and 12 rebounds per game. -- Spears

19. Orlando Magic

Record: 28-33

The Magic entered the All-Star break having won seven of eight games with a plus-15.5 scoring margin, a stretch that followed their losing seven of eight games with a minus-2.5 mark. The Magic have been one of the streakiest teams in the NBA all season, but their recent run has propelled them to just outside the playoffs. If they can sustain that level, they have a good chance to sneak into the postseason in what was supposed to be a rebuilding year.-- Snellings

20. Charlotte Hornets

Record: 28-31

The Hornets are leading the Southeast Division despite a losing record. A team with a losing record has not won a division since the 1975-76 Bucks won the Midwest Division with a 38-44 record. Since the NBA-ABA merger in 1976, three teams have tied for the worst record to win a division, 44-38: the 2017-18 Heat, the 2006-07 Heat and the 2005-06 Nuggets.-- Spears

21.Miami Heat

Record: 26-32

The Heat welcomed injured guard Goran Dragic and forward Derrick Jones Jr. back to the lineup after extended absences, and their returns come at an excellent time, as the team has struggled, with losses in eight of its past 10 games. The Heat have fallen to 10th in the Eastern Conference, 1.5 games out of the last playoff spot, and have to turn things around in a hurry to have a chance at the postseason.-- Snellings

22.New Orleans Pelicans

Record: 27-34

Give the prideful Pelicans credit for putting up a heckuva fight without Anthony Davis. For whatever reason, the Pelicans have been better without their disgruntled, soon-to-be-departing superstar. Since Davis' trade request became public, New Orleans is 3-3 without him, and they beat the Thunder before the All-Star break when Davis exited the game at halftime and the arena soon thereafter. They are 1-3 when Davis suits up and sticks around all four quarters.-- MacMahon

23.Washington Wizards

Record: 24-36

Washington has lost its past four and all of a sudden sits just four games in front of the Hawks, who hold the NBA's fifth-worst record. In what has been a mess of a season from the get-go, a high lottery pick -- especially after unloading Otto Porter Jr.'s contract -- would be a decent reward to put alongside Bradley Beal for next season.-- Herring

24.Dallas Mavericks

Record: 26-33

Dirk Nowitzki's chase of Wilt Chamberlain provides a fun sidebar to what is likely his unofficial farewell tour. Nowitzki is 92 points from passing Chamberlain to move into sixth on the all-time scoring list with 23 games remaining in the Mavs' season and probably Nowitzki's career, though he has been clear that he has yet to make a retirement decision. Nowitzki, making his first start of the season due to Maxi Kleber's illness, scored a season-high 15 points in Saturday's loss to the Jazz.-- MacMahon

25. Chicago Bulls

Record: 16-44

Chicago is playing its best basketball of the season, having won four of its past six while ranking seventh in offensive efficiency since the trade deadline on Feb. 7. In the Bulls' Saturday victory over the Celtics, both Zach LaVine (42 points) and Lauri Markkanen (35 points) finished with career-best scoring tallies -- an excellent sign for the young team.-- Herring

26. Atlanta Hawks

Record: 20-40

As promising as Trae Young has looked, power forward John Collins might be the biggest revelation for the Hawks this season. Collins' 3-point accuracy is inching toward 37 percent, and his true shooting percentage now tops 63 percent. Next item on the agenda for Collins: refining the pick-and-roll routine with Young. They are the eighth-most-used combo in the league but the least efficient among the top 10 -- though that's still respectable and something that is certain to improve with time.-- Arnovitz

27.Cleveland Cavaliers

Record: 14-46

This past week, the Cavs notched back-to-back victories for just the third time all season, defeating the struggling Suns and Grizzlies. But even before those two contests, Cleveland was beginning to play better. Perhaps the biggest bright spot: Kevin Love looked back to his old self, logging a 32-point, 12-rebound effort in a 26-minute showing against Memphis.-- Herring

28. Memphis Grizzlies

Record: 23-38

Rookie Jaren Jackson Jr. suffering a deep thigh bruise that will sideline him indefinitely adds to the misery of Memphis' season. It also will make it extremely difficult for the Grizzlies to accomplish their goal of conveying the top-eight protected pick they owe the Celtics. The silver lining is it looks like the Grizzlies will get an early lottery pick to aid their rebuilding effort, but the nightmare scenario of giving up the pick when it's unprotected in 2021 looms.-- MacMahon

Record: 12-48

DeAndre Jordan is currently on the shelf with an ankle injury, replaced in the starting lineup by Mitchell Robinson. The Knicks are therefore starting two rookies and three second-year pros with a third rookie in Allonzo Trier as their sixth man. The Knicks managed to snap an 18-game home losing streak Sunday night, but they continue to lean into their youth movement and are unlikely to cede many minutes to veterans down the stretch.-- Snellings

30. Phoenix Suns

Record: 11-50

The Suns have lost a franchise-worst 17 games in a row entering Monday's game against the Heat. Considering the riches available in this year's draft -- whether Duke's Zion Williamson or RJ Barrett or Murray State's Ja Morant -- there is certainly some benefit if the losses continue.-- Spears

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