NBA Power Rankings: MVP Debate and Playoff Races Heat Up

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Joel Embiid of the Philadelphia 76ers and Nikola Jokic of the Denver Nuggets play during an NBA basketball game Monday, March 14, 2022 in Philadelphia.  (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Joel Embiid of the Philadelphia 76ers and Nikola Jokic of the Denver Nuggets play during an NBA basketball game Monday, March 14, 2022 in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

AP

* Played through games 4/1

1. Phoenix Suns (62-14)

Last week: 1

The Suns have already equaled the franchise record with 62 wins, secured first place in the Western Conference and secured home field advantage in the playoffs. They have won nine in a row behind Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton and Chris Paul, who recently returned after missing 15 games with a fractured right thumb. The Suns will visit the Grizzlies Friday night in a possible preview of the Western Conference Finals.

2. Memphis Grizzlies (54-23)

Last week: 2

Ja Morant is expected to miss at least another week due to right knee pain, but the Grizzlies have not been swayed by the absence of their young All-Star point guard. Morant has missed 20 games this season. The Grizzlies are 18-2 in these contests. They have won six in a row and 10 of their last 11, including recent victories over the Nets, Bucks and Warriors.

3.Miami Heat (49-28)

Last week: 4

Miami appears to be turning the tide after a four-year losing streak and a heated exchange between coach Erik Spoelstra, Jimmy Butler and Udonis Haslem. Butler scored 27 points in a win over the Kings. He had 24 in an impressive win over the Celtics on Wednesday. The Heat is clinging to a half-game lead over the Bucks ahead of Saturday’s showdown with the Bulls.

4. Milwaukee Bucks (48-28)

Last week: 5

Giannis Antetokounmpo rises in the MVP debate after helping the Bucks win 12 of 15 to move within a half-game of the Heat for the East No. During the month of March, Antetokounmpo averaged 32.3 points, 12.7 rebounds, 4.7 assists, 1.6 blocks, and 1.3 steals. He had the league buzzing on Thursday after recording 44 points, 14 rebounds and six assists in a 120-119 victory in overtime over the nets in a rematch of the 2021 Eastern Conference Finals.

5. Dallas Mavericks (48-29)

Last week: 9

The Mavericks battled past the Warriors, Nuggets and Jazz to move up to No. 3 in the West and have a major showdown with the Bucks on Sunday. After averaging 29.9 points, 9.2 rebounds and 7.8 assists in March, Luka Doncic is building a strong case for a top-five finish in MVP voting.

6. Warrior of the Golden State (48-29)

Last week: 3

Steph Curry is being reevaluated this week after missing the last seven games with a sprained ligament in his left foot. The Warriors need him back in the worst way after losing four in a row and dropping seven of their last eight in the West to fourth, just two games ahead of the Nuggets.

7. Boston Celtics (47-30)

Last week: June 6th

Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart briefly helped the Celtics to a tie for first place in the East, but they have fallen back to a tie for third place with the 76ers after suffering back-to-back losses to the Raptors and Heat. They are two games behind the Heat for the No. 1 with five games remaining.

8. Philly 76ers (46-30)

Last week: 7

Joel Embiid is a monster, but he could lose ground in the MVP race as the 76ers lose ground in the Eastern Conference rankings. They’ve lost three straight to drop to fourth in the East, 2 1/2 games behind Miami to become No. 1. Embiid had 37 points and 15 rebounds on Thursday, but the 76ers suffered a 102-94 loss to the Pistons after losing to the Suns and Bucks earlier in the week.

9. Denver Nuggets (46-31)

Last week: 10

Reigning MVP Nikola Jokic averaged 29.9 points, 12.7 rebounds, 7.9 assists, 1.7 steals and 1.4 blocks in March. He was ranked No. 1 in ESPN’s most recent NBA MVP straw poll, conducted March 24-26, but he must fend off Antetokounmpo and Embiid to win the honor. The Nuggets sit fifth in the West after winning three straight games.

10. Utah Jazz (46-31)

Last week: 8

Donovan Mitchell scored 29 points and Rudy Gobert grabbed 17 rebounds in a 122-109 win over the Lakers on Thursday, but Utah had lost five in a row and fell to fifth in the West, two games behind the Warriors for the No. 4 the seed and home field advantage in the playoffs.

11. Toronto Raptors (44-32)

Last week: 13

Pascal Siakam had 40 points and 13 rebounds in an impressive overtime win over the Celtics on Monday. The Raptors have won four in a row and eight of 10 to give themselves a two-game lead over the Cavaliers for the No. 6 East seed.

12. Chicago Bulls (45-32)

Last week: 11

DeMar DeRozan scored 50 points in an overtime win against the Clippers on Thursday. The Bulls are 1 1/2 games behind the 76ers for the No. 4 east and just a half game ahead of the Raptors for the fifth seed.

13.Minnesota Timberwolves (43-34)

Last week: 12

The Timberwolves are unlikely to catch the Jazz for the No. 6 West after losing four of five, but they secured seventh place and secured home field advantage in the play-in tournament.

14th Cleveland Cavaliers (42-35)

Last week: 14

The Cavaliers have lost five of six and are 2 1/2 games behind the Raptors to become No. 6 in the East. They have a two-game lead over the Nets, Hornets and Hawks, but rookie-of-the-year contender Evan Mobley is out with an ankle injury and the schedule is with the remaining games against the Knicks, 76ers, Magic, Nets and Bucks not easy.

15. Brooklyn Nets (40-37)

Last week: 15

Kevin Durant averaged 31.0 points, 7.1 rebounds and 7.0 assists in March, and Kyrie Irvin is now working full-time, but the Nets are in a three-way tie for the eighth-seat East after taking three of five have lost, including Thursday’s overtime loss to the Bucks.

16. Charlotte Hornets (40-37)

Last week: 16

LaMelo Ball and Miles Bridges helped the Hornets win eight of their last 10 games while battling for play-in position with the Nets and Hawks. Ball had 33 points in a win over the nets on Sunday.

17 Atlanta Hawks (40-37)

Last week: 17

The Hawks are in a three-way tie with the Nets and Hornets for the No. 8 East after winning four in a row and nine of their last 12. Trae Young recently put up some big numbers with 47 points against the Pacers, 46 against the Blazers, and 45 against the Knicks.

18. Los Angeles Clippers (37-40)

Last week: 18

The Clippers lost six out of seven but they secured their place in the play-in tournament and now Paul George is back. He scored 34 points on his return in a 121-115 win over the Jazz on Tuesday.

19. New York Knicks (34-43)

Last week: 19

Julius Randle, RJ Barrett and Immanuel Quickley helped the Knicks win four in a row and six of eight, but they edged to the brink of playoff elimination with a 125-114 loss to the Hornets on Wednesday.

20. New Orleans Pelicans (33-43)

Last week: 21

CJ McCollum received a standing ovation and scored 25 points on his return to Portland on Wednesday to beat the Blazers. The Pelicans have won five out of seven to solidify their hold on ninth place in the West.

21.Wizards (33-43)

Last week: 22

Kristaps Porzingis scored 35 points in a win over the Magic on Wednesday, but the Wizards are close to being eliminated from the playoffs after winning 23-21 earlier in the season.

22 San Antonio Spurs (31-45)

Last week: 23

The Spurs won four straight and five of six before losing a game by one point to the Grizzlies on Wednesday. The Spurs briefly overtook the Lakers for the last play-in berth in the west, and they could do it again by the end of the season.

23 Los Angeles Lakers (31-45)

Last week: 20

The Lakers are in danger of missing the play-in after losing four straight and 14 of 18. Anthony Davis has missed 18 games with a right metatarsal sprain and LeBron James has missed two with a left ankle sprain, but the Lakers expect both to return against the Pelicans on Friday night.

24. Kings of Sacramento (28-49)

Last week: 25

Rookie Davion Mitchell has taken his game to another level with injuries missing De’Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis, but the Kings are on the cusp of the longest playoff drought in NBA history after 16 straight losses.

25. Portland Trail Blazers (27-49)

Last week: 24

Damian Lillard will miss the rest of the season with an abdominal injury as the free fall continues in Portland, where the Blazers have lost five in a row and 15 of their last 17.

26. Indiana Pacers (25-52)

Last week: 26

The Pacers have lost five in a row and 10 of their last 13, despite some good plays from Buddy Hield, who averaged 17.3 points, 4.6 rebounds and 4.7 assists in March.

27. Oklahoma City Thunder (22-54)

Last week: 27

Undrafted rookie two-way player Lindy Waters III notched seven 3-pointers to end Wednesday’s loss to the Hawks with a career-high 25 points.

28. Detroit Pistons (21-56)

Last week: 28

Cade Cunningham scored 27 points to help put the Pistons on a three-game losing streak in a 102-94 win over the 76ers on Thursday.

29 Houston Rockets (20-57)

Last week: 30

Rookie Jalen Green recorded back-to-back 30-point games against the Spurs and Kings, but the Rockets both lost after racking up back-to-back wins against the Blazers.

30. Orlando Magic (20-57)

Last week: 29

Rookie Franz Wagner scored 28 points against the Wizards on Wednesday, but Orlando lost his fourth straight to match the Rockets for a league-worst record.

Jason Anderson is an award-winning sportswriter for The Sacramento Bee. He began his journalism career at The Bee more than 20 years ago and returned in September 2018 to cover the Sacramento Kings.

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