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Power Tankings: Are the Bucks a lock for the top spot this season?

By Zach Harper | NBA writer

We've got essentially three weeks left before the trade deadline and that means these teams at the bottom have a lot of questions to answer. For a team like the Milwaukee Bucks, they have to figure out just how bad they want to be the rest of the way. Do they make any moves or is the status quo of this season enough to give them the upper hand in the lottery? Will the Philadelphia 76ers move their veterans and wipe away a lot of the early success they had or do they believe their range right now with the credit they've built up with their fans is enough of a positive season without tanking for the top pick?

Do the Orlando Magic have a core moving forward or are they in danger of falling into the same pattern each season with competitive early and wilting for the rest of the season? Are the Cleveland Cavaliers ever going to be able to break out of this funk or is the well poisoned too much? Can the Los Angeles Lakers take solace in whatever Kobe Bryant gives them this season? Do the Utah Jazz need to get worse or can they keep building to get better? And do the Boston Celtics have to worry about anything other than getting Rajon Rondo healthy?

Here are the Week 15 Power Tankings:

1. Milwaukee Bucks

Record: 8-39 (0-4 this week), Net Rating: -10.3 points per 100 possessions

The Milwaukee Bucks certainly aren't the worst team we've seen in years. That honor still goes to the Charlotte Bobcats of 2011-12, the worst team in NBA history when you factor in winning percentage (lockout-shortened season) and net rating. The Bucks aren't in danger of catching the futility of those Bobcats. However, they are trending toward maybe being the second worst team we've seen in the past 14 years (as far back as nba.com/stats would go).

In the past 14 seasons, there have been 10 teams that finished with a net rating of a negative 10 or worse. While the -15.5 of the 11-12 Bobcats isn't in danger of being caught, the -11.5 of the 2005-06 Portland Trail Blazers could be in real trouble of falling. Milwaukee had a horrible first month with a net rating of -11.1. Then they corrected it somewhat in December by losing by just 5.2 points per 100 possessions. However, the wheels came off the bus and rolled down into the river in January with a net rating of -14.6. This is astonishing when you consider they're relatively healthy and were built to compete for a playoff spot in the East this season.

2. Orlando Magic

Record: 13-36 (1-3 this week), Net Rating: -5.8 points per 100 possessions

I didn't think the Orlando Magic would be all that good this season but I certainly didn't feel they'd be this bad. We've seen something similar to what happened last season. They were very competitive early on, then a couple of injuries killed their chances of winning for the rest of the season. Losing Nikola Vucevic for about one-third of the season so far was the injury that did it this time but amazingly they haven't been able to rebound (in more ways than one) since his return.

With or without Vucevic this season (11-20 with him, 2-16 without him), the Magic have been atrocious on the offensive boards. This is mostly surprising because they're such a big, strong team at all positions that it's kind of shocking they have the 28th offensive rebounding percentage in the NBA right now. Last season, they were only 22nd in offensive rebounding rate, so it could just be a Jacque Vaughn coaching philosophy not to pound the offensive glass. But it's weird seeing such a big team with high rebounding potential not dominate the offensive boards.

3. Philadelphia 76ers

Record: 15-33 (1-3 this week), Net Rating: -8.9 points per 100 possessions

The Philadelphia 76ers early run in the beginning of the season has really pushed them a long way from keeping space between themselves and the Bucks. The Sixers have been really atrocious for most of this season, but their successful start to the season has kept them above the fray, so to speak. The net rating on the season is the second worst in the NBA. When this team loses, they seem to lose on a grand scale, but they're just scrappy enough to take advantage of your team if they're not taken seriously.

The next three weeks will separate whether they trend more toward the current Bucks the rest of the season or if they can pull their game together in a manner like the Utah Jazz. The Jazz had a terrible start and then pulled things together. The Sixers could be moving veterans like Evan Turner soon, and Thaddeus Young or Spencer Hawes could be closely behind out the door. If they can make successful deals for assets, the rest of the season could be a true tankfest. If they struggle to move their prized veterans to teams looking to make a push, they'll probably stay in that 2-6 range the rest of the season.

4. Cleveland Cavaliers

Record: 16-31 (0-3 this week), Net Rating: -6.5 points per 100 possessions

The Cleveland Cavaliers weren't in this thing at all a week ago and after acquiring Luol Deng a few weeks ago, it seemed like they wouldn't be back. Somehow, they've managed to become more of a mess since acquiring the All-Star small forward. He's recognized the mess, Dion Waiters is having practice issues, Dan Gilbert may step in for the trade season to make sure Chris Grant doesn't mortgage all of their assets in an effort to save his job, and the Kyrie Irving speculation (real or not) is already beginning. As much as the Cavs seem to want to get out of this discussion every season, they can't seem to get out of their own way.

Welcome back, Cleveland!

5. Los Angeles Lakers

Record: 16-31 (0-2 this week), Net Rating: -5.3 points per 100 possessions

Kobe Bryant should be taking 30 shots a game when he comes back. There is no need to pretend there are goals to win games and with the people the Lakers are throwing out currently in lineups, would you blame Kobe for gunning for the scoring record? Lakers fans were mostly shocked they lost to the Bobcats this past week, but considering they started Ryan Kelly, Wes Johnson, and Kendall Marshall, it's more shocking they didn't lose by 30 to Charlotte. If anything, this terrible stretch of basketball by the Lakers will probably ensure that Bryant returns when he's 100 percent healthy and doesn't push it further.

6. Boston Celtics

Record: 16-33 (1-2 this week), Net Rating: -5.1 points per 100 possessions

Boston is pretty much the definition of what it's like to be a decent tanking team in the Eastern Conference. Against their own kind in the East, they're actually decently competitive. They're 13-17 against their own conference but just 3-16 when they head out to the West. Their only two goals the rest of the season should be getting Rajon Rondo back on track and improving their salary cap situation. That likely means finding a way to move Jeff Green's contract away, although choosing to keep him around isn't that bad if you feel he can be a third options and a solid veteran presence.

The Rondo goal will be a little tougher, just because working that rust off is pretty tough. While he's a better player than Ricky Rubio, looking to Rubio's rehab last season is probably the way for Rondo to go. Rubio worked on aggressiveness and putting things on his shoulders, mostly because the Wolves' had so many injuries that they didn't have any other choice. It helped get his confidence back by the end of the season, except that has been spotty for different reasons this season. Rondo is so seasoned already, it's unlikely he'd have a similar confidence dip if things don't go perfectly next season.

7. Utah Jazz

Record: 16-31 (1-2 this week), Net Rating: -7.9 points per 100 possessions

It's fairly noble what the Jazz have done this season. They could have very easily just packed up early, accepted their fate as a bottom feeder, and prepped for the 2014 draft. They're still going to end up with a pretty good draft pick, which should net them a franchise-helping role player. In the process, they've been incredibly competitive, have shown the fan base they can trust that this organization will try to put a good product on the court, and they've developed their young talent to give a little bit of a jolt.

It will be interesting to see how much they use Rudy Gobert the rest of the season and see if he can fit in spurts next to Derrick Favors. He had very solid minutes recently against the Wolves with eight points, six rebounds, and three blocks in 27 minutes. He had a nice run against the Warriors a couple games later with five points and four rebounds in 19 minutes. He's slowly showing some confidence on the court and shouldn't hurt their bottom line on the court of being competitive if they give him more time the rest of the season.

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