All year long we scoff at pundits proclaiming "if the season ended today ..." and following up with a shocking revelation. Well, we're getting to the time where "if the season ended today" is starting to become a reality, with everyone keeping a much closer eye on the standings. The play-in games are a little less than a month away, with heated races for virtually every playoff spot in both conferences.
Out West, the Los Angeles Clippers continued their stellar play to remain in the No. 1 spot in this week's Power Rankings, but the Brooklyn Nets are nipping at their heels, thanks to the return of Kevin Durant. Meanwhile, those New York Knicks just keep on climbing, jumping to within sight of the top five after extending their winning streak to nine games.
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The Atlanta Hawks were the biggest risers in this week's rankings despite an injury to Trae Young, and the Washington Wizards also jumped four spots as a lengthy winning streak has propelled them into play-in position. On the other side of the coin we have the Boston Celtics, who looked to have figured things out last week, only to fall seven spots in this week's edition of the Power Rankings.
*Keep in mind that our Power Rankings are based on the team's performance the previous week, not the entire season.
|The Clippers just keep on rolling, winning all three games this week without Kawhi Leonard, and one over the Grizzlies with a starting lineup of Luke Kennard, Terance Mann, Marcus Morris, Amir Coffey and Ivica Zubac -- yeah, things are clicking for L.A. Paul George kept up his outstanding play, averaging 33 points and 12.5 rebounds in two games this week, while Morris has stepped up in Leonard's absence, putting up 20.5 points in his two games this week on 43 percent 3-point shooting. The Clippers have won 11 of their last 12, and are three games back of the Jazz in the loss column for the West's top seed.
|Kevin Durant is back (hopefully for good this time), and he scored 33 points in 28 minutes in a big win over the Suns on Sunday to cap off a 3-1 week for Brooklyn. James Harden remains out, but Kyrie Irving averaged 27.3 points, 9.8 assists and seven rebounds while shooting 40 percent from 3-point range this week, while Joe Harris added 17 points per game on 57 percent 3-point shooting. The Nets are back in the No. 1 spot in the East, and could remain there if Durant stays on the floor.
|The Suns went 2-2 in the first four games of their brutal five-game road trip, beating the Bucks and Sixers before losing to the Celtics and Nets. Chris Paul averaged 21.5 points and 9.3 assists per game this week on 50 percent 3-point shooting, while Devin Booker put up 23.5 points per game. Jae Crowder was out for both of the losses this week, which helps illustrate his importance to this team on both ends of the floor.
|A clunker against the Timberwolves on Saturday prevented a 3-0 week for the Jazz, who beat the Lakers and Rockets without the services of Donovan Mitchell as he continues to rehab his ankle injury. Bojan Bogdanovic kept up his hot shooting, making 44 percent of his 3-pointers this week while averaging 21 points per game. Jordan Clarkson has also taken on the extra scoring responsibility with Mitchell out, putting up nearly 20 points per game this week on 39 percent 3-point shooting.
|The Nuggets have admirably responded to Jamal Murray's devastating injury, winning five of six games, including three of four this week. Nikola Jokic has been more aggressive looking for his own shot out of necessity, averaging 28.8 points, 9.5 rebounds and 7.8 assists this week, while Michael Porter Jr. has impressively taken on the second scorer role, averaging 25.8 points for the week while making 55 percent of his nearly 10 3-point attempts per game.
|Three more wins for the Knicks this week brings their streak to nine in a row. The offense has been surprisingly overwhelming, averaging 118.7 points per 100 possession during the streak. That's largely thanks to Julius Randle, who averaged 29 points, 10.3 rebounds and 4.7 assists on 57 (!) percent 3-point shooting this week, while RJ Barrett, Derrick Rose and Reggie Bullock have all been consistent contributors as the Knicks look like a scary playoff opponent.
|Those preaching that the Hawks are for real have more evidence: back-to-back wins over the Heat and Bucks without Trae Young. Their only loss this week came in overtime to the blazing-hot Knicks, the same game in which Young left early with an ankle injury. Bogdan Bogdanovic continues to have a prominent role in the offense, both scoring and facilitating, while Kevin Huerter has taken on more playmaking duties with Young out. Atlanta is now tied with the Knicks, who it would meet in the 4-5 matchup if the season ended today.
|The Bucks lost to the Suns in overtime before back-to-back wins over the 76ers and a loss to the Hawks on Sunday. Milwaukee led by double digits in the fourth quarter against Atlanta, but succumbed to a late Hawks run as the game slipped away. Giannis Antetokounmpo averaged 28.8 points and 13 rebounds per game on 61 percent shooting, while Khris Middleton added 19.3 points on 39 percent 3-point shooting.
|This time last week the 76ers looked to be in strong position for the East's No. 1 seed. After four straight losses, they're now in danger of falling to No. 3. Playing without Ben Simmons all week, Philly ran into a red-hot Steph Curry, then faced two of the league's best teams in the Suns and Bucks. Tobias Harris also missed two of the games and Joel Embiid was held out of Saturday's blowout loss to the Bucks. Still, teams have had to find ways to win without a complete roster all season, and the 76ers are no exception.
|After losing four out of five, the Mavs bounced back this week by beating the Pistons then sweeping a two-game set with the Lakers. Luka Doncic averaged 26 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds for the week, hitting a clutch step-back 3-pointer late in Saturday's win over L.A. Dallas is now just one game behind the Lakers in the loss column for the fifth seed in the Western Conference, with the second-softest remaining schedule in the league.
|The Heat won three games against inferior opponents this week, but lost to the Trae Young-less Hawks in what could be a pivotal matchup in terms of the Eastern Conference playoff picture. Kendrick Nunn led the team in scoring this week, averaging 20.5 points on 47 percent 3-point shooting, while Bam Adebayo and Jimmy Butler provided their usual, steady contributions.
|Well, folks, Steph Curry finally cooled off -- for one game. A rare off-night in a loss to the Wizards was surrounded by brilliant performances in wins over the 76ers, Nuggets and Kings. Throwing out the 2-for-14 game against Washington, Curry went 21 for 40 from the 3-point line in the other three games while averaging nearly 40 points. Kent Bazemore and Damion Lee are out due to health and safety protocols, which will mean more opportunity for Kelly Oubre Jr., who averaged 18.8 points and six rebounds this week.
|The Celtics backslid after a recent hot stretch, losing to the Bulls, Nets and Hornets this week, along with a solid win over the Suns. Boston was without Jaylen Brown for two of the games, but it did see the return of Evan Fournier, who failed to make a field goal and scored just two points in 42 total minutes in his first two games back. Jayson Tatum cooled off considerably, shooting just 34 percent from the field and 31 percent from 3-point range this week.
|The Lakers went 0-3 this week, but that's secondary to the return of Anthony Davis to the lineup. The big man averaged 10.5 points in 22.5 minutes in his first two games back, and was understandably rusty. Dennis Schroder continues to be the offensive engine with Davis easing back in and LeBron James still out, putting up 18.7 points and 9.7 assists on 43 percent 3-point shooting in the three games this week.
|The Wizards have cast a spell on the NBA, winning four more games this week to bring their winning streak to eight, and 11 straight with Bradley Beal in the lineup. Things are clearly clicking offensively, but the defense has been noteworthy for a team that nearly set an NBA record for defensive futility last season. They allowed just 104.3 points per 100 possessions this week, and with the 1-2 punch of Beal and Russell Westbrook, this could be a formidable play-in opponent if they can keep up the D.
|After a heartbreaking overtime loss to the Nuggets on Monday, the Grizzlies fell to the Clippers, then won consecutive games over the Blazers to draw even with them in the loss column. We kind of buried the lede here -- Jaren Jackson Jr. made his much-anticipated return to the court, which some were worried might not happen until next season. The franchise big man showed Grizzlies fans what they'd been missing, averaging 19 points and 2.5 blocks in 21 minutes in two games this week.
|A much-needed 3-1 week from the Spurs, who have struggled against a tough schedule after the All-Star break. DeMar DeRozan's late jumpers sealed an important win over the Pelicans on Saturday to give them some breathing room in the race for a play-in spot out West. DeRozan averaged 21.7 points and six assists in three games this week, while Derrick White scored 21.5 points per game on 40 percent 3-point shooting.
|Charlotte closed the week on a high note, beating the Cavs and Celtics after losing six of its previous seven games. Four Hornets scored 20 or more points in an egalitarian offensive effort against Boston, while Miles Bridges, PJ Washington and Terry Rozier all averaged over 18 points per game as they try to hold down the fort awaiting the return of Gordon Hayward and LaMelo Ball.
|This was an excruciating week for Portland, losing three games by a total of four points before falling to the Grizzlies on Sunday to bring the losing streak to five games. It's been a rough stretch for the Blazers, who are now tied with the No. 8 Grizzlies in the loss column and are just a game and a half ahead of the No. 10 Warriors in the West. Damian Lillard shot just 29 percent from 3-point range in three games this week after returning from a hamstring injury, while Jusuf Nurkic put up 16.7 points, 14.3 rebounds and 5.3 assists in three games.
|What a week for the Pacers, who won three straight games with no healthy centers on the roster. Oshae Brissett, who just signed a long-term deal with Indiana, took advantage of the extra opportunity by averaging 15 points and 9.3 rebounds on 41 percent 3-point shooting this week. Malcolm Brogdon (24.3 points per game) and Caris LeVert (22.3) led the offensive attack, while Edmond Sumner had a tremendous week, putting up 15 points per game on 54 percent 3-point shooting.
|The Raptors only had two games this week, beating the Nets with a rare, full roster before losing to the red-hot Knicks. Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby and Fred VanVleet all averaged 22 points or more in the two games, and they combined to go 27 for 34 from 3-point range. Kyle Lowry returned to the lineup after missing 10 of Toronto's last 11 games, averaging nine points, seven assists and seven rebounds this week.
|The Pelicans lost to the Spurs and short-handed Nets this week, with their only win coming against the Magic, making a play-in spot look like more and more of a reach. Zion Williamson was an absolute beast this week, averaging nearly 30 points and 9.3 rebounds per game on 67 percent shooting, while Brandon Ingram added 26.7 points and 5.7 assists per game.
|The Bulls started off the week with a big road win over the Celtics behind 29 points and nine rebounds from Nikola Vucevic, and also beat the Hornets later in the week with losses to the Cavs and Heat. Chicago appeared to be in free-fall over the last couple weeks, so it's a step in the right direction that it has won three of its last five with Zach LaVine out of the lineup. Coby White has stepped up in LaVine's absence, averaging 20.5 points and 5.3 assists on 43 percent 3-point shooting for the week.
|The Wolves had a winning week, splitting two games with the Kings before an impressive win in Utah on Saturday. Minnesota now has a winning record with Karl-Anthony Towns and D'Angelo Russell in the lineup, something to build on for next season since they've officially been eliminated from this year's playoffs. Towns, Russell and Anthony Edwards all averaged 22 points or more and shot 38 percent or better from 3-point range this week.
|The Cavs went 1-3 this week with a win over the Bulls and losses to the Pistons, Hornets and scorching-hot Wizards. Collin Sexton averaged 28.7 points on 50 percent 3-point shooting in three games before sitting out Sunday's loss to Washington, and his backcourt mate Darius Garland put up 25.8 points and 6.3 assists on 48 percent from deep for the week. Jarrett Allen scored a career-high 27 points and pulled down 12 rebounds against the Wizards.
|The Kings split with the Wolves before losing to the Warriors on Sunday, and found out that they'll be without De'Aaron Fox for at least 10 days due to health and safety protocols. His absence probably ends whatever faint playoff hopes the Kings were hanging onto, though it will leave more offensive control in the hands of Tyrese Haliburton, who averaged 15.7 points and 7.7 assists this week on 42 percent 3-point shooting.
|Detroit's lone win this week came against the Cavs, followed by losses to the Mavs, Spurs and Pacers. The Pistons have been resting a significant chunk of their roster practically every other game, so plenty of players will get opportunity as the season winds to a close. Jerami Grant only played in two games this week, but averaged 25.5 points on 45 percent shooting. Rookie Isaiah Stewart has been impressive when Mason Plumlee rests, averaging 13 points, 14.5 rebounds and 2.5 blocks in two starts this week.
|Houston had a rough stretch of games this week and predictably lost all four, being officially eliminated from playoff contention in the process. The Rockets have trotted out a MASH unit onto the court for much of the season, and it seems like only a matter of time before players like John Wall and Christian Wood get shut down for the year. That means more time for young players like KJ Martin, DJ Wilson and Kevin Porter Jr., once he clears health and safety protocols.
|The Magic were blown out by the Hawks, Pelicans and Pacers this week as the losses continue to pile up -- that's five in a row, and nine of their last 10. Orlando had six players average double-figure scoring this week, with Cole Anthony the leader at 15 points per game. It's only a matter of time before the Magic are eliminated from the playoffs and can begin focusing on next season in earnest.
|Three more games, three more losses for OKC, which has now dropped 13 straight with no end in sight. Fans must keep telling themselves this is what's best for the future, but it's getting a bit hard to watch. Darius Bazley has increased his production, averaging 24 points per game this week, albeit on low efficiency. Lu Dort scored 18 points in the only game he was allowed to play this week, while Theo Maledon averaged 14.3 points on 53 percent 3-point shooting in three games.