NBA Power Rankings: Celtics take the top spot; Timberwolves crash the elite party
The Timberwolves are starting to prove that they belong in the conversation as one of the elite teams
It's the midway point of the season and there is a surprising amount of teams that are still in legitimate races, whether it be for the NBA title or for solid playoff positioning. Usually by this point of the season, there have been clear tiers established across the league. While the elite have separated themselves from the bunch, the middle of the pack jam--packed with teams hopeful of securing a top-four seed.
However, one team that was stuck in that mix all season has finally broken out. The Timberwolves are starting to prove that they belong in the elite tier. It remains to be seen if that holds true, but what we do know is that they're clearly better than the middle-dwellers below them.
So outside of the Wolves, who will be next to crash the elite-tiered party? As teams fall off -- whether it be through injuries or poor play -- and the trade deadline passes, there should be further separation. The key phrase there is "should be," because that's something that should have been happening all season. Yet here we are with 10 teams at 19-23 wins. It's going to be an exciting second half.
|1||Celtics||Between Kyrie Irving and Jaylen Brown, the Celtics might be more interesting for what they do off the court than on the court. The Celtics are fine to watch, but sometimes they opt to just squeeze teams into submission and the basketball gets ugly. A win is a win, though, and that's why they're the hottest team in the NBA.||1||34-11|
|2||Warriors||Stephen Curry is back in the lineup and finally all the Warriors' key pieces are healthy at the same time. They survived a scare against the Raptors, but in that same game they led at halftime 81-54. It's terrifying what this team can do at full strength.||1||36-9|
|3||Timberwolves||Karl-Anthony Towns defense has risen to another level and it's a big part of why the Wolves are playing their best basketball of the season. The Knicks were the first team to break 100 against them since Dec. 27.||4||29-17|
|4||Raptors||Toronto lost Kyle Lowry for a brief period of time due to a tailbone bruise, but luckily they have DeMar DeRozan and he's been balling out of his mind. DeRozan has scored 35-plus points four times just this January, including a 50-point effort on New Year's Day, which has some people wondering why he's not getting MVP consideration.||1||29-13|
|5||Rockets||No James Harden? No problem, says Chris Paul. The Point God has picked up plenty of the scoring slack in his place and he's done so in Houston's quick fast paced offense. This isn't the slow-it-down Paul of the past.||3||30-12|
|6||Heat||This sure looks familiar doesn't it? It's not quite the same, but Miami went on a second half run last season following an injury to a key player. Dion Waiters could be out for the season, but the Heat are cruising without him. A big part of that has been the play of rookie Bam Adebayo.||7||25-18|
|7||Spurs||Kawhi Leonard is back, again, but this time from a shoulder injury. He's been good in the games he's played in, but even he admitted to media following a win over the Nuggets that he needs to string some games together.||1||29-16|
|8||Wizards||Death, taxes, and the Wizards playing down to their opponent's level. Close wins over the Magic and Nets weren't necessary, nor was a loss to the Jazz, but that's to be expected from them at this point. As long as they don't push themselves out of good playoff positioning, the Wizards will take it.||4||25-19|
|9||Cavaliers||Ah, January -- the time of the year when Cleveland decides just to take it easy and cruise into the All-Star break. Then they'll predictably flip a switch in March, play incredible basketball through April and sweep the first round of the playoffs. It's just hard to take their horrible defense seriously when they do this every season.||4||26-17|
|10||Pacers||Victor Oladipo is the heavy favorite at the midway point to win Most Improved Player, and for good reason. Indiana is right back in form since his return and that includes a comeback victory over the Cavs. Even now it's hard to believe just how good this team has been.||7||24-20|
|11||76ers||The Sixers had a chance to get a big win over the Celtics in London, but they squandered a 20-point lead in the third quarter (they're not a good third-quarter team). It's easy to forget how much of this season is a learning experience for the young guys.||3||20-20|
|12||Trail Blazers||Portland has spent the last few seasons being a team that catches some steam late in the season and makes a run at the playoffs. The Blazers are already set for the playoffs right now so does this mean they're going to make a run for a top seed or not make one at all?||2||23-21|
|13||Thunder||The Thunder tend to play down to their competition, so it's always concerning when their schedule gets easier. They're still better than they were at the start of the season, but it's hard to trust them right now at the halfway point. That's not good.||4||24-20|
|14||Pelicans||Up and down the Pelicans go. This team's ability to hang around .500 for this long is honestly impressive. They're two games over right now with a pretty easy schedule coming up. This is the time to make a run.||2||23-20|
|15||Clippers||The Clippers are right there in playoff positioning at 21-21. Their recent stretch of injuries didn't hurt as much as it could have thanks to an easy schedule, but it did include a rare victory over the Warriors where Lou Williams scored 50 points. If Los Angeles can survive the season, and finish it healthy, a playoff spot wouldn't be insane.||3||22-21|
|16||Pistons||There's not enough discussion going around the league for Andre Drummond winning the Most Improved Player award. Is that because everybody always knew he would be this good or is he going unnoticed in such a great season for the Pistons?||1||22-20|
|17||Bucks||It's still hard to properly judge the Bucks, even at the midway point. On one hand, they're over .500 and have one of the league's better offenses. They've had a successful season and made a great trade early on to acquire Eric Bledsoe. On the other hand, it's just hard to not feel like they could be so much better.||6||23-20|
|18||Nuggets||The Nuggets are in the midst of a rough patch. They're too close to .500 in an ultra-competitive Western Conference. They have a chance to make some ground in the upcoming part of their schedule (Mavs, Clippers and Suns this week). The good news is that Paul Millsap is out of his cast and is still on pace to return after the All-Star Game.||6||23-21|
|19||Lakers||Four straight wins for the Lakers and Luke Walton's reward was massive outpouring of support from Magic Johnson and Jeanie Buss. That doesn't really mean anything at the end of the season, but it must be nice for him to know they got his back PR wise.||10||15-28|
|20||Bulls||Zach Lavine debuted with the Bulls this week. Chicago's run from disaster to competent has been entertaining, but this is when paying attention to the Bulls will be fun. Let's see what the young guys can do.||1||17-27|
|21||Hornets||Kemba Walker scored 41 points in a game where the Hornets had four days of rest against a Mavericks team on a second night of a back-to-back. The Hornets took the L, and their struggles are starting linger to beyond injuries. Maybe the return of Steve Clifford will help them, but they're running out of time.||2||17-25|
|22||Mavericks||We're at the midway point of the season and Dennis Smith Jr. has been merely OK. He's shooting worse from the field than most had hoped, but there are flashes of potential that should have Mavericks fans excited about his future.||3||15-30|
|23||Knicks||New York's archaic offense is starting to really show through lately. The Knicks take the least 3-pointers and make the least in the league. With a stretch-big like Kristaps Porzingis this feels like it shouldn't be the case.||3||20-24|
|24||Jazz||It might sound like a broken record at this point, but it bears repeating: Donovan Mitchell is an incredible scoring guard for a rookie. His 35 points against the Hornets may have ended in a loss, but he put on a show the entire way. Get this guy some spotlight on Friday/Saturday at All-Star Weekend, because he's earned it.||2||17-26|
|25||Nets||Two overtime losses in the same week is killer. If Brooklyn had beaten both the Raptors and Wizards things would look really different in this week's rankings. Alas, some things aren't meant to be. On the plus side, the Nets are probably better than most of the league's bottom-dwellers, which is progress from last season.||2||16-28|
|26||Grizzlies||Memphis had by far one of the ugliest losses of the season when they played the Nuggets to an 87-78 final score. The Grizzlies don't even run 'Grit 'N' Grind' anymore. It's just grind. Is there even a reason for Mike Conley to come back at this point?||--||14-28|
|27||Suns||The Suns are chaos team. They lose a lot of games and by large margins. Then they make good teams look bad by beating them. Leader of the chaos team has been Devin Booker. Booker has put together a really solid season amid the Suns' abysmal start.||3||16-29|
|28||Hawks||The Hawks sit with the worst record at the league's midway point. They've gained some ground on the bottom, and statistically they haven't been the worst, but all of that could change really quickly if they trade or shut down their vets.||2||12-31|
|29||Kings||Sacramento has the worst offense, defense, and point differential in the NBA. They do not have the worst record in the NBA. How? Nobody is really certain, but it should be considered an accomplishment either way.||2||13-30|
|30||Magic||Aaron Gordon has been incredible for the Magic lately on both sides of the ball. He's the one player keeping them in games as the losses pile up. Watching Orlando doesn't look as bad as its record indicates, but that doesn't really matter when Gordon's bunch have lost 16 of 17.||2||13-31|
Bell was injured defending a Robin Lopez dunk and had to be taken off the floor in a wheel...
Trevor Ariza and Gerald Green are reportedly both suspended two games
We've got all the scores, highlights and news from the night's games
Jonah Keri talks with NFL and NBA broadcaster Ian Eagle
SportsLine simulated Wednesday's Nuggets-Clippers game 10,000 times
Galin Dragiev has his finger on the pulse of the Lakers and just locked in a play for Wedn...