NBA Power Rankings: Cavaliers and Suns making huge leaps

Today on The Whiteboard, we're running through our latest NBA Power Rankings, looking at the Bucks hiring Doc Rivers, top NBA Draft prospects and more.

Cleveland Cavaliers v Orlando Magic
Cleveland Cavaliers v Orlando Magic / Rich Storry/GettyImages

1. 18. Celtics PR 1/24. Last Rank: 2. . 34-10. . . .

The Celtics currently hold the crown. They have the best net rating in the league by a decent margin, didn't take their first home loss until the past week and haven't lost two in a row since Nov. 6 and No. 8, their sixth and seventh games of the season.

. . 30-13. . 2. . Last Rank: 1. 149. Thunder PR 1/24.

The Thunder have now caught the Timberwolves for the best record in the Western Conference and a trade in the next week could allow them to separate themselves. And while there are concerns about their inexperience, they're now 8-4 against the other top-four seeds in both conferences.

. . 3. . 28-14. 77. . Clippers 1/24 PR. . Last Rank: 5

The Clippers just keep rolling. They're 20-4 since the beginning of December, outscoring opponents by an average of 7.7 points per 100 possessions. A slow start may keep them from catching the Thunder or Timberwolves in the standings but as long as they're healthy, they're firmly a top-six team.

Last Rank: 3. 4. 76ers 1/24 PR. . 29-13. . . 93. .

The 76ers are right in the mix with the Celtics and Bucks in terms of record and net rating and a trade at the deadline could give them an edge. Joel Embiid is taking his game to a new level and, wherever they finish in the standings, they're as well positioned for a Finals run as any other team.

Timberwolves 1/24 PR. Last Rank: 6. . . 30-13. . . 86. . 5

Some cracks have shown for the Timberwolves and Karl-Anthony Towns' 62 points in a loss was a low point in what has otherwise been a sparkling season. But they still have the best defense in the league by a decent amount and they'll be dangerous in a playoff series.

Nuggets 1/24 PR. Last Rank: 6. . 73. . . 31-14. . . 6

The Nuggets haven't been blowing teams away but they're 7-3 in their last 10 and holding steady in the Western Conference standings. Joel Embiid got the better of Nikola Jokic last week but recent wins over the Celtics, Pelicans and Pacers (twice) show they can still beat the NBA's best on any given night.

26-18. 69. . . . . . 7. Pelicans 1/24 PR. Last Rank: 8

The Pelicans are behind the Cavs, Knicks and Bucks in the league-wide standings but they have the seventh-best net rating in the league this season, roughly the same as that of the Nuggets and Timberwolves. They're a lot deeper than just Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson and could be ready to make a run.

Last Rank: 4. . 89. . . 30-13. . . 8. Bucks 1/24 PR

The Bucks are tied for the third-best record in the league but their net rating is 10th. It's possible the coaching change helps unleash the best version of this roster but they haven't found it yet.

Cavs 1/24 PR. . 26-15. Last Rank: 17. . 9. 156. . .

The Cavaliers are making big moves. Even while navigating significant injuries to Darius Garland and Evan Mobley they've put together an impressive run — 8-0 with wins over the three weeks since our last rankings, outscoring opponents by an average of 22.9 points per 100 possessions. It was a soft spot in their schedule but good teams take advantage and that's what the Cavs have done.

Last Rank: 11. . 27. . . . 10. . Knicks 1/24 PR. 27-17

The Knicks are right there, nipping at the Cavaliers' heels with a 9-2 record and a plus-13.6 net rating over the same stretch. OG Anunoby has been a revelation, solving a lot of problems on the wing. They could still use another shot creator but it sounds like they'll find a good one at the trade deadline.

. 24-20. . Pacers 1/24 PR. Last Rank: 10. . 100. . 11.

The Pacers have dropped three in a row and five of their last six and will be without Tyrese Haliburton for at least the next three games. But they won the first two games after he went out, meaning they're 3-5 in his absence. Pascal Siakam is getting acclimated and the future is bright, even if they're in the middle of a rough patch.

. 25-18. . . . 66. 12. Suns 1/24 PR. Last Rank: 20.

The Suns are another team on a big upswing, 7-3 over their last 10 games. Health has played a big role and they've now had Devin Booker, Kevin Durant and Bradley Beal on the court together for 240 minutes, outscoring opponents by 15.3 points per 100 possessions. This is what the Suns were hoping for when they acquired Beal, they just need to keep everyone healthy for the playoffs.

Kings 1/24 PR. 24-18. Last Rank: 9. 84. . . 13. . .

The Kings have never quite been able to recapture the magic of last season and may need to make a trade to catapult themselves back into the inner circle of contenders in the West. But they're still an explosive offense that could surprise in the playoffs.

. Mavs 1/24 PR. . 79. . . 14. . 24-19. Last Rank: 14

The Mavericks are kind of hovering in place, 5-4 over the last three weeks without the highs or lows that would move them off their spot in the middle of the NBA's hierarchy.

Last Rank: 12. 15. . . . 24-19. . 110. Heat 1/24 PR.

The Miami Heat are in a similar place hovering in the middle of the pack, without the signature wins or embarrassing losses to move them up or down. Terry Rozier is a fantastic acquisition though and if he continues playing well they could be surging in the East.

22-23. Last Rank: 21. 118. 16. . . . . Jazz 1/24 PR.

The Jazz are still under 0.500 but they're getting better — 7-4 with a plus-3.5 net rating over the past three weeks. The re-emergence of Collin Sexton has been huge. He's averaged 23.5 points and 5.4 assists per game, shooting 55.2 percent from the field and 47.9 percent from beyond the arc over that stretch.

Last Rank: 18. . . 17. . 21-24. . 24. Bulls 1/24 PR.

Zach LaVine's latest injury may mean the Bulls are stuck with him for the rest of the season but every extra minute they can give to Coby White, Ayo Dosunmu and Patrick Williams as they continue to develop could be a blessing in disguise.

Last Rank: 15. . 18. . 169. Rockets 1/24 PR. . . 20-22.

The good news is that Jabari Smith Jr., Alperen Sengun and Tari Eason finally look like the kind of young players you can build a winner around. The bad news is that Jalen Green does not and they're paying a lot of money to Fred VanVleet and Dillon Brooks for a team that still may not be good enough to make the playoffs.

. 23-21. . Magic 1/24 PR. . . 19. . Last Rank: 16. 38

The Magic are above 0.500 but sliding in these rankings. Some of the effectiveness has worn off their aggressive defense and the offense is floundering. They've made a lot of growth this year but they'll need to add some offensive talent to take the next step.

. . . . 20. Lakers 1/24 PR. Last Rank: 19. . 20. 22-23

On paper, the Lakers are much better than this ranking. In function, they're performing like an average NBA team but with the added pressure of sky-high, LeBron-related expectations. Their season may come down to how much they want to gamble at the trade deadline and how creative they're able to be.

Warriors 1/24 PR. 18-22. 21. 41. . . . Last Rank: 13. .

The Warriors are in a rough spot and just keep sliding. They're 2-5 over the past three weeks and getting absolutely hammered, losing by an average of 9.4 points per 100 possessions. Every loss pushes them closer to the bring of needing to take a big swing at the trade deadline.

. 22. . . 211. 16-27. Last Rank: 22. . Grizzlies 1/24 PR.

Even without Ja Morant, the Grizzlies have been frisky. They're 0.500 over the past three weeks and getting strong contributions from 19-year-old rookie GG Jackson and Vince Williams. All of these are solid developmental opportunities that should help them next year.

. . 17-26. . . 147. Nets 1/24 PR. Last Rank: 24. . 23

The Nets are still floundering and hopes of this roster organically coalescing into something competitive are dwindling. There is still a solid core here but they're going to need to make some changes, at the deadline or in the offseason, before it starts working as intended.

. . 24. . . 81. Raptors 1/24 PR. . 16-28. Last Rank: 23

The OG Anunoby trade hasn't worked out as well for the Raptors in the short-term as it has for the Knicks but a new young core is taking shape and they'll have the opportunity to make some additional impact moves at the deadline.

. . 18-25. . . 125. Hawks 1/24 PR. Last Rank: 25. 25.

The Hawks may be ahead of the Nets and Raptors in the standings but the vibes are arguably much, much worse. Dejounte Murray is clearly on his way out and they've openly shopped De'Andre Hunter, Clint Capela and a handful of other players. It looks like they're going to continue to hitch their wagon to Trae Young, terrible results be damned.

. 29. . . 8-35. Last Rank: 27. . 26. Spurs 1/24 PR.

The Spurs have been more competitive of late (relatively), with a 3-7 record and positive point differential in their last 10 games. More minutes for Tre Jones has paid huge dividends for Victor Wembanyama and the rest of the offense.

Trail Blazers 1/24 PR. 12-31. . . 27. 34. . . 26.

The Blazers are several games ahead of the Spurs in the standings and have a similar record over the last three weeks. But when they're losing, they're losing by huge margins — seven of their last nine losses have been by 20+.

. 142. Wizards 1/24 PR. 7-35. . 28. . . . Last Rank: 28

The Wizards are absolutely terrible and things could get even worse if they sell off Kyle Kuzma and Tyus Jones at the NBA Trade Deadline.

. 64. . . 29. Pistons 1/24 PR. . 4-39. Last Rank: 30.

The Pistons still have the worst record in the NBA but for at least one installment will give them a reprieve because three of their four wins have come by double-digits ...

30. 170. 10-31. . Hornets 1/24 PR. . . Last Rank: 29. .

... something the Hornets haven't managed yet this year. Of their 10 wins, none have come by more than seven points. And with Terry Rozier gone, they may struggle even more.

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