The Whiteboard: Cavs and Warriors surging in NBA Power Rankings

Today on The Whiteboard, we're updating our NBA Power Rankings, looking at the latest battle between Victor Wembanyama and Chet Holmgren and more.

Cleveland Cavaliers v Golden State Warriors
Cleveland Cavaliers v Golden State Warriors / Thearon W. Henderson/GettyImages

It's been a month since our last NBA Power Rankings and there's been plenty of movement, especially from a pair of teams that struggled early after entering this season with championship aspirations.

Celtics PR 2/29. . 46-12. . . Last Rank: 1. 1. . 18.

The Celtics continue to separate themselves from the rest of the contenders with consistency and dominance. They're first in offensive efficiency and second in defensive efficiency and, as long as they stay healthy, should finish the regular season as the clear frontrunner.

2. . 149. . Thunder 2/29 PR. Last Rank: 2. . . . 41-18

Everyone expecting the Thunder to fade with youth and inexperience has been met with disappointment. Chet Holmgren and Jalen Williams are playing some of their best basketball of the season and they have to be taken seriously as an inner circle contender, regardless of their dearth of playoff experience.

42-17. . . 3. Last Rank: 5. . . 86. Timberwolves 2/29 PR.

The Timberwolves may be back on top of the standings and ahead of the Thunder but Oklahoma City has the edge in depth and balance. But Minnesota still has time to build on their incredible season, create separation in the West and generate momentum heading into the playoffs.

41-19. 4. . . . 73. . . Nuggets 2/29 PR. Last Rank: 6

The Nuggets haven't been nearly as impressive on either side of the ball as many of the other contenders but they still have Nikola Jokic and they just keep winning tight games. They're a sleeping giant and there is plenty of time for them to come fully awake.

Last Rank: 9. 156. . . Cavs 2/29 PR. . . . 38-20. 5

The Cavaliers have made up an almost unbelievable amount of ground in the standings — 20-6 since the beginning of January with a plus-11.2 point differential, best in the league over that stretch. They're healthy, Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley have been fantastic and if Darius Garland can regain his form they're a legit contender.

39-21. 6. 89. . . Bucks 2/29 PR. . . . Last Rank: 8

The Bucks haven't surged up the standings since Doc Rivers took over but their defense is dramatically improved and that had been their biggest weakness under Adrian Griffin. They're moving in the right direction and still have plenty of time to iron out the kinks.

. . 35-25. . 7. Pelicans 2.29 PR. . Last Rank: 7. . 69

The Pelicans are quietly staking out a position just outside the top three contenders in the West. They've kept a steady pace while the Suns, Lakers, Warriors and Clippers have sprinted ahead and slipped back. Their stars are playing well, Herb Jones and Trey Murphy III give them a level of trusted depth they haven't had in years past. They're scary.

Clippers 2/29 PR. 77. 37-20. . 8. . . . Last Rank: 3.

The Clippers are struggling through a rough patch and really missing Paul George. But we've seen what they can be at their best and their 23-5 record in December and January was proof of concept that this roster has enough talent and cohesion to make a run at a title.

. . 9. 41. . 31-27. . . Warriors 2/29 PR. Last Rank: 21

The Warriors turned things around with an 11-3 record in February and the return of Chris Paul has optimism rising. Klay Thompson and Andrew Wiggins have settled down, Brandin Podziemski has proven he can be trusted and Jonathan Kuminga is breaking out. They're definitely not among the top-tier teams in the West, but they're getting closer.

35-25. . . 27. . . . 10. Knicks 2/29 PR. Last Rank: 10

The Knicks have been battling through injuries and might slide a bit more before Julius Randle returns. But there's a good chance they'll have Randle, OG Anunoby and perhaps even Mitchell Robinson back before the end of the regular season. They'll be dangerous come playoff time.

11. . . Last Rank: 12. 66. . 35-24. . Suns 2/29 PR.

The Suns are still integrating their buy-out additions but Royce O'Neale looks like a great pick-up. Their Big Three have had some shooting struggles but all the pieces are in place — it's just about getting healthy and building chemistry from here on out.

Heat 2/29 PR. . . 110. . . 12. 33-26. Last Rank: 15.

The Heat have been red-hot in February and that's been despite Terry Rozier, Jimmy Butler, Tyler Herro and others all missing games. We all knew a Heat run was coming and getting fully healthy will help. The question is how deep into the playoffs they'll be able to sustain it.

. 13. . 38. Magic 2/29 PR. . 34-26. Last Rank: 20. .

Shots are falling for the Magic right now and Paolo Banchero has been playing some of his best basketball of the season — averaging 21.6 points, 6.2 assists and 6.0 rebounds, shooting 38.1 percent from beyond the arc in February. They still need offensive upgrades but they're going to be a tough out in the playoffs.

Mavs 2/29 PR. 34-25. . . . . Last Rank: 14. 14. . 79

The Mavericks upgraded their offensive firepower with P.J. Washington and Daniel Gafford but they still can't get everyone firing on all cylinders at the same time. The one constant, as always, as Luka Doncic. Will it be enough this time?

Last Rank: 20. . . 20. 33-28. 15. . . Lakers 2/29 PR.

The Lakers are moving in the right direction and Rui Hachimura, Taurean Prince and D'Angelo Russell are playing really well. They could use Jarred Vanderbilt healthy but for now, they just need to keep grinding out wins, building rhythm and maybe getting an offensive rebound once in a while.

. 16. . . . 100. Pacers 2/29 PR. 34-26. . Last Rank: 11

Pascal Siakam is putting up big numbers but the Pacers have been outscored without him on the floor and they're still working to find their collective rhythm. They miss Buddy Hield but other shooters are stepping up and they should improve as they get more time together.

Kings 2/29 PR. . 17. 33-25. . . Last Rank: 13. . . 84

The Sacramento Kings weren't able to find a star upgrade at the trade deadline but a bigger problem has been the inconsistency of Kevin Huerter and Keegan Murray. If those two can get back to the way they were playing last season, the Kings are still dangerous.

. 33-25. Last Rank: 4. . 76ers 2/29 PR. 18. . 93. .

It's clear that the 76ers are not even a fringe contender without Joel Embiid. They're in danger of falling into the Play-In Tournament and may need to start thinking about next season if at any point it becomes clear that he won't be able to return. It's a shame, another roadblock for a team that looked the part of an inner-circle contender for much of the season.

Rockets 2/29 PR. . . 19. . 169. . 25-33. Last Rank: 18.

The playoffs are far from guaranteed for the Rockets and the ongoing struggles of Jalen Green should be a huge concern. It's nice to Cam Whitmore and Amen Thompson start to figure out how to make an impact but there is still too big a divide between their veterans who are ready to win now and their talented young players who are still figuring it out.

. Hawks 2/29 PR. . 20. 26-32. Last Rank: 25. . . . 125

I'm actually relatively bullish on the Hawks with Trae Young out for a month or more after finger surgery. This is a chance for Dejounte Murray to slide back point guard and for some of the other role players to get actual on-ball reps and develop. Maybe they decide their better off without Young and trade him, maybe they just have a more well-rounded supporting cast when he returns. Either way it may be a silver lining for a team that probably wasn't making the playoffs this year anyway.

21. . 24. Bulls 2/29 PR. 28-31. . . . . Last Rank: 17

The Bulls are firmly in the mix for a spot in the NBA Play-In Tournament, salvaging some fun from what could have been a miserable season of injuries and trade rumors. The goal here is to squeeze as much positive development for their young players and good vibes for their fans as possible before they face another difficult offseason.

. . 22. . Last Rank: 23. . 147. Nets 2/28 PR. . 22-36

The Nets are a lot further from the playoffs than they hoped to be at the beginning of the season and at the trade deadline they began the process of remaking the support system around Mikal Bridges. They need him to get back on track and they need more talent before they're really ready to scare anyone in the East.

Jazz 2/29 PR. 27-32. . . . . Last Rank: 16. 23. . 118

The Jazz shipped out Kelly Olynyk and Simone Fontecchio and while those were small changes in the grand scheme, the effects are being felt and they've slipped down the Western Conference standings. Collin Sexton and Lauri Markkanen are balling out. Walker Kessler and Keyonte George look like keepers. Everything else is in flux.

24. 81. Raptors 2/29 PR. . 22-37. Last Rank: 24. . . .

The future of this team is Scottie Barnes, Immanuel Quickley, R.J. Barrett and Gradey Dick. I'm not sure that's good enough to matter but right now, with veterans like Kelly Olynyk, Jakob Poeltl and Gary Trent Jr. filling in the cracks, it just doesn't.

. 20-39. 25. Grizzlies 2/29 PR. Last Rank: 22. . . . . 211

The Grizzlies are treading water, waiting for next season. They're getting some nice developmental reps for GG Jackson and Vince Williams but, in an ideal world, both of those players are very small parts of next year's fully healthy rotation. April can't come soon enough.

29. Last Rank: 26. . . . 11-48. . 26. Spurs 2/29 PR.

The Spurs are still at the bottom of the Western Conference standings but we're watching Victor Wembanyama become a star right before our eyes. He averaged 21.3 points, 10.7 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 2.0 steals and 3.9 blocks in February, shooting 41.7 percent from beyond the arc. There is no precedent.

27. 9-49. Last Rank: 29. . . Pistons. . . . 64

The Pistons are showing signs of life. Jalen Duren is growing by leaps and bounds and Detroit is basically playing opponents even with Duren, Cade Cunningham and Jaden Ivey on the floor. They still have a long way to go but they're showing that they have more talent and potential than their record would indicate.

. 28. Last Rank: 28. 15-43. . Hornets 2/29 PR. . . 170.

The Hornets picked up some wins in February climbing out of the range of historic ineptitude. But they're still a team short on talent and with no organizing principle or central star to slot everyone else into defined roles that make sense. Let Brandon Miller get some shots up and get to the offseason.

15-42. . . Trail Blazers 2/29 PR. 29. 34. . . . Last Rank: 27

The Blazers may come to regret not trading Jerami Grant or Malcolm Brogdon at the trade deadline. Keeping veterans to scaffold things for your young players is an admirable idea but it doesn't seem to be doing much for the Blazers in practice.

. 9-49. Wizards 2/29 PR. . . 142. 30. . Last Rank: 28.

The Wizards have the same terrible record as the Pistons but I would posit they have far less talent and, somehow, far worse vibes. They are sadness personified.

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Feb 29, 2024; San Antonio, Texas, USA;  Oklahoma City Thunder forward Chet Holmgren (7) and San
Feb 29, 2024; San Antonio, Texas, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder forward Chet Holmgren (7) and San / Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports

The battle of the new age bigs

Last night, Victor Wembanyama and Chet Holmgren met for the third time in their young careers and, for the first time, Wembanyama came away with a win. The No. 1 pick in the 2023 NBA Draft had a monster game — 28 points, 13 rebounds, 7 assists, 2 steals and 5 blocks, including a monster stuff of Holmgren with under two minutes left in the fourth quarter.

While Wembanyama stole the headlines, Holmgren was pretty incredible in his own right — 23 points on 12 shots, 7 rebounds, 5 assists and a block. Although there isn't a ton of heat and personal animosity in the matchup, this is already one of the NBA's best rivalries from a skill and aesthetics perspective. All we need know is for the Spurs to get good enough that these games actually have some stakes to them.


Recommended Reading:

1. The Trae Young show could be going on the road: "However, if Murray excels running the Hawks’ offense, the organization could change their thinking. Young is widely considered a better player than Murray, and that could make him a far more enticing candidate to move because of the better compensation they would receive. Throw in Murray is on a far cheaper contract, and suddenly retooling in the short term around Murray, and not Young, suddenly becomes a far more attractive proposition. " Has Trae Young played his final games for the Hawks?

2. The G League is for everyone: "At least half of the first-round picks in each of the last three drafts have spent time in the G League as rookies. This season, 18 of last summer’s 30 first-round picks, including six of 14 lottery picks, have played in the G League. Both figures are records for the NBA’s minor league." The G League Isn’t Just for NBA Long Shots Anymore

3. Paying homage: "Penny Hardaway. He will forever be my favorite point guard to ever touch a basketball. I talk to Penny pretty much every other month. He was a big point guard, a 6-foot-8 point guard who passes, dunks — pretty much the same things that I can do." The next Penny Hardaway? 2025 NBA Draft prospect Dink Pate channels all-time great

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