NBA Power Rankings: Knicks rising behind win streak; Bucks stay on top

With much of the NBA still alive for the postseason, games around the league are heating up as teams jockey for positioning in the standings in the two conferences.

The playoff races are tightening with fewer than 20 games remaining in the season. Whether teams are fighting for seeding near the top of the standings, or trying to climb into the play-in race, several intriguing matchups take place nightly.

To make further sense of it, Rookie Wire took a look at the NBA and ranked each team from worst to first. We come back each week and provide our latest assessment of the best teams and those that are rising.

San Antonio Spurs (16-49)

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Last Rank: 30

The Spurs snapped their franchise-record 16-game losing streak last week and even won back-to-back contests for the first time since Dec. 8-12 when they posted three straight. They have since lost two in a row to the Rockets and are back on track in the lottery standings.

The last stretch of the season should create plenty of opportunities for Malaki Branham and Blake Wesley, two rookies who are playing big minutes. They have performed well in their newfound roles and have been fun to watch.

Houston Rockets (15-49)

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Last Rank: 29

The Rockets snapped their 11-game losing streak on Saturday with a win over the Spurs, and they defeated them once again on Sunday. The group has gained contributions from everyone on the roster of late, including rookie Tari Eason. He has scored in double figures in five straight games for the first time this season and is averaging 15.8 points, 8.4 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 1.4 steals over that stretch.

For more coverage on the Rockets, visit Rockets Wire

Detroit Pistons (15-49)

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Last Rank: 28

With the Spurs and Rockets doing the unthinkable and winning games this late in the season, the Pistons have the longest active losing streak in the NBA at seven games. They have been competitive in most of those games, though, and still look to be engaged on the court. They have seven out of their next eight games at home.

Charlotte Hornets (20-46)

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Last Rank: 27

Since winning five in a row, the Hornets have since dropped three straight by an average of 13.9 points. They still have work to do, though, to claim one of the three worst records in the league and a 14% chance of winning the lottery. There is still time to get there but the three teams ahead of them — San Antonio, Detroit and Houston — look to be in full-tank mode.

Chicago Bulls (29-36)

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Last Rank: 23

The Bulls have gone 3-9 over their last 12 games and are down to 12th in the Eastern Conference after falling to the Pacers on Sunday. They are only a game and a half out of 10th place, but don’t appear to be a threat. For a team thought to be a playoff contender, some changes may be needed in Chi-Town.

For more coverage on the Bulls, visit Bulls Wire

Indiana Pacers (29-36)

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Last Rank: 26

The Pacers look to be on the rise once again after winning four out of their last six games. Tyrese Haliburton called game and sent the Pacers to the win on Sunday over the Bulls, and then proceeded to talk some trash to Patrick Beverley. It was a beef we didn’t know we needed, but it has been thoroughly entertaining.

Orlando Magic (27-38)

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Last Rank: 24

The Magic have alternated wins and losses in each of their last 12 games, the longest such streak in team history. It is not necessarily the worst stat to have, but for a team looking to climb into the play-in race, that may not be enough. They are 13th and four games out of 10th place after losing to Portland on Sunday.

Portland Trail Blazers (30-34)

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Last Rank: 25

The Trail Blazers picked up a much-needed win on Sunday over the Magic to stay a half-game back of the last play-in spot in 13th place. They have two teams ahead of them in the standings — Lakers, Thunder — and will be in a tight race over their last 18 games of the season to claim the 10th seed. They face an uphill battle, but having Damian Lillard on the roster certainly helps.

Washington Wizards (30-34)

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Last Rank: 21

The Wizards have dropped back-to-back games but are holding onto 10th place with a game-and-a-half lead over the Pacers and Bulls. They have the fewest remaining games against teams above .500 of those in the play-in race (8) and have 11 of their final 18 games at home. The schedule is set up nicely for Bradley Beal & Co. and it will be on them to take advantage and close it out down the stretch.

Atlanta Hawks (32-32)

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Last Rank: 22

The Hawks are 1-2 with Quin Snyder as head coach, though, they are eighth in the standings with 18 games to go. Barring something catastrophic, they look locked somewhere in the play-in race, so their final stretch will serve as a way to get everyone acclimated in their new system ahead of the postseason.

Utah Jazz (31-34)

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Last Rank: 19

The Jazz, who have lost three in a row, started their six-game road trip with consecutive losses to the Thunder. They are 4-6 over their last 10 games and are holding onto 10th place for the time being. They will be facing stiff competition for that last play-in spot and may not have enough to get it done in the end with the way the teams behind them are playing. It will serve as a great challenge for them and we’ll see how they can respond.

New Orleans Pelicans (31-33)

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Last Rank: 16

The Pelicans continue to struggle after a great start to the year. They are 8-21 since starting 23-12, which is the fourth-worst mark in the league over that span. They are still clinging to a play-in spot but could be in danger of falling out of contention if their recent slide continues. Up this week: at Sacramento, vs. Dallas, vs. Oklahoma City and vs. Portland.

Oklahoma City Thunder (30-34)

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Last Rank: 17

The Thunder have won back-to-back games since losing five straight to fall to 12th in the Western Conference. They got Shai Gilgeous-Alexander back from a five-game absence and appear back on track. The team has received great production of late from rookie Jalen Williams. He produced a career-high 32 points, five rebounds and five assists on Sunday in a win over Utah and became just the third Thunder rookie to reach those numbers in a game (Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook).

For more coverage on the Thunder, visit Thunder Wire

Minnesota Timberwolves (34-32)

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Last Rank: 20

The Timberwolves have won three straight after beating the Kings on Saturday. They have the second-best record among Western Conference teams in 2023 at 18-11, and are up to sixth in the standings. They are playing as well as anyone in the conference and could present a big problem in the playoffs.

Toronto Raptors (32-33)

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Last Rank: 18

The Raptors appear to be playing some of their best basketball of the season after going 9-3 over their last 12 games. They split a two-game series versus Washington with a win on Saturday to remain ninth in the play-in race, one game ahead of the Wizards. They continue a five-game road trip on Monday in Denver.

LA Clippers (34-33)

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Last Rank: 12

The Clippers snapped a five-game losing streak on Sunday with a win over the Grizzlies. Led by Paul George’s 42 points and Kawhi Leonard’s 34 points, they overcame a 15-point deficit in the fourth quarter after outscoring the Grizzlies 38-17 over the final 12 minutes of action. The win came at a time of need for L.A. to maintain ground in the play-in race.

Dallas Mavericks (33-32)

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Last Rank: 11

The Mavericks are 5-6 since acquiring Kyrie Irving after losing to the Suns on Sunday. They have been alive in each of those games and are still looking to figure out those late-game situations. The team also got Maxi Kleber back and his return should greatly help the team down low. All we know, though, is that we have to see a playoff series between the Mavericks and Suns after their recent history.

Brooklyn Nets (36-28)

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Last Rank: 13

The Nets have responded since losing four straight by posting back-to-back wins behind some incredible play by Mikal Bridges. He has recorded four 30-point games in nine games with the Nets and has done so in consecutive games for the first time in his career; he only had two 30-point games in 365 games played in Phoenix. He is emerging as their go-to guy in the early going as the Nets look to stay in the top six in the Eastern Conference and avoid the play-in tournament.

For more coverage on the Nets, visit Nets Wire

Los Angeles Lakers (31-34)

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Last Rank: 15

The Lakers appear on the rise after going 6-3 over their last nine games. Anthony Davis, when on the court, is playing at a high level and they are getting strong contributions from others. They will be without LeBron James for at least a couple of weeks so it will be on all of those guys to step up if they want to have a chance in the play-in tournament. They are tied with the Jazz in 10th place with 17 games to go.

For more coverage on LeBron and the Lakers, visit LeBron Wire

Miami Heat (34-31)

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Last Rank: 10

Miami is 2-6 over its last eight games and is in the play-in group, as a result. They have a tough upcoming schedule (vs. Atlanta, vs. Cleveland, vs. Cleveland, at Orlando) and will need to find a way to get back on track over their final 17 games.

Golden State Warriors (34-31)

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Last Rank: 14

Stephen Curry is back after an 11-game absence as the Warriors look to make their stretch run ahead of the postseason. They have gone 14-12 this season without Curry, so the rest of the team has done well to step up without him in the lineup.

For more coverage on the Warriors, visit Warriors Wire

Memphis Grizzlies (38-25)

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Last Rank: 8

The Grizzlies will be without Ja Morant for an undefined number of games as the All-Star seeks help after brandishing a gun on an Instagram live video early Saturday morning. The team plans to support Morant in this matter but also hold him accountable in order to learn from the situation. The NBA is investigating the matter and could opt to fine or suspend him.

Cleveland Cavaliers (40-26)

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Last Rank: 6

The Cavaliers continue to struggle against teams above .500 (14-19) after losing to the Celtics last week. They will once again face the Celtics on Monday and will then have two games against the Heat on the road. Cleveland has been one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference this season but hasn’t had many signature wins to this point. This week could tell us a lot more.

New York Knicks (39-27)

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Last Rank: 9

The Knicks have the longest active winning streak in the NBA after posting their ninth straight victory on Sunday in double-overtime against the Celtics. Immanuel Quickley (38 points), Julius Randle (31 points) and RJ Barrett (29 points) combined for 98 points to lead the way, the second-most by a Knicks trio over the last 15 years; that trio has the most points with 102 points against the Kings.

They are up to fifth in the Eastern Conference behind their recent run and are only one game behind the Cavaliers in fourth place. They have received great production from the entire lineup, and are proving a dangerous team. It remains to be seen how far they can advance in the playoffs, but it is clear the Knicks will be a tough out in a seven-game series.

Phoenix Suns (36-29)

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Last Rank: 7

Kevin Durant debuted with the Suns last week and is averaging 26.7 points, 7.3 rebounds and 3.7 assists in three games. The team is 3-0 during that stretch and is showing how dangerous it can be in the playoffs. They narrowly walked away with a win over the Mavericks on Sunday in a matchup that grew heated in the closing minutes. It is a potential matchup that would be very entertaining.

Sacramento Kings (37-26)

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Last Rank: 5

The Kings recently had their five-game win streak snapped, but, overall, they have been on a great run. They are just one game behind the Grizzlies in second place in the Western Conference and could catch them before long. They have a tough schedule to close the year, including 10 games against teams above .500, but the group is well on its way to breaking its 16-year playoff drought.

Philadelphia 76ers (41-22)

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Last Rank: 4

The Sixers improved to 2-1 on their five-game road trip after knocking off the Bucks on Saturday and ending their 16-game win streak. James Harden erupted with 19 points in the fourth quarter to lead the Sixers back from an 18-point deficit. With Harden, Joel Embiid and Tyrese Maxey leading the way each night, and with others stepping up, the Sixers have the potential to be dangerous in the playoffs. They look locked into the third seed with 19 games left.

For more coverage on the 76ers, visit Sixers Wire

Boston Celtics (45-20)

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Last Rank: 2

From blowing a 28-point lead on Friday to the Nets, to losing twice to the Knicks, the Celtics had a tough week. The team isn’t necessarily worried about those results, so they will not be hitting the panic button anytime soon. Of course, there are some things to clean up, such as the defense, but the past week’s results are likely nothing to be too concerned about.

For more coverage on the Celtics, visit Celtics Wire

Denver Nuggets (45-19)

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Last Rank: 3

The Nuggets have won three straight games entering play on Monday, and eight of their last 10, after defeating Memphis on Friday. They have been led by Nikola Jokic throughout the year with Jamal Murray, Michael Porter Jr. and Aaron Gordon heating up now. They should be the favorites in the West as the top seed and look to be a tough out at this point.

Milwaukee Bucks (46-18)

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Last Rank: 1

The Bucks‘ 16-game winning streak came to an end on Saturday after blowing an 18-point lead in the third quarter. Despite that run ending, the team managed to climb up to first in the Eastern Conference and build a game-and-a-half lead over the Celtics. They have been one of the top teams in the league this season and seem destined to make another deep playoff run.

Story originally appeared on Rookie Wire