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PBT's Week 12 NBA Power Rankings: Celtics back on top, Clippers climbing fast

Things have mostly settled at the top of the NBC Sports NBA Power Rankings, with Boston back on top. However, the Clippers are climbing fast and looking like a threat.

1. Boston Celtics (28-8, Last Week No. 2). Sometimes we overthink things looking for flaws in a team. We have done that with Boston. The Celtics are back on top of the NBC Sports NBA power rankings because they have the second-best offense and defense in the NBA this season, the best net rating (by almost two full points), and have won 13-of-16. This is the best team in basketball this season. Flat out. That will get tested this Thursday in a showdown against the Bucks because the Celtics will be at a rest disadvantage (they play at home the night before against Minnesota).

2. Oklahoma City Thunder (24-11, LW 1). Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is a somewhat distant third after the first round of fan All-Star starter voting, behind the more established Curry and Doncic. However, SGA has been better than either of those two and it will be interesting to see if media/player voting puts him over the top and into a starter role. After the high of Oklahoma City's statement win against Boston, the Thunder promptly dropped games to lesser teams in the Hawks and Nets, so they dropped a notch in these standings — but they remain one of the biggest threats to Denver in the West.

3. Denver Nuggets (26-12, LW 6). We can try to nitpick this team — Michael Porter Jr. has been inconsistent, as has the bench — but the Nuggets have won 12-of-15 games with a +9 net rating in those games and a top-seven offense and defense. Denver is playing well and remains the team to beat in the West. You know things are going your way when Nikola Jokic is banking in a 39-foot game-winner that leaves Stephen Curry slack-jawed.

4. Los Angeles Clippers (23-13, LW 7). How well have things been going with the Clippers? They just extended the contract of Kawhi Leonard (three years, $152.4 million) who could have opted out after this season and been a free agent. Expect Paul George to get an exertion next, James Harden to be re-signed in the offseason, and the Clippers to ride this core into their new building next season. Harden's passing has unlocked the Clippers' offense, they have won 15-of-18 and look like a team that could threaten Denver in the playoffs. A big test for this run next Tuesday when the Thunder come to Los Angeles.

5. Minnesota Timberwolves (27-10, LW 4). The Timberwolves' elite defense saves them, but the holes in their 17-ranked offense have shown during this stretch dropping 3-of-5 to start the new year. Anthony Edwards is both special but a little inconsistent as younger players tend to be, and a lot is being asked of Mike Conley to hold this thing together. The Timberwolves have a couple of measuring stick games this week against East-leading Boston, then the surging Clippers.

6. New York Knicks (22-15, LW 10). They have gone 5-0 since the trade for OG Anunoby and have the best defense in the league over that stretch, and the Knicks are outscoring opponents by 33.5 points per 100 possessions when he is on the court. The Knicks have a top-10 offense in that stretch and as Knicks writer Tommy Beer noted on Twitter/X New York is moving the ball better and making about 25 more passes a game since the trade. New York will try to keep the streak going at Dallas and Memphis, then home to face Orlando this week.

7. Philadelphia 76ers (23-12, LW 5). The 76ers have gone 2-3 in the games Joel Embiid has missed in recent weeks (and he will be out again Wednesday vs. Atlanta due to knee swelling). However, the more concerning loss was when they got blasted by 36 at home to the Knicks — when Embiid played. All of this play in recent weeks should make the 76ers buyers at the trade deadline — don't waste any more of Embiid's prime. The problem is the list of players available is not thrilling. Hopefully Embiid is healthy and back by next Tuesday when Nikola Jokic and the Nuggets come to town.

8. New Orleans Pelicans (22-15, LW 8). Finally healthy, the Pelicans have been playing some of their best basketball over the past couple of weeks, going 5-1 in their last six with a +14.5 net rating, which is the best in the league. They have done it on both ends, with the second-ranked defense in the league over those six games, while on offense CJ McCollum has found his stroke and in his last five games is shooting 56.8% from three and averaging 20.8 points a game. The Pelicans continue their road swing through the West this week with games against the Warriors, Nuggets, then two in Dallas.

9. Milwaukee Bucks (25-12, LW 3). "There was no pride… There was nothing. This was not the Milwaukee Bucks. This is not who we are," Giannis Antetokounmpo ranted as the Bucks dropped 4-of-5. Really? Because this kind of feels like who you are. Milwaukee has sacrificed depth and defense to land Damian Lillard, and this is what they got: A much better half-court and clutch offense, but the defense suffered. Also of note, the Bucks have a -2.9 net rating in the minutes Lillard is on the court without Antetokounmpo. The Bucks have a big showdown with Boston Thursday night, a measuring stick game, then the Warriors come to town.

10. Indiana Pacers (21-15, LW 12). Tyrese Haliburton being out for a couple of weeks (most likely) due to a strained hamstring will sting — few teams rely on one star to generate offense the way Indiana does. Look for T.J. McConnell and Andrew Nembhard to get more run, and Bruce Brown can handle some playmaking duties as well, but the rest of the Pacers really need to step up in this stretch for the team not to slide in the East. A couple of winnable games this week with Washington and Atlanta could help Indy.

11. Miami Heat (21-15, LW 13). Jimmy Butler has missed eight of the last nine Heat games, yet the team is 6-2 in those games — that culture and coaching is why Erik Spoelstra is getting the big bucks (a massive eight-year, nine-figure extension). Spoelstra will be able to stay on the Heat bench as long as he wants, but when he wants to step away they will unquestionably transition him into the front office in Miami. That's a concern for another day, the concern in the short term is a tough couple of games including the Thunder on Wednesday and the Magic on Friday.

12. Orlando Magic (21-16, LW 9). Call it an All-Star Game push (he should make it) or just the slack he had to pick up when Franz Wagner went down, but Paolo Banchero has torn up the league lately. In his last five games he's averaging 34.4 points, 9 rebounds and 6.5 assists a game (the Magic are 2-3 in that five). When this team eventually adds another true shot creator at the point, they will be tough to stop (don't expect that move at the deadline). Orlando heads out on a tough road trip with stops in Miami, Oklahoma City and New York this week.

13. Cleveland Cavaliers (21-15, LW 15). Cleveland could have folded and limped through a few weeks of the schedule with Darius Garland and Evan Mobley out, instead Jarrett Allen has thrived and led the team to and 8-3 record with a +7.2 net rating since Garland was injured. The Cavaliers have won three in a row against a soft part of the schedule and will look to keep that going this week against the Nets and Bulls. And no, they are not going to trade Donovan Mitchell at the deadline.

14. Sacramento Kings (22-14, LW 11). The Kings reportedly pulled out of the Pascal Siakam sweepstakes because he told them it was not guaranteed he would re-sign there if traded for and he wants a full max. That was a smart move by the Kings' front office. Eventually they may need to overpay for a free agent and a top-20 player to lift them, but Siakam is not that guy. They may ultimately need someone, De'Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis are both playing like All-Stars but the Kings offense is 2.5 points per 100 possessions off last season's pace (and the defense still sucks). The Kings came back to beat the Pistons to start a five-game road trip that gets tougher over the weekend against the 76ers then Bucks.

15. Dallas Mavericks (22-16, LW 14). The Mavericks have gone 3-2 since the return of Kyrie Irving to the lineup, with Irving averaging 27 points and 8.6 rebounds a game in those five. Jason Kidd can trust Irving and Luka Doncic to bring it every night, but the role players behind them have been inconsistent and with that so have the Mavericks (they are 17th in the league in offense and seventh in defense over their last eight, going 4-4, via Cleaning the glass). If Dallas wants to move up the standings the two games at home this week against the Pelicans are a good place to start.

16. Phoenix Suns (19-18, LW 16). I am less convinced they can flip the switch after watching the Suns in person this week. There are a few factors there (slow defenders, lack of depth) and there's this: The Suns are 9-12 this season in games within five points in the final five minutes, scoring less than a point per possession in the clutch (96.7 offensive rating) and have a -14.6 net rating. It's not just clutch games, the Suns have league's worst fourth quarter offense — a 103 offensive rating in the fourth quarter, the second worst team is Portland at 108. The Suns have a league-worst -16.1 net rating in the fourth quarter.

17. Utah Jazz (18-20, LW 20). Utah looks like a play-in team of late, having won 11 of 15 with solid play on both ends of the court. A lot of things have helped push this run, but moving Jordan Clarkson back to the bench and pairing him with Walker Kessler gives the second unit a real boost. The question now: Does this win streak take some pressure off Danny Ainge when teams call about a Clarkson or Kelly Olynyk trade, knowing that this team could make the postseason? This is Danny Ainge, teams weren't going to be able to lowball him on trade offers anyway.

18. Houston Rockets (18-17, LW 19). It's a crowded field, but how much support will Ime Udoka have in a push for Coach of the Year if the Rockets can stay around the middle of the NBA pack? In a somewhat troubling sign, the Rockets went 3-4 on their just-completed longest homestead of the season. Injuries to Dillon Brooks (oblique) and Tari Eason (lower leg) have contributed to that, although give rookie Cam Whitmore credit for stepping up in those minutes. The homestead is over and the Rockets are 0-1 so far (Heat) in a six-game road trip that swings through Boston and Philadelphia.

19. Los Angeles Lakers (19-19, LW 17). Two wins in a row takes some of the public pressure off Darvin Ham as coach, although he was never in real danger of being fired during the season (barring a total meltdown by the team) because owner Jeanie Buss is in his corner. Whether the Lakers have a new coach come training camp next season is debatable. The Lakers are 2-2 so far in a home-heavy stretch — 5 of their next six are at Crypto.com Arena — and how they do over that stretch could determine how aggressive the Lakers are at the trade deadline.

20. Toronto Raptors (15-22, LW 23). RJ Barrett likes being back home in Canada, he is averaging 21.4 points a game with an insane 70 true shooting percentage, and the Raptors are 3-2 in those games (and those two losses were close). The Raptors have a 123.8 offensive rating since Barrett and Immanuel Quickley joined the team and a +3.6 net rating. So far it is a win. Those good vibes will be tested with both the Clippers and Celtics on the schedule this week.

21. Golden State Warriors (17-19, LW 18). The Warriors' loss to the Raptors on Sunday was concerning on a few levels, but at the top of that list might be how Toronto targeted Stephen Curry on pick-and-rolls. He may never have been an elite defender, but he was surrounded by them (Green, Thompson, Wiggins) who could cover him, but no longer. Draymond Green is back with the team and ramping up toward a return this week, and the team has gone 7-6 since his suspension started. In that stretch the Warriors have a top-10 offense in the league but Green's absence has been missed on defense, where the Warriors are bottom five in the league (26th). Beyond the defense, the Warriors miss Green's passing and secondary shot creation on offense, especially in games where Andrew Wiggin struggles (which has been a lot of them, he scored three points on 1-of-6 shooting against the Raptors).

22. Chicago Bulls (17-21, LW 21). Zach LaVine is back on the court, easing his way in and coming off the bench for the past couple of games (averaging 12 points a game in those two). Nikola Vucevic is back as well and the Bulls won those two games, but both were in a home-and-home against Charlotte so we'll need to see more before buying in. Watching the Bulls (even when healthy) can be a bit of a slog as they are the slowest team in the league — only 12.5% of their possessions start in transition, the lowest percentage in the league (stat via Cleaning the Glass). Up this week are better tests such as the Warriors and Cavaliers.

23. Atlanta Hawks (14-21, LW 22). Dejounte Murray trade rumors are everywhere but the question becomes: What team will give up a couple of assets (first-round picks or young players) to make this deal happen? He's not a fit everywhere (the Knicks, for example), but one interesting rumor is San Antonio, a team in need of a floor general and outside scorer as they bring along Victor Wembanyama. The Hawks have lost 6-of-8 but if they are going to turn their season around and make a push to the play-in, it starts this week as they have 12-of-15 at home.

24. Memphis Grizzlies (14-23, LW 24). The news of Ja Morant being out for the season following shoulder surgery is a punch to the gut for a team that had won 6-of-9 and could legitimately eye the play-in. Now the smart play is to get some younger players extra minutes — such as Vince Williams Jr., who the team just extended — and use your first round pick in this draft to add depth. Then the Grizzlies return next season as a healthy threat in the West. However, they will not see it that way and it showed in Tuesday's win over the Mavericks. Next up for the Grizzlies are home matchups against the Clippers, Knicks and Warriors.

25. Portland Trail Blazers (10-26, LW 26). Trail Blazers fans looking for a bright spot have found a couple. One was a win over the Nets in Brooklyn, the kind of intense game that can help a young team grow — and reminded everyone how good Anfernee Simons can be. The other is the return of Shaedon Sharp from injury, he has been coming off the bench and may stay in that role as the team leans into letting Scoot Henderson learn by getting run.

26. Brooklyn Nets (16-21, LW 25). Brooklyn has dropped 6-of-7, fueling speculation around the league the Nets could be sellers at the trade deadline (Mikal Bridges is reportedly off the table, no matter how many times teams ask). Nets players are enjoying the croissants — and maybe escargot — in Paris this week before taking on the Cavaliers. They can't afford any kind of hangover when they return if they want to make the play-in.

27. Charlotte Hornets (8-26, LW 28). Teams are calling the the Hornets are shutting down anyone asking about a LaMelo Ball trade. That said, outside of Ball, Brandon Miller or Mark Williams, everyone should be available from Charlotte for the right price. Ball could return to the court for Charlotte soon, he went through a full practice over the weekend and while he will not play Wednesday against the Kings he is close.

28. Washington Wizards (6-30, LW 27). The Wizards should be sellers at the trade deadline, with both Kyle Kuzma and Tyus Jones drawing real interest (good luck finding a market for Jordan Poole after his play this season, which has been worse of late, all offers for him would be lowball). There are a couple of potential wins on the schedule for the Wizards this week in Atlanta and against Detroit.

29. San Antonio Spurs (5-30, LW 29). Every week we could post mind-blowing Victor Wembanyama statistics and a highlight… and why wouldn't we? Since moving to center Wemby has looked more comfortable and has scored 20+ in five straight games. He's been efficient and plays a modern game —78% of his points this season have come at the rim (inside the restricted area, from beyond the 3-point line, or in free throws. He limits his shots in the midrange, although he's showing some touch on those. This behind-the-back move into an and-1 froze all of us for a second.

30. Detroit Pistons (3-34, LW 30). The loss to the Kings Tuesday was a tough one, even for the Pistons. Detroit played well to open the game and led by 20 in the first quarter, but gave it all back and trailed at halftime, fell behind, battled back to tie the game in the fourth quarter only to lose by 21. It's legitimately fair to ask if the Pistons are going to end this season with the worst record in NBA history, they are on pace to do that. If they trade Bogdanovic at the deadline, it would almost ensure it (although, it could still be the right move depending on the return).