NBA POWER RANKINGS
January 21, 2021
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Here are NBA Power Rankings for Jan. 21.
1. Los Angeles Lakers: A brief lapse in concentration cost the Lakers what looked like a sure win over the Warriors on MLK Day. Teams led by LeBron James almost always learn and bounce back from those experiences.
2. Los Angeles Clippers: Since their 20-point collapse in a loss to the Warriors on Jan. 8, the Clippers have been on fire with a league-high 120.5 offensive rating and 13.7 net rating during a 6-1 stretch. If they’ve solved their crisis of leadership, this team is certainly talented enough to contend for a title.
3. Brooklyn Nets: Kyrie Irving finally came back and the Nets promptly gave up 147 points to a Cavs team that ranks dead last in offensive rating. Brooklyn’s Big Three can outscore anyone, but they have to find the right defensive players to support their offensive output.
4. Milwaukee Bucks: Since the start of last season, the Bucks are 45-6 against teams with losing records, but they’re just 20-16 against teams with winning records. That helps to explain why they dominate in the regular season but tend to struggle in the playoffs.
5. Philadelphia 76ers: The Sixers have weathered the storm created by their COVID outbreak and should soon have sharpshooter Seth Curry back in the lineup. They rank fourth in pace and average a league-high 16.8 fastbreak PPG.
6. Utah Jazz: Utah caught fire with the top net rating (16.2) in the league during their 6-game win streak. Donovan Mitchell and Mike Conley set the tone and their offseason doesn’t miss a beat when Jordan Clarkson and Joe Ingles take over playmaking duties.
7. Boston Celtics: Kemba Walker has looked sharp after sitting out the first month of the season. If Jayson Tatum hits the ground running following his absence due to COVID, the Celtics offense will hit another level.
8. Phoenix Suns: The Suns were off for a week due to COVID protocols and have not looked sharp on either end since returning to play, but they should get back on track during an upcoming four-game home stand.
9. Miami Heat: With Jimmy Butler out due to COVID protocols, the Heat are just scraping by. Once Butler and Tyler Herro (neck) are back to full speed, they should resume their status as ECF contenders.
10. Denver Nuggets: Nikola Jokic is having an MVP caliber season and is now one of the favorites to win the award with +800 odds at DraftKings Sportsbook. Denver’s supporting cast is starting to come around and they have the 10th-best defensive rating over their last 5 games.
11. Dallas Mavericks: Kristaps Porzingis looks great after undergoing a knee procedure this offseason. He’s been playing on B2B sets and carrying the Mavs along with Luka Doncic while they wait for several players to come off the COVID List.
12. Golden State Warriors: Draymond Green and Steph Curry are proven winners, capable of adapting to any circumstances. It’s young guys like James Wiseman and Kelly Oubre Jr. who have to figure out their new surroundings so the Warriors can establish some consistency.
13. Indiana Pacers: Unfortunately the Pacers are short on scoring since they traded Victor Oladipo for Caris LeVert, who found he had a dangerous health problem during the physical. Once they get Myles Turner (hand) back, they should be able to win on defense. And Jeremy Lamb (knee) recently debuted to add some depth on the wing.
14. Toronto Raptors: Chris Boucher makes the Raptors extremely difficult to guard and has helped them become an excellent defensive team on the perimeter, but the 6-foot-10 forward is too skinny to bang in the post and bigger teams have been able to exploit Toronto down low.
15. Portland Blazers: C.J. McCollum was off to an incredible start before a foot injury put him on the shelf. With Jusuf Nurkic (wrist) and Zach Collins (ankle) also out, the Blazers will hope new acquisition Robert Covington can step up.
16. Atlanta Hawks: Trae Young (ankle) was banged up during Atlanta’s 4-game skid, but he’s back to full speed now and Clint Capela was clearly feeling good during a 27-point, 26-rebound outburst to down the Pistons on Wednesday.
17. Charlotte Hornets: The Gordon Hayward era is off to a good start with the Hornets logging a league-best 28.7 assists per game. They’re missing a consistent presence down low, though, and rank 22nd in PPG in the paint.
18. New Orleans Pelicans: Stan Van Gundy’s plan to protect the paint at all costs is backfiring with his Pelicans ranking 29th in defensive rating over their last five games. They can’t seem to space the floor with Zion Williamson and Steven Adams playing next to each other, and are yielding 40.6 PPG in the paint on the other end.
19. San Antonio Spurs: The guard-heavy Spurs are simply too soft to compete with physical teams. They average the fourth-fewest FTA per game (20.1) and give up the second-most RPG (57.1) without contesting much in the paint.
20. Chicago Bulls: Billy Donovan is starting to turn this franchise around. Lauri Markkanen is back and Garrett Temple is providing a steady veteran presence to help Zach LaVine and Coby White develop.
21. Memphis Grizzlies: Ja Morant returned right before the Grizzlies were hit with a COVID outbreak. They will have at least four games PPD and could come out strong after the break if Jaren Jackson Jr. (knee) is ready to debut.
22. Houston Rockets: Once John Wall (knee) returns, the Rockets should be more competitive on a nightly basis. As it stands, they’re an easy mark for opportunistic bettors as Victor Oladipo tries to figure out how to become a lead guard once again.
23. Sacramento Kings: The Kings defense is laughably bad. They yield 123 PPG, are the only team in the NBA to allow an AST:TO ratio (2.071) that is greater than 2.0, and they cough up 52.4 PPG in the paint.
24. Washington Wizards: The Wizards are frozen after over half their roster tested positive for COVID. At least that gives Russell Westbrook (quad) some time to heal and Bradley Beal a much needed break after carrying a squad that is simply terrible on defense.
25. New York Knicks: This Knicks team started 5-3, lost five straight, and rebounded with two impressive wins on the strength of their defense. Their offense could become more viable with Alec Burks (ankle) back in the fold.
26. Cleveland Cavaliers: Collin Sexton returned with a career-high 42 points and new additions Taurean Prince and Jarrett Allen stepped up to stun their former team with a 147-135 win over the Nets on Wednesday. Cleveland still ranks 30th in offensive rating despite taking that 2OT shootout.
27. Detroit Pistons: Jerami Grant is becoming a true star with averages of 25.4 PPG and 6.1 RPG while playing 36.7 MPG. Yet the Pistons continued success is tentatively tied to the health of injury-prone veterans Blake Griffin and Derrick Rose.
28. Oklahoma City Thunder: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander led a miraculous comeback to down the Bulls, 127-125, last Friday. But without a huge outburst from their lone star, the Thunder can’t seem to keep pace in today’s high-scoring NBA.
29. Orlando Magic: Teams will be lining up to make offers for Nikola Vucevic ahead of the trade deadline. The big man is carrying a listless Magic squad with the second-most Win Shares and second-best Box Plus/Minus, trailing only Jokic in both categories.
30. Minnesota Timberwolves: Karl-Anthony Towns (COVID) is concentrating on things more important than basketball and the Wolves are getting a long look at their young players with KAT on the shelf.