NBA Power Rankings: Second-half storylines for all 30 teams

The 2020 NBA All-Star Weekend is in the books, and the second half of the NBA season is upon us. The teams with the two best records were represented by All-Star captains LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo. Of the teams without a representative in Chicago, some were taking advantage of much-needed downtime to recover from nagging injuries while others felt their stars were snubbed. Other teams, like the Miami Heat, proved what a threat their young core will be as they compete for top seeding in the West. Here’s what our experts are watching as we enter the final two months of the regular season.

Throughout the regular season, our panel (ESPN’s Tim MacMahon, Andre’ Snellings, Royce Young and Bobby Marks and The Undefeated’s Marc J. Spears) is ranking all 30 teams from top to bottom, taking stock of which teams are playing the best basketball now and which teams are looking most like title contenders.

Previous rankings: Week 17 | 16 | 15 | 14 | 13 | 12 | 11 | 10 | 9 | 8 | 7 | 6 | 5 | 4 | 3 | 2 | 1 | Training camp | Free agency | Post-Finals


1. Milwaukee Bucks
Record: 46-8
Week 17 ranking: 1

The Bucks’ primary mission: Finish the season healthy and playing well, and prepared for the playoffs. They still have a legitimate shot at 70 wins, but their loss to the Raptors in the Eastern Conference Finals last season weighs heavily on the minds of fans, analysts and the team itself. With a 6½-game lead for home-court advantage throughout the playoffs, Milwaukee will look to the postseason and focus on winning a title. — Snellings

This week: @DET, PHI

2. Los Angeles Lakers
Record: 41-12
Week 17 ranking: 2

The Lakers enter the second half of the season with a four-game lead on the second-place Nuggets. Landing the top seed would be very valuable for LeBron James and the Lakers. But keep in mind that it is not out of the realm of possibility for the Clippers to land the fourth seed, which could mean a conference semifinal meeting between the two L.A. teams. — Spears

This week: MEM, BOS

3. Toronto Raptors
Record: 40-15
Week 17 ranking: 3

The Raptors had their 15-game winning streak snapped in the last game before the All-Star break and currently sit as the second seed in the Eastern Conference. While they are unlikely to catch the top-seeded Bucks, the Raptors are only three games behind the Lakers (41-12) in the loss column for the second-best record in the NBA. With a .727 win percentage and plus-6.3 scoring margin, this season’s Raptors are actually slightly ahead of their championship pace (.707 win percentage, plus-5.8 scoring margin) from last season. — Snellings

This week: PHX, IND

4. Denver Nuggets
Record: 38-17
Week 17 ranking: 4

This season in the West is unlike seasons past, when making sure to be on the opposite side of the bracket’s No. 1 seed was a priority. You can’t avoid both the Lakers and the Clippers in the second round — unless they somehow play each other — so head coach Mike Malone’s focus is pretty simple: Spend the next six weeks finding the eight or nine players he trusts most. Denver is solid as one of the West’s top four seeds, but preparing for the postseason will be important. — Young

This week: @OKC, MIN

5. Boston Celtics
Record: 38-16
Week 17 ranking: 5

The final 28 games in the regular season will be all about playoff positioning for Boston. Barring a losing streak — their longest is three games — the Celtics, who currently own the No. 3 seed in the East, will likely host their first-round match up. The Celtics are three games ahead of the No. 4 Heat and 2½ games back of the No. 2 Raptors, and there is a distinct advantage to being the No. 2 seed rather than No. 4. In addition to avoiding Milwaukee until the conference finals, leapfrogging the Raptors to claim the No. 2 seed would see Boston likely host Brooklyn, while falling to No. 4 could set up a date with Philadelphia. — Marks

This week: @MIN, @LAL

6. LA Clippers
Record: 37-18
Week 17 ranking: 6

The Clippers have played 2,655 minutes this season. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George have played just 572 of those together. And now Paul George has reinjured his troublesome hamstring, which could cause him to miss a little more time. The Clippers’ primary goal down the stretch is simple: Get the top eight rotation players as healthy and as jelled as possible. Because in those 572 minutes that Leonard and George have shared, the Clippers are a plus-9.6 points per 100 possessions. — Young

This week: SAC

7. Utah Jazz
Record: 36-18
Week 17 ranking: 9

“I know I’m going to be the guy they brought me here to be,” Mike Conley told ESPN before he was moved back into the starting lineup. Utah hoped the veteran point guard would be the piece to elevate the Jazz to legitimate contender status, and that’s still a possibility. He averaged 20.3 points, 5.0 rebounds and 4.8 assists in four games since rejoining the starting lineup on Feb. 1. — MacMahon

This week: SAS, HOU

8. Miami Heat
Record: 35-19
Week 17 ranking: 7

Dwyane Wade’s jersey will go into the rafters on Feb. 22, a celebration of the Heat’s greatest franchise player. That’s the first big thing the second half has in store for the Heat, and then it’s back to business. Miami is targeting the East’s No. 2 seed while integrating the new pieces added at the trade deadline. — Young

This week: @ATL, CLE

9. Houston Rockets
Record: 34-20
Week 17 ranking: 8

Houston went into the All-Star break fifth in the West standings but within striking distance of the second seed (3½ games back), particularly if Russell Westbrook and James Harden get into an extended groove at the same time. Should home-court advantage for a series or two be a higher priority for Houston than making sure their key players have gas in the tank for the playoffs? Harden and small-ball center P.J. Tucker are the only two on the wrong side of 30 among the 10 players who have logged the most minutes this season. — MacMahon

This week: @GSW, @UTAH

10. Oklahoma City Thunder
Record: 33-22
Week 17 ranking: 10

Making the playoffs appeared a long shot before the season began, but the Thunder are all but guaranteed at this point (FiveThirtyEight puts OKC at a 99% chance to make the playoffs). Now, they can get greedy. They currently sit at sixth in the West and are 2½ games back of the Rockets (with the tiebreaker) for fifth. It may seem unlikely, but the Thunder have been playing at a high level for three months. They went into the All-Star break winning their eighth consecutive road game, tying a franchise record. — Young

This week: DEN, SAS

11. Philadelphia 76ers
Record: 34-21
Week 17 ranking: 12

The 76ers could finish the season with a 39-2 home record (they are currently 25-2 at home) and there would still be questions heading into the postseason. The concerns are based on a lack of mental toughness on the road, evident by a 9-19 away record. Some of those questions could be dismissed in the next two weeks. The 76ers will play at Milwaukee on Feb. 22 and head west to face the Clippers and Lakers on March 1 and 3. Philadelphia, however, has only one road win against teams above .500 this season — the 115-109 win over the Celtics on Dec. 12. — Marks

This week: BKN, @MIL

12. Dallas Mavericks
Record: 33-22
Week 17 ranking: 11

The developing chemistry between Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis will determine how much of a threat the Mavs are in the playoffs and whether Dallas emerges as a legitimate contender in the near future. They’ve played together in only 10 of the past 31 games due to injury absences for each, but the duo’s dominant performance in a blowout win over the Kings before the All-Star break was definitely encouraging. — MacMahon

This week: @ORL, @ATL

13. Indiana Pacers
Record: 32-23
Week 17 ranking: 13

The Pacers will spend the rest of this season trying to rediscover their team chemistry around franchise centerpiece Victor Oladipo and build some momentum for the postseason. The Pacers lost six straight games before defeating a Giannis Antetokounmpo-less Bucks squad entering the All-Star break, and they have fallen to the sixth seed in the East. When healthy and playing well, however, the Pacers have the ability to challenge any of the potential No. 3 seeds in the East, so their main goal is to find their level before the playoffs begin. — Snellings

This week: @NYK, @TOR

14. Memphis Grizzlies
Record: 28-26
Week 17 ranking: 14

The Grizzlies have a four-game cushion in the fight for the West’s final playoff seed, but Memphis has the most difficult remaining schedule in the NBA with a combined opponents’ winning percentage of .554. It’s a tremendous developmental opportunity for a rebuilding team with a promising young core — headlined by Rookie of the Year Award favorite Ja Morant, sophomore star Jaren Jackson Jr. and All-Rookie candidate Brandon Clarke — to play meaningful games the rest of the season. — MacMahon

This week: @SAC, @LAL

15. Brooklyn Nets
Record: 25-28
Week 17 ranking: 16

How important was the 101-91 win over Toronto that snapped the Raptors’ 15-game winning streak? Considering that Brooklyn will enter the final 29 games with 16 games on the road, including three separate road trips of four games, the 10-point win in their last game before the All-Star break could be the difference when it comes to a playoff spot. The win was also significant in that it came without Kyrie Irving. Since the road loss to Washington when Irving was injured, Brooklyn has gone 4-1. Getting Irving healthy for the stretch run of the season could determine whether the Nets are a seven or eight seed. — Marks

This week: @PHI, @CHA

16. Portland Trail Blazers
Record: 25-31
Week 17 ranking: 15

Just when it looked like this frustrating season was finally starting to turn, with the Blazers getting healthier as Damian Lillard found a supernova gear, Lillard pulled his groin in the last game before the All-Star break. The margin for error is razor thin for No. 9 seed Portland, currently four games back of the West’s final playoff spot. Any time without Lillard could be devastating as the Blazers try to close the gap on the No. 8 Grizzlies. — Young

This week: NOP, DET

17. New Orleans Pelicans
Record: 23-32
Week 17 ranking: 17

The Pelicans have the fourth-easiest remaining schedule, per BPI, and are 5½ games back in the race for the eighth seed in the West. Whether or not New Orleans makes a push for the playoffs, the rest of the season represents an opportunity for a talented young core to develop chemistry. Zion Williamson probably missed too many games to have a real Rookie of the Year Award chance, but he’s off to a historically dominant start since making his delayed debut. — MacMahon

This week: @POR, @GSW

18. San Antonio Spurs
Record: 23-31
Week 17 ranking: 18

The Spurs share the record for the longest streak of consecutive playoff appearances in NBA history with 22, matching a run by the Syracuse Nationals/Philadelphia 76ers. The odds are against San Antonio extending its run to 23 seasons. ESPN’s Basketball Power Index gives the Spurs, currently five games behind the eighth-place Grizzlies, only a 16.2% chance to make the playoffs. — MacMahon

This week: @UTAH, @OKC

19. Orlando Magic
Record: 24-31
Week 17 ranking: 19

The Magic will spend the rest of the regular season trying to hold onto their spot in the playoffs. They are currently two games out of the seventh seed but only three games ahead of the Wizards for the final postseason position. The Magic have been abysmal against teams with winning records this season, winning only five of 29 such contests. The good news is they have the fifth-easiest remaining schedule in the NBA, according to BPI, which could help them get across the finish line and into the playoffs. — Snellings

This week: DAL

20. Phoenix Suns
Record: 22-33
Week 17 ranking: 21

After opening the season with playoff potential, the Suns enter the second half 6½ games out of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. The Suns have not been in the playoffs since 2010, and while Devin Booker became an All-Star for the first time, he has yet to make a postseason appearance. His odds look poor now. — Spears

This week: @TOR, @CHI

21. Sacramento Kings
Record: 21-33
Week 17 ranking: 20

Keep an eye on point guard De’Aaron Fox, who is still trying to recover from an early-season ankle injury. The All-Star break came at a much-needed time for Fox. The third-year point guard is having issues with tightness in his ankle when he sits for long stretches during games, a source told ESPN. — Spears

This week: MEM, @LAC

22. Washington Wizards
Record: 20-33
Week 17 ranking: 22

It’s probably time for the Wizards to wave goodbye to the hope that they could make a playoff push and redirect their focus to developing their young players and closing the season with some momentum. John Wall is coming back next season, Bradley Beal is a should be All-Star, and Rui Hachimura has a chance to be special. It’s still messy, and some things will require an overhaul (like the defensive issues), but the Wizards aren’t as far away as their record might make it seem. — Young

This week: CLE, @CHI

23. Chicago Bulls
Record: 19-36
Week 17 ranking: 23

Can the Bulls keep Zach LaVine happy or could he ultimately seek greener pastures? Despite his team hosting the All-Star Game in Chicago, and him averaging 25.3 points per game, the high-flying guard was hampered by the Bulls’ poor record when snubbed from the mid-season classic — though he did participate in Saturday’s 3-point contest. While it doesn’t appear LaVine wants out, the Bulls will likely have to add some much-needed talent to their roster to keep him engaged in the direction of the struggling franchise. — Spears

This week: CHA, PHX, WAS

24. Detroit Pistons
Record: 19-38
Week 17 ranking: 24

The Pistons officially triggered their rebuilding efforts by dealing centerpiece Andre Drummond for cap space and second-round draft picks at the trade deadline. With that move, the Pistons have financial flexibility for next season and a team full of unproven players on an extended tryout for the rest of this season. — Snellings

This week: MIL, @POR

25. New York Knicks
Record: 17-38
Week 17 ranking: 25

Interim head coach Mike Miller not only has the Knicks with a respectable 13-20 record since he took over in early December, but he is transparent on how he plans to balance the minutes going forward. While the stat sheet might see young players like Kevin Knox or Frank Ntilikina playing only eight minutes, Miller has rightfully pointed out that there are other ways to develop a player than game action.

“Experience is maybe the best teacher at times, and they’re getting some experience as they go through it,” Miller said after a loss to Washington. “So, we’re going to continue every day to work on development … and as we said, as we do that it puts us in a position where you have a chance to win games, too. If you say you’re focused on development, that doesn’t mean you’re not trying to win games and you’re not trying to improve your overall team.” — Marks

This week: IND

26. Charlotte Hornets
Record: 18-36
Week 17 ranking: 27

Despite being all but eliminated from the playoffs, the remaining 28 games for Charlotte still have meaning. The Hornets have 10 players under the age of 25 to evaluate through the end of the season. For players like Caleb Martin, Jalen McDaniels, Kobi Simmons and Ray Spalding, who don’t have guaranteed contracts in 2020-21, the second half is an open audition for next season. Even former lottery pick Malik Monk will be evaluated closely. The 22-year-old will enter the final year of his contract next season. — Marks

This week: @CHI, BKN

27. Minnesota Timberwolves
Record: 16-37
Week 17 ranking: 26

The Timberwolves will spend the rest of this season seeing what they have with their new core of Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell. The first and second picks of the 2015 NBA Draft are both very young — Towns is barely 24, and Russell will turn 24 later this month — are both signed through at least the next three seasons. The Timberwolves will likely have another lottery pick in the upcoming draft, and they have both new and young players to test around their nucleus. The rest of this season is all about evaluation and the future. — Snellings

This week: BOS, @DEN

28. Atlanta Hawks
Record: 15-41
Week 17 ranking: 28

While the trend seems to be going small, the Hawks went big recently by adding Clint Capela and Dewayne Dedmon. The Rockets shopped Capela to a handful of Eastern Conference teams in the hopes of getting smaller, and they received interest from the Celtics. We will see if size is still a factor with the Hawks. — Spears

This week: MIA, DAL

29. Cleveland Cavaliers
Record: 14-40
Week 17 ranking: 30

The 14 wins this season would suggest a regression in the Cavaliers’ player development model for former lottery picks Darius Garland and Collin Sexton. However, as general manager Koby Altman told Cleveland.com, “If we’re gauging the success of those guys, I’m in a good space. I’m excited about our future because of where they’ve come from day one — first game of the season to where they are now and where they’re going.”

While it is still to be decided if Cleveland’s backcourt works, keep in mind that Garland is only 20-years-old (Sexton is 21) and went from playing five games his freshman year at Vanderbilt to 53 this season. — Marks

This week: @WAS, @MIA

30. Golden State Warriors
Record: 12-43
Week 17 ranking: 29

Should Stephen Curry play or not? The NBA superstar is expected to be evaluated on March 1 after being sidelined with a surgically repaired broken hand. While it would be interesting to see how Curry plays with newcomer Andrew Wiggins, his return could mean more wins for a struggling, injury-plagued team that is vying for the No. 1 pick in the 2020 NBA draft. — Spears

This week: HOU, NOP

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