Even though the Bucks have little margin for error, their march toward a 70-win season continues to become more possible by the week. Milwaukee is now 52–8 through 60 games after Sunday’s win in Charlotte, a game in which Giannis Antetokounmpo erupted for 40 points and 21 rebounds.
Perhaps Milwaukee will get dethroned by Boston or Toronto in the Eastern Conference playoffs. A matchup with the Lakers or Clippers could send Antetokounmpo into the summer without a ring. We’ll save those concerns for a later date. For now, Antetokounmpo is rolling toward another MVP, and the Bucks are on pace for one of the greatest regular seasons in NBA history.
With six weeks left in the regular season, let’s dive into The Crossover’s power rankings with notes on all 30 teams.
30. Warriors – Stephen Curry could return this week, but that doesn’t mean the Warriors will cede lottery positioning anytime soon. Golden State has the league’s hardest schedule remaining, with six of their next seven games against Finals contenders. Two matchups with the Clippers and Raptors loom, as do games against the Lakers, Bucks and Rockets. Don’t be surprised if the Warriors are the lottery odds leader in May.
29. Cavaliers – Cleveland has become feisty since canning John Beilein and bringing in J.B. Bickerstaff as interim head coach. The Cavaliers’ veterans no longer look as despondent, and Cleveland is beginning to show a modicum of effort on the defensive end. 2019-20 was a lost season. 2020-21 will likely mark a third straight lottery appearance. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t progress to be made in the season’s final six weeks. Good for Bickerstaff for bringing professionalism to a woebegone franchise.
28. Knicks – Leon Rose will begin his tenure with the Knicks on Monday, and New York’s president has quite the challenge ahead of him. The Knicks punted on their best draft pick since Patrick Ewing in the Kristaps Porzingis trade, receiving Dennis Smith Jr. and a pick for their trouble. R.J. Barrett has promise, but he’s no Zion Williamson or Ja Morant. Frank Ntilikina has shown simply flashes. Kevin Knox continues to struggle. Rose will have to work quickly to bring the Knicks back into the free agency conversation in 2021.
27. Timberwolves – Good for Karl-Anthony Towns for bringing his buddy D’Angelo Russell to the Twin Cities, but a sub-.500 year is still more likely next season than the playoffs. Russell and Towns is a disastrous defensive combination. The Timberwolves are light on depth, and there is no clear third option. Unless their 2020 first rounder shines as a rookie, Towns’ discontent will likely continue to fester.
26. Bulls – Coby White continues to make strides as a spark plug off Chicago’s bench, and he’s been absolutely on fire of late. The former Tar Heel is averaging 30.8 points in his last four contests, and White ripped off a trio of 30-point games from Feb. 22-25. The Bulls remain a wayward franchise with little vision. That doesn’t mean they’re devoid of talent. Let’s hope Chicago can get a winning infrastructure in place for White’s sake in upcoming seasons.
25. Hawks – John Collins’ 25-game PED suspension derailed the Hawks’ season before it began, yet the progress Collins has shown this year will certainly encourage Lloyd Pierce and Co. Collins is a supreme athletic talent, and his 58-40-80 shooting splits are more than respectable. The Wake Forest product isn’t a five despite the NBA’s small-ball trend. He remains a shaky (at best) defender. But if Clint Capela can log a healthy season in 2020-21, the playoffs are certainly in play for the young Hawks.
24. Pistons – Amid a lost season, let’s take a look back at Luke Kennard’s brief 2019-20. The third-year guard made significant strides this year, making a major leap in points, assists and minutes. Kennard has always been an impressive three-point shooter. But he was much more than that in 28 games this year. Kennard grew as a lead playmaker, and his free-throw rate nearly doubled. If the Pistons receive the same Kennard in 2020-21, a playoff appearance is certainly more attainable.
23. Wizards – Bradley Beal deserves some serious praise for carrying the Wizards amid a difficult year. The 26-year-old guard dropped 53 points on the Bulls on Feb. 23, then followed up the performance with a 55-point night against the Bucks. Beal’s decision to sign an extension with Washington in October 2019 may have eliminated his chance to play for a contender in his prime. But at his current pace, Beal could go down as one of the greatest players in Wizards’ history. There's something to be said for that designation.
22. Hornets – Michael Jordan and the Hornets’ brass has allowed James Borrego to play and develop Charlotte’s young players down the stretch, even at the expense of minutes for their highly-paid veterans. The move has paid off. Charlotte has won five of its last seven, and more importantly, the youngsters are beginning to play with purpose and cohesion. Patience is key in a rebuild, especially one that faces an uphill climb like Charlotte. Perhaps the Hornets can finally create a sustainable winner in the 2020s.
21. Suns – Kelly Oubre Jr.’s meniscus injury is a real bummer. The 24-year-old was in the midst of a career-best season in 2019-20, averaging 18.7 points per game on 45.2% shooting. Phoenix still has plenty of work to do in creating a quality rotation. The Western Conference will be a gauntlet once again in 2020-21, though with Oubre, Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton, the Suns could sneak into the playoffs sooner than later.
20. Spurs – Can the Spurs possibly hang onto their 22-year playoff streak? They have the fifth-easiest schedule remaining, though that’s unfortunately their best case with 24 games left. San Antonio ranked No. 23 in net rating in February. Not only are the Spurs No. 26 in threes made per game, they’re No. 25 in threes allowed per game. The first metric is a guarantee with a Gregg Popovich team. The latter is far more concerning as San Antonio looks to somehow keep its playoff streak alive.
19. Trail Blazers – Hassan Whiteside said he thinks he belongs in the Defensive Player of the Year conversation after Portland’s victory over the Pistons on Feb. 23. Is he watching the same games we are? Whiteside is a prolific shot blocker, sure, though he is severely lacking as a team defender. Portland is No. 27 in defensive rating. Only three teams sport a worse defensive rebounding percentage. It’s been the same old story with Whiteside for years now. The Blazers will receive a serious bump replacing Whiteside with Jusuf Nurkic next season.
18. Kings – Don’t look now, but here come De’Aaron Fox and the Kings. Sacramento has won eight of its last 11 games, and it sits just three games back of the Grizzlies for the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference. With the NBA’s eighth-easiest remaining schedule, don’t count the Kings out of the playoff race just yet.
17. Magic – How are things going for Mo Bamba in his second season? Not great. The Texas product is averaging just 14.8 minutes and 5.6 points per game this year, failing to live up to his billing as the No. 6 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft. Orlando’s front court is crowded. Bamba’s lack of playing time isn’t totally his fault. Still, the 7’0” center is too slight and too raw to make an impact at this point in his career. Let’s hope Bamba changes the narrative in his third season.
16. Nets – Spencer Dinwiddie is a quality guard, and he could be a valuable trade asset for Brooklyn this summer. But what was he thinking in the final seconds against Miami on Saturday? Consider Dinwiddie's gaffe one of the season’s late-game lowlights.
15. Pelicans – Seriously, what else could we possibly ask for from Zion Williamson through his first 14 games? The Duke product has been absolutely terrific thus far, bullying opponents in the paint and in transition. Williamson is certainly unconventional. He probably needs to shed 10-20 pounds to sustain a full season, and his three-point stroke isn’t exactly smooth. But these are minor concerns. Zion has been a sensation, and the No. 8 seed is still very much in play for New Orleans.
14. Grizzlies – My goodness, Ja Morant. The Grizzlies phenom point guard dropped 27 points and 14 dimes in a blowout win over LeBron James and the Lakers on Saturday, marking one of the best performances in an eye-popping rookie season. Morant has bigger fish to fry than the Twitter troll that he called out postgame. But hey, motivation is motivation. No need to give Morant advice as he turns in a truly impressive first season.
13. Pacers – Indiana has won three of its last four to stick at No. 6 in the East, but it’s hard to see the Pacers winning a round in the postseason. Perhaps 2021 will be a different story, though for now, there are too many factors working against Nate McMillan’s squad. Victor Oladipo is an offseason away from truly returning to full strength. Jeremy Lamb is out for the year. 2019-20 will likely mark a year in stasis for a promising small-market team.
12. Thunder – Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s February ended with a 47-point loss at the hands of Giannis and the Bucks, but don’t let the blowout obscure what was another impressive month for the 21-year-old. SGA averaged 18.7 points per game in February, and he continued to improve his three-point stroke at 40.5%. Sam Presti landed seven potential first-round picks in the Paul George trade. Gilgeous-Alexander may be more valuable than all of them.
11. Mavericks – Seth Curry is often overlooked in favor of his older brother, but he turned in a truly Steph-esque performance in a loss to the Heat on Friday. Curry scored 37 points on 13-15 from the field, continuing a career-best season. Curry will never match his brother’s legacy, but the Duke product has still carved out a quality career.
10. 76ers – Tobias Harris has turned in a middling 2019-20 after receiving a $180 million contract from Philadelphia this summer. Yet any disappointment over Harris’ performance can dissipate with a strong effort over the next two weeks. Harris got off to a good start without Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons with a 34-point night against the Knicks on Thursday. Similar performances through March could keep Philadelphia afloat in the Eastern Conference.
9. Heat – Goran Dragic feels like one of the NBA’s more underrated veterans. The former Suns and Rockets point guard continues to produce at an effective clip in his 12th season, adding scoring punch off the bench for a young Heat squad. Dragic is in the top 40 in points since 2008-09. Only 12 players have more assists in the last 12 seasons. He should have no shortage of teams eyeing his services as he enters free agency in July.
8. Jazz – Mike Conley is perhaps the biggest bust of 2019-20. The former Grizzlies point guard arrived in Utah as a potential difference maker in the Western Conference, arming Utah with another quality ball handler. The Jazz’s move has not exactly worked as planned. Conley is shooting just 39.5% this season. He’s been relegated to the bench, and Jordan Clarkson has frankly looked like a better option for significant stretches. What was supposed to be a key addition is now a troubling albatross.
7. Nuggets – The true mark of a superstar isn’t how one plays when his team is rolling, but how he responds to a poor performance. Nikola Jokic aced the test with flying colors on Sunday. Jokic and the Nuggets lost by 29 points in Los Angeles on Friday, allowing the Clippers to score 132 points. The Joker responded in a major way on Sunday, torching the Raptors with 23 points, 18 rebounds and 11 assists. Denver’s roster is imperfect, but with Jokic leading the way, the Western Conference crown is still firmly in sight.
6. Raptors – Is there any team better at player development than the Raptors? Seriously, Toronto seems to consistently pluck players from obscurity before turning them into quality rotation players, and this year’s roster is a prime example. Fred VanVleet is hurtling toward a lucrative contract. Chris Boucher is emerging as an impact rotation player. Masai Ujiri gets plenty of credit for the Kawhi Leonard trade. Yet it’s his organization's ability to draft and grow talent that truly sets him apart.
5. Celtics – Boston would feel better about its Finals chances if Gordon Hayward could ever fully revert back to his pre-injury form. We see the Hayward of old in spurts, but there are far too many games in which he simply disappears. Brad Stevens’ pupil is a dynamic playmaker at his best, and he helps unlock Boston’s most explosive lineups. But as we saw against Houston on Saturday, Hayward is more reticent and less explosive than he once was.
4. Rockets – Who says Houston doesn’t have a rim protector? Robert Covington has been a dominant interior force since joining the Rockets, swatting 24 shots in nine games. Covington was a human eraser against Boston. He forms a dominant defensive duo with P.J. Tucker. Daryl Morey’s February gamble looks smarted by the week.
3. Clippers – I remain optimistic regarding Los Angeles’ Finals chances. Sure, there are significant stretches of inconsistency, but the Clippers are still 21–7 when both Kawhi Leonard and Paul George both play. Doc Rivers’ squad is stocked with quality rotation players. Their Finals MVP is looking quite spry as we enter March. This is still the elite team many imagined in July despite some midseason hiccups.
2. Lakers – Alex Caruso has developed a reputation as a fan-favorite in Los Angeles, though he still feels underutilized in Frank Vogel’s rotation. Caruso is a defensive menace, and he is a valuable ball-handler when LeBron James sits or Rajon Rondo struggles. Vogel would be wise to give Caruso a longer leash in the postseason.
1. Bucks – James Harden was right to call out Giannis Antetokounmpo for a pair of potshots around All-Star weekend, but Houston’s shooting guard may have awoken The Greek Freak in the process. Giannis poured in 32 points against the Thunder on Friday, and he pulverized the Hornets with 41 points and 20 rebounds on Sunday. A second straight MVP is heading Giannis’ way at the end of June. A Finals appearance should come a few weeks prior.