NBA Power Rankings: Dominant Celtics on top coming out of All-Star break – The Athletic

Zach HarperFeb 20, 2024

All-Star Weekend means we don’t have a ton of games to influence the Power Rankings. Teams only played, at the most, a couple games last week as everybody prepared to party in Indianapolis or on a beach.

But the weekend gives us the opportunity to check up on the quarter-by-quarter flow we looked at 11 weeks ago and gauge how teams have progressed or regressed since then. We’ve seen teams really turn things around or completely fall apart. How is each team doing in each period, including clutch time? We’ll update you this week and provide 30 flawless rankings, as per usual.

Reminder: The Power Rankings don’t just rank the 30 teams. We divide these teams into tiers, which teams can move in and out of. We currently have the tiers broken into seven new categories:

  • Incomprehensibly bad – These guys are historically inept right now.
  • Not tanking but maybe someday — They haven’t started tanking yet, but it’s on the table this season.
  • Looking to make the Play-In — They’ve been rebuilding/retooling and think they can crack the top 10 in their respective conference.
  • Play-In Tournament teams or better — They should be in the mix unless something disastrous happens.
  • Playoff teams — Probably don’t have to worry about dropping down to the Play-In Tournament.
  • On the brink of contention — A piece away from us believing they can win the title.
  • Contenders — They are contending for the championship, barring a massive injury.

As always, I am sure we will all agree on the placement of all 30 teams, especially your favorite team.

Here’s how the Power Rankings work:

  • It’s up to my discretion how the rankings shake out. For some teams, they’ll be hit in the short term. Others will be given the benefit for the long term. Yes, it is entirely subjective.
  • If I have a team ahead of another team, there’s no reason to ask why they’re ranked above the team you like. The answer is pretty simple: I think that team is set up better for success.
  • Yes, I watch the games. And yes, I watch your favorite team.
  • This is supposed to be fun, so let’s have fun.

With all that said, let’s dive into Week 18 of The Athletic’s NBA Power Rankings.

Conference Eastern WesternTier Tier 1 – The Contenders Tier 2 – Brink of Contention Tier 3 – Playoff Teams Tier 4 – Play-In Tournament Teams Or Better Tier 5 – Looking to make the Play-In Tier 6 – Not tanking yet but maybe someday Tier 7 – Incomprehensibly badExpand allCollapse allLoadingTry changing or resetting your filters to see more.Tier 1 – The Contenders1

Boston Celtics

2Last Rank

First quarter: +10.5 net rating (ranked fourth) | Previously -1.0 (17th)

Second quarter: +1.4 net rating (ranked 12th tied) | Previously +11.8 (fifth)

Third quarter: +14.4 net rating (ranked first) | Previously +13.0 (second)

Fourth quarter: +2.7 net rating (ranked 12th) | Previously +1.7 (15th)

Clutch: -6.9 net rating (ranked 22nd) | 23 games (14-9) | Previously +23.1 (fourth)

Takeaway: I think Chris Finch is the clubhouse leader for Coach of the Year, but look at how the Wolves play coming out of halftime. It’s by far their best defensive quarter, and the Wolves make the best halftime adjustments in the NBA and dominate the third period to put opponents at a massive disadvantage. There is concern about how they are in close games due to turnovers and clunky offense, but we could also see Anthony Edwards just become a crunchtime monster at some point soon.

Key StatsRecord39-16Offensive Rating115.2 (17th)Defensive Rating108.2 (1st)Net Rating7.0Rank over timeWinsat Blazers121-109at Blazers128-91WesternTier 1 – The Contenders3

LA Clippers

5Last Rank

First quarter: +7.3 net rating (ranked fifth) | Previously +13.8 (third)

Second quarter: +5.3 net rating (ranked tenth) | Previously +7.9 (seventh)

Third quarter: +12.3 net rating (ranked third) | Previously +6.3 (sixth)

Fourth quarter: +2.9 net rating (ranked 11th) | Previously +3.7 (tenth)

Clutch: +16.1 net rating (ranked eighth) | 27 games (16-11) | Previously +25.2 (second)

Takeaway: Much like the Wolves above, the Thunder do a tremendous job coming out of halftime and dominating opponents. They’re really good in the first half before putting you away in the third quarter, during which they have the NBA’s third-best offense and the third-best defense. Let’s say you do manage to reach a crunchtime situation against them — you’re not just trying to stop Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Jalen Williams is also a reliable go-to guy.

Key StatsRecord37-17Offensive Rating119.2 (4th)Defensive Rating111.9 (4th)Net Rating7.3Rank over timeWinsat Magic127-113WesternTier 1 – The Contenders5

Denver Nuggets

6Last Rank

First quarter: +5.8 net rating (ranked eighth) | Previously -4.8 (20th)

Second quarter: +7.3 net rating (ranked sixth) | Previously +4.3 (ninth)

Third quarter: +6.6 net rating (ranked sixth) | Previously +1.3 (14th)

Fourth quarter: +3.0 net rating (ranked tenth) | Previously -3.2 (21st)

Clutch: +5.3 net rating (ranked 13th) | 25 games (13-12) | Previously -16.0 (22nd tied)

Takeaway: Everything has completely turned around for the Cavs, which makes sense because they’ve been dominant for the last month and a half. They no longer have bad quarters for the season, doing a complete 180 with clutch situations. And a lot of this turnaround happened while missing two starters for weeks. The Cavs are hell for the entire 48 minutes now.

Key StatsRecord36-17Offensive Rating116.2 (15th)Defensive Rating110.3 (2nd)Net Rating5.9Rank over timeWinsBulls108-105EasternTier 2 – Brink of Contention7

Phoenix Suns

9Last Rank

First quarter: +11.4 net rating (ranked third) | Previously +8.4 (sixth)

Second quarter: +9.9 net rating (ranked third) | Previously +14.0 (second)

Third quarter: -0.3 net rating (ranked 19th) | Previously -6.3 (26th)

Fourth quarter: -3.4 net rating (ranked 25th) | Previously -10.8 (27th)

Clutch: -13.3 net rating (ranked 25th) | 19 games (9-10) | Previously -19.8 (26th)

Takeaway: You have to start out real hot against this Pelicans team, or you’re pretty much buried by halftime. Their offense and defense are damn near flawless in the first quarter. While the offense wanes a bit in the second period, the defense is still elite by then. The good news for opponents is this team struggles in the clutch for some reason. If you can make it a close game, you have a great shot. They’re just 1-6 in games decided by one possession.

Key StatsRecord33-22Offensive Rating117.2 (12th)Defensive Rating112.7 (6th tied)Net Rating4.5Rank over timeWinsWizards133-126WesternTier 2 – Brink of Contention9

Dallas Mavericks

10Last Rank

First quarter: +6.3 net rating (ranked sixth) | Previously +10.7 (fourth)

Second quarter: -1.0 net rating (ranked 17th) | Previously -4.0 (18th)

Third quarter: +6.7 net rating (ranked fifth) | Previously +5.2 (eighth)

Fourth quarter: +7.2 net rating (ranked first tied) | Previously +11.8 (second)

Clutch: +21.8 net rating (ranked fourth) | 22 games (11-11) | Previously +17.1 (eighth)

Takeaway: Even though the Knicks are banged up and waiting for a healthy OG Anunoby and Julius Randle to be back, I love where this team is. They’re still very impressive coming out of the gates, both in the first and third quarters. They’re tied as the best fourth-quarter team in the league. It’s a little confusing that their clutch record isn’t better, considering their net rating, but it’s a sign of good things to come.

Key StatsRecord33-22Offensive Rating117.9 (7th tied)Defensive Rating113.1 (9th)Net Rating4.8Rank over timeLossesat Magic118-100EasternTier 2 – Brink of Contention11

Milwaukee Bucks

13Last Rank

First quarter: +0.9 net rating (ranked 15th) | Previously +6.9 (eighth)

Second quarter: -2.1 net rating (ranked 20th) | Previously -12.9 (29th)

Third quarter: +3.7 net rating (ranked 12th) | Previously +0.4 (17th)

Fourth quarter: -1.1 net rating (ranked 18th) | Previously +1.4 (16th)

Clutch: +8.7 net rating (ranked 12th) | 25 games (15-10) | Previously +13.1 (11th)

Takeaway: The second quarter isn’t as much of a problem as we saw in early December, when we first checked in on these quarter flow numbers. And we’re seeing the Kings come out of halftime with a lot more force and purpose. But it’s odd to see this squad not be the fourth quarter monsters we saw a year ago. I think we’ll get some of that the rest of the season, because this team usually finishes strong with its offense when opposing defenses are exhausted from chasing them all game.

Key StatsRecord31-23Offensive Rating116.6 (14th)Defensive Rating116.1 (18th)Net Rating0.5Rank over timeWinsat Nuggets102-98Lossesat Suns130-125WesternTier 3 – Playoff Teams13

Miami Heat

12Last Rank

First quarter: -5.7 net rating (ranked 22nd) | Previously +4.5 (12th)

Second quarter: +6.6 net rating (ranked seventh) | Previously +21.3 (first)

Third quarter: -1.4 net rating (ranked 20th) | Previously -2.8 (24th)

Fourth quarter: +3.7 net rating (ranked seventh) | Previously -5.6 (23rd)

Clutch: +3.7 net rating (ranked 14th) | 27 games (16-11) | Previously -7.5 (18th)

Takeaway: The Magic went from doing a great job starting out games and falling apart a bit in the second half to starting out extremely slowly and then rallying in the second and fourth quarters. They’ve also become one of the better clutch teams in the league, thanks to top-notch defense. In fact, their defense is what carries them through games. It’s a shame Orlando didn’t grab a lead guard at the deadline to make its offense steadier.

Key StatsRecord30-25Offensive Rating113.0 (24th)Defensive Rating112.0 (5th)Net Rating1.0Rank over timeWinsKnicks118-100LossesThunder127-113EasternTier 3 – Playoff TeamsTier 4 – Play-In Tournament Teams Or Better15

Indiana Pacers

17Last Rank

First quarter: -8.1 net rating (ranked 26th) | Previously -14.1 (28th)

Second quarter: +5.7 net rating (ranked eighth) | Previously +1.1 (12th)

Third quarter: +1.5 net rating (ranked 15th) | Previously +1.5 (13th)

Fourth quarter: +0.3 net rating (ranked 16th) | Previously +7.9 (sixth)

Clutch: +11.4 net rating (ranked 11th) | 22 games (15-7) | Previously +21.1 (seventh)

Takeaway: It’s not as bad as it was, but the Lakers are still struggling to begin games before trying to dig themselves out of a hole. Their fourth-quarter mark has regressed quite a bit, but the good news is they’re still very good in the clutch this season. Much of that is LeBron James just taking over, but the Lakers need to count on him to drag them through the mud in these tight spots.

Key StatsRecord30-26Offensive Rating114.5 (18th tied)Defensive Rating114.7 (15th)Net Rating-0.2Rank over timeWinsat Jazz138-122LossesPistons125-111WesternTier 4 – Play-In Tournament Teams Or Better17

Philadelphia 76ers

18Last Rank

First quarter: +1.2 net rating (ranked 13th tied) | Previously +5.1 (11th)

Second quarter: +1.4 net rating (ranked 12th tied) | Previously +0.8 (13th)

Third quarter: +8.1 net rating (ranked fourth) | Previously +2.5 (12th)

Fourth quarter: -4.5 net rating (ranked 27th) | Previously -6.6 (24th tied)

Clutch: -6.2 net rating (ranked 20th) | 37 games (18-19) | Previously -2.3 (16th)

Takeaway: Considering how mediocre the Warriors were for most of this season and how often Draymond Green has been out of the lineup, it’s impressive we see their clutch record as close to .500 as it is. The Warriors are on pace to finish with more clutch situations than Miami (54) and Dallas (NBA-high 55) of a year ago. But the most encouraging thing for the Warriors right now is they’re turning back into that team that turns the tables on you in the third quarter.

Key StatsRecord27-26Offensive Rating117.9 (7th tied)Defensive Rating116.6 (20th)Net Rating1.3Rank over timeWinsat Jazz140-137LossesClippers130-125WesternTier 5 – Looking to make the Play-In19

Chicago Bulls

19Last Rank

First quarter: -6.8 net rating (ranked 24th tied) | Previously -3.9 (19th)

Second quarter: -5.2 net rating (ranked 23rd) | Previously -10.4 (26th)

Third quarter: -7.7 net rating (ranked 25th) | Previously -13.1 (27th tied)

Fourth quarter: +7.2 net rating (ranked first tied) | Previously +1.9 (13th tied)

Clutch: +22.8 net rating (ranked third) | 21 games (12-9) | Previously +15.1 (ninth)

Takeaway: The Jazz are tied with the Knicks as the best fourth-quarter team in the NBA, but we need to figure out if that’s because the game is often out of hand and they’re able to storm back under the guise of inevitability or whether they’re good at finding that extra gear. It’s probably somewhere in the middle, but we know Utah is really good in clutch situations. They just can’t keep getting stuck in bad starts at the start of games.

Key StatsRecord26-30Offensive Rating115.8 (16th)Defensive Rating118.8 (25th)Net Rating-3.0Rank over timeLossesLakers138-122Warriors140-137WesternTier 5 – Looking to make the Play-In21

Houston Rockets

23Last Rank

First quarter: +2.3 net rating (ranked 12th) | Previously +5.6 (tenth)

Second quarter: -6.0 net rating (ranked 25th tied) | Previously -6.0 (22nd)

Third quarter: -2.3 net rating (ranked 21st) | Previously +0.9 (15th tied)

Fourth quarter: -2.5 net rating (ranked 20th tied) | Previously +10.4 (third)

Clutch: -9.4 net rating (ranked 23rd) | 24 games (9-15) | Previously +1.1 (15th)

Takeaway: This team went from dominating fourth quarters and being a tough team to defeat to completely falling apart in the final frame, by comparison. The Nets have become a bad, unreliable clutch team as well. I know I’m the last person to believe Ben Simmons can still be a good difference-maker, but now that he’s back and they have a new coach, I wonder if he can help correct some of this stuff.

Key StatsRecord21-33Offensive Rating114.5 (18th tied)Defensive Rating116.8 (21st)Net Rating-2.3Rank over timeLossesCeltics118-110at Celtics136-86EasternTier 5 – Looking to make the Play-In23

Atlanta Hawks

25Last Rank

First quarter: -4.0 net rating (ranked 21st) | Previously -10.0 (26th)

Second quarter: -15.0 net rating (ranked 30th) | Previously -15.0 (30th)

Third quarter: -5.4 net rating (ranked 22nd) | Previously -1.0 (19th tied)

Fourth quarter: +1.2 net rating (ranked 15th) | Previously +1.9 (13th tied)

Clutch: -5.8 net rating (ranked 19th) | 24 games (10-14) | Previously -8.7 (19th)

Takeaway: The lost season for the Grizzlies is frustrating, but the good news is we’re seeing some young guys develop and get a chance to become key contributors for a good Grizzlies team next season. We’ve seen progress with how they start out the game, but not how they finish the first half. That second quarter is still brutal. Things are getting worse out of halftime, but I wonder how much of that is just the extreme rotation changes with the younger guys.

Key StatsRecord20-36Offensive Rating107.7 (30th)Defensive Rating113.5 (10th)Net Rating-5.8Rank over timeWinsRockets121-113Bucks113-110WesternTier 6 – Not tanking yet but maybe someday25

Toronto Raptors

27Last Rank

First quarter: -9.1 net rating (ranked 27th) | Previously -9.6 (24th tied)

Second quarter: -11.2 net rating (ranked 27th) | Previously -10.7 (27th)

Third quarter: -9.5 net rating (ranked 26th) | Previously -2.4 (22nd tied)

Fourth quarter: -5.4 net rating (ranked 28th) | Previously -12.1 (28th)

Clutch: -42.4 net rating (ranked 29th) | 25 games (5-20) | Previously -55.6 (29th)

Takeaway: Even though they still have the NBA’s worst record, it at least looks better than it did a month ago. And we’ve seen progress with them in the fourth quarters of games. But the Pistons have gotten much worse coming out of halftime. Despite the roster being bad, Monty Williams has been pretty subpar as a coach this season. Hopefully, the last third of the season is more competitive for them like we’ve seen lately.

Key StatsRecord8-46Offensive Rating110.9 (26th)Defensive Rating119.8 (28th)Net Rating-8.9Rank over timeLossesat Lakers125-111at Suns116-100EasternTier 7 – Incomprehensibly bad27

San Antonio Spurs

26Last Rank

First quarter: -18.7 net rating (ranked 30th) | Previously -13.5 (27th)

Second quarter: -6.0 net rating (ranked 25th tied) | Previously -5.9 (21st)

Third quarter: -7.3 net rating (ranked 24th) | Previously -1.7 (21st)

Fourth quarter: -3.0 net rating (ranked 24th) | Previously -4.4 (22nd)

Clutch: -4.2 net rating (ranked 16th) | 26 games (12-14) | Previously -5.7 (17th)

Takeaway: If this team could just stop getting down by so much to begin games, I think we’d see a lot better success with it. The Blazers do a good job of fighting back for the most part, and you can see they’re actually very solid in the clutch. Portland just can’t keep spending all of its time getting its teeth kicked in before trying to fight back. Head coach Chauncey Billups has to get them prepared to play right as the tip-off happens.

Key StatsRecord15-39Offensive Rating108.5 (29th)Defensive Rating117.3 (22nd)Net Rating-8.8Rank over timeLossesWolves121-109Wolves128-91WesternTier 7 – Incomprehensibly bad29

Charlotte Hornets

30Last Rank

First quarter: -10.2 net rating (ranked 28th) | Previously -9.6 (24th tied)

Second quarter: -2.5 net rating (ranked 21st) | Previously -1.8 (17th)

Third quarter: -18.5 net rating (ranked 30th) | Previously -13.1 (27th tied)

Fourth quarter: -2.9 net rating (ranked 23rd) | Previously -6.6 (24th tied)

Clutch: -59.1 net rating (ranked 30th) | 21 games (3-18) | Previously -66.7 (30th)

Takeaway: This is the least serious team in the NBA. Many other teams have had talent deficiencies all season, so it leaves them incapable of competing or winning. The Wizards had the talent to be much better and are just not. The third quarter and clutch time tell you everything you need to know with that. Out of halftime, they’re getting waxed. If they do manage to get a close game going, they get played right out of clutch-time situations, during which they are 3-18.

Key StatsRecord9-45Offensive Rating111.0 (25th)Defensive Rating119.5 (27th)Net Rating-8.5Rank over timeLossesat Pelicans133-126EasternTier 7 – Incomprehensibly bad

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(Photo of Jayson Tatum: Brian Babineau / Getty Images)

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Zach Harper is a staff writer for The Athletic, covering the NBA. Zach joined The Athletic after covering the NBA for ESPN.com, CBS Sports and FRS Sports since 2009. He also hosts radio for SiriusXM NBA and SiriusXM Mad Dog Sports Radio. Follow Zach on Twitter @talkhoops

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