NBA Power Rankings: Will superstar injuries decide the playoff race?

NBA

The Memphis Grizzlies became the latest NBA team to get a harsh taste of life without its superstar player on Monday. Ja Morant was sidelined by an ankle injury, and the Grizzlies — a team fresh off of making a run to first place in the West — proceeded to get blown out by the Sacramento Kings 133-100.

A handful of teams have already dealt with this dilemma, including the Brooklyn Nets losing three of their past four games with Kevin Durant sidelined by an MCL sprain. The Golden State Warriors without Stephen Curry and the Philadelphia 76ers without Joel Embiid are other examples of how the void of an injured superstar can downgrade a team this year, with each losing ground in the standings as a result. The 76ers, however, have rebounded in a big way to play themselves back into the Eastern Conference conversation, while the Warriors continue to slide down in the rankings, even with Curry back on the court.

Unsurprisingly, the two teams at the top of their respective conferences — the Boston Celtics led by Jayson Tatum and the Denver Nuggets led by Nikola Jokic — are going strong on the backs of their superstar players. Tatum and Jokic are each in the thick of the MVP race as a result, and their teams are starting to pull away in the standings.

But which team can stay the healthiest in the back half of the season as fatigue sets in still has yet to be determined, and could prove to be the difference in who finishes on top.

Note: Throughout the regular season, our panel (Kendra Andrews, Tim Bontemps, Jamal Collier, Nick Friedell, Andrew Lopez, Tim MacMahon, Dave McMenamin and Ohm Youngmisuk) 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 1 | Week 2 | Week 3 | Week 4 | Week 5 | Week 6 | Week 7 | Week 8 | Week 9 | Week 10 | Week 11 | Week 12 | Week 13 | Week 14

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1. Boston Celtics
2022-23 record: 35-14
Previous ranking: 1

After their hot start, Boston is now just trying to get its team whole again from a health standpoint. Jayson Tatum is playing through wrist and hand issues; Jaylen Brown missed a week because of an adductor strain; Marcus Smart is now out because of a sprained ankle; and both Robert Williams and Al Horford are being managed on halves of back-to-back sets. — Bontemps


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2. Denver Nuggets
2022-23 record: 34-14
Previous ranking: 2

The Nuggets’ 16-game home win streak — and nine straight overall — ended Sunday night when the Thunder beat them, but Denver should still be happy with its performances as Michael Porter Jr. and Nikola Jokic have missed time. With Jokic back now, Denver should be just fine. — Andrews


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3. Philadelphia 76ers
2022-23 record: 30-16
Previous ranking: 6

Between starting the season 1-4 and little time with Joel Embiid, James Harden and Tyrese Maxey all available to play, it has to be seen as a huge success for the 76ers to be sitting in sole possession of second place in the Eastern Conference entering Wednesday’s showdown with Brooklyn, and now just two losses behind Boston for the best record in the NBA. — Bontemps


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4. Memphis Grizzlies
2022-23 record: 31-16
Previous ranking: 3

Memphis has lost three straight games for the first time this season, going 0-3 to start a five-game road trip. The Grizzlies have the league’s best home record (20-3) but are under .500 (11-13) on the road. One major home/road difference: The Grizzlies allow only 105.8 points per 100 possessions at FedExForum and give up 112.1 per 100 in away games. — MacMahon


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5. Milwaukee Bucks
2022-23 record: 30-17
Previous ranking: 4

Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton returned to the lineup Monday night, and the Bucks promptly put up 150 points against Detroit. Milwaukee is 90-36 over the past three seasons when Antetokounmpo, Middleton and Jrue Holiday all play, including the playoffs. — Collier


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6. Brooklyn Nets
2022-23 record: 29-17
Previous ranking: 5

Kevin Durant is out at least two more weeks as he recovers from an MCL injury in his right knee, but the Nets seem to have finally found some rhythm in his absence after wins over the Jazz and Warriors. Irving has 116 points, 25 rebounds, 22 assists and eight steals over his past three games. Now the Nets head into Wednesday’s showdown against former teammate James Harden and the 76ers. — Friedell


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7. Sacramento Kings
2022-23 record: 27-19
Previous ranking: 9

The Kings’ offense is a sight to behold right now. They have the No. 1 offense in the league, have scored more than 125 points per 100 possessions in six of their past eight games and tied an NBA record by making 12 3-pointers in the first quarter Monday night. Even in one game without Domantas Sabonis, Sacramento still rolled on. — Andrews


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8. Cleveland Cavaliers
2022-23 record: 29-20
Previous ranking: 7

League coaches, scouts and executives have fawned over Evan Mobley‘s budding potential ever since the Cavs drafted him and halfway through his sophomore season, he made it known that the time is now with a dominant 38-point, nine-rebound performance in a win over the Milwaukee Bucks over the weekend, going 19-for-27 from the field. — McMenamin


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9. New Orleans Pelicans
2022-23 record: 26-22
Previous ranking: 12

Since improving to 23-12 on Dec. 30 against the 76ers, things have gone downhill for the Pelicans. After Monday’s 99-98 defeat to the Nuggets, the team has lost 10 of its past 13 games but is still clinging to the fourth spot in the Western Conference standings. Monday’s loss was the Pelicans’ fifth in a row — the longest losing streak of the season. The Pelicans have struggled offensively in that stretch, ranking 28th in offensive rating since Dec. 31. — Lopez


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10. Miami Heat
2022-23 record: 27-22
Previous ranking: 8

Miami picked up a nice win over the Celtics on Tuesday night thanks in part to the strong play of Bam Adebayo. The Heat big man had 30 points and 15 rebounds in the win and is averaging 21.8 points and 11.1 rebounds this month. He is a major reason the Heat have gotten back on track and have won three of their past four. — Friedell


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11. Dallas Mavericks
2022-23 record: 25-24
Previous ranking: 10

Doncic has 11 technical fouls this season (plus one that was rescinded by the league office) after being T’d up in the past two games, putting him five shy of an automatic one-game suspension. He has plenty to be frustrated about other than officiating with the Mavs having lost seven of their past nine games. “I’m focused on winning right now,” Doncic said after Tuesday’s home loss to the Wizards. “I just keep the mind on winning.” — MacMahon


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12. LA Clippers
2022-23 record: 26-24
Previous ranking: 13

Once again, the Clippers are beginning to show glimpses of how good they can be, scoring 131 to win at San Antonio and getting a complete effort on both ends in a win at Dallas. And then they opened a 23-point lead against the Lakers only to let it get down to 10 before needing Kawhi Leonard and Paul George to close out LeBron James and the Lakers for good. The Clippers have won three straight now and are hoping this is the start of a consistent run but also lost starting power forward Marcus Morris Sr. to a rib injury in the first half against the Lakers. — Youngmisuk


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13. Phoenix Suns
2022-23 record: 25-24
Previous ranking: 19

A little positive injury news went a long way for the Suns, who are now 4-0 since Cameron Johnson returned from right knee meniscus surgery that had sidelined him since November. Johnson was near perfect in a win against the Hornets on Tuesday, scoring 24 points on 9-for-11 shooting (6-for-7 from 3) in just 18 minutes. — McMenamin


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14. Golden State Warriors
2022-23 record: 23-24
Previous ranking: 14

It’s hard to get too high or low on the Warriors and what they are doing. They’ve won some games it seems like they should have lost — against Cleveland without four of their starters — and then lost some games they could have won — against the Celtics and Nets. Until the Warriors string together some consistent games, they will be exactly what their record says — .500. — Andrews


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15. Atlanta Hawks
2022-23 record: 24-24
Previous ranking: 16

Throughout his career, Trae Young‘s assists numbers have steadily increased each year. After averaging 8.1 as a rookie, he’s up to 9.9 this year. Young has had consecutive 20-point, 10-assists games against the Chicago Bulls and Charlotte Hornets and now has 112 such games in his NBA career. That’s the third most of any player before turning 25 in NBA history, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. Young trails only Isiah Thomas (113) and Oscar Robertson (124). — Lopez


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16. New York Knicks
2022-23 record: 26-23
Previous ranking: 11

New York picked up a much-needed victory over the Cavaliers on Tuesday night, snapping a four-game losing streak. It couldn’t have come at a more important time, too, as the Cavs game marked a stretch of seven out of nine opponents with winning records. — Bontemps


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17. Utah Jazz
2022-23 record: 25-25
Previous ranking: 17

Lauri Markkanen has at least 20 points and 10 rebounds in five straight games, the longest such streak of his career. The only other players in Jazz history to have a run of five 20-10 performances are Carlos Boozer, Karl Malone and Truck Robinson, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. Markkanen is averaging 28.9 points and 10.0 rebounds per game in January. — MacMahon


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18. Oklahoma City Thunder
2022-23 record: 23-24
Previous ranking: 18

Oklahoma City has won seven of its past nine games and has taken itself out of the Victor Wembanyama conversation. Instead, the Thunder firmly placed themselves in the conversation for the play-in tournament. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander hit the go-ahead shot with 9.1 seconds remaining on Sunday to lift OKC over the Nuggets, snapping Denver’s 16-game home win streak. Gilgeous-Alexander finished with 34 points for his 27th 30-point game of the season, trailing only Luka Doncic for the year. — Lopez


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19. Minnesota Timberwolves
2022-23 record: 24-25
Previous ranking: 20

The Timberwolves have put together a decent stretch through January, and are seeing some much-needed improvements. Their offense has been trending in the right direction, but again, they are doing this without Karl-Anthony Towns. There is still no timetable for Towns’ return. Of course, the chemistry between Towns and Rudy Gobert wasn’t there when Towns was healthy, and now with him sidelined even longer, it’s unclear how he’ll be reintegrated when he’s ready. — Andrews


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20. Indiana Pacers
2022-23 record: 24-25
Previous ranking: 15

Indiana snapped a seven-game losing streak Tuesday after coming back from a 21-point deficit to beat the Bulls. In the eight games Tyrese Haliburton has been out because of an injury, the Pacers’ offense has fallen to 28th in points per 100 possessions. — Collier


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21. Los Angeles Lakers
2022-23 record: 22-26
Previous ranking: 22

Los Angeles landed Rui Hachimura in a deal with the Washington Wizards this week, some 2½ weeks ahead of the trade deadline. The big wing with catch-and-shoot capabilities should help the Lakers’ depth, but will it push them to a surefire playoff berth? “[It] doesn’t mean our work is finished,” said Lakers vice president of basketball operations and general manager Rob Pelinka. “We’re going to continue to monitor the situation with the 29 other teams.” — McMenamin


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22. Chicago Bulls
2022-23 record: 22-25
Previous ranking: 23

The Bulls have three different three-game winning streaks this season but have yet to win four in a row. In the latest mark of their inconsistency, they blew a 21-point lead to the Pacers on Tuesday night that snapped another three-game winning streak. — Collier


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23. Toronto Raptors
2022-23 record: 21-27
Previous ranking: 24

Toronto continues to hover in place, having gone 8-9 over its past 17 games. As the Raptors continue to sit outside the play-in tournament spots, the attention on Toronto will only increase with the trade deadline two weeks away. — Bontemps


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24. Portland Trail Blazers
2022-23 record: 22-25
Previous ranking: 21

The Blazers desperately needed a win and got one over San Antonio on Monday. Damian Lillard poured in 37 points and 12 assists in the 20-point blowout win to halt a three-game losing streak that included blowing a 25-point lead to the Lakers at home. The Blazers’ win against San Antonio was only their fifth victory in their past 17 games. — Youngmisuk


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25. Washington Wizards
2022-23 record: 21-26
Previous ranking: 25

Despite losing Kristaps Porzingis to an ankle injury for a few weeks and trading Rui Hachimura to the Lakers, the Wizards stunned the Mavericks in Dallas for their third straight win. Delon Wright got a game-sealing steal off Luka Doncic in the final seconds to start a five-game road trip with a big win. Kyle Kuzma continued to shine with 30 points against the Mavs. — Youngmisuk


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26. Orlando Magic
2022-23 record: 18-29
Previous ranking: 26

Jonathan Isaac is finally back after two and a half years away rehabbing a knee injury — and he made an immediate impact in Monday’s win over the Celtics with 10 points in 10 minutes. With Isaac back in the fold, the Magic finally have a chance to see their young core together. It’s an exciting time for a young team that needs to find some consistency. — Friedell


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27. Charlotte Hornets
2022-23 record: 13-36
Previous ranking: 27

Charlotte actually went 2-2 over the past week, but its defense continues to be its biggest problem. The Hornets have given up at least 116 points in nine straight games. The group can’t find any consistency on that end of the floor. — Friedell


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28. San Antonio Spurs
2022-23 record: 14-33
Previous ranking: 28

The Spurs’ defense has been historically bad this season. Last week, they gave up 131 points to the LA Clippers and 147 to the Trail Blazers in a pair of losses. Their points allowed average ballooned to a league-worst 122.0. It’s almost two full points higher than the team at No. 29 (Detroit Pistons — 120.3 points allowed per game). Opponents are shooting 50.9% against San Antonio this season and 40.2% from deep. Both percentages are dead last in the league. — Lopez


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29. Detroit Pistons
2022-23 record: 12-37
Previous ranking: 29

The Pistons gave up 150 points Monday night for the 11th time in franchise history, which is tied with the Wizards for the third-most such games in NBA history (Nuggets, 19). Detroit owns the second-worst defensive rating in the NBA this season. — Collier


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30. Houston Rockets
2022-23 record: 11-36
Previous ranking: 30

Jalen Green has had 41- and 42-point performances over the past three games, matching his career high in a loss to the Hornets then bettering it in a win over the Timberwolves that snapped the Rockets’ 13-game losing streak. The only players in NBA history to have more career 40-point performances at age 20 than Green’s three are James, Anthony Edwards, Durant and Doncic, according to a Stathead.com search. — MacMahon

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