NBA Power Rankings: Russell Westbrook and the Rockets rise, climb the standings in the West

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As we enter the last full month of the NBA regular season, the Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Lakers maintain the league’s two best records. In what could be an NBA Finals preview, reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks travel to Los Angeles to square off against LeBron James and the Lakers on Friday.

Meanwhile, the Lakers’ Staples Center co-tenants, the LA Clippers, have won four games in a row as they close in on the Denver Nuggets for the second seed in the West. Russell Westbrook and the Houston Rockets are close behind, boasting a six-game win streak as they move into the West’s fourth spot.

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 19 |18 | 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: 52-8
Week 19 ranking: 1

A 4-0 week kept Milwaukee on pace for 70-plus wins (72, to be exact). The Bucks came from behind to win an Eastern Conference finals rematch (and possible playoff preview) in Toronto, then handed Oklahoma City the worst loss in Thunder history, 133-86, while playing without All-Star Khris Middleton. — Pelton

This week: @MIA, IND, @LAL, @PHX


2. Los Angeles Lakers
Record: 46-13
Week 19 ranking: 2

There could be a 2020 NBA Finals preview Friday when the Lakers host the Bucks at Staples Center. The Lakers lost the first meeting 111-104 in Milwaukee on Dec. 19. The Bucks and the Lakers have the two best records in the NBA. — Spears

This week: PHI, MIL, @LAC


3. LA Clippers
Record: 41-19
Week 19 ranking: 6

Sunday’s win over the 76ers showed why so many believe the Clippers are still maybe the West’s most complete team.

Kawhi Leonard and Paul George combined for 54 points, while Reggie Jackson, Montrezl Harrell, Lou Williams and the Clippers’ bench provided 69 points. You know the “sky’s the limit” when you’ve been at full strength for only about a fourth of the season, are 41-19 and still have skeptics wondering how good you can be. — Young

This week: @OKC, @HOU, LAL


4. Toronto Raptors
Record: 42-18
Week 19 ranking: 3

Nick Nurse has to be wondering if he’ll ever have his full complement of players healthy. Just as Norman Powell returned to the lineup, the Raptors lost starters Fred VanVleet and Serge Ibaka, who joined Marc Gasol on the sidelines. Toronto has dropped three in a row, including two games without Ibaka and VanVleet. — Pelton

This week: @PHX, @GSW, @SAC


5. Boston Celtics
Record: 41-18
Week 19 ranking: 4

Despite being on the losing end of two overtime games, the month of February should be considered a huge success. Not only did the Celtics go 9-3, they did so without Kemba Walker for eight of those games. Though he shot 9-of-27 in the loss to Houston, Jayson Tatum had a month to remember. The All-Star averaged 30.7 points on 49.4% from the field and 48.1% from 3. — Marks

This week: BKN, @CLE, UTAH, OKC


6. Houston Rockets
Record: 39-20
Week 19 ranking: 7

Former MVP Russell Westbrook has never had an extended stretch so efficient and prolific as the tear he has been on for the past two months. Westbrook has averaged 32.9 points per game on 53.3% shooting so far in 2020, as well as 7.8 rebounds and 7.3 assists during that span. The only other player to average at least 30 points, seven rebounds and seven assists over the past two months: Rockets co-star James Harden. — MacMahon

This week: @NYK, LAC, @CHA, ORL


7. Denver Nuggets
Record: 41-19
Week 19 ranking: 5

The 133-118 win Sunday over the Raptors was all kinds of impressive, and it showcased what can make the Nuggets special: the balance, the frontline talent and the defensive sturdiness. Head coach Michael Malone was upset after Denver’s loss to the Clippers — not unusual: try Googling “Michael Malone calls out Nuggets,” and you’ll get quite a few results — but in this case he went with “soft.” Their response against Toronto was anything but that. — Young

This week: GSW, @CHA, @CLE


8. Oklahoma City Thunder
Record: 37-23
Week 19 ranking: 10

Other than the obvious shame that comes with a 47-point loss, what effect did the Bucks’ obliteration of the Thunder have? Oklahoma City’s average margin of victory went from 3.1 to 2.3. It was just one game, and it doesn’t detract from the Thunder’s 14-4 run in their past 18 games and their 31-12 record since Thanksgiving, the third-best record in that span. Still, that was some kind of beatdown. — Young

This week: LAC, @DET, @NYK, @BOS


9. Miami Heat
Record: 38-22
Week 19 ranking: 8

A bizarre beginning to the week, featuring losses to Cleveland and Minnesota, was capped by two quality wins against the Mavericks and Nets. The Heat have become a little inconsistent in the second half of the season, but they also haven’t had their full roster all that consistently. The integration of Andre Iguodala has been somewhat slow, too. It’s a small sample, but the Heat are getting demolished (-39 per 100 possessions in 32 minutes) with Jimmy Butler and Iguodala on the floor together. — Young

This week: MIL, ORL, @NOP, @WAS


10. Philadelphia 76ers
Record: 37-23
Week 19 ranking: 11

After struggling away from home all season, the 76ers finally proved that they can compete with top teams on the road. Ben Simmons (back) and Joel Embiid (shoulder) both missed Sunday’s 136-130 loss to the Clippers with injury, and the 76ers lost a third starter, Josh Richardson, early in the second quarter due to a nose contusion (Richardson was later diagnosed with a concussion and has entered concussion protocol.) Philadelphia took on the “next man up” approach and got a career-high 39 points from reserve guard Shake Milton. Prior to the game, Milton had cracked 20 points only twice in his NBA career. The extended minutes for Milton without Simmons in the lineup will prove beneficial when the playoffs begin in mid-April. — Marks

This week: @LAL, @SAC, @GSW


11. Dallas Mavericks
Record: 37-24
Week 19 ranking: 12

“This is a picture of what the future of the 5 position will look like,” coach Rick Carlisle told reporters after Kristaps Porzingis’ 38-point performance in Sunday’s win in Minnesota that also featured 5 blocks and 4 assists.

Porzingis has had at least 30 points and 10 rebounds in four of his past 11 games. He had only three 30-10 performances in his career until that stretch. — MacMahon

This week: @CHI, NOP, MIN, IND


12. Utah Jazz
Record: 37-22
Week 19 ranking: 9

Donovan Mitchell has scored at least 30 points in four consecutive games for the first time in his career and has a true shooting percentage of 60.8 during that span. But Mitchell has been a big part of the Jazz’s recent disastrous defense. Utah allowed 125.8 points per 100 possessions with Mitchell on the floor during a 1-4 homestand coming out of the All-Star break. — MacMahon

This week: @CLE, @NYK, @BOS, @DET


13. Indiana Pacers
Record: 36-24
Week 19 ranking: 13

The Pacers began the week with bad injury news, learning Jeremy Lamb had torn his ACL in last Sunday’s blowout loss in Toronto, but ended it with Victor Oladipo‘s two strongest performances since returning to the lineup. His combined 34 points on 12-of-24 shooting helped Indiana go 3-0 last week. — Pelton

This week: @SAS, @MIL, @CHI, @DAL


14. New Orleans Pelicans
Record: 26-34
Week 19 ranking: 16

According to ESPN Stats & Information research, Zion Williamson joined Allen Iverson and Michael Jordan as the only players over the past 35 seasons with three 30-point performances within the first 15 games of their career. Williamson is averaging 24.1 points per game on 59.3% shooting from the floor. Shaquille O’Neal holds the record for the best field goal percentage by a rookie who averaged at least 20 points per game at 56.2%. — MacMahon

This week: MIN, @DAL, MIA, @MIN


15. Memphis Grizzlies
Record: 29-31
Week 19 ranking: 14

Saturday’s 105-88 win over the Lakers ended the Grizzlies’ post All-Star skid. Memphis had lost its previous five games in addition to losing power forwards Jaren Jackson Jr. (knee) and Brandon Clarke (quad) to injuries that will sideline them for weeks. Ja Morant delivered a 27-point, 14-assist masterpiece against the Lakers in an upset the Grizzlies desperately needed. — MacMahon

This week: @ATL, @BKN, @DAL, ATL


16. Orlando Magic
Record: 27-33
Week 19 ranking: 19

Despite falling short of a 4-0 week when Evan Fournier was unable to convert a go-ahead layup in the closing seconds Saturday vs. San Antonio, the Magic still used a comeback win Monday in Brooklyn to move past the Nets and into seventh in the East standings. — Pelton

This week: POR, @MIA, @MIN, @HOU


17. Brooklyn Nets
Record: 26-33
Week 19 ranking: 15

Excluding the 23-point loss to Atlanta on Friday night, the Nets had a chance to win three of their past four games. Instead, they came out winless. In the losses to Orlando, Washington and Miami, Brooklyn had the ball in the final seconds with the opportunity to tie or take the lead. In the final minute of each of those three games, Brooklyn shot a combined 3-of-9 from the field, including 1-of-5 from 3. In the loss to Miami, the Nets turned the ball over down by two and failed to get a shot off. — Marks

This week: @BOS, MEM, SAS, CHI


18. San Antonio Spurs
Record: 25-33
Week 19 ranking: 17

Spurs guards Dejounte Murray and Derrick White are the only two players in the league averaging at least 10 points, three rebounds and three assists in fewer than 25 minutes per game. A pair that seemingly has the potential to be San Antonio’s backcourt of the future — Murray is 23, White 25 — has barely played together this season. They’ve logged only 94 minutes as a duo, but that is trending upward. White and Murray were plus-10 in 45 minutes on the floor together in February. — MacMahon

This week: IND, @CHA, @BKN, @CLE


19. Sacramento Kings
Record: 26-34
Week 19 ranking: 20

Keep an eye on the hot Kings, who are now three games out of the eighth and final playoff spot currently held by Memphis. Sacramento has won seven of its past 10 games. The Kings haven’t been to the playoffs since 2006. — Spears

This week: WAS, PHI, @POR, TOR


20. Portland Trail Blazers
Record: 26-35
Week 19 ranking: 18

The Blazers are 1-5 since Damian Lillard suffered a groin injury, and they may not be able to survive his absence. Though he’s due back soon and the schedule softens significantly (Orlando, Washington, Phoenix, Sacramento and Phoenix are the Blazers’ next five opponents), time is starting to run out. Lillard’s return gives the Blazers a chance again — they’ve been a disaster on defense this season, ranking 27th in defensive rating, ahead of only the Cavaliers, Hawks and Wizards. — Young

This week: @ORL, WAS, @PHX, SAC


21. Washington Wizards
Record: 22-37
Week 19 ranking: 22

The Wizards’ season continues to be a frustrating mix of defensive ineptitude and health attrition, but Bradley Beal’s scoring barrage has been something to behold. The last time he didn’t lead the Wizards in scoring (in a game he played) was Jan. 17. In February, Beal averaged a cool 36.2 points per game. Washington is still — somehow — in the playoff mix, but at the very least, Beal may be the rare non-All-Star who makes an All-NBA team. — Young

This week: @SAC, @POR, ATL, MIA


22. Phoenix Suns
Record: 24-37
Week 19 ranking: 21

The Suns’ disappointing season may have hit the basement Saturday when they lost 115-99 at home to the injury-plagued Warriors, who own the NBA’s worst record. And yes, All-Star Devin Booker and center Deandre Ayton played. Suns forward Mikal Bridges told reporters afterward: “Go home, look yourself in the mirror and ask yourself if you really want to do this.” — Spears

This week: TOR, POR, MIL


23. Atlanta Hawks
Record: 19-43
Week 19 ranking: 25

The Hawks have a chance to win their 20th game of the season at home against Memphis on Monday. The Hawks have won eight of their past 10 home games, including wins over the Clippers, Heat and Mavericks. — Spears

This week: MEM, @WAS, @MEM


24. Charlotte Hornets
Record: 21-39
Week 19 ranking: 23

This week, the young Hornets gave us proof they’ve progressed this season. Back in mid-November, Charlotte lost to Toronto 132-96. The Hornets not only beat the Raptors in Toronto on Friday, but they also held them to 96 points — the second-fewest points Toronto has scored at home this season. That defense is a big reason why Charlotte is 5-3 since Feb. 8. The Hornets rank No. 6 in defensive rating in that span. — Marks

This week: SAS, DEN, HOU


25. Chicago Bulls
Record: 20-40
Week 19 ranking: 24

Chicago is in the midst of the worst 10-game stretch in the league, with only one win during that span. The last time the Bulls won a road game was on Jan. 25 in Washington, and they haven’t won consecutive games since Jan. 25 and 27. — Spears

This week: DAL, @MIN, IND, @BKN


26. Detroit Pistons
Record: 20-42
Week 19 ranking: 27

Friday’s 113-111 win in Phoenix snapped the Pistons’ seven-game losing streak that bookended the All-Star break. Despite piling up losses, Detroit has remained competitive in part because of contributions from Christian Wood, who has averaged better than 20 points and 10 rebounds since the trade deadline. — Pelton

This week: OKC, UTAH, @NYK


27. New York Knicks
Record: 18-42
Week 19 ranking: 26

The 125-115 win over Chicago on Saturday gave the Knicks a glimpse of what the future could hold. Mitchell Robinson’s 23 points and 10 rebounds earned him MVP chants from the home crowd, while RJ Barrett and Kevin Knox II contributed 19 and 12 points, respectively. Now the question is if those three players can continue Saturday’s performance in upcoming home games against Houston, Utah and Oklahoma City. — Marks

This week: HOU, UTAH, OKC, DET


28. Minnesota Timberwolves
Record: 17-42
Week 19 ranking: 28

When the Timberwolves rallied from a 12-point deficit in the final four minutes Wednesday in Miami, it was their first road win since Jan. 5. Those good vibes were enough to overcome a $25,000 fine Minnesota incurred for resting a healthy D’Angelo Russell on Feb. 23 in Denver. — Pelton

This week: @NOP, CHI, ORL, NOP


29. Cleveland Cavaliers
Record: 17-43
Week 19 ranking: 29

The tough task for new coach J.B. Bickerstaff moving forward will be managing the minutes of Andre Drummond and Tristan Thompson at the center position. Prior to his 27-point performance against the Pacers on Saturday that included 13 rebounds, 4 assists and 4 steals, Drummond missed two games because of a sore left calf and did not play the fourth quarter of the three games prior to his injury. Thompson’s fourth quarter minutes resulted in wins in two of those three games, including an overtime win over the Heat. It should be noted that the 35 minutes that Drummond played against the Pacers came with Thompson inactive due to an illness. — Marks

This week: UTAH, BOS, DEN, SAS


30. Golden State Warriors
Record: 13-48
Week 19 ranking: 30

Stephen Curry is slated to practice with G-League Santa Cruz on Monday. The two-time NBA MVP has missed all but four games this season after suffering a broken left hand in October. The Warriors expect Curry to return at some point in March. — Spears

This week: @DEN, TOR, PHI