If the NBA season ended today, Madison Square Garden would host the first game of a first-round playoff series. The New York Knicks have won nine consecutive games for the first time since the 2012-13 season, making them the second-ranked team in the Eastern Conference this year.
While Julius Randle and his teammates probably won’t climb that high in the standings, they are in position to grab a top-four or top-five spot and not make the league’s new playoff tournament.
Speaking of play-ins: The Washington Wizards, once the deadliest team in the East, have slipped to tenth place after eight wins in a row. Can they hold out and send the dangerous Russell Westbrook-Bradley Beal duo to the Finals?
There are only three weeks left in the 2020-21 regular season. Here’s how our panel sees the 30 NBA teams right now.
Message: During the regular season, our panel (Tim Bontemps, Nick Friedell, Andrew Lopez, Tim McMahon, Dave McMahon, Royce Young and ESPN’s Om Youngmisuk) reviews the 30 teams from top to bottom, assessing which ones are currently playing their best basketball and which ones are most likely to contend for the title.
Previous reviews: 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, Week 15, Week 16, Week 17, Week 18.
1. Utah Jazz
2020-21 Record: 44-16
Previous Rating: 2
A home loss against the Timberwolves when the Jazz still had a chance to make the playoffs? Utah’s game was led in the first half by 17 ? It’s a real head-scratcher, even with Donovan Mitchell out with a sprained ankle. Joe Ingles (1-of-9 from the field) had his worst shooting night of the season, but the Jazz are still 14-4 when he’s used as a starter in place of Mike Conley or Mitchell. — McMahon.
This week: @MIN, @SAC, @PHO, TOR
2. Brooklyn Nets
2020-21 Record: 41-20
Previous ranking: 4
With 11 games left in the regular season, the Nets are finally starting to get their act together. Kevin Durant came back as Kevin Durant and scored 33 points in 28 minutes Sunday against the Suns. While they wait for James Harden, who had a hamstring problem and is back in the starting lineup according to coach Steve Nash, they have their eyes on acquiring a solid player for the postseason. But it’s a sign of support: The Nets went 20-6 against West after its win over Phoenix. — Young
This week: @TOR, @IND, POR, @MIL
3. Phoenix Suns
2020-21 Record: 42-18Previous ranking: 3
Sunday’s loss was the first time in three months the Suns have lost back-to-back to the Nets. In fact, they have only lost three games in a row this season, 22-27. In January – two of which were in overtime in Denver, just a week after they were moved because of COWID-19. Phoenix is two games behind the Jazz for first place in the Western Conference, but must hold off the Clippers, who are also two games out of first place. — Lopez.
This week: @NYK, LAC, UTA, @OKC
4. LA Clippers
2020-21 Record: 43-19Previous ranking: 5
The Clippers are on the rise despite the absence of some starters. Even without Kawhi Leonard (foot), Patrick Beverley (arm), Serge Ibaka (back) and other key players injured or on rest on certain nights, the Clippers have won four games in a row and 17 of their last 20. Paul George is back on the revenge trail, scoring 30 or more points in seven of his last eight games, and the supporting cast has helped the Clippers come from behind to win their last three games. The biggest challenge for head coach Ty Lue, however, will be getting his team on the same page once they are at full strength. The Clippers have had Leonard, George, Beverly and Ibaka since the 11th. Mars is no longer invited to play together. -Youngomisuk
This week: @NOP, @PHO, DEN
5. Philadelphia 76ers
2020-21 Record: 39-21
Previous assessment : 1
Just when Philadelphia seemed assured of first place in the East, a disastrous week of four consecutive defeats, including two in Milwaukee against Eastern challengers, put the Sixers behind the Nets in the race for first place. Philly’s schedule is getting easier and the Sixers have a backup game, but this week the tension in the playoff race has been building. — Bontemps
This week: OKC, ATL, @SAS
6. Milwaukee Bucks
2020-21 Record: 37-23Previous ranking: 6
Although the defeats against the Suns and the Hawks were disappointing on both sides, the Bucks won their two most important games this week. They beat Philadelphia twice at home to win back-to-back seasons with the Sixers. Milwaukee gets a chance to do the same against Brooklyn in early May. If the Bucs can do that, they have a chance to take over first place in the East. — Bontemps
This week: @CHA, @HOU, @CHI, BRK
7. Denver Nuggets
2020-21 Record: 39-21
Previous assessment : 8
Denver’s season took another hit when Will Barton suffered what coach Michael Malone called a pretty serious hamstring injury. This comes after the team lost Jamal Murray for the season with a torn ACL. Denver still won five of six games, with Nikola Jokic continuing his MVP campaign and Michael Porter Jr. stepping up his game. PJ Dozier is expected to take an increasingly active role and Barton will certainly be out of the picture. -Youngomisuk
This week: MEM, NOP, TOR, @LAC
8. Los Angeles Lakers
2020-21 Record: 35-25Previous ranking: 7
The return of Anthony Davis could not stop the Lakers’ bloodshed, as Los Angeles was 0-2 in its first two games back from injury against the Mavericks. To make matters worse, this loss came against a Dallas team that is right behind the Lakers in the standings. Los Angeles is now just a game and a half ahead of the Mavs for fifth place in the Western Conference standings. — McManaman.
This week: @ORL, @WAS, BAG, TOR
9. Dallas Mavericks
2020-21 Record: 33-26
Previous Review: 11
It was particularly pleasing to see Dwight Powell play such a big part in setting Luka Doncic on fire in the second half of Saturday’s win. Powell showed signs of the explosiveness and closing skills he possessed before tearing his Achilles tendon in January 2020. He scored 21 of his 25 points in the second half, with a season-high 9 of 10 from the field, including seven dunks or layups off Doncic’s coverage. head coach Rick Carlisle said: Today I see no difference from Dwight Powell before his injury, and that’s a testament to the incredible amount of work that went into it. — McMahon.
This week: @SAC, @GSW, @DET, WHAT, BAG
10. New York Knicks
2020-21 Record: 34-27Previous ranking: 14
The Knicks keep winning and are on their way to their best season since 2012-13 (54 wins), the last time they made the playoffs. Julius Randle confirmed his right to be selected to the All-NBA team and Tom Thibodeau did the same by winning his second Coach of the Year award. Randle has been impressive in his average in just about every category, while Thibodeau has led this team to much greater heights than anyone could have imagined. — Bontemps
This week: PHO, CHI, @HOU
11. Atlanta Hawks
2020-21 Record: 34-27Previous ranking: 12
With Sunday’s win, the Hawks improved their record to 20-7 since Nate McMillan took over as interim coach. That’s the best record in the East over that period, and only the Nuggets have a better overall record. Atlanta improved for the first time this season, winning 11 of its last 14 games to secure home-field advantage in the Eastern Conference playoffs. — Lopez.
This week: @DET, @PHI, CHI
12. Portland Trail Blazers
2020-21 Record: 32-28
Previous ranking: 10
Watch all the action from the 2020-21 season on ESPN, ABC and the ESPN app.
Wednesday, April 28,
– Lakers v Wizards, 7:30 p.m. on ESPN
– Clippers v Sun, 10 p.m. on ESPN
Still in the East
The Blazers have lost five in a row and eight of 10. They slipped to a playoff position and are now two games behind the Mavericks in the loss column. It’s hard to diagnose the Blazers, but Damian Lillard summed it up this way after Sunday’s loss against Memphis: I’m not good enough. I’m on the field because it gives our team the best chance to win and I need to be better. — Young
This week: @IND, @MEM, @BRK, @BOS
13. Miami Heat
2020-21 Record: 32-29
Previous ranking: 13
The Heat won three of four games last week and had Jimmy Butler return from an ankle injury in Wednesday’s win over the Spurs. Butler is averaging 19.0 points, 8.7 assists and 4.7 rebounds over the last three games. Duncan Robinson added 23 points in Saturday’s win over the Bulls and is averaging 14.4 points per game this month. — Friedell.
This week: CHI, SAS, @CLE, @CHA
14. Boston Celtics
2020-21 Record: 32-29
Previous ranking: 9
A week ago, the Celtics seemed to have turned the tide: They’ve won six in a row and eight of nine. Boston has now lost three of its last four games and is in danger of falling back into the playoff picture. While it’s not his fault because he missed nearly three weeks after testing positive for COVID-19, newly acquired Evan Fournier failed to take a shot in three of the six games he played against Boston. — Bontemps
This week: OK, CHA, SAS, POR
15. Memphis Grizzlies
2020-21 Record: 31-28
Previous ranking: 15
The first two appearances of the 21-year-old cornerstone of the franchise, Jaren Jackson Jr, who was sent to the bench last season due to meniscus surgery, were very encouraging. Jackson scored 38 points on 14-of-25 shooting in 43 minutes, grabbed 11 rebounds and blocked five shots. For now, he comes off the bench because Memphis is cautious about Jackson’s workload and left him on the bench for Sunday’s game against Portland as a precaution. — McMahon.
This week: @DEN, POR, ORL, @ORL.
16. Golden State Warriors
2020-21 Record: 31-30
Previous Review : 17
Like Stephen Curry and the Warriors. The two-time MVP scored 37 times in Sunday night’s win over the Kings, setting a new record for a calendar month with 85 three-pointers in April. Curry has had some great breaks in his career, but this one is probably the best he’s ever had. He is averaging 38.2 points per game this month. — Friedell.
This week: VALLEY, @MIN, @HOU
17. Charlotte Hornets
2020-21 Record: 30-30Previous: 16
Charlotte posted a nice win against the Celtics on Sunday, with all five starters scoring in double figures. Terry Rozier continues to get the ball from LaMelo and Gordon Hayward. Rozier has scored at least 20 points in six of his last seven games. Ball could return this week after more than a month’s absence with a wrist injury, the Hornets are poised to make a playoff run. — Friedell.
This week: MILF, @BOS, DET, MIA
18. San Antonio Spurs
2020-21 Record: 30-29
Previous Assessment : 18
The Spurs have won four of their last five games and moved up to ninth in the Western Conference. They were planted because of Derrick White’s scoring ability in that section. Last week, White finished two games with at least 25 points, giving him a total of six points in 35 games this season. In his first 152 games, White has played in only three games in which he scored 25 or more points. — Lopez.
This week: @WAS, @MIA, @BOS, PHI
19. Indiana Pacers
2020-21 Record: 29-31
Previous Classification : 19
It’s been a tumultuous week for Osha Brissett. After being offered a multi-year contract with the Pacers, Brissett responded with a 23-point, 12-rebound performance against Oklahoma City last Wednesday. He had another double-double (11 points, 11 rebounds) on Saturday against the Pistons and followed that up with 13 points and 8 rebounds on Sunday against the Magic. The Pacers have won all three of their games. — Lopez.
This week: POR, BRK, @OKC
20. Washington Wizards
2020-21 Record: 27-33
Previous ranking: 22
The Wizards are so close now that they’re doing something they haven’t done in Washington since Michael Jordan wore a Wizards jersey. Washington has won eight consecutive games and can set a franchise record of nine consecutive games, which was reached four times, the last time in December 2001 when Jordan was still a Wizard. Bradley Beal and Russell Westbrook are on the verge of breaking through, but Daniel Gafford is an incredible acquisition. Since the center change, the Wizards are 10-1 when Gafford plays. With 12 games left in the season, the Wizards are currently in 10th place and in the play-in tournament. -Youngomisuk
This week: SAS, LAL, @CLE, @DAL
21. Toronto Raptors
2020-21 Record: 25-35
Previous Classification : 21
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Toronto won four games in a row before losing to New York on Saturday and falling back into the race for 10th place in the East. The problem is that Washington won 9 of 10 games and passed Toronto and Chicago to finish in last place. The next six games will likely decide Toronto’s playoff chances, as a home game in Tampa, Florida against Cleveland is followed by a home game against the Eastern Conference network. A brutal trip to the West Coast followed with games in Denver, Utah and against both Los Angeles teams. — Bontemps
This week: CLE, BRK, @DEN, @UTA
22. New Orleans Pelicans
2020-21 Record: 26-34
Previous assessment : 20
As they try to get into the tournament, the Pelicans squander advantage after advantage. Saturday’s game against the Spurs was another example. The Pelicans led by five points with just under four minutes left in the game and lost. ESPN Stats & Information, пораэто было шестое поражение в лигом сезоне, когда в последних пяти минутах игрыни о лидировалика минимуму пятиочковым отрывом. There’s no reason not to do it (16 years later). 18 years later, there’s no reason not to. — Лопес
There is no more room for children: LAKE, @DEN, @OKC, @MIN
23. Chicago Bulls
2020-21 Record: 25-35
Previous Classification : 23
The Bulls showed signs of life again this week by winning twice without Zach LaVine, who remains disabled due to COVID-19 protocols. LaVine’s return can’t come soon enough for a Bulls team that is currently two losses behind the Washington Wizards for the final playoff spot and has a schedule full of playoff teams. The good news is that new big man Nikola Vucevic continues to be a model of consistency, as evidenced by his 44 points and 30 rebounds in the last two games. — Friedell.
This week: @MIA, @NYK, MIL, @ATL
24. Sacramento Kings
2020-21 Record: 24-36
Previous Classification : 24
That’s it: Sacramento got 24 points and eight assists from rookie Tyrese Haliburton against Golden State on Sunday. The bad: The Kings still lost to the Warriors by four points. Ugly: Haliburton only got time to launch this production because De’Aaron Fox was absent due to NBA health and safety protocols. — McManaman.
This week: VALLEY, UTA, @LAL
25. Cleveland Cavaliers
2020-21 Record: 21-39
Previous ranking: 25
Whenever Darius Garland shines with high-level statistics, as he did this week against the Wizards – 28 points and 9 assists – he seems to be the backbone of a small backcourt the Cavs have assembled. But when you consider that those numbers gave the Wizards a nine-point loss, along with six turnovers, the jury is still out. — McManaman.
This week: @GATE, ORL, WHAT, MIA
26. Oklahoma City Thunder
2020-21 Record: 20-40
Previous Classification : 26
The Thunder’s losses stand at 13 games, but even with a continued lack of wins, the players and coaches remain adamant about the team’s attitude. Honestly, it’s a great atmosphere, said guard Ty Jerome. I mean, we have a very competitive group, like everyone at this level, so you know we don’t like to lose. But the atmosphere is good. The longest losing streak in Thunder history (since the franchise moved from Seattle to Oklahoma City in the 2008-09 season) is 14. With the next two games against the Sixers and Celtics, there’s a chance there will be a new flavor. — Young
This week: @PHI, @BOS, NOP, IND, PHO
27. Detroit Pistons
2020-21 Record: 18-43
Previous ranking: 27
As the Detroit Tanks approach the bottom of the standings, management has an interesting evaluation case in Josh Jackson. The former lottery player averaged 17 points, 3.9 rebounds and 2.5 assists on a shooting percentage of 39.3 percent. April, but the Pistons are only 5-9 in the long run. — McManaman.
This week: ATL, DAL, @CHA
28. Minnesota Timber Wolves
2020-21 Record: 17-44
Previous ranking: 29
It may seem shocking that the Wolves won on the road against the Jazz, but since the return of quarterback D’Angelo Russell, Minnesota has a quiet 5-6 record and has played competitively in nearly every game. By playing with a super-six, Russell maximizes his role and gives rookie Anthony Edwards room to grow as a starter. — Young
This week: UTAH, @HOU, GSW, NOP
29. Orlando Magic
2020-21 Record: 18-42
Previous ranking: 28
Not only are the Magic in the midst of a five-game losing streak, but they are also dealing with the departure of coach Steve Clifford after testing positive for KOVID-19, as Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reports. Rookie Cole Anthony put up his best numbers as a pro this month, averaging 13.4 points, 5.6 assists and 4.6 rebounds per game over 10. April. — Friedell.
This week: LAL, @CLE, @MEM, MEM
30. Houston Rockets
2020-21 Record: 15-46
Previous ranking: 30
Houston has the worst record in the NBA (15-46) and remains in second place with the toughest schedule (.576 winning percentage of opponents). The Rockets have won just four of their last 40 games. The Rockets are almost certain to finish in the top three with the best lottery odds, giving them a 52.1% chance of finishing in the top four. This gives the Thunder the right to trade one of their first round picks to Houston. — McMahon.
This week: MIN, MILF, GSV, NYUK
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