NBA Power Rankings: Surging Spurs and a change at the top

LaMarcus Aldridge can’t be stopped as he scores a career-high 56 points in San Antonio’s thrilling double-OT win. (1:36)

The Toronto Raptors are back atop the East after a double-overtime win over the Washington Wizards. In the midst of a top-three shakeup, Kawhi Leonard & Co. have regained the No. 1 spot in our weekly Power Rankings.

Throughout the regular season, our panel (ESPN’s Kevin Arnovitz, Tim MacMahon and Andre’ Snellings, The Undefeated’s Marc J. Spears and FiveThirtyEight’s Chris Herring) is ranking all 30 teams from top to bottom, taking stock of which teams are playing the best basketball now and which are looking most like title contenders.

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1. Toronto Raptors
Record: 33-12

The Raps are back atop the heap in the East, after a stretch that coincided with the return of Kyle Lowry. Although his numbers haven’t been individually impressive — since Thanksgiving, really — Lowry continues to be, as he has always been, an advanced stats darling. The Raptors are 14 points better per 100 possessions when he’s on the hardwood. Only Danny Green — who leads all NBA starters — has been better in that regard. — Arnovitz

2. Golden State Warriors
Record: 29-14

DeMarcus Cousins said he could be emotional when he makes his Warriors debut on Friday against the LA Clippers. It has been nearly a year since the four-time All-Star tore his Achilles tendon as a member of the Pelicans. With center Damian Jones out for the season due to injury, the undersized Warriors are in desperate need of some size in the post. — Spears

3. Milwaukee Bucks
Record: 30-12

Milwaukee had a pair of games this past week that saw a couple of less-used defensive strategies employed. Utah center Rudy Gobert took the task of guarding Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Milwaukee won despite its MVP candidate being held to 30 points on 30 shot attempts. Then the Bucks repeatedly forced Houston’s James Harden to his right, giving him free entry into the paint. It was risky, but Milwaukee walked away victorious in that game, too. — Herring

4. Denver Nuggets
Record: 29-13

The Nuggets took a surprising nine-point loss to Phoenix on Saturday, but they’ve won eight of their past 10 overall to remain on top of the Western Conference. Will Barton returned Saturday from the groin injury that had kept him out for all but the first two games of the season, giving the team another major piece of the puzzle back for the second-half run. — Snellings

5. Indiana Pacers
Record: 28-14

Indiana, still vying to finish with one of the East’s top playoff seeds, suffered a pair of blowout losses to Toronto and Boston this week. The Pacers are still in third place, but you have to go back a month to find their most recent win over a team that’s currently .500 or better. — Herring

6. Oklahoma City Thunder
Record: 26-16

The Thunder and Spurs turned in a 1980s-style, high-scoring home-and-home last week, splitting the games, with the Thunder outscoring the Spurs 269-266 in two classics. There is some concern that the vaunted Thunder defense gave up 154 points to the Spurs in one game, even in double-overtime, but their effort to bounce back and win the sequel by 10 points over the hot Spurs helped settle things back down. — Snellings

7. Houston Rockets
Record: 24-18

James Harden’s 1-of-17 3-point shooting night in Sunday’s loss to the Magic was historically horrible, but his volume long-range shooting has been an essential element of the Rockets’ recent success. In fact, that snapped a streak of 12 consecutive games in which Harden had made at least five 3s. Nobody else in NBA history has had such a streak longer than seven games. Harden has launched 15.1 3s per game (and is hitting 38.4 percent) during his run of 16 straight 30-plus-point performances. The Rockets are 12-4 in that span. — MacMahon

8. San Antonio Spurs
Record: 25-19

David Robinson and George Gervin are the only Spurs to score more points in a game than LaMarcus Aldridge‘s career-high 56 in the thrilling, double-OT win over the Thunder. Aldridge is making a strong case for his seventh All-Star appearance, averaging 23.6 points on 58.3 percent shooting during the Spurs’ current 14-5 surge. — MacMahon

9. Boston Celtics
Record: 25-17

The Celtics showed some weaknesses to end the week, losing two straight games to Miami and Orlando to end a four-game win streak. Perhaps more disturbing than the losses, the Celtics displayed visible frustration in both games, with Jaylen Brown and Marcus Morris scuffling in Miami, followed by Kyrie Irving‘s angry reaction to not getting the last shot in Orlando. –– Snellings

10. Philadelphia 76ers
Record: 28-16

Cheer up, Sixers. No Eastern Conference (healthy) starting lineup has a better net rating than the Philly starting unit — not Toronto’s, Milwaukee’s, Indiana’s or any of the Celtics’ models. After Tuesday’s home date with Minnesota, the Sixers will play 11 of their next 12 against teams currently sitting in the playoff brackets — with an away game against a feisty Sacramento team as the only respite, if you can call it that. — Arnovitz

11. Portland Trail Blazers
Record: 26-18

Luckily for the Blazers, all their games aren’t in the Western Conference. Portland is a surprising 14-15 in the West, 2-6 in the Northwest division and 12-3 against the Eastern Conference. If only geography could move Portland to the opposite coast. — Spears

12. Utah Jazz
Record: 23-21

Donovan Mitchell‘s sophomore season hasn’t been smooth sailing, but the past few games have been the most productive stretch of his career. Mitchell averaged 33.3 points and 7.3 assists in the Jazz’s three wins, shooting 53.6 percent from the floor. He has been phenomenal as a fill-in point guard with Ricky Rubio, Dante Exum and Raul Neto all out due to injuries. The Jazz need Mitchell to be a star to pull off a second-half run like they did last season. — MacMahon

13. LA Clippers
Record: 24-18

The Clips’ defense might not be as flabby as their No. 22 ranking suggests. They make opponents work for shots, ranking 11th in defensive shot quality. Blake Griffin‘s 44-point explosion in his revenge game is an apt illustration. He torched the Clippers with an effective field goal percentage of 67.4 yet produced that on a diet of shots that yield him on average an effective field goal percentage of only 49.5. Another vital factor: The Clippers are producing fewer turnovers than any other team in the league the past two seasons. –– Arnovitz

14. Miami Heat
Record: 21-20

The Heat have won two straight games and 10 of their past 14 to move into the top spot in the Southeast Division with the sixth-best record in the Eastern Conference. The Heat are entering a tough portion of their schedule, as they hit the road for their next four and six of their next seven games beginning Tuesday in Milwaukee. — Snellings

15. Los Angeles Lakers
Record: 23-21

Even without LeBron James, you’d like to believe the Lakers could have mustered more than 95 points in 99 possessions against a Cleveland team on target to post the worst defensive rating in NBA history. With the Jazz and Spurs finding their footing and the Trail Blazers and Clippers demonstrating a reasonably high floor, there’s a dwindling margin for error for the Lakers while they sweat LeBron’s return. — Arnovitz

16. Sacramento Kings
Record: 22-21

Kings rookie forward Marvin Bagley III is back in action after missing 11 games with a left knee bruise. The No. 2 pick in the 2018 NBA draft averaged 12.7 points and 6.1 rebounds in 23.1 minutes this season in 26 games off the bench before the injury. Since returning, the 19-year-old has averaged 9.6 points and 7.3 rebounds in 21 minutes per game in three games. — Spears

17. Brooklyn Nets
Record: 21-23

Despite their collection of journeymen, reclamation projects and mid-level prospects — none of whom demands a double-team on his best day — and the absence of their most productive player, the Nets sport a league-average offense and rank 11th in shot quality. That’s one reason they’ve placed themselves squarely in the Eastern Conference playoff race, rising as high as the No. 6 seed this past week. — Arnovitz

18. Dallas Mavericks
Record: 20-23

J.J. Barea‘s rupturing his right Achilles tendon was a devastating injury for Dallas. “It’s gut-wrenching for all of us,” coach Rick Carlisle said of Barea, a key role player on the 2011 title team who has put up the best statistics of his career the past two seasons. “I really do believe that he’ll be back [next season], but it’s hard to put into a few words what J.J. Barea meant to everybody here. He’s one of the really, truly most resourceful players in Mavericks history, a great winner and a great leader.” These Mavs haven’t figured out how to win without Barea, losing all five games he has missed. — MacMahon

19. Minnesota Timberwolves
Record: 21-22

Yes, Luol Deng is still in the league. Deng played for just the fifth time this season, scoring five points on 2-of-2 shooting and one made 3-pointer in five minutes against New Orleans on Jan. 12. The 15-year veteran has played 50 minutes in the past season, so it will be interesting to see if new interim coach Ryan Saunders gives Deng a chance. — Spears

20. New Orleans Pelicans
Record: 20-23

“The bottom line is if we want to be a playoff team, we have to change a lot of things that we’re doing,” coach Alvin Gentry told reporters Saturday after the Pelicans fell to 20-23 with a loss in Minnesota. One good change: Nikola Mirotic returned after missing 12 games due to a sprained ankle. The Pelicans are plus-9.1 points per 100 possessions when Mirotic and Anthony Davis play together. — MacMahon

21. Charlotte Hornets
Record: 19-23

There might be no one more eager to get to Charlotte right now than the Charlotte Hornets themselves. The Hornets are 1-4 on their road trip that ends Monday at San Antonio and are 5-15 away from Charlotte this season. Even with Kemba Walker‘s hot scoring, Charlotte has dropped three straight games and five of its past six. — Spears

22. Orlando Magic
Record: 19-24

The Magic lost four straight tough road games before pulling off two surprising victories over Boston and Houston. The Magic lost five of their previous eight games, but those back-to-back wins over the weekend left Orlando only a half-game out of the eighth playoff spot due to the recent struggles at the bottom of the Eastern Conference. — Snellings

23. Memphis Grizzlies
Record: 19-23

The most interesting storylines to follow the rest of the season in Memphis — unless the front office decides to shop Marc Gasol and/or Mike Conley — are last year’s and this year’s first-round picks. Monitoring the development of Jaren Jackson Jr. can give fans some hope for the future, and Memphis has top-eight protection this summer on the pick it owes the Celtics. The Grizzlies (.452) are tied for the ninth-worst win percentage after losing 14 of 18. — MacMahon

24. Detroit Pistons
Record: 18-23

Whether it was born out of motivation to play his old team or not, Blake Griffin’s 44-point performance against the Clippers on Saturday couldn’t have come at a better time for Detroit. The slumping Pistons had lost 16 of 20 before they held on to knock off LA. — Herring

25. Washington Wizards
Record: 18-26

Yes, the caveats are still necessary, especially since it’s clear he wasn’t totally healthy for much of the season. But the team’s vastly improved play without John Wall in the lineup — and Bradley Beal‘s incredible play as of late (43 points, 15 assists and 10 rebounds on Sunday) — makes it fair to question whether this version of the team is so much less predictable than before. The conversation is uncomfortable, but it isn’t likely to subside anytime soon. — Herring

26. Atlanta Hawks
Record: 13-30

The big road win at Philadelphia served as the unofficial Kevin Huerter coming-out party. Trae Young‘s backcourt running mate of the future scored 29 points and has finished in double figures in each of his past seven games. An encouraging sign for Atlanta: Among the 80 guards who have attempted 300 field goals this season, Huerter ranks 12th in shot quality (Young is a respectable 31st). — Arnovitz

27. Phoenix Suns
Record: 11-33

Newcomer forward Kelly Oubre Jr., is starting to look comfortable with the Suns. He has scored at least 25 points and nailed at least three 3-pointers in two of the past three games. Oubre had his first double-double of the season with 26 points and 11 rebounds against Denver on Saturday. He has also made seven of his past 17 3-pointers. — Spears

28. New York Knicks
Record: 10-33

The losing continues in New York, as the Knicks have lost four straight and 17 of their past 19 contests. On the bright side, their youth movement continues with rookie Kevin Knox (31 points) and sophomore Luke Kornet (23 points) both notching career highs on Sunday in a competitive loss to the 76ers. — Snellings

29. Chicago Bulls
Record: 10-33

Jim Boylen said after his team’s embarrassing loss at Golden State that Chicago wants to analyze lineups with Lauri Markkanen at small forward. It’s a strategy that might clutter spacing, similar to one the Knicks have talked about employing with Kristaps Porzingis once the big man is healthy. But with the season fading fast, maybe it’s worth a try for Chicago. — Herring

30. Cleveland Cavaliers
Record: 9-35

Matthew Dellavedova has been far more effective in Cleveland (48.9 percent from the field and 45 percent on 3s) than he was in Milwaukee (31.6 percent and 36.4 percent, respectively), and he just logged a season-best 17-point showing against the Pelicans. Still, Cleveland lost an NBA-season-high 12 in a row before beating the LeBron-less Lakers on Sunday in Los Angeles. — Herring