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NBA

NBA Power Rankings: Toronto Raptors, Houston Rockets move up, LA Clippers fall

After dedicating last week's power rankings to asking the biggest question ahead of each NBA team in the second half of the season, we're back to our regularly scheduled programming here.

The late-week battle between the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics shuffled things around, the Toronto Raptors and Houston Rockets are on the rise, while the LA Clippers were penalized for a bad loss. Also, a new team re-enters the top-10 after falling out a few weeks back.

Where did your favourite team end up in this week's power rankings?

10. Oklahoma City Thunder

Last week's ranking: 12th

Record: 35-22

Last week: 2-0 (win vs. DEN, win vs. SAS)

This week: at CHI, vs. SAC, at MIL

The Thunder continue to overperform this season, picking up a quick pair of quality wins to kick off the second half.

Veteran point guard Chris Paul turned back the clocks yet again in the team's win over the Nuggets, going for 29 points and a handful of clutch shots in the fourth quarter, as we've seen him do so often this season.

Paul leads the NBA in clutch scoring, shooting a blistering 54.5% from the field when the game is on the line - a vital stat as the floor general for a team that's played and won more close games than any one else in the league this season.

He followed that performance with a near-triple-double of 12 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds in OKC's win over the Spurs, with his backcourt mate Shai Gilgeous-Alexander taking the reigns on that contest. SGA went for a team-high 22 points to go with 13 rebounds to fend off a San Antonio team that's playing for its playoff hopes every time they take the floor.

The Thunder are going to be a tough out come playoff time, and only four games separate them and the two-seed in the West - something you never would have expected to be able to say about this team at the start of the season, especially post-All-Star break.

9. Utah Jazz

Last week's ranking: 7th

Record: 36-20

Last week: 0-2 (loss vs. SAS, loss vs. HOU)

This week: vs. PHX, vs. BOS, vs. WAS

The Jazz suffered back-to-back losses this week, getting out to an 0-2 start following the All-Star break.

They had won four-consecutive games heading into All-Star Weekend, but that was in response to a five-game losing streak prior to that. It's been an up-and-down ride for Utah since winning 10-straight games the middle of December through to the middle of January, but they still remain in fighting distance for the No. 2 seed in the West, just 2.5 games back from the Nuggets.

The main difference for the Jazz has been their defence, or lack thereof. For a team that has a defensive rating of 107.9 on the season - good for top-10 in the NBA - they've allowed 115.0 points per 100 possessions over their last 10 games.

Anchored by reigning two-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert, defence has been the staple of these Utah teams over the past seasons. They're always at their best when they come up with stops, as opposed to relying on their offence to lead them to victory. Donovan Mitchell, Bojan Bogdanovic and their new bench scorer Jordan Clarkson have still been producing offensively, but the Jazz won't consistently pull off wins until they get their defence back in order.

8. Miami Heat

Last week's ranking: 9th

Record: 36-20

Last week: 1-1 (loss at ATL, win vs. CLE)

This week: at CLE, vs. MIN, vs. DAL, vs. BKN

The Heat started their post-All-Star break stretch off with a bad loss to the Hawks at the hands of a 50-point game from Trae Young but bounced back with a win over the Cavaliers.

Without Jimmy Butler in the lineup in a win, Miami displayed part of what makes them such a threatening team come playoff time. They had seven different players score in double figures, showcasing how deep this team is and how they have multiple guys that can step up if someone like Butler has an off night.

In their loss to Atlanta, we once again witnessed the development of Bam Adebayo this season, dominating the game on both ends of the floor. Adebayo had a huge double-double of 28 points and 19 rebounds, nearly recording a triple-double with seven assists to go with three steals and a block.

As one of the favourites for this season's Most Improved Player, it'll be fun to watch Bam continute to grow down the home stretch of the Heat's season leading into the playoffs.

7. Denver Nuggets

Last week's ranking: 6th

Record: 39-18

Last week: 1-1 (loss at OKC, win vs. MIN)

This week: vs. DET, at LAC, vs. TOR

The Nuggets started off their second half of the season with a loss to the Thunder but responded well with a win over the Timberwolves.

Nikola Jokic was terrific in both games, as you would expect, though his better performance came in a loss. The Joker put up 32 points on 12-for-15 shooting from the field to go with seven rebounds and five assists against the Thunder, but Chris Paul was too much for the Nuggets to handle.

In their win over the Timberwolves, Jokic was equally as efficient scoring 24 points shooting 11-for-14 from the field with seven rebounds, six assists, two blocks and two steals.

After an uncharacteristically slow start to the season, the All-Star centre has averaged 24.7 points, 10.6 rebounds and 7.1 assists per game shooting 55.0% from the field and 36.7% from 3 since the New Year.

As a result, the Nuggets have built a solid 1.5-game lead over the Clippers for second place in the West, with a big matchup between the two powerhouses on the horizon this week.

6. LA Clippers

Last week's ranking: 5th

Record: 37-19

Last week: 0-1 (loss vs. SAC)

This week: vs. MEM, at PHX, vs. DEN, vs. PHI

It seems like its been an ongoing question all season of "when will the Clippers flip the switch?"

After acquiring Marcus Morris at the trade deadline and signing Reggie Jackson after he completed his buyout with the Pistons, LA's roster is set in stone for their potential championship run. While they still own one of the best records in the NBA, this team still hasn't appeared to completely click just yet.

In their first game with their new roster - minus an injured Paul George - they didn't make any progress on that front falling to the Kings on their home floor. A less than ideal loss for a team that wanted to turn things around following the All-Star break.

While Kawhi Leonard is still playing at a level that not many NBA players are capable of reaching, the team around him is struggling to replicate that energy. Leonard is averaging 27.3 points, 7.5 rebounds and 5.3 assists - all career-highs - but without his wingman George consistently in the lineup, the Clippers haven't been able to reach their full potential.

This team has 26 games remaining to pull things together before they look to make a push for the NBA Finals.

5. Houston Rockets

Last week's ranking: 8th

Record: 36-20

Last week: 2-0 (win at GSW, win at UTA)

This week: vs. NYK, vs. MEM, at BOS

Small-ball is working.

If not for a miraculous buzzer-beater by Bojan Bogdanovic in their game against the Jazz, the Rockets would be 5-0 with their small-ball strategy when Russell Westbrook is in the lineup. On the other hand, 4-1 still isn't all that bad.

On the season, Houston allows 46.8 points in the paint on average. Since switching to small-ball, that number has ironically gone down to just 40.0 points in the paint per game. Their rebounding average has gone down, but that's to be expected when the tallest player that steps on the floor stands in at 6-foot-7. One way or another, they're making this strategy work so far, as evidence of a massive road win over the Jazz to cap off the week.

Westbrook has been on an absolute tear, averaging a team-high 34.2 points shooting 55.8% from the field and 41.7% from 3 to go with 7.0 rebounds and 4.6 assists per game in this new gameplan.

It's also had an impact on James Harden's playmaking ability, as the prolific scorer is dishing out 7.7 assists per game under the new strategy while still scoring 30.5 points on average.

Robert Covington - the trade piece that sent this small-ball tactic full throttle - has been perfect in his role, averaging a team-high 7.0 rebounds per game (tied with Westbrook) to go with 2.3 blocks, 1.2 steals and three 3s.

Head coach Mike D'Antoni is at it again trying to change the game of basketball, and it's worked for his team so far.

4. Boston Celtics

Last week's ranking: 3rd

Record: 39-17

Last week: 1-1 (win at MIN, loss at LAL)

This week: at POR, at UTA, vs. HOU

The Celtics were a few plays away from leaping the Raptors and the Lakers for the No. 2 spot, but the loss to Los Angeles set them back to 4th.

Despite the loss, one thing has become evidently clear: Jayson Tatum has arrived.

The All-Star forward is on a ridiculous tear, averaging 30.3 points, 8.0 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 1.4 steals and 1.3 blocks per game shooting 49.7% from the field and 46.6% from 3 over Boston's last eight games.

He's playing with the demeanor and confidence of a top-tier player in the NBA and that type of attitude has radiated onto his play. His career-high-tying 41 points in a dominating performance against the Lakers is a great example of that.

The Celtics will have to quickly bounce back from that loss with three tough Western Conference opponents on their schedule this upcoming week.

3. Toronto Raptors

Last week's ranking: 4th

Record: 42-15

Last week: 2-0 (win vs. PHX, win vs. IND)

This week: vs. MIL, vs. CHA, at DEN

After having their 15-game win streak snapped by the Nets in their final contest before the All-Star break, the Raptors got back to their winning ways to start the second half of the season.

Toronto controlled the tempo from wire-to-wire in a commanding win over the Suns behind a massive outburst of 37 points and 12 rebounds from Pascal Siakam. After dealing with a nagging hamstring injury in the first half of the season, Siakam looks back to full health and ready to continue in progressing as a certified star in this league.

The Raptors followed that performance with their largest victory in franchise history, wiping the floor with the Pacers - a potential first-round playoff opponent - to the tune of a 46-point win.

Toronto has now won nine-consecutive home games and 17 of their last 18 contests. They'll take that home win streak and their blazing hot momentum into one of their biggest games of the regular season when they host the Bucks to kick off this upcoming week.

2. Los Angeles Lakers

Last week's ranking: 2nd

Record: 43-12

Last week: 2-0 (win vs. MEM, win vs. BOS)

This week: vs. NOP, at GSW, at MEM, at NOP

The league's best duo of LeBron James and Anthony Davis were at it again this past week, leading the Lakers to two wins to kick off the unofficial second half of the season.

In Los Angeles' win over the Grizzlies, Davis's double-double of 28 points and 13 rebounds complimented a strong 32 points and seven assists from James to handle their potential first-round opponent come NBA Playoff time.

In one of the best games of the regular season thus far against the Celtics, the tandem held it down again. Davis went for a team-high 32 points to go with 13 rebounds, but it was James who stepped up down the stretch with the game-clinching fadeaway jumper late in the fourth quarter.

LeBron finished with a near-triple-double of 29 points, nine assists and eight rebounds in the win, furthering the Lakers' vice grip on first place in the conference.

This upcoming week, we're gifted with the very first - and second - matchup between James and his understudy Zion Williamson. You won't want to miss either of those games.

1. Milwaukee Bucks

Last week's ranking: 1st

Record: 48-8

Last week: 2-0 (win at DET, win vs. PHI)

This week: at WAS, at TOR, vs. OKC, at CHA

According to FiveThirtyEight, the Bucks are projected to fall just shy of 70 wins at 66-16, but at this rate, it doesn't seem like anything can stop this team from getting to that 70-win threshold.

Granted, Ben Simmons got hurt on one of the first few plays of the game in their meeting with the 76ers, but Milwaukee still steamrolled a team that is supposed to be one of their toughest competitors in the East.

Giannis Antetokounmpo just posted back-to-back games with 30-plus points and 15-plus rebounds and his supporting cast is playing some of their best basketball of the season. Khris Middleton is shooting 51.5% from 3 over his last 10 games and Eric Bledsoe has really started to hit his stride at this point in the season.

The Bucks are faced with one of their biggest tests this upcoming week, traveling to Toronto to take on the second-place Raptors. You won't want to miss that potential Eastern Conference Finals preview.

Rest of the NBA

11. Dallas Mavericks

12. Philadelphia 76ers

The 76ers escaped a bad home loss to the Nets behind a huge 39-point, 16-rebound double-double from Joel Embiid in Ben Simmons' absence.

With Simmons back in action against the Bucks, Philly looked for the statement road win they've long been searching for, but their All-Star guard was forced out of the game after re-tweaking his back within the first few minutes.

The result was a blowout loss in Milwaukee's favour, leaving Philly with even more trouble now that their key cog is expected to miss some time trying to recover from back tightness. The 76ers are going to be up against it trying to set themselves up for much-needed home court advantage in the first round of the NBA Playoffs.

13. Indiana Pacers

14. New Orleans Pelicans

We're watching Zion Williamson blossom into a star right before our eyes every time he takes the floor.

He scored back-to-back 30-point games heading into the All-Star Weekend and didn't cool off one bit, going for over 25 points in his first two games after the break. Over that four-game span he's hardly missed, shooting a ridiculous 60.3% from the field, getting to the rim at will and punishing teams on the offensive glass.

Don't look now but the Pelicans are just 3.5 games back from the No. 8 seed in the West and with Zion playing at this level already, this team is going to be tough to stop when it comes to claiming that last playoff spot.

This upcoming week, we'll see the first two matchups between Williamson and LeBron James. Get your popcorn ready.

15. Memphis Grizzlies

The Grizzlies entered the unofficial second half of the season with a 4.0 lead on the next closest team fighting for the No. 8 seed. Their push to hold on to that playoff spot has gotten off to a less than ideal start, dropping consecutive games to the Kings and Lakers.

To add to the two losses, it was announced that starting forward Jaren Jackson Jr. will miss at least two weeks with a sprained knee, really putting Memphis to the test to see if they can prevent teams like the Blazers, Spurs and Pelicans from taking that eight seed away from them.

16. Sacramento Kings

17. Portland Trail Blazers

18. San Antonio Spurs

19. Brooklyn Nets

The Nets received some tough news this week, announcing that star point guard Kyrie Irving will receive season-ending shoulder surgery.

Irving only played 20 games in his debut season in Brooklyn, averaging 27.4 points, 6.4 assists and 5.2 rebounds with an 8-12 record. The Nets have been just fine without Kyrie, still holding the No. 7 seed in the Eastern Conference playoff picture.

Spencer Dinwiddie will be asked to step into a full-time starting role, something he's already done for the majority of this season and he's succeeded in doing so.

20. Phoenix Suns

21. Orlando Magic

22. Washington Wizards

23. Atlanta Hawks

Trae Young put on a show against the Heat this week, going for the first 50-point game of his young career.

He shot an efficient 12-for-25 from the field to go with eight 3-pointers to bring the Hawks to a closely contested victory over one of the best teams in the conference.

The best part: after the game, he gifted his jersey to famous Atlanta rapper Quavo. When asked why he gave away the jersey from his first 50-point game, he responded, "That won't be the last time I score 50."

24. Charlotte Hornets

25. Chicago Bulls

26. Detroit Pistons

27. Minnesota Timberwolves

28. New York Knicks

29. Golden State Warriors

30. Cleveland Cavaliers

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