NBA Power Rankings Week 15: A Contender Still Looms In Milwaukee

For the fifth consecutive season, the Milwaukee Bucks sit in a commanding position as the trade deadline approaches. Milwaukee finished the previous four seasons with a combined a .689 winning percentage, winning an NBA championship and four straight Central Division titles. The Bucks are back up to their old tricks in winning two-thirds of their games (34-17) as February arrives. Still, it hasn’t been a perfect 2022-23 campaign in Milwaukee, causing some to potentially overlook the ever-present Bucks.

Khris Middleton has appeared in only 12 games for the Bucks this season and his absence is a quick explanation for Milwaukee’s underwhelming offensive metrics. Middleton isn’t an elixir for every Bucks issue, but Milwaukee is currently on a five-game winning streak that coincides with his return to action. Granted, Middleton has been on the floor for only 83 combined minutes in that five-game sample, but the Bucks are outscoring opponents by nearly 13 points per 100 possessions over the last five contests and producing a 119.9 offensive rating in the process.

With Giannis Antetokounmpo in the middle of everything and elite supporting pieces like Jrue Holiday and Brook Lopez, the Bucks are always a threat. It has to be noted, though, that Milwaukee is going to need the full-strength version of Middleton to reach its ceiling, and a month-long injury to Bobby Portis throws an addition wrench into the formula. The Bucks have been tied to myriad potential trade pieces, headlined by Jae Crowder, and Milwaukee could certainly use a multi-faceted upgrade on the wing. That puts Milwaukee in the same bucket with a lot of other teams, but the Bucks shouldn’t be treated as just another pseudo-contender.

In fact, the Bucks have an elite defense (No. 3 in the NBA as of Feb. 1) and, as long as Middleton is on the floor and effective alongside Antetokounmpo and Holiday, there is enough to be confident in from an offensive perspective. Throw in a rock-solid coaching staff, playoff experience, and an apparent willingness to spend well into the luxury tax to win, and the Bucks should be in the mix well into the month of May and, potentially, June.

Where do the Bucks stack up in this week’s DIME power rankings? Let’s glance at the first list of February.

1. Milwaukee Bucks (34-17, Last week — 4th)

It helps that Milwaukee has the second-longest winning streak in the NBA and the longest by a team that could reasonably be described as a contender. The Bucks also get a bit of help from semi-struggles of other teams like Denver and Boston lately, and Milwaukee has a national showcase on Thursday against the Clippers on TNT with a chance to further establish this position.

2. Boston Celtics (36-15, Last week — 3rd)

Boston isn’t playing very well right now, losing three of the last four games. Even the team’s victory came in a weird way against the Lakers, and this ranking is simply a product of the full-season results and a lack of buzz elsewhere. The Celtics lead the league in win-loss record and net rating, which isn’t a bad place to be.

3. Philadelphia 76ers (32-17, Last week — 2nd)

If not for a weird home loss to Orlando on Monday, the Sixers would be No. 1 on the list. Philadelphia still has a 7-1 record in the last eight games, and Joel Embiid is lighting the world on fire. Perhaps motivation from his All-Star starting snub is the impetus, but Embiid won the head-to-head against Jokic this week and leads a red-hot team that appears to be pretty scary when at full strength.

4. Denver Nuggets (35-16, Last week — 1st)

Similarly to Boston, it isn’t as if Denver is playing its best. The Nuggets lost to the Sixers this week, explaining the ranking allocation here, and that came after a road loss to Milwaukee. Neither of those are troubling defeats, though, and the Nuggets remain comfortably atop the West standings.

5. Memphis Grizzlies (32-18, Last week — 5th)

It feels kind to leave Memphis in the top five this week. The Grizzlies just went winless on a five-game road trip, falling to 11-15 on the road for the season. No team below them did enough to jump, but there are at least some red flags about their recent play.

6. Brooklyn Nets (31-19, Last week — 6th)

Brooklyn holds steady after two nice wins over the Knicks and Lakers. Los Angeles didn’t have LeBron and AD, so that was a “hold serve” situation, but the Nets taking care of business without Kevin Durant isn’t a small thing. Also, Brooklyn is currently on pace to set a new NBA record for effective field goal percentage (58.3 percent) by almost a full point (h/t That is a wild number, even in a very friendly offensive environment.

7. Miami Heat (29-23, Last week — 8th)

Miami’s record strongly out-paces its net rating (+0.1) and there are reasons to be concerned about Miami’s offense. Still, the Heat are in the top five of the league on defense and Miami has outscored opponents by 125 points in the 802 minutes with Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo on the court together. That’s a strong foundation.

8. L.A. Clippers (29-25, Last week — 10th)

The Clippers have won the last six games with Kawhi Leonard in the lineup. L.A. is 19-9 overall when Kawhi plays, and the Clippers have a +10.8 net rating when Leonard and Paul George see the floor together. No one can assume the Clippers will be at full strength at any given time, but the signs are there of a sleeper contender.

9. Sacramento Kings (28-21, Last week — 7th)

The Kings are in the midst of an absurd seven-game road trip with 16 (!) games between home games. That’s the kind of run that can make or break a promising season, but Sacramento picked up a nice win over Minnesota in its last outing. It helps to have the NBA’s second-best offensive rating.

10. Golden State Warriors (26-24, Last week — 15th)

It was a good week for the Warriors with a 3-0 mark and a nice road win in Oklahoma City. In those games, Steph Curry averaged 35.7 points and 8.7 assists while posting a 58/53/96 shooting line. It’s nice to have the best shooter of all-time onboard.

11. Cleveland Cavaliers (31-22, Last week — 9th)

The Cavs finished January with an 8-8 record, and that isn’t going to inspire anyone. A closer look tells you that all eight losses came against solid-or-better teams, and Cleveland is still in a good spot with the league’s second-best point differential. Reality is probably somewhere in the middle.

12. Phoenix Suns (27-25, Last week — 14th)

Following an extended downturn, Phoenix has found its stride again. The Suns are 6-1 in the last seven games, with the only blemish coming by a narrow margin to Dallas. Phoenix still needs Devin Booker, who hasn’t played since Christmas, but this run provides a great deal of intrigue when combined with an ownership change and the upcoming trade deadline.

13. Minnesota Timberwolves (27-26, Last week — 19th)

It’s been fairly quiet given the team’s modest season-long performance, but Minnesota just wrapped a very good month. The Wolves had a top-three record (11-5) in the NBA during January, outscoring opponents by 3.5 points per 100 possessions. Minnesota ended the month with a home loss to Sacramento, but that certainly a bad loss in 2023, and the Wolves are a half-game from the No. 5 spot.

14. Dallas Mavericks (27-25, Last week — 18th)

We’re about to learn a lot about Dallas. In addition to potential trade deadline implications, the Mavericks face the Pelicans, Warriors, Jazz, Clippers, Kings (twice), Wolves, and Nuggets over the next eight games. That’s a gauntlet for any team.

15. New York Knicks (27-25, Last week — 13th)

On one hand, the Knicks have lost six of eight, which could explain an even larger drop in this space. On the other, the two wins came against Boston (on the road) and Cleveland, with the last two losses coming in very narrow fashion. New York feels like a .500 team in some ways, but the Knicks are in the top ten of the NBA in net rating.

16. Utah Jazz (26-26, Last week — 16th)

The Jazz haven’t played since Saturday and that hiatus happens in the middle of an extended homestand. Utah is one of the potential pivot teams at the deadline, especially when acknowledging Utah’s ceiling for this particular season isn’t very high, but the Jazz could also be 30-26 at the deadline and that wouldn’t be a huge surprise given this week’s schedule.

17. Washington Wizards (24-26, Last week — 21st)

With all due respect, the Wizards are hilarious. Washington has four different losing streaks of at least three games this season, including a ten-game swoon in early December. The Wizards also have three different winning streaks of at least four games, including an active six-game run as February arrives. Are the Wizards actually good enough to be considered a contender? I don’t think they’re quite there, but Washington is currently the No. 9 team in the East and only four games behind the No. 6 spot. What a world.

18. Los Angeles Lakers (24-28, Last week — 20th)

The Lakers are 2-1 in games with Anthony Davis in the lineup since he returned to action. The one loss came in controversial fashion against Boston and, as long as Davis and LeBron James are both playing, Los Angeles is pretty good. The margins are just quite narrow given the current roster limitations.

19. Atlanta Hawks (25-26, Last week — 17th)

Trouble could be brewing in Atlanta. The Hawks have been involved in a lot of off-court fodder this season, and the results have dipped lately. Atlanta has lost four of the last five games, including the opener of a five-game road trip on Monday in Portland. The Hawks project as underdogs (or at least coin-flips) in the next five games, and Atlanta is clearly a team to monitor before the Feb. 9 trade deadline.

20. Oklahoma City Thunder (24-26, Last week — 11th)

After our extensive optimism about the Thunder last week, OKC went 1-2 at home in the last seven days. That isn’t horrible by any means, but it does bring a reckoning in the power rankings. The Thunder are tied for the No. 11 spot in the West, though, and are worth watching each and every night.

21. Portland Trail Blazers (24-26, Last week — 23rd)

The Blazers are on quite a mini-run offensively. Portland has three wins in the last four games and, in that sample, the Blazers have a blistering 132.7 offensive rating. Clearly, that will calm down and, well, the Blazers are also giving up a 129.3 defensive rating in the same timespan. Shootouts galore.

22. New Orleans Pelicans (26-26, Last week — 12th)

New Orleans is scuffling, and injuries are at least partly to blame. The Pelicans have lost a nine in a row, the longest streak in the league by a wide margin, and Zion Williamson hasn’t played in about a month. Still, Brandon Ingram did return, playing in three of the last four games, but the Pelicans haven’t been able to stop the bleeding. While New Orleans clearly isn’t the No. 22 team in the league, it is suddenly tied for the No. 9 spot in the West after this nosedive.

23. Toronto Raptors (23-29, Last week — 24th)

Toronto is currently the No. 12 seed in the East, which is not what anyone wanted from this team. The Raptors do have a positive point differential, so perhaps it would be fair to say Toronto is better than its record, but big changes could be coming in the next eight days.

24. Chicago Bulls (23-27, Last week — 22nd)

After an uptick, Chicago has lost three of four, including defeats at the hands of Indiana and Charlotte. Trade winds continue to swirl around the Bulls, and Chicago’s 23-27 record is even less impressive when considering DeMar DeRozan, Zach LaVine, and Nikola Vucevic have all played in at least 46 of the team’s 50 games.

25. Orlando Magic (20-31, Last week — 25th)

This placement feels too low for the Magic, but it’s also the spot they probably have to be in given the season-long profile. Orlando just picked up a very impressive, 10-point road win in Philadelphia on Monday, and Paolo Banchero was great in that game with 29 points and nine rebounds. The Magic are 7-7 in the last 14 and, as many have noted, Orlando’s young core is showing fun things on a nightly basis.

26. Indiana Pacers (24-28, Last week — 26th)

It was a splashy week for the Pacers, headlined by a unique contract extension for Myles Turner. On the floor, though, Indiana continues to be in a free fall. The Pacers are 1-10 in the last 11 games, and Indiana has an unsightly -10.2 net rating in that stretch. Tyrese Haliburton appears to be getting closer to play, which will help, but it’s been ugly for a little while.

27. Charlotte Hornets (15-37, Last week — 27th)

It was actually a good week for the Hornets, with Charlotte winning two of three games. The Hornets were also competitive for the balance of a loss to Milwaukee on Tuesday, and while Charlotte definitely has a bottom-four profile for the season, they are a step above the bottom three on paper.

28. Houston Rockets (12-38, Last week — 30th)

Houston climbs out of the basement on the strength of a road win over the Pistons and a 2-2 mark in the last four games. That road victory also explains the two-spot jump given where Detroit stacks up on this list. With that said, the Rockets are 3-20 in the last 23 games. That seems bad.

29. Detroit Pistons (13-39, Last week — 28th)

There have been times of encouraging competitiveness from the Pistons this season, but they’ve earned this spot. Detroit is in the bottom five of the league in offense and defense, and a head-to-head loss to Houston explains the one-spot dip.

30. San Antonio Spurs (14-37, Last week — 29th)

San Antonio is really, really bad. Since the start of November (not a small sample!), the Spurs are 9-35 with a net rating (-11.3) more than three points worse than any other team. San Antonio hasn’t won a road game since mid-December, and the Spurs have lost 11 of 12.