NBA Power Rankings Week 21


After Sunday’s win over the LA Clippers, center JaVale McGee dubbed the Los Angeles Lakers the “best team in the world right now.” The Lakers beat the Clippers two days after beating Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks at Staples Center, a win that clinched the Lakers a playoff berth. The Bucks maintained their spot at the top, even after a loss to the Phoenix Suns on Sunday, but how will they fare this week while Antetokounmpo recovers from a knee injury? Can LeBron James lead the Lakers into the No. 1 spot?

Meanwhile, the Boston Celtics continued to slide as the Toronto Raptors clinched a playoff berth. Damian Lillard and Stephen Curry both returned from injuries last week, with Lillard’s Portland Trail Blazers teammate Jusuf Nurkic expected to make his season debut in the coming week.

Our panel (ESPN’s Tim MacMahon, Bobby Marks, Kevin Pelton and Royce Young 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 20 |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: 53-11
Week 20 ranking: 1

The Bucks lost three of four games this week — two tough road games against high-quality opponents and another without the reigning MVP — but they remain easily on pace for the top seed throughout the playoffs. The bigger concern for the team is the health of Giannis Antetokounmpo, who will miss time after spraining his knee in a hard fall Friday. For the rest of the season, the Bucks’ mantra is health over everything, especially for their dominant MVP candidate. — Snellings

This week: @DEN, BOS, GSW

2. Los Angeles Lakers
Record: 49-13
Week 20 ranking: 2

In defeating the Bucks and Clippers in consecutive games over the weekend, the Lakers defeated two of the top four teams in the NBA in back-to-back games for the first time since Feb. 5, 2009, when they beat the Celtics and Cavaliers, according to Elias Sports Bureau. That bodes well for LeBron James and the Lakers, as the 2009 Lakers went on to win the title. — Spears

This week: BKN, HOU, DEN

3. LA Clippers
Record: 43-20
Week 20 ranking: 3

Ahead of Sunday’s game against the Lakers, many players tried to downplay the matchup as “just another game.” Obviously, it wasn’t; that much was clear in the first five minutes. But that doesn’t mean you should overreact to the outcome. Going in, the Clippers were 10-0 at full strength. That lineup is what they’ve been working toward. That doesn’t mean just getting Paul George back; it means getting him back to a high level. Sunday’s game was a positive sign in that direction. — Young

This week: @GSW, BKN, NOP

4. Toronto Raptors
Record: 45-18
Week 20 ranking: 4

The Raptors snapped their three-game losing streak with wins over the Suns and Warriors that allowed them to become the second team in the NBA this season to clinch a playoff berth. Despite all of the injuries they have dealt with this season, head coach Nick Nurse has kept them on the winning path, and they maintain a 2.5-game lead over the Celtics with a month left in the regular season. — Snellings

This week: @UTAH, DET