NBA Energy Rankings: Paul George and Clips discover footing, Pacers seek for East bounce again

Jan 31, 2024, 08:00 AM ET

We’re a week out from the 2023-24 NBA trade deadline (Feb. 8, 3 p.m. ET) and, well, a lot can happen between now and then, with the future’s of high-profile players such as Chicago Bulls’ Zach LaVine and Atlanta Hawks’ Dejounte Murray still up in the air.

The Oklahoma City Thunder have taken a dip in our rankings, after losing to the bottom-dwelling Detroit Pistons last Sunday, giving them their sixth win of the season. And the surging LA Clippers made a statement after blowing out the Eastern Conference-leading Boston Celtics, handing them their second home loss of the season.

Last week was filled with ridiculous scoring outbursts by Joel Embiid, Luka Doncic, Devin Booker, and Karl-Anthony Towns. As we enter into the second half of the season, can we expect more eye-catching 70-point games? Will the Milwaukee Bucks find their defensive footing with Doc Rivers? And can the Brooklyn Nets make a push in the East with the return of Ben Simmons?

Questions abound as we look to see where every team settles a week before the trade deadline.

Note: Throughout the regular season, our panel (Kendra Andrews, Tim Bontemps, Jamal Collier, Andrew Lopez, Tim MacMahon, Dave McMenamin and Ohm Youngmisuk) is ranking all 30 teams from top to bottom, taking stock of which teams are playing the best basketball and which teams are looking most like title contenders.

Previous rankings: Post-Finals | Nov. 1 | Nov. 8 | Nov. 15 | Nov. 22 | Nov. 29 | Dec. 6 | Dec. 13 | Dec. 20 | Dec. 27 | Jan. 3 | Jan. 10 | Jan. 17 | Jan. 24

Jump to a team:

ATL | BOS | BKN | CHA | CHI | CLE
DAL | DEN | DET | GS | HOU | IND
LAC | LAL | MEM | MIA | MIL | MIN
NO | NY | OKC | ORL | PHI | PHX
POR | SAC | SA | TOR | UTA | WAS

1. Boston Celtics
2023-24 record: 37-11

Through the first half of the season, it’s hard to look at the Kristaps Porzingis deal as anything but a huge win for the Celtics. When he is on the court, Boston has a plus-12 net rating — easily the best of any of the core rotation players, and a sign of just how impactful the 7-3 Latvian big man has been to the Celtics, winners of seven of their past 10 games. Porzingis’ ability to both create mismatches offensively and protect the rim defensively has made him a seamless fit in Boston. — Bontemps

2. Denver Nuggets
2023-24 record: 33-15

The defending champs have won seven of their past nine games, a stretch including handing Boston its first home loss this season, and victories over Milwaukee, Philadelphia and Indiana (twice). Jamal Murray added his fourth 30-point game in his past 11 games with a 35-point outing against Milwaukee. The next game is surely one the Nuggets will be motivated for as they travel to face Oklahoma City, which crushed the Nuggets 119-93 on Dec. 29 in Denver. — Youngmisuk

play

1:49

Reliving the Nuggets’ top plays of the previous week

Check out the Nuggets’ top plays from previous week, including some nice highlights from Nikola Jokic.

3. LA Clippers
2023-24 record: 30-15

  • Previous ranking: 7

  • Next games: @ WSH (Jan. 31), @ DET (Feb. 2), @ MIA (Feb. 4), @ ATL (Feb. 5)

The Clippers lost for just the third time in January when they had their five-game winning streak snapped in Cleveland on Monday. But that loss didn’t spoil what has been a successful start to this seven-game road trip. The Clippers won back-to-back games at Toronto and Boston, punctuated by a 19-point win in TD Garden. The Clippers led by as much as 36 and handed the Celtics their second home loss in what was L.A.’s most impressive win of the season. Paul George has been playing through a groin issue, though, which is something the team continues to monitor closely as it enters the back half of this road trip in Washington, Detroit, Miami and Atlanta. — Youngmisuk

play

1:42

Shoeless Russell Westbrook leads Clippers’ top plays

Take a look at the Clippers’ best plays of the week, including Russell Westbrook’s shoeless triple and Kawhi Leonard’s posterizer.

4. Minnesota Timberwolves
2023-24 record: 33-14

  • Previous ranking: 5

  • Next games: vs. DAL (Jan. 31), vs. ORL (Feb. 2), vs. HOU (Feb. 4), @ CHI (Feb. 6)

The Wolves bounced back from a disappointing loss to San Antonio with a victory over Oklahoma City on Monday night, moving back into sole possession of first place in the Western Conference. Minnesota has been in or tied for first place in the West for all but one day since Nov. 19, when the Thunder held possession for a day last week. Those two teams and Denver will continue to fight for their place in the standings, as Minnesota hosts Dallas, Orlando and Houston this week before heading on the road. — Collier

5. Philadelphia 76ers
2023-24 record: 29-17

After a two-game absence that resulted in the 76ers losing to the Nuggets and Trail Blazers, Joel Embiid returned to the starting lineup Tuesday night against the Warriors. Embiid — who has more points scored than minutes played so far this season, something only Wilt Chamberlain has done for a full season — can miss only five more games to still be eligible for a second straight MVP award. — Bontemps

play

1:43

The 76ers’ top plays of the week

Look back at the 76ers’ best plays of the past week, including several Kelly Oubre Jr. dunks.

6. Milwaukee Bucks
2023-24 record: 32-15

  • Previous ranking: 6

  • Next games: @ POR (Jan. 31), @ DAL (Feb. 3), @ UTA (Feb. 4), @ PHX (Feb. 6)

The Bucks dropped Doc Rivers’ coaching debut Monday against the Nuggets, but Milwaukee has taken a step in the right direction defensively in the past week. In four games since Adrian Griffin was fired as head coach, Milwaukee is giving up 110.9 points per 100 possessions, ninth in the NBA during that span. Monday was the first day of a nine-day, five-game road trip for the Bucks, which continues Wednesday night in Portland for Damian Lillard’s first game there since being traded this summer. — Collier

7. Oklahoma City Thunder
2023-24 record: 32-15

  • Previous ranking: 3

  • Next games: vs. DEN (Jan. 31), vs. CHA (Feb. 2), vs. TOR (Feb. 4), @ UTA (Feb. 6)

Rookie of the Year candidate Chet Holmgren had his worst two-game offensive stretch during the Thunder’s back-to-back losses to the Pistons and Timberwolves. He was held to a combined 13 points on 6-of-20 shooting in the losses, which caused Oklahoma City to fall out of first place in the West. Still, Holmgren is averaging 16.7 points on 53.3% shooting, a major factor in the 32-15 Thunder’s success. But Oklahoma City is 2-5 when he fails to score in double digits and 5-8 when he shoots less than 50%. — MacMahon

8. Cleveland Cavaliers
2023-24 record: 28-16

  • Previous ranking: 8

  • Next games: vs. DET (Jan. 31), @ MEM (Feb. 1), @ SA (Feb. 3), vs. SAC (Feb. 5)

Break up the Cavs! Not only has Cleveland won 10 out of its past 11 games — including a double-digit comeback against the Clippers — but Darius Garland has been upgraded to questionable to make his return Wednesday from a 19-game absence because of a fractured jaw. The Cavaliers are No. 5 in the East but only 2½ games behind the No. 2 Bucks, whom they’ve beaten twice in the past two weeks. — McMenamin

play

1:49

The top plays of the week from the Cavaliers

Watch the best plays of the week from the Cavaliers, including Damian Jones’ poster alley-oop over Giannis Antetokounmpo.

9. New Orleans Pelicans
2023-24 record: 26-21

Despite playing the league’s toughest schedule in January, the Pelicans have one of the month’s top offensive ratings, scoring 120.5 points per possession, the fourth-best mark in the league. New Orleans has gone 7-7 in January, and all seven wins have been by double digits, including five of those by 20 points or more. However, five of the seven losses have been by double digits as well, and the Pelicans have dropped three in a row. They’ll look to get back on track against Houston on Wednesday. — Lopez

10. New York Knicks
2023-24 record: 31-17

No Julius Randle? No problem! Well, at least, so far. Thankfully for New York, it appears Randle’s shoulder injury is going to be measured in weeks, not months, per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, meaning the Knicks should get him back with plenty of time left in the regular season — and have the upcoming All-Star break to mitigate the number of games missed. Still, New York has been the hottest team in the league of late, ripping off wins in 13 of its past 15 games since OG Anunoby made his debut. That Anunoby trade has put the Knicks back in the fight for a top-three seed in the East. — Bontemps

play

1:47

Top plays from the Knicks’ 3-0 week

A pair of sensational dunks from OG Anunoby highlight the best plays from the Knicks in the past week.

11. Dallas Mavericks
2023-24 record: 26-21

  • Previous ranking: 13

  • Next games: @ MIN (Jan. 31), vs. MIL (Feb. 30), @ PHI (Feb. 5), @ BKN (Feb. 6)

Luka Doncic has scored or assisted on an average of 79.7 points over the past three games. According to ESPN Stats & Information, only Wilt Chamberlain has accounted for more points over a three-game span, generating 82 and 81 points in overlapping three-game runs in 1962. Doncic rested for a total of 10 minutes during the Mavs’ stretch of three games in four nights, starting with his franchise-record 73-point performance in Atlanta, as co-star Kyrie Irving has been sidelined by a sprained right thumb. The Mavs, who had lost five of the previous seven games, went 2-1 during Doncic’s historic week. — MacMahon

Complete coverage related to NBA trades ahead of the Feb. 8 deadline. | Latest buzz and news

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12. Sacramento Kings
2023-24 record: 27-18

  • Previous ranking: 15

  • Next games: @ MIA (Jan. 31), @ IND (Feb. 2), @ CHI (Feb. 3), @ CLE (Feb. 5)

After a four-game skid, the Kings are riding a four-game winning streak, with the most notable difference being that their defense has been the 12th best in the league over the past four games. The Kings remains a solid team, led by De’Aaron Fox, Domantas Sabonis and Malik Monk. Their role players’ solid contributions have been a nice surprise, too, as Harrison Barnes is averaging 25.7 points over the past four games.– Andrews

13. Indiana Pacers
2023-24 record: 27-21

  • Previous ranking: 14

  • Next games: @ NY (Feb. 1), vs. SAC (Feb. 2), @ CHA (Feb. 4), vs. HOU (Feb. 6)

The Pacers’ three-game winning streak was snapped Tuesday against Boston despite the return of All-Star guard Tyrese Haliburton, who posted 13 points and 10 assists in 22 minutes. But even during his absence, the Pacers have maintained their explosive offense. They have recorded at least 30 assists in 27 games this season, already the second most in a season in franchise history (38 games in 1991-92). — Collier

14. Phoenix Suns
2023-24 record: 27-20

  • Previous ranking: 9

  • Next games: @ BKN (Jan. 31), @ ATL (Feb. 2), @ WSH (Feb. 4), vs. MIL (Feb. 6)

Despite Devin Booker scoring 152 points over a three-game span, the Suns came away with one win to show for it. In that lone win against the Heat, four Suns players scored between 19 and 23 points, with Eric Gordon leading the team in scoring off the bench (23 points). Phoenix has three games left on its seven-game road trip against teams with a combined record of 47-81 — a perfect chance to take advantage of a soft schedule. — McMenamin

15. Los Angeles Lakers
2023-24 record: 24-25

L.A. allowed 127 or more points for the fifth straight game in Tuesday’s 138-122 loss to the Hawks. The Lakers are 2-3 in that span and can’t seem to muster a smidge of consistency. “We could, on any given night, beat any team in the NBA,” LeBron James said. “And then on any given night, we can get our ass kicked by any team in the NBA. That’s just the [facts].” — McMenamin

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16. Miami Heat
2023-24 record: 24-23

  • Previous ranking: 11

  • Next games: vs. SAC (Jan. 31), @ WSH (Feb. 2), vs. LAC (Feb. 4), vs. ORL (Feb. 6)

On Jan. 15, the Heat were 24-16 and playing some of their best basketball of the season. Since then, Miami has lost seven in a row, the longest losing streak in Erik Spoelstra’s time as head coach (since 2008-09). Over those seven games, Miami has averaged just 101.7 points. Miami has also struggled defensively, allowing 124.2 points per 100 possessions in that stretch. Prior to that, the Heat’s defensive rating was 112.6, ninth best in the league to that point. That’s the Heat team that needs to show up to get the season back on track. — Lopez

17. Orlando Magic
2023-24 record: 24-23

  • Previous ranking: 16

  • Next games: @ SA (Jan. 31), @ MIN (Feb. 2), @ DET (Feb. 4), @ MIA (Feb. 6)

Paolo Banchero had 36 points, nine rebounds and seven assists in Monday’s loss to the Mavericks, raising his season averages to 23.0 points, 7.0 rebounds and 5.0 assists. He’s on pace to become the sixth player to average those numbers across an entire season in a player’s rookie or sophomore season, joining Luka Doncic, LeBron James, Jerry West, Sidney Wicks and Oscar Robertson (the only player to do it twice). If the Magic want to climb back up the standings, they’ll need the former No. 1 pick to continue his stellar play. — Lopez

18. Utah Jazz
2023-24 record: 24-25

John Collins averaged 15.3 points and 7.5 rebounds while shooting 60.4% from the floor in January. It has been his most productive month in a Jazz uniform, but his minutes have dropped to 24.3 per game. That’s because Collins and Walker Kessler, the 7-footer who was an All-Rookie selection last season, are splitting time and rarely on the floor together. But coach Will Hardy is putting Collins in position to play to his strengths as a rim runner for the Jazz, who won 10 of their 16 games in January to catapult back into the Western Conference playoff race. — MacMahon

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19. Houston Rockets
2023-24 record: 22-24

  • Previous ranking: 19

  • Next games: vs. NO (Jan. 31) , vs. TOR (Feb. 2), @ MIN (Feb. 4), @ IND (Feb. 6)

Jalen Green’s roller-coaster season has taken an upward turn recently, as he recorded the first three point-rebound double-doubles of his career over his past three games. Green averaged 29.7 points and 10.7 rebounds in that span, which included two 30-point performances, matching his total for the rest of the season. His 34-point, career-high 12-rebound, seven-assist outing in Monday’s win over the Lakers was arguably the best all-around game of the 2021 second overall pick’s career. — MacMahon

20. Chicago Bulls
2023-24 record: 22-26

Injuries are starting to pile up for the Bulls now that forward Patrick Williams will be sidelined for at least two weeks by a left foot injury. He joins Zach LaVine and Torrey Craig on the injured list, thinning out a Bulls rotation that features two players in the top 10 in minutes per game — DeMar DeRozan (fourth) and Coby White (10th). After traveling to Charlotte on the second night of a back-to-back, the Bulls return home to host two tough Western Conference opponents in the Kings and Timberwolves. — Collier

21. Golden State Warriors
2023-24 record: 20-24

Despite the epic double-overtime loss against the Lakers on Saturday, there’s some good news for Golden State: It might have found a five-man lineup it can rely on with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Andrew Wiggins and Jonathan Kuminga. In just 66 minutes together, that five-man combo has a net rating of plus-13.2, which is the highest of any Warriors lineup with at least 60 minutes logged together without the injured Chris Paul. — Andrews

22. Atlanta Hawks
2023-24 record: 20-27

Atlanta was a Saddiq Bey game-saving dunk away from its second five-game losing streak of the season Sunday, but when the fourth-year forward slammed home Trae Young’s miss, it sealed the Hawks’ 126-125 win over the Raptors. Dejounte Murray had two winning shots last week, and coupled with Bey’s dunk, the Hawks have recorded three go-ahead baskets with two seconds or less remaining in the fourth quarter or overtime, the most in the NBA this season, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. The next two weeks will be pivotal for the Hawks. They began a difficult four-game homestand Tuesday night, before jetting up the coast for a two-game road set against the Celtics and Sixers. — Lopez

23. Brooklyn Nets
2023-24 record: 19-27

  • Previous ranking: 24

  • Next games: vs. PHX (Jan. 31), @ PHI (Feb. 3), vs. GS (Feb. 5), vs. DAL (Feb. 6)

Brooklyn got a much-needed boost Monday night with the return of Ben Simmons, who nearly put up a triple-double in 18 minutes in a blowout victory over the Jazz. Simmons, with his ability to attack downhill in both the half court and transition, gives Brooklyn a totally different dimension. The question now, of course, is whether Simmons — who has missed far more time than he has played the past three years, and missed 38 games because of a back issue before returning — can actually stay on the court. Still, after Monday’s win, the Nets are just 5-12 over their past 17 contests. — Bontemps

24. Memphis Grizzlies
2023-24 record: 18-29

  • Previous ranking: 25

  • Next games: vs. CLE (Feb. 1), vs. GS (Feb. 2), @ BOS (Feb. 4), @ NY (Feb. 6)

Memphis has been hit so hard by injuries that the NBA granted the Grizzlies three 10-day hardship roster exemptions. The Grizzlies, who have managed to win three of their past five games, have been relying heavily on a pair of players on two-way contracts: GG Jackson and Scotty Pippen Jr. Jackson has averaged 10.6 points on 66.3% true shooting in 19.5 minutes per game this month, while Pippen has averaged 8.5 points and 4.0 assists in three games since signing with Memphis. — MacMahon

25. Toronto Raptors
2023-24 record: 17-30

Even after Toronto snapped a five-game losing streak with a win over the Bulls on Tuesday night, the Raptors are still 12th in the Eastern Conference standings and look far more likely to miss the play-in than to sneak into the top 10 by season’s end. That should make players such as Bruce Brown even more available prior to next week’s trade deadline than they potentially already were, and serves as a reminder that Toronto owes San Antonio a top-six protected first-round pick. Right now? The Raptors sit in the sixth spot in the lottery. — Bontemps

Wednesday
Suns at Nets, 8:30 p.m. (ABC)
Bucks at Trail Blazers, 10 p.m.

Saturday
Lakers at Knicks, 8:30 p.m. (ABC)

All times Eastern

26. Portland Trail Blazers
2023-24 record: 14-33

Portland continues to flash glimpses of its potential, going down to the wire against the Thunder and then winning in Houston in overtime last week. The Blazers then beat the Sixers by 26 points Monday — their biggest margin of victory this season. Unlike some of the other teams at the bottom of the standings, the Blazers are having some surprising statement games that should give the franchise hope. — Andrews

27. San Antonio Spurs
2023-24 record: 10-37

The Spurs have shown signs of growth in the past month. Since Tre Jones entered the starting lineup Jan. 4, San Antonio is 5-6 when both Jones and Victor Wembanyama play. The new starting lineup of Jones, Wembanyama, Devin Vassell, Julian Champagnie and Jeremy Sochan has a plus-12.7 net rating in 129 minutes — sixth in the West among all five-man groups to play at least 100 minutes this season. On top of that, the team’s defensive rating of 116.8 is 14th in the league since Jones began starting. — Lopez

28. Charlotte Hornets
2023-24 record: 10-35

  • Previous ranking: 27

  • Next games: vs. CHI (Jan. 31), @ OKC (Feb. 2), vs. IND (Feb. 4), vs. LAL (Feb. 5)

LaMelo Ball missed his second straight game Monday because of a right ankle injury. Coach Steve Clifford said Ball’s ankle is “really sore” and that he’s hopeful his franchise point guard can return to play against Chicago on Wednesday. “His health is the No. 1 issue,” Clifford said. “He’s our best player, and we’ve got to make sure he’s healthy, so obviously we’re being cautious. He wants to play.” In Ball’s absence, P.J. Washington and Brandon Miller have tried to compensate. Washington scored 43 points in a loss to Utah, and Miller matched his career high of 29 in a loss against the Knicks on Monday. — Youngmisuk

29. Washington Wizards
2023-24 record: 9-37

Despite the fact that this is clearly a rebuilding season, the Wizards replaced Wes Unseld Jr. as head coach Thursday with assistant Brian Keefe, who was elevated to interim coach. With Unseld now in a front office role, Keefe’s early focus has been to establish better habits and effort. After losing to Utah in Keefe’s first game, the Wizards won at Detroit and San Antonio — their first winning streak of the season. They’d better enjoy it now because the Wizards’ next 11 games feature some of the NBA’s best: the Clippers, Heat, Suns, Cavs (twice), Celtics, Sixers, Mavs, Pels, Nuggets and Thunder. — Youngmisuk

30. Detroit Pistons
2023-24 record: 6-40

  • Previous ranking: 30

  • Next games: @ CLE (Jan, 31), vs. LAC (Feb. 2), vs. ORL (Feb. 4)

The Pistons are coming off an upset victory over the Thunder on Sunday without Cade Cunningham and have been showing some signs of life. They are 3-4 in their past seven games, not world beating by any means, but a step forward for a squad that set the league record for longest losing streak earlier this season. A major bright spot? Twenty-year-old center Jalen Duren, who has averaged 15 points, 14 rebounds and 3 assists on 64% shooting over that stretch. The Pistons will look to build on this momentum as they travel to face the surging Cavs before returning home to host the Clippers and Magic over the weekend. — Collier

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