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Joel Embiid and the 76ers Are Heating Up

There was some movement near the top of the league last week, but the Celtics maintained their hold on the NBA’s best record and got their revenge on the Warriors in a Finals rematch as well.

The Nuggets and Grizzlies both saw their lengthy winning streaks come to an end and the 76ers inched up in the East after completing their five-game road trip without a loss. The Heat rose, the Knicks slid and the Thunder are on the verge of a .500 record and a play-in spot.

See where every team in the Association stands as the trade deadline nears.

1. Boston Celtics

Record: 35–12

Previous ranking: 1

The Celtics extended their winning streak to nine last week. Their eighth victory on this current run may have been the most important so far in a season in which no team has won more than them. Boston beat Golden State, 121-118, in overtime at TD Garden on Thursday. The Warriors bested them in the first Finals rematch, but with Jaylen Brown back in the lineup the C’s took this one behind 34 points and 19 boards from Jayson Tatum. The bench led the way in a tight win over the Raptors with Tatum (wrist) out. Marcus Smart (ankle) and Robert Williams III (knee) both left and did not return. Smart is out, Williams is questionable and Tatum is active for Monday’s game in Orlando.

2. Denver Nuggets

Record: 33–14

Previous ranking: 2

Oklahoma City ended Denver’s nine-game winning streak Sunday. Before that, the top team in the Western Conference had lost just three games all season at the Ball Center, but with Nikola Jokić (hamstring) out, the Nuggets fell by two to the Thunder. The team tallied just 99 points, its second-fewest this season, without him after it went 3–0 with at least 122 points scored in its three other games earlier in the week. Up next is a tough three-game road trip with stops in New Orleans, Milwaukee and Philadelphia.

3. Memphis Grizzlies

Record: 31–15

Previous ranking: 3

The Grizzlies’ winning streak ended at 11, and then they promptly began a two-game skid. None of Memphis’ three games last week were decided by more than two points, but they were only on the right side once. Steven Adams tipped in a game-winner to get past the Cavaliers by one point at home. Then on the road over the weekend, Dennis Schröder’s three-point play lifted the Lakers to a one-point win and the Suns eked out a two-point victory. The Grizzlies are away for their next three games where they’re 11–12 on the year.

Joel Embiid and the 76ers are rising. 

Gary A. Vasquez/USA TODAY Sports

4. Philadelphia 76ers

Record: 30–16

Previous ranking: 7

The 76ers completed their undefeated five-game road trip on Saturday with a win in Sacramento with no Joel Embiid (foot) or James Harden (foot). Tyrese Maxey scored a game-high 32 points to get past the Kings by two. Earlier in the week, Embiid went for 41 in a 10-point victory against the Clippers and Harden triple-doubled against the Trail Blazers, who they also beat by 10. Philadelphia now holds the No. 2 seed in the East and has two important upcoming games against the Nets and Nuggets, both on national television.

5. Brooklyn Nets

Record: 29–17

Previous ranking: 4

The Nets dropped their first two games last week to extend their losing streak to four and bring their record without Kevin Durant to 1–4. Kyrie Irving was out for an eight-point loss in San Antonio, though he returned a few days late for a five-point loss to the Suns. Irving went off over the weekend, though, to lead Brooklyn to wins against the Jazz and Warriors. He torched Utah for a season-high 48 points to go with 11 boards and gave Golden State 38 in a tight contest. The Nets’ road trip concludes Wednesday in Philadelphia—it will be Ben Simmons’ second time returning to the City of Brotherly Love.

6. Cleveland Cavaliers

Record: 29–19

Previous ranking: 5

Cleveland was up against a difficult schedule last week made worse by the absence of Donovan Mitchell (groin). The Cavaliers lost to the Grizzlies on the road by one point on a tip-in and fell to the Warriors, without their All-Star trio, by six at home. Darius Garland did it all without his backcourt running mate but still came up short. Evan Mobley exploded for a career-best 38 points Saturday to beat the Bucks, who were without Giannis Antetokounmpo, by double-digits.

7. Milwaukee Bucks

Record: 29–17

Previous ranking: 6

Antetokounmpo (knee) missed his fifth consecutive game on Saturday, a 12-point Milwaukee loss in Cleveland. The Bucks beat the Raptors by eight earlier in the week without him behind Jrue Holiday’s 37-point outing. Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton (knee) are both probable to return Monday against the Pistons to a team that’s been barely above .500 in January. After the loss to the Cavaliers, the Bucks are 11–12 on the road and have dropped their last three away from FiServ Forum.

8. Sacramento Kings

Record: 26–19

Previous ranking: 8

The Beam Team’s win streak ended at six on Saturday when the 76ers left Sacramento with a two-point win. In the days prior, De’Aaron Fox scored 31 in a road win over the Lakers and rookie Keegan Murray went for 29 points and 14 boards, both season-highs, to get past the Thunder at home. The Kings moved up to third place in the West last week and have a big game Monday against the second-place Grizzlies.

9. Miami Heat

Record: 26–22

Previous ranking: 12

Miami beat New Orleans twice last week, once on the road and again at home. Bam Adebayo totaled 26 points in the 26-point win at the Smoothie King Center and back at Miami-Dade Arena, Tyler Herro’s 26 points led the team in a four-point victory. The Heat went cold from outside in Dallas on Friday and lost by 15 but still inched up the Eastern Conference standings to sixth place as the Knicks’ skid continues.

10. New Orleans Pelicans

Record: 26–21

Previous ranking: 9

The Pelicans went winless against the Florida teams last week. First the Heat beat them by 26 at home, then they went on the road to Orlando, where they lost by 13, and next Miami, where they fell by four. New Orleans is now 3–8 in January with Brandon Ingram (toe) and Zion Williamson (hamstring) both still out. The Pelicans are back home for three games this week, where the team has performed much better this season than on the road.

11. Dallas Mavericks

Record: 25–23

Previous ranking: 11

Dallas has struggled mightily this month and now Christian Wood, its second-best player, is out. The Mavericks lost to the Hawks on Wednesday by eight, which was the game in which Wood fractured his thumb. They rebounded a few nights later and beat the Heat by 15 behind 34 points from Luka Dončić. Dallas managed just 98 points in a double-digit loss to the Clippers on Sunday. The Mavs have an easy enough schedule ahead against the Wizards, Suns and Jazz.

12. New York Knicks

Record: 25–23

Previous ranking: 10

New York has alternated between winning and losing streaks since December with little interruption. The Knicks are on the downswing currently, losers of four in a row—three of which happened last week despite continued strong play from Jalen Brunson and Julius Randle. These were bad losses, too, against the Wizards, Hawks and Raptors, none of which were closer than nine points. This week’s schedule doesn’t let up at all with the Cavaliers, Celtics and Nets next up.

13. Los Angeles Clippers

Record: 25–24

Previous ranking: 15

The Clippers welcomed Paul George back to the lineup last week, but lost to the 76ers by 10 in his first game back on Tuesday. L.A. was without George and Kawhi Leonard the next night and lost again, this time by 23 to the Jazz. The All-Star duo returned over the weekend for a pair of wins in Texas over the Spurs and Mavericks. Leonard scored 30-plus in both games and George had 21 against Dallas. The Clippers’ starting five is fully healthy heading into Wednesday’s bout with the Lakers.

14. Atlanta Hawks

Record: 24–23

Previous ranking: 17

The Hawks’ season-long five-game win streak came to an end at home against the Hornets on Saturday after they blew a 19-point lead. It was a tough loss for an Atlanta team that otherwise had a productive few weeks and regained a winning record. Days before, the Hawks beat the Mavericks on the road and Knicks at home and scored 130-plus points in each game thanks to strong outings from Dejounte Murray. Atlanta is back on the road Monday in Chicago.

15. Oklahoma City Thunder

Record: 23–24

Previous ranking: 19

The Thunder were the first team to beat the Nuggets in Denver since Dallas did so on Dec. 6. With Jokić sidelined, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander starred with 34 points and Josh Giddey added 18 in Sunday’s two-point win. On the road in Sacramento on Friday, Oklahoma City fell by five despite 37 out of SGA. That was a few days after the team set a franchise record with 41 assists in a 20-point win against the Pacers. For the first time since November, the Thunder are within one game of .500 with the Hawks next up on their schedule.

16. Minnesota Timberwolves

Record: 24–24

Previous ranking: 18

Minnesota went 2–1 with Rudy Gobert (groin) sidelined. Its lone loss came on the road in Denver to the best team in the West and the Timberwolves held a lead heading into the fourth but couldn’t hold on. The next night against the Raptors they authored their own turnaround in the final quarter for a two-point win. And over the weekend Anthony Edwards scored a season-high 44 points to beat the Rockets. Minnesota faces Houston again on Monday, this time on the road.

17. Golden State Warriors

Record: 23–24

Previous ranking: 16

The Warriors fell just short of having a very impressive week. The Celtics forced overtime in the second Finals rematch of the season and Golden State lost by three on the road. With Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green all out, the Dubs defeated the Cavaliers on the road by six as Jordan Poole went for 32 points. Back in the Bay on Sunday, the Warriors lost to the Durant-less Nets by four. Next up is another playoff rematch against the Grizzlies on Wednesday.

18. Los Angeles Lakers

Record: 22–25

Previous ranking: 20

Los Angeles picked up a pair of hardfought, important wins last week ahead of Anthony Davis’ pending return. After coming up short against the Kings, the Lakers ended the Grizzlies winning streak thanks to Schröder’s clutch-and-one and a team-high 29 points from Russell Westbrook. L.A. made it two in a row on Sunday when it stormed back from a 25-point deficit to beat Portland by nine as LeBron James edged closer to the all-time scoring record with 37 points. The front office also acquired forward Rui Rachimura from the Wizards for Kendrick Nunn and three second-round picks on Monday, perhaps the first of a series of moves to upgrade the roster before the deadline.

19. Phoenix Suns

Record: 24–24

Previous ranking: 24

The Suns corrected course last week at home. A large part of Phoenix’s recent skid happened on the road against difficult competition without Devin Booker (groin) or Chris Paul (hip). Back at the Footprint Center for three games in four days, the Suns beat the Nets, Pacers and Grizzlies to get back to .500. Paul returned from a two-week absence for the Memphis game and finished with 22 points and 11 assists and Mikal Bridges scored 20-plus for the fifth straight game.

20. Indiana Pacers

Record: 23–25

Previous ranking: 13

Indiana has been without Tyrese Haliburton (knee) for the last six games of its seven-game losing streak. Playing a particularly difficult schedule only made matters worse for the Pacers, who are now 1–7 without Haliburton after three more losses last week. The Thunder, Nuggets and Suns each got the best of them as they wrapped up a winless four-game road trip. Indiana is falling fast, though Haliburton recently said that he hopes to return at the start of February.

21. Utah Jazz

Record: 24–25

Previous ranking: 21

The Jazz split their two-game schedule last week. They beat the Clippers by 23 behind Lauri Markkanen’s 34 points and then lost to the Nets by 11. Utah is doing just enough to keep its head above water in the play-in range as just three games separate fifth place from 13th. The Jazz are back in action in Salt Lake City on Monday against the Hornets.

22. Portland Trail Blazers

Record: 21–25

Previous ranking: 14

Portland was on the verge of .500 last week following back-to-back surprising wins over Dallas. The Trail Blazers went in the wrong direction with three losses in a row to the Nuggets, 76ers and Lakers, all by at least nine points, and they led by 25 at the half in the loss to Los Angeles. The Blazers are 4–10 over the last month and have the third-worst record in the West. Despite Damian Lillard’s best efforts, Portland is going backwards.

23. Chicago Bulls

Record: 21–24

Previous ranking: 22

The Bulls left France with an 18-point win over the Pistons, powered by the play of Zach LaVine and Nikola Vucevic. Chicago holds the final play-in tournament spot in the East and has a big week ahead. It has the opportunity to claw its way back to .500 for the first time since early November with four games on the docket, two of which are against teams it’s currently behind in the standings (Atlanta and Indiana).

24. Washington Wizards

Record: 20–26

Previous ranking: 25

With Bradley Beal back in the lineup, Washington went 2–0 last week. Kyle Kuzma and Kristaps Porzingis led the way in an 11-point win over the Knicks at Madison Square Garden. And over the weekend against the Magic, the Wizards put it all together in a dominant, 20-point win against the Magic. Hachimura matched a career-high 30 points in the win, which saw the Wizards connect 18 times from beyond the arc in what ended up being his last game in Washington. Up next is a five-game road trip, beginning Tuesday in Dallas.

25. Toronto Raptors

Record: 21–27

Previous ranking: 23

Toronto was on the wrong end of a few close games last week before one finally went its way. Following an eight-point loss in Milwaukee, the Raptors lost by two in Minnesota and returned home Saturday for another two-point defeat, this time against Boston. Then on Sunday, with O.G. Anunoby (ankle) out, Fred VanVleet went for 28 in a nine-point win over the Knicks. Toronto’s seven-game road trip gets underway Wednesday.

26. Orlando Magic

Record: 17–29

Previous ranking: 26

Orlando held up at home, as it’s been prone to do this year, and got blown out on the road last week. Franz Wagner’s 30 points and nine assists lifted the Magic to a 13-point win against the Pelicans at the Amway Center. They lost by 20 the next night to the Wizards in the nation’s capital. Orlando is in the middle between the group of teams on the fringe of the play-in tournament and the basement of the Eastern Conference.

27. San Antonio Spurs

Record: 14–32

Previous ranking: 27

San Antonio hosted Brooklyn with Durant and Irving both out and took full advantage. Keldon Johnson scored a career-best 36 points to pair with 11 rebounds in an eight-point win, which snapped the Spurs’ five-game losing streak. The Clippers came to town a few nights later and left with a victory, despite Johnson’s best efforts once again. San Antonio heads to Portland on Monday to begin a quick road trip that wraps up with a back-to-back against the Los Angeles teams later in the week.

28. Charlotte Hornets

Record: 13–34

Previous ranking: 29

The Hornets won back-to-back games for the first time since late November and just the second time this season last week. LaMelo Ball (ankle) exited early against the Rockets and missed the Atlanta game entirely, but Charlotte pulled out wins of five and four points, respectively, behind the play of Terry Rozier and Mason Plumlee. The Hornets have a back-to-back Monday and Tuesday against the Jazz and Suns to close out their four-game road trip.

29. Detroit Pistons

Record: 12–36

Previous ranking: 28

The Pistons traveled nearly 4,000 miles from Detroit to Paris for their lone game last week, a loss to the Bulls. Rookie center Jalen Duren sorted out his passport issue and posted a double-double in limited minutes and Bojan Bogdanovic tallied 25 points to lead the team. The second-worst unit in the NBA by defensive rating allowed Chicago to score at will and the Pistons dropped their third game in a row. Detroit hosts Milwaukee on Monday for its first game back stateside.

30. Houston Rockets

Record: 10–36

Previous ranking: 30

The longest losing streak in the NBA this season belongs to the Rockets, who have dropped 13 in a row following an 0–3 week. They lost by single digits to the Lakers, Hornets and Timberwolves despite some impressive individual performances. Alperen Sengun, who double-doubled in all three games, scored a career-high 33 points against Los Angeles and Jalen Green matched his career-best with 41 points versus Charlotte. On Monday, Houston hosts Minnesota, which can complete the 4–0 season sweep with a win.


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