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It has been a little more than a week since the tragic passing of Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna and seven others in a helicopter crash. As the entire sports world and the Los Angeles Lakers mourn his passing, we press on with an almost full week of NBA action. The exception was the highly anticipated showdown between the Los Angles Clippers and Lakers, which was postponed. After two weeks of games since the last edition of these rankings, let’s take a look at where they stand as all-star weekend and the trade deadline approach.
10. Philadelphia 76ers (31-19)
Previous Ranking: 10
The evening before Bryant’s tragic passing, the 76ers made a statement on national television by dominating the Lakers by 17 points. Since then, star center Joel Embiid returned for their last two games even though they lost both. The 76ers proved themselves against elite competition but have struggled since Embiid has come back. If they are going to be serious contenders, they need to develop the chemistry with Simmons and Embiid together. Their next two games are at Miami and Milwaukee so that will provide a good test for them.
9. Utah Jazz (32-17)
Previous Ranking: 3
The Jazz had a rough week last week, going 0-4. They especially struggled defensively as in three of their four losses. Two of their losses were against the Denver Nuggets and the Portland Trail Blazers and this week, they will face them both again but this time at home. The Jazz have fallen to fourth in the west and are in a battle with the Nuggets for the division title and a win over them this week would be very important.
8. Indiana Pacers (31-18)
Previous Ranking: 5
This past week was highlighted by the return of star guard Victor Oladipo. Oladipo was clutch in his return as he sparked an overtime win over the Chicago Bulls. They lost their next game at home to the New York Knicks and are struggling to adapt to his return. The Pacers will be tested this week as they will face the Dallas Mavericks and the red-hot Toronto Raptors twice.
7. Miami Heat (33-15)
Previous Ranking: 7
The Heat have been on a roller coaster the last couple weeks. The Heat beat the lowly Scaramento Kings and Washington Wizards in overtime, beat the Orlando Magic twice and lost to the Boston Celtics and the Clippers. They continue to be well-rounded as they have had five different top scorers in their last seven games. After tonight’s game vs the 76ers, they will begin a six-game road trip.
6. Denver Nuggets (34-16)
Previous Ranking: 8
The Nuggets continue to deal with a slew of injuries as forward Paul Millsap and guards Jamal Murray and Gary Harris continue to miss games with injury. Despite missing these three starters, the Nuggets had an incredible 24 hours as they beat both the Jazz and the NBA’s best team in the Milwaukee Bucks. However, they followed that with an overtime loss to the Detroit Pistons. They will have another back-to-back this week, this time against the Blazers and Jazz.
5. Boston Celtics (33-15)
Previous Ranking: NR
Since their three-game losing streak heading into MLK Day, the Celtics have ripped off six wins in seven games, including wins over the 76ers, Heat and Lakers. In four of those wins, they held four of those opponents to under 102 points. The Celtics have climbed up to third in the Eastern Conference are a scary team to face. They look to continue this hot streak as they face the Atlanta Hawks and the Magic twice this week.
4. Los Angeles Clippers (34-15)
Previous Ranking: 4
The Clippers went 4-1 on their six-game road trip (sixth game at the Lakers postponed) and would promptly return home and get blown out by the Kings. The Clippers have a lighter schedule in the month of February and look to tread water as the early part of March looks to be a tough stretch for them. It will be interesting to see Kawhi’s load management decisions this month.
3. Los Angeles Lakers (37-11)
Previous Ranking: 2
This is an organization in mourning as they lost possibly the face of their entire franchise history last week in a tragic helicopter crash. Their game against the Clippers was postponed but they played the Blazers this past Friday night in their first game since the tragedy. They would lose 127-119 as they gave up 48 points to Damian Lillard. After a win over at the Kings last night, they return for two home primetime games against the Spurs and Rockets.
2. Toronto Raptors (36-14)
Previous Ranking: 6
Yes, the Raptors have played a very light schedule in the last few weeks by beating up a lot of basement-dwelling teams. But we have seen plenty of teams on this lists lose games they shouldn’t. The Raptors have simply been taking care of business with 11 straight wins. There is a lot to be said about that level of consistency and that is why they are second on this list. However, the competition will increase in difficulty as they will face the Pacers twice this week.
1. Milwaukee Bucks (42-7)
Previous Ranking: 1
While that lost this past Friday to the banged-up Nuggets at home was a head scratcher, the Bucks are still clearly the best team in the NBA. They have won 10 of their past 11 and their offense continues to hum along. Last week, they dropped 151 points on the Wizards and last night, they rebounded from their loss to the Nuggets with a 129-108 win over the Phoenix Suns. Next up for the Bucks is a road game against a sneaky Pelicans team.