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NBA Power Rankings: Separating contenders from pretenders as 2021-22 season hits final stretch

Chinmay Vaidya updates his NBA power rankings after the 2021-22 All-Star break.

Golden State Warriors v Phoenix Suns
Chris Paul of the Phoenix Suns hugs Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors after the game on December 25, 2021 at Footprint Center in Phoenix, Arizona.
Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images

We’ve hit the second half of the All-Star break with the weekend festivities wrapped up, and it’s a good time to check in on how the final stretch of the season will play out. I’ve taken a slightly different approach in the latest edition of the NBA Power Rankings with the final stretch of the season underway. This is where title contenders and pretenders start to truly emerge and even those contending teams have some issues to sort out. I’ve placed teams in tiers, with their DraftKings Sportsbook title odds in parenthesis.

Bona fide Contenders

Phoenix Suns (+425), Golden State Warriors (+450), Miami Heat (+1200), Milwaukee Bucks (+700)

The Suns and Warriors continue to run the West. Even with Chris Paul out for the rest of the regular season, Phoenix has enough of a cushion to maintain a top seed. Golden State should get Draymond Green and James Wiseman back and could catch the Suns. In the East, the Heat and Bucks remain the only contenders without roster questions. They’ll meet March 2 in a game that will be a measuring stick for both teams. Look for all four of these teams to keep their winning ways going as they hope to stay healthy during this last stretch of the season.

Secondary Contenders

Philadelphia 76ers (+700), Utah Jazz (+1700), Memphis Grizzlies (+2500)

The 76ers have the most upside with James Harden coming in, but there will be an adjustment period with the guard and Joel Embiid. Utah gets Rudy Gobert back and should see its results start to trend in the right direction again. Memphis might be considered a longshot at 25/1, but the Grizzlies rank in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive rating. That’s typically a metric for success. We’ll see if Dillon Brooks can come back at 100 percent for the Grizzlies.

Contenders With Major Injury Concerns

Brooklyn Nets (+425), Chicago Bulls (+3000), Los Angeles Lakers (+4500), Denver Nuggets (+3500)

The Nets have some major holes with Kevin Durant and Ben Simmons out. We’ll see if either gets back on the court this season, but that team’s upside can change tremendously. The Bulls also have a significant chunk of their rotation out with Alex Caruso, Lonzo Ball and Patrick Williams. Those players can make them a quite annoying team to face in the playoffs.

The Lakers are in a rut and Anthony Davis’ injury issues are a big reason why. LeBron James is still in the mix and healthy though, which is why it’s hard to count LA out completely. There’s a version of this which ends up being effective, which many saw in the loss to the Warriors and the win over the Jazz.

Can the Nuggets get either Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. back to give Nikola Jokic a secondary star? Denver has stayed afloat despite Jokic having to do everything offensively but it’s only a matter of time before that type of system doesn’t work. The Nuggets need someone to come back to take a step forward.

Phoenix could be in this category but Paul’s injury is a thumb issue and shouldn’t have any setbacks. The Suns have a cushion on Golden State at the moment, so there’s little reason to worry for Phoenix unless Paul’s injury becomes much worse. Given the injury, that’s unlikely.

We’ll get answers to all these questions in this next segment of the season.

Pretenders

Dallas Mavericks (+4000), Cleveland Cavaliers (+5500), Boston Celtics (+2500)

Luka Doncic has been a one-man wrecking crew for the Mavs, but we’ve seen that fail in the playoffs already multiple times. The Cavaliers have been a surprise this season and will be a pesky playoff team but don’t have the talent of the top East teams. The Celtics are on a nice winning streak but we’ve seen this movie before as well. There’s always some reason Boston can’t seem to escape itself in the postseason.

Here’s a look at the full rankings as the All-Star break starts to wind down.

NBA Power Rankings: All-Star Break

Rank Team Previous Rank
Rank Team Previous Rank
1 Phoenix Suns 1
2 Golden State Warriors 2
3 Miami Heat 3
4 Milwaukee Bucks 4
5 Philadelphia 76ers 5
6 Utah Jazz 8
7 Memphis Grizzlies 6
8 Chicago Bulls 7
9 Dallas Mavericks 10
10 Cleveland Cavaliers 9
11 Denver Nuggets 12
12 Boston Celtics 11
13 Brooklyn Nets 18
14 Minnesota Timberwolves 14
15 Toronto Raptors 13
16 Charlotte Hornets 17
17 Atlanta Hawks 16
18 Los Angeles Lakers 15
19 Los Angeles Clippers 19
20 Washington Wizards 20
21 New York Knicks 21
22 New Orleans Pelicans 23
23 Indiana Pacers 22
24 San Antonio Spurs 25
25 Portland Trail Blazers 28
26 Sacramento Kings 24
27 Oklahoma City Thunder 26
28 Detroit Pistons 27
29 Orlando Magic 29
30 Houston Rockets 30