5. Los Angeles Clippers
Few things in life are more difficult than admitting that one was wrong. I, for one, was very, very wrong. The Clippers should never have left the power rankings, and the Lakers most certainly did not deserve to displace them last week. Of course, last week’s list came right as LeBron’s injury did, severity unknown at the time, so little more than a coin toss decided which Los Angeles team would make the list and which would return to the pool at large. Chance proved incorrect. Few teams in the league can match the intensity of the Clippers, and Kawhi Leonard looks prepared to make his return to the Finals, barring any screeching halt met in a matchup against another scorching hot top seed in the conference. Should Paul George find how to improve his postseason performance though, this team may crush everything in their path on the way to a Finals appearance. Record and ambiguity on George is all that keeps this squad at the lower end of the rankings.
4. Phoenix Suns
It seems like people frequently forget about the Suns. Certainly, any even casual basketball fan knows the hype surrounding the young Devin Booker, and more people than that remember the full capacity of Chris Paul from the Clippers years. Yet, the conversation seemingly surrounds big city markets in Los Angeles and New York disproportionately, leaving the southwest team out to dry. Nevertheless, the Suns have persisted and presently nip at the heels of the struggling Jazz to vie for the top seed in the West. Chris Paul never got a ring in Los Angeles or Houston, and arguably missed one of his better chances in a young but sound Oklahoma City team. Maybe this year could finally see the veteran go all the way and secure his place in the history books. That is, if he has not locked eternal fame already.
3. Brooklyn Nets
Perhaps no team seems quite so enigmatic as the Brooklyn Nets. They do everything wrong and employ the weakest strategy ever to enter the court, and yet they still win with great consistency. They keep scoring confined to their superstars and they seldom exert any defensive effort, and they still have yet to play with every current or former All-Star on the team in a single game. Kevin Durant seems to have resigned to take a gap year and possibly arrive in the postseason, should he feel like it, granting the opportunity to James Harden to pad his own stats throughout the year. Given their success, they must sit at least as high as the third seed in the power rankings as of yet, but as far as postseason prospects go, only a fool can see a ring in their future. Until they can refine their play to at least some recognizable strategy (one that involves playing both ends of the floor, no less), they can expect a thrashing from any real team in a series.
2. Philadelphia 76ers
Despite many of their most recent wins coming from injured teams, including a Curry-less Warriors and a Lakers squad sans LeBron James and Anthony Davis, the 76ers remain high on the list with an intimidating L10 (9-1 as of 3/27), their only recent loss coming from an overtime game against a reinvigorated Milwaukee. Moreover, they have maintained this level of production despite not having Joel Embiid in their most recent outings. If anything should keep a team so high, it should be winning consistently even without the superstar of the team and likely MVP. Another week at this level of play and the 76ers could easily snag the top seat overall in the power rankings. No team but the Jazz has held the spot for much of 2021 and only one other team, the now absent Lakers, has held the position at all this year. Even if they drop some games in the coming weeks, if they can keep the score relatively tight and win a good majority in the absence of Embiid, they may prove themselves as the most formidable in the league.
1. Utah Jazz
In what might be their closest call yet, the Jazz will ultimately retain their position at the top of the list for at least one week more. Philadelphia looks almost too hot to fend off, but the Jazz have held strong as the best record in the league. However, with their recent struggles, they may easily find themselves losing their league-best record to the cross-conference competitor, and maybe even their spot at the top of the West to the ever-encroaching Suns. Even though they sit at the top right now, the Jazz lay on the cusp of dropping to second, if not third or fourth, in the power rankings they have dominated all year. They still win games and pose quite a threat, but the play coming from other squads may very well displace them sooner than later. For their sake, they should hope to iron out these kinks before the postseason rolls around.
Hot Seat: Milwaukee Bucks
As the first team in quite a while to hold the coveted hot seat in back to back weeks, Milwaukee remains looking absolutely phenomenal in their play. For all intents and purposes, one can effectively consider this slot as a 5 ½ seed, as the only factor keeping them from entering the big five resides in their slow start to the year and the consistency posed by other teams more familiar with a place in the rankings. They have won with fantastic regularity as of late, and if they can keep up the effort, they may see themselves rising and putting the East into control for the first time this year of the top teams. With an underperforming Jazz team, this renaissance comes at a perfect time. At no other point yet this season has upward mobility been more possible; Milwaukee has nowhere to go but up, it seems.