The NBA In-Season Tournament has certainly added some flair to the slog of the regular season after the first month of action. Teams are starting to enter the elimination stages of the draw, and players and teams grapple for position by increasing point margins at the end of games. Some players don’t understand the rules of the tournament, leading to anger and scuffles when they believe someone is running up the score or playing unethically. Hopefully, as the years go on there will be more clarity on the rules of the event. Here is where every team in the NBA ranks heading into the sixth week!
1. Boston Celtics
Jayson Tatum went viral after losing to Charlotte last week. A video surfaced of him telling basketball campers to play hard, even if it’s a Monday night game against the Hornets. While Tatum accumulated a big night, he lost to Buzz City. Other than this funny aside, Boston is playing excellent basketball!
2. Oklahoma City Thunder
On the court, the Thunder are playing ahead of schedule. Chet Holmgren and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander are unstoppable. Off the court, OKC needs to be concerned about Josh Giddy. The third-year star may be in trouble for dating a minor, and the NBA must take action if the allegations are true.
3. Minnesota Timberwolves
Minnesota’s lack of adjustments versus the Sacramento Kings the other night was concerning. Mike Brown ran the same pick-and-roll with De’Aaron Fox 17 times, and the Wolves were at their mercy. Coach Chris Finch must prove he can adjust and become creative as the stakes heighten.
4. Milwaukee Bucks
Brook Lopez is perhaps the key to the Bucks sustaining success in the East after trading Jrue Holiday. Damian Lillard’s defense has been suspect, and Lopez erases some of those mistakes in the interior. He also is capable of putting up 39 points like he did the other night against the Wizards.
5. Orlando Magic
Is that the Orlando Magic climbing to second in the East? One of the conference’s most frequent cellar-dwellers is having its best start in years because of cohesion and excellent roster construction. Cole Anthony is one of the NBA’s best sparks in the backcourt, supplementing Jalen Suggs and Paolo Banchero.
6. Phoenix Suns
Kevin Durant is having an MVP-type season. He looked a step slow in the first week of the year, but KD has transformed back into his prime-level self since then. Durant has played every game, while Devin Booker and Bradley Beal have struggled with injuries.
7. Denver Nuggets
Denver’s recent losses can be attributed to boredom and injuries to Jamal Murray. If the in-season tournament can’t motivate the defending champions, that pretty much tells Adam Silver that the long-term viability of the idea may not be so great.
8. Philadelphia 76ers
A big win for the Sixers on the road against the Thunder proved that Philadelphia has the weapons to attack on both sides of the court against great competition. Joel Embiid’s flopping remains an eyesore, though.
9. Dallas Mavericks
Luka Doncic needs to focus on not getting so upset when things don’t go his way. The Mavs’ star looked frustrated and out of sorts against the Clippers on Saturday. Jason Kidd needs to get the Dallas offense moving a little more.
10. Sacramento Kings
Sacramento’s continuity and success from last year is carrying over into the current season, including overcoming early season struggles and injuries. The Kings are going to keep relying on internal growth for survival in the Western Conference.
11. New York Knicks
Jalen Brunson said he was motivated to beat the Heat on Friday night when a fan trash-talked him during timeouts. Something about fan interaction in the Big Apple just gets the competitive fires kindling more than in any other city!
12. Indiana Pacers
Tyrese Haliburton is making a case to be declared the best player from the 2020 NBA Draft. He has the Indiana Pacers scoring at an unprecedented clip, and his 25 points per game and 12 assists per game make him one of the most devastating dual-threat point guards in basketball history.
13. Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers are struggling to shoot the ball this year, ranking in the bottom third of the league in three-point percentage. D’Angelo Russell will be tasked with getting the backcourt going, but it’s nice to see Anthony Davis and LeBron James healthy and playing together.
14. Houston Rockets
Alperen Sengun looks like Domantas Sabonis but has more offensive skills. Sengun is quietly making the Rockets a playoff team without getting much credit. He deserves All-Star consideration come February.
15. Miami Heat
Jimmy Butler’s insistence on shooting three-pointers instead of attacking the rim at the end of close games caused the Heat to lose a tight one in New York. Erik Spoelstra’s creativity and perseverance have turned Jamie Jaquez Jr. into a factor in their lineups.
16. Los Angeles Clippers
The Clippers have mightily improved ever since Russell Westbrook went to the bench, but Russ won’t be happy playing only 15 minutes a night. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George’s health have been a boon for a team usually plagued by injuries.
17. New Orleans Pelicans
The Pelicans have got to find a way to get off the roller coaster. They started out the season making good progress before sliding out of the playoffs. They are 5-5 in their last ten games, and Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram continue to look shaky together.
18. Atlanta Hawks
The Hawks only win games against mediocre or bad teams around the league, but falter when they get the chance to prove themselves against a contender. Atlanta’s wins against Washington and Brooklyn aren’t much to celebrate.
19. Cleveland Cavaliers
What’s keeping the Cavs from replicating their success from last season? They maintain a great roster with young talent, even getting a 21-point, 14-rebound performance from Jarrett Allen against the Lakers on Saturday night.
20. Golden State Warriors
Draymond Green returns from his suspension against the Sacramento Kings this week. Green’s presence should make the starting lineup more cohesive, but Steve Kerr must not forget to keep playing Moses Moody and Jonathan Kuminga big minutes.
21. Brooklyn Nets
Ben Simmons, once again, is making a habit of missing chunks of time with injuries. The Nets need him back on the court, considering the team is investing a lot of time and money into him being a cornerstone for the future.
22. Toronto Raptors
The Raptors are one of the teams benefitting from the added motivation of the in-season tournament. Toronto played very well this week in beating the Bulls and Pacers, but they rank low here due to an inspired roster that still needs some time to gel.
23. Chicago Bulls
Demar DeRozan got upset on Friday when the Raptors tried to run up the score at the end of their in-season tournament game. Point margin matters in the standings for the in-season tournament, and NBA teams must do a better job explaining the rules to their players. The situation shows how out of sorts the Bulls are.
24. Charlotte Hornets
LaMelo Ball’s health has been critical in the slight growth of the Hornets. His ability to score and make his teammates better helps Charlotte in the short term, but they need to make a deal if they want to get into playoff contention in the next two months.
25. Utah Jazz
Utah keeps staying in close games, such as the ones against the Suns and Pelicans in their last five. Young coach Will Hardy has some growing to do still, but the Jazz play hard every night, and sometimes that’s all you can ask of a team like this.
26. Portland Trail Blazers
Portland’s efforts in Milwaukee were wasted on Sunday when they blew a double-digit lead heading into the fourth quarter against the Bucks. The Blazers probably aren’t upset at piling up the losses, as this will help get another draft pick in the spring.
27. Memphis Grizzlies
Marcus Smart will go viral once in a while for trying to motivate the Grizzlies on the sideline during timeouts. The state of the team is in disarray, and no amount of movie speeches is going to change that quickly.
28. San Antonio Spurs
The Spurs made a lot of headlines off the court this week. Gregg Popovich scolded the fans for serenading Kawhi Leonard with boos, and Wemby got wound up over his name being misspelled. Both men should probably focus on winning a game, something that hasn’t happened in weeks.
29. Washington Wizards
The Wizards would improve with a mature veteran added to the roster. Kyle Kuzma carries the scoring load, but the team needs a lot more than points to get some wins on the board.
30. Detroit Pistons
The Detroit Pistons have only won four basketball games since February 2023. The futility on display in the Motor City is almost unfathomable. An entire overhaul of the franchise from top to bottom is in order.