16.) Nuggets (33-36) Previous rank: 17
The Nuggets beat the Lakers and Clippers for their fourth straight win early in Week 21 before dropping a game to the Rockets. Nikola Jokic has tied David Robinson for most triple-doubles in a season (five) since 1977, and the Nuggets are still holding onto the No. 8 seed in the West by a thread — they have a 1.0 game cushion over the Blazers (No. 9) and a 3.0 game lead over the Mavericks (No. 10). Unfortunately, their next two games are against the Rockets in Houston and the Cavaliers at home.
17.) Hawks (37-32) Previous rank: 12
The Hawks lost all three of their games in Week 21 to the Spurs, Grizzlies and Blazers, and to make matters worse, Paul Millsap is going to miss at least two more games due to left knee tightness and Kent Bazemore is out for at least 7-10 days with a right knee bone bruise. Look for Tim Hardaway Jr. to pick up the scoring slack in their absence — THJ has scored 20-or-more points a career-best 17 times this season.
18.) Pistons (34-36) Previous rank: 15
The Pistons suffered blowout losses to the Cavaliers, Jazz and Raptors in Week 21 before getting back on track in a win over the Suns on Sunday. It wasn’t easy though, as the Pistons were trailing the Suns by 12 points in the second half and had to be saved by an unlikely hero in Aron Baynes — the big man finished with 13 points and 17 rebounds in just 18 minutes. With 12 games remaining, the Pistons are tied with the Heat for the No. 8 seed in the East.
19.) Bulls (33-37) Previous rank: 19
The Bulls snapped their five-game losing streak with a win over the Hornets, but they followed that up with two losses to the Grizzlies and Wizards before bouncing back vs. the Jazz. Dwyane Wade has been ruled out for the rest of the season with a fractured right elbow, but they still have their eyes set on a playoff run and are just 1.0 game behind the Pistons (No. 8) and Heat (No. 9). However, losing Wade may not be the end of the world — the Bulls rank last in 3-point percentage, last in effective field goal percentage and 29th in true shooting percentage per Statmuse.
20.) Mavericks (30-39) Previous rank: 22
The Mavericks split four games in Week 21 with wins over the Wizards and Nets with losses to the 76ers and Raptors. Their game against Philly was arguably their worst performance of the last few seasons, as they lost by a whopping 42 points. "As a team we’re trying to find our identity,’’ Mark Cuban said. "And I think our identity has to be that we play harder than the other team.” The Mavericks are still on the outside looking in, but they are only 3.0 games behind the Nuggets (No. 8) for the final playoff spot in the West.
21.) Pelicans (29-41) Previous rank: 23
The Pelicans are heating up and finished 3-1 in Week 21 with wins over the Blazers, Rockets and Wolves with a loss to the Heat, but it might be too little, too late. With 12 games remaining, the Pelicans are 4.5 games behind the Nuggets (No. 8 seed). They gave up their first-round pick to acquire DeMarcus Cousins, so they probably won’t shut down any of their studs until they are mathematically eliminated. Coach Alvin Gentry may have the hottest seat in the NBA this summer.
22.) Wolves (28-41) Previous rank: 20
The Wolves were able to open their week with an impressive win over the Wizards only to drop their next three games against the Celtics, Heat and Pelicans. The Wolves are 5.0 games behind the Nuggets for the No. 8 seed with 13 games remaining, and while Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins have been consistently awesome all season, Ricky Rubio also deserves some praise for playing the best ball of his career. He scored 20+ points in four straight games, becoming the first Wolves point guard to accomplish that since Sam Cassell in February 2004 (h/t Wolves PR).
23.) Hornets (30-39) Previous rank: 21
The Hornets dropped two games to the Pacers and Bulls early in Week 21 before picking up a win over the Wizards, but their playoff hopes are dwindling by the day — they trail the No. 8 seed in the East by 3.5 games. At least they got some good news on the health of Nicolas Batum, as a CT scan of his brain came back negative after the forward was battling serious migraines. He was able to return to action on Mar. 18 after a two-game absence.
24.) 76ers (26-43) Previous rank: 26
After a narrow loss to the Warriors early in Week 21, the 76ers won two straight games over the Mavericks and Celtics. Dario Saric has all but wrapped up the Rookie of the Year Award, scoring 23+ points in three out of his last four games. The 76ers could have two top-5 picks in this year’s draft, so there’s a lot to be excited about in Philly.
25.) Knicks (27-42) Previous rank: 24
The Knicks only played twice in Week 21 and managed to sneak past the Pacers, but they lost to the Nets for the second time this season. “I think it was pretty easy to tell from the inside that we’re not that good of a team,” Kristaps Porzingis said. “We can win games based off of our talent but that’s not going to last long and that’s exactly what happened.” Expect a lot of changes in New York this summer and that will likely include the departures of Carmelo Anthony and Derrick Rose.
26.) Magic (25-45) Previous rank: 25
The Magic lost their first two games of the week to the Kings and Warriors, but did take one back vs. the Suns on Friday. The Magic have the fourth worst record in the NBA which gives them a 11.9 percent chance at landing the top overall pick in this year’s loaded draft. Losing to the 76ers on Monday would be in their best interests in the long term, so expect them to be shady going forward — don’t be surprised if they shut down Nikola Vucevic.
27.) Suns (22-48) Previous rank: 27
The Suns just gave a lesson in tanking 101 this week by shutting down veteran guards Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight. You can’t really blame them though, as they’re taking advantage of a broken lottery system that rewards losing. The move also gives Tyler Ulis the chance to thrive, and the rookie PG is taking full advantage of his new role — he’s averaging 16.3 points and 10.7 assists through his first three starts.
28.) Lakers (20-50) Previous rank: 28
After inexplicably benching D’Angelo Russell in order to experiment with different lineups, coach Luke Walton moved DAR back in the first unit on Sunday vs. the Cavaliers and fireworks went off. Russell dropped 40 points with seven 3-pointers and six assists, becoming the youngest Laker player ever to score 40 points in a regular season game. The Lakers are going to use him “off the ball” going forward, meaning they might be trying to see if he could fit in next to Markelle Fultz or Lonzo Ball if the Lakers keep their top-3 protected lottery pick — they have a 55.8 percent chance to keep it if the season ended today.
29.) Kings (27-43) Previous rank: 29
They blew up their roster in order to start over, but they may have uncovered a gem in the process. Skal Labissiere went off for 32 points and 11 rebounds in a win over the Suns on Mar. 15, becoming the first member of the 2016 draft class to score 30+ points.
30.) Nets (13-56) Previous rank: 30
They are really, really bad. They are going to be even worse now that Jeremy Lin could be potentially shut down for the season after suffering an ankle injury on Sunday. As bad as they’ve been, they were still able to beat the Knicks twice in the span of a week. Spencer Dinwiddie will start at point guard the rest of the way, and I’d expect the Nets to go into full evaluation mode for the final few weeks of the season.