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USA Today Sports Media Group
USA Today Sports Media Group
Michael Sykes

Post All-Star NBA Power Rankings: The middle of the Western Conference is getting just as interesting as the top

The NBA All-Star break was a nice reprieve from some meaningful basketball (though the conversation surrounding the game has become exhausting).

Now, it’s time to get back in the saddle as teams get ready for the final sprint to the playoffs this year. And, boy, are we going to have some close races this year.

Everybody keeps talking about the top of the Western Conference — rightfully so. Just three games separate the first four seeds in the West.

But, y’all. Take a look at the bottom of the conference real quick. Just five games are separating the No. 5 through No. 10 seeds in the conference.

A neat little winning streak from one of these teams might just flip the conference on its head (Looking at you, Mavericks).

Hope is not lost, folks. I’m talking to you, Warriors, Lakers and Kings fans. Your teams can still escape the clutches of the Play-In tournament.

We’ll see how this goes down the stretch. One thing is for sure, though: Watching this is going to be fun.

Washington Wizards

(AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

The Wizards might not have the worst record in basketball, but Washington is easily playing the worst ball in the league right now. No worries. Bilal Coulibaly is going to be good. Give it time, Wizards fans.

Detroit Pistons

(AP Photo/José Luis Villegas)

The Pistons still stink, but Jaden Ivey’s surge as of late is cause for celebration in Detroit. There are things to be positive about in Detroit.

RELATED: The Pistons don’t look like the worst team in the NBA anymore

Portland Trail Blazers

Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Having the Trail Blazers down this low initially felt a bit harsh. But outside of the Nets, who lost a game by 50 points, the Trail Blazers have the worst net rating in the NBA over the last five games at -14.6. Portland is closer to being the worst team in the NBA than just being below average.

San Antonio Spurs

(Photo by Cole Burston/Getty Images)

Victor Wembanyama continues to impress. The Spurs aren’t very good, but he’s dominating games in a way that make it seem like, with the right moves next season, San Antonio could be a Play-In team.

The Spurs should keep focusing on development and health. Next year will be bright in San Antonio.

RELATED: Wemby whooped the Raptors so bad that Scottie Barnes left early

Charlotte Hornets

AP Photo – Nell Redmond

The Hornets seemed to get worse after the All-Star break by losing P.J. Washington, but Charlotte had also won three straight games heading into the break. Maybe the Hornets aren’t as bad as we thought.

Brooklyn Nets

Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

The more time that passes, the more I wonder why the Nets didn’t just move Mikal Bridges at the trade deadline. This team is in quicksand. Losing a game by 50 points is downright embarrassing.

Firing Jacque Vaughn might help in the short term, but I’m not sure where things are going in Brooklyn and I’m not sure the Nets are sure, either.

Toronto Raptors

Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been a rough season for the Raptors, but having Scottie Barnes make his first All-Star appearance has to be something worth celebrating in Toronto. It’s a small sliver of validation for the organization after deciding to hand their young forward the keys.

Memphis Grizzlies

Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

GG Jackson has been one of the more delightful stories in the NBA so far this year, even with the Grizzlies retooling a bit during Ja Morant’s extended absences. Beating the Bucks ahead of the All-Star break might’ve been the best moment of the season.

RELATED: GG Jackson trolls Doc Rivers after the Grizzlies beat Milwaukee

Atlanta Hawks

Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

The Hawks chose to hold on to Dejounte Murray — at least until the summer when there’s more draft capital for teams to spend on a potential starting point guard.

Atlanta just can’t get its defense up to par — a 120 defensive rating in the last five games has the Hawks on a bit of a skid.

Utah Jazz

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The Utah Jazz are headed in the same direction the team was last season after the trade deadline. After losing four straight, it seems Utah is interested in getting the best pick possible rather than playing competitive basketball down the stretch.

Houston Rockets

Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The Rockets are faltering a bit down the stretch here, but this team is much better than most of us anticipated it would be heading into this season.

Houston is 3.5 games back of a spot in the NBA play-in tournament, so the playoffs are still in reach — even if there’s only an outside chance. But with how competitive this team is every night, don’t be surprised if Houston makes a push in the second half of the year.

Chicago Bulls

(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

The Bulls were one of the best offensive teams in the NBA over the last few games heading into the All-Star break. There’s a decent team in there somewhere. But Chicago has been decent for so long. The games down the stretch of the season might determine who remains in the windy city for next year.

Golden State Warriors

Mandatory Credit: John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

The Warriors are on a bit of a tear now. The defense has shifted from one of the worst in the league to being just slightly average, giving up 115.1 points per 100 possessions over the last five games.

Draymond Green’s recent renaissance helps a bit, but there are still times when Golden State just completely falters at the end of games. We’ll see if that continues to plague this team in the second half of the season.

Los Angeles Lakers

(AP Photo/Eric Thayer)

The Lakers are not where they want to be right now as the 9th seed in the West fighting just to hold on to a Play-In spot. It makes you wonder how serious the LeBron James trade talks were considering how stagnant this team is.

Regardless, L.A. is 7-3 in its last 10 games and playing better basketball. The post-All-Star run from last season is probably motivation enough to run it back one more time before making some huge changes to this roster.

Miami Heat

(AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

It’s the Miami Heat’s time. They’ve been wallowing around the bottom of the East’s playoff picture for most of the season, but now is usually the time we start to see Miami pick things up and the Heat’s defense is locked in.

Watch out, East. Here comes Miami. Again.

Orlando Magic

Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

This final stretch of the season is going to tell us who the Orlando Magic are. This is a young team without a ton of experience. The Magic will have to figure out how to win games down the stretch to maintain their current playoff position as the East’s eighth seed.

Indiana Pacers

Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The Pacers feel like a team just biding its time. Tyrese Haliburton hasn’t really been healthy since his hamstring injury earlier this season. We haven’t seen what the Pascal Siakam-Tyrese Haliburton duo can do.

Now is the time. Hopefully, we’ll get to see how potent this combination can be.

Sacramento Kings

Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

The Kings are in such a tough spot. Sacramento is currently eight games over .500 at 31-23. Yet, here we are, with the Kings currently slotted as the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference playoff picture.

That conference is just nuts, man.

Philadelphia 76ers

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The longer Joel Embiid sits, the worse things look for the 76ers. Tyrese Maxey is good, but it’s clear that he’s probably not capable of being a night-by-night buoy for his team while maintaining the elite efficiency we’ve seen him play with for most of the year.

Philly is hoping for an Embiid return this season, but there’s no solid timeline on that. Meanwhile, the 76ers are 3-7 in the last 10 games. The big fella can’t get back soon enough.

New York Knicks

Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Speaking of teams falling a bit, how about the New York Knicks? Over the last two weeks, we’ve gone from the Knicks feeling like a team capable of making a run to the Eastern Conference Finals to one that looks like it might struggle to hold on to a homecourt playoff seed.

Health has been an issue. New York is missing Julius Randle and Jalen Brunson missed a bit of time, too. The center rotation is also extremely thin with both Isaiah Hartenstein and Mitchell Robinson out. Plus, the basketball gods have not been on the Knicks’ side.

But still, New York needs to get it together.

Milwaukee Bucks

Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

If there was one team that desperately needed an All-Star break, it was Milwaukee. The only reason the Bucks are this high in the rankings right now is because almost every team at the top of the East outside of Boston and Cleveland have collapsed a bit.

But the Bucks are currently 3-7 in the last 10 games. Doc Rivers is already making excuses for why his job is so tough. The chemistry just doesn’t really seem to be there quite yet between the players and staff.

This team should still be very good. But I can’t blame you if you’re worried about Milwaukee.

RELATED: Doc Rivers doesn’t know why the Bucks hired him, either

New Orleans Pelicans

Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Did I mention how tough the Western Conference is? The Cleveland Cavaliers and New Orleans Pelicans are both six games out of first place in their respective conferences.

The difference? The Pelicans are in 6th place and the Cavs are in 2nd. The West is brutal, man.

Phoenix Suns

Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Just when things were going right for the Suns, Bradley Beal got hurt. His hamstring has been a bit of a problem this season.

The Suns are expecting him back for the team’s next game, but it’s not out of the question to wonder what his health status will be in the long term this season. Hamstring injuries don’t usually just go away.

Dallas Mavericks

Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The Luka Doncic MVP buzz should be getting louder and louder. The Mavericks have won six straight games, mostly due to his brilliance with the ball in his hands. Both the P.J. Washington and Daniel Gafford deals look like absolute home runs. This is easily the best team Doncic has ever had around him.

Don’t be surprised by a deep playoff run.

Denver Nuggets

Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

The Nuggets are just three games out of first in the West, but Denver’s last three losses are mildly concerning.

The team wasn’t fully healthy, but losing two to the Sacramento Kings and getting trounced by the Bucks isn’t a good look. The defense is looking highly questionable these days in Denver.

Cleveland Cavaliers

Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Don’t sleep on the Cavaliers, man. Barring a big setback by the Celtics, this team probably isn’t going to catch Boston for the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference.

But Donovan Mitchell looks like one of the best players on Earth and should be getting more MVP love than he has so far this season. The Cavs’ 110.2 defensive rating on the season is the second-best in the league and this team is finally healthy again. This is a legitimate title contender.

L.A. Clippers

Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

The Clippers are just out here winning games that I feel like would’ve been losses in other seasons.

The comeback win against the Warriors ahead of the All-Star break is a prime example. LA went down by 15 points, had Ty Lue ejected and lost Paul George to foul trouble late in the game with no Kawhi Leonard. Still, L.A. found a way to win.

I guess that’s the power of James Harden. And also just a spectacular Warriors fumble.

Oklahoma City Thunder

Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

The Thunder just keep moving along under people’s radars. This is the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference with a front-runner for MVP in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Yet, it doesn’t feel like people are quite taking Oklahoma City seriously enough as title contenders — mostly because of the team’s youth.

Don’t underestimate the Thunder — especially because the No. 1 seed is still in play with OKC sitting just a game and a half behind Minnesota.

Minnesota Timberwolves

Stephen Maturen – Getty Images

The Timberwolves’ sputtery offense had been a problem ahead of the All-Star break, but the Wolves seem to have righted the ship and are on a tear again with a four-game winning streak.

The team’s offense is going to be a concern come playoff time, but if the Wolves can get out to a fast start after the All-Star break then Minnesota might be able to pull away from the rest of the West.

Boston Celtics

Mandatory Credit: Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

The Celtics are still the Celtics. This is the best team in the NBA and should be everyone’s favorite to win a championship. Want to hear a mind-boggling stat?

Boston has two 50-point wins so far this season. Coming into this year, the Celtics only had three total.

It should be Boston’s year, man.

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