NBA Power Rankings: Devin Booker, Anthony Davis among stars stepping up big

It's crunch time in the NBA regular season, as players on contenders fight through late-season fatigue to put their teams in the best position possible for the playoffs.

The Eastern Conference is currently a three-team race at the top between the Milwaukee Bucks, Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers, with the young postseason hopefuls of the Cleveland Cavaliers, New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets a tier beneath.

The Denver Nuggets are the clear-cut favorite in the West at the moment, with the Sacramento Kings and Memphis Grizzlies still competing for the top seed. But behind them is a nine-team race for the remaining playoff and play-in spots.

Missing from that race are NBA superstars LeBron James and Kevin Durant, who are both rehabbing injuries and hope to return in time for the playoffs. But lucky for James' Los Angeles Lakers and Durant's Phoenix Suns, Anthony Davis and Devin Booker are doing just enough to make up for the absences of their superstar teammates. The Lakers hopped into the 9-seed last week and blew out the New Orleans Pelicans on Tuesday after spending most of the season outside the play-in picture, while the Suns are still holding onto the 4-seed and are looking to at least claim home-court advantage for the first round of the playoffs.

Note: Throughout the regular season, our panel (Kendra Andrews, Tim Bontemps, Jamal Collier, Nick Friedell, Andrew Lopez, Tim MacMahon, Dave McMenamin and Ohm Youngmisuk) is ranking all 30 teams from top to bottom, taking stock of which teams are playing the best basketball and which teams are looking most like title contenders.

Previous rankings: Week 1 | Week 2 | Week 3 | Week 4 | Week 5 | Week 6 | Week 7 | Week 8 | Week 9 | Week 10 | Week 11 | Week 12 | Week 13 | Week 14 | Week 15 | Week 16 | Week 17 | Week 18 | Week 19 | Week 20

1. Milwaukee Bucks
2022-23 record: 50-19
Previous ranking: 1

The Bucks already own the best record in the league, and they became the first team to clinch a playoff spot on Tuesday night thanks to a win over the Suns. But the best news of the week has been the next step for Khris Middleton. He has started the past four games that he's played in, and on Monday, he scored 31 points and collected nine assists in his first 30-point performance since March 16, 2022. -- Collier

2. Boston Celtics
2022-23 record: 47-22
Previous ranking: 3

Monday's loss to Houston was the latest serious sign of concern for Boston since the All-Star break. Over those 10 games, the Celtics are a .500 team that has ranked 13th in offense and 17th in defense. It's safe to say that won't be good enough to get them back to the NBA Finals. -- Bontemps

3. Philadelphia 76ers
2022-23 record: 45-22
Previous ranking: 4

The Sixers need to improve their defense; they're 22nd in defensive rating since the All-Star break. But the fact Philadelphia ranks second in offense has allowed it to go 7-3 to begin the second-half schedule -- a stretch that was the league's most difficult, per ESPN's BPI. With only a couple of more home games this month, it isn't getting easier anytime soon. -- Bontemps

4. Denver Nuggets
2022-23 record: 46-23
Previous ranking: 2

The Nuggets have hit a rough patch for what feels like the first time all season. They've dropped four straight for the first time, including a 21-point loss to Chicago, and their bench is struggling. They've built a good cushion for themselves in the standings, but this is not the time to lose steam. -- Andrews

5. Cleveland Cavaliers
2022-23 record: 44-27
Previous ranking: 5

With Darius Garland out for a game with a quad injury and Donovan Mitchell missing a game last week, Caris LeVert caught a rhythm in the starting lineup. LeVert, who has been up and down in his time with the Cavs, has averaged 17.7 points on 50% shooting in his last three games and Cleveland went 2-1. -- McMenamin

6. Sacramento Kings
2022-23 record: 40-27
Previous ranking: 8

The Kings finally secured 40 wins for the first time since 2006. That fan over the summer who predicted this is somewhere shining as bright as the laser beam outside Golden 1 Center. Sacramento's defense needs to improve if the Kings want to make a run in the playoffs. But if they can just keep outscoring their opponents, they might be OK. -- Andrews

7. Memphis Grizzlies
2022-23 record: 41-26
Previous ranking: 9

Desmond Bane has dished out at least five assists in five straight games for the first time in his career, according to ESPN Stats & Information data. That run coincides with Ja Morant's absence, which has forced Bane to assume significantly more facilitating responsibilities. "It's been an adjustment, for sure, but I definitely enjoy the opportunity," said Bane, who has averaged 21.2 points and 6.4 assists in the five-game stretch. -- MacMahon

8. Phoenix Suns
2022-23 record: 37-32
Previous ranking: 6

It was a rough week for the Suns. First, during layup lines before what was supposed to be his home debut with the franchise, Kevin Durant suffered a freak ankle injury that will sideline him for weeks. Then they lost three games in a row, including two straight to the previous two league champs: Golden State and Milwaukee. The Warriors jumped on the Suns early, leading by 22 points after the first quarter, while the Bucks killed them late, outscoring the Suns by 11 in the fourth in a game Phoenix lost by 12. -- McMenamin

9. New York Knicks
2022-23 record: 41-30
Previous ranking: 7

With a win at Portland on Tuesday night, New York wrapped up a grueling stretch since the All-Star Break that saw them take a West Coast trip and play 11 games without getting more than a day off in between any of them. Now, the Knicks come home and get three days off before hosting West-leading Denver on Saturday, as they try to wrest fifth place in the East away from the crosstown-rival Nets. -- Bontemps

10. Golden State Warriors
2022-23 record: 36-33
Previous ranking: 10

The Warriors are a conundrum. They are really good at home -- closing out a tight, overtime contest with a victory over the Bucks and nearly blowing out the Suns. They're play at home isn't their problem. It's anywhere that's not Chase Center that is the issue. The Warriors have won just seven games on the road. Seven of their remaining 13 tilts are away games. If they want to remain out of the play-in -- and make an actual postseason run -- they have to figure out how to get wins away from San Francisco. -- Andrews

11. Brooklyn Nets
2022-23 record: 39-30
Previous ranking: 13

Mikal Bridges just keeps growing into more of a star during his time with the Nets. He had 34 points in 47 minutes during Friday's overtime win versus the Timberwolves and posted another 34 points in Tuesday's loss to the Thunder. His game continues to grow as the days go by in Brooklyn. -- Friedell

12. LA Clippers
2022-23 record: 36-33
Previous ranking: 15

Ten days ago, the Clippers were on the verge of a disastrous loss to Memphis before Kawhi Leonard and Paul George came to the rescue with a dominant fourth quarter. Now, they ride into a rematch with the defending champion Warriors on a three-game winning streak, looking to reestablish themselves as contenders. Leonard is back to his pre-ACL-injury form, and George says he is feeling healthier. Russell Westbrook and the other new players are getting comfortable as Ty Lue waits for Norman Powell to return from a shoulder injury to solidify his rotation. -- Youngmisuk

13. Miami Heat
2022-23 record: 37-33
Previous ranking: 11

Jimmy Butler is in the midst of the best post-All-Star-break stretch of his career. He is averaging 26.6 points, 6.9 rebounds and 4.8 assists in March and continues to make big plays when Miami needs them. The 33-year-old six-time All-Star needs to get some more consistent help from his teammates down the stretch in order to get the Heat out of the play-in tournament. -- Friedell

14. Dallas Mavericks
2022-23 record: 34-35
Previous ranking: 14

"No one is dying," coach Jason Kidd said Monday night after the Mavs' ninth loss in 12 games dropped them to under .500. That's not exactly the kind of vibes the Mavs hoped for when they made the Kyrie Irving trade. A sliver of good news: There is hope that Irving (foot) and Luka Doncic (thigh) can return this week. Josh Green averaged 22 points, 7.5 rebounds and 5.5 assists in the two games the All-Stars missed. -- MacMahon

15. Minnesota Timberwolves
2022-23 record: 35-34
Previous ranking: 12

Minnesota's defense has been looking really good, but its scoring -- or lack thereof -- has been problematic. Anthony Edwards averaged 32 points in the Timberwolves' two games last week, but he didn't get much help on the offensive end. -- Andrews

16. Los Angeles Lakers
2022-23 record: 34-35
Previous ranking: 18

The Lakers' game against New Orleans on Tuesday was huge on a couple of fronts: They came into the night with identical records and with L.A. up 2-1 in the season series. The Lakers showed up, leading by as many as 40, to go up a game on New Orleans and win a potential tiebreaker scenario. "We control our own destiny," Anthony Davis said afterward of L.A.'s postseason chances. "We got to keep winning basketball games." -- McMenamin

17. Oklahoma City Thunder
2022-23 record: 34-35
Previous ranking: 23

Josh Giddey picked up his fourth triple-double of the season by putting up 15 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists against the Nets on Tuesday night. That's the eighth triple-double of Giddey's young career. And it's now the second most of any player age 20 or younger in NBA history. Giddey passed Magic Johnson (seven) on Tuesday, and he trails only Luka Doncic, who had 21 triple-doubles before turning 21. -- Lopez

18. Atlanta Hawks
2022-23 record: 34-35
Previous ranking: 16

Trae Young had 17 points and 11 assists in the first half against Boston on Saturday, the third time this season he has registered at least 15 points and 10 assists in a half. The rest of the NBA combined has done it three times. Young finished with 35 points and 13 assists, giving him 30 career games with 35 points and 10 assists. He is just the seventh player to reach that mark in NBA history. He also passed Tim Hardaway (120) with his 121st game of 20 points and 10 assists; only Oscar Robertson (217) had more in a player's first five seasons. -- Lopez

19. New Orleans Pelicans
2022-23 record: 33-36
Previous ranking: 20

The inconsistency of the Pelicans was on full display in the past week. After beating the Mavericks by seven last Wednesday, the Pelicans had two days off and followed that up with a face-plant against the Thunder, losing by 14. The very next night, New Orleans took advantage of a Damian Lillard-less Trail Blazers squad and won by 17. However, Tuesday night's contest against the Lakers saw the team down by a franchise-record 35 points at halftime in what ended up being a 123-108 L.A. triumph.

-- Lopez

20. Utah Jazz
2022-23 record: 33-36
Previous ranking: 19

Rookie big man Walker Kessler leads the league in blocks (3.8 per game) and ranks fourth in rebounding (12.6) since the All-Star break. Kessler also is averaging 11.3 points and shooting 76.9% from the floor in the eight games that he has played since the break. -- MacMahon

21. Toronto Raptors
2022-23 record: 33-36
Previous ranking: 17

Toronto picked up a much-needed win at home against Denver on Tuesday night, but it still sits in ninth place in the East with less than a month to go in the regular season. For a team that's been waiting for months to put an extended run together, now wouldn't be a bad time to start. -- Bontemps

22. Chicago Bulls
2022-23 record: 31-36
Previous ranking: 25

After winning back-to-back games, the Bulls have moved back into 10th place in the East. Chicago's grip on the final spot of the play-in tournament will be tested, however, considering its next five games are against teams fighting to stay in the top six of their conference -- Sacramento, Minnesota, Miami and Philly (twice). -- Collier

23. Washington Wizards
2022-23 record: 32-37
Previous ranking: 22

Washington got a must-win against the Pistons thanks to Bradley Beal's 36 points, seven assists and six rebounds. The problem for the Wizards is that the only team they've been able to beat in the past 12 days has been the lowly Pistons. The Wiz have dropped five of seven games, with two of those critical losses to Atlanta. And the next two contests only get harder against the Cavs and Kings. -- Youngmisuk

24. Portland Trail Blazers
2022-23 record: 31-38
Previous ranking: 21

The Blazers are going in the wrong direction and sinking out of play-in contention fast. They lost their fourth straight game to New York without Jalen Brunson, and they have dropped nine of their past 12. While Anfernee Simons returned recently, Damian Lillard is going to need more help. Portland faces the Celtics next and has two games against the Clippers, two against Sacramento and meetings with Minnesota, Memphis and Golden State in its remaining 13 tilts. -- Youngmisuk

25. Indiana Pacers
2022-23 record: 31-38
Previous ranking: 24

Tyrese Haliburton has missed the past two games with a bruised left knee, and the Pacers have struggled all season when their All-Star has been unavailable. Indiana is 3-12 without Haliburton in the lineup. -- Collier

26. Orlando Magic
2022-23 record: 28-41
Previous ranking: 26

Wendell Carter Jr. has put together two solid performances in a row after missing three games last week because of a hip injury. He made some big plays in Saturday's overtime win versus the Heat, scoring 27 points and grabbing 11 rebounds in 42 minutes. He racked up another double-double with 16 points and 10 rebounds in Tuesday's loss to the Spurs. -- Friedell

27. Charlotte Hornets
2022-23 record: 22-49
Previous ranking: 27

Terry Rozier continues to put up some nice numbers as the Hornets limp to the finish line. The veteran guard is averaging 23.4 points, 7.8 assists and 4.8 rebounds over his past five outings. -- Friedell

28. San Antonio Spurs
2022-23 record: 18-50
Previous ranking: 29

When the Spurs defeated the Nuggets on Friday night, it was one of the biggest upset wins of the season, according to Caesars Sportsbook. The Spurs were 12.5-point underdogs to the top-seeded Nuggets and came away with a 128-120 triumph. San Antonio also is responsible for the campaign's largest upset victory as 13.5-point underdogs to Philadelphia on Oct. 22. Against Denver, it was the first time this season the Spurs won after trailing by 15 points or more; they had lost their previous 35 games when trailing by at least 15. -- Lopez

29. Houston Rockets
2022-23 record: 16-52
Previous ranking: 30

Rookie Jabari Smith Jr. is in the midst of by far the best stretch of his young career. He had one 20-point, 10-rebound performance this season before his current streak of three in a row. Smith, 19, is the youngest player in league history with three straight 20/10 games. He has shot 61.4% from the floor and 62.5% from 3-point range during that span, highlighted by a 9 of 11 overall performance in Monday's upset of the Celtics. -- MacMahon

30. Detroit Pistons
2022-23 record: 16-54
Previous ranking: 28

The Pistons picked up their first win in nearly a month with a decision over Indiana this week to snap an 11-game skid -- before losing to the Wizards on the second night of a back-to-back. -- Collier