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NBA Power Rankings: Playoffs down to top 8

Vincent Frank

NBA power rankings: Now that the 2021-22 regular season has ended, it’s time to provide some finality for 10 teams who missed out on extending their seasons.

We also check in on those eliminated in the play-in tournament as well as those who lost in the first round of the NBA Playoffs. Finally, the eight teams remaining in the postseason are ranked from eigtht to one.

Related: Sportsnaut’s updated NBA Playoff and championship predictions

30. Houston Rockets (last week: 30)

nba power rankings: houston rockets
Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports
  • Houston Rockets record: 20-62

Another lost season in Houston just came to an end. However, there’s some positivity for this organization moving forward. Rookie No. 2 pick Jalen Green is coming off a 27-game span to end the season that saw him average north of 21 points on 40% shooting from distance. Green should team up with a high 2022 NBA lottery selection to form a core two moving forward.

29. Orlando Magic (last week: 29)

nba power rankings: orlando magic
Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports
  • Orlando Magic record: 22-60

Despite finishing with 60 losses, the Magic have some hope moving forward. That comes in the form of youngsters Cole Anthony, Franz Wagner and Jalen Suggs. With another high lottery pick in June, the Magic could end up ascending our NBA power rankings next season.

28. Portland Trail Blazers (last week: 28)

NBA power rankings: Portland Trail blazers
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
  • Portland Trail Blazers record: 27-55

For Portland, the 2021-22 season was defined by Damian Lillard’s injury issues and interim general manager Joe Cronin righting the wrongs of the previous brass. It concluded with Portland losing 11 consecutive games by a total of 245 points. That’s reflected in our updated NBA power rankings. And it’s just pathetic.

27. Oklahoma City Thunder (last week: 27)

nba power rankings: oklahoma city thunder
BRYAN TERRY/THE OKLAHOMAN / USA TODAY NETWORK
  • Oklahoma City Thunder record: 24-58

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and stud 2021 lottery pick Josh Giddey look like a potentially awesome tandem moving forward. Unfortunately, it did not lead to team-wide success to close up the 2021-22 season with both SGA and Giddey sidelined.

26. Indiana Pacers (last week: 26)

nba power rankings: indiana pacers
Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
  • Indiana Pacers record: 25-57

Reason for optimism in Indiana with Tyrese Haliburton now part of a backcourt that includes stud youngster Chris Duarte. Nothing really happened in regards to seeing what these two can offer together with Duarte finding himself injury plagued through the final first half of his rookie season. The larger offseason question is whether Indiana will move off veterans Myles Turner and Malcolm Brogdon to begin its full-scale rebuild after losing their final 10 regular-season games. Ouch!

25. Detroit Pistons (last week: 25)

nba power rankings: detroit pistons
Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports
  • Detroit Pistons record: 23-59

The Pistons have remained a bottom-four team in our NBA power rankings throughout the 2021-22 season. That’s no longer the case due to the struggles of teams behind it to close up the regular season. Still having lost 59 games, the Pistons are not near contention. The good news? Rookie No. 1 pick Cade Cunningham played great down the stretch. He averaged 21.0 points, 5.8 rebounds and 6.4 assists over the final 21 games.

24. Sacramento Kings (last week: 24)

nba power rankings: sacramento kings
Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports
  • Sacramento Kings record: 30-52

Well, that was foolish. Sacramento’s decision to trade stud young point guard Tyrese Haliburton as a way to compete for a play-in spot did not end too swimmingly with the team posting an 9-17 record. The end result? Sacramento missed out on the postseason for the 16th consecutive season. Just ugly.

23. Los Angeles Lakers (last week: 23)

NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at Memphis Grizzlies
Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports
  • Los Angeles Lakers record: 33-49

Just pathetic. Absolutely brutal. A clown show. However way we want to explain this past season’s iteration of the Lakers, it’s just not working. The Lakers lost 30 of their final 42 after starting the season 21-19. Missing the play-in tournament has Los Angeles preparing for an offseason of change with questions throughout the roster behind LeBron James.

22. New York Knicks (last week: 22)

nba power rankings: new york knicks
Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports
  • New York Knicks record: 37-45

One season after earning a surprise playoff appearance, the Knicks are coming off a brutal performance. Tom Thibodeau’s job appears to be safe even after multiple late-game meltdowns . Star forward Julius Randle could force his way from the Big Apple. Meanwhile, there’s no plans for New York’s brass to add a big-name player this offseason. Back to the drawing board for this fledgling organization.

21. Washington Wizards (last week: 20)

NBA: Washington Wizards at Brooklyn Nets
Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports
  • Washington Wizards record: 35-47

With Bradley Beal lost for the season, things did not go swimmingly down the stretch. Washington opened up with a 13-7 mark, only to finish 12 games under .500. With Beal likely committed to D.C. on an extension this summer, it will be interesting to see how he pairs with Kristaps Porzingis moving forward.

NBA power ranings: Play-in losers

20. San Antonio Spurs (last week: 20)

nba power rankings: san antonio spurs
Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports
  • San Antonio Spurs record: 34-48

After missing out on the postseason the previous two seasons (a first in franchise history), San Antonio fell to New Orleans in the play-in tournament. It’s a testament to Gregg Popovich’s ability as a head coach. But let’s be real. A team that lost 48 games in the regular season shouldn’t have even sniffed playoff contention.

19. Cleveland Cavaliers (last week: 17)

nba power rankings: cleveland cavaliers
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
  • Cleveland Cavaliers record: 44-38

Injuries and inconsistency plagued Cleveland big time towards the end of an otherwise surprising season. That included two consecutive losses in the play-in tournament. With that said, the future is bright with young All-Stars Darius Garland and Jarrett Allen as well as stud young big man Evan Mobley.

18. Charlotte Hornets (last week: 16)

NBA: Charlotte Hornets at Milwaukee Bucks
Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
  • Charlotte Hornets record: 43-39

The inconsistent Hornets have moves to make this offseason if they want to be seen as legit conference title contenders moving forward. Losing in the play-in tournament adds another layer to this. A team that’s going to build around LaMelo Ball moving forward needs to find the right pieces behind him this summer.

17. Los Angeles Clippers (last week: 18)

NBA: Los Angeles Clippers at Los Angeles Lakers
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
  • Los Angeles Clippers record: 42-40

The Clippers’ season came to a conclusion in the play-in tournament with a loss to the New Orleans Pelicans. Said game was defined by Paul George being out to COVID-19. This was the culmination of a season that saw Kawhi Leonard sit out due to a torn ACL and included George himself missing substantial time to injury. At 100%, the Clippers are title contenders. It’s that simple.

NBA power rankings: First-round playoff exits

16. Atlanta Hawks (last week: 15)

nba power rankings: atlanta hawks
David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
  • Atlanta Hawks record: 43-39

A surprise trip to the Eastern Conference Finals a season ago gave in to reality for the inconsistent Hawks. That included an ugly five-game series loss to the Miami Heat in the first round in which Trae Young was bottled up to the tune of 15.4 points per game on 32% shooting. General manager Travis Schlenk has some major work to do this summer if the Hawks are going to return to contention.

15. New Orleans Pelicans (last week: 19)

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at San Antonio Spurs
Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports
  • New Orleans Pelicans record: 36-46

New Orleans was over .500 after posting a 1-12 record to open the season. All of this came with C.J. McCollum having played well after his trade from Portland. After earning a spot in the play-in tournament, New Orleans shockingly took the Phoenix Suns to six games in the first round of the NBA Playoffs. Brandon Ingram’s star grew big time. If Zion Williamson is able to stay 100% healthy, this team could be a force in 2021-22.

14. Brooklyn Nets (last week: 13)

NBA: Brooklyn Nets at New York Knicks
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
  • Brooklyn Nets record: 44-38

Kyrie Irving’s 60-point performance against the Magic shows us what these Nets are capable of. Even with Ben Simmons still to make his debut, the pairing of Irving and Kevin Durant is more than enough to compete back east. Unfortunately, these Nets were swept in the first round by Boston and looked anything like contenders. Entering the summer, there’s questions surrounding the core group. That includes one Ben Simmons.

13. Chicago Bulls (last week: 14)

NBA: Atlanta Hawks at Chicago Bulls
Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports
  • Chicago Bulls record: 46-36

The injury to Lonzo Ball impacted Chicago this past season. It posted a 23-12 record with him in action, only to 23-24 once he went down with a knee injury. All of this culminated in a first-round playoff series loss to the Milwaukee Bucks that wasn’t all-too competitive. The core group is in place for this team to succeed assuming Zach LaVine returns in free agency.

Related: Sportsnaut’s updated 2022 NBA mock draft

12. Utah Jazz (last week: 12)

nba power rankings: utah jazz
Rob Gray-USA TODAY Sports
  • Utah Jazz record: 49-33

The Jazz are likely headed for a summer of change after yet another premature playoff exit. Prior to falling to the Mavericks in the first round, Utah posted a 22-23 record after a stellar start to the campaign. There’s now a further rift between All-Stars Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert with the latter potentially set to be traded. That’s what happens when an otherwise talented team fails to make the conference finals in six consecutive playoff seasons.

11. Toronto Raptors (last week: 11)

nba power rankings: toronto raptors
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
  • Toronto Raptors record: 48-34

Is there any question Nick Nurse is one of the best coaches in the NBA? Toronto opened the season with a pedestrian 23-23 record, only to find itself boasting an 25-11 record in its final 36 regular season games. After falling down 3-0 to the Philadelphia 76ers in the first round, Toronto made that a series by winning two consecutive before falling in Game 6. The trio of Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam and Rookie of the Year Scottie Barnes is legit.

10. Minnesota Timberwolves (last week: 10)

nba power rankings: minnesota timberwolves
Harrison Barden-USA TODAY Sports
  • Minnesota Timberwolves record: 46-36

Minnesota gave the Memphis Grizzlies a mighty scare in the first round. That included holding a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter of Game 6. Unfortunately, Karl-Anthony Towns’ inconsistency coupled with some questionable defense led to some unfinished business. One now has to wonder whether Towns will be traded in order for Minnesota to hand this team over to Anthony Edwards.

9. Denver Nuggets (last week: 9)

nba power rankngs: denver nuggets
Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports
  • Denver Nuggets record: 48-34

It’s actually pretty insane what Nikola Jokic did to propel Denver without both Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. in the mix. He played at an absolutely elite clip en route to leading Denver to 48 regular-season wins. Even after losing to the Golden State Warriors in the first round, these Nuggets are set up to succeed moving forward as long as Murray and Porter Jr. return healthy.

NBA power rankings: The remaining 8

8. Dallas Mavericks (last week: 8)

nba power rankings: dallas mavericks
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
  • Dallas Mavericks record: 52-30

The emergence of Jalen Brunson has Dallas heading into the conference semifinals against the Phoenix Suns. He did his best to help the Mavs overcome Luka Doncic’s injury early in the first-round series against Utah. Whether this will be enough going up against an elite Suns team moving forward remains to be seen.

7. Philadelphia 76ers (last week: 7)

Feb 27, 2022; New York, New York, USA;  Philadelphia 76ers guard James Harden (1) and center Joel Embiid (21) check back into the game in the second quarter against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports
Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports
  • Philadelphia 76ers record: 51-31

These 76ers looked like world beaters in the first three games of the Raptors series, only to lose two consecutive before a blowout Game 6 win. Now, heading into a second-round series with Miami, the 76ers are going to be without star center Joel Embiid for at least the first two outings. Can James Harden and Co. pick up the slack?

6. Memphis Grizzlies (last week: 2)

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Memphis Grizzlies
Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports
  • Memphis Grizzlies record: 56-26

Following a dramatic Game 1 loss to the Warriors, the Grizzlies find themselves at a mere 4-3 in the playoffs. Sure Ja Morant continues playing tremendous basketball. With that said, there’s some concern this this team might be too inexperienced to take out Golden State. It will need to win one at home in Game 2 on Tuesday to force this into a long series.

5. Boston Celtics (last week: 3)

NBA: Boston Celtics at New Orleans Pelicans
Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports
  • Boston Celtics record: 51-31

Defense. Defense. More defense. Since an ugly 19-21 start to the season, Boston won 35 of 41. Marcus Smart is turning it up defensively. Jaylen Brown continues to do his thing on offense. Meanwhile, Jayson Tatum has been on an absolute roll. Unfortunately, an ugly Game 1 home loss to the Milwaukee Bucks has this team behind the proverbial eight-ball.

4. Golden State Warriors (last week: 6)

nba power rankings: golden state warriors
Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports
  • Golden State Warriors record: 53-29

Some major struggles in San Francisco over the past couple months has given in to this team returning to form. Golden State closed out the regular season winning five consecutive to earn the No. 3 seed out west. It then took out Denver in five games in the first round before taking home-court advantage from Memphis in Game 1 of the conference semifinals. Jordan Poole’s emergence to star status as another component behind Stephen Cury, Klay Thompson an Draymond Green has Golden State looking like world beaters.

3. Milwaukee Bucks (last week: 5)

NBA: Charlotte Hornets at Milwaukee Bucks
Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
  • Milwaukee Bucks record: 51-31

Despite some inconsistencies this season, Milwaukee finished up the regular year with 51 wins and as the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference. It then dominated the Chicago Bulls in Round 1 before a huge Game 1 win over the Celtics in the conference semifinals. All of this has been accomplished with star wing Khris Middleton (sprained MCL) sidelined. Jrue Holiday has been a great running partner for Giannis Antetokounmpo in Middleton’s stead.

2. Miami Heat (last week: 4)

nba power rankings: miami heat
Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
  • Miami Heat record: 53-29

When fully healthy and clicking on all cylinders, these Heat are legit conference title contenders. Jimmy Butler remains one of the best all-around players in the game. He proved that with a dominating Round 1 outing against the Atlanta Hawks. Heading into the conference semifinals, Miami will need more help from Tyler Herro after he struggled big time in the first round. That’s the only hold up here.

1. Phoenix Suns (last week: 1)

nba power rankings; phoenix suns
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
  • Phoenix Suns record: 64-18

Phoenix was actually put to the brink by New Orleans in the first round. No one had that series going six games. Despite this, the team was still able to come out on top with Devin Booker (hamstring) missing multiple games. That Game 6 performance saw Chris Paul shoot a perfect 14-for-14 from the field. If completely healthy, these Suns are obvious title favorites.

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