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NBA Power Rankings: Update after first round of the playoffs

NBA power rankings: Now that the first round of the 2021 NBA Playoffs is a thing of the past, eight teams will vie for the title moving forward. Among those who impressed most in Round 1, the Brooklyn Nets and Phoenix Suns could be headed to an NBA Finals matchup. Below, we give you our most-recent NBA power rankings.

NBA power rankings, top 10

1. Brooklyn Nets

NBA power rankings, Brooklyn Nets
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Brooklyn put on a clinic in its first-round series win over the Boston Celtics. In fact, this team won by an average of 15.5 points per game. Despite playing very few regular-season games together, James Harden, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving look fluid with the Nets in the midst of a second-round series against Brooklyn. The only concern here is Harden, who reaggravated his hamstring injury in Game 1.

2. Phoenix Suns

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We can talk about the Anthony Davis injury until we’re blue in the face. The fact is this: Phoenix won three consecutive games to close out its first-round series against the Los Angeles Lakers. It did so with Chris Paul dealing with a painful shoulder injury. Let’s not discount what the upstart Suns did to LeBron James in Co. Primarily, Devin Booker averaging nearly 30 points per game in the series.

3. Philadelphia 76ers

NBA power rankings: Embiid, Simmons and 76ers rising
Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Ben Simmons is going to need to up his game if the Sixers are to avoid a second-round upset at the hands of the Atlanta Hawks. He just didn’t do that in Game 1 of their series. Meanwhile, Joel Embiid went off for 39 points in his return from a meniscus injury. Either way, these 76ers are still in a good spot in our most-recent NBA power rankings. They just need to get back on track.

4. Utah Jazz

NBA power rankings: Utah Jazz
Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

Boasting the best regular-season record in the NBA at 52-20, we can no longer discount Utah as a top-end title contender. That’s especially true after Donovan Mitchell and his team took out the Memphis Grizzlies in five games to open the playoffs. It’s a series that saw Utah win four consecutive after a Game 1 loss to the Grizzlies without Mitchell in the mix. For his part, the guard averaged 28.5 points in the series. Now headed for a second-round matchup against the Clippers, we’re intrigued to see how Utah will look here.

5. Milwaukee Bucks

NBA power rankings: Milwaukee Bucks
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Milwaukee imposed its will against a vastly inferior Miami Heat team in Round 1 of the NBA Playoffs. Giannis Antetokounmpo and Co. swept out the defending Eastern Conference champions, winning by an average of 20 points per game. However, it gets more difficult in Round 1 against the Nets. The Bucks’ Game 1 loss magnified this to a T.

6. Denver Nuggets

NBA power rankings: Denver Nuggets
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Even without Jamal Murray in the mix and playing with a backup backcourt, Denver shocked the masses by defeating Damian Lillard and Portland in the first round of the 2021 NBA Playoffs. MVP favorite Nikola Jokic averaged 33.0 points, 10.5 rebounds and 4.5 assists. Young forward Michael Porter Jr. stepped into a No. 2 role, showing no signs of slowing down. Denver’s second-round matchup with the Phoenix Suns is going to be fun.

7. Atlanta Hawks

NBA power rankings; Atlanta Hawks, Trae Young
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

After posting a 27-11 record under interim head coach Nate McMillan to end the regular year, Atlanta had no real issues taking out the New York Knicks in the first round. Trae Young showed why the Big Apple’s stage is not too big for him, averaging 29.2 points while bantering with Knicks fans in the five-game series. Atlanta then took out the top seed 76ers on the road in Game 1 of their second-round series this past weekend. Yeah, this team is for real.

8. Los Angeles Clippers

NBA power rankings: Los Angeles Clippers
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Led by Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, the Clippers were able to hold off the Dallas Mavericks in Game 7 of their first-round matchup on Sunday. It might have been a franchise-altering win for Los Angeles, who was facing the real possibility of another premature playoff exit. Can Los Angeles upset the Utah Jazz in the second round? That’s now the biggest question.

9. Dallas Mavericks

NBA power rankings: Luka Doncic, Mavs crack top 10
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Luka Doncic is one of the best handful of players in the NBA at this point. The 22-year-old averaged 27.7 points, 8.0 rebounds and 8.6 assists this season. He also dominated big time in the first round of the playoffs despite his Mavericks falling short in seven games against the Clippers. The question now becomes whether Dallas changes things up in order to help Doncic? Perhaps, a Kristaps Porzingis trade could be in the cards.

10. Portland Trail Blazers

NBA power rankings: Lillard, McCollum and the Blazers
Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

Ouch! Portland seemed destined to take out the injury-plagued Denver Nuggets in the first round. In no way did that come to fruition with Denver winning in the Pacific Northwest in Game 6 to send the Blazers packing in the first round for the fourth time in five years. Head coach Terry Stotts was fired. C.J. McCollum could be traded. Yeah, it’s not going swimmingly for the Blazers after yet another premature playoff exit.

11. Los Angeles Lakers

NBA power rankings: Lakers No. 1
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Again, we can blame Anthony Davis’ injury for some of the Lakers struggles in Round 1. But that’s just surface-based thinking. This team struggled throughout the regular season, only to land the seventh seed in a play-in win over the Warriors. LeBron James and Co. were no match for what Devin Booker, Chris Paul and the Suns brought to the table. It’s going to be an interesting summer in Southern California.

12. Boston Celtics

NBA power rankings: Boston Celtics
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It’s crazy how a few weeks and a premature exit from the NBA Playoffs changes things. Following their first-round loss to the aforementioned Nets, these Celtics are looking at wholesale changes. General manager Danny Ainge shockingly resigned. He’s being replaced in that role by head coach Brad Stevens, who is moving away from the bench. Such is the nature of the beast following a first-round exit one year after earning a trip to the conference finals.

13. Miami Heat

NBA power rankings: Miami Heat
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After a surprise run to the NBA Finals in which they pushed the Lakers to six games despite Bam Adebayo being beat up and Goran Dragic missing most of the series, Miami ran it back in 2020-21. It did not go swimmingly. After a ho-hum 40-32 regular-season record, these Heat were swept out of the first round by the Milwaukee Bucks. Expect some big-time changes in South Beach during the summer.

14. Golden State Warriors

NBA power rankings: Golden State Warriors
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We knew that the Warriors were going to be in trouble after Klay Thompson went down with an Achilles’ injury prior to the season. However, Stephen Curry played historical basketball en route to leading Golden State to a 39-33 record and a spot in the play-in tournament. With Klay in the mix, these Warriors are much better than No. 14 in our NBA power rankings. Let’s just hope he returns to form after missing the past two seasons. That’s no guarantee.

NBA power rankings: Rising talent, some struggles

15. New York Knicks

NBA power rankings: New York Knicks
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

What an amazing turnaround under new head coach Tom Thibodeau. After winning all of 21 games a season ago, these Knicks finished as the fourth seed back east with a 41-31 record. Madison Square Garden was absolutely lit during New York’s first-round playoff series loss to the Atlanta Hawks. It sets this team up well moving forward.

16. Washington Wizards

NBA power rankings: Bradley Beal, Wizards
Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

What a turnaround from these Washington Wizards. With Russell Westbrook and Bradley Beal leading the charge, Washington finished the regular season by winning 17 of its final 23 games. It then earned a spot in the Eastern Conference Playoffs following the play-in tournament. Sure Washington didn’t stand much of a chance against the Philadelphia 76ers in the first round, but it was a start.

17. Memphis Grizzlies

NBA power rankings: Memphis Grizzlies
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Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. represent one of the better young tandems in the NBA. At issue here is the knee injury Jackson suffered during the NBA restart in Orlando this past summer. He returned with a minutes restriction during the NBA Playoffs, potentially giving fans in Memphis some hope of relevance moving forward. However, it was not enough for the Grizzlies to take out a vastly superior Jazz team.

18. San Antonio Spurs

NBA power rankings: San Antonio Spurs
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After some surprising success earlier this season, the Spurs fell on hard times under the legendary Gregg Popovich. San Antonio finished by winning just two of its final 12 regular-season games to inch into the play-in tournament as the 10th seed. It then promptly lost that game to Memphis. We’re highly intrigued to see what the summer will bring for the retooling Spurs.

19. Charlotte Hornets

NBA power rankings: Charlotte Hornets
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Devonte’ Graham and Terry Rozier make for a fine backcourt. The addition of guard LaMelo Ball at the top of the 2020 NBA Draft was great. Meanwhile, Charlotte did add a former All-Star in that of Gordon Hayward at a high cost. All of this equated to a spot in the play-in tournament and a early exit at the hands of the Wizards. Could some changes be coming in Charlotte this offseason?

20. Indiana Pacers

NBA power rankings: Indiana Pacers
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Indiana finished the regular season with a 34-38 mark after finding itself 17 games over .500 in 2019-20. It’s led to speculation that head coach Nate Bjorkgren could be out after one seasons. We’re also not sure where the Pacers go from here. Could the team look to blow this whole thing up?

NBA power rankings, outside looking in

21. New Orleans Pelicans

NBA power rankings: New Orleans Pelicans
Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports

Did New Orleans improve this offseason by trading Jrue Holiday? We’re not too sure. What we do know is that a core two of Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram was thought to have this team in playoff contention throughout the season. It did not happen. New Orleans finished with a disastrous 31-41 record, leading to questions about the supporting cast behind Mr. Williamson.

22. Chicago Bulls

NBA power rankings: Chicago Bulls
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Zach LaVine. Zach LaVine. More Zach LaVine. The first-time All-Star was absolutely dominating for the Bulls. He averaged 27.4 points, 5.0 rebounds and 4.9 assists on a resounding 51% shooting from the field. Chicago’s brass then pulled off the biggest trade of the deadline, acquiring one of the game’s best bigs in Nikola Vučević. Unfortunately, this did not help Chicago make a push for a playoff spot. It finished with a 31-41 record and two games out of the final play-in spot.

23. Minnesota Timberwolves

NBA power rankings: Minnesota Timberwolves
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Baby steps. These Wolves have proved themselves to be pretty darn good when Karl-Anthony Towns, D’Angelo Russell and rookie No. 1 pick Anthony Edwards were on the court together during the latter stages of the regular season. After starting out with a 14-42 record, Minnesota won nine of its final 16. Again, baby steps.

24. Toronto Raptors

NBA power rankings: Toronto Raptors
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NBA champions two years ago and a surprisingly frisky foe in their title defense, the Raptors aren’t who they were when Kawhi Leonard was on the team. That’s come out in droves with Pascal Siakam and Co. struggling during the regular season in Tampa Bay. Toronto finished with a 27-45 mark, its worst record since all the way back in 2011-12.

25. Sacramento Kings

NBA power rankings: Sacramento Kings
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On the surface, Sacramento has star power in that of De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield and Tyrese Haliburton. That did not translate to much success this season. Unfortunately, it was all about a lack of consistency. Sacramento posted a 31-41 record, leading to speculation that Luke Walton could be out of a job.

26. Cleveland Cavaliers

NBA power rankings: Cleveland Cavaliers
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Cleveland did a tremendous job in adding wing Isaac Okoro in the 2020 NBA Draft. The team also has two stud young guards in Darius Garland and Collin Sexton, who are living up to the hype amid what was a hot start. Unfortunately, that came crashing down after a solid start to the season. After beginning the regular year with a 9-9 record, Cleveland lost 41 of its final 54. Ouch!

27. Oklahoma City Thunder

NBA power rankings: Oklahoma City Thunder
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The future is bright for these Thunder. They legitimately have like 20 first-round picks over the next half-decade. However, that did not lead to success after trading away star guards Chris Paul and Dennis Schroder. Unfortunately, a recent injury to star guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander had these Thunder on a downward spiral as the season ended. They lost 23 of their final 25 games with SGA sidelined.

NBA power rankings: The bottom three

28. Orlando Magic

NBA power rankings: Orlando Magic
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

There’s some major concerns in Orlando right now. That includes star guard Markelle Fultz being lost for a majority of the season due to a torn ACL. Recent trades of Evan Fournier, Aaron Gordon and Nikola Vučević has this team starting over anew with a rebuild. It’s now right there with the Houston Rockets as the least-talented squad in the Association heading into the summer. Whoever takes over for Steve Clifford has a huge road ahead.

29. Detroit Pistons

NBA power rankings: Detroit Pistons
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The trade of Derrick Rose and Blake Griffin’s departure are two clear indications that the Pistons are in full-scale rebuild mode. The good news? This team is finally going into full-scale rebuild mode. It did not translate to initial success with the Pistons posting an ugly 20-52 record.

30. Houston Rockets

Houston Rockets must now go into rebuild mode.
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The current iteration of these Rockets looked like one of the worst teams in the NBA following the James Harden blockbuster trade. That’s not hyperbole. Here’s a team that lost 45 of its final 51 regular-season games. Talk about disaster in Houston.