NBA Power Rankings Week 14: Risers and fallers at the halfway point

Zion can boost the Pelicans' playoff hopes (1:51)

With Zion Williamson's return on the horizon, Jalen Rose and Richard Jefferson believe he has the ability to push the Pelicans into the playoffs. (1:51)

We're more than halfway through the 2019-20 season, and the Milwaukee Bucks remain locked in our No. 1 spot as the Los Angeles Lakers nip at their heels.

Our biggest risers this week? The New Orleans Pelicans, who are expected to debut star rookie Zion Williamson on Wednesday against the San Antonio Spurs.

Throughout the regular season, our panel (ESPN's Tim MacMahon, Andre' Snellings, Royce Young and Bobby Marks and The Undefeated's Marc J. Spears) is ranking all 30 teams from top to bottom, taking stock of which teams are playing the best basketball now and which teams are looking most like title contenders.

Previous rankings: Week 13 | 12 | 11 | 10 | 9 | 8 | 7 | 6 | 5 | 4 | 3 | 2 | 1 | Training camp | Free agency | Post-Finals

1. Milwaukee Bucks
Record: 38-6
Week 13 ranking: 1

The Bucks have won their past five games by an average of 18.6 points, with their win over the Celtics as their only victory by fewer than 20 points. The blowouts have allowed the Bucks to start "load managing" reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo without sitting him for entire games, as he averaged only 25.5 minutes per game during those four dominating wins while spending most of the fourth quarter resting on the sideline. -- Snellings

This week: CHI, CHA

2. Los Angeles Lakers
Record: 34-8
Week 13 ranking: 2

LeBron James needs 81 points to pass Kobe Bryant for the third-most points in NBA history. James is averaging 25.5 points per game this season and is enjoying his best NBA month of this season so far, averaging 27 points per game in January. -- Spears

This week: @BOS, @NY, @BKN, @PHI

3. LA Clippers
Record: 30-13
Week 13 ranking: 5

The Clippers enjoyed a 3-0 week with wins over the Cavs, Magic and Pelicans. The Clippers haven't flexed the full power of their roster all that much this season. Paul George is getting close to returning, and as the season turns over to the second half, the Clippers will start featuring their top eight or nine players more consistently. Because when they play their best eight, they are really, really good. -- Young

This week: @DAL, @ATL, @MIA, @ORL

4. Miami Heat
Record: 29-13
Week 13 ranking: 4

A couple of head-scratching losses last week had Heat coach Erik Spoelstra talking about focus and energy this week. An excellent road win in Oklahoma City that featured a frustrating zone and balanced scoring across the board was satisfying, but turning around and doing a lot of the opposite in a loss in San Antonio was less so. -- Young

This week: SAC, WSH, LAC

5. Utah Jazz
Record: 29-13
Week 13 ranking: 6

The Jazz have the luxury of easing Mike Conley back in the mix after he missed 19 of 20 games with a hamstring strain. Utah has won 16 of 18, including Saturday's rout of the Kings, when Conley returned and played 15 minutes off the bench. A strong case can be made that Conley should become the Jazz's sixth man. The starting lineup Utah used without him has a net rating of plus-21.8 points per 100 possessions, the best of the 32 lineups in the league that have played at least 150 minutes this season. -- MacMahon

This week: IND, @GS, DAL

6. Denver Nuggets
Record: 29-13
Week 13 ranking: 8

One of the more perplexing things in the previous postseason's seven-game series loss to the Blazers was the random cold-shooting streaks. And it feels less random, because it's been happening again, like in Sunday's home loss to the Pacers, where the Nuggets went 3-for-23 from 3-point range. It was also their first game without Jamal Murray, who badly sprained his ankle against the Warriors, and his floor game was obviously missed, not to mention his shooting. If he misses multiple weeks, the West's Nos. 2-3 seeds could be more up for grabs than previously thought. -- Young

This week: @MIN, @HOU, @NO, HOU

7. Toronto Raptors
Record: 28-14
Week 13 ranking: 9

The Raptors are finally getting healthy, with Fred VanVleet joining Pascal Siakam, Marc Gasol and Norman Powell in returning to the lineup. The Raptors have won three straight games by an average of 16.0 points, and they play seven of their next eight games against teams well under .500. The only above-.500 team in that stretch is a home game against the 76ers, a team they have split their first two games against this season. -- Snellings

This week: @ATL, PHI, @NY, @SA

8. Boston Celtics
Record: 27-14
Week 13 ranking: 3

The Celtics are on pace for a 54-win season, which would be a five-game improvement over when they had both Kyrie Irving and Al Horford last season. The glass-half-empty perspective views the Celtics as a team that has lost three straight games and has gone 3-6 in its past nine games. Despite being without a combination of Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Kemba Walker in the losses to Detroit, Milwaukee and Phoenix, the three games once again exposed the inconsistencies and lack of shooting off their bench. -- Marks

This week: LAL, MEM, @ORL, @NO

9. Dallas Mavericks
Record: 27-15
Week 13 ranking: 10

Kristaps Porzingis' absence because of right knee soreness is at 10 games and counting, significantly longer than originally anticipated. Maxi Kleber, who has replaced Porzingis in the starting lineup for most of those games, has been a major reason the Mavs are 6-4 in that stretch. Kleber, the second-best Wurzburg, Germany, native in franchise history, has averaged 12.3 points on 51.3% shooting from the floor and 43.9% from 3-point range, 5.7 rebounds and 1.6 blocks over the 10 games. His average plus-minus (plus-8.2) in that span is second behind Tim Hardaway Jr.'s for the best on the team. -- MacMahon

This week: LAC, @POR, @UTAH

10. Indiana Pacers
Record: 28-15
Week 13 ranking: 12

T.J. Warren has quietly been on a scoring tear of late. Outside of the ejection-shortened game due to his much-publicized tiff with Jimmy Butler, Warren has averaged 21 points per game on 55% from the field during his past 11 games as the primary scoring option for the Pacers. He helped lead the Pacers to five straight wins, and overall he has helped them keep pace with the other Eastern Conference contenders while Victor Oladipo has been on the shelf. -- Snellings

This week: @UTAH, @PHX, @GS, @POR

11. Philadelphia 76ers
Record: 28-16
Week 13 ranking: 11

The three-game winning streak has not been pretty, but Philadelphia continues to succeed on the defensive end despite Joel Embiid's injury absence. In the three wins, Philadelphia held its opponents in the fourth quarter to an average of 17 points on 31.3% from the field and 8.0% from 3. -- Marks

This week: @BKN, @TOR, LAL

12. Houston Rockets
Record: 26-15
Week 13 ranking: 7

It's fair to wonder how much fatigue has been a factor in the Rockets' 1-4 slide. Their two starters who have logged the most minutes this season have really struggled during the five-game span. James Harden has averaged 27.4 points -- down almost 10 points from the NBA-best season average -- on 35.9% shooting from the floor. P.J. Tucker, who is battling a stinger in his right shoulder, has averaged 2.4 points on 23.5% shooting. -- MacMahon

This week: OKC, DEN, @MIN, @DEN

13. Oklahoma City Thunder
Record: 24-19
Week 13 ranking: 13

The Thunder are maybe the most interesting team in the league as the trade deadline nears. They could be influential in stacking contenders with difference-making players if they decide to sell, they could buy on the short term themselves, or they could stand pat. All appearances suggest they want to make the playoffs, and with a bit of a head start, they could do a little selling and make it anyway. And consider this: As good as Danilo Gallinari has been this season, OKC is 6-1 without him. -- Young

This week: @HOU, @ORL, ATL, @MIN

14. Memphis Grizzlies
Record: 20-22
Week 13 ranking: 15

Not coincidentally, the chemistry between 20-year-old co-stars Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. has clicked during the Grizzlies' 14-6 run. Memphis has averaged 115.5 points per 100 possessions with that duo on the floor over the past 20 games, compared to 105.6 before that. To put that in perspective, the first figure would rank second among teams in offensive rating this season, the latter 25th. -- MacMahon

This week: NO, @BOS, @DET, PHX

15. Orlando Magic
Record: 20-23
Week 13 ranking: 14

The Magic got their signature victory of the season last week in a road win over the Lakers that featured Markelle Fultz's second career triple-double. Fultz is showing real signs of returning to the form that made him the top pick in the 2017 draft, averaging 17 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists while shooting 50% from the field during his past seven games. -- Snellings

This week: @CHA, OKC, BOS, LAC

16. Phoenix Suns
Record: 18-24
Week 13 ranking: 19

Devin Booker is making an argument to be a first-time All-Star. The fourth-year sharpshooter has averaged 32 points over the past 10 games, including scoring 39 in two of the past three contests. Booker's biggest challenge could be overcoming the Suns' 18-24 record. -- Spears

This week: SA, IND, @SA, @MEM

17. San Antonio Spurs
Record: 18-23
Week 13 ranking: 16

DeMar DeRozan continues to be an exception in the analytics era as a wing scorer who shies away from shooting 3s, but it's hard to complain about his efficiency. His 7-of-16 outing in Sunday's win over the Heat, when he had 20 points, eight rebounds and nine assists, ended a streak of 13 straight games when DeRozan shot at least 50% from the floor. He has averaged 26.6 points on 62.3% shooting in the past 14 games, making a total of only three 3s in that span. -- MacMahon

This week: @PHX, @NO, PHX, TOR

18. Brooklyn Nets
Record: 18-23
Week 13 ranking: 17

We could call last week for Kyrie Irving an extension of the preseason -- both on the court and in interacting with the media. On the court, Brooklyn went 0-3 with double-digit losses to Utah, Philadelphia and Milwaukee. Irving's 6-for-21 performance at Philadelphia came before a state of the union address on the current roster and team needs, and the point guard averaged 21.0 points with an average plus-minus of minus-11.7. The good news for Brooklyn is that the schedule will begin to soften. After facing the Sixers and the Lakers, the Nets will play seven straight games against teams currently below .500. -- Marks

This week: PHI, LAL, @DET, @NY

19. New Orleans Pelicans
Record: 16-27
Week 13 ranking: 24

The Pelicans have won nine of their past 13 games to keep their playoff hopes alive while waiting for No. 1 overall pick Zion Williamson's highly anticipated debut. Brandon Ingram has bolstered his case for being a franchise cornerstone, averaging 26.4 points and 5.5 assists over the 13 games, highlighted by his 49-point, six-assist performance in the victory that snapped the Jazz's 10-game winning streak. -- MacMahon

This week: @MEM, SA, DEN, BOS

20. Portland Trail Blazers
Record: 18-26
Week 13 ranking: 18

The Portland locker room was an odd place Saturday, barren and quiet with only eight players in it after a 13-point loss to the Thunder. With more injuries and now a trade made to shed salary, the Blazers might be coming to grips with the reality of this season. Even if they can turn it around, the best they can likely achieve is the seventh or eighth seed. So the priorities are shifting to trimming the most expensive roster in the league and possibly setting the table for a better 2020-21. -- Young

This week: GS, DAL, IND

21. Chicago Bulls
Record: 16-28
Week 13 ranking: 22

Zach LaVine has averaged 30.6 points over the past 10 games, including his 42-point performance against Cleveland on Saturday, when he scored 21 in the fourth quarter alone to spark Chicago's rally. LaVine's scoring surge comes at an opportune time, as the sixth-year guard is hoping to secure his first All-Star selection for when the game comes to Chicago on Feb. 16. -- Spears

This week: @MIL, MIN, SAC, @CLE

22. Detroit Pistons
Record: 16-27
Week 13 ranking: 25

The Pistons staved off what appeared to be a free fall through the standings with a surprising 13-point win over the Celtics in Boston, then followed that up with a 33-point blowout of the Hawks in Atlanta. Young bigs Sekou Doumbouya and Christian Wood have joined veteran Markieff Morris in filling in for the injured Blake Griffin, and the trio has helped keep the team within shouting distance of the No. 8 spot in the East. -- Snellings

This week: @WSH, SAC, MEM, BKN

23. Minnesota Timberwolves
Record: 15-27
Week 13 ranking: 20

The Timberwolves had a big week on the personnel front, with Karl-Anthony Towns returning from a long injury layoff and former starting point guard Jeff Teague traded away. This activity hasn't translated to wins, though, as they've lost five straight games, all against teams that would be in the playoffs if the season ended today. They face three more teams on pace for the postseason in their next four games, starting Monday against the Nuggets. -- Snellings

This week: DEN, @CHI, HOU, OKC

24. Sacramento Kings
Record: 15-27
Week 13 ranking: 21

Keep an eye on Kings general manager Vlade Divac as the deadline nears. Sacramento already acquired guard Kent Bazemore, forward Anthony Tolliver and two second-round picks from Portland for forwards Trevor Ariza, Caleb Swanigan and Wenyen Gabriel. Unhappy center Dewayne Dedmon, who is in the first year of a three-year, $40 million deal, would like to be moved as well. -- Spears

This week: @MIA, @DET, @CHI

25. Charlotte Hornets
Record: 15-29
Week 13 ranking: 23

The Hornets head into Monday's matchup with Orlando as losers of seven straight games. After going 8-11 (but 2-7 in the past nine games) with Bismack Biyombo as the starting center, head coach James Borrego changed the lineup before the loss to Portland and inserted Cody Zeller as starter. That starting group has gone 2-8 and dropped the past two to Portland and Denver. The true sign of the struggle is that Charlotte's roster has missed only 43 games due to injuries and the Hornets still sit 14 games below .500. -- Marks

This week: ORL, MIL

26. Washington Wizards
Record: 13-28
Week 13 ranking: 26

If you're having a bad season, you might as well get a little weird with it, right? The Thomas Bryant and Ian Mahinmi starting frontcourt featured against the Raptors and Bulls last week was decidedly weird. But as it has been for so much of this season, with injuries piled high, the options were limited for Scott Brooks. -- Young

This week: DET, @MIA, @CLE, @ATL

27. Golden State Warriors
Record: 10-34
Week 13 ranking: 29

The injury-plagued Warriors were limited to nine players again Saturday but managed to end a 10-game losing streak with a win over visiting Orlando. Draymond Green missed his sixth game this season with a sprained left finger but is expected back soon. The young Warriors are growing in trying times, though, as rookies Jordan Poole and Eric Paschall added 21 and 20 points, respectively, in the rare win. -- Spears

This week: @POR, UTAH, IND

28. Cleveland Cavaliers
Record: 12-31
Week 13 ranking: 27

It would be easy to blame the travel conditions for the Cavaliers' 26-turnover performance that resulted in a blown 17-point halftime lead in Chicago on Saturday. However, given that both teams arrived the day of the game, it's hard to give the Cavaliers a pass. Despite the loss and the winless week, Collin Sexton and Kevin Love continue their strong play. Sexton averaged 23.8 points per game on 48.7% shooting from the field, while Love averaged 23.0 points and 8.3 rebounds per game. -- Marks

This week: NY, WSH, CHI

29. New York Knicks
Record: 11-32
Week 13 ranking: 28

New York has gone 2-8 in January, including three straight losses, and has lost rookie RJ Barrett with a sprained ankle. Despite losing by a combined 49 points to Milwaukee and Phoenix last week, New York was a Tobias Harris 3-point shot away from winning at home to the 76ers. The Knicks are now 6-15 at home with three of their next four opponents -- the Lakers, Raptors and Nets -- visiting Madison Square Garden. -- Marks

This week: @CLE, LAL, TOR, BKN

30. Atlanta Hawks
Record: 10-33
Week 13 ranking: 30

The Hawks defeated the Spurs on Friday, earning their first win inside the AT&T Center. It was Atlanta's first victory in San Antonio since Feb. 21, 1997, snapping a 21-game road losing streak. The Hawks have lost 18 road games this season, worst in the Eastern Conference. -- Spears

This week: TOR, LAC, @OKC, WSH