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Suns hang on to top spot but Celtics, 76ers gaining

The Phoenix Suns are keeping their heads above water despite Chris Paul and Devin Booker being out, and that keeps them atop these NBA power rankings. However, the Celtics and 76ers are coming fast and could crack the top two… just not this week.

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1. Suns (52-13, Last Week No. 1). Phoenix is keeping its head above water without Chris Paul and, of late, Devin Booker (who returns Wednesday). The Suns have gone 4-3 since the All-Star break with a +3.9 net rating, which is not bad considering the circumstances. As it has been all season with this team, Phoenix is leaning on its depth and balance, with different players stepping up nightly. Deandre Ayton had 21 points and 19 boards against the Magic Tuesday. Cameron Johnson has had his big nights, too, shooting 58.5{2236154dad3e2e5e52232f44259786ad55fa1ad43d7c7f04baaefdced4afc2cb} from 3 since CP3 went out, and that includes a 38-point game against the Knicks, complete game-winner (and yes he called bank).

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2. Heat (44-22, LW 2). The Heat are going to earn the No. 1 seed in the East. Winners of 7-of-8, including games over the Nets and 76ers, Miami has a three-game cushion on top of the conference and has nine of their next 10 games at home (the only road trip is to Philadelphia on March 21). The question is can they take advantage of home court come the playoffs? They need a better clutch offense to do so. Miami is 19-12 in clutch games this season with the fourth-best clutch defense in the league, but the offense is 27th and it showed in the loss to the Bucks, who went on a 21-6 run late because Miami struggled to generate good halfcourt looks. That is the potential Achilles heel for the Heat.

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3. Celtics (39-27, LW 6). Time to start talking about Boston as one of the contenders in the East: 13-2 in their last 15 with a +15.2 net rating (both best in the league) and the NBA’s best defense. Questions about the Celtics’ offense have been answered with Jayson Tatum reaching a new level of not just scorer — although he dropped 54 on the Nets over the weekend and was the best player on the floor — but also as a playmaker setting up teammates. This is a team that understands its…

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2022-03-10

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