The Memphis Grizzlies became the latest NBA team to get a harsh taste of life without its superstar player on Monday. Ja Morant was sidelined by an ankle injury, and the Grizzlies — a team fresh off of making a run to first place in the West — proceeded to get blown out by the Sacramento Kings 133-100.
A handful of teams have already dealt with this dilemma, including the Brooklyn Nets losing three of their past four games with Kevin Durant sidelined by an MCL sprain. The Golden State Warriors without Stephen Curry and the Philadelphia 76ers without Joel Embiid are other examples of how the void of an injured superstar can downgrade a team this year, with each losing ground in the standings as a result. The 76ers, however, have rebounded in a big way to play themselves back into the Eastern Conference conversation, while the Warriors continue to slide down in the rankings, even with Curry back on the court.
Unsurprisingly, the two teams at the top of their respective conferences — the Boston Celtics led by Jayson Tatum and the Denver Nuggets led by Nikola Jokic — are going strong on the backs of their superstar players. Tatum and Jokic are each in the thick of the MVP race as a result, and their teams are starting to pull away in the standings.
But which team can stay the healthiest in the back half of the season as fatigue sets in still has yet to be determined, and could prove to be the difference in who finishes on top.
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 now and which teams are looking most like title contenders.
1. Boston Celtics
2022-23 record: 35-14
Previous ranking: 1
After their hot start, Boston is now just trying to get its team whole again from a health standpoint. Jayson Tatum is playing through wrist and hand issues; Jaylen Brown missed a week because of an adductor strain; Marcus Smart is now out because of a sprained ankle; and both Robert Williams and Al Horford are being managed on halves of back-to-back sets. — Bontemps
2. Denver Nuggets
2022-23 record: 34-14
Previous ranking: 2
The Nuggets’ 16-game home win streak — and nine straight overall — ended Sunday…