Cavs in Turmoil? DGS NBA Power Rankings
Celtics on a losing streak? Cavaliers a team in turmoil? Did the Bucks really fire Jason Kidd? Who will be named an All-Star reserve? What about potential trades that will be made over the next two weeks? Ben McDonald and Jason Goldstein have all that and more for you in this week’s edition of the Double G Sports NBA Power Rankings. Sit back, and enjoy.
- Golden State Warriors (37-10) (Last week’s ranking: 1) – Anyone worried about the most recent loss to the Rockets or their 1-2 record against Houston needs to channel Aaron Rodgers and relax. The Warriors are on cruise control. For a few minutes a game, they turn it on and blitz the opponents. They still lead the league in point differential despite lazing through large chunks of games. Kevin Durant looks even more comfortable than a year ago. The main concern in the bay area has to be concerning Andre Iguodala. Iguodala is averaging just 5.7 points a game and looks like a shell of his former self. His contract could become an albatross and impede their ability to resign key players like Klay Thompson if this continues. The Warriors could also use him as an additional perimeter defender, although they are fairly stacked in that area already.
- Houston Rockets (33-12) (Last week’s ranking: 2) – The wins at Golden State are encouraging but the Rockets need to prove they consistently beat the elite teams in the Western Conference. The last time they made the conference finals, Corey Brewer and Josh Smith had to get them there while James Harden and Dwight Howard sat on the bench. Chris Paul is better than Howard and Harden is a different player but they face much tougher competition this year. The good news is that they have distanced themselves from everyone in the conference outside of Golden State. They lead the league in three-pointers and fire up 9.3 more than the Nets who sit behind them. That gap is the same as the one between the Nets and the 25th ranked team (Indiana). That creates variance and gives the Rockets a legitimate chance against any team, including the Warriors. However, the double-edged sword is that it also creates negative variance and makes them more susceptible to an upset. GM Daryl Morey has talked a lot about risk profile and the Rockets certainly embody it but it will be interesting to see if Paul and Harden can bring home a title once the chips are down given both players’ struggles in the postseason.
- Boston Celtics (34-13) (Last week’s ranking: 3) – The Celtics seem to be coming back down to earth, ever so slightly. They have lost three-straight games and are watching Toronto gain ground on them in the Eastern Conference standings. Going into Tuesday’s action, Boston has just a two-game lead over Toronto. Lucky for them, the Cavaliers are a team in turmoil and have not been able to take advantage of the Celtics’ recent skid. According to Kyrie Irving, the small losing streak was just what the doctor ordered. He’s right. It’s better for the team to lose now rather than in May or June. Celtics fans are also expressing excitement over videos that surfaced of Gordon Hayward shooting in the gym, but the team would be wise to not rush him back this season.
- Toronto Raptors (31-14) (Last week’s ranking: 5) – Ah, those feisty Raptors. They have hung around the top of the Eastern Conference standings for a while now and currently find themselves just two games back of first-place Boston. They are on pace to finish the regular season with more than 50 victories. DeMar DeRozan was voted in as an All-Star starter, which seems like a no-brainer. He is one of the best shooting guards in the NBA right now and is continuing to get better. DeRozan is now a four-time All-Star, one appearance shy of tying Vince Carter and Chris Bosh for the most in franchise history.
- Cleveland Cavaliers (27-18) (Last week’s ranking: 4) – It seems as though things are only getting worse for the Cavaliers. They are just 3-7 in their last 10 games, and the front office is looking to aggressively re-shape the roster before the trade deadline, mostly out of fear that LeBron James will once again leave them in free agency this summer. Rotation staples such as Tristan Thompson, J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert could all be moved in an attempt to upgrade at the point guard and center positions. George Hill, Lou Williams and DeAndre Jordan are all rumored to be trade targets. To make matters even worse, Kevin Love reportedly drew the ire of his teammates during a fiery team meeting on Monday as they questioned his effort and commitment to the team. Los Angeles must be looking real nice if you’re LeBron James right about now.
- Minnesota Timberwolves (31-18) (Last week’s ranking: 6) – The good news for the Timberwolves is that they have officially moved into third place in the Western Conference. With Kawhi Leonard out indefinitely, there is a good chance that they stay there, too. The bad news is that they are 0-2 so far against the teams above them in the standings. Minnesota has three games left against Houston and two against Golden State. The Warriors and Rockets blew them out in their previous games so Coach Tom Thibodeau needs to adjust as the path to the NBA finals will go through those teams.
- San Antonio Spurs (30-18) (Last week’s ranking: 7) – The Spurs are set to start Dejounte Murray over Tony Parker Unfortunately, the most important player on this team is not starting and could miss the remainder of the season. Kawhi Leonard is rehabbing multiple injuries and allegedly it is creating a rift in the organization. Rift or not, the Spurs need Leonard to stand any chance in a loaded conference. Minnesota has passed them and the Thunder could do the same if Leonard misses a significant amount of the rest of the season. Coach Gregg Popovich deserves a massive amount of credit for keeping them in the hunt but he can only do so much. The talent on San Antonio simply does not match up to what the Timberwolves, Thunder or Rockets can throw out there, let alone the Warriors. Patience is a virtue and that is never more true than with an injured franchise player. However, if the Spurs sit in the fourth or even fifth seed, they face the reality of having to likely beat Minnesota or Oklahoma City before walking into the Golden State buzzsaw. It would be incredibly difficult for them to win both of those but they would have another hurdle even if they did. The Spurs’ chances are dwindling with everyday Kawhi sits on the bench.
- Oklahoma City Thunder (26-20) (Last week’s ranking: 8) – Obviously, no team is happy to see another player injured but the Thunder are eyeing the third or fourth seed. The third seed would enable them to avoid the Warriors until a potential conference finals if they win out. It would also set up the revenge match against last year’s top-two MVP vote getters. While Westbrook is in position to put up a triple-double again, his efficiency has waned significantly. His three-point shooting is down to 31 percent while he is shooting under 44 percent from the field. To top it off, Westbrook has sacrificed the most valuable part of his game – getting to the rim – while he tries to adapt to his new teammates. Westbrook has always been a monster who could get to the free throw line at will and generate easy points. This year, he is shooting three less shots a game and more than three less free throws a game. Most of the attempts he is passing up are three-pointers. As a result, Westbrook has doubled down on the least efficient parts of his game at the expense of the most efficient. He will need to get back to penetrating and improve his three-point shooting if he wants to get the Thunder to a position where he can get revenge against his ex-teammate Durant.
- Washington Wizards (26-21) (Last week’s ranking: 9) – The Wizards have slowly started to separate themselves from the middle of the pack in the East. They are currently just one game back of Miami for first place in the Southeast Division, but could be playing much better basketball as a team. Monday night’s embarrassing 98-75 loss to the Mavericks has to serve as a wake up call for the Wizards, who should be not losing to bad teams by such a wide margin. Otto Porter Jr. also left the game with a hip injury during the third quarter and did not return. His health is key to Washington’s season, so the situation definitely bears watching.
- Miami Heat (27-20) (Last week’s ranking: 12) – I really like Miami’s roster. They don’t have a true, blue superstar, but they play team basketball and that is exactly why they are as good as their record indicates. Erik Spoelstra has to be in consideration for Coach of the Year, even though he most likely will not get it. Hassan Whiteside is back to putting up monster numbers on a nightly basis. If he stays consistent, he could be the superstar that the Heat desperately crave. As much of a disappointment this may be to Heat fans, I don’t believe they will have one of their players named as an All-Star reserve when the remainder of the rosters are announced on Tuesday night. Whiteside has only recently started to play well, and I can’t see Goran Dragic being selected over many of the other talented guards in the East.
- Indiana Pacers (25-22) (Last week’s ranking: 13) – Hoopshabit.com wrote up an interesting piece on why trading for Charlotte’s Kemba Walker makes sense for the Pacers, who should entertain the idea of acquiring the All-Star point guard. Pairing him next to Victor Oladipo and Myles Turner would make the Pacers extremely formidable. They are almost a lock to make the playoffs this season regardless of what they accomplish on the trade front, but Walker would slot in as the missing piece that could help bring the Pacers back to the top of the Eastern Conference. Either way, not many people saw this coming. The Pacers are far exceeding the expectations set forth for them this season and are not showing any signs of slowing down.
- Portland Trail Blazers (25-22) (Last week’s ranking: 17) – Damian Lillard is an interesting case study. He is Steph Curry light. His unlimited range stretches the floor for this teammates and makes them better even if he lacks the traditional passing skills of a point guard. However, Lillard’s efficiency pales in comparison to Curry’s. Add that to his position in a small market on a team that is good enough to make the playoffs but not good enough to make any noise and you have a formula for an underappreciated player. Does Lillard deserve an all-star nod?Last year, the Western Conference All-Star team had only three reserve guards. If that happens this year, do not be surprised if Lillard gets snubbed. He should make it but many voters will slot him behind Klay Thompson, Jimmy Butler, and Russell Westbrook. That said, he does deserve a spot. The Blazers deserve to get at least one all-star if New Orleans gets two and Lillard would be as deserving as a player like Karl Anthony-Towns. It will come down to the wire, but Lillard should be there for the game in Los Angeles this year.
- New Orleans Pelicans (25-21) (Last week’s ranking: 15) – For a team that has hovered around .500, it speaks volumes about New Orleans’ depth that they got two all-star starters. DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis are two of the top players in the game. Cousins made it as a starter largely due to the fellow player votes, showing that his tantrums do not impact the respect other players have for his game. Both players are deserving but they could squeeze out some lower tier teams from getting a representative. Nikola Jokic and Paul George are bubble players. George in particular, could face an uphill battle as he would likely be the second player voted in if Westbrook gets in. Still, the Pelicans have gotten momentum on their side and are creeping up the standings. Cousins and Davis have found a way to play together and could be a dangerous matchup for any team in the first round.
- Philadelphia 76ers (22-21) (Last week’s ranking: 18) – The Sixers had dreams of attending the Super Bowl in a couple of weeks to watch their beloved Philadelphia Eagles battle the New England Patriots. Head coach Brett Brown told the team that if they went 8-0 during their upcoming stretch, he would charter a flight to Minneapolis for the game. Those dreams were quickly crushed as the Sixers suffered a tough loss to the Grizzlies on Monday night. Even still, the Sixers find themselves back in the eighth seed after the struggling Pistons dropped out of the playoffs amid their recent skid. They should try and convince coach Brown that a 7-1 record should be just as good to book themselves a trip to the Big Game.
- Milwaukee Bucks (24-22) (Last week’s ranking: 10) – It’s rare for contending teams to fire their head coaches during the regular season, but the Bucks decided to make an exception to that sentiment. Head coach Jason Kidd was relieved of his head coaching duties by the organization on Monday. The Bucks are the second team who have cut ties with Kidd during the last four seasons. The future Hall-of-Famer went just 139-152 in three and a half seasons as Milwaukee’s head coach. He did make the playoffs twice, but was bounced out in the first round both times. I think Kidd’s head coaching days in the NBA are over. He was an all-world talent at the point guard position, but does not seem to be an ideal fit as a head coach. Assistant coach Joe Prunty will take over in the interim for the Bucks, who still have a pretty good shot at making the playoffs in the East. They are already off to a good start, defeating the Suns in their first game without Kidd on the sidelines.
- Los Angeles Clippers (23-23) (Last week’s ranking: 14) – The Clippers have certainly made themselves relevant again and could end up with an all-star that no one saw coming if Lou Williams makes it. Williams deserves the buzz as he ranks as the best isolation scorer in the game this year and has carried the Clippers to wins over top teams, including the Warriors when he dropped 50. Williams has never gotten the respect he deserved for being a spark plug off the bench so it has been beautiful to watch him thrive as the rest of his team crumbles around him. DeAndre Jordan is another all-star candidate but is out with an injury as of now so he might not play even if selected. In the meantime, the Clippers are back on track and showing that the early season success was not a fluke. The Clippers have a few players that like having the ball at the same time so Coach Doc Rivers will need to ensure that the ball keeps moving once (if?) everyone is back healthy.
- Denver Nuggets (24-23) (Last week’s ranking: 11) – The Nuggets seem like a prime candidate for a Kemba Walker trade. The need to reassemble their roster with far too many power forwards on the roster. They could flip a few of their big men, a young player, and a draft pick to Charlotte and absorb Walker and two of the bad Charlotte contracts. Perhaps they could even hold onto their pick if they swallow the contracts of Marvin Williams and Nicolas Batum. That would give the Nuggets the point guard they crave and the scorer they lack. If that trade went through, the Nuggets could theoretically trot out a lineup with Walker, Jamal Murray, Paul Millsap, Nikola Jokic and their choice of Gary Harris or Will Barton. It would enhance their wing depth significantly, particularly if they got back Batum who has looked overmatched this year in a larger role. That deal could help the Hornets bottom out and push the Nuggets right back into the middle of the Western Conference playoff picture.
- Detroit Pistons (22-23) (Last week’s ranking: 16) – What is going on with the Pistons? Nobody is really able to pinpoint it, but if the Pistons don’t start finding ways to score soon, they are in big trouble. Andre Drummond has a very good chance of being named an All-Star reserve on Tuesday night, but that might be the only thing the Pistons have going for them right now. After a strong start to the season, the Pistons are now under .500 for the first time all year. They have done an abysmal 12-20 since their 10-3 start, but with plenty of home games over the next month, they have plenty of time to get back into the thick of the playoff race.
- New York Knicks (21-26) (Last week’s ranking: 19) – January has not been a kind month to the Knicks in recent years. After getting off to yet another hot start, the Knicks are in the middle of their annual January plunge in the standings. New York’s skid this season is due in large part to their 6-17 road record, which will only get worse with upcoming games at Golden State and Denver this week, If they can learn to win more games away from Madison Square Garden, a shot of the playoffs remains very realistic. I also fully expect Kristaps Porzingis to be named to his first All-Star team on Tuesday night, which would be a remarkable accomplishment for the rebuilding franchise. Porzingis just missed out on being named a starter for the game, which will be played next month in Los Angeles.
- Utah Jazz (19-28) (Last week’s ranking: 20) – The Jazz might not make the playoffs this year, particularly if the Nuggets do manage to get Kemba Walker. However, this season has proven that they have some of the most interesting young players in the league. Despite injuries, Rudy Gobert has shown that he is one of the most impactful defenders in the league. Rodney Hood is having a good season as well but his looming restricted free agency looms, particularly given what happened last offseason with Gordon Hayward. Unlike Hayward, Hood is not a foundational player so it will make the decision on him much more interesting. Still, the player that will determine the Jazz’s fortune will be Donovan Mitchell. He might be the rookie of the year and his star potential is obvious to anyone with eyes. If he morphs into the type of player he could be then the Jazz might end up with one of the top-25 players in the league. Mitchell has the potential to be a superstar and if the Jazz play their cards right, they could end up with their new Stockton and Malone with him and Gobert.
- Chicago Bulls (18-29) (Last week’s ranking: 21) – Kris Dunn looks like he will be sidelined for an extended period of time. He suffered a concussion last week and as of Monday, the post-concussion symptoms have yet to subside. It’s an unfortunate blow for the Bulls, who have been playing some solid basketball over the past month. Dunn will be missed, and it will be up to the rest of the rotation players to step up in his absence. Stellar rookie Lauri Markkanen had a career-high 17 rebounds in Monday night’s double-overtime loss to the Pelicans. His 17 boards are the most by the Chicago Bulls rookie in a single game since Aaron Gray had 22 back in 2008.
- Brooklyn Nets (18-29) (Last week’s ranking: 22) – D’Angelo Russell is back and the Nets are a much better team because of it. Brooklyn is 2-0 since Russell’s return, and what’s even more impressive is that both victories were against likely playoff teams. Spencer Dinwiddie is currently playing the best basketball of his career, so it will be interesting to see how he and Russell will coexist on the court. It’s still January and the Nets are just two wins shy of matching last season’s entire win total. They still have a flawed roster, but it is full of young, hungry and talented players who are thriving in Kenny Atkinson’s system. The Nets look to continue their winning streak on the road this week against the Thunder, Bucks and Timberwolves.
- Charlotte Hornets (19-26) (Last week’s ranking: 23) – It’s official, the Hornets have thrown in the towel on the 2017-18 season. Their best player, point guard Kemba Walker has been placed on the trade market. It remains to be seen whether they will actually move him, but any team that wants to give up both draft picks and young players would receive on heck of a baller in return. Walker has gotten better every year since being drafted by the Hornets back in 2011. He was an All-Star last season and will be an asset to any team who would acquire him. Knicks fans would love to pair Walker with Kristaps Porzingis, but I don’t believe the Knicks have the necessary pieces to get a deal done. Either way, it would be wise for the Hornets to deal Walker, Dwight Howard and several other veterans in order to trigger a complete rebuild of the franchise.
- Phoenix Suns (17-30) (Last week’s ranking: 24) – Friday’s game against the Nuggets epitomized the frustration of watching the Suns. Two weeks after being blown out in Denver, the Suns took them down 108-100. They are 11-5 on the season when their opponents score 105 points or fewer. Perhaps the most shocking thing about that statistic is that it has only happened 16 times in 46 games. By contrast, the Celtics have only had 12 games where their opponents scored 105 points compared to the Suns’ 30. It also illustrates that when the defense plays well, the Suns can win games. If that frequency can improve and they can play lower scoring games, then Phoenix could be onto something. The major obstacle has been with the younger players like Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss. Chriss regularly looks lost on the defensive end of the floor. If Coach Jay Triano can fix the defense, he might earn himself the job for next year.
- Dallas Mavericks (16-31) (Last week’s ranking: 25) – Amazingly, the two Mavericks with the highest efficiency are Dirk Nowitzki and JJ Barea among players playing 20 minutes a game or more. Their PERs (Player Efficiency Rating) show the problem the Mavericks have had developing young talent after their championship run. Barea and Dirk were major players when the Mavs hoisted their banner but that was in 2012 and it is now 2018. Dennis Smith Jr. has played well but this still feels like Dirk’s team the same way the Lakers did. Mark Cuban may have to make a choice soon or he risks wasting another few years in quasi contention as Dirk rides into the sunset.
- Los Angeles Lakers (17-29) (Last week’s ranking: 26) – Jordan Clarkson is making Laker fans say “Lonzo, who?” Clarkson has been a man on fire in his past two games scoring 29 and 33 respectively. It coincided with a minutes increase unsurprisingly. His minutes have yo-yo’d from the mid-to-low teens up into the twenties but without Lonzo Ball he is making the most of them. That is especially good news for the Lakers who might need to trade him in order to create more cap space. Luol Deng has become immovable but Clarkson could draw interest if he continues his strong play. He still is not much of a shooter but he can score and could fit as a lead guard off the bench for a playoff contender. The way the Lakers handle him could speak volumes about their outlook for this offseason.
- Memphis Grizzlies (17-29) (Last week’s ranking: 27) – Memphis is a frisky 5-5 in their last 10 games. They have been resisting the urge to trade Tyreke Evans to a contender before the trade deadline. It might be time to cut the cord and salvage what they can before it is too late. The Grizzlies need draft picks and young players badly. Their depth has been exposed this season and it is crucial for them to look towards the future. Marc Gasol and Mike Conley could get this team back to the playoffs but they need help and Evans is likely going to command too large of a salary next season for the Grizzlies to keep him. Instead, the Grizzlies can give those minutes to other young players or even call up a promising G-Leaguer and take a swing in a lost season.
- Atlanta Hawks (14-32) (Last week’s ranking: 29) – Another week has gone by, and the Hawks have not gotten any better. They are currently tied with the Magic for the worst record in the Eastern Conference. General manager Travis Schlenk should have one priority moving forward: trade Kent Bazemore to a contending team and get as much value in return for him. A desperate team like the Cavs would overspend to acquire someone of Bazemore’s ilk. The young guard would be a perfect addition to the Cavs, and it would make sense for Atlanta to move his contract off of their books. Only then would the Hawks’ rebuild truly be underway. Crazier things have happened around the NBA trade deadline. Stay tuned.
- Sacramento Kings (13-33) (Last week’s ranking: 28) – George Hill could be on the move and it would not be a minute too soon. Sacramento has to be thinking about their future and Hill does not fit into that. We have talked about it in this space and even in the NBA preview. The Hill move never made much sense so it is time for the Kings to cut their losses and look forward to a bright future. They already have some intriguing talent and figure to add a lot more in one of the best drafts in recent memory. Do not despair Kings fans. There is still warm California weather, young building blocks, and a likely top-five draft pick.
- Orlando Magic (14-32) (Last week’s ranking: 30) – The Magic have officially hit the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings. They are right down with Atlanta as two of the worst teams in basketball. With all that said, there is still some positivity reverberating throughout Walt DIsney World. In the last week, the Magic defeated both the Celtics and Timberwolves, both playoff-bound squads. Add that in with a last-second loss to the Cavaliers and one would think the Magic are heading in the right direction. The trade deadline will really determine the direction in which the franchise would like to go. Most NBA fans and pundits would know that direction will not include a 2018 postseason berth.
Biggest Mover: Portland Trail Blazers (5)
Biggest Flop: Denver Nuggets (6)
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