DGS NBA Power Rankings: Rocket Power
The playoffs are rapidly approaching. The Warriors are dealing with a rash of injuries. Both conferences have surprise teams at the top of the standings, the Rockets in the West and the Raptors in the East. Could the Timberwolves wind up missing the postseason? Read on and find out in the latest edition of the DGS NBA Power Rankings:
- Houston Rockets (60-14) (Last week’s ranking: 2) – No team will benefit more from the Warriors’ rash of injuries than the Rockets, who look to have the top seed in the Western Conference locked down with eight games remaining. It would take a huge collapse for Golden State to catch them in the standings. This could be the year the Rockets find themselves in the NBA Finals, and they would be wise to take advantage of the opportunity. It’s important that they do not burn themselves out while the rest of the teams in the conference fight tooth and nail for playoff position. Health will be key in the postseason for Houston. Look for both James Harden and Chris Paul to sit out one or two games once the Rockets officially nab the number one seed.
- Golden State Warriors (54-19) (Last week’s ranking: 1) – After the Warriors were deemed one of the more durable teams in the NBA for several seasons, they have gotten hit with a tidal wave of injuries. Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green have all missed time with various ailments, but none are more serious than the Grade 2 MCL sprain suffered by Steph Curry. Curry is expected to miss the rest of the regular season and the first round of the playoffs. The defending champs should have plenty in the tank to get past the first round with the two-time MVP, but they would not be able to beat the likes of the Rockets and Thunder in a seven-game series if Curry is not healthy. Steve Kerr is forced to rely on his bench in the first round of the postseason. If you’re a Warriors fan, does watching Nick Young jack up 15-20 shots a night in Curry’s absence give you full confidence in the team?
- Toronto Raptors (54-20) (Last week’s ranking: 3) – The Raptors are hitting a swoon to end the season. They are 3-3 in their past six games and the three wins were concerningly close affairs against bottom-feeders. The win against Dallas took overtime and the others were single-digit wins. DeMar DeRozan missed one of those games and struggled in the other five. He is shooting under 37 percent in those games and has only hit four threes. Surprisingly, the issue has been defense more than offense during this stretch. In the five games that DeRozan played in, the Raptors have allowed 121.6 points a game. Toronto is fifth in defensive rating for the season, which is a key part of their recipe for success. The remaining games against Cleveland and Denver should help act as a barometer for their defense heading into the playoffs.
- Portland Trail Blazers (45-28) (Last week’s ranking: 5) – The more I watch them, the more I realize Portland is for real. They suffered some tough losses to the Rockets and Celtics last week, but rebounded in a big way with a win over the Thunder. The victory over OKC keeps Portland in the driver’s seat for the third seed out West. The Trail Blazers have important games against the Pelicans and Clippers this week, but they also have two games against the Grizzlies. It would be somewhat of a disappointment if they don’t reach 50 wins this year.
- Cleveland Cavaliers (44-29) (Last week’s ranking: 7) – Cleveland is hitting their stride at the right time. A win against Toronto last week has to have them feeling like favorites in the Eastern Conference. If Kyrie Irving cannot play in the second round and they meet the Cavs, Cleveland would be a clear favorite. Given the way that the Cavaliers have handled Toronto in the past, it would be hard to pick the Raptors without seeing it first. Despite all the drama in Cleveland, the Cavaliers and LeBron James have positioned themselves to make the finals yet again.
- Oklahoma City Thunder (44-31) (Last week’s ranking: 4) – The Thunder suffered their most embarrassing loss of the season when they blew a six-point lead with 20 seconds remaining against the Celtics last week. Add in a loss to the Trail Blazers over the weekend and the Thunder are left reeling a bit. Entering play Tuesday, OKC is just one-half game ahead of the Pelicans and Spurs for the fourth seed in the Western Conference. They should clinch a playoff berth in the coming days, but the Thunder will be much better off having homecourt advantage during the first round. Carmelo Anthony has got to play better, though, if OKC stands any chance of advancing past the first round.
- Boston Celtics (51-23) (Last week’s ranking: 6) – The hits keep coming for Boston. Kyrie Irving will likely miss the rest of the regular season and could even miss part of the second round. The Celtics are unsure when Marcus Smart is coming back and Stevens already ruled out Gordon Hayward. Without that troika, Boston just does not have the firepower to hang with the Cavaliers, Raptors, and possibly even the Wizards. If Boston runs into Milwaukee and Giannis Antetokounmpo in the first round, an upset would not be all that surprising without Irving or Smart.
- Philadelphia 76ers (43-30) (Last week’s ranking: 14) – The 76ers have capitalized on the injuries and drama surrounding other teams. Could Philly capitalize on a wounded Celtics team? If they continue to win, they could steal Cleveland’s third spot in the standings and avoid playing the Cavaliers or Raptors. If Irving and Smart could not play, that could possibly make them favorites in a second round series against the Celtics. Before thinking about that though, it is remarkable that the 76ers are here at all. They could go from The Process Sixers who annually found themselves at the top of the lottery to the Eastern Conference finals.
- Indiana Pacers (43-31) (Last week’s ranking: 9) – The Pacers have a pretty brutal schedule to close the season. Chris Herring wrote a fascinating piece on what fuels their success besides the obvious answer of Victor Oladipo. Their seeding will be crucial since they are an excellent home team and seem like a fragile team come playoff time. Their strategy that Herring outlines in his piece depends on defenses giving those open looks. Much like Houston a season ago, that strategy might not work when teams game plan against it. The other problematic aspect is that they are fighting math. Three points are worth more than two so it is better to take a three than an open two in many cases. Even if the Pacers hit 50 percent of their open mid range shots, they would be getting the same effectiveness by hitting only 33.3 percent of their threes. In one hundred attempts, they could miss a whopping 17 more shots and get virtually the same efficiency. Likewise, free throws, which the Pacers do not shoot often, are another of the most efficient shots. If opponents play up and deny wide open looks, the Pacers might struggle come playoff time.
- Utah Jazz (42-32) (Last week’s ranking: 10) – Nobody saw this coming. The Jazz are currently ten games over .500 and have climbed all the way up to the seventh seed. They were left for dead around the All-Star break, but the addition of Jae Crowder at the trade deadline really gave the team a boost. He won’t win it, but head coach Quin Snyder has to be in consideration for the NBA Coach of the Year award. He has taken a flawed roster and lead it to the doorstep of the playoffs. If they hang on and make the postseason, this would be deemed a successful year for the Jazz, who were thought to be entering a rebuild after Gordon Hayward left in free agency last Summer.
- San Antonio Spurs (43-31) (Last week’s ranking: 11) – There’s nothing like home cooking. The Spurs may have saved their season with a recent 6-0 homestand. They were on the outside of the playoff picture at this time last week, but have battled their way back into the conversation. They find themselves just two and a half games back of the third seed with eight games remaining. However, they have struggled away from home, losing eight of their last nine road games. It may not be pretty, but the Spurs should return to the playoffs barring a collapse. Getting Kawhi Leonard healthy for the postseason will give the Spurs a fighting chance in any series they play in, but all signs point to an early exit for Gregg Popovich and company.
- Minnesota Timberwolves (42-33) (Last week’s ranking: 12) – The struggling Timberwolves are in need of some relief. After losing Jimmy Butler, they have dropped all the way to the eighth seed. They are in danger of missing the postseason after they seemed like a virtual lock for most of the regular season. Both the Nuggets and Clippers remain within striking distance of the eighth seed, so Minnesota will have to win most of its remaining games if it wants to return to the playoffs. Fortunately for them, they should benefit from a soft schedule this week, which includes games against the Grizzlies, Hawks and Mavericks. Anything less than 47 wins will likely keep the Timberwolves out of the playoffs for yet another year.
- Washington Wizards (40-33) (Last week’s ranking: 8) – The Wizards remain the sleeper in the East. No one would look forward to seeing John Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter, Kelly Oubre, and Markieff Morris as the opposing five. Toss in Marcin Gortat and Tomas Satoransky and the Wizards have a solid seven-man rotation. It is interesting to wonder if the Wizards would think about tanking to get the injured Celtics in round one. If Kyrie Irving does not play, the Wizards could end up favorites. If the Cavs stay put, they might want to get Indiana instead. Washington has been open in the past about angling for certain matchups and this season seems like a perfect one to put that strategy to use. If the Cavaliers sit in the fourth spot when all is said and done, the Wizards could avoid playing them or the Raptors until the conference finals if they sit tight at the sixth or seventh seeds. Wall and Beal give them a top gear that none of the teams besides a healthy Cleveland or Boston can match.
- New Orleans Pelicans (43-31) (Last week’s ranking: 13) – The Pelicans are a tough team to read. They have all but locked up a ticket to the postseason, but they are just 6-5 against teams with winning records since the All-Star break. If the season ended today, the Pelicans would face the Thunder in the first-round. How much fun would that be to witness? Anthony Davis going up against Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony in a playoff series would make for must-see TV.
- Denver Nuggets (40-34) (Last week’s ranking: 15) – Somehow, the Nuggets are still alive in the Western Conference playoff race. Monday night’s loss to the Sixers put them a game and a half behind eighth-place Minnesota. They have tough games this week against the Raptors, Thunder and Bucks, so the playoffs are looping like a pipe dream at the moment. Nonetheless, this was a successful season for the Nuggets, who were able to tread water in the Western Conference even with All-Star big man Paul Millsap missing significant time with a wrist injury.
- Los Angeles Clippers (39-34) (Last week’s ranking: 16) – The Clippers had a very impressive win in Toronto over the weekend. They came back from 18 points down to stun the Raptors. They are still alive in the Western Conference playoff race, but their chances of making it into the dance appear slim. There are currently eight teams fighting to six spots, and the Clippers will most likely be on the outside looking in once the playoffs start. At least they can take solace in the fact that they had a better season than the Lakers, who have come on strong recently but were just eliminated from playoff contention.
- Milwaukee Bucks (39-34) (Last week’s ranking: 17) – Milwaukee notched a big win on Sunday against the Spurs but risked blowing a big lead. Unfortunately, the Bucks have not played up to their potential this season and coaching is a big culprit. They will be at the head of the line when the coaching carousel comes around. For now, Bucks fans have to hope that their overwhelming talent can get them through a playoff run a la the Wizards with Randy Wittman. They are another team that will closely monitor Kyrie Irving’s health since they could be a potential first round opponent. Giannis Antetokounmpo gives them a chance to have the best player any time they step on the court. Could he also give them a chance to wreak some havoc in the playoffs?
- Miami Heat (39-35) (Last week’s ranking: 18) – With all due respect, the Heat feel like one of the least threatening lower seeds in either conference. Their profile does not match the type of team that can turn it up in the playoffs. That should not take away from the marvelous coaching job of Erik Spolestra or the play of Goran Dragic. Spolestra has eked out every bit of talent from his roster and it is fair to wonder if the Hornets or Pistons might have this spot should the Heat swap coaches with them. Meanwhile, Dragic has quietly put together another solid season. The guard pool is too stacked to garner much all-NBA hype but it is great that he got the all-star recognition for his play that he long deserved.
- Los Angeles Lakers (32-41) (Last week’s ranking: 19) – The Lakers have been an entirely different team since the All-Star break. They have been a much better three-point shooting team, and the addition of Isaiah Thomas has propelled them out of the NBA cellar. The problem is, it was too little, too late for the Lakers. They were eliminated from playoff contention last week. The future is bright, though. They have young talent and a ton of cap space to use on free agents this Summer. The Lakers won’t be out of the playoff picture for much longer.
- Detroit Pistons (34-40) (Last week’s ranking: 20) – Sad news out of Michigan with Zeke Upshaw passing away not long after collapsing on the court for the Pistons G-Leaue affiliate. Upshaw played a season at Hofstra before making his way to the G-League. This puts a cruel end to a frustrating season in Detroit. The Pistons underachieved, especially after acquiring Blake Griffin. Now they will face an offseason of questions with no one’s job safe. For now though, it is important to remember that there are more important things than basketball as Upshaw’s passing shows. Our prayers go out to Upshaw’s family and friends.
- Charlotte Hornets (34-41) (Last week’s ranking: 21) – Charlotte has been one of the most disappointing teams in the league. The Hornets were the biggest underachievers of any NBA team projected to win 40 or more games according to five thirty eight’s projection model. The worst news for them is that they are a team built for the 90’s. They have a platoon of big men who cannot shoot and wings who might fit better in those roles. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist submarines spacing when playing as a wing but could he be better if he slides to a big man spot? Imagine if the Hornets could put an Anthony Davis type next to him as Coach John Calipari did at Kentucky. Now is the time for the Hornets to experiment and try to find lineup combinations that work so they do not find themselves in the same position next season.
- Chicago Bulls (24-49) (Last week’s ranking: 22) – The Bulls are making their motives clear at this stage. They are playing for the future. The veterans will fade into the background as they prioritize “development”. That is fine but do they really need Noah Vonleh starting? Vonleh and Lopez starting should trouble the league more than benching Lopez for David Nwaba or other contributors. For the Bulls, Vonleh is going to be a restricted free agent who they are unlikely to sign. Why not play younger players or give a G-Leaguer a shot? The same applies for Justin Holiday who only has one season left on his deal. On the other hand, give them credit for nabbing the underrated Sean Kilpatrick who has demonstrated an ability to contribute on numerous teams this season. He has played on more teams than anyone this season. Here is hoping he can stick with the Bulls for a while.
- Brooklyn Nets (23-51) (Last week’s ranking: 23) – The time is now. The Nets has an easy schedule to finish the season. They play the Bulls twice. They have the Heat, the Magic, the Bucks, the 76ers, and the Pistons. Those are all winnable games and the Nets need to win a few to both save face, avoid giving away another top five pick and to show their mettle. The Nets are building something and wins against those teams could help showcase that. The final game of the season is against a Boston team that figures to be resting their starters by then. If the Nets can snag five victories out of their last eight games, it would continue to help legitimize what Coach Kenny Atkinson has done this season.
- Sacramento Kings (24-50) (Last week’s ranking: 24) – The Kings are the epitome of a young team. More than half of their minutes played this season have come from rookies or second-year players. They have young talent, but it remains to be seen how they will fit together moving forward. The front office will have plenty of decisions to make in the next year or two in regards to who will be a part of the future once the Kings are ready to contend again. They will also need to find another pure scorer to pair with De’Aaron Fox.
- New York Knicks (27-48) (Last week’s ranking: 25) – The Knicks might have a better record than some of the teams above them but since Kristaps Porzingis went down, they have been as bad as anyone in the league. However, there are a few bright spots. Trey Burke has had a great 2018 so far while Enes Kanter is 15th in the league in PER. Beyond that, Jason’s favorite Knick, Michael Beasley has quietly shot above 50 percent from the floor and 40 percent from beyond the arc for the second consecutive year. Beasley does not turn 30 until next January. Could another team take a flier on the talent and try to get him to shoot more threes and turn him into a sixth man? Lastly, Kyle O’Quinn and Troy Williams have been nice players for the Knicks as well. Noticeably absent from these names are Courtney Lee, Tim Hardaway, and Joakim Noah who all own enormous contracts. Also absent is rookie Frank Ntilikina who player fewer minutes a game every month of this year than he did in December. It’s hard not to notice that the role players have been outplaying the hyped rookies and max contract players that the Knicks splurged on in the offseason.
- Dallas Mavericks (22-51) (Last week’s ranking: 26) – Tanking seems to be working quite well for the Mavericks, who have lost five straight games. They aren’t as bad as the Grizzlies or Suns, but the lineup being trotted out by head coach Rick Carlisle every night is downright embarrassing. The silver lining for the Mavericks is that they have two solid players to build around in Dennis Smith Jr. and Harrison Barnes. Add in a lottery pick this June and that’s a nice young core to begin their post-Dirk Nowitzki era with.
- Orlando Magic (22-51) (Last week’s ranking: 27) – Thank God for Aaron Gordon. He is the only thing keeping the Magic remotely relevant at this point. Gordon led the Magic to a win over the Suns this weekend. That win hurts Orlando’s lottery odds but it did showcase the one intriguing player on their roster. Gordon continues to impress this season and looks like he could command a deal near the max this summer when he becomes a restricted free agent. Will the Magic pay up?
- Atlanta Hawks (21-53) (Last week’s ranking: 28) – This clip sums up the season for the Hawks. The good news is that they continue to have a few interesting young pieces and look primed to add to that collection in this year’s draft. Unlike many of the teams around them, they do not have a list of bad contracts, either and should be ready to pounce should the right opportunity come to them. For now, the Hawks will wait and then, like the bird of prey that they are, Atlanta will swoop down and make their move when the time’s right. At least, that is the plan.
- Phoenix Suns (19-56) (Last week’s ranking: 29) – The Suns are losers of 12 in a row and have overtaken the Grizzlies as the worst team in the NBA. Devin Booker’s absence from the lineup has taken a toll on the Suns, who have been struggling to score without him. Expect the losing streak to continue as the Suns have games against the Clippers, Rockets and Warriors this week.
- Memphis Grizzlies (20-54) (Last week’s ranking: 30) – The massive losing streak is finally over. Memphis has put together a string of competitive outings. They are not a good team by any stretch of the imagination, but they have a chance to play spoiler this week with games against the Trail Blazers and Jazz, two teams who are fighting for playoff positioning in the Western Conference.
Biggest Flop: Philadelphia 76ers (6)
Biggest Flop: Washington Wizards (5)
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