DGS NBA Power Rankings: The Home Stretch
The NBA regular season is drawing to a close. The playoffs teams are basically set. The tanking teams are, well, tanking. There is still a lot of action taking place over the final full week of the regular season. DGS has you covered with a fresh batch of NBA power rankings. Read on and find out what is going on with your favorite team:
- Houston Rockets (62-15) (Last week’s ranking: 1) – Mike D’Antoni says the Rockets need rhythm more than rest. Chris Paul and James Harden have both skipped games recently. D’Antoni will have decisions to make as the Rockets head down the stretch. The top seed is all but locked up. The old-school mindset of getting momentum as a team heads into the playoff butts heads with the scientific approach, which preaches rest and injury avoidance. Should the Rockets rest up or try to rack up wins as they head to the postseason?
- Golden State Warriors (56-21) (Last week’s ranking: 2) – While the Rockets worry about resting their starters, the Warriors need to get back on track without Steph Curry. Kevin Durant came back but immediately got himself ejected in his first game back. Then again, Durant, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green are all back and have won two in a row. There should be some concern but the Warriors have shown they are clearly the second-best team in the conference. They are locked into the second seed so most of the drama will emerge come playoff time where the Warriors may have to play a series or two without Curry. Is this the biggest challenge of the Steve Kerr era?
- Toronto Raptors (55-21) (Last week’s ranking: 3) – After winning 11-straight games, the Raptors have gone just 3-4 and are slowly losing their grip on the top seed in the East. The Celtics’ recent surge has the Raps just two games ahead with six to play. This will be a tough week for Toronto, with games against the Cavaliers, Celtics and Pacers. The Raptors have got to play better defense. During their recent swoon, opponents are shooting close to 50 percent from the field. If this keeps up, It’s not too much of a stretch to say that the Celtics could be the number one seed at this time next week.
- Portland Trail Blazers (48-29) (Last week’s ranking: 4) – Portland has seemingly settled into the third seed. Damian Lillard is largely to thank as he has played like an MVP in the second half. With the regular season coming to a close, the Blazers seem like a lock to play in the most interesting first round series. The Spurs will likely find themselves in the fourth or fifth seed while the Blazers will play one of the plucky upstarts. That should give Lillard a chance to make a mark and remind people that he belongs in the MVP conversation. If they can prevail, Lillard and the Blazers could have a chance to play the Warriors in the second round against a Warriors team without Curry. Lillard’s meeting with owner Paul Allen has been seen as an impetus for his ridiculous play. What better way to get Portland back on the map than taking down the reigning Warrior dynasty?
- Cleveland Cavaliers (47-30) (Last week’s ranking: 5) – We say this every year it seems, but LeBron James has been playing some of the best basketball of his career since the All-Star break. The King is nearly averaging a triple-double over the past six weeks, and just logged his 17th triple-double of the year this past weekend. Not bad for a player in his 15th season. The Cavs look to be ready for the playoffs, but they are still at risk of not getting homecourt advantage in the first round. Both the Sixers and Pacers are nipping at their heels in the standings, so LeBron will have to take his game up yet another notch over the final week of the season if the Cavaliiers want to give their fans more home playoff games than road playoff games.
- Boston Celtics (53-23) (Last week’s ranking: 7) – Kyrie Irving may be out, but the Celtics are steamrolling their way towards the postseason. They have won six games in a row, and are only two games behind the Raptors for the number one seed in the Eastern Conference. It may be the final full week of the regular season, but Brad Stevens has waltzed his way into the NBA Coach of the Year debate. He has done an admirable job with this team, despite the massive amount of injuries they’ve been hit with. With the way the Raptors and Cavaliers have struggled recently, the C’s could still be primed for a deep playoff run regardless of who is out of the lineup.
- Philadelphia 76ers (46-30) (Last week’s ranking: 8) – The good news for the Sixers is that they have won 10-straight games and are right behind the Cavaliers for the third seed. The bad news for the Sixers is that Joel Embiid is injured again. The All-Star big man had surgery last week to repair an orbital fracture in his left eye. He could return in two-to-four weeks, but the Sixers need him to be healthy if they have any real shot at contending this year. This is a real shame for the Sixers, who appeared to be at full strength with Fultz back in the lineup. Maybe Rihanna can take the floor for Philly in Embiid’s absence, since she is back to being wooed by him on social media.
- Oklahoma City Thunder (45-33) (Last week’s ranking: 6) – Russell Westbrook’s quest for another season averaging a triple double is getting closer. Westbrook is up to 9.8 rebounds a game but with only four games remaining he will need to pull down 57 boards to hit the mark. That would mean that Westbrook would need nearly 15 boards a game to make a second consecutive season possible. It certainly will not be easy but he did get 15 in the Thunder’s win against New Orleans on Sunday. With the Thunder’s place in the standings still in flux, all eyes will be on Westbrook.
- Indiana Pacers (46-31) (Last week’s ranking: 9) – Even the Pacers have gone on a nice winning streak heading into the final days of the regular season. They have put together one of the more impressive seasons in the NBA this year and will most likely be a tough out in the playoffs. They are a pesky team with Victor Oladipo leading the way. He currently has 164 steals on the year, more than any other player in the league. 50 wins is not out of the realm of possibility, which is astonishing because they were pegged by many as a rebuilding team this year.
- San Antonio Spurs (45-32) (Last week’s ranking: 11) – A few things are becoming increasingly clear. One is that the Spurs are not expecting Kawhi Leonard back this season. The second is that they will not need him to make the playoffs. A third is that LaMarcus Aldridge is still capable of leading a playoff team in the right situation. Aldridge has been excellent all season. Unfortunately, the smoke and mirrors act that has gotten the Spurs to where they are is not going to be enough come playoff time. The talent gap is simply too great. Even their current first round opponents in the Thunder would overwhelm them with their athleticism should they meet in the playoffs. The Spurs might not need Kawhi to make the playoffs but they will certainly need him if they want to win a championship.
- Utah Jazz (44-33) (Last week’s ranking: 10) – The Jazz are on the verge of accomplishing a miraculous feat. They appear ready to return to the playoff a year after losing Gordon Hayward. That was not the only hardship this season though as Rudy Gobert also missed a large chunk of the season. Despite all of that, Utah sits in the sixth spot in the Western Conference with a two game cushion over the ninth-seeded Denver Nuggets. Gobert and rookie phenom Donovan Mitchell have paved the way for this team to make some noise in the first round and in future seasons.
- Minnesota Timberwolves (44-34) (Last week’s ranking: 12) – Is there any team in the NBA with a wider gap between their floor and ceiling? The Timberwolves have handled the Warriors at full strength and been bludgeoned by the lowly Memphis Grizzlies. At full strength, Minnesota seemed like the third best team in their conference. Without him, they are teetering at the brink of missing the playoffs entirely. Karl Anthony-Towns has been a revelation without Butler. If Towns and Butler are both healthy, the Wolves feel like a dangerous team. If Steph Curry is not back, could Minnesota shock the world and dethrone the Warriors in the first round? As ex-Timberwolf Kevin Garnett (or co-host of the Baseline Jumper, Jason Goldstein) would say, anything is possible.
- Washington Wizards (42-35) (Last week’s ranking: 13) – John Wall is back, and the Wizards are officially ready for a playoff run. They have now made the playoffs four times in the past five seasons, matching the team’s total postseason appearances from 1998 to 2013. However, they have lost five of their past seven contests, dropping all the way to the sixth seed in the process. Wall may be back in the fold, but they will be facing an early round exit if they don’t get it together over the next week or two.
- New Orleans Pelicans (43-34) (Last week’s ranking: 14) – The Pelicans will probably hold on to the final playoff spot but it is not the fait accompli that it once was. The shine has come off of Anthony Davis’ MVP case as the Pelicans continue to slide down the standings. If they miss the playoffs, his eyes may start to wander. New Orleans cannot afford to let their one game lead slip away. If it does, they might find a fate much worse than watching the postseason at home. It could mean Davis and free agent DeMarcus Cousins both decide that there are greener pastures outside of the Big Easy.
- Denver Nuggets (42-35) (Last week’s ranking: 15) – Does anyone want the eighth seed? The Nuggets “lead” the three contenders for the final spot at 5-5 in their last 10 games. They have won two in a row but both wins came in overtime. They finish their schedule with five playoff but do host three of those five games. In their past two wins, the Nuggets’ frontcourt has dominated. Nikola Jokic and Paul Millsap have averaged 60 points a game over their last two and over 25 rebounds. Those two have put the team on their collective backs. Can they do it for five more games to get the Nuggets back into the playoffs?
- Milwaukee Bucks (41-36) (Last week’s ranking: 17) – It may be by a slim margin, but the Bucks are on the verge of making the playoffs in consecutive years for the first time since 2004. They are currently tied with the Heat for the final two playoffs spots in the East. However, the Bucks have been boosted by the return of Jabari Parker, who is coming off his first 30-plus point performance since 2016. If the Bucks snag the seventh seed, they are looking at a first round matchup with the Celtics or Raptors. Not exactly the best prize for Milwaukee, but they are definitely capable of topping the Celtics in a series if Kyrie Irving is unable to play.
- Miami Heat (41-36) (Last week’s ranking: 18) – The Heat are in trouble. They have stumbled all the way back into a two-way tie with the Bucks for the seventh seed. If the regular season wasn’t ending next week, I believe the Heat would be in danger of missing the playoffs with the way Detroit has played as of late. Hassan Whiteside’s rant about his lack of playing time is only making matters worse, as it became another off the court distraction for the organization. Both sides have said they are moving forward, but if the Heat struggle in the playoffs, Whiteside’s sour attitude could be a huge contributing factor.
- Los Angeles Clippers (41-36) (Last week’s ranking: 16) – There are no moral victories this late in the season so losses to Indiana and Portland do not feel better due to the closeness of the deficits. The team must be kicking itself for letting their chance largely slip through the drain. It may be too tall a task to make up two games with only five remaining, particularly with their last five against playoff teams or playoff contenders. It was a good run this season for the Clippers and the Blake Griffin trade ended up being a coup in many respects. This offseason leaves the Clippers with more questions than answers about their roster and whether Coach Doc Rivers might be on his way out.
- Detroit Pistons (37-40) (Last week’s ranking: 20) – If only the Pistons had more time. Their current five-game winning streak has put them only four games back of the Heat and Bucks in the Eastern Conference playoff race. The problem is, they only have five games left to play, so one more loss or wins by the Heat and Bucks will eliminate them from playoff contention. It is too little, too late for the Pistons, who go into the offseason with Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond and not much else. Stan Van Gundy definitely has his work cut out for him this Summer, trying to improve a team with no first-round draft pick and limited cap space. Detroit has never been an ideal free agent destination, so the Pistons could find themselves stuck while the rest of the conference improves.
- Los Angeles Lakers (33-43) (Last week’s ranking: 19) – The downside of playing the young guys this late in a lost season is the risk for injury. The Lakers need to be especially careful with their young players. Brandon Ingram is in the concussion protocol while Lonzo Ball is dealing with a knee injury. Like the Clippers, this is not the time to get moral victories. The season is over for the Lakers and they need to be forward-thinking and get ready for an offseason that could end up putting them back on the map. They cannot do that if they end the season hobbled and unsure of how can play next season. The Lakers need to shut it down and get ready for the offseason to come.
- Charlotte Hornets (34-44) (Last week’s ranking: 21) – In a perfect world, the Hornets would be playoff contenders. A roster featuring Kemba Walker and Dwight Howard theoretically be much better than it has been this season, but it just wasn’t in the cards for the organization. The Hornets will miss the postseason for the third time in five years under head coach Steve Clifford. Kemba Walker became the franchise’s all-time leading scorer, which is a milestone achievement. However, with the Hornets entering a rebuild, it’s fair to wonder if he will be shipped out of town this Summer in exchange for young players and draft picks.
- Chicago Bulls (26-51) (Last week’s ranking: 22) – Break up the Bulls, who have won consecutive games for the first time since January. It’s not all sunshine and rainbows, though. Guard Denzel Valentine will miss the rest of the season after doctors found swelling in his knee. He has been a bright spot for the Bulls this season, showing he can be an integral part of the team’s future. They need an entire roster revamp, but they could end the season on a high note with winnable games against the Hornets and Nets this week.
- Brooklyn Nets (25-52) (Last week’s ranking: 23) – The Nets are showing flashes of what their future could look like. They are up to 25 wins on the season, five more than all of last year. Caris LeVert and Jarrett Allen continue to flourish in Kenny Atkinson’s system. Both players will be a part of the team’s future. What about D’Angelo Russell? He played well over the last few weeks, but was benched for most of last weekend’s win in Miami. He took it well, but the situation bears watching. The good thing about this new Brooklyn regime is that these negative stories don’t linger very often. They handle issues in-house and move forward. Russell needs that kind of environment. If he continues to improve, he may become a “Net for life” after all.
- Sacramento Kings (25-53) (Last week’s ranking: 24) – There is an emerging young core in Sacramento. Buddy Hield has quietly had a nice season. In just over 28 minutes a game in March, Hield averaged over 16 points a game with 46 and 43 percent respectively from the floor and beyond the arc. He could be a solid complementary scorer on a good team. Around him, Willie Cauley-Stein, Bogdan Bogdanovic, and Skal Labissiere have all thrived in their roles. Meanwhile, De’Aaron Fox just hit a game winner to sink the Lakers over the weekend. This team still needs a true superstar and it seems unlikely that any of the guys mentioned are heading that way. The Kings will likely need to hit it big in one of the next couple drafts in order to turn themselves into a contender, which makes these late season wins bittersweet.
- New York Knicks (27-50) (Last week’s ranking: 25) – For the first time since the 1960’s, the Knicks have lost at least 50 games in four consecutive seasons. They are not nearly good enough to make the playoffs, and they don’t have very high odds of landing a top-five NBA Draft pick, With limited talent and plenty of uncertainty surrounding the organization, the front office has their work cut out for them this Summer.
- Dallas Mavericks (23-54) (Last week’s ranking: 26) – Harrison Barnes had himself a day against Cleveland over the weekend. His 30-point scoring outburst kept the Mavericks in the game. Unfortunately, this roster is still devoid of talent. Coach Rick Carlisle is getting “creative” with his lineups, which is largely just a high-level tanking strategy. Then again, what is the harm with this roster? The Mavericks do not have the wealth of young talent that the surrounding teams do. Many of the players getting minutes will not be around if the rebuild pushes on for a few more seasons.
- Orlando Magic (22-54) (Last week’s ranking: 27) – The Magic have lost three-straight and are counting down the days to the end of the regular season. The good news for them is that they are terrible enough to have a great chance at landing a top-three draft pick in June. The last time the Magic picked that high was in 2013 when they landed Victor Oladipo.
- Atlanta Hawks (22-55) (Last week’s ranking: 28) – The Hawks end their regular season with several games against playoff teams, so their path to a top pick seems like a pretty clear one. They defeated the Magic on Sunday, a win they did not want for obvious reasons, despite only attempting one free throw.
- Memphis Grizzlies (21-56) (Last week’s ranking: 30) – The poor Grizzlies won two games late in March that propelled them past the tanking Suns. Now, they sit just one game behind (ahead?) of Orlando and Atlanta for the second-best lottery odds. Mercifully, this ugly season is almost at its end for Grizzlies’ fans and the sting of all these losses will wear off if they end up with a superstar to play next to Marc Gasol and Mike Conley.
- Phoenix Suns (19-59) (Last week’s ranking: 29) – Devin Booker’s hand injury could not have come at a better time for the Suns’ lottery odds. With Booker out, the Suns have all but clinched the best lottery odds. The team had not been winning with them but since he went out, the Suns have largely been hopeless. Phoenix has positioned itself nicely to get another young talent to pair with their nucleus.
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