DGS NBA Power Rankings: Warriors, Cavaliers Struggling
- Golden State Warriors (53-18) (Last week’s ranking: 1) – It has been a rough stretch for the defending champs who lost their top three scorers in short order. Monday, against the Spurs Draymond Green left the game with an injury. That leaves the Warriors down all four of their all-star players. The good news is that all of them should be back for the playoffs and they have all but locked themselves into the second seed. If healthy, they would have had a chance to compete with Houston for home court advantage in the Western Conference and Throughout the playoffs. The bad news is for NBA fans who will now get to see a lot more of Quinn Cook, Omri Casspi and Nick Young.
- Houston Rockets (56-14) (Last week’s ranking: 2) – It is official. James Harden is going to be the NBA MVP. the injuries to Golden State’s quartet combined with the Pelicans sinking backwards all but eliminates Harden’s competition for the award. With it wrapped up and the Rockets all but assured of clinching the top seed in the Western Conference, Coach Mike D’Antoni needs to ease his foot off the gas. None of the key Rockets should be playing much over 30 minutes a night and certainly no back-to-backs. The Rockets need to prepare for the playoffs. The only successful season for Rockets is one where they end up with rings.
- Toronto Raptors (52-18) (Last week’s ranking: 3) – The Raptors are beginning to run away with the Eastern Conference. They currently lead the second-place Celtics by five games with 12 remaining, making it a real possibility that they finish the regular season with the number one seed. In a season where the Celtics and Cavaliers were deemed the heavy favorites, the Raptors came out of nowhere and took advantage of the opportunity they were presented. Regular season success is always nice, but if the Raptors can go on a run to the NBA Finals this Spring, this could go down as the most successful campaign in franchise history.
- Oklahoma City Thunder (43-29) (Last week’s ranking: 10) – OKC is the big mover in this week’s rankings. They are riding a six game win streak and look more like the team people expected at the beginning of the season than the one that has underachieved. Corey Brewer has actually been a huge addition for them but Russell Westbrook has been the catalyst as he continues to wrack up triple-doubles. A difficult schedule looks a bit easier with their next game against the injury-depleted Celtics and a matchup in early April with the Warriors that might not feature the defending champs at full strength. No one wants to see this team in the first round come playoff time with the way they are playing.
- Portland Trail Blazers (44-26) (Last week’s ranking: 5) – Portland continues to win games. The impressive wins from OKC may have overshadowed them a bit this week but tonight’s matchup against Houston could change the way we look at this Portland team. A win against the Rockets could cement their status as a real contender. They are 2-1 against Golden State this season and 0-1 against the Rockets. One of those teams will likely be their second round opponent while the other will likely await in the conference finals should they get there. If Portland and the red hot Damian Lillard can hang with the big boys of the conference, it will make these playoffs all that much more interesting.
- Boston Celtics (47-23) (Last week’s ranking: 4) – Kyrie Irving is still sidelined with a knee injury, and the Celtics are struggling without him. If he can’t get healthy by the time the playoffs begin, Boston could be in big trouble. Another worrisome thought is that Irving could eventually need knee surgery to fix the issue, which could affect his long-term health. Marcus Morris has stepped up nicely in Irving’s absence, scoring a season-high 31 points in last week’s game against the Wizards.
- Cleveland Cavaliers (41-29) (Last week’s ranking: 6) – What the Cavaliers are going through right now is bigger than basketball. Head coach Tyronn Lue is taking a break from coaching the team to address a few ongoing health issues. This is yet another bump in the road in what has been a tumultuous season for the Cavaliers. They are a safe bet to make the playoffs, but they have virtually no chance at a top-two seed. Instead, their road back to the NBA Finals will most likely feature several away games in Boston and/or Toronto.
- Washington Wizards (40-30) (Last week’s ranking: 7) – The Wizards are currently in a tight battle with the Pacers and Sixers for homecourt advantage in the first round of the NBA playoffs. John Wall is inching closer to a return, and the Wizards have done an amicable job of staying afloat without him. Interestingly enough, the Wizards have identical home and road records (20-15) through 70 games this season. Once Wall comes back, they have as good of a chance as anybody to make a run in the watered down Eastern Conference.
- Indiana Pacers (41-30) (Last week’s ranking: 8) – One thing the Pacers have going for them is that they’ve defeated the Cavaliers three times this season. Out of the ten NBA teams who have played 10 teams at least three times, the Pacers are the only team who can stake that claim. They are getting closer to locking up a playoff spot, but the race for homecourt advantage in the first round with the Cavs, Wizards and Sixers will likely come down to the wire.
- Utah Jazz (40-30) (Last week’s ranking: 12) – Utah feels like the lower seed that could make some noise, particularly if they find themselves in the fifth spot. Utah cannot hang in high scoring games as they lack the firepower of the top four teams. However, they can lock up teams defensively and turn the game into a rock fight. If a team like Portland slips into the fourth spot and faces Utah, it would be quite an interesting contrast of styles. Utah would slow things down and try to pick apart Portland’s defense, particularly in the pick and roll with Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. Utah has shown some difficulty defending out to the three-point line, particularly when they play two big men so it could be back and forth. No matter the opponent, the Jazz will take the role of the past Memphis teams and be the physical first round opponent no one wants to see.
- San Antonio Spurs (41-30) (Last week’s ranking: 15) – A couple of weeks ago, the Spurs looked dead in the water. The tables have turned after four gutty wins all led by LaMarcus Aldridge. Aldridge has led both teams in scoring in all four games of the Spurs’ winning streak. San Antonio got lucky that the Warriors ended up down all four of their best players by the second half of Monday’s game but fortune favors the prepared and no team in the Western Conference is more prepared than the Spurs. San Antonio is still not out of danger in terms of missing the playoffs but these four wins combined with the mediocre play of the Nuggets and Clippers give them a three game cushion with 11 games on their schedule. However, Coach Gregg Popovich will talk with Kawhi Leonard about a possible return this week. If Leonard is back in the fold, the Spurs could do more than just make the playoffs.
- Minnesota Timberwolves (39-29) (Last week’s ranking: 13) – The bad news for the Timberwolves is that they have slipped all the way to eighth in the conference. The good news is that their remaining schedule contains only two current playoff teams and includes their competition for the last playoff spots. If they can win their games against the Nuggets, Jazz, and Clippers then they will likely be in, particularly since they get five games against tanking teams. That should be enough to get them into the playoff dance and with Jimmy Butler targeting a return before the end of the season, Minnesota will be another dangerous playoff team.
- New Orleans Pelicans (40-30) (Last week’s ranking: 9) – The Pelicans looked like they were safe in the playoff race but an Anthony Davis injury and a recent slide where they lost four of their last six games has them in danger of missing out. They face five Western Conference playoff teams to finish the season and two more against Eastern Conference playoff teams. That could make the April 9th game against the Clippers a key one in the playoff race. The other key will obviously be the play of Davis who may drag them to the playoffs with another superhuman effort like he demonstrated in February.
- Philadelphia 76ers (39-30) (Last week’s ranking: 11) – The Process may wind up playing quite a few home playoff games in April and May. The Sixers have the easiest remaining schedule in the NBA with the majority of their final games coming against teams with losing records. With the Cavaliers struggling mightily, the Sixers could wind up finishing the regular season as the No. 3 seed in the East. After missing the playoffs for the past few years, this is a dream season for the Sixers and their fanbase. The process was trusted, and it is now paying dividends.
- Denver Nuggets (38-33) (Last week’s ranking: 14) – The Nuggets have dealt themselves a major blow with their poor play in March. They dropped three games to non playoff teams, including two to tanking teams. After Wednesday’s game against the Bulls, the Nuggets remaining schedule is entirely populated with playoff teams and playoff contenders from both conferences. The Nuggets will have an uphill battle if they want to make the playoffs but their weak play in March could be the nail in their coffin.
- Los Angeles Clippers (37-32) (Last week’s ranking: 16) – There is a very good chance that the Clippers will either be the last team out or the last team into the playoffs. Their game against the Pelicans looms very large at this stage. The Clippers’ schedule is full of playoff teams and potential playoff teams but most of them are against the teams they are competing with for the last spots in the playoffs. The Clippers will be one of the key players in both playoff contention and seeding. With the Steve Ballmer ownership group looking to make big changes, the Clippers’ stretch run could send ripples across the league.
- Milwaukee Bucks (37-33) (Last week’s ranking: 17) – The Bucks appear to be the cutoff line for the contenders and pretenders in the East. They will most likely grab the eighth and final playoff spot in the conference and get stuck facing the Raptors in the first round. Lucky for them, the Pistons have fallen off and do not appear as a threat to snag a postseason berth. It would be a surprise if Giannis Antetokounmpo doesn’t finish in the top three of the MVP voting. He could become the ninth player in NBA history to average at least 25 points, 10 rebounds and five assists per game in a single season.
- Miami Heat (38-33) (Last week’s ranking: 18) – Miami’s ability to win close games has gotten considerably worse as the season wears on. After beginning the year with a 22-11 record in games decided by five points or less in the final five minutes, they have gone just 4-10. The Heat will make the playoffs this season for sure, and they will have a chance to move up in the standings with a soft schedule over the team’s final 11 games. Whether or not they make any noise when they get to the postseason still remains to be seen.
- Los Angeles Lakers (31-39) (Last week’s ranking: 19) – The Lakers have surged but remain outside of the playoff race. That makes the end of the season about pride, development, and the chance to lure potential free agents with a strong finish to the season. The big fish are Paul George and LeBron James but will Magic Johnson and company live up to their words and keep their powder dry should those players take a pass on the Lakers? Should they? The Lakers will have to make some big decisions as the season closes in order to determine who will be staying around and which players could be expendable should the right player say “yes” to become a Laker this offseason.
- Detroit Pistons (31-39) (Last week’s ranking: 21) – The Pistons have just two road victories since December 20., good for worst in the NBA. They have virtually no chance of making the playoffs and will have to forfeit their 2018 first-round pick to the Clippers as part of the Blake Griffin trade. It’s too early to suggest the trade backfired on the Pistons, but the front office has to do a good job of surrounding Griffin and Andre Drummond with more talent on the wings this offseason. If not, the blockbuster trade will be looked back on as a complete and total bust.
- Charlotte Hornets (30-41) (Last week’s ranking: 20) – Dwight Howard is enjoying a career renaissance this season. He is on pace to average at least 12 rebounds per game for an 11th time in his career, which will be tied for third-most in NBA history behind Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain. He is showing that he still has some game, but he only seems to make positive contributions when he is in a losing situation. Based on his reputation, one would have to question how he would fare on a playoff team at this stage in his career. Unfortunately for Howard, he would have to wait at least another year to find out.
- Chicago Bulls (24-46) (Last week’s ranking: 22) – The Bulls have been respectable in the month of March, amassing more wins than the Celtics, Cavaliers and Timberwolves. They put on an embarrassing display against the Knicks on Monday night, with Lauri Markkanen, Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and Robin Lopez all sitting out. The Bulls currently have the eighth-best odds of getting the top pick in the 2018 draft, according to BPI. So, the small run the Bulls went on earlier this season might cost them a top-five pick in a loaded draft. I fully expect the Bulls to tank for their final 12 games.
- Brooklyn Nets (23-48) (Last week’s ranking: 25) – Brooklyn is coming on strong to end the season. They have won two-straight games for the first time since January. Remember, the Nets have no incentive to tank this season, so Kenny Atkinson and company will try to win as many games as they can before the regular season ends. One thing I like is that he is giving all of his building blocks time on the floor together to see how their chemistry is coming along. Spencer Dinwiddie has returned to the bench, while D’Angelo Russell, Caris LeVert, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Jarrett Allen are receiving minutes together for the first time all season. If I’m the Nets, those are the four players I am building the team around.
- Sacramento Kings (23-49) (Last week’s ranking: 26) – There are two schools of thought when it comes to young teams with no chance at the playoffs. One side sees wins as being bad for their long-term development while the other sees some winning as a positive and necessary part of building culture. Sacramento is straddling the line with five wins in March. Building culture is important but will Sacramento regret it if it means losing the chance at the top player on their draft board? The perplexing part has been the surprisingly large amount of Zach Randolph featured in these games. As much as anyone enjoys watching Z-Bo and Vince Carter turn back the clock, it borders on negligence to play them in the neighborhood of 20 minutes a game on a young team positioning itself in the lottery.
- New York Knicks (26-45) (Last week’s ranking: 23) – It’s happened, everyone. The New York Knicks have been officially eliminated from playoff contention. They did not do themselves any favors, though, by beating the Bulls at home on Monday night. Whether they know it or not, the Knicks are in the thick of the tank race and should be in line for a top-ten draft pick. The key for New York’s front office for the remainder of the season is to evaluate the talent on the roster and see who is worth keeping alongside a recovering Kristaps Porzingis.
- Dallas Mavericks (22-48) (Last week’s ranking: 24) – Saturday was a big win for the Mavericks as they lost to the Nets. Unlike the Bulls, Kings, and possibly Hawks, the Mavericks do not have much developmental talent. That means their motive should be racking up losses. The best players on the team are all veterans and none of them will be hanging around if this rebuild takes more than a couple seasons. Dirk is already on his last legs while Wesley Matthews and Harrison Barnes are near their primes. The NBA does not want to hear it but the Mavericks should want to lose and if they continue to, they should be rewarded in the coming draft with a player who could help them get back into playoff contention.
- Orlando Magic (21-49) (Last week’s ranking: 27) – Jonathon Simmons has been a bright spot lately for the Magic. Last week, he scored a career-high 35 points in a win over the Bucks. Since then, the Magic have been going back and forth with the Hawks for the title of the worst team in the Eastern Conference. The Magic has one of the worst rebuilding situations in the NBA right now and they definitely need a solid offseason in order to get the organization on the right path.
- Atlanta Hawks (20-50) (Last week’s ranking: 28) – The Hawks have lost six in a row, and are barely fighting off the Suns and Grizzlies for the worst record in the NBA. Interestingly enough, the Hawks have reached 50 losses in a single season for the first time since 2006-07. They have a realistic shot at the No. 1 draft pick this year, but they need an infusion of talent in order to turn the franchise around.
- Phoenix Suns (19-52) (Last week’s ranking: 29) – The Suns have managed to get the best of both worlds. They “lead” the tanking race and have developed a genuine NBA star in Devin Booker. TJ Warren’s game might be more suited for the Showtime Lakers than for today’s NBA but he is still better than almost anything the Magic or Hawks have on their rosters. The biggest piece for the Suns could be that Josh Jackson looks like a solid rotation player since the new year. If he can build on that, they could end up with three starter level players that they get to add this year’s draft pick to. If these were future power rankings, the Suns would probably be atop the ranks for any non-playoff team.
- Memphis Grizzlies (19-51) (Last week’s ranking: 30) – The Grizzlies could end up in the playoffs next year. Don’t laugh! People forget that the Grizzlies projected that way before the season. If they can add a top talent in the draft and have a healthy Marc Gasol and Mike Conley, they could be dangerous. However, with Memphis finding itself in cap hell, it is also worth wondering if this draft could be a pivot point for the franchise. They owe future draft picks already so there is not the same value but the Grizzlies will have to decide if they will continue on their win-now course or start preparing for a future that does not include Gasol and Conley. Big decisions await for the Memphis front office.
Biggest Mover: Oklahoma City Thunder (6)
Biggest Flop: New Orleans Pelicans (4)
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