DGS NBA Power Rankings: What’s happened to the Spurs?
NewsThe NBA playoffs are almost here, and Jason Goldstein and Ben McDonald are here to break it all down for you. Who has clinched a postseason berth? Which teams have been eliminated from contention? Read on and find out in the latest edition of the Double G Sports NBA Power Rankings:
- Golden State Warriors (51-16) (Last week’s ranking: 1) – The Warriors are banged up and struggling. Several key players have missed time with various injuries, including Steph Curry, Andre Iguodala, David West and rookie Jordan Bell. However, there is no reason to panic in the Bay Area. The team would much rather go through a rough stretch now as opposed to the playoffs. You’d be hard-pressed to find a team with a solid change to battle the Warriors in a seven-game playoff series, but that doesn’t mean they are guaranteed the top overall seed in the Western Conference. That currently belongs to the Rockets, who lead the Warriors by two games with 15 remaining. It’s still very possible that Golden State can catch Houston in the standings, but the smart play here may be for them to get healthy and look ahead to the postseason as the No. 2 seed.
- Houston Rockets (53-14) (Last week’s ranking: 2) – Houston’s 17-game winning streak was finally put to an end by the Raptors over the weekend. Like the Warriors, the Rockets are also dealing with a rash of injuries. James Harden missed Sunday’s win over the Mavericks with sore knee, but returned for Monday’s victory over the Spurs. Ryan Anderson is also out of the lineup and could miss extended time. Harden’s left knee bears watching over the final month of the regular season. If he misses more time, the Rockets would be in a world of trouble. Houston is in a tight race with the Warriors for the top seed in the West, with the Rockets currently holding a two-game cushion. It would be some accomplishment for the Rockets if they are able to finish the regular season with the best record in the NBA, but this season would only be deemed successful if they can make a serious run in the playoffs.
- Toronto Raptors (49-17) (Last week’s ranking: 3) – Toronto is putting the finishing touches on their number one seed but it could be a tough first round for them even as the top seed. They are 1-1 against Miami and will likely be resting their starters in the season finale. They are 2-1 against the Bucks but two of those games went to overtime and they had trouble putting the Bucks away in their playoff matchup a year ago. It is possible one of the other teams fall but unlikely. That could mean another tough first round matchup and they would not look forward to the Wizards or Cavs in the second if current standings hold. Then again, it might be the other teams who should be afraid of Toronto. They do have two all-stars and a point-differential that shows them as a cut above everyone else in the Eastern Conference. Zach Lowe wrote a great piece on them today that details their rise and why they might be legitimate contenders. Toronto has been waiting to ascend and this might be the year.
- Boston Celtics (46-21) (Last week’s ranking: 4) – The injuries keep coming with Boston. Al Horford sat out against the Pacers while Jaylen Brown continued to recover from a concussion. During the game, Kyrie Irving re-aggravated his knee and now Daniel Theis is done for the season. News also came down that guard Marcus Smart will be out indefinitely with a thumb injury as he seeks a second opinion. Coach Brad Stevens was also clear that Gordon Hayward would not play this year even if the star wing has some hope himself. The next man up philosophy has been working but how long can it last as the hits keep coming? Fortunately, they have the second seed in a headlock with a seven-game lead with only 15 games left. The Cavaliers have a cupcake schedule but they are not catching the Celtics. Like the Raptors though, they are probably hoping they can see the Heat rather than the Bucks in the first round. The downside of the injuries is that it probably precludes them from nabbing the first seed. As a result, There is a very good chance they will see the Cavaliers or the Wizards in the second round. The Pacers have a brutal schedule remaining but even Indiana has taken down the Celtics twice this season, including a huge win on Sunday, albeit without Irving to end the game. The Celtics need to regroup or they could waste the magic of the early season.
- Portland Trail Blazers (41-26) (Last week’s ranking: 6) – When will the Trail Blazers finally be taken seriously? They head into Tuesday’s contests with a 10-game winning streak, the longest in the NBA at the moment. Damian Lillard has played his way into the MVP conversation, although it is highly unlikely he wins it over James Harden. This is arguably the best the Trail Blazers have looked in years, with their current hot streak vaulting them all the way up to third in the Western Conference standings. They won’t catch the Rockets or Warriors, but the Trail Blazers look like they will be a tough out once the playoffs begin. Basketball is a team sport, but Lillard deserves a lot of credit for carrying the team the way that he has. He has been loyal to the organization since the day they drafted him, and it is nice to see it finally paying off.
- Cleveland Cavaliers (38-28) (Last week’s ranking: 5) – Do you want the good news or the bad news? Let’s start with the bad. The Cavaliers have struggled since winning their first couple games after their trade deadline moves. The team has stagnated and they look like they could need Kevin Love if they want to make it to the conference finals let alone the NBA finals. The good news is that Love is coming back and they have a cakewalk to finish the season. Their last two games are against the Knicks who have given up all illusions of trying. They could probably win those games by accident. In the big picture, that could seal up the third seed and prep them for a matchup with the Celtics should both make it past their first round opponents. That caveat is not a given with the current seedings that have some dangerous teams like Washington, Philadelphia, and Milwaukee looming as lower seeds.
- Washington Wizards (38-29) (Last week’s ranking: 7) – The Wizards have fared admirable without John Wall. Everybody is eating and that means the Wizards have been winning. The news on his progress has been good so Washington should get him back healthy for the playoffs. In spite of what some Wizards fans think, Tim Bontemps was on the money when he said that idea is crazy. Wall gives them a gear they simply do not possess without him. Their schedule is more favorable than Indiana’s and it is conceivable that they could flip flop the homecourt and end up playing the Pacers with a potential game seven in Washington. No matter who they play, Wall and Bradley Beal make the Wizards one of the most dangerous teams in the conference come playoff time.
- Indiana Pacers (39-28) (Last week’s ranking: 8) – As Sunday’s win in Boston showed, these Pacers are for real. More importantly, Victor Oladipo is a flat-out star. Oladipo carved up the Boston defense so viciously that even noted homer Tommy Heinsohn could not help but admire his game, calling him “nifty”. Those nifty moves were too much for Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier, which is to say that they are too much for virtually any perimeter defender the NBA has to offer. The two concerns for the Pacers are their remaining schedule, which is brutal and the supporting cast. The only other Pacer who took 10 shots was Myles Turner and it underscores the fact that the Pacers depend heavily on Oladipo to get anything offensively. This latter issue makes them a team that many believe could be an ideal matchup for their own teams come playoff time.
- New Orleans Pelicans (38-28) (Last week’s ranking: 9) – If Anthony Davis did not keep getting injured, the sky really would be the limit for this Pelicans team. He sprained an ankle and missed Friday’s loss to the Wizards, but before that, the team averaged 112 points per 100 possessions during a 10-game winning streak. The Pelicans have played their best basketball of the season after losing DeMarcus Cousins to a gruesome achilles injury, but they will be a first-round knockout if Davis can’t stay on the floor. At the moment, only four games separate the third and tenth seeds in the Western Conference, so it is imperative that Davis stays healthy. He is the best big man in the NBA and there’s no telling the amount of damage he could do in a playoff series.
- Oklahoma City Thunder (40-29) (Last week’s ranking: 12) – Russell Westbrook is a triple-double machine. He eclipsed the 99th triple-double of his career on Monday night, and there’s no doubt that no. 100 will soon follow. However, the Thunder are playing horrendous team basketball right now and could be on the verge of missing the playoffs. Paul George is currently in the middle of one of the worst shooting slumps of his career, and Carmelo Anthony is a shell of his former self. The Thunder are currently sitting in fourth place in the Western Conference, but the playoff race is so tight that they could find themselves missing the postseason if they don’t start to play better basketball. Russell can’t do it all on his own.
- Philadelphia 76ers (36-29) (Last week’s ranking: 13) – The 76ers have climbed up the standings and, with a weak schedule to finish the season, might not be finished moving up yet. They sit two games behind the Pacers and the difference in schedules is striking. The Sixers have 5 remaining opponents that have a chance to make the playoffs and none of the heavyweights. All of those games are at home where the 76ers will play 11 of their 17 remaining games. Compare that to the Pacers who play tougher opponents and nine of their 15 games on the road, including a back to back where they play the Warriors at home before flying to Toronto. On top of that, the Pacers only have one stretch of more than two home games in a row meaning that they will be traveling back and forth until they finish their season. That could open the door for Sixers to sneak into a higher seed and possibly even host a playoff series.
- Utah Jazz (37-30) (Last week’s ranking: 17) – The Jazz are not dead, after all. Many thought this would be a rebuilding year for Utah after losing Gordon Hayward, but the team continues to battle and currently find themselves in the thick of the Western Conference playoff race. A six-game winning streak puts them in the eighth seed, just ahead of Denver and San Antonio. Things continue to look up for the Jazz as they play their next five games against teams with losing records, making the playoffs a realistic possibility for a team that was supposed to be rebuilding this year.
- Minnesota Timberwolves (39-29) (Last week’s ranking: 10) – The inevitable has finally happened: Derrick Rose signed with the Timberwolves. It’s a reunion of sorts for Tom Thibodeau, who now former Bulls Rose, Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson all with him in Minnesota. However, Rose was a ghastly minus-17 in his debut on Sunday, even though the Timberwolves did beat the Warriors that night. If healthy, Rose provides a huge boost off the bench and could be the reason why they make some noise in the Western Conference. There’s always the chance he disappoints, and if he does, this could likely be the former MVP’s final stop in the NBA.
- Denver Nuggets (37-30) (Last week’s ranking: 15) – It’s been a tough break lately for the Nuggets, who are currently on the outside of the playoff picture. All four of their losses since the All-Star Break have been within five points in the last five minutes of the fourth quarter. The good news for them is that Paul Millsap has returned to the lineup after missing most of the season with a wrist injury. They have had a tough time reintegrating him back into the lineup, but there is no question that he makes them a better team. It will be interesting to see how far Millsap and Nikola Jokic can take Denver in the playoffs if they make it there.
- San Antonio Spurs (37-30) (Last week’s ranking: 11) – It’s the middle of March, and the San Antonio Spurs are currently sitting in tenth place in the Western Conference. When was the last time that sentence has been written? I think it’s been at least 20 years. It’s been a highly disappointing season for the Spurs, who have missed Kawhi Leonard’s scoring punch and leadership on the court. Some may wonder if this is the beginning of the end in San Antonio. A full rebuild may be in order, especially if Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili retire and Leonard leaves as a free agent in 2019. They could still make the playoffs, as they are currently in a three-way tie for eighth place, but I don’t think they’d be very dangerous in a seven-game series at this juncture.
- Los Angeles Clippers (36-29) (Last week’s ranking: 16) – The Clippers continue to battle. They currently sit in seventh place in the Western Conference, just .002 percentage points ahead of the Jazz, Nuggets and Spurs. It’s basically a four-way tie for the final two playoffs spots. It’s going to be a wild finish out West, but not many people expected the Clippers to still be here after trading Blake Griffin two months ago. If they manage to make the playoffs while netting a lottery pick from the Pistons as a result of the Griffin trade, the Clippers will be sitting pretty heading into the offseason.
- Milwaukee Bucks (36-31) (Last week’s ranking: 14) – The Bucks are struggling. The move to fire Jason Kidd was going to change things, right? Instead, it has mostly been more of the same under Joe Prunty. He has dialed back the aggressive schemes but the defense is as porous as ever and the play-calling has been questionable at best. Kevin Arnovitz lamented some of the unusual play-calling he recently saw during a chat with Zach Lowe. The Bucks need a new coach but that is going to wait until the offseason. They might really need an entirely new front office and even ownership given the issues they have faced. The current bullpen by committee approach of ownership created a fiasco in terms of their GM hiring. Could it similarly impede the coaching search? The Bucks better hope not as the clock for Giannis Antetokounmpo’s time in Milwaukee is ticking and the only way he is staying is if the team wins games. The most important games will be playoff ones. No one wants to face the Bucks with the Greek Freak leading the way but could the coaching issues end up losing them games once the postseason begins?
- Miami Heat (36-32) (Last week’s ranking: 18) – The Heat is on for Miami. If Miami finishes as the eighth seed, it will be especially difficult for them to make noise in the postseason as they would have to go through all of the best teams in the conference. The main purpose of their offseason moves was for Miami to compete immediately. The young players have performed so Goran Dragic, James Johnson, Dwyane Wade, and Hassan Whiteside need to step up in order for the Heat to make a final push. They still only sit three games behind the Cavaliers in the standings but time is running out.
- Los Angeles Lakers (30-36) (Last week’s ranking: 19) – I’m really digging the Lakers right now. They’ve been the most improved offense in the NBA since the All-Star break and also are a strong defensive team. This late surge won’t be enough to merit a playoff berth, but all signs point to the Lakers breaking out of their rebuild much sooner than people think. Julius Randle has been a force since the Lakers traded away Larry Nance Jr. Lonzo Ball continues to development, and Isaiah Thomas is showing flashes of his old self since he arrived in Los Angeles. Playoff teams do not want to face the Lakers over the final month of the regular season. 12 of their 16 remaining games are currently against teams with winning records. They may not make the playoffs this year, but they could ruin the chances of many of their Western Conference rivals if they continue to play well.
- Charlotte Hornets (29-38) (Last week’s ranking: 20) – With their postseason hopes all but extinguished, the Hornets need to look towards the future. Much to his chagrin, that means that the young guys need to start seeing more minutes. Willy Hernangomez should be playing ahead of Dwight Howard. The same goes for Malik Monk. The Hornets need to find out what they have before the draft and it would not hurt them to ensure they finish behind the Lakers and Pistons in the draft since they own their pick unlike those other two teams.
- Detroit Pistons (30-36) (Last week’s ranking: 21) – If the Blake Griffin experiment is a dud, where does that leave the Pistons? For one thing, it will leave them without a draft pick this year. That is going to hurt them and Coach/GM Stan Van Gundy. Van Gundy is going to be on the hot seat if he is not already. Hopefully, this will also bring a merciful end to the Coach and GM hybrid role. The end will be bittersweet. On the positive side, fewer fan bases will feel the pain that comes with their short-sighted decision-making. On the other hand, it is a lot less comedy for everyone else and we will never see the bungling moves of Doc Rivers or Larry Brown.
- Chicago Bulls (23-43) (Last week’s ranking: 23) – Wins are a bittersweet thing when rooting for a tanking team. The league had a chat (read: reprimanded) with the Bulls due to their lineup decisions. Shortly thereafter, veterans like Robin Lopez found their way back into the lineup. The irony is that as long as those veterans are playing, fans should be rooting for their teams to lose. There is some value in winning when the young players get playing time. However, once veterans begin soaking up the minutes, it eliminates the benefit. The Bulls should continue to play their younger players. There is no incentive to win games at this point and the Bulls and their fans are both better off seeing their younger players play and develop.
- New York Knicks (24-43) (Last week’s ranking: 22) – Is it possible that New York will not win another game? The Knicks are tanking as brazenly as anyone and it is hard to imagine them winning many more games this season. In fact, it seems exceedingly likely that they will pass at least the Bulls on their race to the bottom. It is not all bad though, as Knicks fans will get the chance to pair another talented young player alongside Kristaps Porzingis. That is especially important since so many of the draft eligible players are already better than some of their counterparts on the Knicks roster.
- Dallas Mavericks (21-46) (Last week’s ranking: 27) – It’s officially tank season in Dallas. The Mavericks were officially eliminated from playoff contention over the weekend and will look to lose as many games as possible over their final 15 contests. It’s a sad ending to an illustrious career for Dirk Nowitzki, who could retire from the NBA next month. Looking ahead, there are not many winnable games left on Dallas’s schedule, meaning they may wind up with a high lottery pick after all. Mark Cuban may get his wish, but we all know that we must be careful what we wish for.
- Brooklyn Nets (21-46) (Last week’s ranking: 24) – The Nets should be higher on this list. It will be a bit embarrassing if they unintentionally finish below their crosstown rivals who are making no attempt to win basketball games. The good news is that D’Angelo Russell had one of his best games since returning from injury and Jarrett Allen continues to look like a steal. The time is now for the Nets to show their resolve and finish the season strong to bring some optimism as the offseason approaches.
- Sacramento Kings (21-47) (Last week’s ranking: 30) – Zach Randolph has been resting way too much since the All-Star break. It’s honestly surprising the team didn’t release him. They are 0-6 with Randolph in the lineup and 3-1 without him. Their three wins were over the Nets, Knicks and Magic, so Kings fans shouldn’t get too excited. The Kings will add another lottery pick to their young core in June, and I think the entire organization can’t wait to put this season in their rearview mirrors.
- Orlando Magic (20-47) (Last week’s ranking: 25) – Orlando is another team in full tank mode. Unlike some teams on this list, the Magic have not changed things as much. A few more young players are getting minutes but this is their team. Like the Bulls, Orlando needs to walk a fine line of building a winning culture while also losing a lot. That is tough to do and the Magic have not done it well in the past. The good news is that Jonathan Isaac is back healthy and playing minutes for them. He is clearly still working off the rust but the Magic will have to hope that he can improve on his numbers so far as he has shot under 28 percent to start March.
- Atlanta Hawks (20-47) (Last week’s ranking: 26) – It may feel strange to say this given the win total but the Hawks have played this season beautifully. They have some talent on the roster in Dennis Schroder, John Collins, Dewayne Dedmon, and Taurean Prince. Heck, even Kent Bazemore has had his moments! That said, they have flexibility to take nearly any player in the draft and should be able to build around them with their talent. If they choose a big man, Collins can man the center or power forward positions. His jumper is still a little shaky but most of the top prospects have shooting range. Meanwhile, any perimeter player would fit flawlessly. The added benefit is that the Hawks have built something in Atlanta and the toxic culture that seems to exist in some other franchises has not yet permeated into Philips Arena. The younger players have developed and Atlanta seems like a prime spot for one of the top picks to grow into.
- Phoenix Suns (19-49) (Last week’s ranking: 28) – Elfrid Payton has looked great in a Suns uniform, but the stats are showing that he is playing much worse than he looks. Since the All-Star break, he has both the NBA’s worst plus-minus and the second worst effective field goal percentage among players who have attempted at least 100 shots in that time frame. The Suns are just 1-15 since February 1., with their only win coming against the hapless Grizzlies.
- Memphis Grizzlies (18-49) (Last week’s ranking: 29) – When you lose 18 games in a row, there really isn’t much to say about you. The Grizzlies have quietly becoming the laughingstock of the NBA, all while attempting to hone in on the No. 1 pick in the 2019 draft. Things are so bad in Memphis that the team may not win another game for the remainder of the season.
Biggest Mover: Utah Jazz (5)
Biggest Flop: San Antonio Spurs (4)
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