Golden State returns to the top of the charts after a couple week absence, asserting themselves with a win over the Spurs. Cleveland moved up a little, but after the Warriors the next five teams are fairly close. At the bottom of the rankings, the Suns are trying to fall back to last, but the Lakers will not let go of that slot.
1. Warriors (44-4, last week No. 2). Made a statement with the blowout win over the Spurs, then were reminded even they cannot coast almost blowing a 19-point lead to the Sixers. They are at home for a big showdown against the Thunder Saturday night, but that’s one of only two home games for Golden State in February. And Stephen Curry may be more focused on his Panthers in the Super Bowl.
2. Spurs (39-8, LW 1). They are 2-2 in the four games Tim Duncan has missed, with at least one more game where he sits (Monday vs. Orlando). Would Duncan have changed the losses to Golden State and Cleveland? Probably not, but you can see their defense is not quite the same without him. Still, this team has the best point differential in the league, and, do you really doubt the Spurs?
3. Thunder (36-13 LW 3). They have won three in a row and 10-of-11, which is impressive even if some of the individual wins seemed like more work than they should have been. Interesting test Saturday night on the road against Golden State, these are the kinds of games OKC needs to win if they are really contenders.
4. Cavaliers (34-12, LW 5). Best record in the East and only one Cavalier is representing at the All-Star Game, LeBron James? That’s not fair. And no, I’m not counting Tyronn Lue as a second. All that noise about Lue wanting the Cavs to run and them picking up double-digit fast-break points the last five games is a bit of an illusion — overall they have played 1.64 possessions per game slower under Lue than Blatt.
5. Raptors (32-15, LW 4). How do you slide down a rankings spot in the middle of an 11-game win streak? Because the tie breaker for us is “who wins a seven-game playoff series” and Cleveland has that edge right now. Toronto’s strong bench and 11-game win streak will be tested with six games on the road the next two weeks.
6. Clippers (32-16, LW 6). Winners of four in a row, and now they are 15-3 without Blake Griffin. You can argue that has come against a fairly soft schedule, and you’d be right, but that schedule continues on this week and through most of the month. Chris Paul continues to be phenomenal of late — 20 points and 10 assists a game shooting 43 percent from three his last 15 games.
7. Celtics (27-22, LW 12). After being too low in my rankings for a while, they get a bump up this week, they looked good during a recent five-game winning streak. Isaiah Thomas deserved to make the All-Star team with his play carrying the Celtics offense this season.
8. Grizzlies (28-20, LW 8). Winning three in a row and eight of their last 10 has them in the five seed, but even with the soft schedule ahead it’s not going to be easy to make up four games on the Clippers and snag get home court in the first round. Expect a lot of Courtney Lee trade chatter the next couple weeks.
9. Bulls (26-20, LW 10). On Friday night against the Lakers, there seemed to be a real hope that Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler could play well together. By Sunday, after a couple days off in LA, they looked like a mess and Pau Gasol is calling the team undisciplined. That up and down nature continues to drive Bulls fans crazy, and Fred Holberg right along with
10. Heat (27-21, LW 17). Tyler Johnson is out for a couple months with shoulder surgery, which could have Miami hitting the trade market looking for three point shooting (Gerald Green alone is not the answer). On the road most of the week, then return home to a tough test against the Clippers.
11. Hawks (27-22, LW 7). They have lost five of six because their offense has decided to take a mid-winter vacation. Jeff Teague’s name has come up a lot in trade talks and while his on/off numbers this season aren’t good (the Hawks are 10.9 points per 100 possessions better without him this season) plenty of other teams think that is a mirage and that he is still a near All-Star level point guard.
12. Pacers (25-22, LW 15). Myles Turner looks good in the starting lineup, and that combined with some good defense has racked up a couple wins. Cleveland is on the schedule this week at the start, but it’s the games on the back end against Detroit and Atlanta that are the bigger tests.
13. Pistons (25-23, LW 9). Andre Drummond is a deserving All-Star and this is likely the first of a lot of trips to All-Star weekend for him. However, the losses to Cleveland and Toronto last week remind this team where they are in the pecking order in the conference. Both Boston and Indiana on the schedule this week.
13. Mavericks (28-22, LW 13). Well played by Dallas on Sunday, getting the win over the lowly Suns while resting Dirk Nowitzki (something Rick Carlisle has done more recently). The schedule gets tougher this week with the Hawks, Heat, Spurs, and Grizzlies on the docket.
15. Jazz (21-25, LW 20). Utah has found an offensive groove thanks to the return of Derrick Favors and his efficient scoring inside, and the emergence of Rodney Hood on the outside (averaging 22.8 points per game in his last five). They are just a game back of Portland for the final playoff spot in the West, and the Jazz have some winnable games up this week.
16. Trail Blazers (22-26, LW 19). Portland has won four in a row and is 12-6 since Christmas, and the real key is Meyers Leonard shooting 45.7% from three since then — teams want to double/trap Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum off the pick, but when he pops and hits threes they can’t. Leonard opens everything up.
17. Wizards (21-24, LW 14). When John Wall goes off, or when the offense just finds a groove (as it did Saturday in beating the Rockets), the Wizards can get a win, but they continue not to be able to pick one up thanks to their defense (which was their cornerstone last season). Tough start to the week the the Thunder and Warriors up.
18. Rockets (25-25, LW 11). James Harden deserves to be an All-Star — he is the only Rocket consistently putting up points. And with the way their defense has fallen off it takes a lot of offensive firepower for them to win — they have the worst defense in the NBA in the last 10 games (111.8 points per 100 possessions). You know Darryl Morey will try to be active at the trade deadline, could he bring in a stretch four like Channing Frye?
19. Pelicans (18-28, LW 22). They have won five of six, they have the second best offense in the NBA in their last 10, and it’s no coincidence that has happened as Jrue Holiday got healthy and started taking more and more of the playmaking away from Tyreke Evans. Is it time to start Holiday and Ryan Anderson next to Anthony Davis?
20. Hornets (23-25, LW 21). Having Michael Kidd-Gilchrist back is a huge boost, and he’s provided some needed and surprising offensive punch. They are two games out of the playoffs in the East, and it’s games like Miami and Washington this week that will ultimately be key for them to make up that ground.
21. Knicks (23-27, LW 18). The Knicks are trying to be active at the trade deadline and get someone like Jeff Teague — or, really anyone competent — to play the point, but they don’t have the assets to get a deal done. More likely a summer move. The Knicks showed real heart against the thunder over the weekend, but have still dropped five of six.
22. Kings (20-27, LW 16). Losers of four in a row, and now DeMarcus Cousins could miss time with a sprained ankle (he is questionable for Monday). The Kings are 19-20 when Cousins plays this season (including a couple he had to leave early due to injury); they are 1-7 when he is out. Heavy run of Eastern Conference opponents coming up, can the Kings get wins there and get back into the Western Conference playoffs.
23. Bucks (20-29, LW 24). They have gone back to struggling on defense, and with that have dropped four of five games, the playoffs seem out of reach, the Bucks are not likely to make a significant move at the trade deadline, but at least Bucks fans have Jabari Parker in the All-Star Weekend Rising Stars challenge to look forward to. So there is something.
24. Nuggets (18-30, LW 25). It’s about building a culture and developing young talent in Denver this season, and we are seeing more and more signs of that lately. Emmanuel Mudiay is shooting better and figuring out how to attack in an NBA offense. This could be a team making a surprise move at the trade deadline, they have interesting assets, just something to watch.
25. Magic (21-25, LW 23). They have lost 10-of-13 and have been pushed around in the paint the last few games (at least before an impressive second half against Boston). I like what I see from Aaron Gordon, and yes that means they should try to move Channing Frye at the deadline. Finally no, Nikola Vucivic was not snubbed from the All-Star Game, he didn’t earn a trip to Toronto.
26. Timberwolves (14-34,LW 26). They have lost four in a row and struggled on defense (which makes the game against the Lakers on Tuesday potentially entertaining, if not good basketball). Reports of tension between the players and old-school coach Sam Mitchell make you wonder if he can keep his job after this summer.
27. Nets (12-36, LW 27). Since Lionel Hollins was let go the Nets have the 20th ranked offense and 27th ranked defense in the NBA. So not a lot has changed. Another team with potential trade assets, but with Billy King out of the picture and no GM in the chair yet, it’s hard to imagine a meaningful deal getting done.
28. 76ers (7-41, LW 29). That was a heck of an effort against the Warriors, coming back from 19 down at the half and not giving up (only to be beaten on a Harrison Barnes three). Brett Brown continues to platoon Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor, but does he need to play them together at some point?
29. Suns (14-35, LW 28). Jeff Hornacek is out and… it doesn’t matter who is in. What matters for Suns is they pick a direction for the franchise to go in terms of style, get a coach who can execute that style, and start getting players who can fit it. Then Robert Saver needs to leave the plan alone for five years and be patient.
30. Lakers (9-40, LW 30). Losers of 10 in a row and the fans at Staples Center are boing them. They are getting pushed around in the paint and can’t defend teams on the perimeter. Also, those D’Angelo Russell trade rumors came from outside LA — the Lakers have gotten calls, but you’d have to overpay to pry him away from the team right now.