Atlanta’s win streak is up to 16 in a row and while we see flashes from the Bulls and Cavaliers, a trip to the Finals in the East still runs through the ATL. That’s a good story. Out West Golden State remains the team to beat, although the margins for error in that conference are miniscule. That’s a good story, too. But in these Power Rankings we talk a lot about All-Star reserves.
1. Hawks (37-8, Last Week No. 1). The winning streak is now at a ridiculous 16 games. We know at least one Hawk will be represented at the All-Star Game — Mike Budenholzer will coach the East. The question for the coaches voting around the league is how many of Al Horford, Jeff Teague, Paul Millsap and Kyle Korver to add to the All-Star team as reserves (two at least, maybe three).
2. Warriors (36-6, LW 2). Klay Thompson put on a 37-point third quarter show last week right as coaches started to vote on the All-Star reserves. He’s a bubble guy but that performance plus the fact one more guard will get in with Kobe Bryant being out means Thompson should be a lock for New York.
3. Spurs (29-17, LW 3). They have won six of seven and the only off day happened to come on a day the Bulls finally played up to their potential. Looming out there starting Feb. 8: The nine-game rodeo road trip, a signature trip that has made some previous Spurs teams.
4. Grizzlies (31-12, LW 4). I’m not so sure about the whole “starting Jeff Green” thing, but the Grizzlies have won six of seven and are looking rock solid again. Interesting tests this week vs. Dallas and OKC. Good on the fans for rightfully voting Marc Gasol as a starter for the All-Star Game.
5. Clippers (30-14, LW 5). It’s odd to think that Chris Paul is on the bubble for making the All-Star Game as a reserve, but that’s just how deep the West is. Fans going by points alone or falling for the hot new flavor of the month have others in front of CP3, but look at his assists and assist-to-turnover ratio. To me the best floor general in the game today has to make the cut. Clippers are +11.9 as a team in last 10 games, third best in the NBA, thanks to an offense scoring 114.5 per 100 over that span.
6. Rockets (31-14, LW 6). Kevin McHale would like the Rockets to play at a faster pace but says it’s like pulling teeth: “Everybody says they want to run until it’s time to run. I asked one guy, ‘Do you run down to get your mail?’ ‘Do you run and get your eggs?’ Nobody likes to run — they all say they do but they’re lying to me. It’s been 25 years since anyone liked to run, and we grew up running, we ran all the time, that’s the way we grew up playing.”
7. Mavericks (30-15, LW 8). It was a scary moment Sunday when Tyson Chandler had to be helped to the locker room holding his knee. Fortunately it was nothing too serious, he returned and played later in the game. However, the next center after him on the roster is Dwight Powell. The Mavs think they can sign Jermaine O’Neal. Either way, both are huge drop offs from Chandler, who is key to any Dallas postseason run.
8. Trail Blazers (32-13. Last Week No. 6). The Blazers are entering a tough stretch of the schedule so they could use the fact that LaMarcus Aldridge is going to play through a torn ligament in his thumb. By the way, if you thought he might bolt Portland as a free agent this summer, you think he would put the team first and play through this injury if that was the case?
9. Bulls (29-17, LW 12). The Bulls look like they broke out of their mid-season slump with a thrashing of the Spurs followed by a win over Dallas the next night, both on the road. Then they got home Sunday night against a sub-.500 team and laid another egg. Their inconsistency is maddening, but I still see their peaks and think they could come out of the East.
10. Suns (26-20, LW 9). If the Suns are going to hold off the hard-charging Thunder in the West they need to do well in a rough stretch of games through Feb. 5. They started of 1-2 and this week face the Wizards, Bulls and Warriors. The good news is the Thunder have yet to get hot.
11. Cavaliers (25-20 LW 13). In the Cavs five game winning streak they are averaging 118 points per 100 possessions behind an explosive LeBron James, it’s the best offense in the league by a wide margin in that stretch. Their defense is improved, but still is just middle of the pack in the league. That has been enough of late.
12 Wizards (30-15, LW 10). They lost to both the Trail Blazers and Thunder last week because of poor fourth quarter execution (and if Kenneth Faried didn’t miss two late free throws the Wiz would have dropped three last week). Interesting showdown with slumping Toronto later in the week.
13. Raptors (29-15, LW 11). In their last 10 games as a team they are -3.2 per 100 possessions, and the real concern is it’s a drop on both ends of the court. That said, Raptors fans should celebrate Kyle Lowry being voted an All-Star starter of Dwyane Wade, that was the correct choice.
14. Pelicans (23-21, LW 16). They picked up a quality win over Phoenix and are now just two games out of the final playoff spot in the West, plus they have 10 of their next 12 at home. The playoff dream is alive in New Orleans.
15. Thunder (22-22, LW 14). They have dropped two in a row and are 5-5 in their last 10 because their offense is struggling. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook have been fantastic (and both deserve to be All-Stars) but in his last five games Dion Waiters is shooting just 37.7 percent and Reggie Jackson is worse. The rest of the team has to step up.
16. Hornets (19-26, LW 19). They have won 8 of 11 and with that moved past the Nets to be the eight seed in the East. Why the run? Because of a soft schedule, the only quality wins in there were over the slumping Raptors and the Heat. Things change this week on the road at the Spurs, then next week they have a home-and-home with Washington.
17. Heat (20-24, LW 18). Heat fans (and people around the team) had been buzzing for a while about Hassan Whiteside, but he announced his presence with authority on Sunday blocking a dozen shots in a win over Chicago. He’s matured physically — he’s put on a lot of weight since he entered the league, and he needed to — and in terms of the mentality of his game. He’s patient now, not frenetic.
18. Bucks (22-22, LW 15). They are 1-3 since returning from London and have not looked sharp, particularly the bench. Potentially important game for seeding against Miami on Tuesday.
19. Pistons (17-28, LW 17). . The Brandon Jennings injury could be devastating. D.J. Augustin had a great game as a replacement on Sunday, and he has played better as a starter than off the bench in recent years, but this is still a step back.
20. Jazz (16-28, LW 25). If he were not in a ridiculously stacked Western Conference, Derrick Favors should deserve a little All-Star buzz. The Jazz are 10-10 in their last 20 games and are doing that with solid defense.
21. Nets (18-26, LW 21). The most interesting thing about this team continues to be the trade rumors — now they are talking to Charlotte about a Joe Johnson trade for Lance Stephenson. There will be other rumors flying as they try to reduce payroll before selling the team.
22. Nuggets (18-26, LW 20). They have lost six in a row and the issue is on defense, where they have been the worst team in the NBA over their last five games. Brian Shaw should make sure his resume is in order for this summer.
23. Celtics (15-27, LW 26). Credit coach Brad Stevens if you want, credit the makeup of the players if you want, but what you have to like about this Celtics team is that they don’t quit. Down in games when a lot of teams would just roll over Bosotn fights back. That is a good quality.
24. Pacers (16-30, LW 22). Well they beat Orlando on Sunday to snap a seven-game losing streak. However despite their good defense their offense is not going to allow them to win many more games.
25. Kings (16-27, LW 23). DeMarcus Cousins should make the All-Star team, at least in my book (I’d have him over Dwight Howard or Tim Duncan, which Duncan would be good with as he doesn’t want to be there). Cousins getting in might takes Kings’ fans minds off the six-game losing streak.
26. Magic (15-32, LW 24). I think Nikola Vucevic deserves to make the Eastern Conference All-Star team, but if he doesn’t it’s because he plays on a struggling team right now that shows flashes of good play surrounded by some raw, sloppy play.
27. Knicks (8-37, LW 30). Break up the Knicks! They have won three in a row and Langston Galloway is on his way to establishing cult hero status in New York. They could keep winning with teams like the Kings and Lakers on the docket this week.
28. Lakers (12-33, LW 27). The loss of Kobe Bryant is the big story, but the other issue around the Lakers is that the minutes and rotations are just all over the map. Coach Byron Scott is searching nightly for anything that works, but the result is guys just don’t know if they will be called on. Nick Young is the latest guy in that doghouse.
29. 76ers (8-36, LW 28). As if the Sixers couldn’t get any harder to watch, Tony Wroten goes down with a knee injury and is done for the season. They play hard and defend as well as they can, but this team is not entertaining.
30. Timberwolves (7-35, LW 29). Nikola Pekovic is back and Flip Saunders is throwing him out there like he wants to showcase him for a trade. Or he doesn’t have other good options. Or a little of both. Kevin Martin can expect the same thing.