Another showdown this week between the Hawks and Warriors, a potential Finals preview for sure. Although the Cavaliers and about six teams in the West will have their say about that. The Lakers return to the bottom of the rankings after they couldn’t beat the Knicks.
1. Warriors (52-13, Last Week No. 1). They have won eight in a row at home and their next five are at Oracle, including an interesting rematch against the Hawks Wednesday night. Don’t expect to see David Lee in that game, he’s had three DNP-CDs in the last six games.
2. Hawks (51-14, LW 2). They became the first team in the NBA to lock down a playoff spot, and with a 10-game lead on the Cavs they will be the No. 1 seed. So how much did Mike Budenholzer learn from Popovich about resting players down the stretch? He did it Sunday against the Lakers and got a win, although Kyle Korver played and broke his nose (he may miss a game or two).
3. Cavaliers (43-25 LW 3). This is what having stars like Kyrie Irving and LeBron James on your team can bring — the Spurs were the better team last Wednesday and it didn’t matter because Kyrie was on fire and dropped 57. LeBron’s tweaked knee Sunday was a scary moment (the Cavs are 2-9 without LeBron this season).
4. Trail Blazers (44-20. LW 6). They are just one game back of being the two seed in the West and they face off against the Grizzlies Saturday. The Blazers are 6-1 in March with their stars LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard playing maybe their best ball of the season. Someone forgot to tell them they were going to fall apart after Wesley Matthews was injured.
5. Spurs (41-24, LW 7). No Manu Ginobili for at least a week with a sprained ankle. I don’ read much into the loss to the Cavs on Wednesday — the Spurs were the better team, just nobody could stop Kyrie Irving for a night. That happens. The Spurs are 1-5 in overtime games this season, which is more fluke than cause for concerns.
6. Grizzlies (45-20, LW 4). They are 7-6 since the All-Star break with their offense not impressing anybody. They rested all their key guys Thursday in Washington then looked better Saturday in a win over the Bucks, we’ll see if they can build on that and right the ship.
7. Rockets (44-22, LW 4). The Rockets are 14-8 without Dwight Howard and have stumbled some lately, but picked up a gritty win on the road against the Clippers. Harden is still putting up near MVP-level numbers but you have to wonder if he’s slipped behind Russell Westbrook in that race (in my book he never caught Stephen Curry).
8. Clippers (42-25, LW 8). The return of Blake Griffin brings needed scoring and options to the offense, the key is to keep DeAndre Jordan playing at a high level as he has been. Griffin’s also brought back that get-under-the-opponents skin nature of Los Angeles, not to mention the need to lobby referees on every call. The good news for the Clippers is their schedule is one of the softest in the NBA the rest of the way.
9. Thunder (37-29, LW 9). It’s going to be another week or so before Kevin Durant returns, and now Serge Ibaka is going to miss some time for knee surgery. That hasn’t mattered with the masked-man Westbrook pushing this teams to wins. Also combination of Enes Kanter and Steven Adams up front has worked pretty well (32 points and 29 boards combined against the quality Bulls front line Sunday), but they will be tested without Ibaka.
10. Mavericks (42-25, LW 10). We’ve discussed Dallas’ challenges with top teams in the West, but they looked very good routing the Clippers last Friday. Can they build on that with the Thunder and Grizzlies on the schedule this week? And while they had some struggles, they are not sliding 5.5 games behind the Pelicans before the season ends.
11. Pelicans (36-30, LW 11). Anthony Davis’ Sunday line is legendary: 36 points, 14 rebounds, nine blocks, and seven assists. According to Basketball-Reference.com, no other player in the last 30 seasons has posted a line with at least those numbers. But the Pelicans lost in double OT to Denver, they have too many of those nights to make the playoffs.
12. Pacers (30-34, LW 13). Best team in the NBA since the All-Star break but they have some real tests coming up the next couple weeks (this week it’s the Raptors, Bulls, Cavaliers and Nets). Get through these two weeks in the playoff mix and they are not coming out of it.
13. Jazz (29-36, LW 17). The best team in the West since the All-Star break, but unlike the Pacers out East that’s not good enough to get you in the playoff mix in the West. They seem to be finding themselves on the court, but the shift in ownership with Greg Miller stepping down raises questions about one of the most stable franchises in the league.
14. Bulls (40-28, LW 12). They have lost five of six, and the one win came because Aaron Brooks went off on the Sixers. There have been a few problems with their defense this season, but one of the biggest has become rebounding — the opponent’s possession isn’t over until you secure the ball. The Hornets and Thunder gave the Bulls all sorts of problems there.
15. Celtics (29-36, LW 19). They have won four in a row and, in a sign we normally see from good teams, they are doing it with key guys injured (Avery Bradley and Isaiah Thomas). That this team is in the playoff hunt should get Brad Stevens some Coach of the Year votes.
16. Wizards (38-28, LW 21). The Wizards beat the Grizzlies because Memphis chose that game to rest every player you can name. John Wall shouldn’t be offended, just take the win. You needed it. The Wizards have won three in a row but things get tough with Portland then a West Coast road swing.
17. Bucks (34-32, LW 14). Jason Kidd and the Bucks wanted Michael Carter-Williams and his wonky shot, and traded Brandon Knight to get him. Well, since the trade deadline, they’re 4-9 with the 29th rated offense (using points per possession) in the league. Yes, they have been better offensively with MCW on the court, but not good enough at all.
< 18. Suns (35-33, LW 16). You knew after their trade deadline moves they were likely to fall out of the playoff mix and they have in any way that really matters. Tough stretch of the schedule against quality teams coming up, which will officially doom any playoff hopes.
19. Raptors (39-27, LW 20). They have stumbled losing 8-of-10 because of a weak defense, but they may be able to hang on to the three seed the rest of the way thanks to DeMar DeRozan’s recent offensive explosion, and the fact their schedule is pretty soft the rest of the way out.
20. Hornets (29-35, LW 15). Kemba Walker is understandably rusty. Al Jefferson is banged up. They have the toughest remaining schedule of any of the teams battling for one of the final couple playoff spots in the East — it’s going to be hard to hold off Boston unless they get healthy and get some steady offense.
21. Heat (29-36, LW 18). Miami is only half a game out of the East’s final playoff spot, but the schedule this week is brutal: Cleveland, Portland, improved Denver, then a four-game roadie that includes the Thunder and Hawks. They need the Hassan Whiteside of a couple weeks ago back not the one losing his temper and not playing as focused.
22. Nets (26-38, LW 22). For a team loaded with veterans they seem to be collapsing like a house of cards down the stretch. And not the good Netflix House of Cards (great show), I mean an actual one. They need some wins against the teams they are battling for a playoff space, starting with the Pacers Saturday night.
23. Nuggets (26-41, LW 27). They are 6-2 under Melvin Hunt, who has at the very least earned a serious interview as the guy to replace Brian Shaw. Denver management may want to do something crazy and ask their core players — Ty Lawson, Kenneth Faried — what they think of Hunt vs. other potential candidates.
24. Kings (22-42, LW 24). No Rudy Gay for a bit as he rests his knee. The Kings are a lot more fun to watch and offensively dangerous under George Karl, but they have become a defensive mess. You don’t win games that way. The Kings are proof.
25. Pistons (23-43, LW 23). They have lost 10 games in a row and the team’s shooting has been abysmal. It has made the big question remaining in Detroint: Can you see Reggie Jackson as the future point guard for this franchise? What are you willing to offer him this off-season? He hasn’t played like a guy deserving the big cash lately.
26. Timberwolves (14-51, LW 25). No Kevin Garnett due to knee soreness the last four (all losses), which takes some of the luster off his little return. Actually the luster is off of everything: Andrew Wiggin’s shooting, Ricky Rubio’s ankles, anything resembling defense.
27. Magic (21-47, LW 26). No doubt they are bad, but you see some hope with solid future rotation players like Elfrid Payton, Victor Oladipo and Nikola Vucevic (actually Vucevic could be a potential All-Star). Just hang in Magic fans and hope management hires the right coach.
28. 76ers (15-50, LW 28). Thomas Robinson has played pretty well and looked like a potential future rotation player. Same with Robert Covington. And Nerlens Noel. And remember they could have three first round picks in this draft. They might be able to build something if management lets it
29. Knicks (13-53, LW 30). Alexey Shved is not your savior New York, he is a mirage of entertainment. Which at this this point in the season you take. After listening to Phil Jackson the past couple weeks, if Knicks fans are worried about the future you can’t blame them.
30. Lakers (17-47, LW 29). At their current pace (fourth worst record in the NBA) they have basically a 4-in-5 chance of retaining their top-five draft pick this season (if it is sixth or later it reverts to the Sixers). Most Lakers fans are rooting for Minnesota or Philadelphia to get hot enough they pass the Lakers and improve those odds.