This is the final PBT Power Rankings of the season, and the goal is to put them in the order they have a shot at winning the NBA title. San Antonio moves in front of Cleveland because I believe today the Spurs are the better team. As for the bottom, it’s the Timberwolves who get the “honor.”
1. Warriors (65-15, Last Week No. 1). Steve Kerr has not given his young charges a game off down the stretch, although some have seen their minutes shrink a little. We’ll see if that changes. They have taken their foot off the gas a little of late but will still finish first in defensive rating and second in offensive rating for the season.
2. Spurs (55-26, LW 3). They have won 11 games in a row, and may need to make it 12 on Wednesday against the Pelicans to ensure they get the No. 2 seed out West (and in theory they could still miss it). As noted by John Schuhmann of NBA.com, during this win streak the Spurs have outscored opponents by more than 20 points per 100 possessions. That’s insane.
3. Cavaliers (51-29 LW 2). Cleveland resting all it’s stars Sunday made it far more likely they get the Celtics in the first round of the playoffs. Coincidence? I wouldn’t bet on it. Boston’s young team will be just happy to make it, a nice, soft first playoff experience for Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love.
4. Hawks (60-19, LW 4). There are a lot of questions about how it happened off the court, but the Thabo Sefolosha injury really hurts the Hawks in a potential matchup with the Cavaliers. He would have seen a fair amount of time on LeBron James, plus his defense was key to their stingy second unit.
5. Clippers (54-26, LW 5). They come into the postseason the second hottest team in the league (behind San Antonio) but there is not a lot of faith in them coming out of the West. It all comes down to their lack of depth and the lack of versatility/flexibility that comes with a short rotation. That’s Doc Rivers the GM tying the hands of Doc Rivers the coach again.
6. Rockets (54-26, LW 6). They lost both ends of the home and home with the Spurs and that saw them fall to the six seed in the West (although they still could finish as high as the two seed). Even with Dwight Howard playing better of late this seems to symbolize the limits of how far this roster can really go.
7. Trail Blazers (51-29. LW 7). They will be the four seed in the West but will not have home court in the first round. The foot injury (sprain) LaMarcus Aldridge suffered could be big trouble if it lingers into the postseason and limits Portland’s best player.
8. Grizzlies (54-26, LW 8). Injuries make this team very vulnerable in the first round — Mike Conley has a foot issue, Tony Allen is not yet back, and Saturday Marc Gasol rolled his ankle. Two tough games for seeding issues, at Golden State then Indiana. The good news is they have a lot of tiebreakers in their favor in the middle of a crowded West.
9. Mavericks (48-31, LW 10). In his last 15 games, Rajon Rondo is shooting a respectable 47.5 percent. That doesn’t matter. All those teams battling for the 2-6 seeds in the West covet the two seed most of all, they see Dallas as the softest first-round matchup.
10. Bulls (48-32, LW 9). Go ahead and make the case that when all of their starters are there — Derrick Rose, Jimmy Butler, Mike Dunleavy, Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah — they are 17-5. Yes, they have played much better at the United Center of late. I still haven’t seen consistent enough defense from the Bulls this season to think they can flip the switch. They are the third best team in the East but well back of the Hawks and Cavs.
11. Pelicans (43-36, LW 11). They control their own destiny, a win on the road against the struggling T-Wolves Monday night puts them in a strong position. But if OKC beats Portland Monday the Pelicans may have to beat the Spurs the final game of the season and that will be a tall order and the Spurs likely need that win, too.
12. Thunder (43-36, LW 13). Russell Westbrook is trying, but the Thunder defense is the reason they need help to get in the postseason. Huge game Monday, they need to beat the Trail Blazers (because the Pelicans will beat the Timberwolves). Their final game against the Timberwolves should be a win, if they are still in the playoff mix.
13. Raptors (48-32, LW 14). As division winners — while the Bulls are not — they have the tiebreaker over Chicago for the 3/4 seed race. They will be home for the first round of the playoffs and may win 50 games. That said, their Swiss cheese defense has them being pretty average since the All-Star break. The Raptors should beat the Bucks if if they are the three seed, but a matchup with the Wizards (who do defend) could be a challenge).
14. Wizards (45-34, LW 12). Washington will be the five seed starting on the road in the playoffs, but they are the second best defensive team in the East (behind Milwaukee). That plus John Wall’s attacking style means they can get out of the first round, they will not be an easy out.
15. Jazz (37-43, LW 15). The Jazz and their fans need to consider this season a success — they found a front line that might really work for them in Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors. They need to find more offense, but if history is an indicator expect patience from the Utah front office this summer.
16. Celtics (37-42, LW 19). Cleveland gave the Celtics a gift Sunday sitting LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and pretty much every other Cav you can name. Of course, that likely means they get the fully-loaded Cavaliers in the first round. Nonetheless, just making the playoffs is a big step for the Celtics and will be a good experience for their young team.
17. Bucks (39-40, LW 17). The win over Brooklyn on Sunday secured the six seed for Milwaukee (meaning they face Toronto or Chicago). The last time the Bucks won a playoff series was 2001, and that streak likely continues, but just getting in will be a good experience for a young, growing Bucks team.
18. Nets (37-42, LW 18). They should be able to get the eight seed, especially since they have the tie breaker over the Pacers. However, a win over Chicago Monday night would be a big boost to their chances.
19. Pacers (36-43, LW 20). They likely need to beat Washington and Memphis — no small feat — and get some help to make the postseason. Paul George did his best to help and even dunked for the first time this season on Sunday, it just may be too much of a slow start to overcome.
20. Heat (36-43, LW 21). Obviously there were major roster shifts followed by major injuries, still it is odd to see the four-time NBA Finalists missing the playoffs all together this season. The last team to lose in the Finals then miss the playoffs was the Lakers the year after Shaq was moved.
< 21. Suns (39-41, LW 16). Would they have won the eight seed if they had not made their deadline trades? It’s moot, they might have been the eight seed and got smacked down in the first round. Better to think and plan long term.
22. Pistons (31-49, LW 22). It’s another losing season in Detroit, but at least one where we started to see Stan Van Gundy play a foundation for the future. A future without Josh Smith. Also likely one without Greg Monroe, who will bolt as a free agent this summer. But likely one with Reggie Jackson in the fold.
23. Hornets (33-47, LW 23). Their defense went from top five to top 10, a slip that hurt their chances for a return to the playoffs. That and the Lance Stephenson acquisition not working out, look for the Hornets to try and move him this summer.
24. Magic (25-55, LW 24). There are moments you see a potential future with Elfrid Payton, Victor Oladipo, and Nikola Vucivic. Then there was the second quarter against the Knicks, when the teams combined to score 15 points, when you are reminded just how far they have to go.
25. Nuggets (30-50, LW 25). If you’re looking for a positive, Danilo Gallinari looked much improved at the end of the season. Nuggets management needs to decide what kind of team it want to build then go get a coach to fulfill that — then stick with it for a few years.
26. Kings (27-53, LW 26). They made their moves — George Karl is in and Vlade Divac is the big voice in the front office. Now let’s see if those guys can put a team that will take advantage of the force of nature that is DeMarcus Cousins.
27. 76ers (18-62, LW 27). They developed a foundation on defense and will add Joel Embiid (plus their own lottery pick) to the mix next season. They could take a nice step forward. But they also may not get any of those conditional picks they have (Lakers, Heat and Thunder picks all have protections).
28. Lakers (21-59, LW 28). Jordan Clarkson can play at the point. They get Julius Randle back. They will have whoever they draft Top 5 (they have an 82 percent chance of keeping the pick). That plus Kobe Bryant makes the Lakers more interesting next season — and we haven’t even talked about Rajon Rondo or other potential free agents.
29. Knicks (16-64, LW 29). Let the Greg Monroe watch begin. He would be a good get, but what they really need is some lottery luck and a top pick who can be a foundational player to pair with Carmelo Anthony (and just take the best player, don’t worry about position).
30. Timberwolves (16-64, LW 30). Andrew Wiggins will be the Rookie of the Year. Pair him with a healthy Ricky Rubio and Zach LaVine next season — with Kevin Garnett mentoring — and they shouldn’t end the season this low on the list. Well, if Flip Saunders can get these guys to defend.