Finally this week the top two teams in ProBasketballTalk’s power rankings (and everyone else’s too) face off. The Clippers slid a little but get Blake Griffin back this week, which should help return their bench rotations to normal. The Lakers “reclaim” the final spot.
1. Spurs (38-6, LW 1). It’s about the most Gregg Popovich thing ever that Tim Duncan will sit out Monday’s showdown with Golden State. So many interesting angles for that game, such as how the Spurs second-best in NBA transition defense handles the Warriors when they get out and run. Golden State isn’t the only challenge to the Spurs 13-game win streak this week — San Antonio has Houston next, then on Saturday they are at Cleveland in another much-anticipated test.
2. Warriors (40-4, last week No. 2). When Steve Kerr’s Warriors can’t keep up the 39-4 pace Luke Walton’s team had, or blow the 38-game home win streak, be sure to blame the coach and not the fact the schedule got much tougher. In their last 10 games the Warriors have the NBA’s top offense and third-ranked defense. However, the bench has struggled holding leads the starters have built, that could be trouble Monday against deep and efficient San Antonio.
3. Thunder (33-13 LW 5). Winners of seven in a row — until they got mentally snowed-out in Brooklyn on Sunday night (they stay in New York until Tuesday against the Knicks, we’ll see if OKC can dig out). Starting center Steven Adams has a sprained elbow and starting two guard Andre Roberson has sprained his knee — losing both of them at the same time for a few games will mean a hit to the Thunder’s defense (as the loss to Brooklyn showed).
4. Raptors (29-15, LW 6). Winners of eight in a row, and this past week that included quality victories over the Celtics, Heat and Clippers. Toronto has emerged as the latest “team that will break out of the pack in the East” and grab the two seed, and remember they are making this run without DeMarre Carroll healthy. Thank DeMar DeRozan for that — he should be an All-Star. Their games this week — at home against the Wizards/Knicks/Pistons — are the kind of games they should win if they are to be the eventual two seed.
5. Cavaliers (30-12, LW 3). New coach Tyronn Lue wants to make some system tweaks — getting the ball to Kevin Love in better spots, and getting the team to play faster. Both good ideas, but what matters most is getting real buy in and commitment to the system from players who simply did not do that for Blatt. Big test Saturday against San Antonio.
6. Clippers (28-16, LW 4). Blake Griffin is expected back early this week, and just in time. The Clips bench was absolutely smoked by Toronto’s bench on Sunday, but it was not because of little-used Josh Smith being shipped out. The Clips bench wasn’t good with him (which is a bigger issue). Next trade? Expect Lance Stephenson to get moved. Check out last week’s PBT Podcast for a full hour of Clippers talk.
7. Hawks (26-19, LW 7). Jeff Teague has not been the same of late (10.5 points, 4.3 assists per game shooting 38 percent in January), so him admitting he’s playing through an ankle injury helps explain some things. That means more Dennis Schroder for your fantasy team, but it’s not good for picking up wins.
8. Grizzlies (25-20, LW 9). Their offense is clicking, but their usually-stout defense has taken a mid-winter vacation and that is holding them back. They are 16-7 at home and are there all week against a pretty soft schedule (Magic, Bucks, Kings), they can rack up some wins with just a little defense.
9. Pistons (23-21, LW 10). Stan Van Gundy is clearly, understandably frustrated with a pistons team that tends to play to the level of it’s competition, saying Detroit is “firmly committed to being mediocre.” The issue has been on the defensive end, something they need to clean up before facing Cleveland and Toronto back-to-back this weekend.
10. Bulls (25-18, LW 8). Chicago remains a yo-yo, having lost three of four then turning around Saturday and making the Cavaliers. Thursday starts a seven-game road trip that starts in Los Angeles and takes the Bulls almost all the way to the All-Star break.
11. Rockets (24-22, LW 13). Josh Smith is back and added a boost on Sunday — they started their third-quarter comeback against Dallas with a 15-4 run when he entered the game. Who do you think ordered the barrage of fouls on Andre Drummond last week: Coach J.B. Bickerstaff, or was he told to do it by GM Daryl Morey?
12. Celtics (24-21, LW 12). Isaiah Thomas is on the bubble for the East All-Star reserves — he, John Wall, DeMar DeRozan and others are battling for just one or two spots (depending on if the coaches put Kyrie Irving in the game). In Thomas’ last 10 games he is averaging 24.5 points and is shooting 40.7 percent from three. He is the Celtics’ offense, he deserves to be in Toronto, but probably just misses the cut.
13. Mavericks (25-21, LW 11). Zaza Pachouli came within 14,000 votes of being an All-Star Game starter, and he got more votes than Dirk Nowitzki and DeMarcus Cousins. I’m okay with that — it’s just an exhibition, people. Rough loss, blowing a lead and falling to the Rockets on Sunday, they bounce back with three winnable games this week (and facing Golden State).
14. Wizards (20-21, LW 17). How good could this team be if it just got healthy remains the question — right now Bradley Beal and Otto Porter remain out. That said John Wall has the offense clicking at a high level of late, just another sign he should be a lock as an All-Star reserve.
15. Pacers (23-21, LW 14). They dropped three-of-four on a Western road trip, plus two more at home just before the trip started. It doesn’t get easier with the Clippers, Hawks and Cavaliers in the next four games on the schedule. On a bright note, Myles Turner is all the way back and contributing in an important way.
16. Kings (20-23, LW 19). They have won five in a row, and in those five games DeMarcus Cousins has been a beast: 32.6 points per game shooting 50.5 percnet (and 71.4 percent from three), plus is pulling down 14.8 rebounds a contest. The man is a lock to be an All-Star. They remain the eight seed in the West and it may not be easy to shake them from that spot.
17. Heat (23-21, LW 15). They have lost four in a row, seven-of-eight, and in their last 10 games they have been outscored by 10.7 points per 100 possessions. Injuries are at the heart of the problems, but playing on the road hasn’t helped. Interesting test against Chicago this week.
18. Knicks (22-24, LW 18). The Knicks have lost four of six, Carmelo Anthony is battling a sore knee, and now the schedule is about to get tough — Thunder, Raptors and Warriors up this week. There are always All-Stars who take the weekend off to heal injuries, is Carmelo that guy this year?
19. Trail Blazers (20-26, LW 22). While Utah fades, the Trail Blazers remain the nine seed pushing Sacramento for the last playoff spot in the West (1.5 games back). That’s all because Damian Lillard and particularly C.J. McCollum propelling the offense to those wins. Lillard is on the bubble to be an All-Star reserve — he deserves it but the West is deep with great guards, it’s a tough call.
20. Jazz (19-24, LW 20). The good news is they don’t get blown out and hang around seemingly every game. The bad news is they don’t win enough of those close games, including two overtime losses last week. Eric Gordon being out for at least a month makes it much tougher to trade him as the deadline approaches.
21. Hornets (21-23, LW 24). They won three of four last week, showing signs of hope. The challenge is the Hornets are 5-15 on the road this season and have a heavy stretch of road games the next three weeks. Fortunately, nobody in Charlotte will pay attention thanks to the Panthers playing one more game.
20. Pelicans (16-27, LW 25). They have outscored opponents by 3.7 points per 100 possessions in their last 10, which should have led to better than the 5-5 record we have seen. Anthony Davis and Ryan Anderson are playing well together (Davis at the five destroys teams) but will the Pelicans move Anderson and think long term at the trade deadline? Or will thin-ice GM Dell Demps look for the move that gets more wins now?
23. Magic (20-22, LW 16). They have lost five in a row and 9-of-10, as the Scott Skiles boost has work off a little. You could see it when the team blew a 19-point lead and lost to Charlotte. Will they make a trade to try and change things? Don’t bet on it, patience has been their modus operandi. Schedule toughens up this week, including a home-and-home with Boston.
24. Bucks (19-27, LW 21). Jason Kidd returns to the bench this week, and the team could use his guidance after dropping games to the Pelicans and Rockets over the weekend. There have been flashes of good play from the starters — reminiscent of last season — but it doesn’t last. Consistency remains an issue.
25. Nuggets (17-27, LW 23). The Nuggets needed to make a push up the standings during their eight-game homestead that ends Monday (against Atlanta), but they have gone 4-3 so far. They’ve suffered some close losses, but they still count as losses. Starting Wednesday and through the All-Star game it’s a heavy road schedule for the Nuggets (they are a respectable 8-13 away from Pepsi Center).
26. Timberwolves (14-31,LW 26). As should be expected from good young teams, they are playing teams close but are just falling short and suffering a growing pile of tough losses (they did beat Memphis over the weekend). The big question lies with ownership: are GM Milt Newton and coach Sam Mitchell doing enough to keep their jobs this summer?
27. Nets (12-33, LW 27). The Nets remain a bad basketball team that can occasionally surprise with a strong night — just ask Oklahoma City about Sunday, when Brook Lopez dropped 31 on them. The best news out of the GM search is that they are not going to throw a ton of cash and power at John Calipari.
28. Suns (14-31, LW 30). They have been less bad of late, even beating the Hawks over the weekend. Archie Goodwin has been putting on a show and deserves a little more run, but the wings can be crowded with developing young players in Phoenix (T.J. Warren, Devin Booker). On the road all week, including a tough stop in Cleveland.
29. 76ers (6-38, LW 28). They have dropped seven of 10, and even the steady point guard play of Ish Smith (relative to everyone else they have) is not enough most nights. Smith is setting up other Sixers well, but teams are now trying to force him to shoot and that’s not his forte.
30. Lakers (9-37, LW 29). Losers of six in a row and nine of their last 10 — it was enough to frustrate Kobe Bryant, who ripped the team in a postgame meeting Saturday. As it has been all season, the big problem is the Lakers’ defense, which has allowed a league-worst 111.9 points per 100 possessions in their last 10 games (that’s 3.5 per 100 worse than their season average).