The Lakers beat the Warriors, and frankly San Antonio has been better than Golden State of late, but I’m still not ready to slide the Warriors out of the top spot in NBC’s NBA power rankings. But it’s getting close. Cleveland is back up to third, and if this were cryptic tweet rankings the Cavaliers would be in the top slot.
1. Warriors (55-6, last week No. 1). The truth is that for a few weeks now the Warriors have been good but not great, playing closer to the level of their opponents and getting bailed out by Stephen Curry’s shooting. That ended Sunday when Curry couldn’t throw a pea in the ocean. Still, this team has yet to lose to the elite of either conference. They need to go 18-3 to beat the Jordan Bulls’ 72-win record.
2. Spurs (53-9, LW 2). The Spurs have won eight in a row and they have Manu Ginobili healthy and back on the bench. They have been a better team than the Warriors the last 10 games (they were +6.2 per 100 possessions better over their last 10 before Sunday’s GSW loss). Interesting test against the Thunder — a tough matchup for the Spurs — Saturday night.
3. Cavaliers (44-17, LW 4). Winners of three in a row and 7-of-10, but LeBron James isn’t happy and is sending out cryptic tweets aimed at someone in the locker room. Notice that Channing Frye is already slid basically out of the rotation? Interesting game next Sunday against the Clippers.
4. Clippers (40-21, LW 3). It was their usually unimpressive bench that sparked the dramatic comeback against the Thunder Wednesday night, something that is a good sign. Another good sign, Blake Griffin is getting closer to a return. Seven of their next nine are on the road, if they are going to catch the Thunder for the three seed (they are two games back) they need to hold their own through this tough stretch.
5. Raptors (41-20, LW 6). They are 2-1 so far into a seven-game homestead, with poor three-point defense and no answer for James Harden costing them Sunday. Toronto feels locked into the two seed, they are three back of the Cavaliers (don’t see them making that up without help from the Cavs) and are six up in the loss column on third-seed Boston.
6. Thunder (43-20 LW 5). They have lost six of nine — including blowing a 22-point lead against the Clippers — and with that have come the questions (including the ones about Kevin Durant this summer). But after that Clipper loss Billy Donovan put it well — every great team has to face adversity, this is ours. It’s up to the team how they handle it. Big tests against the Clippers and Spurs this week to see just how they deal with adversity.
7. Celtics (38-26, LW 7). Is Boston going to win a round in the playoffs? Not the way they blew that lead against Cleveland last week. If it started today they would get Charlotte in the first round and that is far from a pushover, and now a hot Miami team is just half a game back of them.
8. Heat (37-26, LW 10). They have the fourth best defense in the NBA over their last 10 games and are 8-2 since the All-Star break. Joe Johnson can get a little credit for that, but it’s more about the defense and scoring inside. Good tests on the road at Chicago and Toronto this week.
9. Hawks (35-28, LW 8). They continue to get wins with lock-down defense and enough offense to get the job done — they swept the two teams in Los Angeles last week. Interesting game at Toronto this week.
10. Hornets (33-28, LW 12). This is when the Hornets look dangerous — Kemba Walker and Nicolas Batum combined for 64 points in beating the Pacers. Charlotte has been playing good defense and has the second best net rating in the NBA over their last 10 games (Spurs).
11. Grizzlies (37-25, LW 11). No Marc Gasol, no Courtney Lee, I keep expecting this team to slide but they had won three in a row before Sunday. This team has one of the toughest schedules down the stretch but they have enough cushion to make the playoffs without a collapse. And there is no sign of that.
12. Trail Blazers (33-30, LW 9). Losers of three in a row, and their schedule gets tough down the stretch (including facing the Warriors this week). However, they have a three-game cushion over Utah for one of the final playoff spots in the West (Houston is in that mix also).
13. Mavericks (33-30, LW 13). .Tough losses to Sacramento and Denver in their last two games, a rough couple games after a strong homestead. The good news for Dallas is Chandler Parsons has played fantastic hoops of late, the bad news is their defense is 25th in the NBA in their last 10 games. They have a difficult schedule to close out the season, but with a 3.5 game cushion I see them making the playoffs.
14. Pacers (33-30, LW 14). Ty Lawson is officially a member of the Pacers — their bench has struggled of late so Indiana bet he could help. If he plays like he did in Houston he won’t but in a contract year maybe he turns it around. Tough week with the Spurs, Mavericks and Hawks ahead.
15. Bulls (31-30, LW 19).Jimmy Butler returned to the lineup and looked good on both ends of the court Saturday (only 6 of James Harden’s 36 points came with Butler on him). The Bulls needed that win after having lost 9-of-12 before that, if they are going to hold on to the eight seed they need more wins like that one.
16. Pistons (32-31, LW 15). When Reggie Jackson goes off — like he did for 30 against Portland Sunday — the Pistons have enough offense to make the playoffs. It’s just not consistent. Tobias Harris is fitting in quickly on the offensive end as well.
17. Rockets (31-32, LW 16). Good luck figuring this team out: they look terrible in a loss to the Bulls (particularly Dwight Howard, who had looked great against the Bucks when they finally got him the rock), then the next night they beat the Raptors in Toronto. By the way Rockets fans, Michael Beasley is not going to help you.
18. Wizards (30-32, LW 17). Bradley Beal is back in the starting lineup as the team makes one last push for a final playoff spot (they are just 1.5 games back). Washington’s advantage down the stretch is they have a softer schedule than Indiana, Chicago, or Detroit — but they still need to rack up wins.
19. Jazz (29-33, LW 18). They needed that win in New Orleans Saturday to snap a five-game losing streak at the worst possible time for a team with playoff aspirations. Injuries have sapped their bench, which is a weakness, and this team just needs to find a way to score points consistently.
20. Bucks (26-37, LW 21). The Bucks aren’t making the playoffs but there are reasons to feel optimistic of late, with Giannis Antetokounmpo thriving in a point-forward role and Jabari Parker getting his groove back. Expect some roster shake-ups this summer, specifically sending Michael Carter-Williams out the door.
21. Magic (27-34, LW 20). There have been flashes of things to like, such as Aaron Gordon at five, but if Orlando’s brass made their deadline moves (bringing in Ersan Ilyasova and Brandon Jennings) because they wanted to make a playoff push, that has failed miserably.
22. Timberwolves (20-43,LW 24). If you’re looking for positives, Karl-Anthony Towns is not only scoring but his passing has improved of late. If you’re looking for wins, a week with a hot Charlotte team followed by San Antonio and Oklahoma City is a rough way to go.
23. Knicks (26-38, LW 26). When talking about Carmelo Anthony waiving his no-trade clause remember this — his trade kicker is worth a lot more to him this summer when the salary cap spikes than it was previous seasons. It’s amazing how some green can open one’s mind to new possibilities. On the court, this team has won four of it’s last 20 and that has to have ‘Melo thinking of greener pastures.
24. Nuggets (25-38, LW 25). They continue to play sneaky good ball, as we saw in the win over Dallas Sunday. D.J. Augustin is a part of that, giving them solid play at the point when the improving Emmanuel Mudiay is not out there.
25. Kings (25-36, LW 23). George Karl is still struggling to find lineups that work consistently — but of late Ben McLemore seems to be in fewer of them as his minutes are dwindling (but he still starts). They are still searching for a day-to-day GM to work with Vlade Divac, and this summer you know a coaching change is coming.
26. Pelicans (23-38, LW 22). Eric Gordon broke his finger again, which finally should push Jrue Holiday into the starting lineup where he should have been for a while. Like the Kings above them, look for some front office changes this summer, with roster changes around Anthony Davis to follow.
27. Nets (18-45, LW 27). They have done better than one would have expected on their long road trip, having done 3-4 so far (and one loss came to Minnesota when both Thaddeus Young and Brook Lopez were rested). They have two games left on the trip, at Toronto and Philadelphia (the Nets player the Sixers twice still).
28. Suns (17-46, LW 28). They have won three of five games and snapped their 17-game road losing streak by beating Orlando over the weekend. Alex Len has been playing well, giving Phoenix what they hoped they would get from Tyson Chandler this season.
29. Lakers (12-51, LW 29). D’Angelo Russell’s improved play has come with his improved shooting (which opened up passing lanes and makes his hesitation moves more of a threat). He’s creating shots and he is looking like a strong pick (but he still has a lot of work to do on the defensive end).
30. 76ers (8-54, LW 30). They have lost 12 in a row, mostly because their formerly stout defense has been terrible (while the offense hasn’t been too bad). The Sixers have had three losing streaks of at least 11 games this season, which is two more than every other NBA team combined.