NBA Power Rankings Week 24: It’s Golden State’s world, we just live in it

Associated Press
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The Warriors have won 11 in a row, and that includes beating the Spurs and the Rockets a couple times. They are going to finish the season with the NBA’s best record and on top of these rankings as the team to beat in the NBA. Yes, they were last year as well, and all they did was get to Game 7 of the Finals. Also, notice that a team with a longer streak than the Warriors has moved to the bottom of this list.

Warriors small icon 1. Warriors (63-14, Last Week No. 1). You want to know why teams rest players sometimes? Steve Kerr took a lot of heat for resting his stars against the Spurs on national television a few weeks back, but the Warriors have not lost since — 11 wins in a row. And by this coming weekend they could get Kevin Durant back. During win streak Stephen Curry is averaging 27 points, 7.9 assists, and 2.3 steals per game, plus is shooting 46.5 percent from three.

Spurs small icon 2. Spurs (59-17, LW 2). Coming from 21 down to beat the Thunder on Friday night was one of the best wins of the season for the Spurs, and they have had a lot of them. It feels to me (talking to voters) that Kawhi Leonard is going to finish third in the MVP voting, with a season that would be strong enough to win it most years. If the Spurs are going to be a real threat to the Warriors in the postseason, they are going to need some vintage Tony Parker, like we saw Sunday.

Celtics small icon 3. Celtics (50-27, LW 4). The top seed in the East could be decided Wednesday night when the Celtics host the Cavaliers (catching Cleveland on the second night of a back-to-back is helpful). Boston has an easier schedule the rest of the way compared to Cleveland and could win it either way. Of course, the real question is: Can Boston beat a fully healthy Cavaliers team four times in seven games? You can add me to the skeptics list there. But home court would help.

Rockets small icon 4. Rockets (52-25, LW 3). James Harden came out and said that playing in every game should matter toward MVP, but with his wrist injury and him battling the flu, taking more games off than just Sunday’s (a Houston over the hapless Suns) might be wise heading into the playoffs. Harden’s MVP case is not going to be made much stronger in these handful of games, but he needs to be right for the playoffs if Houston is thinking second-round upset of the Spurs.

Raptors small icon 5. Raptors (47-30, LW 7). While everyone has been focusing on Boston and Cleveland, Toronto has quietly been the best team in the East the past few weeks — 8-2 in their last 10 outscoring teams by 8.2 points per 100 possessions. Plus could get Kyle Lowry back this week, it looks like he certainly returns for the playoffs. The Raptors have moved past the Wizards into the three seed in the East, and on paper they might be the best matchup against Cleveland in the East.

Clippers small icon 6. Clippers (47-31, LW 8). They have won 7-of-9 and have a soft schedule with plenty of rest built in the rest of the way. That is to say, the Clippers are peaking at the right time and will be about as healthy as they have been in a long time heading into the postseason (although Austin Rivers is out for a bit). That should be trouble for the Jazz in the first round. Golden State in the second… not so much.

Jazz small icon 7. Jazz (47-29, LW 10). Watching the Jazz struggle to slow the Spurs Sunday, we’re reminded that Utah’s preferred starting five — George Hill, Rodney Hood, Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, Rudy Gobert — have played just 13 games together. This team has been deep and versatile enough to overcome that, but if Utah can secure home court in the first round (they are just half a game ahead of the Clippers) and get that five on the court, the Jazz have a real shot to win that series.

Wizards small icon 8. Wizards (46-30, LW 5). After starting their road trip with a couple of wins (Cavs and Lakers), the Wizards have dropped three straight, their defense has been unimpressive, and they have whined about getting blown out. They have a relatively easy end of the season schedule and they need the wins to try and catch Toronto for the three seed in the East.

Cavaliers small icon 9. Cavaliers (48-27, LW 6). LeBron James played 52 minutes Sunday against Indiana, and he will play a healthy amount Wednesday in a big showdown with Boston. Aside from that, do the Cavs need to think more about rest than chasing the No. 1 seed? Their defensive play against the Pacers — rotation mistakes when the game was still in doubt — point out what we’ve been saying about them not building good habits this season. Still, hard not to picture them coming out of the East once playoff LeBron gets going.

Thunder small icon 10. Thunder (43-33, LW 9). Wild week for the Thunder: They come back from 13 down with 3:30 left to beat the Mavericks, they came from 21 down to beat Orlando, then blew a 21 point lead to the Spurs. Through it all Russell Westbrook keeps racking up triple-doubles — he has 40 with six to play, and has gotten one in six-straight games. He can tie Oscar Robertson’s record of 41 in a season Tuesday. By the way, the Thunder are 31-9 when he gets one, 12-24 when he fall short.

Blazers small icon 11. Trail Blazers (38-38, LW 13). Portland has been the second best team in the NBA in its last 10 games, going 9-1 and outscoring opponents by 12.1 points per 100 possessions. They should hold off Denver and get the eighth seed. That said, the injury that ended Jusuf Nurkic’s season and will keep him out of the playoffs is a real blow (and ends any already long-shot dreams of a first-round upset).

Bucks small icon 12. Bucks (40-36, LW 11). Winners of three in a row until they stumbled on Sunday, they are going to make the playoffs, the only question is can they hold off Atlanta and remain the five seed. I’ll admit I thought Thon Maker was a reach when they drafted him, but he’s come along faster and farther than I thought this season, it’s easy to picture him as part of the future rotation in Milwaukee. Don’t take my word for it, ask the Greek Freak.

Bulls small icon 13. Bulls (38-39, LW 17). Thanks in part to a soft stretch of the schedule, the Bulls are playing some of their most consistent and best ball of the season. The Bulls are going to make the playoffs. Sure, they are just one game up on Miami and Indiana (tied for the 8/9 seeds) but look at their final five games: Knicks, Sixers, Nets (twice), and Magic. If anything, the Bulls are more likely to climb up to the six seed than fall out of the postseason.

Grizzlies small icon 14. Grizzlies (42-35, LW 15). They have locked up a playoff spot, so it’s smart of them to get Marc Gasol as much rest as they can now in hopes of having him healthy for the playoffs. It looks like we’re going to get a Pau vs. Marc Gasol brothers first-round matchup that should be fun, but likely is not going to last very long. Mike Conley has been playing well and carrying this team for the past week.

Heat small icon 15. Heat (37-40, LW 12). Miami has lost three of its last five and that leads to a sentence I never thought I’d type: This team desperately misses Dion Waiters. The Heat and Pacers are tied for the eighth seed out East, but look at the final five games for Miami: at Charlotte, at Toronto, At Washington, Cleveland, Washington. Brutal. But the Heat need to find some wins in there, even if that mans a Hassan Whiteside tip at the buzzer.

Pacers small icon 16. Pacers (37-40, LW 16).. They are tied with Miami for that final playoff slot in the East and their final playoff slot in the East, and while that was a dramatic, hard-fought loss to the Cavaliers Sunday it was still a loss. Where the Pacers need to feel good is they have an easier schedule to close out the season than the Heat: Raptors, Bucks, at Magic, at Sixers, Hawks.

Pelicans small icon 17. Pelicans (33-43, LW 22). This ranking may seem high, but the Pelicans are starting to figure it out — they are 7-3 in their last 10 with the fourth-best point differential in the NBA in that stretch. And yes, part of that is DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis starting to figure out how to play together. It is possible both of the Pelicans big men could make the All-NBA team as centers this year (a lot of voters are likely to move David to center, where he’s played more minutes this season than forward, because the forward crop is so deep).

Hornets small icon 18. Hornets (35-41, LW 21). This ranking may be too low, the Hornets have quietly won 7-of-9, outscoring opponents by 5.5 points per 100 possessions in that run thanks to an improved offense, and they have moved within a game of Miami and Indiana for the final playoff slot in the East. If they have dreams of that spot, they need to beat the Heat on Wednesday. Tough end of the season schedule even outside that game with the Wizards, Celtics, Bucks, and Hawks on the docket.

Nuggets small icon 19. Nuggets (35-40, LW 14). Losers of three in a row, but the big blow was Tuesday night in a loss to Portland. Denver needed that game to have a real shot at the eighth seed, but the defense that has been an issue all season let them down on that big stage. On the bright side, Nikola Jokic picked up another triple-double on Friday with 26 points, 13 rebounds, and 10 assists in a loss to Charlotte.

Hawks small icon 20. Hawks (39-38 LW 18). Paul Millsap returned on Sunday, which is huge for the Hawks heading into the postseason (he was an understandably rusty 4-of-14 against the Nets). They need him because this team is 2-9 in their last 11 games, which sets up a tough first-round series (likely against Toronto) where the Hawks will be one-and-done, then face some tough off-season questions about direction.

Pistons small icon 21. Pistons (35-42, LW 19). . The Pistons have lost 9-of-11 and their playoff dreams are dead, which is stunning for a team that was .500 and in control of its own destiny as late as March 11. I’m not sure any team in the NBA has been as disappointing as Detroit this season, and that will make for a rough summer. Reggie Jackson has been benched, and now at the top of Stan Van Gundy’s summer to-do list is deal with the point guard situation in Detroit.

Mavericks small icon 22. Mavericks (32-44, LW 20). This will be the fist time the Mavericks finished below .500 since Mark Cuban purchased the team, but this group proved to be scrappy and that bodes well for the future. Harrison Barnes showed he can handle a larger role with more playmaking, Yogi Ferrell has been a find, and we do get one more season of Dirk Nowitzki.

timberwolves small icon 23. Timberwolves (30-45, LW 24). This is the 13th consecutive year the Timberwolves will miss the playoffs, the longest streak in the NBA, but at least it seems poised to end next year. Ricky Rubio has been fantastic since the All-Star break, averaging 16.4 points and 10.7 assists per game, all with his jump shot falling. He should be back at the point next season (Kris Dunn has not been the answer).

Sixers small icon 24. 76ers (28-48, LW 23). Joel Embiid and Dario Saric are likely going to finish 1-2 in the Rookie of the Year balloting (with Malcolm Brogdon and Willy Hernangomez battling for the third spot on people’s ballots). The question is who gets the award? Embiid was nothing short of brilliant but only played in 31 games (with a minutes limit at that). Was Saric’s run after the All-Star break enough to catch him?

Kings small icon 25. Kings (30-47, LW 26). Off the court, there were the Sam Hinkie rumors, that he (or someone more established) would come in and take over the top dog role instead of Vlade Divac. Something the team denied. It came off as another “the right hand does not know what the left is doing” moment in Sacramento. On the court, coach Dave Joerger is getting a long look at all his young players as the season winds down. Sure, Buddy Hield has looked more comfortable, but so have Skal Labissiere, Georgios Papagiannis, and Willie Cauley-Stein, in flashes.

Knicks small icon 26. Knicks (29-48 LW 27). Derrick Rose’s season-ending injury doesn’t mean anything to the death spiral of the Knicks season, but it’s the final nail in the coffin of the idea he could come back to the Knicks next season. The Knicks will miss the playoffs again this season, and it’s worth remembering that since 2000 they have won exactly one playoff series. This summer is going to be an interesting one in NYC, with the only thing that seems certain is Carmelo Anthony agreeing to be traded.

Nets small icon 27. Nets (18-59, LW 28). The Nets have won 5-of-8 and are showing some life. The good news for Boston fans is Brooklyn was so bad for much of the season that there is still almost no chance Phoenix or the Lakers can tank their way to a worse record this year. But the Celtics have the Nets pick next year also and you have to wonder if that is losing a little potential value.

Magic small icon 28. Magic (27-50 LW 25). The most interesting question left around the Magic during this season is: Will the Cavaliers rest LeBron against them Tuesday night to have him fresh for the Celtics game Wednesday? Eyes of Magic fans should be on the draft, where they are slotted to pick fourth (before the lottery has its say). That could mean someone like Jayson Tatum or Malik Monk to get them buckets (since Mario Hezonja can’t seem to do that). Has Elfrid Payton played well enough that a point guard is off the table? (Not if they get lucky in the lottery and can move up to a top two spot it doesn’t.)

Lakers small icon 29. Lakers (22-55, LW 30). The Lakers picked up a nice win Sunday over Memphis behind one of the good D’Angelo Russell games the Lakers thrive during. Russell has been inconsistent, but when he is on you can see the potential of the Lakers’ young core come together. (Which is why you don’t trade those kids for Paul George or Jimmy Butler this summer.) If the Lakers lucked out in the lottery and got the top pick, would they feel pressure to take UCLA’s Ball over Washington’s Fultz? Most teams have Fultz rated higher.

Suns small icon 30. Suns (22-55, LW 29). Losers of a dozen in a row and things do not look better with Golden State and Oklahoma City on tap for their next two. Still, with Devin Booker, Alex Len, and the emerging Marquese Chriss there is reason for hope going forward — as Long as the Suns don’t just go for the quick fix to get back in the playoffs next season. If they can land a top two pick and draft the point guard of the future, then trade Eric Bledsoe for players who fit the younger timeline, they could start to build something. They just need a little luck and some patience.

Morant reportedly could return to Grizzlies Wednesday vs. Rockets


Despite his eight-game suspension being up, Ja Morant will not be on the court Monday night when the Grizzlies host the Mavericks (Luka Dončić and Kyrie Irving are questionable for the Mavericks as of this writing, although Dončić has been hopeful he could play).

In good news for Grizzlies fans, Morant could return as soon as Wednesday against the Rockets, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

The Rockets and their porous defense are an excellent soft landing spot for Morant to return, put up some numbers, but not have to play heavy minutes. The Grizzlies play the Rockets both Wednesday and Friday and need wins as they are in a fight for the two seed with the red-hot Sacramento Kings.

Morant was suspended for flashing a gun in a club and broadcasting it on social media, something NBA Commissioner Adam Silver called “irresponsible” and “reckless.”The suspension was retroactive, including games he was “away from the team” following the incident. The suspension cost Morant $668,659 in pay, but it hit his bank account harder than that after one of his major sponsors — Powerade — pulled an ad campaign featuring him that would have run heavily during March Madness. Morant is also in the mix for an All-NBA spot — which, via the Rose rule could increase his contract extension that kicks in next season — and this incident and missed games will not help his cause.

Hopefully, Morant got a chance to step back and consider his path forward during the suspension. If the Grizzlies are going to make the postseason run this season — and be a contender for years to come — as they expect, they need peak Morant on the court.

Watch Antetokounmpo shoot 9-of-9, get triple-double in win against Raptors


MILWAUKEE — Giannis Antetokounmpo had 22 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists, Brook Lopez scored 17 of his 26 points in the fourth quarter, and the Milwaukee Bucks rallied for a 118-111 victory over the Toronto Raptors on Sunday night.

Khris Middleton added 20 points and Bobby Portis had 14 as the Bucks improved to an NBA-best 51-20. Antetokounmpo had his 33rd career triple-double, making all nine of his field goal attempts.

Lopez scored the first eight points of the fourth quarter on a pair of 3-point plays and a dunk to put Milwaukee in front 97-95. Middleton’s free throw capped the 15-2 run that put the Bucks up 104-97.

“We settled down, we got back in control,” said Lopez, who outscored Toronto 17-16 in the fourth quarter. “We talked about the third quarter-fourth quarter break. They just shot more times than us. We were shooting just as well, or better than them from two and three. We just had to take care of the ball and keep them off the offensive glass.”

A dunk by Jakob Poeltl brought Toronto within 110-107, but Lopez scored underneath and Jrue Holiday hit two free throws to make it 114-107 with 1:29 remaining.

Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said Lopez’s outburst to start the fourth quarter was key.

“It changed the game,” Budenholzer said. “I think what he did offensively was important, and then the defense always stands out. It was a little bit muddy, not a pretty game there, and he stepped up and kind of just changed our feel and changed the momentum for us, particularly offensively, which we needed tonight.”

Fred VanVleet had 23 points and O.G. Anunoby added 22 for the Raptors, who had won their three previous games. Toronto missed a chance to move into eighth in the East Conference ahead of Atlanta, which lost to San Antonio 126-118.

“All these games are important to us, that’s for sure,” said Toronto coach Nick Nurse, whose team plays their next four at home. “I like, kind of, how we’re playing. I think we’re very well for long stretches of games. Hopefully, we can just keep building on that.”

Anunoby and Gary Trent Jr. hit back-to-back 3-pointers to put the Raptors up 83-76 with just under 4 1/2 minutes left in the third quarter. Toronto led 95-89 entering the final period.

“There was just two little probably bad stretches,” Nurse said. “In those stretches, they kind of got a couple of at the rim … a couple of and-ones. We just kind of lost our rim protection, and then kicked out and made a couple 3s after we kind of got that fixed. Give them credit, they made a couple big ones down the stretch when they needed them.”

The Bucks hit seven of their 16 3-pointers in the first period en route to a 33-29 lead.

Antetokounmpo, in his 10th season with the Bucks, played in his franchise-record 712th game, surpassing Junior Bridgeman. Antetokounmpo already was the franchise leader in points, assists, triple-doubles, free throws and minutes played. “It’s a great feeling. I wasn’t aware of it coming into the game,” Antetokounmpo said. “It’s been a long, long journey. There’s more to be accomplished yet, I believe.”

Three things to Know: Breaking down wild, wide-open West playoff race


Three Things To Know is NBC’s five-day-a-week wrap-up of the night before in the NBA. Check out every weekday morning to catch up on what you missed the night before plus the rumors, drama, and dunks that make the NBA must-watch.

1) Breaking down wild, wide-open West playoff race

There may be no clear-cut, runaway, team-to-beat in the West, but NBA rules state one of these teams will make it to the Finals. Which one? Your guess is as good as anyone’s at this point, but let’s break down a wide-open race.

• No.1 seed: Denver has lost 5-if-7 and Nikola Jokić was right in saying “we need to be concerned” after a loss to the Knicks on Saturday… they just don’t have to be concerned about being the No.1 seed in the West. After a bounce-back win against the Nets on Sunday — behind a Jokić triple-double — they have a four-game cushion for the top seed. This losing streak exposed questions about their defense and depth for a deep playoff run, but the standings haven’t changed much.

• No.2-3 seeds: Memphis and Sacramento are tied for the No.2-3 seeds at 43-27 — they will finish as those two seeds, the only question is which one will get the No.2 spot and have home court in a potential second-round matchup with each other. Memphis has the easier schedule the rest of the way and should get Ja Morant back from suspension this week, but count the Kings out at your own peril.

• No. 4-6 seeds: Here’s where things get messy. Only four games separate Phoenix at No.4 and New Orleans at No.12 — there is a lot of volatility in these spots. With the Suns expected to get Kevin Durant back before the end of the season, they are the logical pick to hold on to home court in the first round of the playoffs, but they also have a tougher schedule than the Clippers (one game back in the loss column) and Mavericks (two games back). The Clippers can’t afford to rest Kawhi Leonard as much down the stretch, they have lost seven in a row without him. With Dallas, the question is when does Luka Dončić return? These three teams likely finish 4-6 if they can play at least .500 ball the rest of the way, but if any team 4-12 in the West gets hot for the final games it could change everything.

• No.7-12 seeds: One game separates 7-12 in the bottom of the West, any little run could have the team at least in the 7/8 spots for the play-in (and only needing to win one game to make the playoffs. The team to watch is Oklahoma City, which has gone 7-3 in their last 10, has the easiest schedule of this group the rest of the way and is a tough out whenever Shai Gilgeous-Alexander plays. The Lakers sit 10th after an Austin Reavesfueled win over the Magic on Sunday, but they have the second-easiest schedule of this group and Darvin Ham said they expect LeBron James back before the end of the season. Can Golden State get a win on the road where they have lost seven straight (their 10 remaining games are split evenly home and road)? Fortunately for Minnesota, Anthony Edwardsankle injury is not as severe as it looked at first, but it’s unclear when he will return and this team has been outscored by 3.4 points per 100 possessions without him this season. Utah has the toughest remaining schedule in the West, but they have been gritty all season and will not go away, doing things like beating the Celtics over the weekend. Without Zion or a consistent offense, New Orleans may be the hardest of this group to back.

Portland sits 13th and has lost six in a row, mathematically they are not out of it but it’s hard to envision them turning things around, despite how well Damian Lillard is playing.

2) Giannis Antetokounmpo has perfect shooting triple-double in Bucks win

It feels like Giannis Antetokounmpo will have to put up triple-doubles nightly to keep up with Jokić and Joel Embiid in the MVP race, but the one he put up Sunday in leading the Bucks past the Raptors was special because he was a perfect 9-of-9 from the field.

If Wilt only did it twice, you know it’s hard to do.

We’ll dive into the East standings tomorrow, but the Bucks are sitting pretty as the league’s only 50+ win team (51-20) and have a comfortable 2.5-game cushion over the Celtics and 76ers. That matters, in part because Milwaukee will have home court for the entire playoffs, but more importantly, it puts them on the other side of the bracket from Boston and Philly and lets them fight it out in the second round.

3) Ted Lasso can hoop, too.

The Shot of the weekend goes to Jason Sudeikis. He and some others from Richmond F.C. were courtside at the Knicks game Saturday (promoting Ted Lasso, as it were) and he did this pregame:

Is there anything Ted Lasso can’t do?

Watch Austin Reaves score career-high 35, lead Lakers past Magic


LOS ANGELES — Austin Reaves scored a career-high 35 points, D’Angelo Russell added 18 points and the Los Angeles Lakers hung on for a 111-105 victory over the Orlando Magic on Sunday night.

Anthony Davis had 15 points and 11 rebounds on another rough shooting night, but Reaves carried the Lakers to victory with 13 points in the fourth quarter, including Los Angeles’ last 10 points over the final 1:33. The undrafted second-year pro has earned a vital role his star-studded team, and Reaves factored in almost every big play down the stretch as the Lakers snapped a two-game skid.

Lakers fans serenaded Reaves with chants of “M-V-P! M-V-P!” as he repeatedly earned trips to the line in the fourth quarter. Reaves shot a career-high 18 free throws, while the Magic shot 17.

“For them to recognize what I do – obviously I’m not an MVP-caliber player, those guys are really good – but for them to do that is special,” Reaves said. “It means a lot to me.”

The Lakers entered this game off back-to-back losses to Houston and Dallas, imperiling their tenuous position in the playoff race. This win put Los Angeles (35-37) back in ninth in the Western Conference, tied with Minnesota.

“I thought it was (Reaves) being his normal self,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said. “What he’s been all year. Coming up in clutch moments for us, trying to make plays downhill, putting the defense in uncomfortable situations with his ability to attack the paint and draw fouls. He was great. He ended up with 35, and we needed all of them.”

Rookie Paolo Banchero scored 21 points for Orlando, but got an unwise technical foul with 25.3 seconds to play after repeatedly arguing with officials during the night.

“It just puts you in a hard situation when they’re calling it like that,” Banchero said. “You want to defend without fouling, but we keep getting called. We keep fouling, I guess. We keep getting foul calls against us, so it just makes it hard, but we still had a chance to win. You can’t blame it all on that.”

Franz Wagner also scored 21 points in the Magic’s sixth loss in eight games to wrap up a four-game road swing. Wendell Carter Jr. had 16 points and 11 rebounds, but Orlando couldn’t repeat the dominance of its 39-point fourth quarter in a victory over the Clippers one day earlier in the same arena.

“It’s difficult, because I think we’re an aggressive, attacking team,” Orlando coach Jamahl Mosley said. “We’ve got to just, I guess, continue to do a better job of defending without fouling, show our help early and earn the respect of being able to get those calls.”

Cole Anthony hit a tying 3-pointer with 2:37 left for the Magic, who had trailed throughout the second half. Banchero fouled Reaves on a 3-point attempt a minute later, and Reaves hit two free throws before Wagner tied it again.

But Reaves hit a mid-range jumper with 57 seconds left and then grabbed the long rebound of Wagner’s missed 3 before making two more free throws. Banchero missed a layup and got the technical foul that helped the Lakers to seal it.

The Lakers improved to 6-5 during the latest injury absence for LeBron James, who has been out for three weeks with a sore right foot. Ham reiterated before the game that Los Angeles expects James to return before the regular season ends in three weeks.