With more than 90 percent of the regular season completed, the number of teams with a viable chance of emerging from the playoffs as NBA champion seems larger now than it did at the opening tip on Christmas.
The preseason conference favorites, the Heat and Thunder, have been dominant at times, but they have faltered a bit down the stretch and are more impressive than intimidating. Last year's regular-season conference winners, the Bulls and Spurs, are repeating so far and have renewed determination in light of last season's playoff disappointments. The traditional war horses, the Celtics and Lakers, have shown their age and flirted with mediocrity, but they have been playing their best ball of the season in the second half. Even upstarts such as the Clippers, Pacers and Grizzlies face no longer odds than the Mavericks encountered at this time last season en route to their first title.
In this week's Power Rankings, then, these nine teams are bunched together heading around the final turn. San Antonio remains at No. 1 for the second week in a row, while the Clippers, Pacers and Lakers move up after perfect weeks.
(All stats and records are through Monday, April 16.)
NBA Power Rankings