By Matt Dollinger
April 14, 2014
Led by Paul George (left) and LaMarcus Aldridge (right), the NBA's first-half darlings have regained their swagger heading into the first round.
Ron Hoskins, Sam Forencic/Getty Images
NBA Power Rankings
1 San Antonio Spurs
Last Week: 1
Since: 2-1
Think the Spurs care who they face in the first round? San Antonio is a combined 11-1 against Dallas, Memphis and Phoenix this season.
2 Oklahoma City Thunder
Last Week: 3
Since: 3-1
A 60-win season is still within reach despite Russell Westbrook playing in just over half of the Thunder's games. Even more impressive, Oklahoma City is 19-4 when its starting lineup is healthy.
3 Los Angeles Clippers
Last Week: 2
Since: 1-1
If it's possible to be a "sleeping contender" with two MVP candidates, a title-winning coach and a team chock-full of playoff-tested players, the Clippers are pulling it off. If Blake Griffin's regular-season dominance carries over to the postseason, the Clippers might be able to pull off something even bigger.
4 Miami Heat
Last Week: 4
Since: 1-3
Miami Heat (54-26)
It turns out the Pacers don't have a monopoly on late-season issues. The Heat got up to beat their East rivals last week, but losses to the Nets, Grizzlies and Hawks remind us a three-peat won't be a cakewalk.
5 Portland Trail Blazers
Last Week: 12
Since: 3-0
What a difference a year makes. The Blazers ran out of steam and lost their final 12 games of 2012-13, but Portland isn't running out of steam this year, winning eight of its last nine and enduring a 47-point performance from Stephen Curry on Sunday.
6 Indiana Pacers
Last Week: 13
Since: 2-1
One win can't wash away a month-long stench, but it can help. After losing eight of their last 11, the Pacers triumphed over the Thunder in the type of team effort that was synonymous with Indiana during the season's first five months. The team still has issues, particularly Roy Hibbert's milk-box game and ongoing turnover issues, but we have reason to believe the Indy of old has returned.
7 Dallas Mavericks
Last Week: 8
Since: 2-1
The playoffs start Saturday, but the Mavericks have been playing do-or-die basketball for two weeks. Dallas clinched its 13th playoff berth in 14 years with a gutsy win over Phoenix.
8 Houston Rockets
Last Week: 5
Since: 2-2
The Rockets' defense will always lag behind its high-octane offense, but they won't make it far in the postseason if it trails by this much. Houston ranks No. 12 on the season in points allowed per possession, but has dropped to No. 20 since Mar. 29, leading to five losses in nine games.
9 Memphis Grizzlies
Last Week: 14
Since: 3-0
There's a litany of reasons why the Grizzlies are a dreaded potential playoff foe, but the biggest (literally) is Marc Gasol, the 7-foot-1 center who showed his ability to dominate on both ends last week with 19.6 points and 13 rebounds in three wins last week.
10 Chicago Bulls
Last Week: 9
Since: 2-1
Chicago Bulls (47-33)
Joakim Noah has been the heart of this team, but D.J. Augustin has been its knight in shining armor. He'll never be mistaken for Derrick Rose, but Augustin's resurrection in Chicago has saved his career and the Bulls' season.
11 Golden State Warriors
Last Week: 6
Since: 1-2
The Warriors are happy to have David Lee back, but not like this. Playing through a nagging back injury, Lee averaged just seven points (on 28.5 percent shooting) and seven rebounds in two games last week, a far cry from the usual 20-10 that Golden State has grown accustomed to.
12 Toronto Raptors
Last Week: 10
Since: 2-1
The Raptors have won 10 of 14, scoring at least 100 points in six straight games and tying their franchise record for victories. Trading Rudy Gay just didn't salvage Toronto's season, it also likely earned Masai Ujiri his second straight NBA Executive of the Year award, a feat no GM has ever pulled off.
13 Phoenix Suns
Last Week: 7
Since: 1-2
Phoenix Suns (47-33)
A sprained ankle might have doomed the Suns' season. Goran Dragic sat out in Phoenix's loss to San Antonio and shot just 6-of-18 from the field in Sunday's thriller (albeit a loss) against Dallas. Monday night's game against the Grizzlies is the biggest game of the year.
14 Brooklyn Nets
Last Week: 11
Since: 2-2
Brooklyn Nets (43-36)
It's only fitting that Brooklyn is the "hip" pick to make some noise in the East playoffs. We're about to find out if Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce can flip the switch and channel their Celtics glory days in the postseason.
15 Charlotte Bobcats
Last Week: 15
Since: 2-1
The Bobcats deserve a hearty pat on the back for realizing their franchise goal of making the playoffs for just the second time in team history. The signing of Al Jefferson has been a tremendous success, and Steve Clifford deserves to be in the discussion for Coach of the Year. So what's Charlotte's reward? A likely first-round matchup with the two-time defending champs.
16 Washington Wizards
Last Week: 16
Since: 2-1
The Wizards are ending a six-year playoff drought and have reason to believe they could win a playoff series for just the second time in 30 years. Washington went 2-1 against Chicago this season and Bradley Beal, who was mired in a March shooting slump, is hitting 49.5 percent of his attempts in April.
17 Atlanta Hawks
Last Week: 17
Since: 3-1
Atlanta Hawks (37-43)
The Eastern Conference is subject to plenty of punch-lines (many of them written by me), but let's give credit where credit is due: The Hawks are playoff-bound despite losing their best player in December. They beat the Nets and Heat last week to clinch and successfully staved off the Knicks, for whatever that's worth.
18 Denver Nuggets
Last Week: 20
Since: 3-0
Timofey Mozgov isn't putting up 93 points per night, but his numbers have been pretty eye-popping over the last seven games, averaging 17.4 points and 9.5 rebounds.
19 Minnesota Timberwolves
Last Week: 18
Since: 2-2
Adam Silver is open to taking a "fresh look" at the NBA's playoff structure, but that doesn't do any immediate good for the Wolves, who have a better net rating than four Eastern playoff teams.
20 New York Knicks
Last Week: 19
Since: 2-0
The only thing longer than the list of disappointments for the Knicks this season is the line of New Yorkers now lining up to hop on the Nets' bandwagon. Carmelo Anthony will miss the playoffs for the first time in his career, and the team with the second-highest payroll in the league will be playoff spectators.
21 Cleveland Cavaliers
Last Week: 22
Since: 1-2
The Cavaliers' chemistry has been so bad this season that it's now spilled over to the Browns. Cleveland unofficially had two goals this season: make the playoffs and show enough promise to leave of a sliver of hope that LeBron James might return. They failed miserably at both.
22 New Orleans Pelicans
Last Week: 21
Since: 0-3
The Pelicans have shut down Anthony Davis and could end their season on a 10-game losing streak, but it could be too little too late for New Orleans to keep its 2014 draft pick. The selection will be Philly-bound barring the Pels sneaking into the top five of the draft.
23 Orlando Magic
Last Week: 25
Since: 1-1
Orlando Magic (23-57)
The Magic's slow but steady rebuild has made some progress this season, but next season should be the year we start to see Rob Hennigan's patience pay off. With another lottery pick in hand and a promising nucleus of players 23-and-under, the future is bright in Orlando.
24 Detroit Pistons
Last Week: 23
Since: 1-2
You think Stephen Colbert has it tough replacing David Letterman? I feel bad for whoever who will be succeeding Joe Dumars, who is reportedly set to step down. Big shoes, bigger mess.
25 Boston Celtics
Last Week: 28
Since: 2-1
Brad Stevens' first season in Boston featured more losses than his six years at Butler combined, but it would be unfair to call his first NBA campaign a disappointment. There's a reason the rebuilding C's gave him a six-year contract.
26 Sacramento Kings
Last Week: 24
Since: 1-3
Despite Vivek Ranadive's best intentions, the Kings never had a chance of competing in the ultra-competitive West this season. Trading for Rudy Gay showed the fan base that the team's front office is dedicated, but we've yet to see if Pete D'Alessandro and Co. are competent. Stay tuned.
27 Utah Jazz
Last Week: 26
Since: 0-3
Utah Jazz (24-56)
With Marvin Williams and Richard Jefferson set to come off the books, Utah will have an embarrassment of cap room this offseason. Despite a so-so year from Gordon Hayward, it's hard to imagine the Jazz letting the restricted free agent walk.
28 Los Angeles Lakers
Last Week: 27
Since: 0-3
Los Angeles hasn't seen this type of box-office flop since John Carter. We know GM Mitch Kupchak and Kobe Bryant are safe -- it's unlikely Mike D'Antoni and Pau Gasol will be as fortunate.
29 Philadelphia 76ers
Last Week: 29
Since: 0-3
Considering the 76ers' sorry excuse for a roster, their 26-game losing streak and their lack of motivation to win, it's pretty incredible they're going to finish the season without the league's worst record.
30 Milwaukee Bucks
Last Week: 30
Since: 1-2
No team has fallen heinously short of expectations quite like the Bucks this season, but at least they've found a way to start 2014-15 off right, squeezing Larry Sanders' five-game ban into '13-14.

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