NBA Power Rankings: Hawks stay on top, while injuries shuffle West's elite
The Clippers and Rockets both took the brunt of bad news over the weekend, learning their star big men would be sidelined for a couple of weeks. Unfortunately for Los Angeles, only one of those teams is equipped to stay above water without them.
For Los Angeles, this news couldn’t come at a worse time. L.A. has already lost five of six including a season-high four straight. The team’s offense has taken a nose dive this season when Griffin is off the floor (-13.7 points per 100 possessions) and doesn’t have a reserve big man capable of replacing his offensive production.
For Houston, the loss of Howard 'tis but a flesh wound. Make no mistake, the Rockets are worse off without Howard, but they can survive without him in the interim. Howard’s impact on the offense (+2.3 offensive rating) is far less significant than Griffin’s and his impact on the team’s defense isn’t as monumental (-3.3) as you might think. With Josh Smith and Donatas Motiejunas, Houston has the depth and versatility to replace Howard. In Los Angeles, its on the less-certain shoulders of Spencer Hawes and Glen Davis.
Furthermore, Houston is well-versed with life without Howard. The Rockets are 13-6 this year when Howard doesn’t suit up, while L.A. is just 0-1 without Griffin after losing to Oklahoma City on Sunday.
Life won’t be easy without either star, but the Rockets are proving they can get by. Houston stays in the top five this week after winning five of its last seven without Howard. The Clippers, meanwhile, slide down the board.
Let’s see where all 30 teams stand in this week’s NBA Power Rankings:
(All stats and records through Feb. 8)
The Warriors may have come out on the losing end of 2014-15’s best regular-season game yet, but they lead the league in net rating, offensive rating and defensive rating heading into this week. They might be the best No. 2 in Power Rankings history.
For all of LeBron James’ talents, subtle is not one of them. One week after calling out Kevin Love publicly, LeBron tried a different route: subtweet shaming. LeBron is either taking a page out of Pat Riley’s book of motivational tricks or he’s at wit’s end with the teammate he orchestrated a trade for less than six months ago. Cleveland is winning -- but something is still amiss.
DeMar DeRozan won’t be playing in the All-Star Game this year due to a prolonged injury and drop in production, but he’s as vital as ever to Toronto. The Raptors are now 23-8 when DeRozan plays this season and are even better (15-3) when he hits his scoring average (18.2 ppg).
San Antonio, of all teams, is 7-7 when playing on two or more days of rest this season and 24-12 on one or less. I look forward to someone confronting Gregg Popovich with this fact.
Dallas dodged its 12th loss in 14 games to teams currently in the West playoff picture by erasing an 11-point deficit in the final two minutes against Portland. After tailing off near the end of January, the Mavs have bounced back to win five of six.
It would have been cruel for Damian Lillard to go from participating in every All-Star event last season to none this year considering he’s become way more of a “star” in every sense of the word. He’s having a better statistical season across the board, now has a signature shoe with Adidas, has hit countless big shots including one to win a playoff series and leads the league in fourth-quarter scoring. Luckily for us -- and Lillard -- Dame has found his way into the ASG as a last-second injury replacement.
The Clippers are an absolute mess right now. L.A. has lost five of its last six on a treacherous road trip and has now lost Blake Griffin for a couple of weeks due to a staph infection. With Chris Paul toeing the line between chippy and chump -- criticizing referees and talking trash during blowout losses -- this team is in a fragile position right now.
Have the Wizards already peaked this season? It's a question some are asking. Washington is 10-11 in 2015 after going 22-9 before the turn of the calendar. Part of the recent struggles can be attributed to a more difficult schedule, but not all of them.
With virtually the same roster, Jason Kidd has transformed the Bucks’ porous defense (No. 29 in efficiency) from last season into one of the tightest in the league (No. 2 at 99.1 points per 100 possessions). Milwaukee’s D also gives up a league-low 35.5 field goals per game.
It’d be cruel for the basketball gods to take The Brow away from us (and, more importantly, the Pelicans), but it appears we’ve been spared. Anthony Davis tested the limits of our imagination with 41 points, 10 rebounds and a double-clutch buzzer-beating three-pointer over the outstretched arms of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
The Suns are the perfect face for playoff reform, as Ben Golliver pointed out last week. There’s no good reason for playoff-quality teams to miss out on the postseason due to geography. Adam Silver is a smart man. He realizes this. Change is coming for the NBA, but not in time to help the Suns this year.
Oklahoma City can reach its high-water mark on the season (three games above .500) if it can win out before the All-Star break. Following the midseason pause, the Thunder play 12 of their next 18 games at home, a critical stretch of the season if it hopes to reach the playoffs for the sixth straight year.
The Pacers become an awfully intriguing team in March if they’re still in the playoff hunt and Paul George is able to return on schedule. The Eastern Conference is the Land of Opportunity for postseason long shots and Indy is just two games back after snapping the Cavaliers’ 12-game winning streak and sneaking past the Hornets.
We’re 50 games into the season and the Celtics are closer to a playoff spot (two games back) than the Thunder (three). Carry on.
Whether or not George Karl becomes the coach of the Kings, Sacramento’s front office has pulled the carpet out from not one, but two head coaches this season. First, the logic-defiant dismissal of Mike Malone. Now, interviewing head coaching candidates after lifting the interim tag off Tyrone Corbin just five weeks ago. Not a good look.
Gordon Hayward already has twice as many 30-point games (six) as he did last season -- and in 26 fewer games. Hayward has had a quiet resurgence in Utah after struggling with his shot last season, raising his field-goal (41.3 to 46.2) and three-point (30.4 to 39.2) percentages.
Tim Frazier has gotten a venti cup of coffee with the 76ers, signing a 10-day contract last week only to play 71 minutes in his first two games (and start the second one). Frazier’s gone just 2-of-16 from the field, but his 19 assists have provided much-needed playmaking in Michael Carter-Williams’ absence.
The Wolves are winning weird. In Minnesota’s latest victory, its starting center scored 29 points and grabbed just three rebounds while its starting shooting guard went 0-of-6 from three-point range but had nine boards. Whatever it takes.
Is Byron Scott bringing his best players off the bench? When you’ve lost 13 of 14, that’s not such a crazy question. The Lakers’ starting lineup against the Cavaliers (Ryan Kelly, Tarik Black, Robert Sacre, Wayne Ellington and Jordan Clarkson) managed just 46 points on 36 percent shooting. His bench mob of Ed Davis, Wesley Johnson, Jeremy Lin, Carlos Boozer and Nick Young netted 59 points on 36 percent shooting.
In his first game as interim head coach, James Borrego used a starting lineup that hadn’t played together all season. It’s clear Magic management wasn’t happy with the production Jacque Vaughn was getting out of their young core. Borrego will likely try everything he can think of to pull off that feat.
There are two ways you can handle losing. You can take the high road, like Phil Jackson, and admit your “experiment has fallen flat on its face.” Or you take the low road, likes James Dolan, and do things like this.