Duncan’s 0-for-8 effort was the first game of his storied career without a field goal, but don’t take this blip as an “end of times” sign in San Antonio. The Spurs actually cruised to victory against Chicago in that game and have won five straight. After a bumpy ride on the team’s annual Rodeo Road Trip (going 4-5), San Antonio has smoothed things to lead the NBA in net rating (18.4) during its five-game streak and post an impressive 110.8 offensive rating.
It’s easy to forget about the Spurs with so many contenders, particularly shiny new ones like the Warriors and Hawks, lurking with just five weeks left in the season. But there aren’t many reasons not to pick the defending champions to repeat. At 38, Tim Duncan is still averaging close to a double double (14.2 points, 9.5 rebounds). Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili have been carefully paced all season. The team’s cast of critical role players is healthy and producing. And the team holds a pristine 22-8 record (.733) when Kawhi Leonard, the reigning 23-year-old Finals MVP, plays at least 30 minutes this season.
After five wins in a row, San Antonio shoots back in the top five of this week’s rankings. While Duncan’s goose egg might have ended a notable run, we should remember that history tends to favor the Spurs, particularly in the spring.
Here’s where all 30 teams stand in this week’s NBA Power Rankings:
(All stats and records through March 8)
1. Golden State Warriors
RECORD: 49-12 (3-1)
As if there weren’t enough reasons to love Draymond Green already, his reaction and retort to Dahntay Jones’ postgame bump might be his best defensive performance of the season—and that's saying something. Green’s leadership and moxie are just as important to Golden State as his versatility and talent.
2. Atlanta Hawks
RECORD: 49-13 (2-1)
Beating the Cavaliers and losing to the 76ers registers on both sides of the competence spectrum, but the Hawks will gladly sacrifice a regular-season loss for some coveted rest for their starters after a big win. You can do those sorts of things when you hold a 10½-game lead on the rest of the conference.
3. Cleveland Cavaliers
RECORD: 40-25 (3-1)
The Cavaliers haven’t lost at home since Jan. 7, but they’re only .500 on the road this season. Cleveland is a likely bet to lock up the No. 2 seed in the East, but it won’t have homecourt advantage in a potential playoff showdown with Atlanta. That's trouble considering the Hawks wrapped up the season series 3-1 last week.
4. San Antonio Spurs
RECORD: 39-23 (3-0)
It looks like Tony Parker didn’t appreciate skeptics piling on after his sluggish end to February. Parker responded by averaging 25 points on 64.5% shooting last week and dropping 32 on the Bulls. Not bad for an over-the-hill point guard.
5. Oklahoma City Thunder
RECORD: 35-28 (2-1)
Adjectives were made to describe forces like Russell Westbrook. Elusive, overpowering, ferocious, devastating, unique—there’s never been anyone quite like the Thunder star. Westbrook is what it looks like when you turn every player rating up to 99 in a video game. Mask and facial fracture be damned, Westbrook is playing like human existence is on the line. He’s notched triple doubles in five of his last six games and averaged 36.8 points, 12.1 rebounds and 11 assists over that span.
6. Memphis Grizzlies
RECORD: 44-18 (2-2)
Memphis has hit a bit of a midseason lull, going 5-5 over its last 10 games and seeing its offensive rating drop to No. 24 in the league during that time. Part of the struggles fall on the shoulders of Marc Gasol, who shot 35.1% from the field in those five losses.
7. Houston Rockets
RECORD: 43-20 (2-2)
The Rockets may have found their power forward of the future and it’s not Josh Smith. Terrence Jones, 23, has been on a tear, averaging 17.1 points, 9.8 rebounds and 2.1 blocks since being inserted back into the starting lineup on Feb. 23. With Smith and Donatas Motiejunas also playing well, Houston suddenly has impressive frontcourt depth with or without Dwight Howard.
8. Portland Trail Blazers
RECORD: 41-20 (2-1)
9. Dallas Mavericks
RECORD: 41-24 (2-2)
Dirk Nowitzki has topped 20 points in just under a third of his games this season and only hit the mark once in his last 12 games. With the 36-year-old slowing down—or at least pacing himself for the postseason—Dallas needs Monta Ellis (who had 31 points on Sunday) to seize the reins.
10. Los Angeles Clippers
RECORD: 40-23 (1-2)
There’s a lot not to like in Clipperland right now and I'm not referencing the strange tough guy acts from Austin Rivers and Dahntay Jones. What's most concerning is L.A. losing four of its last six games. Those four defeats came against the four teams with the best records in the West (Golden State, Portland, Memphis and Houston), reminding the chippy Clippers exactly where they stand without Blake Griffin.
11. Chicago Bulls
RECORD: 39-25 (2-2)
With Chicago’s offense sagging without Jimmy Butler and Derrick Rose, Nikola Mirotic has taken on more responsibility, averaging 19.4 points off the bench over his last five games. With few options in the backcourt, riding the rookie's hot hand makes sense for Chicago. Now, if only he could play point guard.
12. Indiana Pacers
RECORD: 28-34 (3-0)
The good times continue to roll for the Pacers. Indiana is an NBA-best 11-2 since Feb. 1 and owes a lot of its success to George Hill. As Rob Mahoney pointed out in last week’s edition of The Fundamentals, Hill’s impact on Indiana's offense has been “in the ballpark of this season’s top MVP candidates.”
13. New Orleans Pelicans
RECORD: 34-29 (2-2)
New Orleans has already matched its win total from last season, but it’s clear Anthony Davis won’t be content without a playoff berth. In five games since returning from a shoulder injury, Davis is averaging 30.3 points, 12.3 rebounds and 5.1 blocks.
14. Toronto Raptors
RECORD: 38-25 (1-3)
Drake's diary likely has a lot of sad Raptors entries of late. Toronto has lost eight of its last nine games and slipped to No. 4 in the East. Making matters worse: The Raptors are dead last in defensive rating (107.8) over that span, giving us reason to believe this is more than just a rough patch in the regular season.
15. Milwaukee Bucks
RECORD: 33-29 (1-2)
Khris Middleton is often the forgotten man in Milwaukee, but he’s been one of the Bucks' most consistent performers this year. Middleton scored a career-high 30 points against the Wizards to extend his streak of double-digit games to 15. The 23-year-old is averaging 12.4 on the season with impressive shooting splits (47.4 FG/42.6 3P/85.3 FT) and 1.6 steals per game to boot. The Bucks will face plenty of competition to keep the free agent-to-be this summer.
16. Phoenix Suns
RECORD: 33-31 (2-2)
After mission the playoffs by one game last season, Phoenix is lurking just outside the bubble (2 ½ games back leading into Monday) once again. With nine of their next 10 games at home, the Suns desperately need to rip off a winning streak to challenge the surging Thunder and Pelicans.
17. Utah Jazz
RECORD: 26-36 (3-1)
Utah’s defense has only allowed one team to score 90 points over its last 10 games, leading to a 7-3 record. The difference has been Rudy Gobert, who has been inserted into the starting lineup and is averaging 9.6 points, 13.2 rebounds 2.8 blocks since the All-Star break. Utah's defensive rating jumps from 110.4 to 102.8 (-7.6) with The Stifle Tower on the floor.
18. Boston Celtics
RECORD: 25-36 (2-2)
The Celtics have had a bench player score at least 20 points in 16 games this season. Seven of them have been by Isaiah Thomas over his first nine games with the team.
19. Washington Wizards
RECORD: 35-28 (1-2)
The Wizards are just 2-7 since All-Star Weekend and have seen their own All-Star go cold. Wall is shooting just 36.2% from the field since the break compared to 46% before.
20. Charlotte Hornets
RECORD: 28-33 (4-0)
Al Jefferson and Mo Williams have become an unlikely (but formidable) one-two punch. Charlotte has won five straight games thanks to Williams' (20.2 points, 10.8 assists) and Jefferson’s (20.6 points, 10.6 rebounds) dominant play over that stretch. Even when Kemba Walker returns, Steve Clifford will have no choice but to find time for Williams, who has been a midseason savior for the Hornets.
21. Miami Heat
RECORD: 28-34 (3-1)
He's arguably the NBA’s Most Improved Player, but Hassan Whiteside is also a heavy favorite for best value. Whiteside is averaging 13.7 points, 12.5 rebounds and 2.2 blocks as a starter for Miami and is under contract for $981,348 next season. In a stunning contrast, Philadelphia will pay JaVale McGee $12 million not to play for it next season.
22. Brooklyn Nets
RECORD: 25-36 (1-3)
Brooklyn has dropped three straight games and is now 2½ games out of the playoff picture in the East. While Charlotte and Indy (each on five-game winning streaks) are trending up, the Nets are fading fast. Deron Williams and Joe Johnson have combined to score 49 points over their last three contests.
23. Orlando Magic
RECORD: 21-43 (2-1)
Victor Oladipo posted back-to-back 30 point games last week and is showing his talents go far beyond the Dunk Contest. Oladipo has shown improved range this season and hit nine of his last 15 three-point attempts. He’s also one of 24 players averaging at least four points and four rebounds.
24. Detroit Pistons
RECORD: 23-39 (0-3)
Detroit has gone cold from deep, shooting 26.1% (No. 29 in the NBA) during its six-game losing streak. Maybe the Pistons will warm up during their four-game Western road swing. Maybe not.
25. Sacramento Kings
RECORD: 21-40 (1-3)
Rudy Gay has been the biggest beneficiary of the George Karl era, averaging 23.6 points while shooting 48.5% from the field and an impressive 44.1% from deep. Getting Gay involved makes sense for Sacramento: the team is 9-1 in his 10 highest-scoring games and 1-9 in his 10 lowest.
26. Denver Nuggets
RECORD: 22-41 (2-2)
The Nuggets nabbed two wins last week under interim coach Melvin Hunt after winning just two games over the last six weeks of Brian Shaw’s tenure. If Denver’s players didn’t get the wake-up call from Shaw’s dismissal, perhaps the public shaming from Kevin Garnett, David West and others will do the trick.
27. Minnesota Timberwolves
RECORD: 14-47 (1-2)
You think the young Wolves are fired up to be playing with Kevin Garnett? Compare their defensive rating from when he’s on the floor (97.0) and off it (111.3).
28. Los Angeles Lakers
RECORD: 16-46 (0-4)
Nick Young has now missed seven straight games with a sore left knee. Byron Scott believes “it would help [Young’s] confidence” to return this season and “go out on a positive note," but I’m pretty sure Young could end the season 0-for-300 and not be rattled.
29. New York Knicks
RECORD: 12-49 (0-3)
The Knicks haven’t drafted an All-Star since 2005 (David Lee) and had suffered a 27-year drought leading up to that. There’s a lot riding on New York’s 2015 selection, which is why Phil Jackson is on the road scouting and watching games with a little more meaning.
30. Philadelphia 76ers
RECORD: 14-49 (1-3)
Isaiah Canaan dropped a career-high 31 points in a loss to the Thunder last week and has given Brett Brown a playmaker in the backcourt. The 76ers boast an offensive rating of 101.5 with Canaan on the floor, a huge leap compared to the rating when Michael Carter-Williams’ (91.3) was on the court.