If you’re not careful, you can get lost in the hypnotic, methodical series of floaters, runners, threes, threes from 40 feet, and threes from the corner behind the basket from where you really aren’t supposed to shoot it. I learned this Sunday night at Madison Square Garden, observing courtside as Stephen Curry got loose. He is always one of the first Warriors to warm up, the precision of his footwork, the game-speed shots, and the consistency of his preparation hinting at why and how exactly he’s become the best player on the NBA’s best team. At first, you hardly notice that he’s barely ever missing.
In the actual game, Curry missed—a lot, actually, shooting 5 of 17 for 13 points, his worst shooting night and second-lowest total of the season. His teammates? They did not miss much. The other guys combined to shoot 66% on the night and buried a stupid 13 of 18 three-point attempts, and the Warriors beat the Knicks by a gentle-yet-substantial 21 points, the night after a scare in Philly. Klay Thompson was 14 of 18 with 34 points, Draymond Green was 9 of 9 with his ninth triple double of the season (note: for what it’s worth, he also air-balled a free throw).
Really, it’s the nights like these that make you think Golden State could really win 72, 73, 74… you get the picture. It’s more fun when Curry goes nuclear, but the near-perfect showings from everyone else when he’s off, and they’re tired, tell you more about their mettle. Not to overreact to just one game against the New York Knickerbockers, but I’m coming around on the notion that they’re going to do it.
Anyway, the Warriors are back atop the Power Rankings, I’m sorry for ever doubting them, and it would take some real misfortune for them to lose this spot over the next couple months. As for the rest of the league? Eh…less safe.
1. Golden State Warriors
RECORD: 44-4 (4–0)
Curry and cohort get a chance to back up the talk as they host the Thunder for the first of three meetings in the next month. It’s the highest-profile matchup we have yet to see and will have implications on the Warriors’ chase for 72-plus win.
2. San Antonio Spurs
RECORD: 39-8 (1–2)
Watching the Warriors tear a hole through the Spurs was pretty eye-opening. The Cavs had their way with them as well. But given all they’ve done, it’ll take at least one more down week to raise concerns. And though it’s not necessarily why they lost, they miss Tim Duncan.
3. Oklahoma City Thunder
RECORD: 36-13 (3–0)
For what it’s worth, NBA.com’s strength-of-schedule formula [link http://stats.nba.com/playoffpicture] rates the Thunder’s remaining schedule as the most difficult in the league. Should they be concerned? Only if second-round home court really matters, and assuming the current seeds hold, expect OKC to push San Antonio regardless. Can’t wait.
4. Toronto Raptors
RECORD: 32-15 (3–0)
The hottest team around heads west for a five-game swing against beatable competition, with its win streak at 11 games and counting. The only wrong Toronto has done lately was booking Sting for All-Star halftime. Well… not if you ask my mother.
5. Cleveland Cavaliers
RECORD: 34-12 (4–0)
A big home win against the Spurs and four wins in a row have calmed the coaching-change panic. The Cavaliers have kept focus, and now have a cozy six games going into the All-Star break. Whether you agreed with firing David Blatt or not, give GM David Griffin a little credit for making the change at what appears to have been the right time.
6. Los Angeles Clippers
RECORD: 32-16 (4–0)
Let me start by saying I thought better of making a punch joke. The Clippers punctuated a strong week with a blowout of the Bulls in which the bench, led by Jamal Crawford, outscored the starters. The oft-maligned reserves are averaging 46 points in the current four-game win streak.
7. Memphis Grizzlies
RECORD: 28-20 (3–0)
The Grizzlies took advantage of a soft January schedule, finishing 10–4 and moving into comfortable position. And guess what? They now draw just two plus-.500 opponents in February. Memphis is 18–7 against teams that are not plus-.500.
8. Boston Celtics
RECORD: 27-22 (3–1)
The Celtics went 9–8 on the month, but registered the league’s seventh-best net rating. They’re thriving with balanced scoring, Brad Stevens has found some rotational stability and they even got Isaiah Thomas into the All-Star game. Given all their assets, talk of trade scenarios will continue—but do they need one?
9. Miami Heat
RECORD: 27-21 (4–0)
Miami’s month-long doldrums ended on a high, an undefeated week providing a helpful cushion in the standings. Like clockwork, it came with some inspired play from Dwyane Wade (23.6 points on 50% shooting, 6.4 assists in past five). That type of veteran leadership bodes well for the postseason—but adding a shooter or two would really help.
10. Dallas Mavericks
RECORD: 28-22 (3–1)
These guys are set for what could be a telltale week, with the Hawks, Heat, Spurs and Grizzlies on deck. It’s the final stretch of a hectic 22 games in roughly five weeks. Splitting the week would keep Dallas six games over .500, exactly where it started—and that should be considered a positive for this grizzled group.
11. Atlanta Hawks
RECORD: 27-22 (1–3)
The typically high-scoring Hawks have failed to crack 100 points in their past five losses. We’ve discussed Kyle Korver’s extended cold spell, but strangely, it’s the rest of the team that’s seen the well run dry of late. Korver’s hitting at more familiar 40% clip over his last 10.
12. Chicago Bulls
RECORD: 26-20 (1–2)
After splitting an L.A. stay on opposite ends of Lakers and Clippers blowouts (not hard to guess which one the Bulls beat), five more on the road beckon. There is no simple fix for what ails them. They don’t even appear to be enjoying themselves.
13. Indiana Pacers
RECORD: 25-22 (2–1)
The Pacers are 1–0 since George Hill went back to his natural hair color, and have won two in a row after an up-and-down few weeks. They’re traditionally a very good February team under Frank Vogel. Put two and two together, and…
14. Detroit Pistons
RECORD: 25-23 (2–2)
With a measly nine assists in a loss to Toronto, the Pistons became just the ninth team in the last 30 years to score more than 100 points while helping on less than 10 baskets. I do not know if that’s impressive or completely ridiculous, but… they probably need to move the ball better.
15. Houston Rockets
RECORD: 25-25 (1–3)
Dwight Howard got tossed in back to back games, and the Rockets dropped three in a row to fall back to .500 for the ninth time this season. If they ever figure themselves out, it’ll now likely have to happen on the road: 12 of their next 16 come away from the Toyota Center.
16. Portland Trail Blazers
RECORD: 23-26 (3–0)
Damian Lillard’s last 10 games: 24.6 points, 7.7 assists, 4.0 rebounds, 46% shooting. Portland’s last 10: 8–2 and a net rating of 5.7. Sure, Dame’s not an All-Star this season, but carrying this team into playoff position looks pretty good, too.
17. Utah Jazz
RECORD: 21-25 (2–1)
Commanding wins over Charlotte and Minnesota helped Utah keep pace with Portland in the standings. And with the talented frontline of Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert back from injury and playing together for the first time since Nov. 30, the Jazz have a real opportunity to ride into the All-Star break on a high.
18. Charlotte Hornets
RECORD: 23-25 (2–2)
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has looked solid in his first two games of the season, and while he won’t help the Hornets shoot it from deep, his defensive prowess should provide an edge. All 10 games this month come against their own conference, Al Jefferson could be back after the break, and here’s an opportunity for these guys to make headway.
19. New York Knicks
RECORD: 23-27 (1–3)
I’m a little tempted to sell on the Knicks after watching the ever-stagnant Melo-Afflalo midrange post-up show on Sunday night. Whether it’s before the trade deadline or in the offseason, this team desperately needs a point guard that can dictate some type of flow. But hey, apparently long contested twos are selling tickets.
20. New Orleans Pelicans
RECORD: 18-28 (2–1)
Stretchy four man Ryan Anderson keeps popping up as a trade target and has done plenty to boost his value, averaging 21 points and shooting 52% from deep during an impressive nine-game Pelicans run that’s turned out seven wins. They’re playing their best ball of the season at an awkward time, with the deadline nearing and still within reach of the eight seed despite all the disappointment.
21. Washington Wizards
RECORD: 21-24 (1–3)
It feels like the Wizards are running out of time to get it together, but really they’re still a manageable 2 1/2 games out of a playoff spot. A players-only meeting preceded an exciting win in Houston, but drawing OKC and Golden State in consecutive games looks far less inviting.
22. Sacramento Kings
RECORD: 20-27 (0–4)
Hope we all enjoyed that while it lasted. Six straight wins into four straight losses dropped the Kings out of that cozy eight-hole, and a Boogie Cousins sprained ankle now makes salvaging the next week and a half especially critical. And for the record, they’re 1–7 without him.
23. Milwaukee Bucks
RECORD: 20-27 (1–2)
While Milwaukee’s output has been disappointing, Giannis Antetokounmpo has not. January was perhaps the best month of the 21-year-old’s young career as he stuffed stat sheets with 16.3 points, 8.1 rebounds, 3 assists, a block and a steal per game. He's also a 51% shooter. I’m skeptical whether he ever develops a consistent outside shot, but with his unique skill package, he may not need to.
24. Orlando Magic
RECORD: 21-25 (1–3)
The Magic entered January six games over .500 and left it six under. Here’s the schedule going into the break: at Spurs, at Thunder, vs. Clippers, vs. Atlanta and at Atlanta (back to back), vs. Spurs. Hear that? It’s the sound of their playoff outlook dying a slow death (and Scott Skiles yelling a lot).
25. Denver Nuggets
RECORD: 18-30 (1–3)
If you’ve tangentially followed this team or just appreciate unique European post players (me too!), you might have wondered what happen to Jusuf Nurkic. Funny you should ask: he’s getting back in shape after a long series of injuries, gradually finding more minutes, but now stuck behind another unique European post player (Nikola Jokic). Not the worst problem the Nuggets have.
26. Philadelphia 76ers
RECORD: 7-41 (1–2)
The Sixers appear to have established some type of identity, and though not often victorious, they’re scrapping to stay in more games—most notably a near win over the Warriors. Then again, when you’re sending double teams at Steph Curry 40 feet from the basket with time on the clock you are asking to… not win.
27. Minnesota Timberwolves
RECORD: 14-35 (0–4)
Misery has worn a much more appealing face up north thanks to Karl-Anthony Towns being generally magnificent, but the Wolves have won one fewer game than the 76ers since December 1. Wouldn’t it be cool if Ben Simmons somehow landed on this team?
28. Brooklyn Nets
RECORD: 12-36 (0–3)
They’re still losing, they still haven’t cashed out on any assets, and they still haven’t hired a new general manager or head coach. Nothing to see here.
29. Los Angeles Lakers
RECORD: 9-41 (0–4)
A franchise record 11 consecutive losses are on the table on Tuesday when the Lakers host the Wolves. Maybe that’ll be high-enough stakes for a random huge Kobe night. Or, maybe not.
30. Phoenix Suns
RECORD: 14-35 (0–4)
Jeff Hornacek got canned just before the Suns began February’s kindest travel schedule, playing at home through All-Star and with just one game on the road, on Feb. 22. They have been, by most accounts, the league’s worst team since Christmas, but 30th is a brand new low.