NBA Power Rankings: Last look before All-Star
I cannot tell you how happy I am that football season is over. The only thing that can upstage the NBA now is Kanye West’s apparently still-yet-to-be-named new album, which is set to release before All-Star weekend. One week later, we get the trade deadline. Yes, it’s all happening.
While it will be extremely cold in Toronto, everything else has shaped up pretty nicely for the league’s annual showcase, and SI will be on-site all week to bring you coverage (read: editor Matt Dollinger and I will be taking tons of selfies on the flight in.)
Kobe Bryant will be sent off in some fashion, Tyronn Lue will awkwardly coach the East, DeMarcus Cousins will probably get asked a lot of questions about George Karl, and Draymond Green and Kawhi Leonard will probably fight over who gets to guard who in the actual game. Defense might actually be played (emphasis on might). Drake will coach a basketball team. Drake might take off his Sting costume at halftime. And, perhaps most frighteningly, The Players’ Tribune publisher and photographer Kevin Durant will be teammates with members of the Golden State Warriors all weekend.
Here are this week’s Power Rankings. See everyone on the other side.
The Warriors have now beaten all 27 teams they’ve played, with only the Hawks and Magic left to conquer.
It’s tough to quantify Tim Duncan’s value to this team, and now Manu Ginobili has joined him on the shelf. Still, the Spurs now have a chance to tinker with their rotations and give their newcomers a chance to embrace more prominent roles.
The Thunder impressively rallied from 20 down to draw even with the Warriors in the final minutes. Despite letting things slip from there, they have the ability to hang with Golden state. That said, to have a chance against them in a seven-game series, some type of move is in order. Are you really rolling with Dion Waiters in the fourth?
There’s no denying the Cavaliers are the most talented team in the East, and they’re 6–3 since the coaching change, with Kevin Love the most notable beneficiary. That said, a reversion to iso-ball in a frustrating loss to the Hornets served as a reminder that their bad habits still linger.
January/February’s very own have lost just thrice since 2016 began, and will have the luxury of an All-Star break spent at home after five games on the road. They’ve been the East’s best team, but a home date with the Cavs on Feb. 26 looms large right now given the 22-point blowout loss in Cleveland a month ago.
Blake Griffin trade rumors continue to swirl, Austin Rivers has a broken hand too, and the Clippers continue on their bizarre ride of a season. Semi-related: is it just me or is it awkward that DeAndre Jordan is the only guy on those “Meet the Hoopers” ads that has never actually been an All-Star?
The Celtics have now won nine of 10 and vaulted into the upper echelon of the East standings, which now sort of puts them in a weird conundrum with the trade deadline nearing. This team was built for transactional flexibility, but in midst of its best run of the season, how much will the front office want to change things up?
It’s been a while since the Grizzlies beat an impressive team, but a 12–3 record in the past month has brought back some of their old swagger. One concerning fact? Memphis’s net rating and point differential remains that of a slightly sub-.500 squad despite their extended run of positive results.
A strange, mystifying and horrendous stat: after losing to the Magic on a Nikola Vucevic buzzer beater, the Hawks are somehow 0–10 since the start of last season when a game-winning shot is attempted in the final second.
The Heat now hold the title of the league’s lowest-scoring team (non-Sixers category). They managed to beat the Hornets without making a single three-pointer, which is cool, but probably not an indicator of great offense.
The Pacers may finally be trending in the right direction again, winning four of six with two tight losses to the Cavs and Hawks. Despite the ups and downs, they’re still top 10 in net rating. Records of 3–7 in three-point games and 1–5 in overtime point to room for improvement not just from the players, but also the coaching staff.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is out through the All-Star break with a groin injury, but it’s time to give him some props for what’s quietly been a nice season. Despite a heavy workload throughout and some tough defensive assignments, January (16.7 points, 47% FG, 4.6 rebounds) was by far his best month yet.
It was a real gut-punch of a week for the Mavs after getting roasted by the Spurs on their own court, in addition to losses to the Hawks and Heat. Nine of 11 at home after the All-Star break should provide an important respite for a veteran–laden roster that continues to mostly evade some presumable wear and tear.
Jimmy Butler’s out indefinitely with a knee injury, the Bulls just went 2–4 on a highly-winnable swing out West, and they’re an extended dry spell away from looking outside-in at the postseason. With the Hornets, Hawks and Cavs next up, there’s a real chance they go limping into the All-Star break.
Since Derrick Favors returned to the starting lineup six games ago, his team owns the league’s third-best point differential (11.2) and most efficient defense (91.3 points allowed per 100 possessions). The Jazz faced just one plus-.500 opponent in that span, the stumbling Bulls, but will surely take the results as its playoff chase gains new life.
Since beating the Thunder on Jan. 10, the Blazers are 10–3 and getting solid production out of their supporting cast. If they want to get aggressive, they have plenty of cap space to absorb a bigger contract or two and double-down on an unexpected postseason return.
With the Jazz and Blazers rolling, the Rockets should be feeling serious heat. A blowout loss to the latter bodes ill, and Houston gets Utah once and Portland twice before the month is out, all on the road. A tough schedule the rest of the way suggests here’s not much time to waste if they want to make a push.
The Hornets executed well in a big win over Cleveland and are the East’s only non-playoff team trending the right way at the moment. Beginning Wednesday in Indiana (though buffered by All-Star), they’ll spend the rest of the month traveling.
It's not a bad time to be a Denver sports fan, with the Broncos getting the job done and the Nuggets on a nice little run. Breakout star Will Barton can do his city further justice in the dunk contest.
The Wizards blew a large part of their 25-point lead late in a win over the Sixers, then blew all of a 19-point cushion in a loss to the Hornets. They’re now 3–7 in the last 10, and nobody should be inclined to wait around for them much longer.
The Knicks were 20–20 with a technical playoff shot on Jan. 12 after winning five of six. Since then, they’ve lost 11 of 14. It's no wonder the team decided to cut ties with Derek Fisher.
Tendonitis in his surgically-repaired knee will keep Tyreke Evans out until after the break, and the Pelicans are on a four-game losing streak without him. It’s been a Murphy’s law kind of season for New Orleans, which is now seven games out of the eight seed. It may be time to pack up this wagon and gamble on keeping Ben Simmons in Louisiana come June.
The Kings have lost consecutive games by a score of 128–119 (an NBA first?) and George Karl’s days feel numbered. I caught their game in Brooklyn and had never seen a team look quite so purposeless—meanwhile, Boogie Cousins put up the most listless triple double I’d ever seen. They’ve moved past "entertainingly volatile" into the realm of “depressing to watch.”
Surprising wins over the Clippers (in the second of a back-to-back) and the Bulls (with a late 12–0 run) made for the Wolves’ first consecutive victories since mid-December. The largely-unheralded Gorgui Dieng has been a catalyst for the team’s baby steps, averaging a double double (18.2 points/10.5 boards) in his last six and looking like a possible long-term fit next to Karl-Anthony Towns.
The playoff dreams appear dead, but at least the pressure is off. Orlando plays 19 of its final 31 games against teams above .500, and any teachable takeaways are gravy for a team with a promising long-term outlook.
Entering the season, this looked like a stable young core, but as the losses pile up, the Bucks have become a popular team mentioned in trade deadline rumors. The reported availability of Michael Carter-Williams and even Greg Monroe suggests the front office may have come to terms with a likely return to the draft lottery.
Last week I very-accidentally predicted Kobe going off against the Timberwolves to prevent the Lakers’ longest-ever losing streak. Is a spectacular All-Star sendoff too much to ask for? Probably…
Defeating the Nets ensured that if the Sixers lose out, they’ll only be tied with the worst team of all time: the illustrious eight-win 2012 Charlotte Bobcats. More good news: they will likely win at least one more game.
There are reports indicating the Nets are interviewing new general managers. Alas, it is almost, but not quite yet the trade deadline, a time at which it is nice to have a general manager.
I have officially talked myself into Markieff Morris and P.J. Tucker as an extreme risk-reward proposition for some go-for-broke contender. Maybe one that regularly fields defensive liabilities, needs to trade punches with Golden State’s small lineups and even more badly needs to convince its superstar to stay home. Wonder who that description could fit.