NBA Power Rankings: One pressing question for each team
Well, here’s where it starts to get fun. We now have 30-ish games left, one trade deadline and plenty to settle over the next two months. Not a ton has publicly changed since last week, but after the closed-door meetings that took place during the All-Star Weekend in Toronto, things could look much different in this space seven days from now.
Let’s get right to it: here’s one major question for each team the rest of the way.
Can they get to 73 wins? This one’s obvious, but the elusive record remains as the only element of their season that doesn’t feel like a foregone conclusion at the moment… I hesitate to say it, but that includes the postseason. This is how far we (and the Warriors) have come.
Can they stay intact? An undefeated record at home would be cool, but the expectation is a deep playoff run. Health questions can feel universally applicable, but this is a team that especially needs all of its functional cogs to have a chance at the Finals (read: getting past both Golden State and OKC, in all likelihood). Fortunately, Duncan and Ginobili have a couple months to get right.
Is there enough to get over the hump? Westbrook and Durant will do most of the work, but the Thunder’s role players have yet to prove they’re built for May and June. Cam Payne, Anthony Morrow and Dion Waiters are looking at important playoff minutes. Andre Roberson is a non-shooter. When push comes to shove, these guys will be tasked with making pivotal plays. Will they be up to task?
What’s Love got to do? We're not worried about LeBron, who should be expected to step up down the stretch, and less concerned with Kyrie, who at least benefits from a defined scoring role. Tyronn Lue’s found better ways to slot Love in offensively, but they likely won’t be able to hide him on the other end when it counts… not without the right adjustments.
First round, first? It increasingly feels like the time to go all-in on the Raptors, who are closing on their third consecutive Atlantic Division title. But two first-round exits with this core place the emphasis on simply winning a series before thinking bigger. That sort of focus actually may play to their benefit.
To cut a deal? This isn’t news—they’re built to facilitate the right trade and sit pretty as far as assets go. But with the on-court product peaking at the moment, the best course of action is a bit foggier.
Whither Blake Griffin? First of all, I’d be shocked if he gets dealt this week. But more importantly, L.A. has no time to waste and needs Blake to come back wired to win right away. It’s a flawed but still potent team.
Are they really blowing it up? We’ll have an answer soon, but even if they don’t deal, Al Horford exploring free agency looks likely at this point. It’s a tough spot.
Can they strike a balance? The flip-flopping between big and small lineups has sort of defined their season. Though things have been better of late, ultimately the Pacers need to decide who they are.
Who’s going to shoot it? The Heat’s woes from distance are well-chronicled but still pressing as we get into the back end of the season. There doesn’t appear to be an in-house solution.
Is this the end of an era? Marc Gasol’s foot raised bigger questions about the long-term fate of a tough-as-nails group we’ve come to appreciate over the years. Whatever it takes to keep Mike Conley, that’s the agenda.
Who are the April difference-makers? The answer probably has to be Wes Matthews and Chandler Parsons. Dallas gambled on both after injuries—and they still may not feel 100% yet—but we essentially know what we’re getting from every other vet on this roster.
What’s their ceiling? The Jazz have mostly looked the part lately, and I like their odds of finishing over .500. Moving past the first round still feels a bit out West, but if they keep defending the way the have, who knows?
Playoffs? This ensemble cast has figured things out in recent weeks, and they’ll benefit from a mostly soft set of opponents in the next month and a half. Smiling Jordan showed up at All-Star Weekend, and we could be seeing him again very soon.
How far can Damian Lillard take them? Sans LaMarcus Aldridge, it was always going to be a prove-it year for Dame. Driving these guys back to the postseason against the odds would be a major notch in his belt.
Can this be fixed short-term? I hesitate to place too much blame on Fred Hoiberg. They’re majorly shorthanded because of a long list of injuries, but a lot of this falls on the front office and the sky-high expectations.
Have they hit a wall? It's not news, but a heavy workload has been placed on the starters all year. It’s the first playoff race for this core as constituted, and they’ve already slipped back to .500.
Are they tough enough to stop the bleeding? To me, it’s been a question of heart all year for the Rockets, who cannot use talent as an excuse. It’s an opportunity for James Harden to prove something as a leader, if he wants it.
Is there another run in them? John Wall sounded focused at All-Star Weekend, there are 30 games left, and the conference has grown more muddled. The expectation was postseason, and to be fair, the logistics of the matter grew complicated. Randy Wittman could be out either way.
Will things begin to click for Emmanuel Mudiay? I’m still high on the big, talented point guard. And don’t get me wrong: he’s 19 and doesn’t have to be perfect. That said, it’s worth keeping a close eye on his adjustments. Ups and downs aside, he still holds the key to Denver’s future.
Will they regain their swagger? Orlando’s precipitous fall put a bit of a damper on their season, but the Magic are still within striking distance of the playoffs. A well-timed hot streak from an up-and-coming group can get these guys right back in it.
Are they bottoming out? The Pelicans have been wracked with injuries in Alvin Gentry’s first year and remain six and a half games out of last year’s eight seed. It may behoove them to make a couple deals and build through the draft.
What’s really here? Karl-Anthony Towns, for one. Andrew Wiggins’s upside remains through the roof, but he’s still pretty raw. Zach LaVine’s an All-Star Weekend legend, but probably not a point guard. Year No. 3 of this rebuild approaches, and it could be telltale for the latter duo.
What’s the braintrust thinking? Derek Fisher’s firing was the last straw before throwing the Knicks directly back into limbo. From Melo and his no-trade clause to the likely temporary Kurt Rambis era and, most importantly, no matter who the next coach will be, things will likely look different before long. Phil Jackson (and hopefully not James Dolan) have to get it right this time.
What’s their timeframe? Recent trade rumors present a potentially altered short-term outlook for Milwaukee’s young core. Khris Middleton, Giannis and a healthy Jabari Parker look like keepers. Play their cards right and the Bucks could be back in the mix before too long.
Uh, what now? The Kings are locked in a vicious cycle of leaked coach firings, non-coach firings, actual coach firings and games in which they allow 120 points. Your guess is as good as mine from here.
Who’s running the show? They still don’t have a general manager, they’ve got an interim coach and Mikhail Prokhorov has been in no hurry. And whatever the new leadership structure looks like, they’re walking into essentially a worst-case outlook. Start pounding that rock.
What does life after Kobe really look like? Are the Lakers committed to these young guys? Are they angling for big fish this summer? Is Byron Scott hanging on past April? Does anyone really know? Any trades this week could provide hints.
Can we trust the process? The Jerry Colangelo-Ish Smith additions have improved the team to where we’re very sure the guys are trying, while keeping the Sixers’ draft odds very favorable. From here on out, better bank on serious player development and a top-two pick.
When does the rebuild truly begin? It’s been a rough go for these guys with injuries, chemistry and everything in between. They’ve got movable, veteran assets with value and a handful of promising, younger players. We’ll see if the Suns cash out this week.