NBA Power Rankings: Warriors’ heroics too impressive to miss
Wake up. This is real. This is happening. Stephen Curry effectively dumped a hypothermic growler of icy water on anyone still sleeping with his handiwork in Oklahoma City. If you’re just tuning in, there are 24 games remaining, the Warriors are 53–5, and after all that’s gone down (remember the 24-game winning streak?), they’re on pace to usurp the 95–96 Bulls’ 72–10 crown and subsequently enter the conversation for best team ever.
Being real, it’s very easy to get ahead of ourselves here, but then again: if you’ve waited this long to buy in or are just a cranky, retired NBA player, it’s worth indulging in the Warriors while they’re still hot, just in case. Here’s what it’s going to take to chart some history.
The simple math? Golden State has to go 20–4 to beat the record, which means they can lose 80% as many times as they lost in the first 58 games. That… seems favorable. The Warriors just finished a difficult run of six away games in nine days and came out 5–1. They play 17 more games at Oracle Arena, where they are 24–0. Only two multi-game road swings remain. They’ll play five more sets of back-to-backs, of which they have lost in the second leg just once all year.
As for the opposition, the Warriors have four more games against teams that have already beaten them (a pair each against the Blazers and Mavericks). They’ll host the Thunder (this week!) and the Clippers one more time, and also the Celtics, who gave them a run for their money in December. Most notably, they have three left against the Spurs, a team they drubbed convincingly the first time, but which still holds the league’s best point differential, and also remains undefeated at home. The final four games of the season include San Antonio and Memphis twice, finishing up at home against the Grizzlies—who have given them plenty of trouble in the past. Every game already has some gravitas.
So get excited for this, because who knows when we’ll ever see it again. And get excited for this week’s Power Rankings, featuring the Warriors… and in some order, 29 teams that have lost to them.
By now, you’ve probably caught up on the myriad records Steph Curry just set. Here’s another cool Warriors fact: Draymond Green had only two points, but became the fifth modern-era player to record exactly 14 rebounds and 14 assists in a game in that thriller against the Thunder. This elite club includes Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Paul Pierce and Jason Kidd (who did it four times).
Yes, the Spurs like to rest their guys when possible, and yes, that frustrates some purists. But Gregg Popovich, master of pacing, has now led them to an astounding 17 consecutive wins in second games of back-to-backs.
It’s not just DeMar DeRozan making a living at the basket: the Raptors lead the league in average points per game off drives by a wide margin, per NBA.com tracking data, and now hold the league’s fifth-most efficient attack, putting them in elite company. They’re 19–6 since the New Year began, which rates as tops in the East.
The Thunder have struggled since the All-Star break and caught one hefty Steph Curry death blow, but actually look to have figured some things out in terms of lineups and rotations. Credit Billy Donovan for starting to stagger minutes for Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Still, the real test remains managing the last five minutes of tight games, in which they remain prone to pounding away clock and letting the defense dictate their shots.
I actually commend J.R. Smith for having the courage to call out the team after being blown out, sans LeBron, by the Wizards. “If we're serious about who we're supposed to be, we can't do this,” Smith said. And there’s some truth to it. The Cavs remain in fine shape with a month and a half to go, but their hold on the East feels far from safe.
How good has J.J. Redick been all year? He’s got the league’s highest individual offensive rating (112.4) among players who aren’t Warriors or named Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook. He has the highest individual net rating of all non-Warriors and non-Spurs. He has the best effective field goal and true shooting percentages among guards not named Steph Curry (min. 10 games, 20 mpg).
Jared Sullinger’s not the typical guy we focus on when we talk about Boston’s success, but he’s quietly been the anchor on the interior. He leads the team in rebounding, has grabbed double-digit boards in six of the last seven games, and sits top-10 in the league in defensive rebounding percentage.
The Blazers are red hot, and there’s that nasty backcourt, but team brass deserves some credit for putting the right parts in place around them. Portland’s role guys are sharing the ball, bringing effort defensively and thriving off of Lillard and McCollum. This playoff run belongs to the whole roster.
The new-look Grizzlies are 4–2 since losing Marc Gasol for the season. The key to postseason spoiler status? Mike Conley, who’s averaging 18.8 points and 6.5 assists to elevate his teammates’ play over that span. The future free agent leads the league with an assist-to-turnover ratio just over 4:1.
The Heat remain strong defensively, and Rob Mahoney recently highlighted the unique costs and benefits of Hassan Whiteside, who shines around the basket but gets picked apart defensively on screen-and-rolls. The longer Chris Bosh’s health remains uncertain, the more critical Whiteside’s minutes will be to Miami’s playoff ceiling.
Though popular opinion on the Hawks has been somewhat lukewarm, they finished February playing far better than their results showed. Atlanta posted the league’s top defensive rating (95.7 points allowed per 100 possessions) and fourth-best net rating (7.3) on the month and justified hanging onto Al Horford and Jeff Teague.
Paul George thinks the Pacers have issues against teams that spread it out and shoot well. There may be some truth to that: when Indiana wins, they hold opponents to 29.% on threes, and in losses, give up 38% from downtown. Some of that is normal performance variance, but the bigger problem might be on Indiana: in the last four games, the team itself shot just under 24% on deep balls.
There’s reason to be concerned here: the Mavericks are a 9–19 vs teams with plus .500 records and haven’t beaten one in regulation since Jan. 15 in Chicago. They’ve played with fire a bit, but their experience should get them to the finish line. Shameless SI plug, if you haven’t read Chris Ballard on Dirk yet—do that now.
The tenor of the Pistons’ season shifted quickly with four wins—including victories over the Cavs and Raptors—that nearly erased five straight losses. It doesn’t hurt that new core piece Tobias Harris has fit in quickly, averaging 17 points since joining Detroit. All four of those victories came after Harris was inserted into the starting lineup.
Over their last 11 games, the Hornets have allowed the fewest points per game in the NBA (a Spursian 95.8) and turned their season all the way around. The success appears for real, particularly with 10 of the next 12 at home, where Charlotte has the East’s third-best mark at 19–9 and has held opponents to four fewer points per game.
The Wizards are 5–2 since the break, and due to injuries, avoided facing Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, Jimmy Butler and Derrick Rose and LeBron James all in one eight-day span. That was precluded by a back-to-back-to-back and months of existential frustration. They’re now just two games out of eighth. We’ll see where karma takes them next.
The most unusual development of a frustrating season: Doug McDermott dunks now, he dunks on and around people, and that’s super weird. Moreover, he’s looking like a passable offensive player, averaging 14.4 points and shooting 51% from the floor in February—more than doubling his January output with Jimmy Butler, and now Derrick Rose, nursing injuries.
When the Jazz are playing well they’re a fun eye-test team and intriguing postseason proposition, and they hold the West’s sixth-best point differential by a decent margin. But the reality is they’ve struggled some since the All-Star break and a difficult, travel-filled run of nine games in 15 days lies ahead.
Put me down for the “no longer ever banking on anything from the Rockets” list. They can totally still make the playoffs, they can definitely still collapse from the inside out, and I’m really not that interested anymore.
The Bucks are a curiosity again, with Jabari Parker and now Giannis Antetokounmpo starting to find consistency. The Greek Freak recently ripped off three consecutive double doubles, followed by a 27–12–10 triple double, possibly followed by a smoothie. Well, he’s 21 now… so possibly not a smoothie.
One thing the hard-luck Pelicans have done well, especially of late? Take care of the basketball. They hold the league’s second-best turnover ratio (13.2 per 100 possessions), which is almost alarming for a team whose performance has been otherwise so consistently inconsistent—they’ve been at least 10 games below the .500 mark since opening 1–11.
Very important, conclusive fact: the Magic are 22–12 when leading or tied after one quarter, and 4–20 when trailing. Somebody call up Scott Skiles. I’ve found the secret to this team’s issues.
Mudiay update: the big playmaker cut his mistakes by a full turnover in February, dropping that number for the third month in a row to an impressive 2.3. He also matched his November assist output with 5.9. The growth is visible. Now, about those shooting splits…
Although he’s visibly slipped (or doesn’t much care) on the defensive end, free-agent-to-be Rajon Rondo is averaging exactly 12 assists per game, which would be a career high. If it holds, he’ll become the first player to do so since John Stockton in 1994–95, and the Kings will still be mediocre.
We just concluded the first-ever month in which Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns each averaged over 20 points. Get used to that. If the Wolves are lucky, it’ll eventually translate to more than… 5–6.
Out goes Joe Johnson and in comes Sean Kilpatrick, who deserves a hard look after averaging 26.4 points per game in the D-League with Delaware. You may remember him from his days at Cincinnati, and now he’s probably the best guard in New York City signed to a 10-day contract, if you catch my drift.
There’s no more glossing this over: since Jan. 22, the Knicks have fired one coach, allowed triple-digit points 10 times and are 3–14. Perhaps this ever-so-loosely reminds Phil Jackson of… last season.
The Lakers put together their best statistical month of the season, improving their shooting and upping scoring by a remarkable 12.2 points per game from January. On the other hand, they’ve allowed 108 or more points in six straight and dropped eight in a row. Baby steps.
Earl Watson’s had a rough go of it to say the least—it took 10 tries for the Suns to get the new coach his first win. One bright spot? Veteran Mirza Teletovic, leading the team with 16.7 points and 41% shooting from three in those games. On the other hand… he’s an expiring free agent they could have dealt.
The Sixers have regressed from their January strides and ran the NBA’s least-efficient offense through the first 28 days of February. Yes, 2016 is a Leap Year, but not for Philly. Yeah, that joke was lazy.