NBA Power Rankings: Strange times descend upon Warriors
Check the orbits of the planets. Double-check your horoscopes. Strange times have descended upon our beloved league. Suspiciously, things have gone bizarro all around the NBA in recent days, and here is a short list of the reasons why.
• Massive human and still-dominant basketball player LeBron James has gone a little emo on social media and also wants an on-court enforcer and probably a brand new puppy for Christmas.
• The Knicks made the admirable captain of their sinking ship, Carmelo Anthony, apologize for a tongue-in-cheek comment to a fan that involved their beyond-reproach owner.
• The Thunder, who field two of the five best players on the planet, have fourth-quarter jitters.
• The Clippers’ 59-year-old billionaire owner has dunked more times than their best player in 2016 and the team has a new mascot. It’s. … a condor.
• There’s a Michael Beasley renaissance beginning in Houston.
March is a month that traditionally belongs to college basketball, and this is a special brand of madness it seems only the NBA can foster. How much weirder can this get? Well, whatever happens, thankfully we have the Power Rankings to keep all of us grounded. Let us all align our chakras together. Inhale.
The Warriors lost to the Lakers, so maybe they aren’t the best team in the NBA, and maybe Steph Curry’s MVP campaign is over, and maybe they’ll never win another game. Maybe.
The Spurs continue to lead the league in point differential (+12.7) and net rating (+13.6). Yes, that includes the Warriors. And hey, they can technically still win out and top 72 victories. …
I have a sneaky feeling Cleveland’s smaller lineups won’t cut it defensively for long periods of time. Still, the Cavs have reoriented themselves a bit entering a West Coast swing, and that counts for something.
The Raptors keep cruising on offense but have regressed defensively, allowing nearly 113 points per 100 possessions in their last 10 games, the NBA’s fourth-worst rate. DeMarre Carroll can’t get back soon enough.
Things that have happened since Blake Griffin went out: the Clippers traded Lance, watched Steve Ballmer dunk off a trampoline, introduced a campy mascot, and went 23–8 with the league’s third-best net rating (8.9). Which is to say, a whole lot.
The fourth quarter has been a problem, but it’s not the only one for the Thunder: only the Sixers, Suns, Lakers and Kings have posted worse net ratings since the break. In that span, Oklahoma City is allowing nearly 111 points per 100 possessions and exactly 111 points per game. It’s a small, but eyebrow-raising nine-game sample.
Isaiah Thomas’s first All-Star appearance doesn’t appear to have gone to his head: the compact point guard has averaged 23.4 points and 6.8 assists and led the team in scoring six of nine times.
In the 10 games since Chris Bosh stepped away, the Heat have scored 12 more points per game and managed to improve on both sides of the ball, while playing at a faster pace. Just like that, the three seed is within reach.
Atlanta has cranked it up defensively and rediscovered its stride. The Hawks have won four of five and held opponents under 100 points in regulation in each game, the lone loss coming to the Warriors in overtime. Probably a good call to keep the band together.
The Grizzlies are 6–3 since the trade deadline shakeup, have lost two of those games to the lowly Suns, and a 37-year-old Birdman has moved into the starting lineup and started going by “Grizzilla.” Which of these things seemed least likely three weeks ago?
Charlotte’s become very effective at spacing the floor this season, hitting 10-plus threes in 36 games. Perhaps the most critical cog in that successful shift has been Marvin Williams, whose resurgent season has produced his highest-scoring season in seven years and led to career highs in rebounds and three-point percentage. He’ll be an extremely intriguing unrestricted free agent.
The Blazers are playing attractive, pass-friendly basketball but hit a major defensive rut during their first losing streak since January. Portland allowed 356 total points while stringing together three of their worst defensive showings this season. A Lillard 50-piece also went somewhat to waste.
It’s March, and everyone knows Paul George has been back, but it’s worth noting exactly to what degree. He’s got 20 games with 30 or more points this season—a feat he’d only accomplished 15 times in his entire career entering the year. His average of 23.7 points per game is a career-best—and would be the fifth-highest in franchise history.
The Mavericks are an impressive 7–4 in a league-high 13 overtime games, but also have a league-high 10 losses by three points or less. Does that make them a bad good team, or a good bad team? Well, only the Lakers, Nets and Sixers have beaten fewer plus-.500 opponents. …
It’s been months since we addressed this the first time, and Reggie Jackson continues to lead the league in average touch time (six seconds), and dribbles per touch (six, predictably). And that said, he’s handled a gigantic load and helped get the Pistons this far. He's still the second-best Reggie Jackson in the history of sports.
This season has brought a potpourri of inconsistencies, and so John Wall, Bradley Beal and Otto Porter are all quietly averaging career highs in scoring. But then again, it’s been 104 days and counting since the Wizards had more wins than losses.
The Bulls won just three of 11 games without Jimmy Butler. Derrick Rose missed four of those 11 and they won just one of those. What I’m really trying to say is, they’re both back, and Chicago really needs both of them. It’s now an uphill climb to reach the postseason.
James Harden has 20-plus points in 11 consecutive games and seven-plus assists in each of his last four. He’s averaging more than 35 points per game, but the Rockets are 4–7 in that span. Harden has 19 games to figure out how to get this team back into the postseason.
It’s getting easier to believe in Milwaukee’s foundation, but someone’s gotta distribute the ball and take some pressure off of Giannis. Re-addressing the point guard spot should be an off-season priority, and if done correctly, the Bucks may not be too far from a leap forward.
After climbing back to .500 on Feb. 23 against the Rockets, the Jazz dropped five in a row and now trails Houston by 1 1/2 games for the West’s final playoff spot. The urgency needs to redouble, as Utah gets Golden State (twice), San Antonio, OKC, Cleveland and the L.A. Clippers in its final 20 games.
Aaron Gordon pre All-Star break: 7.7 points, 6.1 rebounds. Aaron Gordon post All-Star break: 12.2 points, 8.7 rebounds. Maybe to improve in our respective walks of life, we should all try to jump over mascots standing on hoverboards and catch basketballs and dunk them through our legs (and get Tobias Harris traded).
D.J. Augustin looks like a nice, cheap find for Denver after he was marginalized in Oklahoma City. The veteran guard is averaging 12.9 points and shooting 53% from deep in eight games as a Nugget. The Tom Thibodeau home for under-appreciated point guards is taking donations.
The season looks increasingly lost, but DeMarcus Cousins continues to impressively chase history. He can become just the third player in 20 years to average 27 points and 11 rebounds, joining Shaq (who did it five times) and another King, Chris Webber. I’m low-key pulling for Sacramento just to see Boogie on a real team before he turns 30.
Sam Mitchell benched his starters for most of the second half of one game, and coaxed out a franchise record 68.4% shooting in the next, as the Wolves dropped 132 points on the Nets. There’s some room for gains to be made, but they’ll also have to navigate a pretty tough slate from here out.
Alvin Gentry apologized for stating what we’ve all pretty much known for a while: the Pelicans’ playoff hopes are over. Now, he may want to do the same for continuing to bring Jrue Holiday off the bench.
D’Angelo Russell is good! The Lakers upset the Warriors against historically long odds! And in one week, L.A. matched its February win total. Even better, their hold on the second-best lottery odds looks fairly safe.
Weirdest stat of the day: the Knicks are holding opponents to 48.1% shooting at the rim. They lead the league by a decent margin there, a credit to Robin Lopez and Kristaps Porzingis. They’re also limiting teams to 33.7% from beyond the arc. As for everywhere else on the floor, there's much to be desired.
The Suns are 3–2 since settling on starting both Tyson Chandler and Alex Len in a dubious, decidedly not-small-ball setup. Their three previous wins were spread out over more than a month, so they might as well keep tinkering.
The Nets have shot a league-best 44.9% from three in wins this season, as opposed to just 31% in losses. They have lost a lot more than they have won.
They’re back. … to being terrible. Philly’s dropped 12 losses in a row in their third double-digit losing streak of the season and longest since starting 0–18. It’s been eleven straight allowing triple digits. But hey, Brett Brown talked about Dario Saric this week.