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NBA Power Rankings: The battle to avoid Golden State starts now

With the NBA playoffs just around the corner, the battle to avoid Golden State starts now. 

So there’s one month left on the schedule. This means that after all the season-long calls for X team to play with urgency, or Y team to dig deep and save their season, all these cliché needs are now actual priorities. It’s high time for teams to pull it together, with serious races for position taking place out East, the Thunder and Clippers jockeying to not face the Warriors in the second round, and mediocre eight-seed battles going down in both conferences.

Will the beat-up Bulls catch the young Pistons, who may not quite realize how well they’ve been playing? Can the Jazz pull it together and send an iffy Rockets team or the stumbling Mavericks home We’ve got four more weeks to find out.

Take a break from your brackets and check out this week’s Power Rankings.

• MORE NBA: Mock draft: Pre-tourney | 100 greatest moments in sports

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1. Golden State Warriors

PREVIOUS: 1

RECORD: 59-6 (4–0)

Losing Andre Iguodala for two weeks obviously hurts the 72–win cause, but may be a prudent move thinking ahead to what should be another extended playoff run. In other news, the Warriors clinched the Pacific Division and I don’t think anyone noticed.

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2. San Antonio Spurs

PREVIOUS: 2

RECORD: 56-10 (3–1)

LaMarcus Aldridge has gotten fully comfortable at the right time, scoring 20-plus in seven straight and averaging 25 and nine rebounds in that span. The talk surrounding this team has paled somewhat since their 30-point drubbing at Golden State, but the Spurs have, unsurprisingly, been making strides of their own.

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3. Cleveland Cavaliers

PREVIOUS: 3

RECORD: 47-18 (3–1)

When can we stop worrying about the Cavs? When they win six of seven? When they’re scoring 120 points on a semi-regular basis? When J.R. Smith shoots 5-of-8 from three on a Sunday afternoon in L.A.? When Matthew Dellavedova is allowed to be part of team Instagram photos? Three of those four things have happened this month. Cleveland’s cruising again.

4. Toronto Raptors

PREVIOUS: 4

RECORD: 44-20 (3–0)

The Raptors are 34–1 when shooting at a better or equal clip to their opponents, a number that makes sense in a vacuum (shoot better, you should win), but astonishes in terms of raw consistency. That said, some correction in the form of weird-luck games could eventually be in order.

5. Los Angeles Clippers

PREVIOUS: 5

RECORD: 42-23 (2–2)

Fun fact: the Clippers can become the first team to ever deploy the league leaders in field goal, free throw and three point percentage on one roster. DeAndre Jordan (69.3%), Jamal Crawford (91.2%) and J.J. Redick (48%) lead all qualifiers in their respective categories.

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6. Boston Celtics

PREVIOUS: 7

RECORD: 39-27 (1–1)

The Celtics had their 14-game home win streak snapped at the hands of the Rockets, and with Jae Crowder out a couple weeks and a trio of teams hot on their heels, these guys have suddenly hit an important patch of season. Crowder may very well be this team’s most valuable player, and now we’ll get a feel for just how key his two-way labor has been all year.

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7. Oklahoma City Thunder

PREVIOUS: 6

RECORD: 44-22 (1–2)

The Thunder has now lost (blown?) 12 games this season in which it opened the fourth quarter with a lead. This is an issue, it’s probably mental, and Oklahoma City is running out of excuses.

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8. Charlotte Hornets

PREVIOUS: 12

RECORD: 37-28 (4–0)

Whoa! Since Jan. 31, the Hornets have been the best non-Warriors, non-Spurs team in the league, with a 15–3 record and current seven-game streak catapulting them into the thick of the East race. It helps that Kemba Walker’s putting up superstar-type numbers in March (28.6 points, 6.9 assists, five rebounds), a month that’s been extremely kind to him dating back to his UConn days.

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9. Atlanta Hawks

PREVIOUS: 9

RECORD: 38-29 (3–1)

Marked defensive improvement continues to shift the outlook for the Hawks, who hold the league’s best defensive rating since the All-Star break (93 points allowed per 100 possessions) and have now won seven of nine games. If that holds, a return to the Eastern Conference Finals isn’t so far-fetched.

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10. Miami Heat

PREVIOUS: 8

RECORD: 38-28 (1–2)

The Heat figuring some things out has been one of the better post-break storylines, and Chris Bosh plans to be back this season, so there’s reason for optimism. In the short-term, a Dwyane Wade thigh bruise could determine home court in the first round.

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11. Portland Trail Blazers

PREVIOUS: 11

RECORD: 35-32 (2–1)

Not to over-toot the Damian Lillard horn, but that guy is averaging 31.3 points in his last 15 games. He’s made more threes through his first four NBA seasons than any player in history, and joins LeBron James and Oscar Robertson as the third player ever with 1,500 points and 400 assists in each of his first four years. It’s probably not worth asking Oscar Robertson what he thinks about that.

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12. Memphis Grizzlies

PREVIOUS: 10

RECORD: 39-27 (2–2)

In his first career NBA game, on a 10-day contract with the Grizzlies, rookie Briante Weber started at point guard and logged 40 minutes in an overtime win. If that doesn’t tell you everything you need to know about how injured Memphis is, Lance Stephenson and Matt Barnes combined for 59 points on 39 shots in that one.

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13. Indiana Pacers

PREVIOUS: 13

RECORD: 35-31 (2–1)

Is it fair now to say the Pacers’ up-tempo philosophical shift has worked? Through 66 games, this Indiana squad has significantly outperformed last year’s iteration in points per game, offensive rating, defensive rating, fast-break points, forced turnovers and points off them.