As the NBA regular season nears its end, the Cavaliers are still dealing with drama and the Raptors are on the rise. 

By Jeremy Woo
March 21, 2016

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Look, it’s fine if you watched college basketball all week. It’s cool if you didn’t know the Spurs beat the Warriors in San Antonio, and that LaMarcus Aldridge reactivated his Xanga account, or that Matt Barnes might have tried to fight John Henson, or that Anthony Davis is officially out for the season. Dwight Howard’s hands are illegally sticky, James Harden is flopping, Carmelo’s getting existential and Dirk is still raining down 40-point games. And by the way, the Wizards and Jazz are still alive!

Three more weeks to go. Let’s do it.

• MORE NBA: Davis's nagging injury a concern | The Spurs slow Curry

1Golden State Warriors
last week: 1
record: 62–7 (3–1)

Draymond Green admitted the Warriors are gunning for 73 wins. It’s 1) shocking it took this long for anyone to be that blunt about it, and 2) even crazier we’re having this conversation right now. Losing to the Spurs stings a little bit, but there are 13 games to go. How do we feel about 11–2 now?

2San Antonio Spurs
last week: 2
record: 59–10 (3–0)

Beating the Warriors meant more than extending a ridiculous 44-game home win streak. The Spurs should take away postseason confidence despite their opponents being shorthanded—slow the game, make shots and they just might give us the seven-game series everyone wants. Let your imaginations run a bit.

3Toronto Raptors
last week: 4
record: 48–21 (4–1)

Two more wins mean the first 50-win season in franchise history, DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry are averaging 26.9 and 24.6 points in the last 12 games and the Raptors have put up at least 100 in each of those. Drake is releasing a new album. It’s been a solid year for Toronto.

4Cleveland Cavaliers
last week: 3
record: 49–20 (2–2)

The Cavs got it handed to them in Miami, highlighting that defensive consistency is still a work in progress. Since Tyronn Lue took over, they’re 19–9 but yielding 105.7 points per 100 possessions. They’re good, but are they clear-path-to-the-Finals good? We’ll find out.

5Oklahoma City Thunder
last week: 7
record: 46–22 (4–0)

Four straight wins—with an average victory margin of 18 points—have these guys pointed back in the right direction and now comfortably locked into the West’s three seed. The supporting cast continues to step things up, and keeping the whole team in rhythm should be the M.O. with three weeks to go.

6Atlanta Hawks
last week: 9
record: 41–29 (3–0)

Post All-Star break, the Hawks have posted the league’s second-best point differential (behind the Spurs, ahead of the Warriors) and are allowing four fewer points per game. Given that they’re shooting 30 threes per game, maintaining the defensive consistency to combat likely offensive variance will be a playoff key.

7Los Angeles Clippers
last week: 5
record: 43–26 (1–3)

Their seeding is pretty safe, but then again, the Clippers just lost to a Pelicans team that started Jrue Holiday, Toney Douglas, Dante Cunningham, Omer Asik and Luke Babbitt. Omer Asik! Luke Babbitt!

8Miami Heat
last week: 10
record: 40–29 (2–1)

Beating down the Cavaliers has intensified the Heat-as-formidable-playoff-team argument, and also the case for LeBron James and karma. With or without Chris Bosh, they’re in serious form with a few weeks to go. Who’s buying?

9Charlotte Hornets
last week: 8
record: 39–30 (2–2)

Enjoy this fun Hornets run while it lasts, because this team could look very different next season. Al Jefferson, Nicolas Batum, Marvin Williams, Jeremy Lamb and Courtney Lee are all set for paydays under the new salary cap. We’ll get a pretty solid gauge of how much Michael Jordan wants to field a winner come July 1.

10Boston Celtics
last week: 6
record: 40–30 (1–3)

Predictably, losing Jae Crowder to an ankle injury led to some immediate difficulties: the Celtics yielded 100 points in all four games without him and are now at the center of a four-team scramble for postseason seeding. Sure, true player value’s a fickle thing to gauge, but Boston clearly needs him to stay relevant. For now, they’re no longer in the driver’s seat.

11Indiana Pacers
last week: 13
record: 36–33 (1–2)

You’re probably already aware of Paul George’s terrific season, and after a 45-point showing going toe-to-toe with Kevin Durant, one would hope so. He alone makes the Pacers a tough playoff draw—and with the league’s easiest remaining strength of schedule, those odds look favorable.

12Portland Trail Blazers
last week: 11
record: 36–35 (1–3)

We all wrote off the Blazers. They lost four starters. They opened the season 28th in these rankings. Assuming their playoff spot holds—and with a home-heavy remaining slate, it should—Terry Stotts has my Coach of the Year vote.

13Memphis Grizzlies
last week: 12
record: 40–30 (1–3)

That impressive January bought the Grizzlies room for error, and given an unthinkable amount of injuries, they’re cashing all of that credit in this month. They’re still on track for a first-round series (bloodbath?) with the Clippers. Zach Randolph just had a triple double against the Clippers as a matter of fact. Has it really been two years since they met in the playoffs?

14Chicago Bulls
last week: 17
record: 35–33 (3–1)

The Bulls have yet to play a game with all of their top 12 guys available and have used 19 different starting lineups this season. Cristiano Felicio is starting at center during a playoff chase. Is this impressive, or is this a total disaster?

15Detroit Pistons
last week: 14
record: 36–34 (2–2)

The Pistons remain neck and neck with the Bulls and begin a critical six-game homestand as part of a highly challenging final stretch. It’ll be a seventh straight year with no playoffs if they don’t patch up the leaky defense (28th worst in their past six games).

16Houston Rockets
last week: 15
record: 35–35 (2–2)

Thanks, Dwight Howard, for teaching the kids that stickum is illegal in the NBA. And what stickum is, period. Can you even buy it in stores? I digress.

17Dallas Mavericks
last week: 16
record: 35–35 (2–2)

In a key overtime win against the Blazers, Dirk Nowitzki joined Michael Jordan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Karl Malone as the only players 37 or older to ever score 40 points in a game. It’s getting tight, and the Mavs are clinging to the eight seed. Never leave us, Dirk.

18Washington Wizards
last week: 21
record: 34–35 (4–0)

Washington single-handedly resurrected its playoff hopes, following up five straight losses with four wins—including Chicago and Detroit—and four John Wall double doubles. Two of those were triple doubles. Their chances are dwindling, but if they do get in, you know who did the heavy lifting.

19Utah Jazz
last week: 19
record: 34–36 (3–1)

Making up for lost time, the Jazz impressively pulled together five wins in six games and continue to hang around in eight-seed land. And making his case as more than a stop-gap, Shelvin Mack has averaged 16.8 points, 8.7 assists and 5.3 rebounds during that span. Behold, the power of a consistent lead ballhandler.

20Milwaukee Bucks
last week: 18
record: 30–40 (1–2)

The growing pains persist, but the Bucks are 10th in net rating, 12th in point differential and 11th in points allowed since the break, numbers more in line with their preseason expectations.

21Orlando Magic
last week: 22
record:  29–40 (1–3)

Victor Oladipo’s career-high 45 points against Cleveland denoted a superb month-in-progress from the 23-year-old guard. He’s finishing up the season on a high note, averaging 21.9 points while shooting 54.7% from the field and 41.9% from three. If he becomes a reliable floor-spacer, it’s a significant development for his team.

22Denver Nuggets
last week: 20
record: 29–41 (1–3)

We’ve talked about Emmanuel Mudiay improving and D.J. Augustin’s revival, and now Gary Harris is getting in on the backcourt action. The second-year guard is averaging 16.3 points on 49.8% shooting in his last 13 games and emerging as a two-way compliment. Thoughts of the future Nuggets make me irrationally excited.

23Sacramento Kings
last week: 26
record: 27–42 (2–2)

Is DeMarcus Cousins getting in his own way? Are the Kings the ones getting in his way? Can any defenders get in his way? Is there any way this marriage ends well? Call it a hunch: we’re in for a long summer of questions.

24Minnesota Timberwolves
last week: 24
record: 22–47 (1–2)

I sometimes sleep on Zach LaVine’s actual numbers. Here’s his March: 19.6 points per game, 50.7% from the field, 47.9% from the 3-point line. Somebody tell him it’s not All-Star weekend anymore.

25New York Knicks
last week: 23
record: 28–43 (0–3)

The Kristaps Porzingis downturn has been a thing (42.6% shooting and 7.7 rebounds per game pre-All Star, 37.6% and 5.4 post). He’s even been hard to find on Vine lately. Do you blame the rookie wall or Kurt Rambis? Eh…probably Kurt Rambis.

26New Orleans Pelicans
last week: 25
record: 26–43 (2–2)

Their season has become team mismanagement for dummies. Two of their five best players were already injured, the season was going nowhere, so why was Anthony Davis playing through a torn labrum in the first place? They could have sat him out for the season weeks earlier and tanked even harder. What a step backward it’s been.

27Phoenix Suns
last week: 28
record: 19–50 (2–1)

The Suns have won two of Brandon Knight’s five games back, and they won just four of 21 without him, so there’s that. The bigger question: can they play Knight, Devin Booker and Eric Bledsoe together? Tune back in in October…

28Brooklyn Nets
last week: 29
record: 19–51 (1–2)

The Nets may have struck some degree of 10-day contract gold with Sean Kilpatrick, who played his way into a longer deal (13.6 points per game, 50% shooting since joining the team) and is the right sort of guy for them to roll the dice on. The issue is, they have effectively a couple more years to legitimately keep rolling them.

29Los Angeles Lakers
last week: 27
record: 14–55 (0–2)

Tank update! The Lakers are comfortably in the bottom three and will get to keep their pick. Brandon Ingram might actually be a better fit for them than Ben Simmons, who plays the same position as Julius Randle and is best with the ball in his hands, like D’Angelo Russell and Jordan Clarkson. Shhh.

30Philadelphia 76ers
last week: 30
record: 9–61 (0–4)

Not only are they still not guaranteed to win the lottery, the conversation surrounding this year’s No. 1 pick has never been hotter. This creates another potential conundrum for this front office, and picking second would almost be easier. And then again, you can still kinda see them passing on Simmons and Ingram to take another, even less NBA-ready center. Not saying it will happen, but…

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