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NBA Power Rankings: Thunder are rolling at the right time

We take a look at the state of the league with the NBA playoffs right around the corner. 

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Two and a half weeks left, and there’s a healthy amount of theatre still to witness. The East is getting tight both in the middle and at the bottom, with four teams neck-and-neck for home court and three fighting for the final seed, with the Pistons creating some space, the Bulls imploding and the Wizards fading. Out West, the final four playoff spots remain pretty fluid, with the Mavericks possibly the odd team out thanks to a precipitous slide. Of course, Kobe’s retiring, and yes, the Spurs are starting to rest easy, and no, we were not unaware that the Warriors are chasing Michael Jordan and the Bulls. You don’t say.

So what’s the scenario? In short, the stakes remain fairly high. It’s time for casual fans to start playing catch-up and regular viewers to enjoy the payoff. That is, before we do this all again for another two months, just with extra gravitas. And of course, you can’t spell gravitas without “Power Rankings.”

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1. Golden State Warriors

PREVIOUS: 1

RECORD: 66-7 (4–0)

An undefeated week bought the history-minded Warriors more room for error. Going 7–2 from here feels a whole lot simpler than 11–2 did a week ago. It’s a bit clichéd at this point, but tune in as best you can—we may not see this again for a long time.

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2. San Antonio Spurs

PREVIOUS: 2

RECORD: 61-12 (2–2)

Popovich troll mode, engage. Now that the Spurs have toppled the Warriors, they’re perfectly content to roll out the subs (Boban alert!) and rest the important legs for the postseason. Nobody will be surprised if Andre Miller and Kevin Martin start the final two regular-season meetings with Golden State, either.

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3. Oklahoma City Thunder

PREVIOUS: 5

RECORD: 51-22 (3–0)

Following a tough loss in San Antonio on March 12, the Thunder have now ripped off seven straight, averaging 117 points and a 16.9 point margin of victory. Talk about flushing it and moving on …

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4. Cleveland Cavaliers

PREVIOUS: 4

RECORD: 52-21 (3–1)

Quit tripping about super teams and LeBron’s body language during weird losses and instead focus on the annual arrival of his playoff-level alter ego. James is posting 28.4 points, 7.4 rebounds and 7.4 assists in his last five and finishing out the season on a personal high note. If tweeting while in his feelings is what it takes to pump himself up, so be it.

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5. Toronto Raptors

PREVIOUS: 3

RECORD: 49-23 (1–2)

The Raptors hit a small speed bump, clinching a playoff berth nonetheless, and are entrenched enough in the No. 2 seed to pace out their final 10 games a bit. DeMarre Carroll, where art thou?

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6. Atlanta Hawks

PREVIOUS: 6

RECORD: 43-30 (3–1)

Jeff Teague was almost left behind in Detroit, so this seems like a natural time to bring up how good Dennis Schröder has been. On a per-36 minute basis, the latter has outperformed the former in points (19.8 to 19), assists (8 to 7.5), rebounds (4.6 to 3.4) and shooting percentage (43.3% to 42.8%). Maybe the antsy bus driver was onto something.

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7. Los Angeles Clippers

PREVIOUS: 7

RECORD: 45-27 (2–1)

We finally have a Blake Griffin return date (April 3), although being able to play and being fit to play in terms of conditioning are two different criteria. For a team essentially locked into playing at home in the first round, there’s quite a bit to figure out as he meshes back into the rotation.

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8. Charlotte Hornets

PREVIOUS: 9

RECORD: 42-31 (3–1)

It doesn’t get more impressive, in a vacuum, than a 23–point comeback over a full-strength Spurs team (with a sprinkling of Linsanity, for good measure). The Hornets continue pushing for home court in the first round with three weeks to go, and have rounded into what should prove a very tough out.

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9. Miami Heat

PREVIOUS: 8

RECORD: 42-30 (2–1)

We collectively spent much of the season lambasting Miami’s lack of three-point shooting. Wanna know something weird? The Heat has been the NBA’s best team from deep in March, hitting at a 43% clip that was pretty unthinkable not long ago. Look at the addition of Joe Johnson (52% from three since signing on) and emergence of rookie Josh Richardson (48.8% on the season) … then wonder how sustainable it is.

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10. Boston Celtics

PREVIOUS: 10

RECORD: 43-30 (3–0)

As we should probably have expected, the Celtics pulled together for four wins after dropping four in a row and continue to fight for position. If you’re wondering why, look no further than Andrew Sharp’s dive into Boston’s unique group chemistry.

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11. Indiana Pacers

PREVIOUS: 11

RECORD: 39-34 (3–1)

It’s been easier to focus on the eight-seed race in the East, and so the fact that the Pacers have just a half-game on the Pistons has been relatively hushed. There’s a mini-race unfolding here to avoid the Cavs.

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12. Detroit Pistons

PREVIOUS: 15

RECORD: 39-35 (3–1)

A well-timed hot streak and Bulls collapse has the Pistons in the catbird’s seat for their first playoff berth in seven years. With five players averaging more than 15 points in March, Stan Van Gundy has helped strike a pretty decent offensive balance at the appropriate time.

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13. Portland Trail Blazers

PREVIOUS: 12

RECORD: 38-36 (2–1)

Damian Lillard’s in a bit of a shooting slump and his team’s results have varied accordingly. The good news? The Blazers are 23–12 at the Moda Center and get six of their eight remaining games at home. Dame’s been a 40% marksman from deep on his own floor, too.

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14. Memphis Grizzlies

PREVIOUS: 13

RECORD: 41-32 (1–2)

It’s a small sample size, but Lance Stephenson has found a home in Memphis, averaging 15.2 points on 50% shooting in 18 games with the Grizz, which would be a career-high if extrapolated over the course of the season. He’s shouldering a decent load for a limping team experienced enough to keep making it work for the last few weeks.