The NBA certainly did not get better with the news of Kevin Durant’s knee injury, but it did get more interesting. The Warriors are certainly vulnerable, to say the least, and have fallen from the top spot in these rankings, at least for now. Durant’s expected back for the playoffs, but his MCL sprain leaves at least a sliver of doubt as to his effectiveness if and when he returns, creating a little bit of hope for everyone else.
We won’t overblow this storyline, but it certainly means other teams can dream. The chase continues.
Who’s unseated Golden State on top this week? Read on to find out. Here are this week’s Power Rankings.
(All stats and records through Mar. 5.)
30. Brooklyn Nets (10–51)
Last Week: 30
Net Rating: -8.4
The Nets ended that nasty 16-game losing streak in Sacramento and Jeremy Lin is back healthy and producing. A positive week for Brooklyn, although it produces no shift in these rankings.
29. Los Angeles Lakers (19–44)
Last Week: 29
Net Rating: -7.3
The closest thing the NBA has to Game of Thrones has unfolded before our eyes, with Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka doing their best Varys and Littlefinger impressions as Jeannie Buss swiftly (and intelligently, we hope) flipped the team’s braintrust on its head. Reports leaked out that the other Buss brothers (how many are there???) tried to stage a coup of sorts to retake the team board and kick their sister off the throne. So far that hasn’t happened (SI’s legal Batman Michael McCann has the full breakdown here).
This is another weird bump in the road in a Lakers season that’s mostly been a wash. The team isn’t winning much, but it seems as if public opinion has soured on a very young team pretty quickly. It’s fair to critique the old regime for handing out two of the off-season’s biggest albatross contracts to Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov—and I think the D’Angelo Russell hype train has slowed to a reasonable place—but there’s still tons of hope for Brandon Ingram and Julius Randle has looked like a real player most of this season.
It’s pretty unclear what critics’ expectations were here, with a first-year coach and a solid, but extremely young bunch of talent. Just because an extremely gifted 19-year-old toothpick takes time to adjust to the league doesn’t mean he’s done for, and doesn’t mean this is all a wash. If anything, the Lakers’ general patience with Ingram has been sensible. He entered the league on a longer curve than most, and he’s going to get much, much better. As long as Ingram takes steps forward next season and beyond, don’t throw a fit. Unless, of course, the Lakers manage to win a few too many games and lose their top-three pick in the lottery to the Sixers. Then throw a fit.
28. Philadelphia 76ers (23–39)
Last Week: 26
Net Rating: -6.2
Yes, it sucks that Joel Embiid is out. In the meantime, pay a little attention to February Rookie of the Month Dario Saric, who’s leading the team in scoring with 19.3 points over the last 10 games (to go with 9.1 rebounds and 3.8 assists). How he’ll eventually fit with Ben Simmons (another playmaking forward with long-distance shooting inconsistencies) is now another key organizational question.
27. Orlando Magic (23–40)
Last Week: 27
Net Rating: -6.2
The Magic are taking their lumps, but they’ve actually managed some better play post All-Star. It’s not really about how many games they win from here, and more about how to asses their key core components. Moving Aaron Gordon to power forward is a start.
26. Phoenix Suns (21–42)
Last Week: 28
Net Rating: -4.6
I’ve waited so long to say it. His buzzer-beater against the Celtics made it possible. Welcome to the NBA, Tyler Ulis!!!
25. Sacramento Kings (25–37)
Last Week: 25
Net Rating: (-3.8)
Blowing a late lead to lose in overtime to the Jazz on a Rudy Gobert tip-in off a George Hill airball (that was initially ruled no basket) was…quite a Kings way to lose.
24. New Orleans Pelicans (25–38)
Last Week: 24
Net Rating: -2.6
The Pelicans finally won their first game with DeMarcus Cousins, but they remain a work in progress. Now there’s a scenario in my mind where the Pelicans tank hard, sneak into the top three and wind up with Markelle Fultz or Lonzo Ball throwing lobs to Boogie and Brow. That would be fine with me.
23. New York Knicks (25–38)
Last Week: 22
Net Rating: -3.5
The Knicks opted to present basketball “in its purest form” against the Warriors on Sunday, grabbing headlines by putting all in-game entertainment on hold until the second half. Making jokes about this is basically shooting fish in a barrel, so just gonna let you fill in the mental blank here.
22. Charlotte Hornets (27–35)
Last Week: 23
Net Rating: +0.5
Charlotte is an abysmal 4–14 dating back to Jan. 23, but it’s worth noting that seven of those losses have come in two-possession games or less. The Hornets are 0–5 in overtime this season and that close-game luck has been hard to come by. Nevertheless, they’ve faded fast from the playoff picture.
21. Minnesota Timberwolves (25–37)
Last Week: 21
Net Rating: 0.0
Just when we thought this season couldn’t get any stranger, we get Karl-Anthony Towns’s dad potentially suing the Timberwolves after their mascot inadvertently injured him during a game.
20. Portland Trailblazers (26–35)
Last Week: 19
Net Rating: -2.1
A happy Jusuf Nurkic is making the Mason Plumlee deal look mighty nice for the Blazers. Isn’t it nice when players find good team fits?
19. Milwaukee Bucks (28–33)
Last Week: 20
Net Rating: +0.6
The Bucks are starting to trend upwards, knocking off the Clippers and Raptors with a healthy-ish Khris Middleton and surprise contributions from…Spencer Hawes. God, I miss Jabari.
18. Dallas Mavericks (26–36)
Last Week: 19
Net Rating: -1.3
Dirk is 38 points from 30,000 on his career, and more importantly, says he’ll be back next year. Smile.
17. Denver Nuggets (28–34)
Last Week: 17
Net Rating: -1.7
Denver’s hold on the No. 8 seed is looking a little tenuous these days, but there’s no clear adversary really coming for it, either. The Nuggets are up a game and a half on the Blazers, and there are five teams within 3.5 games of them. This March scramble between six streaky contenders will be interesting…but maybe not that interesting.
16. Chicago Bulls (31–31)
Last Week: 14
Net Rating: -1.0
Jimmy Butler has been off since the All-Star break, taking just seven shots in a weekend loss to the Clippers and struggling to create. The Bulls have managed to win five of seven, but if they have any hope of pulling it together in the playoffs, it’ll fall on him. If he’s not fully healthy, Chicago may benefit from resting him…but then again, the Bulls are in no position to do that. So it goes.
15. Detroit Pistons (30–32)
Last Week: 16
Net Rating: -1.0
Quietly enough, the Pistons have won seven of 11 games and held off the Heat’s mad push for their playoff spot. How? The defense has come together, third-best in the league over that patch. Marcus Morris and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope have stepped up as scorers. Let's see how this holds up from here.
14. L.A. Clippers (37–25)
Last week: 12
Net Rating: +3.1
Fans are antsy, the Clippers have been flat, and it was Jamal Crawford to the rescue to bail L.A. out against the Bulls this weekend. The ageless bench specialist dropped 24 of 25 in the second half against his old team and remains one of the more uniquely talented guys in the league.
13. Atlanta Hawks (34–28)
Last week: 13
Net Rating: -0.7
If it feels like the wheels are mildly falling off after Mike Budenholzer was suspended for bumping a ref and the Hawks dropped back–to–back close games, the answer is “not really.” Atlanta has basically been a .500 team for the last month, after a magnificent January bailed them out from a poor start to the season, so inconsistencies are unsurprising. You can call this season a relativel successful rebound from losing Al Horford in free agency, but the Hawks have brought pretty solid effort since the All-Star break.
Atlanta might be a little low in these rankings all things considered, but despite the good level of play, its inability to string together meaningful wins has hurt its standing. The Hawks will need to find inspiration down the stretch with a tough early-March slate that continues with the Warriors on Monday and features the Raptors, Spurs, and Grizzlies twice in a two-week span. There are definite positives for the Hawks—the Tim Hardaway Jr. renaissance is real (he’s at 17 straight games in double figures, the longest of his career), Dwight Howard is still pretty good, Paul Millsap remains one of the game’s more uniquely impactful players, and Dennis Schröder has been as good as anyone could have hoped.
Picking up Ersan Ilyasova and Jose Calderon is also nice, but the Hawks are still staring down a tricky five-seed and another potential showdown with the Cavs. There’s a lot to appreciate about their overall success, but the conundrum of a somewhat low post-season ceiling continues to dominate the greater narrative here. When they’re at their defensive best the Hawks can hang with most teams. Doing it for seven games against an elite opponent remains the greater challenge.
12. Indiana Pacers (32–20)
Last Week: 15
Net Rating: -0.8
It was great to see dunk contest champ Glenn Robinson III step up with a game winner on Sunday against the Hawks. Sixteen of Indiana’s remaining 20 games come within the East, and they’re sitting smack dab in the middle of the table. If the Pacers are going to build a little confidence, now would be the time.
11. Oklahoma City Thunder (35–28)
Last Week: 10
Net Rating: -0.9
It’s really just now hitting me that Russell Westbrook is probably, actually going to average a triple double this season. The Westbrook-Harden MVP watch is going to get annoying real fast, but also makes for one of the more intriguing award discussions in recent years.
10. Miami Heat (29–34)
Last Week: 11
Net Rating: +0.2
Over the last 15 games, Miami’s 11–4 and has been the most efficient team in the East. The Heat continue to punch above their weight and are approaching playoff position.
9. Memphis Grizzlies (36–27)
Last Week: 7
Net Rating: +1.2
After garnering boos in a recent home game, Chandler Parsons just played a back-to-back for the first time all season. The Grizz lost both. He’s taking a social media hiatus for the rest of the season. …Let’s see how that one goes.
8. Toronto Raptors (37–26)
Last Week: 8
Net Rating: +4.7
Going the rest of the regular season (or at least most of it) without Kyle Lowry will be a challenge, but for what it’s worth Toronto is actually 5–2 without him this season. The deadline upgrades were shrewd, but now they have to hope scoring engine DeMar DeRozan doesn’t run out of juice: he was averaging almost 34 points since the All-Star break before an 11-point dud in a road loss to the Bucks on Saturday. The two-seed is still loosely in play, but at some point you gotta think about workload (especially factoring in last year’s playoffs and DeRozan’s summer with USA Basketball).
7. Washington Wizards (37–24)
Last Week: 9
Net Rating: +2.7
As buyouts go, Washington’s Brandon Jennings pickup was pretty solid, with very little risk built into a free upgrade on Trey Burke. Credit the Wiz for addressing their bench depth by bringing in Jennings and Bojan Bogdanovic for very little. It’s nice when teams go for it, right?
6. Boston Celtics (40–23)
Last Week: 6
Net Rating: +3.2
The Celtics are injured again, with Al Horford and Avery Bradley sidelined over the weekend and adding to a long list of dinged-up players over the course of the season. And hey, if there’s an argument against not selling the house to get a star player…it’s this one.
5. Utah Jazz (39–24)
Last Week: 4
Net Rating: +5.1
Gonna skip talking about the Jazz this week to give a quick, admittedly niche shoutout to Utah’s social team for making this Boris Diaw Twitter takeover happen.
4. Cleveland Cavaliers (42–19)
Last Week: 4
Net Rating: +3.8
I don’t want to pretend like the Cavs picking up Andrew Bogut is going to swing the Finals, but Cleveland’s restructuring of their bench was patient, thoughtful and now looks timely. As free reinforcements go, Bogut, Deron Williams and Derrick Williams (are there any D-Wills we forgot?) aren’t half bad.
3. Golden State Warriors (51–11)
Last Week: 1
Net Rating: +12.1
As we all know, yep, Kevin Durant is hurt and the Warriors lost twice in a row for the first time in 146 games. On another note, how crazy is it that Steph Curry just passed Kobe on the career leaderboards for alltime three-pointers made? If anything, that’s a reminder of how potent this team should continue to be until KD returns.
2. Houston Rockets (44–19)
Last Week: 2
Net Rating: +6.5
If Lee Jenkins’s terrific-as-usual profile of James Harden didn’t tell you enough about how well the Rockets’ season is going, then let’s go even more in-depth given the news that the Warriors are now a little vulnerable. Kevin Durant’s knee injury leaves the door ever-so-slightly open in the West, the type of opportunity teams like Houston have been waiting all year to pounce on. Even before KD's injury, the Rockets looked like the team best positioned to maybe, just maybe push Golden State in a playoff series. This three-point happy team now has a legitimate chance to shake things up.
Harden’s obviously been magnificent, but he’s probably not taking down the Warriors by himself. Houston’s system amplifies his talents, but the beauty of the Rockets is their ability to thrive at Golden State’s pace. The Cavs won the Finals last season while strangling (and controlling) the speed of the game (which is extremely hard to do and basically requires LeBron James). Houston wants to shoot 50 threes a game. The Warriors welcome it. With all that shooting, there’s a lot of margin for error, but Harden’s playmaking and ability to create open shots buttresses that a bit. The Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson signings came with foresight. This is the too-long-didn’t-read version of the story, obviously. But if you’re just tuning into the NBA season for whatever reason, just know that these aren’t last year’s Rockets. They’re fun, they seem to genuinely like each other, and they’ve exceeded expectations.
1. San Antonio Spurs (48–13)
Last week: 3
Net Rating: +9.0
The Spurs have won seven straight and 12 of 14, so they boost up into the top spot this week. Before the season is over, spend one Spurs game just focused on Kawhi Leonard playing defense.
Then imagine dribbling a basketball within six feet of him. Then try to sleep that night.