- The Clippers' melodrama have played out for years, with their injuries and overall attrition piling up. But what will finally end Lob City? Could it come sooner than we expect?
Can you believe there are only two-ish weeks of the season left? While you were watching college basketball this entire month, the playoff picture has cleared up a good amount. Here’s a quick rundown: the Celtics caught the Cavs out East, where the Heat are finally in playoff position, the Bucks are hot, the Hawks are not, and the rest of the Central Division might secretly be trying to miss the postseason.
The top three are fairly set out West, where the Jazz, Clippers, Thunder and Grizzlies continue to jockey for seeding, and it’s down to the Nuggets and Blazers for the last spot. There are 10 games left to play for just about everyone, and it’s managed to remain interesting.
So, all that said, don’t rest your stars this week—just read the Power Rankings.
30. Los Angeles Lakers (21–52)
Last Week: 29
Net Rating: -7.8
Yep, it’s 30/30 bad right now. At least Magic Johnson went to scout college basketball players this weekend.
29. Phoenix Suns (22–52)
Last Week: 28
Net Rating: -5.6
No, I still don’t know how Devin Booker scored 70 points. Why do you ask?
28. Brooklyn Nets (16–57)
Last Week: 30
Net Rating: -6.5
The Nets just won multiple games in a row for the first time all season and have seven—count ‘em—seven wins in March, which is enough to move them out of the basement as the Lakers bumble aimlessly into retaining their lottery pick and the Suns enter their name into the Markelle Fultz sweepstakes. Brooklyn, of course, does not have their own pick this year, creating existential ennui that’s hung over the entire season from a viewer’s perspective. But amid a pack of crappy teams that are hurting their own draft odds with each victory, it’s worth noting the actual positives for the Nets that don’t come at the expense of ping pong ball combinations. Wow, that might be the nicest thing anyone’s said about this team all year.
Meanwhile, Brook Lopez is close to becoming the franchise’s all-time leading scorer, within 179 points of Buck Williams (whose 10,440 are the most in Nets history). The return of a healthy Jeremy Lin has paid some dividends in March. Caris LeVert, who the team views as a future piece, has started handling more minutes, and Rondae Hollis–Jefferson has expanded his game on offense. There’s still a lot of dead weight here (and probably too few experimental guys on 10-days a la Dallas), but the Nets have solidly been a .500 team this month. That in itself is a small competitive victory when you’re rebuilding with two hands tied behind your back. Nobody thought they’d scratch at 20 wins two weeks ago, right?
27. New York Knicks (27–46)
Last Week: 25
Net Rating: -4.7
They’re finally tanking! We did it, guys. Knicks fans can at least buy into these lottery odds.
26. Philadelphia 76ers (27–46)
Last Week: 26
Net Rating: -5.3
Richaun Holmes has done his best to make the Nerlens Noel deal more palatable, averaging 13.2 points and 6.4 rebounds in March and helping round out the Sixers’ not-actually-so-terrible rotation of big men. How Philly continues to lock valuable guys (Holmes, Robert Covington, etc.) into these super-cheap guaranteed deals is beyond me.
25. Orlando Magic (27–46)
Last Week: 27
Net Rating: -6.3
The Magic are now trying Mario Hezonja, a wing his entire career at power forward to try and kick-start him. And hey, this is the time to try it…
24. Minnesota Timberwolves (28–44)
Last Week: 21
Net Rating: -0.5
Minnesota has lost six straight and bowed all the way out. Make it 12 straight losing seasons for these guys, and next year’s expectations aren’t getting any lower.
23. Sacramento Kings (28–45)
Last Week: 24
Net Rating: -4.6
Our own Ben Golliver recently rated the “Utterly, Disorientingly Hopeless” Kings as the second-most hopeless team in the NBA. Ben’s breakdown of the NBA’s bad franchises is a higher-quality accompaniment to the basement of these rankings.
22. Detroit Pistons (34–39)
Last Week: 18
Net Rating: -2.1
Losers of six in their last seven, the Pistons appear to be clocking out of playoff contention. Stan Van Gundy says his guys are fatigued. As we’ve learned this season, this roster’s also just not that great.
21. Chicago Bulls (35–39)
Last Week: 23
Net Rating: -1.3
I’m so tired of writing stuff about the Bulls at this point, but the fact is they have perhaps the easiest remaining slates in the league right now, and should in theory land a playoff spot. That said, does anyone who isn’t an opposing playoff team really want to see four extra games of these guys?
20. Dallas Mavericks (31–41)
Last Week: 20
Net Rating: -2.1
The Mavs are experimenting with new lineups, which is smart given 1) the number of random guys they’ve struck gold with this season and 2) the fact they don’t need to chase the Nuggets and Blazers at this point. Dallas can take a little optimism into next season, which seemed improbable in November.
19. Charlotte Hornets (33–40)
Last Week: 22
Net Rating: +1.0
A few breaks have gone Charlotte’s way (finally) and they’ve won four of five games, although it likely won’t be enough to get them back in the playoff picture. They’re playing great, but are gonna need some major help.
18. New Orleans Pelicans (31–42)
Last Week: 19
Net Rating: -1.4
It’s a good thing that Anthony Davis has basically been the same statistically since the All-Star break and the Cousins trade (although Cousins has missed a few games and has been slightly worse all around). New Orleans has played decent ball in March—I don’t quite get people writing off this superstar pairing after a dozen games or so.
17. Atlanta Hawks (37–36)
Last week: 13
Net Rating: -1.4
Things have gone about as badly as possible here: seven losses in a row (most recently, a 15-point stunner against the Nets at home) have the reeling Hawks no longer a clear bet for the postseason. Crucially, Paul Millsap and Kent Bazemore have been sidelined. This could get messy.
16. Indiana Pacers (37–36)
Last Week: 17
Net Rating: -0.6
Indiana hasn’t won consecutive games since early February and is about as close as you can get to a truly average .500 team right now. They can stay that way and still make the playoffs, but their path to the finish line won’t be easy.
15. Denver Nuggets (35–38)
Last Week: 14
Net Rating: -0.8
Getting whomped by the Boogie-less Pelicans at home is not what the Nuggets were hoping for as they continue to muscle toward the possibility of the playoffs. A huge, huge game against Portland (Denver can tie the season series with a win) looms on Tuesday.
14. Portland Trailblazers (35–38)
Last Week: 15
Net Rating: -0.6
Nine wins in 12 games (and a mostly forgiving schedule) has the Blazers right back in the mix. But as exciting as playoff Dame is, we’ve seen the Blazers–Warriors story before. (Unless it’s the Spurs…)
13. LA Clippers (44–31)
Last week: 12
Net Rating: +3.4
The Clippers blew an 18–point fourth quarter lead to the lowly Kings on Sunday and are still very much the Clippers. Chris Paul called it the worst regular season loss of his entire career. They didn’t make a field goal in the last five minutes. The Kings! This is March, and a veteran L.A. team should in theory be in playoff form. But this team never seems to make anything simpler. Nobody’s that surprised. They’ve now lost 10 of 19 games and are a game out of the fourth seed with nine games to go.
That said, with all the gloom and doom conversation that’s surrounded the Clippers’ injuries and overall attrition, the fact they’re still in the picture for home court is pretty remarkable when you look at it. It’s just impossible to know which team we’re going to get on a given day, and if results are any indication, Lob City’s not magically re-appearing in a game seven against the Jazz anytime soon. Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan are healthy (J.J. Redick’s not right now), and yet Doc Rivers’s yearly failure to assemble the right bench—and a kind of slothful vibe about the whole operation—has diminished the results.
Bottom line, this hasn’t looked like a team capable of flipping the tables on somebody in the first round anymore. They haven’t been that team for two whole seasons. There are recurring themes here that aren’t encouraging. We’ll hear much moaning and groaning and prognostication in the coming months, with Paul, Griffin and potentially Rivers’s futures with the team up in the air. Is this a breakup in the making? We’ll know sooner than later.
12. Milwaukee Bucks (37–36)
Last Week: 16
Net Rating: +0.9
Well, the Bucks put it together at the perfect time, winning 11 of 14 and are now miraculously in position to nab a five seed, thanks to Atlanta’s total collapse. They’re riding an improved defense and have won 17 in a row when holding opponents under 100 points.
11. Miami Heat (35–38)
Last Week: 10
Net Rating: +0.7
The Heat slowed down a little bit this week, yet are finally in playoff position and look poised to hang onto a spot. However, this week (at Pistons, at Knicks, vs. Knicks, vs. Nuggets) looms large—their final five games (at Hornets, at Raptors, at Wizards, vs. Cavs, vs. Wizards) could cut things close if they aren’t diligent.
10. Utah Jazz (44–29)
Last Week: 7
Net Rating: +4.4
This has not been an ideal final stretch for the Jazz, who’ve dealt with a travel-heavy last few weeks and have Derrick Favors and Gordon Hayward dealing with injuries. The good news is, they’ve held onto homecourt advantage as nobody in the West pack has gained any traction of late.
9. Memphis Grizzlies (40–33)
Last Week: 6
Net Rating: +0.3
This current three-game losing streak is more forgivable than the five-game one that started the month (Spurs, Warriors, on the road), and the Grizzlies are bound for the playoffs anyway, but some consistency would be nice from a team this experienced. But hey, Tony Allen is having a great month. The world is a better place.
8. Washington Wizards (45–28)
Last Week: 10
Net Rating: +2.3
Kelly Oubre has become a key defensive player for the playoff-bound Wizards, which, if you ever saw him play in high school, is a minor miracle. Between Oubre and Otto Porter (not to mention two guys you might have heard of in the backcourt) Washington’s player development team has quietly been the reason for this season.
7. Oklahoma City Thunder (41–31)
Last Week: 5
Net Rating: -0.1
OKC’s had a solid couple of weeks, but after losses to the Warriors and Rockets, they’re a combined 2–8 against the West’s top three teams this season. What’s the postseason ceiling?
6. Toronto Raptors (44–29)
Last Week: 9
Net Rating: +4.8
Currently on a five-game win streak, the Raptors have clinched a playoff spot for a franchise-record fourth straight season. With Kyle Lowry on the mend (they’re 11–5 without him, too) and the defense making strides, Toronto looks as dangerous as it has all season.
5. Cleveland Cavaliers (47–25)
Last Week: 2
Net Rating: +3.3
The Cavs have been the league’s second-worst team in defensive efficiency this month, but don’t worry: Ty Lue says he has a secret plan to fix the defense in the playoffs. I also have a secret plan for Cleveland in the playoffs. Codename? “Angry, motivated LeBron.”
4. Boston Celtics (48–26)
Last Week: 8
Net Rating: +3.1
Right on time, max-contract man Al Horford is having an awesome month, shooting almost 60% from the field and averaging 15.5 points, 7.7 boards, 5.8 assists and 1.1 blocks. Boston’s 10–2 with him in the lineup this month, and now tied with the Cavs for first place in the East.
3. San Antonio Spurs (56–16)
Last week: 4
Net Rating: +8.5
After beating the Knicks on Saturday, the Spurs became the first team in NBA history ever to beat all 29 other teams in three consecutive seasons. Their remarkable consistency—and a four game win streak—has them pushing the Warriors for home court as we hit the final stretch.
2. Houston Rockets (51–22)
Last Week: 3
Net Rating: +6.6
James Harden banged up his wrist in a win over Oklahoma City on Sunday, just in time for two games against the Warriors and a date with the surging Blazers this week. He says he’s fine. Let us hope so.
1. Golden State Warriors (59–14)
Last Week: 1
Net Rating: +12.0
Were you ever really that worried about these guys? Do we really care that much about players resting? Is Kevin Durant going to be back before the playoffs? Are you comfortable betting against them regardless? Golden State has won seven straight and is 9–4 this month without KD, which should go a long enough way to deal with people naturally doubting the Warriors. Let’s quickly check back in with them one last time before the playoffs, with a huge week of games on tap and in great form with just a little bit to prove.
Predictably, Steph and Klay are having huge months and Andre Iguodala has stepped up big. Draymond remains on track for a markedly worse statistical season than a year ago, but a lot of his contributions don’t show up in the numbers (hackneyed as that is). They still lead the league in net rating for March, after all that. Most of us are pretty sure the Warriors are going to be fine, even if every Twitter video of Durant shooting jumpers is a mini-Zapruder tape. He’s supposedly a couple of weeks away and will return on a minutes restriction. These are still the Warriors! We take for granted what that means sometimes, I think.
With a Houston-San Antonio road back to back on Tuesday-Wednesday, the Rockets at home on Friday and the Wizards on Sunday, what better opportunity for the Warriors to prove they’re top dog? They can all but seal the conference with a good week. Even without Durant, this is a good week to watch Golden State closely and start honing in for the playoffs. It’s basically a fun test run. Unless, of course, everyone rests.