- The Cavaliers are ending the regular season on a terrible note. Can they recover in time for the postseason? LeBron James and Co. won't be able to cakewalk to the Finals.
Forty-two triple doubles, five interesting MVP cases, four (or so) extended tanks, one off-season defection, one blockbuster trade, and one entire season later, we made it. There’s less than a week until postseason basketball. The regular season is always lengthy and sprawling, but there’s always the playoff light at the end of the tunnel, and it means we no longer have to watch the Lakers pointlessly win games and can begin harping on every single one of LeBron James’s facial expressions. Buckle up.
As always, this has been a fun weekly ride. These are the final Power Rankings of the 2016–17 regular season (with one special playoff edition coming soon). We’re all ready for the next two months of meaningful basketball.
Thanks, as always for reading along.
(All stats and records through April 9).
30. Phoenix Suns (24–57)
Last Week: 30
Net Rating: -5.1
Guess it took Russell Westbrook chasing history to snap this team out of a funk and end a 13-game losing streak. On a different note, love me some Tyler Ulis.
29. Philadelphia 76ers (28–52)
Last Week: 26
Net Rating: -5.7
Six straight losses as the season comes to an end, and most every long-term piece has been shut down. Some things just have a way of staying the same. With very little to tangibly show for the last five years of aggressive losing, how do we evaluate what’s become the highest-profile extended rebuild ever? The Process remains a work in progress, and it’s tricky.
I think it’s probably fair to think of this season as a mulligan of sorts for the Colangelos, who have had the luxury of hiding behind injuries to Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid (ugh, again) and staying the course as much as possible. Aside from the fact Jahlil Okafor is still on the team and Nerlens Noel got dumped for peanuts, nobody’s really shocked about how this has gone down. There were a couple stretches of decent basketball. The tradition of developing random undrafted players into passable NBA properties and then signing them to ridiculously team-friendly deals goes on. The tell–tale sign for Philly will be when they begin to pursue and make headway in free agency. We’ll have some re-evaluation to do in July.
There is also, of course, the draft, in which the Sixers will have their own pick and quite possibly the Lakers’ choice, both potentially in the top five, which ups the ante. If we’re staring at a Simmons/Embiid/Josh Jackson/Malik Monk core this summer, it means the clock is ticking. In a vacuum, this would be a great thing, but in reality, Philly still has a substantial amount to prove. Shirley Temples for everyone.
28. Orlando Magic (28–52)
Last Week: 28
The whole whiteboard thing appears a little overblown (the fact it leaked is bad, but as far as the names on there, every team is going to assess all options). One way or another, it sounds like the Magic are in for some change this off-season.
27. Los Angeles Lakers (25–55)
Last Week: 29
Net Rating: -7.3
I don’t know what to do with the Lakers after this week’s random winning streak. Do they move up for winning basketball games? Do they move down for seriously damaging their lottery odds? L.A. jumps the Sixers here, but could be handing them their draft pick in a month.
26. Brooklyn Nets (20–60)
Last Week: 27
Net Rating: -5.7
The Nets are finishing on a high note, pulling out a one-point win in their final home game of the year and doing their best to spoil the Bulls’ already-crappy season. With a healthy Jeremy Lin, this is a team that stands to improve marginally next season.
25. New York Knicks (30–51)
Last Week: 25
Net Rating: -4.1
This is not a new sentiment, but it’s the prevailing one as New York hits another summer of uncertainty: Carmelo Anthony is going to turn 33 next month. For his career’s sake, and the Knicks’ sake, and Kristaps’s sake, and all of our sake, can we please end this marriage?
24. Dallas Mavericks (32–48)
Last Week: 23
Net Rating: -2.5
Being honest, I dropped them a spot only because of this weird Tony Romo PR stunt.
23. Minnesota Timberwolves (31–49)
Last Week: 24
Net Rating: -0.9
Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns just went for 40 apiece in the same game (albeit a loss to the Lakers). This is still a team to be excited about for a long time.
22. Sacramento Kings (31–49)
Last Week: 22
Net Rating: -4.7
The Kings are still the Kings, but it does feel a little bit like trading Cousins bought them some identity and direction (strange as that direction appears). They’ll again be a wild card on draft night.
21. New Orleans Pelicans (33–47)
Last Week: 19
Net Rating: -1.7
Does anyone really know what this team is going to look like in six months? Not at all. But the Pelicans will be in the crosshairs this summer and present one of the more interesting quandaries in recent memory. I’m still willing to bet on Boogie and Brow.
20. Detroit Pistons (37–43)
Last Week: 21
Net Rating: -1.8
The Pistons came close to saving the season—their most recent three losses all came by one possession—but unsurprisingly fell short. On a positive note, they’ll open a new arena in actual Detroit this fall.
19. Charlotte Hornets (36–44)
Last Week: 16
Net Rating: +0.8
Since their inception as the Bobcats, the Hornets have never made consecutive playoff appearances. The old Hornets franchise last did it in 2002. Old habits die hard.
18. Denver Nuggets (38–42)
Last Week: 17
Net Rating: -0.8
Denver just missed the playoffs, but has a good deal to look forward to as this core continues to figure out the NBA. Danilo Gallinari will be the first domino of their off-season.
17. Miami Heat (39–41)
Last Week: 13
Net Rating: +1.0
The Heat no longer control their own fate, which is unfortunate given all they’ve done in the second half just to get in the playoff picture. They’ll need to muscle out wins against the Cavs and Wizards just to have a chance.
16. Chicago Bulls (39–41)
Last Week: 15
Net Rating: -1.0
The Bulls have a tiebreaker over the Heat and can get in with a Miami loss wins over Orlando and Brooklyn, who just beat them in one of the more comical regular-season games I’ve seen in a while. This season has felt like a farce at times, and this week could be the nadir of the Hoiberg era without the right amount of focus.
15. Milwaukee Bucks (41–39)
Last Week: 12
Net Rating: +0.6
You asked for it, and you got it. Playoff Giannis is here to make the first round extremely captivating before bowing out in six.
14. Atlanta Hawks (42–38)
Last week: 20
Net Rating: -1.0
This, kids, is how you fall ass-backwards into a playoff spot.
13. Indiana Pacers (40–40)
Last Week: 18
Net Rating: -0.5
Thanks to Paul George and some improved team play when it counts, Indiana is very close to the postseason. A win in Philly on Monday and one Miami or Chicago loss will do it, taking the figurative monkey off the Pacers’ back after sitting tight at the trade deadline and betting on their assembled pieces. Maybe signing Lance Stephenson was all it took to reverse their juju, but these three straight wins coupled with some Bulls incompetence and Heat struggles have gotten the job done just fine. Even for a team that had trouble stringing together consecutive wins for almost two months, there’s more than one way to make the playoffs.
Not to jinx any of this, but there’s also a decent chance the Pacers will be a tricky postseason out. Watching George in big games can be a thrill, and everyone knows how badly he wants to play his way back into the big star conversation. Myles Turner, Jeff Teague and a healthy Thaddeus Young make for a pretty decent supporting cast, and Stephenson has legitimately been good since returning (71% from three in four games).
If, and only if, the Pacers continue to make threes, share the ball and alleviate some of the pressure on George, there’s a definite chance Indiana can peak at the correct time and make some higher seed sweat next week. But we’re also getting ahead of ourselves. Indiana would lose a three-way tie with the Heat and Bulls due to head to head record and holds individual tiebreakers over neither. Time to go win two basketball games.
12. Portland Trail Blazers (40–40)
Last Week: 14
Net Rating: 0.0
Damian Lillard’s ridiculous 59-point showing against the Jazz wound up being the straw that got Portland into the playoffs, and it should at least make things interesting against Golden State when it counts. We’ve seen this happen before, though. Props to the Blazers for getting hot at the right time.
11. Memphis Grizzlies (43–38)
Last Week: 10
Net Rating: +0.2
It hasn’t been the smoothest final stretch for the Grizz, but they’re a well-prepared team that should embrace a meeting with the Spurs. We’ll finally get a meeting of playoff Gasols and see two remarkable teams intersect. It’ll be a solid, if low-scoring series.
10. Oklahoma City Thunder (46–34)
Last Week: 8
Net Rating: -0.2
What Russ has done this season is truly remarkable, and although I’ve been Team Harden for the last couple months of this MVP race, Westbrook just put together one of the more remarkable seasons of all time. I’m swayed. We’ll see if it can translate to any playoff success against the Rockets, which will be fun.
9. Washington Wizards (48–32)
Last Week: 9
Net Rating: +1.7
Although the Wizards’ defense took a step back in the second half, Washington’s locked into the fourth seed and looks built to win at least one playoff series. Someone check Andrew Sharp’s pulse.
8. Utah Jazz (49–31)
Last Week: 7
Net Rating: +4.8
The Jazz fell victim to Damian Lillard’s 59-point barrage and now draw the Warriors and Spurs to finish out the season (not ideal). It’ll take some effort to swing the four seed back from L.A., who own the tiebreaker.
7. LA Clippers (49–31)
Last week: 11
Net Rating: +3.9
I don’t want to say this too loudly but…after another long, strange season, the Clippers look pretty good right now. The annual wishful thinking championship belt remains in Los Angeles.
6. Boston Celtics (51–29)
Last Week: 3
Net Rating: +2.8
This week was a bit of a reality check for the Celtics: they got smacked by the Cavs, dropped a dud in Atlanta, and need to refocus. A thin bench and poor rebounding are nothing new, but a deep playoff run will require some creativity and resolve when the going is tough. With some big contract decisions coming up and a top draft pick on the way, the reality is that the window for this group as constituted is right now.
5. Toronto Raptors (50–31)
Last Week: 5
Net Rating: +4.8
They’re locked into a top-three seed, Kyle Lowry’s back, the Raptors look great right now and the past couple years of playoff disappointments have to count for something. This is a tough, experienced group on both sides of the floor that begs to be taken seriously. I’m on board.
4. Cleveland Cavaliers (51–29)
Last Week: 6
Net Rating: +3.2
Raise your hand if you think the Cavs are repeating. There are fewer people on the bandwagon than you’d think. After blowing a huge fourth-quarter lead in Atlanta (The Cavs were outscored 44–18 in the fourth) and losing by a point in overtime, it’s never been more difficult to make a great playoff argument on behalf of Cleveland. Hey, repeating is tough!
Reports have indicated there’s some internal discord going on in this locker room, which isn’t necessarily surprising post-title, but it is troubling that the Cavs don’t appear to fully have it together and it’s April 10. The Andrew Bogut injury really hurt—their bench is a bit thin, they’re extremely reliant on Tristan Thompson, and they don’t have a wide variety of looks to throw at you when it matters. This is generally a fine thing when you have the talent they have, and I’d expect LeBron to lock in and everyone to follow suit. But there’s still no ignoring how frustrating a watch this team has been down the stretch.
Still, is there a team in the East that can beat them four out of seven? Probably not. Cleveland is in a position where they’ll wind up beating themselves, if anything. Toronto looks like the toughest matchup, with a deep bench, tough defense and multiple scoring options in crunch time, but we’ve also seen that story before. The Cavs have spent a lot of time looking ahead, but are going to need a short-term view to get through the East and have a chance in the Finals. But then again, LeBron James. We’re all ready for the playoffs, and let’s hope these guys are too.
3. Houston Rockets (54–26)
Last Week: 4
The Rockets are locked into what looks like a favorable matchup against the Thunder. It’s also going to devolve into an extension of this year’s contentious MVP debate. Pat Beverley will be the X-factor as Houston tries to slow down Russ and make waves in the postseason. With the number of offensive weapons they have, I’m bullish overall here.
2. San Antonio Spurs (61–19)
Last week: 2
Net Rating: +8.1
I wonder if Kawhi will retire with more analytic hipster MVP awards than anyone else, but also without any actual MVP trophies. It might take a couple playoff series to remind the masses how not-boring he is on the court, but it sure feels like his time is coming.
1. Golden State Warriors (66–14)
Last Week: 1
Net Rating: +12.3
KD’s back, the Warriors are in pretty good shape, and they remain the outright title favorites 80 games later. As we look ahead, let’s give a round of applause for Draymond Junior.
Fun season, huh?