- The Nuggets' last game against the Warriors ended with a 31-point blowout. Can this Denver team, which has been on a roll of late, prove that it can hang with the best in the West?
Welcome back to another edition of The Crossover’s NBA Power Rankings. I hope everyone had a restful All-Star break and is ready to fully attack the last bit of the regular season.
In this week’s Power Rankings, we’ll take a look at an upcoming game for each team that should be circled on their schedule. Some of these are about the matchup, some are about where on the schedule the game falls and some should just be fun to watch.
So let’s get ready for life post All-Star break and look ahead at what the schedule still has to offer us.
30. Suns | Last Week: 0-2 | Overall: 11-50 | Previous Ranking: 29
March 23 at Kings
The teams with the top picks in the 2018 draft experienced vastly different seasons. While the Kings are playing for the postseason, the Suns are destined for the lottery for the ninth straight season and a top-four pick for the fourth straight year. But maybe they can force the Kings into a tailspin that'll land them in the lottery as well.
29. Knicks | Last Week: 1-1 | Overall: 12-48 | Previous Ranking: 30
March 17 vs. Lakers
The Knicks have won two of their last three to match their second-best three-game stretch of the season, and they snapped an 18-game home losing streak on Sunday. So naturally the thing I’m awaiting most this season is seeing LeBron James come to MSG to hang 60 with Spike Lee and Jay-Z courtside.
28. Grizzlies | Last Week: 0-2 | Overall: 23-38 | Previous Ranking: 27
March 13 at Hawks
There isn’t much to look forward to for the remainder of this season. The Grizzlies are sure to enthrall spectators with compelling close contests, but they will be on the wrong end of most of the results. So when the team heads to Atlanta and we get to see Mike Conley vs. Trae Young and Jaren Jackson Jr. vs. John Collins, it will probably be one of the highlights in Memphis at the close of the season. Especially if the Grizzlies lose and this helps them move up in the lottery and keep their pick away from Boston.
27. Bulls | Last Week: 2-0 | Overall: 16-44 | Previous Ranking: 28
March 8 vs. Pistons
The Bulls have a home-and-home with Detroit that could have a very negative impact on the Pistons’ playoff hopes. Chicago has won three straight and Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen are coming off career performances in the win over the Celtics. Maybe they can give the home fans another treat and cause some problems for a division rival in this meeting.
26. Cavaliers | Last Week: 2-0 | Overall: 14-46 | Previous Ranking: 26
April 9 vs. Hornets
Since the bottom three teams all get the same odds for the lottery, the Feb. 28 game against the Knicks and April 1 contest versus the Suns don’t mean as much as they would in years prior. Instead, let’s see how the Cavaliers get up for the last game of the season against a team that will be playing for a playoff spot.
25. Wizards | Last Week: 0-2 | Overall: 24-36 | Previous Ranking: 23
March 11 vs. Kings
The Wizards still have an outside shot at getting the fifth-best odds for the lottery after dropping nine of their last 12 games. However, I don’t see this team playing that poorly since they’ve competed in some highly entertaining contests throughout the season. So a matchup against one of the league’s top young teams should be a fun game even if the Wizards are headed for a long offseason.
24. Hawks | Last Week: 1-1 | Overall: 20-40 | Previous Ranking: 24
March 4 at Heat
The Hawks will complete a four-game sweep of Miami with one more win. In a season that has been filled with inspiring hope for the future, getting a season sweep of a division rival and potentially knocking them out the playoffs would be some sweet icing on the cake.
23. Pelicans | Last Week: 1-1 | Overall: 27-34 | Previous Ranking: 25
March 31 vs. Lakers
This could very likely be Anthony Davis’s final game against the Lakers. Assuming he plays. And whether he does or not, this is the Pelicans’ last chance to be a thorn in the Lakers’ side this season. And no matter where AD ends up, New Orleans would have to be hype about ruining another night, and potentially the entire season, for the Lakers.
22. Heat | Last Week: 0-2 | Overall: 26-32 | Previous Ranking: 21
March 17 vs. Hornets
The Heat have been bad at home this season. The crowd was never going to give them an advantage, but usually the Miami nightlife is a bit of a help in slowing down opponents. However, the guys on the court have been unable to capitalize on visitors’ desire to party on South Beach.
But on this Sunday in March when the Hornets are in town, the Heat are going to need to pull out a home victory.
With the Pistons and Magic surging, the Heat are on the verge of slipping out of playoff contention as they’ve hit one of their roughest stretches of the season. They haven’t been above .500 since a Jan. 12 home victory over the Grizzlies, and they are 5-12 in the 17 games they’ve played since. They are also 0-5 at AmericanAirlines Arena over that time, with one of those losses coming to the Bulls.
If Erik Spoelstra is going to get this team back to the playoffs, he will need to get them winning at home. Nine of their next 11 games will be played in Miami. If the Heat don’t get at least five wins in those nine contests (Suns, Warriors, Nets, Hawks, Cavaliers, Raptors, Pistons, Bucks and Hornets), that will probably mark the end of their playoff chances.
Maybe Goran Dragic’s return will be enough to get the Heat going back in the right direction. But if they can’t start winning at home, it’s going to be hard to pick Miami to get one of the final two playoff spots in the East.
Miami is already 0-2 against the Hornets this season and the Heat’s last game before that five-game homestand is in Charlotte. The playoff spots aren’t going to be determined in that game, but it will give us an idea on what to expect out of the Heat down the stretch.
21. Lakers | Last Week: 1-1 | Overall: 29-30 | Previous Ranking: 20
March 1 vs. Bucks
This might be foolish, but for the sake of this blurb, I’m going to assume the Lakers beat the Grizzlies on the road and Pelicans at home to start this week. If they get those two wins, then Friday’s contest against the Bucks is where everything gets really real for them. A win in Los Angeles over the team with the best record in the league can be the spark needed to close out the final month and change of the season with urgency and make the playoffs. Or it can be the start of an ugly March that sees the Lakers bow out of the playoff picture.
20. Wolves | Last Week: 1-1 | Overall: 28-31 | Previous Ranking: 19
March 30 vs. 76ers
The worst loss of Minnesota’s season came back on Jan. 15 in Philadelphia when Jimmy Butler and the 76ers won 149-107. Avenging a 42-point loss is a tall task, but it’s basically the only thing the Timberwolves have to accomplish this season besides getting better for next year. They already failed to retaliate for getting dogged in practice by the third stringers. They don’t want to finish the year going 0-3 against Jimmy Butler.
19. Mavericks | Last Week: 0-2 | Overall: 26-33 | Previous Ranking: 16
March 23 at Warriors
The Mavericks have been a joy to watch this season. And in three games against the Warriors so far, the combined score is 348-342 in favor of the Warriors. The Mavericks did win one of those games in this tightly competed back and forth.
So when Dallas and Golden State face off for the final time this season, it’s a game everybody should watch.
Rookie of the Year favorite Luka Doncic is averaging 23 points, 6.0 rebounds and 4.7 assists while shooting 41.7% from three in the season series thus far. He put up 24 points with nine rebounds to help the Mavericks get a victory over the Warriors in November, and he dropped 26 with five threes in the most recent meeting between the teams. Doncic has given us countless jaw-dropping moments this season, so he’s bound to have something special at Oracle.
Now, the Mavericks have undergone a serious roster makeover since the Jan. 13 contest between these two teams, but that adds intrigue to the game. It will still be enlightening to see just how the Mavericks play against the Warriors in the fourth meeting after three close ones. DeAndre Jordan and Harrison Barnes both logged more than 30 minutes in those first three games before being traded, so Rick Carlisle will need to get the most out of new additions like Tim Hardaway Jr. and Justin Jackson. And with DeMarcus Cousins now in the lineup for the Warriors, Golden State has a real inside presence to do damage. The Mavericks’ rebounding and paint protection has dipped since losing Jordan, so there is a chance this gets ugly early if the home team goes inside.
But at the end of the day, we’ve got a chance to see if Luka can get himself into a shootout with the two-time defending champs, and that is must-watch TV. Watching Boogie go for a big night wouldn’t be a bad consolation for viewers.
18. Hornets | Last Week: 1-1 | Overall: 28-31 | Previous Ranking: 22
March 1 at Nets
The Hornets play 12 of their final 23 games on the road. The Hornets are 8-21 on the road this season. Needless to say, their next road game, this Friday in Brooklyn, is pretty important.
The Hornets can still catch up to the Nets in sixth place, and after letting D’Angelo Russell show off his ice veins and score 40 points on Saturday, they should be eager to get some revenge.
After Friday, Charlotte’s remaining road destinations will include, but are not limited to Milwaukee, Houston, Miami, Toronto, Los Angeles (Lakers), Golden State, Utah and Detroit. The Hornets also still have to host the Warriors, Rockets, Trail Blazers, Heat, 76ers, Celtics, Spurs, Raptors and Magic in the season finale. Basically, the Hornets need to play better on the road, because their upcoming home schedule is daunting to say the least.
The Hornets still hold a 2-1 series lead over the Magic and a 3-0 series lead over the Pistons, so their last three games (at Detroit, at Cleveland, vs. Orlando) could be their chance to clinch a playoff spot. But after losing five of their last seven, don’t be shocked if the Hornets find themselves out of the hunt before that April 7 meeting with the Pistons.
Which brings us back to Friday’s game in Brooklyn. The Hornets will either be riding the high after picking up a win(s) over the Warriors and (or) the Rockets, or they will be stumbling into Brooklyn as losers of seven of their last nine.
Either way, they need a win away from home ASAP, or else they will be spending every day at home from April 10 until the start of next season.
17. Spurs | Last Week: 0-2 | Overall: 33-28 | Previous Ranking: 14
March 22 at Rockets
Coming off their worst loss of the season, the Spurs are in major need of a win. Despite being 11-21 on the road, San Antonio is just two games out of the fifth seed. This final meeting with the Rockets will have drastic playoff implications for both squads no matter what else happens going forward. But if the Spurs keep sliding like they have been throughout February, this game and a contest against the Kings on March 31 could determine whether or not San Antonio gets playoff basketball.
16. Magic | Last Week: 1-1 | Overall: 28-33 | Previous Ranking: 18
April 10 at Hornets
The Magic have won eight of their last 10 and are one of the hottest teams in the league right now coming off a win in Toronto. But no matter how long they continue this current run, I still expect them to be competing for a playoff spot down to the final game of the season. Even if it’s just for seeding, the season finale in Charlotte should be big.
15. Pistons | Last Week: 2-0 | Overall: 28-30 | Previous Ranking: 17
March 11 at Nets
Winners of six of their last seven, the Pistons are starting to solidify their status as a playoff team. With the way they’ve been playing, the thought process in Detroit should be catching the Nets, instead of pulling away from the Hornets who are now behind them in the standings. So for that reason, I value the Brooklyn game slightly more than the matchup with Charlotte on April 7. Although that one will likely impact playoff seeding as well.
14. Clippers | Last Week: 1-1 | Overall: 33-28 | Previous Ranking: 12
April 5 vs. Lakers
This is the second of two meetings in a month for these teams, and it’s the one that is sure to mean the most as both teams only have two games remaining after this meeting. Will the Clippers help keep the Lakers out of the playoffs? Are the Clippers still trying to make the playoffs themselves? What if the Clippers beat the Lakers, but still missed the playoffs and used their draft pick to land Anthony Davis over the Lakers? So many questions.
13. Nets | Last Week: 1-1 | Overall: 31-30 | Previous Ranking: 15
March 11 vs. Pistons
The final month of the Nets’ schedule is a nightmare. They have a seven-game road trip where the worst team they face is the Lakers. That transitions into a stretch of six straight against the top-five seeds in the East, with two of those coming against the Bucks. Brooklyn likely won’t catch up to the top five teams, so if it wants to hold onto the six seed, it needs the tiebreaker over the lurking Pistons.
12. Celtics | Last Week: 0-2 | Overall: 37-23 | Previous Ranking: 9
March 6 at Kings
Tuesday’s game against the Raptors is huge after the loss to the Bulls, but I think the contest in Sacramento a week later will be more important. This game is going to be the second night of a back-to-back that starts a four-game swing through California. The first game in California will be against the Warriors, and that will come after a matchup with the Rockets. So Boston will either continue a notable winning streak or reverse sail before a meeting with the Lakers that weekend.
11. Kings | Last Week: 1-1 | Overall: 31-28 | Previous Ranking: 13
March 24 at Lakers
In addition to this being a matchup of the nine and 10 seeds out West, it also marks the start of a five-game road trip for Sacramento. The Kings are going to have their work cut out for them as they try to make the postseason, and that means taking down LeBron James in Staples Center.
10. 76ers | Last Week: 1-1 | Overall: 38-22 | Previous Ranking: 10
March 10 vs. Pacers
With the Bucks likely too far ahead to be caught and the Celtics season series already decided, it makes Philadelphia’s final meeting with the Pacers even more pressing. Even if they can hold onto the four seed over Boston, Philadelphia would prefer to avoid the Celtics in its opening playoff matchup. So hopping the Pacers for the three seed is critical. The Sixers have two games to make up in the loss column, but clinching the tiebreaker over Indiana makes that less of an issue.
9. Pacers | Last Week: 2-0 | Overall: 40-20 | Previous Ranking: 11
March 29 at Celtics
This is the first of two games against the Celtics over the course of a week for the Pacers. Indiana holds a three-game lead over the Celtics in the standings and still has a great shot at hosting a first-round playoff series even with Victor Oladipo on the shelf. Getting a win in Boston after playing seven straight against current Western Conference playoff teams would highly increase the odds Indiana hosts a postseason series.
8. Jazz | Last Week: 1-1 | Overall: 33-26 | Previous Ranking: 7
March 11 vs. Thunder
Friday’s game in Oklahoma City was an absolute thriller, but it also dropped Utah to 0-3 vs. the Thunder this season. The schedule is pretty light for the Jazz and there aren’t many games against teams ahead of them in the standings. This game is a good measuring stick for Utah with the playoffs a month out, and it’s a good test of pride. After beating the Thunder in the first round last season, the Jazz are now staring down the barrel and looking for a regular-season sweep.
7. Raptors | Last Week: 1-1 | Overall: 44-17 | Previous Ranking: 5
Feb. 26 vs. Celtics
Sunday’s loss to the Magic stopped a seven-game winning streak and moved the Raptors to three back of the Bucks in the loss column. With 15 of their final 21 games against teams below .500, they’ll have an opportunity to make up ground in the standings, but they won’t have too many more shots to compare themselves to other title contenders before the playoffs start.
Which is why Tuesday’s game against Boston is the one to watch for Toronto. Additionally, this is a time for the Raptors to show just what type of killer instinct they have. The turmoil in Boston appears to have reached a fever pitch. The Celtics just lost to the Bulls by 10, Kyrie Irving is upset over people talking about his friendships and the team is still only fifth in the East.
Toronto has a chance to put to bed concerns that they are destined to flame out in May, showing the world that trading for Kawhi Leonard and Marc Gasol really did move this team into the league’s highest tier.
6. Rockets | Last Week: 1-1 | Overall: 34-25 | Previous Ranking: 6
March 13 vs. Warriors
Coming off Saturday’s impressive win in Oracle, the Rockets have to be feeling great. However, the Golden State-sized monkey on their back isn’t going away that easily. Completing a four-game season sweep of the two-time defending champions won’t make up for 27 straight missed threes.
5. Trail Blazers | Last Week: 2-0 | Overall: 36-23 | Previous Ranking: 8
March 7 vs. Thunder
Of the Trail Blazers’ first 12 games after the All-Star Break, 10 of them are on the road. The first home contest is against the Thunder, who Portland is 0-3 against this season. With only two games separating the teams, the Trail Blazers can still hop the Thunder in the standings even though they can’t get the tiebreaker. But if they get swept for the season series, it’s hard to see that happening.
4. Thunder | Last Week: 1-1 | Overall: 38-21 | Previous Ranking: 3
March 5 at Timberwolves
The Thunder will start a four-game road trip in Minnesota against a Timberwolves squad Oklahoma City has had trouble with over the last two seasons (1-5). The Thunder are 0-2 against the Timberwolves on the season and a win could set the tone for a road trip that also features games in Portland and Utah.
3. Warriors | Last Week: 1-1 | Overall: 42-17 | Previous Ranking: 2
April 4 at Lakers
The Warriors don’t need to measure themselves against the rest of the league. So although they have plenty of intriguing matchups coming up, I’m most curious to see how they perform on this night in Los Angeles. A win here could drastically doom the Lakers’ playoff chances, and what could be sweeter for this team than stopping LeBron from reaching the postseason his first year in the West?
2. Nuggets | Last Week: 2-0 | Overall: 41-18 | Previous Ranking: 4
March 8 at Warriors
The last time the Nuggets saw the Warriors, they lost by 31 at home. Even though they’ve spent the last month plus jostling with the Warriors for the top seed, it’s hard to look at Denver as Golden States’ equal.
The Nuggets are a game back of the Warriors and have two games in Oracle remaining this season to help make up the difference. If they go on to win at least one of those and take the No. 1 spot heading into the playoffs, it will be a sign that this team might be ready to compete for the conference crown. But if they lose two more times to the Warriors, or proceed to get blown out again in this next meeting, then everything about their playoff potential gets put into question.
Unless they face the Kings, the Nuggets are going to have less playoff experience than whoever they face. And nobody wants to be the higher-seeded team that isn't prepared for the moment. That’s an early playoff exit waiting to happen. So when Michael Malone and Nikola Jokic bring the squad into Oakland to cap off a three-game road trip, they need to start off strong and show the entire league they demand respect.
1. Bucks | Last Week: 2-0 | Overall: 45-14 | Previous Ranking: 1
March 26 vs. Rockets
Milwaukee still has two games against the 76ers and one against the Pacers that may end up being playoff previews. However, the biggest game left on the schedule for the Bucks is the second and final meeting between MVP frontrunners James Harden and Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Bucks only have seven games after that contest, so depending how this next month goes, it’s very likely this could be the night Antetokounmpo locks up the MVP and his team basically clinches the top seed.