Power Rankings

 NBA POWER RANKINGS

Week 20

 

It’s Spring Break here at Michigan, which means a short and sweet version of the Power Rankings this week. 

 

  1. Golden State Warriors (14-49)

Last Week: 30 (-)

Last Week’s Games: Wizards (L, 110-124), @Nuggets (L, 100-116), Raptors (L, 113-121)

Next Week’s Games: 76ers, Clippers, Nets

Steph is back, and the Warriors suddenly have a lot more bite. This is still a team that’s 3.5 games back of the next worst team, but that gap could possibly close with Curry back. Besides the general awesomeness of Steph, that’s the thing to watch down the stretch for Golden State. What’s going to happen to their pick? They have to make up a five game gap to rise up out of the bottom three (and a three-way tie for the best odds for the top pick), so that doesn’t seem all that likely with only nineteen games to go. Their year of injury-forced tanking probably won’t go to waste no matter what happens with Curry. You never know what’s going to happen when he steps on the floor though. 

 

  1. Cleveland Cavaliers (17-45)

Last Week: 29 (-)

Last Week’s Games: Jazz (L, 113-126), Celtics (L, 106-112)

Next Week’s Games: Nuggets, Spurs, @Bulls, @Hornets

The Cavs hosted two clear playoff teams this week without Tristan Thompson, Andre Drummond, and Darius Garland, and they predictably lost twice. It wasn’t a bad week though. Collin Sexton dropped 32 on the Jazz and Kevin Porter Jr. scored 16. Sexton went for 41 points and 6 assists against the Celtics. His improvements aren’t getting enough attention. He averaged more than 20 points per game in both January and February, and he’s shooting 46.4% from three since the calendar turned to 2020. 

 

  1. New York Knicks (19-44)

Last Week: 27 (↓1)

Last Week’s Games: Rockets (W, 125-123), Jazz (L, 104-112), Thunder (L, 103-126)

Next Week’s Games: Pistons, @Wizards, @Hawks, @Heat

RJ Barrett averaged 19.3 points per game this week. That’s good. 

 

  1. Minnesota Timberwolves (19-43)

Last Week: 28 (↑1)

Last Week’s Games: Mavs (W, 111-91), @Pelicans (W, 139-134), Bulls (W, 115-108), Magic (L, 118-132)

Next Week’s Games: Pelicans, @Rockets, @Thunder

The Timberwolves won three of four this week. Naz Reid averaged 15 points and 9.3 boards per game this week to continue an under the radar run of success over the second half of his rookie season. That’s good. 

 

  1. Atlanta Hawks (19-45)

Last Week: 24 (↓2)

Last Week’s Games: Grizzlies (L, 88-127), @Wizards (L, 112-118)

Next Week’s Games: @Grizzlies, Hornets, Knicks

The Hawks didn’t lose by 50 against the Grizzlies. That’s good. (So is Cam Reddish continuing to thrive with 28 in Washington.)

 

  1. Detroit Pistons (20-43)

Last Week: 26 (↑1) 

Last Week’s Games: @Kings (L, 100-106), Thunder (L, 107-114)

Next Week’s Games: Jazz, @Knicks, @76ers

The Pistons lost twice more to drop to within a game and a half of the bottom three. Christian Wood averaged 24.5 points and 10.5 boards per game in those two games. Brandon Knight (still only 28) averaged 17 points and 7 assists. That’s good. 

 

  1. Chicago Bulls (21-42)

Last Week: 25 (↑1) 

Last Week’s Games: Mavs (W, 109-107), @Timberwolves (L, 108-115), Pacers (L, 112-118)

Next Week’s Games: @Nets, Cavs, @Magic

The Bulls went 1-2, but Coby White continued his hot stretch, averaging 23.7 points and 5.7 assists per game this week. That’s good. 

 

  1. Charlotte Hornets (21-41)

Last Week: 23 (-)

Last Week’s Games: Bucks (L, 85-93), Spurs (L, 103-104), Nuggets (L, 112-114)

Next Week’s Games: Rockets, @Hawks, @Heat, Cavs

Charlotte’s success in games decided by single digits (now 19-16 in those games) took a bit of a hit this week, as the Hornets lost three of those games this week. That success has pushed the Hornets a few games up the standings, which isn’t a good thing for a team trying to rebuild and consolidate talent. The Hornets need a high draft pick, and there are currently seven NBA teams with worse records. They could use a few more losses in close games down the stretch. 

 

  1. Washington Wizards (23-39)

Last Week: 22 (-)

Last Week’s Games: @Warriors (W, 124-110), @Kings (L, 126-133), @Trail Blazers (L, 104-125), Hawks (W, 118-112)

Next Week’s Games: Heat, Knicks, @Celtics

Bradley Beal averaged 33.3 points per game this week. He’s averaging an absurd 37.9 points per game since the All-Star Break. He is a prime example of the need for more than an elite scorer to win basketball games. The Wizards are 3-6 since the break. Davis Bertans also averaged 21.3 points per game for Washington this week. 

 

  1. Phoenix Suns (25-38)

Last Week: 21 (-)

Last Week’s Games: Raptors (L, 114-123), Trail Blazers (W, 127-117)

Next Week’s Games: Bucks, @Trail Blazers

The Suns had a fine week, though they’re now all the way back to 6 games behind the 8 seed due to a run of wins from the Grizzlies. Devin Booker, Ricky Rubio, and DeAndre Ayton produced double-doubles against the Raptors, and Cameron Johnson dropped 21. Against the Trail Blazers, Booker and Rubio again dropped double-doubles, and Aron Baynes, in Ayton’s absence, put up 37 points and 16 boards on 9-14 from deep. That included a step-back swish over Damian Lillard. For context here, Baynes hasn’t scored 10 points or grabbed 10 boards in a game since February 3. He broke a thirteen game streak of single digit points and rebounds in style. 

 

  1. Orlando Magic (28-35)

Last Week: 20 (-)

Last Week’s Games: Trail Blazers (L, 107-130), @Heat (L, 113-116), @Timberwolves (W, 132-118)

Next Week’s Games: @Grizzlies, @Rockets, Bulls

The Magic are still 4.5 games ahead of the bottom half of the East despite not doing a whole lot to hold onto their playoff spot. Orlando is 3-14 against current East playoff teams that aren’t the Nets, and two of those wins came against the Sixers. Their stay in the playoffs is not going to be a long one. 

 

  1. San Antonio Spurs (26-35)

Last Week: 19 (-)

Last Week’s Games: Pacers (L, 111-116), @Hornets (W, 104-103), @Nets (L, 120-139)

Next Week’s Games: @Cavs, Mavs, Nuggets

It’s over in San Antonio. The Spurs are 6-12 over their last eighteen games, and they’re sitting four games out of the 8 seed with three teams between them and the Grizzlies. The Gregg Popovich era has to be coming to a close, and there’s no clear future star in place here. Tim Duncan isn’t coming in the draft either, with the Spurs stuck right in the middle of the league. There’s still a good organizational infrastructure in place here even if Popovich leaves, but there are tough questions to be asked of the Spurs for the first time in a long time. 

 

  1. Brooklyn Nets (28-34)

Last Week: 17 (↓1)

Last Week’s Games: @Celtics (W, 129-120 OT), Grizzlies (L, 78-119), Spurs (W, 139-120)

Next Week’s Games: Bulls, @Lakers, @Warriors, @Clippers

The Nets had a pretty good week on the court, which makes their weekend decision to fire Kenny Atkinson all the more puzzling. There was just no reason for the Nets to get rid of a guy who has done nothing but overachieve in Brooklyn. The team culture was reportedly what drew Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving to sign with the Nets this past summer, but that culture has taken quite a few hits this season with Irving’s shenanigans and now this move from the front office. The Nets look like just as much of a cultural mess as the Knicks right now, though it never hurts to have Kevin Durant in your back pocket. He could be enough to overcome any off court issues if he returns to form after a year off. On the bright side, Caris LeVert had a huge week for Brooklyn. He dropped 51 to spark a comeback win over the Celtics, and then put up his first career triple double with 27 points, 10 assists, and 11 boards against the Spurs. He’s finding his groove after an injury-filled first half. 

 

  1. Portland Trail Blazers (28-36)

Last Week: 18 (↑1) 

Last Week’s Games: @Magic (W, 130-107), Wizards (W, 125-104), @Suns (L, 127-137)

Next Week’s Games: Kings, Suns, Grizzlies

The Trail Blazers won two of three to stay within 3.5 games of the Grizzlies, setting up a huge week with three games against Western teams in the 8-13 seed range, including two games against the Kings (tied with Portland) and the Grizzlies (directly ahead of Portland). This might be a make-or-break week. Jusuf Nurkic is expected back in just over a week, but it won’t matter if the Blazers drop a few games this week. 

 

  1. New Orleans Pelicans (27-36)

Last Week: 15 (↓1) 

Last Week’s Games: Lakers (L, 114-122), Timberwolves (L, 134-139), @Mavs (L, 123-127 OT), Heat (W, 110-104)

Next Week’s Games: @Timberwolves, @Kings, @Jazz

The Pelicans had a rough week, and their playoff chances are on life support as a result. They’re four games back with only nineteen to go. The future is bright in New Orleans, but it’s looking like first half injuries were too much to overcome this season. Despite the losses, the numbers were impressive this week. Zion Williamson dropped 35 on the Lakers, and Lonzo Ball went for 19 points, 9 assists, and 9 boards against his former team. Ball, Williamson, and Brandon Ingram scored 26, 25, and 24 against the Timberwolves, and Jrue Holiday produced a 27-point, 12-assist, 10-rebound triple-double. Ingram and Williamson combined for 48 in Dallas, as Ball went for 25, 6, and 11 while Holiday went for 19, 6, and 6. Ball and Holiday combined for 36 points, 14 assists, and 15 boards against the Heat, and Josh Hart scored 19 points and grabbed 12 boards. 

 

  1. Sacramento Kings (27-35)

Last Week: 16 (↑1) 

Last Week’s Games: Pistons (W, 106-100), Wizards (W, 133-126), 76ers (L, 108-125)

Next Week’s Games: @Trail Blazers, Raptors, Pelicans

The Kings continued their run, winning two of three this week. The Grizzlies pushed their lead to 3.5 games, but Sacramento is still within theoretical striking distance. That’s an accomplishment considering where they were a month ago. De’Aaron Fox (25.7 points per game) and Buddy Hield (19.3) led the way this week. If the Kings are going to make a serious run at the playoffs, they’ll need to keep their run going against some stiff competition. They play eight in a row against current playoff teams or other Western Conference playoff hopefuls. 

 

  1. Memphis Grizzlies (31-32)

Last Week: 14 (-)

Last Week’s Games: @Hawks (W, 127-88), @Nets (W, 118-79), @Mavs (L, 96-121)

Next Week’s Games: Hawks, Magic, @Trail Blazers

The Grizzlies had a big week, grabbing two wins to solidify their playoff spot after a rough post All-Star break stretch. Their lead is back up to 3.5 games with less than twenty to go despite the loss in Dallas, and taking advantage of easier home games against the Hawks and Magic to start the week would put them in position to push the nail further into Portland’s coffin at the end of the week. Memphis has now played four straight games that have been decided by 17 points or more, a streak to watch this week. Another thing to watch – Josh Jackson. The former lottery pick averaged 17 points per game this week on 41.7% from three. He’s scored in double figures in six of his last nine appearances. 

 

  1. Philadelphia 76ers (38-25)

Last Week: 12 (↓1)

Last Week’s Games: @Clippers (L, 130-136), @Lakers (L, 107-120), @Kings (W, 125-108)

Next Week’s Games: @Warriors, Pistons

The Sixers didn’t do too badly this week considering that they were without both Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. Shake Milton stepped up, averaging 23.7 points per game this week. Tobias Harris also averaged 23.7 points to go with 8.3 boards per game. The Sixers hung tough twice in Los Angeles before beating a hot Kings team. On the bright side, Embiid is expected back this week. The schedule for the rest of March isn’t bad either. Only three of twelve come against current playoff teams. The Sixers may not be able to do much beyond beating out the Pacers for the 5 seed, but there’s good reason to believe that they can at least do that, even with Simmons still out for the near future. 

 

  1. Indiana Pacers (38-25)

Last Week: 13 (↑1)

Last Week’s Games: @Spurs (W, 116-111), @Bucks (L, 100-119), @Bulls (W, 108-102)

Next Week’s Games: @Mavs, Celtics

The Pacers won two of three to catch up to the injury-riddled Sixers. They’re now tied with Philadelphia for the East’s 5 seed. Seeding might not really matter for the Pacers though. They’re 2-8 against the Bucks, Raptors, and Heat, with those wins coming with Pascal Siakam and Giannis Antetokounmpo on the sideline. They are 1-0 against the Celtics, but that win came almost three months ago. Indiana plays Boston twice more, so the jury is still out on that match-up. Maybe those will go the way of the Pacers, and Indiana will want to angle for a potential first round match-up with the Celtics. Right now though, it’s hard to see the Pacers seriously contending with any of the East’s top four. Indiana needs more, including a quicker return to form and full health from Victor Oladipo, who has missed four of their last seven games.

 

  1. Dallas Mavericks (39-25)

Last Week: 11 (-)

Last Week’s Games: @Timberwolves (W, 111-91), @Bulls (L, 107-109), Pelicans (W, 127-123 OT), Grizzlies (W, 121-96)

Next Week’s Games: Pacers, @Spurs, Nuggets 

The Mavs came close to a perfect week, but a loss in Chicago spoiled that. Still, a big win in Minnesota, a win over the Pelicans, and a thrashing of the Grizzlies make for a pretty good stretch. Kristaps Porzingis went for 38 points and 13 boards in Minnesota with Luka Doncic sitting and Seth Curry kept his hot streak going with 27 points. Both Curry and Porzingis missed the game in Chicago, which makes the loss forgivable, and they returned with a bang against the Pelicans and Grizzlies. Curry scored a combined 36 in the two games, and Porzingis put up 34 and 12 against the Pelicans and 26 and 11 against the Grizzlies. The defense is always going to be an issue for this team, but Porzingis and Curry playing like that alongside Doncic, who dropped a 30-point, 10-assist, 17-rebound triple-double on the Pelicans, will open up a lot of doors. Dallas won’t be an easy out at this rate.  

 

  1. Miami Heat (40-23)

Last Week: 10 (-)

Last Week’s Games: Bucks (W, 105-89), Magic (W, 116-113), @Pelicans (L, 104-110)

Next Week’s Games: @Wizards, Hornets, Knicks

The Heat suffocated the Bucks in Miami. That alone made the week a good one, but they also held on late against the Magic to maintain their clear hold on the 4 seed despite the loss in New Orleans. The Heat now get five of six against non playoff teams, and they finish the season with eleven of nineteen against non playoff teams. That’s an incredibly forgiving schedule, and it gives them a chance of catching up to the Celtics and the 3 seed. They’re only 2 games back, though any run would obviously need to come sooner rather than later. A game in Milwaukee comes in the middle of the upcoming six game stretch. It’s unlikely that the Bucks shoot so poorly again, never mind four times out of seven in the postseason, but the Heat have already established themselves as a potential threat. Another win over the Bucks would rightfully turn a lot of heads.

 

  1. Oklahoma City Thunder (39-24)

Last Week: 9 (-)

Last Week’s Games: Clippers (L, 94-109), @Pistons (W, 114-107), @Knicks (W, 126-103)

Next Week’s Games: @Celtics, Jazz, Timberwolves 

The Thunder lost to the Clippers to open the week, but they took care of business in Detroit and New York. Those wins pushed Oklahoma City to 28-5 against teams currently outside of the playoffs, which leaves them at an iffy 11-19 against current playoff teams. There’s reason to believe that the top-heavy Thunder will be better in the playoffs when rotations shorten, but there’s also reason to believe that they aren’t quite as good as their seed and overall record might suggest. With twelve of their final nineteen against current playoff teams, there’ll be plenty of opportunities to change that perception. 

 

  1. Houston Rockets (39-22)

Last Week: 7 (↓1)

Last Week’s Games: @Knicks (L, 123-125), Clippers (L, 105-120)

Next Week’s Games: @Hornets, Magic, Timberwolves, @Lakers

This was a pretty terrible week for Houston. They somehow let RJ Barrett (27 points, 5 assists, 5 boards) and Julius Randle (16, 4, 16) get the better of them in New York. Then they put up an embarrassing effort at home against the Clippers. Those losses dropped them back into the 5 seed, though the seeding situation out West figures to be fluid the rest of the way. The 7 seed Mavs are only 1.5 games back of the Rockets, who are only half a game back of the Jazz. Even the Nuggets and Clippers are only a few games clear. The Rockets have three relatively easy games to get back on track before they head to Los Angeles to take on the Lakers. They were rolling before this week, so they should be able to get back to winning soon. 

 

  1. Utah Jazz (40-22)

Last Week: 8 (↑1)

Last Week’s Games: @Cavs (W, 126-113), @Knicks (W, 112-104), @Celtics (W, 99-94)

Next Week’s Games: @Pistons, Raptors, @Thunder, Pelicans

The Jazz did the opposite of the Rockets this week, getting out of a rough patch with three wins. Those wins were against the Cavs, Knicks, and injury depleted Celtics, but wins are still wins. With the Raptors, Thunder, and Pelicans coming up this week, maintaining that momentum will be key for the Jazz. One encouraging sign in that area – Mike Conley might be turning a corner. He averaged 19 points and 5.7 assists per game this week, including a 25-point performance against the Celtics with 6 of 10 shooting from deep. It’s way too early to say that Conley is back, but the Jazz need these latest performances to be a sign of something real.  

 

  1. Denver Nuggets (41-20)

Last Week: 6 (-)

Last Week’s Games: Raptors (W, 133-118), @Warriors (W, 116-100), @Hornets (W, 114-112)

Next Week’s Games: @Cavs, Bucks, @Mavs, @Spurs

The Nuggets had a big week, beating a good Raptors team at home and then handling the Warriors and Hornets on the road. They weren’t able to gain much ground on the Lakers, but they kept within a game of the Clippers and the 2 seed. With the Rockets falling off again, Clippers-Nuggets is still the clear favorite for the 2-3 match-up. The Nuggets are 1-0 against the Clippers in Denver. They’re 0-2 against the Clippers in Los Angeles. That’s obviously a very small sample size, but getting past the Clippers for the 2 seed might be key. 

 

  1. Boston Celtics (42-20)

Last Week: 4 (↓1)

Last Week’s Games: Nets (L, 120-129 OT), @Cavs (W, 112-106),  Jazz (L, 94-99)

Next Week’s Games: Thunder, @Pacers, @Bucks, Wizards

The Celtics couldn’t contain Caris LeVert late against the Nets, and they fell in overtime despite leading by 17 after three quarters. The loss came without the sick Jayson Tatum, and Gordon Hayward and Walker also combined for only 40 minutes due to injury issues. With Brown, Walker, and Hayward out in Cleveland, Tatum (32 points, 6 assists, 9 boards) led the way in a close win. Walker returned against the Jazz, but Utah swallowed up everyone other than Marcus Smart (29 points). The Celtics have lost a quick three of four to fall back in the race for the 2 seed. The good news – short-term injuries are the biggest cause. The bad news – those injuries will likely extend another game or two, and the next few games are no cupcakes for Boston. With only 20 games left, every game counts in the seeding battle. 

 

  1. Toronto Raptors (44-18)

Last Week: 3 (↓1)

Last Week’s Games: @Nuggets (L, 118-133), @Suns (W, 123-114), @Warriors (W, 121-113)

Next Week’s Games: @Kings, @Jazz

Boston’s struggles allowed the Raptors to strengthen their hold on the 2 seed despite falling in Denver. That lead now stands at 2 games. Toronto put up some impressive statistical displays in their wins this week. Pascal Siakam (33), Kyle Lowry (28), and Norm Powell (26) got hot in Phoenix, and Chris Boucher went for an impressive 19 points and 15 rebounds. Powell then dropped 37 on the Warriors, with Lowry throwing in 26 points and 10 assists. That type of firepower showing up consistently in the playoffs might be a necessity for a deep run. The defense is already there, but the Kawhi-like individual performances are no longer a constant. That hole will be a lot more visible in the postseason. 

 

  1. Los Angeles Clippers (43-19)

Last Week: 5 (↑2)

Last Week’s Games: 76ers (W, 136-130), @Thunder (W, 109-94), @Rockets (W, 120-105)

Next Week’s Games: Lakers, @Warriors, Nets

The Clippers picked up a win over Shake Milton (39 points) and the Sixers to start the week, which is exactly what Philadelphia fans expected to see at this point in the season. But Los Angeles really made their money this week with two big road wins over Western Conference playoff teams. They made it look relatively easy too, racing out to double digit leads after the first quarter in both games. This version of the Clippers, the one that has won six straight games with five against current playoff teams, is the one that can contend for a title. Beating the Lakers for a third time would confirm that notion. 

 

  1. Los Angeles Lakers (48-13)

Last Week: 2 (-)

Last Week’s Games: @Pelicans (W, 122-114), 76ers (W, 120-107), Bucks (W, 113-103)

Next Week’s Games: @Clippers, Nets, Rockets

The Lakers made a few statements this week, going into New Orleans and winning without Anthony Davis (scared) and then handling the Bucks at home. They have solidified their lead over the rest of the West over the last few weeks, and will take a 5.5 game edge over the Clippers into this week’s match-up. Now they just need to show that they can beat their rival. Home-court advantage in the playoff doesn’t mean much when you play in the same building, and the 1 seed isn’t the end goal for the Lakers. 

 

  1. Milwaukee Bucks (53-10)

Last Week: 1 (-)

Last Week’s Games: @Hornets (W, 93-85), @Heat (L, 89-105), Pacers (W, 119-100), @Lakers (L, 103-113)

Next Week’s Games: @Suns, Nuggets, Celtics

The Bucks had their worst week in a long time this week. On the bright side, they were the only team in the league that could say that about a 2-2 stretch with both losses on the road against playoff teams and one of the wins a 20-point victory against another playoff team. Despite the two losses, they’re still four games clear at the top of the league. Let’s not pretend that the Lakers fully closed what was a pretty big gap with one home win. That said, that win does mean that both the Bucks and Lakers defended their home court against the other with clear wins. A Milwaukee v. Los Angeles Finals would be competitive, and it would be fun with all of the storylines involved. Still, four of the seven will likely be played in Milwaukee given that aforementioned lead. Los Angeles won’t have a 38-23 free throw edge in those games. Another note – Milwaukee’s magic number to clinch the East 1 seed is 12 with 19 games to go.

 

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