As the NBA All-Star break approaches, there are NBA teams headed in different directions, but one thing that has remained certain since the beginning of the season is that every team in the Western Conference is looking up at the Golden State Warriors and every team in the Eastern Conference is looking up at the Cleveland Cavaliers.
While they both seem like shoe-ins to reach their third consecutive NBA Finals, with Golden State winning two years ago and Cleveland coming out on top last year, there are plenty of other NBA teams vying for postseason spots to have an opportunity to take those two powerhouses down.
Lakers Nation takes a look at the rising and falling contenders in both the Eastern and Western conference in our third edition of our weekly power rankings:
1. Golden State Warriors (38-6) – The Warriors went 4-0 this past week to add to their already NBA best record. It comes as no surprise how good they have been on offense this season, but led by Draymond Green and Kevin Durant their defense holds opponents to just 43.3 percent shooting, which is the best mark in the NBA.
2. San Antonio Spurs (34-9) – The Spurs also had a perfect week, going 3-0 including a road win over the Cavaliers without starters Tony Parker and Pau Gasol. San Antonio is now 4-0 on the road this season against the Warriors, Cavaliers and Houston Rockets, the three other ‘elite’ teams in the league.
3. Cleveland Cavaliers (30-12)- The Cavaliers addressed their team needs recently by acquiring Kyle Korver from the Atlanta Hawks. Korver is still trying to fit into his new home, but the Cavaliers are still clearly the best team in the East despite a home loss to the Spurs.
4. Houston Rockets (34-13) – In his first season with the Rockets, head coach Mike D’Antoni has connected with James Harden to produce outstanding results. Harden potentially resides as the leading MVP candidate as of now, as he has taken off with the point guard position. His constant pick and rolls have led to an increase playmaking role, as he has yet to have a game this season with less than seven assists.
5. Utah Jazz (29-16)- The Jazz have one of the youngest teams in the NBA, but that has not seemed to have effected them as they are currently playing their best basketball and have caught the Clippers for the fourth seed in the West. Look for Utah to keep climbing upward both in the standings and rankings.
6. Toronto Raptors (28-16) – Despite a 1-3 week the Raptors still sit at the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference and pose the biggest threat to keeping the Cavaliers from from reaching their third straight NBA Finals. DeMar Derozan was recently named an All-Star starter, and Kyle Lowry will also likely be named to the team as a reserve giving Toronto one of the best backcourts in the NBA.
7. Atlanta Hawks (26-18) – Even after trading Korver the Hawks continue their winning ways and will be once again headed for the postseason. The question for the Hawks before next month’s trade deadline is if they plan on unloading more expiring contracts, like Paul Millsap, or if they keep their team intact to compete in the East.
8. Boston Celtics (26-17) – Isaiah Thomas was one of the biggest All-Star starter snubs, as he will not be starting for the East despite being second in the league in scoring at 29.0 points per game.
9. Los Angeles Clippers (29-16) – The Clippers have been bitten by the injury bug in recent weeks, as Chris Paul joins Blake Griffin on the injury list as he is out 6-8 weeks with a finger injury. Griffin should be returning this week, but the Clippers are quickly falling down the standings in the West and are no longer considered an elite team.
10. Washington Wizards (23-20) – The Wizards went from being a lottery team to the No. 5 seed in the East in the last month. John Wall and Bradley Beal are both playing like All-Stars, and they are buying into first-year head coach Scott Brooks’ system on both ends of the floor.
11. Oklahoma City Thunder (25-19) – Along with Thomas, Russell Westbrook was also a big All-Star starter snub as Stephen Curry of the Warriors was chosen to start over him despite Westbrook being the first person since Oscar Robertson to average a triple-double. Finding help for Westbrook is the biggest problem for the Thunder though, who haven’t proven able to beat the elite teams in the West.
12. Memphis Grizzlies (26-20) – Much like the Celtics, the Grizzlies reside as the most physical, grinding team in the Western Conference. Franchise players Mike Conley and Marc Gasol deserve to be All-Stars, while grind-father Tony Allen is never scared of a defensive challenge. Veteran bench play from Vince Carter and Zach Randolph aide a thin bench, while Chandler Parsons slowly returns to his healthy form.
Hanging On The Cusp Of The Playoffs:
13. Charlotte Hornets (23-21) – A 3-1 week has the Hornets back in the playoff picture, as they currently are the sixth seed in the East. Kemba Walker is playing the best basketball of his career and they have surrounded him with veteran role players like Nicholas Batum and Marco Belinelli giving them a very formidable playoff team.
14. Indiana Pacers (22-21) – While the Pacers have not yet met their expectations for this season, they are still looking like a playoff team. A recent loss to the Lakers will hurt their chance though.
15. Chicago Bulls (22-23) – The Bulls roster is not exactly shaping up as they had hoped before the season, as their lack of shooters has left them very one dimensional on the offensive end.
16. Milwaukee Bucks (20-23) – There has been some recent turmoil in Milwaukee as some of Jabari Parker’s teammates were not happy with him disclosing what he talked about in a locker room meeting, but the Bucks still have one of the most talented young teams in the league and will compete for a playoff spot in the East.
17. Denver Nuggets (18-25) – Surprisingly if the playoffs started today the Nuggets would be the eighth seed in the West. Denver is one of the highest scoring teams in the league at 109.8 points per game, but they have struggled tremendously on the defensive end of the floor, giving up 111.3 points per game, third worst in the NBA.
18. Philadelphia 76ers (15-27) – The process is being trusted in Philadelphia, as the 76ers have won seven of their last 10 games and Joel Embiid is playing at an All-Star caliber level. They may not be in a postseason spot yet, but if their high level of play continues they could creep their way into the picture. No. 1 overall pick Ben simmons may just be a few weeks away from making his NBA debut as well.
19. Portland Trail Blazers (19-27) – The Blazers may be the biggest disappointment of the 2016-17 season, after such a successful 2015-16 season. While Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum carry the offensive load, the role players and defense haven’t been as stable as in the past.
On The Fringe Of Contention:
20. Detroit Pistons (21-24) – The Pistons are right in the postseason picture in the East, as they currently are just a game out of the eighth seed. But it seems they lack a true superstar to really compete. They have recently been linked to Minnesota Timberwolves point guard Ricky Rubio, although that likely would put them over the top.
21. Minnesota Timberwolves (16-28) – The Timberwolves have begun playing better basketball under first-year head coach Tom Thibodeau, and Karl-Anthony Towns is quickly turning into a superstar. He helped them earn victories over both the Clippers and Nuggets this past week.
22. New Orleans Pelicans (17-27) – Improved health has done wonders for the Pelicans this season, as their play has risen since the return of veterans like Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans. They currently are just a game and a half out of the final playoff spot in the West.
23. Sacramento Kings (16-27) – The Kings made headlines a few weeks ago, putting together a notable winning streak, but have since steadily declined. They are still in the postseason race though, but the loss of Rudy Gay to a season-ending achilles injury will hurt them.
Entering The Lottery Sweepstakes:
24. Phoenix Suns (15-29) – Second-year player Devin Booker has scored 20 or more points in nine straight games, the first Suns player to do that since Amar’e Stoudemire, leaving Suns fans a glimmer of hope in an otherwise disappointing season.
25. Orlando Magic (18-28) – The Magic flirted with playoff contention for a bit, but a rough stretch recently have dropped them back into the lottery. They are 2-8 in their last 10 games, and seem to be trending downward.
26. New York Knicks (19-26) – The soap opera that is the New York Knicks continued this past week, as star player Carmelo Anthony met with Phil Jackson to talk about his future with the team. It is clear that the Knicks would like to trade Anthony, but he would have to waive his no-trade clause for that to happen which is unlikely to happen before the trade deadline.
27. Dallas Mavericks (15-29) – The Mavericks handed the Lakers their worst loss in franchise history on Sunday when they beat them by 49 on Sunday. They still look to be headed for the lottery, but their play has improved in recent weeks.
28. Miami Heat (14-30) – Miami had a surprising 3-0 week this past week, beating the Rockets, Mavericks and Bucks. Their next game is against Golden State though so that win streak may be coming to an end.
29. Los Angeles Lakers (16-32) – After an impressive home win over the Pacers, the Lakers responded with the worst performance in franchise history, losing by 49 to Dallas. There have been glimpses of hope for the Lakers this season, but their recent play has them headed for another lottery spot. The Lakers must have a top three pick if they want to keep it from going to the 76ers.
30. Brooklyn Nets (9-34) – Kenny Atkinson’s head coaching debut hasn’t exactly panned out, as the Nets hold the worst record in the NBA. The Nets own the second smallest payroll this season ($76,449,868), which has certainly harmed their ability to produce on the court. Their noted offseason acquisition, Jeremy Lin, has been plagued by a hamstring injury.