As the NBA season continues on past the halfway point and into February, a clear distinction appears to rise between teams with playoff aspirations and teams with lottery aspirations. With All-Star Weekend set for February 19, it gives many front offices, coaches and players a chance to reflect upon how the season is progressing and where to go next.
The Golden State Warriors continue to lead the Western conference, while Cleveland Cavaliers still remain atop the Eastern conference, although they have been struggling of late. Both teams hold at least a 3.5 game lead entering Monday in their respective conference, as the remaining teams battle for playoff positioning.
Lakers Nation examines the streaking and struggling teams in the NBA with our fourth edition of the NBA power rankings:
1. Golden State Warriors (41-7) – Already with the best record in the NBA, the Warriors ended this previous week by winning three consecutive games. While the season continues on, it only provides the Warriors more opportunities to gel together, alongside the addition of Kevin Durant. As the scorer gets acclimated with the offensive and defensive sets, it will only make their team that much more dangerous.
2. San Antonio Spurs (36-11) – The Spurs remain at the No. 2 spot in our fourth edition, as their model of consistency continues to provide strong results. Their 6-4 record these past two weeks was spoiled by their 105-101 loss to the Dallas Mavericks at home on Sunday. With Pau Gasol recovering from his hand injury and Greg Popovich electing to continually rest Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli, it appears his sights are more so focused on the playoffs and the right results.
3. Cleveland Cavaliers (32-14) – The Cavaliers may currently be in the midst of their worst struggles upon LeBron James’ return to Ohio. Their team had a dismal 4-6 record over their past 10 games, which was salvaged by their large lead in the standings. As rumors swirl regarding James and management, it appears the team may need one more addition to hit another stride.
4. Houston Rockets (35-16) – The Rockets, much like the Cavaliers, have not faired well of late. The Rockets were deemed the surprise team of the 2016-17 season, as Mike D’Antoni’s pairing with James Harden at the point guard position was a match made in heaven. However, the NBA is adjusting to their offense and may have found some ways to get past a team that has one ball handler doing a majority of the work.
5. Utah Jazz (30-18) – A healthy 2016-17 season thus far has catapulted the Jazz to one of the top teams in the Western conference. Percentage points behind a struggling Los Angeles Clippers team, the Jazz have a chance to move up to fourth in the West. They put together a six-game winning streak these past two weeks and are one of only three current playoff teams (Spurs and Grizzlies) to be keeping their opponents under 100.0 points per game.
6. Boston Celtics (29-18) – The Celtics quietly resemble the Memphis Grizzlies of the Eastern conference, a team that hustles and fights each and every possession. Led by Isaiah Thomas and his spectacular fourth quarters, the Celtics have moved up to the No. 2 seed, as Brad Stevens fears no opponent.
7. Toronto Raptors (29-19) – While Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan may have the best bromance in the NBA, the Raptors continue on with their winning ways atop the East. After a historic 2015-16 season, their two All-Stars seem poised and hungry for another successful playoff run. DeRozan’s adjustment to mid-range shots has been an outlier in this three-point heavy NBA, but also demonstrates ways to be efficient outside of open shots.
8. Los Angeles Clippers (30-18) – Doc Rivers’ team is coming off of a forgettable 144-98 blowout courtesy of the Warriors. While Chris Paul continues to recover from his injury, the Clippers are left without their primary playmaker and have Austin Rivers and Raymond Felton trying to fill the void of production Paul contributes on a nightly basis. The Clippers are 3-9 this season without Paul and are trending downward.
9. Washington Wizards (27-20) – Perhaps besides the Warriors, the Wizards are the hottest team in the NBA right now. John Wall is playing at a MVP caliber level, while a healthy Bradley Beal has contributed on a nightly basis. Scott Brooks is 8-2 over his last 10 games, with the Wizards steadily climbing the Eastern conference standings.
10. Atlanta Hawks (28-20) – The Hawks are coming off of perhaps the most entertaining game this season, a four-OT victory over the New York Knicks. Their three-headed monster of Paul Millsap, Dennis Schroder and Dwight Howard still form quite the trio, as Mike Budenholzer has his team 14-10 at home and on the road.
11. Oklahoma City Thunder (28-20) – Russell Westbrook, the walking triple-double, continues to cause havoc on a nightly basis. Although his 7-for-26 shooting performance against the Cavaliers was his second worst of the season, he will continue to get his shots up. However, Enes Kanter’s antics on the bench, resulting in a broken forearm, have the Thunder without one of their best finishers around the rim.
12. Memphis Grizzlies (28-21) – The Grizzlies may very well be the most physical team in the NBA, as one of the few remaining teams that proudly boasts to back the basket players in Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph. Their 16-9 home record speaks loudly to their success at home, as they are only 2.5 games back of the fourth spot in the West.
Hanging On The Cusp Of The Playoffs:
13. Indiana Pacers (25-22) – Paul George turned into one of the controversial All-Star picks this season, although he is producing at his typical rate. The Pacers went from a team that was on the verge of imploding to one of the unpredictable teams in the East. Myles Turner, Jeff Teague and Thaddeus Young have performed well, but head coach Nate McMillan needs his team to gel and form chemistry as the season progresses.
14. Chicago Bulls (24-25) – The Bulls have made headlines this past week, but for all the wrong reasons. Drama in the locker room between Dwyane Wade, Jimmy Butler and the rest of the team has people on edge. Point guard Rajon Rondo has never been afraid to speak his mind, calling out the two leaders for their antics, while younger players are complaining about Wade and his lack of practices.
15. Charlotte Hornets (23-25) – Kemba Walker was awarded his first All-Star appearance this week, as a well-deserved reserve on the East squad. Amongst all Eastern playoff teams, the Hornets allow the second fewest points per game. After climbing the standings, their 3-7 performance over their last 10 games drops them into the eighth spot.
16. Denver Nuggets (21-25) – The Nuggets jumped into the eighth seed in the West by winning seven of their last 10 games. Nikola Jokic is steadily turning into one of the best post scorers in the league, but suffered a hip injury that will sideline him against the Lakers on Tuesday. Kenneth Faried, Jameer Nelson and Wilson Chandler all provide veteran expertise to this young Nuggets team on the verge of the playoffs.
17. Milwaukee Bucks (21-26) – The Bucks were a constant in the playoff standings until last week, when drama hit the locker room. During a recent meeting, forward Jabari Parker received backlash for revealing what was said in a team meeting to the media, much to the dismay of his teammates. While he and the ‘Greek Freak’ are the clear-cut leaders of this team, their 2-8 performance over their last 10 games surely needs to change.
18. Detroit Pistons (21-26) – The Pistons fought through the initial stretch of the season, hoping that point guard Reggie Jackson would be a huge plus upon his return from knee surgery. However, it appears Jackson has turned into an available player on the trade market, as the Pistons have been linked to Ricky Rubio.
19. Portland Trail Blazers (21-28) – The Trail Blazers continue to be one of the mysteries of this season, as their clear struggles this season have basketball aficionados wondering if they were a one-year fluke. C.J. McCollum has carried the torch of late, as Damian Lillard is struggling with his field goal percentage (last game at .500 was Jan. 5 vs. Lakers).
20. Sacramento Kings (19-28) – As the season has continued on, it appears there has been less and less turmoil surrounding the Kings. All-Star DeMarcus Cousins and head coach Dave Joerger have gelled together, as their team is only 2.5 games back of the eighth seed in the West. On Monday, Cousins was cleared of all connections to a nightclub incident, which is another step in the right direction for the star center.
21. New Orleans Pelicans (19-29) – Upon a dismal start to the regular season, the Pelicans have turned it around under Alvin Gentry. After that 1-9 start, the Pelicans are 18-20, which actually would put them eighth in the West. Anthony Davis has stayed healthy of late, while the reemergence of Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans have provided more of a scoring punch.
22. New York Knicks (21-28) – The spotlight of playing in New York and at the Madison Square Garden certainly places a lot of pressure on the Knicks, a team that is lost in their thought process. There are those that suggest a rebuild around Kristaps Porzingis, which certainly involves trading Carmelo Anthony. However, if Phil Jackson can’t get an adequate return, it may not be in their best interest.
23. Minnesota Timberwolves (18-29) – Amongst all current non-playoff teams, the Timberwolves and Miami Heat were the only teams to go 7-3 over the last 10 games. The young stars and roster will only be more familiar with Tom Thibodeau and his defense as the season goes on, so expect stronger results moving forward. Rubio is continually being linked to trades, so this team may feel different come the All-Star break.
The Lottery Sweepstakes:
24. Dallas Mavericks (17-30) – The 2016-17 season has been a struggle offensively for Rick Carlisle and the Mavericks, as the average a league-worst 96.9 points per game. Their reliance upon Dirk Nowitzki and his scoring is dangerous, considering the 38-year-old doesn’t have much left in the tank. Harrison Barnes, Wesley Matthews and Seth Curry have all done well of late, as their 105-101 victory over the Spurs yesterday may be a much-needed boost.
25. Orlando Magic (19-30) – Head coach Frank Vogel and the Magic have one of the more complex rosters in the NBA, with a starting frontcourt full of bruisers around the rim. With Aaron Gordon, Serge Ibaka and Bismack Biyombo receiving consistent minutes, the Magic are actively trying to shop Nikola Vucevic.
26. Miami Heat (18-30) – Victors of seven of their last 10 games, the Heat are attempting to escape their label as a clear-cut tanking team. Goran Dragic and Hassan Whiteside have led the way for Erik Spoelstra, while Tyler Johnson and James Johnson have contributed steadily. The loss of Justice Winslow for the season was certainly huge, as the Heat continue to figure out their identity in a post-Wade era.
27. Philadelphia 76ers (17-29) – The 76ers emergence in 2017 has quickly captured the limelight of the NBA, as players and fans are truly trusting in the process. Joel Embiid has been deemed an All-Star snub by most, as his captivating play, while being restricted, has put his team in winning situations. Their current 9-5 record in January secured their first winning month since November of 2012.
28. Los Angeles Lakers (16-34) – Head coach Luke Walton and the Lakers are in the midst of a terrible month of January, going 4-10 and dropping in the standings. With so much attention on their draft-pick scenario regarding the 76ers and Magic, many have thrown out the idea of tanking. However, Walton’s only concern remains the development of his young players, earning crucial experience while learning from their mistakes.
29. Phoenix Suns (15-32) – The Suns have held their ground as the worst team in the Western conference for quite some time, as the production from the trio of Eric Bledsoe, Brandon Knight and Devin Booker haven’t exactly translated into victories. Perhaps the most interesting fact regarding the Suns is their play between conferences. This season, Watson’s squad is 10-6 against the East, but are 5-26 against the West.
30. Brooklyn Nets (9-38) – The Nets enter the new week losers of five straight, as the lowest salary in the NBA is having trouble accumulating talent. Jeremy Lin, who was thought of as a savior for the Nets, reaggravated his hamstring injury once again and will be out another 3-5 weeks. They are 2-21 on the road, while allowing a league-most 115.2 points per game.