The beginning of April is a reminder to all teams across the National Basketball Association, whether you are fighting for seeding or a part of the lottery process. With the 2016-17 NBA regular season coming to a close this week, teams begin making their final adjustments and decisions before entering the playoffs or the offseason.
With the NBA trade deadline far gone, teams that bolstered their roster now have had some time to gel, while teams that stood silently have hopefully gelled into the right position entering the 2017 playoffs. Teams such as the Toronto Raptors, Oklahoma City Thunder, and Cleveland Cavaliers have enjoyed the new additions, while teams such as the Boston Celtics, San Antonio Spurs and Golden State Warriors gear up for playoff runs with a consistent unit.
On the other hand, the lottery race has also turned into a must-watch race throughout the NBA, as the tanking epidemic has certainly taken center stage. In fact, the tanking methodology has also caused quite the concern, as NBA commissioner Adam Silver has publicly stated his displeasure with teams fighting for the best odds. The Phoenix Suns have been one of the more recognized tanking efforts in the NBA, while teams such as Los Angeles Lakers and Philadelphia 76ers have shown signs of growth throughout the season.
Check out another edition of Lakers Nation’s NBA power rankings:
1. Golden State Warriors (66-14) – Saturday turned into an anticipated matchup for the Warriors, as it signaled the return of Kevin Durant. He posted 16 points, 10 rebounds and six assists in his return. With a handful of games before the playoffs, Durant now has to get back into a rhythm not only with his shot but also with his team and the offense. The Warriors are the clear favorites entering the playoffs, as four teams will have a chance to take down the giants.
2. San Antonio Spurs (61-19) – The end of the regular season is usually a reminder for head coach Gregg Popovich to start resting some of his more elder and often used players, but his implosion after a loss over the weekend has him angry heading into the playoffs. While riding the back of Kawhi Leonard, the Spurs need to get hot at the right time, with a first round matchup against the Memphis Grizzlies.
3. Houston Rockets (54-26) – James Harden took a slight, but not an intentional jab at Russell Westbrook in the MVP race when he told reporters he thought winning was a key criteria to the voters. Harden has transitioned smoothly into Mike D’Antoni’s system, with the right pieces around him for his first deep playoff run as the sole leader.
4. Cleveland Cavaliers (51-29) – The Cavaliers have been one of the more shaky contenders over the course of the last week, as they got over their losing streak with a four-game winning streak. However, they fell apart with a 26-point lead and lost to the Atlanta Hawks in overtime, which left LeBron James confused on the sidelines. With Kyrie Irving not playing this week as a precautionary measure, the Cavaliers certainly have some questions entering the playoffs. However, the Eastern Conference still looks like a cakewalk, barring any injuries.
5. Boston Celtics (51-29) – The Celtics round out and make their way into the elite discussion in the latest edition of the NBA power rankings, with a team chemistry and unselfishness while on the court. They caught the Cavaliers and are stuck in a battle for the No. 1 seed, which certainly benefits them more than the Cavaliers.
6. Toronto Raptors (50-31) – The Raptors managed to fight their way to the No. 3 seed over the course of the second half of the season, but now find themselves in a thankful spot. After missing extended time following surgery on his hand, Kyle Lowry returned to the tune of 27 points and 10 assists. While Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are the clear-cut scorers of this team, they also need to keep their teammates involved to take the next step.
7. Los Angeles Clippers (49-31) – After being cast out of the serious contending picture, the Clippers have responded with eight victories during their last 10 games. With a healthy Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, this team knows their strengths and weaknesses, entering a tough first-round matchup against the defensive-minded Utah Jazz.
8. Utah Jazz (49-31) – After holding down the No. 4 spot for quite some time, the Jazz have relinquished their home court advantage to the Clippers with just a week left. While labeled as the one team no contender wants to face; this Jazz team will live and die by their defense. The Jazz are holding opponents to a league-best 96.7 PPG, but also average the least points amongst current playoff teams (100.7 PPG).
9. Washington Wizards (48-32) – The Wizards have turned into the turnaround story of the NBA season, with the players buying into Scott Brooks’ system and his aggressive style of play. John Wall and Bradley Beal have put together their first fully healthy stretch of play in quite some time. Wall, one of the elite point guards in the NBA, has been a consistent double-double presence, enjoying setting up his teammates just as much as scoring. Teams facing the Wizards in the playoffs need to slow the pace down, or face a track meet against Wall.
10. Oklahoma City Thunder (46-34) – Russell Westbrook has single-handedly placed the Thunder six games over .500 while putting together one of the most historic NBA seasons. Mr. Triple-Double also has his team ready to go into the playoffs, with a very likely first-round matchup against his MVP counterpart, James Harden.
11. Memphis Grizzlies (43-38) – The Grizzlies remain one of the longest-standing cores in all of the NBA, with a team chemistry and aggressive style of play that is a workload for any team. No team wants to face the physical, yet smart defense of the Grizzlies in the playoffs. With their first-round matchup set against the Spurs, the Grizzlies will need a well rested Marc Gasol and Mike Conley to have a shot.
12. Atlanta Hawks (42-38) – After losing five of seven games, the Hawks have responded with three straight victories, pushing them up to the fifth seed. The team is riding their momentum of late, capping off a 26-point comeback over the Cavaliers. Led by Paul Millsap and Dwight Howard, this Hawks team will have to rely on a collective defensive effort to escape the first round.
13. Milwaukee Bucks (41-39) – Jason Kidd’s team serves as one of the more balanced teams in the NBA, capable of winning at home (22-18) or on the road (19-21). No players certainly want the pleasure of guarding Giannis Antetokounmpo throughout an entire series, with Khris Middleton, Malcolm Brogdon and Matthew Dellavedova spacing the floor. If Antetokounmpo can have an outstanding series, they can turn into quite the first-round upset.
14. Portland Trail Blazers (40-40) – Damian Lillard has taken over late this season, with a string of scoring outbursts. The latest one came against the Utah Jazz, where he dropped a career-high 59 points. The Blazers have won eight of their last ten, with Jusuf Nurkic providing an interior scoring punch.
15. Indiana Pacers (40-40) – The Pacers have turned into a consistent example of inconsistent play this NBA season. At times they have shown they can compete and beat the best in the East, but have also been defeated by some of the lottery contenders. After losing six of seven, the Pacers have salvaged their playoff hopes with three consecutive wins. Paul George’s outlook on the team has been bleak of late, but the talent on the roster surely makes for an interesting series.
16. Chicago Bulls (39-41) – The aggressive play of Jimmy Butler and return of Dwayne Wade couldn’t have come at a better time, as they have jumped the Miami Heat with the tiebreaker and are in the No. 8 slot. A first-round matchup between the Bulls and Celtics would be heavily contested, while no one would oblige to a first-round matchup between best friends Wade and James.
On The Cusp Of The Playoffs:
17. Miami Heat (39-41) – Erik Spoelstra definitely deserves credit in the NBA Coach of the Year discussion, resurrecting a Heat team towards the brink of the playoffs. The Heat remains in a tie with the Pacers for the final spot, hoping the Pacers falter and drop down in the standings.
18. Denver Nuggets (38-42) – After holding down the No. 8 spot for quite some time, the Nuggets have fallen out of the playoff race. Their loss last week the Blazers lost their tiebreaker advantage, while Westbrook put a dagger in their playoff hopes with his buzzer-beater on Sunday.
19. Detroit Pistons (37-43) – The Pistons remain one of the mysteries in the NBA, capping off with Stan Van Gundy shutting down Reggie Jackson for the remainder of the season. The Jackson experiment clearly hasn’t worked in Detroit, causing a rift.
20. Charlotte Hornets (36-44) – The Hornets have also been another disappointment this season, labeled a defensively strong team that was expected to be in the midst of the East standings. While Kemba Walker broke through with an All-Star season, his teammates haven’t exactly taken a positive step in development.
21. New Orleans Pelicans (33-47) – While many consider the DeMarcus Cousins experiment a fail, the bigger picture has been somewhat of a success. Ever since the NBA trade deadline, Cousins and Anthony Davis have gelled more and more together. The Pelicans have established an offense involving both bigs, while point guard Jrue Holiday has shown he can compete with the best of them.
22. Dallas Mavericks (32-48) – Many NBA aficionados labeled the Mavericks and the sleeper team of the 2016-17 NBA season but to no avail. The front office found some solid pieces in Yogi Ferrell and Seth Curry, while Wesley Matthews and Harrison Barnes have developed into franchise players. Although they didn’t make the playoffs, this team can now spend an offseason under Rick Carlisle to possibly prepare for Dirk Nowitzki’s last season.
23. Sacramento Kings (31-49) – The Kings simply haven’t been able to close out victories, as they hold a 16-24 record at home and 15-25 record on the road. With no clear franchise player, the often-criticized front office now enters a tightly watched offseason.
24. Minnesota Timberwolves (31-49) – Although they possess the young core with the most upside, the Timberwolves haven’t been able to turn these lessons into victories. They suffered a buzzer-beating defeat on Sunday, courtesy of D’Angelo Russell, which was the latest in devastating losses. With Tom Thibodeau in charge, this team has to come back with a revamped defensive mindset, as Karl-Anthony Towns blossoms into one of the premier young talents in the NBA.
25. New York Knicks (30-50) – Well out of the playoff race, the Knicks have used this final stretch of the season to experiment with the triangle offense. Kristaps Porzingis has been the go-to guy, while the Knicks have been evaluating some of the other players on the roster in hopes of next season.
26. Orlando Magic (28-52) – Head coach Frank Vogel hasn’t had an ideal first season with the Magic, while the front office lost credibility around the NBA when their offseason intentions were posted onto social media. The Magic do have some solid pieces to work around but desire a full roster full of complementary players to succeed.
27. Philadelphia 76ers (28-52) – The 76ers put together such a successful stretch in the middle of the season that it raised hopes in the city of brotherly love. However, the end to the season has been somewhat of a train wreck. They have lost eight of their last 10 and haven’t looked the same since Joel Embiid was declared out for the season. The 76ers need to monitor the budding star’s offseason, while also waiting for the breakout of Ben Simmons.
28. Los Angeles Lakers (25-55) – Head coach Luke Walton has had his hands full in his rookie season as a head coach, dealing with issues both on and off the court in terms of the franchise. However, the Lakers’ dismal season has been sandwiched by strong play. They have put together a four-game winning streak in hard-fought contests, even though they rank last in point differential (-7.0 PPG).
29. Phoenix Suns (24-57) – The Suns went all-in with their tanking process when they decided to bench Tyson Chandler and Eric Bledsoe for the remainder of the season. To their credit, it has paid off, but their standing around the NBA has taken a hit. Their 2016 pick Devin Booker has blossomed into a budding star, while the Suns hope they have put the right pieces around him this offseason.
30. Brooklyn Nets (20-60) – Brooklyn has resided as the worst team in the NBA throughout the entire NBA season, but has consistently worked to better themselves. They have won six of their last 10 games, with Trevor Booker and Jeremy Lin contributing heavily. The Nets have also experimented and succeeded with outside signings, as Isaiah Whitehead has turned into a solid two-way player.