The NBA season is currently in full effect, as all NBA teams have passed the halfway point of the regular season, with All-Star Weekend less than a week away. While most teams have a few games left before the break, the time off is certainly welcomed by both the players and coaches.
During the All-Star break, coaches have a chance to reevaluate where they are in the standings, what approaches need to change and what needs to be done moving into the final stretch of the regular season. While teams like the Los Angeles Lakers are experimenting with their roster, playoff contenders are pondering if they should make any last second alterations to their roster.
Lakers Nation examines the outlook of the 30 NBA teams in our fifth edition of the NBA power rankings:
1. Golden State Warriors (46-8) – The Warriors clash with the Thunder on Saturday brought forth some chippy basketball on both ends, both also demonstrated that the Warriors have Durant’s back. Led by Steve Kerr, the regular season is just about finding that chemistry on both ends to succeed in the playoffs.
2. San Antonio Spurs (41-13) – While Kawhi Leonard has been carrying the offensive load for the Spurs with his 30-point outbursts, the Spurs patiently wait for the return of Pau Gasol. Two of their last few games have been the least efficient this season, as Gregg Popovich certainly expressed his disappointment with their four-point loss to the Knicks. Expect his team to bounce back with flawless execution and selfless play.
3. Cleveland Cavaliers (37-16) – The Cavaliers have been making trades lately, but not the ones that LeBron James expected. They flipped Chris Anderson for a future draft pick, while also departing with Mo Williams earlier this season. While they still hold a lead in the Eastern conference, James has been taking on a large role and leads the NBA in minutes played. Tyronn Lue will certainly need to ponder resting James when possible, as they need him fresh for the playoff run.
4. Houston Rockets (40-17) – Mike D’Antoni and James Harden continue to surprise the NBA with the success they have had this season, proving that this new age of basketball and up-tempo scoring can put forth results. However, the Rockets patiently wait for good news regarding Eric Gordon, who has sat out the past two games with a back injury. The front runner for the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year award will be a key piece going into the playoffs, as one of the few ball handlers alongside Harden.
5. Boston Celtics (35-19) – Isaiah Thomas certainly is making a case for the NBA MVP if not for the two triple-double machines this season, as the Celtics have won nine of their last 10 games. Brad Stevens has fully implemented a strong system, with his players making plays for each other and the overall success of the team.
6. Washington Wizards (32-21) – The Wizards lost a heartbreaker to the Cavaliers last week, but also demonstrated that they can keep up with any team in the Eastern conference. With John Wall and Bradley Beal leading the way and in sync, Scott Brooks’ squad has a good shot at the No. 2 seed. The Wizards should also be active with the trade deadline looming, as reports state that Serge Ibaka could reunite with Brooks, as the shot blocker they desperately need.
7. Utah Jazz (34-21) – The Jazz have fully passed the idea that they were a borderline playoff team in the NBA, with a 13-8 record in 2017. Currently slated as the No. 4 seed in the West, the Jazz have a strong 10-man rotation that can cause problems in the playoffs. The Jazz hope Rodney Hood will be okay for the stretch run, as he is out until after the All-Star break with a sensitive knee injury.
8. Los Angeles Clippers (33-21) – Blake Griffin has picked up the pace of late, as Chris Paul continues to sit out with the torn ligament in his thumb. The Clippers hope to stay afloat until Paul returns, as they currently fight with the Jazz for the No. 4 seed in the West.
9. Toronto Raptors (32-23) – Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan continue to headline the strong Eastern conference contender, but it seems as though a key piece is missing if they want to make a strong run at the Cavaliers, Wizards and Celtics. The team can’t ask of more production and minutes from their two stars in the stretch run, or it could mean a tired team entering the playoffs.
10. Memphis Grizzlies (33-23) – Although Marc Gasol and the Grizzlies surrendered their first loss to the Warriors this week (2-1 this season), they still present a strong threat in the West. As one of the few teams with a nucleus that has been kept in tact over the years, the ever-hustling Grizzlies always provide a tough matchup.
11. Atlanta Hawks (31-23) – The Hawks surprised the NBA with their trade of Kyle Korver, especially when being dealt to the already favored Cavaliers, but they remain firm that Paul Millsap will not be dealt. The Hawks are a well-coached team under Mike Budenholzer, with Dwight Howard and Dennis Schroder forming quite the pick-and-roll duo.
12. Indiana Pacers (29-25) – Paul George has played phenomenal of late, as it seems the Pacers have developed some chemistry as the season has progressed. George remains one of the most intimidating 1-on-1 players in the NBA, with a solid rotation of players who are capable of scoring on their own. The real test for Nate McMillan and the Pacers is whether they can clamp it down on the defensive end and play for one another.
13. Oklahoma City Thunder (31-24) – Russell Westbrook and the Thunder fell to the Warriors on Saturday night, but may have found a cause to rally around. As Enes Kanter continues to sit out, the Thunder clearly lack enough scoring to keep up against their Western conference opponents. If they want to stay afloat in the playoff race, the team needs to feed off his return after the All-Star Break, as Westbrook can’t do it all on his own.
Hanging On The Cusp Of The Playoffs:
14. Chicago Bulls (26-29) – The Bulls had one of their worst performances of the season this weekend, a 28-point loss to the Timberwolves. Fred Hoiberg still has drama on his team, as three point-guards are splitting a typical starter’s minutes. His team is on a three-game losing streak, with a clear rift on the roster between Jimmy Butler, Dwyane Wade and their teammates.
15. Detroit Pistons (26-29) – Andre Drummond still remains a handful no matter the opponent, as Tobias Harris, Marcus Morris and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope have exceeded expectations. However, Stan Van Gundy may have a point-guard problem going forward, as Ish Smith continues to play better than the slumping Reggie Jackson.
16. Denver Nuggets (24-30) – The Nuggets went all in on their 2016-17 playoff run with their trade over the weekend, acquiring Mason Plumlee as a defensive and up-tempo presence. Although they departed with Jusuf Nurkic, it means they have fully invested in Nikola Jokic, who appears to be a top-10 center talent in the NBA.
17. Charlotte Hornets (24-30) – While the Hornets continue to celebrate the first All-Star bid for Kemba Walker, they have slumped tremendously and have fallen out of the top eight teams in the East. Steve Clifford’s defensive minded club is 1-9 over their last 10 games, as they have allowed over 100 points in 11 straight contests.
18. Miami Heat (24-31) – The inevitable end of the Heat’s winning streak came at the hand of the Philadelphia 76ers this weekend. While that loss brought an end to perhaps the most unexpected winning streak in NBA history, the 13 consecutive wins brought them back into the playoff race in the East.
19. Portland Trail Blazers (23-31) – It appears as though general manager Neil Olshey felt change needed to happen, as they acquired big man Jusuf Nurkic and a second-round pick from the Nuggets. Nurkic should provide a heavy dose of scoring in the post in an increased role with the Trail Blazers, as they battle their trade counterparts for the eighth seed in the West.
20. Sacramento Kings (23-32) – As the season continues on, the Kings continue to provide media headlines. Besides their social media epidemic, DeMarcus Cousins’ on-court antics don’t seem to ending anytime soon, after being suspended for reaching the technical limit. He’ll be suspended a game for every other technical moving forward, but the Kings need him in action every night if they plan on making a playoff run.
21. Milwaukee Bucks (23-30) – The injury to Jabari Parker was a devastating one, as players around the NBA all praised the Duke alumnus for his upcoming recovery process. While his injury does provide Thon Maker a chance to start moving forward, the Bucks have lost seven of their last 10 games and have below .500 records at home and on the road.
22. Dallas Mavericks (22-32) – The Mavericks are fully focused on making the playoffs in the West, as they have rebounded fully from their horrid start to the season. Yogi Ferrell and Seth Curry have carried the load for the guards while J.J. Barea and Deron Williams continue to recover from respective injuries. Rick Carlisle’s team has won seven of their last 10 games, while holding their opponents to just over 100 points a game.
23. New York Knicks (23-33) – Amidst all the ongoing drama with James Dolan, Phil Jackson and Charles Oakley, Carmelo Anthony led the Knicks to perhaps their most impressive win of the season. His fourth-quarter outburst offensively led to their comeback victory in primetime against the Spurs. This could be the key point of the season, as the Knicks can build off of the momentum or drift into the lottery sweepstakes.
24. New Orleans Pelicans (21-34) – The Pelicans continue to struggle of late, as Anthony Davis and the Pelicans have been unable to consistently find success in close contests. They clearly lack that winning experience needed in the West, while they are continually mentioned as a potential landing spot for Jahlil Okafor.
25. Minnesota Timberwolves (21-34) – Zach Lavine’s torn ACL put a damper in a potential playoff run, while Kris Dunn’s performance hasn’t resembled the expectations they had in place. He has yet to take the starting role from Ricky Rubio, whom the Timberwolves have been actively shopping for quite some time.
The Lottery Sweepstakes:
26. Philadelphia 76ers (20-34) – The 76ers continue to build quality wins this season, ending the Heat’s 13-game winning streak on Saturday. T.J. McConnell, Robert Covington, and Ersan İlyasova have played well out late, as the franchise patiently waits for Ben Simmons to get the approval to make his debut.
27. Orlando Magic (20-36) – The Magic will be one of the most active teams at the trade deadline, as Nikola Vucevic and Serge Ibaka have been mentioned in ongoing trade rumors. Clearly out of the playoff race, the Magic need to formulate and ponder their outlook going into next season, after having one of the more confusing roster situations this season.
28. Los Angeles Lakers (19-36) – Upon two opening losses to the Wizards and Celtics, the Lakers rebounded nicely for a strong end to the Grammy road trip. The Lakers have won four of their last 10 games, while still holding the No. 3 spot for the worst record in the NBA (in relation to their draft pick situation). Moving forward, it is clear that head coach Luke Walton is interested in finding out what his young players can do, in order to set the stage for the next season.
29. Phoenix Suns (17-38) – The roster for the Suns has shown signs of promising players, although it hasn’t necessarily translated to wins. Tyson Chandler’s ankle injury will keep him out a few games moving, as they will certainly miss his defensive presence. The Suns already owned the worst point differential in the West, with a -6.3 point outcome per game.
30. Brooklyn Nets (9-45) – The Nets are the frontrunner for the top pick in next year’s NBA draft, but they will not be able to cash in a potential star in the next draft class. The Celtics own the rights to the pick, as Kenny Atkinson’s debut as a head coach hasn’t panned out as expected, with the worst record and the lowest payroll in the NBA.