NBA Power Rankings: Cavaliers spiral out of control as Celtics, Raptors find their groove
And the good times roll for Golden State
Timing is everything. To make the NBA playoffs, many teams have to find their best basketball at the exact right moment. But not only do you have to hit that point, you also have to stay there. The Pelicans seem to have figured out how to win, but their hole appears too large for them to climb out of.
By the same token, the Blazers should already be eliminated. But while they were languishing, no other team in the West separated themselves, and so, on Sunday night, the Blazers reclaimed the eighth seed with a win over the Lakers. The Blazers managed to play their best starting at just the right moment to pull that off.
Of course, some teams are so good they don’t momentum. The Warriors or Cavaliers can flip the switch and cruise past the competition. Right? That’s what we’re asking with the Cavs, who have fallen apart as of late and are now in real danger of losing the No.1 seed.
The NBA season is long, and while it provides a healthy sample size to judge teams, it also means that you can be several different versions of yourself -- good and bad -- before the postseason rolls around.
Here are this week’s power rankings:
||Everything's looking up for Golden State after their early March stumble. They're back to pasting teams. Curry is back to Currying, Durant is getting closer to his return by the minute, and they won't be challenged in the first round at all while San Antonio and Houston will have tough first-round matchups and then have to battle each other. It's all coming together for Golden State ... again.||--||67-15|
||You should probably expect to see less and less of the Spurs' starters, beginning this week. Golden State's magic number for home court in the conference finals is eight. The Spurs have the Cavs and Warriors again this week. If they don't make a push to get back into a scrap with the Warriors for the 1-seed, they'll probably start shutting guys down. And then we'll have more conversations about rest. Oh, goody.||--||61-21|
||They've been absolutely lights out since the All-Star break. The defense has been a machine, they're beating good teams and bad teams, and have all the momentum to secure the 2-seed -- or maybe even the top spot in the East. Brad Stevens probably needs more talk about Coach of the Year.||3||53-29|
||Houston's going to have a dilemma. They are going to be locked into the 3-seed by the end of next week (magic number for Spurs top-two is four, magic number for Rockets no-worse-than-third is three). They haven't rested guys all year, and they have James Harden's MVP candidacy to consider. But there's going to come a time in the near future where they literally have nothing to play for other than momentum and love of the game. Tough call.||1||55-27|
||DeMar DeRozan is a mid-range jump-shooting, foul-draw-dependent, high usage player. He is also a tremendous player who has stepped up big time, not only in scoring, but in defense and passing, with Kyle Lowry out. DeRozan's leadership during this stretch where they've won five of six to get back into competition for the third seed is MVP-caliber. Toronto is not going into that 4-5 matchup quietly.||5||51-31|
||The Wizards dipped a little bit, losing four of five, but then responded with a good win vs. the Hawks and a dominant win over Brooklyn. If their post-All-Star slump was a blip, they're in great shape to make a serious run. If it was a sign that they peaked too early, they might wind up experiencing what it's like to be the one who has the upset pulled on them this time.||2||49-33|
||LeBron was as angry after the loss to the Nuggets as I've ever seen him after a game. We're all in the same place with them. "They're fine ... unless they're not." You have to have faith in their ability to flip the switch, but this year's crop of East challengers is stronger than last year's ... and so are the Warriors. LeBron is going to have to pull this team behind him as only he can, once again.||4||51-31|
||Don't be surprised if the Thunder are better in the playoffs than they've looked in the regular season, provided they don't face Golden State. Their physical, rough-and-tumble, grind-it-out-and-win-with-defense style is better suited to a playoff environment.||--||47-35|
||Portland should be the favorite for the No. 8 seed. Nurkic has given the town fever, and Damian Lillard's capture of the moment, getting back to being a human inferno, illustrates what makes him great. This team is still fundamentally flawed, but the same can be said to varying degrees of not only the teams competing for eighth, but every team after Houston in the West. Getting to the playoffs would salvage a little of what has been a wildly disappointing season, that should still force major questions about their future. Portland now controls its own destiny in reaching the postseason.||5||41-41|
||Man, better late than never. The Bucks struggled out of the gate, surged in December, fell apart for two months, and have won 11 of 14. They're in an ideal position, with Atlanta injured and the Pacers fading, to sneak into the 5-spot, and that sets up a very intriguing playoff run.||3||42-40|
||OK, let's find out if this team can keep it up through the finish line. They surged from January 17 til now to snake the 8-seed, while Detroit and Chicago faltered. They've lost two of three, and of their final 10 opponents, seven are playoff or playoff-contending teams. Four are at home. They dug out of that deep hole, and have slowly won over national media and analysts into believing this is actually a good team. Finish strong, grab a No. 6, 7, or 8 seed, and try to shock the world.||4||41-41|
||The win vs. the Jazz showed what they're capable of. Then again, so did the loss to the friggin' Kings. If they had made a conference finals, even once, we'd probably be talking about them coasting and how we have to trust them to flip the switch. But they haven't, so we don't/can't. Maybe that's wrong, maybe that's right, but it's something to think about.||3||51-31|
||The Jazz' loss to the Clippers Saturday dropped them to 8-15 vs. Western Conference playoff teams, and means that they lose the tiebreaker to the Clippers, Thunder, and Grizzlies if it comes to that. We have to be patient; this is their first year as a playoff squad, but their prospects of turning a higher seed than some expected into an actual run look tough.||4||51-31|
||After their loss to the Pelicans, at home, in a game they trailed by more than 30 at one point, I kept saying the same thing. "Same team." It's the same team that just knocked off the Cavaliers and then the Pacers on the road. Somehow, they can be that team, and a team that gets wiped off the map in front of a home crowd that had just bought in, by 30, in the same week. Maddeningly inconsistent, which is not something you tend to say about playoff teams.||3||40-42|
||The Grizzlies actually produce a pheremone that inspires writers and analysts across the nation to bury them prematurely. It's like an expectations-defense mechanism. They split the season series with the Warriors, but finished with a plus-3 point differential vs. Golden State. That number was minus-88 last season.||3||43-39|
||Their one saving grace is that 25-11 home record, and yet Denver just walloped them at Banker's Life. They have enough cupcakes on the schedule to survive ... but it might be close.||3||42-40|
||Dudes are like Rocky. They keep taking haymakers and, beaten and bloodied, keep yelling at you to bring it. Their tragic number for elimination (combined Denver wins and Dallas losses) is eight, so they've got no room for error, but they're likely going to make Portland or Denver earn that 8-seed. No quit.||3||33-49|
||This is a good team that didn't win enough close games. All the data says that. Their roster, on paper, says that. The eye test says that. They just didn't find enough ways to win coin-flip games, and it's a shame, because they have a fun and interesting team.||4||36-46|
||It's like the Bulls are slowly discovering they are terrible, and just having pangs of denial that result in wins. Nikola Mirotic coming on strong as their season starts to fall apart seems appropriate. They are still lingering over the playoffs, within range.||2||41-41|
||This number shocked me. The Pels are 8-8 since the All-Star Break. It seems like they've just lost and lost, but they're .500 since trading for Cousins. Of course, three of those were when Cousins was out, which makes things slightly awkward, but still!||3||34-48|
||Red flags, red flags everywhere. The team seems to have quit on the season. They benched Reggie Jackson for Ish Smith, for crying out loud. They are in broken pieces right now. There's time to put themselves back together, but it's going to take all SVG's horses and all SVG's men.||10||37-45|
||You know, if it weren't for the lack of talent, or assets, or consistency, or discipline, or hope, this team really wouldn't be half-bad. They play hard and have good execution. I love what Kenny Atkinson has done this season.||8||20-62|
||Look out below! The Hawks are in big trouble. Millsap and Bazemore continue to be out. They've lost seven straight, but never in my wildest dreams did I think they'd lose to the Nets. Their final four games are vs. playoff teams (though the Cavs may be resting by then). And while their four-game lead in the loss column over the ninth spot is comfortable, dropping down to the 8-seed would be disastrous for them. They have to pull up out of this dive, now.||7||43-39|
||Orlando has been slowly getting worse with its roster decisions over the past 18 months. I am concerned they are on the precipice of making a bad situation worse this summer.||5||29-53|
||Wait a minute. The Sixers might hit 30 wins this season? 30? With Embiid being out for most of it, and Simmons all of it? Great Odin's Raven, Brett Brown has carved magic from driftwood.||1||28-54|
||Everyone wave goodbye to the Wolves. We'll see them next year, when hopefully they won't faceplant upon having any expectations at all.||8||31-51|
||Did you know Julius Randle has the third most transition assists among big men this year? He's an underrated playmaker. The Lakers are having their annual "look not totally horrible the last three weeks of the season" thing.||--||26-56|
||They're mostly here at the bottom because the other teams have shown some signs of life. They may lose out the rest of the way, which is fine, but they also need the Sixers to lose out, since they gave up a pick swap in the Stauskas deal. Man, you start talking about Kings trades and it's a spiral of sadness.||--||32-50|
||Jeff Hornacek being forced to coach the Triangle is like when Richard has to try and sell "the box" in "Silicon Valley." It's such a waste of a good, imaginative offensive mind.||4||31-51|
||I don't have a problem with Devin Booker gunning for 70 -- he's young and this might be the best scoring night of his life. The bigger question is how the tactics the Suns took to get him there reflect on Earl Watson, who hasn't exactly made a case for Coach of the Year in his first season.||6||24-58|
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