This is not a fun time in the NBA. The playoffs are just far enough away for teams to be unable to find top-level energy, but close enough to where the pressure is wearing on teams. And injuries are wreaking havoc on teams.
The Warriors are a mess, who can’t score. The Warriors ... can’t score. Cleveland is flopping around like a fish out of water. San Antonio lost to Oklahoma City. Toronto is lost in the woods. Grizzlies games are basically their opponent driving past debris scattered on the highway.
These are some of the best teams in the league. We have substantial evidence of that. But they’re slogging through injuries, and the fact that it’s coming now makes it seem like the problems are significant. And there are issues, to be sure. If the Warriors aren’t hitting 3-pointers, they are powerless. The Cavs can’t stop anyone. But these problems are exacerbated because of where the conversation is at in the season.
If a team slumps in November, no one blinks. If they lose four in a row in early March, let’s all run around with our heads cut off. It’s important to keep perspective and look at the whole picture. Things aren’t as bad as they seem for those teams.
Of course, the flip side is true, too. The Mavericks, Wizards and Celtics are all playing their best ball of the season. Is that who they really are, or is the answer somewhere in the middle?
We’re going to find out, and some teams will be as bad as they look now, and some will be as good. But you need to keep the big picture in mind and not get affected by these swings.
Here are this week’s power rankings, which, of course, completely ignores all that and buys in on the swings.
|NO REGRETS. The Wizards have the best record in the NBA since Jan. 1. They just rattled off four wins in five nights including back-to-back wins in overtime on a west coast road trip, even if they were against sub-.500 teams. John Wall is a cyborg ninja, Bradley Beal is a pure weapon, and this team just finds ways to wins. Everyone else fell, the Wizards keep rolling. No regrets!||5||35-47|
|The Spurs slipped up vs. OKC, but given their win over Houston and ... whatever you want to call Saturday night's win, they remain hotter than almost any other team.||1||22-60|
|They're still an elite team, and the other teams around them had worse weeks. So I'm giving them a pass for the Jazz and Spurs losses and keeping them high, especially after that win over Cleveland on Sunday.||1||22-60|
|Not a great road trip. Their whole M.O. has switched since the All-Star Break. Now all of a sudden they beat teams like the Warriors and Cavs but lose to the Nuggets and Suns. I'm giving them credit for the Warriors win despite this being Golden State's low point. If not for that win in Oracle, they'd have taken quite a tumble.||1||57-25|
|Lost in Golden State's slump is Cleveland's dip, having lost five of six after losing to Houston. The Cavs have a gear no one in their conference can hit. As long as they get there, all of this is fine. But if they don't ... these foibles will be historical evidence of what led them to disappointment||3||51-31|
|Stephen Curry is Thunderstuck. Or snakebit. Or something. Anyway, he's shooting 30 percent in his last 10 games. He's going to get back to normal at some point and the Warriors will start winning again, and that's before Durant gets back. However, this whole episode has largely exposed the fact that the Warriors' underpinnings aren't sound. It may not matter; they have Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry (and Klay Thompson and Draymond Green). But there are real weaknesses to this team.||1||44-38|
|Miami has lost five times since Jan. 13. That's a long time for this to be some sort of outlier. It seems more likely that their first two months weren't reflective of who this team is. They're tough, they can shoot, they're versatile. We're all still waiting for them to fail, because their makeup is hard to believe in. But believability might just need to come from their results, which have been stellar.||1||44-38|
|Can't quit on the Thunder, man. No one pulls up out of tailspin faster than OKC, who knocked off San Antonio and Utah after losing four straight. The assumption is that they don't have the firepower to hang in a playoff series ... but a tough defense, experienced guys, a chip on their shoulder... and Westbrook? Yeah, you can have that if you want it.||4||40-42|
|Here's Utah's situation in a nutshell: if they beat the teams they should, they'll hang onto the 4-seed and that gives them at least a coin flip in the first round. Win the first round, the season's a smashing success. But their tiebreakers and matchups with the playoff teams are bad all over. They can't let up from now until their season is done.||--||37-45|
|They've spaced in losses which have hidden it, but this team is 12-6 since Feb. 1. Unfortunately, their offense hasn't improved at all. At this point it's about finding a way to sneak enough wins to secure a playoff spot and then hoping for a favorable matchup vs. Boston or Toronto.||8||17-65|
|Atlanta is very much a "sure" team. Can they get homecourt in the first round? Sure. Can they win a playoff series? Sure. Can they get crushed? Sure. Can they re-sign Millsap this summer? Sure. You just don't really believe in much of it.||2||41-41|
|The Clippers have won four of five, against some good teams. They've got a good shot at holding onto the 4-5 matchup, and they'll likely be favored in the first round. So basically, they've got a month and a half to figure out how to beat Golden State or San Antonio in the second round. Good luck with that.||3||44-38|
|Can they survive until the playoffs? They've got a tough stretch vs. teams that aren't juggernauts, but are all playing for playoff position. It's stating the obvious, but they need Lowry back. The good news is that their defense is seven points better with P.J. Tucker on the court.||3||41-41|
|So, uh ... how is it that a team playing Yogi Ferrell, Seth Curry, a post-Achilles-injury Wesley Matthews, and a 38-year-old Dirk Nowitzki is top-10 in defense? Has Rick Carlisle just hacked this team, like it's a video game he just adjusted the settings on? How?||--||38-44|
|The Pacers continue to be just stellar at home, which is great for them. Unfortunately, they have more road games than home games left. Going .500 the rest of the way is kind of a best-case scenario at this point.||1||35-47|
|So these guys are good again, I guess? They are now seven points better defensively per 100 possessions in March than they were in February. This team's trajectory over the course of the season has made me seasick. Stop the rocking.||3||58-24|
|Look, I'm not one to throw out accusations. I'm just asking the question. Are we SURE that Tom Thibodeau didn't replace all of the Wolves with cyborg replacements at the All-Star Break.||3||42-40|
|The wheels fell off. Chicago has lost six of seven after Boston jumped up and down on their heads Sunday. Their closing schedule is cottage cheese, but they have to get there first. It's Defcon 1 for this team, who genuinely seem to loathe the coaching, management, their teammates, everything.||11||40-42|
|Denver's win over Boston was the best version of themselves. It only took them four and a half months to find it, just in time for their schedule o become a swirling maelstrom of demons. But hey, better late than never, right?||2||53-29|
|Jusuf Nurkic has changed everything for them, and it's a testament to Nurkic's drive to take advantage of a situation, Terry Stotts' coaching to get him to be more of a willing passer, and the other stars' receptiveness to embracing him.||3||33-49|
|There are times when you should remain calm and carry on, keeping your head. Then there are times when the distress is so real, you might as well just get out of the way of panicking hordes, lighting their torches on the way out. Get your lighters, Memphis' tailspin seems like something it's not going to pull out of.||10||51-31|
|Charlotte's loss to New Orleans Saturday was a back breaker. Four back in the loss column, and their tiebreaker situations are bad. It's going to take a killer run, starting now, for them to catch.||--||27-55|
|You want to say "Not even the Knicks can screw up their one good thing they have left, Kristaps Porzingis." But then you think, "I mean, it IS the Knicks ..."||--||47-35|
|I am going to be skeptical of them ever turning this around until they do. But under the radar, there have been some really promising signs lately. They've been bad, but not awful.||--||45-37|
|New Orleans is two losses away from clinching a losing record this season and they left DeMarcus Cousins on the bench when they made their comeback vs. Charlotte on Saturday. They have Boogie for a song and their fortunes haven't changed. That's about as bad of a sign as you'll find.||2||42-40|
|Dario Saric is probably going to win Rookie of the Year, which would mean that the Sixers drafted the guy who was supposed to win ROY (Simmons), the guy who was going to win ROY (Embiid) and the guy won won ROY. That seems not bad.||1||54-28|
|Well, sure, Kobe Bryant may wind up running this team, based on comments made when Rob Pelinka was introduced this week. But it's not like enigmatic, legendary players have ever failed in management situations. (Cue the flashing images of Michael Jordan with the Wizards, Magic Johnson's stint as coach, the end of the Joe Dumars run.)||1||43-39|
|Would you describe the Magic's season as more of a disaster, or a nightmare? Or is it like if you had a nightmare about a disaster? Or a disaster made of nightmares? There are a lot of interesting questions about just how bad this season was for them.||1||34-48|
|Buddy Hield looks good. Willie Cauley-Stein looks good. Skal Labissiere looks good. There are things to feel good about with this team, if you can get past the Kings-ness of it all.||3||48-34|
|Here's a question. If you look beyond the long-term value of having Kristaps Porzingis and instead just look at this season and what's gone on, would you have rather been a Knicks fan or a Nets fan? The Knicks have won more games, but that's only made them more disappointing. The Nets, on the other hand, are awful, but they have no expectations, and some fun young players. If you're going to be bad, would you rather be fun bad or nauseatingly close to not-being-totally-awful?||--||45-37|