March is kind of the month of NBA regret.
You see, in November and December, you tell yourself the season just started. You don’t know anything at that point. In January and February, you tell yourself the season’s only halfway done. There’s still half the season to go. There’s always time to get healthy, to fix problems, to get some good wins, to gain some ground, to build a buffer.
But the calendar turns abruptly after the All-Star Break. Now all of a sudden there are six weeks left in the season. All the opportunities teams squandered earlier in the season -- and every team squanders some -- come back to bite them.
What if the Warriors hadn’t lost to the Lakers on the back to back? Or held onto their 24-point lead vs. Memphis? Kevin Durant’s injury might legitimately not matter in their battle for the No. 1 seed. If the Grizzlies hadn’t lost to so many sub-.500 teams, they’re probably a lock for a top-four seed.
If the Hornets had just won a handful of close games, and not own the abysmal 0-8 record in 3-point games, they’d be a firm playoff team. If the Bulls didn’t have a mutant ability to morph into a good team on TNT, where are they?
Fans wind up acting as if all that matters are these last two months of play, but in reality, teams have dug their trenches over the last four months and now they have to either desperately climb out of it, or accept their fate. We’ll see where the last month takes us.
Here are this week’s power rankings.
|The Spurs have an opening to steal the 1-seed with Durant's injury, and they're playing the best ball of their season. You can come up with plenty of reasons why Russ Westbrook or James Harden should be MVP, but you can't come up with any real reasons why Kawhi Leonard shouldn't be in the discussion.||1||5-13|
|Cleveland's loss to the Celtics was irksome, but not really concerning in the big picture. The Cavs' additions of Deron Williams and Andrew Bogut address their roster concerns, and Kevin Love and J.R. Smith will likely return before the end of the season. Boston got its big win, but the Cavs don't feel on any shakier ground for it.||1||10-10|
|Monster win over Cleveland. Yes, there are caveats and no, it doesn't really change their postseason outlook, but you can't fault how this team plays together and continues to improve. They're finally rising to the challenge against great teams.||1||10-10|
|Houston's offense is just the constant wave of 3-point nanobots swarming you. You can bat away a few of them, but not the horde. They just overwhelm you with volume 3-point shots. Harden's MVP campaign is pretty airtight at this point. Just like with Leonard, you can argue for other candidates, but not against Harden.||2||3-16|
|Well, not a great start to the Kevin Durant injury stretch, but hey, at least they weren't up 3-1 when this happened.||4||17-2|
|They've lost three of six, but have wins against the Raptors and Warriors in the last week. So ... they're still really good? I guess? It'll be interesting to see if they can hold off Toronto, which won the tiebreaker over them with the win Friday.||1||13-7|
|I know, this seems insane. They've won five of six, including wins over Boston, Toronto, the Cavs and the Warriors. Their one loss in that stretch, of course, was the Nuggets, because this year's Bulls team makes you think you're just drunk, all the time.||4||13-8|
|The Heat are now 18-4 since January 17, with losses to Philadelphia, Orlando (twice) and Dallas. Sure. OK. Whatever you say, Heat.||--||13-7|
|Utah's entire statistical profile is like that of the elderly lady at church. Hyper-conservative. They have the slowest pace, don't crash the offensive glass and don't turn the opponent over. They just find grind out wins. The Jazz's one weak spot is their own turnovers, which is something to watch in the playoffs.||2||13-7|
|Good teams pull together when things get tough, and with Kyle Lowry out, things have definitely gotten tough. But the Raptors keep finding wins. Can DeMar DeRozan close with another brilliant run like his first month to help steal a top-three seed for Toronto?||3||9-11|
|The Grizzlies have as few losses vs. teams over .500 as Houston. If they would just stop losing to bad teams, Memphis could have essentially locked a top-four seed by now.||1||9-10|
|Thunder teams under Billy Donovan in the first week of March: 0-5. Now what does this mean? Absolutely nothing. Nothing at all. But the Thunder are having a bad time, the losses to Portland, Dallas and Phoenix were outright awful.||3||6-13|
|At some point the Hawks are going to change their defensive coverage against the Cavaliers, right? Cleveland has set both the regular season AND playoff record for 3-pointers against the Hawks. I know there are no good answers, but maybe try to lose in a different way?||3||11-10|
|These guys just will not go away. Wins over Heat, Thunder and the Grizzlies in the last week, and they're stubbornly hanging out around the 8-seed, refusing to leave the party.||3||10-8|
|The Clippers are 1-5 vs. Western Conference playoff teams since January 17 and have been outscored by 80 in those games. Granted, most of that was a 46-point whipping by Golden State, but the fact remains that the Clippers have had a lot of straight-up embarrassing games the past two months.||1||11-8|
|The Pacers' remaining schedule is fascinating. They play a bunch of bad teams, but the good teams they play are nigh on invincible. They have a stretch the next two weeks to create a buffer and ensure a playoff spot. Let's see if the Pacers are finally willing to walk two steps without face-planting.||3||9-12|
|Jusuf Nurkic has been excellent since his arrival. Denver management felt confident that he would go off once traded, but didn't have much choice with Nikola Jokic's emergence. Nurkic is a much more willing passer under Terry Stotts and he might honestly be enough to push them over the top to the 8-seed.||3||10-10|
|Six of their next seven are against playoff teams. They're either going to finally have a meltdown or not so much as back into a playoff spot but angrily slam their way into it while fighting with each other.||6||4-15|
|They managed to survive a 10-16 run through January and February and stay in the playoff race. However, seven of their final 21 are road games against teams over .500. They're going to have to earn it.||4||12-8|
|Losses like the one against the Spurs hurt, because they were in prime position to steal a key game against a good team. They're going to have to pick up some wins against good teams if they want to steal the 8th spot. Karl-Anthony Towns has risen like a phoenix late in the year, however.||2||10-10|
|Denver realistically only needs one stretch where it wins 7 of 10 to clinch a playoff spot, but the Nuggets are very unlikely to get it. Their schedule is difficult and they are maddeningly inconsistent. Nikola Jokic is a savant, however.||3||9-10|
|Did you know that the Hornets are top-15 in both offense and defense? They've lost all eight of the games decided by three points or less this year. Those coin-flip games are realistically the difference between Charlotte being in and out of the playoffs right now.||3||13-9|
|It's rare that you get to watch a team just rot from the inside out on national television the way you get to with New York. It's like performance art, only really, truly depressing.||2||11-9|
|"Nice core of young players the Suns have there. They might put together a run next year," I said for the fourth year in a row.||4||17-3|
|Did someone, on behalf of the Sixers, steal a cursed artifact from a temple or something? Guillermo Del Toro films have fewer bad spirits than that locker room.||1||10-10|
|The Kings are kind of fun, outside of the awe-inspiring level of hide-your-eyes-with-your-hands horror their roster and draft pick situation inspires.||3||8-12|
|They have Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins, and the 29th-ranked offense since trading for Cousins. It's too early to call it a disaster, But, boy, does this start to look an awful lot like a disaster.||3||5-17|
|The move to install Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka has changed the course of the franchise, but the question of where it's headed remains clouded. It's impossible to say what this team looks like two years from now.||1||10-11|
|Orlando's really played better as of late. You know, now that it's too late for a realistic playoff push and every win significantly hurts its lottery chances? Yup, real strong play as of late.||2||4-17|
|Be honest. If I made up a player's name for the Nets and gave you his advanced stats, you wouldn't be able to refute his existence with 100 percent certainty, would you?||--||14-6|