It gets tiresome writing about the Warriors all the time, but this week, it's time for some straight-up, simple praise. Not only are the Warriors the best team in the land with the No. 1 offense, No. 1 defense and No. 1 record, and not only is Stephen Curry back to setting worlds on fire, but there's something to be said for their evolution.
They have gone through and methodically corrected every problem that they've faced this year, and they just keep improving. No one else in the league can really say that. No other team has been on a straight-line linear progression. They are as scary as we thought.
That said, January taught us a lot about how some teams are clearly above the fray. The Wizards moved out of the East's messy middle and are now challenging for home-court advantage. The Hawks have rebounded, they're in a battle for a top-four spot as well. The Grizzlies and Thunder have proven that they're not going to suffer any major drop-off to threaten their top-seven standing. Neither of those teams, nor Utah, will face Golden State in the first round.
The league is slowly figuring itself out, but we still have a lot of questions to answer. Chief among them this week ... what in God's name is going on down in Miami?!
Here are this week's power rankings.
|This team is the most adaptable of any team in the league. Their rim protection was bad? Kevin Durant has become a weak-side flyswatter and their schemes have tightened. Steph Curry was more of a nice garnish than the centerpiece? He's moved back into being the main engine of the team, averaging 28.6 points, 6.6 assists and shooting 50 percent from both the field and the perimeter over the past five games. As if beating the Warriors wasn't hard enough this season, they continue to methodically address their weaknesses.||--||53-29|
|Some weird losses this week. I'm choosing to ignore them based on, well, they're the Spurs. Still, they're now 4.5 back of the Warriors. That ship hasn't sailed, but it's stowing the cargo.||1||34-48|
|The Wizards are 8-2 in their last 10, and have the fourth-best winning percentage since December 1. They are for real. They jump here in part because they have wins over the Celtics and Hawks in the past week. If they keep playing like this they are not going to be a team you want to see in the playoffs.||11||35-47|
|It took them a long time, and a weak schedule, but Boston has finally pulled into a tie with Toronto for the 2-seed. What's interesting is that the East is considered to be the less flashy conference, but those two teams are living on offense. Boston's back into the top 15 in defense over the past two months with an easy overall schedule over the next month. Their matchup with Toronto this week is huge; a loss by Boston and the Raptors clinch tiebreaker head to head.||--||51-31|
|This team belongs on the CW with how much high school drama they have every year. The thing is, they're going to be fine. They'll get J.R. Smith back. They'll find a backup point guard somewhere. They'll make a run in the playoffs and look dominant again. Whether they can get past a fully healthy Golden State team is another matter, but all of this feels very much like a bunch of high school kids stirring up drama because they have nothing better to do. In unrelated news, Dan Gilbert's personal net worth is estimated at $4.8 billion according to Forbes Magazine.||3||44-38|
|Atlanta has lost marginally less than the other teams around them, so they hang on here. But it should be noted that they grade out really poorly in every advanced metric analysis of their schedule. Basketball Reference's Simple Rating System, which uses point differential and strength of schedule, has them seventh in the East. The Hawks are basically walking around with a giant sign that says "FRAUDS!" taped to their back that they can't see.||2||43-39|
|OK, so basically the next six teams are essentially on the same level right now, and I couldn't find any way to separate them on account of the equal level of struggle. Houston is 4-5 in the last two weeks. Is the win over the Sixers good? It was on the road against one of the hottest teams in the league. Losing to the Celtics was tough, but they also didn't play near their top ability. I'm keeping them here as "slightly better than the rest" of this bracket, but they need Eric Gordon back and to rediscover their 3-point shot (33 percent in January, yikes) in a hurry.||2||20-62|
|They lost to the bad team and beat the good team on the back-to-back road trip. They haven't been playing well the past two weeks, but then, that's never stopped them from getting enough wins in the past. They're 3-4 in the past two weeks ... with wins over Toronto and Utah. So Memphis. Very Grizzlies.||1||56-26|
|There are often teams whose metrics seem to show a rosier picture of an offensive or defensive unit than you would think when you watch them. The Jazz's offense doesn't quite pass the smell test for their 12th-ranked offense. They have weapons, to be sure, but in losses to Denver and Memphis, you saw how they struggled late to find offense. Then again, they have the fifth-best clutch-time offensive rating. So which is it? I guess we'll find out in April.||1||49-33|
|I thought the Raptors had stabilized. Their defense had crawled back into the middle of the pack and they were coming off two tough but pretty good losses to San Antonio and Memphis. Then they turned around and lose to Orlando at home. So much for that idea. They face the Celtics this week in a game that could put them 1.5 games back of the 2-seed they held for months before Sunday's loss to the Magic.||4||48-34|
|OKC might have handled the tough run of schedule at full strength, but being without first Steven Adams and now Enes Kanter, the structure's having trouble holding. The schedule doesn't lighten up until after the All-Star Break so they'll have to figure something out quick.||--||24-58|
|Wow, that 46-point loss to the Warriors was embarrassing. Again. But at least they don't have to see them again for ... three days. Maybe the Clippers will actually play with some spine this time. (That probably won't happen.)||5||42-40|
|Nikola Jokic may be the best passing big man in the NBA. I've been using the weak "one of" qualifier for him, but really, he makes passes no other big even thinks to make, including some that his teammates aren't even expecting. They are one trade of a veteran for multiple defenders away from reaching .500 and securing the 8th seed, but their schedule gets vicious the next two weeks.||11||48-34|
|Portland's defense has settled down but last year's crazy run of wins is still M.I.A. You have to think they'll be active at the trade deadline.||1||27-55|
|The Pacers are 18-6 at home, now, after beating the mighty Rockets Sunday. Paul George is starting to pick it up, too. If they just keep up their home performance, that's a path to the postseaon, which is remarkable given their lack of fan support which George has openly complained about.||2||25-57|
|The hottest team in the NBA, winners of seven straight. Quick reminder that Erik Spoelstra is the Doctor Frankenstein of the NBA.||13||53-29|
|Uh-oh. The honeymoon might be over; they've lost three out of five again, and they play the Spurs twice coming up. Still, all of this is icing on the Joel Embiid cake for Sixers fans this year. Oh, and Ben Simmons should make his debut any day.||3||51-31|
|Over their last five games featuring "clutch time" (inside five minutes, inside five points), Carmelo Anthony and Courtney Lee have shot 50 percent and eight points per clutch time period alone. There are lots of problems with this team, but they can find wins in tight games.||5||37-45|
|The Pistons probably have one run in them over the second half of the season to put them in position to make the playoffs, but the problem is other East teams are separating themselves. Do they risk getting worse with a trade, or staying with it and risk not improving at all from last year's first-round sweep?||2||23-59|
|Rajon Rondo stuck up for the youngsters then went out and had a great game vs. Philly. Rondo looks like the hero, which illustrates just how messed up the Bulls are.||4||46-36|
|The losses have been close lately, but they haven't felt that way. Are they ready to let go of a member of the core in order to address their problems? That bench is just not something they can live with if they want to reach the playoffs.||3||43-39|
|Dallas is showing signs of life, but it's hard to tell whether it's actual life or like how you see animatronics and are like "Oh, they're so life-like." The Mavs are life-like right now.||4||52-30|
|Their last four games (3-1) have been decided by 16 points. DeMarcus Cousins has been ridiculous in the clutch this past week. This is one of those weeks where you think there might be a good team hidden under all that debris.||1||30-52|
|Milwaukee's defense has shattered like a Lego helicopter dropped from a significant height. All the early good vibes are gone, but there's a chance they get Khris Middleton back soon, which would be a huge boost.||12||51-31|
|Minnesota has won eight of their last 10 to climb back into the playoff race (thanks to the miserable half-race for the West 8th seed). Most notably they're 11th in defense in January. If they wind up grabbing that last playoff spot it will somehow be both an incredible comeback story and still disappointing. The courageous failure: the race for the West's 8th seed.||--||46-36|
|They're almost through a nightmarish stretch of schedule and they managed to find wins against Cleveland and San Antonio. But time is running out, they can't expect all five teams hanging around for the 8th seed to continue to smack themselves in the face.||5||36-46|
|Nikola Vucevic is in the 91st percentile on Synergy Sports defensively, and the Magic defense is five points better with him on the floor. He made the game-saving block on All-Star Kyle Lowry Sunday. So of course, the Magic are aggressively shopping him in trades.||8||22-60|
|False alarm on that "the Suns are kind of feisty all of a sudden" thing. Turns out that was fake ne..... nope, I just can't.||1||64-18|
|The Nets are like a cautionary tale. Every GM in the league has to see them and see the shadow of NBA roster building cast over them. "Be careful with your draft picks, kids, or you'll wind up as the Nets!"||1||44-38|
|Much like a parent, Lakers coach Luke Walton has gone from 'aw, look at these kids' mistakes' to 'I will turn this car around' in about 45 days.||2||33-49|