Everything we thought we knew about the NBA this season is suddenly up in the air.
That's what happens when the Boston Celtics beat the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors in consecutive weeks, making their case as real championship contenders in 2017.
Now, we have questions. Will the Cavaliers and Warriors still meet in the Finals? (Probably.) Can Isaiah Thomas lead his squad past Cleveland once Kevin Love is healthy — and if he's not, are the Cavs in trouble? And are the San Antonio Spurs the new favorites in the Western Conference?
So thanks, Boston. For at least one week, you created absolute chaos in our power rankings.
Getty ImagesGetty Images
Philadelphia 76ers (Previous ranking: 30)
Brett Brown is not being shy about the fact the Sixers are tanking once again. "The realities of our roster are very clear to everybody," Brown said this week. "There's no mystery to what our roster is right now. "And when you overlay that with who you are about to play, and different situations that we are in as it relates to timing, that defense, offense, all the execution, it's going to take some extra effort and extra luck in finding ways to compete."
Translation: Give us the No. 1 pick!
Brooklyn Nets (29)
A lengthy look by ESPN into the lengths the Nets are going to turn around their franchise revealed one particularly noteworthy thing in Brooklyn: Coach Kenny Atkinson is a madman who punishes himself on an exercise bike when his team loses.
The Nets are bad, but they're definitely not tanking.
It's early still, but the Kings might make it through the DeMarcus Cousins trade relatively unscathed after all. Philly's freefall decreases the likelihood Sacramento will have to swap picks with the Sixers, and the worse the Pelicans are, the better the pick the Kings might get in return from New Orleans.
Phoenix Suns (28)
The Suns got their biggest win of the season with a loss to the Lakers on Thursday night.
Yes, we know what we said. All Phoenix should care about at this point in the season is draft lottery positioning, though, and the Suns are locked in a race with the Lakers for the second-worst record in the NBA.
New Orleans Pelicans (22)
We're going to take a deeper dive into what plagues the Pelicans next week, but for now, there's reason to think New Orleans will be just fine with DeMarcus Cousins alongside Anthony Davis. When the two play together, the defense is actually pretty solid — it's the offense that's the problem.
And with these two skilled bigs, we're keeping the faith the Pelicans will figure out how to get the ball in the basket.
And for once, we'd have to agree with Rose. He'd be a fine backup for the Bucks.
Portland Trail Blazers (24)
The Blazers know they rise and fall on the Allen Crabbe's play — and his confidence. People from Damian Lillard to Terry Stotts have tried to help the $75 million man find some level of consistency; if they can't break through, the Blazers could very well be on the couch for the playoffs.
We sang Charlotte's praises for most of this season, but another fourth-quarter collapse to the Miami Heat was probably the final nail in the coffin for the Hornets' playoff chances.
Detroit Pistons (17)
Even though the Pistons faced a tough slate this past week, Stan Van Gundy didn't want to hear about some stretches being more important than others: "I’m trying to figure out what weeks aren’t important,” Van Gundy said. “The week it’s OK to lose, I’m trying to figure those out. Yeah, it’s an important week. Tonight’s an important game because it’s the next one on our schedule."
Atlanta Hawks (14)
Point guard Dennis Schroder was benched recently after getting into it with Dwight Howard, and he immediately tried to make things right by reaching out to Paul Millsap for advice. Good on Schroder for realizing his mistake.
“It’s the same for me,” George said whether he is the power forward or the small forward. “We can’t really run much without me being double teamed or where there’s switching. To this point, my game is just going to have to be all isolations and getting rhythm myself. There’s no other way to get me going than that. That’s really just been the key. It’s been the difference, just the mindset of putting my head down and make something happen.”
Copyright The Associated Press. All rights reserved.AP
The Nuggets are in an enviable, win-win situation over the final month of the regular season. If they make the playoffs, great! A little postseason experience never hurt anyone. If they fall into the lottery, fine. Another young prospect will serve Denver well moving forward.
Chris HumphreysChris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports
Milkwaukee Bucks (18)
For a guy who suffered a pretty severe knee injury, Jabari Parker sure sounds upbeat. The Bucks forward recently said he expects to come back even better from his second major health scare. Milwaukee, meanwhile, keeps finding a way to win games with major players out of the lineup.
Jeff HanischJeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
Memphis Grizzlies (9)
Memphis climbed the Western Conference standings earlier this year with a series of clutch wins over superior competition. These days, regression is settling in for the Grizzlies, as they've lost four straight.
If they don't do something quick, Marc Gasol & Co. could fall to the seven seed — and a first-round matchup with either the Spurs or Warriors.
Miami Heat (15)
The Heat have taken spacing the floor to a whole new level in practice, as coach Erik Spoelstra literally puts X's on the court to mark the three key positions his players need to fill on every possession. That way, guys know exactly where to pass the ball when they need to find a safety valve, every single time.
Spoelstra's attention to detail with such a young, skilled team is what makes him one of the NBA's best coaches.
Toronto Raptors (11)
Defenses are keying in on DeMar DeRozan with Kyle Lowry on the sideline, and the Raptors shooting guard is well aware of the shift. Moreover, he's not expecting his teammates to bail him out. He wants to figure out how to use his gravity to make things easier for the rest of his squad.
That kind of leadership is a big reason why Toronto is still afloat without its All-Star point guard.
Dan HamiltonDan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
Oklahoma City Thunder (10)
Westbrook was in real danger of losing his triple-double average for the season on Thursday night against the Spurs. He responded with 23 points, 13 rebounds and 13 assists for his 31st triple-double of the year, second only to Oscar Robertson in NBA history.
We should have known better than to doubt him.
Getty ImagesGetty Images
Los Angeles Clippers (8)
The Clippers have to feel pretty good these days. They're basically locked into a playoff matchup with the Jazz, which is a nice matchup for L.A., and they're firing on all cylinders now that everyone is healthy for the stretch run.
The Spurs and Rockets are getting all the love in the West as threats to the Warriors, but keep an eye on the Clippers. Maybe this can be the year they finally break through to a conference finals.
Washington Wizards (7)
After years of pointing to doubters, haters, and other ne'er-do-wells, John Wall told FOX Sports' Chris Broussard this past week he finally feels like he's getting some of the respect he deserves — but he also knows he can't be complacent: “That same hunger you have when you’re trying to go reach the number one spot, or whatever spot you’re trying to get to, you’ve got to have that same hunger when you get it,” Wall said. “How you went and got it when you were hunting people, they’re coming to hunt you. Do you want somebody to come and take your spot? So that’s how I focus on it.”
Isaiah J. DowningIsaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
Cleveland Cavaliers (1)
We're guessing the Cavs couldn't care less about their recent losing streak. LeBron knows this team is just trying to get everyone healthy and back on the same page for the playoffs. And speaking of which, J.R. Smith is back! Sure, he looked rusty on Thursday night. Cleveland is one step closer to 100 percent, though, and that can't be a bad thing.
While Kevin Durant didn't disclose a potential return date, Steve Kerr hinted this week KD could be back in time for the final week of the regular season. Of course, he also hinted Golden State could keep Durant on the shelf a little longer if necessary, which is the right play. Despite their swoon, the Warriors are still heavy, heavy favorites to win the Western Conference. There's no need to rushback KD until he's absolutely ready.
Houston Rockets (4)
May the basketball gods bless the always-honest Patrick Beverley. When asked whether Houston's recent losses bothered the Rockets, Beverley scoffed at the notion: "No, hell no, you see what type of team we got," Beverley said. "We're a badass team, man. Just because we lose two that don't mean nothing. A lot of teams are scared of us and ain't nothing changed with us. We still got the swag and we still got the confidence. Not to sound cocky, teams get afraid when we play them."
San Antonio Spurs (2)
Assuming Kawhi Leonard didn't suffer a serious head injury on Thursday night (and all signs are he's fine), you can make a case that the Spurs are now the favorites in the Western Conference. There is still the lingering issue of San Antonio being better defensively when Kawhi is off the court versus on.
To my eyes and analytics, that boils down to three things. First, the Spurs' reserves are really good at shutting down opposing second units, so Leonard gets "penalized" there. Second, Gregg Popovich plays The Klaw alongside Pau Gasol to alleviate the latter's defensive problems. If you take a look at the lineup data, Pau basically doesn't play unless Kawhi does, which drags down Leonard's on-court numbers.
Lastly, yes, teams are isolating Leonard by stashing the guy he's guarding in the corner and taking him out of the play. But in crunch time, when hero ball rules the day, Leonard puts the clamps on the opponent's best player. We saw it against the Pacers and Paul George, and we would have seen it against the Thunder were it not for that head injury.
The Spurs aren't better defensively without Leonard. That's madness. Instead, the numbers tell a rather nuanced story.
Boston Celtics (5)
The Celtics aren't going to win the NBA title. They almost certainly won't make the NBA Finals.
But for one crazy week and after wins over the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors, they stand alone atop the Association.