NBA power rankings: Fresh start for the East
The integrity of the postseason takes heat when the imbalance between conferences is this flagrant. But it’s more than the mere fact losing teams like the Bobcats, Hawks or Knicks will make the postseason while Dallas, Memphis or Phoenix might not.
What’s really egregious is that West teams as prosperous as the Spurs, Thunder and Clippers are each going to have to face a hot bottom-seed team in the first round. Meanwhile, the Heat and Pacers, each with lesser records, get what’s essentially a first-round bye. Come the NBA Finals, whichever team represents the East is likely to be much more fresh than their West counterpart.
Note: NBA rankings are updated each week before Wednesday’s games.
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The Spurs are a home victory against the Warriors away from 19 consecutive wins, which would move them into a tie for one of the top-five longest win streaks in NBA history. Of the other six franchises to win 19 or more games in a row, four of those teams won the NBA title.
Not that the Clippers, or any team out West, are in a position to look ahead to the second round, but with home-court essentially secured for round one, it would be huge for L.A. to steal the No. 2 spot from OKC. The Clippers still have the best home record (31-5) in the West, and that could be the difference later this postseason.
The Thunder would have an eight-game winning streak if not for the Mavericks. The Mavs throttled the Thunder without Russell Westbrook in OKC and then beat OKC again in Dallas. Oklahoma City will likely finish with the second or third seed in the West, and a matchup with Dallas could be on the horizon.
Houston holds its collective breath as the left ankle injury of Dwight Howard gets sorted out. But Howard says he’s not worried (no surprise, there), and the team is just being precautious in letting the ankle drain so he’s 100 percent for the playoffs. Houston holds pretty firm to that No. 4 spot, so it makes sense to let their prized center get ready. More good news for Houston is that Patrick Beverley will also likely return.
The Heat stride up to the postseason looking absolutely beatable. The problem is: Who’s going to beat them in the East? The once obvious answer was Indiana, but the Pacers’ self-destruction could mean the two teams don’t even meet in the postseason.
Back-to-back wins against the Celtics kicked off a final stretch of 10 games that are all against teams with losing records. That’s a comfy way to finish the year, and it will likely result in a No. 3 seed and maybe even 50 wins.
No more disrespecting the Nets here. They’re the hottest team in the East, and own a 30-12 record since Jan. 1. When it comes to the postseason, recent record is far more important than what happened in November. It’s not as if Indy and Miami look any scarier right now.
Portland has won four straight since LaMarcus Aldridge returned, including a road win in Chicago and at home against Memphis. It’s a strong step toward recovery, and it’s big in maintaining space from the bottom half of the West’s playoff teams.
Plenty can still change, but the Warriors just might look back and see that snatching the overtime win in Dallas was the difference-maker in reaching their second straight postseason. The Warriors now own the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Mavs and are two games ahead of Memphis and Phoenix (No. 7 and 8 seeds) with eight to play. A loss would have meant being a game away from being out of the playoff picture entirely. Huge win.
What a waste of five months. The Pacers have completely folded, losing six of eight, and they have now given the throne back to the East’s former king. All that early work will be lost unless the Pacers fight back. A road game in Miami on April 11 may decide who gets home-court.
The Grizzlies still haven’t lost at home since Feb. 5, but they did suffer a small stumble with road losses to Golden State and Portland. But in the competitive West, even the slightest trip can result in a fall. For now, Memphis sits in a tie for a final spot in the playoffs.
The Suns have done a nice job rebounding from that ugly stretch in which they lost 7 of 10 from Feb. 23 to March 12. But even winning 8 of their last 10 has been just enough, as the Suns are currently slotted with the Grizzlies for one of the two final playoff positionings.
The Mavericks let one go. If they had closed out the Warriors at home, Dallas would be alone in seventh place and just a half game behind the Warriors for the sixth spot. Instead, the Mavs are the current odd man out in the West’s playoff frame.
The Raptors, winning 5 of 10, are struggling to stand their ground against the slowly surging Bulls and Nets. Home games this week vs. the Rockets and Pacers are much needed to keep that three hole, but the schedule does end light: The final six games are against losing teams.
The Wizards are so close. Washington is just a win away from triumphing over six years of disastrous basketball by claiming a ticket (albeit a cheap one) to the playoffs. This could be the start of many postseasons under John Wall and Bradley Beal.
Al Jefferson took Eastern Conference Player of the Month honors for his 24.7-point and 10.6-rebound average. He also wins Bobcats Player of the Ever for likely getting Charlotte to only its second postseason in history.
The Knicks are playing better than the Pacers right now. If Indy is able to hang on to that No. 1 seed and New York sneaks in, a Knicks-Pacers matchup would make the best playoff series in the conference.
Imagine just how hard it’s going to be to pick the West standings next season when you have to account for New Orleans again. The Pelicans should have an entirely healthy roster returning alongside, now, top-tier superstar Anthony Davis.
The hour glass doesn’t freeze, even in Minnesota. As the years of Kevin Love’s prime start to drain away, expect to hear more and more about the star forward being dealt. He made statements more than a year ago that it might be playoffs or bust when he decides whether or not to bounce following the 2014-15 season. If Minnesota gets an offer too good to pass on this summer, these could be the final games for Love with the Timberwolves.
Backhanded compliments sting at a mile high, but here we go: The Nuggets have now guaranteed a losing season, but it will be for just the first time since 2002-03, the same year Carmelo Anthony won a title with Syracuse. That’s an impressive run by Denver.
The Cavs are three games back with seven games to go. And in the East, just about anything can happen, even at 15 games below .500. It’s crazy to think, with all that went wrong, that Cleveland actually might have come this close to the postseason.
"Here, take it. Please, New York? Cleveland even?" The Hawks snapped a six-game losing streak with a win over the Sixers, but at this pace there’s too much time on the clock to hold off the Knicks, just a game back now.
DeMarcus Cousins, especially with these massive stat lines of late, is the clear No. 1 silver lining for the Kings this season. The DeMarcus Cousins R&B album that never was is a clear 1b.
There are Lakers fans and then there are Kobe Bryant fans, and those two things don’t always overlap. For L.A. fans who think Bryant has another title in him, it might be hard to understand his salary, age and injuries are actually holding the franchise back.
If this is to truly be an NBA draft like 2003, the Magic are in prime position to get a future superstar. Of course it’s not that easy. But losing is, and a bottom-three record means at least Jabari Parker, Joel Embiid or Andrew Wiggins.
The Jazz won just two of their 17 games in March. Gordon Hayward’s play remains consistent, as he averaged 16.7 points and 5.4 assists in the month. The Jazz do have to decide whether or not to pay Hayward big bucks this summer, as he’ll be a restricted free agent.
This Celtics season will always be remembered as the season that no Celtics fan will ever remember. The forgettable year as losers is just eight games from its conclusion, and then Boston quickly becomes the favorite to reload this offseason.
One team’s misery becomes another team’s embarrassment. The Pistons couldn’t keep the Sixers’ losing streak going, as Detroit was blown out by 25 points. Of course, losing on the road (11-24) is commonplace for these Pistons.
Hey it’s a game of runs, 76ers, what can ya do? A 26-game losing streak weighed a tad heavy on the humiliation scale, but nothing brings a young team closer than its first big accomplishment: Only being tied for the worst stretch of basketball in history. Congrats Philly, you’re up a spot.
Brewers fans greeted Ryan Braun with a standing ovation when he returned from PED suspension. Bucks’ response: "Ummm . . . hello. We’ve been doing the wrong thing all season long. Where’s our love?"