NBA power rankings: Spurs up to usual tricks, but Clippers closing fast
It’s March, so get your brackets ready. Yup, just four more weeks until selection Wednesday in the NBA. Get excited. With just less than 30 days left in the regular season, the seedings are still being determined. But here’s our NBA Top 30 as it stands now.
Note: NBA rankings are updated each week before Wednesday’s games.
Follow the NBA season through the lens of Jimmy Spencer on Twitter at @JimmySpencerNBA.
The Spurs have finished as a top-three team in the West in 13 of their last 16 seasons since drafting Tim Duncan. They’re about to do it again, currently sitting with the league’s best record. This team should be determined a National Treasure.
Blake Griffin as an MVP candidate? He says no, saying it’s a two-man race between LeBron and KD. But the fact that he’s in the conversation and his Clippers are one of the league’s best teams at this point says plenty of his incredible leap as a franchise player.
There would be no worse feeling than giving up home-court advantage to the Heat after hanging on so tightly for so long. But if the Pacers do hit that gas pedal again and finish first in the East, the momentum will belong to them come postseason.
When you look to the postseason, there are two figures that may mean more than the others: Conference record and record against winning teams. The Thunder have a top mark in both categories.
Dwyane Wade is the highest paid part-time player in sports, but it makes sense that the Heat keep him fresh for the playoffs. Hopefully that’s not coming at the expense of LeBron James’ legs, though.
Dwight Howard missed a game for the first time this season, in Houston’s blowout of Utah. All it did was prove just how powerful the Rockets’ frontcourt is: Terrence Jones went for 30 points (11 of 15) and Omer Asik had a double-double.
The Warriors are pacing to win 50 games for the first time in two decades. They came closest in 2007-08, when they finished with 48 wins and failed to make the playoffs. Sadly, 48 wins this season might again not be enough for a playoff spot out West.
The Grizzlies will get a quick test this week — at Miami and home vs. Indiana — that could either bounce them from their current spot in the West’s playoff picture or further embolden their current label as the most threatening lower seed in the postseason.
Mark Cuban recently went after Dirk Nowitzki a bit, calling on him for more energy and defense. The message comes about 15 seasons too late. Meanwhile, Dirk continues to win as Dallas stays in the playoff frame.
The Raptors are 31-17 since trading Rudy Gay on Dec. 8, the fifth-best record in the league and second in the East behind only the Pacers. They could make it interesting if they advance to the second round of the playoffs.
When a 7 hangs out with a bunch of 5s and 6s, that 7 looks quite good. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Chicago Bulls: 25-14 against the East and 12-16 against the West.
All offense, no defense worked early. But when the offense cools it’s never going to work. Portland hasn’t beaten a current Western Conference playoff team since the All-Star Break. If the playoffs started today, the Blazers would not be in good shape. It took overtime at home just to beat the Bucks.
Phoenix looks headed for the yearbook award, "Most Likely to Be Missed." The Suns have lost eight of their last 13 games, and nine of their final 15 games are on the road. They’re currently out of the playoff picture. The good news: Five of Phoenix’s next six games are against the East.
Kevin Garnett is out another week due to continuing back spasms. At this point, it makes sense to mostly ice Garnett until the postseason. The Nets are winning without him, and he can shake any rust in the final week of the regular season.
Washington could have pulled within a game of the Bulls and a fourth spot in the East, but instead the overtime loss in Sacramento caused them to drop into sixth below Brooklyn, by a percentage point. It’s not how you want to start a four-game West Coast trip.
You can argue that no one in the 2013 free agency class has been more valuable than Al Jefferson. He leads the team in scoring (21.3), rebounding (10.4), blocks (1.14) and PER (22.6). He’s the reason, other than defense, the Bobcats are likely headed to the playoffs.
Hypotheticals don’t get you into the playoffs, but here’s what really hurts: Other than New Orleans, the Timberwolves are the most east of all the Western Conference teams. And if they were in the East, they’d be a No. 7 seed in the playoffs and just three games back of home-court advantage. They’re also 15-10 against the East, so they’d actually be even better than that.
Well, since it’s March Madness time: The Hawks appear the likely 16th seed ready to be feasted on by the No. 1 seed of either Indy or Miami. Too bad it’s so tough to be a Cinderella in a seven-game series.
Once they became completely out of the playoff hunt, the Nuggets actually started playing some good basketball. Denver has won five of its last eight games, just enough to hurt its lottery chances. Floating in mile-high purgatory.
Turn that "brow" upside down. Injuries crushed the Pelicans’ season, but Anthony Davis has to heal the hearts of Pelicans fans. Davis has posted averages of 33.2 points and 14.2 rebounds in his past five games. Insane numbers.
The play for Phil Jackson comes at the perfect time for the Knicks. Jackson is perhaps the greatest convincing mind in recent sports history, and he gives Carmelo Anthony added motivation (other than NY money) to stay. There’s new hope in New York.
Kyrie Irving is out for at least two weeks with a biceps injury, but he could be out for the remainder of the season. Irving has dealt with injuries his entire career, so that’s nothing new. The Cavs missing the postseason is also nothing new.
There’s a fine line between intensity and inflated frustration. As the Kings keep losing, DeMarcus Cousins becomes more agitated and more of a target. But if this team can continue to improve, and Cousins plays in actual meaningful games, that negative emotion could turn to positive intensity. That’s what Kings fans can’t wait to see.
Before Joe Dumars leaves the team in official front-office capacity (whenever that comes), he should throw on the uniform and play a game. He was a career 38.2 percent 3-point shooter, and hey, that’s much better than anything these Pistons have now.
Jameer Nelson and Arron Afflalo combined for just eight points on 4-of-14 shooting in the loss to the Warriors, a stark contrast to Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson’s combined 43 points on 16-of-27 shooting. It’s just more reason for Jacque Vaughn to push minutes to his youngsters.
Utah has lost 10 of its last 11 games, an awful stretch highlighted by a 38-point beatdown to the Rockets. Utah has no initiative to start winning now though, as they currently sit with top-five odds in the draft lottery.
Kobe Bryant is the contemporary career leader in feuds, highlighted by Shaq, Phil and Dwight. If you think that doesn’t hurt the aging star’s chances of getting an offseason superstar, you’re living in la-la land.
The Celtics-Lakers rivalry continues. They’re both battling for top-three lottery odds. The Celtics obviously need talent, and being able to get either Joel Embiid, Jabari Parker or Andrew Wiggins gives an obvious, quick boost.
The Bucks have now dropped five in a row, but it will still be tough to keep pace with the surging losses of the Sixers. Milwaukee pushed the Blazers to overtime before coming to their senses about this whole "winning" thing.
Philly has now lost 21 in a row, closing in on the Cavs’ 2010-11 record of 26 consecutive losses. Coach Brett Brown said, "in relation to worrying about record, we don’t live in that world." He’s right about that: The league is on one level, and the Sixers dwell in a completely alternate universe.