NBA Power Rankings: James Harden, Rockets Claim Number One Spot
We are about a month away from the playoffs so I hope everybody is ready for a really intense next four weeks.
As some teams come to the realization that their season will be finished on April 10, others are still fighting to see the postseason and at least four more games until summer.
This seems like the perfect time of the year to be obnoxiously blunt about what is going on with everybody.
In this week’s Power Rankings, I’ll use five words to explain what’s happening with every team at this point in the season. To make sure none of the jokes go over anybody’s head and the proper intricacies of each situation are properly pointed out, I’ll elaborate on why each set of five words was chosen for a team.
30. Knicks | Last Week: 0-4 | Overall: 13-54 | Previous Ranking: 30
James, this is your hill?
James Dolan gets a lot of crap from a lot of different directions. Not all of it is fair. But throwing people out of MSG whenever he can is not the way to make people want to be nicer to him.
I can’t imagine how frustrating it must be to have people in the stands and media and former players of the team asking for him to sell his family business. It would get to anybody after a while.
But you know what else should have angered James Dolan to the point where he has to throw people out of the Garden? Watching the Knicks play basketball during his tenure as owner. Sure, some of the criticism toward Dolan is misguided and or unnecessarily rude. And to a certain extent, that should not be tolerated. But at the point where one of the best seasons in the last 20 years involves the team having the worst record in the league, maybe you should give spectators a little bit more leeway when they want to vent about the billionaire who only seems somewhat interested in giving them a fun team to watch.
Dolan isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, and yelling at him to sell the squad isn’t going to expedite that process in the slightest. But going forward, maybe Dolan could lighten up with the expulsions and bans from the stadium. Just because you’re in charge doesn’t mean you get to be a jerk.
29. Cavaliers | Last Week: 0-2 | Overall: 16-50 | Previous Ranking: 26
Does Tristan even hoop now?
I’m honestly impressed that Thompson hasn’t played a game since Jan. 16 but is still the only Cavalier who has been mentioned by national media since J.R. Smith went away. I’m sure he would rather not be mentioned by the people who are talking about him, but all press is good press.
28. Lakers | Last Week: 0-3 | Overall: 30-36 | Previous Ranking: 27
Playoff intensity, activated. Just kidding.
So, year one of the LeBron era in L.A. is wrapping up in the worst way possible. Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball are injured and a loss to the Clippers was the final nail in the coffin of this team’s playoff hopes. But at least LeBron passed Jordan on the scoring list. That was actually really awesome. It’s just a shame it had to happen during the darkest part of the season.
27. Mavericks | Last Week: 0-4 | Overall: 27-39 | Previous Ranking: 22
Can Luka hold off Trae?
The Mavericks have lost 10 of their last 11 after getting to 26-29. Far from ideal.
With all the losing, and the Hawks playing some of their most amusing ball of the season right now, there’s a chance Luka Doncic loses his stronghold on Rookie of the Year. So this last month should be dedicated to getting Dirk past Wilt on the scoring list and locking up Luka’s rookie honor. It’s all this team has left.
26. Bulls | Last Week: 1-3 | Overall: 19-49 | Previous Ranking: 25
Maybe Otto is the answer.
Since trading for Otto Porter the Bulls have gone 7-7. In the 12 games Porter has played for Chicago, the team is 7-5 and he is averaging 18.3 points while shooting 49.2% from three. The Bulls have gotten the most out of their situation since changing coaches.
25. Suns | Last Week: 3-1 | Overall: 16-52 | Previous Ranking: 29
Time to let them hang.
The Suns are in the midst of their best stretch of the season, going 5-2 in their last seven. After wins over the Bucks and Warriors last week and with Deandre Ayton continuing to improve throughout the season, opposing teams aren’t as happy to see Phoenix on the schedule as they were back in January.
24. Wizards | Last Week: 1-2 | Overall: 27-39 | Previous Ranking: 24
“Bradley and Bobby” sounds fun.
Since Bobby Portis arrived in Washington, he is the only Wizard not named Bradley Beal to lead the team in scoring. With John Wall on the shelf for a full year at least, Bradley and Bobby is the duo the Wizards will be relying on if they want to make the end of this season entertaining, and get back in the playoffs next season.
23. Pelicans | Last Week: 1-3 | Overall: 30-39 | Previous Ranking: 21
This is how it ends.
With Anthony Davis just taking up space on the bench until he finally gets a new team in the offseason. Hopefully. And with Jrue Holiday currently banged up, the Pelicans will now be without both of their All-Stars for most of the second halves of games during the next week.
It just feels weird. Players have requested trades before, but this has a different level of ominousness around it.
Monday’s win in Utah featured an impressive fourth quarter comeback that gave Pelicans fans something to enjoy while also reminding them about how useless this season ended up being.
Overcoming a double-digit deficit on the road against one of the league’s hottest teams should be a big moment for any team. Instead, it just comes off as odd that New Orleans came out victorious against a playoff team and it makes more people question what went wrong for the Jazz that night than what went right for the Pelicans.
Part of what’s going right for New Orleans is that the defense has been doing better compared to the rest of the league of recent. While the league average for scoring has gone up, the Pelicans are one of few teams that have seen its defensive rating improve since the start of 2019.
And it’s that type of improvement, similar to the game against Utah and the growth of Frank Jackson, that makes this season even more sad and gray. It isn’t until after we are sure that Anthony Davis needs to go in the summer and this team won’t make the playoffs that it decides to get better and remind us of why we thought it could be a fun playoff squad this season.
22. Grizzlies | Last Week: 3-0 | Overall: 28-40 | Previous Ranking: 28
They will make you work.
It’s been a while since the Grizzlies had a week like this. Over their last seven games, Memphis is 5-2 and the two losses are by a combined six points. Ask the Trail Blazers, Jazz and Magic if teams competing for the playoffs should expect to get a win over the Grizzlies right now.
21. Hornets | Last Week: 1-2 | Overall: 30-36 | Previous Ranking: 19
Slowly but steadily slipping away.
Charlotte has dropped to 10th in the East standings and there’s a good chance that is where this team finishes. The Hornets have gone 4-10 after improving to .500 at 26-26 on Feb. 2. and now they’ll enter the meat of a four-game road trip as they continue to slide.
20. Hawks | Last Week: 1-3 | Overall: 23-45 | Previous Ranking: 20
Trae is our new leader.
Trae Young has been one of the best scorers in the league since the break. He’s averaging more than 26 points and shooting above 41% from three during those 10 games. There might be too much ground to make up, but Young is at least going to give voters something to think about when it’s time to pick Rookie of the Year.
Young has proved his worth as a passer from the second this season started, but his poor shooting at the onset left it open for debate just how lethal of a player he could be. His freshman year at Oklahoma gave people hope he could be the league’s next Steph, but a poor finish to the year affirmed the possibility that maybe people would catch on to him, and his shot, and shot selection in particular, would not translate well to the pros. But his three-point percentage has risen from the doldrums to a moderately respectful 33% for the year after he started getting hot in February. Now seems like a good time to think Trae Young might have what it takes to become an All-Star at this level if not a superstar.
19. Timberwolves | Last Week: 3-1 | Overall: 32-35 | Previous Ranking: 23
KAT’s about to get PAID.
Since returning from a near fatal car accident, Karl-Anthony Towns has been a man amongst boys. He’s gone for 40 three times since missing the first two games of his career. And that dominance paired with Anthony Davis being sat down the stretch could easily be what gets Towns onto third team All-NBA. And that means his contract extension will be much more lucrative as he becomes eligible to take advantage of the Rose Rule. He should probably take AD out to dinner if this does happen.
18. Magic | Last Week: 1-2 | Overall: 31-37 | Previous Ranking: 17
Google at your own risk.
If the Magic make the playoffs, Evan Fournier is going to be a big reason why. His scoring has gone up since February and he’s shooting just below 50% from three five games into March. His last two games though, have been disappointing at best. But he’s got three opponents this week that should give him the chance to get back on track.
17. Heat | Last Week: 3-1 | Overall: 31-35 | Previous Ranking: 18
Avoided getting swept by Hawks.
Miami is now holding down the eight seed and a big part of that is starting off last week with a win over the Hawks. The subsequent win over the Hornets will likely be more significant if Miami does make the postseason, but avoiding a sweep against the division’s worst team has to be good for the mind at this time of the season.
16. Kings | Last Week: 2-1 | Overall: 33-32 | Previous Ranking: 13
Not now. Not like this.
Despite having a winning record this week, the Kings lost ground on the eighth seed and appear to be looking more and more like the lottery team with the best record. There is still hope for Sacramento to reach the postseason, but for the sake of my heart, I’m going to avoid holding onto that dream and will instead just hope the squad finishes above .500. Even if the Clippers keep them out the playoffs, this season was still fun.
15. Pacers | Last Week: 1-2 | Overall: 42-25 | Previous Ranking: 11
No Dipo? More Bojan, please.
Without Victor Oladipo, the Pacers have gotten additional contributions from everybody across the board. But Bojan Bogdanovic has been the guy who’s taken over the bulk of the scoring responsibilities. If Bogdanovic has an extra gear left in him, Indiana will at least give us another seven-game first-round series this playoffs. If he has anything more, he could be the reason the Celtics or Sixers spend the whole offseason angry.
14. Nets | Last Week: 3-0 | Overall: 35-33 | Previous Ranking: 14
Reversing sail at right time.
This time last week, the Nets had lost nine of their last 13 games. Now? They are winners of five of their last eight just ahead of a pivotal meeting with the Pistons. It’s probably also a big plus that Spencer Dinwiddie is coming off back-to-back 20-point games.
13. Spurs | Last Week: 3-0 | Overall: 38-29 | Previous Ranking: 15
What if they get Denver?
Michael Malone is likely going to be the only playoff coach in the West who hasn’t won a playoff series. It would be a real shame if he had to play the coach with the second-best playoff winning-percentage of all time. Especially considering how hot Gregg Popovich’s team has been the last two weeks while gearing up for the playoff push.
12. Celtics | Last Week: 3-0 | Overall: 41-26 | Previous Ranking: 16
Does anybody understand this team?
Since this tweet, Gordon Hayward has shot 24-for-34, put up 30 in Oracle and hit a game-winner in Sacramento. Apparently, all this team needed was a cross-country flight to get its head on right. That, and for one of its All-Stars to add more than 11 points per game.
11. Pistons | Last Week: 3-0 | Overall: 34-31 | Previous Ranking: 12
Ish. Ish! Ish? Ish!? ISH!
While technically only one word, it was my real-time reaction to seeing Ish Smith put Tyus Jones’s feet in quick-drying cement before getting two points.
Detroit’s backup point guard has been one of the team’s most important players this season. The team is 26-13 in the 39 games he’s played this season and he’s had at least five assists in each contest during this five-game winning streak.
The bench scoring has increased since the All-Star Break, and Smith’s distribution skills and three-point stroke that’s leaps and bounds better than where it was during his first season in Detroit two years ago are at the root of that.
Langston Galloway has also been a major help of late for the reserves, making at least two threes in seven of the last eight games. He’s 12-for-12 from deep during the last three.
Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond are putting up career years to lead the way. And Reggie Jackson has shown he can be a difference-maker as the third option. But if Detroit is going to pull off an upset in the playoffs or possibly even make one last surge for the fifth seed, the bench will be key. And the bench will provide a whole lot more to help this team’s success when Ish is one of the first people off of it.
10. 76ers | Last Week: 2-2 | Overall: 42-25 | Previous Ranking: 9
It will work itself out?
Joel Embiid finally got back and helped the 76ers get a much needed win that clinched the season series over the Pacers. There’s no time for the team to address the depth issues that were made even more obvious while Embiid was hurt, but maybe they will figure out how to play with each other over this last month and this starting lineup will become as dangerous as it looks on paper.
9. Nuggets | Last Week: 1-2 | Overall: 43-22 | Previous Ranking: 6
You should probably stick Klay.
Over the last two games against the Warriors, Klay Thompson has gone 14-for-19 from three and has scored 70 points. The only thing that should make Denver feel more sick about Friday’s loss to the Warriors is knowing that they interrupted Stephen A.’s Friday night just so he could point out the obvious fact that right now, Denver is still not in the same class as Golden State.
8. Trail Blazers | Last Week: 1-2 | Overall: 40-26 | Previous Ranking: 4
Two more road trips left.
The Trail Blazers had a tough end to their seven-game road trip and then went home and lost to the Thunder for the fourth time this season.
Despite being dominated by Oklahoma City in the season series, Portland is still tied with the Thunder just one game out of third in the West.
With the majority of their remaining games on the road, the Trail Blazers will need to keep up with what they did coming out of the All-Star break, or else they will drop in the West standings. Potentially as far as the eighth seed.
Tuesday is the start of one of the team’s final two road trips, and this three-game set will include a game against the Clippers and a matchup with the Spurs on the second night of a back-to-back. They also have a four-game road trip at the end of March, but the only team above .500 Portland will face during that stretch is the Pistons.
This upcoming trip though carries a bit more weight. In addition to seeing two teams right behind in the standings, it also comes at a critical time. After having some major success away from home, now would be a bad time for the Trail Blazers to regress and struggle on the road. These seven games worth of road trips will not only heavily dictate where the Trail Blazers are seeded, but they will also likely show us how dangerous this team will be in April.
7. Clippers | Last Week: 2-0 | Overall: 38-29 | Previous Ranking: 10
Best team in Los Angeles.
For the sake of everybody reading this and anybody else on The Crossover staff who didn’t expect the Clippers to make the playoffs, I’m sorry Patrick Beverley. A lot of us were wrong about what this team was going to be, and even after seeing it perform well, we spent our time waiting for the downfall for this season so we could go back to speculating if Kawhi Leonard and Anthony Davis would end up in the locker room next season. Instead of anticipating when this team’s season will end, I’m going to enjoy all the scrappiness of Beverley and Montrezl Harrell that matches perfectly with smoothness of the soon-to-be greatest bench scorer in NBA history Lou Williams.
6. Jazz | Last Week: 1-2 | Overall: 37-28 | Previous Ranking: 5
Joe Ingles is the greatest.
In the loss to the Pelicans, Ingles matched his season-high with 11 assists, but he also set his season-high with seven turnovers. With Ricky Rubio still out, Ingles has a bigger responsibility as a facilitator in Utah’s offense.
5. Thunder | Last Week: 1-2 | Overall: 40-26 | Previous Ranking: 8
Russ is shooting much better.
The Thunder have been in a bit of a rough patch when it comes to results, but Russell Westbrook is shooting a much more respectable percentage of late. If The Brodie can keep up his shooting and also help get this defense back to where it was at the start of the season, Oklahoma City could still prove to be the biggest threat to the Warriors out West.
4. Warriors | Last Week: 1-2 | Overall: 45-21 | Previous Ranking: 3
Why isn’t Oracle scary anymore?
Klay Thompson wants more energy from the fans in Oracle. Steve Kerr is allegedly “so f—— tired of” Draymond Green.
And Kevin Durant seems fed up with everything that isn’t just getting on the court and hooping. Are y’all ready to lie to yourselves about how this season ends, or do you not have the energy for it this year?
3. Raptors | Last Week: 2-1 | Overall: 48-19 | Previous Ranking: 7
Take advantage of the schedule.
The Raptors play teams below .500 in 11 of their final 15 games. The Bucks left the door open this week with a couple bad losses, meaning the top seed is still up for grabs if Toronto can close out the season hot. Worst case scenario, at least this is a chance to get players more acclimated with each other before the postseason.
2. Bucks | Last Week: 2-2 | Overall: 50-17 | Previous Ranking: 1
A second loss to Phoenix?
The team with the best record in the NBA was swept by the team with the second-worst record. If the Raptors are able to make up those two games they currently trail the Bucks by in the standings, this will be why.
1. Rockets | Last Week: 3-0 | Overall: 41-25 | Previous Ranking: 2
Forget points. Talk about deflections.
We all know James Harden is leading the league in scoring by shooting a bunch of free throws and three-pointers. Cool.
But did you also know Harden leads the league in deflections per game and the team is fourth in the league and second-best in the West in that category?
That’s classic Mike D’Antoni defense right there.