After a weekend of wonky national anthems, a dunk contest that just couldn’t save the dunk contest and actual competition(!) in the All-Star game, the NBA season has finally hit the home stretch, mere weeks away from the playoffs. So allow us to take a breather and lay out some post All-Star Game power rankings.
30: Suns (18-41)
So far, Devin Booker bringing home the three-point contest trophy has been the biggest success of the year. Only with the Suns does a seven-game losing streak feels normal, considering the 41 losses already piled up at only the All-Star break. However, Booker has taken some nice steps forward this season, growing with more playmaking capabilities and still putting up a strong (albeit an empty) 24 points per game and Elfrid Payton has been a nice addition putting up 20 points per game.
29: Hawks (18-41)
The Hawks dove into full tank mode after letting Paul Millsap walk in the offseason and it’s clear this is an entirely different roster and intention than the first seeded 2015 anomaly. And they sure have nailed the tank. Their top three scorers are all under the age of 25 and they clearly have turned their sights to Luka Doncic or DeAndre Ayton come draft season. Hold tight, Hawks fans.
28: Grizzlies (18-38)
Oddly enough, despite making very little noise in the offseason, both Mike Conley and Marc Gasol have fallen off a cliff this season, not to mention the departure of Tony Allen and Zach Randolph has effectively killed their signature grit-and-grind mindset. Conley saw fifteen games until a peculiar heel injury took him out of the race and Gasol is far from his All-Star form from a season ago. They too ride a seven-game losing streak and sit well out of the playoffs, worlds behind their 43-39 previous campaign.
27: Mavericks (18-40)
Dennis Smith Jr. and his occasional bursts of athleticism keep the city of Dallas from entirely tearing their hair out but with the Dirk Nowitzki era coming to a close and very little in the pipes, it’s time to initiate full tank mode. Harrison Barnes hasn’t transformed into the franchise player his 94 million dollar contract would suggest, but his surprisingly solid 18.3 points and 16.0 PER gives the Mavericks a little boost, but here’s to a top three pick that awaits them.
26: Kings (18-39)
The Kings have been in a perpetual tank for years now and it doesn’t look to be ending anytime soon. De’Aaron Fox averages a very rookie-esque 2.4 turnovers per game and hasn’t shown that explosive athleticism as much as the Kings thought he would and the next Steph Curry in Buddy Hield still has yet to develop past a 12 point scorer. Oh well. All we can do is hope they free Vince Carter soon before he ends his career as a King.
25: Magic (18-39)
Moving on from Elfrid Payton hasn’t gone down easy with a three-game losing streak to boot and the cold hand of the tank only continues in Orlando. Aaron Gordon is putting together the best season of his career when healthy and Nikola Vucevic quietly continues to be a dependable center but the fourth lowest defensive rating in the league and in the top ten lowest for three-point shooting isn’t doing them any favors. Back to the top five in the draft for you, Orlando.
24: Nets (19-40)
The deal to bring in D’Angelo Russell keeps the Nets heads above water but with very little young talent actually blossoming and only having the Raptors late first round pick this year, the losing seasons don’t look to be ending anytime soon.
23: Knicks (23-36)
After losing Kristaps Porzingis for the year, the Knicks have been in total freefall, dropping seven straight and only have two wins in the past ten contests. Without Porzingis, the Knicks fell to the third-worst scoring offense and despite Enes Kanter’s 17 point, 14 rebound efforts, the downward spiral has no signs of slowing.
22: Bulls (20-37)
After commencing full tank mode in the offseason, the more the Bulls struggle, the more successful this season will be. Lauri Markkanen has been far better than anybody had imagined, with 15.3 points and 7.7 rebounds per game to match his lights out 35.4 percent from three. Next to Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine show positives signs down the road but for now, it’s tank town in Chicago.
21: Lakers (23-34)
The acquisition of Isaiah Thomas bolstered the already pretty solid offense but three straight losses and going .500 over the last ten isn’t going to be enough for a team eight games out of playoffs. Lonzo Ball hasn’t seen the court since early January but with Brandon Ingram starting to put things together and Kyle Kuzma proving to be a fine steal in the draft, the Lakers’ season hasn’t been a complete failure. Either way, it will still be a few seasons until playoff basketball returns to Tinseltown.
20: Hornets (24-33)
This season has basically been a total disaster for the Hornets. Going into a year they believed they would be able to contend with Kemba Walker’s All-Star season and picking up Dwight Howard in the offseason, they sit six games out of the eighth seed of the playoffs. Malik Monk hasn’t been the offensive product they thought they had and not much has gone right outside of Walker’s stellar play and the comeback of Howard.
19: Pistons (28-29)
After grabbing Blake Griffin and going 4-0 after trading for him, the Pistons have fallen off and only have gone 1-3 since then. With a shot at the playoffs with only the severely slumping Heat in their way, the addition of Griffin could have been enough but if the Heat put things together in time, the Pistons could be in some hot water if they don’t work out the offensive conflicts.
18: Clippers (30-26)
The Clippers are one of six teams within two and a half games between each other and only four will qualify for the playoffs. With the surging Jazz starting to make some noise and trading away Blake Griffin isn’t going to bode well for the Clippers but Lou Williams has been good enough to keep them competitive. A 7-3 record over the last ten is a good sign but considering how crowded the West is, the Clippers might be a story of good but not good enough.
17: Heat (30-28)
Led by All-Star point guard Goran Dragic and a defensive stalwart in Hassan Whiteside, the Heat hug to the eighth seed in the East with only a game and a half ahead of the Pistons. Though sliding a tad bit (3-7 over the last ten), the Heat still own a slight buffer over a Pistons team trying to work some kinks out. Offensively the Heat still have a lot of work to do and losing Dion Waiters for the year won’t go down easy but if they can stop the skid, the Heat might be able to hold on.
16: Pelicans (31-26)
The Pelicans cling to the sacred eighth seed in the West as the Clippers and Jazz nip at their heels. They have a game and a half buffer but since the loss of DeMarcus Cousins, the ninth-worst defensive rating won’t be able to ward off Donovan Mitchell and streaking Jazz for long, even with Anthony Davis’s 27 points and 2.1 blocks keeping the Pelicans’ heads above water.
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15: Sixers (30-25)
A five-game win streak is always a great idea for a playoff push. Now sitting in the seventh seed with a three-game lead over the ninth-seeded Pistons, playoff basketball looks to return to Philadelphia after six years of the Process. Ben Simmons continues his Rookie of the Year caliber campaign and Joel Embiid continues to sprint towards the conversation as among the league’s best players.
14: Trail Blazers (32-26)
Damian Lillard dazzles with 26 points and 6.6 assists leading the the Trail Blazers to barely hold onto the seventh seed in the West. With Jusuf Nurkic putting together a nice 8.8 rebounds and C.J. McCollum pouring in 21.7 points, the Trail Blazers might just be able to hold onto the playoffs as the season hits crunch time.
13: Jazz (30-28)
By the might of Donovan Mitchell’s 21.3 points, the Jazz ride an 11 game win streak and slowly claw their way towards the eighth seed in the West. While they still sit a game and a half behind the aforementioned Pelicans, the Jazz have all the momentum in the world right now. They currently find themselves deadlocked with the Clippers and Pelicans in pursuit of the eighth seed but keeping this win streak and momentum going will decide whether playoff basketball will be in Utah.
12: Nuggets (32-26)
The Nuggets have been deceptively good all season and for their efforts, they grapple onto the sixth seed with only a single game above the competition. The Western Conference is a bloodbath for any team not named the Warriors or Rockets and by the might of Nikola Jokic’s 17 points and 10.6 rebounds, the Nuggets hold on for now. If they can figure out how to win on the road (9-19) as well as they can win at home (23-7), playoff basketball could return to Denver.
11: Bucks (32-25)
While Giannis Antetokounmpo has came back down to Earth after a sizzling start, the Bucks still hum along with a sizable cushion inside the playoff circle. Eric Bledsoe has fit nicely on the team with averages of 17 points and 2.2 steals per game and Antetokounmpo continues his MVP bid with style. If they could solve some of the scoring issues, the Bucks could potentially make some noise in the playoffs.
10: Wizards (33-24)
The Wizards have held on without John Wall thanks to the much improved Bradley Beal but they still walk on thin ice until his return. They still sit as one of the most turnover-prone teams over his absence but the under-the-radar play of Marcin Gortat and Otto Porter Jr. alike keep this team competitive.
9: Thunder (33-26)
While the Paul George-Carmelo Anthony-Russell Westbrook experiment hasn’t broken the league like they might have expected, the trio powered Oklahoma City to the fifth seed in a crowded Western Conference. Westbrook is only .6 rebounds away from averaging a triple-double once again and Paul George slid perfectly next to him. Anthony is far from his Denver days but his 17 point lift doesn’t hurt. Slowly as they learn to play next to one another only makes this team more and more dangerous.
8: Pacers (33-25)
Victor Oladipo has been the savior of Indianapolis that they didn’t know they had. The Paul George trade worked out perfectly for Indiana and because of Oladipo’s All-Star season and Domantas Sabonis’ 12 points and 8.2 rebounds, they sit comfortably in the fifth seed in the East. While Myles Turner hasn’t grown into the superstar his rookie year might have suggested, Oladipo’s and Sabonis’s brilliant play make up for it.
7: Timberwolves (36-25)
The Timberwolves finally became everything we knew they could be after trading for Jimmy Butler. While the defensive woes from years past continue and Tom Thibodeau might be exhausting everybody with five players above 33 minutes per game but the sixth highest scoring offense speaks for itself and and boasting two All-Stars in the loaded Western Conference means they keep up with almost any team in the league.
6: Cavaliers (34-22)
A four-game win streak for these new-look Cavs is encouraging to say the least however, we still have yet to see enough of this entirely new crew to really judge how legit they are. As convincing as the win over the Celtics was, the sixth lowest defensive rating in the league over those four wins isn’t the most comforting. The Cavs put themselves in a much finer position after the trade deadline but only time will tell if it was enough to get past the Warriors or even the Raptors for that matter.
5: Spurs (35-24)
The Spurs flying high with the third seed and continuing to be among the top teams in the league is cool enough, but doing it without Kawhi Leonard all that much more remarkable. Gregg Popovich even to this day works wonders in San Antonio and the revival of LaMarcus Aldridge keeps the Spurs in the conversation for the Finals. His 22 points and 8.1 rebounds prove he hasn’t lost a step at 32 years of age. Leonard’s status if he will return this season or not is so up in the air nobody can see it anymore but with the resurgence of Aldridge and the genius of Popovich, don’t count the Spurs out just yet.
4: Celtics (40-19)
Despite a hot start the year, the Celtics have cooled off substantially in the last 15, going a rough 6-9 at the fourth-worst shooting percentage in the entire league at 43.4 percent. While this may be a wee bit alarming, Kyrie Irving’s 27 points per game over that stretch is a little comforting. While the Celtics have plenty of time before the playoffs and it’s not time to hit the panic button, the offensive woes will have to be smoothed out come playoff time if they want any chance of keeping up the Raptors or Cavs.
3: Raptors (41-16)
Believe it or not, the Raptors hold the first seed in the East by a solid margin and thanks to a 9-1 record over the last ten catapulted them over the slumping Celtics. Over the course of those games, the Raptors have been the top scoring team in the league and third best defensive team in the league while DeRozan and Lowry continue to be arguably the finest backcourt in the league. The Raptors have consistently been second or third round fodder for the Cavaliers in years past but this could be the year if they keep this pace up.
2: Warriors (44-14)
The Warriors will more than likely run the league again come playoff time but a 6-4 record over the last ten is indicative of some struggles going on in the Bay Area. Steve Kerr has openly admitted the Warriors “are mentally fried” and we shall see how beneficial the All-Star break will be but by fate, by exhaustion or by pure boredom, the Warriors no longer dominate the league like the 73 win team once did. But this is still the Warriors and we simply cannot write them off come playoff time despite the struggles.
1: Rockets (44-13)
With their ten game win streak and their recent victory against the Warriors, the Rockets hold the title of the best team in the league for now. James Harden has dominated to the tune of a league-leading 31.3 points per game and has gelled perfectly with Chris Paul. Outside of Paul’s occasional injury woes, the Rockets boast the deepest and most offensively efficient team in the league. Time will tell if they will be able to conquer Golden State, but for now, there is no touching Houston.
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