Who rises and who falls in the first NBA power rankings installment of the postseason?
(Team’s series record, Change in ranking from last week. Records as of 4/17/18)
16. Washington Wizards (Down 0-2 to Raptors)
The Wizards kept it relatively close in game one but still fell to the Raptors. They were absolutely thrashed in game two; a late-game comeback was not enough. Bradley Beal has been atrocious; over two games he has averaged 14 points with a 44.6 eFG%. All the while, Kyle Lowry has struggled to score the basketball. He has averaged 12 points on 42.1% eFG but has averaged 10.5 assists. The Wizards need to figure out their defense–they have the second-worst defensive rating in the playoffs at 119.4–and their chemistry if they want any chance to avoid a sweep.
15. San Antonio Spurs (Down 0-2 to Warriors)
Over two losses to the Warriors, the Spurs have posted the worst defensive rating in the playoffs at 119.6. Their defense has been very poor; they’ve given up 114.5 points per game to Golden State. They posted one good defensive half so far this series; they were very physical with Golden State during the first half of game one. Even without Stephen Curry, the Warriors’ offensive onslaught is too much for this Spurs team to handle, especially with Kawhi Leonard. It is all but guaranteed that Kawhi Leonard will not play for the Spurs in this series; the disconnect between the two has never been greater.
14. Minnesota Timberwolves (Down 0-1 to Rockets)
The Minnesota Timberwolves fought hard in game one, taking the lead at points but eventually falling to the powerhouse Rockets by three. Minnesota out-rebounded and out-assisted the Rockets. But, in my opinion, this was a fluke. James Harden got whatever he wanted. With 44 points, he scored at will. The Rockets shot extremely poorly from three outside of him but plenty of their shots were ones they usually hit. I can’t see these woes continuing. More importantly, Karl-Anthony was invisible; Clint Capela shut him down. He was not active at all and he avoided post-ups against mismatches on multiple occasions. In 40 minutes, he logged eight points and 12 rebounds. KAT needs to step it up if the Wolves want to get one game in this series.
13. Milwaukee Bucks (Down 0-2 to Celtics)
Many people predicted that the Bucks would be able to pull an upset over the two seeded Celtics. This makes a lot of sense. They have the best player in the series in Giannis Antetokounmpo, an arguably more talented roster, and the Celtics are without Kyrie Irving, Marcus Smart, and Daniel Theis. But, the coaching and play style of Boston has troubled Milwaukee. Antetokounmpo has done all he can, averaging 32.5 points, 11 rebounds, and 7.5 assists. Khris Middleton has scored well, averaging 28 points and six rebounds.
Outside of those two, the Bucks can’t find consistent offense. Drew (Eric) Bledsoe has been completely out played by Terry Rozier. As we saw in game one, this team has what it takes to compete with Boston. I wouldn’t be surprised if they took both games at home. But, they have a lot to work out if they want to get even one win in this series.
12. Utah Jazz (Down 0-1 to Thunder)
The Utah Jazz were outmatched by the pure star power of the Thunder. They couldn’t find an answer to Paul George and Russell Westbrook breathing down their neck definitely didn’t help either. Donovan Mitchell played well in his first playoff game, scoring 27 and grabbing 10 rebounds. He’s the first rookie to score at least 25 points and grab at least 10 rebounds in his playoff debut since LeBron James. Rudy Gobert did a good job defending the paint but his interior defense couldn’t contain Paul George’s eight threes. Donovan Mitchell is questionable for game two with a foot contusion.
11. Cleveland Cavaliers (Down 0-1 to Pacers)
The Cleveland Cavaliers suffered an incredibly disappointing game one loss to the Indiana Pacers, who Nick Wright picked in three games. This Cavaliers team struggled mightily to find any offense when LeBron was shut down. The Pacers held James to no points in the first. Cleveland has the worst offensive rating in the NBA playoffs through one game with 84.4 and the worst TOV% with 17.9%. The Cavaliers should not go into panic mode; far from it in fact. LeBron James has carried worse teams out of worse holes. Many may still favor Cleveland tow in this series. However, they have to take this Pacers team more seriously because it is clear that they are here to make a deep playoff run.
10. Portland Trail Blazers (Down 0-2 to Pelicans)
The Portland Trail Blazers lost both of the first two games at home. Teams down 0-2 generally don’t win the series and the win chance if both of those losses are at home is even less. Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum have just not been able to get their offense going and they have been liabilities on defense. They gave up 33 points to Jrue Holiday last night and allowed Rajon Rondo to emerge in playoff form. If these two can’t get their act together, the Blazers will be swept. Yet, there is a silver lining.
The Blazers have Mo Harkless back and their wing defenders did a very solid job on Anthony Davis last night. I was impressed with the play of Harkless, Al-Farouq Aminu and Pat Connaughton. I believe if Lillard and McCollum play like the superstars they are, the Blazers have the role players to make a comeback in this series.
9. Miami Heat (Tied 1-1 with 76ers)
After being blown out in game one, the Miami Heat showed everyone that they are just as good as this Sixers team. Philadelphia won by 27 on the back of some incredible play by Ben Simmons and some more incredible Philly offense. The pace-and-space of the 76ers in game one was too much. In game two Ben Simmons played well again but Miami answered their offense with great defense. Most importantly, Dwyane Wade looked like he was in his prime, scoring 28. One interesting thing is that Hassan Whiteside has been a non-factor in the first two games. Playing only 13 minutes per game, he has averaged three points, five rebounds, and 1.5 blocks per game. Erik Spoelstra has elected to play Bam Adebayo and Kelly Olynyk over him to keep up with their offense. His minutes should increase with the return of Joel Embiid, though.
8. Indiana Pacers (Up 1-0 on Cavaliers)
The Indiana Pacers throttled the Cleveland Cavaliers, taking a shocking 18 point victory over LeBron James, giving him his first game one loss in 21 games. Their defense was incredible; all five players were active and they did a good job pressuring James. They currently have the best defensive rating in the NBA playoffs so far with an unreal 84.4. Victor Oladipo looked like a superstar, putting up 32 points, six rebounds, four assists, and four steals with a very solid 71 TS%. We should not get ahead of ourselves, though, because this is LeBron James the Pacers are dealing with. Game two will be crucial to see if this Indiana team is for real.
7. Philadelphia 76ers (Tied 1-1 with Heat)
The 76ers shut down any doubters with their convincing 130-103 victory over the Heat in game one. In game two the Heat stormed back, matching Philly’s shooting offense and versatile defense with a 10 point win. Ben Simmons has played very well in his first two playoff games leading his team, averaging 20.5 points, 11 assists and nine rebounds. He has had some struggles against the length and defense of Miami but overall he looks great. Most importantly, Joel Embiid is doubtful for game three but is still going to Miami with the team. His return could cause massive shift in favor of the 76ers in this series.
6. Golden State Warriors (Up 2-0 on Spurs)
Klay Thompson has been absolutely scorching from the field and from the beyond the arc in this series. Over two games, he’s averaged 29 PPG, shooting 71.4% from three on seven attempts and a ridiculous 85.6 True Shooting%. It is blatantly clear that the Warriors far overmatch the Warriors on a talent level, but there has been some sloppy play from them. The Spurs, who really aren’t that talented in this state, really held them in check in the first half of game two. Without Stephen Curry leading the way, I can’t justify putting the Warriors any higher than this.
5. Oklahoma City Thunder (Up 1-0 on Jazz)
Paul “Playoff P” George went all the way off in game one, scoring 36 points and grabbing seven rebounds. He shot an unfathomable 8-11 three, a Thunder franchise playoff record. He was on fire from beyond the arc and scored well inside. Russell Westbrook had a solid game as well, scoring 29 points, grabbing 13 rebounds and dishing eight assists on 40% shooting. These two can win you a series by themselves; the star power of OKC could be too much for the young, fundamental Jazz to handle.
4. New Orleans Pelicans (Up 2-0 on Trail Blazers)
The Pelicans are the biggest success story from a lower seed this year, stealing both games from the Trail Blazers on the road. This isn’t really a huge upset though; the six seeded Pelicans sat only one game behind the third seed Blazers. Jrue Holiday has been fantastic on offense and especially on defense, locking up Lillard and McCollum and making big plays. He has averaged 27 points, 5.5 assists and five rebounds to go with a playoff career high 33 last night. Playoff Rondo is here; he averaged 11 points, 13 assists and nine rebounds in two games. Combining this guard play with Anthony Davis and Nikola Mirotic makes this Pelicans team look like one of the best in the West.
3. Boston Celtics (Up 2-0 on Bucks)
The Boston Celtics have completely silenced any critics, commanding a 2-0 lead over the arguably more talented Bucks. Missing Kyrie Irving, Jaylen Brown has attributed the success of Boston to Brad Stevens’ masterful coaching, but Brown has had as big of an impact as anyone else. Brown has averaged 25 points per game; Terry Rozier has been amazing as well, averaging 23 points and 5.5 assists. Marcus Morris has been an X-factor, averaging 19.5 points and six rebounds. His defense has been essential for Boston as well. The Celtics have the best TOV% so far with 10.7% and the fifth best net rating with 7.3. This team has what it takes to make a deep playoff run.
2. Houston Rockets (Up 1-0 on Timberwolves)
The Houston Rockets hit a bit of a speed bump against the Timberwolves. The Wolves kept it close for most of the game and even led, but I believe this was a total fluke. James Harden’s 44 points was no fluke. Clint Capela dominating Towns with his mobility and strength, putting up 24 points, 12 rebounds, and three blocks, was no fluke. If you take James Harden out of the equation, the Rockets shot 17% from three. This isn’t normal for a team that shoots as well as Houston and most of these shots were open. It’s only a matter of time before these shots start falling and the Rockets blow this series wide open.
1.Toronto Raptors (Up 2-0 on Wizards)
The Toronto raptors have kicked their playoff woes to the curb and are up 2-0 for the first time EVER in a playoff series. Granted their opponent is a Wizards team who lacks chemistry and defense but Toronto has lost games to worse teams in the past. Demar DeRozan has been elite on offense, averaging 27 points per game with 37 last night. More importantly he has shown a willingness to shoot threes with 5.5 attempts per game, shooting very good 45.5% from deep. Kyle Lowry hasn’t shot well but his defense has been good and he has averaged 10.5 assists and five rebounds per game. The two stars and excellent role players of Toronto make the best team in the playoffs at this very moment.
Ben Pfeifer is the Managing Editor of the Colts for Full Press Coverage, the AFC South Division Editor, and head NBA editor. Want to continue the discussion? Contact Ben Pfeifer on Twitter @Ben_Pfeifer_, @FPC_NBA and @FPC_Colts.