NBA Power Rankings Week 17

by Dan M | Posted on Saturday, February 28th, 2015

Grizzlies-Blazers

Derrick Rose’s knee injury is the latest blow to a growing list of NBA superstars who’ve been taken out of action this season. Of the top teams in these rankings, it’s become more about who’s healthy than who’s talented. And that’s led to a new king of the rankings

1  Grizzlies (41-14) HIGH: 1 / LOW: 14
The Grizzlies are the best team in basketball right now, and they’re healthy. Since Jan. 11, no team has a better record (16-3) than Memphis. There’s still nothing provocative about these Grizzlies in a video-game sense. There’s no highlight-reel superstar and they’re near the bottom of the league in 3-pointers. But none of that matters in these rankings, the Grizzlies have just grinded their way to the top.

2. Warriors (44-10) HIGH: 1 / LOW: 7
The Warriors could become the only No. 1 seed in NBA history that might actually think about tanking a bit to avoid playing the Thunder in the first round. Then again, the matchups against a potential No. 6 or 7 seed wouldn’t be any easier. In reality, the worst matchup for the Warriors would be a bruising team like Memphis. Earning home court through the Western Conference playoffs will prove of vital importance, but nothing is more valuable than a fullsquad entering the postseason. They need to measure the value of a No. 1 seed vs. burning the legs of their stars.

3. Hawks (44-12) HIGH: 1 / LOW: 20
There was bound to be a lull somewhere — that’s normal for each of the top-tier contenders. Losing four of their last eight games is the worst stretch for the Hawks since starting the season 1-3. Maintaining a scorching pace after all that giddiness of those All-Star tributes would be too much to ask. Atlanta just needs to hang on a bit during this part of the season. Matchups vs. the Mavs, Rockets and Cavs are part of a five-game stretch through March 6. But after that, six of the next seven games come against lottery teams.

4.  Cavaliers (36-22) HIGH: 3 / LOW: 18
LeBron James understands there’s a difference in what it takes to win the East vs. what it takes to go on and win the NBA title. Cleveland is playing like a team that can certainly head to the Finals, but there’s still something missing that makes it hard to imagine these Cavs beating the West rep … some call it defense.

5.   Rockets (38-18) HIGH: 1 / LOW: 11
Of course Dwight Howard is a difference-maker, but that hasn’t been reflected in the results. Since Howard went out Jan. 23, the Rockets’ offensive and defensive ratings have remained nearly identical. That’s because James Harden has been superhuman, averaging 27.5 points, 7.2 assists and 6.7 rebounds and shooting close to 40 percent from behind the arc.

6. Mavericks (39-20) High: 4 / Low: 10
Trading for a brand-name point guard doesn’t guarantee anything. The Mavericks’ offense has suffered since adding Rajon Rondo. Making matters worse, Rondo and Rick Carlisle exchanged heated words on the floor in the team’s win against Toronto. There’s still time, obviously, and Dallas is moving up in the West, so perhaps it’s just going to take until the postseason for Rondo to show his true worth.

7.  Trail Blazers (36-19) High: 1 / Low: 8
Portland didn’t shove all its chips to the middle, but the deadline deal to grab 29-year-old Arron Afflalo for a first-round pick is a statement that this team is geared to win now (and it can still bring Afflalo back this offseason).
The addition of another versatile wing scorer makes Portland  much more dangerous this postseason. It’s also a reminder just how incredible this Western Conf postseason is going to be.

8. Raptors (37-20) HIGH: 2 / LOW: 16
The four-game road trip started with a 25-point statement win in Atlanta but ended with a dud in three straight losses to West squads.
The Raptors are locked into at least a No. 3 seed in the East with the Atlantic wrapped up, but the Derrick Rose injury and Washington slipping could make it a two-team race for the second seed between the Raptors and Cavs.
9.   Thunder (32-25) HIGH: 4 / LOW: 28
Russell Westbrook is making a case for MVP votes, and his numbers during this pivotal stretch in February should be highlighted when the Thunder pitch the media for their vote. He’s averaging 30.6 points (49.4 FG%), 10.1 assists and 7.9 rebounds this month.

10. Clippers (37-20) HIGH: 2 / LOW: 16
There’s no reason to question Blake Griffin’s value just yet, but it’s intriguing how strong LA has looked since he went out. Without Griffin, the Clippers have put up the best offensive numbers in the West (110.2 points per 100 possessions) and are 4-2. The defense has suffered, though, and it may start to cost them with the Rockets, Grizzlies, Bulls, Blazers and Warriors as five of their next six opponents.

11. Bulls (36-21) HIGH: 5 / LOW: 15
The latest Derrick Rose knee injury is crushing for the Bulls. The biggest blow is what the injury means to the career of Chicago’s franchise player. The pattern is becoming all too familiar. The more instant frustration comes after these Bulls had just won six of seven and Rose was seemingly coming back to form to push Chicago to Finals contention. It’s all bad news for Chicago. Sure the Bulls have won without Rose before, but never in a way that will scare anyone come playoff time.

12. Spurs (34-22) HIGH: 1 / LOW: 13
The Spurs have been the default cream of the West for so long that it’s natural to simply assume they’ll be back in championship form come spring. After last year’s phenomenal run, one in which they played like one of the greatest teams ever, it’s easy to think things will repeat. But then there’s the flip side: The West has become so incredibly talented that at some point these Spurs won’t be able to keep pace. So far, they haven’t shown much to prove they’re in a place to repeat.

13. Bucks (31-25) HIGH: 12 / LOW: 29
Sure the Bucks’ defense is enough to make it in the East, but realistically that’s as far as it goes. To be a complete team means being able to string together some consistency on offense, and Milwaukee hasn’t done that lately. The recent 71-point output against the Bulls came on season-low 33.7 percent shooting. Michael Carter-Williams isn’t riding in on a white horse, either — he was a 38 percent shooter on a bad Philly team — but his passing ability will definitely help.

14. Pelicans (29-27) High: 11 / Low: 18
So, this is how you replace Anthony Davis while he’s out for 1-2 weeks. To continue to hang even close to that eighth spot in the West until Davis and Ryan Anderson return, New Orleans is going to need to find some change under the couch cushions. The Pelicans found some hidden treasures in a win against the Raptors, when Alexis Ajinca and Luke Babbit combined for Davis-like numbers with 34 points, 17 rebounds and four assists.

15. Wizards (33-24) HIGH: 6 / LOW: 15
The Wizards continue their season-long teetering between legitimate East contenders and likely candidates for an early-round exit. Right now, it’s looking more like a first- or second-round exit. The Wizards have lost four straight and nine of 11. The good news is that Bradley Beal could return any day after missing six games. Washington needs some momentum in the other direction.

16. Suns (29-28) HIGH: 9 / LOW: 16
Phoenix is done. The white flag was waved before the deadline, and the current five-game losing streak has the Suns already three games out of the No. 8 spot in the West. It was a quick rebuild two seasons ago when Phoenix showed up out of nowhere, but it looks like the teardown is happening just as quickly.

17. Pacers (23-34) HIGH: 17 / LOW: 27
Indy looks primed to roll into the Eastern Conference version of a postseason. The Pacers have won six of eight, including a home victory against the league-best Warriors. Indy is peaking just in time to welcome back Paul George, and with Chris Bosh being done for the season there’s more room in the bottom half of the East bracket. The Pacers are 3-11 in games decided by three or fewer points, but if the pendulum starts swinging the other way, they could be a tough out in the first round.

18. Nets (23-31) HIGH: 13 / LOW: 26
The Nets currently own a playoff spot, and that should make every sports fan in existence utterly and completely nauseous. Watching Joe Johnson isos in a playoff series, while a team like the Pelicans is held out in the West, would be the basketball equivalent of extreme car sickness.

19. Jazz (21-34) HIGH: 18 / LOW: 27
The 2015-16 Jazz will be the 2013-14 Suns or better yet, maybe the 2013-14 Portland Trail Blazers. The Jazz have a fantastic core that seems to get better each week. They have plenty of salary and roster flexibility and could be the latest West team to join the fray by next season.

20. Heat (24-31) HIGH: 7 / LOW: 21
The news of Chris Bosh’s blood clots was as scary as it was tragic for Miami’s hopes for a spot in the playoffs. Bosh’s livelihood is far more important than basketball, though, so the good news is he’ll receive treatment and recover. In reality, the Heat weren’t going to contend for a title anyway.

21. Pistons (23-34) HIGH: 17 / LOW: 30
The only teams standing between Detroit and a playoff spot are the collapsing Hornets and the “what are they doing here?” Nets. That means playoffs for these Pistons. Even with a record below .500, is not just a possibility it’s likely.

22. Hornets (22-32) HIGH: 16 / LOW: 28
Lose five in a row in the East and people usually barely notice, but this recent losing stretch has bounced Charlotte from the current playoff picture. There’s just not enough offense — with totals of 81 or fewer points against Philly, Detroit and Dallas in three of the Hornets’ last five games. Charlotte isn’t likely to bounce back before Kemba Walker returns in mid-March, and by then it will be too late.

23.  T’wolves (12-43) High: 22 / Low: 30
Two decades ago, people thought Kevin Garnett entering the NBA straight out of high school would be a bad idea. Now, we’re talking about a 19-year vet who literally could end up owning the team that drafted him. Incredible. But not as incredible as the day he intimidates and screams in the face of potential coaching candidates during their interviews.

24. Celtics (21-33) HIGH: 16 / LOW: 28
The Celtics are the worst team in the NBA that’s still just one week of good basketball from joining the race for an NBA title. Ladies and gentleman, the 2014-15 NBA season.
25. Magic (19-39) HIGH: 19 / LOW: 29
Does Vegas account for the “new coach effect”? It’s automatic in pro sports. Whenever a team makes a coaching change, the team rallies around the new guy with a revitalized effort and focus. Orlando has won four of six with James Borrego as interim coach. The defense is playing better than it has all season.

26.  76ers (12-44) HIGH: 23 / LOW: 30
The 76ers are close to their goal of owning the rights to every lottery pick in the next five drafts. Of course, they will probably keep flipping those picks for more picks until they’ve struck a deal with the NCAA for the rights to every college basketball player into the future. Sam Hinkie is a mad genius.

27.  Kings (19-35) HIGH: 9 / LOW: 27
If Kevin Johnson weren’t already mayor, Sacramento may have already elected George Karl. He’s an early hit as hire for a fanbase dehydrated of winning. The sixth-winningest coach in NBA history earned a victory in his Kings debut, then was immediately reminded of the road ahead of him in a blowout loss to the Clippers.

28. Nuggets (20-36) High: 12 / Low: 28
The Nuggets held on to most of their pieces at the trade deadline. So yes, they are still losing. It’s a basketball mess in Denver; they never should have legalized.

29. Lakers (14-41) HIGH: 23 / LOW: 30
If the Lakers lose all of their remaining games, they’re guaranteed to keep a top-five selection in the upcoming draft. So in others words: By losing, they’re really winning. And, well, that’s enough to make Jim Buss’ head explode.

30. Knicks (10-45) HIGH: 17 / LOW: 30
Derek Fisher made “headlines” the other day when he said his Knicks are giving effort. Knicks fans aren’t sure whether that’s good or bad news.

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