NBA Power Rankings: Season enters its fourth quarter
NBA games by and large are defined by what happens in the fourth quarter, which is where the league is right now when you look at the calendar. Three-quarters of the season are in the book, but there’s plenty at stake throughout the association in the coming weeks.
While Milwaukee leads a handful of teams poised for strong postseason surges, there is much work left to be done for a number of teams that are very much in the thick of a race towards one of the last playoff spots.
It’ll make for yet another down-to-the-wire finish for the last couple of remaining playoff spots, while sorting out the rest of the postseaon participants won’t be a breeze, either.
Potential tie-breakers make every conference matchup a must-win game because it could literally be the difference between beginning the playoffs at home versus on the road against one of the better teams in the conference.
Regardless of where your team stacks up, the final stretch of the NBA season will be a fun one, full of twists, turns and performances by talented players all doing their part to best position their teams for postseason success that will be fueled in part by how they perform in the coming weeks.
30. Golden State Warriors
(13-48, rank last week: 30)
Even with all the losses, the emotions of Draymond Green still run hot which is why he’s one more technical foul away from having to serve a one-game suspension. But considering how the Warriors have played this season, isn’t playing with the worst team in the NBA this season enough of a punishment for him?
29. Cleveland Cavaliers
(17-43, rank last week: 28)
The good news is that the Cavs have the next four games at home. The bad? Three of those opponents (Boston, Utah, Denver) have winning road records while ranked among the league’s top-7 in overall record.
28. New York Knicks
(18-42, rank last week: 29)
This week could get ugly real quick for the Knicks as they take on Houston, Utah and Oklahoma City this week.
27. Minnesota Timberwolves
(17-42, rank last week: 27)
It’s hard to believe that the Timberwolves and ex-Celtic Evan Turner did not get a buyout deal done, particularly with so many playoff contenders looking to add a versatile wing player like Turner to the fold.
26. Detroit Pistons
(20-42, rank last week: 24)
Seeing Derrick Rose go down with an apparent ankle injury in loss at Sacramento highlights a franchise that has been ravaged all season by injuries and just plain bad luck.
25. Atlanta Hawks
(19-43, rank last week: 25)
The good news is the Hawks have one of the easiest remaining schedules (only the Pelicans have it easier). The bad news? They are 24 games below-.500 and that weak schedule has the potential to worsen their chances at landing the top overall pick in next June’s NBA draft.
24. Phoenix Suns
(24-37, rank last week: 22)
Good move by the Suns to add Jordan McRae who was recently bought out by the Nuggets. They need a little bit of everything going forward which is exactly what McCrae brings to the table.
23. Charlotte Hornets
(21-39, rank last week: 23)
One area in which Charlotte has placed a great emphasis on this season is defending without fouling. The Hornets have done a good job of that for the most part, allowing a league-low 14.0 made free throws this season.
22. Chicago Bulls
(20-40, rank last week: 26)
The Bulls are getting a jump on Coby White playing more in the future, with an increase in his minutes lately which has led to him scoring in double figures the last six games — a first for him this season.
21. Washington Wizards
(22-37, rank last week: 19)
Bradley Beal has a pair of back-to-back games of 50 points and the Wizards lose both games. He scores, they lose. That’s the Wizards season in a nutshell.
20. Brooklyn Nets
(26-33, rank last week: 17)
The Nets have dropped four in a row, looking as though the players are going to follow the lead of their two best players in Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, which is to punt away this season.
19. Portland Trail Blazers
(26-35, rank last week: 16)
The Blazers are running out of time and options to reverse course in what has been a season that has been a failure in large part because of an array of injuries to key players.
18. San Antonio Spurs
(25-33, rank last week: 21)
Knowing how things tend to play out for the Spurs, it would be just their luck to miss the playoffs and wind up with a miniscule chance at the No. 1 overall pick but wind up getting it anyway.
17. Sacramento Kings
(26-34, rank last week: 18)
Finally, the record is starting to catch up with the talent on this roster as the Kings make a push towards that last playoff spot with wins in five of their last six games.
16. Orlando Magic
(27-33, rank last week: 20)
Just like Milwaukee has maintained a spot at the top of the NBA standings for a while, Orlando has been holding down the seventh or eighth spot in the East pretty much all season with no signs of relinquishing that grip soon.
15. Memphis Grizzlies
(29-31, rank last week: 15)
Playing the toughest schedule remaining without two key players like Jarren Jackson (knee) and Brandon Clarke (quadriceps), holding down the eighth and final playoff spot is going to be a daunting challenge ahead for the Grizzlies.
14. New Orleans Pelicans
(26-34, rank last week: 13)
The most regular season games Zion Williamson can play is 37. Is that enough to overcome Memphis’ Ja Morant for the league’s Rookie of the Year?
13. Indiana Pacers
(36-24, rank last week: 14)
The lines remain blurred between whether the root of their problems is Victor Oladipo getting back into the flow of things, or whether Oladipo and Malcolm Brogdan can co-exist and do so while still being major impact performers.
12. Dallas Mavericks
(37-24, rank last week: 11)
The Mavericks’ transition defense has been an issue all season, evident by them allowing a league-high 16.7 opponent fast-break points per game.
11. Philadelphia 76ers
(37-24, rank last week: 12)
Injuries to Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid will put the Sixers’ depth to the ultimate test as they try to gain ground after what has been a disappointing regular season thus far.
10. Oklahoma City Thunder
(37-23, rank last week: 10)
The Thunder are one of the season’s feel-good stories, but they are clearly not a title contender, which we were reminded of thanks to the 47-point drubbing put on them by Milwaukee.
9. Miami Heat
(38-22, rank last week: 7)
It’s still early, but the addition of Andre Iguodala has done little to move the Heat closer towards being a top-tier team in the East.
8. Utah Jazz
(37-22, rank last week: 9)
A lineup shuffle brings about renewed hope that the Jazz can build upon last season’s success and head into the playoffs with momentum.
7. Houston Rockets
(39-20, rank last week: 8)
A key to Houston’s ‘micro-ball” success has been the utilization of players 6-8 and shorter. But you have to wonder if the heightened level of physicality that officials have allowed them to play with will continue in the playoffs.
6. Toronto Raptors
(42-18, rank last week: 3)
Toronto has the rare opportunity to be the defending NBA champion and still play the underdog role on a nightly basis and it not be a forced narrative, but in fact it's the straight-no-chaser truth of who they are and where they stand in the eyes of NBA fans.
5. Denver Nuggets
(41-19, rank last week: 5)
Good times seem like they’re just around the corner with the next three games against sub-.500 clubs.
4. Boston Celtics
(41-18, rank last week: 4)
The Celtics don’t seem all that worried about Kemba Walker’s sore left knee which has kept him out for the last five games.
3. Los Angeles Clippers
(41-19, rank last week: 6)
There’s a tremendous amount of crowding when it comes to positioning outside of the top-two teams. But the Clippers, when healthy, are the most complete team in terms of talent and toughness.
2. Los Angeles Lakers
(46-13, rank last week: 2)
LeBron James continues to deliver at an MVP level for the Lakers, with Father Time looking on at James asking, ‘Dude, are you ready yet?’
1. Milwaukee Bucks
(52-8, rank last week: 1)
The Bucks’ historic run continues as they continue along a 70-win plateau this season.