NBA Power Rankings: Playoff push begins in earnest now
The NBA All-Star break is the unofficial starting point for the second half of the season. But more than that, it begins in earnest the playoff push that most of the league’s teams will be focused on.
Teams near the top are trying to secure home-court advantage for as many rounds as possible, while teams that have been middle of the pack are trying to seal up a postseason spot. And then there are those on the outside looking in, teams that have little to no choice in approaching every game with a must-win mentality.
Doing those things while keeping players relatively healthy and fresh for a postseason run creates some difficult decisions for coaches and front offices this time of year.
“Trying to keep guys healthy for the playoffs … we call that a good problem,” one Western Conference executive whose team is currently on the outside of the playoff picture told NBC Sports Boston. “It means you’ve played well enough to where the playoffs isn’t a concern; it’s where you end up.”
Here’s a look at NBC Sports Boston’s latest power rankings.
30. Golden State Warriors
(12-45, rank last week: 29)
The potential return of Stephen Curry next month should be just enough time to shake some of the rust off, but not enough to significantly impact Golden State’s back-of-the-pack status that the Warriors hope to turn into a top-five draft pick.
29. New York Knicks
(17-40, rank last week: 27)
Knicks owner Jim Dolan won a lawsuit filed against him by ex-Knicks big man Charles Oakley, a rare victory for anyone associated with the franchise.
28. Cleveland Cavaliers
(16-41, rank last week: 30)
The Cavs are sure to get that new-coach bump with J.B. Bickerstaff being installed as the replacement for John Beilein.
27. Minnesota Timberwolves
(16-40, rank last week: 24)
Karl-Anthony Towns’ wrist injury will keep him out for a couple of weeks. But considering the direction the Timberwolves are going down now, keeping him on the shelf for the rest of the season should be given some thought.
26. Chicago Bulls
(20-38, rank last week: 23)
The Bulls are reportedly looking to shake up their front office is a step in the right direction, but there’s so much more work that has to be done.
25. Atlanta Hawks
(17-42, rank last week: 28)
The Hawks had a chance to grab their first three-game winning streak of the season Monday night against a struggling Philadelphia team... but Atlanta gave up 129 points in a 17-point loss.
24. Detroit Pistons
(19-40, rank last week: 26)
Derrick Rose, who will make $7.7 million next season, will once again be one of the best bargains in the NBA.
23. Charlotte Hornets
(19-37, rank last week: 25)
Terry Rozier isn’t in the role he envisioned when he signed with Charlotte, but the former Celtic is still averaging career highs in just about every statistical category.
22. Phoenix Suns
(24-34, rank last week: 22)
All those losses have hidden one of the more improved bigs in the game, Deandre Ayton, who has averaged 18.9 points, 11.9 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game.
21. San Antonio Spurs
(24-32, rank last week: 18)
The Spurs’ bench averages 44.8 points per game which ranks fourth in the NBA, providing one of the bright spots for San Antonio this season.
20. Orlando Magic
(25-32, rank last week: 16)
The Magic can make those struggles of late disappear quickly, with five straight games against teams with a below-.500 record.
19. Washington Wizards
(20-36, rank last week: 20)
As bad as the Wizards have been this season, they are just 4.5 games out of the eighth and final playoff spot in the East.
18. Sacramento Kings
(23-33, rank last week: 21)
With wins in six of their last nine games, the Kings aren't quite ready to call it a day on their still-dim playoff hopes.
16. Portland Trail Blazers
(26-32, rank last week: 15)
Dame Lillard’s recent injury is just the latest setback in what has been a disappointing season for the Blazers on so many levels.
15. Memphis Grizzlies
(28-29, rank last week: 14)
Ja Morant is trying to fend off a late Rookie of the Year push from Zion Williamson. If he can lead the Grizzlies into the playoffs with the brutal stretch of games they have coming up, that should do it.
14. Indiana Pacers
(33-24, rank last week: 12)
It continues to be slow going for Victor Oladipo upon his return, a career 17.4 points per game scorer who has tallied 15 points or less in each of the eight games he has played thus far.
13. New Orleans Pelicans
(25-32, rank last week: 19)
Zion Williamson is back, playing at an unprecedented level for a rookie. Throw in New Orleans having one of the weakest remaining schedules and all signs point towards the Pelicans continuing to climb their way up the standings and into the playoffs.
12. Philadelphia 76ers
(36-22, rank last week: 10)
Ben Simmons’ back injury does not bode well for Philly’s already-iffy chances of getting on track to make a strong run towards the postseason.
11. Dallas Mavericks
(35-23, rank last week: 13)
Look for Mark Cuban to be hit with a hefty fine for some scorching social media posts on the officiating. After seeing the play in question, I’m with Cuban on this one. The ruling made very little sense.
10. Oklahoma City Thunder
(35-22, rank last week: 11)
The Thunder have won three in a row, fueled by strong play at both ends of the floor which can be seen in their offensive (119.2, second in the NBA) and defensive (105.2, seventh in the league) ratings during that span.
9. Utah Jazz
(36-21, rank last week: 7)
One of the streakiest teams in the NBA, a four-game winning streak was followed by five straight losses, then followed by four straight wins which brings us to their current three-game losing skid.
8. Houston Rockets
(37-20, rank last week: 9)
The Rockets' recent win over Utah was more like a win-win, as it improved their overall record and gave them the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Jazz.
7. Miami Heat
(36-21, rank last week: 8)
With Jimmy Butler out for personal reasons and Tyler Herro sidelined with an ankle injury, look for the Heat to lean heavier on their prized in-season addition, Andre Iguodala.
6. Los Angeles Clippers
(38-19, rank last week: 6)
The Clippers utilized Doc Rivers’ ability to stockpile some of the NBA’s best “agitators” in adding one of the more underrated all-around players in Marcus Morris.
5. Denver Nuggets
(39-18, rank last week: 3)
Gary Harris has had a forgettable February, connecting on just 29.4 percent of his shots from the field.
3. Toronto Raptors
(42-15, rank last week: 4)
They continue to be the best team that nobody is talking about, winning by any means necessary night in and night out.
2. Los Angeles Lakers
(43-12, rank last week: 2)
The Lakers have won five in a row, but the two-point squeaker over Boston exposed their lack of impact wing players behind LeBron James.
1. Milwaukee Bucks
(49-8, rank last week: 1)
The Bucks continue to set the pace that everyone’s following but for the most part, can’t keep up with. They are that good, people. That. Good.