NBA Power Rankings: The cluttered Eastern Conference


NBA Power Rankings: The cluttered Eastern Conference

Close playoff races down the stretch are commonplace in the NBA, a league where more than half the teams make the postseason.

Such is the case in the Western Conference, where the No. 6 Dallas Mavericks are just three games ahead of the No. 9 Utah Jazz, with the Trail Blazers and Rockets currently holding the final two playoff spots. The Warriors' historic run hasn't deterred the Spurs from competing for homecourt advantage, and they're still just 3.5 games back of the Splash Brothers and will play each other three times still.

But in the Eastern Conference things are even tighter. Consider that a mere two games separate the fourth-seeded Miami Heat and the ninth-seeded Detroit Pistons. One stretch of hot play could be the difference between having homecourt in the first round of a playoff series and missing the postseason altogether. Even the Wizards are two games back of the No. 8 Bulls. There will be plenty of seed-shifting in the East from now until early April. Toronto has also moved within two games of the Cavaliers, who have lost three of four.

On to the rankings:

Previous power rankings: Preseason | Week 1 | Week 2 | Week 3 | Week 4 | Week 5 | Week 6 | Week 7 | Week 8 | Week 9 | Week 10 | Week 11 | Week 12 | Week 13 | Week 14 | Week 15 | Week 16 | Week 17

Rank (LW) Team
Record Comment
1 (1) 53-5 Stephen Curry's magical, historical, unfathomable season added another chapter Saturday against the Thunder. His game-winner from 35 feet, his 12th triple of the night, was on another level. He's the MVP and it's not close.
(3) 50-9 A 7-1 Rodeo Road Trip was the latest statement to the Warriors (and the rest of the league) that the West is still up for grabs. Tim Duncan became the fifth player in NBA history with 3,000 blocks on Saturday night. 
(4) 41-18 Kevin Durant went from hero to zero in a 14-second span Saturday night in the loss to the Warriors. Still, that was more proof that the Thunder are Golden State's biggest threat in the West. KD and Russ will be a steep challenge if they meet.
4 (5) 39-19 Not only did Kyle Lowry drop a career-high 43 points and hit the game-winner in the Raptors' win over the Cavs on Friday. He also limited Kyrie Irving to 10 points. Toronto could make the East real interesting in late May.
5 (2) 41-17 The Cavs are just 11-6 under Tyronn Lue, and they've lost three of their last four. They've got Indiana, Washington and Boston at home this week. A 3-0 week would help ease some concerns.
6 (6) 38-20 Chris Paul had one of the best individual lines of the year Friday against the Kings: 40 points, 8 rebounds, 13 assists, 2 steals, 13-20 FG, 4-9 3FG, 10-10 FT. And +14 in a 10-point road victory.
7 (7) 35-25 The C's haven't lost at home since Jan. 6, a span of 10 games. And now they get eight of their next 12 in Boston. Interested to see if they can catch the top two dogs in the East/stave off Miami for the No. 3 seed.
8 (8) 33-26 Joe Johnson scored 12 points in his first game with the Heat. Miami isn't short on wings, but Johnson gives them an efficient scorer and apt defender, as well as someone with valuable playoff experience.
9 (11) 32-28 Damian Lillard and Co. are 17-4 since Jan. 10, the third best record in the NBA behind Golden State (19-3) and San Antonio (18-3). That's good company, and Dame doesn't look like he's slowing down anytime soon.
10 (14) 33-27 Picking up two conference wins (CHI, CHA) was crucial to end the week with a brutal March schedule upcoming. They're on the road for five straight, beginning with Golden State on Tuesday and ending in Toronto next Thursday.
11 (9) 31-28 The Pacers have lost three of four, and will now play six of seven on the road, beginning Monday in Cleveland. Oh, and their one home game in that span? When the Spurs come to town a week from today. Bis stretch for Frank Vogel's group.
12 (10) 34-24 They're still No. 5 in the West and aren't in any real danger of missing the postseason. But being on the wrong end of the Suns snapping their 13-game losing streak is ugly no matter how you slice it.
13 (12) 30-28 They finish a difficult six-game road trip with a 4-2 record and now get 10 of their next 12 at home, where they tout a 19-9 record (third best in the East). That's a good sign for their playoff chances.
14 (16) 32-28 Chandler Parsons was a one-man wrecking crew Sunday night against the Wolves, going for 29 points, six rebounds and four assists in just 27 minutes. Dallas has won three of four.
15 (20) 31-29 An East-best four-game win streak has included victories over the Cavaliers and Raptors. Tobias Harris has averaged 16.3 points on 51 percent shooting in that span. He's making Stan Van Gundy look smart.
16 (15) 30-28 Doug McDermott has stepped up in a big way with Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler missing time. The sharpshooter is averaging 19.6 points on 50 percent shooting from deep in his last five games.
17 (17) 28-30  A pair of 20-point, 10-assist games against the Sixers and Cavaliers (both W's) was a good start to Washington's biggest stretch of the year. They're two games behind Charlotte, Chicago and Detroit for a playoff spot.
18 (13) 28-30 Losers in five of seven after winning a season-best seven straight, the battle for a playoff spot gets more difficult with five of six on the road, including five against current playoff teams.
19 (18) 23-35  Thursday's win over the Thunder was seriously impressive. But 11 of their 17 March opponents have winning records. That includes Golden State, San Antonio twice, Portland, Toronto, Indiana and the Clippers. Bunches of L's coming.
20 (19) 29-30 James Harden's performance Friday in Portland was superb, scoring 46 points as Houston overcame a 21-point deficit to earn a victory. The bad news is that the massive win salvaged a 1-2 week. They're clinging to the No. 8 seed.
21 (21) 24-33 DeMarcus Cousins is making a strong case for a spot on the All-NBA First Team. Since the calendar flipped to 2016 he's averaged 30.2 points, 12.3 rebounds and 3.8 assists, plus a block, steal and 3-pointer per game.
22 (23) 23-36 Danilo Gallinari's most recent ankle sprain will give youngsters Gary Harris, Will Barton and Emmanuel Mudiay more touches to progress before the end of the year.
23 (22) 24-35 Giannis Antetokounmpo logged his first career-triple double (27 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists) on Tuesday against the Lakers. It was Milwaukee's fourth win in their last give games, though they've dropped two straight since.
24 (26) 25-36 Phil Jackson should probably do less nonsensical tweeting about Stephen Curry and do more worrying about his team that's lost 14 of 17.
25 (24) 26-32 In six games since Tobias Harris was dealt to Detroit, snubbed dunk contest champion Aaron Gordon has averaged 14.3 points, 9.3 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 2.0 steals in 31.3 minutes per game for Orlando.
26 (25) 19-41 We didn't get the KAT-Brow matchup Saturday night in New Orleans. But Towns went for 30-15, Andrew Wiggins dropped 20 and Zach LaVine added 25 in a solid road win. The young guns are getting better up north.
27 (28) 17-42 A .500 record in their last 10 games, their first two-game winning streak since Dec. 10 and taking another step toward rebuilding in waiving Joe Johnson? A nice solid week for Sean Marks and the Nets.
28 (27) 8-51 Opponents have averaged 118.9 points during Philly's seven-game losing streak. Barring some unexpected hot stretch of play they'll have the most Lottery balls in the Ben Simmons sweepstakes.
29 (29) 11-49 Year 20 has been good to D'Angelo Russell. Since his birthday on Tuesday, the No. 2 overall pick has averaged 22.0 points, 3.5 rebounds and 5.5 assists in two games. Still, the Lakers have lost eight straight.
30 (30) 15-44 They haven't won on the road in nearly three months (Dec. 7 in Chicago) and will play eight of their next 10 games away from Phoenix. Incredibly, we still haven't seen rock bottom. They're 3-28 in their last 31 games.

Seven years ago today LeBron James slammed the Bulls' championship window shut


Seven years ago today LeBron James slammed the Bulls' championship window shut

The Bulls couldn't have known it at the time, but when LeBron James blocked a Derrick Rose 3-point attempt in the final seconds of Game 5 in the 2011 Eastern Conference Finals, it was the closest those Bulls would ever get to the promised land.

It happened on May 26, 2011, seven long, long, long years ago today.

The game was an ugly one and certainly a fourth quarter the Bulls would love to have back. They took a 12-point lead on a Ronnie Brewer 3-pointer with 3:53 remaining. The Heat closed the game on a 19-4 run, with James' emphatic block on Rose the lasting image of the series.

James finished with a game-high 28 points and 11 rebounds, and added six assists, three steals and two blocks in 46 minutes.

Rose went just 9-for-29, finishing the series shooting 35 percent from the field after being named league MVP over James.

It's probably unfair to say James and James alone shut the Bulls' championship window. Rose's ACL tear the following postseason realistically was the biggest culprit. But these Bulls had won 62 games, had homecourt advantage, had the MVP, the Coach of the Year and all the momentum. And still they couldn't get it done against James.

That win also sent James to the NBA Finals for the first time since 2007. He's been there every year since, though that could change as he faces the Celtics on Sunday in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

Steve Kerr told a Michael Jordan Bulls story to give advice to Kevin Durant

Steve Kerr told a Michael Jordan Bulls story to give advice to Kevin Durant

Anyone who lived through the Michael Jordan Bulls remembers those games when he was putting up tons of points, but the Bulls were still struggling overall.

Steve Kerr referenced one of those games to give advice to Kevin Durant during Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals. The TNT broadcast caught the conversation and aired it late in the third quarter.

"When MJ was with the Bulls, we had a playoff game," Kerr began the story. "He kept trying to score and he was scoring, but we weren't getting anything going. Phil Jackson said 'Who's open?' He said, 'John Paxson.'"

Paxson scored 10 of 12 points for the Bulls during a fourth quarter run in Game 5 of the 1991 NBA Finals, the series clincher, and famously hit the game-winning shot in Game 6 of the 1993 NBA Finals to clinch that series. Kerr, who later hit his own championship-winning shot on an assist from Jordan in 1997, was trying to get to get his teammates involved.

"I want to trust your teammates early," Kerr said. "What you're doing is you're getting to the rim and then you're trying to hit him. I want you to trust the first guy and then move. Still attack, still look to score, but trust these guys, OK?"

Watch the video above to see the interaction.

Durant scored 29 points in Game 5 to lead the Warriors, but Houston took a 3-2 series lead with a 98-94 win.