Lakers Nation NBA Power Rankings: Playoff, Tank Races Heat Up

Lakers Nation NBA Power Rankings: Playoff, Tank Races Heat Up

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D'Angelo Russell and Devin Booker
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

With just over two weeks left in the NBA season, there are two different approaches that teams are taking to finish out the season.

Some teams are making a push for the playoffs, either trying to make the dance or improve their seed. In the NBA, home court advantage has proven to be more vital than any other sport, so things could get interesting down the stretch in both conferences.

Then you have the teams that are eliminated from postseason contention and are trying to improve their draft position for the upcoming draft. Teams like the Los Angeles Lakers and Phoenix Suns are taking tanking to a whole new level, as they have benched their veterans for the remainder of the season.

In this week’s edition of Lakers Nation Power Rankings, we examine which teams fit in where with the playoffs just around the corner:

The Elite:

1. Golden State Warriors (59-14) – The Warriors had a perfect 3-0 week bringing their win streak up to seven games, solidifying their spot as the No. 1 seed in the West. Additionally, Kevin Durant’s injury has progressed well and the likelihood of him returning before the start of the playoffs is increasing with each day.

2. San Antonio Spurs (56-16) – If the Spurs have any hopes of catching the Warriors for the No. 1 seed, they have to beat them this Wednesday in the final regular season matchup between the best two teams in the league. Seeding has never really mattered to Gregg Popovich though, so they could rest their players down the stretch and head into the playoffs comfortably as the No. 2 seed.

3. Houston Rockets (51-22) – Houston has really hit its stride in recent weeks, averaging 126.3 points per game in their last three. They have bought into Mike D’Antoni’s philosophy this season and it has worked, but it remains to be seen if that will lead to success in the postseason.

4. Boston Celtics (48-26) – The Celtics are now tied with the Cavaliers for the No. 1 seed in the East, which comes as a bit of a surprise given the two teams roster configurations. But led by Isaiah Thomas and head coach Brad Stevens, the Celtics have become a gritty team that finds ways to win and that could be dangerous come playoff time.

5. Cleveland Cavaliers (47-25) – The Cavaliers have that light switch mentality that they think they can turn it on once the playoffs roll around, but in recent weeks they have not looked good particularly on the defensive end of the floor. They have allowed at least 120 points in a game 11 times this season, and five of those have come this month alone.

Playoff Bound:

6. Washington Wizards (45-28) – Washington outplayed the Cavs this past week earning an easy victory, which has to leave them feeling confident that they can play with anyone once the playoffs roll around. The addition of Brandon Jennings hasn’t really panned out, but their backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal has looked like the best backcourt in the league.

7. Toronto Raptors (44-29) – The additions of Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker have helped the Raptors improve on the defensive end, even without Kyle Lowry on the floor. If Lowry can get healthy by the time the playoffs start they can cause some problems in the East.

8. Utah Jazz (44-29) – Utah clinched its first playoff spot since 2012, but Gordon Hayward is dealing with some injuries and Rudy Gobert recently expressed some displeasure in the locker room. They have been much better at home this season so holding onto that No. 4 seed would benefit them greatly if they want to win a playoff series.

9. Oklahoma City Thunder (41-31) – Russell Westbrook continues to inch towards Oscar Robertson’s triple-double record, meanwhile Taj Gibson and Doug McDermott have provided hustle and shooting while on the court, and Oklahoma City has slowly inched their way up the Western Conference standings.

10. Los Angeles Clippers (44-31) – The Clippers lost two tough games against subpar opponents in the Dallas Mavericks and Sacramento Kings this past week. They are falling in the standings, and while they are a lock to make the playoffs, their hopes of a championship are quickly dwindling.

11. Memphis Grizzlies (40-33) – Despite losing every game they played this past week, the Grizzlies are focused on getting healthy for the postseason as Marc Gasol and Mike Conley have both sat out games in recent weeks.

Hanging On The Cusp Of The Playoffs:

12. Portland Trail Blazers (35-38) – With a win over the Lakers on Sunday, Portland has tied the Denver Nuggets for the eighth seed in the West. Damian Lillard is playing at a very high level, and the Trail Blazers’ experience has them as the favorite to get that final playoff spot.

13. Milwaukee Bucks (37-36) – Milwaukee is coming off an impressive 4-2 road trip that has them tied for the fifth seed in the East. They have a tough remaining schedule, but look to be headed back to the postseason.

14. Miami Heat (35-38) – The young Heat team made an admirable run at a playoff spot with their extended win streak, but injuries have caught up to them with Goran Dragic, Hassan Whiteside and Dion Waiters all missing time in he last couple weeks. They are still in the playoff race, but must get healthy to compete.

15. Denver Nuggets (35-38) – Portland has caught Denver for the eighth seed, so that race should be interesting down the stretch. Regardless of if they make the playoffs or not, Denver has a solid young core to build around in the future led by Nikola Jokic.

16. Indiana Pacers (37-36) – Indiana is right in the middle as they stand, so Larry Bird will have some decisions to make when the offseason rolls around. If he wants to keep Paul George he needs to build a championship caliber team around him, or else it may benefit him to trade his biggest star for some young assets instead of losing George for nothing in free agency in 2018.

17. Dallas Mavericks (31-41) – While they are not mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, the Mavericks are 3.5 games out of the eighth seed with 10 games left so it does not look as if they will be in the postseason. They have played solid basketball since the All-Star break though, which is encouraging for next season.

18. Chicago Bulls (35-39) – Rajon Rondo is back in the starting lineup for the Bulls and is playing well, which has them right in the mix for the final playoff spots in the East. They have the veterans and experience to make a run, now it’s just a matter of them putting it all together,

19. Atlanta Hawks (37-36) – Injuries to Paul Millsap, Kent Bazemore and Thabo Sefolosha have helped contribute to a seven-game losing streak by the Hawks, bringing them back to the pack in the Eastern Conference playoff race.

20. Charlotte Hornets (33-40) – With some of the Eastern Conference playoff teams struggling with injuries, the Hornets have had an opportunity to make a run at a playoff spot, but have failed to take advantage of that. They’ve won four of their last five games but are still two games out of the eighth seed.

21. Detroit Pistons (34-39) – Losers of six of their last seven games, the Pistons have found themselves on the outside looking in at the postseason and are perhaps the most disappointing team in the NBA. They may be in for some changes this offseason if they do not make the playoffs.

The Lottery Sweepstakes:

22. New Orleans Pelicans (31-42) – Speaking of disappointing, the Pelicans are just 5-8 with Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins in the lineup together. They won’t be in the playoffs this season, but they will have plenty of time this offseason to learn how to play together.

23. Minnesota Timberwolves (28-44) – Another disappointing team with promising young players, the Timberwolves just have not been able to figure it out this season under first-year coach Tom Thibodeau. Young star Karl-Anthony Towns was benched to close out a game against the Lakers after an argument with his head coach, and the Lakers ended up winning the game.

24. Sacramento Kings (28-45) – The Kings ended the game on a 22-3 run to earn an impressive win against the Clippers, and despite their poor record things are looking promising for the Kings as Buddy Hield is playing well and they should have two top 10 picks in the upcoming loaded draft.

25. Orlando Magic (27-46) – Orlando had a three-win week, which is impressive for a team that hadn’t won back-to-back games since December until this past week. Orlando is still headed for another lottery appearance though.

26. Philadelphia 76ers (27-46) – Trusting the process is beginning to become difficult in Philadelphia, as they have some promising young players but they just can’t stay healthy. Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons are done for the season, which has given Dario Saric an opportunity to be the No. 1 option in Philly.

27. Brooklyn Nets (16-57) – Winners of three of their last four, the Nets are playing by far their best basketball of the season. They still have the worst record in the league by 5.5 games though and will be forced to give possibly the No. 1 overall pick to the Celtics.

28. New York Knicks (27-46) – The Knicks have lost eight of their last nine and once again are headed for the lottery. They have created more buzz off the court than on the court this season, which isn’t a positive for Phil Jackson and co.

29. Los Angeles Lakers (21-52) – The tanking Lakers came back to beat the Timberwolves in overtime of Friday night, which was a positive as the young core outplayed Minnesota’s young core. But it also hurts them in their tank race with the Suns as they now have just one less win than the Suns.

30. Phoenix Suns (22-52) – Devin Booker made history on Friday night, scoring 70 points at just 20 years of age against the Celtics. It came in a loss though, as the tanking Suns have lost their last eight games. Booker looks to be a superstar, but right now head coach Earl Watson does not have much else to work with.