The NBA postseason is slated to begin on April 15, meaning there is a little under a month left in the regular season. It is at this point in the season when many NBA teams begin making their final adjustments and preparations towards the final stretch of the regular season, in the ever important playoff position race.
With the NBA trade deadline now a thing of the past, some teams enter the final stretch with the same group they have had all season, while others continue to adjust to their new rotation. The Boston Celtics ended up passing on any potential superstars, while the Toronto Raptors have a new outlook with Serge Ibaka at the power forward position.
The Houston Rockets decided to provide another ball handler alongside James Harden with their Lou Williams acquisition, as Magic Johnson pulled the trigger on his first front office move with the Los Angeles Lakers.
Lakers Nation’s weekly edition of the NBA power rankings takes a lot at how the trade deadline acquisitions are panning out, while the top three teams in the NBA continue to headline the race into the postseason.
1. Golden State Warriors (56-14) – The race for home court in the West heated up this past week when the Spurs were able to tie the Warriors in the standings. However, the Warriors responded to their three-game losing streak with three consecutive wins, including a nail biter over the 76ers.
2. San Antonio Spurs (53-16) – The irregular heartbeat for LaMarcus Aldridge sent the Spurs into a temporary state of frenzy, but his return also helped ease this team back into their natural state. The Spurs have won seven of their last 10 games, while also being one of two teams in the NBA to hold their opponents under 100 points per game (98.6 OPPG).
3. Cleveland Cavaliers (46-23) – LeBron James and Kyrie Irving put on a spectacular performance against the Lakers on Sunday night, as they seemingly turned it on just when they needed to. However, the scoring outside of their big three remains a problem, as J.R. Smith and Deron Williams continue to figure out their roles for the defending NBA champions.
4. Houston Rockets (49-22) – Lou Williams’ workload has taken a back seat to the overall success of the Rockets, as he provides that crucial playmaker on the court alongside Harden. The Rockets have done a tremendous job of forming the right pieces in that offense, but they allow the second most points amongst current Western conference playoff teams (108.4 PPG).
5. Boston Celtics (45-26) – Fans may ponder Danny Ainge’s decision not to get another scorer alongside Isaiah Thomas, as he has missed the past two games with a knee injury (two losses). Brad Stevens and his team don’t lack an identity, but the Celtics need to see an improved scoring output from the rest of the team if they want to be legit contenders to the Cavaliers in the East.
6. Utah Jazz (43-28) – As we inch closer and closer to the playoffs, many NBA insiders are declaring the Jazz as the one team no opponent wants to face in the first round. The Jazz allow the fewest points per game in the NBA (96.3 OPPG), featuring an exploding Gordon Hayward, a rising Rudy Gobert and a supporting cast filled with clutch NBA veterans.
7. Washington Wizards (42-28) – With John Wall and Bradley Beal healthy and producing, the Wizards true questions remains the production of the supporting cast. The Wizards are second to last in bench scoring, only contributing 24.8 bench points per game. However, they are banking on Brandon Jennings as a strong scoring punch off the bench.
8. Toronto Raptors (41-29) – Serge Ibaka has had a smooth transition into the Raptors’ starting lineup (14.2 PPG & 6.5 RPG), as he solidifies that power forward position, forming a strong frontcourt alongside Jonas Valančiūnas and DeMarre Carroll.
9. Los Angeles Clippers (41-29) – Perhaps no team had a worse middle stretch of the season than the Clippers, as the void left by Chris Paul could not be filled. Now that he has returned and is healthy, the Clippers have about a month to get back into the rhythm that had them atop the defensive standings early in the season.
10. Oklahoma City Thunder (40-30) – 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, as perhaps the most necessary trade deadline acquisition for any team.
11. Memphis Grizzlies (40-30) – The Grizzlies received the unfortunate news that offseason acquisition Chandler Parsons is out for the season, a bad ending to a difficult offseason signing. However, their core group has been through it all and have put together a four-game winning streak in an attempt to climb the standings.
12. Atlanta Hawks (37-33) – The Hawks are one of four playoff teams in the East with a positive record both on the road and at home, but have lost three straight and six of their last 10. They will need to figure something out if they want to be anything more than first-round fodder for the Celtics, Wizards, or Raptors.
Hanging On The Cusp Of The Playoffs:
13. Indiana Pacers (36-34) – Paul George is trying to will the Pacers into the playoffs, but one statistic shows their true struggles. This season, the Pacers are 25-10 at home, but are 11-24 on the road. The Pacers will need to gel extremely well over the final stretch of the regular season to have a chance at upsetting the clear-cut top four teams in the East.
14. Milwaukee Bucks (34-35) – Just when people started ruling out Jason Kidd and the Bucks, they started crawling back in. Khris Middleton’s return has put forth a desperately needed shooter on the floor, as the Bucks have won eight of their past 10 games.
15. Denver Nuggets (33-37) – The Nuggets have held a firm grip on the eighth seed in the west, as budding star Nikola Jokic, Wilson Chandler and Gary Harris have put forth strong basketball of late. Denver is 7-3 over their last 10 games, while being one of three teams in the West to average over 110 points per game.
16. Portland Trail Blazers (32-37) – Damian Lillard has exploded over the past week, including 49 points in route to their 11-point win over the Heat. With an average of 35.5 points per game over his past six contests, Lillard continues to push the Trail Blazers towards the Nuggets for that eighth seed. The two teams have one remaining showdown left this season, on March 28 at the Moda Center.
17. Miami Heat (34-36) – The Heat’s unexplainable winning streak eventually positioned them back into the playoff race, as an up-tempo team not afraid of getting into an offensive shootout. Dion Waiters has excelled with the scoring load, while coach Erik Spoelstra deserves credit for a team that has won seven of their last 10.
18. Detroit Pistons (34-36) – The Pistons have had trouble figuring out a consistent rotation, as Reggie Jackson’s return mid-way through the season has shuffled the guard order and chemistry. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope has had a superb season, while the Pistons actually allow the least points per game in the East.
19. Dallas Mavericks (30-39) – The Mavericks are 13-7 since the All-Star break, as the breakout play of Seth Curry and Yogi Ferrell has them in the playoff race. The Mavericks have one game remaining against the Nuggets, but need consistent play to make up the three games needed to get into the playoffs.
20. Chicago Bulls (33-37) – The Bulls remain one of the biggest mysteries in the NBA this season, as their plethora of guards haven’t translated to victories. Their midseason trade with the Thunder hasn’t exactly panned out either, as they sent Cameron Payne to the D-League.
21. Charlotte Hornets (31-39) – Currently three games out of the eighth spot, the Hornets have some work to do to climb back into the playoffs. Kemba Walker remains one of the deadliest ball handlers in the NBA, but the recent knee injury to Nicolas Batum has slowed down offensive production.
22. New Orleans Pelicans (29-41) – The Pelicans quickly went from the winner of the trade deadline to the losers, as it seemed the DeMarcus Cousins trade wasn’t panning out. The Pelicans have won two in a row, but will need help from other teams to make it up in the standings.
The Lottery Sweepstakes:
23. Minnesota Timberwolves (28-41) – Zach Lavine’s injury put a damper on their playoff chances in Tom Thibodeau’s rookie season as head coach, but the T-Wolves have a clear-cut big three to develop in the future.
24. New York Knicks (27-43) – The Knicks 2016-17 season has slowly turned from a media circus to a lost cause, as seven losses over their last 10 games has them positioned towards a possible top-five pick in the 2017 NBA Draft.
25. Sacramento Kings (27-43) – When the Kings pulled the trigger on the Cousins’ trade, they understood the rest of the season was meant to evaluate the talent on their roster. Tyreke Evans has posted strong results when he can play, while Willie Cauley-Stein has finally seen consistent minutes since the departure.
26. Philadelphia 76ers (26-44) – The 76ers have shown at times why there is so much excitement in Philadelphia. A two-point loss to the Warriors seemed to anger the team, as they responded with a 42-point win against the Mavericks and a six-point win over the Celtics.
27. Orlando Magic (25-45) – With Ibaka dealt at the trade deadline, it set the stage for a frontcourt of Bismack Biyombo and Nikola Vucevic. Frank Vogel had one of the more oddly assembled rosters this season, but Orlando still has some strong pieces in place for the future.
28. Phoenix Suns (22-48) – The Suns seem to have embraced the youth movement just as much as the Lakers, as they have benched Tyson Chandler and Eric Bledsoe for the remainder of the season.
29. Los Angeles Lakers (20-50) – D’Angelo Russell exploded for a career high 40 points on Sunday against the Cavaliers, showing a strong scoring arsenal while also turning the ball over only once. Head coach Luke Walton and Magic Johnson now have time to truly see the growth of the youth over the final 12 games of the season.
30. Brooklyn Nets (13-56) – The Nets finally are seeing production from Jeremy Lin, albeit four months later than they had originally planned. The worst defensive team in the NBA faces a difficult offseason ahead (without their first-round pick), as the clear-cut worst team in the NBA.