This week’s biggest busts: Bulls -6, Grizzlies -5, Celtics -3, Hawks -3, Pacers -3, Kings -3
This week’s biggest successes: Wizards +4, Bucks +4, Mavericks +4, Clippers +3
1. San Antonio Spurs (51-14, 3-1 this week) (last week: #2 [4-0] +1)
The much-vaunted WCF Finals preview of Spurs vs. Warriors turned out to be a huge disappointment as both involved teams were without any of their good players. The Warriors simply rested everybody relevant on their roster, while the Spurs had legit excuses for their guys (Kawhi was concussed, Parker has an old man back, LaMarcus’ heart is messed up). The Spurs won and the Warriors lost, but the real losers were the fans who wanted to see star-studded teams go head-to-head, and the real real losers were the folks at ABC who probably saw ratings for that game comparable to daytime soap operas on Lifetime.
2. Golden State Warriors (52-14, 2-3 this week) (last week: #1 [1-2] -1)
I put it off last week, but I can’t put it off any longer: the Warriors must be demoted to the #2 spot on my OFFICIAL POWER RANKINGS. This should be cause for celebration but now that it’s happening it only feels sad. It’s like I’m contributing in some small way to the slowing down and emptying out of the Warriors bandwagon. It would have been great for one team to stay in the #1 spot for the entire season but Stephen Curry’s prolonged, distressing slump has ruined that dream. If he didn’t need Durant last year how come he apparently needs him so bad this year?
3. Washington Wizards (41-24, 5-0 this week) (last week: #7 [2-2] +4)
The Wall-Beal combo has been deadly in the month of March, with Wall averaging over 20/10 and Beal averaging 25. That’s great, except for, you know, they’re supposed to hate each other. What I was told is that both of them resent the other for taking too many shots. That’s what I was told by sources close to both of them. I was also told that they regularly attempt to sabotage each other by setting up elaborate Home Alone-style traps in each other’s homes. So, they are playing well together on the surface but deep down they really wish the other one would just go away.
4. Utah Jazz (41-25, 3-1 this week) (last week: #6 [2-2] +2)
The Jazz started the week off slowly with too-close wins over the teams in their conference pretending to chase the eighth seed: the Pelicans and the Kings. A good win over the Rockets made them seem legit, but they managed to avoid a perfect week by squandering Dante Exum’s career high 22 points in a loss to the Thunder. That’s a perfect segue into my next point: is Dante Exum not totally looking like a serious bust candidate right now? When George Hill gets paid a max contract by some other team, Exum doesn’t look like he’ll be ready to be the starter. Luckily, Trey Burke is also a free agent and he would love to come back home!
5. Houston Rockets (45-21, 1-2 this week) (last week: #4 [2-1] -1)
James Harden only needs to get 301 more rebounds in the remaining 16 games in order to average a trippy-dubby for the season. Everybody’s obsessed with whether Westbrook can keep up his rebounding numbers enough to make it, but it’s like nobody even cares that Harden just needs to average over 18 rebounds per game for the rest of the season to do the same. Do you know how many rebounds are available to be grabbed in an average game? I don’t have any numbers but it’s a lot. All Harden has to do is put in a little bit of extra effort to grab some of them.
6. Boston Celtics (41-25, 1-3 this week) (last week: #3 [3-1] -3)
One could argue that I ranked the Celtics too highly last week at #3. Such an argument would have merit except for the fact that I have insight into the future that other mortal people don’t have. I knew they would beat the Warriors and I accidentally let that future knowledge influence a ranking that should have only been based on things that had actually happened up to that point. The temporal consistency of my OFFICIAL POWER RANKINGS was discarded and I apologize sincerely. From now on I will only use my powers to place winning bets during the playoffs.
7. Cleveland Cavaliers (43-21, 1-2 this week) (last week: #5 [2-2] -2)
OFFICIAL LEBRON JAMES COASTING WATCH: LeBron is averaging 26/8/8, which is definitely NOT a statline that somebody who was coasting would average. He did sit out a game, but that’s not coasting, that’s resting. Resting and coasting are two very different things, and this isn’t LeBron James resting watch, it’s LeBron James coasting watch. To be honest, it looks like LeBron might not start coasting until April at the earliest. This will come as a major disappointment to those who had become fans of “LeCoast”.
8. Los Angeles Clippers (40-26, 3-1 this week) (last week: #11 [2-2] +3)
While scouring basketball-reference’s on/off stats for the Clippers in search of material, I didn’t find much of note until I scrolled to the bottom of the page. All the numbers were as expected: Blake Griffin and Chris Paul = good, Austin Rivers and Jamal Crawford = bad. All except one: Brice Johnson’s on/off is an insane +126. That means the Clippers are 126 points per 100 possessions better with Johnson on the floor than on the bench. I guess having a +/- of +9 in the three minutes that comprise your entire career will do that for you. #freebricejohnson
9. Toronto Raptors (38-28, 1-2 this week) (last week: #9 [3-2] +0)
Upgrading Jared Sullinger to Serge Ibaka was exactly the kind of move a contender would make, and any outside observer would agree that replacing Sullinger’s three points per game of fatness with Ibaka’s 16 points per game of shredded masculinity should have furthered the Raptor’s legitimacy as such. So why are they the fourth seed and only a few games up on the fifth-seeded Hawks? My guess is everybody in the locker room now has a negative body image thanks to Ibaka’s huge muscles and huge other thing.
10. Oklahoma City Thunder (37-29, 2-2 this week) (last week: #12 [2-2] +2)
It didn’t take long at all for Taj Gibson to supplant Domantas Sabonis in the starting lineup. Domantas was looking like a fringe ROTY of the year candidate at the beginning of the season, but then ran into the dreaded rookie wall, culminating in a February where he shot 31% from the field (Andrew Harrison waves hello). Meanwhile, Taj Gibson is a proven veteran whose only downside (other than giving up size in certain matchups) is the fact that he constantly tries and fails to woo cheerleaders by writing them trite poetry.
11. Atlanta Hawks (37-29, 3-2 this week) (last week: #8 [2-1] -3)
There’s a lot of cool ways to get one-game suspensions in the NBA. Lots of them involve punches or other acts of violence. Some of them involve fun-to-abuse substances such as drugs or alcohol. You could probably get a one-day suspension for posting offensive pranking videos on YouTube. But Dennis Schröder did none of those things. He argued with Dwight Howard during a game, and his defense lapse allowed the other team to make a three-pointer. That is so lame. The least he could have done is argue with Dwight and then pop him in the schnozz.
12. Miami Heat (32-34, 3-0 this week) (last week: #13 [2-2] +1)
The Coach of the Year award is usually given to the coach who has the most superstars on his roster. That’s how Mike Brown and Scott Brooks won it. However, Erik Spoelstra has a good chance to win it despite the closest thing he has to a superstar being Hassan Whiteside (where did D-Wade go anyway?). That’s because he took a Heat team that looked terrible and coached them into being good. At least, that’s what the media would have you believe. But if he’s such a good coach, why couldn’t get his team to win more often earlier in the season? Because he felt compelled to give a struggling Justise Winslow too many minutes, thus depriving Dion Waiters the chance to lead the team? Ding ding ding.
13. Detroit Pistons (33-33, 3-1 this week) (last week: #14 [2-2] +1)
The trend of all Pistons starters averaging between 14 and 16 points per game. How is anybody on the team supposed to know who the alpha dog is if everybody’s scoring points at an equal rate? That’s probably the reason the Pistons aren’t better than they are: nobody knows who to defer to. Since none of the current candidate alpha dogs are ever going to agree on who the real leader of the pack is, I nominate Henry Ellenson. He might be quite ready for the role but it’s the only way. Next step: get SVG to give Ellenson some minutes.
14. Milwaukee Bucks (32-33, 4-0 this week) (last week: #18 [3-2] +4)
That’s six straight wins for Milwaukee’s raging ruminants, the longest active winning streak in the NBA. Is this what happens when you replace Jabari Parker with Khris Middleton? Obviously yes, because that’s exactly the replacement that happened and all of a sudden the Bucks are good again. This week they enjoyed a soft schedule, but the pre-Middleton Bucks would find ways to lose no matter how soft the schedule was, so that can’t be held against them. Now is the appropriate time to start fantasizing about Giannis and LeBron facing off in the playoffs and then Giannis tackles him like he tackled Mike Dunleavy last time the Bucks were in the playoffs.
15. Memphis Grizzlies (36-30, 0-3 this week) (last week: #10 [2-2] -5)
The Grizzlies lost to the Clippers and Nets (oh god) by significant margins. Is it safe to say that they’re getting EXPOSED? Their much-vaunted defense hasn’t actually been that great since December. It could be a function of the long NBA season taking a toll on the not-very-athletic Z-Bo and Gasol (not too mention the perpetually-injured knees of one Chandler Parsons), but it’s more fun to declare their slow style of play BORING and OUT OF DATE, and NOW they’re getting EXPLOITED by YOUNGER and QUICKER teams.
16. Dallas Mavericks (28-37, 3-1 this week) (last week: #20 [2-1] +4)
The Mavericks appear poised to miss the playoffs for just the second time in this millennium (also known as “the Dirk Reich”). However, there’s still an outside chance for them to get in, as they’ve been beating up on inferior teams since the All-Star break. Dirk Nowitzki hitting the 30,000 points milestone (a number we only care about because of our illogical base-10 number system) might give him a little extra push as the schedule gets tougher. Or he might just say “my work here is done” and go back to Germany and eat schnitzels.
17. Minnesota Timberwolves (27-38, 2-1 this week) (last week: #17 [2-1] +0)
I admit it. I was one of those people who was disappointed with Karl-Anthony Towns’ slow start to the season. As punishment for my lack of faith in our new god, I am not allowing myself to get excited about the fact that he’s a nightly 25/15 threat. It pains me to watch him score efficiently from the field in game after game, but this is how I must repent. Luckily, I never doubted Ricky Rubio, so I get to watch him rack up double-doubles without guilt or shame. I also never doubted Zach LaVine, but for some reason he’s never playing when I tune in to Wolves games. Strange.
18. Denver Nuggets (31-35, 3-1 this week) (last week: #19 [2-2] +1)
“Nobody wants to face the Nuggets in the first round!” the national sportswriter hurriedly types, in between marathon Nikola Jokic highlight sessions on YouTube. “They have the right amount of intriguing, untested young talent and proven NBA scoring weapons to give any team a run for their money!” The sportswriter pauses to grab a fresh towel from the pile near his desk and wipe the sweat from his dripping brow. He struggles to come up with a way to address the Nuggets’ lack of defense and how it is likely to get exposed in a first-round series, but is so annoyed by this task that he gives up and submits the article to his boss as-is.
19. Indiana Pacers (33-32, 2-2 this week) (last week: #16 [1-1] -3)
The Pacers remain the team that is most difficult to write a power ranking about. Somehow I did it for eighteen weeks before this but I can’t imagine how such a feat would be possible. There’s only so many times you can mock Monta “Have it All” Ellis or make jokes about Paul George leaving for Los Angeles. They’ve somehow managed to stock their team full of “who cares” guys like Rodney Stuckey, Lavoy Allen, and Thaddeus Young. I strongly doubt there exists a person outside of the state of Indiana who is paying attention to any of those guys.
20. Charlotte Hornets (29-37, 2-2 this week) (last week: #21 [2-2] +1)
Since the Hornets are unlikely to make the playoffs, I have a proposal for them: make Jeremy Lamb a focal point of the offense. Of course, he can never be the primary offensive option as long as Kemba Walker exists, but he can at least get thirty minutes per game and have plays run for him on a regular basis. The Hornets probably signed him to an extension so he could be a scoring option off the bench for them, but why not make his contract into more of a bargain by morphing him into a legit 18 PPG scorer? I’m so good at this coaching stuff.
21. Chicago Bulls (31-34, 0-3 this week) (last week: #15 [1-2] -6)
I feel bad for Bulls fans. Being forced to witness the Bulls giving up a 33-2 run to the Rockets on Friday night was probably one of the most agonizing sporting experiences in their collective fandom. You know, other than having to watch Michael Carter-Williams play basketball, having to support a directionless franchise with incompetent management that still rides the success of MJ two decades later, and having hot dogs with way too much stuff piled on them be an integral part of their local food culture. Yeah, other than those things.
22. Portland Trail Blazers (28-36, 2-1 this week) (last week: #22 [2-2] +0)
“Dear Nikola, I hope this letter finding you well. Thing are very good and nice here in Portland, nicer than in bad Denver where coach not givings me minutes. In case you not noticing, I had very good game few day ago, where scoring 28 points, making of eight assists, and blockings untold number of shoots. When I did those thing I was make happy because I know you jealousy of my basketball skill and able to get many women at all time. I hating you Nikola. My hating for you I never forget, so strong is it. -Jusuf”
23. New Orleans Pelicans (26-40, 2-2 this week) (last week: #25 [1-2] +2)
Still waiting for the Pelicans’ new unstoppable duo of Cousins and Davis to show consistent ability to win games for their team? It might not happen this year, but just wait until next season! You’ll see! They’ll be great once the Pelicans go out and sign a bunch of perfect role-players to fit in with them rather than the role-players who they have now who are obviously horrible fits. Fifty wins will be the minimum expectation for their team given their tandem of superstars. Those who are patient with the Pelicans’ current struggles will be rewarded in the end.
24. Phoenix Suns (22-44, 2-2 this week) (last week: #26 [2-2] +2)
Add Tyson Chandler to the list of still-useful players that have been entirely benched by Earl Watson. Just like Tyler Ulis benefited from the banishment of Brandon Knight, so Alan Williams is benefiting from Tyson Chandler relegation to the very furthest reaches of the bench. Both Chandler and Knight have large amounts of money and years left on their contracts, leading one to wonder: is it possible to arrange for the convenient “disappearances” of TWO high-profile NBA players within weeks of each other and not arouse the suspicion of law enforcement?
25. New York Knicks (26-40, 1-3 this week) (last week: #24 [1-2] -1)
The cacophonous “superteam” chants are soon supplemented by a new singular voice, coming from a great distance. “I escaped,” it says. I raise my mourning eyes and see a small figure standing far away. The voice continues, “You are not trapped here forever.” The figure is drawing closer despite its legs remaining stationary. After an unknown amount of time, for the measurement of time here seems to be not just an afterthought but an entirely abandoned concept, I can see the figure’s face: it is Brandon Jennings. I had met him before, some time ago, but the details of the meeting are dim. I reach for his hand so that I can come with him, but he vanishes just as our fingers are about to touch.
26. Sacramento Kings (25-41, 0-5 this week) (last week: #23 [0-2] -3)
After winning their first game in the post-Cousins era, the Kings have just been losing non-stop. Rudy Gay being healthy might help a little bit, but, then again, it might not. Malachi Richardson being healthy, however, would definitely not change anything at all. As far as I’m concerned, the best thing about the Cousins trade was that it opened up some minutes for Skal Labissiere AKA The Midrange Assassin. Legend has it that Skal will continue to make high-arcing jumpshots in the Golden 1 Center even after Ranadive accidentally trades the whole franchise to Seattle and somehow trades himself to the Sixers in the same deal.
27. Philadelphia 76ers (23-42, 0-3 this week) (last week: #27 [1-3] +0)
It’s that part of the season where you expect the 76ers to start using the D-League to its fullest advantage. So far, they’ve called up two big guys, Justin Harper and Shawn Long, to fill in the huge Embiid-and-Okafor shaped hole in their rotation. But we crave more D-League scrub action. Two is not enough. They’ve only had sixteen dudes appear in uniform this year; two years ago that number was 25. To reach that target, they’re going to have to start churning through D-Leaguers really soon.
28. Los Angeles Lakers (20-45, 1-2 this week) (last week: #29 [0-3] +1)
Nearly all veterans on the Lakers have been excised from the rotation. Nick Young still gets pretty good minutes (his swag cannot and will not be denied) and Corey Brewer gets some time because there’s always the chance he’ll accidentally score 51 again. Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov, the overpaid vets of diminishing on-court value have ceded their minutes to the likes of Larry Nance and Ivica Zubac. This strategy by the Lakers has simultaneously made their games more fun to watch as well as an absolute chore to watch; it is best to watch them play in ten-minute increments.
29. Orlando Magic (24-43, 1-4 this week) (last week: #28 [1-1] -1)
Nikola Vucevic has been out for a few games, so Bismack Biyombo has inherited the starting role that his contract suggests he should have had from the beginning. But Biyombo is not the topic of this OFFICIAL POWER RANKING. That designation belongs to Stephen Zimmerman! Whenever he gets in the game, that time is officially called “Z-Time” from now on. Z-Time usually results in the opposing team going on a huge run, and in fact Z-Time was the main reason why the Magic lost to the Hornets by 40 this week, but I foresee a future where good things and not bad things happen during Z-Time. A future that’s several years away, but there’s no rule that says the future has to happen within a certain amount of time.
30. Brooklyn Nets (11-53, 1-2 this week) (last week: #30 [1-2] +0)
I am in mourning for Andrew Nicholson’s career. He displayed advanced post moves when given the chance, had a reliable midrange jumpshot, and possessed a physics degree from St. Bonaventure. Now it looks like might be forced to pursue physics as a profession given that he can’t get any minutes even on the worst team in the league. He’s way better than Anthony Bennett and that fatty got plenty of minutes, so why not my man Nickles? It’s not like the Nets winning a game this week constitutes a “win now” push that would tighten the rotation.