This week’s biggest busts: Pistons -6, Wizards -5, Hawks -4, Mavericks -4
This week’s biggest successes: Grizzlies +5, Nuggets +4, Trail Blazers +4
1. Golden State Warriors (55-14, 3-0 this week) (last week: #2 [2-3] +1)
Holding the sacred relic in his outstretched palm, Kevin Durant murmured, “Spirits, please place your healing touch upon my knee, make it whole and complete again, nurse it to full strength, let me return to my teammates, and I will forever be your servant.” He pressed the relic, a fragment of a game-worn Grant Hill jersey, against his injured knee, wondering what he would feel, if anything, when the he received an answer from the spirit dimension. Suddenly, what felt like a cold shockwave radiated from his hand into his damaged muscle. “We hear your cries, Kevin,” whispered a sighing voice in the wind.
2. San Antonio Spurs (52-16, 1-2 this week) (last week: #1 [3-1] -1)
So LaMarcus Aldridge’s heart is fine. That’s the good news. The bad news is he and Kawhi were healthy and the Spurs still lost to the Blazers and Grizzlies. The other bad news is that the Spurs relinquished their number one spot in my OFFICIAL POWER RANKINGS because the Warriors started being good again. The other other bad news is that Pop still yells as Kawhi for defensive lapses even though Kawhi is really quiet and reserved and doesn’t deserve to be yelled at and it probably makes him really sad inside. It makes me sad, anyway.
3. Houston Rockets (48-22, 3-1 this week) (last week: #5 [1-2] +2)
So James Harden averaged a triple-double for the week. If Russell Westbrook didn’t exist, that would be the coolest thing ever, but we’re so desensitized to trippy-dubbies that it’s likely that you read that sentence without even raising an eyebrow or feeling a pang in your chest. If I’m Harden, I’m conspiring the entire off-season to get good players to sign with the Thunder so that Westbrook’s usage goes down and he gets fewer triple-doubles next year. The Rockets might not want the Thunder to regain “powerhouse” status, but it’s the only way.
4. Boston Celtics (44-25, 3-0 this week) (last week: #6 [1-3] +2)
I feel like the 5th through 8th seeds in the East are all getting excited about the prospect of drawing the Celtics in the first round and being given the chance to expose midget Isaiah Thomas’ inability to play defense. That sounds like a cool idea and all, but shouldn’t they be worried about the fact that Isaiah Thomas will probably expose THEIR defense on a greater scale than his own defense will get exposed? I guess they can hope that he goes cold for an entire series and Al Horford proves unable to pick up the slack. Seems more likely than any of their second-tier point guards “lighting up” IT in any meaningful way.
5. Cleveland Cavaliers (45-23, 2-2 this week) (last week: #7 [1-2] +2)
Larry Sanders: secret weapon for the Cavaliers in the playoffs? If the playoffs involve riding a skateboard and making art (of the physical kind, not the philosophical/”basketball” kind), then, yes, Larry Sanders is a secret weapon. If the playoffs involve playing basketball, then Larry Sanders is unlikely to be a secret weapon. I suppose he fulfills half of the role, since it would definitely be a surprise if he actually got real minutes in the playoffs, but the weapon part? Nah. Nah.
6. Utah Jazz (43-27, 2-2 this week) (last week: #4 [3-1] -2)
The Jazz are fifth in the league in dunks, a fact that only gets more impressive when you factor in that they have the slowest pace in the league. Want to be impressed even further? They have Joe Ingles on their roster, whose flabby lack of hops actually counts as -1 dunk every time he makes a layup. So Rudy Gobert actually has about 400 dunks this year, but they keep getting taken away because Joe Ingles insists on making layups instead of missing them on purpose. It is currently undetermined whether Joel Bolomboy’s total of two dunks was negatively impacted by Jinglin’ Joe’s Jinglin’ Layups.
7. Oklahoma City Thunder (40-29, 3-0 this week) (last week: #10 [2-2] +3)
Victor Oladipo had a strong week, averaging twenty per game, but he was overshadowed for the twentieth straight week by that guy on his team who not only scores more points than him, but out-rebounds and out-assists him as well. The question is, does Oladipo benefit from being the second banana since there isn’t as much attention directed towards him by opposing defenses, or is he being held back from being a 20/5/5 guy by Westbrook’s ball-controlling style of play? There’s only one way to find out: trade him to the Magic in the off-season. Or trade Westbrook to the Magic. So that’s two ways.
8. Washington Wizards (42-27, 1-3 this week) (last week: #3 [5-0] -5)
The Wizards almost looked like they were a two-seed worthy team before they lost games to the Wolves, Mavericks, and Hornets. All three of those games saw a return of not only the Wizard’s bench woes, but the Wizard’s “everybody besides Beal and Wall is sucking right now” woes. Bojan Bogdanovic has been a strong addition to the bench, but the rest of the bench unit is still not very productive, and now the starters are getting in on the “unproductive” act. Hopefully they get it together so I can start calling them a “fringe contender” unironically.
9. Toronto Raptors (40-29, 2-1 this week) (last week: #9 [1-2] +0)
There’s not much time left in the season to hold high-tension team meetings in times of crisis, so it’s good that the Raptors got one in after a bad loss to the Thunder. You can bet that veteran additions Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker lent their wisdom to the rest of the Raptors in the form of unhelpful platitudes about “teamwork”, “passion”, and “I hate DeMar DeRozan since he destroys ball movement”. Time will tell if the meeting had any effect or if the Raptors are going to continue imploding after seeming like a lock for the #2 seed in the East.
10. Memphis Grizzlies (40-30, 4-0 this week) (last week: #15 [0-3] +5)
The Grizzlies are last in the league in one key stat: storylines per game. As far as I can tell, there is only one storyline going on in Memphis: Chandler Parson’s injury/contract, a storyline which I can’t talk about here because I’ve already talked about it a million times in my OFFICIAL POWER RANKINGS. Oh yeah, there’s also the storyline where the Grizzlies went out and won some games after dropping five in a row. That’s so boring that it hardly qualifies as a storyline. VC dropping 24 just like the old days? Also not a storyline since it was obviously a one-time thing.
11. Los Angeles Clippers (41-29, 1-3 this week) (last week: #8 [3-1] -3)
There are rumors that Doc Rivers will take his talents to South Florida and become GM-coach of the Magic at season’s end. That’s a reasonably juicy rumor by itself, since it might signal the end of the Clippers’ semi-dynasty that was repeatedly sabotaged by poor roster construction, but it could be juicier. What if Doc Rivers is being FORCED OUT of Los Angeles because Steve Ballmer resents the fact that Doc owns and uses a Mac laptop? Still not juicy enough. Sources close to the situation tell me a drug cartel and Area 51 are both involved as well. If some big name could tweet this out to give it some legitimacy, that would be real solid.
12. Miami Heat (34-35, 2-1 this week) (last week: #12 [3-0] +0)
The Heat are leading the league in drives per game at 35. I don’t know how to interpret this stat since it seems to have no correlation at all to team success (the Warriors are in last place in that particular stat). I guess to Heat fans it should come as no surprise since they get to watch Tyler Johnson and Goran Dragic attack the rim on a regular basis, but outside observers might be enlightened by this little nugget of info. I don’t know, this is what happens when I try to introduce cool stats into my writing like a real journalist.
13. Milwaukee Bucks (34-35, 2-2 this week) (last week: #14 [4-0] +1)
Matthew Dellavedova walked by the specialty gift shop and almost bypassed it without a pause. But a thought of something forbidden made him stop and look in the windows. Could they possibly have it? Could they….? No. No. He shouldn’t be looking, he shouldn’t even be thinking about…that. He turned to continue towards his destination, when the familiar yellow packaging appeared in the corner of his vision. Vegemite. For how long he stood there, face pressed against the window, staring at the display of the Australian delicacy, he didn’t know. But when he next became aware of himself, his naked body was smeared head-to-toe with a distinctive yeasty spread.
14. Denver Nuggets (33-36, 2-1 this week) (last week: #18 [3-1] +4)
The Nuggets’ strong hold on the eighth seed coincides with Emmanuel Mudiay’s total and utter benching at the hands of Mike Malone. He’s played roughly thirty minutes in the past month and the Nuggets keep winning games without him. Jameer Nelson starts now and Jamal Murray the rookie gets all the backup PG minutes. I mean, everybody knew that Mudiay sucked really bad and that the team would obviously be way better without him, but it’s still sort of sad to see coach Malone make this change to the rotation because you know that Mudiay’s confidence is in the negatives right now.
15. Atlanta Hawks (37-32, 0-3 this week) (last week: #11 [3-2] -4)
Kent Bazemore stared at the stat sheet in his hands, then back up at the slowly emptying locker room, than back down at the stat sheet. If the printed piece of paper was to be believed, rival small forward Taurean Prince had just scored 16 points. It was all happening much too fast. Prince was not supposed to challenge Kent’s own incumbency at least until the middle of the next season. Shaking with anger that threatened to spill over into all-out rage, Kent angrily crumpled up the paper and stuffed it in a nearby trashcan.
16. Indiana Pacers (35-33, 2-1 this week) (last week: #19 [2-2] +3)
The Pacers didn’t exactly play the toughest opponents this week (Miami, New York, Charlotte) so it’s hard to move them up very much for their 2-1 record, especially considering their dismal showing against the Knicks (an eye-searing 81-87 brickfest). They did follow up that sad effort by holding the Hornets to 77 points, but my uneducated and probably wrong opinion is that it was more the Hornets’ fault that the Hornets sucked that game.
17. Minnesota Timberwolves (28-40, 1-2 this week) (last week: #17 [2-1] +0)
I need no more convincing. My mind is made up. Rubio/Towns is the next Stockton/Malone. You don’t even know if I’m joking right now. It’s just plausible enough that I could be serious. Rubio’s not as good a shooter as Stockton was, but he’s improving, while Stockton is declining as a shooter currently. Meanwhile, Towns has a larger arsenal than the Mailman did, and he has the added bonus of not having ever gotten a 13-year-old girl pregnant. As far as we know. So I should amend my previous statement: Rubio/Towns will SURPASS Stockton/Malone in the next two years or your money back.
18. Portland Trail Blazers (31-37, 3-1 this week) (last week: #22 [2-1] +4)
After going 5-of-7 from three in his eight-minute debut for the Blazers, Jake Layman has gone 5-of-33 for the rest of the season. Remember the fun times we had when everybody was ironically getting hyped for that guy (me included)? I want those times back so badly, but the Blazers are still valiantly pursuing that 8th playoff spot, so Jake Layman time won’t return until they fail in that goal and the meaningless mid-April games start being played. Remember, mid-April is when second-year Luke Babbitt (who shares many characteristics with Layman) scored 18 points in a game for the Blazers.
19. Detroit Pistons (33-36, 0-3 this week) (last week: #13 [3-1] -6)
A series of sad, offensively lackluster losses against the Cavaliers, Jazz, and Raptors has knocked the Pistons out of a playoff seed right after they spent so much time and effort getting back into the playoffs. “Star Player” (notice sarcasm quotes) Andre Drummond scored 8, 6, and 8 in those games. Maybe the key to Pistons success is somewhere in the middle of the two opposing philosophies of freezing Drummond out of the offense (this week’s strategy) and force-feeding him post touches even when his hook shot isn’t working (the strategy for much of the year). Or maybe the key to Pistons success is GIVE THE BALL TO TOBES RIGHT NOW.
20. Dallas Mavericks (29-39, 1-2 this week) (last week: #16 [3-1] -4)
Getting absolutely and utterly blown out by 42 points against the Philadelphia 76ers is a bad, bad thing and it pretty much undoes all the good things that the Mavericks had been doing for the past few weeks. The Mavs are still technically in the playoff hunt, but that performance, taken with a 78-point effort against the struggling Raptors, should lower their playoff chances to 0%, because there’s no way a team capable of scoring so few points can make up a five-game deficit with only fifteen left to play. If they do somehow manage it, I promise to delete this power ranking and replace it with a paragraph about how I’m confident they can regroup and make a push for that eighth seed.
21. Chicago Bulls (33-37, 2-3 this week) (last week: #21 [0-3] +0)
Dwyane Wade: done or not done? He’s still somewhat effective at age 35, but an elbow injury has taken him out for the season, and father time’s not going to let up just because we wish he would. The Bulls are crashing so tremendously that Wade might even decline his $23 million player option just to escape to a better-run team where he can finish out his career in peace (cough CAVS cough). OFFICIAL DWYANE WADE DONENESS STATUS: almost done, but not done yet! I be he could still criticize his lesser teammates for perceived lack of effort if he wanted!
22. New Orleans Pelicans (28-41, 2-1 this week) (last week: #23 [2-2] +1)
Basketball-reference informs us that DeMarcus Cousins has generally been a negative for the Pelicans during his time there, while Anthony Davis has been a huge plus. It’s still appropriate to call the Pelicans a “superteam” comprised of two “superstars”, but such a declaration must be followed with an asterisk (*) and a footnote that reads “*based on definition of ‘superstar’ as somebody who averages a lot of points because that’s all anybody cares about”.
23. Charlotte Hornets (30-39, 1-2 this week) (last week: #20 [2-2] -3)
The Hornets are still averaging more points than their opponents, but they are way, way below .500 in win/loss record at 30-39. Their fourth quarter scoring has been pretty bad since the start of February, and I know that Hornets fans are constantly bemoaning the fact that their team can never hold on to a lead, so is it just a matter of fourth-quarter chokejobs? A quick look at their recent losses says, yes, they do have a tendency to collapse in the fourth at least some of the time. Let’s blame Mike Tobey since nobody is here to defend him. Apparently he’s so bad that he ruins the team even though he’s playing in Spain right now.
24. Philadelphia 76ers (25-43, 2-1 this week) (last week: #27 [0-3] +3)
Philadelphia fans have it so easy. Nerlens Noel, now a Mav, returns to the city to play against his former team, and what does he do? Hands out free cheesesteaks like candy to any fan who can get it together enough to make it over to whatever cheesesteak shack it was that Nerlens was holed up in. That’s like if Derrick Rose came back to play in Chicago and handed out free Italian beef sandwiches. Except Bulls fans exist in a state of perpetual misery while 76ers fans at least get to imagine how good Ben Simmons is gonna be.
25. Sacramento Kings (27-42, 2-1 this week) (last week: #26 [0-5] +1)
Skal Labissiere reminded us why he was, at one point, projected as a possible #1 pick in the draft by scoring 32 points on 11-of-15 shooting against a defensively poor Suns team. When I say “us”, I mean “everybody else but me”, because I can’t honestly say I’m aware of which players are supposed to be drafted high and which aren’t until the run-up to the draft actually starts. All I know is Skal had a pre-draft workout video that showed him splashing midrange jumpers so it should be no surprise that he can replicate that video in an NBA game if given enough minutes.
26. New York Knicks (27-42, 1-2 this week) (last week: #25 [1-3] -1)
There is sudden laughter from all around. I am deafened by the hysterical cackling, but there is no respite from it, just as there is no respite from anything that happens in this place. Disembodied faces appear in the sky like clownish stars: Brook Lopez, Jeremy Lin, Trevor Booker, all players I recognize from the Brooklyn Nets. They have invaded the collective psyche of the Knicks and they are mocking it. Mocking, defiling, and spitting curses. I feel Phil Jackson’s presence, although I do not see it; he is struggling to break free of this nightmare-world. His thoughts, which are also my thoughts, are clouded and muddied by endless three-sided polygons whose meanings are unclear.
27. Phoenix Suns (22-47, 0-3 this week) (last week: #24 [2-2] -3)
The Brandon Knight saga is so entertaining that I might as well just, for the purposes of my OFFICIAL POWER RANKINGS, rename the team to the “Phoenix Knights”. The latest installment sees Knight refusing to enter a game when called upon because of “back spasms”. I could be charitable and believe that Knight is suffering from a painful back condition, but I’d rather don my tinfoil hat and say this: Knight doesn’t want to play for his coach because this is the same coach that gave him endless DNP-CD’s for no real reason. Revenge sweetest when it means that your coach is forced to give minutes to Ronnie Price, who is a real NBA player and is really still in the league.
28. Orlando Magic (25-45, 1-2 this week) (last week: #29 [1-4] +1)
There’s nowhere for the Magic to go in the rankings since the Nets are below them and it is literally impossible for a team to be worse than the Nets. In fact, the Lakers significantly out-sucked the Magic this week so the Magic get a nifty +1 next to their name despite going 1-2, with the win coming against the Suns (so it doesn’t count). Evan Fournier was their closest thing to a consistent power (other that Bismack Biyombo scoring 4, 3, and 4), but even Fournier failed to show up when the Magic were treated to an extra-large serving of blowout casserole when they visited the Warriors. Luckily, blowout casserole is pretty tasty when you’re tanking, even if you have to share it with Jeff Green.
29. Los Angeles Lakers (20-49, 0-4 this week) (last week: #28 [1-2] -1)
Brandon Ingram has scored in double-digits seven games in a row and counting. The pressure of having to play for wins must have really been getting to him, but now that the Lakers are in all-out tank mode, he can play freely, unburdened by the expectations placed upon him by others (including me). This is ripe time for him to get another twenty-point game, but we must be patient. There is still a month of regular-season basketball left. He will have his chances to score points and maybe even get his field goal percentage above 40% (50% in March so far is actually pretty good!).
30. Brooklyn Nets (13-55, 2-2 this week) (last week: #30 [1-2] +0)
Two wins over the rival New York team in one week. Wow! It was so bad for the Knicks that Kyle O’Quinn lamented after the second loss that it was inexplicable how the Nets’ roster could even compete with the Knicks, let alone win. And he’s right. Jeremy Lin and Brook Lopez surrounded by a cast of scrubbos (a cast sadly devoid of King Scrubbo Anthony Bennett) shouldn’t be as competitive as they apparently are. [Editor’s note: still waiting for Andrew Nicholson to score twenty like I know he’s capable of]