Every year, the NBA starts getting serious when we leave for Spring Break. With less than 20 games remaining, every team is gearing up for the playoffs and making that final push…or starting to tank, whatever. Nonetheless, let’s take a screenshot of the NBA with a quick Power Rankings of the teams who still matter.
1. Miami Heat
The past few years, the arguments for the best team and best player have both been good ones. This year, however, LeBron and the Heat have made the conversation a lot less fun. The Heat is clearly the best team after 20 straight wins, but even when the team isn’t playing its best, you know they can rev it into another gear during the playoffs. Similarly, LeBron is the undisputed best player in the NBA right now and anyone attempting to argue against that looks plain stupid.
2. Memphis Grizzlies
After the Grizzlies gave away backups Wayne Ellington and Marreese Speights for nothing but cap relief and traded leading scorer Rudy Gay for the same reason, it seemed like the Grizzlies would rather be a good team rather than a great team this year. They’ve won 14 of their last 15 without Gay, however, losing only to the Heat, and don’t appear to be missing Gay’s offense — which was very inefficient to begin with — at all. A quick aside: just three years ago, Chris Wallace, the Grizzlies’ general manager, was widely regarded as one of the worst GMs in the league, trading Pau Gasol for his chubby younger brother and a bag of chips. Now, he’s pulling sneaky trades to improve his team and shave off cap space at the same time; I have no idea how this transformation happened.
3. Denver Nuggets
If you read my last column, you’d know the Nuggets are my favorite team to watch. The team goes up and down the court, speeding up the pace at any chance it gets. When the Nuggets are at their best, it almost looks like they are practicing a fast-break drill. They get the ball and suddenly there’s a three-on-two fast break leading to an open shot or dunk. It’s fun to watch.
4. Los Angeles Clippers
I’m still reeling from the DeAndre Jordan dunk. I don’t usually assign hyperbole to things like this, but that was the best in-game dunk I’ve ever seen. He caught the perfect lob clean with his off-hand, head at rim-level and absolutely murdered any street-cred Brandon Knight had. Wow. Oh, the Clippers are pretty good too.
5. San Antonio Spurs
I’d rank the Spurs higher if Parker wasn’t injured; however, the fact that they are still fourth after losing their best player speaks volumes to the Spurs as a team. If LeBron, Marc Gasol or Chris Paul were injured, there would be no chance their teams would be a top-five team in the NBA. Without Parker, the Spurs machine keeps chugging along, relying on contributions from every player on their roster. The team has been labeled a ‘regular-season’ team the last couple years, but I still think they are the most dangerous playoff team in the West with a healthy Parker.
6. Indiana Pacers
7. New York Knicks
Not too much to say about these teams; they’re both good, albeit the Knicks are now struggling with injuries to Stoudemire, Anthony and now Chandler, but their chances of beating the Heat in the playoffs are virtually zero. The Pacers had beaten the Heat twice before, but just got obliterated by them this past week. Hard to imagine anyone even challenging the Heat from the East this year.
8. Houston Rockets
The Rockets play even faster than the Nuggets; the one key difference between the two teams is that the Rockets play worse defense, but have a certified star in James Harden. With the recent injury to Kobe Bryant, I would argue James Harden is the best shooting guard in the league, able to score in any way imaginable and set teammates up as well. Plus he has a nice beard.
9. Milwaukee Bucks
10. Brooklyn Nets
11. Boston Celtics
12. Atlanta Hawks
13. Chicago Bulls
I mentioned how the Pacers and Knicks have no chance in the East, but these five teams are fighting for an Eastern semifinal berth. The Bucks are playing the best out of the bunch after acquiring JJ Redick, which has made Monta Ellis a much more efficient player for some reason. Deron Williams is starting to play better for the Nets, which is a good sign, but everyone outside Williams and Brook Lopez has been a disappointment this season and that duo is not good enough to carry a team. The Celtics are somehow playing better without Rondo, but there’s not much to say; they look like the same Celtics team we’ve seen for years. The story is similar for the Hawks; if you put on a game of the Hawks from 2010, it would take me several minutes to realize it’s not live. And after losing by 42 (!) to the Kings (!), the Bulls should not be talked about until Rose returns.
14. Los Angeles Lakers
Let me explain; before Kobe’s injury on Wednesday, I had the Lakers in the top 5, based on how they’re playing now. Their rise has been attributed to Howard’s return to form, but it’s mainly due to Kobe’s incredible play, especially in the clutch. He’s playing more efficient and distributing more and is the focal point of everything the Lakers do. If the Lakers plan on doing anything this season, it revolves around Kobe’s health and nothing else.
15. Golden State Warriors
16. Dallas Mavericks
17. Portland Trailblazers
18. Utah Jazz
These four teams (as well as the Rockets and Lakers) are fighting for the West’s last three playoff spots. The Warriors, especially David Lee, have struggled after All-Star Break, while the Mavericks have been very average all year. Dirk has been a non-factor all year and I’m unsure if it’s still from his injury or his age. The Blazers and Utah can’t seem to put it all together, but do have some nice pieces to build on for the future. They’ll both be interesting teams to watch next season, but this season? Not so much.