2016 NBA Power Rankings: Breaking Down All 30 Teams at the End of February

Grant HughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistFebruary 26, 2016

2016 NBA Power Rankings: Breaking Down All 30 Teams at the End of February

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    Fernando Medina/Getty Images

    Stephen Curry may soon get his own spot in our NBA power rankings. Until then, we'll stick to organizing all 30 teams based on their current quality.

    With the All-Star break behind and the real stretch run ahead, things are as volatile as ever. We had significant shake-ups in the top five spots this week, even as the No. 1 team solidified its already crushing hold on the top position.

    Injuries have started to make an impact, and the teams equipped to survive them are separating themselves from the ones who aren't. You'll see that play out when you get to the slides on the Chicago Bulls and Memphis Grizzlies.

    As always, net rating, team record and some touchy-feely gut instinct factor into the hierarchy. February is almost over, so the NBA season is getting serious.

    Here's how everyone stacks up as we approach the final two months of the regular season.

30. Phoenix Suns

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    "Will it always be this way, P.J.?"
    "Will it always be this way, P.J.?"Matt York/Associated Press

    Last Week: 30

    Worst net rating in the league since Feb. 1, per NBA.com? Check.

    A 13-game losing streak showing no signs of stopping? Check.

    Five of their next seven on the road? Check.

    Historical ineptitude at home? Check.

    According to ESPN Stats & Info, the Suns' Feb. 21 loss to the San Antonio Spurs made them the first team since the 1964-65 Warriors to go without a victory during a homestand of at least seven games.

    Ladies and gentlemen, the Phoenix Suns!

29. Philadelphia 76ers

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    Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

    Last Week: 27

    Like an Arizona State undergrad on spring break, the Philadelphia 76ers are back to getting blackout hammered on a nightly basis. Only the Suns' net rating since Feb. 1 is worse than Philly's minus-12.6, and it's getting harder to take solace in Jahlil Okafor's scoring prowess when watching him seize up the offense so regularly with his ball-stopping habit.

    More discouraging: waning effort since the All-Star break, which just can't happen to a team that already enters every game at a talent deficit.

    "I think the energy is not where we need it to be," head coach Brett Brown told Bob Cooney of Philly.com after Tuesday's 124-115 loss to Orlando. "I think the individual defenders when we start games have got to improve and get going."

    Cut to Wednesday, as a snoozy Sixers squad loafs through a 111-91 loss to the Detroit Pistons, and you've got a good idea of what the stretch run will look like.

28. Los Angeles Lakers

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    Mike McGinnis/Getty Images

    Last Week: 29

    The Los Angeles Lakers don't have much going for them beyond Kobe Bryant's ongoing farewell tour, though head coach Byron Scott has at least begrudgingly given D'Angelo Russell the starting point guard job for the rest of the season. Scott's constant belittling of the Lakers' young players (and particularly harsh criticisms of Russell) have been an issue all year.

    But at least the rookie has done enough to earn the job. And he's not keen on giving it up, per Bill Oram of the Orange County Register: "I'm not going to try to give him (Scott) a reason to bench me again," Russell said.

    Excited and a little scared: a perfect mindset to create in a young player. Bravo.

    Regardless of who's playing the point, L.A.'s defensive horror show—worst in the league—will keep it in the bottom three spots for the foreseeable future. The Milwaukee Bucks were throwing lobs off the backboard to one another on Feb. 22, for crying out loud. 

    The Bucks!

    This is making me cranky. Moving on.

27. Brooklyn Nets

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    Sam Forencich/Getty Images

    Last Week: 28

    The Brooklyn Nets beat the New York Knicks on Feb. 19, but everyone does that now. So we can't get too fired up about that result. Still, three other February wins (against Sacramento, Denver and Phoenix) help the Nets move out of the bottom three for the first time in a while.

    Brook Lopez has been a monster lately, putting up huge scoring totals and hitting at least half of his shots in all but two games since Feb. 1. His 33 points in that win over the Knicks were a big reason for the success (the other reason being: The Knicks stink), and his 36-point night in a reasonably close 112-104 loss to the Blazers on Feb. 23 stands out as a sign of his value.

    In fact, now might be a good time to trade the big man. Brooklyn needs future assets, and a high-scoring, efficient center should attract some tasty offers on the market.

    Let's just check to see when the trade deadline is...

    Oh, right. It was last week.

    At least the Nets bought out Joe Johnson, per Mike Mazzeo of ESPN.com.

26. New York Knicks

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    Ron Hoskins/Getty Images

    Last Week: 24

    We spent time on the Nets slide-bagging on the Knicks, so it's only fair to go a little easier here.

    Actually, no. New York has been in a tailspin under interim head coach Kurt Rambis that may lack some of the internal dysfunction that characterized Derek Fisher's reign but retains all the on-court bumbling. And in a worrisome development, Rambis is playing a dangerous game with Carmelo Anthony's minutes.

    Melo logged 38 minutes against the Nets on Feb. 19, then played 41 the very next night in a win over the Minnesota Timberwolves. Rambis trotted Anthony out for 37 minutes against the Raptors on Monday, then gave him 35 more on Wednesday in Indiana.

    A 31-year-old coming off major knee surgery shouldn't be seeing that much court time in any scenario. But when that 31-year-old is also under contract for a zillion dollars over the next eight decades (rough estimates), it's inexcusable. We're talking coaching malpractice here, folks.

    The good news is the Knicks are on pace to add about 10 wins to their total from last year, which is a legitimately positive step.

25. Minnesota Timberwolves

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    Last Week: 23

    It's true the Knicks beat Minnesota Feb. 20, but the Wolves earned a 124-122 win over the Boston Celtics on Feb. 22. That counts for more.

    And though the Timberwolves have spent most of the past few weeks sliding down the standings, there have been sources of hope. Karl-Anthony Towns is one; he scored 35 points in a win over the Raptors just before the All-Star break, and he put up 28 points and 13 rebounds to lead the Wolves in that win over Boston. He's clearly the league's top rookie, and he may already be one of the best two or three centers in the NBA.

    Not only that, but the Wolves have the league's top offensive rating since Feb. 1. This is a team that can score. Of course, it also boasts the NBA's second-worst defense in that span. But at least Minnesota does something well, which is more than you can say about any team below it in these rankings.

24. Milwaukee Bucks

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    Tom Lynn/Associated Press

    Last Week: 25

    If you're at all uncertain about what Giannis Antetokounmpo might one day become, you're not alone. After occupying varied roles all year, he's not sure either.

    "I feel good that coach (Jason Kidd) trusts me to run the offense," Milwaukee's versatile young star told Charles F. Gardner of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "I'm not a point guard. I don't know what I am. But I think we've had good results."

    Antetokounmpo has been playing some point guard lately, and it's been mostly effective. He secured his first triple-double in a 108-101 win against the Lakers on Feb. 22, and the Milwaukee Bucks won four of their five games from Feb. 9-22.

    Whether he sees any serious time at the point going forward is unclear, but the strategy makes sense in the present. Antetokounmpo can't shoot, and opponents basically ignore him if he's standing on the perimeter away from the ball. Putting the rock in his hands forces defensive schemes to account for him more honestly. It's the same concept that shields LeBron James from defensive game plans that might otherwise exploit his broken jumper.

    So there you have it: Giannis is LeBron. Or something.

23. Denver Nuggets

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    Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

    Last Week: 21

    Where did that come from?

    After giving up heaps of points to anyone who wanted them after the All-Star break, the Denver Nuggets held the Los Angeles Clippers to just 81 in a shocking road win Wednesday. On the second night of a back-to-back, no less.

    Seriously, that result was about as unforeseeable as they come. Denver started the season's second half giving up 116 to the Kings, then 121 to the Celtics, then 114 to Sacramento in the rematch. All were losses.

    "We have beaten some of the best team [sic] in the NBA when we defend," Nuggets coach Michael Malone told Chris Dempsey of the Denver Post. "And this is the first game, post All-Star break, where we defended for four quarters."

    Go figure.

    Denver slips because of those ugly three games after the break, but there's always hope for unexpected turnarounds with this bunch.

22. Sacramento Kings

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    Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

    Last Week: 26

    We've been so rough on the Kings lately that a generous jump feels fair after a solid week—even if that pair of Sacramento wins came against the inconsistent Nuggets defense.

    DeMarcus Cousins got some big numbers against the Nugs, hitting them up for 37 points and 20 boards in the first meeting, then punishing them with another 39 in the follow-up contest. Though he and Rajon Rondo still essentially wander around on defense without a plan, there's no question they're part of an offense that can get it done against unprepared opponents.

    Boogie's conditioning has been a hot topic of late, and it's probably true that all the rest he gets on defense should keep him pretty well-charged on the other end. But the guy carries such a heavy load that it's hard to get too critical.

    Sacramento hasn't earned a quality win since it beat the Indiana Pacers back on Jan. 23, but it'll get a chance against the Clippers and Oklahoma City Thunder before the month is out.

21. Orlando Magic

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    Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images

    Last Week: 22

    Whatever your feelings on Tobias Harris, the first-round picks other teams got at the deadline for lesser talent mean the Orlando Magic sold way too low on the 23-year-old wing. That fact aside, the Magic still stand to benefit from the deal if Aaron Gordon and Mario Hezonja blossom in the extra minutes Harris vacated.

    Let's check in on that.

    Gordon Pre-trade21.
    Gordon Post-trade29.411.8 10.3 .465 
    Hezonja Pre-trade15.
    Hezonja Post-trade12.8 2.5 2.0  .333

    Well, one out of two's not so bad.

    Gordon looks like he'll be a star someday, and Orlando moves up slightly after a 2-2 week with wins over the Mavericks and Sixers.

20. Houston Rockets

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    Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

    Last Week: 19

    It's tough for the Houston Rockets right now, even after a solid road win against the Blazers.

    Dwight Howard is still on the roster after nonstop reports he was on the block, and the big trade the Rockets actually pulled off fell through after Donatas Motiejunas' back prevented him from passing a physical with the Detroit Pistons.

    Beating Phoenix after the break counts for nothing, and a gut-punch overtime loss to the Utah Jazz on Tuesday sent the Rockets into Portland with precisely zero momentum. That they came out of that contest with a win says there's at least some hope for a turnaround.

    But inconsistency has been the defining characteristic of this Houston season. So it's best to avoid high hopes.

19. New Orleans Pelicans

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    Leon Halip-USA TODAY Sports

    Last Week: 20

    In a two-game span, the New Orleans Pelicans provided us with a nice little summary of their season.

    Anthony Davis scored a career-high and NBA season-high 59 points in a Feb. 21 win over the Pistons. Two days later, the Washington Wizards focused their entire defense on AD, dared any other Pelicans player to beat them and won by 20 points.

    Davis got up nine shots in that second game.

    "They had a guy playing behind him and in front of him the entire game," Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry told reporters. "We had to have other guys step up and make shots, and we just didn't shoot the ball very well."

    Beset by injuries and saddled by some of Gentry's strategic and rotation blind spots, the Pels simply don't have enough to succeed if Davis isn't playing superhero ball.

    New Orleans has gone 3-1 since the break, and a 123-119 win over the Thunder on Thursday stands out as a highlight. Consistency is clearly still an issue, but there's still a little fight in this team.

18. Memphis Grizzlies

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    Brandon Dill/Associated Press

    Last Week: 15

    Yao Ming. Joel Embiid. Marc Gasol?

    Now we know the specific nature of Gasol's season-ending foot injury, and we wish we didn't.

    His Type II fracture of the navicular bone in his right foot, surgically repaired Tuesday, per the Memphis Grizzlies, is the same injury Yao and Embiid suffered. Both required additional surgery on the area after the initial operation. Yao's career essentially ended because of the injury, and Embiid's has yet to start.

    Per Jeff Stotts of InStreetClothes.com, the prognosis for Gasol, 31, is cloudy: "Gasol may very well bounce back from this unfortunate setback, but he’s fighting against history. The nature of the injury makes it difficult for a quick and smooth recovery, and his inherent injury risk will be elevated for the immediate future."

    The Grizzlies have won two of three since the All-Star break, beating the Wolves and Lakers. But against a quality Toronto team, Memphis managed only 85 points in a blowout loss. This is how things will probably go for the balance of the year.

    Fortunately, Lance Stephenson is keeping things light by dribbling around in figure eights and flinging look-away shots at the rim while falling down. Way to keep it light, Lance.

17. Washington Wizards

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    Ned Dishman/Getty Images

    Last Week: 17

    A 109-104 loss to a comically shorthanded Chicago Bulls squad Wednesday killed the potential momentum that could have accrued from that strong effort against Davis and the Pelicans the night before. The Wizards' upcoming schedule figures to mimic that same "up one day, down another" pattern.

    Washington gets the Sixers, Cavs, Sixers, Wolves and Cavs in the next power rankings period—in that precise order. Expect more of the same peak-and-valley play.

    The Wizards can't keep messing around like this if they want to be a playoff team, but this pattern of floating around just below .500 is painfully familiar. Washington hasn't been above the break-even mark since Nov. 24, but it also hasn't dropped more than five games below .500 all year.

    Deadline acquisition Markieff Morris was a potential difference-maker, someone who could theoretically lift the Wizards to a new level. His player efficiency rating of 4.1, per Basketball-Reference.com (15 is league average), in his first four games with Washington suggests that won't be happening.

16. Detroit Pistons

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    Allen Einstein/Getty Images

    Last Week: 13

    The Detroit Pistons won't be getting Donatas Motiejunas and Marcus Thornton from the Rockets, but at least they'll keep that first-round pick they agreed to send in the original (and now-rescinded) trade. That might prove to be a good result, as Detroit looks much more like a team that needs another foundational talent instead of rented vets for a playoff run.

    Yes, the 96-88 win against the Cavs on Feb. 22 was nice. But losses to the Wizards and Pelicans before that result suggest we shouldn't overreact to one upset victory. Remember, the Cavaliers were coming off a statement win against the Thunder in that one. It was a classic trap game for Cleveland.

    The Pistons occupy the No. 9 spot in the East, and it's starting to feel like that's right about where they belong.

15. Chicago Bulls

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    Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

    Last Week: 18

    The Bulls have emerged from the break a focused, strangely familiar team. Short on bodies but long on the hustle and next-man-up mantra that defined them under Tom Thibodeau, the Bulls have won three straight after losing to Cleveland on Feb. 18.

    And in a one-two punch that perfectly represented the Derrick Rose experience of the past four seasons, Chicago's point guard told Nick Friedell of ESPN.com, "I just feel like I'm back," then promptly sat out the next game against the Wizards with hamstring tendinitis.

    Rose was mostly right, though. In his first three post-break games, he averaged 26 points on 31-of-54 shooting—easily his most accurate high-volume stretch of the season. He looked more consistently explosive than at any point in memory, and the Bulls needed that mini-renaissance from him with Jimmy Butler, Joakim Noah and Nikola Mirotic sidelined.

    If Rose maintains his form, and the Bulls keep getting good supporting efforts from the likes of Taj Gibson and Doug McDermott, we may yet see this team move back up toward the top 10 in these rankings. For now, a three-spot jump will have to suffice.

14. Indiana Pacers

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    Fernando Medina/Getty Images

    Last Week: 16

    The Ian Mahinmi-Myles Turner combo is working better than anyone could have expected—especially an Indiana Pacers team that spent the offseason talking about Paul George the power forward and small ball.

    In 109 minutes since the All-Star break, Indy's starting unit (which features Mahinmi and Turner with George Hill, Monta Ellis and George) is outscoring opponents by 15.6 points per 100 possessions, according to NBA.com.

    Mahinmi has exceeded expectations this year, but the success of the Pacers' new lineup is mostly about Turner. The rookie has hit clutch shots and made key plays down the stretch in every game since the break. And though he's made plenty of first-year mistakes, his shooting and shot blocking have provided a real boost. The sample isn't huge, but it looks like Turner can survive as a power forward until he's ready to slide over to center a year or two from now.

    Indy moves up after a 3-1 week highlighted by a road win at OKC on Feb. 19.

13. Dallas Mavericks

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    Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

    Last Week: 11

    "Let’s just be blunt: A failure to claim the fifth seed might as well be a death certificate for the Mavs," wrote Tim MacMahon of ESPN.com. "They’d be nothing but a nice little warm-up for the Golden State WarriorsSan Antonio Spurs or Thunder in a first-round series."

    This seems like a good time to mention the Mavs slipped to No. 7 in the West after losing big to OKC on Wednesday. With the Utah Jazz and especially the Portland Trail Blazers performing much better than Dallas lately, the Mavs will have to fight for survival from here on.

    Dallas can score, and Dirk Nowitzki remains an effective offensive hub in his 18th season. But adding David Lee and making him the first big off the bench is a recipe for defensive disaster. The Mavs must either ratchet up the offense to compensate or somehow get Lee to defend for the first time in his career.

    The Mavericks have gone 2-6 since Feb. 1. That's not going to cut it.

12. Charlotte Hornets

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    William Hauser-USA TODAY Sports

    Last Week: 14

    Uncharacteristically poor transition defense and some ugly turnovers cost the Charlotte Hornets in a 114-103 loss to the Cavaliers this past Wednesday.

    "Our turnovers were misleading—we had 14, but they led to 22 (Cleveland) points,” head coach Steve Clifford said, per Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer. "Just careless. I just thought we had some really needless turnovers where we were floating passes. You can’t do stuff like that."

    Clifford's correct. Though its defense continues to hover around the top 10, Charlotte's scoring efficiency has been mid-pack for most of the year. It can't afford to give away possessions.

    Still, the team's overall prospects continue to look good. The Hornets had won five straight games before that hiccup against Cleveland—insofar as a road loss to the East's top seed qualifies as a hiccup.

    Al Jefferson is back, and while his slow-footed defense will likely keep him in a reserve role for the foreseeable future, there's a viable scenario in which he works well as a second-unit scoring leader. Used that way, his shortcomings on D wouldn't be as exposed, and Charlotte's solid bench could get even better.

11. Atlanta Hawks

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    Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

    Last Week: 9

    Individually, you could excuse any of the Atlanta Hawks' three recent losses.

    Maybe post-All-Star rust led to the 115-111 defeat against the Miami Heat on Feb. 19. That overtime slip against the Bucks on Feb. 20 could easily have gone either way. And hey, Atlanta made up a 23-point deficit, putting a scare into the Warriors before losing 102-92 on Feb. 22.

    Together, though, those defeats constitute a streak—one that suggests the Hawks just don't profile as a very dangerous team the rest of the way. The ball still zips around sometimes, and the Al Horford-Paul Millsap tandem remains one of the East's best. But good defenses (particularly ones that have the personnel to switch) always flummox the Hawks, who just don't have the isolation scorers necessary to combat those tactics.

    The upcoming schedule is brutal, with eight of Atlanta's next nine games coming against teams currently in playoff position. This will be a critical stretch for a Hawks squad showing real vulnerability.

10. Miami Heat

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    Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

    Last Week: 12

    Hassan Whiteside is halfway there.

    "Athletes can change the narratives about themselves," Ethan J. Skolnick of the Miami Herald tweeted. "That's what Hassan Whiteside is doing lately. There were issues. He's correcting them."

    It's true Whiteside has cut out most of the overt knuckleheadedness that often defined his play (and, if we're honest, kept him out of the league for a few years). That's great to see, and it'll certainly benefit the Miami Heat big man when he hits free agency this summer.

    Not only that, but Whiteside's overall on- and off-court impact on the Heat's defense has stabilized, per NBA.com. For a good chunk of the season, we all harped on the fact that Miami's defense suffered with him on the floor. He's basically a net neutral defensive presence now. The Heat are strong on that end with and without him.

    Yet for all the game-changing stretches of highlight blocks and shot alterations inside, Whiteside still finds himself a target at times. The Warriors purposely involved him in every high pick-and-roll down the stretch of their stirring 118-112 win in Miami on Wednesday, and smart teams will do the same thing going forward. It's clear Whiteside doesn't want to leave the lane on defense.

    But there aren't many Stephen Curry types out there who'll capitalize so predictably. And Whiteside has been exceptionally productive overall, averaging 21.7 points and 18 rebounds on 62.8 percent shooting in three games since the break.

    As the Heat, winners of three of their four games since All-Star Weekend, try to solidify their playoff position, Whiteside looks more like a solution than a problem.

9. Boston Celtics

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    David Sherman/Getty Images

    Last Week: 7

    Even if it came on the second night of a back-to-back after facing the Nuggets in Denver, it's hard to get past the Celtics' 124-122 loss to the Timberwolves. Maybe we could have ignored it if it had been Boston's only slip since last week, but because it also came shortly after a 111-93 loss to the Jazz, the Celtics had to lose ground here.

    Boston, despite an average margin of victory nearly four points per game higher than the Heat's, is still just a game ahead of Miami in the East standings through Feb. 25. Getting stops has been an issue, as the Celtics' defensive efficiency continues to tumble. Since Feb. 1, Boston ranks 16th in the league.

    Isaiah Thomas has helped keep the offense afloat, though, handing out 21 assists in the Denver-Minnesota back-to-back.

    With Chris Forsberg of ESPN.com reporting head coach Brad Stevens wants versatility and shooting from whichever player eventually occupies the roster spot created by the Lee buyout, maybe Joe Johnson is an option.

8. Utah Jazz

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    Melissa Majchrzak/Getty Images

    Last Week: 8

    Utah has been fine over the past week, winning ugly in overtime against Houston on Tuesday and falling, predictably, to the Spurs on Thursday.

    With former Butler teammates Shelvin Mack and Gordon Hayward reunited, maybe some of that old offensive chemistry will show up to match Utah's typically stout defense. Already, Mack, who came over in a deadline deal with the Hawks, has seized a sizable role. He logged 24 minutes in his Jazz debut, then played 32 in his second outing—quite a spike after not playing more than nine minutes in any game for the Hawks since Jan. 3.

    He also scored 16  and 17 points in those first two games, setting and breaking his season high in the process.

    Imperfect, sometimes tough to watch on offense and still young at key positions, Utah will battle it out with the Mavs, Blazers, Rockets and Grizzlies for playoff positioning. Right now, the Jazz look fit to see the postseason, but they're nothing like a lock.

7. Portland Trail Blazers

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    Sam Forencich/Getty Images

    Last Week: 10

    Listen, I'm as stunned as you are.

    The Portland Trail Blazers were never supposed to be here, but nobody's been hotter lately. Responsible for the biggest beatdown the Warriors have suffered in months, a 137-105 stunner on Feb. 19, these Blazers are one of the best stories in the league this year.

    We all know Damian Lillard, who hung 51 on Golden State, has been key, but C.J. McCollum has been nearly as valuable and far more surprising.

    Fun stat from B/R Insights: McCollum thrives in the last five seconds of quarters, hitting a league-high 17 field goals in those situations on 51.5 percent shooting through games played Feb. 24. 

    We can keep talking about regression with this team (and McCollum), and that home loss to the Rockets on Thursday showed us not to get too carried away. But at some point, we need to just acknowledge it's time to change the baseline for the Blazers. They've shocked us long enough to force a realization: They may just be this good.

6. Los Angeles Clippers

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    Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

    Last Week: 6

    Full disclosure: The Clippers made the top five but coughed up that spot late in the ranking process. Scoring 81 points in a loss to the Nuggets will do that to you.

    The story for L.A. is mostly the same as it's been for the past few weeks: Blake Griffin's absence hasn't hurt, and the Clips look poised to surge once he returns. This isn't a perfect team, but Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan have been terrific. L.A.'s center has been the individual leader (counting both teams) in rebounds in every game he's played since Jan. 22.

    And J.J. Redick is in the midst of a career-best season.

    With two dates against the Thunder in the next two weeks, the Clippers will get their shot to prove they're more than the West's fourth-best team.

5. Oklahoma City Thunder

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    Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

    Last Week: 3

    A positive, per Anthony Slater of the Oklahoman: For the first time all year, head coach Billy Donovan staggered rotation minutes so that either Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook was on the floor for the entire 48 minutes of a 116-103 win against the Mavs on Feb. 24.

    The Thunder had taken hits for sitting both KD and Russ at the same time for years under Scott Brooks. Big points for Donovan on this one, even if it took him two-thirds of a season to figure out OKC should probably have one of its superstars on the court at all times.

    A negative: The Thunder lost their first game after the break, then got smoked by the Cavaliers. The loss to New Orleans on Thursday made it three defeats in four games.

    As a result, OKC slips to No. 5, its lowest position in months. To be clear, this isn't to say the Thunder are the fifth-best team in the league. They're just playing like it right now, though they'll get a chance to redeem themselves in short order.

    Between now and March 9, Oklahoma City will see the Warriors and Clippers twice each.

4. Toronto Raptors

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    Last Week: 5

    Oklahoma City's loss is Toronto's gain, as the Raptors climb all the way to No. 4.

    Since losing their first game after hosting All-Star Weekend, the Raptors have notched three victories by at least nine points apiece. And their stranglehold on the No. 2 spot in the East has never felt more suffocating.

    For some perspective, remember Toronto nearly called it quits with this core two years ago, trading Rudy Gay and putting head coach Dwane Casey on thin ice. After the Raptors beat the Wolves this past Wednesday, Casey's career coaching record got all the way back to an even 245-245.

    It just goes to show patience pays off.

    It also goes to show you should definitely trade Rudy Gay whenever you get the chance.

3. Cleveland Cavaliers

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    David Liam Kyle/Getty Images

    Last Week: 4

    Though head-to-head meetings aren't nearly as important as overall quality of play, Cleveland's Feb. 21 win against the Thunder completed a 2-0 season sweep we can't ignore. The Cavs still trail the Thunder in average margin of victory, but the gap is narrowing. And Cleveland's winning percentage is now higher.

    Congrats, Cavs; you're up to No. 3 for the first time in weeks.

    New addition Channing Frye looks like he'll be a fine fit as well. He shot 4-of-8 from deep in a 114-103 win over Charlotte this past Wednesday, and every long-range attempt was defined as uncontested, per B/R Insights. No defender was within four feet of him on any of them.

    If the Cavs offense keeps generating quality looks for one of the best big-man shooting specialists in the league, it'll be a boon to an already awesome offense.

    The Cavaliers still have some things to work out—Kevin Love's inconsistency, Kyrie Irving's bedbugs and more rest for LeBron James—but things look good for the East's top team.

2. San Antonio Spurs

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    Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

    Last Week: 2

    We need a term for inconspicuous excellence like the San Antonio Spurs have perfected. "Under the radar" isn't low enough.

    "Under the sonar"?

    Part of the recent lack of attention stems from Kawhi Leonard's absence. He missed time with a sore calf after the break. A slight pullback from a historic margin-of-victory pace is also a factor. Of course, San Antonio is still on track to set the record, per Basketball-Reference.com.

    Tim Duncan hasn't been himself since coming back from some time on the bench with a bad knee, shooting just 25.8 percent from the field in five games between Feb. 10-24. If he's not right in time for the playoffs, especially on defense, San Antonio could have some issues.

    For now, file Duncan's slump under "small-to-medium-sized concern."

1. Golden State Warriors

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    Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

    Last Week: 1

    Somebody must have told Stephen Curry his second straight MVP award was in doubt.

    It isn't, and it hasn't been since sometime in mid-November. But it's hard to otherwise explain the team-carrying tear he's been on lately. Golden State hasn't played well during its post-break road trip. The absence of Festus Ezeli compromises the front line's depth, and nobody beside Klay Thompson has been a reliable supporting scorer.

    Curry hasn't cared.

    He scored 36 on 14-of-22 shooting and led a late run to stave off a potential upset in Atlanta. He hit two deep triples and scored 42 points to save the Warriors in Miami.

    Then he scored 51 in a 130-114 win at Orlando the next night. Oh, and he set the record for most consecutive games with a made three (128) in that one, hitting 10 triples overall and knocking down a career-high 20 field goals.

    Curry's ninth was a banker from half court at the third-quarter buzzer that completely shifted the game's momentum, imparting to the Magic a sense of hopelessness many other teams have shared.

    Stephen Curry is No. 1 in the power rankings. The rest of the Warriors just happen to play on his team.


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    Stats courtesy of NBA.com and Basketball-Reference.com. Accurate through games played Feb. 25.