NBA Power Rankings with 1 Week to Go in Regular Season

Grant HughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistApril 7, 2017

NBA Power Rankings with 1 Week to Go in Regular Season

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    Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

    The joke last year, perhaps offered a bit too frequently, was that the Golden State Warriors deserved their own special status apart from the other 29 teams vying for the No. 1 spot among non-divinity power rankings.

    In our penultimate regular-season edition, the Dubs have once more separated the league into two dimensions. They're on-court gods again, and everyone else is mucking around on the mortal plane.

    We'll sort them out anyway while marveling at the Brooklyn Nets' long stretch of respectability, the Chicago Bulls' refusal to die and the Los Angeles Lakers' best efforts at self-sabotage.

    As always, rankings are based on team record, advanced stats and head-to-head meetings where relevant. The emphasis is on recent performance, as we're trying to determine the league's hierarchy as it exists in the moment.

    Start getting nostalgic now. We've only got one more week of this until the rankings field gets trimmed to the 16 clubs good enough to make the playoffs.

30. Phoenix Suns

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    ↓ 1 Spot

    Marquese Chriss' penchant for getting his head up near the rim and cramming home tip dunks is nothing new. He's had omega-level athleticism from his first day in the NBA.

    Since the All-Star break, Chriss has been more than a dunker. And that's something new.

    Thanks to a minutes increase, his counting stats are spiking. He put up 20 points last Thursday, then followed it up with 19 points and 13 boards against the Portland Trail Blazers on Saturday.

    It's the shooting efficiency and subtly improved feel for the game that matter most. Chriss' post-break accuracy from three-point range is up to 35.4 percent on 3.6 attempts per game. If he's a real threat from deep, suddenly the Phoenix Suns have their stretch 4 of the future.

    With the vets shut down (Eric Bledsoe, Brandon Knight and Tyson Chandler are all starting their offseasons early), Phoenix is upping its pace and letting the kids run wild. Nobody has played faster since Feb. 20.

    Chriss' growth and a moderately more entertaining style haven't produced results, though. The Suns have lost 13 straight.

29. Orlando Magic

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    What kind of operation we running here, fellas?
    What kind of operation we running here, fellas?Elise Amendola/Associated Press

    ↓ 2 Spots

    After closing out last week by blowing a 21-point lead to the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Orlando Magic built and squandered a 13-point third-quarter advantage in Friday's 117-116 loss to the Boston Celtics, and then lost two more before halting a five-game skid with a win over Brooklyn on Thursday.

    Remarkably, the on-court collapses weren't the worst part of the Magic's week.

    That distinction goes to an agent's photo that inadvertently revealed a white board with what looked like the Magic's free-agent and trade targets. General manager Rob Hennigan downplayed the leak, saying it wasn't "indicative of plans," per Joshua Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel.

    Still, if Orlando ownership members needed a reason to move on from Hennigan and his wholly unsuccessful tenure (they don't; the losses and botched trades are enough), they've got one.

    Hennigan's grand designs are ruined! The league knows Orlando's innermost secrets! A regime change is in order!

    It's been a rough week/month/year for the Magic. This isn't helping.

28. Los Angeles Lakers

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    ↑ 2 Spots

    The Los Angeles Lakers beat the Memphis Grizzlies on Sunday behind 28 points from D'Angelo Russell. And while the sophomore guard's second-half development is cause for celebration (Russell has 18 20-point games on the year, but eight have come after Feb. 24), anything that leads to victories is a negative in L.A.

    Finishing with one of the three worst records is imperative, as the Lakers lose their first-round pick to the Philadelphia 76ers if it falls outside the top three. Not only that, but giving up this season's pick would also mean losing their 2019 first-rounder.

    So beating the San Antonio Spurs on Wednesday was a genuine catastrophe.

    Phoenix just keeps losing, and even though the Brooklyn Nets are hot, they're all but locked into the league's worst record. So it's tough to imagine the Lakers regaining the security of that second spot.

    The Lakers won't overtake the Magic for the fourth-worst record, but now only one team has to leapfrog L.A. in the lottery to cost it two first-rounders.

27. New York Knicks

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    ↑ 1 Spot

    Even if Derrick Rose exceeded most reasonable expectations by posting his highest scoring average and effective field-goal percentage since he tore his ACL five years ago, this latest season-ending knee injury has to feel like the end of a messy chapter for the New York Knicks.

    Rose's 2016-17 campaign began with the specter of a civil trial for sexual assault (though he was found not liable), included an unexcused absence from the team in January and featured few wins to speak of along the way.

    An unrestricted free agent, Rose may not be back in New York—unless the Knicks believe yet another knee surgery will result in Rose's improving his 21.7 percent conversion rate from deep or getting back any of his defensive tenacity.

    Kristaps Porzingis had 22 points in last Friday's 98-94 win over the Miami Heat, giving him three straight with at least 20. But now he's missing time with a back injury.

    So, as usual, everything's great with the Knicks, who went 2-2 this week to move within one loss of a third straight 50-loss season.

26. Philadelphia 76ers

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    ↓ 2 Spots

    According to Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Sixers have a capable long-term backup for Joel Embiid. And it's not Jahlil Okafor. It's Richaun Holmes: "Generously listed at 6-foot-10, Holmes can stretch defenses with his three-point range. His tenacity is also evident when he attacks the rim on dunks or blocks shots into the second row."

    Holmes scored 19 points against the Cavs on Friday and is thriving in consistent minutes since the All-Star break.

    As rookie Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot continues to show flashes (61 combined points in losses to the Cavs, Toronto Raptors and Brooklyn Nets this week), the Sixers seem to have another couple of young talents who might develop around Embiid and Ben Simmons next season.

    There's definitely an element of "somebody's got to get the numbers on a bad team" in play here, and the Sixers have lost five straight, so it's not like Holmes and TLC are making a marked difference yet. Still, for a team in the business of cultivating hope, promise like this counts for something.

25. Detroit Pistons

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    ↓ 2 Spots

    The Detroit Pistons jumped out to a shocking 33-15 first-quarter lead against the Raptors on Wednesday.

    Why so surprising?

    Because from March 1 until that contest, they'd been getting absolutely pummeled in first periods. And when you post a minus-17.8 net rating in the opening 12 minutes of a game, which the Pistons did during that span, it's easy to lose a lot of games. In fact, it's somewhat remarkable Detroit went 6-11 in that stretch.

    Stan Van Gundy may not be high on Tobias Harris' defense, and it's true there's merit to bringing a guy off the bench who can get his own shot.

    But starting Jon Leuer has been an abject disaster. The numbers make that hard to deny.

    Oh, and after building that 33-15 lead on the Raps, Detroit lost anyway, falling to 0-2 this week.

24. Dallas Mavericks

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    ↓ 3 Spots

    The Dallas Mavericks aren't going to react to playoff elimination in the usual way, which is to say they're not going to quit trying.

    "I’m not going to take my foot off the gas," head coach Rick Carlisle told reporters after the Mavs officially became a lottery team on Saturday. "The guys that are playing are going to be responsible for playing the right way."

    That's a fine sentiment, but Dallas fielded a five-rookie lineup (including four undrafted players) against the Sacramento Kings on Tuesday: Yogi Ferrell, Nico Brussino, Jarrod Uthoff, Dorian Finney-Smith and A.J. Hammons. So even if Carlisle and the Mavs talk about trying to use these games as competitive tests for their young guys, the end result of playing lineups with four undrafted players will be the same as a deliberate tank job.

    The Mavs have lost six of seven, which is the plan. Even if they say it's not.

23. Minnesota Timberwolves

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    ↓ 1 Spot

    Karl-Anthony Towns is a bright spot in the same way the sun itself is: blinding, cosmically potent and when eventually channeled correctly, capable of powering planets with clean energy.

    It is possible we've extended the metaphor too far.

    Besides, we all know KAT is a burning ball of gas talent. His worst game last week included 21 points, six rebounds, four assists, two steals and two blocks on 8-of-10 shooting in 28 minutes against the Warriors. What's also encouraging is Ricky Rubio's second-half surge.

    He's already broken his own franchise record by logging seven 15-assist games this season. And all he did in March was average 17.8 points and 10.4 assists while hitting 43.9 percent of his threes.

    If Kris Dunn had shown any semblance of readiness for a bigger role, Rubio's ascent might pose a problem. But since Dunn flopped, the Wolves can be content to have a 26-year-old point guard truly finding his groove heading into next season.

    That'll take the sting out of a 1-3 week.

22. Sacramento Kings

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    ↑ 3 Spots

    The Kings didn't leave us any choice but to move them ahead of both the Wolves and Mavs, after they beat both head-to-head this week.

    Willie Cauley-Stein's three highest rebounding totals of the season came in the last two weeks, and though a bigger role has something to do with that, so does effort.

    "I’m just going after them now," Cauley-Stein told reporters after posting 15 points and 10 boards in Sunday's 123-117 win over Minnesota. "Before I’d just go after the ones that come to my side, and then I used to let the guards take the rebounds so they could just go. I got tired of people telling me about rebounding and (expletive), so now I just go get rebounds so they can shut the hell up."

    With Cauley-Stein looking like a viable rotation player and Buddy Hield earning Western Conference Rookie of the Month honors after averaging 14.1 points and shooting 42.5 percent from deep in March, the Kings have a couple of young talents making the most of some meaningless games.

    The Kings won two out of three this week.

21. Brooklyn Nets

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    ↑ 5 Spots

    The Brooklyn Nets and Cleveland Cavaliers had the same record in March: 7-10.

    Fun!

    And after the Nets logged three straight victories to start April, they actually have a better mark than the defending champs over the last six weeks.

    It turns out Jeremy Lin really matters to a scheme dependent on spacing and capable pick-and-roll ball-handling. He had 15 points and six assists in Sunday's in over the Atlanta Hawks, and then added 16 points and seven dimes as the Nets piled up 141 points to smoke the Sixers on Tuesday. His return after the All-Star break coincides directly with Brooklyn becoming a respectable basketball team.

    It also doesn't hurt that Brook Lopez is doubling down on his perimeter shooting. He's averaging over two made treys per game since March 1.

    Break up the Nets.

20. Charlotte Hornets

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    ↓ 1 Spot

    The Charlotte Hornets' loss to the Heat on Wednesday ended their playoff hopes, dropping them two-and-a-half games behind the No. 8 spot with just three left to play.

    Miami also holds the head-to-head tiebreaker.

    That's got to be frustrating for a Charlotte team undone by injuries, especially after putting together a three-contest winning streak at the end of last week. The Hornets will likely finish the season with a positive point differential and even if they win out, they'll still be no better than four games under .500.

    Charlotte's a safe bet to make a postseason return next year. The veteran team operating with a win-now mandate will have its core intact and another year of continuity to draw on.

19. Atlanta Hawks

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    ↓ 1 Spot

    Paul Millsap is back after missing eight games, but his balky knee means he's relegated to bench duty until further notice. According to Chris Vivlamore of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, there's no indication as to when the Atlanta Hawks' best player will return to the first unit.

    The urgency's mounting.

    Atlanta is 3-7 since that knee caused Millsap to miss his first game on March 18, and 3-9 in its last dozen games overall. The swoon has the Hawks in real danger of slipping out of the playoffs, a stunning development for a team that was nine games over .500 two months ago.

    Missing the postseason after aborting what seemed like a rebuild and keeping free-agent-to-be Millsap would be a disaster. And with the way Atlanta's been playing, the best-case scenario of a first-round out doesn't seem all that appealing either.

18. Memphis Grizzlies

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    ↓ 1 Spot

    The Memphis Grizzlies' playoff position is secure, but they're sure backing into it.

    A 1-3 record that included a loss to the Lakers this week rates as uninspiring, and the Grizzlies ought to be a little worried about the one-in-one-out star exchange that took place when Marc Gasol got back from a foot injury just in time to watch Mike Conley go down with a gash above his eye.

    A collision with Kawhi Leonard on Tuesday caused the cut, and swelling kept Conley sidelined for Wednesday's loss against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

    If there's a source of hope amid recent struggles, Memphis is still 9-7 against the Warriors, Spurs, Rockets and Jazz this year.

17. New Orleans Pelicans

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    ↓ 1 Spot

    Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins were wildly productive this past week, combining for 71 points in a loss to the Denver Nuggets and then totaling 56 points and 29 rebounds while falling to the Chicago Bulls.

    Both played over 40 minutes in that Bulls loss, though, and it seems the New Orleans Pelicans are prioritizing the health of their two best players over the value of getting them more reps together down the stretch.

    According to ESPN.com's Justin Verrier, the Pels will cut AD and Boogie's playing time in their final four games.

    That's a logical move, as the Pelicans have nothing left to play for. At the same time, it'd be nice to get every last minute of information on how to simultaneously deploy these two monsters before next season. Because while they've been individually successful of late, the Pelicans haven't gotten results in the form of wins.

    New Orleans went 1-2 this week.

16. Chicago Bulls

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    ↑ 4 Spots

    The hard part's over for the Chicago Bulls.

    Jimmy Butler ran himself into the ground carrying his team through a 6-2 stretch that resuscitated their postseason chances. He hung 39 points on the Pelicans, made at least half his shots in eight straight games and hasn't played fewer than 37 minutes since March 22.

    With nothing but lottery opponents left, maybe he can take a break.

    This excerpt from Chris Kuc of the Chicago Tribune makes that seem unlikely:

    'I just look back to the summer—I'm tired every day during the summer, but we still get up, we still work hard, we still do what we're supposed to do,' said Butler, who was named Eastern Conference player of the week Monday after averaging 32.5 points and six assists in three wins. 'But on top of everything else, I just want to win. I think my will to do that is going to overcome all the fatigue.'

    Even if an ugly loss to the Knicks on Tuesday will make it close, Chicago is in good shape with a soft closing schedule ahead.

    K.C. Johnson of the same paper reported Dwyane Wade plans to return Saturday. In light of the Bulls' 7-4 record in his absence, it's hard to say how that'll impact this final run.

    Then again, Paul Zipser's not wowing anyone as the fill-in starter.

15. Miami Heat

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    ↓ 2 Spots

    Goran Dragic is the Miami Heat's best player, Hassan Whiteside is the switch-flipping occasional game-dominator, and Dion Waiters (when healthy) is the lightning rod.

    But James Johnson might be the guy who'll make them most dangerous if they reach the postseason.

    He scored 26 points and banged in six threes in Wednesday's win over the Hornets, making the most of his first start this season. That offensive punch—combined with Johnson's size, playmaking instincts and defensive physicality—make him a nightmare for big scoring wings.

    This all seems relevant in light of a possible Cleveland-Miami first-round series.

    A 1-2 week costs the Heat a spot, but the ingredients for a strong playoff showing are still there.

14. Indiana Pacers

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    ↑ 2 Spots

    I mean, come on. How fun is Lance Stephenson?

    Born Ready's back with the Indiana Pacers, and excitement, predictably, has followed in the form of ridiculous highlights and dust-ups with cranky opponents.

    In other news, Paul George waged a gladiatorial battle withe LeBron James, scoring 43 points in a double-overtime loss to the Cavs on Sunday, then followed that up with 35 more in a blowout win over the Raps.

    Between Stephenson and George, there's an oddly indomitable spirit hovering around the Pacers these days—generated half by star-level talent and half by genuine lunacy.

    A big win over the Bucks on Thursday gave Indian a 2-2 mark this week. It'll have to take full advantage of its final three games against struggling squads next week if it plans to make the playoffs.

13. Denver Nuggets

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    ↑ 1 Spot

    Nikola Jokic's 12 points, 19 rebounds, nine assists and five steals weren't enough to get the Denver Nuggets past the Houston Rockets on Wednesday, and that 110-104 defeat gave the Nugs a 2-2 week that probably feels like a blown opportunity.

    The Portland Trail Blazers still hold a narrow edge on Denver for the No. 8 spot out West and have been one of the league's hottest second-half teams. But a quick two-game slide by the Blazers opened the door for Denver to make things interesting.

    The Nuggets couldn't quite walk through.

    Even as time runs out on this season, the Nuggets are seeing encouraging signs for subsequent ones. Emmanuel Mudiay made actual contributions this week, posting 17 points and nine assists against the Heat, followed by 15 points and seven assists against the Pelicans. Both were wins

    This was out of the ordinary for Mudiay, who's been in and out of the rotation all year.

    There's still a a chance he pulls his weight alongside Jamal Murray and Gary Harris in a fantastic three-guard rotation going forward.

12. Milwaukee Bucks

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    ←→ No Movement

    We didn't need more evidence of Khris Middleton's importance to the Milwaukee Bucks, but we got it this week anyway.

    Middleton's 2-of-11 stretch from long range in losses to the Mavs and Thunder put a stop to the Bucks' three-game winning streak and loosened their hold on the No. 5 seed in the East. Without his knockdown shooting and valuable in-between scoring knack in top form, the Bucks struggled to find enough offense.

    "He's the most unselfish shooter I've ever seen," Thon Maker told B/R's Michael Pina. "He's putting the ball on the floor, taking his time. He's not rushing. He's very, very under control, clutch down the stretch. So he just kills the defense at his own pace, and for us that really helps."

    And when Middleton's not doing those things efficiently, there's just too much on Giannis Antetokounmpo's plate.

    Milwaukee wound up with a 1-3 week by falling to the Pacers on Thursday, running its record to 16-11 in games Middleton has played this season.

    As he goes, so go the Bucks.

11. Portland Trail Blazers

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    ←→ No Movement

    The Blazers will have to finish this without Jusuf Nurkic.

    Their big midseason acquisition is out for the balance of the regular season with a fracture in his right leg.

    Jeff Stotts of InStreetClothes.com notes the average time missed with an injury like Nurkic's is 28 days, which would put Nurkic back into the lineup sometime around the last week of April. Maybe that winds up influencing a first-round series...but maybe not.

    Portland is 14-6 in games Nurkic has played, and a 2-2 week following his injury underscored his impact even further.

    The Blazers have a slight edge on Denver for the final playoff spot in the West, but they'll fight to keep that position at far less than full strength.

10. Oklahoma City Thunder

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    ↓ 5 Spots

    OK, look: We got carried away with the Thunder last week. Several of the teams ranked in our top 10 were struggling, Russell Westbrook was doing ridiculous stuff and OKC looked comparatively good. So we moved them up to fifth.

    It was an emotional time. Things got out of hand. We regret this mistake, and have corrected it this week.

    Westbrook is still going bonkers, matching Oscar Robertson's record with 41 triple-doubles in a season and hanging 45 points on the Grizzlies in Wednesday's 103-100 win. But We've come back to our senses and bumped the Thunder down after a 2-2 week that also saw several other top-10 mainstays sort themselves out.

    OKC is the league's best rebounding team since the All-Star break, and Westbrook is a monster. But the Thunder didn't belong in the top five.

9. Utah Jazz

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    ↑ 1 Spot

    Despite what appears to be a verifiable curse on the health of their point guards, the Utah Jazz are 5-2 in their last seven games with those defeats coming on the road against the Spurs and Clippers.

    Injuries are just part of Utah's makeup, and that's not going to change any time soon.

    "I have to be honest with the training staff, and not try to be a tough guy," Rodney Hood told Tony Jones of the Salt Lake Tribune. "But at the same time, I just have to try to play through the pain, and just do what I can out there. Obviously, I'm not going to be at my best every night, and it's not always going to feel great."

    Hood's battling a sore knee, Derrick Favors hasn't been right all year and George Hill's groin is still an issue.

    Yet after a 2-1 week that saw them beat Washington and Portland, the Jazz are two victories away from cracking the 50-win threshold.

8. Los Angeles Clippers

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    ↑ 1 Spot

    It might not be possible to have an easier week than the one the Clips just finished.

    They played just two games—on Saturday and Wednesday—against the Lakers and Mavs.

    Both resulted in wins for a club that has not been playing its best.

    "It’s pretty obvious we’ve been better throughout the season," Blake Griffin told Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times. "At the start of the season we were better. But I also wouldn’t say that we’re like in a terrible place: 'The sky is falling.' It’s a work in progress, but we have been better. But we still need to clean some things up."

    Griffin led L.A. with 36 and 32 points in their wins this week, but he's right about needing to clean things up. Locked in a battle with Utah for the fourth seed, the Clippers get San Antonio and Utah in their first two games next week.

7. Washington Wizards

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    ↓ 1 Spot

    Beating the Hornets and Knicks is nothing special for a team this high in the rankings.

    Scoring just 88 points in a loss to the Jazz and then getting smoked by the Warriors? Now those are the kinds of results that matter.

    Washington's offense deserted it in that Utah loss, and frustrations boiled over at the end of the Golden State game when Brandon Jennings shoved JaVale McGee during a final-possession three-point attempt.

    "What Brandon did, I don’t think it was dirty," John Wall told reporters after the 139-115 blowout. "I think it was the right play. You don’t let nobody try to embarrass you. I think that’s what they were trying to do."

    I guess you can laud Washington's feistiness and cite it as a positive heading into the playoffs. But with Toronto getting bent out of shape over Stephenson's layup, the Wizards' whiny response to McGee tossing up a shot instead of committing a shot-clock violation is just...well, it's weak.

    Also: profoundly hypocritical.

    The Wizards close out their season with a couple of games against the Heat sandwiched around one versus Detroit. Hopefully, nobody breaks any unwritten rules.

6. Toronto Raptors

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    ↑ 2 Spots

    Kyle Lowry seems good.

    Any concerns about rust following 21 games missed following wrist surgery disappeared as the Raptors' All-Star point guard led them to a 105-102 comeback win against the Pistons with 27 points, 10 assists, five rebounds and a nasty fake spin move that sent Ish Smith to the deck.

    The Raps managed a 14-7 record without Lowry behind a revamped defense that allowed the fourth-fewest points per possession in that span.

    P.J. Tucker and Serge Ibaka give the Raptors real stopping power. If Lowry gets his team's offense anywhere close to the level it was early in the year, back when it was on pace to set records for scoring efficiency, Toronto could become the biggest challenger to Cleveland in the East.

    We'll need to see more from Lowry to be sure, but the multidimensional Raptors are peaking at the right time.

5. Boston Celtics

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    ↓ 1 Spot

    Boston's time atop the East didn't last long.

    Playing the second leg of a road back-to-back, the Cavs firmly wrested control of the conference from the Celtics with a 114-91 drubbing on Wednesday.

    Boston got destroyed on the glass, beaten in transition and outplayed in virtually every aspect of a noncompetitive game that could have provided a chance to truly upset the balance of power in the East—at least in the regular season.

    Even if we all agree the playoff version of the Cavs will be different, the Celtics could have sent a message.

    "[The Cavaliers] were on a different level than us tonight," Isaiah Thomas told reporters afterward. "They played harder than us in every aspect of the game. ... It's very disappointing. We laid an egg tonight. There's no way around that."

    Toronto is nipping at Boston's heels, and the gap between the Celts and Cavs looks as wide as ever right now.

4. Houston Rockets

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    ↓ 1 Spot

    And on the 77th day, James Harden rested.

    Sidelined by an illness for Sunday's win over Phoenix, the Beard was a spectator for the first time this year. He recovered just fine, pumping in 31 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds in his return against Denver on Wednesday.

    The Rockets take a hit this week for a couple of reasons, though.

    First, they lost Sam Dekker to a broken hand—not a devastating blow, but one that'll cost them a rotation player who could man both forward spots in a pinch. Second, Houston is 0-3 in its last three games against playoff-bound competition.

    Two of those losses came to the otherworldly Warriors (one this week), so we can't judge too harshly. But there have to be consequences for small slips at this point in the rankings.

3. Cleveland Cavaliers

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    ↑ 4 Spots

    It was an eventful week for the Cavs, who climb four spots after logging four straight wins.

    On the way to that 4-0 mark, they had a blown assignment create a sideline shouting match between LeBron James and Tristan Thompson, a 52-minute triple-double by James against Indy, another the next night, and all of this happening amid growing consternation about their defense.

    March marked the second 10-loss month of James' career, and the defensive issues are real.

    They're terrible at creating turnovers, foul too often, don't communicate and fail to clear the defensive boards far too often.

    But they also just blasted the team that was theoretically their toughest in-conference competition and laughed in the face of the much-discussed stat showing they were 1-9 in their previous 10 road back-to-backs.

    Keep sounding the the alarm if you want, but Cleveland may have just said more about itself in one game against Boston than it did in the entire month of March.

2. San Antonio Spurs

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    ←→ No Movement

    Before we go any further: No, I have no idea what to make of Wednesday's 102-95 loss to the Lakers.

    San Antonio wasn't trying to win, sitting down its key starters and giving them minute totals in the teens. L.A. definitely wasn't trying to win, benching basically every contributor who played well in the first half to avoid dropping into third place in the draft lottery.

    But somebody had to win, and because the Lakers' incompetence knows no bounds, it was them.

    Otherwise, the Spurs were the Spurs this week, kicking things off with a 21-point comeback to beat OKC on Friday, then downing the Jazz and Grizzlies to go 3-1 overall.

    They remain the second-best team in the league, locked into No. 2 in the West with the Warriors securing that top spot.

    There's not much intrigue of note here, which you can tell because wondering whether Jonathan Simmons might find his way back into meaningful minutes counts as a worthwhile story.

1. Golden State Warriors

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    ←→ No Movement

    Some weeks, when the Warriors' records, achievements and credentials for ranking No. 1 are too vast and varied, we have to resort to bullet points to succinctly contain them all. 

    This is one of those weeks.

    The Warriors:

    • Have won 13 straight games
    • Got a 40-point scoring night in their last three wins (Stephen Curry twice, Klay Thompson once)
    • Saw Curry play the most "2015-16 Unanimous MVP Steph" game of the season in a 139-115 drubbing of the Wizards on Sunday
    • Became the first team to win at least 65 games in three straight seasons
    • Clinched the West's top seed and home-court advantage throughout the playoffs
    • Are on pace to post a higher average margin of victory (11.7) than last year (10.8)...when they set the all-time wins record
    • Get Kevin Durant back Saturday

    You could make the case that the Dubs are rolling into this postseason in far better shape than last year, which is a scary thought for the rest of the league.

    This all goes to show that even if the ups and downs of an 82-game campaign can introduce surprising narratives and make you question what you thought at the outset of the year, sometimes there are unassailable truths that re-emerge when it matters.

    In this case, that truth is simple: The Warriors are a cut above the 29 other teams in the NBA.

           

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    Stats courtesy of NBA.com and Basketball Reference unless otherwise indicated and are accurate through games played Thursday, April 6.