2015-16 NBA Power Rankings: How Every Team Stacks Up After 50 Games

Grant Hughes@@gt_hughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistFebruary 5, 2016

2015-16 NBA Power Rankings: How Every Team Stacks Up After 50 Games

0 of 30

    Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

    It's funny how the key narrative from the NBA season's first week feels fresh all over again as we move well past the halfway point.

    Just as they did early on, the Golden State Warriors appear to be a separate species of basketball team. And their placement in the latest power rankings reflects that.

    What's different, though, is the relative frailty of their chief competition. The San Antonio Spurs and Cleveland Cavaliers have their issues, and some steady climbers have continued their ascents from outside the top 10—to the point that they're now threatening a few of the elite mainstays at the top.

    As always, the aim here is to organize all 30 teams into positions that reflect how well they're playing lately. Overall metrics and recent play combine as factors in that calculation, but so do gut feelings. Those can sway rankings up or down depending on the circumstances, and they actually weigh in favor of the Cavs this time around.

    Last week's edition is here for comparison's sake.

30. Phoenix Suns

1 of 30

    Matt York/Associated Press

    Last Week: 29

    With Earl Watson taking over head coaching duties for the deposed Jeff Hornacek and Markieff Morris finally happy enough to up his trade value, it feels like some of the hurting will soon stop in Phoenix. Morris scored 30 points in a relatively close loss to the Toronto Raptors on Tuesday, a strong indicator his interest in getting out of Phoenix is at least as strong as it was when he demanded a trade over the summer.

    It was a convenient outing, as ESPN.com's Marc Stein reported the next day on Twitter: "Toronto, I'm told, also showing interest in Suns' Markieff Morris; PHX widely seen as a LOCK to do at least one deal before Feb. 18 deadline."

    A cleansing may be coming.

    If you're of the not-at-all-ridiculous opinion that the real problem was the front office all along, this transitional phase might only be a brief respite before the chaos starts over again.

    Ditching Morris won't undo the contract Phoenix lavished on Tyson Chandler, nor will it heal Eric Bledsoe, T.J. Warren or the rest of the Suns' fallen soldiers. But maybe it'll help.

29. Brooklyn Nets

2 of 30

    Kathy Willens/Associated Press

    Last Week: 26

    Five straight losses between Jan. 26 and Feb. 3 drop the Brooklyn Nets a couple of spots.

    Some of the results were close (a five-point defeat against the Detroit Pistons on Monday and a two-point loss to the New Orleans Pelicans last Saturday are two examples), though, and there's an odd sense of optimism circulating in Brooklyn despite the scarcity of success.

    "I see progress. I see us getting better as a team on both ends of the floor," Joe Johnson told Brian Lewis of the New York Post on Jan. 27. "We’ve just got to continue to work, continue to try and get better."

    "The effort absolutely was there. If we play like that every night, we’ll be all right," Brook Lopez added. "No question."

    We've always included intangibles in the power rankings calculus, and maybe there's something to be said for a positive mental outlook.

    Additional positive: Brooklyn would have to get a whole lot worse to challenge the Suns or Lakers for one of the bottom two spots.

28. Los Angeles Lakers

3 of 30

    Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

    Last Week: 30

    Kobe Bryant scored 38 points on Tuesday, hitting a Stephen Curry first-quarter's worth of threes (seven) in leading the Los Angeles Lakers to their first win since Jan. 12. Then he beat the New Orleans Pelicans with 27 more Thursday.

    Fun!

    It's fitting, though, that those victories also hurt the Lakers. Because there can be no joy in this lost season (head coach Byron Scott will not allow it, for one thing), the wins hurt L.A.'s chances of retaining its first-round pick in the 2016 draft, which is top-three protected.

    The team's draft status isn't relevant to its power ranking, but we hadn't poked that sore spot in a while, and it felt like we were overdue.

    The Lakers' horrendous defense—worst in the league and showing no signs of improving under Scott, whose last five teams have ranked in the bottom five in defensive efficiency—will keep this team at or near the bottom for the rest of the year.

    Take it away, TV analyst Don MacLean (via Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times): 

    I'm watching archaic schemes and it looks like a team that's playing in 1998—walking it up, isos, no imagination, no creativity on the offensive end. The only thing the Lakers have is athleticism, and they walk it up every single time. And Byron's gone on record as saying he's a defensive minded coach, that's where they hang their hat; they're last in the league in defensive efficiency.

    Good times.

27. Orlando Magic

4 of 30

    Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

    Last Week: 28

    The Orlando Magic finally pulled out of their dive with a win over the Boston Celtics Sunday, ending an eight-game losing streak and securing just their second victory of 2016. And after playing the Oklahoma City Thunder to a draw until Kevin Durant hit a game-winning three with half a second left in the fourth quarter Wednesday, a move up the rankings was warranted.

    It's hard to determine the Magic's best course of action from here, and that's assuming (perhaps foolishly) they have the ability to do anything but continue to lose. Orlando's core is young, and developing it with an eye toward the future makes sense. For what it's worth, the decision to start Aaron Gordon alongside Tobias Harris suggests the Magic are leaning that way.

    But even after a month-long tailspin, this team is only a handful of games out of the eighth spot in the East. And maybe there would be some value in getting this group some playoff experience—even if it came in the form of a four-game first-round sweep.

    The upcoming trade deadline will offer hints about the Magic's plans. With plenty of pieces to move, Orlando could be either a big buyer or seller.

26. Milwaukee Bucks

5 of 30

    Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

    Last Week: 23

    An 0-3 week sinks the Milwaukee Bucks a few spots, which hurts after a strong stretch had them creeping up toward the teens.

    The current four-game losing streak has been demoralizing. After showing signs of recapturing the defensive fortitude that defined the 2014-15 season, Milwaukee has allowed 110.6 points per 100 possessions since Jan. 27, the fourth-worst figure in the league.

    Doubly worrying is that second-year forward Jabari Parker seems to be regressing on that end, per NBA analyst Mika Honkasalo, who tweeted: "Horrible in pick-and-roll, never rotates on time, does some matador stuff. Often suspect effort."

    That's a scary combination of criticisms, though it's clear Parker isn't the only culprit on D this season.

25. Philadelphia 76ers

6 of 30

    Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images

    Last Week: 24

    It's time to pump the brakes on the Sixers, who had been steadily cruising up the rankings behind Ish Smith and an occasionally functional offense.

    Though they hung tough with the Golden State Warriors on Saturday (the Dubs needed a game-winning three from Harrison Barnes to escape unscathed), a 38-point drubbing by the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday completed a winless week.

    Turnovers continue to be a major problem, and even with Smith injecting some life into the scoring attack, Philly's offensive rating over the past two weeks has still been the worst in the league. The only positive lately has been the Warriors' 45-4 start, which tied the 1966-67 edition of the Sixers for the best start in NBA history.

    Amid all the losing, it's nice to get a reminder that things weren't always like this.

24. Minnesota Timberwolves

7 of 30

    Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

    Last Week: 27

    The Minnesota Timberwolves won their first four road games of the year, so we knew success away from home was at least possible. But the wheels have been off for the Wolves—both home and away—for the past two months, so it was refreshing to see them knock off the Los Angeles Clippers in L.A. on Wednesday.

    That win, possibly Minnesota's best of the year, came a day after falling to the lowly Lakers. So it's not a great idea to start thinking about a turnaround. The Wolves are still pretty darn bad.

    But Andrew Wiggins logged back-to-back games of at least 30 points this past week, and Karl-Anthony Towns continued his quest for the Rookie of the Year award (we can just give it to him now, as far as I'm concerned), so there have been some positives.

    The Wolves will need to lean on those, as the rest of February will be a slog. Six of Minny's next nine games will come against teams in playoff position.

23. Washington Wizards

8 of 30

    Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

    Last Week: 22

    You have to consider the competition, but even if the Washington Wizards' last three games were against scoring superpowers, last week's defensive implosion is cause for concern.

    Washington went 1-2 against the Houston Rockets, Thunder and Warriors, giving up at least 114 points in every contest. Even the win over Houston came in a bucketfest, as the Wizards eked out a 123-122 victory. And we all saw Stephen Curry and the Dubs light up Washington for 134 points on Wednesday.

    "Defensively, we’ve been bad for a couple weeks, maybe even a month," Jared Dudley told Jorge Castillo of the Washington Post before that contest.

    I guess that means bad got worse.

    This is an alarming trend for a team that entered this season with hopes of a top-four seed in the East. There are plenty of ways to win, but very few of them involve having one of the NBA's 10 worst defensive ratings.

    John Wall has been impressive lately, even if his 41 points against Golden State got swallowed up by Curry's 51-point outburst. But the Wiz need more than one productive player to turn this thing around.

    In fact, they may need a total defensive overhaul.

22. Denver Nuggets

9 of 30

    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Last Week: 25

    Moving the Denver Nuggets up after a 1-2 week obviously has more to do with the peripherals than the record.

    Led by the delightfully crafty and effective Nikola Jokic (until a shoulder injury limited him in a loss to the Utah Jazz on Wednesday), the Nuggets have been competitive against a tough slate. They took the Indiana Pacers to overtime on the road, then beat the Toronto Raptors handily before falling by four to the Jazz.

    Jokic has been a revelation, scoring efficiently from all over the floor and flashing vision uncommon in a center. His 27 points, 14 rebounds and four assists against the Raps might have been the most exciting individual stats of Denver's season. Take whatever excitement that surrounded Jusuf Nurkic's promising rookie campaign and quadruple it.

    "I know Nikola Jokic and I wouldn't trade him for anybody in the world," Nuggets head coach Mike Malone said after the Toronto game, per Harrison Wind of BSN Denver. "He's a special young man, he's a special young talent and he's only going to get better as he continues to get stronger, learn the NBA, finishing around the basket, defensively."

    Solid overall play and what looks like a true cornerstone in Jokic have things looking up for the Nugs.

21. Sacramento Kings

10 of 30

    Rich Pedroncelli/Associated Press

    Last Week: 19

    The good news: Sacramento won a game without DeMarcus Cousins, securing a 111-104 win against the Bucks on Monday. That result moved the Kings to 2-7 without Boogie on the season. Oddly, the only other win without Cousins also came against Milwaukee back on Nov. 25.

    The bad news: The Kings have gone out of their way to give back the ground they gained with a five-game winning streak in mid-January. Losers of five out of their last six games, Sacramento's brief stay at the No. 8 spot in the West feels like eons ago.

    Slow starts and bad defense have been the big issues for the Kings, who've allowed at least 30 points in five straight first quarters.

    What's the problem, George Karl?

    "You think I know?" Karl said, per Jason Jones of the Sacramento Bee. "If I knew … it’s a nightmare. I’ve never had this many games on your homecourt, come out flat."

    The Kings play fast, are generally entertaining and Cousins is a unique force down low. But if the defensive effort and focus look like this going forward, we can officially put an end to the Kings-in-the-playoffs dream.

20. New Orleans Pelicans

11 of 30

    Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

    Last Week: 20

    It took more than three months, but we know what the New Orleans Pelicans are now: a middling team that beats the bad teams and, generally, loses to good ones.

    Case in point: Since Jan. 13, the Pellies have lost five times—twice to the Memphis Grizzlies and once each to the Rockets, Spurs and Lakers. In that same span, they've beaten the Kings (twice), Hornets, Timberwolves, Pistons, Bucks and Nets.

    It's not hard to parse out the weak from the strong in that group, with the only deviation being a three-point loss to the Lakers on Thursday. Based on the bulk of the Pelicans' results, it's pretty clear they're smack in the middle.

    Injuries have helped put them here, but it's disappointing nonetheless.

    With New Orleans finally opening up to the idea of moving Tyreke Evans, and Anthony Davis' continued strong play, we might see the Pels push up into the mid-teens before long. But that feels like their ceiling, and the recent stretch of predictable wins and losses supports that thinking.

19. New York Knicks

12 of 30

    Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

    Last Week: 15

    A win over the Suns last Friday represents the lone bright spot for the New York Knicks, who've lost seven of their last eight games since hitting the elusive .500 mark on Jan. 20.

    Fortunately, head coach Derek Fisher has maintained perspective.

    "There are not a lot of elite teams that are depending on rookies to carry the day," Fisher said on The Michael Kay Show on ESPN 98.7 FM (via Ian Begley of ESPN.com)." So we have to be reasonable about who we are and where we are and accept what is and not get caught up in what we should be and allow other people to define what our success is."

    That sounds a lot like an excuse, but it's really a thoughtful take on where the Knicks are as an organization.

    Fisher's right, and even if the recent results—fraught with defensive miscues, shaky shooting and a few too many turnovers—are discouraging, the long-term picture is promising.

18. Charlotte Hornets

13 of 30

    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    Last Week: 21

    The Hornets are relevant again after winning five of their last seven games and getting Michael Kidd-Gilchrist back into the rotation.

    Capped by a 106-97 win over the Cavaliers (without Kemba Walker, who sat with a knee injury), Charlotte is inching back toward the break-even mark after a brutal early-January slide. Health has been a factor, as Nicolas Batum, Cody Zeller and Jeremy Lamb all returned to the rotation in the win over the Cavs. Each had missed time in the preceding week.

    The Detroit Pistons have a slim lead on the Hornets for the No. 8 spot in the East, and as we'll see shortly, Detroit isn't exactly looking like a playoff lock.

    It's been an up-and-down season for Charlotte, marred in part by injuries and a disappearing defense. But this latest stretch feels promising, and Al Jefferson's eventual return should provide another boost—whether he's a contributor or a trade chip.

17. Detroit Pistons

14 of 30

    Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

    Last Week: 11

    Don't think of the Pistons' sizable six-spot drop as a punishment. Really, it's more of a reassessment.

    We got a little too high on a team with a limited bench and little outside shooting. And now that the defense has head coach Stan Van Gundy fuming on a nightly basis, there's not much evidence suggesting the Pistons are anything more than a mid-tier team.

    That might not be the case if injuries weren't also an issue, but Jodie Meeks suffered a setback in his return from a broken foot, and a good chunk of the rotation—Ersan Ilyasova, Reggie Jackson and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope—is nursing its own nicks as well.

    Unhappy (as usual) but still somewhat optimistic, Van Gundy sees hope, according to Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press: "I don’t know if that’s fatigue catching up 50 games in and we’re in a tough stretch of the schedule where we’re playing a lot … but I know we’re a lot better defensively than what we’ve shown the last few weeks."

    Maybe Thursday's win over the Knicks (in which New York shot just 42.9 percent from the field) is a sign Van Gundy is right.

16. Portland Trail Blazers

15 of 30

    Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports

    Last Week: 18

    The Portland Trail Blazers strung together a season-best five-game winning streak before falling to the Raptors on Thursday, a stretch you might think deserved more than a two-spot jump in the rankings.

    Maybe that's true, but we're getting into respectable-team territory, and upward mobility is harder to come by here. Not only that, but the Blazers also put that run together at home against a pushover parade: the Lakers, Kings, Hornets, Wolves and Bucks.

    There's something to be said for taking care of business, but we can't get carried away by win totals without scrutinizing the circumstances.

    Still, Portland is entrenched as a playoff hopeful. And with the Kings falling by the wayside, it looks like the Blazers will fight it out with the Jazz and Rockets for the final two spots in the West—assuming, of course, Portland keeps its head above water when the schedule toughens up considerably this month.

15. Chicago Bulls

16 of 30

    Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

    Last Week: 13

    Derrick Rose is getting better, climbing up from the pitiably low baseline he set in November and December with a more aggressive style and greater shooting efficiency.

    Nick Friedell of ESPN.com elaborated:

    From a statistical standpoint, Rose definitely has gotten better. He is shooting 56.6 percent from the field since the calendar turned to 2016 and almost 37 percent of those shots have been layups. That's up from 33 percent from October through December. The other noticeable jump comes from Rose's shots inside the paint. From October through December, he was shooting just 42.6 percent from that area. That number has risen to 50.4 percent since Jan. 1.

    Not a stat, but also important: Rose is feeling like himself.

    This comes at a good time, as Jimmy Butler missed his first game of the season with knee tendinitis on Wednesday, and Nikola Mirotic's return date remains uncertain following a pair of operations to treat appendicitis and a hematoma.

    Despite Rose's improvement, the Bulls take a tumble after losing to the Clips and Jazz this past week. And given the struggles we've already chronicled for the Kings, that lone win doesn't count for much either.

    If Butler and Mirotic get back relatively quickly and Mike Dunleavy (who rejoined the team after recovery from offseason back surgery) provides anything at all on the wing, the Bulls could still put together a second-half push—one that'll still depend on Rose sustaining the gains he's made.

    Color me skeptical.

14. Indiana Pacers

17 of 30

    Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

    Last Week: 14

    Indiana corrected course this week, winning two of its three games and making it to overtime in its lone loss against the Cavaliers.

    That defeat, though, was a perfect example of what's been so frustrating for Pacers fans all season. Steady defense and the promise of rookie Myles Turner gave way to late-game offensive sequences that resulted in collapse. Turner forgot a play at the end of regulation, forcing Monta Ellis to attempt a horrible game-winner, and then the Pacers stood around and took more awful shots in the extra period.

    There's a lot to like about this team, especially if Turner keeps developing into the rim-protecting stretch 5 many see him becoming. But until the offense gets to a point where it actually threatens opponents when it matters, those other things may not matter.

13. Houston Rockets

18 of 30

    Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

    Last Week: 8

    A home win on Tuesday over the banged-up Miami Heat can't save the Rockets from slippage. Neither can a six-point defeat of the Suns on Thursday.

    Earlier losses to OKC and Washington piled onto a defense severely exposed by the 130 points it allowed the Spurs back on Jan. 27. As a result, Houston's defensive rating now sits in the league's bottom five, a far cry from the sixth spot it occupied last year.

    That's no way to stay in the top 10, particularly when Terrence Jones is getting into car wrecks on the way to team flights and Dwight Howard is getting suspended for swiping at referees' arms.

    Houston is still in playoff position, still has James Harden propping up the offense and still has the flexibility to make major changes at the trade deadline if it wants to.

    Moderate success and a bright future don't usually look this bad.

12. Dallas Mavericks

19 of 30

    Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

    Last Week: 12

    Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is a brilliant writer, a deep thinker and one of the best players the NBA has ever seen. He's not one of these old-timers who besmirches every modern-day star out of some weird self-aggrandizing belief that today's players are softer and, therefore, worse than the ones who lumbered up and down the floor in his day.

    But he's wrong.

    Dirk Nowitzki is not, as Abdul-Jabbar put it, "a one-trick pony." And he was, despite Kareem's insistence to the contrary, a dominant player.

    "I guess he's not a big fan of my game, which is OK," Nowitzki told Tim MacMahon of ESPN.com. "But I like to think I was dominant at some point—especially on the offensive end—of my career, in my prime."

    With an MVP, over a decade's worth of truly elite offensive production and a ring, Nowitzki was absolutely dominant. And he's only a one-trick pony if his one trick is being really, really good at basketball.

    Sorry, are we supposed to be ranking the Dallas Mavericks in this space? OK, here: Dallas went 2-2 last week, so it holds steady at No. 12.

    Seriously, though: Come off it, Kareem. You're starting to sound like the rest of your "we used to walk five miles to school in the snow" brethren.

11. Utah Jazz

20 of 30

    Melissa Majchrzak/Getty Images

    Last Week: 17

    Let's hear it for homestands!

    Thanks to a protracted stretch of games in Salt Lake City, the Utah Jazz have amassed a season-best four-game winning streak. And while the competition wasn't sturdy, this stretch of success is different from the one that only pushed the similarly streaking Blazers up two spots.

    Utah is getting healthier, and its defense is starting to look more like the smothering outfit it was last season. More than the time spent at home, it's the return to prominence of the Jazz's top talents driving this surge. Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors are finally back on the floor together, and Gordon Hayward has been piling up numbers like crazy.

    He put up 27 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists in a win over Jimmy Butler's Bulls on Monday.

    Toss in Rodney Hood solidifying his spot as a legitimately talented scorer, and you have a dangerous team—one with the fifth-best average margin of victory in the West. And that's not some stat inflated by early-season performance. It's reflective of the Jazz hitting their stride now, and we should expect the margin to increase going forward.

    It took a long time, but Utah finally seems to be delivering on the offseason hype last year's second-half run promised.

10. Miami Heat

21 of 30

    LM Otero/Associated Press

    Last Week: 16

    Battling through a road-heavy chunk of the schedule seems to have galvanized the Miami Heat, who've won five of their last six and, improbably, took the second half of a back-to-back set in Texas by beating the Mavs on Wednesday.

    Hassan Whiteside returned in that contest after missing six games with a strained oblique, and though it's a mistake to think he's some kind of cure-all, he's certainly a helpful piece when motivated. And he sure looked motivated against Dallas, piling up 10 points, nine rebounds and five blocks in just 17 minutes.

    If the mercurial big man is as dialed in as he seemed against the Mavericks, Miami will be in fine shape.

    And it can only help matters that head coach Erik Spoelstra's tweaked offense has many of his team's role players looking a lot happier, per Ethan Skolnick of the Miami Herald: "There were smiles at Tuesday’s morning shootaround, smiles about tweaks to the offensive system that—since they were implemented at a practice nine days earlier in Chicago—had seemed to switch the Heat into a higher, faster, better gear."

    If the Heat start scoring more (their offense still ranks 24th in the league), they'll really be up to something.

9. Atlanta Hawks

22 of 30

    Chris Szagola/Associated Press

    Last Week: 10

    Jeff Teague picked a good time to have a revival, as his 32 points helped Atlanta knock off the Mavs at home on Monday. Then, the Hawks spread it around historically well in a blowout win over the Sixers on Wednesday, as they set a record for the most points scored in a game (124) without anyone getting more than 15 on his own.

    Eight Hawks hit double figures in that contest, and even if it came against the 76ers, it was still impressive. Ideally, Atlanta will be able to channel that collective spirit—which was integral in its phenomenal 2014-15 season and is still alive in its defensive execution. Even with the offense coming and going, the Hawks have consistently ranked in the league's top 10 in defensive efficiency.

    January didn't end well with the Hawks losing five of six to close the month. But a strong start and a February schedule that features just one foe from the West will give Atlanta a chance to distinguish itself as a top-four playoff seed.

8. Boston Celtics

23 of 30

    Chris Szagola/Associated Press

    Last Week: 9

    How about a little clarity?

    The Boston Celtics provided some this past week, solidifying their position as (we're pretty sure) the third-best team in the East.

    Though far from perfect, the C's have won seven of their last eight games and have been mostly convincing in their efforts. Those seven wins have come by an average of 13.7 points per game.

    Yes, Boston could use a star. And sure, it'd be nice if it wasn't quite so reliant on its defense. But at the same time, the Celtics' depth and stopping power are part of the reason it now feels safe to elevate them above everyone other than the Raptors and Cavs in the East. Those traits are sustainable, and we have enough evidence now to suggest the Celtics aren't going to slip.

    If Boston can make good use of David Lee via trade, they could further stabilize their position in the conference.

7. Los Angeles Clippers

24 of 30

    Danny Moloshok/Associated Press

    Last Week: 6

    A 108-102 home loss to the Timberwolves on Wednesday stands out as a real blemish, but the Clippers are still 15-4 since Blake Griffin went down, and they've pushed their net rating up to plus-5.0 on the season, fifth-best in the league.

    No wonder Doc Rivers was named Western Conference Coach of the Month in January.

    Integrating Griffin back into the fold at some undetermined future date (his broken hand and potential league-mandated discipline make it hard to pin down his return) will be a challenge, though probably one the Clippers will welcome.

    As intriguing as some of their small-ball lineups have been, and as tantalizing as all the spacing Griffin's absence at the elbow creates, it's hard to make the case L.A. is a more dangerous team without him.

6. Memphis Grizzlies

25 of 30

    Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

    Last Week: 7

    An undefeated week and 10 wins in their last 12 games help the Memphis Grizzlies move into their highest position of the season, leapfrogging the Clippers and putting all those who questioned the efficacy of old-school big ball on notice.

    It's still true that the Grizzlies' lack of perimeter shooting will make them vulnerable against a good team in a playoff series, but there'll be time to worry about that later. For now, it's only fair to celebrate the Grizzlies' relentless adherence to their identity.

    These guys tried to go smaller, and it never clicked, as noted by Michael Lee of The Vertical:

    Even members of the Grizzlies accepted the change as something the team had to make to avoid getting dusted by the Golden State Warriors and all of their copycats—until coach Dave Joerger realized he couldn't fully pull the plug on what defined Memphis and brought back to life the familiar style that best fit his personnel.

    Memphis knows who it is, and it's been giving opponents a familiar pounding for weeks now. It certainly helps that Jeff Green, the Grizzlies' leading scorer in each of their last four wins, has suddenly started producing. But this is mostly about a team leaning on its flawed but familiar and successful identity.

5. Toronto Raptors

26 of 30

    Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

    Last Week: 4

    After cresting at No. 4 a week ago, the Raptors slip back into the familiar No. 5 spot. If not for a surprising loss at Denver on Monday, Toronto would likely have held onto its highest-ever position.

    This was about the time last year when things went south in a hurry for the Raps. After a start even better than the one they've put together in 2015-16, Toronto fell apart, finishing with a 16-16 mark and getting throttled in its first-round playoff series against the Wizards.

    The signs that preceded last year's collapse aren't there this time around. In particular, the Raptors defense remains sturdy. But it's still worth mentioning that we've seen this team reach similar heights (and topple from them) before.

    One loss in its last month of play is hardly cause for alarm, though. Toronto is closer to overtaking the conference-leading Cavs than it is to slipping back toward the pack.

4. Cleveland Cavaliers

27 of 30

    Sam Sharpe-USA TODAY Sports

    Last Week: 5

    The Cavs fell below the Raptors a week ago, and they lost an ugly one to the Hornets on Wednesday. So the case was there for keeping Cleveland behind Toronto.

    Or at least it would have been if some of the changes under head coach Tyronn Lue hadn't looked so promising.

    Though the Cavaliers have yet to play at the pace Lue wants, and though their defense has been alarmingly generous in allowing 108.3 points per 100 possessions since Jan. 21, the Cavaliers look happier. They seem to be enjoying themselves for the first time since, well...since they came together in the first place.

    Kevin Love's getting more touches, and the team is selectively taking advantage of its breakaway opportunities, which is keeping everyone engaged and satisfied.

    All the numbers and metrics matter, and little suggests the Cavs are any different under Lue than they were under David Blatt, but something feels different.

    Oh, they also knocked off the Spurs by 14 on Saturday. Maybe we buried the lede on that one.

3. Oklahoma City Thunder

28 of 30

    Layne Murdoch/Getty Images

    Last Week: 3

    The Thunder have won some tight ones lately, and if not for a couple of clutch plays, we might have seen them slip to No. 4 for the first time in weeks. But OKC escaped Minnesota with a three-point win on Jan. 27 and beat the Magic with a Kevin Durant game-winner on Wednesday.

    So all's well.

    Actually, all's great. Russell Westbrook is having an MVP season in a universe without Stephen Curry, piling up three straight triple-doubles, and Durant has led the team in scoring in all three of those contests. Now that's how you keep two superstars happy.

    OKC will get its first crack at the Warriors on Saturday, and a good effort there (win or lose) could be enough to move them into second place next week. That's because the current occupant has had some issues lately.

2. San Antonio Spurs

29 of 30

    Eric Gay/Associated Press

    Last Week: 2

    Nearly two decades into one of the greatest NBA careers of all time, we shouldn't need reminders of Tim Duncan's greatness.

    We got one anyway, as the Spurs have lacked defensive punch and (gasp!) lost another game since Timmy went out with a sore knee on Jan. 25. The league leader in ESPN's Defensive Real Plus-Minus metric, Duncan's presence on the floor has been integral to San Antonio's wild success this season. The Spurs' defensive rating with Duncan on the court is 92.2, more than four points better than when he sits and, remarkably, lower than Kawhi Leonard's on-court rating of 94.2.

    "(Duncan is) our base from which everything else emanates," head coach Gregg Popovich told Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News. "Everybody else knows how to operate based on who he is and what he does. That’s my biggest concern in the game, really—him not being there for everybody to move around."

    You can futz around with on-off numbers and get some misleading results, but it's difficult to ignore the way Duncan's defensive impact defines the Spurs. And it's even harder to look past the fact that they've lost to both the Warriors and Cavs since he got hurt.

    That's a big deal, as those are two of the three other legitimate title threats in the league.

    San Antonio stays put at No. 2 for now, but with Duncan possibly sitting out until after the All-Star break, it's in more danger of sliding down a spot than at any point this season.

1. Golden State Warriors

30 of 30

    Alex Brandon/Associated Press

    Last Week: 1

    The Warriors' current eight-game tear has only been threatened once, and even if Harrison Barnes hadn't hit that game-winning three against the Sixers last Saturday, nobody would have been concerned about the Dubs taking care of business in overtime.

    Curry shook off a modest slump to pepper the Wizards for 51 points and 11 made threes on Wednesday, and Klay Thompson strung together consecutive scoring totals of 45, 32, and 34 points last week. Draymond Green logged his 10th triple-double of the season against Washington, and outside of that 134-121 win, the Warriors' defensive focus has returned.

    On the year, they've bumped their defensive rating all the way up to third.

    With San Antonio slipping and the Cavaliers working through their own issues, the gap between the Dubs and everyone else feels wider than ever these days. At this point, the greatest threat to their pursuit of 73 wins is boredom.

    Stats courtesy of NBA.com and Basketball-Reference.com and are accurate through Thursday's games.

🚨 SPORTS NEWS ➡️ YOUR INBOX

The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.


X