2017 NBA Power Rankings: How Every Team Stacks Up After 50 Games
Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors are capitalizing on a corps of contenders working through flaws of one sort or another. Though, to be fair, the Dubs' current level of play would put them in a class by themselves even if the rest of the league's elite were at full strength.
Elsewhere in the rankings, a pair of Eastern Conference teams that once felt like playoff locks are hitting the skids, while two former Western Conference bottom-feeders are on the rise.
We're 50 games into the 2016-17 season, and several clubs are just now hitting their strides. Better late than never, though. Isn't that right, Washington Wizards?
Rankings factor in record, advanced metrics and gut feeling—with recent performances generally mattering more than season-long stats. Health is a consideration as well. A team is only as strong as the roster it can put on the floor.
30. Brooklyn Nets
←→ No Movement
You have to break out the black lights and zoom lenses—I mean really CSI-style scrutinize the tiniest details—to find positives for the Brooklyn Nets, who've lost seven straight and 18 of their last 19 games.
One such microscopic speck of hope in the Nets' vast universe of despair: rookie Caris LeVert, who has scored in double figures in three of his last four games, shown smooth shot-creation skills and handled the ball well enough to earn the trust of head coach Kenny Atkinson.
"I think like right now, I feel like he’s a darn good pick-and-roll player," Atkinson told reporters after LeVert failed to score and committed a critical turnover in the final six minutes of Brooklyn's 109-106 loss to the Miami Heat on Jan. 25. "He did some good things and he made some young mistakes....We felt like we liked the matchup, we like him with the ball in pick-and-roll."
Despite the shaky performance, and even after sitting out his next game entirely, LeVert played 27 minutes per game in his final three contests of the week.
The Nets don't have much choice. LeVert is one of their only resources worth developing.
29. Phoenix Suns
↓ 4 Spots
Devin Booker has scored at least 20 points in 14 straight games, and Eric Bledsoe has cracked the 40-point barrier in three of his last six.
A fat lot of good all those points have done the Phoenix Suns, who went 0-3 this week while surrendering at least 115 points in all three defeats.
Booker gets a pass because of his youth, but Bledsoe's occasional check-outs on D should inspire significant brake-pumping by anyone advocating for him as an All-Star snub. Yes, the per-game averages of 21.6 points, 6.2 assists and 5.0 rebounds stand out. But when you realize Bledsoe's role is to dominate the ball on a team bereft of supporting talent, it's easy to understand how he accumulates those figures.
It's a "somebody's got to get numbers" situation.
And when you watch Mike Conley torch him for a career-high 38 points during a 115-96 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies on Monday, you see the whole picture.
Only the Nets have fewer wins than Phoenix, whose imploding defense allowed a ghastly 118.4 points per 100 possessions this week.
28. Los Angeles Lakers
↑ 1 Spot
Meet Ivica Zubac, the Los Angeles Lakers' second-rounder who has posted a trio of double-doubles and impressed with his touch and timing since working his way into the rotation in late January.
That contest offered hints as to how much better the 19-year-old center might be with the right pieces around him. D'Angelo Russell returned from a calf injury in that contest and posted 22 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds. Gifted with innate pick-and-roll instincts, Russell made the most of Zubac's good footwork and sneaky ability to finish floaters in the lane.
If there's a downside to Zubac's emergence, it's the way it casts an even less favorable light on L.A.'s signing of Timofey Mozgov, who is in the first season of a four-year, $64 million deal and has one fewer double-double despite playing in 34 more games (and seeing more minutes on average) than Zubac.
A 1-1 record this week results in a move up the ladder, but a road-heavy slate in February means this might be as high as the Lakers climb for a while.
27. Orlando Magic
↑ 1 Spot
Credit the Orlando Magic for not falling into the sunk cost fallacy.
Sean Deveney of Sporting News reports they're shopping Serge Ibaka. Though unlikely to get a return package as strong as the one they sent out to get him from the Oklahoma City Thunder in June (Victor Oladipo and the pick that became Domantas Sabonis), at least the Magic aren't stubbornly sticking to their guns and keeping him in hopes he'll stay as a free agent.
Incidentally, Deveney also reports Ibaka is likely to bolt Orlando this summer. Hence the push to move him.
Partly because Ibaka hasn't delivered the defensive impact expected, the Magic have lost five of their last six games and are struggling to stay on the fringes of the playoff picture. Compounding their failed efforts to win in the present, the Magic also aren't seeing development from the players they thought would shape their future.
Mario Hezonja, the No. 5 overall pick in 2015, can't even crack the rotation anymore. He hasn't played in Orlando's last three games, and whether he'll play in a given game has become a "day-to-day" decision, head coach Frank Vogel told reporters.
The Magic's 114-113 win over the Toronto Raptors on Sunday is enough to earn a one-spot jump, but the big picture remains a mess.
26. New York Knicks
↑ 1 Spot
Maybe Carmelo Anthony's 45-point night in that quadruple-overtime loss to the Atlanta Hawks on Sunday will help solicit more trade offers. Either way, the New York Knicks seem committed to pursuing their options, as ESPN.com's Marc Stein and Ramona Shelburne report they're still looking for ways to pry Kevin Love from the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Anthony can still score, even if he has to do it with more jumpers and fewer bullying drives to the rim these days. If the Knicks were willing to bottom out, moving their veteran star (who didn't make the All-Star team for the first time in seven seasons) could help them do it.
New York has mostly been competitive of late, going 3-5 in its last eight games, seven of which were decided by single digits.
Dealing Melo would be difficult for a franchise that has never given much thought to the future, but it may be the right decision. Depending on how you interpret Anthony's tweet Tuesday, he's either encouraging the Knicks to bite the bullet and move him or asserting his willingness to stick it out in a tough situation.
"Running away from things you find unpleasant causes suffering. But facing and challenging such situations will enrich your life," he tweeted.
Have fun psychoanalyzing that one.
25. Sacramento Kings
↓ 5 Spots
The Sacramento Kings are finally home after an eight-game road trip concluded this week with a brutal stretch of four games in five nights.
DeMarcus Cousins earned Player of the Week honors for the Western Conference, but his team only managed to win one of those four contests. In one of them, Monday's loss to the Philadelphia 76ers, he became the third player since 1983-84 to score at least 46 points on 16 or fewer shots.
Garrett Temple has quietly been the Kings' most reliable wing player this season, and his hamstring injury against the Houston Rockets on Tuesday will further compromise a rotation already missing Rudy Gay. He's slated to miss two to three weeks, according to Jason Jones of the Sacramento Bee.
Rookie Malachi Richardson has flashed a smooth jumper but little else, and we should be past the point of welcoming another make-good stretch of playing time for Ben McLemore.
The mercurial and sporadically used Willie Cauley-Stein is seeing more consistent minutes of late, and Sacramento badly needs him to stay focused enough to retain that role. There were several instances on the trip in which Cousins looked completely exhausted. Another viable big man could take some of the burden off the Kings' best player.
With injuries mounting and roles in flux, the Kings slip.
24. New Orleans Pelicans
↓ 3 Spots
A win over the San Antonio Spurs kicked the week off right, as Terrence Jones turned in another big effort off the bench and Anthony Davis helped dominate the glass with 22 rebounds. Misfortune struck after that, though, as the New Orleans Pelicans dropped their next three games—with Kyle Lowry's dagger in Toronto on Tuesday standing out as the most painful defeat.
Staying the course amid deflating losses like the one against the Raptors will be tough, but even after a difficult week, the Pelicans are still in the multiteam free-for-all vying for that eighth spot in the West.
"The only thing I keep telling these guys, and I truly believe this, is that if we play to the level we're capable of playing, we're capable of beating anybody," head coach Alvin Gentry told Justin Verrier of ESPN.com after beating the Spurs. "I truly believe that. This week we've kind of proven that with wins over the world champs and a team that has an opportunity to win a championship. That says a lot."
To that end, the consistent on-court presence of Davis will help. He played at least 33 minutes in each Pelicans game this week after losing sporadic time to a quad injury.
23. Detroit Pistons
↑ 1 Spot
Nobody's going to stop Isaiah Thomas, but Reggie Jackson caught particular heat after getting torched by the Boston Celtics All-Star on Monday. Go ahead and search Twitter for Jackson's name and try to find a single positive comment among the deluge of "I'm done with him" sentiments.
If that doesn't do it for you, just scope the on-off numbers. With Jackson on the floor, Detroit gets outscored by 8.3 points per 100 possessions. When he sits, the Pistons actually top their opponents by two points per 100 possessions.
Just in terms of wins and losses, Detroit was 11-10 before Jackson rejoined the roster in December. Since then, it's 11-17.
And it's not like Jackson's backup is a world-beater. It's Ish Smith, a deeply flawed, defensively challenged journeyman. So the frustration seems warranted.
On the bright side, at least lambasting Jackson gives everyone a break from questioning whether Andre Drummond is the real problem.
Detroit went 1-3 this week, and its head-to-head 20-point win is the only thing keeping it above the Pelicans.
22. Milwaukee Bucks
↓ 6 Spots
These are dark times for the Milwaukee Bucks, who've lost four in a row and nine of their last 10 overall.
Hopefully for the panicked masses of Bucks fans, Thon Maker's 12-point, three-block effort in Wednesday's blowout loss to the Utah Jazz provides some hope. Maker got the start and hit three triples in that game, and as Milwaukee's hopes of making noise this season dwindle, seeing yet another possible piece of their future succeeding has to soothe the spirit a little.
The Bucks are a mess these days. They surrender more corner threes than anyone in the league, and their defensive rating has predictably suffered, falling to 21st after spending time in the top 10 not so long ago.
Khris Middleton's recovery from a torn hamstring is going well, with Bucks head coach Jason Kidd telling Charles F. Gardner of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: "He had a really good practice yesterday, a good shootaround. He's doing everything; he hasn't been subbed out for anything."
Then again, if this season continues down its current path, it might make more sense to delay Middleton's return until the start of the 2017-18 campaign.
21. Charlotte Hornets
↓ 8 Spots
After holding out hope that the Charlotte Hornets' positive peripheral numbers meant their slide was probably overblown and definitely correctable, it's time to finally face facts: This team might miss the playoffs.
Cody Zeller's absence, caused lately by a quad injury, is devastating. Charlotte is 1-11 in games he's missed, and the decision to deal Roy Hibbert and Spencer Hawes for Miles Plumlee, first reported by Marc Stein of ESPN.com, indicates just how vital a rolling big man is to the Hornets offense.
If Plumlee can approximate Zeller's hard dives to the hole for as long as Charlotte's starting center is out, maybe he'll juice the offense a bit.
The defense still shows signs of strength. Charlotte fouls less often than anyone in the league, and only the Pistons permit fewer offensive rebounds.
But at this point, with the Hornets having lost six in a row, the benefit of the doubt is gone.
20. Miami Heat
↑ 6 Spots
There's no better story in the league than the Miami Heat these days.
Winners of an incomprehensible nine straight games, Miami has gone from gunning for the top pick in the lottery to legitimate playoff contention on the strength of pure effort and the best stretch of Dion Waiters' career.
In addition to taking and making tons of difficult jumpers (several of which have iced games for the Heat), Waiters is contributing across the board. He's putting together block-dime-steal-layup sequences like he's Russell Westbrook.
And now, thanks to averages of 21.6 points, 4.7 rebounds and 4.6 assists in Miami's nine-game surge, Waiters has earned Eastern Conference Player of the Week honors.
Don't forget Goran Dragic, who's averaging 23.3 points, 6.4 assists and 4.8 rebounds in that same span.
Dig this: According to Tim Reynolds of the Associated Press, 77 of the last 80 teams to run up an eight-game winning streak have made the playoffs. So...Miami's a lock, right?
19. Minnesota Timberwolves
↑ 3 Spots
Head coach Tom Thibodeau didn't transform the Minnesota Timberwolves into a winner overnight, much to the disappointment of those expecting immediate success.
But nearly 50 games into his first season, Thibs is finally getting results.
"The thing that we've wanted since the beginning was to get in a rhythm and we're starting to find one," Karl-Anthony Towns told reporters after a 111-105 overtime win against the Magic on Monday. "Now it's just about staying disciplined, staying with the method that has been working and not deviating from the path."
Minnesota is 8-4 after starting January with a four-game losing streak, and the improvements are coming from the first unit. Since Jan. 15, Minnesota's starting five is plus-8.7 points per 100 possessions in 142 minutes, far better than the unit's full-season figure of minus-1.7.
Towns averaged 25.4 points, 12.9 rebounds and 3.7 assists while shooting 54.5 percent from the field in January, and as he's gotten more comfortable in Thibs' scheme, the alarming snoozes on D have decreased.
No small amount of Minnesota's recent success can be tied to a soft schedule, but the remaining February slate is home-heavy and features just five opponents above .500. That's a good setup for continued progress.
18. Philadelphia 76ers
↓ 4 Spots
Everyone's favorite NBA feel-good story hit a rut this week, as the Philadelphia 76ers defense, terrific for most of January, allowed at least 113 points in four of its five games—which produced a 1-4 record and necessitated a drop in our rankings.
Joel Embiid's sore knee prevented him from making Philly's four-game road trip, and the excessive caution with his injury was a reminder that despite the unexpected success this season, Philadelphia is still very much future-focused. And that's fine; the Sixers' work this year is mostly done.
They've flashed real potential, gotten confirmation that Embiid is a true franchise cornerstone and need just one more win to equal their highest single-season total (19) since this whole project began in 2013-14. In fact, their 10 wins in January equaled their total from all of last year.
Nerlens Noel makes two or three elite defensive-anchor-type plays a game, T.J. McConnell is scrapping his way to regular double-digit assist totals, and every win brings delightful cat raising.
The vibes are good, even if the Sixers' ranking takes a hit this week for the first time in a while.
17. Denver Nuggets
←→ No Movement
These are interesting times for the Denver Nuggets, who, after putting up typically big totals against the Suns and Lakers, learned points were harder to come by against the Grizzlies—especially with Nikola Jokic sidelined.
The league's leader in player efficiency rating for January, Jokic missed all three contests this week due to a hip strain, as the Nugs went 1-2 and managed just 99 points against Memphis.
Jamal Murray picked up some of the slack with 18 points in a 123-112 win over the Suns on Saturday, and if Denver's stance on moving Emmanuel Mudiay goes from possible to probable, he'll get a chance to see consistent minutes going forward.
That's a good thing, as Murray's shot-making and smooth handle make him the kind of dual-threat point guard so many good offenses are built around.
Wilson Chandler wants out, per Sam Amick of USA Today, which turns this Denver team into one of the most intriguing trade-deadline figures.
16. Dallas Mavericks
↑ 7 Spots
You can't do much better than wins against the Spurs and Cavaliers on back-to-back nights.
Highlighted by that remarkable two-step, the Dallas Mavericks' recent play has them within striking distance of a playoff spot, and if there were any justice, they'd be awarded the No. 8 seed right now in recognition of head coach Rick Carlisle's unmatched quotability.
"We're a s--t team, but we're an underrated s--t team," he told reporters after beating the Cavs on Monday. "That's about as accurately as I can put it."
Dallas has won five of its last six games, and this run of success is remarkable for several reasons—not the least of which being the way the Mavs' offensive limitations present such major hurdles. They rank last in fast-break points and have the lowest free-throw rate in the league.
Scoring, for this group, never comes via the easy hoop.
Yet here they are, rising up the rankings and positioning themselves for a postseason push. A push, by the way, that they have more incentive to make than almost anyone else seeking that eighth spot. Dallas is old, it's not building for the future, and it owes Dirk Nowitzki another playoff run.
This is all the Mavs have to play for, and teams with that kind of singular focus are dangerous.
15. Portland Trail Blazers
↑ 4 Spots
Now that's how you close out a month.
The Portland Trail Blazers finished January with a five-game stretch that included wins over the Celtics and Grizzlies, and they were a last-second shot away from beating the Warriors on Sunday.
As a group, the Blazers have simply been better lately. But it's more fun to view this improvement as part of Damian Lillard's All-Star snub vendetta. After hanging 33 points on the Grizzlies during last Friday's win, Lillard was asked if being overlooked subconsciously motivated him.
"Not subconsciously," he told sideline reporter Brooke Olzendam. "Consciously."
In six games since switching up their starting lineup Jan. 20—going with Evan Turner and Noah Vonleh over Al-Farouq Aminu and Moe Harkless—the Blazers are 4-2 with a plus-4.7 net rating. That's a tiny sample, and it runs counter to so much of what made the team successful last year. Even this season, we've used this space to laud Aminu's versatility and defensive value. But his 26.2 percent stroke from deep makes him virtually unplayable.
It'll be worth monitoring this personnel move as Portland continues its push for a playoff spot.
14. Chicago Bulls
↑ 1 Spot
With last week's veteran sniping apparently behind them, the Chicago Bulls got back to work this week, going 2-1 and topping 120 points in two straight games after reaching that plateau just once all season.
Managing that kind of offensive output is incredible for a Bulls team that is still plagued by terrible spacing and all the troubles it brings. Chicago ranks dead last in points per play from the roll man in the pick-and-roll, which is a natural result of defenders packing the middle and daring perimeter shooters to beat them.
Cramming the lane should make it impossible for Chicago to score.
Pair those offensive issues with the potential for more drama and/or trades, and the Bulls remain an unstable outfit. Still, they've played well enough of late to warrant a slight move up.
13. Indiana Pacers
↑ 5 Spots
"He had the ankle injury (earlier this season) and I think he's finally getting back to himself that I saw in the summer time in being really athletic in getting to the rim," Jeff Teague told reporters afterward. "That dunk was special."
Indiana is a season-best four games above .500 after quietly going 10-4 since Jan. 1.
You still worry about the negative net rating because it suggests the Pacers are getting lucky in close games. But if George continues to show out, it'll get easier to trust them in tight situations.
There's nothing like a superstar finding his groove to inspire confidence in a team's outlook.
12. Los Angeles Clippers
←→ No Movement
Positive: Blake Griffin looked bouncier than he has for months in Wednesday's 124-114 win over the Suns.
Negative: Griffin's Los Angeles Clippers were rent asunder in a 46-point loss to the Warriors on Saturday that actually wasn't as close as the score suggests.
Positive: Griffin threw a super-sweet between-the-legs dime to J.J. Redick during that Suns win.
Negative: The Warriors smashed the Clips again on Thursday.
The constant amid these ups and downs has been garbage defense, which we should have seen coming when Chris Paul went down with that torn thumb ligament. Los Angeles is 12.4 points per 100 possessions worse defensively without CP3 on the floor this season.
There's no shame in getting roasted by the Warriors twice in a week. In fact, several sovereign states prohibit two dates against the Dubs in a week as part of a broader anti-torture legislation. The NBA is crueler, it seems.
L.A. gets to stick at No. 12 because we are merciful, and because Griffin's fitness looks better than expected.
11. Oklahoma City Thunder
↓ 1 Spot
The Thunder's lack of shooting and capable wing play has made for a fragile offense all season, but losing Enes Kanter seems to have shattered it entirely.
OKC ranked 30th in the league this past week with an offensive rating of 88.3. That's not all because of Kanter's absence, but the Thunder's offense was like a three-legged stool—Russell Westbrook did everything, Victor Oladipo chipped in where he could and Kanter scored inside on post-ups, rolls and offensive boards.
Now, the Thunder are missing one of those legs. And it's not like asking Westbrook to take on a larger burden is even possible. Plus, the triple-double machine may be showing signs of fatigue. He's made under 44 percent of his shots in seven of his last eight games, falling below 40 percent five times.
If we could trust the Clippers, Pacers or Bulls more, the Thunder would have fallen another few spots. But to be fair, two of OKC's three losses this week came against the Spurs and Cavs. We can't get too harsh in light of the tough competition.
10. Toronto Raptors
↓ 1 Spot
Kyle Lowry's game-winner against the Pelicans helped Toronto avoid a 1-3 record this week.
With DeMar DeRozan's ankle still keeping him out of action and an offense now decidedly not on pace to make history, the Raptors are searching for someone besides Lowry to produce in the backcourt. Over their last four games, Cory Joseph and Terrence Ross both shot under 34 percent from the field.
Regression was always in the cards for a Raptors offense so largely reliant on DeRozan's mid-range shooting, but it was difficult to foresee them falling this far. Toronto's offensive rating ranks 22nd in the league since Jan. 15.
Compounding the problem: The Raptors are also quietly terrible on the glass, ranking 29th in defensive rebound percentage. If you can't score efficiently and you allow opponents second chances on the offensive boards, well...that's how you go from being a top-five club to flirting with a move outside the top 10.
9. Memphis Grizzlies
↑ 2 Spots
The Grizzlies went 3-1 this week with all three victories coming on the road—the most impressive of which, a 102-95 success in Utah on Saturday, was punctuated by 28 points and nine rebounds from Zach Randolph.
Actually, check that. The week's real apex was Z-Bo's dunking twice in the same game against Phoenix, which is basically the equivalent of seeing Bigfoot in the wild on two separate occasions.
It takes a lot to top Mike Conley's scoring a career-high 38 against Phoenix and Marc Gasol's setting a franchise record by tallying at least 28 points in five straight games, but two jams from Randolph are enough to do it.
Though the big moments have all had to do with points of late, the Grizzlies remain defined by their defense. They rank among the league leaders in both deflections and loose balls recovered.
Grit and grind forever.
8. Atlanta Hawks
↓ 1 Spot
The Hawks were the victims of poor timing this past week.
In sequence, they caught the scorching Wizards, the Knicks just after Anthony was denied an All-Star spot and the currently unbeatable Heat. It took an incredible 60 minutes (not to mention 37 points, 19 rebounds and seven assists) from Paul Millsap to get the Hawks past the Knicks in a quadruple-overtime win.
"It was fun. I don't ever want to do that again, but it was fun definitely," Millsap told reporters after the marathon.
Tim Hardaway Jr.'s 23 fourth-quarter points helped beat the Rockets on Thursday, but all that did was give Atlanta a break-even week.
Heroics from Millsap and Hardaway aside, Atlanta's two losses came by a combined total of 49 points. Result: The Hawks are now looking up at the Wizards in the Southeast Division.
7. Houston Rockets
↓ 1 Spot
Holding the Kings to 83 points Tuesday skews the numbers a bit, but the Rockets' issues lately haven't been on defense.
Surprisingly, it's their scoring that contributes to more lost ground in the rankings this week.
Since Jan. 15, Houston's offensive rating is only 12th in the league. For a squad that needs something like a top-three spot in offensive efficiency to scare opponents, that's not enough. It's no surprise, then, that the Rockets are just 5-6 in that span.
It's true Houston's schedule has been difficult, and with James Harden's line of 51 points, 13 rebounds and 13 assists against the Sixers making him the only player in history with multiple 50-point triple-doubles in the same season, it's difficult to get too discouraged.
But for the Rockets to get back into elite territory, they'll have to rediscover their scoring touch as a group.
6. Cleveland Cavaliers
↑ 2 Spots
LeBron James put the first losing month of his career since 2006 behind him by leading the Cavs to a 125-97 drubbing against the Timberwolves on Feb. 1.
So although that stumble at Dallas on Monday suggested Cleveland's issues aren't gone for good, it's hard to look too critically at a team that just won three of its last four games. Still, even if James was a little off the mark in his calls for more playmaking (it's the defense and effort, dude), the Cavs are apparently looking for help.
They worked out a handful of veteran free agents this week, headlined by Lance Stephenson, according to ESPN.com's Chris Haynes.
You have to wonder if Kyrie Irving's career-high 14 assists in that Minnesota win had anything to do with his team's search for facilitators earlier that same day.
5. Utah Jazz
↓ 2 Spots
It speaks to the Utah Jazz's offensive flaws when Joe Johnson becomes an increasingly critical component to success.
Ideally, Utah would be able to generate points by running effective pick-and-rolls or by penetrating from the perimeter off the dribble. But the Jazz don't have much in the way of break-you-down personnel, so playmaking duties are falling to Iso Joe more often.
"With the injuries on the wing, the opportunity for Joe to play minutes at the 4 hasn't been as prevalent," head coach Quin Snyder told reporters after Johnson's five assists helped Utah knock off the Bucks on Wednesday. "But the times that he's done it, he's done it very well. When he plays the 4 for us, he's a playmaker more than a stretch. He's known for creating shots for himself, but he's taken that threat and created for other people."
Utah's troubles on offense are relative. It still ranks 10th in scoring efficiency. And maybe as Alec Burks continues to find his legs, his burst will add a new element to the attack. Of course, Rodney Hood's hyperextended knee continues the season-long trend of "one in, one out" injury swaps.
4. Boston Celtics
↑ 1 Spot
It seems like we do this every week, but the first topic of conversation about the Celtics has to be Isaiah Thomas, who scored 19 of his 44 points in the fourth quarter of a comeback win against the Raptors on Wednesday, giving Boston its fifth victory in a row.
The defensive statistics indicate he does more harm than good, and the Celtics still get outscored in his fourth-quarter minutes. But it's hard to care about any of that when Thomas is pulling off trick shots and drilling 30-foot bombs in crunch time.
Having dispensed with that, here's an intriguing little non-Thomas-related mystery to monitor in Boston.
The Celts allow the second-most second-chance points per 100 possessions, which is a big reason their defense continues to underperform. You'd think Al Horford and his notoriously poor defensive rebounding would be the culprit, but the Celtics permitted an almost identical second-chance scoring rate last season.
Horford's off the hook on that one, but Boston will have to isolate the source of its diminished defense sooner or later.
3. Washington Wizards
↑ 1 Spot
Nobody in the East is hotter than the Wizards.
Winners of six in a row and 10 of their last 11, the Wiz are undefeated in their last 16 home games and own a 23-9 record since Dec. 1—the best mark in the East.
We know about John Wall running the show (see: 18 points and 19 assists against the Pelicans on Sunday). And we're well-apprised of both Otto Porter and Bradley Beal taking significant steps forward. As it turns out, whatever friction between Wall and Beal there may have been has dissipated amid all this success.
"I think it's (going) really well," Beal said of questions about his relationship with Wall, per Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN.com. "It's kind of getting old, people saying that we don't agree and that we don't click. We're just going out and proving it on the floor."
But how about that Wizards defense?
Since we last ranked, nobody has been stingier than Washington, which limited its four foes this week to just 96.1 points per 100 possessions.
It may always seem strange to have the Wizards up this high. But if they keep winning, there's nothing else to be done with them.
2. San Antonio Spurs
←→ No Movement
Whatever hiatus Kawhi Leonard's MVP candidacy took as Harden and Westbrook continued their stat-mongering ways needs to end.
In January, Leonard averaged 28.6 points, 5.2 rebounds and 3.5 assists while shooting 52.1 percent from the field and 42.7 percent from the three-point line. He now has 15 30-point games on the season, something no Spurs player has done since Tim Duncan in 2002-03.
Now, about those two losses.
San Antonio came out on the wrong end against New Orleans and Dallas this week, which would disqualify almost anyone else from retaining a top-two spot. But the Spurs' full-season net rating is more than six points higher than Washington's. And though the emphasis here is generally on recent play, it's too difficult to make the case the Wizards, objectively, are better than the Spurs right now.
If this feels at all unfair, please consult the last two decades of Spurs basketball, in which they prove time and again that minor slips never turn into prolonged declines.
1. Golden State Warriors
←→ No Movement
Stephen Curry is all the way back after a substandard (for him) couple of months to begin the season. He hit 20 of his 30 three-point attempts over a two-game span against the Clippers and Hornets this week, and Curry was so dominant that the Warriors' lead grew too big to necessitate his presence on the floor in either fourth quarter.
Zaza Pachulia's shoulder injury moves JaVale McGee into the starting unit, which will likely lead to even bigger offensive explosions for the league's best scoring team. The Warriors will give something back on D when McGee plays more, and any injury that increases the possibility of Anderson Varejao playing is a noteworthy one.
But if you're in search of real problems for this team, forget it.
Golden State is on pace to post the highest average margin of victory in league history, and it actually feels like we haven't seen the best from this team yet.
No. 1 with a bullet.