This week's Power Rankings see a return to the norm for our Conferences.
At the beginning of the season, there was chatter – with legitimate reason – that the East had finally, after 20 years, caught up to their Western cousins. The last few weeks have put that early Eastern Uprising firmly back in it's place.
The Jazz have won 7 straight, Houston have taken 7 from 9, Oklahoma City 10 of 12, whilst the Lakers have won 6 straight to assert themselves over the Western Conference. Even the previously struggling teams have found form: Memphis have roared back into playoff contention with 4 wins in 5 and the Pelicans have won 4 of their last 6.
Conversely, the East has plateaued. Brooklyn have lost 7 straight and Philadelphia lost 4 straight before righting the ship. The longest winning streak is 2 wins, shared by Orlando and Miami.
Throughout the season, Inside Sport will be bringing you our NBA Power Rankings. These are not necessarily ranking based on records. This is a purely subjective assessment of how a team is progressing, projected and playing.
All records are as of Thursday night Australian time.
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30. Atlanta Hawks (Steady)
(8-30 Record) Last week: 1-3
The Hawks claimed a big scalp this week, taking down the slumping Pacers behind 41 points from Trae Young. That performance and his 42 points against Houston take him to six 40 point games this season - 2nd in the league behind the bearded one. Still, there just isn't much help for the little fella.
John Collins' hasn't been on top of his game since returning from a PED suspension. He needs a pep in his step. Anyone know a way we could do that?
Atlanta also seem elbow deep into negotiations for Detroit's Andre Drummond. Whilst Drummond has lost a half step of his 2016 All NBA year athleticism, he's still an excellent pick up, assuming the trade gets done. He'll provide a modicum of rim protection and will of course clean the glass with aplomb – both sorely needed skills for Atlanta.
29. Golden State (Steady)
(9-30) Last week: 0-4
The Warriors surprising 4 game win streak is but a distant memory, buried by their subsequent 6 game skid. D'Angelo Russell is injured again and the offense has predictably cratered without him. There are always rumours of a Russell trade, but even taking into account GM Bob Myers very public statements about keeping the 2019 All Star, what would they realistically get for Russell right now given his stop-start season? Golden State would be wise to keep D'Lo and see if he can get some consistency, and hopefully some chemistry with Steph Curry, once he returns.
28. Cleveland Cavaliers (Down 1)
(10-26) Last week: 0-3
So....it appears that Kevin Love may want out of Cleveland.
If railing against his coach wasn't enough, and screaming at his GM wasn't enough (including the wonderfully pithy response of 'I can afford it' after Koby Altman fined him $1k for insubordination), and if accusing his teammates of lacking feel for the game wasn't enough, then perhaps trying to pass the ball through Cedi Osman might have given it away.
Of course, what was Love expecting (aside from the ability to easily afford thousand dollar fines) when he signed his 4 year, $120 million deal with the Cavs, after LeBron James had bolted?
27. New York Knicks (Down 2)
(10-28) Last week: 0-4
So, you praise them. Pump them up. Lift them 4 spots in your Power Rankings. And how do they repay you? With a 0-4 week. The life lesson is, kids, as always: never trust the New York Knicks.
In New York's defense (because someone on the Knicks has to do some defense) it was a tough schedule: Phoenix, Utah and the LA teams all away. Still, aside from one glorious 45 point burst in the opening stanza against the Clippers, the Knicks played like the Knicks. There was no defense, some average offense, and Bobby Portis in a bar fight.
It's not like help is on the way, either. The one trade piece that New York has is Marcus Morris, who has openly expressed his desire to stay with the franchise. For some reason.
26. Detroit Pistons (Steady)
(13-24) Last week: 1-2
The Pistons are on a stretch of a dozen games with only 3 wins. That, alongside Blake Griffin returning to the sidelines with injury seem to have finally dashed Detroit's hopes of building around an All Star front court.
To that end, Andre Drummond is very clearly being shopped, with reports indicating a trade to Atlanta is likely, although keep an eye on Boston. They appear to be satisfied with their centre platoon, but Danny Ainge will have something up his sleeve.
Once Drummond is eventually shipped out, Derrick Rose is logically next trade target up.
25. Washington Wizards (Up 3)
(12-25) Last week: 2-2
Beal? Not here. Hachimura? Not here, either. Bertans? Nope. Bryant? Absent. Miles? No. Wagner? He's not here. Wal.....oh, that's right.
So who is present and correct for the Washington Wizards? Well.....nobody of note, really. Garrison Matthews? Ish Smith? Gary Payton's a name we know....oh, Gary Payton II – my bad. Jordan McRae? He was good in the NBL. Anzejs Pasecniks? The fossilised remains of Isaiah Thomas might be the only recognisable, active NBA player on the floor for Washington at the moment.
Yet they've still beaten both Boston and Denver this week.
24. Chicago Bulls (Down 3)
(13-25) Last week: 0-4
Paul Simon once wrote a song about the Chicago Bulls.
The Bulls current 5 game losing skid has seen them tumble to a full 4 games out of the current playoff scene. Defensively they are solid – top 10 in the NBA – but they continue to struggle on offense. And perhaps with their sense of reality. After Saturday's loss to Boston, Zach Lavine said post match “I'm upset because I think we're just as good as them'. Uh, Zach.....you're really not.
23. Charlotte Hornets (Steady)
(15-25) Last week: 2-2
Terry Rozier has been on fire since the turn of the year. He's been putting up some scary (see what I did there?) numbers in January: 29 points, 5.7 assists, 46.7% shooting from beyond the arc with an astronomical 141 offensive rating.
Rozier's signing was perceived as a panic move to compensate for losing Kemba Walker, though he's quietly been very good for Charlotte. The key to that is playing in his natural role as a scoring guard, somewhat in the Ben Gordon mould. Devonte' Graham's rapid rise to a solid starting point guard has allowed Rozier to flourish as a pure scorer.
22. New Orleans Pelicans (Up 2)
(13-25) Last week: 2-2
Winners of 6 from 8, the Pellies are suddenly resembling the team that most thought they'd be – and they're still to throw Zion Williamson into the mix.
That run has taken New Orleans to the heights of....2nd last in the conference. That's how bad their early season form was. Still, progress is progress.
Talking of progress, Lonzo! Ball has torn it up since the Pels win against Houston, posting 21.4 points, 7.8 assists, 6.2 boards, 1.4 steals and 3.4 made 3 pointers per outing. That's Big Ballin'.
21. Memphis Grizzlies (Up 1)
(15-22) Last week: 2-1
Memphis are, remarkably, a half game out of the playoffs thanks to their recent hot streak, which included a resounding win over the Clippers. Importantly for Memphis, the charge is being led by their 20 year old cornerstones Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr.
Jackson in particular has been spectacular over his past 5 games: 18.4 points, 8 rebounds, 2 blocks and three made 3's per game. The supporting cast of Jonas Valanciunas and Dillon Brooks have been great as well.
It will be interesting to see how the young Grizzlies handle the pressure of being in the playoff picture for the first time.