We’re well and truly into the final stretch of the NBA regular season.
We still have a series of unanswered questions, though. Will the Clippers turn it on come playoff time? Can Boston’s brigade of wings test the Bucks? Will Philly ever get it together? Are the Rockets going to revolutionise the game again?
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.
30. Cleveland Cavaliers (Down 2)
(17-45 Record) Last week: 0-4
A strong stretch of results undone by a four game losing streak: that’s the Cavs!
Still, the Cavs have been somewhat – let’s not go as far as competent…..feisty, perhaps – since JB Bickerstaff’s ascension to Head Coach brought the curtain down on the woebegone John Beilein ‘era’. The veterans look, if not inspired, then at least far less unhappy that they were.
How Bickerstaff manages the centre rotation will be interesting. Andre Drummond will have some sort of bedding in period (he was impressive in the loss to Indiana) and whilst that happens Tristan Thompson remains the more effective option. But as an unrestricted free agent, the front office won’t want to prioritise Thompson’s playing time.
29. Golden State (Up 1)
(14-48) Last week: 2-2
The Warriors are edging closer to securing the league's worst record, but all is not lost Dub Nation. There's a guy on your G-League roster that the organisation is very excited about: Stephen Curry.
He's a shooter with some pedigree – his Dad had a long NBA career and his brother is Mavs bench gunner Seth Curry. He's a slight guy, but apparently very skilled with the ball. The Warriors see him as a potential starting point guard who's shooting can open up the floor for star man Andrew Wiggins.
You heard it here first: Steph Curry is the next big thing.
28. Detroit Pistons (Up 1)
(20-43) Last week: 1-2
For a salary filler throw in to the Andre Drummond trade, returning Piston Brandon Knight has certainly made the most of his opportunities. The 28 year old is averaging 16.4 points and 5.4 assists, while dropping 4.2 treys at 45.7%. He’s more than adequately replaced the injured Derrick Rose.
Rose – one of the nicest stories of the season – is the last veteran standing in Motor City and whilst he’s not the player he was when he had 100% functioning knees, he can still be a positive example for the Pistons youngsters, through his veteran savvy, status as a former MVP and as a beacon of resilience and determination.
27. New York Knicks (Steady)
(19-43) Last week: 2-2
The New York Knicks haven’t achieved very much of anything this season, but they may have provided the NBA with a gift (aside from all of the meme-able and gif-able contributions they’ve made to our league): how to beat the Houston Rockets.
Many have spoken about how the Celtics, Lakers and Clippers are all capable of downsizing to play the Rox at their own game. Perhaps they’ve zigged when they should of zagged? The Knicks, who are an elite offensive rebounding team and usually play with a pair of traditional bigs, pulverised the Rockets on the glass 65-34 in their narrow win. They demoralised Houston with 20 offensive boards resulting in 32 second chance points.
The catalyst was Mitchell Robinson, who had a strong week overall, averaging 13.3 points, 11.8 boards and 2 blocks over his past 4 games.
26. Chicago Bulls (Down 1)
(21-41) Last week: 1-2
The Bulls are a mere 2-8 in their last 10 games and look to be playing out the string a touch. There are some positives for the Bulls, though. Both Wendell Carter Jr and Otto Porter returned this week. Carter's return has been measured, while Porter came back with a bang with 18 points in 17 minutes in a surprise win against the Mavericks.
Coby White has continued his red hot shooting, pouring in 28.4 points per game over his past five.
25. Minnesota Timberwolves (Up 1)
(19-42) Last week: 2-2
The Wolves have scored a few nice victories since bringing D'Angelo Russell aboard. Considering the team continue to play without the injured Karl Anthony Towns, you would expect that in any win it's All D'Lo, All the Time. Whilst Russell has starred, the supporting cast – also acquired at the trade deadline – have pulled their weight.
Nuggets imports Malik Beasley (21.1 points and 5.3 rebounds, 43.3% from deep) and Junacho Hernangomez (14 points, 5.4 boards, 45.8% from 3 point range) have formed a solid combination in the wings. The most surprising contributor has been 33 year old James Johnson, brought over from the Heat, via Memphis. The man with one of the great nicknames in the NBA has filled in admirably for KAT with nightly averages of 12 points, 4.9 boards, 1.4 steals and 1.4 blocks since arriving in Minnesota. GM Gersson Rosas' moves have given the Wolves a pair of stars, and the beginnings of some depth. They're still undermanned, but are undoubtedly in a better position post deadline.
24. Charlotte Hornets (Down 1)
(21-40) Last week: 1-2
The Hornets are coming along, slowly but surely.
Majority owner Michael Jordan isn't known for his patient, slow burn approach, but he and his front office have given Coach James Borrego the freedom to play his kids instead of the expensive but ultimately middling veterans. From time to time, we get to see some positive results.
In November, Charlotte lost to Toronto by 36 points. This week, they turned the tables, holding the Raps to 96 points in a narrow win. They're still some way off even play-off contention, but the Hornets are at least on the right path.
23. Phoenix Suns (Down 1)
(24-38) Last week: 0-3
Whatever play-off hopes the Suns had have been extinguished by their current 4 game losing streak. Losses to Toronto and the Clippers are disappointing, but falling to the tanking Pistons and league worst Warriors on your home floor is inexcusable.
Rubbing salt into the wound is the loss of Kelly Oubre Jr to a meniscus injury. It's no coincidence that the streak started after the physical Oubre injured his knee. The former Wizards was averaging career highs of 18.7 points and 6.7 boards.
22. Washington Wizards (Down 1)
(22-39) Last week: 1-3
The Wizards continue to mix exciting offense and inept defense. They continue to lose more than they win. And Bradley Beal continues to cook. He averaged 36.2 points per game in February. He didn't make the All Star game – you may have heard – but he's a legitimate chance to make an All NBA team come the end of the season.
21. Atlanta Hawks (Up 3)
(19-44) Last week: 2-1
Don't look now, but the Hawks are actually respectable. They've split their last 10 contests right down the middle. Of course, Trae Young has played a major role in that with 22 points and 10.3 assists over the course of the week. John Collins has been equally as important in Atlanta's recent surge. Over his past 6 games, he's averaging 25.2 points, 9.8 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.3 blocks and 2.7 three pointers at 62.5% shooting. It begs the question: how would have Atlanta's season looked without Collins' 25 game PED suspension?
The Hawks are a legitimate chance to overtake the Knicks, Pistons, Bulls and Hornets to finish 10th in the conference before the season is out