By Danny Dragin
And down the stretch they come! The NBA playoff races are heating up as teams jockey for postseason position, but major injuries (sorry about your face, Joel Embiid) keep scrambling the presumed leaders. The Celtics haven’t let injuries slow their hot finish. Meanwhile, to give you a sense of where everyone stands, we’re back with another installment of Danny Dragin’s NBA Power Rankings. (Last week’s rank in parentheses).
1. Houston Rockets (1): 61-14
James Harden looks like he might be the unanimous MVP and the Rockets are looking to take advantage of whoever lands the eight seed in the wild Western Conference. Currently they are blazing through the end of the season with a 10-game win streak.
2. Golden State Warriors (2): 54-21
Steve Kerr came out and said that there was no way Steph Curry was playing in the first round. His final diagnosis is a Grade 2 MCL sprain in his knee. The Warriors should be able to get by with a healthy Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green.
3. Toronto Raptors (3): 55-20
Dwane Casey has emerged as a serious contender for Coach of the year. The Raptors look to close out a great season against the injured Celtics on Saturday.
4. Boston Celtics (4): 52-23
The C’s have a plethora of problems all stemming from injuries. Kyrie Irving received minor surgery to relieve some of the pain in his knee and should hopefully return during the playoffs. Marcus Smart could return for Round 2 after thumb surgery. Daniel Theis is out for the season, and Boston fans still hold a glimmer of hope they could see Gordon Hayward this year, though it’s unlikely. But of course the Celtics do Celtics things like beating the Thunder on a buzzer-beater by Marcus Morris, and Jaylen Brown similarly icing the Jazz.
5. Portland Trail Blazers (5): 46-29
Damian Lillard is playing the best basketball of his career and CJ McCollum has been the perfect sidekick. The Blazers have been on a roll beating the Warriors by 17 points and the Cavs by eight, though losses to the undermanned Celtics and rolling Rockets slowed their momentum.
6. Cleveland Cavaliers (6): 45-30
LeBron should probably win the MVP every year and the second half of the season has proved that this year is no exception. The Cavs also showed a glimpse that they can stick with the best of the best in their win against the Raptors.
7. New Orleans Pelicans (7): 43-32
After losing DeMarcus Cousins, many thought the Pelicans would fade, but they’ve done just the opposite. Anthony Davis has turned it up, putting on a stretch of MVP performances. They could also find themselves deep into the playoffs if they pull a team like the Thunder or the Blazers due to the fact that they would at least be able to compete.
8. Oklahoma City Thunder (8): 44-32
The Western Conference is extremely tight and the Thunder could find themselves out of the mix depending on how these last couple of games go, but Carmelo Anthony guarantees that they will make the cut.
9. Indiana Pacers (6): 45-31
When Domantas Sabonis and Victor Oladipo were traded to the Pacers, people laughed and thought Indiana was going to be in the garbage for the next couple of years, but Oladipo has managed to have the best season of his career and prove that he was worth a No. 2 overall pick.
10. Philadelphia 76ers (19): 44-30
Markelle Fultz made his long awaited come back and he looks like he’s just about ready to make a real contribution. His shot looks much better and he is slowly growing confidence in each game he plays. Now if he could just avoid Joel Embiid’s head. The superstar center needed facial surgery and is no guarantee to return in the postseason.
11. Minnesota Timberwolves (13): 43-33
The loss of Jimmy Butler has proven detrimental as the Timberwolves look at the potential of missing the playoffs. Currently they are the seven seed but the Nuggets, Jazz and the Clippers are nipping at their heels.
12. San Antonio Spurs (16): 44-32
This has been an extremely weird season for a Gregg Popovich coached team. Many don’t know what is happening with the Kawhi Leonard situation after reports saying that the team had a players only meeting pleading with him to come back. But Danny Green and Rudy Gay have attempted to dismiss those rumors.
13. Washington Wizards (7): 41-34
John Wall was listed as questionable against the Pistons, and although he suited up, he did not play. The Wizards are going to be under a microscope due to the fact that they clearly have some internal issues circulating their star point guard.
14. Utah Jazz (17): 42-33
Nobody thought the Jazz would have the chance to make the playoffs after losing Gordon Hayward in the offseason, and when it’s all said and done, maybe Hayward will look back and regret not getting a chance to play with Donovan Mitchell.
15. Los Angeles Clippers (12): 41-34
Los Angeles is only a couple wins away from getting that eight seed. And with the off-season approaching, the core unit of Lou Williams, Tobias Harris, Avery Bradley, Pat Beverley, and DeAndre Jordan sets them up to be competitive next year.
16. Denver Nuggets (11): 40-35
The Nuggets need to make a big push in these last games because as of right now they are out of the playoffs, but they aren’t far behind teams like the Spurs and the Timberwolves.
17. Miami Heat (18): 41-35
It’s funny to think that this Heat team got a breath of fresh air with Dwyane Wade coming back. The Heat managed to beat the Cavs on the back of Kelly Olynyk’s 19 points. D-Wade had an all-time block against LeBron, and this makes their career head-to-head record 15-15.
18. Milwaukee Bucks (14): 40-35
Bucks fans got a big scare when Giannis Antetokounmpo went down with an ankle injury against the Clippers, but he came back and looked like he hadn’t missed a step.
19. Los Angeles Lakers (15): 33-41
Isaiah Thomas suffered some more tough news with the need to undergo season-ending hip surgery. The Lakers did suggest they were interested in a new deal for I.T.
20. Charlotte Hornets (21): 32-41
Kemba Walker became the leading scorer in Hornets history with 9,841 points, passing Dell Curry. Just in time, too, because Kemba could see his tenure with the Hornets coming to an end during the off-season.
21. Detroit Pistons (20): 34-40
The Pistons have the absolute slimmest chance of still being able to make the playoffs. They need to win their last eight games. Good luck.
22. New York Knicks (22): 27-49
Trey Burke looks like Allen Iverson went through a time machine to play in today’s NBA. He had 41 points against the Hornets the other night and this stint of great playing could keep the Knicks away from potentially picking Trae Young.
23. Sacramento Kings (25): 24-52
De’Aaron Fox, Justin Jackson, Frank Mason, and Willie Cauley-Stein are all really good young players and the Kings are in better shape than other young teams.
24. Brooklyn Nets (23): 24-51
Nothing seems to be different for the Nets as they find themselves out of the playoffs for the third season in a row.
25. Chicago Bulls (24): 24-51
Zach LaVine could get shut down after the Bulls were embarrassed by the Nuggets. The Bulls have a good young core in Lauri Markkanen, LaVine, Kris Dunn, and Denzel Valentine.
26. Dallas Mavericks (29): 23-52
The Mavericks are still waiting for Dirk Nowitzki to retire in order to clear up cap space and sign a big name in the offseason and they remain a solid contender to do so with Dennis Smith Jr. showing serious promise.
27. Atlanta Hawks (27): 21-54
The Hawks might have more than just basketball problems now that an ex-employee is saying that the organization discriminates against white people.
28. Orlando Magic (28): 22-52
The Magic will most likely find themselves in the midst of another rebuild, which they have basically been in since Shaq left.
29. Memphis Grizzlies (30): 21-54
Marc Gasol could see himself on a new team for the first time in his career, as the Grizzlies look like they will most likely implode and rebuild. The Grizzlies also lost to the Hornets by 61 points which is the largest in the NBA since the Warriors beat the Bulls by 49 earlier this season.
30. Phoenix Suns (26): 19-57
The tank rolls on.
Full article @ NBA Power Rankings: Let’s take a minute to appreciate the Celtics
Source: GreenStreet Blog