NBA Power Rankings: Thunder oh-so-hot, Clippers and Pacers inch up - Metro US

NBA Power Rankings: Thunder oh-so-hot, Clippers and Pacers inch up

Russell Westbrook and the Thunder have jumped up to the No. 3 spot.
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1. Golden State Warriors (66-7) Last week: 1 – The Warriors need to go 7-2 the rest of the way to beat the 95-96 all-time best record. That means they – and their opponents have something to play for. You wonder if going that hard to end the season could catch up to them in the playoffs.

2. San Antonio Spurs (62-12) Last week: 2 – The Spurs were walloped by the Thunder – something to remember if these two teams meet in the playoffs (they should in the second round) – but San Antonio rebounded on Monday over the Griz despite resting Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Kawhi Leonard.

3. Oklahoma City Thunder (52-22) Last week: 5 – Warning: Extremely hot! Don’t look now but the Thunder are playing their best basketball of the season just as the regular season wraps up. They’ve won eight straight and are locking up that No. 3 seed, and that’s tough luck for the Spurs in the second round.

4. Cleveland Cavaliers (52-21) Last week: 4 – They blew what should have been an easy win to the Nets, and you could easily see LeBron James’ frustration out on the court. But the Cavs now have a three-game lead for the No. 1 seed and can afford to focus on health down the stretch.

5. Toronto Raptors (49-24) Last week: 3 – Uh oh. The Raptors have hit a bit of a skid, losing three of their last four games. What’s worse? Kyle Lowry appears to be battling some elbow soreness. He even had it drained after Monday’s loss to the Thunder. His health is the Raptors main concern.

6. Atlanta Hawks (45-30) Last week: 6 – They’re 9-1 over their last 10 games and like the Thunder are playing their best basketball of the season. Can they hang on to the East’s No. 3 seed? It won’t be easy with two games against the Cavs, two against the Raptors, and one against the Celtics.

7. Los Angeles Clippers (46-27) Last week: 8 – They smacked the Nuggets and Celtics in back-to-back games, and squeaked by the Blazers, too. But will those wins help them forget about the double-digit loss to Golden State? It’s shaping up to be the second-round matchup out west.

8. Miami Heat (43-30) Last week: 7 – Hassan Whiteside dropped 26 points last Friday and 27 points on Monday. He’s a double-double machine and coming off the bench for the Heat. Scoring has been a bit of an issue for the Heat this season, but when the game slows down in the playoffs, watch out.

9. Boston Celtics (43-31) Last week: 9 – Do they miss Jae Crowder? Absolutely. The good news is Crowder is targeting a return from a high ankle sprain for Thursday’s game against the Blazers. That will hopefully knock off the rust before Friday’s big showdown in Golden State.

10. Charlotte Hornets (42-31) Last week: 10 – They dropped one in Detroit, but what a treat they get this week: back-to-back games against the 76ers! Charlotte goes into those games as the No, 6 seed, but they’re just two games back from the No. 3 Hawks.

11. Indiana Pacers (39-34) Last week: 12 – Good on the Pacers for holding off the Rockets second-half comeback and coming out with a big win to remain in the No. 7 spot in the East. A win over the Bulls on Tuesday will go a long way in ensuring them a playoff spot.

12. Portland Trail Blazers (38-37) Last week: 11 – They’ll be looking for revenge against the Celtics on Thursday. Portland has a tough three-game stretch against the C’s, Heat, and then Warriors in Golden State. They’re fighting to remain a playoff team.

13. Utah Jazz (37-37) Last week: 13 – It was just a matter of time before the Jazz standings caught up to their power ranking. They now hold the No. 7 spot out West, and that’s after a 48-point win (Yes, 48 points) over the lowly Lakers. They’re 8-2 over their last 10 games.

14. Detroit Pistons (39-35) Last week: 16 – Currently you’re No. 8 seed in the East, nobody has benefited more from the Bulls collapse than the Pistons have. Two-and-a-half games now separate them from the No. 9 seeded Wizards, who are tied with the Bulls.

15. Houston Rockets (36-38) Last week: 14 – The only reason they’re still looking at a playoff spot is because the Mavericks are playing worse than they are. The Rockets have shown signs of life – and that makes them a dangerous first round opponent – but they won’t beat a determined Warriors team.

16. Memphis Grizzlies (41-33) Last week: 15 – The Grizzlies have lost three straight and seven of their last nine. With the way the Thunder have been playing, the last thing Memphis wants to do is slide down a spot to that No. 7 seed. They’ll have to hold on for dear life.

17. Washington Wizards (36-37) Last week: 17 – The Wizards are running out of time if they want to make the playoffs, and being on a roadtrip that takes them through Golden State and Los Angeles (Clippers) won’t help matters. Randy Wittman’s days as Wiz head coach could be numbered.

18. Dallas Mavericks (36-38) Last week: 18 – They snapped a three-game losing streak, but not before they found themselves out of the playoff picture. Good on Dwight Powell to score a career-high 16 points in his first career start, the win over Denver. All hands on deck.

19. Chicago Bulls (36-37) Last week: 19 – A team meeting didn’t stop yet another loss, the Bulls fourth straight and it now feels very real that this group will miss the playoffs. Injuries plagued this bunch all season. Could be some big changes coming this offseason.

20. Denver Nuggets (31-44) Last week: 20 – On one hand, the Nuggets are the No. 10 team in the west. On the other, they’re just a few of wins ahead of a bunch of teams in the lottery standings. Wouldn’t be the worst thing if one of their starters went down with an “injury”.

21. Orlando Magic (30-43) Last week: 22 – There’s a report Nikola Vucevic may return to the Magic after missing 12 games. My question: why? You’re out of the playoffs – play for the lottery balls, Orlando!

22. Milwaukee Bucks (30-44) Last week: 21 – Five straight losses for the Bucks. Jason Kidd may have escaped this season with his job, but you can bet that if next season starts with a thud he may be on a very short leash.

23. Sacramento Kings (29-45) Last week: 23 – George Karl threw some shade at his own player in Seth Curry when he said he’d be around for a couple years. That didn’t sit well with DeMarcus Cousins, who made sure to videobomb Curry and say he’d be in the league a long time. Oh, Kings.

24. New York Knicks (30-45) Last week: 24 – A young fan ran out onto the court and hugged Carmelo Anthony during the Knicks’ latest loss in New Orleans. Melo probably needed that hug. It’s been a tough season.

25. Minnesota Timberwolves (25-49) Last Week: 25 – Karl-Anthony Towns probably doesn’t have to do anything else to earn Rookie of the Year honors, but 27 points and 10 boards in a win over the Suns can’t hurt.

26. New Orleans Pelicans (27-46) Last week: 26 – Last week it was Anthony Davis shut down for the season. This week it’s Jrue Holiday and Alonzo Gee. Only team the Pels can “catch” in the lottery standings is Minnesota, who has two less wins them then.

27. Brooklyn Nets (21-52) Last week: 28 – Give it up for the Nets, who beat both the Cavaliers and Pacers last week. They’re not playing for a lottery pick, so why the heck not?!

28. Phoenix Suns (20-54) Last week: 27 – The Suns are showing a lot of fight late in games, but they’ve been going down by too many points early on. That’s a young team that just isn’t ready to compete when the ball is tipped.

29. Los Angeles Lakers (15-59) Last week: 29 – Kobe Bryant’s final NBA season has been filled with a lot of memorable moments. Here’s one he won’t want to remember: the worst loss of his career, a 48-blowout by the Jazz.

30. Philadelphia 76ers (9-65) Last week: 30 – Will copy and paste the last two week’s entry: The 76ers need to win just ONE more game to hit double digits. You can do it, guys!

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