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March 20th, 2017

Def Pen NBA Power Rankings: Races for Both 8 Seeds Heating Up

David Morrow @_DavidMorrow
NBA Power Rankings

One of the biggest questions left: Who takes the eighth seed in the West, Nurkic’s current team or his old one? (Photo: Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports)

Welcome to Def Pen’s NBA Power Rankings. These rankings are updated every Monday. Last week, the statistically brilliant Josiah Brady updated the rankings here with his ‘SteadyLosing’ model. This week, it’s my turn. These rankings aren’t necessarily based solely on talent level or team potential.They’re about who’s better right now/who has played better as of late. If a team has lost their last 5 games, they’re probably going to drop (at least) a few spots, even if they’ve got “better” players than a team ranked above them. Alright, let’s jump in.

NBA Power Rankings

Biggest Jump: Grizzlies Up 7

Biggest Drop: Timberwolves Down 9

1. San Antonio Spurs
Record: 53-16
Last Week’s Ranking: 1

The Spurs stay on top for the third consecutive week. Kawhi Leonard is a serious MVP candidate, and the same goes for Gregg Popovich as a Coach of the Year candidate.

2. Golden State Warriors
Record: 55-14
Last Week’s Ranking: 3

The Warriors have begun to bounce back from their troubles (though they have yet to beat any really good teams), and by next week they’ll probably be back up to no. 1. The Warriors are likely content to coast to either the no. 1 or 2 seed and pray that Kevin Durant makes a speedy return.

3. Houston Rockets
Record: 48-22
Last Week’s Ranking: 4

The third West team that has clinched a playoff spot. James Harden has six 40-point triple-doubles this season, which is the most in a season by any player ever. That seems significant.

4. Cleveland Cavaliers
Record: 46-23
Last Week’s Ranking: 6

The Cavs are the only Eastern team to clinch a playoff spot, though that will change soon. The Cavs’ defensive woes continue; only the Lakers have a worse defensive rating since the All-Star break. It’s crazy how little that worries me. LeBron James is just that great.

5. Washington Wizards
Record: 42-27
Last Week’s Ranking: 2

Like the Cavs, the Wizards have struggled with their defense lately (25th in post-All-Star defensive rating). Despite their struggles on that end, the Wizards have established themselves as legitimate a threat you’ll find in the East outside of Cleveland.

6. Utah Jazz
Record: 43-27
Last Week’s Ranking: 5

After back-to-back losses, the Jazz have a two-game lead over the Clippers for fourth in the West, which probably isn’t as much a cushion as they’d like to have. Home court advantage is a huge factor in 4-5 matchups.

7. Boston Celtics
Record: 44-26
Last Week’s Ranking: 7

The Celtics have shown some troubling signs, barely hanging on against the Brooklyn Nets and dropping a game to the Philadelphia 76ers. This isn’t really all that worrying for two reasons: 1) Isaiah Thomas didn’t play in either game, and 2) the Celtics, for better or worse, have played to the level of their competition all year long. That isn’ the worst thing in the world because Boston isn’t going to have to play any awful teams in the postseason. To argue the other side, though, this does appear to open the Celtics up to the possibility of a first-round upset; they may be the no. 2 seed, but the C’s are best as the scrappy underdogs.

NBA Power Rankings

Since All-Star Weekend, the Heat have the NBA’s best win-loss record (Photo: Jasen Vinlove/USA TODAY Sports)

8. Miami Heat
Record: 34-36
Last Week’s Ranking: 10

The Heat have the best post-All-Star record in the NBA. In that same span, they rank second in net rating. Erik Spoelstra is a wizard, or a genie, or something else along those lines. Point being: There are clearly supernatural forces at work here.

9. Oklahoma City Thunder
Record: 40-29
Last Week’s Ranking: 15

The Thunder are rolling (no pun intended). After recording four consecutive losses, they’ve now rattled off five wins in a row, including wins against the Raptors, Jazz and Spurs. The Thunder will face their biggest challenge Monday night; they host the Warriors, a team that – even without Durant – is the most dangerous team in basketball. The Thunder have passed the Grizzlies for the no. 6 seed, and I hope they keep it. A Harden-Westbrook series in the first round would be way too much fun.

10. Toronto Raptors
Record: 41-29
Last Week’s Ranking: 9

The Raptors are doing what they can to stay afloat without their best player, but it looks like the second and third seed will belong to Boston and Washington (not necessarily in that order). A Raptors-Hawks series isn’t going to be too exciting; Zach Lowe hit the nail on the head on a recent podcast when he said that this will be the annual NBA TV series.

11. Memphis Grizzlies
Record: 40-30
Last Week’s Ranking: 18

I don’t fully trust that this streak by the Grizzlies is sustainable, but they’ve won four in a row now, so good for them. The Grizzlies have to play in Oakland and San Antonio this week, which is unfortunate.

12. Los Angeles Clippers
Record: 41-29
Last Week’s Ranking: 8

The Clippers have lost three of their last four, and the only win in those four came against a Cavs team that rested its big three. So, I’m not giving them a ton of credit for that one.

13. Milwaukee Bucks
Record: 29-34
Last Week’s Ranking: 11

The Bucks are back. Jabari who? Khris Middleton is the captain now. The Bucks have won eight of their last 10 games, and are primed to make the playoffs. I’m so here for a Bucks playoff berth. We all get the Giannis series we deserve, and the casual fans get to find out who and how awesome Khris Middleton is.

14. Portland Trail Blazers
Record: 32-37
Last Week’s Ranking: 19

The Blazers’ trio of Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic seems to be working. The Blazers have won their last three games, and all came against tough opponents – the Spurs, Hawks and red-hot Heat. The Blazers are trying their best to reach the no. 8 seed, but Denver isn’t making it easy on them.

15. Denver Nuggets
Record: 33-36
Last Week’s Ranking: 12

Speak of the devil. The Nuggets have won seven of their last 10, and are a game ahead of the Blazers for eighth in the West. Emmanuel Mudiay appears to have fallen out of the rotation, which is probably a good thing for the Nuggets. They’re better with him off the floor.

16. Indiana Pacers
Record: 35-34
Last Week’s Ranking: 14

The Pacers are pretty dull; imagine how boring they’d be without Paul George to liven things up. The Pacers have been viewed as a lock to make the playoffs, and they probably will, but it isn’t a sure thing. They may be sixth right now, but Milwaukee, Detroit and Miami are all on a tear.

NBA Power Rankings

The Pistons’ odds of making the playoffs are starting to look a bit slim (Photo: Raj Mehta/USA TODAY Sports)

17. Detroit Pistons
Record: 34-36
Last Week’s Ranking: 17

Probably the team out of Indiana/Miami/Milwaukee/Detroit that will miss the playoffs. eight of the Pistons’ final 12 games are on the road, and while they’ve been better lately, they haven’t been as good as the Heat or Bucks.

18. Atlanta Hawks
Record: 37-32
Last Week’s Ranking: 16

Since the All-Star break, only the Chicago Bulls have a worse offensive rating than the Hawks do. This might be a lottery team without Paul Millsap.

19. Dallas Mavericks
Record: 30-39
Last Week’s Ranking: 20

It’s been fun, and Rick Carlisle is right next to Erik Spoelstra in the “how the hell did that team win this many games” coach of the year award rankings. The Mavs aren’t making the playoffs, but I’ve enjoyed watching Yogi Ferrell and Seth Curry light the world on fire (not a thing I expected to type this year, or ever).

20. New Orleans Pelicans
Record: 29-41
Last Week’s Ranking: 23

The Pelicans have been… sort of good lately. They’ve won four of their last five now, but they didn’t figure things out in time to contend for a playoff spot, which is a shame.

21. Charlotte Hornets
Record: 30-39
Last Week’s Ranking: 21

The Hornets are out of the playoff race, which is fine for fans; this isn’t exactly the most exciting team in the league. The Hornets are the lowest team in the standings that has a positive point differential on the season, which is interesting. Their mark of +0.5 is better than that of eight teams ahead of them in the standings: The Hawks, Pacers, Bucks, Pistons, Nuggets, Bulls, Trail Blazers and Mavericks.

22. Minnesota Timberwolves
Record: 28-41
Last Week’s Ranking: 13

The Wolves’ playoff hopes are dying fast. They’ve lost three in a row, and they’ve got a tougher schedule coming up than other teams vying for the eighth seed.

23. Chicago Bulls
Record: 33-37
Last Week’s Ranking: 27

Dear Fred Hoiberg,

It’s been 70 games now, and you still haven’t come close to figuring out a working rotation. Do you really think you’re going to find one now? Stop experimenting with your lineups; pick something and stick to it. There’s no secret formula waiting to be discovered, your team is just bad.

Sincerely,

Literally everyone

24. Philadelphia 76ers
Record: 26-43
Last Week’s Ranking: 24

Dario Saric is very #good. He’s fully sold me on his Rookie of the Year candidacy, assuming we’re counting Embiid out.

25. New York Knicks
Record: 27-42
Last Week’s Ranking: 27

Knicks gonna keep right on Knicksing. Something something triangle.

NBA Power Rankings

The Lakers and Suns are locked in an epic tanking battle (Photo: Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images)

26. Phoenix Suns
Record: 22-48
Last Week’s Ranking: 22

The Suns are doing an impressive job of tanking; they’ve shut down Eric Bledsoe, Tyson Chandler and Brandon Knight. Devin Booker missed last game with an ankle injury.

27. Orlando Magic
Record: 25-45
Last Week’s Ranking: 28

Situation seems bleak. Tank on.

28. Los Angeles Lakers
Record: 20-50
Last Week’s Ranking: 29

The Lakers are doing their best to out-tank the Suns; they down Mozgov and Deng. Sunday night’s game was the perfect game for the Lakers. D’Angelo Russell put up a career-high 40 points, and they played a close game vs. the defending champs. They still lost, which helps their tanking efforts, but satisfied fans.

29. Sacramento Kings
Record: 27-43
Last Week’s Ranking: 26

The Kings keep losing, but they’re actually kind of fun. Skal Labissiere has been a joy to watch lately, and Buddy Hield and Willie Cauley-Stein are both young and talented.

30. Brooklyn Nets
Record: 13-56
Last Week’s Ranking: 30

The Nets have won four of their last 11 games, which is like the Nets equivalent of a team winning 20 games in a row.

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