It was a tough call to move the Spurs past the Warriors this week, but there’s no doubt who the hottest team in the NBA is right now. The good news is that next week’s decision will be a little easier, as the Warriors will take on the Spurs on March 11 in San Antonio. For NBA news and fantasy advice, find me on Twitter here!
1.) Spurs (48-13) Previous rank: 2
The Spurs have won eight games in a row including wins over the Pacers, Pelicans and Wolves in Week 19. They are sitting just two losses behind the Warriors, and with Kevin Durant (knee) set to miss several weeks, San Antonio has a legitimate shot to take the No. 1 seed in the West. The Spurs have qualified for the playoffs in 20 straight seasons which is the longest active streak in the NBA, and Kawhi Leonard is on another level right now — he’s the only player in the NBA this season in the Top-15 in Offensive Rating, Defensive Rating and Usage Percentage (h/t @AirlessJordan).
2.) Warriors (51-11) Previous rank: 1
After opening the week with a win vs. Philly, the Warriors had their first losing streak in 146 regular-season games with two losses to the Wizards and Bulls before bouncing back in a win over the Knicks on Sunday. The Warriors will have to stay afloat without Kevin Durant for at least the next four weeks, as he was diagnosed with a Grade 2 MCL sprain and tibial bone bruise in his left knee. Based on this timetable, he would be lucky to make it back before the first round of the playoffs.
3.) Rockets (44-19) Previous rank: 3
The Rockets opened their week with a loss to the Pacers before picking up two wins over the Clippers and Grizzlies in convincing fashion. James Harden is the only player in the last 33 seasons to have 20 games with 30+ points and 10+ assists, and the Rockets have the two top bench scorers in the NBA in Lou Williams and Eric Gordon. The Rockets have also made at least 20 triples in nine games this season which is an NBA record.
4.) Cavaliers (42-19) Previous rank: 4
The Cavaliers split four games in Week 19 with two wins over the Bucks and Hawks and two losses to the Celtics and Heat. LeBron James and Kyrie Irving were both rested in the loss to Chicago, but it won’t be their last maintenance day as the Cavs look to preserve them for the postseason. The Cavs are the only team in NBA history to make 25 threes in a game (vs. the Hawks), and they’ve now done it a total of two times. Reinforcements will also be arriving soon with J.R. Smith due back in a week or two, while Kevin Love is probably 2-3 weeks away.
5.) Wizards (37-24) Previous rank: 8
The Wizards are sitting in third place in the East and had a strong week, racking up wins over the Warriors and Magic while splitting a pair of games with the Raptors. Their biggest weakness before the trade deadline was their second unit, but new Wizard Bojan Bogdanovic is averaging 15.5 points per game on 54.0 percent shooting and Brandon Jennings is a serious upgrade over Trey Burke.
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6.) Raptors (37-26) Previous rank: 6
The Raptors finished 2-2 in Week 19 with two wins over the Knicks and Wizards with two losses to the Wizards and Bucks. Kyle Lowry underwent successful right wrist surgery on Mar. 1, but the good news for the Raptors is that he should be back just in time for the first round of the playoffs. Another concern for the Raptors is the disappearing act of Jonas Valanciunas, as the big man has yet to log a single minute in the fourth quarter since the All-Star break because of Serge Ibaka.
7.) Celtics (40-23) Previous rank: 7
The Celtics split four games in Week 19 with wins over the Cavaliers and Lakers with losses to the Hawks and Suns. Jaylen Brown is showing superstar potential after a slow start to the season, posting averages of 13.2 points, 6.2 rebounds, 0.8 steals and 1.2 triples over his last five games.
8.) Jazz (39-24) Previous rank: 5
The Jazz lost their first two games of the week against the Thunder and Wolves before bouncing back against the two weakest teams in the NBA in the Kings and Nets. A report came out this week that George Hill’s camp is seeking a four-year max deal worth $134 million in free agency, a ridiculous price for a guard that will be turning 31 this summer. At least Derrick Favors looks like an actual NBA player again with two double-doubles this week.
9.) Clippers (37-25) Previous rank: 10
The Clippers don’t deserve this ranking by any means, but the Grizzlies and Thunder were even more disappointing. The Clippers dropped their first two games of the week to the Rockets and Bucks before getting back on track on Saturday vs. the Bulls behind a 25-point effort from Jamal Crawford. Speaking of Crawford, he’s going to turn 37 years old later this month, but he said that he intends to play 3-4 more seasons.
10.) Grizzlies (36-27) Previous rank: 11
After beating the Suns to open their week, the Grizzlies dropped two straight games to the Rockets and Mavericks. The Grizzlies are getting basically no production from $95 million man Chandler Parsons, and he was critical of his play after the loss to Houston. "I suck right now. There’s no sugarcoating it," Parsons said. "It is what it is. I’m just going to continue to work, continue to grind.”
11.) Thunder (35-28) Previous rank: 9
After a win over the Jazz early in the week, the Thunder dropped three straight games to the Blazers, Suns and Mavericks. Russell Westbrook tried to put the team on his back with four 40-point games in a row, the first player to do so since Kobe Bryant in January 2012. He’s still on pace to average a triple-double on the season…
12.) Pacers (32-30) Previous rank: 17
The Pacers had a strong week with wins over the Rockets and Hawks, with their only loss coming against the Spurs. Glenn Robinson III hit the game-winner over the Hawks on Sunday, meaning the Pacers are now 4-1 this season in games decided by three points or less. Still, it’s a rough time for Indiana fans as rumors continue to swirl about Paul George’s plans when he hits free agency in 2018.
13.) Heat (29-34) Previous rank: 12
The Heat finally cooled off this week with a 2-2 record, picking up wins over the 76ers and Cavaliers with losses to the Mavericks and Magic. There’s still plenty to be proud about, as head coach Erik Spoelstra was named the Eastern Conference coach of the month for February and the Heat are 18-4 in their last 22 games. The bad news is that this hot streak has significantly hurt their chances of landing a top prospect in the loaded 2017 draft.
14.) Hawks (34-28) Previous rank: 14
The Hawks won their first two games of the week against the Celtics and Mavericks before dropping their next two against the Cavaliers and Pacers. The Hawks have found a gem in Tim Hardaway Jr., as the SG scored 36 points with five 3-pointers in the loss to Cleveland — the most points by a Hawks player off the bench since Jamal Crawford scored 36 at Toronto on 1/12/11 (h/t Hawks PR).
15.) Bulls (31-31) Previous rank: 13
The Bulls beat a Warriors team that was missing their best player in Kevin Durant, but came up short against the Nuggets and Clippers. Jimmy Butler has been criticized for not being aggressive enough, but he hinted that he will change that this week. "I want to get everybody involved," Butler said. "I think that's what coaches want me to do. I think that's what everybody wants me to do. I'm trying to do that. I think we all know I can shoot the ball at any time. Good shot, bad shot, but I don't want to do that. I don't care what my stats look like, man. Just win me the game (h/t ESPN).” With Dwayne Wade (thigh) set to miss Monday’s game vs. Detroit, expect a monster game from Jimmy Buckets.