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NBA Power Rankings: The Halfway Point

Halfway through the 2015-16 season, the Spurs, Warriors, and Cavs seem to be the top three contenders. Will another team emerge in the second half to join the upper echelon of the league?

  1. San Antonio Spurs (36-6) +1
    The Spurs continue to roll, having won 11 straight with a home win streak that dates back to last season. Kawhi Leonard is the real deal and LaMarcus Aldridge is coming on, but this team is made elite by veteran role players such as Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Tim Duncan, and David West. In any other season, the Spurs would absolutely be dominating the standings, and have a points differential of +14.2.
  2. Golden State Warriors (37-4) -1
    And yet, Golden State remains atop the NBA. Exactly half way through the season, the Warriors have won 37 of their 41 games, on pace for a ridiculous 74-8 regular season record. They have some of the best talent in the NBA, not only in Steph Curry but across the roster, including triple-double leader Draymond Green. The cracks are starting to show, though – recent losses to Detroit and Denver exposed weaker points in a defense that ranks 19th in the league.
  3. Cleveland Cavaliers (28-10) +1
    Cleveland has cemented themselves as the best team in the East, something we knew they’d do but took a little more than had been anticipated. Kyrie Irving is likely the key contributor to this, as his return has been noted – in 12 games, he’s offered up 17 points and nearly 4 assists per game.
  4. Oklahoma City Thunder (30-12) -1
    OKC absolutely dismantled Miami on Sunday night by limiting them to just 74 points. The Thunder, with arguably two of the best five players in the NBA, should be considered a contender, although it’s unfortunate that they’ll likely be stuck in 3rd (or lower) for the rest of the season in the West. Westbrook and Durant continue to combine for 50 points per game.
  5. Toronto Raptors (25-15) +3
    It’s still not fully clear who #2 (and main challenger to the Cavs) in the East will be, but Toronto seems the most likely to fill this role. This is a team that looks energized and wins the games it should, led by revitalized guard Kyle Lowry. However, recent tests against the Bulls and Cavs have come up short (0-3 in those games).
  6. Los Angeles Clippers (26-14) +4
    Clippers fans needed to see that this team was a serious contender, and the team responded with a 10-game win streak that, while absent of too many powerhouse teams (Miami was hardest at #10 on this list), provided a confidence boost to a very good team that is simply stuck behind a couple of better teams. With Blake Griffin’s return looming, things are looking up in LA.
  7. Atlanta Hawks (24-17) -2
    The Hawks remain a top five team in the East, but the cracks have started to show with recent losses to the lesser names of the conference. With the possibility of trading Jeff Teague emerging, this team is going to have to decide whether or not it wants to contend this year or plan for the very near future. The 60-win season of last year seems far out of reach now.
  8. Chicago Bulls (23-16) +3
    The Bulls have been really streaky recently, and now with Joakim Noah out seemingly for the season, other names are going to have to start stepping up. Fortunately, Jimmy Butler has been developing into a top-10 NBA player. Now, Bobby Portis, Pau Gasol, Nikola Mirotic and even the broken Derrick Rose will all be the keys to success for a team with major potential.
  9. Memphis Grizzlies (23-19) +8
    Matt Barnes news aside, the Grizz look like they’re a solid 6- or 7-seed in the shallow West. What needs to improve first, though, is scoring. Despite the winning record, Memphis’ point differential remains an abysmal -2.5, and only C Marc Gasol (16.4) is going for more than 15 per game.
  10. Miami Heat (23-18) -4
    The Heat have lost recent challenges to the best of the West (0-3 vs. Clippers, Thunder, Warriors), but remain a contender for that #2 spot in the East. The main cause of said struggles is likely injuries, as sophomore guard Tyler Johnson of Fresno State has started in games for a depleted team. Miami should look more to Hassan Whiteside down low, who is shooting 60.5% from the field and emerging as an elite inside player.
  11. Dallas Mavericks (23-19) -2
    The Mavs could’ve made a name for themselves by proving their worth against the Cavs, Thunder, Bulls and Spurs, who they faced in order over the last week or so. Instead, they went 1-3, narrowly beating the Bulls 83-77 to get the only win of that stretch. They’re a playoff team in the West for sure, but their depth may not be enough to go deep.
  12. Boston Celtics (22-19) +3
    Brad Stevens has done an incredible job coaching the Celtics, who remain in playoff contention in a very deep East despite having few tested names. Specifically, Jae Crowder and Isaiah Thomas have played huge roles in the revival of this team. They’re exciting to watch and could be a dark horse to take down a big name come April and May.
  13. Detroit Pistons (22-18) -1
    “We’re capable of beating anybody and we’re capable of being beaten by anybody.” This sentence, spoken by head coach Stan Van Gundy on Monday, is pretty telling of the up-and-down season Detroit has had. Reggie Jackson, their leading scorer, will be an X-factor going forward.
  14. Houston Rockets (22-20) -1
    Houston has won six of their last seven, but will this finally be the part of the season where they start winning consistently? With James Harden and Dwight Howard largely shouldering the load on this  team, more production is needed from the bench. Defense should be the number one concern in the second half of the season.
  15. Indiana Pacers (22-19) -8
    On Sunday night, Indiana gave up 129…to the Denver Nuggets. Now, the team that at one point held the #2 spot in the East can’t seem to string together more than two wins and is quickly fading from the upper echelon (and even playoff picture) of its conference.
  16. New York Knicks (20-22) +2
    Not much more to say about the Knicks that hasn’t been said, as they remain a .500 team in a conference that is too deep to allow them to slide into an 8 spot. An encouraging statistic: Halfway through this season, New York has won 20 games…3 more than it did all of last season. Is it all because of Kristaps?
  17. Orlando Magic (20-19) -3
    Losers of six of their last seven, the Magic’s youth has finally caught up to them. Vucevic’s team-leading 17 points per game hasn’t quite made him an elite player in the post, but his 22 PER is encouraging. Guard play must improve, and that starts with production from Evan Fournier and Elfrid Payton.
  18. Washington Wizards (19-20) +1
    A recent four-game win streak that included wins over the Bulls and Pacers is encouraging for a team with little to be proud of this season. However, they remain just two games out of the East’s 8-seed and have John Wall and Bradley Beal (mostly) back. Another long win streak could be essential in sparking this team in the second half.
  19. Utah Jazz (18-22) +2
    Somehow still a playoff team, the Jazz remain in the bottom five in scoring throughout the NBA despite being at full strength in terms of injuries. Defense remains this team’s mantra – the last time they let up 100 points in a win was December 6th at home against the Pacers.
  20. Charlotte Hornets (18-22) -4
    Losers of nine of their last ten, Charlotte is fading fast after what was an otherwise very surprisingly good start. Hopefully, this is just a bump in the road that has seen the emergence of Kemba Walker, the revitalization of Jeremy Lin, and heightened play from former Badger Frank Kaminsky III.
  21. Sacramento Kings (17-23) +2
    Pop quiz: What team is 3rd in the NBA in scoring? Yes, Sacramento. Despite six games below .500, is still scoring, and has perpetually played the role of spoiler in the West throughout the season. That continued on Saturday, as the Kings snapped an impressive 10-game Clippers win streak.
  22. Milwaukee Bucks (18-25) +2
    Milwaukee remains five games out of the playoffs in the East but has picked up a handful of nice wins recently and looks as if they have the pieces to at least finish close to .500 by the end of the season. Greg Monroe (16/10) was a great pickup in the offseason and leads the team in PER (22.6).
  23. Denver Nuggets (16-25) -3
    Denver’s last four games have all been decided by three or less points, and they’re 3-1, including a huge win over the Warriors. This team doesn’t do anything exceptionally well – they’re bottom ten in scoring and defense. But when Danilo Gallinari and sixth-man Will Barton are on, they can be competitive.
  24. Portland Trail Blazers (18-25) +3
    Portland got absolutely obliterated by Philadelphia on Saturday, which is a sentence that almost feels uncomfortable to say. However, this came in the wake of the Blazers winning three straight, including a nail-biter over OKC. CJ McCollum’s emergence is the story of their season, and he could be of huge trade value in the near future.
  25. New Orleans Pelicans (13-26) +1
    It’s been an unfortunate season for the Pelicans, who were hoping to contend in the West this year. Somehow, they’re only 4.5 games out of the 8-seed, but for the time being, their defense needs to be fixed. Anthony Davis, despite nearly 23 points per game and a 24.4 PER, hasn’t been enough on a team with too many question marks.
  26. Minnesota Timberwolves (13-29) -1
    The T-Wolves broke a nine-game losing streak with a commanding 30-point win over the abysmal Suns, and now are very much on the outside looking in in the West. The pieces are there and this team should have a really exciting future, but despite rookie Karl-Anthony Towns’ 21.2 PER, things just aren’t panning out in Minnesota. Ricky Rubio, once a renowned prospect, is shooting just 35.2% from the field. Sam Mitchell needs to go.
  27. Phoenix Suns (13-29) -5
    Since the fateful 111-104 lost in which Phoenix lost Eric Bledsoe for the season, they’re 1-9 with only a close win over the Hornets salvaging the ten-game travesty. Look for them to trade some of their bigger names and tank this season – they simply don’t have enough talent to claw their way back up in the West.
  28. Brooklyn Nets (11-30) —
    It’s been another disappointing season in Brooklyn as the Nets have topped 100 in just two of their last ten games. Former All-Star Joe Johnson, who has started every game this season, has a 9.8 PER and is shooting just 38% from the field.
  29. Los Angeles Lakers (9-34) —
    The Lakers actually put together a nice three-game win streak a couple of weeks back, but since then have only a four-point win over the Pelicans to show for a season that is symbolic for Kobe but devastating for LA. D’Angelo Russell continues to struggle.
  30. Philadelphia 76ers (5-37) —
    Since the last Power Rankings column, the 76ers have gone 4-8, which is easily their best stretch of the season. Granted, they’re still dead last in scoring and have only two players (Jahlil Okafor and the recently-acquired Ish Smith) averaging more than 11 points per game. They’re at least a little bit fun to watch now.

Photo: ESPN

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