Trade deadline acquisitions, injuries, and an all-too-soon playoff clinching are the highlights of the NBA this week.
Whether it be the Pelicans making one of the most notorious trades at the deadline in NBA history or the Warriors breaking more records, there is no doubt that the NBA season is in full swing and coasting towards the playoffs.
The top of the rankings have been relatively consistent all season, but the mediocre teams vying for playoff positions are where the power rankings get interesting.
Check out how the trade deadline affected many of these teams, and how those moves could impact the playoffs as the season’s end is in sight.
1. Golden State Warriors
The All-Star break and trade deadline had little effect on the Warriors, who made attempts at significant moves. Their biggest headlines have been JaVale McGee’s Twitter feud with Shaq and an impressive second half comeback against the Los Angeles Clippers. Also side note, they became the fastest team to reach the playoffs in NBA history. While they may not be striving for the record for most wins in a season again this year, this new record may be just as impressive.
2. Cleveland Cavaliers
If adding veteran depth to the bench was the goal for Cleveland before the All-Star break, they have succeeded. Deron Williams will join the team soon, and Andrew Bogut could choose to sign with the Cavs. At the same time, Cleveland is having injury troubles leading to extended minutes for LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. J.R. Smith is still out for an extended period of time, and now Kevin Love has been missing games due to knee injuries. The Cavs are still favorites to win the Eastern Conference, but the question is, at what point to they rest their stars for the playoffs?
3. San Antonio Spurs
The Spurs have the second best record behind just Golden State, and are playing some of the best basketball in the league. Even though San Antonio only had one All-Star as compared to Golden State’s four, they have plenty of key players outside of Kawhi Leonard that will help them compete with the Warriors for the Western Conference. LaMarcus Aldridge had a right to be upset about not being named an All-Star.
4. Houston Rockets
Arguably the best offensive team behind Golden State, Houston will ride the three ball as far as it takes them. Houston shoots almost seven more threes per game than any other team, and makes 1.5 more per game than any other team. Therefore it’s fitting that Eric Gordon won the three-point contest. Averaging 17.4 points per game, Gordon is the second highest bench scorer in the league, behind just Lou Williams, who now plays for the Rockets. While the Rockets will miss Cory Brewer’s defensive prowess, he was a liability on the offensive end on an offensive juggernaut.
5. Boston Celtics
Once again, the Celtics were the center of talk around the trade deadline with names like Jimmy Butler and Paul George coming up in trade talks. However, once again, Boston let its fans down and held onto its surplus of draft picks. Isaiah Thomas may not need help at the rate he is playing, scoring 10.7 points in the fourth quarter per game. Despite their constant injuries to starters like Avery Bradley, Boston remains in the second seed in the East.
6. Utah Jazz
Easily the best defensive team in the league, the Jazz give up just 95.6 points per game and are just one of three teams to give up less than 100 points per game. Since the All-Star break when Gordon Hayward received his first All-Star bid, he has put up 29 and 30 point performances, and the Jazz continue to ride his abilities. While they may not have the pieces to push for a title, Utah’s defensive capabilities give them a chance in just about every game.
7. Toronto Raptors
It’s quite possible to say the Raptors had the best trade deadline acquisitions, despite the Pelicans receiving DeMarcus Cousins. Toronto traded for Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker for very little in return. Ibaka stretches the floor and is a great shot blocker while Tucker is one of the top wing defenders in the league. The Raptors struggled before the All-Star break, losing 11 of 15-games. Currently, they are on a three-game win streak, but with Kyle Lowry likely missing the rest of the regular season with a wrist injury, they will likely struggle to compete for the first or second seed.
8. Washington Wizards
After winning 11 of their last 12, with the only loss in that streak to Cleveland in overtime, Washington has lost their last two to the Sixers and the Jazz. Was trading away a first-round pick and worth Bojan Bogdanovic? Bogdanovic excelled for the Nets, but can he make an impact on a winning team? Despite losing those last two games, Bradley Beal scored 40 and 22 with John Wall putting up over 20 points and 10 assists in both games, showing that the All-Star break didn’t slow down the leaders of this squad. Wall, Westbrook and Harden are the only players in the league to average over 20 points and 10 assists per game, putting the Wizards’ point guard in a category with two MVP candidates.
9. Memphis Grizzlies
Despite the Grizzlies’ tendency to take down the top teams in the league, they have lost six of their last nine games against playoff caliber teams. Their defensive efficiency is fourth in the league, and they give up the third least amount of points per game. However, outside of Marc Gasol and Mike Conley, Memphis has struggled to find scoring. Zach Randolph is a great asset off the bench, but with Chandler Parsons averaging just over six points per game and no other players averaging over double figures, Memphis may have to rely on its defense.
10. Los Angeles Clippers
The Clips are finally healthy, as Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are both back in the lineup. Griffin had a career game against the Hornets, scoring 43 points, and Paul played his part scoring 15 points and dishing out 17 assists. That duo, paired with players like Deandre Jordan, who by the way was the only All-Star on the team, and J.J. Redick, could get the Clippers back into the top of the West.
11. Oklahoma City Thunder
Acquiring Taj Gibson and Doug McDermott were solid pickups for the Thunder, as they gave up very little in return. However, the Thunder still do not have a second star player to coexist with Russell Westbrook. OKC will have no problems making the playoffs, but they have lost all three outings with Golden State, and have struggled against teams like the Spurs and the Rockets, who will likely be the Thunder’s first round matchup in the playoffs. Westbrook’s historical season filled with triple-doubles may be all for naught if this team can’t even make it out of the first round of the playoffs.
12. Miami Heat
If the season ended today, the Heat would not even be in position to make the playoffs, yet they are the hottest team in the NBA. After their 13-game win streak was ended by two mediocre teams, the Heat could have fell back to the bottom of the East, but they have came back and won three straight against three playoff contending teams. Dion Waiters is having he best season of his career, averaging over 16 points per game, and 19.5 points per game in the month of February. With the bottom of the Eastern Conference as weak as it is, the Heat should have a chance at pushing for the 7th or 8th seed.
13. Chicago Bulls
Despite the skepticism and confusion surrounding the Bulls around the trade deadline, the Bulls have managed to win four games in a row, including three wins over Cleveland, Boston and Toronto. They held on to Jimmy Butler and have moved up to sixth in the East. The future of the team may not look to bright with Dwyane Wade possibly leaving next year and Butler’s future with the team uncertain. For now, the Bulls will tread water and see how far Butler can take them.
14. Atlanta Hawks
Atlanta will miss the perimeter threat that Kyle Korver supplied, and are not a good enough defensive team to make up for their lack of offense. Atlanta’s average point differential is -1.1, which is the fifth worst in the conference. The Hawks score about 103 points per game, which is nothing to flaunt, but they give up over 104 points per game. Either the Hawks will have to pick up the defensive intencity, or they will continue to get outscored.
15. Indiana Pacers
Oddly enough, there was a chance that Paul George could have been traded to the Lakers just last week. Lucky for the Pacers, Larry Bird didn’t let go of their franchise player, despite the team struggling as of late, losing seven of their last 10 games. Paul George made it clear that he wanted to stay with Indiana, but if he were to get traded, he wanted to live in his hometown of L.A. George is adamant that he and Myles Turner can lead this Pacers team to the playoffs, but they will have to at least hover around .500 to sustain that level.
16. Denver Nuggets
Prior to the deadline, the Nuggets traded for Mason Plumlee, who is having the best season of his career, averaging 10.9 points per game. In the process they gave up a first-round pick and the up and coming center Jusuf Nurkic. It surprised a lot of people that both Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler remained on the team after the trade deadline, as this Nuggets team has pieces for the future, but clearly is not ready to win now. Nikola Jokic has been putting on a show, whether it be a center securing a triple-double or his 40-point performance in New York. This team has a foundation to build around.
17. Detroit Pistons
Both Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson were on the table last week to get traded, but the Pistons failed to find a deal that suited them. Jackson has not been a reliable player as of late, averaging just 10 points per game in February, as opposed to over 15 per game on the season. The Pistons have been able to defeat the lower level teams in the league, but outside of a few occasions, have failed to take down any of the top-tier opponents. They play Cleveland twice in the next two weeks, so look to see if Detroit can actually maintain the eight spot, or if a team like Miami or Milwaukee will steal it from them.
18. Portland Trail Blazers
Despite losing seven of their last 10, the Blazers are just a game and a half behind the Nuggets for a playoff spot. Initially, trading Mason Plumlee seemed to be a downgrade, but gaining a first-round draft pick in an upcoming draft that is said to be loaded with talent, along with gaining an up and coming center in Nurkic, could lead to a bright future. It’s shocking that a team with two guards that average over 23 points per game could be this out of shape. Yet the Blazers give up over 110 points per game, which puts them in the same category as other bottom-feeders like Brooklyn and Phoenix.
19. Dallas Mavericks
After having one of the worst starts in the league, the Mavericks have played .500 level basketball for the past two months. Replacing Andrew Bogut with Nerlens Noel will surely spark the Mavericks’ future. Noel had a limited role with the 76ers due to Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor’s abilities, however, he is a dominant shot blocker and rebounder, with an unpolished offensive game. By getting rid of Deron Williams, the Mavericks have committed to the future, and could be trying to get a better position for next year’s draft.
20. Milwaukee Bucks
Milwaukee finally ended their 23-game streak of giving up over 100 points to an opponent in their last game against Phoenix. The Bucks give up the fourth most points from threes per game, as nearly 32 points of the 105 points that the Bucks give up per game come from the three-point line. No matter how fun it is to watch the Greek Freak dominate games, this Bucks team has a low ceiling without their other star player, Jabari Parker. Keep in mind the Bucks made the playoffs without him two seasons ago, and they are only a game back at this point. But any of the hype earlier in the season about the Bucks being ready to win now is clearly being put on hold.
21. Philadelphia 76ers
Just when the 76ers seemed to be turning their season around, their star player Joel Embiid suffered another knee injury. There is talk that he may never be able to play more than 20 or so minutes in a game for the rest of his career due to his knees. The Sixers finally got rid of Nerlens Noel who was just occupying space on the bench, and got a draft pick in return. Despite Okafor’s success, it was surprising for a lot of people that he remained on the team due to Embiid’s success. However, the future is bright for this young team, even with Ben Simmons shut down for the year.
22. New Orleans Pelicans
You would think that acquiring DeMarcus Cousins for next to nothing would help this suffering team win a few games. But ever since Boogie arrived, the Pelicans have failed to win a game. While it is true that the combination of Davis and Cousins is the best frontcourt duo in the league, the Pelicans lack any other scoring options. Since Cousins arrival, Jrue Holiday has shot 11-38 from the field and has put up just 30 points in those three games. Unfortunately, the Pelicans may struggle to make the playoffs this season, even though the matchup between the Warriors and the Pelicans in the first round of the playoffs would be very intriguing.
23. Minnesota Timberwolves
With Zach LaVine out of the lineup, the door has opened for Andrew Wiggins and Karl Anthony-Towns to take over the scoring role. Both of these players have dominated the stat-sheet this season, averaging about 24 points each. The question is, when will the Timberwolves finally start winning? They hired arguably the best defensive coach in the league in Tom Thibodeau, yet they give up over 105 points per game. While fans may not be able to enjoy a playoff atmosphere this season, at least the team is fun to watch.
24. Sacramento Kings
In one of the most mind-boggling deals in any sporting venue, the Kings gave up arguably the best big man in the league for very little. Buddy Hield has not lived up to his potential, even though the Kings owner compares him to Steph Curry. Tyreke Evans likely won’t have a future with the Kings due to his injuries. Otherwise, the Kings managed two mediocre draft picks and a bunch of upset fans. The only bright side is that the Kings are only a game out of the playoffs, which could give these grieving fans hope.
25. Charlotte Hornets
Charlotte has lost eight of its last 10 games and does not look anything like the same team that was competing for the third or fourth seed just two months ago. Offensively, Kemba Walker has been the only consistent factor for the Hornets, while Cody Zeller has been a force on the defensive end. The only problem is every other player not living up to their potential. Batum is shooting just around 40 percent over the last two months and Charlotte’s next best scorer is Frank Kaminsky. There is plenty of time and plenty of potential for this team to turn things around, but there are about four other teams with the same mentality.
26. New York Knicks
Outside of recently releasing Brandon Jennings, the Knicks were quiet over the trade deadline, which is surprising due to the interest a few teams had in Derrick Rose. New York has lost eight of its last 10 games, and despite being only four games out of the playoffs, it does not seem likely that their play will improve at any point this season.
27. Los Angeles Lakers
With Magic Johnson now in an advising role for this struggling Lakers front office, Los Angeles should be in a better place. Trading away Lou Williams was a good first move. The Lakers will put trust in their staff to continue to develop young players and hope for a superstar in the near future.
28. Orlando Magic
Getting rid of Serge Ibaka was a smart move due to the Magic’s abundance of capable big men. Gaining Terrance Ross, a solid wing scorer, and a first-round draft pick can be seen as as winning scenario for this struggling team. It was actually surprising that this team didn’t make more moves on the deadline.
29. Phoenix Suns
This is another team that is struggling for answers despite have a backcourt with two players scoring over 20 points per game. Devin Booker and Eric Bledsoe have been a dominant scoring tandem, but that’s about all the Suns have right now.
30. Brooklyn Nets
The Nets have lost 16 games in a row, but were able to bring in a draft pick for Bojan Bogdonavic, which shines some light on the future. The problem with Brooklyn’s team is that unlike a team like the 76ers, the Nets have no young talent to build off of. Brook Lopez will continue to suffer out another year with this team as the Nets will likely finish with the worst record in the league and swap their draft pick with Boston’s.