NBA Power Rankings Week 21: The Warriors Are Still Lurking

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The Golden State Warriors are firmly in the mix for the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference, and the team’s 47-22 overall record would rank No. 1 if transposed to the Eastern Conference. To put it plainly, it has been a fantastic overall season for the Warriors, especially when viewed through the lens of preseason expectations. However, the Warriors opened the 2021-22 campaign with 18 wins in the first 20 games, and Golden State has leveled off, at least to some degree, since that early barrage. Part of that can be attributed to player availability, but a funny thing happened on Monday evening in that Golden State was back to (relatively) full strength.

Draymond Green returned from an absence of more than two months, and he looked lot like Draymond Green in a win over the Washington Wizards. Of course, Stephen Curry was on the on-court story, scoring 47 points on his birthday, and that came on the heels of a 38-point outburst from Klay Thompson in Golden State’s previous win over Milwaukee. All told, the Warriors are on a four-game winning streak as they prepare for a nationally televised showdown against the Boston Celtics on Wednesday.

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The overarching question is just how good the Warriors are this season, and a simple measure might be the team’s 29-6 record in games in which Green plays. That is a terrifyingly high projection for any squad, but Golden State boasts a +10.6 net rating when Green is on the court, and that balloons to +14.9 in minutes with both Green and Curry together. Thompson isn’t quite back to his old self, but he is clearly a positive influence, and Golden State appears to be back in a groove after a letdown in Greens’s absence.

Everything is measured against the Phoenix Suns, with the Suns cruising to the top overall seed in the NBA, but the Warriors have been neck-and-neck with Phoenix anytime Curry and Green are available. Nothing is assured on the injury front, but Green’s return was a peek into what could be for the Warriors, and with a highly intriguing test arriving on Wednesday, it could be another datapoint in favor of Golden State as co-favorites.

Where do the Warriors stack up in our DIME power rankings this week? Let’s take a glance.

1. Phoenix Suns (55-14, Last week — 1st)

Ho-hum for the Suns. Chris Paul is still out, but Phoenix absolutely throttled the Lakers this weekend and then beat the Pelicans by 16 on the road on Tuesday. If you are making tiers, it is the Suns and everyone else until otherwise noted.

2. Golden State Warriors (47-22, Last week — 10th)

If you examine the performance at full strength, this is where the Warriors should be. If you want to talk about the last month or two, it seems high. We’ll learn more on Wednesday.

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3. Miami Heat (46-24, Last week — 2nd)

Miami slides a bit, but it’s mostly that Golden State made a leap. The Heat did get blasted by the Suns to begin the week, but that loss came without Jimmy Butler, providing cover of some sort. Miami still sits atop the East by 2.5 games, though getting the top seed may not be so appealing if the Nets end up in the No. 8 spot.

4. Memphis Grizzlies (48-22, Last week — 4th)

It is Memphis, not Golden State, that has the West’s second-best record. The Grizzlies have won four in a row, but they were “taking care of business” wins against the Pels, Knicks, Thunder and Pacers. Next up is an interesting road trip to Atlanta to take on the Hawks.

5. Milwaukee Bucks (43-26, Last week — 7th)

Brook Lopez is back, and the Bucks are looking like themselves. Granted, Lopez will need time to get settled, but Milwaukee is 7-1 in the last eight games as he returns. Given the pedigree of this group and the wide-open nature of the East, the Bucks feel quite dangerous.

6. Dallas Mavericks (42-26, Last week — 8th)

Dallas suffered a thoroughly bizarre 30-point home loss to the Knicks this week. That was so weird that it’s almost worth throwing out, and the Mavericks are 13-3 in the last 16 games. That includes a very nice road win in Boston on Sunday that facilitates the small bump in the rankings.

7. Boston Celtics (41-28, Last week — 3rd)

As noted above, the Celtics did lose to the Mavs at home, but there is no great shame in that. Boston’s defense continues to be absurd, and the Celtics are 16-3 in the last 19 games. Boston is getting more buzz as an actual contender to reach the NBA Finals, and that is a scenario that is quite reasonable.

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8. Denver Nuggets (41-28, Last week — 6th)

After back-to-back home losses, the Nuggets went into Philadelphia and won the first matchup between Nikola Jokic and Joel Embiid in a long time. Beyond the standings, Jamal Murray is reportedly getting close, with an appearance at G League practice and all kinds of positive buzz.

9. Brooklyn Nets (36-33, Last week — 15th)

This might be too low for Brooklyn, but the Nets are creeping back up the list. Kevin Durant’s presence immediately makes the Nets a different team, and Brooklyn has won four in a row. Kyrie Irving absolutely erupted for 60 points on Tuesday and, as it turns out, Brooklyn is pretty good when most of their guys can play.

10. Philadelphia 76ers (41-26, Last week — 5th)

It wasn’t the best week for Philly. The 76ers were absolutely throttled by the Nets before losing a home game to the Nuggets. Granted, they beat the Magic in between, but the loss to Brooklyn (on national television and all) has to give the organization some nightmares. That’s how bad it is.

11. Utah Jazz (42-26, Last week — 9th)

Last week, we discussed the mess in the middle of the West, and the Jazz went 2-2 this week. That isn’t catastrophic by any means, but Utah now sits in a tie with Dallas and just 1.5 games ahead of Denver. Every game counts, and the Jazz were sideswiped by the drought they endured without Rudy Gobert on the court.

12. Minnesota Timberwolves (40-30, Last week — 11th)

The Wolves are 8-1 in the last nine games, which speaks for itself. The only loss came to Orlando, which isn’t ideal, but the vibes are very strong on the heels of a 60-point performance from Karl-Anthony Towns

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. Can the Wolves catch the Nuggets for the No. 6 spot? We’ll see, but Minnesota already having 40 wins is remarkable in itself.

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13. Toronto Raptors (38-30, Last week — 14th)

Toronto is on a marathon six-game road trip, but the results have been great. They did lose to Cleveland, but the Raptors then reeled off victories over the Spurs, Suns, Nuggets, and Lakers in succession. Toronto is within one game of Cleveland for the No. 6 seed, though the Raptors do lose the tiebreaker to the Cavs by nature of losing all three regular season tilts to this point.

14. Chicago Bulls (41-27, Last week — 13th)

For most of the season, Chicago’s kryptonite has been when they face good teams. The Bulls are 2-15 against the NBA’s top tier, but Chicago ended this week by losing… to the Kings. That loss keeps the Bulls from rising in the rankings, even if it could potentially be written off as noise.

15. Cleveland Cavaliers (39-29, Last week — 12th)

If the Cavs are going to hold off the Raptors for the No. 6 seed, they will need to do work in the next couple of weeks. Cleveland has seven of the next eight games at home, and that includes home dates against Detroit, Orlando and the Lakers.

16. Atlanta Hawks (34-34, Last week — 17th)

The Hawks are back to .500 for the first time since December, and that is notable. At the same time, Atlanta had to go to the wire to beat the Zombie Pacers and the Zombie Blazers this weekend. The Hawks have a bigger test on Wednesday in Charlotte, and that should spotlight whether Atlanta’s recent gains are real.

17. Charlotte Hornets (34-35, Last week — 18th)

Charlotte just scored 276 points in two games. The opponents were New Orleans and Oklahoma City, but that is wild against anyone with both games ending in regulation. As noted above, the Hornets are also facing a bottom-five defense (Atlanta) on Wednesday.

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18. L.A. Clippers (36-35, Last week — 16th)

The Clippers are resilient, competitive, and well-coached. That doesn’t paper over a limited roster, but it’s true. L.A. slips behind Atlanta after a head-to-head loss, but the Clippers might be the epitome of a league-average team this season.

19. New Orleans Pelicans (28-41, Last week — 20th)

It doesn’t feel like anyone wants the No. 10 spot in the West play-in, but the Pelicans still have it. New Orleans is 1-5 in the last six games, and that includes home losses to Orlando and Charlotte. The downturn is explained by the absence of Brandon Ingram and CJ McCollum, but the timing wasn’t great. Fortunately, the closest competitor is Portland, and the Blazers rank (spoiler alert!) much lower on this list.

20. Washington Wizards (29-38, Last week — 19th)

A week ago, the Wizards were within 1.5 games of the No. 10 seed. On cue, Washington went 0-4 on a road trip and the gap is now four full games behind Charlotte and 4.5 games behind Atlanta. That doesn’t totally slam the door, but the Wizards need to make a huge run and it doesn’t feel like they can.

21. San Antonio Spurs (26-43, Last week — 21st)

The headliner of the week in San Antonio was Gregg Popovich setting the all-time wins record. This has been an otherwise forgettable season, but giving Popovich attention for that mark is warranted, and the victory came against a good team in the Jazz.

22. New York Knicks (28-40, Last week — 23rd)

The Knicks just won three of the last five games on a road trip. That’s a nice development for New York, and the two losses came by a total of seven points. That doesn’t help the Knicks’ hideous clutch stats, but being competitive is nice.

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23. Los Angeles Lakers (29-39, Last week — 22nd)

On the positive side, LeBron scored 50 points in a win over Washington this week. On the pessimistic side, the Lakers lost the other three games on their schedule, including a loss to the hapless Rockets, an absolute annihilation at the ends of the Suns, and a game that is now known for LeBron throwing a basketball.

24. Sacramento Kings (25-45, Last week — 25th)

De’Aaron Fox has scored at least 20 points in every game since he returned from injury on Feb. 8. His bounce-back doesn’t solve every problem for the Kings but, if you’re looking for optimism in the midst of the wreckage, Fox’s recent performance should provide some.

25. Detroit Pistons (18-51, Last week — 24th)

A week ago, the Pistons had won three in a row and they rose in the rankings as a result. This time, they are on a four-game losing streak. Still, Detroit lost to four playoff teams and all four games were competitive. That is a victory in itself, especially when the Pistons need to keep up in the race for lottery position.

26. Indiana Pacers (23-47, Last week — 28th)

Some of the rosters being utilized by the Pacers are pretty gross, and Indiana is 4-14 in the last 18 games. They do have pieces to build with, headlined by Tyrese Haliburton, but Indiana was absolutely smashed by the Ja Morant-less Grizzlies at home on Tuesday.

27. Portland Trail Blazers (26-41, Last week — 26th)

Since the All-Star break, the Blazers have been the worst team in the NBA by a considerable margin. It is easy to see why if you take a glance at the available roster for Portland (sorry, Josh Hart) but the Blazers are 1-7 with a -23.2 net rating in the last eight games. It’s gross.

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28. Orlando Magic (18-52, Last week — 29th)

Orlando ends up rising in the rankings one day after losing by 42 points at home. That is the nature of the bottom of the league, but the Magic picked up wins over New Orleans and Minnesota in the last seven days. Unfortunately, Jon Isaac is going to miss the rest of the season, meaning that he will miss more than two full years before presumably returning in 2022-23.

29. Oklahoma City Thunder (20-48, Last week — 27th)

The NBA’s longest active losing streak belongs to the Thunder at six. Five of those six losses came at home and, while the Thunder have been frisky on defense for the full season, OKC’s defensive rating (128.8) in those games was abhorrent. Oklahoma City does have injuries, but it’s ugly on the floor.

30. Houston Rockets (17-51, Last week — 30th)

The Rockets are very bad, but they did beat the Lakers this week! With that out of the way, Jalen Green had 32 points in that game and he is averaging 21 points per game on 52 percent shooting in March. That, along with ping-pong balls, is what the rest of the season is about in Houston.



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