Deciphering the NBA Landscape Following a Wild Trade Deadline
The trade deadline definitely shook up the league’s hierarchy and made clear where certain teams stand. Here are my current NBA Power Rankings, as we near the All-Star break.
- Golden State Warriors (40-15)
Surprise, surprise, the Warriors are healthy and elevating their play in the second half of the season. To his credit, Demarcus Cousins has fit in seamlessly and allowed this team to elevate their play to another level. Simply put, I would be shocked if they don’t three-peat this year.
- Milwaukee Bucks (41-14)
The Bucks are not only winning, but they are demolishing teams on a nightly basis. Prior to their loss this past weekend to this Magic (Giannis did not play), the Bucks had notched six victories in a row, all by double digits. They made a perfect acquisition at the deadline, adding Nikola Mirotic to a team already loaded with sharpshooters. The slight concern moving forward is that this team lacks playoff experience, but superior coaching and a stout defence should make up for it.
- Philadelphia 76ers (36-20)
This team is all-in; it is about the present and making the finals this season. The 76ers new starting 5 is flat-out scary and a few underrated additions have suddenly given this team a dangerous bench, as well. They have some work to do if they want to catch the top 2 teams in the conference, but if we are to use Sunday’s game versus the Lakers as a litmus test, the 76ers might be the favourites to come out of the Eastern Conference.
- Toronto Raptors (41-16)
Keeping pace in the Eastern Conference arms race, the Raptors added Marc Gasol at a relative bargain. He may not solve all of the Raptors issues, but he is an upgrade and matches up well with guys like Al Horford and Joel Embiid. Perhaps more important to the Raptors, is the improved play of Kyle Lowry. He’s had a rough season thus far, but did manage to average 18.3 points, 8 assists and 4.3 rebounds, on 57.7 from the field, this past week. It’s all about peaking at the right time.
- Denver Nuggets (37-18)
Three consecutive losses have resulted in the Nuggets falling behind the surging Warriors at the top of the West. The sense around the team is that fatigue is starting to set in, with Paul Millsap and Gary Harris being absent once again. Once fully healthy, (yes, that includes Isaiah Thomas, too) we will be able to properly evaluate this team.
- Oklahoma City Thunder (36-19)
The Thunder have won 10 of their last 11 games, including a shocking comeback victory against the Rockets on Saturday. Russell Westbrook’s triple-double streak continues and Paul George’s MVP claims are getting louder and louder. Somewhat surprisingly, the team did not do anything at the deadline, but remember they are anticipating the return of defensive ace Andre Roberson before the playoffs begin.
- Boston Celtics (35-21)
This may be a slight overreaction but the Celtics may be approaching crisis mode. Aside from the fact that their Eastern Conference rivals all made significant upgrades while the Celtics stood pat, the Celtics are dealing with increased adversity. Irving’s knee sprain is only expected to be day-to-day but the bigger issue is Marcus Morris calling out the team’s lack of character and toughness. On-court struggles are one thing, but locker room turmoil can be what causes a season to spiral out of control.
- Houston Rockets (32-23)
The collapse versus the Thunder was troubling, but other than that, the Rockets are taking steps in the right direction. Iman Shumpert was one of the more underrated acquisitions at the deadline, and more help could be on the way via the buyout market. James Harden can extend his streak of 30-point performances to 30 consecutive games on Monday, against the Mavericks, though at some point the team should consider easing the load to ensure he doesn’t burn out, come June.
- Utah Jazz (32-34)
To the disappointment of Jazz fans, the team did nothing at the deadline, which is all the more painful considering how close the Conley deal was to being finalized. Following his all-star snub, Rudy Gobert has elevated his level of play and Donovan Mitchell has been more consistent as of late. This team, as currently constructed, may be a notch below the top 4 in the West.
- Portland Trail Blazers (33-22)
The Blazers did not make a big splash during the deadline, but they did improve their bench with the additions of Rodney Hood and Skal Labissiere. They are on a two game losing streak after a couple poor losses to the Heat and Mavericks, and will need to bounce back quickly to avoid falling down further in the Western Conference Standings. A difficult week is ahead of them as they face the Thunder, Warriors, Nets and 76ers.
- Indiana Pacers (37-19)
Just when it looked like the Pacers were finally going to crumble, following the devastating Victor Oladipo injury, they have gone on a five game winning streak. Bojan Bogdanovic has picked up most of the scoring slack, and the Pacers added Wesley Matthews via the buyout market to slot in as the starting 2. The Pacers have an easy stretch of games coming up; they could put real pressure on the Sixers and Celtics hopes of a top-four spot.
- Sacramento Kings (30-26)
The Kings continue to be one of the surprise stories of the season. Buying into their unexpected success and expedited rebuild, they added Harrison Barnes and Alec Burks at the deadline. They are on pace to have their best season since 2005-06. With the Lakers struggles and Clippers (ambiguous) deadline, the Kings may now have the inside track for the 8th and final playoff spot in the West.
- Los Angeles Clippers (31-26)
They made some terrific moves at the deadline, supposedly aimed at clearing cap space and preparing themselves for the off-season…but is it possible that they improved? Losing Tobias Harris hurts, but Landry Shamet, Ivica Zubac, Garrett Temple, Jamychel Green and Wilson Chandler are all capable players. They are coming off of the NBA’s biggest comeback in two seasons, knocking off the Celtics after being down by 28. Look, I don’t know what to make of this team. Are they competing? Do they want to make the playoffs? Time will tell.
- San Antonio Spurs (32-26)
What a rollercoaster of a season so far for the Spurs. After a hot stretch to begin January, they are now descending again, losers of four straight games by an average margin of 20.8 points. Don’t look now but the Spurs are only 1 game above the 9thseed. This team is, by no means, a lock to make the playoffs. (I don’t think I’ve ever said that about a Popovich-led team)
- Brooklyn Nets (29-28)
The return of Caris LeVert gives the Nets both a morale boost and some vital depth in the backcourt to compensate for the absence of Spencer Dinwiddie. With no moves of consequence at the deadline and with a difficult stretch of games coming up, this could be the defining period of the Nets season.
- Los Angeles Lakers (28-28)
If not for Rajon Rondo’s heroics at the buzzer in Boston on Friday night, the Lakers would be in free fall, having dropped two games by a combined 65 points to the Pacers and 76ers. LeBron is back and healthy, but it’s not really helping. You have to wonder if all of the rumours and trade speculation has got to the young guys and affected the overall complexion and morale of this team. It is unfathomable to picture LeBron James missing out on the post-season, but right now this does not look like a playoff team.
- Charlotte Hornets (27-28)
Like usual, the Hornets are floating around .500, playing average basketball. The fact that they did nothing at the deadline must be infuriating for fans. The bottom half of the East is wide open and with Kemba Walker in the final year of his contract, playing the best basketball of his career, the team may regret not making a move to improve the team’s playoff chances.
- Dallas Mavericks (26-29)
Moves made by the Mavericks before the trade deadline, were clearly aimed at the future, but it definitely doesn’t mean that Dallas is tanking, at least not yet. The team has won 3 of their last four games and Doncic continues to put up staggering numbers. Remember though, unless they finish with a top five pick, their pick does to the Hawks. It will be interesting to see the direction they take down the stretch.
- Detroit Pistons (25-29)
The Pistons are on a three game win streak; playing as well as they have since October. They made some interesting changes to their roster at the deadline targeting shooters, adding Wayne Ellington, Thon Maker and Svi Mykhailiuk. They currently sit in a tie for the final playoff spot in the East.
- Miami Heat (25-29)
Losers of five of their past six games, including a couple of devastating losses where they held double-digit leads, the Heat find themselves outside of the playoff picture on the East. To lower their tax bill, they traded away Tyler Johnson and Wayne Ellington at the deadline, signalling that they don’t have much interest in competing this season.
- Orlando Magic (25-32)
Winners of three of their last four and holding on to all of their pieces at the deadline, the Magic are clearly interested in making the playoffs this season. They took a low risk, high-reward chance, acquiring Markelle Fultz, but have made it clear they won’t rush him this season.
- New Orleans Pelicans (25-32)
What an awkward situation. After having one foot out the door, and taking him out of the pre-game videos, Anthony Davis is suddenly back on the court playing for the Pelicans, as his home fans boo him. I mean, as long as Davis is playing, this team is too good to tank. At the same time, they are six games out of a playoff spot so what do they achieve by competing and winning games?
- Washington Wizards (24-32)
It appears that the Wizards have finally thrown in the towel. Following the news of John Wall rupturing his Achilles and expected for up to a year, the Wizards traded away Otto Porter at the deadline. The move wipes a monster contract off the Wizards books and sends the team into a transition phase as they rebuild around Bradley Beal.
- Minnesota Timberwolves (25-30)
Looking at the Timberwolves roster, this should not be a 25-30 team. Following the departure of Jimmy Butler and Tom Thibodeau, things have spiralled even further out of control. The Wolves are on a four game losing streak, find themselves five games out of a playoff spot and have a very tough schedule coming up. Yikes.
- Memphis Grizzlies (23-34)
What is this team doing? You traded one franchise cornerstone but kept the other; you shed some cap space while simultaneously taking some on. Most confusing of all is the fact that they may even be better team now than prior to the deadline moves.
- Atlanta Hawks (18-38)
The Hawks youngsters continue to improve, particularly John Collins who looks like he has All-Star potential. The Hawks have a nice young core; though I’m surprised they didn’t deal Kent Bazemore and Dewayne Dedmon at the deadline to put themselves in an even better position with additional draft picks and cap flexibility.
- Chicago Bulls (13-43)
In the Bulls case the record, doesn’t tell the whole story. They made a brilliant move acquiring Otto Porter at the deadline, giving them a core of of Lavine-Porter-Markkanen-Carter to build around. The Bulls obviously have no incentive to win games at the moment and by adding another high lottery pick in the summer, the Bulls may actually be playoff team again sooner rather than later.
- Cleveland Cavaliers (11-45)
Kevin Love is back after a 50-game absence, perhaps to the dismay of ‘Zionists”.
- Phoenix Suns (11-47)
The Suns are on a 14 game losing streak, just one loss shy of the franchise record for consecutive defeats. An encounter against the Cavaliers this week will be instrumental in the ‘Power-Tankings’ and Zion race.
- New York Knicks (11-45)
16 straight losses, a fire sale, what else is there to say about this team? A minor positive is that Enes Kanter has finally been freed?