Top 10: NBA Power Rankings
With the All-Star break is behind us, now the unofficial 2nd half of the NBA season starts. This is crunch time for teams who are already in the playoffs and fighting for playoff positing. And, it's also crunch time for teams who are on the outside looking in who are trying to bump the teams ahead of them to get into the postseason. There is some highly contested for playoff seeding going on; especially in the rough Western Conference, where teams anywhere from 1/2 game back to 4 1/2 games back of each other. All of these teams are focused on the ultimate goal: to play in The NBA Finals in June, and capture the coveted Larry O'Brien Trophy. Some teams have gotten off to hot starts while other teams started off bad, but have heavily improved since the start of the season. Here are my power rankings of Top 10 teams in the NBA for the second half.
1. Golden State Warriors
Steve Kerr, in his first year as head coach of the Warriors, had this team hit the ground running. And, they have ran it up to the best record in the NBA at 43-10 with the Splash Brothers guards Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson leading the way. Most insiders praise Golden State's high-octane, run-and-gun offense, but their defense is often overlooked as they lead the league in opponent's field goal percentage and the best defense in the NBA overall. Curry is also the league leader in steals. If this team can stay healthy the rest of the way, they can come out the West and represent the conference in the NBA Finals in June.
2. Atlanta Hawks
The Hawks have been one of the surprises in the NBA this season. Head coach Mike Budenholzaer has lead the Hawks to the best record in the Eastern Conference (44-12) in his second year with the Hawks. Spending almost 20 years as Gregg Popovich's assistant in San Antonio, Budenholzer has brought his mentor's winning philosophy and the Spurs' style of play to the team with the same tenacious, selfish defense and sharp ball movement that creates great team-oriented offense. Four of the starting five in point guard Jeff Teague, center Al Hortford, shooting guard Kyle Korver and power forward Paul Milsap were chosen for this year's All-Star Game. They are showing the NBA they will be a force to be reckoned with as they're trying to position themselves for a deep playoff run.
3. Memphis Grizzles
The Grizz are the most underrated team in the league this season. They have the second best record in the West at 40-14, and 4 1/2 games back of the Warriors for top spot in the West. Former Grizzles assistant-turned-head coach David Joerger has done an excellent job in his 2nd year. He is picking up where his predecessor former head coach Lionel Hollins left off. Joerger has adapted that playoff-style basketball with stingy defense and great half-court offense. Plus, you can't go wrong with the one of the best, if not, the best frontcourts in the NBA with center Marc Gasol and power forward Zack Randolph as well as point guard Mike Conley and perimeter defender Tony Allen. And, the Grizzlies have gotten even better with the acquisition of Jeff Green. They are biggest challenger to the Warriors, and can upset them for the Western Conference crown.
4. Cleveland Cavaliers
The Cavs came into the season with high expectations of winning an NBA Championship with the return of superstar LeBron James, the blockbuster trade for All-Star forward Kevin Love and the re-signing of All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving. But, the ride began very bumpy with a lot of losing, poor play, lack of chemistry and effort, and a little "shoving." Rumors began circulating that LeBron may leave...again, and first-year head coach David Blatt wouldn't even survive the first half of the season. But, a few trades later (trading Dion Waiters and a few picks for J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert and Timofey Mozgov), the Cavs have climbed up into the 4th seed in the Eastern Conference winners of 16 of their last 18 games. Only 1 1/2 games back for the 3rd seed and 2 1/2 games back of the 2nd seed, the Cavs have been one of the hottest teams in the NBA since January. The team keeps on improving with the recent acquisition of center Kendrick Perkins off waivers. That gives them the backup center the Cavs sorely needed. This team has the greatest shot of coming out of the East and representing the conference in the NBA Finals come June.
5. Toronto Raptors
The Raptors are picking up where they left off a season ago. They have the second best record in the Eastern Conference. Head coach Dwayne Casey has this team still playing aggressive, smash-mouth defense and executes well on offense. Leading the team is first-time All-Star Kyle Lowry, shooting guard DeMar DeRozan and center Jonas Valanciunas. This team is very dangerous with that defense and those weapons in Lowry and DeRozan plus sharpshooter Lou Williams off the bench. The Raptors can make a deep run in the playoffs, and even come out of the East.
6. San Antonio Spurs
The defending NBA Champions haven't played up to their potential or championship form this year. Mostly due to injuries of the Spurs' key pieces including last year's Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard, who has missed significant time with injuries, as well as Patty Mills and Marco Belinelli. Also, superstar point guard Tony Parker is battling injuries as well. Despite the injuries, the Spurs have won 6 out of their last 7 games. In order for them to repeat or even make a deep playoff run, all these pieces have to be healthy. If they can do that and with a coach like future Hall of Famer Gregg Popovich, they will be ready come playoff time. As they sit 7th in the West, they still have a chance to move up in the standings. But, no matter what they're seeded, nobody will want to play this team in the first round because they are very capable of stealing a game or two on the road. But, if the injuries continue to plague them, a repeat for the Spurs will be slim to none.
7. Houston Rockets
The Rockets are on their way to another good season in the Kevin McHale era. Rockets have played well without superstar center Dwight Howard in the lineup. They currently hold the 3rd seed in the Western Conference. James Harden (aka The Bearded One) has been on a scoring tear all season as he's been scoring 27 points per game. Harden is a serious MVP candidate along with Stephen Curry, Anthony Davis and LeBron James. Houston is a true dark house to win the West and represent the Western Conference in the NBA Finals.
8. Oklahoma City Thunder
After starting out the season with injuries to Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, the Thunder are beginning to get hot at the right time. They have climbed up all the way to the 8th seed in the West and on a six-game winning streak. Some of those wins came without Durant, who's been nursing a sore foot. In Durant's absence, Westbrook has been a monster out on the floor, and capitalizing on his All Star Game performance. Plus, the Thunder have gotten much better with the trades of Dion Waiters, Enas Knater and D.J. Augustine to bolster their bench. OKC is a huge wild card to come out of the West. Whatever seed they finish with in the West, the upper tier teams have to watch out because this is a team that no one would want to play come playoff time.
9. Los Angeles Clippers
The Clippers have been an up-and-down team much of this season. They have great scorers in the Mayor and Governor of Lob City Blake Griffin and Chris Paul, but they lack the defensive intensity that head coach Doc Rivers has built his championship resume on. But, the Clippers went into the All-Star break strong with a huge win over the defending champion San Antonio Spurs. They also lost a tough and close one to the Memphis Grizzlies Monday night. They currently hold the 6th seed in the West. If the Clippers defense can compensate their high-octane offense and move up in the standings, they can give teams in the West a run in the playoffs or make a deep playoff run themselves.
10. Portland Trail Blazers
The Blazers started off the season hot with one of the top three records in the West. But, they have cooled off a lot since that hot start going 4-6 in their last 10 games. The Blazers currently hold the 4th seed in the West only a game and a half ahead of 5th place Dallas. Blazers took a huge hit losing their starting center Robin Lopez to a hand injury that has kept sidelined for past couple of months. But, they also bolstered their bench, which was second to last in the NBA in scoring, at the trade deadline with acquiring Aaron Afflalo. If he can contribute, along with Lopez's return and with LaMarcus Alderidge and Damien Lillard; the Blazers can become a very dangerous team for anyone in the West come playoff time.