NBA Power Rankings: April 4, 2016

isaiah-thomas-celticsThere are multiple exciting storylines going on right now as the 2016 NBA season winds down:

– Golden State is still on pace to break the ’96 Bulls’ regular-season record.

– Four teams are within half a game of each other for the Eastern Conference’s third seed.

– Dallas, Utah and Houston are all within a game of each other for the West’s final two playoff seeds.

Check out our assessment of it all below, and see last week’s power rankings here.

1. Golden State Warriors (69-8); same spot – The Warriors need to win four out of their last five games to break the Bulls’ 72-10 record. It won’t be easy since they face San Antonio twice in this span.

2. San Antonio Spurs (64-12); same spot – With the West’s second seed wrapped up, San Antonio is just fine-tuning for the playoffs. It wouldn’t be surprising if they start resting players more.

3. Cleveland Cavaliers (55-22); same spot – Up until last week, there were plenty of questions surrounding if Cleveland was still the team to beat in the East. Wins at Atlanta and vs. Charlotte make it seem like they’ve got a firm handle on everything.

4. Oklahoma City Thunder (53-24); same spot – Can OKC realistically challenge for the West title? They do match up well with Golden State, but will probably see San Antonio in the second round.

5. Toronto Raptors (51-25); same spot – Down 3.5 games to the Cavs with time running out, it looks like Toronto will settle in as the East’s number-two seed.

blake-griffin-clippers6. LA Clippers (48-28); up 1 spot – Blake Griffin returned to help L.A. win over the Wizards yesterday. But can this team get Griffin in playoff shape and settle their chemistry enough to be a serious contender?

7. Boston Celtics (45-32); up 3 spots – The Celtics are definitely bringing it in the battle for the East’s #3 seed, recently winning at Golden State.

8. Atlanta Hawks (45-32); down 2 spots – Atlanta lost big tests against Toronto and Cleveland. The bad news is that their ability to hold onto the #3 seed will be tested even more as they face these two again along with the Boston Celtics.

9. Miami Heat (44-32); down 1 spot – The West Coast road trip didn’t go so well for Miami, as they went 1-2, even dropping a game to the Lakers.

10. Charlotte Hornets (44-32); down 1 spot – Charlotte lost at Cleveland yesterday, and they won’t get any break as they play at Toronto tomorrow night.

11. Indiana Pacers (41-36); up 1 spot – Indiana faces a tough end to the season, with contests against Cleveland and Toronto remaining.

12. Detroit Pistons (41-36); up 2 spots – Detroit also doesn’t have an easy schedule in their battle with Indiana for the East’s #7 seed. They play the Heat twice and a decent Wizards team.

13. Portland Trail Blazers (41-37); same spot – The Trail Blazers haven’t played their best basketball to close the season. However, they find themselves just a half game behind Memphis for the West’s #5 seed.

zach-randolph14. Memphis Grizzlies (41-36); down 3 spots – Memphis is finally getting healthy again, but they’ve lost six straight games, pushing them to an afterthought in the playoff conversation.

15. Dallas Mavericks (39-38); up 4 spots – The Mavericks looked to have lost all their momentum amid a 2-8 stretch. However, they’ve since won four straight games to move into seventh place in the West.

16. Utah Jazz (39-38); same spot – The Jazz face an extremely tough 4-game schedule to close out, including San Antonio, the Clippers and Dallas.

17. Houston Rockets (38-39); same spot – Houston is a game behind Utah for the final playoff spot. However, their remaining schedule is pretty friendly, with games against Dallas, Phoenix, the Lakers and Minnesota to close.

18. Chicago Bulls (39-38); down 3 spots – Chicago’s playoff hopes are on life support since they’re 2 games behind Detroit/Indiana for the East’s last spot. This might be the most-disappointing team of 2016.

19. Washington Wizards (37-40); down 1 spot – The Wizards are still mathematically alive; however, now four games back of Detroit/Indiana, they might as well start planning summer vacations.

20. Orlando Magic (33-44); up 1 spot – This young group is closing their season the right way, with three wins in their last four games.

21. Denver Nuggets (32-46); down 1 spot – Denver closes the year with three tough games against OKC, San Antonio and a playoff-hungry Utah team.

Giannis-Antetokounmpo22. Milwaukee Bucks (32-45); same spot – Giannis Antetokounmpo recently got his fifth triple-double of the season, tying him with Rajon Rondo for third in the league.

23. Sacramento Kings (31-46); up 1 spot – Despite all their turmoil and another very disappointing season, Sacramento is at least winning some games as the year winds down.

24. New York Knicks (31-47); down 1 spot – Kristaps Porzingis’ quick adaptation to the NBA was one of the most-pleasant surprises of the season. He should lead the Knicks for years to come.

25. New Orleans Pelicans (29-47); same spot – If New Orleans did one thing well this season, it was defend their home court. They’ve gone 20-18 at the Smoothie King Center.

26. Minnesota Timberwolves (25-52); same spot – The Timberwolves have a nice young corp for the future. But they will likely need a strong veteran or two next season to be more competitive.

27. Brooklyn Nets (21-56); same spot
– The future looks extremely bleak for Brooklyn since they don’t have a draft pick until 2019.

28. Phoenix Suns (20-57); same spot – Phoenix was playing decent a couple weeks ago…now they’ve lost six straight games.

29. L.A. Lakers (16-60); same spot – It’s a shame that the D’Angel Russell-Nick Young controversy is overshadowing Kobe Bryant’s final games.

30. Philadelphia 76ers (9-68); same spot – The Sixers only have five more games left to win another contest and avoid tying the worst record of all time. Given that they’ve lost 12 straight, we wouldn’t bet on another win coming any time soon.

2015 NBA Draft: Winners and Losers

justise-winslow-heatThe NBA Draft often plays out like a poker game, where every team holds their cards close to their chest. The 2015 NBA Draft was no different, with certain teams revealing some surprise picks as the night went on. About the only certainly was that Minnesota wanted Karl-Anthony Towns, who pulled away from Jahil Okafor as the consensus number-one pick as the draft moved closer.

But the first surprise involved the L.A. Lakers skipping over Okafor to take Ohio State point guard D’Angelo Russell. The very next surprise didn’t have to wait long because the Philadelphia 76ers added Okafor, selecting a center with their top pick for the third consecutive year in a row. So was this a bad move by the Sixers? Moreover, was it a good idea by the Lakers to pick Russell? Find out as we discuss the winners and losers from the 2015 NBA Draft.

1. Winner: Miami Heat get Justise Winslow

Following an excellent freshman campaign for national champion Duke, Justise Winslow was expected to go within the top 5-6 picks of the draft. However, Winslow slid to pick #10, and Heat President Pat Riley made the smart play by scooping up the talented forward. Winslow may not make up for Miami losing LeBron a year ago, but he’s an amazing value pick at this point of the draft.

1. Loser: Sacramento Kings

Maybe this top spot in the loser category has been coming for a long time, thanks to George Karl’s insistence that the team trade DeMarcus Cousins. But it’s all culminated in the Sacramento Kings eyeing Denver point guard Ty Lawson (and Kenneth Faried), over taking Emmanuel Mudiay when he fell to them at number six. Mudiay is maybe the best point guard in the draft – something the Kings need very badly – while Lawson recently had a DUI and was part of the group that quit on now-fired Nuggets coach Brian Shaw. Interestingly enough, Denver took Mudiay with the seventh pick, meaning there’s a strong chance Lawson will be traded to the Kings.

kristaps-porzingis-knicks2. Winner: New York Knicks

The New York fans may not have liked the pick – since they’re still scarred by the 1999, first-round selection of Frédéric Weis – but Latvian big man Kristaps Porzingis seems like a solid choice here. It’s obviously a move made for the future since Porzingis, who’s compared to Dirk Nowitzki, has a 6’11”, 220-pound frame that’s in need of some muscle. But he’s only 19 and many scouts think that he can be a great player once he gets some more time to develop. The Knicks also made good second-round picks by adding Notre Dame guard Jerian Grant and Spanish forward Guillermo Hernangomez.

2. Loser: Charlotte Hornets

After seeing their “Big 3” fail spectacularly last season, thanks to Lance Stevenson’s awful play, Charlotte should seriously consider rebuilding. Moreover, Michael Jordan should have dropped his obsession with Wisconsin big man Frank Kaminsky and taken the six draft picks (four first-rounders) that the Boston Celtics were offering (so they could take Winslow at #9). Kaminsky better be worth it because the Hornets could have nabbed a lot of good players with those picks.

OSUBBall24 KR 07.JPG3. Winner: L.A. Lakers/D’Angelo Russell

The Lakers were previously in the mix to trade for Cousins, but it’s believed that Sacramento wants to win now, rather than taking draft picks. So L.A. wisely used this pick to fill a need and take the 6’5″ Russell, who has great size and shooting ability at point guard. Russell himself can feel like a winner here too because he lands in a big-time market and gets the chance to learn from a Hall-of-Famer like Kobe Bryant in his first season.

3. Loser: Sixers/Jahil Okafor

Philadelphia GM Sam Hinkie is starting to look like the fantasy football player who takes running backs with his first six picks just so people have to trade with him. The Sixers now have three elite-talent centers in Nerlens Noel, Joel Embiid and Okafar. So the question becomes if they’ll trade one of these players, or keep them all. If it’s the latter, each center offers their own attributes, but, at most, Philly can only play two of them at a time. As for Okafor, he goes from a situation where he could have played heavy minutes in Minnesota or L.A., to fighting for playing time with two other lottery picks.