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Power Rankings

Closing up shop for the season

Posted Apr 23 2012 11:57AM

We're almost there. After a frustratingly long lockout and a bizarrely entertaining season, the playoffs are just five days away. And as usual, there's still a lot to be determined before we get there.

In the Eastern Conference, the Sixers need to finish off the Bucks and figure out if they're playing the Bulls or Heat in the first round. In the West, the Jazz and Suns will battle it out for the right to play the Spurs, while Denver and Dallas determine who's sixth and who's seventh.

But while those teams still have some work to do, our work here in the Power Rankings is done. We have no clue who's going to win these first-round series, let alone the championship (though we do take a guess somewhere below), but we're certainly going to enjoy the ride.

Last week: Parity prevails in April

Hero Team of the Week: San Antonio (5-0) - The Spurs destroyed the Lakers twice.
Zero Team of the Week: Charlotte (0-4) - It just wouldn't be right to give any other team this award in the final week of the season.

Plus-minus Stud: Tony Parker (SAS) was a plus-84 in five games last week.
Plus-minus Dud: Donald Sloan (CLE) was a minus-70 in four games last week.

High jumps of the week: CHI, DAL, DEN, PHI, TOR (+3)

Free falls of the week: Houston (-3), Minnesota (-3), MEM, MIA, MIL, SAS (-2)

East vs. West: The West is 154-111 (.581) against the East in inter-conference games this season, and was 7-3 last week. Five inter-conference games remain.

Pace: Possessions per 48 minutes (League Rank)
Off: Points scored per 100 possessions (League Rank)
Def: Points allowed per 100 possessions (League Rank)

The league has averaged 93.7 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes and 101.9 points scored per 100 possessions.

NBA.com's Power Rankings are just one man's opinion and are released every Monday during the season. If you've got an issue with the rankings, or have a question or comment for John Schuhmann, send him an e-mail. You can also contact him via Twitter.

1 San Antonio (47-16)
Pace: 94.9 (8), Off: 108.2 (1), Def: 100.8 (11)
Unless they lose their final three games, the Spurs are going to be the top seed in the West for the second straight season. And this time, Manu Ginobili is healthy and making ridiculous passes like this. Speaking of ridiculous, they're scoring 118 points per 100 possessions with Ginobili on the floor.
Previous: 3

2 Miami (46-18)
Pace: 93.7 (14), Off: 105.3 (4), Def: 97.1 (4)
Prediction (more like a guess, actually): LeBron James will be the first MVP to also win the championship since Tim Duncan won both in 2003. The playoffs should be wide open and the Heat have looked rather beatable over the last month, but no team can get it done on both ends like they can.
Previous: 4

3 Chicago (48-16)
Pace: 91.8 (26), Off: 104.3 (6), Def: 95.5 (1)
Derrick Rose was back (again), but didn't really attack the basket against the Mavs on Saturday. So while the Bulls still have some work to do to wrap up the No. 1 overall seed, more important is that Rose gets his legs under him and is ready to attack come Game 1 against Philly or New York (or Milwaukee).
Previous: 1

4 Oklahoma City (46-18)
Pace: 95.6 (6), Off: 106.9 (2), Def: 99.7 (9)
Since beating the Bulls on April 1, the Thunder are 0-6 against playoff teams, with Russell Westbrook shooting 31-for-117 (26 percent) in the six games. Westbrook shot just 39 percent as the Thunder went 3-1 against the Mavs this year, and we may very well have a conference finals rematch in the first round.
Previous: 2

5 Indiana (41-23)
Pace: 93.3 (19), Off: 103.6 (9), Def: 100.3 (10)
Frank Vogel is sticking with George Hill as his starting point guard. And why not? The Pacers' new lineup is a plus-72 in 229 minutes together, strong on both ends of the floor. A first-round matchup against the depleted Magic isn't quite set, but things are looking good for Indy's first series win since 2005.
Previous: 6

6 L.A. Clippers (40-24)
Pace: 91.8 (24), Off: 105.1 (5), Def: 102.6 (16)
Clippers-Grizzlies isn't locked in as a first-round matchup, but it's close. And while all playoff series are must-watches, this one will be at the top of the list. Any series involving the Clips will surely get chippy by the second quarter of Game 2, and there's no better matchup than Tony Allen defending Chris Paul.
Previous: 9

7 Boston (37-27)
Pace: 92.5 (22), Off: 99.3 (24), Def: 96.2 (2)
By resting their stars on Friday, the Celtics made it clear that they don't care about home-court advantage against the Hawks in the first round. We'll see how that works out soon enough. Statistically, the Hawks have actually been the better road team, but the Celtics did win (ugly) in Atlanta on March 19.
Previous: 5

8 L.A. Lakers (41-24)
Pace: 92.9 (20), Off: 103.4 (10), Def: 101.4 (14)
We don't yet know how long Metta World Peace will be suspended, but we know that the Lakers might be OK, especially offensively, with Matt Barnes taking his place. L.A. has scored an efficient 114 points per 100 possessions in 128 minutes with Barnes, Kobe Bryant and Ramon Sessions on the floor together.
Previous: 7

9 Memphis (39-25)
Pace: 93.5 (18), Off: 100.7 (21), Def: 98.9 (7)
The Grizzlies have won four straight, but they're not exactly on fire. The four opponents have a combined post-All-Star-break record of 34-89 and the Grizz beat them by an average of just seven points. Games against the Cavs and Magic won't get them ready for the playoffs either. Still, we know Memphis is dangerous.
Previous: 8

10 New York (34-30)
Pace: 95.9 (5), Off: 101.2 (19), Def: 98.4 (5)
It's still hard to get over that the Knicks are a top-five defensive team. But it's not hard to figure out why when Tyson Chandler rests for a game and they allow the Hawks to score 93 points through three quarters. The offense picked up the slack, but can they put the two together against the Bulls or Heat?
Previous: 11

11 Atlanta (38-26)
Pace: 92.4 (23), Off: 102.1 (16), Def: 98.5 (6)
We've got some important questions as we get set for Celtics-Hawks in the first round. Is Al Horford going to play? And can he be effective enough to give Atlanta the floor balance needed to score against the Celtics' defense? Also, is Zaza Pachulia going to be healthy enough to go toe-to-toe with Kevin Garnett?
Previous: 10

12 Denver (36-28)
Pace: 96.6 (2), Off: 106.1 (3), Def: 103.4 (21)
The altitude in Denver provides a nice home-court advantage, but the Nuggets might want to consider relocation. They're 16-2 against the Eastern Conference this season and 9-0 against East playoff teams after Sunday's win over the Magic. They're 20-26 against the West and 5-18 against West playoff teams.
Previous: 14

13 Dallas (36-29)
Pace: 93.6 (16), Off: 101.1 (20), Def: 99.6 (8)
The champs are healthy, rested (with four days off before Thursday's finale in Atlanta) and finally putting some points on the board. Their improved offense got shut down in Chicago on Saturday, but that was without Jasons Kidd and Terry. And there are no elite defensive teams like that in the West.
Previous: 12

14 Utah (34-30)
Pace: 93.8 (13), Off: 103.8 (8), Def: 104.0 (23)
Tuesday's game against the Suns is the big one, but if the Jazz squeeze into the playoffs, how huge was Paul Millsap's incredible follow that sent Monday's game against Dallas to overtime? Throughout the year, Millsap has held the Jazz's offense together, as evidenced by his on-off-court numbers.
Previous: 19

15 Phoenix (33-31)
Pace: 94.8 (9), Off: 103.8 (7), Def: 103.7 (22)
The Suns' offense has been much-improved since the break, but their defense kept them from holding on to the eighth spot on Saturday against the Nuggets. Their season basically comes down to Tuesday's game in Utah. They're 2-0 against the Jazz thus far, shooting better than 50 percent in both games.
Previous: 13

16 Orlando (36-28)
Pace: 91.2 (29), Off: 102.5 (15), Def: 101.7 (13)
The Magic are 3-7 without Dwight Howard, and (surprise!) their defense has really suffered without him. Their opponents have shot at least 50 percent in eight of those 10 games. Wednesday's visit from one of the worst offensive teams of the last 35 years should be interesting. Something's got to give!
Previous: 15

17 Philadelphia (33-30)
Pace: 91.8 (25), Off: 101.7 (17), Def: 96.4 (3)
One win will get the Sixers in the playoffs. Two wins might get them the Heat in the first round. As a reminder, they're 0-4 against Miami this season, allowing 108 points per 100 possessions. They're 1-2 against Chicago, allowing only 98. They even outrebounded the Bulls in two of the three games.
Previous: 17

18 Houston (33-32)
Pace: 94.4 (11), Off: 102.9 (14), Def: 102.4 (15)
Seven losses in eight games have turned a feel-good playoff story into another tale of mediocrity. If the Rockets beat the Hornets on Thursday, it will be three straight years that they've missed the playoffs with a winning record. They need to do something this summer -- even if it is to take a step backward to go forward.
Previous: 16

19 Milwaukee (30-33)
Pace: 96.3 (3), Off: 103.1 (12), Def: 103.1 (18)
The Bucks are hanging on by the thinnest of strings. So thin that they need the Nets to win on Monday so that the Sixers' visit to Milwaukee will mean something on Wednesday. If the Nets can't help, the Bucks' own defense is to blame, having allowed 115 points per 100 possessions in their last five losses.
Previous: 18

20 Detroit (24-40)
Pace: 91.7 (27), Off: 97.4 (29), Def: 104.1 (24)
Only one team improved more defensively than the Pistons from the first half of the season to the second half. And that was the Nets, who had an advantage because they were so awful early on. While the league was scoring 2.9 more points per 100 possessions after the break, Detroit was allowing 3.3 less.
Previous: 22

21 Portland (28-36)
Pace: 93.6 (15), Off: 103.1 (13), Def: 103.3 (20)
The Blazers haven't exactly done well in their role as spoiler, losing five straight. They get one final chance to make an impact on the postseason when they visit Utah on Thursday. For some reason, Luke Babbitt has started two of the last three games. He has shot 24-for-66 (36 percent) over the last six.
Previous: 20

22 New Orleans (20-44)
Pace: 90.7 (30), Off: 98.5 (26), Def: 102.7 (17)
At the top (ownership) and at the bottom (the roster), the Hornets will be starting from scratch this summer. But on the bench, they're already set for the next several years. He's not going to win any awards, but no coach has done a more impressive job than Monty Williams in keeping his team competitive.
Previous: 24

23 Toronto (22-42)
Pace: 91.5 (28), Off: 98.5 (25), Def: 102.0 (14)
The Raptors will have Andrea Bargnani, DeMar DeRozan and Ed Davis next season. We think they'll have Jonas Valanciunas too. Who else they add to their young core could be determined in the next four days, because they're one of five teams with 41, 42 or 43 losses. They play another, the Nets, on Thursday.
Previous: 21

24 New Jersey (22-42)
Pace: 92.8 (21), Off: 100.2 (23), Def: 106.8 (29)
Now we wait to see if the Nets keep their pick or lose it ... and to see what Deron Williams and Gerald Wallace (player option) are going to do ... and to see what the Magic are going to do with Dwight Howard. The NBA will be in Brooklyn next season. We just have no idea how good the product will be.
Previous: 23

25 Minnesota (26-39)
Pace: 95.9 (4), Off: 101.5 (18), Def: 103.2 (19)
As the Wolves wait for Ricky Rubio to recover from knee surgery, they need to find a backcourt-mate for the kid. No Wolf has started more games this year than Wes Johnson, who has shot 40 percent from the field and 30 percent from 3-point range. No team needs a two guard more than this one.
Previous: 25

26 Washington (17-46)
Pace: 95.1 (7), Off: 97.5 (28), Def: 104.9 (25)
Break up the Wiz! They've won three straight, played spoiler against the Bucks and become the only team to win in both Chicago and Miami this season. They're 4-4 with Nene and allowing less than a point per possession with him on the floor. With a little more house cleaning, things will be looking up in D.C.
Previous: 29

27 Cleveland (21-42)
Pace: 94.0 (12), Off: 98.3 (27), Def: 105.7 (26)
After Tuesday's embarrassment in Detroit, the Cavs brought back Kyrie Irving for the final six games of the year, lottery odds be damned. And he led his team to its fifth win over the Knicks in the last two seasons. Irving has shot 52 percent in the first and fourth quarters, and just 42 percent in the second and third.
Previous: 27

28 Golden State (23-41)
Pace: 94.8 (10), Off: 103.3 (11), Def: 106.1 (27)
The Warriors won a game! With defense! That was the amazing development of the week. The sobering development was that both Andrew Bogut and Stephen Curry will have ankle surgery in the coming days. If they're both healthy next season, the Warriors might actually be decent on both ends of the floor.
Previous: 26

29 Sacramento (21-43)
Pace: 97.3 (1), Off: 100.5 (22), Def: 106.8 (28)
Tyreke Evans had a better season than he did last year, but still not up to the standard he set as the Rookie of the Year. In three seasons, he's gone from point guard to shooting guard to small forward. So where does he go from here? Apparently, that's what his agent was trying to find out on Friday.
Previous: 28

30 Charlotte (7-56)
Pace: 93.5 (17), Off: 92.5 (30), Def: 107.8 (30)
Sunday looked to be the Bobcats' best chance to avoid finishing with the worst record in NBA history. But they got shellacked by the Kings. Now, they've got to pick up a win either in Washington, in Orlando, or at home against New York to avoid making history. Somehow they have wins over the Magic and Knicks already.
Previous: 30

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