It's time to wrap up another season of Power Rankings.
Like every season before it, this one had its surprises, its disappointments, its injuries, its highs and its lows. When we look back, we'll probably focus on the Heat's 27-game winning streak and the Lakers' struggle to make the playoffs.
But we'll also remember Carmelo Anthony's career year, Kevin Durant's continued improvement, Tim Duncan's continued brilliance, the Nuggets' furious style, non-seasons from Derrick Rose and Andrew Bynum, and of course, Dirk's beard.
Since it's playoff time, the final rankings are (basically) in the order of how I'd pick a series (that started this week) between any two teams in the league. For example, I'd pick the Heat over any other team and I'd pick any other team over the Magic (and let's just quickly forget the idea of Orlando and Charlotte playing seven games in a row). There are some matchups where A > B > C > A, but for the most part, this is where how I see things playing out.
That's why the Knicks suffered a drop, even though they're still playing well. With their below-average defense, it would be difficult to pick them in a series against any of the top five teams in the West. They have changed my mind about a conference semifinals matchup with the Pacers, however.
NBA.com's Power Rankings are just one man's opinion and are released every Monday during the season. If you have an issue with the rankings, or have a question or comment for John Schuhmann, send him an e-mail or contact him via twitter.
Pace: 93.0 (22), OffRtg: 110.3 (2), DefRtg: 100.4 (7), NetRtg: +9.9 (2)
Despite all the maintenance days for their stars, the Heat again have the longest active winning streak in the league (six games). They haven't lost a home game that LeBron James has played since Jan. 4 (vs. Chicago). So, with the best player in the world, home-court advantage, championship experience, a ridiculously efficient offense, and a much-improved defense, how can you pick against them?
Remaining: @ CLE, vs. ORL
Oklahoma City (59-21)
Pace: 96.0 (9), OffRtg: 110.3 (1), DefRtg: 99.2 (4), NetRtg: +11.1 (1)
The Thunder have the edge for home-court advantage through the Western Conference finals, but it's still encouraging that they've allowed less than 90 points per 100 possessions in their last four road games, including wins over the Pacers, Jazz and Warriors. Improved defensively from a year ago, they'll finish the season as the only team to rank in the top five on both ends of the floor.
Remaining: vs. SAC, vs. MIL
San Antonio (58-22)
Pace: 96.2 (8), OffRtg: 106.2 (7), DefRtg: 98.9 (3), NetRtg: +7.3 (3)
The Spurs have lost three of their last five games, and so their two-year reign atop the Western Conference standings appears to be over. But Tim Duncan is still dunkin' and the San Antonio defense is the best its been in the last five years. If Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili were 100 percent, the Spurs would definitely be the pick to meet the Heat. But health is just too big of an issue.
Remaining: @ GSW, vs. MIN
Pace: 97.6 (2), OffRtg: 107.5 (5), DefRtg: 102.0 (11), NetRtg: +5.5 (5)
The Nuggets may be able to absorb the loss of Danilo Gallinari, but they absolutely need Kenneth Faried, who went down with a sprained ankle on Sunday. They also need these last two games to maintain the top-3 seed they've worked so hard for. Ty Lawson looked solid (25 points on 10-for-17 shooting and 13 assists in two games over the weekend) in his return from his bruised heel.
Remaining: @ MIL, vs. PHX
91.2 (28), OffRtg:
101.6 (19), DefRtg:
97.6 (2), NetRtg:
The Grizzlies have been better offensively since the Rudy Gay trade
(103.1 points scored per 100 possessions) than they were before it
(100.4). But they've gone cold (96.9) in their last five games. Zach Randolph has shot just 38 percent over those five games and is having his worst shooting season since he played for the Blazers. The Grizzlies' size advantage isn't quite the same with an inefficient Z-Bo. Remaining:
@ DAL, vs. UTA
93.6 (19), OffRtg:
107.6 (4), DefRtg:
101.0 (9), NetRtg:
The Clippers have won five straight at the right time (and for the first time in 2013), highlighted by Saturday's grinder in Memphis, where the Grizz had won 13 straight. Now, the Clips just need to beat two lottery teams to have home-court advantage in the first round. Defensive consistency is still an issue, but they have the league's second-best (and a very balanced) offense since the All-Star break
vs. POR, @ SAC
New York (53-27)
Pace: 92.0 (26), OffRtg: 108.7 (3), DefRtg: 103.4 (16), NetRtg: +5.3 (6)
The Knicks' winning streak and Carmelo Anthony's streak of scoring 35 points or more both came to an end last week. But more important, especially given their first-round opponent, was that they were able to win an ugly and physical game against the Pacers on Sunday. The last time they beat a playoff team while scoring less than a point per possession was Jan. 24 against the Celtics.
Remaining: @ CHA, vs. ATL
92.8 (25), OffRtg:
101.6 (18), DefRtg:
96.5 (1), NetRtg:
The slate gets wiped clean on Wednesday, but the Pacers picked a bad time to be playing their worst basketball of the season. Since returning from a great, four-game trip out West, they've gone 1-4 and are lucky that the Nets lost in Toronto on Sunday (or the 3 seed would still be up for grabs). Their defense doesn't look so great anymore and Paul George has shot just 28 percent in the five games
@ BOS, vs. PHI
Pace: 91.0 (29), OffRtg: 105.1 (9), DefRtg: 103.7 (18), NetRtg: +1.4 (12)
The Nets are, by far, the most improved team in the league from last season, in terms of both winning percentage and point differential. And it's amazing that a team can rank in the top 10 offensively with Reggie Evans, Kris Humphries and Gerald Wallace playing 2/3 of the minutes at the forward positions. But given their defensive inconsistency, getting out of the first round is no guarantee.
Remaining: vs. WAS, vs. DET
Golden State (45-35)
Pace: 96.7 (5), OffRtg: 104.2 (10), DefRtg: 102.8 (13), NetRtg: +1.4 (11)
Regular season results don't necessarily mean anything in the playoffs, but the Warriors are probably hoping for a first-round matchup with the Clippers. They're 3-1 against L.A. and 3-9 (0-7 on the road), having scored less than a point per possession, against the other four teams they could possibly face. They did beat the full-strength Spurs, who they host on Monday, back in February though.
Remaining: vs. SAS, @ POR
Pace: 98.6 (1), OffRtg: 107.0 (6), DefRtg: 103.4 (17), NetRtg: +3.5 (9)
Houston will have a tough time knocking off whichever top-3 seed it faces (it lost the season series to all five of its possible opponents), but you know it will be an entertaining series, especially now that Chandler Parsons is back and the Rockets are whole again. They've been excellent (NetRtg: +14.4) in 186 minutes with their new starting frontline (Greg Smith and Omer Asik) on the floor together.
Remaining: @ PHX, @ LAL
Pace: 94.0 (17), OffRtg: 101.2 (20), DefRtg: 100.1 (5), NetRtg: +1.0 (14)
The Celtics split their two games with the Knicks in which Kevin Garnett played, but those were both in January. They held Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith to just 36 percent combined shooting, and have had success with their new starting lineup in limited minutes, but their ability to make this series interesting may depend on Jason Terry and Courtney Lee hitting shots off the bench.
Remaining: vs. IND, @ TOR
Pace: 92.0 (27), OffRtg: 100.2 (25), DefRtg: 100.5 (8), NetRtg: -0.3 (15)
The Bulls make no sense. In the same week they ended the Knicks' 13-game winning streak, they lost twice to the Raptors. Overall, they've lost four of their last five, having allowed 108.6 points per 100 possessions in that stretch. They're counting on Nate Robinson more than anyone could have imagined, though they haven't ruled out a return from Derrick Rose, as unlikely as it seems at this point.
Remaining: @ ORL, vs. WAS
94.7 (13), OffRtg:
102.8 (15), DefRtg:
101.6 (10), NetRtg:
Both the Pacers and Nets would probably rather play Atlanta than Chicago in the first round. But the Hawks have two wins against both Indiana and Brooklyn, have been very good (35-22) when Devin Harris has played, are a top-10 defense too, and have been much better offensively than the Bulls. Their most-used lineups have also been very effective. Their most-used lineups have also been very effective
vs. TOR, @ NYK
L.A. Lakers (44-37)
Pace: 96.9 (4), OffRtg: 105.7 (8), DefRtg: 103.7 (19), NetRtg: +2.0 (10)
It's amazing that all of the drama that the Lakers went through in the first 79 games of the season was basically trumped by Games 80 (with Kobe Bryant's Achilles injury) and 81 (a huge victory over the Spurs). Still, it would only be appropriate for the Jazz to win their last two games and have this come down to the final game of the season in L.A., maybe with Dwight Howard on the line in the final seconds.
Remaining: vs. HOU
Pace: 96.3 (6), OffRtg: 103.6 (12), DefRtg: 104.0 (20), NetRtg: -0.5 (16)
The Mavs probably would have been a playoff team had Dirk Nowitzki been healthy at the start of the season. But they'd basically be the Rockets, Warriors or Lakers (or Jazz), able to score, unable to get stops, and not much of a threat in the first round. They're not bringing back Tyson Chandler and probably aren't getting Dwight Howard, but defense has to be the priority in free agency.
Remaining: vs. MEM, vs. NOH
Pace: 93.5 (20), OffRtg: 103.9 (11), DefRtg: 104.5 (21), NetRtg: -0.7 (17)
There are always several games a team will look back on with regret when they barely miss the playoffs. But it isn't hard to point directly a March 6 loss in Cleveland, when the Jazz got outscored 12-1 in the final 2:35 to lose by three to a team that has won just three games since then. The Jazz have taken care of business against bad teams since then and are still alive, but need a miracle.
Remaining: @ MIN, @ MEM
Pace: 95.2 (11), OffRtg: 100.2 (24), DefRtg: 103.1 (15), NetRtg: -2.9 (21)
Well, there's nothing for the Wolves to do but try again next season and hope they can keep both Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love healthy. But they also have some work to do this summer to bring back Nikola Pekovic and Chase Budinger. And even if all goes right, ending their nine-year playoff drought next season is no guarantee, because the Western Conference is always going to be stacked.
Remaining: vs. UTA, @ SAS
94.4 (15), OffRtg:
97.7 (30), DefRtg:
100.4 (6), NetRtg:
John Wall has certainly improved his mid-range game, shooting 38 percent
from between the paint and the arc after shooting 32 percent from there in his first two seasons. But even a good mid-range shooter (45 percent) gets just 0.9 points per attempt and doesn't really punish a defender for going under a screen. So Wall still needs a 3-point shot, where just 35 percent gets you 1.05 points per attempt. Remaining:
@ BKN, @ CHI
Pace: 97.3 (3), OffRtg: 100.8 (22), DefRtg: 102.3 (12), NetRtg: -1.5 (18)
The Bucks basically made the playoffs by default, and they're really limping into the postseason, having lost 11 of their last 14 games, a stretch highlighted by losses to the two worst teams in the league last week. They haven't beat another Eastern Conference playoff team since Jan. 9 and are 0-12 since then. If they don't lose all four games to the Heat by double-figures, it will be an upset.
Remaining: vs. DEN, @ OKC
Pace: 93.2 (21), OffRtg: 99.4 (26), DefRtg: 102.9 (14), NetRtg: -3.5 (22)
Doug Collins is done in Philly and now the Sixers have two major questions to answer in the next three months: 1. Are they bringing Andrew Bynum back? And 2. Who will be their eighth coach since Larry Brown left in 2003? The good news is that they're still pretty young. The bad news is that they're not on the fast track to relevancy like they thought they were when they traded for Bynum.
Remaining: @ DET, @ IND
Pace: 92.9 (24), OffRtg: 102.5 (17), DefRtg: 104.8 (22), NetRtg: -2.3 (19)
Unless it lands in the top three, the Raptors will send their lottery pick to Oklahoma City. But this is probably a good draft to have no first-round pick, and this team should be better by just bringing everybody (except maybe Andrea Bargnani) back. They're finishing strong, with five wins in their last six games (three straight over playoff teams), playing some of their best defense of the season.
Remaining: @ ATL, vs. BOS
Pace: 93.8 (18), OffRtg: 103.0 (13), DefRtg: 106.9 (27), NetRtg: -3.9 (23)
As Will Barton continues to show promise, the Blazers continue to lose. And now, because the Clippers and Warriors still have something to play for (and because Portland has lost 19 of its last 21 games in-conference), a season-ending, 13-game losing streak is almost a guarantee. The Eric Maynor trade looks like a good move, but more depth, especially on the frontline, is needed this summer.
Remaining: @ LAC, vs. GSW
Pace: 96.3 (7), OffRtg: 103.0 (14), DefRtg: 108.5 (29), NetRtg: -5.5 (26)
Will Wednesday be the last of NBA basketball in California's capital? Seattle vs. Sacramento is a crummy situation (that will likely come to a head this week), because neither city deserves to lose. But from a general NBA standpoint, it will have a positive outcome no matter where this team is playing next season, because no franchise is more desperate for new ownership and a new front office.
Remaining: @ OKC, vs. LAC
Pace: 93.0 (23), OffRtg: 100.8 (21), DefRtg: 105.7 (24), NetRtg: -4.9 (25)
It will be a big summer in Detroit, and not just because Jose Calderon needs to be re-signed and Joe Dumars again has a ton of cap space to work with. The Pistons will also have a top-10 pick for the fourth straight year and five months for the previous three to get better. If all goes well and Andre Drummond takes the next step with a full summer of work, this could be a playoff team next season.
Remaining: vs. PHI, @ BKN
New Orleans (27-54)
Pace: 90.8 (30), OffRtg: 102.8 (16), DefRtg: 107.6 (28), NetRtg: -4.8 (24)
Anthony Davis suffered a sprained knee in Wednesday's loss in Sacramento and, come Wednesday, will have missed 18 games due to four different injuries. And while his offensive and rebounding numbers are strong, he didn't make nearly the defensive impact than many (including this writer) hoped he would make. So his summer should include plenty of injury prevention and film study work.
Remaining: @ DAL
Pace: 95.1 (12), OffRtg: 100.7 (23), DefRtg: 106.8 (26), NetRtg: -6.1 (27)
With a ton of cap space, a superstar to build around, and a maybe a coaching change in store, it will be a fascinating summer in Cleveland. It's hard to defend Byron Scott when his is the only team to rank in the bottom five defensively each of the last three seasons. No matter how much talent or experience you have on the roster, a good coach should be able to get his team to defend better than that.
Remaining: vs. MIA, @ CHA
95.7 (10), OffRtg:
98.1 (28), DefRtg:
105.6 (23), NetRtg:
Jermaine O'Neal's revival (his 10.3 rebounds per 36 minutes
is the third-highest mark of his career) is the latest example of why veterans should consider Phoenix as a free-agency destination. Of course, it would help if the Suns had any hope of making the playoffs in the next few years, or at least a marquee player to build around. Two first-round picks in this draft probably won't help in that regard. Remaining:
vs. HOU, @ DEN
94.1 (16), OffRtg:
97.9 (29), DefRtg:
109.1 (30), NetRtg:
The Bobcats have a long, long way to go. And it doesn't help that they will be paying Tyrus Thomas and Ben Gordon more than $31 million over the next two seasons. If they can invest that much into those two, hopefully they can make an investment into a dedicated shooting coach for Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, a special player with a fatal flaw. MKG has shot 27 percent from outside the restricted area
vs. NYK, vs. CLE
94.6 (14), OffRtg:
99.0 (27), DefRtg:
106.5 (25), NetRtg:
Believe it or not, after their first 25 games, these Magic were 12-13 and ranked sixth defensively
. That was a long time ago and since then, they've played (and defended) their way into a guaranteed top-five pick. It will take more than that to get them back to respectability, but this is the path they chose, which is certainly better than having traded for Andrew Bynum (but maybe not Brook Lopez). Remaining:
vs. CHI, @ MIA