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Power Rankings: Warriors headline a special season

POSTED: Apr 11, 2016 11:45 AM ET
UPDATED: Apr 11, 2016 1:38 PM ET

By John Schuhmann

BY John Schuhmann

NBA.com

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Best of Phantom: Warriors vs. Spurs

It has truly been a special year in the NBA.

There have been 1,423 team-seasons in NBA history, and never before has a team won 73 games. The Golden State Warriors will have the opportunity to do just that when they host the Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday.

The Warriors have already made history by setting the record for most wins to start a season and by being the first team to go through a full season without ever losing two straight games. Again, 1,423 NBA teams have come and gone and none have done any of these things.

But of course, the specialness of this season goes beyond the champs. With one more win, the San Antonio Spurs will be the greatest second best regular-season team in NBA history (they're currently tied with the 2008-09 Lakers). As great as the Spurs have been over the last 19 years, they had never won 65 games before.

The Warriors have the same NetRtg (plus-11.4 points per 100 possessions) as they did last season. Then, it was 4.6 points per 100 possessions better than the next best team. This time, it's not even good for the best mark in the league. The Spurs have taken things to a new level, and it can be argued that they helped push the Warriors to the brink of history.

While we wait for what could be an epic Western Conference finals, we can also celebrate more specialness around the league. The Eastern Conference took a collective step forward, Russell Westbrook went triple-double crazy, Paul George emerged as a better player than he was before he suffered a horrific injury, the Portland Trail Blazers defied expectations like no team in recent memory, and Kobe Bryant wrote the final chapter on what has been an incredible 20-year career with a single franchise.

There's still a record to be broken and some housekeeping to be done in the final three days of the regular season. But it's time for the playoffs to begin and see if the Warriors can cap off their historical season with a second straight championship.

* * *

• Last week: Last playoff spots still up in the air
• This time last year: Warriors were the best team -- and surprise -- of 2014-15 -- The last playoff spot in the West and the last two spots in the East were still up for grabs, and seeding was very much unsettled. The Wolves were finishing the season on a 12-game losing streak, the Knicks and Magic combined to score a record-low 15 points in a quarter, and Thabo Sefolosha had his leg broken in New York.

• Plus-minus stud: Chris Paul (LAC) was a plus-61 in three games last week.
• Plus-minus dud: Julius Randle (LAL) was a minus-68 in four games last week.

• Hero team of the week: Golden State (3-1) -- Two wins over the close-to-full-strength Spurs is a good week, whether or not it puts you on the brink of history.
• Zero team of the week: New Orleans (1-3) -- The Pelicans went 1-2 against three of the four worst teams in the league, losing by a combined 35 points to the Sixers and Suns.

• Team to watch this week: Utah -- The Jazz play a huge game against the Mavs on Monday, and then could have their season on the line in Kobe Bryant's last game.

• East vs. West: The West is 232-217 (.517) against the East in interconference games, with one interconference game - Chicago at New Orleans on Monday - remaining. This was the second best record the East had vs. the West in the last 17 years.

• Toughest schedules so far: 1. L.A. Lakers, 2. Philadelphia, 3. Milwaukee
• Easiest schedules so far: 1. San Antonio, 2. Golden State, 3. Cleveland
Schedule strength is based on cumulative opponent record, and adjusted for home vs. away and days of rest before a game.

• High jumps of the week: Indiana (+5), Minnesota (+3), Three teams (+2)
• Free falls of the week: Houston (-5), Charlotte (-2), Sacramento (-2), Utah (-2)

* * *

Pace: Possessions per 48 minutes (League Rank)
OffRtg: Points scored per 100 possessions (League Rank)
DefRtg: Points allowed per 100 possessions (League Rank)
NetRtg: Point differential per 100 possessions (League Rank)

The league has averaged 98.1 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes and 103.9 points scored per 100 possessions this season (up from 96.3 and 103.0 last season).

* * *

NBA.com's Power Rankings, released every Monday during the season, are just one man's opinion. 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.

1

Last week: 1

Golden State (72-9)
Pace: 101.6 (2) OffRtg: 112.3 (1) DefRtg: 100.9 (5) NetRtg: +11.4 (2)
There were times when the Warriors weren't as sharp as they were last season, their defense took a step backward, and their competition is tougher this year. But they were clearly the better team in matchups with the Spurs and there's just no arguing with 72 or 73 wins. They'll make history on Wednesday and then the real fun begins. Come mid-May, we're going to see if they left enough gas in the tank.
This week: vs. MEM

2

Last week: 2

San Antonio (65-15)
Pace: 95.9 (25) OffRtg: 108.5 (3) DefRtg: 96.5 (1) NetRtg: +12.0 (1)
Maybe the most powerful thing the Warriors have done is make the best player of his generation obsolete. Tim Duncan played just 27 minutes - fewer than Kyle Anderson or Kevin Martin (in his five weeks with the Spurs) - against the champs and it's not clear that he'd have a bigger role in the playoffs should the two teams meet again. The Spurs will have the tougher road and have had their struggles with the Thunder.
This week: vs. OKC, @ DAL

3

Last week: 3

Cleveland (56-24)
Pace: 95.5 (28) OffRtg: 108.1 (4) DefRtg: 102.2 (10) NetRtg: +5.9 (4)
With Iman Shumpert and Mo Williams dealing with knee issues, Matthew Dellavedova shooting poorly, and ongoing questions about how much they can play Timofey Mozgov, the Cavs' bench looks pretty thin. Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love are healthy, but defense will always be a concern with both on the floor. They'll be the targets of many pick-and-rolls in the playoffs and eighth-place Detroit is a high-volume pick-and-roll team.
This week: vs. ATL, vs. DET

4

Last week: 4

Oklahoma City (54-26)
Pace: 99.4 (8) OffRtg: 110.1 (2) DefRtg: 103.3 (12) NetRtg: +6.8 (3)
The Thunder are 17-0 when Russell Westbrook has recorded a triple-double. So if he can just get 16 more in the playoffs, the championship will be theirs. They're not going into the playoffs with any momentum (particularly with their defense, where they've allowed 115 points per 100 possessions over their last five games), but Westbrook and Kevin Durant should be fresh and they won't face much resistance in the first round.
This week: vs. LAL, @ SAS

5

Last week: 5

Toronto (54-26)
Pace: 95.3 (29) OffRtg: 106.8 (5) DefRtg: 102.8 (11) NetRtg: +4.0 (7)
The Raptors finished with a winning record against each of the other East playoff teams and are the only team in the league with a better record against teams that are currently over .500 (28-11) than against teams currently .500 or below (26-15). They have the resume to make a deep run in the playoffs and their defense is much better than it was a year ago. But can they adapt when the opponent takes away their initial offense?
This week: vs. PHI, @ BKN

6

Last week: 6

L.A. Clippers (52-28)
Pace: 97.9 (17) OffRtg: 106.4 (6) DefRtg: 101.0 (6) NetRtg: +5.4 (5)
The Clippers haven't lost since Blake Griffin's return, have won nine of their last 10 games, and have had the league's best defense in that stretch. With how good the Warriors and Spurs have been, the Clips' defensive improvement has gone under the radar. Going from 15th to sixth on that end should lead to more success in the postseason, but they're staring at the champs in the conference semis if they get there.
This week: vs. MEM, @ PHX

7

Last week: 7

Atlanta (48-32)
Pace: 99.3 (9) OffRtg: 103.2 (15) DefRtg: 98.6 (2) NetRtg: +4.6 (6)
In February, the Hawks reportedly entertained (but ultimately passed on) the idea of trading Jeff Teague. On the surface, Teague's numbers since then aren't much different than they were before. But the Hawks' 17-5 run since late February has been built on his minutes at the point, especially in the fourth quarter. They're a plus-22.2 per 100 possessions in the fourth over that run and now rank as the league's best fourth-quarter team.
This week: @ CLE, @ WAS

8

Last week: 10

Miami (47-33)
Pace: 95.8 (26) OffRtg: 104.2 (11) DefRtg: 101.5 (8) NetRtg: +2.7 (10)
The Heat lost their best player at the All-Star break (again) and have been the league's most improved team (5.4 points per 100 possessions better) since. All the improvement has come on offense, where they ranked 24th before the break and where they've seen a lot of growth from Hassan Whiteside. If Dallas' offense continues to struggle in its final two games, Miami could finish in the top 10 on both ends of the floor.
This week: @ DET, @ BOS

9

Last week: 9

Boston (47-33)
Pace: 101.3 (3) OffRtg: 103.9 (12) DefRtg: 100.8 (4) NetRtg: +3.2 (8)
Isaiah Thomas was the focus of the Cavs' defense in last year's playoffs and shot just 33 percent in the first-round sweep. He has a stronger supporting cast this year, but the Celtics will need their other guards to make some shots. Marcus Smart (the worst catch-and-shoot guy in the league) made four threes on Saturday, but Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder have both struggled with their shot of late.
This week: vs. CHA, vs. MIA

10

Last week: 8

Charlotte (46-34)
Pace: 97.7 (18) OffRtg: 104.7 (9) DefRtg: 101.9 (9) NetRtg: +2.9 (9)
The Hornets were the league's most improved offensive team, are one of just two East teams to rank in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency, and have the conference's best record since Feb. 1. They should get Charlotte's first playoff win since 2002 and maybe many more. But after Sunday's loss in Washington, it looks like they'll be on the road (probably in Atlanta) to start the first round.
This week: @ BOS, vs. ORL

11

Last week: 11

Portland (43-38)
Pace: 98.3 (13) OffRtg: 106.2 (7) DefRtg: 105.7 (20) NetRtg: +0.5 (13)
Terry Stotts, Neil Olshey and C.J. McCollum are all in the running for awards and the Blazers obviously deserve some sort of recognition for the season they've had when no one thought they'd even sniff the playoffs. Chris Paul-Damian Lillard looks like the best individual matchup of the first round, though Lillard shot just 32 percent against the Clippers this season, his lowest mark against any West opponent.
This week: vs. DEN

12

Last week: 17

Indiana (43-37)
Pace: 99.0 (10) OffRtg: 102.4 (23) DefRtg: 100.4 (3) NetRtg: +2.0 (11)
It's amazing how the Pacers set out to change their identity this season and ended up, statistically, the same team (bad offense, great defense) that they've been the last few years. They got handled by Norman Powell and the All-Star-less Raptors (their likely first round opponent) on Friday, but the first three meetings were competitive. Strangely, only Washington and Sacramento have defended Toronto better.
This week: vs. NYK, @ MIL

13

Last week: 15

Detroit (43-37)
Pace: 97.5 (19) OffRtg: 103.2 (16) DefRtg: 103.4 (13) NetRtg: -0.2 (15)
The Pistons are in the playoffs for first time since Rasheed Wallace was still in Detroit. Their ability to make noise against one of the top two seeds could depend on the other guys making shots and making plays when the defense sets its sights on Reggie Jackson. The Pistons are just 6-18 when Jackson has been held to 15 points or less, though, with Tobias Harris providing some extra offense, four of those wins came in March.
This week: vs. MIA, @ CLE

14

Last week: 14

Dallas (41-39)
Pace: 96.6 (22) OffRtg: 104.7 (10) DefRtg: 104.3 (16) NetRtg: +0.5 (14)
The Mavs' six-game winning streak came to an end in L.A. on Sunday, so they still have some work to do to clinch their 15th playoff berth in the last 16 years. J.J. Barea, the only guy providing any offense, went down with a groin injury on Friday. But they got Deron Williams back on Sunday and their defensive improvement, which coincides with rookie Justin Anderson's move to the starting lineup, has continued to carry them.
This week: @ UTA, vs. SAS

15

Last week: 13

Utah (40-40)
Pace: 93.3 (30) OffRtg: 103.2 (17) DefRtg: 101.4 (7) NetRtg: +1.8 (12)
The Jazz had last-second shots to beat both the Spurs and (shorthanded) Clippers last week, but fell to 5-19 against the seven teams ahead of them in the West standings (having allowed 110 points per 100 possessions in the 24 games) with the two losses. If they don't get win No. 6 on Monday, they'll need help from one of the Rockets' opponents to get into the playoffs. Alec Burks is back, but Derrick Favors is banged up.
This week: vs. DAL, @ LAL

16

Last week: 16

Chicago (40-40)
Pace: 98.3 (12) OffRtg: 101.6 (26) DefRtg: 103.6 (14) NetRtg: -2.1 (19)
The Bulls went 7-1 against the East's top two seeds ... and missed the playoffs for the first time in eight years. It was a weird and, ultimately, disappointing season and where they go from here will be fascinating. They won't give up on Fred Hoiberg after just one year, but they had scheme and execution issues as much as they had personnel or injury issues. Do they have to choose between Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler?
This week: @ NOP, vs. PHI

17

Last week: 12

Houston (39-41)
Pace: 100.0 (7) OffRtg: 105.2 (8) DefRtg: 106.1 (22) NetRtg: -0.8 (16)
The Rockets continue to be the league's most disappointing team, but are somehow still alive. They lost their biggest game of the season in Dallas, shooting 1-for-8 down the stretch, on Wednesday. And a night later, they lost to the bleeping Suns. But they're still just a game behind the Jazz for eighth place, they have the tiebreaker, and the Mavs will be playing for their own playoff lives in Utah on Monday.
This week: @ MIN, vs. SAC

18

Last week: 18

Washington (39-41)
Pace: 100.5 (5) OffRtg: 102.8 (19) DefRtg: 103.7 (15) NetRtg: -0.9 (17)
The Wizards are the cautionary tale for teams looking to play smaller and faster. They had a taste of small-ball success in last year's playoffs, but could never replicate it this season. When they improved defensively after the All-Star break, they took a step backward on offense. A decision needs to be made on Randy Wittman, Bradley Beal needs to be paid, and the Kevin Durant dream is, technically, still alive.
This week: @ BKN, vs. ATL

19

Last week: 20

Memphis (42-38)
Pace: 95.6 (27) OffRtg: 102.8 (21) DefRtg: 104.9 (19) NetRtg: -2.1 (20)
The Grizzlies got the win (vs. Chicago) and the Houston loss they needed to clinch a playoff spot and came a bucket short of handing the Warriors loss No. 10. A minus-2.1 NetRtg will be the second worst for a playoff team in the last 10 years, ahead of only last year's Nets (minus-3.1). The Grizz have been outscored by 5.7 points per 100 possessions with neither Mike Conley nor Marc Gasol on the floor.
This week: @ LAC, @ GSW

20

Last week: 19

Orlando (34-46)
Pace: 98.2 (14) OffRtg: 102.5 (22) DefRtg: 104.5 (17) NetRtg: -2.0 (18)
The Magic had a brutal (2-12) January and will be the first below-average defensive team that Scott Skiles has coached in eight full, 82-game seasons. But they did take a step forward (improvement of 3.6 points per 100 possessions and 9-11 wins) this season. It's still not clear if they can succeed on offense with both Elfrid Payton and Victor Oladipo on the floor, but the development of Aaron Gordon has been encouraging.
This week: vs. MIL, @ CHA

21

Last week: 24

Minnesota (28-52)
Pace: 97.4 (20) OffRtg: 103.9 (13) DefRtg: 107.0 (27) NetRtg: -3.1 (23)
The Warriors had won 114 straight games that they led by at least 15 points ... until the Wolves came back from 17 down on Tuesday and stunned the champs in overtime. Andrew Wiggins had the biggest buckets in that one, Karl-Anthony Towns had the game-winner in Portland on Saturday, and the Wolves' future looks brighter than ever. Their ceiling next season will be determined by their defensive improvement.
This week: vs. HOU, vs. NOP

22

Last week: 22

Milwaukee (33-47)
Pace: 96.5 (23) OffRtg: 102.3 (24) DefRtg: 105.7 (21) NetRtg: -3.4 (24)
The Bucks' defense has been improved since the All-Star break, but it's still nowhere near the level it was last season, it hasn't held two straight opponents under a point per possession since the first two games after the break, and it got thrashed by the Cavs and Celtics last week. The offense should improve next season just with the development of their young players, but the defense will need to be reconstructed.
This week: @ ORL, vs. IND

23

Last week: 21

Sacramento (32-48)
Pace: 102.1 (1) OffRtg: 103.8 (14) DefRtg: 106.4 (24) NetRtg: -2.7 (21)
The Kings closed out Sleep Train Arena with a win over the Thunder and will finish with their highest win total in eight years (even though they could still lose 50 games). They're still a long way from being relevant and might not get there until DeMarcus Cousins is their second best player. Of course, this summer's questions start with the coaching position. If they get rid of George Karl, hopefully they do it swiftly (this time).
This week: @ PHX, @ HOU

24

Last week: 23

Denver (33-48)
Pace: 98.1 (15) OffRtg: 102.8 (20) DefRtg: 106.5 (25) NetRtg: -3.7 (26)
The Nuggets seemingly have a bright future, with four guys - Gary Harris, Nikola Jokic, Emmanuel Mudiay and Jusuf Nurkic - under the age of 22 who have shown potential. They will need some patience in the front office and from vets like Kenneth Faried, Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler, who all have multiple years left on their contract. Mudiay's development will obviously be the most critical.
This week: @ POR

25

Last week: 25

New Orleans (30-50)
Pace: 98.9 (11) OffRtg: 103.0 (18) DefRtg: 106.6 (26) NetRtg: -3.6 (25)
The Pelicans have discovered something in Tim Frazier, who has averaged 13.1 points and 6.7 assists in just 28.6 minutes since signing in mid-March. But they'll have to decide if Frazier, Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans is one too many ball-handlers. Priority No. 1 in July has to be perimeter defense. The Pels were actually pretty good in transition, but generally brutal when it came to getting stops in half-court situations.
This week: vs. CHI, @ MIN

26

Last week: 26

New York (32-49)
Pace: 95.9 (24) OffRtg: 102.1 (25) DefRtg: 104.8 (18) NetRtg: -2.7 (22)
The Knicks were the most improved team in the league, 7.4 points per 100 possessions better than they were last season. But there was still a lot more bad than good and the next step will be harder to take than the last one. Before they even try to find a new backcourt, they have two big questions to answer. 1. Is Carmelo Anthony a part of the rebuild? 2. Can Phil Jackson put his Triangle-shaped feelings aside when hiring a coach?
This week: @ IND

27

Last week: 29

Phoenix (22-58)
Pace: 100.6 (4) OffRtg: 99.4 (28) DefRtg: 107.3 (28) NetRtg: -8.0 (28)
The Suns got a gem - Devin Booker - near the end of the Lottery last year and will have a better pick (as well as the Cavs' first rounder) this time. They could be an entertaining team next year if they keep their backcourt intact, play all three of Booker, Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight together, and open the floor up with shooting at the four. Mirza Teletovic (27 threes in his last nine games) has provided that, but is a free agent.
This week: vs. SAC, vs. LAC

28

Last week: 27

L.A. Lakers (16-64)
Pace: 98.0 (16) OffRtg: 98.8 (29) DefRtg: 109.5 (30) NetRtg: -10.7 (30)
For the third straight season, the Lakers have ranked in the bottom three in defensive efficiency and set a franchise record for losses. This wasn't just the worst season in the history of the Lakers, it was probably the strangest, with the Kobe Bryant show taking over arenas all over the country. Bryant dropped 35 in Houston on Sunday and the show comes to an end on Wednesday against the Jazz. Let it fly, Mamba.
This week: @ OKC, vs. UTA

29

Last week: 28

Brooklyn (21-59)
Pace: 97.3 (21) OffRtg: 100.9 (27) DefRtg: 108.3 (29) NetRtg: -7.5 (27)
The Nets will likely finish the season on a 10-game losing streak (they've been outscored by almost 21 points per 100 possessions over the streak thus far) and with an 0-9 record without Brook Lopez. A Lopez trade might bring back some assets this summer, but his departure would send the team into Sixersville (not that they're far away right now). Sean Marks need to hire the right coach and hit a few singles in free agency.
This week: vs. WAS, vs. TOR

30

Last week: 30

Philadelphia (10-70)
Pace: 100.3 (6) OffRtg: 96.4 (30) DefRtg: 106.3 (23) NetRtg: -9.9 (29)
The writing was on the wall for Sam Hinkie when Jerry Colangelo was hired in December, a clear sign that Sixers ownership had run out of patience and wasn't as steadfast in regard to the direction of the team as had been stated. It could be several years before we can change Hinkie's grade as team president to something other than "Incomplete." Clearly though, he needed to keep the team a little more competitive than it was.
This week: @ TOR, @ CHI