DimeMag

NBA Power Rankings Week 15: The Kings Are In The Wilderness

The Sacramento Kings have the NBA’s longest playoff drought. Sacramento hasn’t made the playoffs since the 2005-06 season and, while some seasons have been better than others, the Kings haven’t posted even a .500 record in any regular season over a 15-year period. There is a separate debate on whether simple inclusion in the NBA’s play-in tournament would “break the drought” for the Kings but, at times this season, Sacramento was in a reasonable position to finish in the top-10 of the weakened Western Conference.

However, the Kings currently have the NBA’s longest losing streak, falling in the last seven games. That drops Sacramento to an unsightly 18-34 for the season and, in the last seven games, the Kings have a -15.7 net rating with a hideous 122.8 defensive rating to boot. Taking it back a step further, the Kings are just 2-12 in the last 14 games. Injuries and absences can explain some of that downturn, but each key piece — De’Aaron Fox, Tyrese Haliburton, Buddy Hield, Harrison Barnes — has played in at least half of the 14 games.

If there was a concern with the Kings coming into the season, it was the defensive end after Sacramento finished dead-last in the NBA in defensive rating a season ago. Things have been slightly better on that end, with the Kings giving up 114.2 points per 100 possessions in 2021-22, but the offense has taken a severe dip to 108.8 points per 100 possessions. The offensive downturn is arguably a more glaring concern given the roster construction in Sacramento, but the two-way mess is undeniable at this stage.

All hope isn’t lost for the Kings, largely because the play-in exists. Sacramento is only 3.5 games out of the No. 10 spot, even when acknowledging the Kings are No. 13 in the Western Conference right now. Interim head coach Alvin Gentry clearly isn’t having any fun, but the Kings are also a potential player on the trade market, even after word broke that they are “out” of any Ben Simmons pursuit. The roster may not look the same in a couple of weeks but, at present, it is easy to understanding overwhelming frustration from Kings fans, as a once-promising campaign has been derailed into a familiar abyss.

Where do the Kings rank in this week’s DIME power rankings? Let’s take a glance.

1. Phoenix Suns (41-9, Last week — 1st)

Phoenix hasn’t lost since Jan. 8, winning 11 straight games, and the Suns have exactly one loss in 2022. That seems pretty clear-cut in terms of earning the No. 1 spot, especially considering Deandre Ayton has missed 13 of the last 18 games.

2. Golden State Warriors (39-13, Last week — 2nd)

The Warriors are on a seven-game winning streak, even with Draymond Green out for the entire run. Golden State even won without Stephen Curry on Tuesday, executing a comeback victory in San Antonio. Keeping the Warriors at No. 2 is a no-brainer.

3. Philadelphia 76ers (31-19, Last week — 9th)

Philadelphia has the longest winning streak in the East, picking up five victories in a row. Four of the wins came at home, perhaps taking away some luster, but the Sixers topped the Grizzlies on Monday without Joel Embiid to earn the nod here. The jury is still out on just how good Philadelphia is with the Ben Simmons-sized hole on the roster, but as of today, the Sixers are No. 3 in the East standings and top ten in the NBA in net rating.

4. Memphis Grizzlies (35-18, Last week — 3rd)

It’s not as if the loss to the Embiid-less Sixers was great, but it shouldn’t concern anyone. Memphis is 16-4 in the last 20 games, rattling off a +6.1 net rating since Christmas. Ja Morant and company also have a nationally televised game at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday to help spread the word about this highly entertaining and effective squad.

5. Cleveland Cavaliers (31-20, Last week — 5th)

Cleveland is 9-2 in the last 11 games, including a win without Darius Garland on Monday. The Cavs did lose the Pistons this weekend, which isn’t great, but Cleveland has the best recent profile of any East team other than Philadelphia.

6. Chicago Bulls (32-18, Last week — 12th)

Following a pretty ugly period that was facilitated by a shorthanded roster, the Bulls are back on their feet. Chicago is 4-1 in the last five games and, even if the schedule was pretty favorable, the Bulls sit atop the East through the first 50 contests.

7. Denver Nuggets (28-22, Last week — 13th)

If not for a pretty shaky loss on Tuesday, the Nuggets might’ve cracked the top five this week. Denver won five in a row before falling flat against Minnesota, and that included road wins against Brooklyn and Milwaukee. In fact, the Nuggets absolutely hammered the Bucks on Sunday, and Nikola Jokic continues to put together a heck of an MVP defense.

8. Milwaukee Bucks (32-21, Last week — 7th)

Milwaukee has to be behind Denver this week, largely because of the thrashing that happened on Sunday. The Bucks are still in solid shape, though, and Giannis Antetokounmpo is out of his mind, headlined by a 33-point, 15-rebound, 11-assists eruption on Tuesday. Milwaukee still isn’t the same team without Brook Lopez but, when the other key pieces take the floor, the Bucks are tough.

9. Miami Heat (32-20, Last week — 6th)

It’s always a good idea to see who played for Miami on any given night. It’s been that kind of season, and Miami has done an admirable job despite roster challenges. Kyle Lowry is out of the lineup right now, as an example, but the Heat did just lose three in a row to Toronto and Boston.

10. Dallas Mavericks (29-22, Last week — 4th)

Dallas finally cooled off a bit after a very hot stretch. The Mavs lost to the Orlando Magic on Sunday, prompting the drop in the rankings, and Dallas was blasted by Golden State on national television last week. This is still a top-five defensive team in the NBA right now, but the offense has work to do.

11. Brooklyn Nets (29-21, Last week — 11th)

The Nets are 2-7 in the last nine games without Kevin Durant in the lineup, and that includes an active five-game losing streak. Losing to Golden State and Phoenix on the road isn’t a disaster, but with James Harden also banged up recently and Kyrie Irving playing part time, the Nets are regularly vulnerable.

12. Boston Celtics (27-25, Last week — 15th)

January was an objectively positive month for the Celtics, with Boston posting a 10-6 record. Amusingly, though, the Celtics ended up leading the East in net rating (+9.2) during the month, based heavily on three blowout wins. Those victories may not be predictive, but they count all the same.

13. Toronto Raptors (26-23, Last week — 17th)

The Raptors are 12-6 in the last 18 games, including three very intriguing wins this week. Toronto just beat the Heat, Hawks, and Heat (again) in succession, with Gary Trent Jr. exceeding 30 points in five straight games. The Raptors still have a very odd statistical profile, but it’s working.

14. Utah Jazz (30-21, Last week — 8th)

It is almost unthinkable that this Jazz team could be 2-11 over a 13-game sample, but it just happened. Injury absences are major factors, and that is clear, but Utah can’t stop anyone when Rudy Gobert is off the floor and they lost Joe Ingles to a season-ending injury this week on top of everything else.

15. Atlanta Hawks (24-26, Last week — 16th)

Atlanta’s winning streak came to an end on Monday, but not in a way that should remove any shine from the suddenly intriguing Hawks. The Hawks were competitive in a loss to Toronto on the second night of a back-to-back, and Trae Young missed that game with a shoulder issue. Provided he returns in the near future, the Hawks are in a favorable position ahead of a nationally televised showdown with Phoenix on Thursday.

16. Minnesota Timberwolves (26-25, Last week — 14th)

It was “only” a 2-2 week for Minnesota, but context is king in providing a positive takeaway. Minnesota lost road games to Phoenix and Golden State, which isn’t exactly shameful. From there, the Wolves just beat the Jazz and Nuggets at home by 35 combined points. That’s pretty solid.

17. L.A. Clippers (26-27, Last week — 20th)

The Clippers finished 4-4 on a marathon eight-game road trip. The end result of a loss to Indiana in lopsided fashion wasn’t great, but that wasn’t a shock on the second night of a back-to-back with travel. L.A. is hanging around despite an available roster that isn’t blowing anyone away.

18. Charlotte Hornets (28-23, Last week — 10th)

Charlotte is still No. 7 in the East and in solid shape. The Hornets lost three games over the course of eight days, though, and that was punctuated by a 25-point home loss to the Clippers on Sunday. Wednesday’s road tilt against Boston should be quite interesting.

19. New York Knicks (24-27, Last week — 21st)

The Knicks are a half-game out of the play-in, and it is possible the next six games could determine New York’s fate. After a nationally televised home game against Memphis on Wednesday, the Knicks have a five-game road trip with matchups against the Lakers, Jazz, Nuggets, Warriors, and Blazers. That is a big test.

20. Los Angeles Lakers (24-27, Last week — 18th)

The Lakers closed a road trip with three straight losses, but the worst part was LeBron James being forced to return to Los Angeles early with a knee issue. It goes without saying that the Lakers can’t approach their goals unless LeBron is right, but his absence adds to an ongoing morass in Los Angeles.

21. San Antonio Spurs (19-33, Last week — 24th)

At this point in the rankings, a team can move up when going 1-3 in a week. The Spurs just did that, but all three losses came by single digits to the Grizzlies, Suns and Warriors.

22. Portland Trail Blazers (21-30, Last week — 19th)

Damian Lillard didn’t play a single game in January and the Blazers went 8-8. Honestly, that is impressive on the whole, but Portland closed the month with a 1-4 slide. The Blazers do have five home games in a row beginning Friday, and they’ll need to make a run.

23. New Orleans Pelicans (19-32, Last week — 23rd)

Before winning a road game in Detroit on Tuesday, the Pelicans lost four in a row. To be fair, those defeats came against playoff-caliber teams, but New Orleans gave some of its progress back in the standings. They’re still only two games out of the play-in, which is wild after the slow start.

24. Indiana Pacers (19-33, Last week — 25th)

Indiana gave up 158 (!) points in regulation this week, losing by a million to the Hornets. To the Pacers’ credit, they bounced back with two wins in the next three games, but those victories were sandwiched around a 27-point loss in Dallas.

25. Washington Wizards (23-27, Last week — 22nd)

Bradley Beal is going to miss some time with a wrist issue, and things are spiraling for the Wizards. Washington is on a six-game losing streak and, even if road losses to Milwaukee and Memphis are largely expected, the Wizards dropped four in a row at home before that. The Wizards will wake up on Wednesday as the No. 12 team in the East, and that is quite a drop.

26. Orlando Magic (11-41, Last week — 30th)

The Magic just had their best five-game stretch of the season. Orlando is 3-2 in the last five, including wins over Dallas and Chicago, and the Magic were competitive on the road against the Bulls on Tuesday. It’s been encouraging to see the Magic in a form closer to what was originally intended.

27. Sacramento Kings (18-34, Last week — 26th)

As covered above, the Kings are in a tailspin. The schedule lets up a bit later this week, but not before a back-to-back against Brooklyn and Golden State on Wednesday and Thursday. Yikes.

28. Detroit Pistons (12-38, Last week — 28th)

The Pistons picked up a nice win over Cleveland on Sunday and threatened the Pelicans, at least for a while, on Tuesday. Cade Cunningham posted his second career triple-double in the win over the Cavaliers and, while Detroit’s lows are pretty low, there is reason for future-facing optimism.

29. Oklahoma City Thunder (15-34, Last week — 29th)

A win over the Blazers on Monday keeps the Thunder out of the basement. Oklahoma City lost 12 of the previous 13 games, and the Thunder have the worst record in the NBA since the calendar flipped to 2022.

30. Houston Rockets (14-36, Last week — 27th)

The last 20 games paint a rather ugly picture for the Rockets. Houston has some talent, including a very intriguing trade chip in Eric Gordon, but the Rockets are 4-16 in the last 20 games. That includes the league’s worst net rating (-11.8) and defensive rating (120.9) over that sample, and the Rockets have lost four in a row at the time of this post.

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