NBA Power Rankings Week 18: The Spurs Will Outlive Us All

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The Golden State Warriors are the class of the NBA. The Cleveland Cavaliers are the reigning champs. The Houston Rockets are the new kids on the block. The Utah Jazz, Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Clippers, Washington Wizards and Toronto Raptors encompass the next tier with varied strengths and weaknesses.

And the San Antonio Spurs are the San Antonio Spurs.

In early March, the Spurs own the league’s second-best record behind an MVP-quality season from Kawhi Leonard, yet they operate in relative obscurity. Yes, people who cover the NBA on a daily basis absolutely know just how impressive San Antonio has been, but because they are void of an exciting theme beyond “boring” excellence, it is easy to get swept up in other story lines while simultaneously ignoring the continued greatness of the NBA’s model franchise.

Gregg Popovich could be (or even should be) the Coach of the Year every season, and he is doing a phenomenal job once again. Tim Duncan is no longer on board but the Spurs haven’t slowed down at all, using Leonard’s singular greatness perfectly within the construct of a team that excels on both ends of the floor.

From a talent perspective, this Spurs team has no business being elite defensively, with players like Pau Gasol and Tony Parker (or even LaMarcus Aldridge) being far too involved to facilitate greatness on that end. Still, Popovich and company rate as an elite team based on virtually every measure and their 49-13 record doesn’t scream fluke. There are reasons to be concerned when it comes to the playoffs and the cliched notion of a “different game” in May and June exists for a reason. Still, it would be very unwise to sleep on the San Antonio Spurs, especially in the midst of what will be their 18th consecutive season with 50 or more victories.

Read that stat again and, when you’re done marveling, move through the rest of this week’s NBA power rankings.

1. Golden State Warriors (52-11, Last week — 1st)

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The Dubs completed a road back-to-back in New York and Atlanta with two victories and stabilized things in the aftermath of the Kevin Durant injury. Offensively, there isn’t much to fear at the moment but keep an eye on the defensive end without Durant in the fold. That is the point of weakness for the next few weeks.

2. San Antonio Spurs (49-13, Last week — 3rd)

As noted above, the Spurs are preposterous in many ways. It might be aggressive to say that San Antonio should land ahead of Cleveland but they are playing better basketball right now.

3. Cleveland Cavaliers (42-20, Last week — 2nd)

LeBron and company won’t have Andrew Bogut for the stretch run, but if we’re being honest, the buyout pick-up probably wasn’t going to be the difference between repeating as champions and not repeating as champions. With that said, Cleveland just got swept in a back-to-back by the (still) red-hot Miami Heat and that was enough to facilitate a dip from the Cavs this week. I’m not worried. You shouldn’t be either.

4. Houston Rockets (44-20, Last week — 4th)

Houston lost their last game but, considering it came by two points on the road in San Antonio, that doesn’t really matter. The Rockets are still terrifying offensively, James Harden is patently absurd and this is a team that no one in the entire league wants to see in a playoff series.

5. Utah Jazz (40-24, Last week — 6th)

Quin Snyder’s team has won three straight to set up a big-time game on the road in Houston on Wednesday. Before we get to that one, though, the Jazz are on a 51-win pace and that is doubly impressive considering all of the injury issues they faced earlier in the year. It’s not super fun to talk about this team from a casual perspective but they are quite good.

6. Washington Wizards (38-24, Last week — 8th)

The Wizards are 31-11 in their last 42 games. At some point, it becomes accepted that they are actually a part of this tier and we reached that point long ago. Washington is very, very good.

7. Los Angeles Clippers (38-25, Last week — 5th)

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Beating Chicago and Boston by double-figures in back to back games will do a lot for perception. The season-long numbers for the Clippers probably won’t match up with how good they actually are due to injury, but Los Angeles is now officially flying under the radar as a dangerous squad.

8. Toronto Raptors (37-26, Last week — 7th)

Last week ended with a 1-2 record for the Raptors but Toronto is simply being tasked with staying afloat without Kyle Lowry. Beyond that, the two losses (Washington, at Milwaukee) were more than reasonable and there have been signs of optimism with the integration of new pieces on the roster.

9. Boston Celtics (40-24, Last week — 9th)

Losing to the Suns, even on the road, isn’t the best look. In the same breath, this is the end of a tier in my mind, and Boston would have to really suffer in order to fall out of the top nine. That’s how big the gap is for me.

10. Miami Heat (30-34, Last week — 14th)

At one point this season, Miami was 11-30. Since then, Erik Spoelstra has this team cooking to the tune of a 19-4 record and they punctuated this run with back-to-back wins over the Cavaliers. To be honest, the Heat probably aren’t as good as they’ve been recently and we saw that with a loss to Orlando last week. They still deserve a tip of the cap, though, and this ranking is just that.
11. Memphis Grizzlies (36-28, Last week — 11th)

I probably trust Memphis too blindly, especially when they’ve lost three in a row. To be fair, the first two losses came on the road in competitive environments, but a home loss to Brooklyn should probably sink the Grizzlies. I just can’t do it yet.

12. Oklahoma City Thunder (35-29, Last week — 10th)

Russell Westbrook set a career-high with 58 points on Tuesday evening. The Thunder lost. That is a weird microcosm of the season, but despite a negative rating for the year, it would be pretty difficult to justify dropping Oklahoma City beyond this point at the moment.

13. Detroit Pistons (31-32, Last week — 13th)

Detroit’s 10-5 mark over the past 15 games is more indicative of what we thought they would be all season long. A spot in the playoffs isn’t assured by any stretch of the imagination, but there are signs of life and that is a good thing in the midst of a down season for both Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson.

14. Indiana Pacers (32-31, Last week — 16th)

The Pacers are incredibly weird and this week didn’t clear that up. There is nothing wrong with losing road games to San Antonio and Charlotte, but on the bright side, Indiana also went on the road and won in Atlanta. Your guess is as good as mine.

15. Milwaukee Bucks (29-33, Last week — 18th)

The Bucks have won 7 of 10, including the last three in a row. As with many of these teams, the truth is somewhere between the disaster that occurred after the Jabari Parker injury and the current level of play. With all things equal, though, I’m not sure Milwaukee isn’t better than Atlanta, Chicago and Indiana. Those teams are all jumbled together.

16. Atlanta Hawks (34-29, Last week — 12th)

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It is probably unfair to bury the Hawks after three straight home losses, simply because they came at the expense of the Cavaliers, Pacers, and Warriors. Context is important, however, and Atlanta’s -0.8 net rating is more in line with this ranking than the top-10 mark that some want to credit them with at this juncture.

17. Denver Nuggets (29-34, Last week — 15th)

Nikola Jokic keys one of the most exciting offenses in the league. Nikola Jokic also captains one of the worst defenses in the league. The result of that combination is a .500-ish team that non-coincidentally lands near the middle of the pack in this space.

18. Portland Trail Blazers (27-35, Last week — 22nd)

Dame Lillard and company are now within 1.5 games of the No. 8 spot in the West and life comes at you fast. Portland has won three straight, including two wins over the Thunder, and there is reason to believe that the ship is (finally) on course after months of flailing in the Pacific Northwest.

19. Dallas Mavericks (27-36, Last week — 19th)

Dirk Nowitzki was the center of attention on Tuesday evening with good reason, as he picked up his 30,000th career NBA point. While every accolade was deserved, the Mavericks actually flew under the radar as a result. This is a team with five wins in six games and, much like Portland, Dallas is closing the gap on Denver for the No. 8 seed.

20. Chicago Bulls (31-32, Last week — 17th)

Every time it appears that the Bulls could turn the corner as a solid playoff entrant, they go on a slide. This time, it is three losses in four games and Dwyane Wade is now battling a thigh issue. If not for two big names on board, Chicago would be wildly boring to chronicle this year but, on the floor, they are still uninspiring for the most part.

21. Charlotte Hornets (28-35, Last week — 21st)

After being dead and buried, the Hornets are marginally awake again. Back to back victories have buoyed Charlotte in the standings to the point where Steve Clifford’s group trails the No. 8 slot by only three games and long-time believers (cough, me, cough) might be back on board shortly.

22. New York Knicks (26-38, Last week — 25th)

It was an extremely “Knicks” week in New York, with a loss to the Embiid-less Sixers included in the mix. In the same breath, the Knicks actually looked competent in challenging the Warriors on Sunday and a road win in Orlando on Monday to complete a back-to-back was enough to allow New York to rise a bit.

23. New Orleans Pelicans (25-39, Last week — 24th)

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Since Boogie Cousins arrived, the Pelicans are 2-5 and easily the best performance from the team came against Detroit on an evening in which Cousins was suspended. We can talk about how impressive their talent can be, but until it translates, we have to rank them as such.

24. Minnesota Timberwolves (25-37, Last week — 20th)

Minnesota’s net rating (0.0) is better than that of the Hawks, Pistons, Pacers, Thunder, Bulls, and Nuggets. In other words, they probably aren’t this bad.

25. Orlando Magic (23-41, Last week — 26th)

Throughout the season, the Magic have been able to string together an impressive performance at a random time and that was the case in knocking off the Heat this week. The rest of the slate was unkind, though, with three losses and Orlando remains a painful team to watch and consume.

26. Phoenix Suns (21-43, Last week — 28th)

Prior to losing to the Wizards (in very competitive fashion) on Tuesday, the Suns reeled off three straight wins over the Hornets, Thunder, and Celtics. Phoenix still has a myriad of issues, but they are young and talented, leading to a very watchable product at times. This recent stretch has provided real separation between them and the dregs of the league.

27. Philadelphia 76ers (23-40, Last week — 27th)

There is a cold reality when it comes to playing without Joel Embiid (and Ben Simmons) for the rest of the year, even if Dario Saric continues to play quite well. Philly is back to being a team that we expect to lose on a nightly basis and that has to be reflected in this space to a certain degree.

28. Sacramento Kings (25-38, Last week — 23rd)

The Boogie Cousins era in New Orleans isn’t going super well but Sacramento has also been dreadful since he left town. The Kings began the post-Boogie portion of franchise history with a win. Since then, five straight losses appeared and this is not a very good roster at the moment. I’m being kind with that description.

29. Los Angeles Lakers (19-45, Last week — 29th)

The Lakers fell victim to the Dirk Nowitzki show on Tuesday but this ranking isn’t a punishment of that. It is an indictment for losing eight consecutive games (and counting) while putting together an attempt to challenge the Nets for tanking supremacy. Los Angeles has a superior roster to Brooklyn but they also have more incentive to lose basketball games and the Lakers are playing comparably bad basketball at the moment.

30. Brooklyn Nets (11-51, Last week — 30th)

After losing enough to generate real headlines in this space, the Nets just completed a 2-2 week that included a road win in Memphis. It will take more than that for Brooklyn to climb out of the NBA’s basement, but it’s a good start and it’s impossible not to root for Kenny Atkinson and his staff to succeed.