Monthly NBA Power Rankings: Are the Cleveland Cavaliers Doomed Before the Playoffs?
Championship odds come courtesy of TopBet and are accurate as of Feb. 26. Always check these lines again before deciding on or placing a wager, as they are liable to ebb and flow, particularly at this time of the year. If you’re interested in checking out last month’s edition of power rankings, you can do that here.
1. Golden State Warriors (-200)
Previous Rank: 1
People were semi-worried about the Golden State Warriors entering the All-Star break. Their transition defense had plummeted, and while they lead the league in three-point accuracy, more than half of their most-used players were shooting under 30 percent from beyond the arc.
That’s all changed now. The Warriors are still giving up a bunch of points in fits and spurts, but they’ve turned on the late-season jets. They remain the heavy favorites to win the championship, and there are only a handful of teams, if that, standing in their way.
2. Houston Rockets (+300)
Previous Rank: 2
Speaking of teams that might, quite possibly, stand in the Warriors’ way, we have the Houston Rockets. They remain the league’s biggest threat to Golden State’s throne. Their offense verges on unguardable, while their defense is much better than expected, falling inside the top 10 of points allowed per 100 possessions.
The key for the Rockets from here on is testing out their small-ball lineups. Playing Trevor Ariza, Luc Mbah a Moute and P.J. Tucker at the same time, preferably alongside Chris Paul and James Harden, will go a long way toward determining how they match up with the Warriors over the course of a seven-game series.
3. Toronto Raptors (+1200)
Previous Rank: 3
We’re running out of good things to say about the Toronto Raptors. Sleep on them at your own risk.
No bench owns a better point differential per 100 possessions. DeMar DeRozan is shooting threes now. Kyle Lowry looks incredibly comfortable spending more time off the ball. The defense is humming. The ball is moving.
The Raptors, quite simply, look dominant. Consider this: Only two teams rank in the top five of both offensive and defensive efficiency entering March. The reigning champion Warriors are one. These scrappy and plucky Raptors are the other. They’re the biggest threat to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the East, and it’s time bettors treated them as such.
4. Cleveland Cavaliers (+600)
Previous Rank: 9
The Cleveland Cavaliers remain imperfect after making a series of moves prior to the All-Star break. Their transition defense can be lazy to nonexistent, while their pick-and-roll coverage is disoriented on its best nights.
But they are not, contrary to previous intimations, doomed before the playoffs start.
Yes, they face legitimate roadblocks in the Raptors and Boston Celtics. And sure, they’re inferior to both the Rockets and Warriors, their two most likely NBA Finals matchups. But the Cavaliers are longer and more athletic and spacier overall—all the things they must be to not only reach the NBA Finals, but to make some noise once they get there.
5. Boston Celtics (+2000)
Previous Rank: 6
Definitely worry about the Celtics’ offense. They rank in the bottom five of points scored per 100 possessions since the turn of the calendar. They remain first in defensive efficiency, but they don’t have the individual lockdown stoppers to carry them in a postseason series if buckets are following.
Still, the Celtics are scoring like an above-average machine whenever Kyrie Irving is on the floor. That’s enough to keep them on the Eastern Conference Finals radar. And should Jayson Tatum or Jaylen Brown emerge as a viable self-sufficient hub before then, forget it. This team will be that much more dangerous.
6. San Antonio Spurs (+4000)
Previous Rank: 5
Kawhi Leonard may or may not play again this season. We’re not really sure. Hell, the San Antonio Spurs aren’t really sure. Head coach Gregg Popovich said he would be surprised if Leonard played again this season, only for news to break that the team hopes he’ll return sometime in March.
Make no mistake, the Spurs need a healthy Leonard to reach their full potential. But they’re still really good without him. They’re second in points allowed per 100 possessions and play like a lethal offensive team whenever LaMarcus Aldridge is on the floor. Leonard’s presence might be the difference between contending for a title and fading out before the Western Conference Finals, but that still gives them an incredibly high ceiling.
7. Milwaukee Bucks (+6000)
Previous Rank: 8
Watching the Milwaukee Bucks’ late-game offense is a chore. They don’t generate nearly enough off-ball movement and are too reliant on Giannis Antetokounmpo, Eric Bledsoe or Khris Middleton making something out of nothing.
Discounting their potential would nevertheless be a mistake. Each of their most-used lineups is destroying opponents in the statistical department, and they rank as one of the league’s best defensive teams since firing Jason Kidd. A little more shooting and a little more bench production would put the rest of the East on red alert—and the Bucks might just get all of that once Malcolm Brogdon returns to the rotation.
8. Portland Trail Blazers (+30000)
Previous Rank: 12
Don’t look now, but the Portland Trail Blazers have found their offensive mojo. It has come at the expense of an elite defense, but head coach Terry Stotts deploys a conservative enough approach that is bound to work in the playoffs.
Indeed, the Blazers remain first-round stepping stones. But they’ve essentially established themselves as postseason locks for the first time all year.
9. Indiana Pacers (+15000)
Previous Rank: 11
The Indiana Pacers just keep going and going and going. Darren Collison’s injury hasn’t slowed their offensive output, and their new starting five, which features Cory Joseph playing in Collison’s stead, is outscoring opponents by nearly 15 points per 100 possessions.
Generating more defensive dependability is paramount if the Pacers wish to make a dent in the Eastern Conference playoffs. They might get everything they need now that Glenn Robinson III has returned from an ankle injury. We don’t know.
That they’re headed for the postseason at all, after trading franchise cornerstone Paul George over the offseason, remains a big deal.
10. Philadelphia 76ers (+6000)
Previous Rank: 13
Although the Philadelphia 76ers still suffer from youthful miscues, they’re playing like a contender these days. They have the league’s best defense since Christmas, are faring better in crunch time and are cobbling together Ben Simmons-plus-bench lineups that effectively tread water without Joel Embiid.
Signing Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova on the buyout market could end up being huge once the postseason rolls around. Depth has long been the Sixers’ biggest issue, and now they have two veteran floor-spacers coming off the pine.
11. Oklahoma City Thunder (+3000)
Previous Rank: 4
Losing Andre Roberson for the season has completely compromised the Oklahoma City Thunder’s defense. While they retain much of their switchability, they don’t measure up to the Rockets or Warriors as well as they previously did.
Head coach Billy Donovan needs to get creative with his lineup combinations, lest the Thunder devolve into nothing more than a polarizing first-round flameout.
12. Utah Jazz (+25000)
Previous Rank: 18
Believe it or not, the Utah Jazz have a case to enter the top 10. They’ve been on fire since just before the All-Star break on the back of a terrific defense anchored by Rudy Gobert. Their offense has even found a way to keep its head above water while rookie sensation Donovan Mitchell labors through a miniature slump.
General dearths of shot creation still plague this team. Joe Ingles, Royce O’Neal and Ricky Rubio can all get stuff done off the dribble, but Mitchell is the Jazz’s only true from-scratch maestro. That’ll come back to bite them in the playoffs—which, by the way, you should have no problem ticketing them for.
13. Denver Nuggets (+30000)
Previous Rank: 14
The Denver Nuggets grow more intriguing by the day. Their offense continues to plumb levels of excellence, and the emergence of sophomore point guard Jamal Murray has unlocked new five-man units that disarm opponents with speed and spacing and shooting.
Defense remains the Nuggets’ downfall, but there’s a chance that changes. Paul Millsap is due back in the next couple weeks, and if you remember, they defended like a league average team before he vacated the rotation with a wrist injury. They’ll be hell on Earth to beat in the first round for any opponent, including Houston and Golden State, if they’re at full strength.
14. Washington Wizards (+6000)
Previous Rank: 15
John Wall isn’t due back from his knee injury until sometime in March, and yet the Washington Wizards continue to rack up the victories. Color us skeptical, though.
The bench is still iffy, and the Wizards’ defensive efforts fluctuate by the game. They’ll be a terror if they’re healthy come postseason time, but for now, we must keep tempering expectations.
15. New Orleans Pelicans (+30000)
Previous Rank: 16
Credit the New Orleans Pelicans for holding strong in DeMarcus Cousins’ absence. They’ve been winning a bunch of close games as Anthony Davis continues to play out of his mind.
Most have them slated for lottery duty in the wake of Cousins’ season-ending Achilles injury. That’s not unreasonable. The Pelicans have one of the eight toughest schedules to close the season, according to PlayoffStatus.com. They could fold. For now, however, it’s clear they won’t go down without a fight.
16. Los Angeles Clippers (+40000)
Previous Rank: 17
Me oh my, the Los Angeles Clippers are fun. If they didn’t have one of the three hardest remaining schedules this year, we might even recommend you view them as a playoff team. But we can’t. They don’t have the requisite star power at the offensive end, and their recent string of defensive success feels hollow.
Enjoy their post-Blake Griffin trade honeymoon. It won’t last forever.
17. Minnesota Timberwolves (+8000)
Previous Rank: 7
Talk about your huge slip. But we have no choice.
Jimmy Butler just underwent surgery for a meniscus injury. Though he’s expected back in time for the postseason, the Minnesota Timberwolves suddenly find themselves on shaky ground. They’re viewed as playoff locks, but we might want to rethink that. They’re tied in the loss column with the Western Conference’s No. 9 seeded Clippers. Think about that.
Put in these terms, a 17th-place ranking almost feels too generous. Still, we’ll give them a week to prove themselves sans Butler before sounding their death knell.
18. Miami Heat (+25000)
Previous Rank: 10
The Miami Heat have seen more of their games enter crunch time than any other team. That’s wild. They have a winning record in these situations. That’s also wild. It suggests they’re one streak away from emerging as a genuine threat.
Except, they’re not. Their offense isn’t good enough. They don’t have the self-sufficient scorers or shooters outside Goran Dragic, and their spacing in the frontcourt is rickety at best—particularly with Kelly Olynyk out of the lineup with injury.
19. Charlotte Hornets (+50000)
Previous Rank: 23
Dare-to-be-great bettors will pick the Charlotte Hornets to make the playoffs. They have one of the league’s easiest schedules to wrap the year and are an impressive 15-6 when facing squads under .500.
But let’s not get carried away. They have a lot of ground to make up. The ninth-place Detroit Pistons may fall below them, but it’s tough to see the eighth-place Heat ceding much ground over the final quarter of the year.
20. Los Angeles Lakers (+200000)
Previous Rank: 30
The Los Angeles Lakers stay confusing.
One night, they look like a polished defensive juggernaut on the verge of an offensive breakthrough. The next night, they look completely lost in the half-court without the faintest idea of how to discern a high-quality shot from a bad one. They are, without question, the NBA’s most infuriating, and entertaining, roller coaster.
21. Detroit Pistons (+20000)
Previous Rank: 20
Remember the grace period Detroit enjoyed on the heels of the Blake Griffin trade? Yeah, that’s all over.
Griffin isn’t directly responsible for the Pistons’ recent slump. They were on the decline before he ever arrived. But his presence has complicated matters. They need more shooters and playmakers around him and Andre Drummond to balance out the floor. Until they get them, the Pistons will be a fake contender—interesting to watch, because they have Griffin, but most likely to remain in lottery territory.
22. Chicago Bulls (+200000)
Previous Rank: 26
The Chicago Bulls have shut down veterans like Robin Lopez and Justin Holiday in hopes of improving their draft-lottery odds. It hasn’t worked.
Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen play really hard. They could feasibly win enough to bilk the Bulls out of a top-seven pick. Seriously.
23. New York Knicks (+200000)
Previous Rank: 19
With Kristaps Porzingis done for the season, the tank is officially on for the New York Knicks. Head coach Jeff Hornacek is playing the young guys a bunch of minutes while giving the veterans extended rest on the bench.
Here’s the thing: It might be too little too late. The Knicks tried to convince themselves they were a playoff team before Porzingis’ injury, even though they were not. Now they find themselves 5.5 games off a bottom-three record and, by extension, top-three lottery odds.
Knicks fans can only hope some of the league’s other tanking artists get inadvertently hot, otherwise New York will be lucky to secure a top-seven selection.
24. Brooklyn Nets (+200000)
Previous Rank: 21
Although the Brooklyn Nets continue to play hard, their talent deficit is starting to get the best of them. D’Angelo Russell’s return has mashed and mangled their defense, and no one aside from Allen Crabbe is hitting enough of his shots for them to have a fighting chance on the offensive end.
Just two games in the loss column separate the Nets from the league’s worst record as a result. Cavaliers fans, knowing their team owns Brooklyn’s first-round pick this year, should be ecstatic.
25. Atlanta Hawks (+200000)
Previous Rank: 24
The Atlanta Hawks are tied with the Phoenix Suns for the NBA’s worst record. In other words, their rebuild is right on schedule.
But they’ll need to take more drastic measures to keep pace with the Suns, who have already shut down Tyson Chandler for the rest of the year. Don’t be surprised if and when the Hawks decide Dennis Schroder, Kent Bazemore and even Dewayne Dedmon have played their last game of the season.
26. Dallas Mavericks (+200000)
Previous Rank: 24
Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban came right out and said he told his players the team didn’t want to win games for the rest of the year. Enough said.
27. Memphis Grizzlies (+200000)
Previous Rank: 27
Something needs to give for the Memphis Grizzlies. They still have a shot at finishing with a bottom-five record, but they’re not doing themselves any favors by playing Marc Gasol.
Tyreke Evans already appears like he’s headed for the long-term shelf as he deals with a rib injury. The Grizzlies should take the same approach with 33-year-old Gasol. This year’s draft pick is too important to both their immediate and long-term picture to risk jeopardizing its value in any way.
28. Orlando Magic (+200000)
Previous Rank: 29
Answer: The Orlando Magic.
Question: Which team is, right this second, the most unwatchable one in the NBA?
29. Sacramento Kings (+200000)
Previous Rank: 30
It feels weird not putting the Sacramento Kings in dead last. Alas, some of their kiddies have shown some spunk in recent weeks—most notably Bogdan Bogdanovic.
Toss in the Suns’ complete aversion to winning basketball games this late in the season, and the Kings earn an accidental bump. Congratulations to the city of Sacramento for this accomplishment.
30. Phoenix Suns (+200000)
Previous Rank: 27
This is what happens when your tank gets so flagrant, you start shutting people down and deploying crunch-time lineups that have no business being on the floor with games on the line. The Suns have the inside track on finishing with the NBA’s worst record, and you better believe they’re happy about it.
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