Mar 4, 2015; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) reacts after being fouled on a made basket against the Philadelphia 76ers during the fourth quarter at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports
NBA Power Rank Week 18- Houston Rockets Move Up Ladder:
Few teams seemed to survive the break looking fresh other than Houston, Oklahoma City (or, rather Russell Westbrook who was on fire) and Atlanta though they got blown out by the Raptors the first game back.
In looking at the extended break it may have been what LeBron James wanted (and got), but it seemed to work against most teams who seemed sluggish and rusty. It also seemed to spark a bunch of injuries so now teams will need to figure out how they handle the All-Star break, next season.
Perhaps teams need to give their squads a couple days off and then reconvene earlier at least to utilize the time for practice so they can avoid injury when the schedule starts again.
The Races Are On:
The final 6 weeks will see the major focus on making the post season, however several races are currently in progress either divisionally or at the top or bottom of the conferences:
In the West there remain several teams who could win the Conference though Golden State still leads the pack and hold a healthy lead. The teams with the best chance of catching them are Memphis and Houston.
With the Rockets losing the series 0-4 to GSW the reality is Memphis has the best shot given they won the first game versus GSW and have two more games against the Warriors.
Conversely in the East it will take an absolute reversal of fortune for the Hawks not to win given their massive lead over second place Toronto and charging Cleveland/Chicago.
Atlantic Division: Even on a 5-game losing streak the Raptors would absolutely have to implode with 23 games remaining and a 12 game lead over the second place Nets all but guaranteeing Toronto home court in the first round. All Star point guard Kyle Lowry is scheduled to get some rest after laying it on the line while DeRozan was out injured. The Raptors are hoping a re-invigorated Lowry will get the team back on track to finish the season.
Southeast Division: Like the Raptors the Hawks have virtually sewn up their Division and likely the Conference as well
Central Division: The closest contested Division is the Central where the Cavaliers and Bulls are slugging away to see who’ll end up on top. News Jimmy Butler will join Derrick Rose on the sidelines for 3-6 weeks probably gives Cleveland the edge, but don’t count out the scrappy Bulls who won’t concede the division without a fight.
Race for 7th and 8th Seeds in East: Perhaps the most hotly contested battle in the East will be the bottom two seeds where six teams are competing for 2 spots. Miami, Brooklyn, Charlotte, Indiana Detroit and Boston are all within 3 games of the 7th seed. Currently Miami and Brooklyn sit 7th and 8th but watch out for the surging Pacers and Hornets.
Northwest Division: With 3 wins over Oklahoma City this season and a 7 game pad on the Thunder, Portland looks well positioned to win the Northwest.
Pacific Division: Like Portland, Golden State hold a healthy pad on their closest division rivals the Clippers. The question will be whether the Warriors retain the Conference lead as well.
Southwest Division: The hottest contested division in the NBA is the Southwest Division where it looks like four of the five teams will make the playoffs and should New Orleans find a way to upset OKC they could make history with all 5 teams making the post season. The likely outcome is Memphis, Houston, Dallas and San Antonio will make the post season with the excitement being who will be the eventual Division Champs and where each of these teams will find themselves seeded entering the playoffs.
Race for 8th in West: Unlike previous seasons the big race is actually within the top 8 seeds. While there are 3 teams competing to get the final seed Oklahoma City has been playing great without Durant so the fact he’ll rejoin the team likely in another week makes them look solid for the 8th seed and possibly the 7th seed.
The Suns have been falling off the pace, but the surprise has been New Orleans who continue to win despite missing Anthony Davis, Jrue Holiday and Ryan Anderson. Can they make up enough to overtake Oklahoma City? Or will one of the teams above OKC falter and fall down the ladder? Currently San Antonio sits 7th with a 4 game lead over OKC and Dallas rank 6th with a 6 game lead over OKC. Odds are the experience of these teams will hold them in place with San Antonio and Oklahoma prevailing.
Next: How the National Media Rank the Rockets