Rest up this weekend, basketball friends, because Monday is going to be a doozy.
The NBA will commemorate Martin Luther King Jr. Day with the second (and final) regular-season meeting of 2016-17 between the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers — and FOX Sports NBA insider Chris Broussard discussed whether the Cavs are in the Warriors’ collective heads on Friday’s episode of Undisputed on FS1.
We’ll learn more about the answer to that question on Monday. For now, here are the NBA power rankings ahead of the most important game this season.
30 Brooklyn Nets (previous ranking: 30)
You might be wondering why the Nets are so bad this season, given that they have no real incentive to tank. Remember, Brooklyn’s draft pick belongs to the Celtics, via a pick swap.
The answer: experimentation! The Nets are giving minutes to guys like Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Caris LeVert to see what they can do. With nothing to lose, why not?
29 Miami Heat (26)
Every Heat player is reportedly available for trade — yes, including Hassan Whiteside. That’s the only rational approach for a team like Miami that needs a full rebuild, especially if Pat Riley isn’t convinced Whiteside is a franchise cornerstone (which he’s not).
28 Phoenix Suns (27)
Devin Booker went off for a big fourth quarter against the Mavericks on Thursday night, pouring in 20 of his 38 points. It wasn’t enough to get the win, but the outburst was a pleasasnt surprise for Suns fans who are starting to wonder whether their young star-in-the-making can actually shoot the basketball.
27 Dallas Mavericks (28)
Mark Cuban is overshadowing his team once again, this time as the NBA’s referees accuse the Mavericks owner of intimidation and bully tactics.
And that’s a shame, because Dirk Nowitzki dunked — no, really! — on Thursday night, and that’s what we should really be talking about.
26 Philadelphia 76ers (29)
Break up the 76ers! Philly’s looking like a real NBA team these days, and Joel Embiid is talking playoffs.
Is that ridiculous? Probably. But Embiid should talk anyway. You never know what could happen at the bottom of the playoff standings in the East.
25 Minnesota Timberwolves (25)
Don’t look now, but the Timberwolves boast a top-ten defense over the past six weeks or so. Tom Thibodeau asks a lot of his players, and executing his scheme takes time.
If Minnesota actually is settling in to the system, though, the Wolves could be in for a nice run headed into the All-Star break.
24 Orlando Magic (23)
The most exciting news around the Magic this week is the announcement that Penny Hardaway will be inducted into the team’s Hall of Fame later this month. Honestly, he could still play point guard for them. Probably.
23 Denver Nuggets (22)
If Nikola Jokic isn’t one of your favorite players in the NBA right now, you’re not paying attention. The second-year big man leads the fastbreak, punishes opponents in the post, and defends with aplomb. Tune in before you miss out on even more Jokic goodness.
Chris Humphreys Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports
22 Los Angeles Lakers (24)
Is Brandon Ingram already the Lakers’ offensive leader? The NBA’s second-youngest player has looked fantastic since the start of December, despite Los Angeles’ up-and-down record over that time.
Here’s some advice to the purple and gold: don’t trade Ingram for anything less than an undisputed top-five player.
21 Chicago Bulls (15)
Thursday night’s loss to the Knicks was the Bulls at their very worst. They plummet in the rankings this week because we’re not sure things will get any better in Chicago any time soon.
20 New Orleans Pelicans (20)
The Pelicans scored a big win without Anthony Davis on Thursday, and we applaud New Orleans’ ability to come together without their star. That the Pelicans were without the Brow in the first place is still troubling, however. Every additional Davis injury is scarier than the last.
19 Detroit Pistons (19)
Give Stan Van Gundy this: he’s self aware. The Pistons coach told reporters this week he won’t expand Boban Marjanovic’s role because Van Gundy is concerned about his ability to keep up on defense. In the next breath, SVG basically said, “Do I focus on defense too much? Maybe. But that’s who I am!”
18 Sacramento Kings (17)
The reported mutual interest in a massive new contract for DeMarcus Cousins with the Kings is the best move for everyone. We mean that sincerely.
Yet it seems fair to wonder whether Sacramento’s front office is capable of truly building around Boogie. They’ve failed to this point, after all. And if they continue to fail, a trade demand seems inevitable down the line.
17 Portland Trail Blazers (18)
Yes, we know that’s a picture of the Phoenix Suns’ Tyson Chandler, who does not currently play for the Portland Trail Blazers.
But Portland is reportedly interested in a trade for the veteran big man, and we can’t stop thinking about that potential move. The best version of Chandler is a great fit for the Blazers, sure. Is an old guy who might not have much left really what you need to add to this batch of young players, though?
16 New York Knicks (16)
The Derrick Rose situation was classic Knicks — a seemingly reasonable scenario that became a disaster thanks to a total lack of communication.
Coincidentally, that’s exactly how one might describe New York’s defense these days.
15 Charlotte Hornets (11)
The Hornets take a dip this week because of Nicolas Batum’s knee injury. Although he’s probably going to play in Philly, we want to make sure he’s 100 percent healthy before we put the Hornets back near the top ten.
14 Indiana Pacers (14)
Indiana’s loss to the Nuggets this week could be a sign of things to come. The Pacers allow a ton of 3-point attempts, but they’ve been lucky to see teams miss most of their looks from deep this season.
That would seem to mean Indiana is defending the 3-point line well. Keep in mind, however, that defenses have little impact on 3-point percentage. If you really want to defend the 3-point line, you have to prevent attempts from even happening.
The Pacers need to fix that flaw pronto.
13 Milwaukee Bucks (8)
Okay, we probably got a little too excited about the Bucks last week. Giannis Antetokounmpo will have that effect on people.
On the other hand, Jabari Parker is making 3s at an elite rate, which is nifty. Let’s move on before we talk ourselves into vaulting the Bucks into the top five.
Kevin Jairaj Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
12 Washington Wizards (13)
We learned two simple lessons about the Wizards this week:
1.) Despite recent improvement, Washington is still a step behind the likes of the Raptors and Celtics in the East.
2.) Never, ever boop John Wall on the nose.
11 Atlanta Hawks (20)
We dropped the Hawks last week when we expected a fire sale, but if Millsap is sticking around, they leap back to just outside the top ten. There’s still a very good team here, even without Kyle Korver.
10 Memphis Grizzlies (12)
The Commercial Appeal’s Geoff Calkins pointed out this week that the Grizzlies have a fantastic problem: too many good players and not enough minutes to go around. As long as David Fizdale can keep everyone on the same page, Memphis will be fine. There aren’t a ton of egos on this team, after all.
9 Oklahoma City Thunder (9)
The Thunder have a new challenge on defense: Victor Oladipo’s inability to communicate. The OKC wing legitimately can’t talk as he deals with a mouth injury that resulted in nine stitches in his tongue.
8 Los Angeles Clippers (10)
Kevin Garnett is on the coaching staff, Blake Griffin is recovering nicely from surgery, and the Clippers are rolling in Griffin’s absence. Things are good for Los Angeles — as long as the Clips don’t lose the Battle of L.A. to the Lakers on Friday night, anyway.
7 Utah Jazz (7)
We really wanted to move the Jazz up into the top five based on the strength of their win over the Cavaliers, but they lost to both the Raptors and Celtics too recently to allow us to make that move.
Soon, Utah. Soon.
6 Boston Celtics (5)
Brad Stevens allowed recently that the Celtics might need rebounding help. That’s probably true, and we commend coach for taking the long view of things.
But for now, we’d rather just focus on Isaiah Thomas, who’s playing so well these days that famous boxers are demanding he hand over his jerseys as souvenirs.
5 Toronto Raptors (6)
Raptors GM Masai Ujiri was remarkably candid this week about Toronto’s needs and how his team might approach the trade deadline. Most importantly, Ujiri said all the right things. While the Raptors aren’t perfect, he won’t make a move just to rearrange the furniture. And that’s how you build a perennial contender.
4 Houston Rockets (3)
We’re only halfway through the season, but the MVP race has a clear favorite: James Harden. If you don’t want to take our word for it, just ask FOX Sports NBA insider Chris Broussard.
3 San Antonio Spurs (4)
The Spurs are the best defense in the NBA and fourth in offense. At what point do we start talking about whether they’re legitimate threats to the Warriors in the West?
2 Cleveland Cavaliers (1)
So maybe the Cavs won’t immediately be unstoppable with Kyle Korver on the roster. Cleveland struggled to integrate the former Hawk this week, and the Cavs will have to work to figure out how to best use the 3-point specialist.
We have faith that LeBron & Co. will eventually make that work, but they fall to No. 2 now that they finally have questions to answer.
1 Golden State Warriors (2)
As we pointed out this week, Steve Kerr is the Warriors’ biggest problem. He has to balance his own system with the Warriors’ talented individuals.
But if a Coach of the Year is the most glaring issue with your franchise, you’re probably in pretty good shape.