Updated: April 13, 2016, 1:58 AM ET

NBA Power Rankings: Wire-to-wire Golden State Warriors

By Marc Stein
Monday, April 11

Can't believe it's over.

The regular season. Our regular Monday get-togethers. And, saddest of all, Kobe Bryant's career.

Yet there's some consolation for the Committee of One and its faithful audience as this enterprise heads into hibernation until late September: ‎ESPN.com's final weekly batch of NBA Power Rankings for the 2015-16 campaign is about as historic as it gets.

The Golden State Warriors, as you surely expected by now, have pulled it off, topping our ladder wire-to-wire after securing their record 34th road win of the season and ensuring that they'll be the first team in history to go through a full 82 games without losing two in a row.

The defending champs were naturally No. 1 in the Training Camp Edition of the rankings and managed to keep hold of the top spot all the way through Week 24, which adds up to 26 consecutive turns at No. 1, something this Committee never thought possible.

This dispatch is also print-and-laminate-worthy because the San Antonio Spurs, thanks to the strongest regular season in the history of the Pop-and-Timmy era, have to go down as the strongest No. 2 team we've ever seen in our 14 seasons in charge of the rankings.

Then you start to realize that these rankings will never again feature Kobe as an active player and, well, what more needs to be said?

We'll leave the rest to you in the comments section below. Weigh in there, as always, on our 1-to-30 order -- and the very thick line in imaginary ink separating the top two teams from the rest -- or Kobe or anything else on your mind. And please allow us, for the last time this season, to transmit our heartiest thanks to all of our pals at ESPN Stats & Information, as well as the Elias Sports Bureau, for the priceless data assistance they provide week after week after week to help us with all of our calculations.

Before the Warriors' regular-season breakthrough in San Antonio, they were 28th in turnover percentage, 18th in defensive efficiency and 23rd in 3-point percentage D for April. Yet I'd say two wins in four days over their main rivals have fixed things. It also doesn't hurt that no team this season that had a chance to beat Golden State with a late go-ahead shot -- not one -- came through in the clutch.
The Spurs' latest alleged "last season they'll be good" has been a doozy so far. Something tells me Gregg Popovich won't be too concerned about losing the season series to Golden State -- especially because the very key Boris Diaw missed the two duels we just saw -- but Tony Parker's struggles do have to be at least a mild worry. Parker and Danny Green were outscored 51-6 by the Warriors' backcourt Sunday night.
Winning 50-plus games despite losing Blake Griffin for 46 is not an insignificant accomplishment. Widespread excitement about the Clippers' playoff outlook, though, continues to be scarce, partly because they went 3-14 against the rest of the teams in the NBA's .600 (Or Better) Club to finish worst of the lot. Golden State was 16-1, followed by Cleveland (8-5), Toronto (9-6), San Antonio (8-8), OKC (7-9) and Atlanta (3-11).
You can certainly make the case, for all the questions about how unified these guys are, that any Eastern Conference team would trade for Cleveland's problems. Yet it's also inescapably true that the Cavs enter the final three days of the regular season without having clinched the No. 1 seed. Assuming they get there, it'll be just the fourth time in LeBron James' career he enters the playoffs with his team seeded No. 1.
Lasting relief will come when they know that Kyle Lowry's elbow woes won't be an issue during the playoffs, but the Raps had a very productive week, thanks partly to the ongoing flashes they're getting from rookie Norman Powell but mostly because they know for sure now that they can't see the Bulls in the first round of the playoffs. Chicago, don't forget, inexplicably won all four regular-season meetings with Toronto.
The second-to-last game of Kobe Bryant's career takes him to see triple-double machine Russell Westbrook on Monday night in OKC, scene of Kobe's last playoff game. The hardest part to process, though, is that it happened nearly four years ago, way back on May 21, 2012, with Kobe ringing up 42 points in a Game 5 second-round loss. That was the season, of course, that the Thunder went to the NBA Finals.
It's a steep fall from 60 wins, true, but 50 is still possible for the Hawks if they win out, with Atlanta controlling its own destiny in the ongoing chase for the East's No. 3 seed. On his way to the All-NBA team, meanwhile, Paul Millsap just became the first player to record at least 15 boards, 5 blocks and 5 triples in a game since the inception of the 3-point line in 1979-80 in Saturday night's big home win over Boston.
The Celts, because of all the future draft assets they possess, are maybe the only team that can quibble with our claim above about how anyone in the East would trade for Cleveland's problems. As for the Isaiah Thomas Watch: At 22.3 PPG, Thomas is the third-most prolific scorer in history under 6 feet tall, behind only Michael Adams (26.5 PPG for Denver in 1990-91) and Calvin Murphy (25.6 PPG for Houston in 1977-78).
Miami fans and NBA well-wishers in general hoped we'd have clarity by now on Chris Bosh's future. We obviously do not. The stubborn Heat, however, continue to battle for the East's No. 3 seed while also looming as a very serious potential thorn in LeBron James' title quest if they wind up fourth or fifth and land in Cleveland's bracket. Something else to watch: Hassan Whiteside just got his first start since Jan. 20. Hmmm.
Don't know that the Hornets will be successful with their lobbying to get Kemba Walker in the MIP mix, but Steve Clifford is firmly in the COY race because the Hornets continue to have the East's top record since the All-Star break. Charlotte can still finish as low as sixth in terms of East seeding, but its 19-8 record since the break is third in the whole NBA behind only Golden State (24-5) and San Antonio (20-7).
Trail Blazers
This is our last opportunity to remind you that the Committee of One was hardly alone in severely underestimating these Blazers. Only Philadelphia began the season with a lower over/under than Portland's 27.5 at the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook back in October. But now look at 'em; Damian Lillard & Co. amazingly still control their destiny for the West's No. 5 seed despite that crusher of a home loss to Minnesota on Saturday.
Said so a few weeks ago and sticking with it now: Detroit can't worry about who it sees in Round 1; just getting into the first round and putting a halt to a playoff drought that lasted six seasons was all that mattered. Some icing: Andre Drummond has joined Isiah Thomas (1984-85) as the only Detroit players to lead the NBA in double-doubles for a season. Drummond has 66 double-doubles ... 13 more than No. 2 Russell Westbrook.
Maybe squeaking into the playoffs dulls the shine a little, but let's not gloss over the fact that Paul George -- for all the hassle we've given him about his .417 shooting from the field -- is closing in on 1,900 points in what ranks as a runaway Comeback Player of the Year season. Only two Pacers (Billy Knight with 2,075 points in 1976-77 and Reggie Miller with 2,016 in 1989-90) have ever exceeded that output.
John Wooden was the Wizard of Westwood. Bobby Dye became the Wizard of Nutwood when he took previously unknown Cal State Fullerton to the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament in 1978, And Rick Carlisle is the Wizard of Inwood after what he's done with these Mavericks, uncorking a new slowdown scheme that leaves them with a magic number of 1 to clinch a playoff berth thanks to a 6-1 stretch no one saw coming.
The Coach of the Year field is so preposterously deep that we bricked and failed to make room for a Quin Snyder mention in our COY opus. The Jazz, despite their youth and numerous injuries all season, are rated as the toughest team Golden State could face in Round 1, according to ESPN's Basketball Power Index ... although the BPI only gives Utah a 6 percent chance of shocking the world and winning that series.
Dave Joerger deserves some sort of coaching award for what he's gotten out of an injury-ravaged roster featuring an NBA-record 28 players (so far). The Grizz, even without Marc Gasol and Mike Conley, are going to be a pesky, gritty, grindy foe for whoever they end up facing in Round 1 and can now claim to be the only team in the league all season to engage in a one-point game with mighty Golden State.
The NBA's 16-team playoff field could be set by Monday night in the worst-case scenario for the Rockets, should they lose in Minnesota to a Wolves team fresh off wins in Golden State and Portland and if Utah beats visiting Dallas. Making the playoffs, mind you, can only fix so much; Houston knows it's facing a long, tough offseason with or without a first-round series against the Warriors or Spurs.
We tried to warn our pal Mardy Fish, who ranks as the biggest celebrity Wolves fan we know, to try to temper his expectations after Sota's 8-8 start. Karl-Anthony Towns & Co. won't win 30 games, in the end, unless they sweep their last two, but we have to concede that it won't be Mardy alone getting swept up in the promise of things from here for the league's most intriguing band of young talents. What a future.
Whether the Bulls, as a franchise, still have a share of the league's highest single-season win total after Wednesday night is their smallest of issues at the minute. They ran off Tom Thibodeau and wound up regressing so far that the Bulls -- after starting the season as the East's biggest threat to Cleveland according to the Vegas oddsmakers -- just missed the playoffs for the first time since Derrick Rose was still in college.
Remember when Wizards fans were mad at us in late October because we had their team at only No. 15 overall and eighth among Eastern Conference residents in the rankings that aired Oct. 26? Turns out we were soft on the Wiz, who would be chafing this morning from much more harmful rays of shame if Chicago and Houston weren't hogging so much of the most disappointing team spotlight.
Between their 19-13 start and Aaron Gordon's dunk-contest acrobatics, Scott Skiles' first season in Orlando will be remembered for the hope it spawned -- as well as the expectations it raised -- in the Magic Kingdom. Hopefully the forthcoming 30 for 30 doc on the rise and fall of the mid-1990s Magic starring Shaquille O'Neal and Penny Hardaway doesn't send Central Floridians straight back into a hoops funk.
When the story of the Bucks' season is told, they'd naturally prefer you focus less on their failure to take the next step after last season and laser in more on the development of Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker. Or how they held a fourth-quarter lead against the Warriors for 18 minutes this season, second only to Boston's 19 minutes and ahead of the Clippers' 17 despite facing Golden State two times fewer than L.A.
Can't sit here and say I'll miss the place, because a new arena is so overdue, but fond memories of the Kings' 2002 epic playoff battles with the Lakers in the glory days of what we'll always refer to as ARCO Arena will linger in the memory for a long, long time. The smallest of consolations for poor Kings fans: DeMarcus Cousins just assembled the league's first 27-plus PPG, 11-plus RPG season since Shaquille O'Neal in 2002-03.
The Nuggets were really never in the playoff hunt, but they enjoyed an April moment of their own when the Blazers booked a postseason berth, clinching that Portland's first-round pick in June's draft must be conveyed to Denver now as part of last season's Arron Afflalo trade. The Nuggets came away with Will Barton and the first-rounder in that deal, which should help make it a touch easier to bid this season adieu.
Phil Jackson clearly wants Kurt Rambis to stay. Carmelo Anthony just wants to turn back time to the way it was in his first 10 seasons when he never missed the playoffs, because he's suddenly up to three straight seasons that have ended in mid-April. Things probably aren't as dire as they seem, since the Knicks did increase their win total by 15 from last season -- which ain't easy -- but there are more questions than answers at MSG. As usual.
It won't be Jay Wright, but let's see what sort of coach the Suns can attract now that we know they're going to commission a full-scale search in the wake of a season in which so little went according to plan. A splash of hope amid the gloom: 19-year-old Devin Booker has racked up six 30-point games, which is the most for any rookie in the league since the Clippers' Blake Griffin rumbled for 14 of them in the 2010-11 season.
Injuries were a nonstop culprit here, but the Pels can't avoid the Most Disappointing Team conversation, either. With Anthony Davis widely forecast to make an MVP run and 50 wins considered a reasonable target, New Orleans wound up leading the league in most starting lineups used with 40. Maybe the Pels, in free agency, will find that curse-lifting voodoo doctor Alvin Gentry has been calling out for.
Sean Marks was a promising hire, so they got something out of the season, but it's also fair to say that no team on the map endured a longer 2015-16 because the Nets had to live with the daily pain of knowing all that losing was only helping Boston. With so many draft picks spurned and Mikhail Prokhorov not spending like he used to, Nets fans have less hope than they did after the 12-70 mark in 2009-10 ... when Prokhorov was on the way in.
If the Committee of One ever needed to clone itself, this is the week. We'll naturally be in Oakland, which means we can't be in L.A. for Kobe Bryant's farewell. Which is tough to take when you've had the privilege of covering so many highs and lows on the Kobe Coaster going all the way back to his first summer league game as a 17-year-old. Gettin' REAL dusty in here now ... especially with legendary Lakers trainer Gary Vitti exiting, too.
Maybe Villanova's championship in the college game and the resulting afterglow can give the Sixers some cover while they work through Sam Hinkie's stunning resignation ... and those 13 pages he left behind. It'll be fascinating to see how different Philly's approach looks five months from now, when these rankings resume, compared to what we've seen over the past three L-filled seasons (47-197).

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