Updated: February 16, 2016, 2:36 PM ET
NBA Power Rankings: Out of the break, Warriors eye history
By Marc Stein
Tuesday, Feb. 16
This is the first season in league history in which a single conference has housed three teams with 40 wins at the All-Star break.
And those three teams, appropriately, occupy the top three spots in the latest edition of ESPN.com's weekly NBA Power Rankings.
The Golden State Warriors, mind you, continue to lord over The Other 29 as we emerge from All-Star Weekend in Toronto ... for reasons best explained by Gregg Popovich. Oklahoma City has rightfully joined the Warriors and Pop's Spurs in our top three after securing entry to the 40-win club late last week, but the team that has occupied the top perch on our ladder for all 18 editions of the rankings this season appears intent on ultimately making it 24-for-24.
The Warriors have 17 home games remaining, tied for second most in the league (along with the Raptors and Lakers) behind Milwaukee's 18. That should only enhance Golden State's chances of breaking the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls' single-season record of 72 wins, as long it keeps winning throughout its upcoming six-game road trip. Three of the six toughest games left on the Warriors' schedule, according to ESPN's Basketball Power Index, are on this trip (roadies against the Clippers, Hawks and Thunder).
You can comment below on the latest 1-to-30 order assembled by the Committee of One, which offers its profuse thanks to our pals within the NBA wing of ESPN Stats & Information, as well as the Elias Sports Bureau, for the invaluable data assistance they faithfully provide week after week to help us with all of our calculations.
|The Dubs have the league's seventh-hardest remaining schedule in terms of winning percentage ... with remaining opponents at a composite. 523. They also have three games left against the Spurs and two each against the Thunder and Clippers. Yet Golden State needs only a 25-5 finish -- which would be a dip from its current success rate -- to finish with 73 wins. Bet against 'em if you wish.|
|In case you've forgotten in the wake of that 30-point pounding on Golden State's floor: San Antonio remains a perfect 28-0 at home and is favored by ESPN's Basketball Power Index in all 13 of its remaining home games ... as well as all six that remain on the Rodeo Road trip. The only game left on the schedule in which the Spurs aren't favored is their April 7 return to Oakland.|
|Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are on course to join LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, as well as Bob Pettit and Cliff Hagan, on the short list of duos in league history to finish among the top three in PER in any given season. Yet even after the amazing first half they've shared, that's as much basketball as we can get into here in the wake of the Ingrid Williams tragedy.
|Fresh trivia that surprised me in advance of Sunday's Cavs-Thunder showdown: LeBron James is 7-0 lifetime against Kevin Durant when wearing a Cleveland jersey and 16-4 overall (including their five-game showdown in the 2012 NBA Finals). The latest curiosity surrounding Kevin Love, meanwhile, is how he responds to all of the recent trade speculation even if he stays put.|
|The cold didn't bother your trusty Committee of One. Not one bit. The first All-Star Weekend ever staged outside of U.S. borders, for all the gripes about weather and lack of D in the actual game, was an undeniable success. But the fun was over quickly for the Raps, who face some trade deadline urgency this week because they know they have to get out of the first round this spring.|
|If you find yourself buying into suggestions that things are going too swimmingly for the overachieving Celtics for them to chase a big deal before Thursday afternoon's trade deadline, you don't know Danny Ainge. The Boston Gambler has hunted for Kevin Love for ages and will surely keep trying to assemble the sort of three-team deal it takes to snare the star Boston lacks. |
|Before we go any further with this "Better without Blake" stuff, let's see how the Blake Griffin-less Clips fare Thursday night at home against San Antonio in their return from the All-Star break. L.A. is 0-7 this season against the Warriors, Spurs, Thunder, Cavs and Raptors ... compared to 35-11 against everyone else. Don't forget that the Clips also host Golden State on Saturday night.|
|The Hawks were 43-11 coming out of the 2015 All-Star break, having sent a league-high four of their players to the big midseason showcase. Twelve months later, an entire league is waiting to see how many players from Atlanta's core four -- Paul Millsap, Al Horford, Kyle Korver and Jeff Teague -- are still Hawks after Thursday's trade deadline. As they say: What a difference a year makes.|
|Ready to feel old? As we await a potential George Hill trade (or something bigger?) from the Pacers this week, bear in mind that All-Star Weekend marked the 30th anniversary of Larry Bird's Three-Point Contest triumph in Dallas. As for Paul George: His 41 All-Star points trumped Michael Jordan's 40 in 1988, tied Russell Westbrook's total in 2015 and fell one shy of Wilt Chamberlain's in 1962.|
|The Jazz went 19-10 after the All-Star break last season largely on the strength of smothering team D that transformed Rudy Gobert into a Twitter favorite, but we don't see Utah needing to close at the same rate over the final 30 games to secure a playoff berth. Not with Houston awash in turmoil, Dallas wheezing of late and Memphis having just lost Marc Gasol indefinitely. |
|Marc Gasol and Mike Conley fell so far short of All-Star consideration that they were even excluded from the "Who got snubbed?" debate that revs up once All-Star rosters are announced. But that looks like the smallest of issues now after Gasol was felled by a foot injury that not only threatens the rest of his season but also Memphis' first-round pick ... if it falls out of the playoffs.|
|The Heat got through that brutal stretch of schedule in which they were forced to play 14 of 16 games with a passable mark of 8-8. But so many questions still loom ... about Chris Bosh's health, about the way Dwyane Wade and Goran Dragic mesh in the Miami backcourt and, of course, about what to do with the Hassan Whiteside conundrum. Stressful (and scary) times on South Beach.|
|The Blazers entered the All-Star break tied for seventh in the West with Utah and will have an immediate chance to clinch the head-to-head tiebreaker when they play host to the Jazz on Sunday night. First, though, it's an opportunity Friday night for Oakland native and All-Star snubee Damian Lillard to improve his 2-9 head-to-head record against visiting Steph Curry and Golden State.|
|Their leading scorer, Dirk Nowitzki, is in season No. 18. Their leading All-Star vote-getter was Zaza Pachulia. Their roster ranks as the league's third-oldest. So you can understand, when you add it all up, why people say this might be Rick Carlisle's best coaching job. And now the West's fifth spot, thanks to issues in Memphis and Houston on top of the Mavs' overachieving, is somehow up for grabs.|
|Season-long concerns about the Pistons' bench have only been exacerbated by Kentavious Caldwell-Pope's groin injury. Andre Drummond put a halt to Detroit's lengthy All-Star drought -- dating to Allen Iverson in 2009 -- but it remains to be seen whether these guys have enough left in the tank over the final 28 games, or enough depth, to end a six-year playoff absence.|
|The All-Star break should have been so uplifting for the Hornets. They're back up to No. 8 in the East and watched proudly as Michael Jordan strode to midcourt at Air Canada Centre to officially start the countdown toward All-Star 2017 in Charlotte. But make no mistake: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist's latest shoulder setback, after a 5-2 start in his comeback, hits them hard.|
|We'll soon learn if the Rockets are headed from "broken," as interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff describes them, to broken up. It's not the first time we've ever said this in mid-February, but no team out there is more motivated to make a deadline deal than the Rockets, who are suddenly under .500 and looking up at a No. 8 seed that only sets you up for a first-round date with Golden State.
|Is a trip to the playoffs really as iffy as it suddenly seems for the Bulls? How high should they sit on this season's list of biggest disappointments when you factor in all the injuries? Will Jimmy Butler -- who has three 40-point games this season (after none in his first four NBA seasons) -- miss just three to four weeks or have to sit longer? None of the questions at hand in Chicago are comfortable.|
|It shouldn't hurt his Sixth Man Award campaign, but Will Barton's Slam Dunk Contest experience went completely downhill after the self-styled Will The Thrill opted for the Michael Jackson-inspired intro. Emmanuel Mudiay didn't have the best Skills Challenge, either, but this is what really matters to management: Denver is a respectable 10-11 In 2016 despite all of its youth and inexperience.
|Thank you, Aaron Gordon. Thank you for reminding us how great the dunk contest can be. Thank you for giving us a new dunker to love, which is all we need: Dunkers we can get emotionally attached to ... big name or not. We'll return our focus here to Orlando's current 4-16 funk after the trade deadline. For now we prefer to revel in Gordon and his new best buddy Stuff for as long as we can.
|Over the past 10 seasons, only three of the 150 players to earn All-NBA honors did so on teams with sub-.400 winning percentages: Kevin Garnett (2007), Kevin Love (2012) and DeMarcus Cousins (2015). Anthony Davis must now follow suit if he wants to avoid falling victim to the
"Derrick Rose Rule" and lose $20 million-plus off the five-year, estimated $145 million deal he inked last summer.
|The good news: John Wall looked rather spry in the All-Star Game after taking a shot to the knee just before the break. The bad news: Almost everything else. A three-game deficit in the playoff chase is hardly insurmountable with 31 games to go, but the Wiz start the stretch run with a dreaded back-to-back-to-back triple-header to make up for that January snowed-out game with Utah.|
|It remains to be seen how long Greg Monroe stays in his new sixth-man role, but the Bucks are adamant last summer's marquee signing is going nowhere before the trade deadline. Common sense says the playoffs are out of reach when you look at the standings, but a home-heavy closing schedule has to help. The Bucks are tied with the Lakers at a league-high 31 road games already.
|There's realistically too much going on here to spend too much time on my soapbox lamenting the disappointing omission of our man Omri Casspi from the Three-Point Contest at All-Star Weekend. Instinct tells me that the Kings' much-needed win (escape?) in their final game before the break at Philly is unlikely to bring the roller coaster that is George Karl's job security to a halt.
|The first two days of the best All-Star Weekend in memory, thanks to Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins and especially Zach LaVine, belonged to the long-suffering Wolves, which is no small thing for the franchise sporting the league's longest playoff drought (11 seasons and counting). And LaVine's tribute to our former colleague Flip Saunders was one of the best moments.
|Can Kristaps Porzingis do anything to prevent Karl-Anthony Towns from walking away with NBA Rookie of the Year honors? Also not sure the Knicks have much else to captivate us after Derek Fisher joined Brian Shaw and Jim Cleamons on the list of Phil Jackson disciples to be fired in the second season of their first head-coaching job. This just isn't a playoff roster. Not even in the East.|
|Quite a hectic week looms for the Nets thanks to Wednesday's official unveiling of the team's new $50 million practice facility on the Brooklyn waterfront, as well as the final stages of their search for a new GM amid the looming Thursday trade deadline and Friday's home date with the visiting (and hated) Knicks. Thaddeus Young remains the most likely Net to be dealt.
|Keep your eye on the Sixers. With Jerry Colangelo in charge now, Philly could well elect to take a different approach than we've seen the past two trade deadlines and deal for some established talent. It's a strategy the Sixers have to consider, even if it means more short-term wins that worsen their lottery odds, unless the Colangelo Factor ensures success in free agency. |
|If Tim Duncan can make it back to work this week, Kobe Bryant's nostalgia tour should resume immediately out of the All-Star break Friday night with what is scheduled to be the 52nd and final regular-season meeting between Kobe and Timmy. Who can forget that their teams met in four consecutive postseasons from 2001 to '04 ... with the woebegone Lakers winning three of those series?|
|The rise of Earl Watson to the lead seat on the Suns' bench means we're up to four coaches in their 30s: Watson at 36, Houston's J.B. Bickerstaff at 36, Cleveland's Tyronn Lue at 38 and Boston's Brad Stevens at 39. The Markieff Morris saga, meanwhile, is only getting more complicated: What will the Suns' locker room be like if Morris is not shipped elsewhere this week? |