It’s hard to argue that the Houston Rockets haven’t been the best team all season.
No offence to the Golden State Warriors juggernaut, but while the defending champions have lacked urgency and let their foot off the gas pedal, the Rockets have pulverised opponents night after night, especially when they’ve been healthy with Chris Paul and James Harden both in the lineup.
That, in addition to the fact they beat the Warriors twice in three head-to-head meetings and hold (a slight edge on) the best record in the league, means that Houston are indisputably the top team in this week’s power rankings, with Golden State right behind them.
Of course, there’s a massive drop-off from the top tier down to number three in the rankings, where the Toronto Raptors come into the picture to lead the Eastern Conference.
Check out the full rankings below, with the order determined on a combination of outlook and recent form.
1. Houston Rockets
They’re on an absolute roll having won 13 straight to maintain their spot as the top seed in the West.
2. Golden State Warriors
The defending champions have come out of the All-Star break with more urgency and the results have shown it.
3. Toronto Raptors
Despite their seven-game winning streak being snapped this past week, they remain atop the East.
4. Boston Celtics
Marcus Smart’s return has been a major boost and they’ve started to regain their rhythm.
5. Cleveland Cavaliers
Okay, so their trades weren’t a cure-all, but they still have LeBron James playing at a ridiculous level.
6. Washington Wizards
No John Wall, no problem as they’ve surged in the absence of their star point guard.
7. San Antonio Spurs
They’ve dropped six of their last eight, but just slowed down LeBron and may get Kawhi Leonard back by season’s end.
8. Portland Trail Blazers
Damian Lillard is on fire and they’ve won 11 of their last 12 on their home floor.
9. Minnesota Timberwolves
Jimmy Butler’s knee injury hasn’t put much of a dent in their offence, but they’ll start to feel it on the other end.
10. Indiana Pacers
Wins in eight of their last 11 have thrust them up the East standings as they battle for home-court in the first round.
11. Milwaukee Bucks
They’ve run into hot teams and stumbled as of late, but are 10-5 and been better defensively since firing Jason Kidd.
12. Philadelphia 76ers
13. Oklahoma City Thunder
Their talent means they should always be taken seriously, but no denying the’ve so far fallen short of expectations.
14. Denver Nuggets
Have started to come into their own over the last month and now have Paul Millsap back in the lineup.
15. Utah Jazz
They’re much better than their record indicates and their ability to lock down on defence means they should be taken seriously.
16. New Orleans Pelicans
No one has been better than Anthony Davis of late, but their winning streak hasn’t featured the best competition.
17. Los Angeles Clippers
Winners in seven of their last nine, their offence has been red hot and putting up some gaudy scores.
18. Miami Heat
They’re relying a little too much on Dwyane Wade since his return and the firepower just isn’t there right now.
19. Charlotte Hornets
Boast the longest winning streak in the East (five) as Kemba Walker shot 47.3 per cent from deep in February.
20. Detroit Pistons
Six losses in their last seven have put them in a difficult position for reaching the playoffs.
21. Los Angeles Lakers
They’ve been streaky all season and just reeled off three straight, albeit against bottom-feeders.
22. New York Knicks
The Trey Burke resurgence has given the Madison Square Garden faithful something to cheer about since Kristaps Porzingis’ injury.
23. Chicago Bulls
Fully in tank-mode as five straight losses have shown, and few wins should be expected the rest of the season.
24. Brooklyn Nets
They don’t own their own pick so while others around them tank, the Nets will keep fighting night after night.
25. Atlanta Hawks
They’re 9-7 in their last 16 games at home and host six of their next eight in their building.
26. Sacramento Kings
De’Aaron Fox and Bogdan Bogdanovic are the only reasons to watch the Kings right now.
27. Memphis Grizzlies
Even Marc Gasol is helpless to turn around their nosedive into the basement of the league.
28. Orlando Magic
They’re an abominable 12-40 since starting the season a promising 6-2 and their fortunes aren’t changing anytime soon.
29. Dallas Mavericks
Whether or not the coaches and players like it, they’re not good enough to prove Mark Cuban’s comments that they’re tanking wrong.
30. Phoenix Suns
To give you an idea of how bad the Suns are, they didn’t manage a single win all of February.
LeBron James may be the most complete player the NBA has ever seen and now he’s the sole member of a statistical club that further validates his place in history.
By tallying 31 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists for his 12th triple-double of the season and 67th of his career in the Cleveland Cavaliers’ 129-123 win over the Brooklyn Nets on Tuesday, James became the first player to record more than 30,000 points, 8,000 rebounds and 8,000 assists.
The feat comes just a little more than a month after James established the 30,000-point, 7,000-rebound, 7,000-assist club on January 23 – the same day he became the youngest player, and just the seventh overall, to score 30,000 points.
It’s impossible to say with certainty that we’ll never see another LeBron James, but it’s likely no one in the present or future will reach the milestones he’s set and continues to build on.
The stats only back up what we’ve witnessed for 15 years now – that no one has ever been so good in so many areas on a basketball court by blending a unique, versatile skillset with size, power, speed and durability.
“With the long list of so many great players that have come through this league, in the history of this league, for me to be the only [person] in a category, I think it’s pretty cool,” James said, via ESPN.
“It’s pretty cool. I take pride in my game. I’ve always taken pride in being a triple threat since I started playing basketball, and I never wanted to be labeled as a scorer.
“I always wanted to be labeled as just an all-around basketball player and I get more gratification out of the assists more than anything, because to get my guys great looks or they’re knocking down shots, that means a lot to me.”
Fittingly, James set the bar on the same night he closed out February by averaging a triple-double for a calendar month for the first time in his career.
He also joined Russell Westbrook, Oscar Robertson and Wilt Chamberlain as the only players to average a triple-double in a calendar month in league history (minimum of five games), while being the oldest to do so at 33, according to Elias Sports Bureau.
In his 10 appearances in February, James averaged 27.0 points, 10.5 rebounds, 10.5 assists and 54.6 per cent shooting. But a major chunk of that has come in the seven games James has played since Cleveland made wholesale changes at the trade deadline.
While his January numbers were nothing to sneeze at – 23.5 points, 7.3 rebounds, 7.4 assists, 50.6 per cent shooting – James appeared to be affected by the Cavaliers’ toxic culture with the previous roster.
The new additions, however, have done more than just reinvigorate the team – they’ve lifted James’ spirits, allowing him to break out of his apathetic spell and play with joy once again.
“I’m just playing some good ball, and the most consistent thing for me right now is I’m available out there on the floor for my teammates,” said James. “They give me the room to go out and do what I need to do to help them as much as I can.
“And for me to have the month of February, when I averaged a triple-double for the first time in my career, I’m just trying to make plays, get rebounds and also try to score the ball a little bit as well. So, I would say for me individually, it was a pretty good month.”
It’s been easy to take James and his greatness for granted because of his longevity. But every now and again he sends a reminder of how special he has been, is and continues to be.
We’re now a few games removed from All-Star weekend and more than a few players have stepped it up and looked fresh coming out of the break.
No one has been better than Anthony Davis, as the New Orleans Pelicans star has put up historic numbers throughout the month and in the past seven games especially.
Here, we take a look at three other players who’ve been hot, as well as three who’ve struggled.
The Celtics guard has come out of the All-Star break sizzling to lead Boston to three straight wins. In his last 12 quarters, Irving has averaged 24.6 points, 6.3 assists and 6.6 rebounds while shooting a blistering 53.1 per cent from the field and 51.7 per cent from long range.
Jokic has made flirting with a triple-double a regularity over Denver’s past four games. The Nuggets’ only losses this month have come at the hands of Western Conference-leading Houston, as Jokic’s all-around offensive skillset has spurred them to a climb up the standings.
Nikola Jokic joins Wilt Chamberlain as the only players in NBA history 6'10" or taller to record 3 straight triple-doubles. Chamberlain had six such streaks during his career, including a 9-game stretch during 1967-68.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) February 24, 2018
via @EliasSports pic.twitter.com/P6hbD6ts2c
Randle, whose name was floated around during the trade deadline, is showing a more complete game since the All-Star break. In the Lakers’ three wins, the power forward has recorded a double-double in each, while averaging 6.0 assists. At 23, he’s still getting better.
Double Trouble!— NBA (@NBA) February 27, 2018
Brandon Ingram (21 PTS, 10 REB, 6 AST) and Julius Randle (19 PTS, 10 REB) both come up big in the @Lakers third straight victory, defeating the @ATLHawks 123-104!#LakeShow pic.twitter.com/cTkRtEN2IZ
Immediately after Griffin was traded to Detroit, the Pistons appeared to be reinvigorated. Over the last three games though, they’ve failed to crack 100 points and have fallen each time. Griffin has looked pedestrian with averages of 16.3 points, 3.3 assists, 3.0 rebounds and 38.7 per cent shooting.
A chance of scenery was needed for Thomas, but it’s not like he’s close to returning to his All-Star level from a season ago. After dropping 22 points in his debut with the Lakers, Thomas have averaged just 11.4 points, 4.0 assists and shot 34.6 per cent, even as LA have had success.
Isaiah Thomas literally throwing money away... pic.twitter.com/cMVg2najQk— Colin Ward-Henninger (@ColinCBSSports) February 27, 2018
So much for Cleveland being magically fixed with their moves at the trade deadline. The Cavaliers dropped two of their first three since the All-Star break, with Hill providing little offence in the defeats by averaging 4.0 points, 2.0 assists, 17.6 per cent from the field and 0-of-6 on 3-pointers.