It’s getting to the point in the NBA season where each week can potentially swing playoff hopes, especially in a tight Western Conference.
The Portland Trail Blazers and New Orleans Pelicans have used the cramped spacing in the West to their advantage by rattling off win streaks to jump up to third and fourth in the conference, respectively.
Damian Lillard may not be in the same MVP conversation as Davis, but his sizzling form and clutch scoring have similarly led to a surge for the Trail Blazers.
Both New Orleans and Portland make a leap in our power rankings for this week, which are below:
1. Houston Rockets
Record: 50-13 | Last week: 1
A 16-game winning streak and the best record in the NBA is more than enough justification for the number one spot.
2. Golden State Warriors
Record: 50-14 | Last week: 2
The defending champions just keep humming along, though they haven’t truly hit the gas yet.
3. Toronto Raptors
Record: 46-17 | Last week: 3
After falling in their first game after the All-Star break, they’ve rattled off five straight wins and look impressive on both sides of the ball.
4. Boston Celtics
Record: 45-20 | Last week: 4
You can make a case the Celtics haven’t looked better this season than they do right now as their offence and bench have gone to another level.
5. Portland Trail Blazers
Record: 39-26 | Last week: 8
Lillard is blazing hot right now and has put Portland on his back to lead them to an eight-game winning streak up to third in the West.
6. Cleveland Cavaliers
Record: 37-26 | Last week: 5
Their up-and-down rollercoaster of a season continues as they look formidable one night and lacking the next.
7. New Orleans Pelicans
Record: 37-26 | Last week: 16
Davis has barely slowed down and the offence as a whole has found its stride, resulting in nine straight wins.
8. Indiana Pacers
Record: 37-27 | Last week: 10
Aside from a couple losses to lottery sides, they’ve been impressive and have six of their next 10 at home where they’re 22-11.
9. San Antonio Spurs
Record: 37-27 | Last week: 7
They’ve uncharacteristically gone 2-8 in their past 10 games and are beginning to look old and slow.
10. Utah Jazz
Record: 34-30 | Last week: 15
Wins in 14 of their past 16 have put them in the playoff race and the schedule eases up going forward.
11. Washington Wizards
Record: 37-28 | Last week: 6
It was a rough week for the Wizards as they dropped three of four, including two losses to potential playoff match-ups.
12. Philadelphia 76ers
Record: 35-28 | Last week: 12
They’re young so inconsistency is expected, but their talent is undeniable and makes them one of the better teams in the East.
13. Oklahoma City Thunder
Record: 37-29 | Last week: 13
They can’t quite string a run together and their claim they play better against good teams took a hit with losses to Houston and Portland this past week.
14. Denver Nuggets
Record: 35-29 | Last week: 14
Paul Millsap’s return has yet to make much of an impact, with the Nuggets 2-2 since getting the former All-Star back.
15. Minnesota Timberwolves
Record: 38-28 | Last week: 9
They’re in the midst of a tough part of their schedule and things could go south in a hurry as only one game in the loss column separates them from ninth place.
16. Los Angeles Clippers
Record: 34-29 | Last week: 17
Their recent losses have been to strong teams and they’re otherwise taking care of business and close to breaking into the West’s top-eight.
17. Milwaukee Bucks
Record: 34-30 | Last week: 11
During their poor stretch of five losses in six games, the offence has been anemic and it’s fair to wonder if they can make any noise in the playoffs.
18. Los Angeles Lakers
Record: 28-35 | Last week: 21
Lonzo Ball is back and shooting better than ever, with the Lakers’ only loss in their past six games coming against red-hot Portland.
19. Miami Heat
Record: 34-31 | Last week: 18
They’re somewhat floating at an average level and are fortunate the teams behind them in standings aren’t posing much of a threat.
20. Charlotte Hornets
Record: 28-37 | Last week: 19
Just when it seemed like they were making their push, they followed up a five-game winning streak with a four-game drought.
21. Detroit Pistons
Record: 29-35 | Last week: 20
They’ve spiraled out of the playoff picture with nine losses in their past 10 and likely have too much ground to make up.
22. Atlanta Hawks
Record: 20-45 | Last week: 25
The fact that they notched two wins this past week doesn’t bode well for their lottery odds, but shows the fight of their young guys.
23. Sacramento Kings
Record: 20-44 | Last week: 26 up
Their young players are getting valuable minutes and opportunities in crunch time, which is at least a consolation prize if they don’t grab a top-five pick.
24. Orlando Magic
Record: 20-44 | Last week: 28 up
They won consecutive games this past week for just the second time this season since their improbable 8-4 start.
25. Chicago Bulls
Record: 21-42 | Last week: 23 down
Call it ‘giving minutes to the young guys’ or whatever you want, but It’s pretty clear they’re not trying to win games.
26. Dallas Mavericks
Record: 20-45 | Last week: 29 up
At least Dennis Smith is enjoyable to watch because there are few other bright spots on this roster.
27. Brooklyn Nets
Record: 20-45 | Last week: 24 down
It now feels like a long time ago when Brooklyn’s 2018 first-rounder, in Cleveland’s possession, looked like it could be outside the top-10.
28. New York Knicks
Record: 24-41 | Last week: 22 down
The losses keep piling up as they’ve now suffered defeats in 13 of their last 14.
29. Phoenix Suns
Record: 19-47 | Last week: 30 up
No wins this past week but Devin Booker continues to be fun and there’s another team that’s been worse.
30. Memphis Grizzlies
Record: 18-45 | Last week: 27 down
Where else do you place a team that has dropped 14 straight and look completely lifeless?
The two All-Stars have grabbed headlines recently not for their play, but for their courage in revealing their battle with mental health issues.
DeRozan first acknowledged he suffers from depression, which paved the way for Love to pen an essay on The Players’ Tribune about his own mental health struggles.
In his piece, the Cleveland Cavaliers forward admitted he was overcome with a panic attack in a game this season and credited DeRozan as his inspiration to come forward.
“Mental health is an invisible thing, but it touches all of us at some point or another,” Love wrote. “It’s part of life. Like DeMar said, ‘You never know what that person is going through.'”
I’ve never been comfortable sharing much about myself. I thought about mental health as someone else’s problem. I’ve realized I need to change that. https://t.co/355HcQw3Ei— Kevin Love (@kevinlove) March 6, 2018
DeRozan may not have expected his own admission to be a rallying cry for someone else in the NBA to let the public in on what they’re dealing with, but the Toronto Raptors star was proud that he could be a positive influence.
“It made me feel, you know, pretty damn good, honestly,” DeRozan said. “So it’s cool to be able to help somebody.”
Who knows if others in the league will open up and follow suit, but even without another player joining them, DeRozan and Love have already done immeasurable good.
A cynical way to look at the awareness they’ve raised is by deeming it short-lived and an eventual casualty to the viscous news cycle.
But while the conversation will die down in the mainstream, there’s every chance it’ll stick with players in the league, and hopefully, just maybe, make outsiders think twice before rushing to judgement.
It would be encouraging to see any athlete in any sport open up about mental health, but the stature of Love and DeRozan, as well as the fact they play in the NBA, can’t be understated.
These aren’t two guys toiling away on the end of the bench – they’re two All-Stars who’ve inked nine-figure contracts and seemingly living the dream.
If people who’ve achieved this much success can still be plagued with depression and anxiety, no one, in any walk of life, should feel ashamed of going through something similar.
And that Love and DeRozan have reached their respective levels in an environment like the NBA should challenge our views and assumptions.
Sport in general operates in a machismo culture, but that’s especially true with the NBA, where the nature of the game means the flip side to constantly being in the spotlight is having nowhere to hide.
A basketball court is a relatively small playing field and because there are only 10 players on the floor – all without a helmet or cap to help conceal emotions – it’s nearly impossible to go unnoticed.
That means every interaction, trash talk or highlight puts a magnifying glass on the participants.
There’s nothing wrong with poking fun at players, but empathy is important because you never know what the next person may be going through.
The more players, and people in general, share their experiences, the more the walls will come down – not only the ones we put up around our vulnerabilities, but the ones we’ve constructed around our long-held beliefs.
When the Houston Rockets are clicking like this, it’s hard to imagine anyone slowing them down.
The Rockets, however, made light work of the Thunder with an offensive clinic that saw James Harden and Chris Paul combine for 48 points on 15-of-27 shooting, while the team as a whole hit 17-of-33 3-pointers (51.5 per cent).
“We’re so good offensively that every single night teams are going to throw different coverages at us,” Harden said. “We’ve just got to find different ways to attack them. Once we find something we can go to, we use it. Guys got open shots, and we just ride that wave.”
Houston don’t even rank near the top of the league in 3-point percentage – sitting 10th at 36.7 per cent – but the win over Oklahoma City marked the 26th time this season they’ve hit at least 17 triples.
Their 15.6 3-pont makes per game are far and away the most in the league, with Brooklyn’s 12.2 the next closest.
That type of firepower is a major reason why, with each passing win, they’re closing the gap with the prohibitive favourite Warriors.
But there’s also a sense that if the Rockets – who’ve failed to advanced past the second round of the playoffs the past two years – look too far ahead and concern themselves with the bigger picture too soon, things might unravel a bit.
“We just try to stay in the moment,” Paul told ESPN about the win streak. “Stay in the moment, not try to think about all that stuff. Just keep hooping and leave all that other stuff for everybody else to talk about.”