NBA Power Rankings: Celtics Face Critical Stretch After Jae Crowder Injury

by NESN Staff

March 14, 2016

We are well aware that a certain college basketball tournament will generate a certain amount of madness over the next several weeks. But there’s plenty of drama to go around in the NBA as the league approaches its own postseason “tournament.”

In the Western Conference, the reeling Oklahoma City Thunder have some questioning whether they’re a serious title contender, while the Houston Rockets have shot up into the playoff picture with some solid play.

In the Eastern Conference, the pressure suddenly is on the Boston Celtics, who will be without key two-way impact player Jae Crowder for at least two weeks due to a high ankle sprain. The Celtics still own the No. 3 seed but are just three games removed from the seventh seed and will face tough tests this week in the Thunder and Toronto Raptors.

So before you agonize over those NCAA Tournament brackets, see where the league stands as the season winds down in our Week 20 NBA Power Rankings, which account for all games played through Sunday, March 13.

1. Golden State Warriors (59-6): Buckle up, folks. The Warriors still are on pace to surpass the Bulls’ 72-10 mark, but three of their final 17 games are against the vaunted Spurs. Last week: 1

2. San Antonio Spurs (56-10): San Antonio is a perfect 32-0 at home this season, but its streak could be in jeopardy Saturday in the first of three remaining showdowns with Golden State. Last week: 2

3. Cleveland Cavaliers (47-18): The Cavs demolished the Clippers by 24 points in L.A.’s own building Sunday and appear to be hitting their stride down the stretch. That’s bad news for the rest of the East. Last week: 3

4. Toronto Raptors (44-20): The Raptors are the East’s version of the Spurs, albeit a poor man’s version. While all eyes are on the Cavs and their drama, Toronto just keeps winning. Last week: 5

5. Oklahoma City Thunder (44-22): What’s up in OKC? The Thunder are 4-8 in their last 12 games and have experienced a rare power outage of late, averaging just 90.5 points in their last two games, both losses. Last week: 4

6. Los Angeles Clippers (42-23): The Clippers had a chance to soar past the Thunder for the West’s No. 3 seed this week. Instead, they lost to OKC by 12 and are 2-2 in their last four games. We’re blaming their nightmarish new mascotLast week: 6

7. Boston Celtics (39-27): The Celtics will have their mettle seriously tested in the absence of Crowder, who arguably is the team’s most important player outside of Isaiah Thomas. There’s not much room for error in the East, either. Last week: 8

8. Memphis Grizzlies (39-27): The Grizzlies played Saturday’s game without Marc Gasol, Mike Conley, Zach Randolph, Vince Carter, Mario Chalmers and Chris Andersen. They might have to hold open tryouts. Last week: 7

9. Miami Heat (38-28): If the Celtics slip without Crowder, it could open the door up for Miami, which went 1-2 this week but still trails Boston by just one game for the East’s No. 3 seed. Last week: 9

10. Charlotte Hornets (37-28): How hot are the Hornets? They’ve leapfrogged over the Hawks into the No. 5 seed despite Atlanta winning seven of its last nine games. Last week: 11

11. Atlanta Hawks (38-29): Like we said, the Hawks aren’t exactly slouching. They’ve played excellent defense of late — they own the NBA’s second-best defensive rating behind the Spurs — and wouldn’t exactly be an enviable playoff matchupLast week: 10

12. Indiana Pacers (35-31): The Pacers have played well of late to settle into the East’s No. 7 seed, but they’d love to jump up to sixth spot to avoid playing the Cavs or Raptors in the first round. Last week: 14

13. Portland Trail Blazers (35-33): As banged-up as the Grizzlies are, the No. 6 seed might be the ceiling for Portland, which despite its second-half surge still trails No. 5 Memphis by four and a half games. Last week: 13

14. Detroit Pistons (34-32): The Pistons have taken care of business of late, winning seven of their last 10 games to rumble into a playoff spot over the struggling Bulls. Last week: 16

15. Houston Rockets (33-33): We like to pick on the Rockets, but they’ve won four of their last six games to jump to the No. 7 seed thanks to the efforts of the NBA’s second-leading scorer, James Harden. Last week: 17

16. Dallas Mavericks (33-33): The Mavericks’ age finally might be catching up to them. Despite Dirk Nowitzki’s recent scoring prowess, Dallas has lost five straight to slip all the way down to the eighth spot in the West. Last week: 12

17. Chicago Bulls (32-32): Jimmy Butler isn’t the only ailing Bull, as it appears Derrick Rose and Pau Gasol both will miss Monday’s game against the Raptors. Chicago is starting to run out of time to turn things around. Last week: 15

18. Utah Jazz (31-35): The Jazz struck up a new tune this week with back-to-back wins but still are two and a half games out of a playoff spot and have to play the Cavs, Thunder, Warriors and Spurs before their season ends. Last week: 19

19. Washington Wizards (30-35): Unless John Wall and Co. can pull a rabbit out of their hats, the Wizards’ playoff hopes look dashed after a crushing five-game losing streak. Last week: 18

20. Milwaukee Bucks (29-38): Super point guard Giannis Antetokounmpo has recorded four triple-doubles since the All-Star break and is giving Milwaukee fans something to cheer about. Last week: 21

21. Orlando Magic (28-37): It’s looking like a lost season for the Magic, who have plummeted to the East’s No. 11 seed and got absolutely destroyed by the Blazers 121-84 on Saturday. Last week: 20

22. Denver Nuggets (28-38): Apparently no one told the Nuggets their season is over, as head coach Mike Malone has guided a scrappy Denver club to four consecutive wins. Last week: 24

23. New York Knicks (28-40): Jose Calderon, of all people, saved the Knicks’ disastrous inbounds play with a game-winning 3-pointer against the Lakers on Sunday night. Last week: 23

25. Sacramento Kings (25-40): The Kings are in a complete free-fall and have lost nine of their last 10 games. Will this be the offseason they finally move DeMarcus Cousins? Last week: 22

25. New Orleans Pelicans (24-41): The end of the season can’t come fast enough for a New Orleans club that’s lost seven of its last eight games. Last week: 25

26. Minnesota Timberwolves (21-45): Want to read one of the most improbable sentences of the season? The Timberwolves beat the Thunder on the road Friday night thanks to a clutch Ricky Rubio 3-pointer. Last week: 26

27. Brooklyn Nets (18-48): The Nets have done Celtics fans a solid by dropping six of their last seven. Just one game separates them and the Suns for the third-worst record in the NBA. Last week: 27

28. Phoenix Suns (17-49): Phoenix gave Golden State a bit of a handful Saturday night. In a season like this, that’s a big positive. Last week: 28

29. Los Angeles Lakers (14-53): Kobe Bryant gave NBA fans a treat Thursday night by dropping 26 points in his final duel with LeBron James and the Cavs. The Lakers still lost, but who’s counting? Last week: 29

30. Philadelphia 76ers (9-57): No team knows quite how to lose like the Sixers. When will the tanking finally stop? Last week: 30

Thumbnail photo via Bill Streicher/USA TODAY Sports Images

Thumbnail photo via Boston Celtics forward Jae Crowder (99) looks on during the second quarter against the Philadelphia 76ers at Wells Fargo Center. The Celtics won 112-92.
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