1. Golden State Warriors (1st in the West) 59-14 (35 H, 38 R)
Point Differential: +11.6 (1st), Offense: 113.0 (1st), Defense: 101.0 (T-1st)
Since losing 5 of 7 after Kevin Durant suffered a sprained MCL and tibial bone bruise during that arduous part of the schedule, they've won 7 straight thanks to Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson busting out of their shooting slumps during that stretch. They've had the best defense since the All-Star Break at 99.1 despite their defensive rebounding percentage going from 75.8% before Durant went down to 73.6% after, which would be the worst in the league. If that overall rating keeps up, Draymond Green needs to be holding the Defensive Player of the Year award at season's end.
2. San Antonio Spurs (2nd in the West) 56-16 (35 H, 37 R)
Point Differential: +7.9 (2nd), Offense: 109.5 (6th), Defense: 101.0 (T-1st)
That slight shooting slump I mentioned for Kawhi Leonard last month has manifested itself in 47.7/32.5/83.6 percentages since the Break compared to 48.8/39.6/89.9 prior as he's made just 26 of his last 80 3's, but that hasn't stopped him from still doing it all for this team as he's scoring 26.4 with 4.0 assists compared to 25.9 and 3.3 beforehand. Combine that with his usual amazing defense, and he just might be my MVP.
3. Houston Rockets (3rd in the West) 51-22 (37 H, 36 R)
Point Differential: +7.0 (3rd), Offense: 112.5 (2nd), Defense: 105.9 (T-16th)
James Harden obviously has his own case for MVP along with Mike D'Antoni for Coach of the Year as this team already has 10 more wins than all of last year. They're 11-4 since the Break with the best offensive rating at 116.1 leading to the best point differential at +8.9, but a team that was already going small with Harden and Ariza at the forward spots often due to Lou Williams' arrival will be pushed further with Ryan Anderson's new ankle injury sidelining him for a bit. Sam Dekker has been a useful bench piece in what is essentially his rookie season after back surgery last year, but they're thin at that spot overall.
4. Cleveland Cavaliers (1st in the East) 47-25 (36 H, 36 R)
Point Differential: +3.7 (5th), Offense: 111.4 (3rd), Defense: 108.1 (23rd)
There's a certain understanding with a defending champ coasting a bit, but they're only 8-9 since the Break and are just barely ahead of the Lakers for the worst defense in the league during that stretch. Usually you need to be in the top-10 on that end to win the title, with the lone exceptions being title defenders, as John Schumann pointed out. However, is it really coasting when Lebron James is pushing for the lead league in minutes per game (in another MVP-caliber campaign)?
5. Boston Celtics (2nd in the East) 48-26 (36 H, 38 R)
Point Differential: +2.7 (8th), Offense: 108.5 (8th), Defense: 105.4 (T-10th)
A 102.7 defensive rating that's good for 5th best since the Break has pushed them up and into a tie the Cavs for the #1 seed. They're struggling a bit on the road with bad losses in Phoenix, Denver, and Philadelphia while barely hanging onto a win in Brooklyn, but the good news is that 5 of their last 8 are in Boston to help them potentially win home-court throughout the East.
6. Toronto Raptors (3rd in the East) 44-29 (36 H, 37 R)
Point Differential: +4.1 (4th), Offense: 109.7 (5th), Defense: 104.9 (8th)
I would've kept them at 5th like in the last rankings if there was some certainty around Kyle Lowry's health since they've been a bit up and down without him: winning their first 3 and then dropping 4 of 6 before their current 5 game winning streak. That being said, the additions of forwards Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker have improved the defense as expected with a rating of just 100.9 since the Break, 2nd best in the league behind the Warriors and just above the Spurs.
7. Washington Wizards (4th in the East) 45-28 (39 H, 34 R)
Point Differential: +2.4 (9th), Offense: 108.4 (9th), Defense: 106.1 (19th)
Trade addition Bojan Bogdanovic has been a flamethrower for them, averaging 14.8 points in 24.4 minutes on 47.3/40.5/93.7 shooting, but their defensive rating has dropped to 109.4 since the Break, 24th in the league over that span. The small lineups with him and Otto Porter Jr. as the forwards have gotten mostly torched for points, so they may need to save those looks for just Kelly Oubre Jr., who has come back on strong over their last 6 games after initially losing minutes after the trade.
8. Utah Jazz (4th in the West) 44-29 (36 H, 37 R)
Point Differential: +3.6 (6th), Offense: 106.9 (13th), Defense: 102.5 (3rd)
They've struggled of late with just a 9-7 record since the Break, including a 3 game losing streak to end their East coast trip, but the peripheral signs are still strong. They're still likely to stay in the 4-5 matchup for the playoffs, so they'll have to play like they did in their March 13th win against the Clippers rather than how they did yesterday and in 17 of the last 18 matchups between the two before this month.
9. Los Angeles Clippers (5th in the West) 44-31 (36 H, 39 R)
Point Differential: +3.4 (7th), Offense: 109.3 (7th), Defense: 105.9 (T-16th)
10. Oklahoma City Thunder (6th in the West) 41-31 (37 H, 35 R)
Point Differential: +0.8 (11th), Offense: 105.4 (15th), Defense: 105.5 (12th)
The additions of Taj Gibson and Doug McDermott have bumped their offense up from a 104.0 rating to 110.8 along with their opponents, from 105.0 to 107.4, since the Break, with the new numbers ranking 4th and 18th over the span, respectively. They've gone 9-6 to push them into the conversation for the 4-5 side of the playoff bracket, but 6 of their last 10 are on the road, where they're just 14-21.
11. Memphis Grizzlies (7th in the West) 40-33 (35 H, 38 R)
Point Differential: +0.5 (13th), Offense: 104.7 (19th), Defense: 104.3 (7th)
They broke their 5 game skid with a 4 game winning streak, but now they've lost all 3 games on their current road trip. After all sorts of lineup experimentation during that losing streak, they seem to have settled on their current unit with Vince Carter shooting well as a starter, due in part to Chandler Parsons finally being shut down due to a partial meniscus tear in his left knee. This is likely a short-term upgrade since Parsons was struggling mightily, but it's not a good sign in the first year of his four year max-deal.
12. Milwaukee Bucks (5th in the East) 37-36 (38 H, 35 R)
Point Differential: +0.3 (T-14th), Offense: 107.5 (T-11th), Defense: 106.6 (20th)
Before today's killer loss at home to Chicago, they had been 12-2 with Khris Middleton healthy and back in the starting lineup. They do have a tough schedule remaining that's road-heavy, but with him and Tony Snell as versatile wing defenders next to Giannis Antetokounmpo at point forward and possible Rookie of the Year Malcolm Brogdon as a 3-and-D combo, #FearTheDear may be back.
13. Miami Heat (6th in the East) 35-38 (37 H, 36 R)
Point Differential: +0.7 (12th), Offense: 104.9 (17th), Defense: 104.1 (6th)
The Dion Waiters injury is cause for concern, but they have the 8th best record since the Break with the 3rd best point differential and 6th best offensive rating to go with the 6th best defense. They have a tough end to the schedule, but getting the Pistons during their rough patch and a home and home with the Knicks should give them a little breathing room.
14. Indiana Pacers (7th in the East) 37-36 (37 H, 36 R)
Point Differential: -0.9 (T-16th), Offense: 105.3 (16th), Defense: 105.9 (T-16th)
They alternated between a win and loss every game since the Break before back to back losses this past week. Monta Ellis was inserted back into the starting lineup in today's win and was a +12, but as Zach Lowe pointed out, the lineups with either C.J. Miles or Glenn Robinson III in his place have done much better. That could be something to watch in the playoffs as their spot is likely safe with just 5 of their remaining games on the road, where they're 11-25.
15. Portland Trail Blazers (8th in the West) 35-38 (34 H, 39 R)
Point Differential: -1.0 (19th), Offense: 107.5 (T-11th), Defense: 108.0 (22nd)
You can't overstate how important Tuesday's home matchup with the Nuggets is since they're tied in the standings and a win would clinch the tiebreaker for the Blazers, 3-1. They would appear to be in the driver's seat for that last playoff spot anyway with the more favorable schedule and former Denver center Jusuf Nurkic looking reborn in Rip City to help drive a 12-5 record since the Break with the #5 offense (110.6) and #10 defense (104.9).
16. Denver Nuggets (9th in the West) 35-38 (39 H, 34 R)
Point Differential: +0.3 (T-14th), Offense: 109.9 (4th), Defense: 110.7 (29th)
Considering that they're just 14-20 away from home, it doesn't bode well for them that they only have 2 games left in the Pepsi Center. Even if they win Tuesday's big game in Portland, the next tiebreaker is division record, which they would still trail 6-8 to 8-4 with the Blazers getting the struggling Timberwolves two more times, so the Nuggets need to actually finish ahead of them. The good news is that Gary Harris is averaging 17.1 points on 53.4/44.0/89.2 since the Break, and with rookie Jamal Murray playing well enough to be the third guard behind him and new starting point guard Jameer Nelson since Emmanuel Mudiay has been benched by Mike Malone.
17. Atlanta Hawks (8th in the East) 37-36 (37 H, 36 R)
Point Differential: -1.4 (21st), Offense: 102.3 (27th), Defense: 103.6 (4th)
18. Charlotte Hornets (9th in the East) 33-40 (37 H, 36 R)
Point Differential: +0.9 (10th), Offense: 106.2 (14th), Defense: 105.2 (9th)
19. Chicago Bulls (10th in the st) 35-39 (37 H, 37 R)
Point Differential: -0.9 (T-16th), Offense: 104.4 (T-20th), Defense: 105.7 (T-13th)
20. Detroit Pistons (11th in the East) 34-39 (37 H, 36 R)
Point Differential: -1.1 (20th), Offense: 103.3 (24th), Defense: 105.4 (T-10th)
21. New Orleans Pelicans (10th in the West) 31-42 (37 H, 36 R)
Point Differential: -1.9 (22nd), Offense: 102.6 (26th), Defense: 104.0 (5th)
22. Dallas Mavericks (11th in the West) 31-41 (38 H, 34 R)
Point Differential: -2.4 (23rd), Offense: 103.7 (22nd), Defense: 105.7 (T-13th)
23. Minnesota Timberwolves (12th in the West) 28-44 (37 H, 35 R)
Point Differential: -0.9 (T-16th), Offense: 107.7 (10th), Defense: 108.2 (24th)
24. Philadelphia 76ers (12th in the East) 27-46 (36 H, 37 R)
Point Differential: -5.3 (26th), Offense: 100.4 (30th), Defense: 105.7 (T-13th)
25. New York Knicks (13th in the East) 27-46 (34 H, 39 R)
Point Differential: -3.7 (T-24th), Offense: 104.8 (18th), Defense: 108.8 (26th)
26. Orlando Magic (14th in the East) 27-46 (37 H, 36 R)
Point Differential: -5.9 (28th), Offense: 101.0 (29th), Defense: 107.3 (21st)
27. Sacramento Kings (13th in the West) 28-45 (36 H, 37 R)
Point Differential: -3.7 (T-24th), Offense: 104.4 (T-20th), Defense: 109.0 (27th)
28. Phoenix Suns 22-52 (14th in the West) 22-52 (36 H, 38 R)
Point Differential: -5.8 (27th), Offense: 103.5 (23rd), Defense: 109.1 (29th)
29. Los Angeles Lakers (15th in the West) 21-52 (36 H, 37 R)
Point Differential: -7.4 (30th), Offense: 103.2 (25th), Defense: 111.1 (30th)
30. Brooklyn Nets (15th in the East) 16-57 (37 H, 36 R)
Point Differential: -7.3 (29th), Offense: 102.2 (28th), Defense: 108.7 (25th)
I strongly considered moving them up based on recent play since they're 7-8 this month, but that still only brought their win total to 16. There's some irony to this strong run during March Madness while they have no shot at getting one of the top prospects during the tournament since their pick swap will almost assuredly give the Celtics the best odds at winning the Lottery. At least the Lakers passed them for the worst point differential! You can build on this, Kenny Atkinson!