The Golden State Warriors are just the 11th team in NBA history to see four of its players selected as All-Stars.
Get this, though: Only two of the previous 10 teams with four All-Stars went on to win that season’s NBA title.
Meaningful omen for fans of all the teams out there chasing the Warriors? Or circumstantial stat that doesn’t really mean much?
We’ll let you decide.
But it’s one of the few sources of hope one can offer to the chasing pack at the moment, which finds so many top teams in the midst of a winter cold spell (Cleveland, Houston, Toronto, etc.) while the Warriors just keep on rolling. It’s true: Golden State’s win in Portland on Sunday night put the Dubs back on a 70-win pace.
The previous night, thanks to a 46-point undressing of the LA Clippers, Golden State became the first team in NBA history to reach 40 wins before loss No. 10 in three successive seasons. Their 40-7 launch after importing Kevin Durant to play with fellow All-Stars Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green follows a 40-9 start in the Warriors’ title-winning season of 2014-15 and an even gaudier 40-4 start last season.
This week’s other big leapers who impressed ESPN.com’s NBA Power Rankings Committee (of One) can be found in the Eastern Conference. Scroll to the Washington Wizards‘ comment for the justification behind their stunning rise to No. 4 on our ladder, while Miami makes a nine-spot jump of its own thanks to a seven-game unbeaten run that includes a rare W over the Warriors.
Read on for the rest of our 1-to-30 order and allow us to dish many thanks to ESPN Stats & Info and the Elias Sports Bureau. The considerable background data they supply, with ESPN research ace Micah Adams running the point, greatly assists the Committee’s efforts to arrange things here properly.
Can folks stop worrying about Stephen Curry now? His December numbers were indeed pedestrian by two-time reigning MVP standards, but No. 30 just averaged 27.8 PPG in January while shooting 43.1 percent from long distance and aggressively upping his usage percentage from 25 percent to 32 percent. Curry averaged only 15.5 shots per game last month, then bumped it up to 20.5 this month. Saturday’s 46-point humbling of the Clippers, meanwhile, gave Golden State its third 40-point win of the season … which tied the league’s single-season record with a whopping 35 games to go.
The Warriors were sporting a 39-7 record as of Thursday night when they found out they’ll have four All-Stars in New Orleans. The Spurs were 36-9 at the same juncture but can claim only one All-Star in starter Kawhi Leonard. Does San Antonio have reason to be upset? Having Gregg Popovich on the bench should factor into the Spurs’ star count, but something tells us that all the dismay coming from Pop at the moment is focused on how his team blew a nine-point halftime lead in New Orleans on Friday and then a 10-point halftime lead at home against Dallas. The Pels and Mavs, of course, are the Southwest Division’s bottom two teams.
It seems foolish, on one hand, to get too worked up about the Cavs’ recent chaos, given that (A) they responded to a three-game skid in December by winning 10 of 11 and are liable to do the same thing again and (B) you still can’t really dream up a scenario in which another team in the East manages to keep LeBron James & Co. out of their third consecutive NBA Finals. Yet you also have to concede that some measure of panic is inevitable in this social media age at a time when LeBron is so openly angry … and leading the league in minutes in his 14th season … and when Kevin Love‘s pesky back issues won’t go away. The Cavs need a win Monday night in Dallas to avoid their first losing month with James on the roster (minimum: 10 games) since going 5-9 in December 2007 — a month that saw The King miss four games.
The all-black funeral look for last week’s showdown with the Celtics was a bit much, but the Wizards haven’t done much else wrong in 2017. At 11-4 this month, they sport the league’s second-best record since the calendar flipped, behind only the Warriors’ 12-2. In that same span, Washington is one of only three teams in the league to rank in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency, alongside Golden State and San Antonio. John Wall is one of just three players in the league averaging at least 20 points and 10 assists — James Harden and Russell Westbrook are the others — while Bradley Beal has rumbled for seven 30-point games after posting just four in his first four pro seasons. We had a chance to visit with Beal on Sunday’s NBA Insiders show on ESPN Radio and ask him for the latest on the state of his partnership with Wall.
Make it a 4-7 funk for the Rockets since that dominant 20-2 surge that ran from Dec. 1 through Jan. 10. The lone consolation is that it’s not a huge mystery trying to pinpoint the trouble spots. Houston has been a bottom-five defensive team in pretty much every meaningful area over those past 11 games and continues to suffer from a lack of consistent rim protection. Another issue: Eric Gordon was second in the league in 3-pointers made, behind only Curry, as of Jan. 13, to emerge as the league’s top contender for the NBA Sixth Man Award. Since then? Gordon is just 22-for-77 from deep.
Toronto’s freefall and Isaiah Thomas‘ gaudy January, when mixed together, have enabled the Celtics to nudge past the Raptors into first place in the Atlantic Division and, most crucially, No. 2 in the East. It’s happened in spite of the fact that the Celts, to their dismay, remain parked in the bottom third of the league’s defensive efficiency standings. As for Thomas: Let’s see what he can do in his final January appearance — Monday night against visiting Detroit — in a month in which he has averaged 32.3 PPG. Only three months in Celtics history have ever been better: Paul Pierce in February 2006 (33.5 PPG), Larry Bird in April 1987 (33.3 PPG) and Bird again in February 1988 (33.1 PPG).
As badly as we wanted Joel Embiid on the East’s All-Star squad, how can one argue against Paul Millsap? You simply can’t after watching Millsap log a ridiculous 60 minutes Sunday (with 37 points, 19 boards and 7 assists) in Atlanta’s four-overtime marathon win over the Knicks that lasted longer in real time than the five-set Australian Open men’s final. The Hawks have the average nightly scoring margin of a 58-win team with Millsap on the floor … and a 14-win team when he sits. Best of all: Here’s Millsap joining us on the NBA Insiders show on ESPN Radio shortly after falling just one minute shy of Eddie Johnson‘s franchise-record 61 minutes in a game in February 1982.
What did we do to the Utah Jazz? Their immediate response to a bump from us all the way up to the No. 5 spot was to go 1-3 last week, including home losses to the Thunder and Grizzlies by a combined nine points (playing in Denver on the second night of a back-to-back was no treat, either). Throw in a lackluster win over the Lakers and the All-Star snubbing of Rudy Gobert, and you have the makings of a decent claim for a Power Rankings curse. At least Jazz fans have good news on the ownership front to turn to for solace, as well as Gordon Hayward‘s well-deserved maiden All-Star nod.
How do you follow up the first 40-point game that the Grizzlies have mustered since Rudy Gay served one up all the way back in December 2009? Answer: If you’re Marc Gasol, you celebrate with your third career All-Star selection to pass Zach Randolph for the all-time lead in franchise history. The only downside here, of course, is that Mike Conley is still stuck on zero All-Star selections compared to Gasol’s three and Z-Bo’s two. We’re sticking to our story that Conley was the most deserving Memphian this time around.
If it has been a &!%$#@ start to 2017 for LeBron James and his Cavs, how would you describe what’s going on with the team folks are counting on to give Cleveland its stiffest challenge in the East? The Raptors have lost six of their past seven outings — the last three of those defeats coming by a combined five points to San Antonio, Memphis and Orlando — to clinch their first losing month since March 2015. The only hints of consolation: Kyle Lowry is up to six 30-point games for the season after just eight last season … and DeMar DeRozan (ankle) is back from a three-game injury absence.
Sunday night saw Paul George at his two-way best, with his fourth consecutive scoring game in the 30s at one end and a hand in hounding a weary MVP contender James Harden into an uncharacteristic 3-for-17 showing from the field. The Pacers are 13-3 this season when PG-13 scores at least 25 points and quietly wound up posting a 9-4 record in January. Friday’s overtime win over Sacramento, by the way, featured an Indy rally from 16 points down to go with the Pacers’ climb out of a 19-point deficit on Jan. 18 to prevail on the Kings’ floor.
The Thunder actually have a chance to escape this most brutal of Januarys with a winning record if they can find a way to win in San Antonio on Tuesday night. But the month has been particularly brutal, as feared, when you dig into some of Russell Westbrook‘s recent numbers and/or watch the painful clip of Enes Kanter fracturing his forearm by foolishly punching a chair on his own bench. OKC is still an impressive 18-6 overall when Westbrook posts a triple-double, but be advised that Sunday was the Thunder’s third double-digit loss in a triple-double game from Angry Russ in a span of 17 days. Until January 2017, OKC had never lost by double digits when Westbrook triple-doubled. The good news: Westbrook & Co. get to play at home for 11 of their 13 games in February.
The All-Star selection of DeAndre Jordan surprised lots of people, since Jordan generated very little buzz as a potential reserve candidate from media know-it-alls. Let’s not forget, though, that he’s bidding to lead the league in rebounding for the third time in four seasons while also on course to lead the league in field goal percentage for the fifth successive season. Coaches notice those things. The challenge for the Clippers, mind you, is enjoying Jordan’s maiden All-Star selection … or anything else these days. They fell to 3-9 this season without the injured Chris Paul thanks to that 46-point humbling in Golden State and remain right in the heart of an 11-game stretch that features 10 dates on the road … with the only home game in that span coming Thursday against (gulp) Golden State. Blake Griffin is back now, but the Clips have had their three best players together just 26 times in 48 games this season.
Why did we dare suggest last week that the All-Star Game in New Orleans might be the last one for a while that doesn’t feature the Nuggets’ Nikola Jokic? Check this out: Our man Micah Adams points out that Jokic is averaging better than 23 PPG, 10 RPG and 5 APG since Christmas while shooting above 60 percent from the field in that span, As a result, Jokic leads the league with a player efficiency rating of 33.3 since Christmas, ahead of Kawhi Leonard (31.7), Isaiah Thomas (30.0), James Harden (29.7), Kevin Durant (29.2) and Russell Westbrook (28.2). No wonder the Nuggets — at least until Jokic’s hip tweak late last week — suddenly look as credible as anyone in the “race” for the No. 8 spot in the West featuring a slew of sub-.500 teams.
The (alleged) Power Rankings jinx apparently works in mysterious ways. As soon as the Committee dares to suggest that the Heat have no need to think about trading Goran Dragic when their lottery odds were looking so good regardless, Erik Spoelstra masterminds a seven-game winning streak that no one saw coming. The Heat, don’t forget, were 1-10 in their previous 11 games before the streak. Now? With Dragic and Dion Waiters suddenly clicking as a backcourt, they’re only a Monday night home win over Brooklyn short of matching an eight-game winning streak from February 2014, when LeBron James was still a Heater.
Joel Embiid has received the bulk of the praise for the Sixers’ long-awaited January success, but don’t dismiss the impact of point guard T.J. McConnell. The Sixers are 10-3 since he was moved into the starting lineup Dec. 30, with McConnell averaging a more-than-solid 8.2 PPG, 8.9 APG and 4.7 RPG when playing as part of the first five. But if you were worried that we might be taking a break from our usual Embiid focus here … fear not. He might have been snubbed by Eastern Conference coaches, but that won’t stop us from pointing out that he’s on course to become just the sixth rookie in league history to be averaging at least 19 PPG, 7 RPG and 2 BPG at the All-Star break. The first five were merely Shaquille O’Neal, Alonzo Mourning, Dikembe Mutombo, David Robinson and Patrick Ewing.
Just because it has been a few days now, let’s not gloss over the Andrew Wiggins buzzer-beater that toppled Phoenix by a point early last week. The 21-year-old not only became the first Wolves player to sink a game winner at the horn since Luke Ridnour in February 2012; Wiggins’ wing dagger delivered Minnesota’s third successive win in a one-possession game. Which makes us wonder again: Are they finally cured of close-game-itis? Karl-Anthony Towns, meanwhile, will become the first All-Star snubee since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1977-78 to average at least 22 points and 12 boards if he can maintain those levels for the entire season.
With so much focus lately on Kemba Walker‘s successful bid to break through as an All-Star, it has gone somewhat unnoticed that the Hornets have lost 11 of their past 15 games. Holding teams below 100 points remains a magic number in Charlotte; Steve Clifford’s crew is 15-1 when it succeeds in that venture and only 8-24 when it fails to hold the opposition under triple digits. Another number to keep an eye on: It’s close, true, but Nicolas Batum is still trying to hike his field goal percentage into the .400 Club.
Have we been too hard on the Blazers? Did we expect too much? They entered Sunday’s home date with Golden State at 21-27, which we’re guessing you’ve forgotten was only one game off where they were last season through 48 games at 22-26. Defense was obviously a huge culprit during Portland’s recent 6-17 malaise, but the vagaries of close-game randomness haven’t helped. Prior to Dec. 7, Portland was 4-2 in games decided by five points or fewer. Since that date and after a couple of close ones over the weekend, Portland is just 2-8 in such games, suggesting that another second-half surge might not be far off.
The week seemingly began so peacefully — with some actual promise — when Dwyane Wade scooped up seven steals to go with his 21 points in a win at Orlando. What happened next, as you’ve surely heard by now, was the antithesis of promising, harmonious, etc. The East is so soft right now outside of its top six that one could argue Chicago’s plight might not be as dire as it seems, but let’s see how the Bulls cope with that six-game road trip we’ve been talking about. Hard to picture this group turning it into a bonding experience after everything that’s spilled out of that locker room in recent days. Rajon Rondo‘s 10 assists in 21 minutes off the bench Sunday night against visiting Philly marked his first double-digit dime game since Dec. 28. It must be noted, though, that the Sixers were playing without star center Joel Embiid.
Did the Kings just uncork their best week of the season? Don’t see how you can argue against it given their desperation to scratch out some wins after that rough 1-6 homestand to stay alive in the postseason chase. The Nuggets have certainly seized some momentum in the hunt for the West’s No. 8 spot by inching within four games of .500, but Sacramento just found a way to win roadies in Detroit, Cleveland and Charlotte by a combined 12 points, capped by DeMarcus Cousins‘ decisive 35 points and 18 boards against the Hornets. Sacramento might have swept the week had it been able to protect a healthy double-digit lead in Indy.
Apart from Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s stunning rise to All-Star starter status, January provided very little that the Bucks will want to remember. They’ve lost 10 of their past 13 games, have suffered unmistakable slippage on the defensive end and are still recovering from an unexpected jolt of locker room discord involving their other prized young forward in Jabari Parker. The playoffs remain well within reach — especially since Khris Middleton is expected to return to the lineup in February — but the Bucks have to be discouraged to slip out of the top eight when that means they’re looking up at the drenched-in-drama Bulls.
We realize that nearly a full week has passed, but last Monday was so extraordinary that we feel the need to relive it here at least one more time. The Pistons were one of eight teams on Jan. 23 that tasted defeat despite being favored to win by at least five points. Detroit was a seven-point favorite, to be exact, against struggling Sacramento at home. We usually leave deep discussion about the oddsmaking game to SportsCenter’s Scott Van Pelt, but those eight favorites losing on the same night (Detroit, Charlotte, Atlanta, Houston, Indiana, Utah and, yes, Cleveland and Golden State) caused such a stir because teams were 223-82 this season (.731) going into the evening when favored by five points or more.
Cleveland’s lone visit of the season to Dallas on Monday night sets up one of the last LeBron James vs. Dirk Nowitzki encounters that we’re likely to see. It’ll be their 29th meeting, including the playoffs, with LeBron holding a 16-13 edge. They also squared off twice internationally, both at the 2006 World Championships and the 2008 Olympics, but you have to believe they’ll both be thinking about the 2011 NBA Finals when they cross paths on this occasion. Of more current relevance: Dallas is now 6-3 with Seth Curry, fresh off his best-ever scoring night in San Antonio, in the starting lineup, while Harrison Barnes is up to five 30-point games for the season after managing just one in his time as a Warrior.
If you came here looking for insights that might explain what we’ve seen from the up-and-down Pelicans on their 3-3 homestand … sorry to disappoint. How do you surrender 143 points at home to Brooklyn, then turn around just a few short nights later and outduel LeBron James’ Cavs without a hobbled Anthony Davis? The madness continued for the Pels just a few days later against San Antonio, when they responded to a halftime deficit by outscoring the mighty visitors by a tidy 71-46. The Spurs had gone 45-1 over the past two seasons when leading by at least nine points at intermission until that crazy turnaround. But it might be make-or-break time for New Orleans’ playoff dreams with nine of its next 12 games on the road.
There’s mercifully only one game to go — Tuesday night at Washington against the Wiz and their 14-game home winning streak — in the longest month that the Knicks have endured for some time. Sunday’s four-overtime heartbreaker in Atlanta, believe it or not, was New York’s sixth one-possession loss in January, which surely only heightens the frustration for Carmelo Anthony and everyone else at Madison Square Garden ensnared by the latest Melodrama. Yet if you can explain to us exactly what Anthony has done to deserve boos at MSG, please proceed. Is that really the solution?
Top scorer Evan Fournier is inching closer to a return from a persistent foot issue. And Bismack Biyombo made a triumphant return to Toronto on Sunday night when Orlando added to the Raptors’ woes by pulling out an unexpected one-point win. The Magic, mind you, needed a pick-me-up in a big way after the Friday night they had in Boston, absorbing their second 30-point drilling from the Celtics this season … this one coming in spite of the fact Boston was forced to play without both Al Horford and Avery Bradley.
Suns fans have to like the way Eric Bledsoe has responded to the fact that he really wasn’t even mentioned enough in connection with the All-Star Game to be labeled a snubee. Although Phoenix lost both games of its home-and-home with Denver since the East and West reserves were announced, Bledsoe posted 28 points in 28 foul-plagued minutes in the away assignment, followed by 41 points, 6 rebounds and 8 assists on the Suns’ floor Saturday night. Devin Booker, meanwhile, is up to 11 consecutive games with at least 20 points as he strains to keep up with Karl-Anthony Towns and Nikola Jokic when it comes to second-year players on hot streaks.
Luke Walton wants his Lakers playing fast and scoring freely, but they’ve actually fallen short of triple digits 20 times in 50 games. Perhaps not surprisingly for a team sporting the league’s last-ranked defense, L.A. is 1-19 in those games. Rim protection has been a major problem, with Lakers opponents converting a league-best 65 percent of their shots right at the cup and L.A. allowing nearly 48 PPG nightly in the paint. A ray of positivity: Brandon Ingram not only leads all rookies in minutes but has played more fourth-quarter minutes than anyone in the league apart from Jamal Crawford and Kyle Lowry.
The Nets are 1-14 in January, have lost 15 of their past 16 games overall and rank as the only team in the league still waiting to crack double figures in the win column. As if these guys haven’t suffered enough lately, Brooklyn also had to watch one of its castoffs — Yogi Ferrell — start and log an unexpected 36 minutes Sunday night in his Dallas debut. Fresh out of the D-League, Ferrell helped the Mavericks end a six-year road losing streak in San Antonio by sinking the clinching free throws with 7.3 seconds remaining in a 105-101 triumph.