Updated: March 23, 2015, 5:37 PM ET
Power Rankings: Cavs, Grizz rising
By Marc Stein
Monday, March 23
The Golden State Warriors were scoring a whopping 13.4 points more per 100 possessions with Klay Thompson on the floor, compared to when he was on the bench. And then he suffered a sprained ankle.
Life without Thompson, though, didn't look so hard last week for the team that has occupied the top spot in ESPN.com's weekly NBA Power Rankings on 12 of 21 Mondays this season.
The Warriors went 4-0 without Thompson -- including quality wins over Atlanta, New Orleans and Utah -- and strengthen their hold on the top rung of our ladder. The most notable rankings development, then, involves the Hawks, whose first three-game losing streak of the season dropped them out of the top three for the first time since the calendar still read 2014 . . . Dec. 29 to be exact.
The surging Cleveland Cavaliers and the Memphis Grizzlies, who are 5-2 since the All-Star break against West teams with winning records, have moved up to No. 2 and No. 3, respectively. For LeBron James' Cavs, it's the first time they've cracked the top two since our preseason edition of the rankings on Oct. 27.
We'll delve further into this week's order on Stein Line Live. You can comment below on the latest 1-to-30 ladder, which as always was compiled with data and research assistance from our friends at ESPN Stats & Information and the Elias Sports Bureau.
|The Dubs are 37-0 when holding opponents under 100 points. The Dubs are 33-2 at home after winning their big rematch with Atlanta. The Dubs are beating teams by an average of 15.3 PPG at home, tops in the NBA since Steve Kerr's Bulls were at plus-17.1 in their 72-10 season in 1995-96.|
|Why so high for the Cavs? Since LeBron James returned to the lineup in mid-January, Cleveland is 27-7 while averaging 112.1 points per 100 possessions. That's tops in the league in both categories for a team that, no matter what the standings say, has to rank as your East favorite now.|
|What a week in store for the Grizz. On Wednesday night they'll host LeBron's very fresh Cavs -- who happen to be 10-0 this season when they have at least two days of rest -- and then entertain Golden State (with this very committee scheduled to be in the house) before visiting San Antonio on Sunday. |
|The schedule and Kyle Korver's busted nose made it a rough week for the Hawks, who have slipped outside of our top three for the first time since Dec. 29. Yet they're still a top-10 team in both offensive and defensive efficiency ... with Thabo Sefolosha back soon. Hold your panic, please.|
|It would appear, judging by the clinic they uncorked in Atlanta, that losing Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden scared the Spurs straight as much as any Pop rant. Important scheduling note for you nostalgia buffs: We've got two Timmy-versus-Dirk duels to watch and savor this week.|
|I found this surprising, especially with Dwight Howard inching closer to his return, but ESPN's Basketball Power Index doesn't have Houston in its top five to make the West finals. Golden State is tops with a 58.3 percent chance, followed by the Spurs (39.0), Clips (30.7), Grizz (19.9) and Mavs (16.4).|
|Interesting discussion on Sunday night's NBA Insiders show on ESPN Radio. According to the panel consensus, only three teams out West -- Golden State, San Antonio and Memphis -- are title material. Today's question: Have the Clips been consistent enough to quibble with that claim?|
|It's a funny old game sometimes. OKC just endured its worst week of the season injury-wise, with setbacks for Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka, Nick Collison and Enes Kanter. Yet in the standings, with Ridiculous Russ up to 10 triple-doubles, it was the Thunder's best week of the season. |
|The Blazers' growing injury woes are yet another reason that the Western Conference, so often described as the most treacherous hardwood terrain imaginable, might not be as imposing in the playoffs as the rep suggests -- not when Portland and OKC are banged-up and Dallas is slumping.|
|The Bulls are 5-6 in games without both Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler. But Butler should be back this week, which is yet another reason that Chicago, for all of its ups and downs and injuries, still looks like the team best equipped to get in the way of an East finals of Hawks vs. Cavs.|
|It's a good thing they held off OKC at home a week ago, because the Mavs, as suggested in this space last week, look like they're at greater risk for slippage than anyone else in the West jumble from No. 3 through No. 7. The culprit? The Mavs are having effort and Monta problems. |
|It'll take an 8-4 finish for the Raps to secure the first 50-win season in franchise history. More important, though, surely is holding off Chicago for the East's No. 3 seed to set up a much more favorable first-round matchup in Toronto's quest to win just the second playoff series in team history.|
|Portland, San Antonio and Houston at home, plus Memphis on the road. All four of those playoff-bound teams are among Utah's victims during this 12-4 surge since the All-Star break that so easily could have been 14-2, if not for narrow home losses to the Lakers and, last week, John Wall's Wiz.|
|Who else is starting to regard the prospect of putting John Wall against Kyle Lowry as increasingly inevitable? How many of you, furthermore, thought for sure you'd click to these rankings and find an over-the-top scolding of Paul Pierce for that shove of Omri Casspi? (Maybe we're mellowing.)|
|In spite of the myriad minor injuries that have plagued Anthony Davis all season, as summed up neatly here by our NBA.com pal John Schuhmann, New Orleans really had an opportunity to snag that final playoff spot. We've just seen too many crunch times The Brow didn't get the ball enough.|
|As the father of an 11-year-old who has never set foot in Indy but loves Paul George, I'm compelled to question the wisdom of bringing him back at all if there's the slightest uncertainty about PG-13's readiness. Is the playoff spot that has suddenly slipped out of the Pacers' grasp so valuable?|
|The Suns submitted a fairly fitting tribute to Steve Nash on Saturday night, hours after the iconic former Sun officially announced his retirement. Phoenix rang up a season-high 99 points through three quarters in what wound up as an impressive 117-102 victory over James Harden's Rockets.|
|So much for last week's assertion in this comment box that Indy, Charlotte and Boston all had more momentum. The Heat are back up to seventh in the East and Dwyane Wade is averaging 25.4 points per game in March, trailing only Russ Westbrook, Anthony Davis and James Harden.|
|You can rationalize road losses to the Thunder and Spurs. Far less defensible is the crotch punch Marcus Smart threw at Matt Bonner, followed by a damaging home loss to Detroit, with the Celtics in the midst of playing so many of the teams trying to snag one of those last three playoff spots.|
|Brook Lopez has resurfaced and not coincidentally, so have the Nets in the (extremely forgiving) race for an Eastern Conference playoff spot. Lopez and Anthony Davis are the only players this season, believe it or not, to post at least 25 points and four blocked shots in back-to-back games.|
|Thanks to James Harden's 50-point eruption, we learned of an obscure Hornets stat from the Elias Sports Bureau. Turns out Charlotte has gone nearly 2,000 games without a 50-point scorer and, like Memphis, has never had one in franchise history. Harden was Houston's first in 1,538 games.|
|We'd love to use this entire runway to gush about Zaza Pachulia's offensive rebounding exploits against Brooklyn last week, but the way Milwaukee has been racking up nothing but losses and injuries lately just has us staring at the standings with the same disbelief we had when the Bucks were 31-23.|
|Andre Drummond is up to 10 games this season with at least 20 rebounds, tying DeAndre Jordan for the league lead in that category. The Pistons, though, have to settle for spoiler status now, still well out of range for the No. 8 playoff spot despite what might have been their best week all season.|
|Saw multiple messages of tough love on Twitter to DeMarcus Cousins last week from our own David Thorpe. How Boogie responds to George Karl is obviously what matters most, but such tweets always catch the eye when TrueHoopTV's own coach decides to publicly challenge a player.|
|A rough road trip brought the Nuggets back to earth under interim coach Melvin Hunt, except for Danilo Gallinari. Gallo's 40 points in Orlando left him just one point shy of the single-game NBA best for an Italian-born player: Andrea Bargnani's 41-point outburst in December 2010.|
|Maybe Nerlens Noel has a late charge planned to join Elfrid Payton and Nikola Mirotic in trying to inject some drama into this Andrew Wiggins-led ROY race. Noel just became the youngest player in league history to post a game with at least 20 points, 10 rebounds, 5 steals and 3 blocks.|
|Maybe this season's ROY race still has some life. Elfrid Payton just became only the seventh rookie in league history to post triple-doubles in consecutive games ... and the first since our man Antoine Walker in 1996-97. (Oscar Robertson, in case you're curious, had seven in a row in 1960-61.)|
|The Knicks have suffered enough. So we're going to focus more on one of the shocks of the season, San Antonio's ill-fated visit to MSG, as opposed to making too much of the recent revelation from Spike Lee that he has never attended fewer games as a Knicks season-ticket holder. |
|Kevin Garnett has missed seven straight games, which has essentially extinguished our interest in watching this season's Wolves, but there's still time for KG to crack 50,000 minutes for his career (only 138 away) and break a tie with Kevin Willis for the fifth-most games played ever (1,424).|
|What sort of season has it been in Lakerland? Here's one way to gauge it: Not until this past week, amazingly, did another Laker finally pass Kobe Bryant for the team lead in total points. Kobe scored 782 points in 35 games this season; Carlos Boozer is up to 805 after totaling 29 in three games last week.|