Final NBA Power Rankings: Are Houston Rockets The Real Title Favorites?
Championship odds come courtesy of TopBet and are accurate as of Friday, April 13. Make sure you’re confirming these lines before placing a wager, as they will shift. Most of said movement comes after Games 1 and 2 of a playoff series, but the outcome to every postseason tilt stands to impact these numbers, so you’ll want to stay on top of them.
As always, bear in mind these rankings take into account both the most recent developments and past context. And this time, with the playoffs coming up for more than half the league, we’ll also be factoring in championship appeal. So while a team may not have finished the regular season on a high note, they can still rise up the ladder if they profile as a terrifying threat in the pursuit of the Larry O’Brien Trophy.
1. Houston Rockets (+160)
Previous Rank: 1
This is the closest the Houston Rockets have come to having the NBA’s best championship odds. And they deserve it. They’ve been straight fire all year, even though they’ve dealt with injuries to Chris Paul and Luc Mbah a Moute.
Speaking of which, Mbah a Moute is expected to miss the first round of the playoffs after dislocating his left shoulder in the team’s penultimate regular-season contest. The Rockets should be fine through at least the first round. The Minnesota Timberwolves don’t pose a real threat.
Beyond that, if Mbah a Moute isn’t right, they could find themselves in real trouble. He’s that important to their defense.
2. Philadelphia 76ers (+1800)
Previous Rank: 5
The Philadelphia 76ers shouldn’t be here. Not now. Not yet. They’re too young. Joel Embiid is still recovering from an orbital fracture that required surgery. He might miss the Sixers’ first playoff game.
They don’t care.
The Sixers are ahead of schedule—way, way ahead of schedule. They enter the playoffs having won 16 games in a row, and they own the NBA’s best point differential per 100 possessions since Jan. 1. Plenty of recency bias is caked in here, but only because it needs to be. It’s time to take Philly seriously.
3. Golden State Warriors (+120)
Previous Rank: 3
More than a few people are worried about the Golden State Warriors. And that’s fair. They have a negative point differential per 100 possessions since Stephen Curry suffered a Grade 2 MCL sprain that’s expected to keep him on the shelf through at least the first round of the playoffs. They don’t look like the same indomitable faction from each of the past three years.
Then again, the Warriors aren’t trying to look like that version of themselves. They’ve been in self-preservation mode all year, with key guys half-assing it on defense ostensibly by design.
Indeed, some of the injuries are a concern. So, too, is Draymond Green’s ice-cold shooting. Curry’s health looms large in the macro conversation as well. But the Warriors have another gear. We know this. And they’re going to reach it. After all, they know how. They’ve been here before.
4. Toronto Raptors (+800)
Previous Rank: 2
Although the Toronto Raptors have reverted back to some of their old habits in recent weeks, they remain an upgraded iteration of the team we’ve seen for the past few years. They are deep, switchy and open to running a little faster.
The key for them moving forward is hammering out their rotation. Head coach Dwane Casey has leaned heavily on the bench all year. That doesn’t figure to change in the playoffs—at least not right away.
But the Raptors need to figure out whether that makes sense. They’ll be facing other postseason teams who have cut into their rotations, thereby forcing their backups to face more starter-heavy units. And as we saw in their two most recent losses to the Cleveland Cavaliers, that doesn’t always work out so well for them.
5. Cleveland Cavaliers (+800)
Previous Rank: 6
Yes, the Cleveland Cavaliers’ defense stinks. And head coach Tyronn Lue is too in love with Jeff Green. And George Hill and Rodney Hood continue to battle injuries.
And blah, blah, blah.
Nothing has changed with the Cavaliers. They’re still wildly flawed. They’re also good enough to make it out of the Eastern Conference. LeBron James is playing some of his most efficient basketball ever, and they may have another level they’ve yet to reach on defense.
On top of that, they might have been saving the LeBron-Kevin Love 4-5 combination for the playoffs. That dyad has seen nearly 200 possessions of action, during which time the Cavaliers are pummeling opponents by roughly a zillion points per 100 possessions.
6. Oklahoma City Thunder (+3300)
Previous Rank: 11
Count on the Thunder to remain inconsistent. And then bank on them putting up a fight against pretty much anyone they face.
That’s what makes them so hard to figure out. They have a losing record (17-19) through games in which neither team trails or leads by more than three points entering the final three minutes, but they also have the Western Conference’s third-best record against above-.500 squads.
Russell Westbrook and Carmelo Anthony are shooting poorly in clutch situations, but the former is still a net-rating boom. The defense has suffered in the wake of Andre Roberson’s season-ending ruptured patellar tendon, but the partnership between Paul George and Jerami Grant can still get them by on the less glamarous end.
The Thunder get a top-seven spot anyway. They’ve shown up for too many big games for us to doubt their mettle in a first-round series with the Utah Jazz, and postseason Paul George has historically been an absolute monster.
7. Portland Trail Blazers (+4000)
Previous Rank: 4
The Portland Trail Blazers are another team that’s insanely tough to crack.
Sure, they wrapped up the West’s third-best record. No one saw that coming. Their defense is better than anticipated, too. That matters.
But they’re prone to wild swings in every fathomable direction. Their average net rating has shifted one way or the other—up or down—by about 4.3 points per 100 possessions each month. That’s not the mark of a true championship contender.
8. Utah Jazz (+7000)
Previous Rank: 9
Can you name every team that owns a net rating better than the Jazz since Rudy Gobert returned from his last knee injury?
Of course you can’t. No such team exists. The Jazz pace the league in that department over this half-season stretch.
We have to take them seriously as a result. The Thunder’s superior athleticism could give them problems in the first round, and they’ll find it difficult to generate half-court offense in a postseason setting when they don’t have a truly polished face-up scorer. But their defense is out of this world, and more importantly, they espouse a virtue the Thunder simply don’t:
9. San Antonio Spurs (+9000)
Previous Rank: 8
Kawhi Leonard didn’t even make 10 appearances during the regular season, and yet the San Antonio Spurs still finished within viewing distance of 50 victories. That’s just incredible.
Drawing the Warriors in the first round is a tough pull. They won’t have Stephen Curry, but the Spurs don’t seem like they’ll have Leonard either. Their postseason jaunt seems likely to end after five, maybe six games.
Something to monitor: San Antonio’s most-used lineup gumming up these lowly projections. The amalgam of Danny Green, Dejounte Murray, Kyle Anderson, Patty Mills and LaMarcus Aldridge is outstripping opponents by more than 12 points per 100 possessions on the season.
10. Indiana Pacers (+15000)
Previous Rank: 10
So let’s get this straight: The Indiana Pacers flip Paul George to the Thunder over the summer and then end up winning close to 50 games.
Talk about nuts.
This year-long Cinderella run appears fated to end almost immediately. The Pacers don’t stand a chance against the Cavaliers in Round 1. On the bright side, they still have Victor Oladipo, who has gone from overpaid draft bust to All-NBA hopeful since arriving in Indiana.
11. New Orleans Pelicans (+17500)
Previous Rank: 12
Losing DeMarcus Cousins for the season has not made the Pelicans unequivocally better. Let’s get that out of the way.
It has, however, allowed them to play with the NBA’s fastest pace, post a top-five defensive rating and allow Anthony Davis to spend more time at the center slote, where he’s an even more monstrous mismatch. And these after-effects of Cousins’ injury do, in fact, look good on the Pelicans.
The acquisition of Nikola Mirotic before the trade deadline in particular is starting to pay dividends. Mirotic hasn’t been the most efficient version of himself since arriving, but the Pelicans are burying opponents by more than 10 points per 100 possessions when he shares the court with Davis.
12. Boston Celtics (+6000)
Previous Rank: 7
Putting the Boston Celtics this low definitely stings. They’ve been spectacular pretty much all year despite losing Gordon Hayward on opening night.
Nevertheless, their latest brush with misfortune is one too many. Kyrie Irving’s season-ending knee surgery torpedoes any hope they have of making meaningful noise in the playoffs. They might get out of the first round, but they don’t have the offensive juice to go any further that.
13. Miami Heat (+15000)
Previous Rank: 13
Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra is a damn genius. He extracts as much value out of every single one of his players as any head honcho in the league. He deserves some Coach of the Year love.
Spo’s latest pet projects include transforming Wayne Ellington into a human pinball; waiting out Justise Winslow’s jumper; turning Josh Richardson loose at the defensive end; and unleashing a hyper-efficient, hyper-versatile version of Kelly Olynyk that’s bound to eat into Hassan Whiteside’s postseason playing time.
All this, and the Heat still probably won’t make it out of the first round. They’ll need the Sixers’ defense to flop, both with and without Joel Embiid, to have a real chance at escaping into the semifinals.
14. Washington Wizards (+11000)
Previous Rank: 16
Some level of blind faith is at play here.
The Washington Wizards have not lived up to expectations this season. John Wall’s extended stay on the sidelines with a left knee injury that required surgery didn’t help matters, but they’ve been underwhelming even when he’s on the floor.
Offensive production will come. Both Wall and Bradley Beal tend to show out in the playoffs. Then again, the Wizards’ shot selection isn’t great. And their defense has verged on blah, to bad, to really, really, ridiculously bad.
Some think the Wizards have a chance to upset the first-place Raptors in Round 1. It’s fine if you’re one of them. Postseason John Wall and Bradley Beal play with that much pizzazz. Based off what we saw in the regular season, though, it’d be a real surprise if Washington puts up more than a superficial fight.
15. Denver Nuggets (N/A)
Previous Rank: 17
Slotting the Denver Nuggets at No. 15 feels weird when they didn’t even make the playoffs. But they’re better than their upcoming lottery appearance suggests.
The defense is a mess, and head coach Mike Malone’s rotations are wonky. But the Nuggets are otherwise fine. Given them a truer wing to go along with the current core, and they’ll have an imminent contender on their hands.
16. Milwaukee Bucks (+10000)
Previous Rank: 15
Eric Bledsoe now has a larger on-off net-rating differential than Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Think about that before you pick the Milwaukee Bucks to take down the Kyrie Irving-less Celtics in Round 1.
17. Minnesota Timberwolves (+15000)
Previous Rank: 20
Congratulations to the Timberwolves for ending a 13-year playoff drought and winning the right to get trounced in the first round, most likely via a four-game sweep, courtesy of the Rockets.
There’s not much else to say about this team. Jimmy Butler and Karl-Anthony Towns make up one of the NBA’s most dangerous duos, but the Timberwolves have neither the firepower nor wing depth nor defensive discipline to push the Rockets to the brink.
18. Los Angeles Clippers (N/A)
Previous Rank: 14
The Los Angeles Clippers were, for the most part, a feel-good story this year. They survived a bunch of offseason and mid-season turnover to compete for a playoff spot. That means something.
Unfortunately, their future remains shrouded in mystery.
Should they reinvest in this core that didn’t make the playoffs by re-signing DeAndre Jordan and Avery Bradley? Should they look to sell off contracts and start over? Is head coach Doc Rivers a part of any version of their future?
It’s going to be an interesting summer in Hollywood—and not just because the Los Angeles Lakers have cap space.
19. Los Angeles Lakers (N/A)
Previous Rank: 18
And now we’ll start to rampage through these topics with a little more speed.
Did the Lakers prove enough with their impressive young core to successfully woo LeBron James and/or Paul George in free agency this summer? We’re about to find out…in about two-and-a-half months from now.
20. Charlotte Hornets (N/A)
Previous Rank: 21
At 10 games under .500, the Charlotte Hornets finished with a dead-even point differential (zero)—sames as the 42-win Clippers. That’s…bizarre…and most certainly a testament to how good the Hornets were with Kemba Walker on the floor this year.
21. Detroit Pistons (N/A)
Previous Rank: 19
Few teams have a bleaker future than the Detroit Pistons when looking at their long-term salary-cap commitments. Don’t be surprised if coach-president Stan Van Gundy is stripped of his latter duties or shown the door altogether.
22. Dallas Mavericks (N/A)
Previous Rank: 22
Dirk Nowitzki is planning return to the Dallas Mavericks to play out his 20th NBA season in 2018-19. He also hasn’t ruled out sticking with them beyond that.
This is all you need to know about the Mavericks.
23. Brooklyn Nets (N/A)
Previous Rank: 23
The Brooklyn Nets are quickly approaching a crossroads. They’ll have regained control over all their own first-round picks after this June’s draft, but they’re now tasked with deciding whether Spencer Dinwiddie, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and D’Angelo Russell are worth the raises they’ll command as free agents in the summer of 2019.
24. Atlanta Hawks (N/A)
Previous Rank: 29
Props to the Atlanta Hawks. Seriously. All the props. They secured the NBA’s third-worst record, and the top-three lottery odds that come with it, while remaining watchable. That takes skill.
25. New York Knicks (N/A)
Previous Rank: 24
Jeff Hornacek is out as the New York Knicks’ head coach. Whoever they choose to replace him, and however they approach free agency this summer, will determine whether they’re actually serious about working through the gradual rebuild they’ve eschewed for decades.
26. Orlando Magic (N/A)
Previous Rank: 28
Like the Knicks, the Orlando Magic have already fired their head coach, Mr. Frank Vogel. He wasn’t entirely responsible for them purchasing a co-opt in the NBA’s basement, but heads always roll under new regimes.
The current front office inherited Vogel, just like they did Elfrid Payton, now of the Phoenix Suns, and Mario Hezonja (free agent). After essentially cutting ties with the latter two, it should come as no surprise the present regime is looking to install its own coach on the sidelines.
27. Sacramento Kings (N/A)
Previous Rank: 24
The Sacramento Kings needed to tank harder, and sooner, than they actually did. They’ll likely be punished in the draft lottery for failing to recognize as much.
28. Chicago Bulls (N/A)
Previous Rank: 27
Take everything we just said about the Kings, and apply it to the Chicago Bulls.
29. Memphis Grizzlies (N/A)
Previous Rank: 26
Here’s some crazy food for thought: The Memphis Grizzlies could, in theory, go from having the league’s second-worst record to paying into the luxury tax next season. That’s what we in this biz call a massive no-no.
30. Phoenix Suns (N/A)
Previous Rank: 30
The Suns did it! They really did it. They finished with the NBA’s absolute worst offensive rating, defensive rating and net rating—a tanker’s trifecta. They’ll now enter the summer with top draft-lottery odds and a clear pathway to more than $20 million in cap space.
If any of these bottom-five squads have a viable shot at an instant turnaround, it’s these Suns.
On the other hand, they’re the Suns. They’re assured of nothing.
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