Now that the 2016 NBA All-Star Game is in the rearview mirror, we can turn all our attention toward the second half of this season and focus on what really matters: the teams that may actually have what it takes to bring home the title. While it’s become fairly easy to point out which clubs sit at the bottom of the NBA barrel, the same cannot be said for determining which teams at the top of the standings are contenders, and which ones are nothing more than contenders.
Still, that doesn’t mean we aren’t going to try. As the end of February draws closer, we couldn’t think of a better time to put together our own power rankings — just to see how the NBA’s best teams stack up against each other. Here’s a look at the seven clubs we believe stand out among the rest.
7. Boston Celtics
It’s officially time to stop overlooking the Boston Celtics. Led by one of the best coaches in the NBA in Brad Stevens, the C’s are currently 34-25, second place in the Atlantic Division, and hold the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference. They are putting up 106.1 points per game (fourth of 30) with an offensive rating of 106.7 (ninth of 30), while also doing work on the other end of the floor thanks to a defensive rating of 102.7 (fourth of 30). This team may not win the NBA title this year, but it wouldn’t shock us to see them make a splash in the postseason.
6. Oklahoma City Thunder
With Kevin Durant (27.7 PPG, 7.9 RPG, 4.5 APG) and Russell Westbrook (24.0 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 10.2 APG) both playing at an extremely high level, the Oklahoma City Thunder are putting up 109.6 points per game (second of 30), have the second best offensive rating (112.6) in the NBA, and sit atop the Northwest Division standings with a 41-17 record.
That being said, this club has lost two consecutive games — including a 23-point drubbing at home to the Cleveland Cavaliers — and is giving up 102.1 points per game (16th of 30). Despite holding the third spot out West and boasting a solid amount of talent on the roster, we just don’t know if the Thunder will have enough firepower to get out of their ultra-competitive conference.
5. Los Angeles Clippers
The Los Angeles Clippers have the coaching, experience, and overall star power to make a serious run at a title this season. They hold a 38-20 mark (second in the Pacific Division), are putting up 105.2 points per game (six of 30), and are top 1o in the NBA in both offensive rating (108.3, sixth of 30) and defensive rating (103.5, eighth of 30. On top of that, the squad that is 7-3 in its last 10 games just got better at the trade deadline by acquiring Jeff Green from the Memphis Grizzlies. If Doc Rivers can figure out how to get the most out of his upgraded roster, we suspect the Clips will be a real threat in the West.
4. Toronto Raptors
We believe there is something truly special about the dynamic duo of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. And thanks to the terrific play of these two All-Stars, the Toronto Raptors are 39-18 on the year, 7-3 in their last 10 contests, and hold a 5.5-game lead in the Atlantic Division. Not only does this club play good basketball on both ends of the floor, but it is also shooting 36.6% from three-point land (fourth in the NBA); something that should make other clubs extremely nervous about going up against the current No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference. If we had to face the Raptors, we know we would be.
3. Cleveland Cavaliers
On the backs of the Big Three of LeBron James, Kevin Love, and Kyrie Irving, the Cleveland Cavaliers have raced out to a 41-16 record, a 10.5-game lead at the top of the Central Division standings, and the best mark in the Eastern Conference. While the firing of head coach David Blatt prior to All-Star weekend may have been seen by most as controversial, we actually think it will help the Cavs become more than just a team that’s expected to breeze through the East. Time will tell if we’re proven right.
2. San Antonio Spurs
In any other year, the San Antonio Spurs would sit at the top of these power rankings. The club is 49-9 (first in the Southwest Division), limiting the opposition to just 92.7 points per game (first of 30), and is a perfect 28-0 on its home floor. Unfortunately, sometimes not even holding third-best offensive rating (111.4) and top defensive rating (98.2) is enough to topple the defending champs — especially when the possibility of history is on the line.
1. Golden State Warriors
While the Golden State Warriors allow 103.5 points per game (21st of 30), that doesn’t seem to be an issue when they are lighting up the opposition to the tune of 115.0 points a night (first of 30). On top of that, the 52-5 Dubs also lead the NBA in offensive efficiency (114.3), three pointers (12.9 per game), three-point percentage (41.8), two-point percentage (52.5), defensive rebounds (36.4 per game), and assists (29.1 per game).
We never thought we’d see the day when a team challenged the 72-10 mark set by the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls. Now we wouldn’t be surprised if the Dubs went on to set a new standard. Which is why, until further notice, Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors remain at the top of the NBA mountain.