It’s tank season. Bad-win, good-loss season. Realize-the-midseason-trade-didn’t-work-out season. Who-is-your-team-going-to-draft season. For the latter, there’s this. For the former, here’s some empathy and entertainment in the form of a fresh new batch of No-Power Rankings.
8. Hornets (30-39)
Have you checked in on Dwight Howard lately? Not the memes, or the jokes, or the corny things he does. Howard the player. The 32-year-old is having his best season since 2013-14, averaging a double-double and 1.7 blocks per game. He’s averaging more than 21 points in his past 10 games, and on Thursday, he had 33 points, 12 rebounds, two steals, and two blocks. Charlotte, meanwhile, has won two of its past three. Hear me out: What if the Hornets can still make the playoffs? Miami and Milwaukee are six and six-and-a-half games ahead of the Hornets, respectively. But have you seen Charlotte’s closing schedule?
Even FiveThirtyEight gives the Hornets a better shot at getting in than the Pistons. That number is 2 percent, sure, but you’re telling me Kemba Walker can’t tap into some leftover March magic and make this at least a conversation?
The One in Real Trouble
7. Pistons (30-38)
Detroit’s situation is bleak. We spent the first half of the season lauding Andre Drummond’s improvement and the team’s success. We were impressed, albeit unconvinced, when they pushed their chips in at the trade deadline and got Blake Griffin. Since trading for Griffin, the Detroit professional basketball team is 7-12. The Pistons have dropped 5.5 games behind eighth place, and have had one of the six worst offenses in the league in that span. And it only gets worse for the Pistons once the season ends—they don’t have their first-round pick.
The Ones Getting in Their Own Way
6. Kings (22-47)
Sacramento is in a tough spot. On the one hand, watching young players like De’Aaron Fox and Bogdan Bogdanovic thrive is encouraging. Fox, in particular, is already showing flashes of cold-bloodedness.
De'Aaron Fox en est à 4 game winners ou paniers pour aller en prolongation cette saison.— Sacto Kings FR [Flo] (@SactoKingsFR) March 15, 2018
Deux de ces actions face au Heat.pic.twitter.com/gtdEOku9af
On the other hand, beating the playoff-bound Heat and going only 4-6 in their past 10 games will put them on the outside of the top five in the lottery odds. Maybe they should have kept George Hill.
5. Magic (21-48)
I commend Orlando for dominating the Bucks on Wednesday night in a game it had no business winning. As our own Kevin O’Connor would say, that’s some elite mental toughness. The Magic now have the fourth-worst record in the league, which is just about where they’ve been for the past six years. So congrats on the consistency, Orlando.
On the bright side (or dark side, considering their need for a top pick), Jonathan Isaac is finally healthy again and Jonathon Simmons has flashed scoring ability like he never did in San Antonio. He’s averaged 23.5 points in the Magic’s past four games, including a career-high 35 against the Bucks.
4. Bulls (24-44)
Travel with me to Memphis. There’s 1.8 seconds on the clock, the Grizzlies are up one on the Bulls, lottery balls are on the line, and then ... Tyreke Evans fouls Antonio Blakeney outside the 3-point line. Welp. Blakeney hits two of three free throws, and the Bulls win by one. Victory has never been so bittersweet. Chicago can’t stop winning. The Bulls are now ninth in the tank race, and have won four of their past 10.
Their next draft pick won’t be the only big decision for them to make this offseason. Zach LaVine, who returned from injury in January, is shooting just 38 percent from the field and only 34 percent from 3. The Bulls will have to figure out if they want to cut bait with one of the big gets from last year’s Jimmy Butler trade, or whether to double down on him as their cornerstone for the future.
The Ones Who Have Been Eyeing Deandre Ayton
3. Hawks (20-49)
Atlanta is one and a half games behind both the Suns and Grizzlies for last (first?) place, a deficit that feels as insurmountable as going down by seven points to NCAA tournament no. 1 seed Virginia. But the Hawks have seen promising play from Taurean Prince, who in his second year has improved in every statistical category, including a 38-point night against the Bulls. Prince also hit a game-winner against the Suns that may ultimately keep the Hawks from landing the best lottery odds, but pairing him and John Collins with Marvin Bagley III wouldn’t be so bad, either.
2. Suns (19-51)
There’s not a lot of focus in Phoenix these days, unless Devin Booker explodes for 40 or more points. But a glance at the numbers shows that even though Memphis is on one of the worst losing streaks in recent memory, the Suns have a point differential of minus-9.4—the worst in the league by nearly two points.
Even Booker, who has had a hand injury, wasn’t happy after the team’s loss to the Cavs on Tuesday: “I think our team has been spoiled enough, including myself,” he said.
On Thursday, the frustration reached a boiling point against the Jazz. Both Marquese Chriss and Jared Dudley got ejected for getting into an altercation that included Chriss blatantly cheap-shotting Ricky Rubio.
Dudley y Chriss fueron expulsados por esta "acción" sobre Ricky Rubio pic.twitter.com/wEkOEclzle— NBAclubESP (@NBAclubESP) March 16, 2018
Phoenix is tied with Memphis for the best lottery odds right now, so the Suns have just as much of a chance at Ayton and Luka Doncic as the Grizzlies. Gear up for a No-Power battle down the stretch.
1. Grizzlies (18-50)
It was poetic, really, that on the night Deandre Ayton’s Arizona team was blitzed by 13-seed Buffalo in the NCAA tournament, the Grizzlies put together a tank performance for the ages to lose their 19th straight. Losing out would give them the longest losing streak in NBA history. And the last time the Grizzlies won fewer than 20 games during a season? It was 1999, when they were still in Vancouver.
The Grizzlies activated Tyreke Evans for Thursday’s game, and he scored 25 points, but also committed the game-losing foul. It was the perfect way to mask the ultimate tank matchup. Even Marc Gasol tallied a double-double. Gasol has voiced his frustration with this Grizzlies season on multiple occasions, and with a rebuild on the way, it’s fair to wonder whether the two are long for each other after this season. In more ways than one, Memphis and Ayton—a match made in lottery heaven—inched closer to each other Thursday night.