The regular season is complete. For 14 teams, it means it’s time to count ping-pong balls and decide who to send to wonderful downtown Secaucus, N.J., for the draft lottery on May 21. So here are the final NBA Power Rankings for the season.
But for those other 16 teams, the second season begins either Saturday or Sunday. The playoffs, the march to the title begins, with story lines galore.
Can the Miami Heat repeat? Can the Oklahoma City Thunder continue their climb from lottery team in 2009 to playoff team in 2010 to conference finalist in 2011 to NBA finalist in 2012? Now that they’re in, can the Los Angeles Lakers do anything? How will James Harden fare when he leads his new team, the Houston Rockets, against his old one, the Thunder, in the first round? Will Kevin Garnett and Carmelo Anthony play nice when the Boston Celtics and New York Knicks collide in round 1?
These are a mathematical computation that factors in winning percentage, scoring differential, offensive and defensive efficiency, rebounding percentage and true shooting percentage.
As with all rankings, your mileage may vary:
1. Miami (66-16): The Heat rested stars frequently over the final 10 days of the season and still won their final six games, becoming just the 13th team in NBA history to win at least 66 games. Nine of the first 12 won titles. The three that didn’t? The 1972-73 Boston Celtics (68-14, lost to the Knicks in the Eastern Conference Finals), the 2006-07 Dallas Mavericks (67-15, lost to the Golden State Warriors in the first round) and the 2008-09 Cleveland Cavaliers (66-16, lost to the Orlando Magic in the Eastern Conference Finals).
2. Oklahoma City (60-22): Kevin Durant sat out the season finale against the Milwaukee Bucks, the only game the Thunder lost over the final 10 days. Next up are the Rockets. Will they see much of this?
3. San Antonio (58-24): The Spurs stumbled to a 1-4 finish and lost their grip on the top seed out West. Now they get the Lakers in the first round. Can San Antonio avoid another playoff stumble? Remember, they’ve gone out in round 1 in two of the last five seasons.
4. Los Angeles Clippers (56-26): The Clippers staved off the Memphis Grizzlies for home-court advantage in the first round as the teams prepare for a sequel to last year’s seven-game first-round epic. Lob City pulled it off with a 5-0 kick over the final 10 days of the season, something that impressed the Clips’ own version of a celebrity fan:
5. Denver (57-25): The Nuggets held onto the No. 3 seed in the West, setting up what could be a high-scoring opening-round series with the Warriors. Denver won four of its final five games to fend off the Clippers and Grizzlies, putting coach George Karl into the Coach of the Year discussions. Denver went 38-3 at home and stayed hot down the stretch despite a ton of injuries.
7. New York (54-28): Anthony’s torrid finish won him his first scoring title. The bad news? Only five previous scoring champions (Joe Fulks, George Mikan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Michael Jordan and Shaquille O’Neal) combined a scoring title and an NBA title in the same season.
8. Indiana (49-32): The Pacers stumbled to a 1-3 finish after the Knicks clinched the No. 2 seed in the East. Indiana now gets the Atlanta Hawks to open the playoffs. Is young Paul George ready to lead a team to postseason success?
9. Houston (45-37): The Rockets wound up with the final playoff seed in the West after losing three of their final five games. They had a chance on the season’s final day to pass Golden State for the No. 6 seed. Instead, they saw the Lakers zoom past them for the No. 7 seed, despite Chandler Parsons’ heroics late in regulation of the season finale:
10. Brooklyn (49-33): Deron Williams rediscovered his All-Star form over the final couple of months and the Nets—in their first season back in New York—claimed their first playoff berth since 2007. Now they have to figure out the Chicago Bulls, who beat Brooklyn three out of four meetings during the regular season.
11. Golden State (47-35): The Warriors are back in the playoffs for the first time since 2007 thanks to massive improvement on the boards and on the defensive end. Stephen Curry leads the team into the postseason against the Nuggets fresh off becoming the most prolific single-season 3-point gunslinger in league history:
12. Los Angeles Lakers (45-37): The Lakers were the last team to show up for the playoff party, but they won’t be the last seed, thanks to an overtime win over the Rockets on the final night of the season. It’s still, though, hard to fathom the thought of a Laker team in the playoffs without Kobe Bryant, who did this in the game before tearing his Achilles’ tendon:
14. Chicago (45-37): Will Derrick Rose play? When will Derrick Rose play? When will we stop asking questions about Derrick Rose? Why am I writing so many questions?
15. Utah (43-39): The Jazz laid an egg with a playoff spot on the line, scoring just 70 points in Memphis to close out the season. Such is life when you’re in the dreaded middle ground of the NBA … not good enough to make the playoffs, not bad enough to get a draft pick that will matter.
16. Boston (41-40): Now the sentimental favorite of the postseason after the events of Monday, April 15, near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, can the Celtics manufacture yet another unlikely postseason run?
17. Dallas (41-41): The Mavericks are out of the playoffs for the first time this millennium (yes, it’s only 13 seasons, but it sounds so much more impressive than “out of the playoffs for the first time since 2000). But Dallas did get to .500, which allowed Dirk Nowitzki to finally do this:
18. Milwaukee (38-44): Congratulations, Bucks! You’re the worst playoff team since the 2010-11 Indiana Pacers sneaked in at 37-45. Your reward? Say hello to the Heat.
19. Toronto (34-48): The Raptors had more ups and downs this season than an airplane with an intoxicated pilot. But Toronto finished strong, winning its final five games to tie the Philadelphia 76ers for last place in the Atlantic.
21. Minnesota (31-51): The nightmare is finally over. On the positive flip, Derrick Williams proved he can play a little bit, Kevin Love should come back healthy next year and Ricky Rubio has gotten stronger as the season wore on.
22. Philadelphia (34-48): The nightmare is finally over. Oh, wait, I already said that. But it applies just as well to the 76ers, who got as many games from Andrew Bynum this season as they did from me: Zero. At least they didn’t give up a guy like Nikola Vucevic, who turned into a double-double machine. Oh, yeah they did.
23. Washington (29-53): Horrific start. Nice middle. Horrific finish. The Wizards were consistently inconsistent this season. But if they can add some frontcourt talent to the backcourt tandem of John Wall and Bradley Beal, this could be a team that threatens to take a No. 8 seed. Maybe.
24. Detroit (29-53): The good news? Joe Dumars has lots of cap space this summer. The bad news? The last time that happened, the Pistons ended up with Charlie Villanueva, Ben Gordon and a ton of losses. Oh, and there was that whole mutiny thing.
26. Sacramento (28-54): Alas, the Kings are officially dead. Or not. At the pace the owners are figuring out where this team will play next season, we might have it figured out sometime in August … of 2036.
27. Cleveland (24-58): The young Cavaliers lost their final six games to put a rotten cherry on top of the sour sundae that was 2012-13. But there’s some good young talent in Cleveland, including Dion Waiters, who reminded us of that when he did this:
28. Phoenix (25-57): The years of Robert Sarver’s general cheapness are taking a toll on this franchise. When you’re talking about building around a centerpiece of Goran Dragic, you’re dangerously close to rock bottom.
29. Orlando (20-62): A first-class tank job landed the Magic with the most ping-pong balls in the lottery, but this is another team that has some promising young talent. If they get the right point guard? This team could get well fast.
30. Charlotte (21-61): The Bobcats competed hard and won three of their final five games to avoid a second straight season with the worst record in the NBA. The downside is that with Michael Jordan’s track record as an executive, finishing 29th in the league might continue to be a cause to celebrate.