NBA Power Rankings: The End is Near

04/19/2012 10:25 AM ET
By Lou DiPietro

Cameras caught this Nets "Abbey Road" moment on Friday the 13th in Philly.(AP)
The number of days left in the 2011-12 NBA season is down to single digits, and as such we’ve reached the penultimate edition of the NBA Power Rankings.

As of the end of the rankings period (games through Wednesday, April 18), the playoff picture was starting to come into clearer focus. In the West, five teams are in and just 2 1/2 games separate sixth through tenth.

Meanwhile, the East is a little more cut and dry. Six teams are in, the Bulls are assured of home court through the first two rounds at least (with the Heat right behind), and only New York, Philadelphia, and Milwaukee are alive for the final two spots, with the Bucks 2 1/2 behind eight-place Philly.

All that adds up to produce a final week that will be even more exciting, nerve-wracking, and glorious than usual. Well, unless you’re Charlotte, but as you’ll see in their ranking, they too can still make history. Reminder: Next week, the final regular-season rankings will run on Friday, April 27, and cover the final eight days of the schedule. Place your bets now on where the Bobcats land.

1 Five straight wins, the last three on a back-to-back-to-back, keeps San Antonio atop the rankings. Popovich will be your Coach of the Year simply for the way he's managed his rest periods and still has the Spurs competing for No. 1 in the West.
2 The Heat surge back into the second spot thanks to a bye we..err, win over Charlotte and tough wins over the scrappy Knicks and Nets. Can they hit their stride now?
3 Losing isn’t the concern. Losing twice to the Clippers in six days, however, is. If seeds hold, Thunder-Clippers would be one of your Western Conference Semifinals, and the Clips won that season series 3-1.
4 Rose or no Rose, back-to-back or not, experimentation with lineups or not…you can’t lose to a depleted Washington team playing for nothing this late in the season.
5 Despite that Spurs loss, The Lake Show remains just ahead of the Clippers in the Pacific. Not like home court advantage would mean much in an eventual series between the two, but it’s still better to be higher up the pecking order.
6 Don’t read into the loss to New York too much; wins at Miami and then home against Atlanta the next night tell you all you need to know – the Celtics could be your surprise Eastern Conference Finalist if Miami or Chicago underestimate them.
7 The two meetings with the Thunder mentioned last week were no problem, and with a schedule that’s “easier” than the Lakers’, they could be your Pacific Division Champions next Thursday night.
8 They’re hot again. Tuesday’s win at Philly giving the Pacers their sixth straight win, dropped the Sixers into eighth in the East, and put Indy one step closer to clinching a Top 3 seed.
9 Seriously, though – when is the last time you saw two teams so unevenly matched as the Hawks and Raptors play a home-and-home on consecutive nights where the road team won both games by 15 or more?
10 Get the champagne ready on Beale Street, because the Grizzlies are playing into May.
11 After winning four of six, the Nuggets are alive in the Western derby. A 2-2 finish should be enough.
12 Locking up a playoff berth so soon means they might not see D12 in uniform until the playoffs start. They’ve won two straight, but they’re postseason cannon fodder without Howard. Conspiracy theory, anyone?
13 Let’s face it, they’re supposed to lose to Chicago and Miami now and then. But wins over the Bulls and the Celtics in the last week prove that they likely won’t be swept out of the playoffs again this year.
14 Houston has lost five straight and is now tied with Phoenix for ninth in the West. In related news, New Jersey’s front office’s reaction is back to “groan.”
15 Dallas backwards spells “Sallad,” but with three games left, the Mavs could still be toast. The last team to go from champagne to ping pong balls, the 1999 Bulls, also did so in a lockout year…but that team had lost a Hall of Fame coach and two of the NBA’s 50 Greatest Players.
16 As of Wednesday morning, this was a playoff team (but they're not a day later). That’s an amazing thought given what’s happened this season in Phoenix.
17 As of Wednesday morning, this was not a playoff team (but they are a day later). That’s an amazing thought given they will finish with at least a .667 winning percentage at home.
18 As of Wednesday morning, they had fallen to eighth in the East (and were still there a day later). That’s an amazing thought given they were 20-9 on Valentine’s Day.
19 Like Pearl Jam and Abe Vigoda, they’re still alive. We’ll know if they’re still relevant (unlike Pearl Jam and Abe Vigoda) within a week.
20 Portland was finally eliminated from playoff contention on Wednesday. Sure, that scenario was highly unlikely anyway, but points for at least still being there with eight days left.
21 On the court, they’ve won four in a row. Off of it, they’ve just been sold to Saints owner Tom Benson. Insert a bounty joke and/or a “Sean Payton/Gregg Williams can step in if Benson wants to replace Monty Williams” knee-slapper here.
22 Their final game in New Jersey ever is against the Sixers on April 23. That could, theoretically, be the biggest spoiler game of the season in the East.
23 Rodney Stuckey has four 30-point games this season. He also has five with five or less, including a pair of zeroes, and scored just eight in 28 minutes in Tuesday’s blowout of Cleveland.
24 The Raptors have one home game left, a date with New Jersey on April 26. Even with the Blue Jays in Baltimore that day, it’s a safe wager that plenty of great seats are still available at the Air Canada Centre for that one.
25 As great as Kevin Johnson was, it’s kind of sad (for Kings fans, anyway) that Sacramento’s Mayor is no worse than the third-best NBA player in the city. It’s even sadder that Mayor KJ is a Maloof power play away from being the only NBA player in Sac-town.
26 As they were playing for little else, Tuesday’s Cavs/Pistons game should have had some kind of prize on the line, like, say, “winning team actually gets to spend the summer somewhere much nicer than Cleveland or Detroit.” Maybe the Cavs would’ve tried harder if so.
27 They beat Chicago Monday. They beat Milwaukee Wednesday; that’s two in a row. One more, and it’s called a winning streak. It has happened before.
28 David Lee is going to end up as the most under-the-radar guy in NBA history to average 20 and 10 for his career. Perhaps once in his career he’ll get to play a game in May.
29 Tuesday’s loss to Memphis marked their 11th loss in a row, and without Love and Rubio, there’s no signs of stopping. And really, with both the scoring and rebounding crowns both out of reach, there’s no reason for Love to play again this year after his concussion.
30 The least ferocious kitties this side of Garfield are now up to 18 straight losses after another heartbreaker against Chicago. A 7-59 finish would get them to 23 in a row, tied for the third-longest streak ever and three short of the Cavs’ all-time record of 26.