NBA Power Rankings - Risers and Fallers (03/28/17)

By Mark Dankenbring
NBA Power Rankings - Risers and Fallers

With every team in the NBA having less than 11 regular season games left on the schedule, there aren't too many surprises left within our rankings. However, with late-season rosters still in flux, we bring you another edition of Risers and Fallers for this week's Power Rankings. Our Power Rankings are developed using players on the active depth chart, which causes fluctuation week-to-week based on injuries and who is in and out of the lineup. To see a full description of how our Power Rankings are created, as well as this week's full list of rankings, please visit our NBA Rankings.

Within our rankings every week, there are noticeable risers and fallers throughout. The goal of this article is to identify who has gained or lost the most ground in the Association, whether it be due to injury, roster changes, or just a decline in team performance. Each article will include the top three risers and fallers in the rankings, despite their initial position.

The Spurs remain atop our rankings for the fourth consecutive week, and are currently two games behind the Warriors for the first seed in the West. San Antonio will enter Wednesday's matchup against the Warriors on a five game winning streak, and will look to close the gap to a mere one-game lead. Also, keep in mind the Spurs have already secured the tie-breaker over Golden State, so a tie atop the West would result in the Spurs securing home-court advantage throughout the playoffs. The Cavaliers make a big jump in our rankings this week up to #4, but are lacking in the eye-test category as of late, especially with their 29-point loss to the Spurs last night. Our model still likes the Cavs as the favorites in the East, and we're all still thinking they can flip the switch when they want to, right? Right? The rise of Cleveland drops a few teams within our Top 10, including the Jazz and Wizards, but I'll get more into them in a little bit. There is still a considerable amount of movement in the lower portion of the rankings as well, but let's first take a look at the top three risers in this week's rankings.

Top 3 Risers

Cleveland Cavaliers - #11 up to #4

Yes, I am aware Cleveland has gone 6-9 while possessing the 29th-ranked defense in the month of March, but the Cavaliers still have the most prolific roster in the East and are just half a game back of the Celtics, who they'll square off against on April 5th. Cleveland is still trying to integrate all of their new pieces: Kyle Korver, Deron and Derrick Williams, and even Larry Sanders for that matter, into the rotation. It's not quite time to hit the panic button either, as Cleveland will face teams with a combined 126-168 record over the next four games before their matchup with the Celtics in Boston. At the end of the day, it's hard to bet against the Cavaliers to make it out of the East with a starting lineup including LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love, and that's exactly what our model is showing. Cleveland still has the most talent on paper, and their last nine regular season games plus whatever happens in the postseason will showcase whether they can put it all together. My money is on the assumption that they can and will figure it out.

Denver Nuggets - #13 up to #7

Denver is in an interesting spot heading into the last few weeks of the season that will largely be determined by the outcome of their game tonight against the Portland. The two teams are currently tied for the eighth spot in the West, and a victory tonight for the Nuggets would even the season series at 2-2, but the Trail Blazers still have a much better division record at 8-3 (Denver is 5-8), which would give them the edge in the second leg of the tie-breaker scenarios. Therefore, the Nuggets need to finish ahead of Portland in order to secure a playoff spot. Denver has a completely healthy roster for the first time in a long time, and will continue to focus on the offensive side of the ball, where they're ranked third in our Offensive Efficiency Rankings, to lead them to a playoff spot. Gary Harris has really played well for them in March, and doesn't get talked about much with Jokic having such a great season, but Harris is averaging 16.1 ppg on 53.5% shooting from the field in March, including 18 ppg over their last 10 games. The Nuggets will have a tough road into the playoffs with seven of their remaining nine games on the road.

Oklahoma City Thunder - #15 up to #12

The Thunder continue to bounce up and down in our rankings from week to week, and settle into the 12th spot in this week's rankings. OKC has gone 7-2 in their last nine to help solidify their six-seed in the West, and are now closer to the fifth seed than the seventh. Russell Westbrook continues to put the team on his back, as evidenced dramatic 14-0 run last night to secure a 92-91 victory where Westbrook scored 12 of those points. He also secured his 37th triple double, just four behind The Big O's record with nine games left to play. Victor Oladipo has proved crucial to the Thunder's recent stretch as they are 7-3 since his return, and he's really helped Westbrook on the offensive end. Oladipo has averaged 17.6 points and 4.4 rebounds in those 10 games, including shooting 56.5% from behind the arc. Enes Kanter has also returned in a big way in March, averaging 15.3 points and 7 rebounds so far for the month. The storylines the rest of the way will be if Russ can overtake Oscar Robertson for the all-time record in triple doubles for a season, and if the Thunder as a team can hold on to the 6th spot or even move up to the 5th above the Clippers or Jazz.

Top 3 Fallers

Utah Jazz - #4 down to #8

With their win at home against the Pelicans last night, the Jazz moved to 2-4 in their last six games. They've had what seems to be a limited roster all season, and that continues with the absence of Derrick Favors and now Gordon Hayward, the latter looking like a short term injury. The Jazz remain at #3 in our Defensive Efficiency Rankings, but slip to 14th in our O-Rank with the injury to Hayward. The Jazz currently sit in the 4th spot in the West, one and a half games up on the Clippers, but have an extremely tough schedule to close the season. They'll face the Spurs and Trail Blazers twice, the Warriors, and the Wizards, which ESPN's BPI ranks as the 2nd toughest remaining schedule in the NBA. The Jazz will desperately need Gordon Hayward to stay healthy, and could really use Derrick Favors back for his offensive production, as he is their fifth leading scorer. Utah would love to stay in the 4th spot, as they're 25-12 at home as opposed to 20-17 on the road, but will lose the tie-breaker to the Clippers, so they'll need to finish one game better to secure home court in the first round.

Washington Wizards - #7 down to #10

After starting 2017 with a 25-8 record, the Wizards have gone 4-4 in their last eight games and are now just a half game up on the Raptors for the 3rd spot in the East. They're about to start a four game road-trip with a back-to-back in LA and then games at Utah and Golden State, so they might find themselves in the fourth spot this time next week. John Wall and Bradley Beal continue to lead the charge for the Wiz, but there is a steep drop-off after their top six offensive players. Washington's acquisition of Bojan Bogdanovic has been a success, as he's averaging 14.8 points since the move, but Brandon Jennings has been underwhelming with 3.9 points per game, and Kelly Oubre Jr. is still averaging under six points a game with a team-low 8.4 player efficiency rating, according to ESPN. The Wizards have a legitimate 6-man rotation in place, but it's hard to believe they can make it far in the postseason, let alone win a championship, with limited production from their bench.

Memphis Grizzlies - #10 down to #15

The Grizzlies ended their four game road-trip with an 0-4 record including last night's loss at Sacramento. Memphis failed to score more than 94 points in those four games, and averaged 89 ppg over that stretch. As a result, the Grizzlies have dropped to 12th in our Offensive Efficiency Rankings, and 18th in our Defensive Efficiency Rankings. Marc Gasol has missed the last two games with a foot injury, which leaves the Grizzlies extremely vulnerable on the offensive end. Without Gasol, Mike Conley (20.2 ppg) and Zach Randolph (14.0 ppg) are the only other Grizzlies to average more than 10 points per game. Memphis' 4-9 start to March with two games left has planted them in the 7th spot in the West, putting them two and a half games behind the Thunder for the 6th spot, currently lining them up with a first round matchup with the Spurs, who swept them in last year's first round matchup. Memphis will play six of their last eight games at home, but will likely struggle to compete with any of the top three teams in the West, setting them up for their fourth first round exit in the last six years.