NBA Power Rankings: Raptors must re-focus on defensive end

Toronto Raptors' Kyle Lowry (7) reacts to a play against Houston Rockets' Trevor Ariza (Mark Blinch/CP)

With just 20 games or so left, a lot of teams are gearing up towards the playoffs and their off-season plans.

That isn’t a whole lot of time to run through everything, so, to help out, in this week’s edition of the NBA Power Rankings we look at one key area of focus each team should narrow in on for the remainder of the season.

Rank Team

Fighting complacency: As their loss on Sunday proved, going out the night before and walking into an opposing NBA arena and just expecting to win (no matter how good they are and how bad the competition is) is foolhardy. The Dubs are on the verge of becoming a truly historic team and they still have the Spurs nipping at their heels. As crazy as this might sound, at this point they can’t afford to let up now.

Previous: 1


Resting without slipping: Gregg Popovich has already pretty much mastered this art, but sitting only 3.5 games back of the Warriors for top spot in the West means they should continue to exert pressure on their top rival this season while also finding ways to continue to find rest for the likes of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili.

Previous: 2


Build momentum from earlier this season: The Cavaliers have played well underneath coach Tyronn Lue, just not as well as when David Blatt was manning the sidelines. With Lue they’ve amassed a .667 winning percentage, while with Blatt they had a .731 win percentage. They’re a far cry from being considered bad, but something doesn’t seem right with them and their .500 record in their last eight games is indicative of that.

Previous: 5


Re-integrating Blake Griffin: The Clippers have really took off without Blake Griffin in the lineup going 24-8 without him, but that doesn’t mean they won’t need him if they want to compete with the likes of Golden State and San Antonio. When he does return they’ll have to get him re-integrated and on the same page in a hurry.

Previous: 6


Regaining that defensive identity: Like a broken record, the Raptors’ defence is cratering at the most inopportune time for the third season straight. Since Feb. 1 Toronto is 26th in defensive rating. Even if DeMarre Carroll were back and in the lineup it’s likely this downward trend would continue as this is a team epidemic at this point.

Previous: 4


Improving their defence: The Thunder have all the offensive firepower needed to win a title, but they still don’t defend well enough. It may be too late now, but they have the personnel to be a pretty solid defensive club. What gives?

Previous: 3


Capturing the East’s second or third seed: Don’t look now but the Heat have kind of caught fire of late (pun not intended). Miami’s won five straight and are threatening Boston for the third spot in the East with the Raptors also in their sights. You know Miami wants either that No. 2 or No. 3 seed to setup a likely matchup with Cleveland in the conference final, should it make it.

Previous: 8


Putting pressure on the Raptors: Just 4.5 games back of the Raptors, the Celtics could really make Toronto sweat down the stretch if they continue to play the kind smothering defence and smart offence that they’ve been doing all season long.

Previous: 7


Getting healthy: The Grizzlies have already sustained some pretty serious injuries and now with Zach Randolph, Mike Conley and Matt Barnes all dealing with nagging ailments that they may or may not be able to play through, Memphis just needs a few weeks to get right.

Previous: 10


Keep Kemba rolling: The Hornets have been one of the hottest teams since Feb. 1 and it’s thanks in large part to point guard Kemba Walker, who has been averaging 23.2 points per game in that timespan, including three consecutive 30-point-plus efforts in his last three games.

Previous: 11


Playing well enough to keep core together: It was rumoured that the Hawks’ core was going to be blown up at the deadline. That didn’t happen, however, with Al Horford becoming an unrestricted free agent this summer one has to wonder if this Hawks team needs to play its way into convincing management not to just go ahead with the fire sale in the off-season.

Previous: 12


Reminding Damian Lillard that he was an all-star snub: Seriously, ever since the break Dame’s been mad and has been killing the league. The results have been mostly positive for Portland, so why not keep feeding him that extra motivation?

Previous: 9


Improved offensive play: True to their identity, the Pacers play great defensive, but outside of Paul George, their offence is almost non-existent. That just doesn’t fly in today’s NBA. With the Bulls, Pistons and Wizards right there behind them, they’ll need to improve fast.

Previous: 14


Keeping their playoff position: Dallas has picked a very poor time to slump. Portland is poised to pass it for sixth in the West at any moment now and No. 8 and No. 9 seed Houston and Utah are only 1.5 and 3.0 games back, respectively. The Mavericks will need to hold on to dear life if they expect to be playing basketball in late April.

Previous: 13


Finding consistency: This is a point that could be made for just about every team, but for the Pistons it really stands out as they’re a team with playoff talent, but have too often found themselves in extended losing slumps this season, often falling to teams they shouldn’t lose to. They need to clean that up and take care of the teams they know they can beat.

Previous: 18


Making sure Jimmy Butler is right: The entire Bulls’ roster has been devastated by injury, but none more impactful than the one to Jimmy Butler. The undisputed on-court leader, Butler’s loss has been the hardest one for Chicago to absorb, and with knee soreness popping back up for him, making sure he’s 100 per cent is probably more important than fighting for the No. 8 seed at this point.

Previous: 16


Getting Beal back: John Wall’s had a spectacular season, but without his running-mate Bradley Beal with him for most of the season the Wizards have just been a mediocre team. Time is quickly running out on Washington to make the playoffs and getting Beal back in the lineup would be a huge boost.

Previous: 15


Improve their offensive efficency: The Rockets’ defence is pretty much unfixable, so why bother with it? Instead, they should be focusing on becoming an even more potent offensive force. They play video game basketball anyway with all the threes they take, so why not try to up the pace or accuracy a little bit and try to enter Warriors-level offence?

Previous: 17


Stay the course: Despite the slump Utah has been mired in of late, statistics still say the Jazz are a balanced enough and good enough squad to make the playoffs. They may be on the outside looking in now, but if things normalize the way they should as predicted by the league trends then the way they’re playing right now should get them in.

Previous: 19


See what they have in Jabari Parker: Parker’s career has not gone the way many envisioned for him coming out of Duke a couple years ago. First a terrible injury that all but robbed him of his rookie season and then a sophomore year that saw him mostly struggle as he worked his way back from injury. Lately, however, he’s looked more like that prolific player at Duke, averaging 21.1 points per game on 51.6 per cent shooting in his last 11 games. The Bucks need to continue giving him looks.

Previous: 22


Learn how to hang with better competition: Orlando is 18-11 against teams below .500, but just 9-23 against teams above .500. This season is a wash, but prepping for next season, learning how to compete with the stronger teams by just keeping things close could go a long ways.

Previous: 20


Get Jokic more playing time: The only thing the Nuggets have to play for is maybe try to finish below the Knicks so they don’t give up their first-round pick to the Raptors, so why not give young centre Nikola Jokic some more burn. The 21-year-old looks like he could be a franchise stalwart, so let him play and make mistakes now when nothing really matters.

Previous: 23


Keep Boogie happy: The only bright spot the Kings have is DeMarcus Cousins. So just try to keep him somewhat happy for the remainder of the season and beyond and good things may be, sort of, somewhat be in Sacramento’s future.

Previous: 24


Making sure the Raptors don’t take their pick: The Knicks must make sure they finish below the Nuggets in the overall standings so they aren’t forced to give their pick to the Raptors. They need young talent or a strong trade chip to get better, so giving it away to a division rival would be devastating.

Previous: 27


The off-season: Mikhail Prokhorov admitted the mistake in his team-building philosophy and with a new GM that he brought in at the trade deadline he and the Nets should just be looking ahead to how to get better in the off-season.

Previous: 26


Getting through the season with nothing bad happening to Anthony Davis: Seriously. There’s nothing for the Pelicans to play for except for next season. So they have to do everything in their power to make sure Davis doesn’t end up getting hurt and risk next season.

Previous: 21


Getting Brandon Knight back: While Knight’s return won’t do much for the Suns’ playoff chances, he will inject some much-needed life into what has been a Suns season highlighted by the team’s owner calling out millennials.

Previous: 28


Locking up Karl-Anthony Towns’ rookie of the year: At this point the award is pretty much a wrap, however, just to make sure, the Timberwolves should be looking for him even more just to help inflate his stats a little bit and give him that extra boost.

Previous: 25


The end of Kobe’s farewell tour: That win over the Dubs was wicked, but really, the only reason to watch the Lakers is for the conclusion of Bryant’s farewell tour.

Previous: 29


The lottery: Come on Sixers! We’re all rooting for you to get the No. 1 overall pick and then screw it up by taking another centre instead of Ben Simmons!

Previous: 30

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