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End of Season Power Rankings Part IV: Top Ten (Part I)

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10. San Antonio (played 89 games, eliminated by 8th ranked team in 7)

Regular season: 48-34

Playoffs: 3-4

Quote of the year:

Greg Popovich [on fans booing Kawhi in his game back in San Antonio]: “We all make decisions in our lives, what we are going to do with our futures, and he has that same right as any of us.” – January 4, 2019

DeMar DeRozan didn’t look like the guy who Masai Ujiri ex-communicated just a year ago. If anyone had a trade which he vomited work out for him, it’s this guy. In a year when the mid-range jumper became extinct (he and Chris Paul are the only two people left with a license to do it), DeMar is the last remaining reminder to this generation how to shoot a 15 foot fadeaway like Kobe and Michael used to. It works too, because Greg Popovich is the last remaining NBA coach who barfs at the idea of the modern run-and-gun NBA. It helps that now, he has people who make shots around him. Pop could hardly believe it himself (as I when I first heard it): DeMar had ZERO career triple doubles before working under Pop. That statistic, for someone who followed DeRozan on-and-off in his career (because of residue guilt for Vince Carter leaving the Raps), is quite frankly, shocking.

This team will only go as far as DeMar takes them, because LMA’s had his shot, and apart from LaMarcus’ 50-point outburst this year, I just don’t see Aldridge being “the guy” on a very successful team. With Bertans, White, Mills and Forbes, they’re one Portland or OKC matchup away from advancing to the second round (that says a lot, considering other teams need another name to add to their crop before they can be competitive). If they face Denver again in the second round, as everyone saw in their 5-point game 7 loss in Mile High, it could’ve gone either way.

The future looks bright TODAY for these spurs and they get another shot at it come October.

 

9. Boston (eliminated by East finalist in 5, reached 2nd round)

Regular season: 49-33

Playoffs: 4-0, 1-4

Draft position: 14

Quote of the year:

Terry Rozier: “Everybody was running around with their heads cut off, like chickens. Coach was in a tough position, one of the toughest positions, dealing with all these guys with attitudes, al that sh--. Guys that’s All-Stars, guys getting paid a lot of money and guys trying to get paid.”

What can I meaningfully add to that? I guess that it was a horrible mistake to not ride the success of the year prior where Boston was a game away from the NBA Finals. If they integrated only Gordon Hayward back, there wouldn’t be as much of a power play where Kyrie Irving’s lust for domination within his own team just totally destroyed years and years of work for GM Danny Ainge.

But hey, Celts get a do-over next year anyway, right?

 

8. Denver (eliminated by West finalist in 7, reached 2nd round)

Regular season: 54-28

Playoffs: 4-3, 3-4

Quote of the year:

Michael Singer: “Michael Malone pushed back on the narrative that the Nuggets were ducking the Rockets by resting guys on Sunday.”

In case anyone doesn’t know the context: Late in the season (right before the playoffs) Denver faced Portland and basically played zero starters in the fourth quarter, after starting the game without three of them. After the loss, they went on to beat Houston. This set up the stage for Denver to face the Blazers in the second round, and gave Houston to Golden State. I have not seen such blatant bracket manipulation in ever. The irony? Denver got its wish and got their ***** handed to them by a Portland team WITHOUT ITS OWN STARTING CENTER FOR AN ENTIRE SERIES. Oh, the Irony.

Didn’t help my liking of Denver that Nikola Jokic basically lynched Enes Kanter’s separated shoulder on a free throw “box out”.

The biggest irony of them all was how Coach Malone said he would play Nikola Jokic for 48 minutes if he had to (Game 7 vs the Spurs, and when the big man thought it was a joke, Malone’s retort was: “What am I saving you for?”). So of course it means that Jokic would go on to play in a quadruple overtime game and log 65 minutes… ‘coz duh!

 

7. Portland (eliminated by West Champs in 4)

Regular season: 53-29

Playoffs: 4-1, 4-3, 0-4

Quote of the year:

Damian Lillard: “Back-to-back sweeps, but you’d rather be swept in the Western Conference Finals than the first round.”

That’s fair. He would go on to list the loss of their owner and starting center as excuses, but they did make strides. After an embarrassing loss to New Orleans in the previous playoffs where people equated their home court advantage with remarks like “You played like an eight seed”, Portland did come back and answered the call. From a big 40 foot, three-point dagger that Paul George infamously called “a bad shot” to eliminate a team with a former MVP and a current MVP Finalist, to overthrowing a second seed on its way to its first conference finals this millennium, this group has a lot to be proud of. Like Enes Kanter playing through a separated shoulder. Or Coach Terry Stotts pulling Rodney Hood out of his hat to singlehandedly win an entire four overtime playoff game. Or Meyers Leonard going toe to toe with Steph Curry in the penultimate playoff round. It’s a nice way to bounce back from a horrific injury to Jusuf Nurkic and last year’s nightmare of a sweep.

 

6. LA Clippers (eliminated by West Champs in 6, reached 1st round)

Regular season: 48-34

Playoffs: 4-2

Quote of the year:

Patrick Beverley [on the futility of guarding Kevin Durant]: “We didn’t roll over. We didn’t say, ‘come on, man, just give us 50 tonight’.”

I could’ve used the “roaches” quote but this was a bit more eloquent, I felt. So they lost Tobias Harris, picked up Ivica Zubac and Landry Shamet. So yeah, it definitely makes sense that this team would win as many games vs the Warriors as the Houston Rockets. Testament to how good a coach Doc Rivers is, but those wearing jerseys did their part too. From Montrezl Harrell and Lou Williams tearing apart other NBA benches, to JaMychal Green doing his best 3-and-D impersonation, this was a team full of surprises this year. With their point guard of the future in place in Shai-Gilgeous Alexander, they are (barring injuries) one Kawhi Leonard homecoming away from dominating the West next year. Not bad for a buncha’ roaches.

 

5. Houston (eliminated by West Champs in 6, reached 2nd round)

Regular season: 53-29

Playoffs: 4-1, 2-4

Quote of the year:

Tilman Fertitta: “Why be a fourth seed and one of the top teams but know you can’t win a championship with this exact team. Wherever we can improve coaching or players, let’s do it.” – May 29, 2019

While I totally disagree with the above, I don’t own the Houston Rockets and my opinion basically means squat. Two changes where the Rockets really regressed this year are when they let Trevor Ariza walk away, and then the complete overhaul of the coaching staff while giving Coach Mike D’Antoni no extension. He said it best: how can the best coaches come to this team knowing they won’t be around next year?

Houston was a tremendously fun team to watch, if only for the fact that on any given night, they could beat the Golden State Warriors. They were that team for two solid seasons. It was probably not too good that they designed their defense too much on stopping Kevin Durant with PJ Tucker while Klay Thompson got all KD’s shots when Durant went out with an injury, and the Rockets were caught with their pants down because they didn’t have the aforementioned Ariza.

If the Rockets want to get better, it’s sad to say that their moves are not foreshadowing any improvement whatsoever.

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