League Pass power rankings: Keep an eye on Sixers, Pelicans

Published March 6, 2022, 2:00 PMJon Carlos Rodriguez

Who knew the Harden-Embiid tandem would be this fun to watch? How about McCollum revitalizing the Pelicans’ campaign?

5. New York Knicks

I know what you’re thinking. The New York Knicks in a power rankings? Does this League Pass list consist of teams I’d “pass” on watching? Why would I punish myself for an hour of Knicks basketball? These thoughts are all valid.

The Knicks, after all, are on a seven-game losing streak. They only won three of their last 20 games. The player who made last season’s run exciting, Derrick Rose, is injured. The player who made this season’s crawl a tiny bit exciting, Kemba Walker, is injured. They’re so far off the play-in tournament in the East. So why should we watch more of the Knicks?

You know how they say roadkills are so horrible that you can’t look away? I’m not saying this Knicks team–with all the injuries and frustrations piling up–is the basketball version of a roadkill, but it’s getting close. Schadenfreude aside, the Knicks’ downfall from last season’s impressive rise does have a few bright spots as of late that’s worth keeping an eye on, namely RJ Barrett and Immanuel Quickley. Watch the Knicks’ games for those two.

4. Los Angeles Clippers

A team that lost Kawhi Leonard and Paul George to injuries has done the impossible. They have not made their season go to waste. More than that, they’ve actually produced a couple of exciting wins while making the most of what they have. Those are the best type of wins.

The Clippers shook things up mid-season by getting Robert Covington and Norman Powell, but even this big move didn’t do much to move the needle. Instead, it’s the rejuvenated swag of Reggie Jackson and the unexpected dominance of Ivica Zubac that’s made the Clippers interesting.

The Clips are on a five-game winning streak, mostly due to a weird schedule where they had to face the Los Angeles Lakers twice and the Houston Rockets thrice in a two-week span. Nonetheless, they won all those five games–the last of which turned R-Jax into full supernova mode. They’re scheduled to face the Knicks and the Golden State Warriors next.

3. Atlanta Hawks

Aside from the occasional Trae Young shimmy before he launches a wide-open 3, there’s been a bit of a drop off in the fun factor of Atlanta Hawks games in the first half of the season. But if we’ve learned anything from last season, it’s that the Hawks can turn it all the way up come closing time. It’s almost closing time.

The Hawks are a team that struggled with injuries throughout the season, but they’ve managed to hang around in play-in territory. Teams should not make the same mistake of underestimating them last year. Fans should not make the mistake of tuning out.

Plus, with the Hawks riding on the wave of two huge wins versus the Chicago Bulls and the Washington Wizards, Young might be on a shimmying and silencing-the-crowd groove once again. That’s must-watch basketball.

2. New Orleans Pelicans

The New Orleans Pelicans are, all of a sudden, the hottest team in the Western Conference. Funny what one little trade can do.

With CJ McCollum settling in at the Pelicans’ point guard spot, it’s been nothing but wins. They’ve won four straight, outscoring opponents by an average of 27 points. Brandon Ingram is rocking. Herb Jones is rolling. Zion Williamson is humming.

They’ve got the Denver Nuggets and the Memphis Grizzlies next in their schedule, and while Zion won’t make his return just yet, these upcoming games will be a guaranteed blast. The Pelicans are fun now. I can’t wait for the play-in tournament to come around, when the Pelicans could unexpectedly bring the most fun.

1. Philadelphia 76ers

I’ll be honest, the James Harden-to-Philly move had me a bit skeptical. How can two ball-dominant stars like Harden and Embiid co-exist? How many foul-fishing expeditions can we really take in a game?

And now here we are. Since Harden wore a Sixers jersey and stepped on the court, they’ve been undefeated. Skip the Miami game that Harden missed, and you’ll see a cohesive, happy, and dangerous Sixers team that got a whole lot better at the right time.

They’ll get interesting matchups with the Bulls and the Brooklyn Nets next. Watch for the Harden-Embiid show; love it for the Tyrese Maxey scene-stealer.