Playoff picture coming into focus
There are 4 1/2 weeks to go in the season and 242 more games (about 16 per team) to be played.
At this point, four teams - San Antonio, Boston, Chicago and Miami - have clinched playoff spots. But there seems to be a lot more certainty than usual when it comes to seeding.
In each conference, there's a clear top four. In the East, the struggling Hawks trail the Magic by 3 1/2 games for the fourth seed. And in the West, the Nuggets trail the Thunder by the same 3 1/2 game margin.
Though only three have clinched, seven East teams can start printing playoff tickets. And in the West, the number might be the same, because just when the Hornets looked like they were going to sink into uncertainty, they got Chris Paul back. The real Chris Paul.
The race for eighth looks to be more interesting in the East than the West, where the Grizzlies have a three-game edge in the win column and four fewer road games remaining than the Suns. At 5-5 since the All-Star break, Milwaukee somehow has the momentum in the East, but you can't count on any of those teams to help themselves in the race. Heck, the 21-43 Nets think they've got a shot to sneak in.
With a five-game edge in the loss column over the Celtics, the Spurs seem to have the overall No. 1 seed locked up. But there are still a ton of scenarios to be worked out and plenty of big games to be played.
• Last week: Lakers make their move at the 3/4 pole
• This time last year: Flukiest of losses ends the Mavericks' run - The Bulls had lost seven straight games by an average of 16.4 points, Kobe Bryant hit another game-winner, the Bucks were 12-2 since the All-Star break, Chris Bosh went on a post-game tirade, Will Bynum dropped 20 dimes, and the Nets were stuck on seven wins.
Hero Team of the Week: Chicago (4-0) - The Bulls' strength of schedule wasn't great, but they took care of business, holding the CP3-less Hornets to 77 points and winning their other three games by at least 17 points each.
Zero Team of the Week: Washington (0-2) - The Wizards lost to the Bucks and Clippers at home by a total of 40 points.
Plus-minus Stud: Derrick Rose (CHI) was a plus-55 in four games last week.
Plus-minus Dud: Ramon Sessions (CLE) was a minus-57 in three games last week.
High jumps of the week: Six teams (+2)
Free falls of the week: Indiana (-4), Dallas (-2), Orlando (-2), Sacramento (-2)
East vs. West: The West is 232-168 (.580) against the East in inter-conference games this season, and was 16-12 last week.
Pace: Possessions per 48 minutes (League Rank)
Off: Points scored per 100 possessions (League Rank)
Def: Points allowed per 100 possessions (League Rank)
The league averages 94.7 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes and 104.3 points scored per 100 possessions.
NBA.com's Power Rankings are just one man's opinion and are released every Monday during the season. If you've got an issue with the rankings, or have a question or comment for John Schuhmann, send him an e-mail. You can also follow him on twitter.
San Antonio (54-12)|
Pace: 94.9 (14), Off: 109.3 (2), Def: 101.4 (7)
It's hard to nitpick a team that's 54-12, but the Spurs' still aren't playing the defense Gregg Popovich wants, allowing 107.5 points per 100 possessions in March. This week, with visits to Miami (Monday) and Dallas (Friday), would be nice time to show some improvement.
L.A. Lakers (47-20)|
Pace: 93.4 (19), Off: 108.6 (3), Def: 101.5 (8)
Andrew Bynum has been huge of late, averaging 12.8 points and 15.4 rebounds, while shooting 79 percent over his last five games. Since the All-Star break, the Lakers are allowing just 91.5 points per 100 possessions with Bynum on the floor. He goes up against Dwight Howard on Monday.
Pace: 93.2 (21), Off: 104.4 (15), Def: 97.0 (1)
Sometimes, the Bulls take that league-leading defense to another level. Before Saturday's win over the Jazz, they had held their previous four opponents to an average of just 33 points on 35 percent shooting in the second half. They just might shut out the dreadful Wizards on Tuesday.
Pace: 93.2 (22), Off: 108.0 (6), Def: 103.0 (11)
The Mavs have lost three of their last five, but Dirk Nowitzki is on a pretty efficient run, shooting better than 50 percent in seven of his last eight games. He's now up to 53 percent for the season, which is by far a career-high. And if he makes his next three, he'll be shooting a career high from there too.
Pace: 93.1 (23), Off: 104.9 (13), Def: 97.4 (2)
It took Nenad Krstic just seven games to pass Jermaine O'Neal on the Celtics' all-time scoring list. But despite Krstic's numbers, the Celtics' offense has been pretty anemic in three of their last four games, and their lead over the Bulls at the top of the East down to just a game in the loss column.
Oklahoma City (42-23)|
Pace: 95.4 (12), Off: 108.2 (5), Def: 104.5 (16)
After losing their final three games of February, the Thunder are 6-1 (best in the West) in March. With Jeff Green gone, James Harden has stepped up, averaging 18.3 points on 51 percent shooting off the bench, while registering a team-high plus-73 in the seven games.
Pace: 93.4 (20), Off: 108.5 (4), Def: 100.6 (5)
Most encouraging about Thursday's win over the Lakers was how the Heat dominated in the paint (46-30) just two days after Chris Bosh called for more paint touches. The schedule doesn't get any easier this week, with visits from the Spurs, Thunder and Nuggets, along with a trip to Atlanta.
Pace: 94.3 (16), Off: 106.3 (10), Def: 99.5 (4)
The Magic look to be locked into the fourth spot in the East, but no team may need the final 4 1/2 weeks of the regular season more than Orlando. They've been rather inconsistent offensively, and just when their defense was looking solid, they gave up 123 points at Golden State.
Pace: 98.1 (3), Off: 109.8 (1), Def: 105.7 (17)
The Nuggets are now 7-2 since trading Carmelo Anthony, better both offensively (110.2) and defensively (96.3) than they were with him. And when you consider how well they played through all the speculation before the trade, George Karl has to be in the Coach of the Year conversation, right?
Pace: 94.8 (15), Off: 103.8 (17), Def: 103.2 (12)
Tony Allen's defense on Kevin Durant was critical to the Grizzlies' win over the Thunder last Monday, but overall, Memphis has taken a step backward defensively, allowing 114.8 points per 100 possessions over their last five games, with each of the five opponents shooting at least 50 percent.
Pace: 94.0 (18), Off: 104.1 (16), Def: 102.4 (9)
The Sixers' offense struggled (41 percent shooting) in their last three games, but they picked up a big win against the Celtics on Friday with defense. Wednesday's collapse against the Thunder is another one they'll remember if they remain a game behind the Knicks for sixth.
Pace: 91.1 (30), Off: 104.5 (14), Def: 104.0 (15)
It was an odd trip for the Blazers, who beat the Magic and Heat, and then lost to the Bobcats and Hawks. The other strange (but promising) aspect of the trip was that Brandon Roy was better on the second night of the two back-to-backs (30 total points, 10-for-19 shooting) than on the first (18, 8-for-19).
New York (34-31)|
Pace: 98.5 (2), Off: 107.9 (7), Def: 106.6 (21)
Amar'e Stoudemire (31.3 points over the last six games) and Carmelo Anthony (25.2) are putting up big numbers, but that doesn't matter much when the Knicks can't get stops. They're 3-3 in that stretch, allowing 113.1 points per 100 possessions. Three of their remaining eight road games are this week.
New Orleans (39-29)|
Pace: 91.1 (29), Off: 103.4 (19), Def: 100.7 (6)
After the Hornets pulled off a miracle comeback against the Mavs, Chris Paul returned from a two-game absence on Saturday. And he didn't just come back, he had easily his best performance of the season, putting up 33 points, seven rebounds, 15 assists and five steals in a win over the Kings.
Pace: 97.0 (8), Off: 107.1 (9), Def: 107.1 (23)
"Pelvic instability" is not only an injury you've never heard of. It's an untimely injury you've never heard of, as it's keeping Steve Nash out of at least two games (Sunday's loss to Orlando and Monday's visit to Houston) when the Suns are fighting for a playoff spot, now tied with Memphis in the loss column.
Pace: 91.9 (27), Off: 103.2 (21), Def: 103.6 (13)
The Hawks' offense had been awful (second worst in the league) since the All-Star break and reached a new low with just 61 total points over four quarters against the Bulls and Blazers. But then, with Jamal Crawford finally finding a rhythm, they went off for 58 in the second half against Portland.
Pace: 97.1 (7), Off: 107.9 (8), Def: 107.2 (25)
The Rockets came up just short against the Suns and Spurs last week, so they'll need somewhat of a miracle to make the playoffs. The one thing they've got going for them is a home-heavy schedule, with 10 of their final 15 games at the Toyota Center, including another big one against Phoenix on Monday.
Golden State (30-36)|
Pace: 97.2 (6), Off: 105.2 (11), Def: 107.5 (27)
One more amazing number from the Warriors' crazy win over the Magic on Friday: 35 of their 46 field goals were assisted and 32 of the 35 assists came from Stephen Curry (12), Monta Ellis (11) or David Lee (nine). Curry has hit 26 of his last 54 threes and 28 of his last 29 free throws.
Pace: 94.1 (17), Off: 105.2 (12), Def: 107.1 (22)
Utah's defense has been pretty awful (113.2 ppg) since they traded Deron Williams, and it reached a new low when they allowed the Timberwolves to shoot 55 percent on Friday. Al Jefferson might think he's back in Minnesota, putting up big numbers (26.6 points and 10.9 boards since the trade) on a bad team.
L.A. Clippers (26-41)|
Pace: 95.2 (13), Off: 102.4 (22), Def: 106.5 (20)
The Clippers have finally learned how to win without Eric Gordon. Their defense has been more improved (99.2 points allowed per 100 possessions) as they've won five out of six in March, but their offense went off for 108 points against the league's second best defense on Wednesday in Boston.
Pace: 92.3 (25), Off: 98.3 (30), Def: 99.4 (3)
With Andrew Bogut back and Brandon Jennings finally putting some points on the board, the Bucks' offense was starting to come alive again, and they had picked up three straight wins. Then they went to Boston on Sunday and got squashed. Their 56 points was the lowest total in the league this season.
Pace: 92.4 (24), Off: 100.5 (25), Def: 103.9 (14)
Stephen Jackson wasn't exactly efficient (15-for-39 from the field over the weekend), but his return from a strained hamstring helped the Bobcats pick up a couple of wins when it looked like the Gerald Wallace trade had caused irreparable damage. They've got a tough trip this week.
Pace: 97.4 (4), Off: 101.5 (23), Def: 103.0 (10)
After shooting 41 percent over their six-game losing streak and allowing 100 points or more in eight straight games, the Pacers played strong on both ends in New York on Sunday. If they make the playoffs, they'll be facing their first round opponent (Boston or Chicago) this week.
New Jersey (21-43)|
Pace: 92.2 (26), Off: 100.2 (27), Def: 106.0 (18)
With Deron Williams, the Nets won two straight with offense. Without Williams, they won two more with defense. Williams is back on Monday, but they'll have to beat the Celtics to make it five straight, which they haven't done since they still had Jason Kidd (Jan. 2008) running the point.
Pace: 91.3 (28), Off: 103.7 (18), Def: 109.1 (28)
The Pistons hit the road to face three of the league's top five offenses last week. And they promptly got destroyed by all three, allowing the Spurs, Thunder and Nuggets to shoot 57 percent and score a ridiculous 128.4 points per 100 possessions. They get offense No. 6 (New York) on Friday.
Pace: 95.5 (11), Off: 103.3 (20), Def: 109.5 (29)
In his first three games back, Reggie Evans has already grabbed 44 rebounds. But the most important rebound of the Raptors' week was one he couldn't grab. Al Jefferson tipped in the game-winner over Evans at the buzzer on Wednesday, as the Raps blew a 14-point, fourth-quarter lead.
Pace: 99.4 (1), Off: 101.4 (24), Def: 107.3 (26)
The Wolves followed their best defensive game of the season (Wednesday vs. Indiana) with their second best offensive game (Friday vs. Utah). Then Kevin Love's streak came to an end Sunday at Golden State. So now he can finally get back to just playing basketball again. Whatever that means.
Pace: 97.2 (5), Off: 100.3 (26), Def: 106.5 (19)
The Kings are the picture of consistency at 0-6 in March and having scored 101, 102 or 103 points in each of the six games. Their 102 turnovers (44 from the big-man combo of DeMarcus Cousins and Samuel Dalembert) in the six games have turned into 132 points for their opponents.
Pace: 96.4 (9), Off: 98.9 (28), Def: 107.2 (24)
At 1-9 and getting outscored by 15.1 points per 100 possessions, the Wizards have been, by far, the league's worst team since the All-Star break. The league's fastest pace in that time has produced 21.3 fast break points per game for their opponents, including 38 for the Clippers on Saturday.
Pace: 96.2 (10), Off: 98.8 (29), Def: 110.0 (30)
The Cavs have shot less than 40 percent from the field 18 times this season, including four times in their last six games. Of course, they're 0-18 in those games. With Baron Davis out, they had six guys in double-figures in Wednesday's loss in Milwaukee, but just two on Sunday's loss to the Thunder.