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Power Rankings

A look at the NBA's remaining races

By John Schuhmann, for NBA.com
Posted Mar 21 2011 2:35PM

The next 3 1/2 weeks should be pretty fun. Each team has between 11 and 14 games remaining, and there's still a lot to be settled before the playoffs get started. In total, 21 of the 30 teams are either in playoff position or within two games in the loss column of eighth place in their conference.

In addition to the races for eighth, there are some other critical playoff positions still in the air. So before we get to this week's rankings, here's a look at the five races to keep an eye on, and which team has the advantage in each.

NO. 1 SEED IN THE EAST (Boston, Chicago) - For home-court advantage through the conference finals and to avoid the other two title contenders in the conference semis.

Position: Boston - The Celtics and Bulls are tied at 49-19, but Boston has a 2-1 head-to-head advantage and three fewer conference losses.
Momentum: Chicago - The Bulls are 11-3 since the All-Star break and outscoring their opponents by more than 10 points per 100 possessions in that stretch.
Schedule: Chicago - The Bulls have the second easiest remaining schedule in the league and the last head-to-head meeting on their own floor. Miami has the easiest remaining schedule, so they still have an outside shot at the No. 1 spot.

NO. 6 SEED IN THE EAST (Philadelphia, New York) - May be unfavorable if Miami picks up momentum, but not enough to catch the top two.

Position: Philadelphia - The Sixers are a game up in the win column and have a 2-1 head-to-head advantage.
Momentum: Philadelphia - The Knicks are 7-8 since acquiring Carmelo Anthony.
Schedule: New York - With one fewer game against teams .500 or better, the Knicks have a slight edge, but the final head-to-head game is in Philadelphia.

NO. 8 SEED IN THE EAST (Indiana, Milwaukee, Charlotte) - For two home playoff games.

Position: Indiana - The Pacers are just one game up on the other two in the loss column, but the way these teams are playing, their two-win advantage may be more important.
Momentum: Milwaukee - The Bucks are 7-7 since the break and haven't lost to a team with a losing record since they lost to the Pacers on Feb. 12.
Schedule: Charlotte - The Bobcats have a slightly easier schedule than the other two and play both Indiana (Wednesday) and Milwaukee (next Monday) at home.

NO. 2 SEED IN THE WEST (L.A. Lakers, Dallas) - For home-court advantage in a conference semifinal matchup.

Position: L.A. - The Lakers have a one-game advantage in the standings.
Momentum: L.A. - At 12-1, they've been the best team in the league since the break.
Schedule: L.A. - The Lakers play one fewer game against teams .500 or better, have one fewer back-to-back, and have the remaining head-to-head matchup at Staples Center.

NO. 8 SEED IN THE WEST (Memphis, Houston, Phoenix, Utah)

Position: Memphis - The Suns are within a game in the loss column, but are three wins behind the Grizzlies. The Rockets and Jazz are two games back in the loss column.
Momentum: Houston - The Rockets are 11-3 since the All-Star break.
Schedule: Houston - All four play a tougher-than-average schedule, but the Rockets have five more cupcakes (GSW, NJN, SAC, LAC and MIN) to play.

Last week: Playoff picture coming into focus

This time last year: East holds on to top two spots - Andrew Bynum was injured again, Toney Douglas was making a lot of threes, the Bucks were 14-3 since the All-Star break, the Suns dropped 152 on the Wolves, and the Raptors led the Bulls by 2 1/2 games for the last playoff spot in the East.

Hero Team of the Week: Houston (4-0) -The Rockets four wins all came against teams with something to play for: Phoenix, Charlotte, Boston and Utah. The only other team without a loss last week was the 3-0 Lakers.

Zero Team of the Week: Minnesota (0-3) - The Wolves hung around with the Lakers on the road, but then got waxed by the Kings at home.

Plus-minus Stud: Chris Bosh (MIA) was a plus-61 in four games last week.

Plus-minus Dud: Monta Ellis (GSW) was a minus-70 in four games last week.

High jumps of the week: Houston (+4), Miami (+2), Oklahoma City (+2), Portland (+2)

Free falls of the week: New York (-4), Boston (-2), Dallas (-2)

East vs. West: The West is 245-177 (.581) against the East in inter-conference games this season, and was 13-9 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 94.6 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.

1 L.A. Lakers (50-20)
Pace: 93.3 (20), Off: 108.5 (4), Def: 101.3 (7)
The Lakers' defense has been ridiculously good since the All-Star break, holding their opponents to just 97.0 points per 100 possessions. Even with Andrew Bynum serving the first game of his two-game suspension, they held the Blazers to 80 points (just 32 in the second half) on Sunday.
Previous: 2

2 San Antonio (56-13)
Pace: 94.8 (14), Off: 108.9 (2), Def: 101.7 (8)
Gregg Popovich gave Tim Duncan his first night off on Saturday vs. Charlotte, perhaps signaling that the Spurs are officially in cruise-control mode, holding a six-game lead in the loss column over the Bulls and Celtics for the best record overall. Sunday's visit to Memphis could be a first round preview.
Previous: 1

3 Chicago (49-19)
Pace: 93.1 (22), Off: 104.3 (15), Def: 97.0 (1)
Derrick Rose has averaged 29.2 points, but has shot 38 percent and averaged only 4.0 assists over the last five games. The Bulls have made up for Rose's inefficiency by averaging 15.2 offensive rebounds and 17.4 second chance points in that time, but had just 10 assists total in Friday's loss in Indiana.
Previous: 3

4 Oklahoma City (45-24)
Pace: 95.3 (12), Off: 108.1 (6), Def: 103.9 (14)
Sunday's loss to the Raptors isn't easy to explain, but the Thunder defense has picked up considerably over the last five games. They've held their opponents to 40 percent shooting and 91.2 points per 100 possessions in that stretch. And yes, Kendrick Perkins probably has something to do with it.
Previous: 6

5 Miami (48-22)
Pace: 93.3 (19), Off: 108.6 (3), Def: 100.3 (5)
The Heat have won five of their last six, shooting 50 percent in that stretch, and they have the easiest remaining schedule in the league. Chris Bosh hasn't quite turned into Kevin Love, but he's recorded five straight double-doubles, including Monday's huge 30-and-12 performance against the Spurs.
Previous: 7

6 Dallas (49-21)
Pace: 93.2 (21), Off: 108.2 (5), Def: 102.9 (10)
The bright side to Friday's loss to the Spurs was that the Mavs slowed down the second best offense in the league. And they followed that up with their best defensive game of the season, holding the Warriors to 73 points on Sunday. Dirk Nowitzki has made 58 straight free throws, which is pretty good.
Previous: 4

7 Boston (49-19)
Pace: 92.8 (23), Off: 104.5 (14), Def: 97.5 (2)
Not only is Rajon Rondo slumping, but Paul Pierce has shot just 11-for-41 over the last four games. The Celtics' latest starting lineup started out hot, but has scored just 92 points per 100 possessions over the last six. Jeff Green has picked up some of the slack, shooting 18-for-26 over the last three.
Previous: 5

8 Orlando (44-26)
Pace: 94.0 (18), Off: 105.8 (10), Def: 99.4 (3)
In the middle of a stretch where they play nine of 11 on the road, the Magic are surviving with defense (and a timely three from Jameer Nelson), but they've committed 18 or more turnovers in three straight games. Dwight Howard has been a beast otherwise, but had nine turnovers in Monday's loss to the Lakers.
Previous: 8

9 Denver (41-29)
Pace: 97.8 (3), Off: 109.5 (1), Def: 105.4 (17)
With a banged-up backcourt, the Nuggets' No. 1 offense ran out of gas, shooting less than 40 percent, in their weekend back-to-back in Florida. They were still one stop away from taking the Magic to overtime and now return home four a 10-day, four-game homestand, having won six straight at the Pepsi Center.
Previous: 9

10 Portland (40-30)
Pace: 90.8 (30), Off: 105.1 (12), Def: 104.1 (15)
It was a good week for the Blazers, despite Sunday's meltdown in L.A. They managed to win a game in which they allowed the Mavs to shoot 60 percent and got some big games from the new guy. Gerald Wallace totaled 42 points, 12 boards, 14 assists, six steals and two blocks in wins over the Cavs and Sixers.
Previous: 12

11 Memphis (38-32)
Pace: 94.8 (15), Off: 103.9 (18), Def: 103.0 (11)
Interestingly, the Grizzlies have been better offensively (108.1) and worse defensively (105.7) since losing Rudy Gay to a shoulder injury. An MRI taken last Monday revealed that Gay needs more time to get back. After a big game against the Jazz, the Grizz face the Celtics, Bulls and Spurs this week.
Previous: 10

12 Philadelphia (36-34)
Pace: 94.2 (17), Off: 104.2 (16), Def: 102.3 (9)
The good news is that the Sixers play eight of their last 12 games at home. The bad news is that Andre Iguodala is really banged up. Without him in Portland on Saturday, they had one of their worst defensive games of the season. They've allowed just 100.2 points per 100 possessions with Iguodala on the floor.
Previous: 11

13 Houston (37-34)
Pace: 97.0 (7), Off: 107.7 (8), Def: 106.5 (20)
The Rockets are one of just four teams in the top 10 both offensively and defensively since the All-Star break. The defense was big last week, when they went 4-0 despite shooting less than 42 percent from the field. Their homestand ends Wednesday against Golden State, their only game over the next six days.
Previous: 17

14 New Orleans (40-31)
Pace: 91.1 (29), Off: 103.5 (19), Def: 101.1 (6)
After a brilliant three-game run, Chris Paul came up empty (0-for-9 from the field) in Boston on Saturday. The Hornets still have some work to do to hold onto their playoff spot, and after four days off, they embark on a huge three-game, four-day trip starting Thursday, visiting the Jazz, Suns and Lakers.
Previous: 14

15 Phoenix (35-33)
Pace: 96.9 (8), Off: 107.0 (9), Def: 106.8 (23)
Perhaps the Suns should thank the league for suspending Aaron Brooks for Sunday's win over the Clippers. Brooks had shot 4-for-20 over the previous three games and was a minus-23 in Monday's two-point loss in Houston. Steve Nash hit six of his seven threes in Phoenix's two wins over the weekend.
Previous: 15

16 Atlanta (40-30)
Pace: 91.8 (27), Off: 103.4 (21), Def: 103.8 (13)
The Hawks have been pretty bad since the All-Star break, but they've actually beat all the teams they're supposed to. That doesn't exactly bode well for the playoffs, but it looks like they'll hold on to that five seed and have a puncher's chance against the inconsistent Magic, who they've beat twice this season.
Previous: 16

17 New York (35-34)
Pace: 98.4 (2), Off: 108.1 (7), Def: 106.7 (21)
The honeymoon is over for Carmelo Anthony and the Knicks, who have lost five of their last six. Now 1/2 game behind the Sixers for sixth in the East, they play seven of their next eight games at home, but that stretch starts with visits from the Celtics and Magic this week. Two losses would put them back under .500.
Previous: 13

18 Utah (36-34)
Pace: 94.2 (16), Off: 105.4 (11), Def: 107.1 (24)
The Jazz kept themselves alive with a pair of home wins over the Sixers and Wolves, but they lost a big one in Houston on Sunday, because nobody fouls more than the Jazz, and they couldn't keep the Rockets off the line. Monday's visit to Memphis is even bigger. A loss there and they may be buried for good.
Previous: 19

19 Golden State (30-40)
Pace: 97.3 (5), Off: 104.8 (13), Def: 107.9 (27)
The Warriors began the week with awful defense in Sacramento and ended it with putrid offense in Dallas. Despite adding David Lee, they're the league's worst defensive rebounding team for the fourth straight year. They've actually been a better rebounding team with Lee on the bench.
Previous: 18

20 Milwaukee (28-41)
Pace: 92.2 (25), Off: 98.7 (29), Def: 99.8 (4)
After missing all seven of his shots in Wednesday's loss to the Magic, Carlos Delfino shot 17-for-30 from the field and 14-for-22 from 3-point range in two wins over the Nets and Knicks. He doesn't quickly come to mind, but Delfino belongs in the discussion when listing the sweetest strokes in the game.
Previous: 21

21 L.A. Clippers (27-44)
Pace: 95.2 (13), Off: 102.1 (22), Def: 106.7 (22)
Despite a near triple-double against the Cavs, Blake Griffin had one of his toughest weeks of the season, shooting 13-for-40 in the Clippers' three losses and fouling out twice. Eric Gordon came out firing after sitting six more games with his wrist injury, hitting six of his 10 threes against Cleveland.
Previous: 20

22 Indiana (30-40)
Pace: 97.3 (6), Off: 101.3 (23), Def: 103.3 (12)
The Pacers averaged 117 points in impressive wins over New York and Chicago, and 79 points in ugly losses at Boston and Memphis last week. Roy Hibbert's feast-or-famine season continued with 12 rebounds, five assists and three blocks against the Knicks, and two points and zero boards in Memphis.
Previous: 23

23 Charlotte (28-41)
Pace: 92.4 (24), Off: 100.2 (26), Def: 104.2 (16)
The Bobcats are just a single game behind the Pacers in the loss column and host Indiana on Wednesday, but Charlotte has lost nine of its last 11 games and is getting outscored by more than 10 points per 100 possessions since the All-Star break. The Cats have also lost five straight to Indiana.
Previous: 22

24 New Jersey (22-46)
Pace: 92.1 (26), Off: 99.9 (27), Def: 106.0 (18)
The Nets capped a five-game streak with a big win over the Celtics, and Deron Williams was putting up big assist numbers, but with a sprained wrist, Williams wasn't really helping his new team that much. He's a minus-39 with the Nets and may stay that way if they shut him down for the season.
Previous: 24

25 Detroit (25-45)
Pace: 91.2 (28), Off: 104.0 (17), Def: 109.0 (28)
You may have forgotten that Chris Wilcox is still in the league, but he was huge in the Pistons' win over the Knicks on Friday and has made 30 of his 38 shots over the last five games. For the season, Wilcox is a plus-2 in 764 minutes for a team that's been outscored by 290 points.
Previous: 25

26 Toronto (20-49)
Pace: 95.4 (11), Off: 103.5 (20), Def: 109.6 (29)
The Raptors have won two straight for the first time since Dec. 3, pulling off an unexpected win in Oklahoma City on Sunday. Unexpected, because it ended a 14-game road losing streak, because they shut down a top-six offense, and because they ran a play for Amir Johnson to hit the game-winner.
Previous: 26

27 Sacramento (17-51)
Pace: 97.6 (4), Off: 100.4 (25), Def: 106.0 (19)
The Kings had some fun last week, scoring 129 points in Monday's win over the Warriors and 127 in Sunday's win in Minnesota. Of course, in between was 36 percent shooting against the Cavs and Sixers. Marcus Thornton is enjoying his freedom, attempting 17 shots per game with his new team.
Previous: 28

28 Minnesota (17-54)
Pace: 99.5 (1), Off: 101.2 (24), Def: 107.6 (26)
Cause and effect. Kevin Love leaves in the second quarter with a groin injury on Sunday against the Kings, and the Wolves get outrebounded by 20. They had shown some defensive improvement since the All-Star break, but have allowed their last three opponents to shoot a combined 54 percent.
Previous: 27

29 Washington (17-51)
Pace: 96.4 (9), Off: 99.0 (28), Def: 107.3 (25)
Trailing 56-39 late in the first half of Sunday's game against the D-Will-less Nets, the Wizards were 25 minutes from being the first team outside of Cleveland to occupy the No. 30 spot since Dec. 20. They rallied to avoid that distinction ... for now. They've still got two more games against the Cavs.
Previous: 29

30 Cleveland (13-55)
Pace: 96.0 (10), Off: 98.6 (30), Def: 109.9 (30)
Amid the injuries and ineptitude, Ramon Sessions has had a pretty solid season with the Cavs, averaging 12.7 points and 5.4 assists. He shot 21-for-36 last week. Only problem: between last season in Minnesota and this one in Cleveland, Sessions has won just 28 of the 149 games he's played in.
Previous: 30

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