Lakers and Bulls taking charge after break
When it comes to the Power Rankings in March and April, a lot of emphasis is put on performance after the All-Star break. Teams that turn it on after the break are considered more favorably than those who struggle down the stretch.
That's why the Lakers (15-1 since the break) and Bulls (15-3) currently sit atop the rankings. Both teams are peaking at the right time. The Denver Nuggets, who are outscoring their opponents by 12.7 points per 100 possessions since the break (second only to Chicago), have also turned it on.
But last year, the Lakers and Celtics taught us that post-break success doesn't necessarily mean much when the playoffs begin. L.A. and Boston had the league's 14th and 15th best records and the 15th and 14th best point differentials after the break last season. And on June 17, they were the two teams playing Game 7 of The Finals.
The team with the better post-break record won just eight of the 15 postseason series last year, and the team with the better post-break point differential won just seven of the 15. That's not exactly a convincing argument for the value of post-break success, but it was the veteran Lakers, Celtics and Spurs who were responsible for all of the series wins by weaker post-break teams. Experienced teams have a better ability to flip the switch.
In 2009, the team with the better post-break record won 12 of the 15 series, and the team with the better post-break point differential won 10 of the 15.
This year, the Celtics (11-7 since the break) struggled through March again, and the Spurs (11-6) have taken a step backward as well. Will that matter when the playoffs begin? Only time will tell.
• Last week: A look at the NBA's remaining races
• This time last year: No. 1 Magic lead the best division in basketball - The Lakers were struggling defensively, the Wizards had lost 15 straight, Josh Smith beat the Magic with this play, and Manu Ginobili stopped Kevin Garnett with this one.
Hero Team of the Week: Sacramento (3-1) - After getting blown out in Chicago, the Kings picked up wins in Milwaukee, Indiana and Philadelphia.
Zero Team of the Week: Toronto (0-4) - The Raps lost four games by a total of 82 points, including a 37-point drubbing at Golden State.
Plus-minus Stud: Luol Deng (CHIA) was a plus-76 in four games last week.
Plus-minus Dud: Jordan Crawford (WAS) was a minus-72 in four games last week.
High jumps of the week: Golden State (+2), New Orleans (+2), Three teams (+1)
Free falls of the week: Philadelphia (-2), Five teams (-1)
East vs. West: The West is 257-181 (.587) against the East in inter-conference games this season, and was 12-4 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 104.4 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.
L.A. Lakers (53-20)|
Pace: 93.3 (20), Off: 108.7 (4), Def: 101.5 (6)
He hasn't been all that efficient (43.5 percent shooting) since the break, but Kobe Bryant has scored 30-plus points in three straight games for just the second time this season. Six teams have been better offensively since All-Star, but the Lakers' offense is slightly improved (109.0).
Pace: 92.9 (22), Off: 105.2 (12), Def: 97.1 (1)
The MVP debate still deserves more discussion, but there's no denying that Derrick Rose was electrifying at the close of the Bulls' wins over the Grizzlies and Bucks last week. Chicago is playing its best offense of the season, scoring 115.1 points per 100 possessions over its last 10 games.
San Antonio (57-16)|
Pace: 94.8 (14), Off: 109.1 (2), Def: 102.2 (8)
Suddenly, the Spurs are in (some measure of) trouble. Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili are both hurt, they've lost three straight for the first time this season, and with the way the Lakers and Bulls are playing, they still have some work to do to hold on to the No. 1 seed overall.
Oklahoma City (48-24)|
Pace: 95.2 (13), Off: 108.4 (5), Def: 103.8 (14)
Kendrick Perkins came up with some big plays down the stretch of Sunday's win over the Blazers and is shooting 65 percent with the Thunder, but his free-throw shooting (7-for-17) might prevent them from having the highest free-throw percentage of all time. They're currently fifth all time at 82.4 percent.
Pace: 93.4 (19), Off: 109.0 (3), Def: 100.6 (5)
Led by the big three, the Heat offense has been off the charts, scoring 115.2 points per 100 possessions as they've won eight of their last nine. Looking at their schedule, it would be surprising if they don't have an 11-game winning streak and an edge in the standings when they host the Celtics on April 10.
Pace: 93.2 (21), Off: 108.0 (7), Def: 102.4 (9)
Peja Stojakovic hasn't exactly scorched the nets (42 percent) in his time with Dallas, but the Mavs are somehow 15-0 when he plays at least 15 minutes. At 74 straight makes, Dirk Nowitzki's free-throw streak now starts to get interesting. The record, set by Michael Williams in 1993, is 97.
Pace: 92.6 (23), Off: 104.1 (17), Def: 97.3 (2)
Thanks to two key offensive rebounds and two ugly turnovers from the Wolves on Sunday, the Celtics still haven't lost three straight games this season and still have a one-game edge in the loss column on the Heat for second in the East. Otherwise, a narrow escape in Minnesota isn't much of a positive.
Pace: 94.0 (18), Off: 106.0 (10), Def: 99.3 (3)
The Magic have won five straight for the first time since early January, but they're banged up in the backcourt with Jameer Nelson suffering a sprained knee against the Nets on Friday and J.J. Redick out with an abdominal strain. That means more minutes for Gilbert Arenas, who shot 1-for-12 on Friday.
Pace: 97.9 (3), Off: 109.9 (1), Def: 105.2 (17)
The Nuggets brushed off those Florida losses and returned home to score 117 points per 100 possessions in three wins, despite the absence of Arron Afflalo. They've won nine straight at the Pepsi Center, with Ty Lawson shooting 54 percent and Chris Andersen shooting 23-for-27 in the nine games.
Pace: 90.9 (30), Off: 105.1 (14), Def: 103.8 (13)
Gerald Wallace is better known for his defense, but he's had more of an offensive impact on the Blazers thus far. His 40 points in Sunday's loss in Oklahoma City were a season high, but that performance couldn't top Nicolas Batum's four points in 0.9 seconds to beat the Spurs on Friday.
Pace: 94.6 (15), Off: 104.2 (16), Def: 102.9 (11)
With a soft schedule from here on out, the Grizzlies just needed to survive last week's three-game stretch against the Celtics, Bulls and Spurs. Going 2-1 was better than just surviving. They're outscoring their opponents by more than 18 points in the paint per game (54.7 - 36.6) since the All-Star break.
New Orleans (42-32)|
Pace: 91.1 (19), Off: 103.8 (19), Def: 101.6 (7)
In the wake of David West's knee injury on Thursday, the Hornets' victory in Utah was their most miraculous of the season. And their win the next night in Phoenix was arguably their most important. Their defense wasn't very good on the trip, but in his first two starts, Carl Landry totaled 43 points and 16 boards.
Pace: 97.1 (7), Off: 108.1 (6), Def: 106.8 (21)
After his 13, 14 and 11 performance against the Warriors on Wednesday, Chuck Hayes has more triple-doubles this season than the Cavs, Nuggets, Pistons, Warriors, Pacers, Grizzlies, Timberwolves, Nets, Hornets, Suns, Trail Blazers, Kings, Raptors and Jazz combined. He's just 180 short of Oscar Robertson.
Pace: 94.2 (16), Off: 104.3 (15), Def: 102.6 (10)
At 3-5 in their last eight, the Sixers have lost some of their momentum. It was an interesting week for Lou Williams, who scored 41 points on 20 shots in the first two games, but was 1-for-12 in Sunday's loss to the Kings. The one make was a buzzer-beating three to send the game to overtime.
Pace: 91.7 (27), Off: 103.6 (20), Def: 104.0 (15)
Josh Smith had a huge week, shooting 27-for-45 in the Hawks' first three games and grabbing 18 rebounds and coming two assists short of a triple-double in Sunday's win in Cleveland. Perhaps the more interesting development was Marvin Williams' season-high 31 points against the Cavs.
Pace: 96.8 (8), Off: 107.1 (9), Def: 106.9 (22)
The Suns really needed that triple-OT game in L.A. They didn't need Vince Carter to shoot 2-for-13 from 3-point range. Between Tuesday and Wednesday's win over the Raptors, the Suns were a minus-31 with Carter on the floor and a plus-37 with him on the bench. By Sunday, he had lost his starting job.
Golden State (32-42)|
Pace: 97.5 (5), Off: 105.4 (11), Def: 108.1 (27)
On Monday in San Antonio, Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry combined for 18 points and six assists. On Friday against Toronto, they combined for 50 and 18. The Warriors are pretty bad defensively (109.8) with the two on the floor together, but they're 16-5 when the two total at least 50 points or at least 17 dimes.
New York (35-38)|
Pace: 98.1 (2), Off: 107.8 (8), Def: 107.1 (23)
The defenseless Knicks really struggle when their offense goes bad, as it has (102.2 points per 100 possessions) during their six-game losing streak. Amar'e Stoudemire has shot just 40 percent over the last five games, and Carmelo Anthony shot poorly (9-for-22) in the one game Stoudemire didn't.
Pace: 94.0 (17), Off: 105.2 (13), Def: 107.5 (24)
The Jazz's defense had been downright atrocious (117 points allowed per 100 possessions) over their previous 10 games, but they came up empty offensively against the Mavs on Saturday. They've lost five straight and will be missing the playoffs for the first time in five years. They do have two lottery picks coming.
Pace: 92.2 (25), Off: 98.7 (29), Def: 100.0 (4)
Just a game in the loss column behind the Pacers and Bobcats, the Bucks are still in the playoff picture. But they have six of their next seven games on the road, including visits to Charlotte on Monday and Indiana on Friday. They're 2-0 against the Bobcats and 2-1 against the Pacers.
L.A. Clippers (29-45)|
Pace: 95.4 (12), Off: 102.1 (22), Def: 106.5 (20)
Seems like Blake Griffin is through that rookie wall. He averaged 25.7 points, 13.0 boards and 6.3 assists in three games last week. But Eric Gordon was a little better than Griffin when it came to hitting clutch shots. Gordon is 3-for-4 in the last 30 seconds of a game with his team tied or down 1-3 points.
Pace: 97.2 (6), Off: 101.4 (23), Def: 103.2 (12)
Just when the Pacers looked like a lock to hold onto the eighth spot in the East with a big win in Charlotte, they looked awful in losses to the Kings and Pistons. Danny Granger scored 33 points against the Bobcats, but shot 9-for-27 and turned the ball over eight times in the two losses.
Pace: 92.4 (24), Off: 100.3 (26), Def: 104.2 (16)
After losing 10 of their previous 12 games, the Bobcats came up with huge wins over the Celtics (a great defensive performance without Stephen Jackson) and Knicks (a big offensive game with him) at the most critical time. Of their final 10 games, Monday's against the Bucks may be the most important.
New Jersey (23-49)|
Pace: 92.1 (26), Off: 99.7 (27), Def: 105.7 (18)
Brook Lopez sent Wednesday's win in Cleveland to OT with a big tip-in of his own miss. He then had two total rebounds over his next 70:17. The Nets have been held under a point per possession in five straight games, but Deron Williams says he may be back for Wednesday's ESPN game in New York.
Pace: 91.2 (28), Off: 104.0 (18), Def: 109.0 (28)
As they play spoiler over the last few weeks, the Pistons might as well try to boost the trade value of Richard Hamilton, who is still owed $25 million over the next two seasons. Hamilton had 27 points in Wednesday's loss to the Heat and 23 points and six assists in Saturday's win over the Pacers.
Pace: 97.6 (4), Off: 100.6 (25), Def: 106.1 (19)
The Kings went 4-1 on their trip East, with the last three coming against teams who had a lot more to play for than they did. Defense was the key. The Kings held their opponents to just 94 points per 100 possessions in the four wins. Tyreke Evans shot just 4-for-15 in his first two games back.
Pace: 95.8 (11), Off: 102.9 (21), Def: 109.9 (30)
After giving up 138 points at Golden State on Friday, the Raptors actually had their best defensive game since December a night later in L.A. But they're still back at No. 30 in defensive efficiency, and they've still lost four straight, because they were awful offensively against the Clippers, shooting 39 percent.
Pace: 99.3 (1), Off: 101.1 (24), Def: 107.5 (25)
The Wolves have lost six straight and Kevin Love's season may be over, but his absence has provided an opportunity for Anthony Randolph, who scored scored 55 points, grabbed 26 rebounds and shot 23-for-36 in back-to-back losses in Dallas and Oklahoma City, adding to the angst of Knicks fans.
Pace: 96.5 (9), Off: 98.9 (28), Def: 107.6 (26)
After this ridiculous denial of Wesley Matthews on Tuesday, JaVale McGee averaged 21.0 points, 14.7 rebounds and 3.0 blocks in losses to the Clippers, Nuggets and Warriors. The Wizards' trip ends in Utah on Monday and after that, they have four more chances to pick up road win No. 2.
Pace: 95.9 (10), Off: 98.3 (30), Def: 109.3 (29)
Thanks to the Raptors, the Cavs no longer rank last both offensively and defensively. And thanks to the Wizards, they're on the brink of moving up to No. 29 in the Power Rankings after 14 straight weeks in the basement. They'll move up if they can win in Washington on Friday.