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Power Rankings

Questions linger as teams get back to work

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com
Posted Feb 27 2012 11:52AM

ORLANDO -- After a great All-Star Weekend, it's time to get back to business. And though the playoffs are less than nine weeks away, the season is only halfway done, with 488 of the 990 games still yet to be played. A lot is still to be determined.

Trades before the March 15 deadline will likely shake things up a bit. But even if they don't, there's no predicting how things will turn out.

We're going to make some predictions anyway. To get you ready for the second half of the season, we've got a stat, a question, and a prediction for each team. The stats are truth, the questions need to be answered, and the predictions will probably be off the mark.

• Last week: Heat on another level

• This time last year: Perkins trade will shake things up at the top - Carmelo Anthony and Deron Williams went from West to East, while Kendrick Perkins and Gerald Wallace went the other way. None of the Spurs' starters had missed a game, the Heat were 1-7 against the top six teams in the league, and Kevin Love recorded his 46th straight double-double.

Hero Team of the Week: Houston (2-0) - The Rockets won the week's Houston-Memphis-Philly round-robin, picking up two quality wins at home.
Zero Team of the Week: Washington (0-2) - The Wizards got spanked in Phoenix, and then gave up 115 points to the Kings at home.

Plus-minus Stud: Dwyane Wade (MIA) was a plus-39 in two games last week.
Plus-minus Dud: Ray Allen (BOS) was a minus-38 in two games last week.

High jumps of the week: Golden State (+3), Indiana (+3), Houston (+2)
Free falls of the week: New York (-3), Atlanta (-2), San Antonio (-2)

East vs. West: The West is 92-62 (.597) against the East in inter-conference games this season and was 7-2 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 is averaging 93.8 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes and 100.5 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 contact him via twitter.

1 Miami (27-7)
Pace: 95.3 (7), Off: 107.9 (1), Def: 96.9 (5)
A stat: The Heat are the only team in the top five in both 2-point percentage (third) and 3-point percentage (first), also ranking fifth in free throw percentage.
A question: How aggressive will LeBron James be late in playoff games?
A prediction: The Heat will cruise through the Eastern Conference playoffs again, but will still have plenty of questions to answer in The Finals.
Previous: 1

2 Oklahoma City (27-7)
Pace: 96.2 (6), Off: 106.4 (2), Def: 99.1 (13)
A stat: James Harden has the league's highest on-court offensive rating, with the Thunder scoring 113.4 points per 100 possessions with him in the game.
A question: Will OKC defend consistently enough to reach The Finals?
A prediction: They'll be good enough to get there (because the best defensive teams are in the East), but not good enough to win it all.
Previous: 3

3 Chicago (27-8)
Pace: 92.5 (20), Off: 105.4 (3), Def: 94.9 (2)
A stat: The Bulls' starters (with Ronnie Brewer at the two) have outscored their opponents by 22.9 points per 100 possessions in 229 minutes.
A question: Can the Bulls score against the Heat defense?
A prediction: A repeat of last year's Eastern Conference finals, with Derrick Rose not getting enough help offensively, but blaming himself for the defeat.
Previous: 2

4 San Antonio (24-10)
Pace: 93.7 (18), Off: 104.4 (7), Def: 101.1 (17)
A stat: Throwing away that "forfeit" in Portland, the Spurs have allowed only 96.4 points per 100 possessions in their other 12 games since Jan. 31.
A question: Will Manu Ginobili be healthy for more than five games at a time?
A prediction: The Spurs won't shoot nearly as poorly from 3-point range as they did in last year's playoffs (29 percent), and win a round this season.
Previous: 5

5 L.A. Clippers (20-11)
Pace: 92.5 (21), Off: 104.5 (4), Def: 102.3 (22)
A stat: The Clippers are scoring 110.2 points per 100 possessions with Chris Paul on the floor, and only 95.0 with Paul on the bench.
A question: Will the Clips ever defend consistently?
A prediction: The Clippers will take part in at least two incredibly entertaining playoff series. And maybe three, but not four.
Previous: 4

6 Dallas (21-13)
Pace: 93.9 (16), Off: 99.5 (19), Def: 96.0 (3)
A stat: The Mavs have the No. 27 offense (97.5 points per 100 possessions) and No. 1 defense (95.3) in February.
A question: Will the Mavs ever hit their stride offensively?
A prediction: Either Lamar Odom or Jason Kidd might actually shoot 40 percent in the second half, but the Mavs will exit the playoffs early.
Previous: 7

7 Orlando (22-13)
Pace: 91.3 (28), Off: 101.1 (12), Def: 98.5 (12)
A stat: Only 42.4 percent of Orlando opponents' shots come from the paint, the lowest rate in the league.
A question: What is the future of Dwight Howard?
A prediction: Though it's tempting to keep him and dare him to walk away for lesser money, the Magic get what they can for Howard in early March.
Previous: 13

8 L.A. Lakers (20-14)
Pace: 92.3 (22), Off: 100.6 (14), Def: 98.1 (11)
A stat: The Lakers have the second-best home defense (91.7 points allowed per 100 possessions) and the 20th-best road defense (103.8).
A question: Is this the roster the Lakers finish the season with?
A prediction: The Lakers will acquire a point guard (Ramon Sessions?) who will unlock their offense a little like Jeremy Lin did with the Knicks.
Previous: 10

9 Philadelphia (20-14)
Pace: 91.9 (25), Off: 102.1 (10), Def: 94.3 (1)
A stat: The Sixers turn the ball over 11.4 times per 100 possessions, the lowest rate of the last 20 years and 2.6 times fewer than any other team this season.
A question: Can Jrue Holiday recover from a rough February?
A prediction: The Sixers will hold on to a top-four seed in the East, because the Hawks don't have Al Horford and the Magic won't have Dwight Howard.
Previous: 6

10 Houston (20-14)
Pace: 94.7 (10), Off: 102.3 (9), Def: 100.1 (15)
A stat: The Rockets' two most-used lineups (with no common players) have allowed 92.9 points per 100 possesions. All other lineups have allowed 102.7.
A question: Can Kevin Martin get back to playing consistently?
A prediction: The Rockets make the playoffs for the first time since Yao Ming's last full season, which means they lose their first-round pick in a great draft.
Previous: 14

11 Indiana (21-12)
Pace: 94.1 (14), Off: 101.0 (13), Def: 97.6 (9)
A stat: The Pacers are the league's best third-quarter team, outscoring their opponents by 14.7 points per 100 possessions in the period.
A question: Just how high is Paul George's ceiling?
A prediction: The Pacers will continue to improve offensively, hold on to a top-four seed in the East, and win a playoff series.
Previous: 9

12 Memphis (19-15)
Pace: 94.1 (15), Off: 98.7 (21), Def: 98.1 (10)
A stat: The Grizzlies lead the league by forcing 18.6 turnovers per 100 possessions. They force 20.2 when Tony Allen is on the floor.
A question: How close is Zach Randolph to coming back?
A prediction: Randolph gives the Memphis offense a boost when he returns, but the Grizz can't pull off another first-round upset.
Previous: 19

13 New York (17-18)
Pace: 96.4 (2), Off: 97.9 (24), Def: 97.2 (8)
A stat: No team has improved more defensively than the Knicks, who are allowing 9.7 fewer points per 100 possessions than they did last season.
A question: Isn't Tyson Chandler the Knicks' most important player?
A prediction: With a tough remaining schedule, the Knicks hover around .500 all season. And they'll win a playoff game for the first time in 11 years.
Previous: 16

14 Portland (18-16)
Pace: 94.8 (8), Off: 102.4 (8), Def: 97.1 (6)
A stat: The Blazers have the league's fifth-best point differential and are the only West team in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency.
A question: Can this team win some close games?
A prediction: The standings begin to reflect the numbers in the second half and the Blazers take a top team to the limit in the first round of the playoffs.
Previous: 15

15 Atlanta (20-14)
Pace: 92.3 (23), Off: 99.6 (18), Def: 97.2 (7)
A stat: The Hawks had the ninth-best offense through Jan. 31, but have the 29th best offense this month, scoring just 93.4 points per 100 possessions.
A question: How the heck do the Hawks keep beating the Magic?
A prediction: The Hawks keep sinking in the Eastern Conference standings, but make the playoffs, thanks to that initial 9-2 stretch after Al Horford got hurt.
Previous: 8

16 Minnesota (17-17)
Pace: 96.2 (5), Off: 100.2 (17), Def: 99.2 (14)
A stat: The Wolves, who were outscored by 7.2 points per 100 possessions last season, are the most improved team in the league statistically.
A question: Where does Nikola Pekovic rank among the league's best centers?
A prediction: The Wolves will survive a seven-game road trip in March and hang around the West playoff picture until the last week of the season.
Previous: 17

17 Denver (18-17)
Pace: 97.4 (1), Off: 104.5 (6), Def: 102.0 (18)
A stat: The Nuggets are just 4-14 against the other nine West teams that are .500 or better, allowing 105.8 points per 100 possessions.
A question: When will they be healthy again?
A prediction: Even if they do get everybody back by mid-March, the Nuggets miss the playoffs for the first time since they drafted Carmelo Anthony.
Previous: 12

18 Boston (15-17)
Pace: 91.4 (27), Off: 98.1 (23), Def: 96.0 (4)
A stat: Only Charlotte and Atlanta have been worse offensively in February than the Celtics, who are scoring just 96.4 points per 100 possessions this month.
A question: Is it time for something new in Boston?
A prediction: Danny Ainge decides to make a major change before March 15, knowing that, even at its best, his team can't compete with Miami or Chicago.
Previous: 11

19 Utah (15-17)
Pace: 93.5 (19), Off: 101.8 (11), Def: 103.5 (24)
A stat: The Jazz are the only team in the last nine seasons to shoot less than 30 percent from 3-point range. The last to do it was the 2002-03 Nuggets.
A question: How long do the Jazz keep all four of their big men?
A prediction: Rumors surround the Jazz near draft time, because of the lack of lottery-calibur point guards available.
Previous: 18

20 Cleveland (13-18)
Pace: 94.6 (12), Off: 98.5 (22), Def: 102.1 (21)
A stat: The Cavs have the league's worst second-quarter offense (90.0 points per 100 possessions) and the seventh-best fourth-quarter offense (104.5).
A question: Can the Cavs get anything for Antawn Jamison before the deadline?
A prediction: As long as he's playing for a decent team, Kyrie Irving will soon be right there with Derrick Rose in the discussion of great, young point guards.
Previous: 22

21 Golden State (13-17)
Pace: 94.8 (9), Off: 104.5 (5), Def: 104.9 (26)
A stat: The Warriors have the most improved offense this month, scoring 9.8 points per 100 possessions more than they did in December and January.
A question: Should they keep Stephen Curry or Monta Ellis?
A prediction: People will soon realize that Ekpe Udoh really does belong in the conversation with fellow '10 lottery picks DeMarcus Cousins and Greg Monroe.
Previous: 23

22 Detroit (11-24)
Pace: 91.4 (26), Off: 96.4 (27), Def: 105.6 (27)
A stat: From December-January to February, the Pistons are the most improved defensive team and the second-most improved offensive team.
A question: Can the Pistons re-sign Rodney Stuckey this summer?
A prediction: Greg Monroe will be an All-Star next year. He's putting up better numbers than any center not named Dwight Howard right now.
Previous: 26

23 Phoenix (14-20)
Pace: 94.5 (13), Off: 100.2 (16), Def: 102.7 (23)
A stat: The Suns are one of only two teams (Chicago is the other) yet to play an overtime game. They played nine OT games last season (third most).
A question: Where will Steve Nash be playing next season?
A prediction: This team has darker days ahead. What exactly do they have to build around when Nash and Grant Hill are gone?
Previous: 20

24 Milwaukee (13-20)
Pace: 94.7 (11), Off: 99.4 (20), Def: 102.0 (19)
A stat: Only one team (Charlotte) has regressed more defensively than the Bucks, who ranked fourth on that end last season.
A question: Can the Bucks find a taker for Stephen Jackson?
A prediction: Scott Skiles' time in Milwaukee will end before he ever gets a chance to coach a full season with a relatively healthy roster.
Previous: 21

25 Sacramento (11-22)
Pace: 96.3 (3), Off: 97.4 (25), Def: 105.8 (28)
A stat: The Kings are allowing opponents to shoot 65.7 percent from within five feet of the basket, the highest percentage in the league.
A question: Will the Kings be staying in Sacramento?
A prediction: There might be a future debate about which rookie guard was the better pick: Jimmer Fredette (taken 10th) or Isaiah Thomas (taken 60th).
Previous: 25

26 New Orleans (8-25)
Pace: 90.7 (30), Off: 96.6 (26), Def: 102.1 (20)
A stat: The Hornets are 4-8 in February, but have a worse point differential than when they went 4-17 in December and January.
A question: What can the Hornets get for Chris Kaman?
A prediction: Eric Gordon, a restricted free agent this summer and a key to the Chris Paul trade, has played his last game with the Hornets.
Previous: 29

27 New Jersey (10-25)
Pace: 91.3 (29), Off: 100.5 (15), Def: 108.9 (30)
A stat: The Nets rank last in opponent 2-point percentage, opponent 3-point percentage, and defensive rebounding percentage.
A question: Will their Dwight-or-bust strategy pay off?
A prediction: The Nets may or may not acquire Dwight Howard by the trade deadline, but they sign him in the summer either way.
Previous: 27

28 Toronto (10-23)
Pace: 92.2 (24), Off: 96.2 (28), Def: 101.1 (16)
A stat: The Raptors rank last in 3-point percentage from the corners (27.6 percent), but 13th from the top and wings (35.1 percent).
A question: How good will Jonas Valanciunas be when he arrives in Toronto?
A prediction: The Raptors finish with the second-worst record in the Eastern Conference, get a top-five pick, and remain patient.
Previous: 24

29 Washington (7-26)
Pace: 96.3 (4), Off: 94.7 (29), Def: 104.8 (25)
A stat: JaVale McGee has the second-lowest raw plus-minus in the league: minus-281. Only Charlotte's Kemba Walker (minus-323) is lower.
A question: Can John Wall continue to shoot well (48 percent in February)?
A prediction: The Wizards play out the string this season, hire a new coach, and cut ties with as many problem-players as they can in the summer.
Previous: 28

30 Charlotte (4-28)
Pace: 93.8 (17), Off: 91.7 (30), Def: 107.5 (29)
A stat: The Bobcats take 39 percent of their shots from mid-range (highest rate in the league) and only 12 percent of their threes from the corners (lowest rate).
A question: How many years before the Bobcats win again?
A prediction: By winning at least five more games, the Bobcats will avoid setting the mark for the worst record in NBA history, held by the 1972-73 Sixers (9-73).
Previous: 30

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