Thunder pass the first test
Sunday's Heat-Thunder game in Oklahoma City was dubbed a "Finals preview" by many. (In this space last week, we used those words in a conditional statement.) But the events of the last few weeks have seemingly created more roadblocks for such a matchup in June.
In the Eastern Conference, the Bulls have shown that they can score without Derrick Rose and the Magic have survived the trade deadline intact. And with Chicago now holding a 3 1/2 game lead over Miami, it appears the Heat will have to go through both the Magic and Bulls to get to The Finals. And even in the first round, they could face the potentially dangerous Celtics or Knicks.
In the West, we have no clue who the Thunder might face in the first round. They shouldn't have to face the Spurs or Lakers until the conference finals. But both of those teams look more dangerous than they did a month ago. The Lakers have clearly improved offensively with the addition of Ramon Sessions. And the Spurs are now playing their best defense of the season.
So, while it's great to anticipate and analyze a marquee matchup in March, there's no telling what two teams will be the last ones standing in June.
• Last week: Scoring is up, and so are the Suns
• This time last year: Lakers and Bulls taking charge after break -- David West blew out his knee, Chuck Hayes recorded a triple-double, Nicolas Batum scored four points in 0.9 seconds to beat the Spurs, and JaVale McGee did this to Wesley Matthews.
Hero Team of the Week: San Antonio (4-0) -- The Hawks also won four games and the Bulls also went undefeated, but the Spurs get the nod this week for sweeping a back-to-back-to-back that included games against two playoff teams.
Zero Team of the Week: New Jersey (1-3) - Both the Bobcats and Pistons went without a win, but we've come to expect it from Charlotte, and Detroit played three tough teams. The Nets lost to the Cavs and Wizards.
Plus-minus Stud: Matt Bonner (SAS) was a plus-47 in three games last week.
Plus-minus Dud: Bismack Biyombo (CHA) was a minus-51 in three games last week.
High jumps of the week: Atlanta (+6), Indiana (+3), Utah (+3)
Free falls of the week: Denver (-5), L.A. Clippers (-4), New Jersey (-3)
East vs. West: The West is 130-98 (.570) against the East in inter-conference games this season, and was 5-5 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 93.9 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes and 101.4 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 have 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.
Pace: 92.2 (23), Off: 105.7 (4), Def: 96.0 (2)
With the Bulls still winning without Derrick Rose, we have to wonder if they're a much better team than they were a year ago. Of course, if we're going to pick them to beat the Heat, it would be nice to know that Rose will be healthy in May. We'll get another potential Finals preview this Sunday, when the Bulls visit OKC.
Oklahoma City (37-12)|
Pace: 95.9 (5), Off: 107.6 (1), Def: 100.2 (12)
With their offense clicking (and assisting!), the Thunder took out the Heat in impressive fashion on Sunday. But that was just the first of four title-contender tests in an 11-day stretch. They visit the Lakers on Thursday, host the Bulls on Sunday, and then visit Miami next Wednesday. Stay tuned.
San Antonio (33-14)|
Pace: 94.4 (12), Off: 105.7 (3), Def: 100.9 (13)
The Spurs have held four straight opponents under a point per possession for the first time this season. And they've done it playing a back-to-back-to-back over the weekend. We'll see if their defense has turned a corner on Tuesday, when they visit the Suns, who've been the fourth-best offensive team since the break.
Pace: 94.3 (13), Off: 106.3 (2), Def: 96.9 (4)
The Heat have played four road games against top-three seeds (East or West) in the last few weeks. And they lost all four, allowing 109 points per 100 possessions and getting outrebounded by 40 total boards. Those of us on the outside will surely doubt them now. But will they start to doubt themselves?
L.A. Lakers (30-19)|
Pace: 92.8 (20), Off: 102.3 (12), Def: 99.2 (10)
Matt Barnes is the guy benefiting most from the Ramon Sessions trade. Barnes has shot 20-for-39, 10-for-20 from 3-point range with Sessions on the floor. In fact, of the seven Lakers who have played at least 50 minutes with Sessions, six have shot better than 50 percent in those minutes.
Pace: 92.6 (28), Off: 101.6 (17), Def: 99.3 (11)
The Magic got embarrassed against the Bulls on Monday, they're just a game in the loss column ahead of the Pacers, and they have a below-average offense since the break. But none of their 17 remaining games is against a team (East or West) above them in the standings, so that 3 seed looks to be locked up.
Pace: 93.5 (19), Off: 102.2 (14), Def: 99.1 (9)
If Frank Vogel could control his temper, the Pacers might be on a four-game winning streak, with a comfortable lead on Atlanta for the fifth seed (with home-court advantage in the first round). Vogel picked up two Ts, including one with less than two minutes to go, in Friday's two-point loss to Phoenix.
Pace: 92.2 (24), Off: 100.4 (18), Def: 97.9 (5)
Joe Johnson (eight points in the final five minutes Sunday) is the best quadruple-overtime player of the last 15 years. Johnson's shot at the end of the second OT of the wild win over the Jazz was the third time this season (and the second time in five days) he's tied a game in the final 10 seconds with a three.
Pace: 94.2 (14), Off: 100.1 (22), Def: 99.0 (8)
Phase 1 of The Gilbert Arenas Experiment didn't last long. After shooting 2-for-9 in his first two games, Arenas was DNP'd in the Grizzlies' win over the Lakers on Sunday. Figure he gets another shot though, because Lionel Hollins' other option off the bench, Jeremy Pargo, is shooting just 34 percent this season.
Pace: 94.5 (10), Off: 102.5 (11), Def: 103.0 (19)
Steve Nash has now recorded 15 or more assists 10 times this season. But for the second straight year, the Suns have been downright awful, getting outscored by 9.4 points per 100 possessions, when Nash steps off the floor. Even if they keep Nash this summer, they still need to sign another point guard.
Pace: 92.7 (21), Off: 98.2 (25), Def: 96.5 (3)
The Celtics went 0-for-2 on chances to take the Atlantic Division lead with a win in Philadelphia. They're still just a half game back of the Sixers and play them in Boston in a couple of weeks, but they continue to struggle offensively and their brutal April schedule begins with a visit from the Heat on Sunday.
L.A. Clippers (27-21)|
Pace: 91.6 (27), Off: 104.2 (6), Def: 103.5 (21)
Did a win over the Grizzlies save Vinny Del Negro's job? The Clippers came up empty on a road back-to-back-to-back last week, but Saturday's game was the first of five straight at Staples Center, where they've won three in a row and are a much better defensive team, allowing just 101 points per 100 possessions.
Pace: 92.0 (26), Off: 101.7 (16), Def: 94.5 (1)
The Celtics have a rough April schedule and the Knicks are still under .500, so the Sixers are seemingly in control of the Atlantic, allowing them to avoid the Heat and Bulls in the first round. But, struggling offensively, they've won just three of their last 11 on the road, where they'll play 11 of their last 17.
Pace: 94.0 (15), Off: 103.0 (9), Def: 103.8 (22)
The Jazz needed that quadruple-overtime game more than the Hawks did, but they had given themselves some margin for error with an impressive six-game winning streak leading into Sunday. They've played 13 games with a rest disadvantage already, and will really be at a disadvantage Monday in Newark.
Pace: 93.9 (16), Off: 100.2 (19), Def: 98.6 (7)
The Lamar Odom situation in Dallas isn't getting any better. Odom is shooting 29 percent since returning from his four-game absence at the beginning of the month, picked up a DNP-CD in San Antonio on Friday and looked pretty awful in Saturday's win in Houston. You have to wonder what the future holds for Odom.
New York (24-25)|
Pace: 96.7 (3), Off: 99.8 (23), Def: 97.9 (6)
The Knicks are a game and a half ahead of the Bucks, but Milwaukee still has an easier schedule ahead. So, Monday's meeting at the Garden is huge. Carmelo Anthony has shot better than 50 percent just five times in 39 games this season, and now Amar'e Stoudemire is dealing with another back issue.
Pace: 94.4 (11), Off: 103.0 (8), Def: 101.7 (16)
Chase Budinger's 3-pointer at the end of overtime of Saturday's loss to the Mavs could have put the Rockets in fifth place. Instead, it landed them in eighth. Now, Houston must take advantage of three more home games this week and hope they can exact some revenge with a huge trip to Dallas on Tuesday.
Pace: 97.0 (2), Off: 105.1 (5), Def: 103.8 (23)
The Nuggets are going to miss the playoffs for the first time in nine years if they continue playing atrocious defense like they have over the last couple of weeks. They've allowed 114 points per 100 possessions over the last seven games and have the league's fourth-worst defense since the break.
Pace: 95.7 (6), Off: 102.3 (13), Def: 103.3 (20)
Monta Ellis has shot just 39 percent in five games with the Bucks, but it's clear that defense is going to be the issue with this team down the stretch. Even with Ellis' poor shooting, the Bucks have scored 113 points per 100 possessions in 131 minutes with Ellis and Brandon Jennings on the floor. That's efficient.
Pace: 96.1 (4), Off: 102.6 (10), Def: 102.3 (17)
Here was Kevin Love's week: 36 and 16 at Golden State, 17 and 12 (bo-ring!) at San Antonio, 51 and 14 at Oklahoma City, and finally, 30 and 21 against Denver. He's not a real MVP candidate, but maybe we can come up with some sort of Video Game Numbers Player of the Year award for him.
Pace: 93.9 (17), Off: 102.0 (15), Def: 101.4 (15)
The Blazers are 3-3 with wins over the Bulls and Grizzlies under Kaleb Canales, but their defense had still been pretty awful (113 points per 100 possessions allowed) before Sunday's defensive win over the Warriors. So don't be too surprised if the Thunder score 183 points on Tuesday.
Golden State (20-27)|
Pace: 94.6 (8), Off: 103.4 (7), Def: 104.3 (25)
The Monta Ellis trade created more playing time for rookie Klay Thompson, who has now scored in double-figures in 13 straight games. It's still early, but along with guys like Kawhi Leonard, Kenneth Faried and Chandler Parsons, Thompson is helping last year's Draft look deeper than we thought it was.
Pace: 97.0 (1), Off: 100.2 (20), Def: 106.2 (28)
The Kings had been shooting 23 percent from 3-point range over the last week, so Keith Smart went to Terrence Williams late in Saturday's loss at Golden State "to have the floor semi-spaced." Williams is a career 32 percent shooter from beyond the arc and had attempted three threes since early January.
Pace: 91.5 (29), Off: 97.0 (29), Def: 105.4 (26)
For the most part, the Pistons' five-game losing streak has been downright ugly. But Wednesday's 116-115 loss in Denver was both exhilarating and gut-wrenching. They lost that one on a rebound stickback by JaVale McGee, which was fitting, because they've been out-rebounded by 48 boards in their last three games.
Pace: 92.5 (22), Off: 97.8 (26), Def: 101.0 (14)
Andrea Bargnani has shot just 34 percent since returning from his calf injury, but the Raptors' defense was good enough to smother the Knicks on Friday and come a split second from upsetting the Bulls on Saturday. They have the league's eighth-best defense since the break, which is something to build on.
Pace: 94.5 (9), Off: 99.2 (24), Def: 104.1 (24)
With J.J. Hickson being waived by the Kings, it sure looks like the Cavs won that pre-lockout trade of Hickson for Omri Casspi. But Casspi has been pretty terrible in Cleveland this year, and the Kings would have to stop being an awful team at some point for the Cavs to eventually get the Kings' heavily-protected pick.
New Orleans (12-36)|
Pace: 90.9 (30), Off: 97.3 (27), Def: 102.4 (18)
For Hornets fans, Thursday's win over Chris Paul and the Clippers had to make up for a lot of the 36 losses their team has suffered this season. And Saturday's narrow loss to the Spurs is clear evidence that the Hornets haven't let go of the rope. They've been a better defensive team than the Mavs since the break.
Pace: 95.5 (7), Off: 97.1 (28), Def: 106.0 (27)
The Wizards blew a 22-point lead to the Pacers on Thursday, completely butchered the final minute against the Hawks on Saturday, and got waxed without Nene in Boston on Sunday. But through all that, we've seen signs that they're a better team after their deadline makeover.
New Jersey (16-34)|
Pace: 92.0 (25), Off: 100.1 (21), Def: 107.5 (30)
The Nets' final season in New Jersey hasn't been pretty. They're 6-18 (with 33 percent of the wins coming against Charlotte) and are allowing 110 points per 100 possessions in Newark. Gerald Wallace is shooting just 36 percent with his new team, but he's a plus-11 in 156 minutes with Deron Williams.
Pace: 93.7 (18), Off: 92.8 (30), Def: 107.4 (29)
After getting blown out by the Nets on Saturday, the Bobcats are primed to take over as the Worst Defense in the League in the next couple of weeks. The last team to finish last in both offensive and defensive efficiency was the 1992-93 Mavs, who were 11-71 and were led in minutes by some guy named Terry Davis.