Old squads rise to the top
Remember when we thought this condensed season would belong to the teams with young legs?
Well, it's April, and the two hottest teams in their respective conferences are the veteran San Antonio Spurs and Boston Celtics, who each reach new highs in this week's Power Rankings.
The Spurs are doing it with offense, taking the No. 1 ranking in offensive efficiency from the Thunder over the weekend. They've scored a ridiculously efficient 114 points per 100 possessions on their 11-game winning streak, without one guy really who's really caught fire.
The Celtics are doing it on the other end. Get this: Boston has the fifth-worst offense, but the second-best point differential in the last three weeks. They've gone 9-3 in that time, allowing less than 90 points per 100 possessions, which is pretty unbelievable.
Of course, while we tend to think of the Spurs and Celtics as old teams, youth has been a key for both squads this season. Guys like Avery Bradley and Greg Stiemsma have been critical for Boston, while the Spurs have several young(ish) guys playing meaningful minutes.
• Last week: First time ever, OKC is No. 1
• This time last year: Bulls finish the season on top - The playoffs were just five days away, the Lakers had lost five straight, the Mavs were the trendy pick to fall victim to a first-round upset, and the Wolves were finishing the season on a 15-game losing streak.
• Hero Team of the Week: Memphis (4-1) - This looked like a brutal week for the Grizz, but they only lost to the Mavs and avenged that one three days later, after winning in Oklahoma City and Miami.
• Zero Team of the Week: Philadelphia (0-4) - The Sixers had a halftime lead in Miami on Tuesday, but it went downhill from there, and they proved Saturday that they're in worse shape than the Magic, which says a lot.
• Plus-minus Stud: Mike Dunleavy (Bucks) was a plus-49 in four games last week.
• Plus-minus Dud: Evan Turner (Sixers) was a minus-62 in four games last week.
• High jumps of the week: Houston (+5), Memphis (+4), Milwaukee, New Orleans, New York (+3)
• Free falls of the week: Orlando (-6), Philadelphia (-4), L.A. Lakers (-3)
• East vs. West: The West is 146-108 (.575) against the East in inter-conference games this season, and was 7-3 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 93.7 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes and 101.7 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.
San Antonio (40-14)|
Pace: 94.6 (9), Off: 107.5 (1), Def: 101.1 (13)
Only two Spurs, Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard, have played in all 11 games of their winning streak, and eight different guys, including Boris Diaw on Sunday, have started at least one of the 11. For most of the streak, they've been ridiculously efficient offensively, but won ugly in Boston on Wednesday.
Pace: 94.1 (14), Off: 105.6 (3), Def: 97.3 (4)
It wasn't pretty, but the Heat got some revenge on the Thunder. This week, they've got three big Eastern Conference matchups - Boston, Chicago and New York - that probably won't be too pretty either. Remember when the Heat used to run? They've averaged just 8.2 fast break points in their last five games.
Oklahoma City (41-15)|
Pace: 95.5 (6), Off: 107.2 (2), Def: 99.8 (9)
After earning the No. 1 spot in the rankings for the first time ever, the Thunder promptly lost three straight, struggling to score against three good defenses. And after earning a little love in MVP discussions, Russell Westbrook promptly shot 21-for-65 in the three games. What a difference a week makes.
Pace: 91.9 (24), Off: 105.0 (5), Def: 96.4 (3)
Derrick Rose's return wasn't exactly MVP-ish, but it's better to wonder why he can't make a free throw than why he isn't healing. Most important is that Rose is able to work off the rust in the final three weeks. The Bulls' offense, held to less than a point per possession in six of the last 10 games, needs a boost.
Pace: 92.8 (21), Off: 98.5 (25), Def: 95.3 (1)
After tough losses to the Spurs and Bulls, the Celtics got big wins over Indiana and Philly. They're winning almost entirely with defense, but they are getting some offense from their new starting lineup, which has been off the charts on both ends of the floor, outscoring its opponents by 70 points in 136 minutes.
Pace: 94.0 (15), Off: 100.2 (22), Def: 98.9 (8)
After the week they just had, it's fair to say the Grizzlies are for real. But it would be nice if Zach Randolph could find a rhythm before the playoffs got here. As his team had the Best Week Ever, Randolph shot just 18-for-51, though he did grab 29 total boards in the back-to-back wins over the Heat and Mavs.
Pace: 93.3 (19), Off: 102.7 (14), Def: 100.1 (10)
The Pacers came up empty against the Celtics on Saturday, but they emerged from a tough week as the No. 3 seed in the East with a relatively easy schedule going forward. And most important, their improving offense looked strong against two top-10 defensive teams (New York and Oklahoma City).
L.A. Lakers (35-22)|
Pace: 93.0 (20), Off: 103.2 (11), Def: 100.8 (11)
Just three weeks ago, we wondered if Andrew Bynum should be considered the Lakers' best player. That was a little blasphemous, but hey, Bynum was having a great season. Now he's seemingly thrown all the equity he had built up by making it clear he's still got some growing up to do. Kobe's still the man.
L.A. Clippers (34-22)|
Pace: 91.9 (25), Off: 104.7 (6), Def: 102.7 (18)
A Lakers-Clippers first-round series would be epic, but one of the two teams would have to slip in the standings for it to happen. Either way, Blake Griffin vs. any Western Conference frontline is bound to produce some acerbic fireworks over the course of a seven-game series. Just ask DeMarcus Cousins.
Pace: 92.2 (23), Off: 101.5 (17), Def: 98.7 (6)
Kirk Hinrich still isn't making many shots, but the Hawks' new starting lineup (with Hinrich at the two) has been strong offensively, scoring 109 points per 100 possessions in 311 minutes together. If the Hawks want home-court advantage in the first round, wins in Boston and Orlando this week would really help.
New York (29-27)|
Pace: 96.2 (3), Off: 100.3 (21), Def: 97.6 (5)
The Knicks are now 8-0 at Madison Square Garden under Mike Woodson and 15-3 at MSG since the start of Linsanity. Sunday's overtime win over Chicago was the most incredible of the eight under Woody, but it will quickly be forgotten if the Knicks lose in Milwaukee and fall out of playoff position on Wednesday.
Pace: 94.6 (8), Off: 103.2 (9), Def: 103.2 (21)
Of the five teams fighting for the final three spots in the West, the Suns have the toughest remaining schedule, with eight of their 10 games against teams with winning records. So they really need Monday's game in Minnesota, before they visit Memphis, Houston and San Antonio later in the week.
Pace: 94.3 (11), Off: 103.3 (8), Def: 101.6 (14)
The Rockets have never been more comfortable in playoff position, but the next 10 days are still huge as they'll play six games against the five teams trailing them in the West. After a month off, it was good that Kyle Lowry was able to get 18 minutes under his belt in an easy win over the Kings on Sunday.
Pace: 91.3 (29), Off: 102.0 (16), Def: 100.8 (12)
After a three week hiatus, the circus was back in town. It's hard to imagine Stan Van Gundy on the Orlando bench next season, but if the Magic can put this mess behind them and finish in the East's top three, then Van Gundy absolutely deserves some Coach of the Year consideration -- which would be pretty ironic.
Pace: 93.6 (17), Off: 99.9 (23), Def: 98.8 (7)
Brandan Wright has been a revelation in short bursts, but the Mavs have lost three of their last four, struggling offensively once again. We might have to consider the possibility of the defending champs missing the playoffs. After they host the Kings Tuesday, they head west for a critical four-game trip.
Pace: 96.0 (4), Off: 102.8 (13), Def: 102.3 (17)
The Bucks are playing their best basketball of the season at the right time. Monta Ellis has started to make some shots, but improved defense has been more important. Before Wednesday's huge game against the Knicks, that improved defense will be tested against the Thunder on Monday.
Pace: 96.6 (2), Off: 105.3 (4), Def: 103.9 (22)
The Cavs, Wolves, Raptors, Hornets and Warriors are a combined 39-79 (.331) since the All-Star break. The Nuggets, fighting for a playoff spot, have lost to each of them in that time. Some good news: Arron Afflalo has recovered from a rough first two months of the season to shoot 49 percent since the All-Star break.
Pace: 94.2 (12), Off: 103.2 (10), Def: 104.0 (23)
When you're barely holding on to playoff hopes, it's not a great time to be playing a home-and-home with the hottest team in the league. But the Jazz will look to put an end to the Spurs' winning streak at EnergySolutions Arena on Monday, just 24 hours after getting burned for 114 points in San Antonio.
Pace: 93.5 (18), Off: 103.0 (12), Def: 102.3 (16)
The Blazers showed some signs of life last week, especially in Friday's overtime win in Dallas. They're the West's spoiler team down the stretch, with six games remaining against teams 5-10 in the standings, starting with Monday's visit from Houston and another game against the Mavs on Friday.
Pace: 91.8 (27), Off: 101.1 (18), Def: 95.8 (2)
We knew the Sixers' early-season success was aided by a weak schedule and roster continuity. But the way they've collapsed in the last few weeks is simply stunning. This team has the fifth-best point differential in the league and is now in danger of going from feel-good story to Lottery squad in two months time.
Pace: 91.4 (28), Off: 97.3 (29), Def: 104.4 (24)
Painful reminder for Pistons fans: There are still two years and $42 million left on the contracts of the free agent class of 2009. Ben Gordon has shot 49 percent over his last eight games, but Charlie Villanueva has played exactly 15 minutes this season. Will one of them be an amnesty victim this summer?
Pace: 95.8 (5), Off: 102.2 (15), Def: 103.0 (19)
The Wolves lost in New Orleans on Saturday, but Michael Beasley returned from a five-game absence to score an efficient (really!) 20 points in 30 minutes. Neither Beasley's return nor Nikola Pekovic's return two games earlier have kept the Wolves from losing five straight with more awful defense.
New Jersey (21-37)|
Pace: 92.4 (22), Off: 100.8 (19), Def: 107.1 (29)
The Nets are the East's spoiler team for the next 18 days. They're playing well of late (winning six of their last nine), have a star who can take over games, and have five games remaining against teams 7-9 in the conference. That includes three against Philly, which the Nets already beat with a Deron Williams takeover.
Pace: 91.9 (26), Off: 98.9 (24), Def: 101.9 (15)
Ed Davis wasn't exactly a high lottery pick and is only 22 years old, but his lack of development this season has been disappointing. He grabbed 14 rebounds in Wednesday's win over Philly, but hasn't scored in double-figures since Feb. 22 and isn't doing enough defensively to earn more minutes from Dwane Casey.
Golden State (22-33)|
Pace: 94.5 (10), Off: 103.8 (7), Def: 105.0 (25)
The Warriors are just 4-12 since trading Monta Ellis. But even though Stephen Curry hasn't played since then, they've regressed much more defensively (missing Ekpe Udoh) than offensively. So they might be in decent shape next year with a healthy Andrew Bogut to anchor and improve their defense.
New Orleans (15-41)|
Pace: 90.8 (30), Off: 97.9 (27), Def: 103.1 (20)
After a 47-game absence, Eric Gordon returned to action on Wednesday, had a huge game (31 points on 11-for-19 shooting) in San Antonio on Friday, and then dealt with back stiffness on Saturday. It will be fascinating to see what kind of market there is for Gordon (a restricted free agent) this summer.
Pace: 97.3 (1), Off: 100.4 (20), Def: 106.4 (28)
A week ago, we lamented the defensive struggles of the Kings' starting three-guard combo. Well, without Marcus Thornton last week, the Kings were pretty poor offensively. And then on Sunday, they started Jimmer Fredette, who predictably got torched by Courtney Lee for 17 points in the first quarter.
Pace: 94.2 (13), Off: 98.5 (26), Def: 105.3 (26)
At the All-Star break, the Cavs were set to have the 10th-best Lottery odds. Now, likely finishing the season without Kyrie Irving, they'll probably be in the fourth seat on the podium. It's hard to imagine them falling any lower than that in the standings, but let's see how they play against the Bobcats on Tuesday.
Pace: 95.1 (7), Off: 97.5 (28), Def: 105.9 (27)
The Wizards have sandwiched a win over Philly with two five-game losing streaks. The first streak (with Nene playing four of the five) was about anemic offense (91 points scored per 100 possessions). The current streak (with Nene out) has been about awful defense (119 points allowed per 100 possessions).
Pace: 93.8 (16), Off: 93.3 (30), Def: 107.5 (30)
The Bobcats are set to have the second-worst point differential of the last 20 years, and they still need one more win to avoid finishing with the worst winning percentage in NBA history. They'll have plenty of opportunities, with games against the Wizards (2), Cavs, Pistons, Hornets and Kings in the last 18 days.