East playoff picture gets interesting
With a boost from Avery Bradley, the Boston Celtics have seemingly flipped the proverbial switch. And in the wake of a coaching change, the Milwaukee Bucks have caught themselves from falling into Lottery land. So more than ever, the eight teams that will make the Eastern Conference playoffs seem set.
But there's plenty to be determined when it comes to seeding. In particular, the fight for seeds 2-4 has become a lot more interesting in the last couple of weeks.
Bad defense and injuries have brought the New York Knicks back to the pack. And while the Atlanta Hawks and Chicago Bulls have floundered, the Indiana Pacers and Brooklyn Nets have surged. All of a sudden, we've got four teams behind the Knicks tied with 15 losses. And with the way the Celtics have looked over the last 10 days, they're certainly in the mix as well.
Before the season started, we wondered who that second-best team in the Eastern Conference would be, and we could have listed five or six different candidates. The Knicks still have the edge, but it's going to be fun to see how things shake out over the next three months.
• Last week: Spurs No. 1 after crazy week
• This time last year: Road trip sinks the Heat Kobe Bryant scored 40-plus points in four straight games, the Hawks lost Al Horford for the rest of the regular season with a torn pectoral muscle, the Bulls held an opponent to under 70 points for the fourth time in their first 14 games, and the Wizards got their first win of the season.
Hero Team of the Week: Brooklyn (3-0) - The Nets are the only undefeated team in 2013 and have won their six January games by an average of 15.0 points.
Zero Team of the Week: Atlanta (1-3) - They were on the road, but the Hawks lost to both the Cavs and Wizards ... by double-digits.
Plus-minus Stud: Kevin Durant (OKC) was a plus-74 in four games last week.
Plus-minus Dud: DeMarcus Cousins (SAC) was a minus-51 in three games last week.
High jumps of the week: Boston (+5), Brooklyn (+4), Memphis (+4)
Free falls of the week: Atlanta (-4), Houston (-3), Sacramento (-3)
East vs. West: The West is 135-93 (.592) against the East in inter-conference games this season, but the East was 10-9 last week.
Toughest schedules through Sunday: 1. Denver, 2. New Orleans, 3. San Antonio
Easiest schedules through Sunday: 1. Indiana 2. Oklahoma City 3. Atlanta
Schedule strength is based on cumulative opponent record, and adjusted for home vs. away and days of rest before a game.
Pace: Possessions per 48 minutes (League Rank)
OffRtg: Points scored per 100 possessions (League Rank)
DefRtg: Points allowed per 100 possessions (League Rank)
NetRtg: Point differential per 100 possessions (League Rank)
The league is averaging 94.3 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes and 102.4 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, contact him via twitter.
Oklahoma City (29-8)|
Pace: 95.1 (8), OffRtg: 110.2 (1), DefRtg: 99.8 (6), NetRtg: +10.4 (1)
The Thunder began last week with an embarrassing loss in Washington, but ended it by ending the Blazers' nine-game home winning streak without Serge Ibaka or Thabo Sefolosha and with Russell Westbrook shooting 5-for-21. It was a coming-out party for DeAndre Liggins, who scored 11 points and grabbed nine boards in 40 minutes, more than twice as many as he'd played all season.
Last week: 3|
San Antonio (29-11)|
Pace: 96.9 (3), OffRtg: 106.9 (5), DefRtg: 98.5 (4), NetRtg: +8.4 (3)
After another tough matchup with the Grizzlies, the Spurs' offense is scoring just 94 points per 100 possessions in six games against the other three teams in the West's top four. More concerning is Manu Ginobili's hamstring injury, which comes at a time when he was just starting to show some consistency. He averaged 17.0 points on 30-for-59 shooting in his last five games.
Last week: 1|
L.A. Clippers (28-9)|
Pace: 94.5 (13), OffRtg: 107.5 (4), DefRtg: 98.4 (3), NetRtg: +9.1 (3)
The Clippers have the best second unit in the league, so integrating Grant Hill into the mix is not an easy task for Vinny Del Negro. The Clips also have just four home losses, but three of the four are to the Cavs, Hornets and Magic. They play another bad team - Washington - at home on Saturday, but first will be tested on a trip through Memphis, Houston and Minnesota.
Last week: 2|
Pace: 96.8 (4), OffRtg: 105.3 (7), DefRtg: 102.1 (14), NetRtg: +3.3 (7)
Though they couldn't really stop Orlando's 20th-ranked offense or score against Cleveland's 28th-ranked defense last week, the Nuggets are taking advantage of this home-heavy stretch of schedule. They've won five straight, outscoring their opponents by an average of 22.0 points in the paint. Nine different Nuggets have scored at least 14 points in one of the games during the streak.
Last week: 7|
Pace: 93.7 (18), OffRtg: 109.3 (2), DefRtg: 102.0 (13), NetRtg: +7.3 (4)
The Heat's two-big starting lineup (with Udonis Haslem as the fifth guy) has actually been better offensively than its one-big starting lineup (Shane Battier), but rebounding continues to be an issue. They've allowed 49 offensive boards and 53 second chance points in the first three games of their road trip, which continues with visits to Utah, Golden State and L.A. (to face the Lakers).
Last week: 4|
Pace: 92.3 (27), OffRtg: 100.9 (17), DefRtg: 97.0 (2), NetRtg: +3.9 (6)
Just when you thought the Grizzlies were slipping, they went and beat the Warriors (on the road) and Spurs, even though they barely scored a point per possession in either game. That made Saturday's stinker in Dallas -- the only time this season the Grizz have failed to force double-digit turnovers -- easier to absorb. Now they have the Clippers and Spurs (again) this week.
Last week: 10|
Golden State (23-13)|
Pace: 96.3 (6), OffRtg: 104.4 (10), DefRtg: 101.3 (11), NetRtg: +3.1 (8)
Wednesday's loss to the Grizzlies kept the Warriors firmly in fifth place in the West, but Sunday's loss in Denver has the Nuggets right on their heels. Both made it clear that transition defense is an issue, as they allowed 37 total fast break points in the two games after allowing 42 in their home-and-home with the Clippers. They're 3-8 when they allow 17 or more, with the Heat up next.
Last week: 5|
New York (24-13)|
Pace: 93.2 (22), OffRtg: 108.9 (3), DefRtg: 103.1 (18), NetRtg: +5.8 (5)
The Knicks certainly miss Raymond Felton, but their defense, which ranked 20th in December and ranks 22nd in January, started regressing well before Felton was lost to a broken finger ... or before Rasheed Wallace was lost with a foot injury. But now they could get Iman Shumpert back for Thursday's game in London, and that's a guy who can really help them defend the perimeter.
Last week: 6|
Pace: 90.4 (29), OffRtg: 104.5 (9), DefRtg: 103.1 (17), NetRtg: +1.5 (12)
The Nets' schedule gets tougher now, but they handled the first test on Sunday, coming back to beat the Pacers. It was especially encouraging in that they scored 97 points (thanks mostly to 31 trips to the line) in a slow-paced game against the No. 1 defense in the league. Joe Johnson, who has shot 18-for-37 from 3-point range in January, makes his return to Atlanta on Wednesday.
Last week: 13|
Pace: 92.2 (28), OffRtg: 98.0 (29), DefRtg: 95.7 (1), NetRtg: +2.3 (10)
The Pacers shut down both the Heat and Knicks last week, with Paul George coming up with big performances (53 points and 22 boards total) against two MVP candidates. They're clearly a top team in the East, but they're now 1-7 in road games against other East playoff teams after Sunday's loss in Brooklyn. The good news is that they don't visit another East playoff team until March 10th.
Last week: 9|
Pace: 99.3 (1), OffRtg: 105.0 (8), DefRtg: 103.4 (20), NetRtg: +1.6 (11)
Where did the Rockets' offense go? Though James Harden continues to put up consistent and efficient numbers, they've been held to just 93 points per 100 possessions as they've lost three straight. Jeremy Lin has shot 10-for-34 during the streak, but he's not alone on the wrong side of 40 percent and the Houston bench was more to blame for Saturday's loss in Philadelphia.
Last week: 8|
Pace: 93.4 (20), OffRtg: 100.8 (18), DefRtg: 100.7 (9), NetRtg: +0.1 (15)
Let us all vow to never doubt the importance of Avery Bradley, who needed no time to restore the Celtics' mojo and get them playing their best basketball of the season. The defense has been strong of late, whether or not Kevin Garnett has been on the floor. Now, the Charlotte Bobcats are the only thing standing in the way of the Celtics' first six-game winning streak since Dec. of 2010.
Last week: 17|
Pace: 96.4 (5), OffRtg: 99.6 (25), DefRtg: 100.4 (7), NetRtg: -0.8 (16)
Interim coaches Bernie Bickerstaff, P.J. Carlesimo and Jim Boylan are now a combined 15-3. The Bucks are 3-1 under Boylan and scoring almost 107 points per 100 possessions in the four games. Brandon Jennings (65) has attempted just three more shots from the field than Monta Ellis (62) in the Boylan era, but has scored 41 more points (98-57) and dished out 10 more assists.
Last week: 15|
Pace: 93.0 (24), OffRtg: 100.2 (22), DefRtg: 99.0 (5), NetRtg: +1.2 (14)
Chicago was 62-12 at the United Center over the last two seasons. This year, it's 10-10 and one of only two teams with a better point differential on the road (NetRtg: +2.4) than at home (+0.3). Saturday's beatdown by the Suns was the latest example of the Bulls rolling over in their own building, where they'll host the Hawks on Monday in a big game between two second-tier East teams.
Last week: 12|
Pace: 93.7 (17), OffRtg: 101.8 (14), DefRtg: 100.6 (8), NetRtg: +1.2 (13)
A big fourth quarter got them a win against Utah on Friday, but the Hawks lost five of their last six and have the 26th ranked offense in January. They're shooting well, but their other numbers (offensive boards, free throws, turnovers) are all weak. So it's probably not a good time for three big games -- vs. Chicago and Brooklyn (x2) -- against teams they're fighting for playoff position with.
Last week: 11|
Pace: 93.3 (21), OffRtg: 101.9 (13), DefRtg: 104.2 (23), NetRtg: -2.3 (21)
There's no such thing as garbage time in Portland. Each of the last six and eight of the last nine Blazers games have been determined by six points or less. They've lost two straight, but are still 11-4 in such games. Wesley Matthews' two clutch 3-pointers against the Heat gave them three players with at least six clutch-time threes this season. No other team has more than one.
Last week: 14|
Pace: 94.2 (15), OffRtg: 103.2 (11), DefRtg: 104.1 (22), NetRtg: -0.9 (17)
Given their relative stability, the Jazz should really be the favorite to grab that eighth spot in the West. And if they are, they should really prove it over the next four weeks. Though they haven't shown much consistency on either end of the floor, they've won five of their last seven. And now they play 10 of their next 12 games at home, a stretch that includes a huge home-and-home with Portland.
Last week: 18|
Pace: 94.7 (9), OffRtg: 99.9 (24), DefRtg: 101.7 (12), NetRtg: -1.9 (20)
The Wolves were able to survive half of November without Kevin Love because they had a top-five defense that month. The defense then ranked seventh in December. And January? 28th. A tough schedule has something to do with the regression, but they allowed the Hornets to shoot 52 percent on Friday. Defense this bad is not going to let them hang around the playoff picture for much longer.
Last week: 16|
L.A. Lakers (16-21)|
Pace: 97.5 (2), OffRtg: 106.3 (6), DefRtg: 103.7 (21), NetRtg: +2.6 (9)
Mike D'Antoni told his team that Sunday's game against Cleveland was "the first game of the season." So, in D'Antoni's world, the Lakers are the best team in the league, with a perfect record and a plus-20 point differential. Or perhaps Mike Brown should still be L.A.'s head coach, since he never went 1-4 to get himself fired? Some of these entries just write themselves, don't they?
Last week: 19|
Pace: 92.4 (26), OffRtg: 101.1 (16), DefRtg: 102.9 (15), NetRtg: -1.8 (19)
The Pistons didn't get the call they needed at the end of Saturday's loss to the Jazz, but the bigger issue was another scoring drought: two points in six-plus minutes in the third quarter. If it weren't for that drought and one against the Bobcats six days earlier, Detroit would be heading to London having won nine of their last 10. The Knicks will test their improved defense on Thursday.
Last week: 20|
Pace: 92.5 (25), OffRtg: 103.0 (12), DefRtg: 104.2 (24), NetRtg: -1.2 (18)
The Raptors certainly aren't out of the playoff picture at this point, but they could have made things a lot more interesting if they didn't blow a 20-point lead to eighth-place Milwaukee on Sunday. They're now 2-7 against the nine teams ahead of them in the East, with three games against that group this week. Ed Davis had 20 and 12 on Sunday and is averaging 12.4 and 7.6 as a starter.
Last week: 22|
New Orleans (11-26)|
Pace: 90.3 (30), OffRtg: 100.7 (19), DefRtg: 105.9 (27), NetRtg: -5.2 (26)
It took too long, but the Hornets are finally looking like the defensive team we thought they'd be this season. They allowed just 96 points per 100 possessions over their four-game winning streak, which was anything but hollow, because it included defensive wins over the Spurs and Rockets on Monday and Wednesday. Their new starting lineup has been pretty bad offensively, though.
Last week: 25|
Pace: 93.1 (23), OffRtg: 99.2 (26), DefRtg: 103.1 (16), NetRtg: -3.9 (23)
Starting with Saturday's streak-breaking win over the Rockets, the Sixers play in just two cities -- Philly (12 games) and Milwaukee (two games) -- until the All-Star break. So if they have any shot at fighting for that eighth spot in the East (maybe Milwaukee will fade), they've got to string some wins together right now. Not they've been that great (10-8, -1.5 NetRtg) at home thus far this season.
Last week: 23|
Pace: 94.6 (12), OffRtg: 101.4 (15), DefRtg: 108.5 (30), NetRtg: -7.1 (27)
Nine days ago, the Kings had won six of their last nine games. Now, they've allowed an atrocious 126 points per 100 possessions during a four-game losing streak. That run has earned them the Worst Defense in the League title, and if they're still No. 30 in defense after games against the Cavs, Wizards, Grizzlies and Bobcats this week, they may stay there all year.
Last week: 21|
Pace: 96.2 (7), OffRtg: 100.3 (21), DefRtg: 104.4 (25), NetRtg: -4.1 (24)
Dirk or no Dirk, the biggest difference between this year's Mavs and the last couple of seasons is the defense (or lack thereof) they're getting from the center position. There was a little drop-off from Tyson Chandler to Brendan Haywood, but not nearly as bad as the drop-off from Haywood to Chris Kaman. The Mavs are allowing almost 107 points per 100 possessions with Kaman on the floor.
Last week: 26|
Pace: 93.9 (16), OffRtg: 100.6 (20), DefRtg: 103.2 (19), NetRtg: -2.6 (22)
The Magic's losing streak wasn't supposed to end in L.A. against the Clippers, but J.J. Redick's shooting and defense down the stretch made them the only visitor with two wins at Staples Center this season. Redick is 14-for-26 on threes in his last three games and is a prime candidate to help a contender down the stretch, but he's not so old that he can't be a part of Orlando's future.
Last week: 24|
Pace: 94.4 (14), OffRtg: 100.1 (23), DefRtg: 105.2 (26), NetRtg: -5.1 (25)
Alvin Gentry finally freed Michael Beasley from exile on Saturday, and Beasley helped the Suns end their five-game losing streak with 20 points (in just 21 minutes) on 10-for-14 shooting in Chicago. It was just the second time in Beasley's career (314 games) that he had at least 10 buckets in fewer than 15 attempts. Stay tuned to see how long he can stay out of the dog house.
Last week: 27|
Pace: 94.7 (10), OffRtg: 98.2 (28), DefRtg: 106.3 (28), NetRtg: -8.0 (28)
The Cavs got a nice win (behind a ridiculously efficient 33 points from Kyrie Irving) over the Hawks on Wednesday, but got crushed on the boards in Chicago and Denver and just crushed in L.A. on Sunday. Anderson Varejao's absence has thrown rookie Tyler Zeller into the fire. He had some nice games at the end of December, but has shot a brutal 32 percent in January.
Last week: 28|
Pace: 93.7 (19), OffRtg: 93.2 (30), DefRtg: 101.3 (10), NetRtg: -8.1 (29)
John Wall's return was encouraging. He had three assists to backcourt-mate Bradley Beal, knocked down a couple of mid-range jumpers, used his speed to get to the bucket, and scored or assisted on eight of the Wizards' final 10 points, as they held off the Hawks to put together their first winning streak of the season. They can make it three in a row on Monday against the Magic.
Last week: 30|
Pace: 94.7 (11), OffRtg: 99.1 (27), DefRtg: 108.3 (29), NetRtg: -9.2 (30)
If you're a Bobcats season ticket holder, you haven't seen your team win a game in person since the day before Thanksgiving. The Cats play five of their next seven at Time Warner Cable Arena, but if you're going to see another home victory before Valentine's Day, it might have to happen on Saturday, when the Kings come to town. Otherwise, only good teams are visiting.
Last week: 29|