Time for the home stretch
All-Star Weekend is in the rear-view mirror and it's time to get to the home stretch of the 2012-13 NBA season. As much fun as we had in Houston, it's great to get back to the games that count.
For certain teams, these games count more than others. They know they have to be playing at a certain level when the playoffs begin, and there are only about 30 games left to get to that level.
Realistically, only nine teams in each conference have a shot of playing beyond April 17. But Thursday's trade deadline could certainly throw a wrinkle in the playoff picture. So buckle up and get ready for plenty of rumors to fly in the next few days.
• Last week: Spurs, Nuggets thrive in 'dog days'
• This time last year: Heat on another level -- Dwyane Wade had shot 50 percent in 10 straight games, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook combined to score 91 points against the Nuggets, Marco Belinelli made sure that the rims were level in New Orleans, and Nicolas Batum did this to Trevor Booker and JaVale McGee.
Hero Team of the Week: L.A. Clippers (3-0) -- The Clips were the only team to play three teams last week, and they won them all ... by an average of 17 points.
Zero Team of the Week: Portland (0-2) -- There's no shame in losing in Miami. But there's plenty of shame in losing at New Orleans ... by 36.
High jumps of the week: Brooklyn (+2), Memphis (+2), Toronto (+2)
Free falls of the week: Golden State (-3), Chicago (-2), Cleveland (-2), Philadelphia (-2)
East vs. West: The West is 179-133 (.574) against the East in inter-conference games this season and was 5-5 last week.
Toughest schedules through Sunday: 1. New Orleans, 2. Houston, 3. Washington
Easiest schedules through Sunday: 1. New York, 2. Atlanta, 3. Indiana
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) - Click here
OffRtg: Points scored per 100 possessions (League Rank) - Click here
DefRtg: Points allowed per 100 possessions (League Rank) - Click here
NetRtg: Point differential per 100 possessions (League Rank) - Click here
The league is averaging 94.3 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes and 102.7 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 or contact him via twitter.
San Antonio (42-12)|
Pace: 96.2 (7), OffRtg: 107.4 (4), DefRtg: 98.4 (3), NetRtg: +9.0 (2)
The big three returned to the lineup on Wednesday, but they needed some help from Kawhi Leonard (as well as a 2-for-15 night from Kyrie Irving) to pick up a win in Cleveland. Still, this team is 23-4 since Dec. 21, with a very home-heavy schedule the rest of the way. First, they finish up the rodeo trip with four games this week, including a big one against the Clippers on Thursday.
Last week: 1|
Pace: 93.1 (21), OffRtg: 110.4 (1), DefRtg: 101.8 (11), NetRtg: +8.6 (3)
Two days after passing the Thunder for the No. 1 spot in offensive efficiency, the Heat beat OKC for the sixth straight time. With a seven-game winning streak, they've got the most comfortable lead atop the East that they've had all season. But it would be nice if they could win a game against the Bulls, Knicks or Pacers. They visit both Chicago and New York in the next two weeks.
Last week: 3|
Oklahoma City (39-14)|
Pace: 96.0 (8), OffRtg: 110.0 (2), DefRtg: 99.7 (8), NetRtg: +10.3 (1)
The good news is that the Thunder don't have to worry about the Heat again until June at the earliest. The bad news is that the Heat have their number, the chances of another team from the East reaching The Finals seem pretty slim, and Kevin Durant is going to have to wait at least another year before he earns his first MVP award, because LeBron James is on another level.
Last week: 2|
L.A. Clippers (39-17)|
Pace: 94.1 (15), OffRtg: 106.5 (7), DefRtg: 99.5 (6), NetRtg: +7.0 (4)
Chris Paul is healthy, and all is well with the Clippers, who have won four straight with some potent offense. But the idea of a frontline upgrade is certainly interesting. We already know that the Western Conference playoffs are going to be great. But imagine how competitive a series between any of the conference's top three teams would be if L.A. added Kevin Garnett or Paul Millsap.
Last week: 5|
Pace: 97.5 (2), OffRtg: 106.5 (6), DefRtg: 102.6 (13), NetRtg: +3.9 (7)
The Nuggets went back on the road before the break and lost three straight, even though Ty Lawson shot 62 percent and averaged 28.0 points and 9.0 assists over the three games. It probably had something to do with their defense falling apart without Andre Iguodala. The good news is that their remaining schedule doesn't include any trips longer than two games.
Last week: 4|
Pace: 92.2 (26), OffRtg: 100.0 (24), DefRtg: 95.9 (1), NetRtg: +4.1 (6)
Danny Granger could finally make his return against the Knicks on Wednesday. The Pacers were pretty good offensively with Granger and Paul George on the floor together last season, and that was before George made the All-Star leap. Without Granger, they've actually had the league's eighth best offense since Jan. 26, scoring 107.7 points per 100 possessions over 10 games.
Last week: 6|
Pace: 92.0 (27), OffRtg: 100.6 (20), DefRtg: 97.7 (2), NetRtg: +2.9 (8)
While Rudy Gay was hitting game-winners in Toronto, the Grizz went into the break playing their best offense of the season. They scored 108.5 points per 100 possessions over their last four games, their most efficient span of four games since April. Austin Daye apparently brought his hot shooting from Detroit and Tony Allen is somehow three for his last six from 3-point range.
Last week: 9|
New York (32-18)|
Pace: 92.4 (25), OffRtg: 108.8 (3), DefRtg: 103.0 (15), NetRtg: +5.8 (5)
Earlier this month, Tyson Chandler said that the Knicks have focus on defense after the All-Star break. Well, that time is now and the Knicks went into the break allowing 110.5 points per 100 possessions over their last four games (two against bottom-10 offensive teams). They begin their post-break schedule with a big game against the third-place Pacers (in Indiana) on Wednesday.
Last week: 8|
Pace: 92.0 (28), OffRtg: 100.3 (21), DefRtg: 98.8 (4), NetRtg: +1.5 (10)
Derrick Rose is the future of the franchise (the future of the league, really), and he's not going to be 100 percent this season anyway, so every precaution should be taken in regard to his return to the floor. But the Eastern Conference playoffs would be a lot more fun if the always-tough and resilient Bulls had their star in the lineup, even if he's not yet back to being his explosive self.
Last week: 7|
Pace: 93.5 (19), OffRtg: 100.1 (23), DefRtg: 99.2 (5), NetRtg: +0.9 (13)
There have certainly been offensive changes since Rajon Rondo's injury, but the Celtics' defense has been far more improved, allowing just 92.7 points per 100 possessions over the nine games. Assuming no big trade, this is the time when we really see what they're made of. They play nine of their next 11 games on the road, including a five-game trip that starts in Denver on Tuesday.
Last week: 10|
Pace: 90.5 (30), OffRtg: 103.7 (11), DefRtg: 103.6 (19), NetRtg: +0.1 (15)
The Nets got two impressive wins (over Indiana and Denver) to close their pre-break schedule ... without Deron Williams. Hopefully, the extra rest and platelet-rich plasma treatment on his ankles can help get Williams some of his burst back. After taking 32 percent of his shots from the restricted area in his first seven seasons, he's attempted only 19 percent of them from there this year.
Last week: 13|
Pace: 98.7 (1), OffRtg: 106.5 (5), DefRtg: 104.4 (22), NetRtg: +2.1 (9)
The Rockets' defense continues to be pretty porous, but their offense continues to be pretty ridiculous, as you can see by their numbers in February. Their post-break schedule begins with three tough ones -- vs. OKC, at Brooklyn and at Washington (yes, that's a tough one!) -- but, overall, they've got one of the easier remaining schedules in the league (making things tougher for the Lakers).
Last week: 12|
Pace: 93.8 (17), OffRtg: 103.5 (12), DefRtg: 104.3 (21), NetRtg: -0.8 (16)
The Jazz's win over the Thunder on Tuesday was a big one, because they were just 3-12 against the other West playoff teams until that point. And their win in Minnesota the next night was big too, because their defense has been most atrocious (DefRtg: 108.0) on the second night of back-to-backs. They've got just three back-to-backs left on their schedule, the fewest in the league.
Last week: 14|
Golden State (30-22)|
Pace: 96.7 (6), OffRtg: 104.1 (9), DefRtg: 103.4 (16), NetRtg: +0.7 (14)
The Warriors really limped into the break, losing five straight (three by 20-plus) and playing the NBA's worst defense in February. Stopping their slide after the break might be tough, as they play six of their next eight games on the road (and a home game against the Spurs). But they finish the season by playing 16 of their final 22 at home, where they've allowed less than a point per possession.
Last week: 11|
Pace: 97.2 (3), OffRtg: 99.7 (25), DefRtg: 101.0 (9), NetRtg: -1.3 (18)
Check out the list of players who have attempted the most mid-range shots this season. Then take note of the one guy who has shot much worse than the others. And it's probably not a good thing that his backcourt-mate is shooting 32 percent over the last eight games. It's hard to imagine both inefficient guards in Milwaukee next season, but will they both be there come Thursday night?
Last week: 15|
L.A. Lakers (25-29)|
Pace: 97.1 (4), OffRtg: 104.9 (8), DefRtg: 103.4 (17), NetRtg: +1.4 (11)
It's time for the Lakers to put up or shut up. Hopefully, both. It's been case of one step forward, one step back in February thus far, with Thursday's butt-kicking from their housemates being a clear example of the latter. This week, they host the Celtics on Wednesday. It ain't The Finals, but it's still a fascinating matchup of two fragile teams who could be active at the deadline.
Last week: 16|
Pace: 93.9 (16), OffRtg: 102.2 (15), DefRtg: 101.1 (10), NetRtg: +1.1 (12)
Is this the end of the Josh Smith era in the ATL, shawty? It's hard to imagine the Hawks without Smooth, one of only four guys from the 2004 draft -- Luol Deng, Andris Biedrins and Jameer Nelson are the others -- who are still with the teams they made their NBA debuts with. But it may be harder to imagine them making another long-term commitment to Smith and continuing with the status quo.
Last week: 17|
Pace: 96.8 (5), OffRtg: 102.5 (13), DefRtg: 104.1 (20), NetRtg: -1.6 (19)
The Mavs have a good chance to inch closer to that .500 mark with games against the Magic, Hornets and Lakers this week, But more than any other team, they have to be open for business over the next four days. They've got pieces to sell off and they need to find a way to put better pieces around Dirk Nowitzki. Hopefully, the big German has at least one more big year in him.
Last week: 18|
Pace: 93.0 (22), OffRtg: 101.1 (17), DefRtg: 103.6 (18), NetRtg: -2.5 (20)
Jose Calderon has shot 57 percent from the field and a ridiculous 16-for-29 from 3-point range in six games with the Pistons. And amazingly, Detroit's starting lineup still can't score. But once you get Jason Maxiell off the floor, things start to open up. Maxiell, whose field goal percentage has declined each of the last four seasons, is on an expiring, easily-tradeable deal.
Last week: 19|
Pace: 92.4 (24), OffRtg: 104.0 (10), DefRtg: 104.9 (23), NetRtg: -0.9 (17)
Rudy Gay got another game-winner and the Raptors went into the break with four straight wins (three against teams with better than .600 records). In terms of opponent winning percentage, they have one of the easier remaining schedules in the league, but an early-March four-game trip that starts against eighth-place Milwaukee should make or break their playoff chances.
Last week: 22|
Pace: 93.4 (20), OffRtg: 101.9 (16), DefRtg: 105.5 (26), NetRtg: -3.6 (24)
No team in the league had All-Star Fever more than the Blazers, who were finishing up a six-game trip and got absolutely waxed in New Orleans on Wednesday. They've lost five straight and are just a half game ahead of the Lakers, whom they visit on Friday. They have only four back-to-backs remaining, but still play one of the tougher remaining schedules in the league.
Last week: 20|
Pace: 94.3 (14), OffRtg: 95.4 (30), DefRtg: 99.6 (7), NetRtg: -4.2 (25)
We counted the Wizards out of the playoffs back in November, but they've made things somewhat interesting with an 11-8 record since Jan. 7. So let's see what they do with six of their next seven games (and 10 of their next 14) at home, where they've won eight of their last nine, playing strong on both ends of the floor and outscoring their opponents by 12.0 points per 100 possessions.
Last week: 23|
Pace: 92.9 (23), OffRtg: 98.9 (27), DefRtg: 101.9 (12), NetRtg: -3.0 (22)
The Sixers' chances at a playoff spot look slim, especially without Thaddeus Young, who is probably out another week with a strained hamstring. Philly has been pretty awful (minus-10.9 points per 100 possessions) with Young off the floor. No team has a bigger discrepancy between remaining home (12) and away (19) games, and no team has more back-to-backs (10) left to play.
Last week: 21|
New Orleans (19-34)|
Pace: 91.1 (29), OffRtg: 102.4 (14), DefRtg: 105.7 (27), NetRtg: -3.3 (23)
The Hornets went into the break winning four of their last five and allowing less than a point per possession in that stretch. That number was certainly aided by the Blazers' putrid effort on Wednesday, but it's encouraging for the future Pelicans. Though it's been rather incremental, the defense has improved every month since November and currently ranks 11th in February.
Last week: 25|
Pace: 94.6 (21), OffRtg: 100.2 (22), DefRtg: 102.7 (14), NetRtg: -2.5 (21)
The BBVA Rising Stars Challenge wasn't exactly real basketball, but it was another showcase for Ricky Rubio. The Wolves are playing for ping pong balls and we can't expect to see the best of Rubio until the fall. But every game on the court from here on out is another chance for him to regain some confidence and some rhythm ... as well as a chance to produce highlights like this.
Last week: 26|
Pace: 95.3 (9), OffRtg: 100.6 (19), DefRtg: 106.8 (28), NetRtg: -6.2 (27)
Tristan Thompson doesn't just dance. The second-year big man has scored in double-figures in 20 straight games, averaging 15.2 points and 9.8 rebounds in that stretch. The Cavs have had a solid offensive lineup (108.4 points scored per 100 possessions in 153 minutes) when they've teamed Thompson and Kyrie Irving with C.J. Miles, Alonzo Gee and Tyler Zeller.
Last week: 24|
Pace: 95.2 (10), OffRtg: 100.7 (18), DefRtg: 108.5 (30), NetRtg: -7.8 (29)
As they flounder to their seventh straight trip to the Lottery with the worst defense in the league, the Kings might have a couple of players who could help a contender. But Geoff Petrie might not have the authority to make any deals, given the ownership situation. So if your favorite team is struggling offensively in the final two months, just hope that they have the Kings on their schedule.
Last week: 27|
Pace: 95.0 (11), OffRtg: 98.7 (28), DefRtg: 105.0 (24), NetRtg: -6.3 (28)
The Suns are as far away from being a playoff team (both this year and in the future) as any team in the Western Conference. They're not going anywhere any time soon. So they should certainly be in the mix as the deadline approaches, with a couple of guys -- Jared Dudley and Marcin Gortat -- on reasonable contracts who can help a contender who can send back an asset or two.
Last week: 28|
Pace: 94.4 (13), OffRtg: 98.0 (29), DefRtg: 108.2 (29), NetRtg: -10.2 (30)
Given Ben Gordon's reported transgressions, you probably don't need to give up much to get him from the Bobcats. Just know that he has, by far, the worst on-court defensive rating in the league among players who have logged at least 1,000 minutes. The Cats have allowed 113.7 points per 100 possessions with Gordon on the floor. And he has shot 12-for-43 in his last five games.
Last week: 30|
Pace: 93.8 (18), OffRtg: 99.6 (26), DefRtg: 105.3 (25), NetRtg: -5.7 (26)
The Magic are a league-worst 3-24 since Dec. 21, but they obviously found a keeper in Nikola Vucevic and have also seen some promise from Andrew Nicholson of late. In seven February games, the rookie has averaged 11.7 points on 59 percent shooting and he has proven that he can step outside and knock down a jumper or two. He has shot 46 percent from 10 feet and out.
Last week: 29|