While it may not feel like it in some parts of the United States, spring is officially here. A look at the standings shows that nine teams have clinched playoff spots. And a look at the team stats shows that 20 teams have played at least 70 games.
So yeah, it's time to start getting excited about the playoffs. It's time to start looking at potential first-round matchups. And it's time to make sure you don't have anything scheduled for April 20th and 21st, when the postseason tips off.
Of course, the Miami Heat will keep us mostly focused on the here and now. They're just seven games from history and face two serious tests this week, visiting the Bulls on Wednesday and the Spurs on Sunday. And if you've been paying attention, you know that San Antonio is the team most qualified to knock them off, both in the regular season and, if both teams make it there, in June.
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 or contact him via twitter.
Pace: 93.1 (22), OffRtg: 110.5 (1), DefRtg: 100.7 (9), NetRtg: +9.8 (2)
You can't say that the Heat's 26-game winning streak hasn't come without drama. And last week might have had more than the '71-72 Lakers saw in their entire 33-game run (when they won just two games by six points or less). There was the 13-point, fourth-quarter deficit against the Celtics, the 27-point hole in Cleveland, and the 11-point deficit to the Bobcats. OK, maybe that last one wasn't such a big deal.
This week: @ ORL, @ CHI, @ NOH, @ SAS
San Antonio (53-17)
Pace: 96.4 (7), OffRtg: 107.1 (6), DefRtg: 98.6 (3), NetRtg: +8.4 (3)
Tony Parker totaled 45 points on 15-for-28 shooting in his first two games back from his ankle injury, but the Spurs were still held under a point per possession buy both the Jazz and Rockets (two below-average defensive teams) over the weekend. And after a tough loss in Houston on Sunday, their schedule only gets tougher. Over the next 11 days, they play each of the other five teams in our top six.
This week: vs. DEN, vs. LAC, vs. MIA
Pace: 97.8 (2), OffRtg: 107.4 (4), DefRtg: 101.9 (11), NetRtg: +5.5 (6)
The Nuggets got huge games from Wilson Chandler in Chicago and from Ty Lawson in Oklahoma City, and then beat the Sixers and Kings without either of them. Oh, and there was more clutch play without a "go-to guy." Wednesday's game in San Antonio is the biggest test of their winning streak (now at 15 games), but don't overlook the Hornets, who just beat the Grizzlies and Celtics at home.
This week: @ NOH, @ SAS, vs. BKN
Oklahoma City (52-19)
Pace: 96.3 (8), OffRtg: 110.0 (2), DefRtg: 99.2 (4), NetRtg: +10.8 (1)
We were about to put the Thunder offense on some milk cartons. Over the course of 3 1/2 games -- losses to Denver and Memphis, a narrow win over Orlando, and the first half against Portland -- they were held under a point per possession. But then they came alive for 58 points in the second half against the Blazers. Derek Fisher, who is playing shooting guard, has missed his last 15 shots from the field.
This week: vs. WAS, @ MIN, @ MIL
91.3 (28), OffRtg:
101.3 (19), DefRtg:
97.5 (2), NetRtg:
The loss of Marc Gasol (out indefinitely with an abdominal tear) is clearly a huge development across the Western Conference. Not only is he responsible for game-winning tip-ins
, but he's the fulcrum of both the conference's best defense and an improved offense. To make things tougher for the Grizz, they play eight of their final 13 games on the road, where they've lost three straight. This week:
@ WAS, @ NYK, vs. HOU, @ MIN
L.A. Clippers (48-22)
Pace: 93.9 (17), OffRtg: 106.9 (7), DefRtg: 100.4 (8), NetRtg: +6.5 (4)
The Clips have played just two road games in the last three weeks, and they lost them both -- including a stunner in Sacramento on Tuesday -- by 15 points. So their four-game trip through the Southwest Division this week is critical to both maintain a top-four record in the West (winning the division doesn't necessarily give you home-court advantage in the first round) and reestablish some road chops.
This week: @ DAL, @ NOH, @ SAS, @ HOU
Pace: 92.7 (25), OffRtg: 101.3 (20), DefRtg: 95.4 (1), NetRtg: +5.9 (5)
With David West out, Tyler Hasbrough averaged 15.3 and 10.8 boards in four starts last week, picking up three double-doubles. The results of Gerald Green reentering the Pacers' rotation were more mixed. Green totaled 35 points and 14 rebounds, hitting seven of his 13 threes, in wins over the Cavs and Magic, and then shot 2-for-12 in games against the Bucks (a win) and Bulls (a loss).
This week: vs. ATL, @ HOU, @ DAL, @ PHX
Pace: 98.7 (1), OffRtg: 107.1 (5), DefRtg: 103.7 (19), NetRtg: +3.4 (9)
James Harden shot just 41 percent last week, but still scored 78 points on only 39 shots from the field in the Rockets' three wins and capped the week with the game-winner against the Spurs. On the other end of the floor, the Rockets held three straight opponents under a point per possession for the first time since early November, building a little cushion between themselves and the Lakers.
This week: vs. IND, @ MEM, vs. LAC
90.8 (29), OffRtg:
104.3 (9), DefRtg:
103.4 (17), NetRtg:
The Nets could be a very impressive 4-0 on their trip thus far if they had anybody to stop Chris Paul in the fourth quarter on Saturday. But while their defense continues be an issue, their offense has regained some traction, scoring 115 points per 100 possessions over their last seven games
. And that's with Joe Johnson banged up and with Gerald Wallace shooting worse than Josh Smith (see below). This week:
@ POR, @ DEN, @ UTA
92.3 (26), OffRtg:
107.5 (3), DefRtg:
103.1 (16), NetRtg:
Kenyon Martin is clearly elevating a lot better than he was earlier in the month, catching turn-back-the-clock lobs
from Jason Kidd and blocking shots
. That improves the Knicks' chances of winning a playoff series (or two), because Martin gives the Knicks some much-needed defense behind Tyson Chandler. They've allowed less than a point per possession in his 254 minutes thus far
. This week:
@ BOS, vs. MEM, vs. CHA, vs. BOS
L.A. Lakers (36-34)
Pace: 97.0 (4), OffRtg: 105.3 (8), DefRtg: 103.4 (18), NetRtg: +1.9 (10)
The next four games aren't the most difficult road trip a team can take, but Friday's collapse against Washington (featuring some of the same awful defense we were seeing early in the season) doesn't instill much confidence in how the Lakers might handle it. Fortunately for L.A., the Jazz look much worse, taking some of the pressure off of Pau Gasol as he returns from his 20-game absence.
This week: @ GSW, @ MIN, @ MIL, @ SAC
93.7 (19), OffRtg:
100.6 (22), DefRtg:
99.6 (5), NetRtg:
The Celtics' home/road discrepancy
was on full display last week. On Monday at home (and without Kevin Garnett), they gave the Heat one heck of a fight behind Jeff Green's 43 points. And then they went on the road and dropped three straight, basically eliminating any chances of them winning the division. That doesn't mean that this week's two games against the Knicks will be any less intense. This week:
vs. NYK, @ CLE, vs. ATL, @ NYK
96.7 (5), OffRtg:
103.7 (10), DefRtg:
104.1 (20), NetRtg:
Appropriately, if the Mavs can beat the Clippers on Tuesday, it will be time to get the clippers ready, because they'll be just one victory away from shaving those "until we get to .500" beards. As Dirk Nowitzki's beard has grown a beard of its own, his shooting -- 64 percent over his last five games -- has heated up. Not coincidentally, Dallas has had the third most efficient offense this month
. This week:
vs. LAC, vs. IND, vs. CHI
94.4 (13), OffRtg:
102.6 (16), DefRtg:
101.5 (10), NetRtg:
The Hawks lost to the two Lottery teams they played last week, but got the two wins -- both over Milwaukee -- that they really needed to stay in the East's top five. Josh Smith had a big bucket in Sunday's win and continues to fill the boxscore, but that includes the opponent's rebound column. He has shot a miserable 32-for-133 (24 percent) from outside the paint since the All-Star break
. Go inside, Smooth. This week:
@ IND, @ TOR, @ BOS, vs. ORL
92.0 (27), OffRtg:
100.0 (24), DefRtg:
99.7 (6), NetRtg:
Just when it looked like the Bulls' season had completely run out of gas, they got a big win against the Pacers on Saturday and then had one of the best offensive games of the season in Minnesota a night later. Of course, Joakim Noah is still dealing with plantar fasciitis and Derrick Rose's situation is still very much unresolved. Steve Aschburner thinks Rose should just call his (non-)season over
. This week:
vs. MIA, @ DAL, vs. DET
96.6 (6), OffRtg:
103.6 (11), DefRtg:
102.5 (13), NetRtg:
Stephen Curry was on another hot shooting run - 21-for-38 from 3-point range over four games -- but injured his ankle again
late in Saturday's win over Washington. The Warriors' defense has been more consistent of late and actually ranks third in March
, allowing just 97 points per 100 possessions over 13 games. With a soft stretch of schedule following, Monday's game against the Lakers is big. This week:
vs. LAL, vs. SAC, vs. POR
93.6 (20), OffRtg:
103.5 (12), DefRtg:
105.5 (24), NetRtg:
As you might expect, the Blazers' five-game, seven-day road trip was a mixed bag. They lost to two teams that are under .500, beat two that are over .500, and got wiped out by the Thunder in the second half on Sunday. The other four starters each had big games (and off nights) along the way, but Nicolas Batum's right wrist injury continues to affect his shooting (39 percent over the last 10 games
). This week:
vs. BKN, vs. UTA, @ GSW
Pace: 97.2 (3), OffRtg: 100.8 (21), DefRtg: 102.3 (12), NetRtg: -1.4 (17)
The eighth place team in the East is now back under .500 ... and still seven games ahead of ninth place. When the Bucks traded for J.J. Redick at the deadline, it seemed like (unrestricted free agent) Monta Ellis would be the one to go this summer. But (restricted free agent) Brandon Jennings has had some awful shooting nights the last couple of months, while Ellis has has caught fire of late.
This week: @ PHI, vs. LAL, vs. OKC
94.4 (14), OffRtg:
97.5 (30), DefRtg:
100.0 (7), NetRtg:
Coming back from 18 down against the Lakers at Staples Center - behind some big shots from Trevor Ariza - probably makes up for losing in Charlotte earlier in the week. But giving up 119 points to the Bobcats kept the Wiz from ranking something other than 30th in offensive efficiency for the first time since Week 2
. Games against two top-four defenses this week will make it even more difficult. This week:
vs. MEM, @ OKC, @ ORL, vs. TOR
93.8 (18), OffRtg:
102.9 (13), DefRtg:
104.4 (21), NetRtg:
The Jazz play eight of their final 12 games at home
and still have the tiebreaker against the Lakers. But when your last home game was a loss to a Knicks team playing the second night of a back-to-back without both Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler, when you've lost 12 of your last 15 games overall, and when you're giving up 60 points in a half to the Mavs ... Well, you get the picture. This week:
vs. PHI, vs. PHX, @ POR, vs. BKN
93.2 (21), OffRtg:
99.1 (27), DefRtg:
103.0 (15), NetRtg:
Andrew Bynum is officially out for the season (not exactly breaking news), but the Sixers are doing just fine at the center position, thank you very much. Spencer Hawes has averaged 16.6 points, 11.6 rebounds, 5.4 assists and 3.6 blocks over the last five games
. And like Bynum, Hawes fancies himself a 3-point shooter, though he's really not. He's 20-for-64 (30 percent) from beyond the arc this year. This week:
@ UTA, vs. MIL, @ CLE, vs. CHA
Pace: 96.0 (9), OffRtg: 102.7 (15), DefRtg: 108.4 (29), NetRtg: -5.7 (27)
The Kings have the league's second worst record over the last five seasons, but they've always been good for the occasional crazy League Pass performance that makes you glad you stayed up past midnight on the east coast. The latest example came Tuesday, when Marcus Thornton (6-for-10 from 3-point range) and Toney Douglas (17 points in the fourth quarter) went off on the Clippers.
This week: @ GSW, @ PHX, vs. LAL
92.9 (24), OffRtg:
102.9 (14), DefRtg:
105.0 (23), NetRtg:
DeMar DeRozan still isn't a very efficient scorer, but the presence of Rudy Gay has certainly made things a little easier for him. Since the Jan. 30, three-team trade, DeRozan has shot 44 percent with Gay on the floor
and just 36 percent with Gay on the bench. Gay has missed the last game and a half with a back issue, but defense has been the much bigger problem as the Raps have lost four straight. This week:
vs. ATL, @ DET, @ WAS
Pace: 95.0 (11), OffRtg: 101.4 (18), DefRtg: 107.1 (27), NetRtg: -5.7 (26)
The Cavs lost their other two games last week by a total of 59 points, but a win over the Heat on Wednesday would have made the their season. They captured the country's attention by going up 27 in the third quarter, but that was just a set-up for another historical performance by LeBron James and the Heat and a major stomach punch to the city of Cleveland. Well, at least they're used to it.
This week: vs. BOS, vs. PHI, @ NOH
90.7 (30), OffRtg:
102.5 (17), DefRtg:
107.2 (28), NetRtg:
The Hornets are in the midst of a seven-game, "spoiler" homestand, with the first six against playoff teams. They got spanked by the Warriors on Monday, but came back to knock off the Celtics and Grizzlies. Anthony Davis had his NBA moment with the game-winning tip-in
over Kevin Garnett on Wednesday, and then followed it up with 18 points and 15 boards against Memphis' All-Star frontline on Friday. This week:
vs. DEN, vs. LAC, vs. MIA, vs. CLE
94.9 (12), OffRtg:
99.4 (25), DefRtg:
102.9 (14), NetRtg:
It was good to see Chase Budinger return from a 59-game absence on Thursday, to see Dante Cunningham find his shot, and to see both Andrei Kirilenko and Nikola Pekovic stay healthy. But it was kind of an ugly week for the Wolves' backcourt of Ricky Rubio, Luke Ridnour, J.J. Barea and Alexey Shved, who shot a combined 34 percent from the field and 7-for-36 from 3-point range in four games
. This week:
@ DET, vs. LAL, vs. OKC, vs. MEM
95.6 (10), OffRtg:
97.7 (29), DefRtg:
104.9 (22), NetRtg:
Goran Dragic has recorded five straight double-doubles, came a rebound shy of a LeBron-esque triple-double against the Nets on Sunday (he had 31 points, nine boards and 11 assists), and actually makes the Suns somewhat fun to watch every once in a while. He even pulled a Kendall Marshall, whipping a 30-foot dime through Steve Nash's legs
in Monday's blowout win over the Lakers. This week:
@ UTA, vs. SAC, vs. IND
Pace: 93.1 (23), OffRtg: 100.2 (23), DefRtg: 105.7 (25), NetRtg: -5.6 (25)
The Pistons' bench shot a miserable 20-for-64 from the field and 2-for-19 from 3-point range in losses to the Nets and Heat last week. So Charlie Villanueva's performance -- 15 fourth-quarter points on 6-for-9 shooting -- in Saturday's win in Charlotte was much needed. The Prince/Daye trade seemingly opened the door for a bigger role for Villanueva, but his playing time has been spotty since.
This week: vs. MIN, vs. TOR, @ CHI
Pace: 94.1 (16), OffRtg: 97.7 (28), DefRtg: 109.1 (30), NetRtg: -11.4 (30)
On Saturday, the Bobcats came one possession away from a three-game winning streak, which, relatively, is about the same as the Heat winning 26 straight. He seemed like a strange acquisition at the deadline, but Josh McRoberts has made an impact. The Cats are 3-1 in his four starts at home, with McRoberts averaging 11.5 points and 9.5 rebounds (and shooting 57 percent) in the four games.
This week: vs. ORL, @ NYK, @ PHI
Pace: 94.3 (15), OffRtg: 99.3 (26), DefRtg: 106.7 (26), NetRtg: -7.4 (29)
With Nik Vucevic out, Kyle O'Quinn is the latest young Magic player to get an opportunity to show what he can do. The rookie totaled 21 points and 23 rebounds in 52 minutes in losses to the Knicks and Thunder. But the Magic have still lost six straight, and with the Bobcats picking up a couple of wins last week, Wednesday's meeting in Charlotte could have serious Lottery implications.
This week: vs. MIA, @ CHA, vs. WAS, @ ATL