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The Lakers' struggle to attain the No. 8 seed makes them a must-watch team.

With Heat streak done, focus back on the Lakers

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com
Posted Apr 1, 2013 11:18 AM

The Miami Heat and Los Angeles Lakers get much more than their fair share of (fan and media) attention in this league. And in other seasons, you'd have a legit reason to complain.

But over the last two months, you can't really argue against the coverage that these two teams are getting.

The Heat just won 27 straight games, something that hadn't been done in 41 years. They were a must-watch every night they played, and just when you thought you could look away for a couple of weeks, they went and won in San Antonio without LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, putting an exclamation point on their status as the best team we've seen in the last five years.

Not to be outdone, the Lakers have made themselves a must-watch with their continued battle to achieve the mediocre status of a No. 8 seed. They're currently on the outside of the playoff picture and struggling to get wins over teams whose seasons essentially ended months ago.

Why does a 38-36 team get so much attention? Because the idea of Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard missing the playoffs is as ridiculous as a team winning 27 straight games in this day an age.

That idea is closer than ever to becoming a reality, and we can't look away.

Last week: As the playoffs approach, the Heat approach history
This time last year: First time ever, OKC is No. 1 -- Derrick Rose was dealing with a groin injury and didn't know when he'd return, the Celtics crushed the Heat, Dwight Howard missed his third game to injury in his eight-year career, the Rockets were in playoff position, and Jeremy Lin was done for the season.

Hero Team of the Week: Denver (2-1) -- Usually, this space is reserved for teams that didn't lose. But the Bulls ended the streak without their two best players.
Zero Team of the Week: Portland (0-3) -- The Blazers have dropped four straight games by an average of 18.8 points.

Plus-minus Studs: Roy Hibbert (IND) was a plus-71 in four games last week.
Plus-minus Dud: Wesley Matthews (POR) was a minus-50 in three games last week.

High jumps of the week: New York (+4), Chicago, Minnesota, Utah (+3)
Free falls of the week: Portland (-4), Boston, Cleveland, Los Angeles Clippers, Los Angeles Lakers, Memphis, Toronto (-2)

East vs. West: The West is 253-184 (.579) against the East in interconference games this season, but the East was 9-8 last week.

Toughest schedules through Sunday: 1. Minnesota, 2. New Orleans, 3. Houston
Easiest schedules through Sunday: 1. Indiana, 2. New York, 3. Miami

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 94.4 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes and 103.1 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 or contact him via twitter.

1 Miami (58-15)
Pace: 93.1 (22), OffRtg: 110.6 (1), DefRtg: 100.5 (8), NetRtg: +10.0 (2)
The Heat get another shot at the Bulls on the last Sunday of the regular season, but that game might not mean much, because Chris Bosh's game-winner in San Antonio gave Miami a three-game lead for the league's best record. If Dwyane Wade is really banged up, he could probably sit out the final nine games, knowing that Bosh and LeBron James could clinch home-court advantage without him.
This week: vs. NYK, @ CHA, vs. PHI
Last week: 1

2 San Antonio (55-18)
Pace: 96.2 (8), OffRtg: 107.1 (5), DefRtg: 98.9 (3), NetRtg: +8.1 (3)
Less than three games after Tony Parker returned from his ankle injury, Manu Ginobili suffered a hamstring injury that could keep him out "weeks," according to Gregg Popovich. Ginobili wasn't playing great, but his latest setback will just make it more difficult for him to ever get his groove back. Thursday's game in Oklahoma City, meanwhile, will go a long way in determining the No. 1 seed out West.
This week: @ MEM, vs. ORL, @ OKC, vs. ATL
Last week: 2

3 Oklahoma City (54-20)
Pace: 96.2 (7), OffRtg: 110.0 (2), DefRtg: 99.2 (4), NetRtg: +10.9 (1)
All eyes should be on Kevin Martin on Thursday, because he was so ineffective in the last game against the Spurs and because he pulled another disappearing act (four points on 1-for-9 shooting) in Friday's loss in Minnesota. The Thunder are 28-4 when Martin scores at least 16 points, with the only post-break loss coming when Marc Gasol tipped in the game-winner in overtime in Memphis on March 20.
This week: vs. SAS, @ IND, vs. NYK
Last week: 4

4 Denver (50-24)
Pace: 97.5 (2), OffRtg: 107.4 (4), DefRtg: 102.1 (11), NetRtg: +5.2 (6)
The Nuggets have the best backup point guard in the league, but still missed Ty Lawson in losses in New Orleans, when they were outscored in the paint for just the third time this season, and San Antonio, when they were outscored 30-0 from 3-point range. They have a chance to really help the Lakers this week, playing a back-to-back against the Jazz and Mavs on Wednesday and Thursday.
This week: @ UTA, vs. DAL, vs. HOU
Last week: 3

5 Indiana (47-27)
Pace: 92.9 (25), OffRtg: 101.7 (19), DefRtg: 95.4 (1), NetRtg: +6.3 (4)
After they almost blew a 28-point lead at home to the Hawks, Roy Hibbert had some harsh words for his teammates. They responded by shutting down the Houston and Dallas offenses on an impressive back-to-back in Texas. Indy has won seven of its last eight, (almost) keeping pace with the streaking Knicks. They both have a tough week ahead and will met in New York a week from Sunday.
This week: @ LAC, vs. OKC, @ WAS
Last week: 7

6 New York (46-26)
Pace: 92.3 (26), OffRtg: 108.1 (3), DefRtg: 103.1 (16), NetRtg: +5.0 (7)
Remember when the Knicks were a second-half team? Well, they've won their last seven first halves by an average of 15.8 points, scoring 134 points per 100 possessions. They haven't clinched anything but a top-7 seed, but their eight-game winning streak has essentially won them the Atlantic Division and, more important, kept them comfortably on the 2-3 side of the East playoff bracket.
This week: @ MIA, @ ATL, vs. MIL, @ OKC
Last week: 10

7 Memphis (49-24)
Pace: 91.3 (28), OffRtg: 101.7 (18), DefRtg: 98.2 (2), NetRtg: +3.6 (8)
So Marc Gasol wasn't out that long after all. And though he couldn't keep the Grizz from getting scorched in New York on Wednesday, he did total 42 points, 13 boards, 10 assists and four blocks in back-to-back wins over the Rockets and Wolves. The Memphis starting lineup continues to be terrific defensively and has been outscored in only two of the last 19 games it has played together.
This week: vs. SAS, @ POR, @ LAL, @ SAC
Last week: 5

8 L.A. Clippers (49-25)
Pace: 93.7 (19), OffRtg: 106.8 (6), DefRtg: 100.8 (9), NetRtg: +6.1 (5)
The Clippers' trip through the Southwest Division didn't go so well. They dropped three of their four games, displaying both bad offense (in overtime in Dallas and in Houston) and bad defense (in San Antonio) along the way. Now, they're in position to start the postseason on the road. But they are home for their next four and would probably love to help the Lakers miss the playoffs with a win on Sunday afternoon.
This week: vs. IND, vs. PHX, vs. LAL
Last week: 6

9 Houston (40-33)
Pace: 98.5 (1), OffRtg: 106.8 (7), DefRtg: 103.6 (17), NetRtg: +3.2 (9)
The Rockets just went 2-2 against four of the eight best teams in the league, so they've got to be happy with they way they played, especially defensively. They've also got to be happy to see the Magic, Kings and Blazers this week. But James Harden might be happy not to see the Grizzlies in the playoffs. He has averaged just 11.7 points on 9-for-35 shooting in his last three games in Memphis.
This week: vs. ORL, @ SAC, @ POR, @ DEN
Last week: 8

10 Brooklyn (42-31)
Pace: 90.8 (29), OffRtg: 104.5 (9), DefRtg: 103.9 (19), NetRtg: +0.6 (14)
The Nets are one of only six teams with at least 20 road wins and need just one more for their first winning road record since they were in the ABA. But, playing without Joe Johnson, they ran out of gas at the end of their seven-game trip, losing in Denver and Utah over the weekend. Apparently, Reggie Evans, who has grabbed at least 16 rebounds in six of his last eight games, can only do so much.
This week: @ CLE, vs. CHI, vs. CHA
Last week: 9

11 Dallas (36-37)
Pace: 96.5 (6), OffRtg: 103.6 (12), DefRtg: 104.1 (20), NetRtg: -0.6 (16)
The odds are against the Mavs in their quest to make the playoffs, but Dirk Nowitzki clearly isn't going down easy. He has shot a ridiculous 63 percent over the last eight games and capped Saturday's crazy comeback against the Bulls with the game-winning bomb. Dallas will get its second opportunity to reach .500 in L.A. on Tuesday, but a lot more than the length of their beards will be on the line.
This week: @ LAL, @ DEN, @ SAC, @ POR
Last week: 13

12 Chicago (40-32)
Pace: 92.0 (27), OffRtg: 100.2 (23), DefRtg: 100.0 (5), NetRtg: +0.2 (15)
The Bulls ended the Heat's streak, and if they had been able to hold on to a 12-point lead in the final four minutes in Dallas on Saturday, they'd have a five-game, Joakim Noah-less winning streak of their own right now. They're 33-17 with Kirk Hinrich, but 0-2 when Nate Robinson hits six or more 3-pointers. Thursday's game in Brooklyn is looking more and more like a first-round playoff preview.
This week: @ WAS, @ BKN, vs. ORL, @ DET
Last week: 15

13 L.A. Lakers (38-36)
Pace: 97.1 (4), OffRtg: 105.5 (8), DefRtg: 103.8 (18), NetRtg: +1.7 (10)
If the Lakers do make the playoffs, they're not going to do it without plenty of drama. They play seven of their final eight games at Staples Center, but six of those seven are against teams in the West's top 10. They're 8-19 (5-7 at home) against that group thus far. And if you guessed that their defense was terrible in those games, you would be right (108.1 points allowed per 100 possessions).
This week: vs. DAL, vs. MEM, @ LAC
Last week: 11

14 Boston (38-35)
Pace: 93.7 (17), OffRtg: 100.7 (22), DefRtg: 100.0 (6), NetRtg: +0.7 (13)
If the Knicks and Celtics are going to meet in the first round, let's hope that their ornery centers are healthy, because these last two meetings (played without Tyson Chandler or Kevin Garnett) weren't nearly as interesting as the first two. Avery Bradley has helped hold the defense together without KG (who should be back this week), but has shot just 26-for-90 (29 percent) over the last 10 games.
This week: @ MIN, vs. DET, vs. CLE, vs. WAS
Last week: 12

15 Atlanta (41-33)
Pace: 94.6 (13), OffRtg: 102.6 (17), DefRtg: 101.5 (10), NetRtg: +1.2 (12)
Larry Drew kind of ripped into Josh Smith's shot selection after Saturday's loss in Boston, and we all feel Drew's pain. But isn't he equally responsible -- via the offense he runs and discipline he instills -- for the shots Smith takes? Smith has attempted just 51 percent of his shots from the paint in three years under Drew, down from 63 percent in six years under Mike Woodson. That's a big difference.
This week: vs. CLE, vs. NYK, vs. PHI, @ SAS
Last week: 14

16 Golden State (42-32)
Pace: 96.7 (5), OffRtg: 104.0 (10), DefRtg: 102.5 (13), NetRtg: +1.5 (11)
Klay Thompson has to be the most consistently inconsistent player in the league, a storyline that will surely come up when the Warriors play their first playoff series in six years. After 40 total points on 15-for-34 shooting against the Wizards and Lakers, Thompson scored 10 total points on 2-for-19 shooting against the Kings and Blazers. Overall, he has actually shot better on the road this season.
This week: vs. NOH, @ PHX, vs. UTA
Last week: 16

17 Utah (38-36)
Pace: 93.7 (18), OffRtg: 103.6 (11), DefRtg: 104.3 (21), NetRtg: -0.7 (17)
The Jazz stopped the bleeding with home wins over the Sixers and Suns, but their weekend back-to-back was the real test of their ability to compete for that last playoff spot down the stretch. And they passed with flying colors, coming back from nine points down in the fourth quarter in Portland on Friday and pulling away from the Nets in the second half on Saturday. Now, they control their own destiny.
This week: vs. POR, vs. DEN, vs. NOH, @ GSW
Last week: 20

18 Washington (27-46)
Pace: 94.3 (15), OffRtg: 97.8 (30), DefRtg: 100.2 (7), NetRtg: -2.4 (20)
The emergence of John Wall as a true star in this league continued last week with his 47 points (on just 22 shots), seven rebounds and eight assists against Memphis and another 35 points against Orlando. The Wiz are now 22-18 with Wall this season, ranking ninth (fourth in the East) in point differential since his return. They're also 27-18 in games with both Wall and Nene over the last two seasons.
This week: vs. CHI, @ TOR, vs. IND, @ BOS
Last week: 19

19 Milwaukee (35-37)
Pace: 97.2 (3), OffRtg: 101.0 (21), DefRtg: 102.5 (12), NetRtg: -1.5 (18)
The Bucks woke up to beat the Lakers on Thursday and put a scare into the Thunder on Saturday, but they're continuing on their path to a first-round sweep at the hands of the Heat, having lost five of their last six games. Brandon Jennings, J.J. Redick and Marquis Daniels have combined to shoot 31 percent in that stretch, and the team's defense has arguably been an ever bigger problem.
This week: vs. CHA, vs. MIN, @ NYK, vs. TOR
Last week: 18

20 Philadelphia (30-43)
Pace: 93.1 (21), OffRtg: 99.5 (26), DefRtg: 102.9 (14), NetRtg: -3.4 (23)
The Sixers will have a great chance to get their first four-game winning streak of the season when they visit the Bobcats on Wednesday. Even though Jrue Holiday has struggled with his shot of late, Philly has scored a solid 105.6 points per 100 possessions in its last 11 games. Evan Turner has put his own struggles behind and picked up some of the slack, shooting 23-for-42 over these last three wins.
This week: @ CHA, @ ATL, @ MIA
Last week: 21

21 Portland (33-40)
Pace: 93.7 (20), OffRtg: 103.4 (13), DefRtg: 106.1 (25), NetRtg: -2.7 (21)
The Blazers have seemingly let go of the rope. Their defense has always been bad, but it's reached the "atrocious" level, allowing 118 points allowed per 100 possessions and 60 paint points per game, as they've lost four straight. They trailed both the Nets and Warriors by at least 28 points, gave up 58 points in the second half to the Thunder, and blew a fourth-quarter lead to the Jazz.
This week: @ UTA, vs. MEM, vs. HOU, vs. DAL
Last week: 17

22 Sacramento (27-47)
Pace: 96.0 (9), OffRtg: 103.1 (15), DefRtg: 108.4 (29), NetRtg: -5.3 (25)
The Kings are the most improved offensive team since the All-Star break, scoring 8.7 points per 100 possessions more than they did before the break. And only Miami, OKC and Denver have been better on that end of the floor over the last month and a half. Of course, that doesn't mean DeMarcus Cousins should be taking 3-pointers with the game on the line against the Lakers.
This week: vs. HOU, vs. DAL, vs. MEM
Last week: 22

23 Minnesota (26-46)
Pace: 94.9 (12), OffRtg: 99.8 (25), DefRtg: 103.0 (15), NetRtg: -3.2 (22)
Nikola Pekovic averaged 19.7 points and 14.0 boards in three games last week, including Friday's big win over the Thunder. But another (ankle) injury kept him out of Saturday's loss to the Grizzlies. It's been that kind of season for the Wolves, who might not get Kevin Love back until October. So far, Love, Pekovic and Ricky Rubio have played a total of 13 minutes in three games together this season.
This week: vs. BOS, @ MIL, vs. TOR, vs. DET
Last week: 26

24 New Orleans (26-48)
Pace: 90.6 (30), OffRtg: 103.1 (14), DefRtg: 107.4 (28), NetRtg: -4.3 (24)
This graphic, tweeted out by stat head Ed Kupfer, shows how awful the Hornets have been at the shooting guard position this season. And it makes you wonder how much better they would be if they could depend on Eric Gordon for consistent health and production. That question isn't going away, but they did end the Nuggets' winning streak on Monday without both Gordon and Greivis Vasquez.
This week: @ GSW, @ UTA, @ PHX
Last week: 25

25 Toronto (27-46)
Pace: 92.9 (24), OffRtg: 102.8 (16), DefRtg: 105.2 (22), NetRtg: -2.4 (19)
It was noted last week that Rudy Gay's presence has made DeMar DeRozan a (slightly) more efficient scorer. But the problem is that the Raptors are paying a lot of money to two wings that don't shoot very well. DeRozan and Gay have combined to shoot 28 percent from 3-point range this season. Toronto has scored just 101.1 points per 100 possessions in 670 minutes with the two on the floor together.
This week: vs. DET, vs. WAS, @ MIN, @ MIL
Last week: 23

26 Cleveland (22-50)
Pace: 95.0 (11), OffRtg: 101.1 (20), DefRtg: 107.1 (27), NetRtg: -6.0 (27)
The Cavs came a second from beating the Celtics on Wednesday without Kyrie Irving and got crushed by the Hornets on Sunday, with Irving scoring 31 points in his first game back from his shoulder injury. Either that's the ultimate display of how much better the Western Conference is, or just an example of the many ways a bad team can put together its longest losing streak (eight games) of the season.
This week: @ ATL, vs. BKN, @ BOS, vs. ORL
Last week: 24

27 Phoenix (23-51)
Pace: 95.6 (10), OffRtg: 97.8 (29), DefRtg: 105.3 (23), NetRtg: -7.5 (29)
The Suns put themselves in the middle of the tanking discussion by sitting Goran Dragic for two games last week, including an obviously winnable home game against the Kings, a decision which bothered some of their vets. Whether Dragic plays or not, Phoenix isn't going to win many more games. Starting with Saturday's loss to the Pacers, seven of their final nine are against playoff teams.
This week: @ LAC, vs. GSW, vs. NOH
Last week: 27

28 Detroit (24-50)
Pace: 92.9 (23), OffRtg: 100.0 (24), DefRtg: 105.9 (24), NetRtg: -5.9 (26)
The return of Andre Drummond makes the Pistons somewhat whatchable again. The rookie scored 17 points against the Raptors and grabbed 14 boards against the Bulls. But no team should be happier to turn the calendar, because their March was absolutely brutal. Detroit was outscored by far more points per 100 possessions (16.1) than any other team was in any other month this season.
This week: @ TOR, @ BOS, @ MIN, vs. CHI
Last week: 28

29 Charlotte (17-56)
Pace: 94.1 (16), OffRtg: 98.2 (28), DefRtg: 109.3 (30), NetRtg: -11.2 (30)
Gerald Henderson discovered his inner James Harden last week, scoring 69 points on just 34 shots from the field in games against the Magic and Knicks. Henderson has averaged 23.3 points on 51 percent shooting over his last 12 games. The Bobcats beat Orlando and have more winnable games remaining, but have work to do to avoid finishing with the worst record in the league again.
This week: @ MIL, vs. PHI, vs. MIA, @ BKN
Last week: 29

30 Orlando (19-55)
Pace: 94.4 (14), OffRtg: 99.4 (27), DefRtg: 106.8 (26), NetRtg: -7.4 (28)
Tobias Harris set his career high in points twice last week, dropping 29 on the Bobcats and 30 on the Wizards, a game Orlando actually won! He has averaged 16.3 points and 8.0 boards in his 19 games with the Magic, who got Nikola Vucevic back from a five-game absence on Saturday, but lost Jameer Nelson to a sprained ankle and are without Arron Afflalo (torn hamstring) for the rest of the season.
This week: @ HOU, @ SAS, @ CHI, @ CLE
Last week: 30

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