POSTED: Mar 17, 2014 4:39 PM ET
Every week, there's a spot in the Power Rankings that no one seems to have earned. There might be a clear top five teams, but no sixth team that's playing all that well.
This week, that spot is No. 3. The Spurs and Clippers are the undisputed top two, with winning streaks of 10 and 11 games, respectively. (The Spurs are No. 1, because they're 6-1 since the All-Star break against teams with winning records, while the Clips are 5-2.) But no other team has really earned the next spot.
The Rockets were playing great, but went 0-3 last week. The Pacers went 3-0, but haven't beaten anybody good in more than five weeks. The Heat beat Houston, but only after losing to Brooklyn and Denver. The Thunder beat the Rockets too, but then got thumped by the Mavs.
Really, beyond the Spurs and Clippers, there aren't many contenders that can be feeling good about themselves right now. But the Chicago Bulls keep plugging along and are 13-4 since Feb. 9, having avenged one of the losses (against the Heat). So they're No. 3 (with a big jump) until another contender proves it has righted the ship.
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• Last week: Upside-down week around NBA propels Spurs to top
• This time last year: With a month-plus left, Heat still streaking, still a firm No. 1 -- Miami's winning streak was at 22 games, the Nuggets had won 11 straight, the Pacers were going through a rough patch, and the Bobcats were the first team eliminated from playoff contention.
• Hero Team of the Week: San Antonio (2-0) -- The Spurs began their week with an impressive back-to-back, beating the Bulls (on the road) and Blazers comfortably.
• Zero Team of the Week: L.A. Lakers (0-2) -- It takes a special kind of bad to earn this spot with just two losses. The Lakers lost to the Thunder and Spurs by a combined 63 points.
• High jumps of the week: Chicago (+6), Atlanta (+4), Cleveland (+4)
• Free falls of the week: L.A. Lakers (-6), Houston (-5), Orlando (-3), Sacramento (-3)
• East vs. West: The West is 246-147 (.626) against the East in inter-conference games, but the East was 11-10 last week (3-1 on Sunday).
• Toughest schedules through Sunday: 1. L.A. Lakers, 2. Utah, 3. Sacramento
• Easiest schedules through Sunday: 1. Indiana, 2. Philadelphia, 3. Detroit
Schedule strength is based on cumulative opponent record, and adjusted for home vs. away and days of rest before a game.
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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 96.5 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes and 103.6 points scored per 100 possessions.
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NBA.com's Power Rankings, released every Monday during the season, are just one man's opinion. 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.San Antonio (50-16)
Last week: 1
Pace: 96.8 (14), OffRtg: 108.2 (5), DefRtg: 100.4 (4), NetRtg: +7.9 (2)
The Spurs won the race to 50 wins (a mark they've now hit in 15 straight seasons), winning 10 straight games, and are two games into a stretch where they play just one of nine against a team with a winning record. They've outscored their opponents by 24 per 100 possessions with Tiago Splitter on the floor and have shot an absurd 46.1 percent from 3-point range during the streak.
This week: @ LAL, @ SAC, @ GSW
2. L.A. Clippers (48-20)
Last week: 2
Pace: 98.2 (7), OffRtg: 109.3 (2), DefRtg: 101.4 (8), NetRtg: +7.9 (1)
Like the Spurs, the Clips are streaking (they've won 11 straight), with a pretty soft schedule over the next 10 days. Chris Paul has averaged 16.1 points, 10.7 assists and 2.4 steals in 15 games since returning from his shoulder injury, but has shot just 6-for-26 from 3-point range. So he may need a few more of those extra shooting sessions before he can make defenders pay for going under the screen.
This week: @ DEN, vs. DET
Last week: 9
Pace: 92.9 (29), OffRtg: 99.1 (28), DefRtg: 97.8 (2), NetRtg: +1.2 (13)
If Carlos Boozer isn't going to earn his $15.3-million salary with playing time (he's logged 30 minutes or more in only one of his last 15 games), we should definitely have him mic'd up every night. For the second straight season, the Bulls have been better both offensively and defensively with Boozer off the floor, though Taj Gibson has had some rough offensive nights over the last 10 days.
This week: vs. OKC, @ PHI, @ IND, vs. PHI
4. Miami (45-19)
Last week: 4
Pace: 94.3 (24), OffRtg: 109.8 (1), DefRtg: 103.1 (13), NetRtg: +6.7 (5)
The Heat's problems hadn't quite reached the "alarming" level, but Sunday's win over the Rockets, in which their offense got back on track and they executed late, was needed. It's also good to see Ray Allen put up 20-plus in two straight games, shooting 9-for-13 from 3-point range against Denver and Houston. His numbers haven't dipped too much, but he's had some ugly stretches this season.
This week: @ CLE, @ BOS, vs. MEM, @ NOP
5. Indiana (49-17)
Last week: 6
Pace: 95.8 (18), OffRtg: 102.6 (20), DefRtg: 95.6 (1), NetRtg: +7.0 (4)
Though wins over the Celtics, Sixers and Pistons (by an average of just 8.7 points) were no indication that Indiana has turned the corner, and Andrew Bynum's first 36 minutes were no indication that he'll be able to contribute in May, the Pacers have regained a two-game lead over the Heat in the loss column. After playing the Sixers and Knicks, they have five straight games against winning teams.
This week: vs. PHI, @ NYK, vs. CHI, @ MEM
6.Golden State (42-26)
Last week: 5
Pace: 98.6 (5), OffRtg: 104.5 (13), DefRtg: 99.5 (3), NetRtg: +5.0 (7)
The Warriors followed their worst loss of the season (at home to Cleveland) with what Mark Jackson called "as good a win as we've had in three years" in Portland on Sunday. Think their bench play matters? Steve Blake was a plus-36 in their two wins last week and a minus-46 in their two losses. Stephen Curry, meanwhile, was no better than a plus-2 and no worse than a minus-5 in the four games.
This week: vs. ORL, vs. MIL, vs. SAS
7.Oklahoma City (48-18)
Last week: 7
Pace: 98.2 (8), OffRtg: 107.8 (7), DefRtg: 100.5 (5), NetRtg: +7.3 (3)
The Thunder's perimeter-defense problems started before he got there, but OKC opponents have shot 44.2 percent from 3-point range with Caron Butler on the floor. If that sounds familiar, it's because Milwaukee opponents shot 42.0 percent from beyond the arc with Butler on the floor before they waived him, and Clipper opponents shot 40.6 percent on threes with Butler on the floor last season.
This week: @ CHI, @ CLE, @ TOR
Last week: 3
Pace: 98.1 (9), OffRtg: 107.9 (6), DefRtg: 102.6 (10), NetRtg: +5.2 (6)
Patrick Beverley should worry less about getting under his opponent's skin and more about putting the ball in the basket. Offense hasn't really been the problem for Houston, but Beverley has made just two of his last 20 3-point attempts. The Rockets have lost three straight (for the first time this season), but their schedule eases up this week. They haven't lost to a team currently under .500 since Jan. 10.
This week: vs. UTA, vs. MIN, @ CLE
9. Memphis (39-27)
Last week: 8
Pace: 92.3 (30), OffRtg: 103.0 (17), DefRtg: 102.0 (9), NetRtg: +1.1 (14)
After ranking first in post-break 3-point percentage through Tuesday, the Grizzlies shot 10-for-41 from beyond the arc in their last three games. But they maintain a one-game lead over the Suns for the final playoff spot thanks to Mike Conley's game-winner in New Orleans. The Grizz rank first in clutch-time NetRtg and wins (they're 26-13) in games that were within five points in the last five minutes.
This week: vs. UTA, @ MIA, vs. IND
Last week: 10
Pace: 98.3 (6), OffRtg: 106.9 (8), DefRtg: 104.0 (16), NetRtg: +2.9 (11)
After losing three straight and needing all 48 minutes to edge out the Celtics on Friday, the Suns got a huge win in Toronto on Sunday. But they can't be dependent on Gerald Green shooting them in or out of games with a playoff spot on the line, so they could use more consistent production from their bigs. Miles Plumlee has scored in double-figures in just two of his last 20 games.
This week: @ BKN, vs. ORL, vs. DET, @ MIN
Last week: 12
Pace: 94.6 (22), OffRtg: 105.1 (11), DefRtg: 101.3 (7), NetRtg: +3.8 (8)
Steve Novak hit five threes in last Sunday's win in Minnesota, but the Raptors have otherwise missed Patrick Patterson off the bench. They've been outscored in three of their last four games when at least one starter has stepped off the floor and their bench shot 4-for-14 in Sunday's loss to the Suns. With their lead on the Bulls down to a half game, Patterson's injured elbow is set to be reexamined on Monday.
This week: @ ATL, @ NOP, vs. OKC, vs. ATL
12. Dallas (40-27)
Last week: 14
Pace: 96.2 (16), OffRtg: 108.5 (3), DefRtg: 105.6 (23), NetRtg: +2.9 (10)
After an easy win in Oklahoma City on Sunday and having played their best five-game defensive stretch (102.2 points allowed per 100 possessions) since before the All-Star break, the Mavs are looking good for one of the last two playoff spots in the West. They play their next eight games at home. Three of their five remaining road games are against the Lakers, Kings and Jazz.
This week: vs. BOS, vs. MIN, vs. DEN, vs. BKN
13. Portland (43-24)
Last week: 11
Pace: 97.9 (10), OffRtg: 108.4 (4), DefRtg: 104.9 (20), NetRtg: +3.5 (9)
We can confirm now that the Blazers' initial post-break defensive improvement was schedule-aided. After a rough trip and a heartbreaker against the Warriors on Sunday, they're 0-6 against fellow West playoff teams since the All-Star break, having allowed 111.2 points per 100 possessions in the six games. They're back on the road this week, but play just four more games against the West's top nine.
This week: vs. MIL, vs. WAS, @ CHA
14. Washington (35-31)
Last week: 13
Pace: 95.5 (20), OffRtg: 103.0 (19), DefRtg: 102.7 (11), NetRtg: +0.3 (15)
The AARP unit has given the Wizards a real lift. They're 10-3 since Andre Miller joined them, with their bench units scoring 110 points per 100 possessions. Al Harrington hasn't shot well, but is a plus-58 since his return. And Drew Gooden came up huge (21 points, nine rebounds, 8-for-11 shooting, plus-17) in Saturday's big win over Brooklyn. The Wiz are now 5-0 against the Bulls and Nets.
This week: @ SAC, @ POR, @ LAL, @ DEN
15. Brooklyn (33-31)
Last week: 15
Pace: 94.0 (26), OffRtg: 103.2 (16), DefRtg: 104.0 (15), NetRtg: -0.8 (17)
It could have been the Nets' best week of the season. But after beating the Raptors and Heat (in Miami), they blew a double-digit lead in Washington. They've won 15 of their last 17 at home, with one of the losses being one they gave away in the final seconds. But it's looking unlikely that they can get home-court advantage in the first round, and they're 1-4 on the road against the Raptors, Bulls and Wiz.
This week: vs. PHX, vs. CHA, vs. BOS, @ DAL
16. Charlotte (33-34)
Last week: 17
Pace: 95.2 (21), OffRtg: 100.2 (24), DefRtg: 101.2 (6), NetRtg: -1.1 (18)
Gary Neal has scored 18-plus in his last three games and given the Bobcats another outside threat to complement Al Jefferson, though they've been pretty awful defensively in 139 minutes with Neal and Jefferson on the floor together. Still, the Cats have won six of their last seven and eight straight at home, where a victory against Atlanta on Monday would give the East seven teams at or above .500.
This week: vs. ATL, @ BKN, vs. POR
17. Minnesota (33-32)
Last week: 16
Pace: 99.7 (4), OffRtg: 105.4 (9), DefRtg: 103.1 (12), NetRtg: +2.3 (12)
If there's a vet on a non-playoff team who could use this last month to rediscover his game, it's Chase Budinger. He's played just 53 games over the last two years, hasn't found much of a rhythm since returning in January, and went scoreless in just four minutes in Sunday's win over the Kings. Budinger's not a big difference maker, but the Wolves can't afford another empty season from him next year.
This week: @ DAL, @ HOU, vs. PHX
18. Denver (29-37)
Last week: 18
Pace: 100.2 (3), OffRtg: 103.0 (18), DefRtg: 105.1 (21), NetRtg: -2.1 (20)
Ty Lawson joined the 0-for-10-plus club on Saturday, but he and Kenneth Faried (averaging 21.9 points and 9.8 rebounds in March) are the only guys keeping the Nuggets from being the Lakers these days. Darrell Arthur is a 6-foot-9 power forward with 41 points and six rebounds in his last three games. Grabbing zero boards in 24 minutes against the Heat (28th in rebounding percentage) is impressive.
This week: vs. LAC, vs. DET, @ DAL, vs. WAS
19.New York (27-40)
Last week: 22
Pace: 93.0 (28), OffRtg: 105.1 (10), DefRtg: 106.7 (25), NetRtg: -1.6 (19)
Phil Jackson can't change the Knicks' culture and way of doing business fast enough, but he has to be patient in putting together a good basketball team. The cupboard might not be totally empty, though. Rookie Tim Hardaway Jr. averaged 23.3 points on 81% effective FG% in three games last week, as the Knicks continued to take advantage of a very weak stretch in their schedule.
This week: vs. IND, @ PHI, vs. CLE
20. Cleveland (26-41)
Last week: 24
Pace: 95.6 (19), OffRtg: 99.9 (25), DefRtg: 104.8 (19), NetRtg: -4.9 (24)
The Cavs picked up two of their best wins of the season last week (at Phoenix and Golden State), but are still six games in the loss column out of the playoffs, play the Heat, Thunder and Rockets this week, and may have just lost Kyrie Irving for the season. Reminder: This team traded five draft picks for two guys - Luol Deng and Spencer Hawes - who will be free agents this summer.
This week: vs. MIA, vs. OKC, vs. HOU, @ NYK
21. New Orleans (27-39)
Last week: 21
Pace: 94.5 (23), OffRtg: 104.6 (12), DefRtg: 107.1 (26), NetRtg: -2.4 (21)
Anthony Davis is going to be pretty good someday. For now, he's just averaging 32.3 points, 14.3 rebounds and 3.0 blocks over his last six games. The two big shots he hit at the end of regulation on Sunday were from mid-range, where he's shooting 42.2 percent, up from 29.4 percent as a rookie. No player (minimum 100 attempts each season) has made nearly as much of an improvement.
This week: vs. TOR, @ ATL, vs. MIA
22. Atlanta (29-35)
Last week: 26
Pace: 97.2 (12), OffRtg: 103.8 (14), DefRtg: 104.4 (17), NetRtg: -0.6 (16)
Paul Millsap is doing his thing again and the Hawks have won three straight to stop the bleeding. But they still have some work to do to hold off the Knicks. After this note about him having the best shooting season in 32 years, Kyle Korver shot 6-for-8 (4-for-4 from 3-point range) against Denver. When you have the best shooter in the world, great after-timeout plays like this one look even better.
This week: @ CHA, vs. TOR, vs. NOP, @ TOR
Last week: 20
Pace: 97.0 (13), OffRtg: 103.3 (15), DefRtg: 106.1 (24), NetRtg: -2.8 (22)
Isaiah Thomas broke out of a shooting slump on Sunday and Derrick Williams played one of his best games (against his former team), but the Kings are still winless (0-10) without DeMarcus Cousins (who was out with knee tendinitis) and their only wins on their seven-game trip came against the Bucks and Sixers. We'll have to check to see if those still count in the standings.
This week: vs. WAS, vs. SAS, vs. MIL
24. Detroit (25-41)
Last week: 27
Pace: 97.7 (11), OffRtg: 102.3 (21), DefRtg: 105.6 (22), NetRtg: -3.3 (23)
The Pistons started 8-6 on the road, but are 2-14 away from the Palace since Christmas. They're on the road for 11 of their last 16 games, which is bad news for the Bobcats, who would get Detroit's draft pick if it landed outside the top eight. The Pistons already have the league's eighth worst record, so the chances of Charlotte getting that pick are worse than the chances of a Josh Smith 3-pointer going in.
This week: @ DEN, @ PHX, @ LAC
25. L.A. Lakers (22-44)
Last week: 19
Pace: 100.7 (2), OffRtg: 101.1 (22), DefRtg: 107.3 (28), NetRtg: -6.2 (27)
The Lakers got paid back for their win over the Thunder last Sunday and got beat by a combined 63 points in Oklahoma City and San Antonio. Their own 3-point shooting makes them an occasional spoiler, but their opponents' 3-point shooting has made them a more frequent doormat. They've allowed teams to shoot 71-for-159 (44.7 percent) from beyond the arc over their last six games.
This week: vs. SAS, vs. WAS, vs. ORL
26. Orlando (19-48)
Last week: 23
Pace: 96.2 (15), OffRtg: 99.4 (26), DefRtg: 104.6 (18), NetRtg: -5.2 (26)
The Magic offense has been at its best with Jameer Nelson on the floor and he's averaged 9.8 assists per 36 minutes since the break. But their defense has been at its worst with him on the floor, he's 32 years old, and only two of the $8 million on his contract next season is guaranteed. So you have to think he's playing his final month in Orlando. Only Nick Anderson has played more games for the Magic.
This week: @ GSW, @ PHX, @ UTA, @ LAL
27. Boston (22-45)
Last week: 25
Pace: 95.6 (17), OffRtg: 98.7 (29), DefRtg: 103.9 (14), NetRtg: -5.2 (25)
As the Celtics play out the string, Kris Humphries (a free agent this summer) is getting a little chance to showcase himself. He's averaged 12.9 points and 7.8 boards as a starter over the last 11 games, highlighted by the crazy shot he hit to send Sunday's game in New Orleans to overtime. Jeff Green, meanwhile, continues to tease with big games followed by stinkers.
This week: @ DAL, vs. MIA, @ BKN
Last week: 28
Pace: 93.5 (27), OffRtg: 100.6 (23), DefRtg: 108.3 (30), NetRtg: -7.6 (28)
After a brief dalliance with the No. 29 spot, the Jazz returned to No. 30 in defensive efficiency by getting smoked by the Spurs on Sunday. They've been at their worst defensively in the second half of games and have allowed almost 116 points per 100 possessions in second halves since the All-Star break. That's close to just standing on the sideline while your opponent takes whatever shot it wants.
This week: @ HOU, @ MEM, vs. ORL
29. Milwaukee (13-54)
Last week: 29
Pace: 94.1 (25), OffRtg: 99.3 (27), DefRtg: 108.1 (29), NetRtg: -8.8 (29)
If there's a second positive (after the potential of Giannis Antetokounmpo) for the Bucks this season, it's that they got the better end of the Brandon Jennings/Brandon Knight swap. Knight hasn't been great (or all that efficient), but he's been pretty consistent of late, averaging 20.4 points with a 2.6 assist/turnover ratio since Feb. 1. And this dunk (part of a big comeback vs. Orlando) was nice.
This week: @ POR, @ GSW, @ SAC
30. Philadelphia (15-51)
Last Week: 30
Pace: 102.5 (1), OffRtg: 95.7 (30), DefRtg: 107.3 (27), NetRtg: -11.6 (30)
Twenty down, 16 to go, and the Sixers' chances of picking up a win in their last 36 games are dwindling. Thaddeus Young is going to get his numbers, though. His usage rate has jumped over five percentage points since the All-Star break. On Friday against Indy, he became the fourth player (Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Jameer Nelson) to take 30 shots and record 10 assists in the same game.
This week: @ IND, vs. CHI, vs. NYK, @ CHI