By John Schuhmann
POSTED: Mar 24, 2014 12:55 PM ET
UPDATED: Mar 24, 2014 1:27 PM ET
We're 26 days from the start of the playoffs and it's time to start wondering whether a Pacers-Heat rematch in the Eastern Conference finals is such a lock. Since March 4, Miami is 4-7, with the league's 18th-ranked defense and Indiana is 5-6, with the 26th-ranked offense.
And while the favorites have failed to get in gear for the postseason, the Bulls (seventh), Nets (eighth), Raptors (ninth) and Bobcats (10th) have all ranked in the top 10 in point differential since the All-Star break. If the Wizards get Nene back healthy, they can be dangerous as well.
It would still be difficult to pick against either Miami or Indiana in a series against anybody else, but the Eastern Conference playoff picture certainly has become a lot more interesting over the last month.
The Heat and Pacers play Game 3 of their season series in Indiana on Wednesday, when the postgame story may be more about the team that doesn't win.
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• Last week: Streaking Spurs, Clippers stand alone at the top
• This time last year: As the playoffs approach, the Heat approach history -- The Heat's streak was at 26 games after they came back from 13 points down in the fourth quarter in Boston and from 27 down in Cleveland. The Nuggets had won their last 15 games, while Derek Fisher had missed his last 15 shots. Jason Kidd and Kenyon Martin turned back the clock, Anthony Davis got a game-winning tip-in, Goran Dragic tossed a ridiculous dime through Steve Nash's legs, and the Sixers declared Andrew Bynum out for the season.
• Hero Team of the Week: Brooklyn (4-0) -- The Nets knocked off three playoff teams on their way to their first perfect week since late January.
• Zero Team of the Week: Orlando (0-4) -- The Magic's week included losses to the Jazz and Lakers, who are otherwise a combined 3-17 in March.
• High jumps of the week: Brooklyn (+5), Houston (+4), Oklahoma City (+4)
• Free falls of the week: Chicago (-6), Indiana (-3), CLE, DET, MIA, ORL (-2)
• East vs. West: The West is 267-153 (.636) against the East in inter-conference games and was 21-6 last week (4-0 against Orlando).
• Toughest schedules through Sunday: 1. L.A. Lakers, 2. Utah, 3. Sacramento
• Easiest schedules through Sunday: 1. Indiana, 2. New York, 3. Philadelphia
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 103.7 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 (53-16)
Last week: 1
Pace: 97.0 (14), OffRtg: 108.0 (6), DefRtg: 100.1 (4), NetRtg: +8.0 (1)
After scoring almost 115 points per 100 possessions over the first 11 games of their winning streak, the Spurs' offense came back to earth at Sacramento and Golden State (where they were without Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili). But the streak lives on, because they're playing their best defense since November. Streak meets streak at the AT&T Center on Monday. Prediction? Pain.
This week: vs. PHI, vs. DEN, @ DEN, vs. NOP
2. L.A. Clippers (49-21)
Last week: 2
Pace: 98.3 (7), OffRtg: 109.2 (2), DefRtg: 101.4 (7), NetRtg: +7.8 (2)
The Clips' winning streak either fell victim to the 'ol second-night-of-a-back-to-back-in-Denver-after-playing-on-the-West-Coast scenario or their backcourt injuries finally caught up with them. With Darren Collison out with a stomach virus, Reggie Bullock was forced into 11 minutes of fourth-quarter playing time. Both Collison and Jamal Crawford were back for Saturday's win over the Pistons.
This week: vs. MIL, @ NOP, @ DAL, @ HOU
3. Oklahoma City (51-18)
Last week: 7
Pace: 98.1 (9), OffRtg: 107.6 (7), DefRtg: 100.4 (5), NetRtg: +7.2 (3)
Russell Westbrook's MRI came back clean, but Friday's bump in Toronto was another reminder of just how fragile the Thunder's championship dreams are. Having won five of their last six, they've righted the ship a bit, though their offense has been shaky. And omigosh, Kevin Durant's game-winner was just ridiculous. He was 31 feet away, Amir Johnson was in his face, and the net barely moved.
This week: vs. DEN, @ DAL, vs. SAC, vs. UTA
4. Houston (47-22)
Last week: 8
Pace: 98.3 (8), OffRtg: 108.5 (4), DefRtg: 102.5 (10), NetRtg: +6.0 (6)
The Rockets' offense has scored more than 110 points per 100 possessions in 11 of its last 17 games, ranks first since the All-Star break, and was off the charts (122.1) in three games without Dwight Howard last week. James Harden is cooking, having shot an incredible 33-for-65 (that's 51 percent on more than eight attempts per game) from 3-point range over the last eight games.
This week: @ CHA, vs. PHI, vs. LAC
5.Golden State (44-27)
Last week: 6
Pace: 98.6 (5), OffRtg: 104.6 (13), DefRtg: 99.5 (3), NetRtg: +5.1 (7)
The timing was good for Andre Iguodala to miss a few games. The Warriors were playing the Magic, Bucks and short-handed Spurs, followed by five days off. But they let the last one get away, in part because Harrison Barnes is struggling. He shot a brutal 2-for-19 in his three starts. Of 187 players who have attempted at least 100 shots since the All-Star break, he ranks last in effective field goal percentage.
This week: vs. MEM, vs. NYK
6. Miami (47-21)
Last week: 4
Pace: 94.1 (24), OffRtg: 109.6 (1), DefRtg: 103.3 (12), NetRtg: +6.2 (5)
The Heat are one of just three teams (the Spurs and Clippers are obviously the other two) that ranks in the top 10 in both offensive (fifth) and defensive (10th) efficiency since the All-Star break. But when you're allowing the Celtics and Pelicans to score 100-plus in very slow-paced games, you have issues. They've lost five of their last six on the road, struggling on both ends of the floor.
This week: vs. POR, @ IND, @ DET, @ MIL
7. Memphis (41-28)
Last week: 9
Pace: 92.2 (30), OffRtg: 102.8 (19), DefRtg: 101.6 (9), NetRtg: +1.2 (13)
Like OKC, the Grizz received a scare on Friday when Marc Gasol injured his left ankle in Miami. But he was back in Saturday's win over Indiana. Their offense has had some ugly nights and they've shot just 25 percent from 3-point range over their last six games, but the Grizz have lost two straight only once since Christmas, with the league's best defense since Gasol returned from his knee injury.
This week: vs. MIN, @ UTA, @ GSW, @ POR
8. Indiana (51-19)
Last week: 5
Pace: 95.5 (20), OffRtg: 102.2 (20), DefRtg: 95.5 (1), NetRtg: +6.7 (4)
The Pacers got their first win over a winning team since early February, but that was sandwiched by losses to the Knicks and Grizzlies. They were never a good offensive team, but rank 26th on that end over the last three weeks. Not only has Paul George shot poorly (17-for-59) from 3-point range, but he hasn't been finishing very well, shooting just 50 percent in the restricted area in that stretch.
This week: @ CHI, vs. MIA, @ WAS, @ CLE
9. Chicago (39-31)
Last week: 3
Pace: 92.9 (29), OffRtg: 99.0 (29), DefRtg: 97.8 (2), NetRtg: +1.1 (14)
The 35 percent they shot in losses to the Thunder and Pacers last week was a reminder of how brutal the Bulls can be offensively. More concerning is that they've allowed 13-plus offensive rebounds in four of their last six games (and 20-plus second chance points in three of the six). Two of this week's opponents (not the Pacers, interestingly) are top-10 offensive rebounding teams.
This week: vs. IND, vs. POR, @ BOS
10. Brooklyn (37-31)
Last week: 15
Pace: 93.9 (26), OffRtg: 103.9 (14), DefRtg: 104.0 (15), NetRtg: -0.1 (16)
The Nets are 27-10 since Jan. 1 and 11-2 since getting their butts kicked in Portland a month ago. Sunday's comeback win in Dallas is another sign that they have some toughness under Jason Kidd, even without Kevin Garnett for the last 12 games. Mason Plumlee (who had a double-double against his brother on Monday) has filled in well, but KG's back issues are obviously a big concern.
This week: @ NOP, @ CHA, vs. CLE, vs. MIN
11. Phoenix (41-29)
Last week: 10
Pace: 98.4 (6), OffRtg: 106.9 (8), DefRtg: 103.9 (14), NetRtg: +3.0 (10)
Eric Bledsoe has shot just 7-for-37 from outside the paint since returning from his knee injury, but he was absolutely huge in tight fourth quarters (that may have saved the Suns' season) against the Pistons and Wolves over the weekend. Sunday's win was particularly encouraging, because it was on the road, where the Suns will play eight of their final 12 games. No team has more road games left.
This week: @ ATL, @ WAS, vs. NYK, @ LAL
12. Toronto (39-30)
Last week: 11
Pace: 94.6 (22), OffRtg: 105.1 (10), DefRtg: 101.4 (6), NetRtg: +3.7 (8)
The Raps were showing some signs of slippage after another bench loss in Atlanta, having their hearts broken by Kevin Durant, and an ugly 36 minutes against the Hawks on Sunday. But a huge (36-15) fourth quarter (with 23 combined points from Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan) kept them in the 3 spot in the East, and they now play four straight against the dregs of the conference.
This week: @ CLE, @ BOS, vs. BOS, @ ORL
13. Dallas (42-29)
Last week: 12
Pace: 96.2 (16), OffRtg: 108.6 (3), DefRtg: 105.6 (22), NetRtg: +2.9 (11)
After two overtime defeats last week, the Mavs are tied in the loss column with ninth-place Phoenix, with games against two of the league's four best teams coming up. But all three of their games this week are against teams on the second night of a back-to-back. The Mavs have five of those games left, with only one remaining back-to-back (two straight games at Staples Center) of their own.
This week: vs. OKC, vs. LAC, vs. SAC
14. Portland (45-25)
Last week: 13
Pace: 97.9 (10), OffRtg: 108.5 (5), DefRtg: 105.2 (21), NetRtg: +3.2 (9)
The Blazers are 21-5 against the Eastern Conference (tied with Houston for the best mark among West teams), but got smoked in Charlotte on Saturday and finish their five-game trip with two back-to-backs (and three teams with something to play for). If those don't go well (and we don't know when LaMarcus Aldridge will be back), Sunday's game against the Grizzlies could have added importance.
This week: @ MIA, @ ORL, @ ATL, @ CHI, vs. MEM
15. Washington (36-34)
Last week: 14
Pace: 95.8 (17), OffRtg: 103.0 (18), DefRtg: 103.0 (11), NetRtg: +0.1 (15)
The Wizards went 1-3 on their trip West, allowing their opponents to score almost 116 points per 100 possession in the second halves of the four games. Though Drew Gooden has continued to shoot well, the defense has been particularly bad (116.6) with him on the floor. Here's an example of him getting lost on a pick-and-roll, resulting in an open corner three for the Blazers on Thursday.
This week: vs. PHX, vs. IND, vs. ATL
16. Charlotte (34-36)
Last week: 16
Pace: 95.1 (21), OffRtg: 100.6 (23), DefRtg: 101.4 (8), NetRtg: -0.8 (18)
After losing to teams behind and ahead of them in the standings, the Bobcats got a big win against the Blazers. Not that there's much advantage to finishing seventh vs. finishing eighth, but the Hawks have a potential tiebreaker with a 3-0 head-to-head record and also have the final meeting in Atlanta on April 14. The Bobcats have some easier games ahead, but face two tough teams at home this week.
This week: vs. HOU, vs. BKN, @ ORL
17. Denver (32-38)
Last week: 18
Pace: 100.3 (3), OffRtg: 103.3 (17), DefRtg: 105.2 (20), NetRtg: -1.9 (20)
The Nuggets have won five of their last seven games and have beat the Mavs, Heat, Clippers and Wizards since Ty Lawson came back. Aaron Brooks put up 27 points and 17 assists in the one game (vs. Detroit) that Lawson missed and Randy Foye has caught fire again, hitting five threes in each of his last three games. But another late-season ACL tear (J.J. Hickson this time) is a tough blow.
This week: @ OKC, @ SAS, vs. SAS
18. Minnesota (34-34)
Last week: 17
Pace: 99.8 (4), OffRtg: 105.7 (9), DefRtg: 103.9 (13), NetRtg: +1.8 (12)
The Wolves blew two 22-point leads last week, on Wednesday in Dallas and on Sunday against Phoenix. They managed to pull out one of the two games (thanks to a tough shot by Kevin Love), which is another reason the Mavs and Suns are tied in the loss column. With two more games against the Grizzlies, the Wolves will continue to play a role in who gets the seventh and eighth spots in the West.
This week: @ MEM, vs. ATL, vs. LAL, @ BKN
19. New York (29-41)
Last week: 19
Pace: 92.9 (28), OffRtg: 105.0 (12), DefRtg: 106.6 (25), NetRtg: -1.6 (19)
The Knicks seemingly legitimized their winning streak against the Pacers on Wednesday, but may have thrown it all away (along with a 17-point lead) against the Cavs on Sunday. If they're going to put any real pressure on the Hawks, they probably have to go 4-1 on their trip West, because all seven of their April games are against the top six teams in the East, against whom they're 4-11.
This week: @ LAL, @ SAC, @ PHX, @ GSW
20. New Orleans (29-40)
Last week: 21
Pace: 94.5 (23), OffRtg: 105.1 (11), DefRtg: 107.1 (27), NetRtg: -2.0 (21)
The Pelicans have suddenly become another dangerous spoiler. They knocked off the Hawks and Heat last week, went down to the wire with the Grizzlies and Blazers before that, and have scored 113.0 points per 100 possessions over their last five games. Anthony Davis has been ridiculous and Tyreke Evans has been getting to the rim, with 57 shots in the restricted area in the five games.
This week: vs. BKN, vs. LAC, vs. UTA, @ SAS
21. Atlanta (31-37)
Last week: 22
Pace: 97.1 (12), OffRtg: 103.7 (15), DefRtg: 104.4 (17), NetRtg: -0.7 (17)
Kyle Korver got back spasms, the Hawks' offense struggled without him, and a five-game winning streak (which was looking pretty good after wins over the Bobcats and Raptors) turned into two straight losses. With four tough games this week, they could be looking at another extended losing streak, but they still have an easier remaining schedule (nine home games vs. four) than New York.
This week: vs. PHX, @ MIN, vs. POR, @ WAS
22. Cleveland (27-44)
Last week: 20
Pace: 95.6 (19), OffRtg: 100.3 (24), DefRtg: 105.0 (19), NetRtg: -4.7 (24)
Without Kyrie Irving, the Cavs almost came back from 14 down against the Heat on Tuesday, almost came back from 24 down against the Thunder on Thursday, almost came back from 29 down against the Rockets on Saturday, and did come back from 17 down in New York on Sunday. Their opponents shot just 25 percent (4-for-27 from 3-point range) in the fourth quarter of the four games.
This week: vs. TOR, @ DET, @ BKN, vs. IND
23. Sacramento (25-45)
Last week: 23
Pace: 97.0 (13), OffRtg: 103.4 (16), DefRtg: 105.9 (24), NetRtg: -2.6 (22)
Derrick Williams didn't get a real chance to follow up on his 26-point performance against the Wolves. In 82 minutes last week, he got just 12 shots from the field. The Kings are one of three teams (the Pelicans and Jazz are the others) with more wins against the opposite conference (13) than against their own (12), but Wednesday's visit from the Knicks is their last game against the East.
This week: vs. NYK, @ OKC, @ DAL
24. Boston (23-47)
Last week: 27
Pace: 95.8 (18), OffRtg: 99.0 (28), DefRtg: 104.2 (16), NetRtg: -5.2 (25)
As much as the Heat have seemingly struggled, only three teams have beat them more than once. One of those teams is the Celtics, who did it a second time on Wednesday with only 30 points in the paint or at the free throw line. Avery Bradley shot 16-for-27 from outside the paint (10-for-18 from 3-point range) against Miami and in Friday's loss in Brooklyn, in which the Cs were outscored 62-30 in the paint.
This week: vs. TOR, @ TOR, vs. CHI
25. L.A. Lakers (23-46)
Last week: 25
Pace: 100.8 (2), OffRtg: 101.1 (22), DefRtg: 107.3 (28), NetRtg: -6.2 (27)
When the Lakers' most-used lineup includes four guys making a total of $3.5 million, you know it hasn't been their year. But it would be cool if their third highest paid player could play a few more games before the season is done. Steve Nash returned in Friday's loss to the Wizards, came off the bench for the first time in 14 years, and dropped 11 dimes in 19 minutes. He could play again Tuesday.
This week: vs. NYK, @ MIL, @ MIN, vs. PHX
26. Detroit (25-44)
Last week: 24
Pace: 97.9 (11), OffRtg: 102.1 (21), DefRtg: 105.9 (23), NetRtg: -3.8 (23)
Last week was not Josh Smith's best. He got Mozgov'd by Mozgov on Wednesday got ejected later that same night, shot 0-for-8 from the free throw line on Friday, and shot 1-for-11 from outside the restricted area on Saturday. The Pistons still haven't won a road game under John Loyer (allowing over 112 points per 100 possessions in the nine games), but have a couple of decent chances this week.
This week: @ UTA, vs. CLE, vs. MIA, @ PHI
27. Utah (23-47)
Last week: 28
Pace: 93.7 (27), OffRtg: 100.1 (25), DefRtg: 108.1 (29), NetRtg: -8.0 (28)
Things are looking up for Utah's young core. Trey Burke hit the game-winning three against Orlando on Saturday, Alec Burks has scored in double-figures in 20 straight games (though he missed the last one with a sprained ankle), and Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter haven't been so awful together as Kanter has started four of the last five (including three against playoff teams).
This week: vs. DET, vs. MEM, @ NOP, @ OKC
28. Orlando (19-52)
Last week: 26
Pace: 96.3 (15), OffRtg: 99.1 (27), DefRtg: 104.6 (18), NetRtg: -5.5 (26)
The Magic play nine of their last 11 games against playoff teams, but aren't quite playing like a spoiler, having lost nine straight (including three against the Bucks, Jazz and Lakers). Their offense stinks, in part because they don't get to the free throw line. They rank last in post-break FTA rate, with Nikola Vucevic having attempted just four freebies in 146 minutes over his last five games.
This week: vs. POR, vs. CHA, vs. TOR
29. Milwaukee (13-57)
Last week: 29
Pace: 94.4 (24), OffRtg: 99.5 (26), DefRtg: 108.4 (30), NetRtg: -8.9 (29)
Thanks to an offense that still ranks in the top 10 since the All-Star break, the Bucks gave the Blazers and Warriors tough fights on the road. And thanks to the worst defense in the league, they've still lost 10 of their last 11 games to stay two games ahead of the Sixers in the race for first seat at the Lottery. They haven't won a game outside Milwaukee or Philadelphia in 2014.
This week: @ LAC, vs. LAL, vs. MIA
30. Philadelphia (15-55)
Last week: 30
Pace: 102.0 (1), OffRtg: 95.7 (30), DefRtg: 107.0 (26), NetRtg: -11.4 (30)
The Sixers' defense has been better and they've been within five points in the last five minutes of four of their last six games. They haven't been able to get over the hump, but they're getting closer to ending the streak. Saturday against the Pistons, who have lost 13 straight road games, could be the night, but the Bucks and Magic both had double-digit road losing streaks before winning in Philly last month.
This week: @ SAS, @ HOU, vs. DET