By John Schuhmann, NBA.com
Posted Mar 31, 2014 12:23 PM
The San Antonio Spurs are the best team in the NBA. They've won 17 straight games, have a three-game lead for the league's best record, and are the only team that ranks in the top five in both offensive and defensive efficiency.
So why is it hard to label them as the favorites to win the championship?
Because, going back to Game 3 of the 2012 Western Conference finals, the Spurs are 2-9 against the Oklahoma City Thunder, the team that currently sits in second place in the West and also ranks in the top seven on both ends of the floor. The Spurs have the most beautiful offense in the league and have improved quite a bit defensively over the last two years, but they don't match up well with the Thunder's athleticism.
That's why Thursday's game in Oklahoma City (8 p.m. ET, TNT) could be fun. The Spurs are playing terrific, but they'll be up against the team that's given them the most trouble over the last few years.
Unfortunately, San Antonio will be playing the second night of a back-to-back and their third game (against really good teams) in four nights. The Thunder, meanwhile, will have had three days off. So we might not get a true feel for how these teams match up at this point in time. In fact, the Spurs may rest a player or two.
Only one of San Antonio's final nine games is against a team below .500. That's the season finale against the Lakers. So they haven't sewn up that top seed just yet.
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• Last week: East powers looking more vulnerable
• This time last year: With Heat streak done, focus back on the Lakers -- The Bulls ended the Heat's 27-game winning streak, but Miami came back and won in San Antonio - on Chris Bosh's game-winning three - without LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. Manu Ginobili went down with a hamstring injury, Marc Gasol returned from an abdominal tear after just two games, and the Lakers and Jazz were tied for the final playoff spot in the West.
• Hero Team of the Week: L.A. Clippers (3-1) -- The Spurs went 4-0 (the only team not to lose last week), but the Clippers got two wins in the other two Texas cities..
• Zero Team of the Week: Utah (0-4) -- Only two teams went 0-4. The Hawks didn't lose to the Pistons at home.
• High jumps of the week: Phoenix (+4), Portland (+4), New Orleans (+3), Orlando (+3)
• Free falls of the week: Denver (-4), Detroit (-3), Utah (-3)
• East vs. West: The West is 279-160 (.636) against the East in inter-conference games and was 12-7 last week (3-0 against Atlanta).
• Toughest schedules through Sunday: 1. Utah, 2. L.A. Lakers, 3. Sacramento
• Easiest schedules through Sunday: 1. Indiana, 2. New York, 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 96.4 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes and 103.7 points scored per 100 possessions.
1. San Antonio (57-16)
Last week: 1
Pace: 97.2 (12), OffRtg: 108.3 (5), DefRtg: 99.7 (4), NetRtg: +8.5 (1)
The Spurs dealt with more injuries (to Tony Parker and Danny Green) last week, but injuries don't seem to matter much, especially with their defense playing better. This week obviously presents the toughest stretch of games they've faced since their winning streak began. Parker, Manu Ginobili and Kawhi Leonard have combined to shoot just 43 percent over those last 11 games against the Thunder.
This week: @ IND, vs. GSW, @ OKC, vs. MEM
2. L.A. Clippers (52-22)
Last week: 2
Pace: 98.3 (8), OffRtg: 109.2 (2), DefRtg: 101.6 (6), NetRtg: +7.6 (2)
Though the Clippers barely beat the Bucks and came up short in New Orleans, wins in Dallas and Houston put them at 9-2 (scoring almost 112 points per 100 possessions) in their last 11 games against teams with winning records. But Blake Griffin's back spasms at this point in the season are certainly a concern, especially with Glen Davis not emotionally fit to even sit on the bench.
This week: @ MIN, @ PHX, vs. DAL, vs. LAL
3. Oklahoma City (54-19)
Last week: 3
Pace: 98.1 (9), OffRtg: 107.8 (7), DefRtg: 100.4 (5), NetRtg: +7.4 (3)
The Thunder will have the rest advantage against the Spurs on Thursday, but the situation will be reversed when they play the Rockets (on Friday) and Clippers (in L.A. next week). OKC is 12-2 (allowing 97.2 points per 100 possessions) with a rest advantage and, after Tuesday's loss in Dallas, 6-5 (allowing 105.8) with a rest disadvantage. After Thursday, they just have two more games at home.
This week: vs. SAS, @ HOU, @ PHX
4. Houston (49-33)
Last week: 4
Pace: 98.4 (5), OffRtg: 108.5 (4), DefRtg: 102.4 (10), NetRtg: +6.0 (5)
The Rockets have lost their last four games against playoff teams and might be without both Dwight Howard and Patrick Beverley as they play three more this week. But things get easier after that and, thanks to 19 straight wins against teams with losing records, they have a four-game cushion in the loss column for a top-four seed. Jeremy Lin shot 1-for-9 in his first start since the break.
This week: @ BKN, @ TOR, vs. OKC, vs. DEN
5. Miami (50-22)
Last week: 6
Pace: 93.7 (26), OffRtg: 109.5 (1), DefRtg: 102.7 (11), NetRtg: +6.8 (4)
Either Udonis Haslem or Greg Oden has started each of the last nine games and the Heat have increasingly played two bigs together as the season has gone on. But they still play a lot of "small-ball" minutes and can't get consistent production from their floor-spacing forwards. Shane Battier's minutes are limited and Michael Beasley's out of the rotation again, so Rashard Lewis is getting another shot.
This week: vs. TOR, vs. MIL, vs. MIN, vs. NYK
6. Golden State (45-28)
Last week: 5
Pace: 98.3 (6), OffRtg: 104.6 (13), DefRtg: 99.5 (3), NetRtg: +5.1 (7)
Given the absences of David Lee and Andrew Bogut, along with how brutal Harrison Barnes has been, it's amazing that the Warriors were able to beat the Grizzlies on Friday. Stephen Curry (33 points) carried the offense that night and tried to do it again (with 32) against the Knicks on Sunday, but nobody else came along for the ride. The Warriors are just 9-10 when he scores 30-plus.
This week: @ DAL, @ SAS, vs. SAC, vs. UTA
7. Phoenix (44-30)
Last week: 11
Pace: 98.3 (7), OffRtg: 107.0 (8), DefRtg: 103.7 (14), NetRtg: +3.2 (10)
Six of the Suns' last eight games are against the other teams in the West's top nine, which is either bad news or good news. On one hand, they have the toughest schedule of the teams fighting for the last couple of playoff spots. On the other, they could go into the playoffs well-tested and well-respected. Of course, Sunday's inexplicable loss to the Lakers could really come back to bite them.
This week: vs. LAC, @ POR, vs. OKC
8. Memphis (43-30)
Last week: 7
Pace: 92.1 (30), OffRtg: 103.1 (16), DefRtg: 101.8 (8), NetRtg: +1.3 (13)
It was not a good time for two of the Grizzlies' worst defensive games since Marc Gasol's return in mid-January. The Warriors and Blazers combined to score over 113 points per 100 possessions over the weekend, with an effective field goal percentage of 57 percent from outside the paint, and now the Grizz are on the outside of the playoff picture again. They need the last two games of their trip.
This week: @ DEN, @ MIN, vs. DEN, @ SAS
9. Indiana (52-22)
Last week: 8
Pace: 95.3 (20), OffRtg: 101.3 (22), DefRtg: 95.5 (1), NetRtg: +5.8 (6)
The cushion (two games in the loss column) that the Pacers built with their win over the Heat on Wednesday is already gone. And as Miami begins a five-game homestand, Indy faces the streaking Spurs, having scored an anemic 88.4 points per 100 possessions over its last seven games. The Sixers haven't been that bad offensively in any seven-game stretch this season.
This week: vs. SAS, vs. DET, @ TOR, vs. ATL
10. Portland (48-27)
Last week: 14
Pace: 97.4 (11), OffRtg: 108.2 (6), DefRtg: 104.7 (19), NetRtg: +3.6 (9)
LaMarcus Aldridge shot just 11-for-31 in his first two games back and had another scary fall on Sunday, but his jumper was falling in the Blazers' huge win over the Grizzlies. That was their first victory over one of the other teams in the West's top nine since Jan. 18 (they had lost 12 straight). They're the only team that's done with back-to-backs and their only road games left are against the Lakers and Jazz.
This week: @ LAL, vs. PHX, vs. NOP
11. Chicago (41-32)
Last week: 9
Pace: 92.9 (28), OffRtg: 98.9 (29), DefRtg: 97.8 (2), NetRtg: +1.1 (14)
Jimmy Butler is still logging 40-plus minutes most nights, but coach Tom Thibodeau has played Kirk Hinrich and D.J. Augustin together more since the All-Star break (11.1 minutes per game) than he did before it (8.2). The Bulls have been potent, scoring 110.9 points per 100 possessions in 222 minutes since the break, with the two point guards on the floor. Augustin scored a career-high 33 points on Sunday.
This week: vs. BOS, @ ATL, vs. MIL, @ WAS
12. Brooklyn (39-33)
Last week: 10
Pace: 93.8 (25), OffRtg: 104.4 (14), DefRtg: 104.2 (15), NetRtg: +0.2 (16)
The Nets' defense has taken a step backward over the last couple of weeks and their overtime losses to the former Hornets and future Hornets may have killed their chances at winning the division. But Paul Pierce is heating up, they hinted on Sunday that Kevin Garnett could play sometime next week, and after wins over the Cavs and Wolves, they finally have a positive point differential.
This week: vs. HOU, @ NYK, vs. DET, @ PHI
13. Dallas (44-30)
Last week: 13
Pace: 96.2 (15), OffRtg: 108.7 (3), DefRtg: 105.7 (22), NetRtg: +3.0 (11)
The Mavs have played mostly good teams and beat the Thunder on Tuesday, but a 4-4 homestand would be a major disappointment and tough to recover from as they battle the Suns and Grizz for the West's final two playoff spots. After blowing a late lead against the Clippers on Thursday and barely beating the Kings on Saturday, they desperately need Tuesday's game against the Warriors.
This week: vs. GSW, @ LAC, @ LAL, @ SAC
14. Toronto (42-31)
Last week: 12
Pace: 94.5 (22), OffRtg: 105.3 (10), DefRtg: 101.7 (7), NetRtg: +3.6 (8)
The Raptors have been treading water thanks to an easy schedule over the last eight days. They lost to the Cavs on Tuesday (allowing 59 points in the first half) and barely held off the Celtics (twice) and Magic after that. No playoff team has been worse defensively over its last 10 games and they've only faced two top-10 offensive teams in that stretch. They face two more in the next three days.
This week: @ MIA, vs. HOU, vs. IND, @ MIL
15. Washington (38-35)
Last week: 15
Pace: 95.7 (17), OffRtg: 102.9 (19), DefRtg: 102.7 (12), NetRtg: +0.2 (15)
Bradley Beal's shot is so smooth, you never think he's going to miss. But he's missed a lot lately (both inside and out), shooting 32 percent over the last seven games. Saturday's win over Atlanta didn't come easy, but the Wiz have seemingly righted the ship, beating the Pacers and Hawks after dropping four out of five. They still have to fight off Charlotte to avoid the Pacers or Heat in the first round.
This week: @ CHA, vs. BOS, @ NYK, vs. CHI
16. Charlotte (35-38)
Last week: 16
Pace: 94.9 (21), OffRtg: 100.8 (23), DefRtg: 101.8 (9), NetRtg: -1.0 (17)
The Bobcats aren't as locked in to the No. 7 seed as they may appear. They have two more games against the sixth-place Wizards and another six against the Sixers (2), Magic, Cavs, Celtics and Hawks. Even if they don't catch Washington, who also has an easy schedule, that could give the East seven teams at .500 or better. And if Josh McRoberts can throw down dunks like this, anything is possible.
This week: vs. WAS, @ PHI, vs. ORL, @ CLE
17. New Orleans (32-41)
Last week: 20
Pace: 94.4 (23), OffRtg: 105.0 (11), DefRtg: 106.9 (25), NetRtg: -1.9 (19)
Thanks to the continued renaissance of Tyreke Evans (who has now averaged 11.1 shots in the restricted area over the last nine games) and the best game of Darius Miller's career, the Pelicans won two more spoiler games (against the Nets and Clippers) last week. They should have Anthony Davis (ankle) back by Sunday's visit to Portland, playing their final six games against West playoff teams.
This week: vs. SAC, @ DEN, @ UTA, @ POR
18. Minnesota (36-36)
Last week: 18
Pace: 99.9 (4), OffRtg: 105.8 (9), DefRtg: 103.7 (13), NetRtg: +2.1 (12)
Kevin Love displayed a little East-West bitterness in Brooklyn on Sunday and yes, the Wolves would be in the playoffs if they were in the Eastern Conference. But they're also just 8-10 against the 10 teams that do have a shot at the East playoffs. It's been another miserable season in Minnesota, but rookie Gorgui Dieng (averaging a double-double over the last eight games) has provided some promise.
This week: vs. LAC, vs. MEM, @ MIA, @ ORL
19. New York (31-43)
Last week: 19
Pace: 92.8 (29), OffRtg: 105.0 (12), DefRtg: 107.1 (27), NetRtg: -2.1 (20)
In the last 10 days, the Knicks have 1. barely beat the Sixers, 2. lost to the Cavs at home, 3. given up 51 points in a quarter to the Lakers, 4. almost blown a 24-point lead to the Kings, 5. been blown out in Phoenix, and 6. ranked last in defensive efficiency. And yet they're somehow tied in the win column for the East's eighth seed. OK, so maybe Love does have a right to be bitter.
This week: @ UTA, vs. BKN, vs. WAS, @ MIA
20. Cleveland (30-45)
Last week: 22
Pace: 95.4 (19), OffRtg: 100.5 (24), DefRtg: 104.9 (20), NetRtg: -4.4 (24)
The Cavs have won four of their last five (without Kyrie Irving) to put themselves in the picture for that last playoff spot in the East. Matthew Dellavedova isn't Irving, but he's been running the offense pretty well. The Cavs are a plus-10.5 per 100 possessions in 625 minutes with Dellavedova and Dion Waiters on the floor together, a mark that's much better than any of their other guard combinations.
This week: @ ORL, @ ATL, vs. CHA
21. Denver (32-41)
Last week: 17
Pace: 100.5 (3), OffRtg: 103.0 (17), DefRtg: 105.5 (21), NetRtg: -2.5 (21)
It was inevitable, but the Nuggets have officially been eliminated from the postseason. They're just the third team (joining the 2010-11 Cavs and 2004-05 Wolves) since the 1998-99 lockout that failed to make the playoffs a year after winning at least 57 games. Which hurt most: the departure of George Karl, the departure of Andre Iguodala, or Denver's four season-ending injuries?
This week: vs. MEM, vs. NOP, @ MEM, @ HOU
22. Atlanta (31-41)
Last week: 21
Pace: 97.1 (13), OffRtg: 102.9 (18), DefRtg: 104.6 (18), NetRtg: -1.7 (18)
The Hawks' losing streak has reached six games and only the Knicks' own futility is keeping them in the playoffs. Kyle Korver's shooting is missed - Atlanta has shot 27 percent from 3-point range in the six games - but second-half defense has been a bigger problem. They've been tied or had the lead in four of the games, but have allowed over 116 points per 100 possessions in the six second halves.
This week: vs. PHI, vs. CHI, vs. CLE, @ IND
23. L.A. Lakers (25-48)
Last week: 25
Pace: 100.8 (2), OffRtg: 101.8 (21), DefRtg: 107.6 (28), NetRtg: -5.8 (27)
The Lakers were the Spoiler Team of the Week, knocking off two opponents (New York and Phoenix) fighting for those last playoff spots. True to their season-long randomness, they did it in different ways: from the outside against the Knicks (Nick Young hit five threes) and on the inside against the Suns (Chris Kaman scored 28 points). Next thing you know, they might play some defense.
This week: vs. POR, @ SAC, vs. DAL, @ LAC
24. Sacramento (25-48)
Last week: 23
Pace: 96.8 (14), OffRtg: 103.3 (15), DefRtg: 106.2 (23), NetRtg: -2.9 (22)
The Kings are 0-10 without DeMarcus Cousins and now 0-3 without Isaiah Thomas, whose quad injury gave Ray McCallum the opportunity to start (and play all 48 minutes of Saturday's loss in Dallas). The Kings are actually a plus-44 in 149 minutes with a micro backcourt of Thomas and McCallum on the floor together, though plus-25 of that plus-44 came against the Bucks and Sixers.
This week: @ NOP, vs. LAL, @ GSW, vs. DAL
25. Orlando (21-53)
Last week: 28
Pace: 96.1 (16), OffRtg: 99.3 (27), DefRtg: 104.4 (17), NetRtg: -5.1 (25)
Nikola Vucevic averaged 22.7 points and 14.3 rebounds as the Magic beat two playoff teams (Portland and Charlotte) and almost knocked off another (Toronto) last week. With Vucevic a key piece, the consensus is that the Magic "won" the Dwight Howard trade, but they still have the league's worst record (41-115, nine wins fewer than any other team) since the deal. That's the opposite of winning.
This week: vs. CLE, @ CHA, vs. MIN
26. Boston (23-50)
Last week: 24
Pace: 95.7 (18), OffRtg: 99.2 (28), DefRtg: 104.4 (16), NetRtg: -5.2 (26)
With Jerryd Bayless (35 points on 58 percent shooting) and Jared Sullinger (53 points, 7-for-15 from 3-point range) providing some punch off the bench, the Celtics were competitive in three games against top-four seeds (Toronto and Chicago) last week. But coach Brad Stevens has now lost more games in one season with the Celtics (50) than he did in six seasons at Butler (49).
This week: @ CHI, @ WAS, vs. PHI, @ DET
27. Milwaukee (14-59)
Last week: 29
Pace: 94.3 (24), OffRtg: 99.6 (26), DefRtg: 108.4 (29), NetRtg: -8.8 (29)
Just when the Bucks were close to finally catching the Sixers in the win column, the Sixers gave them a cushion for the worst record in the league. And with only three somewhat winnable games remaining, Milwaukee is looking good for those 25 percent odds at the No. 1 pick. They may finish the season without ever winning two straight games, but we'll always have the Giannis Antetokounmpo highlights.
This week: @ DET, @ MIA, @ CHI, vs. TOR
28. Philadelphia (16-57)
Last week: 30
Pace: 102.0 (1), OffRtg: 95.9 (30), DefRtg: 107.0 (26), NetRtg: -11.1 (30)
Before their trip to Texas, the Sixers had been knocking on the door. And they busted through just in time to avoid holding the longest-losing-streak record by themselves. Saturday's win was actually the fifth time in the last six games that Philly has hit 10 or more threes (they shot 1-for-20 in the other one). Thaddeus Young has averaged more than six 3-point attempts in his last nine games.
This week: @ ATL, vs. CHA, @ BOS, vs. BKN
29. Detroit (26-47)
Last week: 26
Pace: 97.6 (10), OffRtg: 102.2 (20), DefRtg: 106.3 (24), NetRtg: -4.1 (23)
The Pistons didn't just lose to the Sixers last week. They've actually got quite a little streak going. They blew a 16-point, fourth-quarter lead against the Cavs on Wednesday and got waxed by the otherwise-struggling Heat on Friday. They can really hit rock bottom with a loss to the Bucks on Monday. It would be nice if we could see what Luigi Datome can do now that their season is essentially over.
This week: vs. MIL, @ IND, @ BKN, vs. BOS
30. Utah (23-51)
Last week: 27
Pace: 93.5 (27), OffRtg: 100.2 (25), DefRtg: 108.7 (30), NetRtg: -8.5 (28)
If the Pistons lost to the Sixers by 25, what does that say about the Jazz, who lost to Detroit, at home, by 20 on Monday? That was the Pistons' only road win since Jan. 18 (13 days before the Sixers' losing streak began). The Jazz, meanwhile, are 2-15 since Feb. 28, with their only wins coming against Philly and Orlando (in the final seconds). Their defense has been absolutely brutal otherwise.
This week: vs. NYK, vs. NOP, @ GSW
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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.
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