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LeBron's move brings parity to the East

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com
POSTED: Jul 21, 2014 12:37 PM ET

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A Kevin Love trade could help swing the balance of power in the East.

The first three weeks of free agency have been crazy. LeBron James went home, Lance Stephenson left Indiana, Paul Pierce joined his third team in as many seasons, the Bulls reloaded, the Mavs got their anchor back, and the Rockets struck out on the big names.

The Lakers gave Jordan Hill $9 million a year and Ed Davis only $1 million. Ben Gordon will be paid more than Vince Carter this season.

There are still some moves that can make an impact. Obviously, a Kevin Love trade could send the Warriors or Cavaliers to the top of their conference. Restricted free agents Eric Bledsoe and Greg Monroe are still out there, waiting to sign an offer sheet or re-sign with the Suns and Pistons, respectively. And vets like Shawn Marion and Jameer Nelson could be great fits on the right team.

But with things having settled down, with Summer League about to wrap up, and with this author's attention turning toward USA Basketball and the FIBA Basketball World Cup, it's time to issue some mid-summer Power Rankings.

Here's how the 30 teams stack up. Everything starts with the champs, who are bringing everybody back and who have no question marks. From there, it's all Western Conference in the top five until we see what the Bulls are getting from Derrick Rose and whether the Cavs are getting anything from Minnesota.

* * *

• April 14: Healthy, rested Spurs head into postseason as No. 1

• High jumps of the early summer: Dallas (+3), Memphis (+3), Portland (+3)
• Free falls of the early summer: Phoenix (-4), Brooklyn (-2), Golden State (-2), L.A. Lakers (-2)

* * *

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 averaged 96.3 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes and 104.0 points scored per 100 possessions last season.

* * *

1. San Antonio (62-20)

Last week: 1

Pace: 97.1 (12), OffRtg: 108.2 (6), DefRtg: 100.1 (4), NetRtg: +8.1 (1)

Key addition(s): Larry O'Brien, Ettore Messina

Key question: How good can Kawhi Leonard be?

Individual numbers will always be limited with the Spurs, but Leonard's Finals performance should be a launching pad for an All-Star season. Before then, a (max?) contract extension is in order. Patty Mills' injury puts pressure on Cory Joseph to keep Tony Parker fresh, but these guys always step up when needed.

2. Oklahoma City (59-23)

Last week: 2

Pace: 97.9 (9), OffRtg: 108.1 (7), DefRtg: 101.0 (5), NetRtg: +7.1 (3)

Key addition(s): Anthony Morrow

Key question: Is Steven Adams ready?

If Adams plays more minutes than Kendrick Perkins (they were about even last season), the Thunder will have a higher ceiling offensively. On the other end of the floor, they'll need the younger guys -- Reggie Jackson, Jeremy Lamb and Perry Jones -- to make up for Thabo Sefolosha's departure on the perimeter.

3. L.A. Clippers (57-25)

Last week: 3

Pace: 98.4 (7), OffRtg: 109.4 (1), DefRtg: 102.1 (7), NetRtg: +7.3 (2)

Key addition(s): A hard cap

Key question: Is Spencer Hawes the third big they needed?

No big man combo played more minutes together last season than Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. If Hawes is going to relieve some of the pressure on those two, he has to defend a lot better than he did with Philly and Cleveland. With the Clippers less than $1 million from a hard cap, they have little in-season flexibility.

4. Dallas (49-33)

Last week: 10

Pace: 95.7 (17), OffRtg: 109.0 (3), DefRtg: 105.9 (22), NetRtg: +3.0 (11)

Key addition(s): Tyson Chandler Parsons

Key question: Which Chandler are they getting?

If they're getting DPOY Chandler, they have a shot at being a top-10 defense. And if he stays healthy, his ability to roll and finish and Parsons attacking on the weak side will complement those Monta Ellis/Dirk Nowitzki pick-and-pops that were already unstoppable. A top-five offense is a lock. Contender status is possible.

5. Golden State (51-31)

Last week: 8

Pace: 98.5 (6), OffRtg: 105.3 (12), DefRtg: 99.9 (3), NetRtg: +5.4 (6)

Key addition(s): Steve Kerr, Shaun Livingston, trade distractions

Key question: How will Kerr utilize his bench?

The Warriors' offense fell off a cliff when Stephen Curry stepped off the floor last season, and the D did the same when Andre Iguodala sat down. There's bound to be a drop-off when you have a stacked starting lineup, but Kerr needs to keep those guys fresh while maintaining a high level on at least one end of the floor.

6. Chicago (48-34)

Last week: 9

Pace: 92.7 (28), OffRtg: 99.7 (28), DefRtg: 97.8 (2), NetRtg: +1.9 (12)

Key addition(s): Pau Gasol, Nikola Mirotic

Key question: Derrick Rose?

We're going to find out soon where Rose is physically, because National Team training camp -- where he'll be competing against Curry, Kyrie Irving and Damian Lillard -- begins next Monday. Even if he's good to go, the Bulls will be depending on their young guys -- Doug McDermott and Tony Snell -- to play important minutes.

7. Cleveland (33-49)

Last week: 22

Pace: 95.7 (18), OffRtg: 101.3 (23), DefRtg: 104.8 (17), NetRtg: -3.5 (23)

Key addition(s): Andrew Wiggins, LeBron James, pressure to win now

Key question: What will they do for Love?

The debate over trading the No. 1 pick in what was a much-hyped draft for an established All-Star is fascinating, especially since the rookie may already be the better defensive player. Ultimately, the Cavs have to do whatever James tells them to. But there's no reason they can't wait a few months to see what Wiggins can do.

8. Portland (54-28)

Last week: 6

Pace: 97.5 (10), OffRtg: 108.3 (5), DefRtg: 104.7 (16), NetRtg: +3.5 (8)

Key addition(s): Potential for sleeping on the bench

Key question: How do they get better defensively?

The Blazers were a below-average defensive team in the regular season and got smoked by the Rockets and Spurs in the playoffs. The additions of Steve Blake and Chris Kaman don't exactly move the needle on that end of the floor, especially in regard to forcing turnovers, where this team ranked dead last in 2013-14

9. Houston (54-28)

Last week: 4

Pace: 98.8 (5), OffRtg: 108.6 (4), DefRtg: 103.1 (12), NetRtg: +5.5 (5)

Key addition(s): Trevor Ariza, anti-Morey criticism

Key question: Would this team be able to survive an injury?

Not only did the Rockets swing and miss on the big free agents, but they traded their depth in order to do so. Their perimeter defense should be better, but two of their primary ball-handlers are gone and the departure of Omer Asik and the extra burden on Dwight Howard could makes things worse on the interior.

10. Toronto (48-34)

Last week: 12

Pace: 94.4 (23), OffRtg: 105.8 (9), DefRtg: 102.4 (9), NetRtg: +3.5 (9)

Key addition(s): Continuity

Key question: Were those contract-year bumps?

Kyle Lowry had his best season last year, and Patrick Patterson and Greivis Vasquez were also big off the bench. All three are re-signed and Dwane Casey can build on top-10 marks on both ends of the floor. Another year of development from (and more touches for) Jonas Valanciunas would do the trick.

11. Memphis (50-32)

Last week: 7

Pace: 92.2 (30), OffRtg: 103.3 (16), DefRtg: 102.1 (8), NetRtg: +1.2 (14)

Key addition(s): Vince Carter, conversations between coach and owner

Key question: Can Mike Conley continue to get better?

The Grizzlies went 33-13 after Marc Gasol returned from his knee injury last season, but their offense was still below average over that time. Carter adds some much-needed 3-point shooting, but there's still a ceiling on that end with limited off-the-dribble creators or options behind Gasol and Zach Randolph.

12. Washington (44-38)

Last week: 15

Pace: 95.5 (19), OffRtg: 103.3 (18), DefRtg: 102.4 (10), NetRtg: +0.9 (15)

Key addition(s): The Truth

Key question: How quickly before Paul Pierce fits in?

Pierce should give the Wizards more offensively than Trevor Ariza did, but it took him a while to find his way in Brooklyn last season, and Ariza had great chemistry with John Wall, leading the league with 81 corner threes. Pierce attempted just 22. Either way, this is one of the deepest teams in the league.

13. Indiana (56-26)

Last week: 18

Pace: 94.9 (20), OffRtg: 101.5 (22), DefRtg: 96.7 (1), NetRtg: +4.8 (7)

Key addition(s): C.J. Miles, more pressure on Frank Vogel

Key question: Will the Pacers' new shooters ever be open?

Miles and Damjan Rudez will space the floor, but Lance Stephenson's departure means that there's one less guy to get them open looks. If Vogel doesn't get more creative, the Pacers' offense will be brutal. And if he doesn't make better use of his bench, his team could hit another wall in the second half of the season.

14. Miami (54-28)

Last week: 5

Pace: 93.3 (27), OffRtg: 109.0 (2), DefRtg: 102.9 (11), NetRtg: +6.1 (4)

Key addition(s): Luol Deng, LeBron James' favorite rookie

Key question: Who's backing up Dwyane Wade?

The Heat lost the world's best player, and their ability to spread the floor has been compromised by the departure of some of their shooters and Chris Bosh's new role as an offensive focal point. Without James or (close to) 82 games of Wade, they may need to reinvent themselves defensively, too.

15. Phoenix (48-34)

Last week: 11

Pace: 98.2 (8), OffRtg: 107.1 (8), DefRtg: 103.8 (13), NetRtg: +3.3 (10)

Key addition(s): Isaiah Thomas

Key question: Is Eric Bledsoe coming back?

Thomas is a liability on D, where Phoenix ranked 18th in the two-plus months Bledsoe missed last season. So if Bledsoe and the Suns can't bridge the gap on contract talks (and if he doesn't sign the qualifying offer), this team will take a step back on both ends of the floor. Channing Frye's floor spacing will be missed.

16. Charlotte (43-39)

Last week: 14

Pace: 94.7 (21), OffRtg: 101.2 (24), DefRtg: 101.2 (6), NetRtg: +0.1 (16)

Key addition(s): Lance Stephenson

Key question: Can Stephenson stay in control?

Adding another off-the-dribble creator (for much less than they would have been paying Gordon Hayward) to an offense that improved every month last season could be a real coup. And if all goes well, this could be a top-four East team on both ends of the floor. But we know that Lance's antics can be a distraction.

17. Brooklyn (44-38)

Last week: 13

Pace: 93.7 (25), OffRtg: 104.4 (14), DefRtg: 104.9 (19), NetRtg: -0.6 (17)

Key addition(s): Lionel Hollins

Key question: Will Brook Lopez ever be Brook Lopez again?

The Nets lost two starters in free agency, but the return of Lopez could make up for it. And if Deron Williams has ankles that work and Joe Johnson beats opposing guards up in the post like he did in the postseason, this could still be a very good team. But there are too many ifs to rank them higher than eighth in the East.

18. Minnesota (40-42)

Last week: 16

Pace: 99.8 (4), OffRtg: 105.6 (10), DefRtg: 104.1 (15), NetRtg: +1.4 (13)

Key addition(s): A feeling of inevitability

Key question: What will they get for Kevin Love?

Maybe a coaching change, some better late-game luck, and the development of Gorgui Dieng could put the Wolves in the playoffs. But it seems inevitable that they'll be hitting the reset button with a Love trade at some point in the next seven months. If the speculation becomes a distraction, things could get ugly.

19. Atlanta (38-44)

Last week: 17

Pace: 96.9 (13), OffRtg: 103.4 (15), DefRtg: 104.1 (14), NetRtg: -0.7 (18)

Key addition(s): Al Horford (remember him?)

Key question: Will they ever land a big fish?

The Hawks were well set up -- with cap space and complementary pieces (and shooting, shooting, shooting!) -- to add a No. 1 option. But they didn't even get a nibble from the big names. They're still a playoff team that's getting its best player back, but, like the Bulls, they'll be relying on some young guards off the bench.

20. New Orleans (34-48)

Last week: 21

Pace: 94.5 (22), OffRtg: 104.7 (13), DefRtg: 107.3 (25), NetRtg: -2.6 (21)

Key addition(s): Omer Asik, Jimmermania

Key question: Can they find a way to be good on both ends of the floor?

Anthony Davis will be a top-five player very soon and the addition of Asik will obviously help what has been the league's worst defensive team over the last two seasons. But Asik wasn't happy coming off the bench in Houston and the Pels are at their best offensively with Ryan Anderson and Davis on the floor.

21. New York (37-45)

Last week: 19

Pace: 92.6 (29), OffRtg: 105.4 (11), DefRtg: 106.5 (24), NetRtg: -1.0 (19)

Key addition(s): Jose Calderon, youth

Key question: Will this be a team another star wants to join next year?

You have to like the point guard upgrade, but it's also important that the Knicks have six guys under 25 with whom to start building. None has a very high ceiling and defense is still a big issue, but when Andrea Bargnani and Amar'e Stoudemire come off the books next summer, more pieces can be added.

22. Denver (36-46)

Last week: 20

Pace: 100.7 (3), OffRtg: 103.3 (17), DefRtg: 105.4 (21), NetRtg: -2.1 (20)

Key addition(s): Double consonants

Key question: Can Brian Shaw bring this team together?

Shaw should certainly have a healthier roster in his second season. The Nuggets have explosiveness in the backcourt, athleticism up front, and two legit rotation guys at every position. But it's on the coach to make the pieces work together and find an identity that can compete in the ridiculously deep Western Conference.

23. Detroit (29-53)

Last week: 26

Pace: 97.4 (11), OffRtg: 102.9 (19), DefRtg: 107.3 (26), NetRtg: -4.4 (24)

Key addition(s): Stan Van Gundy, cheap shooting

Key question: Will they keep Josh Smith, Greg Monroe or both?

Van Gundy's teams have been top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency in five of the six full seasons he's coached. He did his best to add as much shooting as he could (four guys who shot better than 39 percent from 3-point range) with a limited budget. But that's all for naught if Smith is still playing small forward.

24. Sacramento (28-54)

Last week: 23

Pace: 96.7 (14), OffRtg: 102.9 (20), DefRtg: 106.3 (23), NetRtg: -3.4 (22)

Key addition(s): Nine nerds

Key question: What the heck is the plan here?

Their Draft process seemed refreshing and open-minded, but there still haven't been any decisions to distinguish new Kings management from old Kings management. Darren Collison over Isaiah Thomas? And if they're really trying to put together a frontline of Rudy Gay, Josh Smith and DeMarcus Cousins, oh boy.

25. L.A. Lakers (27-55)

Last week: 27

Pace: 101.0 (2), OffRtg: 101.9 (21), DefRtg: 107.9 (28), NetRtg: -6.0 (27)

Key addition(s): Lots of "And one!" yelps

Key question: Just how bad can they be defensively?

Very, very bad. They were awful last season, the only plus defender on the roster (Ed Davis) is competing for minutes with Carlos Boozer and Julius Randle, and the last time Byron Scott (the only candidate, it seems) coached was the last time a team ranked in the bottom five in defensive efficiency three straight seasons.

26. Boston (25-57)

Last week: 25

Pace: 95.9 (15), OffRtg: 99.7 (27), DefRtg: 105.2 (20), NetRtg: -5.5 (20)

Key addition(s): A young and smart backcourt

Key question: Is there a future All-Star on this roster?

Rajon Rondo is a four-time All-Star, but hasn't run an above-average offense in four years. And though the Celtics now have six first-round picks under the age of 25 on their roster, the one with the best potential (Marcus Smart) plays the same position as Rondo. Danny Ainge is still waiting to make his big move.

27. Orlando (23-59)

Last week: 24

Pace: 95.9 (16), OffRtg: 99.3 (29), DefRtg: 104.8 (18), NetRtg: -5.5 (25)

Key addition(s): More young guys, and Channing Frye

Key question: Ben Gordon? Really?

There was no reason not to believe in Rob Hennigan as he tore the Magic roster down and began building a young core. But when it was time to spend a little money, he handed $4.5 million to a guy who should have been hoping for a minimum deal. The 31-year old Frye also seems like a strange fit.

28. Milwaukee (15-67)

Last week: 29

Pace: 94.3 (24), OffRtg: 100.2 (26), DefRtg: 108.9 (29), NetRtg: -8.7 (29)

Key addition(s): Jabari Parker, Non-answers at the coach's press conferences

Key question: Will Larry Sanders live up to his extension?

Last year was a throwaway season, helping the Bucks get the No. 2 pick. But now Sanders' four-year, $44 million extension kicks in and there's another young star on the roster for him to influence one way or the other. At his best, he's a defensive anchor. At his worst, he's not someone you want around.

29. Utah (25-57)

Last week: 28

Pace: 93.6 (26), OffRtg: 100.6 (25), DefRtg: 109.1 (30), NetRtg: -8.4 (28)

Key addition(s): Coach Quin Snyder

Key question: Can Trey Burke and Dante Exum play together?

It will be interesting to see what Snyder can come up with for a young roster. There's nowhere to go but up on defense, where the length of both Exum and Rodney Hood should help. But if Gordon Hayward is still their best offensive player and Steve Novak is their only real shooter, they'll continue to struggle on that end.

30. Philadelphia (19-63)

Last week: 30

Pace: 101.6 (1), OffRtg: 96.8 (30), DefRtg: 107.5 (27), NetRtg: -10.7 (30)

Key addition(s): Nerlens Noel

Key question: What is Thaddeus Young still doing here?

Young handled last season like a pro and young teams need vets like that. He's still only 26, but he has an early termination option next summer, may not want to keep waiting for his team to start caring about results and could make a real impact on one of the top five or six teams in the East (or in Phoenix).

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

Last week: 1

San Antonio (62-18)
Pace: 97.0 (12), OffRtg: 108.4 (5), DefRtg: 99.8 (4), NetRtg: +8.6 (1)
The Thunder matchup remains a concern, but Gregg Popovich should feel pretty good about how well his team has been defending overall. The Spurs have had the West's best defense since the All-Star break, 6.7 points per 100 possessions fewer than the league average. That's much better than they were before the break (2.8) and after the break last season (3.4).
This week: @ HOU, vs. LAL

2

Last week: 2

Oklahoma City (58-22)
Pace: 98.0 (9), OffRtg: 108.1 (7), DefRtg: 100.7 (5), NetRtg: +7.4 (3)
Unless the Heat buckle down defensively in their final two games, the Thunder will be the only team to finish in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency each of the last three seasons. That doesn't mean anything if they can't win a championship, but why can't they? They're 33-12 with Russell Westbrook, they've owned the Spurs recently, and as noted, they get it done on both ends.
This week: @ NOP, vs. DET

3

Last week: 3

L.A. Clippers (56-24)
Pace: 98.3 (6), OffRtg: 109.4 (1), DefRtg: 101.9 (7), NetRtg: +7.5 (2)
The Clippers rank seventh defensively overall, but 21st in games against teams with winning records, at 106.8 points per 100 possessions in 42 games. And the Mavs and Warriors - two potential first-round opponents - have been two of the teams they've had the toughest time stopping. Stephen Curry shot a ridiculous 17-for-29 from 3-point range in four games against the Clips.
This week: vs. DEN, @ POR

4

Last week: 4

Houston (53-27)
Pace: 99.0 (5), OffRtg: 108.6 (4), DefRtg: 102.9 (12), NetRtg: +5.7 (5)
James Harden will enjoy facing the Blazers' defense for 4-7 games. He averaged 30.3 points with an effective field-goal percentage of 58 percent in four regular season meetings. The Rockets need a win or a Portland loss to the Clippers to secure home-court advantage. They've won 14 of their last 15 games at the Toyota Center, with the only loss coming against the Clips without Dwight Howard.
This week: vs. SAS, @ NOP

5

Last week: 5

Miami (54-26)
Pace: 93.2 (27), OffRtg: 109.4 (2), DefRtg: 102.7 (11), NetRtg: +6.7 (4)
Dwyane Wade looked good (24 points, 10-for-14 shooting) in his return in Atlanta on Saturday, but as a team, the Heat are still limping into the postseason, having lost four of their last six games, and eight of their last 11 on the road. The good news is that their slump has put them on the safer side of the East bracket, avoiding Brooklyn, Indiana and (likely) Chicago until the conference finals.
This week: @ WAS, vs. PHI

6

Last week: 6

Portland (53-28)
Pace: 97.5 (10), OffRtg: 108.2 (6), DefRtg: 104.7 (18), NetRtg: +3.5 (9)
The Blazers scored at least 110 points in three of their four meetings with the Rockets, but won only one of them, because their defense isn't very good. They are 8-1 since LaMarcus Aldridge's return and got some high-scoring playoff prep with Sunday's wild OT win over the Warriors. But that was just their second win (in 15 tries) over a top-nine Western Conference team since Jan. 18.
This week: vs. LAC

7

Last week: 7

Memphis (48-32)
Pace: 92.3 (30), OffRtg: 103.2 (17), DefRtg: 102.0 (8), NetRtg: +1.2 (14)
The Grizz still need to beat a good team (either Phoenix or Dallas) to clinch their fourth straight playoff berth, but are in great shape, especially when you remember that they were once 10-15 with Marc Gasol on the shelf. Gasol has yet to play against the Suns, but against no other team has the Grizzlies' offense been more efficient. Ed Davis and Kosta Koufos came up big in the first three meetings.
This week: @ PHX, vs. DAL

8

Last week: 8

Golden State (49-31)
Pace: 98.3 (7), OffRtg: 105.0 (12), DefRtg: 99.7 (3), NetRtg: +5.4 (6)
The Warriors are always dangerous and Stephen Curry is sometimes ridiculous. But they've been really inconsistent offensively of late, lost Andrew Bogut to another injury in Sunday's loss in Portland, and are 0-6 on the road against their three potential first-round opponents, having allowed 109.0 points per 100 possessions in the six games. Surely though, they'd prefer to stay in sixth and face the Clips.
This week: vs. MIN, @ DEN

9

Last week: 9

Chicago (47-33)
Pace: 92.8 (28), OffRtg: 99.7 (27), DefRtg: 97.8 (2), NetRtg: +1.8 (12)
The Bulls and Nets have the East's two best records since the All-Star break and, by far, the most postseason experience among East seeds 3-8. Separately, they'd each be good picks to get to the conference semis and maybe even further. But thanks to Chicago's loss in New York on Sunday, they'll likely be facing each other in a first-round rematch from last season. It should be quite an ornery series.
This week: vs. ORL, @ CHA

10

Last week: 10

Dallas (49-32)
Pace: 95.9 (16), OffRtg: 108.9 (3), DefRtg: 105.9 (22), NetRtg: +3.1 (11)
Monta Ellis is in the playoffs for the third time in his nine-year career. And he's there because he carried the Mavs in the second half of Saturday's huge win over the Suns. The Mavs remain the worst defensive team among those heading to the postseason, but Ellis and Dirk Nowitzki will scare the heck out of whatever defense they face in the first round.
This week: @ MEM

11

Last week: 11

Phoenix (47-33)
Pace: 98.2 (8), OffRtg: 107.2 (8), DefRtg: 103.9 (14), NetRtg: +3.3 (10)
Gerald Green is a candidate for the Most Improved Player award, but not for the Most Consistent Player award. And Saturday's game in Dallas was not a good time for him to shoot 2-for-9 (or for Goran Dragic to be suffering from a sprained ankle). To make the playoffs, the Suns need more than a win against the Grizzlies on Monday. They need that and help from the Mavs on Wednesday.
This week: vs. MEM, @ SAC

12

Last week: 12

Toronto (47-33)
Pace: 94.4 (23), OffRtg: 105.9 (9), DefRtg: 102.3 (9), NetRtg: +3.5 (8)
The Raptors have three starters with no playoff experience, but so do their two most likely first-round opponents (Washington and Charlotte). They remain the only East team that ranks in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency. We're going to find out soon if that's a true measure of a team's ability to contend for a title. Casual fans are also going to find out soon who Kyle Lowry is.
This week: vs. MIL, @ NYK

13

Last week: 13

Brooklyn (44-36)
Pace: 93.6 (25), OffRtg: 104.6 (13), DefRtg: 104.6 (16), NetRtg: +0.1 (16)
What do we make of the Nets as they enter the postseason? They were the first team to ever sweep a LeBron James team in four regular-season games, but all four were narrow wins, and they went 7-14 against the other East playoff teams. They have the East's second best record since the All-Star break, but just the fifth best point differential. No matter who they face, they'll be fascinating to watch.
This week: vs. NYK, @ CLE

14

Last week: 14

Charlotte (41-39)
Pace: 94.9 (21), OffRtg: 101.3 (23), DefRtg: 101.3 (6), NetRtg: -0.0 (17)
The biggest improvement in the Bobcats' offense has come from 3-point range, where they've gone from 29 percent through their first 24 games to 38 percent since. The additions of Chris Douglas-Roberts and Gary Neal have helped in that department, but so has increased chemistry. This is a team that really shares the ball and their ball movement has been crisper as they've grown together.
This week: @ ATL, vs. CHI

15

Last week: 15

Washington (42-38)
Pace: 95.4 (19), OffRtg: 102.9 (19), DefRtg: 102.4 (10), NetRtg: +0.5 (15)
The Wizards could still be the 6 or 7 seed and could still face the Heat, Pacers, Bulls or Raptors in the first round. For a team that depends on 3-point shooting as much as they do (they're 32-12 when they shoot better than 36 percent on threes), they might prefer to avoid Indy or Chicago, but they did beat the Bulls in the two meetings in which Nene played. They've had some ugly shooting games of late.
This week: vs. MIA, @ BOS

16

Last week: 16

Minnesota (40-40)
Pace: 99.7 (4), OffRtg: 105.5 (10), DefRtg: 103.7 (13), NetRtg: +1.8 (13)
Prior to March 1, the Wolves had won just two games that were within three points in the final minute. Since March 1, they've won five, with Gorgui Dieng continuing his late-season tear by hitting the game-winner against Houston on Friday. This sudden clutchness comes too little, too late, of course. But Dieng's play is a positive development, especially for a team that lacked depth all season.
This week: @ GSW, vs. UTA

17

Last week: 17

Atlanta (37-43)
Pace: 96.9 (13), OffRtg: 103.3 (16), DefRtg: 104.0 (15), NetRtg: -0.8 (18)
The East's longest playoff streak lives on. And though the Hawks will finish at least four games under .500, they've won three straight against playoff teams, have held their opponents under a point per possession over their last eight games, and went 2-2 against both Indiana and Miami. Jeff Teague is playing like he was before Al Horford got hurt, averaging 21.0 points on 52 percent shooting in April.
This week: vs. CHA, @ MIL

18

Last week: 18

Indiana (55-26)
Pace: 95.0 (20), OffRtg: 101.4 (22), DefRtg: 96.8 (1), NetRtg: +4.6 (7)
It's amazing that, given how bad they've played over the last two months, the Pacers just need to beat the Magic on Wednesday to hold on to the No. 1 seed and home-court advantage through the conference finals. Sunday's win over the Thunder was critical for their psyche as much as their seeding. Despite their 23 turnovers, it was an efficient offensive game against a top-five defense.
This week: @ ORL

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Last week: 19

New York (35-45)
Pace: 92.5 (29), OffRtg: 105.3 (11), DefRtg: 106.8 (24), NetRtg: -1.4 (19)
The Knicks didn't get any help from the Nets or Heat as they tried to catch Atlanta down the stretch, but they can't blame anybody but themselves (and whoever signed off on the Andrea Bargnani trade) for missing the playoffs. Now we wait to see what Phil Jackson can do with what limited flexibility he has this summer. The good news is that you don't need a real point guard to run the Triangle.
This week: @ BKN, vs. TOR

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Last week: 20

Denver (36-44)
Pace: 100.5 (3), OffRtg: 103.3 (15), DefRtg: 105.3 (21), NetRtg: -2.0 (20)
Other teams have had more disappointing seasons, but the Nuggets are the only team that has dropped at least 10 spots in both offensive (from 5 to 15) and defensive (from 11 to 21) efficiency rankings from last season. Though their core is under contract for two more years, they have a big summer ahead, with key guys needing to get healthy and with Kenneth Faried eligible for an extension.
This week: @ LAC, vs. GSW

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Last week: 21

New Orleans (32-48)
Pace: 94.6 (22), OffRtg: 104.5 (14), DefRtg: 107.4 (26), NetRtg: -2.9 (21)
The Pelicans will be better with Ryan Anderson and Jrue Holiday healthy and with Anthony Davis (who's only 21 years old) just getting better next season. Austin Rivers' play of late has also been encouraging. But it would be nice if they could make better use of the money ($62.6 million over the next three years) they owe Eric Gordon and Tyreke Evans. Neither contract will be easy to unload.
This week: vs. OKC, vs. HOU

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Last week: 22

Cleveland (32-49)
Pace: 95.7 (18), OffRtg: 101.1 (24), DefRtg: 105.0 (20), NetRtg: -3.9 (23)
Further complicating the Cavs' decision on whether or not to pay Luol Deng big bucks to stay is that he failed to make a defensive impact. The Cavs have been a bottom-10 defensive team since trading for one of the best wing defenders of the last few years. If they're going to get better defensively, it will have to start on the inside, which means that they probably shouldn't bring Spencer Hawes back.
This week: vs. BKN

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Last week: 23

Sacramento (28-53)
Pace: 96.7 (14), OffRtg: 103.0 (18), DefRtg: 106.3 (23), NetRtg: -3.3 (22)
The Wolves have gone longer without making the playoffs and have had a worse record since the Kings were last there (2006). But the Wolves also have some hope that they can get back to the postseason next year. The Kings' defense did improve (2.3 points per 100 possessions) under Mike Malone, but not nearly as much as the Bobcats' D improved under Steve Clifford (7.6).
This week: vs. PHX

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Last week: 24

Orlando (23-57)
Pace: 96.0 (15), OffRtg: 99.4 (29), DefRtg: 104.6 (17), NetRtg: -5.2 (25)
The Knicks and Nuggets are just the 11th and 12th teams in the last 30 years to miss the playoffs a year after winning at least 54 games, and the Magic are benefiting from the failure of both, because they get the worse of the New York and Denver lottery picks (Denver gets the other). And unless they can beat the Bulls or Pacers, the Magic will have no worse than pick No. 6 for themselves.
This week: @ CHI, vs. IND

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Last week: 25

Boston (25-55)
Pace: 95.7 (17), OffRtg: 99.6 (28), DefRtg: 105.0 (19), NetRtg: -5.4 (26)
Is Danny Ainge going to take a big or small step forward this summer? The answer may determine the future of Rajon Rondo, who hasn't exactly made this young team better since returning in mid-January. They've gone just 6-23 in games he's played since then, with better numbers on both ends of the floor in games (against lesser competition, it should be noted) that he's missed.
This week: @ PHI, vs. WAS

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Last week: 26

Detroit (29-52)
Pace: 97.4 (11), OffRtg: 102.8 (20), DefRtg: 107.2 (25), NetRtg: -4.4 (24)
The Pistons' new general manager will need to quickly hire a new coach, because together they have to figure out (before Greg Monroe hits restricted free agency on July 1) if they're going to give the Smith-Monroe-Drummond frontline another try. The Pistons have been outscored by 8.0 points per 100 possessions in 1,361 minutes with the trio on the floor together.
This week: @ OKC

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Last week: 27

L.A. Lakers (25-55)
Pace: 101.0 (2), OffRtg: 101.6 (21), DefRtg: 108.1 (28), NetRtg: -6.5 (27)
With only four guys under contract for next season, no team has more to do this summer than the Lakers. But getting them back to being a playoff team (let alone a title contender) will be easier said than done, because two of the guys under contract played a total of 21 games this season and the other two are Kendall Marshall and Robert Sacre. They have needs everywhere.
This week: @ UTA, @ SAS

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Last week: 28

Utah (24-56)
Pace: 93.4 (26), OffRtg: 100.3 (25), DefRtg: 108.9 (30), NetRtg: -8.6 (28)
Will Gordon Hayward get big money (as a restricted free agent) this summer? Potential suitors should be aware that, as his usage has increased every season, his shooting and efficiency have gone down. He had to carry a heavy burden with the Jazz this season and had some ugly stretches. Teams will have to decide if he can play a secondary role with a good team or if he's more of an off-the-ball scorer.
This week: vs. LAL, @ MIN

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Last week: 29

Milwaukee (15-65)
Pace: 94.3 (24), OffRtg: 100.0 (26), DefRtg: 108.7 (29), NetRtg: -8.7 (29)
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, only two teams in NBA history (the 1986-87 Clippers and 2004-05 Hawks) have gone a full, 82-game season without winning two in a row. The Bucks will become the third if they don't beat the Raptors and Hawks this week. The closest they've come was back in December, when Khris Middleton hit his his infamous toes-on-the-line shot in overtime in Charlotte.
This week: @ TOR, vs. ATL

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Last week: 30

Philadelphia (17-63)
Pace: 101.7 (1), OffRtg: 96.5 (30), DefRtg: 107.7 (27), NetRtg: -11.2 (30)
The pressure is on Sam Hinkie to hit on his two lottery picks in June. (He gets the Pelicans' pick unless it lands in the top three.) The season wasn't a total loss, because Michael Carter-Williams gained 70 games of NBA experience and the Sixers may have found a keeper in Henry Sims, who has averaged 15.8 points and 9.4 rebounds per 36 minutes since arriving in the Spencer Hawes trade.
This week: vs. BOS, @ MIA
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