Here we go.
The league is back in action on Tuesday and things are going to pick up quickly. There will be no time to ease into the post-break schedule, because there are plenty of big games to be played in the next six days.
It all starts Tuesday with the Raptors visiting the Wizards and the Spurs visiting the Clippers. After that, there will be two more games played between teams 3-6 in the East and six more played between the top nine teams in the West.
On top of that, the Bobcats and Pistons will play a Tuesday-Wednesday, home-and-home for eighth place in the East, the Nets head out on big a trip that could help or hurt their chances at a top-four seed, the Cavs will try to keep their streak going, and the Warriors will hope to stop their slide.
We also get another edition of Heat-Thunder on Thursday, a few hours after a little thing called the trade deadline, which may or may not alter the landscape.
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.
97.6 (10), OffRtg:
107.6 (6), DefRtg:
99.3 (3), NetRtg:
Things couldn't look much better for the Thunder. They have a comfortable lead at the top of the Western Conference, they could be getting Russell Westbrook back
on Thursday, they play nine of their next 11 games at home (where they've won nine straight), and they have practice days (to work Westbrook back into the mix) ahead of big games against the Heat and Clippers this week. This week:
vs. MIA, vs. LAC
Pace: 95.9 (18), OffRtg: 102.2 (19), DefRtg: 93.6 (1), NetRtg: +8.6 (1)
In the last 30 years, only seven below-average offensive teams have made The Finals. But the Pacers are the best defensive team we've seen in that timespan. They're just two games ahead of the Heat with two more head-to-head matchups left and more road games than Miami has remaining. But they do play an easier set of opponents (including the Bucks three times) over the last two months.
This week: vs. ATL, @ MIN, @ MIL
98.0 (7), OffRtg:
107.7 (5), DefRtg:
102.1 (9), NetRtg:
No team needed the All-Star break less than the Rockets, who went in as the league's hottest team. Holding on to the 3 seed will be tough, because their remaining schedule is road heavy (starting with a five-game trip through the Pacific Division). They've scored over 123 points per 100 possessions with James Harden, Dwight Howard and Chandler Parsons on the floor during the streak
. This week:
@ LAL, @ GSW, @ PHX
94.5 (24), OffRtg:
109.5 (1), DefRtg:
103.2 (15), NetRtg:
LeBron James' game-winner was a nice way to go into the break, but the Heat have to come out of it in another gear, on one end of the floor in particular, if they care about home-court advantage in the conference finals or The Finals (maybe they don't). They ranked 27th defensively between Jan. 1 and the All-Star break
and begin their post-break schedule with two road games against top-six offenses. This week:
@ DAL, @ OKC, vs. CHI
97.9 (8), OffRtg:
108.8 (2), DefRtg:
102.0 (8), NetRtg:
We could learn a lot about the Clippers in the next two weeks, as they play five of their first seven post-break games
against the Spurs, Grizzlies, Thunder, Rockets and Suns. We'll also find out if they think they need to make a move to get over the hump. They should be encouraged by how they played without Chris Paul, but their defense hasn't held up against the other good teams in the West. This week:
vs. SAS, @ MEM, @ OKC
San Antonio (38-15)
Pace: 96.3 (15), OffRtg: 107.4 (7), DefRtg: 100.4 (5), NetRtg: +7.0 (3)
The Spurs are 1-11 against teams with a winning percentage over .600, with seven games (five on the road) remaining against that group. Two of them are in a back-to-back this week as the rodeo trip comes to an end. But though some quality wins over these next two months would be nice, health and defensive consistency are bigger issues. Hopefully, last season wasn't their last run at a title.
This week: @ LAC, @ POR, @ PHX
Pace: 96.3 (14), OffRtg: 107.9 (4), DefRtg: 105.2 (22), NetRtg: +2.7 (11)
The Mavs went into the break winning six of their last seven, beating the Pacers on the road, and playing some of their best defense of the season. They have only four back-to-backs remaining (no team has fewer) and their opponents on the second night are Detroit (on Saturday), Utah, Boston and the Lakers. That kind of a schedule should allow Dirk Nowitzki to stay fresh through April.
This week: vs. MIA, @ PHI, @ DET
Pace: 98.1 (6), OffRtg: 106.7 (8), DefRtg: 103.3 (16), NetRtg: +3.4 (9)
No team has better assets (a plethora of picks and Emeka Okafor's insured and expiring contract) with which to make a big move. And if the Suns stand pat, their defense will still get better when they get Eric Bledsoe back. But they have one of the toughest remaining schedules in the league (especially in April), so holding on to their playoff spot isn't going to be easy either way.
This week: @ DEN, vs. BOS, vs. SAS, vs. HOU
91.9 (30), OffRtg:
102.0 (20), DefRtg:
102.1 (10), NetRtg:
The Grizzlies received a scare when Marc Gasol hurt his knee in Wednesday's win over the Magic
. But his MRI came back clean and Mike Conley should be ready to go on Tuesday. They're a game in the win column behind the Suns, and a game in the loss column behind the Mavs and Warriors, with one game against each of those teams left. Two of them come in the last week of the season. This week:
vs. NYK, vs. LAC, @ CHA
Pace: 97.9 (9), OffRtg: 108.7 (3), DefRtg: 105.7 (23), NetRtg: +3.1 (10)
Over the last month, the Blazers played eight of their 15 games against the top nine teams in NetRtg (six on the road). Over the next two months, they'll play eight of their 29 games against the top nine (three on the road). And with only four back-to-backs remaining, they have the easiest schedule in the West. That should keep them from falling any further than fifth place in the conference.
This week: vs. SAS, vs. UTA, vs. MIN
Pace: 94.7 (22), OffRtg: 104.5 (11), DefRtg: 101.0 (6), NetRtg: +3.5 (8)
The Raptors were the only East team to rank in the top 10 in both offensive (ninth) and defensive (fourth) efficiency between Jan. 1 and the All-Star break. And now they have the easiest remaining schedule in the league, with just seven games against the 11 teams that have a better record than they do, and six of those seven games at home. The 3 seed in the East is theirs to lose.
This week: @ WAS, vs. CHI, vs. CLE, vs. ORL
98.9 (5), OffRtg:
104.2 (12), DefRtg:
99.5 (4), NetRtg:
The Warriors may appear to be in danger of falling out of the playoffs, they still have no depth, and they certainly didn't look anything like a title contender over the last month. But 16 of their remaining 29 games
are against teams under .500, and 11 of those are against the bottom 10 teams in the league, against whom they're currently 14-1. So they'd have to be a real mess to miss the postseason. This week:
@ SAC, vs. HOU, vs. BKN
93.0 (28), OffRtg:
97.7 (28), DefRtg:
97.8 (2), NetRtg:
Nobody plays uglier basketball than the Bulls, but they went into the break with three straight wins - in which Joakim Noah averaged 17.7 points, 14.0 rebounds, 7.0 assists and 2.7 blocks
- to move past the Hawks and Wizards into a top-four seed and keep the Nets at bay. Next in their sights are the Raptors, who they visit on Wednesday. The resilience of this team is rather remarkable. This week:
@ TOR, vs. DEN, @ MIA
Pace: 95.9 (17), OffRtg: 101.4 (21), DefRtg: 102.2 (11), NetRtg: -0.9 (16)
The Wizards have a big back-to-back to start their post-break schedule. The 3 seed should still be their goal, because their remaining schedule is almost as easy as that of the Raptors, who they play twice in the next 11 days. But if they don't land in the top four, they'll look back at the last few weeks with regret. Five of their last seven losses have come by three points or less.
This week: vs. TOR, @ ATL, vs. NOP, @ CLE
Pace: 93.9 (26), OffRtg: 102.9 (17), DefRtg: 104.5 (18), NetRtg: -1.6 (18)
A year ago, Deron Williams came out of the break ligher, healthier, juicier, and as a much better player. The Nets could use that guy again this year, because they begin their post-break schedule with six straight road games, Kevin Garnett can only play so many minutes, Paul Pierce and Joe Johnson have both been inconsistent and they don't want to finish in the 7 or 8 spot in the East.
This week: @ UTA, @ GSW, @ LAL
Pace: 97.2 (12), OffRtg: 103.4 (16), DefRtg: 102.7 (13), NetRtg: +0.7 (13)
The Hawks limped into the break and have a weird schedule coming out of it, traveling back and forth between Central Division locations and Atlanta. Their nine remaining back-to-backs are the most of any team in the league. So, while they've survived without Al Horford so far, but still have work to do to hold onto a playoff position. This week's games against Detroit and New York could be critical.
This week: @ IND, vs. WAS, @ DET, vs. NYK
Pace: 99.6 (2), OffRtg: 104.6 (10), DefRtg: 102.5 (12), NetRtg: +2.1 (12)
The Wolves ended their four-game slide with an easy win over the Nuggets on Monday, but they've fallen to six games out of the playoffs, with the Pacers and a five-game trip to start off their post-break schedule. At this point, it really doesn't matter what their record should be (according to their point differential). They're broken and it's not clear how they get fixed.
This week: vs. IND, @ UTA, @ POR
95.1 (21), OffRtg:
98.8 (25), DefRtg:
101.2 (7), NetRtg:
The Bobcats have an easier schedule than any of the three teams -- Detroit, New York and Cleveland -- chasing them for the 8 spot in the East. But they play a huge home-and-home with the Pistons this week and play the Cavs twice more as well. Kemba Walker had a big game in their first meeting with Detroit
, but shot just 18-for-56 in his four games
back from an ankle injury before the break. This week:
@ DET, vs. DET, vs. NOP, vs. MEM
New Orleans (23-29)
Pace: 94.5 (23), OffRtg: 104.7 (9), DefRtg: 106.0 (26), NetRtg: -1.4 (18)
If hospitality counted in the Power Rankings, New Orleans would move up a few spots for their work at All-Star 2014. But the city's basketball team almost lost to the Bucks last week. They play 10 more games against teams on the second night of a back-to-back (no team plays more) and could be an interesting spoiler team, but they've won only four of their 20 games against the top nine teams in the West.
This week: vs. NYK, @ CHA, @ WAS
Pace: 97.5 (11), OffRtg: 102.4 (18), DefRtg: 104.7 (19), NetRtg: -2.3 (21)
Coach John Loyer has his work cut out for him as he continues to try to right the Pistons' ship. They're just a half game out of a playoff spot and play two games against the eighth-place Bobcats this week, but they have the toughest remaining schedule in the Eastern Conference, with 17 road games (eight against the West), 11 games against the top nine teams in NetRtg, and seven back-to-backs.
This week: vs. CHA, @ CHA, vs. ATL, vs. DAL
92.8 (29), OffRtg:
103.8 (14), DefRtg:
105.8 (25), NetRtg:
In terms of opponent strength, the Knicks' remaining schedule
is relatively easy. But 19 of their 30 remaining games are on the road, beginning with a four-game trip through the South this week. Returning to last year's formula for success, they have the league's third best offense since Andrea Bargnani went down
, but they've lost five of their last six, with embarrassing losses to the Bucks and Kings. This week:
@ MEM, @ NOP, @ ORL, @ ATL
99.6 (4), OffRtg:
103.7 (15), DefRtg:
104.7 (20), NetRtg:
The Nuggets haven't had the home-court advantage they've had in the past, but if they're going to get themselves back in the playoff picture, it has to happen now, with seven of their next 10 games at the Pepsi Center. They were awful defensively on the road going into the break, but they've been 7.9 points per 100 possessions better defensively at home
. Only two teams have a larger DefRtg differential. This week:
vs. PHX, @ MIL, @ CHI, vs. SAC
Pace: 93.6 (27), OffRtg: 99.8 (23), DefRtg: 107.3 (30), NetRtg: -7.5 (28)
The Jazz are playing for Lottery combinations, but the next two months provide 30 more opportunities for Trey Burke and the rest of their young core to get better. The Jazz have been much better offensively with him on the floor, but Burke needed that All-Star break as much as any rookie. After scoring in double-figures in 23 of his first 29 games, he did it in just three of his last 11.
This week: vs. BKN, @ POR, vs. MIN
Pace: 96.0 (16), OffRtg: 98.7 (27), DefRtg: 104.1 (17), NetRtg: -5.4 (26)
The Magic beat the top two teams in the rankings before the break, but those wins came at home. It's been two months since they won away from Amway Center and they're on the road for six of their next seven games. Three of those are in Milwaukee, Cleveland and Philadelphia, so if that streak is still going in March, they might have a shot at the league's worst record for a second straight year.
This week: @ MIL, @ CLE, vs. NYK, @ TOR
95.6 (20), OffRtg:
99.2 (24), DefRtg:
105.0 (21), NetRtg:
The Cavs' four-game winning streak is their longest since LeBron James left. They have one of the tougher remaining schedules in the East, but can certainly make it six straight with a back-to-back against the Sixers and Magic this week. They've been improved on both ends of the floor since Chris Grant left, and Anthony Bennett has shown some signs of life, going for 19 and 10 against the Kings
. This week:
@ PHI, vs. ORL, @ TOR, vs. WAS
95.7 (19), OffRtg:
98.7 (26), DefRtg:
103.2 (14), NetRtg:
The Celtics have the assets (lots of picks and Kris Humphries' expiring contract) to be buyers if someone wants to unload a star this week, and Danny Ainge says he's willing to go in either direction
. But their best asset should be their own pick in this year's Draft and upgrading their roster could hurt its value. Playing Chris Johnson might hurt it too. Somehow, he's a plus-54 in 245 minutes for this team
. This week:
@ PHX, @ LAL, @ SAC
96.5 (13), OffRtg:
103.8 (13), DefRtg:
106.3 (27), NetRtg:
New York doesn't have Linsanity anymore, but it got a taste of Jimmermania on Wednesday. Jimmer Fredette isn't going to turn into an international sensation, but his career-high 24 points kept the Kings from going 0-4 on a trip - in which Isaiah Thomas, Rudy Gay and DeMarcus Cousins combined to shoot 40 percent
(7-for-29 from 3-point range) - against some not-so-great Eastern Conference teams. This week:
vs. GSW, vs. BOS, @ DEN
L.A. Lakers (18-35)
Pace: 99.6 (3), OffRtg: 100.8 (22), DefRtg: 105.7 (24), NetRtg: -4.9 (25)
There's a decent chance, with one of the toughest remaining schedules in the league, that that the Lakers will finish with the worst record in the West. But they have their own first-round pick and should be able to get something for Pau Gasol, who can make an impact on a contending team somewhere. The cupboard is bare, but could fill up pretty quickly if Mitch Kupchak plays his cards right.
This week: vs. HOU, vs. BOS, vs. BKN
Pace: 94.3 (25), OffRtg: 96.5 (29), DefRtg: 106.6 (29), NetRtg: -10.1 (29)
Larry Sanders is basically done for the season after having surgery to repair a fractured orbital bone. Sanders has played just 23 games and it could be considered good news or bad news that his $44 million dollar extension doesn't kick in until next season. The Bucks seemingly have the league's worst record sewn up, but play both the Magic and Sixers in the next eight days.
This week: vs. ORL, vs. DEN, vs. IND
102.5 (1), OffRtg:
96.3 (30), DefRtg:
106.5 (28), NetRtg:
The Sixers were absolutely brutal on both ends of the floor heading into the break, losing eight straight games by an average of 20.3 points (two by 40-plus). And to think they could get worse if they trade Evan Turner this week. Of course, Turner hasn't exactly increased his trade value of late, shooting 38 percent (4-for-24 from 3-point range) over his last 12 games
. This week:
vs. CLE, vs. DAL