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Upside-down week around NBA propels Spurs to top

POSTED: Mar 10, 2014 11:19 AM ET

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com

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The Spurs climb into the top spot on our list after a topsy-turvy week across the league.

Just when we thought the good teams would be making their playoff push and the bad teams would be letting go of the rope, we had one of the craziest weeks of the season.

Last week's top 10 went a pedestrian 19-17 over the past seven days, with the Heat, Pacers and Thunder going 2-9.

Last week's bottom 10, meanwhile, went a respectable 16-20, with the Nuggets getting a boost from Ty Lawson's return and Knicks and Pelicans awaking from their post-break slumber.

So we have a lot of teams taking big jumps or dives in the rankings. And rising to the top are the San Antonio Spurs, who knocked off the Heat on Thursday and are the only team with just one loss since the All-Star break.

Right now, the title picture seems as wide open as ever. And time will tell if anybody establishes themselves as a clear favorite (in either conference) over the final 38 days of the regular season.

* * *

• Last week: It's getting ugly at the bottom

• This time last year: Across the board, a big week ahead out West -- The Heat's winning streak reached 18 games with an easy win over the Pacers. The Celtics also beat Indiana with a beautiful play drawn up by Doc Rivers. The Lakers finally made it into playoff position and DeAndre Jordan flattened Brandon Knight.

• Plus-minus Studs: James Harden (HOU) was a plus-68 in four games last week.
• Plus-minus Dud: Paul George (IND) was a minus-74 in four games last week.


• Hero Team of the Week: Houston (4-0) -- The Rockets beat the Heat, Pacers and Blazers at home, and won in Orlando on the second night of a back-to-back against a rested team.
• Zero Team of the Week: Indiana (0-4) -- After losing to the Warriors in the final seconds, the Pacers lost in Charlotte, Houston and Dallas by an average of 19.7 points.

• High jumps of the week: Denver (+7), Golden State, New Orleans, New York (+6)
• Free falls of the week: Utah (-8), Atlanta (-7), Cleveland (-6)

• East vs. West: The West is 236-136 (.634) against the East in inter-conference games and was 20-8 last week (0-4 against the Knicks and Nets).

• Toughest schedules through Sunday: 1. Utah, 2. Sacramento, 3. L.A. Lakers
• Easiest schedules through Sunday: 1. Philadelphia, 2. Indiana, 3. Detroit
Schedule strength is based on cumulative opponent record, and adjusted for home vs. away and days of rest before a game.

* * *

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.

* * *

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: 2

San Antonio (46-16)
Pace: 96.9 (13), OffRtg: 107.7 (7), DefRtg: 100.6 (5), NetRtg: +7.1 (3)
The Spurs are 6-0 since returning from the rodeo trip and if you think there are four title contenders, they finally got a win over one of the other three. Defensive consistency is still an issue, but after allowing 120 points per 100 possessions in their previous four games against Indiana, Miami and OKC, they held the Heat under 90 on Thursday, forcing LeBron James into more uncomfortable jumpers.
This week: @ CHI, vs. POR, vs. LAL, vs. UTA

2

Last week: 4

L.A. Clippers (44-20)
Pace: 98.3 (6), OffRtg: 109.4 (2), DefRtg: 101.7 (8), NetRtg: +7.7 (1)
The Clips certainly like to pour it on, so much that they're responsible for the four lowest single-game plus-minus marks of the season ... in four different games. They've benefited from playing 19 games (most in the league) with rest against a team on the second night of a back-to-back. They still have six more of those, including games against the Suns and Warriors this week.
This week: vs. PHX, vs. GSW, @ UTA, vs. CLE

3

Last week: 5

Houston (44-19)
Pace: 98.2 (7), OffRtg: 108.1 (5), DefRtg: 102.1 (9), NetRtg: +6.0 (6)
Not only do the Rockets have the league's best record (23-6) since Jan. 1, but they've won seven of their last nine games against teams currently above .500 after knocking off the Heat, Pacers and Blazers last week. Suddenly, they're just two games behind the Thunder for the 2 seed, with two head-to-head matchups (one on Tuesday) remaining. Their schedule eases up next week.
This week: @ OKC, @ CHI, @ MIA

4

Last week: 1

Miami (43-17)
Pace: 94.3 (24), OffRtg: 109.9 (1), DefRtg: 103.0 (13), NetRtg: +6.9 (4)
After shooting 12-for-18 from outside the paint in his 61-point game against the Bobcats, LeBron James shot 3-for-27 from outside the paint as the Heat lost three straight to the Rockets, Spurs and Bulls. His jumper has improved since his move to Miami, but giving him space on the outside is still the way to defend him, because he's deadly when he gets near the basket.
This week: vs. WAS, vs. BKN, vs. DEN, vs. HOU

5

Last week: 11

Golden State (40-24)
Pace: 98.6 (5), OffRtg: 104.5 (12), DefRtg: 99.3 (3), NetRtg: +5.2 (7)
The Warriors have gone 9-2 since the All-Star break (4-2 against teams currently over .500) to keep themselves out of that scrum for the final two playoff spots. They have the second easiest remaining schedule in the West, playing a home-heavy March (Sunday's game in Portland is their only one outside California over a 26-day stretch). But their top-five defense faces three top-five offenses this week.
This week: vs. DAL, @ LAC, vs. CLE, @ POR

6

Last week: 3

Indiana (46-17)
Pace: 95.9 (18), OffRtg: 102.4 (21), DefRtg: 95.6 (1), NetRtg: +6.8 (5)
The Pacers have lost four straight (for the first time in two years), they're turning the ball over a bunch (again), their defense has been pretty awful, and Evan Turner is struggling to fit in. There's plenty of time to right the ship for the playoffs and their next five games are against the Celtics, Sixers, Pistons and Knicks. They need to fix things quick if they still want home-court advantage against Miami.
This week: vs. BOS, @ PHI, @ DET

7

Last week: 6

Oklahoma City (46-17)
Pace: 98.0 (9), OffRtg: 107.9 (6), DefRtg: 100.4 (4), NetRtg: +7.5 (2)
When you're offering the Lakers the option of an open layup or an open corner three, there's something wrong with your defense, and it goes beyond the absences of Kendrick Perkins and Thabo Sefolosha. Those guys aren't coming back any time soon anyway, so their teammates have to figure out how to defend the perimeter. They've allowed 10 or more threes in six of their last seven games.
This week: vs. HOU, vs. LAL, vs. DAL

8

Last week: 10

Memphis (36-26)
Pace: 92.3 (30), OffRtg: 102.9 (19), DefRtg: 102.3 (10), NetRtg: +0.6 (14)
The Grizz went 3-1 against East playoff teams last week, are 21-7 since Jan. 10, and got help from the Warriors to move into eigth place on Sunday. With Mike Conley shooting 34 percent and Tayshaun Prince often a non-factor offensively, their starting lineup hasn't been very good since the break. But, with Tony Allen and Mike Miller on fire, their bench lineups are a plus-8.2 points per 100 possessions.
This week: vs. POR, @ NOP, @ TOR, @ PHI

9

Last week: 7

Chicago (35-28)
Pace: 92.9 (29), OffRtg: 98.6 (29), DefRtg: 97.8 (2), NetRtg: +0.8 (13)
They haven't turned into the Clippers or anything like that, but the Bulls are the third most improved offensive team since the All-Star break. Carlos Boozer has been a relative non-factor of late, averaging just 10.0 points on 40 percent shooting in his last six games, but Taj Gibson had scored in double-figures in 14 straight until Sunday's win over the Heat, another grind-it-out affair.
This week: vs. SAS, vs. HOU, vs. SAC

10

Last week: 9

Phoenix (36-26)
Pace: 98.2 (8), OffRtg: 107.1 (8), DefRtg: 104.1 (16), NetRtg: +3.0 (10)
The third quarter has been the Suns' worst offensively, so Gerald Green's 25-point outburst against the Thunder on Thursday was a nice surprise. But the third swung the game in the opponent's favor in Phoenix's other two games last week. Eric Bledsoe is returning at the right time, with his team losing its playoff spot, having allowed over 114 points per 100 possessions over its last eight games.
This week: @ LAC, vs. CLE, @ BOS, @ TOR

11

Last week: 8

Portland (42-21)
Pace: 98.0 (10), OffRtg: 108.5 (4), DefRtg: 104.5 (18), NetRtg: +4.0 (8)
The Blazers' offense has been rather mediocre since LaMarcus Aldridge's return, because Aldridge hasn't shot well from mid-range and his teammates haven't shot well from beyond the arc. And after heartbreakers against the Lakers, Mavs and Rockets last week (in which they committed 10 clutch-time turnovers), they've lost six of their last eight games that were within five points in the last five minutes,
This week: @ MEM, @ SAS, @ NOP, vs. GSW

12

Last week: 13

Toronto (35-26)
Pace: 94.5 (22), OffRtg: 105.0 (10), DefRtg: 101.0 (6), NetRtg: +3.9 (9)
As well as the Bulls, Wizards and Nets have been playing, they're all still chasing the Raps, who have won nine of their last 11. Of course, the two losses came to Chicago and Washington, and they play the Nets on the second half of a rough Minneapolis-Brooklyn back-to-back on Monday. Kyle Lowry has shot just 27 percent over the last five games, but had a triple-double in Sunday's win.
This week: @ BKN, vs. DET, vs. MEM, vs. PHX

13

Last week: 12

Washington (33-29)
Pace: 95.8 (19), OffRtg: 103.1 (17), DefRtg: 102.5 (11), NetRtg: +0.6 (15)
Trevor Ariza has shot a ridiculous 46-for-72 (64 percent) from 3-point range over his last 11 games. In related news, the Wizards have won eight of their last nine and have the league's third best offense since the All-Star break. Seven of their 10 games have come against below average defenses. but things aren't necessarily going to get tougher, because seven of their next nine are too.
This week: @ MIA, vs. CHA, @ ORL, vs. BKN

14

Last week: 14

Dallas (38-26)
Pace: 96.2 (15), OffRtg: 108.7 (3), DefRtg: 105.8 (22), NetRtg: +2.9 (11)
After losing three straight, the Mavs recovered to beat the Blazers and Pacers over the weekend and stay ahead of Memphis and Phoenix. With only three back-to-backs remaining (one this week), they have a schedule advantage over both. The Devin Harris signing is finally paying off. Playing mostly alongside Monta Ellis, he had 32 points on 10-for-15 shooting and was a plus-40 in the two wins.
This week: @ GSW, @ UTA, @ OKC

15

Last week: 16

Brooklyn (31-30)
Pace: 94.1 (26), OffRtg: 103.0 (18), DefRtg: 103.9 (15), NetRtg: -0.9 (17)
Kevin Garnett has played less than 12 minutes in the last six games and the Nets' rebounding has suffered as a result. But their defense has held up overall, because they've forced turnovers on about 1/4 of their opponents' possessions. Still, they need KG back, because their next four games are against top 10 offensive teams or one (Washington) that ranks in the top five since the break.
This week: vs. TOR, @ MIA, @ WAS

16

Last week: 15

Minnesota (31-31)
Pace: 99.9 (4), OffRtg: 105.3 (9), DefRtg: 103.0 (12), NetRtg: +2.3 (12)
They made a nice little run after the break, but Wednesday's wire-to-wire loss to the Knicks made it OK to throw dirt on the Wolves' playoff chances. They're 4-11 on the second night of back-to-backs and will play six more over the final month of the season. Their starting lineup has been pretty ridiculous offensively since the break, but their bench (J.J. Barea in particular) has continued to struggle.
This week: vs. MIL, @ CHA, vs. SAC

17

Last week: 17

Charlotte (29-34)
Pace: 95.2 (21), OffRtg: 99.6 (25), DefRtg: 101.6 (7), NetRtg: -2.0 (18)
The 'Cats allowed another guy to go off for 60-plus, but got one win in that stretch against the league's big four, thanks to Al Jefferson's continued beasting down low. They probably can't avoid the Heat or Pacers in the first round, but they do have the easiest remaining schedule in the league, with six games against the bottom four teams in the East and two more against the reeling Hawks.
This week: vs. DEN, @ WAS, vs. MIN, @ MIL

18

Last week: 25

Denver (27-35)
Pace: 100.0 (3), OffRtg: 103.1 (16), DefRtg: 105.2 (21), NetRtg: -2.1 (19)
The Nuggets went from scoring 92.5 points per 100 possessions in nine games without Ty Lawson to scoring 111.4 (and playing at a ridiculous pace) in his first four games back. Their defense still stinks, but they're now a much more dangerous spoiler, with plenty of games remaining against teams playing for a playoff spot. They play both Golden State and Memphis twice more.
This week: @ CHA, @ ORL, @ MIA, @ ATL

19

Last week: 23

L.A. Lakers (22-42)
Pace: 100.5 (2), OffRtg: 101.5 (22), DefRtg: 106.9 (26), NetRtg: -5.4 (27)
Last week had to be the Jekyll-and-Hydest seven days of the Lakers' season. They sandwiched three games in which they allowed 408 points with wins over the Blazers (on the road) and Thunder. The pace they've played at since the break will allow for some fluctuation, but this was rather ridiculous. Now they sandwich a road trip to Oklahoma City and San Antonio with seven days off.
This week: @ OKC, @ SAS

20

Last week: 24

Sacramento (22-41)
Pace: 96.8 (14), OffRtg: 103.7 (14), DefRtg: 106.5 (24), NetRtg: -2.8 (22)
The departures of Marcus Thornton and Jimmer Fredette have allowed rookie Ray McCallum to get some run, and he had a breakout game (15 points on 7-for-10 shooting) in Wednesday's win in Milwaukee. But the Kings are still the Kings, and they recorded more turnovers than assists in three of their four games last week, with a particularly brutal 25/11 ratio in Sunday's loss in Brooklyn.
This week: @ DET, @ PHI, @ CHI, @ MIN

21

Last week: 27

New Orleans (26-37)
Pace: 94.5 (23), OffRtg: 104.6 (11), DefRtg: 107.1 (28), NetRtg: -2.5 (20)
There's no excuse for punching an opponent, but it shouldn't be a big surprise that it was Reggie Evans and Greg Stiemsma -- two of the biggest irritants in the league -- that two Bucks took shots at last week. The Stiemer has committed 17 fouls in 84 minutes (7.3 per 36) over his last four games and ranks fourth in fouls per minute. Teammate Alexis Ajinca ranks first (minimum 500 minutes played).
This week: vs. MEM, vs. POR, vs. BOS

22

Last week: 28

New York (24-40)
Pace: 93.1 (28), OffRtg: 104.0 (13), DefRtg: 106.6 (25), NetRtg: -2.6 (21)
The Knicks' offense has picked up with J.R. Smith (shooting 16-for-35 from 3-point range over the last four games) and Amar'e Stoudemire (averaging 16.2 points on 60 percent shooting over the last five) in the starting lineup. They're just two wins behind the eighth-place Hawks and play seven of their next eight games against teams that are either tied with them or below them in the standings.
This week: vs. PHI, @ BOS, vs. MIL

23

Last week: 21

Orlando (19-45)
Pace: 96.1 (17), OffRtg: 99.3 (26), DefRtg: 104.5 (17), NetRtg: -5.2 (26)
With either Arron Afflalo or Victor Oladipo out, Maurice Harkless has started seven straight games and apparently, just realized he's allowed to shoot. After averaging just 4.3 field goal attempts over his previous seven games, he's averaged 11.8 (and 14.3 points) over the last six. The Magic offense has had a few good games against good teams (Washington, Miami and San Antonio) since the break.
This week: @ MIL, vs. DEN, vs. WAS

24

Last week: 18

Cleveland (24-40)
Pace: 95.5 (20), OffRtg: 99.9 (24), DefRtg: 105.0 (20), NetRtg: -5.1 (25)
The Cavs' playoff chances are likely gone after back-to-back losses to Charlotte and New York, because they now play six straight games against teams with top-10 records. Luol Deng has given them an offensive boost, but their defense has been much worse in the 29 games since the trade (allowing 108.0 points per 100 possessions) than it was in the 35 games before he arrived (102.5).
This week: @ PHX, @ GSW, @ LAC

25

Last week: 26

Boston (22-41)
Pace: 96.2 (16), OffRtg: 98.8 (28), DefRtg: 103.5 (14), NetRtg: -4.7 (24)
The Celtics have won six of their last seven games in the East (mostly against bad teams) to improve to 18-18 in the conference (better than a couple of playoff teams). They're 4-23 against the West (1-16 since Jan. 1), but will be done with their intra-conference schedule in eight days. They're currently among six teams with 40-42 losses and all those East games might hurt their Lottery odds.
This week: @ IND, vs. NYK, vs. PHX, @ NOP

26

Last week: 19

Atlanta (26-35)
Pace: 97.2 (12), OffRtg: 103.7 (15), DefRtg: 104.5 (19), NetRtg: -0.8 (16)
It was a rough week for the Hawks, with one streak (Kyle Korver's) coming to and end and another (their losing streak) reaching six games because Jeff Teague couldn't hit a free throw. With the Knicks regaining their footing behind them, the Hawks really need at least two of their next three (very winnable) games. But it's hard to ask for two out of three when they've only won one of their last 15.
This week: @ UTA, vs. MIL, vs. DEN

27

Last week: 22

Detroit (24-39)
Pace: 97.7 (11), OffRtg: 102.6 (20), DefRtg: 106.0 (23), NetRtg: -3.4 (23)
Things were looking up after the Pistons played their only decent defensive game since the All-Star break against the Knicks on Monday. But then they lost three straight, getting scorched by the Wolves and two bottom-five offensive teams. They have the toughest remaining schedule of the teams vying for that final playoff spot in the East, not that they'd necessarily take advantage of an easier slate.
This week: vs. SAC, @ TOR, vs. IND

28

Last week: 20

Utah (22-41)
Pace: 93.5 (27), OffRtg: 100.3 (23), DefRtg: 107.7 (30), NetRtg: -7.4 (28)
While Trey Burke struggled on Utah's six-game trip through the East, Alec Burks continued to play well. He's scored in double-figures in 14 straight games and averaged 18.7 points on 18-for-29 shooting (6-for-9 from 3-point range) over the last three games of the trip. He has the fourth highest free throw rate among guards who have attempted at least 500 shots from the field.
This week: vs. ATL, vs. DAL, vs. LAC, @ SAS

29

Last week: 29

Milwaukee (12-50)
Pace: 94.2 (25), OffRtg: 98.8 (27), DefRtg: 107.6 (29), NetRtg: -8.8 (29)
In the last three weeks, the Bucks have won two games. In the last five days, their players have been suspended just as many for punches thrown (by Ersan Ilyasova and O.J. Mayo) at their opponents. Their offense actually ranks fifth since the All-Star break (figure that one out), but their defense hasn't held an opponent under a point per possession since Jan. 22 (21 games).
This week: vs. ORL, @ MIN, @ ATL, @ NYK, vs. CHA

30

Last week: 30

Philadelphia (15-47)
Pace: 102.6 (1), OffRtg: 95.8 (30), DefRtg: 107.1 (27), NetRtg: -11.3 (30)
Coach Brett Brown says that he wants a win for his players "so bad," and that they "deserve it." Really, nobody wants to see these guys suffer through what could be a record-breaking losing streak. But there's no getting around that Sam Hinkie has saddled Brown with the worst roster we've seen in a long, long time. Saturday's loss to the Jazz was one of those "if they can't win this one" games.
This week: @ NYK, vs. SAC, vs. IND, vs. MEM
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