All-Star Weekend is over and it's time again to focus on the games that count. But five hours before they begin, the trade deadline hits at 3 p.m. ET on Thursday.
The top six teams in the East have never been stronger, with the Cleveland Cavaliers and Milwaukee Bucks each putting pressure on a top four which had been well established with strong finishes to the pre-break schedule. You can say the same about the top 10 teams in the West, with the Oklahoma City Thunder finding their offense in the last couple of weeks.
In the East, the top six teams won a total of one playoff series last season. In the West, there's a feeling that anything can happen in any round, and it will all come down to matchups. So the championship picture is still seemingly wide open, even though two teams have stood comfortably atop the standings for over a month now.
That kind of environment, along with a flurry on recent injuries, could lead to some impact moves at the deadline, though plenty of teams with championship aspirations have already made trades.
Here's where the teams stand as we head out of the break, with plenty of notes about remaining schedules and how they may impact playoff races.
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• Last week: A good time for a break
• This time last year: Big games ahead as teams get back to work -- Kyrie Irving won All-Star MVP,
John Wall the East won the dunk contest, the Spurs were 1-11 against the best teams in the league, and the Grizzlies were out of the playoffs.
• Plus-minus stud: Kevin Durant (OKC) was a plus-46 in two games last week.
• Plus-minus dud: Quincy Pondexter (NOP) was a minus-30 in two games last week.
• Hero Team of the Week: L.A. Clippers (2-0) -- The Clippers finished the break with two big Blake Griffin-less wins over the Mavs and Rockets.
• Zero Team of the Week: New Orleans (0-2) -- Anthony Davis' absences hurt as the Pelicans lost home games to two teams - Utah and Indiana - that were in last week's bottom 10.
• High jumps of the week: Boston (+3), Oklahoma City (+3), L.A. Clippers (+2)
• Free falls of the week: New Orleans (-4), Brooklyn (-2), Charlotte (-2), New York (-2)
• East vs. West: The West is 182-132 (0.580) against the East in interconference games and was 4-4 last week.
• Toughest schedules through Sunday: 1. L.A. Lakers, 2. Utah, 3. Philadelphia
• Easiest schedules through Sunday: 1. Golden State, 2. Washington, 3. Milwaukee
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)
OffRtg: Points scored per 100 possessions (League Rank)
DefRtg: Points allowed per 100 possessions (League Rank)
NetRtg: Point differential per 100 possessions (League Rank)
The league has averaged 96.1 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes and 103.1 points scored per 100 possessions through Sunday.
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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.
(42-9) Pace: 101.2 (1) OffRtg: 109.6 (2) DefRtg: 97.3 (1) NetRtg: +12.3 (1)
Having played the league's easiest schedule thus far, the Warriors still have a lot of work to do. They play 21 of their final 31 games, including 10 straight in a 19-day stretch spanning March and April, against teams currently over .500. Still, they're healthier than a lot of other teams, they've had the No. 1 defense all season, and the No. 1 offense since Christmas
. This week:
vs. SAS, @ IND
Pace: 96.1 (15) OffRtg: 107.3 (5) DefRtg: 100.2 (7) NetRtg: +7.1 (2)
The Hawks' offense came up empty in two of their last three games before the break and they've lost three of their last four games on the road. They have one of the tougher remaining schedules in the East, but nine of their 15 remaining road games are against teams under .500 and, with a comfortable lead, it will be tough for anyone to catch them at the top.
This week: vs. TOR, @ MIL
Pace: 94.2 (26) OffRtg: 104.6 (11) DefRtg: 100.2 (6) NetRtg: +4.4 (7)
The Grizzlies have the fewest remaining home games in the West (13) and the most remaining back-to-backs in the league (10). So they need to take advantage of their extra-extended All-Star break (10 full days off). Once they get started again, the back-to-backs begin with visits to the Blazers and Clippers on Sunday and Monday.
This week: @ POR
Pace: 96.6 (12) OffRtg: 109.4 (3) DefRtg: 102.9 (14) NetRtg: +6.4 (3)
The only teams that ranked in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency between Christmas and the All-Star break? The Hawks, Warriors and Mavs. But the defense has feasted on bad teams and they have the fewest remaining games against teams under .500 (eight). Their post-break schedule begins with an important back-to-back.
This week: @ OKC, vs. HOU, vs. CHA
(36-17) Pace: 98.7 (3) OffRtg: 103.8 (13) DefRtg: 100.3 (8) NetRtg: +3.5 (11)
The Rockets are 6-3 during this latest stretch without Dwight Howard, with wins over four teams over .500, with a couple of their best offensive games of the season, and with Josh Smith averaging 14.6 points, 8.3 rebounds and 3.6 assists
. While they wait for Howard to return, they will play just one of their next nine games outside the state of Texas. This week:
@ DAL, vs. TOR
(33-22) Pace: 94.7 (24) OffRtg: 107.2 (6) DefRtg: 105.1 (22) NetRtg: +2.1 (13)
The Cavs seem to have the momentum that could carry them to the 2 seed in the East and the break will allow Kevin Love to come back healthy and refreshed. But they have the conference's toughest remaining schedule and play 11 of their next 14 games on the road, where their defense hasn't been very good, even since LeBron James' return
. This week:
@ WAS, @ NYK
Pace: 95.6 (19) OffRtg: 108.9 (4) DefRtg: 104.3 (18) NetRtg: +4.6 (6)
The Raptors finished their pre-break schedule with wins over the Clippers, Spurs and Wizards, improving to 14-12 against other teams currently over .500. Those were at home, though. They begin their post-break slate with nine of their next 11 games on the road, including visits to Atlanta, Houston, New Orleans, Dallas, Oklahoma City and San Antonio.
This week: @ ATL, @ HOU
(35-19) Pace: 96.4 (14) OffRtg: 110.5 (1) DefRtg: 104.4 (19) NetRtg: +6.1 (4)
Just when it seemed like the Clippers' season was going downhill quickly, they went into the break with wins over the Mavs (on the road) and Rockets, with DeAndre Jordan totaling 46 points and 47 rebounds in the two games
. They're still desperate for a bench upgrade, but with no trade assets left, will probably need to get it from the buyout market. This week:
vs. SAS, vs. SAC
San Antonio (34-19)
Pace: 95.3 (22) OffRtg: 103.9 (12) DefRtg: 99.6 (3) NetRtg: +4.3 (8)
The Spurs went 2-1 on the East portion of the rodeo trip, but begin the West portion with a back-to-back against the Clippers and Warriors. Gregg Popovich still hasn't settled on a starting lineup (Aron Baynes and Matt Bonner both started at center last week), but with a healthy roster, he has all of his options. The Spurs are 25-10 with Kawhi Leonard.
This week: @ LAC, @ GSW
(36-17) Pace: 96.6 (11) OffRtg: 104.9 (10) DefRtg: 99.6 (4) NetRtg: +5.2 (5)
You'd have a hard time finding a pair of teammates on a playoff team that needs a fresh start more than Nicolas Batum, who's been banged up and inconsistent all season, and Damian Lillard, who shot 21-for-103 (20 percent) from 3-point range over the last month
. But the Blazers went 4-1 after Robin Lopez returned from a seven-week absence. This week:
@ UTA, vs. MEM
(28-25) Pace: 97.2 (8) OffRtg: 102.6 (16) DefRtg: 101.0 (10) NetRtg: +1.6 (15)
Kevin Durant isn't 100 percent, but if there's a team that might have been better off without the All-Star break, it's the Thunder. They've scored 116.1 points per 100 possessions over their last six games
, gaining 3 1/2 games on the eighth-place Suns, who they can tie with a win against Dallas on Thursday and who they play two more times (both in Phoenix). This week:
vs. DAL, @ CHA, vs. DEN
Pace: 95.7 (17) OffRtg: 105.6 (8) DefRtg: 101.9 (13) NetRtg: +3.7 (9)
After a rough January, the Bulls went into the break strong, winning four straight games (with Tony Snell coming out of nowhere to shoot 15-for-25 from 3-point range) and knocking off the red-hot Cavs on Thursday behind a big game from Derrick Rose. They may having finally got things together and have one of the easier remaining schedules in the league.
This week: @ DET, vs. PHX
Pace: 99.2 (2) OffRtg: 105.9 (7) DefRtg: 104.1 (17) NetRtg: +1.8 (14)
As his team fights to hold on to a playoff spot, Suns GM Ryan McDonough has a big decision to make regarding his point guards. He may prefer to trade Isaiah Thomas, but Goran Dragic, given his ability to leave this summer, may be the one that has to go. Either way, it's doubtful that Dragic, Thomas and Eric Bledsoe are all still in Phoenix next season.
This week: @ MIN, @ CHI
(30-23) Pace: 96.4 (13) OffRtg: 102.1 (17) DefRtg: 99.3 (2) NetRtg: +2.9 (12)
The Bucks won eight of their last nine games before the break (with seven guys averaging double-figures
) to put them seven games over .500 for the first time since the end of the 2009-10 season. They play 16 of their 29 remaining games against teams currently under .500 and 16 of the 29 at the Bradley Center, where they've won six straight. This week:
vs. DEN, vs. ATL
New Orleans (27-26)
Pace: 94.1 (27) OffRtg: 105.6 (9) DefRtg: 105.8 (25) NetRtg: -0.2 (16)
Anthony Davis' shoulder injury took the Pelicans into the break with a three-game losing streak and an 8-12 record against the Eastern Conference, with half of those losses coming against East teams under .500. Six of their first nine games after the break are against that group, providing an opportunity for redemption and to stay alive in the West.
This week: @ ORL, @ MIA
Pace: 95.7 (18) OffRtg: 103.5 (14) DefRtg: 100.0 (5) NetRtg: +3.5 (10)
The Wizards are now 0-6 against the Hawks and Raptors (who they don't play again) after coming up empty down the stretch in Toronto on Wednesday. Given Bradley Beal's latest injury and Andre Miller's ineffectiveness, they should be shopping for backcourt depth this week. Friday's game against the Cavs will be for fourth place in the East.
This week: vs. CLE, @ DET
(20-31) Pace: 98.5 (4) OffRtg: 101.0 (23) DefRtg: 103.2 (15) NetRtg: -2.2 (18)
The Celtics are still hanging around, having won four of their last five games, with Evan Turner beating the Hawks with less than a second to go on Wednesday
. They have a lot of road games and eight back-to-backs left on their schedule, but no team has more games remaining against teams currently under .500. This just might be a playoff team. This week:
@ SAC, @ LAL
Pace: 95.6 (20) OffRtg: 101.9 (18) DefRtg: 104.0 (16) NetRtg: -2.1 (17)
The Hornets and Heat aren't exactly running away with those two last playoff spots in the East, but the Pistons may lose sight of them if they can't beat some good teams in the next few weeks. Six of their first seven games after the break are against teams with winning records and after a four-game homestand, 15 of their last 24 games are on the road.
This week: vs. CHI, vs. WAS
Pace: 95.2 (23) OffRtg: 97.7 (29) DefRtg: 100.4 (9) NetRtg: -2.7 (20)
The Hornets lost their momentum before the break, losing three straight games to teams below them in the East standings. With Kemba Walker out at least another 10 games, they're hoping that Mo Williams or Troy Daniels can give them the same offensive boost that Gary Neal - the guy they just traded for Williams and Daniels - gave them at this time last year.
This week: vs. OKC, @ DAL
Pace: 95.4 (21) OffRtg: 99.3 (27) DefRtg: 101.6 (11) NetRtg: -2.3 (19)
The Pacers have won four of their last five games, with the only loss coming to the Spurs in the final seconds (after they blew a 14-point, fourth-quarter lead). They're one of two East teams (Brooklyn is the other) that plays more games against teams currently over .500 than against teams currently under .500, but they are at home for 16 of their final 28.
This week: @ PHI, vs. GSW
Pace: 94.2 (25) OffRtg: 100.0 (24) DefRtg: 104.6 (20) NetRtg: -4.7 (25)
This may be the end for the trio of Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez, who have played only 102 games together in more than 2 1/2 seasons. The Nets want to shed salary, but have no reason not to try to win as many games as possible, even if only to decrease the chances of an embarrassing situation where they give the Hawks a top-three pick.
This week: @ LAL
Pace: 92.8 (28) OffRtg: 102.9 (15) DefRtg: 106.1 (27) NetRtg: -3.1 (21)
It's too bad that there are restrictions on trades. If Enes Kanter wants out of Utah, it would be best if he just kept moving to whatever team the Knicks were playing next, because he can't guard pick-and-rolls and New York doesn't run them. But if Kanter's going to be the guy to force Quin Snyder to play Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert big minutes together, so be it.
This week: vs. POR
Pace: 91.9 (30) OffRtg: 101.5 (20) DefRtg: 104.7 (21) NetRtg: -3.2 (22)
If the Heat can get Dwyane Wade healthy, keep Luol Deng healthy, have Hassan Whiteside maintain his historically good numbers, and get one of their point guards to play not-so terrible for a couple of weeks, they'd be a tough matchup for a high seed without a lot of playoff experience. They could also miss the postseason for just the second time in 12 years.
This week: @ NYK, vs. NOP
Pace: 97.2 (9) OffRtg: 101.6 (19) DefRtg: 106.0 (26) NetRtg: -4.4 (24)
It will be interesting to see if George Karl slows the Kings back down after they picked up the pace (and played worse) under Tyrone Corbin. The Nuggets played at a top-five pace in each of Karl's eight full seasons in Denver. But seven of his 15 full seasons before that, including four of five in Milwaukee, were played at a pace slower than the league average.
This week: vs. BOS, @ LAC
Pace: 98.1 (6) OffRtg: 91.5 (30) DefRtg: 101.8 (12) NetRtg: -10.3 (30)
After holding the Warriors' to 89 points and 7-for-29 from 3-point range on Monday, the Sixers have allowed just 97.5 points per 100 possessions in their last seven games against the league's top 10 offenses. Brett Brown has delivered on his promise to have his team defending better and it's been a productive season in building Philly's foundation.
This week: vs. IND, @ ORL
(11-42) Pace: 97.4 (7) OffRtg: 99.3 (26) DefRtg: 109.1 (30) NetRtg: -9.9 (29)
Zach LaVine has had a rough rookie season, but the 19 year old was meant to dunk
and was maybe meant to play a different position than point guard. But he's only played six minutes alongside Ricky Rubio thus far. With Rubio shooting better (6-for-13 from 3-point range since his return), it might be a combo Flip Saunders is willing to try more often. This week:
Pace: 98.4 (5) OffRtg: 101.4 (21) DefRtg: 105.1 (23) NetRtg: -3.7 (23)
The Nuggets probably won't be able to do a total reset, but they'll have the opportunity to make more moves. With Arron Afflalo and Wilson Chandler available and with the championship picture still seemingly wide open, they could take advantage of teams desperate for an upgrade like they did with the Cavs, getting two first rounders for Timofey Mozgov.
This week: @ MIL, @ OKC
Pace: 96.0 (16) OffRtg: 99.5 (25) DefRtg: 105.4 (24) NetRtg: -5.9 (26)
The Magic will likely wait until the summer to go coach shopping, so there's no system-based foundation to build over the final two months like there is in Sacramento. But there's still plenty of work to be done in terms of player development, and a home-heavy remaining schedule (16 home, 10 road) with only four back-to-backs will help in that regard.
This week: vs. NOP, vs. PHI
New York (10-43)
Pace: 92.7 (29) OffRtg: 99.0 (28) DefRtg: 107.7 (28) NetRtg: -8.7 (28)
Carmelo Anthony's 6-for-20 performance in the All-Star Game properly summed up the 2014-15 Knicks season, which is about to get even more irrelevant. Amar'e Stoudemire is gone, Anthony's season could be over, and there's little else on the roster that could potentially be a part of a successful rebuild for Phil Jackson and Derek Fisher.
This week: vs. MIA, vs. CLE
L.A. Lakers (13-40)
Pace: 96.6 (10) OffRtg: 101.2 (22) DefRtg: 108.4 (29) NetRtg: -7.2 (27)
Here's a reminder that the Lakers' first round pick is top-five protected, that they have the fourth-worst record in the league, and that only a bottom-two finish in the standings guarantees that they'll draft in the top five and the pick won't go to Phoenix. They still have five games left against the Sixers, Wolves and Knicks, who they already lost to this month.
This week: vs. BKN, vs. BOS