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Health is the key as the season hits the final stretch

Power Rankings: Week 17

POSTED: Feb 23, 2015 11:30 AM ET

By John Schuhmann

BY John Schuhmann

NBA.com

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Several key injuries and the season-ending diagnosis for Chris Bosh have put a dark cloud over the first post-break days.

The league got back to work on Thursday, but there were some squads that needed a game to work off the rust.

The Blazers, Bulls, Hawks and Mavs were some of the teams that just didn't look themselves after a long layoff. A flurry of trades, injuries to LaMarcus Aldridge, Stephen Curry, Anthony Davis and Kevin Durant, and the news that Chris Bosh would miss the rest of the season, further complicated the first four days of post-break action.

But at this point, we know with 90(ish) percent certainty who the playoff teams will be in the West. We're not so sure about the bottom of the East, but that doesn't matter too much. At least five of the seven Eastern Conference playoff series will be interesting.

So while there are teams that need to improve on one end of the floor or the other between now and April 18, the best thing the best teams can do is get (and stay) healthy, so that the playoffs can be as competitive and exciting as we think they'll be. Keep your fingers crossed as we play the final third of the season.

* * *

• Last week: More moves to be made?
• This time last year: Heat and Rockets roll through a slow deadline -- The Sixers dealt Spencer Hawes and Evan Turner at the deadline, Jason Collins became the first openly gay player in the four major U.S. sports, Thomas Robinson denied Corey Brewer, and James Johnson went off the glass.

• Plus-minus stud: Serge Ibaka (OKC) and Timofey Mozgov (CLE) were each a plus-54 last week.
• Plus-minus dud: Garrett Temple (WAS) was a minus-49 in two games last week.

• Hero Team of the Week: Oklahoma City (3-0) -- Despite Kevin Durant's foot issue, seven days off, and a rotation shakeup at the deadline, the Thunder continued to roll, beating the Mavs, Hornets and Nuggets by an average of 16 points.
• Zero Team of the Week: Washington (0-2) -- The Wizards got hammered by the Cavs and then blown out in the second half in Detroit.

• High jumps of the week: Detroit (+4), Utah (+3), Five teams (+2)
• Free falls of the week: Charlotte (-4), Boston (-3), Three teams (-2)

• East vs. West: The West is 188-137 (0.578) against the East in interconference games and was 6-5 last week.

• Toughest schedules through Sunday: 1. L.A. Lakers, 2. Utah, 3. Sacramento
• 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.

* * *

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 96.2 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes and 103.0 points scored per 100 possessions through Sunday.

* * *

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

Golden State (43-10)
Pace: 101.0 (1) OffRtg: 109.6 (2) DefRtg: 97.6 (1) NetRtg: +12.0 (1)
Sunday was the second time this month that the Warriors played (and lost) in the Eastern time zone less than 48 hours after a one-game homestand. More concerning is the status of Stephen Curry, who missed the loss in Indiana with ankle soreness. You probably don't need a reminder about how much the offense suffers when Curry is off the floor.
This week: @ WAS, @ CLE, @ TOR, @ BOS

2

Last week: 2

Atlanta (44-12)
Pace: 96.2 (15) OffRtg: 106.6 (6) DefRtg: 100.2 (6) NetRtg: +6.4 (3)
They're still comfortably in first place, but the Hawks are 4-4 in February. An issue in each of the four losses has been the defensive glass, where the Pelicans, Grizzlies, Celtics and Raptors have averaged 16.3 offensive boards and 19.8 second chance points. Atlanta ranks last in defensive rebounding percentage this month and 23rd for the season.
This week: vs. DAL, vs. ORL, @ MIA

3

Last week: 3

Memphis (40-14)
Pace: 94.2 (26) OffRtg: 104.6 (10) DefRtg: 100.1 (5) NetRtg: +4.5 (7)
The Grizzlies' new starting lineup continues to be rather mediocre. But their bench has been terrific, even though there's nobody on it that's going to put up big numbers. They've been stifling defensively, allowing just 89 points per 100 possessions, in 400 minutes with at least one reserve on the floor (including two wins that Mike Conley missed in late January).
This week: @ LAC, @ SAC, vs. LAC, @ MIN

4

Last week: 6

Cleveland (35-22)
Pace: 94.8 (24) OffRtg: 107.5 (5) DefRtg: 104.5 (21) NetRtg: +3.0 (11)
The Cavs blew out the Wizards on Friday, had some fun at Madison Square Garden on Sunday, and kept LeBron James to just 53 minutes total. His minutes are down from 37.5 per game before his two weeks of rest (and before the additions of Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith) to 34.1 since, and now at a career-low 36.2 per game for the season.
This week: @ DET, vs. GSW, @ IND, @ HOU

5

Last week: 4

Dallas (38-20)
Pace: 96.8 (10) OffRtg: 108.7 (3) DefRtg: 102.4 (14) NetRtg: +6.3 (4)
The Mavs came out flat in Oklahoma City on Thursday, but got production from their bench in weekend wins over Houston and Charlotte. On Friday, three reserves scored in double-figures. On Sunday, Richard Jefferson had a double-double (and a great offensive foul) starting for Chandler Parsons and Amar'e Stoudemire scored 14 points in 11 minutes.
This week: vs. TOR, @ ATL, vs. BKN

6

Last week: 8

L.A. Clippers (37-19)
Pace: 96.7 (12) OffRtg: 110.7 (1) DefRtg: 104.2 (18) NetRtg: +6.5 (2)
Despite DeAndre Jordan's issues at the free-throw line, the Clippers have scored over 113 points per 100 possessions over their five games without Blake Griffin. Don't credit new starter Spencer Hawes, though. In the five games, the Clippers are a minus-39 in 122 minutes with Hawes on the floor and a plus-79 in 118 minutes with him on the bench.
This week: vs. MEM, @ HOU, @ MEM, @ CHI

7

Last week: 5

Houston (37-18)
Pace: 99.0 (3) OffRtg: 103.3 (13) DefRtg: 99.8 (4) NetRtg: +3.5 (10)
K.J. McDaniels and Pablo Prigioni are nice additions on the fringes, but the Rockets came out of the trade deadline still lacking a secondary playmaker to give the offense a boost. They've been held under a point per possession in each of their last three games and have scored just 101.8 per 100 in 11 games since losing Dwight Howard.
This week: vs. MIN, vs. LAC, vs. BKN, vs. CLE

8

Last week: 7

Toronto (37-18)
Pace: 96.0 (16) OffRtg: 108.1 (4) DefRtg: 103.5 (16) NetRtg: +4.7 (5)
Lou Williams seems motivated when he plays in Atlanta. He totaled 48 points, shooting 11-for-16 from 3-point range, in two games there, and the Raptors went 3-1 against the Hawks. The offense came up empty in Houston on Saturday, but James Johnson's move to the starting lineup four games ago has led to improved D against quality opponents.
This week: @ NOP, @ DAL, vs. GSW, @ NYK

9

Last week: 11

Oklahoma City (31-25)
Pace: 97.5 (7) OffRtg: 102.8 (16) DefRtg: 100.6 (9) NetRtg: +2.2 (14)
With an improved supporting cast, with Phoenix and New Orleans taking steps backward, and with the way Russell Westbrook is playing, the Thunder can afford to give Kevin Durant some more time off to heal. They're 8-1 in February, with the league's best offense and with Westbrook averaging 30.6 points, 7.9 rebounds and 10.1 assists.
This week: vs. IND, @ PHX, @ POR, @ LAL

10

Last week: 9

San Antonio (34-21)
Pace: 95.5 (21) OffRtg: 103.9 (12) DefRtg: 100.2 (7) NetRtg: +3.8 (8)
Kawhi Leonard shot 1-for-11 against the Clippers on Thursday, Tony Parker shot 0-for-4 against the Warriors on Friday, and the Spurs' defense didn't hold up in either game. It still ranks in the top 10 overall, but only the Mavs' defense has been worse in games played between West playoff teams, in which San Antonio has dropped to 7-10 (3-6 on the road).
This week: @ UTA, @ POR, @ SAC, @ PHX

11

Last week: 10

Portland (36-19)
Pace: 96.5 (13) OffRtg: 104.3 (11) DefRtg: 99.8 (3) NetRtg: +4.5 (6)
How are thumb injuries like mid-range shots? LaMarcus Aldridge leads the league in both of them. The Blazers almost got their best win without him on Sunday, but got outscored 34-15 in the fourth quarter, when they've typically been at their best. They're 6-9 against fellow West playoff teams, with five of their next six games against the group.
This week: vs. SAS, vs. OKC, @ SAC

12

Last week: 12

Chicago (35-21)
Pace: 95.7 (19) OffRtg: 105.6 (8) DefRtg: 102.1 (13) NetRtg: +3.5 (9)
The Bulls just began a seven-game homestand and their bigs -- particularly Taj Gibson and Joakim Noah -- are healthier than they've been all season. But they began their post-break schedule with another stinker (2-for-9 shooting, two assists, six turnovers) from Derrick Rose. He's got more talent than ever around him, but his team still needs his offense.
This week: vs. MIL, vs. CHA, vs. MIN, vs. LAC

13

Last week: 14

Milwaukee (31-24)
Pace: 96.4 (14) OffRtg: 101.7 (18) DefRtg: 99.0 (2) NetRtg: +2.7 (12)
Though the Bucks' success has been about the group more than any player, it was surprising to see them break up the ensemble by trading Brandon Knight on Thursday. Swapping Knight for Michael Carter-Williams makes the Wingspan Clan even deeper, but hurts an offense that had shown a lot of improvement going into the All-Star break.
This week: @ CHI, vs. PHI, @ LAL, @ UTA

14

Last week: 18

Detroit (23-33)
Pace: 95.6 (20) OffRtg: 102.0 (17) DefRtg: 103.8 (17) NetRtg: -1.7 (17)
The Pistons have come out of the break strong, coming back from double-digit deficits to beat both the Bulls and Wizards. Reggie Jackson had a rough start to his debut on Sunday, both on the court (where he missed his first eight shots) and off it (where he lost his lunch). But Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (26 points, six threes) picked up the slack.
This week: vs. CLE, vs. NYK, @ WAS

15

Last week: 13

Phoenix (29-27)
Pace: 99.2 (2) OffRtg: 106.1 (7) DefRtg: 104.3 (20) NetRtg: +1.7 (15)
Feel free to call the Suns' season over. They traded both Goran Dragic and Isaiah Thomas, they've lost seven of their last eight games, and the Thunder (who have an easier remaining schedule) have already passed them for the eighth spot in the West. But Markieff Morris and Alex Len is a young frontline to keep your eye on as they continue to develop.
This week: vs. BOS, @ DEN, vs. OKC, vs. SAS

16

Last week: 15

New Orleans (28-27)
Pace: 94.0 (27) OffRtg: 105.4 (9) DefRtg: 105.6 (25) NetRtg: -0.1 (16)
Saturday's win in Miami ended the Pelicans' four-game losing streak, but also may have killed any playoff hopes they had left, with both Anthony Davis (out 1-2 weeks with a shoulder sprain) and Ryan Anderson (out 2-4 weeks with an MCL sprain) going down in the first half. Those injuries came after Jrue Holiday suffered a setback earlier in the week.
This week: vs. TOR, vs. BKN, vs. MIA, @ DEN

17

Last week: 16

Washington (33-23)
Pace: 95.7 (18) OffRtg: 103.2 (14) DefRtg: 100.6 (10) NetRtg: +2.5 (13)
The break didn't do the Wizards much good, as they lost to the Cavs and Pistons by a total of 55 points over the weekend to fall to 2-8 in their last 10 games. They haven't beat a decent team since Jan. 14 when they won in Chicago and have barely scored a point per possession over the 17 games since, struggling from beyond the arc (32.0 percent) in particular.
This week: vs. GSW, @ MIN, @ PHI, vs. DET

18

Last week: 20

Indiana (23-33)
Pace: 95.5 (22) OffRtg: 99.5 (26) DefRtg: 101.5 (11) NetRtg: -1.9 (18)
Stephen Curry was out, but Sunday's win over the Warriors still legitmized the Pacers' 6-1 mark since George Hill has been starting. It was reserve Rodney Stuckey who scored 30 points in each of their post-break wins though, with 12 of his 21 buckets being unassisted. Behind Stuckey's resurgence, the Pacers have the league's third best offense in February.
This week: @ OKC, vs. CLE, vs. PHI

19

Last week: 22

Utah (20-34)
Pace: 92.7 (29) OffRtg: 103.0 (15) DefRtg: 105.6 (26) NetRtg: -2.7 (20)
The Enes Kanter trade officially makes Rudy Gobert the starting center in Utah. Friday's win over the Blazers was one of their best defensive games of the season, though Portland's rust has to be taken into account and though the Jazz were actually at their best (plus-20 in nine minutes) with Derrick Favors as the lone big on the floor against the Blazers' bench.
This week: vs. SAS, vs. LAL, @ DEN, vs. MIL

20

Last week: 17

Boston (20-33)
Pace: 98.7 (4) OffRtg: 100.8 (23) DefRtg: 103.3 (15) NetRtg: -2.5 (19)
Jared Sullinger has been the Celtics' best player the last two years, but he's averaged just 57 games in his first three seasons, with a stress fracture in his foot knocking him out for the rest of this one. Isaiah Thomas scored 21 points off the bench, but got ejected in his first game as a Celtic in L.A. on Sunday. He makes his return to Phoenix on Monday.
This week: @ PHX, vs. NYK, vs. CHA, vs. GSW

21

Last week: 21

Brooklyn (22-31)
Pace: 94.2 (25) OffRtg: 100.3 (24) DefRtg: 104.7 (22) NetRtg: -4.4 (24)
The Nets didn't get to make quite the overhaul that we thought they would, because Sam Presti chose to send Reggie Jackson to Detroit instead of Brooklyn. But they did get a little more younger and athletic by swapping Kevin Garnett for Thaddeus Young. Now, they have to hope that Deron Williams has another one of his post-break turnarounds in him.
This week: @ DEN, @ NOP, @ HOU, @ DAL

22

Last week: 23

Miami (23-31)
Pace: 92.2 (30) OffRtg: 101.5 (19) DefRtg: 104.3 (19) NetRtg: -2.9 (21)
Goran Dragic is the best point guard Dwyane Wade has ever had and will add a much-needed transition game to the Heat offense. With him, they can stay in the playoff picture as long as Wade is healthy. But as good as Hassan Whiteside has been, there's no replacing Chris Bosh, who has always been a huge part of what Miami does on both ends of the floor.
This week: vs. PHI, @ ORL, @ NOP, vs. ATL

23

Last week: 19

Charlotte (22-32)
Pace: 95.3 (23) OffRtg: 97.5 (29) DefRtg: 100.4 (8) NetRtg: -2.9 (22)
The Hornets' five-game losing streak has taken them from seventh place to 11th. The offense has reached Sixers-esque levels during the streak, with "shooting" guards Gerald Henderson and Lance Stephenson combining to shoot 27-for-98. If they're going to stay in the playoff picture, they need to win on the road, where they play 10 of their next 15 games.
This week: @ CHI, @ BOS, @ ORL

24

Last week: 24

Sacramento (19-35)
Pace: 97.5 (8) OffRtg: 101.4 (20) DefRtg: 106.1 (27) NetRtg: -4.7 (25)
George Karl has indeed picked up the pace in Sacramento, with the Kings averaging about 106 possessions in his first two games. DeMarcus Cousins is still getting his touches (his usage rate is up) and his turnovers (14 in the two games). The Kings got thumped by the Clippers on Saturday and now face three more West playoff teams at home.
This week: vs. MEM, vs. SAS, vs. POR

25

Last week: 26

Minnesota (12-42)
Pace: 97.4 (9) OffRtg: 99.5 (27) DefRtg: 109.2 (30) NetRtg: -9.7 (29)
While 2014 No. 1 pick Andrew Wiggins looks more and more like a star every week, 2013 No. 1 pick Anthony Bennett does not. So it will be interesting to see how Bennett, who's out at least two weeks with an ankle sprain, takes to Kevin Garnett's tutelage. Hopefully, Bennett handles it more like Mason Plumlee than Patrick O'Bryant. Do you feel me?
This week: @ HOU, vs. WAS, @ CHI, vs. MEM

26

Last week: 28

Orlando (19-39)
Pace: 95.8 (17) OffRtg: 99.7 (25) DefRtg: 105.2 (24) NetRtg: -5.6 (26)
With Nikola Vucevic averaging 25.7 points and 15.0 rebounds, the Magic have won three straight games for the first time in over a year. Their defensive numbers (98 points per 100 possessions allowed) have been dramatically improved under James Borrego, but mostly because they've played some crummy teams since Jacque Vaughn was fired.
This week: vs. MIA, @ ATL, vs. CHA

27

Last week: 25

Philadelphia (12-43)
Pace: 98.1 (6) OffRtg: 91.8 (30) DefRtg: 102.0 (12) NetRtg: -10.3 (30)
You can kind of understand why Sam Hinkie would trade a point guard who can't shoot for a chance at another high pick. But both Michael Carter-Williams and K.J. McDaniels were key ingredients in Brett Brown's much-improved defense. And you have to wonder if Hinkie is damaging relationships around the league with his unfeeling asset collection.
This week: @ MIA, @ MIL, vs. WAS, @ IND

28

Last week: 27

Denver (20-35)
Pace: 98.4 (5) OffRtg: 101.0 (22) DefRtg: 105.1 (23) NetRtg: -4.1 (23)
It was a good week for the Nuggets, even though they went 0-2. They shed almost $20 million of 2015-16 salary and introduced us to The Joffrey and Jusuf Frontline in Sunday's loss in Oklahoma City. With the departure of Arron Afflalo, Danilo Gallinari is the new starting shooting guard, which should make for some interesting matchups.
This week: vs. BKN, vs. PHX, vs. UTA, vs. NOP

29

Last week: 30

L.A. Lakers (14-41)
Pace: 96.8 (11) OffRtg: 101.4 (21) DefRtg: 108.3 (29) NetRtg: -6.9 (27)
Linsanity Redux took over the Staples Center over the weekend, with Jeremy Lin totaling 43 points against the Nets and Celtics (13 in the fourth quarter and overtime on Sunday), shooting 9-for-10 in the paint. Like Carlos Boozer (and a handful of other Lakers), Lin is heading into free agency with 27 more games to make an impression on the league.
This week: @ UTA, vs. MIL, vs. OKC

30

Last week: 29

New York (10-45)
Pace: 93.0 (28) OffRtg: 98.5 (28) DefRtg: 107.6 (28) NetRtg: -9.1 (28)
The Knicks are now 0-15 without Carmelo Anthony, with 27 painful games to go. Not getting anything done at the trade deadline and seeing a lot of good (and young) point guards move was another opportunity for people to second-guess previous trades in which Phil Jackson didn't get any prime assets in return for Tyson Chandler or Iman Shumpert.
This week: @ BOS, @ DET, vs. TOR