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Still a clear top two after Hawks thwart Cavs

Power Rankings: Week 19

POSTED: Mar 9, 2015 11:34 AM ET

By John Schuhmann

BY John Schuhmann

NBA.com

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Al Horford and the Hawks continue to prove they (and the Warriors) are a cut above the rest of the NBA.

The Golden State Warriors have been dominant statistically, on pace to become the first team since the 2009-10 Orlando Magic to rank in the top two in both offensive and defensive efficiency.

The Atlanta Hawks have taken on all challengers, racking up a 23-8 mark (same as Golden State) against teams currently over .500 after Friday's win over the surging Cavs. While the rest of the standings look jumbled, Atlanta and Golden State continue to stand alone with comfortable leads at the top.

But is anybody out there calling them favorites to meet in The Finals? Is is too hard to believe that two teams that didn't win a playoff series last season can each win three this year? (That's happened as recently as 2011, by the way.)

We need to get some guys back from injury, but the postseason can't come soon enough otherwise.

* * *

• Last week: Post-break hoops gets ugly
• This time last year: Upside-down week around NBA propels Spurs to top -- Kyle Korver's streak of 127 straight games with a 3-pointer came to an end in Portland. LeBron James dropped 61 on the Bobcats, the Pacers' ship was sinking, Gerald Green scored 25 points in a quarter, and two Bucks - Ersan Ilyasova and O.J. Mayo - got suspended for punching opponents.

• Plus-minus stud: LeBron James (CLE) was a plus-56 in four games last week.
• Plus-minus dud: Langston Galloway (NYK) was a minus-58 in three games last week.

• Hero Team of the Week: Charlotte (4-0) -- Beating the Lakers by a point at home wasn't a great start, but the Hornets were the only team to go 4-0 last week, picking up two road wins that may have helped knock the opponents (Brooklyn and Detroit) out of the playoffs.
• Zero Team of the Week: New York (0-3) -- The Knicks lost three games by an average 22.3 points, never leading in two of the three.

• High jumps of the week: Charlotte (+4), Indiana (+4), Miami (+3), San Antonio (+3)
• Free falls of the week: L.A. Lakers (-3), Six teams (-2)

• East vs. West: The West is 214-154 (0.582) against the East in interconference games and was 12-11 last week. Teams with the most East-West games remaining: Atlanta (9), Memphis (9), New York (9) and Washington (9).

• Toughest schedules through Sunday: 1. L.A. Lakers, 2. Utah, 3. Philadelphia
• Easiest schedules through Sunday: 1. Washington, 2. Indiana, 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 96.3 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes and 102.8 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 (49-12)
Pace: 101.0 (1) OffRtg: 109.3 (2) DefRtg: 97.6 (1) NetRtg: +11.6 (1)
The Warriors have had their hiccups and Atlanta is just a half game behind them in the standings, but statistically, no team is even close. Their NetRtg lead over the second-ranked Hawks of 5.3 points per 100 possessions is the largest of any No. 1 team since the league started counting turnovers in 1977. Oh, and Stephen Curry is ridiculous.
This week: @ PHX, vs. DET, @ DEN, vs. NYK

2

Last week: 2

Atlanta (49-13)
Pace: 96.2 (15) OffRtg: 106.1 (6) DefRtg: 99.7 (4) NetRtg: +6.4 (2)
Friday's win over Cleveland didn't just prove that the Hawks are as much a favorite to win the East as the Cavs are. It also built a bigger cushion in the standings and gave coach Mike Budenholzer additional license to rest his starters for select games down the stretch. Three rested in Saturday's loss in Philadelphia and the Hawks have five back-to-backs remaining.
This week: vs. SAC, @ DEN, @ PHX, @ LAL

3

Last week: 5

Cleveland (40-25)
Pace: 94.8 (24) OffRtg: 107.4 (5) DefRtg: 104.0 (21) NetRtg: +3.4 (8)
The Cavs faced three top-10 offenses last week, and the only one they defended well was the one (Phoenix) that traded its point guard at the deadline. Jonas Valanciunas beat them up in the post on Wednesday and Al Horford got open on the perimeter on Friday. The Cavs still rank as a top-10 defense since the break, but questions remain on that end of the floor.
This week: @ DAL, @ SAS, @ ORL

4

Last week: 3

Memphis (44-18)
Pace: 94.2 (26) OffRtg: 103.6 (12) DefRtg: 100.3 (8) NetRtg: +3.3 (10)
The Grizzlies won the most important game of the week (Wednesday in Houston) on Marc Gasol's runner, but Saturday's loss in New Orleans was an example of how their offense is still struggling. They're 3-4 in their last seven games, having scored less than 90 points per 100 possessions (with four starters shooting less than 40 percent) in the four losses.
This week: @ CHI, @ BOS, @ WAS, vs. MIL

5

Last week: 4

Houston (43-20)
Pace: 99.2 (3) OffRtg: 103.4 (13) DefRtg: 99.7 (3) NetRtg: +3.7 (7)
The Rockets lost to the Hawks and Grizzlies last week, but no team has done a better job of taking care of business. Houston is a league-best 25-3 against teams that are currently under .500 after weekend wins over the Pistons and Nuggets. They have eight games left against losing teams, but the next one - Thursday's visit to Utah - will be a test.
This week: @ POR, @ UTA, @ LAC

6

Last week: 7

Portland (41-20)
Pace: 96.6 (13) OffRtg: 104.7 (10) DefRtg: 99.7 (6) NetRtg: +5.0 (4)
It's great that the Blazers have Arron Afflalo to replace Wesley Matthews, but Matthews' season-ending Achilles injury is still a brutal blow to a team that was playing its best basketball of the season. It came at the end of a five-game winning streak in which Portland beat four fellow West playoff teams and outscored its opponents by 12.1 points per 100 possessions.
This week: vs. HOU, vs. DET, @ TOR

7

Last week: 10

San Antonio (39-23)
Pace: 96.0 (16) OffRtg: 104.1 (11) DefRtg: 99.7 (5) NetRtg: +4.4 (6)
Suddenly, the Spurs have won five straight games and Tony Parker has broken out offensively, averaging 25.0 points on 65 percent in his last three. He's only averaged 4.0 assists though, and the five-game winning streak is the first time since April of 2011 that the Spurs have assisted on less than half of their baskets over a five-game stretch. Un-Spurs-like.
This week: vs. TOR, vs. CLE, vs. MIN

8

Last week: 6

L.A. Clippers (40-23)
Pace: 96.8 (10) OffRtg: 109.4 (1) DefRtg: 103.4 (16) NetRtg: +6.1 (3)
Though they blew a 10-point lead with less than three minutes to go on Wednesday, taking the Blazers to overtime with only three of their six (good) players should be considered a win for the Clippers. They got Matt Barnes back on Sunday, but Blake Griffin hasn't been cleared and Jamal Crawford could be out a while with the calf injury he suffered on Monday.
This week: vs. MIN, @ OKC, @ DAL, vs. HOU

9

Last week: 9

Oklahoma City (35-28)
Pace: 97.8 (7) OffRtg: 103.2 (14) DefRtg: 101.1 (11) NetRtg: +2.1 (12)
Even with Russell Westbrook doing what he's doing (which is ridiculous in regard to both style and substance), the Thunder's margin for error is thin. They're still just a game ahead of the Pelicans (who own the tiebreaker) and five of their last six games have been within five points in the last five minutes. They just began a stretch of eight of nine games at home.
This week: vs. LAC, vs. MIN, vs. CHI

10

Last week: 8

Dallas (41-24)
Pace: 96.7 (12) OffRtg: 107.4 (4) DefRtg: 102.5 (14) NetRtg: +5.0 (5)
After visiting Portland and Golden State on Thursday and Friday, the Mavs have lost seven straight games on the road to teams currently over .500. They're 2-9 in such games since the Rajon Rondo trade, with three more left. Four good teams (the Cavs, Clippers, Thunder and Grizzlies) visit the American Airlines Center on a five-game homestand that begins Tuesday.
This week: vs. CLE, vs. LAC

11

Last week: 15

Indiana (28-34)
Pace: 95.5 (22) OffRtg: 99.7 (25) DefRtg: 100.3 (9) NetRtg: -0.6 (17)
If you combined the 2013-14 Pacers before the All-Star break with the '14-15 Pacers after the break, you'd have a title favorite. In the past, their starters have carried them, but on this 11-2 run, they've been at their best with reserves on the floor. They have four more home games (with three of the opponents on a back-to-back) before the schedule gets tougher.
This week: vs. ORL, vs. MIL, vs. BOS

12

Last week: 11

Chicago (39-25)
Pace: 95.6 (21) OffRtg: 104.8 (9) DefRtg: 102.0 (13) NetRtg: +2.8 (11)
With Derrick Rose out, it would be nice if Kirk Hinrich could give the Bulls something on offense. But Hinrich is 13-for-39 (3-for-17 from 3-point range) since Rose was lost to his latest injury and his true shooting percentage for the season is at a career-low 46.0 percent, which ranks 214th among 221 players who have taken at least 300 shots.
This week: vs. MEM, @ PHI, @ CHA, @ OKC

13

Last week: 13

New Orleans (34-29)
Pace: 94.0 (27) OffRtg: 105.3 (7) DefRtg: 105.1 (25) NetRtg: +0.2 (16)
The Pelicans have Anthony Davis back and have the tie-breaker against the Thunder. But they're still a game back and have the tougher remaining schedule, with fewer home games (eight to 12), fewer games against under-.500 teams (seven to eight) and no more games with a rest advantage (rested vs. an opponent who played the night before).
This week: @ MIL, @ BKN, vs. DEN

14

Last week: 12

Toronto (38-25)
Pace: 95.9 (18) OffRtg: 107.7 (3) DefRtg: 104.4 (22) NetRtg: +3.4 (9)
The Raptors have got DeMar DeRozan (28.5 points on 52 percent shooting in four games last week) going, but have still lost eight of their last nine games because their defense has taken another step backward. With Washington and Milwaukee struggling, however, they still have a three-game edge for home-court advantage in the first round.
This week: @ SAS, vs. MIA, vs. POR

15

Last week: 16

Utah (26-36)
Pace: 92.7 (30) OffRtg: 102.5 (15) DefRtg: 103.7 (17) NetRtg: -1.2 (18)
The Jazz are in the middle of a stretch where they're playing eight of 10 games against Eastern Conference opponents. And by the end of it, they may have a record that would be good enough to make the playoffs in the East. Starting point guard Dante Exum has more than three assists in just one of his last 10 games, but hit four threes in Sunday's win in Brooklyn.
This week: vs. NYK, vs. HOU, vs. DET

16

Last week: 14

Milwaukee (33-29)
Pace: 96.4 (14) OffRtg: 100.6 (22) DefRtg: 98.7 (2) NetRtg: +1.9 (13)
The Bucks won the battle of struggling Eastern Conference playoff teams on Saturday, as Khris Middleton burned the Wizards with 30 points. Middleton was seemingly a a throw-in in the Brandon Jennings-Brandon Knight trade two years ago, but has been huge for the Bucks (check his on-off-court NetRtg differential) and is going to get paid this summer.
This week: vs. NOP, vs. ORL, @ IND, @ MEM

17

Last week: 21

Charlotte (28-33)
Pace: 95.4 (23) OffRtg: 98.6 (28) DefRtg: 100.2 (7) NetRtg: -1.6 (19)
Where does Mo Williams rank on your list of most important mid-season acquisitions? He's averaging 21.7 points and 8.7 assists (shooting 41 percent from 3-point range) in nine games with the Hornets, who have won five straight to jump into seventh place in the East. Sunday's win in Detroit was just the second time they made more than half their shots.
This week: vs. WAS, vs. SAC, vs. CHI

18

Last week: 17

Boston (25-36)
Pace: 98.5 (5) OffRtg: 101.1 (21) DefRtg: 103.3 (15) NetRtg: -2.2 (21)
The Celtics are so weird. After beating both the Jazz and Pelicans (who are a combined 14-3 in other games since the All-Star break) last week, they lost in Orlando, getting outscored 86-67 over the final 36 minutes. They still have six games remaining (including two on the road this week) against the other four teams vying for the East's final two playoff spots.
This week: @ MIA, vs. MEM, vs. ORL, @ IND

19

Last week: 18

Washington (35-28)
Pace: 95.9 (17) OffRtg: 102.1 (16) DefRtg: 100.5 (10) NetRtg: +1.6 (14)
In the one game the Wizards won last week, they came a missed Henry Walker 3-pointer from completely blowing a 35-point lead to a Heat team that was playing without Dwyane Wade, Luol Deng and, for most of the comeback, Goran Dragic. Their point guards - John Wall and Ramon Sessions - have combined to shoot 36 percent since the All-Star break.
This week: @ CHA, vs. MEM, vs. SAC

20

Last week: 23

Miami (28-34)
Pace: 92.8 (29) OffRtg: 101.9 (17) DefRtg: 103.7 (18) NetRtg: -1.8 (20)
The Heat have won three straight home games for the first time this season, thanks in part to somebody named Tyler Johnson, who dropped 26 on the Suns on Monday and 24 on the Kings on Saturday. With Johnson and Hassan Whiteside, the Heat have made the case for minor league scouting and built a respectable 9-9 record without Chris Bosh.
This week: vs. BOS, vs. BKN, @ TOR

21

Last week: 19

Phoenix (33-31)
Pace: 99.4 (2) OffRtg: 104.9 (8) DefRtg: 103.8 (20) NetRtg: +1.1 (15)
The Suns are still hanging on, thanks to a 15-point comeback in the last six minutes in Brooklyn on Friday. They play nine of their next 10 games at home. But they'd be better if they could skip the second quarter some nights. They've been outscored 141-98 over their last five second quarters, with players not named Markieff Morris shooting 25 percent.
This week: vs. GSW, vs. MIN, vs. ATL, vs. NYK

22

Last week: 20

Brooklyn (25-36)
Pace: 94.5 (25) OffRtg: 100.5 (23) DefRtg: 104.5 (23) NetRtg: -4.0 (23)
The Nets beat the Warriors on Monday, but then proceeded to get hammered by the Hornets, blow a 15-point lead with less than six minutes to go against the Suns, and lose despite shooting 50 percent against the Jazz. Brooklyn is still just 2 1/2 games out of eighth, but the Hawks should start figuring out who their representative will be at the Draft Lottery.
This week: vs. NOP, @ MIA, @ PHI

23

Last week: 22

Detroit (23-39)
Pace: 95.8 (20) OffRtg: 101.3 (19) DefRtg: 103.7 (19) NetRtg: -2.4 (22)
Say goodnight to the Pistons, who have lost six straight games (shooting 26 percent from 3-point range) to fall five games out of a playoff spot. Adding insult to injury, they have a league-high seven remaining back-to-backs, including four in the next 14 days. They've lost eight of their last nine on the road, where they'll spend most of the next four weeks.
This week: @ LAL, @ GSW, @ POR, @ UTA

24

Last week: 25

Minnesota (14-47)
Pace: 97.5 (9) OffRtg: 99.6 (27) DefRtg: 108.5 (30) NetRtg: -8.9 (28)
Are the Wolves a spoiler team? Four of their last five wins have come against teams with winning records, including Saturday's upset of the Blazers, in which Gary Neal somehow scored 27 points with only one 3-point attempt. Ricky Rubio had 15 dimes in that one and has recorded five straight point-assist double-doubles, assisting nine different teammates.
This week: @ LAC, @ PHX, @ OKC, @ SAS

25

Last week: 24

Sacramento (21-40)
Pace: 97.7 (8) OffRtg: 101.5 (18) DefRtg: 106.1 (27) NetRtg: -4.6 (24)
Nik Stauskas hasn't had a big (or consistent) role in George Karl's rotation, but shot well (9-for-17, 4-for-8 from 3-point range) in short minutes last week. Of course, the Kings' defense has generally been terrible with Stauskas on the floor and was generally terrible in San Antonio, Orlando and Miami after they got an easy win in New York.
This week: @ ATL, @ CHA, @ PHI, @ WAS

26

Last week: 28

Orlando (21-43)
Pace: 95.8 (19) OffRtg: 99.7 (26) DefRtg: 105.0 (24) NetRtg: -5.4 (26)
Forget what was written here last week about Elfrid Payton's lack of minutes. He played 33 in Wednesday's loss to the Suns and then topped 40 in each of the Magic's two weekend wins, coming three assists short of a triple-double against the Celtics on Sunday. Andrew Nicholson, owner of 39 DNPs this season, is finally getting a chance to play too.
This week: @ IND, @ MIL, @ BOS, vs. CLE

27

Last week: 27

Philadelphia (14-49)
Pace: 98.2 (6) OffRtg: 92.0 (30) DefRtg: 101.8 (12) NetRtg: -9.8 (30)
Since the All-Star break, Nerlens Noel is averaging a double-double, while leading the league in (total) steals and ranking second in blocks. The Sixers' offense has been better with Isaiah Canaan running it, Joel Embiid is throwing down East Bay Funk Dunks in warmups, and it hit 50 degrees in Philadelphia on Sunday. Everything's coming up Hinkie!
This week: vs. CHI, vs. SAC, vs. BKN

28

Last week: 30

Denver (22-41)
Pace: 98.5 (4) OffRtg: 100.4 (24) DefRtg: 105.1 (26) NetRtg: -4.7 (25)
The Nuggets won their first two games under Melvin Hunt and hung around with the Spurs in their third. Their new starting lineup with 6-foot-8 Kenneth Faried at center (which came together in Brian Shaw's last game) was actually a plus-17 in Saturday's loss to the Rockets, but all other five-man units were a minus-31 in less than 29 minutes.
This week: vs. NYK, vs. ATL, vs. GSW, @ NOP

29

Last week: 26

L.A. Lakers (16-46)
Pace: 96.7 (11) OffRtg: 101.3 (20) DefRtg: 107.8 (29) NetRtg: -6.5 (27)
On the floor, the Lakers aren't very interesting these days. But Byron Scott continues to provide some of the league's most ... ummm ... interesting quotes. On Saturday, he condemned the use of pick-and-rolls, because "Everybody is stationary and it's easy to guard." The point guard depth chart when he was hired started with Steve Nash and Jeremy Lin.
This week: vs. DET, vs. NYK, vs. ATL

30

Last week: 29

New York (12-49)
Pace: 93.3 (28) OffRtg: 98.2 (29) DefRtg: 107.7 (28) NetRtg: -9.5 (29)
After winning two straight games, the Knicks played two straight in which they never led and trailed by at least 30 points. They're in the driver's seat for the highest odds in the Lottery (with a rare, five-game week coming up), two games behind both the Sixers and Wolves in the win column. Phil Jackson has been on the road, scouting potential top picks.
This week: @ DEN, @ UTA, @ LAL, @ GSW, @ PHX