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Power Rankings: Last playoff spots still up in the air

Clippers, Cavs are on the rise; Pacers take big tumble

POSTED: Apr 4, 2016 11:21 AM ET

By John Schuhmann

BY John Schuhmann

NBA.com

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The Mavericks have pumped up their defense lately to fuel their playoff push.

With 10 days and 77 games left in the 2015-16 season, both conferences have a three-team race for the final two playoff spots. And currently on the outside are two of the most disappointing teams in the league.

In the East, the Chicago Bulls are two games behind the Detroit Pistons and Indiana Pacers. In the West, the Houston Rockets are a game behind the Dallas Mavericks and Utah Jazz.

Both the Bulls and Rockets have dealt with injuries this season, but their real issues are less tangible. Fred Hoiberg's offensive system hasn't worked in Chicago and Houston has lacked effort and cohesion on defense. Statistically, only Phoenix and Memphis have regressed more than the Bulls and Rockets.

Houston was in the conference finals last year, while Chicago held a 2-1 lead on Cleveland in the conference semis. Both could have conceivably taken steps forward this season, but they've each taken big steps back. And whether or not they make the playoffs, they could both undergo serious changes this summer.

* * *

• Last week: Bulls and Mavs sinking fast
• This time last year: Spurs continue push, but haven't made it far -- A 17-3 stretch (and a big win over the Warriors) had taken the Spurs from seventh to sixth in the Western Conference. Paul George made his season debut, Paul Millsap sprained his shoulder, Stephen Curry sent Chris Paul to the floor, and Marcus Smart beat the Raptors at the buzzer.

• Plus-minus stud: Shelvin Mack (UTA) was a plus-65 in four games last week.
• Plus-minus dud: Shane Larkin (BKN) was a minus-65 in five games last week.

• Hero team of the week: Houston (2-1) -- The Rockets stayed alive with big fourth quarters against the (LeBron-less) Cavs and Thunder..
• Zero team of the week: Brooklyn (0-5) -- The Nets went from hero to zero with an 0-5 week that included losses to Orlando, New York and New Orleans by an average of 22 points.

• Team to watch this week: Golden State -- The champs need to go 4-1 to get to 73 wins, and will face the Spurs twice in four days.

• East vs. West: The West is 231-214 (.519) against the East in interconference games after going 14-9 last week. There are five interconference games left (three involving the Pelicans).

• Toughest schedules so far: 1. Philadelphia, 2. New Orleans, 3. L.A. Lakers
• Easiest schedules so far: 1. San Antonio, 2. Golden State, 3. Cleveland
Schedule strength is based on cumulative opponent record, and adjusted for home vs. away and days of rest before a game.

• High jumps of the week: Dallas (+5), L.A. Clippers (+4), Orlando (+4)
• Free falls of the week: Indiana (-6), Minnesota (-3), Denver (-3)

* * *

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 98.1 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes and 103.8 points scored per 100 possessions this season.

* * *

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 (69-8)
Pace: 101.9 (2) OffRtg: 112.7 (1) DefRtg: 100.8 (5) NetRtg: +11.9 (2)
Wednesday's win in Utah, a defensive struggle on the second night of a back-to-back, felt like the one that would get the Warriors to 73. But two days later, they gave that one back with their first regular season loss at home in more than 14 months. Klay Thompson has cooled off a bit, but Stephen Curry has hit at least five threes in four straight games for the seventh time in his career. He's never done it in five straight.
This week: vs. MIN, vs. SAS, @ MEM, @ SAS

2

Last week: 2

San Antonio (64-12)
Pace: 96.0 (24) OffRtg: 109.0 (3) DefRtg: 96.1 (1) NetRtg: +12.9 (1)
The Spurs took care of business against three shorthanded opponents last week, with help from LaMarcus Aldridge, who has scored more than 30 points in three of his last four games and has seen an increase in both scoring average and true shooting percentage every month. Kawhi Leonard is back from his quad injury, giving Gregg Popovich a full rotation to possibly rest against the champs this week.
This week: @ UTA, @ GSW, @ DEN, vs. GSW

3

Last week: 4

Cleveland (55-22)
Pace: 95.5 (28) OffRtg: 107.9 (4) DefRtg: 102.0 (10) NetRtg: +5.9 (4)
With LeBron James and Kyrie Irving missing games and their role players shooting poorly, the Cavs' offense is in a bit of a slump. But James has put up huge numbers (28.6 points, 8.9 rebounds and 9.6 assists over his last seven games), despite a broken jumper, which he's been using less often. The whole fast-break thing hasn't been working out of late, though. The Cavs were outscored 97-46 on fast break points last week.
This week: @ MIL, @ IND, @ CHI

4

Last week: 3

Oklahoma City (53-24)
Pace: 99.4 (8) OffRtg: 109.9 (2) DefRtg: 103.0 (12) NetRtg: +6.9 (3)
These fourth quarters have really become a problem for the Thunder, who were outscored 21-8 down the stretch in Houston on Sunday. They're now a minus-6 in the fourth quarter for the season and have been outscored by 7.8 points per 100 possessions in the fourth quarter by the other 18 teams who are still alive for the playoffs. The late-game offense is always under scrutiny, but the defense has been as big of a problem.
This week: @ DEN, @ POR, @ SAC

5

Last week: 5

Toronto (51-25)
Pace: 95.4 (29) OffRtg: 107.0 (5) DefRtg: 102.9 (11) NetRtg: +4.1 (7)
Is it time for Raptors fans to start worrying? Kyle Lowry, who was banged up last Spring and struggled in the playoffs, had his elbow drained after Monday's loss to the Thunder and has shot 27 percent over his last five games. Back-up Cory Joseph, meanwhile, has been one of the league's worst shooters since March 1. Dwane Casey pulled a Popovich against the Spurs, resting both Lowry and DeMar DeRozan on Saturday.
This week: vs. CHA, @ ATL, vs. IND, @ NYK

6

Last week: 10

L.A. Clippers (48-28)
Pace: 98.1 (14) OffRtg: 106.6 (6) DefRtg: 101.6 (8) NetRtg: +5.0 (5)
The Clippers got Blake Griffin back on Sunday and have won the last five games that Chris Paul, J.J. Redick and DeAndre Jordan have played. Their offense has recovered from some mid-March struggles, with bench guards Jamal Crawford and Austin Rivers shooting 27-for-51 from 3-point range over the last five games. Those Paul-off-the-floor minutes are, once again, going to be critical in the playoffs.
This week: vs. LAL, @ LAL, @ UTA, vs. DAL

7

Last week: 6

Atlanta (45-32)
Pace: 99.2 (9) OffRtg: 103.2 (15) DefRtg: 98.9 (2) NetRtg: +4.3 (6)
It was a year ago Monday that Paul Millsap suffered a shoulder sprain that would affect him in the playoffs. And it was a year ago Thursday that Thabo Sefolosha had his leg broken in New York. The Hawks were the best team in the East at the time, but the dominoes had begun to fall. Even though they fell short against the conference's top two seeds last week, they might be in a better place, especially defensively, this year.
This week: vs. PHX, vs. TOR, vs. BOS

8

Last week: 7

Charlotte (44-32)
Pace: 97.8 (18) OffRtg: 104.6 (10) DefRtg: 101.7 (9) NetRtg: +2.9 (9)
Injuries to Al Jefferson (quad contusion) and Nicolas Batum (strained knee) appear to be minor, but are a reminder of how fragile things are for every team in playoff contention right now. The Hornets' offense has been a little fragile of late. They scored less than a point per possession over two games against the Sixers last week and haven't been getting consistent shooting from anyone in the rotation.
This week: @ TOR, @ NYK, @ BKN, @ WAS

9

Last week: 9

Boston (45-32)
Pace: 101.1 (3) OffRtg: 103.8 (11) DefRtg: 100.7 (4) NetRtg: +3.1 (8)
The Celtics ended the Warriors' 54-game, regular-season winning streak at Oracle Arena on Friday, improving to 12-6 on the second night of a back-to-back in the process. Isaiah Thomas, Evan Turner and Jared Sullinger, who came up big in Oakland, have all shot much better with no rest (combined effective field goal percentage of 52.3 percent) than they have with rest (45.8 percent). They have a final back-to-back this week.
This week: vs. NOP, vs. MIL, @ ATL

10

Last week: 8

Miami (44-32)
Pace: 95.8 (26) OffRtg: 103.7 (12) DefRtg: 101.5 (6) NetRtg: +2.2 (10)
Wednesday's overtime loss to the Lakers could haunt the Heat if they don't get home-court advantage in the first round. They have the league's fifth biggest home-road NetRtg differential (8.5 points per 100 possessions), but are 3-2 on the road against potential first round opponents (Atlanta, Boston and Charlotte). More important is the health of Dwyane Wade, who's missed the last two games with back soreness.
This week: vs. DET, vs. CHI, @ ORL, vs. ORL

11

Last week: 12

Portland (41-37)
Pace: 98.2 (13) OffRtg: 105.8 (7) DefRtg: 105.5 (20) NetRtg: +0.3 (14)
The Blazers have been nearly unbeatable at home (16-2 since late January), but finished 0-8 on the road against the top four seeds in the West (having lost six of the eight games by 13 points or more) after Sunday's loss in Oakland. They have one more home game against the top four, but Wednesday's visit from the Thunder won't be a playoff preview if Portland moves past Memphis for fifth place.
This week: @ SAC, vs. OKC, vs. MIN

12

Last week: 15

Houston (38-39)
Pace: 100.0 (7) OffRtg: 105.0 (8) DefRtg: 106.0 (22) NetRtg: -1.0 (16)
The Rockets saved their season again with another big second half against the Thunder on Sunday. Only the Lakers have a bigger NetRtg differential from the first half to the second half. The Rockets have, by far, the easiest remaining schedule among teams fighting for a spot (the Clippers and Pelicans easy ones, too), but the toughest game remaining (Wednesday at Dallas) is the most important of the season.
This week: @ DAL, vs. PHX, vs. LAL

13

Last week: 13

Utah (39-38)
Pace: 93.4 (30) OffRtg: 103.2 (16) DefRtg: 101.5 (7) NetRtg: +1.7 (12)
The Jazz are still holding on to eighth place, but could be a game out of fifth with a signature win if they made more than 13 of their 29 free throws against the Warriors on Wednesday. They've still won 10 of their last 13 games, with the league's best defense in that stretch, but have a big game Tuesday against the Spurs, who have torched 'em for 123 points per 100 possessions in their first three meetings.
This week: vs. SAS, vs. LAC, @ DEN

14

Last week: 19

Dallas (39-38)
Pace: 96.7 (22) OffRtg: 104.9 (9) DefRtg: 104.5 (17) NetRtg: +0.3 (13)
A soft week and a four-game winning streak have put the Mavs back in playoff position and above .500. Amazingly, Dirk Nowitzki has shot just 28 percent during the streak and it's been the other end of the floor that has carried the Mavs. They've held their opponent under a point per possession in all four games after doing so just once in their previous 21. Now, they play three of their final five against top-10 offenses.
This week: vs. HOU, vs. MEM, @ LAC

15

Last week: 14

Detroit (41-36)
Pace: 97.5 (19) OffRtg: 103.0 (17) DefRtg: 103.3 (13) NetRtg: -0.2 (15)
Reggie Jackson has shot 37 percent (26 percent from 3-point range) since March 1 and the Pistons shot a brutal 34 percent in the paint in weekend games against Dallas and Chicago. But they got their biggest win of the season on Saturday and have been getting strong production from Marcus Morris, who has averaged 17.7 points and shot 57 percent from 3-point range over the last four weeks.
This week: @ MIA, @ ORL, vs. WAS

16

Last week: 17

Chicago (39-38)
Pace: 98.5 (12) OffRtg: 101.5 (26) DefRtg: 103.4 (14) NetRtg: -1.9 (19)
The Bulls have shown signs of being a decent defensive team again, and all five games in their busy week were within a possession in the final minute. Jimmy Butler shot 10-for-11 in Sunday's win in Milwaukee, but the biggest shot of the week was his game-winner in Indiana on Tuesday. That gave the Bulls the tiebreaker over the Pacers, but they'll need a win over the Heat or Cavs this week to have a shot at catching them.
This week: @ MEM, @ MIA, vs. CLE

17

Last week: 11

Indiana (41-36)
Pace: 99.1 (10) OffRtg: 101.7 (25) DefRtg: 100.0 (3) NetRtg: +1.7 (11)
The race for the last two spots in the East playoffs is far from over. The Pacers are hanging on, but lost to the Magic and struggled to get wins in Philly and New York last week. Just as concerning is that, after Tuesday's loss to Chicago, they're 1-7 since the All-Star break (having scored 94.2 points per 100 possessions) against the other teams in the East's top nine, with games against the top two coming up.
This week: vs. CLE, @ TOR, vs. BKN

18

Last week: 16

Washington (37-40)
Pace: 100.5 (4) OffRtg: 102.5 (22) DefRtg: 103.7 (15) NetRtg: -1.2 (17)
The Wizards are, technically, still alive. But a 2-5 stretch, that has included losses to Minnesota and Sacramento, has basically ended a season that had a lot of promise before it started. Defense was the foundation of trips to the conference semifinals in each of the last two seasons, but was their downfall this year. They've allowed 112 points per 100 possessions in the five losses of this season-killing stretch.
This week: vs. BKN, @ DET, vs. CHA

19

Last week: 23

Orlando (33-44)
Pace: 98.1 (16) OffRtg: 102.5 (23) DefRtg: 104.2 (16) NetRtg: -1.7 (18)
The Magic have turned into the league's best spoiler team, beating the Bulls, Pacers and Grizzlies over the last nine days. The last five games have been their best offensive stretch of the season and have come with an increase in assist rate and contributions from almost the entire roster. Aaron Gordon dunked from very far away and Nikola Vucevic put up 23.7 points on 68 percent shooting in his first three games back.
This week: vs. DET, vs. MIA, @ MIA

20

Last week: 18

Memphis (41-36)
Pace: 95.7 (27) OffRtg: 102.7 (20) DefRtg: 104.9 (19) NetRtg: -2.1 (20)
A couple of weeks ago, the Grizzlies looked locked into the 5 seed. They're still there, but a six-game losing streak (in which their defense has been terrible) has them in danger of missing the playoffs altogether. Their lead over the ninth-place Rockets is down to three games (and Houston would have the tiebreaker) and all five of their remaining games are against teams over .500. Two are against the Warriors.
This week: vs. CHI, @ DAL, vs. GSW

21

Last week: 24

Sacramento (31-46)
Pace: 102.2 (1) OffRtg: 103.7 (13) DefRtg: 106.3 (23) NetRtg: -2.6 (22)
The Kings have won four of their last six games, scoring 112 points per 100 possessions in a stretch that has brought them closer to losing their first round pick (which is top-10 protected) and has coincided with Seth Curry getting consistent minutes. We'll see how many more years he has left in the league, but the MVP's little brother has averaged 15.0 points on 53 percent shooting in the six games.
This week: vs. POR, vs. MIN, vs. OKC

22

Last week: 22

Milwaukee (32-45)
Pace: 96.4 (23) OffRtg: 102.6 (21) DefRtg: 105.5 (21) NetRtg: -2.9 (23)
He's got 58 more games to catch Kevin Durant, but Jabari Parker has scored 20-plus points in three straight for the first time in his career. His mid-range jumper has shown improvement in the last couple of months, but he'll need to develop a corner three this summer to give the Bucks' offense the spacing it needs. Defenses will adjust to that hide-on-the-baseline thing he does to get dunks.
This week: vs. CLE, @ BOS, @ PHI

23

Last week: 20

Denver (32-46)
Pace: 98.1 (15) OffRtg: 103.0 (19) DefRtg: 106.3 (24) NetRtg: -3.3 (24)
The Nuggets have two very talented, 21-year-old big men, who should be the foundation for their future. But Saturday's loss to the Kings was just the fourth game that Nikola Jokic and Jusuf Nurkic have been on the floor together (for a total of just 14 minutes). They both do their best work inside, but Jokic has shown an ability to step outside. He's been a better perimeter shooter than fellow rookie Emmanuel Mudiay.
This week: vs. OKC, vs. SAS, vs. UTA

24

Last week: 21

Minnesota (25-52)
Pace: 97.3 (20) OffRtg: 103.6 (14) DefRtg: 107.1 (27) NetRtg: -3.5 (26)
What had been one of the league's most improved offenses since late January has hit a wall. The Wolves have lost four of their last five games, scoring less than 90 points per 100 possessions in the losses. Karl-Anthony Towns is running through the tape in the Rookie of the Year race (and throwing down nasty dunks) and Andrew Wiggins had a couple off big games over the weekend, but Zach LaVine has gone cold.
This week: @ GSW, @ SAC, @ POR

25

Last week: 26

New Orleans (29-47)
Pace: 98.9 (11) OffRtg: 103.0 (18) DefRtg: 106.4 (25) NetRtg: -3.4 (25)
The Pelicans lost two more guys - Jrue Holiday and Alonzo Gee - for the season and Ryan Anderson could be done as well. But their only loss in the last four games was by eight points in San Antonio, with the Spurs only missing one rotation guy (David West). The eight games since Anthony Davis last played have been their best defensive stretch (102.6 points allowed per 100 possessions) since mid-January.
This week: @ PHI, @ BOS, vs. LAL, vs. PHX

26

Last week: 25

New York (31-47)
Pace: 95.9 (25) OffRtg: 102.1 (24) DefRtg: 104.6 (18) NetRtg: -2.6 (21)
There were times this season when Arron Afflalo looked like a solid addition. But it has become obvious that the Knicks will have two big holes to fill in their backcourt this summer, whether or not Afflalo opts out of his contract. They may be encouraging him to walk away by sending him to the bench, whether or not Kurt Rambis told him it would happen. Afflalo has shot 37 percent in 10 games as a reserve.
This week: vs. CHA, @ PHI, vs. TOR

27

Last week: 29

L.A. Lakers (16-60)
Pace: 98.0 (17) OffRtg: 98.9 (29) DefRtg: 109.4 (30) NetRtg: -10.4 (30)
The D'Angelo Russell-Nick Young incident is a reflection of Russell's character and age, but also of the Lakers' organization, which has devolved into a punchline over the last four years. Big shots by Russell and Julius Randle in Wednesday's win over Miami, as well as 34 points from Kobe Bryant against Boston on Sunday, have provided some relief from the drama. But it's only temporary.
This week: @ LAC, vs. LAC, @ NOP, @ HOU

28

Last week: 27

Brooklyn (21-56)
Pace: 97.2 (21) OffRtg: 100.9 (27) DefRtg: 107.8 (29) NetRtg: -6.9 (27)
Sunday was a good day for the Celtics, as the Nets shut down Brook Lopez and Thaddeus Young (their two best players by a wide margin) for the season and lost their most winnable remaining game (vs. New Orleans) by 19 points. Not only does Brooklyn not have their first round pick, but it will have to swap second round picks with the Clippers if L.A. doesn't catch Toronto or Oklahoma City in the overall standings.
This week: @ WAS, @ CHA, @ IND

29

Last week: 28

Phoenix (20-57)
Pace: 100.5 (5) OffRtg: 99.1 (28) DefRtg: 107.5 (28) NetRtg: -8.4 (28)
The Tyson Chandler addition still looks like a disaster, but he does have three straight double-doubles for the first time as a Sun. Of course, while he was doing that, Alex Len shot 1-for-18 (0-for-10 in the paint) in weekend losses to the Wizards and Jazz. It's hard to think that the two bigs can coexist going forward, but it will be tough to find a taker for Chandler, with three years remaining on his contract.
This week: @ ATL, @ HOU, @ NOP

30

Last week: 30

Philadelphia (9-68)
Pace: 100.4 (6) OffRtg: 96.1 (30) DefRtg: 106.5 (26) NetRtg: -10.4 (29)
The Sixers have clinched the highest odds in the Lottery and lost 12 straight (again). Usually it's the absences of vets that allow young guys to play, but it's been the opposite in Philly, where injuries to Jahlil Okafor and Nerlens Noel have provided opportunities for Carl Landry (averaging 15.4 points on 57 percent shooting over the last eight games) and Elton Brand (who had a double-double in Charlotte on Friday).
This week: vs. NOP, vs. NYK, vs. MIL