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Playoff picture shaping up to include a lot of new blood

Power Rankings: Week 21


POSTED: Mar 23, 2015 11:24 AM ET

By John Schuhmann

BY John Schuhmann

NBA.com

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Memphis is one of the few teams from 2014's playoffs primed to make a return this season.

Here's a question to think about: How many teams that won a playoff series last season will win a playoff series this season?

The playoffs went to four rounds in 1975. Since 1976, only once (2001) has their been more than five teams in the conference semifinals that weren't there the year before. On average, 4.5 of the eight teams in the conference semis were also there a year earlier.

This year could buck the trend.

Two teams that won series last year -- Brooklyn and Indiana -- are currently out of the playoffs in the Eastern Conference. Their best-case scenario is a first-round exit at the hands of the Hawks or Cavs. Two others -- Miami and Oklahoma City -- are currently 7 or 8 seeds, fighting for postseason berths. Three more -- the Clippers, Spurs and Wizards -- are 5 or 6 seeds.

That leaves the Portland Trail Blazers as the only team that won a playoff series last year and is currently in position to hold home-court advantage in the first round.

We could definitely have four new conference semifinalists in the Eastern Conference. And there's a decent chance for three new ones -- Golden State, Houston and Memphis --in the West. Seven new teams winning playoff series would be unprecedented.

Alas, the postseason is still 26 days away, and there's still some business to take care of. No team has been taking care of business better than the Warriors, who have won 10 of their last 11 games and got their revenge on the Hawks last week.

* * *

• Last week: Cavs keep pushing with a month to go
• This time last year: East powers looking more vulnerable -- The Sixers' losing streak was at 24 games, the Knicks were three games out of a playoff spot after winning eight straight, Steve Nash came off the bench in a game for the first time in 14 years, and Kevin Durant hit a ridiculous game-winner in Toronto.

• Plus-minus stud: Chris Paul (LAC) was a plus-71 in four games last week.
• Plus-minus dud: Al Horford (ATL) was a minus-65 in three games last week.

• Hero Team of the Week: Phoenix (3-0) -- The Suns stayed alive by beating the Rockets (on the road) and Mavs over the weekend.
• Zero Team of the Week: Indiana (0-4) -- The Pacers went down to the wire in Cleveland (where the Cavs have won 15 straight) on Friday, but lost their other three games by an average of 16 points.

• High jumps of the week: Phoenix (+6), Brooklyn (+4), Chicago (+3), Miami (+3)
• Free falls of the week: Indiana (-9), Portland (-5), Milwaukee (-4)

• East vs. West: The West is 249 - 175 (0.587) against the East in interconference games and was 18-11 last week. The Bulls (17-13), Pistons (9-21), Pelicans (16-14) and Jazz (15-15) are done with their interconference schedules.

• Toughest schedules through Sunday: 1. L.A. Lakers, 2. Sacramento, 3. Minnesota
• Easiest schedules through Sunday: 1. Washington, 2. Golden State, 3. Indiana
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 (56-13)
Pace: 100.7 (1) OffRtg: 109.3 (1) DefRtg: 97.7 (1) NetRtg: +11.7 (1)
The Warriors have kept rolling through Klay Thompson's ankle injury, picking up three wins over teams -- Atlanta, New Orleans and Utah -- that have been playing well. Justin Holiday has started, but Andre Iguodala has increased his production, scoring in double-figures in three straight games for just the second time in his two seasons with Golden State.
This week: vs. WAS, @ POR, @ MEM, @ MIL

2

Last week: 3

Cleveland (46-26)
Pace: 94.8 (24) OffRtg: 108.2 (3) DefRtg: 104.2 (21) NetRtg: +4.0 (7)
The first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs doesn't look all that exciting, unless we get a Cavs-Heat matchup. Miami is now 2-1 in the season series with one more meeting next week in Cleveland, where the Cavs are 15-0 (outscoring opponents by almost 17 points per 100 possessions) since LeBron James returned from his holiday-time hiatus.
This week: @ MEM, @ BKN, vs. PHI

3

Last week: 2

Atlanta (53-17)
Pace: 96.3 (14) OffRtg: 106.2 (6) DefRtg: 100.8 (9) NetRtg: +5.4 (3)
Kyle Korver was missed on offense at Golden State on Wednesday, but the Hawks' first three-game losing streak has been their worst three-game defensive stretch. Part of that has been the quality of the opposition (the Warriors, Thunder and Spurs), which is about to change. Their next six opponents are all below .500 and below-average offensively.
This week: @ ORL, vs. MIA, @ CHA

4

Last week: 5

Memphis (49-21)
Pace: 94.4 (26) OffRtg: 103.3 (14) DefRtg: 100.0 (3) NetRtg: +3.2 (9)
The Grizzlies finally made the starting lineup change (Jeff Green out, Tony Allen in) that the numbers have been calling for, and the result was a big win in Dallas on Friday. Saturday's win over the struggling Blazers gave them the season sweep, a two-game lead in the loss column for the 2 seed, and a 5-2 record against the West's top 10 since the All-Star break.
This week: @ NYK, vs. CLE, vs. GSW, @ SAS

5

Last week: 6

San Antonio (44-25)
Pace: 95.9 (17) OffRtg: 105.2 (8) DefRtg: 100.3 (6) NetRtg: +4.9 (4)
Tuesday's loss in New York was rather embarrassing, but Sunday's win in Atlanta more than made up for it and the Spurs still haven't lost in regulation in almost a month, a stretch that coincides with Tiago Splitter moving back into the starting lineup. The starters have outscored their opponents by 41 points per 100 possessions in 133 minutes since then.
This week: @ DAL, vs. OKC, vs. DAL, vs. MEM

6

Last week: 8

L.A. Clippers (46-25)
Pace: 96.8 (11) OffRtg: 109.3 (2) DefRtg: 103.5 (19) NetRtg: +5.8 (2)
The Clippers have taken advantage of their schedule to win four straight (with Chris Paul averaging 26.0 points and 11.3 assists) and remain in the conversation for the No. 3 or 4 seed in the West. But Jamal Crawford's calf injury is a major concern and the idea of Austin Rivers being the first guy off the bench in the playoffs is a real, scary thing.
This week: @ NYK, @ PHI, @ BOS

7

Last week: 7

Houston (46-23)
Pace: 99.3 (2) OffRtg: 103.3 (13) DefRtg: 100.0 (4) NetRtg: +3.3 (8)
James Harden broke out of a mini-slump by dropping 50 on the Nuggets on Thursday, but the Rockets have been treading water in March and added two more frontline injuries (a partially collapsed lung for Terrence Jones and a strained calf for Josh Smith) last week. They play seven of their next nine games on the road, where their defense really falls off.
This week: @ IND, @ NOP, vs. MIN, @ WAS

8

Last week: 9

Oklahoma City (40-30)
Pace: 98.1 (7) OffRtg: 103.9 (12) DefRtg: 101.7 (12) NetRtg: +2.3 (12)
In the last seven days, Kevin Durant was shut down, Serge Ibaka had surgery, Mitch McGary committed a really dumb foul, and Nick Collison sprained his ankle. Yet the Thunder's lead over the Pelicans went from one game to three last week. Their defense promises to remain bad without Durant and Ibaka, but they have a top-five offense since the break.
This week: vs. LAL, @ SAS, @ UTA, @ PHX

9

Last week: 4

Portland (44-24)
Pace: 96.4 (13) OffRtg: 105.2 (7) DefRtg: 100.6 (7) NetRtg: +4.6 (5)
The Blazers have lost four straight and their new starting lineup has been much worse defensively than their old one. The question is how much of the new lineup will play this week. In Saturday's loss in Memphis, LaMarcus Aldridge injured his hand and Nicolas Batum, who's been one of the league's most improved shooters since the break, hurt his back.
This week: vs. GSW, @ UTA, @ PHX, vs. DEN

10

Last week: 10

Dallas (44-27)
Pace: 97.0 (10) OffRtg: 107.3 (5) DefRtg: 103.0 (16) NetRtg: +4.3 (6)
The Mavs couldn't really build off of wins over the Clippers and Thunder. The weekend brought more offensive problems (their top three scorers shot a combined 33 percent) and losses to the Grizzlies and Suns. They host the surging Spurs on Tuesday, and then play six of their final 10 games on the road, where they're 1-5 since the All-Star break.
This week: vs. SAS, @ SAS, @ IND

11

Last week: 14

Chicago (42-29)
Pace: 95.4 (23) OffRtg: 104.6 (10) DefRtg: 102.1 (13) NetRtg: +2.6 (11)
Taj Gibson is back and Nikola Mirotic has averaged 20.4 points in March, but the Bulls are still missing their starting backcourt and it's not clear that full health will result in consistent defense. After ranking in the top five defensively in each of Tom Thibodeau's first four seasons, they'll likely finish outside the top 10 this year. They rank last in forcing turnovers.
This week: vs. CHA, @ TOR, vs. NYK

12

Last week: 12

Utah (31-38)
Pace: 92.4 (30) OffRtg: 102.4 (16) DefRtg: 102.6 (14) NetRtg: -0.2 (17)
Rodney Hood is the latest young player for Jazz fans to be excited about. He shot 0-for-6 in L.A. on Thursday, but has still averaged 14.6 points on 50 percent shooting over the last seven games (starting the last six). Players under the age of 25 have accounted for 78 percent of the Jazz's minutes this season, though Gordon Hayward turns 25 on Monday.
This week: vs. MIN, vs. POR, @ DEN, vs. OKC

13

Last week: 13

New Orleans (37-33)
Pace: 94.0 (27) OffRtg: 105.0 (9) DefRtg: 104.8 (24) NetRtg: +0.2 (16)
The Pelicans had been holding their own against the other teams in the West's top 10, but have lost three straight against the group to drop three behind the Thunder. Anthony Davis has put up ridiculous numbers when he's been healthy (and when he gets touches), but has now missed 47 games in his first three seasons with a plethora of minor injuries.
This week: vs. HOU, vs. SAC, vs. MIN

14

Last week: 16

Washington (40-30)
Pace: 95.9 (19) OffRtg: 102.4 (15) DefRtg: 100.2 (5) NetRtg: +2.3 (13)
The Wizards' offense has obviously been the bigger issue all season, but defense was the difference between their five-game winning streak (when they allowed their opponents to shoot just 23 percent from 3-point range) and weekend losses to the Clippers and Kings (who shot a combined 50 percent from beyond the arc).
This week: @ GSW, vs. IND, vs. CHA, vs. HOU

15

Last week: 17

Toronto (42-28)
Pace: 95.9 (18) OffRtg: 107.8 (4) DefRtg: 104.6 (22) NetRtg: +3.2 (10)
DeMar DeRozan has scored more than 20 points in 10 of 11 games in March, but the Raptors' offense has been at its best with reserves on the floor. Their soft schedule has allowed them to win three out of four and stay in position to have home-court advantage in the first round. But time is running out for them to put their defense back together by April 15.
This week: @ DET, vs. CHI, vs. LAL

16

Last week: 21

Phoenix (38-33)
Pace: 99.1 (3) OffRtg: 104.3 (11) DefRtg: 103.0 (17) NetRtg: +1.3 (14)
Goran Dragic and Isaiah Thomas took the Phoenix offense with them to the Eastern Conference, but the Suns rank sixth defensively since the trades, having held seven of their last 10 opponents under a point per possession. A four-game winning streak has them within 2 1/2 games of the Thunder, who they host on Sunday, with the tiebreaker on the line.
This week: vs. SAC, vs. POR, vs. OKC

17

Last week: 20

Miami (32-37)
Pace: 93.1 (29) OffRtg: 101.9 (18) DefRtg: 103.5 (18) NetRtg: -1.6 (19)
After struggling at home for much of the season, the Heat have won seven of their last eight games on Biscayne Bay, beating the Cavs and Blazers there last week. But Sunday's loss in Oklahoma City began a stretch of seven of nine on the road, where they've now lost eight of their last 10. A win in Milwaukee on Tuesday puts them within a half game of sixth place.
This week: @ MIL, @ BOS, @ ATL, vs. DET

18

Last week: 15

Boston (30-39)
Pace: 98.4 (5) OffRtg: 101.0 (22) DefRtg: 102.6 (15) NetRtg: -1.7 (20)
The Celtics are another team that has suddenly lost its momentum. They've followed a six-game winning streak with a three-game losing streak (in which their prized rookie got suspended for a bush-league play) to fall back out of the top eight. Kelly Olynyk has somehow shot 1-for-6 or worse in four of his last five games. That's hard to do for a seven-footer.
This week: @ BKN, vs. MIA, @ NYK, vs. LAC

19

Last week: 23

Brooklyn (29-39)
Pace: 94.7 (25) OffRtg: 101.1 (20) DefRtg: 104.9 (25) NetRtg: -3.7 (24)
The Nets have won four of their last five games, scoring almost 110 points per 100 possessions and averaging almost 57 points in the paint. They're two for two in a four-game stretch against teams ahead of them in the standings, with two more games on Monday and Wednesday that can keep them very much in the mix for the last three playoff spots.
This week: vs. BOS, @ CHA, vs. CLE, vs. LAL

20

Last week: 11

Indiana (30-39)
Pace: 95.5 (21) OffRtg: 100.1 (25) DefRtg: 100.9 (10) NetRtg: -0.8 (18)
The Pacers lost their post-break mojo pretty quickly, losing five straight games with a tough week ahead. Remarkably, defense (114 points per 100 possessions, 44 percent from 3-point range allowed over the last four) has been the problem. Paul George at his best could fix that issue right away, but it's hard to know what he could contribute if he returns.
This week: vs. HOU, @ WAS, @ MIL, vs. DAL

21

Last week: 19

Charlotte (30-38)
Pace: 95.5 (22) OffRtg: 98.2 (28) DefRtg: 100.6 (8) NetRtg: -2.4 (21)
A game against the league's worst defense on Sunday was good tonic for the Hornets' offense, which had scored less than 90 points per 100 possessions in a 1-5 stretch that had taken them from seventh to 10th in the East. Only three of their final 14 games are against teams (Detroit x 2 and Philadelphia) that aren't in the playoff picture at all.
This week: @ CHI, vs. BKN, @ WAS, vs. ATL

22

Last week: 18

Milwaukee (34-36)
Pace: 96.2 (15) OffRtg: 100.5 (24) DefRtg: 99.5 (2) NetRtg: +0.9 (15)
The Bucks have quickly gone from a lock to make the playoffs (they were eight games over .500 just 30 days ago) to being part of a six-team scrum for the final three spots in the East, with, by far, the worst post-break record (4-13) and NetRtg (minus-5.2 points per 100 possessions) of the group. The easiest remaining schedule might not be enough.
This week: vs. MIA, vs. IND, vs. GSW

23

Last week: 25

Detroit (26-44)
Pace: 95.6 (20) OffRtg: 101.3 (19) DefRtg: 103.7 (20) NetRtg: -2.5 (22)
The Pistons were the Spoiler Team of the Week. Not only did they beat the Grizzlies, Bulls and Celtics (scoring 109.2 points per 100 possessions over the three wins), but they also lost to the Sixers! Reggie Jackson picked up a 20-point, 20-assist game against Memphis, a triple-double in the Philly loss, and two more double-doubles in the other two games.
This week: vs. TOR, @ ORL, @ MIA

24

Last week: 24

Sacramento (24-45)
Pace: 97.9 (8) OffRtg: 102.0 (17) DefRtg: 106.4 (27) NetRtg: -4.4 (25)
The Kings' defense has been pretty terrible under George Karl, but Rudy Gay seems to like his new coach. Gay has averaged 24.5 points on 49 percent shooting (41 percent from 3-point range) in 15 games under Karl. His free throw rate (34 attempts per 100 shots from the field) and true shooting percentage (55.4 percent) are both at career-high marks.
This week: vs. PHI, @ PHX, @ NOP

25

Last week: 22

Denver (27-44)
Pace: 98.5 (4) OffRtg: 101.0 (21) DefRtg: 104.7 (23) NetRtg: -3.7 (23)
The are reasons for the Spurs resting players. There are reasons for the Hawks, Grizzlies and Warriors resting players. But the Nuggets' decision (not supported by the players or coach Melvin Hunt) to rest Ty Lawson, Danilo Gallinari and Kenneth Faried in Memphis on Monday was sketchy. It's a shame they lost after being tied with less than five minutes left.
This week: vs. PHI, vs. UTA, @ POR

26

Last week: 26

Orlando (22-50)
Pace: 96.0 (16) OffRtg: 99.8 (26) DefRtg: 105.8 (26) NetRtg: -6.0 (27)
It's too late for Elfrid Payton (who recorded two straight triple-doubles last week) to make a serious run at the Rookie of the Year award, but not for the Magic to build on something. They've been strong post-break with Payton, Victor Oladipo, Tobias Harris and Dewayne Dedmon on the floor together, but Harris and Dedmon are both out with ankle injuries.
This week: vs. ATL, vs. DET

27

Last week: 27

Philadelphia (17-53)
Pace: 98.3 (6) OffRtg: 92.2 (30) DefRtg: 103.3 (11) NetRtg: -9.1 (29)
The Sixers loss in L.A. on Sunday not only increased their own Lottery odds, but increased the chances (which are still pretty slim) that they'll get the Lakers' pick this year. But it bears repeating that this has been a better defensive team than the Cavs or Bulls, and it has an outside shot at finishing in the top 10 in defensive efficiency, which would be remarkable.
This week: @ SAC, @ DEN, vs. LAC, @ CLE

28

Last week: 28

Minnesota (15-54)
Pace: 97.3 (9) OffRtg: 99.6 (27) DefRtg: 108.7 (30) NetRtg: -9.1 (28)
The Wolves may have clinched the Worst Defense in the League title by allowing the league's third worst offense (Charlotte) to score 109 points, shoot 51 percent, and commit just eight turnovers on Sunday. In coach Flip Saunders' previous 8-plus seasons in Minnesota, they finished worse than 16th in defensive efficiency only once (22nd in 1997-98).
This week: @ UTA, vs. LAL, @ HOU, @ NOP

29

Last week: 29

New York (14-56)
Pace: 93.4 (28) OffRtg: 97.7 (29) DefRtg: 107.3 (29) NetRtg: -9.6 (30)
Considering how well the Spurs have played over the last few weeks, Tuesday's victory was clearly the Knicks' best win of the season. And they followed that up with losses to the Wolves and Sixers to keep the best odds in the Lottery. The Minnesota game, in which the two teams shot a combined 6-for-32 from 3-point range, was particularly brutal.
This week: vs. MEM, vs. LAC, vs. BOS, @ CHI

30

Last week: 30

L.A. Lakers (18-50)
Pace: 96.6 (12) OffRtg: 100.9 (23) DefRtg: 106.9 (28) NetRtg: -6.0 (26)
It's hard to argue that Steve Nash, who announced his retirement on Saturday, isn't one of the best offensive players in NBA history. Nash's teams (in Dallas and Phoenix) led the league in offensive efficiency for nine straight seasons. There are a handful of unbreakable records in this league (most held by Wilt Chamberlain), and Nash's streak is one of them.
This week: @ OKC, @ MIN, @ TOR, @ BKN
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