Looking back at the preseason Power Rankings, it's easy to pick out the league's biggest surprises and disappointments. And you have to start with the two teams at the top of the standings.
The Atlanta Hawks were slotted eighth in the Eastern Conference back in October, but took the league by storm after Thanksgiving. The Golden State Warriors were clearly good, but no one knew they'd rank among the best regular-season teams we've ever seen.
On a different scale, the Milwaukee Bucks and Boston Celtics also surprised us by getting back to the postseason earlier than expected (though the Celtics still need one more win to clinch). Milwaukee had the league's worst record last season, while Boston was still in tear-down mode just two months ago.
On the opposite end of the spectrum is the Oklahoma City Thunder, who have been devastated by injuries and need to turn a 2-7 slide around if they're going to avoid missing the playoffs, which would have been unfathomable six months ago.
Anything can happen in this league, and it still has two more months of drama before a champion is crowned.
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• Last week: Spurs continue push, but haven't made it far
• This time last year: Healthy, rested Spurs head into postseason as No. 1 -- The Grizzlies and Suns were still battling for the final playoff spot in the West. Andrew Bogut suffered a broken rib, which would keep him out of the postseason. Gorgui Dieng hit a game-winner against the Rockets, and the Bucks became the third team in NBA history to go a full season without winning two games in a row.
• Plus-minus stud: Boris Diaw (SAS) was a plus-68 in four games last week.
• Plus-minus dud: Kemba Walker (CHA) was a minus-64 in four games last week.
• Hero Team of the Week: San Antonio (4-0) -- The Spurs played spoiler in Oklahoma City and swept a home-and-home with the Rockets to move up to second in the West.
• Zero Team of the Week: Charlotte (0-4) -- The Hornets played the Heat close on Tuesday, but then lost their next three games by a total of 85 points.
• High jumps of the week: Denver (+3), Indiana (+3), Milwaukee (+3)
• Free falls of the week: Oklahoma City (-5), Miami (-3), Three teams (-2)
• East vs. West: The West is 261-187 (0.583) against the East in interconference games, but was 0-3 last week. Two East-West games remain: Houston at Charlotte on Monday and Indiana at Memphis on Wednesday.
• Toughest schedules through Sunday: 1. L.A. Lakers, 2. Minnesota, 3. Sacramento
• Easiest schedules through Sunday: 1. Washington, 2. Toronto, 3. Indiana
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 96.3 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes and 103.0 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.
(65-15) Pace: 100.6 (1) OffRtg: 109.4 (2) DefRtg: 98.0 (1) NetRtg: +11.4 (1)
The Warriors have lost a little bit of their defensive edge down the stretch (they rank 14th on that end over the last two weeks
), and probably aren't catching the Clippers for the No. 1 spot in offensive efficiency. They'll still finish as just the third team (with the 1995-96 Bulls and 2009-10 Magic) in the last 38 years to rank in the top two on both ends of the floor. This week:
vs. MEM, vs. DEN
(55-26) Pace: 95.9 (17) OffRtg: 106.2 (7) DefRtg: 99.4 (3) NetRtg: +6.8 (3)
The Spurs have moved up one spot in the rankings each of the last five weeks, but won't reach No. 1, because the Warriors have been too good all season. San Antonio has outscored its opponents by a ridiculous 20 points per 100 possessions over its 11-game winning streak
, but Golden State was better (plus-20.9) over an 11-game stretch after Christmas
. This week:
(60-20) Pace: 96.2 (15) OffRtg: 106.4 (6) DefRtg: 100.6 (6) NetRtg: +5.8 (4)
Thabo Sefolosha's injury is tough to swallow in regard to both how it happened and what it means for a potential Hawks-Cavs, conference finals matchup. Sefolosha was a part of a second unit that built on leads with defense (the defensive numbers were best when he was on the floor
) and would have been a long defender to throw at LeBron James. This week:
vs. NYK, @ CHI
Pace: 94.8 (25) OffRtg: 107.5 (4) DefRtg: 104.1 (20) NetRtg: +3.5 (7)
The Cavs must like lobster rolls, because they may have booked another trip to Boston by losing twice to the Celtics over the weekend. Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love won't get their first real playoff experience until at least the conference semis. If they get to The Finals, they'll be the first below-average defensive team to get there since the 2001 Lakers.
This week: vs. DET, vs. WAS
(54-26) Pace: 96.9 (10) OffRtg: 109.8 (1) DefRtg: 102.9 (15) NetRtg: +6.9 (2)
The Clippers are 12-2 since Blake Griffin's return and rank as an above-average defense for the first time since Christmas. Despite Griffin's absence for 15 games, their starting lineup has played almost 300 more minutes than any lineup in the league
, and has been dominant. But their dreadful bench will need to step up at some point in the postseason. This week:
vs. DEN, @ PHX
(54-26) Pace: 99.2 (2) OffRtg: 104.1 (11) DefRtg: 100.8 (7) NetRtg: +3.3 (8)
Two losses to the Spurs have dropped the Rockets from second to sixth in the West, though they could still get all the way back up to second in the last three days of the season. Dwight Howard has recorded three straight double-doubles
and has averaged 23.0 points and 15.0 points per 36 minutes since his return
, but will sit out Monday's game in Charlotte. This week:
@ CHA, vs. UTA
(54-26) Pace: 94.2 (26) OffRtg: 103.0 (13) DefRtg: 99.8 (4) NetRtg: +3.2 (10)
Mike Conley (foot) and Marc Gasol (ankle) have joined Tony Allen (hamstring) on the list of Grizzlies limping into the playoffs. They've held six straight opponents under a point per possession, but have shot 30 percent from 3-point range over their last nine games
. For the season, they've shot worse from outside the paint than they did last year. This week:
@ GSW, vs. IND
(51-29) Pace: 96.3 (12) OffRtg: 105.9 (8) DefRtg: 101.2 (10) NetRtg: +4.6 (5)
The Blazers will start the playoffs on the road, but they won a series that way last year and recent history shows that home-court advantage isn't a big deal in series played between two closely-matched teams
. Arron Afflalo is now out, but C.J. McCollum (56 percent effective field goal percentage since Wesley Matthews' injury
) continues to play well. This week:
@ OKC, @ DAL
(48-32) Pace: 95.3 (22) OffRtg: 104.8 (10) DefRtg: 101.8 (11) NetRtg: +3.0 (11)
The Bulls are healthy and, after struggling at home early on, 13-3 at the United Center since Feb. 1
. Derrick Rose's jumper is still missing (he's 6-for-26 from outside the paint in three games back
), but he looked good getting to the basket in the fourth quarter
of Saturday's win over Philly. Chicago still has a shot at finishing with a top-10 mark on defense. This week:
@ BKN, vs. ATL
(43-37) Pace: 93.7 (27) OffRtg: 105.3 (9) DefRtg: 104.8 (22) NetRtg: +0.5 (16)
The Pelicans have lost three straight on the road, but get to play their last road game against a team that's on a 10-game losing streak. The Thunder play their last road game against the same team, so eighth in the West will come down to games against the Spurs and Blazers (and maybe that crazy Anthony Davis game-winner
from back in February). This week:
@ MIN, vs. SAS
(49-31) Pace: 97.3 (9) OffRtg: 107.3 (5) DefRtg: 103.7 (18) NetRtg: +3.6 (6)
Dirk Nowitzki remains a liability on defense, but after struggling through much of March, he's shot 52 percent over his last seven games
. A three-game winning streak has the Mavs on the brink of their 12th 50-win season in Nowitzki's 17 seasons in the league. And they could be meeting the Spurs in the postseason for the seventh time in those 17 seasons. This week:
@ UTA, vs. POR
Pace: 96.0 (16) OffRtg: 102.1 (18) DefRtg: 100.0 (5) NetRtg: +2.0 (12)
The Wizards' 29-12 record at the Verizon Center ties the mark for their best home record since 1989. But they won't have home-court advantage in the first round unless they win out and the Bulls go 0-2. Of course, they did go 5-1 on the road (3-0 in Chicago) in the 2014 playoffs. And they have a guy - Paul Pierce - who came up big in two road wins for Brooklyn.
This week: @ IND, @ CLE
(48-32) Pace: 95.4 (20) OffRtg: 108.3 (3) DefRtg: 105.0 (24) NetRtg: +3.3 (9)
The Raptors haven't solved their defensive issues and are 12-15 since the All-Star break. But they have a potent offense and they're relatively healthy. They have home-court advantage in the first round and a 5-1 record against potential opponents Washington (3-0) and Milwaukee (2-1)
. Maybe this is the year they finally win a seven-game playoff series. This week:
@ BOS, vs. CHA
(37-43) Pace: 92.5 (30) OffRtg: 102.7 (15) DefRtg: 102.0 (12) NetRtg: +0.7 (15)
The big story out of the Jazz's season the breakout of Rudy Gobert, who promises to be a defensive monster for years to come. But Gordon Hayward also had an under-the-radar big year. He saw another increase in his usage rate
, but got back to being rather efficient. He ranks ninth in true shooting percentage among the top 50 guys in usage rate
. This week:
vs. DAL, @ HOU
(38-42) Pace: 98.3 (5) OffRtg: 101.8 (20) DefRtg: 102.2 (14) NetRtg: -0.4 (19)
With LeBron James taking it easy, the Celtics got some assistance from the Cavs last week. But they're 22-12 (with a top-10 NetRtg
) since Feb. 3 and just one more win (or a Pacers loss) from returning to the playoffs less than two years after trading Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. Seven different Celtics have averaged double-figures over their last 10 games
. This week:
vs. TOR, @ MIL
(43-37) Pace: 98.3 (6) OffRtg: 104.1 (12) DefRtg: 103.2 (16) NetRtg: +0.9 (14)
It's a shame we can't find out how many points Russell Westbrook would score against the Thunder's dreadful defense. It also stinks that he can't play against Portland on Monday after picking up his 16th technical foul along with his 54 points in Sunday's loss in Indiana
. (Unless, of course, the NBA rescinds the technical call.) The Thunder have lost seven of nine and could be eliminated before Russ plays again. This week:
vs. POR, @ MIN
(40-40) Pace: 96.3 (13) OffRtg: 100.5 (25) DefRtg: 99.4 (2) NetRtg: +1.1 (13)
The Bucks have come up with big wins when they've needed them. Sunday's win over Brooklyn
clinched a playoff berth and made them 4-0 against the four teams trailing them in the standings over the last three weeks. A Raptors-Bucks first round series would match the teams with the longest droughts without playoff series win. Both last got one in 2001. This week:
@ PHI, vs. BOS
(37-43) Pace: 95.7 (19) OffRtg: 101.1 (23) DefRtg: 101.0 (9) NetRtg: +0.1 (17)
For the season, the 37-43 Pacers are a plus-31, while the 37-43 Nets are a minus-222
. Indiana has closed the W-L gap with a five game winning streak, but still needs help this week, and probably needs to win both of its last two games. C.J. Miles has hit five or more threes in three of the last four wins
, scoring 30 points in Sunday's big win over the Thunder
. This week:
vs. WAS, @ MEM
(37-43) Pace: 95.0 (24) OffRtg: 102.0 (19) DefRtg: 104.9 (23) NetRtg: -2.9 (22) The Nets are 8-19 against the seven teams ahead of them in the Eastern Conference standings
, with a 1-2 mark last week erasing their lead over the Pacers for the final playoff spot and with one more huge game (Monday) to go against the group. Deron Williams' post-break resurgence has slowed down. He's 8-for-32 over the last three games
. This week:
vs. CHI, vs. ORL
(39-42) Pace: 98.7 (3) OffRtg: 102.9 (14) DefRtg: 103.3 (17) NetRtg: -0.4 (18)
The Suns have changed direction a couple of times under GM Ryan McDonough and have to figure out how to get back to moving forward. They were strong (plus-6.3 points per 100 possessions
) with core pieces Eric Bledsoe, Markieff Morris and Alex Len on the floor together, and maybe the next step is all about Len's development. He turns 22 in June. This week:
(35-45) Pace: 93.1 (29) OffRtg: 101.4 (21) DefRtg: 103.9 (19) NetRtg: -2.5 (21)
The Heat had rough luck in terms of health, and it's a shame we didn't get to see Goran Dragic-Chris Bosh pick-and-pops. But they buried their own grave by blowing two leads of 15 or more points (to Detroit and Chicago) in the last nine days. Only the Kings and Lakers have been worse than the Heat (minus-6.5 NetRtg) in the second halves of games
. This week:
vs. ORL, @ PHI
(31-49) Pace: 95.2 (23) OffRtg: 102.1 (17) DefRtg: 104.1 (21) NetRtg: -2.0 (20)
Whether or not Greg Monroe has a near-done deal to play in the Triangle next season
, the Pistons might be ready to move on. They've clearly been better with just one true big on the floor and surrounding their pick-and-roll game with shooting. But they still don't know if Reggie Jackson (a restricted free agent) and Brandon Jennings can play together. This week:
@ CLE, @ NYK
Pace: 98.6 (4) OffRtg: 101.4 (22) DefRtg: 105.2 (26) NetRtg: -3.8 (24)
You know its a bad season for the Nuggets when they can't win half their games at home. Just two seasons after going 38-3 at the Pepsi Center, they went under .500 there for first time since 2003. Danilo Gallinari's scoring of late (he had 47 against the Mavs on Friday) has been encouraging, but interior defense needs to be a priority in the summer.
This week: @ LAC, @ GSW
(25-55) Pace: 95.9 (18) OffRtg: 99.6 (27) DefRtg: 105.2 (25) NetRtg: -5.6 (26)
Victor Oladipo got a game-winner
on Wednesday and the Magic made history on Saturday, combining with the Knicks to score just 15 total points in the second quarter. Orlando has been decent offensively with Oladipo, Elfrid Payton and Nikola Vucevic on the floor together
and should take a step forward on that end next season, no matter who their coach is. This week:
@ MIA, @ BKN
Pace: 95.4 (21) OffRtg: 97.6 (28) DefRtg: 100.9 (8) NetRtg: -3.2 (23)
After a disappointing season, the Hornets could have an interesting summer. With plenty of other centers on the market, the banged up Al Jefferson has a $13.5-million player option. Lance Stephenson's contract isn't all that untradeable, but they'll likely have to overpay to bring in the shooting they need to climb out of the bottom 10 in offensive efficiency.
This week: vs. HOU, @ TOR
(27-53) Pace: 97.9 (8) OffRtg: 102.2 (16) DefRtg: 106.7 (27) NetRtg: -4.6 (25)
If he believes in the success (plus-16.4 NetRtg over 427 minutes
) of his starting lineup, new Kings decision-maker Vlade Divac needs to focus on finding defenders for the bench. All other Sacramento lineups allowed 108.6 points per 100 possessions and overall, this was the only defense that ranks in the bottom five in defending shots
and forcing turnovers
. This week:
vs. LAL, @ LAL
L.A. Lakers (21-59)
Pace: 96.2 (14) OffRtg: 101.0 (24) DefRtg: 107.9 (29) NetRtg: -6.9 (27)
No matter who they add around the fringes, the Lakers are going to have an interesting mix next season. One one hand, they'll have Julius Randle and a top-five pick (unless disaster strikes at the Lottery). They'll also have Kobe Bryant in his last season, Byron Scott and his old-school values, and maybe the Connect Four Curmudgeon himself, Rajon Rondo.
This week: @ SAC, vs. SAC
(16-64) Pace: 93.6 (28) OffRtg: 96.9 (29) DefRtg: 107.0 (28) NetRtg: -10.1 (30)
Carmelo Anthony will be 31 and coming off knee surgery when next season tips off. But his last two full seasons were the best two seasons of his career. The question is what kind of a supporting cast Phil Jackson can piece together this summer. Whether or not the Knicks get a top-two pick, a jump to 63 wins
seems like a bit of a stretch, Derek Fisher. This week:
@ ATL, vs. DET
Pace: 98.1 (7) OffRtg: 93.0 (30) DefRtg: 102.1 (13) NetRtg: -9.1 (28)
The Sixers won't be getting the Thunder pick (top-18 protected), have only a small chance of getting the Lakers' pick (top-5 protected), and might not even get the Heat's pick (top-10 protected) this year. They'll add their own pick and Joel Embiid next season, but will they use free agency or a trade to take a real step forward, or will it be another year at the bottom?
This week: vs. MIL, vs. MIA
Pace: 96.9 (11) OffRtg: 99.7 (26) DefRtg: 109.3 (30) NetRtg: -9.6 (29)
Andrew Wiggins will be the Rookie of the Year and could be a top-five player eventually. There's no clear indication of whether or not Kevin Garnett is going to play again, but it sounds like Flip Saunders will be Wiggins' coach for at least another year. Saunders' offense has produced bad shots, but defense was obviously the bigger problem this season.
This week: vs. NOP, vs. OKC