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Power Rankings: Golden State Warriors again the favorites as playoffs near

John Schuhmann

John Schuhmann NBA.com

Apr 10, 2017 11:44 AM ET

Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry appear healthy and ready to lead streaking Golden State into the postseason.

Let's be clear. The Golden State Warriors were the better team in last year's Finals. They were the best team in the league and one of the best teams in NBA history.

But sometimes, the best team doesn't win. And last year was one of those times.

The Cleveland Cavaliers more than earned their first championship. It was a crowning moment for LeBron James, Kyrie Irving hit one of the biggest shots in basketball history, and Tyronn Lue did a masterful job in finding a way to beat a team that won 73 games in the regular season and was superior on both ends of the floor.

Still, the Warriors were the best team last season. And they lost. Maybe because Draymond Green was suspended for Game 5. Maybe because Stephen Curry was hurt. Maybe because they choked. Maybe because they were worn down from trying to break the regular-season record for wins. Whatever the reason(s), they lost and the internet wouldn't let them forget that they lost in historical fashion.

And of course, the Warriors are the best team this season one more time. They took that 73-win team and added Kevin Durant. They rank first in offensive efficiency and second in defensive efficiency. They have the best point differential (both per game and per 100 possessions) since the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls. They're the clear favorites to win the championship and "Warriors or the field?" is a legit question we should be asking right now.

But sometimes, the best team doesn't win.

Will the best team win this year?

The playoffs start Saturday.

  • Last week: Warriors clearly best in West as winning streak rolls through Texas
  • This time last year: Warriors headline a special season -- The Timberwolves ended the Warriors' 114-game streak of never losing after leading by 15 points or more. But the defending champs recovered to tie the '95-96 Bulls at 72 wins by handing the Spurs their first and only home loss of the season. The Lakers set a franchise record for losses for the third straight season, the Kings closed out Sleep Train Arena with a win, and Sam Hinkie walked away from the Sixers.
  • Hero team of the week: Atlanta (3-0) -- The Hawks clinched a playoff spot by winning three games against the two best teams in the Eastern Conference, pulling off a ridiculous comeback against the Cavs on Sunday.
  • Zero team of the week: Dallas (0-4) -- The Mavs are finishing the season the way they started it.
  • East vs. West: The West went 246-204 (.547) against the East in interconference games this season. The top six teams in the West all won at least 18 games against the East (Golden State and San Antonio were each 25-5), while no East team won more than 17 games against the West.
  • Toughest schedules so far: 1. Sacramento, 2. Memphis, 3. Phoenix
  • Easiest schedules so far: 1. Washington, 2. Utah, 3. Toronto
  • 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: Atlanta (+5), Brooklyn (+5), LA Clippers (+4)
  • Free falls of the week: Charlotte (-4), Five teams (-2)
  • Teams to watch this week: Chicago, Indiana and Miami -- It's down to three teams for the final two spots in the East. The Pacers are a game ahead of the other two, but would lose both tiebreakers.

* * *

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 98.7 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes and 106.3 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

Record: 66-14
Pace: 102.3 (4) OffRtg: 113.4 (1) DefRtg: 101.1 (2) NetRtg: +12.3 (1)

The Warriors got Kevin Durant back on Saturday and should have Durant and Stephen Curry together (for the first time since February) against Utah on Monday. They head into the playoffs as the No. 1 overall seed for a third straight season (the first team to do so since the Celtics in 1982, '83 and '84) and as a better defensive team than they were a year ago. They still have a chance to be the first team since the '95-96 Bulls to lead the league in both offensive and defensive efficiency, and will likely finish with the second best NetRtg (behind the plus-13.3 mark posted by those Bulls) of the last 40 years. It's just a matter of staying healthy and finishing the job better than they did last June.

This week: vs. UTA, vs. LAL

2
Last week:
2

Record: 61-19
Pace: 96.5 (27) OffRtg: 108.9 (7) DefRtg: 100.8 (1) NetRtg: +8.1 (2)

The Spurs will rank as a top-five defensive team for the fifth straight season and the 16th time in the 20 years since they drafted Tim Duncan. That they've done it without Duncan is a credit to Kawhi Leonard and their depth. The strength of their bench won't be as much of a factor in the playoffs and with no high-scoring wings on the Grizzlies, it will be interesting to see how much Leonard defends Mike Conley. He did so for just a little over two minutes in the three games he played against Memphis in the regular season, when Tony Parker was the primary Conley defender. No matter how the East plays out, Spurs-Grizz could be the lowest-scoring first round series for the second straight year.

This week: @ POR, @ UTA

3
Last week:
3

Record: 54-26
Pace: 102.6 (3) OffRtg: 111.9 (2) DefRtg: 106.1 (15) NetRtg: +5.8 (3)

In the case for Mike D'Antoni for Coach of the Year, it should be noted that not only did the Rockets make a huge jump offensively this season, but they rank as the sixth most improved defensive team, having allowed just 0.5 more points per 100 possessions than they did last season, with the league average jumping 2.3. But if you value fourth quarters over the rest of the game, then James Harden probably isn't your MVP pick. Harden has shot just 35 percent in the clutch this season and 37 percent in fourth quarters since the All-Star break. The Rockets have been outscored by 2.8 points per 100 possessions in the fourth quarter after getting outscored 78-50 in the final 12 minutes of weekend games against Detroit and Sacramento. They did get Ryan Anderson back from an ankle injury for those two games, and he made nine of his 13 3-point attempts.

This week: @ LAC, vs. MIN

4
Last week:
5

Record: 50-31
Pace: 97.2 (22) OffRtg: 109.8 (6) DefRtg: 105.0 (8) NetRtg: +4.8 (5)

Kyle Lowry isn't quite all the way back, but it's a good sign that he shot 4-for-10 on pull-up threes in his first three games coming off his wrist injury. DeMar DeRozan has carried a big load with or without Lowry, but a big reason that the Raptors had the No. 1 offense through mid-January was the point guard's improvement in shooting off the dribble. Dwane Casey used a starting big (Serge Ibaka or Jonas Valanciunas) with his Lowry-plus-bench lineup to start the second quarter last week, maybe looking to shorten his rotation in the playoffs. The Raptors will probably be the No. 3 seed, but they're the only East team in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency, having been able to sustain their defensive improvement longer than the Celtics did.

This week: @ CLE

5
Last week:
4

Record: 51-29
Pace: 99.2 (12) OffRtg: 108.5 (9) DefRtg: 105.7 (12) NetRtg: +2.8 (8)

Though they came up empty against the Cavs on Wednesday and couldn't stop the Hawks in the first half on Thursday, the Celtics still have a shot at the No. 1 seed in the East and would be first No. 1 seed that hasn't won a playoff series in the previous four seasons since the 2007-08 Celtics. Though their defense has been a bigger issue this season (only three teams have regressed more on that end of the floor), their postseason questions will start on offense, where they've scored just 93.6 points per 100 possessions in 10 playoff games over the last two years, with Isaiah Thomas shooting just 38 percent.

This week: vs. BKN, vs. MIL

6
Last week:
10

Record: 49-31
Pace: 98.3 (17) OffRtg: 109.9 (5) DefRtg: 106.0 (13) NetRtg: +3.9 (6)

This may be the last run for the Clippers and they may be hitting their stride (again) at the right time. They've won nine of their last 11 games, with the league's second best offense and eighth best defense in that span. After taking advantage a home-heavy stretch, they got a signature win in San Antonio on Saturday to move back into fourth place. They're 41-18 with Chris Paul, who has the league's best on-court NetRtg (plus-14.0) outside the Warriors' four All-Stars. They're also 3-1 against their first round opponent, with the only loss coming when the Jazz shot a season-best 14-for-21 from 3-point range last month.

This week: vs. HOU, vs. SAC

7
Last week:
6

Record: 49-31
Pace: 93.6 (30) OffRtg: 107.4 (12) DefRtg: 102.6 (3) NetRtg: +4.8 (4)

The Jazz have lost six of their last seven road games (scoring just 102 points per 100 possessions with Dante Exum shooting 8-for-31) and are 3-10 on the road against fellow West playoff teams. But more important than getting the No. 4 seed (and home-court advantage) back from the Clippers (which would likely require beating the two best teams in the league this week) is getting George Hill (who has missed the last six games) back from his groin injury. In his first two games back from a 14-game absence, Derrick Favors came off the bench and played just 32 seconds with Rudy Gobert.

This week: @ GSW, vs. SAS

8
Last week:
7

Record: 48-32
Pace: 99.7 (11) OffRtg: 108.5 (8) DefRtg: 106.9 (20) NetRtg: +1.7 (9)

Only the Grizzlies have taken a bigger step backward defensively since the All-Star break than the Wizards, who have allowed 6.0 more points per 100 possessions than they did before the break. The good thing is that the Wiz are getting a lot of high-pressure reps, as 18 of their 25 post-break games have been within five points in the last five minutes. Bradley Beal has shot 60 percent on clutch shots since the break and put the Wizards up for good with a last-minute three in New York on Thursday, but couldn't get his shot off against Hassan Whiteside in Saturday's loss to Miami. Toronto's win on Saturday locked the Wiz into the No. 4 seed, but they won't know the identity of their first round opponent until at least Tuesday.

This week: @ DET, @ MIA

9
Last week:
8

Record: 51-29
Pace: 98.4 (16) OffRtg: 111.2 (3) DefRtg: 107.9 (22) NetRtg: +3.2 (7)

Two years ago, the Cavs became the lowest ranked defensive team (they ranked 20th that season) to reach The Finals since the 1977-78 season (when the league started counting turnovers). If LeBron James is going to play for a title a seventh straight time, they'll set a new mark in that regard. The Cavs did seem to flip the switch defensively for Wednesday's win in Boston, but couldn't keep it up against the Hawks over the weekend. They're starting lineup has played just 27 games together and has Tristan Thompson and Kyrie Irving both banged up with the playoffs just five days away.

This week: @ MIA, vs. TOR

10
Last week:
9

Record: 46-34
Pace: 100.4 (8) OffRtg: 105.1 (16) DefRtg: 105.3 (10) NetRtg: -0.2 (15)

Russell Westbrook sure knows how to close. He's finishing his MVP campaign strong, registering 12 triple-doubles in his last 16 games (an 11-5 stretch for the Thunder) and leading crazy comebacks in Dallas, Orlando and Denver in the last two weeks. MVP voters probably won't be able to forget Sunday's game-winner, especially because it came at the end of triple-double No. 42. Westbrook has been a better shooter in the clutch (effective field goal percentage of 49.7 percent) than he's been otherwise (47.5 percent), even though every defense knows who's shooting the ball on late-and-close possessions. The MVP conversation will continue into the first round, because the triple-double leaders will meet in the 3-6 series. Three of the four regular season meetings between the Rockets and Thunder went down to the wire, with Westbrook (4-for-17) and Harden (2-for-8) combining to shoot 6-for-25 on clutch shots.

This week: @ MIN, vs. DEN

11
Last week:
11

Record: 40-40
Pace: 99.1 (13) OffRtg: 108.0 (11) DefRtg: 107.9 (21) NetRtg: +0.0 (14)

Russell Westbrook's latest heroics pushed the Blazers into the playoffs and a series that will match the teams with the league's two best records since March 1. The Blazers went 0-4 against Golden State, but Evan Turner had the last meeting in his hands in the closing seconds and all four games took place before the Jusuf Nurkic trade. Nurkic did some pre-game shooting last week, is scheduled to be reevaluated between Wednesday's finale and the opening game of the first round, and would give the Warriors a defensive challenge (a strong post-up big) that doesn't play into their strengths (versatility and switchability) on that end of the floor. Damian Lillard, who scored a career-high 59 points in Saturday's win over Utah, can get buckets too.

This week: vs. SAS, vs. NOP

12
Last week:
13

Record: 39-41
Pace: 97.5 (21) OffRtg: 105.0 (17) DefRtg: 104.1 (5) NetRtg: +1.0 (10)

Even over their 23-5 stretch, the Heat's margin of error was pretty thin, because their roster was thin. And they're 5-6 since they lost Dion Waiters to an ankle injury, losing three straight games that were within five points in the last five minutes before James Johnson saved the day (and maybe the season) with his game-winning drive in Washington on Saturday. They're still the only East team that ranks in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency since the All-Star break, but they need some help and need to beat a couple of good teams to make the playoffs for the 12th time in the last 14 seasons. They hold the tiebreaker over Indiana, but not Chicago.

This week: vs. CLE, vs. WAS

13
Last week:
12

Record: 41-39
Pace: 96.8 (26) OffRtg: 107.2 (13) DefRtg: 106.5 (19) NetRtg: +0.6 (12)

With a three-game losing streak, the Bucks' put a scare in their fans before recovering from an ugly first half to win in Philadelphia on Saturday and clinch a playoff spot. They've scored a paltry 91 points per 100 possessions over their last three games, their 16-9 post-break record belies their minus-22 post-break point differential (with seven of the nine losses coming by 12 points or more), and they're 4-10 against the top four seeds in the East. But for the season, they rank as the league's third most improved team statistically, 4.2 points per 100 possessions better than they were last season, and the league's biggest surprise to this power ranker, who had them 27th in his preseason rankings, because their best player was out for most of the season. Well, they developed a new best player.

This week: vs. CHA, @ BOS

14
Last week:
14

Record: 39-41
Pace: 97.6 (20) OffRtg: 104.3 (21) DefRtg: 105.3 (11) NetRtg: -1.0 (20)

The Bulls hold the tiebreaker over both Indiana and Miami, so with home games against the Magic and Nets left on their schedule, they should be in great shape. But, after Saturday's loss in Brooklyn (in which they blew a nine-point lead in the final five minutes), they're 11-12 against the teams with the league's nine worst records. Dwyane Wade's return (he had 14 points and seven rebounds in 24 minutes on Saturday) isn't necessarily a positive for these last two games, as they've been at their best (plus-4.4 points per 100 possessions) with Jimmy Butler on the floor without Wade.

This week: vs. ORL, vs. BKN

15
Last week:
20

Record: 42-38
Pace: 100.0 (10) OffRtg: 102.3 (27) DefRtg: 103.3 (4) NetRtg: -1.0 (19)

The Hawks' sweep of their home-and-home with the Cavs will go down as one of the crazier things to happen in this crazy season. On Friday, they won in Cleveland without any of their regular starters. On Sunday, they came back from 26 points down at the start of the fourth quarter to win in overtime. In both games, they got a big lift from their bench, which has had its ups and downs this season. One win in their final two games would clinch the No. 5 seed and a first round matchup with Washington. The two teams combined to score just 95.1 points per 100 possessions in their four regular season meetings, the lowest mark of any potential playoff matchup (first round or otherwise).

This week: vs. CHA, @ IND

16
Last week:
19

Record: 40-40
Pace: 98.2 (18) OffRtg: 105.9 (15) DefRtg: 106.4 (18) NetRtg: -0.5 (16)

No team has taken a bigger step backward defensively this season than the Pacers, who have allowed 6.1 points per 100 possessions than they did last season. But they picked up two critical wins last week when they held two above-average offenses (Toronto and Milwaukee) under a point per possession. And they actually won a road game (after losing eight straight) in Orlando on Saturday. Paul George has turned it up with his team's season on the line, averaging 32.1 points on 53 percent shooting over the last seven games. He has registered career-high marks in both effective field goal percentage (53.0 percent) and true shooting percentage (58.4 percent) and this is the highest the Pacers have ranked offensively in the last five seasons. They control their own destiny, but still need need a couple of more results to go their way, as they'd lose tiebreakers to both Chicago and Miami.

This week: @ PHI, vs. ATL

17
Last week:
17

Record: 43-38
Pace: 94.8 (28) OffRtg: 104.7 (18) DefRtg: 104.5 (6) NetRtg: +0.2 (13)

It's Spurs-Grizzlies again. Mike Conley and Marc Gasol will be healthy this time, but the Grizzlies won't be going into the series with much more momentum than they did last year. They've lost eight of their last 11 games, with the 25th ranked offense in that stretch, with David Fizdale going with a preseason rotation in Sunday's loss to Detroit. The home team won all four regular season meetings between Memphis and San Antonio, and three of the four were within single digits, in part because the series was played at such a slow pace (90.1 possessions per 48 minutes).

This week: vs. DAL

18
Last week:
16

Record: 38-42
Pace: 100.6 (7) OffRtg: 110.1 (4) DefRtg: 110.9 (30) NetRtg: -0.8 (17)

On the other side of Russell Westbrook's ridiculous performance on Sunday was a team eliminated from playoff contention by the game-winning three. The Nuggets and Blazers were two of the league's most improved teams in the league after their Feb. 13 center swap, but the team that took the bigger step forward is the one that's heading to the postseason. The Nuggets discovered their new franchise player this season and Mike Malone proved that he can put together a potent offense. But in order to build a winner around Nikola Jokic, they have to defend a lot better.

This week: @ DAL, @ OKC

19
Last week:
15

Record: 36-44
Pace: 98.0 (19) OffRtg: 107.0 (14) DefRtg: 106.1 (16) NetRtg: +0.8 (11)

Since the birth of the Bobcats in 2004, Charlotte has made three trips to the playoffs. And each time, they've fallen short the following year. This season was about defensive regression, especially on the perimeter, where they've allowed 201 more 3-pointers than they did last season. Only the Hawks have seen a bigger increase in the percentage of their opponents' shots that have come from 3-point range, and no defense allowed more threes in the clutch. The Hornets were relatively healthy this year, but things went downhill when Cody Zeller was injured in late January and they will finish with the league's biggest drop-off in winning percentage from last season. Frank Kaminsky's late-season improvement (he's averaged 15.4 points on an effective field goal percentage of 52 percent since Feb. 1 after averaging just 9.9 points on 45 percent prior) is encouraging, but came a little too late. Kaminsky and Zeller have started just six games together, but Charlotte has outscored its opponents by 12.2 points per 100 possessions with both of them on the floor.

This week: @ MIL, @ ATL

20
Last week:
18

Record: 33-47
Pace: 100.1 (9) OffRtg: 103.4 (26) DefRtg: 105.0 (7) NetRtg: -1.7 (21)

The Pelicans have had the fifth most improved offense since the All-Star break, 3.6 points per 100 possessions better than it was before the break. But they've still been below average on offense and better with DeMarcus Cousins off the floor (109.7 points scored per 100 possessions) than with him on the floor (102.5). Whether or not the Cousins-Anthony Davis combo eventually functions better, the Pels are desperate for help on the wings. But if re-signing Jrue Holiday is priority No. 1, wings will need to be found in the bargain bin. The Cousins trade hasn't really eased the pressure on the front office to put more talent around Davis.

This week: @ LAL, @ POR

21
Last week:
23

Record: 37-43
Pace: 97.0 (25) OffRtg: 103.4 (25) DefRtg: 105.2 (9) NetRtg: -1.8 (22)

The Pistons got impressive road wins in Houston and Memphis over the weekend and have scored at least 110 points per 100 possessions in three straight games for the first time since early December. But it was too little, too late for a team that never found any consistency, whether Reggie Jackson was playing or not. Stan Van Gundy will need to decide if a healthier Jackson is the guy he wants running his team next season and how much he's willing to spend to retain Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. With Aron Baynes likely gone in free agency, the back-up center job will belong to Boban Marjanovic, who scored 41 points (on 16-for-24 shooting) and grabbed 22 boards in the weekend wins.

This week: vs. WAS, @ ORL

22
Last week:
27

Record: 20-60
Pace: 103.6 (1) OffRtg: 102.3 (28) DefRtg: 108.0 (24) NetRtg: -5.7 (27)

With a post-break NetRtg of minus-0.0, the Nets have been the most improved team since the All-Star break, 8.0 points per 100 possessions better than they were before it (minus-8.1). Jeremy Lin's return has helped them rank seventh in offensive improvement (3.6 points per 100 possessions better) and a more favorable schedule has played a part in the most improved defense (4.5 better). But Kenny Atkinson and his team have also earned their 11-13 post-break record. If Sean Marks doesn't feel too burned by his 0-3 record with restricted free agents, it's safe to assume he'll be targeting Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Otto Porter in July, though not to take playing time away from Caris LeVert, who is clearly the team's best young prospect.

This week: @ BOS, @ CHI

23
Last week:
21

Record: 32-48
Pace: 94.1 (29) OffRtg: 103.8 (23) DefRtg: 106.3 (17) NetRtg: -2.5 (23)

The Mavs started the season by losing 13 of their first 15 games and might finish it by losing 10 of their last 11. Their current four-game losing streak (in which they've scored just 100.5 points per 100 possessions) has featured losses to the Kings and Suns, as well as the Spurs without six of the top eight guys in their rotation. The season of transition saw them finally start to build for the future and they'll get another year from Dirk Nowitzki, but it could be the guys in their prime - Harrison Barnes and Wesley Matthews - that determine if they can get back on track offensively next season.

This week: vs. DEN, @ MEM

24
Last week:
22

Record: 31-49
Pace: 97.1 (23) OffRtg: 108.1 (10) DefRtg: 109.0 (26) NetRtg: -0.9 (18)

There's no momentum from season to season, but the Wolves aren't exactly making it clear that they're going to take a step forward next season. They had a 9-5 stretch from mid-February to mid-March in which they allowed 103 points per 100 possessions, but since then, they're 3-11, having allowed 117.6. Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins continue to put up big numbers - they combined for 81 points in Sunday's loss in L.A. - but defensive improvement will need to start with the two former No. 1 picks. You have to wonder if Tom Thibodeau regrets not keeping Kevin Garnett around this season to make sure guys were dialed in defensively. Having only one guy barking from the sidelines wasn't enough, apparently.

This week: vs. OKC, @ HOU

25
Last week:
24

Record: 31-49
Pace: 97.0 (24) OffRtg: 104.4 (20) DefRtg: 109.1 (27) NetRtg: -4.7 (25)

With the league increasing pace of play again this season, Dave Joerger slowed things down in Sacramento. The Kings averaged 5.2 fewer possessions per 48 minutes than they did last season (no other team had a drop of more than 2.3) and didn't see a very big uptick (0.9 per 48) after trading DeMarcus Cousins and turning things over to the kids after the All-Star break. It's hard to imagine this team ending its playoff drought before it reaches 13 or 14 seasons (it now stands at 11), but the young guys have been fun to watch in the early days of the post-Boogie era. Buddy Hield and Skal Labissiere have combined to average 30.8 points on 49 percent shooting over the last five games.

This week: vs. PHX, @ LAC

26
Last week:
25

Record: 30-51
Pace: 98.6 (15) OffRtg: 104.6 (19) DefRtg: 108.7 (25) NetRtg: -4.1 (24)

It would make sense for the Knicks and Carmelo Anthony to part ways this summer, but trading a guy with a no-trade clause and a $26 million salary is a lot easier said than done. And if the Knicks did everything that made sense, Derrick Rose would have been bought out after the trade deadline. Kristaps Porzingis showed some improvement this season, but not as much as he could have if he had a proper point guard and a competent franchise around him. The Knicks would need to take a big step forward on one end of the floor or the other to compete for a playoff spot next season and should be one of the more aggressive shoppers in the point guard market this summer.

This week: vs. PHI

27
Last week:
29

Record: 25-55
Pace: 100.7 (6) OffRtg: 103.6 (24) DefRtg: 110.9 (29) NetRtg: -7.3 (30)

The Lakers' first four-game winning streak in almost four years, capped by D'Angelo Russell's buzzer-beating game-winner on Sunday, has hurt their chances of keeping their first round pick. But by allowing less than 103 points per 100 possessions over the streak, they have a chance to avoid finishing last in defensive efficiency for two straight seasons (and becoming just the fifth team to do so in the last 40 years). The game-winner was a catch-and-shoot attempt, but Russell has shot 38 percent on pull-up threes since the break, up from 30 percent before it. The Lakers saw a lot of in-season improvement from Julius Randle and Brandon Ingram, but Russell's off-the-dribble game will be critical to opening things up for everybody else.

This week: vs. NOP, @ GSW

28
Last week:
26

Record: 28-52
Pace: 101.0 (5) OffRtg: 100.3 (30) DefRtg: 106.0 (14) NetRtg: -5.7 (28)

The Sixers will finish last in offensive efficiency for the fourth straight season, but have been the second most improved team in the league, 4.3 points per 100 possessions better than they were last season. They've been much better in close games, going 21-22 in games that were within five points in the last five minutes after registering a 5-30 record in those games last season. The pieces are in place for another step forward and they could have two more Lottery picks if the Lakers fall out of the top three. It's just a question of whether their young core - Joel Embiid in particular - can stay healthy and if Bryan Colangelo wants to expedite the process by trading for more experience.

This week: vs. IND, @ NYK

29
Last week:
28

Record: 28-52
Pace: 99.1 (14) OffRtg: 101.4 (29) DefRtg: 108.0 (23) NetRtg: -6.6 (29)

The Magic took a loss on their two Serge Ibaka trades, but the one that sent him away did give them a functioning (and relatively young) starting lineup that has scored at a high rate (111.4 points allowed per 100 possessions in 481 total minutes with either Nikola Vucevic or Bismack Biyombo at center) over the last seven weeks. Still, the bench stinks, they rank last in 3-point percentage, and an upgrade in the starting lineup might be necessary to take a real step forward. Three of the four teams involved in the 2012 Dwight Howard trade - the Magic, Sixers and Lakers - have the league's three worst records since then, with their only playoff appearance being the Lakers getting swept in the first round by the Spurs in Howard's only season there. Rob Hennigan is the only GM involved in that trade that's still in the same position.

This week: @ CHI, vs. DET

30
Last week:
30

Record: 24-57
Pace: 102.8 (2) OffRtg: 104.0 (22) DefRtg: 109.1 (28) NetRtg: -5.1 (26)

With a two-game winning streak (that followed a 13-game losing streak), the Suns have matched last season's win total, which probably says more about that team than this one. Benching their vets has provided their young guys with reps and they'll add another top-six pick in June, but those vets are still under contract for at least another two years and they don't exactly have an opening for that next rookie to find playing time. Brandon Knight will probably be shopped, especially if the draft lands them a guard. Next season will be about the continued development of Devin Booker and it will help if he's a part of a more cohesive offense, rather than the my-turn, your-turn stuff that produced the league's second lowest assist rate this season.

This week: @ SAC


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