Power Rankings, Week 10: Jazz stay at No. 1, but Nets closing in fast
See where all 30 teams rank after the first nine weeks of the 2020-21 season.
Over their five-game trip out West, the Brooklyn Nets allowed 116.3 points per 100 possessions, a mark which gave them the league’s 21st-ranked defense over those nine days. And it didn’t matter. The Nets shot 53%, including 45% from 3-point range, and they cut down on their turnovers, scoring more than 125 points per 100 possessions as they swept the five-game trip. And they did it without Kevin Durant for four of the five games, and without Kyrie Irving for their comeback win in Phoenix on Tuesday.
Forget about the losses to the Wizards, Thunder, Cavs and Pistons. Forget about their ongoing defensive issues. The Nets have beat every good team they’ve faced this season and they’re a dominant force offensively, even when they have only two of their three stars in uniform.
With their six-game winning streak, the Nets have climbed to No. 2 in the Power Rankings. The Utah Jazz saw their nine-game streak come to an end, but are still 20-2 over the last 6 1/2 weeks in a season in which very few teams have been able to find consistency.
Plus-Minus Players of the Week
- Right Way: Chris Boucher (TOR) was a plus-56 in four games last week.
- Wrong Way: De’Aaron Fox (SAC) was a minus-61 in four games last week.
Teams of the Week
- Make It Last Forever: Brooklyn (5-0) — Wins over the Suns, Lakers and Clippers sans Kevin Durant is a nice way to end a 5-0 road trip.
- Something Just Ain’t Right: Minnesota (0-4) — Good luck, Chris Finch.
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East vs. West
- The West is 101-75 (.574) against the East in interconference games, but the East was 20-8 last week.
Schedule strength through Week 9
- Toughest: 1. Sacramento, 2. Oklahoma City, 3. Detroit
- Easiest: 1. Orlando, 2. Phoenix, 3. L.A. Lakers
- 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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Movement in the Rankings
- High jumps of the week: Toronto (+7), Brooklyn, Chicago, Orlando, Washington (+4)
- Free falls of the week: Sacramento (-8), Detroit, Houston, Memphis (-3)
* * *
Week 10 Team to Watch
- Portland — Damian Lillard and the Blazers suffered a setback after running off six straight wins, losing to the Wizards on Saturday. But they have some big opportunities to rebound this week, with a three-game trip that takes them through Phoenix (Monday), Denver (Tuesday) and L.A., where they’ll play the Lakers on Friday night.
* * *
- Thursday’s notebook: The value of rim protection, ‘Dame Time’ and double-digit leads
- This time last year: Rockets surge into Top 5; Pelicans continue to rise — At 48-8, the Bucks had clinched a playoff spot. The Pistons bought out Reggie Jackson and Markieff Morris, who would both make their way to Los Angeles. John Beilein stepped down as coach of the Cavs, Trae Young scored a career-high 50 points against the Heat, and Bradley Beal put Andre Drummond on a poster.
- The archive: NBA.com Power Rankings
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 100.1 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes and 111.2 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.
Last Week: 1
Pace: 99.2 (21) OffRtg: 116.3 (4) DefRtg: 107.3 (2) NetRtg: +9.0 (1)
The Jazz survived some slow starts over the last three games of their nine-game winning streak (the second longest streak in the league this season), overcoming deficits against the Heat, Sixers (Philly’s first loss after leading by double-digits) and shorthanded Clippers. They erased a 15-point deficit against the #fullsquad Clippers on Friday, but they had matchup issues down the stretch as LA scored 10 points on four possessions to gain separation. The Clippers attacked Derrick Favors on two straight possessions and then went at Bojan Bogdanovic. On the other end of the floor, they were able to stifle ball movement and limit the Jazz to a season-low 13 assists and just 15 catch-and-shoot 3-point attempts, down from an average of 26.5 prior to that.
That was just the seventh Jazz game in this 20-2 stretch that has been within five points in the last five minutes, though they’ve led 14 of the 22 (and 17 of their 30 games overall) by 20 points or more. They rank second both offensively and defensively over those six and a half weeks.
The Jazz still haven’t lost at home since December, and they’ll host the champs (their first meeting of the season) at Vivint Arena on Wednesday.
Week 10: vs. CHA, vs. LAL, @ MIA, @ ORL
Last Week: 6 ↑
Pace: 101.3 (7) OffRtg: 117.8 (1) DefRtg: 114.0 (26) NetRtg: +3.7 (7)
The Nets’ five-game trip could have been better … maybe if it included a win over the Jazz. But 5-0, with wins over the Warriors, Suns, Lakers and Clippers, ain’t bad, especially because Kevin Durant was out for the last three of those. The Nets scored an amazing 125 points per 100 possessions on the trip, with three of the five opponents being teams that rank in the top six defensively and a fourth having Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. They shot 70% in the restricted area, better than 50% on other 2-point shots, and better than 45% from 3-point range. Their three leading scorers on the trip — James Harden, Kyrie Irving and Joe Harris — combined for an effective field goal percentage of 67% over the five games.
There seemed to be progress on defense and with DeAndre Jordan’s activity. The only thing to worry about is the injury that Jeff Green suffered in the fourth quarter on Sunday. The Nets have been better with Green off the floor (+6.3 points per 100 possessions) than they’ve been with him on the floor (+0.8) since the Harden trade, but he’s been soaking up a ton of minutes and providing important lineup versatility as both a small-ball five and the only true four beyond Durant. Green’s 42% from 3-point range is, by far, the best mark of his career.
Week 10: vs. SAC, vs. ORL, vs. DAL
Last Week: 2 ↓
Pace: 98.9 (24) OffRtg: 111.6 (15) DefRtg: 105.3 (1) NetRtg: +6.2 (4)
For the “probably not what you’d expect” file: When Anthony Davis (who’s out until at least the All-Star break) has been on the floor without LeBron James (238 total minutes), the Lakers have suffered more defensively, allowing 112.7 points per 100 possessions. And when James has been on the floor without Davis (560 total minutes), the bigger drop-off has been on offense, where they’ve scored 109.1 per 100.
The Lakers took care of business with another one of their late-game runs Tuesday in Minnesota, but (missing Dennis Schroder, too) they came up empty offensively in losses to Brooklyn and Miami, shooting just 28% from 3-point range (including just 3-for-20 on corner 3s). They now rank as just a slightly better than average offensive team, with, for the second straight season, the league’s biggest differential between their field goal percentage in the paint (61.2%, first) and their effective field goal percentage on shots from outside the paint (48.4%, 27th).
They have some more big games before the break, facing the Jazz, Blazers, Warriors and Suns after hosting the suddenly competent Wizards on Monday.
Week 10: vs. WAS, @ UTA, vs. POR, vs. GSW
Last Week: 4
Pace: 97.5 (29) OffRtg: 113.8 (8) DefRtg: 109.0 (6) NetRtg: +4.8 (5)
Coach Monty Williams has made some changes with his lineup, moving Frank Kaminsky in, out, and back in again. The Suns’ three most-used lineups (more than 100 minutes played) include their four permanent starters with three different guys at the four. The Kaminsky version has been the best thus far (+13.1 points per 100 possessions), though Cam Johnson was on the floor for most of the Suns’ 41-14 fourth quarter in New Orleans on Friday in which Chris Paul eviscerated the Pelicans’ pick-and-roll defense.
Speaking of pick-and-roll defense… According to Second Spectrum tracking, only three players have been the screener’s defender on more ball-screens than Deandre Ayton this season. According to Synergy tracking, Ayton has defended 21 more isolations (78) than any other player in the league. And as the Nets were completing a comeback from 24 points down on Tuesday, Landry Shamet, Jeff Green and James Harden (once, twice, thrice) all took turns blowing by Ayton for key layups (or a drive-and-kick assist in the first Harden example). The Suns rank sixth defensively, but there will be a lot more moments this season where Ayton’s ability to defend in space will be under the microscope.
Monday, when the Suns face Damian Lillard and the Blazers for the first time, could bring more of those moments.
Week 10: vs. POR, vs. CHA, @ CHI, @ MIN
Last Week: 3 ↓
Pace: 98.3 (26) OffRtg: 117.2 (3) DefRtg: 110.7 (15) NetRtg: +6.5 (3)
Down the stretch of their two weekend games, the Clippers played Marcus Morris at the five against Rudy Gobert and DeAndre Jordan. They spread the floor and went on big runs, a 13-2 run to take control against the Jazz on Friday and a 16-7 run to tie the game against the Nets on Sunday. In 36 minutes with Morris at the five alongside Paul George and Kawhi Leonard, the Clippers have scored 114 points on just 84 offensive possessions. But they’ve been hurt on the glass (grabbing just 42% of available rebounds) in 64 total minutes with Morris at the five, and after they tied the score on Sunday, Jordan reached over Morris for what turned out to be the game-winning tip-in.
Brooklyn has now accounted for two of the four losses the Clippers have suffered (they’re 16-4) with both of their stars. One of the other two came in Utah, and the Clippers got a measure of revenge by ending the Jazz’s nine-game winning streak. After hosting the streaking Wizards on Tuesday, the Clippers will finish their pre-break schedule with a five-game trip that includes another marquee Sunday game, the “Let’s see you do it in the playoffs” bowl. The Bucks swept the season series last year, handing the Clippers a 28-point L (their worst offensive performance of the season) in the game in which George and Leonard played.
Week 10: vs. WAS, @ MEM, @ MEM, @ MIL
Last Week: 5 ↓
Pace: 101.6 (6) OffRtg: 112.0 (13) DefRtg: 109.3 (7) NetRtg: +2.7 (9)
It is not breaking news to say that the Sixers have depth issues. As they’ve lost four of their last six games, they’ve been outscored by almost 23 points per 100 possessions with Joel Embiid off the floor. Dwight Howard has been one of the league’s best rim protectors when he hasn’t fouled, but his 6.6 fouls per 36 minutes lead the league by a healthy margin.
With Embiid out in Utah on Monday, the Sixers started Mike Scott at center, surrounding Ben Simmons with four shooters. And that lineup was a plus-1 in a little less than 15 minutes, scoring 40 points on 33 offensive possessions against the league’s second-ranked defense. But an early, 14-point lead was gone by the end of the second quarter and the Sixers suffered their first loss (after a 17-0 start to the season) in a game they led by double-digits. Their second such loss came on Sunday, when the Raptors took the lead early in the fourth quarter with Embiid off the floor.
Embiid remains a force offensively, scoring a career-high 50 points against the Bulls on Friday and now averaging 11.7 free throw attempts per game. But even with Embiid on the floor, the Sixers’ defense has suffered some slippage. Their three worst defensive games of the season (two with him in the lineup) have come in the last 11 days.
Week 10: @ TOR, vs. DAL, vs. CLE
Last Week: 8 ↑
Pace: 101.8 (5) OffRtg: 117.3 (2) DefRtg: 110.0 (10) NetRtg: +7.3 (2)
The Bucks’ five-game losing streak was more about the defensive end of the floor and, interestingly, more about opponent shooting in the paint than a high volume of 3-pointers (the usual issue). When you replace Jrue Holiday in the lineup with Bryn Forbes, you’re going to suffer defensively (though Forbes’ shooting has seemingly more than made up for it when you look at the lineup numbers). And, given the Bucks’ lack of size in the backcourt behind him, Holiday’s health looms as critical.
So does the offense of Khris Middleton, who struggled (11 turnovers and only 24 total points) over two games against the Raptors last week. Middleton has been more of a playmaker this season, registering a career-high assist rate of 23.4 per 100 possessions used, and the Middleton/Antetokounmpo pick-and-roll (on which the Bucks have scored more 1.2 points per possession, according to Second Spectrum tracking) has been a key ingredient of Milwaukee’s late-game offense. Toronto is a unique defensive team with unique defensive talents, but Middleton (who has had the ball for more minutes per game than Holiday) will have to be ready for more pressure from opposing defenses.
The Bucks put and end to the losing streak over the weekend, taking care of business against the Thunder and Kings. They’re now 2-8 in games that were within five points in the last five minutes and 16-5 otherwise, with no other Eastern Conference team having more than nine non-clutch wins.
Week 10: vs. MIN, vs. NOP, vs. LAC
Last Week: 9 ↑
Pace: 99.8 (17) OffRtg: 115.5 (6) DefRtg: 115.1 (28) NetRtg: +0.4 (13)
You can’t say that the Blazers ran out of gas on Saturday, because they had two days off prior to their loss to the Wizards. Maybe they were just due for a stinker after what has been a remarkable run without CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic. They had won eight of their previous nine games, with Damian Lillard making more big shots last week: four 3-pointers on an 18-2 run to close their game in Oklahoma City on Tuesday and three more clutch shots (including the game-winning and-one) in New Orleans a night later.
The Blazers’ starting lineup — with Gary Trent Jr. and Enes Kanter in place of McCollum and Nurkic — cracked the 100-minute mark last week and has been phenomenal offensively, scoring an incredible 140 points per 100 possessions. Among the 32 lineups that have played at least 100 minutes, it ranks first in effective field goal percentage (with Trent shooting 19-for-30 from 3-point range), second in turnover rate (just 7.9 per 100 possessions), and fourth in offensive rebounding percentage (with Kanter grabbing more than 12% of available offensive boards).
The Blazers have an intriguing three-game trip this week, currently holding the worst record (2-4) in games played between the eight Western Conference teams that enter Week 10 with winning records.
DAME FOR THE LEAD! pic.twitter.com/aylBn6gFKw
— NBA TV (@NBATV) February 18, 2021
Week 10: @ PHX, @ DEN, @ LAL
Last Week: 7 ↓
Pace: 98.2 (28) OffRtg: 115.7 (5) DefRtg: 111.9 (20) NetRtg: +3.8 (6)
The Nuggets can’t seem to gain the traction they need to climb into the top six in the West, maybe because they can’t play every game at home. After a 1-3 trip through the East in which the only win came against a team that’s lost 10 straight, the Nuggets have lost six of their last seven away from Ball Arena. Jamal Murray averaged 35 points (with a 50 piece in Cleveland) on an effective field goal percentage of 74% on the trip, but the opponents were more efficient (scoring more than 118 points per 100 possessions) and outscored the Nuggets by 31 points at the free throw line over the four games. JaMychal Green’s two fouls in the final 10 seconds of their loss in Washington on Wednesday were obviously the most problematic and nullified more Murray heroics.
They’ve been banged up, playing without Gary Harris and/or Paul Millsap in all 10 of their February games. But the Nuggets’ defensive issues go beyond the need for their two best defenders to be healthy. They’ve allowed 116.8 points per 100 possessions in 381 minutes with Harris and Millsap on the floor together this season, up from 101.9 in 952 minutes last season.
The Nuggets have had a rest advantage (didn’t play the day before, but the opponent did) just once so far this season. But they’ll have one in four of their last six games before the break, including a big meeting with the Blazers on Tuesday.
Week 10: vs. POR, vs. WAS, @ OKC
Last Week: 10
Pace: 101.2 (9) OffRtg: 109.4 (21) DefRtg: 109.7 (9) NetRtg: -0.3 (16)
Four positive cases on the Spurs have resulted in four game postponements, including a game that was scheduled for Monday in Indiana. They had won eight of their last 11 games before the shutdown, though they had a negative point differential (outscored by one point) over that stretch. While not playing, they’ve remained in sixth place in the Western Conference and in the top 10 defensively.
Last season was the first time since they drafted Tim Duncan that the Spurs ranked in the bottom 10 in points allowed per 100 possessions (they ranked in the top five in 18 of the 22 years in between). But they’ve have seen the league’s third biggest drop (2.9 per 100, with the league average having seen a jump of 1.1). They’re back to being among the best teams in the league at defending without fouling, ranking fourth in opponent free throw rate. And after two straight seasons in the bottom five in opponent turnover rate, they’re in the middle of the pack, with rookie Devin Vassell averaging more deflections per 36 minutes than the perennially disruptive Dejounte Murray.
If they’re back on Wednesday, the Spurs are scheduled to play two of their final five pre-break games against the Thunder and one against Brooklyn’s league-best offense.
Week 10: @ OKC, vs. NOP
Last Week: 11
Pace: 103.3 (2) OffRtg: 110.3 (20) DefRtg: 108.9 (5) NetRtg: +1.4 (10)
For the second straight season, the Warriors are the first team to surpass its win or loss total from the previous season. And this time, that’s a good note. They got win No. 16 by coming back from 19 points down against the Heat on Wednesday. Stephen Curry recovered from a poor shooting night to provide some of the heroics in overtime, but another key was the Warriors surviving his minutes off the floor.
Curry and Draymond Green both rest for the first five minutes of the second and fourth quarters, and the Warriors have been outscored in those minutes, but only by 26 points (0.8 per game) over 31 games. (Eleven teams have been worse.) Andrew Wiggins has generally been the starter on the floor for those minutes, and while the Warriors have only scored 97.1 points per 100 possessions in 265 total minutes with Wiggins on the floor without Curry or Green, they’ve only allowed 100.7. Curry’s on-off differential — the Warriors have been 3.1 points per 100 possessions better with him on the floor than they’ve been with him off the floor — is his lowest mark of the last 10 seasons in which he’s played more than five games (so not including last season).
Thanks to really good bench minutes on Saturday, the Warriors were about to win in Charlotte without their star. And then Green picked up two technical fouls, allowing the Hornets to tie the game at the free throw line with 9.3 seconds left and win the game at the buzzer. It was the second time in two nights that the Warriors blew a double-digit, fourth-quarter lead, with the Magic and Hornets combining to score 27 points on just 15 clutch possessions.
Week 10: @ NYK, @ IND, vs. CHA, @ LAL
Last Week: 19 ↑
Pace: 100.0 (16) OffRtg: 113.0 (9) DefRtg: 110.3 (12) NetRtg: +2.7 (8)
Just like that, the Raptors have a winning record and are in fifth place in the East. It didn’t come easy, though. Their four-game winning streak includes two wins over the Bucks and a comeback from 13-points down in the third quarter against the Sixers. OG Anunoby (who returned from a 10-game absence on Tuesday) and Kyle Lowry were on the floor together for just 14 minutes before Lowry turned his ankle. The Raptors are now 5-3 against the other four East teams with winning records and 6-0 in games Lowry has missed, with Norman Powell having averaged 22.7 points on an effective field goal percentage of 64% over the six games.
Playing Pascal Siakam at center did not work against Joel Embiid on Sunday, when the Raptors were outscored by 11 points in a little more than seven minutes with Siakam on the floor without Aron Baynes or Chris Boucher. But it has otherwise been a good look; Prior to Sunday, Toronto had outscored its opponents by almost 17 points per 100 possessions in 154 minutes with Siakam at the five, with especially good numbers (99.7 points allowed per 100) on defense.
They’ve got another date with Embiid on Tuesday before wrapping up their second five-games-in-seven-nights stretch of the pre-break schedule in Miami.
Week 10: vs. PHI, @ MIA, vs. HOU, vs. CHI
Last Week: 12 ↓
Pace: 99.6 (18) OffRtg: 112.9 (10) DefRtg: 114.6 (27) NetRtg: -1.6 (22)
The Mavs’ offense had found a rhythm when winter weather wiped out both of their games last week. They’d scored 124.7 points per 100 possessions over their previous seven, with Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis both shooting better than 50% from the field, 40% from 3-point range and 84% from the line. That stretch came with an increase in shots in the paint (where he shot 62%) for Porzingis. For the season, he’s registering career-high marks in both the percentage of his shots that have come in the restricted area (25% — still well below the league average) and his field goal percentage in the restricted area (71.8%).
As a team, the Mavs are a little less of a jump-shooting team than they were last season, when they ranked last in the percentage of their shots that came in the paint (43%). They rank 23rd this season at 45%, though Doncic’s rate has remained steady. Outside the paint, the All-Star starter has actually seen a big drop in his ratio of 3-point attempts to mid-range attempts, from 9.5 last season to just 2.4 this season. He’s been shooting from mid-range at a higher volume and a higher percentage, with his 47.5% from between the paint and the 3-point line ranking 21st among 65 players with at least 50 mid-range attempts.
The Mavs’ game against the ninth-place Grizzlies on Monday (the first of three head-to-head meetings) could be one of their most important games of the season.
Week 10: vs. MEM, vs. BOS, @ PHI, @ BKN
Last Week: 14
Pace: 100.1 (14) OffRtg: 111.6 (14) DefRtg: 110.4 (13) NetRtg: +1.3 (11)
On Monday, the Pacers came back from a double-digit, fourth-quarter deficit against the Bulls. But, playing Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner against a small Chicago frontline (Garrett Temple and Thaddeus Young), they gave up a couple of critical offensive boards as the Bulls opened overtime with a 9-2 run. Two nights later, the Pacers themselves blew a double-digit, fourth-quarter lead in Minnesota. But they got to another overtime when Anthony Edwards’ game-winning 3 rimmed out and, leaving Turner on the bench, they scored 13 points on nine possessions in the extra period. (Turner and Sabonis have been on the floor together for 49 of the Pacers 82 clutch minutes.)
Ultimately, it was a split of two overtime games against sub-.500 teams, and the Pacers allowed 25 second-chance points both nights. They rank third in “initial” defense (not including second-chance points), having allowed 95.2 points per 100 possessions prior to a rebound. But they rank 13th overall defensively because of all the points they’ve allowed on second opportunities. Five of their remaining six pre-break games are against teams that rank in the top 12 in offensive rebounding percentage.
Week 10: vs. GSW, @ BOS, @ NYK
Last Week: 13 ↓
Pace: 99.2 (20) OffRtg: 111.4 (16) DefRtg: 110.1 (11) NetRtg: +1.2 (12)
Kemba Walker’s roller coaster season continues. After scoring 28 points on 10-for-16 shooting in the Celtics’ win over Atlanta on Friday, Walker was just 5-for-21 in New Orleans on Sunday afternoon, going 1-for-9 in the fourth quarter and overtime. Seven of those misses were from 3-point range, but where Walker has struggled as much from mid-range. He’s 18-for-55 (33%) on pull-up 2-pointers, down from 47% last season. Over the five weeks since Walker made his season debut, the Celtics have been much more efficient with Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown on the floor without him (129.0 points scored per 100 possessions in 124 minutes) than they’ve been with all three scorers on the floor together (109.9 per 100 in 181 minutes).
There’s no running away from Walker’s ups and downs, of course. Jeff Teague has been getting DNP’d and Payton Pritchard remains a rookie. The Celtics have been giving Aaron Nesmith (another rookie) some minutes, but until Marcus Smart gets back (after the All-Star break), they’ll likely continue playing two centers together. Their third center — Robert Williams — has been a bright spot off the bench, putting up some delicious per-36 numbers over the last four games.
Week 10: @ DAL, @ ATL, vs. IND, vs. WAS
Last Week: 16
Pace: 100.1 (15) OffRtg: 110.4 (19) DefRtg: 110.9 (16) NetRtg: -0.4 (17)
The Hornets got just one game last week, and they made it a doozy, with Terry Rozier scoring 10 points on their final three possessions and stunning the Warriors at the buzzer. With the two 3-pointers that Rozier hit before the game-winner, the Hornets lead the league in clutch 3-point percentage (21-for-40, with Rozier and Devonte’ Graham a combined 14-for-23) for the second straight season. (And that mark doesn’t include a couple of the 3s they made in the final five minutes to make that game close on Saturday.)
They’re once again better in games that were within five in the last five minutes (9-5) than they are otherwise (6-10), but this time, the Hornets’ point differential is aligned with their record. Last season’s Hornets were 23-42, with the point differential of a team that was 17-48 and zero wins by more than 15 points. This season, they already have four wins by 19 points or more.
Two of those four wins have come against the Western Conference and, thanks to the postponement of a game against the Bulls last week (and assuming no more games are postponed over the next 10 days), the Hornets are finishing their pre-break schedule with 11 straight games against the West. The remaining six are all on the road, with the first two games against two of the best teams in the league right now.
— NBA (@NBA) February 21, 2021
Week 10: @ UTA, @ PHX, @ GSW, @ SAC
Last Week: 17
Pace: 99.2 (22) OffRtg: 106.6 (26) DefRtg: 109.7 (8) NetRtg: -3.1 (23)
The Heat have been much better over their 12 games since Jimmy Butler’s return (7-5, +1.0 points per 100 possessions) than they were prior (6-12, -5.9), having seen similar levels of improvement on both ends of the floor. But it was the defense (which ranks fourth since Butler’s return) that stood out on Saturday as they got their first quality win since December, holding the Lakers under a point per possession and to just 38 points in the paint (L.A.’s third lowest total of the season).
It was the third straight game where the Heat won the first quarter by double-digits, looking more like last season’s Heat. Their latest starting lineup is now their most-used lineup at 98 minutes and, like their second most-used lineup (Tyler Herro instead of Kendrick Nunn) has been strong defensively. Butler has more steals than personal fouls for the fifth straight season and the seventh time in his career. (No other player has done that in more than four seasons over the last 10 years.)
The Miami offense has yet to find its footing, ranking 24th since Butler returned to the lineup. The turnovers are slowing down, but 3-point shooting remains an issue. The Heat have shot below the league average (36.8%) from beyond the arc in six straight games and were just 8-for-36 (22%) as they lost to the star-less Clippers for the second time this season on Monday.
Week 10: @ OKC, vs. TOR, vs. UTA, vs. ATL
Last Week: 15 ↓
Pace: 100.2 (12) OffRtg: 110.5 (18) DefRtg: 111.7 (18) NetRtg: -1.2 (19)
More than a year after he was acquired from the Miami Heat, Justise Winslow made his Grizzlies debut on Saturday. He was handling the ball as a secondary playmaker and in the post (he was fourth on the team in time of possession), but he missed his first nine shots as the Suns outscored the Grizzlies, 65-34, in the first half. The Grizzlies were without four starters and it was their second loss of more than 30 points in five days. Still, it was good to see Winslow on the floor, fighting around screens, and forcing Devin Booker into tough shots. He could obviously help a team that ranks 27th in opponent effective field goal percentage on shots from outside the paint (54.5%). After ranking first defensively in January, Memphis ranks 26th this month.
We’ll likely have to wait until after the All-Star break for Jaren Jackson Jr. But the Grizzlies should have everybody else back for an important game in Dallas on Monday. It’s their first game against any of the other three teams — the Nuggets, Warriors and Mavs — currently occupying the Western Conference Play-In Club.
— Memphis Grizzlies (@memgrizz) February 17, 2021
Week 10: @ DAL, vs. LAC, vs. LAC, @ HOU
Last Week: 20 ↑
Pace: 96.3 (30) OffRtg: 107.6 (24) DefRtg: 107.5 (3) NetRtg: +0.1 (14)
The Knicks are, remarkably, playing 10 of their final 13 pre-break games against teams that currently rank no better than 20th offensively, a stretch that began with two games against the 26th-ranked Heat and will include (with a game added to the end of the schedule) two games against the 23rd-ranked Pistons. The Knicks’ own bottom-10 offense has suffered some major droughts, scoring just four points over a 10-minute stretch in Orlando on Wednesday and just eight points over an 11-minute stretch against the Wolves on Sunday. They rank fourth in the percentage of their shots that have come in the paint (53%), but 28th in paint field goal percentage (51.7%).
But their defense has been holding those bad offenses down, allowing just 104.3 points per 100 possessions as the Knicks have won four of their last five games to get back to within striking distance of both a .500 record and a spot in the East’s top six.
Warriors-Knicks on Tuesday is a matchup of two top-five defenses — New York (-4.9) and Golden State (-4.1) have seen the league’s two biggest drops in points allowed per 100 possessions — and a rematch of a game the Knicks won fairly easily a month ago.
Week 10: vs. GSW, vs. SAC, vs. IND, @ DET
Last Week: 21 ↑
Pace: 100.1 (13) OffRtg: 112.2 (12) DefRtg: 112.4 (22) NetRtg: -0.2 (15)
In time for All-Star reserve voting, Trae Young is on one of those up-ticks, having averaged 35.3 points (on an effective field goal percentage of 72% and with 10 free throws per game) and 11.3 assists over the last three games. Clint Capela has come along for the ride, the Hawks have won two out of three for the first time this month, and you could argue that their win over the Nuggets on Sunday was their best of the season.
It’s worth repeating that the Hawks are, statistically, one of the league’s most improved teams. They’ve seen the second biggest jump in point differential per 100 possessions, with its fifth most improved offense and its fourth most improved defense. But the improvement hasn’t been the same in the standings, where the Hawks are the only team with a losing record and a positive point differential, because they’ve struggled, especially defensively, in close games.
They’re 6-11 in games that were within five points in the last five minutes, with the league’s 28th-ranked clutch defense. And they’re a game and a half behind the seventh-place Knicks, who have beat them twice in games that were decided late. The Hawks were within two with 3 1/2 minutes left at Madison Square Garden on Monday, but just couldn’t get a stop, allowing the Knicks’ 24th-ranked offense to score 19 points on its final nine possessions.
Week 10: @ CLE, vs. BOS, @ OKC, @ MIA
Last Week: 22 ↑
Pace: 99.1 (23) OffRtg: 115.0 (7) DefRtg: 115.5 (29) NetRtg: -0.6 (18)
The Pelicans had allowed their opponents to shoot better than 50% from 3-point range over a 1-5 stretch, capped by a fourth quarter on Friday in which their pick-and-roll defense was shredded by Chris Paul. So they appeared to have changed their coverage for their game against the Celtics on Sunday, dropping their bigs back so that their weak-side defense wasn’t so vulnerable. They didn’t get destroyed on catch-and-shoot 3s like they had been over the last two weeks, but they were still down 24 points midway through the third quarter, getting beat more off the dribble.
So they went back to defending pick-and-rolls more aggressively and (in what may have been an act of desperation) dusted off Nicolo Melli for the fourth quarter and had him blitzing Jayson Tatum and Kemba Walker out beyond the 3-point line. And … it worked! The Pelicans allowed just 28 points on the 33 defensive possessions in which Melli was on the floor (he was even in for a the final defensive possession of regulation) and beat the Celtics in overtime.
The offense has featured more Zion Williamson, who has averaged 3.5 minutes of possession over the last seven games, up from 2.1 prior to that. The Pelicans rank third offensively (123.2 points scored per 100 possessions), with Williamson averaging 29.9 points over that stretch. Points in the restricted area or from the free throw line (where Williamson has shot a solid 77% in February) account for 94% of that scoring.
One one end of the floor, the Pelicans seem to have found what works. The other end remains a work in progress.
Week 10: vs. DET, @ MIL, @ SAS
Last Week: 26 ↑
Pace: 102.1 (3) OffRtg: 111.1 (17) DefRtg: 112.3 (21) NetRtg: -1.2 (20)
The Bulls have been making some progress defensively, ranking in the top 10 on that end of the floor in February. Last week, they got just their third and fourth wins in games they scored less than 110 points per 100 possessions. The context is that six of their 11 February games have come against teams that rank in the bottom 10 offensively and that improvement has come with poor opponent shooting from 3-point range (including just 29% over their four games last week), which could be random. They’ve actually been yielding a higher volume of shots at the rim, looking more like last season’s Bulls in that regard. They’ll play a couple of more bad offenses (those of the Rockets and Wolves) on Monday and Wednesday, but the Bulls’ last four pre-break games (starting with the Suns on Friday) are against teams that rank in the top 10 offensively. Stay tuned to see if they can climb back out of the bottom 10 defensively.
They’re back in the bottom 10, because they allowed the Kings to score 64 points in the paint on Saturday. But the Bulls themselves had 66, with Zach LaVine leading the way with 18. His 13.3 drives per game rank just 20th, but LaVine’s 58.5% shooting on drives ranks fifth in the league (minimum 100 field goal attempts), right between LeBron James and Luka Doncic.
They’ve played ugly and pretty, but each of the Bulls’ last four games (and nine of their last 12) have been within five points in the last five minutes.
Week 10: @ HOU, vs. MIN, vs. PHX, @ TOR
Last Week: 27 ↑
Pace: 99.5 (19) OffRtg: 105.8 (27) DefRtg: 111.0 (17) NetRtg: -5.3 (26)
On Friday, Chuma Okeke was part of the bench unit that allowed the Warriors to build a 13-point, fourth-quarter lead by sending extra defenders to Terrence Ross with the confidence that none of the other four guys — Michael Carter-Williams, Dwayne Bacon, Okeke and Mo Bamba — would make them pay. But it also was Okeke who hit two huge 3-pointers off feeds from Nikola Vucevic (who had a triple-double with no turnovers) as the Magic won the game with a 15-2 run down the stretch. Okeke’s performance on the other end of the floor was even more intriguing. He had three blocks, including the one illustrated below where he sniffed out Stephen Curry’s back-door cut and rejected his layup.
Carter-Williams is the guy Curry beat back door on that play, but the Magic are now 9-3 with MCW, who’s return for the last five games has led to their first 4-1 stretch since the first five games of the season. Not coincidentally, it’s also been their best defensive stretch (104.2 points allowed per 100 possessions) since early January, when Carter-Williams was lost to a foot injury. They’ve allowed just 97.2 points per 100 possessions in his 147 minutes on the floor over the five games.
After the Magic complete their two-game series with the Pistons on Tuesday, their last four pre-break games will offer MCW opportunities to guard Kyrie Irving (and/or James Harden), Donovan Mitchell, Luka Doncic and Trae Young.
Week 10: vs. DET, @ BKN, vs. UTA
Last Week: 28 ↑
Pace: 104.4 (1) OffRtg: 109.3 (22) DefRtg: 114.0 (25) NetRtg: -4.7 (25)
The key to one of the league’s three longest active winning streaks has been … Garrison Mathews and Moe Wagner? The Wizards are 4-0 with Mathews and Wagner in the starting lineup alongside Russell Westbrook, Bradley Beal and Rui Hachimura. Of course, that lineup has averaged less than eight minutes over the four wins, with Mathews and Wagner ranking eighth and ninth on the team in playing time. Bench minutes from Davis Bertans (who scored a career-high 35 points against Denver on Wednesday) and Robin Lopez (a team-high plus-46 over the winning streak) have been more critical.
Beal has averaged 33.5 points on 54% from the field and 90% from the line over the four games. Westbrook has averaged a triple-double (including 12.8 assists per night). But more important is that it’s been the Wizards’ best stretch of defense this season (105.2 points allowed per 100 possessions), even though two of the opponents (Denver and Portland) rank in the top six offensively. Hachimura was the primary defender on Damian Lillard for a portion of the game on Saturday.
This week’s schedule is the Wizards third stretch of five games in seven days. They have an L.A. back-to-back on Monday and Tuesday, and then a home-road back-to-back on Saturday and Sunday. Westbrook did play in both games of a back-to-back for the first time last week.
Week 10: @ LAL, @ LAC, @ DEN, vs. MIN, @ BOS
Last Week: 23 ↓
Pace: 101.1 (10) OffRtg: 104.8 (29) DefRtg: 110.5 (14) NetRtg: -5.6 (27)
The Thunder’s point differential (that of a 9-21 team) says their record is a little inflated. But they’ve played the league’s second toughest schedules, and they’ve lost some close games to good teams. The latest of those heartbreakers came on Tuesday, when they came back from 24 points down to lead the Blazers by five with less than five minutes left … only to be done in by Dame Time. The Thunder are 4-12 against the 13 teams that currently have winning records, with half of those 12 losses having been within five points in the last five minutes.
They got Shai Gilgeous-Alexander back from a four-game absence on Wednesday. And they got some schedule relief on Sunday, visiting Cleveland for their first game against one of the bottom three teams in the East. It allowed them to break out offensively with their third most efficient performance of the season: 117 points on 97 possessions, featuring an 31 points from Gilgeous-Alexander, who was 9-for-15 from the field and 10-for-12 from the line. With the win, the Thunder are 8-5 against the other 15 teams currently below .500.
Gilgeous-Alexander has done well with his increase in usage rate. Thanks to both improved shooting and more trips to the line (he has 29 free throw attempts in his three games since coming back from that absence), he’s seen a big jump in true shooting percentage, from 56.8% to 61.4%, a mark that ranks 12th (just ahead of the reigning MVP) among 47 players with a usage rate of 25% or higher.
Week 10: vs. MIA, vs. SAS, vs. ATL, vs. DEN
Last Week: 18 ↓
Pace: 101.0 (11) OffRtg: 112.3 (11) DefRtg: 118.0 (30) NetRtg: -5.8 (28)
The Kings have followed that out-of-nowhere 7-1 stretch with a seven-game losing streak, losing Harrison Barnes (who has missed the last three games) and Richaun Holmes (who returned from a three-game absence on Sunday) to injuries along the way. The Kings have outscored their opponents by 2.0 points per 100 possessions in 640 minutes with Barnes and Holmes on the floor together, but have been outscored by 12.8 per 100 in 407 total minutes with one on the floor without the other.
The Kings’ larger issues are obviously on defense, but Buddy Hield has had a disappointing season in the wake of Bogdan Bogdanovic’s departure. Hield has attempted the third most 3-pointers in the league, but his 36.1% from beyond the arc is below the league average (36.8%) and down from 39.4% last season. His effective field goal percentage (50.5%) is his lowest mark since his rookie season and he still doesn’t get to the line very much. Hield’s free throw rate of 12.4 attempts per 100 shots from the field ranks 145th among 165 players with at least 200 field goal attempts. It’s probably too early to worry about Tyrese Haliburton in that regard, but his rate (6.9 per 100) ranks 164th, ahead of that only that of Al Horford.
Week 10: @ BKN, @ NYK, @ DET, vs. CHA
Last Week: 24 ↓
Pace: 102.0 (4) OffRtg: 107.1 (25) DefRtg: 108.5 (4) NetRtg: -1.5 (21)
The Rockets remain banged up and shooting poorly. Before they had two weekend games postponed, P.J. Tucker saw his consecutive-games streak (which reached 267) come to an end. Victor Oladipo has missed three straight games with a foot injury, and Ray Spalding tore his Achilles just three days after signing a two-way contract. The Rockets’ losing streak is at seven games, with the team having shot less than 32% from 3-point range in all seven.
DeMarcus Cousins has remained healthy, but will reportedly seek employment elsewhere, and it will be fascinating to see if the former All-Star can secure a rotation role on a playoff team. Cousins isn’t much of a force inside, having shot just 44% in the restricted area, the worst mark among 182 players with at least 50 restricted-area attempts. He’s taken more than half of his shots from 3-point range for the first time in his career, but has shot just 33.6% from beyond the arc. One thing he’s done well is rebound. His defensive rebounding percentage of 30.8% is a career-high mark and ranks second (behind another very available center) among 287 players who’ve averaged at least 15 minutes in 15 games or more. The Rockets rank 26th in defensive rebounding percentage as a team, but have a much higher mark with Cousins on the floor (74.5%) than they do with him off the floor (70.5%).
The two longest losing streaks in the league this season could be going head-to-head in Cleveland on Wednesday.
Week 10: vs. CHI, @ CLE, @ TOR, vs. MEM
Last Week: 25 ↓
Pace: 98.2 (27) OffRtg: 107.6 (23) DefRtg: 111.9 (19) NetRtg: -4.3 (24)
The Pistons have done decently in the margins. They’ve committed 0.6 fewer turnovers than their opponents, the league’s 10th best differential. They’ve outscored their opponents by 1.4 points per game (the league’s ninth best differential) at the free throw line and played them even on second-chance opportunities. Alas, the margins are the margins. The most important thing in this game is shooting, and the Pistons are one of two teams (the Cavs are the other) that rank in the bottom five in both effective field goal percentage (27th) and opponent effective field goal percentage (26th).
And that turnover differential will suffer without Delon Wright, the team’s leader (by a healthy margin) in deflections, who’s out at least two weeks with groin strain. With Killian Hayes also on the shelf and Derrick Rose in New York, the Pistons are left with Dennis Smith Jr., Frank Jackson, and rookie Saben Lee manning the point. They’ve scored less than a point per possession over their three-game losing streak, with their new starting backcourt — Smith and Josh Jackson — having combined to shoot 4-for-23 from 3-point range. They do get to play the league’s 29th and 30th-ranked defenses this week.
Week 10: @ ORL, @ NOP, vs. SAC, vs. NYK
Last Week: 29
Pace: 101.2 (8) OffRtg: 105.7 (28) DefRtg: 112.4 (23) NetRtg: -6.7 (29)
The Wolves have been competitive. Each of their last 13 games have been decided by single digits and 12 of the 13 have been within five points in the last five minutes. The line between success and failure can be pretty thin, the Wolves are just 3-10 over that stretch (having scored just 91 points on 98 clutch possessions), and Ryan Saunders paid the price on Sunday night. The Wolves have had both D’Angelo Russell (who had knee surgery last week) and Karl-Anthony Towns available for just five of the 45 games they’ve played since acquiring Russell more than a year ago. But team president Gersson Rosas clearly thinks that his roster overhaul of last February should still have produced a record better than 11-34.
So Chris Finch is on his way to fix one of three teams that ranks in the bottom 10 on both ends of the floor. The Wolves had a seven-game stretch of solid offense through their overtime loss to the Pacers on Wednesday, but that was their fourth defeat in a game they led by double-digits in the fourth quarter and the offense turned ugly again over the weekend.
Anthony Edwards did have that dunk, though.
— NBA (@NBA) February 20, 2021
Week 10: @ MIL, @ CHI, @ WAS, vs. PHX
Last Week: 30
Pace: 98.5 (25) OffRtg: 104.0 (30) DefRtg: 113.6 (24) NetRtg: -9.6 (30)
The Cavs have the first double-digit losing streak of the season (there were seven of them last season), and nine of the 10 losses have been by 16 points or more. They did hold a double-digit lead for the first time during the streak early on Sunday, but it was gone in less than four minutes. Through Sunday, the league’s worst defense (that of the Kings) has allowed 118.0 points per 100 possessions. The Cavs have allowed more than that in each of the last 10 games.
That’s why they can have some promising offensive individual numbers from their young core and still not come close to winning. Jarrett Allen has averaged 18.5 points (on 71%) shooting and 12.8 rebounds since inheriting the starting center job from Andre Drummond, who’s on the “just hang out while we try to trade you” list. Collin Sexton has been remarkably consistent offensively, having scored 20 points or more in 19 of his 26 games. And Isaac Okoro had more 3s over the weekend (shooting 7-for-17 from beyond the arc) than he had over his previous 12 games.
The first nine losses in the streak were all to teams no worse than the 16-15 Warriors. The next two games are opportunities to get a win, but the Cavs did just crushed by the Thunder (who had lost six of their previous seven) on Sunday.
Week 10: vs. ATL, vs. HOU, @ PHI