Power Rankings, Week 11: Streaking Bucks back in Top 5
See where all 30 teams rank after the first 10 weeks of the 2020-21 season.
It was a good week for game-winners: Lamar Stevens to end the Cavs’ 10-game losing streak, Luguentz Dort at the buzzer, Luka Doncic with the step-back, Jayson Tatum in the post, and Malik Monk with a tough and-one.
Bucks-Clippers on Sunday didn’t have a game-winner (Giannis Antetokounmpo put Milwaukee ahead with a pair of free throws with 1:57 left), but it was still a great game between two of the best teams in the league. As messed up as this season has been, those can still bring us joy.
Through Sunday, 50% of games (251/501) have been within five points in the last five minutes, just a tick down from last season (51%). There have been some huge margins of victory (the latest of those coming on Sunday in Memphis), but success or failure in close games can still make or break your season.
Just ask the the Toronto Raptors, who are 7-12 in games that were within five points in the last five minutes, but 10-5 otherwise. The Denver Nuggets are in a similar boat in the Western Conference at 6-9 in games that were within five in the last five and 12-6 otherwise.
If we counted only the games that weren’t close, the Raptors would be the No. 3 seed in the East and the Nuggets would be tied for fourth in the West. The Utah Jazz (19-2) would still have the best record in the league, but the Milwaukee Bucks (17-5) would be comfortably atop the East. Instead of being the No. 6 seed at 18-14, the Blazers would be in 10th place at 6-9.
Of course, it doesn’t work that way. Point differential can inform, but it doesn’t actually count for anything. The ability to execute down the stretch of close games is a skill that matters.
The Jazz lost a close one in Miami on Friday, but remain at the top of the rankings for a third straight week, with a marquee game in Philadelphia on Wednesday.
Plus-Minus Players of the Week
- Right Way: Chris Paul (PHX) was a plus-77 in four games last week.
- Wrong Way: Danuel House Jr. (HOU) was a minus-99 in four games last week.
Teams of the Week
- Make It Last Forever: Miami (4-0) — They weren’t going to stay down for long.
- Something Just Ain’t Right: Houston (0-4) — What John Wall had to say after the Rockets’ 49-point loss to Memphis on Sunday cannot be repeated in this space.
* * *
East vs. West
- The West is 113-92 (.551) against the East in interconference games, but the East was 17-12 last week.
Schedule strength through Week 10
- Toughest: 1. Dallas, 2. Minnesota, 3. Sacramento
- Easiest: 1. Phoenix, 2. Orlando, 3. New York
- Schedule strength is based on cumulative opponent record, and adjusted for home vs. away and days of rest before a game.
* * *
Movement in the Rankings
- High jumps of the week: Miami (+5), Cleveland (+4), Washington (+4)
- Free falls of the week: Indiana (-5), Portland (-5), Atlanta (-4)
* * *
Week 11 Team to Watch
- Phoenix — There are three games between top eight teams in the Western Conference this week, and the fourth-place Suns play two of the three. They’ll visit the Lakers on Tuesday (10 p.m. ET, TNT) and host the Warriors on Thursday.
* * *
- Last week: Jazz stay at No. 1, but Nets closing in fast
- Thursday’s notebook: Luka Doncic’s 3-point attempts and Pelicans’ defense
- This time last year: Clippers climb back into Top 5; big week lies ahead for Lakers — The Bucks had won 46 of their last 51 games and Kelly Oubre Jr. was done for the season with a knee injury. Malik Monk was playing the best basketball of his career and then got suspended for violating the league’s Anti-Drug program. Jaylen Brown beat the buzzer with a 3 off a missed free throw to send Rockets-Celtics to overtime, Dennis Smith Jr. had himself a highlight, and Aaron Gordon sealed a big win in Brooklyn by rejecting Caris LeVert at the rim.
- 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 (19) OffRtg: 117.0 (3) DefRtg: 107.5 (3) NetRtg: +9.5 (1)
For the fourth straight season, the Jazz rank in the top two in regard to the (lowest) percentage of their opponents’ shots (63%) that have come from the restricted area or 3-point range. They run their opponents off the 3-point line and funnel them toward Rudy Gobert, who keeps drivers from getting all the way to the rim. So if you’re going to beat them, you’ll have to make shots in between. That’s what the Heat did on Friday, shooting 20-for-36 (56%) between the restricted area and the 3-point line in scoring 124 points on 101 possessions. The Jazz’s opponent has made 20 or more non-restricted-area 2-point shots four times this season, and three of those four occasions are their only three losses over the last 7 1/2 weeks.
The Jazz did wallop the Lakers in their most important game last week. And they recovered from the loss in Miami with one of their most efficient games of the season, 124 points on 97 possessions in Orlando on Saturday. They’re 14-0 when Donovan Mitchell has registered an effective field goal percentage of 53% or better.
The only team that has made at least 20 shots between the restricted area and the 3-point line against the Jazz and lost is the Sixers, who were 21-for-48 on those shots two weeks ago. The Jazz close out their pre-break schedule in Philly on Wednesday.
— utahjazz (@utahjazz) February 25, 2021
Week 11: @ NOP, @ PHI
Last Week: 2
Pace: 101.2 (8) OffRtg: 117.7 (2) DefRtg: 113.6 (26) NetRtg: +4.1 (7)
Kevin Durant remains on the shelf, so the Nets will go into the All-Star break with him having missed 12 of their last 13 games and with the minutes in which all three of their All-Stars have been on the floor standing at just 186. The Nets have outscored their opponents by 8.4 points per 100 possessions with all three on the floor and 7.4 per 100 in 424 total minutes with two of three on the floor (since the James Harden trade). But in 378 minutes with only one of the three on the floor (since the trade), they’ve been outscored by 2.8 per 100. While the defensive numbers have been pretty consistent, the offensive numbers have (not surprisingly) sunk when one of the three has played alone. And with Irving out against the Mavs on Saturday, the Nets’ eight-game winning streak came to an end with their least efficient offensive performance (98 points on 96 possessions) since early January.
One issue on Saturday was a 19-9 turnover differential. With how well the Nets shoot (their effective field goal percentage of 58.6% would be the highest in NBA history), their ability to care of the ball is almost as important (and also affects) their defense. Over the winning streak, they committed just 11.6 turnovers per 100 possessions, down from 14.8 per 100 prior to that.
The loss to Dallas also ended a nine-game winning streak against the Western Conference. The Nets are still 11-4 against the opposite conference and 6-1 in Western Conference arenas, finishing their pre-break schedule with two games in Texas.
Week 11: @ SAS, @ HOU
Last Week: 3
Pace: 99.0 (23) OffRtg: 110.9 (18) DefRtg: 105.1 (1) NetRtg: +5.7 (5)
It looked the like the Lakers were really (literally and figuratively) limping into the All-Star break. Not only did they need to get Anthony Davis healthy and give LeBron James (who’s played in every game) a break. Their offense — having scored just 104.2 points per 100 possessions over their last six games — was also in need of a reboot. But they got Dennis Schroder back over the weekend, ended their four-game losing streak, and held the Blazers and Warriors to just 91 per 100, forcing 36 turnovers over the two games. And while their own offensive numbers weren’t great overall, they did have a pretty potent first half (73 points on 55 possessions) against Golden State’s fifth-ranked defense on Sunday.
They’ve still slid from seventh to 18th in offensive efficiency over the last three weeks. Through the first 4 1/2 weeks of the season, the Lakers ranked third in 3-point percentage at 40.0%. Since then, they’ve shot 30.2% (worst in the league) from beyond the arc, with Marc Gasol (35.6%) the only Laker having made more than a third of his 3s over those 19 games.
With the two weekend wins, the Lakers are 5-6 in games played between the top eight teams in the West. Tuesday brings their first meeting with Chris Paul’s Phoenix Suns.
Week 11: vs. PHX, @ SAC
Last Week: 4
Pace: 97.8 (29) OffRtg: 114.4 (8) DefRtg: 108.5 (4) NetRtg: +5.9 (3)
The Suns are 14-3 since Jan. 28, with the three losses coming when their fourth-ranked defense didn’t hold up. On Wednesday, they allowed the Hornets to register 79 points in the paint or at the free throw line and score 41 points on 23 possessions with Chris Paul off the floor. In general (kind of like the Rockets with Paul and James Harden a few years ago), they’ve been much better with only one of Paul or Devin Booker on the floor (+13.4 points per 100 possessions in 697) total minutes) than they’ve been with both on the floor together (+3.8 in 663 minutes), perhaps because they have an All-Star playing against opposing second units in those minutes.
The Suns had the league’s second-ranked offense in February, with six players shooting 39% or better% on at least 2.5 3-point attempts per game over the course of the month. Booker has increased his production over time and was doing work in the post against every Blazer guard that tried defending him – Damian Lillard, Anfernee Simons, Gary Trent Jr. – as the Suns blew out the Blazers on Monday. According to Synergy tracking, Booker’s 1.18 points per possession on post-ups ranks sixth among 59 players with at least 25 post-up possessions.
The Suns have played the fewest games (they’re 4-3) within the top eight in the West, but they’ll close their pre-break schedule with their first meeting with the champs and their second of three against the Warriors.
Week 11: @ LAL, vs. GSW
Last Week: 7 ↑
Pace: 101.8 (6) OffRtg: 117.7 (1) DefRtg: 110.0 (11) NetRtg: +7.8 (2)
The Bucks were 10-5 in February, starting and ending the month with five-game winning streaks. Maybe most important is that, in the last four days, they got as many clutch wins as they had through the first nine weeks of the season (they were 2-8 in games that were within five points in the last five minutes prior to Thursday). They outscored the Pelicans and Clippers, 43-7, on fast break points, but both games went down to the wire and required some half-court execution on both ends of the floor.
Giannis Antetokounmpo got key half-court buckets in both games, taking advantage of the space Steven Adams was giving him for the go-ahead bucket on Thursday and taking advantage of the Clippers in rotation to put the Bucks up three on Sunday. Both Brook Lopez (against Zion Williamson) and Antetokounmpo (against Ivica Zubac) had huge blocks and the Bucks allowed the Pelicans and Clips (teams that rank fourth and sixth offensively) to score just 14 points on 22 clutch possessions over the two games.
The latest five-game winning streak has the Bucks within a game of the first-place Sixers in what appears to be a three-game race atop the Eastern Conference. They still have all three meetings with Philly and two against Brooklyn left to play.
Week 11: vs. DEN, @ MEM
Last Week: 5 ↓
Pace: 98.3 (25) OffRtg: 116.7 (4) DefRtg: 110.9 (15) NetRtg: +5.8 (4)
The Clippers are 3-3 against a pretty tough schedule since Paul George and Kawhi Leonard returned from seven-and three-game absences, respectively. They have the league’s fourth-ranked offense in the most efficient season in NBA history, but their disinterest in running and their inability to get to the basket could still be holding them back. Only the Knicks have taken a lower percentage of their shots in the first six seconds of the shot clock and only the Magic have taken a lower percentage of their shots in the restricted area.
Over their three losses in the last eight days, the Clippers were outscored by 43 points (56-13) on fast breaks and by 70 points (124–54) in the restricted area. 70! As they went scoreless on seven straight possessions down the stretch in Milwaukee on Sunday, they weren’t able to get to the line and got to the basket for just one of their eight shots, with George unable to finish over Jrue Holiday. Leonard’s 7-for-25 (28%) on clutch shots ranks last among players who’ve attempted at least 25. He’s 2-for-2 in the restricted area and 5-for-23 outside it.
The Clippers earned a split against Memphis by shooting 11-for-15 on corner 3s on Friday. They’ve shot an amazing 51% on corner 3s for the season, with George (64%), Marcus Morris (61%) and Leonard (58%) ranking first, second and fourth among 136 players with at least 25 attempts. If you can’t get layups, setting the record for most corner 3s per game isn’t a terrible Plan B.
Week 11: @ BOS, @ WAS
Last Week: 6 ↓
Pace: 101.4 (7) OffRtg: 111.5 (14) DefRtg: 108.6 (6) NetRtg: +2.9 (8)
Joel Embiid’s mid-range shooting, which was at 56% nine days ago, has cooled off. Embiid has shot just 5-for-23 (22%) from mid-range over the last four games, with his step-back miss in the final seconds of regulation on Saturday (after he needed to catch the ball beyond the 3-point line) allowing the Cavs to beat the Sixers in overtime. Two nights after the Sixers were the first team to hold the Mavs’ offense under a point per possession since Jan. 18, the Sixers themselves (playing without Tobias Harris) scored less than a point per possession for the first time since Jan. 11.
The Sixers have outscored their opponent from 3-point range just nine times this season. They’re 7-2 in those games and both losses have come at the hands of the Cavs. The first was in Week 1 and came without Embiid. On Saturday, the Cavs scored 56 points in the restricted area, including 10 in overtime when Embiid was, seemingly, a step slow.
After a 7-6 February, the Sixers are still holding onto first place in the Eastern Conference. They’ll finish their first-half schedule with a visit from the first-place team in the West, having been outscored by 30 points from 3-point range (54-24) when the two teams met in Utah two weeks ago.
Week 11: vs. IND, vs. UTA
Last Week: 9 ↑
Pace: 98.1 (28) OffRtg: 115.9 (5) DefRtg: 111.5 (17) NetRtg: +4.4 (6)
Dear Nuggets, layups are better than 3s. Go to the basket! Eight days after JaMychal Green committed two bad fouls in the final seconds, the Nuggets botched another late-game situation against the same team (Washington). They’re 12-6 in games that were not within five points in the last five minutes, but now 6-9 in the clutch, with five of those nine losses coming to the Kings and Wizards. That’s how you go from the No. 3 seed to the No. 7, even though you’ve been a much better team statistically. The Nuggets have seen the league’s ninth biggest jump in point differential per 100 possessions (from +2.2 to +4.4), but its ninth biggest drop in winning percentage.
Jamal Murray continues to be on a tear. He’s averaged 32.0 points on an effective field goal percentage of 69.7% (best among players with at least 50 field goal attempts) over the last two weeks, having shot 22-for-40 (55%) on both pull-up 2s and pull-up 3s over that stretch. The Nuggets have scored 122.0 points per 100 possessions and outscored their opponents by 11.6 per 100 in 894 total minutes with Murray and Nikola Jokic on the floor together. In 485 total minutes with one on the floor without the other, they’ve scored just 104.9 points per 100 possessions and been outscored by 3.9 per 100.
With that loss to the Wizards on Thursday, they’re just 5-6 against the Eastern Conference, set to face the Bulls and Pacers for the first time this week.
Week 11: @ CHI, @ MIL, @ IND
Last Week: 11 ↑
Pace: 103.7 (2) OffRtg: 109.6 (21) DefRtg: 108.5 (5) NetRtg: +1.1 (10)
The Warriors have certainly been more fun to watch on offense. (Exhibits A, B and C from their win over the Hornets on Friday.) But they’ve been better on defense, where they ranked first over the last three weeks of February, holding eight of their 12 opponents to 105 points per 100 possessions or less. The Warriors are one of three teams — the Bucks and Jazz are the others — that rank in the top 10 in both opponent field goal percentage in the restricted area (eighth) and the (lowest) percentage of their opponents’ shots that have come in the restricted area (fourth). And the two Warriors who have defended the most shots at the rim are Andrew Wiggins and Kelly Oubre Jr. Both Draymond Green (opponents have shot 50.0% at the rim when he’s been there) and Oubre (50.4%) rank in the top 10 in rim protection among 77 players who’ve defended at least 100 shots at the rim.
Green (somewhat) made up for his technical fouls from six days prior by dishing out a career-high 19 assists against Charlotte on Friday. He’d even scored in double-figures in two straight games for the first time since Dec. 2019. But he turned an ankle as the Warriors suffered through their worst offensive game of the season (91 points on 108 possessions) against the champs on Sunday. The Warriors have been outscored by 3.3 points per 100 possessions in 317 minutes with Stephen Curry on the floor without Green.
They’re 5-7 (2-5 on the road) in games played between the top eight teams in the West, set to play two big games on the road this week.
Week 11: @ POR, @ PHX
Last Week: 10
Pace: 101.0 (10) OffRtg: 109.5 (22) DefRtg: 109.8 (9) NetRtg: -0.3 (16)
The Spurs’ first game back from a nine-day hiatus was their first loss in a game they led by double-digits. They have the highest assist-turnover ratio in NBA history (2.25), but it was Patty Mills’ unusual double-dribble violation that opened the door for Luguentz Dort’s game-winner on Wednesday. The Spurs almost lost a 10-point fourth quarter lead to New Orleans on Saturday, but took care of the ball down the stretch and got an easy pick-and-roll bucket from DeMar DeRozan (who missed the Wednesday game) and Jakob Poeltl to keep the Pelicans at bay.
Poeltl has remained in the starting lineup, with LaMarcus Aldridge coming off the bench in his first two games back from a six-game absence (in which the Spurs went 5-1). Poeltl has now played more minutes with Dejounte Murray (419) than he has with Mills (384) and those minutes have been almost as good (+10.8 points per 100 possessions vs. +14.1). With the Spurs really shorthanded on Wednesday, Aldridge and Poeltl played 13 minutes together (having not played together all season prior to that) and were both on the floor down the stretch. But with DeRozan back on Saturday, they mostly subbed in and out for each other.
The Spurs are the only team without a win (they’re 0-4) in the second game of a back-to-back, and they host the Nets and Knicks on Monday and Tuesday. They’re also the only team that hasn’t had a rest-advantage game this season. Their only one of the first-half schedule is set for Thursday, with the Thunder playing in Dallas the night before.
Week 11: vs. BKN, vs. NYK, vs. OKC
Last Week: 13 ↑
Pace: 99.3 (18) OffRtg: 112.5 (12) DefRtg: 113.3 (25) NetRtg: -0.8 (19)
The Mavs came up empty offensively in Philadelphia on Thursday, but are 7-2 over the last 3 1/2 weeks with Luka Doncic averaging 31.6 points on an effective field goal percentage of 61%. He’s seemingly found his 3-point stroke, shooting 25-for-50 from beyond the arc over the last six games and draining two step-back 3s in the final 20 seconds to beat the Celtics on Tuesday.
Minutes with Doncic off the floor have also been improved over the last few weeks. Tim Hardaway Jr. has taken well to his move to the bench and Jalen Brunson is probably playing the best basketball of his career, averaging 15.9 points on an effective field goal percentage of 64% over the last seven. The Mavs closed the win over Boston with three reserves — Brunson, Hardaway and Willie Cauley-Stein — on the floor.
They still need Kristaps Porzingis, who returned from a three-game absence and scored 11 points on post-ups in Brooklyn on Saturday. With games against the Magic and Thunder this week, the Mavs (who were 8-13 a month ago) have a serious chance to going into the break with a winning record.
LUKA. INCREDIBLE. 🔥 pic.twitter.com/bggGYw44K4
— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) February 24, 2021
Week 11: @ ORL, vs. OKC
Last Week: 17 ↑
Pace: 98.8 (24) OffRtg: 108.0 (24) DefRtg: 109.6 (7) NetRtg: -1.6 (22)
The Heat have won six straight games and have had the league’s third-ranked defense over a longer, 10-3 stretch. Their overall defensive numbers weren’t great against the Raptors and Jazz on Wednesday and Friday, respectively. But they pulled out victories by winning a pair of ugly fourth quarters, holding the two top-10 offenses to just 45 points on 50 fourth-quarter possessions. The last four games have also been the Heat’s best stretch of offense (118.7 points scored per 100 possessions) this season. The 3s finally started to fall (Jimmy Butler even made three 3s for only his second time with the Heat), Bam Adebayo gave them a bunch of second chances (they’ve averaged 15.8 second-chance points over the four games), and they continued to get to the free throw line when Butler sat out their win over the Hawks on Sunday.
So the Heat are back at .500 for the first time since they were 4-4, which is when they lost Butler for three weeks. Goran Dragic returned from a nine-game absence on Wednesday and had a huge game (26 points on 9-for-15 shooting) against the Jazz two nights later. This team that was once 7-14 is suddenly in great position to go into the All-Star break with (no All-Stars and) a top-four seed in the East.
Week 11: vs. ATL, @ NOP
Last Week: 8 ↓
Pace: 99.2 (20) OffRtg: 114.7 (7) DefRtg: 115.8 (28) NetRtg: -1.1 (20)
The Blazers’ offense has finally begun to feel the affects of CJ McCollum’s absence. After scoring more than 123 points per 100 possessions over a six-game winning streak, the Blazers have scored just 106 per 100 in losing four straight. Damian Lillard has remained pretty steady, but Gary Trent Jr. (who’s taken only 25% of his shots in the paint) and Robert Covington (who’s missed his last 10 3-point attempts) have both cooled off considerably, combining for an effective field goal percentage of just 41.3% (with just seven total free throw attempts) over the losing streak.
The Blazers rank 30th in ball movement (271 passes per 24 minutes of possession) and 29th in player movement (10.5 miles traveled per 24 minutes of possession), according to Second Spectrum tracking. And when the offense has an extended scoreless streak (like six straight possessions as their game in Denver got away on Tuesday), it can certainly look stagnant. Portland is now 2-7 (0-4 without McCollum) in games played between the top eight teams in the West, with one more game within the group before the break. With the Blazers and Warriors having split two games in San Francisco in early January, their meeting in Portland on Wednesday will determine the tiebreaker.
Week 11: vs. CHA, vs. GSW, vs. SAC
Last Week: 12 ↓
Pace: 99.8 (15) OffRtg: 113.1 (9) DefRtg: 110.8 (14) NetRtg: +2.3 (9)
Over their last 20 games, the Raptors have had Kyle Lowry, OG Anunoby and Pascal Siakam all available just twice. And Lowry left one of those two games early in the third quarter. They’re 12-8 over that stretch, with seven of the eight losses having been within five points in the last five minutes. Only the Bucks (from 17-7 to 4-8) have seen a bigger drop in clutch winning percentage than the Raptors, who now have as many losses in games that were within five in the last five (they’re 7-12) as they did last season (25-12).
The latest of those 12 losses came Tuesday and Wednesday in games they made interesting after trailing by as many as 21 and 15 points, respectively. They outscored the bigger Sixers by 24 points in the paint, but allowed 10 or more corner 3s (the Sixers had 11) for the third time this season. A night later, the Raptors were a +9 from beyond the arc against the more 3-happy Heat, but were outscored by 21 (61-40) in the paint and from the free throw line.
With the loss to Miami, the Raptors are 5-5 in games played between the seven teams in that 4-10 scrum in the Eastern Conference. That includes two losses to the Celtics in which Boston allowed more than 119 points per 100 possessions. The season series is scheduled to wrap on Thursday, with the Raptors currently dealing with COVID-related absences among both the players and coaches.
Week 11: vs. DET, @ BOS
Last Week: 15
Pace: 99.1 (22) OffRtg: 111.6 (13) DefRtg: 111.0 (16) NetRtg: +0.7 (13)
Kemba Walker hasn’t played in both games of a back-to-back, but he’s averaged 27.3 ppg on an effective field goal percentage of 63% over his last four games following a game off. The latest of those was Friday, when Walker scored a season-high 32 points (with a season-high eight free throw attempts) in a comeback win over the Pacers. Speaking of comebacks, the Celtics got back to .500 by pulling a win out of a hat on Sunday, with Jayson Tatum scoring six points (all at the rim) in the final 43 seconds. They had lost their last six games that were within five points in the last five minutes (despite a couple of huge buckets from Jaylen Brown in Dallas on Tuesday) before beating Indiana and Washington over the weekend.
Having been thumped in Atlanta on Wednesday, the Celtics have lost the last four games they’ve played without Walker and have been outscored by 23 points per 100 possessions with him off the floor over the last 10 days. They’re still searching for consistency on either end of the floor, but they’ve won their last three (and are 10-5) at TD Garden, set to finish their pre-break schedule with a pair of intriguing home games.
Week 11: vs. LAC, vs. TOR
Last Week: 19 ↑
Pace: 96.8 (30) OffRtg: 108.5 (23) DefRtg: 107.4 (2) NetRtg: +1.1 (11)
The Knicks have climbed above .500 to fourth place in the Eastern Conference and to second in defensive efficiency with a 7-2 stretch in which they’ve held their opponents to just 105.6 points per 100 possessions. Julius Randle’s offense (26.6 ppg on an effective field goal percentage of 60% over the nine games) has been as consistent as its been terrific.
Elfrid Payton, meanwhile, may be Wally Pipp. With Payton missing a game for the first time on Thursday, Derrick Rose got his first start and promptly scored 11 points (on 5-for-5 shooting) in the first quarter against the Kings. While the previous starting lineup (with Payton at point guard and Nerlens Noel at center) had been outscored by 15.3 points per 100 possessions in its 118 minutes, the new group (with Rose in Payton’s place for the last three games) is a plus-15.3 per 100 in 61 total minutes.
The context, with both the Knicks’ 7-2 stretch and the performance of the new starting lineup, is the strength of schedule. Eight of the nine games (and all seven of the wins) have come against teams currently below .500, with the best win in regard to opponent record having come in a rest advantage game against the struggling Pacers on Saturday. But you can only play the games they put on the schedule and the first step toward being a good team is beating the bad ones. The Knicks will have another rest advantage when they visit the Spurs (who play the Nets the night before) on Tuesday.
Week 11: @ SAS, vs. DET
Last Week: 16 ↓
Pace: 100.7 (12) OffRtg: 110.9 (17) DefRtg: 112.1 (21) NetRtg: -1.1 (21)
In the last nine days of February, the Hornets had two of the most miraculous wins for any team this season. Terry Rozier (six points in the final minute) did his part again, but it was P.J. Washington (career-high 42 points, with two big 3s down the stretch) and Malik Monk (the game-winning and-one) who really shined in Sacramento on Sunday as Charlotte came back from eight points down with less than a minute to go.
The Hornets’ defense has not been good. It ranks 26th over the last 2 1/2 weeks and allowed the Warriors and Kings to score a combined 134 points in the paint over the weekend. The Clippers are setting a record for the most corner 3s per game (5.1) and the Hornets are allowing more than that (5.3), with the 15 they allowed the Jazz to make (on 22 attempts) on Monday being the most corner 3s any team has made in a game in the 25 years for which we have shot-location data.
But when they’ve been able to keep games close, the Hornets have been ridiculous offensively with the game on the line, scoring 142 points on 99 clutch possessions. And they’ve done it with, basically, nine different guys having contributed to their 11-5 record in games that were within five in the last five. Monk probably wouldn’t have been on the floor on Sunday were Devonte’ Graham and Gordon Hayward healthy.
— NBA (@NBA) March 1, 2021
Week 11: @ POR, @ MIN
Last Week: 18
Pace: 100.5 (13) OffRtg: 110.3 (19) DefRtg: 109.8 (8) NetRtg: +0.5 (14)
When a team records its largest margin of victory in franchise history in the year 2021, you might expect it to have made a bunch of 3s. But in beating the Rockets by 49 points on Sunday, the Grizzlies were a modest 10-for-30 from beyond the arc. Gorgui Dieng was one of only two Grizzlies to make multiple 3s, and both of his came in the final two minutes. Houston was 4-for-45 from 3-point range, but the margin was what it was because of what the Grizzlies did in the paint, where they outscored the Rockets, 74-36. It was the second time in four days (and third time this season) that the Grizzlies had more than doubled up their opponent in the paint.
Brandon Clarke’s floater hasn’t been as good as it was last season, but the Grizzlies still have four of the 27 players (Kyle Anderson, Tyus Jones, Xavier Tillman and Jonas Valanciunas) who have shot 50% or better on at least 50 non-restricted-area paint shots. Justise Winslow has seemingly caught on, doing some work in that range last week.
With the Rockets’ 84 points on 110 possessions being the least efficient performance for any team this season, the Grizzlies climbed from 15th to eighth in defensive efficiency in the span of 2 1/2 hours. They’ll close their pre-break schedule with their first meeting with the league’s No. 1 offense.
Week 11: @ WAS, vs. MIL
Last Week: 14 ↓
Pace: 100.3 (14) OffRtg: 111.1 (16) DefRtg: 110.4 (12) NetRtg: +0.7 (12)
The last five games has been the Pacers’ worst stretch of offense (106.5 points scored per 100 possessions) of the season, and it was capped by an ugly turnover when they had a chance to tie or take the lead with less than 20 seconds left in New York on Saturday. An up-tick in turnovers is one reason why their offense has struggled of late. Myles Turner (who missed an open corner 3 for the tie prior to the turnover) is also 5-for-19 from beyond the arc over the five games. He’s seen another big jump in the percentage of his shots that have come from 3-point range (to 48%) this season and his 30.5% from beyond the arc ranks 144th among 150 players who’ve attempted at least 100 3s.
The loss in New York speaks to the other issue as the Pacers have gone from 11-7 to 15-17. Statistically, there’s not a huge difference on either end of the floor from their first 18 games to the last 14. But 10 of those last 14 games have been within five points in the last five minutes and the Pacers have won just two of the 10. They’ve allowed their opponents to score 136 points on 104 clutch possessions (131 per 100) and shoot 16-for-29 (55%) on clutch 3s over that stretch. Both RJ Barrett and Julius Randle hit in-rhythm clutch 3s on Saturday when the Pacers were a little slow in closing out on the weak side of the floor.
Week 11: @ PHI, @ CLE, vs. DEN
Last Week: 24 ↑
Pace: 104.3 (1) OffRtg: 109.7 (20) DefRtg: 113.6 (27) NetRtg: -3.9 (23)
Credit the Celtics for Jayson Tatum’s game-winning bucket and shutting down the same play that the Wizards ran against Denver 11 days earlier. But the Wizards probably did more to lose a five-point lead with 45 seconds left than the Celtics did to come back on Sunday. They conceded the two Tatum layups prior to the game-winner, settled for a Russell Westbrook 3-point attempt between those two shots, and turned the ball over in the backcourt. A win would have had the Wizards within a game of the nine-place Pacers.
That was the end of a stretch of five games in seven nights in which Bradley Beal and Westbrook averaged 38 and 37 minutes per game, respectively. The Wizards have still won seven of their last nine, with five of those wins coming against the Celtics, Nuggets (x2), Blazers and Lakers. They rank ninth defensively over that stretch, having allowed just 96 points per 100 possessions in Robin Lopez’s 217 minutes on the floor and having seen big drops in opponent 3-point percentage and opponent free throw rate, along with a jump in opponent turnovers.
Week 11: vs. MEM, vs. LAC
Last Week: 22 ↑
Pace: 101.8 (4) OffRtg: 111.3 (15) DefRtg: 111.9 (20) NetRtg: -0.6 (18)
The Bulls have climbed toward .500 by winning their last six games against teams that are, like them, currently below .500. Zach LaVine has remained remarkably efficient offensively and Wendell Carter Jr. had a bit of a breakout last week, totaling 35 points, 23 rebounds and five blocks in wins over the Rockets and Wolves. He did good work taking advantage of the Rockets’ switches on Monday, rolling to the rim and sealing against smaller defenders.
Garrett Temple has been in the starting lineup (which eclipsed the 100-minute mark last week), but the Bulls’ reserves have continued to give them good minutes. Tomas Satoransky scored 16 points off the bench against Minnesota on Wednesday and had and effective field goal percentage of 69.1% (fourth best among 211 players with at least 75 field goal attempts) in February.
The Bulls’ last win against one of the 12 teams currently over .500 was against the Knicks (who were 9-12 at the time) on Feb. 1. They’re 2-10 against that group (only the Wolves have been worse), having blown a 16-point, second-half lead to the Suns on Friday. They’ll host the Nuggets on Monday, having lost the last seven meetings between the two teams.
Week 11: vs. DEN, @ NOP
Last Week: 21 ↓
Pace: 99.1 (21) OffRtg: 115.7 (6) DefRtg: 116.1 (29) NetRtg: -0.4 (17)
The good news is that an adjustment to the Pelicans’ pick-and-roll coverage has kept their opponents to just 12 3s per game (on 35% shooting) over their last four games, with catch-and-shoot attempts reduced from 30 per game over their previous 12 games to 21 per game over these last four. The bad news is that they’ve still allowed more than 120 points per 100 possessions over the last three, with their opponents averaging 58 points in the paint last week. Their loss to the Bucks on Thursday was the first time in February (and just the seventh time this season) in which the Pelicans had been outscored in the paint.
The Pelicans ranked first offensively and last defensively in February, combining with their opponents to score almost 122 points per 100 possessions over 15 games. Zion Williamson was the league’s most efficient scorer among high-usage players over those four weeks, but a 7-8 month is not going to cut it in the Western Conference. The Pelicans begin March three games in the loss column out of a play-in spot, and none of the four teams in front of them look particularly vulnerable at this point.
Week 11: vs. UTA, vs. CHI, vs. MIA
Last Week: 25 ↑
Pace: 100.7 (11) OffRtg: 104.8 (29) DefRtg: 110.7 (13) NetRtg: -5.9 (27)
The three biggest reasons that the Thunder have exceeded expectations are the same three reasons they exceeded expectations last season …
1. They’ve defended well. Only the Cavs have been worse offensively for the season and only the Rockets were worse offensively in February. But the Thunder ranked sixth defensively last month, climbing from 23rd to 13th overall.
2. They’ve been much better in close games than they’ve been otherwise. With Luguentz Dort hitting the buzzer-beating game-winner against the Spurs on Wednesday, the Thunder are 9-8 in games that were within five points in the last five minutes.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander had a quiet night as the Thunder got blown out Denver on Saturday, but still averaged 27.4 ppg on an effective field goal percentage of 69% (plus 30-for-35 from the line) over a stretch of five games in seven nights. That included a career-high 42 against San Antonio, featuring a mean step back against Tre Jones and a slick, lefty scoop around Jakob Poeltl. It was noted in this space earlier in the season, that Gilgeous-Alexander has great brakes, but he also has the ability to step on the gas.
🚨 LU DORT. CATCH. FIRE. BALLGAME. 🚨
— NBA (@NBA) February 25, 2021
Week 11: @ DAL, @ SAS
Last Week: 20 ↓
Pace: 99.7 (16) OffRtg: 112.7 (11) DefRtg: 112.9 (23) NetRtg: -0.3 (15)
The team that ranks 29th in clutch defense had, perhaps, the most memorable defensive blunder of the season on Tuesday, allowing rookie Lamar Stevens to end the Cavs’ 10-game losing streak with an easy stroll to the hoop. The Hawks continue to miss De’Andre Hunter on that end of the floor, ranking 27th defensively since losing him to a knee injury and having allowed 3.6 fewer points per 100 possessions with him on the floor than they did with him off the floor prior to that. The Hawks allowed just 101.2 per 100 in 317 minutes with Hunter and Clint Capela on the floor together, even though Trae Young was also on the floor for 277 (87%) of those 317 minutes.
They recovered from the loss in Cleveland with an easy win over the Celtics in which Danilo Gallinari scored 38 points, shooting 10-for-12 from 3-point range. Alas, Gallinari missed all 10 of his 3s in Oklahoma City and Miami over the weekend as the Hawks lost two games in which John Collins totaled 59 points on 24-for-40 from the field. It was just last season that Gallinari was a part of the league’s best lineup, but the Hawks haven’t been able to find anything close to that kind of fit, though they have outscored their opponents by 15.4 points per 100 possessions in 145 minutes with Gallinari alongside Capela.
Week 11: @ MIA, @ ORL
Last Week: 23 ↓
Pace: 99.6 (17) OffRtg: 105.1 (28) DefRtg: 111.7 (18) NetRtg: -6.7 (28)
A 4-1 stretch with the return of Michael Carter-Williams had the Magic looking competitive again. But after losing the second game of a two-game series with the Pistons (trailing by 20 at one point), they’ve seemingly switched into “we might as well go ahead and play Mo Bamba” mode. The third year big man moved ahead of Khem Birch in the rotation and totaled 13 points, eight rebounds and two blocks in 27 total minutes against two of the best teams in the league. He was on the floor for the Magic’s best stretch against the Jazz on Saturday, draining a pick-and-pop 3 and throwing down a lefty, alley-oop dunk off another pick-and-roll feed from Evan Fournier.
Of course, those buckets were preceded by an unforced turnover and followed by an ugly 15-foot floater. Bamba is playing behind the team’s best player (and the only starter who’s been healthy), but the 22-year-old needs time, and how much time the Magic are willing to give him going forward will say a lot. They’re three games out of 10th place and haven’t been nearly as good against their fellow below-.500 teams (10-7) as they were last season (28-10).
Week 11: vs. DAL, vs. ATL
Last Week: 30 ↑
Pace: 98.3 (26) OffRtg: 104.7 (30) DefRtg: 112.9 (22x) NetRtg: -8.2 (30)
The Cavs went from a 10-game losing streak to a three-game winning streak, with the defensive turnaround being more notable. They allowed more than 119 points per 100 possessions in every single one of those 10 losses, but have allowed less than 106 per 100 over the winning streak. They held the Hawks and Rockets to just 49% shooting in the restricted area and forced 18 turnovers out of the Sixers on Saturday. In edging both Atlanta and Philly, the Cavs allowed just 23 points on 31 clutch possessions.
Collin Sexton has been the more consistent and efficient of the Cavs’ starting guards, but Darius Garland did some special things in overtime on Saturday, scoring six of his 11 overtime points on drives right at Joel Embiid. Sexton (16.4) and Garland (15.6) are one of two pairs of teammates — Bradley Beal and Russell Westbrook are the other — averaging at least 15 drives per game each.
With the wins over the the Hawks and Sixers, the Cavs are 9-4 (fourth-best in the league) in games that were within five points in the last five minutes and 4-17 otherwise. They have the league’s biggest differential between their actual wins (13) and their “expected” wins (8) via their point differential.
— NBA (@NBA) February 24, 2021
Week 11: @ HOU, vs. IND
Last Week: 26 ↓
Pace: 101.0 (9) OffRtg: 112.9 (10) DefRtg: 118.7 (30) NetRtg: -5.8 (26)
The Kings got a little help from the Pistons to end their nine-game losing streak on Friday. Detroit intentionally missed two free throws with plenty of time left on the clock and still had a chance to tie on its final possession. Two nights later, the Kings were on the other end of a shake-your-head sequence, somehow losing a game they led by eight with possession of the ball and just over a minute to go. They missed a bunch of free throws, fouled Terry Rozier on a 3-point attempt, and couldn’t get the one stop they needed in the final seconds.
Even if he couldn’t have helped those clutch free throw go in, the Kings missed Tyrese Haliburton (sore calf) over the two games. Their starting lineup outscored the Pistons and Hornets by 29 points in its 30 minutes, scoring 96 points on 62 possessions (155 per 100). But they were outscored by 27 points in 66 minutes with at least one reserve on the floor, scoring just 140 points on 136 possessions (103 per 100), with Cory Joseph missing all 10 of his shots over the weekend. The Kings’ lineup with Haliburton in place of Marvin Bagley III remains one of the best in the league, having outscored its opponents by 16.8 points per 100 possessions.
Week 11: vs. LAL, @ POR
Last Week: 28
Pace: 98.3 (27) OffRtg: 107.5 (25) DefRtg: 111.9 (19) NetRtg: -4.4 (25)
The Pistons continue to have some good nights defensively. They’re one of the 11 teams that have allowed fewer points per possession than they did last season (with the league averaged having jumped 1.1 per 100) and they’ve been in the middle of the pack on that end of the floor over their last seven games. Most encouraging might be that they’ve allowed just 97.9 per 100 in Isaiah Stewart’s 134 minutes over that stretch. The rookie’s 5.1 fouls per 36 minutes are the fifth most among 247 players who’ve played at least 500 minutes this season, but the Pistons will never have to ask him to turn up the energy. Among his eight blocks over this seven game stretch was a violent chase down of fellow rookie Obi Toppin.
The Pistons have won just one of those seven games, because offense has been a struggle. Jerami Grant has seen his efficiency drop a bit over the last few weeks, and he’s not (yet) one of those “makes his teammates better” primary options. In fact, among 49 players with a usage rate of 25% or higher, Grant (11.5) and Josh Jackson (11.0) rank 44th and 46th in assists per 100 possessions used, with centers occupying the other four spots in the bottom six.
Week 11: @ TOR, @ NYK
Last Week: 27 ↓
Pace: 101.9 (3) OffRtg: 105.8 (26) DefRtg: 109.9 (10) NetRtg: -4.1 (24)
The Rockets’ offense ranked last in February, scoring a paltry 102.0 points per 100 possessions, 10.6 fewer than the league average. And they capped the month by shooting 4-for-45 (9%) from 3-point range in a 49-point loss to the Grizzlies. 4 for 45. And that was with Justin Patton making as many 3s (he was 2-for-4) as he’d made in his career (he was drafted in 2017) prior to Sunday. Their 11-game losing streak is the longest in the league this season and already includes a loss to the Cavs, who snapped their 10-game streak a night before beating the Rockets last week. Cleveland’s defense ranked 29th in February, but it held Houston to just 96 points on 94 possessions, even though the Rockets had their season low for turnovers (seven).
Apparently, Christian Wood, who has missed all of the losing streak and is a plus-42 for the season, is the most valuable player in the league. The Rockets’ most-used lineup this season has played just 58 minutes and includes James Harden, who was traded more than six weeks ago.
Week 11: vs. CLE, vs. BKN
Last Week: 29 ↓
Pace: 101.8 (5) OffRtg: 105.4 (27) DefRtg: 113.2 (24) NetRtg: -7.7 (29)
The Wolves’ new coach did not come with a new-coach bump, unless you want to count the bump in pace or the bump in opponent efficiency. Their four games under Chris Finch have been the Wolves’ fastest-paced four-game stretch of the season (106.4 possessions per 48 minutes) and the 118.3 points per 100 possessions that they allowed last week rates as their second worst defensive stretch since early January. Finch is 0-4 and the Wolves are the first team with multiple losing streaks of seven or more games this season. This eight-game streak differs from the seven-game streak early in the season, because Karl-Anthony Towns has been in uniform.
The Wolves’ most-used lineup (115 minutes) has outscored its opponents by 10.5 points per 100 possessions, but their bench has been dreadful. The Wolves have been outscored by 20.7 points per 100 possessions in Towns’ 130 minutes off the floor over the losing streak, which would have ended in Chicago on Wednesday if they weren’t outscored by 19 points (scoring just 42 points on 50 offensive possessions) in his 22 minutes on the bench. They lost in overtime in what was Beasley’s last game until late March.
Week 11: vs. CHA