Power Rankings, Week 14: Bucks climb to No. 2 as trade deadline looms
See where all 30 teams rank with less than a week until the NBA trade deadline on March 25.
The trade deadline is finally here. We have teams that are obvious buyers, teams that are obvious sellers, and players that are already sitting by the phone, waiting for the phone to ring. Two of those guys — Trevor Ariza and P.J. Tucker — found new homes last week, while a third — Blake Griffin – also made his debut with his new team. The other two — LaMarcus Aldridge and Andre Drummond – may have to wait until after the deadline, given how difficult the contracts would be to trade.
There’s bound to be a surprise or two before the trade deadline on March 25. There are a lot of teams straddling the fence between playoff contention and Lotteryville. And if you don’t like straddling the fence, now’s the time to hop off.
Plus-Minus Players of the Week
- Right Way: Montrezl Harrell (LAL) was a plus-56 in five games last week.
- Wrong Way: Aleksej Pokusevski (OKC) was a minus-59 in three games last week.
Teams of the Week
- Make It Last Forever: Atlanta (3-0) — In the Eastern Conference, an eight-game winning streak takes you from 11th place to fourth.
- Something Just Ain’t Right: Toronto (0-3) — Oh, to be a fly on the wall of Masai Ujiri’s office this week.
East vs. West
- The West is 137-116 (.542) against the East in interconference games after going 13-9 last week.
Schedule strength through Week 13
- Toughest: 1. Minnesota, 2. Dallas, 3. Washington
- Easiest: 1. Phoenix, 2. Portland, 3. San Antonio
- 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: Atlanta (+5), Milwaukee (+4), Cleveland, San Antonio (+3)
- Free falls of the week: Boston (-6), Charlotte (-5), Miami, Toronto (-4)
Week 14 Team to Watch
- Boston — This is more about the trade deadline than it is the schedule, but the Celtics do have two games in Milwaukee as a measuring stick of sorts. The first comes the day before the deadline, which is fun.
Previous Power Rankings
- Thursday’s notebook: Trae Young’s bag of tricks, Gordon Hayward in the post and Lakers’ defense still No. 1
- 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 99.9 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes and 111.3 points scored per 100 possessions this season.
NBA.com’s Power Rankings, released every Monday during the season, are just one man’s opinion. If you have an issue with the rankings, or have a question or comment for John Schuhmann, send him an e-mail or contact him via Twitter.
Last Week: 1
Pace: 100.6 (11) OffRtg: 117.9 (1) DefRtg: 113.2 (25) NetRtg: +4.6 (8)
The Nets had another one of those games where their indifference on defense allows a bad team to beat them. In ending their nine-game losing streak, the Magic had their second most efficient game of the season (121 points on 99 possessions) on Friday. Brooklyn’s switching communication was OK, but the energy and attentiveness was not.
Blake Griffin made his Nets debut on Sunday, dunked, and played most of his 15 minutes at the four alongside Nicolas Claxton, who is increasingly looking like an important piece of the Nets’ puzzle. A couple of the positive defensive moments in that loss in Orlando were Claxton blocking a Nikola Vucevic jump hook in the second quarter and “scramming” Kyrie Irving out of a mismatch with Vucevic in the third. Since he joined the rotation about a month ago, the Nets have been at their best, both defensively (99.0 points allowed per 100 possessions) and overall (+20.9 per 100) with Claxton on the floor.
The Nets have a couple of very interesting games out West this week, but they’re the team’s first back-to-back (Tuesday and Wednesday) since Feb. 15 and 16. Brooklyn has had five back-to-backs outside of Irving’s seven-game absence in early January, and he’s played in both games in two of those five.
— NBA (@NBA) March 22, 2021
Week 14: @ POR, @ UTA, @ DET
Last Week: 6 ↑
Pace: 102.5 (3) OffRtg: 116.5 (5) DefRtg: 109.3 (9) NetRtg: +7.2 (2)
P.J. Tucker, acquired by the Bucks on Friday, has been a low-usage player for a few years now. But his usage rate this season (7.8%) is the lowest among 341 players who’ve played at least 300 minutes and his field goal attempts per 36 minutes (4.9) are also a career-low mark by a healthy margin. He’s in Milwaukee to provide defense and toughness, but the Bucks will also need him to be a little more eager to shoot than he was in Houston. The Bucks’ playmakers should get him open more often than the post-Harden Rockets, though Milwaukee ranks just 19th in the percentage of their 3-point attempts (23%) that have come from the corners.
With the way the Bucks stagger their minutes, Tucker should play alongside Jrue Holiday more than he does Giannis Antetokounmpo (that was the case in his debut on Saturday), and time will tell if he’s closing games, either as a small-ball five or in a super-big lineup. His acquisition gives the Bucks the ability to play a five-man unit — Holiday, Donte DiVincenzo, Khris Middleton, Antetokounmpo and Tucker — that can switch 1-5 and defend Brooklyn’s three stars as well as anybody possibly could.
The Bucks have won 11 of their last 12 games, having outscored their opponents by 18.9 points per 100 possessions with Antetokounmpo on the floor over that stretch. After going 0-13 in games they trailed by double-digits before the All-Star break, they’ve won all three games they trailed by 10 or more over the last week and half, coming back from 19 points down in Philly on Wednesday.
Week 14: vs. IND, vs. BOS, vs. BOS, vs. NYK
Last Week: 2 ↓
Pace: 101.3 (7) OffRtg: 112.2 (13) DefRtg: 107.1 (2) NetRtg: +5.1 (7)
The Sixers are doing more than just surviving without Joel Embiid. With Embiid having played just 20 post-All-Star minutes, they’ve outscored their opponents by a league-best 14.4 points per 100 possessions and allowed a league-low 99.4 per 100 since the break. They’re 6-1 (12-3 since Feb. 17), with the only loss having come in overtime to a healthy Bucks team that has been playing it’s best basketball of the season.
With Ben Simmons out against the Kings on Saturday, Tobias Harris added eight assists (with zero turnovers) to his 29 points. He’s registering a career-high assist rate (15.8 per 100 possessions) to go along with his career-high marks in effective field goal percentage (56.0%) and true shooting percentage (60.1%). Harris scored eight of the Sixers’ final nine points in one ugly win over the Knicks last week and hit the game-winning free throws in the other. The two free throws he missed on Sunday (he was 9-for-11) are what’s keeping him from a 50/40/90 season right now.
The Sixers will face some tougher offenses (those of the Clippers and Nuggets) as they head West for the next four games.
Week 14: @ GSW, @ LAL, @ LAC
Last Week: 3 ↓
Pace: 98.4 (23) OffRtg: 114.8 (8) DefRtg: 108.2 (3) NetRtg: +6.5 (3)
There are two teams that rank in the bottom five in both free throw rate and the percentage of their shots that have come in the restricted area. One of the two is the Orlando Magic (27th and 30th), who rank 27th in offensive efficiency. The other is the Suns (30th and 27th), who rank eighth offensively, making up for their lack of layups and free throws by taking care of the ball and shooting well away from the basket.
In their first of two meetings with the Wolves last week, the Suns were outscored, 68-38, on restricted-area buckets and free throws. They shot well from the perimeter, but turned the ball over 22 times and couldn’t make up that 30-point discrepancy. They blew an 11-point, fourth-quarter lead, and when they had a chance to tie in the final minute, Devin Booker lost the ball and Chris Paul missed a three.
The Suns are still 20-5 since late January. And they’re not the only Western Conference playoff team that doesn’t get to the rim or the line a lot. The Nuggets (23rd), Mavs (24th), Blazers (26th), Jazz (27th) and Clippers (29th) all rank in the bottom eight in points per game from restricted-area buckets or free throws. It’s a jump-shooting conference and the Lakers are the exception to the rule.
Their last four losses have come at home. They’ve won their last six road games, with a four-game tip starting Tuesday in Miami.
Week 14: @ MIA, @ ORL, @ TOR, @ CHA
Last Week: 4 ↓
Pace: 99.7 (16) OffRtg: 116.6 (3) DefRtg: 109.0 (7) NetRtg: +7.6 (1)
The Jazz have lost the first quarter in four straight games, scoring just 85 points on 101 first-quarter possessions (with Donovan Mitchell, Bojan Bogdanovic and Jordan Clarkson shooting a combined 8-for-44) over that stretch. In Washington on Thursday, things got worse after that and the Wizards had their most efficient game in more than a month. The Jazz rank 26th defensively over the last 3 1/2 weeks, with their opponents having seen a bigger jump in their field goal percentage in the paint (from 52% through their first 32 games to 60% over their last nine) than they have in their effective field goal percentage from outside the paint (48% to 52%).
The offense, despite the recent first-quarter struggles, has remained pretty steady. And the Jazz’s biggest stretch of the last week was the first 3 1/2 minutes of the fourth quarter in Boston on Tuesday, when they scored 15 points on six possessions to turn a two-point deficit into a nine-point lead. Rudy Gobert played a big role in all six possessions, scoring seven of the 15 points himself, creating two more with an offensive rebound, and creating the the other six (weak-side 3-pointers) with his roll-man gravity.
The Jazz’s 34-point loss in Brooklyn on Jan. 5 was the last time their offense was held under a point per possession. They’ll have a chance for revenge on Wednesday, though this is a very different version of the Nets that they’ll be facing.
Week 14: @ CHI, vs. BKN, vs. MEM, vs. MEM
Last Week: 5 ↓
Pace: 99.0 (19) OffRtg: 111.3 (15) DefRtg: 106.0 (1) NetRtg: +5.3 (4)
The Lakers were treading water without Anthony Davis, 7-7 from after his calf injury on Feb. 14 through Saturday when LeBron James suffered a high ankle sprain. Without both of their stars, it will be hard not to sink. Their two games without James thus far have been their worst defensive game of the season (March 3 at Sacramento, when they allowed the Kings to score 123 points on 96 possessions) and their worst offensive game of the season (Sunday in Phoenix, when they scored just 94 on 99). That’s extreme.
That anemic output on Sunday came despite another productive game from Montrezl Harrell, who has averaged 20.3 points (in just 29.2 minutes) on 71% shooting since the All-Star break. Harrell continues to do most of his work right at the rim, but he’s now 21-for-49 (43%) from mid-range, having shot 4-for-29 from mid-range last season. Through Sunday, the Lakers have outscored their opponents by 4.2 points per 100 possessions (bad offense, great defense) in 304 total minutes with Harrell on the floor without James or Davis.
Week 14: @ NOP, vs. PHI, vs. CLE, vs. ORL
Last Week: 7
Pace: 98.3 (25) OffRtg: 116.6 (2) DefRtg: 111.3 (14) NetRtg: +5.2 (5)
It’s been five weeks since the Clippers last won two straight games, and their loss in Dallas on Wednesday was the third time that they’ve been held under a point per possession over that 14-game stretch. Their shooting from the first eight weeks was probably unsustainable and Paul George isn’t the only rotation guy who’s seen a big drop in effective field goal percentage since then. So have Nicolas Batum and Marcus Morris, who switched roles (Morris replaced Batum in the starting lineup) last week. The Clippers’ numbers have been great no matter who’s been on the floor with George and Kawhi Leonard, but injuries to Patrick Beverley and Serge Ibaka haven’t allowed for any time for what would be their new, when-healthy starting lineup.
The shooting drop-off puts more of a spotlight on the Clips’ inability to get to the basket and to the line. But their 73 in the restricted area (50) or at the line (23) in an easy win over Charlotte on Saturday were their season high by a wide margin (it was previously 64). If they’re going to get a second straight win this time, they’re going to do it against a team that’s won eight straight. The Clippers have been on the road for most of the last month, but will begin a nine-game homestand (that includes games against the Sixers, Bucks, Nuggets, Lakers, Blazers and Suns) on Saturday.
Week 14: vs. ATL, @ SAS, @ SAS, vs. PHI
Last Week: 8
Pace: 98.3 (24) OffRtg: 113.8 (9) DefRtg: 112.6 (24) NetRtg: +1.2 (10)
In very ’19-20 Mavs fashion, Dallas outscored its opponents by 40 points last week, but split its four games against the Clippers and Blazers. The Mavs beat LA by 16 on Wednesday and absolutely clobbered Portland on Sunday, holding both top-six offenses under a point per possession. But they lost the two games that were within five points in the last five minutes, unable to get a bucket when they really needed one. After cutting the Clippers’ 12-point, fourth-quarter lead to four on Monday, the Mavs went scoreless on their final five possessions. And in Portland on Friday, they scored just once on an eight-possession stretch as the Blazers won the game with a 12-2 run.
With his 8-for-9 performance on Sunday, Luka Doncic is an above-average 3-point shooter (37.1%) for the first time this season. After making 55 3-pointers (at a 31% clip) through his first 25 games, he’s made 57 (at 46%) over his last 13. The Mavs rank fourth offensively over that latter stretch and, having just scored 133 points per 100 possessions over two games against the Blazers’ 29th-ranked defense, will face two more defenses in the bottom five (those of the Wolves and Pelicans) this week. The Mavs have a lot of games (with nine back-to-backs) still to play, but only nine of their 31 remaining games are against the other 12 teams that are currently over .500.
This Luka dime 👀🔥 pic.twitter.com/JzhY1aidSU
— NBA TV (@NBATV) March 20, 2021
Week 14: @ MIN, vs. IND, @ NOP
Last Week: 9
Pace: 97.9 (28) OffRtg: 116.6 (4) DefRtg: 111.4 (16) NetRtg: +5.2 (6)
Now, the door is really open for Nikola Jokic to take a strong hold on the top spot in the MVP race. And Jokic continues to shoot the ball ridiculously well, one of two players (Kyrie Irving is the other) who have shot 50% or better on at least 100 non-restricted-area shots in the paint and 50% or better on at least 100 mid-range attempts. But Jokic’s free throw rate (27 attempts per 100 shots from the field) is a career-low mark and the Nuggets’ rank in the bottom five in team free throw rate for the third straight season. In a five-point loss on Sunday, they got outscored by the Pelicans, 23-8, at the line.
Gary Harris hasn’t played since January, Monte Morris has been out the last five games, and the Nuggets continue to start both Michael Porter Jr. and Paul Millsap alongside Jokic. But they’ve been much better, especially defensively, with just one of their power forwards (Porter, Millsap or JaMychal Green) alongside Jokic (+9.7 points per 100 possessions in 894 total minutes) than they’ve been with two of the three occupying the forward positions (+0.4 in 451 minutes).
Michael Malone said last week that Harris remains out for the “foreseeable future,” but a Morris return this week would allow the Nuggets to get smaller and more mobile defensively.
Week 14: @ ORL, @ TOR, @ NOP, vs. ATL
Last Week: 12 ↑
Pace: 98.7 (21) OffRtg: 115.8 (6) DefRtg: 116.7 (29) NetRtg: -1.0 (20)
If the Blazers can get to clutch time, they’re pretty good. Their 18-6 (.750) record in games that were within five points in the last five minutes would be the sixth best mark in the 25 years for which we have play-by-play data. They got there with three more clutch wins last week, coming back from 17 down with less than six minutes left against the Pelicans on Tuesday, holding off a Pelicans run on Thursday, and then blitzing the Mavs with a 17-4 run in the final five minutes on Friday. Damian Lillard was just 1-for-6 on clutch 3-pointers last week, but the one make was special, his teammates picked up the slack from beyond the arc, and he was 4-for-4 from the line in the final 5.2 seconds to complete the big comeback against New Orleans. He remains perfect (38-for-38) on clutch free throws.
Four of the five teams with higher clutch winning percentages in the last 25 years — the ’99-00 Lakers, ’03-04 Lakers, ’12-13 Heat and ’15-16 Warriors — went to The Finals, but also had much better point differentials than this team. After their 40-point loss to the Mavs on Sunday, the Blazers have the point differential of a team that’s 19-23.
They also have CJ McCollum back. After shooting 6-for-27 over his first two games back from a two-month absence, McCollum scored 32 points (shooting 7-for-13 from 3-point range) against the Mavs on Friday. The Blazers and Nets are the two teams that rank in the top six on offense and in the bottom six on defense, so we could get a lot of points when they meet (for the first time this season) on Tuesday.
Week 14: vs. BKN, @ MIA, @ ORL, @ TOR
Last Week: 14 ↑
Pace: 100.0 (15) OffRtg: 109.8 (19) DefRtg: 109.6 (10) NetRtg: +0.2 (14)
With the Spurs having played only seven games against the Eastern Conference before the break, the start of their second-half schedule is East heavy. They’re 0-3 against the Sixers, Nets and Bucks, but they’re 10-0 against the rest of the conference, having come back from 23 points down in Chicago on Wednesday. The 17-0, fourth-quarter run that put the Spurs in control included three pull-up 2-pointers from Dejounte Murray, who ranks sixth in the league with 221 pull-up 2-point attempts. The 45.7% he’s shot on pull-up 2-pointers ranks 22nd among 52 players who’ve attempted at least 100.
Murray got his first day off on Saturday, resting in Milwaukee. With all the absences they’ve had, the Spurs’ only lineup that’s played more than 83 minutes is the original starting group that included LaMarcus Aldridge, who only has a few more days on the roster (whether he’s traded or not by Thursday). But Murray and Derrick White have now played more minutes together (245, in which the Spurs have outscored their opponents by 5.3 points per 100 possessions) than they did all of last season (239).
The Spurs are just 10-10 at home, set to begin a nine-game homestand on Monday. Only three of the nine games are against teams that have winning records, but two of those three are a two-game series (Wednesday and Thursday) against the Clippers.
Week 14: vs. CHA, vs. LAC, vs. LAC, vs. CHI
Last Week: 13 ↑
Pace: 103.6 (2) OffRtg: 108.7 (22) DefRtg: 108.8 (5) NetRtg: -0.2 (17)
As a rookie, Jordan Poole was, by a comfortable margin, the least effective medium-to-high-volume shooter in the league. His effective field goal percentage of 40.6% ranked last among 248 players with at least 300 field goal attempts. Over the first 20 games of this season, while Poole’s shooting was improved (53.3%), he wasn’t getting much playing time. But after a month in the G League bubble, Poole has averaged 20.9 points on an effective field goal percentage of 66% over the last seven games. Starting in place of Stephen Curry in two games in Memphis over the weekend, Poole totaled 51 points and seven assists (with some solid playmaking within). Still just 21 years old, the 28th pick from the 2019 Draft has quickly gone from “Uh oh” to “Oh!”.
The Warriors obviously need Curry back. Three of their rotation bigs are now out due to health and safety protocols, and Draymond Green turned an ankle on Saturday. But they were able to split what may have been their most important two games of the second-half schedule, they’re in the middle of their first of three two-day breaks over the next two weeks, and eight of their next nine games are against the Eastern Conference.
Week 14: vs. PHI, @ SAC, vs. ATL
Last Week: 18 ↑
Pace: 98.7 (20) OffRtg: 113.3 (11) DefRtg: 111.5 (18) NetRtg: +1.8 (9)
Nate McMillan remains perfect (8-0) as Hawks coach and his team ranks second defensively over the winning streak, with their win over the Lakers on Saturday being the fourth time in the eight games that they’ve held their opponent under a point per possession (they did so six times in 34 games under Lloyd Pierce). The context: Five of the games have come against five of the six lowest-ranked offenses in the league, the highest-ranked offense they’ve played is that of the 10th-ranked Kings, and the 15th-ranked Lakers lost LeBron James early in the second quarter on Saturday. Tougher tests are coming as their eight-game trip continues this week.
The Hawks blew a 23-point lead in Houston on Tuesday, but survived with an 8-0 run in which John Collins (averaging 18.6 points, 8.9 rebounds and 1.8 blocks over the winning streak) grabbed two huge offensive boards that led to five of the eight points. Collins’ contract situation (he’s a restricted free agent this summer), along with the presence of Clint Capela, makes him a hot name with the trade deadline on Thursday, but he’s been both versatile (playing the four and the five) and durable (playing in all 42 games) this season. The Hawks have outscored their opponents by 15.5 points per 100 possessions in 190 minutes with a frontline of Danilo Gallinari and Clint Capela, and Nathan Knight gave them some great minutes when Capela was out for a couple of games last week, but rookie Onyeka Okongwu has yet to earn real playing time.
Week 14: @ LAC, @ SAC, @ GSW, @ DEN
Last Week: 16 ↑
Pace: 101.1 (8) OffRtg: 109.4 (20) DefRtg: 109.1 (8) NetRtg: +0.3 (13)
Game-winners don’t get much tougher than the one Ja Morant had against the Heat on Wednesday, driving left into a one-hand scoop shot, with Jimmy Butler in his shirt for the final 50 feet. Morant followed that up with a 360 layup around Draymond Green on Friday, but the Grizzlies have otherwise struggled to get buckets. With Morant shooting 34% (including 1-for-12 from 3-point range) and few of his teammates shooting much better, the Grizzlies have scored less than a point per possession over their last four games (against defenses that rank third, fifth and sixth, for context). They had a huge opportunity to move up in the standings with a two-game series at home against the Curry-less Warriors, but could only earn a split, because they shot 18-for-56 from outside the restricted area and turned the ball over 21 times on Friday.
The Grizzlies remain stout on the other end of the floor. After a six-game absence from Grayson Allen and one game of him coming off the bench, they went back to a starting lineup — Morant, Allen, Dillon Brooks, Kyle Anderson and Jonas Valanciunas — that has allowed just 100.6 points per 100 possessions, the best mark among 51 lineups that have played at least 100 minutes. It doesn’t rank particularly high in regard to forcing turnovers, but the biggest play in the Grizzlies’ win over the Warriors on Saturday was an Allen steal off a trap by Brooks and Morant.
— NBA (@NBA) March 18, 2021
Week 14: vs. BOS, @ OKC, @ UTA, @ UTA
Last Week: 11 ↓
Pace: 97.9 (27) OffRtg: 107.5 (25) DefRtg: 108.8 (6) NetRtg: -1.4 (21)
Even as the Heat won 11 of 12, their offense ranked just 17th. And as they’ve lost three straight, they’ve barely scored a point per possession, having shot 4-for-21 (19%) from mid-range and 26-for-105 (25%) from beyond the arc over the three games. Jimmy Butler’s free throws also dried up a bit, and when he was able to get to the line with the Heat down one at the end of regulation on Sunday, he missed the second of the two attempts. Down three at the end of overtime, the Heat didn’t call timeout and Butler missed a pull-up 3 at the buzzer. Nobody else was shooting particularly well, but Butler is now 25-for-121 (21%) on pull-up 3s in his two years with Miami.
The Heat traded for Trevor Ariza on Wednesday and were outscored by 26 points in his 25 total minutes in their two-game series against Indiana (his first NBA action in more than a year). After he was traded to Portland last season, Ariza (now 35 years old) shot 40% from 3-point range and was near the top of the league in deflections per game. He’ll face two of his 11 former teams this week.
Week 14: vs. PHX, vs. POR, @ CHA
Last Week: 10 ↓
Pace: 98.6 (22) OffRtg: 112.9 (12) DefRtg: 112.1 (20) NetRtg: +0.8 (11)
The Celtics stopped the bleeding with a win over the Magic on Sunday, draining 23 3-pointers (one shy of the franchise record) on 54(!) attempts. It would have been good if Kemba Walker — 2-for-7 from 3 on Sunday, 18-for-57 (32%) from outside the paint over his last six games – had a bigger role in the breakout, but the Celtics will take what they can get. On Sunday, that was 34 points (including 10 3s) from Jaylen Brown.
They went down to the wire against the Jazz on Tuesday, but the Celtics are 2-4 since the All-Star break, with the two wins coming against a team (the Rockets) that’s lost its last 20 games and a team (the Magic) that’s lost 10 of its last 11. The Celtics four best players have played just 78 minutes together, but the team has allowed 125 points per 100 possessions in those 78 minutes and staggering the minutes of those four guys limits their time on the floor together. Maybe Sunday was the start of something, but that’s been said before about this team and the trade deadline is three days away.
Week 14: @ MEM, @ MIL, @ MIL, @ OKC
Last Week: 19 ↑
Pace: 100.3 (13) OffRtg: 111.3 (16) DefRtg: 110.8 (11) NetRtg: +0.5 (12)
Last season, the Pacers were 15-17 when they scored less than 110 points per 100 possessions. Through Saturday, they were just 3-17, with their last “ugly” win coming more than two months ago (Jan. 12). But they got one on Sunday, surviving some offensive struggles down the stretch of the fourth quarter and beating Miami in overtime. Myles Turner had 10 blocks as the Pacers swept the two-game series, with the last two coming in succession (and incredibly impressive fashion) on a huge defensive possession in the extra period. Turner wouldn’t have been in the game had Domantas Sabonis not fouled out.
The big-man situation in Indiana remains a bit of a conundrum. Sabonis is the All-Star and the hub of the offense. But the Pacers have now outscored their opponents by 13.5 points per 100 possessions in Turner’s 301 minutes on the floor without Sabonis, having held their opponents to less than a point per possession. Turner has been the more efficient roll man, and almost half of his shots have come in the restricted area when Sabonis has been off the floor (vs. 33% with Sabonis on the floor).
The two wins over the previously hot Heat could be a spark for the Pacers. They’re playing 14 of their first 21 post-break games on the road and are in Milwaukee and Dallas this week, but they’re now 12-10 away from Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Week 14: @ MIL, vs. DET, @ DAL
Last Week: 17 ↓
Pace: 96.5 (30) OffRtg: 108.3 (23) DefRtg: 108.3 (4) NetRtg: +0.0 (15)
The Knicks have one of the league’s toughest second-half schedules, they went 0-3 against the Nets and Sixers last week, and they’re now 2-8 against the league’s top seven teams with the two wins having come in Weeks 1 and 3. But the three losses last week came by a total of nine points, with the Knicks almost coming all the way back from 18 points down in Brooklyn and then playing two games of ’90s Eastern Conference basketball against Philly. Tom Thibodeau’s defense is still holding up.
The offense would be better if the Knicks had a little more versatility. They closed the Brooklyn game with Julius Randle at the five, surrounded by four guards and wings. It’s a look that they tried more early in the season (44 total minutes over their first eight games) than they have of of late (only 23 minutes over the 35 games since Taj Gibson’s arrival). Down the stretch against Orlando and Philly, they mostly had Nerlens Noel or Gibson on the floor with Randle.
The key to unlocking small-ball lineups is usually a versatile and lengthy forward. The only player on the Knicks’ roster that fits the description is Kevin Knox, who’s in a lot of the Randle-at-five lineups that the Knicks have used. But Knox seemingly lost Thibodeau’s trust in late January. So if the Knicks are buyers at the deadline (they have the cap space), someone in that mold could be transformative.
— NBA (@NBA) March 19, 2021
Week 14: vs. WAS, vs. WAS, @ MIL
Last Week: 21 ↑
Pace: 99.2 (17) OffRtg: 115.5 (7) DefRtg: 115.7 (28) NetRtg: -0.2 (18)
The Pelicans continue to tease with wins over good teams. On Sunday, they won in Denver despite shooting 8-for-28 from 3-point range. Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson combined for 60 points, more than doubling up the Nuggets (17-8) at the free throw line by themselves. The Pels have played eight of the league’s top 10 teams (yet to face Philly or Brooklyn) and have wins over six of the eight.
But that win in Denver was preceded by two losses in Portland, with the Pels having led the first game by 17 points with less than six minutes left. The collapse featured some bad turnovers and bad fouls and gave them 11 losses (they’re 17-11) in games they led by double-digits. No other team has more than eight. Their second loss in Portland was the first time in more than two months that the Pelicans scored less than a point per possession. They’ve have shot worse than 30% from 3-point range in seven of their last 10 games, with Nickeil Alexander-Walker the only guy who’s shot better than 35% on at least 10 attempts from beyond the arc over that stretch.
The Pelicans are just three games into a stretch of seven straight against West teams over .500.
Week 14: vs. LAL, vs. DEN, vs. DAL
Last Week: 15 ↓
Pace: 100.8 (9) OffRtg: 110.8 (18) DefRtg: 112.2 (21) NetRtg: -1.4 (22)
LaMelo Ball appears to be done for the season, having fractured his wrist in L.A. on Saturday. It’s a brutal blow for the rookie and for NBA League Pass subscribers. The Hornets will miss his energy, his passing and even his shooting. (Prior to this season, only five rookies had shot 37% or better on at least five 3-point attempts per game. Ball is one of four rookies doing it this year.)
But the Hornets’ are equipped to survive without him. They still have Devonte’ Graham and Terry Rozier in the backcourt, and Gordon Hayward is another huge reason why they’ve been one of the league’s most improved teams this season. They’ll obviously lose some potency in transition, but Hayward has been a weapon for them in the halfcourt.
The loss of a big guard does hamper the Hornets’ ability to play small. They’ve have been much better with P.J. Washington at the five (+5.0 per 100 possessions) than they have with Cody Zeller (-0.3) or Bismack Biyombo (-6.3) on the floor. After Zeller injured his shoulder against the Lakers on Thursday, they started the third quarter with a frontline of Washington and Miles Bridges, and erased a 15-point deficit. Alas, more injuries (including an ankle turn for Washington himself) were to come and the Hornets lost the first three games of their five-game trip by a total of 63 points.
Week 14: @ SAS, @ HOU, vs. MIA, vs. PHX
Last Week: 22 ↑
Pace: 101.3 (6) OffRtg: 111.2 (17) DefRtg: 111.4 (15) NetRtg: -0.2 (19)
The Bulls have a fourth-quarter problem. They’ve been outscored in the final 12 minutes of regulation in 16 of their last 18 games and have been outscored by an amazing 22.2 points per 100 possessions in the fourth quarter over that stretch. Their lineup change (Tomas Satoransky and Thaddeus Young replacing Coby White and Wendell Carter Jr.) has helped them early in games (they won three straight first quarters by double-digits last week), but hasn’t helped them late.
Turnovers –17.7 per 100 possessions (the league’s second worst rate) in the fourth quarter over those 18 games — have been one of their issues. On Wednesday, the Bulls led by 13 after the third quarter and by eight with seven minutes left. But they committed four turnovers as the Spurs turned the game around with a 17-0 run. Two nights later, the Bulls committed five turnovers over the final seven minutes of the fourth quarter (with the last one setting up Jamal Murray’s 3 to tie) as they blew a 14-point lead. They lost in overtime, thanks in part to two more turnovers on the Nuggets’ 9-0 run to start the extra period.
Four more fourth quarter turnovers on Sunday didn’t hurt them, because the Pistons couldn’t score themselves. But the Bulls’ schedule remains difficult through the next two weeks.
Week 14: vs. UTA, vs. CLE, @ SAS
Last Week: 20 ↓
Pace: 100.4 (12) OffRtg: 104.9 (29) DefRtg: 111.1 (12) NetRtg: -6.1 (26)
The Thunder are an employee-friendly basketball team, liberal with their days off. Al Horford has played in only eight of their last 15 games and Kenrich Williams is the only Thunderman who’s played in all 42. They were relatively close to full strength on Thursday, but got crushed in Atlanta, scoring less than a point per possession. They were without Horford and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander in Houston on Sunday, but were able to hand the Rockets their 20th straight loss, with Theo Maledon getting two big buckets down the stretch and Luguentz Dort making an incredible play to block John Wall’s layup in the final seconds.
In both games, the Thunder got solid minutes from a bench group that now includes Svi Mykhailiuk, who scored 15 points on Sunday. Ty Jerome missed the first 32 games of the season, but has looked like a competent back-up point guard, registering a 34/7 assist-turnover ratio over the last 10 and shooting 6-for-8 from 3-point range on Thursday. Williams, meanwhile, remains a plus-minus star; The Thunder have been outscored by 249 points overall, but are a plus-3 in his 821 minutes, even though only 27% (220) of those minutes have come alongside Gilgeous-Alexander.
LU D 👏 pic.twitter.com/EMsZC9YLmd
— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) March 21, 2021
Week 14: @ MIN, vs. MEM, vs. BOS
Last Week: 25 ↑
Pace: 100.8 (10) OffRtg: 113.4 (10) DefRtg: 118.5 (30) NetRtg: -5.1 (25)
The Kings were the Jekyll and Hyde Team of the Week. On Monday and Wednesday, double-digit, second-half leads and Washington turned into nail-biters. In Charlotte, De’Aaron Fox finger-rolled a point-blank layup into the rim. In Washington, he drained the game-winning jumper over Bradley Beal. A night after shutting down the Celtics down the stretch in Boston, the Kings allowed the Sixers, playing without their two All-Stars and their best shooter, to score 129 points on just 97 possessions.
A fractured hand has Marvin Bagley III (who played just 13 games last season) on the shelf and the Kings’ closing lineup (with Tyrese Haliburton in Bagley’s place) starting games. Richaun Holmes (27 years old and set to be an unrestricted free agent) continues to play the best basketball of his career. He’s one of four players (Deandre Ayton, Anthony Davis and Kawhi Leonard are the others) who have shot 70% or better on at least 100 shots in the restricted area and 50% or better on at least 100 shots elsewhere in the paint. His 1.33 points per possession as a roll man ranks second among 30 players with at least 75 roll-man possessions, and the fourth quarter of the Charlotte game featured a couple of deft finishes (one, two) around weak-side help.
The league’s 30th-ranked defense will face the league’s 30th-ranked offense twice this week.
🔥 𝐒𝐖𝐈𝐏𝐀 𝐂𝐀𝐋𝐋𝐄𝐃 𝐆𝐀𝐌𝐄 🔥
— Sacramento Kings (@SacramentoKings) March 18, 2021
Week 14: @ CLE, vs. ATL, vs. GSW, vs. CLE
Last Week: 27 ↑
Pace: 98.1 (26) OffRtg: 104.7 (30) DefRtg: 112.6 (23) NetRtg: -7.8 (30)
If Collin Sexton keeps going like this, the Cavs just might climb out of the basement in offensive efficiency. Sexton has averaged 31.3 points (shooting 11-for-20 from 3-point range) over the last three games, pushing the Cavs to wins over Boston (their most efficient offensive game in almost two months) and Toronto. Sexton has scored more than 20 points in 14 of his last 16 games (averaging 26.3 over that stretch) and he’s making strides as a playmaker, which may be just as critical given his ability to bend defenses with his speed.
Though it’s been together for just five games, the Cavs’ starting lineup — Darius Garland, Sexton, Isaac Okoro, Larry Nance Jr. and Jarrett Allen — has already hit the 100-minute mark, with J.B. Bickerstaff leaning on it heavily last week. Despite Sexton’s production, the lineup has scored just 101 points per 100 possessions in its 100 minutes. But it was able to keep things equally ugly on the other end of the floor on Sunday, holding the Raptors to just 52 points on 56 possessions.
Both Sexton (33-for-82, 40.2%) and Garland (36-for-81, 44.4%) have shot better than 40% on catch-and-shoot 3-pointers, and there’s offensive improvement to be had if the Cavs can just generate more of those. Only the Celtics have averaged fewer catch-and-shoot 3s per game.
Week 14: vs. SAC, @ CHI, @ LAL, @ SAC
Last Week: 24 ↓
Pace: 104.9 (1) OffRtg: 109.4 (21) DefRtg: 114.0 (27) NetRtg: -4.6 (24)
Russell Westbrook is here to make us think twice about counting triple-doubles. He’s the league leader at 14, set to tie the Wizards’ franchise record (the all-time franchise record, not just the record for one season) with his next one. He remains a force on the floor; There are times every night in which he’s seemingly everywhere.
As the Wizards outscored the Nets, 20-6, in the first five minutes on Sunday, Westbrook scored or assisted on 18 of the 20 points. They came one stop short of having a chance to win in the final seconds, but Westbrook had three clutch buckets, relentlessly attacking the rim and probably giving the Nets nightmares about what transpired in Washington at the end of January. The Wizards almost pulled off a season sweep of the team that could represent the East in The Finals.
But, while Westbrook has averaged 10.2 assists per game, the Wizards have been better offensively with him off the floor. And while he’s averaged 9.7 rebounds per game, the Wizards have been a better rebounding team with him off the floor. In 403 total minutes with Westbrook on the floor without Bradley Beal, the Wizards have scored just 97.1 points per 100 possessions, been outscored by 11.2 per 100, and grabbed just 45% of available rebounds. You have to appreciate the talent and how hard he plays (on offense) every night. But the Wizards have a $70 million backcourt, and they’re 15-26.
Week 14: @ NYK, @ NYK, vs. DET
Last Week: 26
Pace: 97.8 (29) OffRtg: 108.0 (24) DefRtg: 111.5 (17) NetRtg: -3.5 (23)
The Raptors and Rockets surely looked at their games against the Pistons last week as big opportunities to end their losing streaks. Now, they’re just looking at each other, because the Pistons beat them both for their second two-game winning streak of the season. Saddiq Bey totaled 48 points, 18 rebounds and four steals over the two games, and the rookie even got the Stephen Curry treatment – Fred VanVleet chasing him as the “one” in the Raptors’ box-and-one defense – at one point in the second half on Wednesday. At 21 years old (he’ll be 22 in April), Bey has fully functional combination of perimeter skills (comfortable shooting a side-step 3) and interior strength (able to grab boards and finish in a crowd).
The rookie that the Pistons drafted ahead of Bey — Killian Hayes – got a positive progress report last week and could be back in April, having not played since Jan. 4. Frank Jackson has started the last three games, showed some transition burst against Toronto, and scored 23 points (making all five of his 3-point attempts) in Houston on Friday.
Week 14: @ IND, vs. BKN, @ WAS
Last Week: 23 ↓
Pace: 100.1 (14) OffRtg: 112.2 (14) DefRtg: 112.2 (22) NetRtg: -0.1 (16)
The Raptors are finally #fullsquad. OG Anunoby looked great in totaling 32 points and seven steals in his first two games back, Norman Powell has been on fire, and their best-five lineup — Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, Powell, Anunoby and Pascal Siakam — outscored the Jazz by 12 points in its 21 minutes on Friday. But their losing streak has hit eight games, because their bench, their defense and Siakam’s last-second luck all remain poor.
The Raptors (who had the league’s second best defense last season) are now in the bottom 10 defensively. They rank 29th on that end over the losing streak, having allowed almost 126 points per 100 possessions in Chris Boucher’s 210 minutes on the floor. They actually lead the league in opponent turnover rate by a wide margin over the last 19 days (two of the four times a team has committed 27 turnovers this season have come against the Raptors since the All-Star break), but they’re last in opponent effective field goal percentage, last in opponent free throw rate, and 28th in defensive rebounding percentage over the course of the streak.
The Raps’ last win came on Feb. 26 against the Rockets, and it’s losing streak vs. losing streak in Houston on Monday.
Week 14: @ HOU, vs. DEN, vs. PHX, vs. POR
Last Week: 28
Pace: 99.1 (18) OffRtg: 105.2 (27) DefRtg: 111.9 (19) NetRtg: -6.7 (28)
Aaron Gordon has dealt with injuries this season, but his jumper has been more reliable than it was last season, when he had the second worst field goal percentage (29.2%) and effective field goal percentage (39.1%) on shots from outside the paint among 190 players with at least 200 field goal attempts from the outside. And on Friday, he helped the Magic end a nine-game losing streak by shooting 7-for-8 from 3-point range against the Nets’ indifferent defense. Gordon has shot just 14-for-47 (30%) from mid-range this season, but he’s a career-best 40% from beyond the arc.
We’ll see if that 100-shot sample size is enough to get a contending team to bite at the deadline. Gordon is still only 25 years old, but with Chuma Okeke waiting in the wings, with Jonathan Isaac under contract for another four years, and with the Magic in 14th place, the seventh-year forward seems to be as expendable as ever. Evan Fournier (a 28-year-old free agent this summer) is another candidate to be dealt, but two months of an Orlando offense without Fournier would be rough. In 765 minutes with Nikola Vucevic on the floor without Fournier thus far, the Magic have scored less than a point per possession.
Week 14: vs. DEN, vs. PHX, vs. POR, @ LAL
Last Week: 29
Pace: 102.0 (4) OffRtg: 106.8 (26) DefRtg: 113.9 (26) NetRtg: -7.1 (29)
The Wolves scored more than 121 points per 100 possessions over their first five games out of the All-Star break, with the apex of that efficiency coming on Thursday in Phoenix. Trailing by 11 early in the fourth quarter, they scored 28 points on their next 11 possessions to take the lead. Juancho Hernangomez hit a couple of big catch-and-shoot 3-pointers, but most of the damage was done by Anthony Edwards and Karl-Anthony Towns, who played off each other on several big possessions, like the dribble handoff illustrated below, down the stretch.
The Wolves have scored just 0.88 points per possession when Towns has set a ball screen for Edwards, according to Second Spectrum tracking. But that number is up a tick (0.90) since the All-Star break, when Edwards/Towns has been the team’s most-used ball-screen combination (88 screens in six games). Despite an ugly offensive game against the Suns on Friday – the game was lost when they scored just three points on 11 possessions (with four turnovers) spanning the third and fourth quarters – the Wolves still have the league’s third-ranked offense since the break.
Week 14: vs. OKC, vs. DAL, vs. HOU, vs. HOU
Last Week: 30
Pace: 101.7 (5) OffRtg: 105.1 (28) DefRtg: 111.3 (13) NetRtg: -6.2 (27)
The Rockets erased a 23-point deficit (behind a big performance from Victor Oladipo) on Monday, got Christian Wood back on Wednesday, and played the Pistons and Thunder over the weekend. The opportunities to pick up a win were there, especially on Sunday, when they had five possessions to tie or take the lead in the final two minutes. But they came up empty on all five, with John Wall missing a critical free throw, getting blocked on a drive, and badly missing his game-winning attempt from 28 feet. It didn’t look like there was another option on the play, but Wall is now 14-for-63 (22%) on pull-up 3-pointers this season.
And the losing streak, now at 20 games, rolls on. Whether or not Oladipo is in Houston beyond Thursday, the Rockets have to get better offensively with their best players on the floor. Wood’s effective field goal percentage of 62.0% ranks ninth among 145 players with at least 300 field goal attempts, but Houston has scored just 109.2 points per 100 possessions in 301 total minutes with Wall and Wood on the floor together.
The Rockets’ schedule remains soft for another week. But after that, it gets much, much tougher and basically remains difficult through the end of the season.
PUT HIM ON A POSTER! 🚀 pic.twitter.com/sLxgnLxMqu
— Houston Rockets (@HoustonRockets) March 17, 2021
Week 14: vs. TOR, vs. CHA, @ MIN, @ MIN