Power Rankings, Week 15: Jazz climb to No. 1 after NBA's active trade deadline
See where all 30 teams rank after a busy week of player movement across the league.
The All-Star break and the trade deadline are both in the rearview mirror, but the season is still just 63% complete. Teams have on average 27 games left to play and as we enter Week 15, Anthony Davis, LeBron James, Joel Embiid and Kevin Durant remain on the shelf for the defending champs and the two best teams in the Eastern Conference.
There’s still some urgency in certain places around the league, with Chicago, New Orleans and Tampa (Toronto) being at the top of the list. The trade deadline also killed any sense of urgency in Orlando, while the Oklahoma City Thunder have decided that it’s Moses Brown’s time to shine.
There’s something to watch everywhere, even if that’s small signs of progress from the 23-and-under crowd. And while the champs are missing their two stars, there are still a couple of big games in L.A. this week.
Plus-Minus Players of the Week
- Right Way: Rudy Gobert (UTA) was a plus-81 in four games last week.
- Wrong Way: Andrew Wiggins (GSW) was a minus-61 in three games last week.
Teams of the Week
- Make It Last Forever: Sacramento (4-0) — The Cardiac Kings are at it again.
- Something Just Ain’t Right: Miami (0-3) — Victor Oladipo could help, but he’s certainly not the cure for all the Heat’s ills.
East vs. West
- The West is 157-126 (.555) against the East in interconference games after going 20-10 last week.
Schedule strength through Week 14
- Toughest: 1. Dallas, 2. Washington, 3. Minnesota
- Easiest: 1. Phoenix, 2. Portland, 3. Milwaukee
- 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: New York (+5), Charlotte, LA Clippers, Utah (+4)
- Free falls of the week: Miami (-6), Golden State (-3), Five teams (-2)
Week 15 Team to Watch
- LA Clippers — The Clips have won five straight to climb into third place in the West and they’re just one game into a nine-game homestand. But they’re also just one game into a stretch where they’re playing six of seven against the top nine teams in the league. They host the Bucks on Monday (10 p.m. ET, NBA TV), the Magic on Tuesday, the Nuggets on Thursday, and the Lakers on Sunday.
Previous Power Rankings
- Last week: Bucks climb to No. 2 as trade deadline looms
- Trade deadline notes & numbers: Numbers to know for the Celtics, Bulls, Nuggets, Heat and Blazers
- 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 99.8 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes and 111.4 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: 5 ↑
Pace: 99.8 (15) OffRtg: 116.8 (4) DefRtg: 108.3 (5) NetRtg: +8.5 (1)
The Jazz almost blew a 21-point lead to the Grizzlies on Friday, but remain undefeated (19-0) at Vivint Arena in 2021. They’ve had a halftime lead of 15 points or more in 11 of those 19 home games, including each of the last five. Through the first three games of their current homestand, Donovan Mitchell has shot 26-for-35 (including 11-for-16 from 3-point range) in the first half.
Quin Snyder has a very structured rotation, where Mike Conley and Rudy Gobert go to the bench relatively early in the first and third quarters, returning late in the period to play alongside three reserves (Jordan Clarkson, Joe Ingles and Georges Niang). With that structure and with how healthy the Jazz have been this season, their three main lineups – the starting group, the mid-first-quarter group, and the late-first-early-second group have all eclipsed the 200-minute mark. There are 10 league-wide lineups that have played at least 200 minutes and outscored their opponents by at least 10 points per 100 possessions, and the Jazz have three of the 10. Their fourth-most-used lineup – Ingles instead of Conley – has outscored its opponents by 22.6 per 100 in its 172 minutes after scoring 47 points on just 29 possessions (with Conley out) against Memphis’ sixth-ranked defense on Saturday.
The Jazz still have more home games (15) than road games (12) remaining. And their schedule will be West-heavy after they host the Bulls and Magic on Friday and Saturday.
Week 15: vs. CLE, @ MEM, vs. CHI, vs. ORL
Last Week: 1 ↓
Pace: 100.3 (12) OffRtg: 117.4 (1) DefRtg: 113.6 (26) NetRtg: +3.8 (8)
With the addition of LaMarcus Aldridge, the Nets will have three of the four guys who have shot better than 52% on at least 100 mid-range shots. Aldridge has seen a huge jump in his 3-point rate for the second straight season, but at the expense of shots in the paint (and free throws) instead of his mid-range game. It’s fair to wonder how much better Aldridge can make the Nets offensively when they already have the No. 1 offense in the league.
It’s also fair to question whether any two of Aldridge, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan can play together without serious mobility issues on defense. Griffin (55 total minutes) and Jordan haven’t played together in the former’s three games with the Nets thus far. Thirdly, it’s fair to believe that Nicolas Claxton (who’s played a grand total of 456 NBA minutes) is more important to the Nets than any of the three former All-Star bigs. His defense against Damian Lillard late in the Nets’ win on Tuesday was Exhibit A.
But the Nets certainly have options. It will be fascinating to see what their playoff rotation looks like if everybody’s healthy. For now, the added weapons should allow them to keep everybody fresh, though the biggest reason James Harden leads the league at 38.1 minutes per game (38.6 since arriving in Brooklyn) is that the Nets’ defense hasn’t been good enough for them to blow teams out. Their seven wins by 15 points or more are tied for 14th in the league (the Pacers, Pelicans and Raptors all have more) and Harden has sat the entire fourth quarter in just two of his 31 games since his arrival. Even with Harden scoring 44 points in Detroit on Friday, the Nets went down to the wire with the last-place Pistons.
Week 15: vs. MIN, vs, HOU, vs. CHA, @ CHI
Last Week: 7 ↑
Pace: 98.1 (25) OffRtg: 117.1 (2) DefRtg: 111.0 (13) NetRtg: +6.1 (4)
After a month-long, 5-8 slog, the Clippers have suddenly won five straight games, with the highlight being a Luke Kennard breakout (20 points on a perfect 8-for-8 shooting) and a second-half comeback from 22 points down against the Hawks on Monday. All five wins have come against teams – Charlotte, Atlanta, San Antonio (x2) and Philadelphia – that have otherwise been playing well. Patrick Beverley and Serge Ibaka remain out and Paul George (40% from the field, 31% from 3-point range over his last 13 games) is still struggling with his shot. But George has averaged 6.8 assists over the winning streak, Terance Mann (15.4 points per game) has had the best stretch of his career, and the Clippers have been getting to the rim (32% of their shots coming in the restricted area) a lot more than they were prior (24%).
Kawhi Leonard missed the second of the Clips’ two wins in San Antonio. But his 20 restricted-area buckets over his last five games (starting with the Clips’ loss in Dallas on Mar. 17) are his high for any five-game stretch since last January. He also seems to have turned up the intensity defensively, averaging a league-high 3.0 steals since the All-Star break, with five against his former team on Wednesday.
With their win over the Sixers on Saturday (in which they scored almost 20 more points per 100 possessions than Philly had allowed in any game since the All-Star break), the Clips are 6-5 in games played between the top nine teams in the league (those over .600). They have 10 more games against that group, with five more to come on this nine-game homestand.
Week 15: vs. MIL, vs. ORL, vs. DEN, vs. LAL
Last Week: 2 ↓
Pace: 102.3 (3) OffRtg: 116.6 (5) DefRtg: 109.6 (7) NetRtg: +7.0 (2)
In their two meetings last week, the Celtics held Giannis Antetokounmpo to two of his six lowest usage rate marks of the season. But offense wasn’t really the issue as the Bucks split the two games, almost blowing a 25-point lead on Wednesday and trailing by as many as 21 on Friday. With a loss in Boston on opening night, the Bucks went 1-2 against the Celtics, who scored more than 120 points per 100 possessions over the three games, three of the nine games in which Milwaukee has allowed 18 or more 3s (the Bucks are 3-6 in those games). The Bucks played some extended minutes with Antetokounmpo at the five on Friday, and the scoring was efficient on both ends of the floor (62 total points on 50 possessions) in those minutes.
P.J. Tucker has taken just four shots in his 44 minutes with the Bucks (Jordan Nwora took 18 shots in 36 minutes on Saturday) and played just eight of those 44 minutes alongside the MVP. So there’s plenty of further experimentation to keep an eye on as the Bucks begin a six-game trip on Monday.
They won’t see LeBron James or Anthony Davis on Wednesday, but their defense will still face some challenges as they face the Clippers, Blazers, Kings, Warriors and Mavs on the trip. They’re 5-0 against that group, having held those five opponents (four top-10 offenses and the team with Stephen Curry) to just 102.1 points per 100 possessions at home.
Week 15: @ LAC, @ LAL, @ POR, @ SAC
Last Week: 3 ↓
Pace: 101.2 (7) OffRtg: 112.1 (14) DefRtg: 107.1 (2) NetRtg: +5.0 (6)
Over their first nine games after the All-Star break, with Joel Embiid having played just 20 total minutes, the Sixers allowed just 99.5 points per 100 possessions, almost six per 100 fewer than any other team allowed over that stretch. None of those nine opponents scored more than 105 per 100, and the only loss was in overtime to the full-strength Bucks. The Sixers didn’t protect the rim as well without their MVP candidate and they fouled more (see Howard, Dwight), but they forced more turnovers and mid-range shots, while also rebounding better than they did before the break.
That string of elite defense came to an end on Saturday, when the Clippers took advantage of Philly’s lack of size (Howard was ejected for the second straight game) and outscored the Sixers, 38-20, in the restricted area. Without a particularly potent offense themselves, the Sixers are 1-9 when their opponent has scored at least 115 points per 100 possessions and 31-5 otherwise. Having bee unable shut down the league’s second-ranked offense, they’ll face the offense ranked third on Tuesday. The Sixers won’t have Embiid, but they’ll have a lot more guys than had in their first meeting with the Nuggets.
Week 15: @ DEN, @ CLE, vs. MIN, vs. MEM
Last Week: 4 ↓
Pace: 98.0 (26) OffRtg: 114.4 (8) DefRtg: 108.0 (3) NetRtg: +6.4 (3)
The Suns’ bench has lost some of its mojo. It still ranks as the No. 1 bench in the league (in regard to estimated aggregate NetRtg), but over their last seven games, they’ve been outscored by 7.6 points per 100 possessions in Dario Saric’s 123 minutes on the floor, a huge drop-off from how good his minutes had been prior to that (+23.7 per 100).
On Wednesday, the Suns lost a game (in Orlando) in which all five starters registered a positive plus-minus. They did have a lead in the final seconds, but they had Deandre Ayton on the floor for their last defensive possession, Evan Fournier attacked him in a pick-and-roll, and beat him off the dribble for the game-winning bucket. While Ayton has been improved and Saric’s minutes have generally been terrific, the Suns might regret not having a more mobile option at the five for key defensive possessions and sequences. The Kings’ Haliburton lineup has been, by far, the most-used lineup in clutch time, but second (37 total minutes) is the Suns’ starters, who have allowed their opponents to score 86 points on an estimated 70 clutch possessions.
The Suns have played one of the league’s easiest schedules, but it remains favorable for the next three weeks. Nine of their next 11 games are at home and eight of the next 10 are against teams currently at or below .500.
Week 15: vs. ATL, vs. CHI, vs. OKC
Last Week: 6 ↓
Pace: 99.1 (17) OffRtg: 110.5 (17) DefRtg: 105.8 (1) NetRtg: +4.7 (7)
Both Frank Vogel and Doc Rivers are earning some Coach of the Year points this month, because their teams continue to play elite defense despite the absences of their defensive anchors. Without both LeBron James and Anthony Davis, offense for the Lakers has been a S-T-R-U-G-G-L-E. They’ve scored less than a point per possession over their last six games (starting with the game in which James sprained his ankle early in the second quarter), with players not named Montrezl Harrell having shot 39% from the field, including 32% from 3-point range.
But the Lakers got their first two James-less wins over the weekend, because they shut down the Cavs (who scored 10 points in the third quarter on Friday) and Magic (who scored 39 points in the first half on Sunday). They remain comfortably in the top spot in defensive efficiency, ranking fifth over this six-games-in-nine-days stretch without without both stars.
They’re getting a couple of days off now, but tougher offenses are coming. The champs will complete a four-game homestand with a visit from the fifth-ranked Bucks. Then they’ll visit the ninth-ranked Kings and return to Staples Center to face the second-ranked Clippers.
Week 15: vs. MIL, @ SAC, @ LAC
Last Week: 9 ↑
Pace: 97.6 (29) OffRtg: 117.0 (3) DefRtg: 111.9 (20) NetRtg: +5.1 (5)
So far, so good with Aaron Gordon in Denver. The 25-year-old forward scored 13 points in his debut on Sunday, making all five of his shots inside the arc (including one roll to the rim after setting a ball screen for Nikola Jokic), but just one of his four attempts from beyond. Gordon’s jumper is far from fluid and it should certainly be a worry that his 3-point shooting this season (38% prior to the trade) has been a deceptive small sample size, given how poorly he shot last season.
But the success of the trade will be determined more by the other end of the floor. The Nuggets’ new starting lineup (Paul Millsap goes back to the bench) allowed the Hawks to score just 38 points on 41 possessions on Sunday, with Gordon mostly guarding John Collins, who had a quiet 11 points two nights after scoring a career-high 38. Before Gordon gets a visit from his old team on Sunday, he’ll get to match up with Ben Simmons and Kawhi Leonard. The Nuggets’ first meetings with the Clippers (on Christmas) was one of their worst defensive games of the season.
Week 15: vs. PHI, @ LAC, vs. ORL
Last Week: 8 ↓
Pace: 98.2 (23) OffRtg: 113.7 (10) DefRtg: 112.7 (24) NetRtg: +1.0 (11)
Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis have missed three and two of the Mavs’ 10 games since the All-Star break, respectively. And without Doncic on Friday, it was an offensive drought (just two Dallas points on a stretch of nine fourth-quarter possessions) that allowed the Pacers to put the game away. The Mavs have scored 13.7 more points per 100 possessions with Doncic on the floor (117.5) than they have with him off the floor (103.8), and it’s those off-the-floor minutes that have really been the difference as the Mavs have slipped from first (last season, when that on-off differential was just 4.0 per 100) to 10th in offensive efficiency.
Despite the Doncic absences, Dallas ranks fourth offensively since the break, with Tim Hardaway Jr. (43%), Maxi Kleber (45%) and Josh Richardson (40%) having all shot well from 3-point range. The defense hasn’t been good (they got bullied by Zion Williamson on Saturday), but the Mavs have had a tough post-break schedule in regard to opposing offenses, with sixth of the 10 games having come against those that rank in the top seven.
Four of their next six games are against teams that rank in the bottom 10 offensively, and both Doncic and Porzingis are expected back for their game in Oklahoma City on Monday.
Week 15: @ OKC, @ BOS, @ NYK, @ WAS
Last Week: 10
Pace: 98.6 (21) OffRtg: 116.2 (6) DefRtg: 116.9 (29) NetRtg: -0.6 (18)
The Blazers got CJ McCollum back two weeks ago, traded two rotation wings for Norman Powell on Thursday, and got Jusuf Nurkic back from a 10-week absence over the weekend. Those are all major changes. But this team seems to play the same game every night, no matter who’s in the lineup around Damian Lillard and no matter who the opponent might be. The offense is great, the defense is terrible, and nothing is determined until the last few minutes.
Since the All-Star break, the Blazers rank first offensively (119.1 points scored per 100 possessions) and last defensively (120.6 allowed per 100). Nine of their 11 post-break games have been within five points in the last five minutes, they’ve won seven of those nine close games, lost the other two, and have a negative point differential over the entire stretch.
Powell totaled 35 points (shooting 6-for-9 from 3-point range) in his first two games as a Blazer, and Portland allowed just 102 points per 100 possessions in his 63 minutes on the floor. He started for Lillard on Friday and bumped Derrick Jones Jr. to the bench when everybody was healthy on Sunday.
Week 15: @ DET, vs. MIL, vs. OKC
Last Week: 14 ↑
Pace: 101.3 (6) OffRtg: 109.7 (19) DefRtg: 109.4 (6) NetRtg: +0.3 (14)
Though the Grizzlies are still waiting on Jaren Jackson Jr., they’re deep enough that Gorgui Dieng was their fourth-string center (with Brandon Clarke playing the back-up minutes and Xavier Tillman out of the rotation) before being waived on Saturday. But their bench minutes have been an issue of late, so much that they’ve been outscored by almost 24 points per 100 possessions (having scored an anemic 87.7 per 100) in Dillon Brooks’ 125 minutes on the bench over the last six games. Justise Winslow is 5-for-41 (12%) from 3-point range since making his Grizzlies debut.
The flip side of that is that Brooks has been playing some of the best basketball of his career. His true shooting percentage of 49.5% ranks 47th among the 48 players with a usage rate of 25% or higher, but he had three straight games of 22 points ore more last week. His 24 in the Grizzlies’ overtime win over Boston on Monday included two tough buckets against Jaylen Brown in the extra period. Two nights later, he had one of the most efficient games of his career (25 points on 8-for-13 shooting and 8-for-9 from the line) in Oklahoma City.
Ja Morant catches and finishes the oop with the left 🤯 pic.twitter.com/BFS3IfJqGX
— NBA (@NBA) March 23, 2021
Week 15: @ HOU, vs. UTA, vs. MIN, @ PHI
Last Week: 11 ↓
Pace: 99.8 (16) OffRtg: 109.3 (20) DefRtg: 109.8 (9) NetRtg: -0.5 (17)
Even with LaMarcus Aldridge gone, the Spurs don’t lack for mid-range shooters. DeMar DeRozan and Dejounte Murray are two of the 16 players who’ve taken at least 100 shots from outside the paint with more of those shots having come from inside the arc than from beyond. And with Keldon Johnson basically attacking the basket every time he touches the ball, the Spurs (who’ve seen the league’s sixth biggest drop in points scored per 100 possessions from last season) need somebody to shoot some 3s.
Patty Mills has always been that guy off the bench, and now Derrick White is that guy in the starting lineup. Among 210 players with at least 200 field goal attempts in each of the last seasons, White has seen the eighth biggest jump in the percentage of his shots (from 39% to 54%) that have come from 3-point range. (Lonnie Walker IV, who started prior to White’s return to health, has seen the fifth biggest jump.) White has accounted for 38% of the Spurs’ 3-point attempts while he’s been on the floor, a rate which ranks sixth (right behind that of Mills) among 351 players who’ve played at least 300 minutes.
With DeRozan and Murray shooting 15-for-46 (33%) from mid-range and nobody other than DeRozan getting to the line, the Spurs’ four-game losing streak was their worst stretch of offense (101.5 points scored per 100 possessions) since early January. But they broke out against the Bulls on Saturday with White (4-for-10, tying his career high for attempts) and Mills (4-for-9) combining for eight of their 10 3-pointers.
Week 15: vs. SAC, vs. SAC, vs. ATL, vs. IND
Last Week: 18 ↑
Pace: 96.7 (30) OffRtg: 108.7 (23) DefRtg: 108.1 (4) NetRtg: +0.6 (12)
The Knicks caught a good break when the Bucks played just one starter on Saturday. And then they caught a bad break, with Mitchell Robinson suffering a fractured right foot in the first quarter. They’ve been much better offensively in 522 minutes with Nerlens Noel on the floor alongside Julius Randle and RJ Barrett (114.0 points scored per 100 possessions) than they’ve been in 636 minutes with Robinson and the two lefties (104.7), but the loss of Robinson will hurt. It seems more likely that Tom Thibodeau will lean on 35-year-old Taj Gibson (who played 61 total minutes on Thursday and Saturday, starting for a banged up Randle against Milwaukee) more than he’ll trust Obi Toppin (who’s played no more than 11 minutes in his last eight games) or play Randle at the five (only two total minutes of that look since the Knicks closed that way against Brooklyn a couple of weeks ago).
Barrett is still struggling with his jumper (32% from both mid-range and 3-point range since the All-Star break), but he had a big game (24 points, 10 rebounds, five assists) and two big buckets (a corner 3 off an Immanuel Quickley drive, a tough, transition and-one) in the Knicks’ win over Washington on Thursday. Derrick Rose made his return from a 10-game absence on Saturday and scored 13 points in 29 minutes off the bench.
Week 15: vs. MIA, @ MIN, vs. DAL, @ DET
Last Week: 13 ↓
Pace: 98.4 (22) OffRtg: 113.6 (11) DefRtg: 112.3 (22) NetRtg: +1.3 (9)
After an 8-0 start to Nate McMillan’s tenure as interim head coach, the Hawks have lost three of their last four games to fall back to .500. What was the league’s second-ranked defense over the winning streak (with five of the eight games against bottom-seven offenses) hasn’t held up against the top-10 offenses of the Clippers, Kings and Nuggets. The Hawks led by 15 at halftime on Monday and have been one of the league’s better teams at holding onto double-digit leads, but somehow allowed the Clips to score 71 points on only 42 possessions in the second half.
John Collins celebrated the passing of the trade deadline by scoring a career-high 38 points at Golden State on Friday, with 24 of the 38 coming in his 24 minutes alongside Clint Capela. The Capela addition has Collins taking a higher percentage of his shots away from the basket. Last season, his 1.31 points per possession as a roll man ranked second among 26 players who averaged at least 2.5 roll-man possessions per game. This season, he’s been nearly as efficient (1.20 per possession), but his volume has been cut from 5.1 to just 2.7 possessions per game. Collins has made the best of the situation, shooting just as well on catch-and-shoot 3s (38.7%) as Danilo Gallinari (38.8%).
The Hawks will face two more top-10 offenses (those of the Suns and Pelicans) as their eight-game trip concludes this week.
Week 15: @ PHX, @ SAS, @ NOP, vs. GSW
Last Week: 12 ↓
Pace: 103.2 (2) OffRtg: 108.8 (22) DefRtg: 110.0 (10) NetRtg: -1.2 (20)
The Warriors’ offense was pretty anemic in their first few games without Stephen Curry, but defense was the bigger issue on Thursday and Friday. Their losses to the Kings and Hawks were their two worst defensive performances of the season, with Sacramento’s 141 points on 97 possessions (in a game that Draymond Green missed as well) being the most efficient game for any team. Sacramento and Atlanta combined to shoot 42-for-47 (89%) in the restricted area in the back-to-back.
The Warriors are now 1-6 without Curry (who’s questionable for their game against the Bulls on Monday) and their four-game losing streak has them just one game ahead of the 11th-place Kings. The Warriors have the easier schedule going forward, and will have the final head-to-head meeting (which will determine the tie-breaker) on their home floor. But, even when Curry returns, moving back up in the standings will require better minutes from James Wiseman, who’s back in the starting lineup. The Dubs have been outscored by 6.3 points per 100 possessions in 330 minutes with Curry, Green and Wiseman on the floor together, but are a +10.0 per 100 in 664 minutes with Curry and Green on the floor without the rookie.
Week 15: vs. CHI, @ MIA, @ TOR, @ ATL
Last Week: 20 ↑
Pace: 100.1 (13) OffRtg: 110.9 (16) DefRtg: 111.7 (17) NetRtg: -0.8 (19)
The Hornets’ first four games without LaMelo Ball were both their slowest-paced stretch of games this season (92.6 possessions per 48 minutes) and their best defensive stretch (106.1 points allowed per 100 possessions) since early January. They played a couple of struggling offensive teams last week, but were also the first team to hold the eighth-ranked Suns offense under 105 per 100 since late January. Terry Rozier and Chris Paul went head-to-head with the game on the line and they combined to shoot 0-for-4 on clutch shots, because Sunday afternoon games are wacky. The Suns are one of the best teams in the league, but Charlotte losing a game that was within five in the last five minutes still felt like an upset.
The loss dropped the Hornets into fifth place in the East, and they’ll now head out for their longest trip (five games over 11 days) of the second-half schedule, which includes two huge games in Indiana and Boston this week. The Hornets are 7-4 within the 4-11 scrum in the East, having split their first two games with the Pacers. They’ve yet to face the Celtics, who just replaced Gordon Hayward.
Week 15: @ WAS, @ BKN, @ IND, @ BOS
Last Week: 16 ↓
Pace: 98.7 (20) OffRtg: 113.2 (12) DefRtg: 112.2 (21) NetRtg: +1.1 (10)
One trade – acquiring Evan Fournier for two second-round picks and Jeff Teague – was a clear step forward. The other – sending Daniel Theis to Chicago to save money – was a clear step backward, even with Luke Kornet hitting back-to-back 3s in his Celtics debut on Saturday. Robert Williams III has had the better boxscore numbers and his first start of the season produced a strong start and a win in Milwaukee on Friday, when Williams had six assists (including a nice back-door feed to Kemba Walker), zero turnovers and five blocks. But the Celtics had been at their best with Theis at center, he’s been a valuable defender and screener over the last couple of years, and he offered a touch of floor spacing that they’re not getting from Williams or Tristan Thompson.
Fournier, able to play on or off the ball, does give the Celtics some needed offense and depth. And it will be interesting to see, now that they have five good perimeter players again, how the Celtics close games when healthy. Health and safety protocols kept Fournier out of the win in Oklahoma City on Saturday, but he could make his debut when the Celtics begin a seven-game homestand on Monday. Only the Jazz have a bigger home-road winning-percentage differential than the Celtics, who are 13-7 at TD Garden and 10-16 elsewhere.
Week 15: vs. NOP, vs. DAL, vs. HOU, vs. CHA
Last Week: 19 ↑
Pace: 98.9 (18) OffRtg: 115.9 (7) DefRtg: 115.6 (28) NetRtg: +0.3 (15)
That the Pelicans went 4-3 against their toughest stretch of the second-half schedule – seven straight games against the Clippers, Blazers, Nuggets, Lakers and Mavs – is reason to feel optimistic about their chances of grabbing a spot in the Western Conference play-in. They’re just a game in the loss column behind the 10th-place Warriors, with all three head-to-head meetings still to come (all in May). That the Pels benefited from the absences of LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis in two of those four wins is reason to continue with the wait-and-see approach.
That two of the three losses – Mar. 16 in Portland and Friday against Denver – came with more double-digit, fourth-quarter collapses can be interpreted in two ways. It’s good to have had late leads against good teams, but it’s bad that the Pels struggle to put games away. Their six losses in games they led by double-digits in the fourth quarter are two more than any other team has. The Pels have seen the fourth biggest drop in points allowed per 100 possessions since the break (having allowed 3.3 fewer than they did before the break), but saw Denver score 15 points on one stretch of six possessions (with one glaring failure to match up in transition) as they blew an 11-point lead on Friday.
To stay alive in the West, the Pels will have to win some games outside the conference. Currently 8-8 in interconference games, they’ll play 12 of their next 14 against the East, a stretch that includes two meetings each with Atlanta, Brooklyn, New York and Orlando.
Week 15: @ BOS, vs. ORL, vs. ATL, @ HOU
Last Week: 17 ↓
Pace: 100.4 (11) OffRtg: 111.3 (15) DefRtg: 111.0 (12) NetRtg: +0.3 (13)
T.J. Warren never got to follow up on his bubble breakout, playing just the first four games of the season before being sidelined by a left foot injury. And on Thursday, the Pacers announced that Warren won’t be returning this season. They’ve obviously missed his offense, but on defense, Warren would have given them a combination of size and mobility that they don’t have elsewhere on the roster. Their options at both forward positions are all either smaller or slower.
Caris LeVert has shot just 39% in his eight games with Indiana, but he came up big against Detroit on Wednesday, scoring 28 points and draining a big step-back 3 to put the game away. LeVert’s ability to handle the ball and make plays has helped Malcolm Brogdon, whose effective field goal percentage of 66.7% since the All-Star break ranks sixth among 91 players who’ve taken at least 100 post-break shots. But the Pacers’ starting lineup has been much better defensively (allowing 103.2 points per 100 possessions) than offensively (scoring just 101.1) in its 133 minutes thus far.
The Pacers have a couple of big games at home this week. They have the best point differential (+4.5 per game) in games played between the eight teams currently sitting from fourth to 11th place in the East, but are just 8-7 in those games, with all seven of the losses having been within five points in the last five minutes.
Week 15: @ WAS, vs. MIA, vs. CHA, @ SAS
Last Week: 23 ↑
Pace: 100.5 (9) OffRtg: 113.9 (9) DefRtg: 117.7 (30) NetRtg: -3.9 (24)
The Kings are on another run, having won six of their last seven games to climb within a game of the 10th-place Warriors. They won comfortably in Cleveland on Monday and crushed the shorthanded Warriors on Thursday, scoring 141 points on 97 possessions (the most efficient offensive performance for any team this season). But, as was the case when they won seven of eight in late January and early February, a lot of the Kings’ success has come with late-game magic. They got two big free throws from Tyrese Haliburton and a fortunate late-game stop against the Hawks on Wednesday, and pulled another win out of a hat over the weekend, with Harrison Barnes draining a turnaround 3 at the buzzer to beat the Cavs.
The Kings are now 17-10 in games that were within five points in the last five minutes and 4-15 otherwise. Their lineup of De’Aaron Fox, Haliburton, Buddy Hield, Barnes and Richaun Holmes has played 57 clutch minutes, 25 more than any other five-man unit in the league.
There’s been some progress on defense, where the Kings rank 18th (112.7 points allowed per 100 possessions) since the break. But five of their 10 post-break games have come against teams that rank in the bottom 10 offensively and their first post-break game against a top-10 offense won’t come until Saturday, when they host the fifth-ranked Bucks. Delon Wright should help them defensively, though. Cory Joseph is a worker on that end, but at his size, just couldn’t make a difference on that end of the floor. Wright, meanwhile, is a member of the Jimmy Butler Club, one of eight players who’ve played at least 300 minutes with more steals (58) than personal fouls (45). Only Tyus Jones (+28) and Butler (+17) have a bigger differential.
— NBA (@NBA) March 28, 2021
Week 15: @ SAS, @ SAS, vs. LAL, vs. MIL
Last Week: 15 ↓
Pace: 97.7 (28) OffRtg: 108.0 (24) DefRtg: 109.7 (8) NetRtg: -1.7 (22)
Victor Oladipo has had his ups and downs this season, so he should fit right in with the Heat, who have followed an 11-1 stretch with a six-game losing streak, their longest in more than four years. They’ve gone from 11th place to fourth place and, now, back to eighth. They’ve had issues on both ends of the floor, getting outscored by 12.5 points per game from 3-point range over the six games.
On offense, the Heat rank 27th in 3-point percentage (34.6%). On defense, their opponents have taken 47% of their shots, the league’s highest opponent rate, from beyond the arc. They’re one of five teams set to break the record (held by last season’s Bucks) for most 3-pointers allowed per game. The Heat had their most efficient game of the season (122 points on 97 possessions) against Portland on Thursday, but allowed the Blazers to drain 20 3-pointers and fouled Damian Lillard on the game-winner.
Given the current standings, the Heat’s next two games are two of the most important games on the remaining schedule, with the Heat in New York on Monday and in Indiana on Wednesday. Oladipo did not make the trip to New York and has yet to play in both games of a back-to-back this season. The Heat have six back-to-backs remaining, with the first of those being Wednesday and Thursday.
Week 15: @ NYK, @ IND, vs. GSW, vs. CLE
Last Week: 21 ↓
Pace: 101.1 (8) OffRtg: 110.4 (18) DefRtg: 111.7 (16) NetRtg: -1.3 (21)
The Bulls got serious with their trade for Nikola Vucevic, the best pick-and-pop big man outside of Denver. Vucevic should create more space for Zach LaVine, while also giving his fellow All-Star a capable outlet when he bends the defense. The question is how well Chicago will defend with the pair on the floor and by how many points per game the Bulls will be outscored at the free throw line, already 29th in free throw rate and having traded for a center that doesn’t get there often.
Game 1 of the new era, a 16-point loss in San Antonio on Saturday, was not good. Vucevic led the team with 21 points, but had just one free throw attempt to go with his 16 shots from the field and the Bulls were outscored by 27 points (allowing 68 on 50 defensive possessions) in his 23.6 minutes on the floor with LaVine.
The Bulls have seen the league’s biggest drop in offensive efficiency from before the break (111.7 points scored per 100 possessions, 15th) to after it (105.6, 27th). Five of their 10 post-break games have come against top-10 defenses and they’ll face three more as they complete their four-game trip before returning home to face the league’s No. 1 offense.
Week 15: @ GSW, @ PHX, @ UTA, vs. BKN
Last Week: 22 ↓
Pace: 100.5 (10) OffRtg: 104.7 (29) DefRtg: 110.8 (11) NetRtg: -6.1 (27)
Al Horford, who is healthy, will not play again this season. George Hill has been traded. And Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, dealing with plantar fasciitis in his right foot, is out for the foreseeable future. But the Thunder remain competitive, because they play hard and play defense. In two games without Gilgeous-Alexander last week, they had second-half leads against both the Grizzlies and Celtics, having held the two opponents to a combined 96 points on 103 possessions before halftime.
They lost both games, because the Thunder themselves scored just 96 points on 106 possessions after halftime. Theo Maledon had one nifty drive against Boston on Saturday, but hasn’t been much of an attacker, averaging only 8.4 drives per game (Gilgeous-Alexander has averaged almost 26) since inheriting the starting point guard job from Hill and shooting just 27-for-65 (42%) in the restricted area for the season. Svi Mykhailiuk (playing for his next contract) has been aggressive, but not very accurate, shooting just 8-for-26 (31%) from 3-point range in his five games with his new team.
Week 15: vs. DAL, vs. TOR, @ PHX, @ POR
Last Week: 24
Pace: 98.1 (24) OffRtg: 104.3 (30) DefRtg: 111.8 (19) NetRtg: -7.5 (30)
They say that good offense beats good defense. Last week, bad offense lost to bad defense, as the Cavs scored a paltry 103.6 points per 100 possessions in two losses to the Kings. Cleveland’s starting backcourt wasn’t particularly efficient, Isaac Okoro (who did not want to watch Harrison Barnes’ game-winner go through the net on Saturday) shot 3-for-13 over the two games, and Jarrett Allen (4-for-11 in the first game, missed the second meeting) had trouble finishing against Richaun Holmes. While the game in Sacramento was lost at the buzzer, the Cleveland game got away with a near-seven-minute scoreless drought in the third quarter.
The Cavs did get an ugly win in Chicago (without Collin Sexton) on Wednesday, with Okoro holding Zach LaVine in check. They played five games in seven days and (while fatigue should lead to issues defensively) it was the Cavs’ best five-game stretch on that end of the floor (102.8 points allowed per 100 possessions) since early January. It came with a high opponent turnover rate and improved rebounding, and it helped them climb out of the bottom 10 in defensive efficiency for the season.
Week 15: @ UTA, vs. PHI, @ MIA
Last Week: 25
Pace: 104.8 (1) OffRtg: 109.0 (21) DefRtg: 113.5 (25) NetRtg: -4.5 (25)
One of the more disappointing aspects of this season was the inability of Troy Brown Jr. to stick in the Wizards’ rotation, having been one of the team’s best perimeter defenders and having showed flashes of real playmaking skills as a lead ball-handler in the bubble last year. In trading him to Chicago on Thursday, the Wiz sold low on the former No. 15 pick, who is still just 21 years old. But Brown has never shot well from the perimeter and they obviously prioritized the development of 20-year-old Deni Avdija. Chandler Hutchison offers a little more length, but is three years older than Brown and isn’t a very willing shooter himself.
Nobody takes a charge like Mo Wagner, but the bouncy Daniel Gafford (also older than Brown) gives the Wizards a vertical lob threat and needed rim protection (if Robin Lopez isn’t back next season). While Gafford has shot 144-for-188 (77%) in the restricted area in his two seasons, opponents have shot just 140-for-267 (52.4%) at the rim when he’s been there to protect it. In the Wizards’ win over Detroit on Saturday, Gafford had three blocks and the Pistons scored just 27 points on 33 possessions with him on the floor.
RUI HACHIMURA HAMMER! 🔨😤 pic.twitter.com/lo5JiXAuAD
— NBA (@NBA) March 28, 2021
Week 15: vs. IND, vs. CHA, @ DET, vs. DAL
Last Week: 27 ↑
Pace: 99.9 (14) OffRtg: 112.4 (13) DefRtg: 112.5 (23) NetRtg: -0.1 (16)
Other teams made bigger trades, but the Raptors led the league in deadline-week drama. Their eight-game losing streak went head-to-head with the Rockets’ 20-game losing streak and theirs was the streak that survived. Wednesday was Kyle Lowry’s last game as a Raptor, except that it wasn’t, and the streak came to an end with a blowout win against one of the best teams in the league. Lowry wasn’t traded, but Norman Powell was, and he got to play his old team three days later.
With the Raptors playing small, OG Anunoby spent most of Wednesday and Friday guarding Nikola Jokic and Deandre Ayton. He did an admirable job, and the Raptors continue to have much better numbers with Lowry, Fred VanVleet, Anunoby and Pascal Siakam playing alongside another guard or wing (+11.8 points per 100 possessions in 146 total minutes) than with a center (+0.9 per 100 in 206 minutes).
Alas, continued late-game misfortune has the Raptors at 18-28 and three games in the loss column out of 10th place, having been outscored by four total points over their 46 games. After that easy win over the Nuggets, the Raps lost by nine total points to the Suns and Blazers. They’re now a painful 7-19 (with nine straight losses) in games that were within five points in the last five minutes, having seen, by far, the biggest drop in clutch winning percentage from last season, when they were 25-12 (third best).
They’re seemingly primed for a surge, and the schedule offers an opportunity to put some wins together over the next couple of weeks. Six of their next seven games are against teams with losing records and the only exception is a visit from the shorthanded Lakers.
Week 15: @ DET, @ OKC, vs. GSW
Last Week: 28 ↑
Pace: 98.9 (19) OffRtg: 105.3 (28) DefRtg: 111.8 (18) NetRtg: -6.5 (28)
Welp. The Magic didn’t just trade Evan Fournier and Aaron Gordon. They went all-in on a rebuild, dealing Nikola Vucevic as well. Given the roles of those three guys, it might have been the biggest in-season fire sale in league history. It did yield some more young talent, with Wendell Carter Jr. (who turns 22 in mid-April) now one of six 23-and-under Magic players who were taken with a top-16 pick. Of course, two of those six – Markelle Fultz and Jonathan Isaac – are out for the season, recovering from ACL tears. Two of the other four – Carter and Mo Bamba – play the same position.
For the time being, Chuma Okeke offers the most intrigue. And over his last three games, the rookie has averaged 17.7 points, shooting 11-for-16 from 3-point range. The Magic defense has been at its best (106.0 points allowed per 100 possessions) with Okeke on the floor, but that’s with him having come off the bench most of the season. If that trend continues with Okeke in the starting lineup (and defending other starters) for the rest of the season, it will be a great sign. The tests start now, with the four remaining games on the Magic’s five-game trip all against teams that rank in the top seven offensively.
Week 15: @ LAC, @ NOP, @ UTA, @ DEN
Last Week: 26 ↓
Pace: 97.9 (27) OffRtg: 107.8 (25) DefRtg: 111.6 (15) NetRtg: -3.8 (23)
With Killian Hayes and Dennis Smith Jr. on the shelf, and with Delon Wright traded for Cory Joseph and a pair of second-round picks, rookie Saben Lee got his first turn as the Pistons’ starting point guard on Saturday. The 21-year-old is a drive-and-dish kind of playmaker. Among 351 players who’ve played at least 300 minutes this season, only Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (26.9) has averaged more drives per 36 minutes than Lee (23.4). And Lee has passed on 57.6% of his drives, the sixth highest rate among 104 players with at least 200 total drives.
The Pistons introduced Joseph to their late-game issues right away, giving him the ball with the team down two in the final seconds against Brooklyn on Friday. He didn’t get his shot off in time and Detroit fell to a brutal 4-19 in games that were within five points in the last five minutes. They’ve had seven clutch games against the top seven teams in the league, including two each against the Nets and Jazz. And that doesn’t include their comfortable wins over Brooklyn, Philly and the Lakers.
One of the Pistons’ four clutch wins came against the Raptors, and Dwane Casey is 5-2 against his former team since his arrival in Detroit. Their final meeting of the season is Monday.
EVERY ANGLE of Mason Plumlee's wild ball-fake! 📸 pic.twitter.com/kdMReb0Yph
— NBA (@NBA) March 27, 2021
Week 15: vs. TOR, vs. POR, vs. WAS, vs. NYK
Last Week: 30 ↑
Pace: 101.3 (5) OffRtg: 105.8 (27) DefRtg: 111.3 (14) NetRtg: -5.5 (26)
With Victor Oladipo off to Miami, Dante Exum (on an expiring contract and yet to play for Houston) is the only player from the James Harden trade left on the Rockets’ roster, while Jarrett Allen and Caris LeVert do their thing in Cleveland and Indiana, respectively. So the pressure will be high for the Rockets to hit on one or more of the picks and pick swaps they got in the deal. Of course, the Rockets’ own pick this year remains the most valuable in their collection. The bottom three teams all get the same Lottery odds, but the Orlando Magic made a big move toward that bottom three (currently Minnesota, Detroit and Houston) by trading three of their best players on Thursday.
The Rockets seemingly have the most competent remaining core among those four teams. They put an end to their 20-game losing streak on Monday and had two easy wins over the Wolves over the weekend … except that they went scoreless over the final 7:27 in blowing a 16-point lead on Friday. John Wall’s shooting remains an issue (he’s shot 27% on pull-up jumpers) and he played the biggest role (0-for-6, two turnovers) in that collapse on Friday, but he had 27 assists in the two games, including three to Kevin Porter Jr. as the two guards started together for the first time on Saturday. The Rockets have scored 74 points on 62 possessions (119 per 100) in 29 total minutes with Wall and Porter on the floor together.
This is just next level hang time 💯 pic.twitter.com/QgpAS9VGvy
— Houston Rockets (@HoustonRockets) March 23, 2021
Week 15: vs. MEM, @ BKN, @ BOS, vs. NOP
Last Week: 29 ↓
Pace: 101.8 (4) OffRtg: 106.7 (26) DefRtg: 114.2 (27) NetRtg: -7.4 (29)
The Wolves’ first five games out of the All-Star break were, easily, their best stretch of the season. But the five games since have been a step backward. They pulled off a miracle comeback against Houston on Friday, but there was no comeback a night later when they trailed the same Rockets by as many as 34 points. On Monday, the Wolves were done in by a fourth-quarter stretch in which they allowed the Thunder’s 29th-ranked offense to score 13 points on five possessions.
Typically it’s the start of games that has hurt the Wolves, like when Houston scored 12 points on its first five possessions on Saturday. With their opponents having shot better than 50% from the field and better than 40% from 3-point range in the opening 12 minutes of games, the Wolves have been outscored by 13.4 points per 100 possessions in thirse ft quarter, the worst mark for any team in any period. In a related matter, they’ve trailed 36 of their 46 games (including 18 of their last 19) by double-digits, having come back to win just five of those 36 games.
They got Malik Beasley back from suspension on Saturday, but he shot 4-for-17. And now, the Wolves’ schedule gets tougher.
Week 15: @ BKN, vs. NYK, @ MEM, @ PHI