Power Rankings, Week 16: Play-In races heating up in East, West
See where all 30 teams rank with six weeks left in the regular season.
For the last couple of months, there’s been a thought, inferred but not explicitly written in this space, that the struggling Eastern Conference teams that were good last season — Boston, Miami and Toronto — would eventually rise and settle into the No. 4, 5 and 6 seeds (in some order) behind the conference’s top three teams.
The Celtics certainly lost a huge piece this offseason when Gordon Hayward went to Charlotte. The Heat lost Jae Crowder from last year’s playoff rotation and dealt with injuries and COVID-related absences early in the season. The Raptors lost to more players from their championship core and had their own battle with COVID. But most of what made those teams great last season was still there. And the rest of the Eastern Conference wasn’t exactly taking advantage of the struggles in Boston, Miami and Tampa.
But here we are in April and those No. 4, 5 and 6 seeds are still very much up for grabs. The Heat have won four straight games to climb into fifth, and maybe this is them finding their rhythm. But they made this move a month ago before losing six straight. The Celtics haven’t been as streaky, but have also teased with some quality wins. The Raptors, meanwhile, just can’t win close games, now 19-30 with a positive point differential.
The Atlanta Hawks (12-4 since March 1), Charlotte Hornets (seemingly bound for a slide with Gordon Hayward’s foot injury), and New York Knicks (with a difficult remaining schedule) are all in the mix, but not as proven as the teams that fought for the conference title last year.
The East has three clear favorites, but there are three more seats at the table. Who wants ’em?
Plus-Minus Players of the Week
- Right Way: Rudy Gobert (UTA) was a plus-89 in four games last week.
- Wrong Way: Theo Maledon (OKC) was a minus-99 in four games last week.
Teams of the Week
- Make It Last Forever: Dallas (4-0) — With the Lakers’ slide, the Mavs have a real shot at a top-six seed in the West..
- Something Just Ain’t Right: Cleveland (0-3) — Bad offense gets worse.
East vs. West
- The West is 174-141 (.552) against the East in interconference games after going 17-15 last week.
Schedule strength through Week 15
- Toughest: 1. Minnesota, 2. Dallas, 3. Washington
- Easiest: 1. Phoenix, 2. Portland, 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 (+8), Four teams (+4)
- Free falls of the week: Cleveland (-5), Four teams (-4)
Week 16 Team to Watch
- Utah — The Jazz have eight games remaining against the other nine teams that are more than two games over .500, and three of those eight games are in the next four days. A two-game trip takes them through Dallas on Monday and Phoenix on Wednesday. They’re home (where they’ve won 22 straight) to play the Blazers on Thursday, but it’s the second game of a back-to-back. They’ll finish the week with a visit from the Kings on Saturday.
Previous Power Rankings
- Thursday’s notebook: Zion Williamson with the ball, plus most improved offenses and defenses
- 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 99.7 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: 99.7 (16) OffRtg: 117.1 (2) DefRtg: 107.3 (3) NetRtg: +9.8 (1)
The Jazz now have the three longest winning streaks of the season. They rank first both offensively and defensively over the current, nine-game streak, with four of the nine wins having come by 25 points or more. Donovan Mitchell has been rather ridiculous; He missed all nine of his 3-point attempts in the first win of the streak, but has since shot 32-for-53 (60.4%) from beyond the arc. He shot 31.5% on pull-up 3-pointers through his first three seasons in the league, but is at 38.4% this season. The Jazz get a lot of their 3-pointers off drives and ball movement, but they also have four of the 29 players — Mitchell, Bojan Bogdanovic (39.4%), Mike Conley (39.3%) and Joe Ingles (44.6%) — who have shot 38% or better on at least 50 pull-up 3s.
Mitchell missed the Jazz’s win in Memphis on Wednesday, but Conley capped a 26-point performance with three big pick-and-roll buckets in the paint down the stretch. It was on non-restricted area paint shots (floaters and short jumpers) where Conley saw the biggest drop-off from his last season in Memphis (44.8%) to his first season in Utah (34.9%). And it’s on those shots where he’s seen the biggest improvement this year (50.8%).
The schedule gets tougher this week and, as good as the Jazz have been, Phoenix is still just three games back in the loss column, having won the first head-to-head meeting (back in December). Game 2 of the season series is Wednesday, one of three fun, Western Conference matchups the Jazz have in the next four days.
Week 16: @ DAL, @ PHX, vs. POR vs. SAC
Last Week: 6 ↑
Pace: 98.0 (25) OffRtg: 115.3 (7) DefRtg: 108.2 (5) NetRtg: +7.1 (2)
The Suns kept Frank Kaminsky in the starting lineup through their first two games after the All-Star break, and at that point, the numbers backed up that decision, because the lineup with Jae Crowder at the four had struggled, especially defensively. But Crowder has started the last 11 games and the lineup has turned things around, outscoring its opponents by 19.7 points per 100 possessions (allowing just a point per possession) over the last nine.
The Suns are 26-6 over the last 9 1/2 weeks, with four of the six losses having come by four points or fewer. They’ve had some narrow wins over the last 10 days, doing a better job of getting stops down the stretch. Deandre Ayton has been burned off the dribble quite a bit, but he stayed with Trae Young on a critical possession on Tuesday.
The Suns have the second best record (11-4) in games played between the league’s top 10 teams and they have a big back-to-back on Wednesday and Thursday, hosting the Jazz and then visiting the Clippers. Their first meeting with Utah (Dec. 31) was the Jazz’s last loss at home and one of the two times that the Jazz have been held under a point per possession. Three nights later, the Suns allowed the Clippers to score 112 on only 93 possessions.
Week 16: @ HOU, vs. UTA, @ LAC, vs. WAS
Last Week: 2 ↓
Pace: 100.1 (12) OffRtg: 117.2 (1) DefRtg: 113.2 (25) NetRtg: +4.0 (8)
The Nets need some time to figure out what they have. And in Chicago on Sunday, they tried starting Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge together. They were outscored by 10 points (allowing 57 on 46 defensive possessions) in the pairing’s 22.2 minutes on the floor and lost by eight. Both bigs sat the final 16 minutes and DeAndre Jordan was DNP’d for the second straight game, but Nicolas Claxton still played only eight minutes all afternoon, with Jeff Green playing center for most of the fourth quarter.
Time will tell if that portends anything about Claxton’s playing time in games that matter more. Coach Steve Nash said afterward that the Griffin-Aldridge pairing was “not something I think we’ll see a ton of” going forward, though things would certainly have been different had James Harden or Kevin Durant played on Sunday. It does sound like the real lineup testing could begin this week, with Durant (maybe?) set to make his return from what has been a seven-week absence and Harden’s hamstring injury seeming far less serious. Whether they’re playing together or not, Aldridge and Griffin will obviously be at their best when they’re complementing the former MVPs instead of replacing them.
After they host the Knicks on Monday, the Nets won’t have another back-to-back for two weeks. But their schedule gets very road-heavy after these next three games.
Week 16: vs. NYK, vs. NOP, vs. LAL
Last Week: 8 ↑
Pace: 97.4 (29) OffRtg: 116.9 (3) DefRtg: 111.6 (15) NetRtg: +5.3 (5)
The Nuggets had to come back against Orlando on Sunday after a sluggish first half put them in an 18-point hole, but they’ve won five straight games and are 4-0 with Aaron Gordon. The biggest win of the bunch came Thursday, when the Nuggets held the Clippers’ second-ranked offense to just 94 points on 89 possessions in what was one of the slowest-paced games of the season. Gordon had the Kawhi Leonard assignment, but the win featured some terrific team defense and was capped by a timely weak-side reaction by Michael Porter Jr. when the Clippers ran an old Spurs play out of a timeout. With the season series tied 1-1 and the finale schedule for May 1 in L.A., the Nuggets are tied in the loss column with the third-place Clippers.
Gordon scored 24 points against his old team on Sunday, with six of his 10 buckets (all six being dunks or layups) being assisted by Nikola Jokic. In four games, Jokic has almost as many as assists to Gordon (11) as Magic player did in Gordon’s 25 games before the trade (Nikola Vucevic’s 15 were the most). The Magic starting lineup has outscored its opponents by 34 points per 100 possessions in its 90 minutes and, with Monte Morris having returned from an 11-game absence on Sunday, the Nuggets are #fullsquad.
Week 16: vs. DET, vs. SAS, vs. SAS, vs. BOS
Last Week: 4 ↓
Pace: 102.4 (3) OffRtg: 116.4 (5) DefRtg: 109.9 (8) NetRtg: +6.5 (3)
Jrue Holiday had a pretty good week, averaging 26.8 points (on 63% shooting) and 8.5 assists over the first four games of the Bucks’ six-game trip and then signing a contract extension that will pay him more than $130 million over the next four years. Holiday has registered career-high marks in effective field goal percentage (57.9%) and true shooting percentage (60.1%), and improvement has come both inside and out. Both his field goal percentage in the paint (60.6%) and his effective field goal percentage from outside the paint (54.9%) are the best marks of his 12 years in the league.
The Bucks lost the first game of the trip, playing even with the Clippers on 2-point shots and free throws, but allowing LA to make 19 3-pointers. Three of those 19 (one, two, three) came on a critical third-quarter stretch where the Bucks went to zone, got a little scrambled, and let the Clippers expand on what had been just a three-point lead. The Bucks have already played almost three times as many possessions of zone (117) as they did last season (40), according to Synergy tracking. They’re 4-7 when their opponent has made 18 or more 3-pointers, with win No. 4 coming Friday in Portland when Giannis Antetokounmpo outscored the Blazers, 30-18, in the restricted area.
The Western Conference trip wraps up on Thursday, but the Bucks are only home for the second game of a back-to-back before heading back out on another three-game trip that includes a Minnesota-Atlanta back-to-back.
Week 16: @ GSW, @ DAL, vs. CHA, @ ORL
Last Week: 5 ↓
Pace: 101.0 (7) OffRtg: 111.9 (14) DefRtg: 107.2 (2) NetRtg: +4.7 (6)
The Sixers went 7-3, with the league’s No. 1 defense, over Joel Embiid’s 10-game absence. That overall success probably hurts his Kia MVP candidacy, but his team certainly missed him as the MVP front runner and the Nuggets turned a 44-22 first quarter into an easy win in Denver on Tuesday. Only one of those seven wins came against a team that’s currently more than a game over .500, and that was against the shorthanded Lakers.
Embiid gave the offense a boost upon his return on Saturday, scoring 24 points (with 17 free throw attempts) in less than 29 minutes against Minnesota. The Philly bench was generally good (the Sixers outscored their opponents by 14.2 points per 100 possessions with Shake Milton on the floor) over his absence, but the Wolves were able to hang around, because they won the minutes with Embiid on the bench. And without him on Sunday, the Sixers had one of their worst defensive games of the season, allowing the Grizzlies to register 25 fast break points despite committing just six live-ball turnovers. The loss kept them in a tie with Brooklyn for first place in the East, with the final head-to-head meeting coming (in Philly) next week.
Embiid ended up missing both of his team’s games against Nikola Jokic, but he made it back in time to face the Celtics, against whom he totaled 80 points over two games in January, on Tuesday. The Sixers have another back-to-back later this week, so they’ll likely play in Oklahoma City without him.
Week 16: @ BOS, @ NOP, @ OKC
Last Week: 3 ↓
Pace: 97.9 (27) OffRtg: 116.7 (4) DefRtg: 110.4 (10) NetRtg: +6.3 (4)
The level that the Clippers’ offense was at — 126 points scored per 100 possessions, less than 11 turnovers per 100, 45% from 3-point range — over their six-game winning streak (capped by a 24-point win over the Bucks on Monday) certainly wasn’t sustainable, even if Paul George’s foot injury magically healed overnight. But they really came back to Earth in losses to the Magic and Nuggets last week, shooting 31% from 3-point range and totaling just 26 free throw attempts over the two games. The first part is some regression to the mean, while the second is a recurring issue.
The Clippers have clinched the season series with the Lakers, taking care of business against the shorthanded champs on Sunday. The offense disappeared last week, but they rank fifth defensively since the All-Star break, climbing into the top 10 on that end of the floor (for the full season) for the first time. Their reward is two more games against top-10 offenses (those of the Blazers and Suns), having last faced them both in Week 2.
With Serge Ibaka still on the shelf (though looking fabulous), the Clippers are going to give a 10-day contract to DeMarcus Cousins, who has shot poorly, both inside and out, this season. He could help on the glass, ranking second in defensive rebounding percentage among individuals, but the Clippers actually lead the league in defensive rebounding percentage over the three weeks since Ibaka last played and rank second (behind Chicago) for the season.
Week 16: vs. POR, vs. PHX, vs. HOU, vs. DET
Last Week: 9 ↑
Pace: 98.3 (23) OffRtg: 113.7 (11) DefRtg: 111.4 (13) NetRtg: +2.3 (9)
It was noted in this space last week that the Mavs’ minutes with Luka Doncic off the floor have been the bigger reason for their offensive drop-off from last season. But over the last seven days, Jalen Brunson started fixing the problem, averaging 16 points and 4.5 assists as the Mavs won the last four games of a five-game trip. The Mavs have outscored their opponents by 78 points, scoring more than 120 per 100 possessions, in Brunson’s 107 minutes on the floor over the winning streak.
Among 146 players with at least 300 field goal attempts in each of the last two seasons, Brunson has seen the fourth biggest jump in effective field goal percentage (from 52.2% to 60.5%). His jumper has been better and his field goal percentage in the paint (where he’s taken more than half his shots) has gone from 53.1% to 62.6% (29th among 161 players with at least 150 paint attempts). He torched the Celtics for 21 points on Wednesday (plowing through Marcus Smart at one point) and had one really tough (and pretty) finish with his right hand in New York on Friday.
The Mavs have just 10 games remaining against teams that currently have winning records, and five of the 10 (four at home and including visits from the Jazz, Bucks and Sixers) are in the next 10 days.
Week 16: vs. UTA, @ HOU, vs. MIL, vs. SAS
Last Week: 10 ↑
Pace: 98.8 (20) OffRtg: 116.3 (6) DefRtg: 115.9 (29) NetRtg: +0.5 (15)
It’s too early to judge the new Blazers at this point. Their new starting lineup has allowed just 98.4 points per 100 possessions in its 55 minutes, but that’s skewed by just 14 points on 32 possessions from the very shorthanded Thunder on Saturday. One night earlier, the Blazers’ starters were outscored by 17 points by the Bucks in less than 15 minutes. But there’s progress in that late-night Dame Time was not required against Detroit and Oklahoma City, the Blazers’ first two double-digit wins since March 1 and just the seventh and eighth times this season that they’ve held their opponent under 105 points per 100 possessions.
Maybe just as important is that Robert Covington’s remarkable shooting continued into April. He had shot 32% from 3-point range through February, but is 53-for-105 (50.5%) from beyond the arc since March 1. The Blazers need Covington on the floor to be at their best defensively and, if he continues to make shots, opposing defenses will continue to pay for sending extra defenders at Damian Lillard.
With the loss to the Bucks on Friday, the Blazers have lost the last six games they’ve played (and are 3-9) against the eight teams with better records than they have. They’ll play two of those teams on the road on Tuesday and Thursday.
Week 16: @ LAC, @ UTA, vs. DET, vs. MIA
Last Week: 11 ↑
Pace: 101.2 (6) OffRtg: 110.2 (18) DefRtg: 109.2 (7) NetRtg: +1.0 (12)
The Grizzlies are 6-3 over the last 16 days and all three losses have come to Utah. Wednesday was the second time in six days that they went toe-to-toe with the best team in the league, but, after making four high-degree-of-difficulty shots (one, two, three, four) in the second half, Ja Morant missed the free throws that would have made it a one-possession game in the final minute.
The Grizzlies recovered from that disappointment (and a 5-for-18 performance from beyond the arc) to drain 35 3-pointers against the Wolves and Sixers over the weekend just the third and fourth times they’ve made more than 15 3-pointers in a game this season. The Grizzlies remain one of the five teams that rank in the bottom 10 in both 3-point percentage (35.3%, 21st) and the percentage of their shots that have come from 3-point range (33.0%, 28th). But they’re also one of the three teams (the Clippers and Bucks are the others) with two guys — De’Anthony Melton (45.3%) and Desmond Bane (45.1%) — in the top 10 in 3-point percentage among individuals. Melton, who shot 29% from beyond the arc through his first two seasons in the league, had eight of the 35 3-pointers over the weekend. The Grizzlies have outscored their opponents by more than 14.4 points per 100 possessions in his 263 minutes on the floor alongside Morant.
Their win in Philly on Sunday improved the Grizzlies to 12-6 against the Eastern Conference and began a stretch where they’re playing eight of nine games against the East. This is the sixth time since they were 9-7 that they’ve been one game over .500 and they’ve lost the last five opportunities to make it two over.
Week 16: @ MIA, @ ATL, @ NYK, vs. IND
Last Week: 7 ↓
Pace: 99.2 (18) OffRtg: 109.8 (20) DefRtg: 105.6 (1) NetRtg: +4.2 (7)
The Lakers faced three top-10 offenses last week and allowed just 102.3 points per 100 possessions over the three games. The Bucks, Kings and Clippers combined to shoot just 53% in the restricted area, turn the ball over 57 times, and total just 43 free throw attempts. The Lakers now rank in the top six in each of the four factors (shooting, free throw rate, turnover rate, and rebounding) on defense. (Over the 25 years for which we have play-by-play data, no team has ranked higher than ninth in all four over a full season.)
They won all four quarters and got 30 points from Kyle Kuzma in Sacramento on Friday, but, despite the suffocating defense, that was the only win in the three games, because the Lakers shot just 52% in the restricted area and turned the ball over 58 times themselves. They’ve now surpassed the Cavs for the least efficient games in the league, having combined with their opponents to score just 107.7 points per 100 possessions over the full season (Cleveland is at 107.9).
Andre Drummond’s Lakers debut was short lived, but when healthy, this team will have as many options at center (five?) as Brooklyn does. The question is when we’ll see that “when healthy” part. They’ve already slipped from second to fifth place in the West since LeBron James’ injury and they’re just a half game ahead of the sixth-place Blazers as they head East for a five-game trip.
Week 16: @ TOR, @ MIA, @ BKN
Last Week: 14 ↑
Pace: 98.5 (22) OffRtg: 113.8 (10) DefRtg: 112.1 (22) NetRtg: +1.7 (10)
Trae Young’s ability to take over games is hampered by his inability to shoot very effectively. His effective field goal percentage of 49.8% is well below the league average (53.7%) and ranks 139th among 177 players with at least 300 field goal attempts. Generally, Young’s passing and ability to draw fouls are why the Hawks’ offense has been so much better with him on the floor. But in scoring or assisting on all 34 of the Hawks’ points over the last 15 minutes of their double-overtime win in San Antonio on Thursday, Young got hot, with one floater in the first overtime being particularly ridiculous. The Hawks are still just 11-16 in games that were within five points in the last five minutes, mostly because their clutch defense has been bad.
Without Young on Friday and with him scoring just 13 points on 3-for-11 shooting on Sunday, the Hawks’ offense remained efficient enough to beat the Pelicans and Warriors. Their offense with Young off the floor has been an issue for three years now, but they’ve scored 128 points per 100 possessions in Lou Williams’ 79 minutes thus far. The Hawks stumbled a bit on their eight-game trip through the Western Conference, but they’re still 12-4 (tied for fourth best in the league) since March 1 and (starting with the win over Golden State on Sunday) playing 16 of their final 23 games at home.
Week 16: vs. NOP, vs. MEM, vs. CHI, @ CHA
Last Week: 21 ↑
Pace: 97.5 (28) OffRtg: 108.2 (24) DefRtg: 109.0 (6) NetRtg: -0.9 (19)
The streaky Heat are on the upswing again. They won a couple of games in New York and Indiana 90s-Eastern-Conference style (average score: 95-88) before finding some offense against the Warriors and Cavs. Over their last six games, the ball has been moving (they’ve recorded assists on 72% of their buckets while keeping their turnovers relatively low) and Duncan Robinson has shot 30-for-55 (55%) from 3-point range, but the Heat were having trouble finding their way to the basket and/or the free throw line before breaking through on Thursday and Saturday.
Those were the first two games for Victor Oladipo, he had 10 of the team’s 65 assists (including a lovely lob to Bam Adebayo), and the Heat allowed just 96 points on 110 possessions (87 per 100) in his 51 minutes on the floor with Adebayo. But he also shot just 5-for-21 from the field (including 1-for-10 from 3-point range) and 3-for-7 from the line. Oladipo has only once (2017-18, his first season with Indiana) had a true shooting percentage at or above the league average and he’s still on a quest to find any kind of rhythm offensively post-injury.
The Heat have played only four of their first 15 post-break games against teams that currently have winning records. Their schedule starts to get tougher this week.
— Miami HEAT (@MiamiHEAT) April 2, 2021
Week 16: vs. MEM, vs. LAL, @ POR
Last Week: 12 ↓
Pace: 99.7 (15) OffRtg: 109.9 (19) DefRtg: 110.7 (11) NetRtg: -0.8 (18)
The Spurs were probably due for a slide, given the strength of their second-half schedule. But their 2-7 stretch over the last 16 days has includes losses to Charlotte, Sacramento, Atlanta and Indiana. The last five games have actually been their best offensive stretch of the season (116.9 points scored per 100 possessions), with seven guys averaging double-figures. But they rank 27th defensively over the larger, 2-7 stretch, with their opponents having shot 40% from 3-point range and turned their ball over a lot less (11.2 per 100 possessions) than they did prior (13.8).
The Spurs’ own turnover rate (11.3 per 100) is still the lowest in the 25 years for which we have play-by-play data, but they’ve been even with their opponents over the nine games. That’s a problem given their disadvantages in shooting and on the glass. Six of the nine games have come against top-10 offenses, but eight of the nine have come at home. Their homestand comes to an end with a game against the 30th-ranked Cavs, but starting Wednesday, they’ll play 17 of their final 24 games on the road and 13 of those 24 against those top-10 offenses.
Week 16: vs. CLE, @ DEN, @ DEN, @ DAL
Last Week: 17 ↑
Pace: 98.7 (21) OffRtg: 113.4 (12) DefRtg: 111.7 (16) NetRtg: +1.7 (11)
Maybe April is the Celtics’ month. Things were looking down (again) when they closed March (their second straight losing month), but since flipping the calendar, they’re 2-0, they’ve allowed just a point per possession, and, after a rough first two games in green, Evan Fournier is 11-for-16 from 3-point range.
Meanwhile, the decision to turn the starting center job over to Robert Williams III is looking better than the decision to trade for Fournier. The Celtics are 4-1 with Williams as the starter and have outscored their opponents by 25 points in 44 minutes with their new starting lineup on the floor. And in his five starts, Williams has 23 assists and just three turnovers. Some of those assists have been handoffs, but the 23-year-old has an eye for open shooters and an ability to deliver sharp and on-target passes. One dime to Fournier on Friday, where he quickly determined who was open as the defense started scrambling, was particularly notable.
On Tuesday, the real test for Williams comes in the form of Joel Embiid, who has destroyed the Celtics in two meetings thus far. Williams didn’t play in the first of those two games and only matched up with Embiid for a short time in the second.
😤 HERE COMES JAYLEN BROWN! 😤 pic.twitter.com/vhjLxx325R
— NBA (@NBA) April 3, 2021
Week 16: vs. PHI, vs. NYK, vs. MIN, @ DEN
Last Week: 16
Pace: 99.9 (13) OffRtg: 110.4 (17) DefRtg: 111.5 (14) NetRtg: -1.2 (20)
With LaMelo Ball and now Gordon Hayward (who suffered a sprained right foot on Friday) out long-term, the 2020-21 Hornets are basically the 2019-20 Hornets, with Brad Wanamaker playing the role of Dwayne Bacon. The ’19-20 Hornets were not good (they ranked in the bottom six on both ends of the floor) and the first full game without Hayward, a 30-point loss in Boston on Sunday, was rough. No Charlotte lineup that doesn’t include Ball or Hayward has played more than 23 minutes.
But some of these players — Miles Bridges (23 points on 8-for-12 shooting against the Pacers on Friday) and Terry Rozier in particular — are improved. Without two of their three leading scorers, the Hornets will have to get after it defensively. They did win the second half (after Hayward was injured) in Indiana by forcing 12 Pacers turnovers, with Devonte’ Graham accounting for four of their 10 steals, over those final 24 minutes. They’ve allowed just 102.1 points per 100 possessions in 602 minutes with Graham and Bridges on the floor together.
Week 16: @ OKC, @ MIL, vs. ATL
Last Week: 13 ↓
Pace: 96.4 (30) OffRtg: 108.5 (21) DefRtg: 107.6 (4) NetRtg: +0.9 (13)
There was a good-things-happen-when-you-play-with-pace moment early in the Knicks’ game against Dallas on Friday where Julius Randle pushed the ball up the floor, the Mavs weren’t matched up, and RJ Barrett drained a wide-open 3 from the left corner (where he’s shooting 49%). But the loss was an otherwise ugly offensive performance from the team that ranks last in pace and 21st in offensive efficiency.
With their top-five defense, the Knicks are 21-7 when they’ve scored more than 105 points per 100 possessions, which shouldn’t be a difficult benchmark to hit in today’s NBA, since every defense in the league has allowed more than 105 per 100 for the season. But offense remains a struggle, with the Knicks ranking 29th in 2-point percentage (48.9%) and 26th in the percentage of their shots (34.0%) that have come from 3-point range. They have seen a jump in the latter mark (38.3%) since the All-Star break (tying their season high with 19 3s in Detroit on Saturday), with Reggie Bullock, Alec Burks and Randle all shooting better than 40% on more than five 3-point attempts per game. But the Knicks still rank 28th in post-break effective field goal percentage (51.0%), with Randle struggling inside the arc and all their point guards shooting poorly.
The Knicks are just 1-6 within the Atlantic Division, though they’ve lost their last four games against the Nets and Sixers by a total of just 16 points. Three of their five remaining divisional games are this week.
Week 16: @ BKN, @ BOS, vs. MEM, vs. TOR
Last Week: 18
Pace: 99.3 (17) OffRtg: 115.1 (8) DefRtg: 115.2 (28) NetRtg: -0.0 (28)
Just as the Pelicans had seemingly turned the corner (winning four of five), they lost both Zion Williamson (sprained right thumb) and Brandon Ingram (sore right foot) to injuries. Their first two games without their stars (losses to Orlando and Atlanta, with 40 total turnovers) were two of their six worst offensive games of the season. But Lonzo Ball returned from a seven-game absence on Sunday and tallied 27 points (shooting 8-for-15 from 3-point range), nine assists and three steals in a much-needed win in Houston.
The Pelicans actually blew a 14-point lead, but recovered with a 10-0 run midway through the fourth quarter. The first four points of that run (including a bully-ball and-one) were scored by James Johnson, who arrived in the JJ Redick trade and has averaged 17.0 points (on 53% shooting), 3.7 assists, 1.3 steals and 2.3 blocks over these last last three games. If there’s a silver lining to the Ingram and Williamson absences, it’s that Johnson has given the Pelicans another option on the frontline, maybe as a small-ball center, where he had a few good moments in Minnesota last season.
Both Ingram (who hadn’t missed a game before Thursday) and Williamson (who had only missed two) were listed as questionable for Sunday. Maybe that means they’re close to a return, with the Pelicans continuing their East-heavy stretch of schedule this week.
Week 16: @ ATL, @ BKN, vs. PHI, @ CLE
Last Week: 15 ↓
Pace: 103.1 (2) OffRtg: 108.4 (22) DefRtg: 110.3 (9) NetRtg: -2.0 (22)
The Warriors are hanging onto the final Play-In spot in the Western Conference by the thinnest of threads, having lost 12 of their last 16 games to fall four games under .500. The low point was, of course, a 53-point loss in Tampa on Friday. The Warriors were without Stephen Curry and Draymond Green, but the Raptors have been similarly struggling and shorthanded, and a 53-point defeat is embarrassing no matter who did or didn’t play.
Even if you disregard the 53-point loss and even with James Wiseman’s minutes being mostly bad, the bigger drop-off from the 19-15 Warriors to this 4-12 squad has come in the minutes that Curry has been off the floor. They lost in Miami and Atlanta last week with Curry registering a positive plus-minus in both games, getting outscored by 23 points (allowing 68 points on 44 defensive possessions) in his 23:05 on the bench. Jordan Poole had a strong stretch of games when he first came back from the NBA G League, but has shot 33% over the last seven.
The Warriors will play four of the worst teams in the league — Washington, Houston, Oklahoma City and Cleveland — over the next two weeks, but those are part of a five-games-in-seven-nights stretch that begins Friday.
Week 16: vs. MIL, vs. WAS, vs. HOU
Last Week: 20
Pace: 100.6 (11) OffRtg: 113.8 (9) DefRtg: 117.9 (30) NetRtg: -4.0 (24)
The Warriors certainly aren’t running away with the last Play-In spot in the West, but the Kings have already missed out on a few opportunities to move into 10th place. For the second time this season, they’ve followed a 7-1 stretch with three straight losses (the other occasion became a nine-game losing streak). They shot 30% from 3-point range against the Spurs and Lakers, and then gave up 60 points in the paint to the Bucks, who were without Giannis Antetokounmpo on Saturday.
The Kings have seen the league’s biggest drop in the percentage of their opponents’ shots that have come from 3-point range, from 41% (fourth highest) last season to just 36% (third lowest) this season. But the 53.0 points in the paint per 100 possessions that they’ve allowed is the third highest opponent rate in the 25 years for which we have shot-location and play-by-play data. When Marvin Bagley III was healthy and starting, the Kings’ lineup with Tyrese Haliburton in Bagley’s place (their closing lineup) allowed just 102.4 points per 100 possessions in its 174 minutes. But as it’s started the last 11 games, the Haliburton lineup has allowed 120.6 per 100 in 202 minutes.
The next two games provide another opportunity to climb onto play-in position, as well as a chance to improve the defensive numbers. The Kings still have all six of their games against the Wolves and Thunder left on their schedule.
Week 16: @ MIN, vs. DET, @ UTA
Last Week: 19 ↓
Pace: 100.6 (10) OffRtg: 110.8 (15) DefRtg: 111.0 (12) NetRtg: -0.2 (17)
The Pacers are still just two games in the loss column behind the fourth-place Hawks. But they blew a huge opportunity last week, losing at home to both Miami and Charlotte. They were good enough defensively in both games, but scored an anemic 93 points per 100 possessions over those 96 minutes, with the nadir being a six-minute, nine-possession scoreless stretch in the fourth quarter on Wednesday in which they just couldn’t get to the basket. The Pacers have dropped to second (behind New Orleans) in the percentage of their shots (38%) that have come in the restricted area.
Their starting lineup has now been held under a point per possession in its 177 minutes. Malcolm Brogdon and Domantas Sabonis both missed their game in San Antonio on Saturday, but the Pacers’ bench came up big (they won a game in which their makeshift starting lineup was outscored by 15 points in its 19 minutes) and T.J. McConnell saved them with six points (all on short, pull-up jumpers) in overtime. McConnell’s 57% (85-for-150) on shots between the restricted area is the third best mark (behind those of Richaun Holmes and Robin Lopez) among 144 players with at least 100 attempts in that range.
The Pacers have another big game, this one against a team behind them in the standings, on Tuesday.
Week 16: vs. CHI, vs. MIN, @ ORL, @ MEM
Last Week: 22
Pace: 100.7 (8) OffRtg: 110.6 (16) DefRtg: 112.2 (24) NetRtg: -1.6 (21)
The Bulls’ first four games with Nikola Vucevic were their worst four-game stretch of defense (119.3 points allowed per 100 possessions) since mid-January. Their opponents shot 52% from the field (including 40% from beyond the arc), and the defense was particularly bad (132 points allowed on 100 possessions) in the first quarter. When they cut a 16-point deficit to three (playing without Zach LaVine) in Phoenix on Wednesday, Vucevic got beat off the dribble by Devin Booker the bucket that kept them from having a chance to tie.
Game 5 was against the league’s No. 1 offense, but the Bulls got the Nets without James Harden or Kevin Durant and they took control by holding Brooklyn to just 22 points over the final 15 minutes of the first half. With LaVine dealing with an ankle injury and having shot just 40% (including 5-for-25 from 3-point range) since the deadline, the Bulls have scored less than a point per possession in his 86 minutes on the floor alongside Vucevic. They each have four assists to each other, with the first of LaVine’s assists to Vucevic (on an empty-corner dribble-handoff) being the prettiest action of the bunch.
The Bulls have played the fewest games (they’re 4-5) in the group of teams from 4-11 in the East, but begin a five-game trip with games in Indiana, Tampa and Atlanta. The first two (Tuesday and Thursday) are against the teams directly in front of them and behind them in the standings.
Week 16: @ IND, @ TOR, @ ATL, @ MIN
Last Week: 27 ↑
Pace: 98.9 (19) OffRtg: 105.1 (28) DefRtg: 112.0 (21) NetRtg: -6.9 (27)
The post-deadline Magic are frisky! They held three straight opponents to a point per possession or less for the first time all season, picking up road wins against the Clippers (!) and Pelicans. And after getting thumped in Utah on Saturday (and despite losing more guys to injury), they hung around with the streaking Nuggets for 45 minutes on Sunday night. With six of their eight available guys in double-figures, it was their best offensive game since they traded … well, their entire offense.
Wendell Carter Jr. may have taken his trade from Chicago personally. He was coming off the bench until Khem Birch joined the injured list, but he’s looked more aggressive with the Magic and has averaged 18.7 points and 11 rebounds over the last three games, doing some good work as a roll man. One of the highlights on Sunday was a crafty pocket pass from Chuma Okeke (running pick-and-rolls because why not) and a tough, and-one finish from Carter.
Week 16: vs. WAS, vs. IND, vs. MIL
Last Week: 28 ↑
Pace: 97.9 (26) OffRtg: 107.8 (25) DefRtg: 111.8 (17) NetRtg: -4.0 (23)
Killian Hayes returned from a three-month absence on Saturday, but the Pistons were down 14-0 before he stepped on the floor. They had as many games determined by 20 points or more last week (a win over the Wizards sandwiched by two losses) as they had in the 14 weeks prior. One of their previous wins by 20-plus was in Tampa, the Pistons completed a three-game sweep of the Raptors on Monday, and no team has been more efficient offensively (124.7 points scored per 100 possessions) against Toronto than Dwane Casey’s current squad. Saddiq Bey has otherwise shot 3-for-24 from 3-point range over his last five games, but was 5-for-7 from beyond the arc on Monday and 12-for-22 in the season series.
Hamidou Diallo is off to a strong offensive start with his new team, averaging 14.5 points (on an effective field goal percentage of 66%) in just 24.2 minutes through four games. He’s been mostly doing work in the paint, but hit a logo 3-pointer against the Blazers on Wednesday. On the other end of the floor, the Pistons have allowed 136 points per 100 possessions in Diallo’s 97 minutes.
The Pistons’ five-game trip this week is the end of a stretch where they will have played 11 games (with four back-to-backs) in 17 days. And they’ll still have two more five-in-seven stretches remaining after that.
JERAMI GRANT GREETS THE RIM! 💥😱 pic.twitter.com/EuTRaTs8Gt
— NBA (@NBA) April 1, 2021
Week 16: @ OKC, @ DEN, @ SAC, @ POR, @ LAC
Last Week: 23 ↓
Pace: 100.7 (9) OffRtg: 104.2 (29) DefRtg: 111.9 (18) NetRtg: -7.6 (29)
The Thunder, who ranked 30th in this space at the start of the season and are now playing without all five of their opening-night starters, are one of eight teams that have yet to lose more than three straight games this season. Their latest streak-ending win came Wednesday when they outscored the Raptors, 26-14, in the fourth quarter. With their mobile bigs, they were able to switch comfortably, keep the Toronto ball-handlers in front of them, and force tough shots.
Of course, the defense did not hold up against three much more potent offenses last week, allowing the Mavs, Suns and Blazers to score almost 130 points per 100 possessions as they lost the three games by a total of 106 points. The Thunder are the only team without a win by at least 20 points, but they have 12 losses by 20 or more. And in just one week, their defense slipped from 11th to 18th for the season.
Amazingly, the Thunder were only outscored by eight points in Kenrich Williams’ 69 minutes on the floor over those three losses, getting rolled, 229-131 (that’s a -98), in his 131 minutes on the bench. In 988 total minutes for a team that has been outscored by 362 points overall, Williams is a plus-2.
Week 16: vs. DET, vs. CHA, vs. CLE, vs. PHI
Last Week: 26
Pace: 99.8 (14) OffRtg: 112.5 (13) DefRtg: 112.0 (19) NetRtg: +0.5 (14)
The Raptors have now lost their last 10 games that were within five points in the last five minutes. They were within four with less than five minutes left in Oklahoma City on Wednesday, only to score just once on their final nine possessions. Pascal Siakam had another big shot go halfway down before popping back out. And with their 53-point win over the Warriors on Friday, the Raptors have a positive point differential (+25 for the season) with a 19-30 record. They’re 13-12 in games determined by double-digits and 6-18 in games decided by nine points or fewer.
The struggles of the Pacers and Bulls have kept the Play-In club door open. But the Raptors just lost to the Pistons and Thunder, allowing two bottom-10 offenses to score almost 117 points per possessions, with fouls (Detroit and OKC combined for 72 free throw attempts) still a problem. Kyle Lowry is out with a foot infection and, with a make-up game against the Bulls squeezed into the schedule this week, the Raptors are set to play eight games over the next 12 days.
Week 16: vs. WAS, vs. LAL, vs. CHI, @ CLE, @ NYK
Last Week: 25 ↓
Pace: 104.7 (1) OffRtg: 108.3 (23) DefRtg: 113.4 (26) NetRtg: -5.1 (25)
Russell Westbrook can still win a game for you and Monday against the Pacers was one of those games. In 39 minutes, Westbrook scored 35 points, grabbed 14 rebounds, and dished out 21 assists (with just four turnovers), leading the Wizards to just their seventh win within the Eastern Conference. He was on the attack, driving 39 times (he averages less than 18 drives per game), and when he wasn’t dusting Myles Turner with in-and-out dribbles, he was drawing his attention and dropping dimes to his teammates.
Alas, that was just one of the four games the Wizards played without Bradley Beal last week. Robin Lopez (who might not be playing if it weren’t for an injury to Daniel Gafford) has been willing to shoulder some of the scoring burden, totaling 50 points on 23-for-30 shooting over the last three and still leading the league (by a healthy margin) in post-up efficiency. But the Wizards have scored a paltry 94.0 points per 100 possessions (with Deni Avdija and Garrison Mathews combining to shoot 4-for-26 from 3-point range) over the three games. They’ve seen the seventh biggest drop in points scored per 100 possessions (-1.9) from last season, and that drop is even bigger if you discount their Beal-less eight games in the bubble.
Russ with 22 PTS, 15 REB, 15 AST and THIS JAM! 💥😤 pic.twitter.com/auMZmLnYgg
— NBA (@NBA) March 31, 2021
Week 16: @ TOR, @ ORL, @ GSW, @ PHX
Last Week: 30 ↑
Pace: 101.7 (4) OffRtg: 106.8 (26) DefRtg: 114.1 (27) NetRtg: -7.3 (28)
Through the Wolves’ first 18 games that were within five points in the last five minutes, No. 1 pick Anthony Edwards was usually on the floor, but with a small role down the stretch, registering a clutch usage rate of just 13.4% (fifth among the seven Wolves that had played at least 20 clutch minutes). But over the team’s last eight close games (since Feb. 24), Edwards has been the guy (despite the presence of Karl-Anthony Towns), with a clutch usage rate of 39.7%.
The team’s clutch offense still hasn’t been great (105.9 points scored per 100 possessions over those eight games), but it’s been better than it was prior (100.7). And as the Wolves split games with the Nets and Knicks last week, Edwards made some huge plays down the stretch. In Brooklyn on Monday, there was a sequence where he had a put-back, a steal, and a tough transition finish to put the Wolves within one in the final minute. And against New York on Wednesday, he scored seven straight points before kicking out to Malik Beasley for the go-ahead 3-pointer with 37 seconds left.
Tyrese Haliburton (81) is the only rookie who’s played more clutch minutes than Edwards (77), but he hasn’t finished late-game possessions nearly as much.
Week 16: vs. SAC, @ IND, @ BOS, vs. CHI
Last Week: 24 ↓
Pace: 98.1 (24) OffRtg: 103.6 (30) DefRtg: 112.2 (23) NetRtg: -8.5 (30)
The Cavs have won just one of the last 13 quarters that they’ve played, and they won it (the third quarter in Miami on Saturday) by a score of 19-17, when the Heat had almost as many turnovers (5) as field goals (6). The Cavs rank last offensively and their current, five-game losing streak has been their worst stretch of offense (93.4 points scored per 100 possessions) of the season. Collin Sexton has been pretty consistent (inside the arc, at least), coming back from a two-game absence to average 24.0 points on 50% shooting over the last four. But the offense has still been bad (less than a point per possession) with him on the floor and absolutely brutal (79 per 100) with him off the floor.
The Cavs did get Kevin Love and Matthew Dellavedova back last week. And Isaac Okoro had a little bit of a breakout, shooting 9-for-11 over the last two games, making some timely dives (one, two, three) from the weak side. The Cavs have certainly made an early investment in the No. 5 pick, who leads all rookies at 32.0 minutes per game and is one of two first-year guys (No. 4 pick Patrick Williams is the other) who have started every game they’ve played.
Week 16: @ SAS, @ OKC, vs. TOR, vs. NOP
Last Week: 29 ↓
Pace: 101.2 (5) OffRtg: 106.0 (27) DefRtg: 112.0 (20) NetRtg: -6.0 (26)
Kelly Olynyk has not been bought out, is playing for the Rockets, and has actually given Houston offense (which ranked last over February and March). With Olynyk averaging 18.2 points on 58% shooting, the five games he’s played have been the Rockets’ best stretch of offense (113.3 points scored per 100 possessions) since Feb. 1. Minutes with Olynyk and Christian Wood on the floor together have not been good (-27 in 48 minutes, 101 points scored on 109 offensive possessions), but the Rockets have no reason not to see if there’s anything there.
Avery Bradley played his first basketball in almost two months last week (and scored 15 points in Boston on Friday), but the Rockets remain shorthanded on the perimeter, with John Wall, Eric Gordon, David Nwaba and Dante Exum all on the shelf and with Ben McLemore having been waived on Saturday. While the offense has finally shown some life, the defense (which still ranked in the top 10 on March 1) has not been good. They’ve lost five straight, and they’re dipping into another difficult stretch of schedule.
Week 16: vs. PHX, vs. DAL, @ LAC, @ GSW