Power Rankings, Week 17: Suns rise to No. 1 as regular season enters crucial stretch
See where all 30 teams rank as Phoenix climbs to the top and Philadelphia prepares for a big week.
We are set to hit the 3/4-mark of the season this week (when the first game is complete on Wednesday), and, whether you’re talking about the top of each conference or seeding battles below, things are much more clear than they were a month ago.
The second-place Phoenix Suns made things a little more interesting at the top of the Western Conference with their win over the first-place Utah Jazz on Wednesday, only to be beat the next night by the third-place LA Clippers. The Denver Nuggets are climbing, while the Los Angeles Lakers anticipate the returns of LeBron James and Anthony Davis. And where things could get very interesting is the fight for the last two play-in spots, where the New Orleans Pelicans are possibly finding their footing as the San Antonio Spurs and Golden State Warriors lose theirs.
The Eastern Conference has some separation between 10th and 11th place, thanks to the Chicago Bulls’ win over the Toronto Raptors last week. But just two games in the loss column separate the fourth-place Atlanta Hawks (29-25) from the ninth-place Indiana Pacers (25-27). We still have five weeks to go, but one game this week (Wednesday in Philadelphia) will go a long way in determining the No. 1 seed in the East.
For now, the Brooklyn Nets remain above the Philadelphia 76ers in the Power Rankings, with four West teams in the top five.
Plus-Minus Players of the Week
- Right Way: Nicolas Batum (LAC) was a plus-65 in four games last week.
- Wrong Way: Theo Maledon (OKC) was a minus-74 in four games last week.
Teams of the Week
- Make It Last Forever: LA Clippers (4-0) — The team that wasn’t getting to the rim very much is suddenly dunking on dudes.
- Something Just Ain’t Right: Sacramento (0-3) — The door is open and the Kings refuse to walk through.
East vs. West
- The West is 187-157 (.544) against the East in interconference games though the East was 16-13 last week.
Schedule strength through Week 16
- Toughest: 1. Dallas, 2. Minnesota, 3. Washington
- Easiest: 1. Phoenix, 2. New York, 3. Brooklyn
- 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 (+4), Washington (+4), Five teams (+2)
- Free falls of the week: Oklahoma City (-5), Orlando (-5), Sacramento (-5)
Week 17 Team to Watch
- Philadelphia — The Sixers’ game against the Nets on Wednesday (7 p.m. ET, ESPN) will be worth two games in the standings, because it will determine the head-to-head tiebreaker. The Sixers won’t have to deal with James Harden, but they should be facing Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant for the first time this season. And those won’t be the only stars that will test their second-ranked defense this week. The Sixers are in Dallas to face Luka Doncic and the Mavs on Monday (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN). And after the Brooklyn game, they’ll host Kawhi Leonard and the Clippers on Friday (7 p.m. ET, ESPN).
Previous Power Rankings
- Last week: Play-In races heating up in East, West
- Thursday’s notebook: Suns’ defense, Kawhi Leonard in the pick-and-roll and Nets’ switching
- 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 111.5 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: 2 ↑
Pace: 98.2 (24) OffRtg: 115.5 (7) DefRtg: 108.6 (5) NetRtg: +7.0 (2)
In two wins over the Jazz, the Suns have allowed the league’s third-ranked offense to score just 101 points per 100 possessions. And in two losses to the Clippers, they’ve allowed the league’s top-ranked offense to score 123 per 100. The working theory in this space is that their defense is better than the sum of its parts, not great with individual matchups (they rank 29th in isolation defense), but great at helping, rotating, and defending teams that rely on ball movement. There were some really nice sequences in that win over Utah on Wednesday.
The Utah matchup is also a favorable one because the Suns have two of the five guys who have shot better than 50% on at least 200 pull-up 2s. And on Wednesday, Chris Paul (9-for-16) and Devin Booker (6-for-12) were 15-for-28 on those shots against the Jazz’s drop coverage. Booker has had good numbers against the Clips, but the game in L.A. on Thursday got away from the Suns with him off the floor at the start of the third quarter. Since Jae Crowder’s move into the starting lineup in min-March, the team’s minutes with only one of Paul or Booker on the floor (-0.3 points per 100 possessions) haven’t been nearly as good as they were prior (+13.2).
Week 17: vs. HOU, vs. MIA, vs. SAC, vs. SAS
Last Week: 1 ↓
Pace: 99.5 (16) OffRtg: 117.1 (3) DefRtg: 107.6 (3) NetRtg: +9.5 (1)
The Jazz have failed to outscore their opponent from 3-point range in only 11 of their 53 games. Three of those 11 were in December and three of them were last week, when they shot 27% from beyond the arc against the Mavs, Suns and Blazers. Their loss in Dallas was more about the other end of the floor, where the Mavs shot 9-for-17 on off-the-dribble 3s. But for the second time this season, the Suns were able to keep the Jazz’s offense in check by stifling their ball movement with strong pick-and-roll defense and on-a-string rotations. The Jazz have averaged just 296 passes per 24 minutes of possession in their two losses to the Suns (over which they’ve scored just 101 points per 100 possessions), and 342 passes per 24 minutes of possession otherwise.
They survived another poor shooting night from beyond the arc when Donovan Mitchell shot 9-for-12 on non-restricted-area 2-pointers against Portland. Two nights later, he had his third straight game of 37 points or more despite shooting 12-for-31 from the floor, getting to the line for 17 free throw attempts (one off his career high). Prior to that win over the Kings, the Jazz were 3-10 in Mitchell’s career (0-3 this season) when he had a usage rate of 40% or higher.
After they conclude a five-game homestand with a visit from the Pacers on Friday, 15 of the Jazz’s final 16 games will be within the Western Conference.
Week 17: vs. WAS, vs. OKC, vs. IND, @ LAL
Last Week: 3
Pace: 100.2 (12) OffRtg: 117.1 (2) DefRtg: 113.3 (25) NetRtg: +3.9 (8)
Before Kevin Durant’s successful return (17 points on a perfect 5-for-5 from the field) from his hamstring injury, James Harden returned too early from his. And so the Nets remain shorthanded and will be without Harden for their season-series-deciding game in Philadelphia on Wednesday. With Durant’s minutes limited and some role players not shooting as well without Harden (Bruce Brown and Joe Harris have see two of the league’s biggest drops in effective field goal percentage since the All-Star break), this team suddenly has some concerns on offense. Kyrie Irving was ejected early in the third quarter on Saturday and the Nets scored just 52 points on 61 offensive possessions with him off the floor against the Lakers’ top-ranked defense.
On the other end of the floor, LaMarcus Aldridge got bullied by Andre Drummond as DeAndre Jordan got his fifth straight DNP. If there’s one matchup for which Jordan has real value, it would be the matchup with Joel Embiid. The Sixers’ center shot just 7-for-16 with Jordan guarding him in the first two meetings, though the Nets were much better (especially defensively) with Jordan off the floor. They had neither Irving nor Durant for either meeting.
Week 17: @ MIN, @ PHI, vs. CHA, @ MIA
Last Week: 4
Pace: 97.4 (29) OffRtg: 116.7 (4) DefRtg: 111.7 (16) NetRtg: +5.0 (5)
The Nuggets weren’t going to remain perfect with Aaron Gordon, but their eight-game winning streak came to an end in rather remarkable fashion against Boston on Sunday. Of course, while a 31-3 run (turning a 14-point lead into a 14-point deficit) is extraordinary, that it really got going with Nikola Jokic off the floor isn’t an unfamiliar story. The Nuggets have scored almost 20 fewer points per 100 possessions with Jokic off the floor (101.4) than they have with him on the floor (121.2).
That issue has been exacerbated with the absence of Jamal Murray, who’s missed the last four games with a sore right knee. But, prior to Sunday, the Denver bench had been doing its job by holding opposing offenses down. The Nuggets took control of both of their games against the Spurs last week with late-third-quarter runs in which San Antonio struggled to score. For the season, better defense has the Denver bench ranking higher than it did last season, despite the departures of Jerami Grant and Mason Plumlee.
The Nuggets are a game in the loss column behind the third-place Clippers, with the season-series finale set for May 1 in L.A. Of course, it’s not clear that the 3 seed is preferable to the 4 seed this season.
Week 17: @ GSW, vs. MIA, @ HOU
Last Week: 7 ↑
Pace: 97.7 (27) OffRtg: 117.7 (1) DefRtg: 110.9 (10) NetRtg: +6.8 (3)
Just when it looked like Paul George’s foot injury was affecting the Clippers’ offense as a whole, George and the LA offense have roared back to life. The Clippers now have the most efficient offense in NBA history and their five-game winning streak (though it began with a pretty ugly win over the Lakers) has been their most efficient stretch of the season (125.9 points scored per 100 possessions). George has averaged 33.7 points on 56% shooting as he’s played three of the last four games, having found his touch from beyond the arc (14-for-23) and some explosion in the paint. Kawhi Leonard had the Clippers’ best dunk of the season when he elevated over Deandre Ayton on Thursday, and he was topped just three days later.
The Clips have lost Patrick Beverley to a fractured hand, but have outscored their opponents by 57 points (41 per 100 possessions) in Rajon Rondo’s 68 minutes thus far. Bench minutes were huge as they beat the Blazers and Suns last week, giving them the best record (8-3) in games played between the top six teams in the West. They’ve won 11 of their last 13 overall and, with their nine-game homestand in the books, play 11 of their final 17 games on the road.
PG-13, OVER THE TOP! 🤯
LAC up 5 with 3:09 left on NBA LP. pic.twitter.com/UfXmpcyvFy
— NBA (@NBA) April 12, 2021
Week 17: @ IND, @ DET, @ PHI, vs. MIN
Last Week: 6
Pace: 100.9 (7) OffRtg: 111.5 (14) DefRtg: 106.6 (2) NetRtg: +5.0 (6)
Danny Green got off to a slow start with his fourth team in the last four seasons, but he’s shot better with each passing month, he’s seen the third biggest post-break jump in effective field goal percentage among 195 players with at least 150 field goal attempts before the break and at least 75 after it, and his shooting has a major impact in a few of the Sixers’ post-break wins. The latest was in Boston on Tuesday, when Green scored 11 of his 17 points on a 15-0, second-quarter run that gave Philly a double-digit lead that it would not lose.
The Sixers are 18-4 when they’ve had their full starting lineup, with the fourth loss coming Friday in New Orleans, when they had their second worst offensive game of the season (94 points on 106 possessions) against the league’s 28th-ranked defense. Joel Embiid took only five of his 16 shots in the paint, shot 2-for-11 from the outside, had only four free throw attempts, and committed a brutal turnover when the Sixers had a chance to make it a one-possession game with more than a minute to go. According to Second Spectrum tracking, the Sixers have been much less efficient when Embiid has been doubled in the post (0.93 points per possession) than when he hasn’t (1.15), and his passing out of the double-team will remain under the microscope for however long this Sixers’ season lasts.
Eight of the Sixers’ next 10 games are against teams with winning records (and their schedule is pretty soft after that), with the most important of those being a visit from the Nets on Wednesday.
Week 17: @ DAL, vs. BKN, vs. LAC
Last Week: 5 ↓
Pace: 102.4 (3) OffRtg: 116.2 (5) DefRtg: 109.9 (7) NetRtg: +6.2 (4)
Giannis Antetokounmpo is the latest MVP candidate to require some time off, having missed the last five (and seven of the last 12) games with some kind of left knee injury. While the Lakers and Sixers have been able to defend at a high level without their stars, the Bucks have suffered on that end of the floor without Antetokounmpo. They allowed almost 120 points per 100 possessions over a four-game stretch before getting an easy, wire-to-wire victory in Orlando on Sunday. Rebounding, in particular, has been an issue, and the Bucks lost at Golden State on Tuesday when Khris Middleton’s inability to grab a defensive board resulted in the game-winning free throws from Kelly Oubre, the 16th and 17th second chance points for the Warriors.
Overall, the Bucks’ offense has suffered a little more than the defense as they’ve been outscored by 1.8 points per 100 possessions in the 140 minutes with their other four starters on the floor without the MVP. Middleton shot 6-for-27 (with no free throw attempts) and the Bucks scored just eight points over the final eight minutes as they lost a six-point, fourth-quarter lead in Dallas on Thursday.
No playoff or play-in team has more games between them and the teams around them than the third-place Bucks have in the East. They have a couple of days off right now, but will be at a rest-disadvantage (playing the second game of a back-to-back) when they face the fourth-place Hawks for the second time this season on Thursday.
Week 17: @ MIN, @ ATL, vs. MEM
Last Week: 8
Pace: 98.0 (26) OffRtg: 113.8 (10) DefRtg: 111.6 (15) NetRtg: +2.2 (9)
The Mavs are your Jekyll and Hyde Team of the Week, having followed a big win over the Jazz on Monday with a loss in Houston two nights later. The Mavs rank 25th in the percentage of their shots that have come in the restricted area (27%), that rate was just 19% over those two games, and when you’re not getting to the basket very often, you’re more susceptible to make-or-miss-league inconsistency. Luka Doncic’s 6-for-11 from 3-point range against Utah was sandwiched by games in which he shot 1-for-8 and 1-for-9 from beyond the arc.
The Mavs’ loss to the Spurs on Sunday was more about their defense giving up 58 points in the paint and not sending a double-team at DeMar DeRozan in the final seconds. They now rank last in clutch defense, having allowed their opponents to score more than 127 points per 100 possessions with the score within five points in the last five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime. The loss kept them from climbing to within a half game of the sixth-place Blazers, who are in a little big of a slide. Portland won the season series (so it has the tie-breaker), but has the much more difficult schedule going forward.
Week 17: vs. PHI, @ MEM, vs. NYK, vs. SAC
Last Week: 13 ↑
Pace: 97.4 (28) OffRtg: 108.5 (24) DefRtg: 109.3 (6) NetRtg: -0.8 (18)
The Victor Oladipo project got derailed in just his fourth game with the Heat, and with Oladipo not on his team’s four-game trip, we await word on just how long he’ll be out. In the meantime, the Heat continue to ascend the East standings, with a 6-1 stretch having already taken them from eighth to fifth, just a half game behind the fourth-place Hawks. Defense has been the foundation, and they began their trip by holding Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum to just 29 points (on 10-for-28 shooting) on Sunday. But the last five games (which have included three games against top-10 defenses) have also been the Heat’s best stretch of offense this season, with their top four scorers all having shot better than 50% from the field.
The Heat bench has had some major ups and downs. Goran Dragic (9-for-25 over the last three games) is still struggling and, in their loss to Memphis on Tuesday, the Heat were outscored by 18 points in less than 12 minutes with Jimmy Butler off the floor prior to garbage time. But Tyler Herro (five straight games of better than 50% shooting) has seemingly found his rhythm for the first time since he left the bubble.
They’ve won nine of their last 11 road games, but the Heat have a tough, Tuesday-Wednesday back-to-back in Phoenix and Denver.
Week 17: @ PHX, @ DEN, @ MIN, vs. BKN
Last Week: 11 ↑
Pace: 99.3 (18) OffRtg: 110.0 (19) DefRtg: 105.5 (1) NetRtg: +4.5 (7)
The Lakers rank 29th offensively over the 23 days since the game in which LeBron James was injured. Their game in Miami on Thursday got away from them when they scored just four points over a 10 possession stretch spanning the third and fourth quarters, turning the ball over four times. Their 17.9 turnovers per 100 possessions over the last 12 games are the most in the league over that stretch and up from 15.0 (fifth most) prior to that.
But the champs still have the league’s best defense and no matter who’s been available, the effort level has been high and the rotations (see the first defensive possession in Brooklyn gif’d below) have been on point. As they’ve won five of their last eight games to remain above the play-in fray, the Lakers have allowed less than a point per possession. They’ve forced almost as many turnovers as they’ve committed and held their opponents to just 51% shooting in the paint.
Andre Drummond returned from a three-game absence to total 35 points and 23 rebounds in 49 minutes on Thursday and Saturday, Ben McLemore hit five 3-pointers in Brooklyn, and the stars are on their way back.
Week 17: @ NYK, @ CHA, vs. BOS, vs. UTA
Last Week: 9 ↓
Pace: 98.8 (20) OffRtg: 115.9 (6) DefRtg: 116.0 (29) NetRtg: -0.1 (15)
If the Blazers hold onto a top-six seed in the West, they’ll have earned it, given the strength of their remaining schedule. Starting with their loss to the Heat on Sunday, they’re playing 15 of their final 20 games against teams that are currently over .500, with seven of those 15 against the group of eight teams better than the Blazers themselves.
With their losses to the Clippers and Jazz last week, the Blazers are 3-11 (0-8 since mid-February) against those top eight teams, having allowed more than 121 points per 100 possessions over the 14 games. The loss to the Heat dropped them to 5-2 against the other six teams with winning records, having yet to play the Celtics (who they’ll host on Tuesday) or the Grizzlies (who they’ll play three times in the span of six days later this month).
Since the Norman Powell addition, the Blazers have outscored their opponents by 15.4 points per 100 possessions in 157 total minutes with their four perimeter starters on the floor with either Jusuf Nurkic (who’s minutes have been limited) or Enes Kanter. But they’ve had issues otherwise. The on-court numbers for Carmelo Anthony and Derrick Jones Jr. are the worst among Portland’s two-man combos that have played at least 300 minutes and don’t include guys that were traded, and the pairing was a -12 (in less than 10 minutes) in a game the Blazers lost by nine points on Sunday.
Week 17: vs. BOS, @ SAS, @ CHA
Last Week: 10 ↓
Pace: 101.6 (6) OffRtg: 111.3 (15) DefRtg: 110.0 (8) NetRtg: +1.3 (12)
When March became April, the Grizzlies became the Clippers, shooting 44% from 3-point range over their first five games of the month. With the Grizz continuing to do damage in the paint, it was, easily, their best stretch of offense this season (123 points per 100 possessions), and it included three impressive road wins against teams – Philly, Miami and Atlanta – that have otherwise been playing well. Dillon Brooks was on fire and Ja Morant even got into the long-distance act, making nine of his 18 3-point attempts over that stretch.
But the fifth game (Friday in New York) went down to the wire and for the second time in 10 days, Morant missed some critical free throws (along with the game-winning floater at the end of regulation). It was just the fourth time this season that the Grizzlies lost a game in which they scored at least 115 points per 100 possessions. The fifth time came Sunday against Indiana, when the Grizzlies scored an incredible 88 points in the paint, the most for any team in a game in more than nine years (since the Nuggets scored 92 in the paint in Jan., 2012). The 3-point shooting dried up (they were 6-for-20) and their comeback from an 18-point deficit fell short when Morant turned the ball over in the final minute.
The Grizzlies can still climb out of the play-in group, especially because they still have five games remaining against the two teams between them and sixth place. The first of those five is Wednesday against the Mavs, who held the Grizz to their worst offensive game of the season (92 points on 101 possessions) in February.
Week 17: vs. CHI, vs. DAL, @ CHI, @ MIL
Last Week: 12 ↓
Pace: 98.5 (22) OffRtg: 114.1 (9) DefRtg: 112.3 (19) NetRtg: +1.9 (11)
The Hawks had to wait on Clint Capela after trading for him last February. But their patience has been rewarded, Capela has had a terrific two-way season, and the Hawks have won the last six games that he’s has played, outscoring their opponents by 20.2 points per 100 possessions in his 206 minutes on the floor this month. For the season, they’ve allowed 6.4 fewer points per 100 possessions with Capela on the floor (107.6) than they have with him off the floor (114.0), a significant differential given that he’s mostly on the floor against opposing starters.
The Hawks also had to wait on Bogdan Bogdanovic after he suffered an avulsion fracture in his right knee in the ninth game of the season. But patience is paying off there, as well. Bogdanovic has averaged 21.6 points over the last eight games, shooting 34-for-66 (52%) from 3-point range. The Hawks have won the last two games they’ve played without Trae Young, with Bogdanovic registering his two highest usage-rate marks of the season. He had 32 points, draining eight of his 16 3-point attempts, along with the two game-sealing free throws after Lou Williams’ go-ahead drive.
Week 17: @ TOR, vs. MIL, vs. IND
Last Week: 15 ↑
Pace: 98.5 (21) OffRtg: 113.3 (11) DefRtg: 111.4 (14) NetRtg: +1.9 (10)
Close games have been an issue for the Celtics all season. They’re 28-26 with 21 of those 26 losses having been within five points in the last five minutes (only the Suns have fewer losses that weren’t within five in the last five). They lost their first eight clutch games after the All-Star break, shooting just 1-for-12 on clutch 3s and just 6-for-12 on clutch free throws.
But the Cs broke through last week, coming back from fourth-quarter deficits to beat the Knicks and Wolves. After scoring scoring just 37 points on 46 clutch possessions through those first eight games, they scored 37 on 25 on Wednesday and Friday, shooting 6-for-11 on clutch 3s. Marcus Smart drained the game winner against New York and Kemba Walker hit two overtime 3s (both a result of Jayson Tatum getting off the ball) against Minnesota. The Cs rank just 29th in the percentage of their 3-point attempts (59%) that have been off the catch.
With another (more overwhelming) comeback in Denver on Sunday, the Celtics have won five of their last six games, getting some good minutes from their bench with the return of Tristan Thompson last week.
— NBA TV (@NBATV) April 8, 2021
Week 17: @ POR, @ LAL vs. GSW
Last Week: 14 ↓
Pace: 99.7 (15) OffRtg: 109.9 (20) DefRtg: 111.2 (11) NetRtg: -1.3 (20)
The Spurs were seemingly collapsing under the weight of their second-half schedule (40 games over 68 days), having lost 10 of 12 games through Friday. After they got hammered by Cleveland last week, Gregg Popovich said that his team looked “fried.” But they hung tough in a two-game series in Denver, coming up just short in the final seconds of the second game. And then they broke through in Dallas on Sunday, with DeMar DeRozan capping their most efficient offensive performance since the All-Star break with a step-back game-winner over Dorian Finney-Smith.
Amazingly, the Spurs’ starting lineup has outscored opponents by 12.3 points per 100 possessions in its 161 minutes over the 3-10 stretch. But their bench, which had been fantastic for most of the season, has really struggled over the last 3 1/2 weeks. Through March 19, the Spurs were 18.6 points per 100 possessions better with Patty Mills on the floor (+9.3) than they were with him off the floor (-9.3). Since then, it’s been almost the complete opposite (-13.5 on, +3.3 off), even though Mills’ drop in effective field goal percentage hasn’t been all that dramatic (57.2% through March 19, 51.5% since).
We’ll soon learn if the win over Dallas was the start of a turnaround or just a small bump on the Spurs’ slide down the the standings. It began a stretch where they’re playing eight games in 12 days
— San Antonio Spurs (@spurs) April 12, 2021
Week 17: @ ORL, @ TOR, vs. POR, @ PHX
Last Week: 16
Pace: 99.9 (13) OffRtg: 110.5 (18) DefRtg: 111.3 (12) NetRtg: -0.8 (19)
The Hornets, shorthanded themselves, were gifted some opponent absences last week. They played the Thunder (’nuff said), the Bucks (missing all five of their starters) and Hawks (missing Trae Young). Winning two out of three ain’t bad and they should be happy with any wins they’re getting without LaMelo Ball and Gordon Hayward. But they let the most important of the three games get away, unable to follow up on the dunk (or second best dunk) of the year. They scored just once on their eight possessions following Miles Bridges’ bludgeoning of Clint Capela, as the Hawks finished the game on an 11-2 run on Sunday.
The Hornets have embraced small-ball, starting P.J. Washington at center over the last three games. Their new lineup outscored the (shorthanded) Thunder and Bucks by 20 points in its 28 minutes on Wednesday and Friday, and they’ve outscored their opponents by 5.4 points per 100 possessions in 654 total minutes with Washington at the five this season. But they got off to a brutal start on Sunday (shooting 1-for-11 as the Hawks jumped out to a 16-3 lead) and Washington turned his right ankle midway through the third quarter.
— John Schuhmann (@johnschuhmann) April 11, 2021
Week 17: vs. LAL, vs. CLE, @ BKN, vs. POR
Last Week: 17
Pace: 96.5 (30) OffRtg: 108.8 (22) DefRtg: 107.7 (4) NetRtg: +1.1 (13)
Given the slow pace, the bad offense and the good defense, it was odd that only 16 of the Knicks’ first 39 games were within five points in the last five minutes. But they’ve turned into the cardiac Knicks of late, with 11 of the last 15 (including each of the last four) games having been within five in the last five. They came up short against the Nets and Celtics early last week, allowing 29 points on 22 clutch defensive possessions, failing to secure a defensive rebound in Brooklyn, and leaving Marcus Smart open for the game-winner in Boston. In both cases, they were a little scrambled, having doubled the primary ball-handlers (Kyrie Irving and Jayson Tatum).
But they got the stops they needed, along with clutch shooting from RJ Barrett, Alec Burks and Julius Randle, against the Grizzlies and Raptors over the weekend to climb back to .500. Though they’re just 13-14 in games that were within five in the last five, the Knicks have the league’s No. 1 clutch defense (93.4 points allowed per 100 possessions), while Barrett (7-for-12) and Burks (8-for-16) are two of the 11 players who’ve shot 50% or better on at least 10 clutch 3-pointers.
Barrett is 21-for-32 (66%) from 3-point range (including 11-for-15 from the corners) over the last seven games overall. He and college teammate Zion Williamson will face each other for the first (and second) time in their NBA careers this week.
Week 17: vs. LAL, @ NOP, @ DAL, vs. NOP
Last Week: 18
Pace: 99.5 (17) OffRtg: 114.4 (8) DefRtg: 115.0 (28) NetRtg: -0.6 (17)
The Pelicans got Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram back last week, but they’ve been *shorthanded in the backcourt, playing several minutes with James Johnson (a small-ball center at one point last season) at the two over the weekend. They haven’t been a particularly good shooting team from the outside in the first place, but with Lonzo Ball missing (both games and shots), they’re just 26% from 3-point range over the last four games.
* After shooting 8-for-25 in his first two games with the Pels, Isaiah Thomas was DNP’d in both games over the weekend, despite the lack of available guards otherwise.
But they managed to scrape together weekend wins over Philadelphia and Cleveland, outscoring the two teams 120–60 in the restricted area. The 60, especially in holding the full-strength Sixers to just 12 restricted-area buckets on Friday, may be the the more notable number. The flip side of the Pels being the first team in NBA history to allow more than 15 3-pointers per game is that they’ve seen the league’s second biggest drop in the percentage of their opponents’ shots that have come in the restricted area, from 36% (second highest) last season to 30% (14th lowest) this season.
The Pels are just a game behind the Warriors for the final play-in spot in the West, with all three head-to-head meetings still to come.
Week 17: vs. SAC, vs. NYK, @ WAS, @ NYK
Last Week: 19
Pace: 103.0 (2) OffRtg: 108.7 (23) DefRtg: 110.4 (9) NetRtg: -1.6 (22)
League-wide offensive rebounding percentage has hit a new low (about 22%) this season. But not surprisingly, it climbs as situations get more clutch (to around 30% when a team is tied or down 1-3 points in the final minute), and it was last-minute offensive boards that determined two Warriors games last week. Against Milwaukee on Tuesday, Kelly Oubre Jr. grabbed a loose rebound, got fouled, and hit the game-winning free throws with 7.7 seconds left. And against Washington on Friday, a long rebound turned into a four-point play for Bradley Beal with 6.1 on the clock.
The Warriors lead the league with 17 games (seven wins and 10 losses) determined by 20 points or more and are 10-12 in games that were within five points in the last five minutes. They’ve generally closed with Draymond Green at center; Kevon Looney and James Wiseman have played just 15 and seven clutch minutes, respectively. Wiseman’s minutes haven’t been so bad (ugly offense on both ends of the floor even though Stephen Curry has been on fire) over the last four games, but his season may be over thanks to a torn meniscus suffered early in the second quarter of the Warriors’ win over Houston on Saturday.
Week 17: vs. DEN, @ OKC, @ CLE, @ BOS
Last Week: 21 ↑
Pace: 100.9 (8) OffRtg: 111.2 (16) DefRtg: 111.4 (13) NetRtg: -0.1 (16)
The Pacers have a solid, but not particularly good starting lineup. Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner aren’t an ideal fit on the frontline, they miss the scoring and length of T.J. Warren, and Caris LeVert has been less than efficient. His true shooting percentage of 51.7% in his 16 games with the Pacers ranks 167th among 192 players with at least 100 field goal attempts since the All-Star break. Justin Holiday, meanwhile, has seen one of the league’s biggest post-break drops in effective field goal percentage (60.6% before the break, 47.2% since). In 725 minutes with their four full-time starters (Sabonis, Turner, Malcolm Brogdon and the elder Holiday) on the floor together, the Pacers have been outscored by 2.2 points per 100 possessions.
That group hasn’t played together in the last six games, because Brogdon, Sabonis and Turner (who went out with one heck of a block) have all been dealing with injuries. But the Pacers have won four of the last five, surviving late comebacks by Minnesota, Orlando and Memphis in three games they led by 15 points or more last week. T.J. McConnell had a huge game off the bench against the Wolves, Aaron Holiday (who’s shooting has improved as much as his brother’s has regressed) made nine straight 3s at one point, and LeVert had his best game as a Pacer (34 points on 14-for-20 shooting) in Memphis on Sunday.
It’s been a funky season all around, and the Pacers have appropriately revived their chances at a top-eight spot in the East with with some resilience in the face of adversity.
Week 17: vs. LAC, @ HOU, @ UTA, @ ATL
Last Week: 22 ↑
Pace: 100.6 (11) OffRtg: 111.0 (17) DefRtg: 112.3 (20) NetRtg: -1.3 (21)
The Bulls won what were likely their two most important games of the post-break schedule, matching their win total from last season in the process. Against both Indiana (the team in front of them in the standings) and Toronto (the team behind them), they took control in the second quarter behind bench production from Coby White and Lauri Markkanen, and they didn’t let go. But in the battle between Nikola Vucevic’s consistency and the Bulls’ inconsistency, the latter has the lead. They couldn’t make much hay with those two wins, because they couldn’t get stops against the Hawks and Wolves over the weekend. Both games were close late and the Bulls, who rank last in fourth-quarter defense for the season, allowed 64 points on 49 fourth-quarter possessions.
Offense has been the bigger issue in the minutes that Vucevic and Zach LaVine have been on the floor together. The Bulls have scored just 104.3 points per 100 possessions in those 188 minutes, but 117.3 per 100 in 183 total minutes (since Vucevic’s debut) with one on the floor without the other. Markkanen has shot particularly well (29-for-48) in those only-one-on-the-floor minutes.
Week 17: @ MEM. vs. ORL, vs. MEM, vs. CLE
Last Week: 24 ↑
Pace: 98.1 (25) OffRtg: 108.8 (21) DefRtg: 112.4 (22) NetRtg: -3.6 (23)
The Pistons were at the end of a stretch of eight games in 12 days. They were on a five-game trip that included an Oklahoma City-Denver back-to-back, as well as a Portland-L.A. back-to-back. And they were without Jerami Grant for the last three games. But they managed to pick up wins in OKC and Sacramento and then put a scare into the Clippers on Sunday. They scored more than 118 points per 100 possessions over the trip, with Saddiq Bey scoring 25 points against both the Nuggets and the Clippers and shooting 16-for-39 (41%) from 3-point range over the five games.
Fellow rookie Killian Hayes is still playing limited minutes off the bench and didn’t play in the second games of the two back-to-backs, but had some moments in totaling 20 points and nine assists against the Thunder and Kings. Hayes hasn’t been able to get to the basket or to the line much. Only 11 (16%) of his 69 shots have come in the restricted area and he has just four free throw attempts to go with those 69 shots from the field. But he’s got a smooth-looking pick-and-roll game and a comfortable-looking stroke, both off the dribble and off the catch. The shot is a little slow to load in both cases, but he’s got a good foundation to build from in that regard.
The Pistons have two days off before playing the Clippers again on Wednesday. But they begin another five-games-in-seven-nights stretch on Friday night.
Week 17: vs. LAC, vs. OKC, @ WAS
Last Week: 27 ↑
Pace: 104.5 (1) OffRtg: 108.4 (25) DefRtg: 113.3 (26) NetRtg: -4.9 (25)
Over the last two months, the Wizards are 12-10 with Bradley Beal in the lineup, with half of those wins having come against the top six teams in the Western Conference. The league’s leading scorer totaled only 46 points in wins over the Magic and Warriors last week and he’s still shooting a career-low 34.3% from 3-point range, but he scooped up a long rebound and beat Golden State with a four-point play with 6.1 seconds left. Over that two-month stretch, the Wizards have scored 115.2 points per 100 possessions with Beal on the floor and just 98.1 with him off the floor.
Deni Avdija hasn’t seen a big jump in usage rate of late, but a stretch of six games in which he scored in double-figures four times is a sign of progress. His 16 points in Orlando on Wednesday (his highest scoring output since early January) came with four catch-and-shoot 3s off feeds from Russell Westbrook. If he can refine that aspect of his game, the rest should follow.
If the Wiz are going to make a run for a play-in spot in the East, it has to start now. After they visit Utah on Monday, they’ll play eight straight games against teams with losing records.
— NBA (@NBA) April 10, 2021
Week 17: @ UTA, @ SAC, vs. NOP, vs. DET
Last Week: 26 ↑
Pace: 99.9 (14) OffRtg: 112.2 (13) DefRtg: 111.8 (17) NetRtg: +0.4 (14)
Gary Trent Jr. essentially won the Raptors two games last week, hitting the buzzer-beating game-winner against the Wizards on Monday and scoring a career-high 44 points (on 17-for-19 shooting) against the Cavs on Saturday, a much more comfortable win needed to keep that season-long point differential above zero. In his 10 games with the Raps, Trent has shot 41% from 3-point range, while everybody else on the team has shot 30%. When they haven’t been blowing teams out, the offense has been rough, and the Raps got blown out themselves in their best opportunity (Thursday against the Bulls) to put themselves in position to compete for a play-in spot.
Toronto has had Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet on the floor together for just 19 total minutes over their last nine games, and Pascal Siakam continues to struggle when he can’t get to the basket. He did have a three-game stretch last week where he totaled 46 points in the restricted area, but Siakam is 29-for-105 (27.6%) from outside the paint since late February and with the game in his hands on Sunday, managed a worse outcome than having his shot roll off the rim.
🚨 TRENT. JR. CALLS. GAME. 🚨
— NBA (@NBA) April 6, 2021
Week 17: vs. ATL, vs. SAS, vs. ORL, vs. OKC
Last Week: 20 ↓
Pace: 100.7 (10) OffRtg: 113.3 (12) DefRtg: 117.8 (30) NetRtg: -4.5 (24)
A week ago, the Kings were within a game of the 10th-place Warriors, set to play the Wolves and Pistons. And then they lost both games, not because they have the league’s worst defense, but because they couldn’t score (shooting 16-for-66 from 3-point range) against two other defenses in the bottom half of the league. The first five games of the Kings’ six-game losing streak was their worst five-game stretch of offense (104.9 points scored per 100 possessions) of the season.
De’Aaron Fox has averaged 28.1 points (tied for sixth in the league) since the All-Star break and the Kings’ new starting lineup (with Maurice Harkless in place of Tyrese Haliburton) outscored the Jazz on Saturday. But their bench had a rough night (they were somehow outscored by 34 points on 14:21 with Richaun Holmes off the floor) and, closing with Haliburton, they got clobbered in the final six minutes. Though offense has been the bigger problem of late, their Haliburton lineup has allowed more than 131 points per 100 possessions in its 81 minutes over the losing streak.
How could you be 𝙈𝙊𝙀 𝙃𝘼𝙍𝙆𝙇𝙀𝙎𝙎 😤 pic.twitter.com/fnS8OMrrXs
— Sacramento Kings (@SacramentoKings) April 9, 2021
Week 17: @ NOP, vs. WAS, @ PHX, @ DAL
Last Week: 28 ↑
Pace: 101.7 (4) OffRtg: 107.9 (26) DefRtg: 114.7 (27) NetRtg: -6.8 (27)
The Wolves are showing signs of being a competitive basketball team, not just picking up some wins against other teams on the south side of .500, but hanging around with the good ones. Seven of their last eight games have been within five points in the last five minutes, good for getting the young guys reps and keeping the vets engaged.
They’ve shown the briefest flashes of good defense. There was one possession in the middle of their game-deciding, 12-0, fourth-quarter run against the Kings on Monday where Ricky Rubio worked to pressure De’Aaron Fox and Naz Reid stole Fox’s pass with active hands. But they still rank 29th defensively since the All-Star break. On Wednesday, they managed to lose a game (in Indiana) in which they scored 81 points in the second half.
But the Wolves have been, by far, the most improved offensive team since the break, having scored 113.7 points per 100 possessions over their 18 post-break games, 11th best in the league and 8.7 more than they did prior (105.0, 28th). That’s more than double the jump of any other team, with the Mavs next at +4.3. D’Angelo Russell, Anthony Edwards and Karl-Anthony Towns have all averaged more than 21 points in the four games since Russell’s return from knee surgery and the Wolves have scored 159 points on 114 offensive possessions (139 per 100) with all three on the floor.
Week 17: vs. BKN, vs. MIL, vs. MIA, @ LAC
Last Week: 29 ↑
Pace: 98.3 (23) OffRtg: 104.8 (29) DefRtg: 112.1 (18) NetRtg: -7.4 (28)
After scoring a brutal 93.4 points scored per 100 possessions over a five-game losing streak, the Cavs’ offense broke out behind a couple of big games from their young backcourt. Darius Garland and Collin Sexton combined for 107 points and 21 assists as the Cavs won in San Antonio and Oklahoma City without losing a quarter. Garland was 5-for-10 from 3-point range as he scored a career-high 37 points on Monday, but 76 of those 107 points came in the paint or at the free throw line. Sexton (16.2) and Garland (15.6) rank 10th and 12th, respectively, in drives per game.
Last season, the Cavs were much better with only one of the two guards on the floor (-5.8 points per 100 possessions) than they were with both (-10.8). This season, the both-on-the-floor minutes have been slightly better (-9.3) while the one-on-the-floor minutes have been slightly worse (-7.4). The jury is still out, and with both Larry Nance and Jarrett Allen having been out the last two weeks, things have been tougher to evaluate.
Kevin Love did play both games of the Cavs’ weekend back-to-back, attempting 22 3s in 52 total minutes.
Week 17: @ CHA, vs. GSW, @ CHI
Last Week: 23 ↓
Pace: 99.0 (19) OffRtg: 104.9 (28) DefRtg: 112.5 (23) NetRtg: -7.6 (29)
On Wednesday, the Magic got Cole Anthony back from an eight-week absence. He hit Robin Lopez with a mean hesi, showed a deft touch on a fading runner against the Pacers, beat Domantas Sabonis to a tip-in, and had 17 assists with just three turnovers in his first three games back.
On Thursday, the Magic waived Khem Birch to clear playing time for Mo Bamba, who has averaged a team-high 18.0 points, shooting 10-for-15 from 3-point range, over the last three games. He also totaled six blocks and didn’t get credit for one when he quickly recovered from a hedge to stop Goga Bitadze at the rim.
As you’d expect, there were some lows with the highs as the Magic’s losing streak hit five games. In that same loss to the Pacers, Anthony was out of control on one drive, Bamba was unaware when his defender double-teamed Terrence Ross, and the two allowed T.J. McConnell to dart in between them to intercept a handoff. Markelle Fultz and Jonathan Isaac remain on the shelf for the rest of the season, but with Gary Harris having made his Magic debut over the weekend, Orlando still has plenty of young pieces that will get plenty of reps over their final 19 games.
Week 17: vs. SAS, @ CHI, @ TOR, vs. HOU
Last Week: 30 ↑
Pace: 101.1 (5) OffRtg: 106.6 (27) DefRtg: 112.6 (24) NetRtg: -6.0 (26)
John Wall came back from a four-game absence with a functional jump shot, making nine of his 17 3-point attempts in the two games he played last week. And with that, the Rockets’ new and funky starting lineup – Wall, Kevin Porter Jr., Jae’Sean Tate, Kelly Olynyk and Christian Wood – outscored the Mavs and Warriors by 25 points in its 46 minutes. Some bad bench minutes had the Dallas game tied with 2:30 left, but Wall scored the next five points and Porter daggered the Mavs with a block and fast-break dunk. It was the Rockets’ first win over a good team in more than two months.
Olynyk and Wood have had some nice connections on offense (including one pretty, touch-pass lob gif’d below) but the defense has not been good (122 points allowed per 100 possessions) in 156 total minutes with them on the floor together. That was the case for most of the Clippers’ 41-4, second-quarter run on Friday. 41-4!
The Rockets were without Wall for that game, choosing to use him against Golden State in their back-to-back set. They have four back-to-backs remaining on the schedule, with the next one coming in Florida on Sunday and next Monday.
Week 17: @ PHX, vs. IND, vs. DEN, @ ORL
Last Week: 25 ↓
Pace: 100.8 (9) OffRtg: 103.8 (30) DefRtg: 112.4 (21) NetRtg: -8.6 (30)
It’s not breaking news to say that Aleksej Pokusevski needs to get stronger. When Saddiq Bey got into him on one third quarter possession on Monday, the Thunder rookie promptly lost the ball. His turnover rate of 14.9 per 100 possessions is the 12th highest among 312 players who’ve averaged at least 15 minutes. Still, at 19 years old, energy shouldn’t be an issue. So to see him put minimal effort in navigating a pair of screens in the same game should set off a mini alarm bell. Pokusevski has ridiculous length, which he used to get two straight blocks (after he got out-muscled for a rebound) while barely leaving the floor in that same against the Pistons. But his 1.3 deflections per 36 minutes rank just 266th among 310 players who’ve played at least 500 minutes.
There were some highlights on the other end of the floor, including two impressive shots off one foot (a baseline step-back and a floater across his body) against Detroit, seven 3s (with a very confident-looking stroke) against Charlotte, and a step-back 3 against Cleveland. But the Thunder have fallen to 30th in offensive efficiency, having scored a brutal 95.8 points per 100 possessions over their six-game losing streak. They got Luguentz Dort back from a seven-game absence on Saturday, but promptly lost Pokusevski himself to arm soreness.
Week 17: @ UTA, vs. GSW, @ DET, @ TOR