Power Rankings, Week 19: Clippers climb to No. 1 with 3 weeks left in regular season
See where all 30 teams rank as the stretch run to the 2021 NBA Playoffs heats up across the league.
There are three weeks to go in the regular season, with all but three teams having hit the 60-game mark last week. We can almost taste the playoffs and while we still await the returns of James Harden, LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard and Donovan Mitchell to the league’s title contenders, Anthony Davis and Kevin Durant are back on the floor. LaMelo Ball is also on his way back for the 7:10 p.m. ET League Pass crowd.
Of course, it remains as difficult as ever to determine a title favorite, or just a team to put at the top of this week’s Power Rankings. For now, it’s the LA Clippers, who are without one of their two stars, but are still taking care of business. And with the Clippers playing two big games (against Phoenix and Denver) this week, who knows what next week’s rankings will bring.
Note: For the seven teams that are at least five games out of Play-In position (the bottom three in the East and the bottom four in the West), it’s time to start recapping the season. This week’s notes for those teams will be focused on their offense, and we’ll dig into their defense next week.
Plus-Minus Players of the Week
- Right Way: Duncan Robinson (MIA) was a plus-64 in four games last week.
- Wrong Way: Kelly Olynyk (HOU) was a minus-79 in four games last week.
Teams of the Week
- Make It Last Forever: Dallas (3-0) — The Mavs spoiled Anthony Davis’ return to the Lakers’ lineup and climbed into a top-six spot in the West.
- Something Just Ain’t Right: Portland (0-4) — The team that lost that spot to the Mavs is in a rough spot with more tough games ahead.
East vs. West
- The West is 207-185 (.528) against the East in interconference games, though the East was 9-7 last week.
Schedule strength through Week 18
- Toughest: 1. Minnesota, 2. Dallas, 3. Philadelphia
- Easiest: 1. San Antonio, 2. Phoenix, 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: Dallas, New York (+4); Brooklyn, Golden State (+2)
- Free falls of the week: Boston (-5); L.A. Lakers, Philadelphia, Portland (-3)
Week 19 Team to Watch
- Phoenix — The Suns have been on a tough trek through the East that they’re wrap up in New York on Monday. But things don’t get easier when they return home. They’ll play two huge games on Wednesday and Friday, hosting the Clippers and Jazz with a chance to move up or down in the standings. They’ll finish the week with Chris Paul’s return to Oklahoma City on Sunday.
Previous Power Rankings
- Thursday’s notebook: How 16 trade-deadline additions are performing with new teams
- 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: 97.9 (26) OffRtg: 117.3 (1) DefRtg: 110.5 (11) NetRtg: +6.7 (2)
The Clippers remain shorthanded as Kawhi Leonard has missed seven of the last eight games and his sore right foot will be reevaluated this week. But they’ve won 11 of their last 12, with five of those wins having come against teams in the top eight in the Western Conference. Paul George has been terrific, averaging 31 points (on 51/45/92 shooting splits), 5.1 assists and 1.7 steals in the nine games that he’s played over that stretch. But, despite the continued absences of Serge Ibaka and Patrick Beverley, the Clippers’ depth has been a strength, and they beat the Grizzlies on Wednesday without either of their two stars.
Reggie Jackson (19 points and five assists in Houston on Friday) and Terrance Mann (19 points and seven assists against Memphis on Wednesday) have filled in capably as starters, and Ivica Zubac may not lose the starting center job when Ibaka returns. Nicolas Batum’s and Rajon Rondo’s minutes have been big positives, while Luke Kennard had a huge game against the Grizzlies. The Clippers even got some punch off the bench from DeMarcus Cousins, who had 24 rebounds (eight offensive) in 43 minutes last week.
The Clippers have the league’s best record (19-5) since the All-Star break, with their defense having seen the fifth biggest drop in points allowed per 100 possessions (111.5 before the break, 109.0 since). They’re just a game in the loss column behind the second-place Suns and two games in the loss column ahead of the fourth-place Nuggets. They’ll play both this week, having already clinched the season series (and tie-breaker) against Phoenix and tied 1-1 with Denver.
Week 19: @ NOP, @ PHX, vs. DEN
Last Week: 4 ↑
Pace: 100.3 (11) OffRtg: 117.2 (2) DefRtg: 113.1 (24) NetRtg: +4.1 (6)
The Nets’ week began with James Harden suffering a setback in his recovery from a hamstring injury, putting a regular-season return in doubt. But the week ended with Kevin Durant returning from a quad contusion and scoring 33 points in 28 minutes in a win against the Suns that improved the Nets to 9-4 in games played between the league’s top eight teams. Durant and Kyrie Irving (34 points on Sunday) missed the first meeting and Harden missed the second one, but the Nets have accounted for two of the four games in which the Suns’ fifth-ranked defense has allowed more than 130 points per 100 possessions.
Brooklyn’s 24th-ranked defense continues to have its ups and downs from game to game and quarter to quarter, missing Nicolas Claxton (who’s been out the last four games) and still botching switches with regularity. In the 24 years for which we have play-by-play data, 16 of the 24 champs have ranked in the top five defensively in the regular season, seven have ranked 6-11, and only one (the 22nd-ranked 2000-01 Lakers) has ranked any lower than that.
Counting the game in which he played only four minutes as an absence, the Nets are 8-7 without Harden since acquiring him in mid-January, having had Durant (for more than four minutes) for only six of those 15 games. One of the five teams they haven’t beat this season is Toronto, with the Raptors having held the Nets to just 103 points on 101 possessions in Tampa last week. The Nets are back there for the final meeting on Tuesday.
Week 19: @ TOR, @ IND, vs. POR, @ MIL
Last Week: 3
Pace: 98.1 (24) OffRtg: 115.1 (7) DefRtg: 109.2 (5) NetRtg: +6.0 (4)
The Suns have lost two straight games for the first time since January, but can still go 3-2 on their road trip (in which they’re playing five of the top six teams in the East) if they can beat the streaking Knicks on Monday. As they edged the Bucks and Sixers, Mikal Bridges, Cam Johnson and Jevon Carter (who hit three big 3s in the fourth quarter in Philly) combined to shoot 16-for-34 from 3-point range . And as they lost to the Celtics and Nets (with Johnson starting in place of the injured Jae Crowder), those same three guys combined to shoot 3-for-32 from beyond the arc.
It is a make-or-miss league, though the Suns’ inability to defend Brooklyn a second time lends credence to the theory (in this space two weeks ago) that their great team defense can be beat with great individual play. They remain one of three teams that rank in the top 10 on both ends of the floor, but their defense has seen some slippage, ranking 21st over the last three weeks against what has been a pretty balanced group (some good, some average, some bad) of opposing offenses.
If Crowder can’t play on Monday, matching up with Julius Randle will be another test for the Suns’ younger forwards. Of course, the Suns’ two most important games of the final five weeks of schedule are Wednesday and Friday when they host first-place Jazz and third-place Clippers, with those two teams having formed the foundation of the aforementioned great-team-defense theory. Phoenix has had the league’s best defense (101 points allowed per 100 possessions) against Utah, while the Clippers have had the league’s second best offense (123 per 100) against Phoenix.
Week 19: @ NYK, vs. LAC, vs. UTA, @ OKC
Last Week: 1 ↓
Pace: 100.6 (10) OffRtg: 111.5 (15) DefRtg: 107.5 (3) NetRtg: +3.9 (7)
We shouldn’t take too much away from the Sixers losing four straight games without Ben Simmons. They were also without Joel Embiid (Saturday in Milwaukee) or Tobias Harris (home games against the Warriors and Suns) for three of the four and Simmons would have been particularly useful for disturbing the rhythm of Stephen Curry, who scored 49 points on Monday. The Sixers remain 20-4 with their full starting lineup, having allowed just 105.8 points per 100 possessions in those 24 games.
But, while Curry was torching the Sixers on one end of the floor in the last few minutes of that loss, Philly was unable to consistently get the ball to Embiid in position to do damage on the other end. Harris’ presence would have helped the late-game offense and it was a rare clutch-time failure for the Sixers. Despite the narrow losses to Golden State and Phoenix, they’re a league-best 22-8 in games that were within five points in the last five minutes and have scored 119.3 points per 100 clutch possessions (210 on 176) with Embiid on the floor. But the ability of Kevon Looney (with help) to stifle Embiid’s post game was a reminder that it’s a little tougher to get the shots you want when your best player does his best work inside.
The Sixers have lost hold of the top spot in the East, but they have the easiest remaining schedule of the top three teams. Only four of their final 12 games are against teams that currently have winning records and three of those are this week.
Joel Embiid was THIS CLOSE to sending it to OT in incredible fashion. 🤯 pic.twitter.com/gw6eFGiml8
— NBA (@NBA) April 22, 2021
Week 19: vs. OKC, vs. ATL, vs. ATL, @ SAS
Last Week: 5
Pace: 99.6 (15) OffRtg: 116.2 (4) DefRtg: 107.3 (2) NetRtg: +8.9 (1)
The Jazz’s success is less star-driven than that of the league’s other top teams and if there was a “Best Ensemble Cast” award in the NBA, this team would win it. But the Jazz still need Rudy Gobert to anchor the defense that has climbed to second in the league for the first time in two months. And they still need Donovan Mitchell to carry some of the load for the league’s fifth-ranked offense.
Playing without Mitchell (sprained ankle) for the fourth straight game on Saturday, the Jazz were held under a point per possession (for the first time since Jan. 5) by the team (Minnesota) that ranks 28th defensively. They shot well and often enough from 3-point range (19-for-47), but got outscored by 30 points (56-26) in the paint. And without the guy who ranks third in clutch usage rate (43.4%) — Mitchell — they scored just six points (two Bojan Bogdanovic 3-pointers) on 10 clutch possessions, struggling to gain an advantage against the Wolves’ switches, but also missing some good looks at the basket.
The Jazz, who became the first team to clinch a playoff berth (with the Blazers’ loss on Sunday), still have the league’s fourth-ranked clutch offense (118.8 points scored per 100 possessions) and they still have a two-game lead over the Suns. Phoenix does have the tie-breaker (having won the first two games) and will host the final regular-season meeting on Friday.
Week 19: @ MIN, @ SAC, @ PHX, vs. TOR
Last Week: 6
Pace: 97.5 (28) OffRtg: 116.7 (3) DefRtg: 111.8 (16) NetRtg: +4.9 (5)
At least the the Nuggets don’t have to play at the Chase Center anymore this season. In two games there in the last two weeks, they’ve lost two games (scoring just 103.6 points per 100 possessions) and two starters to injuries. Will Barton’s hamstring strain isn’t nearly as devastating as Jamal Murray’s ACL tear, but there’s no rushing back from a hamstring issue and the Nuggets (with Monte Morris also out with a hamstring strain) are now counting on Shaquille Harrison and Austin Rivers (both signed this month) for real rotation minutes.
Fortunately, their primary playmaker is a seven-foot center who makes any active and semi-capable guard look good. Even before Barton’s injury, PJ Dozier was giving the Nuggets good minutes off the bench and closing games in place of starting point guard Facundo Campazzo. In Portland on Wednesday, Dozier handled some of the Damian Lillard assignment and had a big bucket on a clever cut behind Lillard as Barton drove into the paint. Three nights later, he got his first career start and scored a career-high 23 points, with four of the 23 coming on full-court dimes from Nikola Jokic. The Nuggets have outscored their opponents by 21.5 points per 100 possessions in 224 total minutes with Dozier, Jokic and Michael Porter Jr. on the floor together.
The Nuggets still have a shot at the No. 3 seed in the West. They’re two games in the loss column behind the Clippers and their game in L.A. on Saturday will determine the head-to-head tiebreaker.
Week 19: vs. MEM, vs. NOP, vs. TOR, @ LAC
Last Week: 7
Pace: 102.4 (3) OffRtg: 116.2 (5) DefRtg: 109.8 (8) NetRtg: +6.4 (3)
The Bucks took care of business against the shorthanded Sixers last week, shooting 48% from 3-point range as they won both games and kept themselves in the mix for the No. 1 seed in the East. Their two remaining games against the first-place Nets (the first meeting went down to the wire) are Sunday and next Tuesday at Fiserv Forum.
But the Bucks would really be in the mix if they held onto fourth-quarter leads (of nine and 10 points) against the Suns and Hawks, respectively, last week. In blowing those two games, they allowed Phoenix and Atlanta to total 74 points on 50 fourth-quarter possessions. The Bucks are 36-4 when they’ve had a fourth-quarter lead of five points or more, and all four losses have come in April, when they’ve had the league’s worst fourth-quarter defense (124.9 points allowed per 100 possessions). There’s some garbage time in there, but the garbage-time guys actually have the best on-court marks in fourth-quarters this month.
Though they’ll likely see no more than two of the Nets’ three stars, the two games against Brooklyn will be the Bucks’ best/last opportunity to test their defense. Their other 10 remaining games are against teams that rank no higher than 16th offensively.
Week 19: @ CHA, @ HOU, @ CHI, vs. BKN
Last Week: 12 ↑
Pace: 96.4 (30) OffRtg: 110.1 (19) DefRtg: 107.8 (4) NetRtg: +2.3 (9)
The Knicks continue to defend at a high level. Their game against the Hawks on Wednesday was probably their biggest of the season and they won it with a strong stretch of defense (nine straight stops) midway through the fourth quarter and a 10-0 run to start overtime. The Knicks’ defensive energy and connectivity was on full display in the third defensive possession of the extra period (gif’d below). Nerlens Noel (3.0 blocks in 29.1 minutes over the streak) has been rather ridiculous in protecting the rim.
But the other end of the floor has been the real story as the Knicks have won nine straight games to climb from eighth to fourth place in the East. New York has the league’s No. 1 offense (118.7 points scored per 100 possessions) over the winning streak, having seen jumps in both 3-point rate and 3-point percentage.
Julius Randle has averaged 30.1 points over the streak, with jumps in both minutes per game (three of the nine games have gone to overtime) and usage rate. He’s still making good decisions with the ball and now ranks third in the league with 199 assists on 3-pointers, just three fewer than both Luka Doncic and Damian Lillard. But he’s also aggressive with his off-the-dribble game. The Raptors were double-teaming him 20 feet from the basket on Saturday and Randle still scored 31 points, shooting 8-for-13 from outside the paint.
Week 19: vs. PHX, vs. CHI, @ HOU
Last Week: 10 ↑
Pace: 101.0 (8) OffRtg: 112.0 (14) DefRtg: 110.4 (10) NetRtg: +1.7 (12)
With the Grizzlies’ offense already starting to shoot more and better from 3-point range, they didn’t need Jaren Jackson Jr. to start launching from deep when he made his season debut on Wednesday. In his first two games, Jackson took just six of his 25 shots from 3-point range (making just one of the six attempts) and the Grizzlies still scored 122 points on just 91 possessions with him on the floor. They still have the league’s No. 1 offense in April, with three of the 22 players who have shot 44% or better on at least 50 3-point attempts this month. Ja Morant, who was shooting 24% from 3-point range through March, is one of the three and hit two 3-pointers in overtime in Denver on Monday (his first two clutch 3s of the season), though the Grizz couldn’t get the stops they needed to pull out the victory.
All four of the Grizzlies’ games last week were within five points in the last five minutes, and they won the two most important ones, sweeping a two-game series in Portland with a couple of big transition buckets on Friday and by making their free throws on Sunday. Morant outplayed the banged-up Damian Lillard, totaling 61 points (on 59% shooting) and 16 assists (with just four turnovers) over the two games.
Jackson rested the second of the Portland games as Jonas Valanciunas returned from a three-game absence. The Grizz could be #fullsquad for the first time this season when they play their second straight Monday game in Denver. Their schedule gets easier in regard to opponent strength after that, but their home-and-home back-to-back against the Magic is the start of the stretch where they’re playing 11 games over the final 17 days of the season.
Week 19: @ DEN, vs. POR, vs. ORL, @ ORL
Last Week: 14 ↑
Pace: 97.8 (27) OffRtg: 113.8 (10) DefRtg: 112.1 (18) NetRtg: +1.7 (11)
The Mavs have moved into the top six in the West by sweeping a two-game series with the fifth-place Lakers, who they now trail by only a game in the loss column. They blew a 13-point lead in the first game (in which they lost Kristaps Porzingis to an ankle injury) and came back from 17 down in the second, but the common factor in both was good shooting around Luka Doncic. The Mavs’ star shot just 5-for-15 from 3-point range himself, but his teammates were 14-for-29 from beyond the arc in his minutes on the floor. They have the league’s third-ranked offense (114.6 points per 100 possessions) against the Lakers’ No. 1 defense.
Porzingis’ injury doesn’t seem too serious; He’s listed as questionable for the Mavs’ game in Sacramento on Monday, though there might be some precaution taken with the team just three games into a stretch of 14 in 22 days (four overlapping five-in-seven stretches). Doncic has played more minutes without Porzingis (1,089) than he has with him (809) this season. The offense has suffered in those no-Porzingis minutes, but the defense has been much better. And in 249 total minutes with Maxi Kleber and Dwight Powell on the floor together (they started on Saturday), the Mavs have allowed less than a point per possession.
Week 19: @SAC, @ GSW, @ DET, vs. WAS, vs. SAC
Last Week: 11
Pace: 98.5 (22) OffRtg: 114.4 (8) DefRtg: 112.1 (19) NetRtg: +2.3 (10)
The Hawks lost hold of fourth place in the East when Trae Young turned his left ankle in New York on Wednesday. After Young went down, they were outscored, 50-32, over the final 18 minutes of the overtime loss. As the Hawks were swept in the season series, they were outscored by 42 points in Young’s 40 minutes off the floor.
But they’ve since been able to keep pace with the Knicks by beating the Heat and Bucks with Young on the shelf. Bogdan Bogdanovic continues to make up for lost time (and the lost point guard), averaging 22.3 points and shooting 50% from 3-point range (on nine attempts per game) in April. Minutes with Bogdanovic and Lou Williams on the floor together prior to the weekend, but they both caught fire at the same time on Sunday, combining for 27 fourth-quarter points as the Hawks came back from 10 points down to stun the Bucks. Atlanta has won its last five games that Young has missed, with Brandon Goodwin giving them good minutes whether he’s started (first three of those five games) or come off the bench (the last two).
The Hawks have an easier remaining schedule than the Knicks, and they’ve been nearly as hot — 11-3 with the league’s third-ranked offense in April.
Week 19: @ DET, @ PHI, @ PHI, vs. CHI
Last Week: 9 ↓
Pace: 99.0 (19) OffRtg: 109.7 (21) DefRtg: 106.3 (1) NetRtg: +3.4 (8)
Anthony Davis is back and healthy, having played 45 total minutes in Dallas on Thursday and Saturday. That he shot 2-for-17 from outside the paint is just proof that having the next few weeks to find a rhythm is important. A big part of the Lakers’ championship run last year was a big jump in Davis’ effective field goal percentage on shots from outside the paint from the regular season (40.1%) to the playoffs (52.3%). Now we wait to see how long LeBron James will get to find his rhythm.
The Lakers’ defense has suffered some slippage. The last five games (including two games each against the top-10 offenses of the Jazz and Mavs) have been their worst stretch of defense (114.7 points allowed per 100 possessions) this season. The bigger difference has been in the paint, where their opponents have shot 63.7%, up from 54.5% prior. Montrezl Harrell was DNP’d in favor of Marc Gasol on Saturday, but the jury should remain out on Andre Drummond’s status as the starting center. L.A. has allowed 113.1 per 100 in Drummond’s 232 minutes thus far, with the opponents shooting better and more often at the rim than when he’s been off the floor.
The Lakers still have some work to do to hold onto a top-six seed in the West, but will get some schedule relief this week.
Week 19: @ ORL, @ WAS, vs. SAC, vs. TOR
Last Week: 8 ↓
Pace: 98.6 (21) OffRtg: 112.9 (12) DefRtg: 111.3 (12) NetRtg: +1.5 (13)
The Celtics’ hold on one of the top six spots in the Eastern Conference remains tenuous. They’ve followed a six-game winning streak with a 1-3 stretch in which they’ve scored a paltry 102 points per 100 possessions. Injuries and absences have played a role. Jaylen Brown (2), Marcus Smart (1) and Kemba Walker (2) all missed games last week and Robert Williams III has missed the last six. Evan Fournier was not himself upon returning from a nine-game absence, shooting 0-for-10 over the weekend.
But the Celtics have also hurt themselves, committing 71 total turnovers against teams that rank 22nd, 16th, 26th and sixth in opponent turnover rate. Marcus Smart threw a pass to a teammate who wasn’t in the game (or maybe the ghost of Nick Nurse), but Jayson Tatum has accounted for 19 of the 71 turnovers, while shooting just 34% over the four games. Sometimes, he’s tried to do too much. Sometimes, he’s just been sloppy.
Three Western Conference teams are at TD Garden this week, and the Celtics second meeting with the Hornets in four days will determine the season series.
Week 19: vs. OKC, vs. CHA, vs. SAS, vs. POR
Last Week: 16 ↑
Pace: 103.0 (2) OffRtg: 109.7 (22) DefRtg: 109.6 (6) NetRtg: +0.0 (15)
While Stephen Curry was making 10 or more 3s in four of five games, the Warriors were getting stops. And though he’s cooled off a bit (13-for-37 from 3 over the last three), they’re still getting wins. As they’ve won seven of their last nine games, the Warriors have had the league’s No. 1 defense (104.9 points allowed per 100 possessions). They kept the two leading MVP candidates in check last week, with Kevon Looney doing the bulk of the work against Joel Embiid (who shot just 5-for-16 with Looney on the floor) and Draymond Green taking a larger share of the Nikola Jokic assignment.
Kelly Oubre Jr. has seemingly taken well to the reserve role that he was given upon returning from a five-game absence. The Warriors have outscored their opponents by 13.6 points per 100 possessions in his 122 minutes over the last four games and he’s averaged 22 points on 50% shooting over the last three, picking up a couple of clutch buckets on dives to the rim on Sunday.
The Warriors have a four-game cushion in the loss column for the final Play-In Tournament spot in the West and an opportunity to move up. After they host the Mavs on Tuesday, they’ll play six straight games against teams with losing records.
Week 19: vs. DAL, @ MIN, @ HOU
Last Week: 15
Pace: 97.1 (29) OffRtg: 108.8 (24) DefRtg: 109.7 (7) NetRtg: -0.9 (20)
The Heat have won four of their last five games, impressive given that it was the end of a stretch where they were playing eight games (with three back-to-backs) in 12 days. With Kendrick Nunn averaging 19.8 points on an effective field goal percentage of 66% and with the ball moving (at least 15 assists from five different guys), the 4-1 run has been one of their best stretches of offense this season.
But the most important game of the five (Friday in Atlanta) was the one they lost. And once again, it was the minutes with Jimmy Butler on the bench that killed the Heat. They were outscored 34-19 (allowing those 34 points on just 22 possessions) in Butler’s 10:49 off the floor, losing contact with the Hawks early in the fourth quarter. While Nunn has done a fine job replacing Victor Oladipo in the starting lineup, it might be those Butler-off-the-floor minutes where Oladipo is really missed. In the month since the trade deadline, the Heat have been outscored by 19.8 points per 100 possessions with Andre Iguodala and Tyler Herro on the floor together. That’s the worst mark among non-Thunder two-man combinations that have played at least 200 minutes over that stretch.
The Heat have two back-to-backs left on their schedule. The second game of the first is an important meeting with the Hornets on Sunday, but Charlotte will have also played (against Detroit) the night before.
Week 19: vs. CHI, vs. SAS, @ CLE, @ CHA
Last Week: 13 ↓
Pace: 98.7 (20) OffRtg: 115.6 (6) DefRtg: 116.1 (29) NetRtg: -0.5 (19)
Given how poorly they defend, how much they were depending on clutch shooting, and how (relatively) easy their schedule had been through the first few days of April, the Blazers had a pretty thin margin for error for a team that was 11 games over .500. And the tables (except the defense one) have turned as they’ve lost nine of their last 11 games to fall out of the top six in the West.
They haven’t lost to any bad teams and each of the Blazers’ four games last week were within three points in the final minute. Damian Lillard missed the first game, but shot 0-for-5 on clutch 3s over the other three. CJ McCollum missed a game-winning jumper against the Clippers, Norman Powell missed a game-winning runner against the Nuggets, and Jusuf Nurkic missed a point-blank, reverse layup to take the lead against the Grizzlies.
Clutch is fleeting.
With just a game and a half separating them from the 10th-place Warriors, the Blazers are in danger of slipping further down the standings. Their visit to Indiana on Tuesday is the start of a six-game trip and a stretch of 11 games (with four back-to-backs) in 17 days. They’ll have a rest disadvantage (playing the second game of a back-to-back against a rested opponent) for their final meeting with the Grizzlies on Wednesday.
Week 19: @ IND, @ MEM, @ BKN, @ BOS
Last Week: 17
Pace: 99.4 (16) OffRtg: 110.0 (20) DefRtg: 110.2 (9) NetRtg: -0.3 (18)
The Spurs still have a brutal remaining schedule …
- Nine of their 13 games are on the road.
- Eleven of the 13 are against teams with winning records, with one of the two exceptions being their game against the red-hot Wizards on Monday.
- Starting with their game against the Sixers on Sunday, they’re playing 10 games (with four back-to-backs) over the last 15 days of the season.
But they’ve won four of their last five games, the first time this season that their defense has allowed less than a point per possession over a five-game stretch. They’ve been much better on the road (17-10, with the league’s fifth-ranked road defense) than they’ve been at home (13-19). They stole a rest day for DeMar DeRozan, Dejounte Murray and Patty Mills on Thursday, picking up a comfortable win over the Pistons behind big games from Derrick White and Jakob Poeltl.
Most important is that they now have a significant, five-game lead in the loss column (along with the head-to-head tiebreaker) over the 11th-place Pelicans, thanks to their win on Saturday. They blew a double-digit, second-half lead, but scored 16 points on 11 clutch possessions, with DeRozan getting three key buckets in isolation. The 1.22 points per possession he’s scored on isolations is the second highest mark (a tick behind that of James Harden in 2017-18) for a player with at least 100 isolation possessions in 17 seasons of Synergy tracking.
Week 19: @ WAS, @ MIA, @ BOS, vs. PHI
Last Week: 19 ↑
Pace: 104.6 (1) OffRtg: 109.0 (23) DefRtg: 112.0 (17) NetRtg: -3.0 (23)
Raul Neto was getting spotty minutes at the start of the 10-1 stretch that has put the Wizards in control of the final Play-In Tournament spot in the East. But with Rui Hachimura (and now Deni Avdija) injured, Neto has started the last four games alongside Russell Westbrook and Bradley Beal. The three-guard look hadn’t really worked before, but like everything else with the Wizards, it’s been magic over the last couple of weeks. Neto has averaged 15.7 points on 55% shooting over the last three games and the Wizards have outscored their opponents by more than 14 points per 100 possessions in 122 minutes with the three guards on the floor together over the 10-1 stretch. Westbrook’s 36-for-64 (56%) in the clutch (which includes 8-for-14 from mid-range and 9-for-22 from 3-point range) is the best mark among 24 players with at least 50 clutch field goal attempts.
The Wizards have the league’s fourth-ranked defense over the 19 days and with the game on the line on Wednesday, they scored on nine straight possessions (with Beal and Westbrook getting to the basket at will) against the No. 1 defense (that of the Warriors) over that same stretch. The schedule gets tougher this week, though the Wizards have three more games on a stretch of eight straight against teams that rank no higher than 20th offensively.
Week 19: vs. SAS, vs. LAL, @ CLE, @ DAL
Last Week: 18 ↓
Pace: 99.1 (17) OffRtg: 110.5 (18) DefRtg: 111.7 (15) NetRtg: -1.2 (21)
The Hornets were reeling, capping a 1-6 stretch with an ugly loss (their least efficient game since Jan. 1) in Chicago on Thursday. Coach James Borrego shortened his rotation (in more ways than one) over the weekend, starting PJ Washington at center and handing DNPs to Vernon Carey Jr. (who had started four straight games) and Cody Zeller. The Hornets then survived a close call against Cleveland on Friday and then clobbered the Celtics on Sunday afternoon. They outscored Boston by 24 points in less than 25 minutes with Washington at the five in what was, easily, their best of their six wins (they’re 6-10) without Gordon Hayward.
For the season, they’ve outscored their opponents by 5.9 points per 100 possessions in 759 total minutes with the 6-foot-7 Washington at the five, with Washington having shot 57-for-128 (45%) from 3-point range in those minutes and 30-for-90 (33%) from beyond the arc otherwise. That may be the starting look from here on out and LaMelo Ball may rejoin that starting lineup soon, having received a positive evaluation of his wrist last week.
The Hornets have two more big games in the 4-9 scrum in the East this week. Both of those games — at Boston on Wednesday, vs. Miami on Sunday — will be the second game of a back-to-back for both the Hornets and their opponent.
— NBA (@NBA) April 23, 2021
Week 19: vs. MIL, @ BOS, vs. DET, vs. MIA
Last Week: 21 ↑
Pace: 101.5 (5) OffRtg: 111.3 (16) DefRtg: 111.4 (13) NetRtg: -0.1 (16)
Injuries to all three of their centers have hammered the Pacers, but an easy stretch of schedule has saved them. Games against the Thunder, Pistons and Magic have produced a three-game winning streak that has kept the Pacers in ninth place. They’re still within striking distance of one of the top two Play-In spots in the East, but they also have two remaining games against the surging Wizards.
Malcolm Brogdon and Caris LeVert have combined to average 50 points over the three games, with Brogdon doing more of his damage from beyond the arc and LeVert doing more work in the paint (where he had some tough buckets against the Spurs on Monday) and at the line. They’ve assisted each other nine times over the winning streak (LeVert’s behind-the-back flip to Brogdon on Saturday was nifty) and have played most of their minutes together (Nate Bjorkgren hasn’t staggered them much), but at this point, there’s is still a “my turn, your turn” relationship (T.J. McConnell remains the best set-up man of the three), where if one guy can’t beat his man off the dribble, he lets the other try. The Pacers have scored just 107.5 points per 100 possessions in 542 minutes with the two starting guards on the floor together, though they’ve gotten a boost from the recent play of Edmond Sumner (43 points over the weekend), who ranks among the league leaders in points per possession in transition.
Week 19: vs. POR, vs. BKN, @ OKC
Last Week: 22 ↑
Pace: 99.8 (14) OffRtg: 112.2 (13) DefRtg: 111.6 (14) NetRtg: +0.6 (14)
Chris Boucher went down with a knee injury in the fourth quarter on Wednesday. But the Raptors had their four best players back together (for the first time since March 29) last week, they played their first two games alongside center Khem Birch, and the new starting lineup outscored the Nets and Knicks by 33 points (scoring 130 on 99 offensive possessions) in 48 total minutes. Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby and Pascal Siakam combined to shoot 27-for-54 (50%) from 3-point range over the two games.
Alas, the Raptors were outscored by 39 points in their 48 minutes when all five starters weren’t on the floor. The starters did enough against Brooklyn, but they weren’t able to recover from an 18-3 Knicks run spanning the third and fourth quarters on Saturday. Last season, the Raptors had the league’s best bench. This season, their bench ranks 18th, with only the Rockets’ bench having seen a bigger drop in aggregate point differential per 100 possessions.
The Raptors’ visit to the Play-In Club was brief and they’re now two games in the loss column behind the 10th place Wizards. They’ve already won the head-to-head tiebreaker and will have the final meeting at home, but the Raps have the more difficult remaining schedule, with a stretch of five games in seven nights this week.
Week 19: vs. CLE, vs. BKN, @ DEN, @ UTA, @ LAL
Last Week: 20 ↓
Pace: 99.8 (13) OffRtg: 114.1 (9) DefRtg: 114.3 (27) NetRtg: -0.2 (17)
We can’t count the Pelicans out until after their first two games against the 10th-place Warriors (next Monday and Tuesday). But, with their loss to the Spurs on Saturday, the fat lady has begun warming up. They’re four games in the loss column behind Golden State, so, even if they were to sweep the season series, they’d need help to grab one of the final Play-In Tournament spots.
The Pelicans just haven’t been able to find consistency on either end of the floor. Their bottom-five defense has shown some improvement over the last few weeks, but has allowed 54 points on 37 clutch possessions as they’ve lost close games to the Knicks, Nets and Spurs over the last eight days. And while the defense has (generally) improved, the offense has suffered. They rank 26th offensively (108.7 points scored per 100 possessions) over a 5-9 April, with five of their 11 least efficient games of the season having come this month. Brandon Ingram has missed five games and has had his least efficient month of the season, while Lonzo Ball, Eric Bledsoe and Kira Lewis Jr. have all shot worse than 40%.
The Pelicans have wins over each of the top six teams in the West and they’ll complete their season series with the Clippers and Nuggets this week.
Week 19: vs. LAC, @ DEN, @ OKC, @ MIN
Last Week: 23
Pace: 100.1 (12) OffRtg: 110.6 (17) DefRtg: 112.1 (20) NetRtg: -1.5 (22)
The Bulls have been able to tread water (going 3-3) without Zach LaVine, seeing only a small drop in offensive efficiency from their first eight April games. Coby White has moved back into the starting lineup and averaged 19.5 points on improved shooting, but the new starting group has scored just 96.4 points per 100 possessions (and has been outscored by 31 points) in its 92 minutes. The frontline of Daniel Theis and Nikola Vucevic was a plus-14 in a little more than 20 minutes in the Bulls’ win over Charlotte on Thursday, but has mostly been bad (-16.0 per 100). In their losses in Cleveland and Miami last week, the Bulls lost the first quarter by 22 and 15 points.
With Thaddeus Young’s move back to the bench, the bench minutes have been better. But treading water has not been good enough with how well the Wizards have been playing. The Bulls do have the head-to-head tiebreaker, but are two games in the loss column behind Washington and their loss in Miami on Saturday began a stretch of six straight games against East opponents with winning records. They’re 3-9 against that group thus far.
Week 19: @ MIA, @ NYK, vs. MIL, @ ATL
Last Week: 24
Pace: 100.8 (9) OffRtg: 113.4 (11) DefRtg: 117.8 (30) NetRtg: -4.4 (25)
The Kings are almost assuredly going to tie the Clippers’ record for the longest playoff drought in NBA history (15 years). But they should put an end to their streak of seven straight seasons as a worse-than-average team on both ends of the floor. Their defense has been awful, but their offense has been solid.
The Kings are one of two teams (the Hawks are the other) that rank in the top 10 in three of the four factors on offense. They rank seventh in effective field goal percentage (particularly strong in the paint and in the corners), eighth in free throw rate (where they’ve seen the league’s third biggest jump from last season), and sixth in turnover rate (another big improvement). There are eight lineups that have scored at least 120 points per 100 possessions in 200 minutes or more, and the Kings have two of the eight (so do the Nuggets and Jazz).
The Kings ran a little more than they did last year, but may have left some points on the table by not running even more. They lead the league in points per possession in transition (1.20), but rank 11th in transition possessions per game (18.3). Of course, to really run, you have to get stops. Alas…
Week 19: vs. DAL, vs. UTA, @ LAL, @ DAL
Last Week: 26 ↑
Pace: 101.8 (4) OffRtg: 108.0 (26) DefRtg: 114.9 (28) NetRtg: -6.9 (28)
The Wolves’ surprise win over the Jazz on Saturday was just the fifth time this season that they’ve held their opponent under a point per possession. But where they’ve really seen progress is on offense. After ranking 28th (105.0 points scored per 100 possessions) offensively before the All-Star break, they’ve ranked 13th (112.4) since. Having Karl-Anthony Towns for 23 of their 25 post-break games has obviously made a difference, but they’ve also been better offensively in Towns’ minutes on the floor since the break (115.5) than they were prior (110.3).
While Towns himself has been a little more efficient, the big jump has come from the guy that’s been on the floor for 660 (81%) of Towns’ 813 post-break minutes. Among 170 players with at least 200 field goal attempts before the break and at least 100 since the break, Anthony Edwards (46.6%, 55.1%) has seen the sixth biggest jump in true shooting percentage. That’s come with better shooting in the paint, better shooting from the outside, and a significant jump in free throw rate.
The Wolves remain one of four teams (the Cavs, Pistons and Thunder are the others) that rank in the bottom 10 in field goal percentage in the paint (24th), mid-range field goal percentage (29th) and 3-point percentage (24th). But their four most talented players – D’Angelo Russell, Malik Beasley, Edwards and Towns – have been on the floor together for just 13 minutes all season.
Week 19: vs. UTA, @ HOU, vs. GSW, vs. NOP
Last Week: 25 ↓
Pace: 98.3 (23) OffRtg: 108.2 (25) DefRtg: 112.3 (22) NetRtg: -4.1 (24)
In overhauling the roster over the last six months (Sekou Doumbouya being the longest-tenured player in Detroit remains remarkable), the Pistons turned their offense over to some guys who have never run an NBA offense before. Jerami Grant (who’s only playing every other game these days) has seen the league’s biggest jump in usage rate (17.7% last season, 27.8% this season) by a pretty healthy margin. Mason Plumlee has had the ball in his hands for 7.7% of the time he’s been on the floor, a 20% increase from his last two seasons in Denver. The Pistons started a rookie point guard (Killian Hayes) on opening night and when he was injured seven games into the season (and after Derrick Rose was traded), another rookie point guard (Saben Lee, who ranks sixth in average seconds per touch) was given an opportunity.
Grant has seen a drop in efficiency over time (true shooting percentage of 59.0% through his first 24 games and 52.9% since), currently at a mark (55.7%) that ranks 34th among 48 players with a usage rate of 25% or higher. But he’s definitely seen some progress with his playmaking over the course of the season.
This will be the 10th straight season in which the Pistons will have had a worse-than-average offense. That’s the league’s longest active streak.
Week 19: vs. ATL, vs. DAL, @ CHA
Last Week: 27
Pace: 98.0 (25) OffRtg: 105.5 (28) DefRtg: 112.2 (21) NetRtg: -6.7 (26)
The Cavs’ defensive improvement (and their ability to force turnovers in particular) has helped them improve from 30th (15.4) to 17th (18.4) in transition points per game. The most efficient offense is early in shot clock, and the Cavs have both one of the fastest guys with the ball (Collin Sexton) and one of quickest wings in regard to those first few steps of transition from defense to offense (Isaac Okoro). They’ve also been a relatively physical offensive team, ranking in the top 10 in the percentage of their shots that have come in the restricted area (third), free throw rate (10th) and offensive rebounding percentage (seventh).
But there hasn’t been enough transition; The Cavs have taken 18.4% of their shots, the league’s highest rate, in the last six seconds of the shot clock. And there’s been too many turnovers (15.8 per 100 is the league’s second highest rate). Most important is shooting, and the Cavs cannot shoot. They’re one of two teams (the Rockets are the other) that rank in the bottom five in both mid-range field goal percentage (28th) and 3-point percentage (29th). Darius Garland has seen a significant jump in the latter (from 35.5% to 41.1%), but the Cav who’s attempted the most 3-pointers is Cedi Osman, who, at 30.5%, ranks 129th among 132 players with at least 200 3-point attempts.
Week 19: @ TOR, vs. ORL, vs. WAS, vs. MIA
Last Week: 28
Pace: 101.2 (7) OffRtg: 106.3 (27) DefRtg: 113.2 (25) NetRtg: -6.9 (27)
Only the Thunder (-6.5) have seen a bigger drop in points scored per 100 possessions from last season than the Rockets (-6.2), who will rank in the bottom 10 offensively for the first time in 15 years. Houston has more high-priced talent on its roster than Oklahoma City, but Eric Gordon hasn’t played in more than six weeks, John Wall has been one of the league’s worst perimeter shooters, and things really fell apart when Christian Wood suffered a bad ankle injury in early February.
Of course, Wood’s return didn’t fix the Rockets’ issues. They rank 27th offensively since he came back on March 17 and have scored just 108.9 points per 100 possessions (2.6 fewer than the league average) in 625 total minutes with Wall and Wood on the floor together. There’s been better numbers (116.5 per 100) in a smaller sample with Kevin Porter Jr. joining that duo, but Porter has missed the last three games.
The Rockets have seen the league’s biggest increase in ball movement (passes per 24 minutes of possession) from last season, but still rank just 21st, also in the bottom 10 (27th) in player movement. They’ve managed to rank last in both mid-range field goal percentage (30.6%) and 3-point percentage (33.4%).
Week 19: vs. MIN, vs. MIL, vs. GSW, vs. NYK
Last Week: 29
Pace: 99.0 (18) OffRtg: 105.0 (29) DefRtg: 113.5 (26) NetRtg: -8.5 (29)
The good news is that, ranking 27th offensively at the deadline, the Magic didn’t have far to drop when they traded almost all of their offense. They do rank last in effective field goal percentage (47.2%) since the deadline; Only three of the 15 Magic players who’ve taken at least 20 shots over the last month — Wendell Carter Jr., Mo Bamba and James Ennis — have a mark above the league average (53.7%). But they have the league’s lowest turnover rate and … wait for it … rank seventh in free throw rate over the last month. Free throws! Shot-location data also shows that the Magic have become much less of a jump-shooting team (29% of their shots have come in the restricted area since the deadline) than they were prior to the trades (22%).
Of course, they’re now lacking in guys who can shoot, and that’s kind of important. Player development will obviously be critical over the next six months, especially with Cole Anthony, who’s got some much-needed juice off the dribble. With less star talent, the Magic could also use some more ball movement. For the second straight season, they rank 28th in passes per 24 minutes of possession.
Week 19: vs. LAL, @ CLE, @ MEM, vs. MEM
Last Week: 30
Pace: 101.3 (6) OffRtg: 103.6 (30) DefRtg: 112.8 (23) NetRtg: -9.2 (30)
The Thunder have fallen off more defensively than offensively since Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s last appearance (March 22). But their 99.8 points per 100 possessions over the 17 games since then are 4.7 fewer than any other team has scored over that stretch. So, with most of their 12 remaining opponents likely to have something on the line, it would be a serious upset if they don’t remain 30th in offensive efficiency through the final three weeks of the season. Amazingly, it will be only the fourth time that the Sonics/Thunder have had a worse-than-average offense in the 25 seasons for which we have play-by-play data.
OKC has seen the second biggest jump in the percentage of its shots that have come from the restricted area or 3-point range, from 65% (27th) last season to 73% (eighth) this season. But the Thunder are one of two teams (the Cavs are the other) that rank in the bottom five in both restricted-area field goal percentage (26th) and 3-point percentage (27th). They also have the league’s highest turnover rate (15.7 per 100 possessions).
The Thunder’s original starting lineup — George Hill, Gilgeous-Alexander, Luguentz Dort, Darius Bazley and Al Horford — did score 110.1 points per 100 possessions, which was a little better than the league average at the point when Hill injured his thumb. But it played in only nine games together and it remains the team’s most-used lineup (195 total minutes).
Week 19: @ PHI, @ BOS, vs. NOP, vs. IND, vs. PHX