Power Rankings

Power Rankings, Week 15: Suns, Bucks on the rise in Top 5

See where all 30 teams rank after the first 14 weeks of the 2021-22 season.

Chris Paul and Phoenix continue to lead the Western Conference standings.

Things have certainly gotten chaotic around the NBA over the last few weeks. Some of the best teams in the league have struggled. A couple of playoff teams from last year – Atlanta and Portland – have begun to show signs of life. The top of the Eastern Conference now has three teams with 17 losses and another three with 19. Much air time was spent on a pretty benign late-game substitution in L.A.

In regard to more meaningful topics out West, much has changed from a few weeks ago, with the Golden State Warriors and Utah Jazz falling back to the pack, while the Dallas Mavericks and their … [checks notes] … fourth-ranked defense have taken control of the 5 seed. The Memphis Grizzlies have suffered a smidgen of slippage, losing three of five.

But the Phoenix Suns remain the constant. And with the other teams in what looked like a three-team top tier having fallen, the defending Western Conference champs suddenly have a four-game lead in the loss column atop the standings.

They also have the top spot in this week’s Power Rankings, set to defend it with two games against the fourth-place Jazz this week.

Plus-Minus Players of the Week

Teams of the Week

  • Make It Last Forever: Atlanta (4-0) — A little defense can go a long way.
  • Something Just Ain’t Right: Sacramento (0-2) — A new record for the longest playoff drought in NBA history is in their sights.

East vs. West

Schedule strength through Week 14

  • Toughest: 1. Indiana, 2. Portland, 3. Detroit
  • Easiest: 1. New York, 2. Milwaukee, 3. Utah
  • 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 (+4), Minnesota (+3)
  • Free falls of the week: LA Clippers (-4), Toronto (-3)

Week 15 Team to Watch

  • Utah — The Jazz are struggling, and they’re set to face the best team in the league for the first time this season. The Suns will have a rest advantage when the two teams meet in Phoenix on Monday (9 ET, NBA TV), but they’ll both be rested in Utah two nights later. After the home-and-home, the Jazz play another big game in Memphis on Friday, closing out their week in Minnesota on Sunday night.

Previous 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 98.6 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes and 109.5 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

Record: 36-9
Pace: 100.1 (7) OffRtg: 112.1 (5) DefRtg: 104.2 (2) NetRtg: +7.9 (1)

With victories over the Spurs and Pacers last week, the Suns have won the last 30 games they’ve led by double-digits. They’ve also trailed by double-digits three times during their six-game winning streak. And their biggest win of the six came in Dallas on Thursday, when they were down 12 points in the third quarter and by nine early in the fourth. They turned the screws defensively over the last seven minutes, holding the Mavs to just nine points on their final 15 possessions of the game, with both great rotations and terrific one-on-one defense.

Bismack Biyombo was on the floor for all but 26 seconds of that fourth quarter, and he followed that up with 21 points (tying his career-high), 13 rebounds, five assists (also tying his career-high) and two blocks against Indiana on Saturday. The Suns have outscored their opponents by more than 24 points per 100 possessions (allowing just 95.2 per 100) in Biyombo’s 161 minutes with the floor and, even when Deandre Ayton returns from his ankle injury, should continue to find some playing time for him. JaVale McGee has generally been solid as the backup center, but was having a rough night on Thursday. Ayton would have helped take advantage of the Mavs’ switching, but the Suns’ success with other bigs does add another layer to his free-agency situation this summer.

The Suns have lost their last four games within the group of eight teams that have won at least 60% of their games. Their first two meetings with the Jazz (1-6 within the group) are Monday and Wednesday.

Week 15: vs. UTA, @ UTA, vs. MIN, vs. SAS

Last Week:1

Record: 32-17
Pace: 99.8 (9) OffRtg: 111.3 (9) DefRtg: 108.3 (9) NetRtg: +3.0 (7)

The Grizzlies’ last five games were one of their toughest stretches of schedule this season, with all five coming against teams no worse than the 24-21 Nuggets. The first was the end of a stretch of eight games in 12 days, while the last three have come without both Desmond Bane and Tyus Jones. So winning two out of five ain’t bad. The Grizz outscored the Bulls, 40-18, in the restricted area in a dominant win on Monday, and that’s without the extra points that should have been assigned for Ja Morant’s 360 layup. And in Denver on Friday, Morant scored 28 of his 38 points in the paint or at the free throw line. The Grizzlies rank first (for the second straight season) in points in the paint differential (+11.1 per game), second in fast-break points differential (+3.3 per game) and first in second-chance points differential (+5.3 per game).

But they have missed Bane and Jones. Their starting lineup (sans Bane) over the last three games has been outscored by 19 points (having allowed almost 1.4 points per possession) in its 33 minutes. And with Jones out, more minutes have gone to De’Anthony Melton, who has the worst effective field goal percentage (33.7%) among 243 players with at least 50 field goal attempts in January. It’s had highs and lows, but the five games have been Memphis’ worst stretch of offense (103.9 points scored per 100 possessions) since mid-November.

The Grizzlies have a couple of days off in Texas before they finish their four-game trip in San Antonio. They’re tied in the loss column with the Jazz, who will be at FedEx Forum on Friday. The Grizzlies won the first meeting (in Utah) on Jaren Jackson Jr.’s 3-pointer with 5.7 seconds left.

Week 15: @ SAS, vs. UTA, vs. WAS

Last Week:3

Record: 34-13
Pace: 98.9 (13) OffRtg: 110.2 (13) DefRtg: 102.6 (1) NetRtg: +7.7 (2)

The Warriors are surviving. Draymond Green remains out, Klay Thompson (who’s missed his last nine 3-point attempts) was a late scratch on Sunday, and Stephen Curry (5-for-26 from 3 over the weekend) continues to struggle with his shot. But they were able to win ugly a few times last week, with Curry hitting his step-back game-winner against Houston on Friday (capping a 13-2 run to close the game) and Bojan Bogdanovic missing his step-back game-winner two nights later. The Warriors are now 15-8 in games that were within five points in the last five minutes, with the league’s second-ranked clutch defense.

And the overall defense has held up without Green, ranking fourth (106.0 points allowed per 100 possessions) over the eight games since he last played. The Warriors had a top-five defense last season, but, especially given Curry’s struggles, the improvement on that end of the floor (only the Cavs have seen a bigger drop in points allowed per 100 possessions) has been huge. Their wins over Detroit and Houston last week were the Warriors’ ninth and 10th (they’re 10-13) in games in which their offense has scored fewer points per 100 possessions than the league average (109.5). Last season, they were 9-28 when they scored fewer points per 100 than the league average (111.7).

The Warriors’ seven-game homestand wraps with some more tough competition this week. They’ve lost to both Dallas and Minnesota (scoring less than a point per possession in both games) this month.

Week 15: vs. DAL, vs. MIN, vs. BKN

Last Week:6

Record: 30-19
Pace: 100.1 (6) OffRtg: 111.5 (8) DefRtg: 107.7 (7) NetRtg: +3.8 (6)

The Bucks were struggling, losing six of eight through last Monday, when they suffered their first loss (blowing an 11-point, fourth-quarter lead in Atlanta) in a game they led after the third quarter. Then they got Jrue Holiday back from a six-game absence, and they’ve won three straight, with quality victories over Memphis and Chicago in which they held two top-10 offenses to just 100.5 points per 100 possessions.

They were actually outscored in Holiday’s minutes in all three games, but the Bucks had some good stretches with him playing alongside George Hill (one of the guys the Bucks shipped out to acquire Holiday exactly 14 months ago). In 342 total minutes with both point guards on the floor this season, the Bucks have outscored their opponents by 31.9 points per 100 possessions, the best mark among 928 league-wide combinations that have played at least 250 minutes together.

Hill is still at just 32% from 3-point range, way down from the 46% he shot in 2019-20 with the Bucks and the 39% he shot (with OKC and Philly) last season. But he did make three 3s in a game for the second time as the Bucks beat the Kings (without Giannis Antetokounmpo) on Saturday. Even with Hill’s struggles, the Bucks are one of five teams that rank in the top 10 in both 3-point percentage (36.2%, sixth) and the percentage of their shots that have come from 3-point range (44.3%, fifth). We don’t necessarily think of the Bucks as a “jump-shooting team,” but only the Mavs have taken a higher percentage of their shots from outside the paint.

The fourth-place Bucks are tied in the loss column with the fifth-place Cavs. They split two games in Milwaukee last month, though the loss was the only game this season where the Bucks didn’t have any of their three stars. Round 3 is in Cleveland on Wednesday.

Week 15: @ CLE, vs. NYK, vs. DEN

Last Week:4

Record: 27-19
Pace: 96.4 (27) OffRtg: 111.0 (10) DefRtg: 108.8 (11) NetRtg: +2.2 (10)

Joel Embiid remains on an offensive tear. Over the last five weeks (16 games), he’s averaged 33.9 points, shooting 55% from the field and 42% from 3-point range while getting to the line for more than 11 attempts per contest. And with apologies to Tyrese Maxey and Seth Curry (who have shot well), Embiid is the Philly offense. The Sixers’ two wins last week (vs. Orlando and at San Antonio) came with Embiid registering the two highest usage rates for any player in a game this season, and his usage rate of 56.1% on Wednesday was the highest in more than three years (James Harden in Jan. 2019).

It has been a soft stretch of schedule. Only three of those 16 games have come against teams — Brooklyn, Charlotte and Miami — that are currently over .500. The Sixers won two of those three games, but they also lost to the struggling Wizards and Clippers last week, allowing 20 second-chance points and blowing a 24-point lead at home on Friday. It’s just a couple of good games from ranking in the top 10, but the defense still isn’t playing at the level that it has in previous seasons (with one obvious reason as to why). Only the Lakers (+3.1) have seen a bigger jump in points allowed per 100 possessions from last season than the Sixers (+1.8).

Those two teams will meet for the first time on Thursday, with the Sixers’ soft schedule continuing through this week (the start of a five-game homestand). Things will start to get tougher after that.

Week 15: vs. NOP, vs. LAL, vs. SAC

Last Week:5

Record: 30-17
Pace: 96.2 (28) OffRtg: 112.3 (3) DefRtg: 107.7 (8) NetRtg: +4.6 (5)

Bam Adebayo made his return from a 22-game absence on Monday, but the Heat were without Kyle Lowry (personal reasons) all week. So they’ve still had Lowry, Adebayo and Jimmy Butler together for just 14 of their 47 games. No matter, because they have Gabe Vincent (who came up with a huge steal against Toronto on Monday), Caleb Martin (who scored 26 points against Portland on Wednesday) and Max Strus (who’s now shooting wicked, step-back 3s). The Heat lost in Atlanta on Friday when Butler missed *two shots for the lead in the final 24 seconds, but they’ve won seven of their last nine, and they climbed into first place in the East with Brooklyn’s loss in Minnesota on Sunday night.

* In his three seasons with the Heat, Butler is 6-for-31 (19%) on shots to tie or take the lead in the final minute of the fourth quarter or overtime.

The Heat now rank as the third-best and third-most improved offense in the league, having scored 1.7 more points per 100 possessions than they did last season. That’s with Butler (and his free throw attempts) having missed 18 games, with Adebayo (and his 70% shooting in the restricted area) having missed 25, and with Duncan Robinson having seen a big drop in 3-point percentage. Robinson has benefited from a move back into the starting lineup (and minutes alongside Adebayo), shooting 16-for-34 (47%) from beyond the arc last week.

The Heat have won 10 of their last 11 at FTX Arena, and a stretch where they’re playing eight of nine at home comes to a close this week. They’ve won seven of their last eight games against the Knicks, who are in town on Wednesday for the first meeting of the season.

Week 15: vs. NYK, vs. LAC, vs. TOR

Last Week:11

Record: 27-20
Pace: 96.1 (29) OffRtg: 109.2 (21) DefRtg: 106.1 (4) NetRtg: +3.0 (8)

The Mavs have won 11 of their last 13 games, allowing 6.0 fewer points per 100 possessions (99.0) than any other team over those 24 days. The stretch has included two wins over the Grizzlies, with the Mavs’ wire-to-wire victory on Sunday giving them the head-to-head tie-breaker, which just might matter. The Grizzlies’ ninth-ranked offense scored just 95.1 points per 100 possessions in four games against Dallas and has scored 112.7 per 100 against everybody else.

Dallas is still searching for offensive consistency, not just from game to game, but also from quarter to quarter. They held double-digit leads against Oklahoma City, Toronto and Phoenix last week, but all of those leads (basically) disappeared as they struggled to get buckets in the fourth quarter. They survived against the Thunder and Raptors, but a 20-4, fourth-quarter run from the Suns on Thursday (in which the Mavs as many turnovers as points over a stretch of 11 possessions) did them in. Phoenix swept the season series, though the three games were decided by a total of just 23 points.

The Mavs will now go for a second January win over the Warriors, having held Golden State to its worst offensive performance of the season (82 points on 95 possessions) in the first meeting. Even with the win over Toronto on Wednesday, the Mavs are still just 6-9 against the Eastern Conference. Their visit from the Pacers on Saturday is the start of a stretch where they’re playing five of six against the East.

Week 15: @ GSW, @ POR, vs. IND, @ ORL

Last Week:9

Record: 28-19
Pace: 97.5 (22) OffRtg: 110.1 (14) DefRtg: 105.1 (3) NetRtg: +4.9 (4)

The Cavs split their two big games within the top six in the East last week, and the difference between the two games was at the rim. On Monday, they outscored Brooklyn, 40-20, in the restricted area. Two nights later in Chicago, the restricted-area score was Bulls 54, Cavs 30, tied (with their season opener in Memphis) for the Cavs’ worst restricted-area differential of the season. After their win over the Thunder on Saturday (34-26), they’re 22-4 when they’ve outscored their opponents in the restricted area and 6-15 when they haven’t.

The win over OKC came with an ankle injury to Lauri Markkanen. The Bulls have outscored their opponents by 13.6 points per 100 possessions in 431 total minutes with their four full-time starters on the floor together, but by just 2.5 per 100 in 192 minutes with the other three — Darius Garland, Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen — on the floor without Markkanen. The difference has been entirely on the offensive end of the floor, where they’ve scored less than a point per possession in those no-Markkanen minutes. Dean Wade (5-for-17 from 3-point range in those minutes) closed the OKC win in place of Markkanen on Saturday.

Having won six of their last seven overall, the Cavs have moved back into fifth place in the East, just two games behind the first-place Heat. A top-four seed is a possibility both this week (when they play the fourth-place Bucks on Wednesday) and long-term. The Cavs have the easiest remaining schedule (cumulative winning percentage of .467, 21 of 35 games against teams that are currently at or below .500) among the East’s top six.

Week 15: vs. NYK, vs. MIL, @ DET

Last Week:7

Record: 29-17
Pace: 99.6 (10) OffRtg: 112.2 (4) DefRtg: 109.7 (16) NetRtg: +2.5 (9)

Rookies (even those selected late in the Draft) can be useful, and maybe because they play with energy. With two rookies — Kessler Edwards and Day’Ron Sharpe — starting alongside the always energetic Patty Mills the last five games, the Nets have gotten off to solid starts. In fact, their plus-21 in the first six minutes of the first quarter over those five games is, by far, their best such stretch of the season. The Nets have outscored their opponents by 25.4 points per 100 possessions in 54 total minutes with the two rookies, Mills and James Harden on the floor alongside either Kevin Durant or Kyrie Irving.

Most of that success is about the offense. When the Nets woke up in L.A. on Christmas morning, they ranked 13th in offensive efficiency and fifth on defense. Thirty days later, they’re fourth and 16th. And they have the league’s No. 1 offense since Christmas, even though their 3-point percentage over those 16 games (34.8%) is right at the league average. Alas, the defensive slide has been just as consequential as the rise on offense. And while they weren’t in a deep hole after the first six minutes on Sunday, the Nets allowed the Wolves to register their most efficient game (136 points on 102 possessions) in more than two months.

The Nets are two games into a stretch of nine straight against the Western Conference. With their split in San Antonio and Minnesota, they’re 9-8 (3-5 at home, 6-3 on the road) against the West thus far, and they’re back home (and without Irving) for a back-to-back on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Week 15: vs. LAL, vs. DEN, @ GSW

Last Week:8

Record: 28-17
Pace: 99.0 (12) OffRtg: 111.5 (7) DefRtg: 109.7 (17) NetRtg: +1.8 (12)

The hits just keep on coming for the Bulls, who now have six of their top 10 guys on the shelf, dealing with injuries. Most importantly, Zach LaVine has missed (essentially) the last six games with a knee injury, Lonzo Ball (meniscus tear) is out 6-8 weeks, and Alex Caruso broke his wrist just two nights after returning from a 13-game absence. (By the way, Caruso played 12 minutes and smothered a Giannis Antetokounmpo post-up after he fractured his wrist.)

This team has had a certain measure of resilience this season, but it’s now lost six of its last seven games, ranking in the bottom five on both ends of the floor over that stretch. DeMar DeRozan has continued to do his thing offensively (27.0 points per game on a true shooting percentage of 58.8%) over the seven games, but Nikola Vucevic hasn’t been able to pick up the slack in the absence of LaVine. Having had a couple of brutal shooting nights over the last week, Vucevic’s effective field goal percentage (48.2%) is his lowest mark in the last five seasons, and he can’t make up for sub-par shooting by getting to the line. His free throw rate (9.3 attempts per 100 shots from the field) is somehow lower than ever and ranks 185th among 195 players with at least 250 field goal attempts.

LaVine could return this week, the Bulls are still tied in the loss column with Miami and Brooklyn at the top of the East standings, and they’re getting some schedule relief, with eight straight games against teams that are currently at or below .500. But that stretch began with a 19-point loss in Orlando on Sunday, so nothing is guaranteed at this point.

Week 15: @ OKC, vs. TOR, @ SAS, vs. POR

Last Week:10

Record: 30-17
Pace: 98.5 (17) OffRtg: 116.0 (1) DefRtg: 108.8 (10) NetRtg: +7.2 (3)

The Jazz aren’t the only team going through some struggles over the last few weeks, but some of the others have used the Jazz to stop their own bleeding. They were the Pacers’ only win over a recent 1-10 stretch, they gave the Pistons a rare win a couple of weeks ago, and last week, the Jazz lost to the Rockets, Lakers and suddenly shaky Warriors. They played Detroit again on Friday and saw that game go down to the wire before escaping with a much-needed victory.

The Jazz have had both Donovan Mitchell (out the last three games with a concussion) and Rudy Gobert for just two games as they’ve lost seven of their last nine. But one of those was their loss to the Lakers on Monday, the first time in more than a month that L.A. had held its opponent under a point per possession. The Jazz themselves rank 23rd defensively over the 2-7 stretch, with four of those nine games having come against teams that rank in the bottom 10 offensively and none of them having come against teams that rank in the top 10. The Jazz had no answer for Stanley Johnson (10 points on 5-for-6 shooting) in the fourth quarter on Monday.

With that loss to the Lakers, the Jazz remain one of five winless teams (they’re 0-5) in rest disadvantage games. And with their loss to the Warriors on Sunday, they’re 1-6 against the other seven teams that have won more than 60% of their games. Their toughest rest-disadvantage date will be their visit to Phoenix on Monday, Game 2 of four straight against those over-.600 teams.

Week 15: @ PHX, vs. PHX, @ MEM, @ MIN

Last Week:12

Record: 26-21
Pace: 101.0 (2) OffRtg: 111.9 (6) DefRtg: 112.0 (26) NetRtg: -0.1 (16)

Miles Bridges’ Most-Improved candidacy is kind of fascinating. He’s seen big jumps in per-game numbers (20.1, 7.4 rebounds and 3.5 assists, up from 12.7, 6.0 and 2.2 last season), but those are largely a result of increases in minutes and usage rate. He’s actually seen a pretty big drop effective field goal percentage (from 59.6% to 54.6%), but watching him, there’s a clear increase in skill level. His 38-point performance in New York on Monday featured some terrific on-one-one offense, including a spin move into an off-hand floater, a spectacular up-and-under finish, and a well-placed transition pass to Mason Plumlee. Bridges has been assisted on 63% of his buckets, down from 75% last season. So he is generating a bigger chunk of his own offense.

The other end of the floor was more important for the Hornets as they won seven of eight. They ranked second defensively (102.6 points allowed per 100 possessions) over that stretch, which included three wins over teams (Milwaukee and Philadelphia) with top-10 offenses. They played a lot of zone in those three wins and then went all in — 52 possessions of zone (more than five times their average up until that point) according to Synergy tracking — in the win at Madison Square Garden on Monday.

The Hornets’ own top-10 offense had one of its worst performances of the season on Sunday, shooting 4-for-36 from 3-point range in a loss to the Hawks. Their first meeting with the ninth-place Raptors is also the Hornets’ first Tuesday game of the season.

Week 15: @ TOR, @ IND, vs. LAL, vs. LAC

Last Week:14

Record: 24-21
Pace: 97.2 (24) OffRtg: 110.5 (11) DefRtg: 109.6 (15) NetRtg: +0.9 (14)

Nikola Jokic recorded four straight triple-doubles for the first time in his career and the Nuggets scored more than 130 points per 100 possessions in his 146 minutes on the floor over the streak. But only the Orlando bench has been worse than that of the Nuggets and over those four games, Denver was outscored by 24 points in the MVP’s 51 minutes on the bench. Losses to Utah and Memphis (Friday) were the seventh and eighth this season where Jokic was a plus-0 or better. (They had 11 such losses last season.)

With the Nuggets also getting outscored by the Pistons with Jokic off the floor on Sunday, each of their three games last week was within five points in the last five minutes. And before Aaron Gordon hit the game-winner against the Clippers on Wednesday, the Nuggets were having Will Barton set screens for Jokic with an empty strong side of the floor. It worked pretty well, but it might be something they just recently stumbled on. According to Second Spectrum tracking, Barton has set just nine ball-screens for Jokic and eight of those nine have come in the last four games. Denver has been nearly as efficient with a teammate setting a ball-screen for Jokic (0.92 points per chance) as it’s been with Jokic setting a ball-screen for somebody else (0.94).

The Nuggets get to play the Pistons again on Tuesday as they begin a six-game trip that includes a make-up game in Brooklyn and a visit to Milwaukee. Denver is 2-6 against the top seven teams in the East thus far, with both wins having come against Miami.

Week 15: @ DET, @ BKN, @ NOP, @ MIL

Last Week:17

Record: 23-23
Pace: 100.4 (4) OffRtg: 109.9 (17) DefRtg: 108.8 (12) NetRtg: +1.1 (13)

With their win over Brooklyn on Sunday, the Wolves became the second team (the Cavs were the first) to match their win total from last season, when they were 23-49. They rank as both the league’s fifth-most improved team on offense (having scored 0.6 more points per 100 possessions than they did last season) and its fifth most improved team on defense (having allowed 5.6 fewer per 100). Even when you adjust for the league average drop (-2.2 per 100), they’ve seen a greater improvement on defense (-3.5) than on offense (+2.8).

But the Wolves’ offense has been rather ridiculous over the last three weeks, scoring a league-best 119.3 points per 100 possessions as they’ve won seven of 10 against a pretty even mix of good, bad and average defenses. Karl-Anthony Towns, Anthony Edwards and D’Angelo Russell have all averaged at least 20 points over the 10 games, combining for an effective field goal percentage of 60.5%. And obviously, if they’re all scoring efficiently, there should be less stress about how many shots Towns is getting. He only had 13 the night after winning the game in New York, but the Wolves’ loss in Atlanta on Wednesday was more about their defense than their offense.

As always, the flashes of quality basketball are there, and it’s just a matter of sustainability. And coming off their win over Brooklyn on Sunday, the Wolves’ schedule will continue to challenge them. They’re 4-9 in games against the top six teams in the West (having beat Golden State eight days ago), set to play the Warriors, Suns, Jazz and Nuggets over the next nine days.

Week 15: @ POR, @ GSW, @ PHX, vs. UTA

Last Week:15

Record: 24-24
Pace: 97.1 (25) OffRtg: 108.9 (22) DefRtg: 106.9 (5) NetRtg: +2.0 (11)

Last week, the Celtics began a stretch of 11 games where 10 of them would be against teams that rank in the bottom 10 defensively. But they didn’t exactly find their offensive rhythm over the first three games of that stretch, scoring just 107.6 points per 100 possessions as they went 1-2 against Pelicans, Hornets and Blazers. Entering their game in Washington on Sunday, Jayson Tatum had missed his last 20 shots from beyond the arc.

But against the Wizards, Tatum made his first 3-point attempt and another eight after that. His nine 3-pointers were a career-high, his 51 points are tied for the second-most scored in a game this season, and the Celtics’ 29-point win was their biggest of ’21-22. Marcus Smart has the worst effective field goal percentage (46.6%) among the 10 Celtics who’ve attempted at least 150 shots, but the Celtics have been at its best (110.1 points scored per 100 possessions) with him on the floor, and the Washington win came with his return from a six-game absence.

The Celtics’ reunited starting lineup — Smart, Jaylen Brown, Tatum, Al Horford and Robert Williams III — has outscored its opponents by 17.8 points per 100 possessions, the second-best mark among 32 lineups that have played at least 150 total minutes. But the Celtics haven’t exactly been dominant (they’re 8-5) in the 13 games those five guys have all been available. They were without both Brown and Williams when they had an ugly offensive night and lost in Atlanta in November, and they’re back there on Friday as they play three more bottom-10 defenses this week.

Week 15: vs. SAC, @ ATL, @ NOP

Last Week:13

Record: 22-22
Pace: 96.4 (26) OffRtg: 110.3 (12) DefRtg: 109.9 (18) NetRtg: +0.4 (15)

The Raptors’ shot profile has completely changed this season. Last season, they ranked fifth in the percentage of their shots (74%) that came from the restricted area or 3-point range. This season, they rank 26th (65%), having seen the league’s fifth-biggest drop in restricted-area rate and its biggest drop in 3-point rate. Taking less efficient shots and having shot worse than they did last season both inside and outside the arc, the Raptors rank 27th in effective field goal percentage (50.1%), with only the Thunder, Pistons and Magic having shot less effectively.

Taking care of the ball and grabbing a ton of offensive boards can only take an offense so far, and as the Raps have lost five of their last seven games (following a promising, six-game winning streak), they’ve been the least effective shooting team in the league (46.8%). Fred VanVleet (44.2% over those seven games) hit the go-ahead 3 in Washington on Friday, but has otherwise struggled, especially inside the arc.

Upon returning from a six-game absence, Gary Trent Jr. did take 18 of his 27 shots from beyond the arc over the weekend, and the Raptors’ loss to Portland on Sunday came with a season-high 54 3-point attempts. But that may have been, in part, a result of the 21-point deficit they faced less than eight minutes into the game.

The 2-5 stretch has dropped the Raptors back to .500 and seventh place in the East. Their visit from the Hornets on Tuesday will be the teams’ first meeting of the season.

Week 15: vs. CHA, @ CHI, @ MIA

Last Week:16

Record: 23-24
Pace: 95.4 (30) OffRtg: 108.5 (23) DefRtg: 109.3 (14) NetRtg: -0.8 (19)

For the Knicks to climb the standings as they did in the second half of last season, they will need to do more than defend pretty well. They scored efficiently as they won five of six games entering last week, but in dropping three straight at home, they were held under a point per possession by two bottom-10 defenses (those of the Hornets and Pelicans). They came back from an early deficit against the Wolves on Tuesday, but came up empty down the stretch, shooting 2-for-10 (with two turnovers) in the clutch. Julius Randle shot 13-for-40 (33%) over the losing streak.

The Knicks did finish their homestand with a wire-to-wire victory over the Clippers on Sunday, making eight 3s in the first quarter and scoring 110 points on 96 possessions against the league’s sixth-ranked defense, with Randle making at least half his shots for the first time in nine games. Ranking eighth in the percentage of their shots that have come from 3-point range (42.5%), the Knicks are now 17-3 (.850) when they’ve shot at least 37.5% (3/8) from beyond the arc and 6-21 (.222) when they haven’t. That’s the biggest such differential in the league.

One of those three losses came against Milwaukee in early November. The Knicks are 4-6 against the top six teams in the Eastern Conference (they’ve yet to play the Heat), with a tough, three-game trip this week.

Week 15: @ CLE, @ MIA, @ MIL

Last Week:20

Record: 23-24
Pace: 100.8 (3) OffRtg: 108.5 (24) DefRtg: 109.9 (19) NetRtg: -1.4 (22)

Whether Frank Vogel’s job was on the line or not (why would a team let such a thing become public?), the Lakers clearly played with a commitment to defend at a high level against the Jazz on Monday, just the third time this season that Utah’s top-ranked offense has been held under a point per possession. The Lakers switched screens at about twice their usual rate, their switches were mostly on point, and they outscored the Jazz, 49-24 (allowing 24 points on 35 defensive possessions), in 18.2 minutes with a frontline of Stanley Johnson and LeBron James.

Alas, maybe that game was more about the Jazz’s struggles than the Lakers turning the season around. Two nights later, they gave up 62 points in the paint and blew a fourth-quarter lead to the Pacers. The Lakers rank sixth offensively since Christmas, but are just 7-6 over that stretch, ranking 23rd defensively. James has averaged an efficient 31.7 points over those 13 games, but the Lakers have been outscored in his minutes because they’ve allowed more than 117 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor.

Anthony Davis (who’s missed the last 17 games) was listed as questionable for the Lakers’ loss in Miami on Sunday, so he could be back this week as they complete their six-game trip with four more games against top-10 offenses. He will certainly help, though L.A. is just 8-7 with both James and Davis in the lineup, having outscored their opponents by exactly four points in their 405 minutes on the floor together.

Week 15: @ BKN, @ PHI, @ CHA, @ ATL

Last Week:19

Record: 23-24
Pace: 97.9 (21) OffRtg: 109.2 (20) DefRtg: 111.2 (22) NetRtg: -2.0 (23)

It’s kind of amazing how much the Wizards’ defense has fallen off over the course of the season. They ranked fourth on that end of the floor through five weeks and were still seventh at Thanksgiving. Since then, they’re 26th. Opponent 3-point shooting has something to do with the drop-off, but their opponents have actually seen a bigger jump in field goal percentage in the paint (from 51.9% through Thanksgiving to 57.2% since) than they have in effective field goal percentage on shots from outside the paint (from 45.9% to 49.9%).

The Wizards held the Sixers under a point per possession in a big win on Monday, but couldn’t get stops later in the week, allowing the Nets, Raptors and Celtics to score 119.4 per 100. They erased almost all of a 16-point deficit against Brooklyn and tied Toronto after trailing by 18 in the fourth quarter, but it seems their late-game fortune has gone the way of their defense. The Wizards have lost their last three games that were within five points in the last five minutes and there was no comeback against Boston on Sunday.

The Wizards are 3-4 on what is the longest homestand for any team this season. It comes to an end with a visit from the Clippers’ 27th-ranked offense on Tuesday. After that, the Wizards will play six straight games against teams that rank in the top 10, both in regard to offensive efficiency and winning percentage.

Week 15: vs. LAC, @ MEM

Last Week:21

Record: 20-26
Pace: 98.3 (19) OffRtg: 109.9 (18) DefRtg: 113.8 (29) NetRtg: -4.0 (26)

If the Blazers make the Play-In Tournament in the Western Conference (they currently hold a 2 1/2 game lead over the 11th place Pelicans), it could be a result of how well they’ve played against the East. They’re now 12-7 (fourth-best among West teams) against the opposite conference, having gone 4-1 over a trip that ended Sunday. And if they come one game short of their goal (which could be a higher seed), they may look back with regret at their 12-point loss in Miami on Wednesday, when they were outscored by 18 points (scoring just seven points on 17 offensive possessions) in 8:34 with neither Anfernee Simons nor CJ McCollum on the floor, choosing not to stagger their minutes of as much as they could have.a

Of course, having the opportunity to stagger the minutes of two potent guards again is a good thing. McCollum looked pretty sharp offensively (goodbye, Max Strus) in averaging 20.8 points (on an effective field goal percentage of 61%) over his first four games back from a six-week absence, while Jusuf Nurkic (29 points and the game-sealing put-back in Boston on Friday) continues to play his best basketball of the season. Most interesting may be that the Blazers have a top-10 defense over a 6-2 stretch.

The Blazers are only home for a back-to-back before they head back out for a four-game trip. They’re only three games behind the seventh-place Wolves (who are at the Moda Center on Tuesday), with three games left in the season series.

Week 15: vs. MIN, vs. DAL, @ HOU, @ CHI

Last Week:23

Record: 21-25
Pace: 98.4 (18) OffRtg: 113.2 (2) DefRtg: 113.4 (27) NetRtg: -0.3 (17)

The Hawks are alive! They’ve suddenly won four straight games, with all four against teams currently .500 (Minnesota) or better (Milwaukee, Miami and Charlotte). They’ve scored more than 120 points per 100 possessions over the streak, with Trae Young averaging 31.3 points. He was 25-for-25 from the line against the Bucks and Wolves and, on Friday, he made more free throws (he was 12-for-15) than the Heat (11-for-12), tough to do when Jimmy Butler (still the foul-drawing king) plays 36 minutes.

Prior to last week, the Hawks were 2-22 in games they trailed by double-digits, with one of those wins (at New Orleans) having come in October. But they came back from a 14-point deficit against Milwaukee (with Young scoring 15 points in the fourth quarter) and a 16-point deficit against Minnesota (with Young scoring 23 in the third). And in beating the Hornets (who had the league’s third-ranked offense) on Sunday, the Hawks held an opponent under a point per possession for the first time since … opening night. Much of that was Charlotte shooting 4-for-36 from 3-point range, but the Hawks will take a defensive victory when they can get it.

The Hawks’ longest homestand from here on out is five games over nine days. It includes big games against Boston and Toronto, and it begins Wednesday with a visit from the Kings.

Week 15: vs. SAC, vs. BOS, vs. LAL

Last Week:18

Record: 23-25
Pace: 98.5 (16) OffRtg: 106.4 (27) DefRtg: 107.6 (6) NetRtg: -1.2 (21)

The Clippers have seen the league’s biggest drops from last season in both winning percentage and point differential (both per game and per 100 possessions). And with their defeat in New York on Sunday, they’re the first team to have matched their loss total from ’20-21 (when they were 47-25). But the Clippers aren’t letting go of the rope. They entered last week having been held under a point per possession in three straight games, but their four games last week were their best offensive stretch of the season (119.2 points scored per 100 possessions).

Their second-leading scorer over the four games was Ivica Zubac, who had a career-high 32 points against Nikola Jokic and the Nuggets on Wednesday. The big man was aggressive from the start and the Nuggets didn’t really have a solution for him at the end. When Nikola Jokic guarded him, the Clippers went to pick-and-roll. When the Nuggets adjusted by having Jeff Green guard Zubac, Zubac took Green into the post. The Clippers lost in OT and Zubac’s per-game average is still below 10 points per game, his effective field goal percentage is a career-best 67.3%. He’s one of nine players who have shot 70% or better on at least 100 attempts in the restricted area and 50% or better on at least 50 attempts elsewhere in the paint.

The Clippers’ win in Philly on Friday was the third in a game they trailed by at least 20 points. That leads the league (the Knicks and Pelicans have two each) and is more than any team had last season. The rest of their eight-game trip is a stretch of five games in seven days, starting Tuesday.

Week 15: @ WAS, @ ORL, @ MIA, @ CHA

Last Week:22

Record: 17-28
Pace: 97.9 (20) OffRtg: 107.4 (25) DefRtg: 111.3 (23) NetRtg: -3.9 (25)

The Pelicans’ bench ranks as one of the five worst reserve units in the league, with New Orleans having been outscored by 10.4 points per 100 possessions with at least two of its regular starters off the floor. Both the young guys they drafted three years ago (Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Jaxson Hayes) and the vets they brought in last summer (Tomas Satoransky and Garrett Temple) have had disappointing seasons, unable to stop the bleeding when the starters sit. Kira Lewis Jr. was starting to have better minutes in early December … and then tore his ACL.

But with Devonte’ Graham having an off night in New York on Thursday, Brooklyn native Jose Alvarado (who’s been in the rotation for a few weeks) gave the Pelicans a lift with 13 points (on 6-for-9 shooting), four assists and four steals off the bench. The 6-0, undrafted rookie registered a plus-12 in 20 minutes in what was an 11-point win, and over the nine games in which he’s seen regular minutes, the Pelicans have been better with him on the floor than they’ve been with him off.

The Pelicans are still a .500 team (16-16) since that 1-12 start to the season. They won their two first quarters last week by a total score of 56-35, but got clobbered in the second half in Boston on Monday. Prior to that, they’d won their last 11 games (after losing five of the first seven) they led by double digits.

With Brandon Ingram suffering an ankle injury in their win in New York on Thursday, it was a good time for the Pelicans to have a three-day break. But they have two back-to-backs this week and are just 1-6 in the second games of back-to-back thus far.

Week 15: vs. IND, @ PHI, vs. DEN, vs. BOS

Last Week:26

Record: 17-30
Pace: 97.3 (23) OffRtg: 109.9 (15) DefRtg: 111.0 (21) NetRtg: -1.0 (20)

The Pacers’ recent misfortune in regard to injuries (whether they want to win games or showcase trade pieces) is on par with their season-long misfortune in regard to close games. Malcolm Brogdon (51 minutes played over their last 12 games) and Myles Turner (missed the last four) are both dealing with more-than-short-term injuries, while Caris LeVert (calf soreness) and Domantas Sabonis (ankle sprain) have each missed the last two games. But, with three of those four guys playing, the Pacers put an end to their eight-game road losing streak in L.A. on Wednesday. And with all four out, they stunned the Warriors (with a 10-0 run in overtime) a night later.

Sabonis (20, 12 and 10) and LeVert (22 of his 30 points in the fourth quarter) had big games against the Lakers, but Chris Duarte has averaged 19.8 points on an effective field goal percentage of 61% over the first four games of the Pacers’ five-game trip, which has been the team’s best four-game stretch of offense (116.4 points scored per 100 possessions) in the last six weeks. As the rookie tied his career-high with 27 points against the Warriors, nine of his 10 buckets (including a few nice left-handed finishes) were unassisted. Duarte leads all rookies with 97 mid-range attempts and his 47.4% from mid-range ranks 16th among 65 players (rookies and vets) with at least 75 attempts.

The Pacers will be without at least Brogdon, Sabonis and Turner as their five-game trip wraps up in New Orleans on Monday. Their first meeting with the Pelicans (Nov. 20) was one of the six times they’ve held their opponent under a point per possession, something they’ve done just once in their last 28 games.

Week 15: @ NOP, vs. CHA, @ OKC, @ DAL

Last Week:25

Record: 17-30
Pace: 100.1 (5) OffRtg: 109.6 (19) DefRtg: 110.1 (20) NetRtg: -0.6 (18)

Averaging at least 18 points, eight rebounds and eight assists probably seems more common than it’s actually been, because prior to this season, there were 11 instances of it – from Luka Doncic (twice), James Harden, LeBron James (three times), Nikola Jokic and Russell Westbrook (four times) – over the previous five years (2016-17 through ’20-21). But prior to that, the last instance of a (qualified) player averaging 18, eight and eight was Michael Jordan in 1988-89. So Dejounte Murray (19.3, 8.5 and 9.0 through Sunday) is in some pretty special company. None of these guys in the last five years (nor Doncic and Harden this season) have also averaged at least two steals, so Murray has the chance to be the first since Jordan to average 18, eight, eight and two.

It’s somewhat arbitrary and Murray benefits a little from the Spurs playing at a relatively fast pace. But his assist/turnover ratio (3.74) would be the highest for an 18-eight-and-eight guy since Fat Lever in 1986-87 (3.92) and he continues to make an impact as he racks up triple-doubles (nine this season). Over the 11 games since Murray returned from a five-game absence, the Spurs have scored 17.2 more points per 100 possessions with him on the floor (112.3) than they have with him off the floor (95.1).

Though they lost a couple of games by double-digits last week, the Spurs still have the biggest differential between their “expected” wins (they have the point differential of a team that’s 22-25) and their actual wins, with their loss in Philly on Sunday dropping them to 6-14 (third-worst in the league) in games that were within five points in the last five minutes.

If they had those five extra wins, Gregg Popovich would be just three from tying Don Nelson for first on the all-time list. Given the difficulty of the Spurs’ schedule over the next four weeks and their record (4-17) against teams that are currently over .500, it will be tough to get him that close before the All-Star break.

Last Week:24

Record: 18-30
Pace: 100.0 (8) OffRtg: 109.9 (16) DefRtg: 113.8 (28) NetRtg: -3.9 (24)

Tyrese Haliburton is having a strong second season with the Kings, and you can see why another team would be interested in the 21-year-old as the trade deadline approaches. You can also see why Haliburton should be the one guy the Kings hold onto should they make major changes. Having been given the ball more since the Kings’ coaching change, he’s climbed to 11th in assists per game (7.2), with the third-best assist/turnover ratio (3.22) among the top 20. And within his 12 assists in Milwaukee on Saturday (in his return from a two-game absence), you can see a lot of smart decisions in the pick-and-roll. According to Second Spectrum tracking, the Kings have been much more efficient when they’ve set a screen for Haliburton than they have when they’ve done the same for De’Aaron Fox.

And that’s about more than just Haliburton’s passing. He’s shot 52-for-119 (43.7%) on pull-up 3s, the best mark among 95 players who’ve attempted at least 50. And while he’s not the long, long-range threat that other off-the-dribble shooters are (he’s just 7-for-27 from 28 feet and out), his five 3-pointers on Saturday included some quick releases and shots on the move. It remains a weird-looking shot, but there’s no arguing with the results. Haliburton is one of just nine players who have shot 40% or better on at least 200 3-point attempts in each of the last two seasons.

Haliburton’s return did help the Kings win a first quarter for the first time in their last nine games on Saturday, but they still allowed their opponent to score more than 130 points per 100 possessions for the second straight game. The Bucks are good, but the Pistons (the previous opponent) are not. The Kings have lost eight of their last 10, and while it’s a positive that six of the eight losses have been within five points in the last five minutes, it’s not good that they’ve allowed 72 points on 49 clutch possessions (1.47 per) over that stretch.

Week 15: @ BOS, @ ATL, @ PHI

Last Week:28

Record: 14-33
Pace: 101.3 (1) OffRtg: 106.8 (26) DefRtg: 114.5 (30) NetRtg: -7.8 (28)

The Rockets went 3-2 on a five-game trip, with two of their five starters — Eric Gordon and Christian Wood — shooting better than 50% on more than 25 attempts from 3-point range over the five games. It wasn’t Houston’s best stretch of offense this season, but the Rockets do rank in the top 10 on that end of the floor over the last 12 days. They beat the Jazz (shooting 22-for-45 from beyond the arc) on Wednesday, and they went down to the wire against the Warriors two nights later.

The Utah win was just the Rockets’ fourth (they’re 4-28) after trailing by double-digits. It also came with their lowest turnover rate (nine on 95 possessions) of the season. Jalen Green enters Week 15 having missed his last 16 shots from the field, but he has a much lower turnover rate in his 14 games since he returned from a 14-game absence (10.4 per 100 possessions used) than he did in his 18 games prior (14.4 per 100). The Rockets still have the league’s worst differential overall (they’ve committed 3.1 per game more than their opponents), but it’s just plus-1.8 per game in January.

The Rockets are playing just two games over a stretch of nine days, with a four-game homestand starting on Tuesday. They’ve lost their last eight games at home, with the last three of those defeats having come by at least 18 points.

Week 15: vs. SAS, vs. POR

Last Week:29

Record: 11-35
Pace: 99.2 (11) OffRtg: 102.4 (29) DefRtg: 112.0 (25) NetRtg: -9.6 (30)

Kelly Olynyk returned from a 33-game, 10-week absence and promptly put up 22 points, nine rebounds and five assists in less than 22 minutes in Sacramento on Wednesday. The win, capped by Cory Joseph’s game-winning jumper was the Pistons’ most efficient offensive performance of the season and it also came with 30 points from Saddiq Bey.

Olynyk is the oldest player on this roster and could certainly draw interest at the deadline, but he could also help create space for Cade Cunningham. The rookie has averaged 15.7 drives per 36 minutes in January, up from 13.5 per 36 in December and 12.2 in October and November. His 56% shooting on his January drives ranks ninth (just ahead of Ja Morant) among 29 players with at least 50 field goal attempts on drives this month. He can shoot, but he’s at his best when he’s attacking, and more shooting would allow him to do that more. Unfortunately, Olynyk entered Health and Safety Protocols over the weekend.

The two teams with fewer than 14 wins fill meet for the third time on Friday in Orlando. The Pistons won the first two meetings (both in Detroit), even though Cunningham and Bey have combined to shoot 15-for-55 (27%) against the Magic.

Week 15: vs. DEN, @ ORL, vs. CLE

Last Week:27

Record: 14-32
Pace: 98.8 (14) OffRtg: 101.6 (30) DefRtg: 109.2 (13) NetRtg: -7.5 (27)

Darius Bazley still has another year left on his rookie contract, so this isn’t a make-or-break season for the 21-year-old. He’s (kind of randomly) the only player in the league who’s played at least 300 minutes with more blocks (49) than personal fouls (42). But Bazley lost his starting job last month and the Thunder have been much better (especially offensively) in 256 with their three perimeter starters on the floor without Bazley (minus-4.3 points per 100 possessions) than they’ve been in their 441 minutes with Bazley on the floor alongside those three guys (minus-14.7).

Bazley started in Cleveland on Saturday, but, in a game the Thunder lost by seven, the starting lineup was outscored by 22 points (scoring just 22 points on 36 offensive possessions) in less than 17 minutes. Bazley shot 7-for-30 last week and now has the fourth worst effective field goal percentage (44.4%) among 195 players with at least 250 field goal attempts.

The Thunder had a couple of big offensive games earlier this month, but they’ve been held under a point per possession in three straight. Their season-long effective field goal percentage (48.1%) would be the worst mark of the last six seasons.

Week 15: vs. CHI, vs. IND

Last Week:30

Record: 9-39
Pace: 98.8 (15) OffRtg: 103.1 (28) DefRtg: 111.7 (24) NetRtg: -8.7 (29)

On Sunday, the Magic’s original starting lineup — Cole Anthony, Jalen Suggs, Franz Wagner, Wendell Carter Jr. and Mo Bamba — played its first minutes together in more than nine weeks, having outscored opponents by 11.4 points per 100 possessions in 163 minutes in October and November. And with the reunion, the Magic got their first home win since Dec. 1, holding the Bulls to just 95 points on 101 possessions. The Magic are 9-39, and five of their nine wins have come against teams — Brooklyn, Charlotte, Chicago, Denver and Utah — that are at least three games over .500.

Of course, the starting lineup played less than seven minutes together on Sunday, because Bamba committed three fouls in the first five minutes of the first quarter and another in the first three minutes of the third. But Mo Wagner (typically the most foul-prone of the Magic’s big men) gave them a big lift off the bench, scoring 23 points in 25 minutes while maintaining his status as First-Team All Irritant. The Magic have been outscored by 4.3 points per 100 possessions with the brothers Wagner on the floor together, but it’s nice that the team’s assist rate has been highest (70.1%) in those minutes. Sharing is caring and vice versa.

Even with that win, it’s going to take some work for the Magic to avoid finishing with the worst record in franchise history. At 9-39, they would need to finish the season 9-25 to tie their 18-64 mark from their inaugural season. They get their third of four tries against the Pistons on Friday, having lost the first two meetings by a total of 12 points.

Week 15: vs. LAC, vs. DET, vs. DAL