Devin Booker and Phoenix will face Giannis Antetokounmpo and Milwaukee on Thursday for the first time since The Finals.
The trade deadline is three days away, the All-Star break follows a week after that, and the season is about two-thirds complete (65% through Sunday). So this may be a week where we’re not too focused on the results of the games.
But this is the week that brings us our first Finals rematch, with the Milwaukee Bucks visiting the Phoenix Suns on Thursday. And despite the off-court distractions, it’s a good time for it. The Suns saw their 11-game winning streak come to an end last week, but they continue to take care of business, and they got their two injured starters back on Tuesday.
The Bucks, meanwhile, are maybe starting to put their foot on the gas, winning their last three games by an average of 22 points. Last year’s Finals gave three thrilling games, with Giannis Antetokounmpo capping the series off with a 50-piece in Game 6. So maybe we’ll get something special when the two teams meet again on Thursday night (10 p.m. ET, TNT).
Plus-Minus Players of the Week
Teams of the Week
- Make It Last Forever: Toronto (4-0) — Bet on yourself.
- Something Just Ain’t Right: Brooklyn (0-4) — Blake Griffin made some 3s, though.
East vs. West
Schedule strength through Week 16
- Toughest: 1. Portland, 2. Indiana, 3. Orlando
- Easiest: 1. Milwaukee, 2. Chicago, 3. L.A. Lakers
- 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: Boston (+5), Toronto (+4), Oklahoma City (+3)
- Free falls of the week: Brooklyn (-4), Denver (-4), Portland (-4)
Week 17 Team to Watch
- Phoenix — There are currently nine teams that have won more than 60% of their games. And while the Suns have a three-game edge in the loss column on all the rest, they’ve played the fewest games (they’re 6-4) within that group. In fact, they’ve played only five of the other eight teams, having faced the Warriors three times and the Cavs, Grizzlies and Jazz twice each. But the Suns will play the other three in the next four days. They’ll complete their four-game road trip with a back-to-back in Chicago (Monday, 8 p.m. ET, NBA TV) and Philadelphia (Tuesday). Then they’ll return home to face the Bucks on Thursday (10 p.m. ET, TNT), rounding out their week with a visit from the team with the league’s worst record (Orlando) on Saturday.
Previous Power Rankings
- This time last year: Lakers return to No. 1; Jazz continue to rise — The Sixers were 13-0 when they had their starting lineup together, and the Kings had won seven of their last eight games. The Mavs and Warriors both made 20 3-pointers in both of their games of a two-game series. Fred VanVleet scored a franchise-record 54 points in Orlando, while Nikola Jokic dropped 50 in Sacramento. The Knicks traded for Derrick Rose, D’Angelo Russell hit a game-winner in Oklahoma City, and Devin Booker drained a game-winning 3 in Dallas.
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 98.5 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes and 109.9 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.
Pace: 99.7 (9) OffRtg: 112.8 (3) DefRtg: 105.1 (2) NetRtg: +7.7 (2)
The Suns had the league’s most efficient offense (119.5 points scored per 100 possessions) over their 11-game winning streak, but (with Jae Crowder and Deandre Ayton out for four and eight games, respectively) their defense had a little bit of slippage. As the streak came to an end in Atlanta on Thursday, the Suns allowed more than 120 points per 100 possessions for just the sixth time this season. The Hawks shot 20-for-40 from 3-point range, with the Suns maybe a half step slow on their close-outs and JaVale McGee retreating in pick-and-roll coverage. The Suns don’t allow a lot of 3-point attempts – they have the league’s 12th lowest opponent 3-point rate (3PA/FGA) — but half of their 10 losses have come in the five games that their opponents have made at least 17 3s.
Of course, the Suns still take care of business like no other team in this league, and they followed the loss by holding the Wizards to just 51 points on 70 possessions (0.73 per) through the first three quarters on Saturday. They remain the league’s second-ranked defense and they’ve now held their opponent under a point per possession as many times (16) as they did last season.
The Suns are still without Cam Payne, who’s missed the last seven games with a sprained wrist. Over that stretch, Elfrid Payton has shot 6-for-24 and the Suns have been 27.1 points per 100 possessions in Chris Paul’s 262 minutes on the floor (+12.9) than they’ve been in his 74 minutes on the bench (-14.2).
Phoenix is 16-3 against the Eastern Conference, but has yet to play the Bulls, Sixers or Bucks. So this should be a fun week of inter-conference tests.
Week 17: @ CHI, @ PHI, vs. MIL, vs. ORL
Pace: 98.9 (14) OffRtg: 111.7 (10) DefRtg: 103.5 (1) NetRtg: +8.2 (1)
Draymond Green remains out until at least the All-Star break and the Warriors do miss him, as the last five games have been their worst stretch of defense this season (114.0 points allowed per 100 possessions). Their first two February games were just the second and third times that a team shot better than 50% against what remains the league’s top-ranked defense. San Antonio shot 71% in the paint on Tuesday, while Sacramento tied its season high for fast break points (25) on Thursday.
But the Warriors’ winning streak is at eight games because their offense has been rather ridiculous, scoring 119.9 points per 100 possessions over the streak, up from 103.3 over the 3-6 stretch that preceded it. Stephen Curry dropped 40 in Houston on Monday, the supporting cast did its thing without the starting perimeter guys against the Spurs, and Klay Thompson had his biggest game of the season (23 points, seven assists, 7-for-9 from 3-point range) against the Kings, with a couple of his 3s coming off delicious, one-handed, crosscourt dimes from Curry. The Warriors have now scored more than 120 points per 100 in 204 minutes with Curry and Thompson on the floor together, while seven different guys have scored at least 20 points in at least one of the eight games during the winning streak.
With that surge, the Warriors have climbed back into the top 10 in offensive efficiency, and they’re one of five teams that have already surpassed their win total from last season (when they were 39-33). Now, they’re set to visit a team that’s just climbed into the top 10 on defense (Oklahoma City) and a team that’s already surpassed its loss total from last season (Utah).
Week 17: @ OKC, @ UTA, vs. NYK, vs. LAL
Pace: 99.8 (7) OffRtg: 112.1 (6) DefRtg: 108.4 (8) NetRtg: +3.8 (8)
As noted in this space a few weeks ago, the Grizzlies have a top-six offense despite being one of four teams that rank in the bottom 10 in both 3-point percentage (33.9%, 23rd) and the percentage of their shots that have come from 3-point range (35.0%, 28th). They’ve taken care of the ball, and they’ve been relentless in attacking the paint (they’ve scored 3.3 more points in the paint per 100 possessions than any other team) and the offensive glass (leading the league in offensive rebounding percentage).
They still need to be able to make some shots from beyond the arc. Desmond Bane has been one of the best shooters in the league and a couple of reserves — Tyus Jones and John Konchar — have shot well on limited attempts, but the rest of the rotation has shot worse than the league average (34.9%) from beyond the arc. Ja Morant has missed 14 of his last 15 3-point attempts, only three players have shot worse than Jaren Jackson (31.7%) on as many attempts from deep, and Zaire Williams ranks 161st in catch-and-shoot 3-point percentage (29.1%) among 165 players with at least 100 attempts, having missed a wide-open look for the win in Philadelphia on Monday. The Grizzlies’ starting lineup with Williams in Dillon Brooks’ place has shot just 17-for-57 (30%) from 3-point range and been outscored by 10.2 points per 100 possessions in its 90 minutes.
The Grizz followed the Philly loss by registering 25 second-chance points in New York and doubling up the Magic, 68-34, in the paint. And Williams was 6-for-11 from deep over the two wins, scoring a career-high 21 points at Madison Square Garden. The win in Orlando was Memphis’ second-most efficient offensive performance (135 points on 104 possessions) of the season.
Four of the Grizzlies’ five remaining pre-break games are against teams that rank in the bottom 10 defensively. The exception is Tuesday against the seventh-ranked Clippers, and the Grizz have scored 121.4 points per 100 possessions (shooting 38% from beyond the arc) as they’ve won the first three meetings.
Week 17: vs. LAC, @ DET, @ CHA
Pace: 96.1 (28) OffRtg: 111.5 (12) DefRtg: 108.9 (11) NetRtg: +2.6 (10)
The Wizards have two wins in their last 10 games, and they’ve both come against the Sixers, who are just hoping that they don’t face Washington in the playoffs. The Sixers scored efficiently enough on Wednesday, even though Joel Embiid shot just 11-for-27, because they took advantage of double-teams on the big man. But they couldn’t get the stops they needed down the stretch, with the Wizards getting four restricted-area buckets (all in their half-court offense) in the final 5:06. It was a similar story two nights later in Dallas, where the Sixers allowed the Mavs to score 61 points on 44 possessions over the middle two quarters and come back from a 16-point deficit. The last three games have been the Sixers’ worst three-game defensive stretch (116.7 points allowed per 100 possessions) since mid-December.
But they got a big win without Embiid on Monday, getting a huge game (33 points and eight assists) from Tyrese Maxey against Memphis. And Embiid carried the load (40 points) as the Sixers improved to 3-0 against the Bulls with a road win on Sunday. They’re playing seven of their final nine pre-break games against teams that currently rank in the top 10 defensively, and the Sixers have scored 115.4 points per 100 possessions over the first four games of that stretch, with Maxey and Tobias Harris combining for 43.5 points per game on an effective field goal percentage of 59.6%.
The big test this week will be Tuesday, but the more important game will be Saturday, when both the Cavs and Sixers will be playing the second game of a back-to-back. Philly has yet to face either Phoenix or Cleveland this season.
Week 17: vs. PHX, vs. OKC, vs. CLE
Pace: 97.0 (25) OffRtg: 109.8 (18) DefRtg: 105.3 (3) NetRtg: +4.5 (4)
A trade for Caris LeVert signals that the Cavs are in on competing for a top seed in the Eastern Conference and giving their young core more than just a taste of the postseason. Entering Week 17, they’re just a game out of first place, they have the conference’s best point differential and the best record (9-6) in games played between the East’s top eight teams, and they still have a relatively easy remaining schedule (*cumulative opponent winning percentage of .481).
* Among the current top eight in the East, Toronto (.478) is the only other team with a cumulative opponent mark below .500 for their remaining schedule, though the Raptors’ remaining slate is the most road-heavy (18/31) among those eight teams.
LeVert should help an offense that ranks 25th (108.0 points scored per 100 possessions) over the last three weeks. The Cavs have missed Darius Garland (lower back issue) for the last four games, but LeVert’s ability to get into the paint (his 16.3 drives per game rank 10th in the league) will be useful even when Garland is healthy. Of course, though LeVert has seen an uptick in efficiency of late (true shooting percentage of 56.3% in January and February, up from 51.7% through December), the hope should be that Garland (54.6% for the season) retains control of the offense when they’re on the floor together.
The Cavs’ defense has remained stout with Garland out, allowing just 104.5 points per 100 possessions as they’ve won three of the four games he’s missed with the back issue. Their win over Indiana on Sunday was the league-leading 18th time they’ve held their opponent under a point per possession.
That 9-6 record within the top eight in the East doesn’t include any results against the Sixers. The first of four meetings is Saturday in Philadelphia.
Week 17: vs. SAS, @ IND, @ PHI
Pace: 96.2 (27) OffRtg: 111.8 (7) DefRtg: 107.5 (6) NetRtg: +4.3 (5)
Kyle Lowry returned from a nine-game absence on Thursday and the Heat’s reunited starting lineup (which hadn’t played together since Nov. 27) allowed the Spurs and Hornets to score just 39 points on 52 possessions (0.75 per) in a pair of comfortable wins. Duncan Robinson remains a target of opposing offenses (the 1.26 points per possession he’s allowed on isolations is the worst mark among 49 players who’ve defended at least 50), but Bam Adebayo (0.80) remains eager to switch onto anybody with the ball and that lineup has allowed just 93.8 points per 100 possessions, the second-best mark among 23 lineups that have played at least 200 minutes.
The Heat starters are No. 1 among those lineups in opponent turnover rate (17.5 per 100 possessions). Miami has drawn almost twice as many charges (81) as any other team (Houston is next with 42) and Jimmy Butler is one of six players (minimum 500 minutes played) with more steals (64) than personal fouls (50). Both Butler and Adebayo (who combined with Lowry for seven steals in Charlotte on Saturday) would be among the league leaders in steals per game if they qualified.
The Heat are 11-5 with their healthy starting lineup, with one of the five losses (Nov. 20) having come against the Wizards, who they’ll visit on Monday as their six-game trip wraps up this week. After they play in New Orleans on Thursday, 19 of the Heat’s final 26 games will be at home. Their game against the Nets on Saturday is just the second of four meetings, with the first (back in October) having been Brooklyn’s worst offensive performance of the season (93 points on 103 possessions).
Week 17: @ WAS, @ NOP, vs. BKN
Pace: 99.9 (6) OffRtg: 112.3 (5) DefRtg: 108.4 (9) NetRtg: +3.9 (7)
So maybe this is the point where the Bucks flip the switch. They lost a 17-point lead against Washington on Tuesday, but then put the Wiz away with a 17-2 run down the stretch. And then they began their four-game trip with a back-to-back in which they beat the Blazers and Clippers by a combined 53 points. The Clips tried one of their giant comebacks on Sunday, and the champs weren’t having it.
The winning streak has been the Bucks’ best mini-stretch of offense this season (129.1 points per 100 possessions), with their 137 points on 103 possessions on Sunday being the Clippers’ worst defensive performance since November. Giannis Antetokounmpo (30.0 points per game), Bobby Portis (23.7) and Jrue Holiday (19.3) have led the Bucks in scoring and have all made more than 60% of their shots over the three games. Oh, and the Bucks have outscored their opponents by 83 points in Holiday’s 99 minutes over the winning streak. (Depth is only an issue if you don’t win the starters’ time on the floor by more than 40 per 100 possessions.)
They have the most difficult remaining schedule (cumulative opponent winning percentage of .547) and our first Finals rematch of the season on tap for Thursday. But if the champs are really in buzz-saw mode, look out.
Week 17: @ LAL, @ PHX
Pace: 96.3 (26) OffRtg: 111.2 (13) DefRtg: 109.9 (17) NetRtg: +1.3 (14)
There aren’t supposed to be any stretches of four games in five nights anymore, but postponements had the Raptors playing four in five last week. Though they continue to play a short rotation, they won all four and now have a five-game winning streak that includes three victories over the first and second-place teams in the East (Chicago and Miami) and two over the Hawks (who are otherwise 8-1 over the last three weeks). The Raptors rank sixth defensively (107.9 points allowed per 100 possessions) over the winning streak, even though those five games have come against opponents that all rank in the top seven on offense.
All five games were within five points in the last five minutes, and the Raptors’ defense allowed those offenses to score just 64 points on 72 clutch possessions. OG Anunoby shot 9-for-15 (including 4-for-5 from 3-point range) on clutch shots and Scottie Barnes had big second-chance buckets against both Miami and Chicago. All-Star Fred VanVleet leads the league with 16 clutch 3-pointers, with the last three of those having come in overtime in the first game of the winning streak nine days ago. He’s 16-for-35 (46%) on clutch 3s and somehow just 4-for-24 (17%) on clutch 2s.
The Raptors will play eight of their next nine games on the road, though the last three of those are after the All-Star break. Their last five pre-break games will be against the Western Conference (against which they’re 8-9), but their most important game in the next two weeks is Monday in Charlotte. When they faced the ninth-place Hornets 13 days ago, it was the Raptors’ second-most efficient offensive performance to date (since topped by the Atlanta win on Friday).
Week 17: @ CHA, @ OKC, @ HOU, vs. DEN
Pace: 97.2 (24) OffRtg: 109.5 (19) DefRtg: 105.5 (4) NetRtg: +4.1 (6)
As noted above, the Cavs lead the league with 18 games in which they’ve held their opponent under a point per possession. The Celtics are next with 17, with eight of those 17 instances having come over a 12-4 stretch over the last month. The Celtics (100.1) have allowed 6.4 fewer points per 100 possessions than any other team (Cleveland is next at 106.5) over the last 31 days. They rank fourth in opponent 3-point percentage (32.1%) over that stretch, but have also held their opponents to a league-low 49.8% shooting in the paint, while also ranking fourth in opponent free throw rate. They now rank as the league’s second-most improved defense, having allowed 6.3 fewer points per 100 possessions than they did last season (111.8, 13th).
The 12-4 run has come against a relatively soft stretch of schedule. Only five of the 16 games have come against the other 15 teams that currently have winning records, and only three have come against teams that currently rank in the top 10 offensively. One of those three was Monday, when the seventh-ranked Heat were without Kyle Lowry, Jimmy Butler and P.J. Tucker. The Celtics have now had their full starting lineup (which has allowed less than 90 points per 100 possessions in its 250 minutes) for eight straight games, having had it for just 12 of their first 47.
The Celtics will face three more top-10 offenses this week, and they’ve allowed more than 117 points per 100 possessions as they’ve gone 0-3 against Atlanta (0-2) and Brooklyn (0-1) thus far (they’ve yet to play Denver). Of course, the Nets may be without James Harden (in addition to Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving) on Tuesday.
Week 17: @ BKN, vs. DEN, vs. ATL
Pace: 96.0 (29) OffRtg: 110.1 (16) DefRtg: 107.1 (5) NetRtg: +3.0 (9)
The Mavs’ six-game homestand (their longest of the season) did not get off to a good start. The league’s fifth-ranked defense allowed the league’s 30th-ranked offense (that of the Thunder) its third-most efficient performance of the season (120 points on 102 possessions). The Mavs were outscored, 21-8, at the free throw line, Luka Doncic fell asleep on the play that sent the game to overtime, and Lu Dort outscored the Mavs by himself in the extra period.
But Dallas beat two better teams over the weekend, holding the Sixers and Hawks to just 103.2 points per 100 possessions. Reggie Bullock (28-for-57 from 3-point range over the six games since Tim Hardaway Jr.’s foot injury) has continued to shoot a good ball and Doncic registered his eighth and ninth triple-doubles of the season in the two wins. More important may be that (late-game lapse aside) Doncic has seemingly bought in on defense. Before his 10-game absence in December, the Mavs allowed 10.2 more points per 100 possessions (112.2) with Doncic on the floor than they did with him off the floor (102.0). But over the 19 games since he returned, they’ve been better defensively with him on the floor (101.1) than they’ve been with him off the floor (104.8).
The Mavs are 15-5 since Dec. 31, they’re just a game and a half behind the Jazz for fourth place in the West, and their homestand concludes with three games against teams (the Pistons and Clippers) that rank in the bottom five offensively. They split their first two-game series with the Clippers back in November, with Doncic having only played in the game they won.
Week 17: vs. DET, vs. LAC, vs. LAC
Pace: 97.4 (23) OffRtg: 111.7 (9) DefRtg: 109.9 (16) NetRtg: +1.8 (11)
The Nuggets had some real momentum entering last week, but were seemingly the victims of a tough schedule stretch. They lost the last two games of a six-game road trip, even though they scored efficiently (104 points on just 91 possessions) without Nikola Jokic in Utah on Wednesday (two nights after their bench got walloped in Minnesota). And then they dropped the dreaded “first home game after a long trip,” coming up short down the stretch against New Orleans. Over the three games, the Nuggets allowed their opponents to score 121 points per 100 possessions, with the Wolves draining 19 3s and the Jazz and Pelicans totaling 124 points in the paint.
Brooklyn provided some schedule relief on Sunday, when the Nets’ defensive issues trumped those of the Nuggets. Denver has now scored a league-best 120.9 points per 100 possessions over its last 14 games, with Jokic averaging 26.5 points (on 63% from the field, 45% from 3-point range and 92% from the line), 12.5 rebounds and 10.2 assists over that stretch. His teammates obviously haven’t been that good, but Nuggets not named Jokic have shot 39.5% from 3-point range and the team has recorded assists on almost 70% of its buckets over those 14 games.
The Nuggets have won their last five games against the Eastern Conference, though, after they host the Knicks on Tuesday, they’ll visit two East teams that enter Week 17 with five-game winning streaks. It’s a two-game, two-night trip through Boston and Toronto, with the Nuggets just 2-7 in the second games of back-to-backs.
Week 17: vs. NYK, @ BOS, @ TOR
Pace: 98.8 (15) OffRtg: 112.6 (4) DefRtg: 111.1 (20) NetRtg: +1.5 (13)
The Bulls continue to tread water (8-10 over the last month) as they play shorthanded. They’re without Lonzo Ball, Alex Caruso, Derrick Jones Jr. and Patrick Williams long-term, and have also been missing Zach LaVine and Coby White for the last two games. The absences have affected them most on defense. In fact, they rank fourth offensively and 28th defensively over the last month, with their five worst defensive games of the season having come over that stretch.
The latest of those was Sunday, when the Bulls lost to Philly despite a season-high 45 points (and seven assists) from DeMar DeRozan, with the Sixers shooting 26-for-40 (65%) in the paint and 12-for-24 (50%) from beyond the arc. Over the last 31 days, the Bulls rank 25th in opponent field goal percentage in the paint (59.1%), 30th in opponent 3-point percentage (38.7%), and 29th in opponent turnover rate (12.0 per 100 possessions). They’ve rebounded well for the most part, but allowed 22 offensive boards in Toronto on Thursday, with Scottie Barnes’ tip-in sending the game to overtime, where the Raptors scored 13 points on nine possessions.
Of the Bulls’ six games remaining before the All-Star break, the two toughest in regard to opposing offenses are Monday and Wednesday. They’ve yet to face the third-ranked Suns, but won a barn burner (the two teams combined to score 127 points per 100 possessions) against Charlotte back in November.
Week 17: vs. PHX, @ CHA, vs. MIN, vs. OKC
Pace: 100.5 (3) OffRtg: 111.2 (14) DefRtg: 109.4 (12) NetRtg: +1.7 (12)
Much has been written in this space about the Wolves’ starting lineup, which was back together on Sunday after a seven-game hiatus. But the Wolves’ bench has been the story as they’ve won four straight games to climb to three games over .500 for the first time this season. They’ve outscored their opponents by almost 30 points per 100 possessions in 62 minutes with Anthony Edwards off the floor over the winning streak, getting big lifts from Jordan McLaughlin, Malik Beasley, Taurean Prince and Naz Reid. That quartet was on the floor for almost all of a 30-9 run to start the second quarter against Denver on Tuesday, with McLaughlin and Reid killing the Nuggets in the pick-and-roll and Prince catching fire from the outside.
Two nights later, Beasley and Prince combined to shoot 9-for-11 from 3-point range in Detroit. And Beasley kept it going (20 points, 5-for-9 from 3) against the Pistons again on Sunday. The Wolves’ bench ranked 26th through Jan. 6, but it’s been the league’s best bench (by a wide margin) in regard to cumulative point differential per 100 possessions (+5.2) over the last month. The bad news is that both Prince and Reid suffered leg injuries on Sunday.
The Wolves have won 12 of their last 17 games and are now just a game behind the sixth-place Nuggets. Denver has a slightly easier schedule going forward, but the Wolves have a 2-1 head-to-head advantage and three of the four games on this week’s road trip are against teams currently under .500. They’ve won eight of their last 10 against that group, with six of those eight wins having come on the road.
Week 17: @ SAC, @ SAC, @ CHI, @ IND
Pace: 98.3 (19) OffRtg: 115.6 (1) DefRtg: 109.5 (14) NetRtg: +6.1 (3)
The difference between the Jazz’s record at home (17-10, .630) and their record on the road (15-11, .577) would be the smallest such difference in franchise history (even the New Orleans years). But they’ve seemingly found their footing (ending a 2-11 stretch) by winning the first two games of their six-game homestand, beating the Nuggets and Nets, who were both without their All-Stars. The similarly shorthanded Jazz got a big game (18 points, eight assists, zero turnovers) against Denver from Trent Forrest, who has seemingly earned a more permanent spot in the rotation.
The Jazz got one of their two All-Stars back on Friday, with Donovan Mitchell returning from an eight-game absence and scoring 27 points in less than 22 minutes against Brooklyn. Even with his 6-for-7 performance on Friday, Mitchell’s 3-point percentage (34.8%) is down from last season (38.6%), but he’s registering career-high marks in the restricted area (65.0%), on other shots in the paint (46.9%), and from mid-range (48.3%). The 118.7 points per 100 possessions that the Jazz have scored with Mitchell on the floor is the highest on-court mark (by a healthy margin) among 301 players who’ve averaged at least 15 minutes per game.
The hope is that Rudy Gobert (who’s missed the last six games) will make his return this week. The Jazz had just one center (Hassan Whiteside was out) for each of their first two meetings with the Warriors (two close losses in January), and their minutes with Gobert off the floor in the first meeting were particularly ugly. Round 3 is Wednesday.
Week 17: vs. NYK, vs. GSW, vs. ORL
Pace: 99.3 (10) OffRtg: 111.7 (8) DefRtg: 111.0 (19) NetRtg: +0.7 (15)
The Nets were bound to have some issues without Kevin Durant. And they were bound to slide down the defensive rankings given how poorly their opponents had shot from 3-point range through the first 12 weeks of the season. Still, a free fall into the Eastern Conference Play-In group wasn’t something that any of us could have imagined just 15 days ago. On Jan. 1, this was one of two teams (the Warriors were the other) that hadn’t lost two straight games.
But it’s now dropped eight straight. It’s been a relatively tough stretch of schedule, and the Nets have had both James Harden and Kyrie Irving for only three of the eight games. But they’ve been outscored by 30 points (allowing almost 129 points per 100 possessions) in their 79 minutes together over the streak, and the Nets lost to the Kings (who had lost seven straight themselves) on Wednesday. Harden is dealing with a hamstring issue (which should bring back bad memories), Irving is acting like his status for home games isn’t within his control, and the Nets don’t know if Joe Harris (who was supposed to be back by now) will play again this season. Yeeeeeeikes.
With the losing streak, the Nets are the fourth team (following the Clippers, Jazz and Blazers) to match its loss total from last season, when they were 48-24. They still have a much better record on the road (17-11) than they do at home (12-13), the team that’s at the Barclays Center on Tuesday is the one that can drop the Nets into eighth place, and Brooklyn could be without any of its stars as it hosts the Celtics.
Week 17: vs. BOS, @ WAS, @ MIA
Pace: 101.0 (2) OffRtg: 111.7 (11) DefRtg: 112.2 (24) NetRtg: -0.5 (18)
Ten days ago, the Hornets ranked third offensively. But they’ve quickly slipped out of the top 10, having scored just 95.8 points per 100 possessions over a four-game losing streak. All four opponents have been teams that rank in the top seven defensively and the Hornets have shot just 29% from 3-point range over the streak, with Kelly Oubre Jr. 6-for-29 over the four games and Miles Bridges now having missed 15 of his last 16 shots from beyond the arc. Gordon Hayward returned from a six-game absence and shot 3-for-20 over the weekend.
The Hornets still went down to the wire against the Celtics and Cavs last week (they erased three different double-digit deficits in Boston on Wednesday), but fell short both nights, allowing 22 points on 16 clutch defensive possessions, with Terry Rozier committing fouls that put the opponent up for good in both losses. And the nadir of the losing streak was an eight-point third quarter (4-for-18 shooting, eight turnovers) against Miami on Saturday, with the loss dropping the Hornets to just 1-9 in the second games of back-to-backs. Wildly, the loss to the Heat was the first of those nine defeats that wasn’t within five points in the last five minutes.
The Hornets will have another back-to-back on Friday and Saturday. Going back to the Boston loss, they’re playing eight of their final nine pre-break games against teams that currently have winning records, with the one exception being their visit to Detroit on Friday. They have a 14-game winning streak against the Pistons.
Week 17: vs. TOR, vs. CHI, @ DET, vs. MEM
Pace: 98.5 (17) OffRtg: 113.2 (2) DefRtg: 113.1 (27) NetRtg: +0.1 (17)
The Hawks put an end to the Suns’ 11-game winning streak on Thursday, winning the battle between the league’s second-ranked offense and its second-ranked defense by shooting 20-for-40 from 3-point range and scoring 124 points (with 43 from Trae Young) on 103 possessions. Phoenix didn’t really give up driving lanes, offensive boards or open 3s on the 16-5, third-quarter run that gave Atlanta the lead for good, but the Hawks made shots. They rank fourth in mid-range field goal percentage (43.8%) and second in 3-point percentage (37.3%), up from 11th and 12th last season.
But the Hawks’ own winning streak (seven games) came to an end three nights earlier, and the Phoenix game was the only one (of four) that Atlanta won last week. They had a chance to keep climbing the East standings, but lost two games (one without Young) to the (now) sixth-place Raptors, getting outscored, 123-98, after halftime. Sunday in Dallas, the Hawks’ 3-point shooting wasn’t there, and they were outscored by 33 points from beyond the arc. (Even though the Hawks rank second in 3-point percentage, they’ve been outscored by 2.0 points per game — the league’s eighth-worst discrepancy — from deep.)
So any “last year’s Hawks are back” sentiments are on hold. This team still has a lot of work to do just to climb out of 10th place in the East. The next big game is Sunday afternoon in Boston, with the Hawks already 2-0 (having allowed less than a point per possession) against the eighth-place Celtics.
Week 17: vs. IND, vs. SAS, @ BOS
Pace: 99.0 (13) OffRtg: 107.0 (26) DefRtg: 108.1 (7) NetRtg: -1.1 (19)
The Clippers’ trade for Norman Powell (four more years left on his contract) and Robert Covington (expiring deal) is probably more about next season than it is this one. Powell isn’t a very big wing, but that doesn’t matter as much when he’s playing alongside Paul George and/or Kawhi Leonard. And Powell will clearly complement the Clippers’ two stars on offense. In fact, there are three players who have shot 40% or better on at least 100 catch-and-shoot 3-point attempts in each of the last four seasons (including this one). One is Seth Curry (47.9% over those four seasons), and the other two are Clippers: Powell (43.6%) and Luke Kennard (43.6%). Last season’s third-ranked offense was built on shooting, shooting, and more shooting. And the Clips look like they want to run that back.
This season’s 26th-ranked offense could also use some help, and Powell scored 28 points in less than 24 minutes in his Clippers debut on Sunday. This version of the Clippers likes to run more than last season’s edition (the Clips have seen the league’s biggest jump in the percentage of their possessions that have been in transition) and Powell has consistently been prolific and efficient in the open floor.
The Clippers’ loss to the Bucks on Sunday began a stretch of six straight games against teams that currently have winning records. They’re a respectable 13-17 against that group to date, though that includes an 0-3 mark against the Grizzlies, with the series finale on Memphis on Tuesday.
Week 17: @ MEM, @ DAL, @ DAL
Pace: 100.6 (4) OffRtg: 108.5 (23) DefRtg: 110.2 (15) NetRtg: -1.7 (20)
The Lakers lead the league with 12 losses (they’re 19-12) in games they led by double-digits. But they’re also tied (with Dallas, Golden State and Memphis) for the league lead in wins (they’re 10-23 – the others have fewer losses) in games they’ve trailed by double-digits. Against the Clippers on Thursday, they erased a 17-point deficit, only to get one-upped by Reggie Jackson in the closing seconds. And against the Knicks on Saturday, they came back from 21 points down to win in overtime.
The bigger difference between the good stretches and bad stretches in those two games was on defense. In the fourth quarter against the Clippers (17 points allowed on 22 possessions) and in the third against the Knicks (13 on 23), the Lakers showed that they can defend at a high level. But sustaining that level of defense has been difficult. The bottom line regarding those two games: The Lakers went 1-1 against two not-so-great teams, needing overtime (played without Russell Westbrook) to beat an opponent that had lost seven of its previous nine games.
Saturday was just the Lakers’ 17th game with both LeBron James and Anthony Davis, and they’re 10-7 with both of them in the lineup. They remain the only team that doesn’t have a lineup that’s played at least 100 minutes, and their most-used lineup that includes both James and Davis has played only 47. (It also includes DeAndre Jordan). They’ve seemingly found something with Malik Monk (who totaled 50 points on Thursday and Saturday), but have been outscored by 4.1 points per 100 possessions in 144 total minutes with Monk, James and Davis on the floor together.
That sample size should grow in the next couple of weeks. Three of the Lakers’ four remaining games before the All-Star break are against three of the league’s top nine teams: Milwaukee, Golden State and Utah. The Lakers have won just one of their last 10 games (they’re 4-11 overall) against that group.
Week 17: vs. MIL, @ POR, @ GSW
Pace: 95.8 (30) OffRtg: 108.0 (24) DefRtg: 109.4 (13) NetRtg: -1.4 (21)
The Knicks are finally trying to play with some pace. Their last four games have been four of the 11 times (and the first four times since Dec. 2) that the Knicks and their opponents have averaged at least 100 possessions per 48 minutes. They’ve taken 58% of their shots in the first 12 seconds of the shot clock over those four games, up from 49% prior (the league average is 53%), according to Second Spectrum tracking. The Knicks have the league’s biggest difference between their effective field goal percentage on shots in the first 12 seconds (55.9%, 13th best) and their mark in the last 12 seconds (46.1%, fourth worst) of the clock, so that boost in the former is important.
And the first half in L.A. on Saturday night — the fastest-paced half the Knicks have played all season — was glorious. Julius Randle and RJ Barrett pushed the ball off both misses and makes, they got into the offense early, and the Knicks scored 71 points on 56 possessions. But that success was short-lived, the pace slowed down in the second half, and the Knicks blew a 21-point lead, losing in overtime. The Knicks have scored just 105.1 points per 100 possessions (only the Thunder have been worse offensively over the last three weeks) as they’ve lost eight of their last 10 games. Knicks not named Evan Fournier have shot just 31% from 3-point range over that stretch.
Five of those 10 games have come against teams that currently rank in the top 10 defensively. The Knicks face the league’s No. 1 defense (missing its best defender) as their five-game trip concludes this week.
Week 17: @ UTA, @ DEN, @ GSW, @ POR
Pace: 97.6 (22) OffRtg: 108.7 (22) DefRtg: 111.4 (22) NetRtg: -2.7 (23)
Only the Knicks and Thunder scored less efficiently than the Wizards (106.6 points per 100 possessions) as they lost six straight games, with Spencer Dinwiddie shooting 27% over the losing streak. But the streak surprisingly came to an end in Philadelphia on Wednesday, with the Wizards scoring an efficient 106 points on just 90 possessions. Dinwiddie shot just 4-for-16, but recorded his first career triple-double (14, 12 and 10) and put the Wizards ahead for good with a clever back-door cut behind Matisse Thybulle. Montrezl Harrell had a couple of strong drives against Joel Embiid in the fourth quarter and Kyle Kuzma blocked Embiid to seal the win.
With the trade deadline three days away, the Wizards are outside the Play-In picture, and the only East Play-In team that’s below .500 (Atlanta) has been playing the best (of late) of all the teams in the top 10. The Wiz are 13-18 with both Bradley Beal and Spencer Dinwiddie, and have been outscored by 5.8 points per 100 possessions (scoring an anemic 101.7 per 100) in their 598 minutes on the floor together. They’re 11-10 with only one of the two guards (7-5 without Beal, 4-5 without Dinwiddie) and have been outscored by 1.7 per 100 (scoring 108.7 per 100) in 1,548 total minutes with one on the floor without the other.
No matter what happens with their starting backcourt, it’s becoming more clear that the Wiz have something in Deni Avdija, who’s been a strong defender and was doing some nice things off the ball in the win over Philly. The Wiz have been outscored by 10.0 points per 100 possessions since the start of that six-game losing streak, but are a plus-1.6 per 100 with Avdija on the floor over the stretch.
Week 17: vs. MIA, vs. BKN, vs. SAC
Pace: 97.7 (21) OffRtg: 108.0 (25) DefRtg: 113.3 (21) NetRtg: -3.3 (24)
The Pelicans have climbed into the final Play-In spot in the Western Conference and all things considered – Portland trading two starters, the Pels playing relatively well, the Kings being the Kings – they should be the favorites to stay there. Both Portland and San Antonio have easier remaining schedules in regard to cumulative opponent winning percentage, but the Pels’ isn’t significantly tougher. Only 14 of their 29 remaining games are against teams that currently have winning records, and the Pels have won 12 of their last 16 games against the other 13 teams that are currently below .500.
They’ve won three straight overall, one of their best stretches of offense this season. Brandon Ingram has averaged 27.3 points over the three games, Jaxson Hayes (who scored 20-plus points for just the third and fourth times in his career over the weekend) is suddenly productive, and Herb Jones just keeps getting better every week. The rookie (and a serious candidate for the top three on Rookie of the Year ballots) scored 18 of the team’s final 24 points in their win in Denver on Friday, shooting 3s, turning steals into fast breaks, and attacking the MVP in isolation.
The Pels are now 19-20 with Ingram in the lineup, and their starting lineup has outscored their opponents by 12.8 points per 100 possessions in its 345 minutes. They close their pre-break schedule with a six-game homestand that includes a big visit from the Spurs on Saturday.
Week 17: vs. HOU, vs. MIA, vs. SAS
Pace: 100.2 (5) OffRtg: 110.8 (15) DefRtg: 110.6 (18) NetRtg: +0.2 (16)
The Spurs have some wacky home-road splits, where they’ve been much better offensively and much worse defensively at home (where they and their opponents have combined to score 113.7 points per 100 possessions) than they’ve been on the road (107.2). Among their rotation guys, Keldon Johnson (58.9% vs. 49.6%), Jakob Poeltl (65.5% vs. 56.7%) and Devin Vassell (56.9% vs. 49.1%) have particularly big home-road differences in their effective field goal percentage. But there are also big differences in turnover rates on both ends of the floor.
Both Johnson (28 points on 11-for-17 shooting) and Poeltl (21 points, 10 rebounds, three blocks) had big games as the Spurs got an easy win over Houston on Friday, the end of a stretch where they played 12 of 14 games at the AT&T Center. They scored a season-high 62 restricted-area points, with four of those coming from Zach Collins, who made his season debut almost 18 months since he last played in an NBA game.
The Spurs now begin the annual rodeo trip: eight straight games (five before the break, three after) on the road. If the Blazers are bowing out, the race for the final Play-In spot in the West could be between the Spurs (who haven’t exactly been playing well) and the Pelicans. Those two teams will meet for the second time on Saturday, when the Pels will have a rest advantage. They had one in December too, but the Spurs broke a close game open in the fourth quarter.
Week 17: @ CLE, @ ATL, @ NOP
Pace: 97.7 (20) OffRtg: 110.0 (17) DefRtg: 112.2 (25) NetRtg: -2.3 (22)
We don’t know yet if the Caris LeVert trade means that the Pacers will execute a full teardown of their veteran core. But, because (in his time with the Pacers) LeVert never logged a minute alongside T.J. Warren, the trade is a reminder that Warren hasn’t played in more than 13 months. At the time of LeVert’s arrival, there was lament in this space over the limited minutes (just 129 over 88 possible games) that the Pacers got with Warren on the floor alongside Victor Oladipo and their three remaining starters from two seasons ago.
Domantas Sabonis returned from a three-game absence on Sunday, but the other two guys — Malcolm Brogdon and Myles Turner — remain on the shelf. The bigs’ absences did provide an opportunity for Isaiah Jackson, who had 26 points, 10 rebounds, two blocks and no fouls(!) in a win over the Clippers on Monday. And when Jackson turned his ankle two nights later, fellow rookie Terry Taylor stepped up and totaled 45 points and 30 rebounds against the Magic and Bulls. With the cheaper bigs on the roster and productive when called upon, it certainly strengthens the argument that Turner (who has a contract very similar to that of LeVert) is expendable.
Week 17: @ ATL, vs. CLE, vs. MIN
Pace: 98.4 (18) OffRtg: 109.3 (20) DefRtg: 114.1 (28) NetRtg: -4.8 (25)
The Blazers had a promising, 6-2 stretch in the middle of January. But they’ve since lost six of their last seven, a stretch that includes two losses to Oklahoma City and three of the 10 games in which they’ve scored less than a point per possession. They had fourth-quarter leads in two games last week, but scored just 16 points (with four turnovers) on 17 clutch possessions.
And on Friday, the Blazers seemingly punted on the season, trading two starters — Norman Powell (who had 30 points in his final game with Portland) and Robert Covington (who shot 0-for-8 in that game) — to the Clippers. The Blazers were outscored by 6.4 points per 100 possessions (allowing 115.8 per 100) in 852 total minutes with Covington and Powell on the floor together, though that breaks down to plus-3.6 per 100 in 491 minutes with those two alongside Damian Lillard and an amazing minus-20.5 per 100 in 361 minutes with Lillard off the floor.
The Blazers didn’t get a future first-round pick in the deal, but they did get a first-rounder (the No. 21 pick) from last year’s Draft. Keon Johnson (a 6-4 guard who turns 20 in March) hasn’t had much of an opportunity to play with the Clippers and his career-high (15 points) came in garbage time of a blowout loss in December. He seems to have more athleticism than skill at this point, but the Blazers have certainly had some success in regard to developing guards.
Now we see if there are other moves before the deadline. With the Pelicans’ win in Houston on Sunday, the Blazers fell out of the last Play-In spot in the West, though they have an easier remaining schedule (cumulative opponent winning percentage of .465) than the other three teams in the mix.
Week 17: vs. ORL, vs. LAL, vs. NYK
Pace: 99.7 (9) OffRtg: 109.2 (21) DefRtg: 114.1 (29) NetRtg: -4.9 (26)
The Kings are one of the teams most likely to make a trade in the next few days, assumed to be sellers with Harrison Barnes reportedly on the market. Of course, with Portland having already traded two starters, the door to the Western Conference Play-In Club remains open. And as much as the Kings have struggled, they’re just two games behind the 10th-place Pelicans, having won the first two meetings. They’ve won two of their last three games, just the second time this season that they’ve scored more than 110 points per 100 possessions in three straight.
Barnes has been the leading scorer (averaging 22.7 points) over the three games, but more encouraging is that rookie Davion Mitchell has found his offense. Starting the last six games for De’Aaron Fox, Mitchell has averaged 19 points on an effective field goal percentage of 57%, shooting 18-for-28 (64%) in the paint and 13-for-26 (50%) from mid-range. (He definitely likes the mid-range stuff, leading all rookies with 143 pull-up 2-point attempts.)
The Kings have the toughest remaining schedule (cumulative winning percentage of .513) among the four teams in the mix for the final Play-In spot. They have just two remaining home games against teams that currently have losing records (one of the two is against New Orleans). The Wolves (in town for a Tuesday-Wednesday back-to-back) have won four straight.
Week 17: vs. MIN, vs. MIN, @ WAS
Pace: 98.6 (16) OffRtg: 102.1 (30) DefRtg: 108.5 (10) NetRtg: -6.4 (27)
When Shai Gilgeous-Alexander sprained his ankle 10 days ago, the Thunder were 0-5 without their star, having allowed more than 121 points per 100 possessions over those five losses. But they won the first three games after the injury, with no lineup playing more than 18 minutes together over those five days. The most impressive win of the three was Wednesday in Dallas, when the short-named Lu Dort (30, 6-for-10) and Tre Mann (29, 6-for-8) combined for 59 points and 12-for-14 from 3-point range, and when Josh Giddey and Kenrich Williams ad-libbed the game-tying inbounds play. (Williams still has a positive plus-minus in 933 total minutes for this team, by the way.)
The Thunder also held the Blazers to just 90.6 per 100 over their two meetings last week, climbing into the top 10 in defensive efficiency for the season. The Thunder’s winning percentage (.327) would be the second lowest for a top-10 team (on either end of the floor) in the 26 years for which we have play-by-play data, higher than only that of the 2002-03 Nuggets (17-65, .207), who ranked seventh defensively in a 29-team league. Of course, the Thunder ranked 10th defensively at the All-Star break last season, and then ranked 29th after the break.
The Thunder’s six remaining pre-break games include two against top-10 offenses, those of Golden State and Chicago. Among teams that have played multiple games against the Warriors, only the Grizzlies have allowed them to score fewer points per 100 possessions than the Thunder (104.0), though both meetings were back in October.
Week 17: vs. GSW, vs. TOR, @ PHI, @ CHI
Pace: 99.1 (12) OffRtg: 103.7 (28) DefRtg: 112.1 (23) NetRtg: -8.4 (28)
It’s kind of amazing that Terrence Ross remains on the Magic roster, given how tradeable his contract (one more season at $11.5 million) is and given that the team dealt its other veterans a year ago. Of course, Ross would have a better market if he weren’t shooting a career-worst 31% from 3-point range. With that and with his defensive issues, the Magic have been outscored by 12.3 points per 100 possessions with Ross on the floor. That’s the third-worst on-court mark (better than only those of Jalen Green and Daniel Theis) among 229 players who’ve averaged at least 20 minutes per game. As the Magic were blown out by the Grizzlies and Celtics this weekend (the sixth and seventh times they’ve trailed a game by at least 30 points), Ross registered a minus-36 in less than 30 minutes.
Gary Harris (on an expiring deal) arrived in the Aaron Gordon trade and could certainly leave before Ross. After three straight years of struggle (though he never shot as bad as Ross this season), Harris has seemingly found his shot. He tied his career-high with six 3-pointers (on 11 attempts) in the Magic’s win in Indiana on Wednesday and his 39.8% on catch-and-shoot 3-pointers ranks 28th among 90 players with at least 150 catch-and-shoot attempts. If Harris isn’t traded by Thursday, he’ll make his return to Denver (he wasn’t active when the Magic played their last April) at the end of the four-game trip that begins Tuesday in Portland.
Week 17: @ POR, @ UTA, @ PHX
Pace: 101.1 (1) OffRtg: 107.0 (27) DefRtg: 115.5 (30) NetRtg: -8.5 (29)
Playing Christian Wood at the four alongside Daniel Theis at the beginning of the season didn’t work very well for the Rockets, who have been outscored by more than 20 points per 100 possessions (scoring an anemic 89.6 per 100) in the bigs’ 346 minutes together. But head coach Stephen Silas is going back to the well, except with Alperen Sengun in Theis’ place. Sengun and Wood didn’t share the floor at all in January, but they’ve played 35 minutes together over three games this month, starting together (with Eric Gordon out) against New Orleans on Sunday. And given the (development) stage that the Rockets are in, it certainly makes more sense to experiment with the rookie than it does with the vet.
Wood and Sengun were a plus-12 in a little less than 11 minutes together in the Rockets’ win over Cleveland on Wednesday. But the Rockets were outscored by 26 points (scoring just 37 points on 49 offensive possessions) in their 24 minutes together over the weekend against the Spurs and Pelicans. (Sengun’s spectacular reverse dunk came with Wood on the bench.) For the season, Houston has scored 93.8 points per 100 possessions in 577 total minutes with Wood on the floor alongside either Sengun or Theis and 110.7 per 100 in 975 total minutes with Wood on the floor without either of them. So it’ll be interesting to see the two-big look can make any progress (and/or how much tolerance Silas has for it) going forward.
Of course, the Houston defense has been pretty bad no matter what, and the Rockets are the only team that’s allowed more points per 100 possessions than the Nets over the course of Brooklyn’s eight-game losing streak. The Pels’ 25th-ranked offense scored 120 on 98 possessions on Sunday and will be back for more (with a change of venue) two nights later.
Week 17: @ NOP, vs. TOR
Pace: 99.2 (11) OffRtg: 103.0 (29) DefRtg: 112.3 (26) NetRtg: -9.3 (30)
The Pistons got Jerami Grant back from a 24-game absence on Tuesday, but he played just 21 minutes alongside Cade Cunningham before the rookie was lost to a hip pointer. The Pistons outscored New Orleans by a point in those 21 minutes and were similarly competitive all week with their starters on the floor, But as they lost their four games by a total of 43 points, they were a minus-43 (allowing more than 132 points per 100 possessions) in Isaiah Stewart’s 66 minutes on the bench.
Grant, who will certainly be discussed among both executives and media this week, averaged just 14.3 points over his first four games back, shooting better from 3-point range (8-for-21, 38%) than he did inside the arc (11-for-31, 35%). Going back to November, the Pistons have lost the last 15 games Grant has played in and for the season, they’ve been outscored by 23.0 points per 100 possessions with their starting frontline — Grant, Stewart and Saddiq Bey — on the floor together. That’s the worst on-court mark among 325 three-man combinations that have played at least 350 total minutes.
And the schedule isn’t getting any easier. In fact, 22 of the Pistons 28 games over the months of January and February are against the 16 teams that are currently over .500, with no sets of consecutive games against the 14 teams below.
Week 17: @ DAL, vs. MEM, vs. CHA