Joel Embiid and the Sixers face a big week before the 2022 All-Star break.
The Brooklyn Nets and Philadelphia 76ers should both feel (relatively) happy about the blockbuster trade they executed on Thursday. The Nets got one of the league’s best defenders and one of its best shooters for a star who wasn’t playing very hard. The Sixers got an MVP for a guy who wasn’t playing at all.
But the Nets’ and Sixers’ post-trade situations look good in part because their pre-trade situations looked so bad (hence the “relatively” above). Brooklyn was mired in a long losing streak, had one star injured, another unable to play in home games, and a third wanting out less than 13 months after he arrived. Philly, meanwhile, had a star (under contract for three years beyond this one) who never intended to play for them again.
Headaches on either end of the New Jersey Turnpike. And mutual relief comes via one of the craziest trades we’ve ever seen in this wonderful league.
Now we see where the Nets and Sixers go from here … and hope that they meet in the Eastern Conference playoffs. Of course, the East playoffs should be awesome (from start to finish) no matter who matches up with whom. There are eight very talented teams in the East right now and half of them won’t make it out of the first round.
Plus-Minus Players of the Week
Teams of the Week
- Make It Last Forever: Phoenix (4-0) — The Suns have been the best team in the league for a while, but we shouldn’t overlook a week in which they beat the Bulls, Sixers and Bucks.
- Something Just Ain’t Right: Detroit (0-3) — The Pistons are the worst team in the league, but we shouldn’t overlook a week in which they lost three games by an average of 25.7 points.
East vs. West
Schedule strength through Week 17
- Toughest: 1. Indiana, 2. Orlando, 3. Portland
- Easiest: 1. Milwaukee, 2. Chicago, 3. Philadelphia
- 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: San Antonio (+4), LA Clippers (+3), Utah (+3)
- Free falls of the week: Brooklyn, Charlotte, Dallas, Indiana, Toronto (-2)
Week 18 Team to Watch
- Philadelphia — Whether or not James Harden is in uniform, it’s a big week for the Sixers, who enter Week 18 in fifth place in the East, a half-game behind the fourth-place Bucks and two games ahead of the sixth-place Celtics. They’ll host Boston on Tuesday (7:30 p.m. ET, TNT) and then close their pre-break schedule by visiting Milwaukee on Thursday (8:30 p.m. ET, TNT).
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 110.0 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: 99.9 (8) OffRtg: 113.6 (2) DefRtg: 105.4 (4) NetRtg: +8.2 (1)
The Suns aced their three Eastern Conference tests last week, finishing their four-game trip with wins in Chicago and Philadelphia, and then returning home to beat the Bucks. They trailed Philly by two with a little more than four minutes left, but the league’s No. 1 clutch offense then scored 13 points on its next six possessions, with Chris Paul capping the run by getting to his spot and draining a jumper while surrounded by three defenders (including Joel Embiid). The Suns have the league’s best clutch offense (135.9 points scored per 100 possessions) and its best clutch defense (91.0 allowed per 100), and they’re now 22-3 (.880) in games that were within five points in the last five minutes, just a tick behind the 2015-16 Warriors (30-4, .882) for the best clutch record in the 26 seasons for which we have play-by-play data.
They didn’t need clutch time against the Bucks on Thursday, because the Suns outscored the champs 66-43 over the middle two quarters. It was Phoenix’s third-most efficient game of the season (131 points on 99 possessions) and the second most efficient game any team has had against the Bucks. The Suns’ 68 points in the paint (including 40 from their three centers) were a season-high for both them (they tied it two nights later) and Milwaukee opponents.
With their wins over the Bulls and Magic last week, the Suns have had two more rest-advantage games (13) than any other team (the Grizzlies and Knicks are next with 11). They’re 12-1 in those 13 games (the loss was to Memphis), but have just two rest-advantage games left on the schedule. One of those is Tuesday against the Clippers (who host the Warriors on Monday night), while the other is their last game of the season (against Sacramento).
Week 18: vs. LAC, vs. HOU
Pace: 100.1 (6) OffRtg: 112.8 (5) DefRtg: 108.2 (7) NetRtg: +4.5 (6)
The Grizzlies aren’t quite the Suns in regard to their machine-like ability to take care of business, but Memphis has been running through its opponents as it has won eight of its last nine games. The Grizz have led six of those eight wins by 19 points or more, leading each of their last four games by at least 28 points. In the month of February, they’ve outscored their opponents by 34.6 points per 100 possessions before halftime.
Overall, the Grizzlies’ 5-0 February has been their best five-game stretch of offense (123.5 points scored per 100 possessions) this season. And it may not be a coincidence that it’s also been their fastest-paced stretch of the season (104.5 possessions per 48 minutes). Seven guys have averaged double-figures over the winning streak, led by Ja Morant, who’s averaged 27 points despite shooting 6-for-28 (21%) from outside the paint over the five games. It certainly hasn’t been the toughest stretch in regard to opposing defenses, but the Grizzlies did complete a season-sweep of the Clippers on Tuesday, and now account for four of the 14 most efficient games any team has had against LA’s 10th-ranked defense.
The Grizz have won 13 straight games (they were previously 9-8) against the 15 teams that are currently at or below .500, and 14 of their final 24 are against that group. That includes their final two games before the break.
Week 18: @ NOP, vs. POR
Pace: 98.8 (15) OffRtg: 111.5 (12) DefRtg: 104.1 (1) NetRtg: +7.3 (2)
This is the fifth time in the last six seasons (with the exception being the season in which Stephen Curry played just five games) that the Warriors have been at their best in the third quarter. Though they’re not nearly the 2016-17 Warriors (plus-23.0 per 100 possessions in the third), their differential of plus-12.3 per 100 in the third period is the best mark for any team in any quarter this season. And that’s with Curry ranking just 17th in third-quarter points per game (6.9). (His 11.4 third-quarter points per game last season were 1.4 more than any player has averaged in any quarter in the 25 seasons for which by-quarter stats have been tracked.)
But the Warriors had some third-quarter issues as they lost both ends of a back-to-back last week. They were up two early in the third in Utah on Wednesday but were then outscored 56-28 over the final 21 minutes. And the following night against the Knicks, they had a five-point halftime lead but were outscored by 11 points in the third period, and their fourth-quarter comeback fell short when Klay Thompson missed a foul-line jumper at the buzzer. Over those two third quarters, the Warriors scored just 36 points on 47 offensive possessions.
They lost the third quarter again on Saturday and trailed the Lakers by six points with less than four minutes to go. But Thompson drained three 3s as they ended the game on a 14-6 run. The Warriors, who are 7-0 against the other three California teams, are set to visit the Clippers on Monday.
Week 18: @ LAC, vs. DEN
Pace: 96.3 (27) OffRtg: 112.2 (7) DefRtg: 107.4 (6) NetRtg: +4.7 (5)
The Heat are 5-0 since Kyle Lowry’s return from a nine-game absence and their reunited starting lineup has been dominant over the winning streak, outscoring opponents by almost 33 points per 100 possessions in its 70 minutes. Having allowed just 84.7 per 100 over the five games, it’s keeping pace with the Celtics’ starters in regard to being the two best defensive lineups in the league. (Those two lineups combined to score just 37 points on 41 possessions in the 10 minutes they’ve been on the floor together, and their next and final meeting isn’t until March 30.)
Overall, the Lowry’s-back winning streak has been the Heat’s best five-game stretch of defense (100.4 points allowed per 100 possessions) since Games 3-7, a stretch that also included wins over Charlotte and Brooklyn. With the Heat having the league’s highest opponent 3-point rate (46% of their opponents’ shots have come from beyond the arc), how well the other team shoots remains extra critical, and all five opponents on the winning streak have shot 30% or worse from deep.
The Heat have a one-game lead over Chicago for first place in the East, though, with their win over the Nets on Saturday, they’re still just 8-8 (fourth-best) in games played within the top eight. They have the East’s second-best record (14-8, with seven straight wins) against the West and their first meeting with the Mavs (in Miami on Tuesday) was their most efficient offensive performance of the season.
Week 18: vs. DAL, @ CHA
Pace: 96.2 (28) OffRtg: 111.2 (14) DefRtg: 108.4 (8) NetRtg: +2.8 (10)
James Harden leads the league in time of possession at 9.4 minutes per game, the second-highest average in nine years of tracking data. Joel Embiid leads the league in usage rate at 37.6%, the fourth-highest mark in 26 years of play-by-play data. Those two things aren’t definitively conflicting; The former is about controlling the ball, while the latter is about finishing possessions. But how they play together should be fascinating.
One thing to watch when Harden makes his Sixers debut (his hamstring injury remains a bit of a mystery) is his willingness to shoot off the catch. The Sixers aren’t a high-volume catch-and-shoot team (they rank 25th in catch-and-shoot 3-point attempts per game), but Embiid’s teammates need to be willing and able to shoot off the catch when he draws double-teams in the post. Nine different Sixers (including Embiid himself) have attempted more catch-and-shoot 3s this season than Harden, who’s just 28-for-88 (32%) on catch-and-shoot 3s in 97 games over the last two seasons, often passing up open-and-in-rhythm catch-and-shoot looks to put the ball on the floor, which reduces whatever advantage had been gained.
Even with their win over Cleveland on Saturday, the fifth-place Sixers have played the fewest games (they’re 9-6) within the top eight in the East. They’ve got 12 more remaining, with games against the sixth-place Celtics and fourth-place Bucks this week. They’ve held Boston under a point per possession over three meetings thus far.
Week 18: vs. BOS, @ MIL
Pace: 97.0 (25) OffRtg: 109.7 (19) DefRtg: 105.3 (3) NetRtg: +4.4 (7)
With Darius Garland not playing in Indiana on Friday, the recently acquired Caris LeVert was the Cavs’ closer, scoring eight points in the final five minutes as his new team completed a comeback from 21 points down against his old one. Earlier in the week, the Cavs had some good minutes with Garland and LeVert on the floor together (they went with LeVert instead of starter Dean Wade down the stretch) in a win over the Spurs. Saturday in Philadelphia was another story; LeVert shot 5-for-16 without any free throw attempts, and the Cavs scored just 38 points on 45 offensive possessions with him on the floor alongside Garland.
Of course, Cleveland’s struggles in Philly were about more than the guards. With Zach LaVine dealing with a knee issue, there’s a chance that Jarrett Allen is an All-Star come Sunday. But Allen was no match for the only (current) Eastern Conference All-Star center in their first meeting of the season. He and Joel Embiid were basically on the floor for the same minutes on Saturday, Embiid registered a 40-point triple-double (the second in the league this season), and the Sixers outscored the Cavs by 27 points with the two centers on the floor together.
The Cavs still have a winning record (9-7) in games played between the top eight teams in the East. They finish their pre-break schedule with a visit to Atlanta, having split their first two meetings with the 10th-place Hawks. Both games were within five points in the last five minutes, and the Cavs were without Garland in both.
Week 18: @ ATL
Pace: 97.3 (24) OffRtg: 109.7 (20) DefRtg: 105.0 (2) NetRtg: +4.8 (4)
The Nuggets have scored a league-best 120 points per 100 possessions over the last 32 days. But on Friday, they scored just 102 on 104 against what has been the league’s best defense by a wide margin over an even longer timeframe. The Celtics’ defense isn’t letting up, having held its opponents under a point per possession in five straight games. (The Grizzlies – Nov. 28 through Dec. 6 – are the only other team to have done that this season.) The Boston starting lineup continues to be suffocating, with Robert Williams having blocked at least two shots in eight straight games (for the second time this season). His third-jump erasure of a De’Andre Hunter layup on Sunday was downright ridiculous.
Williams had a similarly ridiculous dunk off a lob from Derrick White, who had seven assists in his first two games with his new team (though he was mostly playing off the ball). The Celtics closed both of their weekend wins with White on the floor instead of Al Horford and the White lineup outscored the Nuggets and Hawks by 14 points in its 15 total minutes.
The offense wasn’t pretty in those two games and White shot 4-for-14 on Sunday, but the Celtics have won eight straight games because their defense has been incredible. And with their win in Brooklyn last week, they have the best record (11-7) in games played between the top eight teams in the East. They’re just 1-2 against the Sixers, with the fourth and final meeting in Philadelphia on Tuesday.
Week 18: @ PHI, vs. DET
Pace: 99.9 (7) OffRtg: 112.5 (6) DefRtg: 109.0 (12) NetRtg: +3.6 (8)
Trading 25-year-old Donte DiVincenzo for 32-year-old Serge Ibaka (who had back surgery last year) seemed like a curious move for the Bucks. But as they split the final two games of their four-game trip last week, the Bucks allowed their opponents (the Lakers and Suns) to score at least 60 points in the paint for the sixth and seventh times this season. Through their first three seasons under Mike Budenholzer (including playoffs), they allowed their opponents to score 60 or more points in the paint just five times total. And last week was the first time that they allowed 60-plus in two straight games since January of 2018. Brook Lopez is missed and Ibaka would lead the team in blocks per 36 minutes (1.7).
Unfortunately, a few hours after they traded DiVincenzo (and Rodney Hood), Pat Connaughton (one of only six players who’ve shot 40% or better on at least 300 3-point attempts) broke a finger in his shooting hand. So now, Jordan Nwora (4-for-24 from 3-point range over his last 10 appearances) is back in the rotation and the absence of George Hill (who’s missed the last six games with a neck issue) is felt even more. Hill has one of the league’s biggest on-off differentials, with the Bucks having been 17.4 points per 100 possessions better with him on the floor (+14.2) than they’ve been with him off the floor (-3.2).
The Bucks are home for their next six games, three before the break and three after. The big game this week is Thursday against the Sixers, with Milwaukee having won the first meeting (in which Philly didn’t have Joel Embiid) in November. Giannis Antetokounmpo is 6-3 (with three straight wins) in head-to-head matchups with Embiid, having averaged 33.2 points, 14.3 rebounds and 6.6 assists over those nine games.
Week 18: vs. POR, vs. IND, vs. PHI
Pace: 97.5 (23) OffRtg: 111.9 (10) DefRtg: 110.0 (14) NetRtg: +1.9 (12)
Nikola Jokic has just 38 total blocks this season (0.8 per game). That’s the same amount as Grant Williams and fewer than Derrick White (43). But three of Jokic’s 38 have been game-savers in the final six seconds, with OG Anunoby joining Jae’Sean Tate and Jonathan Kuminga on his list of victims on Saturday. Jokic’s on-off differential – the Nuggets have been 21.1 points per 100 possessions better with him on the floor – is mostly about offense, but the differential on defense – they’ve allowed 5.0 fewer with him on the floor – isn’t insignificant given that he’s mostly defending against opposing starters.
That on-off differential hurt the Nuggets in Boston on Friday, their seventh loss in a game where the MVP registered a positive plus-minus. It was also an ugly night for what’s been the league’s best offense over the last month. With Jokic back on the floor and the game tied, the Nuggets scored just five points on a stretch of 12 fourth-quarter possessions to let a potential victory slip away. The Denver offense continues to have a remarkable half-to-half differential, having scored 12.7 more points per 100 possessions before halftime (118.0) than it has after (105.3).
The Nuggets will close their pre-break schedule against the league’s best second-half team. One of Jokic’s previous game-saving blocks came in their first meeting with the Warriors, a game in which the two teams (both missing multiple starters) combined to score just 94 points per 100 possessions.
Week 18: vs. ORL, @ GSW
Pace: 96.5 (26) OffRtg: 112.0 (8) DefRtg: 109.8 (13) NetRtg: +2.2 (11)
All-Star selections were about 10 days too early for Pascal Siakam, who’s averaged 26.9 points (on an effective field goal percentage of 65%), 10.3 rebounds, 5.4 assists and 1.3 steals over the Raptors’ last eight games. He’s still taking relatively inefficient shots, with 54% of his field goal attempts (the ninth highest rate among 240 players with at least 250 field goal attempts total) having come between the restricted area and the 3-point line. But he’s in some kind of rhythm, having shot 48-for-74 (65%) on those non-restricted-area 2s over the last eight games, up from 41% prior to that.
Siakam had 35, 10, seven and two steals in 42 minutes against Denver on Saturday, but the Raptors’ eight-game winning streak came to an end, in part because it was their worst rebounding game of the season. They did grab the final rebound of the night, but OG Anunoby’s put-back for the win was denied by Nikola Jokic. Toronto remains a wacky team on the glass, second in offensive rebounding percentage and 29th in defensive rebounding percentage, set to be just the third team in the 18 years since the league expanded to 30 teams (joining the 2009-10 Hawks and the ’12-13 Nuggets) to rank in the top three in the former and in the bottom three in the latter.
Their two opponents this week are the only team that ranks in the top five in both offensive and defensive rebounding percentage (New Orleans) and the only other team (with the Raptors) that ranks in the top five on the offensive glass and in the bottom five on the defensive glass (Minnesota). The Raps have yet to face the Wolves, but outrebounded the Pels in a four-point win last month, getting a big tip-in from Chris Boucher in the final minute
Week 18: @ NOP, @ MIN
Pace: 98.3 (19) OffRtg: 115.6 (1) DefRtg: 108.9 (11) NetRtg: +6.6 (3)
The Jazz are 5-0 on their six-game homestand, with the highlight being their destruction of the Warriors (outscoring them 56-28 over the final 21 minutes) on Wednesday. Their wins over Golden State and Orlando (Friday) were the first times that they held their opponent under a point per possession since December. The Jazz haven’t had Rudy Gobert in three weeks, but a couple of strong defensive games in the next three days (against two teams that rank in the bottom 10 offensively) could have them back in the top 10 on that end of the floor as we go into the All-Star break.
Donovan Mitchell has averaged 24.3 points in his four games back, and Jordan Clarkson’s return from a two-game absence has also sparked a good run for the Utah bench. The reigning Sixth Man of the Year continues to struggle from beyond the arc – he has the worst 3-point percentage (31.8%) among 16 players with at least 400 attempts – but the Jazz outscored their opponents by 61 points (41.3 per 100 possessions) in Clarkson’s 74 minutes on the floor last week. Hassan Whiteside (coming off the bench with Udoka Azubuike starting at center) grabbed 35 rebounds and blocked nine shots in 56 total minutes against the Warriors and Magic.
The Jazz bench now includes Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Juancho Hernangomez, who each played a minute of garbage time on Friday. Some time in the Jazz’s system could be just what the 23-year-old Alexander-Walker needs, though having him play alongside the similarly inefficient Clarkson could be a challenge. Among 52 players with a usage rate of 24% or higher, Clarkson (52.0%) and Alexander-Walker (47.4%) rank 43rd and 51st in true shooting percentage.
Week 18: vs. HOU, @ LAL
Pace: 95.9 (30) OffRtg: 110.3 (16) DefRtg: 106.9 (5) NetRtg: +3.4 (9)
After playing alongside Luka Doncic for less than three years, Kristaps Porzingis is gone, traded (along with a second-round pick) for two guys – Spencer Dinwiddie and Davis Bertans – whose contracts (in aggregate) are slightly more burdensome than that of the Porzingis. Doncic and Porzingis played 2,785 total minutes together (including playoffs) over the last three seasons, and the Mavs outscored their opponents by 144 total points in that time. But that breaks down to a plus-134 in 1,154 minutes in the 2019-20 regular season and just a plus-10 in 1,631 minutes since then. This season (prior to the trade), the Mavs were much better offensively in Doncic’s 892 minutes on the floor without Porzingis (112.1 points scored per 100 possessions) than they were in their 512 minutes on the floor together (103.7).
And their most recent starting lineup – Doncic, Jalen Brunson, Reggie Bullock, Dorian Finney-Smith and Dwight Powell – has outscored their opponents by 28.6 points per 100 possessions, the second-best mark among 61 lineups that have played at least 100 minutes together. In their two-game series with the Clippers last week, the Mavs were a plus-31 in 51 total minutes with the four perimeter starters on the floor alongside Powell or Maxi Kleber. But they were outscored by 25 points in Finney-Smith’s 16 minutes on the bench and lost control of the second game with an 11-2 Clippers run spanning the third and fourth quarters. Doncic (who totaled 96 points in the two games) gave them a chance with 23 points in the final 7:06 but missed a long 3 for the win. Eight of the 13 highest scoring games of his career (42 points or more) have come against the Clippers, and the Mavs are 4-4 in those eight games.
The Mavs went 4-2 on what was their longest homestand of the season. Fifteen of their final 25 games are on the road, and they’re just 1-5 in Eastern Conference arenas as they head to Miami for a game on Tuesday.
Week 18: @ MIA, @ NOP
Pace: 98.9 (13) OffRtg: 113.2 (4) DefRtg: 111.4 (19) NetRtg: +1.8 (13)
The Bulls got Derrick Jones Jr. back early from his finger injury, and he was needed in their ugly win over the Thunder on Saturday. But at the same time, they lost Zach LaVine to a knee issue and Javonte Green to a foot injury (there were zero Javontes out there on Saturday), because they’ve had some sort of injury quota all season long. The nine Bulls who’ve averaged at least 20 minutes a night have missed an average of 18.4 of their 57 games.
They’ve managed to remain potent offensively, scoring more than 120 points per 100 possessions over their last 11. The only team that’s been more efficient over that stretch is the Wolves, and the Bulls’ offense won the head-to-head battle on Friday, registering a season-high effective field goal percentage of 71.3% and turning a three-point deficit into a comfortable win with a 33-12 run (over just 7 1/2 minutes) in the fourth quarter. Rookie (and starting point guard) Ayo Dosunmu had 10 assists (with just one turnover) in that game and has averaged 8.5 (with an assist-turnover ratio of 4.9) over his last eight.
The Bulls have the league’s third-biggest differential between their record against the 15 teams currently at or below .500 (25-6, .806) and their record against the 15 teams that currently have winning records (11-15, .423). Only the Suns (27-4) and Warriors (24-5) have better records against the former group, and the Bulls will finish their pre-break schedule with visits from San Antonio and Sacramento. Of course, the Spurs are responsible for one of those six losses, and the Kings’ Domantas Sabonis had a big role (21 points, 11 rebounds, four assists) in another.
Week 18: vs. SAS, vs. SAC
Pace: 100.7 (3) OffRtg: 112.0 (9) DefRtg: 110.2 (16) NetRtg: +1.7 (14)
Four weeks ago, the Wolves ranked in the bottom 10 on offense, but in the top 10 on defense. But over the last four weeks, they’ve had, the league’s most efficient offense (120.9 points scored per 100 possessions) and its 25th-ranked defense (117.4 allowed per 100). That’s probably more like the team we expected them to be this season, and their aggressive pick-and-roll defense has their opponents shooting with high volume and efficiency from beyond the arc. That scheme is not easy on the defenders tasked with making long (and/or multiple) rotations and mid-season fatigue can probably affect it more than standard, “drop” coverage.
And the schedule has probably played a role in the Wolves’ offensive surge. Eight of their 14 games over the last four weeks have come against teams that rank in the bottom 10 defensively. That includes two games each against the Pistons and Kings. On Tuesday, the Wolves scored 134 points in Sacramento. Twenty-four hours later in the same building, the Kings (with some new additions) scored 132.
Bottom line is that the offensive improvement has outweighed the defensive drop-off. And over the last six weeks, the Wolves have the fourth-best record (14-7) in the Western Conference, even though that’s been a very road-heavy stretch of schedule. They’ll have 15 of their final 25 games at the Target Center, with a couple of Eastern Conference teams in town to close out the pre-break slate. Anthony Edwards is 0-3 in his career against the guy – LaMelo Ball – who beat him out for Rookie of the Year last season.
Week 18: vs. CHA, vs. TOR
Pace: 98.9 (14) OffRtg: 107.1 (26) DefRtg: 108.6 (10) NetRtg: -1.5 (19)
The Clippers haven’t had much lineup continuity over the last few weeks, with no five-man group playing more than 28 minutes together over their last 10 games. Eight different Clippers have started at least two of those 10 games, with only Reggie Jackson starting more than eight of them. Serge Ibaka started a couple of games and was traded, while Norman Powell suffered a fractured sesamoid bone (look that one up, it’s interesting) in his left foot after three games with his new team.
But Luke Kennard and Isaiah Hartenstein have had consistent roles off the bench, and the Clips have consistently been at their best with Kennard and/or Hartenstein on the floor. Over these last three weeks with all that lineup inconsistency, the Clips have had the league’s second-ranked bench. And while Kennard and Hartenstein combined for just seven points on Saturday, it was their minutes on the floor that made the difference as the Clips earned a split of a two-game series in Dallas, despite another huge game from Luka Doncic.
That put an end to both a three-game losing streak and what had been the Clippers’ worst five-game stretch of defense (123.9 points allowed per 100 possessions) of the season. With a Monday-Tuesday back-to-back against the two best teams in the league, they remain in danger of slipping out of the top 10 on that end of the floor.
Week 18: vs. GSW, @ PHX, vs. HOU
Pace: 98.6 (17) OffRtg: 113.3 (3) DefRtg: 113.2 (27) NetRtg: +0.0 (16)
The Hawks had that seven-game winning streak to climb into the East Play-in Club, and at that point, they were 24-25 and tied in the loss column with the ninth-place (26-25) Celtics. Since then, the Hawks are 2-5, with three critical losses to teams – Toronto (x2) and Boston – they’re chasing. And with two games left before the All-Star break, they’re without John Collins (foot strain) and tied in the loss column with the 11th-place Wizards.
While losses to the Raptors and Celtics were more damaging, the Hawks’ loss to the Spurs on Friday was more troubling. They allowed San Antonio to score 43 points on 26 possessions in the first quarter, trailing by as many as 26 in a game they never led. The offense obviously hasn’t been as bad as the defense, and it had its most efficient performance of the season on Tuesday, scoring 133 points on 99 possessions (Trae Young had 34 points and 11 assists in less than 30 minutes) against the short-handed Pacers. But De’Andre Hunter has been struggling, shooting 8-for-43 (19%) from outside the restricted area over the last five games.
The Hawks had some quality wins on that streak and they beat the Suns just 11 days ago, but bad defense begets inconsistency, and the Hawks have a bad defense.
Week 18: vs. CLE, @ ORL
Pace: 99.2 (12) OffRtg: 111.5 (13) DefRtg: 111.6 (21) NetRtg: -0.1 (17)
A subjective ranking (in reverse order) of how unbelievable all this is (all of it is wild):
5. The Durant-Harden-Irving era lasted less than 13 months, even though the Nets were just inches away from beating the eventual champs in last year’s playoffs.
4. One of the league’s best offensive players can’t play in home games (or games at New York or Toronto), and there’s no serious indication that his status will change by the time the playoffs (or Play-In games!) begin.
3. The Nets have lost 11 straight games (only the Rockets and Pistons have longer losing streaks this season) and are in eighth place in the East, closer to 11th than they are to fifth.
2. The disgruntled Harden was traded in the division for the disgruntled Ben Simmons.
1. The Nets’ three stars played just 14 1/2 of a possible 125 games together.
No. 3 might move up the list if the Nets go into the All-Star break with a losing record, a not-impossible scenario. The streak already includes losses to the Kings and Wizards, their last four games against the Knicks have been within five points in the last five minutes, and they’ll be without Irving for all three games this week.
The good news is that the Nets now have Seth Curry and Andre Drummond, and they should also be getting back LaMarcus Aldridge (missed the last seven games) and Nicolas Claxton (missed the last four) on Monday. Simmons’ status is unknown, but rookie Cam Thomas continues to be a bright spot, averaging 23.2 points on 50% shooting over the last five games. He’s now shooting 54.6% on pull-up 2-pointers, the third-best mark (better than those of Chris Paul, DeMar DeRozan and Kevin Durant) among 75 players who’ve attempted at least 100.
Week 18: vs. SAC, @ NYK, vs. WAS
Pace: 101.2 (1) OffRtg: 111.7 (11) DefRtg: 112.4 (24) NetRtg: -0.7 (18)
The Hornets have won 15 straight games against the Pistons, a streak that started with a big game from Dwight Howard and continued with a triple-double from Terry Rozier on Friday. In their two wins over Detroit this season, the Hornets have scored almost 132 points per 100 possessions, having shot 42-for-84 (50%) from 3-point range and having recorded assists on almost 3/4 of their buckets. Montrezl Harrell scored 15 points on 7-for-9 shooting in his Hornets debut and followed that up with 20 (on 7-for-8) the following night against Memphis.
But the Hornets rank 28th offensively as they’ve lost seven of their last eight games overall. The offense has been particularly bad (96.9 points scored per 100 possessions) in the first half of those games, with Hornets not named Ball or Rozier having shot 18-for-88 (20%) from 3-point range before halftime. For the season, only the Warriors (+3.6, +11.5) have seen a bigger jump in point differential from half to half than the Hornets (-4.2, +3.5).
The Hornets sit at .500, 19-10 against the 14 teams currently below them and 10-19 (with seven straight losses) against the 15 teams that enter Week 18 with winning records. Fourteen of their final 24 games (including their two this week) are against the latter group. They did beat Minnesota (ending the Wolves’ five-game winning streak) behind a big game from Kelly Oubre Jr. back in November.
Week 18: @ MIN, vs. MIA
Pace: 100.2 (5) OffRtg: 111.1 (15) DefRtg: 110.7 (18) NetRtg: +0.4 (15)
While it’s noteworthy that the Spurs made three trades last week (having already made one last month), they’ve retained six of the seven guys who’ve played at least 1,000 minutes for them this season. The one departure was Derrick White, maybe for the sake of promoting Devin Vassell to full-time starter (and creating more minutes for rookie Josh Primo). Among 279 players who’ve played at least 500 minutes in each of the last two seasons, Vassell has seen the eighth biggest jump in points scored per 36 minutes (from 11.6 to 16.3). That’s mostly about usage rate, but he’s also seen an uptick in efficiency with the increased usage.
Before the White trade, the Spurs had outscored their opponents by 3.5 points per 100 possessions in 633 total minutes with Dejounte Murray and Vassell on the floor together. And in their first post-deadline start together on Friday, the guards registered a plus-37 in less than 23 minutes in Atlanta. Murray had the first 30-point, 15-assist game of his career, while Vassell shot 9-for-13. Twenty-four hours later, the Spurs had a second straight efficient game and improved to 2-0 against a team (the Pelicans) they could be fighting for the final Play-In spot in the West.
The Spurs are 2-1 on the rodeo trip. They’ve lost 11 of their last 12 games against the 15 teams that are currently over .500, but the one win was over the Bulls 17 days ago. They’re in Chicago on Monday.
Week 18: @ CHI, @ OKC
Pace: 100.4 (4) OffRtg: 108.8 (23) DefRtg: 110.3 (17) NetRtg: -1.5 (20)
GM Rob Pelinka did not make a trade to lift the “fog” that was hanging over the Lakers before the deadline and after losses to the Bucks (in which they trailed by 30 points) and Blazers (who had traded three starters and lost six straight games). And, given the Lakers’ lack of assets, there probably wasn’t a deal that was going to make this team more than mediocre.
But the Lakers’ first post-deadline game (at Golden State on Saturday) was one of their best performances of the last few weeks. They outscored the Warriors in the paint, shot well (11-for-27) from 3-point range, and came back from a 15-point deficit. Alas, they missed a bunch of free throws, including the first of three that LeBron James had with the Lakers down three and 2.4 seconds left in the fourth quarter. There can be a thin line between success and failure, and the Lakers lead the league with 34 games that have been within five points in the last five minutes. They’re not worse in those games (16-18) than they are otherwise (10-13), but with a little more late-game fortune, they could be in seventh place instead of ninth.
One team that has been much worse in close games (12-16) than it’s been otherwise (23-5) is the Jazz. One of the Lakers’ clutch wins came last month against Utah, and the two teams will meet for the second time on Wednesday.
Week 18: vs. UTA
Pace: 96.0 (29) OffRtg: 108.3 (24) DefRtg: 110.1 (15) NetRtg: -1.8 (21)
As a whole, the league is 318-12 (.964) after leading by more than 20 points. The Knicks had two of those 12 losses on their five-game road trip, blowing a 21-point lead in L.A. and then a 23-point lead in Portland on Saturday. The loss to the Lakers came with a 13-point third quarter, while the loss to the Blazers came with an 11-point fourth. But overall, the New York defense, which ranks 23rd (116.9 points allowed per 100 possessions) in February, has been more disappointing of late.
The Knicks did get one nice win, beating the Warriors on Thursday. And the trip was, easily, Julius Randle’s highest-scoring five-game stretch of the season. He averaged 29.6 points, and while he’s still off the mark from beyond the arc (7-for-24 on the trip), his mid-range shooting (14-for-32) was about where it was last season, and he totaled more free throw attempts over those five games (51) than he had over his previous 13. For the season, the Knicks have been much better with Randle off the floor (+7.8 per 100 possessions) than they’ve been with him on the floor (-5.4), but the trip was a different story, especially on offense (88.3 vs. 113.5 scored per 100).
Alas, the Knicks need more than a Randle renaissance to have a shot at the Eastern Conference Play-in, and they have a tougher remaining schedule than the 10th place Hawks going forward. But, given the current state of the team on the other side of the East River, they certainly have a chance to go into the break with a couple of wins.
Week 18: vs. OKC, vs. BKN
Pace: 97.6 (22) OffRtg: 108.9 (22) DefRtg: 112.0 (22) NetRtg: -3.1 (23)
Well, the Wizards certainly shuffled the deck at the deadline, shipping out Spencer Dinwiddie, Montrezl Harrell, Aaron Holiday and Davis Bertans, and getting back Kristaps Porzingis among others. With Bradley Beal (wrist surgery) now out for the season, the Porzingis trade is about the next two years, over which the big man will be owed $70 million. What happens with Beal this summer (when he has a player option) should be interesting, as both sides might wonder if they want the relationship to continue.
Porzingis has been better defensively this season; He’s averaged 2.1 blocks per 36 minutes and opponents have shot just 53.7% at the rim when he’s been there (vs. 1.6 and 61.9% last season). On offense, he’s registering career-high marks in 2-point percentage (53.7%), free throw rate (33.5 attempts per 100 shots from the field), and free throw percentage (86.5%). So his true shooting percentage (scoring efficiency) hasn’t suffered as much as his effective field goal percentage, which is way down from last season because he’s struggled from beyond the arc. His 28.3% ranks 168th among 173 players with at least 150 3-point attempts.
It’s not clear if Porzingis (who’s been out since Jan. 29 with a bone bruise in his knee) will make his Wizards debut this week. Harrell is gone, but the Wiz still have Thomas Bryant and Daniel Gafford, and it will be interesting to see how much Porzingis plays alongside one of the two centers.
Week 18: vs. DET, @ IND, @ BKN
Pace: 97.7 (21) OffRtg: 108.1 (25) DefRtg: 111.4 (20) NetRtg: -3.3 (24)
One could make the argument that, prior to Tuesday, the Pelicans didn’t have a starting-caliber guard on their roster. And at that point, they ranked dead last in pull-up points per game (14.5). So their trade for CJ McCollum (10th among individuals with 9.2 pull-up points per game through last Monday) could raise their ceiling quite a bit. His numbers with Portland (1.02 points per possession) had him seventh in pick-and-roll ball-handler efficiency among 102 players with at least 100 ball-handler possessions (with one team).
But the early returns in New Orleans have not been good. McCollum totaled 51 points in his first two games with his new team, combining with Brandon Ingram to shoot 17-for-27 (63%) from mid-range against the Heat and Spurs. But the Pels were outscored by 21 points per 100 possessions (allowing 127.5 per 100) in his 73 minutes on the floor. Their game against San Antonio on Saturday was one of their most important of the season, and they had a rest advantage, with the Spurs having played in Atlanta the night before. But in the first and third quarters, the Pels allowed the Spurs to total 76 points on 52 possessions.
The competition gets tougher this week, though the Pels do have wins over both Memphis and Dallas this season.
Week 18: vs. TOR, vs. MEM, vs. DAL
Pace: 98.4 (18) OffRtg: 109.1 (21) DefRtg: 113.8 (28) NetRtg: -4.7 (26)
The Blazers tore it down even further last week, trading CJ McCollum for a package that included Josh Hart and what could be a pretty good first-round pick. Of course, when a team trades good players, its most valuable pick is its own. But the Blazers’ own pick has lost a little value in the last few days, because they’ve suddenly won two straight games, taking advantage of a couple of struggling teams – the Lakers and Knicks – that didn’t make any trades at the deadline.
The two wins were the second and third times this season that Anfernee Simons has registered a usage rate higher than 30%. And he was both prolific and efficient with that high usage, totaling 59 points on an effective field goal percentage of 59.8% over the two games. Simons could still get more efficient with more trips to the line. His free throw rate of 13.4 attempts per 100 shots from the field ranks just 93rd among 105 players with at least 500 total field goal attempts. (McCollum – 10.3 per 100 – ranks 99th.)
The Blazers traded three starters and haven’t had Damian Lillard for more than six weeks, but they’re still in the final Play-In spot in the West. They still have an easier remaining schedule than the three teams behind them, though it’s tough for the next 3 1/2 weeks (eight straight games against teams that currently have winning records) and much easier after that (14 of their final 17 against teams currently below .500).
Week 18: @ MIL, @ MEM
Pace: 99.8 (9) OffRtg: 109.8 (18) DefRtg: 114.4 (29) NetRtg: -4.6 (25)
The Wolves played a back-to-back in Sacramento last week, but they faced two different teams over those two nights. And wouldn’t you know it, the version of the Kings with Domantas Sabonis rebounded much better than the previous version, which allowed Minnesota to grab 16 offensive boards in a 20-point defeat on Tuesday. The Kings trailed by one with five minutes to go the following night, but cranked up the defense, got six straight stops, and closed the victory on an 18-4 run.
The Kings’ two games with Sabonis have also been two of their five most efficient offensive performances of the season. The trades they made seem to have sapped them of perimeter shooting; Their Thursday-trade additions – Donte DiVincenzo (27.2%), Josh Jackson (26.5%) and Trey Lyles (30.1%) – have all had disappointing seasons from beyond the arc. And the Kings took only 58 (34%) of their shots from 3-point range over the two games. But they made 24 (41%) of those 3s and outscored the Wolves and Wizards, 171-122, in the paint and at the free-throw line.
The ramifications of the Tyrese-Haliburton-for-Sabonis swap will be felt for a few years. The Kings finally nailed a draft pick and had themselves a pretty special young player, but they traded him less than halfway through his rookie contract. They’re still a game and a half out of the Play-In, the Play-In is not the playoffs, and the Kings still have a tough schedule going forward. But so far, so good in regard to short-term results.
Week 18: @ BKN, @ CHI
Pace: 97.8 (20) OffRtg: 110.2 (17) DefRtg: 113.0 (25) NetRtg: -2.8 (22)
The Pacers are still waiting on the return of Malcolm Brogdon, but for now, Tyrese Haliburton has been handed the keys to the offense. The 21-year-old was given a bigger role in the Sacramento offense when Alvin Gentry took over for Luke Walton, and he averaged 6.2 minutes of possession under Gentry, up from 3.8 under Walton. In his first two games with the Pacers, Haliburton has averaged 8.0 minutes of possession, a mark which would only trail those of James Harden, Luka Doncic and Trae Young. Haliburton had 16 assists in his 41 minutes against the Wolves on Sunday, and he could have had more if Buddy Hield didn’t shoot 1-for-13 from beyond the arc (his worst 3-point shooting performance in 125 career games with at least 10 attempts).
There’s been much better shooting on the other end of the floor, and the Pacers have allowed more than 120 points per 100 possessions as they’ve lost six straight games. Having seen the league’s sixth-biggest jump in points allowed per 100 possessions, they’re set to rank in the bottom 10 defensively for the first time in 23 years (since the lockout-shorted 1998-99 season). They had the league’s No. 1 offense that year and reached the conference finals.
This team does not have the league’s No. 1 offense. Brogdon has now missed 13 straight (and 24 of the last 26) games, and it would seem strange to bring him back this week with eight days off after they host the Wizards on Wednesday. But he was listed as “questionable” for the Pacers’ loss to Minnesota on Sunday, so maybe we do see him alongside Haliburton on one end of their back-to-back. The Pacers have lost seven straight (and 11 of their last 12) games against the Bucks, having scored just 101.3 points per 100 possessions in three losses this season.
Week 18: @ MIL, vs. WAS
Pace: 98.7 (16) OffRtg: 101.7 (30) DefRtg: 108.5 (9) NetRtg: -6.8 (27)
The Thunder have climbed to ninth in defensive efficiency, having held the Sixers and Bulls (who had scored 122.3 per 100 over their previous 10 games) to just 102.5 points per 100 possessions over the weekend. OKC has dropped to fourth in opponent free throw rate with Joel Embiid and DeMar DeRozan combining for 27 attempts over those two games, but it’s climbed to 11th in opponent effective field goal percentage, with better-than-average numbers both in and outside the paint.
Darius Bazley is emerging as another good defender to add to the Thunder’s collection and remains one of two players (Robert Williams III is the other) that have played at least 500 minutes with more blocks (59) than personal fouls (50). He did commit one foul on a DeRozan pump fake on Saturday, but also blocked two of the All-Star’s jumpers. Over their last eight games, the Thunder have allowed 12.1 fewer points per 100 possessions in Bazley’s 265 minutes on the floor (100.7) than they have in his 124 minutes on the bench (112.8).
The last five games have also been Bazley’s highest-scoring stretch of the season (16.4 points per game). But as a team, the Thunder have scored less than a point per possession over the five games, losing all five despite their solid defense. They’ve lost their last eight against the Eastern Conference, with their three-game trip wrapping in New York on Monday.
Week 18: @ NYK, vs. SAS
Pace: 99.3 (11) OffRtg: 103.7 (28) DefRtg: 112.1 (23) NetRtg: -8.4 (28)
The Magic have had some recent flirtations with efficient offense, scoring 114 points per 100 possessions over a five-game stretch that included two games against top-10 defenses (those of the Mavs and Grizzlies) and tying their season-high with 19 3-pointers in Portland on Tuesday. The Magic rank 14th in 3-point rate (41.2% of their shots coming from 3-point range), but they have 10 guys who’ve attempted at least 100 3s, tied (with the Thunder and Kings) for the most in the league.
So the Magic are always spacing the floor, and while they rank 26th in 3-point percentage overall (33.1%), sometimes those shots go in. Cole Anthony had some pretty brutal turnovers (seven total) in Utah on Friday, but he’s been in a shooting rhythm of late; His 16-for-31 (52%) from 3-point range in February is the fourth-best mark among 103 players with at least 25 attempts this month. Franz Wagner, meanwhile, is one of six rookies who have shot better than the league average (34.9%) on at least 100 3-point attempts.
Though they start a big frontline (and have generally rebounded well with Wendell Carter Jr. and Mo Bamba on the floor together), the Magic have had some recent issues on the glass, allowing four straight opponents to register 20 or more second-chance points. That streak ended on Saturday, but the Magic still allowed the Suns to score 68 points in the paint.
Week 18: @ DEN, vs. ATL
Pace: 101.1 (2) OffRtg: 107.0 (27) DefRtg: 115.7 (30) NetRtg: -8.7 (29)
The Rockets didn’t trade Eric Gordon at the deadline. Instead, they acquired another veteran guard, and GM Rafael Stone indicated that they’ll be keeping Dennis Schroder. There’s certainly an argument for having veterans around to guide the young core; The Rockets have been outscored by an amazing 19.7 points per 100 possessions in 483 minutes with Jalen Green and Kevin Porter Jr. on the floor without Gordon, but by just 4.1 per 100 in 324 minutes with Gordon on the floor alongside the two youngsters. Of course, there’s one veteran guard on the roster who isn’t around at all.
Speaking of veteran-youngster combos, after two games of starting Alperen Sengun alongside Christian Wood, the rookie came off the bench (in favor of Garrison Mathews) on Thursday. Wood and Sengun still played a little less than five minutes together, and the Rockets were outscored by 19 points (somehow allowing 27 points on just 11 defensive possessions) in that time. They lost to the Raptors … by 19 points.
The loss (their fourth straight) was the second time this season that the Rockets didn’t attempt a single mid-range shot. No other team has done that once and the Rockets have now taken a lower percentage of their shots from mid-range (4.7%) than they did in any season under Mike D’Antoni.
Week 18: @ UTA, @ PHX, @ LAC
Pace: 99.3 (10) OffRtg: 102.9 (29) DefRtg: 113.1 (26) NetRtg: -10.2 (30)
The Pistons have trailed four of their last five games by 24 points or more, and because they’re not the Clippers, they haven’t come back from any of those big deficits. It’s been a relatively tough stretch of schedule, though the Hornets had lost six straight before scoring 141 points on 109 possessions (in one of the fastest-paced games of the season) in Detroit on Friday. The Pistons are 0-7 in February with an average margin of defeat of 17.1 points, and their season-long point differential per 100 possessions has hit negative double-digits for the first time since mid-November.
The seven-game losing streak coincides with the return of Jerami Grant (the Pistons have now lost the last 18 games he’s played in), though bench minutes have generally been worse than those of the starters over the seven games. With Cade Cunningham returning from a five-game absence on Friday, the team’s highest-paid player and its No. 1 pick have played together just twice since early December. The numbers remain bad (minus-19.0 points per 100 possessions in 323 total minutes) with Detroit’s four core starters – Cunningham, Grant, Saddiq Bey and Isaiah Stewart – on the floor together.
Other teams didn’t want to pay whatever price the Pistons were asking for Grant, so we’ll see more of those core-four minutes over the last eight weeks of the season. The Pistons will also get a look at former No. 2 pick Marvin Bagley III, who’s a restricted free agent this summer.
Week 18: @ WAS, @ BOS