Power Rankings

Power Rankings, Week 20: Heat face critical week while West chase tightens

See where all 30 teams rank heading into Week 20 of the 2021-22 season.

Miami has four games this week within the top eight in the East.

It turns out that Chris Paul is pretty important to the Phoenix Suns, who, without their point guard, have lost two straight games for the first time since December. And with Draymond Green’s continued absence in Golden State, the Western Conference feels a little more wide open than it did a couple of weeks ago.

The Utah Jazz have recovered from their slump (and their injuries), the Dallas Mavericks and Denver Nuggets have been great in the month of February, and the Memphis Grizzlies remain one of the toughest young teams in recent memory. While we can’t yet count on late-season returns from some long-missed stars for the Nuggets and LA Clippers, that scenario also still remains a possibility.

The Eastern Conference has felt wide-open for a while now. And there will be multiple big games within that top eight every week until April 11. This week, the Miami Heat are under the spotlight with four games against the other four teams that (one could argue) are most likely to reach the conference finals.

Plus-Minus Players of the Week

Teams of the Week

  • Make It Last Forever: Philadelphia (2-0) — The first few days of a new relationship are the best.
  • Something Just Ain’t Right: Toronto (0-2) — Somebody tell the Raps that the All-Star break ended four days ago.

* * *

East vs. West

Schedule strength through Week 19

  • Toughest: 1. Portland, 2. Indiana, 3. Orlando
  • Easiest: 1. Milwaukee, 2. Chicago, 3. Phoenix
  • 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: New Orleans (+3), Utah (+3), Brooklyn (+2), Charlotte (+2)
  • Free falls of the week: Toronto (-4), Golden State (-3), L.A. Lakers (-3)

* * *

Week 20 Team to Watch

  • Miami — The first-place team in the East is two games into a stretch of five in seven nights, and this week brings more than just another back-to-back. The Heat, who are currently 8-8 against the other seven Eastern Conference teams that have winning records, will play four games within the top eight. They host the Bulls on Monday, play a back-to-back (the end of that five-in-seven stretch) in Milwaukee and Brooklyn on Wednesday and Thursday, and then return home to host the Sixers on Saturday. All of those games are on League Pass.

* * *


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 98.7 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes and 110.2 points scored per 100 possessions this season.

NBA.com’s Power Rankings, released every Monday during the season, are just one man’s opinion. If you have an issue with the rankings, or have a question or comment for John Schuhmann, send him an e-mail or contact him via Twitter.

Last Week:1

Record: 49-12

Pace: 99.9 (9) OffRtg: 113.6 (3) DefRtg: 105.8 (4) NetRtg: +7.8 (1)

The Suns’ new starting lineup, with Cam Johnson in Chris Paul’s place and Devin Booker running point, scored 134 points per 100 possessions in its 62 minutes last week. Booker obviously isn’t the Point God, but he can make the right reads in the pick-and-roll and throw cross-court dimes when weak-side defenders sink into the paint. Johnson and Jae Crowder combined to shoot 19-for-39 (49%) from 3-point range over the three games.

But the Suns have lost two straight for the first time since December. Their defense held up over their first game and a half out of the break, but it’s allowed more than 130 points per 100 possessions over the last 72 minutes. The Pelicans got to the line a ton in the second half on Friday, and the Jazz turned 14 offensive rebounds into 25 second chance points on Sunday, when the Phoenix bench had a really rough afternoon. Over the two losses, the Suns were outscored by 32 points in JaVale McGee’s 24 minutes on the floor. They made a late run against Utah and had a chance to tie in the final seconds, but Crowder threw the ball into the third row, ending their streaks of 13 straight wins in games that were within five points in the last five minutes and 40 straight wins in games they led by double-digits.

Starting with their game in Milwaukee on Sunday, the Suns will play 13 of their final 19 games on the road. They eviscerated the Bucks’ defense in the first Finals rematch, but that was obviously with a healthy Paul.

Week 20: vs. POR, vs. NYK, @ MIL

Last Week:2

Record: 42-20

Pace: 100.0 (8) OffRtg: 113.1 (5) DefRtg: 108.7 (8) NetRtg: +4.3 (6)

The Grizzlies are one of four teams that rank in the top 10 on both ends of the floor and their defense ranks second (behind Boston) over the last three months. But they made multiple mistakes — failing to match up after a made basket, botched switches, not containing the dribble — on that end of the floor as they allowed the Wolves to score 66 points on 48 possessions in the second half on Thursday. It was just their second loss (they were previously 32-1) in a game they led by 15 points or more, and (with a loss to Portland before the break) it gave the Grizzlies their first losing streak since Christmas.

But there would not be a third straight loss, as the Grizzlies got stops against in Chicago on Saturday. Among teams that have played multiple games against the Bulls’ fourth-ranked offense this season, only the Warriors and Heat have held them to fewer points per 100 possessions than the Grizz (103.8). Kyle Anderson played his most minutes in almost six weeks on Saturday and (along with Desmond Bane) did a solid job defending DeMar DeRozan. Ja Morant had an injury scare two nights earlier, but scored 46 points (his regular-season career-high) in Chicago, with 35 of the 46 coming in the paint or at the free throw line.

That win improved the Grizzlies to 8-4 against the top eight teams in the East. They’ve yet to play the surging Celtics and will be in Boston on Thursday.

Week 20: vs. SAS, @ BOS, vs. ORL, @ HOU

Last Week:3

Record: 40-21

Pace: 96.3 (28) OffRtg: 112.2 (8) DefRtg: 107.5 (6) NetRtg: +4.6 (5)

The Miami starting lineup that was so dominant (plus-29.5 points per 100 possessions) in its 119 pre-break February minutes got destroyed by the Knicks and Spurs coming out of the break. It was outscored by 31 points in 23 minutes over the weekend, with issues on both ends of the floor. But Tyler Herro was back (after missing four of the last five games before the break) and scored 52 points on 20-for-37 (54%) shooting over the two games, registering a plus-46 in his 64 minutes. The Heat came back from two early double-digit deficits and won both games. At 11-18, they’re tied (with four other teams) for the second most wins after trailing by 10 points or more, one fewer than the Mavs (12-20).

For the season, the Heat have the league’s seventh-ranked bench (aggregate NetRtg of plus-1.6 per 100 possessions), having seen the second biggest improvement from last season (when they ranked 22nd). They rank 19th in bench minutes per game, but fourth in bench scoring per game. Herro would just the second player in the last 30 years — joining Lou Williams (2017-18 and ’18-19) — to average at least 20 points in 35 games or more off the bench.

Now their schedule gets fun. The Heat will play seven of their next eight games against teams that currently have winning records, with four games this week within the top eight in the East. They’re currently 8-8 within the top eight, including 2-0 against the Bulls, who they lead by one game for the No. 1 seed.

Week 20: vs. CHI, @ MIL, @ BKN, vs. PHI

Last Week:4

Record: 36-27

Pace: 97.4 (24) OffRtg: 110.7 (18) DefRtg: 105.3 (2) NetRtg: +5.4 (4)

Before the Celtics’ game in Indiana on Sunday, coach Ime Udoka said, “We don’t have a lot of weaknesses defensively.” And then the Celtics allowed the Pacers to score 128 points on 98 possessions, Indy’s second-most efficient game of the season. Maybe Oshae Brissett (27 points on 9-for-14 shooting) heard Udoka’s quote and considered it a challenge. Celtics opponents have shot worse than 33% from 3-point range in seven of their last nine games, with the other two being losses in which the Pistons (29th in 3-point percentage for the season) and Pacers (25th) shot better than 50% from beyond the arc. It’s a make-or-miss league, sources tell NBA.com.

Both of those losses were also the second games of back-to-backs for the Celtics. They were without Marcus Smart and Robert Williams III against Detroit, and they were without Al Horford in Indiana. They’ve won their last 10 in which they’ve had their entire starting lineup and even with those absences, the last five games have been the Celtics’ best stretch of offense this season (121.7 points scored per 100 possessions). Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown have each averaged more than 25 points and more than 4.5 assists over those five games and Grant Williams (third in the league in 3-point percentage) continues to shoot a good ball.

The Celtics don’t have another back-to-back until March 20-21. They play five of their next six games at home, set to face the Grizzlies for the first time on Thursday and the Nets (for the third time in less than four weeks) on Sunday.

Week 20: vs. ATL, vs. MEM, vs. BKN

Last Week:5

Record: 36-25

Pace: 98.1 (19) OffRtg: 112.2 (7) DefRtg: 109.4 (11) NetRtg: +2.8 (10)

Things got a little hairy against Sacramento on Saturday. Nikola Jokic (6-for-16 shooting, 0-for-2 from the line with the score tied in the final minute) didn’t quite have it and the Nuggets needed a step-back 3 from Monte Morris to put away the Kings. The Nuggets’ losses (they’re 32-7) in games in which Jokic has recorded a positive plus-minus have been noted in this space multiple times, so it should also be noted that Saturday was their second win (they’re 2-11) in games in which he’s registered a negative plus-minus. DeMarcus Cousins, now signed for the rest of the season, gave them good minutes over the weekend, totaling 28 points, 16 rebounds and seven assists while registering a plus-37 in 32 total minutes against the Kings and Blazers.

With those victories, the Nuggets have won six straight games for the first time this season. They rank second defensively over the streak, with the context that it hasn’t been the toughest stretch of schedule. But TCB (takin’ care of business) is part of being a good team and the Nuggets are now 11 games over .500, with a strong grip on a top-six seed in the West. They now have the league’s fifth-best record (23-6, .793) against the 14 teams currently below .500.

And they have three more games on a stretch of six straight against that group. The Nuggets have won 13 of their last 14 games against the bottom-14, though the one loss came at home against the Pelicans, who are back in Denver on Sunday.

Week 20: vs. OKC, vs. HOU, vs. NOP

Last Week:7

Record: 37-23

Pace: 96.5 (27) OffRtg: 111.5 (12) DefRtg: 108.9 (10) NetRtg: +2.6 (11)

The Sixers’ first game with James Harden (a 31-point win in Minnesota) was their most efficient offensive performance of the season (133 points on 102 possessions) and just *the fourth time this season they’ve made at least 15 3-pointers. In their second game with Harden (a 16-point win in New York), the Sixers had 44 free throw attempts, with their 39 makes being the most for any team in a game since the 2020 bubble. And in their 74 minutes with Harden on the floor, the Sixers allowed less than a point per possession.

* Every other team has made 15 or more 3s at least five times, and only the Pelicans (5) have done it fewer than seven times.

The Harden-Joel Embiid pick-and-roll looked sharp, with the Sixers scoring 1.36 points per possession, according to Second Spectrum tracking, when the Kia MVP candidate set a ball-screen for the former MVP (36 instances). Tobias Harris (18 points on 5-for-18 shooting over the two games) still has to find his way, but Tyrese Maxey seems unaffected by the shake-up, totaling 49 points on 20-for-30 (67%) shooting over the two games.

So far, so good, though the Sixers are about to hit a tough stretch of schedule. After they host the Knicks on Wednesday, they’ll play 12 of their next 14 games against teams currently over .500, a stretch that includes eight games within the top eight in the East. The Sixers have had just three rest-disadvantage games, with every other team having had at least five. They have four more, with two of them coming against the Heat. The first of those is Saturday in Miami, the second game of a tough back-to-back.

Week 20: vs. NYK, vs. CLE, @ MIA

Last Week:8

Record: 36-25

Pace: 95.8 (30) OffRtg: 110.9 (16) DefRtg: 107.3 (5) NetRtg: +3.5 (8)

The Mavs have generally been at their best (plus-8.8 points per 100 possessions) in the first quarter and their loss in Utah on Friday was a tale of two halves, where they scored just 42 points on 44 possessions after halftime after scoring 67 on 49 before. They had chances down the stretch and were 3-for-13 on clutch shots, going 0-for-6 from 3-point range in the final three minutes.

But the Mavs now lead the league with 12 wins (they’re 12-20) in games they trailed by double-digits, with their comeback from 21 points down at Golden State on Sunday being their first win in a game they trailed by more than 20 points since they had two in the 2020 bubble. They’re still just 18-for-78 (23%) on clutch 3s, but Spencer Dinwiddie (2-for-24 on clutch 3s in his final full season with Brooklyn, 7-for-15 this season) hit a big one off a feed from Luka Doncic, capping a remarkable, 26-1 run and putting the Mavs up six with less than two minutes left. Dinwiddie has come off the bench in his four games with his new team, but he’s played as many minutes with Doncic (72) as he has with any other teammate and the Mavs have scored 116.8 points per 100 possessions in those 72 minutes.

The Mavs will get two more chances against the Jazz later this season (having lost the first two meetings by a total of nine points) and the Warriors will get another chance against the Mavs on Thursday.

Week 20: @ LAL, vs. GSW, vs. SAC

Last Week:11

Record: 38-22

Pace: 97.9 (21) OffRtg: 116.2 (1) DefRtg: 109.4 (12) NetRtg: +6.8 (3)

The Jazz had two big games last week, and they won them both, scoring more than 125 points per 100 possessions against two top-five defenses (those of the Mavs and Suns). Donovan Mitchell led the way with 59 points over the two games, shooting 13-for-23 from 3-point range. The Jazz are 7-1 since he returned from an eight-game absence and a league-best 8-1 in February.

The Jazz trailed both games at the half, but they won the two second halves by a combined score of 116-96, scoring those 116 points on just 89 offensive possessions (1.30 per). Their win in Phoenix on Sunday ended the Suns’ streak of 40 straight wins in games they led by double-digits. Mike Conley and Rudy Gobert still rank in the top 10 in cumulative plus-minus for the season, but they both registered negative marks in both games. The Jazz outscored their opponents by 29 points (44 per 100 possessions) in Hassan Whiteside’s 34 minutes, and they’re now 27-10 when they’ve had both Gobert and Whiteside available.

The win in Phoenix was the start of a five-game trip that ends in Dallas. This week’s slate is relatively soft, though the Jazz already have losses to the Rockets and Pelicans.

Week 20: @ HOU, @ NOP, @ OKC

Last Week:6

Record: 43-18

Pace: 98.8 (16) OffRtg: 111.6 (9) DefRtg: 104.5 (1) NetRtg: +7.1 (2)

The Warriors have led each of their last seven games by at least seven points, and they’ve led five of the seven by at least 13. But they’ve won just two of the seven games, with their fourth-quarter collapse against the Mavs on Sunday (they led by 19 with less than 10 minutes left) being the worst they’ve experienced in a long, long time. In fact, it was the first time in the last two seasons that any team has lost a game it led by that many points in the fourth quarter.

Over this 2-5 stretch, the Warriors (who are still the league’s best second-half team for the season) have scored 120.6 points per 100 possessions before halftime and just 101.8 after halftime, with Stephen Curry (63.7% vs. 45.5%) and Jonathan Kuminga (67.1% vs. 54.8%) having seen the biggest half-to-half drop-offs in effective field goal percentage among their rotation guys. Curry was 5-for-15 in the second half against Dallas on Sunday, while also getting picked on defensively. The Mavs scored 1.4 points per possession when they had Curry’s man set a ball screen on Sunday (23 instances), according to Second Spectrum tracking.

Expect more Curry targeting when the two teams meet again on Thursday, the second game of a four-game trip for the Warriors. The loss on Sunday began a stretch where they’re playing seven of eight against teams with winning records, and though they’re 20-13 (fourth-best) within that group overall, they’ve lost four straight against the good teams.

Week 20: @ MIN, @ DAL, @ LAL

Last Week:9

Record: 39-22

Pace: 99.1 (12) OffRtg: 113.2 (4) DefRtg: 111.3 (20) NetRtg: +1.9 (12)

The Bulls are playing their first five post-break games against teams that rank in the top eight offensively, and their initial defense was terrific on Thursday and Saturday, holding the Hawks and Grizzlies to just 180 points on 205 possessions (88 per 100) before a rebound. But the Bulls (who ranked fourth in defensive rebounding percentage through the All-Star break) allowed 32 offensive boards and 44 second-chance points over the two games.

DeMar DeRozan saved them on Thursday, scoring five of his 37 points in the final 47 seconds, with his go-ahead and-one being his fifth bucket (on 10 attempts) to tie or take the lead in the final minute of the fourth quarter or overtime. That’s tied with Saddiq Bey (5-for-7) and Ja Morant (5-for-8) for the league lead. But the Bulls couldn’t stop Morant (46 points) and they couldn’t keep Steven Adams (eight of the Grizzlies’ 19 offensive rebounds) off the glass on Saturday.

With a win over Atlanta and a loss to Memphis, the Bulls have the league’s biggest differential between their record against the 14 teams currently below .500 (27-6, .818) and their record against the 16 teams that currently have winning records (12-16, .429). Fourteen of their final 21 games are against the latter group and they’re currently 0-3 against the Heat (0-2) and Bucks (0-1), having scored just 100.4 points per 100 possessions over the three games. (DeRozan and Zach LaVine have each missed one of the three.) They’re in Miami on Monday and host the champs (who will have a rest advantage) on Friday.

Week 20: @ MIA, @ ATL, vs. MIL

Last Week:10

Record: 36-24

Pace: 96.9 (25) OffRtg: 109.8 (19) DefRtg: 105.6 (3) NetRtg: +4.1 (7)

The backcourt injuries just keep on coming for the Cavs. Darius Garland is still dealing with his back issue, Caris LeVert is out 1-2 weeks with a foot sprain and Rajon Rondo suffered a toe injury on Thursday. Brandon Goodwin (on a two-way contract) started and played 38 minutes at the point against Washington over the weekend.

The Cavs have a winning record (7-6) in the 13 games they’ve played without Garland, but all 13 have come against teams currently below .500. Amazingly, 11 of the 13 have come against just five teams: Atlanta (x2), Charlotte (x2), Indiana (x3), New Orleans (x2) and Washington (x2). The other two have come against two of the worst teams in the league: the Pistons and Rockets. They’ve lost both of those games, scoring just 47 points on 52 offensive possessions with Rondo on the floor and missing three 3s for the tie in the final 24 seconds in Detroit on Thursday. The offense was similarly ugly two nights later, but it was more ugly on the Wizards’ end of the floor and Isaac Okoro did some good work against Kyle Kuzma to seal the 92-86 victory, the Cavs’ fourth win in a game in which they scored less than a point per possession. That’s tied (with Denver) for the league lead.

Overall, the Cavs have played 10 of their last 11 games against teams that currently have losing records. The schedule gets tougher this week and 14 of their final 22 games are against teams currently above .500. They’re 14-14 against that group thus far, though (as noted) they haven’t played any of those 28 games without Garland.

Week 20: vs. MIN, vs. CHA, @ PHI, vs. TOR

Last Week:12

Record: 36-25

Pace: 100.2 (6) OffRtg: 112.6 (6) DefRtg: 109.6 (13) NetRtg: +3.1 (9)

Their first game after the All-Star break was, apparently, not the time for the Bucks to flip the switch. And with their loss to Brooklyn on Saturday, they’ve dropped four of their last five games, their worst stretch of defense this season (120.8 points allowed per 100 possessions). The Bucks rank 27th on that end of the floor (117.9 allowed per 100) since Jan. 22, and while they allow a high volume of 3-point attempts, their issues go beyond their opponents’ shooting from the perimeter. Their opponents have shot 62.1% in the paint over those 13 games, up from 55.0% prior to that. (The league average is 56.1%.)

The defense has been OK in the first and fourth quarters, but over this 1-4 stretch, it’s allowed 133.5 points per 100 possessions over the second and third. The third quarter on Saturday, when the Nets scored 43 points on 26 possessions, wasn’t the Bucks’ worst defensive quarter over these last five games, but it was close. The Bucks erased a 13-point deficit and had a chance in the final minute, but missed eight free throws in the fourth quarter. Jrue Holiday was 1-for-4 down the stretch and is now just 68-for-111 (61.3%) on clutch free throws over the last five seasons. That’s worse than Giannis Antetokounmpo (64.8%).

The Bucks’ tough post-break schedule continues this week, and before the Finals rematch, they have big games against the Heat and Bulls. The champs are now 7-11 (with three straight losses) in games within the top eight in the East.

Week 20: vs. CHA, vs. MIA, @ CHI, vs. PHX

Last Week:14

Record: 32-29

Pace: 100.8 (3) OffRtg: 111.5 (13) DefRtg: 110.3 (16) NetRtg: +1.1 (13)

The Wolves have won 10 of the last 12 games they’ve played with rest, having scored more than 120 points per 100 possessions over those 12 games. They came out of the break with a big win over Memphis, scoring 119 points on 100 possessions against a top-10 defense. D’Angelo Russell led the way with 37 points, including 23 in the fourth quarter and 20 in the paint (the second-highest total of his career and twice as many as he’s had in any other game this season). It was the Wolves’ first win (they were previously 0-17) after trailing by 15 points or more (it was an early deficit).

But the Wolves had to play the new Sixers the following night. And the 31-point loss was their fifth straight in the second game of a back-to-back. They scored just a point per possession (102 on 102) and Anthony Edwards has now averaged just 8.8 points on 9-for-42 (21%) shooting over the last four games. He’s 2-for-23 (9%) from 3-point range and just 15-for-27 (56%) from the free-throw line (though with a higher free throw rate) over that stretch. The Wolves’ starting lineup, which was so dominant early in the season, has been outscored by 7.6 points per 100 possessions (allowing 119.4 per 100) since mid-January.

The Wolves have two more back-to-backs this week, though the first is much tougher than the second. They’re 11-3 against the bottom six teams in the West, set to face the Thunder and Blazers on Friday and Saturday.

Week 20: @ CLE, vs. GSW, @ OKC, vs. POR

Last Week:15

Record: 32-31

Pace: 99.0 (14) OffRtg: 107.4 (26) DefRtg: 108.2 (7) NetRtg: -0.8 (19)

There were three games last week (of 31 games total) where both teams scored less than 105 points per 100 possessions. The Clippers won two of the three, their ninth and 10th such wins of the season. (They had only two last season, mostly because their offense was much, much better.) This team knows how to win ugly and the Clippers came back from fourth-quarter deficits in both games, holding the Lakers and Rockets to just 14 points on 21 clutch possessions, with both Robert Covington and Ivica Zubac coming up with big stops in the paint (on plays that needed to be reviewed).

Covington has been coming off the bench, but he’s been on the floor down the stretch of four of the team’s five clutch games since he was acquired and the Clippers have allowed just 50 points on 68 defensive possessions (73.5 per 100) with him and Zubac on the floor together. Isaiah Hartenstein lost his plus-minus magic, but over the two weekend games that they won by a total of four points, Covington was a plus-27.

With their victory on Friday, the Clippers have won six straight against the Lakers. And with both teams’ Sunday results, the Clippers are 3 1/2 games up in the race for eighth place. The final meeting of the season is Thursday, as the Clippers’ easy stretch of schedule (nine of their first 10 post-break games against teams with losing records) continues for another two weeks.

Week 20: @ HOU, vs. LAL, vs. NYK

Last Week:17

Record: 32-29

Pace: 99.3 (11) OffRtg: 111.4 (14) DefRtg: 111.6 (21) NetRtg: -0.2 (17)

The Nets need every win they can get, and they got a big one on Saturday, outlasting the Bucks with Andre Drummond making a critical block on Giannis Antetokounmpo with less than 30 seconds left. Brooklyn is 3-2 with Drummond and Seth Curry (still shooting well on those pull-up 2s), having outscored their opponents by 17.3 points per 100 possessions in the former Sixers’ 104 minutes on the floor together with their new team.

Kevin Durant could be back this week, though he isn’t expected to play in the home-and-home back-to-back against the seventh-place Raptors. The addition of Goran Dragic raises the ceiling for the everybody’s-available version of the Nets, though (despite Sunday’s news) it’s still not clear if Kyrie Irving will eventually be cleared to play in home games via a change in the private-sector vaccine mandate. Irving certainly was electric on Saturday, scoring a season-high 38 points against the champs (shooting 8-for-11 in the paint) after going two weeks without playing. But his jumper still isn’t where it was last season; He’s 39% from mid-range and 37% from 3-point range through 15 games.

The Nets are 1-1 in this stretch of six straight games within the top six in the East, and they’re 9-10 within the top eight overall. That includes a 1-4 mark against the Heat (0-2) and Celtics (1-2, with two blowout losses in the last three weeks). They’ll face them both after the Toronto back-to-back.

Week 20: vs. TOR, @ TOR, vs. MIA, @ BOS

Last Week:16

Record: 29-31

Pace: 98.6 (17) OffRtg: 114.0 (2) DefRtg: 113.1 (26) NetRtg: +0.9 (14)

For the fourth straight season, the Hawks have been much better offensively with Trae Young on the floor (116.4 points scored per 100 possessions) than they’ve been with him off the floor (104.7). And for the fourth straight season, that’s less about his shooting than it is his playmaking and his ability to get to the line. His *effective field goal percentage of 52.8% is the best mark of his career (he’s above the league average for the first time), but still ranks just 32nd among 72 guards with at least 500 field goal attempts. With the trips to the line, his true shooting percentage (59.1%) ranks eighth amongst that group.

* Effective field goal percentage = Shooting from the field = (FGM + (0.5 * 3PM)) / FGA
True shooting percentage = Scoring efficiency = PTS / (2 * (FGM + (0.44 * FTA)))

Still, Young takes more than 20 shots (from the field) per game, so his shooting does matter. And with his 3-for-17 performance in Chicago on Thursday, the Hawks are 5-17 (1-12 since Dec. 1) when he’s registered an effective field goal percentage under 47%. Two nights later, Young scored 41 points on 17-for-24 shooting (10-for-12 from “floater” range) and the Hawks got a big win over the seventh-place Raptors.

The Hawks did have a chance to win that game in Chicago (Bojan Bogdanovic missed a three for the win), and they’ll have their fourth and final chance for a victory against the Bulls on Thursday. After that, their schedule eases up.

Week 20: @ BOS, vs. CHI, @ WAS

Last Week:13

Record: 32-27

Pace: 96.7 (26) OffRtg: 111.0 (15) DefRtg: 110.3 (15) NetRtg: +0.6 (15)

Woof. The Raptors have a relatively easy post-break schedule in regard to opponent strength, but it began with two losses to two teams that were below .500 … by a combined 59 points. Going back to the last few days before the break, they’ve lost four of their last five, with the last three losses coming by 27 points or more. Their only other loss by more than 17 points this season was the Covid-season game in which one of their five starters met the other four on the bus ride to the arena.

The Raptors’ half-court offense remains an issue, and they’ve shot 24-for-89 (27%) from 3-point range (against three worse-than-average defenses) over these last three losses. But more concerning may be the defense that has allowed more than 126 points per 100 possessions over the three games. Charlotte and Atlanta combined to shoot 71% in the paint over the weekend, with the Hornets’ 64 points in the restricted area being just two fewer than the season high for any team this season. OG Anunoby (broken finger) was missed and we’ll soon get some clarity on how long he’ll be missed. The Raptors’ starting lineup (with Khem Birch in Anunoby’s place) was outscored by 39 points over its 28 weekend minutes.

With their stretch of seven games in 10 nights continuing this week, it’s not a good time for a team with minimal depth. The Raptors are just a game ahead of the eighth-place Nets (they’re tied in the win column) with a home-and-home back-to-back on Monday and Tuesday. Brooklyn has scored more than 120 points per 100 possessions in both meetings thus far, though Kevin Durant (not expected to play in these next two) played in both of those games.

Week 20: @ BKN, vs. BKN, vs. DET, vs. ORL, @ CLE

Last Week:20

Record: 30-32

Pace: 101.1 (2) OffRtg: 111.5 (11) DefRtg: 111.8 (22) NetRtg: -0.2 (18)

When they went into the break, the Hornets looked like the team that most needed some time off. They had lost nine of their last 10 games, with the only win over that stretch having come against the Pistons. And their first game after the break — a 32-point win over Toronto in which they scored a season-high 64 points in the restricted area — seemed to confirm that notion. Coach James Borrego did confirm it. “We needed it,” he said. “We could have used it a few weeks before that.”

But the Hornets followed up the big win with a loss to … the Pistons, blowing a six-point lead in the fourth quarter and a five-point lead in overtime. They allowed the league’s 29th-ranked offense to score 27 points on 20 clutch possessions, with six offensive rebounds on Detroit’s nine clutch misses and too easy of an inbounds catch on Kelly Olynyk’s game-winner. The Hornets have now lost their last six games that were within five points in the last five minutes, the only team without a clutch win in the month of February.

They still have a chance to get one, though it’s a rest-disadvantage game in Milwaukee on Monday. The Hornets did beat the Bucks twice in January, holding the champs to just 101 points per 100 possessions over the two-game series in Charlotte (Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton played, Jrue Holiday didn’t).

Week 20: @ MIL, @ CLE, vs. SAS

Last Week:19

Record: 24-37

Pace: 100.4 (4) OffRtg: 111.6 (10) DefRtg: 111.2 (18) NetRtg: +0.4 (16)

The Spurs have climbed back into the top 10 in offensive efficiency, having scored at least 120 points per 100 possessions in six of their 10 February games. Their double-overtime win in Washington on Friday was their second most efficient performance of the month and came with 32 points on 23 clutch possessions. Lonnie Walker IV had nine of their 27 points over the two overtimes and has averaged 20 points on 52% shooting (including 29-for-50 on pull-up 2-pointers) over the last five games.

But the Spurs’ defense has not been good (117.4 points allowed per 100 possessions) over those five games and ranks 22nd this month. They built an early lead in Miami on Saturday, but then allowed the Heat to score 108 points over their final 82 possessions (1.32 per). So they enter Week 20 a game behind the 10th-place Pelicans and with Gregg Popovich still one win shy of tying Don Nelson atop the all-time list.

With Sacramento and Charlotte on the schedule, history could certainly be made this week. The Spurs are tied (with Houston) for the league’s worst record (2-5) in rest-advantage games, they have just one left on their schedule, and it’s Thursday against the Kings (who are in New Orleans the night before).

Week 20: @ MEM, vs. SAC, @ CHA

Last Week:23

Record: 25-36

Pace: 97.7 (22) OffRtg: 109.1 (22) DefRtg: 111.2 (19) NetRtg: -2.1 (21)

The Pelicans had only eight post-break games (fewest in the league) against the 15 teams that went into the break with winning records. Statistically, the toughest of those eight (though they had a rest advantage) was the first one, a game in Phoenix on Friday. And the Pelicans came out of the break with, arguably, their best win of the season, getting 60 combined points from CJ McCollum and Brandon Ingram as they ended the Suns’ eight-game winning streak. It was the first time in almost three years that McCollum — 107th in free throw rate (12.1 attempts per 100 shots from the field) among 118 players with at least 500 field goal attempts — had double-digit free throw attempts, and Ingram matched McCollum’s 11.

With their thrashing of the Lakers on Sunday, the Pelicans have the league’s seventh-ranked offense (117.2 points scored per 100 possessions) since McCollum (19-for-33 from mid-range with his new team) joined them. They’ve also taken the final Play-In spot in the West from the Blazers. They should be the favorite to retain that spot and could even move up if the Lakers continue to slide, but nothing is a given with a team that’s 25-36 and defended pretty poorly as it lost four of five going into the break. The Pelicans still have 10 games remaining against teams that currently rank in the top 10 offensively.

And they have six remaining against the three teams behind (chasing?) them for the final Play-In spot in the West. The first of those is Wednesday, when they host the Kings (currently 0-2 against Sacramento). After that, they have their toughest remaining three-game stretch of schedule, three straight against teams — Utah, Denver and Memphis — in the West’s top six.

Week 20: vs. SAC, vs. UTA, @ DEN

Last Week:18

Record: 27-33

Pace: 100.4 (5) OffRtg: 108.4 (24) DefRtg: 110.3 (14) NetRtg: -1.9 (20)

A lack of chemistry and spacing on offense, along with injuries, have certainly a big role in the Lakers’ 27-33 record. And this team does rank lower on offense than it does on defense. But a lack of consistent effort on defense has also kept the Lakers from being as good as they could possibly be given the circumstances. And as they’ve lost 14 of their last 20 games (without winning two straight), they’ve ranked nearly as low on defense (22nd) as they have on offense (23rd).

The Lakers erased a 16-point deficit against the Clippers on Friday, but both early on and down the stretch, they just didn’t show much urgency defensively, slow to react with help and slow to get back in transition as the Clippers took the lead with a 6-0 run in the final three minutes. If an opponent is taking the basketball toward the basket, that should be regarded as an emergency. And if the ball is swung to the guy who ranks second in the league in 3-point percentage, somebody should probably make that next rotation instead of standing in the paint guarding nobody.

Of course, the loss to the Clippers wasn’t the Lakers’ worst of the week, because they got hammered by New Orleans two nights later. And they’re now just 2 1/2 games ahead of the 10th-place Pelicans, with a much more difficult remaining schedule. Fifteen of their 22 games are against teams that currently have winning records, and the Lakers are 9-21 against that group thus far.

Week 20: vs. DAL, @ LAC, vs. GSW

Last Week:21

Record: 27-33

Pace: 97.6 (23) OffRtg: 109.1 (21) DefRtg: 111.8 (23) NetRtg: -2.7 (24)

The Wizards came out of the break with a real chance of grabbing one of the final Play-In spots in the East, and they had chances to win both of their two games over the weekend. But they lost them both, unable to get stops in their double-overtime loss to the Spurs (Kentavious Caldwell-Pope’s first-OT gamble was damaging) and unable to get buckets (two points on eight clutch possessions) down the stretch in Cleveland. The Wizards were once 18-4 in clutch games, but have (not unexpectedly) regressed to the mean, with eight losses (shooting 5-for-25 on clutch 3-pointers) in their last 10.

The Wizards still have a relatively easy schedule going forward (13 of 22 games against teams currently below .500) and they still have two games remaining against the 10th-place Hawks, having split the first two meetings early in the season. They’ll have a rest advantage (the Hawks host the Bulls the night before) on Friday, though they’re just 3-4 in rest-advantage games thus far.

It’s still not clear when Kristaps Porzingis (who last played on Jan. 29) will make his Wizards debut. Even without Bradley Beal, it could be fun to see a Washington lineup with Kyle Kuzma (70 points, 11-for-16 from 3-point range over the weekend) and Porzingis at the four and five.

Week 20: vs. DET, vs. ATL, vs. IND

Last Week:22

Record: 25-36

Pace: 98.6 (18) OffRtg: 108.9 (23) DefRtg: 114.1 (28) NetRtg: -5.1 (26)

The Blazers went into the All-Star break in 10th place in the West, having won four straight games for the first time since before Thanksgiving. Over that streak, they were 28 points per 100 possessions better with Jusuf Nurkic on the floor (plus-16.3) than they were with him off the floor (minus-11.7). Nurkic averaged 21.5 points on 59% shooting over the four games, going into the break with just the fifth 30-point game of his career, a 32-point performance against the Grizzlies’ top-10 defense.

Portland came out of the break with Nurkic (plantar fasciitis) shut down for at least the next four weeks and with … [checks notes] … Drew Eubanks starting at center. And the Blazers lost their first two post-break games by a total of 69 points, scoring an anemic 92.6 points per 100 possessions against the Warriors and Nuggets. The two losses dropped them to 11th place in the West, in a tie with the 10th-place Pelicans, but having (somehow) lost their momentum from before the break. Nurkic has had a few tough injuries in his eight seasons in the league, and this may be the most untimely of them all.

The Blazers have four more games on this stretch of six straight against teams with winning records. And they’ll now play nine of their next 10 games on the road.

Week 20: @ PHX, @ MIN

Last Week:24

Record: 25-36

Pace: 96.3 (29) OffRtg: 108.1 (25) DefRtg: 110.5 (17) NetRtg: -2.4 (23)

It’s hard to score less than a point per possession in a game in which one of your players scores 46 points. But that’s what the Knicks did against the Heat on Friday, with 18 turnovers and with guys not named RJ Barrett shooting 17-for-53 (32%). Julius Randle has come out of the break shooting 6-for-28 (21%), the worst mark among 74 players with at least 25 field goal attempts last week.

But Barrett’s performance against Miami was a bright spot that certainly shouldn’t be dismissed. It came with 22 free throw attempts, and while his shooting numbers (both in and outside the paint) are down from last season, Barrett has shot 39.8% from 3-point range since Jan. 1. With the Knicks now 4 1/2 games behind the 10th-place Hawks and having a tougher schedule going forward, their chances of making the Play-In are slim. So the last six weeks of the season should be about developing the young guys, and the Knicks have a lot of young guys to develop. Quentin Grimes suffered a knee injury last week, but Immanuel Quickley, Jericho Sims and Obi Toppin all had some nice moments in their loss to the Sixers on Sunday.

The Knicks now begin their longest road trip of the season, seven games over 12 days, with six of the seven opponents currently above .500. They’ve lost nine of their last 10 (and are 10-24 overall) against the 16 teams that currently have winning records.

Week 20: @ PHI, @ PHX, @ LAC

Last Week:25

Record: 22-40

Pace: 100.0 (7) OffRtg: 109.3 (20) DefRtg: 114.4 (29) NetRtg: -5.1 (25)

Even before they sent their two most prolific 3-point shooters to Indiana, the Kings didn’t shoot 3s with much accuracy or at a high volume. They have the league’s sixth-lowest opponent 3-point rate (38% of their opponents’ shots have come from 3-point range), but they’ve outscored their opponent from 3-point range in just two of their last 19 games. And as they lost both games of a home-and-home set against the Nuggets last week, the Kings were outscored by 39 points from beyond the arc, with Kings not named Justin Holiday (5-for-11) shooting 13-for-48 (27%) from deep.

The Kings have scored a potent 118.4 points per 100 possessions in 175 minutes with De’Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis on the floor together. But they’ve scored less than a point per possession when Sabonis has sat and given the level at which they defend (they haven’t been any better on that end of the floor since the trade), the offense needs to be great no matter who’s on the floor. With the recent struggles, they’re now one of four teams that rank in the bottom 10 in both 3-point percentage (34.4%, 22nd) and the percentage of their shots that have come from 3-point range (37.8%, 22nd).

The 13th-place Kings are now 3 1/2 games behind the 10th-place Pelicans. They have just three games remaining against the three teams between them and that final Play-In spot in the West, and two of those three games — at New Orleans and at San Antonio — are a back-to-back on Wednesday and Thursday. The game against the Spurs will determine the head-to-head tiebreaker.

Week 20: @ OKC, @ NOP, @ SAS, @ DAL

Last Week:26

Record: 19-41

Pace: 98.9 (15) OffRtg: 102.1 (30) DefRtg: 108.8 (9) NetRtg: -6.6 (27)

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander returned from a 10-game absence on Thursday and played in both games of the Thunder’s back-to-back. He leads the league with 23.8 drives per game and, with his 68 points, totaled 70 drives on Thursday and Friday, two of the eight times in his career that he’s had 34 or more drives, according to Second Spectrum tracking. And all those drives came with some delectable dribble moves and finishes. With his huge drop in 3-point percentage, Gilgeous-Alexander has also seen a drop in field goal percentage in the paint, from 57.2% last season to 51.8% this season. But he was 22-for-31 (71%) in the paint over the first two games out of the break.

He didn’t get much help against the Suns, and the Thunder were held under a point per possession for the league-leading 23rd time this season. But Tre Mann scored 22 points and the 20 year olds (Theo Maledon and Aleksej Pokusevski) added 27 points off the bench as the Thunder outlasted the Pacers in overtime on Friday. Pokusevski has scored in double figures in six of eight games since returning from a G League assignment, having done so in just three of his 36 games prior.

The next few weeks will probably determine if the Thunder finish the season in the top 10 defensively. After they host the Kings on Monday, they have nine straight games against teams that rank in the top 13 on offense. Two of the 13 games in which they’ve held their opponent under a point per possession have come against the seventh-ranked Nuggets (Dec. 22) and 13th-ranked Timberwolves (Jan. 5).

Week 20: vs. SAC, @ DEN, vs. MIN, vs. UTA

Last Week:27

Record: 21-41

Pace: 98.0 (20) OffRtg: 110.7 (17) DefRtg: 113.1 (27) NetRtg: -2.4 (22)

Tyrese Haliburton has averaged 19.8 points and 10.7 assists in his six games with the Pacers. And even with Malcolm Brogdon returning from a 15-game absence as they came out of the break, Haliburton has been the guy with the ball, averaging 7.3 minutes of possession in the Pacers’ two games last week. The results with the two on the floor together were mixed, with the Pacers outscoring their opponents by 8.1 points per 100 possessions in the pairing’s 42 total minutes over the weekend.

Appropriately, the Pacers lost the game that was close (blowing an eight-point lead to the Thunder with less than five minutes to go) and won the game that wasn’t. Their Sunday win over the Celtics (the league’s best defensive team over the last three months) was the Pacers’ second most efficient game of the season, with Haliburton, Brogdon, Oshae Brissett and Buddy Hield all scoring 20 points or more. The Pacers are actually in position to finish with a better-than-average offense in two straight seasons for the first time in the last 18 years.

The Pacers have five games remaining within the bottom five in the Eastern Conference, and four of the five are the entirety of a trip that begins with two games in Orlando. They’re 5-5 within the bottom five, having lost to the Magic earlier this month.

Week 20: @ ORL, @ ORL, @ DET, @ WAS

Last Week:28

Record: 14-47

Pace: 99.5 (10) OffRtg: 103.9 (28) DefRtg: 112.3 (24) NetRtg: -8.3 (28)

Chuma Okeke didn’t just score a career-high 26 points against Houston on Friday. He also made a big impact defensively. Wendell Carter Jr. was switching Christian Wood’s ball screens all night, and when Mo Bamba was the other big on the floor, he stayed with his assignment and Wood was able to take advantage of the Magic’s guards in the paint. But when Okeke was the other big, he was quick to “scram” the guard and take the Wood assignment, and the results were better. The Rockets scored 54 points on 37 possessions with Okeke off the floor, but just 57 on 67 with him on the floor.

The Magic’s starting lineup — with that Carter-Bamba frontline — was terrific defensively through January, but has allowed 122.6 points per 100 possessions in its 116 minutes this month. And among the team’s two-man combinations that have played at least 200 minutes together, the defense has been at its best (101.6 allowed per 100) with Okeke and Carter on the floor together.

It’s not clear when Jonathan Isaac (who tore his ACL in Aug. 2020) will be added to that frontline mix, but Markelle Fultz (who tore his ACL in Jan. 2021) is set to make his season debut against Indiana on Monday.

Week 20: vs. IND, vs. IND, @ TOR, @ MEM

Last Week:29

Record: 15-46

Pace: 99.1 (13) OffRtg: 103.4 (29) DefRtg: 113.1 (25) NetRtg: -9.6 (30)

The Pistons have won two of their three games coming out of All-Star and three out of four going back to their last game before the break. It’s been their second-best four-game stretch of offense this season (112.0 points scored per 100 possessions), even though three of the four games have come against teams (Boston and Cleveland) that rank in the top three defensively. Six Pistons have averaged double-figures over the 3-1 stretch, led by Cade Cunningham’s 20.3 points per game. The rookie hasn’t been particularly efficient (true shooting percentage under 50%), but scored 12 points in the fourth quarter in Charlotte on Sunday, locked up LaMelo Ball on a huge possession down the stretch, and fed Saddiq Bey for a big 3 in the final minute of the fourth quarter.

The Charlotte victory came with a game-winner from Kelly Olynyk and big games (54 total points on 22-for-37 shooting) from Bey and Jerami Grant, who had a rough couple of games (7-for-30 shooting) coming out of the break. Since Grant’s return at the start of this month, the Pistons starting lineup – Cory Joseph, Cunningham, Grant, Bey and Isaiah Stewart — has outscored opponents by 6.0 points per 100 possessions in its 122 minutes together. That’s not bad.

The Pistons’ best days are still a few years away, but this team has a handful of competent players right now and it could certainly continue to play spoiler over the next six weeks. And a visit to Toronto on Thursday is an opportunity for Dwane Casey to continue his run of success (8-3, with five straight wins) against his old team.

Week 20: @ WAS, @ TOR, vs. IND

Last Week:30

Record: 15-45

Pace: 101.2 (1) OffRtg: 107.0 (27) DefRtg: 116.1 (30) NetRtg: -9.2 (29)

A loss to the Clippers on Tuesday would give the Rockets their second double-digit losing streak of the season. After that game against the 32-31 Clippers, they’ll play four games against teams no worse than the 36-25 Nuggets, and Houston is a league-worst 4-28 against the 16 teams currently over .500. But two of the Rockets’ last three losses against that group were within a point in the final minute, and their loss to the Clippers on Sunday was their best defensive game (99 points allowed on 97 possessions) since November.

Among the eight Rockets that have played at least 900 minutes, the defense has been at its worst (117.4 points allowed per 100 possessions) with Jalen Green on the floor. That number is actually the second-worst on-court mark among 218 players who’ve averaged at least 20 minutes per game (lower than only that of Norman Powell). But Green had one of his best offensive gams of the season in Orlando on Friday, scoring 23 points on 9-for-16 shooting. His four 3-pointers included one pretty wicked step-back against Mo Bamba, and he showed how he can use his speed in the half-court, blasting past Terrence Ross and getting to the rim before help could arrive. His transition speed was there, too.

Green’s career high (30 points) came in the third game of the season. His highest-scoring game since then (29 on Jan. 1) came against the Nuggets, who the Rockets will visit on Friday.

Week 20: vs. LAC, vs. UTA, @ DEN, vs. MEM