Jayson Tatum and Boston are climbing the standings, while Kevin Durant and Brooklyn continue to search for consistency.
There are five weeks left in the regular season. And while some teams can pace themselves down the stretch, others are in a bit of a rush. And the urgency has never been higher in places like Brooklyn, Atlanta and Los Angeles.
The Nets are trying to get everybody on the floor. Their loss in Boston on Sunday was the first time they had Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant and Seth Curry together, and it would be nice to give that trio some time to grow. But with Irving currently eligible to play in six of their final 17 games, that time isn’t available. And given their struggles on defense, they could really use Ben Simmons. But he isn’t ready to play.
The Hawks are trying to make up for their lack of focus early in the season. And they can actually take advantage of Brooklyn’s problems. But they’ll need to be better on both ends of the floor to really give themselves a chance of making the playoffs.
The Lakers would have a puncher’s chance in the Play-In, but a Play-In spot is not guaranteed, unless they can follow up their latest victory with some actual consistency.
Speaking of consistency, the Phoenix Suns remain in the top spot in the Power Rankings for the seventh straight week, despite having lost three of their six games since the All-Star break. Playing without their two best players, the defending Western Conference champs nearly beat the defending Eastern Conference champs on the road on Sunday.
Plus-Minus Players of the Week
Teams of the Week
- Make It Last Forever: Milwaukee (4-0) — Bum Bum Bum Buhbum Bum. The champ is here.
- Something Just Ain’t Right: Golden State (0-3) — The Celtics are kind of the early-season Warriors, and the Warriors are the early-season Celtics.
East vs. West
Schedule strength through Week 20
- Toughest: 1. Portland, 2. Houston, 3. New Orleans
- Easiest: 1. Phoenix, 2. Milwaukee, 3. Chicago
- 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: Milwaukee (+3), New York (+2), Sacramento (+2)
- Free falls of the week: San Antonio (-5), Brooklyn (-3)
Week 21 Team to Watch
- Chicago — The Bulls are famously 1-13 against the seven teams that have better records than the Bulls do themselves. That group includes the Philadelphia 76ers, to whom the Bulls have already lost three times. They’ll get their final shot at the Sixers (their first shot at the new Sixers) when they meet in Philadelphia on Monday (7 p.m. ET, League Pass). After visiting Detroit on Wednesday, the Bulls have another big Eastern Conference matchup on Saturday, when they host the Cleveland Cavaliers (8 p.m. ET, League Pass). The Bulls and Cavs have split their first two meetings, with the home team winning both.
Previous Power Rankings
- This time last year: Nets climb to No. 1; Lakers, Bucks exit Top 5 — Anfernee Simons won the Dunk Contest, Stephen Curry won the 3-point contest, and Giannis Antetokounmpo was the All-Star Game MVP. As the league came out of the All-Star break, the season wasn’t yet halfway complete and the trade deadline was still a couple of weeks away. The Hawks fired Lloyd Pierce, Blake Griffin signed with the Nets, Luka Doncic dropped a behind-the-back dime, and Jrue Holiday hit a step-back game-winner in Memphis.
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 110.4 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 (9) OffRtg: 113.8 (3) DefRtg: 106.1 (3) NetRtg: +7.7 (1)
Cameron Johnson is 24-for-41 (59%) from 3-point range since the All-Star break, with the highlight being his buzzer-beating game-winner against the Knicks on Friday. He now ranks third in the league in 3-point percentage for the season at 44.8%, up from 34.9% last season. That’s the biggest jump among 151 players with at least 150 3-point attempts in each of the last two seasons. Almost all (147/159) of his 3s have come off the catch, but the absences of Chris Paul and Devin Booker have put the ball in Johnson’s hands a little more, and he had a couple of intriguing assists (one, two) off dribble hand-offs against Portland on Wednesday.
The Suns were without Paul, Booker and Johnson in Milwaukee on Sunday. They still led for most of the afternoon, before the Bucks scored 30 points on their final 15 possessions of the game. The Phoenix offense has held up better than the defense without Paul, and the Suns’ last two losses (vs. Utah, at Milwaukee) have been two of their three worst defensive performances of the season.
Booker’s status for the Suns’ Florida back-to-back (Tuesday and Wednesday) is TBD. Their first meeting with the Heat (Jan. 8) was their second worst loss of the season.
Week 21: @ ORL, @ MIA, vs. TOR, vs. LAL
Pace: 96.4 (29) OffRtg: 112.3 (9) DefRtg: 107.4 (5) NetRtg: +4.9 (5)
The Heat strengthened their hold on the No. 1 seed in the East, going 3-1 last week against other East contenders. They held the four opponents to just 105.4 points per 100 possessions over the four games, climbing into the top five in defensive efficiency for the first time since November. The Heat have 18 top-10 finishes on defense (second behind the Spurs’ 20) in the 25 seasons for which we have play-by-play data, but it’s been 10 years (2011-12) since they finished in the top five.
Of course, the Heat probably should have gone 4-0 last week. They gave away their game in Milwaukee on Wednesday, blowing what was a 14-point lead with six minutes left and scoring just six points (with five turnovers) over their final 15 possessions. The Heat are 19-12 (fourth best) in games that were within five points in the last five minutes, but they have the league’s 26th-ranked clutch offense (100.0 points scored per 100 possessions). They’ve shot relatively well (36.5%) on clutch 3s, but rank 27th in clutch field goal percentage in the paint (45.3%) and 28th in clutch turnover rate (15.4 per 100 possessions). This is the fourth straight season that they’re in the bottom 10 in clutch offense, having ranked last both last season and in 2018-19.
Their win over the Sixers on Saturday was the start of a stretch where the Heat are playing 11 of 12 games at home. Tougher games are coming later in the week, but Victor Oladipo is expected to return from an 11-month absence when they host the Rockets on Monday.
Week 21: vs. HOU, vs. PHX, vs. CLE, vs. MIN
Pace: 97.3 (24) OffRtg: 111.2 (16) DefRtg: 105.6 (2) NetRtg: +5.6 (4)
It’s been a few weeks since the Celtics’ defense held their opponent under a point per possession, but they have the league’s fourth-ranked offense since the All-Star break. They’ve scored 199 points on 145 possessions (1.37 per) over their last three halves of basketball, with Jayson Tatum having scored 81 the 199 points over those 72 minutes. He was absolutely dominant in scoring 54 against Brooklyn on Sunday afternoon, hitting step-back 3-pointers and making tough drives to the rim. But he also made all the right plays down the stretch, getting off the ball when the Nets came with a double-team. All six of Tatum’s games of 50 or more points (including Play-In and playoffs) have come in the last 11 months, and the last four have come against Brooklyn and Washington. (The Celtics play the Wizards again in April.)
The Celtics have won the last 12 games in which they’ve had their full starting lineup (which has outscored their opponents by 28.1 points per 100 possessions over that stretch) and the last 13 games in which they’ve been rested (not playing the second game of a back-to-back). They were without Jaylen Brown (ankle sprain) for all but three minutes of their games against Atlanta and Memphis last week, but came back from 17 points down against the Hawks and (as noted above) just eviscerated the Grizzlies’ defense in the second half.
The Cs are still in fifth place in the East, two games in the loss column behind both Milwaukee and Chicago. They have an easier remaining schedule than both of those teams, though only six of their 16 remaining games are against teams currently under .500. Two of those six are Wednesday and Friday.
Week 21: @ CHA, vs. DET, vs. DAL
Pace: 100.1 (8) OffRtg: 113.2 (6) DefRtg: 108.8 (8) NetRtg: +4.3 (6)
The Grizzlies’ week began with Ja Morant scoring a career-high 52 points, with two of the best plays of the year — the dunk and the buzzer-beater — in the span of about five minutes (real time). The dunk was two of his 34 points in the paint, the most for any player in a game this season. In fact, in the 26 seasons for which points in the paint have been tracked, only Shaquille O’Neal (12 times), Shareef Abdur-Rahim (38 in 2001), DeMarcus Cousins (38 in 2016) and Julius Randle (36 in 2019) have had more points in the paint in a single game. (Other players have also had 34.)
The Grizzlies’ week ended with a loss in Houston, with the Rockets (who had lost their previous 12 games) scoring 71 points on 48 possessions in the second half on Sunday. Morant was 3-for-10 in the paint in that same second half, struggling to finish against Christian Wood and company.
The Grizzlies should still be favored to finish second in the West. They have an easier remaining schedule than the Warriors, who have obviously struggled a lot more than the Grizzlies over the last month. But the Memphis defense has allowed more than 118 points per 100 possessions four times in the last three weeks, having done so just once in the previous 11. And their second game in a stretch of 10 straight against teams currently below .500 was, arguably, their worst loss since November. So their game against the improved Pelicans on Tuesday should be a good test of the Grizzlies’ ability to bounce back and keep their foot on the gas.
Week 21: vs. NOP, vs. NYK, @ OKC
Pace: 98.2 (19) OffRtg: 112.4 (8) DefRtg: 109.5 (11) NetRtg: +2.9 (10)
Maybe Nikola Jokic was losing a little steam in the MVP race. Three nights after he scored a season-low eight points in Portland, he registered a season-worst minus-27 in an eight-point loss to Oklahoma City. Two nights after that, Jokic took a day off and the Nuggets didn’t need him to beat Houston, with DeMarcus Cousins filling in and scoring 31 points in less than 24 minutes. With a clank in the first quarter against the Pelicans on Sunday, Jokic had missed 13 straight 3-point attempts.
But when he checked out with 3:50 to go in the third quarter (with the Nuggets up one), he had 16 points, eight rebounds, eight assists, two steals and three blocks in a little more than 27 minutes. And when checked back in with 10:23 left in the fourth, there was still work to do, because the Nuggets had fallen behind by eight points. (They gotta play the hits, after all.) So Jokic proceeded to score 30 points over the final 15 minutes of game time, shooting 10-for-11 from the field and 9-for-9 from the line, adding four more rebounds, three more assists, another steal and another block. The Nuggets won in overtime, handing the Pels their first post-break defeat and remaining just a game in the loss column behind the fifth-place Mavs. It was a signature performance (46, 12, 11, three and four) for the ‘ol MVP resume.
Having won the season series, Dallas has the head-to-head tiebreaker. The Nuggets have the worst record (4-10) in games between the top six teams in the West. They have just four games remaining within the group and two of the four are this week (Monday and Thursday) against the Warriors, who account for two of the Nuggets’ four wins. Both are the second games of back-to-backs for Denver, though the Warriors are the team resting guys (including Stephen Curry) on Monday. Of course, given that the Nuggets are coming off an overtime game, it wouldn’t be a big surprise if they did the same.
Week 21: vs. GSW, @ SAC, vs. GSW, vs. TOR
Pace: 96.4 (28) OffRtg: 111.7 (11) DefRtg: 109.2 (9) NetRtg: +2.5 (11)
The Sixers remain undefeated (4-0) with James Harden, who’s been ridiculously efficient offensively over the four games, registering an effective field goal percentage of 71.4% and shooting 90% on more than 10 free throw attempts per game. Tyrese Maxey (league-best 17-for-26 from 3-point range since the break) has been nearly as efficient and the Sixers (even with Tobias Harris giving away advantages) have scored more than 136 points per 100 possessions in 92 total minutes with the two guards on the floor with Joel Embiid.
The Sixers came back from 21 points down against Cleveland on Friday, but lost in Miami (their least efficient offensive performance since mid-December) without Harden the following night. (Their one remaining game against the Heat is also the second game of a back-to-back.) Both the Sixers and their opponents played quite a bit of zone in both games, and through Sunday, only the Celtics and Raptors have had more zone played against them than the Sixers, according to Synergy tracking. Their 0.94 points per possession against zone ranks 18th among the 28 teams who’ve played at least 100 possessions against it.
Ben Simmons won’t be in uniform when the Sixers host the Nets on Thursday, but it should be a fun matchup anyway. All three meetings so far have been within five points in the last five minutes, with Brooklyn having scored 32 points on 22 clutch possessions and winning two of the three.
Week 21: vs. CHI, vs. BKN, @ ORL
Pace: 95.8 (30) OffRtg: 111.3 (15) DefRtg: 107.8 (6) NetRtg: +3.6 (7)
At the time, the Dallas-Washington trade, with both Spencer Dinwiddie and Davis Bertans struggling with the Wizards, seemed to be more about contracts than on-the-floor production. But the best version of Dinwiddie is one that could really help the Mavs, and so far, they’ve gotten the best version of Dinwiddie. Over his seven games in Dallas, he’s averaged 17.6 points on an effective field goal percentage of 63.8% and with an assist/turnover ratio of 3.60. And on Saturday, he led the Mavs to a comeback win (over Sacramento) without Luka Doncic, scoring 36 points, with 13 of those 36 coming in the fourth quarter.
Dorian Finney-Smith hit the corner-3 game-winner off a great feed from Jalen Brunson and is now 23-for-42 (55%) from 3-point range over the Mavs’ last seven games. For the season, he’s one of four players who’ve shot 40% or better on at least 50 attempts from both corners. Brunson, meanwhile, is 24-for-41 (59%) from beyond the arc over the last 11 games.
The Mavs have won nine of their last 11 games that were within five points in the last five minutes, though the win over the Kings on Saturday was their first clutch victory (they were previously 0-8) without Doncic. They’re 7-9 without him overall, with one of those (clutch) losses having come in Utah. Doncic shot just 8-for-24 in their other game against the Jazz, but the Mavs lost the two games by a total of just nine points. They’re now a game and a half behind the fourth-place Jazz, and they’ll have a rest advantage in Dallas on Monday (meeting No. 3 of four).
Week 21: vs. UTA, vs. NYK, @ HOU, @ BOS
Pace: 97.9 (21) OffRtg: 115.9 (1) DefRtg: 109.8 (13) NetRtg: +6.1 (3)
The Jazz are 10-2 (only the Celtics have been better) since Feb. 1 and have post-break wins over the Mavs and Suns. But they’re not exactly in destroy-everything-in-their-path mode. They barely escaped Houston with a win on Wednesday and they were clobbered in New Orleans on Friday. That New Orleans loss came with Mike Conley and Bojan Bogdanovic combining to shoot 1-for-10 from 3-point range, two nights after Conley made two straight 3-pointers in overtime against the Rockets and two nights before Bogdanovic set a franchise record with 11 3s in Oklahoma City. It remains a make-or-miss league.
Of course, the Jazz could better insure against misses with improved defense. Even over this 10-2 stretch, the Jazz rank just eighth defensively, and that’s with seven of the 12 games having come against teams that rank in the bottom 10 on offense. Only the Lakers (+3.9) and Knicks (+2.8) have seen bigger jumps in points allowed per 100 possessions than the Jazz, who’ve allowed 2.3 more than they did last season. Rudy Gobert missing 14 games has something to do with that, but the Jazz have seen an even bigger jump (from 100.9 to 104.9) in Gobert’s minutes on the floor, and the league average has dropped by 1.3 per 100.
The Jazz are still playing well enough to move up a spot or two in the Western Conference standings. But their visit to Dallas on Monday is about protecting fourth place and (with the Mavs rested and the Jazz having played in Oklahoma City on Sunday) finally getting a win in a rest-disadvantage game. They’re 0-6 (the 0-10 Rockets are the only other winless team) in rest-disadvantage games thus far, and they’ll have another (against the Kings) later in the week.
Week 21: @ DAL, vs. POR, @ SAS, vs. SAC
Pace: 100.3 (6) OffRtg: 113.2 (4) DefRtg: 109.7 (12) NetRtg: +3.5 (8)
The Bucks are the only team the Nets have beat in the last 18 days, but the champs have responded to that loss with four straight wins. Victories over the Heat and Bulls last week have them still very much in the mix for one of the top two seeds in the East. The Bucks have scored more than 122 points per 100 possessions over the winning streak, with Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton all averaging at least 24 points and 4.5 assists.
The Milwaukee offense has been most efficient in the fourth quarter, allowing them to come back from late deficits against Miami, Chicago and Phoenix. Prior to Wednesday, the Bucks were 2-24 in games they trailed by at least five points in the fourth quarter. Now, they’re 5-24. Holiday hit the game-winner against the Heat, scored 10 points in the final five minutes against the Bulls, and had 17 in the fourth quarter against the Suns. The Bucks are 18-16 in games that were within five points in the last five minutes, 17-9 with Holiday (having outscored their opponents by 27.3 points per 100 clutch possessions with him on the floor) and 1-7 without him.
The Bucks’ defense still isn’t playing at a championship level. They’re three games into a stretch where they’re playing nine of 12 against teams that rank in the top 10 offensively, and they’ve allowed more than 120 points per 100 possessions in losing their first two games against the second-ranked Hawks. The third and final meeting is Wednesday in Milwaukee.
Week 21: @ OKC, vs. ATL, @ GSW
Pace: 98.9 (16) OffRtg: 111.8 (10) DefRtg: 105.5 (1) NetRtg: +6.3 (2)
The Warriors’ slide continues, and they’ve now lost eight of their last 10 games, with the only two wins having come against the Lakers (who got some revenge on Saturday) and the Blazers (who don’t seem particularly interested in winning games right now). The Warriors rank 28th defensively, with only Houston and Portland having allowed more points per 100 possessions, over that stretch. And while the last three have all shot 40% or better from 3-point range, their opponents have seen a bigger jump in effective field goal percentage in the paint (53.0% through their first 54 games, 60.5% over the last 10) than they have outside the paint (46.9%, 53.5%).
The Warriors were so good on that end of the floor with Draymond Green that it wasn’t until Saturday (when LeBron James dropped 56 on ’em) when they finally fell out of the top spot in defensive efficiency for the season. And with the Celtics’ win over Brooklyn on Sunday being an offense-only affair, the Warriors are back in the No. 1 spot for the time being. The Grizzlies’ loss in Houston on Sunday also put them back in second place in the West, though Memphis has a much easier schedule over the next couple of weeks.
A postponement from late December has the Warriors making two separate trips to Denver this week. They’ll have a rest advantage in both games against the Nuggets, but Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson (9-for-30 shooting in two games last week), Andrew Wiggins (38% from the field, 4-for-13 from the line over the last six games) and Gary Payton II won’t be playing on Monday.
Week 21: @ DEN, vs. LAC, @ DEN, vs. MIL
Pace: 99.1 (13) OffRtg: 113.2 (5) DefRtg: 111.8 (20) NetRtg: +1.4 (13)
When 6-foot-5 Javonte Green was matched up with Danilo Gallinari on Thursday, it was a reminder of how short the Bulls’ starting power forward was. But it’s not clear that starting (as they did on Friday) or closing (as they did in each of their last two games) with Tristan Thompson at power forward is the solution. The Bulls struggled to get stops down the stretch of their losses in Atlanta and Milwaukee, allowing 30 points on 17 clutch possessions. And they’ve allowed 62 points on 45 defensive possessions (1.38 per) in 21 total minutes with Thompson and Nikola Vucevic on the floor together.
The Bulls have lost four straight overall. After losses to the Heat and Bucks last week, the Bulls are now 1-13 against the seven teams ahead of them in the league-wide standings. Their offense (104.7 points scored per 100 possessions) has suffered more than their defense in those games, and a lack of free throws was an issue last week. In fact, the last three games have been the fifth, sixth and seventh times that the Bulls have been outscored by double-digits from the free throw line.
Now they get to the play the Sixers, who have already handed the Bulls three losses, even though DeMar DeRozan has averaged 35.7 points on a true shooting percentage of 65% over the three games. The Bulls have lost nine of their last 12 road games and are just three games into a stretch where they’re playing 12 of 15 away from the United Center.
Week 21: @ PHI, @ DET, vs. CLE
Pace: 101.0 (3) OffRtg: 112.5 (7) DefRtg: 110.4 (15) NetRtg: +2.1 (12)
The Wolves’ first six games out of the All-Star break were three back-to-backs, with two-day breaks in between. Prior to last Monday, they had lost the second game in five straight back-to-backs. But they swept both back-to-backs last week, scoring 129 points per 100 possessions over the four games. This was a bottom-10 offensive team through the first 13 weeks (43 games) of the season, but it’s been No. 1 (by a healthy margin) over the seven weeks since then. That improvement has come with jumps from the bottom 10 to the top 10 in effective field goal percentage (21st, second), free throw rate (25th, sixth) and turnover rate (27th, sixth).
Anthony Edwards (left knee issue) played in only one of the Wolves’ four games last week, but seven other Wolves have averaged double-figures over the winning streak. They’re led by Karl-Anthony Towns (28.0 points per game), who has shot an amazing 36-for-44 (82%) in the paint. The Wolves’ biggest win last week was against Golden State on Tuesday, when Towns was on the attack early (lefty hook shot!) and often, scoring 39 points in just 32 minutes.
The Wolves still have a shot at a top-six seed. They’re within 2 1/2 games of the sixth-place Nuggets, and they have a slightly easier remaining schedule (with one head-to-head matchup). The easiest stretch of that easier remaining schedule is their next three games, and their two games in Florida this weekend are their final back-to-back of the season.
Week 21: vs. POR, vs. OKC, @ ORL, @ MIA
Pace: 96.9 (25) OffRtg: 110.0 (19) DefRtg: 106.5 (4) NetRtg: +3.4 (9)
The Cavs’ loss in Philadelphia on Friday dropped them to 1-6 over their last seven games, having allowed more than 127 points per 100 possessions over their second three-game losing streak of the last few weeks. But, even though they blew a 21-point lead, the game was a clear step forward. They outscored the Sixers, 50-30, in the restricted area and Darius Garland (in his second game back from a three-game absence) dished out a career-high 19 assists, aggressively attacking mismatches, drawing help, and dropping dimes to his teammates.
Two nights later, the Cavs got a win, holding Toronto under a point per possession and outscoring the Raps, 50-32, in the restricted area. The win improved Cleveland to 9-6 (only the Celtics and Sixers have been better) in games played between the top seven teams in the East. But it came with a cost, as Jarrett Allen suffered a broken finger in the first half.
The Cavs certainly have more depth up front than they have in the backcourt, and they’ve outscored their opponents by 1.5 points per 100 possessions in 766 total minutes with Evan Mobley on the floor without Allen (Kevin Love has been on the floor for 68% of those minutes). But two bouncy bigs are better than one and Allen has more polish offensively than the rookie, who still has some rough moments on that end of the floor.
The Cavs still have seven games within the top seven in the East, and two of them are a back-to-back in Miami and Chicago on Friday and Saturday. They’re 2-0 against the Heat, having held them under a point per possession over the two wins.
Week 21: @ IND, @ MIA, @ CHI
Pace: 99.0 (14) OffRtg: 107.7 (26) DefRtg: 108.3 (7) NetRtg: -0.6 (18)
Their was no comeback against the Knicks on Sunday as the Clippers’ five-game winning streak (and the Knicks’ seven-game losing streak) came to an end. And the winning streak included just one comeback from a double-digit deficit. But the Clips still some wild runs earlier last week. They had a four-point lead early in the third quarter in Houston on Tuesday before outscoring the Rockets, 44-19, over the next 11 minutes. And another four-point, early-third-quarter lead turned into a 27-point cushion with a 23-0 run against the Lakers two nights later.
The Clips have now won their last seven games against that other L.A. team, with Thursday’s victory concluding a season sweep. And while the Clips rank 26th offensively overall, they’ve had the most efficient offense against the Lakers (120.1 points scored per 100 possessions) among the 23 teams that have faced them more than once. Their 17-for-27 (63%) from 3-point range on Thursday is tied for the best mark for any team in a game this season. Reggie Jackson accounted for just four of those 17 makes, but took 30 shots (!) total, three more than he’s ever launched in a game. (The game in which he took 27 shots went to quadruple overtime.)
The Clips have one stretch of five games in seven nights on their post-break schedule, and it begins Tuesday in San Francisco with their fourth and final meeting against the Warriors. Golden State won the first two games of the season series, but the February meeting was a more effective shooting night for the Clippers than they had Thursday.
Week 21: @ GSW, vs. WAS, @ ATL, @ DET
Pace: 98.5 (18) OffRtg: 114.3 (2) DefRtg: 113.4 (27) NetRtg: +0.9 (15)
Only two games separate eighth place (from where a team would only need to win one Play-In game) from 11th place (out of the Play-In) in the East. The Hawks are playing the best of the four teams in that mix, having won five of their last seven games. The Atlanta offense has been rather ridiculous (122.6 points scored per 100 possessions) over that stretch, with Trae Young averaging more than 30 points per game. He’s one of three Hawks shooting better than 40% on more than 35 3-point attempts over the seven-game stretch.
The Hawks have also done a terrific job of taking care of the ball. In their wins over the Bulls and Wizards on Thursday and Friday, the Hawks (10) committed 18 fewer turnovers than their opponents (28), while also attempting 46 more free throws (62-16). Their defense remains in the bottom five overall, but it actually ranks in the top five in two of the four factors: Opponent free throw rate (fourth) and defensive rebounding percentage (fifth).
The Hawks have two rest-advantage games left on their schedule, and they’re both this week, with the Bucks and Pacers both playing the night before their meetings with Atlanta. The Hawks’ visit to Detroit on Monday is an opportunity to get back to .500 for the first time since they were 14-14 on Dec. 17.
Week 21: @ DET, @ MIL, vs. LAC, vs. IND
Pace: 96.7 (26) OffRtg: 111.0 (17) DefRtg: 110.1 (14) NetRtg: +0.9 (14)
The Raptors have lost three straight games and seven of their last 10, with the league’s 28th-ranked offense (105.9 points scored per 100 possessions) over that extended stretch. Pascal Siakam had a couple of good shooting games last week (23-for-35 in a back-to-back), but they came in losses (at home) to the Pistons and Magic. And his post-break effective field goal percentage (42.9%) ranks 97th among 106 players with at least 50 field goal attempts. Gary Trent’s (35.0%) ranks 105th.
But the Raptors just finished a stretch where they played seven games (with three back-to-backs) in 10 days. They’ve been without OG Anunoby since the break and were without Fred VanVleet for all of their five-game Week 20. They have a top-10 post-break defense and their two post-break wins came in their two most important games, a home-and-home back-to-back with the Nets. Scottie Barnes totaled 46 points (on 20-for-27 shooting), 26 rebounds (12 on the offensive glass), eight assists, six steals and two blocks over the two games.
Their loss in Cleveland on Sunday hurts their chances at a top-six seed, but the wins over Brooklyn have the Raptors still somewhat comfortable in seventh place. They now have a couple of days off before their six-game trip resumes in San Antonio on Wednesday. VanVleet was originally listed as “questionable” for the Cleveland game, so he could make his return this week.
Week 21: @ SAS, @ PHX, @ DEN
Pace: 101.1 (2) OffRtg: 111.7 (12) DefRtg: 111.9 (21) NetRtg: -0.1 (17)
The Hornets continue to have issues on the glass. In their second and third games out of the All-Star break, they allowed the Pistons and Bucks (last Monday) to total 39 offensive rebounds and 42 second-chance points. As they tried to close out San Antonio on Saturday, the Spurs had six offensive boards in the fourth quarter. Charlotte ranks 27th in defensive rebounding percentage (70.7%), in the bottom five for the third straight season. The addition of Montrezl Harrell hasn’t helped in that regard, with the Hornets having secured less than 68% of available defensive boards with him on the floor.
But they managed to hold on against San Antonio, with the Spurs missing their last 11 3-point attempts and with the Hornets going 14-for-14 from the free throw line in the fourth quarter. It was their first clutch win since Jan. 28, which was also the last time they had won two straight games. Terry Rozier has totaled 58 points (shooting 11-for-17 from 3-point range) and 13 assists over their current, two-game winning streak. The Hornets had some rough offensive performances going into the break, but they’ve come out of the break scoring 117.5 points per 100 possessions (ninth best) over their five games.
The Hornets are now in a virtual tie with both Brooklyn and Atlanta for the eighth, ninth, and 10th spots in the East, set to play a huge game against the Nets on Tuesday. The two teams haven’t faced each other since the first week of the season, when the Hornets won in Brooklyn.
Week 21: vs. BKN, vs. BOS, @ NOP
Pace: 99.2 (11) OffRtg: 111.3 (14) DefRtg: 112.2 (23) NetRtg: -0.9 (19)
The Nets beat the champs in Milwaukee, but lost the other five games in their post-break stretch of six straight games against the seven teams that were ahead of them in the East standings. And now, there’s an eighth. The 1-5 stretch has dropped them to 32-33, in a tie with the Hornets, who have a 1-0 head-to-head advantage. Suddenly, the biggest game of the Nets’ season is Tuesday in Charlotte, with the Hornets having rediscovered their offense over their last two games.
That could be a problem for a defense that ranks 29th since the All-Star break, having allowed 122.6 points allowed per 100 possessions over those six games. All four opponents (they lost to Boston and Toronto twice each) have been good teams, but only two have had top-10 offenses. And one of those (the Heat) was playing without three starters. Jayson Tatum went off on Sunday, but the Nets also allowed him plenty of space (giving up on plays before they were done) as he drained eight 3s. Ben Simmons would give this team a huge boost, but it’s still not clear when he’ll be available (certainly not by Thursday) and he can’t solve all the Nets’ problems on that end of the floor.
The good news is that Kevin Durant has (again) returned from an extended absence looking unaffected by his injury or rust, shooting 16-for-26 (62%) inside the arc, even though only two of those 26 attempts have come at the rim. The other good news is that the Charlotte game is the start of an easier stretch of schedule, four of six games against teams (like the Nets) currently under .500. The Nets are 14-2 against that group with Durant in uniform, though one of those two losses was the one to the Hornets (in Week 1).
Week 21: @ CHA, @ PHI, vs. NYK
Pace: 97.8 (22) OffRtg: 109.7 (21) DefRtg: 110.9 (18) NetRtg: -1.1 (20)
The Pelicans suffered their first post-break loss on Sunday, but losing in overtime in Denver (with Nikola Jokic needing to score 30 points over the final 14 minutes) isn’t much of a step backward. Even with that outburst from the MVP, the Pels have the league’s top-ranked post-break defense, having allowed just 101.4 points per 100 possessions over their five games. Willie Green and his staff must have had a productive All-Star break, because the Pels’ last five games before the break were their worst defensive stretch (119.4 allowed per 100) since early December, and their first five games after the break have been their best defensive stretch since late November. And three of those opponents – Phoenix (minus Chris Paul), Utah and Denver – are teams that rank in the top eight offensively.
It’s been a good five games for the Pelicans’ own offense, too. Brandon Ingram and CJ McCollum have combined to average 53.2 points (on an effective field goal percentage of 61%) and 14 assists over the five games. Interestingly, though they’ve each assisted on a lot of buckets, they’ve both seen drops in the percentage of their own field goals that have been assisted, with both of their marks under 40% since the break.
The Pels face another top-10 offense on Tuesday, with their last meeting against the Grizzlies having come in that pre-break stretch of bad defense. Then they’ll play 12 of their next 15 games against teams that currently have losing records, a stretch that includes two games against the ninth-place Lakers.
Week 21: @ MEM, vs. ORL, vs. CHA, vs. HOU
Pace: 100.3 (5) OffRtg: 108.7 (24) DefRtg: 110.7 (17) NetRtg: -2.0 (21)
LeBron James remains a marvel. At the age of 37, he’s averaging 28.8 points per 36 minutes, the highest mark in his 19 seasons. And that was the case before he scored 56 points (tied for the third biggest scoring game of his career) against the Warriors on Saturday, with 20 of the 56 coming in the restricted area and 18 coming from beyond the arc. James’ teammates were solid too, and it was the Lakers’ most efficient offensive performance (124 points on 103 possessions) in almost two months (since Jan. 7).
It was also a big win, and it showed why the Lakers will have a chance to reach the playoffs no matter where they land in the Play-In tournament. Of course, it will take more consistency to win an actual playoff series, so we’ll see where the Lakers go from here. They got a big win over Utah going into the All-Star break, and they came out of the break with four straight losses. It’s now been exactly two months since they got two straight wins.
The Lakers still have work to do to secure a Play-In spot. They’re just a game and a half ahead of the 10th-place Pelicans and are fortunate that the 11th-place Blazers and 12th-place Spurs are a combined 1-8 since the All-Star break. With the final meeting on Monday, they’re 2-1 against San Antonio, though the last meeting (Dec. 23) was one of the Lakers’ worst defensive games of the season. They have seven games remaining against teams currently under .500, and three of those seven are in the next five days.
Week 21: @ SAS, @ HOU, vs. WAS, @ PHX
Pace: 97.5 (23) OffRtg: 109.9 (20) DefRtg: 112.3 (24) NetRtg: -2.4 (23)
The Wizards lost a big game to the Hawks on Friday, never able to come all the way back from an early deficit. But they remain in the race for a Play-In spot, just two games behind Charlotte, Brooklyn and Atlanta. Plus, they now have Kristaps Porzingis, who made his debut on Sunday and scored 25 points in a little more than 21 minutes in a win over Indiana. He played exclusively at the five (Thomas Bryant was DNP’d) and he had more free throw attempts in those 21 minutes (10) than the Wizards had as a team two nights earlier (9).
Porzingis’ first bucket on Sunday (on the first possession of the game) was assisted by Kyle Kuzma, who has averaged 4.3 minutes of possession and a team-high 6.4 assists over the 10 games since the Wizards traded Spencer Dinwiddie, up from 2.4 minutes and 2.8 assists prior to that. Over those 10 games, the Wizards have scored 11.0 more points per 100 possessions with Kuzma on the floor (117.5) than they have with him on the bench (106.5).
The Wizards have potentially big games in Atlanta and Charlotte in the final week of the season, but they have more games remaining against the West (10) than they have against the East (9). They’ve lost their last six against the opposite conference, set to begin a four-game trip in L.A. on Wednesday.
Week 21: @ LAC, @ LAL, @ POR
Pace: 96.4 (27) OffRtg: 108.4 (25) DefRtg: 110.6 (16) NetRtg: -2.2 (22)
We were all thinking the same thing late Sunday night when the Knicks led the Clippers by 19 points at halftime. Over the previous 30 days, New York had led nine of its 11 games by double digits … and lost eight of those nine, with three defeats in games they led by more than 20 points. The Clippers, meanwhile, were the comeback kings, with twice as many wins (4) as any other team in games they trailed by 20 or more. But the Knicks built on the lead in the third quarter and never let the game get interesting, ending their longest losing streak of the season (seven games) with one of their three most decisive victories. They have five wire-to-wire wins this season, and two of the five have come against the Clippers (who have five wire-to-wire defeats).
RJ Barrett led six Knicks in double-figures with 24 points, and now has scored 20 or more in each of his five games since the All-Star break. He hasn’t shot particularly well from the field – his post-break effective field goal percentage of 46.4% ranks 86th among 106 players with at least 50 field goal attempts – but he’s been getting to the line a ton. Barrett’s free throw rate of 51 attempts per 100 shots from the field (57/111) ranks sixth among those 106 players and is up from 30 per 100 before the break.
The Knicks are now 12-13 against the Western Conference, and they’re 5-2 against the Mavs since they traded Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. to Dallas. Their final meeting of the season is Wednesday.
Week 21: @ SAC, @ DAL, @ MEM, @ BKN
Pace: 100.1 (7) OffRtg: 109.5 (22) DefRtg: 114.3 (28) NetRtg: -4.8 (25)
De’Aaron Fox is on a pretty incredible run, having made at least half his shots in 14 of his last 15 games, a stretch capped by a 44-point performance in Dallas on Saturday. Improvement has come both in and outside the paint; Fox’s 70.8% in the restricted area over that stretch is fourth among 28 guards with at least 75 attempts, and 49.1% from mid-range over those 15 games has his season-long mid-range percentage at a career-best 46.1%.
Alas, that 44-point performance came in a loss in which the Kings blew a 19-point lead and guaranteed themselves a losing record for the 16th straight season. They picked up a couple of wins last week, but their best opportunity in regard to the Play-In race was Wednesday in New Orleans … and they lost by 30 points, scoring a paltry 34 points on 48 possessions in the second half. With 16 games to go, the Kings are now four games behind the 10th-place Pelicans.
Having just completed a road-heavy stretch, the Kings will play six of their next seven games at home. But after hosting the Knicks on Monday, they’re playing six straight against teams that are at least 10 games over .500. The Kings 3-23 against that group thus far, including 0-6 against the two good teams — Denver and Utah — they face this week.
Week 21: vs. NYK, vs. DEN, @ UTA
Pace: 100.5 (4) OffRtg: 111.3 (13) DefRtg: 111.4 (19) NetRtg: -0.0 (16)
Coach Gregg Popovich remains one win shy of tying Don Nelson at the top of the all-time list, because the Spurs have lost four straight games. Three of the four losses have been within five points in the last five minutes, but the Spurs are now a brutal 9-21 (only the Pacers have been worse) in clutch games. They have the Western Conference’s eighth best point differential, but are now three games behind the 10th-place Pelicans. Prior to last season, the Spurs had never missed the playoffs in two straight years. Now, they’re looking good for a third straight trip to the Lottery.
Josh Richardson (who still has a year left on his contract) has played less than 12 total minutes over the last three games (he was DNP’d on Saturday), confirmation that the Derrick White trade was mostly about moving Devin Vassell and Josh Primo up in the depth chart. The Spurs’ new starting lineup (with Vassell in White’s place) has scored more than 125 points per 100 possessions in its 105 minutes since the trade (Keldon Johnson scored a career-high 33 points on Saturday), though Primo’s minutes have been a little rough. He certainly needs to be stronger defensively.
The Spurs are one of five teams with a better record on the road (13-21) than they have at home (11-19). Eleven of their final 18 games are at the AT&T Center, with a seven-game homestand beginning Monday.
Week 21: vs. LAL, vs. TOR, vs. UTA, vs. IND
Pace: 98.6 (17) OffRtg: 108.9 (23) DefRtg: 114.5 (29) NetRtg: -5.7 (26)
After they wrap up their four-game trip this week, the Blazers will have 15 straight games against teams that currently have losing records. That would be a heck of an opportunity to get back into Play-In position … if the Blazers were interested. Josh Hart missed their game in Minnesota on Saturday for rest, even though the Blazers hadn’t played since Wednesday and weren’t playing again until Monday.
After scoring an anemic 91.7 points per 100 possessions over their first three games out of the break, the Blazers scored 121 on 98 on Saturday. A guy with no profile picture (Brandon Williams) scored 21 points off the bench, showing an ability to get to the bucket off the dribble. Anfernee Simons caught fire from beyond the arc and scored more points (38) than he did in his previous two games combined (27). Simons has seen the league’s second biggest jump in points per game (from 7.8 to 17.3) among 331 players who’ve played in at least 25 games in each of the last two seasons. He’s also seen the fourth biggest jump in assists per game (from 1.4 to 3.9) among that same group, and his continued development as a playmaker will be something to watch over the final five weeks of the season.
Despite the offensive outburst in Minnesota, the Blazers are 0-4 since the All-Star break, having allowed a league-worst 126.2 points per 100 possessions over the four games. Their next two games are the end of a stretch where they will have played eight straight against teams that currently rank in the top 10 offensively.
Week 21: @ MIN, @ UTA, vs. WAS
Pace: 99.2 (12) OffRtg: 102.3 (30) DefRtg: 109.5 (10) NetRtg: -7.2 (27)
Only Kevin Durant, Jayson Tatum and Ja Morant have averaged more points per game since the All-Star break than Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (33.3), who’s scored at least 29 points in all six of his post-break games. SGA had a brief dalliance with good 3-point shooting (6-for-8 over two games) early last week, but has done most of his work inside, averaging as many points in the paint (18.3) as Morant since the break and doing it with much better shooting (64% vs. 52%).
Even with Gilgeous-Alexander attacking like Morant (with a little less altitude), only the Blazers and Magic have scored less efficiently than the Thunder (105.2 points per 100 possessions) since the break. Bad offense is not a new development, and OKC has been really shorthanded, playing without Josh Giddey for each of the last five games and without a few capable vets — Lu Dort, Mike Muscala and Kenrich Williams — since they came out of the break. Their rotation has included “Vit Krejci” and “Lindy Waters III.”
But those guys combined to shoot 5-for-8 from 3-point range as the Thunder got a win in Denver on Wednesday, scoring 119 points on 104 possessions. Each of the Thunder’s last five wins have come on the road and (with their top-10 defense) they’re now 9-4 when they’ve scored at least 110 points per 100 possessions.
Week 21: vs. MIL, @ MIN, vs. MEM
Pace: 99.0 (15) OffRtg: 104.0 (28) DefRtg: 113.1 (25) NetRtg: -9.1 (30)
The Pistons continue to play spoiler, with their 5-2 stretch including wins over the Celtics, Cavs, Hornets and Raptors. They’ve scored 113.5 points per 100 possessions over the seven games, up from 102.8 prior to that. Improved offense starts with improved shooting, but the Pistons have also seen a huge jump in offensive rebounding percentage, from 26.8% (17th) through their first 57 games to 34.5% (second) over their last seven. Isaiah Stewart has more offensive boards (34) than defensive boards (31) over that stretch.
All five wins (as well as their loss in Washington on Tuesday) have been within five points in the last five minutes, and the Pistons have held their opponents under a point per possession in the clutch over those six games. They lost double-digit leads to the Raptors and Pacers last week, but got big buckets from Saddiq Bey (a tough scoop shot in Toronto) and Cade Cunningham (with help from a Stewart “Gortat” screen) to pull out the two wins. Their clutch offense has been rather balanced, with Bey, Cunningham and Jerami Grant all getting their fair share of shots.
At 15-18 in games that were within five in the last five overall, the Pistons have more than twice as many clutch wins as they did last season (when they were a league-worst 7-25). Only Toronto has seen a bigger jump in clutch winning percentage.
Week 21: vs. ATL, vs. CHI, @ BOS, vs. LAC
Pace: 99.7 (10) OffRtg: 103.9 (29) DefRtg: 111.9 (22) NetRtg: -8.0 (28)
The Magic are on their way to a 10th straight season ranking in the bottom 10 in offensive efficiency, and their loss in Memphis on Saturday was the 23rd time this season that they’ve been held under a point per possession. They now rank in the bottom five in all four of the four factors on offense, which is rather amazing. No team has done that (over a full season) in the 25 (previous) years for which we have play-by-play data. One would think that, with their size on the frontline, they’d rank higher than 27th in offensive rebounding percentage.
But the Magic have a lot of guys who can defend. And as they won three of their first four games out of the All-Star break, they held their opponents to just 103.1 points per 100 possessions. Their defense has been much stronger in the paint than it’s been on the perimeter. In fact, no team has a smaller differential between their opponents’ field goal percentage in the paint (55.3%, 11th lowest) and their opponents’ effective field goal percentage on shots from outside the paint (51.9%, third highest). The Magic also rank fourth in defensive rebounding percentage since the break, even though four of their five games have come against the top three teams in offensive rebounding percentage for the season.
Markelle Fultz had some nice moments and totaled 27 points (shooting 9-for-13 in the paint) and 11 assists as he played his first 50 minutes of the season last week. He played only 11 of those 50 minutes alongside Cole Anthony (11) or Jalen Suggs (0).
Week 21: vs. PHX, @ NOP, vs. MIN, vs. PHI
Pace: 98.2 (20) OffRtg: 110.7 (18) DefRtg: 113.3 (26) NetRtg: -2.6 (24)
We’ve reached the 10-game mark of the Tyrese Haliburton era in Indiana. The second-year guard has averaged 18.6 points (on an effective field goal percentage of 60.1%) and 9.5 assists over the 10 games, but the Pacers have been 15.8 points per 100 possessions better with him off the floor (plus-9.4) than they’ve been with him on the floor (minus-6.4). When they came back from an 18-point deficit in Orlando on Wednesday, most of that comeback came with Malcolm Brogdon, Duane Washington Jr. and Buddy Hield in the backcourt. Indiana has been outscored by 13.7 points per 100 possessions in 119 minutes with Brogdon and Haliburton on the floor together.
The Pacers erased a 15-point deficit in Detroit on Friday, only to blow a late, six-point lead. They scored just eight points on 12 clutch possessions, with Haliburton settling for a long, pull-up 3 on a last-minute iso against Isaiah Stewart. And with their loss in Washington on Sunday (the third time in their last four games that they lost the third quarter by more than double-digits), they’re 6-8 within the bottom five in the East, with one game (vs. Detroit) remaining.
They continue to wait on Myles Turner. Isaiah Jackson had 16 points on 8-for-8 shooting in Orlando on Wednesday, but has 6.9 fouls per 36 minutes since the All-Star break, picking up four in 7:53 on Sunday.
Week 21: vs. CLE, @ SAS, @ ATL
Pace: 101.1 (1) OffRtg: 107.1 (27) DefRtg: 116.1 (30) NetRtg: -8.9 (29)
As the Rockets’ latest losing streak ran to 12 games, there were clear signs of progress … on offense, at least. Christian Wood shot better than 50% from the field and 40% from 3-point range over the streak, even totaling 10 assists against Utah and Denver last week. And as they pushed the Jazz to overtime on Wednesday, Jalen Green had one of his best games, scoring 27 points on 11-for-16 shooting, with much more polish to his game than he had early in the season. Of course, the defense was brutal, allowing 121 points per 100 possessions over the losing streak.
But the Rockets busted through against Memphis on Sunday, coming back from 14 points down and scoring 71 points on 48 second-half possessions against a top-10 defense. Wood had 28 points (on 8-for-12 shooting and 8-for-11 from the line) and 13 rebounds, also thwarting multiple Ja Morant drives in the second half. Green and Kevin Porter Jr., meanwhile, had their highest combined scoring output of the season, totaling 53 points, including 24 (on 12-for-18 shooting) in the paint. Since the All-Star break, the Rockets have outscored their opponents by 6.3 points per 100 possessions in 110 total minutes with Green, Porter and Wood on the floor together.
Week 21: @ MIA, vs. LAL, vs. DAL, @ NOP