Golden State is rising after completing 1 of its best 3-game win streaks since January.
This is a strange season in that it feels like the East is the better conference, with more teams that could possibly win the championship than the West.
But games played between the two conferences are tracked in this very space every week (see below), and since early December, the Western Conference has had the edge. Now, the East’s record this season (182-194, .484) is its third-best mark of the last 23 years, but the West still has the better record for the 22nd time in that span.
Of course, there are a lot of teams beyond the contenders. And the East’s overall winning percentage is hurt by the Detroit Pistons’ 4-22 record against the Western Conference.
But even if we focus at the top, the West is still best. Through Sunday, the top six teams in the West have a 34-23 (.596) record against the top six teams in the East. Only one of those East teams – Milwaukee (5-4) – has a winning record against the top six in the West, and all six have a negative point differential.
The East can help itself quite a bit this week, as we have eight matchups over the next seven days that feature one of the top six teams in the East facing one of the top six in the West. That includes both of ESPN’s games on Monday night: Denver vs. Philadelphia (7:30 p.m. ET) and Milwaukee vs. Utah (10 p.m. ET).
There will be two more (including Boston-Golden State) on Wednesday, three (including Chicago-Phoenix) on Friday, and another (Boston-Denver) on Sunday. Maybe there’s a Finals preview in there somewhere.
Plus-Minus Players of the Week
Teams of the Week
- Make It Last Forever: Toronto (3-0) — This is the good part of the roller coaster.
- Something Just Ain’t Right: Washington (0-3) — The first-six-games-after-the-break Blazers were maybe the worst team in NBA history. And then…
East vs. West
Schedule strength through Week 21
- Toughest: 1. Portland, 2. Houston, 3. Orlando
- Easiest: 1. Phoenix, 2. Philadelphia, 3. L.A. Lakers
- Schedule strength is based on cumulative opponent record, and adjusted for home vs. away and days of rest before a game.
Movement in the Rankings
- High jumps of the week: Golden State (+4), Brooklyn (+3)
- Free falls of the week: Denver (-3), LA Clippers (-3), Oklahoma City (-2), Utah (-2)
Week 22 Team to Watch
- Denver — We’ve got an MVP showdown on the schedule for Monday (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN), with Nikola Jokic and the Nuggets visiting Joel Embiid and the Sixers for what would be the first meeting of the two big men since December of 2019. After that, the Nuggets’ three-game trip continues through Washington (Wednesday) and Cleveland (Friday). Then they’ll return home for another fun, interconference matchup against the Celtics (Sunday).
Previous Power Rankings
Pace: Possessions per 48 minutes (League Rank)
OffRtg: Points scored per 100 possessions (League Rank)
DefRtg: Points allowed per 100 possessions (League Rank)
NetRtg: Point differential per 100 possessions (League Rank)
The league has averaged 98.7 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes and 110.6 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: 100.1 (9) OffRtg: 113.7 (4) DefRtg: 105.8 (2) NetRtg: +8.0 (1)
It takes longer to clinch a playoff spot these days, because you need to have a better record than the seventh place team (instead of the ninth place team) could possibly finish with. But the Suns clinched a playoff spot with 16 games left in the season, shutting down the Heat (allowing just 35 points on 48 possessions) in the second half in Miami on Wednesday. It was the second game of a back-to-back (against a rested opponent), but the Suns are now 8-3 in rest-disadvantage games, with wins in Minnesota, Brooklyn, Philadelphia and Miami, having held their opponents under a point per possession over those four games against good teams.
The Celtics weren’t the only team that jumped ahead of the Warriors in defensive efficiency last week. The Suns ranked sixth defensively last season and they’ve had the fifth most improved defense this year, allowing 4.6 fewer points per 100 possessions. They did let one get away against the Raptors on Friday, coming back from 16 points down, but then committing three back-breaking turnovers (that turned into three Toronto fast breaks) down the stretch. Playing without Chris Paul, the Suns are 3-3 in games that were within five points in the last five minutes since the All-Star break (they were 27-3 before it), having allowed 54 points on 45 clutch defensive possessions (1.20 per).
Having clobbered the Lakers on Sunday (and probably not fearing a first-round rematch), the Suns are back on the road, where they’ll play 10 of their final 14 games. Their visit to Houston on Wednesday is one of their three remaining rest-disadvantage games.
Week 22: @ NOP, @ HOU, vs. CHI, @ SAC
Pace: 96.6 (28) OffRtg: 112.1 (11) DefRtg: 107.5 (5) NetRtg: +4.6 (5)
Victor Oladipo made his season debut on Monday and his first 49 minutes back on the floor were pretty encouraging. He had 20 points (on 8-for-18 shooting) and nine assists (with just one turnover) on those 49 minutes. Markieff Morris then made his return from a four-month absence on Saturday, scoring six points in 17 minutes against Minnesota. Kyle Lowry also returned from a four-game absence last week, and the Heat improved to 19-6 with their full starting lineup, picking up wins over the Rockets and Cavs in which they scored more than 122 points per 100 possessions.
But Jimmy Butler missed their other two games last week, and the Heat scored less than a point per possession in losses to the Suns and Wolves. Gabe Vincent started in Butler’s place and shot 3-for-18 (including 1-for-10 from 3-point range) over the two losses. Lowry, meanwhile, totaled just 22 points in his 133 minutes last week, taking no more than four shots in his first three games back and shooting just 6-for-22 over the six days. He’s obviously more of a distributor with this team (and at the age of 35), but the Heat will need his scoring at some point. His usage rate (17.8%) is his lowest mark in the last 13 seasons (since the year he was traded from Memphis to Houston).
The Heat remain at the top of the Eastern Conference, and their seven-game homestand concludes with about as soft of a week as a team could possibly have. They’ll play games against the Pistons and Thunder, bracketed by three two-day breaks. Only the Suns (32-4) have a better record than the Heat (27-6, with 10 straight wins) against the 14 teams that currently have losing records.
Week 22: vs. DET, vs. OKC
Pace: 97.2 (24) OffRtg: 111.3 (15) DefRtg: 105.6 (1) NetRtg: +5.7 (4)
The Celtics’ loss to the Mavs on Sunday ended …
• A five-game winning streak, which was their best stretch of offense this season (121.8 points scored per 100 possessions), with Jayson Tatum averaging 39.8 points on an effective field goal percentage of 62.2%.
• A 14-game winning streak in games in which they’ve had their full starting lineup, with the lineup having outscored their opponents by 25.4 points per 100 possessions in 185 total minutes over the stretch.
• A 15-game winning streak in games in which they were rested (not playing the second game of a back-to-back).
They played only eight guys, but the Celtics scored just 51 points on 60 offensive possessions (0.85 per) with at least one reserve on the floor. Derrick White and Grant Williams combined to shoot 3-for-16, including 0-for-8 from 3-point range. Even with the starting lineup scoring efficiently (41 points on 34 possessions), it was the first time the Celtics had been held under a point per possession since Jan. 28 in Atlanta, their last loss with rest and their last loss with the starting lineup together.
The Celtics still have the league’s No. 1 defense. But with Draymond Green back, the Warriors could again be gunnin’ for that No. 1 spot. The two teams will face off in San Francisco on Wednesday, the start of a four-game trip for the Celtics. Golden State won the first meeting (in December — Green played), losing a 20-point lead, but holding the Celtics off down the stretch.
Week 22: @ GSW, @ SAC, @ DEN
Pace: 100.2 (7) OffRtg: 113.5 (5) DefRtg: 109.0 (8) NetRtg: +4.5 (6)
Dillon Brooks returned from a 27-game absence on Sunday and was put right back into the Grizzlies’ starting lineup (once the Grizzlies put on the right uniforms). The Grizzlies were previously just 2-6 when that lineup — Ja Morant, Desmond Bane, Brooks, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Steven Adams — played together, but it outscored the Thunder by 19 points in its 11.6 minutes on Sunday, scoring 37 points on 24 offensive possessions. Ziaire Williams remained in the rotation and Taylor Jenkins used a five-man bench unit for a few minutes (shout out to Hubie Brown). Brooks had 15 points and four assists in his 26 minutes.
It’s a good time for Brooks to make his return, because the Grizzlies are going through the easiest stretch of their schedule, with three games left on a string of eight straight against teams currently below .500. They dropped Game 2 of that string (losing in Houston eight days ago) and they have the league’s smallest differential between their winning percentage against the 14 teams currently below .500 (24-10, .706) and their mark against the 16 teams currently above .500 (23-12, .657). But that’s mostly about how good they’ve been (only Phoenix – 22-10 – has been better) against the good teams, they’ve won three straight against the bad teams (averaging an amazing 25.7 second chance points) since that loss in Houston, and they’ll have a chance for revenge when they’re back there on Sunday.
Week 22: @ IND, @ ATL, @ HOU
Pace: 95.7 (30) OffRtg: 111.0 (18) DefRtg: 107.7 (6) NetRtg: +3.2 (8)
Defeats don’t come much worse than the one the Mavs suffered (by 30 points to New York) on Wednesday, their worst offensive performance (77 points on 92 possessions) since October. But the Mavs are still tied for the league’s best record (13-3) over the last 5 1/2 weeks, and their two big wins last week far outweigh what was (wildly) their sixth straight home loss to the Knicks.
On Monday, the Mavs beat the Jazz to keep themselves very much in the race for a top-four seed in the West. And on Sunday, they beat the other team that’s 13-3 over the last 5 1/2 weeks, coming back from 13 points down in the second half in Boston. In both games, the Mavs were missing a starter (Jalen Brunson or Reggie Bullock), with Spencer Dinwiddie filling in. He shot 8-for-15 from 3-point range over the two wins, draining the game-winner off a feed from Luka Doncic on Sunday. Dinwiddie is now 8-for-16 (third best among 56 players with at least 15 attempts) on clutch 3-pointers this season, including 2-for-2 with the Mavs. Over the 11 games that they’ve had him, the Mavs have been 18.4 points per 100 possessions better with Dinwiddie on the floor (plus-9.7) than they have with him on the bench (minus-8.7).
The Mavs still as many games remaining against the Eastern Conference as they do against the West, and all seven of the games against the East are on the road. Even with their four-game trip beginning with that huge win in Boston, they’re just 3-5 in Eastern Conference arenas, set to visit Kevin Durant and Joel Embiid on Wednesday and Friday. They’ll have a rest advantage in Brooklyn, with the Nets having played in Orlando the night before.
Week 22: @ BKN, @ PHI, @ CHA
Pace: 98.9 (14) OffRtg: 112.2 (9) DefRtg: 105.8 (3) NetRtg: +6.4 (3)
With Jackie Moon warming up with Klay Thompson, and with Stephen Curry making up for his previous absence in Denver, the Warriors had all the good vibes last week. With those good vibes came a three-game winning streak, their first three wins against teams with winning records since January. Curry treated his Denver fans to 34 points on Thursday and Thompson scored a season-high 38 against the champs on Saturday. Jonathan Kuminga has averaged 17.7 points on 50% shooting over the winning streak and Jordan Poole has been on fire, averaging 24.8 points on an effective field goal percentage of 76.1% over his last six games.
But the bigger difference between the last three games and the five-game losing streak that preceded them has been on defense, where the Warriors have allowed just 104.4 points per 100 possessions, with two of the opponents (Denver and Milwaukee) having top-10 offenses. Giannis Antetokounmpo had just six points in the restricted area on Saturday after averaging 16.4 over his previous five games. And now, the Warriors’ best defensive player (Draymond Green) is set to make his return from a 31-game absence on Monday.
That leads to an interesting lineup decision, whether it be at the start of games or at the end. Andrew Wiggins has started all 62 of his games (and the All-Star Game) this season, but the Warriors started Poole (moving Wiggins to the four) on Saturday and have outscored their opponents by more than 40 points per 100 possessions in 104 total minutes with Curry, Poole and Thompson on the floor together.
Week 22: vs. WAS, vs. BOS, vs. SAS
Pace: 96.5 (29) OffRtg: 111.7 (13) DefRtg: 109.5 (9) NetRtg: +2.3 (12)
To put it nicely, James Harden — one of the greatest offensive players in NBA history — still has a lot to prove when it comes to playing big in big games. It was all good as the Sixers won their first five games with their new star, scoring 125.7 points per 100 possessions over those five wins. But with the NBA spotlight on Philly on Thursday and with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving doing their thing confidently on the other end of the floor, Harden had a rough night against his former team, shooting 0-for-14 inside the arc, with more turnovers (4) than trips to the free throw line (one).
He got to the line plenty in Orlando on Sunday, but shot just 5-for-19 from the field as the Sixers needed overtime to beat the worst team in the East. Among 140 players with at least 500 field goal attempts this season, Harden ranks 43rd in true shooting percentage (58.2%) and 113th (just ahead of Jalen Green) in effective field goal percentage (48.9%). Both marks are his lowest since his rookie season, and Harden has seen the second-biggest drop in field goal percentage in the paint (from 55.6% to 47.4%) among 116 players with at least 200 paint attempts in each of the last two seasons.
Harden sat the second game of his first back-to-back with the Sixers, and we’re in the middle of back-to-back No. 2. So it’s possible that he (having played 44 minutes in Orlando) rests against Denver on Monday. The Sixers, one of three teams with a league-high 16 games left to play, will have another Sunday-Monday back-to-back this coming week and two more back-to-backs after that.
Week 22: vs. DEN, @ CLE, vs. DAL, vs. TOR
Pace: 98.2 (20) OffRtg: 112.6 (8) DefRtg: 110.0 (12) NetRtg: +2.6 (11)
The Nuggets’ starting lineup (missing two of its four best players) has played 556 minutes, third most among all league-wide lineups. And it’s been terrific offensively, scoring 121.3 points per 100 possessions, the third best mark among 29 lineups that have played at least 200 minutes. But Denver doesn’t have much depth, and it’s played without at least one starter in four straight games. The Nuggets had enough to beat the Curry-less Warriors and the Kings, but they’ve lost two straight games for the first time in five weeks. Playing without Aaron Gordon on Saturday, they had their worst defensive game of the season, allowing the Raptors to score 127 points on just 96 possessions.
Nikola Jokic continues to have the highest true shooting percentage (65.4%) among high-usage players, despite his continued struggles from beyond the arc. His 5-for-29 (17%) from 3-point range since the All-Star break is the fourth worst mark among 162 players with at least 25 attempts over that time. He was 0-for-8 from deep in the Nuggets’ loss to the Warriors on Thursday and didn’t attempt a 3-pointer against Toronto two nights later. The good news is that the Nuggets still have three of the 52 players — Bryn Forbes, Bones Hyland and Monte Morris — who’ve shot 40% or better on at least 25 3-point attempts since the break.
With the Nuggets in Philly on Monday, it’s time for a showdown of Kia MVP candidates. Nikola Jokic is 2-4 against Joel Embiid, but the reigning MVP has had better numbers in those six games, and the two haven’t met since December of 2019.
Week 22: @ PHI, @ WAS, @ CLE, vs. BOS
Pace: 100.3 (6) OffRtg: 113.7 (3) DefRtg: 110.0 (13) NetRtg: +3.7 (7)
The Bucks have had the league’s No. 1 offense since the All-Star break and scored 125 points per 100 possessions over their six-game winning streak. Giannis Antetokounmpo averaged 31.5 points over the six games, with 34 of his 43 points against the Hawks on Wednesday coming in the restricted area (where he was 11-for-12) or at the free throw line (12-for-17). The percentage of his shots that have come from the restricted area this season is a career-low 45%, but he’s shot a career-best 40.2% on non-restricted-area 2-point shots.
While the offense has been dominant, the Bucks’ defense ranks 20th since the break. Over those 2 1/2 weeks, the Bucks rank 27th in opponent 3-point percentage (39.5%) and 28th in opponent turnover rate (11.0 per 100 possessions). The Bucks have faced a bunch of good offenses lately, but their winning streak came to an end with the Warriors’ most efficient offensive performance since they beat the defenseless Blazers in their first game since the break. It was the 12th time this season the Bucks have allowed 18 or more 3s, tied with New Orleans for the most in the league.
So any time would be a great time for the return of Brook Lopez, who hasn’t played since the first game of the season. But Monday seems appropriate, because the next stop on the Bucks’ four-game trip is a meeting with the No. 1 offense in the league. The champs were without both Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton (and Lopez) when the Jazz won in Milwaukee back in October.
Week 22: @ UTA, @ SAC, @ MIN
Pace: 97.9 (22) OffRtg: 116.1 (1) DefRtg: 109.7 (11) NetRtg: +6.4 (2)
The Jazz got their first win in a rest-disadvantage game, recovering from an early, eight-point deficit to beat the Kings on Saturday without Mike Conley or Rudy Gobert. With Jordan Clarkson scoring 45 points on 15-for-21 shooting, it was the Jazz’s most efficient offensive game (134 points on 98 possessions) since the All-Star break. They remain No. 1 in offensive efficiency by a wide margin, ranking in the top five in three of the four factors on that end of the floor (all except turnover rate).
But the Jazz have lost three of their last four games on the road, with the most critical of those losses being another rest-disadvantage defeat, when they couldn’t recover from an early deficit in Dallas. With that game, they’re just 4-19 (the league’s eighth worst mark) in games they’ve trailed by double-digits. And that result also has the fifth-place Mavs just a half game behind the Jazz, with the final head-to-head meeting (which will determine the tiebreaker) back in Dallas, part of a six-game trip that begins Sunday in New York.
The Jazz have won their last nine games at Vivint Arena, with five of those nine wins having come by 15 points or more. Their four-game homestand continues with visits from three good teams this week.
Week 22: vs. MIL, vs. CHI, vs. LAC, @ NYK
Pace: 99.1 (13) OffRtg: 113.1 (6) DefRtg: 111.7 (21) NetRtg: +1.4 (13)
The Bulls continue to struggle against the best teams in the league. And with their loss in Philadelphia on Monday (in which they lost all four quarters), they’re 2-15 against the eight teams that have better records than they do. DeMar DeRozan got to the line, but was just 6-for-17 from the field and has an effective field goal percentage of just 41.1% (struggling in and outside the paint) over his last seven games. With that, only the Blazers have seen a bigger post-break drop in points scored per 100 possessions than the Bulls (113.4 before the break, 110.6 since).
But the Bulls are getting healthier. Alex Caruso’s return from a 22-game absence was the Bulls’ best defensive game (91 points allowed on 98 possessions) in their last 29. With Caruso picking up four steals and a block in his 29 minutes on Sunday, the Cavs scored just 56 points on 63 possessions (89 per 100) with him on the floor. Now, we await the eventual returns of Lonzo Ball and Patrick Williams.
The Bulls have six games remaining against those eight teams that have better records than they do, and two of those six are on a three-game trip this week. One of their two wins against that group was against Utah in October. (The other was against Dallas in early November.)
Week 22: @ SAC, @ UTA, @ PHX
Pace: 101.1 (2) OffRtg: 112.7 (7) DefRtg: 109.6 (10) NetRtg: +3.1 (9)
The Wolves had a confounding loss on Friday, blowing an 18-point lead in Orlando (the Magic were previously 0-30 when trailing by that much) and missing their final 18 3-point attempts. But to suffer a “confounding” loss, you have to be a good team, and the Wolves have clearly established themselves as a good team. In fact, they’re now one of four teams (all in the Western Conference) that rank in the top 10 on both ends of the floor. Only once in franchise history (2003-04) have the Wolves ranked in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency, and only once in the 17 seasons since then (2013-14) have they rated as an better-than-average team on both ends of the floor.
They climbed into the top 10 defensively by (24 hours after the Orlando loss) holding what was a top-10 offense (that of the Heat) to just a point per possession. The Wolves have won seven of their last eight games and have the league’s No. 1 defense (101.5 allowed per 100) in March. And that’s with Patrick Beverley (who’s missed three of the last five games) ranking 11th on the team in minutes this month.
The Wolves’ three-game trip concludes in San Antonio on Monday. After they host the Lakers on Wednesday, they’ll have two days off and then play seven straight games against teams with winning records.
Week 22: @ SAS, vs. LAL, vs. MIL
Pace: 97.0 (25) OffRtg: 109.9 (21) DefRtg: 107.0 (4) NetRtg: +3.0 (10)
The Cavs are 10-10 in games within the top eight in the East, 7-2 (with six straight wins) at home and 3-8 (with six straight losses) on the road. The bigger difference between those last six home games and last six road games has been on defense and they’re playing without Jarrett Allen right now. But they scored just a point per possession as they lost both ends of a back-to-back (in Miami and Chicago) over the weekend. Darius Garland shot just 13-for-41 (32%) and committed 13 turnovers over the two games.
The Cavs were also outscored by 28 points in Rajon Rondo’s 31 minutes on the floor over the weekend. And with Caris LeVert out since the All-Star break, Garland has seen a huge jump in usage rate, from 26.1% (38th in the league) before the break to 34.2% (fifth) since. That’s come with only a slight drop in efficiency (true shooting percentage of 58.1% since the break, down from 58.4% before), but could be affecting him on the other end of the floor. The Cavs have allowed almost 118 points per 100 possessions in his 226 post-break minutes.
The Cavs play eight of their next nine games at home, a stretch that includes visits from the Sixers and Bulls. Their last game against Philly (on the road) was their second worst defensive game of the season.
Week 22: vs. LAC, vs. PHI, vs. DEN, vs. DET
Pace: 96.8 (26) OffRtg: 111.4 (14) DefRtg: 110.1 (14) NetRtg: +1.3 (14)
Since the All-Star break, the Raptors have lost to four teams — Charlotte, Atlanta, Detroit and Orlando — that have losing records. But they’ve suddenly won three straight games, and their victories in Phoenix and Denver over the weekend are one of the most impressive back-to-backs any team has had this season. The Raptors have the league’s 14th best record overall, but they have the eighth best record (17-18) in games played between the 16 teams currently over .500. That includes an 8-2 mark since late January, with the Raptors having scored 116 points per 100 possessions over those 10 games.
They’ve scored almost 122 per 100 over this winning streak, even though they haven’t got the best (or all) of Fred VanVleet. Pascal Siakam has been running more, averaging a league-high 6.4 fast break points in March (up from 3.0 prior to that). Scottie Barnes (with VanVleet out) had a career-high 10 assists in Denver, and Gary Trent had a huge game (42 points, 8-for-11 from 3-point range) in Phoenix, having otherwise shot 8-for-46 (17%) from beyond the arc over his last six games.
This team has had its ups and downs on both ends of the floor, but it’s now just a game behind the Cavs for sixth place in the East. The Cavs have won the first three meetings, but the final one (next Thursday) is in Toronto and the Raps have more games remaining (7) against teams currently below .500. That includes two gams against the Lakers this week, and Toronto will have a rest advantage in L.A. on Monday.
Week 22: @ LAL, @ LAC, vs. LAL, @ PHI
Pace: 99.3 (12) OffRtg: 111.8 (12) DefRtg: 112.1 (22) NetRtg: -0.3 (17)
There have been 14 50-point performances this season, and six of the 14 have taken place in the last two weeks. The Nets had two of them in the last six days, getting 50 (with just 19 shots from the field) from Kyrie Irving in Charlotte and 53 (with 37 shots) from Kevin Durant against the Knicks. Of course, the Nets’ biggest win of the season was the game in between. It was then that they they went to Philadelphia and shellacked James Harden and the Sixers in Brooklyn’s second most efficient offensive game of the season. Amazingly, 13 of the Nets’ 14 most efficient offensive performances have come on the road, and five of those 13 came before Irving started playing.
The Nets spent a little more than 48 hours under .500, but responded with their first three-game winning streak since mid-December. And the win in Philly was a reminder to the rest of the Eastern Conference of just how good this team can be. The Nets have scored more than 123 points per 100 possessions with Irving and Durant on the floor together, but that’s been for just 162 minutes. Their most-used, five-man lineup that doesn’t include Harden has played just 38.
Of course, continuity will remain elusive, with Irving currently eligible to play only four of the Nets’ 14 remaining games. Still, how they complement the two offensive stars will continue to be something to watch. Neither Bruce Brown (64 3-point attempts in 59 games) nor James Johnson (29% from 3) is much more comfortable than Ben Simmons shooting from the outside, but they’ve both shown their value (mostly on defense) over the winning streak. And while it would be nice to have Simmons play as soon as possible, those two guys can act as stand-ins as the Nets continue to figure things out. Simmons didn’t practice on Saturday, and if it will take a two-day break for him to get some five-on-five in, the Nets’ next one is this Saturday and Sunday.
Week 22: @ ORL, vs. DAL, vs. POR
Pace: 98.3 (18) OffRtg: 114.5 (2) DefRtg: 113.8 (27) NetRtg: +0.7 (15)
A week ago, the Hawks were in Detroit, with an opportunity to get back to .500 for the first time since they were 14-14 on Dec. 17. And they lost to the Pistons in overtime, with John Collins splitting a pair of free throws that could have won the game in regulation. Each of the Hawks’ last six games have been within five points in the last five minutes (though their loss in Milwaukee on Wednesday was within five for just one possession), with the Hawks and their opponents having combined to score 103 points on 79 clutch possessions (1.30 per) over that (4-2) stretch. Overall, the Hawks are 14-16 in games that were within five in the last five, ranking 29th in clutch defense.
But, with De’Andre Hunter getting a big bucket against the Clippers on Friday and Trae Young dropping 47 on the Pacers on Sunday, the Hawks have another opportunity go get back to .500. This one (though it’s the second game of a back-to-back) comes against the Blazers and at home, where the Hawks are 13-2 since mid-January, having scored 122.5 points per 100 possessions over those 15 games.
Whether or not they beat Portland, the Hawks have a huge game in Charlotte on Wednesday. They’ve lost 10 of their last 13 on the road, but one of those three wins came in Charlotte and was one of only three times this season that the Hawks have held their opponent under a point per possession. (They did it 13 times last season, when the league scored more efficiently overall.)
Week 22: vs. POR, @ CHA, vs. MEM, vs. NOP
Pace: 98.8 (15) OffRtg: 107.9 (26) DefRtg: 108.6 (7) NetRtg: -0.8 (19)
The Clippers did it again. They trailed the Pistons by as many as 18 points on Sunday, and they were down 14 at the half. But they kept themselves above .500 with a 67-49 second half, scoring those 67 points on just 42 offensive possessions (1.6 per). In their seven March games, the Clippers have been an amazing 30 points per 100 possessions better in the second halves of games (plus-15.1) than they’ve been in first halves (minus-14.9), and that differential is almost entirely about offense (98.0 vs. 127.6 score per 100).
Even before March, the Clippers — now tied with the Thunder for the most wins (7) in games they trailed by at least 15 points — had a significant half-to-half differential. And for the season as a whole, it’s a league-high 8.2 points per 100 possessions (though three teams have seen bigger drop-offs from the first to the second half). Among 252 players with at least 100 field goal attempts in each half, Ivica Zubac (59.6% vs. 68.7%), Nicolas Batum (56.1% vs. 64.6%) and Marcus Morris (48.4% vs. 56.2%) have the 10th, 16th and 21st biggest half-to-half jumps in effective field goal percentage.
Morris totaled 58 points in the Clips’ two wins last week, as their offense (playing at a slow pace) showed some life after two straight games of scoring less than a point per possession. Nine of the Clippers’ last 10 games have come against teams currently below .500. Now they’ll play eight straight against teams with winning records, currently 13-21 (2-6 since late January) against that group. The Clippers are the only team that’s played 70 games and their visit to Cleveland on Monday is the end of a stretch of five games in seven nights.
Week 22: @ CLE, vs. TOR, @ UTA
Pace: 101.0 (3) OffRtg: 112.1 (10) DefRtg: 112.3 (23) NetRtg: -0.2 (16)
The Hornets played one of their biggest games of the season on Tuesday, and they weren’t up to the task defensively. Over their back to back last week, the Charlotte defense allowed the Nets and Celtics to score almost 125 points per 100 possessions, getting torched by Kyrie Irving (50 points) and Jayson Tatum (44). The Hornets have allowed the most games of 40 points or more this season (7) and they’ve now lost 11 of their last 13 games against the other teams in the East’s top 10.
They still have a top-five offense since the All-Star break, with the Hornets’ win in New Orleans on Friday being their second most efficient game of the season (142 points on 102 possessions). Terry Rozier has averaged 25 points on an effective field goal percentage of 62.3% over their eight post-break games, with the Hornets scoring almost 28 more points per 100 possessions in his 287 minutes on the floor (125.1) than they have in his 102 minutes on the bench (97.4).
Their loss to Boston on Wednesday dropped the Hornets to 1-12 in the second games of back-to-backs. Only the Rockets (0-11) have been worse and the Hornets have the league’s biggest differential between their record with rest (32-23, .582) and their record without rest. They have two back-to-backs left on their schedule, but will have a rest advantage (rested vs. an opponent playing the second game of a back-to-back) in five of their next seven games. One of the exceptions is their game against the Hawks (the start of a five-game homestand) on Wednesday, when ninth place in the East could be on the line. Atlanta has won two of the first three meetings.
Week 22: @ OKC, vs. ATL, vs. DAL
Pace: 98.0 (21) OffRtg: 110.0 (20) DefRtg: 111.4 (19) NetRtg: -1.4 (20)
Just when it looked like the Pelicans had 10th place on lock (and a decent chance of catching the Lakers for ninth), they lost Brandon Ingram to a hamstring injury and CJ McCollum to Health and Safety Protocols. They lost four straight games, with a bigger drop-off on defense (where they allowed more than 125 points per 100 possessions) than on offense from their four-game winning streak coming out of the All-Star break. The Hornets’ 142 points on 102 possessions on Friday was the most efficient game for any team since the break.
But the Pelicans got to play Houston on Sunday, which could not handle the frontline of Jaxson Hayes and Jonas Valanciunas, who combined for 53 points on 18-for-26 shooting. The Pelicans have been outscored 3.1 points per 100 possessions in 280 total minutes with Hayes and Valanciunas on the floor together, but that’s plus-5.5 per 100 in 165 minutes with Ingram also on the floor and minus-15.2 per 100 in 115 minutes with Ingram off the floor. The win over Houston was just the Pels’ third (they’re 3-15) without Ingram.
The 10th-place Pelicans still have two games each against the 11th-place Blazers and 12th-place Spurs. The first of those four games is Friday in San Antonio, with the Spurs having won the first two meetings by double-digits.
Week 22: vs. PHX, @ SAS, @ ATL
Pace: 96.6 (27) OffRtg: 108.9 (23) DefRtg: 110.3 (15) NetRtg: -1.4 (21)
The Knicks had a pretty good seven-game trip, going 3-4 with wins over the Clippers and Mavs. Three of the four losses (to the Suns, Grizzlies and Nets) were within three points in the final minute, but the Knicks have now lost 11 of their last 12 games that were within five in the last five, having scored an anemic 75.8 points per 100 clutch possessions over that stretch. The six Knicks with at least seven clutch field goal attempts over those 12 games have shot no better than Julius Randle’s 7-for-19 (37%) on those shots, and Randle has almost as many turnovers (6) as buckets with the score within five in the last five.
Turn a few of those losses (the at-the-buzzer defeat in Phoenix was obviously the toughest) into wins and the Knicks would have a real shot at a Play-In spot, with two games remaining against the 10th-place Hornets. Given the strength of the competition, the road trip (over which the Knicks outscored their opponents by 7.0 points per 100 possessions) was arguably their best stretch of basketball since they started the season 5-1. And it came with about equal improvement on both ends of the floor from the 1-9 stretch that preceded it.
Julius Randle has been more decisive and the defense ranks fifth in March. The Knicks’ win in Dallas on Wednesday featured some great rotations, especially from the young guards off the bench. There’s seemingly no unseating Alec Burks in the starting lineup, but in 176 total minutes with Immanuel Quickley and Miles McBride on the floor together, the Knicks have allowed just 90 points per 100 possessions.
The Knicks have lost five straight at home, where they’ll play nine of their final 14 games. Their two best chances for wins at the Garden in those nine games are Wednesday and Friday, when they host the Blazers and Wizards.
Week 22: vs. POR, vs. WAS, vs. UTA
Pace: 100.5 (5) OffRtg: 108.9 (24) DefRtg: 111.2 (17) NetRtg: -2.4 (23)
For all the issues regarding Russell Westbrook’s fit in L.A., the Lakers have been outscored by just 44 points (1.6 per 100 possessions) in his 1,196 minutes on the floor alongside LeBron James. While that’s obviously bad for a duo that’s being paid more than $85 million this season, it’s not the worst combination you’ll find. Heck, the Clippers’ most-used combination (Reggie Jackson and Ivica Zubac) has on-court numbers more than twice as bad (minus-3.2 per 100 possessions). But the Lakers obviously haven’t found solutions for when one of the two stars is on the bench. They’ve been outscored by 2.8 points per 100 possessions in 609 minutes with James on the floor without Westbrook and by 5.4 per 100 (with some anemic offense) in 1,068 minutes with Westbrook on the floor without James.
James had his second 50-point game in a seven-day span, and the Lakers continue to have sporadic success playing small (their latest starting lineup is a plus-23 in its 53 minutes). But those two 50-point games sandwiched losses in San Antonio and Houston, and the Lakers had no chance in Phoenix on Sunday.
The Lakers still have the league’s second toughest remaining schedule in regard to cumulative opponent winning percentage (.554), with 11 of their 15 games against teams that currently have winning records. Beyond that, after they host the Raptors on Monday (when Toronto will have a rest advantage), 10 of their final 14 games will be on the road. And the Lakers have the league’s biggest differential between their home record (20-16, .556) and their road record (9-22, .290). They’ve lost 10 straight road games (including two at Staples Center), with their last road win having come (in Brooklyn) in January.
Week 22: vs. TOR, @ MIN, @ TOR, @ WAS
Pace: 97.5 (23) OffRtg: 110.1 (19) DefRtg: 112.8 (24) NetRtg: -2.8 (24)
If the Eastern Conference standings were based on games only played within the Eastern Conference, the Wizards would be in ninth place at 22-21. Alas, games against the Western Conference count too, and the Wizards are now 7-16 against the West, having lost the first three games of their four-game trip. That includes losses to the Lakers (who are otherwise 1-7 since the All-Star break) and the Blazers (who lost their first six post-break games by an average of 32 points).
Even with Bradley Beal out and Kristaps Porzingis missing the Portland game (second of a back-to-back), the Wizards’ offense has been fine. But the last five games have been their worst stretch of defense (124.0 points allowed per 100 possessions) this season, and that’s with the last three opponents having offenses that rank in the bottom seven. With Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Rui Hachimura and Corey Kispert having combined to shoot 49-for-100 (49% for the non-Math majors) from 3-point range, the Wizards rank fourth offensively in March. Their opponents would rank first.
The Wizards still have seven games remaining against the Western Conference. That includes three this week and two against the Warriors, who will have Draymond Green back on Monday.
Week 22: @ GSW, vs. DEN, @ NYK, vs. LAL
Pace: 100.6 (4) OffRtg: 111.1 (17) DefRtg: 111.4 (18) NetRtg: -0.3 (18)
Gregg Popovich is the all-time wins leader, and he passed Don Nelson with the Spurs getting their first win of the season (they were previously 0-33) in a game they trailed after the third quarter. It was also just their fourth win (they were previously 3-14) against the top six teams in the West. Only three of their 40 fourth-quarter points against the Jazz came from beyond the arc and the team that ranks 28th in clutch offense scored 20 points on 13 clutch possessions. Keldon Johnson made the big play, rebounding Josh Richardson’s missed free throw and draining two freebies of his own.
With the injury to Brandon Ingram, the Spurs have some new life in the race for the final Western Conference Play-In spot. They went into their game against the Pacers on Saturday just a game behind the 10th-place Pelicans. But they came out of it with a double-digit defeat to a team that was 3-12 since Feb. 1. The Spurs are the first team done with playing the opposite conference, and they went just 10-20 against the East. Only the Rockets and Clippers have allowed the Pacers to score more efficiently this season.
The Spurs still have two games remaining against the Pelicans, and one of those is Friday in San Antonio. The Spurs have scored almost 122 points per 100 possessions as they’ve won the first two meetings.
Week 22: vs. MIN, vs. OKC, vs. NOP, @ GSW
Pace: 100.1 (8) OffRtg: 109.7 (22) DefRtg: 114.7 (28) NetRtg: -5.1 (25)
De’Aaron Fox has made four or more 3-pointers just 13 times in his five seasons, and two of those instances have been the Kings’ last two games. Fox continues to have a strong second half of the season, now averaging 29.1 points on an effective field goal percentage of 56% over the 14 games he’s played since returning from an eight-game absence in early February. Over that stretch, the Kings’ offense has scored an amazing 26.5 more points per 100 possessions with Fox on the floor (115.8) than it has with him on the bench (89.3).
Alas, despite the strong offense from their point guard, the Kings have lost nine of their last 11 games. They rank in the bottom six on both ends of the floor over that stretch. They did erase an 18-point deficit against Denver on Wednesday, but came up short in the clutch. They’re tied with the Spurs for the second worst record (11-21, .344) in games that were within five points in the last five minutes, having seen the league’s third biggest drop in clutch winning percentage from last season, when they were 22-20.
With their loss to the Jazz (in which they led for most of the first half) on Saturday, the Kings have dropped their last seven games (and are 7-31) against the 16 teams currently over .500. They’ll face four of those teams on the four-game homestand that begins Monday.
Week 22: vs. CHI, vs. MIL, vs. BOS, vs. PHX
Pace: 98.8 (16) OffRtg: 108.2 (25) DefRtg: 114.8 (29) NetRtg: -6.5 (26)
The Blazers have been both the league’s worst offensive team (by a huge margin) and its worst defensive team since the All-Star break. They lost their first six post-break games by an average of … [checks notes] … 32.3 points! The Blazers lead the league with nine losses of 30 points or more (Houston is next with six), and five of those nine have come since the break.
All six of Blazers’ post-break losses came against good teams, and they put an end to the losing streak with a win over Washington on Saturday. Anfernee Simons missed his third straight game, but with Josh Hart (44 points), Trendon Watford (27) and Drew Eubanks (20) all registering career highs, it was the Blazers’ third most efficient offensive game of the season. The undrafted Watford is one of two 21-year-olds the Blazers have been starting (CJ Elleby is the other), and he’s shot a solid 61.3% in the paint, the sixth best mark among 28 rookies with at least 100 paint attempts.
Amazingly, the Blazers are still tied in the loss column with the 10th-place Pelicans, with two head-to-head meetings remaining. First, the Blazers have a five-game trip through the Eastern Conference, with only one of the opponents (Brooklyn) having a winning record. They’re 15-10 (with three straight wins) against the East thus far.
Week 22: @ ATL, @ NYK, @ BKN, @ IND
Pace: 98.7 (17) OffRtg: 104.4 (28) DefRtg: 113.2 (25) NetRtg: -8.9 (29)
The Pistons have talent, they play hard, and now, they’re executing better than ever. Starting with their last game before the All-Star break, they had a 6-2 stretch. And though they’ve dropped three straight (and were eliminated from the playoffs on Sunday), all three were against good teams, two of the three were within five points in the last five minutes, and they led the third (in Boston on Friday) late in the third quarter. Nine of the Pistons’ last 11 games (starting with that last pre-break game) have been within five in the last five. They’re team spoiler, though if they really wanted to beat the Clippers (after blowing an 18-point lead) on Sunday, they shouldn’t have gone for layups on three trailing-by-six possessions in the final minute.
The improved execution is, of course, mostly about Cade Cunningham, who has scored 20 points or more in all seven of the Pistons’ games in March, one of nine players (mostly MVPs and MVP candidates) averaging at least 20 points, six rebounds and six assists this month. The Pistons scored 90 points on 73 offensive possessions through the first three quarters against the Celtics’ top-ranked defense on Friday, with Cunningham making good reads out of the pick-and-roll and strong drives to the basket. Eventually, the Celtics had no choice but to double-team him.
The Pistons still have just two wins that weren’t within five points in the last five minutes. One of those (Oct. 30) was against the Magic, who they’ll face for the fourth and final time (in Orlando) on Thursday. The home team has won all three meetings thus far.
Week 22: @ MIA, @ ORL, @ CLE
Pace: 99.6 (10) OffRtg: 104.1 (29) DefRtg: 111.6 (20) NetRtg: -7.5 (27)
The Magic were the first team officially eliminated from the playoffs, though it wasn’t by their own doing. Well, it was, but they were eliminated on Friday by Atlanta and Charlotte victories, not by a loss they suffered themselves. In fact, the Magic got a pretty good win on Friday, coming back from 18 points down to beat Minnesota behind a big game (27 points on 10-for-15 shooting) from Mo Bamba. It was the Magic’s second-most efficient game of the season (118 points on 99 possessions) and it came with 31 assists on 40 field goals (their second-highest assist rate of the season). Markelle Fultz had seven of those 31 (in less than 18 minutes) and another 11 assists (in less than 19 minutes) as the Magic almost beat the Sixers on Sunday. Over the two weekend games, Orlando outscored Minny and Philly by 25 points in Fultz’s 37 minutes.
The Magic have the league’s No. 1 defense since the All-Star break (106.4 points allowed per 100 possessions), top-ranked in regard to both opponent effective field goal percentage and defensive rebounding percentage. And they’ve played more games against teams that rank in the top 10 offensively (3) than they have against teams that rank in the bottom 10 (1).
Their remaining schedule is the opposite. Seven of the Magic’s final 13 games are against bottom-10 offenses. That includes two games each against the 21st-ranked Cavs and 30th-ranked Thunder, who are in Orlando on Sunday. Of course, the best challenge for that No. 1 post-break defense is Tuesday, when Misters Durant and Irving come to town.
Week 22: vs. BKN, vs. DET, vs. OKC
Pace: 99.4 (11) OffRtg: 102.6 (30) DefRtg: 110.4 (16) NetRtg: -7.8 (28)
The Thunder went into the All-Star break with the league’s eighth-ranked defense. And they’ve quickly fallen to 16th, with only the Blazers having allowed more points per 100 possessions since the break. Seven of the Thunder’s nine post-break games have come against teams that rank in the top 10 in offensive efficiency, so it’s been a tough slate. The Thunder are still a lot closer to ninth on defense (0.9 points allowed per 100 possessions) than they are to 29th on offense (1.5 scored per 100), but the absences of Lu Dort (done for the season) and Kenrich Williams (who also hasn’t played since the break) will make it difficult to get back there.
The Thunder’s second-worst defensive game of the season (142 points allowed on 105 possessions) was Tuesday against Milwaukee. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander had a big game (33 points and 14 assists) on the other end of the floor and registered a plus-4 in more than 35 minutes against the champs, but OKC was somehow outscored by 31 points (110.7 per 100 possessions!) in his 12:51 on the bench. That’s like Embiid in the Toronto series times two. For the season, his on-off differential (they’ve been 4.0 points per 100 possessions better with him on the floor) is a little lower than it was last season (4.2).
The Thunder will play another top-10 offense (that of the Hornets) on Monday, before their weary defense gets a little relief.
Week 22: vs. CHA, @ SAS, @ MIA, @ ORL
Pace: 98.3 (19) OffRtg: 111.2 (16) DefRtg: 113.6 (26) NetRtg: -2.3 (22)
They have the league’s eighth-ranked offense since they acquired Tyrese Haliburton and Buddy Hield. And while Haliburton has had the ball in his hands for more than twice the time as Hield over those 13 games (7.3 vs. 3.6 minutes per game), Hield has also been running a lot of pick and roll. In fact, the Pacers have set 16.7 ball screens per game for Hield, up from just 6.3 per game in his time with the Kings this season. And while Hield has attempted almost nine pull-up 3s per game (ninth in the league) since the trade, he’s also averaged 5.6 assists with Indiana, up from 1.9 with Sacramento. He’s had at least five assists in five straight games and his five dimes in Atlanta on Sunday included some nice pick-and-roll reads. Buddy Hield, point guard. Who knew?
Of course, even with that eighth-ranked offense, the Pacers are just 4-9 since the trade, because they’re 2-7 in games that were within five points in the last five minutes. The trade helped Hield expand his game, but it couldn’t help the Pacers in close games. Another new Pacer (Jalen Smith) gave them a new way to lose on Tuesday, committing an absent-minded take foul with the score tied, 14 seconds on the clock, and the Cavs in the bonus.
Hield and Haliburton have already lost to the Grizzlies three times this season. And they’ll get to face them twice more in the next 10 days.
Week 22: vs. MEM, @ HOU, vs. POR
Pace: 101.2 (1) OffRtg: 107.2 (27) DefRtg: 116.3 (30) NetRtg: -9.1 (30)
Jalen Green hasn’t been as consistent as Cade Cunningham over these last few weeks, and given the way they play (as well as their size and strength), he might not ever be as consistent as the guy picked ahead of him. But Green has made similarly noticeable progress since the beginning of the season, and he hit another high note on Wednesday, scoring a career-high 32 points (on 13-for-21 shooting) in a win over the Lakers, with 10 of those 32 coming in overtime.
Green is one of 28 players who’ve averaged at least 20 points (in eight games or more) since the All-Star break, and his post-break effective field goal percentage (56.7%) is in the upper half of that group. His true shooting percentage (58.0%) is in the bottom half because he’s not getting to the line as much. His post-break free throw rate (15.3 attempts per 100 shots from the field) is down from 28.5 before the break and ranks last among those 28 20-point scorers. He still has the third most free throw attempts for the team that leads the league in free throw rate.
Green has been a much more efficient scorer at home, where the Rockets will play nine of their final 14 games. That includes visits from the two top teams in the Western Conference this week. The Rockets are 2-17 against the West’s top six, having beaten the Grizzlies at home eight days ago.
Week 22: vs. PHX, vs. IND, vs. MEM