Power Rankings

Power Rankings, Week 25: Suns, Bucks hold top spots before final week

See where all 30 teams rank heading into the last 6 days of the regular season.

Chris Paul, Devin Booker and Phoenix clinched the best record in the NBA two weeks ago.

As you prepare for the 2022 postseason, expect the unexpected. We know what these teams have done over the last six months, but the playoffs are different, and they’re sure to provide us with something we haven’t seen before. Special performances from special players on a special stage.

Two years ago, Anthony Davis shot 46% from outside the paint in the playoffs, having shot 34% from outside the paint in the regular season (and now having shot 32% from outside the paint over the two seasons since).

Last year, the Bucks went 7-2 in clutch games in the playoffs after going just 13-15 in clutch games in the regular season. And that included a 3-0 mark in The Finals against a team (the Suns) that is otherwise 61-20 in clutch games over the last two seasons. The last of those clutch wins came with Giannis Antetokounmpo shooting 17-for-19 (89%) from the free-throw line (having shot 56% through the Bucks’ first 20 playoff games).

With a week (53 games) left in the regular season and a Play-In Tournament coming next week, it may seem a tad early for playoff talk. But this is the final edition of the 2021-22 Power Rankings. With that, we have some reshuffling in the top 10, with the defending champs getting some special consideration (apologies to the Grizzlies). And we wrap the season with notes on why each team (in the top 10 in each conference) might succeed or fail in the Play-In and/or playoffs.

Plus-Minus Players of the Week

Teams of the Week

  • Make It Last Forever: Memphis (3-0) — Some guys in Grizzlies uniforms beat the best team in the league on Friday.
  • Something Just Ain’t Right: Portland (0-4) — The guy who’s led the Blazers in total points scored since March 1st still doesn’t have a headshot on NBA.com (we have a black-and-white NBA logo where his picture should be). That’s the story of these late-season Blazers.

East vs. West

Schedule strength through Week 24

  • Toughest: 1. Houston, 2. Orlando, 3. New Orleans
  • Easiest: 1. Phoenix, 2. Boston, 3. Memphis
  • 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: Atlanta (+3), Miami (+3), Toronto (+3)
  • Free falls of the week: Cleveland (-3), Boston (-2), Philadelphia (-2)

Week 25 Team to Watch

  • San Antonio Holding the tiebreaker over the Lakers (who can win a maximum of 35 games), the magic number (combination of San Antonio wins and L.A. losses) for the 33-45 Spurs to clinch the West’s final Play-In spot is two. It seems academic, but the Spurs have a tough final week if their opponents don’t rest (too many) guys. They’re in Denver on Tuesday and in Minnesota on Thursday. Then they have a weekend back-to-back, hosting the Warriors on Saturday and finishing the season in Dallas.

Previous Power Rankings

  • This time last year: Play-In races heating up in East, West — The Jazz had their third winning streak of (at least) nine games, and the Raptors beat the Warriors by 53. Russell Westbrook had 35 points and 21 assists against the Pacers, Jrue Holiday signed a contract extension with the Bucks, and Gordon Hayward suffered a season-ending foot sprain.

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 111.2 points scored per 100 possessions this season.

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

Last Week:1

Record: 62-16

Pace: 100.1 (9) OffRtg: 114.5 (3) DefRtg: 106.7 (3) NetRtg: +7.8 (1)

The case for the Suns: It’s a strong one. If they can stay where they are (they need to hold off the Grizzlies on offense), the Suns would be just the third team in the 26 years for which we have play-by-play data to rank in the top three in both offensive and defensive efficiency. The other two – the 2014-15 Warriors and the ’16-17 Warriors – both won the championship. The Suns have the best record (28-11) in games played between the 17 teams that currently have winning records, the best record (52-5) in games they led by at least 10 points, and the best record (16-16) in games they traded by at least 10 points. And their ability to execute in high-leverage situations is unparalleled; The 131.3 points per 100 possessions they’ve scored with the score within five points in the last five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime are the best mark in 26 years of clutch data and 7.0 more than any other team has scored this season.

The case against the Suns: With this team having minimal flaws, the case against its ability to win a championship begins with the competition. There’s the team that beat the Suns in The Finals last year and the matchup problems that Giannis Antetokounmpo creates. There’s the Warriors, who beat the Suns twice this season and just haven’t been at full strength since then. And there’s the Grizzlies, the only team with a winning record vs. the Suns, having beat them (without four starters) last week. The Warriors forced Deandre Ayton to beat them and it’s fair to wonder if he can carry a heavier-than-usual offensive load over a seven-game series.

The Suns rested Ayton, Devin Booker and Jae Crowder in Oklahoma City on Sunday, and both Booker (12 games) and Chris Paul (15) have each missed time. But one could argue that the last elite team to keep its foot on the gas for this long was the 2015-16 Warriors, who suffered a rough finish to their postseason. The Suns have been head and shoulders above the rest of the league for more than five months, but tougher challenges are ahead.

Maybe not in the first round. The Suns are 12-2 (including 9-0 in games that were within five points in the last five minutes) against the four teams currently in the Western Conference Play-In. They were without Booker and Ayton in a loss to the Clippers and without Paul and Cameron Payne in a loss to the Pelicans.

Week 25: vs. LAL, @ LAC, @ UTA, vs. SAC

Last Week:4

Record: 48-30

Pace: 100.4 (5) OffRtg: 114.0 (5) DefRtg: 111.1 (14) NetRtg: +2.9 (8)

The case for the Bucks: They’re the champs, and they have the dude who scored 50 points in Game 6 of The Finals last year. The game-to-game consistency hasn’t been there, but the Bucks have certainly had some big wins in the last several weeks. And while they’re not quite the Suns in regard to clutch execution, they seem to know how to win close games. The Bucks rank in the top seven in both clutch offense and clutch defense and they’re 22-10 in games that were within five points in the last five minutes when they’ve had Jrue Holiday (who’s 23-for-45 on clutch shots).

The case against the Bucks: They just haven’t defended at the level that they have in the past. They could certainly flip the switch (and/or do some new things) defensively when the playoffs begin, but even as they’ve gone 12-5 over the last five weeks, the Bucks have allowed more than 114 points per 100 possessions in Holiday’s 344 minutes on the floor alongside Giannis Antetokounmpo. The East is a little deeper this year and two of the teams that the Bucks could face as they try to get back to The Finals have been much better defensively than they have.

The Bucks won the title from the 3 seed, which is where they stand as they enter the final week of the season. They had a great shot at No. 1 after picking up clutch wins in Philly and Brooklyn, but then gave their starters a night off against the Clippers and allowed the Mavs to score 18 points on a critical stretch of eight fourth-quarter possessions on Sunday. Their game against the Celtics on Thursday (they’ll have a rest advantage with Boston in Chicago the night before) could be for the 2 seed and home-court advantage in a potential conference semis matchup.

Week 25: @ CHI, vs. BOS, @ DET, @ CLE

Last Week:3

Record: 55-23

Pace: 100.4 (6) OffRtg: 114.4 (4) DefRtg: 108.6 (6) NetRtg: +5.9 (3)

The case for the Grizzlies: This team just keeps on winning no matter who’s in the lineup. The Grizzlies were already 19-2 without Ja Morant when they beat the full-strength Suns on Friday without Morant … and three other starters (along with Tyus Jones). As we enter the final week of the season, the Grizz are just 0.1 points allowed per 100 possessions from ranking in the top five on both ends of the floor. Only the Suns (28-11) have a better record than the Grizzlies (24-15) in games played between the 17 teams that currently have winning records, and the two teams have nearly identical records – the Suns are 13-6, the Grizz are 13-7 – in games within the West’s top seven.

The case against the Grizzlies: The Grizz lead the league (by wide margins) in fast break points, points in the paint, and second chance points. All three of those typically go down (both per game and as a percentage of total points scored) in the playoffs. The Grizz have one elite 3-point shooter (Desmond Bane) and a couple of other solid ones, but they have three starters (Morant, Dillon Brooks Jaren Jackson Jr.) who have combined to shoot just 32.3% from beyond the arc (and another starter who doesn’t shoot from outside five feet). That could make them easier to defend in half-court situations.

So now we await word on Morant, with Thursday being two weeks since the Grizzlies said his right knee would be reevaluated in two weeks. As the 2 seed, the Grizz are probably looking at a first round series against the Wolves (against whom they’re 2-2) or the Clippers (4-0, including 2-0 against Paul George), but, with their next two games, they could play a role in pushing the Jazz or Nuggets down into the Play-In.

Week 25: @ UTA, @ DEN, vs. NOP, vs. BOS

Last Week:2

Record: 49-30

Pace: 97.1 (24) OffRtg: 113.2 (8) DefRtg: 106.1 (1) NetRtg: +7.0 (2)

The case for the Celtics: They’ve been the best team in the league (26-6, plus-15.5 points per 100 possessions) since late January. Over those 10 weeks, the Celtics have had the league’s best offense (119.8 points scored per 100), the league’s best defense (104.4 allowed per 100), and the best record (15-4) in games played between the 17 teams currently over .500. Jayson Tatum has evolved into an elite scorer (who will also move the ball when necessary), and the Cs’ switch-heavy defense flattens its opponents out and forces them to play one-on-one against great individual defenders.

The case against the Celtics: It’s a very small sample size, but the numbers haven’t been great in regard to the Celtics’ defense (115.0 points allowed per 100 possessions) in 89 total minutes with the other starters on the floor and Grant Williams (60 minutes, 119.1) or Daniel Theis (29, 106.5) in the place of the injured Robert Williams III. Even if the Cs can still defend at a high level with their best players on the floor, depth is now even more of an issue than it was before. The Celtics have also struggled in close games, going 13-21 (only the Pacers and Magic have been worse) in those that were within five points in the last five minutes, having scored less than a point per clutch possession.

The latest of the Celtics’ clutch losses came against Miami on Wednesday when they scored just once on their final 10 possessions. East seeding is still very much in flux, but the Celtics’ visits to Chicago and Milwaukee this week are a Wednesday-Thursday back-to-back. So another rest day for the starters could be in the works. With the Blazers out, the Celtics now have the league’s longest active playoff streak (eight seasons). And given how well this team has played over the last couple of months, this one might offer more promise than any of the previous seven.

Week 25: @ CHI, @ MIL, @ MEM

Last Week:8

Record: 51-28

Pace: 96.4 (28) OffRtg: 112.5 (12) DefRtg: 108.1 (4) NetRtg: +4.4 (6)

The case for the Heat: They’ve been the best team in the Eastern Conference, despite missing their four best players for 15, 17, 24 and 25 games. And all those absences have uncovered incredible depth on their roster, which will help their matchup versatility in the playoffs. The Heat can play suffocating defense, with Bam Adebayo’s switching taking a lot of opponents out of what they’re trying to do offensively. And they have the best record (20-12) in games played between the top 10 teams in the East.

The case against the Heat: Half-court offense can be an issue. Jimmy Butler has shot 23% from beyond the arc and has been only slightly more efficient (shooting 37%) from mid-range. Adebayo doesn’t shoot from distance and while P.J. Tucker has been much more frisky offensively this season, he’s still somewhat limited on that end of the floor. The opponents will be more ready for the Heat’s favorite actions in the playoffs, so they could be depending a lot on Tyler Herro’s ability to create something out of nothing. And of course, both Herro and Duncan Robinson will be targeted on the other end of the floor.

The Heat have responded to that disastrous Week 23 with a four-game winning streak over which they’ve scored almost 121 points per 100 possessions. Kyle Lowry has gotten aggressive, Butler has made some 3s, and Victor Oladipo looked pretty darn good in scoring 21 points in Toronto on Sunday. Of course, the biggest win of the week – Wednesday in Boston – was more of a pitcher’s duel, with … [checks notes] … Max Strus making the big defensive plays down the stretch.

Either of the Heat’s two home games this week – Tuesday vs. Charlotte, Friday vs. Atlanta – could be a playoff preview. They’re 9-4 against the four teams currently in the East Play-In, including 3-0 against the Hornets, having held them to just 95.1 points per 100 possessions over the three games.

Week 25: vs. CHA, vs. ATL, @ ORL

Last Week:5

Record: 49-30

Pace: 95.5 (30) OffRtg: 111.8 (16) DefRtg: 109.2 (7) NetRtg: +2.6 (9)

The case for the Mavs: A top-10 defense and an elite offensive talent is a nice combo with which to go into a playoff series. There’s no good defensive coverage for Luka Doncic, who’s averaged 32.1 points (on an effective field goal percentage of 56.5%) and 8.6 assists over his last 28 games. Over that stretch, the Mavs have scored 119.2 points per 100 possessions in his 1,018 minutes on the floor, and he’ll get more minutes on the floor in the postseason.

The case against the Mavs: They can still have some rough nights offensively. The Mavs are the jump-shootingest team in the league, with 57% of their shots (the league’s highest rate) having come from outside the paint. But they have just one of the 67 players who’ve shot 38% or better on at least 100 3-point attempts, and that’s Dorian Finney-Smith at 38.3%. In a confounding loss in Washington on Friday, Mavs not named Doncic shot 7-for-29 (24%) from beyond the arc.

With their win in Cleveland on Wednesday, the Mavs moved into third place. And then they went to Washington, got beat by Kristaps Porzingis, and fell back into fourth. They hold the head-to-head tiebreaker with the third-place Warriors, but would need help to move back up. Both teams play their final three games against teams with losing records.

Get ready for lots ‘o Luka in the postseason. In last year’s playoffs, Doncic averaged an amazing 12.1 minutes of possession per game, 2.5 more than any other player. And while Spencer Dinwiddie has hit some big shots, his addition hasn’t exactly made the Mavs offense less reliant on its star. Doncic has averaged 9.8 minutes of possession since Dinwiddie’s arrival, up from 9.2 minutes prior to that.

Week 25: @ DET, vs. POR, vs. SAS

Last Week:7

Record: 50-29

Pace: 98.7 (17) OffRtg: 111.8 (17) DefRtg: 106.7 (2) NetRtg: +5.1 (5)

The case for the Warriors: When they were at their best, the Warriors were the best team in the league. They ranked in the top five on both ends of the floor through their first 36 games and were No. 1 in these Power Rankings seven times in a stretch of nine weeks from mid-November through early January. They picked up two wins over the Suns in that stretch and since then, they’ve added Klay Thompson and seen rookie Jonathan Kuminga blossom into a serious rotation piece. The Dubs have two of the best shooters in NBA history, the league’s best (versatile) defender, and a solid supporting cast.

The case against the Warriors: The Warriors haven’t been at their best in a long time. Stephen Curry, Thompson and Draymond Green have played less than 12 total minutes together. There’s no guarantee that Curry (who is scheduled to be reevaluated next Monday) will be available for the start of the playoffs, and even if he is, it should be noted that he’s had the worst 3-point shooting season (38.0%) of his career. The same can be said about Thompson (37.1%), who’s had some major ups and downs.

It’s kind of amazing (and a credit to their coaching staff) that the Warriors still rank second defensively. They’ve ranked seventh on that end of the floor since the day that Green’s 31-game absence (which was shortly followed by Curry’s absence) began. But they’ve ranked 20th offensively over that same stretch.

A series pitting the full-strength Warriors against the full-strength Grizzlies or Suns would probably be awesome. But as we enter Week 25, we can only hope for the best.

Week 25: vs. LAL, @ SAS, @ NOP

Last Week:6

Record: 48-30

Pace: 96.6 (27) OffRtg: 112.4 (13) DefRtg: 109.8 (9) NetRtg: +2.6 (10)

The case for the Sixers: You’re not going to be able to keep them off the line. Since the All-Star break (when James Harden joined them on the floor), the Sixers have led the league in free throw rate, averaging 35.2 attempts per 100 shots from the field, up from 25.9 per 100 (fourth) prior to the break. That comes from Harden’s own free throws, but also a higher rate for Joel Embiid (58.4 per 100 before the break, 65.6 since). And with Embiid rolling to the rim more alongside Harden, he’s taken 58% of his post-break shots in the paint (59% with Harden on the floor), up from 49% prior to the break. Since he has a much higher effective field goal percentage in the paint (58.4%) than outside it (47.1%), that’s a pretty big deal.

The case against the Sixers: They’re 6-5 with Harden against teams that are currently over .500, but three of those six wins have come against the reeling Cavs. Harden has had a couple of clunkers along the way and hasn’t shot particularly well from the field. His effective field goal percentage of 49.0% with Philly ranks 181st among 214 players with at least 100 post-break field goal attempts. The Sixers have also had bench issues since they traded their backup center and tried to replace him with DeAndre Jordan and Paul Millsap.

The Sixers have gone through several phases since The Process began to bear fruit, and this phase may be the most fascinating. They got Harden for a guy who wasn’t playing and there will be seasons after this one, but there’s a ton of pressure on Harden to deliver for his new team right now.

Week 25: @ IND, @ TOR, vs. IND, vs. DET

Last Week:9

Record: 47-32

Pace: 98.3 (20) OffRtg: 113.8 (6) DefRtg: 111.3 (16) NetRtg: +2.6 (11)

The case for the Nuggets: They have the reigning MVP, who happens to be both the league’s best passer and its most efficient high-usage scorer. In last year’s first round, Nikola Jokic averaged 33 points on 53/43/92 shooting, and he’s been better this season than when he won his (first) MVP. Aaron Gordon has also had the best season of his career and gives the Nuggets a capable defender on the opponents’ best player. The playoffs also offer an opportunity for the Nuggets to shorten the rotation, and if you’ve been following this team closely (or from afar), you know that would be a good thing.

The case against the Nuggets: The Nuggets have feasted on bad teams. They have the league’s second best record (31-7, only the Suns have been better) against the 13 teams currently under .500. They’re just 6-15 (next worst is the 10-14 Warriors) in games played between the top seven teams in the West. And even if they can shorten their rotation in the playoffs, they’ll still need to play some minutes with Jokic off the floor. Their bench had a good little run at one point last month, but Jokic’s on-off differential has been massive (plus-15.8 with him on, minus-31.2 with him off) over the last five games.

The Nuggets are one of two teams – the Bucks are the other – that have advanced to the conference semis in each of the last three years. Making it four straight could be difficult, but the top of the West (save for the 1 seed) certainly feels a little more vulnerable than it did a few weeks ago. And of course, there seems to be a chance that Jamal Murray could play at some point before the Nuggets’ season is over. *eyes emoji*

Week 25: vs. SAS, vs. MEM, vs. LAL

Last Week:13

Record: 45-33

Pace: 96.6 (26) OffRtg: 112.0 (14) DefRtg: 109.8 (8) NetRtg: +2.2 (12)

The case for the Raptors: Even with their loss to the Heat on Sunday (and with one more game remaining), the Raptors are 9-5 against the top four teams in the East, having allowed just 106.3 points per 100 possessions over those 14 games. This team gets after it defensively, with some janky zones that will disrupt an opponent at opportune times. And with the league’s best turnover differential (-3.3 per game) and its second-best offensive rebound differential (+2.9 per game), the Raps have the league’s biggest differential in regard to shooting opportunities (field goal attempts or trips to the line).

The case against the Raptors: They don’t make the most of those shooting opportunities, though. Without anybody who can really break down a defense, the Raps take a lot of tough (and bad) shots. They rank 27th in effective field goal percentage (51.1%) and 25th in free throw rate (23.4 attempts per 100 shots from the field). So if their opponent can keep them off the glass, they will struggle to score.

If it weren’t for Kevin Durant, this is certainly the lower seed in the East that the top four would least like to play. The Raptors are, technically, still alive for one of those top-four seeds themselves and go head-to-head with the Sixers on Thursday. But with that loss to the Heat on Sunday, they’re looking like the 5 or 6 seed, likely to face Boston, Milwaukee or Philly in the first round. No matter the outcome, it’s been a solid, bounce-back season for the Raps and they’re certainly reaping the benefits (in the person of Scottie Barnes) of that year in Tampa.

Week 25: vs. ATL, vs. PHI, vs. HOU, @ NYK

Last Week:10

Record: 45-34

Pace: 101.4 (1) OffRtg: 113.7 (7) DefRtg: 110.7 (13) NetRtg: +3.0 (7)

The case for the Wolves: The Wolves have a starting lineup that (for the season) has outscored its opponents by 12.8 points per 100 possessions, they have a bench that ranks second (aggregate NetRtg of plus-5.3) since the All-Star break, and they’ve had the league’s No. 1 offense as they’ve gone 25-12 since mid-January. They’re 6-4 over that stretch (having scored 120 points per 100 possessions over the 10 games) against the six teams ahead of them in the West standings, having picked up a big win in Denver on Friday.

The case against the Wolves: They’ve struggled to defend against those good teams, with fouls and rebounds being their biggest issues. The Wolves have also struggled (at times) to score down the stretch, ranking 20th in clutch offense. They can shoot, but they lack real punch off the dribble, with Anthony Edwards sometimes settling too much and with their two starting guards averaging just 6.0 and 5.6 drives per game. Karl-Anthony Towns has a solid free throw rate overall, but has just five clutch free throw attempts to go with 42 field attempts.

No matter what happens next, the Timberwolves have obviously taken a big step forward this season, seeing the league’s biggest jump in winning percentage and its second-biggest jump in point differential per 100 possessions from last season. Towns has shown that he can lead a winning team and some of their role players have really shined. Edwards hasn’t taken that leap just yet, but playoff experience could be big for the 20-year-old.

Week 25: vs. WAS, vs. SAS, vs. CHI

Last Week:11

Record: 46-32

Pace: 97.4 (23) OffRtg: 116.3 (1) DefRtg: 110.6 (12) NetRtg: +5.7 (4)

The case for the Jazz: They’ve had the league’s most efficient offense by a healthy margin. And it’s led by a guy – Donovan Mitchell – who’s averaged 33.9 points (shooting a ridiculous 47.6% on pull-up 3-pointers) over the last two postseasons. The Jazz still have the league’s fourth best point differential (both per game and per 100 possessions) and they still have the league’s third best record – 30-10 (only the Suns and Celtics have been better) – in games that weren’t within five points in the last five minutes.

The case against the Jazz: Games that were within five points in the last five minutes have been a problem. The Jazz are 16-22 in the clutch, ranking just 19th in clutch offense and 22nd in clutch defense. Last week’s clutch losses came when the Jazz blew leads of 25 and 21 points to the Clippers and Warriors. Overall, this is the worst defense (it’s allowed only 0.6 fewer points per 100 possessions fewer than the league average) the Jazz have had in the last seven seasons. It’s been much, much better with Rudy Gobert on the floor, but he can’t guard the whole floor and we’ve seen how a five-out offense (and his teammates’ inability to contain the ball) can force him into tough situations.

The Jazz have lost six of their last seven games, having allowed 123.2 points per 100 possessions (only two teams have been worse defensively) over that stretch. And with those two losses to the Clippers and Warriors, the Jazz will likely begin the playoffs on the road, looking more fragile than ever. The postseason offers a fresh start, but if this season ends in the first (or even second) round, you’d have to anticipate some serious offseason changes in Utah.

Week 25: vs. MEM, vs. OKC, vs. PHX, @ POR

Last Week:12

Record: 45-33

Pace: 98.7 (15) OffRtg: 112.7 (11) DefRtg: 112.6 (21) NetRtg: +0.1 (18)

The case for the Bulls: It starts with DeMar DeRozan, the guy who leads the league in clutch scoring, having shot 53% with the score within five in the last five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime. DeRozan (1.12) and Zach LaVine (1.03) are two of the 20 players who’ve scored at least a point per possession on at least 100 isolation possession, and if you have guys who can score in one-on-one situations, you can win in the playoffs. The Bulls have had two of the seven most efficient games against the Celtics’ top-ranked, switch-heavy defense and against more conventional schemes, Nikola Vucevic’s perimeter shooting is also a weapon.

The case against the Bulls: It starts with their inability to beat good teams. With their loss to the Heat on Saturday (in which they allowed 127 points on just 94 possessions), the Bulls are 1-12 against the top four teams in the East (the one win was on Nov. 1), having allowed 118.3 points per 100 possessions over those 13 games. The Bulls rank 21st defensively overall, and only the Rockets and Lakers have allowed more restricted-area points per game.

The Bulls have two more chances – a Tuesday-Wednesday back-to-back – to pick up wins against the top four in the East. Both are at home, where they’ve been much better (both overall and vs. good teams) than they’ve been on the road. With the Cavs’ loss to Philly on Sunday, the Bulls are one win (or Cleveland loss) from clinching a spot in the top six.

Week 25: vs. MIL, vs. BOS, vs. CHA, @ MIN

Last Week:17

Record: 41-37

Pace: 98.7 (16) OffRtg: 115.1 (2) DefRtg: 113.7 (26) NetRtg: +1.4 (14)

The case for the Hawks: This is an elite offensive team, led by a point guard who can make nearly any shot or pass and who keeps getting better. In his fourth season, Trae Young is registering career-best marks in effective field goal percentage, true shooting percentage and assist/turnover ratio. The Hawks have scored an amazing 126.6 points per 100 possessions over their five-game winning streak, including 123.4 as they beat the Cavs and Nets over the last four days to climb into eighth place in the East. The Hawks had a ton of success in last year’s playoffs, when Young was able to punish the opponents more than they punished him.

The case against the Hawks: They just aren’t as good a defensive team as they were a year ago. The Hawks are one of six teams that rank in the bottom 10 in both opponent field goal percentage in the paint (57.7%, 23rd) and opponent effective field goal percentage on shots from outside the paint (51.4%, 24th). At some point, they’ll need to win on the road, and since Jan. 1, the Hawks are just 1-10 on the road (the win was in Charlotte) against teams that haven’t yet been eliminated from playoff contention.

The Hawks got a huge win on Saturday, committing six fewer turnovers and attempting 30 more free throws than the Nets. They still might need to win a road game against a good team (Toronto or Miami) to stay in eighth place. They’ve lost two close games in those two locations thus far, having combined with their opponents to score 124.6 points per 100 possessions over the two losses.

Week 25: @ TOR, vs. WAS, @ MIA, @ HOU

Last Week:14

Record: 40-38

Pace: 99.4 (12) OffRtg: 112.9 (10) DefRtg: 112.5 (20) NetRtg: +0.4 (15)

The case for the Nets: They have Kevin Durant, and they’ve outscored Boston, Miami and Philadelphia by 11.0 points per 100 possessions (scoring 119.7 per 100) in his 437 minutes against those three teams. (His minutes against Milwaukee haven’t gone nearly as well.) The Nets have road wins over the Bucks, Sixers, and Heat over the last 5 1/2 weeks and they have an antidote (great one-on-one offense) for the Celtics’ switching defense. The Nets’ own defense remains a question mark, but they held both Philly and Miami to a point per possession or less in those recent wins and they were able to flip the switch defensively a year ago, allowing 3.8 fewer points per 100 possessions in the playoffs (109.3) than they did in the regular season (113.1).

The case against the Nets: They played a high-stakes game in Atlanta on Saturday, Durant scored a career-high 55 points (playing the entire second half for the second time in a week), and they lost, with Nets not named Durant shooting 32%. The best offensive complements to Durant and Kyrie Irving are small guards that will (with Irving) be targeted on defense, and their best defenders will be ignored when they’re spacing the floor.

The Nets had a chance to pick up a second win against the champs on Thursday, but (with three guys standing together in the corner) they were seemingly unprepared for the double-team that the Bucks threw at Durant on the final possession of regulation. He will surely see more of those double-teams in the Play-In game(s) and in the playoffs (if they get there), and the Nets’ success could be determined by how well they execute in the ensuing four-on-three situations.

The Nets certainly have the ability to win their final four regular season games and climb back into the 7-8 Play-In game. But their game in New York on Wednesday is the second game of a back-to-back, and they’re currently just 2-11 without rest.

Week 25: vs. HOU, @ NYK, vs. CLE, vs. IND

Last Week:16

Record: 40-38

Pace: 100.5 (3) OffRtg: 113.1 (9) DefRtg: 112.9 (24) NetRtg: +0.2 (17)

The case for the Hornets: This team has a high ceiling offensively. Only three teams – Boston (11), Denver (9) and Phoenix (9) – have scored at least 130 points per 100 possessions in a game more times than the Hornets (8), who last did it against a team (Dallas) that ranks in the top 10 defensively. Their current starting lineup has scored almost 122 per 100 in its 225 minutes since the All-Star break, the second best mark (a hair behind that of the Sixers’ starters) among seven lineups that have played at least 150 post-break minutes. Gordon Hayward returned from a 22-game absence on Saturday, and getting him matched up with opposing guards is a good option to have in the Play-In or beyond.

The case against the Hornets: They have the worst record (11-20) in games played between the top 10 teams in the East, and they’re just 4-12 against that group since Jan. 23. The Hornets’ loss in Philly on Saturday (in which they allowed 144 points on 105 possessions) was the latest example of how they can struggle to get stops. Only the Blazers have allowed their opponents to take a greater percentage of their shots from the restricted area or 3-point range.

The order of the Eastern Conference Play-In is still very much up in the air, so we don’t know many how many games the Hornets will have to win to end the longest active playoff drought in the East (five years). They would have the tiebreaker against Brooklyn and in a three-way tie with the Nets and Hawks, but (probably) not in a two-way tie with Atlanta. The Hornets have won their most recent games against the Nets, Hawks and Cavs.

Week 25: @ MIA, vs. ORL, @ CHI, vs. WAS

Last Week:19

Record: 39-40

Pace: 98.4 (18) OffRtg: 109.0 (25) DefRtg: 110.0 (10) NetRtg: -1.0 (21)

The case for the Clippers: Paul George is back, and he looked terrific in his return, scoring 34 points (in less than 31 minutes) in another incredible comeback victory. If there’s a team you can never count out of any game, it’s the Clippers, who now have three wins after trailing by at least 25 points and five after trailing by at least 20. Those are both the most such victories for any team in the 26 seasons of play-by-play data. The Clippers are now 16-13 with George in the lineup, and his presence puts other guys (Reggie Jackson, especially) in better-fitting roles. It’s probably too much to ask for a Kawhi Leonard return, but Norman Powell could be available for the Play-In.

The case against the Clippers: Even with George in the lineup, offense has (for the most part) been a struggle. He played 25 of the Clippers’ first 26 games and at that point, they ranked lower offensively (26th) than they do now. This is a jump-shooting team that doesn’t get enough offense inside, ranking 28th in the percentage of their shots that have come in the restricted area (25%), 29th in free throw rate (22.2 attempts per 100 shots from the field), and 26th in offensive rebounding percentage (25.4%).

The Clippers’ last five games, featuring a 43-point performance from Robert Covington in Milwaukee on Friday, have been their most efficient stretch of the season (124.5 points scored per 100 possessions). And on Sunday, the Clips got a comfortable win over a possible Play-In opponent (the Pelicans). They’re 3-1 against the seventh-place Wolves, though all three wins came in November.

Week 25: vs. PHX, vs. SAC, vs. OKC

Last Week:15

Record: 43-36

Pace: 96.8 (25) OffRtg: 110.6 (20) DefRtg: 108.5 (5) NetRtg: +2.1 (13)

The case for the Cavs: If their bigs can get healthy in the next eight days, the Cavs have a strong, eight-man rotation. They’re 26-14 when they’ve had Darius Garland, Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen all available and their when-the-bigs-are-healthy starting lineup (with Isaac Okoro and Lauri Markkanen) has outscored its opponents by 11.6 points per 100 possessions, the seventh best mark among 33 lineups that have played at least 200 minutes together.

The case against the Cavs: Even before Allen (who’s missed the last 15 games) and Mobley (who’s missed the last four) got hurt, they were on a slide. The Cavs are 8-15 (13th in the East) since mid-February and only the Blazers have seen a bigger drop in point differential per 100 possessions from before the break (when the Cavs were plus-4.2 per 100) to after it (minus-3.7). The Cavs also have the worst record (4-7) in games between the four teams in the East Play-In spots, set to visit Brooklyn on Friday.

Even with the late slide, the Cavs have seen the league’s biggest improvement (+10.4) in regard to point differential per 100 possessions and its second biggest improvement in regard to winning percentage from last season. No team has seen a bigger improvement on offense and only one (Boston) has seen a bigger improvement on defense. Darius Garland and Jarrett Allen became All-Stars, Evan Mobley established himself as the next big thing, and J.B. Bickerstaff found success in unconventional fashion. It’s been a heck of a season no matter what and Play-In experience wouldn’t be worthless. But it would be a shame if this young group doesn’t get healthy and get some real playoff reps against one of the top teams in the East.

Week 25: @ ORL, @ BKN, vs. MIL

Last Week:18

Record: 34-44

Pace: 98.0 (21) OffRtg: 110.8 (19) DefRtg: 111.5 (17) NetRtg: -0.8 (20)

The case for the Pelicans: Over the last eight days, the Pels have played two games against the Lakers that were, essentially, play-in games for the Play-In. And they won them both, holding L.A. to just 38 points on 47 fourth-quarter possessions over the two games. The Pels have been the league’s second most improved team since the All-Star break, 8.8 points per 100 possessions better than they were before the break. Their starting lineup has outscored their opponents by 17.8 points per 100 possessions in its 109 post-break minutes.

The case against the Pelicans: The Pels are 8-6 with CJ McCollum and Brandon Ingram in the lineup, and have outscored their opponents by 2.4 points per 100 possessions in their 361 minutes on the floor together. That’s been good enough to get them into the Play-In, but might not be good enough to get them out of it. The Pels missed on their first opportunity to clinch a Play-In spot on Sunday, getting blown out (and outscored by 36 points from 3-point range) by the Clippers, a team they may need to beat to reach the playoffs.

Overall, the Pels have seen a minor improvement in winning percentage and a small drop in point differential per 100 possessions from last season. But that’s with Zion Williamson having played 61 fewer games (61-0). Whether or not they reach the playoffs, they’ve established a foundation under new coach Willie Green that they can build on going forward. Not only have they traded for a guard who can get buckets, but they’ve also established roles for two rookies (Jose Alvarado and Herb Jones) and a third-year player (Jaxson Hayes) who was a major question mark before this season. Now, they just have to hope that Williamson can stay healthy and happy in New Orleans.

Week 25: @ SAC, vs. POR, @ MEM, vs. GSW

Last Week:20

Record: 35-44

Pace: 96.4 (29) OffRtg: 109.8 (22) DefRtg: 110.5 (11) NetRtg: -0.8 (19)

It seems that last season was the anomaly, both in regard to the Knicks’ overall success (the only time in the last nine years that they’ve made the playoffs) and the shooting of Julius Randle. And that puts them in a tough spot, with everybody but Mitchell Robinson (even Kemba Walker) under contract for next season, when Randle’s four-year extension kicks in.

There’s an intriguing group of young guys playing behind the highly-paid vets. And the Knicks have generally been better (on both ends of the floor) with those young guys on the court. Like many of his teammates, Immanuel Quickley hasn’t shot as well from 3-point range as he did last season. But he has one of the league’s biggest on-off differentials, with the Knicks having been 12.5 points per 100 possessions better with him on the floor (plus-6.1) than they’ve been with him off the floor (minus-6.4). Obi Toppin’s differential isn’t quite as big, but probably should have averaged more than 16.1 minutes per game (12th on the team).

Though the Knicks don’t have much financial flexibility, it will be an interesting summer in regard to a contract extension for RJ Barrett. With a significant jump in usage rate, he’s averaged 25.1 points (and 8.4 free throw attempts) since the All-Star break, but some rough shooting nights (he was 4-for-18 against Cleveland on Saturday) have been included within. Overall, he’s seen drops in effective field goal percentage, true shooting percentage and assist/turnover ratio from last season. And among 73 players with at least 200 pick-and-roll ball-handler possessions, only a pair of rookies (Jalen Suggs and Josh Giddey) have averaged fewer points per ball-handler possession than Barrett (0.74). Of course, he’s still just 21 years old (turning 22 in June) and has shown (at times) that he can defend at a high level.

Week 25: vs. BKN, @ WAS, vs. TOR

Last Week:21

Record: 34-44

Pace: 97.7 (22) OffRtg: 110.4 (21) DefRtg: 113.4 (25) NetRtg: -3.0 (22)

The standings at the 20-game mark are usually a good indicator of which teams will eventually reach the playoffs. But at the 20-game mark, the Wizards were 13-7 and tied for second place in the Eastern Conference (the Nets were in first). Of course, they were eighth in the East in point differential (+1.0 per game), and their record stayed inflated as they won 14 of their first 15 games that were within five points in the last five minutes. They’re just 11-14 in clutch games since then, but the difference between their clutch winning percentage (25-15, .625, only the Suns and Grizzlies have been better) and their non-clutch winning percentage (9-29, .243) is the third biggest in the 26 seasons for which we have clutch data.

Bradley Beal had his worst shooting season (effective field goal percentage of 49.2%) of the last seven years, and at the point when he had played his last game (Jan. 29), the Wizards had been better offensively with him off the floor (109.3 points scored per 100 possessions) than they were with him on the floor (107.1). Of course, the on-court number was even worse (101.7) with Spencer Dinwiddie also on the floor, and Dinwiddie is now in Dallas. Kristaps Porzingis has averaged 21.7 points in his 15 games, and the Wizards have been solid offensively (scoring 113.7 points per 100 possessions) in his 419 minutes. Should Beal return (he has a player option for next season), the Wizards have presented him with another “let’s try this” plan.

And the continued development of the young core – Deni Avdija, Daniel Gafford, Rui Hachimura and Corey Kispert – offers some promise of improvement (or assets for another trade) for a team that’s now missed the playoffs in three of the last four seasons.

Week 25: @ MIN, @ ATL, vs. NYK, @ CHA

Last Week:23

Record: 33-45

Pace: 100.5 (4) OffRtg: 112.0 (15) DefRtg: 111.7 (18) NetRtg: +0.3 (16)

The case for the Spurs: They’re 5-2 against two possible Play-In opponents (2-1 vs. the Clippers, 3-1 vs. the Pelicans), having allowed just 105.5 points per 100 possessions over those seven games and having won a big game in New Orleans just nine days ago. Statistically, the Spurs are much better than their record, holding the point differential (+0.2 points per game, eighth in the West) of a team that’s 39-39. Big wins and narrow losses are responsible for that differential and the Spurs are just 15-22 in clutch games overall, but they have won six of their last seven games that were within five points in the last five minutes.

The case against the Spurs: The Spurs have been bad against good teams. In fact, they have the league’s sixth worst record (10-32) against the 17 teams that are currently over .500. That includes a 3-8 mark against the four teams they play this week (2-1 against the Warriors, 1-7 against the others), probably needing at least one win (depending how the Lakers do) to clinch the Play-In. So the Lakers shouldn’t be booking those trips to Cancun just yet.

The Derrick White trade, which cleared playing time for Devin Vassell and Josh Primo, made it clear that the Spurs are looking toward the future. At this point, 26-year-old rookie Jock Landale is the third oldest guy on the roster. But a little Play-In or playoff experience would be a good thing, especially for a team that’s struggled in close games for most of the season. Of course, the Spurs also have a 73-year-old head coach, and his future will be the biggest question going into the offseason, whenever it begins.

Week 25: @ DEN, @ MIN, vs. GSW, @ DAL

Last Week:22

Record: 31-47

Pace: 100.3 (7) OffRtg: 109.7 (23) DefRtg: 112.8 (23) NetRtg: -3.1 (23)

The Lakers got both LeBron James (two-game absence) and Anthony Davis (18-game absence) back on Friday for what was (seemingly) their best chance at giving themselves a chance to give themselves a chance at a playoff berth. They outscored the Pelicans, 44-18, in the restricted area, shot 6-for-9 on corner 3s, and had their best defensive performance in weeks. They led by six early in the fourth quarter and by three with 3:00 left.

And that was that. New Orleans went on a 7-0 run, the Lakers scored just seven points on 12 clutch possessions, and James airballed the game-tying 3 at the buzzer. With their season on the line, the Lakers have lost six straight games for the first time. Even with decent defensive numbers on Friday, they’ve allowed more than 124 points per 100 possessions over the losing streak.

With bad offensive chemistry early in the season and bad defense (only three teams have allowed more per 100) since the start of Davis’ first extended absence, the Lakers are set to be the first LeBron James team to rank in the bottom 10 on both ends of the floor. As we enter the final week, they’re joined by three other teams – the Kings, Blazers and Rockets – that rank in the bottom 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency.

The Lakers aren’t eliminated yet and the Spurs could have a tough week ahead. But even if San Antonio were to lose all four of their games, the Lakers would have to win three to sneak into the Play-In. James, meanwhile, would have to play in two to qualify for the scoring title. He missed their loss to Denver on Sunday, still dealing with ankle soreness.

Week 25: @ PHX, @ GSW, vs. OKC, @ DEN

Last Week:24

Record: 29-50

Pace: 100.1 (8) OffRtg: 109.6 (24) DefRtg: 114.7 (27) NetRtg: -5.1 (25)

With Sunday’s results (a Spurs win, a Kings loss), the longest playoff drought in NBA history is officially official. The Kings’ drought of 16 years (they last made the playoffs in 2006) now surpasses the Clippers’ drought from 1976-77 through ’90-91. And as we enter next season, the Kings’ drought will be at least 10 years longer than any other active drought in the league. (If the Hornets don’t make the playoffs, they’re next at six years.)

This will (likely) be just the third time during the drought that the Kings ranked in the bottom 10 on both ends of the floor, because they’ve had not-so-bad offenses for most of the last 16 years. They ranked 12th offensively last season, but have seen the league’s fourth biggest drop in points scored per 100 possessions. The offense was good (115.2 per 100) in 360 total minutes with De’Aaron Fox playing alongside Domantas Sabonis, but not good enough to make up for higher efficiency on the other end of the floor. The Kings have been a worse-than-average defense in each of the last 16 seasons.

The Kings’ 4-1 road trip offered some hope in regard to rookie Davion Mitchell (20.6 points and 8.6 points per game) and Donte DiVincenzo (14-for-43 from 3-point range). If the Kings bring back DiVincenzo (a restricted free agent this summer), they’ll have two guards that get after it defensively, and that’s not a bad thing, especially if they can both shoot better next season.

We should soon find out soon if Alvin Gentry will be retained or if the Kings will have a 12th head coach since the start of the playoff drought. We do know that they’ll have another Lottery pick.

Week 25: vs. NOP, @ LAC, @ PHX

Last Week:25

Record: 23-56

Pace: 98.8 (14) OffRtg: 105.5 (28) DefRtg: 112.8 (22) NetRtg: -7.2 (27)

As great as Evan Mobley, Scottie Barnes and Herb Jones have been, the Pistons should have no regrets about selecting Cade Cunningham with the No. 1 pick last year. Cunningham is set to be just the 15th rookie in NBA history (though the fourth in the last five years) to average at least 15 points, five rebounds and five assists. He’s seemingly gotten better every week of the season, and improvement has shown up mostly inside the arc. Cunningham has shot 54.1% in the paint and 47.9% from mid-range since the All-Star break, up from 45.7% and 37.3% before the break. And the Pistons have been playing through him. Sixteen of their 21 post-break games have been within five points in the last five minutes, and Cunningham has ranked sixth in clutch usage rate (38.1%) over these last six weeks.

With the rise of the rookie, the Pistons have been the league’s most improved team since the All-Star break (10.4 points per 100 possessions better than they were before the break). That would be the biggest post-break improvement of the last 10 years. And seven of the last 10 teams that led the league in post-break improvement went on to see season-to-season improvement the following year. Last year, the most improved team after the break was the Wolves, who have been 8.3 points per 100 possessions better this season than they were last season (as a whole).

Time will tell if the Pistons want to be competitive next season, with another Lottery pick (set to be somewhere in the top eight) on the way in June. Jerami Grant is under contract for one more year, and they’ve outscored their opponents by 8.1 points per 100 possessions in 310 total post-break minutes with Cunningham, Grant and Saddiq Bey on the floor together.

Week 25: vs. DAL, vs. MIL, @ PHI

Last Week:26

Record: 25-54

Pace: 98.4 (19) OffRtg: 111.7 (18) DefRtg: 115.0 (28) NetRtg: -3.3 (24)

Halfway through the season, the Pacers were 15-26, having been outscored by exactly one point over those 41 games. At that point, they were 4-19 in games that were within five points in the last five minutes and 11-7 otherwise, with six double-digit wins over teams that are currently in the top six of either conference. The Pacers have been a lot less competitive since then, but they’re still 25-54, with the point differential of a team that’s 30-49.

The bottom line is that the Pacers are set to finish with their worst record in at least 36 years. This will be the third straight season in which they’ve seen a drop in point differential per 100 possessions, and only four teams – the Blazers, Clippers, Lakers and Nets – have seen a bigger drop from last season (they all had further to drop).

The Pacers did shake up their core, and Tyrese Haliburton has put up good numbers – 17.3 points, 9.8 assists, effective field goal percentage of 58.2% – since his arrival. But the Pacers have been outscored by a brutal 16.3 points per 100 possessions (allowing 124.4 per 100) in 201 minutes with Haliburton on the floor alongside Malcolm Brogdon. Of course, the Pacers’ new guard didn’t get to share the floor with Myles Turner, who hasn’t played since Jan. 14.

Speaking of guys who haven’t played in a long time, T.J. Warren is now a free agent, having missed (basically) the last two seasons. The Pacers (in need of some forwards whether or not Warren returns) will have about $25 million in cap space and, if the Cavs make the playoffs, they’ll add Cleveland’s pick (likely 17th) to their own.

Week 25: vs. PHI, @ PHI, @ BKN

Last Week:29

Record: 23-55

Pace: 99.5 (11) OffRtg: 104.0 (29) DefRtg: 111.1 (15) NetRtg: -7.1 (26)

The Thunder would need to win three of their last four games to avoid finishing with their worst winning percentage since their first season in Oklahoma City. But they’ve actually been 3.5 points per 100 possessions better than they were last season (minus-10.6). Of course, in both seasons, they’ve been far less competitive down the stretch than they were early on. Last season, they had the league’s 11th-ranked defense through Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s last game. This season, they had the eighth-ranked defense at the All-Star break.

They might not finish last on offense this season, having climbed out of the basement over the weekend. As was the case last season, they’ve been much better on that end with Gilgeous-Alexander on the floor (106.6 points scored per 100 possessions) than they’ve been with him off the floor (100.0), but the Thunder star also took a step backward, especially from 3-point range (30.0% vs. 41.8% last season). Among 108 players with at least 500 field goal attempts in each of the last two seasons, only Reggie Jackson, Marcus Morris and Bryn Forbes have seen bigger drops in effective field goal percentage than SGA (49.6% vs. 57.1% last season)

Josh Giddey (just the sixth rookie in NBA history to average at least 12 points, six rebounds and six assists) looks like another franchise cornerstone, and it will be interesting to see how much better he shoots (his 26.3% from 3 is last among 170 players with at least 200 attempts) after a summer of work. The Thunder will have three first more first round picks (their own plus those of the Clippers and Suns) this year. But with Gilgeous-Alexander’s contract extension kicking in on July 1 (and Kemba Walker’s contract still on the books), they won’t have as much cap space to work with. So there should be a desire to take a bigger step back toward competitiveness next season.

Week 25: vs. POR, @ UTA, @ LAL, @ LAC

Last Week:27

Record: 20-59

Pace: 99.6 (10) OffRtg: 103.6 (30) DefRtg: 111.9 (19) NetRtg: -8.3 (30)

Jalen Suggs has had a rough rookie season offensively, ranking last (by a healthy margin) in effective field goal percentage among 295 players with at least 250 field goal attempts. But he’s shown that he can get after it on the other end of the floor and the Magic’s other Lottery pick from last year has helped abate any angst about Suggs’ struggles. Franz Wagner has looked comfortable from Day 1, with a combination of size and skill that will make him a tough matchup going forward. He set to be just the second rookie ever (Kendrick Nunn was the first) to shoot 50% or better on at least 300 2-point attempts, 35% or better on at least 100 3-point attempts, and 85% or better on at least 100 free throw attempts.

Wendell Carter Jr. (whose four-year contract extension kicks in on July 1) is the other Magic player who looks like a for-sure starter going forward, having seen big improvement (jumps in both per-36 numbers and efficiency) in his first full season in Orlando. There are still a lot of questions about the rest of the young core and the Magic have dropped to last in offensive efficiency, but they showed that they could be a strong defensive team as soon as next season. They still rank in the top five defensively since the All-Star break and their starting lineup has allowed just 103.2 points per 100 possessions in its 424 total minutes.

The Magic have had the league’s worst record (273-525, .342) over the last 10 years, it’s been 12 years since they last won a playoff series, and it might be a few more before they get another chance. But things have looked bleaker than they do now and another top-five pick is on its way.

Week 25: vs. CLE, @ CHA, vs. MIA

Last Week:28

Record: 20-59

Pace: 101.2 (2) OffRtg: 108.0 (27) DefRtg: 116.2 (29) NetRtg: -8.2 (29)

The journey from where the Rockets are now back to where they were two years ago is a lot tougher (and usually much longer) than the trip was from the top to the bottom. But the seeds have been planted, and Jalen Green looks like the kind of player that will grow quite a bit in the next few years. He’s already grown quite a bit in the last five months, registering an effective field goal percentage of 56.7% since Feb. 1, up from 44.0% prior to that. Over the last six games, Green has averaged 29.0 points, shooting 33-for-72 (46%) from 3-point range.

Green was part of a starting lineup (done for the season with both Eric Gordon and Christian Wood shut down) that outscored its opponents by 10.9 points per 100 possessions (allowing only 101.3 per 100) in its 114 minutes after the All-Star break. That gave it a positive differential (plus-0.2 per 100) in 352 total minutes for the season. Even being shut down early, Gordon played more than twice as many games (57) as he did last season (27), and he registered career-high marks in effective field goal percentage (58.5%) and true shooting percentage (61.4%). With one year left on his contract, some contenders could come calling.

As things stand, the Rockets have both their own first round pick and that of the Nets, which will likely be 15th or 16th (certainly better than expected). Oh yeah, John Wall is still on this roster with a year left on his deal (it’s safe to assume he exercises his player option), and it would be nice if there was some sort of resolution in that regard.

Week 25: @ BKN, @ TOR, vs. ATL

Last Week:30

Record: 27-51

Pace: 98.8 (13) OffRtg: 108.1 (26) DefRtg: 116.2 (30) NetRtg: -8.1 (28)

What was the league’s longest active playoff streak entering this season (eight years) came to an end in an emphatic fashion. Damian Lillard *wasn’t himself to start the season, and his season was over on Jan. 1. At that point, the Blazers were 13-22, in a four-way tie for 12th place in the West. And while there had been hope that a coaching change would lead to improvement on defense, they ranked last on that end of the floor. The Rockets took that spot away from them for most of the last few months, but with Blazers having allowed 3.1 more points per 100 possessions since the All-Star break than any other team, they’re once again in the defensive efficiency basement.

* Among 108 players with at least 500 field goal attempts in each of the last two seasons, Lillard has seen the eighth biggest drop in effective field goal percentage (from 55.4% to 48.6%).

Anfernee Simons (who turns 23 in June) took the leap that the Blazers have been waiting for, and his efficiency has only dropped a tick with his big jumps in minutes and usage. He hasn’t played in more than four weeks, but he has the seventh highest effective field goal percentage (57.8%) among 38 players (highest among guards) who’ve averaged at least 20 points since Jan. 1.

The Blazers will have a top-10 pick in this year’s Draft. But they don’t appear to be in a better position to compete in the Western Conference than they were before they traded three starters in February. Both Simons (restricted) and Jusuf Nurkic are free agents this summer.

Week 25: @ OKC, @ NOP, @ DAL, vs. UTA