Power Rankings

Power Rankings, Week 17: Movement in Top 5 as trade deadline nears

See where all 30 teams rank as we enter Week 17 of the 2022-23 season.

The Celtics have risen back to the top of the Power Rankings as the NBA trade deadline nears.

The 2023 trade deadline is almost here. One huge trade has already gone down, and all eyes will be on Twitter for reports of more action over the next 75 hours.

But we’ll have to shift those eyes toward the TV for a few hours before we get to the deadline. On Tuesday, LeBron James will get his first shot at surpassing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on the all-time scoring list, needing 36 points against the Thunder to get the job done. Then on Wednesday, we get a huge game between the Sixers and Celtics, followed by what could be Kyrie Irving’s debut with the Mavericks.

History will be made. Rivals will clash. A new star duo will come together. And more trades will go down. It’s Week 17!

Plus-Minus Players of the Week

Teams of the Week

  • Make It Last Forever: Milwaukee (3-0) — It turns out that the Bucks are pretty good when they have all three of their stars in uniform.
  • Something Just Ain’t Right: Memphis (0-3) — The Grizz are reeling … but still in second place.

East vs. West

Schedule strength through Week 16

  • Toughest: 1. Charlotte, 2. Detroit, 3. Washington
  • Easiest: 1. Philadelphia, 2. Minnesota, 3. Milwaukee
  • 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: Phoenix (+4), Portland (+4), Cleveland (+2), Dallas (+2)
  • Free falls of the week: Oklahoma City (-5), Washington (-4), Philadelphia (-3)

Week 17 Team to Watch

  • L.A. Lakers— It’s going to be a huge week in Lakerland. If LeBron James doesn’t become the all-time scoring leader against the Thunder on Tuesday, he’ll surely have his moment two nights later against the Bucks. (Both of those games are on TNT at 10 p.m. ET.) And oh yeah, the trade deadline is this week, and L.A. needs to find James some help. And after all that, the Lakers will head north for a marquee matchup with the Warriors on Saturday night.

Previous Power Rankings

OffRtg: Points scored per 100 possessions (League Rank)
DefRtg: Points allowed per 100 possessions (League Rank)
NetRtg: Point differential per 100 possessions (League Rank)
Pace: Possessions per 48 minutes (League Rank)

The league has averaged 113.5 points scored per 100 possessions and 99.9 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes 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:2

Record: 37-16

OffRtg: 116.6 (4) DefRtg: 110.6 (4) NetRtg: +6.1 (1) Pace: 99.7 (17)

The Celtics clobbered the Nets on Wednesday, when they scored an amazing 41 points (shooting 8-for-8 from 3-point range) on their first 18 possessions of what turned into their 10th straight win against Brooklyn. Two nights later, the Cs made just 10 3s (on 38 attempts) total, losing for the fourth time in their last six games. After scoring five more points per 100 possessions than any other team through November, the Celtics rank 19th offensively (113.2 scored per 100) since Dec. 1, and they scored just 102.5 per 100 over these last four losses.

Every player in the Celtics’ rotation (not counting Robert Williams III, who didn’t play until mid-December) has seen a drop in effective field goal percentage since Dec. 1, with Sam Hauser, Al Horford, Derrick White and Grant Williams having seen the biggest drops. Three of those guys are reserves (when everybody’s healthy) and the Celtics’ bench ranks 23rd since Dec. 1 after ranking second through November. Jayson Tatum shot just 3-for-15 from the field on Friday, but the Celtics were outscored by 13 points in his 10:08 off the floor. This is the second straight season when his on-off differential (14.0 per 100 possessions last season, 13.2 this season) has been pretty high … and much higher than that of any other Celtics starter.

Marcus Smart has missed the last six games with an ankle sprain, and it’s not clear that he’ll be back before the All-Star break. If he isn’t, that would take some of the shine off matchups with the Sixers, Grizzlies and Bucks over the next nine days. The Celtics are 7-1 against the other five teams that have won more than 60% of their games, but they haven’t faced the Sixers or Grizz since Week 4.

Week 17: @ DET, vs. PHI, vs. CHA, vs. MEM

Last Week:3

Record: 37-17

OffRtg: 117.4 (1) DefRtg: 113.4 (14) NetRtg: +4.0 (3) Pace: 99.2 (20)

With the Grizzlies’ recent slide, the Nuggets sit a lot more comfortably atop the Western Conference. So resting four starters in the second game of a home-road back-to-back on Sunday wasn’t a huge deal. Nikola Jokic has now missed as many games this season (eight, including five of the Nuggets’ last 13) as he had missed over the last two seasons combined (zero in 2020-21, eight last season). Denver is now 3-5 without him, with his last two absences (the second games of their last two back-to-backs) being the two times that the Nuggets have scored less than a point per possession.

Though Jamal Murray was also out of the lineup on Sunday, Bones Hyland received his third straight DNP, obviously no longer a part of the Nuggets’ plans. Hyland is just 22 years old and in his second season, but this team clearly wants to win now and Hyland’s minutes on the floor have just not been good. In fact, in 377 total minutes when Hyland has shared the floor with either Murray or Jokic (but not the other), the Nuggets have been outscored by 20.4 points per 100 possessions. Christian Braun (a plus-20 with 10 points off the bench on Saturday) has been getting the bulk of Hyland’s minutes, and the Nuggets will surely be seeking some more second-unit help in the next three days.

After their win over the Hawks on Saturday, the Nuggets have still played the fewest games (16) against the Eastern Conference. They’re just 2-4 in Eastern Conference arenas, with a three-game trip – Orlando, Charlotte, Miami – beginning on Thursday. They won their first meeting against the Magic (Jan. 15) on Jokic’s step-back 3 with 0.2 seconds left.

Week 17: vs. MIN, @ ORL, @ CHA

Last Week:4

Record: 36-17

OffRtg: 112.2 (23) DefRtg: 109.9 (2) NetRtg: +2.4 (7) Pace: 101.0 (11)

The Bucks are 7-0 since Khris Middleton made his return to the lineup, though Middleton continues to come off the bench in limited minutes. There’s been some ugliness offensively, though. The Bucks scored just 106.5 points per 100 possessions (despite 88 total points from Giannis Antetokounmpo) in wins against the Hornets and Clippers last week, surviving the latter by keeping LA scoreless over the final 3:52. Through Week 16, only the Hornets (-4.7) have seen a bigger drop in points scored per 100 possessions from last season than the Bucks (-2.1).

But the winning streak does include three of the 10 games in which the Bucks have scored more than 125 points per 100. They didn’t hit that mark on Saturday, but they were relatively efficient (123 points on 103 possessions) against the Heat’s top-five defense, getting 24 points in 20 minutes from Middleton. The Milwaukee defense has generally been terrific, and Middleton and Antetokounmpo have played just 49 total minutes together over these seven games. As that number increases, so should the Bucks’ efficiency. They’ve won 12 of the last 13 games in which they’ve had Antetokounmpo in uniform, outscoring their opponents by 12.9 points per 100 possessions in his 437 minutes on the floor over that stretch.

The Bucks are the only team that hasn’t played in the Mountain or Pacific time zones, and they begin a three-game trip in Portland on Monday. They’ve played just six back-to-backs (tied with the Thunder for the fewest) and No. 7 is Thursday and Friday in L.A. Antetokounmpo has played in both games in just two of their previous six back-to-backs, though he wasn’t available for either game in their last one (Jan. 16 and 17).

Week 17: @ POR, @ LAL, @ LAC

Last Week:1

Record: 34-18

OffRtg: 115.3 (7) DefRtg: 111.5 (6) NetRtg: +3.8 (4) Pace: 98.4 (23)

Before the Sixers got to the tough part of their schedule, they saw their seven-game winning streak come to an end with a loss to the Magic in which they led by 21 points. Six days later, the tough part of their schedule (11 of 12 games against teams with winning records) began with a loss at Madison Square Garden in which they led by … 21 points. The Orlando game really fell apart in the third quarter, while the Sixers still led the New York game heading into the fourth. They’re now 28-2 in games they led after the third quarter — only the Bucks (31-2) have been better — and both losses* have come to the Knicks, who are otherwise 3-19 in games they trailed after the third.

* The Sixers didn’t have James Harden or Joel Embiid for the first of those two losses.

The Sixers scored 124.5 points per 100 possessions over the seven-game winning streak, and they shredded the league’s 30th-ranked defense in San Antonio. But they scored just 102.6 per 100 in their three Eastern Conference games last week, with the bulk of the struggles coming from their bench. Tyrese Maxey, Shake Milton and Georges Niang combined to shoot just 33% (including 7-for-30 from 3-point range) and the Sixers scored a paltry 69 points on 88 offensive possessions (78.4 per 100) with Embiid off the floor over those three games. His season-long on-off differential (the Sixers have been 12.0 points per 100 possessions better with him on the floor) is now a little bigger than it was last season (11.5) and the trade deadline is just three days away.

The biggest game in this tough stretch of schedule is Wednesday in Boston, the first meeting between the first and third-place teams in the East since a Celtics win (in Boston) on opening night. That still stands as the Sixers’ third worst defensive game of the season (126 points allowed on 97 possessions).

Week 17: @ BOS, vs. NYK, @ BKN

Last Week:7

Record: 33-22

OffRtg: 114.6 (10) DefRtg: 109.6 (1) NetRtg: +5.0 (2) Pace: 96.2 (30)

The Cavs lost a big game against the Heat on Tuesday, committing a couple of critical turnovers down the stretch as they scored just 10 points on 10 clutch possessions. Donovan Mitchell ranks eighth in total clutch scoring (with 13 of his 91 clutch points coming in one game), but he’s 2-for-11 (the Cavs are 5-for-19 as a team) on shots to tie or take the lead in the fourth quarter or overtime after missing a tough 3 for the tie against the Heat. And with that miss, the Cavs have lost their last four games that were within five points in the last five minutes.

They didn’t have to worry about clutch issues later in the week, though, recovering from the Miami loss to beat the Grizzlies and Pacers. It’s the first time since early January that they’ve won two straight games and just the third time this season that they’ve scored more than 120 points per 100 possessions in two straight. And they’ve done that with Mitchell shooting 8-for-29 from the field and attempting just five free throws over the two games. Darius Garland has been the star, totaling 56 points (on 19-for-32 shooting) and 17 assists (with just five turnovers) over the two wins. Isaac Okoro, meanwhile is 23-for-46 (one of four players at 50% or better on at least 35 attempts) from 3-point range since Jan. 1. (The volume is still pretty low, so the Cavs are probably still in the market for a wing who can shoot.)

The win in Indiana on Sunday was the start of the Cavs’ only stretch of five games in seven days, and they’ll have rest disadvantages in Washington on Monday and against the Bulls on Saturday, currently 4-2 (4-0 at home, 0-2 on the road) in rest-disadvantage games. That second back-to-back begins with a visit to New Orleans on Friday, the Cavs’ last game (until the Finals?) in a Western Conference arena.

Week 17: @ WAS, vs. DET, @ NOP, vs. CHI

Last Week:6

Record: 32-20

OffRtg: 115.5 (6) DefRtg: 113.0 (13) NetRtg: +2.5 (6) Pace: 99.0 (21)

The Nets have the league’s fifth best record and its sixth best point differential per 100 possessions. They’ve had the league’s longest winning streak (12 games), they’ve won 17 of the last 19 games in which Kevin Durant has been available, and they’ve been better without him (6-7) than they were last season (8-19).

But Kyrie Irving couldn’t just let the season play out, requesting a trade (seemingly) because he wanted guaranteed money beyond this season. And the Nets did pretty well in (quickly) trading their disgruntled star, getting Spencer Dinwiddie, Dorian Finney-Smith and picks in return. If no other moves are made, the Nets can build some ridiculously good defensive lineups that include four (or maybe five) of the following: Durant, Finney-Smith, Royce O’Neale, Ben Simmons and Nic Claxton. And with Irving heading out the door, they desperately needed somebody who could go north-south off the dribble. Dinwiddie is that guy, averaging more drives per 36 minutes than Irving himself (though without the same ability to finish).

Dinwiddie is also bigger than Irving, making it easier to play another small guard who can’t defend very well. That could mean more playing time for the flammable Cam Thomas, who’s coming off a big Week 16. On Monday, Thomas had eight points on a 20-3, game-deciding run spanning the third and fourth quarters against the shorthanded Lakers. And on Saturday (with Irving out), he scored a career-high 44 points (including 19 in the fourth quarter) to lead a comeback from 23 points down against the Wizards. The Nets lead the league with six wins (they’re 6-12) in games they’ve trailed by 15 points or more, and with three late scores from Thomas and Patty Mills on Saturday, they’re an amazing 11-for-15 on shots to tie or take the lead in the final minute of the fourth quarter or overtime. (Irving was 2-for-4 on those shots.)

The Nets could certainly be looking to make another deal, but the next news might be an update on Durant’s injury (scheduled for Tuesday) and the most important news will be his reaction to the Irving trade.

Week 17: vs. LAC, vs. PHX, vs. CHI, vs. PHI

Last Week:5

Record: 32-21

OffRtg: 113.7 (13) DefRtg: 110.1 (3) NetRtg: +3.6 (5) Pace: 101.9 (5)

The Grizzlies are a solid 12-8 over their last 20 games. But that’s an 11-game winning streak followed by a stretch where they’ve lost eight of nine. And things have become so bad, they’ve even lost their last two games at home (where they were previously 21-3), their last two games against the Eastern Conference (previously 17-3), and four of their last five games in which they’ve had a double-digit lead (previously 31-0). They were up 15 late in the third quarter against Toronto on Sunday, but then scored just 17 points over their final 27 possessions of the game.

The bigger difference between the 11-game winning streak (119.8 points scored per 100 possessions) and the 1-8 slide (108.2) has been on offense. Dillon Brooks hasn’t been nearly as accurate with his shots toward the basket (34%, including 10-for-43 from 3-point range) as he was with his shot toward Donovan Mitchell’s groin on Thursday. A handful of his teammates have also shot poorly from the perimeter, and turnovers continue to be an issue. The Grizzlies committed 20 of them on Sunday, even though Mr. Assist/Turnover Ratio (Tyus Jones) started in place of Ja Morant (right wrist soreness). The Grizzlies have barely cracked a point per possession (100.8 per 100) in Morant’s 182 minutes off the floor over the 1-8 stretch.

The only Eastern Conference team the Grizzlies haven’t faced is the Bulls, who will be in Memphis on Tuesday. Prior to Sunday, the Grizzlies’ only home loss against the East came (without Jaren Jackson Jr.) against the Celtics, who they’ll visit on Sunday afternoon.

Week 17: vs. CHI, vs. MIN, @ BOS

Last Week:8

Record: 29-25

OffRtg: 111.0 (26) DefRtg: 111.0 (5) NetRtg: -0.1 (20) Pace: 97.1 (28)

The Heat have had some rough starts over their last eight games, winning the first six minutes of the first quarter in just one of the eight and facing double-digit deficits in the first quarter in each of their three games last week. But it seems that, no matter how they start, the Heat eventually find their way to clutch time. When you rank 28th in pace, 26th on offense and fifth on defense, you’re probably going to have a lot of close games, and each of the Heat’s last eight have been within five points in the last five minutes.

The wildest of those eight was probably Thursday in New York, when the Heat erased two double-digit deficits and then had a chance to win in the final seconds after a wild sequence of turnovers down the stretch. But their late-game Herro (Tyler) missed a corner 3-pointer at the buzzer and is now 5-for-11 on shots to tie or take the lead in the final minute of the fourth quarter or overtime.

The Heat’s overall defense wasn’t too bad in New York, holding a top-10 offense below the league average for efficiency. But they allowed the Knicks to make 10 corner 3-pointers, tied for the most for any team in any game this season. Two nights later, they allowed the Bucks to register 22 fast break points (despite just six live-ball turnovers) and fell to 3-14 in games in which their opponent has shot 50% or better.

The Heat remain in the top five defensively, but they also remain in a fight for a top-six spot in the East. Their remaining schedule is easier than that of the seventh-place Knicks and in the middle of the pack in regard to cumulative opponent winning percentage. They have one remaining stretch of three straight games against teams currently under .500 and that stretch is this week. They’re currently 13-12 against the 12 teams that enter Week 17 with losing records.

Week 17: vs. IND, vs. HOU, @ ORL

Last Week:9

Record: 29-23

OffRtg: 116.7 (2) DefRtg: 114.6 (22) NetRtg: +2.2 (8) Pace: 101.4 (9)

The first five games of the Kings’ seven-game trip have been their worst stretch of offense (108.8 points scored per 100 possessions) in nearly eight weeks. They’ve scored more efficiently than the league average in only one of the five games, and that was against the Spurs’ league-worst-by-a-country-mile defense. De’Aaron Fox has missed the last two games, while his replacement (Davion Mitchell) and two other starters (Kevin Huerter and Keegan Murray) have combined to shoot 32% (including 14-for-70 from 3-point range) over the trip.

Bench minutes haven’t been bad, and Trey Lyles basically won the Kings a game in Minnesota on Monday by scoring eight of their 15 points in overtime. Domantas Sabonis had fouled out, so the Kings put five shooters on the floor and went to the playoff game plan against Rudy Gobert. The Kings have been really good (plus-10.6 points per 100 possessions) with Lyles on the floor alongside Sabonis, but the five-out option is surely one they’ll keep in their back pocket. (It’s wild to write about the Kings as an assumed playoff team.)

The Kings got absolutely clobbered in New Orleans on Sunday, falling to 6-9 in games played between the nine West teams that currently have winning records. But have a great opportunity to have a winning record on this road trip, because the last two games are in Houston, with the Kings having scored more than 134 points per 100 possessions in a two-game series against the Rockets last month. The Kings have yet to face the Mavs, who will be in Sacramento for another two-game series (with new addition Kyrie Irving) over the weekend.

Week 17: @ HOU, @ HOU, vs. DAL, vs. DAL

Last Week:11

Record: 30-26

OffRtg: 112.3 (22) DefRtg: 112.2 (10) NetRtg: +0.2 (18) Pace: 98.2 (25)

The Clippers had two brutal finishes to the fourth quarter last week. On Thursday, they went scoreless over the final 3:52 (eight offensive possessions) of a one-point loss in Milwaukee. Paul George and Kawhi Leonard combined to shoot 0-for-8 over that stretch, and each of them shot an airball on the final possession. Two nights later, the Clippers blew a 19-point, fourth-quarter lead in New York, with George and Leonard combining to shoot 2-for-8 in the final 12 minutes of regulation.

But Nicolas Batum (now 9-for-17 on clutch 3-pointers) saved that game at Madison Square Garden with a buzzer-beating, game-tying 3, and Marcus Morris hit a couple of big shots in overtime as the Clippers improved to 16-8 in games in which they’ve had both George and Leonard in the lineup. They’re 2-1 on this stretch of 11 straight games with no back-to-backs, having held their opponents under a point per possession in 90 total minutes with George and Leonard on the floor together over the three games.

The Clippers are just two games into a stretch of 13 straight against teams with winning records, but some of their five remaining pre-break games will come with the opponents missing All-Stars. They’ll visit the Nets (without Kevin Durant and the departed Kyrie Irving) on Monday, they’ll host the Mavs (probably without Luka Doncic) on Wednesday, and they’ll face the Warriors (probably without Stephen Curry) next week. The Bucks will also be playing the second game of a back-to-back on Friday, and Giannis Antetokounmpo has played in both games of just two of Milwaukee’s six back-to-backs thus far.

The LA offense had one ridiculous, five-game stretch in late January, but has since slowed down a bit, and the Clippers are reportedly in the market for a backcourt upgrade.

Week 17: @ BKN, vs. DAL, vs. MIL

Last Week:12

Record: 29-26

OffRtg: 115.0 (8) DefRtg: 113.5 (16) NetRtg: +1.5 (10) Pace: 97.7 (27)

The Knicks lost in overtime to both the Lakers and Clippers last week, staging comebacks in both games, but scoring just 23 points (shooting 1-for-8 from 3-point range) on 26 clutch possessions. They lead the league with nine overtime games, but are 7-for-33 (21%) on overtime 3s. And the losses dropped the Knicks to 9-11 (4-6 at home) against the Western Conference.

But the Knicks won their two more important games last week, despite absences and rough perimeter shooting from their stars. Jalen Brunson was out against Miami on Thursday, while RJ Barrett was a late scratch against Philadelphia on Sunday. And over the two games, Brunson, Barrett and Julius Randle combined to shoot 5-for-25 from 3-point range. But the Knicks held the Heat and Sixers to just 105.2 points per 100 possessions (with just 49% shooting in the paint) on the other end of the floor.

Prior to Sunday, the Knicks were 0-14 (one of five teams without a win) in games they trailed by more than 15 points. And they were down 21 to Philly late in the first quarter. But they got another great game from their bench, with Evan Fournier scoring a season-high 17 points and registering a plus-28 in less than 24 minutes, and they handed the Sixers just their second loss (they were previously 20-1) in a game they led by more than 15.

The Knicks are now just a half-game behind the Heat for sixth place and have won four of their last five games against the six teams ahead of them in the East standings. They’re 6-8 against that group overall, with two more meetings against the top six before the All-Star break. The first of those is Friday in Philly, where the Knicks won in November.

Week 17: @ ORL, @ PHI, vs. UTA

Last Week:10

Record: 27-26

OffRtg: 113.3 (18) DefRtg: 113.5 (15) NetRtg: -0.2 (21) Pace: 103.2 (1)

The Warriors remain pretty mediocre. As they enter Week 17, they’re just a game over .500 and one of four Western Conference teams with a negative point differential, having been outscored by 12 points over their 53 games. They blew double-digit leads in Minnesota and Denver last week, scoring just 87 points on 101 second-half possessions over the two games and falling to 7-20 on the road. They got a win at home on Saturday, but that came against the Doncic-less Mavs (who are 0-7).

More important is that the win came with another injury to Stephen Curry, around whom this team is built around. The Warriors went 6-5 over Curry’s previous absence and have actually been just as good with Curry off the floor (plus-1.7 points per 100 possessions) as they’ve been with him on the floor over the 13 games since he returned, but it will obviously be difficult for them to make a real push up the standings for however long he’s out. The last two games of that previous absence were losses (at home) to the Pistons and Magic, and it would help this time around if the champs could get more out of Andrew Wiggins, who’s averaged just 12.4 points on 38% shooting since he returned from his injury. Wiggins is registering a career-low free throw rate of 14.2 attempts per 100 shots from the field this season and is just 3-for-7 from the line over his last five games.

The Warriors will play their next four against teams that have losing records, though the three they face this week are all teams that are behind them in the standings and may be hoping to take advantage of Curry’s absence.

Week 17: vs. OKC, @ POR, vs. LAL

Last Week:13

Record: 27-27

OffRtg: 113.6 (14) DefRtg: 114.1 (19) NetRtg: -0.5 (23) Pace: 101.3 (10)

The Hawks are 2-2 on their five-game road trip — 2-0 with Trae Young and 0-2 without him — despite Dejounte Murray totaling 58 points and 17 assists (with just three turnovers) over the two games that Young has missed. Murray dropped 40 in Portland on Monday in what was the Hawks’ third most efficient offensive game of the season, but the offense was more efficient on the other end of the floor and Bogdan Bogdanovic went 1-for-3 at the line with the Hawks down three and less than 30 seconds left. In Denver on Saturday, the Hawks shot 6-for-20 from 3-point range, with both of those numbers (the makes and the attempts) being their lowest marks for the season.

The Hawks don’t give up a lot of 3-pointers, so their differential from beyond the arc (minus-3.1 points per game) isn’t in the bottom 10. But, while Young has seen some improvement in his shooting, they’ve outscored their opponents from 3-point range in just one of their last 10 games. The Hawks have seen the league’s third biggest drop in 3-point percentage (from 37.4% last season to 34.8% this season) and now rank last in the percentage of their shots that have come from 3-point range (33.3%).

The Hawks’ trip concludes in New Orleans on Tuesday, and they’ll then have 17 of their final 27 games at home, with only one trip of more than one game. That stretch begins with a visit from the Suns on Thursday night, so it’s possible that John Collins (forever in the rumor mill) has already played his final home game at State Farm Arena.

Week 17: @ NOP, vs. PHX, vs. SAS

Last Week:15

Record: 29-27

OffRtg: 112.9 (20) DefRtg: 112.1 (9) NetRtg: +0.8 (14) Pace: 101.8 (6)

The Wolves got a little taste of what the playoffs are like with Rudy Gobert in their overtime loss in Sacramento on Monday. With Domantas Sabonis having fouled out, the Kings played Trey Lyles at the five in the extra period and put Gobert into tough situations. First, Lyles drained a 3 with Gobert helping in the paint. Then Lyles blew by a Gobert close-out for a dunk. Of course, the Wolves still could have had a chance to tie the game if D’Angelo Russell hadn’t left Lyles wide open under the basket.

But it’s nice that the Wolves can seriously think about the playoffs now, having gone from 16-21 (through December) to 29-27 by winning 13 of their last 19 games with their last five losses all having come by seven points or fewer. The Wolves rank second defensively (110.8 points allowed per 100 possessions) since Jan. 1, having allowed exactly one point per possession in 296 minutes with Gobert and Kyle Anderson on the floor together over that stretch.

With their six-game homestand in the books, 17 of the Wolves’ remaining 26 games are on the road. And the four-game trip that begins in Denver on Tuesday is one of the toughest stretches (in regard to cumulative opponent winning percentage) left on their schedule. The Wolves are 11-11 against the other nine West teams that are currently at or above .500 and one of three West teams with multiple wins over the Nuggets (though their win on Sunday came with Denver resting four starters).

Week 17: @ DEN, @ UTA, @ MEM

Last Week:18

Record: 28-26

OffRtg: 115.0 (9) DefRtg: 114.9 (24) NetRtg: +0.1 (19) Pace: 96.3 (29)

The Mavs now have two of the most talented offensive players we’ve ever seen. (We could have said the same about the Nets 24 hours ago.) It will be fascinating to see if the half-court offense is more than a my-turn, your-turn situation for Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving, not that a my-turn, your-turn situation with those two guys wouldn’t produce efficient offense. Among 135 players with at least 100 isolation possessions this season, Irving (1.28 points per possession) and Doncic (1.16) rank first and fourth in isolation efficiency, and Irving’s mark would actually be the highest for any player in 19 seasons of Synergy tracking.

While the half-court offense should be terrific, it would be nice if Irving can get the Mavs out in transition once in a while. His 3.9 fast break points per 36 minutes would be the highest rate on the Mavs, who rank 29th in the percentage of their possessions that have been in transition.

Of course, the best way to get in transition is to get stops, and the Mavs’ three best players are now Doncic, Irving and Christian Wood. So defense would be an issue even if they didn’t trade one of their two best defenders for Irving. They already rank 24th defensively, having seen the league’s third biggest jump in points allowed per 100 possessions from last season (+5.8). And if they want to avoid being a bottom-five defense going forward, they really need Maxi Kleber to remain healthy once he returns from his hamstring injury.

It’s not clear when Doncic will return from a heel injury he suffered last week, with Dallas falling to 0-7 without him after losing in Golden State on Saturday. Irving’s first task with the Mavs (he could make his debut against the Clippers on Wednesday) might be getting them off that schneid.

Week 17: @ UTA, @ LAC, @ SAC, @ SAC

Last Week:19

Record: 29-26

OffRtg: 113.5 (15) DefRtg: 112.1 (8) NetRtg: +1.4 (11) Pace: 98.5 (22)

The Suns got crushed by Atlanta on Wednesday, but they’ve won eight out of 10 for the second time this season, climbing from 12th to fifth place in the West. The first 8-2 stretch came without Chris Paul, while this last one has come without Devin Booker, and the Suns have still played just 12 games with both of their starting guards*. The latest stretch was home-heavy, but the Suns began a five-game trip with back-to-back wins in Boston and Detroit over the weekend. They became just the third team to hold the Celtics under a point per possession this season, and they’ve ranked second defensively over these last 10 games.

* Discounting the Christmas game in which Booker played less than five minutes.

Paul’s shooting has cooled off over the last few games, and he had his first 0-for shooting game in almost six years (he was 0-for-7) in Detroit on Saturday. But he dished out 14 assists against the Pistons and while the Suns’ offense has been pretty anemic (103.2 points scored per 100 possessions) with him off the floor over the eight games since his return, the bench did turn the Boston game around with a 14-2 run to start the fourth quarter. That bench has been without Cameron Payne and Landry Shamet for the last 16 and 10 games, respectively.

This latest 8-2 stretch began with a win over the Nets, and the Suns will be in Brooklyn on Tuesday. They’ll have a rest advantage (the shorthanded Nets host the Clippers the night prior), and they could have Booker back from what has been a 21-game absence (25 if you throw away that Christmas game). Maybe some additional rotation help will arrive in a Jae Crowder trade before Thursday’s deadline.

Week 17: @ BKN, @ ATL, @ IND

Last Week:16

Record: 28-27

OffRtg: 113.9 (12) DefRtg: 112.0 (7) NetRtg: +1.8 (9) Pace: 100.3 (15)

The Pelicans’ losing streak reached 10 games (tied for the third longest losing streak in the league this season) and they had to suffer through a confounding finish in Dallas on Thursday before they could finally break through. And the breakthrough came with the Pels scoring 132.8 points per 100 possessions over back-to-back wins against the Lakers and Kings over the weekend. Brandon Ingram led the way with 35 points against his former team, and when he sat out the second game of the back-to-back, the Pels had their most efficient offensive performance of the season (136 points on 97 possessions). Nine different Pelicans scored in double-figures in at least one of the two games.

One of those nine was Willy Hernangomez (22 points as the back-up five on Sunday), who could have a lot more value elsewhere than he does in New Orleans playing behind Jonas Valanciunas (who suffered a minor injury on Saturday) and Larry Nance Jr. There’s still no word on a possible return for Zion Williamson, who’s now missed the last 18 games. With their All-Star’s injury status and 10-game losing streak, it would be hard to imagine the Pels taking a “Let’s go for it” approach at the trade deadline, but they do have plenty of expendable assets.

The good news (in regard to Williamson’s missed time) is that the Pels have just four games before the All-Star break, and they also have a relatively easy post-break schedule. The losing streak began with a loss (in which the Pels led after the third quarter) to the Cavs, who are in New Orleans on Friday.

Week 17: vs. ATL, vs. CLE

Last Week:17

Record: 27-27

OffRtg: 116.7 (3) DefRtg: 115.3 (25) NetRtg: +1.4 (12) Pace: 100.3 (14)

The Jazz are obviously a seller to watch at the deadline, with multiple veterans that can help other teams and no intention of prioritizing this season over the future. Of course, it’s not a guarantee that they won’t remain somewhat competitive if they trade a piece or two at the deadline. Two players they’re definitely keeping are Lauri Markkanen and Walker Kessler, and they’ve outscored their opponents by 7.9 points per 100 possessions in 569 total minutes with those two guys on the floor together. Markkanen has now scored more than 20 points in 20 straight games, while Kessler had one of his biggest games of the season (17 points, 14 rebounds and seven blocks) in a win over Toronto on Wednesday.

Not unexpectedly, Kessler’s on-off differential on defense has gone down since he made a permanent move into the starting lineup (where he’s defending against other starters). The Jazz have allowed 4.8 more points per 100 possessions with him on the floor (116.7) than they have with him off the floor (111.9) over the 11 games since the move. One area that the Jazz have struggled with on both ends of the floor is turnovers, and they committed 14 more turnovers than their opponents over their two games last week, losing to the Hawks on Friday despite shooting more effectively.

The Jazz are 7-4 on a stretch where they’re playing 11 of 13 games at home. And if they’re going to remain competitive, the end of that stretch — vs. Dallas and Minnesota on Monday and Wednesday — is pretty critical. Their final four pre-break games are on the road, with the Jazz having lost 12 of their last 15 games away from Vivint Arena.

Week 17: vs. DAL, vs. MIN, @ TOR, @ NYK

Last Week:14

Record: 25-27

OffRtg: 113.5 (16) DefRtg: 112.2 (11) NetRtg: +1.4 (13) Pace: 102.1 (3)

Since falling to 4-5 on Nov. 5, the Thunder have had six opportunities (three in November, three in January) to get back to .500. And they’ve lost all six, with the last of those losses coming Monday against the Warriors, when the 24-25 Thunder were down 20 before the end of the first quarter. More disappointing was a loss in Houston (in which they trailed by 12 in the first quarter) two nights later, when Shai Gilgeous-Alexander had one of his worst shooting nights of the season (7-for-23) and his teammates weren’t able to pick up the slack. The Thunder are 4-5 against the bottom five teams in the league, 4-0 at home (after beating the same Rockets on Saturday) and 0-5 on the road.

They did make that Golden State game closer at the end, and the win over the Rockets came by 32 points. The Thunder continue to have a point differential (plus-1.4, that of a 29-23 team and fourth best in the West) that belies their record. They’re two games below .500, but are one of 10 teams that have been better than the league average (113.5 points per 100 possessions) on both ends of the floor. The defense has been more consistent, but the offense just had the most efficient game for any team this season (153 points on 103 possessions). It was the first time in franchise history that the Thunder made more than 20 3s and committed fewer than 10 turnovers.

Stephen Curry had 13 points in that 38-20 first quarter last Monday, and the 12th-place Thunder will now face the Warriors without Curry this Monday. It’s the start of a three-game trip, with the other two games against the 13th-place Lakers and 11th-place Blazers. OKC is 3-5 against the other four Western Conference teams that enter Week 17 with 27 losses.

Week 17: @ GSW, @ LAL, @ POR

Last Week:24

Record: 26-27

OffRtg: 116.1 (5) DefRtg: 115.7 (27) NetRtg: +0.4 (16) Pace: 98.3 (24)

Damian Lillard has taken a career-high 55.4% of his shots from 3-point range, and he hit two straight 3-pointers (part of a 17-4 run) to give the Blazers the lead with less than two minutes left in Memphis on Wednesday. The win ended both Portland’s eight-game road losing streak and Memphis’ eight-game home winning streak.

But, while he’s shooting more from deep, Lillard can still get to the basket. And it was his quickness that got the Blazers a win against the Hawks two nights earlier. First, he rejected a screen and blew by Clint Capela for a layup to put the Blazers ahead with a little less than a minute left. After the Hawks tied the game again, he drove by Dejounte Murray, drew help, and fed Anfernee Simons for a go-ahead 3-pointer. Lillard’s 15.2 drives per game rank 10th are tied with his 15.2 in 2019-20 for the most he’s averaged in the 10 seasons of player tracking. Additionally, the 58.3% he’s shot on drives ranks 10th among the 116 players with at least 100 field goal attempts. His free throw rate (44.3 attempts per 100 shots from the field is also the best mark of his career by a wide margin, and he’s 74-for-77 (96%) from the line over his last seven games.

The Blazers’ victories in Memphis and Washington were their 12th and 13th in games they trailed by double-digits. And their loss in Chicago on Saturday (the third time in their last five games that they’ve allowed more than 130 points per 100 possessions) was their 12th in a game they led by double-digits. Both of those totals, along with their six 3-pointers (on 11 attempts) to tie or take the lead in the final minute of the fourth quarter or overtime, lead the league.

The Blazers’ remaining five pre-break games are at the Moda Center, and the homestand includes big games against the Warriors, Thunder and Lakers. Portland is currently 1-5 against those three teams.

Week 17: vs. MIL, vs. GSW, vs. OKC

Last Week:21

Record: 25-29

OffRtg: 113.2 (19) DefRtg: 114.2 (20) NetRtg: -1.0 (24) Pace: 102.2 (2)

The Lakers are rarely not under the spotlight, but they’re really under the spotlight this week. Kyrie Irving is off the market, but the Lakers still need to find some help for LeBron James and Anthony Davis. They still have a couple of first-round picks that they could deal, and there should still be some impact players available for one or both of those picks.

James says he’ll leave that stuff to GM Rob Pelinka as James himself makes history. With his post-Christmas binge having tapered off a bit, he is 36 points from passing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar atop the all-time scoring list. James has scored 36 or more in just nine (21%) of his 43 games this season, but eight of those nine performances have come in his 19 games since (and including) Christmas. Also, the fewest points James has scored in any two-game stretch this season is 37. So if it doesn’t happen against Oklahoma City on Tuesday, it will almost certainly go down two nights later against the Bucks.

Finally, no matter who’s on the roster after Thursday and no matter how many points James has scored, the Lakers need wins. They edged the Knicks and Pacers on the road last week, allowing just 19 points on 25 clutch defensive possessions. But they lost the most important game of their five-game trip, blowing a double-digit, second half lead (and shooting 0-for-4 on clutch shots) in New Orleans as the Pelicans put an end to their 10-game losing streak. The Lakers still have a losing record (11-13) in games that both James and Davis have played, and they’ve been outscored by 3.1 points per 100 possessions in the 135 minutes that the two stars have played together since Davis’ return from injury 12 days ago.

Week 17: vs. OKC, vs. MIL, @ GSW

Last Week:23

Record: 25-27

OffRtg: 112.9 (21) DefRtg: 112.7 (12) NetRtg: +0.2 (17) Pace: 100.4 (13)

The Bulls have had the league’s No. 1 defense (108.7 points allowed per 100 possessions) over a 6-3 stretch that has them still very much in the mix for a top-eight spot in the East. But the defense wasn’t good enough on Tuesday to survive a game in which the Bulls committed 20 turnovers against the Clippers, with the last of those (along with a sense of déjà vu) coming on a last-minute inbounds play with the Bulls down three. The Bulls actually rank ninth in turnover rate (13.5 per 100 possessions) overall and eighth in clutch turnover rate (10.5 per 100), but are now 10-17 in games that were within five points in the last five minutes

The defense was good enough two nights later for the Bulls to win a game (against Charlotte) in which DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine combined for just 25 points. Through Week 16, the Bulls have the league’s fourth most improved defense, having allowed 0.5 fewer points per 100 possessions than they did last season (when they ranked 23rd defensively). Alas, their best defender (Alex Caruso) suffered another injury (a foot sprain) in the second quarter against the Hornets and, after an offensive win over Portland on Saturday, the Bulls have allowed 6.8 fewer points per 100 possessions with Caruso on the floor than they have with him off the floor.

LaVine had 36 points against the Blazers and has been at the center of most deadline speculation regarding this team. But he’s under contract for at least three more seasons, so there shouldn’t be much urgency on the Bulls’ side of things. Statistically, they’re better than they were last season, though they’ve been a little worse (minus-0.3 points per 100 possessions) with LaVine and DeRozan on the floor together.

Week 17: vs. SAS, @ MEM, @ BKN, @ CLE

Last Week:22

Record: 25-30

OffRtg: 114.5 (11) DefRtg: 114.0 (18) NetRtg: +0.5 (15) Pace: 97.9 (26)

It seems doubtful that any results from the Raptors’ seven-game road trip were going to change Masai Ujiri’s mind about his willingness to part ways with any of his core players. The Raptors did go 4-3 on the trip, but the writing has been on the wall for a while now in regard to this team’s inability to finish any higher than eighth (maybe seventh) in the East. And whether Ujiri makes a deal by Thursday afternoon will likely be determined by what deals are available. He seemed ready to trade Kyle Lowry (who said his good byes) at the deadline two years ago, but then held onto the veteran point guard (even though he wasn’t part of the team’s future plans) because the offers weren’t good enough.

We don’t know if the Raptors are more willing to keep paying a 29-year-old Fred VanVleet (who can decline his player option and become a free agent this summer) than they were willing to keep paying a 35-year-old Lowry. We don’t know how much they value Gary Trent Jr., and we don’t know if they think there’s too much skill overlap with OG Anunoby, Scottie Barnes and Pascal Siakam. We do know that the Raptors have been just OK (plus-1.7 points per 100 possessions) with those five guys on the floor together and that this team ranks 29th in effective field goal percentage (in the bottom 10 for the third straight season). Changes will be needed at some point.

The Raptors’ pre-break schedule concludes with four home games against teams that are currently at or below .500. They’re 12-9 (8-1 at home) within that group thus far.

Week 17: vs. SAS, vs. UTA, vs. DET

Last Week:20

Record: 24-28

OffRtg: 113.3 (17) DefRtg: 113.6 (17) NetRtg: -0.3 (22) Pace: 99.5 (18)

Prior to Friday, the Wizards were 8-0 when leading by 20 points or more, better in the second halves of games (plus-2.4 points per 100 possessions) than they were in first halves (minus-2.2). Now, they’re 8-2 and one of five teams with multiple losses in games they led by at least 20. On Friday, they led the Blazers by 20 points in the second quarter and by 18 at the half. Less than 24 hours later, they led the shorthanded Nets by 23 in the first quarter and by 21 early in the third. But they allowed Portland and Brooklyn to score 143 points on just 95 second-half possessions (150.5 per 100), with two small guards — Anfernee Simons and Cam Thomas — doing a lot of the damage. (Prior to the weekend, the biggest games against the Wiz had come from big guys.)

If the Wizards had held on to win those two games (in which Kristaps Porzingis totaled 70 points and 11 fouls), they’d be at .500 for the first time since they were 11-11. They’d also be tied with the Hawks for eighth place in the East, with all four head-to-head meetings remaining.

It’s weird that Will Barton started every game he played for the Nuggets last season, but has mostly been out of the Wizards’ rotation this season. He didn’t even play with Bradley Beal out and Kyle Kuzma injured in the first half on Saturday, and he should be a buy-out candidate after the deadline. If they can’t find a trade for Barton, it seems like the Wizards will stand pat this week. But they’ve already made one trade, Kuzma (who will become a free agent this summer) is surely desired around the league, and this team did come out of nowhere to trade for Porzingis a year ago.

On the floor (and in regard to Play-In Tournament position), the 10th-place Wizards have a pretty big game against the 11th-place Pacers on Saturday, having lost two of the first three meetings, with the two losses having been two of their seven worst defensive games of the season.

Week 17: vs. CLE, vs. CHA, vs. IND

Last Week:26

Record: 22-32

OffRtg: 111.6 (25) DefRtg: 114.5 (21) NetRtg: -2.9 (26) Pace: 99.5 (19)

The Magic still have a firm grip on the fifth worst record in the league, seven wins more than the Hornets and three wins fewer than the Pacers and Raptors. But the Magic have seen the league’s fifth biggest jump in winning percentage and its fourth biggest jump in point differential per 100 possessions (+5.2) from last season. And on Sunday, they became the third team to match its win total from 2021-22, when they were 22-60.

The Magic rank higher defensively and their somewhat stunning win in Philadelphia on Monday (in which they trailed by 21 points) came with the Sixers scoring just 109 points on 105 possessions. But the much bigger improvement (even when you take the league-average increase into account) has come on offense, where the Magic have scored 7.7 more points per 100 possessions than they did last season. (Only the Thunder and Blazers have seen bigger jumps.) And as they won in Minnesota and Charlotte over the weekend, they scored more than 120 points per 100 possessions for the 12th and 13th times, having done so just nine times total over the previous two seasons. And they did it with Paolo Banchero (who has seemingly hit the rookie wall) and Franz Wagner combining to shoot just 18-for-59 (31%) from the field over the two games.

The Magic are 9-4 at home over the last month, and they’re back at the Amway Center for a three-game homestand. They’re 0-1 against each of the three teams that are in town this week, having lost games in Denver and Miami by a total of eight points over the last 22 days. The Magic are 3-1 (3-0 at home) in rest-advantage games and they’ll have a rest advantage against the Heat on Saturday.

Week 17: vs. NYK, vs. DEN, vs. MIA

Last Week:25

Record: 25-30

OffRtg: 112.2 (24) DefRtg: 114.6 (23) NetRtg: -2.4 (25) Pace: 101.9 (4)

For-real All-Star Tyrese Haliburton returned from a 10-game absence last week, and the Pacers have been not bad in the first quarter in four straight games. They lost almost all of a 19-point lead on Friday, but got a win over Domantas Sabonis and the Kings, just the third time this season that Sacramento has been held to a point per possession or less.

Myles Turner kept his former teammate in check, and continues to have a career year as a full-time center on both ends of the floor. Turner (who didn’t play after the Sabonis trade last season) has seen the 10th biggest jump in points per 36 minutes (from 15.7 to 21.2) among 263 players who’ve played at least 500 minutes in each of last two seasons, and that’s been about both usage and efficiency. His usage rate (21.6%) and true shooting percentage (64.7%) are both career-high marks.

Unfortunately, better starts haven’t resulted in more wins. The Pacers are 2-12 since the game that Haliburton got hurt, ranking last offensively (109.0 points scored per 100 possessions) and having slipped from sixth place to 11th over that stretch. They do have an opportunity to make up some ground, with three of their five remaining pre-break games against teams – Miami, Washington and Chicago – who have passed them in the standings over the last four weeks. They’re 2-1 against both the Heat and the Wizards, having won in both Miami and Washington.

Week 17: @ MIA, vs. PHX, @ WAS

Last Week:28

Record: 13-40

OffRtg: 109.3 (29) DefRtg: 117.1 (28) NetRtg: -7.8 (29) Pace: 100.1 (16)

The Rockets lead the league in the percentage of their minutes (58%) that have come from rookies or second-year players, and that would be the fifth highest rate for any team in the last 20 years. One of the rookies getting regular burn is Tari Eason, who had one of his best games of the season (20 points and 13 rebounds) in a win against the Thunder on Wednesday. Eason ranks fifth among players shorter than 6-foot-10 in offensive rebounding percentage (10.8%), 12 of those 13 rebounds* against OKC were on the offensive glass, and one of the biggest plays of the game was a relentless sequence that resulted in an and-one.

* It was the first time in 29 years that a player had more than 10 offensive rebounds in less than 20 minutes. The last instance was Popeye Jones (12 in 17 minutes) in March of 1994.

Now, the question is if the Rockets want to keep one of the only veterans who’s been playing regularly or if they’ll finally trade Eric Gordon, who’s averaged 25.7 points over his last three games. Gordon’s 2023-24 salary is non-guaranteed, so there’s not much risk for a potential buyer, but trading for a $19.6 million contract is easier said than done.

Second-year player Jalen Green returned from a three-game absence on Saturday and shot 4-for-15 in a loss to the Thunder, who had the most efficient offensive performance (153 points on 103 possessions) for any team in any game this season. Before that, the most efficient game against the Rockets came from the Kings, who will be in Houston for a two-game series this week.

Week 17: vs. SAC, vs. SAC, @ MIA

Last Week:29

Record: 14-40

OffRtg: 110.9 (27) DefRtg: 118.1 (29) NetRtg: -7.2 (28) Pace: 100.9 (12)

Jaden Ivey has been the Pistons’ starting point guard (with Killian Hayes coming off the bench) for the last six games (since they got back from Paris), averaging a team-high 6.4 minutes of possession (22% of his time on the floor) over these two weeks, up from 4.0 (13%) prior. Ivey’s assist/turnover ratio (2.11) is higher than it was before these six games (1.52), and the Detroit offense has been relatively decent, ranking 19th (113.3 points scored per 100 possessions) over that stretch.

Ivey has scored just 0.80 points per possession as a pick-and-roll ball-handler, a mark that ranks 48th among 53 players with at least 200 ball-handler possessions, according to Synergy tracking. That’s not good, but it’s better than Hayes’ mark (0.73), which ranks last among those 53 players. Ivey had his best shooting game of the season (8-for-11) against Charlotte on Friday, when the game-winning bucket came via an Ivey drive, with Jalen Duren making a nice kick-out pass to the right corner, from where Saddiq Bey is now 16-for-27 (59%).

Bojan Bogdanovic is one of the most sought-after veterans on a bad team, but the Pistons seemingly want to keep him, hoping to be much more competitive next season. They basically swapped out Jerami Grant for Bogdanovic last summer, and they’ve seen the league’s sixth biggest jump in points scored per 100 possessions (+5.3) from last season.

Week 17: vs. BOS, @ CLE, vs. SAS, @ TOR

Last Week:27

Record: 15-40

OffRtg: 108.9 (30) DefRtg: 115.5 (26) NetRtg: -6.6 (27) Pace: 101.6 (7)

The Hornets got their preferred starting lineup back together six games ago, and they won the first two games with the group reunited. But they’ve since dropped four straight, scoring an anemic 106.1 points per 100 possessions over the losing streak, even though the last two opponents — Detroit and Orlando — have bottom 10 defenses. None of the Hornets have been shooting a particularly good ball (unless you count their bigs in the paint), and their three rotation forwards — Gordon Hayward, P.J. Washington and Jalen McDaniels — have combined to shoot 13-for-57 (23%) from 3-point range over the four games. Hayward’s season-long effective field goal percentage of 48.9% is the second worst mark of his career and ranks 191st among 221 players with at least 250 field goal attempts. (Teammate Dennis Smith Jr. ranks last at 43.7%.)

With their losses to the Pistons and Magic over the weekend, the Hornets are 3-4 in games played between the five worst teams in the league, and they’re the second team to surpass its loss total from 2021-22. It’s kind of hard to believe now, but yes, the Hornets were 43-39 last season. Only the Suns have seen a bigger drop in winning percentage, the Hornets have seen the league’s biggest drop in offensive efficiency (-4.7 points scored per 100 possessions) and they’ve even taken a small step backward (when you take the league average into account) on defense.

Three of their seven worst defensive games of the season have come against the Celtics, and they’ll be in Boston (where they lost by 35 in November) for the final meeting on Friday.

Week 17: @ WAS, @ BOS, vs. DEN

Last Week:30

Record: 14-39

OffRtg: 110.7 (28) DefRtg: 120.4 (30) NetRtg: -9.7 (30) Pace: 101.4 (8)

The Spurs’ two February games have been the first time they’ve shot better than 54% from the field twice in a row. A Tre Jones injury has given Malaki Branham the opportunity to play big minutes, and the rookie has averaged 24 points on 20-for-29 shooting over the two games. Most of his production against the Sixers on Friday came off the dribble and he’s actually shot 50% (33-for-66) as a pick-and-roll ball-handler, according to Synergy tracking, though turnovers have been an issue.

And that’s kind of been the story for the Spurs in general over these last two games. While they’ve shot well from the field, only 15 of their 100 made buckets came from 3-point range, they’ve committed 15 more turnovers than their opponents, and also attempted 38 fewer free throws. They’ve lost eight straight and now hit the road (where they haven’t won since Dec. 19) for the annual rodeo trip, nine straight road games spanning the All-Star break.

Jakob Poeltl is on an expiring contract and would certainly be of use (as a defensive big man who can also drop a few dimes) to a few contenders for the next few months. But Poeltl is still just 27 years old and (unlike Mason Plumlee in Charlotte) doesn’t have any younger centers playing behind him, so he could certainly be a part of the Spurs’ future plans if they’re willing to pay him this summer. The Spurs have only been outscored by 1.2 points per 100 possessions in 481 total minutes with their four full-time starters – Jones, Keldon Johnson, Jeremy Sochan and Poeltl – on the floor together.

Week 17: @ CHI, @ TOR, @ DET, @ ATL