Immanuel Quickley and Julius Randle have sparked the Knicks’ current 9-game win streak.
There have been 31 games played between the top five teams in the East, and 23 of the 31 have been within five points in the last five minutes. Just in the last five days, the Celtics beat the Cavs by four, the Sixers edged the Bucks after trailing by 18 points and the Knicks beat the Celtics in double-overtime.
Boston and Milwaukee are seemingly the favorites in the East, and they’re probably built the best for playoff success. But thus far in the regular season, games between the top five have been incredibly competitive. In fact, the Celtics, Cavs and Knicks are all .500 in games played between the East’s top five…
Records in games played between the top five teams it the East (point diff. per game)
1. Milwaukee: 7-5 (+0.6)
2. Boston: 6-6 (+1.9)
2. Cleveland: 6-6 (+1.5)
2. New York: 7-7 (-1.5)
5. Philadelphia: 5-7 (-2.3)
Maybe Boston and Milwaukee are the clear favorites. Or maybe Philly can finally put it all together. And maybe Cleveland (leading the league in point differential) and New York (nine straight wins, with two over Boston last week) are better than they look at first glance.
No matter what, there should be at least four great series in the Eastern Conference playoffs, and at least one of these teams won’t make it out of the first round.
The next matchup of East powers is Monday night when the Celtics visit the Cavs (7 p.m. ET, League Pass) for the final of their four meetings. It’s an opportunity for the Cavs to keep the Knicks at bay and maybe move back into the Top 5 in the Power Rankings.
Plus-Minus Players of the Week
Teams of the Week
- Make It Last Forever: New York (4-0) — The craziest part of the Knicks’ revival may be that they have a top-five offense, having ranked in the bottom 10 on that end of the floor in each of the last four seasons.
- Something Just Ain’t Right: Memphis (2-2) — The results on the floor were secondary.
* * *
East vs. West
Schedule strength through Week 20
- Toughest: 1. Detroit, 2. Charlotte, 3. Washington
- Easiest: 1. Sacramento, 2. Denver, 3. Minnesota
- 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: Minnesota (+5), Golden State (+3), Toronto (+3)
- Free falls of the week: Atlanta (-4), Memphis (-4), Utah (-4)
* * *
Week 21 Team to Watch
- Cleveland — The Knicks’ nine-game winning streak has taken them to within a game of the fourth-place Cavs, who are just 2-3 since the All-Star. So the pressure is on Cleveland to find a rhythm and keep pace with New York, and that could be tough do given its next three games. The Cavs will host the Celtics on Monday and then travel to Miami for games on Wednesday and Friday. They’ll then play another two-game series in Charlotte.
* * *
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 113.7 points scored per 100 possessions and 99.8 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.
OffRtg: 113.4 (18) DefRtg: 109.6 (2) NetRtg: +3.8 (6) Pace: 101.0 (11)
When you have the league’s second-ranked defense, you should probably win all the games in which you score more than 130 points per 100 possessions. The Bucks had one of those games on Saturday, scoring 101 points over the final 36 minutes. Giannis Antetokounmpo made 16 of his 18 free throw attempts and Jrue Holiday had a 13/1 assist/turnover ratio to go along with his five 3-pointers. But the Bucks blew an 18-point lead and allowed the Sixers to score 48 points in the fourth quarter as their 16-game winning streak came to an end.
The Bucks rank in the top two in three of the four factors on defense (no other team ranks in the top five in more than two). They’re first in opponent effective field goal percentage, second in opponent free throw rate, and second in defensive rebounding percentage. But the one thing they don’t do, despite having two ball hawks in Jrue Holiday and Jevon Carter, is force turnovers. The Sixers shot well and got to the line on Saturday, and they also committed a season-low six turnovers (one in the 48-point fourth).
That was actually the Bucks’ second loss in a game in which they scored more than 130 points per 100 possessions. But the Bucks won the next night in Washington, 17 out of 18 isn’t bad, and as noted above, they’re still 7-5 within the top five in the Eastern Conference. They have two more games (vs. Boston and Philly) within the group, and they’re a two-game homestand in the second to last week of the season.
The Bucks’ two-game trip ends in Orlando on Tuesday, but they’ll begin a three-game trip in San Francisco four days later. The home team has won the last five meetings between the last two NBA champs, with the Bucks beating the Warriors handily (despite getting outscored by 24 points from 3-point range) in December.
Week 21: @ ORL, vs. BKN, @ GSW
OffRtg: 117.6 (2) DefRtg: 113.0 (12) NetRtg: +4.6 (3) Pace: 99.1 (20)
The Grizzlies lead the league in points-in-the-paint differential by a wide margin, having outscored their opponents by 11.7 points in the paint per game. But in Denver on Friday, the score in the paint was Nuggets 58, Grizzlies 36, with the 36 being the fewest Memphis has scored and the second-fewest Denver has allowed this season. The Nuggets continue to slowly climb toward the top 10 in defensive efficiency, having allowed 111.8 points per 100 possessions as they’ve won 11 of their last 14 games.
On the other end of the floor against the Grizzlies, Nikola Jokic scored 14 of the Nuggets’ 58 points in the paint and assisted on 14 more as he picked up his 25th triple-double of the season. Jokic ranks second (behind Trae Young – 372) with 343 total assists in the paint, which account for 61% of his total assists, the 14th highest rate among the 78 players with at least 200 total assists.
The two-time reigning Kia MVP’s on-off differential hasn’t budged much since Thomas Bryant started backing him up. The Nuggets have been 26.4 points per 100 possessions better with Jokic on the floor (plus-15.0) than they’ve been with him off the floor (minus-11.4) over their eight games with Bryant. With Reggie Jackson having shot 11-for-41 (27%) as a Nugget, they’ve scored an anemic 85.4 per 100 in 66 total minutes with Jackson and Bryant on the floor together.
The Nuggets will play 10 of their next 11 games against the Eastern Conference, with the exception being their game in San Antonio on Friday. That stretch includes two games each against Toronto and Brooklyn.
Week 21: vs. TOR, vs. CHI, @ SAS, vs. BKN
OffRtg: 116.7 (3) DefRtg: 111.3 (4) NetRtg: +5.4 (2) Pace: 99.2 (18)
The good news is that the Celtics have held double-digit leads in 11 of their last 12 games. But losing a game in which you led by double-digits is seemingly worse than never having a double-digit lead in the first place. The Celtics have lost three of those 11 games with big leads, suffering the worst collapse for any team this season (losing after leading by 28) against Brooklyn on Friday and then experiencing some deja vu two nights later against the Knicks. Over the two games, the Cs scored 71 points on 50 possessions in the first quarter (142 per 100) and 163 points on 168 possessions (97 per 100) thereafter.
The Celtics appear to have eight guys (more than most teams) they can trust on both ends of the floor. But coach Joe Mazzulla seems to be searching for answers with his bench. Absences have been an issue — the Celtics were without at least one of their top eight guys in all three of their losses last week. With Jaylen Brown out on Monday, Sam Hauser played 16 minutes off the bench and was, basically, the target of the Knicks’ offense for all 16. The Celtics sent double-teams instead of letting Hauser guard guys one-on-one, and the Knicks got open shots as a result. As the Celtics had their worst 3-point shooting game of the season (9-for-42), New York was 7-for-9 on corner 3s.
More surprising than the Celtics double-teaming Immanuel Quickley 23 feet from the basket was Grant Williams getting DNP’d two nights later (the one game the Celtics were #fullsquad) in favor of Hauser and Mike Muscala. On Sunday, Mazzulla played only eight guys in a double-overtime game and Hauser registered a minus-16 in less than 20 minutes off the bench.
The Celtics are now two games in the loss column behind the first-place Bucks, and they still have three games left on a stretch of eight straight against teams that rank in the top 11 offensively. They’ll be at a rest disadvantage (Monday) for their second meeting with the Cavs in the span of six days, but they’re tied (with the Bucks) for the league’s best record (8-1) in the second games of back-to-backs, having shot 41.3% 3-point range in those nine games.
Week 21: @ CLE, vs. POR, @ ATL
OffRtg: 116.1 (7) DefRtg: 112.2 (8) NetRtg: +3.9 (5) Pace: 97.8 (26)
With Joel Embiid out on Wednesday, Tyrese Maxey was back in the starting lineup, and he led the Sixers to an easy win in Miami, scoring 27 points and dishing out seven assists (with no turnovers). With Embiid back the following night, Maxey was still in the starting lineup (moving De’Anthony Melton to the bench), as the Sixers went with a group that had allowed just 101.5 points per 100 possessions (best among lineups with at least 200 minutes) to that point.
Over the next three halves, the starting group allowed the Mavs and Bucks to score 73 points on 47 possessions (155 per 100). Though the Sixers cut a 25-point deficit to four in the fourth quarter in Dallas on Thursday, they suffered their first loss (they were previously 19-0) in a game in which they scored at least 120 points per 100 possessions.
But two nights later, they turned the tables on what was the league’s No. 1 defense, coming back from an 18-point deficit late in the third quarter (with two starters injured) and scoring 48 points in the fourth quarter. James Harden had 19 of those 48, hitting a huge, 30-foot 3-pointer to bring the Sixers within one five days after missing the game-winner against the Heat. Harden is 25-for-50 (that’s 50%) from 3-point range since the All-Star break and his season-long effective field goal percentage (55.3%) is now his best mark since his last season in Oklahoma City (2011-12).
The Sixers have faced double-digit, fourth-quarter deficits in five of their last six games. But they’ve won two of the five, and two of the other four were decided in the final seconds. Their first six post-break games were all against teams that currently have winning records, and they’ll have a similarly tough stretch over the final 2 1/2 weeks of the season. But seven of their next nine games are against teams currently below .500, though the next two are the end of a stretch of five games in seven nights.
Week 21: @ IND, @ MIN, vs. POR, vs. WAS
OffRtg: 116.3 (5) DefRtg: 113.4 (14) NetRtg: +3.0 (7) Pace: 97.5 (27)
Last week was the toughest stretch of the Knicks’ post-break schedule, and they won all four games, improving to 9-0 since adding Josh Hart to the rotation. Two of the four wins came against the Celtics, and one of those (a double-overtime victory in Boston on Sunday) came without Jalen Brunson. Immanuel Quickley (who’s been closing games alongside Brunson) started in Brunson’s place, played 53 minutes, scored a career-high 38 points (including 11 in the clutch, and added eight rebounds, seven assists, four steals and two blocks. His Kia Sixth Man of the Year case keeps getting stronger and the Knicks have now been 7.9 points per 100 possessions better with Quickley on the floor (plus-6.2) than they have with him off the floor (minus-1.7).
Of course, while Hart and Quickley have been a huge part of the winning streak, it’s just as important that that the Knicks aren’t getting killed with their starters on the floor. Over the 5-8 stretch that preceded the streak, they were outscored by 15.5 points per 100 possessions in 226 total minutes with their starting guards and forwards — Brunson, Quentin Grimes, RJ Barrett and Julius Randle — on the floor together. And over these last nine games, the Knicks are a plus-5.2 per 100 in 136 minutes with that quartet on the floor.
That’s not dominant, but it gets the job done when you have a bench that simply destroys teams when it enters the game. And it’s not a coincidence that improvement has come with better availability for Mitchell Robinson (who’s been back for six games). The Knicks’ full starting lineup has outscored opponents by 8.6 per 100 in 468 minutes, but the Knicks are a minus-14.5 per 100 in 326 minutes with the other four on the floor without Robinson.
After they host the Hornets on Tuesday, the Knicks will play six straight games against the Western Conference. They’re just 11-11 against the West, but they’re one of two teams (the Sixers are the other) to have held the Kings’ No. 1 offense under a point per possession. A four-game trip begins in Sacramento on Thursday and includes a weekend back-to-back in L.A.
Week 21: vs. CHA, @ SAC, @ LAC, @ LAL
OffRtg: 115.2 (9) DefRtg: 109.5 (1) NetRtg: +5.7 (1) Pace: 96.1 (30)
The Cavs probably aren’t going to slip out of the top three in defensive efficiency, but their defense has shown some slippage, especially against quality opponents. (They held the shorthanded Pistons to just 90 points on 102 possessions on Saturday.) They had another clutch game against the Celtics on Wednesday, but only because they cut a 21-point deficit to four in the final seconds, and the loss was the fourth time in five games that they allowed more than 120 points per 100 possessions.
Fouls have been an issue, but the damage has mostly come from the perimeter, with the opponents shooting 60-for-121 (49.6%) from 3-point range over those four games. The Cavs have the seventh-lowest opponent 3-point rate (36.7% of their opponents’ shots have come from beyond the arc), but they’re 5-21 (only five teams have been worse) when their opponents have shot 40% or better from 3-point range, and 35-5 otherwise. Teams that shoot well are mostly the best teams in the league, and the Cavs have now lost nine of their last 12 games against the 15 other teams that are currently at or above .500.
The Cavs (3-1 in home rest-advantage games) will have a rest advantage on Monday when they face the Celtics for the final time. They’ll then have a four-game trip with only two stops, facing two teams that rank 28th and 30th in 3-point percentage. They’ve split their first two meetings with Miami, with the Heat’s win in Cleveland on Jan. 31 being their fourth-best 3-point shooting game of the season (14-for-31).
Week 21: vs. BOS, @ MIA, @ MIA, @ CHA
OffRtg: 114.0 (13) DefRtg: 112.0 (6) NetRtg: +2.1 (9) Pace: 98.5 (24)
The Suns are 3-0 with Kevin Durant, who has shot 29-for-42 (69%) with his new team. His debut on Wednesday was more of a defensive win for Phoenix. It was also the Hornets’ second-worst offensive performance of the season (91 points on 101 possessions) and the Suns’ least efficient offensive performance (105 on 101) in a game they won. Durant did his part, stuffing two jump hooks from rookie Mark Williams and even cutting off a baseline drive after “icing” a pick-and-roll on the sideline.
But there were also early instances of Durant and Devin Booker each getting open shots because of the attention paid to the other. The offense broke out after that first game, with the Suns’ wins in Chicago and Dallas coming with their first and fourth most efficient offensive performances of the season. Booker has not taken a back seat, registering a usage rate of 32.4% over the three games with Durant (their minutes have been staggered), and the two stars have combined for an effective field goal percentage of 67.9%, shooting 43-for-78 (55%) from outside the paint over the winning streak. They had 73 combined points in Dallas on Sunday, and Durant drained the game-winner with Reggie Bullock choosing not to help off of Booker in the near corner.
The Suns trail the third-place Kings by three games in the loss column, with the third of four head-to-head games in Phoenix on Saturday. The Suns have won the first two meetings, having held the Kings’ top-ranked offense to just 110.2 points per 100 possessions, the second-best mark among 22 teams that have played at least two games against Sacramento.
Week 21: vs. OKC, vs. SAC
OffRtg: 118.5 (1) DefRtg: 116.0 (26) NetRtg: +2.5 (8) Pace: 101.3 (9)
There have been eight games since the All-Star break in which both teams have scored at least 127 points per 100 possessions. The Kings have been involved in three of those eight. The Heat lead the league in clutch games because they play slow and their games aren’t efficient on either end of the floor, but the Kings have managed to play some close games despite combining with their opponents to score 126.4 per 100 over their six games since the break (up from 116.3 before the break).
Sacramento won the first five of those games, with two of those wins coming against the Clippers. The Kings were 26-for-26 from the line against LA on Thursday, with the final two of those free throws (from Domantas Sabonis with seven seconds left) giving them their fifth one-point victory of the season (their second against the Clippers in a stretch of eight days). De’Aaron Fox (34.8 points on 61% shooting) led seven Kings who averaged double-figures over the winning streak.
But both the winning streak and Fox’s streak of eight straight games of scoring 30-plus came to an end on Saturday, when the Kings couldn’t get the clutch stops they needed (Minnesota scored 15 points on 10 clutch possessions). Their clutch profile (first on offense, 25th on defense) is almost identical to their overall profile (first and 26th).
With the Clippers having sunk in the standings, the Kings now have to hold off the new-look Suns to keep the 3 seed in the West. The third of four meetings (the Suns won the first two) is Saturday in Phoenix, the fourth game in a stretch where the Kings are playing five of six against top-10 defenses.
Week 21: vs. NOP, vs. NYK, @ PHX
OffRtg: 113.7 (17) DefRtg: 109.8 (3) NetRtg: +3.9 (4) Pace: 101.6 (7)
The Grizzlies are kind of like the new Nets. They’ve had a terrific season and still sit in second place in Western Conference. But with just 19 regular season games left on the schedule, their star is away from the team for non-basketball reasons and for an undetermined amount of time.
Sixteen months ago, the Grizz turned their season around when they lost Ja Morant to an injury, winning 20 of the first 22 games they played without him. This season, they’re 4-6 without their point guard, having lost the last three games he’s missed. Tyus Jones had a terrific game (25 points, 12 assists, zero turnovers and five steals) starting in Morant’s place in LA on Sunday, but the Clips don’t really have another point guard, and they were outscored by nine points in Jones’ 11:31 on the bench.
And oh yeah, Brandon Clarke is out for the season after tearing his Achilles on Friday. The Grizzlies have been a little better with Jaren Jackson Jr. on the floor with Steven Adams (plus-13.9 points per 100 possessions) than they’ve been with Jackson and Clarke on the floor together (plus-12.4), but …
1. Adams has missed the last 17 games and it’s not clear when he’ll be back.
2. The Grizz would surely like to have both of those big-man combinations, so that they could deploy either of them in a playoff series.
Who that playoff series will be against will be determined by how well the Grizzlies (the ones who are available) handle adversity over the next couple of weeks. This has the potential to go downhill very fast, the Grizzlies lead the third-place Kings by just a game, and some of the teams behind Sacramento are playing their best basketball of the season. The Mavs don’t fit that definition, but they will face the Grizzlies three times in the next 15 days, with a home-and-home set starting in Memphis on Sunday. The two teams haven’t met since Dallas beat Memphis by 41 points in Week 1.
Week 21: @ LAL, vs. GSW, vs. DAL
OffRtg: 114.0 (14) DefRtg: 113.2 (13) NetRtg: +0.9 (11) Pace: 102.7 (1)
The Warriors swept their five-game homestand, climbing from 10th place to fifth in the Western Conference. They trailed the last four of those games by at least 12 points, but outscored their opponents by an amazing 34.8 points per 100 possessions over the five second halves. Overall, it was their best five-game stretch of defense this season (100.6 allowed per 100). And they did it without Stephen Curry, who made his return from an 11-game absence on Sunday.
But that Sunday game was not at home, and the Warriors’ return to the road led to the end of their winning streak. Their road defense (still 28th in the league) wasn’t terrible on Sunday, but they couldn’t stop Anthony Davis (39 points). Additionally, Davis’ presence seemingly made the Warriors a little too 3-happy — they shot 18-for-52 from beyond the arc and just 13-for-30 in the paint. Scoring just 105 points on 99 possessions, it was their worst offensive game since their road loss to the same Lakers 10 days earlier. The champs are now 7-24 (with six straight losses) on the road.
That loss begins a stretch where the Warriors are playing eight of 10 on the road, with the only home games coming against the Bucks and Suns. Andrew Wiggins remains out, but the next 17 days could define the Warriors’ season and the time to figure out their road woes is right now. Their last road win (Jan. 30) was in Oklahoma City, where they’ll play on Tuesday.
Week 21: @ OKC, @ MEM, vs. MIL
OffRtg: 113.1 (21) DefRtg: 112.9 (10) NetRtg: +0.2 (17) Pace: 101.8 (5)
The Wolves would have had a 4-0 trip through California if they didn’t blow a 12-point, fourth-quarter lead against the Warriors eight days ago. But the final three games of the trip – wins over the Clippers, Lakers and Kings — were a terrific recovery … and maybe their best three-game stretch of the season. The Wolves held the two L.A. teams (with whom they’re fighting for playoff and/or Play-In position) to just 99 points per 100 possessions, and they’re now back in the top 10 in defensive efficiency for what would be the first time in 19 years (since their 2004 conference finals team).
Then, playing the second game of a back-to-back, the Wolves outscored the league’s No. 1 offense, registering an effective field goal percentage higher than 70% for the fourth time (a total that leads the league). Anthony Edwards has seen a drop in efficiency (along with a jump in usage rate) since the Wolves traded D’Angelo Russell for Mike Conley, but Conley had his best game with his new team (24 points on 7-for-12 shooting) on Saturday and Edwards capped his 27 points with the two biggest shots of the night. The Wolves are now 7-4 (with five straight wins) in the second games of back-to-backs, and four of the seven wins have come against teams — Dallas, Cleveland and Sacramento (x2) — that currently have winning records.
The Wolves will now play their next eight games against the Eastern Conference, currently just 9-12 (5-6 at home) in interconference games. They’re playing just two games over a stretch of eight days that began Sunday, and they’ll have rest advantages against both the Sixers and Nets this week.
Week 21: vs. PHI, vs. BKN
OffRtg: 113.1 (20) DefRtg: 113.5 (16) NetRtg: -0.4 (21) Pace: 98.7 (22)
Paul George and Kawhi Leonard have both been healthy for about seven weeks (since mid-January). In those seven weeks, the Clippers are 11-11. Four of those 11 losses have come with one or both of them out of the lineup, but even an 11-7 mark with both in uniform isn’t the kind of run that the Clippers were probably hoping to go on. Before escaping with a win over the shorthanded Grizzlies on Sunday (they needed to come back from 15 down in the fourth quarter), they had lost five straight.
Healthy stars have allowed the Clippers to turn things around offensively; they rank seventh on that end of the floor over this 11-11 stretch. But their defense (which ranked sixth in mid-January) has taken a step backward, ranking 26th over the 22 games and allowed their opponents to score 120.8 points per 100 possessions over the five-game losing streak. Two of those five games were against the league’s No. 1 offense, but that No. 1 offense belongs to the team that the Clippers seemingly had a chance of catching in the standings. Instead, they enter Week 21 in eighth place in the West, now seven games in the loss column behind those Kings.
Their win over Memphis on Sunday began a stretch where the Clippers are playing nine of 10 at home, and they have at least two days off before each of their next four games. Two of the 10 times they’ve scored at least 125 points per 100 possessions have come against the Raptors and Knicks, but both teams are now playing their best basketball of the season. The visit from New York on Saturday is one of just three remaining games (the other two are against Portland) against teams that currently rank in the top 10 offensively.
Week 21: vs. TOR, vs. NYK
OffRtg: 116.4 (4) DefRtg: 115.7 (25) NetRtg: +0.6 (14) Pace: 96.7 (29)
The Mavs’ first five games out of the All-Star break have been their best five-game stretch of offense this season (126.2 points scored per 100 possessions). Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving have combined to average 59.8 points over the five games, and both guys have scored more efficiently since Irving’s arrival in Dallas than they did prior. They combined for 82 points (on a true shooting percentage of 79.6%) against Philly on Thursday, when the Mavs got their first win against a non-Spurs team with both in the lineup.
But, after their loss to the Suns on Sunday and despite the efficient offense, the Mavs are just 2-5 with both Irving and Doncic in uniform. Since Irving’s arrival, Dallas ranks last defensively, having allowed 122.6 points allowed per 100 possessions over their eight games with him on the roster. While the Mavs have outscored their opponents by 16 points over the seven games with both stars, they continue to struggle in the clutch. All five losses have been within three points in the last five minutes, and the Mavs have scored just 19 points (shooting 1-for-14 from 3-point range) on 26 possessions with the score within three in the last three in those five games.
The Mavs have the league’s second-biggest differential between their record with rest (31-24) and their record in the second games of back-to-backs (2-8). They have three back-to-backs remaining on their schedule, with the first of those on Tuesday and Wednesday. They’ll be at a rest disadvantage in New Orleans, currently leading the ninth-place Pelicans by just a game and a half, with the home team having won the first three head-to-head meetings.
Week 21: vs. UTA, @ NOP, @ MEM
OffRtg: 114.4 (11) DefRtg: 113.5 (18) NetRtg: +0.9 (12) Pace: 99.2 (19)
The Nets were in a pretty bad place on Friday night. They had lost six of their first seven games with their new ensemble, and included within was a 44-point loss to the Bulls, a brutal second half (66-42) against the Bucks on Tuesday, and two thumpings by the Knicks. And after 16 1/2 minutes on Friday, the Nets were getting their butts kicked by the Celtics for the second time in 30 days.
But then things turned. From 51-23 down, the Nets outscored the Celtics by 44 points (83-39) over the next 24 1/2 minutes to get a much-needed (and quality) win. They lead the league with seven wins in games they trailed by at least 15 points and the 28-point deficit they faced on Friday was the largest that any team has overcome to win a game this season. (The Nets were also one of two teams to win a game they trailed by at least 28 last season.)
The defensive aspect of the comeback was probably more noteworthy, and the Nets followed it up by holding the Hornets to just 86 points on 101 possessions on Sunday. Their new starting lineup cracked the 100-minute mark in that game and is one of seven league-wide lineups (an obsolete Nets lineup is one of the other six) that have played at least 100 minutes and allowed less than a point per possession. But Mikal Bridges (29.4 points on 57/50/94 shooting splits over the last seven games) continues to do good things on the other end of the floor.
The Nets get a second straight game against a bottom-four team on Tuesday. But Games 2-4 of their five-game trip are in Milwaukee, a rest-disadvantage game in Minnesota, and in Denver. Prior to the comeback in Boston, they had lost six straight on the road, allowing more than 130 points per 100 possessions over those six games.
Week 21: @ HOU, @ MIL, @ MIN, @ DEN
OffRtg: 110.8 (26) DefRtg: 111.7 (5) NetRtg: -0.8 (23) Pace: 96.9 (28)
The Heat had an amazing streak of 17 straight games in which their effective field goal percentage was worse than the league average (54.4%). That streak came to an end against the Knicks on Friday, when they had their their fourth most efficient offensive performance of the season (120 points on 95 possessions), with Jimmy Butler’s 20 free throw attempts adding to their relatively hot shooting from beyond the arc (12-for-25). But the Heat lost the game, because Julius Randle made the craziest game-winning shot since Butler’s up-and-under reverse layup five days earlier in Philadelphia.
The Heat also lost on Friday because the Knicks made 16 3-pointers prior to that last one from Randle, while also shooting 30-for-40 (75%) inside the arc. With that outcome, the Heat had lost six of their last seven games and greatly reduced their chances of getting a top-five seed and avoiding one of the East’s three best teams in the first round. Their first five games out of the All-Star break (three of them against potential first-round opponents) were their worst stretch of defense this season (117.6 points allowed per 100 possessions).
They did get an important win over the eighth-place Hawks on Saturday, with Bam Adebayo scoring 13 of his 30 points in a 37-23 second quarter. Of course, after leading by as many as 21 points, the Heat had to allow Atlanta to get within five points in the last five minutes. They’ve now played two more clutch games (45) than any other team and have a shot at the record for the 27 seasons for which we have clutch data (58).
The Heat will need to beat the Hawks again on Monday to avoid being tied in the loss column, though Atlanta will have the tougher schedule going forward.
Week 21: vs. ATL, vs. CLE, vs. CLE, @ ORL
OffRtg: 114.4 (10) DefRtg: 114.5 (21) NetRtg: -0.1 (19) Pace: 101.4 (8)
The Hawks have seen a small uptick in 3-point rate (36% of their shots have come from beyond the arc) under Quin Snyder, and when Dejounte Murray scored a career-high 41 points on Friday, he was 5-for-5 from 3-point range. But Murray was also an amazing 10-for-13 on pull-up 2-pointers in the Hawks’ win over Portland. Murray has now attempted 401 pull-up 2s for the season, second most in the league and more than any Jazz player attempted in any of Snyder’s eight seasons in Utah. His 49.9% on pull-up 2s is easily the best mark of his career and ranks 16th among 137 players who’ve attempted at least 100.
The Hawks are just 1-2 under Snyder, in part because they allowed the Wizards and Heat to total 28 offensive rebounds and 40 second-chance points in their two losses. The Hawks have been an improved defensive team (they ranked 26th defensively last season), but they’ve seen the league’s fifth-biggest drop in defensive rebounding percentage, and that drop-off has been more pronounced in Clint Capela’s minutes on the floor (from 75.1% to 71.8%) than in his minutes off the floor.
The offense has climbed from 22nd to 10th over the last seven weeks, with only the Kings having scored more efficiently in that stretch. But the Hawks still have a lot of work to do to secure a top-eight spot in the East. Eleven of their 18 remaining games are against teams that currently have winning records, and three of the other seven are against the 10th-place Wizards. They’ll have a rest advantage for their first of two games in Washington this week, but will be at a disadvantage when they host the Celtics on Saturday. They’re 8-3 (2-2 on the road) in rest-advantage games and 2-4 (1-2 at home) in rest-disadvantage games thus far.
Week 21: @ MIA, @ WAS, @ WAS, vs. BOS
OffRtg: 113.9 (15) DefRtg: 113.4 (15) NetRtg: +0.5 (15) Pace: 98.0 (25)
The Raptors’ first five games out of the All-Star break (concluding with their loss in Washington on Thursday) were their worst five-game stretch of offense this season (104.7 points scored per 100 possessions). Fred VanVleet missed the first three and then shot 6-for-28 in his first two games back.
But the Raptors won three of those five games, in part because they keep winning the possession battle by large margins. On Tuesday, they had eight fewer turnovers and 13 more offensive rebounds than the Bulls, picking up their second win in a game in which they had an effective field goal percentage at least 10 percentage points worse than their opponent (48.4% vs. 59.2%). And they broke out of their offensive slump on Saturday, earning a split of their two-game series in Washington, with Gary Trent Jr. scoring 26 points off the bench and VanVleet scoring more points in overtime (6) than the Wizards (4). Though he shot poorly in the first two, VanVleet has had 27 total assists (with just two turnovers) over his three games back.
So the Raptors went 2-1 against two of the three teams behind them in the East standings, and they’ve won nine of their last 12 overall, ranking fifth defensively over that stretch. In Jakob Poeltl’s nine games since he was reacquired, the Raptors have allowed an amazing 17.1 fewer points per 100 possessions with him on the floor (103.3) than they have with him off the floor (120.4).
With those three critical games against the Bulls and Wizards behind them, the Raptors will now play their next six games against the Western Conference. That includes two games in the next nine days against the Nuggets, the ultimate challenge of Poeltl’s defense. The Nuggets scored a remarkably efficient 132.5 points per 100 possessions in 60 minutes with Poeltl on the floor for the Spurs this season.
Week 21: @ DEN, @ LAC, @ LAL
OffRtg: 113.2 (19) DefRtg: 112.4 (9) NetRtg: +0.8 (13) Pace: 99.9 (15)
The Pelicans’ offense broke out as they got an important win in Portland on Wednesday. Brandon Ingram scored 40 points (shooting 15-for-21 on non-restricted-area 2-pointers), they turned the ball over just six times, and they scored 121 points on just 95 possessions, their third most efficient offensive performance since Jan. 1.
But the Pelicans have otherwise scored a paltry 102 points per 100 possessions as they’ve lost five of their last six games to fall two games below .500. They still have a positive point differential (that of a team that’s 34-30), but they’ve lost nine of their last 11 games that were within five points in the last five minutes. They had a four-point lead with less than five minutes to go (after leading by as many as 17) at Golden State on Friday, but then allowed the Warriors to score 15 points on their next six possessions.
This team is banged up beyond the continued absence of Zion Williamson. Jose Alvarado is out with a stress reaction in his right leg, Larry Nance Jr. has missed the last three games with an ankle sprain, and Jonas Valanciunas has missed the last two with a calf contusion. CJ McCollum, who’s having his least effective shooting season in the last five years, is also dealing with a thumb injury.
The Pelicans’ first of three post-break back-to-backs is Saturday and Sunday, and both of those games — vs. the Thunder and Blazers — are important in regard to Play-In Tournament positioning. Ingram sat the second games of the two pre-break back-to-backs the Pelicans had after he returned from a two-month absence.
Week 21: @ SAC, v. DAL, vs. OKC, vs. POR
OffRtg: 112.9 (23) DefRtg: 113.5 (17) NetRtg: -0.7 (22) Pace: 102.3 (2)
Given that the Jazz (who’ve lost three straight) and Pelicans (who’ve lost five of their last six) are slipping, two doors to the Play-In Tournament club are open for the Lakers. They’re without LeBron James for a least eight more games, but they’ve been able to tread water, winning two of their four games, since he suffered his right foot injury. On Wednesday, they got just their second win (in six tries) without James and Anthony Davis, making more than 15 3-pointers for just the seventh time this season and scoring 123 points on just 99 possessions. On Sunday, they were able to end the Warriors’ five-game winning streak despite getting outscored by 21 points from beyond the arc.
Golden State shot just 13-for-30 in the paint, including just 5-for-16 with Jarred Vanderbilt on the floor. The Lakers have allowed less than a point per possession (and outscored their opponents by 13.2 per 100) in 166 total minutes with Vanderbilt and Davis on the floor together. They got that offensive win in OKC but will need the defense in these few weeks (or more) without the NBA’s all-time leading scorer. In their two losses last week, the Lakers barely cracked a point per possession.
The Lakers are two games into a stretch where they’re playing 10 of 12 at home, and in their previous home game against the Grizzlies, they came back from six points down with less than two minutes left and won on Dennis Schroder’s steal and layup. Memphis will be without their leading scorer from their win over the Lakers last Tuesday, but that game was about turnovers as much as it was about Ja Morant’s 39 points. The Lakers now have two of the five worst turnover differentials in the league this season: plus-20 (26-6) in a December loss in Miami and plus-19 (26-7) in Memphis last week.
Week 21: vs. MEM, vs. TOR, vs. NYK
OffRtg: 114.4 (12) DefRtg: 112.9 (11) NetRtg: +1.5 (10) Pace: 102.1 (3)
The Thunder’s offense wasn’t bad over a five-game stretch without Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Six players averaged double-figures and the team had an assist/turnover ratio of 2.62 as it scored 116.7 points per 100 possessions over the five games. Josh Giddey was the primary ball-handler, but Jalen Williams also averaged 5.4 assists, and the rookie led those six double-figure scorers with 21.6 ppg on 57/47/83 shooting splits. For the season, Williams’ true shooting percentage (59.6%) would be the sixth-highest mark for a rookie with at least 500 field goal attempts in the last 25 years (257 instances).
The Thunder lost the first four of those games because their defense was bad. But they picked up an SGA-less win over the Jazz on Friday when they committed 19 fewer turnovers than their opponent. Gilgeous-Alexander returned two nights later and scored 38 points as the Thunder completed a sweep of the two-game series and drew even with the 10th-place Jazz in the loss column. They’re one of two teams — the Raptors are the other — that rank in the top five in both turnover rate (fourth) and opponent turnover rate (second), and they’ve committed fewer turnovers in 50 of their 64 games, including 25 of their last 28.
The Thunder’s six-game homestand concludes with a visit from the champs on Tuesday. They’ll then play eight of their next 10 games on the road, with three rest-disadvantage games in that stretch. The first of those is Wednesday in Phoenix, where the Thunder lost (without Gilgeous-Alexander) just 10 days ago.
Week 21: vs. GSW, @ PHX, @ NOP, @ SAS
OffRtg: 113.8 (16) DefRtg: 113.9 (20) NetRtg: -0.1 (20) Pace: 98.9 (21)
Bradley Beal still plays for the Wizards and hasn’t scored more than 37 points in a game this season. So, among the highest-paid players in the league, he kind of flies under the radar. But Beal is having the second-most efficient scoring season of his career (true shooting percentage of 59.8%), and while his 3-point rate still isn’t nearly what it was in the one season in which he was more efficient (2016-17), he’s shooting a career-best 55.3% inside the arc.
That season-high 37 points came in a seemingly important win in Atlanta on Tuesday, when 12 of the 27 came in the fourth quarter. Beal hit a pull-up jumper (the man loves shooting off his left-hand dribble) for the lead with 35 seconds left and then put the Wizards up three with a tough step-through floater off the glass. Beal has now shot 36-for-56 (64%) on clutch shots, the best mark among 64 players who’ve attempted at least 35. And he’s also 22-for-24 (92%) on clutch free throws.
Beal has actually played in 11 straight games (for the first time in 14 months), but overall continuity and consistency remain evasive for the Wizards. Monte Morris has missed the last five games, while both Kyle Kuzma and Kristaps Porzingis also missed games last week. The Wizards’ preferred starting lineup has been good, but has still played just 157 total minutes together, the fourth fewest for any team’s most-used lineup. And after picking up a couple of good wins, the Wiz lost both ends of their weekend back-to-back at home.
The second half of the Wizards’ stretch of four games in five nights begins with a rest-advantage game in Detroit on Tuesday. Then they’ll have their second and third meetings against the eighth-place Hawks.
Week 21: @ DET, vs. ATL, vs. ATL, @ PHI
OffRtg: 115.8 (8) DefRtg: 115.7 (24) NetRtg: +0.1 (18) Pace: 100.5 (13)
The Jazz stayed competitive after the departures of three rotation guys at the deadline, going 4-3 in their first seven games after the trade. But, apparently, they can’t keep winning with just anybody in the lineup. Either Jordan Clarkson or Lauri Markkanen has missed each of the last three games, and the Jazz have lost all three. Without Clarkson, they scored less than a point per possession for just the second and third times this season, with one of those games coming against the league’s worst defense. The Jazz committed 46 turnovers (25 more than their opponents) over the two games.
The offense was better with Clarkson back in the lineup on Sunday, and he dished out a career-high 12 assists, with a few ridiculous kick-out passes included within. But the Jazz still have a bottom-10 defense, they couldn’t keep Shai Gilgeous-Alexander off the free throw line, and they suffered their second straight wire-to-wire defeat in Oklahoma City. (Through Feb. 14, the Jazz were one of three teams without any games in which they never held a lead. Now, they have three.)
Seven of the Jazz’s first eight games out of the All-Star break are against teams that are currently at least four games under .500, so this could have been a time for them to move up in the Play-In Tournament picture in the West. Instead, they’ve shown some (not totally unexpected) signs of slippage. The one game against a good team in these first eight is Tuesday in Dallas. The Mavs have won two of the first three meetings and the first two were the two slowest-paced games the Jazz have played this season.
Week 21: @ DAL, @ ORL, @ CHA
OffRtg: 116.3 (6) DefRtg: 117.1 (27) NetRtg: -0.9 (24) Pace: 98.6 (23)
Damian Lillard can’t score 71 points every game, especially because he never gets to play against the Portland defense. Lillard did average 35 ppg over the Blazers’ four games last week, but the Blazers lost the first three, allowing their opponents to score 126.0 points per 100 possessions over the losing streak. The nadir was the 75 points on 49 second-half possessions that the Warriors scored as the Blazers blew a 23-point lead on Tuesday. They remain the league leaders in losses (15) in games they led by double-digits.
Jusuf Nurkic, who’s missed the last 13 games, has been particularly missed on the glass. The Blazers have grabbed just 65.5% of available defensive rebounds, the league’s lowest rate, since the All-Star break. And for the season, they’ve grabbed 75% with Nurkic on the floor and just 67.9% with him off the floor. The 24 second-chance points that the Hawks registered on Friday were one shy of their season high.
The Blazers got a win in Charlotte on Sunday, when Lillard scored 41 points and Nassir Little became the sixth different Blazer to make a shot to tie or take the lead in the final minute of the fourth quarter or overtime. After a stretch where Portland lost nine straight games that were within five points in the last five minutes, it’s won five of its last seven clutch games, scoring 65 points on 50 clutch possessions over that stretch.
The Blazers’ game in Detroit on Monday is the end of a stretch of five games in seven nights. And then their six-game trip gets tougher. Their weekend split in Atlanta and Orlando has them 8-15 against Eastern Conference, with an 0-5 mark against the East’s top five. They’ve yet to play the Celtics (who they’ll visit on Wednesday) and their first meeting with the Sixers (who they’ll visit on Friday) was one of the three times they’ve scored less than a point per possession.
Week 21: @ DET, @ BOS, @ PHI, @ NOP
OffRtg: 113.1 (22) DefRtg: 115.7 (23) NetRtg: -2.6 (26) Pace: 101.3 (10)
The Pacers are 2-11 without Tyrese Haliburton, and the worst of those 11 losses was probably in San Antonio on Thursday, when Haliburton was out with calf soreness and Indy scored just 99 points on 103 possessions against the league’s worst defense. Buddy Hield shot well without the guy who’s assisted him 128 times this season, but there wasn’t much offense beyond Hield’s 27 points. For the season, the Pacers have scored 8.8 fewer points per 100 possessions with Haliburton off the floor (107.2) than they have with him on the floor (116.0).
But Indy has won four of its last five games with Haliburton in the lineup, scoring 127.3 points per 100 possessions in his four games since the All-Star break. He totaled 61 points and 17 assists in the two games he played last week, draining a long 3 to beat the Bulls on Sunday. While the Pacers have been bad with Haliburton in street clothes, they weren’t so bad with him in uniform and off the floor last week, outscoring the Mavs and Bulls by 13 points in his 27 minutes on the bench.
With that Haliburton-less loss in San Antonio, the Pacers are 4-1 against the bottom four teams in the league. They still have five games remaining against that group, with three of them (vs. Houston, at Detroit, at Detroit) in the next eight days. They’re a game and a half behind the 10th-place Wizards (the two teams split the season series) and this may be the Pacers’ best chance to make a little run for the Play-In Tournament.
Week 21: vs. PHI, vs. HOU, @ DET
OffRtg: 112.4 (24) DefRtg: 112.0 (7) NetRtg: +0.3 (16) Pace: 99.8 (16)
The Bulls actually out-mid-ranged the Suns on Friday, outscoring them 38-22 between the paint and the 3-point line. And of course, DeMar DeRozan (who’s now attempted 259 more mid-range shots than any other player) led the way, going 11-for-15 from mid-range. But the Bulls lost by 21, getting outscored by 39 points (60-21) from 3-point range by the team that ranks 20th in 3-point rate.
Their season-long 3-point discrepancy (minus-8.4 points per game, second biggest in the league) is more about the Bulls’ offense, but the loss to Phoenix was the fifth time that their defense allowed more than 130 points per 100 possessions. Two nights later, they made it six, forcing just nine turnovers and allowing the Pacers to turn 13 offensive rebounds in 20 second-chance points.
After picking up blowout wins in the first two games out of the All-Star break, the Bulls have lost three of four, despite 52/40/80 shooting splits over the four games and with the only win coming against Detroit. They’re now 1 1/2 games out of the Play-In Tournament and have a tougher remaining schedule (in regard to cumulative opponent winning percentage) than the two teams — Washington and Indiana — between them and 10th place.
The Bulls are playing just two games over a stretch of nine days that began Monday. The two teams with the worst records (both 6-14) in interconference games are the Bulls and the Rockets, who won by 15 in Chicago on the day after Christmas. The second meeting is Saturday in Houston.
Week 21: @ DEN, @ HOU
OffRtg: 111.3 (25) DefRtg: 113.8 (19) NetRtg: -2.5 (25) Pace: 99.3 (17)
Paolo Banchero is 4-for-45 (9%) from 3-point range since Feb. 1. But he doesn’t seem discouraged, and three of those four makes came (on 10 attempts) over the weekend. Prior to that, Banchero was terrific inside the arc in a Magic win in New Orleans, scoring 29 points and making the three biggest buckets of the game, three isolation pull-ups from 13-19 feet. The Rookie of the Year favorite (who also had 31 points in a win over Charlotte on Friday) has more than twice as many isolation possessions as any of his teammates, and though the 0.90 points per possession he’s scored in isolation rank 29th among 42 players with at least 100, that’s ahead of the marks of Devin Booker, Paul George, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Ja Morant.
The Magic probably need to put a little streak together if they’re going to challenge for a Play-In Tournament spot. But they’ve now alternated wins and losses over their last 12 games, with the much bigger difference between the good results and the bad ones (15.4 points per 100 possessions) being on the defensive end of the floor. With their wins in New Orleans and Charlotte last week, they’re 19-7 when they’ve held their opponents under 110 points per 100.
To continue the win-loss pattern, the Magic would need to beat the Bucks on Tuesday. Having lost in Milwaukee last week, they’re 4-13 against the top seven teams in the East, with three of those four wins having come against Boston. They still have eight games remaining against that group, with the Heat also in Orlando as the Magic conclude their four-game homestand this week.
Week 21: vs. MIL, vs. UTA, vs. MIA
OffRtg: 108.7 (30) DefRtg: 114.7 (22) NetRtg: -6.0 (27) Pace: 101.9 (4)
The Hornets were playing their best basketball of the season prior to last week, winning four straight games and playing pretty good defense. They made it five straight by beating the strategically shorthanded Pistons on Monday, but lost LaMelo Ball to a fractured ankle in the process.
It’s a tough blow for Ball (who had already missed 27 of the team’s first 62 games) and the Hornets. They weren’t going to end what will now be a seven-year playoff drought (the longest in the league if the Kings don’t collapse), but they lose development time with Ball and the young bigs on the roster. While Dennis Smith Jr. will probably put some people on posters over these last five weeks of the season, the Hornets are also a far less entertaining product without the star point guard who consistently and artfully toes the line between carefree and careless.
Counting their win over Detroit, the Hornets went 13-23 with Ball in the lineup, scoring 111.8 points per 100 possessions over those 36 games. After their anemic offensive performance in Brooklyn on Sunday, they’re 7-23 without him, having scored 104.9 per 100 in those 30. And with him done for the season, it would be an upset if they don’t remain last in the league in offensive efficiency.
The Hornets do get to play the Pistons again on Thursday. That and their game against the Jazz two nights later are two of their six remaining games against bottom 10 defenses. They also have three remaining games against the No. 1 defense in the league, and they’ll start a two-game series with the Cavs on Sunday.
Week 21: @ NYK, @ DET, vs. UTA, vs. CLE
OffRtg: 109.8 (28) DefRtg: 118.1 (29) NetRtg: -8.3 (29) Pace: 99.9 (14)
It’s been noted in this space multiple times that the Rockets are breaking their own record for most transition points allowed per game (27.0 through Sunday). At the same time, the Rockets have been near the bottom of the league in transition points scored per game. Despite having one of the fastest guys in the league leading them in total minutes, they’ve been letting their opponents have all the fast-break fun.
But in their home-and-home sweep of the Spurs over the weekend, the Rockets totaled 64 fast break points, with the 30 and 34 being their two highest totals of the season by a healthy margin. The opposing defense had something to do with it (the Spurs have allowed 41 fast break points in a game this season), but it was good to see the young Rockets on the open floor. Jalen Green only had nine of the 64, but Tari Eason (who can fly) had 17, with two of those coming on a fast break led by Boban Marjanovic. For the season, 48% of Eason’s points have come on fast breaks (20%) or second chances (28%). That’s the third-highest rate (trailing only those of Chris Boucher and Steven Adams) among 287 players with at least 250 total points scored this season.
The Rockets are four games into a stretch where they’re playing 10 of 12 at home. They’ve lost their last seven home games against the Eastern Conference, but one of their six total wins against the East (and their third most efficient offensive performance of the season) came against the Bulls, who will be in Houston on Saturday.
Week 21: vs. BKN, @ IND, vs. CHI
OffRtg: 109.5 (29) DefRtg: 119.6 (30) NetRtg: -10.2 (30) Pace: 101.7 (6)
The Spurs didn’t have to play the Rockets to end their 16-game losing streak, because they beat the Jazz and Pacers early last week. They also didn’t have to shoot well from deep to end the streak; they were 18-for-58 (31%) from 3-point range over the two games, but held both opponents (one of them with a top-five offense) under a point per possession. The Spurs were previously 0-44 when they faced a double-digit deficit, and they trailed the two games by 10 and 11 points, respectively. But they actually pulled off two comebacks, outscoring Utah and Indy by 19.5 points per 100 possessions over the two second halves.
And it’s a good thing that the Spurs didn’t need to beat the Rockets to end the streak because they couldn’t beat the Rockets in either of their two games over the weekend. The Rockets ranked 29th offensively through Friday, just a tick better than the 30th-ranked Hornets. But they scored 131.3 points per 100 possessions and outscored the Spurs by 56 points in the paint (148-92) over the home-and-home series.
The Spurs did get Devin Vassell back last week, but eight of their top guys (four on Saturday, four on Sunday) didn’t play one of the two games against Houston. We’ll see if anybody needs a day off after a four-day break, with the Spurs’ longest homestand of the season (six games over 10 days) beginning on Friday. They had the lead or were within a possession at the end of the third quarter in each of their two games against the Thunder this season, but were outscored by 30 points (66-36) over the two fourth quarters. The third and final meeting is Sunday night.
Week 21: vs. DEN, vs. OKC
OffRtg: 110.0 (27) DefRtg: 117.4 (28) NetRtg: -7.4 (28) Pace: 100.5 (12)
The Pistons were pretty clearly in the bottom three of the league prior to last week, but they did have two games remaining against the team – the Hornets – with the league’s fourth-worst record. So there was a chance that, with wins in those games (they were already 2-0 in the season series), they’d climb into 14th place in the East and reduce their odds of getting the No. 1 pick in the Draft from 14% to 12.5%. And wouldn’t you know it, the Pistons left their best player (Bojan Bogdanovic) at home when they played in Charlotte on Monday. They allowed the Hornets to go on a 34-6 run in the first quarter, they shot 3-for-26 from 3-point range, and their comeback from a 24-point deficit fell short.
Marvin Bagley III and James Wiseman did combine for 44 points and 19 rebounds, even playing a few minutes together on Monday. And with Isaiah Stewart and Jalen Duren still out, Bagley and Wiseman actually started together five nights later in Cleveland. But while Bagley was 8-for-12, it was the Pistons’ worst offensive game (90 points on 102 possessions) in more than four months. And in the two lefties’ 16 total minutes together, Detroit has been outscored by 17 points.
It’s looking more and more like the Pistons are going to finish in the bottom five on both ends of the floor for the first time in 29 years (since the 1993-94 season). With the Spurs and Rockets both winning last week (and with Jaden Ivey calling a timeout they didn’t have), they have the league’s longest active losing streak (seven games). Their next six games are against teams that are at least four games under .500, and perhaps (with five wins now separating the two teams) Bogdanovic will be in the lineup when they play the Hornets again on Thursday.
Week 21: vs. POR, vs. WAS, vs. CHA, vs. IND