Power Rankings

Power Rankings, Week 24: Bucks return to No. 1 with 2 weeks left

See where all 30 teams rank as we enter Week 24 of the 2022-23 season.

Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks have the best record in the NBA with 2 weeks left.

If the Kia MVP race is your thing, this is your week. With Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets having beaten Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday, Jokic will now face off with Joel Embiid and the Philadelphia 76ers on Monday night (9:30 p.m. ET, NBA TV). Six nights later, it will be Embiid vs. Antetokounmpo in Milwaukee.

If games between Eastern Conference powers are your thing, this is also your week. Before the Sixers and Bucks play, the Boston Celtics will be in Milwaukee on Thursday (7:30 p.m., TNT) for the third and final meeting of the top two teams in the NBA. We might also have a first-round preview when the Knicks and Cavs play the following night in Cleveland.

And if potential playoff previews are your thing, this is also your week. The Nuggets have been the best team in the Western Conference all season, but (if they survive a series against a dangerous Play-In Tournament team) they could see either defending champion Golden State Warriors or the lethal offense of the Phoenix Suns in the conference semifinals. The Nuggets will play both of those teams in the next seven days, visiting the Suns on Friday (10:30 p.m. ET, NBA TV) and hosting the Warriors on Sunday (8:30 p.m. ET, NBA TV).

We might be itching to get to the playoffs, but there’s still a lot of fun, regular-season basketball to be played, and a lot to be determined in regard to playoff and Play-In seeding. Enjoy!

Note: For the bottom eight teams (those with little or no chance of making the Play-In tournament in their conference), the notes below are a recap of how they’ve performed defensively this season. For most of them, last week’s notes were focused on their offense.

Plus-Minus Players of the Week

Teams of the Week

  • Make It Last Forever: Minnesota (3-0) — Karl-Anthony Towns is back and the Wolves are back over .500.
  • Something Just Ain’t Right: Dallas (0-4) — Even if you thought the trade for Kyrie Irving wasn’t a risk worth taking, you couldn’t have predicted things going this badly.

East vs. West

  • The East is 225-202 (.527) against the West in interconference games after going 10-8 last week. One more win will clinch the East’s second straight winning record in interconference games after it had a winning record in just one of the previous 22 seasons.

Schedule strength through Week 23

  • Toughest: 1. Detroit, 2. Brooklyn, 3. Houston
  • Easiest: 1. Denver, 2. Memphis, 3. New Orleans
  • 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), Chicago (+3), New Orleans (+3), Orlando (+3)
  • Free falls of the week: Dallas (-8), Four teams (-2)

Week 24 Team to Watch

  • Milwaukee The Bucks still have some business to take care of to retain the 1 seed in the East, and business picks up this weekend. After visiting Detroit and Indiana earlier in the week, the Bucks will host the second-place Celtics on Thursday (7:30 p.m. ET, TNT) and the third-place Sixers on Sunday (8 p.m. ET, League Pass).

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 114.0 points scored per 100 possessions and 99.7 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: 53-21

OffRtg: 114.0 (17) DefRtg: 109.9 (2) NetRtg: +4.1 (6) Pace: 101.5 (8)

Prior to Saturday, the Bucks were a league-best 9-1 in the second games of back-to-backs, even though Giannis Antetokounmpo missed four of those games and Khris Middleton missed all 10. They rested Middleton in the first game (at Utah on Friday) of this past weekend’s back-to-back, so that he could be available for the marquee matchup the following night in Denver. And the Bucks had a double-digit, first-half lead against the team with the league’s second-best home record. But they then reminded us that they have the league’s 18th-ranked offense, scoring just 40 points on 53 possessions in the second half, tied for their worst offensive half of the season.

With that, the Bucks (113.95 points scored per 100 possessions) are currently just a tick below the league average in offensive efficiency (113.99). They still have the league’s best record and may be the favorite to win the championship given their defense and experience, but the last team to reach the Finals after having a worse-than-average offense in the regular season was the 2006-07 Cavs. And the only worse-than-average offensive team in the 27 seasons for which we have play-by-play data to win the championship was the 2003-04 Pistons, who made a key addition (Rasheed Wallace) at the trade deadline.

The Bucks added Jae Crowder, but he’s missed the last five games (after playing 11) with a calf issue. With 1-3 seeding in the East still unsettled, they play two huge home games this week, though their game against the Celtics on Thursday is the end of a stretch of five games in seven days. Hopefully, they’ll again save Middleton again for the second game of the back-to-back, which will be for the head-to-head tiebreaker with Boston.

Week 24: @ DET, @ IND, vs. BOS, vs. PHI

Last Week:3

Record: 52-23

OffRtg: 117.1 (3) DefRtg: 110.6 (4) NetRtg: +6.5 (1) Pace: 99.3 (17)

When the Celtics were winning 21 of their first 26 games, they were never as dominant as they’ve been over their last three. They’ve outscored their opponents by more than 31 points per 100 possessions over the last 144 minutes, particularly dominant (plus-47.3 per 100) in the second halves. The context is that they had a rest advantage in Sacramento on Tuesday, and then played the Pacers and Spurs at home. But it’s still a very good thing that they’ve kept their foot on the gas and taken care of business in convincing fashion. It’s also good that they have Robert Williams III back, with the Sacramento win being just the 11th time this season that they’ve had all of their top seven guys (last season’s starters plus Malcolm Brogdon and Derrick White) in uniform. (Brogdon and Jayson Tatum each got days off over the weekend.)

Tatum (70 total points over the first two games) and Jaylen Brown (41 with Tatum out on Sunday) have had bigger games, but White has also averaged 20.3 points over the winning streak, shooting 14-for-25 (56%) from 3-point range. He’s registering career-best marks in effective field goal percentage (56.3%), free throw percentage (87.2%) and assist/turnover ratio (3.76), and the Celtics have been at their best (plus-11.2 points per 100 possessions) with White on the floor. Of course, though he’s the only guy on the team who’s played in all 75 games, White ranks seventh among Celtics in clutch minutes (55 of the Celtics’ 162 total), and it will continually be fascinating to see who closes games for this team.

Maybe will get that chance on Thursday or next Tuesday, when the Celtics visit the Bucks and Sixers, with 1-3 seeding in the East still up in the air. White was on the floor down the stretch of their overtime loss in Milwaukee last month, because they were without Tatum, Brown, Marcus Smart and Al Horford.

Week 24: @ WAS, @ MIL, vs. UTA

Last Week:1

Record: 49-25

OffRtg: 117.0 (4) DefRtg: 112.2 (7) NetRtg: +4.7 (3) Pace: 97.5 (27)

It’s fair to say that Joel Embiid wants the MVP award, given that he’s played in 27 of the Sixers’ last 28 games (and in both ends of their last three back-to-backs), despite dealing with a calf issue. One argument (again) for Nikola Jokic in the MVP race is his on-off differential, with the Nuggets having been 25.4 points per 100 possessions better with him on the floor (plus-13.4) than they’ve been with him off the floor (minus-12.0). Embiid’s season-long differential (plus-9.2 vs. minus-1.8) isn’t half as big, but it’s been pretty massive over the last 10 games.

Over that stretch, the Sixers have outscored their opponents by 20.5 points per 100 possessions with Embiid on the floor, and have been outscored by 9.4 per 100 with him off the floor. Losses to the Bulls and Warriors last week were the eighth and ninth times this season that the Sixers have lost a game this season in which they outscored their opponents with Embiid on the floor. That’s happened just six times with Jokic and the Nuggets.

James Harden has missed five of those last 10 games, including each of the last three, with an Achilles issue. Doc Rivers isn’t a coach that always staggers the minutes of his best players, but the Sixers have outscored their opponents by 2.5 points per 100 possessions in 609 minutes with Harden on the floor without Embiid. And in 432 minutes with Tyrese Maxey on the floor without either of the two stars, they’ve been outscored by 3.3 per 100.

Embiid gets two head-to-head, MVP-candidate matchups this week. We know he had one of his biggest games of the season (47 points, 18 rebounds, five assists, three steals and two blocks) against the Nuggets in January. He also recovered from an ugly opening-week loss (in which he shot 6-for-21) to the Bucks, totaling 63 points, 17 boards, and 18 assists as the Sixers won the last two meetings.

Week 24: @ DEN, vs. DAL, vs. TOR, @ MIL

Last Week:4

Record: 50-24

OffRtg: 117.7 (2) DefRtg: 113.6 (15) NetRtg: +4.2 (5) Pace: 98.8 (22)

The Nuggets have seemingly righted the ship, following a 1-5 stretch (in which the only victory was over the Pistons) with three straight wins to keep themselves in clear control of the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference. The bigger difference between the five losses and the winning streak has been on defense, where the Nuggets allowed fewer shots (and worse shooting) in the paint. But it helped more that these last three opponents have combined to shoot just 25-for-97 (26%) from 3-point range. Washington had its worst 3-point shooting game of the season on Wednesday and Milwaukee made fewer than 10 3s for just the sixth time on Saturday.

Both of those teams were playing the second game of a back-to-back, but the Bucks had all three of their All-Defense candidates in the lineup and allowed more than 125 points per 100 possessions for just the seventh time. Nikola Jokic led the way with 31 points, shooting 7-for-9 inside the arc against DPOY candidate Brook Lopez. His 572-for-857 (67.5%) on 2-point shots this season would be the second-best mark for a player with at least 750 2-point attempts in NBA history, behind only Wilt Chamberlain’s 68.3% in 1966-67. (Jokic’s 65.2% last season is the fourth highest.)

We get another MVP-race, head-to-head matchup on Monday, with the visit from Joel Embiid and the Sixers being the Nuggets’ final game against the Eastern Conference. After that, they have several potential playoff previews within the West, including three games against the Suns (x 2) and Warriors. The Nuggets will be at a rest disadvantage in Phoenix on Friday, hosting the Pelicans (a potential 8 seed) the night before. They’re 11-2 against the other five teams in the West’s top six (including 2-0 against the Suns) and 6-3 (2-3 on the road) in rest-disadvantage games thus far.

Week 24: vs. PHI, vs. NOP, @ PHX, vs. GSW

Last Week:5

Record: 48-28

OffRtg: 115.5 (8) DefRtg: 109.6 (1) NetRtg: +5.9 (2) Pace: 96.1 (30)

With their win over the Rockets on Sunday, the Cavs officially ended a four-year playoff drought and have their first playoff team without LeBron James since 1998. The much bigger step forward was last season, but the Cavs have again seen significant improvement on both ends of the floor. They rank as the league’s sixth most improved team on offense (+4.5 points scored per 100 possessions) and its fifth most improved team on defense (+0.7 allowed per 100, with the league average having jumped by 2.6 per 100) from last season. The offensive improvement was expected with the addition of Donovan Mitchell, but it’s a little surprising that the Cavs have had the league’s No. 1 defense for what would be the first time since that ’97-98 playoff season.

In regard to the four factors on defense, the Cavs’ biggest improvement has come in opponent turnover rate, where they rank fourth (16.1 per 100 possessions) after ranking 13th (13.8) last season. They’ve forced 18.2 per 100 over their four-game winning streak, with the biggest opponent turnover being the one they forced out of the Nets with less than 20 seconds to go on Thursday. It allowed them to complete a comeback from eight points down with less than two minutes left and win on Isaac Okoro’s corner 3 with just 0.7 seconds on the clock. (That probably won’t be the last big corner 3 that Okoro attempts this year.)

The Cavs are one of three teams – the Hornets and Warriors are the others – with only six games left to play. Only one of their six – Friday against the Knicks – is against a team that currently has a winning record. And with the third-place Sixers having a much more difficult remaining schedule (five of eight against teams currently over .500), the Cavs still have a chance of earning a top-three seed in the East.

Week 24: @ ATL, vs. NYK, vs. IND

Last Week:6

Record: 45-29

OffRtg: 118.9 (1) DefRtg: 116.4 (25) NetRtg: +2.5 (7) Pace: 101.2 (11)

With the Wolves winning at Golden State on Sunday, the Kings still need one more win to end the longest playoff drought in NBA history. And their first chance will be a rest-advantage game against those seventh-place Wolves on Monday.

The Kings were nowhere close to making the playoffs last season, missing the Play-In by four games and going just 5-8 in games in which they had both De’Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis. But they’ve been the league’s most improved team in regard to winning percentage and its second most improved team in regard to offensive efficiency (+9.2 points per 100 possessions). They’ve even been better (when you take the league average into account) on defense than they were last season (when they ranked 27th).

The defense wasn’t good as they lost games to the Jazz (who were without Lauri Markkanen) and Celtics last week and it put them in a 14-point hole against the Suns on Friday. But their offense was, once again, ridiculous in the second half, scoring 79 points on 50 second-half possessions against a top-10 defense, even though Fox was lost midway through the third quarter with a hamstring issue. For the season, the Kings have been nearly as efficient offensively (and better defensively) in 1,721 total minutes with only one of Fox and Sabonis on the floor (118.4 points scored per 100 possessions) as they’ve been in 1,509 minutes with them on the floor together (120.7).

The win over Phoenix improved the Kings to 9-8 in games played between the top six teams in the West. They still have one more game (vs. Golden State next week) within the group and still have a chance to catch the Grizzlies for second place in the West, holding the conference-record tie-breaker and having a slightly easier schedule over the last two weeks. They have lost two of their three games against Minnesota, with their loss earlier this month being the Kings’ third worst defensive game of the season.

Week 24: vs. MIN, @ POR, @ POR, vs. SAS

Last Week:9

Record: 47-27

OffRtg: 114.8 (11) DefRtg: 110.3 (3) NetRtg: +4.5 (4) Pace: 101.4 (10)

It wasn’t long ago when everything was going wrong for the Grizzlies. But they’ve won nine of their last 10 games, with the league’s No. 1 offense (124.1 points scored per 100 possessions) over that stretch. All 10 games have come without the guy – Steven Adams – who generates a ton of second chances, and seven of the 10 came without the guy – Ja Morant – who can’t be kept out of the paint.

The Grizzlies have increased their 3-point rate, taking 42.2% of their shots (seventh highest) from 3-point range over the 10 games, up from 35.9% (22nd) prior to that. And better shooting has come with more attempts; They’ve shot 39.2% from beyond the arc, with four guys – Desmond Bane, Dillon Brooks, Tyus Jones and Luke Kennard – shooting better than 40% on at least 48 attempts, over the 9-1 stretch. Their weekend wins over Houston and Atlanta were two of the nine times this season that they’ve made at least six more 3s than their opponent, with the Friday game coming with a franchise-record 25 3s and Kennard (10) making three more than the Rockets by himself. (And if Brooks has finally found a rhythm, that’s a huge development given the impact he can make defensively.)

If the Blazers (10th offensively at 115.2 points scored per 100 possessions) continue to sink, the Grizzlies (11th at 114.8) have a chance to finish in the top 10 on both ends of the floor for the second straight season (after never doing so in the franchise’s first 26 seasons). Of course, the Memphis offense could have a tougher time going forward. The context with this 9-1 stretch is that seven of the 10 games – including three against the Mavs and two against the Rockets – have come against teams that rank in the bottom 10 defensively. The Grizzlies will play four of their final five games, a stretch that begins with a visit to Chicago on Sunday, against teams that (like the Grizzlies themselves) currently rank in the top 10 on that end of the floor.

Week 24: vs. ORL, vs. LAC, vs. LAC, @ CHI

Last Week:8

Record: 39-35

OffRtg: 114.4 (13) DefRtg: 112.6 (8) NetRtg: +1.8 (9) Pace: 98.8 (20)

The Suns haven’t been the same team they were last season in a lot of ways, with one of them being their ability to come back. Last season, they had the most wins and the league’s best record (17-18) in games they trailed by double-digits. This season, they have the fewest wins and the league’s second-worst record (3-31, with 22 straight losses) in games they trailed by double-digits. Only the Spurs (4-52) have been worse.

They cut a 12-point deficit down to one with less than eight minutes left in L.A. on Wednesday, but the Suns couldn’t finish the job, allowing the Lakers to score 16 points over their next eight possessions. Two nights later, they lost a 14-point lead in Sacramento, and they now have twice as many losses in games they led by double-digits (34-10, tenth best) as they did last season (54-5, best in the league).

The Suns also haven’t been as good in the second games of back-to-backs, but they got a much-needed, no-rest win over the Sixers (who also played the night before) on Saturday, never trailing by more than four all game and outscoring Philly by 22 points (53-31) over the last 17 minutes. With only eight turnovers and big games from Bismack Biyombo (17 points and 13 rebounds) and T.J. Warren (16 points in 27 minutes, including a few as a small-ball five), it was their second most efficient offensive performance (125 points on only 92 possessions) of the season.

Biyombo was starting in place of Deandre Ayton, who’s missed the last four games with a hip contusion. With eight games (including one back-to-back) left on the schedule, maybe the Suns can be #fullsquad (with both Ayton and Kevin Durant) for five or six.

Week 24: @ UTA, vs. MIN, vs. DEN, @ OKC

Last Week:7

Record: 42-33

OffRtg: 116.3 (5) DefRtg: 113.9 (18) NetRtg: +2.4 (8) Pace: 97.6 (26)

Though it’s a bigger surprise that the Kings have the league’s No. 1 offense, it’s nearly as stunning that the Knicks are in the top five on that end of the floor after ranking in the bottom 10 offensively in each of the last four seasons. But with a big step forward on offense, the Knicks have taken another step backward defensively. And they had two of their worst defensive games of the season last week, allowing Minnesota and Miami to score more than 130 points per 100 possessions. Both opponents shot better than 57% from 3-point range, but the Wolves also totaled 68 points (on 64% shooting) in the paint, and the Heat were 8-for-13 from mid-range while registering their lowest turnover rate in almost a month.

The Knicks’ starting lineup allowed 86 points on just 57 defensive possessions (151 per 100) in its 29 minutes on the floor over those two games. The Knicks have two of the seven worst defensive lineups – their starters with either Jericho Sims or Mitchell Robinson at the five – among the 39 that have played at least 200 minutes this season. And the starting lineup was without Jalen Brunson in Orlando on Thursday, when the Knicks had bigger issues (overall) on offense, but allowed the Magic to score 36 points (shooting 7-for-8 from deep) on just 23 possessions in the fourth quarter.

With their three-game losing streak, the Knicks are just two games ahead of both the Nets and Heat for fifth place in the East. And the tie-breaker will be on the line when New York and Miami meet (for the second time in eight days) at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday. The Heat rank 25th offensively overall, but only two teams have scored more efficiently against the Knicks this season.

Week 24: vs. HOU, vs. MIA, @ CLE, vs. WAS

Last Week:10

Record: 39-36

OffRtg: 113.5 (21) DefRtg: 113.3 (12) NetRtg: +0.2 (16) Pace: 98.6 (24)

Paul George and Kawhi Leonard haven’t played in more than six consecutive games this season, and there will be no topping that number in the last two weeks, with George suffering a sprained right knee in the Clippers’ loss to Oklahoma City on Tuesday. If George doesn’t play again in the regular season (he’s set to be re-evaluated with a few days left), the Clippers will have played 38 total games (they’re 24-14) with both of their stars in uniform, pretty consistent with their totals from 2019-20 (27-10) and ’20-21 (32-11).

The Clippers split their two games after George’s injury, one of their best offensive performances and one of their worst defensive performances of the season. They won four straight earlier this month and have a winning record (5-3) when Leonard has played without George, but they’re just 6-8 since the All-Star break and they remain a worse-than-average offensive team. They’ve scored just 114.6 points per 100 possessions with Leonard on the floor since the break, even though he’s got a true shooting percentage of 67.1% (fifth best among 41 players averaging at least 20 points per game) over these last five weeks.

The Clippers still have a shot at a top-four seed, they’ll play the fourth-place Suns (in Phoenix) on the last day of the season, and they’ll have rest-advantage games on Monday (vs. Chicago) and Wednesday (at Memphis) this week. But they also have two back-to-backs left to play, with that Phoenix game being the second game of the final one. Leonard hasn’t played in both games of a back-to-back all season and the Clippers are 2-9 (with six straight losses) when they’ve had neither George or Leonard in the lineup.

Week 24: vs. CHI, @ MEM, @ MEM, @ NOP

Last Week:11

Record: 40-35

OffRtg: 111.9 (25) DefRtg: 112.9 (9) NetRtg: -0.1 (22) Pace: 96.8 (29)

The Heat got a big win over the Knicks on Wednesday, the sixth time in March that they scored more than 120 points per 100 possessions, having done so just eight times over their 62 games prior to this month. They’re finally shooting well and they got two 3s each from Tyler Herro and Max Strus as they put together the game-deciding, 16-2, fourth-quarter run. They committed seven fewer turnovers than the Knicks and, led by Jimmy Butler (141 free throw attempts in 13 March games), they’ve also been getting to the line at a high rate.

But, while improvement has come on one side of the floor, regression has come on the other side. With the win over New York, the Heat controlled their own destiny in regard to the 5-7 race in the Eastern Conference. And on Saturday night, they scored 69 points on just 45 first-half possessions, with Strus shooting 5-for-6 from beyond the arc. But, despite their most efficient half of the season, the Heat led the Nets by just four. Their defense was even worse after halftime and they lost one of their biggest games of the season by 29. The 129 points they allowed on only 88 Brooklyn possessions was the sixth worst defensive performance for any team this season and, easily, the worst defensive performance for the Heat in the 27 seasons for which we have play-by-play data (and probably franchise history). The Nets’ effective field goal percentage of 59.6% was just their 24th highest mark of the season, but they committed just eight turnovers and turned 17 offensive rebounds into 29 second chance points.

With that, the Heat rank 25th defensively (119.1 points allowed per 100 possessions) since the All-Star break, having seen the league’s biggest jump from before the break (111.2, fifth). They still have three more games against teams that currently rank in the top 10 offensively, including another big game against the Knicks on Wednesday, when the Heat will be at a rest disadvantage.

Week 24: @ TOR, @ NYK, vs. DAL

Last Week:14

Record: 39-37

OffRtg: 114.3 (15) DefRtg: 113.8 (17) NetRtg: +0.5 (15) Pace: 102.6 (1)

The Warriors won more road games last week (2) than they did over the previous two months (1). Then they returned home and beat the mighty Sixers, coming back from 11 points down early in the third quarter and outscoring Philly by 30 points (54-24) from beyond the arc. They scored 122.7 points per 100 possessions, even getting some scoring from Draymond Green to complement that of their three guards.

But three wins (two of them against teams with losing records) by a total of 23 points is not the Warriors regaining their form. And on Sunday, they scored less than a point per possession for just the fourth time this season and lost a home game for the first time in more than six weeks. They led the Wolves with less than 20 seconds left, but gave up the lead when Green turned the ball over. The Warriors rank 29th in turnover rate (15.7 per 100 possessions) for the second straight season, they’re 27th in clutch turnover rate (14.9 per 100), and they’re now 19-20 (including 11-14 with Curry) in games that were within five points in the last five minutes.

With that loss, the Warriors are tied in the loss column with the seventh-place Wolves and eighth-place Pelicans, set to host the Pelicans (who’ve suddenly won four straight) on Tuesday. The Warriors have three road games remaining, and two of them are in Denver (where they lost by 17 last month) and Sacramento (where they blew a 15-point lead in November). Even if they were to win all three, they’d finish 12-29 (.293) on the road, and the postseason history of teams that have been that bad on the road in the regular season is not good.

Week 24: vs. NOP, vs. SAS, @ DEN

Last Week:12

Record: 37-38

OffRtg: 114.0 (16) DefRtg: 113.0 (10) NetRtg: +1.1 (12) Pace: 101.9 (2)

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander played in both games of a back-to-back (for the first time in more than two months) last week … and the Thunder lost them both, failing to climb over .500 for the first time since they were 5-2. They allowed the Clippers and Lakers (two teams with bottom-10 offenses) to score 125.9 points per 100 possessions over the two nights, with one team doing more damage from the perimeter (the Clippers made 18 3s) and the other punishing the Thunder inside (the Lakers grabbed 18 offensive boards). Isaiah Joe also (and finally) cooled off, at one point missing 12 straight 3-point attempts.

But the Thunder got to finish their four-game trip in Portland, and they recovered from an ugly first quarter on Sunday, holding the Blazers to just 75 points on 77 possessions over the final 36 minutes, and holding onto the last Play-In spot in the West. Joe made five straight 3s at one point and Gilgeous-Alexander was 13-for-15 from the free throw line, still on pace to become just the second player in NBA history to shoot 90% or better on at least 10 free throw attempts per game. (The other was Kevin Durant – 90.0% on 10.2 per game – with the Thunder in 2009-10.)

The win in Portland was the first of four straight games against teams that are at least nine games under .500, so the Thunder have a great opportunity to get back over .500 themselves. But they’re just 5-4 against the bottom four teams in the league, a mark that includes losses in Charlotte and Detroit. They’ll host both the Hornets and Pistons this week, with tougher matchups coming after that.

Week 24: vs. CHA, vs. DET, @ IND, vs. PHX

Last Week:19

Record: 38-37

OffRtg: 113.1 (23) DefRtg: 113.1 (11) NetRtg: +0.0 (19) Pace: 101.7 (5)

Karl-Anthony Towns returned from a 52-game absence on Wednesday and had the game-winning points – free throws with 3.6 seconds left against the Hawks and a transition 3 with 9.9 left against the Warriors – in each of his first two games back. Though the Wolves won the two games by a total of four points, they were a plus-20 in Towns’ 58 total minutes. The two games were very different in regard to how efficiently both the Wolves and their opponents scored, with the Golden State win being Minnesota’s first victory in a game in which it scored less than a point per possession since Week 1 of last season.

Kyle Anderson’s active-hands deflection set up Towns’ game-winner, and last week as a whole was a reminder that the Wolves, despite everything they traded for Rudy Gobert, still have some solid depth. They are 38-37 despite one of their stars having missed 52 straight games and, before Towns’ return, they got a win over a good team without him or Anthony Edwards. Taurean Prince (35 points) led seven Wolves in double-figures in New York on Monday, Anderson made another huge play with active hands (grabbing an offensive board in the final seconds), and the Wolves registered their fourth most efficient offensive performance of the season.

The win over the Warriors has the Wolves tied with the champs in the loss column and holding the tie-breaker (they split the season series, but Minnesota would have the better conference record). The Wolves still have two rest-disadvantage games left on their schedule, with the first of those in Sacramento on Monday. They already have two wins against each of the top three teams in the West and have a chance for a second win against the fourth-place Suns when they play in Phoenix on Wednesday.

Week 24: @ SAC, @ PHX, vs. LAL, vs. POR

Last Week:18

Record: 36-38

OffRtg: 112.8 (24) DefRtg: 111.7 (5) NetRtg: +1.1 (11) Pace: 99.3 (18)

The Bulls were held under a point per possession in both of their games against the Sixers last week, but managed to split the two games, with Derrick Jones Jr. coming up with the big defensive play at the end of the second overtime on Monday. Jones has played somewhat sparingly this season, but, after Nikola Vucevic was ejected on Sunday, he gave the Bulls some solid minutes at the five against Anthony Davis.

They got clobbered in their second game against Philly, but the Bulls have won seven of nine to solidify their position in the Eastern Conference Play-In, now four games in the loss column ahead of the 11th-place Pacers. They rank second defensively since the All-Star break, and while they’ve allowed just 101.3 points per 100 possessions in 238 total minutes with Patrick Beverley and Alex Caruso on the floor together, bench minutes have remained critical (beyond those of Jones on Sunday). Coby White has shot 21-for-41 (51%) from 3-point range over the last seven games and the Bulls have outscored their opponents by 12.2 points per 100 possessions in his 200 minutes on the floor over that stretch.

Now tied in the loss column with the eighth-place Hawks and ninth-place Raptors, the Bulls have a great opportunity to move up into one of the Play-In spots that come with two opportunities to make the playoffs. They have more games remaining (8) than Atlanta (7) or Toronto (7), but five of their eight are against teams that currently have losing records, while both the Hawks (3 of 7) and Raptors (2 of 7) have more tough games ahead.

Week 24: @ LAC, vs. LAL, @ CHA, vs. MEM

Last Week:15

Record: 40-35

OffRtg: 114.5 (12) DefRtg: 113.7 (16) NetRtg: +0.8 (14) Pace: 98.9 (19)

The most efficient offensive performance that the Nets have ever had (at least in the 27 seasons of play-by-play data) did not come with Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving or James Harden. It came Saturday in Miami, when they completed a season sweep of the Heat by scoring 129 points on just 88 offensive possessions, with just eight turnovers and 29 second-chance points. And it was a very timely performance, because it pushed the Nets back into sixth place in the East, from where they’d have a guaranteed playoff spot.

But that was the Nets’ only win in their last seven games. They suffered an absolutely brutal loss to the Cavs on Thursday, blowing an eight-point lead with less than two minutes left, throwing a pass away when they were up two and then watching Isaac Okoro hit the game-winner after they failed to secure a rebound. The Nets are 2-8 in games that were within five points in the last five minutes since trading Irving (and then Durant), having scored just 52 points on 70 clutch possessions (74.3 per 100) over that stretch. And they followed the Miami win with a loss in Orlando, scoring just 106 points on 100 possessions, despite getting 44 from Mikal Bridges. (Nets not named Bridges shot 2-for-26 from 3-point range.)

The Nets are still in sixth place thanks to that head-to-head tie-breaker with the Heat, and they’re the only team with only one road game left to play. It’s at Detroit next week and five of their seven remaining games are against teams that currently have losing records. With the Orlando loss, they’re 2-4 since the All-Star break against teams that are currently under .500, a mark that includes a win over the Rockets (who are in Brooklyn on Tuesday) and a loss to the Hawks (who they’ll host on Friday).

Week 24: vs. HOU, vs. ATL, vs. UTA

Last Week:17

Record: 37-38

OffRtg: 113.2 (22) DefRtg: 113.3 (13) NetRtg: -0.1 (20) Pace: 101.9 (3)

The Lakers haven’t had a winning record all season. But they got to .500 with a three-game winning streak in which Austin Reaves averaged 23.7 points and 8.7 assists, with the Lakers outscoring their opponents (including the Suns and Thunder) by 19.1 points per 100 possessions in his 107 minutes on the floor. Prior to Sunday, they ranked as the league’s most improved team in regard to winning percentage and its second most improved team in regard to point differential per 100 possessions since the All-Star break.

Their game against the Bulls on Sunday wasn’t just their first opportunity (since opening night) to climb over .500. It also marked the return (from a 13-game absence) of LeBron James, who played a little less than 30 minutes off the bench. But James had five turnovers in those 30 minutes, Reaves had another five, and the Lakers committed twice as many turnovers as the Bulls (18-9). With Chicago scoring 27 points in transition and shooting 14-for-31 from 3-point range, the Lakers had their worst defensive game (118 points allowed on 96 possessions) since the All-Star break. They’re now one game below .500 overall (37-38) and one game below .500 with both James and Anthony Davis in the lineup (14-15).

That former mark has them in ninth place, set to begin a four-game trip that includes another game against the Bulls and critical visits to Minnesota and Utah. The Lakers have scored just 97.6 points per 100 possessions (their worst mark against any opponent) as they’ve lost both of their meetings with the seventh-place Wolves, though they’ve had only James (October loss) or Davis (March loss) in the two games.

Week 24: @ CHI, @ MIN, @ HOU

Last Week:16

Record: 37-38

OffRtg: 114.4 (14) DefRtg: 113.3 (14) NetRtg: +1.0 (13) Pace: 98.1 (25)

The Raptors’ defense has seen the league’s fourth biggest drop in points allowed per 100 possessions since the All-Star break, ranking eighth defensively over these last five weeks. Essentially, they’ve been the defensive team that they should have been all season if they wanted to compete for a top-six spot in the Eastern Conference. Jakob Poeltl has made an impact on the glass, with the Raps ranking seventh in defensive rebounding percentage (73.8%) since the trade deadline, up from 16th (71.8%) prior. With that, they continue to have the biggest shooting-opportunity differential in NBA history by a wide margin, averaging 9.0 more field goal attempts or trips to the line than their opponents.

On Wednesday, the Raptors had 12 more field attempts and 14 more free throw attempts than Indiana … and lost, shooting 7-for-34 from 3-point range. The Pacers (featuring three Canadians) shot better than 50% both in and outside the arc and completed a season sweep. Indy (four back in the loss column) probably isn’t going to catch Toronto for one of the final Play-In spots, but that was one that the Raps really needed if they wanted to finish eighth instead of ninth or 10th, given that their schedule is about to get much tougher.

The Raptors have lost six of their last seven on the road and will have a five-game trip after they host the Heat on Tuesday. It includes two games in Charlotte, but also three games in Philadelphia and Boston (x 2). They went 3-1 against both the fourth-place Cavs and fifth-place Knicks, but the Raps are currently 1-7 (0-3 on the road) against the top three teams in the East.

Week 24: vs. MIA, @ PHI, @ CHA

Last Week:22

Record: 37-37

OffRtg: 113.6 (20) DefRtg: 112.0 (6) NetRtg: +1.5 (10) Pace: 99.8 (14)

The Pelicans lost their first of four straight games against the bottom four teams in the league, but they won the next three, with their wins over the Spurs and Hornets last week being the first times in 2023 that they held their opponents under a point per possession. That kept them in the Play-In race, and their win over the Clippers on Saturday put them near the top of it, because a four-game winning streak is all you need to go from 12th place to eighth. (They were actually in seventh before the Wolves’ win on Sunday.) The Pelicans have won more games over the last eight days (4-0) than they won over the previous 33 (3-9).

Brandon Ingram has averaged 30 points over the winning streak, but more noteworthy may be that he’s also averaged 9.8 assists, with wins over the Hornets and Clippers last week being just the 10th and 11th times in his career that he’s had double-digit assists (413 total games, including Play-In and playoffs). The first of his career-high 13 on Saturday was a real transition dime for a Herb Jones layup, but eight of the other 12 were on 3-pointers as the Pelicans made a season-high 21 shots (on 34 attempts) from beyond the arc. The Pelicans still rank 27th in the percentage of their shots that have come from 3-point range (34.8%), but Trey Murphy III has made at least three in 11 of his last 12 games and he became the 48th different player in NBA history to make at least 10 3s in a game on Saturday.

The Pelicans enter Week 24 in the West’s top eight, but they still have their work cut out for them, because, after they visit the Blazers on Monday, their final seven games will be against teams that currently have winning records. And prior to their win over the Clips on Saturday, they had lost 15 of their last 16 games against that group. They have three rest-advantage games left on their schedule, but will be at a disadvantage at Golden State on Tuesday.

Week 24: @ POR, @ GSW, @ DEN, vs. LAC

Last Week:20

Record: 37-38

OffRtg: 115.4 (9) DefRtg: 115.3 (22) NetRtg: +0.0 (17) Pace: 101.5 (7)

The Hawks’ have now been within one game of .500 after each of their last 29 games, the longest such streak (and, subjectively, the greatest streak of any kind) in NBA history. They had a couple of big offensive games (against bad defenses) last week, and they continue to be at their best with reserves on the floor. Over their last eight games, Onyeka Okongwu has averaged 23.5 points, 13.8 rebounds and 2.8 blocks per 36 minutes, shooting 76% from the field and 89% from the line.

But consistent inconsistency can often come with crummy defense, the Hawks have allowed at least 60 points in the paint in nine of their last 10 games, and they rank 25th defensively over their 13 games under coach Quin Snyder. Only two of the 13 games he’s coached have come against teams – Portland and Boston – that rank in the top 10 offensively, while six of the 13 have come against bottom-10 offenses. Losses to the Wolves and Grizzlies last week were both the second games of back-to-backs, and the Hawks are now 2-10 (only the Spurs and Magic have been worse) without rest.

The Hawks’ final back-to-back of the season isn’t until next week, and they’ll have a rest advantage against the Mavs on Sunday. But to keep their within-one-game-of-.500 streak going (and probably to stay within the top eight in the East), the Hawks will have to beat the Cavs in Atlanta on Tuesday. The home team has won the first two meetings, with the Hawks’ win last month (in which Trae Young had 34 points and nine assists) being one of just four times that the league’s No. 1 defense has allowed more than 130 points per 100 possessions.

Week 24: vs. CLE, @ BKN, vs. DAL

Last Week:13

Record: 36-39

OffRtg: 115.7 (7) DefRtg: 115.7 (23) NetRtg: +0.0 (18) Pace: 96.9 (28)

Though the Mavs are 3-8 with both Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving in the lineup, they’ve been outscored by a total of just one point over those 11 games, with all eight of the losses having been within five points in the last five minutes. But only two of those losses have come against teams – Sacramento and Phoenix – that are currently more than a game over .500. And over the weekend, the Mavs lost both games of a home-and-home set against the team – Charlotte – with the league’s fourth worst record.

Defense has been the larger issue for the post-deadline Mavs, but they scored just 107.6 points per 100 possessions over the two games against the Hornets. They committed just 19 total turnovers, but shot just 33% from 3-point range (Irving was 3-for-14) and 4-for-19 from mid-range over the two games, bad numbers for the team that’s taken only 42% of its shots (the league’s second lowest rate) in the paint. And though they missed a lot of shots, the two losses to the Hornets were the 31st and 32nd times this season that the Mavs have registered fewer than 10 second chance points. The Mavs are one of three teams that rank in the top 10 in three of the four factors on offense, but their offensive rebounding percentage of 23.0% would be the second lowest mark for any team in the last five seasons.

With those two games, the Mavs are just 9-16 against the Eastern Conference with five more interconference games to go. More important than their record against the East or their record with both Doncic and Irving is that they’re now in 11th place after sitting in fourth (at 31-26) before their first game that the two stars played together.

Week 24: @ IND, @ PHI, @ MIA, @ ATL

Last Week:21

Record: 35-39

OffRtg: 115.8 (6) DefRtg: 116.2 (24) NetRtg: -0.3 (21) Pace: 100.8 (12)

The Jazz are still, somehow, just a game in the loss column out of a Play-In spot, in part because they, somehow, beat the Kings without Lauri Markkanen on Monday. Kris Dunn remains an elite defender – his 4.3 deflections per 36 minutes rank seventh – but he’s also been providing some offense over his 13 games with Utah. He’s scored in double-figures in nine of the 13, highlighted by 18 points (along with 10 assists and zero turnovers) in the Markkanen-less win over Sacramento. Dunn’s 17.4 points per 36 and his true shooting percentage of 55.5% are both the best marks of his career.

Alas, two nights after they beat the Kings without Markkanen, the Jazz lost to the Blazers with him scoring 40 points. They lost two games without Markkanen (left hand contusion) over the weekend and have shot 31-for-103 (30.1%) from 3-point range over their three-game losing streak. With Jordan Clarkson having played in only three of their 13 post-break games, the Jazz have scored 4.3 fewer points per 100 possessions since the break (116.5, 25th) than they did before it (116.7, fourth). Only the Blazers have seen a bigger drop (-4.8).

Markkanen gives the Jazz a chance any night he’s in uniform, he averaged 26.5 points on 61% shooting as they split two games with Phoenix in November, and only one team (Washington!) has scored more efficiently against the Suns’ eighth-ranked defense this season. He’s listed as questionable for the third and final meeting, which takes place in Utah on Monday.

Week 24: vs. PHX, @ SAS, @ BOS, @ BKN

Last Week:26

Record: 32-43

OffRtg: 111.7 (26) DefRtg: 113.9 (19) NetRtg: -2.2 (25) Pace: 99.6 (16)

The Magic rank 19th defensively for the second straight season, though they’ve been better (+1.8 vs. +2.6) in regard to how many points per 100 possessions they’ve allowed compared to the league average. Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner are future offensive stars, but right now, this team’s personnel is better on the other end of the floor. After a rough, 5-20, start to the season, the Magic have gone 26-23, ranking seventh defensively (113.3 points allowed per 100 possessions) over that stretch.

The 109.4 points allowed per 100 possessions that the Magic’s starting lineup has allowed is the fifth best mark among 19 lineups that have played at least 300 minutes together. And Wagner has a pretty significant on-off differential (the Magic have allowed 5.7 fewer per 100 with him on the floor than they have with him off the floor) given that he’s a full-time starter.

Weirdly, the Magic rank 29th in opponent field goal percentage in the paint (60.6%) after ranking ninth (55.2%) last season. But only the Heat (45.6%) have allowed their opponents to take a lower percentage of their shots in the paint than the Magic (45.7%), who also rank as a top-10 defensive rebounding team for the fifth straight season. They allowed the Nets to grab 15 offensive boards and register 25 second chance points on Sunday, but have still allowed only 108.0 points per 100 possessions as they’ve won three straight games for the first time since mid-December.

Week 24: @ MEM, @ WAS, vs. DET

Last Week:24

Record: 33-42

OffRtg: 113.6 (19) DefRtg: 116.6 (26) NetRtg: -2.9 (26) Pace: 101.4 (9)

Though the Pacers rank much higher on offense, their improvement from last season (they’ve seen the fourth biggest jump in winning percentage) has been more about a defense that ranked 28th in 2021-22 and has only allowed 1.1 more points per 100 possessions this season. With the league average rising 2.6 per 100, only two teams (the Bulls and the Bucks) have allowed fewer per 100 than they did last season and a jump of just 1.1 per 100 actually ranks as the league’s seventh best improvement. With three of the 51 players who’ve averaged more than a steal per game in at least 50 games, the Pacers have seen the league’s third biggest jump in opponent turnover rate.

Alas, the Pacers still rank in the bottom five defensively for the second straight season after 30 straight seasons of not ranking in the bottom five on that end of the floor. They’ve lost four of their last five games to, essentially, seal their fate as a Lottery team for the third straight year. It’s been their worst five-game stretch of defense this season (125.3 allowed per 100), with two of the opponents scoring more than 140 points per 100. Only the Heat (+7.9) have seen a bigger jump in points allowed per 100 possessions since the All-Star break than the Pacers (+6.7).

One area where the Pacers’ defense has been worse than it was last season (related to the departure of Domantas Sabonis) is defensive rebounding. Their defensive rebounding percentage of 68.6% would be the worst mark for any team in the last four seasons and they allowed the Hawks to register 22 second chance points in a 143-130 loss on Saturday. The Pacers were without Myles Turner, but they haven’t rebounded much better with Turner on the floor (69.0%) than they have otherwise (68.1%).

Week 24: vs. DAL, vs. MIL, vs. OKC, @ CLE

Last Week:23

Record: 33-42

OffRtg: 113.9 (18) DefRtg: 114.9 (21) NetRtg: -1.0 (23) Pace: 98.7 (23)

The Wizards have had a few plus defenders on their roster, and when they were good this season (they had a couple of winning streaks of five games or more), they were good defensively. But they’ve never been able to sustain that success for very long and they now have a bottom-10 defense for what would be the fourth time in the last five seasons.

The Wizards actually rank in the top 10 in both opponent effective field goal percentage (53.7%, ninth) and opponent free throw rate (24.2 attempts per 100 shots from the field, fourth). And defending shots without fouling should be the foundation for a good defense. But, despite having one of the league leaders in deflections per 36 minutes on their roster, the Wizards rank 29th in opponent turnover rate (12.2 per 100 possessions), in the bottom two for the second straight season. The Wizards have been at their best (plus-2.5 points per 100 possessions) with Delon Wright on the floor, but seven other Wizards (including a guy they traded) have averaged more minutes per game.

Washington has essentially booked its second straight trip to the Lottery with a 3-10 stretch in which the only wins have come against the Pistons (x 2) and Spurs. Their 12-point win on Friday (in which they were a plus-24 with Wright on the floor) was still one of San Antonio’s most efficient offensive games of the season.

Week 24: vs. BOS, vs. ORL, @ NYK

Last Week:25

Record: 32-42

OffRtg: 115.2 (10) DefRtg: 117.3 (27) NetRtg: -2.1 (24) Pace: 98.8 (21)

The Blazers came out of the All-Star break at 28-30, two games in the loss column behind the 33-28, fourth-place Clippers. But if there was a post-break push, it was toward the bottom of the standings, and this will be the first time in Damian Lillard’s 11-year career that he’s missed the playoffs in two straight seasons.

Of course, it will be the fourth straight time that the Blazers rank in the bottom five in defensive efficiency, tied for the longest such streak in the 27 seasons for which we have play-by-play data (the Lakers – 2013-14 through 2016-17 were the last team to do it). Only the Heat have played more zone this season, so the Blazers have tried some stuff, and they do rank as the league’s sixth most improved defense from last season. But going from 29th to 27th on that end of the floor isn’t much improvement at all, and the Blazers just weren’t good enough to support the best offensive season of Lillard’s career (not that he was innocent in regard to the team’s defensive issues). He played 2,107 minutes, the Blazers scored a ridiculous 119.5 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor, and they went just 27-31 with him in uniform.

The league’s 27th-ranked defense still has two games to play against the league’s top-ranked offense, a two-game series with the Kings on Wednesday and Friday in Portland.

Week 24: vs. NOP, vs. SAC, vs. SAC, @ MIN

Last Week:29

Record: 25-51

OffRtg: 108.5 (30) DefRtg: 114.5 (20) NetRtg: -6.0 (27) Pace: 101.5 (6)

In the first season of Steve Clifford’s first tenure as coach, the Hornets went from 30th to sixth in defensive efficiency. (That 30th-ranked defense 10 years ago allowed 110.3 points per 100 possessions, same as the Grizzlies’ third-ranked defense this season.) They haven’t seen nearly the same kind of improvement in the first season of his second stint on the bench, but the Hornets have ranked first defensively (110.3 per 100!) since the All-Star break.

It’s hard to know how real that is, given that the improvement has mostly been about opponent 3-point percentage: 36.8% (23rd) before the break and just 31.8% (first) since the break. According to Second Spectrum tracking, the percentage of their opponents’ 3-point attempts that have been wide open is actually a little higher since the break (54%) than it was before the break (52%).

But there are some limitations to the tracking data (until next season, at least) and the 3-point defense could be better because, with Mason Plumlee gone, the Hornets’ pick-and-roll defense has been a little less aggressive. The Hornets have averaged 12.2 deflections per game (23rd) since the trade deadline, down from 16.6 (third) prior. Both Mark Williams (9.5) and Nick Richards (8.3) have defended more shots at the rim per 36 minutes than Plumlee did with the Hornets (7.3), evidence that they’ve been in the area of the rim more often, allowing weak-side defenders to more often stay at home.

Seven of their last 10 games have come against top-10 offenses, and the Hornets have ranked 10th defensively over that stretch, winning five of the 10 games. It’s a somewhat encouraging finish to a mostly discouraging season.

Week 24: @ OKC, vs. CHI, vs. TOR

Last Week:27

Record: 18-57

OffRtg: 110.2 (27) DefRtg: 118.7 (29) NetRtg: -8.6 (29) Pace: 99.6 (15)

The Rockets played a top-three defense on the road on Wednesday. They had two guys – Jalen Green and Kenyon Martin Jr. — with more than 30 points, another – Alperen Sengun – with 25, and a fourth – Kevin Porter Jr. — with a triple-double. They scored 125 points on just 97 possessions (the fourth most efficient game for any team against the Grizzlies this season) … and lost, allowing more than 130 points per 100 possessions for the eighth time. Two nights later and in the same building, they made it nine, with the Grizzlies’ 151 points on 102 possessions being the third most efficient game for any team this season. The Rockets’ defense was also responsible for the top spot on that list, a loss to the Thunder in early February.

Technically, the Rockets are an improved defensive team, having allowed 2.3 more points per 100 possessions than they did last season, because the league average has gone up more (+2.6). But improvement from 30th to 29th on defense probably won’t be a bullet point in the e-mail blast for season-ticket renewals. And it would be interesting to know how much better this team would have been if it just got back in transition. The Rockets have allowed 27.3 transition points per game, according to Synergy tracking, crushing their own record (for the 19 seasons of Synergy data) of 25.0 last season. That’s now two years of bad habits.

Houston has also allowed 14.6 3-pointers per game, 1.3 more than any other team and the second most for any team in the 44 seasons of the 3-point line (topped only by the 14.8 that the Bucks allowed in their championship season two years ago). The Rockets (still) don’t take a lot of mid-range shots, and they don’t force many either. Their opponents have 4.4 times as many 3-point attempts as mid-range attempts, the league’s highest opponent rate.

Week 24: @ NYK, @ BKN, vs. DET, vs. LAL

Last Week:28

Record: 19-56

OffRtg: 109.0 (29) DefRtg: 119.5 (30) NetRtg: -10.4 (30) Pace: 101.8 (4)

The good news is that the last time the Spurs ranked last defensively, they got Tim Duncan in the ensuing Draft and ranked in the top three on that end of the floor in each of the next 11 seasons. That 1996-97 team was actually a little worse defensively (allowing 5.8 more points per 100 possessions than the league average) than this one (+5.3), but these Spurs still have a couple of more weeks to work on that differential. This roster also doesn’t have an injured David Robinson to pair with whomever the Spurs pick in June.

Spurs opponents have an effective field goal percentage of 57.6%, which would be the highest opponent mark in NBA history by a pretty healthy margin. The Spurs rank lower in opponent effective field goal percentage on shots from outside the paint (55.9%, 30th) than they do on shots in the paint (59.3%, 21st), but paint defense has still been a big problem. They’ve allowed their opponents to take 53% of their shots (the league’s highest opponent rate) in the paint, and the 56.5 points in the paint per game and 55.0 points in the paint per 100 possessions would be the highest opponents marks in the 27 seasons for which points in the paint have been tracked.

If the Spurs were competitive right now, they’d have a handful of spoiler opportunities in these last two weeks of the season. But they’ve lost their last four games by an average of 31.8 points and now have an NBA-record eight losses by 35 points or more. (The previous record was six.) Another one or two of those and they could end up as the first team since the 2011-12, 7-59 Bobcats to rank last on both ends of the floor.

Week 24: vs. UTA, @ GSW, @ SAC

Last Week:30

Record: 16-58

OffRtg: 109.9 (28) DefRtg: 117.5 (28) NetRtg: -7.6 (28) Pace: 100.1 (13)

Though the Pistons had the league’s worst record over the previous three seasons (2019-20 through ’21-22), they weren’t so terrible defensively, ranking 24th on that end of the floor over those three years, with some stretches of competence within. This season? Not so much. The Pistons have a bottom-five defense for the first time in the last 12 years, with only the Spurs and Rockets having allowed more points per 100 possessions.

While Detroit’s defense has been at its worst (119.9 points allowed per 100 possessions) with Jaden Ivey on the floor, the Pistons’ issues have really shown up in the interior numbers. They’re the only team that ranks in the bottom six in both opponent field goal percentage in the paint (59.9%, sixth highest) and the percentage of their opponent shots that have come in the paint (52%, fourth highest). They’re also 27th in opponent free throw rate (29.3 attempts per 100 shots from the field) and 27th in defensive rebounding percentage (70.1%). While the Spurs have had the highest marks for opponent points in the paint per game and per 100 possessions in the last 27 seasons, the Pistons have the second highest opponent marks in that time.

To nobody’s surprise, the defense has been brutal with Marvin Bagley III and James Wiseman on the floor together. The Pistons have allowed more than 131 points per 100 possessions in the big duo’s 122 minutes, with the good news being that they have just one game remaining against a team that ranks in the top half of the league offensively.

Week 24: vs. MIL, @ OKC, @ HOU, @ ORL