Power Rankings

Power Rankings, Week 25: Celtics vault to No. 1 as season's final week begins

The Lakers and Pelicans make the biggest jumps this week. See where all 30 teams rank in the final survey of the regular season.

After a big win vs. Milwaukee last week, Boston is looking solid to close out the season.

We’ve made it to the final week of the season. There are just 55 regular-season games left to be played.

Some teams are probably ready to get to the playoffs. Others probably want more time to establish themselves or to climb further up the standings. For instance, Kevin Durant has played just six games with the Phoenix Suns. LeBron James has been back from injury for just four. With how well they’re playing, the Chicago Bulls might want more time to get a better Play-In Tournament spot. The Knicks, Grizzlies and Clippers want to have Julius Randle, Steven Adams and Paul George back in uniform. Would more time allow for the return of Zion Williamson?

But the calendar is what it is. The regular season ends Sunday, the Play-In Tournament takes place next week, and the playoffs begin Saturday, April 15. That’s just 12 days away, maybe too soon, maybe not soon enough.

Either way, these are your last Power Rankings of the season, and we go out with the Boston Celtics on top.

Plus-Minus Players of the Week

Teams of the Week

  • Make It Last Forever: L.A. Lakers (3-0) — That goal of avoiding the Play-In is actually within reach.
  • Something Just Ain’t Right: Oklahoma City (1-3) — The Thunder suffered some slippage, going 1-2 over three straight games against the Hornets, Pistons and Pacers.

* * *

East vs. West

  • The East is 235-209 (.529) against the West in interconference games after going 10-7 last week. There are six East-West games remaining (the Rockets are the only team with two) and even if the West were to win them all, this would be the East’s best record in the last 24 seasons.

Schedule strength through Week 24

  • Toughest: 1. Detroit, 2. Washington, 3. Charlotte
  • Easiest: 1. Denver, 2. Memphis, 3. Sacramento
  • 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: L.A. Lakers (+5), New Orleans (+4), Brooklyn (+3), Phoenix (+3)
  • Free falls of the week: Chicago (-3), Miami (-3), Minnesota (-3), Oklahoma City (-3)

* * *

Week 25 Team to Watch

  • L.A. Lakers — We’re going to find out just how dangerous of a low seed the Lakers are, and just how low of a seed they might be. They begin their final week with a back-to-back, visiting the Jazz on Tuesday and then playing the Clippers (a road game) on Wednesday. After a day off, the Lakers will have a very interesting game against the Suns (currently undefeated with Kevin Durant) on Friday, before facing the Jazz again on Sunday afternoon.

* * *


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 114.1 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: 54-24

OffRtg: 117.3 (2) DefRtg: 110.7 (4) NetRtg: +6.7 (1) Pace: 99.4 (17)

The case for the Celtics: After their destruction of the Bucks on Thursday, the Celtics are 5-1 against Milwaukee (2-1) and Philadelphia (3-0) with the only loss having come in overtime and with four starters out. They’re the only team that ranks in the top five on both ends of the floor, and they’re even in the top five on both ends (fifth offensively, second defensively) if you take away their 18-4 start to the season. The drive-and-kick offense can be egalitarian when it’s humming, but they also have a star that can just get buckets.

Defensively, there’s nobody in the rotation that you can really pick on, and the Celtics have the ability to get really stifling when they put Robert Williams III at the five. They’ve allowed just 103.1 points per 100 possessions in 308 total minutes with Williams and Al Horford on the floor together.

The case against the Celtics: The offense isn’t always humming. Inconsistency and turnovers have been an issue, and the Celtics are heavily reliant on 3-point shooting, having taken 47.8% of their shots (the league’s third-highest rate) from beyond the arc. Sometimes, the shots don’t go in. Also, their two biggest competitors in the Eastern Conference have the two biggest matchup problems in the league.

The win in Milwaukee has the Celtics holding the head-to-head tiebreaker and two games behind the Bucks for the coveted top seed in the East. They’re now three games ahead of the third-place Sixers, who’ll they’ll visit on Tuesday, having won the first three meetings by single digits. Then they close out the season with three home games against two teams — Toronto and Atlanta — they could possibly face in the first round.

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

Last Week:1

Record: 56-22

OffRtg: 114.3 (15) DefRtg: 110.6 (3) NetRtg: +3.8 (5) Pace: 101.4 (10)

The case for the Bucks: There’s not a better defensive trio in the league than Jrue Holiday, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Brook Lopez. The Bucks are 41-12 when all three have been in the lineup and they’ve allowed just 106.9 points per 100 possessions with all three on the floor. They’ve defended the 3-point line much better than they have in the past, seeing the league’s biggest drop in the percentage of their opponents’ shots that have come from 3-point range from last season (44.8%, second highest) to this season (36.6%, fifth lowest).

With their convincing win over the Sixers on Sunday, the Bucks are tied with the Nuggets for the best record (24-13) in games played between the 15 teams that are currently over .500. And that includes a 20-7 mark in games in which they’ve had Antetokounmpo and haven’t been playing the second game of a back-to-back.

The case against the Bucks: Offense can still be a struggle. The Bucks rank 15th on that end of the floor, outside the top 10 for the first time in the last six seasons. They have just one guy who really gets to the rim, ranking 28th in the percentage of their shots (42.6%) that have come in the paint and 25th in free throw rate (25.0 attempts per 100 shots from the field. Only two teams have seen a bigger drop in the latter from last season.

And with two 41-point losses, the Bucks have the point differential (fifth best in the league) of a team that’s just 50-28. No team has a bigger differential between their actual wins (56) and their “expected” wins (50).

The second 41-point loss (to the Celtics on Thursday) was the fifth game in seven nights for Milwaukee. The good news is that Antetokounmpo played in both ends of both back-to-backs, a sign that he doesn’t have any lingering health issues as we head toward the postseason. Having lost the head-to-head tiebreaker, they still need three more favorable results (Bucks wins or Celtics losses) to clinch home court throughout the playoffs.

Week 25: @ WAS, vs. CHI, vs. MEM, @ TOR

Last Week:4

Record: 52-26

OffRtg: 117.1 (4) DefRtg: 113.4 (14) NetRtg: +3.7 (6) Pace: 3.7 (6)

The case for the Nuggets: They’ve been the best team in the Western Conference all season, they’re tied with the Bucks for the best record (24-13) in games played between the 15 teams that are currently over .500, and that includes a 16-7 mark (14-5 with Nikola Jokic) within the top eight in the West. Led by a two-time Kia MVP who’s having his most efficient scoring season, they have the league’s fourth-ranked offense, ranking first in field goal percentage in the paint (62.0%) and second in 3-point percentage (38.3%).

The playoffs will likely come with more minutes for the Nuggets’ starters, and the offense has been especially potent with the starters on the floor. Jokic has multiple targets with his elite passing, with Michael Porter Jr. (41.6%), Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (41.6%) and Jamal Murray (39.9%) ranking eighth, 10th and 23rd in 3-point percentage among the 101 players with at least 300 attempts. And Jokic has more assists to Aaron Gordon (151) than to any of those three.

The case against the Nuggets: They rank 14th defensively, and in the 26 (previous) seasons for which we have play-by-play data, only five of the 52 teams that have reached the Finals have ranked that low on that end of the floor. They don’t protect the rim particularly well, having allowed their opponents to take 32.9% of their shots (the league’s fourth-highest opponent rate) in the restricted area on the road.

We use road numbers for that stat to mitigate arena-to-arena inconsistencies in shot-location data, but in general, the Nuggets have not been a very good road team. They’re 19-19 away from Ball Arena, having been outscored by 2.5 points per 100 possessions (17th) over those 38 games.

This postseason will come with increased pressure on a group that’s been pretty healthy this season. It could also come with some very dangerous opponents in the first and second rounds. The Nuggets won one potential conference semifinals preview (at home) on Sunday, beating the Warriors without Jokic. They’ll have another on Thursday, visiting the Suns.

Week 25: @ HOU, @ PHX, @ UTA, vs. SAC

Last Week:3

Record: 51-27

OffRtg: 117.1 (3) DefRtg: 112.6 (8) NetRtg: +4.5 (3) Pace: 97.3 (27)

The case for the Sixers: Joel Embiid is one of the league’s best players on both ends on the floor, and he’s had the best season of his career, averaging 33.0 points on a career-best true shooting percentage of 65.1% (what would be the fourth best mark in NBA history for a player averaging at least 30 points). In James Harden, he has a guard who can get him the ball in position to score. The Sixers are 33-15 with both of them in the lineup and have scored 120.5 points per 100 possessions in 1,407 total minutes with both on the floor. Tyrese Maxey is a speedy complement who’s one of only three players who’ve shot 43% or better on at least 300 3-point attempts.

The most efficient way to score is at the free throw line, the Sixers lead the league in free throw rate (30.4 attempts per 100 shots from the field), and they have the second-highest free throw percentage in NBA history (83.6%). Embiid is set to be the seventh player in NBA history (Harden was the last one) to average at least 10 made free throws per game.

The case against the Sixers: It starts with the competition. The Sixers are in third place in the Eastern Conference, with two great teams in front of them, and they’re 0-3 against the one (the Celtics) they’re likely to face in the conference semifinals.

Harden and Embiid have both missed games over the last couple of weeks, the Sixers’ bench has been inconsistent (they’ve never found a reliable backup for Embiid), and their defense isn’t as good as that of the Celtics or Bucks. Harden and Maxey will certainly be targeted in the playoffs and the Celtics (who they’ll play one more time on Tuesday) can be a bad matchup when they play Al Horford at the five and punish Embiid for hanging in the paint.

The Sixers have the league’s second-best record over the last six seasons (since 2007-18), but they’re not one of the 14 (different) teams that have reached the conference finals over the last five. Failing to get there again would be a huge disappointment, but, as the 3 seed, they’ll have to overachieve to win multiple series for the first time since 2001.

Week 25: vs. BOS, vs. MIA, @ ATL, @ BKN

Last Week:8

Record: 43-35

OffRtg: 114.5 (14) DefRtg: 112.2 (7) NetRtg: +2.3 (9) Pace: 98.8 (21)

The case for the Suns: They have Kevin Durant, Devin Booker, Chris Paul and Deandre Ayton. With their win in Oklahoma City on Sunday, they’re still undefeated (6-0) with Durant in uniform and, despite a little rust vs. Minnesota on Wednesday, he’s shot 44-for-69 (64%) from 2-point range and 14-for-27 (52%) from 3-point range in his six games. The Suns had Durant in the weak-side corner in the fourth quarter on Sunday and he got multiple in-rhythm, catch-and-shoot looks off cross-court feeds from Paul.

Despite the stops and starts, he’s had the most efficient scoring season of his career (true shooting percentage of 67.9%) while also making a big impact defensively. While the Phoenix offense struggled in Durant’s first two games back, the defense has been stifling, allowing just 102.4 points per 100 possessions in his 160 total minutes on the floor. Going back to late November, Durant’s teams have won 23 of the last 25 games he’s played in.

The case against the Suns: The shooting around their two big stars (including Paul’s ability to make open, catch-and-shoot looks) could be the biggest key for the Suns. Paul, Josh Okogie and Torrey Craig have combined to shoot just 33.3% from beyond the arc since the All-Star break, and if the Suns turn to Terrence Ross, he’ll be a target for opposing offenses. Phoenix will also need Ayton to consistently play big, take advantage of post-switch mismatches inside, and rebound on both ends of the floor.

The Suns are looking good for the No. 4 seed in the West, but their first-round opponent is very much undetermined. Two possibilities are the Lakers and the Clippers, and they’ll play them both to finish the season.

Week 25: vs. SAS, vs. DEN, @ LAL, vs. LAC

Last Week:5

Record: 49-30

OffRtg: 115.7 (7) DefRtg: 110.0 (1) NetRtg: +5.6 (2) Pace: 96.2 (30)

The case for the Cavs: The Bucks have the league’s best record and are probably a popular pick to win the championship. But the Cavs rank higher than Milwaukee in both offensive and defensive efficiency. With a league-leading 32 double-digit wins, their point differential (+5.4 per game, second best in the league) is that team that’s 55-24.

The Cavs have the league’s No. 1 defense, led by two long and mobile bigs that can cover a lot of ground. They also have a top-10 offense, led by two guards that can both shoot, drive and pass. They can have at least one of those big defenders and at least one of those potent guards on the floor at all times. While the rest of this roster doesn’t have a lot of playoff experience, Donovan Mitchell had some huge performances in averaging 33.9 ppg on a true shooting percentage of 64% over the 2020 and ’21 postseasons (17 games total).

The case against the Cavs: Their defense hasn’t held up as well against the best offenses. They rank just 12th in (estimated) points allowed per 100 possessions against the league’s top five offenses, a group that includes their likely first-round opponent. Their loss at home on Friday (in which they were without Jarrett Allen) was the Cavs’ worst defensive game of the season (130 points allowed on just 95 possessions) and with it, they went 1-3 against the Knicks, with the only win having come back in October.

On the other end of the floor, Mobley’s ability to score against mismatches inside could be tested and the Cavs will seemingly be counting on Isaac Okoro and Lamar Stevens to make some shots when they’re left open in the corners. But no team has been less dependent on its own 3-point shooting than the Cavs, who are 24-14 (.632) when they’ve shot the league average (36.1%) or better from 3-point range and 25-16 (.610) when they haven’t.

No matter what happens in the postseason, the Cavs have seen significant improvement for a second straight season. And with Mobley just starting to blossom offensively, they can keep getting better.

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

Last Week:7

Record: 49-29

OffRtg: 114.6 (12) DefRtg: 110.5 (2) NetRtg: +4.1 (4) Pace: 101.5 (7)

The case for the Grizzlies: They have a young trio —Ja Morant, Desmond Bane and Jaren Jackson Jr. — with both talent and experience (more than 500 playoff minutes each over the last two years). And over the last two seasons (including last year’s playoffs), the Grizzlies have outscored their opponents by 8.3 points per 100 possessions in 1,432 total minutes with those three guys on the floor together. One guy averages more than 20 drives per game, one has been the league’s best high-volume 3-point shooter over the last two seasons and one is one of the league’s best defenders.

With Jackson leading the way, the Grizzlies rank second defensively. After losing to the Clippers (with both teams shorthanded) on Wednesday, they came back and held the Clippers to just 94 points on 104 possessions (their second-worst offensive performance of the season) two nights later. Despite an incredibly rough loss in Chicago on Sunday (they led by 23 and lost by 21), the Grizzlies have allowed just 106.1 points per 100 possessions with Jackson on the floor. That’s the lowest on-court mark among 228 players who’ve averaged at least 20 minutes per game.

The case against the Grizzlies: Jackson’s 28.1 minutes per game is not a lot. Earlier in the season, his lack of minutes was seemingly a precaution, and through Feb. 10, he actually had more blocks (127) than fouls (125). But since then (with Steven Adams’ absence probably playing a factor), Jackson has just 54 blocks and 91 fouls, committing 5.0 fouls per 36 minutes.

With Brandon Clarke out for the season, the Grizzlies really need Jackson to stay out of foul trouble. They also need Steven Adams, whose status for the postseason is unknown. And no matter who’s playing center, the Grizzlies have three other starters — Morant, Jackson and Dillon Brooks — who’ve shot worse than 35% from 3-point range.

The Grizzlies still have some work to do to secure the 2 seed in the West. They’ve won some road games in March, but are still 4-13 away from FedEx Forum since mid-January, and they’ll finish their season on a three-game trip.

Week 25: vs. POR, @ NOP, @ MIL, @ OKC

Last Week:6

Record: 47-31

OffRtg: 119.0 (1) DefRtg: 116.0 (25) NetRtg: +3.0 (7) Pace: 101.1 (11)

The case for the Kings: There have been three teams in the Western Conference that have been consistently good all season long, and the Sacramento Kings, amazingly, are one of the three. They’re the only West team with a winning road record (24-14), they have the league’s No. 1 offense, and it’s been just as efficient in 23 games (the Kings are 13-10) against the other seven West teams with winning records (119.1 points scored per 100 possessions) as it’s been overall.

The Kings are one of three teams – the Mavs and Knicks are the others – that rank in the top 10 in three of the four factors on offense, and they’re No. 1 in the most important one. In fact, their effective field goal percentage of 57.6% would be the highest mark in NBA history. And the rank higher in field goal percentage in the paint (61.6%, second) than they do in effective field goal percentage on shots from outside the paint (53.9%, fifth).

The case against the Kings: The Kings rank 25th defensively, and they’re 26th in opponent field goal percentage in the paint (60.2%). On Sunday, the Kings had a chance to climb within a game of the second-place Grizzlies, but allowed the Spurs (who rank 29th offensively) to score 142 points on 114 possessions (124.6 per 100) and lost in overtime. Over the (previous) 26 seasons for which we have play-by-play data, only two of the 104 teams that have reached the conference finals (the 2009-10 Suns and the 2017-18 Cavs) have ranked as low as 25th on defense in the regular season.

It should also be noted that the Kings have been the league’s healthiest team, with their top seven guys in regard to minutes per game having missed an average of just 3.3 games this season. Their starting lineup has played 862 total minutes, the most for any lineup in the last four seasons. Health obviously still matters in the postseason, but with no back-to-backs, some of the Kings’ edge in regard to lineup continuity will be lost.

The Kings have a relatively tough Week 25, with a couple of potential playoff previews in games against the Pelicans and Warriors. The home team has won all three meetings between the two Northern California teams, but they haven’t met since Nov. 13.

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

Last Week:9

Record: 46-33

OffRtg: 116.8 (5) DefRtg: 113.8 (19) NetRtg: +2.9 (8) Pace: 97.5 (26)

The case for the Knicks: Since the day that Josh Hart first suited up for them (Feb. 11), the Knicks have had the league’s second-best record (16-6) and its second-ranked offense (121.4 points scored per 100 possessions). That stretch includes a 10-3 mark against teams that are currently over .500, with four wins against the Celtics (x 2), Nuggets and Cavs. And the Knicks have had both Jalen Brunson and Julius Randle for only 13 of those 22 games.

Led by Hart and Kia Sixth Man Award candidate Immanuel Quickley, the Knicks have had the league’s best bench, and their starting group (when healthy) has been much stronger than lineups of previous seasons. So, even if coach Tom Thibodeau doesn’t like playing small ball (with Randle) at the five, he has lots of options on the perimeter, aided by the fact that Hart is still shooting better than 50% from 3-point range (25-for-44) with his new team. Brunson remains the go-to guy down the stretch and is one of two players (De’Aaron Fox is the other) who’ve shot better than 50% on at least 75 clutch field goal attempts.

The case against the Knicks: The Knicks have taken another step backward defensively, especially in regard to possession of the ball. They rank 25th in opponent turnover rate and 12th in defensive rebounding percentage (down from fourth last season). They protect the paint well, but they’ll give up some 3s, with only four teams having allowed their opponents to take a greater percentage of their shots from beyond the arc.

With Randle suffering a bad ankle sprain on Wednesday, his status for Game 1 of the first round is in question. The Knicks have been a little better with Randle off the floor (plus-2.9 points per 100 possessions) than they’ve been with him on the floor (plus-2.7) and they beat their likely first-round opponent (the Cavs) without him on Friday, getting 48 points from Brunson as they had the most efficient game of the season for any team against the league’s No. 1 defense.

But the league’s fifth-ranked offense needs Randle long-term, and the bench obviously isn’t as good when some of the reserves have to start.

Week 25: @ IND, @ NOP, vs. IND

Last Week:12

Record: 41-38

OffRtg: 114.5 (13) DefRtg: 113.8 (18) NetRtg: +0.8 (15) Pace: 102.5 (1)

The case for the Warriors: They’re the defending champs and they know how to win. At their best, they have an offense that’s near impossible to guard, with two of the greatest shooters in NBA history, another guy who can catch fire, a facilitator who reads minds and one of the league’s best offensive rebounders. Over the last 10 years, they’ve had five top-five defenses, including one that ranked second last season. Their starting lineup has outscored its opponents by 21.9 points per 100 possessions, the best mark among 41 lineups that have played at least 200 minutes.

The case against the Warriors: There’s no indication that Andrew Wiggins (who’s been out since before the All-Star break) will return for the playoffs. Even if he does, one lineup can’t play the whole game. Over their six runs to the NBA Finals, the most any Warriors lineup (that played in at least five games) averaged in the playoffs was 14.4 minutes per game. The bench has not been good, ranking 22nd in aggregate NetRtg, and the Warriors have been outscored by 1.4 points per 100 possessions with Jordan Poole on the floor. Gary Payton II is back, but he’s thus far a minus-22 in 54 minutes.

The Warriors have won at least one road game in all 27 playoff series that they’ve played with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green on the roster. They’ve won multiple road games in 12 of those 27 series and have swept their road games in seven of the 27. Over those nine years, they’re 40-29 (.580) in playoff road games.

The West appears wide open and maybe there’s a huge switch to be flipped. But all indications are that these Warriors (now 9-30 on the road after their loss in Denver on Sunday) are not those Warriors. Not even close, really.

Week 25: vs. OKC, @ SAC, @ POR

Last Week:10

Record: 41-38

OffRtg: 113.7 (20) DefRtg: 113.5 (15) NetRtg: +0.2 (17) Pace: 98.7 (24)

The case for the Clippers: If Paul George is able to come back from the knee injury he suffered 13 days ago, the Clippers have two of the best two-way forwards in the league, and they’re 24-14 with both guys in uniform. On offense, they’ve surrounded them with a ton of shooting; the Clippers are one of two teams — the Nets are the other — with nine guys who’ve shot 36% or better on at least 100 3-point attempts this season. And the defense has been better than the offense, with the Clippers having allowed their opponents to take only 28% of their shots, the league’s fourth-lowest rate, from the restricted area on the road.

The last time the Clippers were in the playoffs, Kawhi Leonard averaged 30.4 ppg on a true shooting percentage of 67.9%, the highest mark in NBA history for a player who averaged at least 30 points in eight or more playoff games (63 total instances). And he’s been trending toward that combination of potency and efficiency, averaging 27.3 on a true shooting percentage of 67.2% over his 15 games since the All-Star break.

The case against the Clippers: They’ve never put it all together for a stretch of more than six or seven games and, overall, they rank 20th and 15th in offensive and defensive efficiency. And in the 26 (previous) seasons for which we have play-by-play data, all 104 teams that have reached the conference finals ranked in the top nine on one end of the floor or the other in the regular season.

George’s status is obviously in doubt and the Clippers are just 14-15 when they’ve had one star, but not the other. They also have the worst record (14-24) in games played between the 15 teams that currently have winning records and the worst record (6-12) in games played between the top six teams in the West. Those records are better, but not great (10-9 and 5-5) with both George and Leonard in uniform.

The Clippers have won 10 straight games against the Lakers and have outscored them by 16.2 points per 100 possessions in 44 total minutes with both LeBron James and Anthony Davis on the floor this season. But they may need to make it 11 straight on Wednesday to avoid falling into the Play-In Tournament.

Week 25: vs. LAL, vs. POR, @ PHX

Last Week:17

Record: 40-38

OffRtg: 113.7 (21) DefRtg: 113.2 (11) NetRtg: +0.5 (16) Pace: 101.8 (4)

The case for the Lakers: The Lakers are 15-8 (tied for sixth best) since the trade deadline, with the league’s No. 1 defense (110.5 points allowed per 100 possessions) over that stretch. They have also won six of their last seven games to climb two games over .500 (for the first time this season) and give themselves a real chance at top-six spot in the West. They’ve only had LeBron James back for four games, but they’ve outscored their opponents by an amazing 19.2 points per 100 possessions in his 215 total minutes since the deadline.

While James is just getting back, Anthony Davis has basically been healthy for the last 9 1/2 weeks, playing in 27 of the last 30 games. Austin Reaves has earned a larger role, the Lakers are a plus-10-2 per 100 possessions in 890 total minutes with Davis and Reaves on the floor together, and the post-deadline pieces just fit better.

The case against the Lakers: Though they have more shooting, the Lakers still rank just 18th offensively since the deadline. Like a lot of teams in the West, sustained success has never been there. James and Davis remain major injury risks, the Lakers are still just 17-15 with both of them in the lineup, and the team has scored just 112.0 points per 100 possessions in the stars’ 791 total minutes on the floor together.

The Lakers have also had a somewhat friendly schedule, with 12 rest-advantage games (tied for third most) thus far. And they’re one of two teams (the Mavs are the other) with two more in the final week of the season, with rest advantages at home against the Suns on Friday and the Jazz on Sunday. Both teams are playing the Nuggets (at home) 24 hours earlier.

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

Last Week:16

Record: 43-35

OffRtg: 114.8 (10) DefRtg: 113.6 (17) NetRtg: +1.2 (13) Pace: 98.8 (20)

The case for the Nets: They have lots of defenders and lots of shooters. Their top six players can all switch screens comfortably, and none of them will be an easy target for opposing offenses. The Nets have allowed just 107.9 points per 100 possessions (and outscored their opponents by 5.6 per 100) in 416 total minutes with any five of those six guys on the floor since the trade deadline.

The Nets are also one of two teams — the Clippers are the other — with nine players who’ve shot 36% or better on at least 100 3-point attempts. One of those is Mikal Bridges, who’s averaged 27.6 ppg (and is just two made field goals shy of 50/40/90 splits) over his 23 games with Brooklyn.

The case against the Nets: They have to play more than six players and the lots-of-shooters-and-defenders thing hasn’t been as good in practice as it sounds in theory, with the Nets ranking just 21st offensively and 16th defensively since the trade deadline. While Bridges has been fantastic offensively, he hasn’t been able to lift his teammates to nearly the same level. Among 199 players with at least 200 field goal attempts before the All-Star break and at least 100 attempts since the break, Cam Thomas, Dorian Finney-Smith, Spencer Dinwiddie, Nic Claxton and Royce O’Neale have seen the fifth, eighth, 12th, 20th and 29th biggest drops, respectively, in effective field goal percentage.

The Nets’ offense has been better of late, scoring 123 points per 100 possessions as they’ve won four of their last five games, a stretch that began with a huge win in Miami, the sixth-most efficient performance for any team in a game this season. That win has the Nets holding strong to the No. 6 seed and needing just two more results (Nets wins or Heat losses) to go their way to clinch a playoff spot. They’ve got the Pistons and Magic on the schedule this week, though they’ve lost to both of them this season, with the Orlando loss having come just eight days ago.

The Nets’ last game will be against the team they’ll likely face in the first round of the playoffs. They’re 0-3 against the Sixers, with the last of those losses having been their first game with Bridges in uniform. They led by nine with less than seven minutes left, but then scored just two points on their final possessions.

Week 25: vs. MIN, @ DET, vs. ORL, vs. PHI

Last Week:11

Record: 41-37

OffRtg: 111.9 (25) DefRtg: 113.0 (9) NetRtg: -1.2 (23) Pace: 96.7 (29)

The case for the Heat: Jimmy Butler is a playoff player who’s averaged 23.6 points (on a true shooting percentage of 59.1%), 6.9 rebounds and 5.5 assists per game over his three postseasons with the Heat. This team was one shot away from going to the NBA Finals a year ago, and nine of the 10 guys who played at least 150 minutes in last year’s playoffs are still here. The Heat have outscored their opponents by 6.3 points per 100 possessions in 1,014 total minutes with Butler, Tyler Herro and Bam Adebayo on the floor together.

By playing slow and playing good defense, the Heat do keep games close. They’re going to fall short of the record for clutch games played (58), but with 53, they certainly have a lot of high-leverage reps under their belt, and they have two of the six players — Herro and Adebayo — with an effective field goal percentage of 58% or better on at least 50 clutch shots.

The case against the Heat: The league’s 25th-ranked offense. The Heat rank 27th in 3-point percentage, one of four teams with fewer than three players (Herro and Caleb Martin are their only ones) that have shot 36% or better on at least 100 3-point attempts. They haven’t a whole lot better in the paint (56.9%, 21st) or from mid-range (40.3%, 21st), and they don’t make up for the poor shooting with a ton of free throws (12th in free throw rate) or second chances (18th in offensive rebounding percentage).

The Heat would need a lot of help to pass the Nets (who hold the tie-breaker) for sixth place in the East, so they’ll likely be hosting the No. 7 vs. No. 8 Play-In Tournament game next week. They went 3-1 against the eighth-place Hawks, but 1-6 against the Raptors (1-3) and Bulls (0-3), scoring just 106.6 points per 100 possessions over those seven games and with the only win having come in Week 1.

Week 25: @ DET, @ PHI, @ WAS, vs. ORL

Last Week:19

Record: 40-38

OffRtg: 113.9 (19) DefRtg: 111.8 (6) NetRtg: +2.1 (10) Pace: 99.6 (15)

The case for the Pelicans: They have a top-five defense and are one of only three teams that have allowed fewer points per 100 possessions than they did last season (112.0, 18th). And as they’ve won seven of their last eight games, the Pelicans have ranked first on that end of the floor (103.6 points allowed per 100). They’re best at limiting their opponents’ shooting opportunities, one of four teams that rank in the top 10 in both opponent turnover rate (sixth) and defensive rebounding percentage (fifth).

The Pelicans also have a couple of bucket-getters, and Brandon Ingram has been on one, averaging 30.3 ppg on 53/45/93 shooting splits over this 7-1 stretch. His season-long usage rate is at a career-high 30.8% and his true shooting percentage (58.3%) isn’t far from his best mark (58.7% in 2019-20).

The case against the Pelicans: The Pelicans don’t surround their scorers with a ton of shooting. Only the Hawks and Bulls have taken a lower percentage of their shots from beyond the arc, and the Pelicans have two starters — Herb Jones and Jonas Valanciunas — that have made fewer than 50 3-pointers all season.

Their defensive improvement has been mostly about opponent 3-point shooting, 33.8% (first) this season vs. 36.5% (26th) last season. And according to Second Spectrum tracking, they’ve seen a big drop in the percentage of their opponents’ 3-point attempts that have been wide open, from 56% last season to 50% this season. But they will allow a high volume of total 3-point attempts and will get outscored from beyond the arc.

The 7-1 stretch has taken the Pelicans from 12th to eighth place in the West. But, given the strength of their final-week opponents, securing one of the two top Play-In Tournament spots won’t be easy. The home team has won all five of the games that they’ve played against the Kings (1-1) and Grizzlies (1-2), who they’ll host on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Zion Williamson (who last played on Jan. 2) is scheduled to be re-evaluated this week, and maybe it’s possible he plays again this season, but it would be tough to reintegrate him after more than three months away.

Week 25: vs. SAC, vs. MEM, vs. NYK, @ MIN

Last Week:13

Record: 38-41

OffRtg: 114.1 (17) DefRtg: 113.4 (13) NetRtg: +0.8 (14) Pace: 101.9 (2)

The case for the Thunder: They’re better than their record indicates, holding the West’s sixth-best point differential (that of a 42-37 team) and being one of just five Western Conference teams that have been better than the league average on both ends of the floor. Their defense (which thrives in forcing turnovers) ranked in the top 10 as recently as Sunday morning (before they got eviscerated by the Suns), and they have an offensive star who’s impossible to keep out of the paint. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander leads the league in drives per game for the third straight season, he remains 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, and he’s got a couple of young teammates — Josh Giddey and Jalen Williams — who’ve done OK in attacking close-outs themselves.

The case against the Thunder: The OKC defense lacks size and Gilgeous-Alexander actually leads the team (by a wide margin) with 65 total blocks. The Thunder don’t force other teams to take inefficient shots, with only the Rockets and Raptors having allowed their opponents to take a greater percentage of their shots from the restricted area or 3-point range. And they rank in the bottom five in both opponent free throw rate (26th) and defensive rebounding percentage (28th). Offensively, there’s still a lack of shooting, with the Thunder below the league average in both 3-point rate (3PA/FGA) and 3-point percentage.

The Thunder have been the league’s most improved team in regard to both points scored and point differential per 100 possessions. And they’ve done it with 52% of their minutes, the league’s second-highest rate, having come from rookies or second-year players. With Chet Holmgren already on the roster and another first-round pick coming this year, they’re set up to see a lot more improvement going forward. But it would be fun to see this current group get some postseason reps. They’re currently in 10th place, needing to hold off Dallas (having won the tie-breaker) and Utah (who they’ll visit on Thursday to make the Western Conference Play-In.

Week 25: @ GSW, @ UTA, vs. MEM

Last Week:14

Record: 39-40

OffRtg: 112.9 (24) DefRtg: 113.1 (10) NetRtg: -0.2 (20) Pace: 101.6 (5)

The case for the Wolves: The Wolves have a top-10 defense and really good numbers on that end of the floor (105.0 points allowed per 100 possessions) in 489 total minutes with Karl-Anthony Towns and Rudy Gobert both in the game. They have two talented offensive stars in Towns and Anthony Edwards and some very good complementary pieces, like Mike Conley, Kyle Anderson and Jaden McDaniels. They’ve tasted some real success recently, beating New York, Golden State and Sacramento on a four-game winning streak that took them to two games above .500. Towns has returned and he’s shot well (14-for-30 from 3-point range) over his first five games back.

The case against the Wolves: There has been absolutely no consistency, especially on offense. Just as they were beating a couple of good teams and getting Towns back, the Wolves got hit with a stomach virus. They’ve lost three straight games, scoring an anemic 104.6 points per 100 possessions over a losing streak that includes a loss to a team (Portland) that has shut down its top four players.

To add injury to illness, Naz Reid broke his wrist on Wednesday and is out for six weeks. The Wolves have been clobbered (minus-11.0 points per 100 possessions) in Reid’s 284 total minutes on the floor with either Gobert or Towns, but he did give them more athleticism at the five when they needed it.

The virus has been unfortunate, but their loss to the Blazers on Sunday certainly wasn’t their first against a bad team. As the Wolves fight for Play-In Tournament seeding, note that they’re 5-10 against the bottom five teams in the league (Charlotte, Detroit, Houston, Portland and San Antonio), with only the Spurs and Pistons themselves having worse records against that group. And if that was just 8-7 instead of 5-10, the Wolves would be 42-37 and in fifth place.

They’ll be in San Antonio on Saturday, with a more important game (against the eighth-place Pelicans) the following afternoon.

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

Last Week:15

Record: 38-40

OffRtg: 113.2 (23) DefRtg: 111.8 (5) NetRtg: +1.4 (11) Pace: 99.2 (18)

The case for the Bulls: They’ve been the league’s second-best team, statistically, since the All-Star break, outscoring their opponents by 7.0 points per 100 possessions over their 19 post-break games. The 12-7 record since the break includes a 6-5 mark over the 15 teams that enter Week 25 with winning records. And overall, the Bulls are one of three teams — the Cavs and Heat are the others — that have multiple wins over both the Bucks and Celtics.

The bigger improvement since the break has been on offense (24th before the break, seventh since) and the Bulls scored 128 points on just 98 possessions against Memphis’ second-ranked defense on Sunday. But they remain better on the other end of the floor, and their starting lineup — with Patrick Beverley and Alex Caruso — has allowed just 99.4 points per 100 possessions, the best mark (by a wide margin) among 16 lineups that have played at least 150 minutes since the trade deadline.

The case against the Bulls: Despite the post-break improvement, the Bulls still rank just 23rd offensively. They’re a jump-shooting team that ranks in the bottom 10 in both free throw rate (24th) and offensive rebounding percentage (28th). They were a better offensive team last season and then saw a huge drop in efficiency (from 112.7 to 94.4 points per 100 possessions) in the playoffs.

And though they have the East’s sixth-best point differential (plus-1.4 points per game), they’re in 10th place, having struggled (14-23) in games that were within five points in the last five minutes. From 10th, they’d need to win two road games to make the playoffs.

The Bulls have won seven of their last eight games on the road, and they’re 6-3 (3-3 on the road) against the other three East teams in Play-In Tournament position, set to host the eighth-place Hawks (whom they trail by one game) on Tuesday.

Week 25: vs. ATL, @ MIL, @ DAL, vs. DET

Last Week:18

Record: 39-39

OffRtg: 114.7 (11) DefRtg: 113.4 (12) NetRtg: +1.4 (12) Pace: 97.9 (25)

The case for the Raptors: Jakob Poeltl has fit in well, the Raptors are 13-9 (sixth best in the East) since the trade deadline and their post-deadline starting lineup has outscored its opponents by 12.7 points per 100 possessions in 267 total minutes. With both the league’s best turnover differential and its best offensive rebound differential, the Raptors have averaged 9.1 more shooting opportunities (field goal attempts or trips to the line) than their opponents, the biggest differential in NBA history.

The case against the Raptors: They don’t do enough with all those extra shooting opportunities. Shooting is the most important thing in basketball, and the Raptors rank 28th in effective field goal percentage, with only the Rockets and Hornets having shot less effectively. They’re one of four teams with fewer than three players (OG Anunoby and Gary Trent Jr. are their only ones) that have shot 36% or better on at least 100 3-point attempts.

On the other end of the floor, the Raptors are good, but not nearly as good as they’ve been in years past. They force turnovers at the league’s highest rate, but have a hard time defending without fouling and their aggressiveness can leave them susceptible to weak-side 3-pointers.

There haven’t been a lot of quality wins in this post-deadline stretch, and the Raptors are 1-8 against the top three teams in the East, but they got back to .500 (for the first time since they were 13-13) with a big win against the Heat (a potential Play-In Tournament opponent) on Tuesday. Miami ranks fourth in turnover differential and the Raptors had seven fewer, also grabbing three more offensive rebounds. After splitting games in Philly and Charlotte, they’ve gone 12 straight without committing more turnovers than their opponents. Another game in Charlotte gives them a chance to climb above .500, and the Raptors they could benefit from the Celtics and/or Bucks resting guys over the final five days of the season.

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

Last Week:20

Record: 39-39

OffRtg: 115.9 (9) DefRtg: 115.6 (22) NetRtg: -0.2 (19) Pace: 101.4 (9)

The case for the Hawks: They’ve had the league’s fourth-ranked offense over their 17 games with Quin Snyder on the bench, with eight guys averaging double-figures over that stretch. With *off-the-dribble threats, lob threats and catch-and-shoot threats, they have a lot of ways to beat a defense. And it doesn’t have to always be Trae Young throwing the lobs; the go-ahead bucket vs. Cleveland on Tuesday was John Collins rolling to the rim and tossing one up for Clint Capela.

* Only Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving have shot better than De’Andre Hunter (52.5%) on pull-up 2s among 69 players with at least 150 attempts, and Dejounte Murray (48.8%) is also in the top 10.

The case against the Hawks: They’re just 8-9 under Snyder because they’ve ranked 26th defensively (119.8 points allowed per 100 possessions) over these last five weeks. Their starting lineup allowed just 106.9 points per 100 in 510 minutes prior to his arrival but has allowed 118.1 per 100 in 204 minutes with him on the bench. One of the worst defensive games of the 17 was Friday in Brooklyn when the Hawks allowed the Nets to score 76 points on 50 possessions over the middle two quarters.

With the strong offense and weak defense, the Hawks’ remarkable streak is still alive. They’ve now been within one game of .500 after each of their last 32 games, and that streak will hit 33 no matter their result at Chicago on Tuesday. But that result could determine whether they’re in the 7-8 or the 9-10 Play-In game, with the Bulls (currently a game behind) holding the tie-breaker.

Week 25: @ CHI, vs. WAS, vs. PHI, @ BOS

Last Week:21

Record: 37-42

OffRtg: 116.0 (6) DefRtg: 115.9 (23) NetRtg: +0.1 (18) Pace: 97.0 (28)

The case for the Mavs: They have Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving, with the former having averaged 32.5 points, 9.3 rebounds and 7.9 assists over 28 career playoff games and the latter having won a championship with one of the biggest shots in NBA history. While the Mavs are just 4-11 with both Doncic and Irving in uniform, they’ve outscored their opponents by five points over those 15 games, and by 3.1 points per 100 possessions with both on the floor.

Amazingly, all 11 of the losses (along with two of the wins) have been within five points in the last five minutes, and clutch luck can come and go. If they were just 6-7 in those 13 clutch games instead of 2-11, they’d be 41-38, tied with the fifth-place Clippers and sixth-place Warriors.

The case against the Mavs: There have been six games in the last 50 years that a team has had an effective field goal percentage of 70% or better and lost. Three of those have been this season, and two of them – Nets at Sixers in January and Mavs at Heat on Saturday – have had Kyrie Irving on the losing side. Defense is an issue, the Mavs allowed Miami’s 25th-ranked offense (without Bam Adebayo) to score 127 points on 98 possessions on Saturday, and they rank 26th defensively (117.7 points allowed per 100 possessions) since the first game that Doncic and Irving played together.

While all of those losses have been close games, a lot of them (including three to the Pacers and Hornets) have come against bad or mediocre opponents. So while the Mavs have been close to winning some of these games, they’re not necessarily close to being a good team.

They’re still just a game behind the 10th-place Thunder, who play the Warriors, Jazz and Grizzlies this week. But OKC has the head-to-head tie-breaker and the Mavs have a couple of tough games themselves, with the Bulls (who they host on Friday) having been one of the best teams in the league since the All-Star break.

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

Last Week:22

Record: 36-42

OffRtg: 115.6 (8) DefRtg: 116.0 (24) NetRtg: -0.5 (21) Pace: 100.9 (12)

Though they traded three rotation guys at the deadline and have been without their starting backcourt — Collin Sexton and Jordan Clarkson — for the last 13 games, the Jazz never really let go of the rope. They just gradually slid down the Western Conference standings from seventh (at 19-16) through Christmas to 12th, where they’re currently just a game and a half out of the Play-In. Lauri Markkanen has missed five of the last eight games and the Jazz are 4-8 without their All-Star.

There are two players who’ve averaged at least 24 points (in at least 55 games) while shooting 48% or better from the field, 38% or better from 3-point range and 85% from the line. Those two are Donovan Mitchell and the guy he was traded for. The Jazz got themselves a real impact player in the Mitchell trade, and Markkanen’s year-to-year improvement (big jumps in both points per 36 minutes and true shooting percentage) is the biggest reason that this team was surprisingly competitive and had a top-five offense through the first 19 weeks of the season.

The Jazz also got a terrific, young center (Walker Kessler) in return for Rudy Gobert, and the early returns on 35-year-old rookie coach Will Hardy have been good. The next step for both of those guys is to turn this into a not-bottom-10 defensive team. Of course, the Jazz also got a slew of picks in those trades from last summer, and they’ll have three first-rounders in this year’s Draft, their own, plus those of the Wolves and the Sixers.

A Play-In Tournament spot still isn’t out of the question, and the Jazz will host the 10th-place Thunder on Thursday. But OKC holds the tiebreaker and two games against the surging Lakers make this a relatively tough week ahead.

Week 25: vs. LAL, vs. OKC, vs. DEN, @ LAL

Last Week:23

Record: 34-44

OffRtg: 111.8 (26) DefRtg: 113.6 (16) NetRtg: -1.7 (24) Pace: 99.7 (14)

This will be the 11th straight season in which the Magic had a worse-than-average offense and the 10th time in that stretch that they had a losing record. It’s now been 13 years since they last won a playoff series. But after a 5-20 start to the season, the Magic have had the league’s 11th-best record (29-24) and its sixth-ranked defense (112.7 points allowed per 100 possessions). Overall, they’ve seen the league’s third biggest improvement, both in regard to winning percentage and point differential per 100 possessions (+6.4) from last season.

And no team heading to the Lottery is better set up for future success than the Magic, who are led by the likely Kia Rookie of the Year (Paolo Banchero) and the only second-year player who’s averaged at least 18 points per game on better-than-average efficiency (Franz Wagner). There’s more young talent beyond that and overall, the Magic rank third in the percentage of their minutes (38%) that have come from rookies or second-year players. But Banchero and Wagner have the potential to be a special duo, two 6-foot-10 dudes with serious skills.

The Magic could use a young shooter or two to complement those guys. They’re one of eight teams with fewer than four players who’ve shot 36% or better on at least 100 3-point attempts, and Wagner is one of their three. (Cole Anthony and Gary Harris are the other two.) Markelle Fultz has had a nice comeback season and has shot a solid 45.3% on pull-up 2-pointers (31st among 69 players who’ve attempted at least 150), but still has his limitations. Jalen Suggs (26.5% from deep over his first two seasons) has an important summer ahead.

So do the Magic. They should have both their own first-round pick and that of the Bulls (it’s protected 1-4), having already gotten Wagner out of the Nikola Vucevic trade. They took a serious step forward this season and ’23-24 could be when they become seriously competitive.

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

Last Week:25

Record: 34-44

OffRtg: 113.9 (18) DefRtg: 114.8 (20) NetRtg: -0.9 (22) Pace: 98.8 (22)

Bradley Beal (who’s missed the last six games) and Kristaps Porzingis had pretty good chemistry early on, and both of them had pretty good offensive seasons, averaging a combined 46.4 points per game on better-than-average efficiency. Porzingis’ true shooting percentage of 62.7% is his career-best mark by a healthy margin, and it’s come with career-best marks in both effective field goal percentage (56.5%) and free throw rate (40.9 attempts per 100 shots from the field).

Though Kyle Kuzma wasn’t nearly as efficient, he had his moments and gave the Wizards a third 20-point scorer. But the Wizards were just 16-19 with all three of them in the lineup (they appear to be done for the season) and weren’t great (plus-3.3 points per 100 possessions in 740 total minutes) with all of them on the floor together. The Wizards took a step forward defensively this season, but are still one of six teams that are worse than the league average (114.1 points per 100 possessions) on both ends of the floor. This would be the third straight season in which they’ve been worse than average on both ends and the sixth straight in which they’ve been no better than the 8 seed in the East.

Officially eliminated on Sunday, the Wizards’ Lottery position is still up in the air, as they’re currently tied in the win column with the Pacers and Magic. And no matter where they land, they seem to be ready to run it back with their Beal-Porzingis-Kuzma core. At least last year’s Lottery pick (Johnny Davis) has finally started to play, averaging 20.4 minutes over the last 10 games.

Week 25: vs. MIL, @ ATL, vs. MIA, vs. HOU

Last Week:24

Record: 34-45

OffRtg: 113.6 (22) DefRtg: 116.9 (26) NetRtg: -3.3 (26) Pace: 101.5 (8)

The Pacers were the Eastern Conference’s surprise team in the first half of the season, winning 23 of their first 41 games and sitting in sixth place as of Jan. 11. But that night, Tyrese Haliburton was injured and the Pacers’ slide down the standings began. His eventual return didn’t really turn things around and the Pacers were ultimately 28-28 with their All-Star in the lineup (it doesn’t seem like he’ll play again this season) and outscored by 1.0 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor.

Even with their 11-27 record (only the Pistons, Spurs and Rockets have been worse) since Jan. 11, the Pacers have seen the fifth-biggest jump in winning percentage from last season (25-57, the team’s worst record in 37 seasons). But with seven double-digit losses over the last three weeks, their statistical improvement (+0.3 points per 100 possessions as things stand) will end up being minimal, if anything.

The Pacers do have another building block in Bennedict Mathurin, who (with three more 3-pointers) could become the fourth rookie in the 44 seasons of the 3-point line to make at least 100 3-pointers and 300 free throws. Their two most-used lineups that included Mathurin (along with Haliburton, Buddy Hield and Myles Turner) outscored opponents by an amazing 24 points per 100 possessions in 184 total minutes. And the biggest story of their season may be the career year for Turner, the guy who many people (including himself) thought would be on a different team at this point.

Mathurin was just the Pacers’ second top-10 pick in 34 years, and they should make it three in 35 with where they sit in the reverse standings as we enter Week 25. They’ll also have the picks from the Cavs and Celtics late in the first round.

Week 25: vs. NYK, vs. DET, @ NYK

Last Week:26

Record: 33-45

OffRtg: 114.3 (16) DefRtg: 117.4 (27) NetRtg: -3.2 (25) Pace: 98.9 (19)

For the second straight year, the Blazers turned out the lights before the season was over. They had seven players available against the Kings on Wednesday when they recorded the least efficient offensive performance for any team this season (against what was the 25th-ranked defense) and fell from 10th to 15th in offensive efficiency in just 48 minutes.

Shaedon Sharpe scored 30 of the 80 points and assisted on another 15. He’s probably not going to play much point guard going forward, but he’s clearly got a high ceiling (he can fly and has been a capable 3-point shooter) and was a nice reward for how incredibly bad the Blazers were after the All-Star break last season. Now, with fewer wins than the Magic and Pacers (despite a surprise victory in Minnesota on Sunday), the Blazers should have better Lottery odds this year.

But Damian Lillard is 13 years older than Sharpe, who will be about the same age as whomever the Blazers select this year. While Lillard had his best season ever (registering career-highs in points per game and true shooting percentage), the Blazers’ other veterans were disappointing or (in the case of Josh Hart) traded. Anfernee Simons continued to show that he can be potent offensively, but the Blazers continue to be small in the backcourt, and this will be the fourth straight season in which they’ve ranked in the bottom five defensively. So it feels like they remain at a crossroads.

Week 25: @ MEM, @ SAS, @ LAC, vs. GSW

Last Week:27

Record: 26-53

OffRtg: 108.6 (30) DefRtg: 114.9 (21) NetRtg: -6.3 (27) Pace: 101.5 (6)

With the Kings clinching a playoff spot on Wednesday, the Hornets have the league’s longest active playoff drought: seven years, one year shy of *the longest drought in Eastern Conference history. After five straight seasons of finishing ninth or 10th in the East (and twice getting clobbered in the 9-10 Play-In game), they enter the final week 12 1/2 games behind the 10th-place Bulls.

* The Hawks (1999-00 through 2006-07) and Wizards (1988-89 through ’95-96) each had eight-year playoff droughts.

The Hornets have gone from eighth in offensive efficiency last season to dead last this season. (They’ve now ranked in the bottom eight offensively in 14 of the franchise’s 19 seasons since the birth of the Bobcats in 2004.) They lost Miles Bridges and had LaMelo Ball for just 36 games, but their offensive issues went beyond those absences, with multiple rotation guys seeing big drops in effective field goal percentage.

On the other end of the floor, there’s been progress, with the Hornets ranking ninth defensively (and winning nine of their 19 games) since the All-Star break. It’s not the strongest foundation to build on, but it seems that they’ve found something that works, Gordon Hayward was healthy for about 2 1/2 months (though he’s missed the last three games with a thumb injury), and they’ll be better with more games from Ball next season. And despite their post-break success, the Hornets are locked into the league’s fourth-worst record, with a little less than a 25% chance of getting a top-two pick in this year’s Draft.

Week 25: vs. TOR, vs. HOU, @ CLE

Last Week:28

Record: 19-60

OffRtg: 110.4 (27) DefRtg: 119.2 (29) NetRtg: -8.8 (29) Pace: 99.6 (16)

This obviously wasn’t going to be a competitive team, and 61% of the Rockets’ minutes have come from rookies or second-year players, the league’s highest rate by a wide margin and what would be the third-highest rate for any team in the last 20 years. But it would have been nice to have seen more progress. They might not finish with the league’s worst record for a third straight season, but the Rockets are very close and, if there’s been an improvement on either end of the floor, it’s been minimal. In fact, the Rockets are set to be the first team in almost 30 years to finish in the bottom five in both offensive and defensive efficiency in three straight seasons. The last team to do so — the Mavs in 1991-92, ’92-93 and ’93-94 — did it in a 27-team league.

Jabari Smith has had better offensive numbers since the All-Star break (14.3 points on an effective field goal percentage of 49.6%) than he did prior (12.0 on 46.3%). He’s got a pretty stroke inside the arc, so it might not be a coincidence that he’s seen a big drop in 3-point rate, from 48.7% of his shots before the break to 36.5% since. (He’s not the only Rocket who’s struggled from deep; Kevin Porter Jr. is their only player who’s shot 36% or better on at least 100 3-point attempts.)

Alperen Sengun took a real step forward from his rookie season, cutting down on turnovers and scoring more efficiently. Jalen Green? Not so much. He’s scored 40 points or more four times and has seen a significant jump in free throw rate. But, with a jump in usage rate, he’s seen a drop in effective field goal percentage, with a bigger drop in his field goal percentage in the paint (from 53.2% to 49.6%) than in his effective field goal percentage from outside the paint (from 49.1% to 47.5%).

The Rockets are in the middle of the pack in regard to ball movement, but their offense has been less than cohesive, registering the second-worst assist/turnover ratio (1.38) for any team in the last five seasons. That’s one reason (but not the only one) their transition defense has been terrible, allowing the most transition points per game (27.2) in 19 seasons of Synergy tracking.

There’s a lot to be cleaned up, but talent matters most, and another top-six pick is on its way.

Week 25: vs. DEN, @ CHA, @ WAS

Last Week:29

Record: 20-58

OffRtg: 109.3 (29) DefRtg: 119.6 (30) NetRtg: -10.3 (30) Pace: 101.9 (3)

With the Hornets having a couple of ugly losses over the weekend, the Spurs are probably safe in regard to not finishing last on both ends of the floor, something that’s been done just twice in the last 25 years (2011-12 Bobcats and 2017-18 Suns). But they still need to win one more game to avoid a tie for the worst record in franchise history, and need to be no worse than a minus-14 over their last four games to avoid being the 19th team in NBA history to be outscored by at least 10 points per game.

While the other two teams — Detroit (3) and Houston (2) — that will have 14% Lottery odds have multiple top-five picks from the last few drafts, the Spurs have none. They also parted ways with Josh Primo, the 11th pick from 2021, just 54 games into his NBA career. So you could make the argument that they’re the team most in need of landing at No. 1 for the first time since the last time they were this bad (1996-97). This team doesn’t have a David Robinson on its roster, but there are some building blocks in place.

The most intriguing of those is Jeremy Sochan, the No. 9 pick from the 2022 draft. Sochan has started all but three of the games he’s played in but has been in and out (mostly out) of the lineup for the last couple of months and ranks just 12th among rookies in total minutes played. He had one terrific stretch, averaging 19.8 points and 8.3 rebounds over his first six games after the All-Star break, with the Spurs outscoring their opponents by 5.0 points per 100 possessions in his 185 minutes over that run. With the Spurs not focused on winning games, they have allowed the rookie forward to rank fourth on the team in total time of possession, and he’s made some nice plays along the way.

As interesting a player as Sochan is, it could be a long road back to relevance if the Spurs don’t get the No. 1 or No. 2 pick. And no matter what, the first question this summer will be about the future of Hall of Famer Gregg Popovich.

Week 25: @ PHX, vs. POR, vs. MIN, @ DAL

Last Week:30

Record: 16-62

OffRtg: 110.0 (28) DefRtg: 117.8 (28) NetRtg: -7.7 (28) Pace: 100.0 (13)

Signing Bojan Bogdanovic to an extension (which they did in October) and keeping him past the deadline is a signal that the Pistons want to compete next season. They have some talented pieces in place and those pieces (Jaden Ivey, especially) will be in more appropriate roles when Cade Cunningham (who played in just 12 games this season) is in uniform. Ivey has averaged 7.1 assists since the All-Star break, but has struggled with his shot; Ivey and Killian Hayes (last) are both in the bottom six in effective field goal percentage among 170 players with at least 500 field goal attempts. He’ll be better playing off the ball (38.0% on catch-and-shoot 3s isn’t a bad start) and after a summer of work.

This team, which hasn’t won a playoff game since 2008, is still a long way from really competing in a pretty deep Eastern Conference. The Pistons weren’t very good when Cunningham did play (3-9, minus-6.1 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor) and the frontline pieces don’t fit very well. Bottom line, they rank in the bottom three on both ends of the floor, having taken a step backward defensively from last season.

The Pistons are one of three teams with a 14% chance of winning the Lottery, and with the league’s worst record (for what would be the first time since the 1979-80 season), they’ll have no worse than the fifth pick this year. That will give them one top-five pick (included the imported James Wiseman) from each of the last four Drafts.

Week 25: vs. MIA, vs. BKN, @ IND, @ CHI