Power Rankings, Week 15: Thunder, Sixers on the rise as NBA world mourns the loss of Kobe Bryant
Sunday was a painfully difficult day. Difficult for players to play, for coaches to coach, and for all of us to wrap our heads around the sudden and tragic loss of Kobe Bean Bryant, his daughter Gianna, and seven others.
The NBA family has lost, far too soon, one of its most iconic stars. In the current generation of players and NBA fans, the legacy of Kobe is profound.
While the rest of us weren’t in his universe in regard to talent, we all share the same love for the game of basketball. Kobe gave the game everything he had in his 20 seasons with the Lakers, and he still had more to give.
On to the rankings …
Plus-Minus Players of the Week
- Right Way: Jayson Tatum (BOS) was a plus-57 in two games last week.
- Wrong Way: Tristan Thompson (CLE) was a minus-47 in three games last week.
Teams of the Week
- Make It Last Forever: Utah (3-0) — Most of the Jazz’s 19-2 run has come against lesser opponents, but the Jazz kept it going with wins over the Pacers and Mavs last week.
- Something Just Ain’t Right: Cleveland (0-3) — Three home games against three bad teams, and the Cavs lost them all by double-digits.
East vs. West
- The West is 140-116 (.547) against the East in interconference games after going 11-10 last week.
Schedule strength through Week 14
- Toughest: 1. New Orleans, 2. Atlanta, 3. Cleveland
- Easiest: 1. Milwaukee, 2. Phoenix, 3. Denver
- 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: Oklahoma City (+4), Atlanta (+3), Philadelphia (+3)
- Free falls of the week: Minnesota (-4), Dallas (-3), Indiana (-3)
Week 15 Team to Watch
- Utah — The Jazz have won 19 of their last 21 games to climb from sixth to second place in the Western Conference.They got two wins over winning teams last week, and more big games (within the Western Conference) are coming in the next 17 days. This week, the Jazz’s biggest games will be against the Rockets on Monday and in Denver on Thursday. They’ll also visit a couple of playoff hopefuls – the Spurs on Wednesday and the Blazers on Saturday – as part of a three-game trip.
- Last week: Clippers, Nuggets move into Top 5; Celtics, Rockets tumble
- This time last year: Davis helps push trade season into full gear — Anthony Davis asked the Pelicans for a trade 10 days before the deadline, and Victor Oladipo was lost for the season with a ruptured quad tendon in his right knee. The Warriors were 10 games into an 11-game winning streak, Luka Doncic recorded his first two career triple-doubles, and Paul George dunked on Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Rockets’ visit to Madison Square Garden featured 61 points from James Harden and a #Shaqtin moment from P.J. Tucker.
* * *
Pace: Possessions per 48 minutes (League Rank)
OffRtg: Points scored per 100 possessions (League Rank)
DefRtg: Points allowed per 100 possessions (League Rank)
NetRtg: Point differential per 100 possessions (League Rank)
The league has averaged 100.7 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes and 109.2 points scored per 100 possessions this season.
* * *
NBA.com’s Power Rankings, released every Monday during the season, are just one man’s opinion. If you have an issue with the rankings, or have a question or comment for John Schuhmann, send him an e-mail or contact him via Twitter.
* * *
* * *
The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.
Last Week: 1
Pace: 105.1 (1) OffRtg: 113.3 (2) DefRtg: 101.2 (1) NetRtg: +12.1 (1)
With reserves set to be named on Thursday, Khris Middleton - with a shot at being the second Bucks player in the last two years with a 50/40/90 season - will certainly be an All-Star for a second straight season. Eric Bledsoe also deserves some consideration and he has been slightly more efficient than he was last season, when he could have been the Bucks' second All-Star instead of Middleton.
Bledsoe is a critical part of the third best defense (8.0 fewer points allowed per 100 possessions than the league average) of the 24 seasons for which we have play-by-play data, and the effectiveness of his speed with the ball was on display in Paris (here, here and here) on Friday. But, averaging just 26.2 minutes per game, his boxscore numbers are down from last season and probably don't measure up with other All-Star candidates in the East.
The Bucks' schedule is going to get tougher eventually, but the Nuggets are just their second opponent with a winning record since their Christmas Day loss in Philadelphia, and the Bucks will have a rest advantage on Friday (with Denver playing at home the night before).
Week 15: vs. WAS, vs. DEN, vs. PHX
Last Week: 2
Pace: 100.6 (14) OffRtg: 112.6 (4) DefRtg: 105.5 (5) NetRtg: +7.1 (2)
"I'm happy just to be in any conversation with Kobe Bean Bryant, one of the all-time greatest basketball players to ever play, one of the all-time greatest Lakers. The man has two jerseys hanging up in Staples Center. It's just crazy.
"Seeing him come straight out of high school, he is someone that I used as inspiration. It was like, wow. Seeing a kid, 17 years old, come into the NBA and trying to make an impact on a franchise, I used it as motivation. He helped me before he even knew of me because of what he was able to do. So just to be able to, at this point of my career, to share the same jersey that he wore, be with this historical franchise and just represent the purple and gold, it's very humbling, and it's dope.
"Kobe's a legend, that's for damn sure." -- LeBron James, upon reaching No. 3 on the NBA's all-time scoring list.
Week 15: vs. LAC, vs. POR, @ SAC
Last Week: 3
Pace: 99.3 (21) OffRtg: 111.7 (7) DefRtg: 106.2 (7) NetRtg: +5.6 (7)
There should be no doubt that Rudy Gobert is an All-Star, but his block on Delon Wright to seal the Jazz's win over the Mavs on Saturday was a nice exclamation point on Defensive Player of the Year's candidacy. Gobert also had one of the biggest buckets of the game (his fourth tip-in or tip-dunk in a game in which the Jazz totaled 28 second-chance points) and finished with 22 points (on 8-for-8 from the field), 17 rebounds and five blocks as the Jazz picked up their 19th win in their last 21 games.
The Utah defense isn't quite as good as it was last season, and Gobert hasn't had quite the same influence on opponent shooting in the restricted area. But the Jazz are one of five teams that rank in the top seven in both offensive and defensive efficiency, and Gobert is an integral piece to their success on both ends of the floor. The Jazz have scored 115.2 points per 100 possessions in 1,027 minutes with both Gobert and Donovan Mitchell on the floor, but just 105.6 in 482 minutes with Mitchell on the floor without his starting center.
Coming off the big win over Dallas, the Jazz have still played the fewest games (eight) within the top seven teams in the West. They'll play five more (two against Houston, two against Denver, and another against the Mavs) between now and the All-Star break.
Week 15: vs. HOU, @ SAS, @ DEN, @ POR
Last Week: 4
Pace: 102.8 (8) OffRtg: 112.4 (5) DefRtg: 106.0 (6) NetRtg: +6.4 (5)
The Clippers blew a 21-point lead in Atlanta on Wednesday and allowed the Hawks to grab seven more offensive rebounds (23) than they have in any other game this season. It was a continuation of a couple of trends ...
The Clips haven't rebounded well (defensively, at least) when Kawhi Leonard hasn't been on the floor.
The Clips haven't won (they're 0-6) when Lou Williams has been in the starting lineup.
But, despite the continued absence of Paul George, they've won the last six games in which Leonard has played. The Finals MVP continues to show progress with his playmaking; After never dishing out more than seven assists in his first 449 regular season games, he's done it six times in his last 54. And the Clips' big win in Miami on Friday came with Leonard's first career triple-double, featuring one nice threading of the needle to Montrezl Harrell.
Week 15: @ LAL, vs. SAC, vs. MIN
Last Week: 5
Pace: 97.6 (29) OffRtg: 111.2 (9) DefRtg: 107.6 (10) NetRtg: +3.6 (9)
Michael Porter Jr. has a unique combination of size and skills, one of which is rebounding. Porter has averaged 13.5 rebounds per 36 minutes over his last six games and returned from a one-game absence (he was one of five rotation guys to miss the Nuggets' loss in Houston on Wednesday) to grab 19 boards in less than 48 minutes over the weekend. Seven of those 19 came on the offensive glass, where Porter helped the Nuggets rack up 53 second chance points in wins over the Pelicans and Rockets.
The 35 second chance points they registered in New Orleans on Friday is tied for the most for any team in a game the last three seasons. The Nuggets rank 21st in effective field goal percentage and 26th in free throw rate, but have a top-10 offense, in part because they lead the league in offensive rebounding percentage (and by a wide margin since Porter started getting more minutes after Christmas). They'll face two top-five defensive rebounding teams (Utah and Milwaukee) this week.
Week 15: @ MEM, vs. UTA, @ MIL, @ DET
Last Week: 6
Pace: 98.7 (26) OffRtg: 111.4 (8) DefRtg: 108.3 (14) NetRtg: +3.2 (11)
The Heat remain rather ridiculous in overtime. The Heat and their opponents have each had 83 overtime possessions, and on those 83 possessions, the Heat have scored 102 points and their opponents have scored 52. In wins over the Kings and Wizards last week, eight different Heat players scored in OT.
Of course, it's not great that the Heat needed extra time to beat the Kings and Wizards at home. Miami ranks 24th defensively (113.4 points allowed per 100 possessions) since Christmas, and on Friday, it had its worst defensive game at home this season, allowing the Clippers to score 122 points on 100 possessions. With the biggest game of the homestand (against the Celtics) coming Tuesday, the Heat are banged up, with Jimmy Butler, Goran Dragic and Kendrick Nunn all dealing with leg injuries.
But injuries have provided opportunities for a couple of guys - James Johnson and Dion Waiters - to escape the dog house. Johnson was on the floor down the stretch and hit big shots (one, two) against both Sacramento and Washington, and Waiters made his season debut (shooting 4-for-9 from 3-point range and registering a plus-8 in 18 minutes) against the Clips.
Week 15: vs. ORL, vs. BOS, @ ORL
Last Week: 7
Pace: 100.0 (17) OffRtg: 112.1 (6) DefRtg: 105.5 (4) NetRtg: +6.6 (3)
The Celtics don't rely on jump shots as much as they did last season, but their jump shots were falling (effective field goal of 60.7% from outside the paint) over a three-game winning streak that included two games against top-10 defenses (those of the Lakers and Magic) and came with two of their three highest assist totals of the season.
But it also came with more injuries to their seven-man core. They won in Orlando on Friday without Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and Enes Kanter, but the jump-shooting dried up (they shot 8-for-33 from 3-point range) in New Orleans on Sunday. The Celtics are 21-2 when they've shot 36% or better from 3-point range and 9-13 when they haven't. Brown returned on Sunday and Tatum could be back Tuesday for the Celtics' first of two games in Miami, but Enes Kanter is not on the trip.
Week 15: @ MIA, vs. GSW, vs. PHI
Last Week: 9 ↑
Pace: 100.6 (16) OffRtg: 110.4 (14) DefRtg: 104.5 (2) NetRtg: +6.0 (6)
The Raptors haven't lost since they got all their guys back. They've won seven straight overall to climb into second place in the East. And while Pascal Siakam outscored the Spurs (25-21) by himself in the first quarter on Sunday, the scoring has been remarkably balanced - six guys averaging between 12 and 20.1 points per game - over the winning streak. The Raptors aren't afraid to rotate defensively, but they punish opposing defenses for doing the same, ranking fourth in 3-point percentage (37.5%) and leading the league with 4.3 secondary assists per game.
Their biggest win of the streak - over the Sixers on Wednesday - came with a comeback from 14 points down. After another comeback from an early deficit in New York on Friday, the Raptors lead the league with 12 wins (and are one of four teams with a winning record) after trailing by double-digits. After their win in San Antonio on Sunday, the champs have also won seven straight on the road, scoring more than 117 points per 100 possessions over those seven games.
Week 15: vs. ATL, @ CLE, @ DET, vs. CHI
Last Week: 12 ↑
Pace: 99.4 (19) OffRtg: 108.4 (20) DefRtg: 105.0 (3) NetRtg: +3.4 (10)
The Sixers are 6-3 in this stretch without Joel Embiid, which has been bookended by wins over the Celtics and Lakers. The offense has remained a struggle; Despite Ben Simmons averaging 21.6 points on 65% shooting and Al Horford hitting some big jumpers last week, the Sixers rank 29th offensively (104.8 per 100) since Embiid's surgery. And now they're without secondary playmaker Josh Richardson (hamstring strain) for a couple of weeks.
But only the Bucks have been better defensively than the Sixers (102.9 points allowed per 100) over these last 2 1/2 weeks. Philly's win on Saturday, with Ben Simmons holding LeBron James (2-for-9 shooting with Simmons as his defender) in check, was the Lakers' worst offensive game of the season (91 points on 101 possessions).
The Sixers are 7-6 in games between the top six teams in the East, 6-1 at home and 1-5 on the road, where they will face the Celtics, Heat and Bucks on a four-game trip that begins Thursday in Atlanta.
Week 15: vs. GSW, @ ATL, @ BOS
Last Week: 14 ↑
Pace: 99.4 (20) OffRtg: 110.2 (15) DefRtg: 107.8 (12) NetRtg: +2.5 (13)
The Thunder have the league's third best record (22-8) since Thanksgiving, and their current, five-game winning streak has been their best stretch of the season (plus-12.0 points per 100 possessions). It has taken them into a tie in the win column with the sixth-place Mavs, who will be in Oklahoma City on Monday. The OKC offense ranks fifth in January (115.4 points scored per 100 possessions) and remains balanced between its top four scorers, who have all averaged between 18.8 and 21.7 points this month.
The Thunder lead the league with five wins after trailing by 15 points or more, with the fifth coming after they trailed by 15 with less than seven minutes to go in Houston on Monday.
Week 15: vs. DAL, @ SAC, @ PHX
Last Week: 8 ↓
Pace: 98.9 (25) OffRtg: 110.5 (13) DefRtg: 107.6 (11) NetRtg: +2.9 (12)
Victor Oladipo is set to make his debut on Wednesday. And even though the guy who was supposed to hold it down in the backcourt - Malcolm Brogdon - has missed 14 of their 47 games, the Pacers have been better without their star than they were last season (when they went 16-19 after his injury).
With Domantas Sabonis thriving as a secondary playmaker in the middle of the floor (he had two triple-doubles on the Pacers' five-game trip) and with T.J. McConnell playing nearly mistake-free (44 assists and just three turnovers over his last five games), there shouldn't be too much pressure on Oladipo to create a ton of offense himself.
Home from their trip, the Pacers will play seven of their eight remaining pre-break games at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Week 15: vs. CHI, vs. NYK
Last Week: 11 ↓
Pace: 104.1 (2) OffRtg: 113.3 (3) DefRtg: 109.4 (15) NetRtg: +3.9 (8)
After shooting 9-for-45 (including 0-for-8 as they blew a 15-point lead in less than seven minutes) from 3-point range in their loss to Chris Paul and the Thunder on Monday, the Rockets followed Russell Westbrook's lead. They took just 29 of their 89 shots from beyond the arc in a win over the Nuggets two nights later, the first time in almost three years (since March of 2017) that less than a third of their shots came from 3-point range. They still scored efficiently and made more threes than Denver (because Eric Gordon was 6-for-8), and their win in Minnesota on Friday was their second lowest mark for 3-point rate (3PA/FGA) of the season.
James Harden was seemingly worn down, shooting 11-for-63 (17%) from 3-point range over his last six games. And then he suffered a thigh contusion in Minnesota, taking him out for the Rockets' loss in Denver on Sunday and (probably) their game in Utah on Monday. They're 0-2 without him, but the Rockets have been only 3.6 points per 100 possessions better offensively with Harden on the floor than they've been with him off the floor. That differential was no lower than 8.5 per 100 in any of the last six seasons.
Week 15: @ UTA, @ POR, vs. DAL, vs. NOP
Last Week: 10 ↓
Pace: 99.5 (18) OffRtg: 116.2 (1) DefRtg: 109.6 (17) NetRtg: +6.6 (4)
For the second time in as many seasons (and again in January), an important Mavs rotation player suffered a torn Achilles. This time, it was Dwight Powell, a critical cog in the league's No. 1 offense, who went down late in the first quarter on Tuesday, a brutal injury for a 28 year old having the best season of his career.
Maxi Kleber is a pretty good fill-in. Kleber (1.39 points per possession) and Powell (1.35) rank third and sixth, respectively, in roll man efficiency among 48 players who have averaged at least two roll-man possessions per game, according to Synergy play-type tracking. Kleber isn't as mobile, but ranks as the better rim protector of the two, and the Mavs traded for Willie Cauley-Stein to provide some frontline depth.
Losses to the Clippers and Jazz dropped the Mavs to 10-14 in games that were within five points in the last five minutes and 3-8 (with six straight losses) in games between the top seven teams in the West. With Luka Doncic having shot 24-for-103 (23%) from 3-point range, the Mavs have scored just 107.6 points per 100 possessions over those 11 games. They have three games within the top seven between now and the All-Star break, and two of them are on the road this week. Doncic was 3-for-16 from beyond the arc in the Mavs' previous loss in Oklahoma City (Dec. 31).
Week 15: @ OKC, vs. PHX, @ HOU, vs. ATL
Last Week: 13 ↓
Pace: 103.6 (3) OffRtg: 109.3 (19) DefRtg: 111.5 (21) NetRtg: -2.1 (20)
The Grizz lost an important game to the Pelicans on Monday, getting outscored, 63-37, from 3-point range. Two nights later, Ja Morant had the quietest night of his career as they lost in Boston. But they rebounded to beat Detroit and Phoenix over the weekend and remain in playoff position. They're one of four teams (all from the Western Conference) that rank in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency this month.
And while they're not the most prolific 3-point shooting team, the Grizz have been dominant inside. They've outscored their opponents by 10 points or more in the paint in seven of their last nine games, shooting a league-best 72% in the restricted area over that stretch.
After they host the Nuggets on Tuesday, the Grizz will play nine of their next 11 games on the road, with the top two picks of last year's Draft set to meet for the first time on Friday.
Week 15: vs. DEN, @ NYK, @ NOP
Last Week: 15
Pace: 100.9 (14) OffRtg: 111.0 (12) DefRtg: 111.7 (22) NetRtg: -0.8 (14)
The most consistent team of the last 22 seasons has been one of the most inconsistent teams of this one. The Spurs had their first three-game winning streak since the first three games of the season, scoring 117.6 points per 100 possessions with six guys averaging double-figures. But it came to an end when they shot 5-for-25 from 3-point range and combined with the Suns to score just 106 per 100, four nights after the same two teams combined to score 121 per 100.
With their losses to the Suns and Raptors over the weekend, the Spurs are 12-12 at the AT&T Center, just one defeat shy of the most they've had at home in a season since they drafted Tim Duncan in 1997. Their two home games this week are the last ones before the annual rodeo trip that takes them past the All-Star break.
Week 15: @ CHI, vs. UTA, vs. CHA
Last Week: 17 ↑
Pace: 103.3 (6) OffRtg: 109.5 (17) DefRtg: 112.6 (25) NetRtg: -3.0 (23)
Zion Williamson's first three games could have been more successful in regard to wins and losses, but the Pelicans' losses to the Spurs and Nuggets were more about the minutes that he wasn't on the floor. They outscored their opponents by 21 points (15.2 per 100 possessions) in his 67 minutes, with most of that success (plus-18) coming in his 29 minutes at center.
Maybe the four 3-pointers in less than two minutes on Wednesday were a little fluky. And opponents won't be afraid to foul him if he continues to shoot less than 50% from the line. But there's no dealing with Williamson's ability to finish nor his quickness to the ball. He has shot 18-for-23 (78%) in the restricted area and grabbed 15.2% of available offensive rebounds (same as Enes Kanter's league-best rate) while he's been on the floor.
Prior to Williamson's debut, the Pels got a big win in Memphis, and they still have three more meetings with the eighth-place Grizz. The next is Friday at the Smoothie King Center.
Week 15: @ CLE, vs. MEM, @ HOU
Last Week: 16 ↓
Pace: 98.4 (28) OffRtg: 105.2 (26) DefRtg: 106.3 (8) NetRtg: -1.1 (16)
The Magic have generally been a rock-solid defensive team. But they've suffered some slippage on that end of the floor over the last two weeks, and when they're not defending well, they're not winning games, especially against the league's best teams. They've lost five of their last six and allowed the Thunder, Celtics and Clippers to score 117 points per 100 possessions over an 0-3 homestand.
They remain in the bottom five offensively and just haven't been getting much production from Aaron Gordon, who has averaged just 10.6 points on 36% shooting over the last five games. His effective field goal percentage of 38.0% on shots outside the paint ranks 125th among 127 players who have taken at least 200 shots from the outside (higher than only those of Jordan Poole and Jimmy Butler).
The Magic's first meeting with the Heat (Jan. 3) was one of Miami's worst offensive games this season (85 points on 97 possessions)
Week 15: @ MIA, vs. MIA
Last Week: 20 ↑
Pace: 101.2 (11) OffRtg: 111.0 (10) DefRtg: 113.0 (26) NetRtg: -2.0 (19)
Damian Lillard probably didn't need to make an All-Star push, but he certainly had himself a week leading up, averaging 52.7 points (on an effective field goal percentage of 69% and 37-for-39 from the line) and 9.3 assists over the last three games. When CJ McCollum returned from a three-game absence in a win over the Pacers on Sunday, he and Lillard shot a combined 14-for-21 from 3-point range and the Blazers scored 89 points on 56 possessions with their starting guards on the floor together.
The Blazers lost the game (of the last three) that Lillard scored fewer than 50 points (because they allowed the Mavs to score 78 in the first half) and the schedule remains tough for the next couple of weeks. But they're just 2 1/2 games behind the eighth-place Grizzlies, with all three head-to-head meetings still to come.
Week 15: vs. HOU, @ LAL, vs. UTA
Last Week: 18 ↓
Pace: 102.3 (9) OffRtg: 109.5 (18) DefRtg: 110.3 (19) NetRtg: -0.9 (15)
The Suns had a huge opportunity last week. But they got just one win in their three games against two of the teams between them and a playoff spot. On Monday against the Spurs, they got outscored, 51-24, from 3-point range and Ricky Rubio missed a free throw with a chance to tie the game with 6.4 seconds to go. And on Sunday in Memphis, the Suns were outscored, 66-38, in the paint and Rubio missed a free throw with a chance to tie the game with 63 seconds to go.
They still became the first team to match its win total from last season. They've seen the league's fourth biggest jump in points scored per 100 possessions (+4.2) and its fourth biggest drop in points allowed per 100 (-3.9). But their remaining schedule is both difficult (21 of 36 against the 13 teams with winning records) and road-heavy (20 away from Talking Stick Resort Arena).
Week 15: @ DAL, vs. OKC, @ MIL
Last Week: 19 ↓
Pace: 102.3 (10) OffRtg: 105.5 (25) DefRtg: 107.9 (13) NetRtg: -2.4 (21)
Not unexpectedly, the Nets went 0-5 against their toughest stretch of schedule, allowing the Jazz, Sixers, Bucks and Lakers to score 115 points per 100 possessions (including 125 per 100 with Kyrie Irving on the floor). Brooklyn is now 5-16 against the 13 teams currently over .500.
Their weekend back-to-back began a stretch of seven straight games against teams below .500, and Irving carried the offense (with 45 points and seven assists) in an important overtime win in Detroit on Saturday. But after their loss at Madison Square Garden on Sunday, the Nets are seven games below .500 themselves, having lost 13 of their last 16, with the Pistons and Bulls (who are at Barclays Center on Wednesday and Friday) not far behind in the standings.
Week 15: vs. DET, vs. CHI, @ WAS
Last Week: 21
Pace: 100.6 (15) OffRtg: 104.6 (28) DefRtg: 106.5 (9) NetRtg: -1.9 (18)
The Bulls are down another starter. Lauri Markkanen (out 4-6 weeks with a pelvis injury) hasn't shown much progress since a strong rookie year, but is still just 22 years old and will now fall short of the 70-game mark in each of his three seasons in the league.
The Bulls have alternated wins and losses over their last nine games, scoring 116.1 points per 100 possessions in the five wins and just 93.9 in the four losses. One night after they scored six points (on 2-for-13 shooting, with six turnovers) over a game-deciding, 10-minute stretch against the Kings, they had their highest-scoring quarter (40 points, with 12 of their 16 buckets in the restricted area, in the third) of the last month in Cleveland. Only the Nets (38.2%) have taken a bigger percentage of their shots in the restricted area than the Bulls (37.7%), though Chicago ranks 28th in restricted-area field goal percentage (59.3%).
The 5-4 stretch has the Bulls hanging around in the playoff race, and they have three games remaining against the eighth-place Nets, with Game 2 in the season series in Brooklyn on Friday.
Week 15: vs. SAS, @ IND, @ BKN, @ TOR
Last Week: 22
Pace: 99.2 (23) OffRtg: 109.6 (16) DefRtg: 111.3 (20) NetRtg: -1.3 (17)
Despite a slew of injuries and January losses to the Cavs, Bulls and Wizards (they scored just 100 points on 101 possessions against the league's worst defense on Monday), the Pistons had a chance to tie the eighth-place Nets in the win column on Saturday. And after the Pistons blew a 10-point halftime lead, Brooklyn gifted them with both the time and outlet pass for Derrick Rose's game-tying bucket at the end of regulation. But the Detroit defense, which had shown some improvement in the last couple of weeks, allowed the Nets to score 15 points on their first seven possessions of the extra period.
The Pistons did get Reggie Jackson back from a three-month absence last week. He scored 22 points (with five of his eight buckets coming on drives down the left side of the lane) in just 19 minutes in a win over the Kings on Wednesday, the Pistons scored 113 points on 93 possessions with him on the floor over two games, and he started alongside Rose on Friday before sitting out the second game of a back-to-back.
Week 15: vs. CLE, @ BKN, vs. TOR, vs. DEN
Last Week: 24 ↑
Pace: 98.6 (27) OffRtg: 106.9 (21) DefRtg: 109.9 (18) NetRtg: -3.0 (22)
The Kings' increase in pace at the start of January was, apparently, a tease. After averaging 107 possessions per 48 minutes over the first five games of 2020, they've averaged just 99 per 48 over the last six. And their defense was downright awful (119.1 points allowed per 100 possessions) over a six-game losing streak. On Wednesday, they lost by 21 to the depleted Pistons.
The end of the losing streak (in Chicago on Friday) came with a lineup change (Bogdan Bogdanovic starting, Buddy Hield off the bench), the Kings' second best defensive performance of the season (81 points allowed on 95 possessions), and just a few flashes of the run-and-fun Kings of last season (here, here and here) in what was their slowest-paced game of the month. After shooting 16-for-57 (28%) from 3-point range over the losing streak, Hield made five of his nine attempts from beyond the arc in his first game off the bench since April of 2018. The Kings complete their five-game trip with a game against a team dealing with its own losing streak.
Week 15: @ MIN, vs. OKC, @ LAC, vs. LAL
Last Week: 25 ↑
Pace: 99.3 (22) OffRtg: 104.8 (27) DefRtg: 112.3 (24) NetRtg: -7.5 (26)
The Knicks have won just two of their last five games. But the three losses have come by a total of just 17 points to the Sixers, Lakers and Raptors. The loss to Toronto on Friday was one of the Knicks' best offensive games of the season (maybe the best when you consider the strength of the opposing defense), but the five games have been their second best stretch of defense of the season (104.5 points allowed per 100 possessions).
Of course, the five games have all come without RJ Barrett (sprained right ankle), who is out at least a few more games. Their current starting lineup (with Reggie Bullock in Barrett's place) has outscored its opponents by more than 14 points per 100 possessions in its 86 minutes.
Week 15: @ CHA, vs. MEM, @ IND
Last Week: 28 ↑
Pace: 103.4 (5) OffRtg: 104.5 (29) DefRtg: 113.3 (28) NetRtg: -8.8 (29)
The Hawks traded for Jeff Teague to back up Trae Young. But in two of the last three games that Young has missed, Brandon Goodwin (the back-up point they already had) has stepped up in what have been the Hawks' two biggest comeback wins of the season. Against the Clippers on Wednesday, Goodwin scored all 19 of his points in the fourth quarter of a game the Hawks trailed by 21 and won by seven.
John Collins has shot 62% as the Hawks have scored 113 points per 100 possessions over a 4-3 stretch, capped by a 152-133 win over Washington on Sunday in which Young had an incredibly efficient 45 points and 14 assists.
Both Goodwin and Teague have been playing off the bench with Young back in the lineup, but two-point-guard lineups have not worked well thus far. In 88 total minutes with two of the three on the floor, the Hawks have been outscored by 46 points.
Week 15: @ TOR, vs. PHI, @ DAL
Last Week: 26
Pace: 103.4 (4) OffRtg: 111.0 (11) DefRtg: 116.1 (30) NetRtg: -5.1 (25)
It will be fascinating to see if Bradley Beal is named an All-Star reserve on Thursday. The offensive numbers (28.1 and 6.3 assists per game) are hard to ignore, and Beal has made an All-Star push of late, averaging 35.8 points on 60% shooting over his last four games. Beal is still having the worst 3-point shooting season of his career (31.4%, the fourth worst mark among 77 players with at least 200 attempts), but these last four games have come with him shooting 72% inside the arc.
The Wizards are back in form, combining with their opponents to score more than 122 points per 100 possessions over their last three games. The last two have come against bottom-10 offenses, and they'll play four more of those over a six-game homestand that begins Thursday.
Week 15: @ MIL, vs. CHA, vs. BKN
Last Week: 23 ↓
Pace: 103.2 (7) OffRtg: 106.1 (22) DefRtg: 109.6 (16) NetRtg: -3.4 (24)
No team has taken control of eighth place in the West, but the Wolves have seemingly taken control of 14th. They've lost their last nine games, and Karl-Anthony Towns has lost the last 13 games he's played in, even though he's averaged 35.7 points on 59% shooting over the last three. Towns scored 19 of the team's first 20 points against Oklahoma City on Saturday, but eventually, somebody else was going to need to make some shots. And Wolves not named Towns shot 6-for-31 (19%) from 3-point range before Andrew Wiggins and Robert Covington drained a couple of threes on a late run that only allowed Chris Paul to pad his clutch stats.
There have been worse teams both offensively and defensively over the course of the losing streak, but the Wolves are now 0-8 (the only team without a win) in games that were within five points in the last five minutes in January.
Week 15: vs. SAC, @ LAC
Last Week: 27 ↓
Pace: 96.9 (30) OffRtg: 105.6 (24) DefRtg: 113.1 (27) NetRtg: -7.5 (27)
The Hornets hung around with the best team in the league in Paris, in part because Malik Monk scored more points (31) than he has in any NBA game he's played in North America. He also dished out five assists (pushing off a make to set up a Marvin Williams 3-pointer and passing through traffic for a P.J. Washington layup) and had a couple of nice defensive moments (a forced turnover, an emphatic block). Monk is kind of the anti-Devonte' Graham, in that he has shot well in the paint (59%, including 7-for-10 on Friday) and not-so well outside it (effective field goal percentage of 39%).
Despite Monk's career high, the Paris game was the fifth time in their last six that the Hornets scored less than a point per possession. They rank 27th in effective field goal percentage (49.5%) and 29th in turnover rate (16.2 per 100 possessions) over their eight-game losing streak.
Week 15: vs. NYK, @ WAS, @ SAS
Last Week: 29
Pace: 101.0 (12) OffRtg: 103.4 (30) DefRtg: 112.1 (23) NetRtg: -8.7 (28)
D'Angelo Russell has given the Warriors' 30th-ranked offense a boost. He hit nine threes for the second time this season against Indiana on Friday and has averaged 29 points (with only three total buckets in the restricted area) over the last four games. The last five games have been the Warriors' best five-game stretch of offense (109.5 points scored per 100 possessions) since early November.
But the seven games since Russell returned from his latest injury have been their worst stretch of defense (117.6 allowed per 100) all season. Over their three-game losing streak, they've allowed the Blazers and Jazz to total 38 fast break points and 37 second chance points, and the Pacers to shoot 17-for-28 from 3-point range. The Warriors have seen the league's biggest increase in the percentage of their opponents' shots that have come from the restricted area or 3-point range from last season (65%, fifth lowest) to this season (71%, 18th lowest).
Week 15: @ PHI, @ BOS, @ CLE
Last Week: 30
Pace: 98.9 (24) OffRtg: 105.7 (23) DefRtg: 114.9 (29) NetRtg: -9.2 (30)
When you lose at home to the Knicks, Wizards and Bulls by a total of 44 points in the span of six days, you just might be the worst team in the NBA. Two weeks ago, the Cavs were 10-9 against the other 16 teams currently on the wrong side of .500. Now, they're 10-14. Over their seven-game losing streak, the Cavs have allowed 119.8 points per 100 possessions and have been outscored by 57.4 per 100 in the third quarter.
A little math: 7 games x 12 third-quarter minutes = 84 minutes total. The Cavs have been outscored by 98 points in those 84 minutes. That's a minus-56 per 48. Their opponents have shot 61% (including 70% in the paint and 23-for-45 from 3-point range) over the seven third quarters and three of the seven have registered at least 10 fast break points in the third quarter alone. (The Cavs themselves average 10.3 fast break points per game.)
According to the standings, the Warriors are still the worst team in the league. So there will be a lot on the line when the Dubs make their only visit to Cleveland on Saturday.
Week 15: @ DET, vs. NOP, vs. TOR, vs. GSW