Week 19 Power Rankings: Spotlight remains on Cleveland Cavaliers, Golden State Warriors
As playoff race intensifies, last two NBA champs are still ones to watch
The trade deadline and the 2018 All-Star Game are in the rearview mirror. And when basketball resumes on Thursday, teams will know what they’re working with, and they’ll have had a week off to rest and refresh.
It’s time to get serious. As we come out of the break, there are 19 teams playing for 16 playoff spots. But the spotlight remains on the two teams that have played in the last three Finals.
The Cleveland Cavaliers have played just two games with their new roster and, though the results have been great thus far, still have a lot of work to do to establish themselves as a team that can defend consistently. The Golden State Warriors, meanwhile, need to rediscover that edge that makes them the best defensive team in the league.
With better competition in their respective conferences, the Cavs and Warriors need to be better than they’ve been over the last six weeks. And for both teams, getting back to being the favorites starts on defense. One team is hoping that new personnel can spark that improvement. The other is hoping that it comes after some much-needed time off.
- Last week: Jazz streak up rankings and into playoff race
- This time last year: Cousins trade shakes things up before deadline — DeMarcus Cousins was traded to New Orleans just a few hours after playing there in the All-Star Game in which Anthony Davis scored 52 points. Eric Gordon and Glen Robinson III were the big winners on All-Star Saturday Night, Kevin Love was out for a month with a knee injury, and the Nets had lost 14 straight games.
- Plus-minus stud: Jrue Holiday (NOP) was a plus-44 in two games last week.
- Plus-minus dud: Josh Jackson (PHX) was a minus-48 in two games last week.
- Hero team of the week: Houston (2-0) — The Rockets went into the break with a 10-game winning streak, picking up an impressive win in Minnesota (in which they scored 42 points in the fourth quarter) on Tuesday.
- Zero team of the week: Phoenix (0-2) — The Suns lost by 46 points to a team that let its players run the huddle.
- East vs. West: The West is 176-160 (.524) against the East in interconference games after going 4-1 last week.
- Toughest schedules so far: 1. Philadelphia, 2. Dallas, 3. Utah
- Easiest schedules so far: 1. Houston, 2. San Antonio, 3. Washington
- Schedule strength is based on cumulative opponent record, and adjusted for home vs. away and days of rest before a game.
- High jumps of the week: Cleveland (+4), Philadelphia (+4), Utah (+3)
- Free falls of the week: Boston (-6), San Antonio (-4), Dallas (-2), Oklahoma City (-2)
- Team to watch in Week 19: Denver — The Nuggets have won nine of their last 12 games and have a chance at a top-five seed in the West. But they’re also tied in the loss column with the ninth-place Clippers and will begin their post-break schedule with home games against the Spurs (Friday) and Rockets (Sunday). And their three-game homestand concludes with maybe their most important game of the season, a visit from the Clippers next Tuesday.
* * *
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 99.4 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes and 106.0 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.
* * *
Last Week: 1
Pace: 100.4 (10) OffRtg: 113.2 (2) DefRtg: 104.6 (9) NetRtg: +8.6 (2)
If Trevor Ariza returns from his hamstring injury this week, does he start? In four seasons with the Rockets, Ariza has never come off the bench, but the current starting lineup -- with Luc Mbah a Moute and P.J. Tucker at the forward spots -- has outscored opponents by 20 points per 100 possessions over Houston's 10-game winning streak, and Mike D'Antoni has already moved Ryan Anderson to the second unit. Either way, if the Rockets still have the No. 1 seed in the West a month from now, they will have earned it. They will play 13 of their next 14 games against teams that are currently over .500, with 10 of those 14 games on the road.
Week 19: vs. MIN, @ DEN
Last Week: 3 ↑
Pace: 100.5 (9) OffRtg: 110.7 (4) DefRtg: 102.6 (4) NetRtg: +8.1 (3)
DeMar DeRozan's assist rate (18.1 per 100 possessions used) is the highest of his career by wide margin, but it has dropped precipitously with each subsequent quarter, from 25.1 in the first quarter to 6.8 in the fourth. So there's still a question of if the ball can continue to move late in games, but we haven't seen much of DeRozan late in games, because the Toronto bench has been putting opponents away early. The Raptors have won seven straight games, with DeRozan and Kyle Lowry only needing to play in the fourth quarter of one of the seven (their win over Miami on Tuesday, because every Heat game is a close game). The five-man bench unit is now a plus-92 in 80 minutes over the course of the winning streak and ranks as the league's best lineup (plus-31 points per 100 possessions) of the 52 that have played at least 150 minutes together.
Week 19: vs. MIL
Last Week: 2 ↓
Pace: 102.5 (2) OffRtg: 113.7 (1) DefRtg: 103.7 (5) NetRtg: +10.0 (1)
It's time to see if the Warriors just needed a break or if their defense (which ranks 15th since Jan. 1) just isn't as good as it's been in years past. Better defense starts with Draymond Green, but the challenge for him is to play with the edge of the Kia Defensive Player of the Year without picking up technical fouls (two more will get him suspended for a game). The champs have the West's easiest remaining schedule (a cumulative opponent winning percentage of .463), but it starts off with two opponents that have beat them in the last six weeks, and the Thunder (2-0 against the Warriors) are a particularly interesting matchup.
Week 19: vs. LAC, vs. OKC
Last Week: 5 ↑
Pace: 97.9 (23) OffRtg: 111.3 (3) DefRtg: 108.3 (26) NetRtg: +3.0 (7)
The Wolves have scored at least 110 points per 100 possessions in eight straight games (something the Warriors haven't done since Dec. of 2015), with Karl-Anthony Towns shooting 60 percent from the field, 58 percent from 3-point range, and 96 percent from the free throw line over that stretch. With them having scored 5.3 more points per 100 possessions than the league average, this is the best offensive season in franchise history. Of course, they remain a bottom-five defensive team and have allowed their opponents to shoot better than 70 percent in the restricted area this month. They only have five games remaining (tied for fewest in the league) against top-10 offenses, but one of those is Friday against the team that just blew them out (with 42 points in the fourth quarter) last week.
Week 19: @ HOU, vs. CHI
Last Week: 6 ↑
Pace: 98.4 (21) OffRtg: 108.5 (6) DefRtg: 106.4 (17) NetRtg: +2.1 (9)
Only five players (who have played at least 500 minutes) have a bigger on-off-court NetRtg differential than Victor Oladipo, with the Pacers having been 14.8 points per 100 possessions better with Oladipo on the floor (plus-7.3) than they've been with him off the floor (minus-7.5). But the Pacers went into the break with (a three-game winning streak and) just their second win of the season in a game (at Brooklyn on Wednesday) in which they were outscored with Oladipo on the floor. They can't expect Al Jefferson to ever score 13 points in eight minutes off the bench again, but maybe they can expect a stronger Myles Turner over the last two months of the season. The Pacers have one of the toughest remaining schedules in the East, but they get to ease into it, with their first three games against Atlanta (x 2) and Dallas, with the weekend off after they host the Hawks on Friday.
Week 19: vs. ATL
Last Week: 10 ↑
Pace: 101.6 (5) OffRtg: 105.4 (15) DefRtg: 102.6 (3) NetRtg: +2.8 (8)
The Sixers went into the break with a five-game homestand and are now 11-0 at the Wells Fargo Center in 2018. They come out of the break playing eight of 10 on the road, where they've lost four straight. They have the most games remaining on their schedule, but they also have the league's easiest remaining schedule in regard to opponent strength, with 17 of their 27 games against the 12 teams that currently have losing records (and most of those teams could be even worse in the next couple of months). They have the league's No. 1 defense since Jan. 1 and realistic shot at having home-court advantage in the first round (which would be quite a story), trailing the fourth-place Wizards by just a game in the loss column..
Week 19: @ CHI, vs. ORL, @ WAS
Last Week: 7
Pace: 98.8 (18) OffRtg: 105.4 (14) DefRtg: 105.0 (11) NetRtg: +0.4 (15)
Damian Lillard finished the pre-break schedule strong, averaging 44 points on 55 percent shooting over the Blazers' last three games. Their win over the Warriors on Wednesday was their first victory (in eight tries) against one of the top five teams (in regard to winning percentage) in the league, and also just the eighth time this season that both Lillard and C.J. McCollum have scored 25 points or more in the same game. With the defensive slippage that they've had (they rank 23rd defensively since Jan. 1), they need more of that. But their 11 remaining games against the league's top 10 defenses are the most of any team, and the first one -- Friday in Utah -- may be the most important.
Week 19: @ UTA, @ PHX
Last Week: 11 ↑
Pace: 97.4 (25) OffRtg: 106.0 (13) DefRtg: 103.9 (6) NetRtg: +2.0 (10)
When they were 16-24 six weeks ago, it was proposed in this space that the Jazz could be this year's version of last year's Heat, considering their first-half injuries, point differential and strength of schedule. They rank No. 1 defensively over their 11-game winning streak, but the offense (sixth over the streak) is the bigger surprise. Rodney Hood shot well at the beginning of the streak, but was traded. Ricky Rubio had a couple of big games in the middle of the streak, but has missed the last three games. Donovan Mitchell has been the leading scorer over the streak, but hasn't been all that efficient. They've found a way every night and they have an easier remaining schedule than teams 5-9 in the West, though they'll get visits from the Blazers, Rockets and Wolves on a four-game homestand that begins Friday.
Week 19: vs. POR, vs. DAL
Last Week: 13 ↑
Pace: 99.8 (13) OffRtg: 110.1 (5) DefRtg: 109.8 (28) NetRtg: +0.3 (17)
The New Cavs are 2-0 and while it's just two games, it's also two impressive road wins (in Boston and Oklahoma City). Cleveland has scored a ridiculous 126 points per 100 possessions over its four-game winning streak (going back to its pre-deadline win over the Wolves), with LeBron James averaging 30 points and 13 assists. The Cavs have a relatively easy schedule going forward and six of their first seven post-break games at home. The only top-10 offense they'll face in the next four weeks is that of the Nuggets, and they'll have a rest advantage in both game between the two teams. Any defensive improvement is noteworthy, but the defense won't really be tested for a while.
Week 19: vs. WAS, @ MEM, vs. SAS
Last Week: 4 ↓
Pace: 98.3 (22) OffRtg: 104.4 (21) DefRtg: 100.9 (1) NetRtg: +3.6 (4)
The Celtics needed the break, and not just because it is giving Marcus Smart's lacerated hand an extra week to heal. Two rookies -- Jayson Tatum and Daniel Theis -- have been in the rotation and have never played a season this long before. The Cs have lost four of their last five games (their worst stretch of the season in regard to point differential) and were 6-9 over the last month before the break, a stretch that began with a four-game losing streak when Smart was healthy. Smart is expected back for this weekend's back-to-back in Detroit and New York, the start of what is tied for the league's most road-heavy remaining schedule (14 of 23 away from the TD Garden).
Week 19: @ DET, @ NYK
Last Week: 9 ↓
Pace: 98.6 (19) OffRtg: 107.2 (10) DefRtg: 104.0 (7) NetRtg: +3.2 (6)
Though they have a win at Golden State this month, the Thunder were a team that probably needed the All-Star break and was fortunate that they got to play the Grizzlies in two of their three final pre-break games. They rank 19th defensively since losing Andre Roberson for the season and will come out of the break searching for some consistency, another win at Golden State and an answer as to who they can count on as their fifth guy, both to start games and to close them. Maybe the closer is Raymond Felton, who played well after Alex Abrines suffered a hip contusion in Memphis on Wednesday. The numbers haven't been bad (plus-5.7 points per 100 possessions) in 292 minutes with Felton and Russell Westbrook on the floor together.
Week 19: @ SAC, @ GSW
Last Week: 8 ↓
Pace: 96.7 (29) OffRtg: 105.1 (16) DefRtg: 101.9 (2) NetRtg: +3.2 (5)
Offense has been a struggle all season for the Spurs, who rank 16th defensively in February, having lost five of their six games this month. Now, they have the league's toughest remaining schedule in regard to opponent strength, with 18 of their final 23 games against teams that currently have winning records. They've lost 11 of their last 14 games against that group and there's no indication if or when they'll get Kawhi Leonard back. It's incredible that they have the West's No. 3 seed and the league's second-ranked defense with their MVP candidate having played just nine games, but you have to wonder how far they could slide against a rough schedule.
Week 19: @ DEN, @ CLE
Last Week: 12 ↓
Pace: 99.5 (15) OffRtg: 107.1 (11) DefRtg: 105.3 (12) NetRtg: +1.8 (11)
The Wizards went into the break winning seven of their last nine games, with top-10 marks on both offense and defense over that stretch. They're holding onto the No. 4 seed in the East, but have three teams just a game behind in them in the loss column, are without John Wall for another month and appear to have some fractured chemistry. They also have the East's toughest remaining schedule in regard to opponent winning percentage, as well as a league-high seven remaining back-to-backs. The first of those is Thursday and Friday, when they visit the Cavs and then host the Hornets.
Week 19: @ CLE, vs. CHA, vs. PHI
Last Week: 15 ↑
Pace: 98.9 (17) OffRtg: 108.2 (7) DefRtg: 107.8 (22) NetRtg: +0.3 (16)
Remember Paul Millsap? He plays for this team and could be back in early March. The Nuggets have won nine of their last 12 games, with wins over the Blazers, Thunder, Warriors and Spurs in that stretch. Nikola Jokic has turned things up offensively, averaging 19.4 points, 11.3 rebounds and 8.8 assists over the 12 games, with two straight triple-doubles going into the break. Of course, the Nuggets rank 27th defensively over the 9-3 stretch, having allowed their opponents to get to the basket more often than usual. When Millsap was signed, the thought was that he could help a defense that ranked 29th last season. Four months after the season started, the Nuggets are still looking for that same kind of impact upon his return.
Week 19: vs. SAS, vs. HOU
Last Week: 14 ↓
Pace: 97.7 (24) OffRtg: 107.3 (9) DefRtg: 106.0 (16) NetRtg: +1.3 (12)
The Bucks have taken advantage of a soft schedule over their first 12 games under Joe Prunty. But they've lost seven of their last nine games against teams that currently have winning records, going into the break with a home loss in which they allowed the Nuggets to tie a franchise record with 24 threes. The Bucks will play seven of their next eight games against teams with winning records, with the only exception being the second half of a back-to-back in Detroit, where the Pistons are 5-2 with Blake Griffin. Five of those other seven games are at home, but this will be an interesting stretch in Milwaukee.
Week 19: @ TOR, vs. NOP
Last Week: 16
Pace: 100.7 (8) OffRtg: 107.1 (12) DefRtg:106.0 (15) NetRtg: +1.1 (13)
The Clippers went into the break with a big win in Boston, are 5-2 since the Blake Griffin trade and rank fifth defensively over that stretch. But none of the seven games have been against a team that ranks higher than 14th offensively and that defense is about to get tested, because 12 of their next 18 games are against the league's top 10 offenses. That stretch includes three games against the Warriors (1) and Rockets (2), starting with a visit to Oakland on Thursday. In total, the Clippers have a league-high 19 games remaining against teams that are currently over .500.
Week 19: @ GSW, @ PHX
Last Week: 18 ↑
Pace: 102.1 (3) OffRtg: 107.7 (8) DefRtg: 106.7 (19) NetRtg: +1.0 (14)
Anthony Davis did not lose focus before the All-Star break, averaging 41 points, 14 rebounds, four steals and two blocks over a three-game winning streak that has the Pelicans still hanging onto eighth place in the West. And the contributions of Emeka Okafor (14 rebounds and four blocks per 36 minutes), five years since he last played in the NBA, may be more amazing than those of Davis. The Pels are home for 14 of their final 25 games, but the rescheduling of their roof-leak game against Indiana for March 21 gave them a back-to-back-to-back (though all three games are at the Smoothie King Center), and they're the only team in the league that doesn't have any more games against teams that played the night before.
Week 19: vs. MIA, @ MIL
Last Week: 17 ↓
Pace: 97.0 (28) OffRtg: 103.1 (25) DefRtg: 104.4 (8) NetRtg: -1.3 (20)
Amazingly, the Heat's last 16 games before the break were all within five points in the last five minutes. Through Jan. 29, they were 22-11 in games that were within five in the last five, but they've lost seven of their last eight, having used 11 different guys in clutch minutes over that stretch, with those not named Wayne Ellington shooting poorly from Kaboomtown. Though their offense has been improved (James Johnson and Josh Richardson have a combined effective field goal percentage of 62 percent this month), they've quickly fallen from fourth to eighth in the East. The good news is that no team has fewer road games (nine) or fewer games with a rest disadvantage (one) remaining on its schedule. After they visit New Orleans on Friday, they'll play seven of their next eight at the Heat's house.
Week 19: @ NOP, vs. MEM
Last Week: 20 ↑
Pace: 98.5 (20) OffRtg: 104.6 (18) DefRtg: 105.0 (10) NetRtg: -0.4 (18)
With the Sixers having the easiest remaining schedule, the Pistons' best shot at making the playoffs is by beating out the Heat, the team they trail by just one game in the loss column, with one more head-to-head meeting left on the schedule. The Pistons have won two of the three meetings thus far, but that final game (March 3) will be in Miami. It's also the second game of a back-to-back and just one of 15 remaining road games for the Pistons, who have lost nine of their last 10 away from Little Caesars Arena. Blake Griffin is under contract for at least three more years, but there is pressure to make the playoffs this season. The only way to do that is for the Pistons to figure out their road woes.
Week 19: vs. BOS, @ CHA
Last Week: 19 ↓
Pace: 103.0 (1) OffRtg: 102.8 (26) DefRtg: 105.6 (13) NetRtg: -2.8 (21)
The Lakers won their first four games in February, allowing just 95 points per 100 possessions. Then they lost their last three games before the break, allowing 124 per 100. It may or may not be a coincidence that those were Isaiah Thomas' first three games with the team, but Thomas averaged just 20 minutes in those three games, getting ejected in the first quarter in New Orleans on Wednesday. Lonzo Ball could be back this week, but Brandon Ingram has shot 54 percent in his seven games as the starting point guard, and the Lakers have scored 110 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor over that stretch. The defense has been way up and way down, but they rank 11th offensively in February.
Week 19: vs. DAL, @ SAC
Last Week: 21
Pace: 100.4 (11) OffRtg: 104.9 (17) DefRtg: 105.8 (14) NetRtg: -0.9 (19)
The Hornets have some soul searching to do over the last seven weeks of the season. In the fall, Steve Clifford called this "the most talented team" he's ever coached. After a rough stretch in November, it was just a matter of getting through the tough part of the schedule. For much of the season, the Hornets could point to their close losses and say that they were a better team than their record said they were. But they're no longer a top-eight team in the East in regard to their point differential, they're far from being a top-eight team in the East in regard to the standings, and they remain a top-four team in the East in regard to their payroll, with minimal expiring salary this summer.
Week 19: vs. BKN, @ WAS, vs. DET
Last Week: 23 ↑
Pace: 100.0 (12) OffRtg: 101.8 (28) DefRtg: 108.2 (25) NetRtg: -6.4 (28)
Unlike some other teams in this here bottom 10, the Bulls have some pieces in place. But so far, their three key pieces -- Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine and Lauri Markannen -- have played just 50 total minutes together in four games. So their final 25 games will be useful in getting those three on the floor for extended minutes, and getting LaVine closer to where he needs to be physically. He's had some highlights, but overall, has struggled to finish at the rim. He has shot just 49 percent in the restricted area through his first 14 games, down from 63 percent over his three seasons in Minnesota.
Week 19: vs. PHI, @ MIN
Last Week: 22 ↓
Pace: 98.9 (16) OffRtg: 103.7 (23) DefRtg: 106.6 (18) NetRtg: -2.9 (23)
The Knicks took an eight-game losing streak into the break, somehow shooting 25 percent from 3-point range over the eight games and scoring less than 90 points per 100 possessions in four of them (even with Tim Hardaway Jr. having a 32-point first half against Washington on Wednesday). Since the offense can't possibly get more brutal than that, it should be time for Jarrett Jack to take a back seat to let Frank Ntilikina and/or Emmanuel Mudiay start in the backcourt. Ntilikina has more turnovers than assists over the losing streak, but the offense hasn't been so brutal with the two young point guards on the floor together.
Week 19: @ ORL, vs. BOS
Last Week: 24
Pace: 99.6 (14) OffRtg: 103.9 (22) DefRtg: 108.0 (24) NetRtg: -4.1 (25)
John Collins started on Friday, but of the 20 guys in the Mtn Dew Kickstart Rising Stars game, only Frank Ntilikina (zero) has fewer regular-season starts than Collins (five) this season. The big rookie actually started the Hawks' last game before the break, but both Dennis Schroder and Kent Bazemore were out for that loss in Detroit. There's potential for a good defensive lineup with Bazemore, Taurean Prince, Collins and Dewayne Dedmon (especially if Schroder isn't the fifth guy), but that quartet has played just 34 total minutes together this season. The Hawks have one of the league's more difficult remaining schedules, with 17 of their 23 games against teams that are currently over .500.
Week 19: @ IND
Last Week: 25
Pace: 101.0 (6) OffRtg: 103.1 (24) DefRtg: 107.9 (23) NetRtg: -4.8 (27)
That pick that the Cavs held onto is looking a lot better than it did a month ago. The Nets have lost 11 of their last 12 games, and that includes six losses at home. Their current losing streak (seven games) hasn't been as long as the one they took into the All-Star break last season (14), but the numbers have been a little worse (minus-10.9 points per 100 possessions vs. minus-9.1), and only Phoenix has been worse defensively in February. The eventual return of Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (who has missed the last 10 games) will help, but the Nets will play 14 of their remaining 23 games on the road and more games against teams that are currently over .500 (12) than below (11).
Week 19: @ CHA
Last Week: 26
Pace: 96.2 (30) OffRtg: 102.7 (27) DefRtg: 106.9 (20) NetRtg: -4.1 (26)
The Grizzlies got Chandler Parsons back before the break, but managed to register a minus-21 in just 12 minutes against Oklahoma City on Wednesday, and the Grizz went into the break with a seven-game losing streak. The streak actually began with one of Marc Gasol's best games of the last couple of months, but he has shot just 38 percent over the seven games. Andrew Harrison has really been the lone bright spot of the last few weeks, setting his career high for scoring twice in the last three games. As he totaled 51 points in those two home games against Utah and Oklahoma City, he shot 8-for-11 in the restricted area and 7-for-10 from beyond the arc. Among 159 players who have attempted at least 100 threes in each of the last two seasons, Harrison has seen the sixth biggest jump in 3-point percentage (from 28 percent to 36 percent).
Week 19: vs. CLE, @ MIA
Last Week: 29 ↑
Pace: 97.3 (26) OffRtg: 100.9 (30) DefRtg: 109.9 (29) NetRtg: -9.0 (29)
The Kings' minutes and scoring remain balanced as Dave Joerger mixes touches for Zach Randolph with opportunities for their young guys. Justin Jackson has started the last 10 games, but has yet to really find his shot from beyond the arc, shooting just 8-for-26 from 3-point range over that stretch. The Kings rank second in 3-point percentage as a team and are finally starting to shoot threes more often. Their ratio of 3-point attempts to mid-range shots of 1.1 ranks 27th, but is up to 1.5 this month. They have the most home-heavy remaining schedule, with 16 of their 25 games (including eight of the next nine) at home.
Week 19: vs. OKC, vs. LAL
Last Week: 28
Pace: 100.8 (7) OffRtg: 104.6 (19) DefRtg: 108.6 (27) NetRtg: -4.0 (24)
Point guards D.J. Augustin and Shelvin Mack have combined for 43 assists and just 18 turnovers in the Magic's four games since the Elfrid Payton trade, but the Magic went into the break with three straight losses in close games, shooting 7-for-25 on clutch shots. Frank Vogel would surely love to use his team's last 25 games to climb out of the bottom five in defensive efficiency, the Magic do rank 12th on that end of the floor in February, and the departure of Payton should help on that end of the floor. More playing time for Khem Birch could help too. Over their last eight games, the Magic have allowed just 93 points per 100 possessions in Birch's 153 minutes on the floor (vs. 115 with him off the floor).
Week 19: vs. NYK, @ PHI
Last Week: 27 ↓
Pace: 97.1 (27) OffRtg: 104.5 (20) DefRtg: 107.4 (21) NetRtg: -2.9 (22)
The development of Dennis Smith Jr. (who has made at least two 3-pointers in five straight games) continues to be priority No. 1 for the Mavs. But it will be interesting to see if they take a good look at Nerlens Noel, who is expected to return from a three-month absence this week and will be an unrestricted free agent this summer. Dwight Powell has been more than just a plus-minus star of late, averaging 16.3 points and 8.3 rebounds in February, and the Mavs were generally awful (getting outscored by 23 points per 100 possessions) with Noel on the floor before he had surgery on his thumb, but they're still searching for a long-term solution on the frontline.
Week 19: @ LAL, @ UTA
Last Week: 30
Pace: 102.0 (4) OffRtg: 101.5 (29) DefRtg: 110.6 (30) NetRtg: -9.1 (30)
There are six teams tied with 18 wins at the bottom of the standings, but given the way they've played, the Suns appear to be in the driver's seat in regard to earning the best odds in the Draft lottery. They've lost their seven February games by an average of 24.3 points, having allowed their opponents to score almost 120 per 100. Both the Suns and Kings have a chance to be the first team in an 82-game season to rank 30th in both offensive and defensive efficiency, and the Suns rank 30th in both over the last month of games before the break, with one of the league's toughest remaining schedules, playing 16 of their 23 remaining games against teams that are currently over .500.
Week 19: vs. LAC, vs. POR