Power Rankings

Week 25 Power Rankings: Boston Celtics make things interesting atop Eastern Conference

We’re almost there. The playoffs are 12 days away, and in each conference, things look more wide open than they did when we got this season started almost six months ago.

But before we get there, there’s still some seeding to figure out. And in each conference, there’s a race that looks closer than it did a week ago. With a six-game winning streak, the Boston Celtics have put some pressure on the Toronto Raptors for the No. 1 seed in the East. The Celtics are just two games back with another head-to-head meeting on Wednesday.

In the West, the last two playoff spots are very much up for grabs. With a couple of overtime wins (and some help elsewhere), the ninth-place Denver Nuggets control their own destiny, putting the eighth-place Minnesota Timberwolves and ninth-place New Orleans Pelicans in some peril.

The only teams locked into their playoff position are the Houston Rockets and Golden State Warriors. The Rockets remain No. 1 in the rankings despite an ugly loss in San Antonio on Sunday, while the champs have an offense to reshape as they prepare for playoff games without Stephen Curry.

Note: For the 12 teams no longer in the playoff picture (the bottom seven in the East and the bottom five in the West), notes below will be focused on their defense this season. See last week’s rankings for notes on their offense.

  • Hero team of the week: Boston (3-0) — The Celtics’ six-game winning streak includes wins over the Thunder, Blazers, Jazz and Raptors.
  • Zero team of the week: Orlando (0-3) — The Magic lost to three of the other bottom-nine teams in the league, with two of the games at home.
  • Toughest schedules so far: 1. Phoenix, 2. Dallas, 3. Chicago
  • Easiest schedules so far: 1. Cleveland, 2. Toronto, 3. Houston
  • 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: Eight teams (+2)
  • Free falls of the week: New Orleans (-4), Oklahoma City (-4), New York (-2), Sacramento (-2)
  • Team to watch in Week 25: Toronto — The Raptors’ spot atop the Eastern Conference is suddenly in peril, and they have a big back-to-back this week, visiting the Cavs on Tuesday and hosting the Celtics on Wednesday. They’ll also host another East playoff team (Indiana) on Friday.

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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 99.5 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes and 106.2 points scored per 100 possessions this season.

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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.

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Last Week:1

Record: 62-15

Pace: 99.8 (14) OffRtg: 112.8 (1) DefRtg: 103.9 (7) NetRtg: +8.9 (2)

Missing either Chris Paul (five) or James Harden (one) for each of their last six games, the Rockets have had a few ugly offensive performances, with Harden shooting 6-for-40 from 3-point range in the five games he's played. They survived (and extended their winning streak to 11 games) until they had their worst shooting performance of the season (effective field goal percentage of 38 percent) in San Antonio on Sunday. Their last two losses (March 9 at Toronto was the previous one) have come with two of their four lowest 3-point attempt totals of the season. The overall No. 1 seed (with home-court advantage throughout the playoffs) and the MVP race are wrapped up, but they may want to use three games against playoff teams this week to find their rhythm again before visiting a pair of non-playoff teams in the final two days of the season.


Week 25: vs. WAS, vs. POR, vs. OKC

Last Week:4

Record: 53-23

Pace: 98.2 (23) OffRtg: 105.5 (17) DefRtg: 101.2 (1) NetRtg: +4.2 (5)

The No. 1 seed in the East is suddenly in play. The Celtics have won six straight games, including an intense affair against the Raptors on Saturday, with a zone defense helping them put together the game-deciding 15-3 run in the fourth quarter. Defense (mostly man-to-man) has been the foundation of the winning streak (and their 12-4 record without Kyrie Irving), but the Cs have scored a solid 109 points per 100 possessions over the last five games, shooting a ridiculous 52 percent from 3-point range and with Terry Rozier and Shane Larkin combining for an assist-turnover ratio of 35/5. They've lost their last five games in Toronto, where they'll face the Raptors again on Wednesday.


Week 25: @ MIL, @ TOR, vs. CHI, vs. ATL

Last Week:2

Record: 55-21

Pace: 100.0 (12) OffRtg: 111.5 (3) DefRtg: 103.8 (6) NetRtg: +7.7 (3)

The Raptors have dropped out of the top five in defensive efficiency, having allowed 113 points per 100 possessions as they've gone 3-4 over their last seven games to make things interesting at the top of the East again. Of course, it was the offense that looked more concerning down the stretch in Boston on Saturday, as they shot 3-for-14 (with six turnovers) over the final 7 1/2 minutes. They rank 19th in clutch offense (105 points scored per 100 possessions) and 27th in clutch assist rate (having assisted on just 41 percent of their buckets with the score within five points in the last five minutes). DeMar DeRozan's assist ratio (18.3 per 100 possessions used) is still a career-high mark, but it drops from 24.9 per 100 in the first quarter to just 7.9 per 100 in the fourth, and that fourth quarter ratio is lower than it was last season (12.3).

Week 25: @ CLE, vs. BOS, vs. IND, vs. ORL

Last Week:3

Record: 56-21

Pace: 101.9 (5) OffRtg: 112.7 (2) DefRtg: 103.6 (5) NetRtg: +9.1 (1)

Kevin Durant, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson both returned last week, none of them got hurt again (though Durant got ejected against Milwaukee on Thursday), they had a combined effective field goal percentage of 62 percent, and the Warriors won two straight games for the first time in more than three weeks. They're still just 4-8 without Stephen Curry against the other 17 teams that are currently over .500 (with four games remaining against those teams), and Durant and Thompson still have a combined effective field goal percentage of just 54 percent with Curry off the floor (vs. 64 percent with Curry on the floor). His impact on the what would have been the best offense ever (if he stayed healthy) is about more than his own shooting.

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

Last Week:5

Record: 48-29

Pace: 98.8 (18) OffRtg: 106.6 (14) DefRtg: 104.2 (9) NetRtg: +2.4 (9)

Maurice Harkless was playing well (averaging 15 points on 66 percent shooting over his last six games) before undergoing knee surgery that will have him out until at least the start of the playoffs. But the Blazers have better numbers with Evan Turner playing with the other four starters (plus-11.0 points per 100 possessions in 457 minutes) than with Harkless playing with the other four (plus-7.5 in 442 minutes). The difference has been defense, and its with defense that the Blazers have won the last four games in which they had Damian Lillard. They've won seven straight on the road with Lillard, and they're on the road for the next four, with a rare Texas triangle trip this week as they try to wrap up the 3 seed in the West.

Week 25: @ DAL, @ HOU, @ SAS

Last Week:6

Record: 44-33

Pace: 97.6 (25) OffRtg: 105.9 (16) DefRtg: 101.9 (3) NetRtg: +4.0 (6)

At one point this season, the Jazz were 5-19 on the road. Since then, they've won 14 of their last 15 road games, and the only loss came in overtime in San Antonio. The turnaround pretty closely coincides with Rudy Gobert's return to health, though the improvement has been almost as big on offense (9.2 points per 100 possessions) as it's been on defense (12.0). Joe Ingles and Ricky Rubio have combined to shoot 53 percent from 3-point range over the 15 games, with Rubio going 5-for-6 from beyond the arc in a big road win over his old team on Sunday. In his first nine games back from shoulder surgery, Dante Exum has exceeded expectations and provided a real lift off the bench, with the Jazz having outscored their opponents by 17 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor.

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

Last Week:9

Record: 46-30

Pace: 101.9 (4) OffRtg: 106.8 (13) DefRtg: 102.2 (4) NetRtg: +4.6 (4)

Markelle Fultz is back, but less than two games into his return, he broke Joel Embiid's face. We'll have to wait to see if Embiid will be available for the start of the playoffs, and in the meantime, the Sixers will likely play for third place in the East when they host the Cavs on Friday. Despite the loss of Embiid, they've won 10 straight games (their longest winning streak since they started the 2000-01 season 10-0), with the league's No. 1 defense over the course of the streak. They also rank fifth offensively over the 10 games, with seven different Sixers averaging double-figures. Embiid's on-off differential is still 14.6 points per 100 possessions (and 11.5 since the All-Star break), but thanks to a soft schedule (11 of 17 games vs. teams with losing records), the Sixers have outscored their opponents with him off the floor since March 1.


Week 25: vs. BKN, @ DET, vs. CLE, vs. DAL

Last Week:10

Record: 46-31

Pace: 98.0 (24) OffRtg: 107.4 (9) DefRtg: 105.5 (13) NetRtg: +1.9 (10)

A five-game winning streak has the Pacers in great position to finish no worse than fifth in the East. It's been their best five-game stretch of offense (112 points scored per 100 possessions) since the All-Star break, even though they haven't shot particularly well (34 percent) from 3-point range. Victor Oladipo has not only found his shot (he's 29-for-43 over the last three games), but he dished out 12 assists (the second highest total of his career) in L.A. on Sunday. With playoff opponents likely to take the ball out of his hands, that could be an important development. Among the top 12 guards in usage rate, only Devin Booker has a lower assist ratio than Oladipo (15.5 per 100 possessions used) and only the Blazers (50 percent) and Thunder (53 percent) have assisted on a lower percentage of their baskets than the Pacers (54 percent).

Week 25: @ DEN, vs. GSW, @ TOR, @ CHA

Last Week:11

Record: 47-30

Pace: 99.9 (13) OffRtg: 110.4 (5) DefRtg: 109.4 (28) NetRtg: +1.0 (14)

J.R. Smith struggled through his first two weeks of coming off the bench, but he got a visit from a therapy dog on Wednesday and had one of his best games of the season that night in Charlotte, putting the ball on the floor a lot more than he usually does. In fact, the seven 2-point buckets he scored were the most he's had in any game in over three years. The off-the-dribble skills have always been there, but have been mostly kept in storage as Smith has taken 65 percent of his shots from 3-point range (76 percent in the playoffs) over his four seasons in Cleveland. The Cavs came up empty in Miami on Tuesday and are still banged up (George Hill and Kyle Korver are out), but have won eight of their last nine games, with the league's No. 1 offense over that stretch.

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

Last Week:12

Record: 45-32

Pace: 97.1 (29) OffRtg: 105.5 (18) DefRtg: 101.9 (2) NetRtg: +3.5 (7)

There are 10 days left in the season and the Kawhi Leonard situation remains as strange as it was in October. But the Spurs picked up two big wins last week, holding both the Thunder and Rockets under a point per possession. Pau Gasol got a spot start against OKC, but was back on the bench on Sunday and the Spurs' small-ball starting lineup has outscored their opponents by 21 points per 100 possessions in 136 minutes since Gregg Popovich first went to it three weeks ago. LaMarcus Aldridge has been on fire since then, averaging 29 points on 57 percent shooting over the 10 games. The Spurs have won nine straight at home and are in fourth place in the West, but staying there will probably require a win or two on the road, where they've lost nine of their last 10.

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

Last Week:7

Record: 45-33

Pace: 99.1 (17) OffRtg: 107.3 (10) DefRtg: 104.6 (11) NetRtg: +2.7 (8)

The Thunder shot 12-for-39 in the clutch as they lost three straight games to lose their grip on the 4 seed in the West. The last five games have been Paul George's worst shooting stretch (effective field goal percentage of 37 percent) of the season and the Thunder have been outscored by 25 points in 43 minutes over those five games with George on the floor without Russell Westbrook. But Westbrook found George for a big three in a big win in New Orleans on Sunday to keep OKC in that 4-5 matchup with the Spurs ... for now. They still have some work to do to avoid the Rockets, Warriors and Blazers in the first round. They're 3-2 against Houston and Golden State (with games against both this week), but were swept by Portland.

Week 25: vs. GSW, @ HOU

Last Week:8

Record: 43-34

Pace: 102.6 (3) OffRtg: 107.1 (12) DefRtg: 106.1 (15) NetRtg: +1.0 (15)

The Pelicans have followed up a four-game winning streak (which briefly had them in fourth place in the West) with a four-game losing streak in which they've scored just 97 points per 100 possessions, with Pels not named Darius Miller having shot 22-for-78 (28 percent) from 3-point range. Nikola Mirotic continues to struggle (only Lonzo Ball has a worse effective field goal percentage on at least 100 shots since March 9) and Anthony Davis had a rough weekend, shooting 6-for-19 in Cleveland on Friday and never getting it going until it was too late against the Thunder on Sunday. They're just a game ahead of the Nuggets for the last playoff spot in the West, but all of Denver's five remaining games are against teams with winning records and the Pels get the Grizz and Suns this week.

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

Last Week:13

Record: 44-34

Pace: 98.4 (21) OffRtg: 110.8 (4) DefRtg: 108.9 (26) NetRtg: +1.9 (11)

For the most part, defense has been the issue with the Wolves since Jimmy Butler's knee injury (and before that too). But they've scored less than a point per possession in four of their last five games, with the only exception being the one (against Atlanta on Wednesday) in which Karl-Anthony Towns scored a franchise-record 56 points. Nemanja Bjelica has shot 6-for-27 in those other four games, unable to build on a strong first half of March. Butler took a step forward in his rehab last week and with no games until Thursday, the Wolves should have some practice opportunities for him to take additional steps in the next few days. That Thursday game in Denver (the Nuggets are only a game back in the loss column) is a big one.

Week 25: @ DEN, @ LAL

Last Week:14

Record: 42-35

Pace: 99.3 (15) OffRtg: 109.6 (6) DefRtg: 109.1 (27) NetRtg: +0.5 (18)

After a pair of wild overtime wins, highlighted by Mason Plumlee's game-saving block in Oklahoma City on Friday and a 20-4 run to close regulation against Milwaukee on Sunday, the Nuggets are still alive. And because they have two games left against the Timberwolves (who are just one game ahead of them in the loss column), they control their own destiny. If they go 5-0 over the last nine days of the season, they're in the playoffs. Of course, with four of the five games against top-10 offenses, they're going to need a lot of offense themselves (because they don't defend well, you see). Gary Harris is still out, but Paul Millsap has started picking up the slack, averaging 27.3 points on 64 percent shooting over the last three games, and Torrey Craig provided some big minutes in place of Wilson Chandler on Sunday.

Week 25: vs. IND, vs. MIN, @ LAC

Last Week:15

Record: 41-36

Pace: 101.1 (6) OffRtg: 108.0 (8) DefRtg: 107.0 (17) NetRtg: +1.0 (13)

The Clippers still have four more games against teams ahead of them in the standings, but their playoff hopes took a huge blow when they blew a six-point, fourth quarter lead and just couldn't get any stops down the stretch against the Pacers on Sunday. Only the Hawks have been worse defensively with the game within five points in the last five minutes than the Clips, who have allowed their opponents to shoot 42 percent from 3-point range in those situations. And it's not clear why Tyrone Wallace left Bojan Bogdanovic wide open for what turned out to be the most important shot of the game on Sunday. Milos Teodosic's season is probably over, but he went out with two of his best assists of the season (one and two), with the over-the-head dime to DeAndre Jordan coming after he had already torn the plantar fascia in his left foot.

Week 25: vs. SAS, @ UTA, vs. DEN

Last Week:16

Record: 42-35

Pace: 98.8 (19) OffRtg: 107.1 (11) DefRtg: 106.0 (14) NetRtg: +1.1 (12)

A 5-10 record in their last 15 games without John Wall (with losses to the Knicks and Bulls) has the Wizards almost locked in to a bottom-3 seed in the East. But Wall's impact was clear as they beat Charlotte in his first game back from a two-month absence on Saturday. He dished out 14 assists, Bradley Beal shot 7-for-8 (5-for-5 from 3-point range) off Wall's passes, and other Wizards got to eat, too. Otto Porter (the league's best 3-point shooter since March 1) got 15 shots and the Wiz assisted on 30 of their 40 total buckets. Wall sat out the second game of a back-to-back on Sunday and the Wiz still have two more back-to-backs left on the schedule, starting with Thursday and Friday (at Cleveland, vs. Atlanta).

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

Last Week:17

Record: 41-36

Pace: 97.6 (26) OffRtg: 104.6 (19) DefRtg: 104.0 (8) NetRtg: +0.6 (17)

Tuesday in Miami was the Cavs' worst offensive game of the season, and the Heat have allowed less than 90 points per 100 possessions over their last three games. Their bench ranks second in the league since the All-Star break and they've been at their best (plus-16.5 points per 100 possessions since the break) with Kelly Olynyk on the floor (cc: Hassan Whiteside). But they remain tied with the Bucks because they lost to Brooklyn for the third time on Saturday (two of those losses have been at home) and have scored just 101 points per 100 possessions over their last five games, with turnovers being an issue and Wayne Ellington going cold from beyond the arc.

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

Last Week:18

Record: 41-36

Pace: 98.3 (22) OffRtg: 108.0 (7) DefRtg: 107.2 (19) NetRtg: +0.8 (16)

Eric Bledsoe seems to have flipped the switch to playoff mode a couple of weeks early (he hasn't been in the playoffs since he was a reserve in L.A. five years ago, so maybe he's anxious), shooting 60 percent over the last six games and totaling 70 points in L.A. and Denver over the weekend. The Bucks rank third offensively (with their starting lineup having scored 125 points per 100 possessions in its 116 minutes) and 29th defensively over their last 12 games. They continue to give up layups at a league-worst rate (their opponents have averaged 42.8 points in the restricted area over the 12 games), and as they turned an 18-point, fourth-quarter lead into a brutal, overtime loss in Denver on Sunday, they allowed the Nuggets to score 44 points (on 57 percent shooting) in the final 12 1/2 minutes.

Week 25: vs. BOS, vs. BKN, @ NYK

Last Week:21

Record: 37-40

Pace: 98.4 (20) OffRtg: 104.5 (20) DefRtg: 104.5 (10) NetRtg: -0.0 (19)

The Pistons have climbed back into the top 10 in defensive efficiency with a 7-1 stretch in which they've allowed 95 points per 100 possessions. Six of the eight opponents have had bottom 10 offenses and three of their final five games will be against that group too. But the Pistons also rank eighth defensively against the league's top 12 offenses. They're the only team that ranks in the top 10 in regard to opponent free throw rate (fourth), opponent turnover percentage (eighth) and opponent offensive rebounding percentage (ninth). They have some things to figure out offensively, but have a solid defense in place. They've allowed just 102.7 points per 100 possessions (the rate of a top-five defense) in 585 minutes with Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond on the floor together.

Week 25: vs. PHI, vs. DAL, @ MEM

Last Week:19

Record: 33-43

Pace: 102.8 (1) OffRtg: 104.2 (21) DefRtg: 105.5 (12) NetRtg: -1.3 (21)

After four straight seasons of ranking in the bottom three defensively (and last in each of the last two seasons), the Lakers have been the most improved team in the league, having allowed 5.1 fewer points per 100 possessions than they did last season. Improvement has come in all areas; The Lakers have seen the league's biggest drop in both opponent field goal percentage in the paint (from 59 percent to 55 percent) and opponent 3-point percentage (from 37 percent to 35 percent). Lonzo Ball is the rare rookie guard who has made an impact defensively; Among players who have played at least 40 games, he ranks 11th in steals and 17th in deflections per game. With him on the floor, the Lakers have forced more turnovers per 100 possessions and the percentage of their opponents' shots that have come from 3-point range has been lower.

Week 25: @ UTA, vs. SAS, vs. MIN, vs. UTA

Last Week:20

Record: 34-44

Pace: 100.5 (9) OffRtg: 106.4 (15) DefRtg: 107.0 (16) NetRtg: -0.6 (20)

After ranking in the top 10 defensively in Steve Clifford's first three seasons, the Hornets were a little better than average defensively last season. And this season, despite the addition of a three-time Defensive Player of the Year, they've been a worse-than-average defensive team for the first time in Clifford's tenure. Dwight Howard's presence had an effect on opponents' shooting in the restricted area (fewer shots, lower field goal percentage), and the Hornets lead the league in both opponent free throw rate and defensive rebounding percentage. But perimeter defense has been a problem for the second straight season. The Hornets have seen the league's third biggest drop in the percentage of their opponents' shots that have come from 3-point range (in part because they had the highest rate last season), but rank 27th in opponent 3-point percentage and 24th in opponent turnover rate.

Week 25: @ CHI, @ ORL, vs. IND

Last Week:24

Record: 25-52

Pace: 100.9 (7) OffRtg: 104.2 (23) DefRtg: 108.7 (24) NetRtg: -4.5 (24)

The Nets' defense leads the league by a wide margin in taking away the most efficient shots on the floor. Only 57 percent of their opponents' shots have come from the restricted area (30 percent, fifth lowest opponent rate) or from 3-point range (27 percent, lowest). But no team has allowed their opponents to shoot better (43 percent) on the shots in between. The shot-location defense has still allowed them to be better than average in regard to opponent effective field goal percentage, but they rank dead last (by a wide margin) in opponent turnover rate, despite some decent length in their backcourt. The structure for a good defense is there, but they're set to finish in the bottom 10 defensively for the fourth straight season and need to figure out how to get more disruptive (in regard to turnovers and contesting shots) within that structure.

Week 25: @ PHI, @ MIL, @ CHI

Last Week:25

Record: 26-51

Pace: 100.2 (11) OffRtg: 101.4 (28) DefRtg: 108.8 (25) NetRtg: -7.4 (28)

This season, the Bulls have seen a big increase in the percentage of their shots that have come from 3-point range. Their opponents have too, going from 30 percent (the eighth lowest opponent rate) last season to 37 percent (the second highest rate) this season. So, though they rank 17th in opponent 3-point percentage, only the Kings have allowed more points per game from beyond the arc. There was one good stretch of defense (101 points per 100 possessions allowed over 12 games) in December, but that was fleeting and so were Robin Lopez's days of playing 30 minutes. With Lopez on the floor, Bulls opponents have taken less than 64 percent of their shots from the restricted area or 3-point range. With Lopez off the floor, that number has been greater than 73 percent.

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

Last Week:22

Record: 25-53

Pace: 97.2 (28) OffRtg: 101.3 (29) DefRtg: 109.5 (29) NetRtg: -8.2 (29)

The Kings (and the Suns) managed to get worse defensively after ranking in the bottom five on that end of the floor last season. Sacramento has done it by ranking last in both opponent 3-point percentage (38 percent) and the percentage of their opponent shots that came from 3-point range (also 38 percent). And because they haven't shot a lot of threes themselves, they've been outscored by 9.6 points per 100 possessions (more than their overall differential) from beyond the arc. The regression wasn't just about the team's youth. The Kings have allowed their opponents to shoot 41 percent from 3-point range and allowed 114.3 points per 100 possessions with Zach Randolph on the floor. That's the second highest on-court DefRtg among players who have averaged at least 15 minutes in 40 or more games.

Week 25: @ PHX, @ MEM

Last Week:23

Record: 27-50

Pace: 99.2 (16) OffRtg: 104.1 (24) DefRtg: 108.6 (23) NetRtg: -4.5 (23)

After the game in which Kristaps Porzingis tore the ACL in his left knee, the Knicks ranked 17th defensively and were the sixth most improved team on that end of the floor (having allowed 2.7 fewer points per 100 possessions than they did last season). Since then, the Knicks have been the worst defensive team in the league, having allowed 115 per 100 as they've gone 4-18. Porzingis ranks as the league's best rim protector this season, but since his injury, New York opponents have seen about equal increases in how effectively they've shot inside and outside the paint, as well as increases in free throw rate and offensive rebounding percentage and a drop in turnover rate. There's hope for the future - they've been 5.9 points per 100 possessions better defensively with Frank Ntilikina on the floor than they've been with him off the floor and allowed just 96 per 100 with Ntilikina and Porzingis on the floor together - but the future is on hold until Porzingis is healthy again, and this the 16th time in the last 17 seasons in which the Knicks have had a worse-than-average defense.

Week 25: vs. ORL, vs. MIA, vs. MIL

Last Week:26

Record: 22-55

Pace: 100.5 (8) OffRtg: 102.6 (26) DefRtg: 108.2 (22) NetRtg: -5.6 (26)

No team took a bigger step backward defensively this season than the Hawks, who have allowed 5.1 more points per 100 possessions than they did last season. The drop-off has come both inside and out, but perimeter issues have stood out. Hawks opponents saw a big jump in their ratio of 3-point shots to mid-range attempts and have shot 38 percent, the third highest mark in the league, from beyond the arc. They have some solid defenders on the roster; They allowed less than 104 points per 100 possessions with Kent Bazemore, Taurean Prince and Dewayne Dedmon on the floor together (and even fewer in limited minutes with John Collins on the floor too). But the guy to whom they owe the most money going forward (Dennis Schroder) has been the biggest liability on that side of the ball.

Week 25: @ MIA, vs. MIA, @ WAS, @ BOS

Last Week:27

Record: 23-54

Pace: 97.5 (27) OffRtg: 104.2 (22) DefRtg: 107.2 (18) NetRtg: -3.0 (22)

Among the nine worst teams in the league (those at least 20 games under .500), the Mavs have had the best defense. They've allowed their opponents to take just 27 percent of their shots, the lowest rate in the league, in the restricted area. But they will still rank worse than the league average in defensive efficiency for the sixth straight season, because their opponents shot well both inside and outside the arc. Their issues have started with their starting lineup, which has been generally outmatched all season. The Mavs allowed 116 points per 100 possessions with their four regular starters - Dennis Smith Jr., Wesley Matthews, Harrison Barnes and Dirk Nowitzki - on the floor together. That is the worst DefRtg mark among 78 four-man combinations that have played at least 500 minutes this season.

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

Last Week:29

Record: 21-56

Pace: 97.1 (30) OffRtg: 101.6 (27) DefRtg: 107.9 (20) NetRtg: -6.2 (27)

The Grizzlies have played spoiler three times in the last 16 days, because their defense has, on occasion, been decent. Among the bottom nine teams in the league, only the Mavs have been better defensively, though the Grizz (who ranked seventh last season) have seen the league's third biggest increase in points allowed per 100 possessions. One area in which they haven't take a step backward is opponent free throw rate, because they ranked last in that each of the last two seasons also. The size in their backcourt has helped them rank sixth in forcing turnovers, though they haven't been very good at running their opponents off the 3-point line. Only Sacramento (2.3) and Oklahoma City (2.2) have a higher opponent ratio than the Grizz (2.1) in regard to 3-point attempts to mid-range attempts.

Week 25: @ NOP, vs. SAC, vs. DET

Last Week:28

Record: 22-54

Pace: 100.3 (10) OffRtg: 103.1 (25) DefRtg: 108.1 (21) NetRtg: -5.0 (25)

In each of Frank Vogel's five full seasons as head coach in Indiana, the Pacers ranked in the top 10 defensively, leading the league in defensive efficiency in two of those five seasons. So, though the Magic have ranked higher defensively than offensively in each of the last two seasons, the defense has been a bigger disappointment. Only Brooklyn, Toronto and Portland have allowed their opponents to take a lower percentage of their shots from 3-point range than Orlando (31 percent), but the Magic haven't protected the basket very well; They rank 24th in the percentage of their opponents' shots that have come in the restricted area and 25th in opponent field goal percentage there. They also rank last in defensive rebounding percentage after ranking no worse than 12th in any of the previous 10 seasons.

Week 25: @ NYK, vs. DAL, vs. CHA, @ TOR

Last Week:30

Record: 19-59

Pace: 102.7 (2) OffRtg: 100.7 (30) DefRtg: 110.8 (30) NetRtg: -10.1 (30)

The Suns' season got off to a brutal start defensively; They allowed 117 points per 100 possessions in their first three games, getting Earl Watson fired before the season was a week old. There were better stretches of defense after that, but the Suns eventually made their way back to 30th in defense. They rank in the bottom 10 in each of the defensive four factors (the Bucks and Knicks are the only other teams that rank in the bottom 10 in more than two of the four). Former Defensive Player of the Year Tyson Chandler hasn't made an impact on that end of the floor in any of his three seasons in Phoenix; The Suns have had the numbers of a bottom-three defense with Chandler on the floor all three years. Josh Jackson might be an impact defender at some point, but he ranks fifth in deflections per 36 minutes among Suns who have played at least 500 minutes and hasn't been good at deterring shots from the players he's defended most.


Week 25: vs. SAC, vs. NOP, vs. GSW