Week 26 Power Rankings: Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors look vulnerable as regular season closes
There are just three nights and 27 games remaining in the 2017-18 regular season, and there is still a lot to be determined.
At this point last year, we already knew all four of the first-round playoff matchups in the Western Conference. Right now, the only seeds that are set are the top two in each conference, and the Denver Nuggets still have a chance to climb out of ninth place into playoff position.
No matter who finishes 5-8 in the West or how things shake out in the East, there will be some dangerous teams in the lower seeds, and an upset or two may be in the cards.
Of course, that wouldn’t be anything new. In each of the last 11 years (from 2007-2017), at least one team with home-court advantage has lost a first round series. Of the 21 first-round “upsets” over that span, 13 came in 4-5 series, but eight did not.
When this season started, it was hard to imagine a scenario where the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors weren’t meeting in The Finals for a fourth straight year. Now, it’s much easier.
The Warriors are without their most important player, while the Cavs never seem to be fully healthy and very good defensively. Meanwhile, the Houston Rockets and Toronto Raptors have been the best teams in their respective conferences. Those two teams top the final Power Rankings of the season and we won’t really know the meaning of the last 25 weeks until we get through the next 10.
- Last week: Celtics make things interesting atop East
- This time last year: Warriors again the favorites as playoffs near — All four playoff series in the Western Conference were set after Russell Westbrook killed the Nuggets’ playoff dreams with a 36-foot, buzzer-beating three. James Johnson kept the Heat’s season alive with a game-winning drive in Washington. The Hawks came back from a 26-point, fourth-quarter deficit to beat the Cavs, D’Angelo Russell beat the Wolves at the buzzer, and Kevin Durant returned from a five-week absence for the final three games of the regular season.
- Plus-minus studs: Anthony Davis (NOP) was a plus-68 in three games last week and Eric Gordon (HOU) leads the league in raw plus-minus (plus-565) for the season.
- Plus-minus duds: Julius Randle (LAL) was a minus-53 in four games last week and Josh Jackson (PHX) has had the league’s worst raw plus-minus (minus-529) this season.
- Hero team of the week: New Orleans (3-0) — The Pelicans took care of business against the Grizzlies and Suns before picking up a huge win at Golden State.
- Zero team of the week: Washington (0-3) — The Wizards blew a 17-point, fourth-quarter lead in Cleveland on Thursday, and then lost at home to the Hawks.
- East vs. West: The West is 236-213 (.526) against the East in interconference games after the East went 4-3 last week. This is the 18th time in the last 19 seasons that the West has had a better record than the East, but it will be the East’s third best season in that stretch. The lone remaining East-West game is Oklahoma City at Miami on Monday.
- High jumps of the week: Atlanta (+3), Five teams (+2)
- Free falls of the week: Boston (-6), Chicago (-4), LA Clippers (-3)
- Team to watch in Week 26: Denver — The Nuggets probably needed to win their last seven games of the season to make the playoffs. Five down, two to go. They host the Blazers on Monday and visit the Wolves on Wednesday
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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 99.6 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
Pace: 99.7 (14) OffRtg: 112.7 (1) DefRtg: 103.9 (7) NetRtg: +8.8 (1)
With the No. 1 seed wrapped up, the Rockets have slowed down (in part because they've had all three of Chris Paul, James Harden and Eric Gordon for just one of their last nine games). The last five have been their worst five-game offensive stretch (106 points scored per 100 possessions) since early November. Paul got the game-winner against Portland on Thursday, but is 7-for-25 from 3-point range since returning from a sore hip, and Trevor Ariza (5-for-20 from 3-point range over his last four games) has shot even worse. Even with their loss to Oklahoma City on Saturday, the Rockets are an amazing 41-3 in games in which they've had Paul, James Harden and Clint Capela. That includes a 20-2 mark against any of the eight teams they might run into in the Western Conference playoffs.
Week 26: @ LAL, @ SAC
Last Week: 3 ↑
Pace: 100.0 (13) OffRtg: 111.0 (3) DefRtg: 103.2 (5) NetRtg: +7.8 (3)
You couldn't have asked for more from the Raptors this season. They changed up their offense, improved on defense, developed the best bench in the league, and were the East's most complete team from start to finish. Their loss to the Cavs on Tuesday was only close with a late, inconsequential run, but the Raps still haven't lost a game that wasn't within five points in the last five minutes of the fourth quarter since Dec. 27. (Read that again.) Now, we see if the improvements translate to the playoffs. Over the previous 20 seasons (going back to 1997-98), 17 teams have ranked in the top five in both offensive and defensive efficiency, but only seven of those 17 reached The Finals.
Week 26: @ DET, @ MIA
Last Week: 4 ↑
Pace: 101.9 (5) OffRtg: 112.7 (2) DefRtg: 104.0 (8) NetRtg: +8.6 (2)
Maybe they're about to flip the switch, but losses to the Pacers and Pelicans last week (in which they allowed 126 points per 100 possessions) are evidence that things haven't come easy for the Warriors when they've played without Stephen Curry. In fact, the champs are just 5-10 without Curry against the other 17 teams with winning records (4-5 when they've had each of their other three All-Stars). This has been the worst Warriors regular season of the last four (their plus-6.5 per game point differential is down from plus-11.6 last season) and there will be no easy outs in the Western Conference playoffs.
Week 26: @ UTA
Last Week: 6 ↑
Pace: 97.7 (26) OffRtg: 106.2 (16) DefRtg: 101.9 (2) NetRtg: +4.4 (5)
On the morning of Jan. 24, the Jazz were 19-28, having lost to the Knicks and Hawks in two of their first three games with Rudy Gobert back from a month-long absence. Since then, they've gone 28-5, outscoring their opponents by a league-best 11.8 points per 100 possessions. Donovan Mitchell has been the offensive star and Rudy Gobert has been the Defensive Player of the Year favorite, but this team has also had the league's fourth best bench, featuring Jae Crowder and Royce "da 6'6" O'Neale, who rarely stands out in the boxscore, but does things to move the scoreboard in the right direction. The Jazz have outscored their opponents by almost 20 points per 100 possessions in 216 minutes with Mitchell, Crowder and O'Neale on the floor together. They clinched their second straight playoff berth on Sunday and have a chance to catch the Blazers for the 3 seed.
Week 26: vs. GSW, @ POR
Last Week: 7 ↑
Pace: 102.0 (4) OffRtg: 107.2 (12) DefRtg: 102.2 (3) NetRtg: +5.0 (4)
Half of the Sixers' 14-game winning streak has been without Joel Embiid (if you count the game in which Markelle Fultz broke Embiid's face in the first minute of the second quarter). Eleven of the 14 games have been against teams with losing records, but their win over the Cavs on Friday made clear that their pace is tough to deal with. Ben Simmons has averaged a triple-double over the 14 games and the most important number may be the 12.9 turnovers per 100 possessions that the Sixers have averaged over the streak, down from a league-high 16.9 over their first 66 games. The win over Cleveland put the Sixers in the driver's seat for the 3 seed and that comes with a clearer path to the conference finals. This team lost 72 games two seasons ago.
Week 26: @ ATL, vs. MIL
Last Week: 5 ↓
Pace: 98.8 (19) OffRtg: 106.5 (15) DefRtg: 104.5 (9) NetRtg: +2.0 (10)
They almost beat the Rockets (after a wild, fourth-quarter comeback) without Damian Lillard, but an 0-3 trip through Texas has the Blazers still in need of a win to clinch home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. Injuries to Maurice Harkless and Ed Davis (who's expected to be back for Monday's game in Denver) have hurt their depth, though the starters had as many issues as the bench did on the trip. C.J. McCollum and Al-Farouq Aminu shot a combined 5-for-31 from 3-point range and everybody but Lillard had a free throw rate of just 13 attempts per 100 shots from the field. The Blazers have been a top 10 offensive team since the break, but have scored less than a point per possession with Lillard off the floor over the last month.
Week 26: @ DEN, vs. UTA
Last Week: 9 ↑
Pace: 100.0 (12) OffRtg: 110.7 (5) DefRtg: 109.5 (29) NetRtg: +1.2 (13)
The Cavs' backcourt is still not healthy, but the first thing that Tyronn Lue did upon returning to the bench is name Jeff Green his permanent starter. Green responded by shooting 23-for-32 over the next three games and scoring 33 points (his highest total in more than three years) in Philadelphia on Friday. Green's season may be Exhibit A for the "LeBron James for MVP" campaign and the Cavs have outscored their opponents by 7.2 points per 100 possessions in 328 minutes with Green, James and Kevin Love on the floor together, though the defensive numbers have been bad. Of course, that's the overall story with the Cavs, who will be just the third bottom-three defensive team to make the playoffs in the last 25 years. In the 40 years since the league started counting turnovers (and through last season), none of the 10 teams who reached the playoffs as a bottom-three team in defensive efficiency won a series, though only two of the 10 (the 1978-79 Rockets and '81-82 Nuggets) had home-court advantage in the first round, and both of those first-round series were best-of-three.
Week 26: @ NYK, vs. NYK
Last Week: 2 ↓
Pace: 98.1 (24) OffRtg: 105.3 (18) DefRtg: 101.5 (1) NetRtg: +3.8 (6)
The Celtics are limping into the playoffs (both literally and figuratively), having lost three of their last four games and having learned that Kyrie Irving won't be coming back in the postseason. They've been playing through the post more in Irving's absence (they rank fourth in post-ups per game since he last played), and they'll continue to depend on Terry Rozier to create off the dribble. They can rely on their defense, but not necessarily on their bench (with Marcus Smart's status still in the air). Greg Monroe had a triple-double in a win over Chicago on Friday, but the Celtics were outscored by 15 points in 33 minutes with at least one reserve on the floor in a loss to Atlanta on Sunday.
Week 26: @ WAS, vs. BKN
Last Week: 8 ↓
Pace: 98.2 (23) OffRtg: 107.3 (10) DefRtg: 105.4 (12) NetRtg: +1.9 (11)
The Pacers are 5-2 against their potential first round opponents (Cleveland and Philadelphia), but it would take two wins from the Knicks (over the Cavs) for Indy to move up to fourth and have home-court advantage in the first round. Still, that the Pacers are no worse than the 5 seed (and making the playoffs for the seventh time in the last eight seasons) is a surprise to anyone outside of Indiana. They traded their franchise player, got a new one in the deal, and have improved on both ends of the floor. Victor Oladipo has shot 60 percent over the last seven games, but if the playoff defenses play him aggressively in those high pick-and-rolls, other guys will have to make shots.
Week 26: vs. CHA
Last Week: 11 ↑
Pace: 99.2 (17) OffRtg: 107.2 (11) DefRtg: 104.7 (10) NetRtg: +2.6 (8)
The Thunder were playing with fire with a 2-5 stretch and wildly inconsistent numbers on both ends of the floor. Paul George (shooting 33 percent over the last seven games) is still struggling offensively and the OKC lineup with George and four reserves still ranks as the league's second worst lineup (minus-21 points per 100 possessions) among those that have played at least 100 minutes together. They still haven't clinched anything, but that unit had good minutes in the fourth quarter on Saturday and the Thunder held the league's No. 1 offense to just 40 points in the second half to get a huge win in Houston. If they finish 5-8 in the West, it would be difficult not to see the Thunder as the most dangerous low seed. They're the only team that has two wins against both the Rockets and Warriors.
Week 26: @ MIA, vs. MEM
Last Week: 12 ↑
Pace: 102.7 (2) OffRtg: 107.5 (9) DefRtg: 105.9 (14) NetRtg: +1.7 (12)
The Pelicans have gone 19-13 since DeMarcus Cousins' injury with faster pace, better defense, and improved play on the road. Since the injury, they lead the league at 104.5 possessions per 48 minutes, rank eighth at 104.3 points allowed per 100 possessions, and have the league's fourth best road record (10-5). The last road win (at Golden State on Saturday) was the biggest, and the defense showed up in the final two minutes, with both Jrue Holiday and Rajon Rondo picking Kevin Durant clean to bring the Pels one victory from earning their second playoff berth since drafting Anthony Davis six years ago. With the Spurs also needing just one win to get in and playing Sacramento at home on Monday, they could have less to play for when they visit New Orleans on Wednesday.
Week 26: @ LAC, vs. SAS
Last Week: 10 ↓
Pace: 97.1 (30) OffRtg: 105.7 (17) DefRtg: 102.3 (4) NetRtg: +3.4 (7)
The Spurs have still won just a single road game since Feb. 7, having lost two games in L.A. last week. But they only need to beat the Kings at home on Monday to extend their playoff streak to 21 seasons. Since that Feb. 7 win in Phoenix, the bigger difference between the 10-2 Home Spurs (98.3 points allowed per 100 possessions) and the 1-11 Road Spurs (111.5) has been on defense, and mostly at the basket. In the 12 home games, they've allowed 31 points per game on 57 percent shooting in the restricted area. In the 12 road games, they've allowed 40 points per game on 66 percent shooting in the restricted area. The Pelicans rank third in restricted-area points per game, so the Spurs had better win that game against the Kings.
Week 26: vs. SAC, @ NOP
Last Week: 14 ↑
Pace: 99.2 (16) OffRtg: 109.9 (6) DefRtg: 109.1 (27) NetRtg: +0.7 (15)
They almost certainly need to win both of their games this week to make the playoffs, but with their season on the line and with Gary Harris out, the Nuggets have won five straight games to stay alive in the West. They've scored 117 points per 100 possessions over the streak, with Nikola Jokic seeing an increase in usage rate and averaging 25.4 points and 7.6 assists over the five games. But their biggest win (against Minnesota on Thursday) was one of their best defensive games of the last month and featured a critical stretch from Devin Harris in the second half. Even with the Emmanuel Mudiay-to-Harris upgrade, the Nuggets have been outscored by 6.6 points per 100 possessions minutes with Jamal Murray off the floor since the deadline.
Week 26: vs. POR, @ MIN
Last Week: 13 ↓
Pace: 98.4 (21) OffRtg: 110.7 (4) DefRtg: 108.6 (25) NetRtg: +2.1 (9)
It's possible that the Nuggets will be eliminated on Monday, but it would be something if the last game of the season determined whether or not the Wolves were able to end the second longest playoff drought (13 years) in NBA history. They'd certainly be in a more comfortable position had Jimmy Butler not missed six weeks of action (including their loss in Denver on Thursday), but Butler looked sharp (shooting 7-for-10, with six of his seven buckets coming at the rim) in his return on Friday in L.A. His impact has always been more about the defensive end of the floor and his four steals helped the Wolves hold the Lakers under a point per possession. They have just one win in the last two months over a West team ahead of them in the standings, but all they have to do is hold off the team behind them.
Week 26: vs. MEM, vs. DEN
Last Week: 17 ↑
Pace: 97.8 (25) OffRtg: 104.5 (20) DefRtg: 103.9 (6) NetRtg: +0.7 (17)
The Heat have lost to both the Nets and Knicks in the last nine days, scoring less than point per possession in both of those games against bottom 10 defenses. They have the defense to hang with good teams; They're 6-6 against the top four seeds in the East and five of those six losses were within five points in the last five minutes. But if they don't match up with the Cavs' 29th-ranked defense, they'll probably have the ugliest series of the first round. In their nine games against the Raptors, Celtics and Sixers, the Heat and their opponents have combined to score just 101 points per 100 possessions. We'll see if Erik Spoelstra gets through a whole series without making a change to his starting lineup. The current group has scored less a point per possession in its 191 minutes together and the Heat have been at their best offensively with Wayne Ellington and/or Kelly Olynyk on the floor, but the starters have been better of late.
Week 26: vs. OKC, vs. TOR
Last Week: 18 ↑
Pace: 98.3 (22) OffRtg: 108.2 (7) DefRtg: 107.3 (18) NetRtg: +0.9 (14)
A win over the Knicks without Giannis Antetokounmpo doesn't appear all that important on the surface. But the Bucks' win at Madison Square Garden on Saturday came with a big (35-25) fourth quarter and ended a streak of seven straight games in which they were outscored in the fourth. Among playoff teams, only the Sixers (minus-5.5 points per 100 possessions) have been a worse fourth quarter team than the Bucks (minus-4.6). This team has a high ceiling and six wins over the top four seeds in the East, but has never been able to figure things out defensively. The return of Malcolm Brogdon from a two-month absence should help.
Week 26: vs. ORL, @ PHI
Last Week: 16 ↓
Pace: 98.8 (18) OffRtg: 107.1 (13) DefRtg: 106.4 (15) NetRtg: +0.7 (16)
The Wizards certainly have the talent to scare a top seed in the first round, but five days before the playoffs begin, they're in a pretty bad place. After beating the Hornets in John Wall's return, they've lost four straight, scoring less than a point per possession (without Wall) against the Bulls and Hawks, with Scott Brooks calling his group "a selfish basketball team" after the Atlanta loss on Friday. Their bench seemed like a bigger issue last season, but it ranks 26th since the All-Star break, it could be facing the No. 1 bench in the league (that of Toronto) in the first round, and Kelly Oubre Jr. is in a serious slump, having shot 11-for-55 (5-for-28 from 3-point range) over the last five games.
Week 26: vs. BOS, @ ORL
Last Week: 15 ↓
Pace: 101.0 (7) OffRtg: 108.0 (8) DefRtg: 107.6 (19) NetRtg: +0.4 (18)
The Clippers had a pretty remarkable season given the circumstances. When it comes to an end on Wednesday, they will have missed 169 total games from Patrick Beverley, Danilo Gallinari and Milos Teodosic, as well as another 26 from Avery Bradley after acquiring him in the Blake Griffin trade. Sixth Man of the Year favorite Lou Williams managed to keep the offense in the top 10, but the defense just didn't hold up down the stretch. They've allowed a league-high 113 points per 100 possessions as they've gone 5-9 against a tough schedule over the last 3 1/2 weeks, and their playoff hopes officially died with the Nuggets shooting 62 percent on Saturday. DeAndre Jordan, who has a player option for next season, has not made enough of an impact on that end of the floor.
Week 26: vs. NOP, vs. LAL
Last Week: 19
Pace: 98.5 (20) OffRtg: 104.6 (19) DefRtg: 104.9 (11) NetRtg: -0.3 (19)
The Pistons were eliminated on Wednesday, so they'll remain the only Eastern Conference team that hasn't won a playoff game over the last 10 seasons (since they were in the conference finals in 2008). The trade for Blake Griffin raised the stakes, but the situation this team is in is very similar to where it was a year ago, with a roster that is built to win now, disappointing results, a Draft pick (likely) outside the top 10, and a question about how much better they'd be if Reggie Jackson had been healthy. They've seen Jackson, Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond on the floor together for just 44 minutes. and Griffin (bone bruise in his right ankle) could be out for the final two games.
Week 26: vs. TOR, @ CHI
Last Week: 20
Pace: 102.6 (3) OffRtg: 104.2 (23) DefRtg: 105.8 (13) NetRtg: -1.6 (21)
The Lakers have been both the most improved defensive team from last season and one of the most improved offensive teams since the All-Star break. After four straight seasons of at least 55 losses, they took a step forward and have a foundation to build on, with two 20 year olds (Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram) and a 22 year old (Kyle Kuzma) with real promise. Now, we see what they can do with their cap space and what happens with their own free agents, including Isaiah Thomas, who will have to prove himself again after recovering from last month's hip surgery.
Week 26: vs. HOU, @ LAC
Last Week: 21
Pace: 100.6 (8) OffRtg: 106.8 (14) DefRtg: 107.1 (16) NetRtg: -0.3 (20)
Though they have the same number of losses as they did last season, the Hornets could be considered the most disappointing team in the league. Nicolas Batum's elbow injury was an issue early in the season, but the bench was an issue well beyond that and Steve Clifford probably waited too long before giving Malik Monk (20.4 points per game on an effective field goal percentage of 61 percent over his last five games) another chance at regular playing time. New general manager Mitch Kupchak (officially hired on Sunday) has his work cut out for him, with an underachieving team that's over the salary cap and will likely be picking no higher than 10th in the Draft.
Week 26: @ IND
Last Week: 22
Pace: 101.0 (6) OffRtg: 104.3 (21) DefRtg: 108.6 (24) NetRtg: -4.3 (23)
The Nets have the second fewest wins over the last three seasons (68 to the Suns' 67, thanks to a 4-2 stretch), and have no Lottery picks (of their own) to show for it. Spencer Dinwiddie, Joe Harris and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson are good examples of their ability to develop players, and they should feel good about the futures of Caris LeVert and Jarrett Allen. But D'Angelo Russell remains the big project for the next 12 months. He's had some highs and lows this season and doesn't get to the basket or to the line very often; Among the top 25 players in usage rate, only Dennis Smith Jr. (.188) has a lower free throw rate (FTA/FGA) than Russell (.205). But you can see the Nets' influence as Russell has cut down on his mid-range shots quite a bit over the last four weeks. Through his first 33 games, Russell had a ratio of 3-point attempts to mid-range shots of 1.6. Over the last 13 games, that ratio has been 5.4.
Week 26: vs. CHI, @ BOS
Last Week: 26 ↑
Pace: 100.5 (9) OffRtg: 102.4 (26) DefRtg: 108.1 (22) NetRtg: -5.7 (26)
The Hawks saw their 10-year playoff streak come to an end, but it wasn't a lost season, because they also saw one of the biggest leaps from a second-year player in regard to the skills he brings to the table. Taurean Prince not only added the '3' to the "3-and-D," but has also developed an off-the-dribble game that should eventually help the only team that has ranked in the bottom five offensively each of the last two seasons. John Collins, who leads rookies in effective field goal percentage and ranks second among them in rebounding percentage, also looks like a keeper.
Week 26: vs. PHI
Last Week: 24
Pace: 97.2 (28) OffRtg: 101.2 (29) DefRtg: 109.2 (28) NetRtg: -8.0 (29)
In addition to acquiring and developing talent, the Kings might also want to modernize their offense if their 12-year playoff drought is going to end anytime soon. They rank third in the league in 3-point percentage, with the best shooter - Buddy Hield - on catch-and-shoot 3-pointers (minimum 200 attempts) and the fourth best shooter - Bogdan Bogdanovic - on pull-up 3-pointers (minimum 100 attempts), as well as a lightning quick point guard - De'Aaron Fox - who can flourish in transition and create open looks. But they rank in the bottom three in both pace and the percentage of their shots that have come from 3-point range. The Sixers are now flourishing with a pace-and-space system that was put in place when they were where the Kings are now.
Week 26: @ SAS, vs. HOU
Last Week: 25
Pace: 99.2 (15) OffRtg: 104.0 (24) DefRtg: 108.4 (23) NetRtg: -4.4 (24)
The Knicks have resurrected the career of Trey Burke, who has averaged 18.7 points on 50 percent shooting (including 56 percent from mid-range) over the last nine games. They'll have a Lottery pick for the third time in the last four years and should feel pretty good about the two they already have in hand, though they haven't fully embraced Frank Ntilikina's potential as a defensive force, and by the time Kristaps Porzingis returns from his ACL injury, he'll have half a season (or less) left on his rookie contract. We'll find out soon if Jeff Hornacek will be around for that.
Week 26: vs. CLE, @ CLE
Last Week: 27 ↑
Pace: 97.6 (27) OffRtg: 104.2 (22) DefRtg: 107.1 (17) NetRtg: -2.9 (22)
Dirk Nowitzki had ankle surgery last week, hoping that it will help his mobility next season. He's still going to be a defensive liability, but the Mavs were able to build a really good bench unit around the 39 year old this season, outscoring their opponents by more than 19 points per 100 possessions in 326 total minutes with Nowitzki on the floor with J.J. Barea, Yogi Ferrell, Dwight Powell and either Devin Harris or Doug McDermott. They'll have another top-10 pick to team with Dennis Smith Jr. next season, but will still be paying Harrison Barnes and Wesley Matthews a lot of money.
Week 26: vs. PHX
Last Week: 23 ↓
Pace: 100.3 (10) OffRtg: 101.4 (28) DefRtg: 108.9 (26) NetRtg: -7.4 (28)
With Zach LaVine hitting restricted free agency in July, he got only 24 games post-surgery to showcase himself (and shot just 38 percent) before his knee starting acting up. And the Bulls got only 255 minutes of LaVine on the floor with both Kris Dunn and Lauri Markkanen. It was a weird season in Chicago, with Bobby Portis putting Nikola Mirotic in the hospital before the season began and those same two guys leading the team through a 12-2 stretch in December. The bottom line is that the Bulls have seen the league's fourth biggest drop in winning percentage and it's biggest drop in NetRtg (7.5 points per 100 possessions), and it may be a slow climb just to get back to where they were a year ago.
Week 26: @ BKN, vs. DET
Last Week: 29 ↑
Pace: 100.2 (11) OffRtg: 103.1 (25) DefRtg: 108.0 (20) NetRtg: -5.0 (25)
An annual tradition in this space is a note that the league's three worst records since the 2012 Dwight Howard trade belong to three of the four teams - the Magic (winning percentage of .318 over the last six seasons), Sixers (.324) and Lakers (.347) - that were involved in the deal. This season, the Sixers graduated to playoff team and the Lakers took a step forward with young talent and a good chance of signing a star free agent this summer. The Magic are still searching for a direction and could lose (via restricted free agency) the one Lottery pick - Aaron Gordon - who has developed relatively well on their watch. They still haven't had an extended look at last year's No. 6 pick Jonathan Isaac, who never played in more than 10 straight games and played just 135 minutes alongside Gordon.
Week 26: @ MIL, vs. WAS
Last Week: 28 ↓
Pace: 97.2 (29) OffRtg: 101.8 (27) DefRtg: 108.0 (21) NetRtg: -6.3 (27)
The Grizzlies have seen the league's biggest drop in winning percentage from last season. Having a healthy Mike Conley next season probably isn't enough (by itself) to get them back to the playoffs, though the pieces (Conley, Marc Gasol, length at other positions) could be there for them to get back to being a better-than-average defensive team. They've been a better-than-average offensive team only once in the last 11 years, but maybe they can re-sign Tyreke Evans and maybe Dillon Brooks continues to develop as both an off-the-ball and on-the-ball threat. The rookie has seen a drop in efficiency with an increase in usage rate since the All-Star break, though he's been driving more (9.8 drives per 36 minutes since the break, up from 5.1 prior).
Week 26: @ MIN, @ OKC
Last Week: 30
Pace: 102.7 (1) OffRtg: 100.5 (30) DefRtg: 110.7 (30) NetRtg: -10.2 (30)
The Suns beat the Kings on Tuesday, but not by enough to climb out of the basement in either offensive or defensive efficiency. So, barring a miracle, they will be the first team in a 30-team league to finish last on both ends of the floor in an 82-game season (the Bobcats did it in 2011-12). Devin Booker is still just 21, Josh Jackson has been developing his offensive game (he's averaged 21.8 points over his last 12), and the Suns will have no worse than the fourth pick in what should be a strong Draft. But they need help at multiple positions and, obviously, on both ends of the floor. Tyson Chandler said recently that the Suns can make the playoffs next season, and it wasn't April Fool's Day when he said it.
Week 26: @ DAL