Power Rankings, Week 15: One star returns, but another goes down
Health remains critical in this league. And while Week 14 marked the return of DeMarcus Cousins from a near year-long absence, it also came with more injuries to important players.
Clint Capela was actually injured at the end of Week 13, but had surgery on his thumb on Thursday and is set to miss the next 4-6 weeks for a team — the Houston Rockets — fighting for a top-four seed in the Western Conference. The Rockets got Eric Gordon back from injury last week and Chris Paul will return eventually, but neither of those guys can replace what Capela brings on both ends of the floor.
The New Orleans Pelicans are in a more desperate situation than the Rockets and lost a more important player than Capela, with Anthony Davis suffering a sprained finger in Portland on Friday. Davis will only miss 1-2 weeks, but, sitting four games out of a playoff spot with Davis’ contract-extension decision coming in less than six months, the Pelicans need every game they can get.
So do the Los Angeles Lakers, who have fallen out of playoff position with LeBron James having missed the last 13 games. James should be returning soon, but before they got him back, the Lakers lost Lonzo Ball to an ankle injury that will have him out 4-6 weeks.
Like Capela, Wendell Carter Jr. had thumb surgery last week and could be out even longer. Carter’s team isn’t fighting for anything but Lottery combinations, but an extended absence will stunt his development, with him having played just 191 minutes alongside Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen.
The standings remain tight in both conferences. Every game counts and it’s not only important to stay healthy, but also to take advantage of the time (and win as many games) when you are.
- Last week: Playoff chase intensifies as second half begins
- This time last year: Rockets beat Warriors again, but champs still No. 1 — The Rockets traversed the “secret tunnel” at Staples Center after a contentious game against the Clippers, David Blatt took a shot at the Cavs’ defense, and Tony Parker ceded the Spurs’ starting point guard job to Dejounte Murray. James Johnson scored five points in four seconds to help the Heat pull off a miraculous win in Charlotte and Spencer Dinwiddie beat the Pistons with a tough shot over Andre Drummond. Andrew Wiggins threw one down on Jakob Poeltl and LeBron James made Dwyane Wade smile with a ridiculous, behind-the-back pass.
Plus-Minus Players of the Week
- Mr. Plus: Draymond Green (GSW) was a plus-67 in three games last week.
- Mr. Minus: Kris Dunn (CHI) was a minus-68 in three games last week.
Teams of the Week
- Make It Last Forever: Brooklyn (3-0) — The Nets won their three games by a total of just 12 points, but they were all good wins. They beat the Celtics at home before coming back from seemingly insurmountable deficits in Houston and Orlando.
- Something Just Ain’t Right: Chicago and Cleveland (0-3) — The good news is that they play twice this week. Somebody has to win!
East vs. West
- The West is 140-105 (.571) against the East in interconference games, though the East was 12-8 last week.
Schedule strength through Week 14
- Toughest: 1. New York, 2. Utah, 3. Memphis
- Easiest: 1. Indiana, 2. Miami, 3. Philadelphia
- 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: Charlotte (+5), Boston (+3), Brooklyn (+2), Golden State (+2)
- Free falls of the week: Dallas (-3), Memphis (-3), Orlando (-3)
Week 15 Team to Watch
- Utah — The Jazz have climbed into playoff position by winning eight of their last nine games and they still have a lot more home games (20) than road games (15) remaining on their schedule. But that doesn’t mean that their work is done. Their four-game homestand concludes with three big games against the Blazers (Monday), Nuggets (Wednesday) and Timberwolves (Friday), and that last game is the first of a home-and-home set with the team that sits just three games behind them in the loss column.
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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 100.7 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes and 109.0 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: 2 ↑
Pace: 103.1 (6) OffRtg: 113.6 (4) DefRtg: 103.8 (1) NetRtg: +9.7 (1)
The Bucks have won 15 of the last 17 games that Giannis Antetokounmpo has played in, with the two losses - Dec. 22 at Miami and Jan. 5 vs. Toronto - both having been the second game of a back-to-back. They've been the league's best team, statistically, by a wide margin. But do they have more than one All-Star? Eric Bledsoe may be making a late push, having averaged 21.8 points (on 60 percent shooting), with 20 assists and just one turnover, over their four-game winning streak. Given how good this team has been overall, the Bucks' starting lineup has been somewhat underwhelming; Having outscored its opponents by just 3.2 points per 100 possessions, it ranks 15th among 26 lineups that have played at least 200 minutes. The Bucks' six best two-man combinations (plus-13.6 points per 100 possessions or better) all include one starter and one reserve and the team's best minutes have been early in the second quarter.
Week 15: vs. DAL, vs. CHA, @ OKC
Last Week: 4 ↑
Pace: 101.7 (10) OffRtg: 115.4 (1) DefRtg: 109.0 (14) NetRtg: +6.3 (2)
DeMarcus Cousins' Warriors debut was a success. He fouled out in just 15 minutes and forced a couple of ugly shots in L.A. on Friday, but ran the floor well and really looked like the third "Splash Brother," connecting on three of his four 3-point attempts. The Warriors' five-All-Star starting lineup was a plus-10 in its 7.4 minutes and recorded nine assists (with just one turnover) on its nine field goals. Most important might be that the champs had, statistically, their best defensive game of the season, holding a top-10 offense to just 94 points on 104 possessions. Prior to that, they had their best offensive game of the season, scoring 142 points on just 98 possessions in Denver (never letting the Nuggets catch up to the ball) to take over first place in the West. The Warriors have won seven straight (the longest winning streaks in the league this season have been just eight games long), with Draymond Green registering 67 assists and just 10 turnovers over the seven games.
Week 15: @ LAL, @ WAS, @ BOS
Last Week: 1 ↓
Pace: 100.4 (17) OffRtg: 112.0 (6) DefRtg: 107.0 (9) NetRtg: +5.1 (6)
The Raptors' bench has been without Jonas Valanciunas for more than a month, but we may have reached the point where concern with the second unit leads to a trade between now and Feb. 7. Their game in Boston on Wednesday was tied with less than three minutes left, but may have been lost when the Raptors scored just six points in the first 8:34 of the second quarter. Only the Suns (minus-68), Bulls (minus-64) and Thunder (minus-59) have been outscored by more points in the first three minutes of the second period than the Raptors (minus-47), who have generally had both Kyle Lowry and Kawhi Leonard off the floor in those minutes. Coach Nick Nurse will likely stagger the minutes of Lowry and Leonard in the playoffs, but some better shooting off the bench (the Raptors' six main reserves have combined to shoot just 33.5 percent from 3-point range) would allow for more lineup versatility.
Week 15: vs. SAC, @ IND, @ HOU, @ DAL
Last Week: 3 ↓
Pace: 97.9 (27) OffRtg: 113.1 (5) DefRtg: 107.9 (11) NetRtg: +5.2 (5)
With Nikola Jokic totaling 23 assists and just three turnovers, the Nuggets had a couple of huge offensive games on Thursday and Saturday. But wins over the Bulls and Cavs do not signal a recovery from the beatdown that the Nuggets' defense took from the champs on Tuesday. That loss knocked them out of first place in the West and the rest of the week knocked them out of the top 10 in defensive efficiency. They rank 29th in both opponent effective field goal percentage (55.1 percent, with their opponents having shot much better in the paint than they did through Week 9) and opponent turnover rate (11.5 per 100 possessions) over the last five weeks. The defensive fall-off doesn't quite correspond with when Gary Harris and Paul Millsap suffered injuries, but the Nuggets have still allowed just 101.5 points per 100 possessions in 531 minutes with Harris, Millsap and Jokic on the floor together and the trio has played just 41 total minutes since early December.
Week 15: @ UTA, vs. PHX, vs. PHI
Last Week: 5
Pace: 98.8 (25) OffRtg: 111.9 (7) DefRtg: 109.6 (17) NetRtg: +2.2 (11)
Performance on the road could be what wins the last few playoff spots in the Western Conference, and the Spurs got a couple of big road wins last week, coming back from 19 points down in Dallas and winning in Minnesota without DeMar DeRozan, in part because reserves Davis Bertans, Marco Belinelli and Patty Mills combined for 18 threes in the two games. But the Spurs also lost at home to the Hornets and Clippers last week, their two worst offensive performances at the AT&T Center this season, with DeRozan attempting just one free throw in the two games. The last five games have been their worst offensive stretch (107 points scored per 100 possessions) in the last two months (and they've trailed all five by double-digits), but after playing in Philadelphia on Wednesday, they'll play five straight games against bottom-10 defenses.
Week 15: @ PHI, @ NOP, vs. WAS
Last Week: 6
Pace: 97.6 (28) OffRtg: 114.0 (2) DefRtg: 112.0 (26) NetRtg: +2.1 (12)
As James Harden has scored at least 30 points in each of the last 19 games (the longest such streak since the days of Wilt Chamberlain), the Rockets have scored much more efficiently (117.8 points per 100 possessions) than they did through their first 26 games of the season (111.2) and much more efficiently with Harden on the floor (119.3) than with Harden on the bench (104.8). To make the MVP's MVP-so-far case even stronger, only two other Rockets - P.J. Tucker and Gerald Green - have played in more than 17 of those 19 games. The latest Rocket to go down is Clint Capela, who is out 4-6 weeks after having thumb surgery on Thursday. Harden's 147 assists to Capela are the most from one player to a single teammate this season and Harden's assist rate has been much lower with Capela off the floor (14.2 assists per 100 possessions used) than with Capela on the floor (22.6).
Week 15: @ PHI, @ NYK, vs. TOR, vs. ORL
Last Week: 10 ↑
Pace: 100.1 (18) OffRtg: 110.9 (10) DefRtg: 105.0 (5) NetRtg: +5.9 (3)
The Celtics sure look like they've figured out how to close games. After losing eight of their first 14 games that were within five points in the last five minutes, they're 7-2 in games that were within five in the last five since Dec. 1, having shot 11-for-21 on clutch threes (while their opponents have shot 6-for-29) over that stretch. They beat the Raptors with a 17-2 run with less than four minutes to go on Wednesday, held off the Grizzlies with a 10-2 run with less than three minutes to go on Friday, and won in Atlanta with a 10-0 run with less than six minutes to go on Saturday. Most important is that they've held their opponents to 2-for-22 shooting over those three runs, but it's also noteworthy that Al Horford scored as many of the team's 37 points (12) as Kyrie Irving and that the three games have been Horford's highest scoring stretch (55 total points) of the season. The Celtics' longest homestand of the season (five games) begins Monday.
Week 15: vs. MIA, vs. CLE, vs. GSW
Last Week: 7 ↓
Pace: 99.0 (24) OffRtg: 109.7 (14) DefRtg: 104.0 (2) NetRtg: +5.7 (4)
The Pacers remain one of the league's best teams at taking care of business. With wins over the Suns, Mavs and Hornets last week, they're 24-3 against the 15 teams that are currently no better than one game over .500. But with a 24-point loss at home to the Sixers on Thursday, they've dropped four straight against the other teams in the top five in the East, having allowed Toronto, Boston and Philly to score almost 124 points per 100 possessions in the three losses that have come this month. Tyreke Evans has shot just 48 percent in the restricted area (the second worst mark among 157 players with at least 100 restricted-area attempts), but has been giving the Pacers more consistent production off the bench of late and is one of seven Pacers averaging double-figures in January. Another big game within that top five in the East comes Wednesday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Week 15: vs. TOR, @ MEM
Last Week: 9
Pace: 100.0 (20) OffRtg: 111.5 (8) DefRtg: 109.2 (16) NetRtg: +2.4 (10)
The Blazers have won their last six home games, scoring almost 125 points per 100 possessions at the Moda Center over that stretch. They've shot well, but have also committed fewer than 10 turnovers in four of the six games and registered 20 or more second-chance points in three of the six. Minutes from their reserves have been better of late and, after filling in as a starter, Jake Layman took his hot streak (16 points per game on 68 percent shooting over the last four games) to the bench with Maurice Harkless returning from a five-game absence on Friday, when the Blazers beat the Pelicans by 16 points in a game the starting lineup was a minus-2. They're 4-10 on the road within the Western Conference with an important three-game trip this week. They also play the Jazz twice in the next 10 days, having lost the first two meetings by a total of 51 points.
Week 15: @ UTA, @ OKC, @ PHX, vs. ATL
Last Week: 8 ↓
Pace: 103.8 (4) OffRtg: 108.6 (17) DefRtg: 104.2 (3) NetRtg: +4.4 (7)
What had been the league's best defense has allowed almost 119 points per 100 possessions over its last seven games, with the low point being the Thunder's loss in Atlanta on Tuesday, when they allowed the league's 29th-ranked offense to shoot 62 percent. Opponents have shot better both in and outside the paint over that stretch, but only a little bit better against the Thunder's starting lineup, which has allowed just 100.6 points per 100 possessions in its 142 minutes over the seven games. Bench minutes have been brutal and over the 2-5 stretch, OKC has allowed almost 132 points per 100 possessions in 209 minutes with at least one reserve on the floor. The offense has seen an uptick with Terrance Ferguson shooting 22-for-40 from 3-point range over the last two weeks and Paul George hit a huge shot in Philly on Saturday, but the defense remains critical. After the Thunder play in New York on Monday, they'll host three top-10 offenses on a three-game homestand (though the Pelicans could be without Anthony Davis on Thursday).
Week 15: @ NYK, vs. POR, vs. NOP, vs. MIL
Last Week: 11
Pace: 102.9 (7) OffRtg: 110.9 (9) DefRtg: 107.9 (10) NetRtg: +3.0 (9)
Their last five games have been the Sixers' best offensive stretch of the season. They've scored more than 120 points per 100 possessions over the five games, with Ben Simmons averaging a triple-double and shooting 69 percent from the field. They went to Indiana on Thursday and thumped the third-place Pacers (recording 38 assists on 46 buckets) in their most important game of 2019 thus far. But of course, Simmons' inability (or unwillingness) to shoot from the outside played a role in the Sixers not getting a good shot off on the final play of their loss to the Thunder on Saturday. Even with the OKC loss, the Sixers are 17-8 in games that were within five points in the last five minutes and 10-4 (7-1 at home, 3-3 on the road) against the Western Conference, with eight more games against the West between now and the All-Star break.
Week 15: vs. HOU, vs. SAS, @ DEN
Last Week: 12
Pace: 100.7 (14) OffRtg: 107.5 (20) DefRtg: 104.4 (4) NetRtg: +3.2 (8)
The Jazz have been playing without a point guard (because Ricky Rubio, Dante Exum and Raul Neto are all hurt) for the last five games, but have won six straight and are a West-best 12-4 over the last 4 1/2 weeks. The five games without a point guard have been their fastest-paced stretch of the season (103.3 possessions per 48 minutes) and over those eight days, they've outscored their opponents by 23.5 points per 100 possessions in 148 minutes with Donovan Mitchell on the floor with replacement starter Royce O'Neale. In addition to it being one of the best shooting stretches of Mitchell's career, he's also getting to the line more: 31 free throw attempts per 100 shots from the field over the winning streak, up from 21 over his first 37 games. The Jazz are seemingly on their way to ranking No. 1 on defense by the All-Star break, but six of their 10 remaining pre-break games (including visits from the Blazers and Nuggets on Monday and Wednesday) are against top-10 offenses.
Week 15: vs. POR, vs. DEN, vs. MIN, @ MIN
Last Week: 14 ↑
Pace: 104.3 (2) OffRtg: 109.1 (16) DefRtg: 110.0 (18) NetRtg: -0.9 (21)
Buddy Hield's game-winner in Detroit on Saturday was a bit of a miracle, but Hield has been on fire this month, having made a league-best 56 percent of his January 3-point attempts. The Kings have remained in the Western Conference playoff picture by going 4-1 against teams in the fringe of the Eastern Conference playoff picture over the last two weeks, but they also ended a five-game losing streak within the Western Conference with an important win over the Blazers on Monday. That came with a double-double from Marvin Bagley III, who has averaged 12.6 points and 7.4 rebounds (in less than 24 minutes) over his last five games. Harry Giles is back in the rotation and playing alongside Bagley on the second-unit frontline, even though the Kings were outscored by almost 22 points per 100 possessions in 120 minutes with the pair on the floor prior to Bagley's knee injury. Since his return, the offensive numbers have been much better (the Kings have scored 112 points scored per 100 possessions) with the two young bigs on the floor together.
Week 15: @ BKN, @ TOR, @ MEM, @ LAC
Last Week: 16 ↑
Pace: 100.0 (19) OffRtg: 109.8 (13) DefRtg: 110.3 (22) NetRtg: -0.5 (19)
The Nets have climbed above .500 (and into sixth place in the East) with a three-game winning streak featuring miraculous comebacks in Houston (from an 11-point deficit with less than four minutes left in regulation) and Orlando (from a 21-point deficit). Those were the kinds of turnarounds that the Nets were on the wrong side of several weeks ago, and they've turned their season around without improving all that significantly on either end of the floor. As they started the season 8-18, they were 4-12 in games that were within five points in the last five minutes. As they've won 16 of their last 21, they're 10-2 in games that were within five in the last five. D'Angelo Russell's inability to get to the basket or the free throw line make it difficult for him to be consistent; He had 74 points against the Celtics and Magic last week and only five of those 74 came in the restricted area (four) or on free throws (one). But his ability to bounce back from games when he doesn't have it and is on the bench down the stretch (as was the case in Houston) is a clear sign of maturity.
Week 15: vs. SAC, vs. ORL, vs. NYK
Last Week: 13 ↓
Pace: 102.5 (8) OffRtg: 110.8 (11) DefRtg: 110.2 (21) NetRtg: +0.5 (15)
A five-game losing streak (in which they were outscored by 35 points per 100 possessions in Marcin Gortat's 74 minutes on the floor) and an 0-4 homestand had the Clippers on the brink of falling out of playoff position. But, playing without both Danilo Gallinari and Lou Williams on Sunday, they began a four-game trip with a huge win in San Antonio, with Montrezl Harrell getting his first start of the season and Johnathan Motley playing more minutes than (a healthy) Gortat. Starting Harrell in Gortat's place doesn't necessarily solve all their issues; Statistically, they've been twice as bad in 95 minutes with Harrell on the floor with the other four starters (minus-17.1 points per 100 possessions) as they've been in 349 minutes with the Gortat lineup on the floor (minus-8.0). But, given the minimal scoring they get from their backcourt (Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Avery Bradley are two of just nine guards that have started at least 25 games and averaged fewer than 10 points per game), some more offense was needed in the starting group.
Week 15: @ DAL, @ MIA, @ CHI, vs. SAC
Last Week: 15 ↓
Pace: 99.3 (21) OffRtg: 106.6 (22) DefRtg: 106.3 (6) NetRtg: +0.3 (17)
The Miami defense has ranked in the top 10 since Week 7 and has been relatively consistent from game to game. The Heat's results have mostly been determined by their offense, which was held under a point per possession in Milwaukee and Detroit last week. They got back to .500 on Saturday with Josh Richardson (who missed the Detroit game) and Dion Waiters (who played less than nine minutes in the Detroit game) combining for 47 points on 19-for-28 shooting in Chicago. The Heat are 18-7 (14-1 since Nov. 30) when they've scored at least 107 points per 100 possessions and 4-15 when they haven't, with turnovers being as much of a bellwether (they're 13-4 when they've committed 13 or fewer) as effective field goal percentage. After they visit the Celtics on Monday, they'll play four straight games against bottom-10 defenses.
Week 15: @ BOS, vs. LAC, @ CLE, @ NYK
Last Week: 18 ↑
Pace: 104.0 (3) OffRtg: 107.4 (21) DefRtg: 106.3 (7) NetRtg: +1.1 (14)
After barely scoring a point per possession over their first 10 games without LeBron James, the Lakers' offense showed some life last week. Kyle Kuzma dropped 64 total points in a pair of overtime games and Ivica Zubac had the best game of his career (26 points, 12 rebounds and a plus-35) in their win over the Thunder on Thursday, with the team scoring 115.5 points per 100 possessions over their three games. As the offense has taken a step forward, the defense has taken a step back, and each of the Lakers' last four games have been within five points in the last five minutes. Lonzo Ball came up big in the OKC overtime and Brandon Ingram had some huge buckets in Houston before Kentavious Caldwell-Pope airballed a shot for the lead in the final minute. The Houston loss not only knocked the Lakers out of playoff position, but also knocked Ball out for 4-6 weeks with a nasty ankle sprain suffered in the third quarter.
Week 15: vs. GSW, vs. MIN, vs. PHX
Last Week: 17 ↓
Pace: 101.3 (11) OffRtg: 109.6 (15) DefRtg: 110.2 (20) NetRtg: -0.6 (20)
The Wolves will get another shot at Jimmy Butler in late March, but their performance in Philadelphia on Tuesday (allowing the Sixers to shoot 60 percent in a 42-point loss) was both embarrassing and a big step backward after a 4-1 stretch in which they allowed less than 105 points per 100 possessions. The additional minutes that rookie Josh Okogie has been getting will only help down the line and their starting lineup (with Okogie at the wing) has outscored its opponents by 16.2 points per 100 possessions in January, but bench minutes have been bad (Dario Saric is a minus-53) this month and they miss Robert Covington, who has missed all nine January games with a bone bruise in his right knee. If they want to make the playoffs, this may be the most important week of the season, with a game against the ninth-place Lakers and a home-and-home with the seventh-place Jazz.
Week 15: @ PHX, @ LAL, @ UTA, vs. UTA
Last Week: 20 ↑
Pace: 103.4 (5) OffRtg: 113.6 (3) DefRtg: 112.0 (27) NetRtg: +1.6 (13)
The team with the league's most road-heavy January schedule has gone 2-4 on the road this month, having allowed almost 116 points per 100 possessions over the six games. More important is that the Pelicans have lost Anthony Davis to another injury - a sprained finger that has him out "1-2 weeks" - at a time when their season is seemingly on the brink. The Pels' offense remains potent; Four of their five starters have shot better than 50 percent in January and only the Warriors and Nuggets have scored more efficiently this month. But the defense remains poor (whether or not Davis is on the floor) and the late-game issues persist. The Pelicans sit in 12th place with the West's eighth-best point differential, 4-4 in January having outscored their opponents by 42 points.
Week 15: @ MEM, vs. DET, @ OKC, vs. SAS
Last Week: 25 ↑
Pace: 100.4 (16) OffRtg: 110.5 (12) DefRtg: 110.1 (19) NetRtg: +0.4 (16)
The Hornets' starting lineup with Bismack Biyombo has been much worse, especially offensively, than their lineup with Cody Zeller. That's one reason why they've lost the first quarter in eight of their 10 January games, having allowed more than 125 points per 100 possessions in the opening 12 minutes this month. But they sparked a three-game winning streak with a 37-21 run over the final 12:10 in San Antonio on Monday, their first road win over a non-terrible team in more than two months. The Hornets have won six of their last seven games at home, but couldn't come back after allowing 34 first-quarter points in Indiana on Sunday.
Week 15: @ MEM, @ MIL
Last Week: 22 ↑
Pace: 102.4 (9) OffRtg: 108.6 (18) DefRtg: 111.7 (25) NetRtg: -3.0 (24)
Thomas Bryant got the (goaltended) game-winner in London on Thursday, but the Wizards came back against the Knicks (after trailing by as many as 19 points) by playing small. They were a plus-14 in less than 17 minutes with either Otto Porter or Sam Dekker at the five, with a Porter-Dekker frontline on the floor for most of the 24-11 fourth quarter. The Wizards have outscored their opponents by 3.6 points per 100 possessions in 367 minutes with Bradley Beal on the floor without any of their true centers. Markieff Morris (out through the All-Star break) has been at the five for most of those minutes, but the numbers are better (plus-10.3 points per 100 possessions in 93 minutes) with an even smaller five-man. The Wizards have nine games remaining vs. the other teams in the 6-11 range in the East, and two of them -- Monday against Detroit and Friday in Orlando -- are this week.
Week 15: vs. DET, vs. GSW, @ ORL, @ SAS
Last Week: 19 ↓
Pace: 100.6 (15) OffRtg: 108.3 (19) DefRtg: 108.5 (13) NetRtg: -0.3 (18)
After a couple of weeks running point on the NBA purgatory squad (which still features J.R. Smith, Chandler Parsons and Carmelo Anthony), Dennis Smith Jr. is set to return to the Mavs this week. The Mavs have lost 14 of their last 19 games and over their current, three-game losing streak, they've probably missed J.J. Barea more than Smith, because their starting lineup has outscored its opponents by 15 points in 47 minutes over the three games and their bench has lost its mojo. The other four starters have now played more minutes together without Smith (383) than they've played with him (350), and have been much better offensively (111.9 points scored per 100 possessions) in the minutes without him. Smith has shot better and scored more efficiently than he did as a rookie, but has seen one of the league's biggest jumps in turnover rate (turning the ball over 16.5 times per 100 possessions used) from last season (11.7).
Week 15: @ MIL, vs. LAC, vs. DET, vs. TOR
Last Week: 24 ↑
Pace: 99.3 (22) OffRtg: 105.9 (23) DefRtg: 108.3 (12) NetRtg: -2.5 (22)
The Pistons got two important wins last week, edging the Magic and Heat at home, where they're 10-6 against Eastern Conference opponents. Blake Griffin scored seven of their 11 overtime points (after they blew an 11-point, fourth-quarter lead) against Orlando on Wednesday, but was just 1-for-7 in the game-deciding fourth quarter against Miami on Friday, when the Pistons got 20 of their 33 points from Reggie Bullock, Luke Kennard and Stanley Johnson. Some consistency from the wings/forwards could go a long way for a team that has been even worse offensively with Griffin at center (88.7 points scored per 100 possessions) than it has been with Griffin off the floor (97.7). With Andre Drummond missing the last game and a half (after taking a James Johnson elbow to the face), Zaza Pachulia had two of his three highest minutes totals of the last three seasons over the weekend, because this team hasn't shown an ability to play small. The Pistons have lost 11 of their last 14 on the road, but the three games on this week's trip are all winnable.
Week 15: @ WAS, @ NOP, @ DAL
Last Week: 21 ↓
Pace: 98.2 (26) OffRtg: 105.1 (26) DefRtg: 109.1 (15) NetRtg: -4.0 (25)
The Magic still have eight more games within that 6-11 group in the Eastern Conference, including two more against the sixth-place Nets in the next 13 days. But they wasted two opportunities at moving up in the standings last week, blowing an 11-point lead in Detroit on Wednesday and a 21-point lead to Brooklyn on Friday. Updating a note previously mentioned in this space, the Magic now lead the league with 13 losses in games they've led by double-digits, four more than any other team (the Cavs and Knicks are next with nine apiece). They remain the league's sixth best defensive team in the first quarter (102.6 points allowed per 100 possessions), but have allowed 113.3 points per 100 possessions after the opening 12 minutes, with big jumps in opponent field goal percentage in the restricted area (59 percent in the first quarter, 64 percent their after) and opponent free throw rate (16 attempts per 100 shots from the field in the first quarter, 28 thereafter).
Week 15: @ ATL, @ BKN, vs. WAS, @ HOU
Last Week: 26 ↑
Pace: 105.5 (1) OffRtg: 104.0 (29) DefRtg: 111.2 (23) NetRtg: -7.1 (26)
The Hawks are 8-8 (the East's eighth best mark) over the last five weeks, with improvement coming on the offensive end of the floor. They've scored less a point per possession four times this month (after doing so just once in December), but have also had two huge offensive games against top-10 defenses (those of the Sixers and Thunder) in the last 10 days. John Collins and Alex Len combined for 84 points on 69 percent shooting in the two wins and have seen two of the three biggest jumps in usage rate among 208 players that played at least 1,000 minutes last season and have played at least 500 minutes this season. The Hawks have outscored their opponents by 10.5 points per 100 possessions in the pair's 193 minutes on the floor together.
Week 15: vs. ORL, @ CHI, @ POR
Last Week: 23 ↓
Pace: 96.2 (30) OffRtg: 104.2 (28) DefRtg: 106.8 (8) NetRtg: -2.6 (23)
It's time to relegate the Grizzlies to the "no longer competing for a playoff spot" division of the Western Conference, where the Suns have been holding down the fort since Week 1. Memphis' offense remains anemic. It has scored less than a point per possession in seven of its last nine games, with Marc Gasol shooting just 38 percent over that stretch (and missing their loss in Toronto on Saturday). And their five-game losing streak has been their worst defensive stretch of the season (117.6 points allowed per 100 possessions), with their opponents having shot 42 percent from 3-point range over the five games. The defense has been worst in the third quarter, when their opponents have scored an amazing 185 points on 122 possessions (152 per 100) over the losing streak. Gasol and Mike Conley have been mostly healthy this season and the Grizz put a couple of capable vets around them, but success didn't last more than 25 games and the continued development of Jaren Jackson Jr. is the only sure thing about this team's future.
Week 15: vs. NOP, vs. CHA, vs. SAC, vs. IND
Last Week: 27
Pace: 100.7 (13) OffRtg: 104.3 (27) DefRtg: 112.6 (28) NetRtg: -8.3 (28)
The Suns were competitive against a good team (the Raptors) and a decent team (the Wolves) on their four-game trip, seeing an offensive boost with the return of Devin Booker. But they went 0-4 on the trip because they committed three turnovers in the final minute of the two games and because Mikal Bridges got beat for two last-second game-winners (by Pascal Siakam and Derrick Rose). The Suns have shot decently down the stretch of close games (T.J. Warren is one of eight players who have shot better than 50 percent on at least 25 clutch shots), but rank 27th in clutch turnover rate (16.3 per 100 possessions) and 28th in clutch defense (119.6 points allowed per 100 possessions). With the loss in Minnesota on Sunday, they remain winless (0-12) in road games within the Western Conference.
Week 15: vs. MIN, vs. POR, @ DEN, @ LAL
Last Week: 29 ↑
Pace: 100.9 (12) OffRtg: 105.3 (25) DefRtg: 113.1 (29) NetRtg: -7.8 (27)
The good news is that the Knicks had one of their better defensive games of the season in London. The bad news is that they blew a 19-point lead to the Wizards, scoring just two points (with six turnovers) over the first 8:46 of the fourth quarter. Noah Vonleh was off the floor for most of that drought, but has been one of the second-chance (or third or fourth-chance) bright spots for the Knicks this season, registering career highs in effective field goal percentage (53.2 percent), true shooting percentage (57.4 percent) and assist ratio (18.6 per 100 possessions used). The Knicks have been at their best offensively (106 points scored per 100 possessions) with Vonleh on the floor and, with 13 points and 10 rebounds in the London game, he has almost twice as many double-doubles (14) as he had in his first four years in the league (eight). The Knicks will play 13 of their next 18 games at home, but have lost eight straight at MSG, with four of those losses having been against teams that currently have losing records.
Week 15: vs. OKC, vs. HOU, @ BKN, vs. MIA
Last Week: 28 ↓
Pace: 99.0 (23) OffRtg: 101.1 (30) DefRtg: 111.6 (24) NetRtg: -10.5 (29)
The Bulls' season somehow got worse last week, with Wendell Carter Jr. being lost for 8-12 weeks (after thumb surgery) and Zach LaVine taking note of the team's lack of competitiveness. Having allowed almost 120 points per 100 possessions over their 10-game losing streak, they've been worse defensively in 22 games under Jim Boylen (112.8 allowed per 100) than they were under Fred Hoiberg (110.6). Robin Lopez got his first start of the season against Miami on Saturday and since Boylen took over, the defense has been 10 points per 100 possessions better with Lopez on the floor (104 allowed) than its been with him off the floor (114), but he doesn't seem long for this roster. The Bulls are still a long way from being as bad defensively as the team -- the Cavs -- they get to play twice this week.
Week 15: @ CLE, vs. ATL, vs. LAC, vs. CLE
Last Week: 30
Pace: 97.1 (29) OffRtg: 105.7 (24) DefRtg: 117.5 (30) NetRtg: -11.8 (30)
The Cavs' did get one win on their six-game trip through the Western Conference. But the trip ended with losses in Utah and Denver that they trailed by 38 and 30 points, respectively. One bright spot was Ante Zizic, who totaled 38 points on 16-for-24 shooting in the weekend games, starting in place of the injured Tristan Thompson. Another bright spot was Collin Sexton dishing out a career-high seven assists on Saturday, with some good pick-and-roll decisions included within. Alas, the Cavs' defense has allowed more than 130 points per 100 possessions as many times (five) in the last 16 days as any other team has all season.
Week 15: vs. CHI, @ BOS, vs. MIA, @ CHI
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John Schuhmann is a senior stats analyst for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.
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