Power Rankings, Week 19: Urgency rises for Lakers, others after All-Star break
After an entertaining NBA All-Star 2019 in Charlotte and at least seven days off for all 30 teams, the season (which is already 70 percent complete) tips off again on Thursday, with much to be resolved in the next seven weeks.
In the Eastern Conference, the final three playoff spots remain up for grabs, though the competition is a little more inspiring up top, where the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers — currently tied fourth and fifth — would surely like to improve their position. The Eastern Conference arms race heated up at the trade deadline and what happens in the next four months will surely help determine what a lot of big-name free agents decide to do in July.
Who might face the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference finals is as interesting a question as who will represent the East in The Finals. It’s a wide-open race behind the champs, with the Denver Nuggets holding onto second place and the Oklahoma City Thunder looking like the safest pick to win a couple of playoff rounds.
Before we get to the postseason though, there’s a fascinating race for the last two playoff spots in the West, with the San Antonio Spurs’ 21-year playoff streak, LeBron James’ 13-year streak, the Los Angeles Lakers’ five-year playoff drought and the Sacramento Kings’ 12-year drought all on the line. And there’s the season-of-transition LA Clippers still holding onto eighth, too.
Every game counts and the urgency is about to intensify.
- Last week: Sixers surging in wake of deadline-day deals
- This time last year: Spotlight remains on Cavs, Warriors Steve Kerr let his players run the huddle in a 46-point win over the Suns, who were one of four teams that went into the All-Star break with losing streaks of at least seven games. The Raptors, Rockets and Jazz, meanwhile, went into the break with winning streaks of seven, 10 and 11 games, respectively. Donovan Mitchell won the dunk contest with a Vince Carter imitation, Devin Booker won the 3-point contest by making 20 of his 25 shots in the final round, and Team LeBron won the All-Star Game when Stephen Curry couldn’t get a shot off on the final possession.
Plus-Minus Players of the Week
- Mr. Plus: Jonathan Isaac (ORL) was a plus-51 in two games last week.
- Mr. Minus: Miles Bridges and Malik Monk (CHA) were both a minus-39 in two games last week.
Teams of the Week
- Make It Last Forever: Orlando (2-0) — The Magic have pulled to within a game and a half of eighth place in the East by winning seven of their last eight games, and they went into the break by beating New Orleans and Charlotte by a total of 68 points.
- Something Just Ain’t Right: Charlotte (0-2) — The Hornets went into the break having lost four of their last five games (against a not-so-tough schedule) and with a 38-point loss in Orlando on Thursday.
East vs. West
- The West is 174-135 (.563) against the East in interconference games though the East was 4-1 last week.
Schedule strength through the All-Star break
- Toughest: 1. Phoenix, 2. New York, 3. Utah
- Easiest: 1. Indiana, 2. Oklahoma City, 3. Boston
- 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: Minnesota (+3), Orlando (+2), Nine teams (+1)
- Free falls of the week: Dallas (-6), Memphis (-2), Philadelphia (-2), Phoenix (-2)
Week 19 Team to Watch
- Houston — The Rockets are in an interesting spot, just a game behind the Blazers for fourth place in the West, but just three games ahead of the ninth-place Kings. And they begin their post-break schedule (which is right in the middle of the pack in regard to cumulative opponent winning percentage) with two interesting games. They’ll visit the Lakers on Thursday and the Warriors on Saturday, having won all five games they’ve played against those two teams thus far.
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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 100.6 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes and 109.3 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: 103.1 (5) OffRtg: 113.0 (4) DefRtg: 103.5 (1) NetRtg: +9.6 (1)
The Bucks haven't lost two games in a row all season. In fact, the last time they lost two out of three was the first week of December. Still, their offense wasn't very sharp (scoring just 106.3 points per 100 possessions over their last two games) going into the break and they're only two games in the loss column ahead of the second-place Raptors, with a tougher schedule going forward (including a league-high five rest-disadvantage games). They're already done playing Toronto and will be done with the Celtics (having split two games in Boston) after their game at Fiserv Forum on Thursday, which should be Nikola Mirotic's Bucks debut.
Week 19: vs. BOS, vs. MIN
Last Week: 2
Pace: 101.6 (10) OffRtg: 116.0 (1) DefRtg: 109.2 (15) NetRtg: +6.9 (2)
Though they began their All-Star break 12 minutes too early (getting outscored, 35-12, in the fourth quarter in Portland on Wednesday), the Warriors went into the break with a two-game lead for first place in the West, with an easier post-break schedule than either of the two teams (Denver and Oklahoma City) with a realistic chance to catch them. Their challenges for the next two months should be...
Positive minutes for their five-star starting lineup, which is a plus-0 in its 112 minutes together.
Climbing at least a few spots in defensive efficiency, where they currently rank 15th.
The Warriors certainly showed last year that they can flip the switch on that end of the floor in the postseason, but DeMarcus Cousins obviously isn't the best defender against floor-spacing offenses. In the 22 years for which we have play-by-play data, only one team (the 2000-01 Lakers) has won a championship after ranking worse than 11th defensively in the regular season. The champs have eight games remaining against the league's top-10 offenses and one of those is Saturday, when they host the second-ranked (and full-strength?) Rockets.
Week 19: vs. SAC, vs. HOU
Last Week: 4 ↑
Pace: 100.6 (15) OffRtg: 112.4 (5) DefRtg: 107.3 (8) NetRtg: +5.2 (5)
The Raptors went into the break with a six-game winning streak and with a 13-3 record in games that Kawhi Leonard has missed, thanks to a career-high 44 points from Pascal Siakam (who had never scored more than 20 points in a game prior to this season) against Washington on Wednesday. Jeremy Lin made an impact right away, registering a plus-10 off the bench (including a plus-12 in less than 12 minutes alongside Kyle Lowry) in what was a nine-point win. The Raptors have the league's easiest post-break schedule, with a league-low two back-to-backs and only seven of their 23 games against teams that are currently over .500. Three of those seven are part of a four-game homestand that begins Friday.
Week 19: vs. SAS, vs. ORL
Last Week: 3 ↓
Pace: 104.1 (3) OffRtg: 110.4 (13) DefRtg: 105.2 (3) NetRtg: +5.1 (6)
When Jerami Grant missed the last two games before the break with an ankle injury, Patrick Patterson replaced him in the starting lineup and shot 2-for-13 (including 0-for-8 from 3-point range). Defense was the bigger issue in their 1-2-3-Cancun loss in New Orleans on Thursday, but in 52 total minutes with Patterson in Grant's place in the regular starting lineup, the Thunder have scored just 92 points per 100 possessions, 20 fewer than the regular starters have scored in their 602 minutes together. So yeah, the Thunder could use Markieff Morris (who they'll reportedly add this week), even if he hasn't shot as well as he did last season. They have the league's toughest remaining schedule, with 17 of their 25 games (including 11 of their next 13) against teams that currently have winning records.
Week 19: vs. UTA, vs. SAC
Last Week: 6 ↑
Pace: 98.4 (27) OffRtg: 113.4 (3) DefRtg: 108.4 (13) NetRtg: +5.0 (7)
Their game in Dallas on Friday could be the first time since the first week of the season that the Nuggets' opening-night starting lineup plays together. That won't necessarily solve the defensive issues (which start with defending the 3-point line) that took them from fourth on that end of the floor through Week 9 to as low as 15th before they found their footing a bit in two wins last week, but health was obviously one reason for the slippage, as coach Mike Malone noted at the All-Star break. "Early in the year," he said, "we were a second and third-effort team, flying around and covering up for mistakes. Because of the injuries, because guys have played more minutes than they've every played before, and no Gary Harris, no Paul Millsap, now you're down two defenders, and we became a single-effort team." As the Nuggets try to hold onto the No. 2 seed, the only Western Conference team with a tougher remaining schedule is the one -- Oklahoma City -- right behind them in the standings.
Week 19: @ DAL, vs. LAC
Last Week: 7 ↑
Pace: 100.2 (17) OffRtg: 111.9 (9) DefRtg: 105.7 (5) NetRtg: +6.2 (3)
Kyrie Irving remains their go-to bucket-getter, but the Celtics are now 9-2 (with six straight wins) without their All-Star, having scored 115.7 points per 100 possessions in the 11 games. Of course, their victory in Philadelphia last Tuesday was the only of those nine wins that has come against a team better than the 30-29 Nets, and overall, they've been at their best offensively (scoring 113.8 points per 100 possessions) with Irving on the floor. So they should welcome him back as they begin a relatively tough post-break schedule (14 of 24 games against teams currently over .500) with a three game trip that begins in Milwaukee and concludes in Toronto.
Week 19: @ MIL, @ CHI
Last Week: 5 ↓
Pace: 102.7 (7) OffRtg: 111.8 (10) DefRtg: 108.4 (11) NetRtg: +3.5 (8)
The Celtics went 7-2 against the Sixers last season and opened this season with a win over Philly. After the Sixers added Jimmy Butler, the Celtics beat them on Christmas. And after the Sixers added Tobias Harris, the Celtics (without Kyrie Irving or Aron Baynes) beat them last Tuesday. No matter how good the Sixers get, they have a nemesis 300 miles north that seems to have their number. The Celtics have held them to just 100.8 points per 100 possessions (with Joel Embiid having shot just 43 percent) over 12 games in the last 16 months (though last week's game was Philly's best offensive performance of the 12). The final regular-season meeting between the two teams will be March 20 in Philadelphia, with the Celtics having a rest advantage.
Week 19: vs. MIA, vs. POR
Last Week: 8
Pace: 100.1 (18) OffRtg: 112.4 (7) DefRtg: 109.4 (16) NetRtg: +3.0 (10)
Three days after suffering their first loss in a game that they led after the third quarter, the Blazers got their first win in a game they trailed after the third. Behind 12 points from Jake Layman, they outscored the Warriors 35-12 in the final 12 minutes Wednesday to retain sole possession of fourth place in the West going into the break. They will play 12 of their next 19 games against the Eastern Conference, having gone 14-4 against the East thus far. Of course, one of those four losses was a 43-point defeat in Milwaukee, and their seven-game trip that starts Thursday (the longest trip of the season for the team that travels more than any other) includes games in Philadelphia, Boston and Toronto. They're 1-8 in those cities over the last three seasons.
Week 19: @ BKN, @ PHI
Last Week: 9
Pace: 100.6 (14) OffRtg: 108.4 (19) DefRtg: 105.4 (4) NetRtg: +3.0 (9)
Though they blew an opportunity at a big win at Golden State last Tuesday (by missing their last nine 3-point attempts) and have no more games against the fourth-place Blazers or fifth-place Rockets, the Jazz still have a legit shot at a top-four seed in the West (and home-court advantage in the first round for the first time since John Stockton was running the point). They actually have only nine more games (including four in the next 11 days) against teams that currently have winning records, and they've done well taking care of business. Since Christmas, they're 12-0 against the 15 teams that are currently under .500.
Week 19: @ OKC, vs. DAL
Last Week: 10
Pace: 98.7 (26) OffRtg: 109.3 (17) DefRtg: 104.1 (2) NetRtg: +5.2 (4)
The Pacers remain uncooperative in regard to plans for the Bucks, Celtics, Raptors and Sixers to meet in the Eastern Conference semifinals -- a scenario that would be impossible if Indiana held onto the No. 3 seed. The Bucks ended the Pacers' six-game winning streak on Wednesday, but Indy had a lead before shooting 1-for-8 in the final 4 1/2 minutes. Their rotation remains solid from 1-7 and they rank third defensively since Victor Oladipo was lost for the season, but they miss their All-Star (the guy who shot a league-best 63 percent on clutch shots this season) down the stretch of close games, and not just for his shooting. In games Oladipo played, the Pacers had 30 assists and just 10 turnovers with the score within five points in the last five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime. In games he's been out, they have 10 assists and 16 turnovers with the score within five in the last five.
Week 19: vs. NOP, @ WAS
Last Week: 11
Pace: 98.1 (28) OffRtg: 114.3 (2) DefRtg: 112.2 (25) NetRtg: +2.1 (11)
Chris Paul went into the All-Star break with 19 assists and zero turnovers over the Rockets' last two games. Clint Capela is set to return this week and the Rockets are 15-8 in games that Paul, James Harden and Capela have all played, even though they've been outscored by 2.9 points per 100 possessions in 427 minutes with the three on the floor together. This team often wins with bench minutes and since he returned from a five-week absence (with Capela out), the Rockets have been at their best (plus-16.7 points per 100 possessions) with Paul on the floor without Harden, in part because both Kenneth Faried (17-for-21) and Gerald Green (10-for-20 from 3-point range) have shot ridiculously well in those 83 minutes.
Week 19: @ LAL, @ GSW
Last Week: 12
Pace: 104.1 (2) OffRtg: 108.7 (18) DefRtg: 109.9 (18) NetRtg: -1.2 (22)
Whether or not they end their 12-year playoff drought, this has been an important season for the Kings, who have found an identity and taken a huge step forward. Though they had little roster turnover last summer, an offense that ranked 25th over the last four weeks before the break, and saw Harrison Barnes shoot 35 percent in his first three games, they've been the league's most improved offensive team, having scored 5.7 more points per 100 possessions than they did last season. They will play 14 of their final 25 games on the road, with none of the other 12 tougher than the two -- Thursday in Oakland and Saturday in Oklahoma City -- they play this week. The OKC game is one of just five remaining against teams that currently rank in the top 10 defensively.
Week 19: @ GSW, @ OKC
Last Week: 13
Pace: 99.2 (22) OffRtg: 112.4 (6) DefRtg: 111.5 (22) NetRtg: +1.0 (12)
After allowing an incredible 128.7 points per 100 possessions through their first four rodeo-trip games, the Spurs got a one-point win (in which they came back from 13 points down) going into the break by getting some much-needed stops down the stretch in Memphis last Tuesday. They've still got a long way to go to avoid finishing in the bottom 10 in defensive efficiency and/or missing the playoffs for the first time since they drafted Tim Duncan. They're just a game in the loss column ahead of the ninth-place Kings, having already lost the tiebreaker. They'll actually play 14 of their 23 games, including all three in the post-break portion of the rodeo trip, against the Eastern Conference.
Week 19: @ TOR, @ NYK
Last Week: 14
Pace: 102.2 (9) OffRtg: 111.0 (11) DefRtg: 110.2 (19) NetRtg: +0.7 (13)
Lou Williams was ready to make up for the loss of Tobias Harris, averaging 30 points (in just 28.1 minutes!) in the Clippers' first three games since Harris was dealt to Philadelphia. Landry Shamet made such an impression in his first two games with his new team that he replaced Garrett Temple in the starting lineup in the Clippers' last game before the break. Shamet shot 9-for-16 from 3-point range over the three games and the Clippers scored more than 125 points per 100 possessions in 58 minutes with Williams and Shamet on the floor together. The Clippers' remaining schedule is relatively easy and home-heavy, but they'll play four of their first five post-break games on the road.
Week 19: @ MEM, @ DEN
Last Week: 15
Pace: 100.9 (11) OffRtg: 109.4 (16) DefRtg: 109.8 (17) NetRtg: -0.4 (17)
The Nets have one of the league's toughest remaining schedules, with 13 of their final 23 games against teams that currently have winning records. But their most important games are the six they play against the teams, all with losing records, that currently sit between 7th and 11th in the East. Four of those six, including two against the seventh-place Hornets, are in the next 11 days. Joe Harris' victory in the MTN DEW 3-Point Contest shouldn't have been a huge surprise, given that he went into the break shooting 17-for-26 from beyond the arc (including 7-for-8 off the dribble) over his last four games. The Nets allowed more than 118 points per 100 possessions over those same four games, even though two of the four were against the bottom-five offenses of the Bulls and Cavs.
Week 19: vs. POR, @ CHA
Last Week: 18 ↑
Pace: 98.7 (25) OffRtg: 106.6 (22) DefRtg: 107.7 (9) NetRtg: -1.1 (21)
The Magic seemingly buried themselves by losing seven of eight games over the last couple of weeks of January. But they've put themselves in great position (with the caveat that this is the Eastern Conference) by winning seven of eight going into the break. They've had the league's No. 1 defense (98.8 points allowed per 100 possessions) over that stretch and their five-game winning streak has been both their best offensive stretch (120.2 scored per 100) and their best defensive stretch (97.4 allowed per 100) of the season. They have one of the league's easiest remaining schedules in regard to opponent strength, with seven games (including a visit from the Bulls on Friday) against the bottom four teams in the East. They're 7-1 against that group (and 19-15 against the East overall) thus far.
Week 19: vs. CHI, @ TOR
Last Week: 17
Pace: 103.8 (4) OffRtg: 107.4 (21) DefRtg: 108.4 (12) NetRtg: -0.9 (20)
When the Lakers won in Boston just hours after the trade deadline, it seemed like they had put their Anthony-Davis-related drama behind them. But, after going into the break with two straight losses, they need another fresh start this week. If 44 wins gets you the No. 8 seed in the West (the eighth-place Clippers are on pace for 44.5), the Lakers need to go 16-9 (against a tougher schedule than those of the Clippers and ninth-place Kings) to keep LeBron James from missing the playoffs for the first time in 14 years. If James has a switch to flip, it had better turn on the juice on both ends of the floor. The Lakers rank 29th defensively over the last month, having allowed 118.7 points per 100 possessions over their last 11 games. Four of their next five games are against top-10 offenses.
Week 19: vs. HOU, @ NOP
Last Week: 19 ↑
Pace: 98.9 (23) OffRtg: 106.5 (23) DefRtg: 108.1 (10) NetRtg: -1.6 (23)
The Pistons' last five games before the break were their best offensive stretch of the season (118.4 points scored per 100 possessions), with Reggie Jackson, Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond combining for an effective field goal percentage of 65 percent. With an effective field goal percentage of 60.8 percent (seventh among 59 guards with at least 100 field goal attempts) over the last three weeks, Jackson's season-long mark (49.7 percent) is the best of his career. The Pistons have an easier remaining schedule than the Heat in regard to opponent strength, but will need to get some wins on the road, where they play 15 of their final 26 games, in order to make the postseason for just the second time in the last 10 years.
Week 19: @ ATL, @ MIA
Last Week: 20 ↑
Pace: 102.9 (6) OffRtg: 112.3 (8) DefRtg: 111.6 (23) NetRtg: +0.7 (14)
Through all the mess than the Pelicans have been through, including a 30-point loss to Orlando last Tuesday and Anthony Davis leaving the arena before the end of their win over Oklahoma City on Thursday, they still have a top-eight point differential in the Western Conference. Julius Randle had has two 30-point games in five February appearances and has a usage rate (29.3 percent) that would rank in the league's top 15 in his minutes with Davis off the floor. We'll see just how much Davis plays going forward, with the Pelicans still having three more meetings, including two in the next nine days, with LeBron James and the Lakers. For Davis' teammates, those are three opportunities to play spoiler.
Week 19: @ IND, vs. LAL
Last Week: 23 ↑
Pace: 100.7 (13) OffRtg: 110.4 (12) DefRtg: 110.4 (20) NetRtg: +0.0 (15)
The Wolves kept themselves on the outer edge of the West playoff race by shooting 53 percent in home wins over the Clippers and Rockets to close their pre-break schedule. Josh Okogie had a breakout performance (featuring a big third quarter) against the Rockets, they got back Jeff Teague (who totaled 46 points, 22 assists and just two turnovers in the two wins) and Tyus Jones should return from a month-long absence this week. But it's not clear if Robert Covington is ready to return, they have a tougher remaining schedule (in regard to cumulative opponent winning percentage) than the three teams between them and eighth place, and they play 11 of their next 16 games on the road, where they're 8-20.
Week 19: @ NYK, @ MIL
Last Week: 21
Pace: 98.9 (24) OffRtg: 106.0 (24) DefRtg: 106.6 (6) NetRtg: -0.6 (18)
The Heat are in an eighth-place tie with the Pistons, with both remaining meetings in Miami (and the Heat having a rest advantage on Saturday). In fact, after the Heat visit Philadelphia on Thursday, they'll play 10 of their next 12 games at the Heat's House. Of course, they're just 11-16 at home this season, having scored less than a point per possession and shot 29 percent from Kaboomtown over a four-game home losing streak. The potential return of Goran Dragic could provide an offensive boost. Dragic has played just 408 minutes and hasn't played in more than two months, but the Heat offense has been at its best this season (108.5 points scored per 100 possessions) with him on the floor.
Week 19: @ PHI, vs. DET
Last Week: 16 ↓
Pace: 99.9 (19) OffRtg: 108.3 (20) DefRtg: 108.6 (14) NetRtg: -0.3 (16)
The Mavs weren't a very good offensive team in the first place, but their deadline moves have left them with little firepower beyond Luka Doncic and Tim Hardaway Jr. They've scored just 105.1 points per 100 possessions in their first four games since the deadline, but they have seen increases in both ball and player movement. They've averaged 356 passes and 11.4 miles traveled per 24 minutes of possession over the four games, up from 344 and 11.0 prior to the deadline. It says here that Dirk Nowitzki's three 3-pointers were the best thing about the All-Star Game and, with 25 games left, it could be a close call in regard to Nowitzki passing Wilt Chamberlain for sixth place on the all-time scoring list. He needs 110 points to do it, having scored 123 in his 26 games this season.
Week 19: vs. DEN, @ UTA
Last Week: 23
Pace: 99.6 (20) OffRtg: 110.2 (14) DefRtg: 110.9 (21) NetRtg: -0.7 (19)
The Hornets aren't in a position to give games away, but that's what they did in Orlando on Thursday, getting blasted by the Magic in their final game before the break. They've certainly missed Tony Parker and have been outscored by 50 points in Kemba Walker's 61 minutes off the floor as they've lost four of their last five games (not the toughest stretch of schedule, either). But Parker won't necessarily fix their defensive issues. Opponents have shot 41 percent from 3-point range as the Hornets have allowed more than 118 points per 100 possessions over their last eight games. They come out of the break with a four-game homestand, two important games against the Wizards and Nets (a rare home-home back-to-back on Friday and Saturday), and then two games against the league's top two offenses (Golden State and Houston).
Week 19: vs. WAS, vs. BKN
Last Week: 24
Pace: 102.5 (8) OffRtg: 109.6 (15) DefRtg: 112.4 (26) NetRtg: -2.8 (24)
Technically, the Wizards are still alive in the race for one of the final three playoff spots in the East. And, starting with game in Charlotte on Friday, they have three games remaining against the seventh-place Hornets. But they buried themselves a little deeper with a critical loss in Detroit last Monday, their final meeting with the eighth-place Pistons (who clinched the tiebreaker) and their eighth loss in which they made at least half of their shots (only the Suns have more). Their new additions have given their offense a boost (they've scored 113.6 points per 100 possessions in 136 with Jabari Parker and/or Bobby Portis on the floor), but their defense remains porous.
Week 19: @ CHA, vs. IND
Last Week: 25
Pace: 104.6 (1) OffRtg: 105.8 (25) DefRtg: 112.6 (27) NetRtg: -6.8 (26)
Trae Young has a shot at being just the 14th rookie in NBA history (and the first since Ben Simmons back in 2017-18) to average eight assists per game. He's currently at 7.6 per game (seventh in the league), but has averaged 9.3 over the last 12 games, with 14 in the Hawks' win over the Lakers on Tuesday. Though John Collins missed the first month of the season, Young already has 100 assists to the second-year big man. Among the 13 other pairs of teammates where one has at least 100 assists to the other, only three (Harden to Capela, Lowry to Ibaka and Williams to Harrell) have more per 36 minutes on the floor together. The Hawks had a five-game homestand going into the break and still have the league's most home-heavy schedule schedule (with 15 of their 24 games at State Farm Arena) going forward.
Week 19: vs. DET, vs. PHX
Last Week: 27 ↑
Pace: 99.3 (21) OffRtg: 103.2 (30) DefRtg: 111.6 (24) NetRtg: -8.4 (28)
The league's 30th-ranked offense scored 117.3 points per 100 possessions over its last seven games before the break (a rate which ranked fourth over that stretch), and three of those seven games were against top-10 defenses. Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen and Otto Porter (in four games with his new team) have all averaged more than 22 points over that stretch and the most encouraging thing could be Markkanen's six assists in the Bulls' last game before the break (a win over Memphis). The Bulls have been getting to the basket and the free throw line more in this stretch, while also going turning the ball over far less often.
Week 19: @ ORL, vs. BOS
Last Week: 25 ↓
Pace: 96.1 (30) OffRtg: 103.9 (29) DefRtg: 106.9 (7) NetRtg: -3.0 (25)
Over the five games since Marc Gasol last played for the Grizzlies, Mike Conley has shot 31 percent and the Grizzlies have allowed 111 points per 100 possessions. Though this post-deadline roster is a weird mix, there's enough veteran experience for the Grizzlies to remain somewhat competent and play spoiler over the last seven weeks of the season. With Chandler Parsons is expected to make his return this week, they play both the Clippers and Lakers in the next seven days. Jonas Valanciunas totaled 44 points, 17 rebounds and seven assists in his first two games with his new team, but the Grizzlies were outscored by 19 points in 28 minutes with him on the floor alongside Jaren Jackson Jr.
Week 19: vs. LAC, @ CLE
Last Week: 29 ↑
Pace: 97.1 (29) OffRtg: 105.4 (26) DefRtg: 116.3 (30) NetRtg: -11.0 (30)
There's probably no way the Cavs don't finish 30th in defensive efficiency (they've allowed 2.4 more points per 100 possessions than the 29th-ranked Suns), but climbing out of the bottom five on offense is a possibility with the return of Kevin Love (who had 14 points in less than 16 minutes in their win over the Knicks on Monday) and an improved shot selection from Collin Sexton. After taking 45 percent of his shots from mid-range through his first 46 games, Sexton has taken just 18 percent of his shots from mid-range over the last 12. He has shot 38 percent from 3-point range over that stretch and got to the basket to force double overtime against Brooklyn on Wednesday. The Cavs have been almost decent offensively (scoring 107 points per 100 possessions in 159 minutes) with Sexton and Larry Nance Jr. on the floor together over the 12 games.
Week 19: vs. PHX, vs. MEM
Last Week: 30 ↑
Pace: 1004. (16) OffRtg: 104.3 (27) DefRtg: 112.6 (28) NetRtg: -8.3 (27)
With a win in Atlanta on Thursday (their best defensive game of the season, statistically), the Knicks didn't have to carry the weight of a 19-game losing streak into the break. Dennis Smith Jr. has shot just 12-for-40 (30 percent) on pull-up jumpers in his seven games with the Knicks, but has a much higher free throw rate (43 attempts per 100 shots from the field) than he did with Dallas (23 per 100). He has yet to play alongside Frank Ntilikina (who has missed the last 10 games) and has played just 57 minutes with Mitchell Robinson. A few hundred post-break minutes with those three on the floor with Kevin Knox would be a good thing, whether or not the Knicks add a marquee free agent (or two) in the summer.
Week 19: vs. MIN, vs. SAS
Last Week: 28 ↓
Pace: 100.8 (12) OffRtg: 104.1 (28) DefRtg: 113.9 (29) NetRtg: -9.8 (29)
The Suns went into the break with a 15-game losing streak in which they allowed 119.8 points points per 100 possessions (most in the league over the last month before the break). They come out of the break with a couple of winnable games on the schedule, with four of their 11 wins having already come in Eastern Conference arenas. Josh Jackson has started the last 10 games, has seen an uptick in usage, and has shown flashes of being able to make plays (he had a stretch of five games where he dished out 21 assists) and get to the line (he had 10 free throw in a 27-point, seven-assist performance in Utah earlier this month). He's still got a long way to go, but the Suns seem set on playing their young core pieces -- DeAndre Ayton, Devin Booker, Mikal Bridges and Jackson -- together for the remainder of the season.
Week 19: @ CLE, @ ATL
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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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