Power Rankings

Power Rankings, Week 20: Blazers, Nuggets make their move

February is a strange month on the schedule. Over the first 14 days, teams could be looking forward to the All-Star break. And over the last eight days, teams are recovering from (at least) a full week off.

So the month could feature some strange results (there were a couple of those on Sunday) and some strange numbers. Just look at the top 10 in offensive efficiency in February. Three of those 10 teams — Chicago, Detroit and Orlando — rank in the bottom 10 offensively for the season as a whole.

The Bulls, amazingly, rank 30th offensively this season, but are first in the month of February. Maybe the addition of Otto Porter Jr. was a missing puzzle piece. And maybe both the Pistons (with Reggie Jackson playing the best basketball of his career) and Magic (with improved bench play) have found something in the urgency of a playoff race. Time will tell if the results are real or just a product of February’s disjointed schedule.

For the Milwaukee Bucks, it doesn’t seem to matter what month it is. Their offense has had some hiccups in the two weeks surrounding the break, but the only loss they’ve suffered this month was in the game they played without Giannis Antetokounmpo. So they remain at No. 1 in the rankings for the fourth straight week.


Plus-Minus Players of the Week

Teams of the Week

  • Make It Last Forever: Portland (2-0) — Neither of the Blazers’ starting guards scored more than 21 points in either of their two games last week. But their bigs beat up the Nets and Sixers inside as they began a seven-game trip with two comfortable wins.
  • Something Just Ain’t Right: Miami (0-2) — In one of their biggest games of the season, on their home floor and with a rest advantage, the Heat lost to the Pistons by 23 points.

East vs. West

Schedule strength through Week 19

  • Toughest: 1. Phoenix, 2. Utah, 3. New York
  • Easiest: 1. Indiana, 2. Oklahoma City, 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: Houston (+3), Indiana (+3), Four teams (+2)
  • Free falls of the week: Boston (-4), Philadelphia (-4), Three teams (-2)

Week 20 Team to Watch

  • Denver — The Nuggets are healthy, have a four-game winning streak, and are just one game behind the first-place Warriors in the Western Conference. Of course, they have a much tougher remaining schedule than the champs (and both remaining head-to-head matchups are in Oakland), so their three-game lead for second over the Thunder is probably more relevant. They have two games left against OKC, and one of them is Tuesday in Denver. That will be followed by a game against the sixth-place Jazz on Thursday and a visit from the Pelicans on Saturday.

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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 109.4 points scored per 100 possessions this season.

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NBA.com’s Power Rankings, released every Monday during the season, are just one man’s opinion. If you have an issue with the rankings, or have a question or comment for John Schuhmann, send him an e-mail or contact him via Twitter.

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Last Week:1

Record: 45-14

Pace: 103.1 (6) OffRtg: 113.1 (4) DefRtg: 103.7 (1) NetRtg: +9.4 (1)

Since Christmas, the Bucks are 23-2 in games Giannis Antetokounmpo has played in and have outscored their opponents by 16.1 points per 100 possessions with the MVP front-runner on the floor. But on Thursday, they got just their third win in a game in which Antetokounmpo didn't have a positive plus-minus, beating the Celtics on Khris Middleton's game-winning 3-pointer (after Antetokounmpo drew two Celtics to the ball). Two nights later, after a four-game stretch in which they scored less than a point per possession, they had their best offensive game of the season (140 points on 104 possessions) in beating Minnesota despite getting outscored in the paint for just the third time. They now embark on a five-game, eight-day trip, with a chance to have an impact on the Western Conference playoff race.

Week 20: @ CHI. @ SAC, @ LAL, @ UTA

Last Week:2

Record: 42-17

Pace: 101.9 (10) OffRtg: 115.8 (1) DefRtg: 109.2 (15) NetRtg: +6.6 (2)

The Warriors are tied for the league lead with 12 wins after trailing by double-digits. But every team has a losing record after trailing by double-digits and the champs have now trailed by double-digits in seven of their last nine games, in part because their five-star starting lineup has been outscored by 24 points (with bad numbers on both ends of the floor) in its 45 first-quarter minutes over that stretch. DeMarcus Cousins was a plus-45 in his first two games with his new team, but The Boogie Experiment hasn't worked very well since then (even though the Warriors are still 11-2 in games he's played). They came back from 11 points down against Sacramento on Thursday (with Stephen Curry draining 10 3-pointers for the fifth time this season) and from 20 points down against Houston on Saturday, but didn't have enough gas in the tank to finish off the second of those two comebacks and have just a one-game lead atop the Western Conference as they head out on one of their two remaining four-game road trips.

Week 20: @ CHA, @ MIA, @ ORL, @ PHI

Last Week:5

Record: 41-18

Pace: 98.7 (26) OffRtg: 113.3 (3) DefRtg: 107.8 (10) NetRtg: +5.5 (4)

The Nuggets have quickly returned to the top 10 in defensive efficiency (after ranking as low as 15th two weeks ago) by allowing just 95.7 points per 100 possessions over their last four games (and handing the LA Clippers their worst offensive game of the season on Sunday). A healthy Paul Millsap really makes a difference; He has averaged 21 points (on 56 percent shooting) and 14 rebounds over the last three games and the Nuggets have allowed just 102.8 points per 100 possessions in 1,058 total minutes with he and Nikola Jokic on the floor together. They look like the second-best team in the Western Conference again, and they'll have a chance to prove it when they host the Thunder on Tuesday, having had the league's best defense vs. OKC (less than a point allowed per possession in two wins) so far this season.

Week 20: vs. OKC, vs. UTA, vs. NOP

Last Week:4

Record: 38-21

Pace: 104.1 (3) OffRtg: 110.5 (12) DefRtg: 105.6 (3) NetRtg: +4.9 (6)

There are two ways to look at the Thunder's 16-18 record in games that were within five points in the last five minutes. On the negative side, their top-three defense ranks 16th in the clutch, they rank 28th in clutch 3-point percentage. Additionally, Paul George (3-for-12) and Russell Westbrook (3-for-15) have combined to shoot 6-for-27 (including 2-for-15 from 3-point range) on shots to tie or take the lead in the final minute of the fourth quarter or overtime (even after George's game-winner against Utah on Friday). But 18 losses in clutch games means that there have been only three times this season where the Thunder didn't have at least a decent chance to win. They've trailed just five games by 20 points or more and they've come back to win two of the five. Every other team has at least six losses that weren't within five points in the last five minutes.


Week 20: @ DEN, vs. PHI, @ SAS, vs. MEM

Last Week:3

Record: 44-17

Pace: 100.6 (15) OffRtg: 112.3 (7) DefRtg: 107.5 (8) NetRtg: +4.8 (7)

There's still time for the Raptors to tinker with lineups and figure out how their new pieces best fit together. But it's not clear if there's anything to glean from Marc Gasol's first start (Sunday against Orlando) in that it was an ugly afternoon game in which Kawhi Leonard didn't play. Another issue in regard to data collection is that their game against the Celtics on Tuesday is the Raptors' last within the top five in the East. With three games in the loss column separating them from the first-place Bucks and another three games in the loss column separating them from the third-place Pacers, no team (well, other than the Bucks) is more locked into its playoff seed than the Raptors. After hosting Boston and Portland this week, they will play 15 of their final 19 games against teams that currently have losing records. They do have eight games remaining against potential first-round opponents (the five teams that currently rank No. 6-10 in the East). Amazingly though, the next four of those are on Sundays.


Week 20: vs. BOS, vs. POR, @ DET

Last Week:8

Record: 36-23

Pace: 100.2 (18) OffRtg: 112.5 (5) DefRtg: 109.2 (16) NetRtg: +3.3 (8)

The Blazers rank 29th in post-break 3-point percentage (21.8 percent), but with the addition of Enes Kanter, they have a pair of bruising centers who both got to eat in their first two games out of the break. Jusuf Nurkic and Kanter combined for 85 points (on 33-for-51 shooting) and 39 rebounds as the Blazers outscored Brooklyn 66-56 in the paint on Thursday and outrebounded Philadelphia 53-33 on Saturday. "Our offense is going to be fine," Terry Stotts said after the Brooklyn win, before acknowledging the issue with Kanter on the other end of the floor. "Defensively, it's going to be a challenge." The Blazers are now 15-4 against the Eastern Conference and 2-0 on the seven-game trip that continues this week and includes two games -- Wednesday in Boston and Friday in Toronto -- against top-10 offenses.

Week 20: @ CLE, @ BOS, @ TOR, @ CHA

Last Week:10

Record: 40-20

Pace: 98.9 (25) OffRtg: 109.6 (15) DefRtg: 104.2 (2) NetRtg: +5.4 (5)

While the two high-profile teams -- the Sixers and Celtics -- behind them in the standings have stumbled out of the break, the Pacers have continued to roll, even with Myles Turner missing both of their weekend games with a bruised hip. With Bojan Bogdanovic, Wesley Matthews and Thaddeus Young all averaging 19 points (on a combined effective field goal percentage of 61 percent), they scored more than 118 points per 100 possessions over the two games, have won eight of their last nine, and (because they have the league's second best defense) are now 31-1 in games in which they've scored more efficiently than the league average (109.4 per 100). They have the East's toughest remaining schedule in regard to the quality of defenses they'll play, though five of the 12 games they have against the top 11 in defensive efficiency are against the Pistons and Magic.

Week 20: @ DET, @ DAL, vs. MIN, vs. ORL

Last Week:11

Record: 34-25

Pace: 98.3 (28) OffRtg: 114.1 (2) DefRtg: 112.0 (25) NetRtg: +2.1 (11)

Were the Rockets' first two post-break games evidence that super-high-usage James Harden isn't the best thing for this team? On Thursday in L.A., Harden shot 2-for-7 (with no free throw attempts) in the fourth quarter as the Rockets lost a game in which they had a 19-point lead. And on Saturday, they won without Harden at Golden State (improving to 3-0 against the champs), with Chris Paul dropping 23 points and 17 assists in just 36 minutes. The most important thing might be that they've allowed fewer points per 100 possessions than the league average in two straight games for the first time since December. But keeping the reigning Kia MVP fresh so that their offense doesn't sputter late in games and late in April should be another goal down the stretch. If Paul is no longer playing both games of back-to-backs, he'll sit at least four more times, including once this week. The Rockets play in Charlotte on Wednesday and at home against Miami on Thursday.

Week 20: vs. ATL, @ CHA, vs. MIA, @ BOS

Last Week:9

Record: 33-26

Pace: 100.7 (14) OffRtg: 108.9 (18) DefRtg: 105.8 (4) NetRtg: +3.1 (10)

The Jazz have the structure of a good offense. Only three teams -- Houston, Milwaukee and Atlanta -- have taken a greater percentage of their shots from the restricted area or 3-point range, a reason they rank higher in effective field goal percentage (13th) than they do in straight field goal percentage (15th). And they rank even higher in true shooting percentage (11th), because they have the league's third-highest free throw rate, attempting 30 freebies for every 100 shots from the field. But you can't shoot efficient shots or get to the line if you turn the ball over, and sloppiness has been an issue for the Jazz. They rank 26th in turnover rate (15.1 per 100 possessions) and had 25 (including eight in clutch time) in their double-OT loss in Oklahoma City on Friday. This week (a back-to-back and then a game Saturday against the best team in the league) presents the toughest three-game stretch they have left on their schedule.

Week 20: vs. LAC, @ DEN, vs. MIL

Last Week:6

Record: 37-23

Pace: 100.2 (17) OffRtg: 111.7 (10) DefRtg: 105.9 (5) NetRtg: +5.8 (3)

The Celtics have won the last six games they've played without Kyrie Irving, but have now lost the last four they've played with him, and the mixed messages from the locker correspond with the mixed results on the floor. Irving scored 37 points (on 14-for-24 shooting) and dished out 10 assists in Chicago on Saturday, but Terry Rozier had a terrible game off the bench and the Celtics allowed 126 points on 100 possessions (making it their third worst defensive game of the season). Rozier ranks sixth in assist-turnover ratio among players that have averaged at least 20 minutes per game, but (having shot 3-for-17 in two post-break games) is in the bottom 15 in effective field goal percentage (300 or more field goal attempts) and the Celtics' offense has been at its worst (104.0 points scored per 100 possessions) with him on the floor. The Celtics are still 7-4 against the four teams ahead of them in the East standings, but that's broken down to 6-1 at home and 1-3 on the road, with a big game in Toronto on Tuesday.

Week 20: @ TOR, vs. POR, vs. WAS, vs. HOU

Last Week:7

Record: 38-22

Pace: 102.6 (7) OffRtg: 111.8 (9) DefRtg: 108.6 (13) NetRtg: +3.2 (9)

As talented as the rest of their starting lineup is, the Sixers need Joel Embiid. He missed their first two post-break games and is out for at least one more because of left knee soreness. They survived against Miami on Thursday, but got hammered in the third quarter against Portland on Saturday and have now allowed 117 points per 100 possessions in the six games that Embiid has missed this season (they're 2-4 in those games). His impact is also felt on the other end of the floor by J.J. Redick, who (after shooting 1-for-10 on Saturday) has an effective field goal percentage of just 49.8 percent (on 204 shots) with Embiid off the floor, compared to 58.2 percent (on 558 shots) with Embiid on the floor. The Sixers have lost 19 straight games to the Thunder and are the only team that has never beat them in Oklahoma City, where they'll play on Thursday.

Week 20: @ NOP, @ OKC, vs. GSW

Last Week:12

Record: 31-28

Pace: 104.3 (2) OffRtg: 108.7 (19) DefRtg: 109.9 (18) NetRtg: -1.2 (23)

The Kings almost got road wins over two of the three best teams in the West last week. But, after draining two 3-pointers to give his team a chance to win (and after a weird exchange with coach Dave Joerger), Buddy Hield passed up an open look for the win in Oakland on Thursday. Hield responded with 34 points in the Kings' win in Oklahoma City two nights later and Marvin Bagley continues to show improvement almost every game. The rookie totaled 47 points and 24 rebounds in Oakland and OKC and is a big reason why the Kings have attempted more free throws than their opponents in each of their last seven games, having done so just twice in their previous 19. They're tied in the loss column with the eighth-place Clippers, who will be in Sacramento on Friday (having won the previous three meetings).

Week 20: @ MIN, vs. MIL, vs. LAC

Last Week:14

Record: 33-28

Pace: 102.4 (9) OffRtg: 110.4 (13) DefRtg: 110.1 (19) NetRtg: +0.4 (14)

The Clippers are still hanging onto eighth place in the West and still heavily dependent on their reserves. With all their changes, they still have just one starter -- Danilo Gallinari -- who can score somewhat consistently and/or prolifically. Their latest starting lineup (with Landry Shamet and Ivica Zubac) has good numbers defensively, but has scored just 86 points on its 92 offensive possessions, and their loss in Denver on Sunday (with their starting backcourt shooting 0-for-10) was their worst offensive game of the season. The Clippers have the league's most home-heavy remaining schedule (with 14 of 21 at Staples Center, though they're the visiting team for one of those), but their most important game left to play is in Sacramento (where the Kings have won nine of their last 10) on Friday.

Week 20: vs. DAL, @ UTA, @ SAC, vs. NYK

Last Week:13

Record: 33-28

Pace: 99.3 (21) OffRtg: 112.5 (6) DefRtg: 111.9 (24) NetRtg: +0.6 (13)

The Spurs have one more chance (Monday in Brooklyn) to salvage this rodeo trip, having allowed their opponents to score an amazing 124.9 points per 100 possessions as they've lost six of the first seven games. Four of the six losses have been one of the five most efficient offensive games of the season for the Spurs' opponent. Not only were they the first visiting team to lose at Madison Square Garden in more than 12 weeks, and not only did they lose all four quarters on Sunday, but it was the Knicks' most efficient game (130 points on 98 possessions) in almost five years (since Mar. 12, 2014). They're now tied in the loss column with the eighth-place Clippers and ninth-place Kings, but DeMar DeRozan's 360 layups are the coolest thing ever. After the game in Brooklyn, they'll play eight of their next 10 at home, where they're 16-3 since Dec. 1. They've allowed 9.1 fewer points per 100 possessions at home than they have on the road -- the league's biggest home-road DefRtg differential.

Week 20: @ BKN, vs. DET, vs. OKC

Last Week:15

Record: 31-30

Pace: 100.9 (11) OffRtg: 109.3 (17) DefRtg: 109.9 (17) NetRtg: -0.5 (17)

D'Angelo Russell had a rough night in the Nets' first game out of the break, shooting 4-for-16 and registering a game-low minus-30 as the Nets got beat up inside by the Blazers. He had a star moment two nights later in Charlotte, saving the Nets after they blew a 19-point lead in one of their most important games of the season by scoring their final 12 points (and tying a career high with 40 total) on his birthday. Among 27 players with at least 50 clutch field goal attempts, only Kyrie Irving has a higher effective field goal percentage than Russell, who's the third Nets player -- Spencer Dinwiddie (tied for the lead league with six) and Joe Harris (five) are the others -- with at least four buckets to tie or take the lead in the final minute of the fourth quarter or overtime (only 18 other players have as many). They're still waiting on the return of Dinwiddie, but have been starting Caris LeVert to help him find his rhythm. LeVert has shot just 35 percent in his five games since returning from a near-three-month absence.

Week 20: vs. SAS, vs. WAS, vs. CHA, @ MIA

Last Week:16

Record: 28-33

Pace: 98.7 (27) OffRtg: 106.8 (23) DefRtg: 107.7 (9) NetRtg: -0.8 (19)

The Magic should probably be in eighth place now. But they're 8-2 in their last 10 games and not 9-1, because Aaron Gordon fouled Lauri Markkanen (pretty blatantly) on a 3-point attempt with 1.5 seconds left (and because the Magic shot 13-for-24 on their own free throws) on Friday. The Magic starting lineup hasn't been much better over this 10-2 stretch (plus-6.0 points per 100 possessions) than it was prior (plus-4.2). But bench minutes have been much better and it might not be a coincidence that the run almost coincides with an injury to Mo Bamba, who has the third-worst on-court NetRtg (minus-15.2) among 299 players that have averaged at least 15 minutes in 25 games or more. Khem Birch has taken Bamba's spot in the rotation and the Magic have outscored their opponents by 11.7 points per 100 possessions (and allowed less than 94 per 100) in 149 minutes with Birch on the floor over the last nine games.

Week 20: @ NYK, vs. GSW, @ IND, @ CLE

Last Week:18

Record: 28-30

Pace: 98.9 (23) OffRtg: 107.1 (22) DefRtg: 108.2 (11) NetRtg: -1.1 (21)

The Pistons have moved into seventh place in the East by winning six of their last seven games with the league's best offense (120.1 points scored per 100 possessions) over that three-week stretch. Their three highest paid players have continued to lead the way, but Detroit got the game-winning 3-pointer from Thon Maker in Atlanta on Friday and big games off the bench (56 total points) from Langston Galloway, Luke Kennard and Ish Smith in Miami on Saturday. The improved offense has been mostly about improved shooting (both in and outside the paint), but the Pistons also rank fourth in free throw rate (30 attempts per 100 shots from the field) over the last three weeks. Andre Drummond has made 68 percent of his freebies (and shooting 2-for-2 for the tie in the final minute on Friday) over the seven games.

Week 20: vs. IND, @ SAS, @ CLE, vs. TOR

Last Week:19

Record: 27-34

Pace: 103.1 (5) OffRtg: 112.2 (8) DefRtg: 111.6 (22) NetRtg: +0.7 (12)

Since he returned from his injury/trade-request absence, the Pelicans have been almost 19 points per 100 possessions better with Anthony Davis on the floor (plus-7.5) than they've been with him off it (minus-11.4). But they beat the Lakers without Davis on Saturday and one reason for the differential is Davis having played most (98/118) of those minutes with Jrue Holiday. He has an on-off differential of 32 points per 100 possessions (with the Pelicans having scored just 85 per 100 in his 101 minutes on the bench) over that same stretch. It remains unclear why Davis is playing at all, but if he's no longer playing both games of back-to-backs, he'll miss at least two more -- including one this week (Friday in Phoenix or Saturday in Denver).

Week 20: vs. PHI, @ LAL, @ PHX, @ DEN

Last Week:17

Record: 29-30

Pace: 103.9 (4) OffRtg: 107.4 (21) DefRtg: 108.4 (12) NetRtg: -1.1 (20)

The Lakers aren't going to make the playoffs if every step forward is followed by a step back. They came back from 19 points down to beat the Rockets on Thursday, but there was no comeback in New Orleans two nights later. They haven't won two straight games in more than five weeks. With Lonzo Ball out and Rajon Rondo coming off the bench, LeBron James is essentially the team's starting point guard ... while also playing a good chunk of minutes at center. Since his return from injury, those (70) James-at-center minutes have been ugly on both ends of the floor, with the Lakers and their opponents both scoring less than a point per possession. James' teams have finished no worse than sixth in offensive efficiency in the last 10 years and have never finished in the bottom 10. The 18 games he's missed have obviously had an impact on their overall offense, but in the 41 games he's played, the Lakers have scored just 108.6 points per 100 possessions, a rate which would rank 20th.

Week 20: @ MEM, vs. NOP, vs. MIL, @ PHX

Last Week:20

Record: 28-31

Pace: 100.8 (13) OffRtg: 110.6 (11) DefRtg: 110.6 (20) NetRtg: +0.0 (15)

Playing without Karl-Anthony Towns (whose string of 303 straight games played to start his career ended Friday because of a concussion suffered in a car accident), the Wolves got big games from Taj Gibson (39 total points) and their bench (with Luol Deng registering a plus-32 in 48 minutes) over the weekend. They won in New York on Friday and had a chance to beat the best team in the league on the road and with a rest disadvantage on Saturday. But a two-point, fourth-quarter lead in Milwaukee turned into a 14-point deficit with a six-minute stretch in which they shot 1-for-10 with three turnovers. Despite the absences of Towns, Robert Covington and Gorgui Dieng, interim coach Ryan Saunders has been playing a 10-man rotation (normal in other places, weird in Minnesota), with rookie Keita Bates-Diop getting his first real chance to play. The Wolves have outscored their opponents by 11.8 points per 100 possessions in 115 total minutes with veterans Deng and Anthony Tolliver (who submitted an entry for the Block of the Year contest on Saturday) on the floor together.


Week 20: vs. SAC, @ ATL, @ IND, @ WAS

Last Week:23

Record: 28-31

Pace: 99.7 (20) OffRtg: 110.4 (14) DefRtg: 110.8 (21) NetRtg: -0.5 (16)

The Hornets made a lineup change (Jeremy Lamb out, Miles Bridges in) coming out of the break, and the new group outrebounded its opponents 33-17 in its 27 minutes over the weekend. But the Hornets have still been outscored by an incredible 53 points over their last four first quarters, having allowed their opponents to score 137 points on just 94 opening-quarter possessions over that stretch (with three of the league's top five offenses coming to town this week). They came back to take the lead in both of their weekend games, beat Washington with one of Nicolas Batum's best games of the season, and had a chance to move into sixth place on Saturday. But D'Angelo Russell's late-game flurry (12 points on five possessions) dropped Charlotte to a painful 9-17 in games that were within five points in the last five minutes.

Week 20: vs. GSW, vs. HOU, @ BKN, vs. POR

Last Week:21

Record: 26-32

Pace: 98.9 (24) OffRtg: 105.8 (25) DefRtg: 106.9 (7) NetRtg: -1.1 (22)

The Heat got Goran Dragic back from a 10-week absence on Saturday, and there was at least one display (a fast-break bucket late in the first quarter) of how he can help the offense that ranks last (102.6 points scored per 100 possessions) as the Heat have lost eight of their last 10 games. But the loss to the Pistons (who were playing the second game of a back-to-back) was their fifth straight at home, wasn't close, and was a blow in the quest to have #OneLastDance finish with #OneLastPostseason. The Heat are still just a game in the loss column behind the eighth-place Hornets and still have six games within that No. 6-10 group in the East. However, they have the worst record (3-7) in games played between those five teams thus far.

Week 20: vs. PHX, vs. GSW, @ HOU, vs. BKN

Last Week:22

Record: 26-33

Pace: 100.0 (19) OffRtg: 108.2 (20) DefRtg: 108.9 (14) NetRtg: -0.7 (18)

Luka Doncic has sat out the Mavs' first two post-break games and is questionable for their game against the Clippers on Monday. Dallas has lost four straight and has been outrebounded in six straight, with the Nuggets grabbing a season-high 21 offensive boards on Friday. With the Luka-for-ROY campaign on hiatus, the get-Dirk-Nowitzki-into-the-top-six campaign took precedence on Saturday. He got his first start of the season, played a season-high 25 minutes and scored a season-high 15 points in Utah to get a little closer to Wilt Chamberlain on the all-time scoring list. Nowitzki still hasn't scored (he's 0-for-1) within five feet of the basket this season, but with 23 games left to play, he needs just 92 points to pass Chamberlain.

Week 20: @ LAC, vs. IND, vs. MEM

Last Week:26

Record: 16-44

Pace: 99.3 (22) OffRtg: 103.7 (30) DefRtg: 111.7 (23) NetRtg: -8.0 (27)

Amazingly, the team that ranks No. 1 offensively in February (118.4 points scored per 100 possessions) still ranks 30th for the season as a whole. That, of course, says a lot about how bad the Bulls' offense was prior to this month. But they're definitely on their way out of the basement, having scored almost 123 points per 100 possessions in 147 minutes with Zach LaVine, Otto Porter and Lauri Markkanen on the floor together since Porter's arrival, with their last four games having come against top-10 defenses. On Saturday, two of those three guys -- LaVine (42 points) and Markannen (35) -- registered career highs in their win over Celtics, which made the Bulls 4-2 in their last six spoiler games (against the 21 teams -- 10 in the East and 11 in the West -- still fighting for playoff spots).

Week 20: vs. MIL, @ MEM, @ ATL, vs. ATL

Last Week:25

Record: 20-40

Pace: 104.6 (1) OffRtg: 106.1 (24) DefRtg: 112.7 (27) NetRtg: -6.5 (26)

Trae Young came out of the break with 53 points, 18 assists and just six turnovers as the Hawks split a pair of games that featured wild, back-and-forth fourth quarters. They're now 14-11 in games that were within five points in the last five minutes, with Young having taken more than twice as many shots in the clutch as any of his teammates. He's been decent on clutch 3-pointers (6-for-17, though he missed a long one for the tie on Friday) and is one of six players who have shot 90 percent or better on at least 20 clutch free throws. With Kevin Huerter (sprained left ankle) out, Kent Bazemore got his first two starts of 2019 and hit a season-high five 3-pointers in the Hawks' win over Phoenix on Saturday.


Week 20: @ HOU, vs. MIN, vs. CHI, @ CHI

Last Week:24

Record: 24-36

Pace: 102.6 (8) OffRtg: 109.5 (16) DefRtg: 112.5 (26) NetRtg: -3.0 (24)

Bradley Beal, the league leader in total minutes played, has logged 41 minutes or more in each of the Wizards' last four games ... and (even with Beal scoring scored 81 points in their first two games out of the break) the Wizards have lost all four, essentially putting the $50 deposit down on their Lottery reservation. Even with the heavy minutes, Beal is having the second-most efficient month of his career (true shooting percentage of 64.8 percent), but the Wizards have the league's 29th-ranked defense in February (120 points allowed per 100 possessions), ranking last in both points per game allowed in the restricted area (50.2) and opponent 3-point percentage (42.7 percent).

Week 20: @ BKN, @ BOS, vs. MIN

Last Week:28

Record: 14-46

Pace: 97.2 (29) OffRtg: 105.5 (26) DefRtg: 115.9 (30) NetRtg: -10.3 (30)

Kevin Love played just 48 total minutes over the Cavs' two games last week, but he scored 48 points and grabbed 23 rebounds in those 48 minutes, and it's noteworthy that he's been assisted (by five different teammates) on 17 of his 20 buckets since his return. The Cavs registered their highest assist rate of the season (recording assists on 81 percent of their buckets) in their win over Phoenix on Thursday and have now won the last three games that Love has played in. It's the first time they've won three out of four all season, and it's been their best four-game stretch of defense (106.5 points allowed per 100 possessions) since Thanksgiving. It must be said that the three wins have come against opponents -- New York, Phoenix and Memphis -- that rank in the bottom four in offensive efficiency, but they have three more games against bottom-10 offenses this week.

Week 20: vs. POR, @ NYK, vs. DET, vs. ORL

Last Week:27

Record: 23-38

Pace: 96.3 (30) OffRtg: 103.9 (29) DefRtg: 106.9 (6) NetRtg: -3.0 (25)

The Grizzlies have enough competent vets to play spoiler down the stretch, and they gave the Clippers a scare on Friday by erasing a 22-point deficit before shooting 3-for-11 over the last six minutes. But this team should be playing for the future and the centerpiece of that future -- Jaren Jackson Jr. -- is out indefinitely with a right quad injury. With Jackson out, Joakim Noah (who has totaled 38 points and 18 rebounds in two post-break games) and Jonas Valanciunas played more than five minutes together (with Noah assisting Valanciunas on a late, go-ahead 3-pointer) in their loss in Cleveland on Saturday.

Week 20: vs. LAL, vs. CHI, @ DAL, @ OKC

Last Week:29

Record: 12-48

Pace: 100.4 (16) OffRtg: 104.7 (27) DefRtg: 112.7 (28) NetRtg: -8.0 (28)

The Knicks finally put an end to their 18-game losing streak at Madison Square Garden, which began right after Mario Hezonja stepped over Giannis Antetokounmpo more than 12 weeks ago. Their win over the Spurs on Sunday was their best offensive game of the season (130 points on 98 possessions), with Dennis Smith Jr. dishing out 13 assists without committing a single turnover (two nights after the Knicks had just 15 assists total against Minnesota). Seven of those assists went to Damyean Dotson, who has started eight of the last 10 games (benefiting from the absence of Frank Ntilikina) and made 13 3-pointers over the weekend. Only Stephen Curry (15) has made more threes out of the All-Star break.


Week 20: vs. ORL, vs. CLE, @ LAC

Last Week:30

Record: 11-50

Pace: 100.9 (12) OffRtg: 104.0 (28) DefRtg: 113.8 (29) NetRtg: -9.8 (29)

The Suns still have home games against the other three teams that have lost at least 80 percent of their games, but they had a couple of opportunities (with second-half leads) to put an end to their losing streak (now at 17 games, one shy of the 18-game streak that the Knicks had before the break) in Cleveland or Atlanta last week, and they fell short both nights. Deandre Ayton is on pace to be just the seventh rookie in the last 25 years to average a double-double, but his team ranks last in defensive rebounding percentage (and has been brutal in that regard with him off the floor). The Suns have grabbed less than 2/3 of available defensive boards over the course of the losing streak, with 10 of the 17 opponents (including the Hawks on Saturday) having registered at least 18 second-chance points.

Week 20: @ MIA, vs. NOP, vs. LAL

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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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