Power Rankings

Power Rankings, Week 26: Warriors remain favorites ... and East remains wide open

Back in October, the Golden State Warriors were the favorites to win their third straight championship. And with just 22 games left to be played in the regular season, the Warriors remain the pick.

But not everything has gone as expected over the last six months. The next two months aren’t only about who takes home the Larry O’Brien trophy and the regular season has set us up for what should be a fun four rounds of playoffs.

With the Cleveland Cavaliers back in Lotteryville, there will be a new champion in the Eastern Conference. And though there’s been a clear best team in the East this season, any of four contenders could be in The Finals come June.

In the Western Conference, the Houston Rockets look like a real threat to the Warriors again. But every West playoff team has the talent to get through a round or two.

Before we can get there, there is still some regular-season business to take care of. With two days of games remaining, only one playoff series is locked in. Boston Celtics-Indiana Pacers will be the No. 4-vs.-No. 5 series in the East, and it will start in Boston on Saturday or Sunday.

The Milwaukee Bucks, Toronto Raptors and Philadelphia 76ers know what their seeds are (No. 1, 2 and 3, respectively), but don’t know who they’ll be playing this weekend. The Brooklyn Nets and Orlando Magic are in (giving us at least four new playoff teams this year), and the Detroit Pistons, Charlotte Hornets and Miami Heat are playing for the final spot in the East.

The Warriors are the No. 1 seed in the West, but everything beyond that is fluid. And here’s a reminder: In each of the last 12 years (from 2007-18), at least one team with home-court advantage has lost a first-round series. Of the 23 first-round upsets over that span, 14 have come in a No. 4-5 series, but nine did not.


  • Last week: East race gets even tighter as playoffs near
  • This time last year: Cavs and Warriors look vulnerable as regular season closes — With three days left in the season, no playoff matchups were set. Three games separated the third-place Blazers from the ninth-place Nuggets in the West, with the Wolves looking to end their 13-year playoff drought. Dennis Smith Jr. brought the dunk contest to a game against Portland and Chris Paul hit a game-winner for the Rockets, who were going into the playoffs as the overall No. 1 seed. The Sixers went in with a 16-game winning streak, the Warriors went in without Stephen Curry, and the Cavs went in with the league’s 29th-ranked defense. The Suns were set to finish last in both offensive and defensive efficiency, but Tyson Chandler said, “I think we can make the playoffs next year with the proper moves, to be honest.”

Plus-Minus Players of the Week

Plus-Minus Players of the Season

Teams of the Week

  • Make It Last Forever: Houston (4-0) — Five the Rockets’ wins on a six-game winning streak have been by 24 points or more.
  • Something Just Ain’t Right: LA Clippers (0-3) — The Clippers put themselves back in eighth place with a three-game losing streak, with the five-point loss to the Lakers (in which they held a 12-point lead) probably hurting more than the blowouts at the hands of the Rockets and Warriors.

East vs. West

  • The West is 251-196 (.562) against the East in interconference games after going 11-1 last week and with three interconference games remaining. This was the 19th time in the last 20 years that the West had a better record and this was the East’s worst record of the last four seasons.

Schedule strength through Week 25

  • Toughest: 1. New York, 2. Phoenix, 3. Dallas
  • Easiest: 1. Milwaukee, 2. Toronto, 3. Indiana
  • 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: Brooklyn (+3), Charlotte (+3), Three teams (+2)
  • Free falls of the week: Miami (-3), Detroit (-2), Indiana (-2), LA Clippers (-2)

Week 26 Team to Watch

  • Detroit — The Pistons have lost four straight games (and seven of their last nine), but still control their own destiny. If they win both of their remaining games — Tuesday against Memphis and Wednesday in New York — they’re in the playoffs. If they lose one, the Hornets have a chance. And if they lose both (and Charlotte loses at least one of its games), the Heat have a chance.

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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 109.7 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: 56-24

Pace: 101.8 (10) OffRtg: 115.0 (1) DefRtg: 108.4 (11) NetRtg: +6.6 (2)

The Warriors have clinched home-court advantage throughout the Western Conference playoffs, though they have just the fifth-best point differential per 100 possessions (plus-5.7) in home games within the Western Conference. They would need to win both of their remaining games to avoid finishing with their worst record in their five seasons under coach Steve Kerr. They probably won't finish in the top 10 in defensive efficiency, but having allowed just 91.7 points per 100 possessions in Andrew Bogut's 160 minutes, the Warriors have climbed to 11th on that end of the floor. That's where they finished last season, when they went on to have the No. 1 defense in the playoffs. They know how to flip the switch and already made a key adjustment with Stephen Curry getting contact lenses, which just might be the difference-maker when it comes to picking the Warriors or the field.


Week 26: @ NOP, @ MEM

Last Week:2

Record: 60-21

Pace: 103.5 (5) OffRtg: 113.6 (3) DefRtg: 104.8 (1) NetRtg: +8.8 (1)

The Bucks clinched home-court advantage throughout the postseason with a big win in Philadelphia on Thursday that featured a game of dodge ball and Giannis Antetokounmpo adding to his Defensive Player of the Year resume by blocking (fellow candidate) Joel Embiid four times. They go in as the East's best team on both ends of the floor, overall, in games played within the conference and in games played between the top five. But they remain banged up, with Malcolm Brogdon possibly out beyond the first round. In the previous 22 seasons for which we have play-by-play data, the only teams that have ranked in the top three in both offensive and defensive efficiency in the regular season were the 2014-15 and '16-17 Warriors (both of which won the NBA title). Over that same time, 14 teams have outscored their opponents by 8.5 or more points per 100 possessions (and seven of those 14 won the title).

Week 26: vs. OKC

Last Week:3

Record: 53-28

Pace: 98.4 (27) OffRtg: 114.8 (2) DefRtg: 110.0 (17) NetRtg: +4.8 (5)

The Warriors have scored more points per 100 possessions (115.0) than any team in NBA history. At 114.8, the Rockets aren't far behind. Houston also ranks second in both offensive and defensive efficiency (with a 20-4 record) since the All-Star break. And with their 32-point road win over the Clippers on Wednesday, the Rockets are 14-5 since mid-November against Western Conference playoff teams, having scored 116.3 points per 100 possessions over those 19 games. They have the both the resume and the history of a team that can challenge the champs and certainly won't be short on motivation should they get their rematch. That rematch is no given, though, because there are no easy outs in the West.

Week 26: @ OKC

Last Week:4

Record: 57-24

Pace: 100.5 (15) OffRtg: 112.5 (5) DefRtg: 106.9 (5) NetRtg: +5.6 (3)

The Raptors have been playing their full rotation, with home-court advantage in a possible Finals series against the Warriors still in the air. And some of the teams that have been fighting for the last few playoff spots in the East have paid the price, with Toronto going 3-1 against the Magic, Nets, Hornets and Heat last week. They're now 10-4 with Kyle Lowry, Kawhi Leonard and Marc Gasol, and they've outscored their opponents by almost 15 points per 100 possessions in 215 minutes with all three on the floor. They still have questions regarding their bench, though. Since Fred VanVleet's return from a thumb injury, they've been outscored by 3.1 points per 100 possessions with VanVleet, Norman Powell and Serge Ibaka on the floor together. But with one more game to play, they're in the top five in both offensive and defensive efficiency for the second straight season.

Week 26: @ MIN

Last Week:5

Record: 53-27

Pace: 98.6 (26) OffRtg: 112.2 (7) DefRtg: 108.0 (10) NetRtg: +4.2 (7)

The Nuggets will likely enter the playoffs as the only Western Conference team in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency. They're still holding onto the No. 2 seed, but their strategy (if that's what it was) in giving a game away in Portland on Sunday -- resting Jamal Murray, Paul Millsap and Nikola Jokic and then keeping Monte Morris, Gary Harris and Will Barton off the floor for the entire fourth quarter -- could backfire if it leads to them falling to third in the West behind Houston. It would also be ... interesting ... for the Nuggets to be plotting out their course beyond the first round, given that they're they're in a tough conference, have won only two playoff series in the last 25 years and have only three guys in their nine-man rotation with playoff experience. They are 7-1 at home vs. the four teams -- the Jazz, Thunder, Spurs and Clippers -- currently sitting 5-8 in the West, with the only loss (vs. Utah) having come back on Nov. 3.


Week 26: @ UTA, vs. MIN

Last Week:6

Record: 51-29

Pace: 100.0 (18) OffRtg: 113.4 (4) DefRtg: 109.3 (16) NetRtg: +4.1 (8)

The Blazers went 8-2 without C.J. McCollum, who returned to log 25 minutes in their win against Denver on Sunday. Four of those eight wins (and both losses) came after Jusuf Nurkic's season-ending injury. Enes Kanter has averaged 17.6 points (on 62 percent shooting) and 10.7 rebounds in his seven games as a starter and, more importantly, the Blazers have allowed just a point per possession in his 198 minutes on the floor over that stretch. Of course, four of the seven opponents had bottom-10 offenses. The only top-10 offense the Blazers faced over that stretch was that of the Nuggets, who rested three starters in the second of their two weekend meetings. It's very likely that the No. 4-5 series in the West is Portland-Utah, but the Blazers need one more win (or a Utah loss) to clinch home-court advantage. In splitting the season series, both the Blazers and Jazz won on each other's home floor.

Week 26: @ LAL, vs. SAC

Last Week:7

Record: 50-30

Pace: 102.7 (7) OffRtg: 111.5 (8) DefRtg: 108.8 (12) NetRtg: +2.7 (11)

It's still only been 14 months since the Sixers were 25-25 and tied for eighth place in the East. But they've since gone all-in on competing for a championship, trading young players and picks for two vets -- Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris -- that could leave this summer. With the playoffs just five days away, the number of games the Sixers' starting lineup has played together remains at 10, with Butler (back tightness) and/or Joel Embiid (left knee soreness) having missed each of the last five. A James Ennis quad injury (he's out through at least the first two games of the first round) is another hit to their depth, with possible replacements Shake Milton and Zhaire Smith having shot a combined 2-for-23 in April. The ceiling is high, but the questions remain and there's not a more fascinating team to watch over the next several weeks.

Week 26: @ MIA, vs. CHI

Last Week:9

Record: 49-31

Pace: 100.8 (14) OffRtg: 110.1 (15) DefRtg: 105.0 (2) NetRtg: +5.1 (4)

The Jazz were riding the easy-stretch-of-schedule wave to a possible top-four seed ... until they allowed the Lakers' skeleton squad to shoot 52 percent in a loss (on Sunday). That defeat may have illustrated the value of Derrick Favors (who has missed the last four games with back spasms) on defense. Their Jae-Crowder-at-the-four lineup has been much better offensively, but Favors ranks as the league's best rim protector (opponents have shot less than 50 percent at the rim when he's been there) and is the only player who has averaged at least 20 minutes in 40 games or more with his team allowing less than a point per possession with him on the floor. The Jazz won two road games in last year's playoffs and they need just one win to finish no worse than fifth, but the easy stretch of schedule is over and both of this week's opponents still have something to play for.

Week 26: vs. DEN, @ LAC

Last Week:11

Record: 48-33

Pace: 100.4 (16) OffRtg: 111.2 (10) DefRtg: 107.0 (6) NetRtg: +4.2 (6)

Once again, the Celtics are dealing with injuries as the playoffs arrive, with neither Jayson Tatum (shin contusion) nor Marcus Smart (oblique bruise) able to finish the their loss to Orlando on Sunday. The injuries appear minor and both players will have until at least Saturday to rest, because the season finale in Washington on Tuesday doesn't mean anything. Thanks, in part, to their win in Indiana on Friday, the Celtics are locked into the No. 4 seed and will begin the playoffs at home, where they're 7-1 against the other four teams in the East's top five. It took almost the whole season, but Gordon Hayward has been looking like his old self, averaging 16.9 points on 62 percent shooting (and leading the team in free throw attempts) over the last seven games.

Week 26: @ WAS

Last Week:8

Record: 47-34

Pace: 102.7 (8) OffRtg: 111.2 (9) DefRtg: 110.2 (19) NetRtg: +1.0 (13)

After a 13-2 March had the Clippers as high as fifth place, an 0-3 April has them back in eighth and in a potential matchup with the Warriors (who have beat the Clips by a total of 45 points in the last two meetings). Patrick Beverley (right hip pointer) has been out all three games and, with Lou Williams shooting 33 percent, L.A. has scored a paltry 102 points per 100 possessions over the losing streak. The Clippers can still move back up with some help from opponents of the Thunder and/or Spurs. No matter what, their return to the postseason (at the expense of, among others, their arena-mates) is one of the best stories in the league -- a story they can recount to free agents come July 1.

Week 26: vs. UTA

Last Week:10

Record: 47-34

Pace: 98.9 (22) OffRtg: 112.2 (6) DefRtg: 110.7 (21) NetRtg: +1.5 (12)

The Spurs are going to the playoffs for a 21st straight season. It's been a season of transition (not in a literal sense -- they rank 28th in fast break points) and maybe the most unique of those 21 seasons since they drafted Tim Duncan. Not only do they have a bottom-10 defense, but they've outscored their opponents by a total of just 30 points in 2,213 minutes with DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge on the floor together. They won five of their last eight road games, but with their 28-point loss in Denver on Wednesday, they go into the postseason with a 1-11 road record against the other West playoff teams. The one win was in L.A. on Dec. 29 and they're 0-7 on the road, having allowed 120.9 points per 100 possessions over the seven games, against the four teams -- Golden State, Denver, Houston and Portland -- that currently hold the No. 1-4 seeds.

Week 26: vs. DAL

Last Week:12

Record: 47-33

Pace: 103.4 (6) OffRtg: 109.6 (16) DefRtg: 106.3 (4) NetRtg: +3.3 (10)

The Thunder may have rediscovered their offense just in time. It's not that momentum matters going into the playoffs. It's that a three-game winning streak (over which they've scored 121 points per 100 possessions) has them in sixth place, from where they wouldn't face the Warriors in the first round. Russell Westbrook didn't just have the second 20-20-20 game in NBA history on Tuesday, he has 51 assists and just 10 turnovers over the winning streak. With the departure of Carmelo Anthony, the improvement from Paul George, and the drop in usage from Westbrook, this team is almost exactly where it was a year ago, when it finished 48-34 with a point differential per 100 possessions of plus-3.6. And since they lost with home-court advantage in the first round last season, maybe that isn't so important this time.


Week 26: vs. HOU, @ MIL

Last Week:15

Record: 41-40

Pace: 98.8 (23) OffRtg: 107.9 (22) DefRtg: 107.4 (8) NetRtg: +0.5 (14)

On the morning of Jan. 31, the Magic were 20-31 and in 11th place in the East. On trade deadline day, they were still five games in the loss column out of a playoff spot and surely had opportunities to sell off two rotation guys -- Nikola Vucevic and Terrence Ross -- on expiring contracts. But they held onto them, boasting the East's second-best record (21-9) and the league's best defense (104.3 points allowed per 100 possessions) since Jan. 31, all while ending the conference's longest playoff drought. Sunday's win in Boston clinched that feat as they finished the season with an 8-6 record (4-4 on the road and having allowed just 104.5 points per 100 possessions over the 14 games) against the top four teams in the East. Only the Bucks (9.1) and Kings (6.1) have seen a bigger improvement in point differential per 100 possessions from last season than the Magic (5.2).

Week 26: @ CHA

Last Week:17

Record: 41-40

Pace: 101.5 (11) OffRtg: 108.9 (19) DefRtg: 109.2 (15) NetRtg: -0.3 (15)

There were multiple times, including as recently as last week after losses at home to the Bucks and Raptors, when things looked dire for the Nets. But, after back-to-back road wins in Milwaukee and Indiana over the weekend, they're going to the playoffs for the first time in four seasons. They've seen the league's third-biggest increase in winning percentage and its fourth-biggest increase in points differential per 100 possessions (from minus-3.6 to minus-0.3), and they've done it with their top eight guys in minutes per game being guys that were on the roster last season. They'll either be the No. 6 or 7 seed and the No. 6 seed might be preferable given that they've scored 117.2 points per 100 possessions, the most among all Eastern Conference teams, against the Sixers.

Week 26: vs. MIA

Last Week:13

Record: 47-34

Pace: 98.6 (25) OffRtg: 109.1 (18) DefRtg: 105.7 (3) NetRtg: +3.4 (9)

After two losses to the Celtics in the last two weeks, the Pacers are set to start the playoffs in Boston. Only the Warriors (119.6 points scored per 100 possessions, plus-26.5 per 100) have scored more efficiently or outscored the Pacers by more points per 100 possessions than the Celtics have (117.6, plus-11.8). The matchup could call for extended minutes for Cory Joseph, who has had more success guarding Kyrie Irving than Darren Collison has. So it was encouraging to see Joseph make some shots (he was 5-for-9) in the Pacers' to Brooklyn on Sunday. He had shot 23 percent over his previous 15 games and ranks last in true shooting percentage among 175 players with at least 500 field goal attempts, with teammate Tyreke Evans ranking 174th.

Week 26: @ ATL

Last Week:14

Record: 39-41

Pace: 98.0 (28) OffRtg: 108.1 (21) DefRtg: 108.9 (13) NetRtg: -0.8 (17)

Fortunately for the Pistons, their last two games are against the Grizzlies and Knicks. Unfortunately for the Pistons, a four-game losing streak has them still needing to take care of business to make the playoffs. Even more concerning is that a knee injury has Blake Griffin playing at far less than 100 percent. He scored 45 points (with a career-high nine 3-pointers) in Oklahoma City on Friday upon his return from a three-game absence, but the Pistons' defense didn't hold up against the Thunder. And with Griffin hobbling through a 5-for-18 performance against Charlotte on Sunday and reserve wings Langston Galloway and Luke Kennard shooting a combined 28 percent over the last five games, the five games have been Detroit's worst offensive stretch (100.8 points scored per 100 possessions) since late January. They have the tiebreaker over Miami, but not over Charlotte. The Pistons need two of four games (their own and those of the Hornets) to go their way to clinch just their second playoff berth in the last 10 seasons.

Week 26: vs. MEM, @ NYK

Last Week:18

Record: 39-42

Pace: 104.0 (2) OffRtg: 109.3 (17) DefRtg: 110.5 (20) NetRtg: -1.1 (18)

The Kings are now tied for the second-longest playoff drought in NBA history (13 years) and a loss at home to the Pelicans on Sunday prevents them from finishing at .500. But this was a transformational season in Sacramento, because the Kings found an identity, developed a young core, and have seen the league's fourth-biggest increase in winning percentage. The league's biggest increase in pace (by a wide margin) came with the league's biggest improvement in offensive efficiency, with the Kings scoring 6.3 more points per 100 possessions than they did last season. There's promise for more improvement in the future, because 43 percent of the Kings' minutes have been played by rookies or second-year players. That's the league's third-highest rate, with the only two teams that have gotten a greater percentage of their minutes from first or second-year guys behind the two worst teams in the league (New York and Phoenix).

Week 26: @ POR

Last Week:21

Record: 38-42

Pace: 99.4 (20) OffRtg: 110.3 (13) DefRtg: 111.7 (22) NetRtg: -1.5 (22)

With a three-game winning streak, featuring another Jeremy Lamb game-winner against Toronto and a huge win in Detroit on Sunday, has kept the Hornets' playoff hopes alive. They've been outscored by 25 points over a longer 7-3 stretch, but they've won their last seven games that have been within five points in the last five minutes, with Kemba Walker shooting 15-for-23 in the clutch over that stretch. For the season, he's just 6-for-22 (including 1-for-10 from 3-point range) on shots to tie or take the lead in the final minute of the fourth quarter or overtime (no player has missed more), but Lamb is 5-for-6 (3-for-3 from three) after the game-winner on Friday. The Hornets have the tiebreakers over both Detroit and Miami, but still need help from at least one of the Pistons' opponents this week.

Week 26: @ CLE, vs. ORL

Last Week:16

Record: 38-42

Pace: 98.6 (24) OffRtg: 106.8 (25) DefRtg: 107.2 (7) NetRtg: -0.4 (16)

Thanks to the Hornets' win in Detroit on Sunday, the Heat are still alive. But to take Dwyane Wade to one last postseason, they'll need more help and have to win both of their games this week. That task would require them to discover offense that just hasn't been there of late. They've had seven straight below-average offensive games, with the only wins in that stretch coming against Dallas and New York. With their season on the line and with Josh Richardson playing just 16 minutes before suffering his second injury of the last two weeks, they've lost four straight games for the first time all season, shooting just 32 percent from 3-point range and registering a free throw rate of just 19 attempts per 100 shots from the field. The team that led the league in clutch 3-point percentage last season (39.2 percent) has ranked last in clutch 3-point percentage this season (21.2 percent), with Richardson being the only Heat player who has shot at least 20 percent on more than six clutch attempts.

Week 26: vs. PHI, @ BKN

Last Week:19

Record: 37-44

Pace: 103.7 (4) OffRtg: 107.4 (23) DefRtg: 109.0 (14) NetRtg: -1.5 (23)

The Lakers' five-year playoff drought met LeBron James' 13-year playoff streak. The drought won and the Lakers have the league's second worst record (with one more win than the Knicks) over the course of the playoff drought (now at six seasons). James aged a year, suffered the worst injury of his career, continued to show disinterest on defense and couldn't hold his team together in the midst of trade rumors. But he's still the only player who averaged at least 25 points, eight rebounds and eight assists this season, and he did it with the fifth-best effective field goal percentage of his career. The Lakers head into a long offseason with increased pressure to put better players around James (who will turn 35 next season) and the knowledge that playmakers instead of shooters isn't the right formula.

Week 26: vs. POR

Last Week:20

Record: 36-44

Pace: 101.0 (13) OffRtg: 110.8 (11) DefRtg: 112.2 (24) NetRtg: -1.4 (20)

In Karl-Anthony Towns, the Wolves have a 23-year-old who's already one of the best offensive players in the league. In Andrew Wiggins, they have one of the league's least efficient scorers (he ranks 170th in true shooting percentage among 175 players with at least 500 field goal attempts) who's owed $122 million over the next four years. Though they saw a much bigger drop-off on offense than on defense this season, the Wolves are the highest-ranked offensive team that's not going to the playoffs. Minnesota is also set to finish in the bottom seven in defensive efficiency for the fifth straight season. A healthier Robert Covington (along with further development from Josh Okogie) could help them end that run and return to relevance next season.

Week 26: vs. TOR, @ DEN

Last Week:23

Record: 29-52

Pace: 104.6 (1) OffRtg: 107.3 (24) DefRtg: 112.8 (26) NetRtg: -5.5 (26)

John Collins, who has seen the league's biggest increase in points per 36 minutes from last season (15.7 ppg to 23.5 ppg), is just 21 years old. Trae Young, just the third rookie in NBA history to average at least 18 points and eight assists, is just 20. Kevin Huerter, fourth among rookies in 3-point percentage and looking like a capable perimeter defender, is just 20. The Hawks have played at a fast pace all season and rank 12th offensively over the second half (111.8 points scored per 100 possessions since Game 42). The future is pretty bright, and the Hawks could add two more Lottery picks in June (they get the Mavs' pick if it lands outside the top five).

Week 26: vs. IND

Last Week:22

Record: 32-49

Pace: 102.3 (9) OffRtg: 110.2 (14) DefRtg: 112.9 (27) NetRtg: -2.7 (25)

After 16 years of running the Wizards, Ernie Grunfeld was fired on Tuesday ... because this particular team, with John Wall missing 50 games, didn't make the playoffs. The Wizards have had the league's seventh-worst record over those 16 years, but this will be the first season in the last six that they finish below .500. Even with Otto Porter's contract having been traded in February, the next general manager won't have much financial flexibility and may have to endure a full season without Wall. Bradley Beal, one of six players averaging at least 25 points, five rebounds and five assists (the other five are former MVPs or named Antetokounmpo), has established himself as the team's new leading man. But he hasn't been able to lead the Wizards to more than 32 (or 33) wins in the weaker conference.

Week 26: vs. BOS

Last Week:26

Record: 32-48

Pace: 99.6 (19) OffRtg: 108.7 (20) DefRtg: 110.2 (18) NetRtg: -1.5 (21)

If this is the end for Dirk Nowitzki, he will finish his career between Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain on the all-time scoring list. Not bad. He'll also have missed the playoffs in each of the last three seasons, but the Mavs took a step forward this season. They've seen the league's sixth-biggest increase in winning percentage and its eighth-biggest increase in point differential per 100 possessions (1.4). The improvement came mostly on offense and mostly thanks to likely Kia Rookie of the Year Luka Doncic, just the second rookie in NBA history (Oscar Robertson was the first) to average at least 20 points, seven rebounds and five assists per game. Defensive improvement can come next season with a healthy (and re-signed) Kristaps Porzingis, who ranked as the league's best rim-protector before tearing his ACL last season.


Week 26: vs. PHX, @ SAS

Last Week:24

Record: 32-48

Pace: 97.2 (30) OffRtg: 105.3 (28) DefRtg: 107.9 (9) NetRtg: -2.6 (24)

Even with how much their season went downhill after a 15-9 start, the Grizzlies have still seen the league's fifth-biggest increase in winning percentage. That probably says more about how bad they were last season, but they've remained relatively competitive after trading Marc Gasol. They still have a lot of competent vets, and a lot of them are still under contract beyond June. Of course, if the Grizzlies want to remain competitive next season, they need offense, especially on the perimeter. They're the only team that ranks in the bottom five in effective field goal percentage on both catch-and-shoot jumpers (51.4 percent - 26th) and pull-up jumpers (40.5 percent - 29th). Even with all the vets, their most important player is Jaren Jackson Jr., the rare rookie who made a positive impact defensively. They will send this year's first-round pick to the Celtics if it doesn't land in the top eight, and right now, they're tied with the Mavs (with whom they split a pair of games over the weekend) for the league's seventh-worst record.

Week 26: @ DET, vs. GSW

Last Week:25

Record: 33-48

Pace: 103.9 (3) OffRtg: 110.8 (12) DefRtg: 112.0 (23) NetRtg: -1.2 (19)

The Pelicans' disappointing and turbulent season is finally coming to an end, with only the Cavs having seen a bigger drop in winning percentage from last season (thanks to a 3-12 Pelicans stretch over the last 4 1/2 weeks). They now need to find a new general manager, whose biggest task in the next three months is deciding in what direction to take the franchise with the inevitable Anthony Davis trade. Julius Randle could make things more complicated (or simple, depending on how you look at it) by opting out of his contract after seeing increases in both usage rate and points per game for the third straight season. The only players who have averaged at least 20 points per game on a higher true shooting percentage than Randle (21.4 ppg on 60 percent) this season are Giannis Antetokounmpo, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, James Harden, Kawhi Leonard and Karl-Anthony Towns. That's pretty good company.

Week 26: vs. GSW

Last Week:27

Record: 22-58

Pace: 99.4 (21) OffRtg: 104.5 (29) DefRtg: 112.7 (25) NetRtg: -8.2 (27)

If there was any progress in Chicago this season, it was incremental. The Bulls are one of two teams (the Suns are the other) that have ranked in the bottom six in both offensive and defensive efficiency each of the last two seasons. Issues on both ends of the floor started from beyond the arc, as the Bulls were outscored by a league-high 8.8 points per game from 3-point range. They did add a piece to the puzzle -- Otto Porter -- at the trade deadline. However, Porter never played alongside Wendell Carter Jr., who hasn't played since mid-January and played only 436 minutes (in 21 games) alongside Lauri Markkanen. It appears that Jim Boylen will get a chance to coach all three, along with another top-eight pick, next season.

Week 26: vs. NYK, @ PHI

Last Week:29

Record: 19-62

Pace: 101.1 (12) OffRtg: 105.3 (27) DefRtg: 114.2 (29) NetRtg: -8.9 (29)

The Suns don't rank last in both offensive and defensive efficiency, so this season was better than last season ... barely. They do have two more young players with promise -- DeAndre Ayton and Mikal Bridges -- than they did a year ago and they'll add another Lottery pick (selected by a general manager yet to be named) in June. While he won't be the Kia Rookie of the Year, Ayton will be just the seventh rookie in the last 25 seasons to average a double-double and just the second rookie (Ben Simmons was the first) to shoot 70 percent or better on at least 300 shots in the restricted area. Alas, mostly because they're in the Western Conference, the Suns are still a long way from ending the league's second-longest active playoff drought (now nine years long).

Week 26: @ DAL

Last Week:28

Record: 19-62

Pace: 97.5 (29) OffRtg: 106.8 (26) DefRtg: 116.5 (30) NetRtg: -9.8 (30)

The drop-off wasn't as big as it was the first time LeBron James left Cleveland (when they went from 61 wins to 19 wins), but if the Cavs lose to Charlotte on Tuesday, they'll finish with the same record as they had in 2010-11 and will have seen the sixth-biggest drop in winning percentage in NBA history. They somehow went from 29th in defensive efficiency to much worse. They'll have no worse than the seventh pick in the Draft and they'll have to decide if Kevin Love fits the timeline of the incoming rookie and Collin Sexton. Sexton has seen the fifth-biggest increase in effective field goal percentage since the All-Star break among 215 players with at least 200 field goal attempts before the break (when he had an effective field goal percentage of 44.6 percent) and 100 attempts since (55.3 percent).

Week 26: vs. CHA

Last Week:30

Record: 16-64

Pace: 100.3 (17) OffRtg: 104.2 (30) DefRtg: 113.0 (28) NetRtg: -8.8 (28)

The acquisition of top-flight talent is the most important thing in the NBA and acquiring talent this summer would erase the memory of an ugly season (the Knicks are the only team that ranks in the bottom three on both ends of the floor) pretty quickly. But the league's worst record (and possibly the worst record in franchise history) only gets the Knicks a 14 percent chance at the No. 1 pick (and less than a 50 percent chance at a pick in the top three). From both a basketball and a franchise stability standpoint, there appear to be better options out there for free agents. The emergence of Mitchell Robinson as the league's most prolific shot-blocker has been encouraging, but Kevin Knox's rookie season was a bit of a disappointment. Plus, the jury is out on whether there's a difference maker among the Knicks' young guards.

Week 26: @ CHI, vs. DET

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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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