Power Rankings, Week 14: Clippers, Nuggets move into Top 5; Celtics, Rockets tumble
See how all 30 teams rank as the 2019-20 season enters its second half
This could be the best week ever.
Monday could be best day of the NBA year. To celebrate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the league will play 14 games, beginning at 2 p.m. ET and with eight different start times to keep you on your toes. The national TV schedule features Pelicans-Grizzlies from Memphis (5 ET, TNT) and Lakers-Celtics (7:30 ET, TNT), and the League Pass game to watch is the third and final meeting between Russell Westbrook’s Rockets and Chris Paul’s Thunder.
Two nights later, we have the debut of Zion Williamson, the No. 1 pick with the well-deserved hype. After missing the first 13 weeks of the season, Williamson will play his first regular season game on Wednesday, when the Pelicans host the Spurs on ESPN (9:30 ET).
It should be a fun week for the West-leading Lakers. In addition to that game in Boston on Monday night, LeBron James will make his only visit of the season to Madison Square Garden (Wednesday, 7:30 ET on League Pass) and go head-to-head with Ben Simmons and the Sixers on Saturday (8:30 ET, ABC). All-Star starters will be announced Thursday night, and we’ll get some more weekday hoops on Friday, when the Bucks and Hornets tip off from Paris at 3 p.m. ET.
Milwaukee will head abroad as the No. 1 team in the Power Rankings for an eighth straight week and still on pace for a 70-win season.
Plus-Minus Players of the Week
- Right Way: DeAndre Ayton (PHX) was a plus-52 in three games last week.
- Wrong Way: Tristan Thompson (CLE) was a minus-79 in four games last week.
Teams of the Week
- Make It Last Forever: Indiana (4-0) — Victor Oladipo won’t make his season debut until next week, but the Pacers got Malcolm Brogdon back last week and won four close games, including one over the Sixers and another in Denver.
- Something Just Ain’t Right: Washington (0-2) — Two nights after Bradley Beal talked about “changing our culture,” the Wizards lost by 29 in Toronto.
East vs. West
- The West is 129-106 (.549) against the East in interconference games after going 12-11 last week.
Schedule strength through Week 13
- Toughest: 1. New Orleans, 2. Cleveland, 3. Atlanta
- Easiest: 1. Milwaukee, 2. Phoenix, 3. Denver
- 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: Detroit (+6), LA Clippers (+4), Three teams (+3)
- Free falls of the week: Houston (-6), Oklahoma City (-4), Three teams (-3)
Week 14 Team to Watch
- Phoenix — The Suns have won seven of their last 11 games, with Devin Booker averaging 32 points on 53% shooting. Now, they face what may be the most important week of their season, with three games against the two teams between them and a playoff spot. The Suns will host the Spurs on Monday and the Pacers on Wednesday. Then they’ll head back out for a huge, three-game trip that takes them through San Antonio (Friday), Memphis (Sunday) and Dallas (next Tuesday).
- Last week: Jazz, Rockets enter Top 5; Nets prepare for difficult stretch
- This time last year: One star returns, but another goes down — DeMarcus Cousins made his Warriors debut, shooting 3-for-4 from 3-point range and fouling out in 15 minutes. Anthony Davis was lost for three weeks with a sprained finger, Wendell Carter Jr. and Clint Capela both had thumb surgery, and Lonzo Ball suffered an ankle injury that would keep him out for the rest of the season. The Wizards beat the Knicks in London when Allonzo Trier was called for goaltending on Thomas Bryant’s game-winning layup. Paul George beat the Sixers with a four-point play, Pascal Siakam beat the Suns with a buzzer-beating bucket over DeAndre Ayton, and Buddy Hield hit a wild, walk-off game-winner in Detroit.
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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 100.8 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes and 109.0 points scored per 100 possessions this season.
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NBA.com’s Power Rankings, released every Monday during the season, are just one man’s opinion. If you have an issue with the rankings, or have a question or comment for John Schuhmann, send him an e-mail or contact him via Twitter.
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The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.
Last Week: 1
Pace: 105.1 (1) OffRtg: 113.5 (2) DefRtg: 101.4 (1) NetRtg: +12.0 (1)
Giannis Antetokounmpo's minutes per game are at a season-low 30.6 after a week in which he totaled 98 points in less than 82 minutes. He played 34:54 (most since Thanksgiving) because the Bucks' 27-point lead was cut to four on Thursday, but his team outscored the Celtics by 12 in the 13-plus minutes that he was off the floor. The Bucks' bench has surpassed that of the Mavs as the best bench in the league in regard to aggregate (estimated) NetRtg, with Donte DiVincenzo third in the league (behind Antetokounmpo and LeBron James) in total plus-minus.
As league-wide efficiency has climbed with every month, the Bucks' defense has remained staunch. They've held 11 of their last 15 opponents under a point per possession and, with their schedule remaining soft for a few more weeks, they already have as many wins as the seventh-place Magic are on pace for over 82 games.
Week 14: vs. CHI, @ CHA (Paris)
Last Week: 2
Pace: 100.7 (14) OffRtg: 113.1 (4) DefRtg: 104.7 (3) NetRtg: +8.4 (2)
The Lakers' loss to Orlando on Wednesday was their first to one of the 17 teams currently under .500, and it came with the Magic attempting 18 more free throws than the Lakers and racking up 22 fast break points. If the Lakers' third-ranked defense has a weakness, it's in transition. According to Synergy play-type tracking, 16.1% of their opponents' possessions, the league's seventh-highest opponent rate, have been in transition. And only the Mavs and Rockets have allowed more fast break points per game.
The Rockets outscored the Lakers on break (15-14) in Houston on Saturday, but L.A. was a plus-20 on second chance points and shut down Houston's third-ranked offense (17 points on 6-for-28 shooting, with six turnovers) in the third quarter. That win improved the Lakers to 30-0 in games they led after the third and 14-0 in Western Conference arenas outside of L.A. They have as many losses against the East (11-4) as they do against the West (23-4), and they'll finish their Grammys trip with a jaunt through the Northeast Corridor.
Week 14: @ BOS, @ NYK, @ BKN, @ PHI
Last Week: 3
Pace: 99.4 (20) OffRtg: 111.1 (9) DefRtg: 106.7 (9) NetRtg: +4.4 (7)
Mike Conley did not upset the apple cart upon his return on Saturday. He played 15 minutes off the bench and dished out three assists (the first was pretty nifty) in a wire-to-wire victory against the Kings. It's probably just a coincidence that it was Joe Ingles' worst shooting game (1-for-7) in more than two months.
The Jazz's 10-game winning streak came to an end two nights earlier at the hands of a team (the Pelicans) they just haven't been able to defend. They have plenty of time to integrate Conley into an offense that was much better without him than it was before he initially got hurt. But after playing 10 straight games against teams with losing records, the schedule is about to take a turn.
Their game against the Pacers on Monday begins a stretch where the Jazz are playing 10 of 16 against teams with winning records. They will have a rest advantage against Indiana and the Jazz have won their last 17 games at home vs. the Eastern Conference, with the last loss having come against Philadelphia on Dec. 27, 2018.
Week 14: vs. IND, @ GSW, vs. DAL
Last Week: 8 ↑
Pace: 103.2 (7) OffRtg: 112.4 (5) DefRtg: 105.9 (6) NetRtg: +6.5 (4)
The Clippers have been without Paul George for the last five games and their defense has had some rough moments. It allowed the Pelicans to score 80 points in the first half on Saturday and ranks 15th (110.2 points allowed per 100 possessions) over the nine games since they last had George, Patrick Beverley and Kawhi Leonard all in the lineup, even though six of those nine games have been at home and five of them have come against teams that rank in the bottom 10 offensively.
But Leonard has righted the ship by averaging 33.3 points on an effective field goal percentage of 62% over the five games that George has been out. In that stretch, the Clippers have scored more than 125 points per 100 possessions with Leonard on the floor and less than a point per possession with him off the floor. He's been getting to the basket more and finishing better over the last month (24% of his shots in the restricted area, 70% shooting there) than he was previously (16%, 65%), and the last five games have come with his season high for restricted area makes (eight against the Warriors on Jan. 10) and attempts (10 on Saturday).
Week 14: @ DAL, @ ATL, @ MIA, @ ORL
Last Week: 6 ↑
Pace: 97.5 (29) OffRtg: 111.2 (7) DefRtg: 107.3 (11) NetRtg: +3.9 (9)
Earlier this month, there were games when Malik Beasley, Torrey Craig and Juancho Hernangomez were all DNP'd, because the Nuggets just had too many rotation-quality players. Now, with Jamal Murray, Gary Harris and Paul Millsap all injured, somebody named PJ Dozier is in the rotation.
The Denver offense has held up without three starters. The Nuggets have scored more than 113 points per 100 possessions over their last three games. Beasley and Will Barton combined for 58 points at Golden State on Thursday, Nikola Jokic scored 30 points against Indiana on Sunday, and Michael Porter Jr. continues to sparkle. Attrition engenders opportunity.
But the Denver defense suffers without Harris and Millsap. While the Nuggets have allowed just 101.6 points per 100 possessions with Millsap and Jokic on the floor together, they've allowed 110.7 with Jokic on the floor alongside Jerami Grant. They allowed the Pacers to shoot 50% as their three-game winning streak came to an end on Sunday and their schedule is going to get tougher in regard to opposing offenses. Their game in Minnesota is their last before the All-Star break against a team that ranks in the bottom 10 offensively, but they still have seven pre-break games against teams that rank in the top 10.
Week 14: @ MIN, @ HOU, @ NOP, vs. HOU
Last Week: 7 ↑
Pace: 98.7 (27) OffRtg: 111.1 (8) DefRtg: 107.8 (14) NetRtg: +3.2 (11)
Only the Bucks (+18.4 points per 100 possessions) have been better in the first quarter than the Heat (+15.2), who have had a lead after the first quarter in each of their last seven games. Duncan Robinson's first-quarter effective field goal percentage of 75.5% is the best mark for any player with at least 100 field goal attempts in any quarter. Robinson made four 3-pointers in the first seven minutes in San Antonio on Sunday.
But the Heat have been progressively worse, on offense in particular, with each ensuing quarter. Only the Nets and Hawks have been worse offensively than the Heat (103.5 points scored per 100 possessions) in the fourth, and only Jamal Murray and Spencer Dinwiddie have a lower effective field goal percentage than Jimmy Butler (41.3%) on at least 100 fourth-quarter shots. Butler was 0-for-3 in the fourth quarter and Robinson missed a three for the tie after the Heat blew a late lead in San Antonio on Sunday.
They're still a league-best 18-1 at home and they begin a five-game homestand (that features games against the Clippers and Celtics) on Monday.
Week 14: vs. SAC, vs. WAS, vs. LAC
Last Week: 4 ↓
Pace: 99.8 (17) OffRtg: 111.5 (6) DefRtg: 105.6 (5) NetRtg: +6.0 (5)
The Celtics' second three-game losing streak of 2020 has taken them from second to fourth place in the Eastern Conference. Kemba Walker shot 7-for-19 against Detroit, Gordon Hayward was 1-for-10 in Milwaukee, and the Boston bench was 6-for-23 against Phoenix on Saturday. Walker, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum have missed games.
But no matter who has been playing, bad starts have been an issue. Only the Wizards and Warriors have been worse in the first six minutes of games and over the last three, the Celtics have been outscored, 51-26, in the first six minutes of the first quarter.
It's also been the worst three-game stretch (more than 119 points per 100 possessions) for the league's fifth-ranked defense. Allowing the Pistons to shoot 60% appeared to be the nadir, but then the Celtics put the Bucks and Suns on the line for 67 total free throw attempts. Their first of two meetings with the Lakers' fourth-ranked offense is the second of three games on TNT on Monday.
Week 14: vs. LAL, vs. MEM, @ ORL, @ NOP
Last Week: 11 ↑
Pace: 98.9 (25) OffRtg: 109.9 (14) DefRtg: 106.7 (10) NetRtg: +3.2 (12)
After his 50/40/90 season with the Bucks, Malcolm Brogdon has had some regression with the Pacers. Carrying a heavier load and dealing with back issues, he has shot much worse in the paint and from beyond the arc. Among 150 players with at least 100 3-point attempts in each of the last two seasons, Brogdon has seen the third biggest drop in 3-point percentage (from 43% to 35%).
But Brogdon has shot much better and more often from between the paint and the 3-point line. He already has almost four times as many mid-range buckets as he had all of last season (15) and he ranks seventh in mid-range field goal percentage (49.1%) among 42 players with at least 100 attempts. The Pacers are a mid-range-heavy team all the time, but down the stretch of close games, you often just need a guy to take what the defense gives him, and that's what Brogdon did a lot of last week. He returned from a five-game absence and scored 22 clutch points -- showing both a soft touch and a killer instinct -- as the Pacers won four games that were within five points in the last five minutes.
Week 14: @ UTA, @ PHX, @ GSW, @ POR
Last Week: 12 ↑
Pace: 100.6 (15) OffRtg: 110.0 (12) DefRtg: 104.1 (2) NetRtg: +5.9 (6)
With Marc Gasol and Fred VanVleet having made their returns from injury last week, the Raptors are healthy again. Gasol shot 13-for-18 in his first two games back, VanVleet shot 11-for-16 in his return on Saturday, and the champs have scored more than 123 points per 100 possessions over a three-game winning streak.
Their new reserves have been plucky and the 14.1 points per 100 possessions the Raptors have outscored their opponents by with Terence Davis on the floor is the fifth-best mark among 284 players who have averaged at least 15 minutes in 20 games or more. But they will continue to depend on their seven returning rotation guys. They've outscored their opponents by 8.9 points per 100 possessions (allowing just 101.0 per 100) in 1,618 toal minutes with five of those seven guys on the floor.
One of the Raptors' two wins within the top six teams in the East was at home against Philadelphia, and the Sixers are back in the Six on Wednesday.
Week 14: @ ATL, vs. PHI, @ NYK, @ SAS
Last Week: 13 ↑
Pace: 99.6 (19) OffRtg: 116.1 (1) DefRtg: 109.1 (16) NetRtg: +7.0 (3)
The Mavs have recovered from a 2-5 stretch to win four straight games and move past the Rockets into fifth place in the West. Luka Doncic's offense has been kind of erratic, both in regard to his shooting (5-for-29 from 3-point range over his five previous games, 8-for-12 on Friday) and his playmaking (two assists on Tuesday, 17 on Wednesday). But Dwight Powell has continued to provide some scoring punch inside and Tim Hardaway Jr. has been rather consistent starting alongside Doncic in the backcourt.
Hardaway has seen a drop in the percentage of his shots that have come in the paint (the Mavs rank 29th as a team), but is one of five players who have shot better than 50% on at least 75 mid-range attempts and has shot a career-best 39.1% from 3-point range. He was 5-for-8 from beyond the arc on his way to 29 points in the Mavs' win over Portland on Friday, the third straight game in which they've scored more than 120 points per 100 possessions.
The Mavs host the Clippers on Tuesday, with their first meeting having been Dallas' worst offensive game of the season (99 points on 106 possessions), with Doncic (who wasn't defended much by Kawhi Leonard) shooting 0-for-8 from 3-point range and registering more turnovers (seven) than assists (six).
Week 14: vs. LAC, @ POR, @ UTA
Last Week: 5 ↓
Pace: 104.1 (2) OffRtg: 113.3 (3) DefRtg: 109.2 (17) NetRtg: +4.1 (8)
Russell Westbrook is permanently in "attack mode," but even moreso recently. Westbrook has averaged 32.5 points on 53% shooting over the last four games, with more than half of his shots (48/94) having come in the restricted area. Unfortunately, Westbrook's success hasn't translated to the win column; The Rockets have lost four of five games for the first time this season. It's been their worst stretch of offense (107.9 points scored per 100 possessions) since early November and they just don't have the defense to make up for a slump on the other end of the floor.
So it might not be a good time for one of their most important stretches of the season. Their four-game homestand wraps up with visits from two West playoff teams -- the Thunder and Nuggets -- with whom they're currently tied (1-1) in the season series. The game on Monday is the last meeting with OKC and they'll play Denver again as part of a four-game trip that begins Friday and also includes a big game in Utah.
Week 14: vs. OKC, vs. DEN, @ MIN, @ DEN
Last Week: 9 ↓
Pace: 99.3 (21) OffRtg: 108.7 (20) DefRtg: 105.2 (4) NetRtg: +3.4 (10)
The Sixers have been held under a point per possession in three of their last five games, their worst stretch of offense of the season (103.1 per 100 over the five). On Monday in Indiana, an inablity to kick the ball out against a collapsed defense resulted in a couple of late-game turnovers. And in New York on Saturday, they went scoreless for a 4 1/2 minute stretch before Tobias Harris hit the go-ahead 3-pointer off of what appeared to be a busted inbounds play with less than 30 seconds left.
They've been pretty efficient when they've had six guys on the floor, but Sixers not named Harris or Furkan Korkmaz have shot 21-for-102 (21%) from 3-point range over the five games. Al Horford (registering career-low marks for both true shooting percentage and rebounding percentage) hasn't been able to find his way in the absence of Joel Embiid.
But, despite the absence of their Defensive Player of the Year candidate, the Sixers' defense has been stout (allowing less than a point per possession) as they've won three straight games. After Harris' go-ahead three, they not only forced a turnover, they ran off 20 seconds without allowing the Knicks to get anywhere near an open shot. With their first post-Christmas road win in hand, they have a big game in Toronto on Wednesday before playing their first game against either of the L.A. teams.
Week 14: @ BKN, @ TOR, vs. LAL
Last Week: 14 ↑
Pace: 103.5 (4) OffRtg: 109.5 (17) DefRtg: 111.5 (22) NetRtg: -2.0 (19)
The Grizzlies can be overwhelming, both to the viewers (with the non-stop highlights) and to their opponents. They blitzed the Rockets with a 15-2, game-changing run in less than two minutes in the second quarter on Tuesday, and they put the Cavs in the rearview mirror with an 11-0 run in the third quarter on Friday. The Grizzlies still aren't that good defensively. As they've gone 14-6 over the last six weeks, they've ranked 17th in Defensive Rating. But when they get stops, look out. Over their last four games, they've outscored their opponents, 113-44, on fast break points. Even Jonas Valanciunas has scored on the break.
With Ja Morant averaging 9.0 assists and shooting 59% (including 73% in the restricted area), the Grizzlies have scored 119.5 points per 100 possessions over their seven-game win streak. They have the most road-heavy remaining schedule and their six-game homestand comes to an end with their first of four (potentially important) meetings with the Pelicans, hopefully the only one in which the top two picks from last year's Draft aren't both playing.
Week 14: vs. NOP, @ BOS, @ DET, vs. PHX
Last Week: 10 ↓
Pace: 99.3 (22) OffRtg: 109.3 (18) DefRtg: 107.8 (13) NetRtg: +1.5 (13)
The Thunder are driven by their three guards, and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander continues to look like a star. He's averaged 23.1 points on 53% shooting over the last month and had himself a 20-20-10 triple-double in Minnesota on Monday.
But Steven Adams remains critical to this team's success. After he left the Thunder's game against Toronto on Wednesday with a bruised knee, they went on to lose that one and their game against the Heat two nights later, two of their worst defensive games of the season. The Thunder are a bottom-10 rebounding team, but have grabbed 52.5% of available boards with Adams on the floor and just 45.8% of available boards with him off the floor. And after those two losses, they're 1-4 in games he hasn't played or been able to finish.
Adams was back on Saturday, and after getting outscored, 152-100, over their previous four first quarters, the Thunder got off to a strong start and picked up a comfortable win against the depleted Blazers. They have one of the West's easiest remaining schedules and after they visit the Rockets on Monday, they'll play 12 of their next 15 games against teams with losing records.
Week 14: @ HOU, @ ORL, vs. ATL, @ MIN
Last Week: 15
Pace: 101.1 (12) OffRtg: 110.8 (10) DefRtg: 111.6 (23) NetRtg: -0.8 (15)
As they hit the midway point of their season, the Spurs are in a better place, at least offensively, than they were around Thanksgiving. DeMar DeRozan (69.4%) and LaMarcus Aldridge (63.7%) rank first and fifth, respectively, in true shooting percentage among 88 players with at least 150 field goal attempts over the last month. When DeRozan's streak of 13 straight games of shooting 50% or better came to an end on Sunday, he dished out nine assists for the third time in his last five. Aldridge is still over 50% from 3-point range over the 13 games since he started launching liberally.
But the Spurs still haven't put it all together. Over those four weeks since the offense opened up, they still rank as a bottom-10 defensive team, and their fourth-quarter offense has been a problem of late. They've scored less than a point per possession in four of their last five fourth quarters, blowing fourth-quarter leads in Miami on Wednesday and against Atlanta on Friday. After going scoreless for more than four minutes against the Heat again on Sunday, Aldridge and DeRozan led a 10-0 run that kept them within a game in the loss column of the eighth-place Grizzlies.
Week 14: @ PHX, @ NOP, vs. PHX, vs. TOR
Last Week: 16
Pace: 98.7 (26) OffRtg: 104.9 (26) DefRtg: 105.9 (7) NetRtg: -1.0 (16)
It's been a long time since the Jekyll and Hyde Team of the Week award has been handed out, but the Magic has forced us to dust it off. Three days after they put an end to the Lakers' nine-game winning streak behind Markelle Fultz's triple-double and late-game buckets over JaVale McGee and LeBron James at Staples Center, they put an end to the Warriors' 10-game losing streak by shooting 12-for-44 (27%) from outside the paint in San Francisco.
Unfortunately, the offensive performance from Saturday was closer to the real Magic than the offensive performance from Wednesday. And no matter how well its played offensively, this team has struggled to defend against the Western Conference. The Magic rank seventh defensively overall, but 22nd (111.4 points allowed per 100 possessions) in games against the West. Their six-game trip wraps up in Charlotte, but they'll face two more West opponents on a three-game homestand that begins Wednesday.
Week 14: @ CHA, vs. OKC, vs. BOS, vs. LAC
Last Week: 18 ↑
Pace: 103.2 (6) OffRtg: 109.1 (19) DefRtg: 112.7 (26) NetRtg: -3.6 (24)
Here we go! Zion Williamson is set to make his regular-season debut when the Pelicans host the Spurs on Wednesday. The Pelicans are 10-5 -- with wins over the Nuggets, Pacers, Rockets and Jazz -- since the end of that brutal, 13-game losing streak. They have the Western Conference's easiest remaining schedule, with 26 of their final 39 games against teams currently under .500. And four of those 26 are against the eighth-place Grizzlies. The door is open.
A reminder of what we saw from the No. 1 pick in October (small sample size, preseason stats alert)...
71% shooting for what was the league's No. 1 preseason offense, with 40 of his 49 shots coming in the restricted area.
Some pretty impressive dimes among his nine assists.
The Pelicans were a plus-54 in 46 minutes with Williamson playing center.
Week 14: @ MEM, vs. SAS, vs. DEN, vs. BOS
Last Week: 19 ↑
Pace: 102.5 (9) OffRtg: 109.9 (13) DefRtg: 110.3 (19) NetRtg: -0.4 (14)
Devin Booker still isn't doing much from 3-point range (much to the delight of Suns' broadcaster Eddie Johnson), and the Suns have outscored their opponents from beyond the arc in just one of their last 14 games. But they've won seven of their last 11 and four of their last five to stay within two games of the eighth-place Grizzlies.
In two games back as the starting center, DeAndre Ayton has totaled 52 points and 36 rebounds. And with Booker registering 39 points (shooting 7-for-11 from mid-range and 14-for-15 from the line), 10 rebounds and nine assists in in Boston on Saturday, the Suns got their first win over a team currently over .500 since they beat the Sixers on Nov. 4.
The Suns are one win away from being the first team to match its win total from last season (the Lakers are three wins away). They have the league's toughest remaining schedule in regard to cumulative opponent winning percentage (0.539). And, this may be the biggest week of their season, with two games against the ninth-place Spurs and their final meeting with the Grizzlies. The road team has won all three games between Phoenix and Memphis thus far.
Week 14: vs. SAS, vs. IND, @ SAS, @ MEM
Last Week: 17 ↓
Pace: 102.4 (10) OffRtg: 105.3 (25) DefRtg: 107.5 (12) NetRtg: -2.2 (20)
Hopefully, you haven't deleted the Kyrie-to-English translation app off your phone, because, after shooting 6-for-21 and registering a minus-29 in a game his team lost by 11 on Wednesday, the Nets' point guard said some stuff that needed deciphering. Irving's media scrums are certainly good for content, but it's not clear that his teammates understand the purpose of his comments any better than the rest of us do.
On the floor, the Nets are 0-3 on the toughest five-game stretch of their season (though they hung around with the Jazz and Sixers last week) and an East-worst 2-10 since Christmas. And with two more games against top-five defenses on Monday and Thursday, they're in danger of falling into the bottom five in offensive efficiency.
One issue is that Caris LeVert has yet to look like the player we saw in last year's playoffs. He has shot just 31% over the last five games, is one of nine players who have shot worse than 50% on at least 75 attempts in the restricted area, and ranks 224th in true shooting percentage (47.2%) among 231 players with at least 200 field goal attempts.
Week 14: vs. PHI, vs. LAL, @ DET, @ NYK
Last Week: 20
Pace: 101.3 (11) OffRtg: 109.9 (15) DefRtg: 112.3 (24) NetRtg: -2.4 (21)
On Wednesday, Kent Bazemore played a not-insignificant role in holding James Harden to his lowest scoring game in almost two years as the Blazers got one of their best wins of the season, a 117-107 victory in Houston. Three days later, the Blazers reportedly agreed to send Bazemore to Sacramento in a trade that was more about the luxury tax than it was about basketball. (It can't officially go through until Tuesday.)
The Blazers have the league's most home-heavy remaining schedule, with 22 of their final 38 games at the Moda Center. Jusuf Nurkic will eventually be back in uniform, and Bazemore was almost as much of a negative on offense as he was a positive on defense. Maybe Trevor Ariza will be better.
But the Houston win was not the start of a turnaround; The Blazers followed it up by allowing the Mavs and Thunder to score more than 120 points per 100 possessions in a pair of weekend losses. And while the schedule is home-heavy, the next three weeks are tough. After they host the Warriors on Monday, the Blazers wil play eight of their next nine games against teams with winning records.
Week 14: vs. GSW, vs. DAL, vs. IND
Last Week: 21
Pace: 100.6 (16) OffRtg: 104.7 (27) DefRtg: 106.5 (8) NetRtg: -1.8 (18)
With Daniel Gafford suffering a dislocated thumb on Wednesday and Wendell Carter Jr. out another few weeks, the Bulls' only healthy centers are Luke Kornet and Cristiano Felicio (who is a minus-28 in 37 minutes this season). The quality of that combo should lead to an increase in minutes with Lauri Markkanen at center. But after averaging 6.0 minutes per game at center prior to Wednesday, Markkanen has played just 22 total minutes at the five over the last three games.
The Bulls were a plus-15 in those 22 minutes, allowing just 34 points on 48 possessions. In 270 total minutes with Markkanen at center this season, they've allowed just 101.6 per 100, but have also scored less than a point per possession. Markkanen has played in all 44 games, but his minutes and offensive production are down from last season, when he played in only 52 of 82. (His shooting numbers have been remarkably consistent over his three years in the league.)
Zach LaVine's production is up, especially this month, when he ranks fourth in the league at 30.6 ppg. Behind LaVine's scoring, the Bulls have won three of their last five, and they have a relatively soft stretch of schedule after they visit Milwaukee on Monday.
Week 14: @ MIL, vs. MIN, vs. SAC, @ CLE
Last Week: 28 ↑
Pace: 99.1 (23) OffRtg: 109.6 (16) DefRtg: 111.3 (21) NetRtg: -1.7 (17)
The state of the playoff races in both conferences has provided hope for any sub-par team that can put together a couple of wins. The Pistons are that team right now, having begun a three-game trip with wins in Boston and Atlanta, with their offense (which had fallen from ninth to 18th over the course of four weeks) being revived by a lineup change.
In his second and third starts of the season, Derrick Rose totalled 49 points, shooting 22-for-25 inside the 3-point line. And in his first two games upon moving back to the bench, Svi Mykhailiuk has shot 10-for-15 from 3-point range, scoring a career-high 21 points on Wednesday, and then topping it with 25 on Saturday.
So the Pistons are just two games in the win column behind the eighth-place Nets. They have the better point differential between the two teams and they have a 1-0 head-to-head advantage over Brooklyn with two of the three remaining meetings in the next 10 days.
Week 14: @ WAS, vs. SAC, vs. MEM, vs. BKN
Last Week: 22 ↓
Pace: 103.4 (5) OffRtg: 105.9 (23) DefRtg: 109.1 (15) NetRtg: -3.1 (23)
Karl-Anthony Towns returned from a 15-game absence over the weekend, and he was the only Timberwolves player to score in the first six minutes in Indiana on Friday. That second part is probably not a good thing and Towns was unable to keep the Wolves from falling to 2-17 (with 13 straight losses over which they've allowed 117.6 points per 100 possessions) against the 13 teams that currently have winning records.
They had a chance to win that game in Indiana, but Shabazz Napier missed everything on his shot for the lead in the final seconds. Then they trailed the Raptors by just two points early in the fourth quarter on Saturday, but shot 2-for-11 from 3-point range over the next eight minutes.
The Wolves rank third in the percentage of their shots that have come from 3-point range, but 29th in 3-point percentage, and they just traded one of the four guys who have shot better than the league average on at least 75 attempts from beyond the arc. That trade was a weird deal for the Wolves on the surface, and time will tell if it leads to anything else in the 17 days between now and the trade deadline.
Week 14: vs. DEN, @ CHI, vs. HOU, vs. OKC
Last Week: 23 ↓
Pace: 98.6 (28) OffRtg: 107.2 (21) DefRtg: 110.2 (18) NetRtg: -3.0 (22)
Playing at a faster pace in January, the Kings' bottom-10 offense has shown some signs of life. They've shot better than 50% over their last three games, with two of the three having come against top-10 defenses. De'Aaron Fox and Nemanja Bjelica combined for 65 points against Orlando on Monday, and the Kings came back from 17 down before losing on a fluky game-winner from Aaron Gordon. Two nights later, Fox, Buddy Hield and Harrison Barnes combined for 77 points and the Kings made the Mavs sweat after trailing by 16 points with less than six minutes to go.
Marvin Bagley returned from an eight-game absence to average 15.7 points and 6.7 rebounds over the three games. And Bogdan Bogdanovic returned from a six-game absence on Saturday, good news whether or not the Kings plan in keeping him past the trade deadline.
But, even though their opponents have shot just 31% from 3-point range, the Kings have allowed more than 121 points per 100 possessions over a four-game losing streak. They rank last in opponnent field goal percentage in the restricted area (67.4%), with the Mavs and Jazz having combined to shoot 43-for-50 (86%) there over the last two games.
Week 14: @ MIA, @ DET, @ CHI
Last Week: 24 ↓
Pace: 99.8 (18) OffRtg: 104.2 (28) DefRtg: 112.7 (25) NetRtg: -8.6 (28)
With RJ Barrett (sprained ankle) and Dennis Smith Jr. (oblique) injured, and with the 2019 free agent class still getting a lot of playing time, Mitchell Robinson was the only one of the Knicks' group of five 22-and-under guys to play more than 20 minutes against the Sixers on Saturday. And in a competitive game against a good team, New York was outscored by 11 points in 29 minutes with at least one of their veteran starters off the floor.
Maybe one or two of the vets will be moved out of the way by the trade deadline and maybe the kids will become the priority at some point. But for now, Kevin Knox and Frank Ntilikina aren't being given (or haven't earned) much of an opportunity to grow. The two former Lottery picks have shot only slightly better than they did last season, when they ranked 322nd and 329th in effective field goal percentage among 329 players who took at least 200 shots. This season, they rank 211th and 218th among 231 players with at least 200 field goal attempts, with Barrett and Elfrid Payton in the bottom 10.
Even with the vets playing most of the minutes, the Knicks have scored less than a point per possession in three straight games for the first time this season and have been outscored, 64-18, on fast break points over those three games.
Week 14: @ CLE, vs. LAL, vs. TOR, vs. BKN
Last Week: 25 ↓
Pace: 103.5 (3) OffRtg: 110.5 (11) DefRtg: 115.8 (30) NetRtg: -5.3 (25)
Bradley Beal isn't going anywhere any time soon, but nobody in Washington can be all that happy with how the Wizards have played this season, and Beal expressed some frustration -- talking about "changing our culture" -- after their loss in Chicago on Wednesday dropped them to 8-15 in games against the other 16 teams currently under .500.
The Wizards' issues obviously start with a defense that hasn't been much better in those 23 games (115.1 points allowed per 100 possessions) than it's been in their 18 games against the 13 teams with winning records (116.6).
After holding their opponents under a point per possession in two of their three prior games, the Wizards have allowed 123.6 per 100 over the three games since Beal returned. For the season, they've allowed 120.8 per 100 with Beal on the floor and 105.6 with him off the floor. That differential (15.2 per 100) is the biggest among all players who have played at least 500 minutes this season.
Week 14: vs. DET, @ MIA, @ CLE, @ ATL
Last Week: 26 ↓
Pace: 96.9 (30) OffRtg: 106.1 (22) DefRtg: 113.0 (28) NetRtg: -7.0 (26)
The Hornets still have all four games remaining against the seventh-place Magic, starting with a game at the Spectrum Center on Monday. But their playoff hopes (once buoyed by a flurry of wins in mid-December) are probably out the window with a six-game losing streak and an extended 2-12 stretch over which they've had the league's worst defense (114.7 points allowed per 100 possessions).
The Hornets take the right shots on offense, where they rank sixth in the percentage of their shots (75.1%) that have come from the restricted area or 3-point range. But they haven't prevented those shots on the other end of the floor. No team has allowed their opponents to take a greater percentage of their shots from the restricted area or 3-point range than the Hornets have (75.8%).
With games (on two different continents) against two of the league's best defenses this week, they're also coming off a trip in which they were held under a point per possession in three of the four games.
Week 14: vs. ORL, vs. MIL (Paris)
Last Week: 29 ↑
Pace: 103.2 (8) OffRtg: 103.6 (29) DefRtg: 112.9 (27) NetRtg: -9.3 (30)
The very early returns on the quest of Jeff Teague (re-acquired on Thursday) to keep the Atlanta offense afloat when Trae Young sits down: Though Teague made six of his nine shots against Detroit on Saturday, the Hawks scored just 43 points on 44 possessions with Young on the bench. Of course, the offense wasn't any better with Young on the floor and the defense was downright awful as the Hawks allowed the Pistons to score 32 points or more in all four quarters.
Prior to that, Young totalled 67 points as the Hawks won two straight games (vs. Phoenix and at San Antonio) for the first time since the first two games of the season. When the Spurs trapped him in the final seconds on Friday, he quickly got off the ball, allowing Kevin Huerter to hit the game-winner from the weak-side corner. Red Velvet is 3-for-3 on shots to tie or take the lead in the final minute of the fourth quarter or overtime.
Week 14: vs. TOR, vs. LAC, @ OKC, vs. WAS
Last Week: 30 ↑
Pace: 100.9 (13) OffRtg: 103.2 (30) DefRtg: 111.3 (20) NetRtg: -8.0 (27)
The Warriors had some painful defeats over their 10-game losing streak. On Thursday, they led Denver by 19 points midway through the third quarter, by 12 early in the fourth, and by six with a little more than two minutes left. But the league's worst clutch defense allowed the Nuggets to score 33 points on 21 clutch possessions to spoil a game in which they had 36 assists on 42 buckets.
They only had 25 assists on 43 buckets on Saturday, but the Warriors put and end to the losing streak by holding the Magic under a point per possession and getting 12 assists, nine unassisted buckets, and just one turnover from D'Angelo Russell. Rookie Jordan Poole still ranks as the league's worst shooter - his effective field goal percentage of 36.0% ranks last among 231 players who have taken at least 200 shots -- but had a career-high 21 points on Saturday, his fourth straight game of double-digit scoring.
Week 14: @ POR, vs. UTA, vs. IND
Last Week: 27 ↓
Pace: 99.0 (24) OffRtg: 105.8 (24) DefRtg: 114.6 (29) NetRtg: -8.8 (29)
After beginning their six-game trip with wins in Detroit and Denver, the Cavs went south, both literally and figuratively. They trailed each of their next three games by more than 20 points, and when they led by 19 late in the third quarter in Chicago on Saturday, they suffered a brutal collapse, getting outscored, 35-14, over the last 12 1/2 minutes. Kevin Love had a short jump hook for the win in the final seconds, and he hit the side of the backboard with it.
With Denver dealing with some injuries, the Cavs' starting lineup will likely pass that of the Nuggets for the most minutes played by any lineup this season. The 561 minutes that the Cavs' starters have played together is already more than any Cavs lineup played in any of the 12 previous seasons for which we have lineup data. And the 10.0 points per 100 possessions that it's been outscored by is the worst mark among the 21 lineups that have played at least 200 minutes this season.
Despite the ugliness of the last four games, the starting lineup has been slightly better on the road (-9.7 per 100 possessions) than at home (-10.3), where the Cavs will play 16 of their next 21 games.
Week 14: vs. NYK, vs. WAS, vs. CHI