We’ve reached February, the month that brings the trade deadline this Thursday, All-Star next week, and the start of the playoff push.
It’s been a quiet trade season thus far and it seems doubtful an All-Star caliber player will be moved before Thursday. But this is the NBA, where things happen quickly and unexpectedly.
While GMs are working the phones, players are just trying to make it to the break. But the games between now and next Thursday are no less important than any others. Every one counts and there’s only one team – the Milwaukee Bucks – that knows where it will stand come April 16.
The Bucks suffered lost No. 7 last week, but remain at No. 1 in the Power Rankings for the 10th straight week.
Plus-Minus Players of the Week
Teams of the Week
- Make It Last Forever: Boston (3-0) — The Celtics got a big win in Miami, took care of business against the Warriors, and avoided a season sweep at the hands of the Sixers, shutting down Joel Embiid on Saturday.
- Something Just Ain’t Right: Minnesota (0-2) — Looking to put an end to a losing streak that has now reached 11 games, the Wolves snatched defeat from the hands of victory with a brutal collapse on Monday.
East vs. West
Schedule strength through Week 15
- Toughest: 1. Atlanta, 2. New Orleans, 3. Sacramento
- Easiest: 1. Toronto, 2. Milwaukee, 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: Boston (+3), Portland (+3), Toronto (+3)
- Free falls of the week: Utah (-4), Philadelphia (-3), Miami (-2)
Week 16 Team to Watch
- Portland — Damian Lillard is on fire and the Blazers look like they have a shot in the race for the final playoff spot in the West, having won four straight games against teams with winning records. The schedule doesn’t get any easier this week. The Blazers will visit Denver on Tuesday, host the Spurs on Thursday, visit Utah on Friday, and host the Heat on Sunday.
- Last week: Thunder, Sixers on the rise as NBA world mourns the loss of Kobe Bryant
- This time last year: Bucks rise up as trade deadline looms — The Knicks, in the middle of an 18-game losing streak, traded Kristaps Porzingis and two other players to Dallas for Dennis Smith Jr., a pair of expiring contracts, and a pair of first-round picks. Asked before a game at Madison Square Garden about his earlier promise to re-sign with the Celtics, Kyrie Irving said, “Ask me July 1.” The Blazers traded for Rodney Hood, and LeBron James returned from a 17-game absence to lead the Lakers to a big win over the Clippers. Karl-Anthony Towns beat the Grizzlies at the buzzer, DeMarcus Cousins dunked all over Kyle Kuzma, and the Coyote caught a bat.
* * *
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.
* * *
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.
* * *
* * *
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.
The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.
Pace: 105.2 (1) OffRtg: 113.8 (2) DefRtg: 102.0 (1) NetRtg: +11.9 (1)
The Bucks are still on pace for a 70-win season, their point differential per 100 possessions (plus-11.8) is tied with the 1996-97 Bulls for the best mark in the 24 years for which we have play-by-play data, and they're in good position to be just the third team in that time to rank in the top two on both ends of the floor. (The other two are two of the Warriors' three championship teams.)
But as evidenced by loss No. 7, the Bucks certainly have a vulnerability. On Friday, the Nuggets became the sixth team that has registered its season high for 3-pointers (22 for Denver) against the Bucks. Milwaukee has lost four of those six games, with the opponent hitting a season high in each of its last three losses (Dec. 25 in Philadelphia, Jan. 6 in San Antonio, and Friday).
The Bucks' bet, of course, is that no opponent can take advantage of their protect-the-rim-at-all-costs defense by going wild from 3-point range four times in seven games. We'll see if the Sixers can do it for a second time in as many tries when they visit Fiserv Forum on Thursday.
Week 16: @ NOP, vs. PHI, @ ORL
Pace: 100.8 (13) OffRtg: 112.8 (4) DefRtg: 105.9 (5) NetRtg: +7.0 (3)
Things will never be the same in L.A., but after an emotional night at Staples Center on Friday, the Lakers are moving forward.
They remain comfortably in first place in the West and are now 15-0 in Western Conference arenas outside of L.A. after rolling through Sacramento on Saturday. They're not the most prolific team from the perimeter, but they don't need to be if they can continue to run as much as they have of late. The Lakers have averaged an amazing 31.8 fast break points over their last four games, with LeBron James and Anthony Davis accounting for almost half of that average.
The Lakers have a relatively easy February schedule. Eight of their 11 games are against teams currently under .500 (though three of those are against the improving Grizzlies and Pelicans after the break) and their win in Sacramento was their only rest-disadvantage game of the month. They'll have three rest-advantage games in February, including one against the Spurs on Tuesday.
Week 16: vs. SAS, vs. HOU, @ GSW
Pace: 102.8 (8) OffRtg: 112.2 (6) DefRtg: 106.2 (6) NetRtg: +6.0 (6)
Prior to Saturday, the Clippers had the same record (14-4) in games in which they've had both Paul George and Kawhi Leonard as they did in games in which Leonard played without George. Their win over the Wolves on Saturday was the first time in more than four weeks that the Clips' two stars played together, their seventh straight win with Leonard in uniform, and the Finals MVP's ninth straight game with 30 points or more.
Lou Williams has been in a funk, shooting just 33% over the last eight games. But the Clippers have been OK as long as Leonard has been on the floor. And with a full squad on Saturday, the bench put the game away and allowed him to sit the entire fourth quarter. The Clips are now 30-2 (with 26 straight wins) when Williams has registered a plus-minus no worse than minus-1.
With George back, the Clips have an opportunity to find a rhythm, though Montrezl Harrell turned an ankle on Saturday and Leonard will presumably miss one of the first two games (a Saturday-Sunday back-to-back) of a four-game trip that concludes their pre-break schedule.
Week 16: vs. SAS, vs. MIA, @ MIN, @ CLE
Pace: 100.0 (17) OffRtg: 112.2 (5) DefRtg: 105.1 (3) NetRtg: +7.1 (2)
The Celtics were without one of their two All-Stars against both the Heat and Sixers last week, missing Jayson Tatum in Miami on Tuesday and Kemba Walker against Philly on Saturday. In both games, they played just eight guys (before Tacko Time, at least). But they still picked up two of their biggest wins of the season, holding the Heat and Sixers to exactly one point per possession combined.
The league's third-ranked defense wasn't the only common factor in the two wins. Jaylen Brown also had two of his best games of the year, totaling 57 points on 23-for-39 shooting. He was 1-for-10 from 3-point range on Saturday, but 12-for-13 inside the arc. For the season, Brown has shot 48% on non-restricted area paint shots, the fourth best mark among players who have attempted at least 100, and he already has more makes in that range (57) than he did all of last season (51).
With the two wins last week, the Celtics are 6-6 in games played between the top six teams in the East, and won't play another until March 10. Their game in Oklahoma City on Sunday is the start of a stretch where they're playing 10 of 12 against the Western Conference.
Week 16: @ ATL, vs. ORL, vs. ATL, @ OKC
Pace: 100.6 (15) OffRtg: 111.0 (13) DefRtg: 104.3 (2) NetRtg: +6.7 (4)
The Raptors' 11-game winning streak is the second longest in the league this season, is tied for the longest in franchise history, and has Nick Nurse going to the All-Star Game. The Toronto offense ranks second (behind Damian Lillard) over the course of the streak and had its second most efficient performance of the season (129 points on just 97 possessions) against Chicago's 10th-ranked defense on Sunday.
The champs can't seem to stay healthy. Marc Gasol is dealing with a hamstring issue again and Norman Powell broke his hand one night after making some big plays - a three, a steal and a dunk - down the stretch of a win in Cleveland on Thursday. But the Raps haven't lost much in turning to Serge Ibaka (who has shot 62% over the last seven games) or Terence Davis (who scored a career-high 31 points on Sunday). Ibaka's revival under Nick Nurse is just as amazing as Davis' emergence as a contributor for one of the best teams in the league after going undrafted.
Only two of the 11 wins on the streak have come against teams with winning records, so a home-and-home with the Pacers this weeks is a good test. Indiana won the first meeting in overtime.
Friday notebook: Canada is Comeback Country
Week 16: vs. IND, @ IND, vs. BKN
Pace: 97.7 (29) OffRtg: 111.2 (12) DefRtg: 107.9 (12) NetRtg: +3.4 (10)
The Nuggets are your Jekyll and Hyde Team of the Week, having won in Milwaukee (without four rotation guys) on the second night of a back-to-back and having lost in Detroit (after leading by 21) two days later. Of course, if there was a team to pull off such a vacillation, it was the Nuggets, who have the league's smallest differential between their winning percentage against the 17 teams currently under .500 (22-9, .710) and their winning percentage against the 13 teams currently over .500 (12-7, .632).
Bench minutes haven't been too much of an issue over the two weeks that the Nuggets have been without Mason Plumlee, but they were outscored by 18 points in the 13:15 that Nikola Jokic was off the floor on Sunday, missing Michael Porter Jr., who has quickly become a critical part of their rotation. Over the three-plus weeks that Porter has been getting consistent minutes, the Nuggets have been 16.8 points per 100 possessions better with him on the floor (plus-11.5) than they've been with him off the floor (minus-5.3).
Their last meeting with the Blazers was one of Damian Lillard's lowest scoring games of the season (13 points on 5-for-16 shooting), with Gary Harris (who returned from a two-game absence on Sunday) having been Lillard's primary defender.
Week 16: vs. POR, @ UTA, @ PHX
Pace: 99.4 (20) OffRtg: 111.6 (8) DefRtg: 107.3 (9) NetRtg: +4.3 (7)
The Jazz have gone from a 19-2 stretch to a four-game losing streak, allowing the Rockets, Spurs, Nuggets and Blazers to score more than 120 points per 100 possessions over the four games.
The Jazz have seen both the league's biggest increase in points scored per 100 possessions (+1.3) and its sixth biggest increase in points allowed per 100 possessions (+2.0) from last season. For the second straight year, they lead the league in the (lowest) percentage of opponent shots that have come from the restricted area and 3-point range. But they've gone from third to 17th in opponent field goal percentage in the restricted area, having traded one of the league's best rim protectors (Derrick Favors). They've also seen the league's third biggest drop in opponent turnover percentage, having lost the guy (Ricky Rubio) who led the team in deflections per game last season.
As we've seen over the last couple of months, the ceiling is higher. But this team has yet to defend like Jazz teams of the past. Three of the teams that torched them last week are back for more, and the Rockets won't be missing their two former MVPs this time.
Week 16: vs. DEN, vs. POR, @ HOU
Pace: 98.4 (27) OffRtg: 111.5 (9) DefRtg: 108.0 (13) NetRtg: +3.5 (9)
The Heat's loss to the Celtics on Tuesday was just their third at home, but was their sixth in the second game of a back-to-back. They have the league's biggest difference in both winning percentage and points scored per 100 possessions between when they've been rested (30-9, 114.0) and when they haven't (3-6, 100.7), with all three of the no-rest wins having come in overtime. Their three first and second-year rotation guys - Tyler Herro, Kendrick Nunn and Duncan Robinson - have combined to shoot just 36% in the nine games without rest.
Herro responded from a rough night against the Celtics to hit six 3-pointers in Orlando on Saturday. Meyers Leonard also had a breakout game (18 points and 14 rebounds), earning himself some rare fourth-quarter minutes. The Heat have been without Justise Winslow for most of the season, but their starting lineup has been healthy. The 478 minutes it's played are 315 more than any Miami lineup played all of last season.
Despite the loss to Boston, the Heat still have the best record (7-3) in gams played between the top seven teams in the East, with the Sixers at AmericanAirlines Arena on Monday.
Week 16: vs. PHI, @ LAC, @ SAC, @ POR
Pace: 99.3 (21) OffRtg: 110.3 (14) DefRtg: 107.8 (11) NetRtg: +2.6 (13)
The Thunder lost the game (Monday against Dallas) that could have taken them into sixth place in the West, getting outscored, 57-36, from 3-point range. They're one of three teams that rank in the top 10 in regard to both opponent 3-point percentage (34.3%, eighth) and in the (lowest) percentage of their opponent shots that have come from 3-point range (36.3%, seventh). But the Mavs' 19 makes and 51 attempts were both highs for any OKC opponent this season.
The Thunder have still won the last seven games in which Chris Paul (now a 10-time All-Star) has played, picking up wins in Sacramento and Phoenix on Wednesday and Friday, with Mr. Clutch hitting the go-ahead bucket (from mid-range, of course) against the Suns. Over those seven games, they've outscored their opponents by almost 21 points per 100 possessions in Paul's 210 minutes on the floor. He's registered a plus-10 or better in each of the seven and dished out 10 assists in each of his last three.
After a four-day break, the Thunder will begin a four-game homestand on Wednesday, having lost four of their last six at Chesapeake Energy Arena. They have identical 15-10 records at home and on the road.
Week 16: vs. CLE, vs. DET, vs. BOS
Pace: 104.2 (2) OffRtg: 113.3 (3) DefRtg: 109.6 (15) NetRtg: +3.7 (8)
This Rockets' season always feels like it can go in either direction at any time. After a four-game losing streak and having survived one of the worst shooting months of James Harden's career, they've won five of their last seven games, getting 50 points from Eric Gordon when both Harden and Russell Westbrook missed their game in Utah on Monday. Harden has broken out of his slump, totaling 75 points and shooting 13-for-29 from 3-point range over the weekend.
Daryl Morey is reportedly shopping Clint Capela, and (with Capela out with a bruised heel) the Rockets beat the Mavs and Pelicans on Friday and Sunday without playing a center, using either P.J. Tucker or Thabo Sefolosha at the five. In 531 total minutes with Tucker at the five this season, the Rockets have outscored their opponents by the same 3.7 points per 100 possessions by which they've outscored their opponents overall, with better offensive numbers and worse defensive numbers. Westbrook has an effective field goal percentage of 56.1% in those Tucker-at-the-five minutes and 45.0% otherwise.
They have two more big games against the Jazz (it's just a three-game season series), who they trail by just one game for fourth place in the West.
Week 16: vs. CHA, @ LAL, @ PHX, vs. UTA
Pace: 98.6 (26) OffRtg: 110.1 (15) DefRtg: 107.3 (8) NetRtg: +2.8 (11)
It's going to take some time. Victor Oladipo's pick-and-roll passing looked terrific in his first minutes back on the floor and he hit the biggest shot of the Pacers' week. Though he came off the bench in his first two games, Oladipo played 36 of his 43 minutes with Malcolm Brogdon.
But The Thingamajig shot just 4-for-22 over two games and the Pacers struggled against two bad teams at home. After scoring 116.2 points per 100 possessions over a five-game trip, they committed 19 turnovers (their most in two months) against the Bulls and shot 15-for-46 (33%) from outside the paint against the Knicks, losing at home to a team currently under .500 for the first time since the first night of the season.
The Mavs are without Luka Doncic, but the Pacers' schedule gets tougher this week. Home teams are 22-9 in games played between the top six teams in the East, but Indiana is the only team without a road win (0-3) within the group, and they've lost their last 11 regular-season games in Toronto, where they'll be on Wednesday.
Week 16: vs. DAL, @ TOR, vs. TOR, vs. NOP
Pace: 99.7 (18) OffRtg: 108.2 (20) DefRtg: 105.4 (4) NetRtg: +2.8 (12)
Joel Embiid returned from a nine-game absence last week, scoring six points and assisting on a Furkan Korkmaz three on the 11-0 run that gave the Sixers (with three starters on the floor to start the fourth quarter) some separation against the Warriors on Tuesday.
But with or without Embiid, the Sixers have not been good away from the Wells Fargo Center. They've lost nine of their last 11 on the road, where they can't seem to keep their opponents off the free throw line. In losses in Atlanta and Boston on Thursday and Saturday, the Hawks and Celtics combined for 78 free throw attempts. Matisse Thybulle is generally a terrific defender (fifth in deflections per 36 minutes), but the rookie committed eight fouls in just 41 minutes over the two games.
Now the Sixers will finish their four-game trip with games against the teams that rank first and eighth in free throw rate. It will be their second game in Miami (where they lost in overtime in late December) and their first in Milwaukee.
Friday notebook: Sixers' road woes continue
Week 16: @ MIA, @ MIL, vs. MEM, vs. CHI
Pace: 99.6 (19) OffRtg: 116.0 (1) DefRtg: 110.0 (17) NetRtg: +6.0 (5)
Another right ankle sprain (this one suffered in practice on Thursday) has Luka Doncic back on the shelf. The Mavs' offense held up fine without their All-Star over the weekend, scoring 122 points per 100 possessions against the Rockets and Hawks. They registered 20 second chance points in Houston and made 20 threes against Atlanta, and the 113.1 points per 100 they've scored in seven total games without Doncic is a number that would still rank third in the league.
Defense is another story, and the Mavs couldn't stop James Harden and Russell Westbrook on Friday. The loss to the Rockets dropped the Mavs to 4-9 in games between the top seven teams in the West and capped what was their worst five game stretch of defense this season (119.5 points allowed per 100).
Even without Kristaps Porzingis on Saturday, slowing the Hawks down was much easier. Jalen Brunson started instead of J.J. Barea and outscored Trae Young, 27-12. Brunson has an effective field goal percentage of 60.4% in Dallas wins and just 39.4% in losses. That's the biggest differential among 179 players with at least 100 field goal attempts both in wins and losses.
Week 16: @ IND, vs. MEM, @ WAS, @ CHA
Pace: 103.6 (3) OffRtg: 109.4 (19) DefRtg: 111.4 (20) NetRtg: -2.0 (19)
Only the Warriors have seen a bigger jump in points allowed per 100 possessions than the Grizzlies, who have allowed 3.4 more than they did last season. But their best stretch of defense this season (102.4 allowed per 100) produced a four-game winning streak that got them to .500 for the first time. The one thing the Grizzlies do decently well defensively is protect the basket, and their opponents shot just 51% in the restricted area over the four games.
Though they got De'Anthony Melton (third in deflections per 36 minutes) back from a two-game absence, the run of good defense came to an end without Jaren Jackson Jr. (suspended) in New Orleans on Friday, when the Pelicans scored a season-high 60 points in the restricted area. The Grizz still ranked ninth on both ends of the floor in January and still have a two-game lead in the loss column for eighth place in the West.
If they're going to stay there, they're going to do it with wins on the road, where they'll be for most of the next six weeks. The Grizz will have a rest advantage in three of their final five games before the break, including against Detroit on Monday and at Philadelphia on Friday. They're 0-3 in rest-advantage games this season, but haven't had once since before Thanksgiving.
Week 16: vs. DET, @ DAL, @ PHI, @ WAS
Pace: 101.3 (11) OffRtg: 111.7 (7) DefRtg: 112.7 (26) NetRtg: -1.1 (16)
Damian Lillard has had a six-game stretch like we've never seen before, even admitting, "I've never been in this type of rhythm in my life." Really, he was draining 3-pointers over Rudy Gobert standing on the 3-point line like the two-time Defensive Player of the Year was 6-1 instead of 7-1.
Over the last two weeks (it's safe to assume that a second straight Player of the Week award is coming), Lillard has averaged 48.8 points, shooting 52% inside the arc, 57% from beyond it, and 92% at the free throw line. Also...
The Blazers have gone 4-1 against teams with winning records over the two weeks, having won just five games over the 13 teams that have winning records prior to that.
Three of the last four opponents have top-10 defenses, and the Blazers have scored 128 points per 100 possessions over those three games.
Over the two weeks, the Blazers have climbed from 14th to seventh in offensive efficiency and from 11th to ninth place in the Western Conference.
They still have all three meetings with the eighth-place Grizzlies (Lillard vs. Morant feels like a must-see match) remaining. But before they get to the first one (next Wednesday), the Blazers have three more meetings with good teams and a big game against the 10th-place Spurs.
Week 16: @ DEN, vs. SAS, @ UTA, vs. MIA
Pace: 100.7 (14) OffRtg: 111.4 (11) DefRtg: 111.5 (21) NetRtg: -0.0 (14)
The Spurs don't just have the league's most road-heavy February schedule, with the rodeo trip (eight games split by the All-Star break) set to tip off in L.A. on Monday. They also have the league's toughest February schedule in regard to cumulative opponent winning percentage. Six of the eight rodeo-trip games (along with their first game upon returning home) are against teams with winning records.
So if they're still within a game or two of eighth place at the end of the month, they're in good shape. And they finished the pre-rodeo-trip portion of their schedule strong, beating the Jazz behind 38 points (with 19 free throw attempts) from DeMar DeRozan and outscoring the Hornets, 63-20, over the final 21 minutes on Saturday. The Spurs have the league's fourth-ranked offense since Jan. 1 and will begin the rodeo trip with a back-to-back against the league's sixth and fifth-ranked defenses.
Week 16: @ LAC, @ LAL, @ POR, @ SAC
Pace: 103.4 (5) OffRtg: 110.0 (16) DefRtg: 112.3 (25) NetRtg: -2.3 (21)
Zion Williamson has been a difference maker. The Pelicans are just 3-3 with him in the lineup, but the No. 1 pick has registered a positive plus-minus in all six of his games and the Pels have outscored their opponents by 14.9 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor, the second best mark among players who have averaged at least 15 minutes a game.
Williamson clearly has some chemistry with Lonzo Ball, who has assisted on a third (16) of his 48 buckets. Ball himself made five threes in the Pelicans' biggest win with Williamson thus far, a victory over Memphis that took them to 2-0 in the head-to-head series with the team currently sitting in eighth place.
They had a fourth-quarter lead in Houston on Sunday, but shot 0-for-9 from 3-point range in the final period after committing 21 turnovers through the first 36 minutes. The Pels rank 30th in turnover rate (17.0 per 100 possessions) over the last three weeks, set to face the defense that leads the league in forcing turnovers (that of the Bulls) on Thursday. First, we get the first meeting between Williamson and Giannis Antetokounmpo on Tuesday.
Week 16: vs. MIL, @ CHI, @ IND
Pace: 98.1 (28) OffRtg: 105.0 (26) DefRtg: 106.8 (7) NetRtg: -1.8 (17)
The Magic miss Jonathan Isaac. Their regular starting lineup allowed just 105.3 points per 100 possessions in 240 minutes, but they've allowed 113.6 in 377 minutes with their other four starters on the floor without Isaac, who is out at least another month (and maybe the rest of the season, given that the Magic applied for a disabled player exception).
But with or without Isaac, the Magic's results are mostly about their opponents. They have the league's biggest differential between their record against the 17 teams currently under .500 (17-6) and their record against the 13 teams currently over .500 (4-22). Five straight games against the latter group have produced their first five-game losing streak of the season, in which their top-10 defense has allowed more than 117 points per 100.
They play the Celtics and Bucks this week, but 22 of the Magic's final 33 games are within that group below .500.
Week 16: @ CHA, @ BOS, @ NYK, vs. MIL
Pace: 102.3 (9) OffRtg: 109.8 (17) DefRtg: 110.4 (18) NetRtg: -0.6 (15)
With one of the league's toughest remaining schedules - starting last week, they were playing 21 of their final 36 games against the 13 teams currently over .500 - the Suns need to beat some good teams to remain in the mix for the final playoff spot in the West. With a lineup change (Mikal Bridges starting instead of Dario Saric) and big games from DeAndre Ayton and Devin Booker (63 points combined), they started that tough stretch off on the right foot, registering their most efficient game of the season in Dallas on Tuesday.
But three nights later, they blew a seven-point lead in the final five minutes against Oklahoma City, making just one of their final nine shots and committing a couple of live-ball turnovers as they fell victim to the clutchness of Chris Paul. With a wire-to-wire defeat in Milwaukee on Sunday, they're four games back of the eighth-place Grizzlies, to whom they've already lost the season series.
With Booker doing more work inside the arc of late and with Ayton the starting center going forward, the Suns need other guys to shoot from deep. But Cameron Johnson (bruised quad) remains on the shelf and Bridges and Saric are a combined 24-for-88 (27%) from beyond the arc since Christmas.
Week 16: @ BKN, @ DET, vs. HOU, vs. DEN
Pace: 102.2 (10) OffRtg: 106.4 (22) DefRtg: 108.2 (14) NetRtg: -1.8 (18)
In only 20 games with the Nets, Kyrie Irving already has more 50-point performances (two) than any other Net since the franchise joined the NBA in 1976. The "only 20 games" part is an issue, though, and Irving will miss a few more after suffering a right knee sprain as the Nets blew a late, nine-point lead in Washington on Saturday.
With Irving leading the way, the Nets had two of their three most efficient offensive games of the season last week. But a softer schedule (five straight games against teams with losing records) hasn't helped their defense, which has allowed more than 110 points per 100 possessions in eight of their last 10, struggling to protect the paint as well as it had been prior.
They've been better defensively with Irving off the floor than they've been with him on the floor and better defensively in games he's missed than they've been in games he's played. (It's fair to say that he isn't the best at getting around screens and back into the play.) So, while the offense will take a hit, maybe the defense will improve this week.
Week 16: vs. PHX, vs. GSW, @ TOR
Pace: 98.6 (25) OffRtg: 107.7 (21) DefRtg: 110.7 (19) NetRtg: -3.0 (23)
Buddy Hield has taken well to coming off the bench, averaging 23.4 points (in just 28.0 minutes) and shooting 28-for-57 (49%) from 3-point range over the five games since the lineup change. The highlight, of course, was his career-high 42 points (including 20 in the final 6:36 of regulation) as the Kings pulled off an unprecedented comeback in Minnesota on Monday.
Now we see if the guy who replaced Hield in the starting lineup - Bogdan Bogdanovic, who is set to be a restricted free agent this summer - is still with the Kings past the trade deadline. The Kings have had just five games in which Bogdanovic, Hield, De'Aaron Fox and Marvin Bagley have all been available to play, but have been a disappointment either way. They've actually lost all five of those games.
Fox got his career high (34 points) and the Kings registered a season high for fast break points (24) in a nice win over the Clippers on Thursday, but that came hours after they announced that Bagley (who has played in just 13 games total) is out until after the All-Star break.
Week 16: vs. MIN, vs. MIA, vs. SAS
Pace: 100.4 (16) OffRtg: 104.9 (27) DefRtg: 107.6 (10) NetRtg: -2.7 (22)
It was Kris Dunn's move into the starting lineup (replacing the injured Otto Porter Jr.) that turned the Bulls into one of the best defensive teams in the league. From that point (the day after Thanksgiving) through Thursday, Chicago ranked third defensively (106.4 points allowed per 100 possessions).
Friday in Brooklyn, in what was one of the Bulls' most important games of the season, Dunn suffered a right knee injury (MCL sprain) in the first 15 seconds of the first quarter. The Bulls proceeded to have their worst defensive game of the season (133 points allowed on 102 possessions), allowing the Nets to shoot 63%. Two days later in Toronto, they had their new worst defensive game of the season (129 points allowed on just 97 possessions), allowing the Raptors to shoot 56% and make 16 threes.
Daniel Gafford was the first of the injured Bulls - Dunn, Porter, Wendell Carter Jr. and Lauri Markkanen are the others - to make his return, playing nine minutes off the bench in Toronto on Sunday.
Week 16: vs. NOP, @ PHI
Pace: 99.0 (24) OffRtg: 109.6 (18) DefRtg: 111.8 (22) NetRtg: -2.2 (20)
The Andre Drummond chatter has quieted, but the Pistons are still a team to watch at the deadline, employing a couple of veteran guards - Derrick Rose and Langston Galloway - that could be useful off the bench of a contender. Galloway has shot 52% on corner threes, the best mark among 58 players who have attempted at least 50.
The Pistons themselves got a comeback win - with a bounce back game from Sekou Doumbouya and some feel-good moments for Reggie Jackson and (Jokic stopper) Thon Maker - over the Nuggets on Sunday. It was Jackson's third game of 20 or more points in his two weeks back from a three-month absence. But the Pistons preceded that with a loss at home to the Cavs (scoring just 100 points on 99 possessions against the league's 29th-ranked defense) and their second loss in five days to the vulnerable Nets.
Week 16: @ MEM, vs. PHX, @ OKC, vs. NYK
Pace: 103.3 (6) OffRtg: 111.5 (10) DefRtg: 116.3 (30) NetRtg: -4.8 (25)
Until two weeks ago, Bradley Beal had the worst clutch effective field goal percentage (25.9%) among players with at least 25 clutch field goal attempts. But in the Wizards' last three games that were within five points in the last five minutes, Beal is 10-for-14 in the clutch. And he had 15 points as the Wizards closed their win over Brooklyn on a 23-8 run on Saturday, getting to the basket three times against the defense that allows the fifth fewest restricted-area points per game.
With Beal averaging 36.9 points and with the Wiz scoring more than 120 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor, they've won four of their last seven games. The victory on Saturday brought them to within four games of the seventh-place Nets, who they'll face two more times this season. They have a relatively tough remaining schedule (16 of 34 against teams currently over .500), but have won six of their last seven at home, with four more games left on a six-game homestand.
Week 16: vs. GSW, vs. DAL, vs. MEM
Pace: 99.2 (22) OffRtg: 104.5 (29) DefRtg: 111.9 (23) NetRtg: -7.4 (26)
On the floor, Marcus Morris has been properly showcased. Since Jan. 1, he's averaged 22.3 points on an effective field percentage of 55%. In Indiana on Saturday, he hit four big shots down the stretch of the Knicks' first road win over a good team since they won in Dallas in early November. All four of those buckets came from inside the arc, but Morris remains fifth in 3-point percentage (43.8%).
Of course, it's not clear that the Knicks want to trade Morris, who might have made some potential buyers cringe with his comments after a loss to the Grizzlies (capped by Elfrid Payton's retaliatory shove of Jae Crowder) on Wednesday. The Knicks have been playing relatively well over the last couple of weeks, but still found their way back into the headlines with another notorious night at the Garden.
Week 16: @ CLE, vs. ORL, @ DET, @ ATL
Pace: 103.5 (4) OffRtg: 104.6 (28) DefRtg: 113.4 (28) NetRtg: -8.8 (29)
The Hawks' 22-and-under lineup - Trae Young, Kevin Huerter, De'Andre Hunter, Cam Reddish and John Collins - has been solid overall (plus-4.3 points per 100 possessions) and was a plus-7 in a little less than 10 minutes in the Atlanta's win over the Sixers on Thursday. It's the only Atlanta lineup that's played at least 100 minutes this season (despite Collins' 25-game suspension), but Lloyd Pierce hasn't gone all in on what could be his lineup of the future.
Against Joel Embiid, Pierce started Damian Jones at center, with Reddish coming off the bench. Overall, Collins has played a little less than half of his minutes (363/731) at the five, and the Hawks haven't really been any better or worse in those minutes than when he's played the four.
Hunter missed the Hawks' loss in Dallas on Saturday with a sprained ankle. Then Reddish suffered a concussion in the first quarter and Young turned his ankle in the third. So the lineup of the future may be on hiatus for a bit.
Week 16: vs. BOS, @ MIN, @ BOS, vs. NYK
Pace: 96.9 (30) OffRtg: 105.4 (25) DefRtg: 113.1 (27) NetRtg: -7.7 (27)
The Hornets are the only team with a losing record (9-10) after leading by double-digits, having lost five of the last six games they've led by 10 points or more. Their loss in San Antonio on Saturday wasn't the most epic collapse of the week (see Timberwolves, Minnesota), but it was a doozy. The Hornets led by 19 points early in the third quarter and were outscored, 63-20, over the final 21:01, with more turnovers (12) than made field goals (seven) and free throws (three) combined.
The Hornets are one of two teams - the Grizzlies are the other - with three players in the Rising Stars game, though their young core has lost a little bit of its luster over the last couple of months. After registering an effective field goal percentage of 53.8% through his first 27 games, Devonte' Graham has a mark of just 42.5% over his last 22. Miles Bridges has scored 20-plus points in two straight games for the first time in his career, but still has the league's worst raw plus-minus (-383) for the season. P.J. Washington has had some ups and downs (2-for-14 over two games sandwiched by a couple of solid performances) and is now dealing with an ankle injury.
Week 16: vs. ORL, @ HOU, vs. DAL
Pace: 103.2 (7) OffRtg: 106.2 (23) DefRtg: 109.9 (16) NetRtg: -3.6 (24)
The Wolves had finally put an end to their losing streak. Andrew Wiggins looked like a former No. 1 pick, their ball movement was terrific, and they set a franchise record for 3-pointers against Sacramento on Monday...
... and then they suffered a historic collapse, somehow blowing a 17-point lead in 2 1/2 minutes without committing a single turnover. They missed some free throws, blew some layups, committed some fouls, and didn't box out De'Aaron Fox.
The Wolves got to stew on that one for a few days before beginning a two-game trip in L.A., where they shot 7-for-39 from beyond the arc. They now have two of the three longest losing streaks (both 11 games) in the league this season. And after ranking second defensively (104.1 points allowed per 100 possessions) over Karl-Anthony Towns' 15-game absence, they've ranked 25th (115.2) over the eight games since his return.
This team needs an overhaul, but it seems unlikely that they'll take anything more than a minor step in that direction between now and the deadline.
Week 16: @ SAC, vs. ATL, vs. LAC
Pace: 101.1 (12) OffRtg: 103.7 (30) DefRtg: 112.0 (24) NetRtg: -8.3 (28)
Ignore the names and their win in Cleveland on Saturday looked like a regular Warriors game of the last five years. They made 18 threes, ran for 27 fast break points, assisted on 39 of their 48 buckets, and had a huge third quarter (44-19).
Of course, the franchise record for most 3-pointers in a quarter (10 in the third) came without Stephen Curry or Klay Thompson. D'Angelo Russell is the most flammable of shooters and has accounted for 49.6% of his team's threes when he's been on the floor (the highest rate in the league by a wide margin) this season, but had just three of the 10. Seven different guys either made or assisted on one of the 10 third-quarter threes.
Draymond Green tied his career high with 16 dimes on Saturday and the Warriors have assisted on 78% of their buckets over their last four games. They're set to rank in the top two in assist percentage for the sixth time in six seasons under Steve Kerr.
Week 16: @ WAS, @ BKN, vs. LAL
Pace: 99.1 (23) OffRtg: 106.1 (24) DefRtg: 115.0 (29) NetRtg: -8.9 (30)
The Cavs ended a seven-game losing streak with a win in Detroit on Monday. Kevin Love shot 6-for-8 from 3-point range and unleashed a patented, 85-foot outlet pass to Cedi Osman. Three nights later, they hung around with the Raptors, with Darius Garland missing a free throw that would have tied the game with a little more than a minute left. But the Cavs are now 0-10 at home in 2020, with double-digit losses to the Wolves, Knicks, Wizards, Bulls and Warriors.
Collin Sexton has averaged 22.7 points on an effective field goal percentage of 54% since Jan. 1. He ranks fourth among guards in total points scored in the paint this season. But he still has Love begging for the ball on occasion.
Week 16: vs. NYK, @ OKC, vs. LAC