Power Rankings, Week 18: Lakers return to No. 2 as regular season enters stretch run
See how all 30 teams rank after a memorable All-Star weekend in Chicago
With All-Star 2020 in the books, we have a few days to recover before the real games return on Thursday.
The Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Lakers remain at the top of their respective conferences and are back at Nos. 1 and 2 in the Power Rankings as we come out of the break. It would be a surprise if they aren’t the No. 1 seeds when the playoffs begin on April 18, but both still have some business to take care of. The Bucks will have a much tougher schedule after the break than they did before it, and the Lakers are 2-6 against the other four teams with top-five records (both of the wins have come by single digits in Denver).
There’s a lot more to be determined further down the standings. While there seems to be a clear top eight in each conference, there’s a lot of basketball (33% of the season, to be exact) still to be played.
Plus-Minus Players of the Week
- Right Way: Tim Hardaway Jr. (DAL) was a plus-39 in two games last week.
- Wrong Way: Kelly Oubre Jr. (PHX) was a minus-48 in two games last week.
Teams of the Week
- Make It Last Forever: Brooklyn (2-0) — The Nets got their first road win over a good team, beating the Pacers on Spencer Dinwiddie’s game-winner. Then they came home and ended the Raptors’ 15-game winning streak.
- Something Just Ain’t Right: Atlanta (0-2) — The Hawks lost to the Cavs by 22 points on Wednesday. 1, 2, 3, Cancun!
East vs. West
- The West is 162-135 (.545) against the East in interconference games after the East went 6-2 last week.
Schedule strength through Week 17
- Toughest: 1. New Orleans, 2. Atlanta, 3. Sacramento
- Easiest: 1. Milwaukee, 2. Toronto, 3. Memphis
- 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: Charlotte (+2), L.A Lakers (+2)
- Free falls of the week: LA Clippers (-2), Portland (-2), Sacramento (-2)
Week 18 Team to Watch
- L.A. Lakers — On Friday, the Lakers will have a potential first-round playoff preview, hosting the eighth-place Grizzlies, who they haven’t faced since before Thanksgiving. And on Sunday, they’ll look to avenge a 32-point loss in Boston when they host the Celtics.
- Last week: Minor moves could have major impact on playoff races
- This time last year: Urgency rises for Lakers, others after All-Star break — Hamidou Diallo won the Dunk Contest, Joe Harris won the 3-point contest, and Kevin Durant was the All-Star Game MVP. The Charlotte Hornets were in playoff position, two games in the loss column ahead of the 10th-place Orlando Magic, who had won seven of their last eight games before the break. The Suns went into the break with a 15-game losing streak and the Pelicans fired general manager Dell Demps. Stephen Curry bounced a pass for Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Sonya Curry drained a half-court shot.
* * *
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.
* * *
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.
* * *
* * *
The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.
Last Week: 1
Pace: 105.4 (1) OffRtg: 113.3 (3) DefRtg: 101.7 (1) NetRtg: +11.5 (1)
There's no doubt that the Bucks have been the best team in the league. They have the fourth best point differential in NBA history and the best record (12-7, including 4-0 against the Lakers, Clippers and Raptors) in games played between the the 14 teams that are currently over .500. Their defense has allowed 8.0 fewer points per 100 possessions than the league average, the third best differential in the 24 seasons for which we have play-by-play data.
But they've played the fewest games within that group of 14 teams over .500 and the fewest games (17) vs. the league's top 13 offenses, and they rank eighth defensively vs. that group. They've passed every test, they just haven't been tested all that much.
So the Bucks will be worth watching over the final eight weeks, with 16 more games (tied for most in the league) against teams with winning records. They'll have more games against teams 2-6 in the East after the break (10) than they had before it (nine). That includes three more meetings with the second-place Raptors and two more with the fifth-place Sixers, who are at Fiserv Forum on Saturday.
Week 18: @ DET, vs. PHI
Last Week: 4 ↑
Pace: 100.7 (13) OffRtg: 113.4 (2) DefRtg: 106.3 (5) NetRtg: +7.2 (2)
The Lakers are still undefeated (17-0) in Western Conference arenas outside of L.A., having shut down the Nuggets' offense in overtime on Wednesday. They closed that game with Alex Caruso, who ranks eighth on the Lakers in total minutes, but fourth on the team in clutch minutes, having been on the floor down the stretch of 17 of their 23 games that have been within five in the last five.
Caruso has taken just five shots in his 44 clutch minutes and he ranks 269th in usage rate among 314 players who have played at least 500 minutes, but most of his value is on the other end of the floor. He ranks eighth in deflections per 36 minutes and the 94.2 points per 100 possessions that the Lakers have allowed with Caruso and LeBron James on the floor together is the best mark among 674 two-man combinations that have played at least 400 minutes.
The Lakers will play 17 of their final 29 games at the Staples Center, starting with a fun, three-game homestand that includes visits from both Ja Morant and Zion Williamson.
Week 18: vs. MEM, vs. BOS
Last Week: 2 ↓
Pace: 100.0 (17) OffRtg: 112.5 (5) DefRtg: 105.7 (3) NetRtg: +6.8 (3)
It appears that Jayson Tatum, still 21 years old for another two weeks, has become that dude. While the rest of the league was already on vacation, Tatum gave the Clippers the business in the Celtics' double-overtime victory on Thursday. He totaled 39 points, with all 10 of his overtime points coming at the rim (with a drive around Kawhi Leonard and a tough finish over Montrezl Harrell) or at the free throw line. He was 5-for-6 when defended by Leonard or Paul George.
The Celtics' late-game offense has been more balanced than it was last season, when Kyrie Irving ranked third in the league in clutch usage rate (42.8%). Kemba Walker (30.6%) and Tatum (25.8%) rank 27th and 40th, respectively, this season, and Tatum's clutch effective field goal percentage (61.7%) ranks third among 52 players with at least 35 field goal attempts with the score within five points in the last five minutes.
The Celtics will play the other L.A. team (who they beat by 32 last month) on Sunday, the second game of a four-game trip.
Week 18: @ MIN, @ LAL
Last Week: 3 ↓
Pace: 100.7 (14) OffRtg: 111.4 (12) DefRtg: 105.1 (2) NetRtg: +6.3 (4)
The last five games of the Raptors' 15-game winning streak were the best offensive stretch of their season (122.6 points scored per 100 possessions). And then, with their bench shooting 4-for-19, they scored just 91 points on 98 possessions as both the winning streak and the champs' climb toward the top-10 in offensive efficiency (where they haven't been since Week 8) came to an end in Brooklyn on Wednesday.
If they were to remain where they are, this would be the first time in seven seasons the Raptors didn't rank in the top 10 offensively. They've seen the league's biggest jump in the percentage of their shots that have come in the restricted area, but its second biggest drop in restricted-area field goal percentage, from 63.9% (12th in the league) last season to 60.7% (25th) this season. Of course, it's not a big jump from 12th to seventh or eighth in offensive efficiency, so a seventh straight season in the top 10 is well within reach.
The Raps have still won seven straight at home, and their four-game homestand that begins Friday is, amazingly, their longest of the season. It includes visits from the Pacers (who have lost 12 straight regular season games in Toronto) and the Bucks.
Week 18: vs. PHX, vs. IND
Last Week: 6 ↑
Pace: 97.6 (29) OffRtg: 112.0 (7) DefRtg: 108.0 (10) NetRtg: +3.9 (8)
The Nuggets had a chance to make things interesting at the top of the Western Conference, but scored just once on their final eight possessions of an overtime loss to the Lakers on Wednesday, just their fifth loss in their last 20 games that have been within five points in the last five minutes. They closed it with Torrey Craig and Jerami Grant, and things could be a lot different if they're healthier coming out of the break.
Paul Millsap played in the last three games, but was limited to 20 minutes off the bench in his return from a left knee injury. The Nuggets have outscored their opponents by 12.5 points per 100 possessions in 766 minutes with Millsap and Nikola Jokic on the floor together, but have been outscored by 2.6 per 100 in 797 minutes with Jokic on the floor with Jerami Grant. Michael Porter Jr., meanwhile, missed the last six games, has played just 11 of the Nuggets' 135 clutch minutes, and just 12 total minutes (clutch or otherwise) will Millsap all season.
For a team that's been as good as the Nuggets have been, there are still some rotation questions to be answered in the next eight weeks. Their game in Oklahoma City on Friday is a potential playoff preview and just the second of their four meetings with the Thunder.
Week 18: @ OKC, vs. MIN
Last Week: 7 ↑
Pace: 99.3 (19) OffRtg: 111.9 (8) DefRtg: 107.6 (8) NetRtg: +4.3 (7)
They rank eighth in both offensive and defensive efficiency (one of six teams in the top 10 on both ends of the floor), but the Jazz are an offensive team now. With three guys - Donovan Mitchell, Jordan Clarkson and Bojan Bogdanovic - averaging 20 points or more (on a combined effective field goal percentage of 61%), they scored 119.3 per 100 possessions as they went into the break with four straight wins.
The Jazz rank 22nd defensively over the last three weeks (115.0 points allowed per 100 possessions). They just don't force turnovers (they've committed 58 more turnovers than their opponents over their last 12 games) and their opponents have been shooting better both inside and outside.
The defensive drop-off comes with the context that the Jazz have played 10 straight games against teams that rank in the top 11 offensively. That streak continues through their first two games after the break, with their longest homestand of the season (five games) beginning with visits from the 10th-ranked Spurs and fourth-ranked Rockets on Friday and Saturday. Of course, come playoff time, the Jazz will need to defend the best. Five of their fellow Western Conference playoff teams rank in the top seven in offensive efficiency and at the break, the Jazz rank 17th defensively in games against the top 13.
Week 18: vs. SAS, vs. HOU
Last Week: 5 ↓
Pace: 102.7 (8) OffRtg: 112.3 (6) DefRtg: 106.7 (6) NetRtg: +5.6 (6)
More concerning than the Clippers going 1-3 (and allowing almost 120 points per 100 possessions in the three losses) on their trip before the All-Star break is that the trip ended with Paul George in the TD Garden locker room, dealing with more pain in his left hamstring. There are still eight weeks left in the regular season and the Clips don't have a back-to-back until mid-March, but it remains unclear if they'll get an extended stretch with a healthy core between now and April 18.
The Clippers rank sixth defensively overall and have had the league's best defense in games against the league's 13 best offenses. But they couldn't get the stops they needed down the stretch in Boston on Thursday and rank 28th in clutch defense, having allowed their opponents to score 117 points per 100 possessions with the score within five points in the last five minutes of the fourth quarter or OT.
Marcus Morris has taken 32 shots with the Clippers, and 26 of those 32 have come from outside the paint. The most confounding of those shots was his mid-range pull-up over an Al Horford contest when the Clippers came out of a timeout late in a close game and had Morris iso against a good defender with George and Kawhi Leonard on the floor and no movement away from the ball. Morris has scored 0.96 points per possession on isolations, a mark which ranks 27th among 71 players with at least 50 isolation possessions this season.
Week 18: vs. SAC
Last Week: 8
Pace: 98.3 (26) OffRtg: 111.7 (9) DefRtg: 108.7 (14) NetRtg: +3.1 (10)
The Heat went 1-4 on a trip through the Western Conference, with the guy who took the most shots (Kendrick Nunn) shooting 27%. That has knocked them four games back in the loss column in the race for the 2 seed (and a much easier first-round matchup) in the Eastern Conference. They're 13-16 on the road, including 4-10 in Western Conference arenas.
But 4-10 means they have just on road game (in New Orleans) left against the other conference. The Heat have the fewest games remaining (six) against the West and are tied for the most home games (16) after the All-Star break. They'll play 11 of their first 13 post-break gamees against teams with losing records, with the first three against the Hawks and Cavs.
Their starting lineup (which was missing Meyers Leonard on the trip) remains solid (plus-13.4 points per 100 possessions in 488 minutes) and the early returns on their new reserves - Jae Crowder and Andre Iguodala - have been good. Though the Heat lost two of their three games with the new additions, they outscored their opponents by 31 points in 57 minutes with both on the floor.
Week 18: @ ATL, vs. CLE
Last Week: 9
Pace: 99.2 (23) OffRtg: 110.7 (14) DefRtg: 108.2 (12) NetRtg: +2.5 (11)
Though they completely changed their identity with two of the three biggest trades of last summer and have been much better in close games, the Thunder are one of three teams - the Pacers and Sixers are the others - that come out of the All-Star break on pace to finish with the same number of wins as they had last season (49). They've seen the league's ninth biggest jump in points scored per 100 possessions (0.9) and its ninth biggest jump in points allowed per 100 possessions from last season (1.7).
The improved offense has been at its best (116.7 points scored per 100 possessions) with Danilo Gallinari on the floor. Gallinari has seen a big drop in the percentage of his shots that have come in the paint (from 37% last season to 25% this season), but is having his best shooting season of his career (effective field goal percentage of 57.1%) on shots from outside the paint. He's one of five players who have shot better than 40% on at least seven 3-point attempts per game, and he scored 29 points on 12-for-18 shooting as the Thunder went into the break with a win in New Orleans.
Week 18: vs. DEN, vs. SAS
Last Week: 10
Pace: 103.9 (2) OffRtg: 113.2 (4) DefRtg: 109.8 (15) NetRtg: +3.4 (9)
The Rockets shoot a lot of 3-pointers, but they don't shoot them particularly well. They rank 23rd in 3-point percentage (34.7%) and 28th in catch-and-shoot 3-point percentage (34.5%). But the volume still works for them. They're the only team that ranks in the bottom 10 in field goal percentage (45.1%, 22nd) and in the top 10 in effective field goal percentage (53.5%, ninth), because of the extra points they get from the 3-pointers that go in.
On Tuesday against the Celtics, the Rockets made just 13 (29%) of their 45 3-point attempts, but still outscored the Celtics by six points from beyond the arc and by 17 at the free throw line, with James Harden and Russell Westbrook combining for 31 attempts at the stripe. Westbrook has scored 30 points or more in 12 of his last 14 games, averaging 34.0 on 53% shooting over that stretch.
The Rockets are two games behind the Jazz for a top-four seed in the West, and their game in Utah on Saturday will determine the head-to-head tie-breaker.
Week 18: @ GSW, @ UTA
Last Week: 11
Pace: 99.8 (18) OffRtg: 108.4 (20) DefRtg: 106.1 (4) NetRtg: +2.3 (12)
The Sixers have scored just 98.8 points per 100 possesions in 429 total minutes with Ben Simmons, Al Horford and Joel Embiid on the floor together, but 111.0 per 100 in 1,275 total minutes with Simmons on the floor with only one of the two bigs (111.2 per 100 in 920 minutes with only Horford and 110.6 per 100 in 355 minutes with only Embiid). And so Horford (getting paid $28 million per year) was moved to the bench on Tuesday.
Horford and Embiid played less than nine minutes together and, in improving to 25-2 at home, the Sixers outscored the Clippers, 58-36, in the paint. Of course, it was Simmons (24 of the 58) and not Embiid (eight points in the paint) that did most of that damage. After five of his seven first-half shots came in the paint, seven of Embiid's 10 second-half shots came from the outside.
If the Sixers keep Horford coming off the bench, we could get some funky matchups in Milwaukee on Saturday. In their two meetings with the Bucks thus far, Embiid has the primary defender on Giannis Antetokounmpo, who has shot just 5-for-19 with Embiid guarding him). Tobias Harris has spent some time guarding Brook Lopez and could benefit on offense if the Sixers can turns stops into transition opportunities.
Week 18: vs. BKN, @ MIL
Last Week: 12
Pace: 103.5 (5) OffRtg: 109.0 (18) DefRtg: 110.3 (16) NetRtg: -1.3 (17)
The Grizzlies don't just have the league's toughest remaining schedule in regard to opponent strength, with 16 of their 28 games against teams that are currently over .500. They also have the Western Conference's most road-heavy remaining schedule, with 16 of the 28 away from FedExForum.
Their 17-6 record (fifth best in the league) between Christmas and the All-Star break came with a 7-5 mark on the road and five wins in eight games against teams with winning records. Their dominance in the paint (they're a plus-20.1 points per game in the paint over their last 17 games) is a trait that should travel well, and they went into the break playing their best defensive of the season (99.2 points allowed per 100 possessions over their last five games).
The teams in ninth and 10th place have active playoff streaks of six and 22 years, respectively. But the Grizz have a five-game lead in the loss column with 28 games to play. After they visit the Kings on Thursday, they'll play four of their next five against the Lakers (x 2), Clippers and Rockets.
Week 18: @ SAC, @ LAL
Last Week: 13
Pace: 99.3 (20) OffRtg: 116.5 (1) DefRtg: 110.7 (18) NetRtg: +5.7 (5)
Even after an easy win over the Kings on Wednesday, with Luka Doncic returning from a seven-game absence to score 33 points in 31 minutes, the Mavs are just 15-14 at home. So maybe it's good that they will play six of their first seven post-break games on the road, where they've scored 118.3 points per 100 possessions, almost five more than any other team has scored away from home. They will also play seven of their first eight post-break games against teams currently under .500.
The Mavs have had some good minutes in February with Kristaps Porzingis on the floor with only guards and small forwards (no Maxi Kleber, Willie Cauley-Stein or Boban Marjanovic), and they started that way upon Doncic's return on Wednesday. The Mavs have been the league's second best third-quarter team (plus-13.6 points per 100 possessions), and they put the Kings away with a 15-7 start to the third period.
Of course, it wouldn't be like Rick Carlisle to stick with a consistent lineup. Fifteen different players have started for the Mavs this season, with eight of those 15 having started more than 10 games.
Week 18: @ ORL, @ ATL
Last Week: 14
Pace: 98.8 (24) OffRtg: 110.2 (16) DefRtg: 108.1 (11) NetRtg: +2.1 (13)
The Pacers beat the Antetokounmpo-less Bucks on Wednesday, hanging on after losing almost all of a 25-point lead. Victor Oladipo took only seven shots in his 29 minutes and T.J. Warren scored 35 points while only attempting two 3-pointers and two free throws. He had 18 points in the restricted area against the defense that protects the rim much better than any other team in the league. Warren is one of three players (the other two are Memphis Grizzlies) who have shot better than 70% on at least 100 shots in the restricted area and better than 50% on at least 100 shots elsewhere in the paint.
But the Pacers were probably in need of the All-Star break, having lost six straight games before the win over Milwaukee, with as many February losses at Bankers Life Fieldhouse (five) as they had through January. They had a bottom-10 defense (112.9 points allowed per 100 possessions) between Christmas and the break.
Week 18: @ NYK, @ TOR
Last Week: 16 ↑
Pace: 103.7 (3) OffRtg: 110.5 (15) DefRtg: 112.2 (23) NetRtg: -1.7 (18)
The Pelicans are six games back in the loss column, but in regard to cumulative opponent winning percentage, they have the league's easiest remaining schedule, while the eighth-place Grizzlies have the toughest. The Pels have won 12 of their last 13 games against the bottom 18 teams in the league, and 20 of their final 27 games will be against that group. They should have Brandon Ingram (who played nine minutes in the All-Star Game) back from a three-game absence when they begin a three-game trip in Portland on Friday.
Their pre-break loss to the Thunder (in which they led with less than four minutes to go) dropped the Pels to 3-11 in home games that were within five points in the last five minutes. But that was the second straight game in which Zion Williamson set a new career high for points. He totaled 63 in their two games last week, with 20 of his 21 buckets coming in the restricted area and with 27 total free throw attempts. The rookie's free throw rate (54 attempts per 100 shots from the field) is among the highest in the league and after shooting 6-for-17 (35%) from the line over his first four games, he has shot 45-for-61( 74%) over his last six.
Week 18: @ POR, @ GSW
Last Week: 17 ↑
Pace: 101.8 (10) OffRtg: 107.3 (22) DefRtg: 107.7 (9) NetRtg: -0.3 (14)
The Nets haven't been all that consistent defensively, and their loss in Toronto 10 days ago was one of their worst defensive games of the season (119 points allowed on 97 possessions). But they've climbed into the top 10 defensively by allowing less than 93 points per 100 possessions over their last three home games. They avenged that loss in Toronto and put an end to the second longest winning streak of the season by holding the champs to just 38% shooting, 13 free throw attempts, and six offensive rebounds on Wednesday. Between Christmas and the All-Star break, Brooklyn ranked in the top six in opponent effective field goal percentage (51.4%, fourth), opponent free throw rate (0.221, fifth), and defensive rebounding percentage (74.7%, sixth).
They've won five straight at home, but the Nets have a road-heavy remaining schedule, with 16 of their final 29 games (including six of their next seven) away from Barclays Center. They had lost nine of 10 on the road before beating the Pacers on Spencer Dinwiddie's jumper over Malcolm Brogdon on Monday. Joe Harris was unsuccessful in defending his 3-point Contest title, but preceded Dinwiddie game-winner with a big shot from beyond the arc and is the only player who has shot better than 50% on at least 20 clutch 3-point attempts.
Week 18: @ PHI, @ CHA
Last Week: 15 ↓
Pace: 101.3 (11) OffRtg: 111.5 (11) DefRtg: 113.3 (27) NetRtg: -1.8 (19)
The Blazers have the West's most home-heavy post-break schedule and its second easiest in regard to cumulative opponent winning percentage. But they went into the break with losses to two of the other teams with whom they're fighting for the last playoff spot, allowing the Pelicans and Grizzlies to total 140 points in the paint.
"It's not over until they say its over," CJ McCollum told NBA.com on Friday. "We've been in this position before. We know what needs to be done, and I think that we're gonna do it. Obviously, injuries, a lot of things have affected our season. But we're still within arm's reach of the playoffs and having a successful season."
The "what needs to be done" part? Well, the Blazers simply need to defend better. They ranked last defensively (117.2 points allowed per 100 possessions) between Christmas and the All-Star break, with their opponents shooting a league-high 39.0% from 3-point range. They also ranked 28th in both opponent turnover percentage and defensive rebounding percentage over those seven weeks.
Their first game out of the break (Friday against the Pelicans) could be the Blazers' most important of the season, but they might be without Damian Lillard, who suffered a groin strain in the fourth quarter on Wednesday.
Week 18: vs. NOP, vs. DET
Last Week: 19 ↑
Pace: 100.4 (16) OffRtg: 111.6 (10) DefRtg: 112.7 (25) NetRtg: -1.1 (16)
The Spurs lost their first five games of the rodeo trip, getting outscored by 36 points per 100 possessions in 71 minutes with LaMarcus Aldridge off the floor. But their bench came up big (Patty Mills and Derrick White combined for 37 points) as they went into the break with a win in Oklahoma City. We've been seeing a little more of White and Dejounte Murray playing together over the last few weeks, and the Spurs have scored 60 points on 43 possessions with the pair on the floor over the trip.
They still have a lot of work to do if they're going to keep their playoff streak (22 years and counting) alive, trailing the eight-place Grizzlies by five games coming out of the break. Their remaining schedule is easier than that of the Grizz, but the Spurs haven't been great at taking care of business, just 13-13 in games between the 16 teams that currently have losing records.
Week 18: @ UTA, @ OKC
Last Week: 20 ↑
Pace: 98.2 (28) OffRtg: 105.5 (27) DefRtg: 107.4 (7) NetRtg: -1.8 (20)
Aaron Gordon came out of the All-Star break with his lowest-scoring dunk of All-Star Saturday Night, but he went into the break with two of his three highest-scoring games of the season, totaling 51 points on 18-for-35 shooting in wins over Atlanta and Detroit. The first of those, with Gordon grabbing six offensive rebounds that helped his team rack up 22 second chance points, was the Magic's most efficient game of the season (135 points on 99 possessions).
A year ago, the Magic were one of the league's most improved teams after the All-Star break, but they had begun their turnaround a couple of weeks before the break. These Magic had lost eight of nine before winning those two close games against bad teams last week. But they do have one of the league's easiest post-break schedules, with 17 of their 27 games against teams with losing records.
Week 18: vs. DAL
Last Week: 18 ↓
Pace: 98.7 (25) OffRtg: 108.2 (21) DefRtg: 110.9 (20) NetRtg: -2.6 (22)
It would take a miracle for the Kings to avoid running their playoff drought to 14 seasons (one season shy of the longest drought in NBA history). They're seven games out of eighth place, with four teams between them and the Grizzlies. They do have one of the easier remaining schedules in the West and seven games against those four teams ahead of them (including two against Memphis in the next two weeks). But after putting together a 6-2 stretch with some improved offense, they went into the break with losses in Milwaukee and Dallas, unable to stop two of the league's three best offenses.
It's unclear if Marvin Bagley III is going to play again this season. His absence has provided an opportunity for Harry Giles III, who ranks fourth in defensive rebounding percentage in February. Of course, the Kings declined Giles' $4 million, fourth-year option before the season began.
Week 18: vs. MEM, @ LAC
Last Week: 21
Pace: 101.9 (9) OffRtg: 109.9 (17) DefRtg: 110.7 (19) NetRtg: -0.9 (15)
Evaluating the Suns at the All-Star break is a matter of perspective. Overall, they're the second most improved team in the league, 8.0 points per 100 possessions better than they were last season. They've seen the league's fourth biggest improvement (4.6 per 100) on offense and its third biggest improvement (3.5 per 100) on defense. They're one of two teams (the Lakers are the other) that has already surpassed their win total from last season.
But after seeing the Suns start the season with seven wins in their first 11 games, it feels like a disappointment they're currently 11 games under .500. A playoff spot in the Western Conference has been up for grabs (and remains so given the difficulty of the Grizzlies' schedule going forward), but the Suns haven't been able to put together more than two straight wins since early November.
The Suns are better statistically than they are in the standings. They have the West's eighth best point differential (-1.2 points per game), better than those of the four teams between them and a playoff spot. But they're 12-19 in games that were within five points in the last five minutes, with three of those losses having come at the hands of the eighth-place Grizzlies.
Week 18: @ TOR, @ CHI
Last Week: 23 ↑
Pace: 103.5 (4) OffRtg: 111.3 (13) DefRtg: 115.3 (30) NetRtg: -4.0 (25)
The Wizards have a couple of opportunites when they host the Cavs on Friday...
With a victory, the Wizards will have their first three-game winning streak of the season. They went into the break as one of four teams - the Hawks, Bulls and Pistons are the others - that have yet to win more than two straight games.
If they outscore the Cavs by about eight points or more, they'll climb out of the basement in defensive efficiency. The gap between 29th and 30th was pretty wide just a couple of weeks ago, but the last five games have been the Wizards' best defensive stretch of the season (105.9 points allowed per 100 possessions).
The Wiz have won five of their last six games against the other Eastern Conference teams not in playoff position. Two of their remaining six games within the group are this week.
Week 18: vs. CLE, @ CHI
Last Week: 22 ↓
Pace: 100.6 (15) OffRtg: 105.2 (28) DefRtg: 108.2 (13) NetRtg: -3.0 (23)
The Bulls went into the All-Star break with a six-game losing streak, continuing to fall apart on defense, where they rank last (121.5 points allowed per 100 possessions) in February. For the season, they've allowed their opponents to 37% of their shots, the league's highest opponent rate, in the restricted area. Over the losing streak, that number is higher (41%) and their opponents have shot a league-high 73% on those restricted area shots.
Zach LaVine totaled 73 points on 62% shooting (including 13-for-21) from 3-point range over the last two games before the break. Over those two games, the Bulls and their opponents combined to score 119 points per 100 possessions in LaVine's 77 minutes on the floor and just 87 per 100 in his 19 minutes on the bench.
Despite their loss to the Wizards on Tuesday, the Bulls have the best record (13-5) in games played between the bottom seven teams in the East. They'll play three of their next five games within the group.
Week 18: vs. CHA, vs. PHX, vs. WAS
Last Week: 24
Pace: 99.2 (22) OffRtg: 104.9 (29) DefRtg: 111.8 (22) NetRtg: -6.9 (26)
The top two picks from last year's Draft are already stars making a positive impact on the teams that selected them. Whether RJ Barrett is a future star is a critical question for the Knicks. And though it doesn't need to be answered this season, the next 27 games aren't insignificant in the rookie's development.
Barrett went into the break by shooting 11-for-36 (31%) (and dishing out only eight assists in 91 total minutes) over his four games after a nine-game absence. His effective field goal percentage of 43.0% ranks 198th among 200 players with at least 300 field goal attempts, but he does get to the line. His free throw rate of 35.6 attempts per 100 shots from the field ranks fifth among rookies (the four guys ahead of him are all centers) with at least 100 field goal attempts. And after shooting 55% from the stripe through December, he's at 72% since Jan. 1.
Week 18: vs. IND
Last Week: 25
Pace: 103.4 (7) OffRtg: 105.6 (25) DefRtg: 114.0 (28) NetRtg: -8.3 (28)
The Hawks have climbed out of the bottom five in offensive efficiency, where they had resided since Week 9. They've scored 114.1 points per 100 possessions, the league's 10th best mark, over their last 10 games. Trae Young has scored 34 points or more in five of those games and John Collins has shot 65% (including 80% in the restricted area) over that stretch. The Hawks have scored 111 points per 100 in their 611 total minutes together.
They don't seem close to climbing out of the bottom five on the other end of the floor, where they've allowed 118.9 points per 100 possessions in February, even though four of their last five opponents rank in the bottom 10 offensively. They went into the break by allowing the 27th-ranked Magic and 24th-ranked Cavs to shoot 52% and grab almost 40% of their misses. They're 3-31 when they've been outrebounded.
Week 18: vs. MIA, vs. DAL
Last Week: 28 ↑
Pace: 96.7 (30) OffRtg: 105.6 (26) DefRtg: 113.1 (26) NetRtg: -7.5 (27)
The Hornets kind of have a three-game winning streak. They went into the break with two real wins in Detroit and Minnesota, with Devonte' Graham totaling 42 points and 19 assists (with only five turnovers) over the two games. And then the Hornets scored 21 of the USA's points on a 27-5 run that turned the Rising Stars game on Friday, with game MVP Miles Bridges capping the run by tossing the ball to himself off the glass.
Bridges has scored 15 points or more in eight straight games, shooting 73% in the restricted area over that stretch. Bridges' effective field goal percentage and true shooting percentage are still down from his rookie season, and the Hornets are the only team that ranks in the bottom five on both ends of the floor at the All-Star break.
Week 18: @ CHI, vs. BKN
Last Week: 26 ↓
Pace: 98.3 (27) OffRtg: 108.9 (19) DefRtg: 111.4 (21) NetRtg: -2.5 (21)
The Pistons went into the break with a four-game losing streak and with another game in which they couldn't get buckets down the stretch. Their late-game offense may be where they miss Blake Griffin the most. After ranking seventh in clutch offense last season (113.2 points scored per 100 possessions), they rank 29th this season (92.4). And on Wednesday in Orlando, they scored 14 points on 20 clutch possessions, taking 21 shots from the field without attempting a single free throw.
Despite the departure of Andre Drummond, the Pistons still have a somewhat crowded frontcourt, where Christian Wood and Thon Maker have started over Sekou Doumbouya and Markieff Morris during the four-game losing streak. Doumbouya is the only one of those four guys definitely under contract next season (Morris has a $3.4-million player option), but has shot 11-for-46 (including a brutal 4-for-21 in the restricted area) over the last two weeks.
Week 18: vs. MIL, @ POR
Last Week: 27 ↓
Pace: 103.4 (6) OffRtg: 107.1 (23) DefRtg: 110.4 (17) NetRtg: -3.3 (24)
The Wolves' post-deadline turnaround lasted just one game, and they're 0-2 with D'Angelo Russell, even though they outscored the Hornets by 12 points in his 35:30 on Wednesday. With him on the bench, they scored just 18 points on 29 possessions. They got the starting point guard they wanted, but they're still in need of a capable back-up, and Russell has missed 76 games in less than five seasons in the league.
The Wolves were without the relatively durable Karl-Anthony Towns (left wrist injury) against Charlotte, though the minutes with Russell and Towns on the floor together in Toronto two nights earlier were not good defensively. Their first four games out of the break will be against teams that rank in the top 10 on offense.
Week 18: vs. BOS, @ DEN
Last Week: 30 ↑
Pace: 99.3 (21) OffRtg: 106.3 (24) DefRtg: 115.1 (29) NetRtg: -8.8 (30)
The Cavs managed to end a 12-game home losing streak before the break, getting 64 points and 38 total (16 offensive) from their three healthy bigs (Andre Drummond, Larry Nance Jr. and Tristan Thompson) against the Hawks on Wednesday.
As the Cavs have traded for Drummond and pondered the futures of Thompson and Kevin Love, the 27-year-old Nance (in the first year of a four-year contract) has been playing the best basketball of his career. He's had six double-doubles in the last four weeks, has dished out five or more assists in three of his last seven games, and has shot 59% (including 56% from mid-range and 38% from 3-point range) over the last month.
In the battle for ping pong balls, the 14-win Cavs have two more games against the 15-win Hawks and one more against the 12-win Warriors, who could be getting an upgrade at point guard next month. All three of those games are on the road, where the Cavs will play 16 of their final 28.
Week 18: @ WAS, @ MIA
Last Week: 29 ↓
Pace: 101.2 (12) OffRtg: 103.9 (30) DefRtg: 112.4 (24) NetRtg: -8.5 (29)
The Warriors are home for nine of their next 11 games and could have Stephen Curry back for some games against good teams at the end of that stretch. Their offense will need a boost to avoid finishing 30th in efficiency one year after leading the league, and they'll play a stretch of seven straight games (March 3-15) against teams that currently rank in the top 10 defensively.
The Warriors have obviously missed the 3-point shooting of Curry and Klay Thompson, but they've also seen the league's biggest drop in field goal percentage in the restricted area, from 67.8% (best in the league) last season to 61.4% (23rd) this season. They traded the guy - Willie Cauley-Stein - who shot 73% on 151 restricted-area attempts, the guy - Alec Burks - who's one of seven players who have shot worse than 50% on at least 100, and the guy - D'Angelo Russell - who has taken only 8% of his shots in the restricted area.
Week 18: vs. HOU, vs. NOP