Power Rankings, Week 19: Rockets surge into Top 5; Pelicans continue to rise as standings tighten
See how all 30 teams rank with less than 2 months until the 2020 NBA playoffs
In last week’s post-All-Star-break schedule breakdown, the focus in the Western Conference was on the Memphis Grizzlies, the team that had surprised us all by holding the eighth playoff spot in the Western Conference through two thirds of the season. In order to hold onto that spot, the Grizz would have to navigate the league’s toughest and most road-heavy post-break schedule.
Well, they’re not off to a good start. Not only did the Grizzlies lose their first tough post-break game (against the Lakers on Friday), they lost their first easy one (against the Kings on Thursday). Meanwhile, the New Orleans Pelicans, the 10th-place team with the league’s easiest post-break schedule, took care of business against Portland and Golden State.
So just four days into the home stretch, the Western Conference playoff race is a lot tighter than it was before All-Star weekend. The Grizzlies still have a lot to say about how things turn out, but there’s a decent chance that we’ll have a Lakers-Pelicans, Zion Williamson vs. LeBron James and Anthony Davis, first-round playoff series. If that’s the case, we’ll get a couple of previews this week, Tuesday in L.A. and Sunday in New Orleans.
Plus-Minus Players of the Week
- Right Way: Giannis Antetokounmpo (MIL) was a plus-64 in two games last week.
- Wrong Way: Jordan Poole (GSW) was a minus-46 in two games last week.
Teams of the Week
- Make It Last Forever: Sacramento (2-0) — There’s still a little bit of life left in the Kings’ playoff hopes after wins over the Grizzlies and Clippers.
- Something Just Ain’t Right: Washington (0-2) — The Wizards just didn’t want to give up the No. 30 ranking in defensive efficiency, refusing to let the Cavs defend worse than they did on Friday. And then they helped the Bulls end an eight-game losing streak.
East vs. West
- The West is 166-138 (.546) against the East in interconference games after going 4-3 last week.
Schedule strength through Week 18
- Toughest: 1. New Orleans, 2. Sacramento, 3. Philadelphia
- Easiest: 1. Milwaukee, 2. Toronto, 3. Washington
- Schedule strength is based on cumulative opponent record, and adjusted for home vs. away and days of rest before a game.
Movement in the Rankings
- High jumps of the week: Houston (+5), Atlanta (+3), New Orleans (+3), Oklahoma City (+3)
- Free falls of the week: Utah (-3), Five teams (-2)
Week 19 Team to Watch
- LA Clippers — It’s not just that the Clippers still aren’t finding a rhythm. They’ve lost three straight games for the first time this season, and the losing streak is just the start of a stretch where they’re playing nine of 10 games against teams that are currently at or above .500. That stretch continues with three home games this week: Monday against the eighth-place Grizzlies, Friday against the Nuggets in a game that could be for second place in the West, and Sunday against the Sixers, to whom the Clippers have already lost this season. With Paul George and Patrick Beverley expected back from their injuries, the Clips will also visit the Suns on Wednesday.
- Last week: Lakers return to No. 2 as regular season enters stretch run
- This time last year: Blazers, Nuggets make their move — The Suns had lost 17 straight games and the Knicks ended an 18-game home losing streak by scoring 130 points against the rodeo-tripping Spurs. Karl-Anthony Towns’ streak of 3030 straight games played to start his career came to an end after he suffered a concussion in a car accident. Kawhi Leonard picked DeMar DeRozan’s pocket and went the other way for the go-ahead bucket against his former team, Khris Middleton hit a game-winning 3-pointer against the Celtics, and Paul George beat the Jazz in double-OT with a soft shot over Rudy Gobert.
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Pace: Possessions per 48 minutes (League Rank)
OffRtg: Points scored per 100 possessions (League Rank)
DefRtg: Points allowed per 100 possessions (League Rank)
NetRtg: Point differential per 100 possessions (League Rank)
The league has averaged 100.7 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes and 109.6 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: 105.4 (1) OffRtg: 113.4 (3) DefRtg: 101.6 (1) NetRtg: +11.8 (1)
There are nearly 2 months left in the season and the Bucks have clinched a playoff spot, with more wins already than the sixth-place Pacers are on pace for (47). That the Bucks will eventually clinch the top seed (for a second straight season) is also academic, but the tests will keep coming.
They passed the first test of the post-break schedule by holding Joel Embiid to just 2-for-12 shooting in the paint on Saturday and running for 31 fast break points, even though the Sixers committed only two live-ball turnovers. Giannis Antetokounmpo had 31 points, 17 rebounds and eight assists in 29 minutes.
Antetokounmpo's per-36 numbers (35.0 points, 15.8 rebounds and 6.8 assists) are somewhat pace-aided. But what's important to note about the Bucks' 105.4 possessions per 48 minutes (the fastest pace for any team in the 24 seasons for which we have play-by-play data) is that, while they play fast, their opponents do not.
According to Second Spectrum tracking, the Bucks rank last in the percentage of time (41% of their minutes) that they've had the ball. While they've taken 19.6% of their shots in the first six seconds of the shot clock, their opponents have taken only 13.0% of their shots in the first six seconds. According to Synergy tracking, the Bucks are the only team that ranks in the top 10 in the percentage of their possessions that have been in transition (21.3%, second) and in the (lowest) percentage of their opponents' possessions that have been in transition (14.9%, 10th).
The only team that with a higher percentage of its possessions having come in transition is the Raptors, and the Bucks will be in Toronto on Tuesday. It's the second of four meetings between the top two teams in the East and the second time the Raptors will have a rest advantage (with the Bucks playing in Washington on Monday). Of course, the Bucks are 7-0 in the second game of back-to-backs, having outscored the seven opponents by 18.7 points per 100 possessions.
Week 19: @ WAS, @ TOR, vs. OKC, @ CHA
Last Week: 2
Pace: 100.8 (13) OffRtg: 113.3 (4) DefRtg: 106.2 (5) NetRtg: +7.1 (3)
Size continues to matter for the Lakers, who outscored the Celtics, 48-30, in the restricted area in a two-point win on Sunday. But the Lakers' best minutes were when they weren't playing big. In fact, during their two games over the weekend (wins over Memphis and Boston), the Lakers outscored their opponents by 37 points in 35 minutes with Anthony Davis at center.
They've been playing Davis at the five a little more over the last month (16.2 minutes per game) than they were previously (12.0). And the addition of Markieff Morris (signed after clearing waivers on Sunday) will give them another piece to use in their Davis-at-center lineups. Like his brother, Morris is having the best 3-point shooting season of his career (a career-high 39.7% on a career-high 4.3 attempts per game).
With how games were moved around, the rescheduled Clippers-Lakers game is at the end of a five-games-in-six-days stretch in early April for the Lakers, though they could certainly have clinched the top seed in the West by the time they get there. Only 11 of their remaining 26 games are against teams that currently have winning records, though three of their four games this week could have an effect on their first-round matchup.
Week 19: vs. NOP, @ GSW, @ MEM, @ NOP
Last Week: 4 ↑
Pace: 100.8 (14) OffRtg: 111.6 (10) DefRtg: 104.5 (2) NetRtg: +7.1 (2)
The Raptors seemed to have learned a lesson from their last game before the All-Star break, when their 15-game winning streak came to an end after an ugly, 40-point first half in Brooklyn. In their first two games out of the break, the champs outscored the Suns and Pacers, 130-75, before halftime. Pascal Siakam totaled 39 first-half points and the Raps assisted on 33 of their 49 first-half buckets over the weekend.
Regardless of the standings, you could make a strong argument that the Raptors are the Eastern Conference team best equipped to beat the Bucks. They have an elite defense that's practiced at protecting the paint and rotating out to shooters, and they have an offense that can take advantage of the Bucks' protect-the-rim-at-call-costs defensive scheme by moving the ball (the champs lead the league in secondary assists) and making open shots (third in catch-and-shoot 3-point percentage).
With or (most likely) without Marc Gasol on Tuesday, the first quarter could be critical. While the Raptors have been dominant early in their first two post-break games, the Bucks' differential of plus-17.3 points per 100 possessions in the first quarter is the best mark for any team in any period. Milwaukee outscored Toronto, 36-17, in the first quarter of a wire-to-wire victory in the teams' first meeting.
Week 19: vs. MIL, vs. CHA, @ DEN
Last Week: 3 ↓
Pace: 100.1 (17) OffRtg: 112.5 (5) DefRtg: 105.8 (3) NetRtg: +6.7 (4)
The Jayson Tatum Evolution did not lose any steam over the All-Star break. The third-year forward matched his career high with 41 points in L.A. on Sunday, forcing the Lakers to send double-teams at him for much of the second half. At times, he scored around or through those double-teams, but more attention from opposing defenses will put the spotlight on Tatum's playmaking. His assist ratio (11.4 per 100 possessions used) ranks 41st among 43 players with a usage rate of 25% or higher.
Despite the two-point loss to the Lakers (without Kemba Walker), the Celtics are 12-10 in games played between the 13 teams with winning records. After they visit Portland on Tuesday, they'll play six of their next eight games within the group, a stretch that includes two games against the Jazz and a chance for revenge against the Rockets on Saturday, having suffered one of their seven double-digit losses two weeks ago in Houston.
Week 19: @ POR, @ UTA, vs. HOU
Last Week: 10 ↑
Pace: 103.8 (2) OffRtg: 113.6 (2) DefRtg: 109.7 (15) NetRtg: +4.0 (7)
Points from 3-pointers over the Rockets' two-game road trip through San Francisco and Salt Lake City: Rockets 135, Opponents 42.
It helps when the team that leads the league in 3-point volume shoots 46% from beyond the arc. And opponent 3-point percentage can be fluky in a much larger sample than just two games. But the Rockets should be encouraged by their defense, both in regard to the numbers and the eye test.
The Rockets have allowed just 96.3 points per 100 possessions in 102 total minutes with James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Robert Covington and P.J. Tucker on the floor together, with good numbers on the defensive glass. They're switching (pretty much) everything on that end of the floor, and their communication and cohesiveness with the switching has been on point.
Since they last had a starting center, the Rockets are 7-2, with wins over the Mavs, Lakers, Celtics and Jazz. The win in Utah on Saturday, with Harden and Westbrook combining for 72 points and with the Jazz rebounding only six of their 48 misses, put the Rockets back in fourth place and gave them the head-to-head tiebreaker.
Week 19: vs. NYK, vs. MEM, @ BOS
Last Week: 9 ↑
Pace: 99.3 (22) OffRtg: 111.0 (14) DefRtg: 107.9 (9) NetRtg: +3.1 (11)
The Thunder still have the worst record (8-15) in games played between the 13 teams that are currently over .500. But they came out of the break with a win over Denver on Friday. Chris Paul had zero points, just one assist and four turnovers through the first 15 minutes against the Nuggets' more aggressive pick-and-roll defense, but figured things out after that, got to his spots, and finished with 29 points on 11-for-17 shooting.
Two nights later, the Thunder had a more balanced attach (eight guys in double figures) and held their opponent (San Antonio) under a point per possession for the first time in more than six weeks. And with that win, they're 27-7 against the 17 teams that are currently at or below .500 and in the top 10 in defensive efficiency for the first time since Week 4.
They'll face two more below-.500 teams this week, but will be at a rest disadvantage (playing the second game of a back-to-back when they make their only visit of the season to Milwaukee on Friday.
Week 19: @ CHI, vs. SAC, @ MIL
Last Week: 5 ↓
Pace: 97.7 (29) OffRtg: 112.0 (6) DefRtg: 108.3 (13) NetRtg: +3.8 (9)
The Nuggets got their starting lineup back together last week, and they outscored the Thunder and Wolves by 22 points in 54 minutes with at least four of the starters on the floor over the weekend. Nikola Jokic totaled 56 points on an amazing 23-for-29 shooting over the two games, Paul Millsap scored a season-high 25 points on Sunday, and Gary Harris even made some shots against the Wolves.
But Denver was outscored by 22 points in 42 minutes with at least two reserves on the floor. The bench shot 3-for-19 from 3-point range and Michael Porter Jr. was somehow a minus-24 in 17 minutes over the two games, a setback in his quest to earn ... more than 17 minutes over two games. Less than two minutes after checking into the loss in Oklahoma City, Porter got a mismatch against Dennis Schroder, but got pushed out to the 3-point line by the 172-pound point guard and ended up shooting an eight-foot jumper off the side of the backboard.
Week 19: vs. DET, @ LAC, vs. TOR
Last Week: 7 ↓
Pace: 102.8 (8) OffRtg: 112.0 (7) DefRtg: 106.7 (6) NetRtg: +5.3 (6)
We continue to wait for the the Clippers to put it together. Both Patrick Beverley (groin) and Paul George (hamstring) practiced last week, but neither played against the Kings on Saturday. Reggie Jackson started in his first game with his new team, the Clippers went scoreless on their first seven possessions, went scoreless again on nine straight possessions after they took a two-point lead with six minutes left, and finished with less than a point per possession for just the second time in their last 33 games. It wasn't the first time this month that they've struggled offensively; They've lost four of their last five, scoring a paltry 104.1 points per 100 possessions in the four losses.
George and Beverley should be back this week, and the Clippers' game against the Nuggets on Friday is the start of their toughest stretch of their post-break schedule, five straight games (four within the Western Conference) against teams no worse than the 35-22 Thunder. The Clips have played the fewest games (they're 7-6) within the top seven teams in the West, and they'll play four of their remaining nine within those 10 days.
Week 19: vs. MEM, @ PHX, vs. DEN, vs. PHI
Last Week: 6 ↓
Pace: 99.4 (19) OffRtg: 111.7 (9) DefRtg: 107.9 (10) NetRtg: +3.8 (8)
The Jazz kept Mike Conley out of their game against the Spurs on Friday, holding him for the more important game (Saturday against the Rockets) of their back-to-back. And then they lost both games, scoring less than 105 points per 100 possessions against teams that rank 15th and 24th defensively, and allowing three 38-point quarters over the two nights. Conley shot 5-for-15 in his first game back from a three-game absence and was on the floor for most of the third quarter in which the Jazz (who have generally been at their best in the third period) were outscored, 38-19.
Jordan Clarkson, averaging a team-high 21.1 points on an effective field goal percentage of 66% over the last 10 games, remains a bright spot. And the Jazz are finally done with a stretch of 12 straight games against teams that rank in the top 12 in offensive efficiency. But they'll face Jayson Tatum and the fifth-ranked Celtics offense twice in the next 12 days and they have a tougher remaining schedule than Houston.
Week 19: vs. PHX, vs. BOS, vs. WAS
Last Week: 8 ↓
Pace: 98.6 (26) OffRtg: 112.0 (8) DefRtg: 108.7 (14) NetRtg: +3.2 (10)
The Heat are 2-3 with Jae Crowder and Andre Iguodala, with the two wins having come against the last-place teams in each conference. Though Crowder has an effective field goal percentage of 74% with his new team, the Heat have scored just 104.4 points per 100 possessions in 160 total minutes with one or both of their new vets on the floor, and they've allowed 124.2 per 100 in 80 total minutes with both on the bench.
The First-Half Heat have won 10 of their last 13 games, while the Second-Half Heat have lost 10 of their 13. For the season, the Heat have been 13.3 points per 100 possessions better in the first half of games (plus-8.9) than they've been in the second half (minus-4.4), with the bigger drop-off coming on offense. Only two teams - the Wizards (8.1 per 100 better in the second half of games) and Celtics (6.7 per 100 better in the second half) - have a half-to-half differential even half of that 13.3.
After they play the Cavs again on Monday, the Heat will have 15 of their final 25 games at home, where the half-to-half differential (plus-16.0 vs. plus-2.9) has been only slightly smaller than it's been on the road.
Week 19: @ CLE, vs. MIN, vs. DAL, vs. BKN
Last Week: 11
Pace: 99.8 (18) OffRtg: 108.1 (21) DefRtg: 106.1 (4) NetRtg: +2.0 (12)
Joel Embiid has now shot 25-for-83 (30%) in five games against the Bucks and Raptors. In Milwaukee on Saturday, Embiid was 2-for-12 in the paint, unable to get clean looks against the Bucks' defend-the-rim-at-all-costs defense. And without the league's leader in 3-point assists (Ben Simmons), the Sixers couldn't take advantage from the perimeter.
The Sixers now have bigger issues than the fit between Simmons and Embiid, with the point guard's back problem at the top of the list. Tobias Harris has a bruised knee and Al Horford is having a brutal February. He has shot 32% (with just five free throw attempts) and the Sixers have been outscored by more than 12 points per 100 possessions in his 216 minutes this month.
They have just three games remaining (all at home) within the top six in the East, but the Sixers will face both the Clippers and Lakers on the four-game trip that begins Sunday.
Week 19: vs. ATL, @ CLE, vs. NYK, @ LAC
Last Week: 15 ↑
Pace: 103.6 (3) OffRtg: 110.8 (15) DefRtg: 112.0 (23) NetRtg: -1.2 (16)
Zion Williamson has scored at least 20 points in each of his last eight games and 25-plus in each of his last four. He even ended his 3-point drought (0-for-7 over 10 games) on Sunday. But the Pels still needed a huge second half (21 points and 12 assists) from Jrue Holiday to beat the last-place Warriors (after trailing by 12 points at halftime). They're 18-9 (fifth best in the league) over the last two months, they've scored more than 120 points per 100 possessions (and recorded assists on 75% of their buckets) over their last six games, and they have the league's easiest post-break schedule.
But no win is a given and they need every win they can get as they try to catch the Grizzlies for the final playoff spot in the West. And the league's easiest post-break schedule is pretty tough for the next few weeks. The Pels will play six of their next 10 games against teams with winning records, with Williamson facing LeBron James for the first two times on Tuesday and Sunday.
Week 19: @ LAL, vs. CLE, vs. LAL
Last Week: 13
Pace: 99.4 (20) OffRtg: 116.3 (1) DefRtg: 110.6 (18) NetRtg: +5.7 (5)
As the Mavs try to move up from seventh place in the West, they're not playing any of the other teams in the top seven until their 12th game after the All-Star break. They're also taking precautions with their two stars. The Mavs sat both Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis for the second game of a back-to-back on Saturday, falling to 5-8 without Doncic after blowing a 16-point lead in Atlanta.
They've won eight of their last 11 games in which Doncic has played, with their win in Orlando on Friday being the fifth time in that stretch in which he's gone to the line for at least 10 free throw attempts. His free throw rate of 44.8 attempts per 100 shots from the field is up from 40.9 last season and ranks eighth among 108 players with at least 500 field goal attempts, though his free throw percentage (76.5%) ranks 19th among 28 players who have averaged at least five attempts per game.
The Mavs have three back-to-backs remaining, including one at the end of a four-game trip that begins Wednesday in San Antonio.
Week 19: vs. MIN, @ SAS, @ MIA, @ MIN
Last Week: 12 ↓
Pace: 103.6 (5) OffRtg: 109.0 (18) DefRtg: 110.5 (16) NetRtg: -1.5 (18)
The league's toughest post-break schedule began with a game against the 21-33 Kings. And it began with the Grizzlies allowing the Kings to score 70 points in the first half, unable to to keep up with the ball as Sacramento made 11 first-half 3-pointers. The Lakers didn't do much damage from beyond the arc the following night, but the Grizz put them on the line for 40 free throw attempts as they fell back to .500.
The Grizzlies continue to win the battle in the paint (they've outscored their opponents by at least 10 points in the paint in 16 of their last 19 games), but they rank 27th in point differential from 3-point range (-5.6 per game) and 30th in point differential at the free throw line (-3.8 per game).
They got some good minutes off their bench both nights, with Josh Jackson scoring 20 points on 9-for-12 shooting (with some unorthodox finishes in the paint) against the Lakers. But the Grizzlies' new starting lineup (with Kyle Anderson at the three) has been much worse offensively than the version with Jae Crowder, was outscored by 24 points in just 16 minutes over their first two post-break games, and will be without Jaren Jackson Jr. (sprained right knee) for at least two weeks.
Week 19: @ LAC, @ HOU, vs. SAC, vs. LAL
Last Week: 14 ↓
Pace: 98.9 (25) OffRtg: 109.6 (17) DefRtg: 108.2 (12) NetRtg: +1.4 (13)
The Pacers continue to hit speed bumps on the road toward regaining their rhythm with Victor Oladipo in the fold. Oladipo left his eighth game back (Friday in New York) with back spasms and wasn't in uniform as the Pacers got blasted in Toronto two nights later. He has shot better from the outside after a rough first three games, but has continued to struggle finishing in the paint.
After ranking 21st defensively between Christmas and the All-Star break, the Pacers came out of the break holding the Knicks under a point per possession. But they shot 10-for-46 in the first quarter over their two games last week and there was no recovering from a second straight ugly start in Toronto. Oladipo was neither the only Pacers rotation player to struggle offensively over the weekend nor their only rotation player to leave a game early. Malcolm Brogdon has shot 1-for-17 from 3-point range over his last four games and Jeremy Lamb left the Toronto loss after suffering a left knee injury.
Week 19: vs. CHA, vs. POR, @ CLE
Last Week: 16
Pace: 101.6 (10) OffRtg: 107.3 (22) DefRtg: 107.3 (7) NetRtg: +0.0 (14)
Kyrie Irving is done for the season, having played just 20 games and 522 total minutes (in which the Nets scored more than 111 points per 100 possessions) alongside Spencer Dinwiddie and/or Caris LeVert. (Irving still has almost twice as many mid-range buckets as any of his teammates.) But the Nets are 18-17 (with much better defensive numbers) without Irving and their seven games since he last played have been their best seven-game stretch of the season statistically (plus-13.4 points per 100 possessions).
Two nights after coming a possession short of being just the third visiting team to win in Philadelphia, they held the Hornets to just 86 points on 98 possessions to pick up their first road win by more than 12 points and improve to 13-6 against the eight teams behind them in the East standings. They still have 11 more games against that group, with the next two - Monday against the Magic and Wednesday in Washington - being relatively important.
Week 19: vs. ORL, @ WAS, @ ATL, @ MIA
Last Week: 17
Pace: 101.2 (11) OffRtg: 111.5 (11) DefRtg: 113.5 (27) NetRtg: -1.9 (19)
The Blazers were without Damian Lillard (who may miss another game or two) as they came out of the All-Star break. But they didn't necessarily need their point to start defending better than they did between Christmas and the All-Star break (when they ranked last defensively). Alas, they began their post-break schedule by allowing the Pelicans to score 73 points on 53 possessions in the first half on Friday and complete a season sweep with a wire-to-wire victory.
The Blazers' win over the Pistons two nights later came with a season-high 32 points from Carmelo Anthony, who made as many 3-pointers on Sunday (five) as he had in four games vs. New Orleans. The victory has the Blazers holding onto in ninth place and began a stretch of six straight games vs. the Eastern Conference. But it came after they blew a 19-point lead, getting outscored by 14 points in less than five minutes with CJ McCollum off the floor. An empty-side, pick-and-pop for Anthony (either with Lillard or McCollum as the ball-handler has been a go-to set for the Blazers) provided the dagger on Sunday.
Week 19: vs. BOS, @ IND, @ ATL
Last Week: 20 ↑
Pace: 98.9 (24) OffRtg: 108.4 (20) DefRtg: 110.8 (19) NetRtg: -2.3 (21)
The Kings are 8-4 since they moved Buddy Hield to the bench, with four of their best seven offensive games of the season (more than 120 points per 100 possessions) over that stretch. One of those was Thursday against the Grizzlies, when Harrison Barnes shot 6-for-6 from 3-point range in the first half and De'Aaron Fox hit a pair of big jumpers off the dribble (with Hield used as a screener) down the stretch.
Fox's off-the-dribble jump-shooting (effective field goal percentage of 43.4%) has improved only a little bit from last season (41.5%), but, despite the Kings playing slower, he's seen a pretty big jump in the percentage of his shots that have come in the restricted area (41%, up from 34% last season and 28% as a rookie). He ranks fifth among guards at 10.9 points in the paint per game, and third (13.1) over the last 6 1/2 weeks.
With a nice win over the Clippers on Saturday, a relatively easy remaining schedule (16 of 26 games against teams currently at or below .500), and another game against Memphis on Friday (though the Grizzlies will have a rest advantage), the door is slightly ajar in regard to the Kings ending their 14-year playoff drought.
Week 19: @ GSW, @ OKC, @ MEM, vs. DET
Last Week: 18 ↓
Pace: 100.5 (16) OffRtg: 111.3 (12) DefRtg: 112.6 (24) NetRtg: -1.3 (17)
A year ago, the Spurs came back from a 1-7 rodeo trip and won their next nine games. This year, they got two wins on the trip, with Dejounte Murray totaling 48 points on 19-for-28 shooting in Oklahoma City (in the last game before the break) and Utah (on Friday, when the Spurs outscored the Jazz, 32-4, from mid-range). Eight of their next 12 games are against teams at or below .500 and nine of their next 13 are at the AT&T Center, but...
When they got back from last year's trip, the Spurs were in eighth place and four games over .500. These Spurs are in 11th place and eight games under .500.
And with that 24-32 record, these Spurs haven't shown the capacity to put together a significant winning streak. Their longest winning streaks of the season (two of them) have been three games long. Last year's Spurs went 21-8, with streaks of four, five and five games, in the two months leading up to the rodeo trip.
This season's Spurs already have more losses at home (where they're 14-12) than all but two Spurs teams of the last 22 years. Those other two teams went 28-13 and 29-12 at home.
Week 19: vs. DAL, vs. ORL
Last Week: 19 ↓
Pace: 98.2 (28) OffRtg: 105.5 (26) DefRtg: 107.6 (8) NetRtg: -2.1 (20)
The Magic went with a new lineup on Friday, starting James Ennis III (acquired at the deadline) at the three against Dallas. And the new group outscored the Mavs by eight points in its 16-plus minutes, with a strong start to the third quarter helping the Magic erase what had been an 18-point deficit. But they were outscored by 24 points in less than 32 minutes with at least one reserve on the floor, with the bench shooting 7-for-27 from the field and allowing the Mavs to build another double-digit lead early in the fourth.
As was the case last season, wins and losses for the Magic are often decided by bench minutes. And this season, those bench minutes haven't been as good. Terrence Ross' effective field goal percentage has dropped (from 53.4% last season to just 48.0% this season) and the Magic's bottom-five offense has scored 5.0 fewer points per 100 possessions with Ross on the floor (101.6) than it has with him off the floor (106.6).
The Magic will play 13 of their next 15 games against teams that are currently at or below .500. They're 20-7 within that group, but that breaks down to 12-1 at home and 8-6 on the road, where they will play seven of their next nine. Their game in Brooklyn on Monday is the second of four meetings with the seventh-place Nets, who have a more difficult remaining schedule.
Week 19: @ BKN, @ ATL, vs. MIN, @ SAS
Last Week: 21
Pace: 102.0 (9) OffRtg: 109.6 (16) DefRtg: 110.6 (17) NetRtg: -0.9 (15)
Adding another perimeter player to the starting lineup would seemingly bring improvement on offense. But the Suns' new starting lineup, with Mikal Bridges starting instead of Dario Saric over the last 11 games, has allowed just 101.5 points per 100 possessions, the ninth best mark among 29 lineups that have played at least 200 minutes together. Bridges ranks 10th (among players who have played at least 1,000 minutes) with 3.9 deflections per 36 minutes and the starters have forced 17.1 turnovers per 100 possessions, the third best mark among those 29 lineups. The Suns rank third in opponent turnover percentage overall, and their opponents have committed 73 total turnovers over their last three games.
Offense was a struggle - the Suns shot 6-for-34 from 3-point range - as they began their post-break schedule with a loss in Toronto. But they held the Bulls to just 47 points on 51 possessions (with 14 turnovers) in the second half in Chicago on Saturday to end a five-game road losing streak.
Week 19: @ UTA, vs. LAC, vs. DET, vs. GSW
Last Week: 25 ↑
Pace: 103.4 (6) OffRtg: 105.9 (25) DefRtg: 113.8 (28) NetRtg: -7.9 (28)
We got Luka Doncic vs. Trae Young twice on All-Star weekend, but not at all in the regular season, with Doncic missing both meetings (both this month) between the two sophomore All-Stars. The Hawks took advantage on Saturday (when the Mavs were also without Kristaps Porzingis), came back from 13 down in the fourth quarter, and got 11 points from Young in the final four minutes to get their second straight win over a quality opponent.
The Hawks have more wins (nine) in their last 18 games as they had in their first 40, even though they rank 27th defensively over the latter stretch. Young has led the offensive improvement, averaging 32.3 points over the 18 games, highlighted by his 50-points against the Heat on Thursday. Most encouraging from that win may have been the play of the Hawks' rookies, with De'Andre Hunter and Cam Reddish combining for 33 points on 13-for-24 shooting and making huge plays - Hunter drained a 3-pointer for the tie and Reddish stripped Goran Dragic and went the other way to put the Hawks ahead - down the stretch.
The Hawks have their third two-game winning streak of the season, but making it three straight for the first time would require a win in Philadelphia, where the Sixers are 26-2.
Week 19: @ PHI, vs. ORL, vs. BKN, vs. POR
Last Week: 23
Pace: 100.7 (15) OffRtg: 105.2 (28) DefRtg: 108.2 (11) NetRtg: -3.0 (23)
The Bulls' easiest three-game stretch of their post-break schedule - home games against teams that went into the break with a cumulative record of 60-102 - is already in the rear view mirror, and they won only one of the three games. They shot 7-for-31 from 3-point range against the Hornets' 26th-ranked defense on Thursday and committed 26 turnovers against the Suns' 17th-ranked defense on Saturday before breaking out with their best shooting game of the season (effective field goal percentage of 66.7%) against the Wizards' 30th-ranked defense on Sunday.
The end of their eight-game losing streak came with a second straight night of Coby White going nuts. After scoring 58 points on 30% shooting (including 8-for-34 from 3-point range) over his previous five games, the rookie totaled 66 points, shooting 12-for-22 from beyond the arc, over the weekend. White isn't just a long-range gunner; He gets to the basket a decent amount for his size. But the 47.9% he's shot in the restricted area is the worst mark among 118 players with at least 150 restricted-area attempts.
Week 19: vs. OKC, @ NYK
Last Week: 22 ↓
Pace: 103.6 (4) OffRtg: 111.1 (13) DefRtg: 115.2 (30) NetRtg: -4.1 (25)
The Wizards came out of the All-Star break just two games in the loss column behind the eighth-place Magic, with a two-game winning streak, and with their first two post-break games coming against the Cavs and Bulls. They grabbed 17 offensive rebounds against Cleveland's big frontline on Friday and got 53 points from Bradley Beal in Chicago on Sunday.
And of course, the Wizards lost both games, shooting 39% against the Cavs' 29th-ranked defense and allowing the Bulls' 28th-ranked offense to shoot 56% and make 18 3-pointers. They remain the league's worst defensive team and one of four teams that have yet to win more than two straight games. Their four losses when they've been going for a third straight win have come against the Kings, Magic, Warriors and Cavs.
Week 19: vs. MIL, vs. BKN, @ UTA, @ GSW
Last Week: 26 ↑
Pace: 96.7 (30) OffRtg: 105.4 (27) DefRtg: 112.9 (26) NetRtg: -7.6 (27)
After seemingly finding a rhythm in his last five games before the break, Devonte' Graham came out of the break by shooting 1-for-17 in the Hornets' first two games. But the Malik Monk wave extended through the week off, with Monk scoring 11 of his 25 points in seven first-quarter minutes as the Hornets got a wire-to-wire victory in Chicago on Thursday.
After averaging just 8.2 points through his first 42 games, Monk has averaged a team-high 17.8 over his last 12. Monk's effective field goal percentage hasn't taken a huge jump (from 48.1% to 53.4%), but his free throw rate has (from 17 to 29 attempts per 100 shots from the field). He had some athletic finishes in the paint and was 9-for-9 from the line in that win in Chicago.
Monk and the Hornets got shut down by the league's seventh-ranked defense (that of the Nets) on Saturday and will face the first and second-ranked defenses this weekend.
Week 19: @ IND, vs. NYK, @ TOR, vs. MIL
Last Week: 24 ↓
Pace: 99.2 (23) OffRtg: 104.7 (29) DefRtg: 111.7 (22) NetRtg: -7.0 (26)
One thing that the Knicks have done relatively well is rebound. They're the only team that ranks in the top seven in both offensive and defensive rebounding percentage. Earlier this month, they held the Pacers to just four offensive rebounds and four second chance points in a win in Indiana, and they had been outrebounded in only one of their last 11 games before the All-Star break. But at Madison Square Garden on Friday, the Pacers (who rank 27th in offensive rebounding percentage) totaled 12 offensive boards and 20 second chance points (one fewer than their season high) in a game they led by as many as 22 points.
A 65-45 score over the middle two quarters did allow the Knicks to look at the youth movement in the fourth. And the young guys (along with 11 fourth-quarter points from Bobby Portis) made things interesting down the stretch.
Week 19: @ HOU, @ CHA, @ PHI, vs. CHI
Last Week: 27
Pace: 98.3 (27) OffRtg: 108.8 (19) DefRtg: 111.7 (21) NetRtg: -2.8 (22)
Reggie Jackson was waived by the Pistons almost five years to the day after they acquired him for D.J. Augustin, Kyle "Shampoo" Singler and two second-round picks. And would you believe that Jackson had a positive plus-minus (plus-94) over his 299 games with Detroit? It's true!
The Pistons also bought out Markieff Morris, but Derrick Rose remains and is back in the starting lineup with the departure of Jackson. With a couple of rough starts against the Bucks and Blazers last week (Portland scored on 12 straight possessions early on Sunday), the Pistons have lost the first quarter by a score of 125-73 over their last four games. They've lost five straight (and 11 of their last 13) and are now tied in the win column with the Hornets, to whom they lost four times this season.
Week 19: @ DEN, @ PHX, @ SAC
Last Week: 28
Pace: 103.4 (7) OffRtg: 107.3 (23) DefRtg: 110.8 (20) NetRtg: -3.5 (24)
The Wolves still haven't won since that post-deadline 3-point bonanza against the Clippers. They've allowed their opponents to score 119.9 points per 100 possessions (and average 62 points in the paint) over the four games since, and Karl-Anthony Towns isn't really to blame. He's missed the last three games (and is out at least another six) with a fractured left wrist.
The Wolves are 6-31 since Dec. 1 and, amazingly, still have four more wins than the Warriors, who they won't play again this season. They do have seven more meetings with the teams that rank in the top five in offensive efficiency, making it very possible that they'll finish in the bottom 10 defensively for a sixth straight season. Three of those seven games (two this week) are against the league's No. 1 offense.
Week 19: @ DAL, @ MIA, @ ORL, vs. DAL
Last Week: 29
Pace: 99.4 (21) OffRtg: 106.3 (24) DefRtg: 115.1 (29) NetRtg: -8.8 (29)
J.B. Bickerstaff, taking over mid-season for a fired (or resigned) coach for the third time in the last five seasons, got a win in his first game at the helm of the Cavs, who trailed the Wizards by as many as 16 points on Friday. Cleveland turned an eight-point deficit into an eight-point lead with a 20-4 run in the fourth quarter and got a couple of big defensive plays from Tristan Thompson down the stretch, improving to 9-9 in games played between the bottom seven teams in the East.
Thompson has backed up Andre Drummond over the last four games, but has played just one fewer minute than the new guy, has increased his career 3-point total from three to eight over that stretch, and, as noted, was on the floor (with Larry Nance Jr.) down the stretch of their one close game.
Bickerstaff began his tenure with a game against the Wizards, but the Cavs' loss in Miami on Saturday - in which they allowed an amazing 45 points on 23 defensive possessions with Drummond and Thompson on the floor together - was the start of a stretch where they're playing seven of eight against teams with winning records. The only exception being a game in New Orleans (against a team that's won 18 of its last 27) on Friday.
Week 19: vs. MIA, vs. PHI, @ NOP, vs. IND
Last Week: 30
Pace: 101.2 (12) OffRtg: 103.9 (30) DefRtg: 112.8 (25) NetRtg: -9.0 (30)
After shooting 58% over his first four games with the Warriors, Andrew Wiggins had a rough night (3-for-16, including 1-for-8 in the paint) against New Orleans on Sunday. It's only five games total, but Wiggins has seemed fairly active offensively, moving without the ball and attacking the rim. His free throw rate is up (though not as high as it was in his first two seasons in the league) and 40% of his shots with the Warriors (up from 31% with Minnesota) have come in the restricted area.
The Warriors have allowed almost 120 points per 100 possessions as they've lost six straight, and they're in danger of replacing the Hornets as the only team in the bottom five in both offensive and defensive efficiency. They have twice as many games remaining against the league's top 10 offenses (10, including two each against the Lakers and Clippers) as they have against the bottom 10 (five).
Week 19: vs. SAC, vs. LAL, @ PHX, vs. WAS