Power Rankings, Week 20: Clippers climb back into Top 5; big week lies ahead for Lakers
With the league scoring 109.7 points per 100 possessions, last season was the most efficient in the 23 years for which we have play-by-play data, and likely the most efficient season in NBA history.
Over the past week, the current season eclipsed that mark. Having scored 110.9 points per 100 over 82 games since the All-Star break, the league is now at 109.8 for the season. League-wide turnovers are up and both free throw rate and offensive rebounding percentage are down from last season. But the most important aspect of offense is shooting.
Over its first 63 seasons, the NBA never had a league-wide effective field goal percentage of 50%. It hit that mark for the first time in 2009-10, dipped back under 50% for four of the next five seasons, and has increased in each of the last five years, from 49.6% in 2014-15 to a record 52.7% this season. And that’s with Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson having attempted at total of 66 shots.
Just four seasons ago, the league average was 105.6 points per 100 possessions, a rate that all but three teams have eclipsed this season. The Oklahoma City Thunder have a top-10 defense, having allowed 108.5 per 100.
One team is still defending like it’s 1999. That’s the Milwaukee Bucks, who are at No. 1 in the Power Rankings for a 14th straight week (how boring!), having held their last three opponents (including two of the best teams of the last two months) under a point per possession.
Plus-Minus Players of the Week
- Right Way: Giannis Antetokounmpo (MIL) was a plus-93 in four games last week.
- Wrong Way: Luguentz Dort (OKC) was a minus-49 in three games last week.
Teams of the Week
- Make It Last Forever: Milwaukee (4-0) — The Bucks struggled to put away the Wizards and Hornets, but their two wins over good teams (Toronto and Oklahoma City) couldn’t have been more impressive.
- Something Just Ain’t Right: Brooklyn (0-4) — It was all good just a week ago, but some late-game struggles and a blowout loss in Atlanta have made the Nets’ playoff position a lot more tenuous.
East vs. West
- The West is 177-147 (.546) against the East in interconference games after going 11-9 last week.
Schedule strength through Week 19
- Toughest: 1. New Orleans, 2. Minnesota, 3. Atlanta
- Easiest: 1. Milwaukee, 2. Toronto, 3. Indiana
- Schedule strength is based on cumulative opponent record, and adjusted for home vs. away and days of rest before a game.
Movement in the Rankings
- High jumps of the week: LA Clippers (+3), Orlando (+3), Four teams (+2)
- Free falls of the week: Toronto (-4), Brooklyn (-3), Chicago (-3), Portland (-3)
Week 20 Team to Watch
- L.A. Lakers — The Lakers have been taking care of business against everybody else, but they’re still 0-3 against the two teams — the Clippers and Bucks — with (arguably) the best chances to beat them in the postseason. After hosting the shorthanded Sixers on Tuesday, the Lakers will play both of those teams in the span of 48 hours, hosting the Bucks on Friday night and playing a “road game” against the Clippers on Sunday afternoon.
- Last week: Rockets surge into Top 5; Pelicans continue to rise as standings tighten
- This time last year: Handful of West teams keep rising — Kawhi Leonard hit a game-winner from in front of the Raptors bench that bounced off the rim four times before dropping in. Dwyane Wade hit one of the most ridiculous game-winning buzzer beaters you will ever see, the Bulls and Hawks played four overtimes, and Donovan Mitchell scored a career-high 46 points in a win over the Bucks. Blake Griffin hit a HORSE shot, Eric Bledsoe got a contract extension, and the Blazers got stuck in an elevator.
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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 109.8 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: 105.3 (1) OffRtg: 113.2 (3) DefRtg: 101.01 (1) NetRtg: +12.1 (1)
The Bucks struggled to beat the bad teams on their schedule last week. Without Brook Lopez and with foul trouble limiting Giannis Antetokounmpo to less than 25 minutes, they needed overtime to win in Washington on Monday. Without Khris Middleton and scoring less than a point per possession for just the second time this season, it took them 47 minutes to put the Hornets away on Sunday. The common theme in both games was bad minutes from the bench; they were outscored by 25 points in 41 total minutes with Antetokounmpo off the floor.
But the Bucks certainly passed their two tougher tests. Playing the second game of a back-to-back, they shut down the second-place Raptors in Toronto on Tuesday, holding the champs to a season-low 22 points in the paint (the previous low was also against the Bucks) and improving to 7-4 (two of the losses were in October) in games played between the top six teams in the East. And two nights later, they just destroyed the Thunder.
The Bucks make their only visit of the season to Miami on Monday, another road game against a quality Eastern Conference opponent in which they'll be at a rest disadvantage. Of course, the marquee game is Friday in L.A., with both teams rested.
Week 20: @ MIA, vs. IND, @ LAL, @ PHX
Last Week: 2
Pace: 101.0 (13) OffRtg: 112.8 (5) DefRtg: 105.7 (3) NetRtg: +7.1 (2)
Transition defense continues to be an issue for the Lakers, who allowed the Pelicans to registered 51 fast-break points in their two meetings last week. Of course, the Lakers themselves totaled 69 fast-break points in the two wins. For the season, they rank second in fast-break points per game (19.2) and 29th in opponent fast-break points per game (16.6), and those averages have been climbing.
LeBron James scored a season-high 40 points in his first meeting with Zion Williamson and (despite the absence of his favorite target) registered his 13th triple-double of the season in New Orleans on Sunday, as the Lakers helped the Grizzlies for the third time in six days. Their loss in Memphis on Sunday was their second least efficient game of the season (88 points on 94 possessions).
After playing three games against potential first-round opponents last week, the Lakers will play seven of their next eight against teams with winning records. The big ones are Friday and Sunday, and transition defense is most important against the Bucks, though the teams combined for just 25 fast-break points in the first meeting.
Week 20: vs. PHI, vs. MIL, @ LAC
Last Week: 5 ↑
Pace: 103.8 (3) OffRtg: 113.8 (2) DefRtg: 109.4 (15) NetRtg: +4.4 (7)
The Rockets are 10-2 since they last had a starting center, and the two losses -- Feb. 7 and 9 against Phoenix and Utah -- are the only games in that stretch in which they didn't outscore their opponents from 3-point range. Before their game in Boston on Saturday, they had outscored their last four opponents by an average of 34.5 points from beyond the arc.
They only made two more threes than the Celtics, and there were times on Saturday when the opponent was just too big (these two consecutive Boston buckets are good examples). But two of the biggest plays down the stretch of regulation were offensive rebounds (an incredible effort by P.J. Tucker and a tip-dunk from Russell Westbrook) on the Rockets' end of the floor.
They still rank last in rebounding percentage (29th in offensive rebounding percentage and 30th in defensive rebounding percentage) since they went super small. But they rank in the top three in both turnover rate (12.0 per 100 possessions -- second) and opponent turnover rate (17.3 -- third) over that stretch. Six different Rockets have averaged at least one steal per game over the 12.
Week 20: @ NYK, vs. LAC, @ CHA, vs. ORL
Last Week: 4
Pace: 100.0 (17) OffRtg: 112.6 (6) DefRtg: 105.9 (4) NetRtg: +6.7 (3)
It would have been fun to see the Celtics' small-ball, best-five lineup -- Kemba Walker, Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, Gordon Hayward and Jayson Tatum -- for extended minutes against the Rockets on Saturday. But Walker, dealing with a sore left knee, hasn't played since the All-Star game. All five of those guys have been available in just 14 of the Celtics' 59 games, and they've played just 15 total minutes together.
Daniel Theis' sneaky second screens (here are three examples -- one, two, three -- from their win in Portland on Tuesday) remain an integral part of the Celtics' offense. And they'll be facing four traditional centers (who generally don't shoot outside the paint) this week. But the Celtics were much better defensively on Saturday (allowing just 22 points on 32 defensive possessions) when Theis was off the floor and they had a slightly more mobile group in the game.
Walker could return when the Celtics host the Nets on Tuesday. He shot just 32% over his last six games before the break and will return to an offense more dominated by Tatum.
Week 20: vs. BKN, @ CLE, vs. UTA, vs. OKC
Last Week: 8 ↑
Pace: 102.5 (8) OffRtg: 112.8 (4) DefRtg: 106.7 (5) NetRtg: +6.1 (5)
Four straight games with a full squad have resulted in four straight wins and pushed the Clippers into the top five in both offensive and defensive efficiency for the first time this season. After shooting 7-for-24 in his first two games out of an extended break, Paul George answered the call as the Clips began their toughest five-game stretch of their post-break schedule. He totaled 48 points on 17-for-28 shooting against Denver and Philly, looking super comfortable from beyond the arc (this pull-up three from out of a crowd was rather ridiculous).
The Clips' starting lineup lost its minutes against the shorthanded Sixers on Sunday, but their five-man bench unit came up big, and George isn't the only Clipper who found his groove over the weekend. After struggling with his shot for much of the last six weeks, Lou Williams totaled 41 points (shooting 8-for-11 from 3-point range) and 15 assists in the two games. The Clips have outscored their opponents by 49 points in 69 total minutes with Williams and Reggie Jackson on the floor together.
The schedule gets even more interesting this week, with the Clippers' three opponents having the West's three best records over the last six weeks.
Week 20: @ OKC, @ HOU, vs. LAL
Last Week: 7 ↑
Pace: 97.7 (29) OffRtg: 112.4 (8) DefRtg: 108.7 (12) NetRtg: +3.7 (8)
In their most important game of the season to date (Friday in L.A.), the Nuggets had their worst defensive performance, allowing the Clippers to score 132 points on 99 possessions in a wire-to-wire victory that gave the two teams identical records in the race for second place in the West. Two straight bad defensive possessions at the end of the first quarter put Michael Porter Jr. on the bench until garbage time, and the Nuggets have allowed 127 points per 100 possessions in his 69 post-break minutes. But he wasn't the only source of breakdowns on that end of the floor as the Clips shot 54% and grabbed 35% of available offensive boards.
The Nuggets recovered from a bad defensive performance by shooting 57% (including 18-for-36 from 3-point range) and assisting on 38 of their 47 buckets against the league's second-ranked defense on Sunday. They have the league's fifth best offense and its fifth worst defense since the All-Star break.
The defensive numbers should improve, because their next two opponents rank 29th and 30th offensively since the break. After hosting the Warriors on Tuesday, they'll play nine of their next 11 games on the road.
Week 20: vs. GSW, @ CHA, @ CLE
Last Week: 3 ↓
Pace: 100.8 (14) OffRtg: 111.2 (12) DefRtg: 104.9 (2) NetRtg: +6.3 (4)
Norman Powell and Patrick McCaw returned from (nine- and three-game) absences over the weekend, but Fred VanVleet and Serge Ibaka took their places on the shelf and Marc Gasol hasn't played since late January. The Raptors' top seven guys have missed a total of 94 games, with OG Anunoby being the only one of the seven that has missed fewer than 11.
Anunoby had the best game of his life (32 points, seven rebounds, three assists and seven steals) in Denver on Sunday, keeping the champs in a game they never led. But Kyle Lowry (11-for-40) and Pascal Siakam (21-for-58) have combined to shoot 33% over the Raptors' first three-game losing streak since early December. They came out strong against the Bucks on Tuesday, but just couldn't sustain their offense when they weren't getting much in the paint against the league's best defense. And they followed that up with two of their seven worst 3-point shooting games of the season. Their loss at home to Charlotte on Friday, capped by a Rondae Hollis-Jefferson dead-ball foul that allowed the Hornets to win the game, was arguably their worst of the season.
Now the Raps are in a real fight with the Celtics (who have a slightly easier remaining schedule) for the 2 seed in the East. Boston has a 2-1 head-to-head edge, but the final meeting (March 20) is in Toronto.
Week 20: @ PHX, @ GSW, @ SAC
Last Week: 6 ↓
Pace: 99.3 (21) OffRtg: 110.8 (14) DefRtg: 108.5 (10) NetRtg: +2.3 (11)
On Tuesday in Chicago, the Thunder lost a 24-point lead. On Thursday against the Kings, they came back from 18 points down. They took two different paths to the same destination. That destination was clutch time, where they're at their best. They shot 11-for-14 on clutch shots in the two games to improve to 27-13 (23-5 since late November) in games that were within five points in the last five minutes.
The Thunder's third five-game winning streak was their best stretch of offense this season (120.6 points scored per 100 possessions). They shot 42% from 3-point range and all five guys in their closing lineup averaged between 16 and 21 points over the five games. They rank 28th in assist percentage (having assisted on just 54.5% of their field goals), but fourth in pull-up effective field goal percentage (48.2%) and second in drives per game (53.9).
There was no getting the Bucks to clutch time on Friday, as the Thunder shot 6-for-35 from 3-point range in a 47-point loss that put an end to a nine-game road winning streak. After they host the Clippers on Tuesday, the Thunder will play 13 of their final 21 games on the road.
Week 20: vs. LAC, @ DET, @ NYK, @ BOS
Last Week: 9
Pace: 99.3 (20) OffRtg: 111.9 (9) DefRtg: 108.7 (11) NetRtg: +3.2 (9)
The Jazz have committed more turnovers than their opponents in 16 of their last 17 games, and that's more about their defense than their offense. They rank last in opponent turnover rate (10.5 per 100 possessions) over that stretch, with their opponents having committed fewer than 10 turnovers in eight of the 17 games.
A lack of turnovers hasn't been their only issue on that end of the floor as the Jazz have allowed 120.6 points per 100 possessions over their five post-break games, their worst defensive stretch of the season. Their opponents have shot 44% from 3-point range, the Suns scored 66 points in the paint (four off their season high) on Monday, and the Celtics registered 21 second-chance points (four off their season high) on Wednesday.
The Jazz shot 19-for-37 from 3-point range against the Wizards' 30th-ranked defense and got great minutes from their bench on Friday to put an end to their four-game losing streak. The new (old) starting lineup (the one without Joe Ingles) that they finally settled on Wednesday has scored 118.2 points per 100 possessions in its 543 total minutes, the third best mark among 30 lineups that have played at least 200.
Week 20: @ CLE, @ NYK, @ BOS, @ DET
Last Week: 10
Pace: 98.7 (26) OffRtg: 112.4 (7) DefRtg: 109.4 (14) NetRtg: +3.1 (10)
The Heat allowed more than 114 points per 100 possessions over a 2-7 stretch that included a loss to Cleveland on Monday in a game they led by 22 points and a loss to Minnesota (1-18 over its previous 19 games) on Wednesday in a game they led by 11 with three and a half minutes to go. And the Heat didn't exactly turn things around defensively over the weekend, with Dallas and Brooklyn combining to make 37 threes and commit just 21 turnovers.
But the Heat themselves had 57 assists and just 18 turnovers over the two wins. They blew another double-digit lead against the Mavs, but began the fourth-quarter with a 13-0 run with a five-out lineup (Duncan Robinson and four reserves, Kelly Olynyk at the five) that shot 12-for-26 from 3-point range and outscored the two opponents, 65-43, in its 23 minutes over the weekend. They almost blew a 14-point, fourth-quarter lead the following night and curiously didn't switch screens on the play that made it a one-point game, but Bam Adebayo blew up the Nets' set on the final possession with his late (ad-libbed?) switch onto Joe Harris.
The Heat still rank 26th in clutch defense, but Adebayo is not uncomfortable defending on the perimeter. Anthony Davis (who plays a lot of minutes at the four) is the only center who has defended more 3-pointers per game than Adebayo (4.9). He'll face a couple of 3-point shooting centers as the Heat complete their five-game homestand with games against the Bucks and Magic.
Week 20: vs. MIL, vs. ORL, @ NOP, @ WAS
Last Week: 13 ↑
Pace: 99.7 (18) OffRtg: 116.1 (1) DefRtg: 110.2 (16) NetRtg: +5.9 (6)
The in-season improvement you'd hope to see from a guy coming back from ACL surgery has come. After averaging 16.8 points on an effective field goal percentage of 46.9% through his first 36 games, Kristaps Porzingis has averaged a team-high 27.3 on 60.4% over his last 11, with improvement both in the paint and outside it. He's still very much a jump shooter, with only 35% of his shots (the 55th lowest rate among 214 players with at least 300 total field goal attempts) having come in the paint. But he's had 10 or more free throw attempts in five of those last 11 games.
One of those five was Sunday in Minnesota, when Porzingis led the Mavs to an easy, Luka-less win with 38 points, 13 rebounds, four assists and five blocks. After allowing the Heat to score 126 points on 97 possessions on Friday (in a game they basically lost in the 3:16 that Doncic and Porzingis were both on the bench to start the fourth quarter), the Mavs had their second best defensive game of the season (statistically), holding Minnesota to just 91 points on 106 possessions.
The Mavs have three games left on a stretch where they're playing 12 of 14 against teams with losing records, though the last two of those games -- against the Pelicans on Wednesday and the Grizzlies on Friday -- are on the tougher end of the scale. They're 3-0 against New Orleans, but have yet to face Zion Williamson. And the last time they faced Memphis (a loss in early February), they got outscored, 60-26, in the paint.
Week 20: @ CHI, vs. NOP, vs. MEM, vs. IND
Last Week: 11 ↓
Pace: 99.6 (19) OffRtg: 108.9 (18) DefRtg: 107.0 (6) NetRtg: +1.9 (13)
Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid are now both on the shelf. And if Simmons' back issue isn't a short-term thing, then not much else matters. But if he can heal in the next six weeks, hope is not yet lost, and maybe the Sixers are more dangerous than we thought just a week ago.
Shake Milton was seemingly a placeholder when Josh Richardson was out, was out of the rotation when Richardson was back in the starting lineup in the last game before the All-Star break, and appeared unlikely to get any meaningful playoff minutes. But the second-year guard broke out last week, averaging 26 points (with a career-high 39 in L.A. on Sunday) over the last three games, shooting 16-for-20 from 3-point range and coming up with some deft finishes at the rim.
The Sixers have been pretty bad offensively (102.9 points scored per 100 possessions) in 223 minutes with Milton and Simmons on the floor together, but they can obviously use all the shooting they can get and things might be different now that Milton knows he can play with the best.
Week 20: @ LAL, @ SAC, @ GSW
Last Week: 12 ↓
Pace: 103.7 (4) OffRtg: 110.6 (15) DefRtg: 111.8 (21) NetRtg: -1.3 (16)
The Pelicans have the league's easiest post-break schedule, but it doesn't really get easy until Week 22 (March 16). Before they get there, they have to navigate this stretch where they're playing six of 10 games against teams with winning records. And while they took care of business against Cleveland on Friday, they couldn't slow down the Lakers (even with a rest advantage at home) and shot 15-for-59 (25%) from 3-point range in their two meetings last week. The Pels are now 0-16 when they've made less than a third of their attempts from beyond the arc, so it's not good that their best 3-point shooter (J.J. Redick) is out at least two weeks with a left hamstring strain.
Zion Williamson has scored at least 20 points in 11 straight games and set a new career high with 35 (all in the paint or at the free throw line) against the Lakers on Sunday. His 21.8 points in the paint per 36 minutes are the most in the 24 years for which we have shot-location data, topping Shaquille O'Neal's mark of 20.8 per 36 in 1998-99. The team that has allowed the most points in the paint per game since the All-Star break (59.3) is the team the Pels will face twice this week.
Week 20: vs. MIN, @ DAL, vs. MIA, @ MIN
Last Week: 15 ↑
Pace: 98.9 (25) OffRtg: 109.8 (16) DefRtg: 107.6 (7) NetRtg: +2.2 (12)
It's one thing to start Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner together. It's another to have them both on the floor down the stretch of close games (though the Pacers obviously lost some late-game lineup versatility when Jeremy Lamb was lost for the season). But the two bigs have been on the floor together for 77 (68%) of the 113 clutch minutes the Pacers have played in games in which they've both been available, having played just nine clutch minutes together over the previous two seasons. And in their two clutch games last week, Sabonis (from out of the paint) assisted on Turner's two dagger threes. The center is now 8-for-12 on clutch 3-pointers this season.
The Pacers are 4-1 (with four straight wins) when they've started their five best guys together, and the lineup has allowed exactly a point per possession in its 86 total minutes. For the season, they've still been better, especially offensively, in 1,031 minutes with Sabonis on the floor without Turner (plus-4.8 points per 100 possessions) than they've been in 936 minutes with the two bigs on the floor together (plus-3.2).
They're 15-14 on the road, though seven of the Pacers' final 12 road games, including two of the four this week, are against teams with winning records.
Week 20: @ SAS, @ MIL, @ CHI, @ DAL
Last Week: 14 ↓
Pace: 103.4 (7) OffRtg: 108.6 (20) DefRtg: 110.7 (18) NetRtg: -2.0 (20)
The Grizzlies' five-game losing streak was pretty ugly. They had issues on both ends of the floor and some brutal starts. They were outscored, 75-31, in the first quarter in L.A. and Houston on Monday and Wednesday, and they went almost four full games (190 minutes and nine seconds) without holding a lead. Jaren Jackson Jr. got hurt, two of their other starters -- Dillon Brooks and Jonas Valanciunas -- shot less than 40%, and another one -- Kyle Anderson -- passed up open shots.
The number crunchers had them likely missing the playoffs and the Grizzlies were proving them right. Only 12 of their 28 post-break games were against teams with losing records, and they lost the first two of those (both against the Kings).
And then on Saturday, the Grizzlies got one of their best wins of the season, holding the Lakers to a season-low 38 points in the paint and getting 27 points and 14 assists (including some needle-threading pick-and-roll dimes) from Ja Morant. Their no-JJJ rotation has called for some minutes with Gorgui Dieng and Jonas Valanciunas on the floor together, and those minutes were good for the Grizz on Saturday.
Before their schedule gets tough again, the Grizz will play five of their next six games against teams with losing records. Six of their next eight are on the road (where they've lost four straight), but they'll have a rest advantage in Brooklyn on Wednesday.
Week 20: @ ATL, @ BKN, @ DAL, vs. ATL
Last Week: 18 ↑
Pace: 98.9 (24) OffRtg: 108.5 (21) DefRtg: 110.3 (17) NetRtg: -1.8 (19)
The quest to end the one of the three longest playoff droughts in NBA history is not dead. The Kings have drawn within three games of the eighth-place Grizzlies by winning five of their six games since the All-Star break, with two of those wins coming against Memphis. They rank fifth defensively since the break, having held three of the six opponents under a point per possession.
Though they're 5-0 since the break with De'Aaron Fox, the Kings' starting lineup has been outscored (and has allowed almost 117 points per 100 possessions) in its 59 post-break minutes. But Buddy Hield hasn't been the only guy making positive contributions off the Sacramento bench. Kent Bazemore (great anticipation on one of his two steals), Cory Joseph (a strong drive and dish to Bazemore), and Alex Len (a smart short-roll kick-out to a Joseph corner three) all did some things in the win in Memphis on Friday.
Only nine of the Kings' final 22 games are against teams with winning records. Six of those nine are at home, and one of those six is against the shorthanded Sixers on Thursday.
Week 20: vs. WAS, vs. PHI, @ POR, vs. TOR
Last Week: 20 ↑
Pace: 98.6 (27) OffRtg: 106.5 (26) DefRtg: 108.0 (8) NetRtg: -1.6 (18)
Through their first game and a half after the break, the Magic had scored less than a point per possession. And in an important game (in the quest to avoid the Bucks in the first round) on Monday, they trailed the Nets by 13 points at the half. But they turned things around after that and came back to beat Brooklyn (just their fourth win in a game they trailed by double-digits), ensuring no worse than a tie in the season series. They've scored more than 124 points per 100 possessions over their last seven halves of basketball, and rank sixth offensively since the break.
The Magic's four leading scorers since the break have combined for an effective field goal percentage of 58%. They outscored their opponents by more than 20 points per 100 possessions in Terrence Ross' 122 minutes last week, and Aaron Gordon registered his first career triple-double (17, 11 and 12) in a win over the Wolves on Friday
But their defense has suffered some slippage; They've allowed more than 110 points per 100 possessions in each of their five games since the break. And when they finally got the stop they needed down the stretch in San Antonio on Saturday, Evan Fournier missed a layup for the win. The Magic are 3-9 in Western Conference arenas, with their final three road games against the West on a four-game trip that begins Wednesday in Miami.
Week 20: vs. POR, @ MIA, @ MIN, @ HOU
Last Week: 19 ↑
Pace: 100.6 (15) OffRtg: 111.1 (13) DefRtg: 112.5 (24) NetRtg: -1.4 (17)
The Spurs aren't very good defensively, so they can't afford to struggle on the other end of the floor. But in their second and third games after the All-Star break, they scored less than a point per possession for the eighth and ninth times this season. LaMarcus Aldridge shot 9-for-27 in his first two games after the break and then missed the last two with right shoulder soreness.
DeMar DeRozan had a relatively quiet night (16 points on 6-for-13 shooting) against Orlando on Saturday, but he had nine assists. Six other Spurs (including somebody named Drew Eubanks) scored in double-figures, and they shot 7-for-12 over the last 5:01 to pull out a one-point win over the Magic. They're still just 13-22 in games that were within five points in the last five minutes, with only the Warriors having seen a bigger drop in clutch winning percentage from last season (when the Spurs were 24-16).
Aldridge could return on Monday, but Jakob Poeltl is out with an MCL sprain in his right knee. Poeltl has been one of the league's best rim protectors (opponents have shot just 51.3% at the rim when he's been there) and ranks fourth in the league with 16.4 screen assists per 36 minutes. The San Antonio offense has been at its best (112.4 points scored per 100 possessions) with him on the floor.
Week 20: vs. IND, @ CHA, @ BKN, @ CLE
Last Week: 16 ↓
Pace: 101.6 (10) OffRtg: 107.6 (22) DefRtg: 108.2 (9) NetRtg: -0.6 (14)
The Nets had three heart-breaking losses last week, coming up short on last-second possessions against Orlando (a blown-up play resulting in an air ball), Washington (a good look, but a missed three for the win from the guy who has shot a league-worst 2-for-24 on clutch 3-pointers) and Miami (another blown-up play resulting in a pass out of bounds). Since Christmas, the Nets are 3-11 in games that were within five points in the last five minutes, having scored just 95 points per 100 clutch possessions over those 9 1/2 weeks.
More concerning is that the Brooklyn defense, which had climbed to seventh in the league, has allowed more than 120 points per 100 possessions over its four-game losing streak, struggling to force turnovers (not a new issue) and defend the 3-point line. The Hawks had 13 threes and just four turnovers as they scored 79 points over the second and third quarters of a 23-point win on Friday.
The Nets have slipped into eighth place and have lost 13 of their last 16 road games, with two more four-game trips left on their schedule after they finish the current one in Boston on Tuesday.
Week 20: @ BOS, vs. MEM, vs. SAS, vs. CHI
Last Week: 17 ↓
Pace: 101.3 (11) OffRtg: 111.3 (10) DefRtg: 113.6 (27) NetRtg: -2.3 (21)
Trevor Ariza did some good things in the Blazers' half-court defense against Boston on Tuesday. In the first quarter, he chased Jayson Tatum out to the corner to avoid a switch onto Hassan Whiteside, and then drew an offensive foul. In the second, he got his hands on a handoff for Tatum and went the other way for an easy two. And on the first play of the third, he rotated to a Jaylen Brown roll to the hoop and forced a pass out to a worse shot for the Celtics. But, as we saw with Kent Bazemore before Ariza, one good defender does not make a good defense, and the Blazers' bad defense starts in transition, where they've allowed at least 19 fast break points in nine straight games.
There was some chatter earlier in the season about Anfernee Simons being "untouchable" in trade discussions, and it's certainly fair to believe that the 20 year old needs more time; CJ McCollum didn't break out until his third season, when he was 24. But at this point, it's apparent that Simons isn't ready to step up. With Damian Lillard out for the Blazers' first five post-break games, the second-year guard has shot 13-for-48 (27%) and the Blazers have been outscored by 28 points in his 41 minutes on the floor without McCollum.
The Blazers are still just four games in the loss column behind the eighth-place Grizzlies and just one game into a stretch of 13 straight that are either against teams with losing records (11 of the 13) or at home (seven of the 13). But that stretch began with a loss to the Hawks in which they allowed 88 points over the middle two quarters.
Week 20: @ ORL, vs. WAS, @ PHX, vs. SAC
Last Week: 22 ↑
Pace: 103.5 (6) OffRtg: 106.9 (24) DefRtg: 114.1 (28) NetRtg: -7.2 (27)
If you like seeing the ball go in the basket a lot, Hawks games are for you. Since the All-Star break, Atlanta ranks third in pace, fourth in offensive efficiency, and 23rd in defensive efficiency, with the Hawks and their opponents having combined to average 245 points over the six games.
Trae Young has shot just 32% from 3-point range since the break, but has averaged 11.3 assists while cutting down on turnovers. John Collins shooting 64% (including 14-for-22 from 3-point range) since the break certainly helps with Young's assist numbers. Though Collins has missed 26 of the Hawks' 62 games, Young has 22 more assists to Collins (107) than he has to any other teammate. Young's 4.9 assists to Collins per 36 minutes on the floor together is the highest rate among combos with at least 100 total assists from one teammate to the other.
Collins played most of his minutes at center as the Hawks shot 53% in double-digit wins over Brooklyn and Portland over the weekend. Their game against the Grizzlies on Monday is another opportunity to play spoiler and their fourth try for their first three-game winning streak of the season.
Week 20: vs. MEM, @ WAS, @ MEM
Last Week: 24 ↑
Pace: 103.7 (5) OffRtg: 111.3 (11) DefRtg: 115.0 (30) NetRtg: -3.8 (24)
On Monday and Wednesday, the Bucks and Nets sent extra defenders at Bradley Beal (Brooklyn even triple-teamed him on one possession) in the closing seconds to make somebody else beat them, and Beal made the right play every time. The strategy worked out well for Milwaukee when Rui Hachimura was blocked at the rim at the end of regulation and Troy Brown Jr. missed a corner three at the end of overtime. It didn't work out for Brooklyn, with Thomas Bryant making two free throws after getting fouled and with Jerome Robinson draining the game-winning three.
Beal following those two games up with 18 total assists in Salt Lake City and San Francisco. His assist rate (17.1 per 100 possessions used) is down from last season (a career-high 18.2), but a big jump in usage rate has him averaging a career-high 6.1 assists per game, on pace to become the 12th different player to average at least 30 points and six assists in a season.
That win over the Nets (who they play one more time, having already clinched the head-to-head tiebreaker) has the Wizards still alive in the chase for one of the East's last two playoff spots. And they have three more games against teams with losing records before their schedule gets tough (13 of their final 20 against teams with winning records).
Week 20: @ SAC, @ POR, vs. ATL, vs. MIA
Last Week: 21 ↓
Pace: 101.7 (9) OffRtg: 109.7 (17) DefRtg: 110.7 (19) NetRtg: -1.0 (15)
Just when the Suns had settled on a starting lineup that functioned well on both ends of the floor (it's outscored its opponents by more than 20 points per 100 possessions in its 226 minutes), they lost Kelly Oubre Jr. to a knee injury. The 24 year old was having the best season of his career, registering career highs in points, rebounds, assists and steals per game, as well as effective field goal percentage and true shooting percentage.
Without Oubre, the Suns have lost three straight games. Losing to the full-strength Clippers is one thing, but their six-game homestand continued with losses to the Pistons (who had lost seven straight) and Warriors (who had lost eight straight). The Suns somehow lost a game (vs. Detroit on Friday) in which they shot 60% (just the 10th time a team has shot 60% this season). And then they blew an 18-point lead to Golden State, allowing the league's 30th-ranked offense to score 115 points on just 99 possessions.
Week 20: vs. TOR, vs. POR, vs. MIL
Last Week: 25 ↑
Pace: 96.7 (30) OffRtg: 104.8 (29) DefRtg: 112.5 (25) NetRtg: -7.7 (28)
It was a weird week in Charlotte. Malik Monk was playing the best basketball of his career and had just got his first career start when he got suspended for violating the league's Anti-Drug program on Wednesday. And then the Hornets had what may have been their best three-game stretch of the season when you consider the strength of the opponents.
It started with a win over the Knicks in which they almost blew a 15-point, second-half lead (Terry Rozier saved the day with a wild, one-handed reverse in the final minute). But that was the second game of a back-to-back. And then the Hornets split a pair of close games against the two best teams in the Eastern Conference, just the ninth and 10th times they've held their opponent to a point per possession or less. Though they came up empty down the stretch against the Bucks on Sunday, the Hornets are 5-3, with the league's fourth-ranked defense, over the last three weeks.
Caleb Martin has joined brother Cody (the good-looking one) in the rotation and they were a plus-9 in less than 15 minutes together on Sunday.
Week 20: vs. SAS, vs. DEN, vs. HOU
Last Week: 26 ↑
Pace: 99.0 (23) OffRtg: 105.4 (28) DefRtg: 112.1 (23) NetRtg: -6.7 (26)
Mitchell Robinson has taken 96% (298/310) of his shots in the restricted area, the highest rate among 214 players with at least 300 total field goal attempts. And as he scored a career-high 23 points in the Knicks' win over the Bulls on Saturday, all 16 of Robinson's shots came in the restricted area. Among them were the standard pick-and-roll or dunker's spot lobs from Elfrid Payton. But there were also some tougher finishes (one, two, three) after offensive rebounds. Though Robinson shot better than 70% at the basket as a rookie, those kinds of finishes are a sign of development.
Robinson hasn't blocked as many shots as he did as a rookie (his blocks per 36 minutes are down from 4.3 to 3.1), but he's one of the league's best finishers at the rim and he ranks ninth in offensive rebounding percentage. It sounds like he'll remain a reserve for the rest of the season (Bobby Portis started when Taj Gibson missed Thursday's loss in Philadelphia), but Robinson has averaged more than 30 minutes (and stayed out of foul trouble - another sign of development) over the last three games.
Week 20: vs. HOU, vs. UTA, vs. OKC, vs. DET
Last Week: 23 ↓
Pace: 100.5 (16) OffRtg: 105.8 (27) DefRtg: 109.0 (13) NetRtg: -3.2 (23)
Coby White's streak of three straight games of 30-plus points came to an end in New York on Saturday. But he did have 22 and the Bulls did get Wendell Carter Jr. back from a 22-game absence. Carter looked rusty in shooting 1-for-5, but he'll have six weeks of game reps to close the season, which, even if the games don't mean much, is important for a 20 year old.
Alas, the Bulls allowed the Knicks' 28th-ranked offense to score 125 points on just 94 possessions on Saturday, with New York's 70 points in the restricted area being the most for any team in any game this season. The Bulls have allowed more than 130 points per 100 possessions four times in their last 10 games, and none of those four opponents -- the Nets, Raptors, Thunder and Knicks -- have top 10 offenses. They've also lost their last six games that have been within five points in the last five minutes, with their opponents having shot 17-for-24 on clutch shots (with 10 of the 17 buckets coming in the restricted area) over that stretch.
Week 20: vs. DAL, @ MIN, vs. IND, @ BKN
Last Week: 27
Pace: 98.1 (28) OffRtg: 108.9 (19) DefRtg: 111.9 (22) NetRtg: -3.0 (22)
The Pistons put an end to a seven-game losing streak on Friday, getting two big, last-minute buckets from Derrick Rose, who matched his season high with 31 points and has taken almost three times as many clutch shots (for the team that ranks 30th in clutch offense) than other other Piston this season. Two nights later, Rose joined their list of injured guards, turning an ankle in the second quarter in Sacramento.
The next man up at point guard is Brandon Knight, who has had his highest scoring four-game stretch (64 total points, shooting 17-for-37 from 3-point range) since December of 2016, but who also got banged up at the end of the Pistons' loss to the Kings. The Pistons' two most-used lineups this season included Blake Griffin, who hasn't played since December.
Week 20: vs. OKC, vs. UTA, @ NYK
Last Week: 29 ↑
Pace: 99.2 (22) OffRtg: 106.6 (25) DefRtg: 114.8 (29) NetRtg: -8.2 (29)
Collin Sexton can bend defenses with his acceleration and his willingness to push in transition. But Sexton's ability to see the floor and make the best decision as he bends the defense will remain a big question. Before Joel Embiid got hurt in the Cavs' win on Wednesday, Sexton seemingly beat Embiid with a nice in-and-out dribble, but probably made the wrong decision in trying to score on the other side of the hoop and got swatted for his troubles. Sexton's assist rate (12.2 per 100 possessions) is down from last season (13.9), but it was much higher in February (16.5) than it was previously.
Cavs rookie Kevin Porter Jr. seems to have a better feel and had a few high-level dimes among his six assists on Wednesday, two nights after he scored a career-high 30 points in a win over the Heat. It will be interesting to see how things play out long-term with the Cavs' three young guards.
Week 20: vs. UTA, vs. BOS, vs. DEN, vs. SAS
Last Week: 28 ↓
Pace: 103.8 (2) OffRtg: 107.3 (23) DefRtg: 111.3 (20) NetRtg: -4.0 (25)
The new Wolves are playing fast and free, attacking early off made baskets. Their 107.4 possessions per 48 minutes since the All-Star break lead the league by a wide margin. Malik Beasley has taken half as many shots in nine games with the Wolves (154) as he did in 41 games with the Nuggets (301). James Johnson has had some fun as a small-ball five with the second unit, attacking opposing bigs (like Orlando's Mo Bamba) off the dribble (here, here and here).
D'Angelo Russell got his first win with his new team on Friday, when the Wolves came back from 11 down with less than four minutes to go, having lost the previous 28 games that they trailed by double-digits. They outscored the Heat by 15 points in a little more than five minutes with Russell on the floor with back-up point guard Jordan McLaughlin, who got the game-winning bucket on an impressive drive around Bam Adebayo.
Of course, the Wolves are still just 1-6 with their new point guard, who has played just one game with buddy Karl-Anthony Towns. Beasley has made at least two 3-pointers in each of his nine games, but took 33 shots without a single trip to the free throw line in the Wolves' two losses over the weekend. And while Johnson took advantage of Bamba on Friday, the Wolves were still outscored by 17 points in his 26 minutes in what was an 11-point loss in Orlando.
Week 20: @ NOP, vs. CHI, vs. ORL, vs. NOP
Last Week: 30
Pace: 101.2 (12) OffRtg: 103.6 (30) DefRtg: 112.7 (26) NetRtg: -9.0 (30)
The Warriors got a win last week, with seven of their eight healthy guys scoring in double-figures in Phoenix on Saturday. Eric Paschall had some strong finishes inside on his way to 25 points, Damion Lee dished out a career-high eight assists, and Kevon Looney logged double-digit minutes in a fifth straight game for the first time this season.
But Stephen Curry did not make his return on Sunday, as he'd been hoping to do. He's definitely out for the Warriors' game in Denver on Tuesday. And when they allowed the Wizards to make 20 3-pointers on 30 attempts, the Dubs replaced the Hornets as the only team that ranks in the bottom five in both offensive and defensive efficiency. Sunday was the 24th time in 61 games that the Warriors have been outscored by 15 points or more from 3-point range. They don't have to play the Rockets (who have made 33 more threes than the Warriors over three meetings) again until April, but they play seven of their next eight games against teams with winning records.
Week 20: @ DEN, vs. TOR, vs. PHI