Power Rankings, Week 23: Raptors rise, Lakers hold top spot
See how all 22 teams in Orlando rank after the first four days of seeding games
There are much more important things going on right now.
We’re still in the middle of a global pandemic that has killed more than 150,000 Americans and changed the way we live. We have to remain vigilant, take it seriously, and protect each other.
We also have a long way to go in regard to equality. And in our quest to abate the effects of 400 years of racism in this country, we must back up our words with real action.
It’s not yet time to really celebrate the return of the NBA. The league still has a long way to go to complete this season safely and declare a 2019-20 champion.
But it is great to have basketball back. And it is good to know that the league’s campus in Orlando has, thus far, remained safe for players, coaches and staff. The quality of the whole production has been pretty remarkable.
We’re four days into the seeding-game slate, with 12 more days to go. The basketball has been surprisingly sharp and the best teams remain great. But as always, anything can happen on any given night (or afternoon).
Each of the top three teams in our pre-restart rankings lost one of their first two games. The Lakers remain No. 1, but the defending champs have climbed into that top three.
Plus-Minus Players of the Week
- Right Way: Kawhi Leonard (LAC) was a plus-50 in two games last week.
- Wrong Way: Harrison Barnes (SAC) was a minus-53 in two games last week.
Teams of the Week
- Make It Last Forever: Toronto (1-0) — The champs played just one game, but with it, they shut down the Lakers.
- Something Just Ain’t Right: Sacramento (0-2) — Three teams lost two games to teams with losing records. Both of the Grizzlies’ losses were close, and the Wizards are the Wizards. The Kings had an opportunity with the restart, and it seems like they’ve blown it, coming out of the gates with losses to the Spurs and Magic, getting absolutely waxed on Sunday.
East vs. West
- The West is 201-168 (.545) against the East in interconference games, though the East was 4-2 last week.
Movement in the Rankings
- High jumps of the week: Orlando (+4), San Antonio (+3), Houston (+2), Phoenix (+2)
- Free falls of the week: New Orleans (-4), Brooklyn (-3), Denver (-2), Sacramento (-2)
Week 23 Team to Watch
- San Antonio — All five teams chasing the Grizzlies are within reach of a play-in scenario, but only one can qualify. And suddenly, they’re led by the Spurs. If they’re going to have a real chance to continue their playoff streak, they’ll have to beat better teams than the ones they played last week. They play the Sixers (in the second game of a back-to-back) on Monday, the Nuggets on Wednesday, the Jazz on Friday and the Pelicans on Sunday.
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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 109.9 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
Record: 50-15 (1-1)
Pace: 101.2 (11) OffRtg: 112.0 (8) DefRtg: 105.4 (3) NetRtg: +6.7 (2)
Prior to the hiatus, the Lakers had, by a wide margin, the league's biggest differential between their field goal percentage in the paint (61.0%, first) and their effective field goal percentage outside the paint (48.7%, 25th). That hasn't changed with the restart. Through two games, the Lakers have shot 56% in the paint and just 24% (effective field goal percentage of 35%) from the outside. Their advantage in the paint and on free throws (68-45) was just enough against the Clippers on Thursday, but their 34 points in the paint (including just two from Anthony Davis) against the Raptors' defense on Saturday were a season low, and there was no making up for it with success from the perimeter.
Dion Waiters might have a real role on this team, because he's able to do more off the dribble than any of the Lakers' other non-LeBron perimeter players (the spin move was nice!). But the 3-pointers still need to fall when James and Davis are playing in a crowd. The Raptors' defense was terrific on Saturday, but Danny Green had some open and in-rhythm looks in going 0-for-6 from 3-point range against his old team. Through four days, the Lakers rank last in restart offense, having scored fewer than 95 points per 100 possessions.
The defense looked terrific against the Clips, but they haven't been able to get out in transition as much as they did prior to the hiatus.
Week 23: vs. UTA, vs. OKC, vs. HOU, vs. IND
Last Week: 2
Record: 54-13 (1-1)
Pace: 105.4 (1) OffRtg: 112.2 (7) DefRtg: 101.8 (1) NetRtg: +10.4 (1)
Losing a game in which you outscored your opponent by 42 points in the paint is quite a feat. But the Bucks committed 23 turnovers and got outscored by 36 points from beyond the arc by the Rockets on Sunday. Houston, of course, is a unique opponent on both ends of the floor...
The Rockets have five of the six highest 3-point-attempt totals of the season, including their season-high 61 on Sunday.
Playing against the Rockets' small lineup, Brook Lopez attempted three more shots in paint (13) than he has in any other game this season.
... so there's not a lot to be taken from the loss. But the Bucks' struggles down the stretch - they committed four turnovers in the final 2:45 were a reminder that this team hasn't had many high-leverage reps since going 1-3 in games that were within five points in the last five minutes in last year's conference finals. Even after playing two games that were within five in the last five over the weekend, Milwaukee has had fewer than 150 clutch possessions on offense, while every team they might face in the postseason has had more than 225.
Maybe that will matter. Maybe it won't. With their final meeting with the likely 4 seed on Thursday, the Bucks are 0-2 against the Heat this season, having shot 4-for-13, with four turnovers, in the clutch when the Heat won in overtime back in October.
Week 23: vs. BKN, vs. MIA, vs. DAL
Last Week: 4 ↑
Record: 47-18 (1-0)
Pace: 100.9 (14) OffRtg: 111.1 (12) DefRtg: 104.7 (2) NetRtg: +6.5 (4)
We didn't really need a reminder that the Raptors are really good, but they provided one just in case, handing the Lakers their least efficient offensive performance of the season (92 points on 103 possessions). The Bucks have the league's No. 1 defense, but no team rotates like the champs, and that was on full display on Saturday as Anthony Davis got a season-low two shots in the paint, L.A. had more turnovers (18) than assists (17) for just the third time, and what had been a top-five offense before the hiatus scored a paltry 17 points on 36 possessions against Toronto's reunited starting lineup.
Kyle Lowry (33 points, a career-high 14 rebounds and six assists on Saturday) is a big-game player and, though their place in the standings is rather secure, the Raptors have more big games coming. They're just 1-6 in games against the other teams in the East's top four, and they have seeding-game meetings with each of the other three. The first of those is Monday's game against the Heat.
Week 23: vs. MIA, vs. ORL, vs. BOS, vs. MEM
Last Week: 3 ↓
Record: 45-21 (1-1)
Pace: 102.4 (8) OffRtg: 112.8 (3) DefRtg: 106.4 (4) NetRtg: +6.5 (3)
The Clippers had a shot for the win against the Lakers, having played without both Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell. They were outscored by 18 points in less than 15 minutes with Kawhi Leonard off the floor, so there's certainly an argument that the result would have been different had their two Sixth Man candidates been available. It's nice to have Joakim Noah back in the league, but he was a minus-12 in a little more than 10 minutes on Thursday, and then didn't see the floor until garbage time (registering a minus-13 in less than seven minutes) against New Orleans on Saturday.
Paul George missed that 3-pointer for the win, but has otherwise shot 14-for-21 (including 10-for-13 on pull-up 3s) from beyond the arc in the restart. George already led the league in corner 3-point percentage (minimum 50 attempts), and if he's feeling healthier after four months off, the Clippers might have a higher ceiling than they did prior to the hiatus. Williams should be available against the Suns on Tuesday, but the Clippers will allow Harrell to take some more time if he needs it.
Week 23: vs. PHX, vs. DAL, vs. POR, vs. BKN
Last Week: 5
Record: 44-22 (1-1)
Pace: 99.9 (18) OffRtg: 112.5 (4) DefRtg: 106.6 (5) NetRtg: +5.9 (5)
From an aesthetics standpoint, the splendor of longer hair is in the eye of the beholder. But the curls were obviously hurting Jayson Tatum on the court on Friday. Yet, despite his 2-for-18 shooting performance (really 1-for-17), the Celtics were tied with the Bucks before Milwaukee scored 11 points over four possessions in the final two minutes. They got 37 points off the bench from Marcus Smart and Brad Wanamaker, and they gave themselves extra opportunities by grabbing 14 offensive boards against the team with the highest defensive rebounding percentage in the 24 seasons for which we have play-by-play data.
And despite a haircut and 34 points from Tatum, the Blazers came back from 24 points down and were up one on the Celtics before Boston scored seven points over three possessions in the final two minutes on Sunday. The Celtics entered the restart with the best defense (106.0 points allowed per 100 possessions in 17 games) against the league's top 10 pre-hiatus offenses, but the fifth-ranked Blazers' 124 points on 99 possessions was Boston's worst defensive game of the season, statistically. Jusuf Nurkic did some work in the post against Daniel Theis and the Celtics didn't really guard the 3-point line until the Blazers absolutely needed a three in the final seconds.
There's only one season-long top-10 offense (that of the Heat) on the schedule this week, but the Magic have had the best offense of the restart after also ranking No. 1 offensively between the All-Star break and the hiatus.
Week 23: vs. MIA, vs. BKN, vs. TOR, vs. ORL
Last Week: 6
Record: 41-24 (1-0)
Pace: 99.2 (21) OffRtg: 111.0 (14) DefRtg: 108.2 (8) NetRtg: +2.8 (11)
The Thunder didn't need clutch time and didn't need one second of their three guards playing together to win their first seeding game. They got after it defensively from the tip, never trailed, and held Utah's top-10 offense to one of its least efficient games of the season (94 points on 99 possessions). The Thunder's season has been defined by their success in fourth quarters, and that success has been fueled by the league's second best fourth-quarter defense. Now, they've added Andre Roberson to their collection of great defenders.
Nerlens Noel's two blocks at the end of the first quarter on Saturday were both rather ridiculous. The first came after he was screened from behind on a "Spain" pick-and-roll, while the second came with an instantaneous second jump after a Jordan Clarkson pump fake. Noel is one of those guys who didn't live up to early expectations after being drafted high, but has since established himself as a quality role player on a team that, seemingly, doesn't have a lot of depth. His 84.4% shooting in the restricted area is the best mark (by a healthy margin) among 208 players with at least 100 restricted-area attempts and his 4.96 steals + blocks per 36 minutes are the most among 289 players who've played at least 750 minutes.
The Thunder started the season 5-10, but have a shot at the 3 seed in the West. Their most important game in that regard is Monday against the Nuggets.
Week 23: vs. DEN, vs. LAL, vs. MEM, vs. WAS
Last Week: 9 ↑
Record: 42-24 (2-0)
Pace: 103.7 (4) OffRtg: 113.6 (2) DefRtg: 110.2 (16) NetRtg: +3.4 (7)
The Rockets' two wins weren't exactly "statement" quality, because they snatched victory from the hands of defeat both times, coming back from seven down with less than 45 seconds to go against the Mavs on Friday and from eight down with less than three minutes left against the Bucks on Sunday. But only the Lakers (18-11) have had more success than Houston (17-11) in games played between the 13 teams with winning records.
And they won the two games in true Rockets fashion. They played only eight guys, they got destroyed on the glass (they grabbed just 40% of available rebounds), and they shot 109 3-pointers (57% of their total field goal attempts) over the weekend.
One important number that might get overlooked with this team is turnover differential. The Rockets committed 25 fewer turnovers (18-43) than the Mavs and Bucks over the weekend and have committed more turnovers than their opponent in only four of their last 21 games. Since they went to super-small ball on Jan. 31, they rank second in turnover rate (12.5 per 100 possessions) and third in opponent turnover rate (17.4 per 100), basically negating their problems on the glass and giving them more shots at the basket (via field goal attempts or trips to the line) than their opponents.
They've split their two meetings with the Lakers and will have a rest advantage when they meet on Thursday, with L.A. having played the Thunder the night before.
Week 23: vs. POR, vs. LAL, vs. SAC
Last Week: 8
Record: 42-24 (1-0)
Pace: 98.5 (27) OffRtg: 112.4 (6) DefRtg: 109.1 (13) NetRtg: +3.3 (8)
Prior to the hiatus, the Heat were the third worst third-quarter team (-3.1 points per 100 possessions) among the 22 still playing. But they put the shorthanded Nuggets away on Saturday with a 38-22 third period in which new starter Jae Crowder drained three 3-pointers like a first-quarter Duncan Robinson. The second of those came off a nice short-roll feed from Bam Adebayo, who recorded his highest usage rate of the season, looking like the Eastern Conference's version of Nikola Jokic on his way to 22 points, nine rebounds and six assists.
The Heat have the best record (9-3) in games played between the top six teams in the East and are 4-0 against the Bucks and Raptors, having held the 1 and 2 seeds to just 96 points per 100 possessions over those four games. Giannis Antetokounmpo has shot 8-for-23 (with just two free throw attempts) when Adebayo has defended him. Pascal Siakam, meanwhile, has barely been able to shoot with Adebayo as his defender.
So this week should be fun, though the Heat will be at a rest disadvantage on Tuesday against the Celtics, who have beaten Miami in both meetings thus far.
Week 23: vs. TOR, vs. BOS, vs. MIL, vs. PHX
Last Week: 7 ↓
Record: 43-23 (0-1)
Pace: 97.7 (29) OffRtg: 111.9 (9) DefRtg: 109.2 (14) NetRtg: +2.8 (10)
Some flashes of promise from Bol Bol (a wicked thread-the-needle dime) and PJ Dozier (two straight deft finishes) in the transition game are hints that this team might be deeper than we thought. But the Nuggets obviously missed their starting perimeter trio against the Heat on Saturday, falling apart in the second half without Jamal Murray, Gary Harris and Will Barton.
Prior to the hiatus, the Nuggets ranked fifth defensively (107.4 points allowed per 100 possessions in 22 games) against the league's top 10 pre-hiatus offenses. But there were some glaring breakdowns - two weak-side defenders making the same rotation, a botched switch, allowing the Heat to go end to end in four seconds - on that end of the floor. The Nuggets are 5-12 when they've allowed at least 115 points per 100 possessions and 38-11 otherwise.
Their most important seeding games are Monday (against the Thunder) and Saturday (against the Jazz), and the Nuggets will have a rest advantage in the latter.
Week 23: vs. OKC, vs. SAS, vs. POR, vs. UTA
Last Week: 10
Record: 40-29 (0-2)
Pace: 100.0 (17) OffRtg: 115.8 (1) DefRtg: 110.3 (17) NetRtg: +5.5 (6)
The Mavs brought their late-game struggles with them to Orlando, blowing a seven-point lead with less than 45 seconds to go against Houston on Friday, and then failing to get the bucket they needed against Phoenix on Sunday. After missing the game-winner two nights earlier (and now 0-for-10 on shots to tie or take the lead in the final minute of the fourth quarter or overtime this season), Luka Doncic passed up what seemed like a great opportunity to tie the game against the Suns.
More concerning than the late-game offense is a defense that gave up 100 points in the restricted area, along with another 51 from the foul line, in two games. They actually had a top-five defense in March, but that was five months ago.
The Mavs did clinch a playoff berth (their first in four years) with the Grizzlies' loss on Sunday, but it's going to be tough for them to move up from the 7 seed to avoid the Clippers in the first round. They'll have a possible playoff preview on Thursday.
Week 23: vs. SAC, vs. LAC, vs. MIL
Last Week: 11
Record: 42-24 (1-1)
Pace: 99.0 (25) OffRtg: 111.7 (10) DefRtg: 108.8 (10) NetRtg: +2.9 (9)
The Jazz are one of two teams that have scored less than a point per possession in the restart. The team that ranked second in pre-hiatus 3-point percentage (38.3%) has shot 25% from beyond the arc in its two games. But they got a win on Thursday (coming back from 16 points down) by holding the Pelicans to just 17 points on 23 fourth-quarter possessions, with the rotations on one late stop being particularly impressive. The Jazz's new starting lineup is a plus-13 in its 26 restart minutes, having allowed just 47 points on 57 defensive possessions.
Alas, they've been torched with their reserves on the floor. After the starters struggled offensively in the first quarter on Saturday, the Jazz's hybrid lineups allowed the Thunder to score 22 points on a stretch of 11 offensive possessions (shooting 9-for-10 and rebounding the only miss) in the second. There weren't any egregious mistakes within; Nine of those 22 points came on 3-pointers by three guys who have combined to shoot 29% from beyond the arc this season. But Rudy Gobert wasn't happy after Emmanuel Mudiay didn't switch an empty-side pick-and-roll that produced a layup for Steven Adams.
The Jazz's magic number (combination of Utah wins or Dallas losses) to clinch a top-six seed (and avoid the Clippers in the first round) is three.
Week 23: vs. LAL, vs. MEM, vs. SAS, vs. DEN
Last Week: 13 ↑
Record: 40-26 (1-0)
Pace: 99.1 (23) OffRtg: 109.9 (17) DefRtg: 107.9 (7) NetRtg: +2.0 (12)
Just as eye-opening as the point total (a restart-high 53) was how comfortable T.J. Warren looked in stepping into 3-pointers when the Sixers gave him space. Prior to the hiatus, Warren had taken 21% of his shots, the 20th lowest rate among 137 players with at least 500 field goal attempts, from 3-point range. His nine 3s on on Saturday were five more than he'd hit in any other game in his career. Maybe he was shooting so much from deep because he was feeling it that night. And maybe he's made himself into a more potent offensive player than he was five months ago.
The absence of Domantas Sabonis is an opportunity for Myles Turner (mostly relegated to the corners when the two bigs play together) to play more inside. But foul trouble limited Turner to less than 20 minutes against Philly and the Pacers more than survived (outscoring the Sixers by 19 points) with him off the floor, even though Jakarr Sampson and TJ Leaf (two forwards asked to play back-up center) combined to shoot 4-for-13.
The win gave the Pacers both the tiebreaker and a one-game edge in the race for the 5 seed. They're 4-0 against the below-.500 teams they play on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday, but their last four seeding games are much tougher.
Week 23: vs. WAS, vs. ORL, vs. PHX, vs. LAL
Last Week: 12 ↓
Record: 39-27 (0-1)
Pace: 99.5 (19) OffRtg: 109.8 (18) DefRtg: 107.8 (6) NetRtg: +2.0 (13)
The more things change, the more things stay the same. Ben Simmons is now the Sixers' power forward, but they still have spacing questions when he and Joel Embiid are on the floor together. Are they playing with Embiid on the perimeter, Simmons on the perimeter, or only three guys on the perimeter? None of those three options is ideal, especially when the other guys on the floor aren't Redick-esque in their off-ball-movement or eagerness to let it fly from beyond the arc.
Of course, the other end of the floor was the issue against Warren and the Pacers on Saturday. It wasn't as much of an issue when Embiid (41 points, 21 rebounds, four assists and three blocks) was on the floor, as the Sixers allowed just 75 points on 75 defensive possessions in those 34 minutes. But with Embiid off the floor and Al Horford at center, the Sixers allowed 52 points on 32 defensive possessions and were outscored by 27.
The Embiid effect remains huge and the Sixers remain fascinating. Suddenly, eight pre-playoff games to figure things out doesn't seem like much.
Week 23: vs. SAS, vs. WAS, vs. ORL, vs. POR
Last Week: 18 ↑
Record: 32-35 (2-0)
Pace: 98.9 (26) OffRtg: 108.0 (22) DefRtg: 108.8 (11) NetRtg: -0.8 (16)
Jonathan Isaac's catastrophic injury puts a huge damper on everything. The rangy forward has a world of potential and has already established himself as an impact defender. As was noted last week, eight different guys have played alongside the Magic's four regular starters. The Magic have allowed 105.3 points per 100 possessions in 240 minutes with Isaac as the fifth guy and 113.9 per 100 in 687 minutes with somebody else in that spot. Now, it's likely that we won't see Isaac again until the 2021-22 season.
The Magic have looked terrific otherwise. They've picked up where they left off offensively (they had the league's No. 1 offense between the All-Star break and the shutdown), scoring 124.4 points per 100 possessions in easy wins over the Nets and Kings. Almost everybody in their rotation has shot 50% or better and they've even scored 101 points on 82 offensive possessions with the shooting-deficient guard combination of Markelle Fultz (coming off the bench for now) and Michael Carter-Williams on the floor.
The schedule gets much tougher this week. The Magic are 3-14 against the six teams ahead of them in the East standings, having scored just 100.3 points per 100 possessions in the 17 games. That breaks down to 2-0 against the Sixers and 1-14 against the other five.
Week 23: vs. IND, vs. TOR, vs. PHI, vs. BOS
Last Week: 16 ↑
Record: 30-38 (1-1)
Pace: 101.1 (12) OffRtg: 112.4 (5) DefRtg: 113.9 (27) NetRtg: -1.5 (20)
After pulling off a miracle win (coming back from nine points down with less than five minutes to go) against the Grizzlies on Friday, the Blazers went all-in on another miracle (coming back from 24 down to take multiple leads in the fourth quarter) against the Celtics on Sunday. For the second straight game, they played just eight guys. Damian Lillard played the entire second half for just the fourth time this season and CJ McCollum also logged more than 41 minutes. But they took two when they needed three, all those minutes were for naught, and they're now trailing the Spurs for that second spot in a play-in scenario.
The return of Jusuf Nurkic should help them with two big weaknesses: Interior scoring (they ranked 28th in points in the paint prior to the hiatus) and defense (they allowed a league-high 116.5 points per 100 possessions between Christmas and March 11). He provided some of the former in his first two games back, with 45 of his 48 points coming in the paint or at the line. But the Blazers (again) rank last defensively, having allowed 124.6 points per 100 possessions in their two seeding games.
That defense gets to face two of the league's top three offenses (those of the Rockets and Clippers) this week, and that short rotation will play a back-to-back on Saturday and Sunday.
Week 23: vs. HOU, vs. DEN, vs. LAC, vs. PHI
Last Week: 15 ↓
Record: 32-35 (0-2)
Pace: 103.3 (7) OffRtg: 109.0 (20) DefRtg: 110.0 (15) NetRtg: -1.1 (17)
The Grizzlies' offense is the same as it was five months ago, strong in the paint (where they've shot 59% in their two games) and weak outside (where they've shot 31%). Their top three guards - Ja Morant, Dillon Brooks and De'Anthony Melton - are a combined 4-for-29 from 3-point range. They had some fun on the break during a 26-4, third-quarter run against Portland on Friday, and they destroyed San Antonio in the paint (64-28) on Sunday. But when both games went down to the wire, they couldn't get the stops they needed, allowing the Blazers and Spurs to shoot 14-for-20 (including 6-for-8 from 3-point range) in the clutch.
Jaren Jackson Jr. totaled 54 points in the two games, drained eight threes himself, and had a couple of tasty dunks (one, two) on Jusuf Nurkic. But the Grizzlies were outscored by 19 points in Jackson's 23 minutes on the bench.
The Grizz have lost their first two games against teams chasing them, their game against the Pelicans on Monday is the second of a back-to-back, and their final four games are against the Thunder, Raptors, Celtics and Bucks. They're still in good shape to be the eighth-place team in a play-in situation, but these next two games feel pretty critical.
Week 23: vs. NOP, vs. UTA, vs. OKC, vs. TOR
Last Week: 20 ↑
Record: 29-36 (2-0)
Pace: 100.8 (15) OffRtg: 111.3 (11) DefRtg: 112.6 (24) NetRtg: -1.3 (18)
Gregg Popovich said these games were about development and not about his team's 22-year playoff streak. The Spurs are playing their kids and building for the future. Not only are Dejounte Murray and Derrick White starting together, but Lonnie Walker IV is starting alongside them with DeMar DeRozan at the four. Twenty-year-old Keldon Johnson has played as many minutes off the bench as 14-year veteran Rudy Gay.
And "development" has produced two wins in two tries, pushing the Spurs into ninth place. White had an incredible game (26 points, eight rebounds, five assists and five drawn charges) against the Kings on Friday, Murray was big (21 points and 10 rebounds) against the Grizzlies on Sunday, and DeRozan came through down the stretch of both wins when it seemed like things might slip away.
The Spurs have played faster, though they've been more than doubled up (40-13) in fast break points and Walker's transition game has produced results ranging from spectacular (a double-clutch dunk and a tough finish through contact) to cringe-worthy (a behind-the-back dribble straight into a defender and a mid-range step-back with 19 seconds left on the shot clock). This team continues to be at its best with Jakob Poeltl on the floor, and the new starting five will match up with each of last year's All-NBA centers in the Spurs' next three games.
Week 23: vs. PHI, vs. DEN, vs. UTA, vs. NOP
Last Week: 14 ↓
Record: 28-38 (0-2)
Pace: 103.9 (3) OffRtg: 110.3 (16) DefRtg: 111.6 (21) NetRtg: -1.3 (19)
The Pelicans were outscored by 33 points in Zion Williamson's 29 minutes against the Jazz and Clippers, so it's less than clear that they blew Thursday's game by not saving some of those minutes for clutch time. There was some bad luck in having allowed an incredible 90 points on 59 defensive possessions with Williamson on the floor, but there were also some clear examples (going for a steal instead of stopping the ball, falling asleep on an inbounds play, a late weak-side rotation, an inability to contain the dribble) where the rookie hurt his team defensively.
Williamson having defensive issues is nothing new, and the only way for him to improve on that end of the floor is with more minutes and more reps. The Pels also struggled on offense, ranking in the bottom-five in effective field goal percentage, free throw rate and turnover percentage for the restart.
The stakes are higher this week, but despite the two losses and the need to pass both Portland and San Antonio in the standings, the Pelicans are still very much alive. They've played their two toughest games of the seeding-game schedule, and the last six are all against teams with losing records. Their games this week against the Grizzlies (Monday) and Spurs (Sunday) are worth extra.
Week 23: vs. MEM, vs. SAC, vs. WAS, vs. SAS
Last Week: 21 ↑
Record: 28-39 (2-0)
Pace: 101.9 (9) OffRtg: 110.4 (15) DefRtg: 111.1 (18) NetRtg: -0.8 (15)
The Suns still have the toughest remaining schedule (all six games against teams with winning records) among the five teams fighting for ninth place. But they've kept the door open by winning their first two games in Orlando. Devin Booker is obviously carrying a heavy load (he ranks second in restart usage rate) and DeAndre Ayton remains a highly skilled offensive player, but Cam Johnson (31 total points on 11-for-19 shooting) may have opened some eyes these last few days.
The rookie, getting an opportunity to start with Kelly Oubre out, had taken 70% of his pre-hiatus shots from 3-point range. That was the fifth highest rate among 229 players with at least 300 field goal attempts through March. But he's done some stuff - a floater through contact, a baseline runner, a timely back-door cut - inside the arc that indicates he's been putting in some work and that he can be more than just a shooter.
The Suns have some pieces. Their 36-19 third quarter that turned things around against Dallas on Sunday came with nobody scoring more than six points.
Week 23: vs. LAC, vs. IND, vs. MIA
Last Week: 17 ↓
Record: 31-35 (1-1)
Pace: 101.5 (10) OffRtg: 108.0 (23) DefRtg: 108.5 (9) NetRtg: -0.6 (14)
It's not clear if having the ball in his hands so much is preparing Caris LeVert for the role he'll have next season. But LeVert ranks sixth in restart usage rate (34.2%) and we saw something new from the fourth-year wing against the Wizards on Sunday. The Nets put him the post a few times in the first half and got good results: a drive past Jerome Robinson, an open 3 for Garrett Temple, another drive past Robinson, and a turnaround in the paint. Things got interesting late, but the Nets took a big step toward the playoffs with a 35-point fourth quarter against the league's worst defense. LeVert had 14 of the 35, icing the game with an iso floater in the final minute.
Jacque Vaughn has given his guys a little more license to shoot from mid-range than they had previously, but with Jarrett Allen in the middle, protecting the rim remains the focus of the Brooklyn defense. Only 22% of their opponents' shots, the lowest opponent rate of the restart, have come in the restricted area. Allen had 22 and 15 in the win over Washington.
The Nets got thumped by the Magic on Friday, but they'll have another chance for seventh place if they can stay even with Orlando over the next four games. Jamal Crawford has yet to play, but could make his Brooklyn debut this week.
Week 23: vs. MIL, vs. BOS, vs. SAC, vs. LAC
Last Week: 19 ↓
Record: 28-38 (0-2)
Pace: 99.3 (20) OffRtg: 109.1 (19) DefRtg: 111.1 (19) NetRtg: -2.0 (21)
Remember when the Kings thought they were being disrespected for not being included in the playoff discussion? If that disrespect was providing any fuel, the tank clearly has a leak. With two games remaining against the Pelicans, they still have a shot to push their way into ninth place, but it's more likely that they've already blown their opportunity at ending their 13-year playoff drought, allowing the Spurs and Magic to score more than 123 points per 100 possessions over the weekend.
On Friday, they blew a game in which De'Aaron Fox got to the rim at will and scored a career-high 39 points. And on Sunday, they simply got run over, allowing 44 points in the first quarter and trailing by as many as 36. Buddy Hield, who averaged 19.4 points on an effective field goal percentage of 62% over the 20 games in which he came off the bench prior to the shutdown, shot just 7-for-26 in the two games. And when you don't get to the line much - Hield's free throw rate of 12.3 attempts per 100 shots from the field ranks 131st among 142 players with at least 500 field goal attempts - it's extra problematic when you don't shoot well.
Week 23: vs. DAL, vs. NOP, vs. BKN, vs. HOU
Last Week: 22
Record: 24-42 (0-2)
Pace: 103.5 (5) OffRtg: 111.0 (13) DefRtg: 115.1 (30) NetRtg: -4.1 (25)
With the Wizards having lost their two easiest seeding games, an 0-8 bubble record is in play and their playoff dreams are likely dead, not that a 24-40 team (entering the restart) missing its two best players should have had real playoff dreams in the first place. Appropriately, their 30th-ranked defense is to blame for their weekend results. The Suns and Nets shot just 33% from outside the paint, but totaled 84 points (on 75% shooting) in the restricted area and another 61 at the free throw line.
The restart has always been about reps for the young guys and if Rui Hachimura (22) has the highest ceiling, Troy Brown Jr. (who just turned 21 last week) has the highest floor. The 6-6 wing totaled 37 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists (with no turnovers) over the weekend, with this off-ball cut, this reverse, and this wraparound dime being particularly nice.
Week 23: vs. IND, vs. PHI, vs. NOP, vs. OKC