Power Rankings, Week 24: West play-in race highlights final week before playoffs
Suns rise, Bucks take over top spot in latest ranking of 22 teams in Orlando
It was impossible to predict what would happen during the season restart after 4 1/2 months off. But even expecting the unexpected, we have to be surprised by the performances of some teams in Orlando.
The title favorites have seemingly had a tough time adjusting. The Milwaukee Bucks, Los Angeles Lakers and LA Clippers are a combined 7-10. The Lakers have had the worst offense in the restart, and the Bucks ranking 11th defensively over the last 11 days may be more shocking than that. Both Milwaukee and the Clippers lost to the Brooklyn Nets last week.
The Phoenix Suns probably shouldn’t have been invited to the restart. But they were, they have their first five-game winning streak in 5 1/2 years, and they’re still very much alive in the chase for eighth and ninth place in the Western Conference. The San Antonio Spurs went to Orlando to develop their young players and they’ve found themselves in the middle of that same chase.
Two playoff series in the East are set. The No. 1 seed Bucks will face the No. 8 seed Orlando Magic, while the No. 2 seed and defending-champion Toronto Raptors will face Brooklyn, the 7 seed. We also know that the Boston Celtics are the No. 3 seed in the East, while the Lakers are No. 1 in the West.
Everything else will be determined in the next seven days, with the Western Conference play-in series taking place on Saturday and, if necessary, Sunday.
With the top teams all stumbling, there’s no obvious No. 1 in this week’s rankings. Fortunately, this isn’t college football or basketball, and the rankings don’t really matter. Feel free to disagree with the order below anyway.
Plus-Minus Players of the Week
- Right Way: T.J. Warren (IND) was a plus-63 in four games last week.
- Wrong Way: Troy Brown Jr. (WAS) was a minus-41 in four games last week.
Teams of the Week
- Make It Last Forever: Phoenix (3-0) — Prior to the restart, Devin Booker had never (played in and) won more than three straight games. Now, he’s won five straight. The Suns are still alive and somehow, Cam Payne is a big part of their success.
- Something Just Ain’t Right: New Orleans (2-2) — The Pelicans had a favorable seeding-game schedule and it didn’t matter.
East vs. West
- The West is 207-173 (.545) against the East in interconference games after going 6-5 last week.
Movement in the Rankings
- High jumps of the week: Brooklyn (+4), Phoenix (+4), Denver (+2)
- Free falls of the week: Orlando (-5), Five teams (-2)
Week 24 Teams to Watch
- Memphis and Portland — The two spots in the play-in series are the Grizzlies’ and Blazers’ to lose, and they both play on Tuesday and Thursday. Memphis faces the Celtics and Bucks (two teams locked into their playoff positions), while Portland plays the Mavs (who would be locked into the West’s 7 seed if they lose on Monday) and the Nets (who are already locked into the East’s 7 seed).
- Last week: Raptors rise, Lakers hold top spot
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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 100.8 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes and 110.0 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: 2 ↑
Record: 55-15 (2-3)
Pace: 105.4 (1) OffRtg: 112.3 (7) DefRtg: 102.3 (1) NetRtg: +10.0 (1)
Most important is that the Bucks are healthy. They got Eric Bledsoe and Pat Connaughton back on Tuesday, and they had their full rotation available on Thursday and Saturday. This team is led by two stars (one the likely Kia MVP), but depth is a critical component to their success. There's a reason why they're 55-15 with Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton both averaging fewer than 31 minutes per game.
But there should be a degree of concern with the results. All five of the Bucks' games have been within five points in the last five minutes, but it's been their worst five-game stretch of defense (111.9 points allowed per 100 possessions) of the season. The game in which Brook Lopez rested (Tuesday vs. Brooklyn) was not their worst defensive performance, but he's been the best rim protector in Orlando (opponents have shot just 8-for-25 at the rim when he's been there) and the Bucks have allowed just 102.6 points per 100 possessions in his 126 restart minutes. In 119 minutes with Lopez off the floor, they've allowed 117.5 per 100. That on-floor number wasn't so good in the Bucks' overtime loss to Dallas on Saturday, but Lopez put up 34 points (the most he's scored in almost three years) on the other end of the floor.
The next three games don't mean anything for the Bucks, who have clinched the league's best record for a second straight season. The first two games (and maybe the third) don't mean anything for their opponents either, and the Bucks will have the luxury of a first-round series against a below-.500 and not-completely-healthy opponent. So minutes for the starters could be limited this week.
Week 24: vs. TOR, vs. WAS, vs. MEM
Last Week: 1 ↓
Record: 51-18 (2-4)
Pace: 101.3 (11) OffRtg: 111.3 (11) DefRtg: 105.5 (3) NetRtg: +5.9 (5)
The Lakers' offense woke up behind 42 points from Anthony Davis against the Jazz on Monday. But they proceeded to score just 95.1 points per 100 possessions as they lost to the Thunder, Rockets (without LeBron James) and Pacers. League-wide efficiency has been higher in the restart (111.6 points scored per 100 possessions) than it was prior (109.9), but three of the Lakers' four least efficient offensive games of the season have come in the last 11 days.
There are 88 players who have taken at least 35 shots from outside the restricted area in the restart. Among those 88 players, the worst effective field goal percentage marks on those non-restricted-area shots belong to Davis (28.7%), Ja Morant (31.9%) and LeBron James (32.7%). In their loss to Indiana on Saturday, Davis and James were a combined 11-for-15 in the restricted area and 5-for-23 outside it.
Quinn Cook has moved into the rotation and he drained five 3-pointers on Saturday, but the Lakers' other guards have continued to misfire from beyond the arc. Dion Waiters was getting to the cup in his first couple of games, but is 3-for-22 (with 11 straight misses) from 3-point range.
The perimeter shooting can't get worse, but it might not get that much better. The Lakers now rank 27th in effective field goal percentage on shots from outside the paint (47.4%) and postseason defenses will do their best to keep them away from the basket. That will put more pressure on the Lakers' own defense to get stops and trigger transition opportunities.
Week 24: vs. DEN, vs. SAC
Last Week: 3
Record: 50-19 (4-1)
Pace: 101.1 (12) OffRtg: 110.6 (13) DefRtg: 104.5 (2) NetRtg: +6.1 (4)
The Raptors clinched both the 2 seed in the East and their fifth straight 50-win season with a victory over the Grizzlies on Sunday. They've had the No. 1 restart defense (99.6 points allowed per 100 possessions) by a healthy margin, ranking in the top six in each of the four factors on defense over these 11 days of games.
The offense hasn't been great. Only the Lakers have scored fewer points per 100 possessions than the champs (102.1) in the restart, and things were particularly ugly against Boston on Friday. The Raps never led, they trailed by 40, and they scored just 57 points on 77 possessions (shooting 4-for-29 from outside the paint) through the first three quarters. There are reasons on both ends of the floor -- a potent, off-the-dribble offense and capable defenders to slow down Kyle Lowry and Pascal Siakam -- to believe that Boston is a tough matchup for the champs.
But before they can worry about the Celtics, the Raptors will have to deal with a feisty Brooklyn team in the first round. Toronto went 3-1 in the season series, though it was the Nets that ended the Raps' 15-game winning streak in the last game before the All-Star break.
Week 24: vs. MIL, vs. PHI, vs. DEN
Last Week: 4
Record: 47-23 (3-3)
Pace: 102.2 (8) OffRtg: 113.4 (3) DefRtg: 107.1 (5) NetRtg: +6.3 (3)
With Montrezl Harrell back in Orlando as of Sunday night, the Clippers might just be #fullsquad for their seeding-game finale against the Thunder on Friday. After acquiring Marcus Morris at the deadline, they've had their top seven guys (five starters and two Sixth Man candidates) for just seven of their 18 games (a six-game winning streak and a loss to the Lakers). They've started one of their six seeding games with six of the seven, but lost Patrick Beverley to a calf injury just eight minutes into that one.
Five of the six core guys who have played have generally been terrific. Morris and Ivica Zubac have combined to shoot 44-for-70 (63%) inside the arc, while Beverley, Paul George and Kawhi Leonard have combined to shoot 40-for-76 (53%) from beyond it. The Clippers have outscored their opponents by 49 points in a little over 70 seeding-game minutes with at least four of those five guys on the floor. But there's been a drop-off after that. Lou Williams and Landry Shamet have combined to shoot 8-for-42 (19%) from 3-point range and the Clippers have been outscored by 15 points per 100 possessions with Leonard off the floor.
They took care of business in a possible first-round preview against the Mavs on Thursday, but continuity has remained elusive and the Clips are going to have to find their groove in the postseason.
Week 24: vs. DEN, vs. OKC
Last Week: 5
Record: 47-23 (4-2)
Pace: 100.0 (17) OffRtg: 112.9 (4) DefRtg: 106.6 (4) NetRtg: +6.3 (2)
The Celtics are locked into the No. 3 seed, though they pulverized the second-seeded Raptors on Friday, stifling the Toronto transition game and taking a 40-point lead at one point in the fourth quarter. They went 3-1 against their potential semifinals opponent.
The spotlight has been on Jayson Tatum for most of the season, but Jaylen Brown might be putting it all together as well. He's not the playmaker that Boston's other perimeter players are, but Brown played a big part in holding Pascal Siakam in check on Friday and he's been the team's leading scorer (21.7 points on an effective field goal percentage of 55%) in the restart. He's one of those guys that has taken a much higher percentage of his shots from 3-point range (48%) than he did prior to the hiatus (36%).
Things aren't totally clicking (Marcus Smart has shot 6-for-32 over the last five games), but the Celtics have enough weapons to survive an off night from one or two. As we head into the final five days of the season, they're the only team that ranks in the top four in both offensive and defensive efficiency. Barring a rough offensive week (not likely with the Wizards on tap), they'll finish in the top five on both ends of the floor for just the second time in the 24 years for which we have play-by-play data. The previous time was the 2008-09 season.
Week 24: vs. MEM, vs. WAS
Last Week: 7 ↑
Record: 44-25 (4-1)
Pace: 103.8 (4) OffRtg: 113.4 (2) DefRtg: 109.7 (16) NetRtg: +3.6 (7)
Four of the Rockets' five games have been against the league's No. 1 offense for the season (that of the Mavs), the league's No. 1 offense in the bubble (that of the Blazers), and the top seeds in each conference (the Bucks and Lakers). And Houston ranks sixth defensively in Orlando, having allowed just 102.6 points per 100 possessions in the four games since their 153-149, OT barn-burner against Dallas to begin the restart.
Much of that success is due to the four opponents shooting a combined 27% from 3-point range, and the Lakers were without LeBron James on Thursday. But the Rockets haven't been burned in transition as much and their switching has mostly been on point. They even outrebounded an opponent (the Kings on Sunday) for just the second time in the 22 games since they stopped playing any centers.
The Rockets' own offense hasn't been great. Three of their five lowest points in the paint totals of the season (30 points or fewer) have come in their the last four games, and when the Portland game went down to the wire on Tuesday, they scored just two points on their final eight possessions. But they got 41 from Austin Rivers on Sunday, and they should get both Russell Westbrook (who's missed the last two games) and Eric Gordon (who has missed all five) back this week.
Week 24: vs. SAS, vs. IND, vs. PHI
Last Week: 9 ↑
Record: 46-24 (3-2)
Pace: 97.7 (29) OffRtg: 112.3 (6) DefRtg: 109.7 (14) NetRtg: +2.7 (9)
The Nuggets were missing four regular starters and sat the fifth (Nikola Jokic) for the fourth quarter against the Blazers on Thursday. Two days later, in his first game in almost five months, Jamal Murray was on the floor in double OT, having already blown by his "minutes limit." And, though he looked gassed at times, Murray hit a bunch of big shots as Denver beat the Jazz after coming back from 18 points down. The Nuggets are now tied with the Thunder with a league-high seven wins after trailing by 15 or more.
Denver is still waiting on Gary Harris and Will Barton, but Michael Porter Jr. has picked up the slack offensively, averaging 29.3 points on an effective field goal percentage of 66% (and shooting 23-for-24 from the line) in their four games last week. Porter, Khris Middleton and Duncan Robinson are the only 50/40/90 shooters (with minimums on attempts) in the restart, and the rookie had a couple of gutsy pulls from beyond the arc in the fourth quarter against Portland on Thursday.
Defense, where the Nuggets rank last in the restart, is another story. With his team so shorthanded, Michael Malone is obviously giving Porter more rope on that side of the ball. The defense has actually been better with Porter on the floor and one quick reaction on Saturday prevented an open 3-pointer and eventually forced a Utah turnover. But the Jazz also had some success (here and here) by putting Porter in pick-and-rolls late in the game. It's clear he'll be a part of the playoff rotation (that wasn't so clear two weeks ago), but the rookie's defense will continue to be under the microscope.
Week 24: vs. LAL, vs. LAC, vs. TOR
Last Week: 6 ↓
Record: 43-26 (3-2)
Pace: 99.2 (21) OffRtg: 110.7 (12) DefRtg: 108.1 (8) NetRtg: +2.6 (10)
The Thunder had a decent shot at the No. 3 seed if they beat the Nuggets on Monday. But in one of their most important games of the season, they had a rare clutch collapse, blowing a seven-point lead with less than 3 1/2 minutes to go. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander missed a big free throw with a little more than a minute to go, Chris Paul missed one with a chance to win the game in the final seconds of regulation, and the Thunder scored just two points in the first 4:18 of overtime. OKC had won 12 of its previous 13 (and 20 of its previous 23) games that were within five points in the last five minutes.
The Thunder were missing Dennis Schroder, a key ingredient to their late-game success who went home for the birth of his child. Paul, Schroder and Gilgeous-Alexander haven't played together in the seeding games and Schroder isn't expected back until at least the finale on Friday. Steven Adams has missed the last two games with lower left leg contusion, and both Nerlens Noel and Andre Roberson are also banged up.
They had enough to hold the Lakers to their worst offensive performance of the season (86 points on 102 possessions). Barring big numbers from this week's opponents, the Thunder will finish in the top 10 in defensive efficiency for the fourth straight season.
We could see an OKC-Houston revenge series in the first round, and no Western Conference opponent has held the Rockets to fewer points per 100 possessions than the Thunder (102.9), though all three meetings took place before Houston committed to super-small ball.
Week 24: vs. PHX, vs. MIA, vs. LAC
Last Week: 10 ↑
Record: 42-30 (2-3)
Pace: 100.0 (18) OffRtg: 115.8 (1) DefRtg: 110.5 (17) NetRtg: +5.2 (6)
Luka Doncic still hasn't made a shot for the tie or the lead in the final minute of the fourth quarter or overtime this season, but he did everything else in leading the Mavs to overtime wins over the Kings and Bucks last week. Doncic totaled 70 points 34 rebounds and 31 assists in the two wins, scoring or assisting on eight of the Mavs' 11 clutch buckets, with his through-the-legs dime to Maxi Kleber on Saturday being the highlight of all that late-game usage.
The Mavs are still likely looking at a first-round matchup with the Clippers, to whom they've lost all three meetings this season. They were tied with less than seven minutes to go on Thursday, but allowed the Clippers to score a remarkable 27 points (shooting 10-for-13 and rebounding two of the misses) on a stretch of 12 possessions late in the fourth quarter. One of the other meetings (Jan. 21) was within five in the last five, but no team has outscored the Mavs by more points per 100 possessions than the Clips (+9.9), with rebounding being an issue for Dallas.
Week 24: vs. UTA, vs. POR, vs. PHX
Last Week: 8 ↓
Record: 43-27 (2-3)
Pace: 98.6 (27) OffRtg: 112.2 (8) DefRtg: 109.5 (13) NetRtg: +2.8 (8)
When things were normal, the Heat were 4-0 against the Raptors and Bucks, and 0-2 against the Celtics. So of course, they lost to both Toronto and Milwaukee last week, with a win over Boston (on the second night of a back-to-back) in between. They scored just six points on 11 clutch possessions against Toronto, with two last-minute possessions in which they didn't get a shot to tie or take the lead.
The offense held up OK, scoring almost 113 points per 100 possessions, without Jimmy Butler over the last three games. Duncan Robinson (67 points, 32 3-point attempts over the three games) remains a terror and Tyler Herro (a career-high 10 assists against Phoenix on Sunday) has expanded his game.
But the defense did not hold up, allowing the Celtics and Suns to total 42 second-chance points and sending the Bucks to the line for 38 free throw attempts. In Butler and Bam Adebayo, the Heat have two All-Defense candidates. But this will be just the seventh time in the last 25 years (and the first time in the last five) that they've finished outside the top 10 in defensive efficiency. The Heat are like the Bucks and Raptors in that they allow a lot of 3-pointers, but while Milwaukee and Toronto rank first and third in opponent field goal percentage in the restricted area, the Heat rank 25th (65.8%). They're also not nearly as good as the Bucks in avoiding fouls or as the Raptors in forcing turnovers.
The Heat are 5-1 against possible first-round foes Indiana and Philadelphia, with the Heat and their opponents having combined to score 115 points per 100 possessions over those six games.
Week 24: vs. IND, vs. OKC, vs. IND
Last Week: 12 ↑
Record: 43-27 (4-1)
Pace: 99.2 (23) OffRtg: 109.9 (18) DefRtg: 107.9 (6) NetRtg: +2.0 (13)
The old-school Pacers have embraced small-ball, listing 6-foot Aaron Holiday as a starting forward the last three games. On Saturday, they outscored the bigger Lakers by 22 points in a little less than 33 minutes (scoring 94 points on 75 offensive possessions) with Victor Oladipo, T.J. Warren and the younger Holiday on the floor with either Malcolm Brogdon or T.J. McConnell at the point.
After shooting 10-for-30 in his first two games, Brogdon totaled 49 points on 17-for-29 shooting against the Suns and Lakers, mixing in some crafty drives with his 8-for-15 shooting from beyond the arc. And after cooling off against his former team on Thursday, Warren had another big night against L.A. Fourteen of his 39 points came in transition, but the Pacers also got more out of the Warren-Davis matchup in the half-court than the Lakers did. There was a back-door cut behind a ball-watching Davis, a catch-and-shoot 3, a tough bucket in the paint, and the dagger 3 over Davis when he switched a pick-and-roll.
The Pacers' two games against the Heat this week will go a long way in determining the 4, 5 and 6 seeds in the East. No East team has scored more efficiently against the Pacers' defense this season than the Heat (120.5 points per 100 possessions in two wins), but Indy didn't have Brogdon or Oladipo for either game.
Week 24: vs. MIA, vs. HOU, vs, MIA
Last Week: 13 ↑
Record: 42-28 (3-2)
Pace: 99.6 (19) OffRtg: 110.1 (17) DefRtg: 108.0 (7) NetRtg: +2.1 (12)
The good news is that Mike Scott and Glenn Robinson III are healthy after missing the first three and four games of the restart, respectively. The bad news is that Ben Simmons (who's set to have knee surgery) and Joel Embiid (who turned his left ankle on Sunday) are not. Embiid's injury could be minor. The Sixers have outscored their opponents by 11.0 points per 100 possessions (allowing just 98.9 per 100) in 629 minutes with Embiid on the floor without Simmons. And in the restart, Embiid has taken a greater percentage of his shots from in the paint (60%) than he did prior (47%).
This team still has a lot of guys who can play. Al Horford's minutes have been much better since that seeding-game opener against the Pacers. Matisse Thybulle can replicate some of what Simmons gives the Sixers defensively. Alec Burks has provided some offensive juice off the bench, and Josh Richardson broke out with 34 points against Portland on Sunday.
How the offense will work remains fascinating and there are going to be some awkward moments (like when Embiid and Horford both tried to post up at the same time early in the third quarter against Orlando on Friday). But if Embiid is on the floor when the playoffs open, the Sixers will defend at a high level and have a real chance for a third straight trip to the conference semifinals.
Week 24: vs. PHX, vs. TOR, vs. HOU
Last Week: 11 ↓
Record: 43-27 (2-4)
Pace: 99.2 (22) OffRtg: 111.6 (10) DefRtg: 108.9 (10) NetRtg: +2.6 (11)
After he and three other Jazz starters sat out the day before, Donovan Mitchell played a career-high 47 minutes in their wild, double-overtime loss to the Nuggets on Saturday. And Mitchell got plenty of late-game reps, shooting 7-for-16 with the score within five points in the last five minutes of the fourth quarter or OT. Mitchell isn't on the level of other All-Star guards in regard to shooting pull-up 3-pointers (his 31.5% ranks 16th among 19 players with 200 or more attempts), but he's been much improved (and much better than league-average) on pull-up 2-pointers this season. Pull-up 2s are generally not great shots, but you often need them in a big spot.
The Jazz, who ranked 10th in points-in-the-paint differential (+1.4) prior to the hiatus, were outscored in the paint by an average of 26 points (63-37) in their four games last week. But after struggling from beyond the arc in their first three restart games, the No. 2 team in 3-point percentage has shot 41% from deep over the last three. Joe Ingles is 13-for-24 in that stretch and capped the game-deciding 14-3 run against Memphis on Wednesday with a pair of 3-pointers, one off a designed play and one heat check.
The Jazz can still move up or move down from sixth place in the West. They need a win or a Dallas loss to clinch nothing worse than the No. 6 seed, and they go head-to-head with the Mavs on Monday.
Week 24: vs. DAL, vs. SAS
Last Week: 15 ↑
Record: 33-39 (4-2)
Pace: 101.1 (13) OffRtg: 112.8 (5) DefRtg: 114.0 (27) NetRtg: -1.2 (19)
The Blazers control their own destiny. If they win their games on Tuesday and Thursday, they'll be in the play-in series over the weekend. They've had the No. 1 offense in the restart, scoring more than 120 points per 100 possessions over their six games. Damian Lillard scored 45 points and dished out 12 assists against the Nuggets on Thursday, and then he went off for 51 (including 18 in the fourth quarter) against Philly on Sunday.
Of the four teams fighting for the final playoff spot in the West, this is probably the one the Lakers would least like to face. The Nuggets (who rested their best healthy guys in the fourth quarter against Portland on Thursday) and the Clippers (who rested Kawhi Leonard and sat Paul George for the final five minutes against Portland on Saturday) clearly think so.
But the Blazers haven't exactly taken the bubble by storm. They got a good win against Houston on Tuesday, holding the league's second-ranked offense to just a point per possession. But their other three wins are ...
• An overtime victory over the Grizzlies, who are 1-5 in the restart.
• A 10-point win over Denver in a game that they trailed with less than six minutes left. The Nuggets who were on the floor for those final six minutes include PJ Dozier, Keita Bates-Diop and somebody named Tyler Cook.
• A three-point win over the Sixers, who were without Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid (for all but the first six minutes).
The Blazers also lost the game against the Clippers in which George conveniently took a seat with the Blazers up three and five minutes to go. Lou Williams also sat the final nine minutes.
The Lakers look more vulnerable than they have all season and the Blazers are obviously more dangerous now that they're healthy (and that Gary Trent Jr. has turned into Ray Allen). But Portland has been playing with fire themselves, and we're still several steps from seeing that first-round matchup come to fruition.
Week 24: vs. DAL, vs. BKN
Last Week: 19 ↑
Record: 31-39 (5-0)
Pace: 101.9 (9) OffRtg: 110.6 (14) DefRtg: 110.9 (18) NetRtg: -0.4 (14)
The Suns are the only undefeated team in the restart, and have been about equally improved on both ends of the floor. The offensive improvement has come with Devin Booker averaging 29.4 points, but also with five other guys averaging double-figures. One of those five is Cameron Payne, who spent the pre-hiatus season in the NBA G League. The Suns have outscored their opponents by 34 points in 58 minutes (allowing just 106 points on 133 defensive possessions) with their second-unit backcourt of Payne and Jevon Carter on the floor.
The offensive improvement has also come with a drop in both assist percentage (the Suns have dipped below the idle Warriors for the league lead) and turnover rate. (Carter has 12 assists and zero turnovers in the five games.) After being assisted on 48% of his buckets prior to the hiatus, Booker has been assisted on only 31% of them in the restart. The game-winner over two of the best defenders in the league was, by definition, unassisted. But give Mikal Bridges an assist for coming up with the deflection that set it up. When you combine Bridges' length with active hands, you have an impact defender.
The Suns still need help to reach the play-in scenario, but no matter what happens this week, this trip to Orlando has been fruitful.
Week 24: vs. OKC, vs. PHI, vs. DAL
Last Week: 20 ↑
Record: 34-36 (4-2)
Pace: 101.7 (10) OffRtg: 108.4 (22) DefRtg: 109.1 (12) NetRtg: -0.6 (15)
There was a real fear that the short-handed Nets and Wizards would go 1-15 in these seeding games. But after edging the Wizards in the head-to-head matchup, Brooklyn went ahead and beat the Bucks, Kings and Clippers to suddenly clinch the No. 7 seed and a first-round matchup with the champs. The Nets came to Orlando with three starters (apologies to dime-dropper DeAndre Jordan and those who think he should start over Jarrett Allen), and they beat Milwaukee despite sitting all three on Tuesday, getting a career-high 26 points from Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, whose jumper is not unpretty.
Caris LeVert (27 points and 13 assists on Sunday), Joe Harris (shooting 19-for-33 from 3-point range and doing a lot more than that) and Allen (24 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists on Friday) returned to lead the wins over Sacramento and the Clippers.
Jamal Crawford's comeback lasted less than six minutes, the Nets got thrashed by the Celtics on Wednesday (they're characteristically 4-2 with a negative point differential in the restart), and they've fallen out of the top 10 in defensive efficiency. But we're getting the much anticipated Chiozza-VanVleet matchup in the playoffs and interim coach Jacque Vaughn is making a case for being the coach when Kevin Durant makes his Nets debut next season.
Week 24: vs. ORL, vs. POR
Last Week: 17
Record: 31-38 (4-2)
Pace: 101.0 (15) OffRtg: 111.8 (9) DefRtg: 112.9 (25) NetRtg: -1.1 (17)
After two close losses in which they allowed almost 130 points per 100 possessions, the Spurs stayed alive with wins over the short-handed Jazz and the similarly desperate Pelicans, allowing less than 106 per 100. They will rank in the bottom 10 in defensive efficiency for the first time since they drafted Tim Duncan, but the playoff streak isn't dead yet.
Unfortunately, the big win over New Orleans came with a knee injury to Derrick White, who's been one of the best two-way players in Orlando. Dejounte Murray has still been a little shy in regard to shooting from deep (though he made three 3-pointers on Sunday), but White has been letting it fly. After taking 34% of his shots from 3-point range prior to the hiatus, he's taken 61% of his shots from beyond the arc over the six seeding games. Only Gary Trent Jr. (21) has made more catch-and-shoot 3-pointers in the restart than White (19), and the Spurs have scored 116.7 points per 100 possessions in 115 restart minutes with Murray and White on the floor together.
With White injured, DeMar DeRozan stepped up once again, scoring 15 fourth-quarter points on Sunday. Five of the Spurs' six games have been within five points in the last five minutes and DeRozan has averaged a restart-high 10.3 points (on 75% shooting!) in the fourth quarter.
Week 24: vs. HOU, vs. UTA
Last Week: 16 ↓
Record: 33-38 (1-5)
Pace: 103.3 (6) OffRtg: 108.7 (21) DefRtg: 109.7 (15) NetRtg: -1.0 (16)
The Grizzlies are still in eighth place and, with the Celtics and Bucks locked into their playoff seeds, this week's games look more winnable than they did before the seeding games began. They have the restart's fifth-ranked defense (107.2 points allowed per 100 possessions) after holding the Thunder to 92 on 100 in a critical win on Friday.
But Jaren Jackson Jr. was lost to a meniscus tear in his left knee, the Grizzlies are just 1-5 in the restart, and they still need a win (or losses from both San Antonio and Phoenix) to secure their spot in the play-in series. Even if the Celtics and Bucks are resting guys on Tuesday and Thursday, they're two top-five defenses that could make things tough on a Memphis offense that ranks 18th in the restart.
Grayson Allen, who wasn't in the rotation when the season was suspended, has been a pleasant surprise and provided some much-needed shooting. His 54% from 3-point range is the fifth-best mark in the restart (among 95 players with at least 20 attempts), he scored a season-high 20 points against Utah on Wednesday, and he matched it against Toronto on Sunday.
Alas, Grizzlies not named Allen have shot 27% from beyond the arc. Defenses are going under screens against Ja Morant, who hasn't been getting to the bucket in these six games (33% of his shots have come in the restricted area) nearly as much as he did before the hiatus (47%). He's made two 3-pointers in each of his last three games, but is 19-for-72 (26%) from outside the restricted area as the Grizzlies have gone 1-5.
Week 24: vs. BOS, vs. MIL
Last Week: 14 ↓
Record: 32-39 (2-4)
Pace: 98.9 (26) OffRtg: 107.8 (23) DefRtg: 109.0 (11) NetRtg: -1.2 (18)
The Magic got off to a hot start in the bubble, scoring 124.4 points per 100 possessions in easy wins over the Nets and Kings. Then the schedule got real, and they've scored just 104.6 per 100 over a four-game losing streak, losing Michael Carter-Williams and Aaron Gordon to injuries along the way.
They didn't hold a lead in either of their losses to Indiana or Toronto earlier in the week. And when their initial defense held up against Philly and Boston over the weekend, they allowed 38 total second chance points over the two games. Boston came back from five down in the final minute of regulation with a second-chance 3-pointer from Jayson Tatum and put the Magic in their own five-point deficit in the final minute of overtime with a second-chance bucket from Daniel Theis.
The Magic won't even get a chance to play for seventh place on Tuesday, because Brooklyn went and beat the Bucks and Clippers. So Orlando is now 3-18 against the top six teams in the East, banged up, and locked into the No. 8 seed, set to play a first-round series against a team that held them under a point per possession in all four regular-season meetings.
Week 24: vs. BKN, vs. NOP
Last Week: 18 ↓
Record: 30-40 (2-4)
Pace: 104.0 (2) OffRtg: 110.4 (110.4) DefRtg: 111.6 (21) NetRtg: -1.2 (20)
Things would have been different if Zion Williamson had played more than 24 games. Things might have been different if the rookie didn't have to leave Orlando before the seeding games to deal with a personal issue. But as they play out the string having been eliminated from postseason contention, the Pelicans really need to look in the mirror.
The final nails in the coffin were a loss on Thursday in which the Pelicans allowed the Kings (otherwise winless in the restart) to score 140 points on 102 possessions and a fourth quarter on Sunday in which they allowed the Spurs to score 41 on 29 possessions. When the situation was most urgent, they just couldn't summon the effort needed to get stops. A March 3 loss to Minnesota also stands out as a game in which the Pelicans just didn't care enough about defense to deserve a playoff berth.
The Zion Era begins for real next season, when, hopefully, the Pelicans can put the frustration of minutes limits behind them. Before they get there, they'll have to pay restricted free agent and Kia Most Improved Player candidate Brandon Ingram.
Week 24: vs. SAC, vs. ORL
Last Week: 21
Record: 29-41 (1-5)
Pace: 99.5 (20) OffRtg: 109.2 (19) DefRtg: 111.4 (19) NetRtg: -2.2 (21)
The Kings' playoff drought is officially the second-longest in NBA history (14 years, breaking a tie with the Wolves' streak that ended two seasons ago). They arrived in Orlando with dreams of qualifying for the play-in series, but like the Pelicans, they never dug in to play the level of defense required to get there.
When they fought for survival on Thursday, the Kings and Pelicans combined to score (or allow) 131 points per 100 possessions. When they meet again on Tuesday, they'll be playing for Lottery odds, as well as for the Kings to avoid finishing in the bottom 10 defensively for a ninth straight season. They rank 21st out of 22 teams on that end of the floor in the bubble, with their starting lineup having allowed an amazing 120 points on 89 defensive possessions.
Given the depth of the Western Conference (strengthened by the returns of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson), it won't be easy for the Kings to avoid tying the Clippers (1977-91) for the longest playoff drought in league history (15 seasons). De'Aaron Fox has been terrific (offensively) in the restart, averaging 26.2 points and 7.3 assists. But oh boy, that Marvin Bagley pick and what could have been ...
Week 24: vs. NOP, vs. LAL
Last Week: 22
Record: 24-46 (0-6)
Pace: 103.4 (5) OffRtg: 110.5 (15) DefRtg: 115.0 (30) NetRtg: -4.5 (25)
Though they now have a worse record than the Hornets, the Wizards will still only have the ninth best odds for a top-four pick in the Lottery (a little better than a 20% chance at a top-four pick). Barring a trade, they'll have a healthy John Wall, a star-caliber Bradley Beal, and an improving young group of wings and bigs next season. In games the Wizards led in the second half last week, Thomas Bryant held his own (19 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks) against Joel Embiid and the Sixers, while Rui Hachimura had his best game of the restart (23 points on 10-for-16 shooting) against the Pelicans.
But there will obviously need to be a stronger (or any) commitment to defense if the Wiz are going to really make noise in the East next season. They still have a shot at not finishing last in defensive efficiency this season, but they would need to hold the Bucks and Celtics to fewer than 108.5 points per 100 possessions this week to move past the Cavs into 29th. In four games against Milwaukee and Boston thus far, the Wizards allowed more than 120 per 100.
Week 24: vs. MIL, vs. BOS