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Power Rankings

Power Rankings, Week 21: Lakers end Bucks' 14-week run at top; Raptors, Thunder enter Top 5

John Schuhmann

John Schuhmann NBA.com

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Mar 9, 2020 1:54 PM ET

The Lakers got their two biggest wins of the season in the span of 48 hours.

The Los Angeles Lakers didn't get get their best win of the season this past weekend. They got their two best wins of the season on Friday and Sunday, holding the top-five offenses of the Milwaukee Bucks and LA Clippers to less than a point per possession over 96 minutes. They faced the biggest test of their post-break schedule and they passed it with flying colors.

The Lakers are a league-best 13-2 since Feb. 1, and they have the signature wins they needed to end the Bucks' 14-week run at the top of the Power Rankings. More tests await, but there are no longer any pressing questions that need to be answered before the postseason begins on April 18.

Plus-Minus Players of the Week

Teams of the Week

  • Make It Last Forever: L.A. Lakers (3-0) -- They got their two biggest wins of the season in the span of 48 hours.
  • Something Just Ain't Right: Houston (0-4) -- Caution: Fragile. Handle with care.

East vs. West

Schedule strength through Week 20

  • Toughest: 1. New Orleans, 2. Atlanta, 3. Golden State
  • Easiest: 1. Toronto, 2. Milwaukee, 3. Washington
  • Schedule strength is based on cumulative opponent record, and adjusted for home vs. away and days of rest before a game.

Movement in the Rankings

  • High jumps of the week: Indiana (+3), Oklahoma City (+3), Toronto (+3), Utah (+3)
  • Free falls of the week: Houston (-6), Denver (-4), Boston (-3), Detroit (-3)

Week 21 Team to Watch

  • Denver -- The Nuggets are 4-4, with the league's 29th-ranked defense, since the All-Star break. Last week, they lost to two of the three worst teams in the league (Golden State and Cleveland) and needed a last-second shot to beat another team (Charlotte) heading to the Lottery. This week's schedule, though the Bucks will be without Giannis Antetokounmpo on Monday, is much tougher. After they host the first place team in the East, the Nuggets will head out on a three-game trip, visiting the Mavs on Wednesday, the Spurs on Friday, and the Lakers on Sunday.

Previously...

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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.

* * *

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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1
Last week:
2

Record: 49-13
Pace: 101.2 (11) OffRtg: 112.7 (3) DefRtg: 105.5 (3) NetRtg: +7.3 (2)

The Lakers' two weekend wins were not pretty. They shot 16-for-67 (24%) from 3-point range and scored just 225 points on 215 total possessions (well below league average) in the two games. But the other end of the floor was uglier, as the Lakers held the Bucks and Clippers to just 206 points on 214 total possessions, forcing 20 turnovers out of Milwaukee and holding the Clips to just seven threes. Anthony Davis was the primary defender on both Giannis Antetokounmpo and Kawhi Leonard in the Lakers' previous meetings with the two teams, but LeBron James had those assignments (5:21 of defense vs. Antetokounmpo on Friday, 4:18 vs. Leonard on Sunday) this time around.

The Lakers have allowed just 100.9 per 100 since the All-Star break, down from 106.3 before it. That's the league's biggest post-break defensive improvement. They're in position to be the first top-five defense that Davis has ever anchored and the first one that James has been a part of since the season he won his first championship in Miami (2011-12).

They got the signature wins they needed, but it's not yet time to take their foot off the gas. After they host the Nets on Tuesday, the Lakers will play four games against three Western Conference playoff teams - Houston, Denver and Utah (x 2) - with top-10 offenses.

Week 21: vs. BKN, vs. HOU, vs. DEN

2
Last week:
1

Record: 53-11
Pace: 105.4 (1) OffRtg: 112.6 (5) DefRtg: 101.5 (1) NetRtg: +11.1 (1)

Now, is it time for the Bucks to take their foot off the gas? They still have six more games against the Celtics, Raptors, Heat and Sixers. The No. 1 overall seed matters, and their lead over the Lakers for that is down to just two games in the loss column. Rest can come with big leads, and the Bucks have led by 15 points or more for 200 more minutes (700) than any other team. After they play the second game of a back-to-back set in Denver on Monday, they'll have just one back-to-back left on their schedule, and that's April 11 and 12, with the opponents being the Cavs and Hawks.

But with the Bucks' first losing streak of the season, the chase for the third 70-win season in NBA history is probably over. And the health of Giannis Antetokounmpo, who suffered a left knee sprain in the fourth quarter of the Bucks' loss to the Lakers on Friday, is obviously the primary concern going forward. Whenever he says he's ready to play, the Bucks might want to hold him out for another week.

The loss in L.A. is tied for the sixth fastest-paced game in the league this season, and it was the Bucks' worst offensive game of the year (103 points on 114 possessions), with Antetokounmpo's supporting cast not providing enough support. If there are fears that Eric Bledsoe will, once again, be unable to handle the bright lights of the postseason, Friday didn't alleviate them.

Week 21: @ DEN, vs. BOS, vs. GSW

3
Last week:
5

Record: 43-20
Pace: 102.4 (8) OffRtg: 112.6 (4) DefRtg: 106.6 (5) NetRtg: +6.1 (5)

Lou Williams certainly got picked on by James and the Lakers down the stretch on Sunday. Putting Williams in a pick-and-roll got the Lakers three of their final four buckets in their nine-point win over the Clips. Doc Rivers will obviously have to think twice about having Williams on the floor in those situations in the postseason.

He does have options, and with a healthy roster, the Clips don't necessarily need Williams' off-the-dribble offense late in games. But Sunday's game wasn't lost down the stretch. With Patrick Beverley and Marcus Morris combining for three points on 1-for-12 shooting, the starting lineup was outscored by nine points in its 12-plus minutes after registering a plus-28 in 28 total minutes in impressive wins over the Thunder and Rockets earlier in the week.

After shooting 44% from 3-point range with the Knicks, Morris has shot just 15-for-57 (26%) in his 11 games with the Clippers. In 107 total minutes, the new starting lineup has been no more efficient offensively (114.2 points scored per 100 possessions) than the version with Maurice Harkless (114.8).

Week 21: @ GSW, vs. BKN, vs. NOP

4
Last week:
7

Record: 45-18
Pace: 101.0 (14) OffRtg: 111.4 (11) DefRtg: 105.1 (2) NetRtg: +6.3 (3)

As you ponder the number of games a player should have to play to win the Rookie of the Year award, do it for the Sixth Man of the Year and Most Improved Player awards as well, because Norman Powell would be looking like a candidate for both depending on the (imaginary) threshold. With Kawhi Leonard no longer in the Raptors' wing rotation, Powell has averaged 29.5 minutes per game, up from just 18.8 last season. But his points per-36 minutes are also up from 16.5 to 20.5. A career-high usage rate (21.0%) has come with career-best marks in effective field goal percentage (59.4%) and true shooting percentage (63.0%). Powell is one of three players - Seth Curry and Karl-Anthony Tows are the others - that have shot 50% or better on at least 500 shots from the field and 40% or better on at least 200 3-point attempts.

Powell has averaged 31.3 points, with half of his 32 buckets coming (on just 19 attempts) in the restricted area, as the Raptors have followed a three-game losing streak with a three-game winning streak to take back control of the 2 seed in the East. He's averaged more than 39 minutes in five games as a starter upon returning from a nine-game absence, but will likely return to the bench when Fred VanVleet returns from his shoulder injury (likely Saturday against Detroit).

Week 21: @ UTA, vs. DET

5
Last week:
8

Record: 40-24
Pace: 99.2 (20) OffRtg: 111.0 (14) DefRtg: 108.4 (9) NetRtg: +2.5 (11)

The Thunder have struggled to score against a few top-five defenses over the last couple of weeks. They were held under a point per possession in losses to the Bucks and Clippers, and playing without Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (10th in the league in drives per game and missing a game for the first time in his career), they scored a season-low 18 points in the paint in Boston on Sunday.

But Chris Paul's clutchness is not limited to the offensive end of the floor. With the Thunder down one on Sunday, Paul set up the trap that resulted in Dennis Schroder's steal and layup for the lead. And on the ensuing possession, he forced Jayson Tatum into a tough turnaround jumper that came up short. The win improved the Thunder to an amazing (and league-best) 16-2 on the road since Christmas and pushed them back into fifth place in the West.

With two more games remaining (both at home) against the fourth-place Jazz, whom they trail by two games in the loss column with the season series tied 1-1, the Thunder control their own destiny in the fight for the 4 seed. Of course, given how good they've been on the road, maybe home-court advantage in the first round isn't all that important.

Week 21: vs. UTA, vs. MIN, @ WAS

6
Last week:
9

Record: 41-22
Pace: 99.0 (24) OffRtg: 112.3 (7) DefRtg: 108.8 (11) NetRtg: +3.5 (7)

The Jazz have lost eight of their last 11 games within the Western Conference, but five straight games against the East have resulted in a five-game winning streak that has them back in the top four in the West. They've mostly taken care of business against the bottom of the other conference, but Mike Conley came up big (25 points, five assists, 6-for-10 from 3-point range) in a big win in Boston on Friday.

With the Celtics starting the first and third quarters strong, Utah's new (and old) starting lineup had one of its worst games of the season. But the lineup of Conley and four reserves outscored Boston, 39-16, in less than 12 minutes. The biggest result of the change to the starting lineup has been better minutes from the bench; Tony Bradley has shot 77% and averaged 15.0 rebounds per 36 minutes and Jordan Clarkson is a team-best plus-56 over the last six games.

The Jazz will play nine of their next 13 at home and they'll have a rest advantage when they host the champs on Monday. But their two remaining games against the fifth-place Thunder are both on the road.

Week 21: vs. TOR, @ OKC, vs. NOP, vs. MEM

7
Last week:
4

Record: 42-21
Pace: 99.8 (17) OffRtg: 112.2 (9) DefRtg: 106.1 (4) NetRtg: +6.1 (4)

The Celtics have lost their last four home games, with the most confounding component of that streak being the 51 points they allowed the Nets to score in the fourth quarter on Tuesday. Caris LeVert could not be stopped, the Nets rebounded seven of their eight misses in the period, and they came back from 21 points down to beat the Cs (who were without all five of their good perimeter players by the end of the game) in overtime.

But the bigger issue over the four losses has been on the other end of the floor, where the Celtics have scored just 103.1 points per 100 possessions over those four home losses. Marcus Smart is the only one of those five perimeter guys that played in all four, and it might not be a good thing that he's been their most prolific 3-point shooter (9.8 attempts per game) over their last 10 games.

The Celtics have four of the 19 players with an effective field goal percentage of 50% or better an at least 150 pull-up jumpers, and with the way that most of the league defends pick-and-rolls these days, it's great to have guys who can shoot off the dribble. But shots off the catch are still generally better than shots off the dribble and the Celtics rank 29th in the percentage of their jump shots (44%) that have come off the catch.

Week 21: @ IND, @ MIL, vs. WAS, @ CHI

8
Last week:
10

Record: 41-23
Pace: 98.6 (27) OffRtg: 112.3 (8) DefRtg: 109.0 (13) NetRtg: +3.2 (9)

It is, of course, a make-or-miss league. The Heat began the month of March by shooting 40-for-81 (49%) from 3-point range against two top-10 defenses, picking up wins over the Bucks and Magic. And then they shot 9-for-33 from Kaboomtown against the Pelicans' bottom-10 defense, falling short in a bid to come back from 19 points down on Friday.

Things were rather ugly through 40 minutes in Washington on Sunday, but the Heat just needed to get the ball to Duncan Robinson a few times down the stretch. Robinson has shot a ridiculous 24-for-37 from beyond the arc over the last three games and his post-All-Star effective field goal percentage of 76.4% is the highest mark among 131 players with at least 75 post-break field goal attempts. Bam Adebayo assisted on all three of his fourth-quarter 3s on Sunday and now has 69 assists on Robinson 3-pointers for the season. No other player has assisted on more than 59 of a single teammate's 3s.

With the Milwaukee win, the Heat have the best record (9-3) in games played between the top six teams in the East. They still have six more games within the group, but continue to their tour through Lotteryville this week.

Week 21: vs. CHA, vs. NYK, vs. CHI

9
Last week:
3

Record: 39-24
Pace: 103.6 (4) OffRtg: 113.4 (2) DefRtg: 109.9 (16) NetRtg: +3.4 (8)

From Week 16: "This Rockets season always feels like it can go in either direction at any time."

Five weeks later, despite the roster shake-up at the trade deadline, it still feels that way. The Rockets won 10 of their first 12 center-less games, with victories over the Mavs, Lakers, Celtics and Jazz included. Now, they've dropped four straight, with losses to the Knicks, Hornets and Magic included. Games 54-58 were their best offensive stretch of the season (122.4 points scored per 100 possessions) and Games 59-63 have been their worst offensive stretch of the season (105.4).

Over the losing streak, James Harden has shot a brutal 8-for-42 (19%) from 3-point range and Russell Westbrook has shot a pedestrian 20-for-38 (53%) in the restricted area. Jeff Green has been the only Rocket who hasn't looked so bad, which might mean that the bad Jeff Green is around the corner. The Rockets were crushed on the boards by the Knicks, Clippers and Magic, and in Charlotte on Saturday, they had more turnovers (7) than shot attempts (6) as they fell into a 20-0 hole through the first 6 1/2 minutes.

The Rockets have fallen into sixth place and could certainly take one more step down, with two more games (both in Dallas) against the seventh-place Mavs. But another hot streak is always within the realm of possibility and they'll play five of their next six games against teams with losing records.

Week 21: vs. MIN, @ LAL, @ POR

10
Last week:
6

Record: 42-21
Pace: 97.5 (29) OffRtg: 112.4 (6) DefRtg: 109.2 (14) NetRtg: +3.2 (10)

The Nuggets do not want to see the Cavs in The Finals. On Saturday, with Jamal Murray missing almost the same exact shot he made to beat the Hornets two nights earlier, Cleveland swept the season series and the Nuggets fell to 7-5 against bottom seven teams in the East (with two games against the Bulls remaining). They struggled offensively against the league's 29th-ranked defense in the second half (going scoreless on eight straight possessions as they lost the lead in the fourth quarter), but they've also allowed more than 120 points per 100 possessions over those five losses.

The defense is obviously the bigger issue and the reason why Michael Porter Jr. was DNP'd in Charlotte on Thursday. The Nuggets rank 29th on that end of the floor since the All-Star break, struggling to defend both the basket (21st in opponent field goal percentage in the restricted area) and the 3-point line (23rd in opponent 3-point percentage). They allowed three of the six worst offensive teams in the league to score more than 118 points per 100 possessions last week, and four of their next five games are against four of the five best offensive teams in the league.

Week 21: vs. MIL, @ DAL, @ SAS, @ LAL

11
Last week:
14

Record: 39-25
Pace: 99.1 (23) OffRtg: 109.6 (17) DefRtg: 107.6 (7) NetRtg: +2.0 (12)

It's been one of those periods of resilience for the Pacers, who are 8-2 over a stretch in which they've had both Malcolm Brogdon and Victor Oladipo for just four of the 10 games. They've only outscored their opponents by 2.1 points per 100 possessions over this stretch and five of the eight wins have been within five points in the last five minutes.

Their defense has been huge down the stretch of those close games; Their opponents have shot 5-for-25, with just two free throw attempts, in the clutch. On Sunday in Dallas, the Pacers held the league's No. 1 offense to just one point on its final nine possessions, with Myles Turner coming up with big defensive plays against both Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis, and Justin Holiday defending Doncic tightly on the final possession.

Victor Oladipo has shot just 37% over his 12 games, but he had a season-high seven assists and the go-ahead bucket (mid-range, in true Pacers style) on Sunday. The Pacers have five of their next six games at home, though two of those five are against the Celtics and Heat, and the one road game is in the building where the Sixers are 28-2.

Week 21: vs. BOS, @ PHI

12
Last week:
11

Record: 39-26
Pace: 99.8 (18) OffRtg: 115.9 (1) DefRtg: 110.0 (17) NetRtg: +5.9 (6)

The Mavs have won their last six games within the Western Conference, having played spoiler against both the Pelicans and Grizzlies last week. They seemingly had a breakthrough with their clutch offense on Wednesday, getting a big shot from Seth Curry in the final minute of regulation and scoring 15 points on 10 possessions in overtime. But their clutch issues came back with a vengeance against the Pacers on Sunday, as they missed their final 10 shots from the field and scored on just one of their final nine possessions in what was their fourth straight loss against the East.

The Mavs have the point differential (third best in the West) of a team that's 46-19. But they're 39-26, because they're 13-20 in games that were within five points in the last five minutes. They have the league's No. 1 overall offense (115.9 points scored per 100 possessions), but its 28th-ranked clutch offense (94.5). After two misses in the final seconds on Sunday, Luka Doncic is 0-for-9 on shots to tie or take the lead in the final minute of the fourth quarter or overtime.

Maybe the Mavs have just been unlucky. And maybe, especially with Kristaps Porzingis' improvement over the last month, they're much more dangerous low seed than they appear to be on the surface. Their game against the Nuggets on Wednesday could be a first-round preview, but it's the second game of a back-to-back, with the Mavs playing in San Antonio the night before. Neither Doncic nor Porzingis played in both games of the Mavs' last two back-to-backs.

Week 21: @ SAS, vs. DEN. vs. PHX

13
Last week:
12

Record: 38-26
Pace: 99.5 (19) OffRtg: 109.4 (18) DefRtg: 107.5 (6) NetRtg: +1.8 (13)

The Sixers got an impressive win over the surging Kings on Thursday behind big games from their two healthy starters. Tobias Harris led all scorers with 28 points and Al Horford registered a plus-41 in 36 minutes. But they went 1-3 on a four-game trip without three starters (Josh Richardson suffered a concussion in the second quarter of the first game).

The last five games (the stretch in which they've been without both Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid) haven been both the Sixers' best offensive stretch (122.4 points scored per 100 possessions) and their worst defensive stretch (122.2 allowed per 100) of the season. The offensive improvement has mostly come on the perimeter (the Sixers have shot 44% from 3-point range with an increase in attempts over the five games) and the defensive decline has mostly come inside (their opponents have shot 66% in the paint with an increase in attempts there).

Embiid could be back this week to shore up the defense, and the health of their stars is more important than the particulars of the remaining schedule. But 11 of the Sixers' final 18 games are at home (where they haven't lost since before Christmas) and they're playing just two games in an eight-day stretch that began Sunday. One of those two - Saturday against the Pacers - could be for fifth place in the East.

Week 21: vs. DET, vs. IND

14
Last week:
13

Record: 28-36
Pace: 104.0 (3) OffRtg: 110.6 (15) DefRtg: 111.6 (21) NetRtg: -1.0 (17)

The Timberwolves have no hopes of making the playoffs, while the Pelicans most certainly do. But in their meeting in New Orleans on Tuesday, the team that should have cared about the result couldn't have cared less about playing defense. The Wolves scored a season-high 72 points in the paint and the Pels came away with a loss that may haunt them come April 15. They rank eighth defensively since the All-Star break, but every game counts and they didn't take that one seriously enough.

After allowing the Mavs to score on their final six possessions of overtime on Wednesday, the Pels finally got some stops over the weekend, with the Heat and Wolves combining to shoot 17-for-66 (26%) from 3-point range. Their starting lineup has outscored its opponents by 32.4 points per 100 possessions since the break, a differential more than double that of any other lineup that has played at least 75 post-break minutes. Despite that game on Tuesday, the lineup's defensive numbers have been terrific, and Lonzo Ball (61.0%), Zion Williamson (60.8%) and Jrue Holiday (59.6%) all rank in the top 12 in post-break effective field goal percentage among 83 players who have taken at least 100 shots over the last 18 days.

Week 21: @ SAC, @ UTA, @ LAC

15
Last week:
15

Record: 32-32
Pace: 103.3 (7) OffRtg: 108.9 (20) DefRtg: 109.8 (15) NetRtg: -0.9 (16)

The Grizzlies picked a good time to have their best defensive stretch of the season. They came out of the All-Star break with a five-game losing streak, but have rebounded with a 4-1 stretch in which they've held their opponent under a point per possession in each of the four wins. The difference has been both behind the 3-point line (their opponents have shot 27% from 3-point range over the last five games after shooting 40% over the losing streak) and in the restricted area (57% with fewer attempts over the last five, 67% during the losing streak).

Among the 14 lineups that have played at least 75 minutes since the All-Star break, only the Pelicans' starters have allowed fewer points per 100 possessions than the Grizzlies' smaller lineup with De'Anthony Melton in place of the injured Jaren Jackson Jr. (and Brandon Clarke). And the small lineup ranks first in offensive rebounding percentage and second total rebounding percentage among that group of 14 lineups.

The Grizz have bought themselves a little breathing room with this 4-1 stretch, but the remaining schedule is still not in their favor. After they play the Magic and Blazers on Tuesday and Thursday, 11 of their final 16 games are against teams with winning records, and two of the other five are against the Pelicans.

Week 21: vs. ORL, @ POR, @ UTA

16
Last week:
16

Record: 28-36
Pace: 99.1 (22) OffRtg: 109.0 (19) DefRtg: 110.8 (18) NetRtg: -1.7 (20)

The won their most important game last week, outscoring the Blazers, 63-30, from 3-point range on Saturday. But that came after they allowed the shorthanded Sixers to score 125 points on 100 possessions, their worst defensive performance since the All-Star break. And when they had a chance to make up for it on Sunday, they allowed the Raptors to score on each of their final 11 possessions. The Kings have the eighth best record (20-20) in games played within the Western Conference, but are 8-16 (only the Warriors are worse among West teams) against the East.

Playing only two games over the next eight nights, the Kings will be scoreboard watching this week. But their new most important game of the season is Wednesday, when they host the Pelicans for the second of three head-to-head meetings. New Orleans won the first one (pre-Zion) when JJ Redick made a lefty scoop shot after Trevor Ariza got clobbered by a Derrick Favors screen.

Week 21: vs. NOP, vs. BKN

17
Last week:
17

Record: 29-35
Pace: 98.7 (26) OffRtg: 107.3 (24) DefRtg: 108.6 (10) NetRtg: -1.3 (18)

Before the All-Star break, the Magic ranked 27th offensively and seventh defensively, combining with their opponents to score just 106.4 points per 100 possessions. Since the All-Star break, the Magic rank first offensively and 28th defensively, combining with their opponents to score 117.0 points per 100 possessions.

The new (fun) Magic allowed the Heat to drain 22 3s on Wednesday, but are 5-4 after shooting 61% in Minnesota and registering 23 second-chance points in Houston over the weekend. They haven't changed their shot selection much, but they've shot much better both in and outside the paint. The Magic rank seventh in the percentage of their shots that have come from mid-range, and Nikola Vucevic and Markelle Fultz have combined to shoot 36-for-57 (63%) from mid-range over their nine post-break games. That's probably unsustainable, but enjoy the madness while it lasts.

Week 21: @ MEM vs. CHI, vs. CHA

18
Last week:
19

Record: 29-34
Pace: 101.6 (10) OffRtg: 107.7 (22) DefRtg: 108.4 (8) NetRtg: -0.6 (14)

The Nets "parting ways" with Kenny Atkinson with 20 games to go in the season was a pretty stunning development given the job that Atkinson has done over the last (almost) four seasons. The Nets probably aren't going to see a fourth straight increase in wins, but they have a chance to finish in the top 10 in defensive efficiency for the first time in the last 14 years. General manager Sean Marks hit a home run the first time he hired a head coach and now he's got to do it again. The culture that he and Atkinson developed over the last few years is now in the hands of Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant.

It would be interesting to know how the coaching change went over with the four guys who have played under Atkinson the last few years. One of those four guys is Caris LeVert, who had himself a week, scoring 51 points in the Nets' miracle win in Boston on Tuesday and recording his first career triple-double against the Spurs on Friday. Since he moved back into the starting lineup in early February, LeVert has averaged 24.2 points (seeing improvement in his shooting both in and outside the paint) and the Nets' 23rd-ranked offense has scored 13.5 more points per 100 possessions with him on the floor (114.7) than with him off the floor (101.2).

Week 21: @ LAL, @ GSW, @ LAC, @ SAC

19
Last week:
20

Record: 28-37
Pace: 101.2 (12) OffRtg: 111.9 (10) DefRtg: 113.7 (27) NetRtg: -1.8 (21)

Jusuf Nurkic is reportedly set to make his season debut this week, and a full strength Nurkic would directly address the Blazers' two biggest issues...

  1. Overall defense. The Blazers rank last defensively (by a healthy margin) since Christmas. Last season, they were 3.7 points per 100 possessions better defensively with Nurkic on the floor (even though he mostly played against opposing starters).
  2. Interior offense. The Blazers are one of three teams (the Warriors and Magic are the others) than rank in the bottom 10 both in the percentage of their shots that have come in the paint (45%, 28th) and in field goal percentage in the paint (54.3%, 23rd).

Of course, the Blazers might not have the time it takes for Nurkic to find his rhythm, having allowed more than 126 points per 100 possessions in weekend losses to Phoenix and Sacramento, the 12th and 13th times they've allowed their opponents to make 18 or more 3-pointers. Portland opponents made 18 or more threes just twice last season.

Week 21: vs. PHX, vs. MEM, vs. HOU

20
Last week:
18

Record: 26-36
Pace: 100.6 (15) OffRtg: 111.2 (12) DefRtg: 112.9 (26) NetRtg: -1.7 (19)

The Spurs' overtime defeat in Cleveland on Sunday, in which they put the Cavs on the line for a season-high 45 free throw attempts, was loss No. 36 on the season. So, with 20 games to go, they've lost more games than they have in any season since they drafted Tim Duncan in 1997. And now it's just a matter of time before their 22-year playoff streak officially comes to an end.

Even without LaMarcus Aldridge, the Spurs' offense been good enough over the last five games. They've shot 39% from 3-point range and seven guys have averaged double-figures over that stretch. But their defense, against which the Nets' 22nd-ranked offense had two quarters of more than 40 points on Friday, has dropped into the bottom five for the first time since Week 7. The Spurs ranked 20th defensively last season (after six straight seasons in the top four) and they've still seen the league's fifth biggest increase in points allowed per 100 possessions.

Week 21: vs. DAL, vs. DEN, vs. MIN

21
Last week:
23

Record: 26-38
Pace: 101.8 (9) OffRtg: 110.3 (16) DefRtg: 111.1 (19) NetRtg: -0.8 (15)

The injury to Kelly Oubre Jr. and an 0-4 start (with losses to the Pistons and Warriors) to a six-game homestand reduced the Suns to the role of spoiler. But they played that role pretty well over the weekend, draining 38 3-pointers in wins over the Blazers and Bucks. Aron Baynes scored a career-high 37 points (highlighted by a step-back 3 over Damian Lillard) on Friday and Ricky Rubio recorded his seventh career triple-double (with 13 assists and just one turnover) on Sunday. For the second straight season, the Suns were the first team to hand the Bucks a second straight loss (they did it on March 4 last year).

Though the Suns are in 13th place and six games behind the eighth-place Grizzlies, Monty Williams hasn't exactly transitioned into chill mode. Over the 12 days since Oubre's injury, Mikal Bridges (38.9) and Devin Booker (38.8) rank fourth and fifth in the league in minutes per game. Booker's usage rate is down from last season, but he's registering career-high marks in effective field goal percentage (54.6%), true shooting percentage (62.0%) and assist ratio (20.8 per 100 possessions used), having dished out 30 dimes over his last three games.

Week 21: @ POR, @ DAL

22
Last week:
22

Record: 23-40
Pace: 103.5 (5) OffRtg: 111.0 (13) DefRtg: 115.1 (30) NetRtg: -4.0 (25)

Bradley Beal was talking about making a playoff push after the Wizards beat the Hawks on Friday. But that was just two nights after they finished a 1-3 trip by allowing the Kings and Blazers to score 124 points per 100 possessions. This team still hasn't won more than two games in a row all season and after that win over Atlanta, the Wiz were playing 13 of their final 20 games against teams with winning records.

They began that final stretch by holding the Heat's top-10 offense to just 100 points on 95 possessions, and the Wiz held an eight-point lead with less than 10 minutes to go. But they proceeded to score just once on their next 16 possessions and Miami won the game with a 25-3, fourth-quarter run. All 16 of the Wizards' shots over that stretch came from outside the restricted area, and their 14 points in the paint on Sunday are tied for the fewest in a game this season. The Wizards have shoot a little better than the league average in the paint, but they rank 25th in the percentage of their shots (46%) that have come there.

Week 21: vs. NYK, @ BOS, vs. OKC

23
Last week:
21

Record: 19-46
Pace: 103.5 (6) OffRtg: 106.4 (26) DefRtg: 114.2 (28) NetRtg: -7.7 (28)

After ranking fourth offensively over the first week and a half after the All-Star break, the Hawks got shut down by the Grizzlies twice in six days. After dishing out 10 assists or more in each of his previous five games, Trae Young had just six total assists in the two games against Memphis, and he has shot 9-for-51 (18%) from 3-point range over the last two weeks.

Cam Reddish has been a bright spot and scored a career-high 28 points (including 10 in a four-possession stretch in the first quarter) in Washington on Friday. But if the offense isn't clicking on all cylinders, the Hawks don't have the defense to get wins. They're just 6-42 when they've scored less than 115 points per 100 possessions, and interior defense has been the primary issue. They rank 26th in the (lowest) percentage of their opponents' shots that have come in the restricted area (36%), 29th in defensive rebounding percentage (70.6%) and 29th in opponent free throw rate (30.3 attempts per 100 shots from the field).

Lottery odds are on the line when the 19-win Hawks host the 20-win Knicks and 19-win Cavs this week.

Week 21: vs. CHA, vs. NYK, vs. CLE

24
Last week:
24

Record: 22-41
Pace: 96.4 (30) OffRtg: 105.3 (29) DefRtg: 112.6 (24) NetRtg: -7.3 (27)

Terry Rozier had a couple of rough last-second possessions last week, throwing a pass away (when he probably had a layup) against the Spurs on Tuesday and stumbling into a missed game-winner against the Nuggets on Thursday. But Rozier is one of three players - Chris Paul and Jayson Tatum are the others - who have shot better than 50% on at least 50 clutch shots this season, a reason the Hornets are still an even 16-16 in games that were within five points in the last five minutes.

Their sixth win in a game that wasn't within five in the last five - over the Rockets on Saturday - came with Rozier shooting 6-for-9 from 3-point range. Five of those six came off the catch, and Rozier is now 46.0% on catch-and-shoot 3s, the fourth best mark among 62 players who have attempted at least 200 and up from 37.1% last season. Devonte' Graham was the story out of Charlotte early in the season and Rozier's marks for effective field goal percentage and true shooting percentage are still below league average, but he's seen jumps in both as he's seen big increases in minutes played and usage rate.

Week 21: @ ATL, @ MIA, vs. CLE, @ ORL

25
Last week:
25

Record: 20-44
Pace: 99.0 (25) OffRtg: 105.6 (28) DefRtg: 112.3 (23) NetRtg: -6.6 (26)

If Monday was indeed Spike Lee's final game at Madison Square Garden this season, at least he got to see RJ Barrett tie his career high with 27 points in a win over Houston. It's fair to say that the Rockets' defense was not great in their first of four straight losses, but Barrett's last bucket came in a one-on-one against P.J. Tucker, with Mitchell Robinson's non-screen forcing Tucker to hesitate for just a split second, enough to allow Barrett to get to his left hand and put the Knicks up three with 7.6 seconds left.

The big man is still coming off the bench, but the Knicks have outscored their opponents by 13.6 points per 100 possessions in 88 minutes with Barrett and Robinson on the floor together since the All-Star break. They've grabbed 38% of available offensive boards in Robinson's 207 total minutes since the break.

Week 21: @ WAS, @ ATL, @ MIA

26
Last week:
26

Record: 21-43
Pace: 100.5 (16) OffRtg: 105.8 (27) DefRtg: 109.0 (12) NetRtg: -3.2 (22)

The Bulls have gotten Wendell Carter Jr., Otto Porter Jr. and Lauri Markkanen back from extended absences in the last nine days. Porter scored 18 points in his return against Dallas on Monday, just the Bulls' second win over one of the 13 teams that are currently over .500. Markkanen shot 6-for-10 (showing a willingness to get to the basket) in his return in Minnesota on Wednesday.

But the Bulls' offense hasn't been able to hang without Zach LaVine (who has missed the last four games with a strained quad), scoring just 103.6 points per 100 possessions and shooting 31% from 3-point range over a three-game losing streak. Coby White hasn't seen a big jump in usage rate in LaVine's absence and his 3-pointer to tie in Brooklyn on Sunday went in and out, but he's had three of his seven highest assist totals (22 total with only two turnovers) in the last three games.

The Bulls still have two more games against the eighth-place Magic, but after their game in Orlando on Thursday, Chicago will play 11 of its final 16 games against that over-.500 group against which it's currently 2-23.

Week 21: vs. CLE, @ ORL, @ MIA, vs. BOS

27
Last week:
28

Record: 19-45
Pace: 99.2 (21) OffRtg: 107.0 (25) DefRtg: 114.9 (29) NetRtg: -7.9 (29)

It's clear now that John Beilein's biggest mistake as coach of the Cavs was not putting all his big men on the floor at the same time. The Cavs have outscored their opponents by 38 points in 62 total minutes with Larry Nance Jr. and Kevin Love on the floor with either Tristan Thompson or Andre Drummond. Nance, Love and Thompson closed out wins over Miami and Philadelphia a couple of weeks ago, with the Heat and Sixers scoring just 27 points on 44 possessions with the trio on the floor.

Against San Antonio on Sunday, it was Nance, Love and Drummond on the floor for almost all of the final 13:45 of the Cavs' overtime win. They outrebounded the Spurs, 20-10, in that stretch, with Drummond getting a big tip-dunk in the final minute of regulation and putting the Cavs ahead for good with a put-back in OT. Also on the floor with the game on the line was Matthew Dellavedova, who dished out 25 total assists and hit a couple of big shots in the Cavs' wins over the Nuggets and Spurs over the weekend.

Week 21: @ CHI, @ CHA, @ ATL

28
Last week:
29

Record: 19-44
Pace: 104.0 (2) OffRtg: 107.6 (23) DefRtg: 111.6 (20) NetRtg: -4.0 (24)

Karl-Anthony Towns has missed the last 11 games and is another 11 days from the next evaluation of his fractured left wrist. After ranking third defensively over Towns' first extended (15-game) absence (104.1 points allowed per 100 possessions), the Wolves rank 30th defensively over this one (117.2), in part because they no longer have Robert Covington and Gorgui Dieng. Though they're holding on to the 20th spot in defensive efficiency for now, they're likely on their way to ranking in the bottom 10 for a sixth straight season.

But Malik Beasley shot 19-for-27 as the Wolves played spoiler against the Pelicans and beat the Bulls on Tuesday and Wednesday. Those were just their fifth and sixth wins in games they trailed by double digits and their first two-game winning streak in two months. Beasley has taken 28% of his shots with the Wolves in the restricted area, up from just 17% in his 41 games with the Nuggets.

Week 21: @ HOU, @ OKC, @ SAS

29
Last week:
30

Record: 15-49
Pace: 101.1 (13) OffRtg: 104.3 (30) DefRtg: 112.7 (25) NetRtg: -8.4 (30)

Stephen Curry's first game back from a four-month absence came with a ridiculous 3 and some tasty dimes. Three of his seven assists were to new teammate Andrew Wiggins, who was the only teammate on the floor for all of Curry's 27 minutes. But chemistry development is on hiatus, as Curry is out with the flu and Draymond Green continues to nurse a sore left knee.

Wiggins had a quiet night without Curry on Saturday, but the Warriors got their third win in the last five games, their best five-game offensive stretch of the season (115.8 points scored per 100 possessions). Eric Paschall has led six Warriors averaging double-figures (in at least four of the five games) over that stretch, shooting 18-for-25 (72%) in the restricted area and 10-for-14 (71%) from mid-range. The rookie is one of five players who have shot 70% or better on at least 200 attempts in the restricted area and 40% or better on at least 100 mid-range attempts this season.

Week 21: vs. LAC, vs. BKN, @ MIL

30
Last week:
27

Record: 20-45
Pace: 97.9 (28) OffRtg: 108.7 (21) DefRtg: 112.0 (22) NetRtg: -3.3 (23)

The Pistons erased a 16-point deficit against the Thunder on Wednesday and a 22-point deficit against the Jazz on Saturday. But they came up empty on their final four possessions against OKC and went five minutes in the fourth quarter without a bucket against Utah. On Sunday in New York, the Pistons shot 4-for-19 in the fourth quarter. The Pistons are the only team with only one win since the All-Star break and have lost 11 of its last 12 games. Amazingly, with Blake Griffin having played in only 18 games, their rank in offensive efficiency (21st) is the same as it was last season. But they rank 29th offensively over this 1-11 stretch and will play five of their next six games against top-10 defenses.

Though hopes for a competitive season have been lost for a long time, Sekou Doumbouya still has to earn his playing time. The Pistons claimed Jordan McRae off waivers on Wednesday and played him more minutes than the rookie in each of their three losses last week.

Week 21: @ PHI, @ TOR


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