The trade deadline and the 2018 All-Star Game are in the rearview mirror. And when basketball resumes on Thursday, teams will know what they're working with, and they'll have had a week off to rest and refresh.
It's time to get serious. As we come out of the break, there are 19 teams playing for 16 playoff spots. But the spotlight remains on the two teams that have played in the last three Finals.
The Cleveland Cavaliers have played just two games with their new roster and, though the results have been great thus far, still have a lot of work to do to establish themselves as a team that can defend consistently. The Golden State Warriors, meanwhile, need to rediscover that edge that makes them the best defensive team in the league.
With better competition in their respective conferences, the Cavs and Warriors need to be better than they've been over the last six weeks. And for both teams, getting back to being the favorites starts on defense. One team is hoping that new personnel can spark that improvement. The other is hoping that it comes after some much-needed time off.
- Last week: Jazz streak up rankings and into playoff race
- This time last year: Cousins trade shakes things up before deadline -- DeMarcus Cousins was traded to New Orleans just a few hours after playing there in the All-Star Game in which Anthony Davis scored 52 points. Eric Gordon and Glen Robinson III were the big winners on All-Star Saturday Night, Kevin Love was out for a month with a knee injury, and the Nets had lost 14 straight games.
- Plus-minus stud: Jrue Holiday (NOP) was a plus-44 in two games last week.
- Plus-minus dud: Josh Jackson (PHX) was a minus-48 in two games last week.
- Hero team of the week: Houston (2-0) -- The Rockets went into the break with a 10-game winning streak, picking up an impressive win in Minnesota (in which they scored 42 points in the fourth quarter) on Tuesday.
- Zero team of the week: Phoenix (0-2) -- The Suns lost by 46 points to a team that let its players run the huddle.
- East vs. West: The West is 176-160 (.524) against the East in interconference games after going 4-1 last week.
- Toughest schedules so far: 1. Philadelphia, 2. Dallas, 3. Utah
- Easiest schedules so far: 1. Houston, 2. San Antonio, 3. Washington
- Schedule strength is based on cumulative opponent record, and adjusted for home vs. away and days of rest before a game.
- High jumps of the week: Cleveland (+4), Philadelphia (+4), Utah (+3)
- Free falls of the week: Boston (-6), San Antonio (-4), Dallas (-2), Oklahoma City (-2)
- Team to watch in Week 19: Denver -- The Nuggets have won nine of their last 12 games and have a chance at a top-five seed in the West. But they're also tied in the loss column with the ninth-place Clippers and will begin their post-break schedule with home games against the Spurs (Friday) and Rockets (Sunday). And their three-game homestand concludes with maybe their most important game of the season, a visit from the Clippers next Tuesday.
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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 99.4 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes and 106.0 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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