Power Rankings
Power Rankings

Week 23 Power Rankings: Teams at top gain separation as season winds down

John Schuhmann

John Schuhmann NBA.com

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Mar 19, 2018 11:52 AM ET

The Rockets have just about wrapped up the No. 1 seed for the Western Conference playoffs.

With less than four weeks to go before the playoffs begin, things are finally starting to get sorted in the Eastern and Western Conference standings, at least at the top.

At the top of the East, the Toronto Raptors have gained separation from the Boston Celtics, who remain six games in the loss column ahead of the third-place Cleveland Cavaliers. And with the Milwaukee Bucks and Miami Heat each at least two games (in the loss column) out of sixth place, video coordinators in Toronto and Boston might start focusing on those two potential opponents for playoff prep.

In the West, injuries to Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant have probably ensured that the Houston Rockets will have the No. 1 seed (and home-court advantage throughout the playoffs) come April 14. The Portland Trail Blazers, meanwhile, have ridden a 13-game winning streak to a three-game edge (in the loss column) for third place.

 
Dig into some of the key numbers from this week's Power Rankings.

There's still a lot of sorting out to do elsewhere, but the reverse standings (affecting Lottery odds) are a little clearer than they were a couple of weeks ago. The home stretch is here, but we need to get some All-Stars (both in Oakland and elsewhere) healthy before we're ready for the postseason to begin.

Speaking of health ... Best wishes out to Tyronn Lue.

  • Hero team of the week: Houston (4-0) -- The Rockets won four games that were more important to their opponents (all fighting for playoff position in the West) than the Rockets themselves, finishing the week with a road back-to-back in New Orleans and Minnesota.
  • Zero team of the week: Denver (1-2) -- On Saturday, the Nuggets, fighting for their playoff lives, lost to the Grizzlies, losers of 19 straight games.
  • Toughest schedules so far: 1. Dallas, 2. Philadelphia, 3. Phoenix
  • Easiest schedules so far: 1. Indiana, 2. Cleveland, 3. Toronto
  • 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: Oklahoma City (+7), San Antonio (+3), Washington (+3)
  • Free falls of the week: Denver (-4), Minnesota (-4), Indiana (-3)
  • Team to watch in Week 23: Portland -- The Blazers are relatively comfortable in third place in the West, but will put their 13-game winning streak on the line when they host the Rockets on Tuesday. After hosting the Celtics on Friday, they'll visit the fourth-place Thunder 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 99.6 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes and 106.2 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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1
Last week:
2

Record: 56-14
Pace: 99.9 (14) OffRtg: 113.5 (2) DefRtg: 104.4 (9) NetRtg: +9.1 (2)

The Rockets' 3-point shooting hasn't been very consistent, but volume matters and Ryan Anderson's return gives them more of that. With Anderson back, they were fully healthy over the weekend (unless you count the absence of Brandan Wright, who has played 15 minutes with his new team), but Mike D'Antoni kept his rotation to just nine guys, DNP'ing Gerald Green in New Orleans on Saturday and Joe Johnson in Minnesota on Sunday. The Rockets have won 22 of their last 23 games, with the only loss coming by three points in Toronto, and Tuesday's game in Portland (where the Blazers have won 18 of their last 19) is the toughest game remaining on their schedule.

Week 23: @ POR, vs. DET, vs. NOP, vs. ATL

2
Last week:
1

Record: 52-18
Pace: 100.1 (13) OffRtg: 111.5 (3) DefRtg: 103.1 (4) NetRtg: +8.4 (3)

The Raptors have trailed at the half in six of their last eight games, ranking 27th in first-half defense over that stretch. They had been able to lock down in the second half as their winning streak reached 11 games, but couldn't get the stops (or the calls) they needed down the stretch against the Thunder on Sunday. The silver lining is that the loss wasn't about their clutch offense, which has been much better since the All-Star break (111 points scored per 100 possessions) that it was before (99). The Raptors still have four games against the Cavs and Celtics (two against both), though there might not be much to take away from their game in Cleveland on Wednesday. The Cavs will be shorthanded and the Raps will have played in Orlando the night before.

Week 23: @ ORL, @ CLE, vs. BKN, vs. LAC

3
Last week:
3

Record: 53-17
Pace: 102.4 (4) OffRtg: 113.6 (1) DefRtg: 103.7 (6) NetRtg: +9.9 (1)

Stephen Curry (sprained ankle), Klay Thompson (fractured right thumb) and Kevin Durant (incomplete rib cartilage fracture) all suffered injuries within three days of each other. This is how title favorites do not win titles, and the timing is not great, though it could be worse, with the playoffs still 26 days away. We'll know more when Curry and Thompson are both reevaluated this week. For now, Draymond Green has the opportunity to find his shot. He remains the fourth worst 3-point shooter (30.3 percent) among 126 players with at least 200 attempts, but was 7-for-17 from beyond the arc in two games without his fellow All-Stars over the weekend.

Week 23: @ SAS, vs. ATL, vs. UTA

4
Last week:
4

Record: 44-26
Pace: 99.0 (19) OffRtg: 106.2 (14) DefRtg: 104.0 (7) NetRtg: +2.2 (10)

The Blazers still have nine of their last 12 games against teams with winning records (and five of those nine on the road), but their 13-game winning streak has given them a three-game cushion in the loss column for third place in the West, as well as the tiebreaker over the fourth-place Thunder. Damian Lillard has led the way offensively, averaging 30.5 points per game during the streak, and it's been about more than just hot shooting. (In fact, he ranks just 64th in effective field goal percentage among 149 players who have attempted at least 100 shots since the start of the streak.) He has attempted 48 free throws per 100 shots from the field during the streak, up from 35 per 100 over his first 50 games. And when a guy shoots 91 percent from the line, that makes a difference. He's on pace to be just eighth different player to shoot 90 percent or better on at least seven free throw attempts per game (in a minimum of 50 games).

Week 23: vs. HOU, vs. BOS, @ OKC

5
Last week:
6

Record: 40-30
Pace: 97.6 (25) OffRtg: 105.5 (16) DefRtg: 101.8 (2) NetRtg: +3.7 (5)

The Jazz have won nine straight games and 21 of their last 23, having allowed 8.5 fewer points per 100 possessions than any other team over that stretch, which is rather ridiculous. There has been no let-up, as they've allowed less than 98 points per 100 possessions in every quarter and 98 per 100 with Rudy Gobert off the floor over the 23 games. They were still in a ninth-place tie with the Nuggets just a week ago, but have climbed to fifth by taking care of business against a weak schedule that continues through Thursday. Things are still too tight from 4-10 in the West for anybody to get comfortable, and Utah's schedule gets interesting next weekend (though a little less interesting with the Warriors' injuries).

Week 23: vs. ATL, @ DAL, @ SAS, @ GSW

6
Last week:
13

Record: 43-29
Pace: 99.0 (17) OffRtg: 107.6 (8) DefRtg: 104.5 (10) NetRtg: +3.0 (8)

Russell Westbrook has recorded five straight triple-doubles and still has a chance (if he grabs 121 rebounds over the last 10 games) to average a triple-double for the season. More important is that the Thunder have won six straight (coinciding with Corey Brewer's move into the starting lineup), a streak that includes important wins over the Spurs and Clippers, as well as what may have been OKC's best win of the season (in Toronto on Sunday). The offense picked up last week and featured a lot of Steven Adams after he missed a win in Atlanta on Tuesday. The 28 shots he got in weekend wins over the Clippers and Raptors are the most he's attempted in any two-game stretch of his career. Only Clint Capela and Rudy Gobert have shot better as a roll man and the 199 assists Adams has received from Westbrook are the most from any player to a single teammate this season.

Week 23: @ BOS, vs. MIA, vs. POR

7
Last week:
5

Record: 47-23
Pace: 98.4 (22) OffRtg: 105.3 (17) DefRtg: 101.3 (1) NetRtg: +4.0 (4)

Greg Monroe has shot 66 percent over the last eight games, but his offense can't make up for the absences of Marcus Smart (probably out through the first round of the playoffs with a torn tendon in his right thumb) and Daniel Theis (out for the season with a torn meniscus left knee) in the Celtics' second unit. The team has been outscored by more than 12 points per 100 possessions in 160 minutes with Monroe on the floor without Smart. As expected, Kyrie Irving's knee issue has derailed the offense, which has scored less than a point per possession over the last three games without him (and Jaylen Brown). But with nowhere to go in the standings, it's just about getting as healthy as possible by April 14.

Week 23: vs. OKC, @ POR, @ SAC

8
Last week:
8

Record: 40-30
Pace: 102.5 (3) OffRtg: 107.5 (11) DefRtg: 106.3 (15) NetRtg: +1.2 (13)

Rajon Rondo has had huge games (28 assists and just four turnovers) in the Pelicans' last two wins, but even since the All-Star break, the team's numbers have been better with Jrue Holiday at point guard (plus-7.5 points per 100 possessions) than with him at the two alongside Rondo (plus-6.3). Solomon Hill's return from hamstring surgery (he made his season debut in a win over the shorthanded Celtics on Sunday) gives them another option on the wing for those Holiday-at-PG lineups, though they still need more from Nikola Mirotic than they've been getting of late. As they've scored just 102 points per 100 possessions over their last six games, Mirotic has shot 30 percent (including 5-for-25 from 3-point range).

Week 23: vs. DAL, vs. IND, vs. LAL, @ HOU

9
Last week:
12

Record: 40-30
Pace: 99.0 (18) OffRtg: 107.5 (9) DefRtg: 106.1 (14) NetRtg: +1.5 (12)

It was a week of missing All-Stars for the the Wizards (without John Wall), who played the Wolves without Jimmy Butler and the Celtics without Kyrie Irving and Al Horford. They blew a 10-point, fourth-quarter lead in Minnesota, but won the two most important games of the week, beating the Celtics in double-overtime (after some great execution for the game-tying three) and the Pacers (who were without Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis) behind a big game from their starting lineup (plus-25 in 23 minutes). Jodie Meeks hit the big three in Boston, but bench minutes continue to be a problem. The Wizards have outscored their opponents with Kelly Oubre Jr. on the floor just once (and he's a minus-61) in his last seven games. The win over Indy and the accompanying tiebreaker pushed them into fourth place in the East, and they have an easier schedule than the Pacers going forward.

Week 23: @ SAS, vs. DEN, vs. NYK

10
Last week:
7

Record: 40-30
Pace: 98.5 (20) OffRtg: 107.2 (12) DefRtg: 105.6 (13) NetRtg: +1.6 (11)

The Pacers' run on strong defense culminated with a big win (and 21 forced turnovers) in Philadelphia on Tuesday. But ankle injuries to both Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner suddenly left them with Al Jefferson as their primary interior defender, and they allowed the Raptors and Wizards to score 116 points per 100 possessions on Thursday and Saturday. The offense wasn't able to make up for it, ranks 25th since the All-Star break, and has two starters - Victor Oladipo (44.7 percent) and Thaddeus Young (43.9 percent) - in the bottom 10 in post-break effective field goal percentage (minimum 100 FGA). Oladipo's jumper hasn't been so feathery; He has shot 12-for-52 (23 percent) from outside the restricted area over the last four games.

Week 23: vs. LAL, @ NOP, vs. LAC, vs. MIA

11
Last week:
10

Record: 38-30
Pace: 101.4 (5) OffRtg: 106.4 (13) DefRtg: 103.3 (5) NetRtg: +3.1 (7)

The Sixers' five turnovers on Friday were the fewest they've committed in a game in their five seasons under Brett Brown, having had the league's highest turnover rate in all five seasons. But they still needed a last-minute three from Robert Covington to beat the Nets at home, three days after their 13-game home winning streak came to an end against the Pacers (in a game in which they committed 21 turnovers). That loss gave Indy the head-to-head tiebreaker and dropped the Sixers to 1-5 since the All-Star break against the other East playoff teams. J.J. Redick missed a three to tie the Indy game in the closing seconds and is just 7-for-25 on clutch threes for the season, but has been one of the league's best 3-point shooters in March (27-for-51).

Week 23: vs. CHA, vs. MEM, @ ORL, vs. MIN

12
Last week:
15

Record: 40-30
Pace: 97.3 (29) OffRtg: 105.3 (18) DefRtg: 102.1 (3) NetRtg: +3.2 (6)

The Spurs have put together their first three-game winning streak of 2018 at just the right time. And in their two huge wins over the Pelicans and Wolves last week, they held two top-11 offenses under a point per possession. They went to a new (small-ball) starting lineup (with a frontline of Danny Green, Kyle Anderson and LaMarcus Aldridge) last week, though they were a plus-17 in less than 13 minutes with Aldridge and Pau Gasol on the floor together against Minnesota on Saturday. Aldridge has averaged 29.3 points over the winning streak, shooting 16-for-28 (57 percent) from mid-range. This has been his worst mid-range shooting season (40.5 percent from between the paint and the 3-point line) since his rookie year, though that's not a huge drop from his first two seasons in San Antonio (42.4 percent), and the percentage of his shots that have come from mid-rage has dropped from 52 percent over those two seasons to 41 percent this season. He still ranks second in mid-range attempts.

Week 23: vs. GSW, vs. WAS, vs. UTA, @ MIL

13
Last week:
9

Record: 40-31
Pace: 98.1 (24) OffRtg: 111.4 (4) DefRtg: 109.1 (27) NetRtg: +2.3 (9)

The Wolves are treading water, now 4-5 since Jimmy Butler's knee injury, with the league's third-ranked offense and it's 27th-ranked defense over that stretch. The starting lineup has allowed less than a point per possession (ranking fourth defensively among 19 lineups that have played at least 100 minutes since the break), but they've allowed 121 per 100 in 260 minutes with at least one reserve on the floor over the nine games. They're in eighth place, with two more games remaining against the ninth-place Nuggets and a big one on Tuesday against the 10th-place Clippers. They're 5-0 against those two teams so far, but only one of the wins (Jan. 22 in L.A.) came without Butler.

Week 23: vs. LAC, @ NYK, @ PHI

14
Last week:
14

Record: 37-32
Pace: 101.2 (6) OffRtg: 107.9 (7) DefRtg: 106.8 (17) NetRtg: +1.1 (14)

The Clippers haven't lost to a team that's currently under .500 since before Christmas. And seven of their 13 losses to good teams since then (including two last week) have been within five points in the fourth quarter. Last week, they held the Rockets' offense to league-average efficiency and scored better than the league average against the top-10 defenses of the Thunder and Blazers. But they lost all three games (17 live-ball turnovers in Oklahoma City on Friday were particularly painful), have fallen to 10th place, and still have 11 of their remaining 13 games against teams with winning records. Their game in Minnesota on Tuesday is the most important one.

Week 23: @ MIN, @ MIL, @ IND, @ TOR

15
Last week:
11

Record: 38-32
Pace: 99.3 (15) OffRtg: 109.0 (6) DefRtg: 108.6 (22) NetRtg: +0.4 (17)

The good news is that no single loss will haunt the Nuggets if they miss the playoffs. The bad news is that they've lost to the Mavs, Lakers and Grizzlies (all on the road) in the last two weeks. (And if you go back to Jan. 6, they've lost to all six teams below them in the West standings.) Defense has been the bigger issue in general, but the bigger difference between the Home Nuggets and Road Nuggets has been on offense, where they've been 6.4 points per 100 possessions better at the Pepsi Center than they've been on the road. They scored less than a point per possession in the losses to Dallas, L.A. and Memphis, with almost everyone in their rotation shooting poorly. The Memphis loss was just the start of a seven-game trip and, after they visit Chicago on Wednesday, they'll play their final 10 games against teams with winning records.

Week 23: @ MIA, @ CHI, @ WAS

16
Last week:
17

Record: 37-33
Pace: 97.5 (26) OffRtg: 104.2 (20) DefRtg: 104.4 (8) NetRtg: -0.2 (18)

In order to end a nine-game, road losing streak, the Heat had to get back to winning ugly. Goran Dragic got the game-winner in L.A. (in what was the Heat's worst offensive game since before the All-Star break) on Friday and has been playing more like an All-Star than he was when he was named an All-Star, having averaged 28.7 points on 55 percent shooting over the Heat's three-game trip last week. The Heat have played better with Bam Adebayo and/or Kelly Olynyk than with Hassan Whiteside on the floor, but Whiteside's presence in the paint was missed (he missed the whole trip with a hip issue) as Jusuf Nurkic scored 27 points on Monday. Miami opponents have taken 30 percent of their shots in the restricted area with Whiteside on the floor and 33 percent of their shots there with Whiteside off the floor.

Week 23: vs. DEN, vs. NYK, @ OKC, @ IND

17
Last week:
16

Record: 31-38
Pace: 103.2 (1) OffRtg: 104.1 (22) DefRtg: 105.4 (11) NetRtg: -1.3 (20)

Isaiah Thomas got a spot start in place of the injured Kyle Kuzma on Wednesday, but was back on the bench on Friday. Still, he's played a lot of minutes with the Lakers' starters, and L.A. has outscored its opponents by more than 15 points per 100 possessions in 230 minutes with Thomas and Julius Randle on the floor together. Though he has taken a greater percentage of his jumpers off the dribble, Thomas has shot better with the Lakers (effective field goal percentage of 46.3 percent) than he did with the Cavs (41.8 percent). But his free throw rate is down and both of those numbers are obviously a far cry from what he did last season with the Celtics.

Week 23: @ IND, @ NOP, @ MEM

18
Last week:
18

Record: 40-29
Pace: 100.1 (12) OffRtg: 110.0 (5) DefRtg: 109.5 (28) NetRtg: +0.5 (16)

J.R. Smith hasn't dealt with a move to the bench too well, shooting 7-for-22 in his first three games (since October) as a reserve. But (considering two-man combinations that are still on the roster and have played at least 250 minutes) the Cavs have been at their best (plus-10.7 points per 100 possessions) with LeBron James and (new starter) Kyle Korver on the floor together. And when Korver missed Saturday's game in Chicago (for personal reasons), Jose Calderon gave them good minutes as an emergency starter. The Cavs went 3-3 on their road trip and are back in third place in the East, but the win in Denver that began the trip remains their only quality win since the All-Star break (they're 1-6 since the break against teams with winning records). So, while they're still shorthanded, games against the Milwaukee and Toronto on Monday and Wednesday will be an interesting test.

Week 23: vs. MIL, vs. TOR, vs. PHX, @ BKN

19
Last week:
19

Record: 37-32
Pace: 98.1 (23) OffRtg: 107.5 (10) DefRtg: 106.5 (16) NetRtg: +1.0 (15)

Jabari Parker had a couple of highlight dunks on Saturday (one and two, but his jumper has also looked sharp. He has shot 50 percent from mid-range and 42 percent from 3-point range since his return, with the issue being that the number of mid-range attempts (42) has exceeded the number of 3-point attempts (38). Parker and Brandon Jennings (who had 16 points, eight rebounds and 12 assists in his season debut on Monday) have given the Bucks' bench some juice as they await the returns of Malcolm Brogdon and Matthew Dellavedova, but the team was somehow outscored by 19 points in just 7:33 with Giannis Antetokounmpo off the floor in an inexcusable loss in Orlando on Wednesday. They allowed 110 points per 100 possessions in four games against bad teams (with bottom-10 offenses) over the last 10 days, and they'll now play seven of their next nine games against teams with winning records.

Week 23: @ CLE, vs. LAC, @ CHI, vs. SAS

20
Last week:
20

Record: 30-40
Pace: 100.5 (8) OffRtg: 106.1 (15) DefRtg: 107.0 (18) NetRtg: -0.9 (19)

The Hornets have allowed 6.6 more points per 100 possessions since the break (112.4, 26th in the league) than they did before it (105.8, 14th), and the drop-off has been bad in their minutes with Dwight Howard both on and off the floor. The Knicks (10.2) have suffered a bigger increase, but were better defensively on Saturday, outscoring the Hornets 42-17 in the third quarter. That loss dropped the Hornets to 2-12 vs. the Atlantic Division (0-6 over the last three weeks), but they've won four straight within the Southeast. Howard's averages of 23 points and 14 rebounds (with four double-doubles) against the Hawks drew some snark from Dennis Schroder.

Week 23: @ PHI, @ BKN, vs. MEM, @ DAL

21
Last week:
23

Record: 23-48
Pace: 97.3 (28) OffRtg: 101.6 (29) DefRtg: 109.9 (29) NetRtg: -8.3 (29)

If the Kings want to increase their Lottery odds, they might want to six De'Aaron Fox down the stretch of close games. After hitting five big shots against the Heat and Warriors last week, Fox is 13-for-22 in the last three minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime with the score within three points. Buddy Hield, the guy with the fourth lowest free throw rate (nine attempts per 100 shots from the field) among 151 players who have taken at least 500 shots, got into the act at Golden State by driving and getting to the line to put the Kings ahead in the final minute. The Kings will have more spoiler opportunities, as well as a couple of important Lottery-related games, on a six-game homestand that begins Monday.

Week 23: vs. DET, vs. ATL, vs. BOS

22
Last week:
21

Record: 30-39
Pace: 98.4 (21) OffRtg: 103.8 (25) DefRtg: 105.6 (12) NetRtg: -1.8 (21)

Stan Van Gundy showed some fine-worthy fire in critiquing the officiating after the Pistons loss in Portland on Saturday, but the play of his team hasn't been quite as inspired. The Pistons have lost 13 of their last 16 games, only Phoenix and Memphis have been worse offensively over that stretch, and they've trailed their last three by 39, 26 and 19 points. The offense could get a boost this week with the potential return of Reggie Jackson, who hasn't played since the day after Christmas. There are still 13 games remaining to develop something with the Pistons' three highest paid players (Griffin, Andre Drummond and Jackson), who are all under contract for at least two more seasons.

Week 23: @ SAC, @ PHX, @ HOU, vs. CHI

23
Last week:
22

Record: 24-45
Pace: 100.2 (11) OffRtg: 102.0 (27) DefRtg: 108.7 (25) NetRtg: -6.6 (28)

The Bulls have compounded minimal playing time for their most reliable vets (Justin Holiday and Robin Lopez) with injuries to their most promising youngsters. Kris Dunn (sprained toe), Zach LaVine (knee tendinitis) and Lauri Markkanen (back spasms), who all missed Saturday's loss to the Cavs (Markkanen has missed the last three games) and didn't travel to New York for Monday's game against the Knicks. The Bulls have been outscored by almost 22 points per 100 possessions in 255 minutes with Dunn, LaVine and Markkanen on the floor together, even though half of the 12 games the trio has played in (and more than half of the 255 minutes) have been against teams with losing records.

Week 23: @ NYK, vs. DEN, vs. MIL, @ DET

24
Last week:
26

Record: 22-48
Pace: 100.9 (7) OffRtg: 103.9 (23) DefRtg: 108.7 (26) NetRtg: -4.8 (25)

The Nets continue to have stretches of competitiveness. They led the Raptors by 15 points in the third quarter on Tuesday and had a lead with a minute to go in Philadelphia on Friday. They lost both of those games, because their defense remains a problem, and haven't beat a team with a winning record since they edged the Sixers on Jan. 31. That was also the last time they had won a game that was within five points in the last five minutes before they held on to beat the Mavs (the league's worst team in the clutch this season) on Saturday (after nine straight losses in clutch games). D'Angelo Russell continues to show flashes (like seven threes in the first quarter against the Raptors), but the Nets' numbers continue to be better with him off the floor (they've been better both offensively and defensively with him on the bench since the All-Star break).

Week 23: vs. MEM, vs. CHA, @ TOR, vs. CLE

25
Last week:
25

Record: 22-48
Pace: 97.4 (27) OffRtg: 104.6 (19) DefRtg: 107.3 (19) NetRtg: -2.8 (22)

Nerlens Noel has averaged 13.7 rebounds, 3.4 steals and 1.8 blocks per 36 minutes since his return from injury three weeks ago, and his minutes have been better for the Mavs (he's a plus-27) over his last four games. The Mavs' have a lot of good role players (J.J. Barea remains a maestro of second-unit offense) and their bench numbers (seventh best in the league) are proof of that. But the path back to relevance begins with the acquisition and/or development of top-tier guys. So all eyes are on Dennis Smith Jr., who has been less efficient since the break than he was before it, though he has finished better at the basket (54 percent in the restricted area before the break, 61 percent since). An ankle sprain (suffered in Brooklyn on Saturday) may put his development on hold.

Week 23: @ NOP, vs. UTA, vs. CHA

26
Last week:
24

Record: 20-50
Pace: 100.5 (9) OffRtg: 103.3 (26) DefRtg: 108.6 (24) NetRtg: -5.3 (26)

With Kent Bazemore out for the season with a bone bruise in his right knee, the Hawks are shuffling through some undrafted rookies in the backcourt. Andrew White III has shot 7-for-15 over his last five games and Damion Lee scored 27 points (on just 16 shots) in his first two nights in the NBA. Taurean Prince, meanwhile, continues to take a bigger role offensively, averaging 31 points on 50 percent shooting over the last four games. But the last five (starting with the one in which Bazemore was injured) have been the worst defensive stretch (121 points allowed per 100 possessions) of what has been the Hawks' worst defensive season (2.4 more points allowed per 100 than the league average) in the last 12 years (since 2005-06).

Week 23: @ UTA, @ SAC, @ GSW, @ HOU

27
Last week:
27

Record: 25-45
Pace: 99.1 (16) OffRtg: 104.1 (21) DefRtg: 108.2 (21) NetRtg: -4.1 (23)

With Michael Beasley, Emmanuel Mudiay and Trey Burke combining to shoot 38-for-59 (64 percent) in the first and second quarters last week, the Knicks held a halftime lead in all three of their games. But it took a big second half (67 points) against Charlotte on Saturday for them to get their second win (in 15 games) since losing Kristaps Porzingis for the season. Frank Ntilikina scored a career-high 15 points against the Hornets (and one particular 3-pointer off the dribble looked pretty smooth), but hasn't exactly been given the keys to the offense. After three starts, he has been coming off the bench for the last three games and has averaged just 24.4 minutes since the break.

Week 23: vs. CHI, @ MIA, vs. MIN, @ WAS

28
Last week:
28

Record: 21-49
Pace: 100.4 (10) OffRtg: 103.9 (24) DefRtg: 108.6 (23) NetRtg: -4.7 (24)

Jonathon Simmons scored a career-high 35 points (shooting 7-for-12 from 3-point range) as the Magic played spoiler for the first time since the All-Star break by beating the Bucks on Wednesday. D.J. Augustin added 32 and has quietly had a strong month as the starting point guard. Augustin's effective field goal percentage of 65.5 percent since the All-Star break ranks sixth among 141 players (third among non-bigs) who have taken at least 100 post-break shots. The Magic have still been pretty brutal offensively, scoring just 94 points per 100 possessions, over the last two weeks (with Evan Fournier and Aaron Gordon both having missed the last five games).

Week 23: vs. TOR, vs. PHI, vs. PHX

29
Last week:
30

Record: 19-50
Pace: 96.8 (30) OffRtg: 101.7 (28) DefRtg: 107.4 (20) NetRtg: -5.7 (27)

The return of Tyreke Evans brought an end to the Grizzlies' losing streak. Evans was actually a plus-15, with 25 points and nine assists, in his first game back from a 10-game absence. But the Grizzlies' bench was dreadful, Evans fouled Antonio Blakeney with 1.8 seconds left, and the streak reached 19 games with a brutal loss to the Bulls on Thursday. Two nights later, Evans got some help and the Grizzlies held on after a huge first quarter to beat the Nuggets and tie the Suns in the wins column. Evans is now a plus-48 over the course of the season for the team with the league's second worst record, making his comeback season remarkable in more ways than one.

Week 23: @ BKN, @ PHI, @ CHA, vs. LAL

30
Last week:
29

Record: 19-52
Pace: 102.8 (2) OffRtg: 101.2 (30) DefRtg: 110.8 (30) NetRtg: -9.7 (30)

With a few really ugly offensive games over the last two weeks, the Suns are in position to be the first team in a 30-team league to rank last in both offensive and defensive efficiency over an 82-game season. They're still 11 games from getting it done, but for now, they can settle for leading the league in ugly fouls (see here and here). Josh Jackson has been the lone bright spot as they've run their February-March record to 1-18. He has averaged 24 points on 53 percent shooting (and with an increase in free throw rate) over the last three games, with only 10 of his 26 buckets having been assisted.

Week 23: vs. DET, @ CLE, @ ORL


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