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.
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.
- Last week: Raptors rise to No. 1 with big win over Rockets
- This time last year: Warriors recover from road woes to regain top spot -- The Spurs (11-3) and Lakers (1-11) had the league's best and worst records since the All-Star break, respectively. Two teams that eventually made the playoffs - Chicago and Portland - were in 10th and ninth place in their respective conferences. The Suns shut Eric Bledsoe down for the season and Russell Westbrook threw a pretty miraculous pass.
- Plus-minus stud: Ricky Rubio (UTA) was a plus-88 in three games last week.
- Plus-minus dud: Dragan Bender (PHX) was a minus-66 in three games last week.
- 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.
- East vs. West: The West is 217-179 (.548) against the East in interconference games after going 14-6 last week.
- 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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