After an entertaining NBA All-Star 2019 in Charlotte and at least seven days off for all 30 teams, the season (which is already 70 percent complete) tips off again on Thursday, with much to be resolved in the next seven weeks.
In the Eastern Conference, the final three playoff spots remain up for grabs, though the competition is a little more inspiring up top, where the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers -- currently tied fourth and fifth -- would surely like to improve their position. The Eastern Conference arms race heated up at the trade deadline and what happens in the next four months will surely help determine what a lot of big-name free agents decide to do in July.
Who might face the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference finals is as interesting a question as who will represent the East in The Finals. It's a wide-open race behind the champs, with the Denver Nuggets holding onto second place and the Oklahoma City Thunder looking like the safest pick to win a couple of playoff rounds.
Before we get to the postseason though, there's a fascinating race for the last two playoff spots in the West, with the San Antonio Spurs' 21-year playoff streak, LeBron James' 13-year streak, the Los Angeles Lakers' five-year playoff drought and the Sacramento Kings' 12-year drought all on the line. And there's the season-of-transition LA Clippers still holding onto eighth, too.
Every game counts and the urgency is about to intensify.
- Last week: Sixers surging in wake of deadline-day deals
- This time last year: Spotlight remains on Cavs, Warriors Steve Kerr let his players run the huddle in a 46-point win over the Suns, who were one of four teams that went into the All-Star break with losing streaks of at least seven games. The Raptors, Rockets and Jazz, meanwhile, went into the break with winning streaks of seven, 10 and 11 games, respectively. Donovan Mitchell won the dunk contest with a Vince Carter imitation, Devin Booker won the 3-point contest by making 20 of his 25 shots in the final round, and Team LeBron won the All-Star Game when Stephen Curry couldn't get a shot off on the final possession.
Plus-Minus Players of the Week
- Mr. Plus: Jonathan Isaac (ORL) was a plus-51 in two games last week.
- Mr. Minus: Miles Bridges and Malik Monk (CHA) were both a minus-39 in two games last week.
Teams of the Week
- Make It Last Forever: Orlando (2-0) -- The Magic have pulled to within a game and a half of eighth place in the East by winning seven of their last eight games, and they went into the break by beating New Orleans and Charlotte by a total of 68 points.
- Something Just Ain't Right: Charlotte (0-2) -- The Hornets went into the break having lost four of their last five games (against a not-so-tough schedule) and with a 38-point loss in Orlando on Thursday.
East vs. West
- The West is 174-135 (.563) against the East in interconference games though the East was 4-1 last week.
Schedule strength through the All-Star break
- Toughest: 1. Phoenix, 2. New York, 3. Utah
- Easiest: 1. Indiana, 2. Oklahoma City, 3. Boston
- 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: Minnesota (+3), Orlando (+2), Nine teams (+1)
- Free falls of the week: Dallas (-6), Memphis (-2), Philadelphia (-2), Phoenix (-2)
Week 19 Team to Watch
- Houston -- The Rockets are in an interesting spot, just a game behind the Blazers for fourth place in the West, but just three games ahead of the ninth-place Kings. And they begin their post-break schedule (which is right in the middle of the pack in regard to cumulative opponent winning percentage) with two interesting games. They'll visit the Lakers on Thursday and the Warriors on Saturday, having won all five games they've played against those two teams thus far.
* * *
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 100.6 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes and 109.3 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.
* * *