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Power Rankings

Power Rankings, Week 25: East race gets even tighter as playoffs near

John Schuhmann

John Schuhmann NBA.com

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Apr 1, 2019 12:12 PM ET

Dwyane Wade and the Heat are among the four teams still battling for playoff spots in the East.

The Western Conference is going to finish with a better cumulative record than the Eastern Conference for the 19th time in the last 20 seasons (with the lone exception being the 2008-09 season), and this will be the East's worst season (0.448 winning percentage with 15 inter-conference games left to play) of the last four.

But right now, the eighth-place team in the East (the 38-38 Miami Heat) has a better record than the ninth-place team in the West (the 38-39 Sacramento Kings). So it's possible that the 16 playoff teams will be the same 16 teams that would have made the postseason if conferences were ignored (not taking schedule imbalance into account).

The East race for the final three spots has heated up. No potential 6-8 seed should be a major threat to any of the top three in the East. But there's intrigue with every team involved.

The Detroit Pistons are the only Eastern Conference team that hasn't won a playoff game in the last 10 years, and they're trying end their drought in their first full season with Blake Griffin and Dwane Casey's first year on the bench. They seem to be in good position to finish sixth, but Griffin is dealing with a left knee injury that will have him out for their game in Indiana on Monday.

The Brooklyn Nets are the underdog story. They had the East's worst record over the last three seasons and haven't had their own draft pick since 2013, but have benefited from player development and smart moves made in the margins. They've already won 11 more games than they did last season, but still have some work to do and five tough games left on their schedule.

The Miami Heat are trying to get Dwyane Wade to one last postseason. They lost a big game to Orlando last week, but were an East-best 11-4 in March and still control their own destiny, with what could be a huge game in Brooklyn on the last night of the season.

The Orlando Magic have won seven of their last eight games (and are 18-8 since Jan. 31) to stay right in the mix. They're trying to end the East's longest playoff drought (six years without an appearance) and have been the league's second most improved team in regard to winning percentage.

With 12 days left in the season, anything can happen with these four teams. It will be a success story for the three that make the playoffs and a disappointment for the one that doesn't.

Note: For the 12 teams that have been eliminated from playoff contention (the bottom five in the East and the bottom seven in the West), notes below will be focused on their defense. See last week's rankings for notes on their offense.

Previously...

Plus-Minus Players of the Week

Teams of the Week

  • Make It Last Forever: Orlando (3-1) -- The Magic got three huge wins last week, beating Philadelphia, Miami and Indiana, with the last two coming on the road (where they had lost four straight entering the week).
  • Something Just Ain't Right: Indiana (0-3) -- A winless week (and a 1-7 stretch) included a loss to another team (Oklahoma City) that's been struggling and a loss (in Boston) that could contribute to the Pacers starting the playoffs on the road.

East vs. West

Schedule strength through Week 24

  • Toughest: 1. New York, 2. Phoenix, 3. Dallas
  • Easiest: 1. Toronto, 2. Milwaukee, 3. Miami
  • 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: Orlando (+3), Boston (+2), Detroit (+2), L.A. Lakers (+2)
  • Free falls of the week: Brooklyn (-2), Charlotte (-2), Miami (-2)

Week 25 Team to Watch

  • Miami -- Whether Dwyane Wade gets to see a 14th postseason as part of #OneLastDance will be determined in the next 12 days. The Heat will play in Brooklyn on the final night of the season, but both the Nets and Heat will have to navigate a tough schedule before they get to the finale. While the Nets play two games against Milwaukee this week, the Heat will have a home-and-home with the Celtics. They'll then play in Minnesota on Friday and in Toronto 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 100.7 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes and 109.5 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:
1

Record: 52-24
Pace: 101.7 (10) OffRtg: 115.0 (1) DefRtg: 108.9 (14) NetRtg: +6.1 (2)

The Warriors' stars had some issues with officials this weekend, but most important is that the champs are healthy with the postseason just 12 days away. Though DeMarcus Cousins' ejection kept its minutes limited on Sunday, their five-star lineup has played in three straight games together and has allowed just 98.0 points per 100 possessions in 115 minutes since the All-Star break, making it the best defensive lineup among the 23 that have played at least 100 post-break minutes. Part of that success was the first quarter of their last meeting with Denver, when the champs made an opening statement by allowing the Nuggets to score just seven points (with five turnovers) in the first 6 1/2 minutes. Tuesday's rematch is another chance for the Warriors to make another statement, clinch the tiebreaker, and almost ensure themselves of home-court advantage through the conference finals. They're 30-3 at home vs. the Western Conference over the last four postseasons.

Week 25: vs. DEN, @ LAL, vs. CLE, vs. LAC

2
Last week:
2

Record: 57-20
Pace: 103.2 (6) OffRtg: 113.5 (3) DefRtg: 104.5 (1) NetRtg: +9.0 (1)

Giannis Antetokounmpo's right ankle is clearly not fully healed; A minor turn had him in major pain late in the Bucks' win over the Clippers on Thursday. But after sitting out a loss in Atlanta on Sunday, Antetokounmpo may be back in action this week, even though there's little doubt that the Bucks will eventually clinch the overall No. 1 seed in the postseason. They need only two more wins (or a little help from opponents of the Raptors and Warriors) to do so. With Tony Snell dealing with an ankle sprain of his own, no Milwaukee lineup has played more than 22 minutes over the eight games since Malcolm Brogdon went down with his foot injury. But George Hill and Pat Connaughton have been giving them good minutes off the bench; Over that stretch, the Bucks have outscored their opponents by an amazing 71 points in 79 minutes with both Hill and Connaughton on the floor.

Week 25: @ BKN, @ PHI, vs. BKN, vs. ATL

3
Last week:
3

Record: 49-28
Pace: 98.2 (27) OffRtg: 114.1 (2) DefRtg: 110.5 (20) NetRtg: +3.6 (8)

Against the league's No. 1 defense (that of the Bucks) on Tuesday, the Rockets had their worst offensive game (94 points on 103 possessions) since early November, with James Harden, Eric Gordon and P.J. Tucker combining to shoot 2-for-22 from 3-point range. But their own defense ranks third (105.6 points allowed per 100 possessions) since the All-Star break, has allowed just a point per possession in Chris Paul's 613 post-break minutes, and shut down the Nuggets in their more important game last week. The Rockets lost their first six games against the other seven West playoff teams, but since mid-November, they're 13-5 within the group, with games against the Clippers (Wednesday in L.A.) and Thunder (next Tuesday in Oklahoma City) left on the schedule.

Week 25: @ SAC, @ LAC, vs. NYK, vs. PHX

4
Last week:
5

Record: 51-24
Pace: 100.6 (15) OffRtg: 112.5 (5) DefRtg: 108.2 (5) NetRtg: +4.3 (3)

Last week was one for load management in Toronto. Kawhi Leonard played in only one of the three games and, with the Raptors building leads of more than 20 points in all three, Fred VanVleet was the only one of their top seven guys to play more than 75 total minutes. Marc Gasol has started the last 10 games and, though he's scored exactly two points in four of those 10 starts, the Raptors have been at their best (plus-23.3 points per 100 possessions) with him on the floor over that stretch. They've recorded assists on 68 percent of their buckets in his 512 total minutes on the floor and have allowed just 98.4 points per 100 possessions in 356 minutes with him playing alongside Pascal Siakam. The competition gets a little stronger this week, and with Detroit likely to hold onto the 6 seed, one of the Raptors' four games will likely be a playoff preview, though not necessarily with a full Toronto rotation.

Week 25: vs. ORL, @ BKN, @ CHA, vs. MIA

5
Last week:
4

Record: 51-25
Pace: 98.5 (25) OffRtg: 112.2 (6) DefRtg: 108.0 (10) NetRtg: +4.2 (5)

The Nuggets' offense scored less than a point per possession just five times through their first 71 games. But that's happened four times in the last eight days, the Nuggets' worst five-game stretch of offense of the season. They've shot 26 percent from 3-point range over the five games, with reserve guards Monte Morris and Malik Beasley having combined to go 4-for-34 from beyond the arc. They got thumped in Houston on Thursday (and lost the season series, 3-1), but the more concerning lost may have been Sunday against Washington, when they blew a 15-point lead and scored a paltry 28 points after halftime against the league's 26th-ranked defense. Nikola Jokic was one of the only Nuggets who could make a shot, but let his frustrations get the best of him and got ejected (for the third time this season) with the score tied and less than four minutes to go. Now they play five straight games against fellow West playoff teams with a top-2 seed not necessarily a sure thing.

Week 25: @ GSW, vs. SAS, vs. POR, @ POR

6
Last week:
6

Record: 48-28
Pace: 100.1 (18) OffRtg: 113.1 (4) DefRtg: 109.2 (16) NetRtg: +3.9 (7)

Jusuf Nurkic's season-ending injury was devastating for multiple reasons and no matter the timing. The Blazers do have other guys that can play the five, but none that can match Nurkic's production on both sides of the ball. They had outscored their opponents by 11.0 points per 100 possessions in 1,884 minutes with both Nurkic and Damian Lillard on the floor together, but are just a plus-0.1 per 100 (with Lillard having shot much worse) in 778 minutes with Lillard on the floor without Nurkic. The 168 assists that Lillard had to Nurkic were the second most from one player to a single teammate at the time of Nurkic's injury. The Blazers did win their first six games without C.J. McCollum (scoring an amazing 121 points per 100 possessions over the six games) before running out of gas in Detroit on Saturday, and they will play four of their last six games against teams that are out of the playoff picture.

Week 25: @ MIN, vs. MEM, @ DEN, vs. DEN

7
Last week:
7

Record: 49-27
Pace: 102.6 (7) OffRtg: 111.6 (9) DefRtg: 108.5 (11) NetRtg: +3.1 (10)

Despite the spacing issues that pop up from time to time, the Sixers' starting lineup continues to dominate. It has outscored its opponents by 17.6 points per 100 possessions, the fourth best mark among 65 lineups that have played at least 150 minutes together. Of course, in order to have at least two starters on the floor for the entire game (which is how the Sixers play their rotation), you have to limit the time that all five are on the floor together and play more than 30 minutes per game with reserves on the floor. Since the trade deadline, minutes from the bench have had mixed results. Mike Scott has shot 43 percent from 3-point range since the All-Star break, but the Sixers have still been outscored with him on the floor over those 18 games. They have won the last two games they've played without Joel Embiid, who will sit out the last two games (in Dallas and Atlanta) of their current trip.

Week 25: @ DAL, @ ATL, vs MIL, @ CHI

8
Last week:
8

Record: 47-31
Pace: 102.5 (8) OffRtg: 111.6 (8) DefRtg: 109.8 (17) NetRtg: +1.8 (12)

The Clippers had the league's best record (13-2) and its best offense (116.4 points scored per 100 possessions) in March, with Danilo Gallinari (who scored 27 points, taking just 11 shots from the field against the Grizzlies' top-10 defense on Sunday) averaging 23.9 points on 52 percent shooting over his 13 games last month. Montrezl Harrell (63.8 percent) and Gallinari (63.6 percent) rank sixth and seventh, respectively in true shooting percentage among the 168 players with at least 500 field goal attempts this season. Gallinari and Lou Williams, meanwhile, are two of the four best free throw shooters among players that have averaged at least five attempts per game. This team can score efficiently and its had the league's fourth most improved defense since the All-Star break, allowing 1.4 fewer points per 100 possessions than it did before the break. Of course, it's been more than two months since the Clips faced either of the league's two best offenses, and they'll see both of them this week.

Week 25: vs. HOU, vs. LAL, @ GSW

9
Last week:
10

Record: 46-30
Pace: 100.8 (14) OffRtg: 109.9 (15) DefRtg: 105.1 (2) NetRtg: +4.8 (4)

The Jazz continue to T.C.B. (take care of business). They've won nine of their last 10 games (with Brooklyn the only opponent in that stretch that was playing for anything), leading the league in both offensive and defensive efficiency over those 19 days. Joe Ingles' 3-point percentage (38.0 percent) is still way down from the last two seasons (44.0 percent), but he's 23-for-47 from beyond the arc over the last two weeks and has also been flashing his playmaking skills. He has more games of 10 or more assists in the last two months (6) than he had through the first 4 1/2 years of his career (4). The Jazz are in the driver's seat for the 5 seed and still have a chance for home-court advantage in the first round, because they'll likely hold the (division record) tiebreaker over the fourth-place Blazers.

Week 25: vs. CHA, @ PHX, vs. SAC, @ LAL

10
Last week:
9

Record: 44-33
Pace: 99.0 (22) OffRtg: 112.1 (7) DefRtg: 110.7 (21) NetRtg: +1.4 (13)

The Derrick White magic has worn off a bit in San Antonio. From early December until two weeks ago, the Spurs were 28-10 in games that White started. But the second-year guard has shot 26 percent (including 2-for-15 from 3-point range) as they've lost four of their last six games. Of course, the larger issue is the defense that has allowed 114.5 points per 100 possessions in the four losses and is back in the bottom 10 for the season. The playoff streak lives on, but this season will end a streak of 21 straight seasons in which the Spurs have had a better-than-average defense (they ranked in the top five in 18 of those 21 seasons). Their last game against a fellow playoff team is a potential playoff preview in Denver on Wednesday, with the the first three meetings having all been within five points in the last five minutes (and won by the home team).

Week 25: vs. ATL, @ DEN, @ WAS, @ CLE

11
Last week:
13

Record: 45-32
Pace: 100.4 (16) OffRtg: 111.2 (10) DefRtg: 107.1 (7) NetRtg: +4.1 (6)

A big frontline was a big part of the Celtics' success last season, when the 93.9 points per 100 possessions that Boston allowed with Al Horford and Aron Baynes both on the floor was the third lowest two-man DefRtg mark among 463 combinations that played at least 750 minutes together. But this season, Horford and Baynes had started just three games together and played just 76 minutes together prior to last week, when Brad Stevens finally went back to the two-bigs look. And with Horford and Baynes registering a plus-13 in their 19-plus minutes together (and Kyrie Irving providing the game-winning bucket), the Celtics got a huge win over Indiana on Friday. After a loss in Brooklyn (with both Irving and Horford sitting the second game of the back-to-back), they may need another win over the Pacers (Friday in Indiana) to secure home-court advantage in the first round.

Week 25: vs. MIA, @ MIA, @ IND, vs. ORL

12
Last week:
11

Record: 44-33
Pace: 103.5 (5) OffRtg: 109.2 (18) DefRtg: 106.2 (4) NetRtg: +3.0 (11)

Momentum generally doesn't matter come playoff time ... unless a bad end to the regular season puts you in the wrong first-round matchup. A 6-13 stretch has taken the Thunder from third to eighth place in the West (from where they'd likely face the Warriors in the first round), with the seventh-place Spurs having both the head-to-head tiebreaker and the easier remaining schedule. Over the 19 games, the Thunder have been outscored by an unbelievable 19.4 points per 100 possessions in the first quarter, with brutal first-quarter numbers on both ends of the floor. They got a win over Indiana on Wednesday with a 24-0 run in the third quarter and came back from 14 points down to take the lead against Dallas on Saturday, but the league's fourth-ranked defense couldn't stop the backcourt of Trey Burke and Jalen Brunson down the stretch and the Thunder fell to 20-24 in games that were within five points in the last five minutes.

Week 25: vs. LAL, vs. DET, @ MIN

13
Last week:
12

Record: 45-32
Pace: 98.6 (23) OffRtg: 109.3 (17) DefRtg: 105.7 (3) NetRtg: +3.6 (9)

A tough schedule has caught up with the Pacers, who have lost seven of their last eight games, had the worst March record (4-10) among the 18 teams still competing for playoff spots, and now have a losing record (20-21) without Victor Oladipo. Six of the losses on this 1-7 stretch have been within five points in the last five minutes, but their defense has not played to its top-three standards. They allowed the Thunder, Celtics and Magic to score almost 118 points per 100 possessions last week, and Defensive Player of the Year candidate Myles Turner allowed Kyrie Irving to get to the basket for the game-winner on Friday when he abandoned his pick-and-roll coverage too early. The Pacers have lost 10 straight on the road and are 3-11 since Oladipo was lost for the season against the 15 teams that are currently over .500. All four games this week are against that group.

Week 25: vs. DET, @ DET, vs. BOS, vs. BKN

14
Last week:
16

Record: 39-37
Pace: 98.1 (28) OffRtg: 108.5 (20) DefRtg: 108.6 (12) NetRtg: -0.1 (15)

It's the college games that are supposed to have halftime scores in the 30s, but the Pistons had two of them (39 points in Denver on Tuesday, 31 against Portland on Saturday) last week. They had much better second halves both nights, and though their 1-4 trip came to a close with Blake Griffin missing a three for the tie in Denver, they've won 11 straight at home after getting a huge win against Orlando and coming back (without Griffin) against the Blazers. After ranking last in 3-point percentage (33.1 percent) through January, they rank third (38.6 percent) since Feb. 1, despite a 5-for-25 performance on Saturday. Reggie Jackson (43.1 percent) and Wayne Ellington (42.6 percent) rank second and third in pull-up 3-point percentage (among 35 players with at least 50 attempts) over the last two months. The home winning streak includes a win over the Pacers, who they'll face in a home-and-home on Monday and Wednesday. The Pistons' three toughest remaining games are the next three, and both opponents (Indiana and Oklahoma City) have been struggling over the last few weeks.

Week 25: @ IND, vs. IND, @ OKC, vs. CHA

15
Last week:
18

Record: 38-39
Pace: 98.5 (26) OffRtg: 107.3 (23) DefRtg: 107.4 (8) NetRtg: -0.0 (14)

The Magic still lead the league with nine losses after leading by 15 points or more. But if they make the playoffs, their third win after trailing by 15 or more may be the deciding factor. Jonathan Isaac had, perhaps, the best game of his career (19 points on 8-for-13 shooting) as they came down from 17 down (on the second night of a back-to-back) to win in Miami on Tuesday. Bench minutes were more critical in Indiana on Saturday, when the difference was a 28-11 run spanning the third and fourth quarters. Michael Carter-Williams hasn't shot particularly well in his seven games with the Magic, but he was on the floor for that entire run and the team has allowed less than a point per possession in his 119 minutes. They still need help to end the East's longest playoff drought, but they've won eight of their last nine games and have the tiebreaker over the Heat.

Week 25: @ TOR, vs. NYK, vs, ATL, @ BOS

16
Last week:
14

Record: 38-38
Pace: 98.6 (24) OffRtg: 106.9 (25) DefRtg: 107.0 (6) NetRtg: -0.1 (16)

The Heat will finish with a losing record at home, because they blew 17-point lead to Orlando on Tuesday in what was their most important game of the season thus far. It's not a good time for their offense to be struggling; The last five games have been their worst offensive stretch (102.6 points scored per 100 possessions) since the All-Star break. But Goran Dragic (who had shot 4-for-24 in his last three games off the bench) had a triple-double in his first post-break start (and in front of 2,000 Slovenians) on Thursday and the Heat held both Dallas and New York under a point per possession to remain in eighth place with 10 days left in the regular season. They'll play four of their final six games against the top four teams in the East, and they're 2-9 (with six straight losses) against that group so far.

Week 25: @ BOS, vs. BOS, @ MIN, @ TOR

17
Last week:
15

Record: 39-38
Pace: 101.4 (11) OffRtg: 108.7 (19) DefRtg: 109.0 (15) NetRtg: -0.3 (17)

The Nets gave another one away last week, blowing a 10-point, fourth-quarter lead, turning the ball over in the final seconds, and committing a dumb foul at the end of regulation in Portland on Monday. They got a break with Kyrie Irving and Al Horford sitting out the second game of a back-to-back on Saturday, but with that win over the Celtics, the Nets are 8-0 (and the league's only undefeated team) with a rest advantage. They'll have a rest advantage twice more this season: Monday vs. Milwaukee (though the Bucks rested three starters in Atlanta on Sunday) and on the last day of the season vs. Miami. D'Angelo Russell has been running hot (20 third-quarter points vs. Boston) and cold (6-for-19 and seven turnovers in Philly on Thursday), but there have been some signs of progress from Caris LeVert, who has scored in double figures in three straight games (with 18 total free throw attempts) for the first time since returning from his injury.

Week 25: vs. MIL, vs. TOR, @ MIL, @ IND

18
Last week:
17

Record: 38-39
Pace: 104.0 (2) OffRtg: 109.3 (16) DefRtg: 110.0 (18) NetRtg: -0.7 (18)

The Kings are set to be a worse-than-average defensive team (having allowed 0.5 more points per 100 possessions than the league average) for the 13th straight season, but this will be their best defensive season since they last made the playoffs (2005-06). They're one of eight teams that have allowed fewer points per 100 possessions than they did last season (with the league average jumping 1.8 per 100) and have seen the league's biggest improvement in regard to points allowed per possession from pick-and-roll ball-handlers (0.84, down from 0.91 last season), according to Synergy play-type tracking. Their rim protection still needs improvement; They're one of five teams that rank in the bottom 10 in both opponent restricted area field goal percentage (65.2 percent, 25th) and in the percentage of their opponent shots that have come in the restricted area (34.4 percent, 23rd). Their starting bigs of the future - Marvin Bagley and Harry Giles - do have better rim protection numbers than the guys - Nemanja Bjelica and Willie Cauley-Stein that have started most of this season.

Week 25: vs. HOU, vs. CLE, @ UTA, vs. NOP

19
Last week:
21

Record: 35-42
Pace: 103.7 (4) OffRtg: 107.6 (22) DefRtg: 108.9 (13) NetRtg: -1.3 (20)

Defense was generally not the issue for the Lakers, who ranked seventh on that end of the floor (106.3 points allowed per 100 possessions) and second in opponent effective field goal percentage at the point (Jan. 19) when Lonzo Ball was lost for the season. They've ranked 22nd defensively (113.0 allowed per 100) since then (and were 27th over the month-plus after LeBron James' return when the season was really lost), with their opponents having shot better in the paint and more often from 3-point range. JaVale McGee ranks as the league second best rim protector (among players who have defended at least five shots at the rim per game), though the Lakers have been better defensively with him off the floor.

Week 25: @ OKC, vs. GSW, @ LAC, vs. UTA

20
Last week:
20

Record: 34-42
Pace: 101.0 (13) OffRtg: 110.5 (11) DefRtg: 111.9 (23) NetRtg: -1.3 (21)

Over the 6 1/2 weeks in which they had a healthy Robert Covington, the Wolves ranked 11th defensively (107.2 points allowed per 100 possessions). But they're set to be the only team with a bottom-10 defense in each of the last five seasons, because Covington hasn't played since Dec. 31, they've ranked 25th defensively (113.8) since then, and they were even worse (29th, 113.9) before Covington arrived. The Wolves rank 30th in opponent 3-point percentage (38.1 percent) and are in a tight race with the Bucks (who rank No. 1 defensively) to be the first team to allow 1,000 3-pointers in a season. Karl-Anthony Towns has seen a big improvement in his rim protection this season, with opponents shooting 57.2 percent at the rim when he's been there, down from 64.4 percent last season.

Week 25: vs. POR, @ DAL, vs. MIA, vs, OKC

21
Last week:
19

Record: 35-41
Pace: 99.5 (19) OffRtg: 110.2 (13) DefRtg: 111.9 (24) NetRtg: -1.7 (23)

The high from Jeremy Lamb's ridiculous game-winner in Toronto kept the Hornets going for one more game, and they extended their winning streak to four games with an overtime win over the Spurs on Tuesday. But they probably punched their ticket to the Lottery when they allowed the Lakers' 22nd-ranked offense to score 129 points on 97 possessions on Friday. That was L.A.'s best offensive game of the season and the Hornets' second worst defensive game of the season ... until they got destroyed in Oakland on Sunday. This will be their fourth straight season as a better-than-average offensive team, but the Hornets' defense, which will rank in the bottom 10 for the first time since the season of Mike Dunlap, has been a disappointment. Having allowed the Lakers and Warriors to shoot a combined 39-for-71 from 3-point range over the weekend, they're one of three teams that ranks in the bottom 10 in both opponent 3-point percentage (36.2 percent, 22nd) and the percentage of their opponents' shots that have come from 3-point range (37.4 percent, 24th).

Week 25: @ UTA, @ NOP, vs. TOR, @ DET

22
Last week:
22

Record: 32-46
Pace: 102.3 (9) OffRtg: 110.1 (14) DefRtg: 112.6 (26) NetRtg: -2.5 (25)

Even with the proliferation of 3-pointers (the league has already set new records for made and attempted threes), the most important shots on the floor remain those in the restricted area. And the Wizards are the only team that ranks in the bottom five in both opponent restricted area field goal percentage (66.1 percent, 28th) and in the percentage of their opponent shots that have come in the restricted area (35.6 percent, 26th). The 42.6 restricted-area points per game they've allowed are the second most allowed in the 23 years for which we have shot-location data (and the most since the Celtics allowed 45.6 in 1996-97). The same lineup - Tomas Satoransky, Bradley Beal, Trevor Ariza, Jeff Green and Thomas Bryant - that has been the fourth best offensive lineup (115.3 points scored per 100 possessions) among the 40 lineups that have played at least 200 minutes has been the third worst defensive lineup (114.6 allowed per 100) among the same group.

Week 25: vs. CHI, vs. SAS, @ NYK

23
Last week:
23

Record: 28-49
Pace: 104.5 (1) OffRtg: 107.2 (24) DefRtg: 112.5 (25) NetRtg: -5.3 (26)

The league's fastest pace has worked out better for the Hawks' opponents than the Hawks themselves. The Hawks have scored 1.05 points per possession in transition, and transition possessions have accounted for 17.4 percent of their offense. But their opponents have scored 1.15 points per possession in transition, with transition possessions accounting for 17.6 percent of their opponents' offense. That latter number is the league's highest opponent rate and is partially a result of the Hawks having committed a league-high 16.4 turnovers per 100 possessions. Their most-used lineup - Trae Young, Kevin Huerter, Taurean Prince, John Collins and Dewayne Dedmon - allowed 115.8 points per 100 possessions, the worst mark among 40 lineups that have played at least 200 minutes together, though it was much, much better defensively after the All-Star break (101.8 allowed in 120 minutes) than it was prior (124.3 allowed in 204 minutes).

Week 25: @ SAS, vs. PHI, @ ORL, @ MIL

24
Last week:
25

Record: 31-46
Pace: 97.2 (30) OffRtg: 105.1 (27) DefRtg: 107.5 (9) NetRtg: -2.5 (24)

Only the Bucks improved more defensively than the Grizzlies, who have allowed 2.7 fewer points per 100 possessions than they did last season and have had the best defense (104.9 points allowed per 100 possessions) in games played within the Western Conference. The Grizzlies' original starting lineup - Mike Conley, Garrett Temple, Kyle Anderson, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Marc Gasol - allowed just 92.3 points per 100 possessions, the best mark (by a healthy margin) among the 40 lineups that have played at least 200 minutes together this season. And the defense hasn't totally fallen apart with two of those guys - Temple and Gasol - being traded and two more - Anderson and Jackson - having not played since the All-Star break. No team has allowed its opponents to take a greater percentage of their shots from 3-point range, but the Grizz rank third in opponent turnover rate (15.8 per 100 possessions) and have been one of the league's most improved teams in regard to protecting the rim.

Week 25: @ POR, @ DAL, vs. DAL

25
Last week:
24

Record: 30-36
Pace: 103.5 (5) OffRtg: 112.1 (7) DefRtg: 111.2 (22) NetRtg: +0.9 (13)

Last season, the Pelicans ranked sixth defensively after losing DeMarcus Cousins for the season. They have one of the league's best perimeter defenders (Jrue Holiday) and one of its best interior defenders (Anthony Davis), and they allowed just 105.2 points per 100 possessions in 1,437 minutes with both on the floor. But they've had a bottom-10 defense since Week 2, because they've been terrible with one or both off the floor. Only two teams have seen bigger increases from last season in the percentage of their opponents' shots that have come from the restricted area or 3-point range. The first-quarter issues that they've had most of the season (only the Knicks have been worse in the first period) have started with the defense that has allowed 116.8 points per 100 possessions in the opening 12 minutes of games (and has improved with each successive quarter).

Week 25: vs. CHA, @ PHX, @ SAC

26
Last week:
26

Record: 30-46
Pace: 99.5 (20) OffRtg: 108.5 (21) DefRtg: 110.1 (19) NetRtg: -1.7 (22)

The Mavs were a better than average defensive team ... before the All-Star break. But since the break, only the Pacers (+6.4) seen a bigger increase in points allowed per 100 possessions than the Mavs (+6.2), who seemingly let go of the rope on that end of the floor before picking up a pair of spoiler wins (over the Warriors and Thunder) over the last nine days. Of course, it might not be a coincidence that those defensive wins came without Tim Hardaway Jr., who has the league's seventh worst on-court DefRtg mark (the Knicks and Mavs have allowed 114.3 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor) among 288 players who have averaged at least 15 minutes in 40 games or more. The Mavs haven't been quite as good at preventing layups and dunks as they were last season, but they still rank in the top five in that regard (with less than 31 percent of their opponents' shots coming from the restricted area).

Week 25: vs. PHI, vs. MIN, vs. MEM, @ MEM

27
Last week:
27

Record: 21-56
Pace: 99.4 (21) OffRtg: 104.5 (29) DefRtg: 112.6 (27) NetRtg: -8.2 (27)

The Bulls had a top-10 defense over the first three weeks after Jim Boylen took over for Fred Hoiberg. But the new-coach bump was fleeting and the Bulls rank lower defensively under Boylen (27th - 113.6 points allowed per 100 possessions) than they did under Hoiberg (22nd - 110.6). They didn't improve on that end of the floor after trading Jabari Parker and Bobby Portis, but they haven't had Wendell Carter Jr. since mid-January and he's really the key to their defense going forward. The Bulls are in the middle of the pack with 38.0 points per game allowed in the restricted area, but they allowed just 33.6 per 48 minutes with Carter on the floor.

Week 25: @ NYK, @ WAS, vs. PHI

28
Last week:
28

Record: 19-58
Pace: 97.4 (29) OffRtg: 106.8 (26) DefRtg: 116.4 (30) NetRtg: -9.6 (30)

Any optimism about the Cavs' ability to compete this year was centered around the idea that they couldn't get much worse defensively than they were last season, when they ranked 29th in defensive efficiency. But they managed to get much worse defensively, allowing 5.4 more points per 100 possessions than they did last season and 6.9 more than the league average. The latter number makes them the worst defensive team of the last 13 years (since the 2005-06 Sonics allowed 7.8 more points per 100 possessions than the league average). The Cavs rank 30th in opponent field goal percentage in the paint and 29th in opponent effective field goal percentage on shots from outside the paint. And while there has been clear progress with the offensive development of Collin Sexton and Cedi Osman, the Cavs have allowed 118.1 points per 100 possessions with the two on the floor, the worst mark (by a pretty wide margin) among 206 two-man combinations that have played at least 1,000 minutes.

Week 25: @ PHX, @ SAC, @ GSW, vs. SAS

29
Last week:
29

Record: 17-60
Pace: 101.2 (12) OffRtg: 104.9 (28) DefRtg: 113.7 (29) NetRtg: -8.8 (28)

It's a shame that Devin Booker, who had games of 59, 50 and 48 points last week, never gets to play against the Suns, who allowed 120.6 points per 100 possessions (to offenses that rank 15th, 14th and 27th) over those three games. The Suns (who are now 0-4 in the four highest scoring games of Booker's career) are set to rank in the bottom three defensively for the third straight season, unable to keep their opponents away from the rim, off the free throw line, or off the glass. They rank last in the percentage of their opponents' shots that have come from the restricted area (37.7 percent). They rank last in opponent free throw rate (31.8 attempts per 100 shots from the field). And they rank last in both defensive rebounding percentage (68.5 percent) and second-chance points allowed per game (15.3). The defensive rebounding has been better (70.9 percent) with DeAndre Ayton on the floor, though he was on the floor for most of Jonas Valanciunas' 34-point, 20-rebound performance on Saturday.

Week 25: vs. CLE, vs. UTA, vs. NOP, @ HOU

30
Last week:
30

Record: 14-62
Pace: 100.3 (17) OffRtg: 104.1 (30) DefRtg: 113.1 (28) NetRtg: -9.0 (29)

This will be the 12th time in the last 15 seasons that the Knicks rank in the bottom 10 defensively. David Fizdale said last week that his team's defense will be better with better players, but the template for a good defense isn't there yet either. Knicks opponents have taken 72.5 percent of their shots, the league's highest rate, from the restricted area or 3-point range. Kevin Knox has the worst on-court DefRtg mark (the Knicks have allowed 114.9 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor) outside of Cleveland, but there's obvious promise in fellow rookie Mitchell Robinson, who leads the league (by a wide margin) in blocks per 36 minutes (with at least two blocks in 24 straight games). Unfortunately, there were no extended signs of progress (on the other end of the floor) from the guy - Frank Ntilikina - who has shown promise as a great perimeter defender (and has been shut down for the season).

Week 25: vs. CHI, @ ORL, @ HOU, vs. WAS


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