In last week's post-All-Star-break schedule breakdown, the focus in the Western Conference was on the Memphis Grizzlies, the team that had surprised us all by holding the eighth playoff spot in the Western Conference through two thirds of the season. In order to hold onto that spot, the Grizz would have to navigate the league's toughest and most road-heavy post-break schedule.
Well, they're not off to a good start. Not only did the Grizzlies lose their first tough post-break game (against the Lakers on Friday), they lost their first easy one (against the Kings on Thursday). Meanwhile, the New Orleans Pelicans, the 10th-place team with the league's easiest post-break schedule, took care of business against Portland and Golden State.
So just four days into the home stretch, the Western Conference playoff race is a lot tighter than it was before All-Star weekend. The Grizzlies still have a lot to say about how things turn out, but there's a decent chance that we'll have a Lakers-Pelicans, Zion Williamson vs. LeBron James and Anthony Davis, first-round playoff series. If that's the case, we'll get a couple of previews this week, Tuesday in L.A. and Sunday in New Orleans.
Plus-Minus Players of the Week
- Right Way: Giannis Antetokounmpo (MIL) was a plus-64 in two games last week.
- Wrong Way: Jordan Poole (GSW) was a minus-46 in two games last week.
Teams of the Week
- Make It Last Forever: Sacramento (2-0) -- There's still a little bit of life left in the Kings' playoff hopes after wins over the Grizzlies and Clippers.
- Something Just Ain't Right: Washington (0-2) -- The Wizards just didn't want to give up the No. 30 ranking in defensive efficiency, refusing to let the Cavs defend worse than they did on Friday. And then they helped the Bulls end an eight-game losing streak.
East vs. West
- The West is 166-138 (.546) against the East in interconference games after going 4-3 last week.
Schedule strength through Week 18
- Toughest: 1. New Orleans, 2. Sacramento, 3. Philadelphia
- Easiest: 1. Milwaukee, 2. Toronto, 3. Washington
- 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: Houston (+5), Atlanta (+3), New Orleans (+3), Oklahoma City (+3)
- Free falls of the week: Utah (-3), Five teams (-2)
Week 19 Team to Watch
- LA Clippers -- It's not just that the Clippers still aren't finding a rhythm. They've lost three straight games for the first time this season, and the losing streak is just the start of a stretch where they're playing nine of 10 games against teams that are currently at or above .500. That stretch continues with three home games this week: Monday against the eighth-place Grizzlies, Friday against the Nuggets in a game that could be for second place in the West, and Sunday against the Sixers, to whom the Clippers have already lost this season. With Paul George and Patrick Beverley expected back from their injuries, the Clips will also visit the Suns on Wednesday.
- Last week: Lakers return to No. 2 as regular season enters stretch run
- This time last year: Blazers, Nuggets make their move -- The Suns had lost 17 straight games and the Knicks ended an 18-game home losing streak by scoring 130 points against the rodeo-tripping Spurs. Karl-Anthony Towns' streak of 3030 straight games played to start his career came to an end after he suffered a concussion in a car accident. Kawhi Leonard picked DeMar DeRozan's pocket and went the other way for the go-ahead bucket against his former team, Khris Middleton hit a game-winning 3-pointer against the Celtics, and Paul George beat the Jazz in double-OT with a soft shot over Rudy Gobert.
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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 109.6 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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