NBA POWER RANKINGS
1 Brooklyn Nets
Pace: 100.7 (11) OffRtg: 118.0 (1) DefRtg: 113.2 (25) NetRtg: +4.9 (7)
There were bad losses before it, but the real wake-up call for the Nets was a loss in Detroit on Feb. 9 in which they allowed the league’s 24th-ranked offense to score 122 points on just 96 possessions. Since then, they’re 12-1, with the only loss coming without Kyrie Irving. They almost lost to the Pistons again on Saturday (blowing a 12-point, fourth-quarter lead), but James Harden outscored Detroit, 10-4, over the last 2 1/2 minutes. More important may be that the Nets won ugly, with their 100 points on 96 possessions being their least efficient performance in a win this season.
They beat the Celtics on Thursday with another strong finish, holding Boston scoreless over the final 2:55. The Nets started the season 1-4 in games that were within five points in the last five minutes, but are 14-3 in those games since then. Harden (22-for-39, including his time with Houston), Irving (21-for-42) and Kevin Durant (15-for-28) are three of the 10 players who have shot 50% or better on at least 25 clutch shots.
It’s now been more than a month since Durant (who’ll have his hamstring checked out again this week) played. With him, the Nets continue to stagger the minutes of Harden and Irving and, over their 11 games since Durant’s last appearance, the Nets have been equally efficient offensively with only one of Harden or Irving on the floor (120.0 points scored per 100 possessions in 246 total minutes) as they’ve been with both on the floor (119.8 per 100 in 245 minutes).
Week 13: vs. NYK, @ IND, @ ORL, vs. WAS
2 Philadelphia 76ers
Pace: 101.6 (7) OffRtg: 113.0 (12) DefRtg: 108.0 (2) NetRtg: +5.0 (6)
The Sixers have won three of their last four games without Joel Embiid, who suffered a bone bruise in his left knee on Friday. Given the initial look of the injury, the diagnosis was good news, but it will likely have him missing games against the Bucks, Warriors, Lakers and Clippers, and probably a March 30 head-to-head matchup with Nikola Jokic, too. The Sixers’ win over the Spurs on Sunday began a stretch where they’re playing eight of nine against teams with winning records. With Ben Simmons returning from a two-game absence on Sunday, Philly’s other four starters have still played just 97 total minutes without Embiid, and they’ve allowed more than 124 points per 100 possessions in those 97 minutes.
Their five March games have been the Sixers’ best offensive stretch of the season (122.9 points scored per 100 possessions). Seven different Sixers have double-figures this month and one of those is Furkan Korkmaz (15.4 per game), who’s made 16 of his 29 3-point attempts over the five games. Philly still has the league’s ninth biggest 3-point discrepancy (they’ve been outscored by 5.2 points per game from beyond the arc), but their +33 from deep against the Spurs on Sunday was their best differential of the season.
Week 13: vs. NYK, vs. MIL, vs. SAC, @ NYK
3 Phoenix Suns
Pace: 98.1 (26) OffRtg: 114.8 (8) DefRtg: 108.8 (6) NetRtg: +6.0 (3)
The Suns aren’t used to playing from far behind. But they faced double-digit deficits in each of their first two games out of the break. Their bench did its thing (winning its minutes) in Portland on Thursday, sparking a 35-14 stretch that turned an 11-point deficit (late in the third quarter) into a 10-point lead and a six-point win. Over the last couple of weeks, Dario Saric has added some consistent offensive production (15.0 points per game on 57% shooting over the last five) to his plus-minus magic. And on a pair of occasions (one, two) late in that win on Thursday, he was able to take advantage of mismatches when the Blazers blitzed Devin Booker pick-and-rolls.
There was another run to start the fourth quarter on Saturday, but the Suns had buried themselves in too big of a hole (20 points) against the Pacers. Their 111 points on 105 possessions was their worst offensive performance since late January.
Thanks to that bench, the Suns have the best point differential (+2.2 points per game) in the first five minutes of the fourth quarter. And the 111 minutes that they’ve trailed by double-digits is still the league’s lowest total. Their five-game homestand continues this week and concludes with one of their most important games – Sunday against the Lakers – of the second-half schedule.
Week 13: vs. MEM, vs. MIN, vs. MIN, vs. LAL
4 Utah Jazz
Pace: 99.7 (16) OffRtg: 116.4 (4) DefRtg: 108.3 (3) NetRtg: +8.1 (1)
The Jazz are 1-3 in March, with the one win being a lackluster effort against the Rockets on Friday in which they allowed a depleted team that’s lost 16 straight games to cut a 23-point deficit to five midway through the fourth quarter. The other three losses came on the road (where the Jazz are 12-8) and with sub-par defense; They’re three of the 10 games this season in which the Jazz have allowed more than 115 points per 100 possessions.
The Jazz are deep, with one reserve (Jordan Clarkson) the leading candidate for Sixth Man of the Year and another (Joe Ingles) being a guy who started 52 games for them last season. They brought back Derrick Favors to shore up their second-unit defense, but their bench minutes can still hurt them. Rudy Gobert had 24 points, 28 rebounds and four blocks against the Warriors on Sunday, and the Jazz outscored Golden State by 11 points in his 32:28 on the floor. But they were outscored by 23 points (allowing 49 on 33 defensive possessions) in the other 15:32. For the season, the Jazz have been 14.5 points per 100 possessions better with Gobert on the floor (+13.5) than they’ve been with him off the floor (-1.0).
Their five game trip concludes with their final four games in Eastern Conference arenas.
Week 13: @ BOS, @ WAS, @ TOR
5 Los Angeles Lakers
Pace: 98.8 (22) OffRtg: 111.1 (17) DefRtg: 106.0 (1) NetRtg: +5.1 (4)
Anthony Davis is progressing toward a return, but is out at least another two weeks. The Lakers are just 8-7 without him, ranking 23rd offensively over their 4-6 stretch since he last played. Against the Pacers on Friday, they got a big game off the bench from Kyle Kuzma, who scored 12 of his 24 points on a 22-4 run that turned a 12-point, fourth-quarter deficit into a four-point lead, helping the Lakers improve to 10-9 in games they trailed by double-digits. Kuzma looked a little like LeBron James on the fadeaway that tied the game at 88.
Even with Kuzma’s production, it was an ugly win in which the Lakers shot just 7-for-30 (23%) from outside the paint. They’ve been linked to big men in pre-deadline reporting and speculation, but they might be more in need of shooting. They’re 24th in 3-point percentage, with only two of the 106 players (with Kuzma joining Kentavious Caldwell-Pope after shooting 3-for-6 from deep on Friday) who’ve shot the league average or better on at least 100 3-point attempts. (The Jazz and Clippers have eight and seven, respectively.)
Having played just one game in the last 11 days, the Lakers will now play eight over the next 12. They’ll have a rest-advantage is San Francisco on Monday (second game of a back-to-back for the Warriors), but will be at a disadvantage in Phoenix on Sunday. They’re 4-0 in rest-advantage games and 1-2 in rest-disadvantage games thus far.
Week 13: @ GSW, vs. MIN, vs. CHA, vs. ATL, @ PHX
6 Milwaukee Bucks
Pace: 102.0 (3) OffRtg: 117.2 (2) DefRtg: 110.0 (10) NetRtg: +7.2 (2)
The Bucks got their first win in a game they trailed by double-digits, coming back from 12 down in the second quarter to edge the Beal-less Wizards on Saturday. They probably should have been better at taking care of business against a 10-22 team missing its leading scorer, but they did get some needed late-game reps and scored 16 points on 10 clutch possessions. Jrue Holiday did some damage off the dribble – creating a Pat Connaughton 3-pointer and draining a pull-up 3-pointer of his own – and also sneaked behind a ball-watching Russell Westbrook for an important bucket.
Holiday (3.4 minutes of possession, playing 30.8 minutes per game) has had the ball in his hands far less than did Eric Bledsoe last season (4.2, 26.9). He’s also run far fewer pick-and-rolls with Giannis Antetokounmpo (5.3 per 36 minutes on the floor together) than Bledsoe did (8.4). So, while the Bucks already have the league’s sixth most improved offense (having scored 5.3 more points per 100 possessions than they did last season), it seems like there’s more room to grow.
The Bucks have won eight of their last nine games, keeping pace with Philadelphia and Brooklyn at the top of the East. They rank fifth defensively over that stretch, with four of the nine opponents being teams that rank in the top 10 on offense. Four of the their five remaining games against the Sixers and Nets are at home, and the one road game (Wednesday in Philly) comes with a rest advantage (the Sixers are hosting the Knicks on Tuesday) and without Joel Embiid.
Week 13: @ WAS, @ PHI, vs. SAS
7 LA Clippers
Pace: 98.6 (24) OffRtg: 116.7 (3) DefRtg: 111.6 (16) NetRtg: +5.1 (5)
Like last season, the Clippers’ issues can be tied, somewhat, to availability and continuity. But they’ve also lost four of the last seven games in which they’ve had both Paul George and Kawhi Leonard. George has shot just 13-for-48 (27%) from 3-point range over his last six games (though other guys have picked up the slack) and the Clips just haven’t been able to lock down defensively. Last season, they held their opponent under a point per possession in 23 (32%) of their 72 games. This season, they’ve done it in just four (10%) of 40. (The Lakers and Jazz have done it 11 and nine times out of 38 games, respectively.) Occasion No. 4 was a 26-point win over the Warriors on Thursday. But after two days off, there was no stopping the Pelicans, who scored 62 points in the restricted area in a wire-to-wire victory on Sunday.
Was that the wake-up call the Clippers needed or are they just not as good defensively as they were last season? With the trade deadline just 10 days away, now’s as good a time to play two games (Monday and Wednesday) against the league’s best offensive lineup (the Mavs’ starters) and get closer to an answer to that question.
Week 13: @ DAL, @ DAL, vs. CHA
8 Dallas Mavericks
Pace: 98.8 (23) OffRtg: 113.1 (11) DefRtg: 112.9 (24) NetRtg: +0.2 (15)
The Mavs have 10 back-to-backs (tied for third most) in the second-half schedule, and they rested both Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis in the second game of the first of those 10. Without their two leading scores on Thursday, they got off to a slow start and fell just short of coming all the way back from 21 points down in Oklahoma City.
With Doncic and Porzingis, the Mavs won their two more important games of the week, scoring more than 125 points per 100 possessions against the Spurs and Nuggets, even though Doncic shot just 5-for-20 from 3-point range. Porzingis totaled 53 points on 21-for-32 shooting in the two wins, with his seven restricted-area buckets against San Antonio (featuring a baseline-drive and tough finish against super defender Jakob Poeltl) being tied for his second most in 82 career games with the Mavs. Dallas has won nine of the last 10 games in which Porzingis has played and scored 125.6 points per 100 possessions in his 300 minutes on the floor over that stretch.
The Mavs are in the middle of their longest stretch of the second-half schedule without a back-to-back, as the next one isn’t until March 26 and 27. And they’ll have a rest advantage (the opponent is playing the night before) in their first game against both the Clippers and Blazers this week.
Week 13: vs. LAC, vs. LAC, @ POR, @ POR
9 Denver Nuggets
Pace: 97.8 (29) OffRtg: 116.2 (5) DefRtg: 111.4 (15) NetRtg: +4.8 (8)
Jamal Murray went into the All-Star break averaging 28.5 points on 55%/47%/92% shooting splits over his last 12 games. Murray had one of the best dimes of the season in Memphis on Friday, but totaled just 13 points on 5-for-27 shooting (with just one free throw attempt) as the Nuggets split a back-to-back against the Grizzlies and Mavs.
Joel Embiid’s injury opens the door for Nikola Jokic in the MVP race, and his stop against Ja Morant to save the win on Friday helps the argument that he’s more than a one-way player. (Opponents have still shot 66.4% at the rim when he’s been there to protect it and that ranks as the worst rim-protection mark among 34 players who’ve defended at least five shots at the rim per game.)
But the Nuggets’ All-Star needs help in regard to the “team success” component of the race. The schedule can help in that regard, and the Nuggets will now play seven of their next eight games against teams that currently have losing records, with the lone exception being their game against the 19-18 Hornets on Wednesday. The Nuggets are 11-6 against those bottom 14 teams thus far, and they no longer have to play the two teams – Sacramento and Washington – responsible for five of those six losses.
Week 13: vs. IND, vs. CHA, vs. CHI, vs. NOP
10 Boston Celtics
Pace: 99.0 (20) OffRtg: 113.0 (13) DefRtg: 111.8 (17) NetRtg: +1.1 (9)
With Marcus Smart back, the Celtics’ rotation should look relatively normal soon. Smart has been coming off the bench, but in the second half in Houston on Sunday, Brad Stevens finally went away from the two-center lineup, starting Semi Ojeleye instead of Daniel Theis, who didn’t see the floor after the first six minutes of the first quarter. With Robert Williams remaining a per-minute star off the bench (17.1 points on 72% shooting, 13.6 rebounds and 4.6 blocks per 36 since being added to the rotation a month ago), Theis could be the odd man out, though small-sample-size numbers favor Theis (+43 in 85 minutes) over Williams (-23 in 20 minutes) and Tristan Thompson (+0 in 58 minutes) as the lone center alongside Kemba Walker, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum thus far.
The Celtics hung around with the Nets for 46 minutes on Thursday, but couldn’t close the deal. They’re now 0-4 against Philadelphia and Brooklyn, having allowed 123.5 points per 100 possessions over the four games. Their worst defensive game of the season (122 points allowed on 91 possessions) came in Utah last month, and the Jazz are in Boston on Tuesday. After that is a series of games that could allow for some lineup experimentation.
Week 13: vs. UTA, @ CLE, vs. SAC, vs. ORL
11 Miami Heat
Pace: 98.3 (25) OffRtg: 107.6 (25) DefRtg: 108.6 (5) NetRtg: -0.9 (22)
The Heat are still just 11th in the East in point differential (-0.8 points per game), but they’ve climbed from 11th to fourth in the standings by winning 10 of their last 11 games. Over the last 3 1/2 weeks, the Miami defense ranks in the top five in opponent effective field goal percentage (third), opponent free throw rate (fourth) and opponent turnover rate (second). As they’ve won their last four games without Bam Adebayo, their opponents have shot just 45% in the paint and Jimmy Butler has totaled 15 steals.
Butler’s usage rate in March (30.2%) is also higher than it was in any month or playoff series last year. And though he’s shot 5-for-19 from outside the paint, his true shooting percentage (67.0%) ranks 10th among 84 players with at least 50 field goal attempts this month. He remains a marvel, one of the league’s best perimeter players, though he’s one of the worst at shooting from the perimeter.
This 10-1 stretch includes wins over the Lakers (without Anthony Davis and Dennis Schroder) and Jazz, but it’s otherwise been a very soft stretch of schedule. And it remains so for another week.
Week 13: vs. CLE, @ MEM, vs. IND, vs. IND
12 Portland Trail Blazers
Pace: 98.9 (21) OffRtg: 115.8 (6) DefRtg: 116.3 (29) NetRtg: -0.5 (20)
Carmelo Anthony continues to have big games off the bench, Enes Kanter continues to grab offensive rebounds, and Damian Lillard continues to be Damian Lillard. Robert Covington (10-for-17 from 3-point range since the break) is on a hot streak. But the Blazers are splitting two-game series with the Timberwolves (with both games going down to the wire) because they can’t get stops. They ranked 28th defensively before the break and they rank 30th defensively since the break, having allowed almost 123 points per 100 possessions over three games.
The Portland starting lineup (though it gave up a lob dunk five seconds into their loss to Phoenix on Thursday) has been solid enough defensively. But the Blazers have allowed 258 points on 199 defensive possessions (130 per 100) with at least one reserve on the floor over the break. With Kanter their only center, the Blazers just don’t have any rim protection, an issue that Minnesota exploited for 46 buckets in the restricted area over the weekend. The second quarter on Sunday was just a parade to the rim. And now the Blazers play two games against the guy setting a record for most points per game in the restricted area.
Week 13: vs. NOP, vs. NOP, vs. DAL, vs. DAL
13 Golden State Warriors
Pace: 103.7 (2) OffRtg: 109.3 (21) DefRtg: 109.2 (7) NetRtg: +0.1 (16)
The Warriors haven’t played well against other good teams and have a tendency to lose spectacularly. Only the Cavs (7) have trailed more games by 30 or more points than the Warriors (6), who were down 39 to the Clippers at one point on Thursday. After that loss, the Dubs were 3-12 against the top nine teams in the league, having scored a paltry 101.4 points per 100 possessions in those 15 games. The five-game stretch that included four games against that top group and ended Thursday was the Warriors’ worst five-game stretch of offense (exactly one point per possession) of the season.
But they broke out against the league’s third-ranked defense on Sunday, scoring 131 points on 104 possessions in a double-digit win over the Jazz. It was both the third most efficient game of the season for the Warriors and the third most efficient game any team has had against the Jazz. Stephen Curry scored an efficient 32 points on his 33rd birthday, Draymond Green’s 12 assists came with just one turnover, and the Warriors were just good enough offensively with their stars off the floor. In three games since returning from the G League, Jordan Poole has averaged 19.3 points on an effective field goal percentage of 70%.
After they host the Lakers on Monday, the Warriors’ schedule gets easier. Starting with their visit to Houston on Wednesday, eight of their next 10 games will be against teams that currently have losing records. The two most important games in that stretch are a two-game series in Memphis on Friday and Saturday.
Week 13: vs. LAL, @ HOU, @ MEM, @ MEM
14 San Antonio Spurs
Pace: 100.2 (14) OffRtg: 109.5 (20) DefRtg: 109.8 (9) NetRtg: -0.3 (19)
After 5 1/2 seasons, the LaMarcus Aldridge era in San Antonio is over, though it’s yet to be determined if the official ending will come via trade or buyout. The Spurs won three playoff series with Aldridge, reaching the 2017 conference finals, where Kawhi Leonard went down with a nasty ankle injury in Game 1. But in the last two seasons, the on-off numbers got ugly. And this season, the Spurs have been 11 points per 100 possessions better in 611 minutes with DeMar DeRozan on the floor without Aldridge (+2.8) than they’ve been in 408 minutes with the two vets on the floor together (-9.2).
With DeRozan missing the last two games to attend his father’s funeral, the Spurs’ post-Aldridge starting lineup – Dejounte Murray, Derrick White, DeRozan, Keldon Johnson and Jakob Poeltl – has played just 65 total minutes. The lineup with Trey Lyles in DeRozan’s place scored just 28 points on 36 possessions over the weekend as the Spurs split games against the Magic and Sixers. The Spurs may be moving on from the 35-year-old Aldridge, but three other guys on the other side of 30 – DeRozan, Rudy Gay and Patty Mills – remain critical to their success.
Week 13: @ DET, @ CHI, @ CLE, @ MIL
15 Charlotte Hornets
Pace: 100.9 (9) OffRtg: 111.2 (15) DefRtg: 111.3 (14) NetRtg: -0.1 (18)
The Hornets are healthy and Devonte’ Graham is the guy who came off the bench (after starting his first 25 games) so that LaMelo Ball could keep his starting job. So far, so good. In two games off the bench, Graham had 10 assists and just one turnover. And the Hornets’ starting lineup outscored the Pistons and Raptors by 34 points in 23 minutes last week, with most of that damage (+21) being done in the first quarter on Saturday, when Charlotte shot 11-for-16 from 3-point range.
The win over Detroit came with more late-game hot shooting (3-for-4 on clutch 3s), mostly from Terry Rozier. The Hornets closed that game with their starters (and a couple of defensive subs), but we did see some of the three guards playing together at the end of the first half (a la Oklahoma City last season) on Saturday. The Hornets have outscored their opponents by more than 20 points per 100 possessions in 103 total minutes with Ball, Graham and Rozier on the floor together.
It was critical to bank those two wins, especially the victory over the shorthanded Raptors. After the Hornets host the Kings on Monday, they’ll play 11 of their next 13 games on the road and 13 of their next 19 against the other 15 teams currently over .500. They’re 7-9 (tied with Boston for the fewest games played) within that group thus far.
Week 13: vs. SAC, @ DEN, @ LAL @ LAC
16 Memphis Grizzlies
Pace: 101.1 (8) OffRtg: 110.5 (19) DefRtg: 109.5 (8) NetRtg: +1.0 (11)
As the Grizzlies have hovered around .500 for the last five weeks, they’ve generally taken care of business against teams below them in the standings. On Sunday, they had an opportunity to get back above .500 with a rest-advantage game in Oklahoma City. But they blew a 12-point, fourth-quarter lead, allowing the Thunder to score 38 points on their final 25 possessions. Shooting from distance remains an issue, but with 62 points in the paint and another 21 at the line, the Grizz probably shouldn’t have lost to the team with the league’s 28th-ranked offense. It was the most efficient offensive performance (122 points on 103 possessions) they’ve had in a loss.
The Grizz haven’t played a lot of close games; Only 15 of their 35 (the league’s sixth lowest rate) have been within five points in the last five minutes. But they’ve lost four of their last five that were within five in the last five, having allowed their opponents to score 45 points on 32 clutch possessions. Brandon Clarke got a big block on Nikola Jokic on Saturday, but not before the Nuggets scored 11 points on their previous five possessions. And with a chance to win the game in the final seconds, Ja Morant didn’t get the call he was seeking.
The Grizz will now play seven of their next eight games against teams with winning records, with the only exception being another visit to Oklahoma City.
Week 13: @ PHX, vs. MIA, vs. GSW, vs. GSW
17 New York Knicks
Pace: 96.7 (30) OffRtg: 108.8 (23) DefRtg: 108.6 (4) NetRtg: +0.2 (14)
The Knicks got thumped in Milwaukee on Thursday, but one of the best stretches of RJ Barrett’s career continued through the break. Barrett has averaged 21 points on 58% shooting (including 14-for-25 from 3-point range) over the last seven games, scoring a career-high 32 in a win in Oklahoma City on Saturday afternoon. Barrett has seen improvement in his finishing in the restricted area (from 53.4% last season to 56.0% this season) and in his 3-point shooting (from 32.0% to 35.9%), but where he’s made the biggest leap is in his shooting in between. His 38.1% on non-restricted-area 2s is still below the league average (42.1%), but is a big jump from his 27.4% (the third worst mark among 184 players with at least 200 attempts) as a rookie.
With Elfrid Payton and Derrick Rose both out, and with starting point guard Frank Ntilikina playing just seven minutes on Saturday, Barrett played a season-high 23 minutes alongside Immanuel Quickley. The Knicks have outscored their opponents by 5.9 points per 100 possessions in their 243 minutes together. Quickley still hasn’t started a game, but he started the second half in Oklahoma City, so maybe there are more of those minutes coming.
The Knicks haven’t had a real quality win since they beat the Blazers on Feb. 6. They’ll need to get at least one this week if they’re going to remain over .500. They’re 0-2 against Brooklyn and Philly thus far.
Week 13: @ BKN, @ PHI, vs. ORL, vs. PHI\
18 Atlanta Hawks
Pace: 99.0 (19) OffRtg: 113.1 (10) DefRtg: 112.1 (22) NetRtg: +1.0 (10)
The Hawks are 5-0 under Nate McMillan, even though they’ve trailed three of the five games by 14 points or more. On Saturday, they rebounded from an ugly first quarter to outscore the Kings, 76-48, over the next 24 minutes. And in the other four games, they’ve won the fourth quarter by a total score of 136-78, shooting 23-for-42 (55%) from 3-point range and 29-for-31 (94%) from the free throw line. The highlight, of course, was Tony Snell’s buzzer-beating game-winner in Tampa on Thursday, with credit to Kevin Huerter for the timely cut that drew Norman Powell into the paint. Snell is 36-for-63 (57%) on catch-and-shoot 3-pointers, the best mark among 229 players who’ve attempted at least 50.
Danilo Gallinari is also starting to find a rhythm, even though he’s been in and out of the starting lineup, starting at “center” in two games that Clint Capela has missed. Gallinari has averaged 19.5 points on 49% shooting over the last four games, and the Hawks have outscored their opponents by almost 24 points per 100 possessions in his 151 minutes over the five-game winning streak.
Games against the Rockets and Thunder this week give the Hawks a real opportunity to surpass last season’s win total (20) and climb over .500 for the first time since they were 10-9 on Feb. 1. But then we see just how real this improvement under McMillan is. Their game against the Lakers on Saturday is the start of an eight-game trip through the Western Conference in which six of the eight opponents are teams with winning records.
Week 13: @ HOU, vs. OKC, @ LAL
19 Indiana Pacers
Pace: 100.5 (12) OffRtg: 110.8 (18) DefRtg: 110.5 (12) NetRtg: +0.2 (13)
Caris LeVert shot just 5-for-14 in Phoenix on Saturday, but the Pacers are 1-0 with their new two guard. Coming off the bench for the first time in more than a month, Doug McDermott scored 22 points (with six assists from Domantas Sabonis) in just 26 minutes and, after McDermott replaced LeVert midway through the third quarter, the Pacers’ old starting lineup went on a 18-3 run to take control of the game.
LeVert seems to be a rhythm player; When he’s had long absences before, it’s taken some time for him to find his touch. But more playmaking in the lineup should give the Pacers a higher ceiling and a closing lineup of Malcolm Brogdon, LeVert, McDermott, T.J. Warren (not expected back any time soon) and Sabonis could be pretty potent. The Pacers rank last in clutch offense, having scored less than 96 points per 100 possessions with the score within five points in the last five minute of the fourth quarter or overtime. They blew a 12-point, fourth-quarter lead in L.A. on Friday, shooting 1-for-8, turning the ball over four times, and scoring just four points on 11 clutch possessions.
Getting that win a night later in Phoenix was huge, because the Pacers’ tough start to the second-half schedule continues this week. They’re playing their first seven (and 11 of their first 13) post-break games against teams with winning records, with some of the teams in front of them in the East – Miami, Charlotte and Atlanta – having already shown improvement.
Week 13: @ DEN, vs. BKN, @ MIA, @ MIA
20 Oklahoma City Thunder
Pace: 100.5 (13) OffRtg: 105.0 (28) DefRtg: 110.5 (11) NetRtg: -5.5 (26)
Gather ’round, kids. It’s time for another G League success story. Through Feb. 1, Aleksej Pokusevski had shot 25% (with 93 field goal attempts and not a single trip to the free throw line) and the Thunder had been outscored by 12.8 points per 100 possessions in his 296 minutes on the floor. Then he spent a month in the G League bubble and, though he didn’t shoot much better there, he came back looking more comfortable, and he helped their Thunder win two of their three games last week.
With Darius Bazley out, Pokusevski got his first three starts and his first two “clutch time” appearances. Against Dallas on Thursday, he scored a career-high 14 points (with four free throws!), shut down a Jalen Brunson drive with the Thunder up four in the closing minutes, and then hit a huge corner 3-pointer with less than a minute to go. And against Memphis on Sunday, he set a new career high with 23 points (more than he had in any of his 13 G League games), shooting 5-for-8 from 3-point range and getting to the line for another four free throws. His behind-the-back pass to a rolling Al Horford against the Knicks on Saturday didn’t lead to a bucket, but it was a glimpse of his gumption.
The Thunder are still four games in the loss column behind the 10th-place Grizzlies, but they remain dangerous and all four games on their road trip that begins Tuesday are against teams with losing records.
Week 13: @ CHI, @ ATL, @ HOU
21 New Orleans Pelicans
Pace: 99.3 (18) OffRtg: 115.8 (7) DefRtg: 115.8 (28) NetRtg: -0.0 (17)
The Pelicans laid an egg in their first game out of the break, getting thumped at home by a team (the Wolves) that had lost nine straight. Their defense remained slow-footed and they couldn’t figure out how to deal with an opposing defense that ignored their guards. With a relatively tough second-half schedule, the Pels couldn’t afford to lose to one of the worst teams in the league. But they did … by 30 points.
And then they seemingly found some urgency, taking care of business against the Cavs on Friday and shredding the Clippers in a wire-to-wire, 20-point win on Sunday. Paul George and Kawhi Leonard both played and it was the most efficient game (135 points on 102 possessions) that any team has had against the Clippers this season. (Yes, more efficient than the Mavs’ 51-point win the day after George celebrated Christmas).
And now we see if the Pels can make a real run or if Sunday was just another quality win that they can’t follow up on. It began a stretch of eight straight games against teams with winning records.
Week 13: @ POR, @ POR, @ DEN
22 Chicago Bulls
Pace: 101.7 (6) OffRtg: 111.1 (16) DefRtg: 111.9 (19) NetRtg: -0.8 (21)
Just as it was about to cross the 100-minute threshold, Billy Donovan gave up on a starting lineup that was really struggling offensively. At the start of the Bulls’ game against Toronto on Sunday, Coby White and Wendell Carter Jr. were on the bench, while Tomas Satoransky and Thaddeus Young were on the floor. The new lineup was outscored by seven points in its 11 minutes, but the Bulls had their best defensive game of the season, holding the depleted Raptors to just 95 points on 103 possessions. The best offensive performance (23 points on 9-for-14 shooting) came from somebody – Patrick Williams – who wasn’t involved in the lineup change, but the rookie was assisted four times (all dunks or layups) by Young (a.k.a. Thadgic Johnson).
Lauri Markkanen shot 11-for-17 from 3-point range in in his first two games back from a 13-game absence, benefiting from some good finds by both Carter and Zach LaVine against Miami. Consistency has been an issue and his 43 points on Thursday and Friday came without a single free throw, but Markkanen has seen the league’s second biggest jump in effective field goal percentage (from 51.7% to 62.6%) among 186 players with at least 200 field goal attempts in each of the last two seasons. Young (from 51.3% to 61.0%) and LaVine (from 52.6% to 61.4%) have seen the seventh and 11th biggest jumps, respectively.
With the win over Toronto putting the Bulls back into play-in position (10th place) in the East, they’ll play eight of their next 10 games against the West
Week 13: vs. OKC, vs. SAS, @ DEN, @ DET
23 Toronto Raptors
Pace: 100.1 (15) OffRtg: 112.4 (14) DefRtg: 111.9 (20) NetRtg: +0.5 (12)
The Play-In Tournament offers salvation for a team that’s been hurt by COVID-related absences as much as the Raptors have. And the Heat have just shown us how quickly a team can climb from where Toronto is right now (11th place) into the top five in the East. But in regard to climbing the standings, the Raptors just lost three of their most important games in the second half schedule, blowing a seven point lead with less than a minute to go against Atlanta, and then shooting 38% against in Charlotte and Chicago. They should get some bodies back this week, but there’s no getting those games back, and the Raptors have just five remaining against the five teams between them and sixth place in the East.
The Raps have thrown a lot of stuff at the wall over the five games in which they’ve been without Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby and Pascal Siakam; Henry Ellenson returned to the NBA after a 14-month absence over the weekend. But if the Raps aren’t winning Kyle Lowry’s minutes then they’re probably not winning. And over the five games, they’ve been outscored by 16.6 points per 100 possessions in Lowry’s 181 minutes on the floor. Amazingly, at five games below .500, they still have a positive point differential (they’ve outscored their opponents by 17 points) for the season.
Week 13: @ DET, vs. UTA, @ CLE
24 Washington Wizards
Pace: 104.8 (1) OffRtg: 109.0 (22) DefRtg: 113.8 (27) NetRtg: -4.8 (24)
With a pair of top-10 picks from the last two drafts, the Wizards are in development mode. And Saturday was a great day for development, with Rui Hachimura scoring a season-high 29 points – in a variety of ways and with both skill and strength – against the Bucks. Playing without Bradley Beal (knee soreness), the Wizards almost beat one of the best teams in the league. Deni Avdija didn’t exactly break out like Hachimura, but he did look a degree more aggressive in his first game out of the break, scoring 13 points in 24 minutes in Memphis. He still ranks just 248th in usage rate (12.0%) among 269 players who’ve played at least 500 minutes.
With a backcourt making more than $70 million, the Wizards are also in win-now mode. And having lost five of their last six games, they’re three games out of 10th place in the East. They’ve scored just 105.2 points per 100 possessions over the six games, with one issue being a lack of offensive rebounds. The league average is about 13 second chance points per game, and the Wiz have totaled just 18 in their three games since the break, not because they’ve shot particularly well.
Week 13: vs. MIL, vs. SAC, vs. UTA, @ BKN
25 Sacramento Kings
Pace: 100.7 (10) OffRtg: 113.6 (9) DefRtg: 118.8 (30) NetRtg: -5.2 (25)
The Kings’ bench issues hit a new low on Saturday in Atlanta, when they outscored the Hawks by nine points in a little less than 20 minutes with their two most-used lineups on the floor … and lost by 15. In those other 28-plus minutes, they allowed the Hawks to score 78 points on 56 possessions (139 per 100).
Despite Marvin Bagley’s, ahem, defensive issues, the Kings’ starting lineup (the second most-used lineup in the league) has outscored opponents by 6.6 points per 100 possessions (and by 19.3 per 100 over their last six games). Their lineup with Tyrese Haliburton in Bagley’s place is a plus-18.8 per 100 in its 160 minutes. And the Kings are 15-23 with a worse point differential than the Pistons. Richaun Holmes can’t play 48 minutes a night and the Kings have been outscored by 18.4 per 100 in 400 total minutes when Bagley has played alongside somebody else in the frontcourt.
Having picked up an easy win over the depleted Rockets on Thursday, the Kings have a better record in the Western Conference (8-11) than they do against the East (7-12). They have five more games left on their six-game trip, with a tough, Boston-Philly back-to-back on Friday and Saturday.
Week 13: @ CHA, @ WAS, @ BOS, @ PHI
26 Detroit Pistons
Pace: 97.9 (28) OffRtg: 108.1 (24) DefRtg: 111.9 (18) NetRtg: -3.8 (23)
Appropriately, trade season began with a deal between the two teams that had already overhauled their rosters less than four months ago. With Svi Mykhailiuk gone, Sekou Doumbouya (who played less than nine total minutes in the first two games out of the break) is the only player left from last season’s Pistons. Hamidou Diallo is a year younger than Mykhailiuk, but also a restricted free agent this summer. He is only 12-for-41 (29%) from 3-point range this season, but he’s seen the second biggest jump in free throw rate (from 21.3 to 44.4 attempts per 100 shots from the field) among 186 players with at least 200 field goal attempts in each of the last two seasons, and that 44.4 ranks 11th among 213 players with at least 200 field goal attempts this season. With this year’s Thunder, he’s obviously been given more license in the offense, and he’s certainly got more punch off the dribble than Detroit was getting from Mykhailiuk.
Appropriately, the Pistons came out of the break with two more losses in games that were within five points in the last five minutes, pushing their league-leading total to 17. Overall, they’ve been a better defensively than offensively, but they rank 29th in clutch defense (122.2 points allowed per 100 possessions), having allowed Charlotte and Brooklyn to score 31 points on 20 clutch possessions on Thursday and Saturday. The Pistons’ 3-17 (.150) record in games that were within five in the last five would be the worst clutch record in the 25 years for which we have play-by-play data, with the current low mark behind held by the 1997-98 Nuggets (5-24, .172).
Week 13: vs. SAS, vs. TOR, @ HOU, vs. CHI
27 Cleveland Cavaliers
Pace: 98.1 (27) OffRtg: 104.0 (30) DefRtg: 112.6 (23) NetRtg: -8.6 (30)
For Kevin Love’s comeback from a calf injury, even baby steps might be too big. Love returned from a two-and-a-half-month absence on Friday, made his first shot, struggled to defend Zion Williamson, and logged 10 minutes. Two nights later, he asked out of the Cavs’ game in Atlanta after two minutes, saying that he didn’t feel right. The Cavs don’t have a great shot at making the play-in games and it would be even more difficult for them to trade Love’s contract (which has two more years on it), even if he’s playing. So there’s no real urgency in regard to his return, but it would still be nice for him to feel healthy again.
Larry Nance Jr. also made his return this weekend, so a lineup of Darius Garland, Collin Sexton, Isaac Okoro, Nance and Jarrett Allen could finally get some extended run in the next few weeks. It played a little less than 13 minutes after Love exited on Sunday, but scored just 16 points on 24 offensive possessions, shooting 1-for-12 from 3-point range and 5-for-12 from the line.
Week 13: @ MIA, vs. BOS, vs. SAS, vs. TOR
28 Orlando Magic
Pace: 99.5 (17) OffRtg: 104.9 (29) DefRtg: 112.0 (21) NetRtg: -7.1 (29)
Four of the Magic’s five March games, including two against the red-hot Heat, have been within five points in the last five minutes. But they’ve shot just 4-for-24 in the clutch this month, with the low point probably whatever it was Dwayne Bacon (0-for-7 on clutch shots this month) was doing with 11 seconds left on Sunday. So, while the Heat have won 10 of their last 11, the Magic have an eight-game losing streak, their longest since Dec. 2017.
Terrence Ross returned from a two-game absence on Sunday and combined with Nikola Vucevic to shoot 14-for-26 from 3-point range (along with 5-for-9 from mid-range). And the Magic still scored just a point per possession (97 on 97), getting a whole lot of nothin’ from everybody else. Aaron Gordon returned from a 15-game absence on Thursday, but played just 14 minutes and then was held out of games on Friday and Sunday.
Chuma Okeke has been a part of the no-offense supporting cast, but he got his first two career starts over the weekend, he leads the team with 3.1 deflections per 36 minutes, and the Magic have allowed just 103.3 points per 100 possessions in his 419 minutes since he became a permanent part of the rotation. Some Okeke-Gordon minutes (of which we’ve zero thus far) could be an experiment to look forward to.
Week 13: @ NYK, vs. BKN, @ BOS
29 Minnesota Timberwolves
Pace: 101.9 (5) OffRtg: 106.4 (26) DefRtg: 113.4 (26) NetRtg: -7.0 (28)
Chris Finch’s 0-5 record in his first nine days as Wolves head coach came with the context that he arrived from Toronto in the middle of a road trip. The All-Star break provided the opportunity for a reset, and the Wolves came out of the break winning two of their first three games, by far their best three-game stretch of offense (more than 123 points scored per 100 possessions) of the season. Of course, that number comes with the context that the three games were against teams (the Pelicans and Blazers) that rank 28th and 29th defensively. The Wolves will now play three games against defenses (those of the Lakers and Suns) that rank first and sixth, so stay tuned.
Still, there were encouraging signs up and down the roster, starting with Anthony Edwards, who averaged 27.3 points over the three games, mixing 11 3-pointers (on 26 attempts) in with more highlight dunks. Edwards was playing so well on Sunday, Karl-Anthony Towns let the rookie do his thing down the stretch.
Second-year guard Jaylen Nowell also busted out, scoring a career-high 28 points in New Orleans, and following that up with 31 over two games against Portland. With D’Angelo Russell and Jordan McLaughlin out, Nowell was the back-up point guard and shot 8-for-9 on pull-up 3-pointers over the three games, looking comfortable shooting off the dribble in either direction (left or right).
Week 13: @ LAL, @ PHX, @ PHX
30 Houston Rockets
Pace: 102.0 (4) OffRtg: 105.1 (27) DefRtg: 110.9 (13) NetRtg: -5.8 (27)
The Rockets could get Christian Wood (who’s missed the last 16 games), John Wall (who’s missed all three since the break) and Danuel House (who’s missed the last four) back this week. The last Rockets’ win was the last game that Wood played and, even after the James Harden trade, Houston outscored its opponents by 14.6 points per 100 possessions in Wood’s 268 minutes on the floor.
But before those guys were able to put their uniforms back on, the Rockets lost Eric Gordon (groin strain) for 4-6 weeks. In addition to being decimated by injuries, they have a healthy starter (P.J. Tucker) not playing as he awaits a trade. And the centerpiece of the Harden trade was a guy (Victor Oladipo) who isn’t playing both games of back-to-backs (and they have three more of those in the next 13 days). So there’s an element of self-infliction in this 16-game losing streak.
None of the last nine losses (though three have come against the Cavs and Kings) have been within five points in the last five minutes, but Kevin Porter Jr. did provide a bright spot on Friday, scoring 27 points against the Jazz in just his second NBA game in the last year. He also dished out 25 assists over three games last week, with the best of the bunch being a pick-and-roll pocket pass to Justin Patton in Utah.
Week 13: vs. ATL, vs. GSW, vs. DET, vs. OKC