NBA POWER RANKINGS
- Golden State Warriors (10-37)
Last Week: 30 (-)
Last Week’s Games: Magic (W, 109-95), @Trail Blazers (L, 124-129 OT), Jazz (L, 96-129), Pacers (L, 118-129)
Next Week’s Games: @76ers, @Celtics
D’Angelo Russell (26 points, 12 assists), Jordan Poole (21 points), and Eric Paschall (20 points, 9 rebounds) led the Warriors to a win over the Magic to start the week. Another win almost came in Portland, but Damian Lillard’s 61-point night was enough to spoil near triple-doubles from Russell (27 points, 9 assists, 8 boards) and Alec Burks (33 points, 8 assists, 7 boards) and a double-double from Paschall (22 points, 13 boards). Russell – 26 points – was the only Warrior to top 11 in a blowout loss to the Jazz. He also put up 37 against the Pacers in another game that wasn’t all that close. All year, there’s been talk of a potential Russell trade, but it just doesn’t make sense for the Warriors to give him up before they see him next to Steph Curry and Klay Thompson. Russell is now averaging 24 points and 6 assists per game on the year, while shooting 37.6% from deep. In seven January games, he’s put up 26 and 7 on 41.3% from three. Those aren’t numbers that you give up on before he runs with your core for a little while. Another observation – Draymond Green has been pretty awful offensively without Steph and Klay, He’s never been a terrific offensive player, but he’s shooting 38.4% from the floor and producing negative offensive win shares. His Defensive Player Of the Year campaign has also fallen by the wayside. It’s not fully his fault – every great defender has a bunch of really good ones around them (and Green doesn’t this year) – but the man who has claimed to be “the greatest defender ever” is really struggling.
- Atlanta Hawks (11-35)
Last Week: 29 (-)
Last Week’s Games: Pistons (L, 103-136), Raptors (L, 117-122), Clippers (W, 102-95), @Thunder (L, 111-140)
Next Week’s Games: Wizards, @Raptors, 76ers
The Hawks lost every quarter by at least 6 points…in a home game against the Pistons. That’s not great, though Atlanta did recover nicely to play well against the Raptors. Toronto held on late, but Trae Young (42 points, 15 assists, 6 boards), John Collins (17 points, 11 boards), and De’Andre Hunter and Cam Reddish (26 points, 14 boards combined) helped their team give the Raptors all they could handle. Collins (33 points, 16 boards) was the difference in a battle of teams without their stars (no Young for the Hawks and no Kawhi or Paul George for the Clippers). The week ended with an unfortunate trip to Oklahoma City. Young returned with 26 points and 16 assists and Collins/Reddish combined for 48 points and 12 boards, but the Thunder ran away with it without any difficulty. The Hawks are a terrible basketball team. They’re 11-35, getting outscored by a league-worst 9.7 points per game, 29th in offensive rating, and 27th in defensive rating. That said, Young absolutely deserves to be an All-Star starter. He’s averaging 29.1 points, 8.8 assists, and 4.6 rebounds per game on 37% from three. Young, and fellow star sophomore Luka Doncic, would have the 13th and 14th seasons in league history with averages of 29, 8, and 4 or more over a full season if they can keep their numbers up. Oscar Robertson (7), James Harden (2), Russell Westbrook, LeBron James, and Michael Jordan are the only other players to have accomplished that feat, and Young’s three-point percentage would slightly edge out Harden for the best of that bunch (no three-point line for Robertson). Now, granted, Young’s counting stats are near the bottom of the group – 29.1 (T-12th), 8.8 (T-11th), and 4.6 (14th). But at 21, he would also be the second-youngest member – Doncic is 20 – and to be at the bottom of a group featuring Oscar, Harden, Russ, LeBron, and MJ is still to be in a group featuring Oscar, Harden, Russ, LeBron, and MJ. They’re really not empty numbers either; the Hawks are 7 points better per 100 possessions with Young on the floor despite his defensive flaws. He’s carrying an otherwise pathetic offense. Young has his issues, but considering what he has around him, he’s doing alright for a 6’1” 21 year old.
- Cleveland Cavaliers (12-34)
Last Week: 28 (-)
Last Week’s Games: @Bulls (L, 116-118), Knicks (L, 86-106), Wizards (L, 112-124), Bulls (L, 106-118)
Next Week’s Games: @Pistons, Pelicans, Raptors
The Cavs blew a huge lead late in Chicago, as the Bulls won the fourth quarter 31-14 on the way to their close win. A home game against the Knicks was not as close, as New York ran away with it in the third quarter (30-14 Knicks). Cleveland then lost to the Wizards, who were up pretty much the whole way, before losing to the Bulls again after dropping the third quarter 19-40. Losing four in a row to bottom ten teams is never a good result, but the Cavs will keep the 28 spot for another week because the Hawks and Warriors didn’t do enough to jump them. Unfortunately for Cleveland, the same cannot be said for their net rating, which has fallen to dead last in the league. The Cavs just aren’t good. Here is a list of some of the things that Cleveland ranks 20th or worse in – offense, defense, field goal percentage, opponent field goal percentage, three-point percentage, opponent three-point percentage, effective field goal percentage, opponent effective field goal percentage, free throw percentage, free throw attempt rate, defensive and total rebounds per game, assists per game, turnovers per game, steals per game, blocks per game, points off turnovers, opponent points off turnovers, fast-break points, opponent fast-break points, opponent points in the paint, and opponent assists per game.
Yikes. The only strong suit of this team is their ability to avoid fouls (a John Beilein staple), as they foul less than everyone but the Magic. I’ll also give props to the Cavs for being respectable on the offensive boards. It might not seem like it, but there are some bright spots here. Colin Sexton (22.5 points, 3.3 assists, 4.5 rebounds per game this week) and Darius Garland (13.3 points, 3 assists per game) continued their recent progress. Kevin Love averaged 20.3 points and 7.5 boards per game as the trade deadline approaches. Tristan Thompson, another potential trade candidate, grabbed 22 boards against the Knicks. Larry Nance Jr. also put up three consecutive double-doubles to end the week, including a 22-point, 12-rebound effort against Washington. Sexton (48% from deep in January after a terrible shooting month in December) and Garland (season-high points and assists per game in January) have been especially promising of late, and that’s really all the Cavs can ask for right now.
- New York Knicks (12-34)
Last Week: 27 (-)
Last Week’s Games: 76ers (L, 87-90), @Cavs (W, 106-86), Lakers (L, 92-100), Raptors (L, 112-118)
Next Week’s Games: Nets, @Hornets, Grizzlies
The Knicks had a decent week here. It’s hard to complain about staying within 8 points of the
76ers, Lakers, and Raptors, and New York crushed the Cavs in Cleveland. Marcus Morris averaged 20 points and 6.3 rebounds per game on the week, and he should be a trade candidate to watch. Any contender that needs wing help could use a player who is averaging 19 points and 5.6 boards per game on 45.4% from deep, though Morris’s love for his role as the first option and the general dysfunctionality of New York’s front office might prevent anything from happening. The Mavs could use another scorer on the wing. The Clippers are an interesting option if they’re looking to upgrade Landry Shamet, and Morris would also help them keep Kawhi’s rest program going as late as they want. The Heat are always mentioned for any trade target, no matter who it is, and they obviously wouldn’t say no to another go-to scorer on the wing. Denver is also a team to watch if they decide that Michael Porter Jr. won’t be ready for the playoffs. Another thing the Knicks need to do is start playing the young guys as much as possible. There’s zero reason not to at this point.
- Charlotte Hornets (15-31)
Last Week: 25 (↓1)
Last Week’s Games: Magic (L, 83-106), Bucks (L, 103-116) – game in Paris
Next Week’s Games: Knicks, @Wizards
The Hornets have now lost 8 in a row to slip within three games of the bottom three (tank season!), and this week was pretty ugly. The Magic won the last three quarters by 31 points in their blowout victory, and Charlotte was unable to stick with the Bucks late in Paris. On the bright side, DeVonte’ Graham averaged 17 points, 5 assists, and 4.5 boards on the week to continue his strong second season, and Malik Monk averaged 26.5 points per game, including a career day in France (31 points, 5 assists, 5 boards). Monk came into the week only having scored in double figures twelve times out of forty-two. He had scored between 19 and 23 points four times, but never topped that range on the year. That obviously changed this week, and the Hornets will have to hope it’s a sign of something greater. Monk had a stretch back in November and December where he scored 10 or more in seven out of nine games before going another nine without reaching 10 points, so we’ll need a lot more than two good games to believe that this means a career turn for the former lottery pick. A potential solution for Charlotte? Move to France. Monk has been the leading scorer in every NBA game he’s played there. Those are the kind of sabermetrics that win championships.
- Washington Wizards (15-29)
Last Week: 26 (↑1)
Last Week’s Games: Pistons (W, 106-100), @Heat (L, 129-134 OT), @Cavs (W, 124-112)
Next Week’s Games: @Hawks, @Bucks, Hornets
This was a well-timed good week for the Wizards after Bradley Beal was reportedly very frustrated with the state of the team after last week. Beal did his part, stepping up with 29 points and 6 assists against Detroit, 38 points, 5 assists, and 9 boards against Miami, and 36 points and 8 assists against Cleveland. Ian Mahinmi pitched in 21 points and 7 boards against the Pistons, Davis Bertans put up 24 against the Heat, and Bertans and Ish Smith both scored 17 against the Cavs. The formula for the Wizards all season has been pretty simple – Beal + some help from everyone else = being competitive. A bad defense has limited Washington to simply competing rather than winning consistently, and injuries to a number of core players – Beal, Bertans, Thomas Bryant (slowly working back into game shape), Moe Wagner (still out), and Rui Hachimura (still out) – have been a blow to the left side of that formula. Being healthy, which has to happen eventually, should help the Wizards separate from the bottom of the pack, and they’re only, believe it or not, 3.5 games out of the playoffs. Regardless of whether or not that’s a realistic goal for this season, the return of John Wall next season should help raise the ceiling in Washington. They’re not in a bad spot right now.
- Minnesota Timberwolves (15-31)
Last Week: 22 (↓2)
Last Week’s Games: Raptors (L, 112-122), Nuggets (L, 100-107), @Bulls (L, 110-117), Rockets (L, 124-131), Thunder (L, 104-113)
Next Week’s Games: Kings
The Timberwolves have fallen all the way back to 6.5 games out of the playoffs. They might not be gone yet, but the playoff hopes are slipping away. It speaks to the weakness of the bottom of the West that Minnesota is still within 7 games of the 8 seed despite nine straight losses, and ten out of eleven. The main problem for the Timberwolves is that they just don’t have the defense or star power to get away with their lack of depth. Against Toronto, Andrew Wiggins had a triple-double (18 points, 11 assists, 10 boards), Jarrett Culver had 26, and Robert Covington put up 22 points and 8 boards. A relative down game from Karl Anthony Towns (12 points, 6 assists, 6 boards) and a lack of production from elsewhere meant a Raptors win. Against the Nuggets, Towns put up 28 points, 5 assists, and 8 boards. It wasn’t enough, with Wiggins (15) and Josh Okogie (16) the only other double digit scorers. 40 points from Towns and a 25-point, 9-assist showing from Wiggins weren’t enough in Chicago, as only Shabazz Napier (16) joined them in double figures. The story was the same against Houston. Towns and Wiggins combined for 58, but only Okogie (17) and Covington (10) joined them in double figures. You might not believe it, but a similar game played out against the Thunder. Towns went off for 37 points, 6 assists, and 8 boards. Wiggins put up 22. No one else scored more than 11, though Shabazz Napier did pitch in a 10-points, 13-assist, 10-rebound triple-double. Minnesota is going to keep losing if they don’t get a wider spread of production. They need to make a move, and they appear to know it based on their interest in D’Angelo Russell and others.
- Detroit Pistons (17-30)
Last Week: 24 (↑1)
Last Week’s Games: @Hawks (W, 136-103), @Wizards (L, 100-106), Kings (W, 127-106), Grizzlies (L, 112-125). Nets (L, 111-121 OT)
Next Week’s Games: Cavs, @Nets, Raptors
The Pistons are somehow just an overtime loss away from being only 1.5 games out of the playoffs, with another chance to beat the team directly ahead of them coming this week. Derrick Rose averaged 24.8 points and 7.2 assists per game this week. As talks around Kevin Love and Andre Drummond have faded, Rose might have become one of the names to watch at the trade deadline. He’s reportedly getting plenty of attention (Lakers, 76ers, etc.), but trading him could very well mean the end of the road for the Pistons this year. With Brooklyn’s recent struggles, it’s not clear that they will be willing to make that move. Reggie Jackson is also back, which should only strengthen Detroit’s playoff chances going forward. He averaged 18 points and 5 assists per game against Sacramento and Memphis. Svi Mykhailiuk averaged 16.2 points per game, Christian Wood averaged 13.8 points, Sekou Doumbouya, Bruce Brown, Markieff Morris, and Thon Maker stepped up at times, and Andre Drummond, who probably needs to be traded for the good of everyone in Detroit, averaged 18 points and 18 boards against Atlanta, Washington, and Brooklyn. Everything seemed really bleak in Detroit just a week or two ago, but the Nets have allowed a little bit of light to get into the tunnel. The playoffs are once again a clear possibility.
- Chicago Bulls (18-30)
Last Week: 23 (↑1)
Last Week’s Games: Cavs (W, 118-116), @Bucks (L, 98-111), Timberwolves (W, 117-110), Kings (L, 81-98), @Cavs (W, 118-106)
Next Week’s Games: Spurs, @Pacers, @Nets
It was Zach LaVine week in Chicago, as it has been for a while now. Lavine dropped 42 to edge out the Cavs, averaged 23.3 points and 5.3 boards against the Bucks, Timberwolves, and Kings, and then killed the Cavs again with 44 points, 8 assists, and 10 boards. The Bulls went 3-1 against teams close to them in the standings, and now sit only three games back of the Nets and the 8 seed. Their playoff hopes are very much alive, even if it’s hard to drum up much hope around this team. The major reason for that lack of hope is, once again, injuries. After Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr. were hit with the injury bug last season, there was hope that this year would be different. Instead, Carter Jr. is in the middle of a four-to-six week absence and Markkanen is set to begin his own four-to-six week period on the shelf after a stress reaction was found in his pelvis. Otto Porter Jr., who was added last season to bring some stability to the wing, hasn’t played since November 6. His return appears to be nearing, but nothing is set in stone. The good thing about injuries for a struggling team is that it always feels like there’s a better version of the team to point to and wait for. When those injuries repeat themselves; however, it becomes easier to wonder if that other version of the team will ever show itself. That’s the way of the road in Chicago right now.
- Sacramento Kings (16-29)
Last Week: 21 (-)
Last Week’s Games: @Jazz (L, 101-123), @Heat (L, 113-118 OT), @Pistons (L, 106-127), @Bulls (W, 98-81)
Next Week’s Games: @Timberwolves, Thunder, @Clippers
The Kings stopped their week from going completely off the rails with a nice win in Chicago, but blowout losses in Utah and Detroit made this a rough stretch of game for Sacramento. So did another injury to Marvin Bagley III, who is now dealing with foot soreness. Bagley averaged 16 points and 12 boards per game in Utah and Miami, but did not play in Detroit or Chicago. Richaun Holmes also missed time this week, and has now sat out eight games in a row. He has been Sacramento’s best player for much of the season (4.7 win shares on the year), so they need him back to resume their playoff charge. Unfortunately, that charge has turned into a jog, as the Kings are 5 games out of the playoffs. This just doesn’t appear to be a great situation, a shocking development for what was one of the more promising teams in the league last season. This week offered yet another sign of that, as, heading into the Bulls game, Luke Walton decided to bench Buddy Hield temporarily, a move that paid off in Chicago (a win and 21 points from Hield), but also a move that shouldn’t have to happen. If, at the start of the year, you had told me the Kings would be 15-29 with Hield on the bench heading into a January game, I probably wouldn’t have believed it. Yet here we are. On the bright side, De’Aaron Fox played fairly well this week, averaging 18.8 points and 6.5 assists per game.
- Brooklyn Nets (19-25)
Last Week: 18 (↓2)
Last Week’s Games: Bucks (L, 97-117), 76ers (L, 111-117), Lakers (L, 113-128), @Pistons (W, 121-111 OT)
Next Week’s Games: @Knicks, Pistons, Bulls
The Nets are essentially in full meltdown mode, having lost five of six and twelve of fifteen. A few weeks ago, they held a comfortable position as the clear 7 seed in the East. Now they’ve fallen to the 8 seed, 1 games behind the Magic and only 3 games ahead of the Bulls. Kyrie Irving led the way with 17 points, 6 assists, and 6 boards in a blowout loss to the Bucks. Irving then sat out against the Sixers, and Spencer Dinwiddie (22 points, 7 assists, 5 boards) and Caris LeVert (16, 6, 6) were joined by Nicolas Claxton (15 points), Jarrett Allen (13 points, 13 boards) and Taurean Prince (12,12) in a strong effort that kept the Nets close all game. Kyrie returned to drop 20 against the Lakers, but that, along with good outings from Dinwiddie (7,13,7), Joe Harris (18 points), LeVert (16 points), and Wilson Chandler (15 points) were not enough in another loss that wasn’t all that close. Irving rebounded with 45 points, 7 assists, and 6 boards in Detroit, with Jarrett Allen putting up 20 points and 15 boards, but the Nets are now 6-11 when Irving plays, which seems like a less than ideal number. This week offers a chance to right the ship with three easy games. If the Nets can’t escape their funk against the Knicks, Pistons, and Bulls, it’ll be time to smash the panic button.
- Portland Trail Blazers (19-27)
Last Week: 19 (-)
Last Week’s Games: @Thunder (L, 106-119), Warriors (W, 129-124 OT), Mavs (L, 125-133)
Next Week’s Games: Pacers, Rockets, @Lakers
CJ McCollum missed the week with an ankle injury, and the already depleted Trail Blazers struggled. Damian Lillard put up 34 points and 6 assists in Oklahoma City, and Gary Trent Jr took advantage of some extra minutes to drop 30. The Thunder won comfortably. Against Golden State, Lillard refused to lose, posting 61 points, 7 assists, and 10 boards to spark an overtime win. Hassan Whiteside went for 17 points and 21 boards as well. Lillard put up 47 points, 8 assists, and 6 boards against the Mavs, with Trent dropping 20 and Whiteside, Carmelo Anthony, and Trevor Ariza (in his first game as a Blazer) combining for 51 points and 28 boards. The Mavs won without much difficulty. McCollum will be back soon, but it’s continuing to look like Portland just doesn’t have the horses to make a run at the playoffs. Still, they’re just 2.5 games out. Outside of the Warriors, no one is finished out West. Unfortunately for Portland, the schedule gets really tough here. The next eleven opponents – Pacers, Rockets, @Lakers, Jazz, @Nuggets, Spurs, @Jazz, Heat, @Pelicans, @Grizzlies, Pelicans – are scary, and the Celtics and Pacers come a game after that brutal stretch.
- Phoenix Suns (19-26)
Last Week: 20 (↑2)
Last Week’s Games: @Celtics (W, 123-119), Spurs (L, 118-120), Pacers (L, 87-112), @Spurs (W, 103-99)
Next Week’s Games: @Grizzlies, @Mavs, Thunder
Phoenix did just enough to make this a decent week, grabbing two close wins. Recognitions go out to Mikal Bridges (26 points in Boston), Ricky Rubio (15 points and 9 assists in first Spurs game), Kelly Oubre Jr (16 points and 9.7 boards per game in three appearances), DeAndre Ayton (23.7 points and 11.5 boards per game), and Devin Booker (31.7 points, 6.7 assists, and 5.7 boards per game). Booker’s counting stats are essentially the same as last year’s (26.7 points v. 26.6 points, 6.4 assists v. 6.8 assists, and 4.1 v. 4.1 on the boards), but he’s been much more efficient (4.2% increase in field goal percentage and 3.5% increase in three-point percentage). He’s producing win shares at double the rate he did last year (.149 per 48 minutes v. .076), and Phoenix is 7 points better per 100 possessions with him on the floor. He’s taking a clear step towards being a winning player. Another note – early season MIP candidate Aron Baynes is now injured, stuck behind DeAndre Ayton, and a potential trade candidate. The Baynes Train has turned into a rollercoaster this season. The Suns started the season red hot despite very low expectations, went through a really bad run, and have now started to play somewhere in between those extremes over the last couple weeks. After all of it, they’re within 2 games of the playoffs. The next two weeks, with games against the Grizzlies, Mavs, Thunder, Bucks, Rockets, and Nuggets, might show us what this team is really made of.
- New Orleans Pelicans (17-29)
Last Week: 17 (-)
Last Week’s Games: Clippers (L, 130-133), @Grizzlies (W, 126-116), Spurs (L, 117-121), Nuggets (L, 106-113)
Next Week’s Games: Celtics, @Cavs, Grizzlies
Two weeks ago, I wrote that I was “all-in” on New Orleans. Last week, I wrote that it was “go time” for the “hot” Pelicans. They decided to reward my faith by going 1-3 this week, but the faith still lives on. The Pelicans, without Jrue Holiday and Zion Williamson, hung tough with the Clippers (minus Paul George). That’s basically a win by my book, and Brandon Ingram (21 points, 6 assists, 7 boards), Derrick Favors (22 points, 11 boards), Lonzo Ball (18 points, 11 assists, 10 boards), JJ Redick (19 points), and Josh Hart (9 points, 10 boards) all played well. The Pelicans then got an important win over the 8 seed Grizzlies behind Ingram (25 points, 6 assists, 4 boards) and Holiday (36 points, 6 boards). Unfortunately, the rest of the week, and Williamson’s long-awaited return, didn’t produce any wins. The Spurs held on late despite 22 from Williamson and Ingram, 11 points and 10 boards from Favors, and 14 points, 12 assists, and 8 boards from Ball. The Nuggets also held on late, with a lot of Pelicans doing a little bit of everything, but none doing quite enough to grab the win. Still, Zion averaged 18.5 points and 6.5 boards per game in only 19.5 average minutes. He has looked like the real deal every time he has stepped on the court, and he’s a midseason addition of a quality that no other team, as of now, can claim. The Pelicans are 4.5 games out of the playoffs, and they get the Grizzlies again this week. It’s go time.
- San Antonio Spurs (20-24)
Last Week: 16 (-)
Last Week’s Games: Heat (W, 107-102), @Suns (W, 120-118), @Pelicans (W, 121-117), Suns (L, 99-103)
Next Week’s Games: Raptors, @Bulls, Jazz
The Spurs were able to turn most of their close games into wins this week, something they weren’t able to do last week. Since December started, fifteen of San Antonio’s twenty-four games have been decided by 8 points or less, and they’ve basically split those twenty-four games evenly (13-11). It’s hard to be more average than the Spurs have been lately, though the mood around this team feels a little better than that would suggest. A large piece of that has been the emergence of LaMarcus Aldridge as a three-point shooter, which we highlighted a few weeks ago. Aldridge is shooting an absurd 49% from deep on over 4 attempts per game since December 23rd, and, as Zach Lowe highlighted this week, it’s opened up a ton of space for DeMar DeRozan and others. The Spurs are 9-7 since Aldridge started firing away, and five of those losses came by six points or less, with another coming against the Bucks. There’s a lot of reason for hope in San Antonio as a result, and the Spurs are nipping on Memphis’s heels right now with Aldridge and DeRozan leading the way. Against Miami, DeRozan put up 20 points, 9 assists, 9 boards while Aldridge dropped 21 points. In Phoenix, Derrick White (25 points, 7 assists) and Bryn Forbes (24 points) shined with DeRozan (18 points, 8 assists, 9 boards) and Aldridge (19 points) providing solid support. Aldridge dominated in New Orleans with 32 points and 14 rebounds, with DeRozan also chipping in 20 points and 5 boards. The second game against the Suns ended in a loss, but DeRozan (30 points, 4 assists, 8 boards) and Aldridge (16 points, 6 boards) still played pretty well. They will need to keep playing this well to keep the playoff streak alive.
- Orlando Magic (21-25)
Last Week: 14 (↓1)
Last Week’s Games: @Warriors (L, 95-109), @Hornets (W, 106-83), Thunder (L, 114-120), Celtics (L, 98-109)
Next Week’s Games: Clippers, @Heat
This wasn’t the greatest week the Magic have had. Outside of a 23-point, 4-assist, 6-rebound performance from Markelle Fultz, their trip to Golden State was one to forget. They were able to brush it off and dominate the Hornets behind 69 points from Nikola Vucevic, Evan Fournier, and Terrence Ross, but the week ended with consecutive home losses. Orlando is still a game up on the Nets and four games up on the 9 seed Bulls, so they have that going for them. Unfortunately, five of the next seven games are against the Clippers, Heat (twice), Celtics, and Bucks. A weird note – the Magic have now played twelve games without elite defender Jonathan Isaac (1st in Defensive Box +/-, 4th in block rate and defensive rating, 12th in steal rate), and their defense has been better without him. Orlando is 8th in defensive rating on the year. Over the last twelve games, they rank 3rd and are an inch away from being tied with the Raptors for 2nd. It’s bizarre, but the Magic aren’t complaining.
- Memphis Grizzlies (21-24)
Last Week: 15 (↑1)
Last Week’s Games: Pelicans (L, 116-126), @Celtics (L, 95-119) @Pistons (W, 125-112)
Next Week’s Games: Suns, Nuggets, @Knicks, @Pelicans
The Grizzlies slipped up a little bit this week, but they still hold the 8 seed. They also played fine against New Orleans outside of a terrible second quarter (38-20 Pelicans). Dillon Brooks put up 31 points, 4 assists, and 9 boards, Jaren Jackson Jr. had 19 points and 6 boards, and Ja Morant went for 16 points and 9 assists. In Boston, Jonas Valanciunas led the way with 16 points and 13 boards in a forgettable game that saw Memphis down by 36 after three quarters. They got back on track in Detroit behind Jackson (29 points, 6 boards), Brooks (26 points), Morant (16 points, 12 assists), and Brandon Clarke (15 points, 11 boards). This is a dream scenario for the Grizzlies. They’re contending with their young core leading the charge. We often see younger teams fight for the eight seed by playing veterans more than they should, but that’s really not happening in Memphis, where the young Grizzlies are learning, and winning, on the fly. It’s going to be a dogfight to hold on to that playoff spot with seemingly half the conference in close pursuit, but the Grizzlies have met every challenge so far.
- Oklahoma City Thunder (28-19)
Last Week: 13 (-)
Last Week’s Games: Trail Blazers (W, 119-106), @Rockets (W, 112-107), @Magic (W, 120-114), Hawks (W, 140-111), @Timberwolves (W, 113-104)
Next Week’s Games: Mavs, @Kings, @Suns
The Thunder recovered from a subpar week with a bang, rattling off five straight victories to re-establish a very firm grip on a playoff spot. Oklahoma City holds a six game lead on the Grizzlies, and they’re within 1.5 games of both the Mavs and Rockets. Outside of other teams wanting Danilo Gallinari, there has been little concrete news of trade happenings in recent weeks, and it appears that Sam Presti might be set and ready to ride this thing out. That’s a solid idea considering how this team is playing. Against Portland, Oklahoma City won comfortably without Gallinari. Chris Paul put up 30 points 7 assists, and 4 boards in a strong effort that was supported by Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (22 points, 5 assists, 10 boards) and Dennis Schroder and Nerlens Noel (15 points each). Paul (28 points, 8 boards), Gallinari (25 points, 13 boards), and Schroder (23 points, 4 assists, 5 boards) led the way in Houston, as the Thunder won despite losing Steven Adams two minutes into the game. In Orlando, Oklahoma City held on late behind 31 points and 9 assists from Schroder, 18 points and 12 boards form Gilgeous-Alexander, 19 points and 6 assists from Paul, and a combined 26 points and 13 boards from Gallinari and Noel. Schroder kept it rolling with 21 points and 8 assists against Atlanta, joined again by good performances from Paul (18 points, 5 assists, 6 boards), Gallinari (25 points, 6 boards), and Gilgeous-Alexander (24 points, 6 assists). Paul (25 points, 10 assists) and Schroder (26 points) stood out against Minnesota. Paul, Schroder, Gilgeous-Alexander, and Gallinari, along with Adams, have been really great for the Thunder this year. For some more on that, look here. The Thunder will take on the Mavs Monday with a chance to jump into a tie for the 6 seed. Things are good in OKC.
- Indiana Pacers (30-16)
Last Week: 11 (↓1)
Last Week’s Games: @Nuggets (W, 115-107), @Jazz (L, 88-118), @Suns (W, 112-87), @Warriors (W, 129-118)
Next Week’s Games: @Trail Blazers, Bulls
Domantas Sabonis recorded a 22-point, 10-assist, 15-rebound triple-double, Malcolm Brogdon added 22 points of his own to go along with 8 assists, and TJ Warren and Doug McDermott combined for 46 in a win in Denver. A stop in Utah did not go as well, with no Pacer topping 12 points. The rest of the week was more like the start with easy road wins over the Suns and Warriors. In Phoenix, Sabonis put up 24 points and 13 boards, Warren added 25 points, and TJ McConnell provided 10 points and 11 assists. In the Bay Area, minus Malcolm Brogdon (day-to-day with a concussion), the Pacers got 24 points from McDermott, another near triple-double from Sabonis (16 points, 8 assists, 10 boards), and 33 more points from Warren. McDermott is averaging 19.8 points per game on 55% from three over his last six games. Sabonis is averaging 18.8 points, 5.7 assists, and 11.3 boards per game in January as he continues his stellar season. Warren is averaging just under 20 points per game this month while shooting over 41% from three. He has hit 20 points or more in eleven of his last eighteen games. Brogdon has had a number of injury issues and Myles Turner is really struggling lately (12.1 points per game, 23.9% from three in January), but, for the most part, the Pacers are trending in the right direction with Victor Oladipo expected to make his return on Wednesday against the Bulls. His teammates have done their part, sticking around the race for the 2 seed out East (currently 1.5 games back), but the Pacers, at 11th in net rating and 12th in average point differential, could use a little extra kick. Oladipo can provide a little more than that.
- Philadelphia 76ers (30-17)
Last Week: 12 (↑1)
Last Week’s Games: @Knicks (W, 90-87), @Nets (W, 117-111), @Raptors (L, 95-107), Lakers (W, 108-91)
Next Week’s Games: Warriors, @Hawks
The 76ers had a solid week considering their injury issues. Ben Simmons was huge this week with Joel Embiid out. He did just enough to lead the way over the Knicks, with 21 points, 8 assists, and 7 rebounds. Al Horford, Josh Richardson, and Furkan Korkmaz also combined for 50 points. Against Brooklyn, Simmons again took charge, putting up an impressive 34-point, 12-assist, 12-rebound triple-double. Richardson went down after four minutes in Toronto, and the Sixers weren’t able to compensate for the absence of two starters, despite 22 points from Tobias Harris and 17 points, 8 assists, and 10 boards from Simmons. Philadelphia rebounded with a strong win over the Lakers with both Embiid and Richardson sitting again. Harris (29 points, 8 boards) and Simmons (28 points, 8 assists, 10 boards) were key. Despite the win over Los Angeles, the Sixers are still sitting in the 6 seed (albeit only two games back of the 2 seed). They’re just 10th in net rating and 9th in average point differential. They still look unimpressive on the road, with close wins over the Knicks and Nets doing little to shift that image even after taking Embiid’s absence into account. Embiid is trying to come back this week, but now Richardson (hamstring) is out for a few weeks, at minimum. After an easy two games, the schedule gets tough, with the Celtics, Heat, Grizzlies, Bucks (twice), Clippers (twice), and Lakers coming up between now and March 3. It’s put up or shut up time for the Sixers. Embiid’s urgency to come back shows that they know it.
- Houston Rockets (28-16)
Last Week: 9 (↓1)
Last Week’s Games: Lakers (L, 115-124), Thunder (L, 107-112), Nuggets (W, 121-105), @Timberwolves (W, 131-124)
Next Week’s Games: @Nuggets, @Jazz, @Trail Blazers, Mavs
The Rockets didn’t have a terrible week, but it wasn’t a great one either. That’s kind of how it’s been going in Houston lately. They weren’t able to beat the Lakers at home despite the absence of Anthony Davis and 69 points, 14 assists, and 15 rebounds combined from Russell Westbrook and James Harden. They weren’t able to beat the Thunder at home despite an early injury to Steven Adams and 61 points, 18 assists, and 20 rebounds combined from Westbrook and Harden, including a 32-12-11 triple-double from Westbrook. They were close, but they weren’t quite able to get the job done, a familiar refrain for Harden’s Rockets. They were able to pull out a home win over the Nuggets, as Eric Gordon stepped up with 25 points to help Westbrook (28 points, 8 assists, 16 boards) and Harden (27,5,5). Houston needs more of that from Gordon and others, and they got it in Minnesota, as Clint Capela (18 points, 9 boards) and Gordon (27 points, 5 boards) aided Westbrook (45 points, 10 assists, 6 boards) in overcoming an off night from Harden (12 points, 5 assists). At the end of the day, the Rockets will only go as far as Harden (and Westbrook) can carry them, but they do need guys like Gordon and Capela to produce as well. Houston isn’t in a bad spot right now. They have a higher net rating than the Nuggets, Sixers, Pacers, and Heat, and they’re outscoring opponents at a higher clip than all of those teams as well. Granted, the record has fallen off a bit, and they’re 2.5 games back of the Nuggets and the 4 seed. But there seems to be an idea out there that the Rockets aren’t up there with some of these other top-ten teams. That’s just not the case.
- Miami Heat (31-14)
Last Week: 6 (↓3)
Last Week’s Games: @Spurs (L, 102-107), Kings (W, 118-113 OT), Wizards (W, 134-129 OT), Clippers (L, 117-122)
Next Week’s Games: Magic, Celtics
Here’s the good news for the Heat – at 31-14, they’re still in a tie for the 2 seed in the East. The bad news? That record is at least a little inflated, as Miami ranks 10th in average point differential and 12th in net rating. The Heat are an absurd 8-0 in overtime games, which is a good three-to-four game swing that they’ve created for themselves. I don’t buy the idea that overtime is essentially a coin flip, but to take eight of eight games that need extra time definitely requires a stroke of luck. Some of the teams that Miami has gone to overtime with (Bulls, Hawks, Kings, Wizards) really shouldn’t be hanging with a true title contender either. The Heat have done an admirable job of developing and empowering a bunch of young pieces this season, and they aren’t a bad team by any means. Still, their superhuman overtime abilities have probably made them seem a little better than they are in reality. It’s not hard to see them slipping a little bit in the standings as the season nears the stretch run, but a game against the Celtics this week offers a chance to hold that slip off for the time being. Another note – Jimmy Butler (31-14; 20.3 points, 6.5 assists, 7 boards per game; .228 win shares per 48 minutes and 5.2 Box +/-) certainly had an argument for being an All-Star starter, and he probably beats out Kemba Walker (30-14; 22.1 points, 5 assists, 3.4 boards per game; .195 win shares per 48 minutes, 4.8 Box +/-) if he’s counted as a guard.
- Denver Nuggets (31-14)
Last Week: 4 ()
Last Week’s Games: Pacers (L, 107-115), @Timberwolves (W, 107-100), @Rockets (L, 105-121), @Pelicans (W, 113-106)
Next Week’s Games: Rockets, @Grizzlies, Jazz, @Bucks
This upcoming week might be brutal for the Nuggets, who have slipped just behind the Jazz and Clippers out West. The story in Denver is similar to the one in Miami. Despite being tied, with the Heat and Raptors, for the fifth best record in the league, the Nuggets are 9th in net rating and 12th in average point differential. They’re only 3-1 in overtime, but the same ideas apply here. The Nuggets might be seen as a little better than they truly are, with their lead over the Rockets and Mavs, two teams with lower than expected records, only furthering that idea. Like the Heat, the Nuggets are by no means bad, but they’re probably short of title contention at the moment.
- Dallas Mavericks (28-17)
Last Week: 7 (-)
Last Week’s Games: Clippers (L, 107-110), @Trail Blazers (W, 133-125), @Jazz (L, 107-112)
Next Week’s Games: @Thunder, Suns, @Rockets
36 points, 9 assists, and 10 boards from Luka Doncic weren’t enough against the Clippers. Doncic (27,9,6) got some help in Portland, as Kristaps Porzingis, Maxi Kleber, Jalen Brunson, and Seth Curry combined for 69 points. Against Utah, Curry and Porzingis combined for 34, but the rest of the Mavs were largely silent around Doncic (25,7,6). Doncic can’t do it all on his own, and a large piece of the Mavs record being worse than it should be (12th best record v. 4th best average point differential) likely centers around the inability of Doncic’s teammates to step up and make plays of their own down the stretch. Dallas could really use another go-to scorer and closer.
- Toronto Raptors (31-14)
Last Week: 10 (↑4)
Last Week’s Games: @Timberwolves (W, 122-112), @Hawks (W, 122-117), 76ers (W, 107-95), @Knicks (W, 118-112)
Next Week’s Games: @Spurs, Hawks, @Cavs, @Pistons
- Boston Celtics (30-14)
Last Week: 8 (↑3)
Last Week’s Games: Suns (L, 119-123), Lakers (W, 139-107), Grizzlies (W, 119-95), @Magic (W, 109-98)
Next Week’s Games: @Pelicans, @Heat, Warriors
Marcus Smart broke the franchise record for made threes in a game in a 37-point, 8-assist, 5-rebound performance against the Suns. It resulted in Boston’s sixth loss in eight games. Things seemed dire for the Celtics, but they rebounded very nicely with three impressive wins to end the week. Jayson Tatum put up 27 points and 5 rebounds, Gordon Hayward added 16 points, 6 assists, and 5 boards, and Jaylen Brown and Kemba Walker combined for 40 points and 13 assists in a domination of the Lakers. Against the streaking Grizzlies, Tatum led the way with 23 points, 4 assists, and 7 boards. Walker (37 points, 6 assists) and Gordon Hayward (22 points, 14 boards) stepped up against Orlando with both Tatum and Brown out. Boston will need Brown and Tatum back as soon as possible with two big road games left, but, for now, they’re back within 0.5 games of the 2 seed (behind both Miami and Toronto). The Celtics are tied with the Lakers for the second best net rating in the league and they trail Los Angeles by 0.1 points for the second best average point differential. They still have the center problem that will likely come back to bite in the playoffs, but the Celtics have been as good as anyone outside of Milwaukee so far. Another good week, and a win over the Heat, might put them in the 2 seed.
- Utah Jazz (32-13)
Last Week: 5 (↑1)
Last Week’s Games: Kings (W, 123-101), Pacers (W, 118-88), @Warriors (W, 129-96), Mavs (W, 112-107)
Next Week’s Games: Rockets, @Spurs, @Nuggets
The Jazz are playing about as well as an NBA team can at the moment. They’ve won eighteen of twenty, with the Bucks (17-3) coming the closest to matching that record over that stretch. Against Sacramento, Utah got 28 points and 15 boards from Rudy Gobert, 12 assists and 9 boards from Joe Ingles, and 72 points combined from Bojan Bogdanovic, Donavan Mitchell, and Jordan Clarkson. The Jazz then suffocated the Pacers behind Mitchell (25 points) and Gobert (20 points, 14 boards) before crushing the Warriors, again behind Mitchell (23 points) and Gobert (22 points, 15 boards). Gobert was masterful against the Mavs, posting 22 points, 17 boards, and 5 blocks, with Mitchell and Bogdanovic combining for 48 points. Over their last 15 games, the Jazz have an average point differential of +13.9, three points ahead of the second-place Bucks. Gobert is averaging roughly 18 points and 15 boards per game in January, and Mitchell, Ingles, Bogdanovic, and Clarkson have helped him spark the league’s best offense, by a significant margin, over the last 15 games. Mike Conley also returned this week, averaging 7.8 points and 1.8 assists in 16.8 minutes per game. He mostly slotted into Emmanuel Mudiay’s minutes, but it will be interesting to see if he gets a bigger role as we go on here. He has yet to make the expected impact in Utah even when healthy.
- Los Angeles Clippers (32-14)
Last Week: 3 (-)
Last Week’s Games: @Pelicans (W, 133-130), @Mavs (W, 110-107), @Hawks (L, 95-102), @Heat (W, 122-117)
Next Week’s Games: @Magic, @Lakers, Kings
The Clippers won the games they needed to this week despite getting six combined missed games from Paul George (4) and Patrick Beverley (2). Kawhi Leonard (39 points, 6 assists, 6 boards), Lou Williams (32 points, 5 assists, 4 boards), and Montrezl Harrell (24 points) led the way against the Pelicans. Leonard (36 points, 11 boards), Williams (16 points, 4 assists, 5 boards), and Landry Shamet (18 points) did the same against the Mavs. Leonard sat in Atlanta, and despite big performances from Harrell (30 points, 7 boards) and Williams (18 points, 7 assists, 6 boards), the Clippers weren’t quite able to get it done down three starters. Leonard returned with his first career triple-double (33,10,10) to grab a win in Miami. Shamet (22 points, 6 assists), Williams (16 points, 7 assists), and Harrell (15 points, 11 boards) also stepped up. The Clippers are still in a tie for the 2 seed, though it’s now with the Jazz rather than the Nuggets. That’s the good news. The bad news is that George has now missed eight straight games with a hamstring injury that has lasted a little longer than it was supposed to. Los Angeles has gone 6-2 in that stretch, which relates to the main question around this team. Just how good are they? We probably won’t know until the playoffs, though the 14-4 record in games with both Leonard and George would suggest that the Clippers are far from runaway favorites with the Lakers and Bucks in the picture.
- Los Angeles Lakers (36-10)
Last Week: 2 (-)
Last Week’s Games: @Rockets (W, 124-115), @Celtics (L, 107-139), @Knicks (W, 100-92), @Nets (W, 128-113), @76ers (L, 91-108)
Next Week’s Games: Clippers, Trail Blazers
The Lakers only won three out of five this week, leading to a slight hit to their lead over the rest of the West. The Jazz are now only 3.5 games back, with the Clippers and Nuggets close behind. Los Angeles also lost a full game on the Bucks, dropping to four games back of the league’s best record. Still, when your problem is going from a 4.5 game lead over the 2 seed to a 3.5 game lead over the 2 seed, you’re probably doing alright. LeBron came up big in Houston, dropping 31 points, 12 assists, and 5 boards. Kyle Kuzma, Danny Green, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope were also huge, combining for 63 with Anthony Davis sitting. Davis returned in Boston, and it didn’t go well, as he was held to 9 points and 4 boards in 23 minutes in the blowout. He recovered with 28, 5, and 5 against the Knicks, with LeBron chipping in 21, 5, and 6 in a close win. A second game in New York ended with an easier win over the Nets. James led the way with a 27-point, 10-assist, 11-rebound triple-double. Davis and Dwight Howard combined for 30 points and 23 boards, and Kuzma also scored 16. The East Coast trip hit another bump in Philadelphia. James put up 29, 8, and 7 and Davis went for 31 points and 7 boards, but the lack of production from the rest of the team, with the next leading scorer only producing 7 points, spoiled LeBron’s historic night. The Lakers have a top 5 offense and defense, but they still fall well behind the Bucks. Milwaukee’s edge in net rating is as big as the difference between the second-place Lakers and the twelfth-place Sixers. Milwaukee’s edge in average point differential is slightly bigger than the difference between the second-place Lakers and the twelfth-place Pacers. A trade for another piece (Derrick Rose?) might be in order. Los Angeles has another big game against the Clippers coming up to help judge where they are heading into the deadline.
- Milwaukee Bucks (40-6)
Last Week: 1 (-)
Last Week’s Games: @Nets (W, 117-97), Bulls (W, 111-98), @Hornets (W, 116-103) – game in Paris
Next Week’s Games: Wizards, Nuggets
The Bucks are 40-6. If they finished 0-36, the current 8 seed (the Nets) would need to go 22-17 the rest of the way just to tie Milwaukee for the 8 seed. Giannis put up 29 points and 12 rebounds and Khris Middleton threw in 20 points, 4 assists, and 4 boards in a blowout win in Brooklyn to start the week. Brook Lopez, Wes Matthews, Donte DiVincenzo, and Kyle Korver all scored between 10 and 12 points. Against the Bulls, Giannis put up a 28-point, 10-assist, 14-rebound triple-double, Middleton went for 24, 6, and 6, and Matthews and Korver combined for 25. In Paris, the Bucks pulled away late behind 30 points, 6 assists, and 16 boards from Giannis, 14, 4, and 9 from Middleton, 20, 5, and 3 from Bledsoe, and 28 combined from Lopez and George Hill. The Bucks are back up to +12.6 with their average point differential, 0.3 points ahead of the all-time record. They’re on pace to win 71.3 games. They have a top 3 offense, and the difference between their first-place defensive rating and the defensive rating of the second-place Raptors is greater than the difference between the Raptors and the tenth-place Pacers. The playoffs are what matters, but the Bucks are having as dominant of a regular season as the league has ever seen.