NBA POWER RANKINGS
- Golden State Warriors (10-39)
Last Week: 30 (-)
Last Week’s Games: @76ers (L, 104-115), @Celtics (L, 104-119)
Next Week’s Games: @Cavs, @Wizards, @Nets
The Warriors faced two good teams on the road this week. They lost twice in relatively boring fashion. Neither game went down to the wire, and neither game was a blowout. In Philadelphia, D’Angelo Russell went for 27 points, 8 assists, and 5 boards while Draymond Green came close to a triple-double, putting up 9 points, 12 assists, and 9 boards. Glenn Robinson III added 20 points. In Boston, Russell again led the way with 22 points and 5 assists. Alec Burks added 18 points. The Warriors, at this point, are just playing the waiting game. Steph, Klay, and Mystery Lottery Pick will all have joined the team by the time next season starts, and the Warriors will need to wait for their return before they start winning again. This is a good thing, considering that Mystery Lottery Pick will only get better as Golden State continues to lose. With those three, along with Russell and Green (in a more suitable role), the Warriors will be in a good spot next year. The bench is a bit worrisome though. If the Warriors draft a big man in the draft, Kevon Looney (injured for most of this year), Burks, Robinson III, Damion Lee, Marquesse Chriss, Alen Smailgiac, Jordan Poole, and Eric Paschall would be set up to form what would be an interesting – but flawed – bench group. Developing those guys into useful players has been the goal of this season, and any that remain in Golden State will be thrown into the fire on a contender next season. They have a few more months of live NBA action to prep for that.
- Cleveland Cavaliers (13-36)
Last Week: 28 (↓1)
Last Week’s Games: @Pistons (L, 100-115), Pelicans (L, 111-125), Raptors (L, 109-115)
Next Week’s Games: Warriors, Knicks, @Thunder
Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson combined for 37 points and 18 rebounds, Colin Sexton put up 23 points and 5 boards, and Alfonso McKinnie went for 15 points in a loss in Detroit. Against New Orleans, big performances from Sexton (24 points and 4 assists), Larry Nance Jr (17 points, 7 assists, 11 boards), and Kevin Porter Jr (21 points) weren’t enough in another loss. Cleveland then lost for the tenth time in a row – and for the fifteenth time in seventeen tries – against Toronto. Love produced 23 points, 4 assists, and 5 boards, Sexton put up 23, 4, and 4, and Darius Garland had his best game of the week with 16 points, 8 assists, and 5 boards. Production like that from Garland is far more important than wins and losses for the Cavs. I have two other points on Cleveland. First, watch for potential trades for Love and Thompson in the next week. Neither one is super attractive as a trade target due to age, injury history, and salary, but they still hold some draw. There’s also not a lot of reasons for either to be in Cleveland right now, so the Cavs will make a deal if they get a good offer. Some possible offers for both are on our Trade Center page. Second, Colin Sexton should have been in the Rising Stars Challenge. He’s averaging 19.6 points, 2.5 assists, and 3.3 boards per game on 35% from deep. He’s made huge strides across the board, noticeably boosting his PER, win shares, box +/-, and VORP numbers from last year. He’s averaging 22.7 points per game on 45% from deep in January. He deserves more respect, even if he’s still got a ways to go. The progress has been impressive so far this season.
- New York Knicks (13-36)
Last Week: 27 (↓1)
Last Week’s Games: Nets (W, 110-97), @Hornets (L, 92-97), Grizzlies (L, 106-127)
Next Week’s Games: @Pacers, @Cavs, Magic
The Knicks started the week well, beating the Nets behind 22 points and 15 rebounds from Julius Randle and 21 points from Marcus Morris. The rest of the week didn’t go so well. New York fell in Charlotte despite more big play from Randle and Morris (47 points combined). Then Memphis came into Madison Square Garden and won easily, despite 33 points and 20 boards combined from Randle and Morris and 15 points, 11 assists, and 7 boards from Elfrid Payton. Payton made the blowout loss even worse by shoving Jae Crowder in the final minute, leading to a one-game suspension. Crowder probably shouldn’t have stolen the ball and shot a three up 20 with less than a minute of game to go, but Payton still crossed a line. Morris was also hit with a fine for his role in the ensuing scuffle and for his postgame comments. It’s another sign of dysfunction in New York, on a night where “Sell the team!” chants could be heard throughout MSG. The Knicks haven’t been a complete mess this year, but it’s just hard to see where they go from here. Kevin Knox has been terrible. Dennis Smith Jr. has probably been worse. Mitchell Robinson can’t stay out of foul trouble. It’s hard to see Frank Ntilikina breaking through what looks to be a pretty hard ceiling. RJ Barrett has been solid in his rookie season, but he hasn’t been a franchise changer. Maybe that changes, but it feels right now that Barrett will need more around him to truly succeed. Randle (19 points, 3 assists, 9 boards per game) and Morris (19 points, 5.5 boards, 44% from deep) have been bright spots, but it’s not clear if either can fit into the future plans in NYC. Morris is on a one-year deal, and his ability to score and hit from deep would be attractive to a number of contenders. He’s 30 and it might make sense to trade him for a pick or a younger piece. On the other hand, it appears that he wants to stay in New York as the top option this year and beyond, and the Knicks’ urge for having “big names” might make them reluctant to trade their top scorer. Randle is younger and locked in to a longer contract, but his struggles from deep have led to serious questions about his fit with Mitchell Robinson, who, despite his fouling issues, has been incredibly promising when on the court. Randle could be traded if someone is desperate enough for him to make a big offer. That seems unlikely, but who knows.
- Atlanta Hawks (13-36)
Last Week: 29 (↑2)
Last Week’s Games: Wizards (W, 152-133), @Raptors (L, 114-130), 76ers (W, 127-117)
Next Week’s Games: @Mavs, Celtics, @Timberwolves, @Celtics
The Hawks had one of their best weeks in a while. They cruised to a win over the defensively challenged Wizards, getting 45 points, 14 assists, and 6 boards from Trae Young, 25 points from De’Andre Hunter, and 48 points and 26 boards combined from John Collins, Kevin Huerter, and Bruno Fernando. A loss in Toronto isn’t all that bad, especially when it comes with 28 points and 12 boards from Collins, 18 points and 12 assists from Young, and 33 points and 12 boards combined from Hunter and Cam Reddish. Atlanta finished the week with a strong win over the Sixers behind dominating performances from Young (39 points, 18 assists, 6 boards) and Collins (17 points, 20 boards). After starting the season 8-32, the Hawks have gone 5-4 over their last nine. That’s not particularly impressive, but it’s a step in the right direction. Collins is averaging 22.1 points and 10.9 boards per game over that brief stretch, giving Young a viable second option that the Hawks have been missing for much of the season (largely due to Collins’s PED suspension). Now Atlanta needs Huerter, Reddish, and Hunter to find some consistency.
- Charlotte Hornets (16-32)
Last Week: 26 (-)
Last Week’s Games: Knicks (W, 97-92), @Wizards (L, 107-121)
Next Week’s Games: @Spurs, Magic, @Rockets
The Hornets rode Terry Rozier (30 points, 10 boards) to a low-scoring win over the Knicks before getting outgunned in Washington. Rozier had 21 points and 7 boards and Miles Bridges put up 23 points and 6 boards in the loss. Charlotte is currently set up to pick somewhere in the 5-8 range assuming no lottery surprises. They would benefit from dropping a little further in the standings if possible. DeVonte’ Graham (18.2 points and 7.6 assists per game, 38% from deep) and PJ Washington (12.2 points and 5.3 boards per game, 40% from deep) have been promising. The Hornets are 8.1 points better per 100 possessions with Graham playing versus when he’s on the bench, and they’re +2.3 for Washington. They will still need a lot more to really contend. Bridges has been okay in his second year (12.2 points and 5.4 boards per game, 35% from deep), but an inexplicable appearance in the Rising Stars Challenge won’t make up for the fact that the Hornets are 12.7 points better per 100 possessions when he sits. Rozier was brought in to be the point guard, but he has been surpassed by Graham. Despite decent numbers (18.1 points, 4.3 assists, and 4.5 rebounds per game, 39% from deep), the Hornets are 10.8 points better per 100 possessions when Rozier sits. It’s really not clear why, as Rozier’s stats, outside of assists per game, are very similar to Graham’s. Three assists shouldn’t create an 18.9 point swing, and yet the Hornets, per 100 possessions, are 18.9 points better in Graham’s minutes than they are in Rozier’s. Again, it’s hard to make sense of it, as Graham and Rozier have similar stats in PER (15.8 v. 15.1), win shares (2.5 v. 2.2), box +/- (0 v. -0.5), and VORP (0.9 v. 0.6). Rozier is shooting better from the field too, yet the Hornets are a whole lot worse in his minutes. The only reasonable explanation is that Rozier might be getting more minutes with the guys on the edge of the rotation in Charlotte. Nothing else makes sense.
- Minnesota Timberwolves (15-32)
Last Week: 24 (↓1)
Last Week’s Games: Kings (L, 129-133 OT)
Next Week’s Games: @Clippers, @Kings, Hawks
The good thing about this week for the Timberwolves was that they only lost once. We will ignore that they also only played once as a sign of respect for Andrew Wiggins’s monstrous performance against the Kings (36 points, 8 assists, 9 boards). Despite that, and a total of 47 points and 15 boards from Robert Covington and Karl-Anthony Towns, the Timberwolves still fell short. Minnesota is now 8.5 games out of the playoffs, and the season might be over, a shocking idea for a team that was a solid 10-8 on December 1. That night, the Timberwolves lost to the Grizzlies, starting this 5-24 run that has likely sunk their season. The loss in Sacramento was the tenth in ten games for Minnesota. That’s two losing streaks of ten games or more on the year, which is pretty bad. It’s never a good thing when your two longest losing streaks both include more losses than the best team in the league has all year (7). In related news, Towns hasn’t won a game since November; Minnesota is 0-14 in his appearances since then. When you’ve missed 17 games and lost your last 14, you’re not an All-Star. Not much of a need for discussion there.
- Washington Wizards (16-31)
Last Week: 25 (↑1)
Last Week’s Games: @Hawks (L, 133-152), @Bucks (L, 131-151), Hornets (W, 121-107)
Next Week’s Games: Nets, Warriors, Mavs
There’s a disease going around in Washington, and the only cure is not playing defense. That’s the only possible explanation for how bad the Wizards are defensively. This week marked the fourth time in NBA history that a team has given up 150 or more in consecutive games. Somehow, the Nuggets have been on the wrong side of things each of the other three times this has happened. The ‘90-’91 Nuggets let it happen twice in a two-month span, a shockingly terrible stat considering the era. These Wizards, luckily for them, have only done it once, but they’re still awful defensively. Of the players who rank in the bottom 50 in defensive win shares, seventeen have played at least 10 games. Five of those seventeen play for Washington. Of the players who rank in the bottom 50 in defensive rating, twenty-two have played at least 10 games. Eight of those twenty-two play for Washington. Bradley Beal is a member of both of those groups, which is why he doesn’t deserve to be an All-Star. Beal may feel that not being selected for the team was “disrespectful”, but his horrendous defense has really hurt his team – the Wizards are 6.5 points worse per 100 possesions when Beal is on the court. Gotta play defense to get full respect.
- Detroit Pistons (17-33)
Last Week: 23 (-)
Last Week’s Games: Cavs (L, 100-115), @Nets (L, 115-125), Raptors (L, 92-105)
Next Week’s Games: Nuggets, @Grizzlies, Suns, @Thunder
The Pistons have taken a sword to their own playoff hopes over the last two weeks, losing six of seven to drop to 4.5 games out despite struggles from Orlando and Brooklyn presenting a great opportunity to gain ground. Derrick Rose sat out against the Cavs, and the Pistons suffered a brutal home loss without him. Reggie Jackson led the way with 16 points in the defeat. A trip to Brooklyn didn’t go well either, despite 23 points and 5 assists from Jackson, 22 points, 5 assists, and 6 boards from Rose, and 32 points and 21 boards combined from Christian Wood and Andre Drummond. Detroit got very little going outside of Rose (21 points) and Drummond (20 points, 20 rebounds) in another loss to the Raptors. Rose and Drummond both could be traded in the next week. Talks around Drummond seem to have cooled, and he will be a free agent this summer. He’s still going to be considered by any team looking for a center right now. Rose, on the other hand, should be a hot commodity. The Lakers and Sixers are among them teams looking to add another scorer and playmaker, and Rose fills both roles well. The first problem here is that the Pistons reportedly want a lottery pick in return for Rose. Contenders don’t tend to have those, and the teams that do have them probably don’t really feel a need for Rose. We’ll see if someone coughs up a similarly valuable asset to grab Rose for the second half. The second thing standing in the way of a trade is that Rose has said that he wants to stay in Detroit. It’s not hard to see why, given how well things have gone for him personally so far this season.
- Chicago Bulls (19-32)
Last Week: 22 (-)
Last Week’s Games: Spurs (W, 110-109), @Pacers (L, 106-115 OT), @Nets (L, 118-133)
Next Week’s Games: @Raptors, Pelicans
The Bulls came back from ten down in the fourth to edge out the Spurs at the start of the week. Zach LaVine led the way with 23 points and 6 boards and six other Bulls scored in double figures. Chicago almost pulled out another one in Indiana, but 20 points and 9 assists from LaVine and 21 points from Chandler Hutchison weren’t enough to spoil Victor Oladipo’s return. The Bulls then lost in Brooklyn, despite another strong showing from LaVine (22 points and 8 assists), 15 points and 8 assists from Tomas Satoransky, and 33 points combined from Luke Cornet and Thaddeus Young. With those losses, Chicago fell to 3.5 games out of the playoffs. LaVine was another name mentioned this week as an All-Star snub. He’s averaging 25.1 points (12th), 4.0 assists, and 4.9 rebounds per game on 38% from three while also ranking 20th in steals per game. He’s been good, but he hasn’t been quite good enough to cover for the fact that the Bulls are also 19-32. That’s not fully on LaVine given the injury situation in Chicago, but it is enough to push winning players like Kyle Lowry and Khris Middleton ahead given that they are also impressive statistically. Players on losing teams can make the All-Star game when they produce incredible stats. LaVine falls a little short of that descriptor.
- Sacramento Kings (18-30)
Last Week: 21 (-)
Last Week’s Games: @Timberwolves (W, 133-129 OT), Thunder (L, 100-120), @Clippers (W, 124-103)
Next Week’s Games: Lakers, Timberwolves, Heat
This was a good week for the Kings, but they still sit 5.5 games out of the playoffs with four teams sitting between them and the Grizzlies. Making the playoffs will be a tall order. In Minnesota, Sacramento pulled out an overtime win behind Buddy Heild (42 points), De’Aaron Fox (22 points, 8 assists, 7 boards), and Nemanja Bjelica (20 points, 8 assists, 9 boards). Performances similar to those will probably be necessary on a pretty consistent basis to win, as they were barely enough to beat a bad Timberwolves team. Those performances didn’t really happen against the Thunder, as Bjelica put up 0 points in 24 minutes while Hield went for 13. Fox had 19 points and 5 assists and Bogdan Bogdanovic had 23 points and 5 boards, but neither performance was enough. Fox stepped up against the Clippers, going for 34 points and 8 assists. With Kawhi Leonard sitting, and another 54 points from Hield, Bogdanovic, and Cory Joseph, the Kings were able to cruise to a win. The major questions in Sacramento this week revolve around two potential trade candidates – Bogdanovic and Dewayne Dedmon. Like Rose, Bogdanovic is on the list of a number of contenders, but the Kings seem to be unwilling to part with him for anything less than a really good offer despite the fact that he is not under contract for next season. He’s a name to watch this week. Dedmon has not done well in his time in California’s capital, and he has requested a trade. No one is chomping on the bit to trade for him, but he holds some potential value as a floor spacer if the Kings decide to move on. In other news, Richaun Holmes, Sacramento’s leader in win shares, will likely be back from injury next week while Marvin Bagley III will remain out with a foot injury until after the All-Star break. Getting those guys back can only help the postseason odds for the Kings, but it’s not clear by how much at this point. There’s a long way to climb.
- Orlando Magic (21-27)
Last Week: 15 (↓5)
Last Week’s Games: Clippers (L, 97-112), @Heat (L, 92-113)
Next Week’s Games: Heat, @Hornets, @Celtics, @Knicks
The magic didn’t work twice this week, and the Magic fell half a game back of the 7 seed and the Nets. Michael Carter-Williams led Orlando with 15 points (and 8 assists and 7 boards) against the Clippers. With all due respect to Carter-Williams, any 2020 game that features a team led in scoring by Michael Carter-Williams is essentially a guaranteed win for the other team. Against the Heat, Orlando’s leading scorer didn’t even get to 15, as Aaron Gordon and Nikola Vucevic tied with 13 points apiece. The Magic are one of four current playoff teams in the bottom half of the league in offensive rating (Grizzlies, Sixers, Nets), and, at 26th in the league, they clearly have the worst offense of that group. Their defensive is solidly in the top 10, but it’s just really difficult to win more than half of your games while ranking near the bottom of the league on one side of the floor. In this era, it’s probably even harder to do it when your struggles are offensive. There’s only so much you can do to slow down other teams right now. You have to be able to score. The Magic can’t, and until that changes, their ceiling is a first round exit.
- Brooklyn Nets (21-26)
Last Week: 20 (↑1)
Last Week’s Games: @Knicks (L, 97-110), Pistons (W, 125-115), Bulls (W, 133-118)
Next Week’s Games: @Wizards, Suns, Warriors
The Nets made this week a good one by beating the 11 seed Pistons and 9 seed Bulls to push their lead over the bottom half of the East to 4 games. The week started with a bad loss to the Knicks. Spencer Dinwiddie led all scorers with 23, but no other Net scored more than 14 with Kyrie Irving sidelined. Irving returned against the Pistons, putting up 20 points, 5 assists, and 5 boards, and the Nets won behind an additional 50 points combined from Dinwiddie and Taurean Prince. Irving stepped up with 54, 5, and 5 against the Bulls, and that, along with Dinwiddie’s 20, was more than enough for the win. Brooklyn is now 8-11 on the year with Irving, but they are 1-8 when playing current playoff teams with Irving on the court, with their only win in that scenario coming way back on November 1. It’s hard to see the Nets missing the playoffs because of the weaknesses of the teams beneath them, but it’s equally hard to see this team doing anything once they get there. An easier schedule this week will offer the chance to better secure that playoff standing.
- Phoenix Suns (20-28)
Last Week: 18 (-)
Last Week’s Games: @Grizzlies (L, 104-109), @Mavs (W, 133-104), Thunder (L, 107-111)
Next Week’s Games: @Bucks, @Nets, @Pistons, Rockets
Devin Booker is averaging 27.1 points (8th), 6.4 assists (20th), and 4 boards per game on 36% shooting from deep. He’s doubled his win share production, going from roughly 0.75 per 48 minutes last year to roughly 1.5 per 48 this season. He’s 13th among qualified players in true shooting percentage. He’s 10th in offensive win shares and 19th in total win shares. The Suns are 7.1 points better per 100 possessions when he plays. He probably should have been an All-Star. In other news, DeAndre Ayton averaged 21.3 points and 10 boards per game this week. Kelly Oubre Jr. put up 24.3 points and 8.7 boards per game. Booker averaged 31.7 points and 6.3 assists per game. The Suns will need more from everyone else. They sit 3.5 games out of the playoffs, and the Grizzlies, Spurs, and Pelicans aren’t going to give them anything.
- San Antonio Spurs (21-26)
Last Week: 16 (↓1)
Last Week’s Games: Raptors (L, 106-110), @Bulls (L, 109-110), Jazz (W, 127-120)
Next Week’s Games: Hornets, @Clippers, @Lakers, @Trail Blazers
The Spurs tripped up a little this week, and it won’t get any easier with a tough West Coast trip coming up. The loss to the Raptors can easily be excused given the circumstances of last Sunday, but the loss in Chicago was a tough one. DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge combined for 51 points, but San Antonio fell just short. The Spurs recovered to pull out a key win over the Jazz behind 38 points, 5 assists, and 5 boards from Aldridge, and that win pulled them back within 2 games of the Grizzlies. Here’s the problem for San Antonio – after hosting the lowly Hornets, they play eight road games in a row. Seven of those games are against current playoff teams (Lakers, Clippers, Nuggets, Jazz, Thunder twice), and the eighth is against a desperate Kings team. After all that, the Spurs have to come home and take on the Mavs. This is a make-or-break stretch. They have to keep their heads above water.
- Portland Trail Blazers (22-27)
Last Week: 19 (↑1)
Last Week’s Games: Pacers (W, 139-129), Rockets (W, 125-112), @Lakers (W, 127-119)
Next Week’s Games: Jazz, @Nuggets, Spurs, @Jazz
Portland pulled to within 2 games of the playoffs with a huge week from Damian Lillard. Lillard averaged 44.7 points, 11.3 assists, and 8.3 boards per game. He’s averaging over 34 points per game in January, and he’s averaging an absurd 48.4 points, 9.8 assists, and 8.2 boards per game over his last five. After dropping 50 on the Pacers, he tied Wilt, MJ, Rick Barry, James Harden, Devin Booker, and Elgin Baylor with the 8th longest streak of consecutive games with 47 or more points (3). Only Wilt (two streaks of seven, one streak of six, two streaks of five, one streak of four) and Kobe Bryant (one streak of four) have produced longer streaks. By dropping 48 points, 10 assists, and 9 boards on Friday night, Lillard paid the best possible tribute to Bryant. CJ McCollum also threw in 23 points per game this week, while Hassan Whiteside averaged 22 points and 12 boards. With the next eight games coming against the Spurs, Pelicans, or current playoff teams, the Blazers will need this version of Dame Time to last a little longer.
- New Orleans Pelicans (20-29)
Last Week: 15 (-)
Last Week’s Games: Celtics (W, 123-108), @Cavs (W, 125-111), Grizzlies (W, 139-111)
Next Week’s Games: @Rockets, Bucks, @Bulls
The Pelicans picked up three big wins this week, setting the tone for matchups with the Rockets and Bucks this upcoming week. Jrue Holiday averaged 23.7 points and 6.3 assists per game, Zion Williamson averaged 19.7 points and 8.7 boards, Brandon Ingram averaged 20 points and 4.3 assists, Derrick Favors averaged 10.3 points and 9.3 boards, and Lonzo Ball averaged 10.7 points, 10 assists, and 6.7 boards per game. Josh Hart has been a key rotation piece (10.5 points, 6.3 boards, 35% from deep on the year) and JJ Redick is shooting 51.4% from three in January. If those five can stay healthy, New Orleans will have a great shot at a successful playoff push here. Their win over the Grizzlies pulled them within four games of the 8 seed.
- Memphis Grizzlies (24-25)
Last Week: 14 (-)
Last Week’s Games: Suns (W, 114-109), Nuggets (W, 114-106), @Knicks (W, 127-106), @Pelicans (L, 111-139)
Next Week’s Games: Pistons, @Mavs, @76ers
The Grizzlies handled the Suns behind 63 combined points from Ja Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr, and Dillon Brooks. Morant and Brooks also combined for 12 assists and 10 boards. Against Denver, Brooks (24 points) and Jonas Valanciunas (23 points and 12 boards) led the way. Brooks put 27 in New York to go along with 18 points and 10 assists from Morant and 35 combined points from Jackson Brandon Clarke. The week ended on a sour note in New Orleans, as the Pelicans led early and often on the way to a blowout win. Valanciunas (18), Morant (16), and Jae Crowder (15) led the Grizzlies. Brooks is averaging 20.5 points per game in January, and, going back to December, has scored in double-figures in twenty-five of thirty-one games. He’s established himself as a future piece in Memphis. The Grizzlies have a two game lead over the bottom half of the West, with the charging Blazers, the Spurs, the Suns, and the charging Pelicans all within 4 games. It should be a fun finish to the season.
- Oklahoma City Thunder (30-20)
Last Week: 13 (-)
Last Week’s Games: Mavs (L, 97-107), @Kings (W, 120-100), @Suns (W, 111-107)
Next Week’s Games: Cavs, Pistons
The Thunder won the games they needed to this week, and it got them into a tie for the 6 seed with the Mavs. That happened despite Dallas’s win in Oklahoma City to start the week. With Chris Paul sitting out, the Thunder fell short despite solid play from Dennis Schroder (21 points, 6 assists, 7 boards), Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (16 points, 4 assists, 11 boards), and Danillo Gallinari (14 points, 6 assists, 5 boards). Paul returned in Sacramento to put up 9 points, 10 assists, and 7 boards. Schroder (24 points, 9 assists), Luguentz Dort (23 points), Gallinari (19, 4, 4), and Gilgeous-Alexander (17,7,7) all stepped up in the win. Paul (20 points, 10 assists, 6 boards), Schroder (24 points, 6 assists), and Gallinari (27 points) led the way in Sacramento. Paul was named an All-Star this week. Paul has been very good and durable this season (17 points, 6.6 assists, 5 boards per game; 4th in steals, 12th in win shares, 18th in box +/-, 15th in VORP, 49 games played), and he is a significant part of some of the best lineups in the league. I don’t have any issue with an historically great veteran getting a little boost over other deserving candidates to make the team. It’s just really unfortunate for Devin Booker.
- Indiana Pacers (31-17)
Last Week: 12 (-)
Last Week’s Games: @Trail Blazers (L, 129-139), Bulls (W, 115-106 OT)
Next Week’s Games: Knicks, Mavs, @Raptors, Raptors
The Pacers dropped their last game before Victor Oladipo’s return, falling in Portland despite a Domantas Sabonis triple-double (27 points, 11 assists, and 14 boards), 28 points from Jeremy Lamb, and 36 combined from Doug McDermott and Aaron Holiday. Malcolm Brogdon and Myles Turner also sat out. Oladipo and Brogdon returned for the Bulls game, and Brogdon (15 points, 9 assists, 8 boards), Sabonis (15 points, 5 assists, 11 boards), and TJ Warren (25 points) led the way to a win with Oladipo (9 points in 21 minutes) hitting some key shots late. The Pacers will need to keep Brogdon healthy while getting Oladipo up to speed quickly. The Mavs, Raptors (three times), Pelicans, and Bucks are all on the schedule in the coming weeks, and Indiana is a game and a half back of home-court advantage right now.
- Philadelphia 76ers (31-18)
Last Week: 11 (-)
Last Week’s Games: Warriors (W, 115-104), @Hawks (L, 117-127)
Next Week’s Games: @Celtics, @Heat, @Bucks, Grizzlies
The Sixers beat the Warriors in Joel Embiid’s return behind 24 points and 10 boards from their star big man. Ben Simmons and Raul Neto combined for 36. A trip to Atlanta didn’t end the same, as Trae Young and John Collins led the Hawks to a win, and another example of Philadelphia’s road struggles. In the loss, Tobias Harris, Shake Milton, Embiid, and Simmons combined to produce 85.5% of the points, 81.8% of the assists, and 81% of the rebounds for the Sixers, who are now 9-16 on the road. That won’t come close to cutting it if they want to reach their championship goals. The Sixers are looking at two or three series without home-court advantage just to reach the Finals, and that’s a problem if they can’t win on the road. They have three consecutive road games coming against three of the teams ahead of them in the standings. Winning two or more would lessen a lot of worries.
- Houston Rockets ()
Last Week: 10 (-)
Last Week’s Games: @Nuggets (L, 110-117), @Jazz (W, 126-117), @Trail Blazers (L, 112-125), Mavs (W, 128-121)
Next Week’s Games: Pelicans, Hornets, @Lakers, @Suns
The Rockets got two big wins this week, but they also lost twice. It’s hard to move them up as a result. With James Harden sitting in Denver, 32 points, 7 assists, and 7 boards from Russell Westbrook, along with 19 points from Eric Gordon, weren’t enough. Westbrook and Clint Capela joined Harden on the bench in Utah, but Gordon came up huge with 50 points in the win. Both Austin Rivers and Danuel House threw in 21 points. Westbrook, Harden, and Capela returned against the Trail Blazers, but only Westbrook (39 points, 6 assists, and 10 boards) played particularly well. Harden was okay (18 points, 4 assists, 5 boards) and Capela didn’t do much (2 points, 7 boards) in limited minutes. Harden played much better against Dallas (35 points, 6 assists, 16 boards), and Westbrook (32 points, 9 assists, 6 boards) and Gordon (17 points) helped him spark a win. Westbrook was named to the West All-Star team this week, and while there are questions about his full half season, there’s no debating how good he’s been recently. He’s averaging 32.5 points, 8.2 assists, and 8.3 boards per game in January, and he’s only taken six threes in his last seven games. That’s a big deal because it’s boosted Westbrook’s efficiency and redirected some of his offensive output into more productive pursuits. Unfortunately for Houston, it hasn’t led to a ton of wins because James Harden is shooting 35.5% from the floor – and 27% from three – in January. An efficiency boost from one of your stars won’t do much when your other star goes in the opposite direction.
- Miami Heat (32-15)
Last Week: 9 (-)
Last Week’s Games: Magic (W, 113-92), Celtics (L, 101-109)
Next Week’s Games: @Magic, 76ers, @Clippers, @Kings
The Heat beat the Magic behind a Bam Adebayo triple-double (20 points, 10 assists, 10 boards) and 40 combined points from Duncan Robinson and Jimmy Butler. They lost to the Celtics despite 43 points combined from Butler and Goran Dragic and 16 points and 10 boards from Adebayo. The Heat are tied with the Celtics for the East’s 3 seed, and they sit 2 games behind the Raptors. They’ve made the most of their success so far this season, but preventing a slide in the second half could prove to be difficult. Miami is right at the bottom of the top ten in net rating and average point differential, yet they have the sixth best record in the league. The margins between those two obviously aren’t all that big, but neither are the margins between the 2 seed and the 6 seed in the East. Any slip could have a huge impact. The Heat are 15-12 on the year against current playoff teams. They have sixteen of those games left, with three coming this week. Getting ten of those sixteen would put Miami in a great spot. They are also, as always, a team to watch at the deadline. Pretty much every available player has been linked to the Heat, and there’s a chance that at least one of those rumours will come true. Some reinforcements likely wouldn’t hurt, though there have been some understandable concerns about breaking up the culture that has formed in South Beach this season.
- Dallas Mavericks (29-19)
Last Week: 7 (↓1)
Last Week’s Games: @Thunder (W, 107-97), Suns (L, 104-133), @Rockets (L, 121-128)
Next Week’s Games: Hawks, @Pacers, Grizzlies, @Wizards
Luka Doncic put up 29 points, 5 assists, and 11 boards in an impressive win in Oklahoma City. The rest of the week didn’t go so well. The Mavs were blasted in a home game against the Suns. Doncic (21), Jalen Brunson (15), and JJ Barea (15) were the only double-figure scorers. Dallas also fell short in Houston despite a big game from Kristaps Porzingis (35 points, 12 boards). The Mavs are 5th in the league in average point differential and 6th in net rating, yet they are in a tie with the Thunder for the 6 seed in the West. There’s a disconnect between how well they’re playing and their record, and it feels like they probably need to add another clutch scorer and playmaker alongside Doncic to fix it. The Mavs are ahead of schedule with their competitive window, with both Doncic and Porzingis having plenty of time left in Dallas, but if they want to attempt to take full advantage of this year’s success, then a trade for Derrick Rose, Marcus Morris, or someone similar could be coming this week.
- Utah Jazz (32-16)
Last Week: 4 (↓3)
Last Week’s Games: Rockets (L, 117-126), @Spurs (L, 120-127), @Nuggets (L, 100-106)
Next Week’s Games: @Trail Blazers, Nuggets, Trail Blazers
The Jazz hit a bump in the road this week. 66 combined points from Donovan Mitchell and Bojan Bogdanovic weren’t enough against the Rockets.. In San Antonio, the Jazz lost again despite 51 combined from Mitchell and Jordan Clarkson, 17 points and 9 boards from Bogdanovic, and 17 points and 19 boards from Gobert. A trip to Denver also ended in a loss, as Jordan Clarkson’s heroic 37-point effort wasn’t enough to salvage a poor game from Mitchell (4 points, 8 assists, 5 boards) even with 39 points and 17 boards total from Gobert and Bogdanovic. There’s not a lot to take away from this week if it doesn’t continue into the next week. It was just a bad stretch of games. The Jazz are still within 4.5 games of the Lakers, and they’ll have a chance to move on completely by succeeding during a rough stretch of games coming up. The streaking Trail Blazers (twice), the Nuggets, the Heat, the Rockets, the Mavs, the Spurs, the Suns, and the Celtics await Utah over the next ten games. It’s time for them to show that their recent run of success can be sustained when the schedule gets tough. If they continue to falter here, it’s hard to see them as legitimate contenders. One thing that could potentially help – Mike Conley is projected to return to the starting lineup soon after coming off the bench over the last two weeks. He has yet to produce at the expected level in Utah, but he was a big offseason addition for a reason. If he can get right, Utah’s ceiling is a lot higher.
- Denver Nuggets (34-15)
Last Week: 8 (↑2)
Last Week’s Games: Rockets (W, 117-110), @Grizzlies (L, 96-104), Jazz (W, 106-100), @Bucks (L, 115-127)
Next Week’s Games: @Pistons, Trail Blazers, @Jazz
The Nuggets had a big week, winning three of four games against fellow playoff teams. They took down the Rockets behind a Nikola Jokic triple-double (24 points, 11 assists, 12 boards), 25 points from Jerami Grant, and 34 points and 16 boards combined from Monte Morris and Michael Porter Jr. A loss in Memphis was the only bad night of the week, as the Grizzlies got up early and never looked back despite more solid play from Jokic (25 points, 13 boards) and Grant (21 points). Denver rebounded against the Jazz and Bucks. Jokic put up 28 points and 10 boards and Will Barton dropped 18 to take down the Jazz. Against the Bucks, Barton (24 points) led an absurd nine double-figure scorers as the Nuggets got red-hot from the floor. That win, along with the Lakers loss to the Trail Blazers, brought Denver within 3 games of the top seed out West. They have a 0.5 game lead over the Clippers for the 2 seed. Last year, we saw a Nuggets team with a great regular season record fall short in the playoffs. It’s not hard to see that happening again, as Denver is 9th in net rating and 11th in average point differential despite their impressive record. Denver needs to play like they did this week more consistently.
- Boston Celtics (32-15)
Last Week: 5 (-)
Last Week’s Games: @Pelicans (L, 108-123), @Heat (W, 109-101) Warriors (W, 119-104)
Next Week’s Games: 76ers, @Hawks, Magic, Hawks
The Celtics picked up a big win over the Heat to stick with them in the standings, but both teams have now been passed by the Raptors. Boston sits 2 games back of the 2 seed, with 1.5 games separating them and the 5 seed Pacers. With the return of Victor Oladipo and the constant threat of the best version of the Sixers showing up consistently, maintaining that 1.5 game lead, and winning the prize of home-court advantage in the first round, will be no easy task. The Celtics will also probably want to avoid a first round matchup with the 76ers, who have beaten them three times this year. This week offers one final chance to swing the tide, but it looks like an unfavorable matchup for Boston either way. Despite a bit of a slide in recent weeks record wise, the Celtics are third in average point differential and tied for second in net rating on the year. They have a top 6 defense and offense, and they have as good of a chance as anyone at grabbing the East’s 2 seed. Eight of their final thirty-five games come against the top six teams in the East. Winning a majority of those games will be key. A big story in Boston this week was the selection of Jayson Tatum to the All-Star Game over teammate Jaylen Brown. On the year, Tatum leads in points, assists, rebounds, steals, blocks, defensive rating, PER, turnover %, usage rate, defensive win shares, defensive box +/-, and VORP. Brown leads in offensive rating, field goal %, three-point %, offensive win shares, offensive box +/-, box +/-, and win shares per 48 minutes. They are tied in total win shares. The Celtics are 12.3 points better per 100 possessions with Tatum on the floor. They are 3.6 points worse per 100 possessions with Brown on the floor (though still easily positive overall when he plays). Tatum probably deserved the nod.
- Toronto Raptors (35-14)
Last Week: 6 (↑2)
Last Week’s Games: @Spurs (W, 110-106), Hawks (W, 130-114), @Cavs (W, 115-109), @Pistons (W, 105-92)
Next Week’s Games: Bulls, Pacers, @Pacers
The Raptors are just cutting through teams right now. Pascal Siakam and Norm Powell returned from injury on January 12 against the Spurs. Toronto lost that game 104-105, but the next game, and the return of Marc Gasol, marked the start of a ten-game winning streak that the Raptors will be carrying into next week. The Bucks will come to Toronto on February 25. Before that, the Raptors play the Bulls (home), the Nets (once at home, once in Brooklyn), the Pacers (three times with two at home), the Suns (home), and the Timberwolves (home). Beating the Pacers three times in a row is no easy task, but given the home-heavy and relatively easy stretch of games between now and the 25th, the Raptors could possibly take an eighteen-game winning streak into that Tuesday night matchup with Milwaukee. It’s something to watch. Siakam (35 points, 8 boards) led the way in San Antonio to start this past week. He followed that up with 24 points and 9 boards against Atlanta, with Serge Ibaka (24 points, 10 boards), Fred VanVleet (19 points), Terence Davis (15 points), and Kyle Lowry (12 points, 11 assists, 8 boards) providing support. Lowry (23 points, 5 assists, 5 boards) and Ibaka (26 points) took charge in Cleveland alongside Siakam and Norm Powell (35 points total) and Fred VanVleet (8 points, 12 assists, 7 boards). A trip to Detroit ended the week, and Siakam (30 points, 4 assists, 7 boards), Ibaka (21 points, 6 boards), and VanVleet (16 points, 8 assists, 7 boards) fueled a win. Over the last ten games, the Raptors are second in the league in net rating and average point differential. The problem for Toronto is the team in first in both – the Bucks. Despite this ten game run of wins, the Raptors have only gained one game in the Eastern Conference standings. For an idea of how hard it would be to catch the Bucks, consider this – the Raptors would finish 68-14 if they win out, which means the Bucks would then only need to go 27-7 to finish with the same record. That’s the same amount of losses in 34 games as they have in 48 so far, and it’s a theory that already depends on the Raptors adding 33 more wins to their winning streak. Even if they can’t grab the 1 seed, Toronto has gained a clear 2 game advantage over the teams chasing them for the 2 seed. They need to keep pushing that edge.
- Los Angeles Clippers (33-15)
Last Week: 3 (-)
Last Week’s Games: @Magic (W, 112-97), Kings (L, 103-124)
Next Week’s Games: Timberwolves, Spurs, Heat
Kawhi Leonard played in Orlando, dropping 31 points, 7 assists, and 14 boards in a win. Landry Shamet, Montrezl Harrell, and Lou Williams combined for 53 points, and Paul George missed yet another game. George returned against Sacramento, but Leonard sat out. The Kings dominated despite a combined 43 points from Harrell and Williams, as George struggled to find his groove in his first game since January 5. The Clippers are now 28-8 when Leonard plays. They are 19-8 when George plays. They are 14-4 when both play. That means that Los Angeles is 14-4 when just Leonard plays, but only 5-4 when just George plays. George is a really good player. He was a legitimate top-three MVP candidate last year, but this year, he’s taken a bit of a drop. His win share production is down by 0.6 win shares per 48 minutes, and the Clippers are 0.3 points worse per 100 possessions when George plays, which would suggest a lacking impact. The likely cause of a significant piece of the discord is injuries and missed time, which isn’t George’s fault obviously. But it is slightly concerning as we enter the final thirty game stretch here. The Clippers need everything to be clicking for George this summer, and that hasn’t happened yet. If George and Leonard continue to miss so many games, it’s fair to start wondering when it will.
- Los Angeles Lakers (36-11)
Last Week: 2 (-)
Last Week’s Games: Trail Blazers (L, 119-127)
Next Week’s Games: @Kings, Spurs, Rockets
The Lakers fell in their only game of the week following the cancellation of their game against the Clippers due to the shocking and numbing death of Kobe Bryant. 37 points, 6 assists, and 15 boards from Anthony Davis, along with a near triple-double from LeBron James (22 points, 10 assists, 8 boards) and a double-double from Kyle Kuzma (17 points, 15 boards) weren’t enough to top a vintage Damian Lillard performance. It’s hard to read into this one at all, given the emotions of the night. A Kobe tribute, including a beautifully done video and a speech from LeBron preceded the game, and that was really the only part of the night that truly mattered in the Staples Center. The Lakers hold a 3 game lead over the rest of the pack out West and now trail the Bucks by 4.5 games.
- Milwaukee Bucks (41-7)
Last Week: 1 (-)
Last Week’s Games: Wizards (W, 151-131), Nuggets (L, 115-127)
Next Week’s Games: Suns, @Pelicans, 76ers
The Bucks crushed the Wizards without Giannis because of huge performances from All-Star Khris Middleton (51 points, 6 assists, 10 boards) and Eric Bledsoe (34 points, 10 assists, 6 boards). Milwaukee is now 4-0 with four double-digit wins when Antetokounmpo sits, which, at the very least, is the sign of a team that is far more than the MVP. The Bucks then lost for the seventh time, ending a nine-game winning streak. Decent performances from Giannis (31 points, 9 assists, 16 boards), Middleton (24 points, 9 assists), and Bledsoe (15 points, 7 assists) weren’t enough to beat a hot shooting night from Denver as Milwaukee’s own shooters went cold. Despite the loss, the Bucks hold a 6.5 game lead over the streaking Raptors with a game in hand. Their lead over the Lakers for the best record in the league is now up to 4.5 games. Their playoff magic number is down to 9. The Bucks are now on pace to tie the all-time record in average point differential (+12.3 per game) and to win 70.04 games. They’re doing all right. Milwaukee has the best defensive rating in the league by a significant margin, but the one clear flaw that has shown up in their losses is their three-point defense. The Bucks run an inside-out system defensively that protects the paint at all costs with the Lopez brothers and Giannis. This can leave more space than the average defense for threes, and the three-point shooting of the last four teams to have beaten them looks like this – Spurs: 19-35, 54% (37% average); Sixers: 21-44, 48% (35.2% average); Mavs: 16-41, 39%, but 11-21 from top three scorers (36.3% average); Nuggets: 22-46, 47.8% (34.7% average). Some have pointed to this as a problem that needs to be fixed, but it is not. The Spurs, Nuggets, and Sixers all shot at least 13% better than usual from deep, and the Mavs got 11 of 21 threes from their top three scorers. Those shooting numbers aren’t replicable in a consistent manner, as the Bucks have shown in the other thirty-five or so games that have surrounded these four losses after a sluggish opening stretch. In other words, teams are shooting well enough from deep to overcome Milawaukee’s dominance of the defensive paint in one of every seven or eight attempts. If that rate somehow becomes four of seven attempts in a playoff series, then there’s just nothing to be done. A greater power would be stopping the Bucks at that point. Any team is going to have to bet on something going right in order to succeed. Betting that your opponent won’t outshoot their season averages from deep by nearly 15% in four of seven games seems like a pretty solid bet to make.