If ever there was a season in which the conferences needed to be allowed to swap teams, this may be it. While the Grizzlies and Rockets keep plugging along with winning records, both are well out of the playoff chase in the Western Conference. In the East, Chicago and Toronto are locked in a "battle" for the eighth and final spot in that playoff "race." The Bulls and Raptors have lost a combined 12 consecutive games.
Things don't look to get better much better this week. The injury-riddled Bulls have games in Memphis and Dallas, before returning home to face LeBron James and the Cavaliers on Friday. Meanwhile, the Raptors--who have dropped nine of 10 overall--are at home against Atlanta and Oklahoma City, before visiting New Jersey and Minnesota. It's a two-horse race, if they don't both end up in the glue factory.
(Statistics through March 14)
Rank. (Last week) Team (Power rating / Championship probability) [Win pace / Pythagorean win pace / Preseason projection ]
1. (1) Cleveland Cavaliers (60.6 / 31.8%) [ 63 / 60 / 54 ]
Rankings: NET: 1; OFF: 2; DEF: 7; PACE: 25
Boston's Kendrick Perkins had some contemptuous comments to make about the Cavaliers, a team his squad trails by 10 games in the conference standings. One thing he said is that the Cavaliers are better without Shaquille O'Neal. Maybe Perkins reads 82games.com, because the numbers back him up.
2. (2) Los Angeles Lakers (60.3 / 27.0%) [ 59 / 57 / 53 ]
Rankings: NET: 3; OFF: 11; DEF: 3; PACE: 9
Kobe Bryant has made just five of his last 32 three-point attempts, dropping his season accuracy mark to .312, the lowest it's been in eight years. Of the 120 players currently with enough attempts to qualify for the three-point percentage title, only six have been more inaccurate.
3. (3) Orlando Magic (56.9 / 12.4%) [ 56 / 59 / 49 ]
Rankings: NET: 2; OFF: 7; DEF: 2; PACE: 16
Orlando's perfect March ended on Sunday with a home loss to the surging Bobcats. It was just the seventh home loss for the Magic this season. Rashard Lewis made one field goal in 33 minutes, the first time he's hit only one shot in 30 or more minutes of play in more than four years.
4. (4) Utah Jazz (56.1 / 7.0%) [ 52 / 55 / 53 ]
Rankings: NET: 7; OFF: 8; DEF: 10; PACE: 14
Utah's advantage over red-hot Oklahoma City dropped to a half-game after the Thunder sent the Jazz to its second straight road loss on Sunday. The teams are battling for the fourth seed in the West and the accompanying home-court advantage in the first round when the playoffs start next month.
5. (5) Denver Nuggets (55.4 / 8.1%) [ 55 / 54 / 43 ]
Rankings: NET: 6; OFF: 3; DEF: 15; PACE: 5
The Nuggets have won six straight to reclaim the No. 2 slot in the West. Denver was forced to play without head coach George Karl, who is undergoing treatment for cancer, in the Nuggets' games in New Orleans and Memphis. He will also miss Monday's game in Houston. Denver is 4-0 with Adrian Dantley running the team in Karl's absence.
6. (6) Atlanta Hawks (53.0 / 3.7%) [ 52 / 53 / 30 ]
Rankings: NET: 8; OFF: 4; DEF: 16; PACE: 26
The Hawks are 5-2 this month and a run at the second seed in the East isn't out of the question. Atlanta trails Orlando by 3.5 games after the Magic's loss to Charlotte on Sunday. The Hawks will likely be favorites in 14 of their last 17 games. A key test comes March 24, when Atlanta hosts Orlando in the final meeting of the season between the two teams.
7. (10) San Antonio Spurs (51.7 / 1.3%) [ 49 / 54 / 57 ]
Rankings: NET: 4; OFF: 9; DEF: 9; PACE: 22
The Spurs' anticipated decline due to Tony Parker's injury simply hasn't happened. San Antonio has won seven of eight, with the only loss a two-point defeat at Cleveland. George Hill has picked up Parker's slack by averaging 16.9 points in his last 10 games and going 17-of-29 from three-point range during that span.
8. (9) Phoenix Suns (51.2 / 2.1%) [ 50 / 49 / 38 ]
Rankings: NET: 11; OFF: 1; DEF: 26; PACE: 4
Amare Stoudemire has been on a tear, averaging 30.7 points over his last seven games. Stoudemire has 81 free-throw attempts during that stretch. The newly-aggressive Stoudemire has taken 65 percent of his shots around the rim over the last 10 games. His season mark in that category is 59 percent.
9. (11) Oklahoma City Thunder (51.1 / 0.9%) [ 51 / 51 / 32 ]
Rankings: NET: 10; OFF: 14; DEF: 4; PACE: 13
Rookie James Harden could miss up to a month with a hamstring injury. He hasn't played since March 10. Harden, who is the Thunder's top three-point threat, has served as Scott Brooks' primary second-unit scorer. His 2.62 WP82 ranks eighth among rookies and third among first-year shooting guards.
10. (8) Boston Celtics (50.5 / 2.2%) [ 51 / 53 / 56 ]
Rankings: NET: 5; OFF: 13; DEF: 1; PACE: 23
The Celtics dropped three of four last week and dropped to 10th on the Hoops List, their lowest standing since we started publishing the POW-based ratings last season. Boston gets a respite this week with home games against Detroit and New York, but then will travel to Houston, Dallas and Utah--all while looking over their shoulders at suddenly unbeatable Milwaukee.
11. (7) Dallas Mavericks (50.5 / 2.2%) [ 55 / 47 / 50 ]
Rankings: NET: 12; OFF: 10; DEF: 12; PACE: 19
If you can makes sense of the Mavericks' 128-94 loss to New York which snapped Dallas' 13-games winning streak, you're smarter than me. Compounding the improbability of the result, which came on the Mavericks' home floor, is the fact that Dallas hammered New York by 50 points at Madison Square Garden earlier this season.
12. (12) Portland Trail Blazers (49.0 / 0.4%) [ 48 / 50 / 50 ]
Rankings: NET: 9; OFF: 5; DEF: 14; PACE: 30
The Blazers have won seven of eight but haven't gained any ground on seventh-place San Antonio, which has posted the same mark over its last eight games. Brandon Roy has picked up the pace after overcoming his hamstring issues. Roy scored 89 points in Portland's three games last week.
13. (13) Miami Heat (44.7 / 0.4%) [ 42 / 44 / 44 ]
Rankings: NET: 13; OFF: 16; DEF: 8; PACE: 28
The streaky Heat have won six of seven, solidifying a playoff spot that was looking shaky just two weeks ago. An overlooked factor has been the hot-shooting of Quentin Richardson, who has shot 47 percent from three-point range in seven games this month while averaging 15.4 points, 6.6 above his season average.
14. (16) Charlotte Bobcats (44.6 / 0.4%) [ 42 / 44 / 45 ]
Rankings: NET: 15; OFF: 25; DEF: 5; PACE: 27
Holy cow, we pointed towards the softening of the Bobcats' schedule as a reason for Charlotte fans to be hopeful despite the 4-9 stretch the team suffered through in February and early March. But even we didn't see this kind of rebound. The Bobcats have won six straight, a streak which began with a home win over the Lakers and continued Sunday with an impressive win in Orlando.
15. (14) Milwaukee Bucks (44.6 / 0.1%) [ 45 / 46 / 26 ]
Rankings: NET: 14; OFF: 23; DEF: 6; PACE: 17
The beat goes on for the Bucks, who completed another perfect week with home wins over the Celtics, Jazz and Pacers. Brandon Jennings has shown signs of snapping out of his shooting slump, shooting 11-of-25 from three-point range and .379 from the field overall in March. That's not exactly Steve Johnson territory, but it reverses a nasty trend.
16. (15) Houston Rockets (43.0 / 0.0%) [ 42 / 41 / 50 ]
Rankings: NET: 16; OFF: 19; DEF: 13; PACE: 8
Luis Scola, what's gotten into you? Scola scored a career-high 44 points against the Nets on Saturday on 20-of-25 shooting. His previous career best was 30 points. Scola is averaging 26.2 points and 15.2 rebounds over his last five games, in which he's topped 40 minutes in each outing.
17. (17) Memphis Grizzlies (40.8 / 0.0%) [ 42 / 39 / 30 ]
Rankings: NET: 17; OFF: 12; DEF: 24; PACE: 12
Mike Conley is enjoying one of the best months of his young and often erratic career, averaging 14.9 points on 50-percent shooting in eight March games. Conley is shooting .413 from three-point range on the season, ranking in the league's top 20. His assist rate is also at career-best levels, but some of these happy tidings are undone by a turnover rate that is headed in the wrong direction.
18. (18) Toronto Raptors (37.9 / 0.0%) [ 40 / 35 / 38 ]
Rankings: NET: 18; OFF: 6; DEF: 30; PACE: 11
The Raptors have lost five straight and nine of 10 thanks in part to a defense that has reverted to its early-season levels of incompetence. Not helping matters is the offensive troubles of Chris Bosh, who is averaging nearly five fewer points since returning from injury and has shot just .456 over his last five games.
19. (19) New Orleans Hornets (37.5 / 0.0%) [ 39 / 34 / 44 ]
Rankings: NET: 19; OFF: 15; DEF: 18; PACE: 15
Chris Paul may return next week, but with the Hornets now eight games out of eighth-place in the West, there isn't a whole lot on the line for New Orleans. It will be interesting to see how Jeff Bower utilizes rookies Darren Collison and Marcus Thornton, who have emerged during Paul's absence. Can they all play together in a super-fast lineup?
20. (20) Chicago Bulls (36.2 / 0.0%) [ 39 / 33 / 45 ]
Rankings: NET: 20; OFF: 27; DEF: 11; PACE: 10
Injuries have pulled the plug on the Bulls' season, though the struggles in Toronto have allowed Chicago to maintain hopes for a turnaround. Chicago's big three of Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and Luol Deng all missed games last week. Now Kirk Hinrich has been suspended for a game for bumping a referee.
21. (21) Philadelphia 76ers (30.0 / 0.0%) [ 28 / 30 / 40 ]
Rankings: NET: 23; OFF: 21; DEF: 21; PACE: 21
There are rumblings that the Eddie Jordan experiment may be drawing to a close in Philadelphia, though there doesn't seem to be a good reason to make the switch now. Jordan has been giving ample court time to Thaddeus Young and Jrue Holiday, so it's not like he's ignoring the big picture. Wait till after the season--then really clean house.
22. (25) New York Knicks (29.2 / 0.0%) [ 28 / 32 / 31 ]
Rankings: NET: 21; OFF: 17; DEF: 25; PACE: 7
Kevin O'Conner and the Utah Jazz will be keeping a careful eye on the Knicks as the season draws to a close. Utah owns the Knicks' first pick in the upcoming draft. Right now, the Knicks are in a cluster of six teams in the league within a couple of games of each other. Below that are only the Nets, Warriors and Timberwolves. The Knicks' closing schedule is one of the league's most difficult.
23. (23) Sacramento Kings (29.1 / 0.0%) [ 28 / 30 / 30 ]
Rankings: NET: 22; OFF: 20; DEF: 23; PACE: 6
Tyreke Evans laid into teammate Andres Nocioni during a game last week for taking some bad shots. Evans' shot selection is also a bit suspect at times, but he's a rookie with All-Star written all over him. Nocioni on the other hand does tend to take some questionable shots, as any Bulls fan will attest. Evans did learn one lesson: When you go after a teammate, do it behind closed doors. For Nocioni, it's really a no-win situation. If he doesn't like Evans, what exactly is he going to do about it?
24. (22) Los Angeles Clippers (27.8 / 0.0%) [ 30 / 24 / 27 ]
Rankings: NET: 27; OFF: 26; DEF: 19; PACE: 18
Say what you will about Mike Dunleavy Sr., but after seven years of running the Clippers, he had the franchise in the best possible position entering the summer of 2010. It may not have made any difference, but at least he had them set up. Now, after the petty way Don Sterling handled Dunleavy's dismissal last week, it only serves as a horribly-timed reminder about why this rinky-dink franchise is doomed to fail.
25. (26) Detroit Pistons (27.4 / 0.0%) [ 28 / 27 / 44 ]
Rankings: NET: 28; OFF: 24; DEF: 22; PACE: 29
Will Bynum has typically been a source of instant offense for the Pistons during his two seasons in Detroit, but he flashed an amazing bit of playmaking with a 20-assist outing against the Wizards on Friday. Bynum has now had four double-digit assist games in his career, three of them coming in the last month.
26. (24) Washington Wizards (26.9 / 0.0%) [ 26 / 28 / 26 ]
Rankings: NET: 25; OFF: 22; DEF: 20; PACE: 20
Josh Howard said this week that he'd like to remain in Washington beyond this season, but he'll have to come back as an unrestricted free agent to make that happen. The Wizards have an $11.8 million team option on Howard for next season. Howard is no longer an $11.8 million player so that's not going to be picked up. Howard has suffered a precipitous drop in offensive efficiency this season despite playing most of the year on a Dallas team with plenty of other weapons. He turns 30 next month.
27. (27) Golden State Warriors (26.8 / 0.0%) [ 22 / 31 / 35 ]
Rankings: NET: 24; OFF: 18; DEF: 29; PACE: 1
Don Nelson says he likes Anthony Randolph as a center and the numbers seem to back him up. Randolph, who is out for the season with an injured ankle, put up a 22.4 PER at center before getting hurt, versus a 17.2 PER at power forward. Sample size red flags need to be waved, but it's an intriguing notion.
28. (28) Indiana Pacers (26.3 / 0.0%) [ 26 / 27 / 38 ]
Rankings: NET: 26; OFF: 28; DEF: 17; PACE: 2
Pacers point guard T.J. Ford is expected to be out for six or seven games because of a groin injury. Ford overcame a banishment to the Indiana bench earlier this season to re-establish a spot in Jim O'Brien's rotation. Ford has a player option for next season for $8.5 million and while you'd expect him to exercise it, you could envision and scenario where he opts to become a free agent. Despite the hype around the coming free-agent class, the group is a little soft in the point guard department.
29. (29) Minnesota Timberwolves (17.8 / 0.0%) [ 17 / 18 / 32 ]
Rankings: NET: 29; OFF: 29; DEF: 27; PACE: 3
We're 80 percent into the current season and Wolves forward Kevin Love is suggesting that the team still doesn't really understand Kurt Rambis' version of the triangle offense. That's not a particularly good sign for Minnesota fans.
30. (30) New Jersey Nets (12.7 / 0.0%) [ 8 / 15 / 40 ]
Rankings: NET: 30; OFF: 30; DEF: 28; PACE: 24
You have to hand it to the Nets--they still aren't winning, but they haven't thrown in the towel. Well, they did throw in the towel early in the season, but faced with the possibility of recording the most losses in league history, Jersey is showing some recent chutzpah. The Nets' four losses last week were by a combined 25 points. Hey, at least it's something.
RANKINGS: NET = net efficiency ratio; OFF - offensive efficiency; DEF - defensive efficiency; PACE: average possessions per game
Adjusted winning percentage (AWP) = ((home wins x 0.6)+(road wins x 1.4)) / (((home wins x 0.6)+(road wins x 1.4)) + ((home losses x .1.4)+(road losses x 0.6)))
Championship probability (CHAM) = percent of championships won out of 10,000 simulations of the "as of today" playoff bracket, based on each team's POW
Opponents winning percentage (OWP) = aggregate percentage of games won for each team's opponents, based on the number of times the team has faced that opponent.
Playoff Potential (POT) = suggests the highest likely postseason round a team might advance to, based on comparing its POW to other teams in our database
Power rating (POW) = (((PYTH + AWP)/2)*(OWP/.500)) x 82
Pythagorean winning percentage (PYTH) = uses the basketball-reference formula of Games x (Points scored^14) / ((Points scored^14) + (Points allowed^14))
WP82 = wins produced per 82 games, adjusted for playing time
WP3K = wins produced per 3,000 minutes
SKILL RATINGS: player performance is quantitatively tracked in a variety of categories that represent a cross-section of basketball skills; in each category, the player's performance is measured against others at his position, then slotted in a league-wide percentile ranking. The percentile ranking is converted to an integral rating between +5 and -5, with 0 being average. Skill ratings are tracked for overall production (TOT), offensive production (OFF), on-ball defensive ability (DEF), overall rebounding (REB), passing (PAS), ballhandling (HND), shooting (SHT), athleticism (ATH), foul-drawing (FOU), blocks-plus-steals (BPS).
Statistical Plus Minus (SPM): measures a players net effect in points per 100 team possessions.
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Bradford Doolittle is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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