Tag: Tiago Splitter

Draymond Green, LeBron James

Adjusting to playoff rotations, or holy moly Warriors and Cavaliers!


The Trail Blazers played more than 2,000 minutes with Wesley Matthews on the floor. The Cavaliers spent 786 minutes of their season trying to make Dion Waiters work. The Hawks gave Elton Brand nearly 500 minutes as they rested players on back-to-backs and deep into routs.

How much does that time matter now?

Matthews is injured. Waiters was traded. Brand will likely fall short of the rotation.

Yet, those minutes – and others like them – cloud statistical evaluations of teams’ playoff chances.

So, I’m parsing the numbers with a system I’ve used the last two years:

In an attempt to get better data, I’ve used nba wowy! to rank playoff teams by regular-season net rating (offensive rating minus defensive rating), counting only the lineups that include five players projected to be in the team’s post-season rotation.

This measure is far from perfect. It doesn’t account for opponent or weigh lineups based on how often they’ll be used in the postseason, and it’s impossible to precisely predict a team’s playoff rotation.

In the two years I’ve used this formula, it has successfully predicted 22-of-30 series – one more than straight seeding. Here’s where the system and seeds differed:

Formula was correct:

  • 2014: Trail Blazers over Rockets
  • 2014: Wizards over Bulls
  • 2013: Grizzlies over Thunder
  • 2013: Grizzlies over Clippers

Seed was correct:

  • 2014: Thunder over Clippers
  • 2014: Clippers over Warriors
  • 2013: Heat over Spurs

As always, it’s important to remember the following numbers are not meant to comprehensively predict series. Many other factors are involved that are not accounted for here. But this data is a reference point, one of many to consider.

Here are the ratings for each team in the 2015 postseason adjusted from full season to using only lineups that include five players projected to be in the playoff rotation:


2. Cleveland Cavaliers

  • Offensive rating: 111.7 to 118.2
  • Defensive rating: 106.9 to 101.0
  • Net rating: +4.8 to +17.2

6. Milwaukee Bucks

  • Offensive rating: 103.3 to 106.1
  • Defensive rating: 102.8 to 98.5
  • Net rating: +0.5 to +7.6

5. Washington Wizards

  • Offensive rating: 104.3 to 107.7
  • Defensive rating: 103.5 to 101.1
  • Net rating: +0.8 to +6.6

3. Chicago Bulls

  • Offensive rating: 107.7 to 108.6
  • Defensive rating: 104. 4 to 103.3
  • Net rating: +3.3 to +5.3

1. Atlanta Hawks

  • Offensive rating: 109.6 to 109.9
  • Defensive rating: 103.8 to 104.9
  • Net rating: +5.8 to +5.0

4. Toronto Raptors

  • Offensive rating: 111.6 to 112.2
  • Defensive rating: 108.3 to 108.0
  • Net rating: +3.3 to +4.2

7. Boston Celtics

  • Offensive rating: 105.3 to 105.8
  • Defensive rating: 105.2 to 105.1
  • Net rating: +0.1 to +0.7

8. Brooklyn Nets

  • Offensive rating: 105.0 to 107.7
  • Defensive rating: 108.1 to 114.2
  • Net rating: -3.1 to -6.5


1. Golden State Warriors

  • Offensive rating: 111.7 to 116.4
  • Defensive rating: 101.3 to 95.7
  • Net rating: +10.4 to +20.7

3. Los Angeles Clippers

  • Offensive rating: 113.2 to 117.5
  • Defensive rating: 106.3 to 105.9
  • Net rating: +6.9 to +11.6

4. Portland Trail Blazers

  • Offensive rating: 108.7 to 117.2
  • Defensive rating: 104.2 to 106.2
  • Net rating: +4.5 to +11.0

6. San Antonio Spurs

  • Offensive rating: 109.2 to 110.0
  • Defensive rating: 102.6 to 100.7
  • Net rating: +6.6 to +9.3

2. Houston Rockets

  • Offensive rating: 107.5 to 110.1
  • Defensive rating: 104.0 to 101.0
  • Net rating: 3.5 to +9.1

7. Dallas Mavericks

  • Offensive rating: 109.8 to 111.1
  • Defensive rating: 106.8 to 105.7
  • Net rating: +3.0 to +5.4

5. Memphis Grizzlies

  • Offensive rating: 106.2 to 108.0
  • Defensive rating: 102.7 to 102.7
  • Net rating: +3.5 to +5.3

8. New Orleans Pelicans

  • Offensive rating: 108.8 to 110.1
  • Defensive rating: 107.9 to 107.3
  • Net rating: +0.9 to +2.8


  • The Cavaliers and Warriors are JUGGERNAUTS with the adjusted ratings. They should absolutely be favored to reach the NBA Finals.
  • Neither team’s ascendance should be a surprised. Golden State has dominated all season, and Cleveland has soared since acquiring Timofey Mozgov, J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert to complement LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love.
  • The Warriors and Cavaliers make huge gains on both sides of the ball, Cleveland more so offensively and Golden State defensively. The Warriors’ defense just looks untouchable.
  • This system predicts two first-round upsets: Bucks over Bulls and Wizards over Raptors.
  • Maybe Milwaukee’s post-deadline problems were due more to Jared Dudley and O.J. Mayo getting hurt than a trade altering the roster. With everyone healthy, the Bucks look dangerous.
  • The Wizards rated favorably here last year too, and they upset the Bulls in the first round. Washington has flaws, but leaning on a balanced starting lineup and a limited bench can work for this squad.
  • The Hawks and the Nets are the only teams with worse net ratings after the adjustment. Atlanta misses Thabo Sefolosha, whose defensive loss is noticeable and makes this deep team more susceptible to upset. The Nets just go from bad to worse, strengthening their position as poster child for playoff reform.
  • The Raptors’ defensive problems don’t seem to be caused by players who can just be dropped from the rotation. That’s a problem for Toronto.
  • The Celtics are probably a tougher out than their adjusted rating indicates. Isaiah Thomas, coming off the bench, played too much with lesser role players – which limits his impact here. Those other players will be dropped from the rotation, and Thomas could help Boston steal a game if Cleveland loses focus.
  • Once Doc Rivers trims the fat from his rotation, the Clippers make nice gains. This team is strong at the top, which I think bodes well for the playoffs.
  • Predicting whether injured players make their teams’ rotations is the hardest part of this exercise. This is mostly guesswork, but here are a few key decisions. In: Arron Afflalo, Chandler Parsons, Mike Conley, Tony Allen. Out: Tiago Splitter.
  • The Trail Blazers climb much higher than expected, but their sample is the smallest size. Their players projected to be in the playoff rotation just didn’t play much together without someone out of the rotation. Matthews obviously mucks up a lot of lineups, and Afflalo barely registers. So, Afflalo’s health wouldn’t affect much for this projection. But, with or without Afflalo, the sample is too small to draw many conclusions.
  • The Spurs get a nice bump with the adjustment, but not as large as I anticipated. Swapping the hobbled Splitter for Aron Baynes doesn’t swing it, either. San Antonio might have just run out of luck getting pitted against the Clippers in the first round. The Spurs have the NBA’s fifth-highest adjusted net rating – with the small-sample Blazers ahead of them – and might not win a single playoff series.
  • The Rockets make a bigger leap but don’t climb quite as high as San Antonio. However, claiming the No. 2 seed and getting a much easier first-round matchup should make all the difference for Houston.
  • The Mavericks (even with Parsons), Grizzlies (even with Conley and Allen) and Pelicans all get better with the adjustment, but not enough to challenge the West’s top teams. Again, though, Portland’s rating is least reliable. So, don’t be surprised if the Grizzlies – especially if Conley and Allen ge healthy, but maybe even if they don’t – win that 4/5 matchup.

PBT’s NBA Power Rankings: Cream rising to top as playoffs near

Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Marco Belinelli, Manu Ginobili

There are only a couple weeks left in the regular season (and only a few more power rankings to come, before the playoffs make them moot) and you can see the cream rising to the top — Warriors, Cavaliers, Spurs and so on. The Clippers are hot, but do you really buy into them as a contender?

source:  1. Warriors (60-13, Last Week No. 1). Looking for a team hitting their stride as the playoffs approach? The Warriors have won nine in a row and 14-of-15, getting them to 60 wins and locking down the top seed in the West. They are five games up on the Hawks for best record overall. Tough slate of games this week, expect Steve Kerr to rest some key players.

source:  2. Cavaliers (48-27 LW 2). It is looking more and more like they are going to land the two seed and face Miami in the first round — not that the Heat can beat the Cavaliers, but that’s going to draw a lot of attention and be a more challenging first round than the Cavs would prefer. The Cavs play the Heat Thursday in what will be a little preview.

source:  3. Spurs (47-26, LW 3). They have won three in a row and 7-of-10 — they finally got healthy, put their regular starting five out there and now look like title contenders again. They keys have bee Kawhi Leonard and Tiago Splitter, and their returns to form gets the bench rotation back in order.

source:  4. Hawks (55-18, LW 4). Mike Budenholzer learned his craft next to Gregg Popovich — expect the Hawks to rest a lot of key players the next two weeks with the top spot secured (like they rested all five starters over the weekend). The good news for the ATL is whoever they get in the first round it’s basically a bye and they can use that to get their groove back.

source:  5. Clippers (49-25, LW 7). They have won seven in a row and they are doing it with offense — J.J. Redick is playing the best ball of his NBA career. The Clips are just 1.5 games back of the two seed and 1.5 games up on the six seed, no team’s playoff landing spot is harder to predict.

source:  6. Rockets (50-23, LW 6). They have won 7-of-8 and, with Dwight Howard back in the rotation, they seem a lock to be a top three seed (they are No. 2 right now). That said the loss of Patrick Beverley and Donatas Motiejunas will hurt the team’s depth as they face the Thunder and Mavericks later in the week.

source:  7. Grizzlies (50-24, LW 5). They have lost three straight, albeit to quality teams (Warriors, Cavaliers, Spurs). Now the schedule softens up for them as they try to hold on to the two (or at least three) seed in the West (although look for them to jockey for position to avoid the Spurs, who give them trouble).

source:  8. Trail Blazers (47-25. LW 9). The Blazers have won three in a row and have broken out of their slump, but those wins came against teams out of he playoffs and with Damian Lillard still looking to regain his shooting form. Key game Wednesday against the Clippers, a potential first-round matchup (and Portland will not have home court in that matchup without a win).

source:  9. Bulls (45-29, LW 11). Jimmy Butler is back, Nikola Mirotic is on fire, and the Bulls have won five of six — but have done it beating up on the cream puffs out East. Soon the Bulls will get Derrick Rose back and they seem clearly the third best team in the East heading into the playoffs. How far can that really take them?

source:  10. Mavericks (45-29, LW 10). They have lost four of five and the issue is far more than Monta Ellis not getting calls. The Mavs have a tough stretch coming up at Oklahoma City, then hosting Houston and Golden State. If they lose to the Thunder Wednesday, Dallas needs to be concerned about holding on to the seven seed.

source:  11. Thunder (42-32, LW 8). It’s official, no Kevin Durant for the playoffs, and Serge Ibaka will be on the bubble. The win over Phoenix Sunday all but secures them a first round playoff spot, but if they are the eight seed it’s nearly impossible to see them getting past Golden State. Beat Dallas on Wednesday and the seven seed is not out of the question. Is just getting this banged up Thunder team to the postseason enough to get Russell Westbrook the MVP?

source:  12. Pelicans (39-34, LW 13). The only way they make the playoffs is with a lot of help from OKC. The Thunder close out the season against facing a lot of the playoff teams in the West and it’s going to be hard to rack up wins and stay close at this point.

<source:  13. Suns (38-36, LW 15). That loss to Oklahoma City on Sunday was the stake through the heart to their playoff hopes. Well, that and the losses in the two games before Sunday as well. They seemed destined for a second strong season as the nine (maybe 10) seed in the West.

source:  14. Wizards (41-33, LW 12). Lots of people look at the Wizards stumbling to the playoffs, then the job Randy Whittman has done, and think the Wizards need a new coach. However, he has a guaranteed contract for next season and owner Ted Leonsis is not likely to throw that kind of money away. I’ve been told to expect Whittman back as the Wizards coach next season.

source:  15. Raptors (43-30, LW 16). For the second year in a row the Raptors have clinched the Atlantic Division crown, which is something to celebrate. They have a soft schedule the rest of the way in (after Houston on Monday) so they should be able to hold on to home court against Washington in the first round.

source:  16. Jazz (32-41, LW 14). They had lost four in a row and their mojo until Enes Kanter decided to go WWE smack talk and wake up the Jazz again. One thing that has seemed evident during this stretch is the Jazz need to draft or go after more shooters in free agency. Or both.

source:  17. Bucks (36-37, LW 22). Last weeks back-to-back wins over the Heat and Pacers all but assured Milwaukee will make the playoffs out East as the six seed. However, tough stretch this week with the Hawks, Bulls, and Celtics, fall in all those games and they slide down the standings.

source:  18. Heat (34-39, LW 18). In the volatile bottom of the East Miami is back up to the seven seed, all on the back of Dwyane Wade (who dropped 40 on Sunday). Tough games early in the week with the Spurs and Cavs, really key game late in the week vs. Indiana.

source:  19. Nets (32-40, LW 19). They hold the eight seed in the East now thanks to Brook Lopez carrying their offense averaging 28.2 point per game his last five (and in spite of a terrible defense). Like everyone at bottom of East, this is a flawed team likely to have a couple more bad losses.

source:  20. Celtics (32-41, LW 17). They have played great defense their last 10 games, but an anemic offense leads to some unexpected losses. They can make or break themselves this week facing the Hornets, Pacers, Bucks and Raptors. But I expect we get more up and down results.

source:  21. Pacers (32-41, LW 21). Sunday’s win over slumping Dallas was key for them heading into a week that will likely make or break their playoff dreams: at Brooklyn, at Boston, Charlotte, and Miami. Whatever happens, should they really bring Paul George back for any games this season? Hard to see why.

source:  22. Nuggets (28-46, LW 23). After a fast start the Nuggets have fallen back to 8-7 under Melvin Hunt as interim coach. That says less about him and more about how some minor injuries have exposed the limitations of this roster. He still deserves serious consideration for the big chair next season.

source:  23. Pistons (28-44, LW 24). The Pistons have played fairly well without the injured Greg Monroe (which could be a good sign for next season). Reggie Williams and Andre Drummond are starting to develop a real nice pick-and-roll chemistry.

source:  24. Kings (26-46, LW 25). The best thing about the Kings right now is the Sauce Castillo nickname. Check out Monday’s PBT Extra where I discuss if Willie Cauley-Stein is a good fit next to DeMarcus Cousins (short answer, not really).

source:  25. Hornets (31-41, LW 20). The Hornets beat the Hawks… only because Atlanta rested all five starters. If they want to get back in the mix for the eight seed in the East they need a big week of wins against Boston, Detroit, Indiana and Philadephia.

source:  26. 76ers (18-56, LW 26). They lost to the Cavaliers Sunday but the way their defense kept them in the game, the way they scrapped, is a sign of what this team could develop into down the line. There is reason for optimism in Philly.

source:  27. Magic (22-52, LW 27). They changed coaches mid-season (and will get a new one next summer) but rumor is GM Rob Hennigan is going to get a contract extension. That shows you ownership has bought into this rebuilding plan and thinks the problems are in execution down the line. Interesting.

source:  28. Lakers (19-53, LW 30). I wish the Lakers and Byron Scott would stop selling fans on the quick fix that is not coming. Rebuilding like they are doing takes years to do right, even if you nail your picks and get a quality free agent or two. Lakers fans will buy into a building process if you treat them intelligently, not like little children.

source:  29. Timberwolves (16-56, LW 28). When Ricky Rubio has been out, I have fully enjoyed the entertainment value of Zach LaVine running the Timberwolves offense. But that is not a long-term answer, they need another point guard in the mix.

source:  30. Knicks (14-60, LW 29). They have 60 losses on the season, a franchise record. This team needs a lot more than a “big butt to hold space.” Look at it this way, who leads the Knicks in total shot attempts this season? Carmelo Anthony, despite having played in just 40 games (‘Melo has 167 more than Tim Hardaway Jr.).

Five Things We Learned in NBA Sunday: Dwyane Wade is going to will Heat into playoffs

Dwyane Wade; Kentavious Caldwell-Pope

If you watch closely every night in the NBA you can learn a little something. We know you are busy and can’t keep up with every game, so we’re here to help with those lessons from another night in the Association. Here’s what you missed while imagining your texts if an angry Yo-Yo Ma was in your living room

1) Dwyane Wade drops 40, is going to will Heat into playoffs. With just a couple weeks left in the NBA season, Miami may not yet be  a lock to make the playoffs. However, they now have a two-game cushion over the nine seed Boston Celtics, and it feels like Miami is going to find its way into the dance as the seven seed (and almost certainly face Cleveland in the first round). All thanks to Dwyane Wade. He’s been on fire of late and dropped 40 on the Pistons Sunday in a game that continued Miami’s trend of players dropping like flies. Chris Bosh is out for the season recovering from blood clots in his lungs. Hassan Whiteside and Chris Andersen were already out injured for the night. Then Luol Deng suffered a contusion his knee and left not to return after halftime. With all that Wade had to take charge, and he did — 40 points on 14-for-27 from the floor and 12-for-13 from the free throw line. Wade did it without hitting a three. He was getting to the rim like a younger Wade, making shots in the paint, plus going 6-of-12 from the midrange.

2) The Rockets never win pretty, but they do win and are now the second seed in the West. Much like how James Harden racks up his points, how the Rockets keep racking up wins is not aesthetically pleasing. It just works. It worked Sunday as the Rockets held on to beat the Wizards 99-91, which combined with Memphis’ loss puts Houston into the two seed out west. This time it wasn’t all James Harden, rather it was Josh Smith putting up points to open the game, it was Pablo Prigioni controlling the game in the fourth quarter. The  Wizards are a floundering team right now, and the Rockets did let them hang around. But anytime the Wizards seemed to get close, Houston went on a little run. It wasn’t pretty, but it was enough to pick up their 50th win and get the two seed (at least for a day).

3) Oklahoma City beat Phoenix and all but clinched a playoff spot. The sun set on the Phoenix’s playoff chances Sunday — with their loss to Oklahoma City the Suns are four games back with eight to play. (The Pelicans are 2.5 games back.) Mathematically everything is possible, realistically the Thunder are going to get the eight seed in the West. Sunday’s game had the feel of a playoff game. Phoenix was desperate to get the win, hit everything early; Markieff Morris had 16 first quarter points and the Suns led by 20 in the second quarter. Then the Thunder run started. There was a 17-4 run in the second quarter, then another 17-7 one in the third and we had a ballgame. The 13-0 OKC run in the fourth was pretty much the end of it. Russell Westbrook led the way, of course, dropping 33.

4) Brook Lopez had a 30 point, 11 rebound game to put Nets back in playoffs (for a day). If the playoffs started today, we would have to suffer through a round with the Brooklyn Nets in it. Sorry. At least they will get swept by the Hawks. But as bad as the Nets are they are too much for the Lakers right now. Brook Lopez has again become the focal point of the Nets’ offense, averaging 28.8 points per game over the last six, and that may be enough to keep them ahead of Boston. Or not. I’m not going to try to predict the teams stumbling to the finish line in the East.

5) San Antonio beat Memphis as these teams continue to trend in opposite directions. The Spurs have won three in a row, seven of their last 10, Tony Parker is getting in the lane, Tiago Splitter is making plays, and the Spurs are getting some big games from Kawhi Leonard. Sunday Leonard  had 15 of his 25 points in the fourth quarter, shooting 6-of-7 in that final frame, to lead the Spurs to a 103-89 win over the Grizzlies. The Spurs are healthy again and look like a team that nobody’s going to want to face come the playoffs. A team that could come out of the West. Meanwhile, Memphis has lost three in a row. Granted, to the Warriors, Cavaliers, and Spurs, so it’s hard to read too much into that (if they lose to the Kings in their next game…). Still, if the Grizzlies are going to be title contenders, these are the kinds of games you’d think they would win some of.

PBT’s weekly NBA Power Rankings: It’s Warriors, Cavs at the top, likely your Finals favorites

Utah Jazz v Golden State Warriors

Golden State remains the class of the NBA this regular season, but for some reason there are people who don’t buy into them as contenders. I guess you can’t win until you’ve already won. The Cavaliers have slid up to No. 2 as the Hawks stumble, and the Spurs start to look like their old selves.

source:  1. Warriors (56-13, Last Week No. 1). We’ve had an Andre Iguodala sighting, his scoring has gone up while Klay Thompson is out with his bad ankle. This team is deep with somewhat interchangeable parts, which helps them weather injuries. Good tests on the road at Portland and Memphis this week.

source:  2. Cavaliers (46-26 LW 3). In their last 15 games they have the best offense in the NBA, but the defense has surrendered 103 points per 100 possessions 20th in the NBA. That defense has been worse lately. Right now the offense is covering that up, but come the playoffs that defense is going to get them in trouble eventually.

source:  3. Spurs (44-25, LW 5). If you noticed one thing lately it’s that Tiago Splitter finally looks healthy, and with that the Spurs’ defense has been more physical and improved. The win over Atlanta Sunday showed just how well this team is playing when focused. The loss in New York shows what happens when they are not. Four games against West playoff teams this week, we’ll see if that keeps them focused.

source:  4. Hawks (53-17, LW 2). They have lost three straight to top teams in the West (Warriors, Thunder, Spurs). Part of that was Kyle Korver being out for the first two, he is crucial to their offensive spacing. Also the loss of role guys Thabo Sefolosha and Mike Scott, has dinged them. Still, those three teams shredded the Atlanta defense, a very troubling sign. Easier schedule this week should get them rolling again.

source:  5. Grizzlies (49-21, LW 6). Finally Tony Allen is starting and Jeff Green is coming off the bench. Green is just too inconsistent to be trusted nightly, even if his offense is called for some nights. Win over Portland Saturday doesn’t make Memphis a lock for the two seed, but they are pretty close now.

source:  6. Rockets (46-23, LW 7). It took a while but I have finally come around: If the vote were today I would put James Harden ahead of Stephen Curry on my MVP ballot. Just how much he matters to the Rockets every game — every possession — put him over the top. His is not an elegant game, but it’s effective. That said, the loss of Terrence Jones (partially collapsed lung) comes at a tough time with seven of next nine on the road.

source:  7. Clippers (46-25, LW 8). Coach Doc Rivers and the Clipper organization is promoting DeAndre Jordan for Defensive Player of the Year. He doesn’t deserve it, but that’s another discussion. Here is what Doc Rivers said about promoting players for awards: “It’s good to support players. I don’t know if I believe in it or not, if you want my real answer, but I think that’s what you should do. Because that’s what every other team does.”

source:  8. Thunder (40-30, LW 9). They have a 2.5 game cushion over the Suns for the eight seed (the Pelicans are three back). That is amazing considering Kevin Durant is done for the season and Serge Ibaka will be out until close to the playoffs (and Nick Collison is now injured). It’s all about Russell Westbrook and the offense, but that will be enough to get them into the postseason.

source:  9. Trail Blazers (44-24. LW 4). They have lost four in a row, all on the road but some of those were very winnable (Orlando, Miami) and Portland didn’t bring their best games. Their defense has been sloppy and now both LaMarcus Aldridge (re-injured hand) and Nicolas Batom could miss a little time with injuries.

source:  10. Mavericks (44-27, LW 10). This team remains up and down — they beat the Clippers and Thunder, then lose to the Grizzlies and Suns. Now there are reports Monta Ellis’ notorious up-and-down moods are impacting the team and it’s effort. If they land Memphis in the first round (the current matchup) and play like this they will be done quickly.

source:  11. Bulls (42-29, LW 14). The good news is Taj Gibson is back and Jimmy Butler is expected back Monday night. The team expects to have Derrick Rose back for the playoffs. Still, does all of that really strike fear into anyone? On paper Chicago is dangerous, but they have not played Tom Thibodeau level defense all season — they seem to have lost sight of their identity.

source:  12. Wizards (40-30, LW 16). They had won five in a row before running into the hot shooting Clippers last Friday. Then they were awful Sunday against Sacramento. Wizard’s coach Randy Whitman, what’s wrong? “We need to start games with solid defense. That’s the common theme: We need to defend. When we defend we’re pretty good.”

source:  13. Pelicans (37-33, LW 11). They had the chance to make up ground on the banged up Thunder this week and couldn’t because Anthony Davis was injured. This team is not close to the same without him (and minor injuries seem to follow him around). They are three games back of the Thunder now, they will need some help to make that ground up.

source:  14. Jazz (31-38, LW 13). They are 12-4 since the All-Star break with the best defense in the land, and they have a candidate for Most Improved Player in Rudy Gobert (although Jimmy Butler likely wins that one). Quin Snyder has done a fantastic job, the question becomes how the organization builds on this over the summer for next season.

<source:  15. Suns (38-33, LW 18). They have won four games in a row, they are playing improved defense, but remain 2.5 back of the Thunder and are unlikely to make that ground up and get into the postseason. If they are going to catch OKC they need to beat them Sunday in a showdown (which would give Phoenix the tiebreaker).

source:  16. Raptors (42-28, LW 19). If Toronto wants to advance past the first round of the playoffs for the second time in franchise history (last one was 2001) they need to hold of Chicago for the three seed. Which makes Wednesday’s showdown with Chicago huge. As does not having slip ups against teams like Detroit and the Lakers this week.

source:  17. Celtics (30-39, LW 15). They had moved into the eight seed in the East, then came the three-game losing streak. Two of those were understandable (Thunder and Spurs) but the loss to Detroit is a hard one. Also, Marcus Smart can’t afford to get suspended for punching guys in the groin or any other reason.

source:  18. Heat (32-36, LW 21). They had won three in a row before Sunday, mostly because Dwyane Wade has jumped in the hot tub time machine and had scored at least 28 in five straight games. They have seven of nine on the road and need to win away from home to hold on to that two-game cushion they have to make the postseason.

source:  19. Nets (29-39, LW 22). They have won three of four due to a resurgent Brook Lopez, and beat a couple teams ahead of them in the standings. That gets them within a game of the playoffs, with key games against Boston and Charlotte this week.

source:  20. Hornets (30-38, LW 20). They had lost five of six before getting healthy against the struggling Timberwolves Sunday. Their next five games are against potential playoff teams in the East and if they can keep winning they will hold on to the eight seed, but this will be a key stretch.

source:  21. Pacers (30-39, LW 12). Losers of five in a row, they have gone from seeming playoff lock to team on the outside looking in. Paul George may return this week and there will be pressure on him to change this, but it really will take them getting back to playing elite defense.

source:  22. Bucks (34-36, LW 17). They are 4-13 since the All-Star break and trading for Michael Carter-Williams, and suddenly they are just 3.5 games ahead of the nine-seed Celtics and missing the playoffs all together. The Bucks likely hold on to a spot because of a soft schedule, but they could use a win over Miami or Indiana this week.

source:  23. Nuggets (26-44, LW 23). Losers of three in a row, which should make management happy as they worked to cut off this team at the knees once Melvin Hunt got them winning. If Denver doesn’t pick up Hunt as their full time coach, another team should poach him.

source:  24. Pistons (26-44, LW 25). The up-and-down Pistons were up last week with wins over the Grizzlies, Bulls and Celtics. Then they lost to the Sixers. Reggie Jackson is looking more comfortable and is putting up numbers, but is he really blending with where Stan Van Gundy wants to evolve the team?

source:  25. Kings (24-45, LW 24). The DeMarcus Cousins/George Karl relationship seems to be a work in progress. The Kings are dangerous any given night — especially with Rudy Gay thriving in Karl’s system. But the defense does them in most nights.

source:  26. 76ers (17-53, LW 28). Nice loss by the Sixers to the Lakers Sunday, if they were trying to hurt the Lakers’ lottery odds so the Sixers get the pick (sixth or higher and it is Philly’s via trade). Also no, Nerlens Noel is not going to unseat Andrew Wiggins as the Rookie of the Year, but he could garner some votes farther down the ballot.

source:  27. Magic (22-50, LW 27). Elfrid Payton still has a long way to go with his shot, but he’s finding a groove in the NBA and had two straight triple-doubles last week. He’s going to get mentioned in the Rookie of the Year balloting as well (even if he can’t catch Wiggins at this point). He’s a piece they can have as part of their core going forward.

source:  28. Timberwolves (15-54, LW 26). Kevin Garnett has missed seven games in a row and with that their defensive numbers have plummeted. Minnesota has lost 11-of-13 and one of those wins was in overtime against the hapless Knicks.

source:  29. Knicks (14-56, LW 29). Their win over the Spurs last week was one of the shocking results of the NBA season. Can they pull that off again this week against Memphis or the Clippers? No, probably not.

source:  30. Lakers (17-50, LW 30). The Steve Nash signing just didn’t work out for the Lakers At the time it was a good gamble — he was relatively healthy and the Lakers thought they could contend with Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard — but that third year was a question mark from the start and came back to bite them.

Kings owner says Malone fired because Kings now need “jazz director”

Oklahoma City at Sacramento

I’m not sure what Kings owner Vivek Ranadive expected when he was seen as the driving force behind the firing of coach Mike Malone, but the general reaction from the locker room to the national media was negative. Count me among those that see this as a confusing step and a rookie mistake by the owner.

Ranadive doesn’t see it that way. Obviously.

Speaking in Sacramento on the matter — after meeting with Mark Jackson, Chris Mullin and DeMarcus Cousins — Ranadive said essentially that Malone had fulfilled his purpose. And he’s right in that when Ranadive bought the team from the Maloof family and kept it in Sacramento the locker room (and much of the organization) was a mess, so he hired Malone to clean up that mess. He brought in Malone to provide that structure the organization needed. Ranadive admits to James Ham of ESPN that Malone did that, but then said because that part of the job was done it was time for a change.

“The NBA has become like the high-tech business,” Ranadive said. Point 4 (of the five points he was making). “Just because you invented the iPhone, doesn’t mean you can rest on your laurels, because somebody else is building a better iPhone. Just because you win 50 games, doesn’t mean you can be satisfied with the status quo. Just because you win 16 games in a row, doesn’t mean that you don’t look for Ray Allen to make your team better. So we live in a time when good enough isn’t, and we need to keep getting better. So while we have a good foundation, we needed to pivot. We needed to go….

“Defense is great, but we need defense and offense,” he said. “We need to go from a rules-based organization, which was important when you had chaos, to a values-based organization. From kind of a programmatic offense, to a read-and-respond, free-flowing offense. I like to use a music metaphor. We had a Sousa marching band, which was needed when there was chaos, but now we need to shift to a jazz band, where people can be individually showcased and improvised. What we need is a jazz director. I think that’s the kind of leadership moving forward.”

As a fan of Jazz, I’ve never really heard the term “jazz director” before, because the best jazz doesn’t work like an orchestra with a conductor up front. But I understand what he’s trying to say, so I’ll let that part slide.

And as soon as the Kings do the NBA equivalent of inventing the iPhone, then they should worry about staying fresh.

To most of us it is bad form not to give Malone — who had this team at 9-6 with a healthy DeMarcus Cousins before his illness — a chance to see this through. Why make the change now, mid-season? So you can get a good look at Tyrone Corbin? It’s not like Malone was instilling bad habits in this team, it was just a philosophical issue. One that could have been dealt with last summer or next. One Ranadive should have thought through better before hiring Malone first, before he hired anyone else, like the GM or consultant Chris Mullin, both of whom have tried to push Malone and his slow-it-down style out the door.

The bigger issue is while I get what Ranadive wants, his roster is poorly suited for it. Staring with your franchise player but also your second biggest star — Rudy Gay has made strides but he’s still more volume scorer than playmaker. The Spurs got to be the Spurs by making an organizational shift that was led by Popovich, with Tim Duncan willingly ceding control of the offense to Tony Parker. Then they went out and got players — Boris Diaw, Tiago Splitter, Danny Green, Patty Mills and so on — who fit that system.

The Kings have a star in DeMarcus Cousins and should build to his strengths. Which is what Malone was doing.

And, Ranadive, if you’re really going to hire a strong coach — like a George Karl — you’ll find they are not fond of meddling owners who have suggestions based on what worked on their daughter’s youth basketball team. At all.