Golden State Warriors' Stephen Curry (30) and Kevin Durant, right, celebrate in the final minutes of an NBA basketball game against the Denver Nuggets on Monday, Jan. 2, 2017, in Oakland, Calif. Golden State won 127-119. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
Associated Press

NBA Power Rankings Week 13: At halfway point it’s the Warriors in West, Cavs out East

1 Comment

We are at the midway point of the NBA season, which means things like the mid-season awards will be coming from us in the next couple days (a post on Tuesday, plus a podcast breaking them down). It’s also the midpoint of the rankings, and not shockingly the Warriors are on top and the top five teams have four we were pretty sure would be there before the season started.

 
Warriors small icon 1. Warriors (34-6, Last Week No. 4). The Warriors have outscored opponents by 11.6 per 100 possessions this season, the best net rating in the NBA. Last season when they won 73 games, their net rating was that same 11.6. Of course, regular season accomplishments are not how this team will be judged, which is why Monday’s rematch (and Finals preview) with Cleveland matters more than other regular season games. Expect a lot of Stephen Curry/Kevin Durant pick-and-rolls this time around.

 
Spurs small icon 2. Spurs (31-9, LW 1). The Spurs have had their stumbles recently, but their three most recent losses were by a combined seven points. What keeps them in games is the third best defense in the NBA and that they are the best three-point shooting team in the league (41.5 percent as a team). Fun showdown Saturday when they take on the Cavaliers on the first of the NBA’s big Saturday night showdowns.

 
Rockets small icon 3. Rockets (32-11, LW 2). Montrezl Harrell has turned into a player — in the 15 games since Clint Capela went down he has averaged 14.2 points a game. He’s been solid. When you take as many threes as the Rockets — 48.1 percent of their shot attempts are threes in January — there are nights they just don’t fall and the team struggles. For example, the loss last week to Memphis when they shot 24.4 percent three. They face Memphis again this week, as well as Golden State.

 
Cavaliers small icon 4. Cavaliers (29-10, LW 3). They are 3-2 on the road trip through the West, but the big game is Monday night in Golden State. Kyle Korver scored 18 against the Kings, the majority of his touches coming curling off screens, he is starting to find a comfort level in the offense (particularly with the LeBron and the bench line). One other big game this week, they host San Antonio in the first of the NBA’s big Saturday Night showdown games.

 
Clippers small icon 5. Clippers (28-14, LW 10). Winners of six in a row (they have yet to lose in 2017), this team is playing well again and they should be getting Blake Griffin back relatively soon. Yes, they are beating below .500 teams (save Memphis) and have a home heavy schedule, but what good teams do is beat the teams below them. Chris Paul is averaging 17.8 points and 12.3 assists per game since his return, and the Clippers are destroying teams when he is on the court.

 
Raptors small icon 6. Raptors (27-13, LW 6). They knocked off Boston last week to reclaim the “second best team in the East” mantle (for at least a while). Still, this team’s issues at the power forward spot have been blown wide open with Patrick Patterson out, and that’s the reason to expect them to be active at the trade deadline. Kyrie Irving will start at one of the All-Star Eastern Conference guard spots, but who gets the other one: Kyle Lowry deserves it, but can he beat out the hot (and also deserving) Isaiah Thomas?

 
Celtics small icon 7. Celtics (25-15, LW 5). The Celtics are 12-3 in their last 15, and Isaiah Thomas is averaging 31 points a game in that stretch. He has become as dangerous a clutch player as their is in the league right now (just ask the Hawks). This is a good team, but here is the concern — they have yet to beat any of the teams you see ranked above them here (0-8). That includes a loss to Toronto last week.

 
Jazz small icon 8. Jazz (26-16, LW 11). They have the best defense in the NBA through half a season, and it is anchored by Rudy Gobert, the leading candidate through Defensive Player of the Year. This team is 18.2 points per 100 better when George Hill is on the court and he has been healthy lately, but the basketball gods cannot ease up on Utah as now Rodney Hood has a knee issue (no structural damage, which is good news considering how it looked at the time).

 
Thunder small icon 9. Thunder (25-17, LW 8). Enes Kanter has been putting up impressive numbers off the bench lately — 20.6 points per game his last five, 18.4 his last 10 — and has injected himself into a very crowded Sixth Man of the Year conversation. The Thunder are 4-4 through their brutal January schedule so far, with four more road games coming up (Clippers and Warriors this week, then Jazz, and Pelicans next week).

 
Grizzlies small icon 10. Grizzlies (25-18, LW 7). They remain the team nobody wants to see in the postseason, and they are 4-0 this season against the Rockets and Warriors. And they face the Rockets again this week. The Grizzlies have a top four defense but are 24th in offense — they run pick-and-rolls 30 percent of the time and score well when the ball handler shoots, but once the passing starts the percentages dip because they don’t have the spot up shooters to make a defense pay.

 
Hawks small icon 11. Hawks (23-17 LW 9). They have pulled Paul Millsap off the trade market, which means they are making a run at the playoffs. They are considering bringing in Gary Neal as a veteran shooter to fill some of Kyle Carver’s minutes (along with Mike Dunleavy, who played well off the bench for them last week). If they are going to get the four seed in the East, they need wins in games like the ones against Detroit and Chicago this week.

 
Wizards small icon 12. Wizards (20-19, LW 16). Bradley Beal’s play has lifted these Wizards up to a playoff level team at the halfway point, the only questions are can they stay healthy, and can they sustain any success. The Wizards are 3-0 so far in a stretch where they have 5-of-7 at home (plus they picked up a road win in Milwaukee in there). Portland and Memphis round out the homestead this week.

 
Bucks small icon 13. Bucks (20-19, LW 14). The fans are getting a few things right with their All-Star votes (no, Dwyane Wade starting is not one of them) — they are putting Giannis Antetokounmpo in as a starter in the East. He should be. He’s going to win Most Improved Player because is making leaps as long as his strides, but we want him in the All-Star Game for plays like this.

 
Pacers small icon 14. Pacers (20-19, LW 12).. Dropped the one game they played last week, to Denver in London, and it was everything Pacers this season: They had won five in a row, Paul George was playing well, then the entire team came out like they’d had a few too many Guinness while in London. The inconsistency of this team is maddening, but a soft schedule this week (Pelicans, Kings, Lakers) could get them back on track.

 
Bulls small icon 15. Bulls (21-21, LW 13).
Busy five games in seven nights week for Chicago, with two back-to-backs (getting Washington and Memphis on those second nights).

 
Blazers small icon 16. Trail Blazers (18-24, LW 19). The win over the Cavaliers last week was a reminder that this team is much better when Al-Farouq Aminu is on the court (they need his defense). That said, so long as Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum are their undersized backcourt, defense is going to be a challenge for this team. The improved play of late from this team has them looking like the team that gets the eight seed in the West, which they should be when you look at their competition.

 
Hornets small icon 17. Hornets (20-20, LW 15). They are 1-6 in their last seven and the problem has been on the defensive end, allowing 113 points a game. This is not good for Steve Clifford’s sleep patterns. The Hornets have five in a row at home starting on Wednesday, they need to use that stretch to turn the losing streak around or they could be on the outside looking in come the playoffs.

 
Pelicans small icon 18. Pelicans (16-25, LW 21). They have been a force defensively the past few weeks — allowing just 98.7 points per 100 possessions in their last 10, best in the NBA — which has them just 1.5 games back of Portland for the final playoff slot in the West. Of all the teams chasing the Blazers the Pelicans may be the most likely to be a threat. If they can sustain this defense. Somebody knocking down a jumper would help as well.

 
Pistons small icon 19. Pistons (19-24, LW 18). Reggie Jackson has played much better the past 10 games, averaging 19 points a night in that stretch (and shooting 40 percent from three in his last five). Still the team struggles are simple, in the last 15 games their defense has been terrible, allowing 111.2 points per 100 (27th in the NBA). Also, Andre Drummond and the starters just are not meshing like expected — the Pistons are outscored by 7.6 points per 100 possessions with Drummond and Tobias Harris on the floor together, and by 9.9 when Drummond and Jackson are paired.

 
Knicks small icon 20. Knicks (18-23 LW 17). The drama has returned to New York. They have lost 10-of-12. Derrick Rose went AWOL and is clashing with Jeff Hornacek. Carmelo Anthony trade rumors are starting up (it would be vintage Phil Jackson to push Anthony out of town with it looking like ‘Melo’s idea). Hornacek is changing up the starting lineup, putting Ron Baker in over Courtney Lee. Atlanta, Boston, and Washington are the kinds of games playoff teams win — or at least are competitive in — and can the Knicks do that?

 
Kings small icon 21. Kings (16-24, LW 20). Sacramento is 1-5 so far in a make-or-break seven game homestand and have trailed by at least 14 points in every game. The bad news is now things are about to get tough — after a Wednesday date with the Blazers the Kings head out on an eight game road trip that could bury them. If you want a silver lining, Anthony Tolliver has played well since being made a starter.

 
timberwolves small icon 22. Timberwolves (14-27, LW 26). They are 4-6 in their last 10 games but have been playing better than that — they had won three in a row until stumbling against Dallas Sunday. In those three wins, Karl-Anthony Towns averaged 28.7 points, 15.3 rebounds and 3 blocks a game. There are moments you see the flashes from this team, but they lack the glue that brings the roster together, and like many young teams they lack consistency.

 
Nuggets small icon 23. Nuggets (15-23, LW 24). They needed the trip to London, having lost five in a row before getting there the Nuggets routed the Pacers behind another quality game from Nikola Jokic (22 and 10). His scoring makes his fantastic passing that much more dangerous. Tough schedule ahead for Denver with five games this week and the Spurs and Clippers among them.

 
Magic small icon 24. Magic (17-25 LW 22). This is the team I’m most interested to watch at the trade deadline — last summer Scott Skiles moved on in part because he didn’t like the roster, and Frank Vogel has moved Nikola Vucevic in and out of the starting lineup. They have a front-court logjam and the only questions are what pieces are they willing to move, and at what price. Anyone not named Aaron Gordon should be available.

 
Sixers small icon 25. 76ers (12-26, LW 28). They had won three in a row for the first time in three seasons until Saturday, and still they have won five of seven. I want to see Joel Embiid in the All-Star Game — yes, I know about the minutes restrictions and all the time he missed, but in an exhibition that should be about entertainment, Embiid needs to be front and center. (As an aside, if you’re basing you HOF voting on ASG appearances, you’re doing it wrong.) Right now, this team is just fun to watch.

https://platform.vine.co/static/scripts/embed.js

 
Mavericks small icon 26. Mavericks (13-27, LW 25). This is the best Dirk Nowitzki has played all season, and not coincidentally it’s the best Mavs have looked all season as well (though they are not going to get up to .500 this season, first time they will fall below that line since Marc Cuban bought the team). It’s still strange to see all the Dirk sets we’ve seen run over the past decade now run for Harrison Barnes (who continues to score well in isolation but is a work in progress on the playmaking part of the game).

 
Suns small icon 27. Suns (13-27, LW 27). Devin Booker would like the Suns to play more games south of the border — he had 78 points in the two games in Mexico City. Those games included a quality win over the Spurs. It’s welcome back to reality north of the border with the Jazz, Cavaliers and Raptors all on the schedule this week.

 
Lakers small icon 28. Lakers (15-30, LW 23). They have lost four games in a row, and it’s all about the defense — they remain a mess on that end. Also, note to Lakers fans: Yes, D’Angelo Russell and Brandon Ingram are up-and-down this season, that’s what happens to young players learning on the job. It’s part of development. Don’t blow things out of proportion, look at the overall arc of where they are headed. Russell said he just started a game-day routine, that’s a step toward being a pro. That’s what matters. In other words, listen to Aaron Rodgers and R-E-L-A-X.

 
Heat small icon 29. Heat (11-20, LW 29). They were 1-5 on a recent road trip and the only question remaining around this team is how aggressive Pat Riley is moving guys around at the trade deadline. This is a point-guard heavy draft so if the Heat want to roll the dice a little they may be able to get a good package for Goran Dragic. If not, they are tanking just fine with him then can trade him on draft night.

 
Nets small icon 30. Nets (8-32, LW 30). Losers of 10 in a row, and before you use the word “tank” remember Boston has their pick next draft unprotected. Jeremy Lin told a Chinese television network he hopes to be back in the next couple of weeks. Looking for a bright spot? Rondae Hollis-Jefferson has been playing better of late.

Devin Booker has 39 points, Suns beat Spurs in Mexico City

Leave a comment

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Devin Booker scored a career-high 39 points for the second straight game in Mexico City and the Phoenix Suns beat the San Antonio Spurs 108-105 on Saturday in the fifth regular-season game in the country.

Booker was 12 of 22 from the field, and Eric Bledsoe added 17 points and 10 assists. Coming off a loss to Dallas in their Mexican opener Thursday night, the Suns overcame an 11-point deficit to snap a two-game losing streak.

Kawhi Leonard had 38 points for the Spurs (31-9).

Booker made two baskets to give the Suns the lead in the last minute, including a dunk off a break with Bledsoe to put them ahead 106-103. Leonard made two free throws to get San Antonio within one. P.J. Tucker made two free throws, and the Spurs’ Danny Green missed an open 3-pointer to seal the win for Phoenix.

Phoenix is the first team to play two regular-season games in the same season south of the border.

 

Three things we learned on Thursday: One strong Warriors quarter enough vs. Pistons

Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant (35) is congratulated by forward Draymond Green (23) after scoring against the Detroit Pistons during the second half of an NBA basketball game in Oakland, Calif., Thursday, Jan. 12, 2017. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
Associated Press
3 Comments

It was an international day for the NBA, with games in London and Mexico City. If you missed it because you were trying to decide what to do with a giant inflatable Trump rooster balloon, we’ve got your back, here’s the big takeaways from the day.

1) When the Warriors play at their peak — even if only for one quarter — it is a thing of beauty. And the Pistons can’t stop it. So far this season, the Warriors are beating teams by a league-best 11.6 points per 100 possessions — the exact same net rating they had last season. But it doesn’t feel the same. Golden State hasn’t played with the consistent focus we saw the last two seasons from this team, they have tended to “flip the switch” more. Of course, two years ago they were just bursting on the scene, and last season they were pushing for 73 wins. This season they are trying to integrate Kevin Durant (which certainly hasn’t always been smooth) and focused more on being right for the postseason. It hasn’t seemed the same, but they are still blowing teams out.

Case in point, Thursday night against the Pistons at Oracle Arena. The Warriors seemed to coast through the first half, then they turned it on in the third and won that quarter 41-19. From there, Golden State coasted in for the win, 127-107. The Warriors ball movement was phenomenal, beautiful to watch, and left the Pistons’ defense scrambling. Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, and Klay Thompson combined to score 72 points.

Of course, the Warriors are not going to be judged on regular season wins, all that matters is how they play in June. To that point, Golden State has the weekend off, then will face Cleveland at home on Martin Luther King Day Monday.

2) Knicks pick up a needed win at the expense of Bulls. It was the second night of a back-to-back after having blown a late 10-point lead to the Sixers, and Kristaps Porzingis was sitting out with a sore Achilles. The Knicks had lost 9-of-10, and this set up to be another “L.”

So, of course, they beat the Bulls. Comfortably.

This game lacked star power — no Jimmy Butler, no Porzingis — but the Knicks role players stepped up, with Mindaugas Kuzminskas scoring 19 and Kyle O'Quinn adding 12 points and 11 boards. The Knicks seemed to get whatever they wanted in the paint, and that started with Derrick Rose drives.

The Knicks need more wins like this, they currently sit two games out of the playoffs in the East. The Bulls are one back of the eight-seed Wizards. These are both teams where the front office made win-now moves this summer bringing in pricey veterans, and both of these teams need to string together some wins or they will be able to book early tee times this spring.

3) London gets to see the Nikola Jokic show. Mexico City saw the Devin Booker show but a Mavericks’ win. Remember, the NBA makes a healthy chunk of its revenue overseas — broadcast rights, merchandise sales, etc. — so it’s going to keep taking the product to foreign lands when it can. Enter the international slate of games Thursday: Nuggets and Pacers in London, then Mavericks and Suns in Mexico City.

In London, it was the Nikola Jokic show as he dropped 22 points, grabbed 11 boards and dished seven assists to lead Denver to a comfortable 140-112 win. Also, this may have been Danilo Gallinari‘s best game as a Nugget this season, he had 18.

In Mexico City, Devin Booker dropped 39 points for the Suns, but it wasn’t enough in the battle of Western Conference lottery-bound teams, the Mavericks got the 113-108 win behind 23 from Deron Williams.

Fan in Mexico City tries to take selfie with TJ Warren mid-game (VIDEO)

screen-shot-2017-01-12-at-8-51-17-pm
Twitter
1 Comment

The NBA was international on Thursday night, with one of the games being played in Mexico City between the Dallas Mavericks and Phoenix Suns.

It’s got to be exciting for non-NBA countries to get an up-close, live taste of professional basketball of this caliber. One fan was so excited, in fact, that he tried to take a selfie during the game when Suns forward TJ Warren fell next to him.

Via Twitter:

Dude, take the selfie if you have time, but you can’t pin down players during play. Come on.

Week 12 NBA Power Rankings: As always, the Spurs are an efficient regular season machine

SAN ANTONIO,TX - DECEMBER 18:  San Antonio Spurs LaMarcus Aldridge  #12 of the San Antonio Spurs high fives Patty Mills #24 of the San Antonio Spurs after a basket against the New Orleans Pelicans at AT&T Center on December 18, 2016 in San Antonio, Texas.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that , by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images)
Getty Images
2 Comments

In a seven-game series, I would still take Golden State (with their flaws) or Cleveland to beat San Antonio or Houston, but in the regular season those latter two teams are hotter and move to the top of the food chain for a week. Also, Boston could move past Toronto in the standings — they already have in these rankings — with a win Tuesday when the teams meet.

 
Spurs small icon 1. Spurs (30-7, Last Week No. 3). Winners of four in a row and seven of their last eight, the Spurs defense is back (allowing less than a point per possession in their last 10 games) and with it they have outscored opponents by 16.1 points per 100 possessions in their last 10 (best in the NBA). The Spurs have another interesting find in Davis Bertrans, who was a draft-and-stash throw in as part of the Kawhi Leonard/George Hill trade who dropped 21 last week and has played solidly in a bench role for the team.

 
Rockets small icon 2. Rockets (30-9, LW 4). Winners of eight in a row, that includes a game where Russell Westbrook puts up the bigger stat line but James Harden led the Rockets to the win (which sums up the MVP race to this point). Not that Harden’s stat lines are not eye catching — he has 10 triple-doubles himself this season and 10 straight 20/10 games. With Clint Cappela still out with a broken leg, Montrezl Harrell has stepped up with some big games, including 28 points on 12-for-13 shooting Sunday.

 
Cavaliers small icon 3. Cavaliers (28-8, LW 1). Adding Kyle Korver helps in the short term (until March or so) when J.R. Smith returns, but this was really a move about games 6 and 7 of the NBA Finals — Tyronn Lue has a dangerous new weapon. Credit GM David Griffin for going all-in — you have 32-year-old LeBron James, things don’t get more “win now.” The Cavs have started 2-0 on a six-game road trip through the West that concludes next Monday with a rematch at Golden State.

 
Warriors small icon 4. Warriors (31-6, LW 2). How much should we read into the issue with the Warriors going a little too much Kevin Durant isolation in crunch time? Or that ugly fourth-quarter collapse against Memphis last Friday? It’s January, so not much, but what makes this team dangerous in the clutch was teams can’t guard everyone, and they are stocked with shooters — go isolation and the defense doesn’t have to (the same way). If the Warriors fall into the iso habit (with KD, Stephen Curry, or anyone) in crunch time they will pay for it.

 
Celtics small icon 5. Celtics (23-14, LW 6). Winners of four in a row, although Utah was the only team over .500 in that stretch (and the Celtic defense has not impressed in the last 10 games). Isaiah Thomas is in a tough spot with the other top point guards in the East — somebody is going to get left out of the All-Star Game. So Thomas is doing his best to make sure it’s not him: He’s averaged 34.8 points per game on 54.7 percent shooting in his last five, hitting 58.5 percent from three in that stretch.

 
Raptors small icon 6. Raptors (24-13, LW 5). Toronto’s defense, which helped carry them early on (along with their elite backcourt) has faltered of late. So has the entire Raptors team, dropping five of seven against a tough schedule, while Boston has feasted on a softer one. The Raptors get the chance to re-establish their status as second best in the East Tuesday when the Celtics come to town (lose and they fall to third in the East).

 
Grizzlies small icon 7. Grizzlies (23-16, LW 7). With their defense slipping a little of late (and the offense picking up) the Grizzlies have become less consistent — they lost to both Los Angeles teams (the Clippers were without Blake Griffin and Chris Paul), then turned around and beat the Warriors in a thrilling overtime game. Good tests with teams they are battling for playoff positioning this week on the road in Oklahoma City and Houston.

 
Thunder small icon 8. Thunder (22-16, LW 8). Here is Westbrook’s MVP case in a nutshell: They are 14-3 when he has a triple-double, 8-13 when he doesn’t. He has to carry the offensive load and be efficient for this team to have a chance. The Thunder had lost three in a row against a tough January schedule until another Westbrook triple-double and a win against Denver Saturday. Seven of their next eight games are on the road.

 
Hawks small icon 9. Hawks (21-16 LW 12). Winners of seven in a row thanks to fantastic defensive play, but how hard will the Kyle Korver loss hit them? And how will they deal with the sword hanging over their head in the form of impending Paul Millsap and Thabo Sefolosha trades? Did this win streak build up enough of a cushion to keep them in the playoffs when those trades come down? Plenty of questions in Atlanta, but they are just three games from falling out of the playoffs right now in the crowded East.

 
Clippers small icon 10. Clippers (25-14, LW 13). Winners of four in a row, three of those have come with Chris Paul back and Los Angeles is looking like one of the top four teams in the West again. Expect LA to shoot back up these rankings the next couple of weeks as they have a five-game homestead with only one of those teams over .500 (OKC).

Jazz small icon 11. Jazz (23-15, LW 9). For their win over the Timberwolves Saturday, the Jazz were completely healthy for the first time this season — both Alec Burks and George Hill were in the rotation. They may be able to get on a little run with six of their next eight at home, although Cleveland comes to town Tuesday and that’s not going to be easy.

 
Pacers small icon 12. Pacers (20-18, LW 15).. Winners of five in a row, they get a little rest this week flying to London for their one game, against Denver. Jeff Teague has played better, but the other key is the Paul George and Myles Turner combination: Indiana is +6.5 per 100 possessions on the season when those two are on the court together, but that is up to +22.1 in the last five games.

 
Bulls small icon 13. Bulls (19-18, LW 18). Three impressive wins last week including Cleveland and Toronto — all thanks to Jimmy Butler being on an incredible hot streak. That included Butler scoring 14 in the fourth against the Cavaliers, which has Chicago fans saying he should get mentioned in MVP talk. Busy five games in seven nights week for Chicago, with two back-to-backs (getting Washington and Memphis on those second nights).

 
Bucks small icon 14. Bucks (18-18, LW 11). Giannis Antetokounmpo is second in the Eastern All-Star fan voting for the front court, and as the NBA is accounting for misspellings of his last name on ballots his totals should jump. He seems a lock. Rookie Malcolm Brogdon has been an absolute find — he’s shooting 41 percent from three, can work off the ball, can defend, and give Jason Kidd lineup options.They split a close home-and-home with the Knicks, then dropped a game to the Wizards.

 
Hornets small icon 15. Hornets (20-18, LW 10). Charlotte’s top-10 defense for the season has been bottom 10 in the league in the last 10 games, with a slump on the defensive glass being part of the issue. Nicolas Batum missing some time with a sore knee isn’t going to help that cause. They almost picked up a win against Detroit thanks to Marco Belinelli’s brilliance, but fell just a half-second short

 
Wizards small icon 16. Wizards (18-18, LW 14). John Wall has been fantastic of late — he was the NBA’s Player of the Week last week — and the Wizards caught a break Sunday getting to face the Bucks without the Greek Freak (due to flu). Now they have five games in a row at home, a chance to solidify a playoff position in the crowded bottom half of the East.

 
Knicks small icon 17. Knicks (17-20 LW 16). Derrick Rose has looked the best he has in years this season, but he’s not the old Rose anymore: The Knicks are now 1-12 when Derrick Rose takes 17 FGA or more (hat tip @bball_ref) Kristaps Porzing is frustrated with this team’s inconsistency — as he should be, this team has lost seven of eight. Games against the Bulls and Raptors this week, the kind of games where they could use a win to get back in the playoff picture.

 
Pistons small icon 18. Pistons (18-21, LW 23). In November, the Detroit Pistons allowed 103 points per 100 possessions on defense. In December they were giving up 105.1 — and the decline is picking up speed. In their last five games, the Pistons are allowing 111 points per 100. In spite of that, Detroit has won two straight games by one point, not pretty but the Pistons will take it.

 
Blazers small icon 19. Trail Blazers (16-23, LW 22). This team should be the best of the bunch battling for the final playoff slot in the West, what with Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, but they keep taking steps back. Look for them to be active on the trade market looking for defensive help (particularly a defensive big). Tough back-to-back this week, first the improving Lakers on Tuesday (LA is just two games back of them in the playoff chase) then Golden State the next night.

 
Kings small icon 20. Kings (15-22, LW 21). They have started off 0-3 at home on a seven-game homestead that is key if this team is serious about making the playoffs (when it ends they head out on the road for eight straight). As an aside, the Kings interest in a Paul Milsap trade has one major flaw — he’s a free agent this summer? Do the Kings really think they can re-sign him?

 
Pelicans small icon 21. Pelicans (14-24, LW 17). Anthony Davis is trying to carry this team, he has four straight games of at least 20 points and 15 rebounds, but it’s not working, they have lost three straight. That said, they are still in the playoff hunt in the West, but they spend the week on the road where they are 4-13 on the season. New Orleans needs some road wins to make the postseason.

 
Magic small icon 22. Magic (16-23 LW 19). Coach Frank Vogel on the team’s struggles: “We’ve just got to feel the game out better. When we’re too perimeter orated and the shots aren’t falling full cover, we’ve got to drive the basketball more and get it inside and not settle. This team doesn’t pass the ball instinctually very well.”

 
Lakers small icon 23. Lakers (15-26, LW 28). The Lakers have won three of four and moved within two games of the eight seed, and Lakers fans should thank D’Angelo Russell for that. He said that at the urging of Luke Walton he has developed a routine — for game days, for practice days, etc. — and that has helped him feel more comfortable, allowing him to be more aggressive. In his last five games, he’s averaged 20.8 points per game on 39.7 percent shooting from three, plus 5.2 rebounds, 5 assists, and 1.4 turnovers a night. More than that, he just looks comfortable and confident running the offense.

 
Nuggets small icon 24. Nuggets (14-23, LW 20). It was a brutal week on the schedule — Warriors, Spurs, and Thunder — but they were tied just a week ago for the eight seed with the Kings, lost to them, and the losing streak is up to five. Denver has fallen to dead last in the NBA in defense this season, allowing 110.2 points per 100 possessions. Just one game this week, against the Pacers in London.

 
Mavericks small icon 25. Mavericks (11-26, LW 25). There have been moments the past couple weeks, as this team gets healthy, that it seems Dallas might start to figure it all out. Then they get slapped around by Phoenix. The Mavericks get the chance for a little revenge against the Suns this week, but the game is being played in Mexico City.

 
timberwolves small icon 26. Timberwolves (11-26, LW 24). Remember last season when the complaint about the Timberwolves was they didn’t know how to close out games. Well, as John Schuhmann of NBA.com notes, this year Minnesota is 5-15 in games within five points in the final five minutes. Also in classic Tom Thibodeau fashion, Andrew Wiggins is fourth in the NBA in total minutes played, Zach LaVine is sixth, and Karl-Anthony Towns is 12th.

 
Suns small icon 27. Suns (12-26, LW 29). They had won two in a row then made the Cavaliers work for the win Sunday night, all good signs. Eric Bledsoe is having an All-Star kind of season averaging 20.4 points, 5.8 assists, and 4.8 rebounds a game, it just may be tough to get a nod from the coaches because of the depth of the guards in the conference and the Suns’ struggles.

 
Sixers small icon 28. 76ers (10-25, LW 27). More fodder for the Joel Embiid’s ROY campaign: He is first player in NBA history have six-straight games of 20 points or more in fewer than 30 minutes (via Elias). With the win over the Nets Sunday, the Sixers are now 4-4 on the road in their last eight (they won just three games on the road all of last season). Not a coincidence Nerlens Noel is playing more and the defense looks better.

 
Heat small icon 29. Heat (11-28, LW 26). Justise Winslow is out for the season, and while he certainly was struggling with his jumper he defended well and the Heat were 4.8 points per 100 possessions better when he was on the court. They are 2-11 in their last 13, 1-3 on the current road trip with games in Golden State and Milwaukee remaining.

 
Nets small icon 30. Nets (8-28, LW 30). Losers of six in a row, and they recently had a stretch of 7-in-10 at home and went 0-7 at Barclays. Still no timetable on Jeremy Lin’s return as the Nets are being cautious. In a “rearranging a the deck chairs on the Titanic” move, the Nets have released Anthony Bennett so they can sign Quincy Acy.