For the second time in a month, the Cavaliers have moved past the Lakers for the No. 1 spot on the Prospectus Hoops List. The Lakers are in the midst of their first three-game losing streak, which is just enough of an opening for Cleveland to move up. This despite the Cavaliers' loss on Saturday in Milwaukee, a game LeBron James sat out with an ankle injury. (Or just to "rest" as Cleveland coach Mike Brown puts it.)
Beyond that, there wasn't much movement in the rankings. The red-hot Bucks have won nine of 10 and jumped up two spots to No. 14. Milwaukee has moved into fifth place in the East standings and has climbed six spots on the Hoops List in the last five weeks.
(Statistics through March 7)
Rank. (Last week) Team (Power rating / Championship probability) [Win pace / Pythagorean win pace / Preseason projection ]
1. (2) Cleveland Cavaliers (60.0 / 32.1%) [ 62 / 60 / 54 ]
Rankings: NET: 1; OFF: 2; DEF: 7; PACE: 25
Without LeBron James on Saturday, the Cavaliers were blitzed in the first and third quarters in Milwaukee, as they squandered a big night from Antawn Jamison. Mo Williams went 3-of-17 from the floor and was beaten soundly in his head-to-head matchup with Bucks rookie Brandon Jennings. While we didn't really need an reminder of James' value to the Cavaliers, nevertheless this game served as one. According to 82games.com, Cleveland is 10.6 points per 100 possessions better than its opponents when James is on the floor, and 5.8 points worse than the opposition when James sits.
2. (1) Los Angeles Lakers (59.6 / 24.0%) [ 58 / 57 / 53 ]
Rankings: NET: 3; OFF: 11; DEF: 2; PACE: 9
Three losses in a row! Lower the lifeboats! Obviously, we don't want to get too excited when a team loses three games in a week 3,000 miles away from home, two of them by a combined five points. However, we'd be remiss if we didn't point out that the Lakers never had a losing streak longer than two games last season. With 11 of their last 18 games on the road, the Lakers are going to have to stay sharp as the barbarians (Mavericks, Nuggets, Jazz) are all gathering at the gate. That allusion would be more effective if the Lakers still played at The Forum.
3. (3) Orlando Magic (57.0 / 14.5%) [ 56 / 57 / 49 ]
Rankings: NET: 2; OFF: 7; DEF: 3; PACE: 15
We can point to the fact that the Magic leads the NBA in opponents' two-point field goal percentage as evidence of Dwight Howard's dominance on the defensive end of the floor. And we'd be right. However, it's also interesting that Orlando is third in Defensive Rating despite standing 28th in forced turnover percentage and 26th in three-point percentage allowed.
4. (4) Utah Jazz (55.8 / 4.4%) [ 52 / 55 / 53 ]
Rankings: NET: 5; OFF: 8; DEF: 11; PACE: 14
Utah demonstrated a bit of a split personality last week, but remains in good position in the West. The Jazz lost to the Clippers in L.A. when a furious late rally came up short, then followed that by completing a big comeback in a win at Phoenix. The Jazz is 16-6 against teams under .500, which is a performance that neither stands out positively or negatively. However, Utah's last two losses have come against the Kings and Clippers. Yes, these road slip-ups happen to every team, but if Utah wants to improve its postseason position, it needs to batten down the hatches against lesser competition. No more bad losses.
5. (5) Denver Nuggets (54.5 / 5.4%) [ 54 / 54 / 43 ]
Rankings: NET: 7; OFF: 3; DEF: 16; PACE: 5
Kenyon Martin's availability, or lack thereof, may become an ongoing problem for Denver. Martin missed the Nuggets' last two games because of patella tendinitis and will be undergoing an MRI to see what's what. Denver won both games Martin missed, which were home contests against Indiana and Portland, respectively, but didn't play well defensively in either. Joey Graham got the start in place of Martin in a small lineup against the Pacers, while Johan Petro got the nod against the Blazers. In both instances, George Karl opted not to disrupt the roles of his key bench players, Chris Andersen and J.R. Smith.
6. (6) Atlanta Hawks (53.6 / 5.0%) [ 52 / 53 / 30 ]
Rankings: NET: 8; OFF: 4; DEF: 14; PACE: 26
Jamal Crawford has been in a mild shooting slump since the All-Star break, but last week showed signs of breaking out. Crawford's eFG% is .471 since the doings in Dallas, versus .522 on the season. His career mark is .474, so a regression wouldn't come as a surprise. Hopes for a continuation of Crawford's career season were boosted by his torrid .628 eFG% last week, which included an 11-of-22 mark from three-point range in three games.
7. (7) Dallas Mavericks (52.2 / 5.9%) [ 55 / 47 / 50 ]
Rankings: NET: 12; OFF: 10; DEF: 12; PACE: 19
I've got a separate piece on the Mavericks coming up later this week, so I'll just relate a conversation I had with Jason Kidd after Saturday's game about Scottie Pippen's 1994 charity game, which has become the stuff of legend. Kidd played in the game, which came a couple of months before he made his debut as an NBA rookie. Besides Pippen, the game featured Penny Hardaway at his peak, Horace Grant, Mark Jackson, Shaquille O'Neal, Gary Payton and, and ... who else? Ah, yes. That game was played shortly after I had moved to Chicago for my first stint in the Windy City. Because of all the stars lined up to play and because I wanted to see a game in the old Chicago Stadium before it was torn down, I picked up tickets a couple of days before the contest. Then, the morning of the game, Michael Jordan--who was retired at the time--announced he was going to play. The atmosphere was amazing. Jordan scored 52 points in the game, which his team won 187-150. In the last minute, they ran a couple of clear-outs so Jordan and Pippen could go at each other one-on-one. After scoring on Pippen for the final time, Jordan walked out to midcourt, kneeled, and kissed the Bulls logo in the center of the floor. We then watched as Jordan walked off through the north tunnel, one arm raised. Kidd said, "That had to be the greatest charity game ever played." Amen.
8. (8) Boston Celtics (51.9 / 4.1%) [ 53 / 54 / 56 ]
Rankings: NET: 4; OFF: 13; DEF: 1; PACE: 23
It was another week of running in place for the Celtics. Despite a four-game winning streak, Boston still seems listless. The first of those wins was five-point squeaker at Detroit; the last was a three-point home win over the Wizards. Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen seem to be ramping up their play and Rajon Rondo remains solid. However, hobbled Paul Pierce has averaged 12.1 points on .403 shooting over his last seven games and Rasheed Wallace has averaged 6.9 points, 3.5 boards and is shooting .364 during his last 10. Wallace has hit just 7-of-32 from three-point range since the All-Star break, dropping his season mark under 29 percent.
9. (10) Phoenix Suns (51.2 / 1.7%) [ 50 / 49 / 38 ]
Rankings: NET: 9; OFF: 1; DEF: 25; PACE: 4
Steve Nash has been playing through back problems, and his numbers reflect it. Nash has shot .425 from the floor and .258 on threes since the All-Star break. From what I've seen, he's been consistently coming up short on his shots from distance, which could be related to the back trouble. Luckily for Nash and the Suns, Phoenix has hit a very well-timed break in its schedule. Not only are the Suns in the midst of a seven-game homestand, but they amazingly have five off days this week. After beating the Pacers at home on Saturday, Phoenix doesn't lace'em up again until Friday, when the Lakers come calling. Five days off at this point in the season is one thing, but not having to travel during this span is something else, akin to a mini-spring break. It's just the kind of respite that could serve as a springboard for the rest of the season for the veteran Suns--assuming Nash can get back to his pre-All-Star level.
10. (11) San Antonio Spurs (50.9 / 1.0%) [ 49 / 53 / 57 ]
Rankings: NET: 6; OFF: 9; DEF: 10; PACE: 22
Tony Parker's broken hand might be bad news for the Lakers. No, that's not a typo. Stay with me a second. According to Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, Parker will miss six weeks. If that's accurate, then we can project Parker to return around the time the playoffs begin. Right now, the Spurs project to be favorites in just 11 of their last 22 games and that doesn't factor in Parker's absence. My rough calculations are that the extra minutes that will now go to Roger Mason and George Hill will cost the Spurs around .8 wins over those 22 games, so let's call it one loss and project the Spurs to go 10-12 the rest of the way. That puts the Spurs at 46-36 at the end of the season. I've got the Blazers going 48-34 to move past San Antonio into seventh, but I don't see the next three teams--Houston, Memphis or New Orleans--getting much above .500 by the end of the season, if at all. So that slots the Spurs as the No. 8 seed and as the Lakers' first-round opponent. Parker will be rusty, but his quickness should be intact if he stays in shape while rehabbing the hand. So while the Lakers will still be a prohibitive favorite, that's an awfully tough opening test for L.A.--a Spurs team that has just gotten all its pieces back.
11. (9) Oklahoma City Thunder (50.7 / 1.2%) [ 50 / 50 / 32 ]
Rankings: NET: 10; OFF: 15; DEF: 4; PACE: 13
The Thunder re-signed Antonio Anderson to a second 10-day contract on Sunday. Anderson played in just one game during the span of his first 10-day, so it's likely that Sam Presti and Scott Brooks just want a little more time to get a feel for Tyreke Evans' former running mate at Memphis. Anderson serves as an extra body with Byron Mullens, D.J. White and Kyle Weaver all currently playing in the D-League. After this contract is up, Oklahoma City will have to decide whether or not to sign Anderson for the rest of the season.
12. (12) Portland Trail Blazers (48.1 / 0.4%) [ 46 / 49 / 50 ]
Rankings: NET: 11; OFF: 6; DEF: 15; PACE: 30
Injured Blazers center Joel Przybilla suffered a major setback on Saturday when he re-tore the same knee ligament that he injured on Dec. 22. Przybilla re-injured the knee when he slipped in the shower at home. As a result, he'll have to undergo another surgery. There is currently no timetable being discussed for Przybilla's eventual return. Tough break--that's got to be frustrating.
13. (13) Miami Heat (44.1 / 0.1%) [ 41 / 43 / 44 ]
Rankings: NET: 13; OFF: 16; DEF: 8; PACE: 28
The Heat have had problems at point guard all season and it just keeps getting worse. Rafer Alston, who had been playing 45 percent of available minutes at the position since being signed, has gone AWOL. Alston left the team after Thursday's win over the Lakers, a game in which he received a DNP. He's been suspended and his time in Miami seems to be over. In actuality, Alston's level of play has diminished to the point where his absence may be a boon to Miami's playoff hopes.
14. (16) Milwaukee Bucks (43.7 / 0.2%) [ 43 / 45 / 26 ]
Rankings: NET: 14; OFF: 23; DEF: 6; PACE: 16
The Bucks 14-4 stretch has come against a relatively soft spot in their schedule, but that's not to diminish their outstanding play over the last few weeks. The remaining schedule isn't easy. Milwaukee's future opponents have a .528 winning percentage, the seventh-toughest group of finishing opponents in the league. However, the Bucks also have 12 of their last 20 games at the Bradley Center, so if Milwaukee keeps playing at its current level, its hold on the No. 5 seed in the East could be solidified.
15. (14) Houston Rockets (42.5 / 0.0%) [ 41 / 40 / 50 ]
Rankings: NET: 16; OFF: 18; DEF: 13; PACE: 8
Houston's playoff hopes are fading, but the Rockets have to be pleased at how well Kevin Martin has settled in after a rough start. Martin averaged 15.3 points with a .445 True Shooting Percentage in his first three games after being acquired from Sacramento. He's averaged 27.3 points on a .629 True Shooting Percentage in six games since.
16. (15) Charlotte Bobcats (42.4 / 0.0%) [ 40 / 42 / 45 ]
Rankings: NET: 15; OFF: 24; DEF: 5; PACE: 27
The Bobcats got a much-needed win against a weary-looking Lakers team on Friday, then followed that up with a win over Golden State on Saturday. D.J. Augustin's play off the bench was a key in both games, as he scored a combined 31 points on 12-of-18 shooting, including 5-of-7 from behind the three-point line. The win over L.A. capped off the roughest part of Charlotte's schedule, an eight-game stretch in which the Bobcats went 3-5. That actually seems pretty good now that it's over. Now, if the Charlotte beats Miami on Tuesday, the Bobcats move back to .500. Also, if Chicago loses its fifth straight in a tough matchup against Utah, the Bobcats--with a win--would find themselves tied for seventh in the East. Hopes for a playoff bid are alive and well in Charlotte.
17. (18) Memphis Grizzlies (40.4 / 0.0%) [ 41 / 38 / 30 ]
Rankings: NET: 19; OFF: 12; DEF: 23; PACE: 12
There has been much made of Memphis' decision to send Hasheem Thabeet to D-League, which underscores the difference in the way basketball's minor league is viewed versus baseball's farm system. Thabeet is a 23-year-old rookie who wasn't getting time on the court. Why not send him to the D-League? Because he was the No. 2 pick in the draft? Ah, those deadly sins. Thabeet has responded well, averaging 13.8 points, 11.2 boards and 3.2 blocks in his first six games for Dakota. However, he was 1-of-9 from the field in his last outing, which only serves to demonstrate why he needs to be on the court and developing his offensive game. (BREAKING NEWS!!! Thabeet was recalled by Memphis on Monday.)
18. (17) Toronto Raptors (39.7 / 0.0%) [ 43 / 37 / 38 ]
Rankings: NET: 17; OFF: 5; DEF: 30; PACE: 11
Toronto has been streaky this season and Sunday's home loss to the Sixers was the Raptors' fifth in six games. Toronto now heads out West for a four-game swing that isn't coming at a particularly good time. Chris Bosh is back playing, but is not producing at his pre-injury levels. Despite Bosh's absence and subsequent healing period, Andrea Bargnani failed to step up. During the current six-game slump, Bargnani has attempted a total of just six free throws. Bargnani is still a face-up big man and probably always will be, but he has not been as aggressive putting the ball on the floor. As a result, the efficiency of his game has slipped and so has his production--at just the time the Raptors have needed it most.
19. (19) New Orleans Hornets (38.5 / 0.0%) [ 40 / 35 / 44 ]
Rankings: NET: 18; OFF: 14; DEF: 19; PACE: 18
I was looking at the Southwest Division standings this morning, which was something of an upset in itself. I look at the full six-division standings so infrequently that I often forget that teams strive for things like "division championships." In the Southwest, there is a decent possibility that despite the fact that all five teams might finish .500 or better, only two look like they'll be getting into the postseason. What's that mean? Not a darn thing.
20. (20) Chicago Bulls (38.0 / 0.0%) [ 41 / 36 / 45 ]
Rankings: NET: 20; OFF: 27; DEF: 9; PACE: 10
How did this picture turn into an Edvard Munch nightmare so fast? The Bulls have a lot of strikes against them right now. Their record, which is still at .500 despite the current four-game losing streak, is not supported by Chicago's -1.6 average point differential. The defense and rebounding have floundered without Joakim Noah, who isn't due back any time soon. As for the upcoming schedule ... look out. Chicago has a four-game road trip that features visits to Orlando, Memphis, Miami and Dallas. As if that wasn't tough enough, the trip is bookended by home dates with Utah and Cleveland. If the young Bulls are planning to do any growing up, now would be a good time.
21. (21) Philadelphia 76ers (31.6 / 0.0%) [ 30 / 32 / 40 ]
Rankings: NET: 21; OFF: 20; DEF: 22; PACE: 21
One thing Sixers fans still have to root for during the season's garbage time is the continuing development of Thaddeus Young and Jrue Holiday. Both have been playing well of late. Young remains inconsistent, but scored a season-high 32 points in Toronto on Sunday and needed just 18 shots to get there. Young still has potential as a floor-spacing four, though he's undersized for the position and needs to play stronger. Holiday has been similarly inconsistent, but has hit 9-of-13 three-pointers over Philly's last four games. His -8.4 SPM on the season is still atrocious, but at least he's getting better. Also, let's not lose track of the fact that Holiday is the only current NBA player born in the 1990s.
22. (22) Los Angeles Clippers (29.2 / 0.0%) [ 32 / 26 / 27 ]
Rankings: NET: 26; OFF: 25; DEF: 18; PACE: 17
Drew Gooden has averaged 32 minutes per game since being traded to the Clippers. He's done pretty well, too. However, you have to wonder what the point is of giving Gooden all that court time. DeAndre Jordan, meanwhile, is only getting about 19 minutes in recent games. Jordan is still very raw and his free-throwing shooting keeps young children in Los Angeles up at night. But the Clippers face a decision after the season whether to pick up Jordan's non-guaranteed deal for 2010-11, so you'd think they'd want to see as much of him as possible. Jordan shows potential as a defensively-oriented center.
23. (25) Sacramento Kings (28.4 / 0.0%) [ 27 / 29 / 30 ]
Rankings: NET: 23; OFF: 21; DEF: 24; PACE: 6
Jason Thompson returned to action on Sunday after missing a couple of weeks with two non-displaced stress fractures in his back. Thompson has the last couple of months of the season to find himself on the offensive end. If he can, he can win back the hearts of Kings fans, who seem soured on him a bit. Thompson is an athletic and skilled player, who moves very well for someone his size. Assuming his bill of health is clean, Sacramento can now experiment with giving Thompson more time at center, paired with Carl Landry.
24. (23) Washington Wizards (28.2 / 0.0%) [ 28 / 29 / 26 ]
Rankings: NET: 25; OFF: 22; DEF: 20; PACE: 20
Alonzo Gee, Shaun Singleton--hey, it's not sexy, but that's what the remainder of the season is for. Who else is in that D-League?
25. (24) New York Knicks (27.6 / 0.0%) [ 27 / 31 / 31 ]
Rankings: NET: 22; OFF: 17; DEF: 26; PACE: 7
David Lee is tired of being bludgeoned on the defensive end of the floor while playing the center position. I'm not so sure Lee would be a great defensive four-man either, but he's big and athletic enough to hold his own if paired with a strong defensive center. Lee will be in the second-tier of free agents this summer and if the Knicks pursue Marcus Camby, as rumored, that might be just what Lee needs. Unfortunately, by the time the free-agent dust settles, the Knicks will likely have denounced Lee's rights and there won't be enough money left to bring him back to New York. He'll help someone.
26. (26) Detroit Pistons (27.4 / 0.0%) [ 28 / 27 / 44 ]
Rankings: NET: 28; OFF: 26; DEF: 21; PACE: 29
Rodney Stuckey was at the center of a scary incident on Friday when he collapsed on the bench during a timeout and appeared to have a seizure, though the Pistons said that was not the case. So far, all of the tests have been negative and Stuckey should return to the court before long. This is the second incident like this in Stuckey's young career, so both he and the team will exercise extreme caution before he returns to basketball. Healthy 24-year-old professional athletes just shouldn't collapse during a game.
27. (27) Golden State Warriors (26.4 / 0.0%) [ 22 / 30 / 35 ]
Rankings: NET: 24; OFF: 19; DEF: 28; PACE: 1
Reggie Williams became the 94th D-League player to suit for the Warriors this season. Well, it seems like that many.
28. (28) Indiana Pacers (26.3 / 0.0%) [ 26 / 26 / 38 ]
Rankings: NET: 27; OFF: 28; DEF: 17; PACE: 2
The Pacers released Travis Diener last week, Indiana's first roster move since the season started. Diener played in just four games for the Pacers this season. While Diener is a solid, if not spectacular, three-point shooter, an almost complete lack of ability to create his own shot and deficiencies on the defensive end combine to limit his value. Diener was signed by Portland after clearing waivers.
29. (29) Minnesota Timberwolves (18.5 / 0.0%) [ 18 / 19 / 32 ]
Rankings: NET: 29; OFF: 29; DEF: 27; PACE: 3
Darko Milicic has been getting extended minutes lately for Minnesota, but hasn't shown much more than a great deal of rust. Milicic is now 0-of-4 from the line in 218 minutes this season. He did tie a career-high with five assists on Saturday against Houston, so there's that.
30. (30) New Jersey Nets (12.5 / 0.0%) [ 9 / 14 / 40 ]
Rankings: NET: 30; OFF: 30; DEF: 29; PACE: 24
The Nets won their seventh game of the season, beating the Knicks by 20 points on Saturday. In that game, New York went 0-of-18 from three-point range, the worst 0fer from behind the arc in NBA history. New Jersey now needs three more wins to surpass the 1972-73 Sixers but, really, the number they should be shooting for is 13 wins. Sure, 13-69 is plenty bad, but 70 losses just sounds much worse, as in 'shut down the business and hang a for sale sign' bad. Four teams have lost 70 or more games in a season. The last was the 1997-98 Nuggets.
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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