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NBA Power Rankings (Last Updated: 02/12)
1. Houston Rockets,
Last week: 1,
Pace: 100.5 (9) OffRtg: 113.1 (2) DefRtg: 104.7 (9) NetRtg: +8.4 (2)
The Rockets probably let the Nets and Mavs hang around too long in games last week, but the bottom line is that they've won eight straight games (and 12 of their last 13) to draw even with the Warriors in the loss column. You would think that a lineup with Luc Mbah a Moute and P.J. Tucker would be about defense, but the starting group with those two has scored 132 points in 51 minutes over the last three games. After Ryan Anderson missed the win in Miami on Wednesday, Mike D'Antoni kept the Tucker-Luc group together and brought Anderson off the bench over the weekend. The rotation is 10 players deep when healthy, but the Rockets will still reportedly sign both Joe Johnson and Brandan Wright on the buyout market.
Week 18: @ MIN, vs. SAC
2. Golden State Warriors,
Last week: 2,
Pace: 102.5 (2) OffRtg: 113.6 (1) DefRtg: 103.9 (6) NetRtg: +9.7 (1)
From mid-January through their loss to Oklahoma City on Tuesday, the Warriors' bench was not very good, ranking 24th in the league over that stretch. Andre Iguodala has been banged up and as much as their All-Stars might be fatigued, the offense was terrible (92 points scored per 100 possessions) with Stephen Curry off the floor, and the defense was terrible (113 allowed) with Draymond Green off the floor. But the bench was big in wins over the Mavs and Spurs, outscoring them by 39 points in 57 minutes with Curry and/or Green on the bench on Thursday and Saturday. Steve Kerr has staggered the minutes of Curry and Green this season more than he has in the past. This is the first season under Kerr when Curry and Green aren't the team's most-used two-man combination, even if you only include the games in which they've both played.
Week 18: vs. PHX, @ POR
3. Toronto Raptors,
Last week: 3,
Pace: 100.5 (10) OffRtg: 110.5 (4) DefRtg: 102.6 (3) NetRtg: +7.9 (3)
A five-game winning streak, featuring an easy win over the Celtics, has pushed the Raptors past Boston into the East's top seed. Noted 3-point gunners DeMar DeRozan and Jonas Valanciunas have shot a combined 19-for-42 (45 percent) from beyond the arc during the streak, but Toronto's five-man bench unit is a ridiculous plus-83 in 56 minutes over last four games (C.J. Miles missed the first game of the winning streak). As much attention has been paid to the changes on offense, the Toronto defense has been more improved this season, having allowed 2.3 fewer points per 100 possessions than it did last season. Improvement has come both on the perimeter (the Raps have seen the league's biggest decrease - by a wide margin - in the percentage of their opponent shots that have come from 3-point range) and inside (only the Blazers have allowed a lower field goal percentage in the restricted area).
Week 18: vs. MIA, @ CHI
4. Boston Celtics,
Last week: 4,
Pace: 98.2 (22) OffRtg: 104.2 (21) DefRtg: 100.5 (1) NetRtg: +3.8 (4)
If Markieff Morris didn't foul Kyrie Irving on a 3-point shot in the final seconds of regulation (and again in overtime) in Washington on Thursday, the Celtics would probably be on a four-game losing streak. The defense has taken a step backward (ranking 16th) in February and the offense is struggling again (scoring just 96 points per 100 possessions in their four games last week). Jayson Tatum's 3-point percentage was bound to regress - he has shot just 31 percent from beyond the arc over the last seven weeks after shooting a league-best 50 percent through Christmas - but his attempts are also down. After taking at least 30 percent of his shots from 3-point range in each of the previous four months, he has taken only 16 percent of his shots from deep in February.
Week 18: vs. LAC
5. Minnesota Timberwolves,
Last week: 5,
Pace: 97.9 (23) OffRtg: 111.2 (3) DefRtg: 107.9 (24) NetRtg: +3.2 (6)
The Wolves have won 13 straight games at home, having allowed 104 points per 100 possessions in those 13 games. On the road, they're 1-10 in 2018, having allowed more than 115 points per 100 possessions in those games. Jimmy Butler totaled 73 points in Cleveland and Chicago on Wednesday and Friday, but Karl-Anthony Towns didn't get a lot of shots again, and getting stops down the stretch of those two games proved to be a problem, with Butler fouling Zach LaVine for the game-winning free throws in his return to Chicago and LeBron James beating them at the buzzer in Cleveland. The Wolves have lost their last four games that have been within five points in the last five minutes (all of them were on the road) and now rank 28th in clutch defense.
Week 18: vs. HOU, vs. LAL
CBA Power Rankings (Last Updated: 02/12)
1. MICHIGAN STATE (25–3):
Last Week (4): beat Iowa, beat Purdue, beat Minnesota
Next Week: at Northwestern, vs. Illinois
After the carnage around them, the Spartans slide back into No. 1 after a three-win week that included a critical win over Purdue. They took down the Boilermakers by being more efficient in the paint, where they shot 54.8% to Purdue’s 44.4%, by neutralizing one of their biggest weaknesses in committing just six turnovers and by getting 24 points from their bench to make up for a two-point, foul trouble-shortened effort by Jaren Jackson Jr. Foul trouble has been a concern for Jackson, who has been held to 20 minutes or less due to it in four of the last six games, but he was able to stay out of it entirely Tuesday night at Minnesota when he exploded for 27 points on 10-for-14 shooting.
2. VIRGINIA (24–2):
Last Week (3): beat Florida State, lost to Virginia Tech, beat Miami
Next Week: OFF
Virginia finally got clipped for the first time in ACC play over the weekend, falling by one to Virginia Tech in overtime at home. While one loss doesn’t change the big picture or their status as one of the country’s very best teams, the result was part of a week that reminded the college basketball world that even the teams that have been the most stable can be vulnerable. For the Cavaliers, the main question may be whether they have enough offensive firepower to win it all. While their defense is other-worldly, their offense ranks 44th on kenpom.com and sixth in ACC play. That’s by no means bad—and with that kind of defense, you don’t need an elite offense—but when you slow games down the way UVA does, all it can take is one or two possessions to turn a contest on its head late.
3. VILLANOVA (23–2):
Last Week (1): lost to St. John’s, beat Butler
Next Week: at Providence, at Xavier
Donte DiVincenzo, X-factor? The sophomore’s role has become ever more important after the injury to Phil Booth, and his last week encapsulates his value to the Wildcats. In their stunning loss to St. John’s, DiVincenzo had his least efficient game of the season, going 0 for 5 from three and turning it over four times, finishing with 11 points and three rebounds in 38 minutes. Then in Villanova’s win over Butler, in which they avenged an earlier loss to the Bulldogs, DiVincenzo scored 30 points on 11-for-20 shooting with three rebounds, two turnovers and two steals. He wasn’t the only one to struggle against the Red Storm, especially from the perimeter, but with the Wildcats using such a short rotation his continued emergence is vital.
4. XAVIER (23–3):
Last Week (5): beat Butler, beat Creighton
Next Week: vs. Seton Hall, vs. Villanova
The Musketeers keep winning, but their last three games now include two overtime wins and a one-point victory that came on two free throws with less than a second remaining. The wins are what count, but they’re going to need to be on their A game when they host Villanova this weekend in a rematch that may very well determine the Big East crown. Xavier’s defense is going to be once again put to the test by the uber-efficient Wildcats, who hung 89 points (1.25 per possession) on it in Philadelphia. That game was one of Phil Booth’s best of the season, but ‘Nova is now without the junior guard. Offensively, the Musketeers will need better games from Trevon Bluiett, J.P. Macura and Quentin Goodin this time around after the trio combined for just 16 points in that Jan. 10 matchup.
5. CINCINNATI (23–2):
Last Week (6): beat UCF, beat SMU
Next Week: at Houston, vs. Wichita State
The Bearcats and their defense just keep humming, but let’s talk about their offense this time. The first time Cincinnati faced UCF (which has a top-10 defense) this season it scored just 0.86 PPP in a 49–38 win. This time around, playing at BB&T Arena in Kentucky, it posted 1.15 PPP in a 77–40 win (albeit without 7’6” Tacko Fall playing for the Knights). That’s significant because like Virginia, Cincy is a team with an elite defense that could potentially be held back by its offense (in this case, the Bearcats rank 51st on kenpom.com in adjusted offensive efficiency). They need consistency from guys like Gary Clark, Kyle Washington and Jacob Evans, and they notably don’t have a “go-to” player on offense. We’ll see if they carry this momentum into the long awaited first Cincinnati-Wichita State showdown is this weekend.
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