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15. Indiana Pacers (13)
The Pacers are 2-2 in their last four games and have beaten just a single opponent currently in playoff position since Feb. 7.
The committee approach, with Bojan Bogdanovic admirably handling a high-usage role in Victor Oladipo’s stead, has been a nice story. But Indy faces a punishing road trip that will pit the Pacers against Denver, Portland, Golden State and the Clippers starting Saturday.
When it’s over, expect to see Indiana sliding down to the fifth seed in the East.
14. Brooklyn Nets (15)
Brooklyn capitalized on a favorable slate to win four of its last five games. The first three victories came against Dallas, Cleveland and Atlanta. And while Monday’s 103-75 blowout success against Detroit looks impressive, the Pistons were playing their third game in four nights.
The Nets face the league’s toughest remaining schedule, based on opponent winning percentage. So we’ll soon see how real this recent stretch was.
13. Detroit Pistons (14)
The Basketball Writers’ Adam Spinella outlined the ways in which Wayne Ellington is unlocking new dimensions in Detroit’s attack.
Turns out having the poor man’s version of JJ Redick who sprints around screens, plays an expert handoff game and rises to fire without regard for a defender’s proximity works pretty well when Blake Griffin is handling the ball.
Who would have guessed?
The Pistons blow the doors off opponents whenever Ellington shares the floor with Griffin, Andre Drummond, Reggie Jackson and Luke Kennard, though the overall offense is still subject to stalling. See: 25 second-half points in Wednesday’s ugly loss to the Heat.
Even after that 34-point whooping, Detroit still owns a top-five net rating since Feb. 1 and has likely locked down its playoff spot.
12. Portland Trail Blazers (9)
CJ McCollum shook off a 0-of-7 start to post a 23-point fourth quarter, outscoring the Clippers on his own during the period to produce Tuesday’s 125-104 win.
The victory gave the Blazers a much-needed 2-0 week after last ranking session’s disappointing 1-3 mark. Even with the overall mediocrity of the last two weeks, Portland still ranks second in the West in net rating since Feb. 1.
Rodney Hood’s nagging hip soreness kept him out of action against the Clips, but he should be available for Friday’s meeting with New Orleans. Since coming over from the Cavs on Feb. 8, he has averaged 7.8 points in 21.3 minutes, but the Blazers are a ridiculous 14.3 points per 100 possessions better without him on the floor.
Maybe they should be extra cautious in bringing him back.
11. Utah Jazz (6)
This is a steep drop for the Jazz, who are 3-3 in their last six games. But the Clips and Spurs have been far steadier of late, and Utah’s most recent trio of wins came against lottery-bound pushovers: New Orleans, Phoenix and Minnesota.
Monday’s 98-89 loss to the Thunder exposed the Jazz’s lack of shot-creators when their point guard depth is depleted by injury, a key factor in their 18th-ranked offense.
More than anything, several teams ranked below Utah last week either got key pieces back, logged big wins or were generally hotter. Fortunately for Utah’s seeding hopes, it owns the league’s easiest remaining schedule.