With two weeks to go in the regular season, races are tightening up and down the standings in both conferences. There are bubble teams trying to leapfrog lower-seeded clubs for a coveted spot in the postseason; and middle-of-the-playoff-pack clubs vying for the most promising seedings. Perhaps the most intriguing races, however, are atop the respective conferences. San Antonio’s torrid second half has the Spurs (40-14. .741) percentage points ahead of the Oklahoma City Thunder (41-15, .732) in the Western Conference, while the Chicago Bulls (43-14, .754) have a tenuous two-game lead over the Miami Heat (40-15, .727) in the Eastern Conference. Click here for the complete playoff picture.
San Antonio has won 11 straight and owns a league-best 16-4 (.800) mark in the second half. The Spurs’ scorched-basketball-court policy — they are, according to NBA.com/Stats, leading the league in scoring (107.5 ppg) and plus-minus score differential (+9.6) post All-Star — has wiped out the Thunder’s three-game lead it enjoyed entering the break. The Thunder, which had a .744 winning percentage (27-7) in the first half, is playing .636 ball (14-8) in the second half. Oklahoma City’s lead has disappeared despite only a negligible fall-off in production. The Thunder is averaging the same amount of points — 102.7 ppg — in the second half as it did in the first, while its +6.0 plus-minus score differential post All-Star is only slightly less than the +6.4 score differential it enjoyed in the first half. The Spurs and Thunder completed their season series, with San Antonio taking two-of-three games, thereby giving it the tiebreaker. The Spurs have 12 games remaining, including seven against teams that are .500 or better. The Spurs are a league-best 22-9 against such teams. The Thunder’s remaining 10 games include six against teams playing at least .500 ball. Oklahoma City is 19-11 against such teams.
Miami entered the break with a one-half-game lead over the Bulls in the East and tied with the Thunder for the league’s best record (27-7, .794). Since then, however, Miami is 13-8 (.619) while Chicago, despite being without reigning MVP Derrick Rose for 12 games due to injury, is a conference-best 16-6 (.727). Rose has missed a total of 22 games this season due to injury, with the Bulls going 15-7 (.682) in his absence; they are 8-4 without Rose in the second half. The Bulls and Heat have split two games so far and face each other twice more: April 12 in Chicago and April 19 in Miami. Five of Chicago’s remaining nine games are against teams playing at least .500 ball. The Bulls are 15-10 against such teams. Miami has 11 games left on its schedule with six against .500-or-better clubs. The Heat is a conference-best 22-11 against such competition. If the teams split their season series and finish with identical records, the next tiebreaker used to determine seeding would th better winning percentage against teams in own conference. Through games played Sunday, the Bulls are 32-8 against the East, while the Heat is 30-8.
James, Dragic earn weekly honors
The Miami Heat’s LeBron James and the Houston Rockets’ Goran Dragic today were named the Eastern and Western Conference Players of the Week, respectively, for games played April 2-8. James led the Heat to a 3-1 week with averages of 30.5 points, 5.8 rebounds, 5.5 assists and 2.3 steals. Dragic helped the Rockets to a 3-0 week with averages of 20.7 points, 8.3 assists, 3.0 rebounds and 2.7 steals.
Stats & Stuff:
- Denver’s bench is averaging a league-high 41.8 points. The Nuggets’ reserves find themselves at the top of the league when it comes to assists (9.6 apg), rebounds (19.0 rpg). The Nuggets’ bench has posted at least 50 points 10 times this season and outscored opponents 34 times.
- Indiana has guaranteed itself a winning home record for a 23rd consecutive season, the longest active streak in the NBA.
- The Los Angeles Clippers’ Chris Paul is the only player in NBA averaging at least 19.0 points, 9.0 assists and 2.0 steals. Paul ranks first in steals (2.5 spg) third in assists (9.1 apg), and 16th in scoring (19.3 ppg).
- Entering tonight’s game against New Orleans, the Los Angeles Lakers’ Kobe Bryant (1,721) stands three steals shy of Magic Johnson’s franchise record 1,724 steals. Johnson, who twice led the league, ranks 15th on the NBA’s career steals list.
- According to NBA.com/Stats, Minnesota’s Kevin Love in the second half of the season ranks first in scoring (29.0 ppg) and second in rebounds (12.8 rpg).
- Phoenix’s Steve Nash is 52 assists shy of passing Oscar Robertson for fifth on the NBA’s all-time list. Nash leads the league in assists (11.2 apg) and is on pace to lead the league in assist for the sixth time in his career, something only John Stockton has done in NBA history (nine).