NBA Power Rankings: Giannis, Bucks Holding Strong at Halfway Mark

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NBA Power Rankings: Giannis, Bucks Holding Strong at Halfway Mark

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15. Los Angeles Lakers (14)

Lonzo Ball’s free-throw shooting is a full-blown crisis. After making 67.3 percent of his foul shots in college, he hit 45.1 percent as a rookie. That number is down to 41.3 percent this year (on only 1.1 attempts per game), and he’s somehow made 18.2 percent this month.

The Lakers won their last two games this week to get to 3-5 since LeBron James went out with a groin injury, and their net rating in that span is minus-1.9, which ranks 20th in the league.

Get fired up about Kyle Kuzma chucking his way to 41 points and Michael Beasley looking like a helpful piece now that he’s back in the rotation if you want, but know that the Lakers are below-average without James.

                

14. New Orleans Pelicans (20)

Don’t look now, but the Pelicans have the league’s second-best offense.

Nikola Mirotic is back from an ankle injury, Anthony Davis is on pace to be the first player since Shaquille O’Neal to average at least 27 points and 13 boards in a season, and the Pelicans scored at least 140 points in a game this year for the third time when they waxed the Cavs on Wednesday.

The bench, which is getting outscored by 1.2 points per 100 possessions, has performed better of late. Jahlil Okafor and Frank Jackson led a reserve charge in Monday’s 114-95 win over the Grizzlies that allowed Davis and Jrue Holiday to get some much-needed rest late in the fourth quarter.

The slate was soft in a 3-0 week, but the Pels are getting healthier. The latter explains the climb more than the former.

            

13. Utah Jazz (12)

Utah has won three of its last four, but the one defeat, a 114-102 loss to the Bucks on Monday, is most worthy of examination.

The Jazz employed a smart scheme against Giannis Antetokounmpo, but their 21st-ranked offense let them down with a 16-point fourth quarter that decided the game. Jae Crowder was just 2-of-9 from deep on a bevy of clean looks, and Donovan Mitchell made only two of his dozen two-point attempts.

It’s no secret we’ve been in the bag for Utah and that No. 10 net rating for a while, but either the shots will have to start falling, or the guys shooting them will need to change. Otherwise, it’s hard to think that the Jazz will score consistently enough to do real damage.

With Ricky Rubio’s hamstring likely to cost him a week or two, generating offense will only get tougher.

                 

12. Los Angeles Clippers (13)

The Clips don’t have a conventional star, don’t play a whole lot of defense and, probably owing to those two factors, seem suspect among current West playoff teams. Yet here they are halfway through the season, still firmly in the playoff picture and on pace to sniff 50 wins.

Maybe there’s something to be said for an offensive setup that makes it hard for defenses to key on a particular weapon. Lou Williams, Danilo Gallinari and Tobias Harris took turns leading Los Angeles in scoring this week, as the Clippers ran up a 3-1 record.

          

11. Portland Trail Blazers (11)

Winners in five of their last six contests, the Blazers are a season-best eight games north of .500.

Three-guard looks have something to do with Portland’s run. When Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum and Seth Curry share the floor, the Blazers outscore opponents by 21.2 points per 100 possessions. In fact, Curry is a member of Portland’s top seven three-man units.

On/off and lineup data can be noisy, and causal factors are tricky to suss out. But there’s a strong enough correlation between Curry’s presence on the court and team success to consider giving him significantly more than the 17.4 minutes he’s averaged.

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