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15. Miami Heat (18)
Nothing perks up an offense like facing the Knicks and Nuggets, both of whom rank in the bottom three on defense over the last month.
After narrowly escaping in a 92-91 win over the Lakers on Friday, thanks largely to Goran Dragic’s 30 points, the Heat exploded for 149 points in Monday’s win over Denver, then added another 119 points in a laugher against the Knicks.
If the scoring keeps up, the Heat have a realistic chance to climb from seventh to fourth in the East down the stretch. Miami’s next two games, road tilts with OKC and Indiana, loom large.
14. Minnesota Timberwolves (16)
Now 5-5 without Jimmy Butler and through the worst of a trying March schedule, the Timberwolves can reflect on several things that have gone well.
Jeff Teague was terrific in the second half of their win over the Clippers on Tuesday, Andrew Wiggins has been hot from three and far more engaged on D, and Karl-Anthony Towns continues to lead the league in double-doubles. For a club that’ll start paying Wiggins a max salary next season, the fourth-year wing’s development might be most important.
“If you want to go to the playoffs, you’ve got to grow up. Plain and simple,” Taj Gibson told reporters when asked about Wiggins’ improved play. “He’s been doing a good job.”
The Wolves, 1-2 this week, play four of their next five against tankers.
13. Washington Wizards (10)
In a short week, the Wizards took down the Pacers and fell to the Spurs as the Heat put together a three-game win streak that tightened an already constricted East playoff picture. Currently sixth in the conference, Washington might actually want to take it easy down the stretch. Slipping to seventh would mean a first-round date with the Celtics instead of LeBron James’ Cavs—assuming the order of the top three holds.
John Wall‘s recovery from knee surgery, originally pegged at 6-8 weeks, has progressed to the point of 5-on-0 on-court work. If he’s going to hit that eight-week projection and get back in action by March 30, things will have to pick up.
Once he’s back, Tomas Satoransky, who has emerged in Wall’s absence, can return to a bench role and prop up a shaky reserve unit.
12. Indiana Pacers (5)
Jumps by the Spurs, Cavs and Thunder combine with the fact that Indiana has lost three of its last four games to dump the Pacers all the way down here. I’ll admit, this feels too severe.
But maybe their climb to fifth last week was the problem. That felt a little too high at the time. If we’re just going by net rating, Indy belongs at No. 11. So we’re not far off here.
Here’s a pledge, though: If Myles Turner Hulk-smashes another defender like he did Cheick Diallo this week, we’ll permanently move the Pacers to the top spot and leave them there.
11. New Orleans Pelicans (12)
Thanks to a leaky roof that caused a postponement on Feb. 7, the New Orleans Pelicans notched the season’s only back-to-back-to-back set this week. That the Pels came out of a stretch of five games in six days (this deep into the season to boot) with a four wins stands as one of the more impressive achievements of the year.
Apparently immune to fatigue, Anthony Davis scored 13 of his 28 points in the fourth quarter to beat the Pacers on Wednesday. Nobody has more total points or blocks than AD since Feb. 1.