The regular season's winding down and the weather ... well, it's already warm throughout much of the country. That means teams and players are a) either gearing up for what they hope will be deep runs into the playoffs or, b) preparing for a final playoff push. Following is a look at what's been going on in the league over the last five games (all stats courtesy of NBA.com/Stats).
The New York Knicks (23-24) have won five straight since Mike Woodson took over coaching duties. Three of those wins have come against two teams the Knicks are chasing in the Eastern Conference: Atlantic Division-leading Philadelphia (26-21) and Indiana (26-18), which the Knicks defeated twice in a home-away set. During this streak, the Knicks are scoring 105.2 ppg and winning by an average of 18.6 points, easily the best point-differential during that stretch. It's on the defensive end, however, that the Knicks have excelled. For the season, the team is allowing the opposition 94.8 ppg on .443 shooting from the field and .367 accuracy from beyond the arc; during the winning streak, however, teams are averaging 86.6 points (only Chicago -- 84.6 ppg -- has allowed fewer points during that stretch) while shooting .406 from the field and .318 from three-point distance. Great news for the current eight seed and its playoff prospects, right? Well ...
Despite the Knicks' hot play of late, they haven't been able to create any separation between themselves and the conference's ninth-place team, the Milwaukee Bucks (21-24). That's because the Bucks also have won their last six games and trail the Knicks by one game. During the last five wins, Milwaukee has ranked second in point-differential (+14.6 ppg) to the Knicks. They've inflicted their damage, however, on the offensive end. Over the last five games, the Bucks rank second in scoring (112.2 ppg), behind San Antonio (112.6 ppg); they are tied with the Spurs for the best field-goal percentage (.508), while shooting .404 from beyond the arc and .814 from the free throw line. For the season, the team is averaging 97.7 points while shooting .435 from the field, .344 from three and .795 from the charity stripe.
In the Western Conference, the Utah Jazz (24-22), riding a four-game winning streak, has spent the last week or so making life unpleasant for the current eight seed, the Houston Rockets (25-22). Over the last five games, Utah is holding opponents to 97.2 ppg, which includes 120 points surrendered to Phoenix on March 14 during the Jazz's most recent loss, and is winning the battle on the boards 47.2- 39.7. During the last four games, however, Utah is allowing only 91.7 points. On the season, Utah is allowing 97.1 ppg, while outrebounding foes 42.6-40.2.
One of the more high-profile trades last week involved the Bucks trading injured All-Star Andrew Bogut to the Golden State Warriors for Monta Ellis. Ellis has appeared in Milwaukee's last two games, and while his individual numbers are down, most likely as a result of him acclimating to a new offense, Ellis has been doing something right when he's on the court. Ellis has played 71 minutes the past two games, with the Bucks outscoring their opponents by 38 points when he's been on the floor.
The Dallas Mavericks (27-21) are 4-1 over their last five. Dirk Nowitzki arguably has been the league's best player over that stretch, as he's averaged a league-high 28.0 points to go along with 7.4 rpg and 4.4 apg while shooting high percentages from the field (.515), from beyond the arc (.500) and from the charity stripe (.848). Not surprisingly, Nowitzki has been the league's most involved player, with a league-high Usage Percentage of 35.2, well above his overall Usage Percentage of 29.0 percent.
Perhaps the most impressive stats line over a five-game stretch belongs to the Bucks' Drew Gooden, the Eastern Conference's reigning Player of the Week.
Stats & Stuff:
On March 19, at Denver, Dallas' Vince Carter passed Walt Bellamy (20,941) for 31st place on the NBA's all-time scoring list and now has 20,948 career points. Hal Greer currently sits in 30th place with 21,586 points.
Jason Terry leads the NBA in three-pointers made in the fourth quarter with 31 (31-of-77, .403). Milwaukee's Brandon Jennings ranks second with 29 (29-of-83, .349).
Memphis' Mike Conley leads in the NBA in total steals (106), steals per game (franchise- record 2.52) and steals per 48 minutes (3.37).
Bruce Bowen became the seventh player in San Antonio's history to have his jersey -- No. 12 -- retired in a ceremony on Wednesday night when the Spurs hosted the Timberwolves
Golden State retired the No. 17 jersey of Chris Mullin on March 19, also vs. Minnesota, making him the sixth player to receive the honor from the team.
Each Thursday, NBA News highlights several second-year players that are having a positive impact on their teams. This week's look includes rising stars that have excelled over their last five games (NBA.com/Stats):
JORDAN CRAWFORD (Washington) -- Crawford has eclipsed 20 points in each of the Wizards' last two games. Over his last five contests, he is averaging 16.6 points, 2.8 rebounds, 2.2 assists, and 1.4 steals.
DERRICK FAVORS (Utah) -- Favors has been a beast over his last five, averaging 12.0 points on .500 shooting, 11.0 rebounds (ranks eighth overall) and 1.8 blocks. During the Jazz's current four-game winning streak, he is averaging 11.5 points, 13.0 rebounds and 2.0 blocks.
JOHN WALL (Washington) -- The Wizards have to be salivating projecting future returns on a Crawford-Wall backcourt. Over his last five games, the overall top selection in the 2010 NBA Draft is averaging 19.0 points, 9.0 assists (sixth overall) and 2.0 steals. Even more impressive, Wall is shooting .528 from the field.
Revision to Playoff Tie-Break Criteria Approved
The NBA Board of Governors approved a revision to the playoff tie-break criteria for the current season only. Since teams aren't playing an equal amount of intra-division games during the 2011-12 season, the tiebreaker based on winning percentage within the division has been eliminated. All other tie-breakers for both playoff seeding and homecourt advantage remain unchanged for the upcoming postseason.
Bulls chairman JERRY REINSDORF, on the passing of long-time Chicago Sun-Times sportswriter Lacy Banks:
"He was more than a reporter on the sidelines. He cared deeply about the teams he covered and the profession that he represented. While we didn't always agree with his position — as is natural — we never questioned his enthusiasm for the Bulls or the city of Chicago."- Chicago Sun-Times March 22, 2012