Friday, July 19, 2024

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Power Rankings, Week 12: Warriors Hold No. 1 Spot As Bulls Return To Top 5

A new year is upon us. And with players making their way back from Health and Safety Season, it’s an opportunity for teams to hit the refresh button.

Though the top four teams in the Western Conference have clearly separated themselves from the rest of the pack, nobody else is running away with anything in either conference. With the Play-In Tournament, there are races to be run all over the standings. And with the trade deadline still 5 1/2 weeks away, there’s an opportunity here for teams to see what they’ve got over the next 10-12 games. Maybe it’s more of the same. Maybe not.

The new year also promises to bring the season debuts of two All-Stars and NBA champions. Kyrie Irving could be playing for the Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday, while Klay Thompson could be on the floor for the Golden State Warriors (for the first time in more than 30 months) this weekend. Rejoice.

The Warriors and Nets have already been two of the best teams in the league. And now they both need to hit the refresh button and see what they’ve got. The start of the new year is almost like the start of a new season.

Plus-Minus Players of the Week

Teams of the Week

  • Make It Last Forever: Chicago (4-0) — Let’s hope the Magic can hang around until the final seconds in Chicago on Monday.
  • Something Just Ain’t Right: Portland (0-3) — The (pin)wheels are coming off.

East vs. West

Schedule strength through Week 11

  • Toughest: 1. Portland, 2. Orlando, 3. Boston
  • Easiest: 1. Milwaukee, 2. Utah, 3. Brooklyn
  • Schedule strength is based on cumulative opponent record, and adjusted for home vs. away and days of rest before a game.

Movement in the Rankings

  • High jumps of the week: Sacramento (+5), Chicago (+2), Denver (+2)
  • Free falls of the week: Boston (-3), Cleveland (-3), Minnesota (-3), Portland (-3)

Week 12 Team to Watch

  • Dallas — The Mavs got Luka Doncic back from a 10-game absence on Sunday, and (with Kristaps Porzingis getting the day off) they took care of business in Oklahoma City to climb back to .500. But that was just the first game in a back-to-back, and the second (against the fifth-place Nuggets on Monday, with the tiebreaker on the line) is the much more important one. After they face Denver, the Mavs will face the Warriors (on Wednesday) for the first time this season. They play in Houston on Friday night and then return home to face the streaking Bulls on Sunday.

Previous Power Rankings

Pace: Possessions per 48 minutes (League Rank)
OffRtg: Points scored per 100 possessions (League Rank)
DefRtg: Points allowed per 100 possessions (League Rank)
NetRtg: Point differential per 100 possessions (League Rank)

The league has averaged 98.7 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes and 109.0 points scored per 100 possessions this season.’s Power Rankings, released every Monday during the season, are just one man’s opinion. If you have an issue with the rankings, or have a question or comment for John Schuhmann, send him an e-mail or contact him via Twitter.



Last Week: 1Golden State Warriors

Record: 28-7
Pace: 99.0 (15) OffRtg: 112.0 (4) DefRtg: 102.1 (1) NetRtg: +10.0 (1)

Draymond Green is the most important piece of the league’s top-ranked defense, so it really wasn’t the No. 1 defense vs. the No. 1 offense in Utah on Saturday, when Green missed his second straight game in Health and Safety Protocols. And the Jazz’s 116 points on 99 possessions was the second most efficient performance any team has had against the Warriors this season, only topped by a game (in Toronto) where four of Golden State’s five starters weren’t in the building.

But the Warriors were even better against Utah’s sixth-ranked defense, taking advantage of the attention paid to Stephen Curry, moving the ball (they had a season-high 39 assists), and shooting 27-for-49 (55%) from outside the paint. Curry was somewhat held in check for most of the night, but broke free for the two jumpers that turned a tie game into a five-point lead with a little more than a minute to go. Curry is still having his worst clutch shooting season (34.1%, effective field goal percentage of 42.1%) in the last nine years, but that 3 for the five-point lead was rather ridiculous. The Warriors are now 5-1 against the other five teams that are more than 10 games over .500.

Curry has now played more minutes without Green (420) than he did all of last season (414), and the Warriors have outscored their opponents by 19.3 points per 100 possessions in those minutes. (They were outscored by 3.2 per 100 last season in Curry’s no-Green minutes.) Green could be back on Monday, and that return could be followed (maybe against Cleveland on Saturday?) by the return of Klay Thompson.

Week 12: vs. MIA, @ DAL, @ NOP, vs. CLE2


Last Week: 3 ↑Utah Jazz

Record: 26-10
Pace: 99.1 (11) OffRtg: 117.0 (1) DefRtg: 107.1 (6) NetRtg: +9.8 (2)

The Jazz have played Rudy Gay at center for only 44 minutes this season, and 37 of the 44 have come in the three games that Hassan Whiteside has missed. One of those three games was was against the Warriors on Saturday, when the Jazz were outscored by 17 points (allowing 39 on 28 defensive possessions) in 13:01 with Rudy Gobert off the floor and Gay at the five.

The Jazz go nine deep, with four lineups that have played more than 120 minutes and the top two finishers in Sixth Man voting last season. They won their two games without Donovan Mitchell last week and also got their first win (in four tries) without Mike Conley. But they remain dependent on their bigs, and, though Gobert hasn’t missed a game, the Whiteside addition may have been more important than most of us initially thought. It would have helped if Gobert played more than 35 minutes himself on Saturday, but it was the second game of a back-to-back.

The Jazz are now 0-3 in rest-disadvantage games, and they’ll have another one (Saturday in Indiana) on the five-game trip that begins Monday and weirdly takes them from Utah to New Orleans and then to Denver, before they head back East.

Week 12: @ NOP, @ DEN, @ TOR, @ IND3


Last Week: 2 ↓Phoenix Suns

Record: 28-8
Pace: 100.6 (4) OffRtg: 111.2 (9) DefRtg: 103.9 (2) NetRtg: +7.3 (3)

Before Ja Morant’s game-winning drive in Phoenix on Monday, Devin Booker gave the Suns the lead with a pull-up 3. That was noteworthy because, over the previous three seasons, Booker had shot just 31.2% on pull-up 3-pointers, while shooting much better (47.9%) on pull-up 2s. This season, he’s 37-for-92 (40.2%) on pull-up 3s, the third-best mark among 43 players who’ve attempted at least 75. The Suns have been great in the clutch because they’re good at, basically, everything and able to take whatever the defense yields. Often, that’s a mid-range jumper, and Booker and Chris Paul have combined to shoot 21-for-30 (70%) on non-restricted-area 2-point clutch shots. But sometimes, you need to pull up from beyond the arc. Booker was 20-for-93 (22%) on clutch 3s over the previous three seasons (just 0-for-1 in last year’s playoffs), and he’s 4-for-8 this season.

With Deandre Ayton out the last four games and JaVale McGee out the last two, second-year big Jalen Smith has been getting his first real exposure. And it’s kind of fascinating because the Suns declined Smith’s third-year option less than a year after they selected him with the 10th pick in the 2020 Draft. The 21-year-old has averaged 16.0 points and 10.5 rebounds (in just 26 minutes) over the last four games, shooting a solid 19-for-30 (63%) in the paint. He seems to have a soft touch around the basket, but the highlight on Sunday was a monster dunk on Mason Plumlee.

With their New Year’s Eve matinee defeat in Boston (their first loss against the Eastern Conference), the Suns had lost three out of four for the second time this season. The first time, they went on to win their next 18 games. So we’ll see if their 34-point win in Charlotte on Sunday was the start of another streak.

Week 12: @ NOP, vs. LAC, vs. MIA4


Last Week: 5 ↑Milwaukee Bucks

Record: 25-13
Pace: 99.8 (9) OffRtg: 111.8 (6) DefRtg: 107.2 (7) NetRtg: +4.6 (5)

The Bucks needed to turn up the defense at the end of their Christmas Day win over the Celtics, but their offense has otherwise taken care of business as they’ve won six straight games. They’ve scored more than 122 points per 100 possessions over the winning streak, even though they were without Giannis Antetokounmpo at the start and without Khris Middleton against the improved Pelicans on Saturday. Jrue Holiday has made at least half his shots in 10 straight games, averaging 24.4 points, with pretty incredible shooting in the paint (66%) and from mid-range (62%), over his last eight.

The Bucks had their full starting lineup (Bobby Portis version) for their two games in Orlando last week, and the lineup was outscored by 26 points in its 20 minutes. But DeMarcus Cousins’ minutes have been mostly good and they were a plus-41 in 36 minutes with Wesley Matthews on the floor over the two-game series. The Bucks played minimal minutes without a true center in Orlando, but have outscored their opponents by 10.6 points per 100 possessions (with the defense allowing less than a point per possession) in 448 total minutes with Antetokounmpo at the five.

With Chicago and Brooklyn each having had three games postponed, the Bucks are in third place with more wins than both of them. They also have a better point differential (per game and per 100 possessions) than the top two teams in the East. The Bucks have yet to play the Bulls (the first meeting is Jan. 21), but they destroyed the Nets on ring night. Round 2 is Friday in Brooklyn.

Week 12: vs. DET, vs. TOR, @ BKN, @ CHA5


Last Week: 7 ↑Chicago Bulls

Record: 24-10
Pace: 99.1 (12) OffRtg: 112.0 (5) DefRtg: 108.2 (12) NetRtg: +3.9 (7)

DeMar DeRozan had been pretty clutch all season, but entirely on 2-point shots and free throws. Prior to Friday, he was 17-for-104 (16.3%) on clutch 3-pointers in his career (including playoffs), the worst mark among 378 players with at least 50 clutch 3-point attempts over the 26 seasons for which we have clutch data. So it’s not just crazy that he hit two buzzer-beating game-winners in two nights. It’s crazier that both shots were from beyond the arc (though appropriate that the one in Indiana came Hoosiers-style).

The two shots turned defeats into victories, extending a winning streak (now at seven games) that has pushed the Bulls into first place in the Eastern Conference. They haven’t had their four full-time starters together for any of the seven games (Lonzo Ball has missed the last five), but they’ve had the league’s second-ranked offense (121.4 points scored per 100 possessions) over the course of the streak. DeRozan has played in all seven games and averaged more than 28 points, Zach LaVine (27.8 points in his five games) and Nikola Vucevic (18.4 over the seven) have both shot better than 50% over the streak, and Coby White (starting for Ball) has totaled 21 assists and just four turnovers over the last three.

None of the seven opponents are currently over .500 (though the Wizards were 18-17 before Saturday), and the Bulls will play three more games against that .500-or-worse group this week.

Week 12: vs. ORL, vs. WAS, @ DAL6


Last Week: 4 ↓Brooklyn Nets

Record: 23-11
Pace: 99.9 (7) OffRtg: 110.3 (10) DefRtg: 106.9 (5) NetRtg: +3.4 (8)

The Nets were one of two teams that hadn’t lost two straight games and they were third in clutch winning percentage … until they lost two straight clutch games last week, allowing the Sixers and Clippers to score 31 points on just 15 clutch possessions (2.07 per). Philly hit some big perimeter shots, but the Nets’ defense was pretty dreadful as they blew a 13-point lead with less than six minutes to go against the Clippers, who ranked 27th offensively, were without two of their three leading scorers, and were playing their fourth game in five nights.

The starts of games continue to be more of an issue than the end. The Nets have had first-quarter deficits of at least eight points in four of their last five games, and only three teams have been worse in the first six minutes of the opening period. Related to that, the Nets continue to be better with only one of their two vaccinated stars on the floor (plus-8.6 per 100 possessions in 681 total minutes) than they are when Kevin Durant and James Harden are out there together (plus-2.5 in 748 minutes). Their shooting is obviously limited when they add more role players to the lineup, but better defense has made up for it in those one-star minutes.

Now we wait on star No. 3. The Nets’ schedule remains home-heavy for another two weeks, but it doesn’t seem out of the question that Kyrie Irving could make his season debut in Indiana on Wednesday.

Week 12: vs. MEM, @ IND, vs. MIL, vs. SAS7


Last Week: 8 ↑Miami Heat

Pace: 96.3 (27) OffRtg: 111.4 (8) DefRtg: 107.3 (9) NetRtg: +4.0 (6)

The Heat closed 2021 on a five-game winning streak, their best stretch of offense (118.2 points scored per 100 possessions) since early November, with only two guys – Tyler Herro and Omer Yurtseven – playing in all five games. Duncan Robinson had a big game (26 points, eight 3s) against Washington on Tuesday, and then went into Health and Safety Protocols. The same goes for both Gabe Vincent and Marcus Garrett, two defensive pests who combined for seven steals against the Wizards.

But the Heat had Jimmy Butler back, he scored 37 points (going 11-for-11 from the free-throw line) in Houston on Friday, and everybody else just fit in around him. Kyle Guy and Haywood Highsmith signed hardship contracts the day before, rushed through their #HeatCulture orientation, and combined for 26 points (on 9-for-12 shooting) in the win.

The winning streak came to an end in Sacramento on Sunday, when the Heat’s defense wasn’t up to par and Butler “smoked the layup” to tie the game at the buzzer. Without Robinson to pick on, De’Aaron Fox targeted Herro, and drew the foul that led to the game-winning free throws. Among 41 players who’ve defended at least 35 isolation possessions this season, Robinson (1.45) and Herro (1.13) have allowed the most points per possession, according to Synergy tracking.

The Heat are now 7-7 against the Western Conference (they’re 16-7 within the East), and they’ll face both the Warriors and Suns for the first time as their five-game trip concludes this week.

Week 12: @ GSW, @ POR, @ PHX8


Last Week: 9 ↑Memphis Grizzlies

Record: 23-14
Pace: 99.1 (13) OffRtg: 111.4 (7) DefRtg: 108.7 (15) NetRtg: +2.7 (9)

The Grizzlies haven’t defended at the level they did during Ja Morant’s 12-game absence, but they rank 10th defensively over the two weeks since he made his return. And that’s with three of the six games having come against offenses that rank in the top 11 and with four of the six having come without Dillon Brooks or De’Anthony Melton (third in deflections per 36 minutes). Better rim protection and defensive rebounding have been keys.

Of course, Morant has been fantastic offensively, averaging 30.5 points on an effective field goal percentage of 60% (and shooting 12-for-18 from 3-point range) over the Grizzlies’ four-game winning streak. He followed up his incredible game-winner against the Suns with a season-high 41 points against the Lakers two nights later. Morant’s restricted-area attempts and free throw rate are both down, but, along with a big jump in usage rate, he’s registering career-high marks in effective field goal percentage (with improved numbers both in and outside the paint) and true shooting percentage (57.4%).

The Grizzlies have flourished despite their backcourt absences, but they may need the depth as they now play eight games in 12 days, their toughest schedule stretch of the season. Their five-game Week 12 takes from the East coast to the West.

Week 12: @ BKN, @ CLE, vs. DET, @ LAC, @ LAL9


Last Week: 6 ↓Cleveland Cavaliers

Record: 21-16
Pace: 98.0 (22) OffRtg: 110.0 (13) DefRtg: 104.5 (3) NetRtg: +5.4 (4)

The Cavs were the only team that ranked in the top five in both offensive and defensive efficiency in December, but the month ended with three straight losses and, more importantly, with Ricky Rubio tearing his ACL in New Orleans on Tuesday. Rubio was huge for the Cavs on both ends of the floor, and it’s fair to believe that his presence in Cleveland has had something to do with Darius Garland’s own improvement.

Now Garland (who has missed the last four games in Health and Safety Protocols) is the only guy left from the Cavs’ initial rotation who can really do anything off the dribble. Rajon Rondo is reportedly on the way via trade and will certainly set up the Cavs’ big men with some easy buckets, but he’ll be a question mark at best on defense.

The Cavs allowed more than 119 points per 100 possessions over that three-game losing streak to end 2021. But they began the new year with a win over Indiana, shooting 6-for-26 from 3-point range, but outscoring the Pacers by 32 points in the paint (Indiana’s worst differential of the season). Kevin Love is 27-for-51 (53%) from 3-point range since Christmas.

The Cavs’ worst defensive game prior to their loss to Atlanta on Friday was their season opener, when they allowed Memphis to score 132 points on 105 possessions. The Grizzlies are in town on Tuesday, and then the Cavs begin their longest road trip of the season (six games over nine days). They’re currently 7-7 against the Western Conference, 3-3 at home and 4-4 on the road.

Week 12: vs. MEM, @ POR, @ GSW10


Last Week: 10Philadelphia 76ers

Record: 19-16
Pace: 95.8 (30) OffRtg: 109.9 (14) DefRtg: 109.5 (18) NetRtg: +0.4 (13)

The Sixers’ three-game winning streak has been their best mini-stretch of offense this season. They’ve scored more than 120 points per 100 possessions over the three games, capping the streak with some terrific execution and shot-making (along with a smart adjustment) out of the Seth Curry-Joel Embiid, empty-corner pick-and-roll against the Nets’ fifth-ranked defense on Thursday. That Curry/Embiid empty-corner look is the Sixers’ go-to set and Brooklyn (though it had Kevin Durant guarding Curry) never figured out how to defend it. When Embiid has set a ball-screen for Curry, the Sixers have scored 1.12 points per chance, a mark which ranks third among 63 combinations where the big has set at least 200 screens for the ball-handler, according to Second Spectrum tracking.

On a couple of those late possessions on Thursday, the ball ended up in the hands of Tyrese Maxey, who capped a 25-point performance with three huge jumpers. Earlier in the night, Maxey made Patty Mills pay for going under the screen on pick-and-rolls, draining a couple of pull-up 3s (he has as many pull-up 3s as Curry this season). Then he made Mills pay for leaving him to help on the Curry/Embiid pick-and-roll. Finally, he made the Nets pay for switching the same pick-and-roll and double-teaming Embiid in the post.

Maxey (3.58) ranks sixth in the league in assist/turnover ratio, the Sixers committed just 16 total turnovers over their two games last week, and, more interestingly, they outscored their opponents by 17 points in Embiid’s 30 minutes off the floor. They’re now playing just three games over a 12-day stretch that began on Friday, and all three opponents are at least seven games under .500.

Week 12: vs. HOU, @ ORL, vs. SAS11


Last Week: 13 ↑Denver Nuggets

Record: 18-16
Pace: 97.2 (25) OffRtg: 108.9 (19) DefRtg: 108.9 (17) NetRtg: -0.0 (18)

The Nuggets rank 27th in blocks per game (4.1). But they now have *three blocks to preserve wins in the final 10 seconds of the fourth quarter. The first two — Will Barton in Minnesota and Nikola Jokic against Houston — came in the first three weeks of the season. The latest — Jokic blocking Jonathan Kuminga on a layup for the tie — came Tuesday as the Nuggets beat the best team in the league, the first time since early November that they held their opponent under a point per possession.

* The rest of the league has seven total blocks with the score within three points in the last 10 seconds of the fourth quarter or overtime.

That block wouldn’t have been needed had the Nuggets not blown a 24-point halftime lead against the Warriors. With their 22-point lead in Houston on Saturday, they’ve led by double-digits at the break in 12 of their 34 games (only the Cavs – 14 – have done it more), and for the second straight season, no team has a bigger discrepancy between their point differential per 100 possessions in the first half (plus-8.1) vs. the second half (minus-8.8) of games. That differential is almost all about the offense. Among 224 players with at least 75 field goal attempts both in the first halves and second halves, Jokic (68.4% vs. 52.0%) has the biggest drop-off in effective field goal percentage.

The Nuggets have a chance at a 4-0 road trip, and they’ll have a rest advantage in Dallas on Monday (second game of a road-home back-to-back for the Mavs). They’re playing just three games against the Mavs this season, so this meeting (with teams having split the first two) will be for the head-to-head tiebreaker.

Week 12: @ DAL, vs. UTA, vs. SAC, @ OKC12


Last Week: 12Charlotte Hornets

Record: 19-18
Pace: 101.2 (1) OffRtg: 112.3 (3) DefRtg: 113.7 (28) NetRtg: -1.5 (22)

The Hornets ended 2021 with a three-game winning streak and their best three-game stretch of defense (101.3 points allowed per 100 possessions) since before Thanksgiving. The streak (in which their opponents shot under 50% in the paint) just improved them to 14-3 when they’ve held their opponent under 112 points per 100, and it allowed them to enter 2022 as not the worst defense in the league. But in their first game of the new year, the Hornets kind of looked like the league’s worst defense (though that title now belongs to the Blazers), allowing the Suns to score 73 points on 53 first-half possessions. Jalen Smith (who wasn’t playing a week ago) and Hornets legend Bismack Biyombo (who wasn’t on a roster on Friday) totaled 30 points in 42 combined minutes for Phoenix.

The Charlotte offense remains in the top five, even though Miles Bridges (who returned from a two-game absence on Sunday) has shot just 9-for-43 (21%) from 3-point range over his last 10 games. Terry Rozier’s efficiency is down from last season (and he’s lost his clutchness), but he totaled 62 points on an effective field goal percentage of 73% in their wins over Houston and Indiana last week.

The win over the Rockets on Monday was the fifth time the Hornets have held their opponent under a point per possession. Two of the other four were their two games against the Wizards, who the lead by just a half game in the standings and who they’ll face for a third time on Monday.

Week 12: @ WAS, vs. DET, vs. MIL13


Last Week: 14 ↑LA Clippers

Record: 19-18
Pace: 99.0 (14) OffRtg: 106.3 (27) DefRtg: 106.0 (4) NetRtg: +0.2 (14)

The Clippers, with guys beyond Paul George out of the lineup every night, continue to pick up wins by any means necessary (and with some help from their opponents). With the Celtics shooting 4-for-42 (9.5%) from 3-point range on Wednesday, the Clips’ win in Boston was more of pitcher’s duel. And with the Nets playing some lethargic defense on Saturday, the Clips’ win in Brooklyn was their best offensive output (120 points on 104 possessions) in three weeks.

Both games (as well as their loss in Toronto on Friday) were within five points in the last five minutes and the Clips scored 36 points on 22 clutch possessions (with only two guys playing clutch minutes in all three games) over their three-game trip. They’ve seen the league’s biggest drop in overall 3-point percentage from last season (when they led the league), but they’re still in the top 10 (36.2%) and are a league-best 26-for-52 (50%) on clutch 3s. Luke Kennard (6-for-10) and Reggie Jackson (6-for-11) are two of the four players who have shot better than 50% on at least 10 clutch attempts, but eight different Clippers have made at least one clutch 3-pointer.

The Clippers are 1-6 against the five teams ahead of them in the Western Conference standings, with two games against that group this week. The one win was over the Suns (who were without Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton) three weeks ago.

Week 12: vs. MIN, @ PHX, vs. MEM, vs. ATL14


Last Week: 11 ↓Boston Celtics

Record: 18-19
Pace: 98.0 (21) OffRtg: 108.2 (21) DefRtg: 107.3 (8) NetRtg: +0.9 (11)

The Celtics are clearly the most Jekyll-and-Hyde team in the league. On Monday, they lost to a below-.500 team (Minnesota) missing all five of its starters, getting outscored 44-22 in the restricted area, with former Celtic Greg Monroe (playing his first NBA game in 2 1/2 years) doing some of the damage for the Wolves. Two nights later, the Celtics were a plus-26 in the restricted area, but shot 4-for-42 from 3-point range in an ugly loss to the PG-less Clippers. But on Friday afternoon, they probably had their best win of the season (featuring a Robert Williams III triple-double), clobbering the Suns, who were previously 9-0 against the Eastern Conference.

And on Sunday, the Celtics were both Jekyll and Hyde in the same night, falling behind by 14 points to the 7-29 Magic, and then outscoring them 34-15 over the final 9:15 of an overtime victory. Four nights after he shot 13-for-36 with a zero in the assist category, Jaylen Brown scored a career-high 50 points and capped the performance with two of his four assists, one a delicious, behind-the-back dime to Josh Richardson on the break.

The Celtics have been pretty consistent defensively, and they rank as both the eighth best and eighth most improved team on that end of the floor, having allowed 4.5 fewer points per 100 possessions than they did last season. Maybe some offensive consistency will come with the return of Jayson Tatum, who’s missed the last four games and should be available against San Antonio on Wednesday. As noted last week, the Celtics’ preferred starting lineup – Marcus Smart, Brown, Tatum, Al Horford and Williams – has played just 87 total minutes, with only two games together since Thanksgiving.

Consistency can also come with an easy stretch of schedule, and the win over Orlando began a stretch where the Celtics are playing six straight games against teams no better than the 17-20 Knicks.

Week 12: vs. SAS, @ NYK, vs. NYK15


Last Week: 15Dallas Mavericks

Record: 18-18
Pace: 95.9 (29) OffRtg: 109.1 (17) DefRtg: 108.2 (13) NetRtg: +0.9 (12)

That the Mavs were able to tread water over Luka Doncic’s 10-game absence is probably more impressive than anything they’ve done with Doncic in the lineup. They didn’t beat any good teams, but they were 5-5 with a top-five offense over the 10 games, even though Jalen Brunson (21 points per game on 51% shooting), Dwight Powell and Moses Brown were the only guys that played in all 10. They managed to share the ball (recording assists on 67% of their buckets) while keeping turnovers down. And while Kristaps Porzingis didn’t shoot particularly well from the field, he got to the line and made 87% of his free throws. Among players who’ve averaged at least five attempts per game this season, only Trae Young has shot better at the stripe.

Now the Mavs have to see what they can do with Doncic, who made his return on Sunday. Starting alongside Brunson and playing without Porzingis, he was one rebound away from a triple-double in Oklahoma City. But he had seven turnovers along with his 10 assists and didn’t get to the line at all. The Mavs won ugly (barely cracking a point per possession) against the league’s 29th-ranked offense missing its two leading scorers.

A win is a win, and a road win is a good win. The Mavs will play three of their next four (and 15 of their next 21) games at home, where they’re just 2-7 since Thanksgiving. The most important game in that stretch could be a visit from the fifth-place Nuggets on Monday.

Week 12: vs. DEN, vs. GSW, @ HOU, vs. CHI16


Last Week: 16Washington Wizards

Record: 18-18
Pace: 97.3 (24) OffRtg: 108.2 (20) DefRtg: 110.5 (23) NetRtg: -2.3 (23)

The Wizards have been *the league’s most clutch team, and Kyle Kuzma is now 4-for-5 (3-for-4 from 3-point range) on shots to tie or take the lead in the final minute of the fourth quarter or overtime. But the Wizards’ clutch was no match for DeMar DeRozan’s clutch on Saturday, when Kuzma’s go-ahead 3 left a little too much time on the clock.

* The Wizards actually suffered their second “clutch” loss of the season on Tuesday in Miami, but only because they cut a 28-point deficit down to five with less than 30 seconds left.

Though they’ve been without Bradley Beal or Spencer Dinwiddie in all five, the last five games have been Washington’s best stretch of offense (115.9 points scored per 100 possessions) this season. And though only four of them have played in all five games, 10 different Wizards have averaged double-figures over that stretch. But they’ve lost three of the five games, unable to get stops against the better teams in the East. The Wizards rank first in the (lowest) percentage of their opponents’ shots that have come from 3-point range (35.0%), but against Miami on Tuesday, they were just too slow to react to the movement of Duncan Robinson, who drained eight 3s.

If you include opening night, the Wizards are 3-0 when they’ve been in danger of falling below .500. And they’ll have a rest advantage when they host the Hornets on Monday, with seventh place in the East on the line. But Washington has scored less than a point per possession in two games against Charlotte’s 28th-ranked defense, with Wizards not named Bradley Beal having shot 10-for-61 (16%) from 3-point range over the two defeats.

Week 12: vs. CHA, vs. HOU, @ CHI, @ ORL17


Last Week: 18 ↑Los Angeles Lakers

Record: 19-19
Pace: 101.1 (2) OffRtg: 107.3 (23) DefRtg: 108.4 (14) NetRtg: -1.1 (20)

The Lakers can now begin shopping Anthony Davis around the league, because they’re undefeated (3-0) with LeBron James starting at center. The three wins have come against the Rockets, Blazers and shorthanded Wolves, so maybe they should hold off on trading Davis (the deadline is still more than a month away). But the first two were L.A.’s two most efficient offensive games of the season. Their win over Minnesota was more of a defensive victory; They got absolutely destroyed on the glass, but the Lakers forced 23 turnovers (14 of them live balls) and kept the Wolves (who shot just 9-for-38 from 3-point range) off the free-throw line.

When James has played the five (no Davis, Dwight Howard or DeAndre Jordan on the floor), he really has played more like a big man, with 41% of his shots coming in the restricted area and a free throw rate of 38.5 attempts per 100 shots from the field. When he’s played alongside one or two of the bigs, those numbers are just 32% and 23.1. Russell Westbrook – 54.3% from the field with James at the five vs. 43.9% otherwise – has also benefited.

The Lakers’ regular-season ceiling is seemingly the 4 seed. And they’ll complete their season series with the fourth-place Grizzlies on Sunday, with Memphis at the end of a stretch of four games in five days. The home team has won all three meetings thus far, with the Lakers having scored less than a point per possession over their two December losses (both with James, one without Anthony Davis) in Memphis.

Week 12: vs. SAC, vs. ATL, vs. MEM18


Last Week: 19 ↑Toronto Raptors

Record: 16-17
Pace: 96.7 (26) OffRtg: 110.2 (12) DefRtg: 110.0 (21) NetRtg: +0.2 (16)

Five days after that game where the Raptors’ starting lineup met on the bus to the arena, they had basically everybody but Scottie Barnes available, with their three core vets — Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby and Pascal Siakam — playing together for the first time in 46 days. And as they finished off their win over the Clippers on Friday, they basically had VanVleet and Siakam running pick-and-roll for the last five minutes. Most of it was empty-corner actions that allowed Siakam to take advantage of switches, but VanVleet ad-libbed a pretty pick-and-pop for the 3 that put the Clippers away.

Two days later, the Raptors got Barnes back and started their best-five-guys lineup (with Siakam at center). Foul trouble limited it to less than six minutes on Sunday, but it’s allowed less than a point per possession in its 56 total minutes this season. VanVleet wasn’t having a great shooting night before that dagger against the Clippers, but he totaled 66 points in his two games back from a two-game absence. His effective field goal percentage (54.4%) and true shooting percentage (58.0%) are career-best marks by healthy margins and the Raptors have now been 20.5 points per 100 possessions better with him on the floor (plus-5.9) than they’ve been with him on the bench (minus-14.6).

The Raptors are three games into a stretch where they’re playing seven of eight at home, with another chance to get back to .500 on Tuesday. The lone road game in that stretch is Wednesday in Milwaukee, when the Bucks will have a rest advantage. Toronto has won eight of its last 11 games against the champs (going back to Game 2 of the 2019 conference finals), having ended the Bucks’ eight-game winning streak (Giannis Antetokounmpo didn’t play) a month ago.

Week 12: vs. SAS, @ MIL, vs. UTA, vs. NOP19


Last Week: 20 ↑New York Knicks

Record: 17-20
Pace: 96.2 (28) OffRtg: 108.0 (22) DefRtg: 109.5 (19) NetRtg: -1.5 (21)

The Knicks had a back-to-back last week against two of the most depleted teams we’ve seen this season. The Wolves and Pistons (both missing four of five starters) combined to score a paltry 91.5 points per 100 possessions, and the Knicks won both games … by single digits. But they’ll take what they can get (and Tom Thibodeau probably loves those 94-85 wins), because the Knicks (who had won four out of five for the first time since October) have since become pretty depleted themselves, losing Kemba Walker (knee) and Julius Randle (Health and Safety Protocols) over the weekend.

The Knicks have played better with those guys off the floor this season, and they were, amazingly, a minus-21 and a minus-27 in the win over the Pistons. But without them (and also missing others), they completed their four-game trip with losses in Oklahoma City (their worst offensive performance of the season) and Toronto. Alec Burks had a huge game (34 points on 12-for-17 shooting) in Detroit, but R.J. Barrett hasn’t been very consistent and Immanuel Quickley (29% from 3-point range over the last month) continues to struggle from the outside.

Those ugly wins (and the ugly loss) have the Knicks ranking higher on defense than on offense for the first time this season. But they’re also one bad defensive game from ranking in the bottom 10 on both ends of the floor. They’ll play eight of their next 10 games at Madison Square Garden, though they’ll complete their season series with the Celtics with a home-and-home set on Thursday and Saturday.

Week 12: vs. IND, vs. BOS, @ BOS20


Last Week: 17 ↓Minnesota Timberwolves

Record: 16-20
Pace: 99.9 (6) OffRtg: 107.2 (24) DefRtg: 108.1 (10) NetRtg: -0.9 (19)

If the Wolves get a good Play-In seed (heck, the 6 seed isn’t out of the question) because they finished one game ahead of the team(s) behind them, they’ll have Greg Monroe to thank. Yes, Greg Monroe, who hadn’t played an NBA game in more than 32 months before meeting the Wolves before their game in Boston on Monday. He scored 11 points, grabbed nine rebounds, dished out six assists, blocked a shot, and registered a plus-13 in the Wolves’ five-point victory over his former team.

Alas, the Wolves have lost five of their last six games, with their five starters having all missed at least three of the six. Karl-Anthony Towns has missed the last five games, D’Angelo Russell has missed the last four, and neither is expected to play against the Clippers on Monday. Without all their scorers available, the Wolves’ offense (which already ranked in the bottom 10 before this stretch) has struggled to score. They did have a fourth-quarter lead in Utah on Friday, but then came up empty on their next 12 possessions. Through Week 11, the Wolves are one of three teams – the Clippers and Thunder are the others – that rank in the bottom 10 in three of the four factors on offense (effective field goal percentage, free throw rate and turnover rate).

The Wolves’ schedule remains road-heavy until just before the All-Star break, but their chance to more firmly entrench themselves in the Play-In picture is right now, with their next five games against the Clippers (who are without Paul George), the Thunder (who might be without Shai Gilgeous-Alexander), the Rockets and Pelicans. They’re currently 6-1 against the six teams below them in the Western Conference standings, with the one loss (against New Orleans) having come in Week 2.

Week 12: @ LAC, vs. OKC, @ OKC, @ HOU21


Last Week: 21Atlanta Hawks

Record: 16-19
Pace: 98.3 (19) OffRtg: 112.6 (2) DefRtg: 112.3 (25) NetRtg: +0.2 (15)

The Hawks haven’t been the only team playing shorthanded, but their list of missing players (due to both injuries and Health and Safety Protocols) has been pretty extensive. They did get Trae Young and Clint Capela back last week, but their depth was still sapped, and that lack of depth has shown up most in the second quarter. The Hawks have lost the second quarter in each of their last seven games, losing it by at least eight points in six of the seven. In total, they’ve been outscored by almost 43 points per 100 possessions in those 84 second-quarter minutes. Fifth and sixth on the Hawks in second-quarter minutes over those seven games: Lance Stephenson and Skylar Mays.

Of course, whether or not a player is usually in the rotation (or on the roster), he can bring better defensive effort than the Hawks have brought for most of the season. A good defense starts in transition, and no team has allowed more points per possession in transition than the Hawks (1.23). Their loss to the Bulls on Wednesday was the second time this season they’ve allowed more than 30 fast break points (the Rockets are the only other team that’s allowed 30-plus in a game), and it also came with minimal resistance in the half court (see herehere and here).

The Hawks did pick up what could be an important win in Cleveland on Friday, committing just two turnovers (only the seventh time a team has had fewer than three in the last 39 seasons) against the reeling Cavs. They’ll have more bodies back for the Western Conference portion of their six-game trip.

Week 12: @ POR, @ SAC, @ LAL, @ LAC22


Last Week: 27 ↑Sacramento Kings

Record: 16-22
Pace: 99.8 (8) OffRtg: 108.9 (18) DefRtg: 112.9 (27) NetRtg: -4.0 (24)

De’Aaron Fox entered last week with a league-high four field goals (on five attempts) to tie or take the lead in the final minute of the fourth quarter or overtime. He still has four (Kyle Kuzma has tied him), even though he came through with the ball in his hands in two game-winning situations over the last five days. Against the Mavs on Wednesday, Fox blew by Frank Ntilikina, drew help from Dwight Powell, and fed a wide-open Chimezie Metu for the buzzer-beating game-winner (the fourth clutch field goal attempt of Metu’s career). And against the Heat on Sunday, Fox got a switch onto Tyler Herro, took him into the paint, and drew a foul on a spin move, draining the game-winning free throws with 6.2 seconds left.

Tyrese Haliburton has taken a greater role in the Kings’ offense since Alvin Gentry took over for Luke Walton, averaging 5.7 minutes of possession (more than Fox and up from 3.8 minutes under Walton) and dishing out double-digit assists in eight of his last nine games. But in the clutch, Fox has a higher usage rate under Gentry (38.5%, seventh highest in the league since Nov. 22) than he did under Walton (22.6%). When you absolutely need a bucket, you need a guy who can create an advantage, and Fox (third in the league in points per game on drives) is that guy for the Kings.

The Kings have won three out of four for just the second time, but their longest homestand of the season (six games) is in the books. They’ll play three of their next four on the road, and the one home game (against the rested Hawks on Wednesday) is the second of a back-to-back.

Week 12: @ LAL, vs. ATL, @ DEN, @ POR23


Last Week: 23 Indiana Pacers

Record: 14-23
Pace: 97.4 (23) OffRtg: 109.5 (15) DefRtg: 109.6 (20) NetRtg: -0.0 (17)

The Pacers have lost four straight games and, yes, all four were within five points in the last five minutes, dropping their clutch record to a brutal 4-16. Of course, not all clutch losses are the same. Against Charlotte on Wednesday, the Pacers cut an 18-point deficit down to four with 5 1/2 minutes to go, but never had a chance to tie or take the lead. They got to within three in the final seconds in Cleveland on Sunday, but again, never had a chance to tie or take the lead. Sometimes, you enter clutch time down five and never make things really interesting.

But the Pacers’ loss to the Bulls on Friday was downright brutal. They led by six with a little more than two minutes left, had one turnover lead to a Chicago fast break, couldn’t get a shot off on their final offensive possession, abandoned a double-team on DeMar DeRozan, and then saw him drain a ridiculous 3-pointer at the buzzer. For the season, the Pacers are 1-for-13 on shots to tie or take the lead (the one make was Chris Duarte’s falling-out-of-bounds corner 3 in a game they lost), while their opponents are 6-for-15. They’re now four games behind the 10th-place Raptors and they still have a positive point differential (plus-8 for the season).

Two of the Pacers’ 10 double-digit wins have come against the Knicks, and they’ll complete the season series on Tuesday. The Pacers played without their top four guards on Sunday and it’s not clear that they’ll have any of them back for the trip to New York.

Week 12: @ NYK, vs. BKN, vs. UTA24


Last Week: 22 ↓San Antonio Spurs

Record: 14-21
Pace: 100.6 (5) OffRtg: 110.2 (11) DefRtg: 108.9 (16) NetRtg: +1.3 (10)

The Spurs won their first game without Dejounte Murray, but they’ve since dropped three straight, scoring just 102 points per 100 possessions over the three games. They’ve seen their 3-point rate (3PA / FGA) gradually increase over the season (30.7% in their first 10 games, 35.8% over the last five), but they’ve shot just 32.4% from beyond the arc over the losing streak. Keldon Johnson (4-for-15) may be seeing some regression to the mean after shooting 47.6% from beyond the arc through Week 10.

The nadir was surely the Spurs’ overtime loss to the Pistons (the team they beat by 35 without Murray) on Saturday. The Spurs rank fifth in field goal percentage and 10th in 3-point percentage, but (mostly because of Jakob Poeltl, the one shot Chip Engelland can’t fix) they’re 29th in free throw percentage (72.5%), and they were 2-for-6 on clutch free throws (Poeltl missed a pair) in a game they lost by one. The Spurs are now 14-21 with the point differential of a team that’s 19-16.

Their postponement against the Heat on Wednesday kept the Spurs from having to play five games in seven nights. But starting Tuesday, they’re scheduled to play eight in 12. Murray did clear Health and Safety Protocols on Saturday, so he could be back for their five-game tour through the Atlantic Division.

Week 12: @ TOR, @ BOS, @ PHI, @ BKN25


Last Week: 26 ↑New Orleans Pelicans

Record: 13-23
Pace: 98.1 (20) OffRtg: 106.9 (25) DefRtg: 111.5 (24) NetRtg: -4.6 (25)

Jaxson Hayes and Jonas Valanciunas hadn’t played together prior to Tuesday and it’s not clear that they’ll ever play together again. But for one night, they made magic, registering a plus-23 in less than 13 minutes together (with the Pelicans allowing just 10 points on 26 defensive possessions) as the Pelicans came back from 23 points down against Cleveland to get their first win without Brandon Ingram. Herb Jones was at the three in most of those Hayes-Valanciunas minutes and scored a career-high 26 points.

Jones’ first two buckets were off Herb-Jones-esque dive cuts, and he had three buckets in transition. But he also had buckets as both the ball-handler and the roll man in the pick-and-roll, and he drained a pair of catch-and-shoot 3s too. He remains a defender first, but Jones’ usage rate continues to rise, and he saw jumps in both 3-point rate and free throw rate in December. Herb was neither the Jones nor the Pelican that got votes for the “steal of the Draft” question in the GM Survey, but he’d probably get the most love if the Survey was redone right now.

The Pelicans are just one game in the loss column out of a Play-In Tournament spot in the West, but they don’t have any January games against the four teams between them and 10th place. The three teams coming to town this week are the three best teams in the league, though the Pelicans do have a win over the Jazz in which they held the league’s No. 1 offense to just 97 points on 96 possessions, with Devonte’ Graham draining the game-winner.

Week 12: vs. UTA, vs. PHX, vs. GSW, @ TOR26


Last Week: 25 ↓Oklahoma City Thunder

Record: 13-23
Pace: 99.0 (16) OffRtg: 100.9 (29) DefRtg: 108.1 (11) NetRtg: -7.3 (27)

If you were looking for offense this weekend, the Paycom Center in Oklahoma City was not the place to be, as the Thunder and their opponents (New York and Dallas) combined to score just 94.7 points per 100 possessions. OKC is barely out of the basement in offensive efficiency, having scored 0.05 more points per 100 than the 30th-ranked Pistons. But over the last three weeks, they’ve climbed from 20th to 11th on defense, and their next two games (against the 10th-ranked Wolves) will give them the opportunity to move into the top 10.

That his teammates shot just 41% on Sunday makes it more amazing that Josh Giddey had 14 assists as he became the youngest player in NBA history to record a triple-double. The absence of both Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (Health and Safety) and Lu Dort (knee soreness) allowed Giddey to handle the ball all night, but it’s interesting that Gilgeous-Alexander has seen a much bigger jump in usage rate when Giddey has been off the floor (33.7 vs. 23.7% in their minutes together) than Giddey has seen when SGA has been off the floor (21.6% vs. 21.2%). The rookie has shot a solid 9-for-25 on pull-up 3s, but obviously doesn’t call his own number as much as the 23-year-old vet.

The Thunder have the point differential (-7.2 per game, 14th in the West) of a team that’s 9-27. But in the standings, they’re just three games behind the ninth-place Wolves, who they’ll face (for the first two times this season) on Wednesday and Friday. OKC has won six of the last seven meetings, going back to 2019.

Week 12: @ MIN, vs. MIN, vs. DEN27


Last Week: 24 ↓Portland Trail Blazers

Record: 13-22
Pace: 98.4 (18) OffRtg: 109.4 (16) DefRtg: 114.3 (30) NetRtg: -4.9 (26)

The Blazers have fallen back to 30th on defense, having allowed an amazing 130.7 points per 100 possessions over a four-game losing streak that has included losses to two teams — the Pelicans and Lakers – that rank in the bottom 10 offensively. Their four opponents averaged 46 points per game (on 74% shooting) in the restricted area. League averages: 33 restricted-area points per game on 64% shooting.

But defense hasn’t been the only problem. As they lost 11 of their 13 games in December, the Blazers were the only team that ranked in the bottom five in both offensive and defensive efficiency for the month. Among 202 players with at least 75 field goal attempts in December, Anfernee Simons had the worst effective field goal percentage (40.7%). And Robert Covington (46.1%), Norman Powell (47.4%) and Damian Lillard (51.4%) were also below the league average (52.9%). The Blazers finished the month with three games in which they trailed by 29, 22 and 35 points, falling into holes early on. In fact, they haven’t held a lead over their last 142 minutes of game time.

The Blazers’ January schedule is easier than their December schedule in regard to cumulative opponent winning percentage, but it’s more road-heavy, and this team is just 2-13 away from the Moda Center. The month does start with a four-game homestand.

Week 12: vs. ATL, vs. MIA, vs. CLE, vs. SAC28


Last Week: 28 Houston Rockets

Record: 10-27
Pace: 100.7 (3) OffRtg: 106.3 (26) DefRtg: 114.0 (29) NetRtg: -7.7 (28)

The Hornets ranked as the league’s worst defense entering their matchup with Houston on Monday. And in that game, the Rockets sure looked like the worse defensive team. They’re obviously young – Jalen Green wasn’t available and they still played five rookies together for a few minutes – but their defensive issues went beyond rookie mistakes. It was more about a lack of physical resistance as the Hornets attacked the basket.

The Rockets are the only team that ranks in the bottom 10 in both opponent field goal percentage in the restricted area (65.9%, sixth highest) and the percentage of their opponents’ shots that have come in the restricted area (31%, fourth highest). They have only one David Nwaba, he’s 6-foot-5, and he was no match for LeBron James on Tuesday. Houston has had issues both inside and out (their opponents have shot 39% from 3-point range) as they’ve allowed 125.5 points per 100 possessions over a seven-game losing streak. The Rockets now rank below Charlotte defensively, though they’ve both been outdone by the Blazers.

More pressing for the Rockets than the losing streak and where they rank defensively are a couple of disciplinary issues — with Kevin Porter Jr. and Christian Wood — that popped up on Saturday. You can’t go home from the arena when you’re on the road and the Rockets (who are 3-17 on the road) will be in Philadelphia and Washington on Monday and Wednesday.

Week 12: @ PHI, @ WAS, vs. DAL, vs. MIN29


Last Week: 29 Orlando Magic

Record: 7-30
Pace: 98.6 (17) OffRtg: 103.1 (28) DefRtg: 112.9 (26) NetRtg: -9.8 (30)

The Magic got some players back from Health and Safety Protocols last week, but Cole Anthony remains on the shelf (he’s missed seven of the last eight games) with a sprained ankle, leaving the point-guard duties to Hassani Gravett and Tim Frazier. The Magic have still scored 10.6 more points per 100 possessions with Anthony on the floor (108.2) than they have with him off the floor (97.6), but they scored much more efficiently in their two games against the Bucks last week (112.3 per 100) than they did in two games (that Anthony also missed) in Milwaukee prior to Thanksgiving (98.5).

Even with a big jump in usage rate (from 19.2% to 27.4%), Franz Wagner has a higher true shooting percentage over the last eight games (54.8%) than he did prior to Anthony’s injury (53.7%). And with Khris Middleton guarding him most of the time, he totaled 58 points on an effective true shooting percentage of 74% (he was 16-for-16 from the line) in the two games against the champs. Most of that offense was self-created and Wagner didn’t just give Middleton the business in the post, he also Euro-stepped around Giannis Antetokounmpo. The 20-year-old is big and skilled, and he’s already a problem for the league’s best defenses.

The Magic and Pistons are, by a comfortable margin, the two worst teams in the league. And they’ll face each other for the second time on Saturday in Detroit. The Pistons won the first meeting (Cade Cunningham’s NBA debut) back in October.

Week 12: @ CHI, vs. PHI, @ DET, vs. WAS30


Last Week: 30 Detroit Pistons

Record: 6-28
Pace: 99.4 (10) OffRtg: 100.8 (30) DefRtg: 110.2 (22) NetRtg: -9.3 (29)

On Monday, the Spurs ran a “Hammer” play (disguised as an empty-corner pick-and-roll) against the Jazz, with Jakob Poeltl setting a back-screen for Doug McDermott, who got a good look at a 3 from the left corner. Five nights later and in the closing seconds of overtime, the Pistons ran the same exact play against the Spurs and Poeltl read it well, leaving his position as a rim protector (though it was a two-point game) to defend the Hammer pass. But that pass skipped through Poeltl’s legs and into the hands of Saddiq Bey, who drained the game-winning corner 3 over both Poeltl and Keldon Johnson. The win was some revenge for a 35-point loss in San Antonio six nights earlier and also the Pistons’ first victory (they were previously 0-25) in a game they trailed by double-digits.

Bey is the only one of the Piston’s regular starters who have played in the last four games, and the game-winner against the Spurs was preceded by a career-high 32 points against New York. He’s averaged 43.6 minutes over the four and the team has been outscored by 28 points in his 23 minutes on the bench. Hamidou Diallo (the only other semi-regular-rotation guy who played on Saturday) has taken advantage of all the absences, averaging 31 points over the last three games. He’s made just two 3s over that stretch, but has been a much-improved shooter in the paint, registering career-high marks for field goal percentage in the restricted area (67.0%) and on other shots in the paint (51.6%).

The Pistons remain the only team that hasn’t won two straight games and they’re in Milwaukee on Monday.

Week 12: @ MIL, @ CHA, @ MEM, vs. ORL

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