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West is Best Again, but Not No. 1

By John Schuhmann,
Posted Nov 23 2009 12:04PM

If you've been following the Power Rankings for the last year or so, you know that we keep track of how the conferences fare against each other. And you also know that the East beat the West last season, 231-219. After the East ran out to a blistering 31-13 inter-conference start, the West slowly closed that gap but still had too many doormats at the bottom of the standings to catch up.

This season, the West has closed the gap much faster. The East won 14 of the first 25 inter-conference games, but the West has won 23 of the last 38 to grab the inter-conference advantage. And with the Knicks and Nets heading West this week, it might be difficult for the East to keep it close.

On a points-per-possession basis, seven of the 10 most improved teams in the league are in the Western Conference, including three of the top four: Oklahoma City, Sacramento and the Clippers. Those three teams have a combined 17-23 record, but at this point last year, they were 8-24. The doormat ratio has seemingly decreased in the West.

One place the East has the edge is at the top spot in the rankings. Despite Sunday's loss in New Orleans, the Hawks are, like KRS, still No. 1. Atlanta had a strong week overall and was aided by at least one loss from teams 2-7 in last week's rankings. Both of last season's Finals teams are coming on strong though, and a Thanksgiving night matchup between the Magic and Hawks in Atlanta (8 p.m. ET, TNT) is an absolute must-watch.

• Last Week: Hawks putting it together, while Lakers plummet

Hero Team of the Week: Orlando (4-0)
Zero Team of the Week: New Jersey (0-3)

High jumps of the week: New Orleans (+9), Utah (+7), Dallas (+6), Orlando (+6)
Free falls of the week: Boston (-5), Indiana (-5), Miami (-5), Portland (-5)

East vs. West: The West leads 34-29 (0.540) in inter-conference games and was 14-8 this week.

Pace: Possessions per 48 minutes (League Rank)
Off: Points scored per 100 possessions (League Rank)
Def: Points allowed per 100 possessions (League Rank)
The league averages through Sunday are 95.3 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes and 103.1 points scored per 100 possessions.'s Power Rankings are just one man's opinion and are released every Monday during the season. If you've got an issue with the rankings, or have a question or comment for John Schuhmann, send him an e-mail. You can also follow him on twitter.

1 Atlanta (1) 11-3 Pace: 95.5 (13), Off: 109.7 (4), Def: 102.7 (15)
After their winning streak reached seven with impressive wins over the Blazers, Heat and Rockets, the Hawks ran out of gas in New Orleans. They also lost Mike Bibby to a sprained ankle, but have four days off before Thursday's showdown with the Magic.
2 Orlando (8) 11-3 Pace: 94.0 (21), Off: 105.8 (9), Def: 99.6 (9)
The defense has been pretty good in its last five games (91.2 rating) and was at its best in Friday's win in Boston. No wonder Stan Van Gundy isn't yelling so much. One concern: Vince Carter, who hit Friday's game-winner, is 19-for-53 in his last two games.
3 Phoenix (2) 11-3 Pace: 98.6 (3), Off: 111.9 (1), Def: 107.0 (25)
The Suns' streak of scoring 100+ continues, but their defense is weakening. In the first seven games, they had a defensive rating of 103.8. In the last seven games, it's 110.3. Unless they can tighten it up again, they won't stay atop the West for too long.
4 Dallas (10) 10-3 Pace: 94.6 (17), Off: 104.5 (13), Def: 98.3 (6)
Dirk Nowitzki hit the game-winner in Milwaukee on Monday, but the Mavs don't get to that point without the play of rookie Rod Beaubois, who scored 12 points and was a +13 in the game. Beaubois has started the last five games, all wins for the Mavs.
5 L.A. Lakers (9) 10-3 Pace: 97.4 (6), Off: 103.0 (17), Def: 98.0 (5)
With the return of Pau Gasol, the Lakers look like the champs again, trouncing the Bulls and Thunder while making shots over the backboard and all that. They should stay near the top as their home-heavy schedule continues for eight more games.
6 Cleveland (6) 10-4 Pace: 94.2 (20), Off: 105.2 (11), Def: 100.9 (10)
First, it was a 30-12 run by the Wizards. Then, a 22-3 run by the Pacers. Finally, a 23-9 run by the Sixers. The Cavs survived the last two and their offense has gotten sharper since the start of the season, but they're still seeking a complete game.
7 Denver (5) 9-4 Pace: 98.1 (5), Off: 110.0 (3), Def: 103.2 (16)
The Nuggets may have the easiest five-game stretch in the history of the NBA coming up: two games against the Wolves and one each against the Nets, Knicks and Warriors. But as good as the Nuggets have been at times, they recently lost to the Clippers.
8 Boston (3) 10-4 Pace: 93.4 (26), Off: 104.5 (14), Def: 95.2 (1)
The Celtics were dominant through the first two weeks of the season, but have looked rather ordinary since. Most worrisome has been the sight of Kevin Garnett favoring his knee the last two games, as well Al Harrington burning him on Sunday.
9 Portland (4) 10-5 Pace: 91.0 (28), Off: 104.1 (15), Def: 96.3 (2)
The Blazers went 7-2 with Andre Miller in the starting lineup, but their offensive efficiency (102.8) was below the league average and way below their own standards. Miller went back to the bench on Saturday and they had their most efficient game of the season. Of course, it was against the Wolves.
10 Milwaukee (11) 8-3 Pace: 96.5 (11), Off: 102.6 (18), Def: 97.0 (3)
Last season, the Bucks' defense fell apart when they lost Andrew Bogut to injury. So far so good this season, as they kept the Bobcats and Grizzlies in check without Bogut this week. Playing those teams helped ... but Kurt Thomas' presence helped, too.
11 Houston (12) 8-6 Pace: 97.3 (7), Off: 105.9 (8), Def: 102.7 (14)
The Rockets have alternated wins and losses for the last 11 games, but the question remains: Even if Tracy McGrady's healthy, do you want him possibly disrupting the chemistry and toughness Houston has developed without him?
12 Miami (7) 8-5 Pace: 93.8 (23), Off: 103.2 (16), Def: 101.4 (13)
After a light first seven games, both the Heat's record (6-1) and their defensive rating (94.0) were inflated. Since then, they've come back down to earth (2-4, 110.2) and needed late-game heroics to beat the Nets and Hornets (at home) for their only wins.
13 Utah (20) 7-6 Pace: 93.6 (25), Off: 105.9 (7), Def: 105.2 (19)
In winning four of their last five (with the only loss in Cleveland), the Jazz have shown improvement on both ends of the floor (Off: 109.0, Def: 100.2). In snapping their 20-game losing streak in San Antonio, they played their best defensive game of the season.
14 Oklahoma City (16) 7-7 Pace: 94.6 (18), Off: 100.6 (23), Def: 98.8 (7)
They were spanked by both the Magic and Lakers this week, and that much-improved defense has shown some cracks, but the Thunder have been able to stay afloat with a 4-4 road record that includes quality wins in San Antonio and Miami.
15 Chicago (13) 6-6 Pace: 95.4 (15), Off: 95.2 (27), Def: 99.4 (8)
Derrick Rose (48 points over the last two games) may be putting his ankle issues behind him, but John Salmons and Kirk Hinrich are shooting a combined 35 percent. The annual circus road trip continues in Portland and Utah this week.
16 San Antonio (14) 5-6 Pace: 92.7 (27), Off: 106.7 (5), Def: 104.2 (17)
A comfortable win over the Wizards on Saturday ended the Spurs' three-game losing streak. But before they could get Tony Parker back for that one, Manu Ginobili went down with a groin injury. The Manu-Timmy-Tony missed-games count is already at eight.
17 New Orleans (26) 6-9 Pace: 94.2 (19), Off: 104.8 (12), Def: 108.7 (29)
Chris Paul's ankle injury in Jeff Bower's first game as coach turned out to be a blessing in disguise. The team woke up and the rookie backcourt of Darren Collison and Marcus Thornton has shined. When Paul returns, he should have a stronger supporting cast.
18 Toronto (17) 6-8 Pace: 95.0 (16), Off: 111.9 (2), Def: 113.5 (30)
The Raptors' defense hasn't shown any improvement yet, but by shooting 58 percent and getting to the line 36 times on Friday, they were able to outgun the Heat. They held the Magic to 41 percent shooting Sunday, but allowed Orlando 35 trips to the line.
19 Detroit (18) 5-9 Pace: 90.1 (30), Off: 101.9 (20), Def: 104.3 (18)
Still without Rip Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince (who both are just starting to get back on the practice court), the Pistons have lost five straight, struggling on both ends. Rodney Stuckey is shooting 38 percent for the season and just 30 percent over the last four.
20 Indiana (15) 5-6 Pace: 99.1 (2), Off: 99.6 (26), Def: 101.1 (11)
The Pacers not only broke their own five-game winning streak, but helped the Knicks and Bobcats snap their losing streaks, blowing an 18-point lead to New York. Since his 11-for-14 first half against the Knicks, Danny Granger is just 13-for-39 from the field.
21 Sacramento (19) 5-7 Pace: 96.8 (10), Off: 105.5 (10), Def: 107.8 (26)
The Kings have lost three straight, but they were competitive (though not very good defensively) in Dallas and Houston over the weekend. The next five games, starting with Monday's matchup in Memphis, are all winnable if they can get their offense going again.
22 Memphis (27) 4-9 Pace: 96.9 (9), Off: 102.5 (19), Def: 108.5 (28)
Not only did the Grizzlies put the Allen Iverson fiasco behind them, but three good defensive games (95.8 rating) produced a three-game winning streak. They had a chance to make it four straight, but didn't execute down the stretch against the Bucks on Saturday.
23 L.A. Clippers (21) 5-9 Pace: 95.6 (12), Off: 101.4 (22), Def: 105.3 (20)
If you were still trying to figure out the Clippers, this week didn't help. After losses in New Orleans and Memphis, they knocked off the Nuggets on Friday, thanks to a 19-0 run in the first half. The eventual returns of Gordon and Griffin provide more hope.
24 Golden State (23) 4-8 Pace: 103.3 (1), Off: 106.1 (6), Def: 108.1 (27)
After a rough trip East and a big trade, the Warriors returned home to pick up a big win, with Monta Ellis playing one of the best games of his life. He finished with 34 points, eight assists, six steals and two blocks while locking down Brandon Roy.
25 New York (28) 3-10 Pace: 98.5 (4), Off: 99.7 (25), Def: 106.1 (22)
Wednesday's comeback from 19 points down in Indiana seemed to give the Knicks some much-needed life. They were able to avoid embarrassment in New Jersey and took the Celtics to OT over the weekend. A tough upcoming schedule might suck the life back out.
26 Philadelphia (22) 5-8 Pace: 93.7 (24), Off: 101.6 (21), Def: 106.5 (23)
Elton Brand (19.7 ppg and 10.3 rpg in the last three games) is starting to produce, but Andre Iguodala and Thaddeus Young are struggling. After a couple of decent games, the Sixers' defense allowed Memphis to shoot 52 percent on Friday.
27 Charlotte (25) 4-9 Pace: 90.5 (29), Off: 92.8 (28), Def: 97.3 (4)
The Bobcats ended their seven-game losing streak with a 104-point explosion against the Pacers on Sunday, just the second time they cracked the century mark in regulation this season. With the Raptors up next, they might be able to pull it off twice in a row.
28 Washington (24) 3-9 Pace: 95.4 (14), Off: 100.3 (24), Def: 106.0 (21)
Everything seemed great after Antawn Jamison returned to lead the Wiz over the Cavs on Wednesday. But they followed their best defensive game of the season with their worst. One night later, the locker room is splintered and changes seem inevitable.
29 New Jersey (29) 0-13 Pace: 94.0 (22), Off: 90.3 (30), Def: 101.1 (12)
The Nets' defense has been solid, but they just can't score. Blame a lack of talent, healthy bodies and ball movement. Historically a high-assist team, they rank 29th with an assist-field goal ratio of just 48 percent. They were No. 1 two seasons ago.
30 Minnesota (30) 1-12 Pace: 97.1 (8), Off: 91.4 (29), Def: 106.7 (24)
If Damien Wilkins didn't hit the game-winner against the Nets on opening night, the Wolves might be the ones approaching the worst start in NBA history. Nine of their losses and each of the last eight have been by double-figures. Wilkins is 8-for-28 since.
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