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Lakers getting it done with D

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com
Posted Dec 21 2009 2:12PM

That the Lakers are 22-4 at this point in the season is not a surprise. Reggie Miller thought they might start the season 20-1 with their home-heavy schedule. And that road trip they just finished got a lot easier once they crossed the Mississippi River.

The surprise is in the numbers behind the best record in the league.

Having the 15th most efficient offense is very un-Laker like. Stacked with talent, this is a team that usually resides in the top five offensively, up there with the Suns and Nuggets. Right now, they're worse offensively than the Kings and Grizzlies, two teams that combined for 123 losses last season. L.A. is almost five points per 100 possessions worse offensively than they were last season.

But on the other side of the floor, the Lakers are almost six points per 100 possessions better. That Ron Artest for Trevor Ariza swap seems to be working out pretty well, because the Lakers now rank as the best defensive team in the league, better than the Celtics, who had set a goal of being considered the best defensive team in history.

L.A. just may get that 20-1 mark if they finish December off strong. They've won 15 of their last 16 games, having held 14 of those 16 opponents under a point per possession.

• Last Week: Celtics take the hard road to No. 1

Hero Team of the Week: Portland (3-1)
Zero Team of the Week: Golden State (0-3)

High jumps of the week: Chicago (+3), L.A. Clippers (+3), 7 teams (+2)
Free falls of the week: Detroit (-5), Utah (-4), Milwaukee (-3)

East vs. West: The West leads 89-60 (0.597) in inter-conference games and was 18-9 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 103.9 points scored per 100 possessions.

NBA.com'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.

TEAM (LAST WEEK) REC. BREAKDOWN
1 L.A. Lakers (2) 22-4 Pace: 97.3 (7), Off: 105.0 (15), Def: 96.0 (1)
Artest is averaging just 12.3 points per game and shooting just 42 percent from the field, but he leads the Lakers in raw +/-, even though he's played 200 minutes less than Kobe Bryant. The Artest-LeBron matchup is the one-on-one battle to watch on Christmas.
2 Boston (1) 21-5 Pace: 93.9 (24), Off: 108.4 (4), Def: 96.7 (2)
The Celtics looked like they were going to cruise into their Christmas game in Orlando with a 14-game winning streak, but they fell asleep in the second half on Friday's against the Sixers. Philly shot just 40 percent, but had 23 second-chance points.
3 Orlando (3) 20-7 Pace: 94.6 (16), Off: 108.2 (6), Def: 101.6 (9)
Vince Carter is shooting 35 percent over the last six games, but has attempted 40 more shots than Dwight Howard in that stretch. Carter's shooting a career-low 40 percent for the season. Maybe the return of Jameer Nelson (possibly Wednesday) will help.
4 Atlanta (4) 19-7 Pace: 94.3 (21), Off: 110.6 (2), Def: 102.2 (10)
The Hawks' defense was much improved (94.2 rating) over their six-game winning streak, but their normally potent offense let them down Saturday in Chicago. Joe Johnson dropped 40, but Josh Smith and Marvin Williams combined to shoot 3-for-19.
5 Dallas (7) 20-8 Pace: 94.5 (17), Off: 106.3 (10), Def: 99.8 (4)
Sunday's win over Cleveland without Dirk Nowitzki was the Mavs' best win since they beat the Lakers opening week. They dusted off Tim Thomas and played one of their most efficient offensive games of the last month. Nowitzki is questionable for Tuesday.
6 Cleveland (8) 20-8 Pace: 93.1 (28), Off: 106.7 (8), Def: 100.3 (5)
Mike Brown sees the benefits of regular season losses and feels his team is better suited for the playoffs, but they still need a big man who can stretch the floor and give LeBron James another passing option. Stagnant offense is still a problem.
7 Denver (5) 19-9 Pace: 98.2 (4), Off: 109.0 (3), Def: 103.2 (14)
The Nuggets have lost their last four road games, and they struggled on both ends of the floor playing without Chauncey Billups (groin injury) in New Orleans and Memphis this weekend. Billups should be back Wednesday against the Hawks.
8 Phoenix (9) 18-9 Pace: 97.8 (5), Off: 111.7 (1), Def: 107.1 (25)
The Suns' home-road discrepancy continues. They've lost their last six on the road by an average of 12.3 points, but remain undefeated at home. That mark will be challenged in the next eight days, as the Cavs, Lakers and Celtics all pay them a visit.
9 Houston (11) 16-11 Pace: 96.0 (10), Off: 104.4 (16), Def: 103.2 (15)
The Rockets have won eight of 11, playing more consistently defensively. Tracy McGrady made his surprise return Tuesday, but last week's talk about a steady rotation may have jinxed them, as Carl Landry and Chase Budinger were hurt this week.
10 Utah (6) 16-11 Pace: 94.4 (19), Off: 106.4 (9), Def: 104.7 (18)
The Jazz were flat in Atlanta on Friday, but they haven't lost two straight since the second week of the season and, with Saturday's win in Charlotte, already have as many wins (three) on the second night of a back-to-back as they had last season.
TEAM (LAST WEEK) REC. BREAKDOWN
11 San Antonio (10) 14-10 Pace: 94.3 (20), Off: 107.8 (7), Def: 102.3 (11)
The Spurs have won five of their last six games, but all five wins have been over sub-.500 teams. They're soft schedule continues, as only two of their next nine opponents (Portland and Miami) have a winning record, and both of those games are at home.
12 Portland (13) 17-12 Pace: 90.2 (30), Off: 105.7 (13), Def: 101.5 (7)
With Andre Miller starting again, the Blazers won three of four this week. Sunday's win in Miami was just their second W in their last nine road games. Their trip ends with a back-to-back in Dallas and San Antonio this week. They're 3-27 in those cities since '01-02.
13 Oklahoma City (12) 13-13 Pace: 94.2 (22), Off: 102.3 (20), Def: 101.5 (8)
The Thunder have lost four out of their last five games, with their defense continuing to show signs of decline. They've got a 105.7 rating over the last 10 games and visits to the Lakers and Suns on Tuesday and Wednesday won't help it get better.
14 Memphis (14) 12-15 Pace: 95.8 (11), Off: 105.0 (14), Def: 108.2 (28)
Nobody had a better weekend than Zach Randolph, who averaged 29 points and 20 boards (with a career high 24 on Sunday) in wins over the Pacers and Nuggets. It was also the first time that the Grizz held two straight opponents under a point per possession.
15 Miami (15) 13-12 Pace: 93.3 (26), Off: 105.8 (12), Def: 104.2 (17)
The Heat are 2-9 when Dwyane Wade shoots under 42 percent, including Sunday's loss to the Blazers, when he needed 31 shots to score 28 points. In Thursday's win over the Magic, he was 10-for-17 and they played their best defense in more than a month.
16 New Orleans (18) 12-14 Pace: 94.4 (18), Off: 102.9 (19), Def: 106.5 (21)
Chris Paul averaged 17.9 points and 14.4 assists in his first seven games back and came just a rebound and an assist shy of a sick 30-20-10 line in Friday's win over the Nuggets. We'll overlook the 10, eight and seven on a bad ankle in Sunday's loss in Toronto.
17 Sacramento (19) 12-14 Pace: 97.4 (6), Off: 106.0 (11), Def: 107.7 (26)
Tyreke Evans met up with Brandon Jennings on Saturday and had the final, scintillating word in a wild game. Next, he's got Derrick Rose on Monday. Evans has scored at least 18 points in 18 of the 20 games since Kevin Martin was injured. That's consistency.
18 Toronto (20) 13-17 Pace: 95.7 (12), Off: 108.2 (5), Def: 112.0 (30)
After getting crushed in Miami and Orlando, the Raptors put a whooping on the Nets. More impressive was Sunday's defensive win over the Hornets, played without Jose Calderon, who has now missed seven of the last eight games with an injured hip.
19 L.A. Clippers (22) 12-14 Pace: 94.7 (15), Off: 101.3 (24), Def: 102.5 (13)
The Clippers won three of their four games this week, looking as strong offensively as they have all season. But this may be as close to .500 as they get in a while, with this upcoming schedule: @ San Antonio, @ Houston, @ Phoenix, Boston, @ Portland.
20 Milwaukee (17) 11-14 Pace: 95.3 (13), Off: 100.7 (25), Def: 101.5 (6)
It couldn't have been a more heartbreaking week for the Bucks. Kobe Bryant beat them at the OT buzzer on Wednesday, Brandon Jennings missed a three to tie in Cleveland on Friday, and then Tyreke Evans zipped past Andrew Bogut to beat them on Saturday.
TEAM (LAST WEEK) REC. BREAKDOWN
21 Detroit (16) 11-16 Pace: 90.7 (29), Off: 101.9 (21), Def: 105.6 (19)
Rip Hamilton was back on the shelf with a hamstring injury two games after returning from a sprained ankle. He and Tayshaun Prince have each played three games this season. Also still missing Ben Gordon, the Pistons have dropped four straight.
22 New York (21) 10-17 Pace: 97.0 (8), Off: 103.7 (18), Def: 106.5 (22)
As the Nate Robinson situation heats up, the Knicks continue to play well at home. They won just one of their first nine games at MSG, but are 5-0 at home this month. They've got three more there this week, including a Christmas matinee against the Heat.
23 Chicago (26) 10-15 Pace: 94.2 (23), Off: 95.9 (28), Def: 103.5 (16)
The Bulls' defense has been strong (96.7 rating) as they've won three of their last five. Derrick Rose's 32 points in Saturday's OT win over the Hawks was a regular season career high and his 43 minutes was the most he's ever played without a turnover.
24 Indiana (24) 9-16 Pace: 99.1 (2), Off: 99.4 (26), Def: 102.4 (12)
There were some positives to take out of Saturday's game in San Antonio. The Pacers shot better than they had in a month and Roy Hibbert played well against Tim Duncan. But they blew a 13-point, fourth-quarter lead and T.J. Ford's game-winner was long.
25 Charlotte (23) 10-16 Pace: 93.4 (25), Off: 96.5 (27), Def: 98.3 (3)
The Bobcats have lost five of six, with Sunday's loss in New York being the most painful. Gerald Wallace sat out with headaches, Stephen Jackson left the game with back spasms, and Larry Brown and Acie Law combined for a head-scratching final play.
26 Philadelphia (28) 7-20 Pace: 93.2 (27), Off: 103.8 (17), Def: 108.4 (29)
After a comeback in Boston, the Sixers' first win over a winning team, Lou Williams returned five weeks early and Andre Iguodala hit the game-winner Saturday. But replay showed the shot was a hair too late. Five minutes later, it's a home loss to the Clippers.
27 Washington (25) 8-17 Pace: 96.8 (9), Off: 101.5 (23), Def: 105.7 (20)
The Warriors' defense helped bring Agent Zero back to the surface on Friday, but other than No. 0 taking a lot of shots, there wasn't much carryover on Saturday in Phoenix. Arenas, Butler and Jamison are all nursing minor injuries as the Wiz return home.
28 Minnesota (29) 5-23 Pace: 98.3 (3), Off: 95.8 (29), Def: 107.0 (24)
Not only are the Timberwolves the only team to beat the Jazz twice this season, but they also figured out how to stop Tyreke Evans. Damien Wilkins helped hold the rookie to just 10 points on Friday. The big rematch with the Nets comes Wednesday in New Jersey.
29 Golden State (27) 7-19 Pace: 103.6 (1), Off: 101.8 (22), Def: 107.8 (27)
The Warriors have lost 11 of 13 since their big win in Dallas before Thanksgiving, with the only wins coming over Indiana and New Jersey. Stephen Curry set career highs with 27 points, eight boards and five threes in Friday's loss to the Wizards.
30 New Jersey (30) 2-26 Pace: 95.1 (14), Off: 93.5 (30), Def: 106.8 (23)
Saturday's loss to the Lakers was the Nets' seventh straight since Kiki Vandeweghe began his tenure winning two out of three. It also began a seven-game homestand, but on a per-possession basis, the Nets have actually been worse at home than on the road.
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