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Team of the Month went under the radar

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com
Posted Feb 1 2010 1:11PM

Who was the best team in the month of January?

The Cleveland Cavaliers and Denver Nuggets had the best records, each going 12-3. The Charlotte Bobcats (12-4), Los Angeles Lakers (12-5) and New Orleans Hornets (12-5) each piled up the wins as well. But statistically, none of them was the best team.

The Oklahoma City Thunder were the best defensive team of the month, allowing just 97.7 points per 100 possessions. The Portland Trail Blazers were the best offensive team, scoring 111.0 points per 100 possessions. But overall, neither was at the top of the list.

That spot belonged to the Utah Jazz, who went 10-4 in January and outscored their opponents by 9.5 points per 100 possessions, the best differential of the month.

The Jazz ranked second offensively (109.9) and fourth defensively (100.4) in January. And they didn't do it against a light schedule. Eleven of their 14 opponents currently have a winning record.

When the month started, the Jazz were tied with the Thunder for eighth place in the West. When it ended, they were all alone in fourth.

Of course, if they want to stay there, Utah has to keep playing at a high level. Four of its next five games are against the Mavs, Blazers, Nuggets and Lakers. Fortunately for the Jazz, all four are at home, where they have won seven straight.

• Last Week: Cavs make another statement

Hero Team of the Week: Chicago (3-0) - Finished their trip strong, with wins in San Antonio, Oklahoma City and New Orleans.
Zero Team of the Week: L.A. Clippers (0-4) - Lost to the Nets and Timberwolves in the span of three days.

High jumps of the week: Chicago (+4), Oklahoma City (+4), Utah (+4), Washington (+4)
Free falls of the week: Boston (-4), Houston (-4), Phoenix (-4)

East vs. West: The West is 158-121 (0.566) in inter-conference games, but the East was 12-10 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 104.1 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 Cleveland (1) 38-11 Pace: 93.3 (27), Off: 108.1 (5), Def: 99.9 (5)
The Cavs have won eight straight and just began a stretch of seven straight games at home, where they've won 17 of their last 18. Daniel Gibson is averaging 13.0 points and shooting 47 percent from 3-point range in five games as a starter.
2 L.A. Lakers (2) 37-11 Pace: 96.2 (7), Off: 106.5 (9), Def: 99.3 (2)
Kobe Bryant hit another game-winner, and the Lakers are now 5-2 on their eight-game trip, with their defense improving over the last three games. The trip ends Monday in Memphis, when Bryant (points) and Phil Jackson (wins) can both set franchise records.
3 Denver (3) 32-15 Pace: 97.7 (5), Off: 108.9 (3), Def: 103.4 (13)
A season-high 23 turnovers in Oklahoma City on Friday resulted in the Nuggets' worst offensive game of the season and an end to their eight-game winning streak. But they recovered for a big win in San Antonio on Sunday and are now 6-3 without Carmelo Anthony.
4 Orlando (7) 32-16 Pace: 95.0 (15), Off: 106.7 (8), Def: 99.8 (4)
The Magic won the Atlanta-Boston-Orlando round-robin this week, have won six of their last seven and made basketball writers happy by sending the ever-quotable Stan Van Gundy to the All-Star Game. But they've still got issues with their starting backcourt.
5 Utah (9) 28-18 Pace: 95.4 (14), Off: 106.0 (12), Def: 102.2 (10)
Shooting 53 percent from the field and 41 percent from 3-point range, the Jazz have won nine of their last 10. Six of the wins were over teams with winning records and another (Friday over the Kings) coming without both Carlos Boozer and Deron Williams.
6 Atlanta (5) 30-16 Pace: 93.5 (26), Off: 108.4 (4), Def: 103.5 (14)
Sometimes, it's about matchups. The Hawks completed a season sweep of the Celtics on Friday, but lost their sixth straight game to the Magic on Saturday. They've shot just 39 percent in three games against Orlando this season with one more to go.
7 Oklahoma City (11) 26-21 Pace: 94.9 (17), Off: 102.9 (19), Def: 100.2 (6)
It was against the Warriors (there's a Golden State Conversion Rate for scoring), but Kevin Durant was ridiculous on Sunday: 45 points on 16-for-21 shooting as the Thunder shot better than 50 percent as a team for the second straight game.
8 Boston (4) 29-16 Pace: 93.9 (22), Off: 105.3 (13), Def: 98.7 (1)
The Celtics' offense has been pretty bad (101.6 rating) as they've gone 6-11 since Christmas. And how Kevin Garnett looked on Rashard Lewis' game-winning layup on Thursday was not a good sign for their defense. They get the Magic again on Sunday.
9 Dallas (6) 30-17 Pace: 94.1 (21), Off: 106.4 (10), Def: 102.3 (11)
The Mavs haven't lost three straight all season, but after blowing games to the Suns and Blazers, they visit the red hot Jazz on Monday. They continue to struggle defensively, allowing each of their last three opponents to shoot 53 percent or better.
10 Memphis (10) 25-21 Pace: 95.9 (9), Off: 106.4 (11), Def: 107.5 (25)
Blowing a 21-point lead to the CP3-less Hornets is not the way you want an 11-game home winning streak to end, especially when you've got a back-to-back against the Lakers and Cavs coming up. Rudy Gay has shot just 34 percent in the last four games.
TEAM (LAST WEEK) REC. BREAKDOWN
11 Portland (8) 28-21 Pace: 90.0 (30), Off: 107.7 (6), Def: 104.5 (17)
After dropping three straight, the Blazers needed Saturday's overtime win in Dallas, and they needed every one of Andre Miller's 52 points to get it. Their defense has allowed opponents to shoot 50 percent in the nine games Brandon Roy has missed.
12 San Antonio (12) 27-19 Pace: 93.7 (24), Off: 107.1 (7), Def: 102.1 (9)
At 8-8, the Spurs were unable to take advantage of a home-heavy month. It was just the third time in Tim Duncan's career that they didn't have a winning record in January. Now, with Tony Parker out with a sprained ankle, they head out for the eight-game rodeo trip.
13 Toronto (15) 26-22 Pace: 95.5 (11), Off: 108.9 (2), Def: 109.3 (30)
The Raptors have won five straight and are now 17-9 with Jarrett Jack in the starting lineup. Better yet, they get to face the Pacers, who just allowed them to shoot 60 percent, again in Indiana on Tuesday. Then they play the Nets, Kings and Sixers.
14 Charlotte (17) 24-22 Pace: 93.6 (25), Off: 100.6 (25), Def: 99.3 (3)
The Bobcats finished January with three straight road wins. They were the ninth-best offensive team for the month after an ugly start to the season. They finish their six-game trip with visits to the Blazers and Lakers this week.
15 New Orleans (18) 26-21 Pace: 94.3 (20), Off: 104.8 (14), Def: 105.4 (19)
Darren Collison was terrific (17 points, 18 assists) in Saturday's win in Memphis, but he might not be able to keep that up for a month or more, which is how long Chris Paul is reportedly out after injuring his knee. The Hornets' playoff chances just took a hit.
16 Chicago (20) 23-22 Pace: 95.5 (12), Off: 99.0 (27), Def: 101.2 (7)
The Bulls finished their road trip with five straight impressive wins and are 13-5 since Christmas. Derrick Rose earned his All-Star selection with that stretch, but defense has been the key, as they've held their opponents to just 42 percent shooting.
17 Phoenix (13) 28-21 Pace: 98.7 (3), Off: 111.3 (1), Def: 108.5 (29)
The Suns have won two straight, but they have the same record as they had after 49 games last season, when Terry Porter was two games from being fired. Statistically, they're the same (+2.8 points per 100 possessions) too, though not as good defensively.
18 Houston (14) 25-22 Pace: 95.5 (13), Off: 103.7 (16), Def: 104.4 (15)
The Rockets have lost four of their last five (all at home), as well as their spot among the West's top eight. Their defense suffered a greater drop-off as they went 5-9 in January, but they shot 40 percent or lower in three of the four losses in the last nine days.
19 Miami (16) 24-23 Pace: 93.1 (28), Off: 104.7 (15), Def: 102.7 (12)
Though they have have fallen to eighth in the East standings, the Heat have a three-game cushion over the Bucks. But they lost in Milwaukee on Saturday, play the Bucks again Monday, and then play eight of nine on the road, starting with the Celtics and Cavs.
20 Milwaukee (22) 20-25 Pace: 95.6 (10), Off: 101.1 (24), Def: 102.1 (8)
Finishing the month off with two straight wins, the Bucks went 8-7 in January. It was their best offensive month of the season thus far, in part because they've cut down on turnovers. They averaged just 12.3 per game this month, down from 14.0 in the first two months.
TEAM (LAST WEEK) REC. BREAKDOWN
21 New York (21) 18-29 Pace: 96.2 (8), Off: 103.6 (17), Def: 106.4 (21)
The Knicks' nine losses in their last 12 games made it an even better month for the Jazz, who hold New York's first round pick this June. David Lee had 10 double-doubles in that stretch, but his team was outrebounded by almost eight boards per game.
22 L.A. Clippers (19) 20-27 Pace: 94.5 (19), Off: 101.4 (23), Def: 104.5 (18)
When you let the Nets shoot a season-high 53 percent, you've got problems with your defense. When you shoot 41 percent against the Timberwolves' defense, you've got problems with your offense. Combine the two and you've got a really bad week.
23 Washington (27) 16-30 Pace: 95.0 (16), Off: 102.3 (22), Def: 106.5 (22)
The Wizards learned the duration of Gilbert Arenas' suspension on Wednesday, giving them some closure on that situation, but closure on trade rumors won't come for another 17 days. At least they were able to escape New Jersey with a win on Friday.
24 Indiana (24) 16-32 Pace: 100.0 (2), Off: 98.6 (28), Def: 104.5 (16)
In the Pacers' current three-game losing streak, they've been outrebounded by 55 and have attempted 51 fewer free throws than their opponents. Troy Murphy has shot 16-for-29 from the field, but is a sobering minus-73 over the three games.
25 Philadelphia (23) 16-31 Pace: 93.7 (23), Off: 102.9 (20), Def: 106.0 (20)
Their three wins are by a total of 10 points, but the Sixers haven't lost to the Nets yet. They managed to win Sunday's game in New Jersey while shooting 36 percent from the field and 62 percent from the line. Friday's loss to the Lakers was more impressive.
26 Sacramento (28) 16-30 Pace: 97.3 (6), Off: 102.6 (21), Def: 107.3 (24)
The Kings are probably glad to turn the calendar, as only the Nets had a worse record -- or were worse offensively -- in January. Their February schedule is a little easier, but not until after they start the month with games against the Nuggets, Spurs and Suns.
27 Minnesota (29) 11-38 Pace: 98.6 (4), Off: 97.9 (29), Def: 107.6 (27)
The Timberwolves have won two straight, playing well offensively. Al Jefferson and Kevin Love combined for 47 points and 22 boards in Sunday's win over the Knicks, but four other guys scored at least 20 points over the two games. That's balance.
28 Detroit (25) 15-31 Pace: 90.9 (29), Off: 99.6 (26), Def: 106.7 (23)
The Pistons haven't cracked 100 points in regulation in their last 23 games. They've lost five straight and have shot 20 percent from 3-point range over the last seven. They got Ben Gordon back again on Friday, but he scored just five points in 25 minutes on Sunday.
29 Golden State (26) 13-33 Pace: 103.0 (1), Off: 103.5 (18), Def: 108.0 (28)
Grabbing less than 45 percent of available boards, the Warriors are the worst rebounding team of the last 20 years. The last team that was worse on the boards? The 1989-90 Warriors, coached by Don Nelson and featuring Run-TMC.
30 New Jersey (30) 4-42 Pace: 94.6 (18), Off: 94.8 (30), Def: 107.5 (26)
The Nets got win No. 4 over the Clippers on Wednesday, but faltered down the stretch against the Wizards and Sixers. It's been their best three-game defensive stretch since Lawrence Frank was fired, but the opponents have a lot to do with that.
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