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Quality wins put Spurs back on top

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com
Posted Jan 3 2011 10:35AM

Is defense making a comeback?

The league is averaging 103.5 points per 100 possessions through Sunday, which is the lowest mark since the 2005-06 season. Efficiency usually increases as the season goes on, and the league is not far behind where it was at this time last year (103.8), but offense has actually been trending down of late.

The league was actually a full point per 100 possessions less efficient in December (103.1 points scored per 100 possessions) than it was in October and November (104.1). Teams shot better from the field over the last month, but turnovers were up and both free-throw attempts and offensive rebounds were down.

At this point last season, four teams were holding opponents under a point per possession, but that didn't last. Charlotte finished the season as the No. 1 defense at 100.2 points allowed per 100.

Right now, seven teams are holding opponents under a point per possession. And if efficiency continues to trend down, that number may increase.

This week's No. 1 is actually the worst defense of that group of seven, but the Spurs are No. 1 offensively, coming off three big wins.

• Last week: Florida trip launches Mavs to No. 1
• This time last year: Bumps in the road for the Big Four - The top 13 from the previous week went a combined 21-21, the Celtics were without Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, the Jazz were in ninth place, Nate Robinson returned from Mike D'Antoni's doghouse to drop 41 on the Hawks and the Kings lost at the buzzer to Kobe Bryant and the Lakers.

Hero Team of the Week: San Antonio (3-0) - The Mavs were shorthanded, but the Spurs beat three teams in last week's top eight by an average of 16 points.
Zero Team of the Week: New Jersey (0-4) - The Nets hung with the Bulls on Friday, but they weren't competitive with either the Magic or Thunder earlier in the week, and they were awful in Minnesota on Saturday.

High jumps of the week: Chicago (+3), San Antonio (+3), Five teams (+2)
Free falls of the week: Dallas (-3), New Jersey (-3), New York (-3)

East vs. West: The West is 106-78 93-71 (.576) against the East in inter-conference games this season and was 13-7 last 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 94.9 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes and 103.5 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 have 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 San Antonio (29-4)
Pace: 95.5 (14), Off: 110.1 (1), Def: 99.9 (7)
The Spurs' defense has recovered from its ugly spell, holding opponents to just 37 percent shooting over the last four games. Now they're finally hitting the road, with five of their next six away from the AT&T Center. The string starts Tuesday with a challenging back-to-back in New York and Boston.
Previous: 4

2 Miami (26-9)
Pace: 93.3 (21), Off: 109.4 (2), Def: 98.0 (3)
The top individual plus-minus marks of December: Dwyane Wade (plus-205), Chris Bosh (plus-193) and LeBron James (plus-183). No other player was better than a plus-135. The big three shot 53 percent in the month, a big improvement over the 46 percent they shot in October and November.
Previous: 3

3 Boston (25-7)
Pace: 92.8 (25), Off: 105.4 (11), Def: 96.6 (1)
The Celtics' offense suffered much more (scoring just 97.7 points per 100 possessions) than their defense in this last seven-game stretch without Rajon Rondo. It wasn't much better in Rondo's return on Sunday, but so far the defense has remained strong without Kevin Garnett.
Previous: 2

4 Dallas (25-8)
Pace: 93.0 (23), Off: 106.2 (8), Def: 100.2 (8)
Losing your best player to injury is tough. Losing your best player to injury at the beginning of a five-game week is really tough. Then losing another starter later in the week is even tougher. Dirk Nowitzki hopes to return this week, but Caron Butler is likely out for a while. His diagnosis comes Monday.
Previous: 1

5 Orlando (21-12)
Pace: 93.5 (19), Off: 105.1 (12), Def: 99.0 (4)
The Magic are improved post-trade, but not because of their starting lineup. Ryan Anderson might be a better fit alongside Hedo Turkoglu's playmaking than Brandon Bass, whose achy knee (Bass missed practice Sunday) might force Stan Van Gundy to make a change anyway.
Previous: 7

6 Chicago (22-10)
Pace: 95.3 (16), Off: 102.8 (17), Def: 96.9 (2)
The Bulls were briefly the league's No. 1 defensive team thanks to a 14-game stretch in which they held their opponents to just 90.8 points per 100 possessions. That's great D, but it's been helped by some bad O. Ten of the 14 opponents in that stretch were below-average offensive teams.
Previous: 9

7 L.A. Lakers (23-11)
Pace: 95.8 (10), Off: 107.6 (6), Def: 102.0 (10)
Wednesday's win in New Orleans was the Lakers' first victory over a winning team since before Thanksgiving. That's about the only positive thing you can take out of the last couple of weeks in Lakerland. Sunday's loss to Memphis was the fifth time in eight games they've been held under a point per possession.
Previous: 5

8 Utah (23-11)
Pace: 93.2 (22), Off: 105.7 (10), Def: 103.6 (15)
If NBA games ended after two quarters, the Jazz would be 13-21. Maybe it's good that they're the league's most inconsistent team from quarter to quarter. Now Mehmet Okur is dealing with back pain that cut his second comeback short. He's had three different injuries this season and has played only four games.
Previous: 6

9 Oklahoma City (23-12)
Pace: 95.8 (11), Off: 106.1 (9), Def: 103.8 (17)
At what point does Scott Brooks change his starting lineup? Consistency and cohesion are nice, but the Thunder starters outscored their opponents by just 1.6 points per 48 minutes last season, and this year they're outscoring them by 0.5 per 48, with perimeter defense being the biggest problem.
Previous: 8

10 Denver (19-13)
Pace: 98.6 (3), Off: 108.0 (4), Def: 105.4 (20)
Kenyon Martin, Chris Andersen and Carmelo Anthony are all back, but Al Harrington (thumb) and Nene (hamstring) are banged up. Still, no trades are imminent, so we might actually get to see what the Nuggets can do at full strength. The defense has been better of late.
Previous: 12

11 New Orleans (20-14)
Pace: 92.1 (28), Off: 102.0 (20), Def: 99.4 (5)
The Hornets began the week by allowing the Wolves and Lakers to shoot 56 percent, and finished it by holding the Celtics and Wizards to just 44 percent. They won 11 of their first 12 games, lost nine of their next 12, and are 6-4 since. This 12-game stretch concludes with visits from the Sixers and Warriors.
Previous: 11

12 Atlanta (22-14)
Pace: 92.4 (26), Off: 104.7 (13), Def: 102.0 (11)
The Hawks' offense has picked up, scoring 107.1 points per 100 possessions in their four games last week. And their defense was much better in December (100.2) than it was in October and November (104.0). Jason Collins' 12 rebounds in Monday's win in Milwaukee were his most since April of 2006.
Previous: 13

13 New York (19-14)
Pace: 99.0 (2), Off: 107.9 (5), Def: 105.6 (21)
After a 3-8 start and a 13-1 stretch, the Knicks have settled into sixth place in the East. That seems about right, but they've got another tough stretch ahead. The Spurs visit MSG on Tuesday, and then the Knicks head West (where they started that 13-1 stretch) for a four-game trip.
Previous: 10

14 Portland (18-16)
Pace: 91.4 (30), Off: 103.6 (15), Def: 103.2 (14)
The Rockets and Grizzlies are both playing better lately, but the Blazers aren't going anywhere. They're 8-3 without Brandon Roy (now out "indefinitely"), playing better both offensively (104.5) and defensively (100.9) than they were with him (103.1, 104.3). They even won a road game last week.
Previous: 15

15 Houston (16-17)
Pace: 97.9 (4), Off: 106.6 (7), Def: 106.2 (23)
Only the Spurs and Heat were better offensively than the Rockets in the month of December. But on Sunday in Portland, with eighth place in the West on the line, they had one of their worst offensive games of the season. They get another shot at the Blazers on Wednesday in Houston.
Previous: 14

16 Memphis (15-19)
Pace: 95.8 (12), Off: 101.9 (21), Def: 102.7 (12)
The Grizzlies beat the Lakers for the second time this season, but as they sit three games out of eighth place, they're haunted by losses to the Nets and Kings over the last two weeks. They're 14-5 when they hold their opponent under 100 points and 1-14 when they don't.
Previous: 18

17 Philadelphia (13-20)
Pace: 94.0 (18), Off: 102.2 (18), Def: 102.8 (13)
Missing Andre Iguodala, who's out at least another four games, the Sixers had to beat the Suns with offense, including Evan Turner's career-high 23 points. They almost had enough to knock off the Lakers, too. Their stretch of eight straight road games concludes Monday in New Orleans.
Previous: 17

18 Phoenix (14-18)
Pace: 96.7 (7), Off: 108.6 (3), Def: 109.9 (30)
The Suns have lost five of their last six and eight of their last 11, a stretch capped by an epic collapse (a 12-point lead became a five-point defeat in less than six minutes) against the worst team in the league on Sunday. Has there been a lower point since Steve Nash returned to Phoenix 6 1/2 years ago?
Previous: 16

19 Milwaukee (13-18)
Pace: 92.8 (24), Off: 97.0 (30), Def: 99.6 (6)
Milwaukee is starting to get more consistent production from John Salmons. He's only shooting poorly every other game now, instead of two out of every three games like he was earlier in the season. The Bucks' schedule of death continues this week with three games against the Heat and Magic.
Previous: 19

20 Golden State (13-20)
Pace: 97.5 (5), Off: 103.9 (14), Def: 108.5 (28)
Saturday's game in Miami, where the Warriors scored 72 points in the first half and 35 in the second, was one of the most bizarre games you'll ever see. Despite those last 24 minutes, the Warriors' offense has been much improved (107.6 points per 100 possessions) over the last nine games.
Previous: 21

21 Indiana (14-18)
Pace: 97.0 (6), Off: 99.0 (25), Def: 100.8 (9)
Only the Bobcats and Cavs regressed more than the Pacers did last month. Most of the regression came on offense, where Indiana went from scoring 102.5 points per 100 possessions through Nov. 30 to just 95.7 in December. Then they began January by shooting 37 percent against the Knicks' defense.
Previous: 20

22 Toronto (11-22)
Pace: 96.7 (8), Off: 103.2 (16), Def: 108.4 (27)
DeMar DeRozan scored a career-high 37 points in Friday's loss in Houston, but he now has the league's worst raw plus-minus mark. At minus-205, he took the bottom spot from the Cavs' J.J. Hickson on Sunday. The two will go head-to-head in Cleveland this week.
Previous: 22

23 L.A. Clippers (10-24)
Pace: 94.5 (17), Off: 101.2 (23), Def: 106.5 (24)
In this season's most stunning development, the Clippers were the league's most improved defensive team from the first month of the season to the second. After allowing 110.8 points per 100 possessions through Nov. 30, they allowed just 100.9 in December. They also improved offensively.
Previous: 25

24 Charlotte (11-20)
Pace: 93.3 (20), Off: 99.2 (24), Def: 103.8 (16)
The first three games under Paul Silas have been the Bobcats' best three-game stretch offensively in over a month. D.J. Augustin and Stephen Jackson clearly have the green light. They've taken 38 threes between them in the three games. The new offense will be tested when the Heat visit Charlotte on Monday.
Previous: 26

25 Detroit (11-22)
Pace: 91.7 (29), Off: 101.9 (22), Def: 107.2 (25)
When it comes to Jekyll and Hyde performances, it may be impossible to top what the Pistons did last week. They shot 56 percent against the Celtics' defense on Wednesday, and then scored just 75 points against the Suns' defense two nights later. Their defense has been much more consistent lately.
Previous: 23

26 Minnesota (9-25)
Pace: 100.3 (1), Off: 102.0 (19), Def: 108.6 (29)
With Michael Beasley finding his rhythm again and the offense gaining some traction, the Wolves have won three out of four for the first time since last February. They're shooting 48 percent from 3-point range over the last five games, with five different Wolves hitting at least seven threes in that stretch.
Previous: 27

27 New Jersey (9-25)
Pace: 92.2 (27), Off: 98.7 (26), Def: 104.8 (18)
Not only have the Nets regressed defensively (112.3 points per 100 possessions allowed in their five-game losing streak), but their offense may have reached a new low in scoring just 33 second-half points against one of the worst defenses in the league (that of the Wolves) on Saturday.
Previous: 24

28 Sacramento (7-24)
Pace: 95.7 (13), Off: 98.2 (28), Def: 105.4 (19)
This was not a bad week to have season tickets in Sacramento. It started with a heartbreaking loss to the Clippers, but quickly turned around with Tyreke Evans' miraculous game-winner against the Grizzlies. And it was capped by a furious comeback against the Suns, with Evans watching from the bench.
Previous: 29

29 Washington (8-24)
Pace: 95.9 (9), Off: 98.6 (27), Def: 105.7 (22)
After losses in Houston and Indiana, the Wiz are still without a road win. But their defense in their last four road games (45 percent shooting and 101.3 points per 100 possessions allowed) has been much better than it was in the first 12 (51 percent, 116.8). They visit Philly and Charlotte this week.
Previous: 28

30 Cleveland (8-26)
Pace: 95.3 (15), Off: 97.6 (29), Def: 107.8 (26)
The Cavs have won just one of their last 18 games, and they would have lost that one if Amar'e Stoudemire's 10-foot jumper fell at the end of regulation. They're on pace for 19 victories, but actually have the point differential of a 15-win team.
Previous: 30
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