By John Schuhmann, NBA.com
Posted Jan 24 2011 11:42AM
When marquee free agents like Carlos Boozer and Amar'e Stoudemire went from the Western Conference to the East last summer, we thought it might bring more balance to the NBA landscape.
So far, the East looks to be just as shallow as ever, with fewer teams above .500 (six) than it had last season (seven). The Philadelphia 76ers, for example, are on pace to earn the No. 7 seed with a 34-48 record.
Further, the West is currently 148-107 in games against the East, which is the most lopsided it's been since the 2003-04 season. Eight West teams are above .500 overall, but 11 of them have winning records against the East.
The East still has five strong teams at the top, but with the recent struggles of the New York Knicks, those are the only five that would make the playoffs in the West.
• Last week: Spurs clear leader at the midway point
• This time last year: Cavs make another statement - The Nuggets were the second best team in the West, the Mavs beat the Knicks by 50, the Grizzlies were in the top 10, and the Warriors started two guys (Cartier Martin and Anthony Tolliver) on 10-day contracts.
Hero Team of the Week: Portland (4-0) - The opponents weren't great, but the shorthanded Blazers were one of just two teams without a loss last week.
Zero Team of the Week: Toronto (0-4) - It was four road games against four of this week's top seven, but the Raptors simply rolled over in visits to Orlando and Miami over the weekend.
High jumps of the week: Atlanta (+3), New Orleans (+3), New Jersey (+2), Phoenix (+2)
Free falls of the week: Utah (-3), Dallas (-2), New York (-2), Oklahoma City (-2)
East vs. West: The West is 148-107 (.580) against the East in inter-conference games this season, and was 17-10 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 94.7 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.
San Antonio (37-7)|
Pace: 95.2 (14), Off: 108.8 (3), Def: 100.3 (7)
The Spurs' latest winning streak came to a crashing halt in New Orleans on Saturday with a loss that dropped them to 4-4 on the second night of back-to-backs. Fortunately for them, only one team has played fewer back-to-backs. That game also began a stretch of 13 games with only one home date.
Pace: 92.7 (23), Off: 106.5 (10), Def: 98.3 (2)
Of the Celtics' 10 losses, four, including Saturday's in Washington, have come against the bottom five teams in the East. They play just one of those (Cleveland on Tuesday) over the next three weeks, but also play the Lakers twice, the Mavs, Magic and Heat in that span.
L.A. Lakers (32-13)|
Pace: 94.7 (16), Off: 109.2 (2), Def: 101.7 (8)
The Lakers have split their last four games, but their offense is starting to click again, shooting 51 percent and scoring 115.6 points per 100 possessions over the last seven. Their five-game homestand that begins Tuesday features games against the Celtics (Sunday) and Spurs (next Thursday).
Pace: 93.2 (20), Off: 108.7 (4), Def: 99.3 (4)
An eight-day stretch with just one game couldn't come at a better time for the Heat, who've missed five total games from their big three over the last week and a half and needed a visit from the banged up Raptors to end a four-game losing streak. The break ends with a visit to New York on Thursday.
Pace: 94.4 (17), Off: 102.8 (19), Def: 96.5 (1)
The Bulls are 12-4 and playing ridiculously good defense since their Christmas loss in New York, and their only losses in that span are to Eastern Conference teams with losing records. They face two more of those this week, with a big game against the Magic (Friday in Chicago) in between.
Pace: 93.8 (18), Off: 106.8 (8), Def: 99.8 (5)
The Magic have won just five of 17 first quarters with their current starting lineup, but Stan Van Gundy has been patient, and two of those "wins" came over the weekend. In 18 games with Orlando, Hedo Turkoglu is a minus-21 in the first quarter and a plus-175 the rest of the game.
New Orleans (29-16)|
Pace: 91.1 (30), Off: 103.0 (18), Def: 98.5 (3)
At 10-2 and allowing just 95.2 points per 100 possessions, the Hornets are the best team of 2011. Defense doesn't get any better than what we saw from them in back-to-back nights against the Hawks and Spurs: 32 percent shooting, six under 20 quarters and just 131 points allowed (including a stingy 59 to the Hawks).
Pace: 92.5 (25), Off: 104.5 (14), Def: 102.5 (11)
Following a road win over the Heat with a 41-point home loss to the Hornets, the Hawks are obviously the Jekyll and Hyde Team of the Week. But overall, they haven't lost more than two games in a row since before Thanksgiving and are still very much in the picture for a top-four seed in the East.
Oklahoma City (28-15)|
Pace: 95.8 (12), Off: 107.4 (6), Def: 105.0 (16)
The Thunder defense has regressed overall more than any team outside of Cleveland, but including Saturday's thriller over the Knicks, they've now won five games in which they've shot less than 40 percent. That's two more than any other team in the league and four more than they won last season.
Pace: 92.0 (26), Off: 104.9 (13), Def: 102.1 (9)
If the Mavs' 2-7 record without Dirk Nowitzki helped his MVP campaign, his 38 percent shooting since he returned has hurt it. His teammates picked up the slack in a big win over the Lakers on Wednesday, and Nowitzki put behind a 6-for-23 night to hit the game-winner in New Jersey on Saturday.
Pace: 98.4 (3), Off: 109.2 (1), Def: 106.0 (22)
Playing in New York would be fun, but right now, Carmelo Anthony is a part of the league's best offense. Melo himself hit as many threes in Sunday's win over the Pacers (six) as he had in his previous 21 games. A five-game trip against five East teams with losing records begins Tuesday.
Pace: 93.2 (21), Off: 106.1 (11), Def: 105.5 (17)
After an 11-4 start on the road, the Jazz have come back down to earth, dropping six of their last seven away from EnergySolutions Arena, including four on the East Coast last week. Before they get home, they have to visit the Lakers, to whom they've lost 16 straight on the road, including the postseason.
Pace: 91.4 (28), Off: 104.4 (15), Def: 103.5 (15)
The Blazers still haven't broken stride, despite another injury. Marcus Camby is out three weeks after arthroscopic knee surgery and 6-foot-8 Dante Cunningham is now the back-up center. With Andre Miller sick, they had Rudy Fernandez and Wesley Matthews playing point guard for most of Saturday's win over Indiana.
Pace: 97.2 (5), Off: 107.8 (5), Def: 109.0 (29)
The Suns have held three straight opponents under a point per possession for the first time since January of 2008. That has gotten them out of the defensive rankings basement, but their five-game winning streak came to an end in Detroit when they had their worst offensive game since March of 2009.
New York (22-21)|
Pace: 99.2 (2), Off: 107.2 (7), Def: 105.8 (21)
The Knicks have mixed atrocious defense with anemic offense (41 percent shooting over the last three games) during their six-game losing streak. They're one loss from being .500, but they're still comfortably in sixth place and get the Wizards at home on Monday before they face the Heat and Hawks.
Pace: 95.3 (13), Off: 102.2 (21), Def: 102.9 (13)
Wednesday's game in New Orleans was another one that got away for the Grizzlies, who blew late four-point leads in both regulation and overtime. If they're going to make a move, it has to come in the next two weeks, with their next eight opponents a combined .353.
Pace: 93.5 (19), Off: 102.4 (20), Def: 102.9 (12)
The Sixers have finally turned the defense back up, holding three of last week's four opponents under a point per possession. But of course, they dropped two of their three close games. Since missing all seven shots he took in his first game back from injury, Andre Iguodala has shot 31-for-52.
L.A. Clippers (17-26)|
Pace: 95.2 (15), Off: 103.0 (17), Def: 106.9 (23)
The Blake Griffin Show continues, from 47 points against the Pacers to 30 and 18 against the Warriors, including a big 3-pointer just to make things interesting. Now, he and the Clippers must take the show on the road, where they're just 3-13 and have played just three of their last 15 games.
Pace: 97.2 (6), Off: 106.8 (9), Def: 107.0 (24)
You can't make the playoffs if you can't beat the teams in your conference, and the Rockets have lost seven straight against West opponents. That streak should come to an end in Minnesota on Monday, but after that, they host the Clippers and visit the Mavs, Spurs, Lakers and Jazz.
Golden State (19-24)|
Pace: 97.7 (4), Off: 105.2 (12), Def: 108.4 (26)
It isn't easy to see your four-game win streak come to an end because Blake Griffin hit a 3-pointer at the shot-clock buzzer -- after you came from 10 down with five minutes to go. The Warriors' home-heavy schedule gets tougher with visits from the Spurs, Hornets and Jazz this week.
Pace: 92.5 (24), Off: 97.9 (29), Def: 100.0 (6)
The Bucks' offense has been slightly improved (100.9 points scored per 100 possessions) in January, but not nearly consistent enough. Milwaukee beat the Mavs on New Year's Day, but the Bucks' only wins in the last 10 games are against the Nets, Wizards and Cavs. Carlos Delfino returned Friday from a 32-game absence.
Pace: 92.7 (22), Off: 99.6 (25), Def: 102.9 (14)
The Eastern Conference is where you can be a playoff team with a 17-25 record and with your three top scorers shooting 42 percent. Not only is Stephen Jackson shooting under 40 percent, but he's a minus-161 in 40 games. Last season, he was a plus-88 in 72 games.
Pace: 91.2 (29), Off: 101.8 (23), Def: 107.0 (25)
Somehow, the Pistons are just two games (one in the win column) out of a playoff spot, having won four of their last six games. Tayshaun Prince probably isn't going to get any All-Star consideration, but he's quietly having the best season of his career. Of course, it's a contract year for Prince.
Pace: 96.9 (7), Off: 100.0 (24), Def: 102.1 (10)
The first time the Pacers played the Nuggets, Indiana scored 54 points in the third quarter. On Sunday, the Pacers almost got outscored by Carmelo Anthony in the third. The 0-4 trip took them out of playoff position. Only the Raptors and Cavs have been worse since Christmas.
Pace: 95.9 (9), Off: 99.3 (27), Def: 105.5 (18)
The Wizards' week began with an offensive win over the Jazz and ended with a defensive win over the Celtics. It's been a solid 5-4 run over the last 18 days, but in order for it to continue, the Wiz need to find a way to win on the road. They're still winless there and they play five of their next six away from home.
New Jersey (12-32)|
Pace: 91.9 (27), Off: 99.0 (28), Def: 105.5 (19)
Until Carmelo Anthony is actually traded, the Nets will remain in the picture. But they clearly have responded to Mikhail Prokhorov's declaration that they're moving on. After an ugly stretch, they're finally back to playing solid defense, and they came one stop short of a three-game winning streak.
Pace: 95.9 (10), Off: 103.5 (16), Def: 109.7 (30)
The good news is that this a position that the Raptors know. The bad news is that there are no prizes for being the worst defensive team in the league. Toronto's seven-game losing streak began with some close games, but has continued with a pair of blowouts in Florida.
Pace: 96.6 (8), Off: 99.5 (26), Def: 105.6 (20)
The Kings have lost four straight by four points or fewer in overtime, and it hasn't been pretty. This week, they led the Hawks by nine to start the fourth quarter, led the Blazers by seven with less than six minutes left, and led the Warriors by nine with three minutes to go.
Pace: 99.7 (1), Off: 102.0 (22), Def: 108.4 (27)
Amazingly, Corey Brewer, who is shooting 37 percent, is just a minus-15 in 1,075 minutes for a team that has been outscored by 255 points this season. The Timberwolves are a bad defensive team overall, but they're positively awful when Brewer isn't on the floor.
Pace: 95.8 (11), Off: 97.0 (30), Def: 108.9 (28)
The injuries and losses continue to pile up for the Cavs, who have now had 15 players start at least one game this season. Samardo Samuels is the only guy on the roster who hasn't, but you figure his turn will come up sooner or later. Monday's visit to New Jersey might be a decent chance at a win.
|December 28: Top 10|
Check out the top 10 plays from Sunday.
|December 28: Daily Zap|
The Daily Zap recaps all of Sunday's action in one highlight.
|Nightly Notable: Brandon Jennings|
Brandon Jennings scores 25 points and dishes out six assists as the Pistons stun the Cavaliers on Sunday.
|Play of the Day: Alex Len|
Alex Len finishes with a powerful transition slam.
|Suns vs. Lakers|
Eric Bledsoe scores 22 points and grabs eight rebounds as the Suns defeat the Lakers in southern California.