Wide-open West gets interesting
While the Chicago Bulls and Miami Heat share the spotlight in the Eastern Conference, the Oklahoma City Thunder have stood alone atop the Western Conference standings all season. But their defense has been inconsistent at best, and now, the Los Angeles Clippers and San Antonio Spurs are making a charge up the standings. Further, the Thunder have lost to both the Clippers and Spurs (on the road) in the last two weeks.
Here's the thing: Neither the Clippers nor Spurs has been very good defensively either. The best defensive teams in the West have been the Portland Trail Blazers and Dallas Mavericks. But Portland can't win a close game (see below) and the champs can't get everybody on the same page offensively.
So, with 42 percent of the season over, the West seems to be as wide open as ever. Eleven of the 15 teams have a shot at the playoffs. You could say that five or six have a shot at winning the conference.
The Thunder are still the favorites. They're 11-4 against the other top 11 teams in the West. And don't sleep on the Lakers, who are next best at 9-4 against the other 10 West teams with a shot at the postseason.
• Last week: The search for No. 4
• This time last year: After a week of parity, top three remain the same - The Cavs' record-setting, 26-game losing streak came to an end with a win over the Clippers. The Wizards improved to 1-25 on the road, the Heat fell to 0-3 against the Celtics, Chuck Hayes was on a scoring spree, and Carmelo Anthony took his hat off to himself.
Adele Team of the Week: New York (4-0) - It's amazing what the Knicks can do when they have somebody who can run the pick-and-roll, like beating the Jazz, Lakers and Timberwolves as part of a five-game winning streak.
Nicki Minaj Team of the Week: New Jersey (0-4) - Losses to the Bulls and Spurs were expected, but the Nets reached a new low when they got scorched by the Pistons' 28th-ranked offense twice in three days.
Plus-minus Stud: Ronnie Brewer (CHI) was a plus-72 in four games last week.
Plus-minus Dud: Kemba Walker (CHA) was a minus-60 in three games last week.
High jumps of the week: Dallas (+6), New York (+5), Golden State (+3), Phoenix (+3)
Free falls of the week: Denver (-4), Indiana (-3), New Jersey (-3)
East vs. West: The West is 73-52 (.584) against the East in inter-conference games this season and was 11-7 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 is averaging 93.8 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes and 100.2 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 contact him via twitter.
Pace: 95.6 (7), Off: 106.5 (1), Def: 97.0 (6)
Teams sure like to shoot threes against the Heat. On Wednesday, the Magic came one shy of matching the Knicks' 43 attempts from 11 days earlier. And Orlando hit enough twos to actually pick up the win. This season, 28 percent of shots against the Heat have been threes, a rate which easily leads the league.
Pace: 92.5 (21), Off: 105.3 (3), Def: 93.9 (2)
The Bulls' nine-game trip didn't drop them in the standings, but it did take out Derrick Rose, who will see a back specialist on Monday. Chicago is 5-2 without the MVP and almost won in Boston on Sunday, but Rose's status is the biggest story in the league until the Magic are ready to trade Dwight Howard.
Oklahoma City (21-6)|
Pace: 96.0 (5), Off: 105.4 (2), Def: 99.6 (14)
It was a thrilling week on the road for the Thunder, with three of their four games decided in the final seconds. But which play was better: Russell Westbrook's game-saving block in Portland, or Kevin Durant's go-ahead bank shot at Golden State? Oh, wait. We're not supposed to compare those guys with each other.
L.A. Clippers (17-8)|
Pace: 92.7 (20), Off: 105.2 (4), Def: 103.0 (24)
Chauncey Billups isn't a great defender anymore, but the Clippers have been pretty awful defensively with Mo Williams on the floor. Their defensive issues start in transition, where they're allowing 2.09 fast-break points per live-ball turnover. That's the highest rate in the league and something to keep an eye on.
San Antonio (19-9)|
Pace: 92.9 (19), Off: 103.7 (7), Def: 99.8 (15)
San Antonio has won seven straight, the rodeo trip is off to a great start (including wins in Memphis and Philly) and Manu Ginobili is back. It may be time to include the Spurs among the Western Conference contenders again, especially considering their defense has been much improved during the streak.
Pace: 91.6 (25), Off: 104.1 (6), Def: 93.7 (1)
The Sixers went 4-3 in that stretch against seven of the best teams in the league, with the highlight being Monday's thrilling victory over the Lakers. They're legit, but one concern is that they were outrebounded by 45 over the seven games. Now, as they head to the break, they're getting their road legs tested.
Pace: 94.2 (15), Off: 99.2 (21), Def: 96.4 (5)
The Mavs have won three straight, all against other teams in the West's top 11. Somehow, they're a top-four seed despite a bottom-10 offense. If they ever get everybody in a rhythm, they'll be tough to knock off. This week's schedule includes four tests: the Clippers, Nuggets, Sixers and red-hot Knicks.
Pace: 92.2 (22), Off: 101.6 (11), Def: 97.0 (7)
After last year's Jekyll and Hyde season, it's hard to really believe in the Hawks. And after three straight home losses, they were about to be written off in this space. Then they picked up big wins over the Pacers and Magic last week to keep us on the fence. Maybe they really have matured and improved.
Pace: 94.6 (13), Off: 99.6 (18), Def: 97.2 (8)
The Pacers have lost four of their last five, showing some slippage defensively. Their offense has been improved, but if the Pacers aren't defending, they're not winning. They face Miami's No. 1 offense on Tuesday, but also have three games against the Bobcats and Hornets before the break.
L.A. Lakers (16-12)|
Pace: 91.8 (24), Off: 100.7 (14), Def: 97.9 (11)
With a minute left in Sunday's game in Toronto, Kobe Bryant was 15-for-59 from the field in clutch time this season (and 3-for-23 in the past 10 days). Then he hit a three, stole the ball, dished out an assist and hit the game-winner. No matter the stats, the Lakers will obviously live and die with the ball in his hands.
Pace: 90.9 (28), Off: 99.3 (20), Def: 94.6 (3)
It was fitting that the Celtics lost to the Lakers because they couldn't grab a rebound when they most needed it. And maybe it was fitting that a ridiculous performance by Rajon Rondo, who looked so awful against the Raptors two days earlier, led them to a much-needed win over the Bulls on Sunday.
Pace: 97.7 (1), Off: 105.1 (5), Def: 100.9 (18)
Arron Afflalo is having his worst shooting season since his rookie year, and hasn't made much of an impact defensively. He's a minus-30 for the year, but has scored 49 points on 16-for-27 shooting in the last two games, including Saturday's win in Indiana, which ended the Nuggets' five-game losing streak.
Pace: 91.3 (26), Off: 100.7 (13), Def: 99.2 (13)
Hedo Turkoglu finally broke out of his slump on Saturday, but Jameer Nelson is 19-for-52 since returning from a five-game absence. The Magic beat the Heat last week but are really treading water right now. They have just seven games left before the All-Star break. After that, the end of the Dwight era could be near.
Pace: 95.1 (10), Off: 102.3 (9), Def: 99.8 (16)
In three wins (including big ones in Denver and Portland) last week, Rockets not named Kevin Martin shot 28-for-50 from 3-point range. Martin, who played just 51 minutes in the three wins, broke out of his slump on Sunday, but the Rockets couldn't stop the Warriors. Tuesday brings another big road game in Memphis.
Pace: 95.4 (9), Off: 101.3 (12), Def: 95.9 (4)
The Blazers won the first game of the season by four points. Since then, they're 0-9 in games decided by five points or less, including heartbreaking losses to the Thunder and Mavs last week. With the league's fifth-best point differential, they're a lot better than their record (which is 16th best) says they are.
New York (13-15)|
Pace: 96.4 (3), Off: 98.1 (23), Def: 97.7 (10)
Linsanity has been a good thing for Tyson Chandler and Steve Novak. Chandler, who's shooting a ridiculous 69 percent, is averaging 8.5 shots per 36 minutes with Jeremy Lin on the floor and just 5.6 with Lin on the bench. Novak is 19-for-34 from 3-point range with Lin running point.
Pace: 96.8 (2), Off: 99.5 (19), Def: 98.5 (12)
The Wolves' offense disappeared when Kevin Love was suspended for two games and has yet to return. They played at a fast pace but scored just 90 points per 100 possessions in four games last week. And they could have gone 0-4 if Donte Greene didn't miss a three to beat them on Tuesday.
Pace: 93.6 (17), Off: 101.9 (10), Def: 102.4 (21)
Gordon Hayward had himself a nice week, shooting 24-for-41 over four games. But the Jazz won just one of the four, allowing point guards Jeremy Lin, Darren Collison and Russell Westbrook to average 27 points on 59 percent shooting in the three losses. They're barely hanging on to the eighth spot in the West.
Pace: 94.5 (14), Off: 97.1 (24), Def: 97.3 (9)
Allowing the Jazz to shoot 51 percent, the Grizzlies missed a great opportunity to pick up a doubly-important win at home on Sunday. They're now 0-4 (worst in the league) in Sunday games, and just 4-11 against the other teams in the West's top 11. Two more, Houston and Denver, visit this week.
Pace: 93.6 (18), Off: 99.9 (17), Def: 102.6 (22)
Steve Nash certainly legitimized his All-Star selection with his play last week, shooting 26-for-39 as the Suns went 3-1, and hitting the game-winner on his birthday. Even in the Suns' loss to the Rockets, Nash shot 7-for-7, dished out 13 assists, and was a plus-12 in 35 minutes. His bench was just awful.
Pace: 95.1 (11), Off: 99.9 (16), Def: 101.2 (19)
While Stephen Jackson's season has been up and (mostly) down, Mike Dunleavy has helped keep the Bucks afloat, shooting 56 percent over the last nine games, with the team's best plus-minus mark this season. Drew Gooden has averaged 19.2 points in the 10 games since Andrew Bogut went down.
Pace: 94.8 (12), Off: 98.2 (22), Def: 102.3 (20)
It will be interesting to see if the Cavs can hold it together without Anderson Varejao, who fractured his right wrist on Friday. Antawn Jamison has already stepped up, averaging 26.5 points on 56 percent shooting in four games last week and sparking an impressive, Kyrie-less win over the Clippers.
Golden State (10-14)|
Pace: 95.5 (8), Off: 103.6 (8), Def: 104.1 (26)
After losing a game in which they shot 55 percent, the Warriors tightened up their defense enough to pick up solid wins over the Nuggets and Rockets that weren't short on highlights. They've won five of their last eight, with four of the wins coming against teams ahead of them in the West standings.
Pace: 91.9 (23), Off: 95.1 (27), Def: 100.6 (17)
The Raptors came five seconds short of knocking off both the Celtics and Lakers in one weekend, but had to settle for a split when Kobe Bryant got clutch again. Will Jose Calderon, who scored 47 points on 20-for-28 shooting in the two games, be traded before the deadline? That contract isn't easy to move.
Pace: 95.8 (6), Off: 95.6 (26), Def: 104.7 (27)
The Kings are now 4-2 in February, with wins over the Blazers and Thunder. They finish their pre-break schedule with a six-game trip through the East, which features a matchup between sophomore centers DeMarcus Cousins and Greg Monroe in Detroit on Friday, a hidden gem on your League Pass schedule.
Pace: 90.5 (29), Off: 95.1 (28), Def: 106.4 (28)
Unfortunately for the Pistons, they're done playing the Nets, who they faced three times in the first 10 days of February. Detroit, the third-worst offense in the league, scored a ridiculous 113 points per 100 possessions in the three games against New Jersey's historically bad (see below) defense.
New Jersey (8-21)|
Pace: 91.2 (27), Off: 100.4 (15), Def: 109.8 (30)
How bad is the Nets' defense? Compared to the league average, it's the worst defense of the last 20 years, by a large margin. Avery Johnson's team is allowing 9.6 points per 100 possessions more than the league as a whole. Next worst in the last 20 years was the 2005-06 Sonics at plus-7.9.
Pace: 96.2 (4), Off: 93.2 (29), Def: 103.4 (25)
When Flip Saunders was fired on Jan. 24, John Wall and his awful shooting certainly deserved some of the blame. But Wall has been improved under Randy Wittman, shooting 46 percent in the 11 games since the coaching change, including 20-for-40 from mid-range. He finally hit a 3-pointer too.
New Orleans (4-23)|
Pace: 90.4 (30), Off: 96.1 (25), Def: 102.8 (23)
Does anyone remember when the Hornets were 2-0? They almost picked up win No. 5 in Chris Kaman's return on Monday, but blew an 18-point lead at home to the Kings and probably don't have a winnable game before the break. Kaman shot 10-for-29 in two games before missing Friday's loss to the Blazers.
Pace: 93.9 (16), Off: 91.4 (30), Def: 107.1 (29)
The Bobcats are more than halfway to the 2010-11 Cavs' record losing streak of 26 games. And because they've barely been competitive in their 14 straight losses, it's fair to wonder if they'll break the record. Their best shot at a win before the break comes Friday in Toronto, and D.J. Augustin might return by then.