Scoring is up, and so are the Suns
Ladies and gentlemen, we have offense!
Yes, in the wake of the lockout and an abbreviated training camp, we had some ugly basketball in the first half of the season. The league scored a mediocre 100.5 points per 100 possessions before the All-Star break, down from 103.5 through an equal number of games last season. That was a bigger drop-off than we saw in the last lockout year.
But teams have emerged form the break with their offenses revved up. They've scored 103.7 points per 100 possessions since the break. They're shooting better, turning the ball over less, and grabbing more offensive boards.
Three East teams, New York (+9.5 points per 100 possessions), Washington (+9.4) and Milwaukee (+9.3) have been most improved offensively since the break. And the Blazers have done their part with some atrocious defense, allowing 15.8 more points per 100 possessions than they did before the break.
• Last week: For movers, shakers, this is the week
• This time last year: A look at the NBA's remaining races - The Lakers were No. 1, the Celtics were starting to spiral downward, the Knicks were struggling (losing five of six) with Carmelo Anthony, and there was jubilation in Newark.
• Hero Team of the Week: Phoenix (4-1) - Two teams had four wins last week, and one of them beat the other. The Suns' win over the 4-1 Jazz was part of a sweep of a back-to-back-to-back set, a nice way to forget the three losses they picked up in their first one a month earlier.
• Zero Team of the Week: Cleveland (0-3) - If the Cavs want to make the playoffs, they did themselves no favors with losses to the Raptors, Bucks and Hawks last week. Two of the three came at home, where they've lost six of their last seven.
• Plus-minus Stud: J.R. Smith (NYK) was a plus-55 in four games last week.
• Plus-minus Dud: Nicolas Batum (POR) was a minus-58 in four games last week.
• High jumps of the week: Phoenix (+7), Milwaukee (+5), Utah (+4)
• Free falls of the week: Six teams (-3)
• East vs. West: The West is 125-93 (.573) against the East in inter-conference games this season, and was 15-9 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 93.9 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes and 101.3 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 contact him via twitter.
Pace: 92.4 (23), Off: 106.2 (3), Def: 96.4 (2)
The Bulls still have six weeks to make sure Derrick Rose is healthy for the playoffs, and it certainly helps that they were able to beat the Heat to stay atop the East on Wednesday. Amazingly they won that game with offense and are scoring 105 points per 100 possessions in 13 games without their star.
Pace: 94.3 (12), Off: 106.8 (2), Def: 97.0 (3)
The Heat couldn't get any stops in Wednesday's loss in Chicago, even though Derrick Rose didn't play. But against some other good defensive teams this month, Miami has struggled to get buckets, proving that they need Chris Bosh healthy and playing well. They've got just the 17th best offense since the break.
Oklahoma City (34-11)|
Pace: 96.0 (5), Off: 106.9 (1), Def: 99.9 (12)
Neither the Heat nor the Thunder is their best basketball of the season right now, but you know they'll both be up for their two meetings in the next couple of weeks. Sunday's game in OKC will be their first meeting in over a year. And if it's a Finals preview, it will go a long way in determining home-court advantage.
San Antonio (29-14)|
Pace: 94.2 (14), Off: 105.8 (4), Def: 101.9 (17)
The acquisition of Stephen Jackson is good for nostalgia and salary relief in 2013-14 (when the luxury tax increases), but we all realize that he's shooting 36 percent this season, right? And he's just 3-for-17 on corner threes, which was Richard Jefferson's specialty. Maybe Gregg Popovich can turn back Jack's clock.
L.A. Lakers (28-17)|
Pace: 92.8 (20), Off: 101.5 (16), Def: 98.5 (9)
At what point do we start considering the idea that Andrew Bynum is the Lakers' best player? Too early? Is that concept weirder than the reality of Lamar Odom and Derek Fisher being traded? Let's revisit that question in the summer, not that it's easy to compare Bynum's contributions with those of Kobe Bryant.
Pace: 91.6 (28), Off: 102.1 (13), Def: 99.5 (11)
It's great that we'll get to see the Magic finish the season intact and maybe challenge Miami or Chicago for a spot in the conference finals. But was Thursday's press conference to celebrate that Dwight Howard will be in Orlando another four months? What happens if he doesn't sign an extension in July?
Pace: 94.3 (13), Off: 99.7 (23), Def: 98.0 (7)
Zach Randolph is back, and he immediately put up 25 points and nine Z-bounds in his first game since Jan. 1. But the Grizzlies have cooled off a bit, still unable to score consistently. Mike Conley, Rudy Gay and O.J. Mayo have combined to shoot less than 40 percent over the last five games.
L.A. Clippers (26-18)|
Pace: 91.9 (27), Off: 104.3 (6), Def: 102.7 (20)
The Clippers just completed a stretch of six home games in eight days, with four of the six games being decided by exactly four points. They went just 3-3, but they did show some defensive improvement near the end. That could come in handy when they face the No. 1 offense in Oklahoma City on Wednesday.
Pace: 94.5 (10), Off: 102.1 (11), Def: 102.7 (21)
Since the break, only the Bulls (10-2) have a better record than the Suns (9-2), who swept their back-to-back-to-back, and finished the week off by drawing to within a half game of the Rockets. Nine of their 11 post-break games have come at home, but now, they face a tough, four-game trip East.
Pace: 93.5 (19), Off: 101.1 (17), Def: 98.8 (10)
If there was a team that needed offense off the bench, it was the Pacers (well, the Celtics too). Their starters are scoring more than 105 points per 100 possessions, but their other lineups are scoring less than 99. So Leandro Barbosa should help, as long as he's got some defenders on the floor with him.
Pace: 92.1 (25), Off: 102.1 (12), Def: 94.7 (1)
Two weeks ago, the Sixers beat both the Celtics and Knicks to maintain control of the Atlantic Division. Now, after three straight losses to teams ahead of them in the East, their Atlantic lead is back down to one game in the loss column. And they face both New York (Wednesday) and Boston (Friday) again this week.
Pace: 92.5 (22), Off: 98.5 (25), Def: 97.2 (4)
It's seems like the Celtics weren't all that inspired by the news that they'd be together for one more playoff run, because they promptly got drubbed by the Kings on the day after the trade deadline. Their offense has returned in spurts, but overall, they have the league's fourth-worst offense since the break.
Pace: 97.0 (1), Off: 105.0 (5), Def: 102.4 (19)
JaVale McGee on the Nuggets should be fascinating to watch (as he would be on any team, actually). And we'll now see how he responds to George Karl and a more mature locker room. You would hope his length can help Denver defensively, but he was never much of a defensive factor with the Wizards.
Pace: 92.5 (21), Off: 100.2 (18), Def: 97.8 (5)
Joe Johnson has been on fire since returning from a four-game absence, shooting 53 percent from the field and 20-for-38 from 3-point range over six games. So maybe we should reconsider what was written here last week about the Hawks being the same team whether or not he's in the lineup.
Pace: 94.1 (15), Off: 100.0 (21), Def: 97.8 (6)
With a spark from Rodrigue Beaubois (26-for-44 in the last four games), the Mavs' offense came alive last week. Starting for Shawn Marion, Beaubois was 5-for-6 from mid-range in Saturday's big win over the Spurs. They're now 6-9 against the other seven West playoff teams and play four of them this week.
Pace: 94.5 (11), Off: 102.6 (8), Def: 101.7 (16)
The Rockets pulled off one of the most impressive victories of the season on Tuesday, winning in Oklahoma City without their starting backcourt. But they've now dropped two straight (including a big one in Phoenix), with Courtney Lee doing his best Kevin Martin imitation: 25 points on Saturday, 0-for-8 on Sunday.
Pace: 94.0 (16), Off: 102.5 (9), Def: 103.6 (23)
All of a sudden, the Jazz are right back in the playoff picture, just a half game behind the eighth-place Rockets. Sunday's big win in L.A. (without Al Jefferson) came thanks to the best defense they've played on the road all season, and they've allowed less than a point per possession in winning four of their last five.
New York (21-24)|
Pace: 96.9 (2), Off: 100.1 (20), Def: 98.5 (8)
The Mike Woodson era is off to a great start on both ends of the floor. And the Knicks' schedule now gets a little easier for a stretch, with four of their next five games against teams below them in the East standings. The other is a big visit to Philly on Wednesday, which will really test the new offense.
Pace: 95.5 (7), Off: 101.8 (15), Def: 103.3 (22)
The Bucks have won five straight, upgraded their roster (because Andrew Bogut and Stephen Jackson weren't playing), and have a home-heavy schedule going forward. After they finish their current trip in Portland on Tuesday, they have just one set of consecutive road games left. Everything else is one-game trips.
Pace: 96.0 (4), Off: 101.9 (14), Def: 101.5 (15)
The Wolves got a big win in Phoenix on Monday, but are just 1-4 without Ricky Rubio, allowing a pretty atrocious 108 points per 100 possessions. And near the end of Sunday's loss in Sacramento (with Nikola Pekovic also out), J.J. Barea and Kevin Love had to be separated in the team's huddle.
Pace: 93.9 (17), Off: 102.3 (10), Def: 100.8 (13)
It's unclear how you blow it up in Portland and leave both Raymond Felton and Jamal Crawford (shooting a combined 40 percent) on the roster. But the Blazers got a nice asset for Gerald Wallace, will probably have two lottery picks in this draft, and can part ways with Felton at the end of the season.
Golden State (18-24)|
Pace: 94.5 (9), Off: 103.7 (7), Def: 104.2 (25)
The Warriors clearly needed to make some changes, and Andrew Bogut can be a real difference maker defensively. But Golden State's re-structuring comes at a cost. They added over $18 million in long-term salary with their two trades and gave up on Ekpe Udoh, a very promising player on a rookie deal.
Pace: 91.3 (29), Off: 97.3 (27), Def: 105.3 (26)
All the teams in contention for the eighth spot in the East have gone hot and cold all season long, so anything could happen in the last 5 1/2 weeks. But it might be time to count the Pistons out after a 1-3 week and with several tough games coming up. Give them credit for recovering from such an ugly start though.
Pace: 96.7 (3), Off: 99.8 (22), Def: 106.3 (27)
Minus Tyreke Evans, the Kings had their two easiest wins of the season this weekend, the first time since Feb. 2 that they've held two straight opponents under a point per possession. For the season, they're allowing 108 points per 100 possessions with Evans on the floor and 103 when he's on the bench.
Pace: 94.8 (8), Off: 99.2 (24), Def: 103.9 (24)
A week ago, the Cavs were coming off three straight wins. A week later, those are still their only three wins in almost a month. They have the third-worst defense since the All-Star break, allowing 109 points per 100 possessions. Tristan Thompson's first start didn't go so well. He was a minus-17 on Sunday.
New Jersey (15-31)|
Pace: 91.9 (26), Off: 100.2 (19), Def: 107.7 (30)
One point about Deron Williams' impending free agency: He's going to be making his decision having barely played with his two best teammates. In 13 months, he's played just 17 games with Brook Lopez, who's still out with a sprained ankle. And at most, he'll have played 21 games with Gerald Wallace.
Pace: 92.4 (24), Off: 97.8 (26), Def: 101.4 (14)
Starting the last five games, Jerryd Bayless has averaged 21.8 points and 7.6 assists, shooting 54 percent from the field. The Raptors have been more efficient offensively with Bayless on the floor and will have a decision to make this summer, when the 23 year old is a restricted free agent.
New Orleans (11-34)|
Pace: 90.9 (30), Off: 97.0 (29), Def: 102.4 (18)
It was surprising that Chris Kaman didn't get moved at the deadline for an asset or two... But then you wonder why the Hornets wouldn't want a top-12 center next season... And then you remember that Emeka Okafor is still on this roster and owed $28 million over the next two years. That's a whole lot of money.
Pace: 95.8 (6), Off: 97.0 (28), Def: 106.7 (28)
Nene comes with a hefty price tag, but the Wizards took a big step forward in the maturity department (in an addition-by-subtraction manner) with the three-team trade they pulled off. Now, if they can use the amnesty clause on Andray Blatche this summer, coaching candidates might not be scared off.
Pace: 93.8 (18), Off: 92.8 (30), Def: 106.9 (29)
The Bobcats won two games last week! (That's the first time we can say that this season.) The first was an ugly 73-71 victory in New Orleans. The other was a much prettier 107-103 win over the Raptors. The best teams - and perhaps, the worst - are those that can win with both offense and defense.