A big six emerges at the top
Three weeks into the NBA season, teams are still trading places at the top of the standings and the rankings are still pretty volatile (just ask the Denver Nuggets). But right now, we've got a pretty clear top six, which includes two teams from the East and four from the West.
We've also still got some inequity when it comes to the schedule. For instance, the Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers have played a total of three games away from Staples Center thus far. The Nuggets, meanwhile, haven't yet been home for two straight days. The Boston Celtics have played four back-to-backs, while the Brooklyn Nets haven't played any.
Things will start to even out over the next couple of weeks, and that should give us some more clarity ... unless it doesn't.
• Last week: No. 1 Knicks about to be tested
Hero Team of the Week: Memphis (3-0) - Wins over the Thunder (on the road) and Knicks give the Grizz their second straight HToW distinction.
Zero Team of the Week: Sacramento (0-3) - The Kings lost three home games by an average of 14 points.
Plus-minus Studs: Brandon Jennings (MIL) was a plus-61 in three games last week.
Plus-minus Duds: Michael Beasley (PHX) was a minus-54 in four games last week.
High jumps of the week: Milwaukee (+11), Brooklyn (+6), Golden State (+5), Portland (+5)
Free falls of the week: Denver (-10), New Orleans (-7), Sacramento (-6)
East vs. West: The West is 36-27 (.571) against the East in inter-conference games this season, but the East was 13-11 last week.
Pace: Possessions per 48 minutes (League Rank)
OffRtg: Points scored per 100 possessions (League Rank)
DefRtg: Points allowed per 100 possessions (League Rank)
The league is averaging 94.9 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes and 101.1 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, contact him via twitter.
Pace: 95.9 (9), OffRtg: 104.3 (8), DefRtg: 97.1 (6)
After three big performances against the Heat, Thunder and Knicks, the improved Grizzlies' offense suffered a letdown in Charlotte on Saturday. But they were good enough defensively to get their eighth straight win. You have to get it done on both ends of the floor to be a title contender, and so far, that's exactly what the Grizz are doing. Now they're home for almost two full weeks.
Last week: 4|
L.A. Clippers (7-2)|
Pace: 96.4 (6), OffRtg: 106.8 (4), DefRtg: 96.4 (2)
The Clippers picked up two more big wins this week and are the only team to have knocked off the Grizzlies. Their defense is improved and their reserve backcourt of Eric Bledsoe and Jamal Crawford has been a huge plus. But they've played just one game away from Staples Center thus far and now hit the road for a tough, four-game trip through San Antonio, OKC, Brooklyn and Atlanta.
Last week: 6|
New York (7-1)|
Pace: 92.4 (29), OffRtg: 109.7 (2), DefRtg: 96.6 (5)
They had won five games already and lost 24 hours later in Memphis, but Thursday's win in San Antonio seemed like a breakthrough for the Knicks. Not only did they come back from 12 down in the fourth quarter on the road against a great team, but it was a night where Carmelo Anthony (3-for-12 shooting) had no choice but to trust his teammates and find other ways to contribute.
Last week: 1|
Pace: 94.9 (14), OffRtg: 110.1 (1), DefRtg: 103.6 (25)
The Heat's six-game, nine-day road trip was a serious grind. Dwyane Wade played in only three of the six games and LeBron James fought through illness in Phoenix on Saturday. The good news is that the win over the Suns was their best defensive game of the trip, they play just two games in the next 10 days, and they have only two one-game trips between now and Christmas.
Last week: 5|
San Antonio (8-2)|
Pace: 94.9 (13), OffRtg: 105.0 (7), DefRtg: 99.9 (12)
Thursday's fourth-quarter collapse against the Knicks was disappointing, but Saturday's performance (20 points on 10 shots in 23 minutes) by the previously-sluggish Manu Ginobili against the Nuggets was encouraging. Before they head East for six games, the Spurs can exact some revenge and test their defense against the Clippers, who crushed them in L.A. and visit on Monday.
Last week: 2|
Oklahoma City (8-3)|
Pace: 95.3 (12), OffRtg: 107.5 (3), DefRtg: 99.1 (10)
The Thunder defense wasn't any better in two games over the weekend than it was in Wednesday's loss to the Grizzlies, but when you shoot 52 percent from the field and 27-for-49 from 3-point range, you don't need to be very good defensively. Kevin Durant's first career triple-double was a product of better ball movement (85 assists on 117 field goals last week) all around.
Last week: 3|
L.A. Lakers (5-5)|
Pace: 95.9 (11), OffRtg: 106.2 (5), DefRtg: 98.4 (7)
It's unclear why the Lakers want to replace Bernie Bickerstaff, who went 4-1 as head coach, but the Mike D'Antoni era will likely begin Tuesday against Brooklyn. The Bickerstaff era will be defined a mix of improved offense (especially the last two games), improved defense, improved post-game quotes, Pau Gasol's corner 3-point attempt, and Kobe Bryant's first triple-double in two years.
Last week: 9|
Pace: 91.5 (30), OffRtg: 105.6 (6), DefRtg: 102.1 (17)
The Nets have won five straight, even though they haven't played all that great. Joe Johnson still isn't shooting well, they're the league's worst third-quarter team, and the only teams they've been able to defend are the Magic and Kings. So this week's matchups with the Lakers and Clippers will be very interesting. We'll see how far they've come since getting smoked by the Heat.
Last week: 14|
Pace: 98.3 (1), OffRtg: 102.3 (12), DefRtg: 99.4 (11)
Injuries to Derrick Rose and Danny Granger have presented the Bucks with an opportunity in the Central Division, and Milwaukee has seized it so far. They shut down the Pacers on Wednesday and have a home-and-home with the Bulls starting Saturday. The Indy game was the first time since the opener that the Bucks' starters weren't outscored in their time on the floor; They were a plus-20.
Last week: 20|
Pace: 93.7 (22), OffRtg: 103.3 (11), DefRtg: 103.0 (22)
Rajon Rondo's double-digit assist streak stayed alive in shameless fashion in Detroit on Sunday. It's now at 34 games, but in more pressing matters, the Celtics' defense got scorched by the previously 1-9 Pistons. It was the end of a rough, seven-games-in-10-days stretch, but there's more than fatigue to blame for the C's sluggish start. They host the Spurs and Thunder this week.
Last week: 10|
That four-team trade must have been cursed, because the Lakers started 1-4, the Nuggets are 4-6, the Magic are Lottery-bound, and Andrew Bynum's knees are apparently made of glass. The Bynum-less Sixers have been a rather Jekyll and Hyde crew, starring Evan Turner and Nick Young as the barometers. The pair is shooting 47 percent in the five wins and 26 percent in the four losses.
Last week: 12|
Pace: 94.4 (18), OffRtg: 99.5 (20), DefRtg: 98.7 (9)
The Bulls' defense apparently doesn't travel well, because they allowed 109 points per 100 possessions in losses to the Clippers and Blazers over the weekend. They're paying for breaking up the bench mob, at 5-5 despite that their starting lineup has a positive plus-minus in nine of their 10 games. The defense has been awful with Nate Robinson and Marco Belinelli on the floor.
Last week: 7|
Pace: 94.5 (17), OffRtg: 100.4 (16), DefRtg: 98.6 (8)
Aside from a game against James Harden and one against the Heat, Atlanta's defense has been excellent. They struggled to score against Portland and Golden State last week, but maybe Josh Smith had a breakthrough (19 points, eight rebounds and six assists) in Sacramento. The soft schedule continues, with five of their next six games against the Magic, Wizards, Bobcats and Cavs.
Last week: 15|
Pace: 93.2 (26), OffRtg: 99.1 (21), DefRtg: 96.5 (4)
Though they almost completed two more crazy comebacks against the Bobcats and Warriors, the Wolves' injuries may finally have caught up to them. So it's a good time for a schedule quirk that gives them four days off before Wednesday's game against the Nuggets, even though they might not get any of their injured guys back by then. At least Josh Howard can learn some of the plays.
Last week: 11|
Pace: 96.0 (8), OffRtg: 103.5 (9), DefRtg: 103.0 (21)
Something's wrong when Troy Murphy is playing more than Elton Brand, who has quickly devolved into nothing more than a token starter, playing just 11 minutes in Saturday's win in Cleveland. But that was the Mavs' best defensive game of the season and Murphy hit three big threes late, so it's hard to argue with Rick Carlisle's rotation. You just wonder what's going on with Brand.
Last week: 17|
Pace: 94.8 (15), OffRtg: 103.5 (10), DefRtg: 105.5 (28)
The Blazers have won three straight and, more important, their defense has been improved, especially if you overlook Friday's 119-117, OT win over the Rockets. They held their other three opponents under a point per possession last week. On the other end, Nicolas Batum has been on fire, shooting 56 percent overall and 20-for-41 from 3-point range over the last five games.
Last week: 21|
Pace: 94.3 (19), OffRtg: 101.3 (14), DefRtg: 100.1 (14)
On Saturday in D.C., Tyrone Corbin started Paul Millsap, Derrick Favors and Al Jefferson together for the first time this season. The Jazz won the game, but the three bigs were a minus-13 in just 11 minutes on the floor together. That's pretty discouraging against the worst team in the league, but maybe you just chalk it up to being the end of a four-game trip and the second night of a back-to-back.
Last week: 16|
Pace: 96.1 (7), OffRtg: 100.1 (18), DefRtg: 103.2 (24)
The Nuggets are on a serious roller coaster ride to start the season. Three losses, four wins, and another three losses. They've got issues on both ends of the floor, because the starters can't shoot and the bench can't defend. They're going to have to figure things out away from the Pepsi Center, because their schedule continues to be road-heavy until the end of December.
Last week: 8|
Golden State (5-5)|
Pace: 97.1 (3), OffRtg: 98.9 (23), DefRtg: 101.0 (15)
The Warriors continue to hang around in the Western Conference, and their offense looked decent (they shot better than 50 percent) in games against the Wolves and Thunder, two top-10 defenses, over the weekend. What's interesting is that the frontcourt combination of Carl Landry and David Lee has been pretty effective. The pair is a plus-33 in 155 minutes together.
Last week: 24|
New Orleans (3-5)|
Pace: 92.6 (28), OffRtg: 101.4 (13), DefRtg: 103.1 (23)
Anthony Davis had another big offensive night in Milwaukee on Saturday, but the Hornets have been absolutely brutal defensively, allowing 118 points per 100 possessions, with the No. 1 pick on the floor. That was the side of the ball where he was supposed to make an immediate impact, but there's a huge difference between defending in college and defending in the NBA.
Last week: 13|
Pace: 95.9 (10), OffRtg: 98.9 (22), DefRtg: 101.9 (16)
After four games, the Bobcats had the worst defense in the league. But they've allowed just 90 points per 100 possessions over their last four to rise 14 spots on that end. Though their three-game winning streak came to an end against the Grizzlies on Saturday, and though they're the worst 3-point shooting team in the league, the Cats have proven that they're not a pushover anymore.
Last week: 25|
Pace: 92.6 (27), OffRtg: 93.0 (29), DefRtg: 95.8 (1)
The Pacers' offense woke up in Friday's win over Dallas, but fell back asleep in New York on Sunday, with Roy Hibbert (3-for-10, zero free throw attempts, six turnovers) falling deeper into the abyss. Hibbert is basically taking the same shots as he did last season, with the big drop-off coming on shots from 5-9 feet out, where he's 7-for-36 (19 percent), down from 50 percent last year.
Last week: 18|
Pace: 96.7 (5), OffRtg: 101.0 (15), DefRtg: 102.6 (19)
You want the Royce White situation to work out for White, so that he can be an example for others going through the same thing. You want it to work out for the Rockets, who used the No. 16 pick to select White five months ago. And you want it to work out for NBA fans, because White is a special player, and it would be a shame not to see him on the floor with the rest of the Rockets' young core.
Last week: 19|
Pace: 93.6 (23), OffRtg: 100.1 (17), DefRtg: 102.8 (20)
DeMar DeRozan still can't shoot from beyond the arc (5-for-19 thus far), but he's a solid 25-for-53 (47 percent) from 10-19 feet, he's finishing better at the rim (65 percent in the restricted area) than he ever has, and his turnover rate is way down. Does that mean he's worth the four-year, $40 million extension he signed last month? Not even close, but the improvement has been noticeable.
Last week: 26|
Pace: 97.0 (4), OffRtg: 99.7 (19), DefRtg: 107.2 (30)
The Suns beat Denver last week, and also hung around with the Bulls, Lakers and Heat. But Alvin Gentry will make a lineup change when his team hosts Portland on Wednesday. It's a much-needed shake-up, because the Suns' starters are a minus-69 in 89 minutes together over the last six games, and have the worst raw plus-minus (minus-66) of any lineup in the league overall.
Last week: 22|
Pace: 94.1 (21), OffRtg: 95.4 (26), DefRtg: 102.5 (18)
Jameer Nelson shot just 7-for-24 in his two games back from a hamstring injury, but he did have 19 total assists and was credited for sparking Friday's comeback in Detroit with a fiery speech to his teammates. Somehow, Glen Davis has taken 148 shots from the field and has only 19 free throw attempts. He's had his shot blocked more times (21) than he's been to the line.
Last week: 28|
Pace: 94.7 (16), OffRtg: 98.8 (24), DefRtg: 104.1 (26)
The Pistons won two games (easily) last week, but not the one (Friday against Orlando) we thought they would, though they get another shot at the Magic on Wednesday. While a handful of other rookies get more shine, Kyle Singler has quietly been productive (9.7 points per game) off the Detroit bench. In fact, he's a plus-6 in 258 minutes for a team that's been outscored by 48 points overall.
Last week: 30|
Pace: 97.1 (2), OffRtg: 97.7 (25), DefRtg: 106.7 (29)
Congratulations to the Cavs, who managed to hold the Sixers to just 86 points on Sunday and shed the "Worst Defense in the League" title, at least for the time being. They still couldn't end their losing streak (now at six games), of course, but it's about baby steps for this team. Dion Waiters' hot start is a thing of the past. The rookie shot 9-for-45 (20 percent) in the Cavs' three games last week.
Last week: 27|
Pace: 94.2 (20), OffRtg: 94.5 (28), DefRtg: 104.3 (27)
The Kings cemented their spot as the worst team in the Western Conference with Tuesday's 17-point loss to the Blazers. Then after their 16-point loss to the Hawks on Friday, they held a players-only meeting. And when you're having one of those after nine games, you've got serious issues. But it clearly helped, because they only lost to the Nets by nine points on Sunday.
Last week: 23|
Pace: 93.6 (24), OffRtg: 90.9 (30), DefRtg: 100.0 (13)
The Wizards had a real chance to get their first win of the season on Saturday, with the Jazz playing the second game of a road back-to-back. The Wiz led 15-2 to start the game and held Utah to just 38 percent shooting, but scored just 61 points over the final 44 minutes and allowed 26 offensive rebounds. Monday's game against Indiana will be U-G-L-Y, but it's another legit chance at a win.
Last week: 29|