Heat on top with parity out West
So, who is the best team in the Western Conference right now? The Grizzlies (9-2) have the best record, but the Thunder (+7.3 points per 100 possessions) have the best point differential, and the Clippers have played the toughest schedule.
Can head-to-head results help us figure it out? Not really. In just the last 12 days, the Clippers lost to the Thunder (11/21), who lost to the Grizzlies (11/14), who lost to the Nuggets (11/19), who lost to the Spurs (11/17), who lost to the Clippers (11/19).
There will be a couple of more key West matchups this week, but while those teams sort things out, the Miami Heat will take the top spot in this week's rankings with a four-game winning streak that started with a tough road win in Denver.
• Last week: A big six emerges at the top
Hero Team of the Week: Denver (4-0) - The Nuggets' perfect week began with a road win over last week's No. 1, the Memphis Grizzlies.
Zero Team of the Week: New Orleans (0-4) - The Hornets lost two overtime games, but also got crushed by the Knicks and Nuggets.
Plus-minus Studs: Kosta Koufos (DEN) was a plus-60 in four games last week.
Plus-minus Duds: Greivis Vasquez (NOH) was a minus-49 in four games last week.
High jumps of the week: Denver (+7), Golden State (+7), Atlanta (+6)
Free falls of the week: New Orleans (-9), Minnesota (-8), Milwaukee (-6)
East vs. West: The West is 45-34 (.570) against the East in inter-conference games this season and was 9-7 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 94.8 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes and 101.5 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've got an issue with the rankings, or have a question or comment for John Schuhmann, contact him via twitter.
Pace: 95.1 (14), OffRtg: 110.3 (2), DefRtg: 103.8 (23)
The Heat are playing just four games over a 16-day stretch, so it's good that they're making them interesting. They needed overtime to beat the Bucks on Wednesday and came back from a 13-point deficit against the Cavs on Saturday. Ray Allen was the hero in that one, but the Heat are still suffering defensively (allowing 110 points per 100 possessions) when he's on the floor.
Last week: 4|
Pace: 95.0 (16), OffRtg: 105.0 (5), DefRtg: 99.0 (5)
As great as the Grizz are on the offensive glass (where they rank third), they've been hurt on the defensive glass (where they rank 28th). They've allowed 10 or more offensive boards in six straight games, including 21 in Monday's loss to the Nuggets. Marc Gasol is having the worst defensive rebounding season of his career, and this Monday, he'll need to keep Anderson Varejao off the boards.
Last week: 1|
San Antonio (11-3)|
Pace: 95.2 (12), OffRtg: 104.1 (8), DefRtg: 99.5 (10)
The Spurs are 3-0 with both Kawhi Leonard and Stephen Jackson out, but their new starting lineup has been pretty terrible on defense (where Gary Neal and Danny Green are not a good combo). And when they needed double-OT to win in Toronto on Saturday, Tim Duncan had to play over 41 minutes, more than he's played in all but two games over the last three years. Time for a day off?
Last week: 5|
Oklahoma City (10-4)|
Pace: 95.2 (13), OffRtg: 108.2 (3), DefRtg: 100.9 (15)
The Thunder got their first signature win on Wednesday and shot 6-for-7 from 3-point range in their two overtimes last week, but their defensive regression has continued. After holding their first eight opponents to just 94.7 points per 100 possessions, they've allowed their last six opponents to score 109.1. Their defensive ranking has dropped from third to 15th in that time.
Last week: 6|
L.A. Clippers (8-5)|
Pace: 95.2 (11), OffRtg: 104.3 (7), DefRtg: 98.4 (4)
The Clippers' defensive improvement has been noteworthy, but their offense disappeared (OffRtg: 98.5) on their 1-3 road trip. One reason is that Jamal Crawford has cooled off. He shot just 19-for-53 (36 percent) on the trip, so hold off on awarding him the Sixth Man of the Year award already. The good news is that no team has an easier schedule over the next two weeks.
Last week: 2|
New York (9-3)|
Pace: 93.5 (25), OffRtg: 111.5 (1), DefRtg: 101.2 (18)
Carmelo Anthony is now shooting a scorching 50-for-80 (63 percent) from the field and 17-for-26 (65 percent) from 3-point range in first quarters this season. But while the Knicks continue to take care of the ball and bomb away from beyond the arc, their defense has disappeared. It was a top-five defense just a week ago, but then allowed 345 points to the Mavs, Rockets and Pistons.
Last week: 3|
Pace: 95.4 (10), OffRtg: 99.1 (21), DefRtg: 95.6 (1)
When you beat the Kings, Magic, Wizards and Bobcats, your four-game winning streak is a little hollow. But when you extend it to five with an easy win over the Clippers, we take notice. The streak has vaulted the Hawks to the No. 1 spot in defensive efficiency, and they should stay there with only home games against the Cats and Cavs on the schedule over the next nine days.
Last week: 13|
L.A. Lakers (7-7)|
Pace: 96.1 (6), OffRtg: 105.9 (4), DefRtg: 99.5 (11)
Putting the coaching drama aside, it's amazing that the Lakers are 7-7 given how well Kobe Bryant is shooting from the floor (54 percent on 2-pointers, 42 percent on threes) and how often he's getting to the line (45 free throw attempts per 100 field goal attempts -- his highest rate since 2004-05). Now with three wins by 24 points or more, they rank fourth in point differential.
Last week: 7|
Pace: 90.9 (30), OffRtg: 104.4 (6), DefRtg: 101.5 (19)
As the Knicks have regressed defensively, the Nets have improved, holding the Clippers and Blazers to just 91 points per 100 possessions over the weekend. And they've actually won a couple of third quarters! It all sets up a big matchup in Brooklyn on Monday for first place in the Atlantic and early bragging rights in the city. More tough games (against the Celtics, Heat and Thunder) follow.
Last week: 8|
Pace: 94.6 (19), OffRtg: 103.9 (9), DefRtg: 103.7 (22)
The Celtics got their best win of the season against the Thunder on Friday and Paul Pierce (22-for-44 over the last three games) might be finding his rhythm offensively. But man, this team needs some frontline help, because the defense absolutely collapses when Kevin Garnett steps off the floor and that's not a problem that Avery Bradley can solve by himself when he returns.
Last week: 10|
Pace: 95.4 (9), OffRtg: 102.1 (14), DefRtg: 101.2 (17)
This is getting ridiculous. Three losses, four wins, another three losses, and another four wins. The difference between the good Nuggets and the bad Nuggets has been defense. They've allowed just 93.2 points per 100 possessions in their wins, but 112.3 in their losses. The offense has been more consistent, which isn't necessarily a good thing.
Last week: 18|
Golden State (8-6)|
Pace: 95.9 (8), OffRtg: 100.3 (17), DefRtg: 100.4 (12)
While Harrison Barnes is showing us that he's got some hops, Stephen Curry is reminding us how good he can be when he's healthy. Curry scored or assisted on 27 of the Warriors' final 30 points in their overtime victory over the Mavs on Monday and had a couple of more big performances against the Nets and Wolves. He's 16-for-31 from 3-point range over the last five games.
Last week: 19|
Pace: 93.3 (27), OffRtg: 98.2 (25), DefRtg: 99.3 (7)
As we wonder if Andrew Bynum is ever going to play for the Sixers, the Sixers who can play continue to stay afloat. It's still tough to figure out exactly what kind of team they are, especially since they haven't defended that well of late and the offense seems to come from a different place every night. Jrue Holiday had a career-high 33 points and 13 assists against the Suns on Sunday.
Last week: 11|
Pace: 94.7 (17), OffRtg: 98.8 (23), DefRtg: 97.7 (3)
Chicago had lost three straight, so Saturday was a nice time for Carlos Boozer to come up big with 22 points and 19 rebounds in Milwaukee on Saturday. Tom Thibodeau even let Boozer play most of the fourth quarter, a period which has been a serious problem of late for the Bulls. They rank 25th in fourth-quarter defense even though their best defenders play the most fourth-quarter minutes.
Last week: 12|
Pace: 97.9 (1), OffRtg: 100.3 (18), DefRtg: 100.7 (13)
Scott Skiles finally changed his starting lineup on Saturday against Chicago. But instead of sending the struggling Ersan Ilyasova to the bench, he dusted off Joel Przybilla to start at center. It probably goes without saying, but that strategy didn't work, and the Bucks had their worst offensive game of the season. We'll see if Skiles sticks with Przybilla when they play the Bulls again Monday.
Last week: 9|
Pace: 94.4 (21), OffRtg: 102.2 (12), DefRtg: 101.5 (20)
At the end of this season (or maybe at the trade deadline), the Jazz will need to make decisions on Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap. So it would help if Derrick Favors could take the bull by the horns in his third year in the league. He's been a plus defensively, but Favors' offense has been inconsistent. He's shooting just 42 percent after going 0-for-6 in Saturday's loss at Sacramento.
Last week: 17|
Pace: 96.7 (3), OffRtg: 102.2 (11), DefRtg: 104.1 (24)
The Mavs' offense has alternated between unbearably cold and ridiculously hot over their last seven games. In Games 8, 10, 12 and 14 (all losses), they scored 88 points per 100 possessions. In Games 9, 11 and 13 (all wins), they scored 113. Darren Collison has been particularly brutal in the losses and Rick Carlisle is still searching for lineups that can produce consistently.
Last week: 15|
Pace: 96.7 (4), OffRtg: 97.7 (26), DefRtg: 100.7 (14)
Just like that, the Cavs have matched last season's win total, thanks to improved defense and the league's easiest schedule thus far. Six of their seven wins have been by four points or less, with their opponents shooting just 21-for-72 (29 percent) in clutch time this season, a mark the Wizards helped bring down with a miserable 5-for-24 performance in the clutch on Saturday.
Last week: 21|
Pace: 94.5 (20), OffRtg: 102.1 (13), DefRtg: 106.6 (28)
You would think that a seven-game trip and LaMarcus Aldridge's back issues would spell bad news for the Blazers. But they hung around against the Nets without Aldridge on Sunday to start the trip, and the remaining six games are all kind of winnable. In his two starts last week, Meyers Leonard totaled 24 points on 12-for-19 shooting, maybe earning a bigger role going forward.
Last week: 16|
Pace: 97.8 (2), OffRtg: 101.7 (15), DefRtg: 101.0 (16)
There have been plenty of headlines, both on and off the court, surrounding the Rockets already this season. But they all fade to the background with the news out of Minneapolis that Kevin McHale's daughter Sasha passed away at the age of 23 on Saturday. The games go on and the Rockets picked up a couple of good wins last week, but it's clear that McHale's team is hurting for their coach.
Last week: 23|
Pace: 92.8 (28), OffRtg: 96.0 (28), DefRtg: 97.4 (2)
It's a shame for the Wizards that Roy Hibbert decided to finally show up for the 2012-13 season (with 20 points and 12 rebounds) on Monday. And it's a shame for Hibbert that he can't play 82 games against the Wiz. Speaking of breakout games, Paul George had his (37 points, 9-for-13 on threes) against the Hornets on Wednesday. Occasionally, the Pacers' offense doesn't look so awful.
Last week: 22|
Pace: 93.3 (26), OffRtg: 98.4 (24), DefRtg: 99.2 (6)
The early return of Kevin Love and the big numbers he put up (24.3 points and 14.0 rebounds) weren't enough to stop the Wolves' losing streak, now at five games. In their three games back, Love and J.J. Barea have combined to shoot just 32-for-85 (38 percent). But the bigger issue has been the team's defense, which has allowed 108 points per 100 possessions over the last four.
Last week: 14|
Pace: 96.0 (7), OffRtg: 102.8 (10), DefRtg: 106.4 (27)
You'd think Michael Beasley played for the Raptors or Wizards with the heartbreaking way his game-tying layup rolled off the rim in Philly on Sunday. That was not a fun way to start off a six-game trip, and the Suns are now 1-5 away from US Airways Center, with the league's worst road defense (DefRtg: 113.3). Trips to Cleveland, Detroit and Toronto this week could cure that ill.
Last week: 25|
Pace: 95.1 (15), OffRtg: 95.6 (29), DefRtg: 99.5 (9)
The Magic continue to be surprisingly not that awful, distinguishing themselves from the rest of the Eastern Conference dreck with wins over the Pistons and Cavs last week. But they failed to hold onto a seven-point, fourth-quarter lead against the Celtics on Sunday, and they'll face only one team below them in the standings (Sacramento) in their next 11 games.
Last week: 26|
Pace: 94.1 (22), OffRtg: 99.1 (22), DefRtg: 104.7 (26)
Is Tyreke Evans finally getting his groove back? Now starting with Aaron Brooks, Evans has averaged 21.3 points, 5.0 rebounds and 4.5 assists over the last four games, helping the Kings pick up quality wins over the Lakers and Jazz. It's his best four-game stretch since before the All-Star break last season, and as a result, the Kings' offense has been much improved (OffRtg: 111.0).
Last week: 29|
Pace: 94.6 (18), OffRtg: 97.6 (27), DefRtg: 104.7 (25)
The Pistons' win over the Raptors on Friday was sparked by a breakout game from Andre Drummond, who recorded his first career double-double and came up with some big defensive plays down the stretch. If that was a step forward, the Pistons took a step back when they gave up 121 points in New York on Sunday, though Drummond did grab another 11 boards in that one.
Last week: 27|
Pace: 93.9 (23), OffRtg: 99.8 (19), DefRtg: 102.3 (21)
The Raptors are the anti-Bobcats, now with five losses by five points or less and another in triple-OT. Three of those came last week, but the Raps still trail the Wizards in heartbreak, because close losses are much worse when you don't already have a few Ws in the bag. And at least Jonas Valanciunas is playing well, averaging 14.5 points and 8.5 rebounds in Toronto's four losses last week.
Last week: 24|
Pace: 96.5 (5), OffRtg: 99.7 (20), DefRtg: 106.8 (29)
We all expected the Cavs to head straight into the abyss without Kyrie Irving (out four weeks with a broken finger), but then Jeremy Pargo went nuts against the Sixers and they had their two best offensive games of the season (scoring 111 points per 100 possessions) in Orlando and Miami. Of course, they couldn't get enough stops down the stretch in those last two, because the D still stinks.
Last week: 28|
New Orleans (3-9)|
Pace: 91.3 (29), OffRtg: 101.3 (16), DefRtg: 107.1 (30)
As disappointing as the ankle injury that has kept Anthony Davis out of the last four games is the Hornets' porous defense (DefRtg: 114.9) over the last eight and Austin Rivers' shooting (30 percent) over the entire season. Even though they're mostly at home over the next two weeks, the Hornets' seven-game skid could go on for quite a while, because a lot of good teams will be visiting.
Last week: 20|
Pace: 93.8 (24), OffRtg: 91.9 (30), DefRtg: 99.4 (8)
If felt like no loss could be more brutal than Wednesday's defeat in Atlanta, when the Wizards needed just a tenth of a second more to get their first win. But then came Saturday's double-OT loss against Charlotte, with Chris Singleton's second free throw at the end of the first OT bouncing in and out. Next up are the Spurs, Blazers, Knicks and Heat, so that Portland game is the one to get.
Last week: 30|