Are the Heat heating up?
We've been waiting patiently.
Yes, it's still early. The season is just about 20 percent complete and every team has about the equivalent of last year's 66-game season left to play. But weren't the Miami Heat supposed to dominate out of the blocks this season? Weren't they supposed to take their new "positionless" mantra, along with LeBron James' new inside-first mentality, and run with it?
Sure, they've only lost three games, and they're 8-0 at home. But they haven't been as dominant as we expected, especially with their defense, which has been inconsistent at best. They've only lost to very good teams (New York, Memphis and the Clippers), but they've also struggled to get wins over some teams that aren't nearly as good.
Here they are, though. No. 1 in the Power Rankings for the second straight week, and maybe starting to pick up some steam, thanks, in part, to a recent schedule that has allowed them to practice and rest. They've won six straight games and, after a trip to Washington on Tuesday, play six straight at home over the next 2 1/2 weeks.
Thursday's visit from the Knicks is the big one, a chance to make the statement that their loss in New York a month ago was a fluke and that their defense is over its early-season struggles.
No team wants to peak too early, but the Heat may be ready to put some real separation between themselves and the rest of the league.
• Last week: Heat on top with parity out West
Hero Team of the Week: Golden State (2-0) - Only three teams went undefeated last week. The Thunder (4-0) didn't beat anybody that good, and the rested Heat (2-0) beat the shorthanded Spurs and shorthanded Nets. The Warriors were at home, but wins over the Nuggets and Pacers were enough to take this week's honors.
Zero Team of the Week: Charlotte (0-3) - Their time was coming.
Plus-minus Studs: Kevin Durant (OKC) was a plus-95 in four games last week.
Plus-minus Duds: Jeffrey Taylor (CHA) was a minus-62 in three games last week.
High jumps of the week: Houston (+5), Milwaukee (+5), Brooklyn (+4), Golden State (+4)
Free falls of the week: Denver (-6), L.A. Lakers (-6), Sacramento (-4)
East vs. West: The West is 57-46 (.553) against the East in inter-conference games this season and was 12-12 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 94.6 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes and 101.7 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 (12), OffRtg: 110.5 (2), DefRtg: 102.8 (19)
Which was a more important development on Saturday night: That Dwyane Wade went off for 34 points, or that the Heat had one of their best defensive games of the season against a top-10 offense? Wade looked explosive and the defense was suffocating, holding the Nets to just 16 points over the last 17:57. Another big test of the improving defense comes Thursday against the Knicks.
Last week: 1|
San Antonio (14-4)|
Pace: 95.6 (8), OffRtg: 104.9 (6), DefRtg: 98.6 (5)
Tim Duncan (27 and 15) and Tony Parker (30 points) clearly made good use of the extra rest in Saturday's OT win over the Grizzlies. Though Manu Ginobili shot just 4-for-15 and Danny Green left the game with hamstring tightness, Patty Mills picked up the slack to help the Spurs come back from 15 down late in the third. Their next four-games-in-five-nights stretch comes at the end of the month.
Last week: 3|
Pace: 94.4 (19), OffRtg: 102.9 (11), DefRtg: 96.4 (1)
Saturday's loss to the Spurs was tough, but more concerning is the Grizzlies' offense (just 90 points per 100 possessions) against Detroit and San Antonio. Zach Randolph's 8-for-29 over the two games isn't a huge deal, but Memphis' lack of perimeter shooting is becoming more of an issue. Since his 7-for-11 performance against the Heat, Wayne Ellington is 2-for-16 from beyond the arc.
Last week: 2|
Oklahoma City (14-4)|
Pace: 94.9 (14), OffRtg: 110.1 (3), DefRtg: 98.6 (7)
If we want to dissect Russell Westbrook every week, there isn't much room for criticism of late. His shooting is still inconsistent, but his assist rate is way up from last season and his defense has been improved. Opposing point guards Kemba Walker, Jeremy Lin, Mo Williams and Greivis Vasquez combined for just 24 points on 9-for-31 shooting against OKC last week. Next up: Deron Williams.
Last week: 4|
Pace: 90.5 (30), OffRtg: 103.8 (8), DefRtg: 100.9 (14)
Their offense hit a wall in the second half in Miami on Saturday, but the Nets have proved that they're in the mix at the top of the East with recent wins over the Clips, Knicks and Celtics. Next is Tuesday's test against OKC, with Brook Lopez likely missing his third straight game. They will have Jerry Stackhouse, who now has more threes (15) than he did over the last two seasons combined (14).
Last week: 9|
New York (12-4)|
Pace: 92.6 (28), OffRtg: 111.3 (1), DefRtg: 100.7 (11)
The Knicks have been great at getting out to hot starts, and they're now 11-1 after winning the first quarter. They're also 7-0 at home, where their defense has been much better (DefRtg: 95.1) than on the road (105.0). But they've played just one above-average offense (Miami) at home and play four of their next five games away from MSG, including visits to Miami, Chicago and Brooklyn.
Last week: 6|
L.A. Clippers (10-6)|
Pace: 94.5 (17), OffRtg: 106.3 (4), DefRtg: 99.0 (8)
Chauncey Billups is back, but it could be a while before he's 100 percent. We're still waiting on Grant Hill, so patience is needed with these Clips, who are now starting to get their offensive rhythm back. That doesn't mean they can't compile some wins in the next few weeks, because Monday's visit to Utah may be their toughest game between now and their Christmas matchup with the Nuggets.
Last week: 5|
Golden State (10-6)|
Pace: 95.9 (5), OffRtg: 101.3 (14), DefRtg: 100.7 (13)
Perhaps the most amazing statistical note for any team in the league is the Warriors' rise to No. 5 in rebounding percentage. This team ranked 29th or 30th in rebounding each of the last six seasons, and they've improved dramatically without much help from Andrew Bogut. David Lee has controlled the glass and Harrison Barnes has been a big help from the small forward position.
Last week: 12|
Pace: 95.1 (13), OffRtg: 100.7 (18), DefRtg: 97.3 (4)
That six-game winning streak was pretty darn shallow, and the Hawks may have proved it with Friday's loss to the Cavs at home, their worst defensive game of the season. But you can only play the games on your schedule, and the Hawks will have some tougher ones coming up to prove where they really stand. They host the Nuggets and visit both Memphis and Miami in the next eight days.
Last week: 7|
Pace: 96.9 (2), OffRtg: 98.7 (23), DefRtg: 100.7 (12)
The Bucks' offense has been pretty awful (OffRtg: 94.6) over the last seven games and the defense has been pretty awful (DefRtg: 107.4) whenever Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings have been on the floor together. But narrow wins over the Bulls and Celtics last week were huge. The return of Luc Mbah a Moute will help with the defense. Boston shot 5-for-23 in his 14 minutes on Saturday.
Last week: 15|
Pace: 94.8 (15), OffRtg: 102.0 (12), DefRtg: 101.7 (16)
The Celtics continue to take one step forward and another back. Rajon Rondo's suspension certainly didn't help, because the offense was pretty anemic without him against the Blazers and Bucks. The back-to-back was Jeff Green's most productive pair of games this season though. He's hurting the team defensively, but Green had 37 points on 14-for-24 shooting in the two Rondo-less games.
Last week: 10|
Pace: 94.1 (20), OffRtg: 99.8 (21), DefRtg: 97.0 (2)
The Central Division continues to be a real struggle, so the Bulls really blew it when they wasted a 30-point game from Richard Hamilton and lost a 27-point lead to the Bucks over the final 18 minutes on Monday. Now, they'll be without Hamilton (torn plantar fascia in his left foot) when they play another big Central matchup against Indiana on Tuesday. Someone will need to step up offensively.
Last week: 14|
Pace: 93.0 (27), OffRtg: 99.8 (19), DefRtg: 100.1 (10)
Having played the league's easiest schedule (10 of 16 games at home and 10 against teams currently under .500), Saturday's visit to Chicago was a chance for Philly to pick up a big win against a team they're on par with in the East. But with Nick Young out, Jrue Holiday and Thaddeus Young didn't get enough help offensively. A home-and-home with the Celtics this week is another opportunity.
Last week: 13|
L.A. Lakers (8-9)|
Pace: 96.7 (3), OffRtg: 105.1 (5), DefRtg: 99.4 (9)
The Lakers and Celtics are always in competition with each other, aren't they? Right now, they're competing to be the most mediocre historic franchise with multiple All-Stars on its roster. Until they make a trade, L.A. just might go as Antawn Jamison goes. The 36-year-old had 52 points and 27 rebounds in their last two wins and just 13 points and nine boards in their last two losses.
Last week: 8|
Pace: 98.0 (1), OffRtg: 104.1 (7), DefRtg: 103.4 (22)
Chandler Parsons has quickly developed into the Rockets' second-best scorer, and Houston has won the last four games in which he has played, averaging 124 points in the last three. But amazingly, they have fewer wins against the Western Conference (they're 2-7) than the 4-12 Kings (3-7). Their next four games are against the West, but three are against the Lakers and Spurs.
Last week: 20|
Pace: 94.4 (18), OffRtg: 103.5 (9), DefRtg: 103.6 (2)
The bad news is that the Utah defense has been pretty terrible of late, and Derrick Favors' foot injury means it could stay that way. It's no coincidence that Saturday's Favors-less loss in Houston was the Jazz's worst defensive game of the season. The good news is that, after Monday's thriller against Denver, the Jazz are still unbeaten at home, where they'll play four of their next five games.
Last week: 16|
Pace: 95.5 (9), OffRtg: 103.1 (10), DefRtg: 103.8 (24)
Some missed free throws at the end of brutal losses to the Jazz and Warriors kept the Nuggets' freaky pattern of three-game losing streaks followed by four-game winning streaks alive. They've played the league's toughest schedule thus far and it's not really going to let up until January. If the pattern doesn't end before then, it's bad news for the Raptors, Hawks, Pacers and Knicks this week.
Last week: 11|
Pace: 93.1 (26), OffRtg: 95.9 (29), DefRtg: 97.0 (3)
The Pacers' offense has picked up a little, scoring 101.2 points per 100 possessions over the last six games. David West, averaging 23 points on 59 percent shooting over that stretch, has led the way. And though they mostly beat the Lakers with defense on Tuesday, it was the threat of a West pick-and-pop that allowed George Hill to score on two drives in the final minute.
Last week: 21|
Pace: 96.4 (4), OffRtg: 100.8 (17), DefRtg: 103.2 (20)
Derek Fisher shot just 1-for-8 in his Mavs debut, but he was a plus-12 because that debut came against the Detroit Pistons, who shot 11-for-37 in Fisher's 24 minutes. It's still kind of early, but the next two weeks could be huge for the Mavs. They play six of their next seven games on the road, where they're just 2-6 thus far. That stretch includes big games against the Rockets and Wolves.
Last week: 17|
Pace: 93.9 (22), OffRtg: 98.5 (24), DefRtg: 98.6 (6)
Ricky Rubio is back at practice, but it's unclear when he'll be back in uniform. Though the Wolves suffered defensively when he went down last season, it's the offense that really needs a boost from their point guard this year, especially with Kevin Love shooting just 37 percent since his return. He's not alone. Only five of the 15 Wolves who have played have shot better than 39 percent.
Last week: 22|
Pace: 95.7 (7), OffRtg: 96.9 (27), DefRtg: 103.2 (21)
In case you haven't figured it out already, that 7-5 record the Bobcats had a week ago was somewhat of an illusion. After Monday's 45-point loss in Oklahoma City, they were on the wrong side of a couple of tight finishes against the Hawks and Sixers. The slide could continue, because they play six straight games against teams with winning records after hosting the Blazers on Monday.
Last week: 18|
Pace: 93.9 (23), OffRtg: 101.4 (13), DefRtg: 105.7 (26)
Nicolas Batum's ridiculous game-winner in Cleveland on Saturday salvaged something out of the Blazers' seven-game trip, which has included losses to the Pistons and Wizards and which concludes in Charlotte and Indiana this week. Before Batum's shot, Damian Lillard emerged from a funk in which he shot an ugly 16-for-59 (27 percent) over the first four games of the trip.
Last week: 19|
Pace: 95.1 (11), OffRtg: 96.5 (28), DefRtg: 101.2 (15)
Thanks to a ridiculous fourth quarter and a huge game from trade centerpiece Arron Afflalo, the Magic (and Magic fans) got their win over Dwight Howard on Sunday. It's just too bad they can't play their March 12 home game against the Lakers right now, while Steve Nash is still out and the Lakers are still entirely dysfunctional. Think there will be a letdown at Golden State on Monday?
Last week: 24|
Pace: 94.6 (16), OffRtg: 98.4 (25), DefRtg: 102.4 (18)
Somehow, the Pistons have the league's fifth-best home offense, scoring 107.4 points per 100 possessions over seven games at the Palace, where they've won four straight and host the Cavs, Warriors and Bulls this week. Brandon Knight has averaged 20.3 points on 56 percent shooting in the last three wins. Of course, the offense was anemic in Memphis and Dallas over the weekend.
Last week: 26|
Pace: 94.0 (21), OffRtg: 99.8 (20), DefRtg: 104.0 (25)
The Raptors actually won one of those close games they're so fond of on Friday, because the Suns missed about 30 shots (author's estimate) near the basket in the final minute. The Raps have been racking up the mileage, with five one-game homestands and one two-game homestand thus far, and they're back out on the road for an eight-day, five-game trip that starts in Denver on Monday.
Last week: 27|
Pace: 95.7 (6), OffRtg: 101.2 (15), DefRtg: 106.4 (28)
When you give up 117 points to the Detroit Pistons, there's something wrong with your defense. The Suns' interior defense hasn't been so awful, but they have, by far, the worst 3-point defense in the league. As you might expect, the defense has been at its worst when Michael Beasley has been on the floor. In fact, it's been pretty decent (DefRtg: 95.0) when he's been on the bench.
Last week: 23|
Pace: 95.3 (10), OffRtg: 99.4 (22), DefRtg: 106.8 (29)
The Cavs were on both ends of crazy game-winners, one from Alonzo Gee and one from Nicolas Batum, over the weekend. Of course, as the Cavs would do, they beat the good team on the road and lost to the bad team at the Q. Anderson Varejao, still putting up huge numbers (16 points and 18 boards over the last eight games), faces Greg Monroe, Joakim Noah and Nikola Pekovic this week.
Last week: 28|
New Orleans (4-11)|
Pace: 91.0 (29), OffRtg: 101.0 (16), DefRtg: 107.5 (30)
Ain't it funny how the only game the Hornets have won in the last three weeks was against Chris Paul? And how the 6-10 Magic beat Dwight Howard and the mighty Lakers on Sunday? And how the 4-13 Cavs came 20 seconds short of beating LeBron James and the Heat a week earlier? Carmelo Anthony (vs. Denver on Sunday) and Deron Williams (vs. Utah on Dec. 18) better watch out.
Last week: 29|
Pace: 93.9 (24), OffRtg: 98.2 (26), DefRtg: 106.0 (27)
The Kings have bigger issues on defense, but the offense isn't going to be very good either when the starting point guard -- Aaron Brooks -- has 33 assists in 357 minutes, the starting center -- DeMarcus Cousins -- is shooting 42 percent, and the one guy who's been playing well -- Tyreke Evans -- is out with a bruised knee. If they can't beat the Raptors or Magic this week, things could get real ugly.
Last week: 25|
Pace: 93.2 (25), OffRtg: 92.8 (30), DefRtg: 102.1 (17)
The Portland game was the one game to get, and the Wizards, with a boost from their bench and for the sake of Randy Wittman's sanity, got it. Otherwise, we'd really be talking about that record the Nets set three years ago. Of course, the Wiz lost their other two games by a combined 37 points last week, and the next winnable game might not come until they visit the Hornets next Monday.
Last week: 30|