Thunder rolling at the quarter pole
The good thing about writing Power Rankings is that you get to correct your mistakes every week. So let's just forget what was written in this space seven days ago.
Less than 48 hours after we wondered if the Miami Heat were starting to pick up steam, they lost to the Washington Wizards. And then they got smoked by the Melo-less Knicks. They may still be the favorites to win another championship in June, but they're currently a long way from playing well enough to repeat.
The same is true for most contenders, obviously. And nobody wants to peak in December. But this is the time when habits are formed and standards of execution are set. And if home-court advantage in the playoffs comes down to a game or two, losses before Christmas count just as much as those in March or April.
So, as we continue to shake our heads at the floundering Lakers and dissect the listless Miami defense, we must also give the Spurs and Thunder their due credit for taking care of business and racking up the wins early in the season.
In the middle of Tuesday night's five-game slate, we'll officially reach the 1/4 mark of the 2012-13 season, when we're supposed to have a good idea of where each team stands. And typically, about 14 of the 16 teams in the playoff picture at this point will still be there at the end of the season. It's not yet time to break out the champagne in Atlanta or Oakland, but a dignified handshake to acknowledge a strong start would be justified.
• Last week: Are the Heat heating up?
Hero Team of the Week: Atlanta (3-0) - Four teams went undefeated last week, and the Hawks had the most impressive win of the group, a 10-point victory in Memphis on Saturday. They also knocked off the Nuggets and Wizards.
Zero Team of the Week: Cleveland (0-4) - Two losses to the Pistons and a spanking from the shorthanded Timberwolves.
Plus-minus Studs: Matt Barnes and Jamal Crawford (LAC) were each a plus-51 in four games last week.
Plus-minus Duds: Byron Mullens (CHA) was a minus-66 in four games last week.
High jumps of the week: Sacramento (+6), Atlanta (+4), Utah (+4)
Free falls of the week: Brooklyn (-5), Miami (-5), Charlotte (-4), L.A. Lakers (-4)
East vs. West: The West is 75-54 (.581) against the East in inter-conference games this season and was 18-8 last week.
Toughest schedules through Sunday: 1. New Orleans, 2. Denver, 3. Toronto
Easiest schedules through Sunday: 1. Philadelphia, 2. Atlanta, 3. Oklahoma City
Schedule strength is based on cumulative opponent record, and adjusted for home vs. away and days of rest before a game.
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 102.1 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.
Oklahoma City (17-4)|
Pace: 94.8 (13), OffRtg: 111.3 (1), DefRtg: 100.3 (9)
Last season, the Thunder scored 5.3 points per 100 possessions more than the league average. This season: 9.2, making them the best offensive team since the 2003-04 Mavericks. On Sunday, they rolled through the Pacers' defense, which ranked No. 1 before the game started. The only teams that have held them under a point per possession are the Spurs and ... the Pistons.
Last week: 4|
San Antonio (17-4)|
Pace: 96.4 (4), OffRtg: 106.7 (5), DefRtg: 98.2 (6)
The man Sekou Smith has Tony Parker at No. 8 in his MVP rankings, but how about a little love for Tim Duncan? As National Post writer Eric Koreen tweeted Sunday (here and here), Duncan's per-36 numbers are on par with his numbers when he was named MVP 11 years ago. More important, the Spurs, anchored by Duncan, are back to being one of the better defensive teams in the league.
Last week: 2|
Pace: 93.6 (23), OffRtg: 102.8 (12), DefRtg: 97.0 (2)
Before Friday, the Grizz were the best third-quarter team in the league (plus-18.7 points per 100 possessions). Then they got outscored 59-33 in the third quarter by the Hornets and Hawks. They won each of the other six periods over the weekend, but that only earned them a split. Point guards Mike Conley and Jerryd Bayless have shot a combined 17-for-59 (29 percent) in December.
Last week: 3|
New York (15-5)|
Pace: 93.2 (26), OffRtg: 110.2 (2), DefRtg: 101.1 (12)
Melo or no Melo, Amar'e or no Amar'e, Lin or no Lin, the Knicks are now 33-11 in the regular season under Mike Woodson, with only one loss (vs. Miami in April) at Madison Square Garden. Sunday's win over the Nuggets began a stretch of eight straight games in New York, with Tuesday's visit to Brooklyn a chance to avenge their only other Woodson-coached loss in the five boroughs.
Last week: 6|
Pace: 94.9 (12), OffRtg: 102.1 (13), DefRtg: 97.8 (5)
It's probably time to start believing in the Hawks, who are one of only two teams to win in Oklahoma City and now one of only two teams to win in Memphis. All of a sudden, they're just a half game behind the Heat, who they visit in a must-watch League Pass game on Monday. Both Al Horford and Josh Smith rank in the top five in restricted area shooting percentage at 74 percent.
Last week: 9|
Pace: 95.1 (11), OffRtg: 109.5 (3), DefRtg: 103.6 (21)
LeBron James said on Saturday that games against bad teams can be used to develop better habits. We'll see what kind of habits can be developed in 48 minutes against the Hornets, because those habits will be tested on Monday against the Hawks and on Wednesday against the Warriors ... and also on Saturday against those Wizards that just scored 105 points on them.
Last week: 1|
L.A. Clippers (14-6)|
Pace: 94.7 (15), OffRtg: 107.6 (4), DefRtg: 99.1 (7)
The Clippers have overtaken the Nuggets as the streakingest team in the NBA. With Blake Griffin leading the way (20.7 points on 60 percent shooting), their offense has been on fire (OffRtg: 114.8) on their current six-game winning streak. The opponents aren't as tough as they were on the last one (when they went 1-3), but they begin another four-game trip in Chicago on Tuesday.
Last week: 7|
Golden State (13-7)|
Pace: 95.7 (7), OffRtg: 102.8 (11), DefRtg: 101.3 (13)
Last week, we noted how the Warriors, led by David Lee, have improved on the glass. But Lee has also stepped up offensively, averaging 22.4 points on 58 percent shooting as the Dubs have won six of their last seven. Of course, Stephen Curry (22.4 points, 26-for-51 from 3-point range) has been pretty good in that stretch too. GSW has won the first three games of its seven-game trip.
Last week: 8|
Pace: 93.3 (25), OffRtg: 100.5 (19), DefRtg: 97.0 (1)
The Bulls played four games in five nights last week and, of course, Luol Deng averaged 43.2 minutes in the four games. But considering the competition and lack of rest, Chicago had its best defensive game of the season in holding the Knicks to just 85 points on Saturday. The No. 1 D faces two more top-10 offensive teams this week: the Clippers on Tuesday and Nets on Saturday.
Last week: 12|
Pace: 91.2 (29), OffRtg: 103.7 (9), DefRtg: 103.2 (19)
Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Gerald Wallace are the All-Stars, but is there any doubt now that Brook Lopez is the Nets' most important player? They're now 1-4 without him, looking awful on both ends of the floor at one point or another. So it would be nice if he were back for Round 2 vs. the Knicks on Tuesday, the start of a four-games-in-five-nights stretch, but that doesn't sound likely.
Last week: 5|
Pace: 94.3 (18), OffRtg: 101.8 (14), DefRtg: 100.7 (11)
The Boston defense is improving, having allowed just 92 points per 100 possessions over the last five games. The opposing offenses haven't been very good in that stretch, but before it, the defense held its own against OKC and Brooklyn. Now, if the Celtics could get some consistent offense from Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo (or at least one of the two), they'd be in good shape.
Last week: 11|
Pace: 94.3 (20), OffRtg: 106.0 (7), DefRtg: 103.8 (22)
The Jazz began the week with a home loss to one L.A. team, but ended it with a road win over the other. In between, they took care of business against the Magic and Raptors and proved how balanced and deep they can be. Though Derrick Favors was out, they had nine different guys score in double-figures in at least one of the three wins. This week, they host the Spurs and Grizzlies.
Last week: 16|
Pace: 96.3 (5), OffRtg: 99.5 (22), DefRtg: 101.4 (14)
As the Bucks' defense got better over the course of last week, so did their results. On Monday, they got smoked by the Hornets. On Wednesday, they were competitive in San Antonio. On Friday, they beat the Bobcats. Then on Sunday, they picked up an impressive win in Brooklyn, with Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis outscoring Deron Williams and Joe Johnson, 50-24.
Last week: 10|
Pace: 95.8 (6), OffRtg: 103.9 (8), DefRtg: 104.4 (24)
It could have been a huge week for the Nuggets, who went down to the wire in Atlanta, Indiana and New York. But after scoring 32 points against the Hawks and 23 against the Knicks, Ty Lawson had critical turnovers in the final minute of both losses. It's been a rough season so far for the point guard. His shooting is down, his free throw rate is down, and his turnover rate is up.
Last week: 17|
Pace: 92.6 (27), OffRtg: 99.0 (24), DefRtg: 100.5 (10)
The Sixers tend to go as Evan Turner goes. Turner has shot just 38 percent as the team has lost three of four, but the one win came when he struggled through a grind of a game and hit the game-winner against the Celtics in overtime. His raw numbers are up, but that has a lot to do with increased playing time and usage. Turner's scoring efficiency is only slightly better than it was last season.
Last week: 13|
Pace: 92.5 (28), OffRtg: 96.8 (28), DefRtg: 97.6 (4)
The Pacers' starting lineup has been pretty good, especially offensively. In fact, the unit was a plus-26 against the Nuggets and Thunder over the weekend. But because their bench is pretty awful, Indy lost both games. They've yet to win more than two straight, but have a chance to do so in the next two weeks, with a relatively easy stretch of seven games between now and Christmas.
Last week: 18|
Pace: 98.9 (1), OffRtg: 103.0 (10), DefRtg: 104.2 (23)
The craziest thing about the Rockets' comeback against the Lakers on Tuesday is who wasn't on the floor: Jeremy Lin, Chandler Parsons and Omer Asik. If you want some fast-paced basketball, just watch two of the three Texas teams play. The Rockets' games against the Spurs and Mavs over the weekend each eclipsed the 200-possession mark, and they play San Antonio again Monday.
Last week: 15|
L.A. Lakers (9-12)|
Pace: 96.5 (3), OffRtg: 106.4 (6), DefRtg: 101.5 (15)
Somehow, despite the presence of a three-time Defensive Player of the Year, the Lakers' defense is just getting worse every single night. It's so bad that the Wizards are licking their chops in anticipation of Friday's matchup. Before that one, L.A. visits the Knicks on Thursday, so keep in mind that the record for the most points scored by one team in a regulation game is 173.
Last week: 14|
Pace: 94.3 (19), OffRtg: 99.1 (23), DefRtg: 97.2 (3)
The Wolves' offense woke up on Tuesday in Philadelphia, when they scored 65 points in the first half and had seven guys (none named Kevin Love or Nikola Pekovic) in double-figures. Six in double-figures weren't enough in Boston, but Andrei Kirilenko returned Friday and hit the Cavs with a very Andrei Kirilenko line: eight points, seven boards, six assists, four steals and three blocks.
Last week: 20|
Pace: 97.1 (2), OffRtg: 100.7 (17), DefRtg: 103.1 (17)
Dirk Nowitzki has pushed back his return date, but the Mavs are still hanging around in the playoff picture, because apparently, O.J. Mayo isn't quite ready to come back to earth. He dropped 40 in Houston on Saturday and has shot 15-for-27 from 3-point range as the Mavs have won three of their last four. Mayo is head and shoulders above the rest of the league's 3-point shooters.
Last week: 19|
Pace: 95.1 (10), OffRtg: 96.3 (29), DefRtg: 100.0 (8)
The Magic continue to prove that they're not that bad, going 3-2 on a West Coast trip and playing their best defense of the season along the way. The highlight came last Sunday in L.A., but more impressive was Monday's win at Golden State, where there was no post-Dwight letdown. Of course, they're still a long shot to make the playoffs, so it might not be good to be not that bad.
Last week: 23|
Pace: 93.9 (22), OffRtg: 100.3 (20), DefRtg: 103.1 (18)
You may not have noticed, but Charlie Villanueva has been in the Pistons' rotation for the last nine games, and Detroit is 4-5 in that stretch. Charlie V. has been kind of hot and cold, but he has shot 49 percent from the field and 17-for-39 from 3-point range, while registering a plus-17 in the nine games. So maybe those vomit-inducing, offseason boxing workouts weren't for naught.
Last week: 24|
Pace: 94.5 (17), OffRtg: 98.4 (26), DefRtg: 103.5 (20)
They came against the Raptors, Magic and Blazers, but three straight wins are three straight wins when you're the Sacramento Kings. John Salmons (seven assists vs. Toronto and 11 in Portland) has been making plays and DeMarcus Cousins has averaged 20.3 points and 13.0 rebounds during the streak, but the defense has really been the key, allowing just 91 points per 100 possessions.
Last week: 29|
Pace: 93.9 (21), OffRtg: 101.2 (15), DefRtg: 105.8 (25)
On Monday in Charlotte, the Blazers pulled off one of the most incredible seven-minute comebacks you'll ever see. On Saturday against Sacramento, they were out to prove the theory that the first home game after a long road trip is like another road game. Nine first-quarter turnovers led to a 19-point beatdown, the Kings' first road win of the season. It began a six-game homestand for Portland.
Last week: 22|
Pace: 95.6 (8), OffRtg: 98.5 (25), DefRtg: 105.8 (26)
The Bobcats' offense has been decent over the last couple of weeks, but their defense has been awful. And thus, the 7-5 Bobcats are now the 7-12 Bobcats, with help from an epic collapse against the Blazers on Monday. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is fun to watch and is a coach's dream in all other facets of the game, but he's now shooting a brutal 10-for-50 from outside the restricted area.
Last week: 21|
New Orleans (5-14)|
Pace: 90.7 (30), OffRtg: 101.2 (16), DefRtg: 107.8 (30)
The Hornets have played the league's toughest schedule and just got beat up by the Lakers, Grizzlies and Heat. Still, it's baffling how bad they are defensively. That was the end of the floor that kept them somewhat competitive last season and it's not like Trevor Ariza and Emeka Okafor were holding that D together. Though they're missing two of their best players, they're still a disappointment.
Last week: 28|
Pace: 94.6 (16), OffRtg: 100.1 (21), DefRtg: 106.2 (27)
No matter the circumstances, 4-17 is lousy and the Raptors' defense has really regressed. But their schedule has been brutal. Monday's visit to Portland will conclude their seventh back-to-back, and each time they've played a rested opponent on the second night. The Bucks play their first such game Saturday, when they play the second night of a back-to-back against the rested Clips.
Last week: 25|
Pace: 95.5 (9), OffRtg: 100.7 (18), DefRtg: 106.7 (29)
Remember when the Suns were 7-8 with a top-10 offense? Seven games later, they're ready to make good on our prediction that they'd be the worst team in the Western Conference. Even benching Michael Beasley (for the last two games) hasn't helped. He was 7-for-11 in his first game off the bench, but has shot 15-for-50 (30 percent) over the other six games during the losing streak.
Last week: 26|
Pace: 94.7 (14), OffRtg: 97.3 (27), DefRtg: 106.5 (28)
You know you're starting to really miss your starting backcourt when you lose to the Pistons twice in six days. The good news is that Alonzo Gee has a two-game Dunk of the Night streak going and will look to make it three against the Lakers on Tuesday, when the Cavs hope to have Dion Waiters back. They'll have to wait at least a couple of more weeks on Kyrie Irving.
Last week: 27|
Pace: 93.6 (24), OffRtg: 94.7 (30), DefRtg: 102.9 (16)
The Wizards are on a winning streak. No, they haven't won two games in a row, but they've won games in two straight weeks. (Hey, the Nuggets haven't done that yet.) The 105-101 victory over the Heat was obviously the biggest shocker of the season, but then the Wiz got back to the heartbreaking losses when Festus Ezeli got just enough of Bradley Beal's putback to tie on Saturday.
Last week: 30|