West continues to dominate
One of the numbers we track weekly is how the conferences perform against each other. This year, to put it bluntly, the West is kicking the East's butt.
The West's winning percentage in inter-conference games is better than it has been since the 2003-04 season. And with the Los Angeles Lakers still three games under .500, we can't help but start doing a little math.
The Denver Nuggets and Utah Jazz hold the seventh and eighth spots in the West with 13-12 records. That's just a 43-win pace. But Denver has played one of the toughest schedules in the league (18 of 25 games on the road), and Utah has played just six games against the East.
Over the last several seasons, eighth place in the West has had no fewer than 46 wins. But with how much the West is beating up on the East, you will probably need at least 48 to make the postseason. To get to 48 wins, the Lakers will have to go 37-20 (.649) over their final 57 games.
That doesn't sound so impossible, but it will take more than just offensive improvement. The Lakers' defense has allowed 105 points per 100 possessions in 15 games under Mike D'Antoni, which will not get it done.
Even if you assume that the defense will come around, there's pretty much no chance that the Lakers can catch any of the top four teams in the West. The fourth-place Grizzlies are on a 59-win pace, and even if you shave a few wins off that, the Lakers would have to go 45-12 to win 56 games total.
Either way, it's going to be fascinating to see what the Lakers can do once Steve Nash and Pau Gasol are healthy ... or once they make a trade.
• Last week: Thunder rolling at the quarter pole
Hero Team of the Week: Portland (3-0) - The Blazers' perfect week included a win over the Spurs. And yes, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker all played.
Zero Team of the Week: Sacramento (0-4) - The Kings lost four games by an average of 17.8 points. Nuff said?
Plus-minus Stud: Paul George (IND) was a plus-50 in three games last week.
Plus-minus Dud: Bradley Beal (WAS) was a minus-63 in four games last week.
High jumps of the week: Minnesota (+8), L.A. Clippers (+4), Phoenix (+4)
Free falls of the week: Boston (-5), Charlotte (-5), Philadelphia (-5)
East vs. West: The West is 88-62 (.587) against the East in inter-conference games and was 13-8 last week.
Toughest schedules through Sunday: 1. New Orleans, 2. Denver, 3. Cleveland
Easiest schedules through Sunday: 1. Oklahoma City 2. Philadelphia, 3. Indiana
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 94.5 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes and 102.1 points scored per 100 possessions.
*True shooting percentage (see Indiana) = Points / (2 * (FGA + (0.44*FTA)))
NBA.com's Power Rankings are just one man's opinion and are released every Monday during the season. If you have an issue with the rankings, or have a question or comment for John Schuhmann, contact him via twitter.
Oklahoma City (19-4)|
Pace: 94.6 (15), OffRtg: 111.3 (1), DefRtg: 100.6 (10)
Kevin Durant has pretty much been unstoppable over the Thunder's 10-game winning streak. Not only has he shot 54 percent and 43 percent from 3-point range, he's been to the line 107 times over the 10 games. The OKC defense has slipped a bit over the last five, but that hasn't mattered much. Of course, it might matter when they host the Spurs on Monday.
Last week: 1|
New York (18-5)|
Pace: 93.0 (26), OffRtg: 111.1 (2), DefRtg: 102.3 (16)
It seems like almost every Knicks game in December is a must-watch. Over the last eight days, we've had Melo vs. the Nuggets, an intense rematch in Brooklyn and Mike D'Antoni's return to the Garden. Next up is Jeremy Lin's return on Monday, another game against the Nets on Wednesday and Ricky Rubio's first MSG game on Sunday. Then it's another meeting with D'Antoni on Christmas.
Last week: 4|
L.A. Clippers (17-6)|
Pace: 94.4 (18), OffRtg: 107.9 (4), DefRtg: 98.8 (7)
The Clippers' winning streak is now at nine and it could soon be 13, with games against the Pistons, Hornets, Kings and Suns this week. As the Lakers flounder with a weak supporting cast, we have to wonder why in the world they let Matt Barnes get away. Barnes hasn't shot well from distance, but he's the Clips' best perimeter defender and few in the league move better without the ball.
Last week: 7|
San Antonio (19-6)|
Pace: 96.7 (3), OffRtg: 106.6 (5), DefRtg: 98.6 (6)
Tim Duncan got some love in this space last week, but after 22 points, 21 boards and six blocks against the Jazz frontline, he deserves some more. Manu Ginobili is hurt again, suffering a thigh contusion in Saturday's win over the Celtics. If he can't go, it would be really nice to have Kawhi Leonard and/or Stephen Jackson back to defend the aforementioned Durant on Monday.
Last week: 2|
Golden State (16-8)|
Pace: 96.1 (6), OffRtg: 102.9 (11), DefRtg: 100.6 (9)
The Warriors laid an egg in Orlando on Friday, but there will be no criticism after a 6-1 trip. There will, however, be a third straight week of praise for David Lee, who had at least 20 points and 11 rebounds in each of the seven games. There will also be a link to that sweet dish from Jarrett Jack to Draymond Green to beat the Heat on Wednesday. The Dubs are 13-4 since Nov. 14. We believe ... again.
Last week: 8|
Pace: 94.7 (14), OffRtg: 109.2 (3), DefRtg: 102.4 (17)
Maybe Dwyane Wade has lost some athleticism. Maybe not. (He is coming back from knee surgery, right?) Either way, he needs to take a lesson from Jason Kidd, hire a shooting coach, and improve his long-range jumper. Wade is one of the worst 3-point shooters in NBA history (29 percent) and is 4-for-13 on threes this season. He could extend his career if he can improve from beyond the arc.
Last week: 6|
Pace: 93.3 (24), OffRtg: 102.4 (12), DefRtg: 97.2 (3)
Between Mike Bibby and John Hollinger, the Grizzlies made the right choice last week. But Hollinger doesn't have 3-point range, so he might have to help GM Chris Wallace find someone who does. When you hit only two threes against the Suns' awful defense, you've got a problem. Zach Randolph's 25 points and 16 boards in Utah on Saturday helped end a three-game losing streak.
Last week: 3|
Pace: 94.8 (11), OffRtg: 102.1 (13), DefRtg: 98.5 (4)
It's amazing how the Hawks, after such a shakeup to their core, have nearly identical offensive and defensive numbers (shooting, turnovers, rebounding, free throw rate) as they had last year. Unfortunately, their top-five defense didn't hold up in tests against the Heat or Warriors last week. They rank 18th in 3-point defense and have allowed nine or 10 threes in each of their last three losses.
Last week: 5|
Pace: 93.2 (25), OffRtg: 100.1 (20), DefRtg: 96.8 (2)
Marquis Teague took advantage of Kirk Hinrich's absence to give the Bulls a lift off the bench in wins over the Sixers and Nets. He was a plus-17 over two games won by a total of eight points. Teague or no Teague, this is pretty much the team we thought the Bulls would be. They're winning without Derrick Rose and have held 10 of their last 12 opponents under a point per possession.
Last week: 9|
Pace: 90.6 (29), OffRtg: 103.8 (9), DefRtg: 102.9 (18)
Playing the Pistons, Raptors and Bulls has probably helped the Nets' defense -- which held all three opponents under a point per possession -- more than Brook Lopez's return. Offensively, Joe Johnson is finding a rhythm, averaging 19.1 points on 47 percent shooting over the last nine games and hitting the game-winner against Detroit. Now, if only Deron Williams could really get going.
Last week: 10|
Pace: 94.6 (16), OffRtg: 100.8 (17), DefRtg: 98.6 (5)
Ricky Rubio returned on Saturday, the Wolves' offense was at its best with him on the floor, and he gave us one classic Rubio dish in an OT win over the Mavs. But this week will be tough. After visiting Orlando on Monday, the Wolves play the Heat, Thunder and Knicks. They're in great position considering their injuries, but have also played one of the easiest schedules in the West.
Last week: 19|
Pace: 96.0 (7), OffRtg: 105.1 (7), DefRtg: 103.7 (21)
At 5-3 in December, the Nuggets might be starting to gain some traction, at least offensively. They have the league's fourth-best offense in in the month, scoring 106 points per 100 possessions. But they've allowed 110 in their three losses. They actually have two home games this week, including Tuesday's meeting with the Spurs, who blew them out exactly one month ago.
Last week: 14|
Pace: 96.1 (5), OffRtg: 99.3 (24), DefRtg: 100.9 (11)
The Bucks won four straight games with Brandon Jennings shooting 26-for-76 (34 percent) and Monta Ellis picking up some of the slack. Then they combined to shoot 7-for-27 as they got crushed by the Clippers on Saturday. In the battle for Central Division supremacy, the Bucks are 2-1 against the Bulls (1-1) and Pacers (1-0) and will host Indy for second place in the division on Tuesday.
Last week: 13|
Pace: 92.3 (28), OffRtg: 97.4 (27), DefRtg: 96.7 (1)
The Pacers have their first three-game winning streak of the season. George Hill had a triple-double against Philly and David West had 23 points in Detroit, but as it always has, Paul George's development seems to be the key to Indy's season. After averaging 13.4 points on 48 percent *true shooting over the first 12 games, he's averaged 19.4 on 57 percent over the last 12.
Last week: 16|
Pace: 94.1 (20), OffRtg: 104.7 (8), DefRtg: 104.1 (23)
When a team doesn't defend consistently, it can lose to the Suns after beating the Lakers and Spurs. The Jazz would be a better defensive team if they could just rebound on that end of the floor. Somehow, with their strong frontline, they rank 29th in defensive rebounding percentage and have allowed their opponent to grab double-digit offensive boards in 12 straight games.
Last week: 12|
Pace: 94.5 (17), OffRtg: 100.9 (16), DefRtg: 101.1 (12)
Same 'ol Celtics? They have the league's third-worst offense (OffRtg: 96.4) since Nov. 28, though they've played just two top-10 defenses in that stretch. Both Paul Pierce and Jason Terry are shooting less than 40 percent and the team is averaging 16.3 turnovers over the nine games. Now coming off the bench again, Terry did have a strong game in San Antonio on Saturday.
Last week: 11|
Pace: 99.1 (1), OffRtg: 103.0 (10), DefRtg: 103.8 (22)
After scoring 38 points on 11-for-21 shooting against the Spurs with James Harden out, Jeremy Lin scored 22 total points on 9-for-23 against the Wizards, Celtics and Raptors with Harden playing. It's going to take some time for the backcourt mates to develop some chemistry, though it would be fun if they could put it together for Lin's return to New York on Monday.
Last week: 17|
L.A. Lakers (11-14)|
Pace: 96.5 (4), OffRtg: 106.6 (6), DefRtg: 102.1 (15)
The Lakers are getting a soft stretch of schedule - games against the Wizards, Sixers and Bobcats - at just the right time. And after they host Charlotte on Tuesday, they have three days off to maybe get their starting lineup back together for the first time since they were running the Princeton offense. But we've already learned that you can't count your starters before they're cleared.
Last week: 18|
Pace: 94.8 (12), OffRtg: 97.3 (28), DefRtg: 99.5 (8)
Another week, another surprising Magic victory. This one came against the Warriors, with six guys scoring in double figures. The offensive balance has been complemented by the No. 1 defense in December, which has allowed just 96 points per 100 possessions in eight games. With games against the Wolves, Wizards and Raptors upcoming, the Magic may keep that ranking.
Last week: 21|
Pace: 92.7 (27), OffRtg: 99.3 (23), DefRtg: 101.6 (13)
With Jrue Holiday out with a sprained foot, things are getting ugly for the Sixers, who are 2-6 with the 27th-ranked offense in December and who play 10 of their next 11 games on the road against mostly good teams. If they don't win Tuesday's game against the similarly slumping Mavs, they might not see .500 again for a while. Not that they were a really a plus-.500 team in the first place.
Last week: 15|
Pace: 93.5 (22), OffRtg: 101.5 (14), DefRtg: 104.6 (24)
Damian Lillard took one step closer to the Rookie of the Year award with Sunday's game-winner against Anthony Davis and the Hornets. But one shot shouldn't overshadow Nicolas Batum's incredible 5x5 performance (at least five in points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks), the first the league has seen since Andrei Kirilenko's third career 5x5 on Jan. 3, 2006. Batum only needs five more 5x5s to catch Hakeem Olajuwon.
Last week: 24|
Pace: 96.9 (2), OffRtg: 100.5 (19), DefRtg: 103.0 (19)
While they wait on Dirk Nowitzki, the Mavs have lost three straight games (two in overtime) and are getting buried with a brutal schedule. After they host the Sixers on Tuesday, their final six games of 2012 are against the Heat, Grizzlies, Spurs (x2), Thunder and Nuggets. In a strong Western Conference, that stretch may be difficult to recover from, even if Nowitzki is ready to go in January.
Last week: 20|
Pace: 93.4 (23), OffRtg: 99.8 (22), DefRtg: 103.6 (20)
Free Andre Drummond! The rookie is still lacking polish and has had a couple of JaVale-esque moments, but he's averaging 12.7 points, 12.5 boards and 2.7 blocks per 36 minutes. More important, the Pistons are a plus-22 with him on the floor, better both offensively and defensively than they are with him on the bench. He's playing a little more lately, but Detroit has still lost four straight.
Last week: 22|
Pace: 95.0 (9), OffRtg: 100.7 (18), DefRtg: 105.6 (26)
The Suns have gone from a seven-game losing streak to a two-game winning streak ... beating two good teams (Memphis and Utah) ... with defense! They held the Grizz and Jazz to just five combined 3-pointers and 164 total points. Jared Dudley is making the most of his return to the starting lineup, averaging 17.3 points on 56 percent shooting over the last three games.
Last week: 28|
Pace: 94.2 (19), OffRtg: 99.9 (21), DefRtg: 104.6 (25)
The Raps are banged up and probably in need of some roster changes, but they're also on their first winning streak of the season, playing their best defense of the season, and finally getting a break from the schedule. In fact, seven of their next eight games are entirely winnable, especially if Terrence Ross (27 points over the last two games) continues to show improvement.
Last week: 27|
Pace: 94.7 (13), OffRtg: 98.5 (25), DefRtg: 106.2 (28)
A week ago, Sacramento was riding a three-game winning streak. Then, over the last seven days, DeMarcus Cousins got suspended again, the Kings played their worst defense of the season, they trailed by at least 18 points in all four of their double-digit losses and Thomas Robinson (that guy they selected with the No. 5 pick) got buried on the bench. So where do they go from here?
Last week: 23|
Pace: 94.8 (10), OffRtg: 97.1 (29), DefRtg: 105.7 (27)
With 28 points and 11 assists in a win over the Lakers, 26 points against the Bucks, and a career-high 41 against the Knicks, there's no doubt that Kyrie Irving is back. Of course, along the way, he suffered another injury, breaking a bone in his jaw on Friday, because the Cavs just didn't have enough guys wearing masks. Irving vs. Rondo on Wednesday is why we have League Pass.
Last week: 29|
Pace: 94.0 (21), OffRtg: 93.4 (30), DefRtg: 102.1 (14)
The John Wall update on Friday wasn't great news, but it wasn't really bad news either. Same thing with Friday night's six-point loss to the Lakers. The idea that the Wizards passed on James Harden because they traded for Trevor Ariza and Emeka Okafor? Well, that's just bad. But hey, the Wiz have an opportunity for a winning streak this week, facing the Magic and then Detroit twice.
Last week: 30|
New Orleans (5-18)|
Pace: 90.5 (30), OffRtg: 101.0 (15), DefRtg: 107.2 (29)
The Hornets' problems have mostly been on defense, but they have now lost two games in which they held their opponents to 77 points. That, my friends, is some U-G-L-Y basketball. They've lost seven straight and visit the Warriors, Clippers and Spurs this week. Anthony Davis is back though, and he averaged 12.5 points and 6.0 rebounds off the bench in four games last week.
Last week: 26|
Pace: 95.4 (8), OffRtg: 98.5 (26), DefRtg: 107.3 (30)
The Bobcats are back in a familiar position: No. 30 in defensive efficiency. They're there because they've allowed an unbelievable 115 points per 100 possessions over their 11-game losing streak. And it's probably going to get worse, because five of their next six games are against top-11 offenses.
Last week: 25|