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Power Rankings

Clippers streak to the top

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com
Posted Dec 24 2012 9:24AM

A year ago, we were getting ready for the start of the season. Now, when the Celtics and Nets tip off the Christmas Day slate in Brooklyn (Noon ET, ESPN), the league will already have about 1/3 of the season (404 games) under its belt.

While there's still plenty of basketball left to be played, those 404 results can't be erased and these first eight weeks produced significant developments beyond wins and losses. The Lakers changed coaches, the Heat learned the limits of positionless basketball, the Thunder had little problem integrating Kevin Martin and the Knicks learned how good they can be when they play smart and play together.

A couple of teams we thought were surely playoff-bound -- the Lakers and Mavs -- buried themselves in holes that will be tough to climb out of. And a couple that we thought would be fighting for a spot in April -- the Hawks and Warriors -- established themselves as sure things.

Heck, the Eastern Conference playoff teams may already be set. As it stands, only the Sixers and Magic are close to the eighth-place Celtics, and neither seems able to make much of a run with what they've got on their roster. We'll believe Andrew Bynum can make an impact on this season when we see it happen.

With five great matchups, Tuesday will be an incredible day for hoops ... and a day that will probably shake up the Power Rankings a bit. But any talk of the season really starting on Christmas should be dismissed. Major moves have already been made and there's no turning back.

• Last week: West continues to dominate
• This time last year: After preseason, Heat are on top The Heat were No. 1 in our preseason rankings and the Bobcats were No. 30, but we got a lot of things wrong in between.

Nice Team of the Week: Houston (3-0) - The Rockets beat the Knicks, Sixers and Grizzlies by an average of 20 points. That's a good week.
Naughty Team of the Week: Washington (0-4) - The Wiz lost two games to the Pistons by a total of 41 points.

Plus-minus Stud: Blake Griffin (LAC) was a plus-72 in four games last week.
Plus-minus Dud: O.J. Mayo (DAL) was a minus-67 in four games last week.

High jumps of the week: Houston (+5), Indiana (+3), Five teams (+2)
Free falls of the week: Brooklyn (-4), Seven teams (-2)

East vs. West: The West is 101-69 (.594) against the East in inter-conference games this season and was 13-7 last week.

Toughest schedules through Sunday: 1. New Orleans, 2. Denver, 3. San Antonio
Easiest schedules through Sunday: 1. Indiana 2. Oklahoma City, 3. Portland
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.

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.

1 L.A. Clippers (21-6)
Pace: 94.1 (18), OffRtg: 107.3 (4), DefRtg: 96.8 (3)
It wasn't hard to see this streak coming with the way the Clips' schedule lined up, but winning 13 straight games is never easy. Interestingly, the streak has been keyed by fewer turnovers on one end of the floor and fewer fouls on the other. The Clips have the No. 2 offense and the No. 1 defense in December and are the only team that ranks in the top five on both ends overall.
Last week: 3

2 Oklahoma City (21-5)
Pace: 94.8 (12), OffRtg: 110.4 (1), DefRtg: 100.2 (10)
The end of the Thunder's 12-game winning streak on Thursday was what you would call a "schedule loss." Playing an Atlanta-Minnesota back-to-back is a pretty tough and pretty unique scenario. Before that though, OKC had an important defensive performance -- considering the opponent and their own recent defensive slippage -- against the Spurs on Monday.
Last week: 1

3 San Antonio (21-8)
Pace: 97.1 (2), OffRtg: 106.5 (5), DefRtg: 99.1 (7)
The Spurs are fully healthy again, and they celebrated by hitting a franchise-record 20 threes (from nine different guys) and scoring 129 points against the Mavs on Sunday. But their offense has been relatively anemic (OffRtg: 97.4) as they've lost four straight road games, including Monday's spanking in OKC. Fortunately, their schedule is rather home-heavy over the next few weeks.
Last week: 4

4 New York (20-7)
Pace: 93.5 (23), OffRtg: 109.8 (2), DefRtg: 102.4 (16)
After losses to the Rockets and Bulls last week, the Knicks were 2-5 when they shot less than 35 percent from 3-point range. So Sunday's defensive win over the Wolves, when they shot just 6-for-26 from beyond the arc, was much needed. They're still going to live by the three, but better defense than what they've been playing of late can help them avoid dying by it so often.
Last week: 2

5 Miami (18-6)
Pace: 94.8 (13), OffRtg: 109.7 (3), DefRtg: 101.5 (12)
Just in time for their Christmas Day matchup with the league's No. 1 offense, the Miami defense has improved dramatically, allowing just 95 points per 100 possessions over the last seven games. Erik Spoelstra clearly reached the conclusion that Rashard Lewis is not Kevin Garnett, dropping Lewis from the rotation. The Heat D has been awful (DefRtg: 112.0) with him on the floor.
Last week: 6

6 Memphis (18-7)
Pace: 93.6 (22), OffRtg: 101.2 (16), DefRtg: 96.3 (2)
It seems that no team was more anxious to get home for some last-minute Christmas shopping than the Grizzlies, who gave up 121 points (20 more than they had given up all season) in Houston on Saturday. Prior to that, they had won four straight by holding their opponents to a paltry 84 points per 100 possessions. But they have the league's fourth-worst offense in December.
Last week: 7

7 Golden State (18-10)
Pace: 96.3 (6), OffRtg: 104.8 (9), DefRtg: 101.9 (14)
Blowing a 14-point, fourth-quarter lead to the Lakers is a brutal way to lose, but the Warriors are also now 0-2 against the Kings because they got scorched by the league's 22nd-ranked offense for 30-plus points in all four quarters Wednesday. Somehow, they lost to both Sacramento and L.A. with Jarrett Jack totaling 59 points on 23-for-39 from the field off the bench.
Last week: 5

8 Atlanta (16-9)
Pace: 94.2 (16), OffRtg: 101.4 (14), DefRtg: 98.4 (5)
With his team struggling offensively, Larry Drew switched up his lineup. Lou Williams started on Saturday against the Bulls, his first start since March of 2010. The move clearly worked because the Hawks scored 92 points in a slow-paced game against a top-four defense. The new starting group has scored 141 points (OffRtg: 111.7) in 63 total minutes together over 10 games.
Last week: 8

9 Chicago (15-11)
Pace: 92.9 (25), OffRtg: 99.6 (24), DefRtg: 97.4 (4)
They've had a couple of off nights along the way, but the Bulls are 5-3 against a pretty tough schedule over the last 17 days. It continues when they host the surging Rockets on Tuesday and visit the improved Pacers on Wednesday. If you're going to vote for a Central Division center for All-Star, make it Joakim Noah, whose plus-minus numbers back up his gaudy individual stats.
Last week: 9

10 Denver (15-13)
Pace: 96.8 (5), OffRtg: 104.9 (8), DefRtg: 102.7 (17)
Defensive consistency might come when the Nuggets' schedule becomes home-heavy next month, but perimeter shooting ... well, just check out their ugly shot chart from Thursday's loss in Portland, when they didn't make a shot from outside the paint until there was 38 seconds left in the fourth quarter. That's how you lose a game when you outscore your opponent 74-28 in the paint.
Last week: 12

11 Indiana (16-12)
Pace: 92.7 (27), OffRtg: 97.7 (28), DefRtg: 95.7 (1)
Score 29 points in the first half (against an awful defense). Allow 29 in the second half. That's Pacers basketball, ladies and gentlemen. They've won six of their last seven games, including that ugly comeback in New Orleans on Saturday, allowing just 90 points per 100 possessions over the seven games. First team to 80 wins Wednesday's game against the Bulls.
Last week: 14

12 Houston (14-12)
Pace: 99.0 (1), OffRtg: 105.0 (7), DefRtg: 103.5 (20)
Catch them on the right night and the Rockets are the most entertaining team in the league. They were already playing at the league's fastest pace, but those good nights are coming more often now. They've won five of their last six games, averaged 118 points in their three wins last week, and put 121 points on what was (at the time) the No. 1 defense in the league on Saturday.
Last week: 17

13 Minnesota (13-12)
Pace: 94.9 (10), OffRtg: 99.9 (21), DefRtg: 99.3 (8)
The Wolves got a big win over the Thunder on Thursday, but dropped their three road games last week. Nikola Pekovic is on one of his tears, averaging 22.3 points and 10.9 rebounds over the last seven games. But, with Kevin Love missing more games and Ricky Rubio just getting back, they're not getting enough offense from elsewhere. Wednesday's game against Houston is big.
Last week: 11

14 Brooklyn (14-12)
Pace: 90.1 (30), OffRtg: 103.8 (10), DefRtg: 103.5 (21)
It was an interesting week in Brooklyn to say the least. Deron Williams voiced his preference for Jerry Sloan's offense over Avery Johnson's and the Nets got hammered by the Knicks. Then Johnson added Sloan's flex offense in practice and it produced two key baskets for Williams late in Sunday's win over the Sixers. Of course, defense is still the primary concern for this team.
Last week: 10

15 Milwaukee (14-12)
Pace: 96.2 (7), OffRtg: 97.7 (27), DefRtg: 99.9 (9)
The Bucks are a fascinating statistical study. They've now been held under a point per possession in 15 of their last 18 games, and their three most frequent shooters -- Monta Ellis, Brandon Jennings and Ersan Ilyasova -- are all shooting less then 40 percent. They're two games over .500, but they've been outscored by 38 points and are a minus-67 with Ellis and Jennings both on the floor.
Last week: 13

16 L.A. Lakers (13-14)
Pace: 96.8 (4), OffRtg: 106.3 (6), DefRtg: 102.2 (15)
The interesting thing about the Lakers' 118 points in Steve Nash's return on Saturday is that it wasn't a very efficient offensive performance. It was just played at an incredibly fast pace for 53 minutes. But Nash was efficient himself, and a fast pace would be a good thing on Tuesday against the Knicks, who couldn't handle up-tempo games against the Rockets and Bulls last week.
Last week: 18

17 Utah (15-14)
Pace: 93.9 (19), OffRtg: 103.7 (11), DefRtg: 104.4 (24)
If the Jazz hadn't squeaked out a pair of road victories in Brooklyn and Orlando last week, they'd be in some serious trouble in the West playoff picture. But that's basically how they're playing of late. Their last four losses have come by an average of 16 points and their last four wins have come by a total of 16. They have a tough week ahead, with three games against the Warriors and Clips.
Last week: 15

18 Boston (13-13)
Pace: 94.1 (17), OffRtg: 101.7 (17), DefRtg: 101.2 (11)
Paul Pierce has turned back the clock, scoring 75 points over the last two games and shooting 63 percent over the last four. But the Celtics have still dropped four of their last five, because everyone else has been pretty awful offensively, and because their defense couldn't stop the Rockets, Spurs or Bulls. Visiting the Nets, Clippers and Warriors this week, things could get worse.
Last week: 16

19 Portland (13-13)
Pace: 93.8 (20), OffRtg: 101.5 (13), DefRtg: 104.2 (23)
When you've won games against the Spurs and Nuggets, your five-game winning streak is not supposed to end in Sacramento against a bad team missing two of its best players. It didn't help that it was the second night of a back-to-back, but the Blazers were 3-1 in those before Sunday. They've lost two straight to the Kings and finish the season series on Wednesday.
Last week: 21

20 Orlando (12-15)
Pace: 94.6 (15), OffRtg: 98.0 (26), DefRtg: 99.1 (6)
Glen Davis' production wasn't exactly consistent, but he was missed in narrow losses to the Raptors and Jazz over the weekend. Gustavo Ayon took most of Davis' minutes and had 25 total rebounds in the two games, but couldn't grab a key defensive board in Toronto and then missed free throws to tie the game in the final seconds against Utah. Davis could be out as much as a month.
Last week: 19

21 Philadelphia (13-15)
Pace: 92.3 (28), OffRtg: 100.6 (18), DefRtg: 103.3 (19)
Jrue Holiday is back and he had 24 points and nine assists in Brooklyn on Sunday, but the Sixers' defense has been pretty awful with or without their point guard. They ranked third in the league defensively after their first 12 games, but have allowed 108 points per 100 possessions since then. And now they head West for a seven-game trip, having lost six straight on the road.
Last week: 20

22 Dallas (12-16)
Pace: 96.8 (3), OffRtg: 100.1 (20), DefRtg: 104.2 (22)
It was appropriate that Dirk Nowitzki's first basket of the 2012-13 season was a dunk on a fast break, because that's just so Dirk. Nowitzki's (somewhat) early return is nice, but the Mavs are now four games under .500, with a lot of work to do (and four teams to jump) if they want to make the playoffs. They've lost six of their last seven, scoring just 95 points per 100 possessions in that stretch.
Last week: 22

23 Toronto (9-19)
Pace: 93.5 (24), OffRtg: 101.6 (12), DefRtg: 104.8 (25)
Things are getting really interesting in Toronto. Not only have they won five straight, but Jose Calderon (13.5 points, 11.3 assists and 48 percent shooting in 13 total starts) has played great with Kyle Lowry out. Given their contract situations, coach Dwane Casey has quite a decision on his hands when Lowry, who has always been thought of as the long-term solution, gets back.
Last week: 25

24 Phoenix (11-17)
Pace: 94.9 (11), OffRtg: 101.4 (15), DefRtg: 105.3 (26)
Shannon Brown is a pretty good barometer for the Suns' success. Last week, he went from shooting 20-for-29 in wins over the Kings and Bobcats to shooting 10-for-30 in losses to the Blazers and Clippers. Phoenix has lost six straight games away from that very orange new floor of theirs and have a tough, three-game trip (Indy, Minnesota and OKC) after they host the Knicks on Wednesday.
Last week: 24

25 Detroit (9-21)
Pace: 92.8 (26), OffRtg: 99.7 (23), DefRtg: 102.9 (18)
It's a proven fact: The best way to end a six-game losing streak and get your defense in order is to play a home-and-home with the Wizards. They lost to the Raptors on Wednesday, but the Pistons are now 5-1 against Cleveland, Toronto and Washington, and they've yet to play Charlotte. Brandon Knight has shot a brutal 19-for-66 (29 percent) over the last five games.
Last week: 23

26 Sacramento (9-18)
Pace: 95.1 (9), OffRtg: 99.7 (22), DefRtg: 106.4 (28)
What will have become of DeMarcus Cousins three seasons from now? Will he be an All-Star or will he be out of the league? If he has matured, will the Kings be the beneficiaries, or will he be beasting for some other team? It's amazing that two top-five picks (Cousins and Tyreke Evans) that showed so much promise at one time or another have such sketchy outlooks with this organization.
Last week: 26

27 Cleveland (6-23)
Pace: 94.6 (14), OffRtg: 97.3 (29), DefRtg: 106.0 (27)
The Cavs have just six wins, but four of them have come against the Clippers, Hawks, Lakers and Bucks. And three of those four came on the road, including Saturday's win in Milwaukee with no Anderson Varejao. They're not exactly giant killers, but they're certainly a wildcard with that young and talented backcourt of theirs. They're a plus-16 with Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters on the floor together.
Last week: 27

28 Washington (3-22)
Pace: 93.8 (21), OffRtg: 92.5 (30), DefRtg: 101.9 (13)
The Wiz have shot less than 40 percent in six of their last eight games, including twice against the Pistons and once against the 29th-ranked Hornets defense. In Saturday's loss to Detroit, Nene made his fourth return to uniform this season. It would really be nice if he could stay healthy, because Washington has actually outscored its opponents by 103 points in his 571 minutes as a Wizard.
Last week: 28

29 New Orleans (5-22)
Pace: 90.3 (29), OffRtg: 100.2 (19), DefRtg: 106.9 (29)
We're all excited about Christmas and its five marquee games, but there are obviously those of us who can't wait until Saturday, when the Hornets' (who could have a 13-game losing streak) visit the Bobcats (whose streak could be at 17 games). Ryan Anderson has cooled off a bit, shooting 8-for-34 from 3-point range as the Wolves played four games in five nights last week.
Last week: 29

30 Charlotte (7-20)
Pace: 95.4 (8), OffRtg: 98.8 (25), DefRtg: 109.0 (30)
Considering the Bobcats' slide, Tuesday's 101-100 loss in L.A. was about as painful as it gets. And it's still not clear how Gerald Henderson's layup to win it fell off the rim. Henderson could have used a boost from Dwight Howard, like he got on that vicious throw-down that got Antawn Jamison so excited he forgot what team he plays for. The rest of the Cats' trip wasn't nearly as competitive.
Last week: 30

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