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Power Rankings

East is ugly from top to bottom

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com
Posted Dec 31 2012 11:13AM

Just two weeks ago, it was noted how much better the Western Conference has been than the East this season. And since then, the separation between the two has only grown. In those two weeks, the West has gone 24-12 against the East. And in the last five days, the Hornets and Kings have combined to win four of their five games against the other conference.

The consequences of the West beings so good are toughest for the Rockets, Nuggets, Timberwolves, Blazers, Lakers and Jazz. Three of those six teams are not going to make the playoffs.

Of course, there's the other side of this, which is just how ugly the Eastern Conference looks right now. At the top of the East, we have the 20-8 Miami Heat. They beat the Oklahoma City Thunder on Christmas, but they've been just an average defensive team. In fact, no East team ranks in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency, while four West teams do.

In the middle of the East, we have the Boston Celtics, who are a playoff team even though they've won three straight games just once this season and just got their butts handed to them on the West Coast.

And at the bottom of the East, we have the Charlotte ... no wait. Somehow, the Bobcats have lost 18 straight games and are still ahead of both the Cleveland Cavaliers and Washington Wizards in the standings. That says it all right there.

• Last week: Clippers streak to the top
• This time last year: No Surprise: Heat and Thunder Start Strong Four days before he was fired, Kings coach Paul Westphal released this statement about DeMarcus Cousins. Derrick Rose hit a game-winner in L.A. on Christmas Day, the defending champs lost four of their first five games, and the Wizards were the only team without a win.

Nice Team of the Week: L.A. Clippers (4-0) - The Clips' streak has always been schedule-fueled, but it achieved some serious legitimacy when they came back from 19 down against Utah on the second night of a back-to-back at EnergySolutions Arena, one of the toughest buildings to play in.
Naughty Team of the Week: Orlando (0-3) - They're missing one of their best players (see below), but when you've lost to the Hornets, Wizards and Raptors (by 35!), you've earned your spot here.

Plus-minus Stud: Mike Dunleavy (MIL) was a plus-54 in three games last week.
Plus-minus Dud: Paul Pierce (BOS) was a minus-71 in four games last week.

High jumps of the week: Detroit (+4), Sacramento (+4), Toronto (+3)
Free falls of the week: Orlando (-4), Dallas (-3), Four teams (-2)

East vs. West: The West is 112-74 (.602) against the East in inter-conference games this season and was 11-5 last week.

Toughest schedules through Sunday: 1. Denver, 2. New Orleans, 3. Sacramento
Easiest schedules through Sunday: 1. Indiana 2. Portland, 3. Orlando
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)
NetRtg: Point differential per 100 possessions (League Rank)
The league is averaging 94.4 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes and 102.2 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 have an issue with the rankings, or have a question or comment for John Schuhmann, contact him via twitter.

1 L.A. Clippers (25-6)
Pace: 94.5 (14), OffRtg: 108.1 (4), DefRtg: 97.3 (3), NetRtg: 10.8 (1)
The Clippers have risen from No. 11 to No. 3 in defensive efficiency during their 17-game winning streak, but only one of the 17 games was against a team that currently ranks in the top 10 offensively. That was the Christmas win over the Nuggets. A visit to Denver on Tuesday begins a very tough four-games-in-five-nights stretch in which all four games are against top-10 offenses.
Last week: 1

2 San Antonio (24-8)
Pace: 97.2 (2), OffRtg: 107.2 (5), DefRtg: 98.8 (5), NetRtg: +8.4 (3)
The Spurs' offense has been off the charts (OffRtg: 114.6) as they've won five straight. More encouraging is that, over the weekend, Manu Ginobili scored 20-plus points in two straight games for the first time this season. But it might be time again for another "Stars Night Off," because Sunday's win in Dallas began another four-games-in-five-nights stretch that ends in New York on Thursday.
Last week: 3

3 Oklahoma City (23-6)
Pace: 95.4 (8), OffRtg: 110.1 (1), DefRtg: 99.9 (9), NetRtg: +10.2 (2)
No matter how many minutes Kendrick Perkins is playing, the Thunder still haven't figured out how to stop LeBron James and the Heat. But playing at the Rockets' pace was probably a good way to get Russell Westbrook out of his funk. He had shot 44-for-133 (33 percent) over the previous seven games before putting up 28 points (10 on the break) on 11-for-22 in Saturday's win.
Last week: 2

4 Miami (20-8)
Pace: 94.6 (13), OffRtg: 109.1 (3), DefRtg: 102.2 (14), NetRtg: +6.9 (4)
We'll put any thoughts that the Heat are back to playing great defense on pause. They held down the Thunder's No. 1 offense on Christmas, but got smoked in Detroit and Milwaukee over the weekend. After injuring his right shoulder against OKC and sitting against the Bobcats, Ray Allen probably should have stayed home. He shot 4-for-19 against the Pistons and Bucks.
Last week: 5

5 New York (21-9)
Pace: 93.6 (21), OffRtg: 109.4 (2), DefRtg: 102.7 (17), NetRtg: +6.7 (5)
Here we go. Amar'e Stoudemire is likely to play his first game of the season when the Knicks host the Blazers on Tuesday. Carmelo Anthony is also set to return from a two-game absence, so let the scrutiny begin! The Knicks' offense isn't humming quite as well as it was a couple of weeks ago and Raymond Felton is out 4-6 weeks, so there's arguably less for Stoudemire to mess up.
Last week: 4

6 Golden State (21-10)
Pace: 96.3 (6), OffRtg: 104.5 (8), DefRtg: 100.5 (10), NetRtg: +4.0 (7)
Here's a schedule quirk for you: The Warriors play just two games in the next nine days, both against the Clippers. And they're both the second night of a back-to-back for L.A. Though Jarrett Jack is on fire from 3-point range (21-for-39 over the last 10 games), the Golden State offense has slowed down over the last week and a half. But they've won three straight with improved defense.
Last week: 7

7 Atlanta (19-9)
Pace: 94.0 (18), OffRtg: 102.6 (12), DefRtg: 99.3 (7), NetRtg: +3.3 (9)
The Hawks' offense continues to flourish with Lou Williams in the starting lineup, even with Josh Smith missing Saturday's game against the Pacers' top-two defense. Atlanta has scored 111 points per 100 possessions in the four games (all wins) that Williams has started. The Hawks play nine of their next 11 games on the road, but they've been the league's fifth-best road team (NetRtg: +3.6) thus far.
Last week: 8

8 Memphis (19-8)
Pace: 93.3 (23), OffRtg: 100.6 (18), DefRtg: 96.4 (1), NetRtg: +4.2 (6)
The Grizzlies went from scoring 106 points per 100 possessions in November to scoring 97 in December, an offensive dropoff more than twice as big as any other team. Not only have they shot poorly, but they haven't been getting to the line. After combining for 10.1 free-throw attempts per game in November, Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph have combined for just 5.8 per game this month.
Last week: 6

9 Denver (17-15)
Pace: 96.7 (4), OffRtg: 104.9 (7), DefRtg: 102.5 (15), NetRtg: +2.4 (10)
Playing four games in five nights against good or decent teams, the Nuggets did OK to go 2-2. And now, after a brutal two months, they can finally unpack for a while, with 15 of their next 18 games at home, where they're 9-1. Only the Heat (+13.9) have a bigger home-away NetRtg differential than the Nuggets (+13.8), who score and defend much better at home.
Last week: 10

10 Chicago (16-12)
Pace: 93.0 (25), OffRtg: 99.5 (23), DefRtg: 98.0 (4), NetRtg: +1.5 (12)
Marco Belinelli was giving the Bulls much more consistent production as a starter, but Richard Hamilton's return -- he scored nine points in 15 minutes against the Wizards on Saturday -- makes Chicago's starting lineup a stronger defensive unit. Chicago has lost six of its last seven games against the West, but plays nine of its next 10 against the East. The Bulls are 12-4 in-conference.
Last week: 9

11 Indiana (17-13)
Pace: 92.6 (27), OffRtg: 98.6 (27), DefRtg: 96.6 (2), NetRtg: +2.0 (11)
The next seven games will be a critical stretch for the Pacers. They play six of the seven at home, but that includes visits from Milwaukee, Miami and New York. And the one road game is in Boston. They're 1-5 (scoring just 94 points per 100 possessions) against the other seven teams in the East's top eight, a record they need to turn around if they want to remain in the top five or six.
Last week: 11

12 Houston (16-14)
Pace: 99.5 (1), OffRtg: 104.4 (9), DefRtg: 103.6 (20), NetRtg: +0.8 (14)
In the last nine days, the Rockets' offense has been good enough to touch up two top-five defenses (Memphis and Chicago) for 120-plus points, but the defense hasn't been good enough to hold two top-five offenses (San Antonio and Oklahoma City) under 120. Whether it's the Rockets or their opponent, a team has eclipsed the 120 mark in five of their last six games.
Last week: 12

13 Minnesota (14-13)
Pace: 95.1 (10), OffRtg: 100.0 (22), DefRtg: 99.2 (6), NetRtg: +0.9 (13)
The Wolves managed to hold the red-hot Rockets under 90 points on Wednesday, but didn't score enough themselves to win (with Ricky Rubio in uniform) because their starting frontline of Andrei Kirilenko, Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic combined for just 17 points. Three nights later (with Rubio out), that frontline scored 71 of their 111 points in a win over the Suns.
Last week: 13

14 Milwaukee (16-13)
Pace: 96.1 (7), OffRtg: 98.8 (25), DefRtg: 99.4 (8), NetRtg: -0.6 (16)
With easy wins over the Nets and Heat last week, the Bucks are now a very impressive 9-4 against the other seven teams in the East's top eight. But they've also lost to the Cavs and Pistons in the last nine days. Brandon Jennings totaled 50 points and 13 assists in the wins over Brooklyn and Miami, but just 16 points and seven assists in the losses to Cleveland and Detroit.
Last week: 15

15 L.A. Lakers (15-15)
Pace: 96.7 (5), OffRtg: 106.7 (6), DefRtg: 102.7 (18), NetRtg: +3.9 (8)
Kobe Bryant must like this Steve Nash guy, because he's shooting 56 percent with the point guard on the floor. The Lakers' offense has been pretty sharp (OffRtg: 113.3) with Nash in the four games since his return, just not with Darius Morris on the floor, too (OffRtg: 96.6). And as we saw in Denver on Wednesday, defense is still a problem.
Last week: 16

16 Brooklyn (16-14)
Pace: 90.4 (29), OffRtg: 103.3 (10), DefRtg: 103.7 (21), NetRtg: -0.3 (15)
More important than the coaching change was the re-emergence of Brook Lopez as the Nets' offensive fulcrum. Lopez totaled 61 points and 22 rebounds in wins over Charlotte and Cleveland over the weekend. Brooklyn is now 7-3 when Lopez scores 20 points or more, and they're scoring an efficient 107.3 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor. If they have an All-Star, he's it.
Last week: 14

17 Portland (15-14)
Pace: 93.5 (22), OffRtg: 101.7 (14), DefRtg: 104.1 (22), NetRtg: -2.3 (21)
That the Blazers are a game over .500 this late in the season is one of the league's biggest surprises. But given their point differential and easy schedule, they have the most inflated record in the league. Things start getting tougher this week, when they travel through New York, Toronto, Memphis and Minnesota. Next week, they play the Heat, Warriors and Thunder.
Last week: 19

18 Utah (15-17)
Pace: 94.3 (16), OffRtg: 103.2 (11), DefRtg: 104.9 (25), NetRtg: -1.7 (17)
The Jazz have lost 11 of their last 12 first quarters, allowing an awful 118 points per 100 possessions in those 144 minutes. Al Jefferson may give them 30 points every once in a while, but he's consistently brutal defensively, especially when he's paired with Randy Foye. It's no coincidence that Foye (122) and Jefferson (119) lead the Jazz in first-quarter minutes over the last 12 games.
Last week: 17

19 Boston (14-16)
Pace: 93.9 (19), OffRtg: 100.3 (21), DefRtg: 102.1 (13), NetRtg: -1.8 (18)
Considering the state of the Nets, the Celtics' Christmas Day victory in Brooklyn doesn't look so great right now. And considering their three West Coast losses by a total of 69 points, it's long forgotten anyway. They're playing worse defense than they were in November, they're just a half game out of the Lottery and their next four games are against the Grizzlies, Pacers, Hawks and Knicks. Yikes.
Last week: 18

20 Toronto (11-20)
Pace: 93.0 (24), OffRtg: 102.5 (13), DefRtg: 104.6 (23), NetRtg: -2.1 (19)
The Raptors were shut down in San Antonio on Wednesday, but they continue to beat the teams they're supposed to, even on the road. More important, they're playing defense like they did last season. And of course, it's no coincidence that Andrea Bargnani has been out as that defense has improved. Ironically, they're not "pretty much the worst team in the NBA" without him.
Last week: 23

21 Detroit (11-22)
Pace: 92.6 (26), OffRtg: 100.7 (17), DefRtg: 103.6 (19), NetRtg: -2.8 (23)
What were the odds that the Pistons would win the Detroit-Miami-Milwaukee round-robin over the weekend? Will Bynum followed up his 31 points in Atlanta on Wednesday with 25 points and 10 assists against the Heat. Detroit is 4-1 since Lawrence Frank put Bynum back in the rotation last week. That includes three straight at home, where they play seven of their next eight.
Last week: 25

22 Sacramento (11-19)
Pace: 95.0 (11), OffRtg: 100.9 (16), DefRtg: 106.7 (28), NetRtg: -5.8 (26)
Keith Smart may have found himself a decent backcourt combination in Isaiah Thomas and Jimmer Fredette. The Kings have scored 110 points per 100 possessions and are a plus-46 in the pair's 170 minutes on the floor together. Fredette has been a spark off the bench, totaling 40 points in recent wins over the Warriors, Knicks and Celtics. The Kings have won four of their last six.
Last week: 26

23 Philadelphia (14-17)
Pace: 92.4 (28), OffRtg: 100.4 (20), DefRtg: 102.6 (16), NetRtg: -2.2 (20)
The Sixers are 1-3 on their eight-game trip, but the one win was pretty impressive. The 99 points they scored in Memphis on Wednesday were the most the No. 1 defense in the league has allowed at home all season. Dorell Wright and Spencer Hawes combined for 48 points on 17-for-25 shooting in that one, but have totaled 35 points on 11-for-46 in the other three games on the trip.
Last week: 21

24 Orlando (12-18)
Pace: 94.1 (17), OffRtg: 98.4 (28), DefRtg: 101.0 (11), NetRtg: -2.6 (22)
Time to start the Big-Baby-for-MVP campaign. The Magic have dropped five straight since losing Glen Davis to a sprained left shoulder, and the schedule has nothing to do with it. They've lost to the Raptors twice, the Jazz (who were previously 5-12 on the road), the Hornets and the Wizards. Davis was holding together the defense, which has been terrible during the losing streak.
Last week: 20

25 Dallas (12-19)
Pace: 96.8 (3), OffRtg: 99.3 (24), DefRtg: 104.6 (24), NetRtg: -5.3 (25)
Unless they can petition the commissioner's office for a move to the Eastern Conference, it's time to stick a fork in the 2012-13 Mavs and their streak of 12 straight trips to the playoffs. Dirk Nowitzki clearly needs time to get back in form, O.J. Mayo has gone ice cold (3-for-25 from 3-point range) as they've lost six straight, and their defense has been pretty awful all season.
Last week: 22

26 Phoenix (11-20)
Pace: 94.9 (12), OffRtg: 101.4 (15), DefRtg: 105.6 (26), NetRtg: -4.2 (24)
The Suns have followed a four-game winning streak in which they shot 36-for-85 (42 percent) from 3-point range with a five-game losing streak in which they've shot 20-for-88 (23 percent) from beyond the arc. They've lost eight straight on the road, allowing 112 points per 100 possessions, and pay a visit to Oklahoma City and the No. 1 offense in the league on Monday.
Last week: 24

27 New Orleans (7-23)
Pace: 90.2 (30), OffRtg: 100.6 (19), DefRtg: 106.8 (29), NetRtg: -6.1 (27)
Eric Gordon may have had the most un-rusty return from a 20-plus game absence we've seen in a long time, scoring 24 points and dishing out seven assists in just 25 minutes on Saturday. As a team, the Hornets scored 62 points in those 25 minutes, but it must be pointed out that they were facing the worst defense in the league. Still, this is a new team with a healthy Gordon.
Last week: 29

28 Cleveland (7-25)
Pace: 94.4 (15), OffRtg: 97.6 (29), DefRtg: 105.9 (27), NetRtg: -8.3 (28)
The Cavs are showing some toughness on the road. In their last five games away from the Q, they have two wins, as well as narrow losses in New York and Brooklyn. C.J. Miles' eight threes against the Nets on Saturday were the third time he's had five or more in December. And you have to wonder if some good teams in need of shooting have their eyes on Miles.
Last week: 27

29 Washington (4-24)
Pace: 93.7 (20), OffRtg: 92.8 (30), DefRtg: 101.5 (12), NetRtg: -8.7 (29)
The anemic Wizards' offense scored 100 or more points for the fifth time in Friday's win over the Magic. Not that this means anything, but each of the last four times have come against the other four teams in the Southeast Division. Washington's injury issues are getting worse. Jordan Crawford missed Saturday's game in Chicago with a sore left ankle.
Last week: 28

30 Charlotte (7-23)
Pace: 95.1 (9), OffRtg: 98.7 (26), DefRtg: 108.9 (30), NetRtg: -10.2 (30)
In just 12 games, the Bobcats were able to match last season's win total. And 18 games later, they've yet to eclipse it. We'll wait a bit before we really start talking about the 2010-11 Cavs' record of 26 straight losses, because they do play Cleveland and Detroit this week. But their best opportunity for a win may have come Saturday against the Hornets, when they led with six minutes to go.
Last week: 30

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