POSTED: Nov 18, 2013 12:00 PM ET
Tony Parker and the Spurs have ramped up their defense of late.
Here we go again.
The Eastern Conference was supposed to be stronger this season. Chicago, Indiana and Brooklyn bulked up, with help from players who didn't play last year (Chicago's Derrick Rose) and who came from the West (Indiana's Luis Scola came over from Phoenix and Brooklyn's Andrei Kirilenko played last season for Minnesota). Jarrett Jack, Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap made their way from West to East, and Cleveland, Detroit and Washington were all supposed to take a step forward. Yeah, there were still some doormats, but 1-5 was strong and 6-12 was improved.
Well, through Sunday, only four East teams have a winning record and only five have a positive point differential. The entire Atlantic Division is under .500 and the East is 16-29 in games against the West after going 0-7 on Saturday and Sunday.
Are things really this bad, or is this just a crazy start to the season? Time will tell. But we're already about halfway to the 20-game mark, when we really have a good idea of where teams stand.
Both Brooklyn and Chicago have a pair of interconference games this week that could either help them build some momentum or keep them searching for answers.
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• Last week: Pacers rise above early parity
• This time last year: A big six emerges at the top - The Grizzlies were the best team in the league, the Heat ranked 25th defensively, Bernie Bickerstaff went 4-1 as the Lakers' head coach, Kobe Bryant messed around and got a triple-double, and the Wizards were 0-8.
• Plus-minus Stud: Rashard Lewis (MIA) was a plus-55 in three games last week.
• Plus-minus Dud: Evan Turner (PHI) was a minus-59 in four games last week.
• Hero Team of the Week: L.A. Clippers (3-0) -- Six teams went unbeaten last week. The Clippers beat two teams -- Minnesota and Oklahoma City -- in last week's top five.
• Zero Team of the Week: Washington (0-3) -- Losses in Dallas and San Antonio were expected. A loss to the Cavs at home was painful.
• High jumps of the week: Denver (+15), Golden State (+6), L.A. Lakers (+6)
• Free falls of the week: Washington (-8), Boston (-6), Philadelphia (-6), Phoenix (-6)
• East vs. West: The West is 31-16 (.660) against the East in interconference games and was 17-6 last week (7-0 on Saturday and Sunday).
• Toughest schedules through Sunday: 1. Utah, 2. Washington, 3. New York
• Easiest schedules through Sunday: 1. Miami, 2. San Antonio, 3. Indiana
Schedule strength is based on cumulative opponent record, and adjusted for home vs. away and days of rest before a game.
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Pace: Possessions per 48 minutes (League Rank) - Click here
OffRtg: Points scored per 100 possessions (League Rank) - Click here
DefRtg: Points allowed per 100 possessions (League Rank) - Click here
NetRtg: Point differential per 100 possessions (League Rank) - Click here
The league is averaging 97.4 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes and 101.3 points scored per 100 possessions.
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1. San Antonio Spurs (Last week: No. 2) -- Pace: 96.8 (14), OffRtg: 102.7 (12), DefRtg: 91.6 (2), NetRtg: +11.1 (1)
The Spurs have been almost as good as the Pacers defensively, having held nine of their 10 opponents under a point per possession. The starters haven't been as strong as they were last season, but Boris Diaw has had a terrific start. The Spurs have outscored their opponents by 18.0 points per 100 possessions with Diaw -- who shot 13-for-17 in wins over the Wizards and Jazz this week -- on the floor.
This week: vs. BOS, @ MEM, vs. CLE
2. Indiana Pacers (Last week: No. 1) -- Pace: 94.2 (26), OffRtg: 101.8 (14), DefRtg: 91.4 (1), NetRtg: +10.4 (2)
The Pacers' 9-0 run is done, and that it came in blowout fashion to the Bulls, in particular, is a bit jarring. But the Pacers can still build on their lead in the Eastern Conference before they head out West for a tough, five-game trip on Dec. 1. And maybe they discovered that Chris Copeland can provide some punch off the bench, not that Frank Vogel has been taxing his starters with heavy minutes.
This week: @ NYK, @ BOS, vs. PHI
3. L.A. Clippers (Last week: No. 7) -- Pace: 99.9 (8), OffRtg: 109.9 (2), DefRtg: 106.1 (29), NetRtg: +3.9 (9)
The Clips didn't put the very shorthanded Nets away until the final 30 seconds on Saturday, but holding the Thunder under a point per possession on Wednesday was a promising sign and no team has as many quality wins. Now they'll get road tested, with a back-to-back in Minnesota and OKC, part of the league's first five-game week of the season. If Lamar Odom is in shape, he can certainly help.
This week: vs. MEM, @ MIN, @ OKC, vs. SAC, vs. CHI
4. Golden State Warriors (Last week: No. 10) -- Pace: 100.4 (6), OffRtg: 105.8 (6), DefRtg: 95.7 (4), NetRtg: +10.2 (3)
Not only did Andre Iguodala hit the buzzer-beating game-winner against the Thunder on Thursday, he also played a big role in holding Kevin Durant to just 5-for-13 shooting. Iguodala is shooting 61 percent and 20-for-39 from 3-point range, with an effective field-goal percentage of 100 percent on catch-and-shoot jumpers. He's like the third Splash Brother.
This week: @ UTA, vs. MEM, @ LAL, vs. POR
5. Miami Heat (Last week: No. 4) -- Pace: 95.6 (22), OffRtg: 111.5 (1), DefRtg: 102.6 (15), NetRtg: +8.9 (4)
With Mario Chalmers and Dwyane Wade, the Heat have the elbow-throwingest backcourt in the league. They also have that LeBron James guy, who is now shooting 62 percent, including 15-for-29 from 3-point range, which really isn't fair. With Ray Allen (flu) and Udonis Haslem (back) both out last week, Michael Beasley had a spot in the rotation and shot 18-for-31.
This week: vs. ATL, @ ORL, vs. ORL
6. Portland Trail Blazers (Last week: No. 9) -- Pace: 96.3 (17), OffRtg: 107.2 (3), DefRtg: 102.8 (17), NetRtg: +4.4 (7)
The Blazers have won six straight games, have the second-best record in the West and are the only team to beat the Spurs. Five guys in the rotation have shot better than 50 percent during the streak and their offense has looked rather Spurs-esque at times. They've also held the six opponents under a point per possession. This week's coast-to-coast schedule will be a test of their depth.
This week: @ BKN, @ MIL, vs. CHI, @ GSW
7. Oklahoma City Thunder (Last week: No. 3) -- Pace: 99.3 (9), OffRtg: 103.1 (10), DefRtg: 99.8 (8), NetRtg: +3.3 (12)
The Thunder went 0-2 against other West contenders last week, unable to rebound against the Clippers on Wednesday and unable to get stops against the Warriors on Thursday. They see both of those teams, along with the Spurs and Wolves, on a six-game homestand that begins Monday. Chesapeake Energy Arena would be a good place to hang out over the next two weeks.
This week: vs.DEN, vs. LAC, vs. UTA
8. Chicago Bulls (Last week: No. 13) -- Pace: 95.5 (23), OffRtg: 100.0 (18), DefRtg: 93.8 (3), NetRtg: +6.2 (5)
Derrick Rose went from injuring his hamstring on Monday to having what may have been a breakout game (20 points, six 3-pointers) against the league's best defense on Saturday. After hosting Charlotte on Monday, the Bulls play six straight on the road. They're 1-3 away from the United Center, but four of the six opponents are bottom-10 defenses, so this is a chance to build something offensively.
This week: vs. CHA, @ DEN, @ POR, @ LAC
9. Minnesota Timberwolves (Last week: No. 5) -- Pace: 102.2 (1), OffRtg: 104.0 (9), DefRtg: 98.1 (6), NetRtg: +5.9 (6)
The Wolves are one of three teams (GSW and OKC are the others) that rank in the top 10 on both ends of the floor, but the offense has been a lot more consistent than the D, which gave up 117 points in Denver on Friday. Though they're in the middle of a stretch in which they play three back-to-backs in nine days, Rick Adelman has shortened his rotation to just eight guys playing more than a few minutes.
This week: @ WAS, vs. LAC, vs. BKN, @ HOU
10. Houston Rockets (Last week: No. 8) -- Pace: 100.8 (5), OffRtg: 106.0 (5), DefRtg: 101.6 (13), NetRtg: +4.3 (8)
The Rockets certainly led the league in drama last week. They played two overtimes against the Raptors, another in Philadelphia, escaped New York with a wild victory, had one center (Omer Asik) ask for a trade, lost a second (Greg Smith) to a knee injury, and had another (Dwight Howard) shoot 17-for-24 from the free-throw line in Saturday's win over the Nuggets. You just can't look away.
This week: vs. BOS, @ DAL, vs. MIN
11. Atlanta Hawks (Last week: No. 14) -- Pace: 98.8 (11), OffRtg: 105.5 (7), DefRtg: 102.0 (14), NetRtg: +3.5 (11)
Jeff Teague is earning that new contract of his, averaging 19.4 points and 9.0 assists. His pick-and-pops with Al Horford are not easy to defend. Now that Lou Williams is back, the backcourt is deep. Shelvin Mack stepped in and racked up 12 assists (and a plus-24) in 24 minutes in New York on Saturday. A home-and-home with the Pistons is a good early season test for both teams.
This week: @ MIA, vs. DET, @ DET, vs. BOS
12. Phoenix Suns (Last week: No. 6) --Pace: 97.4 (13), OffRtg: 100.5 (16), DefRtg: 96.9 (5), NetRtg: +3.6 (10)
The Suns continued their cardiac-kids act last week. All nine of their games have been within five points in the last five minutes. But while their defense has been strong, it looked pretty brutal in giving up game-winners to Damian Lillard and Joe Johnson. Reigning Player of the Week Markieff Morris returned to obscurity, shooting 4-for-17 against the Blazers and Nets.
This week: @ SAC, vs. SAC, @ CHA, @ ORL
13. Dallas Mavericks (Last week: No. 12) -- Pace: 100.2 (7), OffRtg: 106.5 (4), DefRtg: 103.3 (21), NetRtg: +3.2 (13)
After seeing his role shrink over his last two years in San Antonio, DeJuan Blair is having a bit of a renaissance as the third big in Dallas. The Mavs still lack depth up front, but Blair and Samuel Dalembert have formed an adequate offense/defense combo next to Dirk Nowitzki. Dallas has been pretty potent with Blair (who had 18 points in Orlando on Saturday) and Nowitzki on the floor together.
This week: vs. PHI, vs. HOU, vs. UTA, @ DEN
14. Denver Nuggets (Last week: No. 29) -- Pace: 101.2 (3), OffRtg: 102.2 (13), DefRtg: 103.4 (22), NetRtg: -1.2 (17)
The Nuggets got back to being a pretty good offensive team, scoring 108.3 points per 100 possessions in their four games last week. They didn't even shoot that well, but totaled 68 offensive rebounds and 91 second-chance points in the four games, going from 20th to fourth in offensive rebounding percentage over the course of the week. Wilson Chandler's return was also a boost.
This week: @ OKC, vs. CHI, vs. DAL
15. Orlando Magic (Last week: No. 15) -- Pace: 99.0 (10), OffRtg: 100.0 (17), DefRtg: 99.6 (7), NetRtg: +0.5 (16)
Arron Afflalo has had himself a strong start and is in pretty elite company as one of five guys averaging at least 20 points, five rebounds and 4.5 assists per game. He drained eight threes (four from the left corner) on his way to a career-high 36 points in Wednesday's win against the Bucks. The Magic's defense suffered some slippage last week and now faces the league's best offense twice in a row.
This week: vs. MIA, @ MIA, vs. PHX
16. New Orleans Pelicans (Last week: No. 19) -- Pace: 96.3 (18), OffRtg: 104.1 (8), DefRtg: 103.1 (19), NetRtg: +1.0 (14)
The loss of Greg Stiemsma (out 6-8 weeks with a sprained MCL) will make a bad defense worse, but the addition of Ryan Anderson (who scored 26 points in his debut on Saturday) will make a good offense even better. The Pelicans' ultimate offensive lineup of Jrue Holiday, Eric Gordon, Tyreke Evans, Anderson and Anthony Davis scored 20 points in less than six minutes against the Sixers.
This week: vs. UTA, vs. CLE
17. Philadelphia 76ers (Last week: No. 11) -- Pace: 102.1 (2), OffRtg: 99.4 (20), DefRtg: 106.0 (28), NetRtg: -6.6 (28)
The Sixers have lost six of their last eight games, the Michael Carter-Williams Show is on pause because of a foot injury, and their defense has often been atrocious. But they gave us another thriller against the Rockets on Wednesday and a couple of the sneaky-best highlights of the week: Spencer Hawes' put-back over Dwight Howard and Darius Morris' no-look dime to Lavoy Allen in Atlanta.
This week: @ DAL, vs. TOR, vs. MIL, @ IND
18. Memphis Grizzlies (Last week: No. 16) -- Pace: 93.4 (30), OffRtg: 99.2 (21), DefRtg: 103.2 (20), NetRtg: -4.1 (19)
The Grizzlies have won two straight games for the first time this season, and in Sacramento on Sunday, they finally got strong offensive games from Mike Conley, Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol on the same night. They held the Lakers and Kings to just 94 points per 100 possessions over the weekend, but that was the Lakers and Kings. These next three opponents will really test that defense.
This week: @ LAC, @ GSW, vs. SAS
19. Los Angeles Lakers (Last week: No. 25) -- Pace: 101.2 (4), OffRtg: 98.3 (25), DefRtg: 102.6 (16), NetRtg: -4.3 (21)
Kobe Bryant is back at practice and he told NBA TV's Rick Fox that he'd play if the Lakers were in the playoffs right now. They're actually picking up enough wins along the way where you could actually talk about this team making a run for the postseason. Jordan Hill's move to the starting lineup has provided a boost. He's averaging 18.8 points and 12.0 rebounds in four games as a starter so far.
This week: vs. GSW, vs. SAC
20. Charlotte Bobcats (Last week: No. 23) -- Pace: 93.8 (28), OffRtg: 94.6 (28), DefRtg: 100.3 (11), NetRtg: -5.7 (25)
After a five-game absence, Al Jefferson was able to play just two games before his right ankle took him out of the lineup again. But he did put up 22 and 11 with a critical put-back in Wednesday's win in Boston. As you might expect, the Bobcats have been better offensively and worse defensively with Jefferson on the floor. So far, the better offense has outweighed the worse defense.
This week: @ CHI, vs. BKN, vs. PHX, @ MIL
21. Detroit Pistons (Last week: No. 18) -- Pace: 95.9 (20), OffRtg: 103.1 (11), DefRtg: 107.4 (30), NetRtg: -4.3 (20)
Friday's win in Sacramento ended the Pistons' 21-game road losing streak against the Western Conference. What's amazing is that their last three road wins against the West were all in Sacramento. Still active, thanks to Sunday's collapse in L.A., is a 39-game road losing streak against the other 14 West teams. But we'll savor this off-the-glass alley-oop from Brandon Jennings to Andre Drummond.
This week: vs. NYK, @ ATL, vs. ATL, @ BKN
22. Brooklyn Nets (Last week: No. 21) -- Pace: 95.9 (19), OffRtg: 98.8 (23), DefRtg: 103.7 (23), NetRtg: -4.9 (23)
A bad start got worse when Deron Williams, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Brook Lopez were all injured in Friday's overtime win in Phoenix (though three of the four finished the game). None of the four injuries appear to be serious, and in the case of Williams and Garnett, their back-ups -- Shaun Livingston and Andray Blatche -- have played better than they have so far. And Blatche hasn't been very good.
This week: vs. POR, @ CHA, @ MIN, vs. DET
23. Boston Celtics (Last week: No. 17) -- Pace: 96.6 (15), OffRtg: 97.3 (26), DefRtg: 101.3 (12), NetRtg: -4.0 (18)
Since hitting that game-winner in Miami, Jeff Green is 2-for-13 from 3-point range. And he shot 0-for-6 in Saturday's loss in Minnesota. This, my friends, is the Jeff Green experience. Boston's four-game winning streak has been followed up by three straight losses, featuring ugly offense (90.7 points per 100 possessions) all around. And getting a W against this week's schedule will be tough.
This week: @ HOU, @ SAS, vs. IND, @ ATL
24. New York Knicks (Last week: No. 26) -- Pace: 94.6 (24), OffRtg: 99.7 (19), DefRtg: 105.4 (27), NetRtg: -5.7 (24)
Last season, the Knicks won their first 10 games at Madison Square Garden. Right now, they're the worst home-court team in the league, at 1-5 and getting outscored by 10.4 points per 100 possessions at MSG. Whether it's the bridges, the orange uniforms, or that they're just not a very good team, it's probably a good thing that they play five of their next six games on the road.
This week: @ DET, vs. IND, @ WAS
25. Toronto Raptors (Last week: No. 24) -- Pace: 93.9 (27), OffRtg: 100.7 (15), DefRtg: 100.1 (10), NetRtg: +0.6 (15)
In Monday's double-OT loss in Houston, DeMar DeRozan and Rudy Gay combined to shoot an amazing 17-for-62. In Friday's loss to the Bulls, the pair shot 20-for-37, while their teammates shot 9-for-45. The Raps have the fifth-best point differential in the East and their defense has been pretty consistent, but you never know what's going to go right or wrong offensively when they take the floor.
This week: @ PHI, vs. WAS
26. Sacramento Kings (Last week: No. 28) -- Pace: 93.8 (29), OffRtg: 98.8 (22), DefRtg: 104.7 (24), NetRtg: -5.9 (26)
When coach Michael Malone moved Marcus Thornton and Patrick Patterson to the bench for Wednesday's game against the Nets, he got a 24 points from Thornton, a plus-30 from Patterson, and a big win for the Kings. Two nights later, Thornton shot 1-for-6 and Patterson barely played in a loss to the Pistons. Success is short-lived in Sacramento and Malone is still searching for something that works.
This week: vs. PHX, @ PHX, @ LAC, @ LAL
27. Cleveland Cavaliers (Last week: No. 22) -- Pace: 96.5 (16), OffRtg: 93.5 (29), DefRtg: 100.1 (9), NetRtg: -6.6 (27)
The Cavs had a players-only meeting after getting smoked by the Wolves on Wednesday, but didn't hit rock bottom until Friday, when they got outscored 45-27 by the Bobcats over the final 18 minutes. So Saturday's OT win in Washington, in which Kyrie Irving finally shot well and scored 41 points, was desperately needed. Now, they just have to hope that Dion Waiters is really sick and not AWOL.
This week: vs. WAS, @ NOP, @ SAS
28. Washington Wizards (Last week: No. 20) -- Pace: 98.1 (12), OffRtg: 98.5 (24), DefRtg: 103.0 (18), NetRtg: -4.5 (22)
Count the Wizards among the most disappointing teams of the first three weeks, with young guys who "must take their heads out their butts and play the right way," according to Nene. But they have played one of the toughest schedules and are dealing with more injuries. After scoring 103.1 points per 100 possessions in their first five games, they've scored just 92.7 over their four-game losing streak.
This week: vs. MIN, @ CLE, @ TOR, vs. NYK
29. Milwaukee Bucks (Last week: No. 27) -- Pace: 94.4 (25), OffRtg: 95.1 (27), DefRtg: 105.0 (25), NetRtg: -9.9 (29)
The Bucks' injury issues just got worse last week, with Larry Sanders undergoing surgery and Caron Butler injuring his left shoulder. It got so bad that their crunch-time lineup in Wednesday's loss in Orlando was Nate Wolters, O.J. Mayo, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and John Henson. Henson, Wolters and Antetokounmpo did give us this long-arm highlight earlier in the evening.
This week: vs. POR, @ PHI, vs. CHA
30. Utah Jazz (Last week: No. 30) -- Pace: 95.7 (21), OffRtg: 92.2 (30), DefRtg: 105.3 (26), NetRtg: -13.2 (30)
Maybe the best story of the season so far is that of Diante Garrett, who was signed by the Jazz on Wednesday afternoon and proceeded to play the entire fourth quarter of Utah's only win that very night, registering seven points and five assists in 22 minutes with only minimal knowledge of his team's plays. The honeymoon didn't last long, though. Garrett shot 2-for-13 in two losses over the weekend.
This week: vs. GSW, @ NOP, @ DAL, @ OKC
NBA.com's Power Rankings, released every Monday during the season, are just one man's opinion. If you have an issue with the rankings, or have a question or comment for John Schuhmann, send him an e-mail or contact him via twitter.
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