By John Schuhmann, NBA.com
Posted Dec 16, 2013 12:21 PM
Dec. 15 has come and gone. Most players who were signed to new contracts last summer are now eligible to be traded. All reports indicate that Omer Asik will be sent packing by Thursday.
So now is when things get interesting. Wannabe contenders are looking to make upgrades. There a lot of good-but-not-great teams in the West and a few desperate teams in the East. At the same time, there are plenty of teams looking to, uh, plan for the future.
It remains to be seen if the Rudy Gay trade makes the Kings better and the Raptors worse, or vice versa. And Toronto could certainly be making more deals to go in one direction or the other. How bad the Eastern Conference is just complicates things.
While all the off-court speculation picks up, there are two huge matchups on the schedule this week. The Pacers visit Miami on Wednesday and the Thunder travel to San Antonio on Saturday. That will certainly tide us over until Christmas.
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• This time last year: West continues to dominate - The Thunder had won 10 straight games, the Bobcats had lost 11 straight, the Grizzlies hired John Hollinger, Joe Johnson got one of his game-winners, Draymond Green got one to beat the Heat, and Damian Lillard hit one too.
• Plus-minus Stud: LaMarcus Aldridge (POR) was a plus-69 in four games last week.
• Plus-minus Dud: Brandon Knight (MIL) was a minus-59 in four games last week.
• Hero Team of the Week: San Antonio (3-0) -- The Spurs didn't beat any great opponents, but did win three road games by an average of 20.3 points. T.C.B.
• Zero Team of the Week: Philadelphia (0-4) -- Sinking like a stone.
• High jumps of the week: Brooklyn (+4), Minnesota (+4), Phoenix (+4), Toronto (+4)
• Free falls of the week: Washington (-6), Chicago (-5), Charlotte (-4), Philadelphia (-4)
• East vs. West: The West is 83-33 (.716) against the East in inter-conference games and was 16-2 last week. The good news for the East is that they get eight games against the Kings and Jazz this week.
• Toughest schedules through Sunday: 1. Utah, 2. L.A. Lakers, 3. Minnesota
• Easiest schedules through Sunday: 1. Miami, 2. San Antonio, 3. Atlanta
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 96.5 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes and 102.2 points scored per 100 possessions.
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1. Portland Trail Blazers (Last Week: No. 1) -- Pace: 96.7 (14), OffRtg: 110.3 (1), DefRtg: 103.5 (19), NetRtg: +6.8 (5)
Damian Lillard was shooting 30 percent for the week, but that didn't matter in the final seconds of overtime in Detroit on Sunday. His game-winner kept the Blazers perfect (10-0) against the Eastern Conference and gave them as many road wins (11) as they had all of last season. Their offense just isn't slowing down, scoring 116 points per 100 possessions over their last seven games.
This week: @ CLE, @ MIN, vs. NOP
2. Oklahoma City Thunder (Last Week: No. 2) -- Pace: 99.3 (4), OffRtg: 105.9 (5), DefRtg: 98.0 (4), NetRtg: +7.9 (4)
The Thunder were already winning, even though their starters were playing pretty badly. Now they're getting off to better starts and their bench units are still good. The common denominator is Kevin Durant, who has shot 59 percent from the field and 11-for-20 from 3-point range over their six-game winning streak. This is the best team over the last month, allowing only 96 points per 100 possessions.
This week: @ DEN, vs. CHI, @ SAS, vs. TOR
3. Indiana Pacers (Last Week: No. 3) -- Pace: 95.2 (22), OffRtg: 102.4 (13), DefRtg: 93.4 (1), NetRtg: +8.9 (2)
Roy Hibbert's rim protection against LeBron James was on full display on Tuesday. James shot 4-for-8 at the basket and committed a couple of turnovers when confronted by Hibbert. Given Miami's potency offensively, that was a terrific defensive performance from the best defensive team of the last 36 years, having allowed 8.7 points per 100 possessions less than the league average.
This week: vs. DET, @ MIA, vs. HOU, vs. BOS
4. San Antonio Spurs (Last Week: No. 5) -- Pace: 97.0 (12), OffRtg: 107.1 (4), DefRtg: 95.6 (2), NetRtg: +11.4 (1)
The Spurs have played the easiest schedule in the West, but they certainly know how to take care of business. After wins over the Raptors, Bucks, Wolves and Jazz last week, they're 16-0 against the 19 teams currently at .500 or below, with 11 of the 16 wins coming by 11 points or more. Now, they play four games against teams above .500, highlighted by a chance for revenge against the Thunder.
This week: @ LAC, @ PHX, @ GSW, vs. OKC
5. Miami Heat (Last Week: No. 4) -- Pace: 95.8 (18), OffRtg: 108.2 (2), DefRtg: 99.7 (6), NetRtg: +8.5 (3)
It's amazing that Dwyane Wade has missed six games, Shane Battier has shot 30 percent from 3-point range (he was 1-for-6 in Indiana on Tuesday), Norris Cole has played more minutes than Ray Allen, and the Heat are the best shooting team in NBA history for the second straight season, with an effective field goal percentage of 56.1 percent. They get another shot at the Pacers on Wednesday.
This week: vs. UTA, vs. IND, vs. SAC
6. Phoenix Suns (Last Week: No. 10) -- Pace: 96.8 (13), OffRtg: 105.8 (7), DefRtg: 102.8 (16), NetRtg: +3.0 (9)
The Suns have won five straight games to firmly entrench themselves in the Western Conference playoff picture. This week's schedule is a challenge, but they're 5-3 against the other eight West teams above .500 so far. They're not just beating up on bad teams and blocking DeMarcus Cousins' shots, like this one and this one (from the fabulous Plum Dog) all over the place.
This week: vs. SAS, @ DEN, vs. DAL
7. Los Angeles Clippers (Last Week: No. 9) -- Pace: 97.8 (9), OffRtg: 105.8 (8), DefRtg: 100.8 (8), NetRtg: +4.9 (7)
With J.J. Redick out and Jared Dudley struggling, Chris Paul put the scoring load on his own shoulders in Saturday's win in Washington, dropping 42 points (one short of his career high) on the Wiz. The Clips are now 8-0 when Paul scores more than 20 points. They're just 6-6 against the East, but eight of those 12 games have been on the road. They now play 11 of their next 15 at home, where they're 8-2.
This week: vs. SAS, vs. NOP, vs. DEN, vs. MIN
8. Houston Rockets (Last Week: No. 6) -- Pace: 99.2 (5), OffRtg: 107.4 (3), DefRtg: 101.0 (9), NetRtg: +6.4 (6)
On Thursday, the Rockets outscored the Blazers 66-36 in the paint ... and lost. On Friday, they got outscored 66-40 in the paint by the Warriors ... and won. Paint points may be overrated, but rim protection is still important, so it will be fascinating to see what Daryl Morey gets for Omer Asik this week. A first-round draft pick would be nice, but a perimeter defender would make an impact right now.
This week: vs. CHI, @ IND, @ DET
9. Denver Nuggets (Last Week: No. 8) -- Pace: 98.0 (8), OffRtg: 104.5 (10), DefRtg: 101.6 (11), NetRtg: +2.9 (10)
Despite the continued bad starts, Brian Shaw is sticking with his starting lineup for now. After all, if he changes his starting lineup, he'd be breaking up the bench that's been so good. In limited minutes, Andre Miller, Nate Robinson, Jordan Hamilton, Darrell Arthur and Timofey Mozgov has been one of the best linueps in the league, outscoring opponents by more than 20 points per 100 possessions.
This week: vs. OKC, vs. PHX, @ LAC
10. Dallas Mavericks (Last Week: No. 7) -- Pace: 98.3 (7), OffRtg: 104.6 (9), DefRtg: 103.6 (20), NetRtg: +1.0 (13)
Brandan Wright gives the Mavs some much-needed depth up front (maybe pushing Samuel Dalembert out of the rotation) and had one heck of a season debut on Saturday, scoring 19 points on 9-for-10 shooting to help Dallas beat the Bucks without Dirk Nowitzki and Rick Carlisle. The Mavs are still waiting on the eventual debut of Devin Harris, who could give them an even more potent bench.
This week: vs. MEM, vs. TOR, @ PHX
11. Minnesota Timberwolves (Last Week: No. 15) -- Pace: 100.5 (2), OffRtg: 103.5 (12), DefRtg: 101.7 (13), NetRtg: +1.8 (11)
The Wolves' bench is still a big problem and Kevin Martin is in a slump, shooting 32 percent in December. But when Kevin Love is averaging 31.0 points and 13.5 rebounds and shooting 17-for-29 from 3-point range, as he did over four games last week, they're in pretty good shape. They're doing some serious traveling these days, going from south to east to north to west in a week's time.
This week: @ BOS, vs. POR, @ LAL, @ LAC
12. Golden State Warriors (Last Week: No. 11) -- Pace: 98.7 (6), OffRtg: 103.9 (11), DefRtg: 100.6 (7), NetRtg: +3.4 (8)
Stephen Curry's game-winner against the Mavs saved the Warriors from an 0-4 week in which they allowed the Bobcats' 29th-ranked offense to score 115 points. They've lost nine of their last 14 games to slip to ninth in the West and they're just 2-8 against the teams ahead of them. With Jermaine O'Neal possibly out for the season, they're counting on Marreese Speights to save their dreadful bench.
This week: vs. NOP, vs. SAS, vs. LAL
13. New Orleans Pelicans (Last Week: No. 16) -- Pace: 95,7 (19), OffRtg: 105.9 (6), DefRtg: 104.5 (24), NetRtg: +1.4 (12)
Austin Rivers, a Lottery pick 18 months ago, got pushed out of the Pelicans' rotation when they brought in Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans. But Evans' ankle injury has given Rivers a chance to play and he had one of the best games of his career in Sunday's loss in Denver, scoring 17 points in just 22 minutes. Rivers gets to play against his dad for the second time in his career on Wednesday.
This week: @ GSW, @ LAC, @ POR
14. Atlanta Hawks (Last Week: No. 14) -- Pace: 97.3 (11), OffRtg: 102.0 (17), DefRtg: 101.8 (14), NetRtg: +0.2 (15)
Only 6 times in the last 10 years has a team lost a game in which it shot 60 percent. The Hawks have done it twice ... in 2013 ... in New York. Turnovers were a problem on Saturday, but they've allowed over 114 points per 100 possessions in losing four straight on the road. They've been treading water, but a soft schedule can help them cement their spot as the East's third best team entering 2014.
This week: vs. LAL, vs. SAC, vs. UTA
15. Los Angeles Lakers (Last Week: No. 12) -- Pace: 99.5 (3), OffRtg: 101.2 (19), DefRtg: 103.8 (21), NetRtg: -2.6 (20)
Playing without a point guard is a problem, but the Lakers' defense was just as bad as their offense in Kobe Bryant's first three games, allowing 114 points per 100 possessions. It was better (as was Bryant) in Saturday's win in Charlotte, but it was still incredible to see who they had on the floor when they needed a stop after a timeout. Their next six games will make it tough for them to hang around .500.
This week: @ ATL, @ MEM, vs. MIN, @ GSW
16. Boston Celtics (Last Week: No. 18) -- Pace: 94.9 (23), OffRtg: 99.6 (23), DefRtg: 101.2 (10), NetRtg: -1.7 (16)
Rajon Rondo has been cleared to practice, but isn't expected to play until some time in January. The exact timing will be interesting, because the first two weeks of 2014 will be difficult for the Celtics. Six of their first seven January games are on the road and seven of the first eight are against West teams over .500. If Brooklyn is really finding its way, Boston's playoff picture could look a lot different.
This week: vs. MIN, vs. DET, vs. WAS, @ IND
17. Detroit Pistons (Last Week: No. 17) -- Pace: 96.4 (15), OffRtg: 102.1 (15), DefRtg: 103.8 (22), NetRtg: -1.8 (17)
The Pistons' defense had looked improved, but hasn't held up against some top-ranked offenses over the last five games. They're now 2-13 against Atlanta, Indiana, Miami and the West, but are 9-1 against the other 12 East teams under .500, holding them to just 96.1 points per 100 possessions. With nine of their next 12 games against that group, they have a chance to join the .500-plus club.
This week: @ IND, @ BOS, vs. CHA, vs. HOU
18. Toronto Raptors (Last Week: No. 22) -- Pace: 95.3 (21), OffRtg: 102.0 (16), DefRtg: 101.6 (12), NetRtg: +0.4 (14)
Without Rudy Gay, the Raptors have won three out of four games for the first time this season and their positive point differential belies their 9-13 record. If they trade Kyle Lowry, they'll get something in return and already have a point guard -- Greivis Vasquez -- to replace him. So, as long as their other starters are healthy, this team doesn't really have a fast track to the bottom of the Eastern Conference.
This week: vs. CHA, @ DAL, @ OKC
19. Washington Wizards (Last Week: No. 13) -- Pace: 95.4 (20), OffRtg: 99.6 (22), DefRtg: 102.0 (15), NetRtg: -2.4 (19)
Though Trevor Booker had his moments last week, the Wizards are now 0-6 without Nene, scoring just 92.3 points per 100 possessions in the six games. The last four minutes of Monday's 75-74 loss to the Nuggets -- in which they shot 0-for-7 and committed three turnovers -- were particularly brutal. If the Wiz want to separate themselves from the rest of the Eastern Conference riff raff, this is a big week.
This week: @ NYK, @ BKN, @ BOS
20. Memphis Grizzlies (Last Week: No. 20) -- Pace: 92.1 (30), OffRtg: 100.4 (21), DefRtg: 105.2 (27), NetRtg: -4.8 (25)
Marc Gasol's injury has provided an opportunity for the previously anonymous Jon Leuer, who has averaged 15.9 points and 8.1 rebounds over the last seven games. But the Grizzlies' defense has struggled without the reigning DPOY, allowing 108.7 points per 100 possessions over the last 11, starting with the game Gasol injured his knee. They've allowed 111 with Leuer on the floor.
This week: vs. LAL, @ DAL, @ NYK
21. Cleveland Cavaliers (Last Week: No. 24) -- Pace: 96.1 (17), OffRtg: 96.9 (27), DefRtg: 102.8 (17), NetRtg: -6.0 (27)
The Cavs have won five of their last seven games, a run which coincides with C.J. Miles' return from a strained calf, though Dion Waiters has played a much bigger role. They came back from 14 points down to win in Orlando on Friday and almost beat the Heat after coming back from 19 points down a night later. Kyrie Irving finally looked like an All-Star starter, dropping 68 points on the Knicks and Magic.
This week: vs. POR, vs. MIL, @ CHI
22. Brooklyn Nets (Last Week: No. 26) -- Pace: 93.8 (26), OffRtg: 101.1 (20), DefRtg: 107.0 (29), NetRtg: -5.9 (26)
What a difference a point guard makes. Heck, what a difference somebody who can dribble and accelerate makes. The Nets have had three of their best offensive games with the return of Deron Williams and scored over 114 points per 100 possessions in Williams' 105 minutes on the floor last week. Without him, they had nobody who could run a pick-and-roll and make the defense move.
This week: vs. PHI, vs. WAS, @ PHI
23. New York Knicks (Last Week: No. 23) -- Pace: 92.4 (29), OffRtg: 101.5 (18), DefRtg: 105.2 (26), NetRtg: -3.7 (23)
Pablo Prigioni played a big part in Saturday's win over the Hawks and he helps the Knicks move the ball better. But he just doesn't get into the paint, recording only 2.4 drives per 100 possessions he's on the floor. So you can see why the Knicks have interest in Kyle Lowry, who drives about three times as often. A penetrating point guard would only help Carmelo Anthony and the Knicks' shooters.
This week: vs. WAS, @ MIL, vs. MEM
24. Chicago Bulls (Last Week: No. 19) -- Pace: 93.3 (28), OffRtg: 95.9 (28), DefRtg: 98.0 (5), NetRtg: -2.1 (18)
Things got real ugly for the Bulls without Luol Deng and didn't get any better when he returned from his calf injury on Saturday. They've scored an anemic 84.4 points per 100 possessions over their last five games (worse than any five-game stretch the Bucks have had), featuring six quarters of 15 points or less. Only Mike Dunleavy's 3-point bank shot saved them from a five-game losing streak.
This week: vs. ORL, @ HOU, @ OKC, vs. CLE
25. Charlotte Bobcats (Last Week: No. 21) -- Pace: 94.7 (24), OffRtg: 95.2 (29), DefRtg: 97.9 (3), NetRtg: -2.6 (21)
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist's injury has given Ben Gordon a chance to play. He hit a big three in Monday's win over the Warriors, but has missed 11 of the other 12 threes he's attempted this season. So he's fitting right in with the Bobcats, who are shooting an awful 29 percent from 3-point range. They also rank in the bottom eight in shooting in the restricted area, on other paint shots, and from mid-range.
This week: vs. SAC, @ TOR, @ DET, vs. UTA
26. Sacramento Kings (Last Week: No. 28) -- Pace: 96.2 (16), OffRtg: 102.2 (14), DefRtg: 105.2 (25), NetRtg: -3.0 (22)
Maybe Rudy Gay just needed to move to California to become an efficient scorer. He shot 18-for-32 and got to the line 15 times in his first two games with the Kings, leading the way with 26 points (and a 4 x 4 game) in Sunday's win over Houston. He replaced Derrick Williams in the starting lineup, but the Kings were a plus-31 in 33 minutes with the two on the floor together over the weekend.
This week: @ CHA, @ ATL, @ MIA, @ ORL
27. Utah Jazz (Last Week: No. 29) -- Pace: 93.9 (25), OffRtg: 98.0 (25), DefRtg: 108.0 (30), NetRtg: -10.0 (29)
Trey Burke has been predictably inconsistent, but the Jazz offense is certainly better with him on the floor. In fact, their starting lineup (when Marvin Williams has been healthy) has scored 111 points per 100 possessions and is a plus-33 in 128 minutes. Only one lineup that has played at least 100 minutes -- the Warriors' healthy starters -- has been better both offensively and defensively.
This week: @ MIA, @ ORL, @ ATL, @ CHA
28. Orlando Magic (Last Week: No. 27) -- Pace: 97.4 (10), OffRtg: 99.2 (24), DefRtg: 103.1 (18), NetRtg: -3.9 (24)
With Tobias Harris back for the last two games, the Magic are healthier than ever. But they've lost eight of their last nine games to sink to 13th in the East and gave the Cavs just their second road win of the season on Friday. As trading season heats up, this is obviously a team to watch, with Arron Afflalo, Glen Davis and Jameer Nelson all on very reasonable contracts and able to help a contender.
This week: @ CHI, vs. UTA, vs. SAC
29. Philadelphia 76ers (Last Week: No. 25) -- Pace: 101.7 (1), OffRtg: 97.8 (26), DefRtg: 105.9 (28), NetRtg: -8.2 (28)
The Sixers' defense has been pretty terrible and they've lost six straight games overall, seven straight against the Western Conference, nine straight without Michael-Carter Williams, 10 straight on the road, and 15 straight games that have been decided in regulation. That's a lot of losing. Just imagine how things might go if they trade Spencer Hawes, Evan Turner or Thaddeus Young.
This week: @ BKN, vs. BKN, @ MIL
30. Milwaukee Bucks (Last Week: No. 30) -- Pace: 93.7 (27), OffRtg: 94.2 (30), DefRtg: 104.5 (23), NetRtg: -10.3 (30)
The Bucks play such ugly basketball -- they've scored a point per possession in just six of their 24 games -- that not even increased minutes for Giannis Antetokounmpo (he played 30-plus in two of the last three games) can make them worth watching for more than a few minutes at a time. Fortunately, after engaging in two epic struggles last week, they don't play the Bulls again until mid-January.
This week: vs. NYK, @ CLE, vs. PHI
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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