By John Schuhmann, NBA.com
Posted Dec 23, 2013 2:56 PM
If you stayed up late on the East Coast on Sunday, you were rewarded with one of the best games of the year, an overtime thriller between the Wolves and Clippers, who always seem to put on a show when they face each other. In the Western Conference, we get a great game between good teams two or three times a week. In the East, we get Pacers-Heat four times total (and not again until late March).
But some of the Eastern Conference riff raff is starting to emerge from its early-season slumber. The Toronto Raptors and Detroit Pistons each posted road wins against top-five teams last week. The Charlotte Bobcats beat both the Raps and Pistons on the road and the Washington Wizards have won three straight games. The Atlanta Hawks actually have the best point differential in December and the Brooklyn Nets have the third best offense this month (which might change without Brook Lopez).
And lo and behold, the East won 10 of the 18 games between the two conferences last week. It also has the Heat playing five games against the West over the next 11 days. So maybe those standings won't be so lopsided come February and March.
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• Last week: Top five keeps rolling as trade season begins
• This time last year: Clippers streak to the top - The Clips had won 13 straight games, the Bobcats had lost 15 straight, the Nuggets played 47 minutes and 22 seconds in Portland without hitting a shot from outside the paint, Dirk Nowitzki played his first game of the season, the Kings suspended DeMarcus Cousins indefinitely, and Antawn Jamison forgot what team he played for when Gerald Henderson threw this dunk down on Dwight Howard.
• Plus-minus Stud: Kyle Korver (ATL) was a plus-70 in three games last week.
• Plus-minus Dud: Marco Belinelli (SAS) was a minus-50 in four games last week.
• Hero Team of the Week: L.A. Clippers (4-0) -- The Clips have been enjoying some home cooking, but their five-game winning streak includes easy victories over Spurs and Nuggets.
• Zero Team of the Week: Denver (0-3) -- The Nuggets lost to three of the top six teams in the West, but two of the losses came at home. They've lost five games at the Pepsi Center, two more than they lost all of last season.
• High jumps of the week: Charlotte (+5), Atlanta (+4), Toronto (+4), Washington (+4)
• Free falls of the week: Boston (-3), Denver (-3), New Orleans (-3)
• East vs. West: The West is 91-43 (.679) against the East in inter-conference games, but the East was 10-8 last week. Atlanta was 3-0.
• Toughest schedules through Sunday: 1. Utah, 2. Sacramento, 3. Minnesota
• Easiest schedules through Sunday: 1. Miami, 2. Atlanta, 3. Charlotte
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 96.6 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes and 102.4 points scored per 100 possessions.
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1. Oklahoma City (Last Week: No. 2) Pace: 99.4 (3), OffRtg: 106.0 (6), DefRtg: 97.9 (3), NetRtg: +8.1 (4)
Sunday's loss to the Raptors wasn't just the Thunder's first loss at home. It was also their first loss against the East and just their second loss in the last 38 days. They're the only team that ranks in the top five in both offensive and defensive efficiency in December and have held nine of their last 10 opponents under a point per possession. Need any more reasons for why they're No. 1?
This week: @ NYK, @ CHA, vs. HOU
2. Portland (Last Week: No. 1) Pace: 97.1 (13), OffRtg: 110.5 (1), DefRtg: 104.5 (22), NetRtg: +6.0 (6)
Damian Lillard is unreal. He followed up his game-winner in Detroit with a better one in Cleveland. Then he hit this ridiculous shot to put the Blazers ahead for good in Saturday's win over the Pelicans. He shot 19-for-36 from 3-point range last week and has been the best pull-up jump-shooter in the league this season. You just wonder when the Blazers are going to pay for their bottom-10 defense.
This week: vs. LAC, vs. MIA
3. Miami (Last Week: No. 5) Pace: 95.8 (18), OffRtg: 109.3 (2), DefRtg: 99.9 (7), NetRtg: +9.4 (1)
Dwyane Wade's maintenance program is working. He's averaged 25.8 points on 60 percent shooting as Miami has won four straight games. In Wednesday's big win over the Pacers, he scored a season-high 32 points. And on Friday against the Kings, he hit multiple 3-pointers for just the second time in the last two seasons. He might sit Friday in Sacramento to be available for Saturday's visit to Portland.
This week: vs. ATL, @ LAL, @ SAC, @ POR
4. Indiana (Last Week: No. 3) Pace: 95.3 (23), OffRtg: 103.0 (14), DefRtg: 93.6 (1), NetRtg: +9.4 (2)
The Pacers led Wednesday's game in Miami for more than 39 minutes, but were undone by Chris Bosh's first 3-pointer after 14 straight misses and then a transition three from Ray Allen. They don't play the Heat again until March 26 and don't even play another team with a winning record until they visit Atlanta on Jan. 8. That should help them keep an edge on the champs in the standings.
This week: @ BKN, vs. BKN
5. Los Angeles Clippers (Last Week: No. 7) Pace: 98.0 (8), OffRtg: 106.7 (4), DefRtg: 100.2 (8), NetRtg: +6.5 (5)
The Clippers have come a long way defensively. They ranked 30th on that end through their first 11 games and rank first through 12 games in December. But they haven't played any elite offensive teams in this stretch (the Spurs haven't been at their best), and to keep that No. 1 Defense of the Month title, they'll have to slow down the No. 1 offense on the second night of a back-to-back in Portland.
This week: @ GSW, @ POR, vs. UTA
6. San Antonio (Last Week: No. 4) Pace: 97.6 (10), OffRtg: 105.9 (7), DefRtg: 97.3 (2), NetRtg: +8.6 (3)
The Spurs went 2-2 against a tough schedule and while dealing with injuries (and rest days) last week. They're now 5 -5 in games against the other West teams over .500, having scored just 97.8 points per 100 possessions in the 10 games. Their defense, which ranks 14th in December, is probably more of a concern for Gregg Popovich. Two more of those big West matchups await this week.
This week: vs. TOR, vs. HOU, @ DAL, vs. SAC
7. Phoenix (Last Week: No. 6) Pace: 97.3 (11), OffRtg: 106.1 (5), DefRtg: 102.9 (17), NetRtg: +3.2 (9)
Goran Dragic shot 5-for-27 from outside the restricted area last week, but was still the key to the Suns' offense. Phoenix has been much better offensively with only Dragic on the floor than they have with only Eric Bledsoe on the floor. Part of that is spacing from shooters Channing Frye and Marcus Morris, who have both played 100-plus more minutes with Dragic than they have with Bledsoe.
This week: vs. LAL, @ GSW, vs. PHI
8.Houston (Last Week: No. 8) Pace: 99.0 (6), OffRtg: 107.2 (3), DefRtg: 101.3 (9), NetRtg: +5.9 (7)
Patrick Beverley -- out 4-6 weeks with a broken hand suffered Saturday in Detroit -- is Houston's latest injury victim. Dwight Howard is the only Rocket to have played in every game, so it was nice that he was able to dominate the Pistons' frontline to the tune of 35 points, 19 rebounds and three blocks. It would be nicer if Houston had a healthy James Harden for this week's run through the Southwest Division.
This week: vs. DAL, @ SAS, vs. MEM, vs. NOP
9. Golden State (Last Week: 12) Pace: 99.2 (5), OffRtg: 103.4 (12), DefRtg: 99.3 (6), NetRtg: +4.1 (8)
To no one's surprise, the Warriors' defense immediately got better when Andre Iguodala returned. They're 10-3 with a NetRtg of plus-11.1 in games that both Iguodala and Stephen Curry have played. But with how crowded the West playoff picture is, Thursday's loss to the intentionally shorthanded Spurs was painful. For the same reason, Monday's game in Denver -- Iguodala's return -- is a big one.
This week: @ DEN, vs. LAC, vs. PHX
10. Atlanta (Last Week: 14) Pace: 97.2 (12), OffRtg: 104.4 (10), DefRtg: 101.6 (11), NetRtg: +2.9 (10)
The Hawks fattened up on the dregs of the Western Conference last week, scoring 124 points per 100 possessions and beating the Lakers, Kings and Jazz by a total of 64 points. Now, after they visit the Heat on Monday, they'll play six of their next seven games against East teams under .500. Kyle Korver hit eight threes against Sacramento and could take his streak to 100 games in Orlando on Sunday.
This week: @ MIA, @ CLE, vs. CHA, @ ORL
11. Dallas (Last Week: 10) Pace: 97.7 (9), OffRtg: 105.4 (8), DefRtg: 104.4 (21), NetRtg: +0.9 (12)
Shawn Marion and Dirk Nowitzki start every game together and have played about the same number of minutes. Yet one is a minus-100 and the other is a plus-138. Nowitzki's obviously the better player, but that discrepancy is kind of crazy. The Mavs have outscored their opponents by 16.0 points per 100 possessions in 309 minutes with Jae Crowder and Nowitzki on the floor together.
This week: @ HOU, vs. SAS, @ CHI
12. Denver (Last Week: 9) Pace: 98.6 (7), OffRtg: 103.0 (13), DefRtg: 101.7 (12), NetRtg: +1.3 (11)
After losing nine straight first quarters, the Nuggets actually won one against the Suns on Friday. But they then proceeded to blow a 21-point lead. They've lost three straight games and their offense has been downright awful over the last six, shooting 27.3 percent from 3-point range and scoring just 93.7 points per 100 possessions. That's 5.7 worse than any six-game stretch they had last season.
This week: vs. GSW, @ NOP, @ MEM
13. Minnesota (Last Week: 11) Pace: 100.3 (2), OffRtg: 103.4 (11), DefRtg: 102.6 (15), NetRtg: +0.8 (13)
With the Wolves having issues with their depth (they're awful offensively when Kevin Love sits), defense (they rank 25th in December) and shooting (they rank 28th in effective field goal percentage from outside the paint), it was big news that Chase Budinger was cleared to practice last week. And this week's schedule (they don't play until Friday) allows him to actually get in a couple of practices.
This week: vs. WAS, @ MIL
14. Toronto (Last Week: 18) Pace: 95.4 (20), OffRtg: 101.9 (18), DefRtg: 101.5 (10), NetRtg: +0.4 (14)
The Raptors were the one bad team with a positive point differential, but they were 0-10 against the 12 teams over .500 ... until they won in Dallas and Oklahoma City over the weekend. Now, all of a sudden, they lead their division and look like a legitimately decent squad. They're 5-2 since the Rudy Gay trade, improved both offensively and defensively, and only Masai Ujiri knows what comes next.
This week: @ SAS, @ NYK, vs. NYK
15. Washington (Last Week: 19) Pace: 95.4 (21), OffRtg: 101.0 (20), DefRtg: 102.7 (16), NetRtg: -1.7 (16)
Three games against the Atlantic Division helped the Wizards win without Nene for the first time this season, climb within a game of .500, and get their offense back on track. The 112 points per 100 possessions they scored were the most they've scored in any three-game stretch this season. Bradley Beal returned to hit a bunch of big shots in New York and shoot 7-for-13 from 3-point range for the week.
This week: @ MIN, vs. DET
16. New Orleans (Last Week: 13) Pace: 95.7 (19), OffRtg: 105.3 (9), DefRtg: 105.5 (26), NetRtg: -0.2 (15)
Anthony Davis returned last week, shot 18-for-31, and totaled 45 points and 21 rebounds in two games. But it didn't matter, because the Pelicans were playing on the road against the Clippers and Blazers and because their defense is really bad. They've lost eight straight road games within the Western Conference and need a win in Sacramento on Monday to salvage their five-game road trip.
This week: @ SAC, vs. DEN, @ HOU
17. Los Angeles Lakers (Last Week: 15) Pace: 99.4 (4), OffRtg: 100.8 (21), DefRtg: 103.3 (18), NetRtg: -2.5 (20)
The Lakers have been better without Kobe Bryant than they were in the six games with him. Friday's victory over the Wolves -- their first game after Bryant's knee fracture -- was one of their best wins of the season. But part of the blame for their with-Kobe struggles was on the rust he was trying to shake off after a long layoff. He'll have more rust to deal with when he returns again in six weeks.
This week: @ PHX, vs. MIA, @ UTA, vs. PHI
18. Detroit (Last Week: 17) Pace: 96.4 (16), OffRtg: 102.8 (16), DefRtg: 104.7 (24), NetRtg: -1.9 (18)
With a win in Indiana (in which they scored 101 points at a slow pace against the No. 1 defense) and a loss to the Bobcats at home (in which they allowed the No. 29 offense to score 116), the Pistons are your Jekyll and Hyde Team of the Week. They've lost seven of their last nine at the Palace and have been 5.9 points per 100 possessions (largest discrepancy in the league) better on the road.
This week: @ CLE, @ ORL, @ WAS
19. Boston (Last Week: 16) Pace: 95.3 (22), OffRtg: 99.4 (23), DefRtg: 102.0 (13), NetRtg: -2.7 (21)
With three straight losses, the Celtics appear to be on another one of their downswings. But they led the Pistons by 21 points on Wednesday, led the Wizards by 18 on Saturday, and probably weren't going to win in Indiana on Sunday no matter how well they played. Jordan Crawford has cooled off, shooting 34 percent from the field and 5-for-29 from 3-point range over the last six games.
This week: vs. CLE
20. Charlotte (Last Week: 25) Pace: 94.8 (24), OffRtg: 96.1 (29), DefRtg: 98.0 (4), NetRtg: -1.8 (17)
When you rank 29th in offensive efficiency and play at a slow pace, you're not supposed to come back from big deficits. But the Bobcats came back from 16 down in the third quarter in Toronto on Wednesday and from 18 down late in the third in Detroit on Friday. With Jeffery Taylor (done for the season with a torn Achilles) and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist both out, they're down to zero small forwards.
This week: vs. MIL, vs. OKC, @ ATL
21. Cleveland (Last Week: 21) Pace: 96.1 (17), OffRtg: 97.8 (26), DefRtg: 103.7 (19), NetRtg: -5.9 (27)
Mike Brown's defense held its opponent under a point per possession in six of its first 11 games, but in only three of its last 15. The Cavs rank 24th defensively in that time and the low point may have come Saturday, when they let the depleted Bulls score 100 points in a slow-paced game. Otherwise, it was a thrilling week, with their games against the Blazers and Bucks going down to the wire.
This week: vs. DET, vs. ATL, @ BOS, vs. GSW
22. Memphis (Last Week: 20) Pace: 92.1 (30), OffRtg: 100.1 (22), DefRtg: 105.4 (25), NetRtg: -5.3 (26)
The Grizzlies' defense continues to be pretty terrible without Marc Gasol, but they do get to play Eastern Conference teams every once in a while. A visit to New York on Saturday helped them end their five-game losing streak and helped Zach Randolph break out of a shooting slump. They've still lost seven straight games against the West and are 0-7 in their division with a visit to Houston on Thursday.
This week: vs. UTA, @ HOU, vs. DEN
23. Brooklyn (Last Week: 22) Pace: 94.7 (25), OffRtg: 102.8 (15), DefRtg: 106.4 (28), NetRtg: -3.6 (23)
What's worse than losing to the Sixers? Losing to the Sixers and losing Brook Lopez for the season in the process. The Nets have depth up front, are getting healthier, and rank third offensively since Deron Williams' return. But their defense has been awful (allowing 109.1 points per 100 possessions) with Lopez off the floor and he was their biggest matchup advantage on most nights.
This week: vs. IND, vs. CHI, vs. MIL, @ IND
24. New York (Last Week: 23) Pace: 92.4 (29), OffRtg: 101.4 (19), DefRtg: 104.6 (23), NetRtg: -3.2 (22)
It's hard to believe the Knicks could get more bone-headed than they were at the end of Monday's loss to the Wizards. But then Andrea Bargnani took maybe the dumbest shot you'll ever see on Wednesday in Milwaukee. The defense has been better with Tyson Chandler back, but the offense is lost with two point guards injured and Iman Shumpert shooting 6-for-42 over the last eight games.
This week: @ ORL, vs. OKC, vs. TOR, @ TOR
25. Chicago (Last Week: 24) Pace: 93.5 (28), OffRtg: 96.2 (28), DefRtg: 98.7 (5), NetRtg: -2.4 (19)
Two weeks ago, D.J. Augustin was the third-string point guard for a team that hasn't won a playoff series in 12 years. Now, he's the starting point guard for the Bulls, and his 10 assists against Cleveland on Saturday helped them break out of their slump. With Kirk Hinrich, Jimmy Butler and Luol Deng all banged up, this team needs some rest and it's getting some, with just one game in six days.
This week: @ BKN, vs. DAL
26. Utah (Last Week: 27) Pace: 93.8 (27), OffRtg: 97.4 (27), DefRtg: 108.2 (30), NetRtg: -10.8 (30)
The Jazz are now 7-9 with Trey Burke in the starting lineup (5-4 on the road). Both Burke and Alec Burks had 30-point games in Florida last week and the latter seems to enjoy sharing the floor with the former. Burks has shot 55 percent from the field and 8-for-10 from 3-point range with Burke on the floor. Derrick Favors and Richard Jefferson have also been much better shooters with their new point guard.
This week: @ MEM, vs. LAL, @ LAC
27. Sacramento (Last Week: 26) Pace: 96.5 (15), OffRtg: 102.3 (17), DefRtg: 106.2 (27), NetRtg: -3.9 (24)
DeMarcus Cousins is putting up All-Star numbers and Rudy Gay has been much more efficient in Sacramento than he was in Toronto. But it hasn't mattered, because the Kings' defense has been generally awful. They have played a tough schedule and things get easier in January, but this week could get ugly. Ben McLemore should just get out of the way if LeBron James gets near the rim again.
This week: vs. NOP, vs. MIA, @ SAS
28. Orlando (Last Week: 28) Pace: 97.0 (14), OffRtg: 98.6 (24), DefRtg: 102.5 (14), NetRtg: -4.0 (25)
In a battle of terrible offenses on Monday, Chicago's was worse. But the Magic may have set a new standard by scoring a measly 82 points on 33 percent shooting against the league's worst defense on Wednesday. That loss to Utah may also have hurt Victor Oladipo's Rookie of the Year campaign. He shot 1-for-12, while Trey Burke scored a career-high 30 points, mostly against Jameer Nelson.
This week: vs. NYK, vs. DET, vs. ATL
29. Milwaukee (Last Week: 30) Pace: 93.9 (26), OffRtg: 95.4 (30), DefRtg: 104.2 (20), NetRtg: -8.8 (28)
If you were a Giannis Antetokounmpo fan waiting for him to check in every night, you don't have to wait any more, because Antetokounmpo has started the last three games. His numbers have been modest, but the Bucks have been 12.9 points per 100 possessions better with him on the floor this season. He's a minus-4 in 445 minutes for a team that's been outscored by 213 points overall.
This week: @ CHA, @ BKN, vs. MIN
30. Philadelphia (Last Week: 29) Pace: 101.8 (1), OffRtg: 97.9 (25), DefRtg: 107.1 (29), NetRtg: -9.2 (29)
The Sixers have now lost 17 straight games determined in regulation, but picked up another OT win on Friday. That game also marked the return of Michael Carter-Williams after a seven-game absence, and the offense immediately picked up with its point guard back. In the span of three days, their defense was responsible for two of the seven times in NBA history a team has hit at least 21 threes in a game.
This week: @ PHX, @ LAL
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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