Clear big three at midway point
It's hard to believe we're already here. Come Tuesday, when two of the night's four games are complete, we'll officially reach the halfway point of the 2012-13 NBA season.
It has certainly been an eventful first half, and things should only get more interesting with the trade deadline and playoff push coming in the next few months. And while the dysfunctional mediocrity of the Lakers and Celtics continues to be the most fascinating storyline of the season, the three best teams in basketball continue to separate themselves from the pack.
For the third straight week, we could probably just have a three-way tie atop the rankings. The Clippers, Spurs and Thunder are head and shoulders above the rest of the league right now, but none of the three are more than a nose ahead the other two.
The Clippers and Spurs have the league's best records since Christmas at 11-3. The Thunder are 11-4. The Spurs have the best point differential in that time, while the Clippers have played a tougher schedule.
So for now, it's the Clippers' turn to be No. 1. And after they won in Memphis by 26 points without Chris Paul, there's not much of an argument against it.
Fortunately, the Clips and Thunder can settle things on the court on Tuesday in L.A. Unfortunately, the Spurs won't play either of the other two teams until after the All-Star break. But they get an extra pat on the back for ranking fifth in pace, fifth in offensive efficiency and fifth in defensive efficiency through Sunday's games. That's some serious symmetry.
• Last week: East playoff picture gets interesting
• This time last year: Bulls are No. 1 at the quarter pole The Magic had a better record than the Heat, Russell Westbrook signed his contract extension, the Knicks had lost six straight games, and the Clippers went 3-2 without Chris Paul, though they might have gone 4-1 if it weren't for this shot from Kevin Love.
Hero Team of the Week: L.A. Clippers (4-0) - The Clips won three games on the road without their best player.
Zero Team of the Week: Houston (0-4) - The Rockets have slid right out of the playoffs.
Plus-minus Stud: Carlos Boozer (CHI) was a plus-60 in four games last week.
Plus-minus Dud: James Harden (HOU) was a minus-51 in four games last week.
High jumps of the week: Utah (+4), Chicago (+3), Dallas (+3), Washington (+3)
Free falls of the week: Houston (-4), Toronto (-4), Orlando (-3)
East vs. West: The West is 147-101 (.593) against the East in inter-conference games this season, and was 12-8 last week.
Toughest schedules through Sunday: 1. Denver, 2. New Orleans, 3. San Antonio
Easiest schedules through Sunday: 1. Indiana 2. Oklahoma City 3. Atlanta
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 94.3 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes and 102.4 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.
L.A. Clippers (32-9)|
Pace: 94.5 (13), OffRtg: 107.4 (4), DefRtg: 97.8 (3), NetRtg: +9.6 (2)
It looks like Ronny Turiaf is the odd man out of the Clippers' rotation now that Grant Hill is healthy. So keep an eye on the Clippers' defense going forward. It's been the biggest key to their improvement and has mostly come from a second unit that has been great all season, but has played just 18 minutes together over the last eight games. The D will be really tested Tuesday vs. the Thunder.
Last week: 3|
San Antonio (32-11)|
Pace: 96.6 (5), OffRtg: 106.9 (5), DefRtg: 98.2 (5), NetRtg: +8.7 (3)
The Spurs have won four straight, even though Manu Ginobili played just the first half of the first game, and though Stephen Jackson and Gary Neal haven't exactly stepped up, shooting 14-for-48 over the last three. Oh yeah, Tim Duncan also sat out Saturday's win in Atlanta. The key has been holding four straight opponents under a point per possession for the first time this season.
Last week: 2|
Oklahoma City (32-9)|
Pace: 95.4 (8), OffRtg: 110.2 (1), DefRtg: 100.0 (6), NetRtg: +10.2 (1)
The Thunder have split the first two games of their six-game road trip, both of which went to overtime. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook combined for 156 points in the two games, but Westbrook's two blocks on Rocky the Mountain Lion was the best job OKC did of defending the basket all weekend. Tuesday brings a showdown with the Clips for first place in the West.
Last week: 1|
Pace: 93.8 (18), OffRtg: 108.8 (3), DefRtg: 101.4 (11), NetRtg: +7.4 (4)
The Heat finished their road trip strong, picking up back-to-back wins against the Warriors and Lakers. More important, they held two top-10 offensive teams to a paltry 85 points per 100 possessions, showing how good they can be defensively when they're focused on that end. And yeah, while Kevin Durant keeps getting better, LeBron James is still the clear best player in the world.
Last week: 5|
Pace: 97.0 (3), OffRtg: 105.3 (7), DefRtg: 102.9 (15), NetRtg: +2.4 (9)
When you lose to the Wizards and beat the Thunder, it's not a great weekend, nor is it a terrible weekend. It's a Nuggets weekend. A healthy Wilson Chandler should help the Denver defense from falling off too much when Andre Iguodala steps off the floor, but that hasn't been the case so far. The Nuggets have allowed 107 points per 100 possessions over their last eight games.
Last week: 4|
Pace: 92.0 (28), OffRtg: 99.8 (22), DefRtg: 96.9 (2), NetRtg: +2.9 (6)
The Grizz began the week by losing to the Clippers and Spurs by a combined 47 points. Then they held the Kings and Bulls to a total of just 145 points in regulation. And in the four games, they shot 10-for-41 from 3-point range. So they're not among the elite teams in the West, they're still a great defensive team, and they still desperately need shooting. This is not breaking news.
Last week: 6|
New York (25-13)|
Pace: 93.2 (22), OffRtg: 109.0 (2), DefRtg: 102.9 (16), NetRtg: +6.1 (5)
Jason Kidd and J.R. Smith are shooting a combined 38 percent from the field and 29 percent from 3-point range in January. Yet, the Knicks still have the league's third most efficient offense this month. With the Nets, Celtics and Hawks on the schedule this week, New York can either solidify its position as the No. 2 team in the East or make things a lot more interesting.
Last week: 8|
Golden State (24-15)|
Pace: 96.3 (7), OffRtg: 103.9 (10), DefRtg: 101.6 (12), NetRtg: +2.3 (10)
Last week brought another scary Stephen Curry ankle injury, but he did return for Saturday's win in New Orleans (though he shot just 5-for-17) after missing losses to the Heat and Spurs. With the Warriors defense continuing to regress (108 points allowed per 100 possessions over the last seven games), we have to wonder when (or if) Andrew Bogut will return from his ankle injury.
Last week: 7|
Pace: 90.5 (29), OffRtg: 104.9 (8), DefRtg: 103.6 (19), NetRtg: +1.2 (12)
The Nets are 10-2 under P.J. Carlesimo and could be 11-1 if they bothered to get back in transition Wednesday in Atlanta, when the Hawks scored 29 fast-break points. Brooklyn's next eight games could be season-defining. This week brings four road games, including trips to New York, Memphis and Houston. Then it's a four-game homestand, with visits from the Heat, Bulls and Lakers.
Last week: 9|
Pace: 92.4 (27), OffRtg: 98.4 (29), DefRtg: 95.7 (1), NetRtg: +2.7 (7)
Last week, it was noted that the Pacers are 1-7 on the road against other East playoff teams. The other side of the coin is that they've won 11 straight games at home, including victories over the Heat, Knicks and Rockets in January. Paul George has averaged 23.2 points on 48 percent shooting in the 11 games, while Indy opponents have scored just 91.1 points per 100 possessions.
Last week: 10|
Pace: 92.7 (24), OffRtg: 100.1 (21), DefRtg: 98.0 (4), NetRtg: +2.1 (11)
Playing three straight overtime games, the Bulls benefited from a bad call in Toronto and a Marco Belinelli miracle in Boston. And of course, it was the home game that they lost. Luol Deng's absence (strained hamstring) had something to do with that loss the Grizzlies, and Deng's health going forward is obviously a huge factor as several teams battle for top-four seeds in the East.
Last week: 14|
Pace: 96.9 (4), OffRtg: 99.3 (26), DefRtg: 100.2 (7), NetRtg: -0.9 (17)
A 3-1 road trip has the Bucks at 5-2 under Jim Boylan and back to being comfortably in playoff position as they host ninth-place Philadelphia on Tuesday. They haven't been tearing it up offensively, but they've increased their pace in those seven games. And that seems to be a good thing, because they're now 16-8 in games played at a pace of 96 possessions per team or faster.
Last week: 13|
Pace: 94.1 (16), OffRtg: 103.9 (11), DefRtg: 104.2 (23), NetRtg: -0.4 (16)
The Jazz are 7-2 in January and looking good to make the playoffs, considering how poorly their competition is playing of late. Their starting lineup with Jamaal Tinsley at point has been much better offensively (OffRtg: 107.6) than it was with Mo Williams running the show (99.0). Randy Foye has shot 47 percent overall and 50 percent (45-for-90) from 3-point range with Tinsley on the floor.
Last week: 17|
Pace: 93.5 (21), OffRtg: 100.2 (20), DefRtg: 100.5 (8), NetRtg: -0.3 (15)
Just five days ago, the Celtics had won six straight games. Now, they've lost three straight and Doc Rivers is threatening a trade (or two) if things don't get better. Six straight wins was nice, but they're back to being just a .500, eighth-place team with a negative point differential. And you know what's the most games they've won in any 10-game stretch this season? Six.
Last week: 12|
Pace: 99.0 (1), OffRtg: 104.4 (9), DefRtg: 104.0 (20), NetRtg: +0.4 (13)
The Rockets' seven-game losing streak has taken them from sixth to ninth in the West. Six of the seven games have been on the road, but if they're travel-weary, things won't get much easier any time soon. They won't be home for more than two straight games until mid-March. James Harden and Jeremy Lin have combined to shoot 37 percent (24 percent from three) during the streak.
Last week: 11|
Pace: 93.7 (20), OffRtg: 101.1 (17), DefRtg: 100.8 (9), NetRtg: +0.3 (14)
The Hawks' offense was already struggling (it ranks 29th in January), and now they've lost Lou Williams (torn ACL) for the season. So they'll have to do their best Pacers imitation and start winning ugly if they're going to put an end to their current free fall (2-8 since Jan. 4) and remain competitive in the East. Friday's visit from Boston should give us a good idea of how much fight they've got left.
Last week: 15|
Pace: 93.8 (19), OffRtg: 101.6 (14), DefRtg: 104.1 (22), NetRtg: -2.5 (21)
Well, the Blazers' luck in close games has apparently run out. It's now 11 of their last 12 games that have been determined by six points or less, but they've lost five straight. The fourth quarter hasn't really been the problem though. They've been down 13 or more at halftime in four of their last six games. For the season, they rank 26th in first-half point differential at -6.6 points per 100 possessions.
Last week: 16|
Pace: 94.4 (14), OffRtg: 99.7 (23), DefRtg: 101.8 (13), NetRtg: -2.1 (20)
The Wolves got back to playing strong defense against the Clippers (an ugly loss) and Rockets (an ugly win), but their injury issues got worse, with Nikola Pekovic and Alexey Shved both getting hurt against L.A. The silver lining to the injuries is that they've brought Mickael Gelabale's hair back to the NBA. He and Chris Johnson combined for 26 points in their debuts on Saturday.
Last week: 18|
L.A. Lakers (17-23)|
Pace: 97.4 (2), OffRtg: 106.0 (6), DefRtg: 103.6 (18), NetRtg: +2.4 (8)
This is a huge three-game trip the Lakers are on, and it got off to a pretty terrible start in Toronto on Sunday. Now, they have to worry if fatigue is bringing Kobe Bryant's shooting back down to the level it was at the last couple of seasons. He has shot 26-for-80 (33 percent) in their last three losses. And the road trip concludes against two top-five defenses in Chicago and Memphis.
Last week: 19|
Pace: 92.6 (25), OffRtg: 101.0 (18), DefRtg: 102.7 (14), NetRtg: -1.7 (19)
Might Lawrence Frank be coming around on the Andre Drummond-Greg Monroe combination? They've played 10 minutes together in each of the Pistons' last two games, just the second time they've played double-digit minutes together in two straight games all season. Detroit outscored Boston 27-18 in their 10 minutes together on Sunday and has the No. 7 defense in January.
Last week: 20|
New Orleans (13-27)|
Pace: 90.4 (30), OffRtg: 101.6 (13), DefRtg: 105.9 (27), NetRtg: -4.3 (25)
Though they came up empty (1-for-4 with three turnovers) in the final minute against the Warriors on Saturday, the Hornets have won six of their last eight games. Anthony Davis is showing more consistency and Eric Gordon is their go-to scorer, but point guard Greivis Vasquez has been huge of late, averaging 17.4 points, 5.5 rebounds and 10.2 assists in 13 games since Christmas.
Last week: 22|
Pace: 96.3 (6), OffRtg: 101.4 (15), DefRtg: 104.4 (24), NetRtg: -3.0 (22)
The Mavs have won five of their last six to maintain some slim hopes of making the playoffs. They've scored a league-high 112 points per 100 possessions in that stretch, even though Dirk Nowitzki has shot just 39 percent. It's really been a balanced offense, with seven different guys averaging at least 9.2 points over the six games. Elton Brand is starting to see more consistent minutes.
Last week: 25|
Pace: 94.6 (12), OffRtg: 101.4 (16), DefRtg: 108.0 (29), NetRtg: -6.7 (28)
The Kings were the Bad Team That Beats The Other Bad Teams last week, knocking off the Cavs, Wizards and Bobcats. Now they can complete the sweep of teams with less than 14 wins with games against the Hornets (Monday) and Suns (Wednesday). Tyreke Evans is back in the starting lineup and he averaged 18.3 points on 20-for-31 shooting in the three wins last week.
Last week: 24|
Pace: 93.0 (23), OffRtg: 99.7 (24), DefRtg: 103.4 (17), NetRtg: -3.7 (24)
Jrue Holiday is making quite the All-Star push, averaging 30.7 points and 11.3 assists in his last three games. The Sixers' record could be held against him, but he should certainly have Dwane Casey's vote after he scored the Sixers' final 14 points in their win over the Raptors on Friday. That included the game-tying bucket with 1.9 seconds to go in regulation and all 12 points in overtime.
Last week: 23|
Pace: 92.6 (26), OffRtg: 103.5 (12), DefRtg: 104.8 (25), NetRtg: -1.4 (18)
With the way Ed Davis has been playing, does anyone in or out of Toronto want to see Andrea Bargnani come back? Davis was one of the most disappointing sophomores in the league last year, but he's looking better and better as this season goes on. Now, the Raptors just need to get Jonas Valanciunas back, so their frontcourt of the future can get some extended time on the floor together.
Last week: 21|
Pace: 94.1 (15), OffRtg: 94.5 (30), DefRtg: 101.0 (10), NetRtg: -6.5 (27)
The Wizards have looked like a pretty decent team over the last two weeks. Though he missed the game-winner in Sacramento on Wednesday, Bradley Beal is averaging 18.6 points and shooting a ridiculous 29-for-48 from 3-point range in January. The Wiz have scored a promising 104 points per 100 possessions in 82 minutes with Beal and John Wall on the floor together.
Last week: 29|
Pace: 94.7 (10), OffRtg: 98.9 (27), DefRtg: 106.8 (28), NetRtg: -7.9 (29)
Kyrie Irving's numbers are more than All-Star worthy and he was huge again down the stretch of Wednesday's win in Portland, but the Cavs are just an awful team. In another year, team record could certainly be held against him, but the crop of East guards is so weak this season, it's hard to imagine Irving not being on the list when reserves are announced Thursday night on TNT.
Last week: 28|
Pace: 94.7 (9), OffRtg: 99.6 (25), DefRtg: 104.9 (26), NetRtg: -5.3 (26)
Alvin Gentry is out after four seasons on the bench in Phoenix, and it's unclear what Lindsey Hunter is going to do with this roster. At this point, they can neither defend nor score. Though we knew they'd struggle defensively, we had to think they'd be decent on the other end. But they've had the league's worst offense, scoring just 95.8 points per 100 possessions, since Christmas.
Last week: 27|
Pace: 94.0 (17), OffRtg: 100.9 (19), DefRtg: 104.1 (21), NetRtg: -3.2 (23)
The Magic pulled off quite a double dip last week by losing to both the Wizards and Bobcats, giving up a total of 226 points, in the span of five days. Though Glen Davis has been back for four games now, the Orlando defense continues be pretty atrocious. They rank dead last on that end since Christmas, allowing an incredible 114.5 points per 100 possessions over 13 games.
Last week: 26|
Pace: 94.6 (11), OffRtg: 98.8 (28), DefRtg: 108.2 (30), NetRtg: -9.4 (30)
The Bobcats now have 14-game home losing streaks in two straight seasons, which is a pretty remarkable feat. On Monday though, the Rockets bring their seven-game losing streak to Charlotte, so something has got to give! And after that, the Cats get visits from the struggling Hawks and struggling Wolves. So it should be a fascinating week at Time Warner Cable Arena.
Last week: 30|