Spurs, Nuggets thrive in 'dog days'
All-Star 2013 is just a few days away, and it promises to be a entertaining weekend.
The BBVA Rising Stars Challenge will showcase some of the talented kids who have been buried on League Pass all season. The announced fields for the Foot Locker Three-Point Contest and Sprite Slam Dunk Contest have anticipation for All-Star Saturday Night higher than it's been in a while. And the All-Star Game is always the highlight of the weekend.
Maybe the best thing this week is that it puts an end to this stretch between Christmas and the break, which some call "the dog days" of the NBA season.
As we've documented quite a bit in this space, there's been a good deal of inconsistency over the last month and a half. And you can start with the defending conference champions. The Miami Heat went through a 4-6 stretch from late December to mid-January, while the Oklahoma City Thunder went 19 days without winning consecutive games.
Other teams -- like the Clippers, Bulls and Grizzlies -- dealt with injuries or trade angst. And others just fell off the map completely.
But a few teams took advantage of this stretch to play their best basketball of the season. The San Antonio Spurs have gone 19-4 since Christmas and now hold the best record in the league. The Denver Nuggets have gone 18-6 and put themselves in position to grab a top-four seed in the West.
And thankfully, a few other teams haven't waited until the break to turn it up a notch. The aforementioned Heat have started to show some defensive improvement. The aforementioned Thunder have won their last four games by an average of more than 25 points. And the Boston Celtics have won seven straight in the wake of Rajon Rondo's injury.
So once we get through the break and the trade deadline (which may or may not alter the landscape), we should be in store for a great home stretch of the season. And of course, all eyes will be on that team in L.A. which we haven't mentioned yet, as they try to avoid the embarrassment of missing the playoffs.
• Last week: Spurs stay hot despite injuries • This time last year: Wide-open West gets interesting - Kobe Bryant hit a game-winner in Toronto, Steve Nash hit a game-winner in Milwaukee, Russell Westbrook saved a game with one of the most amazing blocked shots you'll ever see, the Spurs were 3-0 on the rodeo trip, and the Nets were playing the worst defense of the last 20 years.
Hero Team of the Week: Indiana (3-1) -- When you sweep the only back-to-back-to-back set of the season, this award is yours. Zero Team of the Week: Golden State (0-4) - When you lose four games by an average of 20.8 points, this one is yours.
Plus-minus Stud: Thabo Sefolosha (OKC) was a plus-104 in four games last week. Plus-minus Dud: Marcin Gortat (PHX) was a minus-65 in four games last week.
High jumps of the week: Boston (+5), Indiana (+4), Washington (+3) Free falls of the week: Minnesota (-4), Milwaukee (-3), BKN, GSW, POR (-2)
East vs. West: The West is 174-128 (.576) against the East in inter-conference games this season, but the East was 12-10 last week.
Toughest schedules through Sunday: 1. New Orleans, 2. Washington, 3. Phoenix Easiest schedules through Sunday: 1. Atlanta, 2. New York, 3. Oklahoma City 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 102.6 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.
San Antonio (40-12)|
Pace: 96.4 (7), OffRtg: 107.3 (4), DefRtg: 98.4 (3), NetRtg: +8.9 (2)
The Spurs' winning streak came to an end when they got scorched in Detroit on Friday, but they won the race to 40 wins in Brooklyn on Sunday. That probably doesn't affect Gregg Popovich's conservative approach to Tim Duncan's and Manu Ginobili's day-to-day status, but it doesn't hurt. So don't be surprised if neither sees action before the break. Either way, Tony Parker's got this.
Last week: 1|
Oklahoma City (39-12)|
Pace: 96.0 (8), OffRtg: 110.3 (1), DefRtg: 99.3 (5), NetRtg: +11.0 (1)
The Thunder are back to winning more than one game in a row and, after holding the Suns to 69 points on Sunday, are back in the top five defensively for the first time since Week 2. So it's a good time for another meeting with the champs, which comes Thursday. Going back to Game 2 of The Finals, they've allowed the Heat to score 112 points per 100 possessions over five games.
Last week: 2|
Pace: 93.1 (21), OffRtg: 109.9 (2), DefRtg: 101.6 (12), NetRtg: +8.2 (3)
LeBron James is on a ridiculous run, shooting 55-for-77 (71 percent) and averaging 31.0 points, 6.8 rebounds and 6.0 assists as the Heat have won five straight. And since he completed avoided the cold/flu that ran through the Miami locker room last week, it's fair to wonder if he's human. Dwyane Wade (52 percent, 24.8 points, 6.0 boards, 5.8 assists) hasn't been too bad either.
Last week: 3|
Pace: 97.7 (2), OffRtg: 106.1 (6), DefRtg: 101.9 (13), NetRtg: +4.3 (6)
The Nuggets' road trip is only halfway done, but it's already been fascinating. First, they came a missed Wilson Chandler three from having all nine guys in double-figures in Cleveland on Saturday. Then, they fell in triple-OT in Boston on Sunday, with Andre Miller pulling up for a three to win with plenty of time left on the clock. He's now 9-for-41 (22 percent) on threes this season.
Last week: 4|
L.A. Clippers (36-17)|
Pace: 94.1 (15), OffRtg: 105.7 (7), DefRtg: 99.4 (6), NetRtg: +6.4 (4)
Eric Bledsoe had a huge game (27 points, six rebounds, six steals and three blocks) in Orlando on Wednesday, but he's back where he belongs -- the bench -- with the return of Chris Paul. And the Clippers' bench provided a huge lift in Sunday's win in New York. Bledsoe was active, Jamal Crawford was on fire, and Grant Hill helped keep Carmelo Anthony in check down the stretch.
Last week: 5|
Pace: 92.3 (26), OffRtg: 100.0 (24), DefRtg: 96.2 (1), NetRtg: +3.8 (7)
What a week in Pacerland. They impressively swept the only back-to-back-to-back set of the 2012-13 NBA season, with different guys carrying the load each night. It was David West (29 points) against the Bulls, Paul George (29 points) against the Hawks, and Roy Hibbert (18 and 14) in Philly. But then they got Reggie Millered by Amir Johnson and Rudy Gay in Toronto on Friday.
Last week: 10|
Pace: 92.1 (27), OffRtg: 100.8 (18), DefRtg: 98.8 (4), NetRtg: +2.0 (10)
Pacers 111, Bulls 101 was probably the most bizarre score of the season, given the way the two teams have typically played. The Chicago defense hasn't really recovered since and, obviously, the continued issues with Joakim Noah's right foot is a major concern. In the wake of Omer Asik's departure, Tom Thibodeau was working Noah as much as he has worked Luol Deng over the years.
Last week: 6|
New York (32-17)|
Pace: 92.5 (24), OffRtg: 108.9 (3), DefRtg: 102.9 (14), NetRtg: +6.0 (5)
Carmelo Anthony averaged 34.0 points and 8.3 boards in four games last week, but the Knicks' defense couldn't hold its end of the bargain against the Wizards or Clippers. And the role players just aren't role playing as well as they did early in the season. Maybe worn down by point guard duty in Raymond Felton's absence, Jason Kidd has shot just 13-for-55 on threes over the last 15 games.
Last week: 7|
Pace: 91.8 (28), OffRtg: 100.4 (21), DefRtg: 97.6 (2), NetRtg: +2.8 (8)
The Grizzlies' new starting lineup is a minus-12 in 74 minutes together and they're just 3-3 since the Rudy Gay trade. But they got a huge win over the Warriors on Friday, holding a top-10 offense to just 37 points in the second half. That was a welcome sight after they're own late-game execution was dreadful (four turnovers in the final three minutes) in Tuesday's loss to the Suns.
Last week: 8|
Pace: 93.7 (19), OffRtg: 100.4 (22), DefRtg: 99.5 (7), NetRtg: +0.9 (12)
The Celtics' seven-game, Rondo-less winning streak has included big wins over two great teams -- Miami and Denver -- also playing their best basketball. And the offense has been sharp. But six of the seven games have been at home, and the seventh was against the Raptors. If they've got a legit shot at a top-five seed in the East, they'll prove it on their West Coast trip after the break.
Last week: 15|
Golden State (30-21)|
Pace: 96.6 (6), OffRtg: 104.0 (9), DefRtg: 103.2 (16), NetRtg: +0.8 (13)
The Warriors' defense didn't hold up on their four-game trip, allowing 119 points per 100 possessions in Houston, OKC, Memphis and Dallas. Incredibly, they allowed an average of 67.3 points in the first half! They've got a bottom-10 defense since Christmas and have now been outscored by three points this season, an amazing stat for a team that's nine games over .500.
Last week: 9|
Pace: 98.6 (1), OffRtg: 106.7 (5), DefRtg: 104.4 (21), NetRtg: +2.3 (9)
The Rockets have won four straight games at home, scoring 127 points per 100 possessions. And they've lost three straight on the road, allowing 116. On Tuesday, they visit the Warriors, who might be seeking some revenge for the thrashing -- 140 points and an NBA record-tying 23 3-pointers -- the Rockets put on them a week earlier. Then it's a visit to the Clippers on Wednesday.
Last week: 13|
Pace: 90.6 (30), OffRtg: 103.4 (12), DefRtg: 103.6 (18), NetRtg: -0.3 (15)
The Nets have a bad habit of getting their butts kicked by the league's best teams. They lost three games to the Heat by a total of 63 points and two games to the Spurs by a total of 56. They could certainly use some help at the trade deadline and Josh Smith would be nice, but Billy King might have a tough time finding the assets needed to get another deal done with his friend Danny Ferry.
Last week: 11|
Pace: 93.7 (18), OffRtg: 103.5 (11), DefRtg: 104.5 (22), NetRtg: -1.0 (18)
Paul Millsap was a pretty incredible 9-for-17 on clutch 3-pointers in his career before Friday. But he missed two to tie in the final seconds of Friday's loss to the Bulls. More concerning is Utah's defense (which gave 120 points to the Kings on Saturday) and turnovers (17.8 per game in four games last week). What's encouraging is that Enes Kanter had a couple of big games off the bench.
Last week: 14|
Pace: 97.4 (3), OffRtg: 99.9 (26), DefRtg: 100.9 (9), NetRtg: -1.0 (17)
Not only did Samuel Dalembert score a career-high 35 points in just 27 minutes in Denver on Tuesday, but he followed it up with 10 points, 11 boards, four steals and four blocks in Utah on Wednesday, just the fifth such 4x4 game in the league this season. Still, the Bucks have lost five of their last six games and were clearly missing Larry Sanders in losses to the Jazz and Pistons last week.
Last week: 12|
L.A. Lakers (24-28)|
Pace: 97.1 (4), OffRtg: 105.0 (8), DefRtg: 103.3 (17), NetRtg: +1.7 (11)
The public airing of grievances in Lakerland has become pretty tiresome. It's uglier than Adele's Grammy dress and has somehow made Dwight Howard's dad pine for Stan Van Gundy. At least we'll always have Earl Clark, who has averaged 11.9 points and 9.3 rebounds since becoming a permanent fixture in the rotation 19 games ago, earning himself a nice payday this summer.
Last week: 16|
Pace: 93.8 (17), OffRtg: 101.8 (16), DefRtg: 101.5 (11), NetRtg: +0.3 (14)
It sounds like the Hawks and Josh Smith aren't on the same page regarding how much money he should be making after this season. And obviously Smith - who had 19 points, 11 boards, six assists and three blocks in Wednesday's win over the Grizzlies - is a guy who can make a real impact on a playoff race (or in the playoffs) should the Hawks opt to move him in the next 10 days.
Last week: 17|
Pace: 96.7 (5), OffRtg: 102.2 (14), DefRtg: 104.1 (20), NetRtg: -2.0 (19)
A group of Mavs players say they're growing beards until they get back to .500. Some questions... If they don't make it there by the end of the season (a very likely scenario), will they shave on April 18 or in October, when they're back to 0-0? And if one (or more) of them is traded to a winning team in the next 10 days, will he shave when he gets there or only if the Mavs get back to .500?
Last week: 20|
Pace: 93.0 (23), OffRtg: 101.3 (17), DefRtg: 103.6 (19), NetRtg: -2.4 (20)
League Pass is still the best thing ever, but it's a little less awesome with Andre Drummond out for 4-6 weeks. The Pistons got two impressive wins without him though, and they've been strong offensively with their new backcourt on the floor. Brandon Knight scored 24 points in Friday's win over the Spurs and Jose Calderon had 23 points and 10 assists in Saturday's win in Milwaukee.
Last week: 19|
Pace: 93.6 (20), OffRtg: 102.3 (13), DefRtg: 104.8 (24), NetRtg: -2.5 (21)
If you have any ideas about making the playoffs, you just can't lose to the Magic. But the Blazers did and, despite a big week (27.0 points, 10.0 boards over four games) from LaMarcus Aldridge, have dropped three straight. Their playoff credentials were always suspect, of course. Now, they've lost seven of their last eight road games, with two more (in Miami and New Orleans) before the break.
Last week: 18|
Pace: 93.0 (22), OffRtg: 98.8 (28), DefRtg: 101.5 (10), NetRtg: -2.7 (22)
The Sixers have won four of their last five games, but the wins have all been against bad teams and Evan Turner has been pretty brutal. He has shot 16-for-53 (30 percent) in that stretch, with only six trips to the line and almost as many turnovers (15) as buckets. Philly can put a real scare in the eighth-place Bucks with a win in Milwaukee on Wednesday, but their post-break schedule is tough.
Last week: 21|
Pace: 93.8 (25), OffRtg: 103.7 (10), DefRtg: 104.7 (23), NetRtg: -1.0 (16)
It didn't take long for Rudy Gay to get his first game-winner as a Raptor. Of course, that came two days after Toronto blew a double-digit, fourth-quarter lead for the fifth time this season against the Celtics on Wednesday. Gay has shot just 41 percent from the field and 5-for-24 from 3-point range since the trade, but the Raps have been very good defensively with him on the floor.
Last week: 24|
Pace: 94.3 (14), OffRtg: 95.2 (30), DefRtg: 99.6 (8), NetRtg: -4.5 (24)
Add the Clippers, Knicks and Nets to the list of playoff teams the Wizards have knocked off. They've won eight of their last nine games at home and have the league's second-best defense (DefRtg: 97.3) since Christmas. Martell Webster is having the best season of his career and has averaged 17.5 points over the last four games, shooting 16-for-25 from 3-point range.
Last week: 26|
Pace: 95.2 (9), OffRtg: 100.7 (19), DefRtg: 106.9 (28), NetRtg: -6.1 (27)
The Cavs' defense has remained terrible, but their offense has been much improved of late, scoring 109 points per 100 possessions over the last 12 games. Marreese Speights has provided a boost, but Tristan Thompson's development has also been a big factor. The second-year forward has averaged 16.1 points and 9.4 boards in that stretch, shooting 55 percent.
Last week: 23|
New Orleans (17-34)|
Pace: 91.1 (29), OffRtg: 102.0 (15), DefRtg: 106.7 (27), NetRtg: -4.7 (25)
Eric Gordon continues to talk like he's not happy in New Orleans. And that's a shame, because the Pelicans could be a really fun, young team next season if they're healthy and can bring in another talented piece or two. What's not to love about a core of Greivis Vasquez (26), Gordon (24), Ryan Anderson (24) and Anthony Davis (19)? Hopefully, Gordon eventually sees the light.
Last week: 25|
Pace: 94.5 (12), OffRtg: 100.2 (23), DefRtg: 103.0 (15), NetRtg: -2.7 (23)
Only the Magic (three) and Bobcats (four) have fewer wins since Christmas than the Wolves (five). The good news is that Derrick Williams has shown some signs of life (double-figures in seven games since Jan. 1) and we get to see Ricky vs. Kyrie twice this week. They'll face off on Monday in Cleveland and on Friday in Houston. Neither played all that great in their first meeting last January.
Last week: 22|
Pace: 95.0 (10), OffRtg: 100.7 (20), DefRtg: 108.2 (29), NetRtg: -7.5 (29)
The Pizza Guy (Isaiah Thomas) delivered two more wins over the weekend, scoring 25 points (12 in the restricted area) in Saturday's win over the Jazz and another 23 (13 at the free throw line) in Sunday's win over the Rockets. The Kings scored 137 points in the two games and, despite the league's fourth-worst point differential since Christmas, they've gone 10-15 in that time.
Last week: 28|
Pace: 94.9 (11), OffRtg: 99.0 (27), DefRtg: 105.2 (26), NetRtg: -6.3 (28)
The Suns' offense has been pretty anemic under Lindsey Hunter, scoring just 96.6 points per 100 possessions over 10 games and hitting a new low -- 69 points on 33 percent shooting -- in Sunday's loss to the Thunder. After getting drubbed by a total 59 points in the home-and-home series, the Suns are probably happy that they won't see OKC again until next season.
Last week: 27|
Pace: 93.8 (16), OffRtg: 99.9 (25), DefRtg: 105.1 (25), NetRtg: -5.2 (26)
After shooting 34 percent on Monday and Wednesday, the Magic shot 51 percent on Friday and Sunday. And their 12-game losing streak came to an merciful end against the Blazers, thanks in part to J.J. Redick's 22 points (on 9-for-13) and five assists in his return from a sore shoulder. Ironically, nobody on the Magic tried to call Redick out for not being able to play through pain.
Last week: 30|
Pace: 94.5 (13), OffRtg: 98.2 (29), DefRtg: 108.3 (30), NetRtg: -10.1 (30)
If the Bobcats weren't so terrible, Ramon Sessions would be a candidate for Sixth Man of the Year. Sessions has scored 20-plus points in five of the last nine games and is now averaging 15.0 points for the season. Ben Gordon, meanwhile, has reportedly been offered to Brooklyn for Kris Humphries, a deal that would improve the Charlotte defense in a addition-by-subtraction sense.
Last week: 29|