By John Schuhmann, NBA.com
Posted Dec 2, 2013 10:57 AM
Everything looked good when they were 7-4 and in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency. But they've gone 2-6 since then and, at 9-10, are now in 13th place in the Western Conference.
Thirteenth place! At just a game under .500.
These are the circumstances in a crowded Western Conference, where the Wolves are just going to have to do better than beating the bad teams on their schedule. They're now 4-7 against the other teams in the West's top 13. That's not going to work.
Sure, the Phoenix Suns and New Orleans Pelicans probably won't hang around .500 for much of the season, but there are still too many good teams to fit in an eight-team playoff bracket, especially with the Lakers making noise without Kobe Bryant.
The Spurs and Thunder appear to be the cream of the crop, but there's a lot of parity within the group. In fact, in games played among the top 13 teams in the West, 12 of the 13 teams (all but 2-5 New Orleans) have at least three wins and all 13 have at least three losses. San Antonio has lost to the Blazers, Thunder and Rockets, while Oklahoma City has lost to the Wolves, Clippers and Warriors.
As fans, we get to see important Western Conference games almost on a nightly basis. But surely, a few of these teams would love to request a transfer to the Eastern Conference.
* * *
• This time last year: Are the Heat heating up? - Gregg Popovich sent Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Danny Green home before the Spurs' game in Miami, which they led until the final minute. Current teammates Kris Humphries and Rajon Rondo scrapped in Boston, the Bulls blew a 27-point lead to the Bucks, Nicolas Batum hit this shot to beat the Cavs, the Wizards got their first win, and Derek Fisher was playing for the Mavs.
• Plus-minus Stud: Paul George (IND) was a plus-81 in four games last week.
• Plus-minus Dud: Cartier Martin (ATL) was a minus-41 in four games last week.
• Hero Team of the Week: Houston (4-0) -- The Rockets capped a perfect week by handing the Spurs their first home loss of the season.
• Zero Team of the Week: Philadelphia (0-3) -- We may have seen the last of the Sixers in the East's top eight.
• High jumps of the week: Washington (+7), Phoenix (+6), L.A. Lakers (+4)
• Free falls of the week: Atlanta (-6), CHI, MEM, PHI, TOR (-4)
• East vs. West: The West is 57-23 (.713) against the East and was 13-6 last week (4-0 against New York).
• Toughest schedules through Sunday: 1. New York, 2. Utah, 3. Sacramento
• Easiest schedules through Sunday: 1. Miami, 2. Indiana, 3. New Orleans
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) - 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 96.8 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes and 101.7 points scored per 100 possessions.
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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.
|1|| Indiana (16-1) |
Pace: 95.6 (21), OffRtg: 101.6 (14), DefRtg: 89.7 (1), NetRtg: +11.8 (1)
The best defensive team of the past 36 seasons (since turnovers starting being counted) was the 2007-08 Celtics, who allowed 8.6 fewer points per 100 possessions than the league average. Through 17 games, these Pacers have allowed 12.0 fewer than the league average. That number will certainly go down on this trip, but they got off to a good start with Sunday's win in L.A.
This week: @ POR, @ UTA, @ SAS, @ OKC
|Last week: 2|
|2|| Miami (14-3) |
Pace: 95.9 (17), OffRtg: 109.4 (1), DefRtg: 99.1 (6), NetRtg: +10.3 (3)
As Miami has won 10 straight games, their defensive ranking has risen 22 spots, LeBron James has shot 61 percent from the field, 48 percent from 3-point range and 84 percent from the free-throw line, Michael Beasley has averaged 18.1 (productive) minutes, Shane Battier has grown and shaved a hideous mustache, and Chris Bosh has morphed into Ray Allen. Eight days until Heat-Pacers.
This week: vs. DET, @ CHI, @ MIN, @ DET
|Last week: 3|
|3|| Oklahoma City (12-3) |
Pace: 99.1 (6), OffRtg: 104.4 (10), DefRtg: 98.1 (5), NetRtg: +6.3 (5)
Russell Wesbrook's game-winner has been the highlight of the Thunder's seven-game winning streak that has included wins over the Nuggets, Clippers, Spurs, Warriors and Wolves. The young bench - Reggie Jackson and Jeremy Lamb in particular - continues to provide a big lift. Two more marquee matchups - against the Blazers' No.3 offense and Pacers' No. 1 defense - await this week.
This week: @ SAC, @ POR, @ NOP, vs. IND
|Last week: 6|
|4|| San Antonio (14-3) |
Pace: 97.5 (12), OffRtg: 105.0 (7), DefRtg: 93.5 (2), NetRtg: +11.5 (2)
The Spurs had been cruising through a relatively easy schedule, but went 0-2 against fellow Western Conference contenders - OKC and Houston - last week. Tony Parker, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard and Manu Ginobili combined to shoot 4-for-29 from 3-point range in the two games. The league's top two defenses meet for the first time at the AT&T Center on Saturday. Both teams will be rested.
This week: vs. ATL, @ MIN, vs. IND
|Last week: 1|
|5|| Houston (13-5) |
Pace: 99.3 (5), OffRtg: 109.3 (2), DefRtg: 100.7 (9), NetRtg: +8.6 (4)
The Rockets have won eight of their last nine games, a run capped by Saturday's win in San Antonio, their second fourth-quarter comeback on the road in the last week. The injuries are piling up (Jeremy Lin is out at least two weeks and Chandler Parsons is dealing with back spasms), but their defense has been better, having held each of their last four opponents under a point per possession.
This week: @ UTA, vs. PHX, vs. GSW, vs. ORL
|Last week: 7|
|6|| Portland (14-3) |
Pace: 95.9 (19), OffRtg: 108.0 (3), DefRtg: 103.6 (21), NetRtg: +4.4 (7)
Counting preseason, the Blazers are 1-3 against the Suns and 18-2 against the rest of the league. Fortunately for Portland, they don't see Phoenix again until April. Fortunately for us, they host the Pacers and Thunder this week. And maybe it's the Indiana defense that can slow down Wesley Matthews, who doesn't seem to understand that human beings are not supposed to shoot this well.
This week: vs. IND, vs, OKC, vs. UTA, vs. DAL
|Last week: 4|
|7|| Denver (10-6) |
Pace: 100.1 (3), OffRtg: 105.0 (9), DefRtg: 102.4 (14), NetRtg: +2.6 (10)
Remember when the Nuggets were 1-4 and had lost their starting center to a stress fracture? They're 9-2 with the league's fourth best offense since then. Nate Robinson has shot 29-for-52, including 13-for-24 from 3-point range, over the last five games. And he's doing it microwave-style, with a quarter of at least 10 points in each of the last four. He had 18 in the fourth on Sunday in Toronto.
This week: @ BOS, @ CLE, @ BOS, @ PHI
|Last week: 10|
|8|| L.A. Clippers (12-6) |
Pace: 98.4 (8), OffRtg: 107.7 (4), DefRtg: 102.7 (17), NetRtg: +5.0 (6)
You just can't keep Willie Green out of the Clippers' starting lineup for very long. Chauncey Billups' injuries forced Green to start 60 games last season and now, with J.J. Redick out 6-8 weeks with a broken hand, Green is back as a starter, having played just 52 minutes in the Clips' first 17 games. Doc Rivers went with two point guards on the floor for 10 minutes in Sunday's loss to the Pacers.
This week: @ ATL, @ MEM, @ CLE
|Last week: 5|
|9|| Phoenix (9-8) |
Pace: 96.5 (14), OffRtg: 105.0 (8), DefRtg: 102.4 (15), NetRtg: +2.6 (9)
After missing last season, it took Channing Frye a little while to warm up. But after shooting 6-for-27 from 3-point range through his first eight games, Frye has shot 25-for-51 on threes over the last nine. The Suns have scored 114.2 points per 100 possessions with Frye and Goran Dragic on the floor together, the second-highest mark among tandems that have logged at least 300 minutes together.
This week: @ MEM, @ HOU, vs. TOR
|Last week: 15|
|10|| Dallas (10-8) |
Pace: 98.3 (9), OffRtg: 106.3 (5), DefRtg: 104.8 (25), NetRtg: +1.5 (13)
After a 6-1 stretch, the Mavs have lost four of their last five. It's been a mix of bad offense and bad D, so there are no easy answers, though they could just blame the schedule, having played six back-to-backs in November and 11 of their 18 games against teams at or above .500. But they have another back-to-back early this week and then head out west to face the Blazers, Kings and Warriors.
This week: vs. CHA, @ NOP, @ POR
|Last week: 9|
|11|| Golden State (10-8) |
Pace: 98.6 (7), OffRtg: 103.6 (11), DefRtg: 99.4 (7), NetRtg: +4.2 (8)
It was a thrilling week in Warrior World, as their four games were determined by a total of eight points. But the bottom line is that their only two wins in the last seven games were nail-biters against the Pelicans and Kings. They did break out offensively (thanks to 15 threes in 25 tries) in Sacramento on Sunday after scoring fewer than 98 points per 100 possessions over the previous six games.
This week: vs. TOR, @ HOU, @ MEM
|Last week: 8|
|12|| Minnesota (9-10) |
Pace: 101.0 (2), OffRtg: 103.3 (12), DefRtg: 101.2 (11), NetRtg: +2.1 (11)
The Wolves have lost six of their last eight games to slip below .500 and into 13th place in the unforgiving Western Conference standings. They ranked fifth defensively just nine days ago, but have allowed opponents to shoot 47 percent from 3-point range and score 110 points per 100 possessions over their last five games. And now they face the two teams that met in The Finals.
This week: vs. SAS, vs. MIA
|Last week: 13|
|13|| L.A. Lakers (9-9) |
Pace: 99.9 (4), OffRtg: 101.4 (15), DefRtg: 102.7 (16), NetRtg: -1.3 (17)
Which was the more surprising event in the Lakers' week, the announcement of Kobe Bryant's extension on Monday or the charge that DPOY candidate Nick Young took to beat the Pistons on Friday? It will be great to have Bryant back (maybe this week), but it's also been a blast seeing this band of misfits manage to win nine games without him. The somwhat-decent defense has been a real surprise.
This week: @ SAC, vs. TOR
|Last week: 17|
|14|| Washington (8-9) |
Pace: 95.9 (18), OffRtg: 100.8 (17), DefRtg: 102.8 (18), NetRtg: -2.0 (20)
The Wizards have won six of their last eight games and can get to .500 on Monday, but depth has been an issue. They've been without Al Harrington and either Trevor Ariza or Bradley Beal for the last nine. Their starters (with either Beal or Ariza) are a plus-64 over those nine games, while all other lineups are a minus-59. With just three games in the first 12 days of December, there's a chance to get healthier.
This week: vs. ORL, vs. MIL
|Last week: 21|
|15|| New Orleans (8-8) |
Pace: 96.6 (13), OffRtg: 105.7 (6), DefRtg: 103.8 (23), NetRtg: +1.9 (12)
Just when we were starting to see how potent the Pelicans could be with their best five players on the floor, Anthony Davis went down with a broken left hand. With Ryan Anderson shooting like he is (28-for-52 from 3-point range), the 'Cans should still be able to score some points, but they face two top-five defenses this week and have been a pretty bad defensive team with Davis on the bench.
This week: @ CHI, vs. DAL, vs. OKC
|Last week: 16|
|16|| Chicago (7-8) |
Pace: 94.3 (25), OffRtg: 97.3 (25), DefRtg: 96.9 (3), NetRtg: +0.5 (14)
The Bulls' week started with the news that Derrick Rose was out for the season and a 39-point loss to the Clippers. But the low point (on-court, at least) may have been Saturday's loss in Cleveland, in which their defense failed them. Overall, it was a brutal, 1-5 circus trip and they will have to regroup to hang around that .500 mark. The schedule over the next two weeks is certainly favorable.
This week: vs. NOP, vs. MIA, vs. DET
|Last week: 12|
|17|| Atlanta (9-9) |
Pace: 97.6 (11), OffRtg: 101.0 (16), DefRtg: 102.1 (12), NetRtg: -1.1 (16)
If it weren't for a 24-12 fourth quarter and Al Horford's game-winner against the Mavs on Friday, the Hawks would be on a five-game losing streak. Their offense is struggling, especially with Kyle Korver missing the last three games. Jeff Teague has shot 32 percent over the last five. But after they visit San Antonio on Monday, the Hawks play seven of their next eight games at the Highlight Factory.
This week: @ SAS, vs. LAC, vs. CLE
|Last week: 11|
|18|| Memphis (8-8) |
Pace: 92.1 (30), OffRtg: 100.1 (21), DefRtg: 103.1 (19), NetRtg: -2.9 (21)
The Grizzlies have won five straight on the road (allowing 96.4 points per 100 possessions) and lost four straight at home (allowing 109.9). If that latter streak doesn't end on this six-game homestand (which began with Saturday's Zach Randolph-less loss to the Nets), they're in serious trouble. Eight of their next nine games are against teams in the top 13 in the West standings.
This week: vs. PHX, vs. LAC, vs. GSW
|Last week: 14|
|19|| Charlotte (8-10) |
Pace: 94.1 (26), OffRtg: 94.3 (29), DefRtg: 97.9 (4), NetRtg: -3.6 (22)
Sunday's loss in Miami basically confirmed that the Bobcats are indeed a good defensive team, even with Al Jefferson on the floor. They held the No.1 offense to just 61 points over the first 36 minutes before Chris Bosh & Co. shot 8-for-13 from outside the paint in the fourth quarter. Of course, their eight wins have been against opponents with a cumulative winning percentage of 0.381.
This week: @ DAL, vs. PHI
|Last week: 19|
|20|| Orlando (6-10) |
Pace: 98.1 (10), OffRtg: 100.7 (18), DefRtg: 102.3 (13), NetRtg: -1.5 (19)
After allowing 95.3 points per 100 possessions through their first seven games, the Magic have allowed 107.9 over their last nine. But they slowed down the the Hawks and Sixers in wins last week and have been getting more consistent production from Victor Oladipo since moving him to the starting lineup. He's scored 15-plus points in five of his six starts, shooting 47 percent in the six games.
This week: @ WAS, @ PHI, @ NYK, @ HOU
|Last week: 23|
|21|| Detroit (7-10) |
Pace: 96.3 (15), OffRtg: 102.2 (13), DefRtg: 103.7 (22), NetRtg: -1.4 (18)
Andre Drummond had a huge game (31 points, 19 rebounds and six steals) against the Sixers on Sunday, but Rodney Stuckey has been the Pistons' best and most consistent offensive player this season. He's scored 16 or more points off the bench in each of the last 10 games, shooting 52 percent over that stretch and even throwing down a nasty dunk against Carlos Boozer and the Bulls.
This week: @ MIA, @ MIL, @ CHI, vs. MIA
|Last week: 22|
|22|| Toronto (6-10) |
Pace: 94.8 (24), OffRtg: 100.7 (20), DefRtg: 100.4 (8), NetRtg: +0.2 (15)
With a three-game losing streak, the Raptors' Atlantic Division lead is down to a half game. (Yes, they still lead the division at 6-10.) Their schedule isn't getting easier any time soon. Sunday's loss to Denver began a stretch of 11 games in which eight of the opponents are West teams with winning records. They're 0-6, scoring just 95.3 points per 100 possessions, against teams currently above .500.
This week: @ GSW, @ PHX, @ LAL
|Last week: 18|
|23|| Boston (7-12) |
Pace: 95.8 (20), OffRtg: 96.9 (26), DefRtg: 101.1 (10), NetRtg: -4.3 (23)
The Celtics have a storied history, but when Jordan Crawford recorded a triple-double against the Cavs on Friday, he was only the ninth Celtic to do it. Jared Sullinger continues to be Boston's best player, now averaging 15.4 points and 9.9 rebounds in seven games as a starter. The Celtics have been more than 11 points per 100 possessions better offensively with him on the floor.
This week: vs. MIL, vs. DEN, @ NYK
|Last week: 25|
|24|| Philadelphia (6-12) |
Pace: 102.4 (1), OffRtg: 98.3 (24), DefRtg: 105.0 (26), NetRtg: -6.7 (26)
With eight losses in their last nine games, the Sixers are looking more like the team we thought they'd be. But Evan Turner continues to redefine himself, averaging 20.9 points, 8.1 rebounds and 4.6 assists over the last seven games. He's been much more efficient this season, but Spencer Hawes has actually seen a bigger true shooting percentage jump (9.3 percent vs. 6.5 percent) from last year.
This week: vs. ORL, @ CHA, vs. DEN
|Last week: 20|
|25|| Brooklyn (5-12) |
Pace: 94.9 (23), OffRtg: 99.7 (22), DefRtg: 106.6 (29), NetRtg: -6.9 (27)
The silver lining to an ugly start? Jason Kidd has been so desperate for answers that, in addition to spilling drinks, he's given guys at the end of the bench a chance to play real minutes. Mason Plumlee, Tyshawn Taylor and Mirza Teletovic have all had their moments, which could pay off down the line as Kidd tries to keep his veterans fresh (once they get healthy). The Nets play 13 of their next 19 at home.
This week: vs. DEN, vs. NYK, @ MIL
|Last week: 27|
|26|| Sacramento (4-11) |
Pace: 95.4 (22), OffRtg: 100.7 (19), DefRtg: 105.4 (28), NetRtg: -4.7 (24)
Swapping Luc Mbah a Moute for Derrick Williams doesn't seem like a wise move for a team that has played the league's worst defense over the last five years. But the Kings did play two of their better games of the season with Williams in the starting lineup. They just couldn't get the buckets (in OT against the Clippers) or the stops (in the fourth quarter against the Warriors) they needed to win either one.
This week: vs. OKC, vs. LAL, @ UTA
|Last week: 24|
|27|| Cleveland (5-12) |
Pace: 96.1 (16), OffRtg: 94.3 (28), DefRtg: 103.2 (20), NetRtg: -8.8 (28)
Did Andrew Bynum have his breakout game on Saturday, or were his 20 points, 10 rebounds and five blocks against Joakim Noah and the Bulls just a fluke? It was his seventh straight start and the most minutes he's played in over a year and a half, so maybe he's starting to get comfortable. The Cavs desperately need something inside offensively, which might help Kyrie Irving get on track.
This week: vs. DEN, @ ATL, vs. LAC
|Last week: 28|
|28|| Utah (3-15) |
Pace: 94.1 (27), OffRtg: 94.8 (27), DefRtg: 106.8 (30), NetRtg: -12.0 (30)
The Jazz are 2-2 since going small with their starting lineup. For the season, they are a minus-176 in 403 minutes with two of their three bigs (Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter and Rudy Gobert) on the floor, scoring 87.6 points per 100 possessions. They're a plus-2 in 465 minutes with less than two bigs on the floor, scoring 101.1 points per 100 possessions. Trey Burke has given the offense a boost.
This week: vs. HOU, vs. IND, @ POR, vs. SAC
|Last week: 30|
|29|| New York (3-13) |
Pace: 93.3 (29), OffRtg: 99.0 (23), DefRtg: 105.4 (27), NetRtg: -6.3 (25)
There are no easy answers for the Knicks, especially because they have nobody who can competently defend a pick-and-roll until Tyson Chandler gets back. Even Kenyon Martin has been at the center of a bunch of defensive breakdowns. They've lost nine straight games (and seven straight at home) and will be in last place in the East if the Bucks can beat Boston on Tuesday or Detroit on Wednesday.
This week: @ BKN, vs. ORL, vs. BOS
|Last week: 26|
|30|| Milwaukee (3-13) |
Pace: 94.0 (28), OffRtg: 93.1 (30), DefRtg: 104.2 (24), NetRtg: -11.1 (29)
After scoring 18 points on 5-for-27 shooting in his first three games back from a hamstring injury, Brandon Knight scored 37 points on 14-for-25 shooting over the last two. Of course, if the Bucks want to win a game, they need more than one guy putting points on the board. That's what they got in Saturday's win over the Celtics, when O.J. Mayo caught fire and dropped 22. Break up the Bucks!
This week: @ BOS, vs. DET, @ WAS, vs. BKN
|Last week: 29|
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