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Wesley Matthews
With roughly a quarter of the season over, Portland and Indy have made a solid early impression.

At season's uncertain quarter pole, Blazers take No. 1 spot

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com
Posted Dec 9, 2013 10:55 AM

The quarter mark of the season, when teams have played about 20 games each, is supposed to be the time when we have a pretty good idea of where everybody stands.

Well, we're there. The season will be 1/4 of the way done (308/1,230) after Monday's six-game slate. But what do we know?

We think we know that the Indiana Pacers are the Miami Heat's biggest threat, but the two teams haven't met yet (that comes tomorrow night on NBA TV). We think we know that the Portland Trail Blazers are for real, but they rank 20th in defensive efficiency. We think we know the strengths and weaknesses of the other contenders in the West, but there will likely be a trade that puts one of them over the top. And we think that the Knicks and Nets are pretty bad, but both have been missing key pieces.

It's been a strange quarter of a season, with pleasant surprises, devastating injuries and a major discrepancy between the two conferences. And about all we can predict with some certainty is the two teams who will meet in the Eastern Conference finals.

The Power Rankings have settled down a bit, but there's still a big mess of mediocre teams in the middle of the pack and still a lot of basketball to be played before we have any real answers.

* * *

• Last week: The Western Conference is just too darn deep

• This time last year: Thunder rolling at the quarter pole -- The Knicks beat the Heat by 20 points for the second time and were 33-11 in the regular season under Mike Woodson. The Clippers were four games into a 17-game winning streak, the Pacers were under .500, and the Blazers came back from 18 down with seven minutes to go to beat the Bobcats.

• Plus-minus Stud: Avery Bradley (BOS) and Damian Lillard (POR) were each a plus-61 last week.
• Plus-minus Dud: Victor Oladipo (ORL) was a minus-72 in four games last week.

• Hero Team of the Week: Boston (3-0) -- The Celtics beat a top-10 team (Denver) and then destroyed a (relatively) hot team (New York) on its home floor.
• Zero Team of the Week: Brooklyn (1-2) -- The Nets scratched out a win in Milwaukee, but only after losing to the Nuggets and Knicks by a total of 54 points at home.

• High jumps of the week: New York (+6), Boston (+5), Portland (+5)
• Free falls of the week: Orlando (-7), Chicago (-3), Minnesota (-3)

• East vs. West: The West is 67-31 (.684) against the East in inter-conference games (31-9 against the Atlantic Division) and was 10-8 last week.

• Toughest schedules through Sunday: 1. Utah, 2. Minnesota, 3. Memphis
• Easiest schedules through Sunday: 1. Miami, 2. Indiana, 3. Houston
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 96.5 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes and 102.0 points scored per 100 possessions.

* * *

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 Portland (17-4)
Pace: 96.5 (14), OffRtg: 109.4 (1), DefRtg: 103.5 (20), NetRtg: +5.9 (6)
It was a good week to be watching hoops at the Moda Center. The Blazers' defense has fallen off, but the No. 1 offense in the league has made up for it. Similarly, the highs of wins over the Pacers and Thunder more than outweigh the low of getting beat at the buzzer by the Mavs. LaMarcus Aldridge looks like Player of the Week material, having averaged 26.3 points and 12.8 boards in four games.
This week: @ UTA, vs. HOU, @ PHI, @ DET
Last week: 6

2 Oklahoma City (15-4)
Pace: 98.8 (5), OffRtg: 105.4 (7), DefRtg: 98.6 (5), NetRtg: +6.8 (5)
The Thunder don't need to get off to a great start to win a game (they won their four second quarters by a total of 41 points last week), but it's nice when they do. And in eight first-quarter minutes against the Pacers on Sunday, the OKC starters were a plus-10. Prior to Sunday, the starters were a minus-48 in 181 minutes and the Thunder were the fifth worst team in the first six minutes of games.
This week: @ ATL, @ MEM, vs. LAL, vs. ORL
Last week: 3

3 Indiana (18-3)
Pace: 95.5 (20), OffRtg: 102.3 (13), DefRtg: 93.2 (1), NetRtg: +9.1 (3)
All three of the Pacers' losses, including Sunday's beatdown by the Thunder, have come on the road on the second night of a back-to-back. Four of their next five road games are the second night of back-to-backs, but they play 13 of their next 18 games, including Tuesday's showdown with the Heat, at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, where they've outscored their opponents by 16.6 points per 100 possessions.
This week: vs. MIA, vs. CHA
Last week: 1

4 Miami (16-5)
Pace: 96.0 (18), OffRtg: 108.4 (2), DefRtg: 99.3 (6), NetRtg: +9.1 (2)
This rebounding issue is not going away. The Heat allowed 59 offensive rebounds and 76 second chance points in their four games last week. Their defensive rebounding percentage has regressed each of the last three years and their best defensive rebounder is Michael Beasley. The good news is that the Pacers aren't nearly as good an offensive rebounding team as they were last season.
This week: @ IND, vs. CLE
Last week: 2

5 San Antonio (15-4)
Pace: 97.2 (12), OffRtg: 105.2 (9), DefRtg: 95.4 (2), NetRtg: +9.7 (1)
After a 13-1 start, the Spurs are slumping, having lost three of their last five games. But maybe Kawhi Leonard broke out of his slump with 18 points on 8-for-13 shooting in Saturday's loss to Indiana. He had shot 3-for-21 from 3-point range over his previous nine games and the Spurs have scored just 97.5 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor, as opposed to 115.6 with him on the bench.
This week: @ TOR, @ MIL, vs. MIN, @ UTA
Last week: 4

6 Houston (15-7)
Pace: 99.0 (4), OffRtg: 107.8 (3), DefRtg: 100.0 (8), NetRtg: +7.8 (4)
James Harden was a victim of some brutal blow-bys earlier in the week (see here and here, for example), but has since vowed to actually try on defense. And the Rockets' D was so good in wins against the Warriors and Magic over the weekend that it didn't matter that their bench shot 2-for-21 from 3-point range. Of course, that kind of shooting might provide more motivation to get something for Omer Asik.
This week: @ POR, @ GSW, @ SAC
Last week: 5

7 Dallas (13-8)
Pace: 97.8 (9), OffRtg: 106.0 (5), DefRtg: 104.1 (23), NetRtg: +1.9 (11)
Though their defense comes and goes, Monta Ellis' game-winner in Portland on Saturday basically announced the Mavs as a team to be dealt with in the Western Conference. And though Ellis hit the big shot, it was one of Dirk Nowitzki's best offensive performances of the season. In fact, it was the first time he's recorded at least 25 points and seven assists since the Mavs' championship.
This week: @ SAC, @ GSW, vs. MIL
Last week: 10

8 Denver (12-8)
Pace: 98.5 (6), OffRtg: 105.8 (6), DefRtg: 102.5 (18), NetRtg: +3.3 (9)
The Nuggets trailed 17-11 in Brooklyn on Tuesday, 24-17 in Cleveland on Wednesday, 14-0 in Boston on Friday, and 12-4 in Philadelphia on Saturday. They're, by far, the league's worst team in the first six minutes of games, playing brutal defense and getting outscored by 26.8 points per 100 possessions. Amazingly, they're the third best team in the last six minutes of the first quarter.
This week: @ WAS, vs. UTA, vs. NOP
Last week: 7

9 L.A. Clippers (13-8)
Pace: 98.1 (8), OffRtg: 106.1 (4), DefRtg: 101.9 (14), NetRtg: +4.1 (8)
After allowing 106.8 points per 100 possessions over their first 11 games, the Clippers have allowed just 96.5 over their last 10. But they still have moments like this (watch Blake Griffin) that make it hard to believe that they can be a top-10 defensive team without a roster change. They're 1-2 on their seven-game trip and are one of three West teams with a losing record (3-5) against the East.
This week: @ PHI, @ BOS, @ BKN, @ WAS
Last week: 8

10 Phoenix (11-9)
Pace: 96.4 (15), OffRtg: 104.6 (10), DefRtg: 102.4 (17), NetRtg: +2.2 (10)
Six of the nine rookie coaches have their teams above .500 and/or surpassing expectations, but it's hard to argue that any of the other eight have done a better job than Jeff Hornacek. The Suns are the second-most improved offensive team (plus-6.4 points per 100 possessions) and the seventh most improved defensive team (minus-3.2) from last season. Only Portland has improved more on both ends.
This week: @ LAL, vs. SAC, vs. GSW
Last week: 9

11 Golden State (12-9)
Pace: 98.1 (7), OffRtg: 103.9 (11), DefRtg: 99.7 (7), NetRtg: +4.2 (7)
The Warriors went 1-1 in games they trailed by 27 points or more last week. Their comeback against the Raptors was just their third game against the East. No West team has played fewer, but after Monday's visit to Charlotte, the Dubs play nine straight games against the West (none against Sacramento or Utah). If their defense is going to hold up, they need Andre Iguodala back soon.
This week: @ CHA, vs. DAL, vs. HOU, @ PHX
Last week: 11

12 L.A. Lakers (10-10)
Pace: 99.6 (3), OffRtg: 101.6 (16), DefRtg: 103.1 (19), NetRtg: -1.5 (20)
Kobe Bryant will eventually help the Lakers, but in the short-term, he provides another challenge for Mike D'Antoni, because the Lakers' bench has been their strength. It's easy to understand why D'Antoni brought Bryant back into the game in the fourth quarter on Sunday, but not easy to understand why he took Xavier Henry out. Henry leads the team in plus-minus, even though he's seventh in minutes.
This week: vs. PHX, @ OKC, @ CHA
Last week: 13

13 Washington (9-10)
Pace: 95.8 (19), OffRtg: 100.9 (20), DefRtg: 101.9 (13), NetRtg: -1.0 (18)
This three-games-in12-days stretch was supposed to get the Wizards healthier. But Nene is still dealing with tendonitis and Martell Webster sprained his ankle against the Bucks on Friday. As long as John Wall is healthy, they have a chance, but their bench has been just brutal and without Nene or Webster, they played one of the ugliest overtimes you'll ever see, capped by this Wall/Ariza collision.
This week: vs. DEN, @ ATL, vs. LAC
Last week: 14

14 Atlanta (11-10)
Pace: 97.4 (11), OffRtg: 102.2 (14), DefRtg: 101.8 (12), NetRtg: +0.5 (14)
Kyle Korver's streak of 90 straight games with a 3-pointer is somewhat trivial, but he really is an offensive weapon. The Hawks are 51-39 in the 90 games and have scored 6.6 more points per 100 possessions with Korver on the floor than they have with him on the bench over the last two seasons. Through hard work and a couple of years with Tom Thibodeau, he's become a solid defender as well.
This week: vs. OKC, vs. WAS, @ NYK
Last week: 17

15 Minnesota (9-11)
Pace: 101.0 (2), OffRtg: 102.2 (15), DefRtg: 101.3 (10), NetRtg: +0.9 (12)
The Wolves are 7-2 when they shoot 32 percent from 3-point range, but they've done that just once in their last 11 games. They were the worst jump-shooting team in the league last season and, despite the additions of Kevin Martin and a healthy Kevin Love, have actually been worse from the perimeter this year, with an effective field goal percentage of just 41.0 percent from outside the paint.
This week: @ DET, vs. PHI, @ SAS, @ MEM
Last week: 12

16 New Orleans (9-10)
Pace: 96.1 (16), OffRtg: 105.3 (8), DefRtg: 104.6 (24), NetRtg: +0.7 (13)
The Pelicans are obviously worse on both ends of the floor without Anthony Davis, but the defense has been particularly bad, having allowed more than 109 points per 100 possessions over the last four games. So this is where, in addition to Davis, they're missing Greg Stiemsma, who, like Davis, won't be back until the end of the month at the earliest. And the schedule over the rest of the month is difficult.
This week: vs. DET, vs. MEM, @ DEN
Last week: 15

17 Detroit (10-11)
Pace: 96.5 (13), OffRtg: 102.4 (12), DefRtg: 102.3 (16), NetRtg: +0.0 (15)
The Pistons have won their last four road games after an impressive trip in which they beat both Miami and Chicago, shooting 19-for-35 from 3-point range against two top-six defenses. Andre Drummond is still a little erratic from play to play, but he's a huge, athletic beast and his game-to-game production has been pretty consistent. He has double-figure rebounds in 15 of his last 16 games.
This week: vs. MIN, @ NOP, vs. BKN, vs. POR
Last week: 21

18 Boston (10-12)
Pace: 95.3 (22), OffRtg: 99.6 (23), DefRtg: 100.7 (9), NetRtg: -1.1 (19)
The Celtics are a top-10 defense, but their offense has been more improved, scoring 107 points per 100 possessions, as they've won six of their last eight games. Maybe Jordan Crawford -- averaging 17.1 points, 7.1 assists and only 1.9 turnovers in that stretch -- is really a starting point guard in this league. Following Tuesday's visit to Brooklyn, the Cs play seven of their next eight games at home.
This week: @ BKN, vs. LAC, vs. NYK
Last week: 23

19 Chicago (8-10)
Pace: 93.8 (27), OffRtg: 97.9 (26), DefRtg: 98.2 (4), NetRtg: -0.3 (16)
It's amazing that, despite their injuries, the Bulls still managed to beat the Heat ... in the regular season. Of course, a re-aggravated Achilles injury forced Luol Deng to sit out Saturday's loss to Detroit. Joakim Noah is still standing, but one of the most amazing stats of the first quarter is that Chicago has been much better defensively with Noah off the floor, allowing only 89.8 points per 100 possessions.
This week: vs. MIL, @ NYK, @ MIL, vs. TOR
Last week: 16

20 Memphis (9-10)
Pace: 92.0 (30), OffRtg: 100.0 (21), DefRtg: 103.9 (22), NetRtg: -3.9 (23)
Jerryd Bayless remains one of this season's biggest mysteries. After an 0-for-11 performance against the Warriors on Saturday, he's shooting 31 percent from the field and 23 percent on threes. Only Kevin Garnett has suffered a bigger effective field goal percentage drop-off. With Quincy Pondexter in and out of coach Dave Joerger's doghouse, the Grizz are again last in the league in 3-point makes and attempts.
This week: vs. ORL, vs. OKC, @ NOP, vs. MIN
Last week: 18

21 Charlotte (9-11)
Pace: 94.3 (24), OffRtg: 94.8 (28), DefRtg: 97.2 (3), NetRtg: -2.5 (21)
The Bobcats are good against the bad, with a 9-3 record against the other 11 East teams currently under .500 after an easy win over the Sixers on Friday. Only four of their next 15 games are against that group, but another four are against Utah and Sacramento, so they may remain a top-10 defensive team (and a playoff contender) into the new year. Al Jefferson has four straight double-doubles.
This week: vs. GSW, vs. ORL, @ IND, vs. LAL
Last week: 19

22 Toronto (7-12)
Pace: 95.0 (23), OffRtg: 101.4 (17), DefRtg: 101.7 (11), NetRtg: -0.3 (17)
Masai Ujiri's extractions of Andrea Bargnani and Rudy Gay have been swift and painless (he actually got Draft picks back in one of the deals). But this is a different situation than the one in Denver, where his trades yielded a very good team right away. Bringing impact players into Toronto is an entirely different challenge and -- as it is for all these rebuilding teams -- future success in no guarantee.
This week: vs. SAS, vs. PHI, @ CHI
Last week: 22

23 New York (5-14)
Pace: 92.9 (29), OffRtg: 101.1 (19), DefRtg: 105.1 (26), NetRtg: -4.0 (24)
For two games, the Knicks were sharing the ball and shooting threes like they did last season. Then they got waxed by the Celtics on Sunday and the good vibes went out the window. Was it a step backward or just a hiccup you chalk up to a noon start? This week's games will provide some answers, but they have two more afternoon games this month, including Christmas Day against OKC.
This week: @ CLE, vs. CHI, @ BOS, vs. ATL
Last week: 29

24 Cleveland (7-13)
Pace: 96.1 (17), OffRtg: 94.5 (29), DefRtg: 102.1 (15), NetRtg: -7.5 (27)
Kyrie Irving's 0-for-9 game in Atlanta was the latest example of how the Cavs have been downright awful on the road. But they're now 6-3 at the Q, with wins over the Bulls, Nuggets and Clippers over the last nine days. They actually have the fifth-best home defense in the league after holding Denver and L.A. to just 170 points total. They still don't play a homestand of more than two games until late January.
This week: vs. NYK, @ ORL, @ MIA
Last week: 27

25 Philadelphia (7-14)
Pace: 101.6 (1), OffRtg: 98.2 (25), DefRtg: 105.3 (28), NetRtg: -7.1 (26)
Reminder: Make sure your fantasy players are active when they face the Sixers. This team plays at the fastest pace in the league, has a bottom-five defense, and seems to play at least one overtime every week. You should also get your hands on Tony Wroten if Michael Carter-Williams is going to miss more games. Always entertaining to watch, Wroten has averaged 19.8 points in his six starts.
This week: vs. LAC, @ MIN, @ TOR, vs. POR
Last week: 24

26 Brooklyn (6-14)
Pace: 93.7 (28), OffRtg: 99.8 (22), DefRtg: 107.9 (29), NetRtg: -8.1 (28)
Injuries have been the Nets' biggest issue, but Jason Kidd's inexperience has certainly been one of the others. That Brooklyn went so long without running any pick-and-rolls against the Knicks' defense was rather absurd. Deron Williams' return on Tuesday will generate some offense, but 3-point defense has become a bigger issue of late and given how slow this team is, it might be hard to improve.
This week: vs. BOS, vs. LAC, @ DET
Last week: 25

27 Orlando (6-14)
Pace: 97.5 (10), OffRtg: 99.4 (24), DefRtg: 103.9 (21), NetRtg: -4.4 (25)
Thanks, in part, to Nikola Vucevic's absence over the last three games, the Magic have been outrebounded by 14 or more boards in four of their last five and yielded 31 second chance points in Tuesday's double-OT loss in Philadelphia. They have losing streaks of two, three, four and five games, in that order. They're 1-9 away from home and the road-heavy portion of their schedule continues this week.
This week: @ MEM, @ CHA, vs. CLE, @ OKC
Last week: 20

28 Sacramento (5-13)
Pace: 95.5 (21), OffRtg: 101.3 (18), DefRtg: 104.7 (25), NetRtg: -3.4 (22)
It's difficult to envision Rudy Gay and DeMarcus Cousins bringing out the best in each other offensively, but the departure of Greivis Vasquez creates more playing time for Isaiah Thomas, who has been the Kings' best player. They've scored over 110 points per 100 possessions in 207 minutes with Thomas and Cousins on the floor together and there will be more of those minutes going forward.
This week: vs. DAL, vs. UTA, @ PHX, vs. HOU
Last week: 26

29 Utah (4-18)
Pace: 94.1 (25), OffRtg: 96.1 (27), DefRtg: 108.1 (30), NetRtg: -11.9 (30)
After the Jazz got their two best wins of the season, Marvin Williams' injury forced them to go back to going big for the last three games. The opponents had something to do it, but their offense promptly disappeared with the small starting lineup. Their young group of Trey Burke, Alec Burks, Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors and Kanter did have a nice stretch against the Pacers on Wednesday.
This week: vs. POR, @ SAC, @ DEN, vs. SAS
Last week: 28

30 Milwaukee (4-16)
Pace: 93.9 (26), OffRtg: 94.4 (30), DefRtg: 105.2 (27), NetRtg: -10.7 (29)
The Bucks' various injuries have provided John Henson (and his wingspan) with an opportunity to step up, and he's averaged 14.6 points, 10.2 rebounds and 1.8 blocks in his last five games as a starter. As a 24 percent shooter from outside the paint though, he should probably stay close to the basket. Khris Middleton (29 points on Friday's OT win in Washington) has had his moments as well.
This week: @ CHI, vs. SAS, vs. CHI, @ DAL
Last week: 30

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