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Downtrodden Atlantic Division showing some life in 2014

Power Rankings, Week 10

By John Schuhmann, NBA.com
POSTED: Jan 6, 2014 11:05 AM ET

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When Michael Carter-Williams is playing for coach Brett Brown, the 76ers are much better.

New year, new Atlantic Division!

The Atlantic had the worst combined record (55-96) of any division in October, November and December, but has the best (9-5) in January. And that mark has included wins over the Pacers, Thunder, Spurs, Blazers and Mavs, the last four coming on the road.

Maybe it's a fluke and maybe there are legit reasons behind the improvement. The Raptors (2-1) had been playing well already, realizing that when you remove a bad shooter who was taking 19 shots per game, you get better. The Knicks (2-1) got Carmelo Anthony back. The Nets (2-0) had been playing well offensively since Deron Williams' return and finally got Andrei Kirilenko back. And the Sixers (3-0) continue to be dangerous as long as Michael Carter-Williams is healthy.

The Celtics? Well, maybe 2015 will be their year.

Time will tell if any of these teams can sustain success. They all have measuring-stick games this week, and there are a couple of intra-Division games (Nets-Raptors and Knicks-Sixers) to be played on Saturday.

For now, let the Northeast enjoy some decent basketball amidst the freezing temperatures.

* * *

• Last week: Westbrook goes down, but Thunder keep on chugging along

• This time last year: Spurs No. 1 after crazy week - The Bobcats ended their 18-game losing streak with a win in Chicago. And then the Bulls won in Miami. Kevin Love broke his hand for the second time, Nikola Vucevic grabbed 29 rebounds against the Heat, Eric Gordon hit a crazy game-winner in Dallas, and every other team had at least twice as many wins as the Wizards, who were 4-28.

• Plus-minus Stud: Stephen Curry (GSW) was a plus-84 in four games last week.
• Plus-minus Dud: John Wall (WAS) was a minus-70 in four games last week.


• Hero Team of the Week: Golden State (4-0) -- The Dubs keep rolling, picking up another signature win in Miami.
• Zero Team of the Week: Detroit (0-2) -- After getting swept in a home-and-home with the Wizards, the Pistons had five days off, only to get smoked by the Grizzlies on Sunday.

• High jumps of the week: Chicago, Golden State, New York, Philadelphia, Toronto (+4)
• Free falls of the week: Boston (-6), Cleveland (-4), Detroit, L.A. Lakers, Oklahoma City (-3)

• East vs. West: The West is 115-57 (.669) against the East in inter-conference games and was 15-11 last week.

• Toughest schedules through Sunday: 1. Utah, 2. Sacramento, 3. Toronto
• Easiest schedules through Sunday: 1. Miami, 2. Atlanta, 3. Indiana
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 102.6 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

Last week: 2

Miami (26-8)
Pace: 95.7 (18), OffRtg: 109.5 (2), DefRtg: 101.3 (9), NetRtg: +8.2 (4)
It's weird to think that beating the Raptors at home on Sunday was a big win for the Heat, but it was, especially because the only team over .500 that they'll face between now and Jan. 26 is the Al Horford-less Hawks. Dwyane Wade made it through the second night of a back-to-back, Michael Beasley had another strong game, and they realized that they can get offensive rebounds when they try to.
This week: vs. NOP, @ NYK, @ BKN

2

Last week: 6

Golden State (23-13)
Pace: 99.3 (3), OffRtg: 103.6 (12), DefRtg: 98.5 (4), NetRtg: +5.1 (6)
The Warriors have won nine straight and are 18-3 with both Stephen Curry and Andre Iguodala, who does a good Joe Johnson imitation when the game is on the line. Defense has been the biggest key to the winning streak, but the offense tore up Miami's top-10 defense for 123 points on Thursday, thanks to some ridiculous shots from Curry and David Lee's splendid work in the pick-and-roll.
This week: @ MIL, @ BKN, vs. BOS

3

Last week: 3

Indiana (27-6)
Pace: 95.0 (24), OffRtg: 102.2 (17), DefRtg: 93.1 (1), NetRtg: +9.1 (2)
Danny Granger has scored in double-figures in four straight games, and that production has been needed with a couple of the Pacers' starters having some quiet nights. They've been, by far, the best second-half team in the league, but had the tables turned on them in Toronto on Wednesday, when they got outscored 55-38 in the final 24 minutes. They meet the Raps again on Tuesday.
This week: vs. TOR, @ ATL, vs. WAS

4

Last week: 1

Oklahoma City (27-7)
Pace: 98.9 (5), OffRtg: 107.1 (5), DefRtg: 97.8 (3), NetRtg: +9.3 (1)
After scoring just five points (in 25 minutes) over his previous three fourth quarters, Kevin Durant busted out in Minnesota on Friday, scoring 23 of his 48 points in the fourth. And after Reggie Jackson shot 9-for-26 in the Thunder's two losses, he went for a career-high 27 points against the Celtics on Sunday. The OKC offense misses Russell Wesbrook, but it's still going to have some big nights.
This week: @ UTA, @ DEN, vs. MIL

5

Last week: 5

San Antonio (26-8)
Pace: 97.3 (12), OffRtg: 107.4 (4), DefRtg: 99.1 (5), NetRtg: +8.4 (3)
Through Nov. 29, the Spurs ranked second defensively. Since then, they've ranked 18th, allowing almost 12 more points per 100 possessions over their last 18 games than they did over their first 16. And now the D becomes a real concern, because Tiago Splitter is out with a shoulder injury. Their offense is better with him on the bench, but the Spurs' D has been at its best with Splitter on the floor.
This week: @ MEM, vs. DAL, vs. MIN

6

Last week: 4

Portland (26-8)
Pace: 97.6 (10), OffRtg: 110.1 (1), DefRtg: 104.5 (20), NetRtg: +5.5 (5)
Defense has been the issue in most of their losses, but the Blazers' offense finally came up empty against the Sixers on Saturday, when they shot 6-for-26 (0-for-6 from 3-point range) in the fourth quarter. They got a nice win in Oklahoma City on Tuesday and hit 21 threes (for the second time this season) against the Bobcats' top-10 defense on Thursday, but have lost three of their last five games.
This week: @ SAC, vs. ORL, vs. BOS

7

Last week: 8

Phoenix (20-12)
Pace: 98.1 (7), OffRtg: 105.6 (9), DefRtg: 102.0 (10), NetRtg: +3.6 (9)
Early on, the Suns were the cardiac kids, with 13 of their first 17 games within five points in the last five minutes and with their first 15 wins coming by an average of 8.1 points. Only five of their last 15 games have been close late and their last five victories have been by an average of 18.2. No team has a better record over the last 33 days, but Eric Bledsoe is out and they begin a five-game trip on Tuesday.
This week: @ CHI, @ MIN, @ MEM, @ DET

8

Last week: 7

L.A. Clippers (23-13)
Pace: 98.0 (8), OffRtg: 106.1 (6), DefRtg: 101.1 (8), NetRtg: +5.1 (7)
The Clips hung on to beat the Mavs after Chris Paul was injured on Friday, but they got spanked without him in San Antonio on Saturday. Amazingly, they play 10 of their next 12 games against the East, which could be good or bad news. It's good that Paul won't miss many games against their competition for a top seed in the West. But they were only 7-6 against the East when Paul was healthy.
This week: vs. ORL, vs. BOS, vs. LAL

9

Last week: 13

Toronto (16-16)
Pace: 95.1 (23), OffRtg: 102.8 (14), DefRtg: 100.6 (7), NetRtg: +2.3 (10)
Though the Raptors came up empty in the fourth quarter in Miami on Sunday, it was a continuation of their post-Rudy-Gay legitimacy tour, which has featured wins over the teams with the best record in each conference. Their starting lineup has been about 20 points per 100 possessions better with Terrence Ross in Rudy Gay's place. And after a visit to Indy, their schedule eases up quite a bit.
This week: @ IND, vs. DET, vs. BKN

10

Last week: 9

Houston (22-13)
Pace: 98.0 (9), OffRtg: 107.5 (3), DefRtg: 102.9 (16), NetRtg: +4.7 (8)
James Harden has scored in double-figures in the fourth quarter of each of the last five games, but the Rockets rank 29th in fourth-quarter defense. They gave up 30 fourth-quarter points to the Kings on Tuesday and might have a three-game losing streak if it weren't for a dumb shot and dumb foul by the Knicks on Friday. Omer Asik has now missed the last 16 games with his mysterious knee injury.
This week: vs. LAL, @ ATL, @ WAS

11

Last week: 10

Dallas (19-15)
Pace: 97.1 (13), OffRtg: 105.7 (8), DefRtg: 104.2 (19), NetRtg: +1.5 (13)
The good outweighs the bad, but the Mavs continue to be a hard team to figure out. They've won four straight on the road (scoring 109.4 points per 100 possessions) and have lost four straight at home (allowing 111.7). Both streaks will be challenged on a back-to-back in which they host the slumping Lakers on Tuesday and visit San Antonio, where they've lost five straight, on Wednesday.
This week: vs. LAL, @ SAS, @ NOP, vs. NOP

12

Last week: 11

Atlanta (18-16)
Pace: 97.4 (11), OffRtg: 103.7 (11), DefRtg: 102.1 (11), NetRtg: +1.6 (12)
If it weren't for Andre Iguodala's game-winner on Friday, the Hawks would be 3-2 without Al Horford. Their 3-point shooting (26 percent over the last three games) has taken a hit, but their defense has held up so far, though transition - they've allowed 87 fast break points over the last four games - has been an issue. With more teams creeping up behind them in the East, their schedule gets tougher.
This week: @ BKN, vs. IND, vs. HOU, @ MEM

13

Last week: 12

Minnesota (16-17)
Pace: 100.3 (2), OffRtg: 104.9 (10), DefRtg: 102.9 (15), NetRtg: +2.1 (11)
Whether it's because Ed Malloy is swallowing his whistle, because Kevin Love is missing free throws, because their bench can't score, or because their defense has been terrible, the Wolves are 0-7 in chances to get back over .500 since dropping below on Nov. 25. And for the next six games, their opponents alternate between below-.500 teams and .500 or better teams, against whom they're 4-11.
This week: @ PHI, vs. PHX, vs. CHA, @ SAS

14

Last week: 15

New Orleans (15-17)
Pace: 95.7 (19), OffRtg: 105.7 (7), DefRtg: 105.9 (27), NetRtg: -0.2 (15)
The Pelicans have been getting more consistent production out of Tyreke Evans, who hit the game-winner in Portland on Monday. But without Jason Smith, their defense has been pretty awful, and they've basically been treading water. Now, Ryan Anderson could be out a while after his scary collision with Gerald Wallace on Friday. The good news is that they'll be home for most of the next month.
This week: @ MIA, vs. WAS, vs. DAL, @ DAL

15

Last week: 14

Washington (14-17)
Pace: 95.2 (21), OffRtg: 100.9 (21), DefRtg: 103.4 (18), NetRtg: -2.5 (17)
The Wizards are one of the best 3-point shooting teams in the league, but with an inconsistent defense, they're 1-12 when they've shot less than 35 percent from beyond the arc. And that's been the case in their first three games of January. They're being cautious with Nene, but aren't going to be at their best with him playing limited minutes (23 per game in the eight games since his return).
This week: @ CHA, @ NOP, @ IND, vs. HOU

16

Last week: 16

Denver (16-17)
Pace: 98.5 (6), OffRtg: 103.2 (13), DefRtg: 103.3 (17), NetRtg: -0.1 (14)
The Nuggets went from scoring 94.4 points per 100 possessions over an eight-game losing streak to scoring 122.9 in wins over the Grizzlies and Lakers over the weekend. It's strange that Brian Shaw doesn't think he needs the steady hand of Andre Miller in his rotation, but maybe he likes the thrill of living and dying by Nate Robinson. Denver is 9-1 when Robinson scores 15 points or more.
This week: vs. BOS, vs. OKC, vs. ORL

17

Last week: 20

Memphis (15-18)
Pace: 92.4 (30), OffRtg: 102.4 (16), DefRtg: 105.0 (23), NetRtg: -2.6 (18)
Though they're in 12th place in the West and their vice president's math gives them just a 14.4 percent chance of making the playoffs, the Grizz aren't giving up on this season. They got a couple of nice road wins last week, they've scored 111 points per 100 possessions over their last seven games, and they're sacrificing long-term flexibility for a backcourt upgrade by trading Jerryd Bayless for Courtney Lee.
This week: vs. SAS, vs. PHX, vs. ATL

18

Last week: 22

Chicago (14-18)
Pace: 93.4 (28), OffRtg: 96.3 (29), DefRtg: 97.8 (2), NetRtg: -1.5 (16)
The Bulls have won five of their last seven games, having allowed just 93.5 points per 100 possessions in that stretch (90.2 with Joakim Noah on the floor). A weak schedule gives them a great opportunity to get back to .500 in the next few weeks. Most encouraging is that Luol Deng has averaged only 30.6 minutes in his first three games back. Hot shooting from Mike Dunleavy has helped the wing rotation.
This week: vs. PHX, @ MIL, vs. CHA

19

Last week: 18

Charlotte (15-20)
Pace: 95.1 (22), OffRtg: 97.0 (27), DefRtg: 100.0 (6), NetRtg: -3.0 (19)
The road was cruel to the Bobcats, who lost five straight before finding a cure for what ails them in Sacramento on Saturday. In two games against the Jazz (his former team) over the last 16 days, Al Jefferson went 0-for-4 on shots to tie or take the lead in the final minute of the fourth quarter. He's shooting a career-low 46 percent this season, suffering, in part, from a lack of offensive talent around him.
This week: vs. WAS, @ MIN, @ CHI

20

Last week: 23

Brooklyn (12-21)
Pace: 94.2 (25), OffRtg: 102.0 (18), DefRtg: 106.2 (28), NetRtg: -4.2 (25)
Joe Johnson is still clutch, Deron Williams has shot 51 percent in the 13 games since his return, and the Nets are undefeated in 2014. They've had success playing small, with Shaun Livingston, Williams, Johnson and Paul Pierce registering a plus-28 in 56 minutes together. But this week, capped by a back-to-back against the Heat and Raptors, will tell us if their improvement is sustainable.
This week: vs. ATL, vs. GSW, vs. MIA, @ TOR

21

Last week: 25

New York (11-22)
Pace: 92.5 (29), OffRtg: 101.8 (20), DefRtg: 105.7 (26), NetRtg: -3.8 (23)
It's hard to believe that the Knicks almost swept a trip through Texas. It's not so hard to believe that a dumb shot by J.R. Smith prevented it from happening. Iman Shumpert has seemingly taken over Smith's role of secondary offensive option, averaging 20.7 points and hitting several big shots in the three games, a remarkable turnaround from how he was playing at the end of December.
This week: vs. DET, vs. MIA, @ PHI

22

Last week: 19

Detroit (14-20)
Pace: 96.6 (16), OffRtg: 102.0 (19), DefRtg: 105.2 (24), NetRtg: -3.2 (20)
The Pistons have lost four straight (all to teams under .500) and six of their last seven. Brandon Jennings and Josh Smith have combined to shoot 36 percent (13-for-56 from 3-point range) in that stretch, but the defense (man, zone, whatever) continues to be the bigger problem. They've fallen to eighth in the East, they're 6-12 at the Palace, and they have to tour the red-hot Atlantic Division this week.
This week: @ NYK, @ TOR, @ PHI, vs. PHX

23

Last week: 17

Boston (13-21)
Pace: 95.3 (20), OffRtg: 98.9 (23), DefRtg: 102.5 (13), NetRtg: -3.5 (21)
The Celtics have lost seven of their last eight games, are taking a step backward by swapping Courtney Lee for Jerryd Bayless, and have four more games on a rough road trip. So they probably won't be participating in the Atlantic Division's revival. At one point, Jared Sullinger was his team's most consistent player, but he's shot a brutal 19-for-69 (0-for-11 from 3-point range) over the last six games.
This week: @ DEN, @ LAC, @ GSW, @ POR

24

Last week: 21

L.A. Lakers (14-20)
Pace: 99.2 (4), OffRtg: 100.8 (22), DefRtg: 104.7 (22), NetRtg: -3.7 (24)
It's great that Kendall Marshall can pass and that Pau Gasol averaged 24.3 points, 11.0 rebounds, 4.7 assists and 3.3 blocks in three games last week. But the Lakers have lost seven of their last eight and play 13 of their next 16 on the road. They absolutely should shop Gasol to save money and/or gather assets, but is $20 million in savings (in an Andrew Bynum trade) the best they can do?
This week: @ DAL, @ HOU, @ LAC

25

Last week: 29

Philadelphia (12-21)
Pace: 102.5 (1), OffRtg: 98.5 (25), DefRtg: 105.6 (25), NetRtg: -7.1 (28)
All of a sudden, the Sixers have won four straight ... on the road ... against the West. They're 11-11 with Michael Carter-Williams in the lineup, though he's shot just 35 percent during the streak. Thaddeus Young continues to put up big numbers and is 14-for-28 from 3-point range in the seven games since MCW's return. He was 8-for-34 from three in three seasons under Doug Collins.
This week: vs. MIN, @ CLE, vs. DET, vs. NYK

26

Last week: 26

Utah (11-25)
Pace: 93.6 (27), OffRtg: 98.1 (26), DefRtg: 107.8 (30), NetRtg: -9.7 (30)
The Jazz had been playing their best defense of the season, but got scorched by The Kendall Marshall Show on Friday. They're still 10-8 in games Marvin Williams has started, they're getting more consistent production from Enes Kanter, and after spending most of the last month on the road, they play seven of their next 10 games at EnergySolutions Arena, where they've won three straight.
This week: vs. OKC, vs. CLE

27

Last week: 28

Sacramento (10-22)
Pace: 96.9 (14), OffRtg: 102.8 (15), DefRtg: 106.9 (29), NetRtg: -4.2 (26)
The Kings closed 2013 with a win over the Heat, a near-win in San Antonio, and a win in Houston, their best stretch of the season. And they've begun 2014 with home losses to the Sixers and Bobcats, allowing two bottom-six offenses to score 113 points apiece. Their post-trade starting lineup has been the league's second worst defensive lineup among those who have played at least 100 minutes.
This week: vs. POR, vs. ORL, vs. CLE

28

Last week: 24

Cleveland (11-23)
Pace: 95.8 (17), OffRtg: 96.6 (28), DefRtg: 102.8 (14), NetRtg: -6.2 (27)
Andrew Bynum's tenure as a Cleveland Cavalier should be over this week, whether he's traded or waived. And at this point, you have to wonder if anybody the Cavs acquire could really turn their season around. They've lost eight of their last nine games, Kyrie Irving is banged up, and teams around them in the standings have shown improvement. Maybe they'll do better with their next lottery pick.
This week: vs. PHI, @ UTA, @ SAC

29

Last week: 27

Orlando (10-23)
Pace: 96.6 (15), OffRtg: 98.6 (24), DefRtg: 102.2 (12), NetRtg: -3.6 (22)
The Magic began 2014 with one of the worst collapses you'll ever see, losing a seven-point lead with 14 seconds left ... to the Kyrie-less Cavs. Without Nikola Vucevic, they started Jason Maxiell in that game. He shot 1-for-6. Two nights later, Andrew Nicholson started against Miami and shot 0-for-4. They begin a five-game trip out West on Monday, having lost nine straight against the opposite conference.
This week: @ LAC, @ POR, @ SAC

30

Last week: 30

Milwaukee (7-26)
Pace: 94.2 (26), OffRtg: 96.2 (30), DefRtg: 104.6 (21), NetRtg: -8.4 (29)
A bad season got worse on Saturday, as Gary Neal and Larry Sanders got into it in the locker room after losing in Phoenix. It's amazing how much Sanders' star has fallen, going from defensive stud with a $44 million contract extension to dealing with legal troubles and getting questioned by teammates. The Bucks need him to turn things around, because they're a team that can't afford a bad contract.
This week: vs. GSW, vs, CHI, @ OKC
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