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OKC at full strength as schedule reaches quarter pole

Power Rankings: Week 6

POSTED: Dec 8, 2014 11:21 AM ET

By John Schuhmann

BY John Schuhmann

NBA.com

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With Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant back in the fold, the Thunder can really start to make its playoff push.

It's that time.

The season will reach the quarter pole (307 of 1,230 games) after Monday's seven-game slate. At that point, almost every team will have played 20 games, the benchmark for really starting to evaluate where they stand. And as it does every year, this point in the season closely coincides with the day (Dec. 15) when most players who signed new contracts in the summer can be traded.

That could shake things up a bit, but take a good look at the standings. For the most part, the teams that are in playoff position now will be the same ones that are in playoff position on April 16. Historically, there hasn't been many changes (about one team per conference) in the playoff field over the final three quarters of the season.

Of course, we have a unique situation in Oklahoma City. And before you cite any stats about teams that started 7-13 making the playoffs in the Western Conference, remember that none of those teams had players as talented as Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook coming off injury.

As we head toward Christmas, the Thunder's climb up the Western Conference standings will be the big story. They've won four of their last five and have a couple of interesting games this week.

* * *

• Last week: Warriors, Grizzlies break through as West's new powers
• This time last year: At season's uncertain quarter pole, Blazers take No. 1 spot -- The Raptors traded Rudy Gay to Sacramento, Kobe Bryant made his 2013-14 season debut, Monta Ellis beat the Blazers at the buzzer, and Kyle Korver broke the record for most consecutive games with a 3-pointer.

• Plus-minus stud: J.J. Redick (LAC) was a plus-81 in three games last week.
• Plus-minus dud: Kobe Bryant (LAL) was a minus-62 in four games last week.

• Hero Team of the Week: Atlanta (4-0) -- The Hawks' perfect week included two easy road wins over teams -- Miami and Brooklyn -- that are currently in playoff position.
• Zero Team of the Week: Detroit (0-4) -- They weren't the only team to lose to the Sixers last week, but they're the only one that shot less than 40 percent over three home losses.

• High jumps of the week: Atlanta (+4), Charlotte (+3), Cleveland (+3), Phoenix (+3)
• Free falls of the week: Chicago (-4), Indiana (-4), Miami (-4)

• East vs. West: The West is 78-36 (0.684) against the East in interconference games (the Blazers are 9-0) and was 15-10 last week.

• Toughest schedules through Sunday: 1. L.A. Lakers, 2. Sacramento, 3. Charlotte
• Easiest schedules through Sunday: 1. Atlanta, 2. Golden State, 3. Washington
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 has averaged 96.0 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes and 103.5 points scored per 100 possessions through Sunday.

* * *

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: 1

Golden State (17-2)
Pace: 100.4 (2), OffRtg: 107.6 (4), DefRtg: 95.1 (1), NetRtg: +12.6 (1)
The previous 11 wins were all over teams currently under .500, so Saturday's victory in Chicago validated the Warriors' winning streak, while also helping Draymond Green's case to be the third Splash Brother. The last team to outscore its opponents by more than 12 points per 100 possessions over a full season was the 72-win, 1995-96 Bulls.
This week: @ MIN, vs. HOU, @ DAL, @ NOP

2

Last week: 3

San Antonio (15-5)
Pace: 95.9 (16), OffRtg: 105.3 (10), DefRtg: 97.2 (3), NetRtg: +8.1 (4)
They came up empty in Brooklyn on Wednesday, but the Spurs have scored 112 points per 100 possessions over their last 10 games, up from 99 in their first 10. The big difference has been 3-point shooting (32 percent in the first 10, 43 percent in the last 10). Tiago Splitter could return this week, in time to keep Tim Duncan's minutes from hitting 30 per game.
This week: @ UTA, vs. NYK, vs. LAL, @ DEN

3

Last week: 4

Portland (16-4)
Pace: 96.7 (8), OffRtg: 106.7 (7), DefRtg: 99.5 (6), NetRtg: +7.1 (7)
After going from Rookie of the Year to All-Star, Damian Lillard has taken another step forward in his third season. He's seen increases in his shooting at the rim, his 3-point shooting, his free throw rate, rebounding percentage and assist rate. And that's with his shooting getting off to a slow start and taking a dip (6-for-31 from 3) in the last five games.
This week: @ DET, @ MIN, @ CHI, @ IND

4

Last week: 2

Memphis (16-4)
Pace: 94.1 (25), OffRtg: 106.5 (8), DefRtg: 99.4 (5), NetRtg: +7.2 (6)
The Grizzlies weren't going 52-0 against the West, and they rebounded well against the Heat on Sunday, so last week's losses to the Rockets and Spurs aren't a real step backward. Of course, when you're 2-15 (with nine straight losses) against the champs over the last four seasons, it would be nice to get a 'W' at some point. They'll get two more chances this month.
This week: vs. DAL, vs. CHA, @ PHI

5

Last week: 7

L.A. Clippers (14-5)
Pace: 95.8 (17), OffRtg: 111.2 (3), DefRtg: 102.6 (12), NetRtg: +8.6 (3)
The Clips have won seven straight and have a favorable schedule over the next two weeks. More important is that they're getting more consistent production from reserves not named Jamal Crawford. When at least four of the top six guys in their rotation are on the floor, they're a plus-16.1 points per 100 possessions. With three or fewer on, they're a minus-5.0.
This week: vs. PHX, @ IND, @ WAS, @ MIL

6

Last week: 5

Dallas (16-6)
Pace: 96.3 (11), OffRtg: 114.0 (1), DefRtg: 104.3 (18), NetRtg: +9.7 (2)
Despite the addition of Tyson Chandler, the Mavs again have the worst defense among West playoff teams. That's why they needed help from Kirk Hinrich to win in Chicago and a Monta miracle to win in Milwaukee. The league's two worst defensive rebounding teams are the one Chandler left (the Knicks rank 30th) and the one he rejoined.
This week: @ MEM, vs. NOP, vs. GSW

7

Last week: 8

Houston (16-4)
Pace: 96.6 (9), OffRtg: 102.2 (20), DefRtg: 96.5 (2), NetRtg: +5.7 (8)
The Rockets have been Bulls-esque with how they've won (with defense) through injuries. Donatas Motiejunas has been big in Dwight Howard's absence, Jason Terry has filled in at point guard, and Nick Johnson got the overtime game-winner in Minnesota on Friday. But Howard isn't expected back soon and Kostas Papanikolaou sprained his knee.
This week: @ GSW, @ SAC, vs. DEN

8

Last week: 11

Cleveland (11-7)
Pace: 95.2 (19), OffRtg: 107.0 (5), DefRtg: 103.6 (16), NetRtg: +3.4 (11)
LeBron James still isn't shooting to his standards, but his passing has given the Cavs' offense a boost. He's averaged 10.2 assists over the team's six-game winning streak and his assist rate is now at a career-high 23.7 percent. The Cavs have looked strong on both ends of the floor, but have a challenging four-games-in-five-nights stretch this week.
This week: @ BKN, vs. TOR, @ OKC, @ NOP

9

Last week: 6

Toronto (15-5)
Pace: 96.2 (13), OffRtg: 111.7 (2), DefRtg: 104.0 (17), NetRtg: +7.7 (5)
The Raptors' offense has been okay without DeMar DeRozan, but they've been the league's third worst defensive team in the last two weeks (going back to before DeRozan got hurt), allowing 114 points per 100 possessions over seven games. Their opponents have shot 39.4 percent from deep and averaged 15.7 second chance points in that stretch.
This week: vs. DEN, @ CLE, vs. IND, @ NYK

10

Last week: 14

Atlanta (13-6)
Pace: 95.9 (15), OffRtg: 106.8 (6), DefRtg: 102.4 (10), NetRtg: +4.3 (10)
Quietly, the Hawks have won six straight and slid into second place in the Eastern Conference. Their offense continues to be sharp (with Paul Millsap joining the 3-point party), but their defense has been improved, allowing just 92 points per 100 possessions during the streak. Al Horford (nine blocks in the six games) is getting his legs back on that end.
This week: @ IND, vs. PHI, vs. ORL, @ ORL

11

Last week: 10

Washington (13-6)
Pace: 96.2 (12), OffRtg: 103.6 (18), DefRtg: 98.5 (4), NetRtg: +5.2 (9)
If you can ignore a Sunday matinee loss in Boston, things are looking up for the Wizards, who were playing their best basketball (on both ends of the floor) prior to that. Bradley Beal already ranks in the top five in 3-point percentage, where he's joined by teammate Rasual Butler, whose revival has been one of the more remarkable stories in the league.
This week: vs. BOS, @ ORL, vs. LAC, vs. UTA

12

Last week: 15

Phoenix (12-9)
Pace: 99.2 (4), OffRtg: 105.4 (9), DefRtg: 102.6 (13), NetRtg: +2.7 (12)
P.J. Tucker has replaced Marcus Morris in the Suns' starting lineup, a change that made an impact in wins over the Pacers and Mavs, with the new first five outscoring the opponents by 28 points. But the Suns are now 1-4 on the second night of a back-to-back after Saturday's loss in Houston, and the Morris twins shoot better when together.
This week: @ LAC, vs. MIA, vs. DET, @ OKC

13

Last week: 9

Chicago (12-8)
Pace: 96.4 (10), OffRtg: 105.0 (12), DefRtg: 102.6 (11), NetRtg: +2.4 (13)
The Bulls have lost three straight at the United Center, where they'll spend most of the next five weeks. Derrick Rose's new affinity for 3-pointers (which account for 45 percent of his shots) hasn't paid off. He has shot just 30 percent on 3s and has career-low marks (if you don't count last season) in effective field goal percentage and true shooting percentage.
This week: vs. BKN, vs. POR, @ MIA

14

Last week: 13

Sacramento (10-10)
Pace: 95.4 (18), OffRtg: 104.4 (13), DefRtg: 105.2 (22), NetRtg: -0.8 (15)
The Kings finally got a win (on a Carl Landry put-back) without DeMarcus Cousins, but could be sans Boogie for a few more games. The defense has suffered more than the offense in Cousins' absence, allowing 110 points per 100 possessions in the five games he's missed, with opponents shooting 74 percent in the restricted area. They miss his rim protection.
This week: vs. UTA, @ LAL, vs. HOU, vs. DET

15

Last week: 16

Milwaukee (11-11)
Pace: 95.9 (14), OffRtg: 101.4 (21), DefRtg: 101.7 (8), NetRtg: -0.2 (14)
The Bucks' defense has indeed started to buckle in the face of the league's best offenses, in part because they've turned the ball over a lot. They've lost four of their last five and just began a stretch of seven straight games against West teams that are .500 or better. But Jason Kidd maintained his perfect regular season record as a coach against the Heat.
This week: @ OKC, vs. LAC

16

Last week: 12

Miami (9-11)
Pace: 91.9 (30), OffRtg: 103.8 (17), DefRtg: 107.0 (26), NetRtg: -3.2 (21)
The Heat's four-game losing streak has taken them into unfamiliar territory. They've never been a below-average defensive team under Erik Spoelstra and have been a bottom-five defensive team only once in their 26-year history. The good news is that rebounding isn't as big of a problem when your opponents are making most of their shots.
This week: @ PHX, @ DEN, @ UTA, vs. CHI

17

Last week: 17

Denver (9-11)
Pace: 99.1 (6), OffRtg: 103.9 (16), DefRtg: 105.8 (23), NetRtg: -1.9 (18)
The big first-half deficits (19 points in Washington on Friday, 21 points in Atlanta on Sunday) have returned and the Nuggets have headed back down the roller coaster. Players not named Wilson Chandler have shot 8-for-55 from 3-point range in a three-game losing streak, with a pretty rough schedule ahead. Five of their next six opponents are 14-5 or better.
This week: @ TOR, vs. MIA, @ HOU, vs. SAS

18

Last week: 18

New Orleans (9-10)
Pace: 95.0 (21), OffRtg: 105.2 (11), DefRtg: 106.0 (24), NetRtg: -0.8 (16)
The addition of Omer Asik was supposed to help the Pelicans make the leap defensively. But here they are in the bottom 10 for the third straight year. The defense had been strong with Asik and Anthony Davis on the floor together, but it fell apart in road losses to the Warriors and Clippers last week. The Pelicans are 2-6 against teams ahead of them in the West.
This week: vs. NYK, @ DAL, vs. CLE, vs. GSW

19

Last week: 20

Oklahoma City (7-13)
Pace: 93.9 (27), OffRtg: 97.3 (28), DefRtg: 100.3 (7), NetRtg: -3.0 (20)
Kevin Durant scored 27-plus points in two of his three games and Russell Westbrook did this, but it's clearly going to take the Thunder some time to get rolling. No matter who's been healthy, turnovers have been a problem that needs fixing soon. Sunday's visit from the eighth-place Suns could be one of the most important games of the season.
This week: vs. MIL, vs. CLE, @ MIN, vs. PHX

20

Last week: 21

Orlando (9-14)
Pace: 95.2 (20), OffRtg: 99.4 (25), DefRtg: 104.6 (21), NetRtg: -5.2 (23)
They let one get away at Golden State, but the Magic are 7-9 on the road (they were 4-37 last season) and 4-5 against the West (6-24 last season) after picking up wins in Phoenix, Utah and Sacramento on a six-game trip. Ben Gordon and Victor Oladipo combined to shoot 60 percent on the trip and Kyle O'Quinn has filled in nicely for Nikola Vucevic at center.
This week: vs. WAS, @ ATL, vs. ATL

21

Last week: 22

Boston (7-11)
Pace: 100.8 (1), OffRtg: 102.7 (19), DefRtg: 104.5 (20), NetRtg: -1.8 (17)
The Celtics have not (completely) blown a double-digit lead in three straight games. Jeff Green is on an upswing during the streak, and the guys they got for helping the Cavs build a superteam have come up big too. Tyler Zeller had 24 points and 14 rebounds in Friday's win over the Lakers, and Marcus Thornton dropped 21 against the Wizards on Sunday.
This week: @ WAS, @ CHA, vs. NYK

22

Last week: 23

Brooklyn (8-10)
Pace: 94.6 (22), OffRtg: 100.5 (23), DefRtg: 102.8 (14), NetRtg: -2.8 (19)
The Nets will be without Brook Lopez for the next week, which might allow for better spacing and ball movement (like it did last year). Only the Sixers and Pistons have been worse offensively over the last four weeks, though the bench has been more of a problem than the starting lineup. Reserves have shot 9-for-77 from 3-point range over their last 11 games.
This week: vs. CLE, @ CHI, vs. PHI, @ CHA

23

Last week: 19

Indiana (7-13)
Pace: 94.1 (26), OffRtg: 97.5 (27), DefRtg: 102.3 (9), NetRtg: -4.8 (22)
Lance Stephenson has had issues adjusting in Charlotte, but the guy who replaced him in Indiana might be a bigger free agency disappointment. C.J. Miles' effective field goal percentage has fallen from 54 percent last season to 32 percent this year, by far the biggest drop-off in the league. Indy has lost four straight, scoring just 93 points per 100 possessions.
This week: vs. ATL, vs. LAC, @ TOR, vs. POR

24

Last week: 25

L.A. Lakers (5-16)
Pace: 97.9 (7), OffRtg: 104.0 (15), DefRtg: 111.9 (30), NetRtg: -7.9 (26)
The Lakers' new starting lineup (with Ronnie Price and Ed Davis replacing Jeremy Lin and Carlos Boozer) only got outscored by two points against the Pelicans on Sunday and hasn't been quite as atrocious defensively as the old group (though it's still been bad). Kobe Bryant is just 62 points short of Michael Jordan and should pass him this week.
This week: vs. SAC, @ SAS, @ MIN

25

Last week: 28

Charlotte (5-15)
Pace: 94.1 (24), OffRtg: 98.2 (26), DefRtg: 106.2 (25), NetRtg: -8.0 (27)
The Hornets put an end to their 10-game losing streak on Friday, but have still won just two games that didn't require a last-second shot from Kemba Walker or Lance Stephenson. They desperately need Michael Kidd-Gilchrist back to provide perimeter defense and somebody who will run the floor, because they're not getting early offense without him.
This week: vs. BOS, @ MEM, vs. BKN

26

Last week: 26

Utah (5-15)
Pace: 92.5 (28), OffRtg: 104.4 (14), DefRtg: 110.4 (28), NetRtg: -6.0 (25)
The Jazz have historically had a better home-court advantage than most teams, and they've played the most home games against opponents who played the night before. But their eight-game losing streak has included six losses at home. Now, they have three tough games before beginning a stretch (Sunday in Washington) where they play 14 of 20 on the road.
This week: @ SAC, vs. SAS, vs. MIA, @ WAS

27

Last week: 24

Minnesota (4-15)
Pace: 99.1 (5), OffRtg: 99.6 (24), DefRtg: 110.8 (29), NetRtg: -11.8 (29)
The Wolves applied for the No. 30 spot with Wednesday's loss to the Sixers and are threatening to take the "Worst Defense in the League" title from the Lakers. But there have been moments of promise here and there. Shabazz Muhammad has averaged 18 points on 58 percent shooting in the last five games, looking like one of the league's better post-up wings.
This week: vs. GSW, vs. POR, vs. OKC, vs. LAL

28

Last week: 27

New York (4-18)
Pace: 92.1 (29), OffRtg: 101.2 (22), DefRtg: 107.2 (27), NetRtg: -6.0 (24)
The script isn't exactly the same every night. Sometimes the Knicks take the lead after making a late comeback from a huge deficit, and sometimes they don't. But they've lost 13 straight games that were within five points in the last five minutes. Lesson to rookie coaches: Amar'e Stoudemire isn't the help defender you want on the floor with the game on the line.
This week: @ NOP, @ SAS, @ BOS, vs. TOR

29

Last week: 30

Philadelphia (2-18)
Pace: 99.8 (3), OffRtg: 91.8 (30), DefRtg: 103.5 (15), NetRtg: -11.8 (30)
The Sixers are off the schneid, have won two of their last three, and have a top-five defense in December. Michael Carter-Williams still can't make a jumper, but is filling the boxscore again, averaging 19.6 points, 9.0 rebounds and 12.2 assists in his last five games. Philly is a plus-25 in 194 minutes with MCW and K.J. McDaniels on the floor. The future is now!
This week: @ ATL, @ BKN, vs. MEM

30

Last week: 29

Detroit (3-18)
Pace: 94.5 (23), OffRtg: 96.4 (29), DefRtg: 104.5 (19), NetRtg: -8.1 (28)
The Pistons had their chances (though Josh Smith from 3-point range isn't much of one), but their losing streak hit 12 games with narrow losses to the Celtics, Sixers and Thunder last week. And now their schedule gets a lot tougher. Stan Van Gundy has stayed away from the Smith- Andre Drummond-Greg Monroe combination in the last five games.
This week: vs. POR, @ PHX, @ SAC