There have been times this season where it seemed reasonable to rank the Western Conference teams 1-15 and the Eastern Conference teams 16-30. It never got quite that bad, but earlier this month, the East-West disparity was worse than it had been in years.
Things have changed a little since then. Over the last 17 days, the East is 27-22 against the West. For the season, the East's winning percentage against the West (.378) is better than it was last season (.369).
The East still has three playoff teams below .500, but the teams at the top have earned their stripes. The top four teams in the Eastern Conference - Toronto, Atlanta, Washington and Chicago - are 28-11 against the West.
Are they picking on the Jazz, Lakers and Wolves? A little bit, but the East's top four are also 10-7 against West playoff teams and 4-2 against the West's top four.
And now, we actually have three East teams in this week's top five. The Bulls are the first team outside of Oakland to be ranked No. 1 this season, having won nine of their last 10 games, with wins over Portland, Memphis, Toronto and Washington in that stretch.
The Hawks remain at No. 4, having avenged their only non-buzzer-beater loss since Thanksgiving 24 hours later. And the Raptors have moved back up after beating the Clippers on Saturday. They were had been rolling through some bad teams, but needed that quality win to get back into the top five.
The Wizards remain outside the top 10, mostly because they're lacking that same quality win. They're last win over a team with a winning record (the Clippers again) came on Dec. 12, and they've since lost to the Suns and Bulls. But a strong week through Texas and Oklahoma would give them a push.
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• Last week: Happy Holidays from the schedule makers
• This time last year: Westbrook goes down, but Thunder keep on chugging along -- Russell Westbrook underwent his third knee surgery in eight months and Al Horford tore a pectoral muscle for the second time in two years. Kevin Durant dunked on James Harden, Chris Bosh beat the Blazers with a long three, and the Cavs sent Andrew Bynum home for being a nuisance in practice.
• Plus-minus stud: Aaron Brooks (CHI) was a plus-63 in four games last week.
• Plus-minus dud: Andrew Wiggins (MIN) was a minus-61 in three games last week.
• Hero Team of the Week: Chicago (4-0) -- The Bulls' perfect week began with a back-to-back that staked their claim as the best team in the East. They beat the Raptors at home on Monday and then won in Washington on Tuesday.
• Zero Team of the Week: Boston (0-3) -- The Knicks and Wolves also went 0-3, but didn't lose to a team in last week's bottom-10. The Celtics were down 27 at one point in Orlando on Tuesday.
• High jumps of the week: Toronto (+5), Chicago (+4), Four teams (+3)
• Free falls of the week: Boston (-6), Denver (-6), Memphis (-4)
• East vs. West: The West is 107-65 (0.622) against the East in interconference games, but the East was 6-10 last week. The Bulls, Hawks and Raptors were all 2-0 against the West.
• Toughest schedules through Sunday: 1. L.A. Lakers, 2. Minnesota, 3. New York
• Easiest schedules through Sunday: 1. Washington, 2. Portland, 3. Dallas
Schedule strength is based on cumulative opponent record, and adjusted for home vs. away and days of rest before a game.
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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 96.1 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes and 103.6 points scored per 100 possessions through Sunday.
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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.
(21-9) Pace: 95.9 (15), OffRtg: 106.9 (6), DefRtg: 101.8 (9), NetRtg: +5.1 (7)
Watch out. The Bulls are healthy and have won six straight, scoring more than 115 points per 100 possessions
. Derrick Rose (14-for-23 from mid-range during the streak
) has been sharp, Nikola Mirotic (15-for-25 from 3-point range
) has given Tom Thibodeau four great frontline options, and Jimmy Butler (26.3 points per game
) has been the team's best player. This week:
@ IND, vs. BKN, vs. DEN, vs. BOS
Pace: 96.6 (10), OffRtg: 106.3 (7), DefRtg: 98.7 (3), NetRtg: +7.5 (3)
Red-hot 3-point shooting can make up for the absence of your starting frontline. The Blazers have been without LaMarcus Aldridge in three of their last four games, but have hit 51 threes in their last three. They're 14-2 at home and in the middle of their longest homestand (seven games) of the season, with this week's opponents the only ones over .500.
This week: vs. TOR, vs. ATL
(24-5) Pace: 100.7 (1), OffRtg: 107.2 (5), DefRtg: 96.8 (1), NetRtg: +10.5 (1)
Festus Ezeli sprained his ankle and the Warriors are now without both of their centers. Defense wasn't the problem in Thursday's loss to the Clippers
, but with Marreese Speights and David Lee manning the five, it's good that the Dubs are playing just two games in an eight-day stretch, and one of them is against the worst offensive team we've ever seen. This week:
vs. PHI, vs. TOR
(22-8) Pace: 96.0 (14), OffRtg: 105.3 (12), DefRtg: 100.8 (7), NetRtg: +4.5 (9)
The Hawks' magical, 14-1, Thanksgiving-to-Christmas run came to an end once their Elves on the Shelf went back to the North Pole. They actually shot worse in Saturday's win in Milwaukee
than they did in Friday's loss at home
(to the same team), but grabbed a season-high 17 offensive boards. They rank last in offensive rebounding percentage
. This week:
vs. CLE, @ UTA, @ POR
(24-7) Pace: 95.4 (18), OffRtg: 112.3 (1), DefRtg: 104.1 (17), NetRtg: +8.2 (2)
The Raptors have scored 114 points per 100 possessions in their 15 games without DeMar DeRozan
to bump the Mavs from the top spot in offensive efficiency. More importantly, they got their first sans-DeRozan win over a team with a winning record by scoring 61 second-half points against the Clippers on Saturday
and have won eight of their last nine. This week:
@ POR, @ GSW, @ PHX
(21-8) Pace: 97.5 (8), OffRtg: 102.1 (19), DefRtg: 98.2 (2), NetRtg: +4.0 (11)
Josh Smith has shot just 11-for-28 (sounds about right) with Houston, but got a key bucket and a couple of big offensive rebounds at the end of Friday's win in Memphis. Corey Brewer, meanwhile, has shot 18-for-31 as a Rocket
, hitting 11 of his 17 threes. The Rockets' offense was trending up until the middle of the fourth quarter in San Antonio on Sunday
. This week:
vs. WAS, vs. CHA, @ NOP, vs. MIA
(22-8) Pace: 93.7 (27), OffRtg: 106.2 (9), DefRtg: 102.0 (12), NetRtg: +4.2 (10)
The Grizzlies stopped the bleeding (and a four-game losing streak) with a win in Miami on Saturday
, but their defensive drop-off this month (worst in the league) is a concern (and not really schedule-related
). The new year will bring some schedule relief, with six of their first eight January games against teams at or below .500, but most of those are on the road. This week:
vs. SAS, @ LAL, @ DEN
(22-10) Pace: 97.1 (9), OffRtg: 112.1 (2), DefRtg: 104.8 (20), NetRtg: +7.3 (4)
As expected, the Mavs' offense has regressed, but their defense has improved with Rajon Rondo. And as expected, they miss Brandan Wright, because they've been terrible (minus-22 in 72 minutes
) with Greg Smith on the floor since the trade. Fourteen of their first 19 games in 2015, starting with Rondo's return to Boston on Friday, are on the road. This week:
vs. WAS, @ BOS, @ CLE
San Antonio (19-13)
Pace: 95.4 (19), OffRtg: 105.4 (11), DefRtg: 100.7 (6), NetRtg: +4.7 (8)
Though the travel hasn't been too terrible, the Spurs are in the middle of their fourth five-games-in-seven-nights stretch over the last month. So they're happy to have Patty Mills back, happy to have picked up a couple of offensive wins against the Clippers and Rockets last week, and happy to be playing just two games in the first eight days of January.
This week: @ MEM, vs. NOP, vs. WAS
(20-11) Pace: 96.4 (13), OffRtg: 110.0 (3), DefRtg: 104.3 (18), NetRtg: +5.7 (5)
The Clippers had the No. 1 3-point defense last season
and ranked seventh through Dec. 11
, but have allowed their opponents to shoot 51 percent from beyond the arc during a five-game road losing streak
. They began a nine-game homestand with a big Christmas win over Golden State
, but 3-point D was again a problem against Toronto on Sunday
. This week:
vs. UTA, vs. NYK, vs. PHI
(21-8) Pace: 95.8 (16), OffRtg: 104.4 (14), DefRtg: 99.2 (4), NetRtg: +5.2 (6)
In games played between the 13 teams currently over .500, the Wizards (2-6 after Tuesday's loss to the Bulls
) have half as many wins as any of the other 12. But they're going to get a chance to pick some up in the next 17 days. Starting with two nasty back-to-backs this week, they play eight of their next 10 games against teams with winning records. This week:
@ HOU, @ DAL, @ OKC, @ SAS
(18-12) Pace: 94.5 (26), OffRtg: 107.3 (4), DefRtg: 105.4 (23), NetRtg: +1.9 (13)
With Kyrie Irving's absence and some of the ridiculous shots that the Pistons hit on Sunday, you could dismiss the loss
from the Cavs' perspective. But it's not like the Cleveland defense has earned the benefit of the doubt. And with Anderson Varejao out for the season, the path to a top-10 ranking on that end of the floor has never been less clear. This week:
@ ATL, vs. MIL, @ CHA, vs. DAL
(18-14) Pace: 98.7 (5), OffRtg: 106.2 (8), DefRtg: 103.8 (15), NetRtg: +2.4 (12)
The Suns have followed a six-game losing streak with a six-game winning streak, with the turnaround coming almost entirely on offense, where they went from scoring 99 points per 100 possessions
. As usual, the guards have led the way, but six different Suns (three starters and three reserves) have averaged double-figures during the winning streak
. This week:
@ NOP, @ OKC, vs. PHI, vs. TOR
(15-15) Pace: 95.3 (20), OffRtg: 106.0 (10), DefRtg: 106.9 (26), NetRtg: -0.9 (16)
Anthony Davis has blocked at least five shots in four of his last six games
(this volleyball spike on Manu Ginobili
was a personal favorite). But, at some point, the Pelicans need to string together some wins to remain in the playoff picture. They haven't won more than two straight games all season and only the Knicks have been worse defensively in December
. This week:
vs. PHX, @ SAS, vs. HOU
(15-17) Pace: 95.7 (17), OffRtg: 101.5 (21), DefRtg: 99.9 (5), NetRtg: +1.6 (14)
A month ago, we were wondering if the Thunder would make the playoffs. Two weeks ago, we thought they had answered that question. Now, having struggled down the stretch of close games, they're back in a three-game hole
. That's not too deep and Kevin Durant is on his way back, but Wednesday's visit from the Suns, with a lot of road games looming, is big. This week:
vs. PHX, vs. WAS
Pace: 96.5 (11), OffRtg: 101.9 (20), DefRtg: 102.0 (11), NetRtg: -0.1 (15)
Dealing with injuries, Jason Kidd has had to get creative with his lineups to keep together a bench unit that's been terrific. The Bucks are a plus-18.5 points per 100 possessions with at least three of Jerryd Bayless, Jared Dudley, Kendall Marshall, Khris Middleton and Zaza Pachulia on the floor, and a minus-7.9 with three or more of them on the bench.
This week: @ CHA, @ CLE, vs. IND, @ NYK
(14-17) Pace: 91.7 (30), OffRtg: 103.3 (17), DefRtg: 106.2 (25), NetRtg: -2.9 (19)
It's funny (but not surprising) how a team can follow up a loss to the worst team in the league with a win against its former star. But Luol Deng struggled (3-for-11) in Tuesday's loss to the Sixers
and was terrific (25 points, eight rebounds, eight assists) in Thursday's win over the Cavs
. Miami is 2-11 when his points, rebounds and assists total less than 20. This week:
vs. ORL, @ IND, @ HOU, vs. BKN
(13-17) Pace: 96.4 (12), OffRtg: 104.5 (13), DefRtg: 106.0 (24), NetRtg: -1.5 (18)
With or without DeMarcus Cousins, the Kings' only wins in their last 16 games have come against the Pacers, Jazz, Lakers and Knicks. The last one required overtime, because their defense was pretty bad last week. So, though Cousins scored 39 points and sealed the game with this ferocious drive
, he expressed some frustration after the game
. This week:
@ BKN, @ BOS, @ MIN, @ DET
(10-21) Pace: 94.5 (25), OffRtg: 99.4 (25), DefRtg: 104.4 (19), NetRtg: -5.1 (25)
The Hornets' four-game, Lance-less winning streak came to an end and Al Jefferson is dealing with a groin strain that has limited his production. But both Jefferson
and Kemba Walker
(42 points in a loss to the Magic
on Saturday) have been more efficient with Lance Stephenson off the floor, an issue that will need to be dealt with one way or another. This week:
vs. MIL, @ HOU, vs. CLE, @ ORL
(13-16) Pace: 94.6 (24), OffRtg: 100.4 (24), DefRtg: 103.4 (14), NetRtg: -3.1 (20)
The Nets have had 11 different starters and nine different starting lineups, but they've been the second best first quarter team in the league
. It's all downhill, on both ends of the floor, from there, no matter how highly paid the reserves are. So there's no clear solution for Lionel Hollins, whose team is just a few more games from becoming a bottom-five offense. This week:
vs. SAC, @ CHI, @ ORL, @ MIA
(10-20) Pace: 92.6 (28), OffRtg: 103.6 (16), DefRtg: 108.6 (27), NetRtg: -4.9 (24)
The Jazz have won four of their last five games, picking on the bottom of the Eastern Conference, but also getting their best win of the season
in Memphis on Monday. The one game they lost (last Saturday in Charlotte) was the only in the last nine that they've been outrebounded. Rudy Gobert grabbed a career-high 16 boards (in less than 30 minutes) in Memphis. This week:
@ LAC, vs. MIN, vs. ATL, @ MIN
(11-20) Pace: 95.2 (22), OffRtg: 98.2 (29), DefRtg: 101.3 (8), NetRtg: -3.1 (21)
The Pacers finally have three of their five starters from the last two seasons back on the floor. George Hill, David West and Roy Hibbert have played just 19 minutes together so far, but Indy won Hill's first game as a starter
in Brooklyn on Saturday. They could be on a four-game winning streak if Hibbert didn't get into foul trouble in Detroit on Friday. This week:
vs. CHI, vs. MIA, @ MIL, @ LAL
(13-18) Pace: 98.7 (6), OffRtg: 101.4 (22), DefRtg: 105.0 (21), NetRtg: -3.6 (22) The Nuggets had a top-10 offense at the start of the month
, having scored 105.8 points per 100 possessions in October and November. They rank 28th offensively in December
, having scored less than 97. That's a drop-off of 9.1 points per 100 possessions, which, by far, the biggest in the league. Minnesota, who has lost key players to injury, is next at 5.0. This week:
vs. LAL, @ CHI, vs. MEM
(12-21) Pace: 94.7 (23), OffRtg: 99.2 (26), DefRtg: 103.9 (16), NetRtg: -4.7 (23)
A week ago, the Magic were coming off home losses to the Jazz and Sixers. Now, they could be on a three-game winning streak if Tobias Harris hadn't deactivated LeBron James' chill mode
on Friday. Somehow, they're just a game in the win column behind the eighth-place Nets and two behind the seventh-place Heat, with games against both this week. This week:
@ MIA, vs. DET, vs. BKN, vs. CHA
Pace: 95.2 (21), OffRtg: 98.8 (27), DefRtg: 105.1 (22), NetRtg: -6.3 (26)
The Pistons were bound to make some shots eventually, but it's not a coincidence that their two best offensive games have come with the departure of Josh Smith. Jonas Jerebko, who saw the biggest increase in minutes, provides better spacing and was already one of the team's best shooters this season. This week provides an opportunity to keep winning.
This week: @ ORL, @ NYK, vs. SAC
(9-22) Pace: 97.7 (7), OffRtg: 103.8 (15), DefRtg: 110.4 (30), NetRtg: -6.6 (27)
Kobe Bryant came back from his three-game break as a passer, dishing out seven assists (with two secondary assists and two free-throw assists
), while only taking 10 shots. If he can continue to trust his teammates, the Lakers' offense should be better long-term. But if the defense continues to be terrible and the losses keep piling up, will he go back to gunning? This week:
@ DEN, vs. MEM, vs. IND
Pace: 100.0 (2), OffRtg: 102.2 (18), DefRtg: 103.2 (13), NetRtg: -1.0 (17)
The Celtics have been the most improved defensive team from October-November (107.4 points allowed per 100 possessions) to December (99.1), but have lost four straight and have a very crowded rotation (Brandan Wright is the 12th man) in the wake of the Rajon Rondo trade. So you have to wonder if Danny Ainge has another deal or two to make.
This week: vs. SAC, vs. DAL, @ CHI
(4-25) Pace: 99.5 (3), OffRtg: 91.1 (30), DefRtg: 101.8 (10), NetRtg: -10.7 (29)
The Sixers' offense hit a new low by scoring just 71 points on Saturday
against the team (Utah) that ranked 28th defensively at the time. That they're the worst offense of the last 38 years (12.4 fewer points per 100 possessions than the league average), with the league's highest turnover rate, makes their top-10 ranking on defense all the more remarkable. This week:
@ GSW, @ PHX, @ LAC
(5-28) Pace: 92.4 (29), OffRtg: 101.1 (23), DefRtg: 109.1 (28), NetRtg: -8.0 (28)
When you've lost 18 of your last 19 games, you can't get any worse, right? Well, if Carmelo Anthony's left knee isn't getting any better and he has to take extended time off ... oh, boy. With Anthony lost for the game in Portland on Sunday
, the Knicks started the second half with Jose Calderon, Tim Hardaway Jr., Travis Wear, Jason Smith and Cole Aldrich. This week:
@ LAC, vs. DET, vs. MIL
(5-24) Pace: 99.0 (4), OffRtg: 98.3 (28), DefRtg: 109.7 (29), NetRtg: -11.5 (30)
Ricky Rubio is running, but still not close to returning
. But two games against the Jazz this week are opportunities for the Wolves to end their losing streak, which now stands at eight games, with offense as much of a problem as defense. They won three of the four quarters in Denver on Friday, but the second was a clinic on how to take terrible shots
. This week:
@ UTA, vs. SAC, vs. UTA