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Power Rankings: Parity makes for some good East basketball

Heat climb into Top 3; Bulls, Suns and Wolves tumble

POSTED: Dec 7, 2015 11:44 AM ET

By John Schuhmann

BY John Schuhmann

NBA.com

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As we reach the season's quarter point, the East playoff scramble is already starting to heat up.

Halfway through Monday's nine-game slate of games, we'll reach the quarter point of the season, the time when we've seen enough to really take stock of what teams are good and what teams aren't. On average, only one team that's outside the top eight in its conference at this point will make the playoffs.

That said, the Eastern Conference is kind of crazy right now. Ten East teams are over .500 and they're all within two games of each other in the standings. By the end of this week, the 10th-place Boston Celtics could be ahead of the first-place Miami Heat. (And thank goodness that what division you're in doesn't really matter anymore.)

Things will sort themselves out in time, but for now we can enjoy the competition. It used to be that there was a handful of good Western Conference games every week. Now, we have that situation in the East.

This week, even though there's a lot of interconference action, there are seven games between the top 10 teams in the East, with the Hornets hosting Detroit, Miami and Boston. At 2-5 in games played within the group, Charlotte has some work to do.

Every team in the East's top 10 has at least two wins and one loss against the other nine teams, but Detroit and Indiana have looked best thus far. The Pacers won the first meeting and they'll see each other again on Saturday.

* * *

• Last week: Warriors take their show on the road
• This time last year: OKC at full strength as schedule reaches quarter pole -- The Sixers got their first and second wins of the season and the Warriors were 12 games into a 16-game winning streak. Russell Westbrook threw down one of those dunks on the Pistons and Monta Ellis beat the Bucks at the buzzer.

• Plus-minus studs: Stephen Curry (GSW) and Reggie Jackson (DET) were each a plus-56 in four games last week.
• Plus-minus duds: Kobe Bryant (LAL) and Julius Randle (LAL) were each a minus-63 in four games last week.

• Hero team of the week: Golden State (4-0) -- The Pistons (4-0) were the only other team with a perfect week and had a much easier schedule. The champs are still getting it done without Harrison Barnes.
• Zero team of the week: Cleveland (0-3) -- The Cavs lost in overtime on the road on Friday and without LeBron James on Saturday, but the week began with an ugly loss at home to the struggling Wizards.

• East vs. West: The East is 57-55 (0.509) against the West in interconference games and was 16-13 last week.

• Toughest schedules through Nov. 29: 1. Sacramento, 2. Brooklyn, 3. New Orleans
• Easiest schedules through Nov. 29: 1. Golden State, 2. San Antonio, 3. Portland
Schedule strength is based on cumulative opponent record, and adjusted for home vs. away and days of rest before a game.

• High jumps of the week: Houston (+6), Boston (+5), Three teams (+3)
• Free falls of the week: Phoenix (-5), Minnesota (-4), Brooklyn (-3), Chicago (-3)

* * *

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 98.8 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes and 101.4 points scored per 100 possessions this season.

* * *

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 (22-0)
Pace: 101.3 (4) OffRtg: 114.1 (1) DefRtg: 97.6 (5) NetRtg: +16.5 (1)
The Warriors had two more close calls last week, but the '0' in the L column is hanging tough. Draymond Green had a cold spell from 3-point range, but has to be considered one of the dozen best players in the league with how important he is to a top-5 defense and how much of a playmaker he's become out of pick-and-rolls. He leads the league's No. 1 offense and ranks sixth in the league with 7.2 assists per game.
This week: @ IND, @ BOS, @ MIL

2

Last week: 2

San Antonio (17-4)
Pace: 96.3 (26) OffRtg: 103.0 (10) DefRtg: 92.8 (1) NetRtg: +10.2 (2)
After Monday's loss in Chicago, Gregg Popovich said his team might not be good offensively "until March." Three days later, Kawhi Leonard hit seven threes in Memphis. Two days after that, the Spurs shot 52 percent against a top-five defensive team (Boston). The San Antonio defense has been fantastic (best DefRtg vs. the league average since the '08 Celtics), but you don't win 17 of 21 without a pretty good offense.
This week: @ PHI, @ TOR, vs. LAL, @ ATL

3

Last week: 6

Miami (12-6)
Pace: 95.9 (27) OffRtg: 101.7 (13) DefRtg: 95.0 (2) NetRtg: +6.7 (3)
The Heat's offense continues to be underwhelming, the starting lineup still isn't on the same page, and they haven't won more than three straight games. But Saturday's win over the LeBron-less Cavs has them in first place in the Eastern Conference and Goran Dragic might be starting to find his game. He totaled 31 points and 15 assists in wins over Oklahoma City and Cleveland, shooting 13-for-22.
This week: vs. WAS, @ CHA, @ IND, vs. MEM

4

Last week: 3

Cleveland (13-7)
Pace: 95.8 (28) OffRtg: 103.9 (5) DefRtg: 100.6 (13) NetRtg: +3.3 (8)
Kyrie Irving and Iman Shumpert practiced last week, and their return can't come soon enough. The Cavs have lost three straight games, have scored less than a point per possession in four of their last five, and needed to give LeBron James a rest in Miami on Saturday. Their depth needs a boost, as they've been 26.6 points per 100 possessions worse with James off the floor than with him in the game.
This week: vs. POR, @ ORL

5

Last week: 4

Indiana (12-7)
Pace: 99.6 (11) OffRtg: 103.0 (9) DefRtg: 98.1 (6) NetRtg: +4.9 (5)
The Pacers' defense has been generally terrific this season, but it fell apart, allowing 123 points per 100 possessions, in the final two games (at Portland and Utah) of a four-game trip out west. Indy has the league's second best defensive vs. Eastern Conference opponents and the fourth worst against Western Conference opponents, with Stephen Curry and the league's No. 1 offense coming to town on Tuesday.
This week: vs. GSW, vs. MIA, @ DET

6

Last week: 5

Oklahoma City (12-8)
Pace: 100.6 (6) OffRtg: 106.3 (2) DefRtg: 100.3 (10) NetRtg: +6.0 (4)
The Thunder had late-game defensive issues in Atlanta on Monday, but the stagnant offense late in Thursday's loss in Miami felt a lot more familiar. Their offense has scored less than a point per possession in three straight games, with turnovers and 3-point shooting being the biggest problems, but Kevin Durant hit two big shots against the Kings on Sunday and they don't face another top-10 defense until Christmas.
This week: @ MEM, vs. ATL, @ UTA, vs. UTA

7

Last week: 7

Toronto (12-9)
Pace: 96.8 (25) OffRtg: 103.6 (7) DefRtg: 100.6 (14) NetRtg: +3.0 (10)
The Raptors got a big win with a big comeback in Atlanta on Wednesday and took the Warriors down to the wire again on Saturday. But they've lost three of their last four games and have put themselves in double-digit deficits in the first half of each of their last five. For the season, they've been the league's third worst first-quarter team, getting outscored by 11.6 points per 100 possessions.
This week: vs. LAL, vs. SAS, vs. MIL, vs. PHI

8

Last week: 9

Atlanta (13-9)
Pace: 98.4 (18) OffRtg: 103.7 (6) DefRtg: 100.6 (15) NetRtg: +3.0 (9)
The Hawks have alternated wins and losses for their last 10 games, and Jeff Teague had some late-game highs and lows last week. He beat three different Thunder defenders off the dribble for layups in an 8-0 run down the stretch on Monday, but was outscored by Kyle Lowry, 22-4, in the fourth quarter on Wednesday. After playing the most games through November (20), Atlanta is in the middle of a four-day break.
This week: @ DAL, @ OKC, vs. SAS

9

Last week: 14

Boston (11-9)
Pace: 101.2 (5) OffRtg: 101.2 (17) DefRtg: 97.1 (3) NetRtg: +4.1 (6)
First quarters have been pretty important for the Celtics of late. Over their last nine games, they're 5-0 after winning the first quarter (like they did against the Heat and Kings last week) and 0-4 after losing it (like they did in San Antonio on Saturday). The defense has been more inconsistent, but Jared Sullinger's early engagement on offense seems to be another barometer for success.
This week: @ NOP, vs. CHI, vs. GSW, @ CHA

10

Last week: 12

Charlotte (11-8)
Pace: 98.3 (20) OffRtg: 103.9 (4) DefRtg: 100.2 (9) NetRtg: +3.7 (7)
The Hornets are 11-5 since the first week, but Saturday's win in Chicago was their biggest of the season. It was their first road win within the conference and just their second win (in seven games) against the other East teams currently above .500. Five of their next six games are against that group, with four of those at home. Their schedule doesn't get road-heavy until January.
This week: vs. DET, vs. MIA, @ MEM, vs. BOS

11

Last week: 8

Chicago (11-6)
Pace: 99.8 (10) OffRtg: 97.4 (27) DefRtg: 97.2 (4) NetRtg: +0.4 (16)
The Bulls have been held under a point per possession in six straight games, but their defense was good enough to get a win over the Spurs on Monday and the offense might break through if Doug McDermott continues to see more playing time. He has scored in double-figures in three straight games for the first time in his career, shooting 15-for-30 last week, and is 47 percent from beyond the arc for the season.
This week: vs. PHX, @ BOS, vs. LAC, vs. NOP

12

Last week: 10

Dallas (12-9)
Pace: 99.1 (14) OffRtg: 102.1 (12) DefRtg: 100.6 (11) NetRtg: +1.5 (13)
Two days after saying that he's "tired of hurting the team, tired of missing shots," Wesley Matthews tied his career high with 36 points (hitting 10 of 17 threes) in Sunday's win in Washington. With Chandler Parsons willingly taking a reserve roll, the Mavs' starting lineup has been the best five-man unit in the league among those that have played at least 100 minutes together, helping them survive a road-heavy stretch of schedule.
This week: @ NYK, vs. ATL, vs. WAS

13

Last week: 11

Utah (9-9)
Pace: 95.1 (30) OffRtg: 101.5 (15) DefRtg: 100.6 (12) NetRtg: +0.9 (14)
The Jazz had lost their first three games without Rudy Gobert (sprained MCL), but got a much-needed, overtime win against Indiana on Saturday, because Derrick Favors (35 points, 13 rebounds, game-tying three-point play at the end of regulation) has become an All-Star caliber big man. The Jazz have played just 61 minutes with Favors as the only big on the floor, and have been bad defensively in this minutes.
This week: @ SAC, vs. NYK, vs. OKC, @ OKC

14

Last week: 13

Memphis (12-9)
Pace: 97.0 (24) OffRtg: 99.2 (23) DefRtg: 102.7 (20) NetRtg: -3.5 (21)
The Grizzlies' latest starting lineup --Tony Allen and Jeff Green at the wings -- has been outscored by 19.5 points per 100 possessions. But Marc Gasol had a monster game in New Orleans on Tuesday, Green had a monster dunk to beat Phoenix on Sunday, and the only teams they've lost to in the last 12 games have been the Spurs and Hawks (Spurs East). Matt Barnes has been giving them much better minutes than he was early.
This week: vs. OKC, @ DET, vs. CHA, @ MIA

15

Last week: 15

L.A. Clippers (11-9)
Pace: 99.4 (13) OffRtg: 104.0 (3) DefRtg: 101.8 (18) NetRtg: +2.1 (11)
When Jamal Crawford scores 30-plus (like he did Saturday against Orlando), the Clippers can win without their starting backcourt. But it would be nice to have Chris Paul (ribs) and/or J.J. Redick (ankle) back as they hit the road this week. They've played nine of their last 11 games at Staples Center, but will be away from home for 12 of their next 16, a stretch that includes two separate trips to the east coast.
This week: @ MIN, @ MIL, @ CHI, @ BKN

16

Last week: 17

Orlando (11-9)
Pace: 98.3 (19) OffRtg: 101.0 (19) DefRtg: 99.3 (8) NetRtg: +1.7 (12)
The Magic won their first 5 7/8 games with Victor Oladipo coming off the bench, but blew a 10-point lead with less than six minutes left in L.A. on Saturday. Andrew Nicholson played a total of seven minutes through the team's first 11 games, but has since found a role backing up Channing Frye. The 43 points he scored in the three games prior to Saturday were the most he's scored in a three-game stretch in more than two years.
This week: @ DEN, @ PHX, vs. CLE

17

Last week: 20

Detroit (12-9)
Pace: 97.9 (22) OffRtg: 99.4 (22) DefRtg: 99.2 (7) NetRtg: +0.2 (15)
(Player of the Week?) Reggie Jackson and the Pistons took advantage of a soft, four-game homestand last week. Jackson averaged 27.0 points and 8.8 assists with an effective field goal percentage of 64 percent, and the Pistons won all four games to improve to 8-2 at the Palace and to get back into the East's top eight. They're 4-1 against the other East teams over .500, with seven of their next 10 games within the group.
This week: @ CHA, vs. MEM, @ PHI, vs. IND

18

Last week: 18

New York (10-11)
Pace: 97.1 (23) OffRtg: 99.1 (24) DefRtg: 101.1 (16) NetRtg: -2.0 (20)
The Knicks got wins over Jerian Grant's brother and Robin Lopez's brother last week, but Friday's win over Brooklyn was the only game in their last seven in which they made more than 1/3 of their threes. After an 18-for-29 start from 3-point range, Langston Galloway is just 11-for-40 over the last 13 games. Jose Calderon has also cooled off from beyond the arc after a hot stretch before Thanksgiving.
This week: vs. DAL, @ UTA, @ SAC, @ POR

19

Last week: 22

Portland (9-12)
Pace: 97.9 (21) OffRtg: 103.2 (8) DefRtg: 103.4 (22) NetRtg: -0.2 (18)
The Blazers could be in playoff position if they didn't blow a late lead against Dallas on Tuesday. But some hot 3-point shooting in wins over the Pacers and Wolves has them hanging around. Even though Damian Lillard had some tummy issues last week, Portland has played a total of just 13 minutes without either him or C.J. McCollum on the floor. Terry Stotts could teach some other coaches about staggering stars' minutes.
This week: @ MIL, @ CLE, @ PHX, vs. NYK

20

Last week: 16

Minnesota (8-11)
Pace: 99.0 (15) OffRtg: 101.0 (20) DefRtg: 101.2 (17) NetRtg: -0.2 (17)
Ten of the Wolves' last 11 games have been within five points in the last five minutes. Andrew Wiggins has had some big moments, but has attempted 29 more shots than any other Wolf in clutch moments. Getting Karl-Anthony Towns some more reps in those situations could pay off down the line, but he had sat three of the last four fourth quarters before playing eight fourth-quarter minutes on Saturday.
This week: vs. LAC, vs. LAL, @ DEN, @ PHX

21

Last week: 27

Houston (10-11)
Pace: 99.9 (9) OffRtg: 101.2 (18) DefRtg: 106.0 (27) NetRtg: -4.8 (24)
The Rockets have won five of their last six games, with the league's second best offense in that stretch. James Harden has been hilariously gifable on defense and still isn't shooting all that well, but his teammates have shot 25-for-41 (61 percent) from 3-point range off his passes over the six games. Saturday's win over the Kings began a stretch of seven straight game against teams currently under .500.
This week: @ BKN, @ WAS, vs. LAL

22

Last week: 21

Washington (8-10)
Pace: 101.5 (3) OffRtg: 98.8 (25) DefRtg: 103.1 (21) NetRtg: -4.3 (22)
A depleted frontline forced the Wizards to play some super-small ball last week, with Jared Dudley or Otto Porter at center. That opened up their offense, but more bad defense and some costly John Wall turnovers have them still struggling to put together wins. Winning at Cleveland (Tuesday) and then losing at home to the Lakers (Wednesday) should end up being the most Jekyll & Hyde back-to-back of the season for any team.
This week: @ MIA, vs. HOU, @ NOP, @ DAL

23

Last week: 24

New Orleans (5-15)
Pace: 100.0 (8) OffRtg: 101.5 (16) DefRtg: 108.6 (30) NetRtg: -7.1 (27)
The Pelicans are still a long way from the playoff picture, and Saturday's visit to Chicago begins a stretch where they play 11 of 16 games on the road, where they're 1-10 thus far. But Tyreke Evans and Norris Cole are finally healthy and the Pels got a big win on Friday, beating the Cavs with a clutch three from Jrue Holiday and a dominant overtime performance from Anthony Davis.
This week: vs. BOS, vs. WAS, @ CHI

24

Last week: 19

Phoenix (8-13)
Pace: 102.0 (2) OffRtg: 102.4 (11) DefRtg: 103.4 (23) NetRtg: -1.1 (19)
You thought it would be tough for the Suns to match the heartbreak of last season, when they were beat by three buzzer beaters (1, 2 and 3) that bounced around the rim and/or off the glass. But they're now 3-9 in games that were within five points in the last five minutes after going 0-4 last week, falling victim to Andre Drummond free throws, an Otto Porter and-one, and a Jeff Green alley-oop.
This week: @ CHI, vs. ORL, vs. POR, vs. MIN

25

Last week: 23

Sacramento (7-15)
Pace: 102.3 (1) OffRtg: 101.5 (14) DefRtg: 106.3 (28) NetRtg: -4.8 (23)
With Willie Cauley-Stein out 4-6 weeks with a dislocated finger, coach George Karl's latest starting lineup (his 12th of the season) has Rudy Gay at the four. The Kings are a plus-7 and have allowed just 100 points per 100 possessions in 148 minutes with Gay at the four and DeMarcus Cousins at the five, but the offense hasn't been great. With just two games in eight days, they have some practice time to work on it.
This week: vs. UTA, vs. NYK

26

Last week: 26

Denver (8-13)
Pace: 98.4 (17) OffRtg: 98.6 (26) DefRtg: 104.8 (25) NetRtg: -6.2 (26)
The Nuggets have been one of the worst jump-shooting teams in the league, but got big shots from Darrell Arthur, Danilo Gallinari and Jameer Nelson in narrow wins in Toronto and Philadelphia that turned an eight-game losing streak into a two-game winning streak, with some more winnable games coming up. After they host the Magic on Tuesday, their next seven games are against teams at or below .500.
This week: vs. ORL, vs. MIN

27

Last week: 28

Milwaukee (8-13)
Pace: 95.3 (29) OffRtg: 100.0 (21) DefRtg: 105.8 (26) NetRtg: -5.8 (25)
Is the Bucks' defense starting to come around? They've allowed just 93.7 points per 100 possessions in their last five games and managed to beat the Knicks on Saturday while attempting only four threes. If it is improved, we're going to find out in the next two weeks. Six of Milwaukee's next seven opponents have top-10 offenses. They were a plus-11 in 20 minutes with O.J. Mayo playing point guard on Saturday.
This week: vs. POR, vs. LAC, @ TOR, vs. GSW

28

Last week: 25

Brooklyn (5-15)
Pace: 98.8 (16) OffRtg: 96.3 (29) DefRtg: 103.5 (24) NetRtg: -7.1 (28)
In two games against the Warriors, the Nets have led in the final minute of the fourth quarter and have erased a 17-point deficit. But if they're going to get some real wins, now - in the middle of a stretch where they're playing 11 of 14 games at home - is the time. They had won four straight at the Barclays Center before Sunday's loss to the champs, who they don't have to play again (until The Finals).
This week: vs. HOU, vs. PHI, vs. LAC

29

Last week: 29

Philadelphia (1-20)
Pace: 100.1 (7) OffRtg: 92.0 (30) DefRtg: 101.9 (19) NetRtg: -9.8 (29)
Another Jahlil Okafor video quickly put the damper on the Sixers' first win. Now that they got the win and Okafor's suspension is over, the task is figuring out how their two young bigs can coexist. They've been outscored by 26.3 points per 100 possessions in 285 minutes with Okafor and Nerlens Noel on the floor together, but by only 6.5 in 587 minutes with one of the two on the bench.
This week: vs. SAS, @ BKN, vs. DET, @ TOR

30

Last week: 30

L.A. Lakers (3-17)
Pace: 99.5 (12) OffRtg: 96.3 (28) DefRtg: 106.9 (29) NetRtg: -10.5 (30)
Kobe Bryant had one of his moments in Washington on Wednesday, hitting two shots to take the lead in the final minute. Now we'll wonder how many more of those moments we'll get among the YOLO 30-footers on the farewell tour. D'Angelo Russell, who hit four threes in Atlanta on Friday, is starting to show a little consistency and see a little more playing time, though he has 15 turnovers in the last three games.
This week: @ TOR, @ MIN, @ SAS, @ HOU