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Power Rankings: West is wide open beyond the top three

Celtics, Rockets make jumps; Suns, Bulls reeling

POSTED: Dec 28, 2015 10:58 AM ET
UPDATED: Dec 28, 2015 12:57 PM ET

By John Schuhmann

BY John Schuhmann

NBA.com

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Chris Paul and the Clippers are on the outside looking in at the top tier of the West.

The flip side of the Eastern Conference revival is a Western Conference playoff picture in which a 12-16 team is holding on to eighth place. At this point last year, the eighth place Suns (18-14) were four games above .500. This year's Jazz are four games below.

The East has a slight edge in interconference games (see below), but the Golden State Warriors, San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder have also beat up on their Western Conference brethren, with a combined record of 46-5 within the conference. And really, beyond the top three, there's not much to be optimistic about in the West. It's not just that 8 seed that's up for grabs.

The Clippers have enough of a cushion to withstand Blake Griffin's injury, but their bench remains terrible and their defense is still mediocre. Dallas, leaning heavily on a 37 year old and three guys with recent leg injuries, is fragile. Memphis is still struggling to find its identity and hasn't put together more than two straight wins since before Thanksgiving.

The Rockets have been much improved over the last month, but have still been pretty bad on the road and seem ripe for another shake-up. Utah is 4-10 without Rudy Gobert, the Kings are still very much the Kings, and the Blazers, Suns, Nuggets and Wolves are a combined 9-21 over the last two weeks.

On one hand, all that provides an opportunity for some teams that haven't sniffed the playoffs in the last few years. On the other hand, some teams are going to slide through playing mediocre basketball and make a quick exit when they face one of the top three teams in the first round.

* * *

• Last week: Steady Spurs taking care of business
• This time last year: Top teams in the East proving themselves -- The Pistons waived Josh Smith and traded for Anthony Tolliver. Anderson Varejao tore his Achilles, the Cavs and Warriors both lost on Christmas, and DeMarcus Cousins dunked on all the Knicks.

• Plus-minus stud: Serge Ibaka (OKC) was a plus-59 in four games last week.
• Plus-minus dud: Jordan Clarkson (LAL) was a minus-68 in four games last week.

• Hero team of the week: Boston (4-0) -- The Celtics' perfect week moved them from 10th to sixth in the East and included important road wins in Charlotte and Detroit.
• Zero team of the week: Phoenix (0-3) -- The Suns seemingly hit rock bottom with home losses to the Nuggets and Sixers, who are a combined 8-28 on the road.

• Team to watch this week: Chicago -- Nine days after Jimmy Butler's comments about how his team was being coached, the Bulls still seem to be at a crossroads. Though they lost the next night in Dallas, they can validate Friday's win in Oklahoma City with a strong week against some in-conference foes. They face the Raptors twice and also host the Pacers and Knicks.

• East vs. West: The East is 90-87 (.508) against the West in interconference games after an 11-8 week in which 10 different East teams won a game against the West.

• Toughest schedules through Dec. 27: 1. New Orleans, 2. Philadelphia, 3. Brooklyn
• Easiest schedules through Dec. 27: 1. San Antonio, 2. Golden State, 3. Houston
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: Boston (+5), Houston (+4), Three teams (+3)
• Free falls of the week: Phoenix (-5), Chicago (-4), Indiana (-4)

* * *

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 98.2 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes and 102.0 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 (28-1)
Pace: 101.9 (1) OffRtg: 112.3 (1) DefRtg: 97.4 (2) NetRtg: +14.9 (1)
Stephen Curry is 9-for-32 from 3-point range over the last five games and the Warriors' offense has taken a small step back toward Earth, but they were able to win ugly against the Cavs on Friday. After playing just four games over the last 15 days, they'll play 11 over the next 18. But the quality of the competition isn't great, and the Lakers are the opponent on the second night of two of the four back-to-backs in that stretch.
This week: vs. SAC, @ DAL, @ HOU, vs. DEN

2

Last week: 2

San Antonio (26-6)
Pace: 95.5 (27) OffRtg: 106.7 (3) DefRtg: 92.8 (1) NetRtg: +13.9 (2)
The Spurs laid an egg on Christmas, but are still poised to record the best NetRtg for a month (of at least 10 games) that we've seen in at least 20 years. Going back to the 1996-97 season, the previous high was plus-16.9 by the Bulls in November of '96. The Spurs are at plus-20.2 for December with just two home games against bad teams left before we hang new calendars. They're 17-0 at the AT&T Center.
This week: vs. MIN, vs. PHX, vs. HOU

3

Last week: 4

Oklahoma City (21-10)
Pace: 98.7 (11) OffRtg: 108.7 (2) DefRtg: 99.6 (9) NetRtg: +9.1 (3)
The Thunder went through a rough stretch from 3-point range (29 percent over seven games), but still had a top-five offense over that timeframe and then shot 8-for-15 from beyond the arc in Sunday's win over Denver. After the Christmas loss to Chicago, they're 6-8 against the East. Russell Westbrook's usage rate has been higher, but his assist rate and true shooting percentage have been lower against East opponents.
This week: vs. MIL, vs. PHX, @ CHA

4

Last week: 3

Cleveland (19-9)
Pace: 95.5 (28) OffRtg: 103.3 (7) DefRtg: 98.8 (6) NetRtg: +4.5 (4)
Not only did the Cavs fail to get any revenge on the champs on Friday, but they got smoked the next night in Portland. They've lost seven of their last 10 games on the road and are 6-8 (scoring less than a point per possession) away from the Q for the season. If they're going to solve that problem, now would be a good time. Those back-to-back losses began a stretch where they're playing 10 of 12 on the road.
This week: @ PHX, @ DEN, vs. ORL

5

Last week: 7

Atlanta (20-12)
Pace: 98.6 (13) OffRtg: 103.9 (5) DefRtg: 100.7 (13) NetRtg: +3.2 (10)
The Hawks' six-game winning streak has been fueled by their bench. Their starting lineup has been outscored by 11 points during the streak, but they're plus-72 with at least two reserves in the game, with Dennis Schroder and Mike Scott combining to average 24.7 points on 57 percent shooting (16-for-31 from 3-point range). Tiago Splitter has helped the defense, but suffered a calf strain in Saturday's win over the Knicks.
This week: @ IND, @ HOU, @ NYK

6

Last week: 11

Boston (18-13)
Pace: 101.0 (4) OffRtg: 101.1 (22) DefRtg: 97.4 (3) NetRtg: +3.7 (8)
The Celtics have turned things back around with a four-game winning streak in which they've trailed for a total of 3 minutes and 20 seconds. The streak has included big road wins in Charlotte and Detroit in which they held their opponents to just 91 points per 100 possessions. Isaiah Thomas still isn't shooting well, but Kelly Onynyk (60 percent over the last five games) is and Marcus Smart made his return on Sunday.
This week: vs. LAL, vs. BKN

7

Last week: 6

Miami (18-11)
Pace: 95.0 (29) OffRtg: 102.7 (12) DefRtg: 98.4 (4) NetRtg: +4.2 (5)
Chris Bosh missed the game-winner against Detroit on Tuesday, but he and Dwyane Wade (now 10-1 on Christmas) carried the Heat late in their two weekend wins. They scored 13 of the team's 16 points in overtime against the Pelicans on Friday and 21 of the team's 39 in the fourth quarter in Orlando on Saturday. That was only Miami's fifth win in 15 games against the other East teams at or above .500.
This week: vs. BKN, @ MEM, vs. DAL, @ WAS

8

Last week: 10

Toronto (19-12)
Pace: 95.9 (26) OffRtg: 104.0 (4) DefRtg: 100.2 (10) NetRtg: +3.8 (6)
The Raptors are nearly whole again. DeMarre Carroll returned from a bruised knee on Saturday and Jonas Valanciunas should return from his broken hand this week. Bismack Biyombo has filled in surprisingly well though, averaging 11.7 rebounds as a starter, grabbing a career-high 20 in Tuesday's win over Dallas, and occasionally catching the passes thrown to him. The Raps have gone 11-6 without Valanciunas.
This week: @ CHI, vs. WAS, vs. CHA, vs. CHI

9

Last week: 5

Indiana (17-12)
Pace: 99.4 (8) OffRtg: 102.6 (13) DefRtg: 99.2 (7) NetRtg: +3.5 (9)
The Pacers have made significant changes to both their personnel and their style of play, but for the third straight season, they've been more than six points per 100 possessions better in the second half of games than in the first half. A 15-point halftime deficit against the Kings on Wednesday ultimately turned into a three-game losing streak. That, as well as Paul George's mini-slump, came to an end in Minnesota on Saturday.
This week: vs. ATL, @ CHI, vs. MIL, vs. DET

10

Last week: 8

Detroit (17-14)
Pace: 98.0 (19) OffRtg: 100.4 (23) DefRtg: 100.2 (11) NetRtg: +0.2 (15)
Thanks to three big shots from Kentavious Caldwell-Pope down the stretch of Tuesday's visit to Miami, the Pistons managed to squeeze out a win in a week when they trailed all three games by at least 16 points. The Detroit bench shot 10-for-17 from 3-point range against the Heat, but 4-for-17 in losses to Atlanta and Boston, and it doesn't sound like Brandon Jennings will make his return this week.
This week: @ NYK, vs. MIN, @ IND

11

Last week: 9

Charlotte (16-13)
Pace: 98.4 (15) OffRtg: 103.2 (9) DefRtg: 99.4 (8) NetRtg: +3.8 (7)
The 2015-16 Hornets offense has looked more like the '14-15 Hornets offense as they've gone 2-5 over the last 17 days. They rank 26th offensively over that stretch, with Kemba Walker (37 percent shooting) looking more like '14-15 Kemba Walker. Al Jefferson's return could give the offense a boost, but he shot 1-for-8 and was a minus-16 in his first game back (a defensive win over Memphis) on Saturday.
This week: vs. LAL, vs. LAC, @ TOR, vs. OKC

12

Last week: 13

L.A. Clippers (18-13)
Pace: 98.5 (14) OffRtg: 103.9 (6) DefRtg: 101.5 (14) NetRtg: +2.4 (11)
After Saturday's win in Utah, the Clippers are 10-6 over the last two seasons without Blake Griffin. So his partially torn quad isn't necessarily going to ruin their season. It will be interesting to see if Paul Pierce gets some minutes at the four next to Chris Paul, J.J. Redick and DeAndre Jordan over the next few weeks. He hit a big shot on Saturday with that kind of lineup, but has played only seven such minutes thus far.
This week: @ WAS, @ CHA, @ NOP, vs. PHI

13

Last week: 14

Dallas (17-13)
Pace: 98.3 (16) OffRtg: 103.3 (8) DefRtg: 102.2 (15) NetRtg: +1.1 (13)
Deron Williams is out with a strained left hamstring, so it's J.J. Barea time. In the nine quarters since Williams got hurt, Barea has shot 14-for-19 from 3-point range. The Mavs' fourth-quarter comeback came up short in Toronto on Tuesday, but they proceeded to win shootouts against the Nets and Bulls. Dirk Nowitzki passed Shaquille O'Neal for sixth on the all-time scoring list in Brooklyn and is still a mid-range master.
This week: vs. MIL, vs. GSW, @ MIA, vs. NOP

14

Last week: 15

Orlando (17-13)
Pace: 97.3 (22) OffRtg: 102.1 (16) DefRtg: 100.5 (12) NetRtg: +1.6 (12)
The Magic might be better than they appear on the surface. Only five teams have three or fewer losses by double-digits: Golden State (1), Oklahoma City (1), San Antonio (1), Cleveland (3) and Orlando (3). The Magic would have a seven-game winning streak if not for some defensive issues in two of the seven games, but they have the No. 3 offense over that stretch, with Nikola Vucevic averaging 20.9 points.
This week: vs. NOP, vs. BKN, @ WAS, @ CLE

15

Last week: 19

Houston (16-16)
Pace: 99.9 (6) OffRtg: 102.6 (14) DefRtg: 104.4 (23) NetRtg: -1.9 (18)
Given how ugly all the Christmas games were, it's difficult to put too much emphasis on the Rockets holding the Spurs to 84 points. But Houston has been generally improved (and ranks 10th) defensively this month, holding nine of their 14 opponents under a point per possession. This week brings three more games against top-five offenses, including another matchup with the Spurs.
This week: vs. ATL, vs. GSW, @ SAS

16

Last week: 12

Chicago (16-12)
Pace: 99.4 (9) OffRtg: 99.3 (27) DefRtg: 98.5 (5) NetRtg: +0.8 (14)
Just to keep us guessing, the Bulls got a big Christmas win in Oklahoma City. But they've lost four of their last five games, allowing more than 112 points per 100 possessions in the four losses. Joakim Noah is out with a sprained shoulder and some important games are coming up. Six of their next eight are against East teams that are .500 or better. The only East team they've beat in the last 41 days was Philly.
This week: vs. TOR, vs. IND, vs. NYK, @ TOR

17

Last week: 20

Washington (14-14)
Pace: 100.4 (5) OffRtg: 101.8 (17) DefRtg: 104.2 (21) NetRtg: -2.4 (20)
The Wizards have scored more than 111 points per 100 possessions as they've won four straight to get back to .500 for the first time since Thanksgiving. John Wall hasn't shot well, but has averaged 14.5 assists over the four games. The Jared Dudley addition is paying off and Garrett Temple has filled in well for Bradley Beal, scoring 20-plus in three straight games after never scoring 20-plus in the first 251 games of his career.
This week: vs. LAC, @ TOR, vs. ORL, vs. MIA

18

Last week: 17

Memphis (17-16)
Pace: 96.5 (24) OffRtg: 100.0 (26) DefRtg: 103.2 (17) NetRtg: -3.2 (23)
Zach Randolph is adjusting well to his bench role, averaging 16.0 points on 57 percent shooting over the last four games. But the Grizzlies' offense hasn't been great, unless you count Sunday's game against the Lakers' defense. That one began a long, easy stretch of schedule. The Heat are on the second night of a back-to-back on Tuesday, and then 22 of the Grizzlies' next 28 games are against teams currently at .500 or below.
This week: vs. MIA, @ UTA

19

Last week: 16

Utah (12-16)
Pace: 94.0 (30) OffRtg: 102.3 (15) DefRtg: 103.5 (18) NetRtg: -1.3 (16)
With the teams behind them tripping over themselves, the Jazz are still hanging on to eighth place in the West. But they've lost six straight games against the seven teams ahead of them after losses to the Warriors and Clippers last week. And now they're down another key cog, with Alec Burks out indefinitely with a broken fibula. The absence of his fearless drives to the basket also makes this team a lot less fun to watch.
This week: vs. PHI, @ MIN, vs. POR, vs. MEM

20

Last week: 23

Portland (13-20)
Pace: 97.6 (21) OffRtg: 102.7 (11) DefRtg: 104.2 (22) NetRtg: -1.5 (17)
The Blazers are 2-2 without Damian Lillard after weekend wins over the King and the Kings. Fill-in starter Allen Crabbe outscored LeBron James, 26-12, on Saturday and the bench made the difference on Sunday. Portland is actually ahead of the eighth-place Jazz in the win column, plays five of its next six games against teams that are also under .500, and has won four of its last five against other West teams seeded 8-14.
This week: vs. DEN, @ UTA, @ DEN

21

Last week: 18

New York (14-18)
Pace: 96.7 (23) OffRtg: 100.3 (24) DefRtg: 102.9 (16) NetRtg: -2.6 (22)
The Knicks have sandwiched a four-game winning streak with two four-game losing streaks, the last of which has coincided with a rough turn of the schedule. Overall, their schedule has been somewhat favorable, though. Sunday's loss in Boston was their 13th game (they're 6-7) against a team on the second night of a back-to-back. No other team has played more than 11 and some have played as few as two.
This week: vs. DET, @ CHI, vs. ATL

22

Last week: 22

Sacramento (12-18)
Pace: 101.8 (2) OffRtg: 101.5 (19) DefRtg: 105.0 (25) NetRtg: -3.5 (24)
The door was open for the Kings to move into eighth place in the West on Sunday. But they shot 3-for-22 in the fourth quarter and lost at home to a team - Portland - that was without its best player and had lost 13 of its previous 16 games on the road. Rajon Rondo has 31 assists in the last two games, but also 17 turnovers and the Kings' offense has been slightly better with him off the floor this season.
This week: @ GSW, vs. PHI, vs. PHX

23

Last week: 26

New Orleans (10-20)
Pace: 98.9 (10) OffRtg: 102.7 (10) DefRtg: 107.8 (29) NetRtg: -5.1 (25)
The Pelicans are still in 14th place in the West and still inconsistent. But there have been signs of progress, especially on offense. Alvin Gentry has Jrue Holiday embracing his role off the bench (he slowed down James Harden in Saturday's win over Houston), but has yet to rely much on a lineup of Holiday, Eric Gordon, Tyreke Evans, Ryan Anderson and Anthony Davis, which is a plus-35 in just 28 minutes.
This week: @ ORL, vs. LAC, @ DAL

24

Last week: 25

Denver (12-19)
Pace: 97.6 (20) OffRtg: 101.2 (21) DefRtg: 106.3 (28) NetRtg: -5.1 (26)
After a stretch in which they won five of six, the Nuggets have lost five of six, including a game in which they led the Lakers by 21 points. L.A. is otherwise 0-52 in games it has trailed by 15 or more over the last two seasons. With both Danilo Gallinari and Emmanuel Mudiay out, Will Barton is getting to do his thing more than usual. He's averaged 21.8 points on 48 percent shooting over the last five games.
This week: vs. CLE, @ POR, @ GSW, vs. POR

25

Last week: 24

Minnesota (11-19)
Pace: 98.1 (17) OffRtg: 101.5 (18) DefRtg: 103.8 (19) NetRtg: -2.3 (19)
Things are getting a little ugly in Minnesota. The Wolves have won just three of their last 14 games, they've had the league's third worst defense in that stretch, and their offense was rather anemic in their three losses last week. After two straight games (against Boston and San Antonio) in which they never held a lead, they were up late against Indiana on Saturday, but gave up 36 points in the fourth quarter.
This week: @ SAS, vs. UTA, @ DET, vs. MIL

26

Last week: 21

Phoenix (12-20)
Pace: 101.6 (3) OffRtg: 101.2 (20) DefRtg: 103.8 (20) NetRtg: -2.6 (21)
The good news it that when you have to suspend a player for throwing a towel in the direction of the coach and when the coach is reportedly on the hot seat and when you fired two of his assistants and when you just lost at home to the worst team in the league and when your best player needs knee surgery, things can't get much worse. Oh, wait. You play the Cavs, Spurs and Thunder this week.
This week: vs. CLE, @ SAS, @ OKC, @ SAC, @ LAL

27

Last week: 27

Milwaukee (12-19)
Pace: 95.9 (25) OffRtg: 100.0 (25) DefRtg: 105.7 (27) NetRtg: -5.7 (27)
Nine weeks into the season, the Bucks have not come close to solving their defensive issues. They've lost four of their last six games, allowing 118 points per 100 possessions (including an average of 19.5 second chance points) in the four losses. Their current starting lineup has been good offensively, but ranks as the league's second worst defensive unit (and defensive rebounding unit) that has played at least 100 minutes.
This week: @ DAL, @ OKC, @ IND, @ MIN

28

Last week: 28

Brooklyn (8-22)
Pace: 98.0 (18) OffRtg: 98.1 (28) DefRtg: 104.7 (24) NetRtg: -6.6 (28)
The Nets got a surprise win in Chicago on Monday, but their defense was terrible in losses to Dallas and Washington at home, where they've lost six straight. There's been some ugliness around him, but Thaddeus Young is one of just four players who have averaged at least 15 points and nine rebounds while shooting 50 percent. He gave the Nets a lift when he arrived last season and he's been much better this year.
This week: @ MIA, @ ORL, @ BOS

29

Last week: 29

L.A. Lakers (5-26)
Pace: 98.6 (12) OffRtg: 96.7 (29) DefRtg: 109.1 (30) NetRtg: -12.4 (29)
The Lakers got a win and Kobe Bryant tied a season high with 31 points in Denver on Tuesday. But they enter the week having not held a lead over the last 2 hours, 3 minutes and 43 seconds of game time (since late in the second quarter of Wednesday's loss to OKC) and having been outscored by 104 points in the paint over their last five games. Only the Knicks have taken a lower percentage of their shots at the basket.
This week: @ CHA, @ BOS, vs. PHI, vs. PHX

30

Last week: 30

Philadelphia (2-30)
Pace: 99.7 (7) OffRtg: 92.3 (30) DefRtg: 105.1 (26) NetRtg: -12.9 (30)
It's a new day (yes, it is). The Sixers are undefeated with Mike D'Antoni on the bench and since the first transaction (trading draft picks for Ish Smith) of the Jerry Colangelo era. In just his second game of the season, Carl Landry brought more than veteran leadership. He put up 16 points and eight rebounds (and was a plus-18) in just 23 minutes in the win in Phoenix. And might Win No. 3 be coming this week?
This week: @ UTA, @ SAC, @ LAL, @ LAC