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Power Rankings: Cavs hit their stride as big games loom

Pistons surge, reach Top 10; Grizzlies, Kings on rise as well

POSTED: Jan 11, 2016 11:30 AM ET

By John Schuhmann

BY John Schuhmann


Kyrie Irving, LeBron James and the rest of the Cleveland Cavaliers have looked sharp to start January.

The Cleveland Cavaliers probably don't need the No. 1 seed in the East to get back to The Finals. They have the conference's best player, two more stars, and a deep and solid rotation. They could stay in cruise control all season, do their best to be healthy come April, and flip the switch when the postseason begins.

Maybe the Cavs are still in cruise control. But they've won 13 of their last 15 games and, with Kyrie Irving back, have turned things up offensively.

Cleveland has won eight straight games within the East to build a four-game lead over the second-place Bulls and is now looking at a couple of potential Finals previews to in the next eight days. They will visit the Spurs on Thursday (8 p.m. ET, TNT) and then host the Warriors on Monday (8 p.m. ET, TNT), looking for some revenge after an ugly Christmas performance.

The Cavs don't need to bring their best every night (they got buy with a sub-par performance in Philadelphia on Sunday), but these will be two games that test them on both ends of the floor

* * *

• Last week: Warriors tumble from lofty No. 1 perch
• This time last year: West contenders making moves as season heats up -- The Cavs were 19-19, but added Timofey Mozgov, Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith (while subtracting Dion Waiters) over the course of two days. The Celtics sent Jeff Green to Memphis and Brandan Wright to Phoenix. The Hawks' winning streak was at eight games, Trevor Booker hit the shot of the year, and Stan Van Gundy had his team form a ****ing wall.

• Plus-minus stud: Klay Thompson (GSW) was a plus-87 in four games last week.
• Plus-minus dud: Jordan Clarkson (LAL) was a minus-69 in four games last week.

• Hero team of the week: New York (3-1) -- The Knicks are playing their best basketball of the season against good competition. They swept a back-to-back in Atlanta and Miami, came inches from winning in San Antonio, and took care of business back at home against the Bucks.
• Zero team of the week: Charlotte (0-4) -- The Hornets have lost seven straight and 12 of their last 15, with losses at Phoenix and Denver last week looking like the nadir.

• Team to watch this week: Cleveland -- A true Texas Triangle trip is pretty rare, but the Cavs have one this week, highlighted by Thursday's visit to San Antonio, just the fourth game between the clear top four teams in the league.

• East vs. West: The West is 106-104 (.505) against the East in interconference games after going 9-5 last week (5-0 on Saturday and Sunday).

• Toughest schedules through Jan. 10: 1. New Orleans, 2. Brooklyn, 3. Philadelphia
• Easiest schedules through Jan. 10: 1. San Antonio, 2. Golden State, 3. Oklahama City
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: Detroit, Houston, Memphis, New York, Sacramento (+4)
• Free falls of the week: Charlotte (-8), Orlando (-4), Boston (-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 97.9 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes and 102.3 points scored per 100 possessions this season.

* * *'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.


Last week: 1

San Antonio (32-6)
Pace: 95.8 (26) OffRtg: 108.3 (3) DefRtg: 93.6 (1) NetRtg: +14.6 (1)
The Spurs remained undefeated at home by the thinnest of margins on Friday and have allowed four straight opponents to score better than a point per possession. But Danny Green seems to have joined the party on offense, hitting 11 of his 18 threes in January. They're still one of four teams that has taken at least 30 percent of its shots from mid-range, but have reduced that number and increased corner threes since Dec. 1.
This week: @ BKN, @ DET, vs. CLE, vs. DAL


Last week: 2

Golden State (35-2)
Pace: 101.7 (2) OffRtg: 112.5 (1) DefRtg: 98.5 (4) NetRtg: +14.0 (2)
Draymond Green is up to eight triple-doubles (twice as many as anybody else), 43 percent from 3-point range (10th among players with 100 attempts) and 7.4 assists per game (sixth in the league). It helps that he has two better shooters to pass to. More than half (141 of 273) of his assists have been to Stephen Curry (72) and Klay Thompson (69) and he's already assisted Curry more than he did all of last season (64).
This week: vs. MIA, @ DEN, vs. LAL, @ DET


Last week: 4

Cleveland (26-9)
Pace: 95.2 (28) OffRtg: 105.7 (4) DefRtg: 99.1 (7) NetRtg: +6.5 (4)
With a rare Texas Triangle trip on tap this week, the Cavs have found their road legs. After starting 6-8 away from the Q, they've won five straight on the road and seven straight overall. The defense has taken a small step backward, but the offense has been ridiculous (120 points scored per 100 possessions) in January, with Kyrie Irving finding his rhythm, LeBron James finding his jumper, and J.R. Smith finding himself open.
This week: @ DAL, @ SAS, @ HOU


Last week: 3

Oklahoma City (26-12)
Pace: 99.0 (10) OffRtg: 109.5 (2) DefRtg: 101.0 (11) NetRtg: +8.5 (3)
The Thunder have been winning a lot of shootouts lately, but were missing a weapon (Kevin Durant) against the Kings on Monday and got a taste of their own medicine from Damian Lillard on Sunday. They rank first offensively, but 27th defensively since Christmas, allowing a brutal 116 points per 100 possessions with Enes Kanter on the floor over those nine games. They're just a game ahead of the Clippers for third in the West.
This week: @ MIN, vs. DAL, vs. MIN, vs. MIA


Last week: 5

L.A. Clippers (25-13)
Pace: 98.4 (14) OffRtg: 105.6 (5) DefRtg: 100.9 (10) NetRtg: +4.7 (5)
The Clippers are 8-0 without Blake Griffin, with top-six marks on both offense and defense. They've scored 119 points per 100 possessions with starting forwards Paul Pierce and Luc Mbah a Moute on the floor, even though Pierce has shot 9-for-31 over his last four games and Mbah a Moute has made 10 shots outside the restricted area all season. That says a lot about Chris Paul, J.J. Redick and DeAndre Jordan.
This week: vs. MIA, vs. SAC


Last week: 7

Toronto (24-15)
Pace: 95.7 (27) OffRtg: 104.3 (7) DefRtg: 100.8 (9) NetRtg: +3.4 (7)
DeMarre Carroll is out for an extended period after having knee surgery, but the Raptors' numbers haven't been much different in games he's missed vs. games he's played. They take a three-game winning streak into London, having assisted on only 46 (42 percent) of their 110 buckets. DeMar DeRozan is the head of the isolation party, but better shooting and more trips to the line have him playing more efficiently this season.
This week: vs. ORL (London)


Last week: 6

Chicago (22-13)
Pace: 99.3 (8) OffRtg: 100.9 (23) DefRtg: 99.0 (5) NetRtg: +1.8 (11)
Almost every team has played faster than it did last season, but the Bulls are the only one that has gone from the bottom 10 to the top 10 in pace. They played well at a fast pace against Boston on Thursday, but turned the ball over 22 times in Atlanta on Saturday. Nikola Mirotic has started the last 10 games at small forward (which has allowed Bobby Portis to play), but the Bulls have been much better with Mirotic at the 4.
This week: vs. WAS, @ MIL, @ PHI, vs. DAL


Last week: 12

Detroit (21-16)
Pace: 97.7 (16) OffRtg: 101.1 (21) DefRtg: 99.8 (8) NetRtg: +1.3 (13)
The Pistons are 10-4 against other East teams that are currently over .500 after wins over Orlando and Boston last week. The starting backcourt has been shooting well and Brandon Jennings had a breakout game (17 points, seven assists) against the Magic. It's a good time to be playing some of their best basketball, because their next four opponents are over .500 and the schedule gets road-heavy after that.
This week: vs. SAS, @ MEM, vs. GSW


Last week: 8

Miami (22-15)
Pace: 94.2 (29) OffRtg: 102.9 (11) DefRtg: 99.1 (6) NetRtg: +3.8 (6)
The Heat's starts aren't great because their starting lineup still doesn't play well together, but second-half defense has been a bigger issue of late. They've allowed 115 points per 100 possessions in the second halves of their last four games, getting thumped in the final 24 minutes of Saturday's loss in Utah. Chris Bosh (23.8 points on 51 percent shooting over the last 12 games) has elevated the offense, though.
This week: @ GSW, @ LAC, @ DEN, @ OKC


Last week: 10

Atlanta (23-15)
Pace: 99.0 (11) OffRtg: 104.4 (6) DefRtg: 101.3 (12) NetRtg: +3.1 (9)
The Hawks are probably happy to be done with Arron Afflalo (61 points in two wins over Atlanta this month) and the Knicks. Their starting lineup continues to be rather mediocre (it's a minus-2 for the season), but their bench (with Tim Hardaway getting some burn) gave them good minutes in wins over Philly and Chicago. They're on the road for much of the next few weeks, but seven of their next eight opponents are below .500.
This week: @ CHA, @ MIL, vs. BKN


Last week: 9

Indiana (21-16)
Pace: 99.1 (9) OffRtg: 101.6 (16) DefRtg: 98.2 (3) NetRtg: +3.4 (8)
It's funny how, after all the talk of small ball and better floor spacing, the Pacers are still an elite defensive team and their starting lineup has been the best defensive lineup in the league. But fourth-quarter defense was a problem as they blew two double-digit leads to lose in overtime in Miami and Houston last week. Monta Ellis turned up the playmaking (even after George Hill returned), averaging 9.3 assists in the four games.
This week: vs. PHX, @ BOS, vs. WAS, @ DEN


Last week: 13

Dallas (22-16)
Pace: 97.5 (17) OffRtg: 103.5 (8) DefRtg: 101.8 (15) NetRtg: +1.7 (12)
The Mavs have won seven of their last 10 games, but continue to play mediocre defense and allow bad teams to hang around. Over those 10 games, they've needed overtime to beat Brooklyn and Sacramento (on Deron Williams' game-winner), while losing to New Orleans and Milwaukee. Now they have a brutal, five-games-in-seven days stretch where all five opponents are over .500 with top-11 defenses.
This week: vs. CLE, @ OKC, @ CHI, @ SAS


Last week: 17

Memphis (21-18)
Pace: 96.1 (25) OffRtg: 99.5 (27) DefRtg: 101.9 (16) NetRtg: -2.3 (19)
The Grizzlies managed to pick up two weekend wins (over Denver and Boston) without their starting backcourt. They got good minutes from Elliott Williams (signed earlier in the day) against the Nuggets, they were a plus-12 in 11 minutes with Tony Allen playing point guard against the Celtics, and Zach Randolph carried the offense with 49 points over the two games. Z-Bo is turning into a Sixth Man Award favorite.
This week: vs. HOU, vs. DET, vs. NYK


Last week: 11

Boston (19-18)
Pace: 100.8 (3) OffRtg: 100.6 (25) DefRtg: 97.9 (2) NetRtg: +2.7 (10)
The Celtics have lost five of their last six games, shooting a brutal 25 percent from 3-point range, and suddenly have a big game against the surging Knicks on Tuesday. On Sunday in Memphis, they got Avery Bradley back in the lineup and 35 points from Isaiah Thomas, but David Lee played for just the third time since Christmas, shot 2-for-12 in less than 16 minutes, and helped his team blow a 21-point lead.
This week: @ NYK, vs. IND, vs. PHX, @ WAS


Last week: 19

Houston (19-19)
Pace: 99.4 (7) OffRtg: 103.2 (9) DefRtg: 105.1 (22) NetRtg: -1.9 (18)
A three-game winning streak, in which they outscored the Jazz (x 2) and Pacers 84-58 in the fourth quarter, has the Rockets back at .500. Trevor Ariza continues to shoot better as the season goes on. He's 20-for-43 from 3-point range over the last eight games, hitting four big threes in the last 10 minutes of Sunday's overtime win over Indiana. Houston is 6-0 without Ty Lawson, who has one more game on his latest suspension.
This week: @ MEM, vs. MIN, vs. CLE, @ LAL


Last week: 16

Utah (17-20)
Pace: 93.4 (30) OffRtg: 101.9 (14) DefRtg: 103.0 (17) NetRtg: -1.0 (16)
The Jazz fell six spots in defensive efficiency, but only one spot in the Western Conference standings while Rudy Gobert was out. They're still missing Alec Burks and Derrick Favors, but Gobert was a plus-23 in his first three games back and they got a good win over Miami on Saturday. Twelve of their next 14 opponents are below .500 and they have a big back-to-back this week against two teams chasing them for eighth.
This week: @ POR, vs. SAC, vs. LAL


Last week: 21

New York (19-20)
Pace: 96.1 (24) OffRtg: 101.7 (15) DefRtg: 103.1 (18) NetRtg: -1.4 (17)
The Knicks are 9-6 with the league's sixth best offense over the last month and almost handed the Spurs their first home (regular season) loss since last March. Carmelo Anthony hasn't been hitting from deep, but has averaged 4.9 assists over his last 13 games, pushing his assist ratio (assists per 100 possessions used) to a career-high 14.4. And the Kristaps Porzingis tip-dunk highlights (one and two) are back.
This week: vs. BOS, @ BKN, @ MEM


Last week: 18

Washington (16-19)
Pace: 99.8 (5) OffRtg: 101.1 (20) DefRtg: 104.0 (19) NetRtg: -2.8 (21)
The Wizards went 4-0 against the Magic (again), starting the season with the first win and ending losing streaks with the other three. They're 9-9 without Bradley Beal, but need him back (and might get him back this week) to take some of the playmaking burden off John Wall, who has committed seven turnovers in each of the last three games. The Washington offense has had some serious ups and downs of late.
This week: @ CHI, vs. MIL, @ IND, vs. BOS


Last week: 15

Orlando (20-18)
Pace: 96.3 (22) OffRtg: 101.5 (17) DefRtg: 101.5 (13) NetRtg: +0.0 (15)
The Magic got a stop-the-bleeding win in Brooklyn on Friday and broke out of an offensive slump (92 points scored per 100 possessions over five games) against Washington on Saturday, but have lost five of their last six and are missing Elfrid Payton. He's been out the last four games with an ankle injury and the Magic's latest starting lineup (with Victor Oladipo at point guard) has been outscored by 31 points in that time.
This week: vs. TOR (London)


Last week: 24

Sacramento (15-22)
Pace: 102.2 (1) OffRtg: 102.7 (12) DefRtg: 106.1 (27) NetRtg: -3.4 (22)
DeMarcus Cousins is averaging 32.4 points on 51 percent shooting this month, but the Kings' bench has been nearly as important to their top-five ranking on offense in January. Sacramento has scored 117 points per 100 possessions in 118 minutes with Darren Collison and Marco Belinelli on the floor together this month. Of course, the defense has been bad, especially in transition, which is nothing new.
This week: vs. NOP, @ UTA, @ LAC


Last week: 20

Portland (16-24)
Pace: 97.4 (18) OffRtg: 103.1 (10) DefRtg: 105.5 (25) NetRtg: -2.4 (20)
Damian Lillard's first couple of games back weren't pretty, but he's made 17 of his last 33 3-point attempts, draining five in the final 3:08 on Sunday to turn an eight-point deficit into a five-point win over the Thunder. The next 10 games is the Blazers' easiest stretch of schedule, and it starts with a big game on Wednesday against the eighth-place Jazz, with just one game separating the two teams in the win column.
This week: vs. UTA, @ BKN, @ PHI


Last week: 14

Charlotte (17-20)
Pace: 98.1 (15) OffRtg: 102.6 (13) DefRtg: 101.7 (14) NetRtg: +1.0 (14)
Through Dec. 15, the Hornets were one of three teams that ranked in the top eight on both ends of the floor. Since Dec. 16, the Hornets are one of three teams that ranks in the bottom eight on both ends of the floor. With their playoff hopes slipping away, there seems to be some schedule relief coming up, but they just lost to the Suns and Nuggets last week, so they can't look to the outside for a way out of this slide.
This week: vs. ATL, @ NOP, vs. MIL


Last week: 22

New Orleans (11-25)
Pace: 98.8 (12) OffRtg: 101.4 (18) DefRtg: 106.6 (28) NetRtg: -5.2 (26)
The league's easiest January schedule kicks in now (eight of their next 10 opponents are under .500), but the Pelicans aren't playing like they're ready to take advantage of it. They lost at home to a Mavs team that rested four starters on Wednesday and to a Pacers team that committed 21 live-ball turnovers on Friday. They played the Clippers tough without Anthony Davis on Sunday, but didn't have enough perimeter shooting.
This week: @ LAL, @ SAC, vs. CHA


Last week: 23

Milwaukee (15-24)
Pace: 96.2 (23) OffRtg: 101.2 (19) DefRtg: 106.9 (29) NetRtg: -5.7 (27)
Giannis Antetokounmpo has shot less than 20 percent on threes over the last two seasons, but he keeps shooting 'em, going 0-for-4 from beyond in Sunday's loss in New York. The Bucks have only three guys who have attempted 100 threes (only three teams have fewer) and two of them (Jerryd Bayless and O.J. Mayo) are currently hurt. They got a nice home win over Dallas on Friday, but their schedule continues to be road-heavy.
This week: vs. CHI, @ WAS, vs. ATL, @ CHA


Last week: 26

Denver (14-24)
Pace: 97.0 (21) OffRtg: 100.7 (24) DefRtg: 105.5 (26) NetRtg: -4.8 (25)
The Nuggets had lost six straight games, but apparently weren't struggling as bad as the Wolves and Hornets, who they beat last week. They allowed less than 94 points per 100 possessions in their three games, but had a seven-point quarter in Friday's loss in Memphis. Sunday's win over Charlotte began an eight-game, 16-day homestand, but the other seven opponents are all over .500.
This week: vs. GSW, vs. MIA, vs. IND


Last week: 25

Minnesota (12-26)
Pace: 97.4 (20) OffRtg: 100.2 (26) DefRtg: 104.2 (20) NetRtg: -3.9 (23)
Things continue to go downhill for the Wolves, who have dropped 10 of their last 11 games, with losses to Philadelphia (one of the Sixers' best offensive games of the season) and Denver (one of the Nuggets' best defensive games of the season) last week. They made just five total 3-pointers in those two games (only attempting five in Philly) and have made less than five threes in 11 of their last 15 games.
This week: vs. OKC, @ HOU, @ OKC, vs. PHX


Last week: 27

Brooklyn (10-27)
Pace: 97.4 (19) OffRtg: 97.7 (28) DefRtg: 104.5 (21) NetRtg: -6.9 (28)
Lionel Hollins and Billy King are gone and the Nets appear rudderless with the trade deadline less than six weeks away. King was pointing toward '16 free agency and trying to protect cap space to buy a new backcourt. That direction could change, but it will be difficult to build more organically without control of your next three first round picks. Getting any back would likely require a Brook Lopez deal.
This week: vs. SAS, vs. NYK, vs. POR, @ ATL


Last week: 30

Phoenix (13-26)
Pace: 100.8 (4) OffRtg: 101.1 (22) DefRtg: 105.4 (24) NetRtg: -4.3 (24)
The 'ol bowling outing method worked again, as the Suns ended their nine-game slide with a win over Charlotte on Wednesday. They have the league's worst defense since they lost Eric Bledsoe, but increased playing time for Devin Booker seems to be the silver lining in all this. He's averaged 14.3 points with an effective field goal percentage of 52 percent since Christmas. He's not a two-way player yet, but the tools are there.
This week: @ IND, @ BOS, @ MIN


Last week: 28

L.A. Lakers (8-31)
Pace: 98.6 (13) OffRtg: 97.4 (29) DefRtg: 107.7 (30) NetRtg: -10.3 (29)
The Lakers had a couple of big offensive games (in losses) last week, but Julius Randle wasn't really a part of it. In fact, among 168 players who have taken at least 100 shots in the last month, Randle ranks last in effective field goal percentage (with two other Lakers in the bottom five). He did dish out four assists against the Warriors on Tuesday, dropping him behind Andrea Bargnani in the Tunnel Vision Power Rankings.
This week: vs. NOP, @ GSW, @ UTA, vs. HOU


Last week: 29

Philadelphia (4-36)
Pace: 99.7 (6) OffRtg: 93.1 (30) DefRtg: 105.4 (23) NetRtg: -12.2 (30)
Start scheduling the parade. Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor were a plus-4 in 76 minutes together last week, with the Sixers scoring an un-Sixers-like 105.3 points per 100 possessions (against some decent defensive teams) in those minutes. Not coincidentally, Ish Smith was on the floor for 75 of the 76 minutes. He's been with Philly for just nine games and already has more assists to Noel (22) than any other Sixer.
This week: vs. CHI, vs. POR