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Power Rankings: Four teams clearly best at midway point

Thunder leapfrog Cavs for No. 3; Kings, Wizards begin ascent

POSTED: Jan 18, 2016 11:10 AM ET

By John Schuhmann

BY John Schuhmann

NBA.com

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To date, the Spurs and Cavs (and two other teams) are standing out above the rest of the pack.

We've reached the midway point of the 2015-16 NBA season.

(Sort of. Through Sunday, 614 of 1,230 games are in the books. Once Sixers-Knicks is done Monday afternoon, we'll officially be there.)

Is some ways, it feels like we're ready for the stretch run and the postseason. We know who the four title contenders are, we know their strengths and weaknesses, and we want to see it play out seven games at a time.

In other ways, it feels like we still have a lot to learn about this season. We've only seen four games between those four contenders and we still have 13 to go, starting with Warriors-Cavs on Monday (8 ET, TNT).

Furthermore, the season isn't just about the team that takes home the Larry O'Brien trophy. And there's a lot to sort out beyond Cleveland, Golden State, Oklahoma City and San Antonio. There are several teams that could end up in the Eastern Conference finals opposite the Cavs and for almost all of them, that would be a huge accomplishment.

In the Western Conference, we have a few teams fighting to end multi-year playoff droughts, as well as a few teams in transition, trying to figure out where they go next.

And of course, we have the trade deadline in less than five weeks to shake things up when we feel like we've got all the answers. We had surprises, disappointments and the best start in NBA history in the first half of the season. The second half could be a lot more interesting.

* * *

• Last week: Cavs hit their stride as big games loom
• This time last year: Hawks, Warriors stand tallest at season's halfway mark -- The Hawks were still undefeated (10-0) in the new year and the Knicks had lost 16 straight. The Cavs went bowling, Larry Sanders was suspended 10 games, and Kendall Marshall tore his ACL.

• Plus-minus stud: Steven Adams (OKC) was a plus-69 in four games last week.
• Plus-minus dud: Lou Williams (LAL) was a minus-65 in four games last week.

• Hero team of the week: Milwaukee (3-1) -- The Bucks played four games in five nights, won three of the four, and beat two teams (Chicago and Atlanta) from last week's top 10.
• Zero team of the week: Phoenix (0-3) -- The Suns capped a three-game trip with a 30-point loss to a team that had lost nine straight games.

• Team to watch this week: L.A. Clippers -- The Clippers could have Blake Griffin back as they made their third of four trips East to face the Cavs, Knicks, Raptors, Pacers and Hawks. Before that, they host a team - Houston - that has had their number.

• East vs. West: The West is 118-111 (.515) against the East in interconference games after going 12-7 last week (the Spurs went 3-0).

• Toughest schedules through Jan. 17: 1. Brooklyn, 2. New Orleans, 3. Philadelphia
• Easiest schedules through Jan. 17: 1. San Antonio, 2. Oklahama City, 3. Golden State
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 (+6), Milwaukee (+3), Sacramento (+3)
• Free falls of the week: Chicago (-4), Charlotte (-3), Dallas (-3), Utah (-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 102.5 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

San Antonio (36-6)
Pace: 96.0 (25) OffRtg: 108.3 (3) DefRtg: 93.3 (1) NetRtg: +14.9 (1)
The Spurs recovered from an ugly start to beat the Cavs on Thursday and thumped the Mavs on Sunday to run their latest winning streak to 11 games. They've made no more than five threes in the last five, but Tony Parker and LaMarcus Aldridge have each had big games. They've already set a franchise record with 11 wins by 25 or more points and it would be an upset if they don't add two more this week.
This week: @ PHX, @ LAL

2

Last week: 2

Golden State (37-4)
Pace: 101.8 (2) OffRtg: 111.9 (1) DefRtg: 99.0 (3) NetRtg: +12.9 (2)
The Warriors' defense has seen more slippage over the last few weeks (they rank 18th on that end since Dec. 30), but guys were obviously going to have some off nights offensively along the way. Plus, Stephen Curry couldn't carry the offense by himself in last week's losses in Denver and Detroit. It's also fair to wonder if the schedule - they played eight games in 13 days with travel between each game - had worn them down a bit.
This week: @ CLE, @ CHI, vs. IND

3

Last week: 4

Oklahoma City (30-12)
Pace: 98.7 (11) OffRtg: 109.4 (2) DefRtg: 100.2 (9) NetRtg: +9.2 (3)
Andre Roberson still can't shoot, but Serge Ibaka's production has picked up a bit and the Thunder's starting lineup has outscored its opponents by a remarkable 34 points per 100 possessions in 111 minutes in January, a NetRtg more than double that of any other lineup that has played at least 50 minutes this month. They're taking care of business against a schedule that really won't get tough until the end of the month.
This week: @ DEN, vs. CHA, @ DAL, @ BKN

4

Last week: 3

Cleveland (28-10)
Pace: 95.0 (28) OffRtg: 105.4 (5) DefRtg: 99.1 (4) NetRtg: +6.4 (4)
Bench minutes and Kevin Love's defense were problems in Thursday's loss in San Antonio, but the Cavs went 2-1 in Texas and have won seven of their last eight games on the road. Now they're home (where they're 15-1) for 17 of their next 24, though they'll get visits from the Warriors, Clippers and Spurs in the next two weeks. Timofey Mozgov back in the starting lineup didn't work so well in Saturday's win in Houston.
This week: vs. GSW, @ BKN, vs. LAC, vs. CHI

5

Last week: 5

L.A. Clippers (26-14)
Pace: 98.4 (14) OffRtg: 105.5 (4) DefRtg: 100.8 (11) NetRtg: +4.6 (5)
The Clippers legitimized their winning streak with Wednesday's win over Miami, but what had been the league's best defense in January allowed the Kings to shoot 13-for-25 from 3-point range on Saturday, putting to the end to the streak. Those were the first two games DeAndre Jordan has missed since March of 2011. The Clips could get both Jordan and Blake Griffin (who has missed the last 10) back this week.
This week: vs. HOU, @ CLE, @ NYK, @ TOR

6

Last week: 6

Toronto (25-15)
Pace: 95.8 (26) OffRtg: 104.2 (6) DefRtg: 100.6 (10) NetRtg: +3.6 (6)
The Raptors' latest starting lineup (James Johnson at SF) has been brutal offensively (88 points scored per 100 possessions) in the five games since DeMarre Carroll was lost to a knee injury, but winning games with their bench is nothing new. They finished the first quarter of Thursday's win in London with a 16-0 run by DeMar DeRozan and four reserves, and their best two-man combinations have been Kyle Lowry and bench guys.
This week: vs. BKN, vs. BOS, vs. MIA, vs. LAC

7

Last week: 8

Detroit (22-18)
Pace: 97.9 (16) OffRtg: 101.4 (21) DefRtg: 99.9 (8) NetRtg: +1.5 (11)
When you beat the champs, holding what has been a historically good offense under a point per possession, it makes up for another loss to the Grizzlies on another crazy shot. The Pistons' starters continue to play the heaviest minutes in the league, but the bench has improved. They've outscored their opponents by 12.3 points per 100 possessions with at least on starter off the floor over the last eight games.
This week: vs. CHI, @ HOU, @ NOP, @ DEN

8

Last week: 14

Boston (22-19)
Pace: 101.1 (3) OffRtg: 101.6 (19) DefRtg: 98.5 (2) NetRtg: +3.0 (8)
The Celtics fell into a tie for ninth with Tuesday's loss in New York, but got a spark from a small lineup in the second half of that game and went small more often as they won three straight to climb back into eighth. Small-ball got them four steals and layups to win Wednesday's game against Indiana and got them the game-deciding bucket in Saturday's win in Washington. The offense still stinks when Isaiah Thomas sits.
This week: @ DAL, @ TOR, vs. CHI, @ PHI

9

Last week: 9

Miami (23-18)
Pace: 94.5 (29) OffRtg: 102.0 (17) DefRtg: 99.7 (6) NetRtg: +2.4 (10)
The Heat's 2-4 trip out west included injuries to both starting guards (though Dwyane Wade returned after missing just one game), a points-rebounds-blocks triple-double from Hassan Whiteside, and some ugly offense. They're only home for one game before heading out on another (more important) trip. They're 11-12 within the Eastern Conference and face two of the teams ahead of them in the next eight days.
This week: vs. MIL, @ WAS, @ TOR

10

Last week: 10

Atlanta (24-17)
Pace: 99.0 (9) OffRtg: 103.8 (7) DefRtg: 101.1 (12) NetRtg: +2.8 (9)
It might be time for Tiago Splitter to see an expanded role. He's had trouble staying healthy, but his minutes have generally been good minutes for the Hawks, especially on defense and especially on the defensive glass, where the Hawks rank 27th (and gave up 21 offensive boards in Milwaukee on Friday). They've played a big frontline of Paul Millsap, Al Horford and Splitter for just 46 minutes this season.
This week: vs. ORL, @ POR, @ SAC, @ PHX

11

Last week: 7

Chicago (23-16)
Pace: 98.8 (10) OffRtg: 100.9 (24) DefRtg: 99.7 (7) NetRtg: +1.1 (12)
Joakim Noah needs shoulder surgery and has probably played his last game as a Bull. His injury also makes it tougher for Chicago to make an impact trade between now and the deadline or to get back to playing the defense they were early in the season. Jimmy Butler dropped 53 in Philadelphia on Thursday, but shot 2-for-11 the next night against Dallas and the Bulls have lost four of five for the second time in the last month.
This week: @ DET, vs. GSW, @ BOS, @ CLE

12

Last week: 13

Memphis (23-19)
Pace: 95.7 (27) OffRtg: 100.1 (27) DefRtg: 102.5 (16) NetRtg: -2.4 (21)
Dave Joerger is still making changes to his starting lineup (hold off on your "Zach Randolph for Sixth Man of the Year" bumper stickers), but the Grizzlies are 4-2 without Mike Conley. Of course, they've been outscored in those six games, because that's how they do. Their easy stretch of schedule continues, with seven of their next eight games against teams under .500 and the other against the reeling Magic.
This week: vs. NOP, @ DEN, @ MIN

13

Last week: 11

Indiana (22-19)
Pace: 99.4 (7) OffRtg: 102.2 (14) DefRtg: 99.1 (5) NetRtg: +3.1 (7)
Some very Pacers-like turnovers turned a three-point lead into a nine-point loss in Boston on Wednesday, and some un-Pacers-like defense against the Wizards and Nuggets extended the losing streak to three games. But with three rotation guys out, rookies Myles Turner (25 on 11-for-13) and Joe Young (15 on 7-for-11) each had career highs in what was an ABA throwback game (129-126) in Denver on Sunday.
This week: @ PHX, @ GSW, @ SAC

14

Last week: 15

Houston (22-20)
Pace: 99.1 (8) OffRtg: 103.3 (9) DefRtg: 104.6 (21) NetRtg: -1.3 (17)
Dwight Howard was a bystander in the Rockets' offense for the first month and a half of the season. But he's averaged 18.9 points and 13.4 rebounds over the last nine games and Houston has won six of their last seven. Thanks to Sunday's blowout of the Lakers, the Rockets should be relatively fresh for Monday's test against the Clippers, who they've beat five straight times going back to Game 5 of last year's conference semis.
This week: @ LAC, vs. DET, vs. MIL, vs. DAL

15

Last week: 12

Dallas (23-19)
Pace: 97.2 (21) OffRtg: 102.6 (12) DefRtg: 102.0 (15) NetRtg: +0.6 (14)
The Mavs sat all five starters in Oklahoma City on Wednesday and their offense hasn't really recovered. They rank 26th on that end of the floor in January after an ugly win in Chicago and a shellacking at the hands of the Spurs. Dirk Nowitzki has shot 35 percent in the five January losses he's played in, and the guys around him have continued to shoot poorly from 3-point range. Two top-10 defenses are in town this week.
This week: vs. BOS, vs. MIN, vs. OKC, @ HOU

16

Last week: 18

Washington (19-20)
Pace: 100.1 (5) OffRtg: 102.2 (15) DefRtg: 104.0 (19) NetRtg: -1.8 (19)
Bradley Beal is back and the Wizards are playing their best offense of the season. They've scored 112 points scored per 100 possessions over the last five games (with three of the five against top-10 defenses) and outscored the Bucks and Pacers 69-12 from 3-point range on Wednesday and Friday. But they couldn't get the stops they needed to beat the Celtics on Saturday and climb over .500 for the first time since Thanksgiving.
This week: vs. POR, vs. MIA, vs. UTA

17

Last week: 20

Sacramento (17-23)
Pace: 101.9 (1) OffRtg: 103.0 (10) DefRtg: 105.9 (25) NetRtg: -2.9 (22)
The Kings dropped another game to a bad team (New Orleans) last week, but Rudy Gay's game-winner gave them their first victory on the second night of a back-to-back, and they followed that up by putting an end to the Clippers' 10-game winning streak on Saturday. DeMarcus Cousins leads the league in scoring (31.1 points per game) and ranks second in rebounding (13.4 rebounds per game) in January.
This week: @ LAL, vs. ATL, vs. IND

18

Last week: 17

New York (20-22)
Pace: 96.1 (24) OffRtg: 102.3 (13) DefRtg: 103.9 (18) NetRtg: -1.6 (18)
Carmelo Anthony's ankle injury has temporarily derailed the Knicks' resurgence. They're 0-4 without their star, though defense has been the bigger issue in the four losses and they allowed Brooklyn and Memphis, two of the league's five worst offenses, to score 113 points per 100 possessions last week. They're still 8-2 at home since Dec. 1, and they play 10 of their next 13 games at Madison Square Garden.
This week: vs. PHI, vs. UTA, vs. LAC, @ CHA

19

Last week: 16

Utah (18-22)
Pace: 93.5 (30) OffRtg: 102.1 (16) DefRtg: 102.8 (17) NetRtg: -0.7 (16)
The Jazz are 1-4 against the two teams (Sacramento and Portland) chasing them for eighth place in the West after an ugly back-to-back last week. They're still waiting on Derrick Favors to return from his back injury, but his absence has allowed Trey Lyles to show dramatic improvement. The 6-foot-10 rookie has started 22 of the last 23 games and averaged 17.3 points on 67 percent shooting in three games last week.
This week: @ CHA, @ NYK, @ BKN, @ WAS

20

Last week: 19

Orlando (20-19)
Pace: 96.3 (23) OffRtg: 101.3 (23) DefRtg: 101.5 (13) NetRtg: -0.2 (15)
The Magic got Elfrid Payton back and came back from 14 down against Toronto to force overtime in London in Thursday. But they're 1-6 with the league's second worst offense in January, even though Victor Oladipo has shot 20-for-35 from 3-point range this month. Home games against the Sixers and Hornets this week are critical if they want to stay in the playoff race, because the schedule gets much tougher after that.
This week: @ ATL, vs. PHI, vs. CHA

21

Last week: 24

Milwaukee (18-25)
Pace: 96.3 (22) OffRtg: 101.5 (20) DefRtg: 106.3 (28) NetRtg: -4.7 (26)
The Bucks' starting lineup has been dreadful defensively, but replace Greg Monroe with John Henson and you have a lightly-used lineup that was a plus-18 in Friday's overtime win against Atlanta. Giannis Antetokounmpo averaged 22.5 points (on 57 percent shooting) and 12.0 rebounds in the Bucks' four-game-in-five-nights stretch last week (they went 3-1), with 45 of his 53 shots coming in the paint.
This week: @ MIA, @ HOU, @ NOP

22

Last week: 21

Portland (18-25)
Pace: 97.3 (19) OffRtg: 103.3 (8) DefRtg: 105.6 (24) NetRtg: -2.3 (20)
The Blazers are the kind of team that can beat the Thunder and lose to the Sixers six days later, because they're so heavily dependent on two guys (who combined to shoot 10-for-36 on Saturday) and because their defense isn't very dependable. They've been at their best (and made a big run in Brooklyn on Friday) with Al-Farouq Aminu at the four, outscoring their opponents by 6.1 points per 100 possessions in 393 minutes.
This week: @ WAS, vs. ATL, vs. LAL

23

Last week: 25

Denver (16-25)
Pace: 97.3 (18) OffRtg: 101.3 (22) DefRtg: 106.0 (26) NetRtg: -4.7 (25)
All four games have gone down to the wire, but the Nuggets are 3-1 on their eight-game homestand and are the only team to beat the Warriors in a game that was within five points in the last five minutes. Danilo Gallinari has shot just 38 percent over the four games, but shot 38-for-42 from the free throw line in the three wins and leads all non-centers with a free throw rate (FTA/FGA) of 0.603, up from 0.336 last season.
This week: vs. OKC, vs. MEM, vs. DET

24

Last week: 23

New Orleans (13-26)
Pace: 98.7 (13) OffRtg: 101.8 (18) DefRtg: 106.2 (27) NetRtg: -4.4 (24)
Some hot 3-point shooting (mostly from Ryan Anderson) and a pick-and-roll alley-oop from Jrue Holiday to Anthony Davis have the Pelicans on a two-game winning streak. A big reason Davis had the space to roll on that play was that all five of the Pels' offensive threats were on the floor, but that was just their second offensive possession together in January. That unit has scored 99 points in less than 33 minutes together this season.
This week: @ MEM, vs. MIN, vs. DET, vs. MIL

25

Last week: 22

Charlotte (18-22)
Pace: 97.9 (15) OffRtg: 102.8 (11) DefRtg: 101.9 (14) NetRtg: +1.0 (13)
The Hornets temporarily stopped the bleeding with an easy win over Atlanta on Wednesday, but have lost nine of their last 10, with the league's third worst defense over that stretch. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist would obviously help the defense and is ahead of schedule in his recovery from shoulder surgery, but if this slide continues, he might not make it back in time to save the season.
This week: vs. UTA, @ OKC, @ ORL, vs. NYK

26

Last week: 26

Minnesota (13-29)
Pace: 97.3 (17) OffRtg: 100.9 (25) DefRtg: 104.2 (20) NetRtg: -3.3 (23)
The Wolves played some good teams close during their nine-game losing streak and broke down the door with a 30-point win over the Suns on Sunday, their best offensive game of the season. Amazingly, their starting lineup is still a plus-47 on the year, but Kevin Garnett is playing only 10 minutes per game these days and coach Sam Mitchell will tell you how difficult it can be to teach young guys how to play the right way.
This week: @ NOP, @ DAL, vs. MEM

27

Last week: 27

Brooklyn (11-30)
Pace: 97.2 (20) OffRtg: 97.8 (28) DefRtg: 105.5 (23) NetRtg: -7.7 (28)
The Nets saw some offensive improvement in their first week under coach Tony Brown, but it was mostly from his new starting lineup, which was a plus-19 over their last three games. All other lineups were a minus-53 and the Nets had a couple of rough second halves against Portland and Atlanta. As it has been all year, the bench has been terrible, but you get what you pay for and the Nets went to the bargain bin to stay under the tax line.
This week: @ TOR, vs. CLE, vs. UTA, vs. OKC

28

Last week: 30

Philadelphia (5-37)
Pace: 99.6 (6) OffRtg: 94.0 (30) DefRtg: 104.9 (22) NetRtg: -11.0 (30)
The Sixers won their two first halves (against Chicago and Portland) by a combined score of 130-89 last week, but got only one win out of it, because Nikki Minaj wasn't there for the Chicago game. They're 4-7 since the Ish Smith addition, but no lineup has played more than 33 minutes together over those 11 games and Smith is the only guy that has started all 11. Brett Brown is still searching for some stability on the wings.
This week: @ NYK, @ ORL, vs. BOS

29

Last week: 29

L.A. Lakers (9-34)
Pace: 98.7 (12) OffRtg: 96.9 (29) DefRtg: 107.7 (30) NetRtg: -10.8 (29)
We seem to have reached the "just let me get through this game in one piece" portion of the Kobe Bryant Farewell Tour. Jordan Clarkson and Lou Williams are willing to take the shots that Kobe has passed up, but the three of them have combined to shoot 11-for-55 from 3-point range over the last five games, which has been the Lakers' worst offensive stretch of the season (90 points scored per 100 possessions).
This week: vs. SAC, vs. SAS, @ POR

30

Last week: 28

Phoenix (13-29)
Pace: 100.8 (4) OffRtg: 100.5 (26) DefRtg: 106.3 (29) NetRtg: -5.8 (27)
Here's an interesting scenario: If the Suns continue to play as poorly as they have - they've lost 13 of their last 14 games with the league's worst NetRtg (by a wide margin) in that stretch - they could finish with a worse record than the Lakers. That would make it less likely that L.A. keeps its first round pick, the pick that Phoenix traded to Philadelphia at the deadline last year. The Suns would still have two first rounders, though.
This week: vs. IND, vs. SAS, vs. ATL