Christmas Day is the NBA's showcase, featuring a Finals rematch between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors, a game that might help us sort out the surprising East-West dynamic we have this season. (As noted below, the East is still on top.)
But the week leading up to Christmas is huge in regard to how things stand within the Western Conference, specifically. Right now, we appear to have nine playoff contenders in the West. The Houston Rockets, Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs are once again at the top of the standings, and the third-place Spurs are three games ahead of the fourth-place Minnesota Timberwolves.
But there are just three games separating the Wolves from the ninth-place Utah Jazz, and every team from 4-9 in the West has had its ups and downs.
This week would be a good time for more ups, because from Monday to Saturday, there are 10 games to be played between the top nine teams in the West. Throw in a Christmas game between the Rockets and Thunder, and we have 11 big Western Conference games in the next eight days.
The Nuggets and Jazz will play four games against their fellow West contenders, while the Blazers will play three. The only team exempt from the action is the seventh-place New Orleans Pelicans, who are playing three games Southeast Division.
Maybe all those games will help sort out the Power Rankings, because putting teams 7-19 in order right now is proving to be difficult. We'll try to do better next week, when we come at you on Tuesday, Dec. 26. Happy Holidays!
- Last week: Leonard returning to already-elite Spurs
- This time last year: Rockets, Jazz continue runs toward the top -- The Spurs retired Tim Duncan's No. 21, the Rockets won 10 straight games, and the Raptors led the league in offensive efficiency. Jabari Parker dunked on Robin Lopez and Larry Nance Jr. dunked on Brook. Nikola Jokic became the Nuggets' starting center, Blake Griffin had knee surgery, Rodney Hood beat the Mavs with a last-second three, and Russell Westbrook pulled a Shammgod on his way to a career-high 22 assists.
- Plus-minus stud: DeMar DeRozan (TOR) was a plus-70 in four games last week.
- Plus-minus dud: Joe Harris (BKN) was a minus-77 in four games last week.
- Hero team of the week: Chicago (3-0) -- Break up the Bulls! They've won five straight, with a 23-point win over the Celtics and a road win over the Bucks last week.
- Zero team of the week: Orlando (0-3) -- Remember when the Magic were 8-4? Since then, they're 3-16.
- East vs. West: The East is 99-92 (.518) against the West in interconference games after going 15-13 last week.
- Toughest schedules so far: 1. Philadelphia, 2. Charlotte, 3. Detroit
- Easiest schedules so far: 1. Houston, 2. Cleveland, 3. Boston
- 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 (+6), Chicago (+5), LA Clippers (+3)
- Free falls of the week: Minnesota (-4), Oklahoma City (-4), Milwaukee (-3), Orlando (-3)
- Team to watch in Week 10: Denver -- The sixth-place Nuggets have Nikola Jokic back and are in the middle of their most important stretch of the first half of the season. Their week includes games against the eighth-place Thunder, fourth-place Wolves and fifth-place Blazers. They also get a shot at the Warriors while they're a little banged up.
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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 99.6 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes and 105.1 points scored per 100 possessions this season.
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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.
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