Power Rankings

Power Rankings: Dog days of winter taking toll on contenders

The mid-winter malaise has hit.

Every game, whether it takes place in October, January or April, counts the same. In regard to the standings, playoff seeding and home-court advantage, a loss this week hurts as much as one in late-March. But that doesn’t mean that the stretch between Christmas and the All-Star break can be a slog. And the result is some bad stretches from good teams.

In the Eastern Conference, the Cleveland Cavaliers have lost six of their last 10 games and the Toronto Raptors have lost six of their last seven. The bottom has seemingly fallen out of the playoff picture, as Charlotte, Chicago, Detroit and Milwaukee have combined to go 14-27 over the last three weeks.

In the West, the Houston Rockets have lost seven of their last 11 games and the Spurs have let some games slip away, while nobody seems to want the 8 seed. The top 10 teams in last week’s Power Rankings went 19-20 over the last seven days.

Of course, with good teams not playing well, teams lower in the standings can take advantage. The Dallas Mavericks, Miami Heat and Philadelphia 76ers, three teams who seemed like Lottery locks a few weeks ago, have gone on eye-opening runs to remain relevant.

And with a bunch of good teams losing games and a bunch of bad teams winning games, sorting them out can be difficult. Houston hasn’t dropped in the rankings, because nobody behind them has really earned that No. 3 spot. And some teams in the bottom 10 that have played decently of late are having a hard time moving up, because other teams around them have been similarly improved.

One thing is for sure: the team with the league’s No. 1 offense and No. 1 defense has the No. 1 ranking for a third straight week.

Last week: Warriors take strong hold of top spot

This time last year: Warriors make a big statement — The Warriors beat the Spurs by 30 points in their first meeting of the season, but needed Harrison Barnes’ game-winner to beat the Sixers after blowing a 24-point lead. The Suns fired Jeff Hornacek and Blake Griffin broke his hand when he punched the Clippers’ equipment manager. Dwight Howard got ejected from two straight games, Troy Daniels beat the Kings with a three after an uncalled travel, and Jrue Holiday beat the Nets with a fadeaway.

Plus-minus stud: Willie Reed (MIA) was a plus-70 in four games last week.

Plus-minus dud: Justin Hamilton (BKN) was a minus-52 in four games last week.

Hero team of the week: Washington (4-0) — The Wizards seem bound for a top-four seed in the East after a week in which they knocked off the second-place Celtics and fourth-place Hawks.

Zero team of the week: Charlotte (0-4) — Remember when the Hornets were good? They’re 4-11 since Dec. 31 and lost to the Knicks and Kings last week.

East vs. West: The West is 151-124 (.549) against the East in interconference games after going 12-9 (0-3 vs. Indiana) last week.

Toughest schedules through Sunday: 1. Phoenix, 2. Brooklyn, 3. Portland

Easiest schedules through Sunday: 1. Indiana, 2. Chicago, 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: Miami (+6), Washington (+6), Denver (+4), Sacramento (+4)

Free falls of the week: Milwaukee (-9), Five teams (-3)

Team to watch this week: Oklahoma City — Before they finally go home for an extended stay and a big game against the Grizzlies on Friday, the Thunder visit San Antonio on Tuesday for their first of three games against the Spurs.

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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 98.7 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes and 105.8 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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