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Power Rankings: Clippers stay above the parity

John Schuhmann

John Schuhmann NBA.com

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Nov 21, 2016 11:42 AM ET

 

When you try to put the 30 NBA teams in order of quality every week, you find that there are some lines of delineation that are clear and others that are blurry.

Through four weeks of the season, there's a lot of blurriness. We have a clear big three with the LA Clippers, Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors all having lost just two games. The Clippers' losses have been by a total of six points, one of the Cavs' losses came without LeBron James, and the Warriors are riding a seven-game winning streak. At 10-3, having righted the ship after a 1-3 stretch, the San Antonio Spurs would clearly be the fourth team if we voted to see who makes the NBA semifinals (thank goodness we don't).

After that, it's anybody's guess as to which teams are really good, which are solid, and which are heading for an ugly season. After Cleveland, the East has a group of five teams - Atlanta, Boston, Charlotte, Chicago, and Toronto - that could be beating each other up for the next five months. After the Clippers, Warriors and Spurs, the West has some good offensive teams and some good defensive teams, but nobody that has shown signs of putting it all together.

So we have a lot of teams that can look good one night and terrible the next, can beat a good team and lose to a bad one. If you know what to make of teams like the Pacers, Bucks, Wolves or Jazz, you're smarter than me. The good news is that when you don't put all 30 teams in quite the right order, you get to try again next week.

  • Last week: Clippers climb to No. 1
  • This time last year: Problems arise for Bucks, Clippers -- The Clippers were 6-7 and Josh Smith was having a meltdown in the locker room. The Sixers were 0-14 and the Warriors were 15-0 after coming back from 23 down to beat the aforementioned Clips. Russell Westbrook scored 40-plus in two straight games (with Kevin Durant out), Jonas Valanciunas broke his hand, and the Rockets fired Kevin McHale.
  • Hero team of the week: Memphis (4-0) -- The Grizzlies still have a negative point differential (because that's how they do it), but picked up two impressive road wins over the Jazz and Clippers last week, and then held the Mavs and Wolves to 135 total points on 34 percent shooting.
  • Zero team of the week: Brooklyn (0-4) -- The Nets played two bottom-five defenses last week and their defense was worse. They lost their four games (three of which were seemingly winnable going in) by an average of 19.5 points.
  • East vs. West: The West is 34-31 (.523) against the East in interconference games after going 15-12 (4-0 against the Nets) last week.
  • Toughest schedules through Nov. 20: 1. Sacramento, 2. Dallas, 3. Washington
  • Easiest schedules through Nov. 20: 1. Atlanta, 2. Memphis, 3. Milwaukee
  • 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: New York (+8), Memphis (+7), Indiana (+5)
  • Free falls of the week: Brooklyn (-8), Milwaukee (-8), Utah (-8)
  • Team to watch this week: L.A. Lakers -- Having lost three of their last four games with some pretty atrocious defense, the Lakers are teetering in the eighth spot in the West. If a game this early can be described as critical, Tuesday's visit from the Thunder would fit the bill. And then a home-and-home with the Warriors will really test that defense.

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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 is averaging 99.1 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes and 103.8 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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1
Last week:
1

Record: 12-2
Pace: 98.8 (16) OffRtg: 110.4 (2) DefRtg: 96.5 (2) NetRtg: +13.8 (1)

After allowing less than 90 points per 100 possessions through their first eight games, the Clippers have (inevitably) taken a step backward defensively. Their seven-game winning streak came to an end when they allowed the Grizzlies to shoot 15-for-26 from 3-point range on Wednesday, and weekend wins over the Kings and Bulls were uneven. Still, they have the most wins (6) over other teams that are currently over .500 and the league's best point differential by a wide margin, with only two losses by a total of six points. Paul Pierce made his (final) season debut on Friday and made four of his six shots over the weekend.

This week: vs. TOR, @ DAL, @ DET, @ IND

2
Last week:
2

Record: 10-2
Pace: 99.9 (13) OffRtg: 108.5 (6) DefRtg: 101.9 (11) NetRtg: +6.5 (5)

The Cavs are 10-1 with LeBron James, who got his first rest day on Wednesday in Indiana. That allowed Kay Felder to finally get some playing time, but they're still basically going without a back-up point guard. Who subs for Kyrie Irving isn't really a concern, though. The Cavs have been at their best, scoring more than 125 points per 100 possessions, with Irving on the bench and James on the floor. Channing Frye has shot 19-for-30 (63 percent) from 3-point range off of James' passes and 9-for-30 (30 percent) otherwise.

This week: vs. POR, vs. DAL, @ PHI

3
Last week:
3

Record: 11-2
Pace: 102.8 (3) OffRtg: 113.7 (1) DefRtg: 105.6 (20) NetRtg: +8.1 (3)

Though Stephen Curry shot 6-for-30 from 3-point range last week, the Warriors' offense continued to roll, scoring 117 points per 100 possessions as they ran their winning streak to seven games. Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson have picked up the slack and the ball continues to move. But their defense continues to show some holes and, at this point, would still rank below the league average if you threw away their opening-night loss to the Spurs. Three games against top-10 offenses - those of the Lakers and Wolves - this week are a chance to get things together on that end of the floor.

This week: @ IND, vs. LAL, @ LAL, vs. MIN

4
Last week:
6

Record: 10-3
Pace: 95.5 (27) OffRtg: 108.5 (7) DefRtg: 101.6 (9) NetRtg: +6.9 (4)

Because their defense isn't at the same level that it was last season and because they take more mid-range shots than any other team, you can say "it's a make-or-miss league" after a lot of Spurs games. From outside the paint, they have an effective field goal percentage of 52 percent in their 10 wins and 41 percent in their three losses. LaMarcus Aldridge and Pau Gasol shot a combined 30-for-53 (57 percent) from mid-range in their three wins last week and Gasol (40-for-79) is the league's only player who has made at least half of his shots from outside the paint (minimum 50 attempts) this season.

This week: vs. DAL, @ CHA, @ BOS, @ WAS

5
Last week:
9

Record: 9-5
Pace: 97.2 (22) OffRtg: 107.5 (8) DefRtg: 102.4 (12) NetRtg: +5.1 (6)

As every week passes, the Bulls look more legit as one of the league's most improved teams. Only the Lakers (+10.9) and Clippers (+8.3) have seen a bigger increase in NetRtg from last season than Chicago (+6.9). They've won five of their last six games, with the only loss coming to the Clippers in a road game they led by 19 points. They began the final Circus Trip with wins in Portland and Utah without Rajon Rondo and have outscored their opponents by 47 points in 76 minutes with Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade on the floor without the starting point guard.

This week: @ DEN, @ PHI

6
Last week:
5

Record: 9-4
Pace: 102.3 (4) OffRtg: 104.1 (x) DefRtg: 95.9 (x) NetRtg: +8.2 (x)

Dwight Howard got injured, got ejected (at a very inopportune time) and grabbed more than 20 rebounds per 36 minutes last week. The Hawks have their second two-game losing streak of the season, scoring just 96 points per 100 possessions in weekend losses in Charlotte and New York, with Kent Bazemore and Dennis Schroder combining to shoot 1-for-16 from 3-point range. As usual, the bench was better than the starters on Sunday, but not good enough to recover from the Hawks' second double-digit deficit of the season.

This week: vs. NOP, @ IND, @ UTA, @ LAL

7
Last week:
4

Record: 8-5
Pace: 98.0 (20) OffRtg: 109.4 (3) DefRtg: 104.9 (18) NetRtg: +4.5 (8)

Each of the Raptors' last eight games (they're 4-4) have been within five points in the last five minutes. After losing to the Cavs and Warriors (coughing up a seven-point lead with a little over four minutes to go against Cleveland), they got big threes from Terrence Ross in overtime in Denver on Friday and at the end of regulation in Sacramento on Sunday. Unfortunately, that second one didn't count after a video review made Dwane Casey furious and gave the Kings a season sweep. Their defense got scorched by Cleveland and Golden State and faces two more top-five offenses this week.

This week: @ LAC, @ HOU, @ MIL

8
Last week:
7

Record: 8-4
Pace: 100.3 (10) OffRtg: 104.9 (12) DefRtg: 100.0 (4) NetRtg: +4.9 (7)

The Hornets improved to 5-2 after trailing by 10 or more points by coming back from 10 down in the fourth quarter against the Hawks on Friday, but blew a 14-point, fourth-quarter lead a night later in New Orleans. Their offense can come and go, and has been at its best (115 points scored per 100 possessions) with Cody Zeller on the floor. He's having the best shooting season of his career (improved in the paint), ranks fifth in the league in screen assists, and was missed (out with a shoulder injury) in Saturday's loss.

This week: vs. MEM, vs. SAS, @ NYK, vs. NYK

9
Last week:
13

Record: 8-5
Pace: 99.5 (14) OffRtg: 109.2 (4) DefRtg: 105.9 (22) NetRtg: +3.3 (9)

The Rockets are undefeated (2-0) with Patrick Beverley, who made his season debut (after having knee surgery) on Thursday. He hasn't improved the defensive numbers just yet, but just as important is that Houston actually got some good minutes (plus-11) with James Harden off the floor (and Beverley playing point guard) in Saturday's win over Utah. With Beverley starting, Eric Gordon is permanently coming off the bench, from where he has shot better (45 percent) and averaged more points (17.8) than he has as a starter (40 percent, 15.8).

This week: @ DET, vs. TOR, @ SAC, @ POR

10
Last week:
17

Record: 8-5
Pace: 95.1 (28) OffRtg: 99.6 (24) DefRtg: 101.0 (6) NetRtg: -1.5 (16)

The Grizzlies have their first four-game winning streak since before the All-Star break last season. They've done it with offense (113 points scored per 100 possessions) against the Jazz and Clippers (two top-10 defenses) and with defense (76 points per 100 possessions allowed) against the Mavs and Wolves. They haven't been very consistent on either end of the floor, haven't had any lineup continuity, and aren't getting much offense from Chandler Parsons just yet. But they've gotten some huge games from Mike Conley, who hit seven threes against the Clippers for the second time this season.

This week: @ CHA, @ PHI, vs. MIA, @ MIA

11
Last week:
12

Record: 7-6
Pace: 98.7 (17) OffRtg: 106.0 (10) DefRtg: 105.3 (19) NetRtg: +0.7 (12)

The Celtics got both Jae Crowder and Al Horford back on Saturday and were a plus-10 in 22 minutes with the pair on the floor in Detroit, with Horford getting the game-winning tip-in and the game-sealing block on Aron Baynes. Isaiah Thomas has shot just 37 percent over the last five games, but has averaged more than 10 points at the free throw line in that stretch. The Detroit win was the second half of their fourth back-to-back (no team has played more), but they only have one back-to-back in their next 15 games.

This week: @ MIN, @ BKN, vs. SAS

12
Last week:
11

Record: 8-6
Pace: 102.3 (5) OffRtg: 100.6 (23) DefRtg: 100.8 (5) NetRtg: -0.2 (14)

The Thunder began the week with a loss to the Drummond-less Pistons and ended it with a loss to the George-less Pacers. In between, they got a critical win over the Rockets and another over Brooklyn in which they made their most important (and encouraging) run with Russell Westbrook on the bench. He's got two straight triple-doubles for the second time this season, but more important may be that the Thunder were a plus-12 with him off the floor in the two games. Saturday's game against Detroit will be their first against an opponent that played the night before (most teams have played at least three such games), but they'll be on the second night of a back-to-back (after a three-game trip) themselves.

This week: @ LAL, @ SAC, @ DEN, vs. DET

13
Last week:
14

Record: 7-7
Pace: 102.2 (6) OffRtg: 107.4 (9) DefRtg: 107.2 (26) NetRtg: +0.2 (13)

Larry Nance Jr. (18 points on 8-for-11 shooting in Sunday's loss to the Bulls) is the latest Lakers reserve to have a break-out game and Luke Walton continues to keep everybody's minutes under 30 per night. But, with the schedule staying tough for another two weeks and with two games against the league's No. 1 offense this week, Walton needs to find a combination that can defend (if there is one). The Lakers' defense has allowed 117 points per 100 possessions as they've lost three of their last four games.

This week: vs. OKC, @ GSW, vs. GSW, vs. ATL

14
Last week:
10

Record: 8-7
Pace: 101.1 (9) OffRtg: 105.0 (11) DefRtg: 108.5 (30) NetRtg: -3.6 (21)

After allowing 117 points per 100 possessions over a three-game losing streak (and trailing all three games by 20-plus points), the Blazers were happy to meet a defense as bad as theirs in Brooklyn on Sunday. They clearly miss Al-Farouq Aminu (who has missed the last seven games with a calf injury) and haven't found a forward combination that doesn't include him and can defend competently. And with Damian Lillard shooting 36 percent over the four games prior to Sunday's win, their offense wasn't been able to keep up.

This week: @ NYK, @ CLE, vs. NOP, vs. HOU

15
Last week:
20

Record: 7-7
Pace: 100.3 (11) OffRtg: 102.8 (18) DefRtg: 104.4 (16) NetRtg: -1.6 (17)

The Pacers caught a break when LeBron James sat out Wednesday's game in Indiana, but then lost Paul George to an ankle injury. With some tough teams coming to town this week (and George set to miss at least Monday's game against the Warriors), it was huge to get a big game from Jeff Teague (30 points, nine assists, six steals) and an overtime win without their star in Oklahoma City (after blowing a 15-point lead) on Sunday. After shooting 33 percent in his first seven games, Teague has shot 51 percent over his last seven.

This week: vs. GSW, vs. ATL, vs. BKN, vs. LAC

16
Last week:
8

Record: 7-8
Pace: 92.9 (30) OffRtg: 104.2 (13) DefRtg: 101.6 (10) NetRtg: +2.6 (11)

George Hill's absence has begun to really hurt the Jazz, who have lost four straight with Gordon Hayward shooting just 32 percent over the losing streak and Dante Exum totaling just 10 assists (and shooting 38 percent) in his seven games as the starting point guard. Derrick Favors has also missed the last three games with a knee bruise, so it's a good time for a two-game week that begins a stretch where they play 10 of 12 games at home (though they've lost three straight at Vivint Smart Home Arena).

This week: vs. DEN, vs. ATL

17
Last week:
16

Record: 6-8
Pace: 96.7 (24) OffRtg: 99.5 (26) DefRtg: 101.3 (8) NetRtg: -1.9 (19)

After easily beating the Thunder without Andre Drummond, the Pistons have lost three straight games, allowing the Knicks, Cavs and Celtics to score more than 109 points per 100 possessions. Even after the Boston loss, they have the league's best home defense, having allowed just 90 points per 100 possessions at the Palace. But they've allowed 110 on the road and host two top-five offenses this week. Stanley Johnson has yet to take a step forward in his second year and was DNP-CD'd for the first time this season on Saturday.

This week: vs. HOU, vs. MIA, vs. LAC, @ OKC

18
Last week:
26

Record: 6-7
Pace: 98.5 (19) OffRtg: 103.9 (15) DefRtg: 107.9 (27) NetRtg: -4.1 (23)

Joakim Noah missed Sunday's game with an illness, but Jeff Hornacek wasn't going to start Kristaps Porzingis at center against Dwight Howard. The Knicks had big success playing small in Monday's win over Dallas and have scored more than 120 points per 100 possessions in about 60 minutes with Carmelo Anthony playing the four and Porzingis playing the five. The defense has generally been bad either way, though they held the Hawks under a point per possession in Sunday's matinee, with Kyle O'Quinn and Willy Hernangomez giving them good minutes up front in Noah's absence.

This week: vs. POR, vs. CHA, @ CHA

19
Last week:
21

Record: 5-9
Pace: 96.2 (26) OffRtg: 103.1 (16) DefRtg: 108.4 (29) NetRtg: -5.3 (26)

The Kings hold the secret to slowing down DeMar DeRozan, having held him to 10-for-35 shooting as they swept their season series with the Raptors. After having some success in losses to the Spurs and Clippers playing small, they started that way (with Matt Barnes and Rudy Gay at the forward positions) on Sunday. They've been outscored by 8.1 points per 100 possessions in 235 minutes when DeMarcus Cousins has shared the floor with another big man, but have outscored their opponents by 9.0 per 100 in 172 minutes with Cousins at the five and Rudy Gay at the four.

This week: vs. OKC, vs. HOU, @ BKN

20
Last week:
22

Record: 6-7
Pace: 96.2 (x) OffRtg: 96.4 (x) DefRtg: 103.4 (x) NetRtg: -7.0 (x)

The Magic are beginning to look a lot more Vogel-esque, with both teams scoring less than a point per possession in four of their last five games. It starts with their new starting lineup (Jeff Green instead of Aaron Gordon at small forward), which has been both the league's worst offensive lineup and its best defensive lineup among those that have at least 75 minutes. The defensive numbers should continue to stay low, as they're in the middle of a stretch where 10 of 13 games are against teams that currently rank in the bottom 11 in offensive efficiency.

This week: @ MIL, vs. PHX, vs. WAS, vs. MIL

21
Last week:
19

Record: 4-8
Pace: 97.3 (21) OffRtg: 108.5 (5) DefRtg: 105.7 (21) NetRtg: +2.8 (10)

Thursday's win over the Sixers (featuring a ferocious Karl-Anthony Towns dunk) was some temporary relief, but the Wolves even lost the third quarter against Philly and then came up empty in Memphis two nights later. Ricky Rubio, the guy who vented ("We're not learning") after Tuesday's loss to Charlotte, shot 3-for-16 last week. All of the Wolves' point guards have shot less than 40 percent for the season, as what was thought to be a position of strength (where Rubio might be expendable) has been a disappointment thus far.

This week: vs. BOS, @ NOP, @ PHX, @ GSW

22
Last week:
24

Record: 4-8
Pace: 97.1 (23) OffRtg: 97.9 (27) DefRtg: 98.9 (3) NetRtg: -1.0 (15)

Goran Dragic returned from his ankle injury on Thursday and the Heat ended their six-game losing streak with wins over the Bucks and Wizards. Before that, they were playing well enough defensively to hang around with the Spurs and Hawks. In fact, three of their last four losses have come by three or four points to teams - Chicago, San Antonio and Atlanta - that are a combined 28-12. Their point differential says they should be 6-6 (in playoff position) and while they're on the road for much of the next three weeks, five of their next six games are against bottom-10 offensive teams.

This week: @ PHI, @ DET, @ MEM, vs. MEM

23
Last week:
15

Record: 5-7
Pace: 99.0 (15) OffRtg: 102.3 (19) DefRtg: 104.1 (15) NetRtg: -1.7 (18)

Though the Bucks took the Warriors to the limit on Saturday, the league's most inconsistent offensive team has lost five of its last six games. They've lost the second quarter by an average of 12.8 points in the five losses (by 22 in Atlanta on Wednesday) and rank as the league's second worst team in the second period. As Jason Kidd tries to figure out his big man situation, Greg Monroe has played less than 10 minutes over the last three games, though the offense has been at its best with him on the floor.

This week: vs. ORL, vs. TOR, @ ORL

24
Last week:
25

Record: 5-8
Pace: 101.6 (7) OffRtg: 101.7 (22) DefRtg: 104.5 (17) NetRtg: -2.9 (20)

The Nuggets have the league's third highest turnover rate and were killed by two late miscues in their overtime loss to the Raptors on Friday. They don't have a lineup that's played more than 44 minutes, but got Will Barton back in Sunday's win over Utah and seem to have settled on a frontline of Kenneth Faried and Jusuf Nurkic, which has been one of their best defensive combinations. With their newest starting lineup on Sunday, they had a lead after the first six minutes of the first quarter for just the third time all season.

This week: vs. CHI, @ UTA, vs. OKC, @ PHX

25
Last week:
29

Record: 4-10
Pace: 101.1 (8) OffRtg: 99.5 (25) DefRtg: 103.7 (14) NetRtg: -4.2 (24)

Jrue Holiday is back, he shot 17-for-31 in his first two games, the Pelicans have been great (plus-17 in 53 minutes) with him on the floor, and Alvin Gentry used him quite a bit (23 total minutes) alongside fellow point guard Tim Frazier. Anthony Davis missed another game with another injury, but the Pelicans beat the Celtics, Blazers and Hornets, with Davis averaging 33.7 points and 13.7 rebounds and the team scoring 108 points per 100 possessions, in the three games (all at home) he played last week.

This week: @ ATL, vs. MIN, @ POR, @ DAL

26
Last week:
18

Record: 4-9
Pace: 104.5 (2) OffRtg: 102.2 (20) DefRtg: 108.0 (28) NetRtg: -5.8 (27)

The Nets certainly miss Jeremy Lin, who has now missed the last eight games with a hamstring injury, on offense. Their pace-and-space system was built around his ability to get to the basket and to the free throw line. The question is how much impact he'd have on a defense that has allowed a brutal 121 points per 100 possessions as the Nets have lost four straight games. Their rotations are often too slow to recover from their aggressiveness on the perimeter, but improvement can start in transition. According to SportVU, Brooklyn opponents have taken 15.1 percent of their shots in the first six seconds of the shot clock, the third highest rate in the league.

This week: vs. BOS, @ IND, vs. SAC

27
Last week:
28

Record: 3-9
Pace: 98.5 (18) OffRtg: 103.0 (17) DefRtg: 107.0 (25) NetRtg: -4.0 (22)

John Wall and Bradley Beal scored 30-plus points in the same game for the first time on Saturday. But the Wizards still lost to a bottom-five offensive team (Miami) and lost to the Sixers earlier in the week, because their defense was so bad that it made the kids cry. Their schedule continues to be relatively easy over the next few weeks and Ian Mahinmi (who should help the defense) is making progress toward his season debut, but an ankle injury to Markieff Morris on Saturday is another hit to their woeful depth.

This week: vs. PHX, @ ORL, vs. SAS

28
Last week:
30

Record: 3-10
Pace: 100.1 (12) OffRtg: 95.8 (29) DefRtg: 106.7 (24) NetRtg: -11.0 (30)

The Sixers have won three straight home games, one without Joel Embiid and one with The Process destroying the Phoenix Suns to the tune of 26 points in 20 minutes. Embiid ranks second in the league in usage rate, in part because he has turned the ball over almost seven times per 36 minutes. The Sixers' second leading scorer in their three wins was Nik Stauskas, who made 19 of his 24 shots and now ranks in the top 10 in 3-point percentage. Their home-heavy early schedule continues with eight of their next nine games at the Wells Fargo Center.

This week: vs. MIA, vs. MEM, vs. CHI, vs. CLE

29
Last week:
27

Record: 4-10
Pace: 104.8 (1) OffRtg: 101.7 (21) DefRtg: 106.7 (23) NetRtg: -4.9 (25)

The Suns are 1-3 on their six-game trip, allowed the Nuggets and Sixers (two bottom-10 offenses) to score 114 points per 100 possessions, and got their only win against a team (Indiana) missing its best player. Devin Booker has had a few big games, but continues to shoot poorly overall. One issue is the Suns' lack of ball movement, but it's not like Booker has shot well on catch-and-shoot opportunities. In fact, among 54 players who have taken at least 50 catch-and-shoot jumpers, Booker ranks 51st in effective field goal percentage at 39.8 percent on those shots.

This week: @ WAS, @ ORL, vs. MIN, vs. DEN

30
Last week:
23

Record: 2-10
Pace: 94.4 (29) OffRtg: 95.2 (30) DefRtg: 101.3 (7) NetRtg: -6.1 (28)

For the first time in more than a year, a team ranks below the Sixers in offensive efficiency. It's getting late early for the Mavs, who have lost five straight (scoring less than 85 points per 100 possessions over the last four) and now have the worst record in the NBA. Dirk Nowitzki, Deron Williams and Devin Harris are all hurt, and Harrison Barnes has expectedly come back down to earth, shooting 8-for-30 over the weekend. They couldn't take advantage of a relatively easy week and now play seven of their next eight games against teams with winning records, including a brutal three-game stretch this week.

This week: @ SAS, vs. LAC, @ CLE, vs. NOP


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