Best, worst teams in month of December

Plus, the top 10 individual scorers during the last month of 2018

Just when mock drafts were beginning to list the San Antonio Spurs as a certified lottery team — something that hasn’t happened in over two decades — a vigorous December stretch has Gregg Popovich’s squad clicking and back among the top eight in the Western Conference standings.

The Spurs struggled severely in November, pairing their below-average offense with the NBA’s worst defense. They finished the month with a 5-10 record and sat 10-12 overall, just in front of the lowly Phoenix Suns. Injuries began to pile up, LaMarcus Aldridge struggled shooting and their ability to win on the road was nonexistent. While the latter issue still hasn’t been fixed, a shift occurred for the Spurs in December.

San Antonio finished No. 1 in offensive efficiency during the last month of 2018 and ranked among the top 10 in defensive efficiency. Seeming to have found their rhythm, the Spurs shot a league-high 51.2 percent from the floor in December, boasted the NBA’s best Net Rating and closed the year out winning 10 of their last 13 games.

Talk about ending a year on the right track.

Here’s a look at the best records, offenses and defenses based on numbers from Dec. 1 to Dec. 31 only.

Five best records

  • Indiana Pacers: 12-3
  • Houston Rockets: 11-4
  • Milwaukee Bucks: 10-4
  • San Antonio Spurs: 11-5
  • Golden State Warriors: 10-5

The Pacers have quietly climbed to third in the Eastern Conference standings, holding the same amount of wins as the first-place Bucks.

Five worst records

  • New York Knicks: 2-12
  • Cleveland Cavaliers: 4-12
  • Detroit Pistons: 4-11
  • Phoenix Suns: 5-11
  • Memphis Grizzlies: 5-10

The sweepstakes for Zion Williamson, who played at Madison Square Garden in December, roll on.

Top five offenses

(Points scored per 100 possessions)

  • San Antonio Spurs: 116.6
  • Boston Celtics: 115.5
  • Houston Rockets: 113.4
  • New Orleans Pelicans: 112.2
  • Minnesota Timberwolves: 111.6

While the Spurs are rolling, the hottest team in Texas — and the NBA for that matter — is Houston. James Harden is carrying the Rockets offense without Chris Paul at a historic pace.

Bottom five offenses

  • Chicago Bulls: 98.7
  • Orlando Magic: 101.7
  • Detroit Pistons: 102.4
  • Memphis Grizzlies 102.7
  • New York Knicks: 104.6

Dwane Casey’s first year in Detroit hasn’t gone according to plan — yet at least. His offense committed the second-most turnovers per game in December.

Top five defenses

(Points allowed per 100 possessions)

  • Indiana Pacers: 99.6
  • Utah Jazz: 100.5
  • Oklahoma City Thunder: 101.7
  • Milwaukee Bucks: 102.1
  • Miami Heat: 104.1

The Lakers, who had a top-three Defensive Rating in November, fell out of the top 10.

Bottom five defenses

  • Cleveland Cavaliers: 116.9
  • New York Knicks: 115.9
  • LA Clippers: 114.3
  • Atlanta Hawks: 112.6
  • Phoenix Suns: 112.4

The Clippers’ defense is tumbling despite being in the playoff hunt.

Top 10 individual scorers

(Points per game)

  • James Harden: 36.4
  • Paul George: 30.8
  • Anthony Davis: 29.6
  • Kawhi Leonard: 29.1
  • Stephen Curry: 28.1
  • Damian Lillard: 27.1
  • Bradley Beal: 26.5
  • Devin Booker: 26.2
  • Kevin Durant: 26.1
  • LeBron James: 25.8