Power Rankings, Week 4: Suns rise to No. 2; Warriors move into Top 10
See how all 30 teams rank after the first three weeks of the 2020-21 season.
Week 3 was when the coronavirus pandemic really hit the NBA. We saw COVID-related absences (some positive tests, some contact-tracing quarantines) all across the league, affecting both the schedule and the quality of play.
Kevin Durant missed three games and Bradley Beal had to isolate over the weekend. The Mavs had to leave three guys in Denver and the Sixers had just seven healthy players on Saturday, starting two rookies that you probably never heard of. The Bulls have been missing a few rotation players, the Celtics lost most of their frontline last week, and Miami-Boston on Sunday became the second postponement of the season.
This is what we knew could happen with the season being played outside of a bubble. We can hope that, because we’re 17 days past Christmas, this is the peak of pandemic-related absences around the league. But we don’t know what’s around the corner, and every case (both in and outside the NBA) is reason for concern.
COVID-19 cases weren’t the only bad news from last week. Three players — Atlanta’s Bogdan Bogdanovic, Orlando’s Markelle Fultz and Washington’s Thomas Bryant — were lost to nasty knee injuries. In positive news, the Magic’s Mo Bamba finally made his season debut after contracting the virus in the summer.
The games go on. And we’ll do our best here to focus on the basketball, knowing that health and safety remain the top priorities as we navigate the 2020-21 season.
Plus-Minus Players of the Week
- Right Way: CJ McCollum (POR) was a plus-59 in three games last week.
- Wrong Way: Marvin Bagley III (SAC) was a minus-67 in four games last week.
Teams of the Week
- Make It Last Forever: Oklahoma City (3-1) — Break up the Thunder (again)! They went 4-1 on a five-game road trip.
- Something Just Ain’t Right: Sacramento (1-3) — The Kings got a narrow win over the Bulls, but lost their other three games (one to the 2-7 Raptors) by a total of 78 points.
East vs. West
- The West is 26-19 (.578) against the East in interconference games after going 15-10 last week.
Schedule Strength through Week 3
- Toughest: 1. Memphis, 2. Charlotte, 3. Detroit
- Easiest: 1. Atlanta, 2. Orlando, 3. L.A. Lakers
- Schedule strength is based on cumulative opponent record, and adjusted for home vs. away and days of rest before a game.
Movement in the Rankings
- High jumps of the week: Charlotte (+11), Golden State (+10), San Antonio (+10)
- Free falls of the week: Atlanta (-11), Cleveland (-9), Sacramento (-8)
Week 4 Team to Watch
- Denver — The Nuggets have won four of their last five to climb back to .500. And they have a few good tests of what might be an improving defense this week. They’ll finish their three-game trip in Brooklyn on Tuesday before returning home to begin a three-game homestand with games against the Warriors (Thursday) and Jazz (Sunday).
Previous Power Rankings
- Last week: Sixers, Suns and Jazz climb into the Top 5
- This time last year: Jazz, Rockets enter Top 5; Nets prepare for difficult stretch — Russell Westbrook scored 34 points in his return to Oklahoma City, but the Rockets got trounced by the Thunder. Devin Booker scored 30-plus in seven straight games and the Warriors were the only winless team in 2020. Jimmy Butler and T.J. Warren exchanged pleasantries, Chris Paul nutmegged Isaiah Hartenstein, Carmelo Anthony hit a game-winner in Toronto, and DeMar DeRozan threw a hammer down on Chris Boucher.
- The archive: NBA.com Power Rankings
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 101.2 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes and 109.6 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.
Last Week: 1
Pace: 100.7 (17) OffRtg: 113.6 (4) DefRtg: 105.5 (3) NetRtg: +8.1 (2)
The Lakers do not need to play well for 48 minutes to win most nights. They cruised through most of a four-game trip through San Antonio and Memphis, pulling out four wins in games that were all close in the fourth quarter. But when they returned home, their complacence came back to bite them. Their loss to the Spurs on Thursday was their worst defensive game of the season statistically (118 points allowed on 100 possessions), and Anthony Davis’ eyes agreed with the numbers. He called his team out afterward and his words seem to have hit home.
A narrow win over the Bulls on Friday was their second worst defensive game of the season, but they played it without Davis. He returned to the lineup on Sunday and the Lakers became the first team this season to hold the Rockets’ offense (which ranked seventh through Saturday) under a point per possession. Houston scored just 54 points on 66 possessions (82 per 100) with Davis on the floor.
Injuries to Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (who missed four games with a sprained ankle) and Wesley Matthews (who sat Sunday with Achilles soreness) have had Talen Horton-Tucker back in the rotation. And with THT having registered 17 points (on 7-for-8 shooting), five rebounds, three assists and four steals in 21 minutes on Sunday, coach Frank Vogel will have a tough decision to make if Matthews is ready to play this week.
Week 4: @ HOU, @ OKC, vs. NOP
Last Week: 4 ↑
Pace: 97.4 (30) OffRtg: 112.5 (7) DefRtg: 106.4 (5) NetRtg: +7.0 (3)
Mikal Bridges’ 34 points in Indiana on Saturday weren’t just a career high for the third-year forward who leads the league with 14 corner 3s. They were a season high for the Suns, with Devin Booker yet to have scored more than 26. The Suns have a top-10 offense with seven guys averaging double-figures and more remarkable than Bridges’ hot shooting (6-for-8 from beyond the arc) on Saturday was that the Suns had 33 assists and just three turnovers against a Pacers defense that ranked second in opponent turnover rate through Friday. That assist-to-turnover ratio of 11.0 is the highest mark for any team in a game in the last 15 seasons (since the Bucks had 23 and 2 in April of 2006).
Of course, that Phoenix offense, after eviscerating Detroit’s man-to-man defense through 18 minutes, really struggled when the Pistons played zone for most of the last 30 minutes on Friday. The Suns blew a 23-point lead and lost to a team that was 1-7. They’re still the only team that hasn’t lost a game that wasn’t within five in the last five. In fact, all three of their losses were within three points in the last minute of the fourth quarter.
After wrapping up a three-game trip in Washington on Monday, the Suns will play 14 of their next 19 games at home.
Week 4: @ WAS, vs. ATL, vs. GSW, vs. IND
Last Week: 6 ↑
Pace: 100.6 (19) OffRtg: 112.4 (8) DefRtg: 110.4 (19) NetRtg: +2.0 (11)
The Celtics have managed pretty well without Kemba Walker. They’ve won six of their last seven games, and they missed some good looks down the stretch of the one loss (in Detroit). They got a comfortable win over Toronto on Monday and a measure of revenge against the Heat on Wednesday, with Payton Pritchard getting the game-winning tip-in. When you consider that the Celtics have outscored their opponents by 9.4 points per 100 possessions in 300 total minutes with Pritchard and/or Jeff Teague on the floor, they haven’t missed Walker much. (They’ve been outscored by 9.3 points per 100 possessions in 155 minutes with Marcus Smart on the floor without either Pritchard or Teague.)
But less than 24 hours after Walker was cleared to practice, the Celtics learned that they’ll be without Jayson Tatum for a while. It’s not clear if they’ll have Jaylen Brown this week and they’ve already had COVID-related absences on their frontline.
Along with his career-high usage rate, Tatum is registering career highs in effective field goal percentage (55.6%), true shooting percentage (58.8%) and assist-turnover ratio (1.58). His free throw rate is still a career-low 16.9 attempts per 100 shots from the field, but he was 13-for-13 from the line in Tampa on Monday.
Payton Pritchard puts it back with 0.2 seconds left to win it for the Celtics. pic.twitter.com/9SejHcrMlT
— NBA (@NBA) January 7, 2021
Week 4: @ CHI, vs. ORL, vs. ORL, vs. NYK
Last Week: 7 ↑
Pace: 103.1 (6) OffRtg: 118.2 (1) DefRtg: 108.2 (14) NetRtg: +10.1 (1)
When the Bucks lose a game in which Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton combine for 64 points on 25-for-44 shooting, you should have a pretty good idea as to how. The Jazz set a franchise record with 25 3s on 53 attempts on Friday. Some of those 3s were a result of standard drop defense and extra help at the rim, some where a result of the Bucks going under screens, and some were a result of defensive mistakes: Antetokounmpo failing to make a rotation, Brook Lopez getting in Middleton’s way, D.J. Augustin getting beat back-door. The Bucks may be trying some new things defensively, but the execution hasn’t been up to their standards.
Still, they’re back where they were a year ago, outscoring their opponents by more than 10 points per 100 possessions. Instead of having a defense that is much better than that of every other team, they have an offense that’s head and shoulders above the rest of the league. Middleton has averaged 22.7 points on an effective field goal percentage of 65.2% and 97% from the line. The Bucks have three guys – Antetokounmpo, Middleton and Jrue Holiday — who’ve averaged more than five assists per game. And the four starters not named Antetokounmpo have shot a combined 44% from 3-point range.
Week 4: @ ORL, @ DET, vs. DAL
Last Week: 2 ↓
Pace: 103.5 (5) OffRtg: 109.1 (17) DefRtg: 104.9 (2) NetRtg: +4.1 (6)
It’s not a good time for the Sixers to be three games into their only eight-games-in-12-days stretch of the first-half schedule. It’s not just the COVID-related absences, but also that both Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid are banged up. Before the super-shorthanded loss to Denver on Saturday, their defense (which had allowed less than a point per possession through their first seven games) had started to show some slippage, allowing Washington and Brooklyn to score more than 117 points per 100 possessions on Wednesday and Thursday. Maybe the stars’ ailments had something to do with that.
Simmons didn’t make the trip to Atlanta, but Embiid is listed as probable for Monday. If there’s a silver lining to all the absences, it’s that extra playing time for guys beyond their first five could pay off in the long run. The Sixers have outscored their opponents by 13.3 points per 100 possessions in 238 minutes with at least four of their five regular starters on the floor, but have been outscored by 5.2 per 100 in 242 minutes with at least two of those five guys off the floor. Tyrese Maxey, who was a bright spot in the loss to Brooklyn, took advantage of the extra burn (44 minutes) on Saturday, scoring 39 points (most for a rookie since April of 2019) against Denver. He did it without a single trip to the line and, for the season, his ratio of free throw attempts to field goal attempts is an incredible 1/94.
Week 4: @ ATL, vs. MIA, vs. MIA, @ MEM, @ OKC
Last Week: 3 ↓
Pace: 97.8 (27) OffRtg: 114.4 (3) DefRtg: 113.6 (26) NetRtg: +1.1 (12)
Wins over the Lakers, Nuggets, Blazers, Suns and Warriors look pretty good on the resume. But the Clippers have been playing with fire a bit. They needed a big fourth-quarter run to win their first of two games in San Francisco, and they lost the second of the two when they blew what was a 22-point lead in the third quarter. Two nights later, they were fortunate to hold off the 4-7 Bulls.
Though Marcus Morris made his season debut last week, the Clippers continued to have issues with their bench. Their starting lineup has allowed just 92.4 points per 100 possessions and outscored its opponents by 28.5 per 100 in its 122 minutes, and those are the best marks (by healthy margins) among the 24 lineups that have played at least 50 minutes. But they’re a bottom-five defensive team, because, in the other 406 minutes that they’ve played, they’ve allowed 119.6 points per 100 possessions.
So Reggie Jackson has seen his minutes reduced, and with him getting his first DNP of the season on Sunday, the Clippers won a game in which they were outscored by three points with their starting lineup on the floor. They erased most of a 13-point deficit in the second quarter with three reserves in the game, and they closed out the win over Chicago with Morris and Lou Williams (plus a sprinkling of Patrick Beverley for defense) on the floor with three starters.
Week 4: vs. NOP, @ SAC, vs. IND
Last Week: 8 ↑
Pace: 100.6 (20) OffRtg: 113.1 (6) DefRtg: 108.0 (12) NetRtg: +5.1 (5)
The Pacers’ starting lineup (with Aaron Holiday in T.J. Warren’s spot) has been outscored by 35 points (27.3 per 100 possessions) in its 58 January minutes, with bad numbers on both ends of the floor. But they got great bench minutes in wins over the Pelicans and Rockets early last week, and they pulled off a miraculous comeback (down 10 with 2:15 left, down six with 25 seconds left) in New Orleans after Domantas Sabonis fouled out. Without their offensive hub in overtime, Myles Turner had two layups off rolls to the rim (he’s averaged less than two roll-man possessions per game) and Victor Oladipo had a mini takeover midway through the extra period.
With T.J. McConnell (personal reasons) out against Phoenix on Saturday, the bench was thinner and the game got away from the Pacers with more reserves than starters on the floor midway through the fourth quarter. Jeremy Lamb (fully participating in practice) is on his way back to help with the depth and his return could could make it easier to make a change in the starting lineup. The Pacers have been closing games with Justin Holiday (10th in effective field goal percentage among 214 players with at least 50 field goal attempts) on the floor instead of his little brother.
— NBA (@NBA) January 5, 2021
Week 4: @ SAC, @ GSW, @ POR, @ PHX, @ LAC
Last Week: 14 ↑
Pace: 99.1 (24) OffRtg: 109.5 (15) DefRtg: 105.5 (4) NetRtg: +4.0 (7)
The Mavs have seemingly found their offense. With Luka Doncic returning from a one-game absence and averaging a triple-double (30.3 points, 12.0 rebounds and 11.3 assists), they scored 114 points per 100 possessions over three wins last week. Doncic hasn’t exactly caught fire from 3-point range (8-for-26), and he totaled 22 turnovers over the three games. But he averaged 29 drives last week after averaging just 20.4 through his first five.
The Mavs also made a lineup change, playing bigger and starting Maxi Kleber and Willie Cauley-Stein on the frontline. Cauley-Stein did some nice things defensively (a pass interception, swallowing a Jae’Sean Tate drive, preventing James Harden from turning the corner) in Houston on Monday, Kleber hit a huge 3 in Denver on Thursday, and the Mavs have outscored their opponents by more than 21 points per 100 possessions in their 85 total minutes together.
They could be getting Kristaps Porzingis back this week (he’s listed as questionable for their game against the Pelicans on Monday), but Kleber is reportedly set to miss games.
Week 4: vs. NOP, @ CHA, @ MIL, vs. CHI
Last Week: 12 ↑
Pace: 98.5 (26) OffRtg: 115.9 (2) DefRtg: 112.2 (25) NetRtg: +3.7 (8)
After a 1-4 start, the Nuggets have won four of their last five games, with the only loss coming in overtime (to Dallas on Thursday). The defensive numbers have been better, and their win over the Knicks was the first time that they’ve held an opponent under a point per possession this season. But the difference from the first five games has mostly been in how well their opponents have shot from 3-point range (33.5% vs. 42.0% through the first five games), and three of the five games have come against teams (Minnesota and New York) that rank in the bottom five offensively. So it’s too early to say that the Nuggets are on the right path on that end of the floor.
What may be more interesting is that Gary Harris has shot 23-for-38 (61%) over the last four games and was 7-for-12 from beyond the arc in Philadelphia and New York over the weekend. Harris struggled offensively over the last two seasons and had made just four of his first 29 3-point attempts this year, but he was once a guy who shot 41% on 649 3-point attempts over the 2016-17 and ’17-18 seasons, he has great chemistry with Nikola Jokic (who has assisted on 23 of his 42 field goals this season), and remains one of Denver’s most important defenders. He’ll could be guarding Kyrie Irving, Stephen Curry and Donovan Mitchell this week.
Week 4: @ BKN, vs. GSW, vs. UTA
Last Week: 20 ↑
Pace: 104.9 (2) OffRtg: 108.4 (19) DefRtg: 111.2 (22) NetRtg: -2.8 (22)
With defenses swarming Stephen Curry whenever he’s dribbling, the Warriors’ offense can turn into a frantic cat-and-mouse game. It’s one where Curry is running away from defenders and Draymond Green (with no regard for how open he may be himself) is trying to deliver the ball in the split second between the opening and closing of the space that Curry is seeking. Sometimes it doesn’t work out, sometimes it does, and it’s always fascinating to watch. Green has more assists (36, 10 of which have gone to Curry) than field goal attempts (23) and free throw attempts (10) combined, and turnovers (long a Warriors’ area of concern) haven’t been too much of an issue.
Even with Green trying to get him open, Curry has had his ups and downs in his quest to get shots up (he ranks second in average speed on offense among players who’ve averaged at least 20 minutes per game). But the Warriors survived the worst shooting night of his career on Sunday — Curry’s 2-for-16 (12.5%) was his worst field goal percentage in the 814 career games (including postseason) in which he’s attempted at least five shots) — because the Raptors came back down to earth offensively, because Eric Paschall has been giving them consistent production off the bench, and because Kyle Lowry fouled Damion Lee.
The Warriors are 6-2 since those ugly first two games in Brooklyn and Milwaukee, ahead of the Nets and tied with the Bucks in the overall league standings. They rank sixth offensively (113.4 points scored per 100 possessions) since Christmas.
Week 4: vs. IND, @ DEN, @ PHX
Last Week: 5 ↓
Pace: 99.5 (23) OffRtg: 110.1 (14) DefRtg: 109.3 (16) NetRtg: +0.8 (13)
Joe Ingles saw his streak of 384 consecutive games played come to an end on Friday. But that’s the only time that one of the top nine guys in Jazz’s rotation (eight returnees from last season and gone-for-one-year Derrick Favors) has missed a game. With that kind of health and continuity, they should have hit the ground running, taking care of business against teams that are relatively new to each other.
But this has most certainly been the Jekyll and Hyde Team of the Season thus far. The Jazz followed a big opening-night win in Portland with a loss at home to Minnesota. After beating the Clippers and clobbering the Spurs, they got thumped in Brooklyn and blew an 18-point lead in New York. Following those two games, they drained a franchise-record 25 3s in a big win in Milwaukee.
The bigger difference between the good and the bad has been on the offensive end of the floor, where the Jazz have scored 116.7 points per 100 possessions in their six wins and just 100.2 in their four losses. Bojan Bogdanovic has basically had just one good shooting game all season, but has a brutal effective field goal percentage of 21.1% in the four defeats. Defying all odds, the most consistent player in the Jazz rotation has been Jordan Clarkson, who continues to do some crafty stuff off the dribble.
Week 4: @ CLE, @ WAS, vs. ATL, @ DEN
Last Week: 15 ↑
Pace: 101.9 (10) OffRtg: 106.5 (23) DefRtg: 107.6 (9) NetRtg: -1.1 (17)
The Heat seem to have found a starting lineup. They had been struggling offensively, but their sixth different starting group (Kelly Olynyk with the four guys who’ve started every game they’ve played) gave them a boost and scored almost 118 points per 100 possessions in its 49 minutes last week. Olynyk averaged 16.0 points on an effective field goal percentage of 77% over the three games and he brings some added passing acumen to that lineup, which has recorded assists on more than 70% of its buckets. Jimmy Butler remains Jimmy Butler, averaging an efficient 23.3 points over the three games despite shooting 4-for-16 from outside the paint.
The Heat do have to clean up some things defensively. They’ve generally been a good rebounding team, but allowed the Celtics to register 21 second chance points (including the two that decided the game) on Wednesday. The score at halftime against Washington on Saturday was 75-71.
Alas, continuity could be gone as quickly as it arrived. At this point, it’s not clear which starters (or reserves) will be available for the Heat (or the Sixers) in Philadelphia on Tuesday and Thursday. Butler is listed as questionable for the first game with the same ankle issue that kept him out of their two-game series with the Bucks.
Week 4: @ PHI, @ PHI, vs. DET
Last Week: 17 ↑
Pace: 104.5 (4) OffRtg: 112.4 (9) DefRtg: 107.2 (7) NetRtg: +5.3 (4)
The Nets are wacky. One one hand, they have comfortable (or blowout) wins over the Warriors, Celtics, Jazz and Sixers. Two of those came in the first few days of the season (when Golden State was the worst team in the league), but the other two came in the last week. They have the league’s fourth best point differential (both per game and per 100 possessions) and are one of three teams — the 8-3 Lakers and the 7-3 Suns are the others – that rank in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency.
On the other hand, the Nets are 5-6, with two losses to the Grizzlies without Ja Morant, along with losses to the Hornets, Hawks (who have since lost four straight), Wizards and Thunder. Kevin Durant returned from a three-game absence and scored an efficient 36 points on Sunday, but the Nets were outscored by 13 in his 10:19 on the bench and couldn’t stop Shai Gilgeous-Alexander or Hamidou Diallo. Defensive rebounding has been a consistent issue, but OKC’s 66 points in the paint (25.5 more than they had averaged prior to Sunday) didn’t come with a single second-chance point.
The Nets miss Kyrie Irving (on personal leave for the last three games), but he’s not going to help much on that end of the floor and the league’s No. 2 offense is in town on Tuesday.
Week 4: vs. DEN, @ NYK, vs. ORL
Last Week: 16 ↑
Pace: 102.7 (7) OffRtg: 113.6 (5) DefRtg: 111.6 (23) NetRtg: +2.0 (10)
On Tuesday, the Blazers became the first team this season to lose a game it led by at least 20 points, blowing a 20-point, second-quarter lead to Chicago. The collapse began with a nearly six-minute scoreless stretch in that second period, and bench minutes continue to be an issue beyond that. The Blazers have been outscored by 13.1 points per 100 possessions in CJ McCollum’s 131 minutes on the bench. So on Thursday and Saturday, the Blazers took leads (over the Wolves and Kings) of more than 30 points, outscoring the two teams by 34 in 29 total minutes with the Portland starters on the floor, to prevent another collapse. They’re one of three teams — the Bucks (4) and Clippers (3) are the others — that have led three or more games by at least 30 points.
Though they’ve had Jusuf Nurkic from the start this season, the Blazers remain a jump-shooting team. Only 40% of their shots, the league’s second lowest rate, have come in the paint. Nurkic’s 13.4 field goal attempts per 36 minutes are his lowest rate since he was a rookie in Denver, and his free throw rate (22.0 attempts per 100 shots from the field) is the lowest of his career (and down from 44.2 before he got hurt in 2018-19). But the Blazers have a top-five offense for the third straight season because they’ve taken care of the ball (they rank second in turnover rate) and have shot well from the perimeter (fifth in effective field goal percentage from outside the paint).
Their last six games have come against teams that rank in the bottom nine defensively and they don’t play a team that currently ranks in the top 10 defensively until they host the Knicks (!) on Jan. 24.
Week 4: vs. TOR, @ SAC, vs. IND, vs. ATL
Last Week: 26 ↑
Pace: 101.6 (13) OffRtg: 106.8 (22) DefRtg: 107.8 (10) NetRtg: -1.0 (16)
On Friday, LaMelo Ball was one assist shy of becoming the youngest player in NBA history to record a triple-double. No worries, though. He went and did it 24 hours later, registering 22 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists (with just one turnover) in the Hornets’ win over the Hawks. And Ball hasn’t just been putting up numbers. The Hornets won both games even though their starting lineup was outscored by 18 points in its 19 total minutes. On Friday, Ball was a part of the Hornets’ 32-14 run to close the win over his brother’s team. And on Saturday, he had seven points and four assists as the Hornets took control against Atlanta with a 17-6 run to close the first half.
Gordon Hayward made a little personal history in the Hornets’ first win over the Hawks last week, scoring a career-high 44 points in Atlanta on Wednesday. Charlotte had Hayward setting a lot of ball screens for Ball and Devonte’ Graham to get him matched up with Trae Young or just to get the Hawks scrambling, and it worked more often (see here, here and here) than not.
The Hornets played a lot of zone in both games against the Hawks, and have played the most zone in the league (17 possessions per game), according to Synergy tracking. They rank as the fourth most improved defensive team, having allowed 5.0 fewer points per 100 possessions than they did last season, so it’s working so far. But they have yet to play a team that currently ranks higher than ninth offensively and won’t have a game against any team in the top eight until they play a two-game series against the Pacers on Jan. 27 and 29.
— NBA (@NBA) January 10, 2021
Week 4: vs. NYK, vs. DAL, @ TOR, @ TOR
Last Week: 9 ↓
Pace: 98.9 (25) OffRtg: 106.9 (21) DefRtg: 106.7 (6) NetRtg: +0.2 (14)
After a 4-2 start, the Pelicans have lost three straight, and all three losses were pretty tough to swallow. They blew a six-point lead in the final 21 seconds of regulation (thanks to a brutal backcourt turnover) against Indiana on Monday, lost to the Thunder after allowing a late offensive rebound on Wednesday, and blew an 18-point lead to Charlotte on Friday. Offensively, it seemed that if the weren’t missing 3-pointers (they rank last in 3-point percentage), they were turning the ball over (27th in turnover rate). Defensively, if they weren’t letting their opponents run (27 fast break points from OKC), they were letting them clean up the glass (26 second chance points from Charlotte).
Bench minutes continue to be an issue. The Pelicans haven’t trailed after the first six minutes of the game since opening night in Toronto, but they’ve won the first six minutes of the second quarter just twice. Jaxson Hayes’ minutes (in which they’ve been outscored by 15.3 points per 100 possessions) have not been good, and Zion Williamson’s minutes at center (-21.4 per 100 possessions) have been worse, with turnovers (28 in those 47 minutes with Williamson at the five) again being a problem. Steven Adams, who recorded his first career triple-double on Wednesday, has been critical on both ends of the floor.
There are five seven-game road trips in the first-half schedule, the Pelicans have one of the five, and it begins Monday in Dallas.
Week 4: @ DAL, @ LAC, @ LAL, @ SAC
Last Week: 27 ↑
Pace: 101.7 (12) OffRtg: 108.1 (20) DefRtg: 110.1 (18) NetRtg: -2.1 (20)
A lot of teams are doing the two-game, Staples Center, Clippers-Lakers (or Lakers-Clippers) trip to L.A. this season, and the Spurs are the first team to win both games. They scored 118 points per 100 possessions on both nights, getting at least one double-figure scoring night from seven different guys. DeMar DeRozan didn’t shoot particularly well (8-for-22) in his hometown, but he did have 14 assists with just two turnovers over the two games. After averaging 3.1 assists in nine seasons with the Raptors, DeRozan has averaged 6.0 in his two-plus seasons with the Spurs. This season, he’s at a career-high 7.0 while also registering a career-low turnover rate of just 5.1 per 100 possessions.
And DeRozan got his buckets in Minnesota on Saturday, scoring 38 points (tied for his high with the Spurs) in an overtime victory. He had the team’s final nine points of regulation, with the highlight being a ridiculous and-one that gave the Spurs the lead with less than a minute to go. His 26 clutch points this season rank third in the league and he was missed down the stretch on Sunday, as the Spurs lost the second game of the two-game series with the Wolves, shooting 3-for-10 on clutch shots.
— San Antonio Spurs (@spurs) January 10, 2021
Week 4: @ OKC, vs. HOU, vs. HOU
Last Week: 13 ↓
Pace: 100.7 (16) OffRtg: 106.1 (25) DefRtg: 108.4 (15) NetRtg: -2.4 (21)
The Magic have been hit hard by the injury bug, and none hits harder than the torn ACL suffered by Markelle Fultz on Wednesday. It remains unclear if Fultz is a starting point guard in this league and he was still struggling with his shot (10-for-44 from outside the paint), but his ability to get into the paint (he leads the Magic in drives per game by a wide margin) isn’t easily replaced. And if that’s a player’s best skill, a bad knee injury can be more debilitating than it would be otherwise.
The Magic were bringing rookie Cole Anthony along slowly, but now he’s the starting point guard. He’ll have playmaking help with the eventual return of Evan Fournier (who has missed the last 5 1/2 games), but he’ll also need to start making some shots. At 34.2%, Anthony has the worst effective field goal percentage among 214 players with at least 50 field goal attempts through Sunday. He hasn’t been able to get to the basket much (only 15 of his 98 shots have come in the restricted area) and he’s just 8-for-35 (23%) in floater range (non-restricted-area paint shots).
Week 4: vs. MIL, @ BOS, @ BOS, @ BKN
Last Week: 10 ↓
Pace: 97.8 (28) OffRtg: 101.2 (30) DefRtg: 103.1 (1) NetRtg: -1.9 (19)
With a slew of injuries, the Cavs don’t have a lineup that’s played more than 33 minutes together. And they were in a situation (no Darius Garland, Collin Sexton, Matthew Dellavedova or Dante Exum) on Thursday and Saturday where Damyean Dotson, who averaged 2.4 assists per 36 minutes through his first three years in the league, was their starting point guard. But these are the new Cavs, with the league’s … checks notes … double-checks … one more time just to be sure … No. 1 defense. So they were able to win ugly in Memphis on Thursday, getting a huge chase-down block from Isaac Okoro in the final minute to preserve the win.
They lost an ugly one to the Bucks on Saturday. After scoring 111.9 points per 100 possessions through their first three games, they’ve scored just 96 per 100 over their last seven. Cedi Osman has an effective field goal percentage of just 34% on almost 13 shots per game over that stretch. The Cavs are first in the percentage of their shots that have come in the paint (60%), but 29th in field goal percentage in the paint (51.0%). Andre Drummond ranks second in the league with 108 attempts in the restricted area, but his field goal percentage there (52.8%) is that of a small guard.
Week 4: vs. MEM, vs. UTA, vs. NYK, @ WAS
Last Week: 28 ↑
Pace: 101.1 (15) OffRtg: 103.5 (29) DefRtg: 107.9 (11) NetRtg: -4.4 (26)
The Thunder starters have played the most minutes (171) of any lineup in the league. But coach Mark Daigneault has been tinkering with his second unit, which now includes second-year big man Isaiah Roby. And though the 19-year-olds (Theo Maledon and Aleksej Pokusevski) are still getting consistent burn, the bench minutes have been strong as the Thunder have won three straight games to climb into playoff position in the West. (Yeah, it’s early.)
Hamidou Diallo is the one guy off that bench that can give OKC some offensive punch, and he had a heck of a homecoming, totaling 48 points on 18-for-27 shooting in wins at Madison Square Garden and Barclays Center over the weekend. Daigneault even used the 6-5 guard as a roll man on the Thunder’s first possession of the fourth quarter in Brooklyn. Earlier in the week, Diallo had a ridiculous finish against Bam Adebayo.
It’s not clear how long this team can stay near .500, but it can stay in games if it continues to defend the 3-point line as well as it has thus far. The Thunder are the only team that ranks in the top five in both opponent 3-point percentage (33.8%, fifth) and the (lowest) percentage of its opponents’ shots that have come from 3-point range (34%, second). All of this week’s four opponents rank in the bottom half of the league in the percentage of their shots that have come from beyond the arc, but they’re all in the top 11 in 3-point percentage.
Week 4: vs. SAS, vs. LAL, vs. CHI, vs. PHI
Last Week: 22 ↑
Pace: 97.8 (29) OffRtg: 103.8 (28) DefRtg: 107.4 (8) NetRtg: -3.6 (24)
Nikola Jokic was a little too much for them to handle on Sunday and they continue to yield a high volume of shots at the rim, but the Knicks’ defense remains in the top 10. The Hawks, Jazz and Thunder all made less than a third of their 3-point attempts against the Knicks last week. Immanuel Quickley came up with a key rip against Trae Young, and Donovan Mitchell shot 8-for-23 without a single free throw attempt as Austin Rivers took the Knicks home with 14 fourth-quarter points on Wednesday.
Julius Randle continues to consistently fill the boxscore, now averaging 23.2 points, 11.8 rebounds (fifth in the league) and 7.1 assists (10th). His 25-for-45 (56%) from mid-range is the second best mark among 37 players with at least 25 mid-range attempts. But his teammates had a rough weekend offensively. Knicks not named Randle shot 34%, including 12-for-42 (29%) from 3-point range in losses to the Thunder and Nuggets. Those were the fourth and fifth times that they’ve scored less than a point per possession this season, and they’re next three games are against teams that also rank in the top 10 defensively
Week 4: @ CHA, vs. BKN, @ CLE, @ BOS
Last Week: 11 ↓
Pace: 101.5 (14) OffRtg: 112.4 (10) DefRtg: 109.6 (17) NetRtg: +2.7 (9)
The Hawks have gone from 4-1 (with only a narrow loss in Brooklyn) to 4-5, with losses to the Cavs, Knicks and Hornets (x2). After scoring 121 points per 100 possessions through their first five games, they’ve scored just 101 per 100 over their last four. Trae Young and Cam Reddish have combined to shoot 32%, including 9-for-47 from 3-point range (Young has missed his last 12 3-point attempts), over the losing streak, and they’ve scored less than 90 points per 100 possessions in Young’s 46 minutes off the floor over the four games. They’re still without Danilo Gallinari (set to be reevaluated this week), and Bogdan Bogdanovic suffered an avulsion fracture in his right knee in their loss in Charlotte on Saturday.
Three of the four losses (all except the one in Charlotte on Saturday) were close. But the struggling offense came up empty down the stretch, shooting 5-for-24 (21%) with zero trips to the line, on 26 clutch possessions. Their last six games have been against teams that rank in the top 10 defensively, but that stretch continues with games against the Sixers (second) and Suns (fifth) this week.
Week 4: vs. PHI, @ PHX, @ UTA, @ POR
Last Week: 18 ↓
Pace: 100.4 (21) OffRtg: 110.8 (12) DefRtg: 110.9 (21) NetRtg: -0.1 (15)
The Rockets have reduced their isolations from 22.6 (last season) to 13.5 possessions per game, replacing them mostly with pick-and-rolls. Per Second Spectrum tracking, Christian Wood has set almost twice as many ball screens for James Harden per 36 minutes on the floor together (26.0) as Clint Capela did last season (13.7). But a screen being set for Harden more often doesn’t mean that the Rockets have turned into the 2014 Spurs. Houston is in the bottom four in both ball movement (313 passes per 24 minutes of possession, 27th) and player movement (10.4 miles traveled per 24 minutes of possession, 30th) for the fourth straight season, having seen a small jump in the former and a small drop in the latter.
Harden has seen a reduction in his time of possession and a jump in the percentage of his shots that have been assisted (from 15% to 24%). But he hasn’t exactly turned into Mr. Catch-and-Shoot, still leading the league in pull-up 3-point attempts per game. And over the last three games Harden has been relatively quiet, averaging just 16.7 points on just 13.7 field goal attempts (with only nine total free throw attempts). Part of that is the attention he gets from opposing defenses, but if you just started watching the Rockets recently, you might think that Christian Wood is their best player.
The changes to the offense haven’t had a great effect. The Rockets rank 12th offensively, not good enough considering how bad their defense has been outside of a couple of wins over the Kings and Magic. They’ve scored just 103.2 points per 100 possessions in 130 minutes with Harden and John Wall on the floor together.
Week 4: vs. LAL, @ SAS, @ SAS
Last Week: 21 ↓
Pace: 101.8 (11) OffRtg: 109.3 (16) DefRtg: 110.5 (20) NetRtg: -1.2 (18)
In December, the Raptors ranked 30th offensively and third defensively, combining with their opponents to score just 99 points per 100 possessions over four games. In January, they rank first offensively and 29th defensively, having combined with their opponents to score 119 points per 100 possessions over five games. On the bright side, they’ve been able to get buckets. Fred VanVleet (averaging 22.1, 5.0 and 5.8) just keeps getting better and Pascal Siakam has had four straight not-bad offensive performances, with a career-high 12 assists in their win in Sacramento on Friday. That was the most efficient performance (144 points on 100 possessions) for any team in a game this season.
On the down side, the defense has obviously not been to their standards. It has allowed at least 120 points per possessions more times in January (4) than it did all of last season (3). Chris Boucher seems to be the only center that Nick Nurse is willing to play, but the Raps have been killed on the glass (grabbing just 65.4% of available defensive rebounds) in his minutes on the floor.
Bottom line: The Raptors are 2-7, but with the East’s ninth-best point differential (-1.4 points per game). Their loss to the Warriors on Sunday dropped them to 0-4 (the 0-1 Bucks are the only other team without a win) in games that were within five points in the last five minutes.
Week 4: @ POR, vs. CHA, vs. CHA
Last Week: 25
Pace: 100.7 (18) OffRtg: 103.8 (27) DefRtg: 108.1 (13) NetRtg: -4.3 (25)
The Grizzlies barely scored a point per possession (100.5 per 100) over their four-game homestand. Ja Morant is out and Kyle Anderson has come back down to earth a bit. Their offensive execution down the stretch of close games on Tuesday and Thursday was not good. They scored just 13 points (with six turnovers) on 22 total clutch possessions and down three to Cleveland, the spacing and/or timing was off and their after-timeout play didn’t get a good look. It is kind of wild that they ran a late-game ATO for the 30th pick in this year’s Draft (Desmond Bane, who’s 19-for-39 from 3-point range).
But all four games (including two against the Lakers) of the homestand were within five points in the last five minutes, which means that the defense was pretty good. In fact, the Grizzlies have the league’s No. 1 defense (102.3 points allowed per 100 possessions) in January. They’re the only team to have held the Lakers under a point per possession. And after blowing a 22-point lead to Brooklyn on Friday, the Grizzlies scored (13 points) on six of eight possessions down the stretch to end their three-game losing streak.
Week 4: @ CLE, @ MIN, @ MIN, vs. PHI
Last Week: 23 ↓
Pace: 104.7 (3) OffRtg: 110.6 (13) DefRtg: 115.9 (29) NetRtg: -5.4 (27)
There have been 13 times this season where a team has lost a game in which it scored more than 117 points per 100 possessions. The Bulls had three in the last five days, falling to the Kings, Lakers and Clippers despite 38.3 points per game (on an effective field goal percentage of 70%) from Zach LaVine, a career-high 36 points (along with seven assists and zero turnovers) from Coby White in Sacramento, and big games from Wendell Carter Jr. and Garrett Temple in L.A.
This was a team that combined with its opponents to score just 107.4 points per 100 possessions last season, the league’s second lowest combined mark. This season, the Bulls have the fourth highest combined mark, having combined with their opponents to score 113.3 points per 100. They’ve seen the league’s third biggest jump in points scored per 100 possessions (+4.8) and its biggest jump in points allowed per 100 possessions (+7.0). Jim Boylen must be pulling his hair out watching this.
The Bulls have played eight of their 11 games against teams that rank in the top 11 in offensive efficiency, so there’s reason for some optimism in regard to the defense. They seemingly get a break in that regard after hosting the eighth-ranked Celtics on Tuesday, but the 15th-ranked Mavs’ offense (which they’ll face on Sunday) might be starting to hit its stride.
Week 4: vs. BOS, @ OKC, @ DAL
Last Week: 19 ↓
Pace: 102.4 (8) OffRtg: 108.9 (18) DefRtg: 116.6 (30) NetRtg: -7.7 (29)
There’s a handful of teams playing bad defense early in the season and the Kings have swiftly moved to the top of the list. They held the Suns under a point per possession in their second game of the season, but have since allowed 119.8 per 100 over an eight-game stretch (worse than any eight-game stretch they had last season). The Kings rank in the top six in both defensive rebounding percentage and opponent free throw rate, but they’re not forcing many turnovers and their opponents have shot a league high 62.1% in the paint. That number is 68.4% with Marvin Bagley III (who ranks as the league’s worst high-volume rim protector) on the floor.
Bagley had his best game of the season (21 points, 12 rebounds, two blocks) and the Kings managed to get a win over the Bulls on Wednesday. But two nights later, they lost a game in which they held a 19-point lead and registered an effective field goal percentage of 66%. The Raptors’ 144 points on 100 possessions was the most efficient game for any team this season. The Kings lost all eight quarters and never led in their other two games last week, they’ve lost five of six, and their schedule isn’t getting easier any time soon.
Week 4: vs. IND, vs. POR, vs. LAC, vs. NOP
Last Week: 29 ↑
Pace: 99.5 (22) OffRtg: 106.4 (24) DefRtg: 112.0 (24) NetRtg: -5.7 (28)
Killian Hayes is going to miss some time (maybe a lot) with a labral tear in his right hip that he suffered in Milwaukee on Monday. Even without the rookie point guard, Blake Griffin’s role in the offense has remained small. He did have 16 points and five assists in the Pistons’ overtime win over the Suns on Friday, but ranks fourth on the team in both usage rate and time of possession. When the Pistons needed a bucket at the end of regulation on Friday, they ran a flare for Jerami Grant, who drove and dished to Mason Plumlee for the game-tying dunk.
Grant’s assist rate (7.8 per 100 possessions used) is down from last season (10.2), but he did have a season-high four assists against Utah on Sunday, and he has seen a jump in scoring efficiency (true shooting percentage) with a huge jump in usage rate. Though fewer of his buckets have been assisted, he’s remained a strong finisher at the rim (69% in the restricted area) and he’s totaled 30 free throw attempts over the last three games.
The Pistons’ game against the Bucks on Wednesday is the end of a stretch of eight straight against teams that currently have winning records.
Week 4: vs. MIL, vs. WAS, @ MIA
Last Week: 24 ↓
Pace: 107.0 (1) OffRtg: 111.9 (11) DefRtg: 114.7 (27) NetRtg: -2.8 (23)
Thought it may feel like Thomas Bryant has been around for a while, he’s just 23 years old. So he should have a long career after recovering from the ACL tear he suffered in the Wizards’ loss to Miami on Saturday. Still, it’s a devastating injury for a skilled offensive center who was coming into his own, averaging 15.9 points on an effective field goal percentage of 70% through Friday. His screen-setting chemistry with Bradley Beal was a critical part of the Wizards’ offensive success and a reason why Beal scored 101 total points in narrow losses to the Sixers and Celtics last week.
Narrow losses are the theme for the Wizards. Seven of their eight defeats have been within five points in the last five minutes. They’ve scored almost 114 points per 100 possessions on non-clutch possessions, but just 52 points on 62 clutch possessions (84 per 100), with Beal and Russell Westbrook shooting a combined 8-for-30 on clutch shots.
More minutes for Robin Lopez should help a defense that has allowed the lowest percentage of opponent shots in the restricted area (just 20%), but still ranks 26th in opponent 2-point percentage (49.5%), while giving their opponents a league-high 33.7 free throw attempts per 100 shots from the field. The Wizards have yet to play an offensive possession with Davis Bertans at center (which means that they could still get a lot more fun to watch).
Week 4: vs. PHX, vs. UTA, @ DET, vs. CLE
Last Week: 30
Pace: 102.2 (9) OffRtg: 105.5 (26) DefRtg: 114.8 (28) NetRtg: -9.3 (30)
The same two teams can play in the same arena on back-to-back nights and play two entirely different (but close) games. On Saturday, the Spurs and Wolves combined to score 114 points per 100 possessions in an overtime barn-burner won by the Spurs. On Sunday, they combined to score just 93 per 100 in a pitcher’s duel won by the Wolves. The simple context is that both DeMar DeRozan and Karl-Anthony Towns (back from a six-game absence) played in the first game, while neither played in the second.
The Wolves also got Josh Okogie back for the second game (Towns’ return didn’t end their losing streak, but Okogie’s did). D’Angelo Russell didn’t settle, scoring a season-high 10 points in the paint, with the most critical of those coming on a rare moment of acceleration into a short pull-up midway through the fourth quarter. The Russell/Towns pick-and-roll (or pop) did get the Wolves two huge 3s (one, two) at the end of regulation on Friday, and with that in mind, a timeout was probably in order before Anthony Edwards threw the ball away on the final possession of OT.
That Towns is back matters more than the rookie mistake. And while the Wolves didn’t play their star (still nursing that wrist injury) in the second game of the back-to-back, they’re playing just two games over the next seven days and don’t have another back-to-back until Games 16 and 17.
Week 4: vs. MEM, vs. MEM