LeBron James and the Lakers lead the NBA with an 11-3 record.
As difficult and strange as this season has been, things seem pretty darn normal at the top of the standings. In the Eastern Conference, the Milwaukee Bucks lead the way at 9-4, having won seven of their last eight. And in the West, the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers are back where they belong at 11-3, having won nine of their last 10.
So, with both teams healthy (and with our fingers crossed), it’s a great time for a showdown. The Bucks and Lakers’ first meeting of the season is Thursday in Milwaukee (7:30 ET, TNT). It’s the start of a seven-game trip for the Lakers and the start of a three-game homestand for the Bucks. And maybe it will play a role in the early-season MVP narrative.
Before they get to that one, the Lakers and Bucks each have another marquee game on Monday, part of TNT’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day tripleheader. The Bucks are in Brooklyn to check out James Harden’s new fit (7:30 ET) and the Lakers are hosting the Warriors (10 ET).
All those games should help determine the top spot in next week’s Power Rankings. This week, it still belongs to the champs.
Plus-Minus Players of the Week
Teams of the Week
- Make It Last Forever: Utah (3-0) — The Jazz are rolling again, and their win in Denver on Sunday was a quality W.
- Something Just Ain’t Right: Orlando (0-3) — The Magic made things interesting in Brooklyn on Saturday, but they got destroyed by the shorthanded Celtics the night prior.
East vs. West
Schedule Strength through Week 4
- Toughest: 1. Charlotte, 2. Detroit, 3. Memphis
- Easiest: 1. Philadelphia, 2. Phoenix, 3. Orlando
- 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: Memphis (+10), Toronto (+7), Brooklyn (+6)
- Free falls of the week: Orlando (-7), Miami (-6), Three teams (-4)
Week 5 Team to Watch
- Brooklyn — James Harden made a splash (a 30-point triple-double) in his debut, and the Nets should (might?) get Kyrie Irving back this week. The showcase game is Monday night against the 9-4 Bucks (7:30 ET, TNT). But the Nets will then travel to Cleveland for two games (Wednesday and Friday) against the league’s No. 2 defense (still weird) before returning home to face the Heat on Saturday (7:30 ET, NBA TV).
Previous 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 100.8 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes and 109.7 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.
Pace: 100.4 (19) OffRtg: 114.9 (4) DefRtg: 104.0 (1) NetRtg: +11.0 (1)
The Lakers don’t seem to be messing around anymore. They’ve won nine of their last 10 games and they’ve led each of their last four by at least 25 points. They had a stretch of two hours, 21 minutes and 25 seconds of game time last week where they never trailed. And when they got off to a slow start against the Pelicans on Friday, they outscored them, 82-50, over the final 30 1/2 minutes.
This four-game dominance has come without overwhelming offense from LeBron James (who has yet to score 30 points this season) or Anthony Davis (who’s missed his last nine shots from outside the paint). The Lakers have held those last four opponents just 98 points per 100 possessions, including just 93 per 100 in 58 minutes with their starting lineup on the floor and less than 82 per 100 in the first quarter. They’ve turned things up on the perimeter, forcing 16.8 turnovers per 100 possessions, up from 12.4 through their first 10 games. Their opponents have also shot just 30% from 3-point range, down from 35%.
After hosting the Warriors on Monday, the league’s No. 1 defense begins a seven-game trip through the Eastern Conference with a game (on TNT Thursday) against the league’s No. 1 offense.
Week 5: vs. GSW, @ MIL, @ CHI
Pace: 102.0 (8) OffRtg: 117.8 (1) DefRtg: 107.4 (7) NetRtg: +10.4 (2)
For the second straight season, the Bucks rank last in the percentage of their games (just two of the 13) that have been within five points in the last five minutes. The first of the two was the opener in Boston, when Giannis Antetokounmpo missed a free throw that would have sent the game to overtime. The second didn’t came until Friday, when Antetokounmpo shot 1-for-10 at the line and an 11-3 Dallas run had the Bucks down two with 2:30 left.
At that point, they went to Khris Middleton, who drained two straight 3-pointers to put them up for good. Middleton has some tricks in his bag and has ranked as one of the league’s best pull-up jump shooters over the last two seasons, but he shot just 31.6% on clutch shots over those two years. That mark ranked 110th among 112 players with at least 50 clutch field goal attempts over the last two seasons (including playoffs), with new teammate Jrue Holiday (29.6%) ranking 112th.
Over the two close games thus far, the Bucks have scored 22 points on 20 clutch possessions. Hopefully we’ll see some more as they visit the Nets on Monday and host the Lakers on Thursday. Both games are on TNT at 7:30 p.m. ET.
Week 5: @ BKN, vs. LAL, vs. WAS, vs. ATL
Pace: 97.8 (27) OffRtg: 117.5 (2) DefRtg: 110.9 (20) NetRtg: +6.6 (3)
The Clippers are on fi-yah, having shot better than 50% from 3-point range over their four-game winning streak. Six different Clips have made at least six 3-pointers and 71 of their 75 3-pointers have been assisted over the four games, with Paul George accounting for all four of the unassisted bombs. George is now 53-for-104 (51%) from beyond the arc for the season, and it’s not like he’s some specialist getting open looks when his playmaking teammates bend the defense. He’s shooting 48% on more than three pull-up 3-point attempts per game, while also draining some difficult shots inside the arc.
The Bucks have scored almost two more points per 100 possessions more than the Mavs did last season, and the Clippers are now right on their tail, with their next game against the team that currently ranks as the worst defense of the last 25 years. More important is that, despite how dominant the Lakers have been, they’re just one game ahead of the Clippers (who currently hold the tiebreaker) in the standings. The remaining two LA-L.A. meetings will both be in the second half of the schedule.
Week 5: vs. SAC, vs. OKC, vs. OKC
Pace: 100.2 (20) OffRtg: 110.8 (12) DefRtg: 109.0 (14) NetRtg: +1.7 (11)
Kemba Walker was not great (3-for-13, five turnovers in less than 20 minutes) in his season debut on Sunday, he took a hard elbow to the ribs right before he hit his minutes limit, and the Celtics got trounced by a team that had lost five straight. But that Walker is healthy far outweighs any of the details from Sunday, like the fact that it was the least efficient game for any team this season. We don’t know when Jayson Tatum will be back, but the Celtics are still in second place in the East after three postponements and an easy win over the Magic on Friday.
Upon his team’s return from six days off, coach Brad Stevens separated Tristan Thompson and Daniel Theis, with Theis coming off the bench for the first time since the first game of last season. Even after the 30-point loss on Sunday, the numbers have been much better (plus-8.2 points per 100 possessions in 125 total minutes) with either of the centers on the floor with Grant Williams (starting in Tatum’s place for now) than they have been with the two centers on the floor together (minus-17.3 in 103 minutes).
Week 5: @ PHI, @ PHI, vs. CLE
Pace: 97.4 (28) OffRtg: 112.3 (8) DefRtg: 108.7 (13) NetRtg: +3.6 (6)
Before they had three games postponed, the Suns suffered their first defeat in a game that wasn’t within three points in the final minute. That loss to the previously 2-8 Wizards wasn’t within 20 in the final minute, because the Suns scored 15 points in the first quarter, shot 4-for-27 from 3-point range, and allowed 128 points on just 96 defensive possessions, their worst defensive performance of the season thus far.
Chris Paul has three on-off titles in the last six seasons and, in the 13 seasons for which we have on-off data, his team has never been fewer than 5.1 points per 100 possessions better with him on the floor than it’s been with him off the floor. So the Suns’ on-off numbers through 11 games – they’ve have been 17.8 points per 100 possessions better with Paul off the floor – are among the wackiest stats of the first four weeks. That differential starts with the Suns’ starting lineup having allowed 116.6 points per 100 possessions, the second worst mark among 15 lineups that have played at least 100 minutes together. The bigger on-off differential belongs to Deandre Ayton, with Phoenix having allowed 25.1 fewer points per 100 possessions with him off the floor (91.7) than it has with him on the floor (116.8).
Ayton is playing against opposing starters, but that’s a huge differential. Phoenix opponents have shot better and more often at the basket with Ayton on the floor and, though he ranks high among individuals in defensive rebounding percentage, the Suns’ defensive rebounding percentage has been lowest with Ayton on the floor. So he could use some help on the glass, and might need some help defending Nikola Jokic in two games against the Nuggets this week.
Week 5: @ MEM, @ HOU, vs. DEN, vs. DEN
Pace: 99.0 (24) OffRtg: 111.7 (9) DefRtg: 106.5 (6) NetRtg: +5.1 (5)
Since their ugly, 0-2 stay in New York, the Jazz have won five straight games, with impressive wins in Milwaukee and Denver sandwiching some TCB (takin’ care of business) against the Pistons, Cavs and Hawks. Joe Ingles has missed four of the five games, but the Utah starting lineup has been dominant (plus-21 points per 100 possessions over the five games), Jordan Clarkson remains a model of consistency, and Miye Oni (the 58th pick in last year’s Draft) has filled in admirably for Ingles.
Through four weeks, the Jazz are one of three teams — the Lakers and Bucks are the others — that rank in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency. This is what some thought they could be last season, but they never really put it together defensively before getting torched by Jamal Murray in the playoffs. (Murray did score 30 points on Sunday, but he wasn’t all that efficient in doing so.) The Jazz rank in the top five in opponent field goal percentage in the paint (fifth), opponent effective field goal percentage from outside the paint (fourth, and opponent free throw rate (second).
They begin a six-game homestand on Tuesday and their next four games are against teams that rank in the bottom 10 offensively. But Zion Williamson and Stephen Curry provide a couple of unique challenges for that sixth-ranked defense.
Week 5: vs. NOP, vs. NOP, vs. GSW
Pace: 103.0 (5) OffRtg: 114.4 (5) DefRtg: 109.1 (15) NetRtg: +5.3 (4)
The Nets have allowed 117.0 points per 100 possessions over their last five games, quickly sliding from fifth to 15th in defensive efficiency. The 115 points on 103 possessions that Orlando scored on Saturday was the Magic’s best offensive performance since their 4-0 start. The trade for James Harden made the Nets much less mobile defensively, not only with the addition of Harden (in the bottom two in average speed on defense for the fifth straight season), but also with the departure of Jarrett Allen and the need for DeAndre Jordan to play more minutes. The defensive numbers weren’t great with Jeff Green at center prior to the trade (115.5 points allowed per 100 possessions in 49 total minutes), but that’s the way the Nets closed the game on Saturday, and they got the requisite stops.
The offense should be ridiculous, especially if the Nets can climb out of the bottom 10 in turnover rate. Kevin Durant is shooting 82% in the restricted area, 49% between the restricted area and the 3-point line, and 52% from beyond the arc. And his job just got a little bit easier. While we may wonder how the offense is going to work when Harden, Durant and Kyrie Irving are all on the floor, we should remember that the Nets can have at least two of the three on the floor for the entire game in the playoffs and two of the three in uniform whenever one needs a regular-season day off. Irving’s eventual return (maybe Monday against the Bucks) should have Harden and Durant playing fewer minutes than they did on Saturday (40 apiece). The Nets have a back-to-back on Friday and Saturday.
Week 5: vs. MIL, @ CLE, @ CLE, vs. MIA
Pace: 100.9 (15) OffRtg: 111.3 (11) DefRtg: 107.8 (9) NetRtg: +3.5 (7)
The Victor Oladipo era is over before we ever got to see the Pacers’ five best players on the floor together for an extended stretch. Over 88 total games since the acquisitions of Malcolm Brogdon and T.J. Warren in 2019, Oladipo, Brogdon, Warren, Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner played a total of 129 minutes together. (Ten lineups have already played more minutes than that this season.) Speaking of never seeing an extended stretch of time, new Pacer Caris LeVert is dealing with another setback, this one (a mass discovered on his kidney) more serious than any leg or hand injury. Since he dislocated his ankle in Nov. 2018, LeVert’s longest stretch of action without a major interruption has been just 31 games.
The Pacers, of course, remain one of the toughest teams in the league. And they got a couple of good wins at Golden State and Portland last week, despite continued struggles (31% over their four-game trip) from 3-point range. Before losing Turner to a hand injury, they outscored the Warriors and Blazers, 118-62, in the paint. Sabonis has missed 12 straight 3-pointers, but has averaged more points in the paint (15.7) than Giannis Antetokounmpo and is 13-for-13 on double-doubles.
Week 5: vs. DAL, vs. ORL, vs. TOR
Pace: 103.6 (4) OffRtg: 108.9 (16) DefRtg: 105.7 (3) NetRtg: +3.2 (8)
You might not appreciate Joel Embiid’s 85% from the free throw line until you see Dwight Howard shoot 2-for-8 (including 0-for-4 in the fourth quarter) of a game the Sixers lose by two without Embiid. That loss in Memphis dropped Philly to 0-3 without their starting center, who is 9-for-14 on clutch shots and 11-for-12 on clutch free throws after their wild win over the Heat on Tuesday. He drained a pull-up jumper to send the game to overtime, made all five of his free throws down the stretch, and scored a season-high 45 points. Embiid completely dominated a stretch of the third quarter (acting as a pick-and-roll ball-handler at one point) in which the Sixers scored 36 points on 16 possessions.
Embiid’s absence was an opportunity to play Ben Simmons with four capable shooters around him. But in 14 total minutes with Simmons on the floor without any of their centers this season, the Sixers have scored just 25 points on 35 offensive possessions. With their game in Oklahoma City on Sunday getting postponed because of their inability to suit up eight guys, it doesn’t seem like they’ll have a full rotation any time soon.
Week 5: vs. BOS, vs. BOS, @ DET
Pace: 101.3 (12) OffRtg: 113.3 (7) DefRtg: 112.7 (26) NetRtg: +0.5 (13)
Two days after Jusuf Nurkic suffered a wrist fracture that will have him out at least eight weeks (into the second half of the season), CJ McCollum suffered a sprained left foot. It’s not clear how long McCollum will be out (he won’t play Monday) and the Blazers’ schedule remains relatively soft for the next couple of weeks, but Damian Lillard now has a heavier load to carry.
He’s probably up for it, though. Lillard’s pick-and-roll efficiency last season (1.15 points per possession) was historically good, and it’s a tick higher (1.17) this season. When the Blazers needed a bucket to seal a win in Sacramento on Wednesday, he gave De’Aaron Fox a subtle Smitty and then blew past him for a layup. In 111 minutes with Lillard on the floor without McCollum and Nurkic thus far, the Blazers have outscored their opponents by 3.0 points per 100 possessions, not far off their mark in 243 minutes with all three on the floor together (+3.4 per 100). In his first start on Saturday, Enes Kanter had five blocks and two steals, and the Blazers held Atlanta to just 57 points on 65 possessions in his 29 minutes.
The Blazers got thumped by the Pacers on Thursday, but they’ve won five of their last six. They still need Robert Covington and Derrick Jones Jr. (29.7% combined from 3-point range) to start making some shots.
Week 5: vs. SAS, vs. MEM, vs. MEM, vs. NYK
Pace: 99.5 (22) OffRtg: 108.1 (18) DefRtg: 105.9 (4) NetRtg: +2.2 (10)
It’s not a good time for the Mavs to be so beset by injuries and COVID-19-related absences. Their loss to the Bulls on Sunday, in which they were without six rotation guys, was the start of a stretch where they’re are scheduled to play 12 games (with four back-to-backs) in 19 days. It’s also not good that, despite 36 points, 16 rebounds and 15 assists from Luka Doncic, the aforementioned stretch began with a 16-point loss to a team that had lost four straight.
But it’s encouraging that the Dallas defense remains in the top five after a couple of games in which there wasn’t much offense beyond that which Doncic produced. That their opponents have shot just 31.4% (the league’s second lowest opponent mark) from 3-point range is a reason not to believe too much in the Mavs’ defensive improvement. That the Mavs have seen a big drop in the percentage of their opponents possessions that have been in transition, from 16.4% (fifth highest) last season to 14.0% (sixth lowest) this season), is a reason to believe in the improvement. Good defense starts with stopping the break, and if they’re doing a better job of that despite their own offensive struggles, that’s a great sign. Playing the second game of a back-to-back with a depleted roster against the Raptors (second in transition possessions per game) will challenge that transition defense, though.
Week 5: @ TOR, @ IND, @ SAS, vs. HOU
Pace: 98.5 (25) OffRtg: 115.4 (3) DefRtg: 112.5 (25) NetRtg: +2.9 (9)
Nikola Jokic has played a career-high 35.5 minutes per night, has averaged a triple-double, has the third-highest true shooting percentage (66.2%) among 42 players with a usage rate of 25% or higher, and has registered a positive plus-minus in 10 of the Nuggets’ 13 games. But the Nuggets are not 10-3. They’re 6-7, in part because they’ve been outscored by almost 12 points per 100 possessions in Jokic’s 173 minutes on the bench. In a four-point loss to the Jazz on Sunday, Denver was outscored by 10 points in 8:10 with their Kia MVP candidate off the floor. It may be time to fully stagger the minutes of Jokic and Jamal Murray, so that one is on always on the floor for non-garbage minutes. (They did that in the second half on Sunday, when Jokic played 20:40 and Murray played 21:31.)
It also may be time for the Nuggets to figure some things out defensively. They rank last in opponent field goal percentage in the restricted area (70.0%) and 26th in opponent 3-point percentage (39.1%). Aside from two December defeats at the hands of the Kings, the Nuggets have only lost to good teams. But to be (among) the best, you’ve got to beat the best. Two weekend games in Phoenix are opportunities to do just that.
Week 5: vs. OKC, @ PHX, @ PHX
Pace: 104.7 (3) OffRtg: 106.4 (24) DefRtg: 110.2 (19) NetRtg: -3.8 (24)
Stephen Curry scored 35 points on 14-for-23 shooting in Denver on Thursday, and the Warriors were still held under a point per possession for the fifth time this season, with Curry’s own seven turnovers being an issue. Curry’s efficiency is down this season, but his true shooting percentage of 61.0% still ranks second among the nine players with a usage rate of 30% or higher. Yet, the Warriors’ starting lineup has scored just 92.8 points per 100 possessions, the worst mark (by a healthy margin) among the 15 lineups that have played at least 100 minutes. Among those 15 lineups, it’s in the bottom two in effective field goal percentage, turnover ratio, and offensive rebounding percentage.
Draymond Green ranks second in assist ratio, but remains reticent to shoot, averaging just 5.4 field goal attempts per 36 minutes (fourth fewest in the league). Kelly Oubre has shot 6-for-15 from 3-point range over the last two games, but is still below 20% from beyond the arc for the season. Andrew Wiggins is shooting a career-best 37% from 3-point range, but a career-worst 53% in the restricted area. James Wiseman is 4-for-26 (15%) on non-restricted-area shots in the paint and has attempted almost as many 2-point shots from 18 feet or beyond (6-for-13) as 3-pointers (6-for-15). The Warriors’ offense has thus far been at its best in (limited) minutes with Curry and brother-in-law Damion Lee on the floor together.
The Warriors rank 24th offensively with nine of their 12 games having come against teams that currently rank in the bottom 10 on defense. They’ll get their first looks at a couple of top-five defenses (those of the Lakers and Jazz) this week.
Week 5: @ LAL, vs. SAS, vs. NYK, @ UTA
Pace: 101.5 (11) OffRtg: 107.5 (21) DefRtg: 107.9 (10) NetRtg: -0.4 (14)
Over their last eight games, the Spurs have committed 63 fewer turnovers and averaged almost 10 more scoring opportunities (field goal attempts or trips to the line) than their opponents. Unfortunately, they haven’t been able to take advantage of scoring opportunities as well as they did last season. Only the Pistons have seen a bigger drop in effective field goal percentage, with LaMarcus Aldridge (from 53.2% to 46.4%) and DeMar DeRozan (from 53.5% to 48.6%) among high-volume individuals who’ve seen significant drops. Between them, Aldridge and DeRozan missed three shots for the tie or the lead after the Spurs blew a late, nine-point lead against the Rockets on Thursday.
But the Spurs have kept themselves in games (their last five have been within five in the last five minutes) with improved defense. They’ve seen the league’s sixth biggest drop in points allowed per 100 possessions, back in the top 10 defensively (barely) after dropping from fourth three seasons ago to 24th last season. They’ve seen the league’s biggest drop in the percentage of their opponents’ shots that have come from 3-point range and one of its biggest jumps in opponent turnover rate.
Dejounte Murray’s offense has been up and down, but he remains a pest on defense. And the interior numbers are much better when Jakob Poeltl (back among the league’s best rim protectors) is on the floor. Over their last four games, San Antonio opponents have scored less than 87 points per 100 possessions (136 on 157) in Poeltl’s 73 minutes.
Week 5: @ POR, @ GSW, vs. DAL, vs. WAS
Pace: 100.5 (18) OffRtg: 104.9 (27) DefRtg: 106.2 (5) NetRtg: -1.2 (18)
Ja Morant (17 points and six assists in a win over Philly) returned ahead of schedule on Saturday and the Grizzlies got a winning streak started ahead of Morant’s return. They’ve won four straight, despite averaging a league-low 8.5 3s per game over the streak. As was the case last season, the Grizzlies do their work in the paint, and they’ve outscored their opponents by 82 points in the paint (250-168) over the four games. It’s as much about the defense (opponents have shot a league-low 52.6% in the restricted area over the streak) as it is the offense. In the last two weeks, the Grizzlies have climbed from 20th to fifth in defensive efficiency.
If the Grizzlies are going to continue to dominate the paint this week, they’ll have to do it without Jonas Valanciunas, who’s been sidelined by the league’s health and safety protocols. They’re still without Jaren Jackson Jr., but rookie Xavier Tillman has been holding his own as the back-up center. He’s totaled 27 points over the last two games (shooting floaters better than Brandon Clarke) and the Grizzlies have outscored their opponents by 13.3 points per 100 possessions in his 137 minutes on the floor, with Tillman having registered a positive plus-minus in all seven of his games thus far.
Week 5: vs. PHX, @ POR, @ POR, vs. SAC
Pace: 101.5 (11) OffRtg: 107.5 (21) DefRtg: 107.9 (10) NetRtg: -0.4 (14)
Zion Williamson is 0-for-5 from outside the paint this season, but silly jump shots would have ruined the highlight package from Sunday, when Williamson sent Richaun Holmes flying into the front row, threw down a pair of thunderous dunks, and launched himself into one incredibly acrobatic finish from behind the backboard (the soft “look at that” from Doug Christie at the end of that highlight is just so perfect) on his way to 31 points. Williamson was 11-for-11 in the restricted area against the Kings’ dreadful defense and the Pelicans put an end to a five-game losing streak with their most efficient offensive performance of the season.
The Pelicans will need more from Williamson in the paint if they’re going to make up for what they’re giving up from the perimeter. They’re averaging seven fewer possessions per 48 minutes than the Bucks did last year, but (at 15.8) they’re on pace to destroy Milwaukee’s record for most 3-pointers allowed per game (14.0). With their offensive ranking in the bottom six in both 3-point percentage (33.4%, 26th) and the percentage of their shots that have come from 3-point range (35.5%, 25th), the Pelicans have been outscored by an incredible 16.8 points per game from beyond the arc. JJ Redick is starting to warm up (12-for-29 from 3 over the last four games), but perimeter shooting (on both ends of the floor) is likely to remain a major issue.
The Pelicans’ six-game trip (originally scheduled to be a seven-game trip) continues with two games against the only team that ranks in the top five in both 3-point percentage and the percentage of their shots that have come from 3-point range.
Week 5: @ UTA, @ UTA, @ MIN
Pace: 101.0 (14) OffRtg: 110.3 (14) DefRtg: 111.1 (22) NetRtg: -0.8 (16)
In their two-game series against the Hornets, the Raptors were outscored, 90-56, in the paint. But they’ve really been chuckin’ ’em from deep, taking more than half of their shots from 3-point range and making at least 40% of their 3-pointers in each of their last three games. Even before those three games, they led the league in the percentage of their shots that came from 3-point range. Now (at 49.3%) they’re seemingly on the path to being the first team outside of Houston to take more than half its shots from beyond the arc over a full season.
Chris Boucher (15-for-26 from deep over the last six games) has been one of the Raptors lighting it up. Doing a lot more than shooting 3-pointers, he leads the league in effective field goal percentage (minimum 100 field goal attempts) and is looking like a real Sixth Man of the Year candidate thanks to the token minutes that coach Nick Nurse has been giving his starting center (Alex Len or Aron Baynes). The Raptors have outscored their opponents by 6.9 points per 100 possessions with Boucher on the floor and by 17.0 per 100 in 75 total minutes with Pascal Siakam at the five.
The defensive numbers with Siakam at center are particularly good, but the overall defense (more than 110 points allowed per 100 possessions in seven of their last eight games) still isn’t where it needs to be as the Raptors take their first winning streak into a 10-day stretch — six games against the Mavs, Heat (x2), Pacers (x2) and Bucks — that could really make or break their season.
Week 5: vs. DAL, vs. MIA, vs. MIA, @ IND
Pace: 102.1 (7) OffRtg: 106.7 (23) DefRtg: 111.0 (21) NetRtg: -4.3 (26)
A bevy of absences have provided opportunities for the next group of little-known Heat players who will probably be contributing to playoff wins in the future. Gabe Vincent is a brazen gunner (11.3 3-point attempts per 36 minutes) and totaled 45 points and 11 assists in their two-game series in Philadelphia, with one ridiculous pull-up fadeaway 3 out of the right corner. Max Strus (who’s either Duncan Robinson light or Duncan Robinson heavy, depending on whether we’re talking about skills or body type) totaled 19 points in the same two games. And KZ Okpala scored 16 points (shooting 4-for-5 from 3-point range) against Detroit on Saturday.
Alas, the Heat lost all three games. They were unable to get the one stop they needed at the end of that wild overtime game in Philly on Tuesday. And they proceeded to score just 103 points per 100 points per 100 possessions over the other two, despite getting some bodies back on Saturday. Only three teams — the Mavs, Thunder and Cavs — have seen a bigger drop in points scored per 100 possessions from last season and the Heat’s turnover issue (they have 61 total over the losing streak) hurts them on the other end. According to Synergy tracking, they’ve seen the league’s biggest jump in the percentage of their opponents’ possessions that have come in transition, from 14.1% (third lowest) last season to 17.9% (fourth highest) this season.
Week 5: vs. DET, @ TOR, @ TOR, @ BKN
Pace: 100.2 (21) OffRtg: 107.5 (22) DefRtg: 107.9 (11) NetRtg: -0.4 (15)
The Hornets’ offense has picked up. After scoring 103.9 points per 100 possessions (27th in the league) through their first eight games, they’ve scored 112.6 per 100 over their last six. This was a team really looking to push the ball early on and they’ve still seen the league’s third biggest jump in pace (possessions per 48 minutes) from last season, but the offensive improvement has come with them slowing things down quite a bit. Gordon Hayward (averaging 22.2 points per game for the season on 49% from the field, 41% from 3 and 93% from the line) has made a habit out of punishing guards on switches. Terry Rozier is once again near the top of the league in catch-and-shoot 3-point percentage (47.2%).
Without Hayward on Thursday, Miles Bridges and P.J. Washington missed wide-open 3s for the tie. Two nights later, they couldn’t get the ball to Hayward in the post against Kyle Lowry on the biggest possession of the game. The Hornets’ starting lineup has scored just 100.4 points per 100 possessions, the second worst mark among 15 lineups that have played at least 100 minutes. And when it registered a plus-24 in 19.3 minutes on Saturday, the Hornets were outscored by 27 points with in less than 29 minutes with at least one reserve on the floor.
The Hornets are in the middle of their only three-day break of the first-half schedule and 14 of their next 18 games are at home. The next four — against the Wizards, Bulls and Magic (two games in Orlando) — are a real opportunity to establish themselves as the best team in that group.
Week 5: vs. WAS, vs. CHI, @ ORL
Pace: 101.3 (13) OffRtg: 103.6 (29) DefRtg: 110.0 (18) NetRtg: -6.4 (28)
With (mostly) empty arenas, home teams are just 93-96 this season. The Thunder, who generally have one of the loudest buildings in the league, encapsulate the funkiness of the situation, with the league’s second-best road record (5-1) and (along with the Wizards) its worst home record (1-5). That latter mark was well on its way toward 0-6 on Friday, when the Thunder trailed the Bulls by as many as 22 points and by 16 with less than five minutes left. But they scored 19 points on their final 10 possessions of regulation (with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander providing the game-tying heroics) to send the game to overtime, where Mike Muscala drained two 3-pointerss (off nearly identical pick-and-pop actions with Gilgeous-Alexander) to cap a wild win.
Muscala (backing up Isaiah Roby with Al Horford out) wasn’t the only non-starter on the floor down the stretch. Kenrich Williams was there in place of Darius Bazley and had a few big buckets (along with the steal that really got the run going) down the stretch. He’s been in and out of the rotation and played more minutes with Gilgeous-Alexander on Friday (22) than he had prior to that (13), but the Thunder have allowed just 90.3 points per 100 possessions in Williams’ 145 minutes on the floor. That’s the second-lowest on-court mark among 328 players who’ve averaged at least 10 minutes in five games or more.
Week 5: @ DEN, @ LAC, @ LAC
Pace: 96.6 (30) OffRtg: 104.9 (28) DefRtg: 107.6 (8) NetRtg: -2.7 (21)
The Knicks ended a five-game losing streak with their second Sunday win over one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference, thumping the Celtics in a matinee in Boston. The Cs’ 75 points on 97 possessions were the least efficient game for any team this season and got the Knicks back into the top 10 in defensive efficiency after they allowed more than 117 per 100 over their losing streak.
The Knicks’ own offense remains pretty anemic. But they could give it a boost if they just took better advantage of the stops they’re getting and played with more pace. They’re not exactly walking the ball up the floor on every possession, but semi-transition opportunities often get stopped by the need to feed Julius Randle, who ranks fourth in the league with 51.9 frontcourt touches per game.
According to Second Spectrum tracking, the Knicks rank last in the percentage of their shots that have come in the first six seconds of the shot clock (8.7%), when they have an effective field goal percentage of 64.5%. And they lead the league in the percentage of their shots that have come in the last six seconds of the shot clock (20.1%), when they have an effective field goal percentage of just 49.8%. That 49.8% ranks third (and Randle leads the league with 23 buckets) in the last six seconds, but no team should want to be playing late in the clock so often.
Week 5: vs. ORL, @ GSW, @ SAC, @ POR
Pace: 101.6 (10) OffRtg: 109.6 (15) DefRtg: 108.6 (12) NetRtg: +1.0 (12)
Trae Young has seen the second biggest drop in in the percentage of his shots that have come from 3-point range (from 45.5% to 32.9%) among 112 players with at least 300 field goal attempts last season and at least 100 this season. But the Hawks still need him to make some of those 3-pointers, and he’s shot a brutal 7-for-37 (19%) from beyond the arc as they’ve lost six of their last seven games. He hasn’t been much better inside the arc (42% in the restricted area), none of his teammates have shot particularly well from deep, and only the Cavs have scored less efficiently than the Hawks (101.1 points per 100 possessions) over that stretch.
The Hawks’ starting lineup still has strong numbers (+13.1 points per 100 possessions). Danilo Gallinari, who has played less than 28 minutes this season, is closer to a(nother) return. And this team (the darling of the league when it was 4-1) needs to get some wins this week, because the schedule gets real tough after three games against the Wolves and Pistons.
Week 5: vs. MIN, vs. DET, @ MIN, @ MIL
Pace: 97.3 (29) OffRtg: 100.8 (30) DefRtg: 105.0 (2) NetRtg: -4.2 (25)
The Cavs got involved in the James Harden trade and snagged Jarrett Allen for a Draft pick (the Bucks’ 2022 first rounder) that lost value when Giannis Antetokounmpo signed his extension last month. They’re going to have to pay Allen this offseason (when he’s a restricted free agent), but he does good things on both ends of the floor. His 76% in the restricted area ranks third among 59 players with at least 50 restricted-area attempts, he’s added more polish to his finishing, and he’s become very good at kicking out to open shooters when he draws weak-side defenders in the paint. Defensively, he’s a mobile big who ranked among the best rim protectors last season.
Of course, the Cavs already have a center who ranks 10th in the league in usage rate. In the Cavs’ first game since the trade, Andre Drummond racked up 33 points and 23 rebounds, with two steals and another key deflection down the stretch to seal a three-point win over the Knicks. That ended a stretch of nine games over which the Cavs scored just 95.2 points per 100 possessions (with no more than 102 points per 100 in any of the nine).
Allen could make his Cleveland debut against his old team, and we’ll see how J.B. Bickerstaff manages the minutes of his two centers (having already played Drummond and JaVale McGee together for 33 minutes). More important is that the Cavs get their starting backcourt back. Collin Sexton was set to start last Monday’s game against Memphis, but was a late scratch and proceeded to miss the next two games as well. He’s missed five straight overall, while Darius Garland has missed the last seven.
Week 5: vs. BKN, vs. BKN, @ BOS
Pace: 100.7 (16) OffRtg: 107.5 (20) DefRtg: 109.7 (16) NetRtg: -2.1 (20)
It’s a new day (yes, it is) in Houston. The Rockets got a slew of picks and swaps in exchange for James Harden, but the “young talent” aspect of the trade was obviously underwhelming. Victor Oladipo will help them defensively and they still have a relatively competent group of vets, but that group is currently banged up and sitting in 13th place in the Western Conference. The Rockets have scored less than a point per possession in three of their last four games.
Undrafted rookies Jae’Sean Tate and Mason Jones took advantage of the injuries (and trade-related absences) last week. Tate had 10 assists and some deft finishes in the paint in the Rockets’ win in San Antonio on Thursday. Two nights later, Jones scored 24 points (shooting 6-for-8 from 3-point range) in a loss in the same building. The Rockets have three of the 11 undrafted rookies who have played at least 15 total minutes this season.
Oladipo is set to make his Rockets debut in Chicago on Monday, but John Wall (the only real point guard on the roster beyond the out-for-the-season Chris Clemons) remains out. So Oladipo may be running the offense after one practice with his new team.
Week 5: @ CHI, vs. PHX, @ DET, @ DAL
Pace: 100.6 (17) OffRtg: 105.4 (26) DefRtg: 111.6 (24) NetRtg: -6.2 (27)
The 6-2 Magic have become the 6-7 Magic with a five-game losing streak in which they’ve been outscored by almost 23 points per 100 possessions. The offense, playing without Evan Fournier, was pretty anemic over the first four losses, but more concerning for the Magic is the other end of the floor, where they ranked eighth and 11th in coach Steve Clifford’s first two seasons in Orlando. The 123.4 points per 100 possessions they’ve allowed over the losing streak is the most they’ve allowed in any five-game stretch in Clifford’s tenure in Orlando.
The Magic defense remains stout in regard to limiting trips to the line and second-chance opportunities. But after allowing a league-low 16.6 transition points per game last season, it’s in the middle of the pack in transition points allowed this year. The Magic also rank 27th in opponent field goal percentage in the paint (59.0%). Cole Anthony is showing some progress offensively and already has some nice pick-and-roll/pop chemistry (see here, here and here) with Nikola Vucevic, but this team can’t afford defensive slippage.
Week 5: @ NYK, @ MIN, @ IND, vs. CHA
Pace: 104.8 (2) OffRtg: 110.3 (13) DefRtg: 113.9 (27) NetRtg: -3.6 (22)
The Bulls have led each of their last four games (including games against the Lakers and Clippers) by double-digits. But they went into Dallas on Sunday having lost four straight, with the lowlight being an epic collapse (from up 16 with 4:30 left) in Oklahoma City on Friday night. Only the Raptors (4-6) have more losses than the Bulls (4-4) after leading by double-digits.
But there was no letup on Sunday, when the Bulls built a 19-point lead in the second quarter and never led the game get two within less then nine, even though Zach LaVine had his worst shooting night of the season (1-for-8). LaVine had 10 assists (featuring some terrific passes), Lauri Markkanen scored a season-high 29 points (in his second game back from a long absence), and the Bulls’ bench (with 50 combined points from Otto Porter Jr., Garrett Temple and Thaddeus Young) severely outplayed that of the Mavs.
The Bulls won by 16, despite their starting lineup being outscored by seven points in its 17.3 minutes. It just got back together with the return of Markkanen on Friday, but for the season, that lineup — Coby White, LaVine, Patrick Williams, Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr. — has been outscored by 17.3 points per 100 possessions, the worst mark among 21 lineups that have played at least 75 minutes together.
Week 5: vs. HOU, @ CHA, vs. LAL
Pace: 99.2 (23) OffRtg: 107.6 (19) DefRtg: 111.3 (23) NetRtg: -3.8 (23)
The Pistons remain a scrappy team (six of their nine losses have been within five points in the last five minutes) and they no longer have to play the Bucks, having already been swept in the season series. They sit in 15th place in the East, but now have wins over the Celtics, Suns and Heat, with the common denominator in those three wins being defense. They’ve allowed less than a point per possession over the three victories and just 104.1 per 100 over their last four games overall. That mini-stretch doesn’t quite correspond to Killian Hayes’ injury, but since Delon Wright’s move into the starting lineup, the Pistons have allowed less than a point per possession in 146 minutes with Wright and Jerami Grant on the floor together. Wright also has 29 assists and just two turnovers over those five games.
Grant is one of four players — Giannis Antetokounmpo, Anthony Davis and Joel Embiid (pretty good company!) are the others — averaging at least 20 points, one block and one steal per game. His six assists (including a couple of savvy pick-and-roll feeds) in Miami on Saturday tied a career high. His pull-up shooting (effective field goal percentage of 39.3%) has not been good, but he’s been efficient (60.4%) off the catch.
Week 5: @ MIA, @ ATL, vs. HOU, vs. PHI
Pace: 106.0 (1) OffRtg: 113.6 (6) DefRtg: 114.4 (28) NetRtg: -0.8 (17)
Six positive cases. Four games postponed. The Wizards had played Boston (three games postponed), Miami (shorthanded for the remainder of the week) and Phoenix (three games postponed) prior to their own shutdown.
The Phoenix game was the Wizards’ best win of the season, a wire-to-wire victory in which the Washington bench helped blow the game open late in the first quarter and midway through the second. Garrison Mathews has gotten some regular playing time over the last three games and the Wiz have outscored their opponents by 41 points in his 55 minutes over that stretch. He’s a shooter (7-for-13 from 3-point range over the last two games), but he also gets after it defensively (see below), leading the team with 3.4 deflections per 36 minutes (while also averaging five fouls per 36). Mathews is on a two-way contract, but at this point, he certainly deserves a longer look in the rotation.
Week 5: @ CHA, @ MIL, @ SAS
Pace: 101.7 (9) OffRtg: 111.7 (10) DefRtg: 120.5 (30) NetRtg: -8.8 (29)
The Kings made things interesting against the Pelicans on Sunday and held a 19-point, second-half lead (before losing it rather quickly) against the Blazers on Wednesday, because their offense has been pretty good. De’Aaron Fox has been flying down the court, looks to have an improved jumper (though 11-for-40 from mid-range is a little rough), and scored a career-high 43 points on Sunday.
The other end of the floor is another story …
There have been five games this season where a team has scored more than 136 points per 100 possessions. Three of those five most efficient performances – from the Raptors, Blazers and Clippers – have come against the Kings in the last 10 days. The Pelicans couldn’t quite make it to that level on Sunday, but they still shot 53% from the field and 11-for-22 from beyond the arc.
Sacramento is now last in defensive efficiency with a bleeping bullet, having allowed 5.5 more points per 100 possessions than the 29th-ranked Wolves and a whopping 10.8 more than the league average. The biggest differential over the 24 seasons for which we have play-by-play data is 8.2 per 100 more than the league average (from the 1998-99 Nuggets).
Week 5: @ LAC, vs. NYK, @ MEM
Pace: 102.2 (6) OffRtg: 105.5 (25) DefRtg: 115.0 (29) NetRtg: -9.5 (30)
Karl-Anthony Towns was only two games back from a wrist injury when he announced Friday that he tested positive for the virus that killed his mother in April. Every case needs to be taken seriously (these are much more than one or two-week absences that teams just need to get past), but this one hits hardest.
The Wolves actually got just one game with both Towns and Josh Okogie in the lineup, but they were outscored by 16 points in less than 14 minutes with Towns off the floor and blew a 12-point, fourth-quarter lead to Memphis on Wednesday. The Grizzlies’ 80 points in the paint were a franchise record, the most in a game for any team this season, and further evidence that the Wolves’ interior defense is poor. They’ve allowed a league-high 53.1 points in the paint per 100 possessions and they also rank 28th in defensive rebounding percentage. And before they go seeking better defenders, the guys they have could do a better job of getting back in transition, where only the Kings have allowed more points per game.
Week 5: @ ATL, vs. ORL, vs. ATL, vs. NOP