Power Rankings, Week 6: Jazz, Sixers enter Top 5 as first quarter of the season comes to a close
See how all 30 teams rank after the first five weeks of the NBA season.
It’s Week 6, the time where we hit the halfway mark of the first-half schedule (on Wednesday) and when 25% of the full, 1,080-game, 2020-21 schedule will have been played. That will be Friday, unless several more games are postponed.
The quarter pole is usually when teams can make a real determination of where they stand. But things are obviously different this season. Not only have there been postponements and extended absences due to the coronavirus, but this is the first season of the new play-in rules.
So instead of drawing just one line after the top eight teams in each conference, we have to imagine two lines: one that separates the top six from the rest of the group, and another for the play-in teams from seventh to 10th place. That makes everything more cloudy, especially in the East, where the defending conference champs currently sit in 13th place at 6-9. Only five East teams have winning records and those 13th-place Miami Heat are just a game and a half behind the sixth-place Cleveland Cavaliers.
The situation in the West is a little more clear and perhaps a lot more sobering for the 5-10, 14th-place New Orleans Pelicans. Where things are really interesting is at the top, where the LA Clippers, Los Angeles Lakers and Utah Jazz all have just four losses.
Those three teams lead this week’s rankings, with the champs remaining at the top for the sixth straight week after a big win in Milwaukee. They’ll play the other two teams at the top of the East standings this week, while the Jazz will have a few big games within the conference.
Plus-Minus Players of the Week
- Right Way: Mike Conley (UTA) was a plus-89 in three games last week.
- Wrong Way: Eric Bledsoe (NOP) was a minus-49 in three games last week.
Teams of the Week
- Make It Last Forever: Philadelphia (3-0) — The Sixers are 9-0 when they’ve had both Seth Curry and Joel Embiid available, and the Lakers are coming to town.
- Something Just Ain’t Right: New Orleans (0-3) — The Pelicans lost two games to the red-hot Jazz, but they finished their six-game trip with a loss in Minnesota, trailing by as many as 18 points to a team that was 3-11 and missing its two former All-Stars.
East vs. West
- The West is 43-31 (.581) against the East in interconference games after going 7-6 last week.
Schedule Strength through Week 5
- Toughest: 1. Charlotte, 2. Oklahoma City, 3. Memphis
- Easiest: 1. Orlando, 2. Philadelphia, 3. Atlanta
- 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: Denver (+6), Five teams (+5)
- Free falls of the week: New Orleans (-9), Phoenix (-6), Three teams (-4)
Week 6 Team to Watch
- Dallas — The ninth-place Mavs should be getting some bodies back this week as they face the most important stretch of their first-half schedule. They host the Nuggets on Monday before heading out for a pair of games in Utah on Wednesday and Friday. Then they’re back home for two games against the Suns on Saturday and next Monday.
Previous Power Rankings
- Thursday’s notebook: Bucks tweak offense, Nets’ Big 3 debuts and early on-off court leaders
- This time last year: Thunder, Sixers on the rise as NBA world mourns the loss of Kobe Bryant — LeBron James passed Kobe Bryant for third on the all-time scoring list. About 15 hours later, Bryant along with his daughter Gianna and seven others were killed in a helicopter accident.
- 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 100.7 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes and 109.8 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: 100.8 (15) OffRtg: 113.4 (6) DefRtg: 103.6 (1) NetRtg: +9.8 (1)
The Lakers let one get away (they led by 14 points in the fourth quarter) against the Warriors on Monday. But they held on (after almost losing an 11-point, fourth-quarter lead) in Milwaukee on Thursday, holding the league’s No. 1 offense to one of its least efficient games of the season. The Bucks actually outscored the Lakers, 54-18, in the restricted area, but L.A. was a +30 from beyond the arc, where Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and LeBron James combined to shoot 13-for-20.
Caldwell-Pope hit some of the biggest, game-in-the-balance shots in the win, including a corner 3 that gave the Lakers a five-point lead with 2:42 left. He’s getting fewer minutes (23.3 per game) than he did last season (25.5), but he’s made the most of them. Though he’s playing less than half the game, he’s tied fourth in the league in cumulative plus-minus, with the Lakers having outscored their opponents by 146 points with him on the floor. The 22.7 points per 100 possessions that they’ve outscored their opponents by with him on the floor is the highest on-court mark among 293 players who’ve averaged at least 15 minutes per game. KCP’s effective field goal percentage of 71.6% ranks third among 223 players with at least 75 field goal attempts.
There are seven Eastern Conference teams at or above .500. The Lakers are playing five of the seven on their seven-game trip and the next big one is Wednesday in Philadelphia, where they got thumped a year ago.
Week 6: @ CLE, @ PHI, @ DET, @ BOS
Last Week: 3 ↑
Pace: 98.3 (28) OffRtg: 116.8 (2) DefRtg: 109.1 (16) NetRtg: +7.7 (3)
The Clippers are in first place in the West, thanks to a seven-game winning streak and that opening-night win over the Lakers giving them the head-to-head tiebreaker. Paul George finally cooled off (shooting just 4-for-13) on Sunday, but Kawhi Leonard has been equally good, averaging 29.1 points on an effective field goal percentage of 64% (plus 97% at the line) over the streak. He’s still not getting to the basket all that much, but he’s made the most of his excursions to the rim, making 29 straight shots in the restricted area (which is just ridiculous) before missing off a spin move in the fourth quarter on Sunday.
Despite shooting 1-for-5 from 3-point range on Sunday, Nicolas Batum ranks sixth in effective field goal percentage among players with least 100 field goal attempts, up there with a few centers, Duncan Robinson and Joe Harris. In a back-and-forth battle, the Clips’ starters (+25.4) has the edge over the Lakers’ (+23.7) for the best point differential per 100 possessions among lineups that have played at least 100 minutes. Patrick Beverley did miss the second half on Sunday with a right knee issue.
The Clippers have two back-to-backs on a six-game trip that begins Tuesday in Atlanta. Leonard played both games of their most recent back-to-back (Jan. 5 and 6), but this will be a five-games-in-seven-days stretch starting Thursday.
— John Schuhmann (@johnschuhmann) January 21, 2021
Week 6: @ ATL, @ MIA, @ ORL, @ NYK
Last Week: 6 ↑
Pace: 99.5 (22) OffRtg: 113.7 (5) DefRtg: 106.8 (4) NetRtg: +6.9 (4)
The Jazz have the league’s first eight-game winning streak of the season, with seven of the eight wins having come by double-digits. They led the Warriors by 40 on Saturday, and they rank in the top three on both ends of the floor over the course of the streak. Utah’s starting lineup has outscored its opponents by more than 38 points per 100 possessions in 129 minutes over the eight games.
Donovan Mitchell got off to a slow start and his pick-and-roll ball-handler efficiency (0.86 points per possession) still ranks low among high-volume guys. But the last three games (29.0 points per game on a true shooting percentage of 73%) have been his most efficient stretch of the season. He opened the Jazz’s second of two wins over New Orleans with a slick change of direction against Lonzo Ball, he pulled up from 3 when the Pelicans gave him space (see below for how he created space against Zion Williamson), and his five assists included a couple of darts (one, two) in the third quarter.
The Jazz rank second in both 3-point percentage (40.3%) and the percentage of their shots that have come from 3-point range (47.1%), and they’ve shot 40% or better on at least 37 3-point attempts in each of their last five games. One of their worst shooting games of the season (14-for-44 from deep) came against the Knicks in New York, and they can avenge that loss on Tuesday.
Week 6: vs. NYK, vs. DAL, vs. DAL, @ DEN
Last Week: 9 ↑
Pace: 103.0 (4) OffRtg: 110.4 (12) DefRtg: 106.3 (3) NetRtg: +4.1 (6)
The Sixers are close to #FullSquad (Mike Scott has missed the last four games with a knee issue), with Seth Curry returning from a seven-game absence over the weekend. They’re 12-2 (with five straight wins) with Joel Embiid and now 9-0 when they’ve had their full starting lineup. Embiid was listed as questionable with a back issue for their game in Detroit on Saturday, but he played and gave the Pistons 33 and 14 after totaling 80 points and 21 boards in two wins over the Celtics.
You always want to see more of Embiid’s shots coming at the basket, but his shooting numbers away from the hoop make it a much different discussion this season. Through his first four seasons in the league, Embiid’ field goal percentage in the paint was 58%, while his effective field goal percentage on shots from outside the paint was just 44%. This season, he’s at 59% in the paint and 60% outside it. He’s shot 40% from beyond the arc and an amazing 37-for-63 (59%) from mid-range. That’s the best mark among 44 players with at least 35 mid-range attempts. He leads the league with 12.2 post-ups per game and looks extremely comfortable facing up.
The Sixers are still low on quality wins. The two victories over the Celtics last week are their only two within the group of 17 teams that are currently at or above .500. So games against the Lakers (Wednesday) and Pacers (Sunday) are ones to watch.
Week 6: @ DET, vs. LAL, @ MIN, @ IND
Last Week: 2 ↓
Pace: 101.9 (7) OffRtg: 117.9 (1) DefRtg: 108.9 (12) NetRtg: +9.0 (2)
There are two teams that haven’t beat one of the 13 teams that currently have winning records. Those two winless teams against the top 13 are the Magic (0-5) and the Bucks (0-4), who were outscored, 102-60, from 3-point range (shooting 20-for-65) over losses to the Nets and Lakers last week.
The Bucks have three terrific perimeter defenders, but it’s fair to wonder why Giannis Antetokounmpo spent most of Monday guarding Jeff Green. According to tracking data, the reigning Kia MVP actually defended Bruce Brown (58 seconds) for as much time as he guarded James Harden (30 seconds) and Kevin Durant (28 seconds) total. Harden and Durant combined to score 64 points, LeBron James had 34 on Thursday with Jrue Holiday taking on the bulk of that assignment, and the Bucks allowed more than 115 points per 100 possessions in their three games last week to slide back out of the top 10 defensively.
The Hawks had a winning record before the Bucks beat them on Sunday, scoring 129 points on just 98 possessions against a defense that remains in the top 10 (though it was without its rim protector in Milwaukee). That “record vs. teams that currently have winning records” is a bit of a moving target. This week’s opponents are all at least two games under .500, though the Raptors are on the come up and will challenge Milwaukee’s 3-point defense. Nine of the Bucks’ next 11 scheduled games are on the road, where they’re just 3-4.
Week 6: @ TOR, @ NOP, @ CHA
Last Week: 12 ↑
Pace: 98.4 (26) OffRtg: 114.9 (3) DefRtg: 110.8 (20) NetRtg: +4.1 (5)
Jamal Murray is dealing with an elbow issue and has shot 8-for-34 (24%) from 3-point range over the last five games. But he hit the 3 the Nuggets needed (after getting away with a travel) to send a second straight game in Phoenix to overtime. Friday’s was an offensive affair (120 combined points per 100 possessions), while Saturday’s was a defensive struggle (101 per 100), and the Nuggets won them both. Since their 1-4 start, they’re 8-3, with only three narrow losses to Dallas, Brooklyn and Utah. They’ll play two of those teams again this week.
Most encouraging is that the Nuggets rank ninth defensively over that stretch. And while Nikola Jokic is no longer averaging a triple-double (with only 20 over his last three, his assists have dipped to 9.6 per game), the Nuggets have outscored their opponents by 23 points in his 49 minutes on the bench over their three-game winning streak. Michael Porter Jr. made his return from a 10-game absence over the weekend and was one of two reserves (Monte Morris was the other) on the floor down the stretch on Saturday. The Nuggets have outscored their opponents by 18.3 points per 100 possessions in 123 minutes with Morris, Murray and Jokic on the floor together.
Week 6: @ DAL, @ MIA, @ SAS, vs. UTA
Last Week: 4 ↓
Pace: 100.5 (16) OffRtg: 112.2 (9) DefRtg: 109.6 (17) NetRtg: +2.6 (8)
Despite the absence of Payton Pritchard, the Celtics got a good win over the Cavs on Sunday, scoring 141 points on 108 possessions against what had been the league’s second-ranked defense. They’re fortunate that Kemba Walker made his return before Pritchard was lost to an MCL sprain last week. Walker scored a season-high 21 points in less than 24 minutes on Sunday, only to be topped by Jaylen Brown’s 33 in 19:14. The Celtics’ two-center lineup reunited to neutralize Andre Drummond’s All-Star campaign, though it couldn’t stop JaVale McGee’s coast-to-coast, through-the-legs-from-the-back fast break. (It would be fun to send this paragraph back to mid-December and see the reactions.)
Prior to the win over Cleveland, the Celtics dropped two straight games in Philly. They may have two veteran centers with defensive reputations, but they have no answer for Joel Embiid, who has scored 37 points or more in four of his last six regular-season games against the Celtics. The final Boston-Philly meeting this season will be in Boston in the second half of the schedule.
The Celtics still have 20 games to go in the first-half schedule, and they’re expected to get Jayson Tatum back from a five-game absence when they visit the Bulls on Monday. With Walker sitting out the second game of the back-to-back, they’ll have to wait until Wednesday to play their first game together this season.
Week 6: @ CHI, @ SAS, vs. LAL
Last Week: 7 ↓
Pace: 102.8 (5) OffRtg: 114.9 (4) DefRtg: 111.8 (25) NetRtg: +3.0 (7)
The Cavs entered their two-game series with Brooklyn having barely scored a point per possession over their first 13 games. Then they scored 124.2 per 100 over 106 minutes against the Nets, Cleveland’s two most efficient games of the season. There was no stopping Collin Sexton in overtime on Wednesday, but there were some brutal examples of poor effort earlier in the game that could have prevented it from getting to that point. The Nets have allowed more than 110 points per 100 possessions in nine straight games, with only Sacramento and New Orleans ranking worse defensively over that stretch.
The Nets continue to beat good teams. They outlasted the Bucks on Monday (with Kevin Durant draining the go-ahead 3), despite Milwaukee getting 21 more shots thanks to a huge turnover discrepancy (17-6) and Milwaukee’s 11 offensive boards. Brooklyn has a top-five offensive almost entirely because its shooting has been so ridiculous. With Joe Harris (65.3%) Durant (61.3%) and Irving (61.0%) all in the top 16 in effective field goal percentage among 171 players with at least 100 field goal attempts, the Nets have the highest team mark (57.7%) of all-time.
After hosting the Heat again on Monday, the Nets will have played 13 of their 19 games at home. Starting with their visit to Atlanta on Wednesday, they’re scheduled to play 10 of their next 13 on the road, a stretch that ends with two games in L.A.
Week 6: vs. MIA, @ ATL, @ OKC, @ WAS
Last Week: 10 ↑
Pace: 100.8 (14) OffRtg: 113.2 (7) DefRtg: 114.0 (28) NetRtg: -0.8 (17)
Robert Covington and Derrick Jones Jr. have combined to shoot 27% from 3-point range (they’re 3-for-27 over the last three games) and though the Blazers have allowed just 107.7 points per 100 possessions in their 319 minutes on the floor together, Portland still ranks 28th defensively. So it’s fair to say that the two biggest roster additions haven’t made the anticipated impact. Yet this team sits in fourth place in the Western Conference at 9-6.
With CJ McCollum out, the Blazers’ two leading scorers beyond Damian Lillard are Carmelo Anthony (12.1 points per game on an effective field goal percentage well below the league average) and Gary Trent Jr. (just 10.8 points per game). Yet the Blazers just had their third most efficient game of the season against a team (New York) that ranks fifth defensively.
Of course, at 9-6, the Blazers are just a game and a half ahead of the 10th-place Warriors. They’ve won six of their last eight games, but have been outscored by 29 points over their last six. Without McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic, the margin for error is thin. But the strength of schedule over the next few weeks is favorable. The Blazers’ longest road trip of the first-half schedule (six scheduled games over 11 days) does begin Thursday in Houston.
Week 6: vs. OKC, @ HOU, @ CHI
Last Week: 15 ↑
Pace: 100.4 (17) OffRtg: 105.3 (26) DefRtg: 106.1 (2) NetRtg: -0.8 (16)
Riding a five-game winning streak — with victories over Brooklyn, Cleveland, Philly and Phoenix — the Grizzlies have had five straight games (including two scheduled for this week) postponed.
Tyus Jones’ minutes have been much better during the winning streak than they were previously (the Grizzlies were outscored by 18 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor through Jan. 7), and he hasn’t seen any kind of hiccup upon moving back to the bench with the return of Ja Morant. The Grizzlies closed their win over Phoenix on Monday with Jones and Morant on the floor together and Jones tied the game with a wild runner over Deandre Ayton. Morant then fed Grayson Allen for the go-ahead 3, put the Grizz up three again with a gorgeous lefty scoop around Ayton, and drew a charge on Chris Paul.
After losing four of their first five games that were within five points in the last five minutes, the Grizzlies have won four straight, holding their opponents to just 24 points on 35 clutch possessions, with almost as many turnovers (nine) as field goals (10). It’s in forcing turnovers where their defense (still No. 1 in January) has seen the most improvement: from 16th last season to fourth this season. Dillon Brooks (4.0) and Jones (3.6) both rank in the top 16 in deflections per 36 minutes among 182 players who’ve played at least 300 minutes total.
Week 6: vs. CHI, @ SAS
Last Week: 5 ↓
Pace: 97.7 (29) OffRtg: 110.5 (11) DefRtg: 108.7 (10) NetRtg: +1.8 (12)
The Suns probably lead the league in late-game frustration, with six of their seven losses having been within three points in the final minute of the fourth quarter. Last week’s near misses featured a missed dunk from Devin Booker during a late, 11-2 Memphis run on Monday, a go-ahead jumper from Chris Paul that rimmed out on Friday, and Abdel Nader’s 1-for-3 trip to the line before Jamal Murray’s game-tying 3 on Saturday. With the Nuggets winning the season series, 2-1, those two overtime losses in the span of 27 hours could come back to bite Phoenix, especially since Booker’s hamstring strain (which kept him out on Saturday) was suffered in overtime after the Suns gave away a 14-point lead on Friday.
Of course, the Suns haven’t had any comfortable wins themselves of late. Their last double-digit victory was Dec. 31. They held the Rockets under a point per possession on Wednesday, but still rank 26th defensively in January, with their opponents having shot 40% from 3-point range over their 10 games this month. Their next two games, with Chris Paul facing his former team on Wednesday and Stephen Curry on Thursday, are against two bottom-10 offenses.
Week 6: vs. OKC, vs. GSW, @ DAL
Last Week: 8 ↓
Pace: 100.4 (18) OffRtg: 111.0 (10) DefRtg: 109.0 (14) NetRtg: +1.9 (9)
The Pacers have lost three of their last four games, with the win coming in the final seconds of overtime against an Orlando team that has lost eight of its last nine. This team yields a high volume of shots at the basket; Indiana opponents have taken 36% of their shots, the league’s highest opponent rate, in the restricted area. And in two games without Myles Turner, their rim protection was non-existent, allowing the Clippers and Mavs to score 104 total restricted-area points. The Magic and Raptors totaled only 62 over the weekend with Turner returning and blocking nine shots. But the Magic made a season-high 17 3-pointers on Friday and OG Anunoby scored a season-high 30 points on Sunday.
With Victor Oladipo gone, Caris LeVert on the shelf, and Doug McDermott now in the starting lineup, defense could continue to be an issue. Among 261 players who’ve played at least 200 minutes, only James Wiseman has averaged fewer deflections per 36 than McDermott (0.4).
Even with Jeremy Lamb making his season debut on Wednesday and Turner back over the weekend, coach Nate Bjorkgren played just eight guys (plus 2:31 of Edmund Sumner on Friday) against the Magic and Raptors. He’ll have to hope that doesn’t take a toll in the second game of the two-game, two-day series with Toronto on Monday.
— Indiana Pacers (@Pacers) January 23, 2021
Week 6: vs. TOR, @ CHA, @ CHA, vs. PHI
Last Week: 11 ↓
Pace: 99.8 (21) OffRtg: 108.9 (18) DefRtg: 109.0 (15) NetRtg: -0.1 (14)
The Mavs’ defense survived its first two games without Josh Richardson and Dorian Finney-Smith, probably because those games were against the Magic and Hornets. But it’s slipped from second to 15th over the last 10 days, having allowed more than 116 points per 100 possessions over their last six games. They’ve been giving up more shots at the rim and they’ve seen a huge drop in opponent turnover rate, from 15.6 per 100 possessions over their first 10 games to just 11.7 over the last six. Asking Kristaps Porzingis to defend in space can been an issue (examples one, two).
After getting flummoxed by the Raptors’ box-and-one defense during a critical third-quarter stretch on Monday, the Mavs kept their own turnovers low (14 total) and broke out offensively in road wins over the Pacers and Spurs. Jalen Brunson has been starting, he totaled 35 points and 10 assists in the two wins (hitting a big 3-pointer late on Friday), and Dallas has outscored its opponents by 12 points per 100 possessions in 110 minutes with Brunson and Luka Doncic on the floor together.
Getting some of their guys back this week would be nice, because the Mavs’ next five games are against the Nuggets, Jazz (x2) and Suns (x2).
Week 6: vs. DEN, @ UTA, @ UTA, vs. PHX
Last Week: 13 ↓
Pace: 104.1 (3) OffRtg: 107.1 (24) DefRtg: 110.5 (19) NetRtg: -3.4 (22)
The Warriors’ starting lineup continues to really struggle. It was outscored by 43 points in 46 minutes last week, allowing 142 points on 102 defensive possessions. It remains strange that the Dubs have been better with *Stephen Curry off the floor (-1.4 points per 100 possessions) than they’ve been with him on the floor (-4.6 per 100). Curry has shot a reasonable 14-for-39 (36%) from 3-point range in 161 total minutes with the other four starters on the floor, but the other four guys have shot 15-for-68 (22%) from deep in those same minutes.
* Curry has had four of the 11 largest on-off differentials of the last 13 seasons, and in his last six full seasons, the Warriors have been no less than 12.7 points per 100 possessions better with him on the floor than they’ve been with him on the floor.
The Warriors did pull off a pretty stunning fourth-quarter comeback against the Lakers on Monday. It was stunning in that they trailed the entire night and by nine with less than six minutes to go, and in that Draymond Green actually took (and made) a couple of big shots down the stretch. Kevon Looney was on the floor in place of James Wiseman (who has played just four of the Warriors’ 20 clutch minutes) for most of the comeback.
The Warriors are 8-8 with a worse point differential (-3.6 per game) than that of the 5-10 Pelicans (-3.3). Their loss in Utah on Saturday was the fourth game they’ve trailed by more than 30 points.
Week 6: vs. MIN, vs. MIN, @ PHX, vs. DET
Last Week: 14 ↓
Pace: 101.4 (8) OffRtg: 109.0 (17) DefRtg: 108.6 (9) NetRtg: +0.4 (13)
Mid-range shots account for just 20% of the Spurs’ field goal attempts, down from 32% five years ago. But they still lead the league in total mid-range attempts for a third straight season. And over the last two weeks, they’ve made more than half of their shots from between the paint and the 3-point line. LaMarcus Aldridge has begun to find a rhythm after a rough start to the season, and he’s just one of four Spurs who’ve shot better than 55% on 17 or more mid-range attempts over the last seven games.
Two of those four — Rudy Gay and Patty Mills — are reserves, and the Spurs continue to be driven by their bench. After it registered a +17 in less than 11 minutes in their win over the Wizards on Sunday, the Spurs have outscored their opponents by 16.6 points per 100 possessions in 149 total minutes with their group of four regular reserves — Gay, Mills, Jakob Poeltl and Devin Vassell — on the floor. The rookie (Vassell) scored a career-high 14 points on Sunday, making four of his six 3-point attempts.
The Spurs have been pretty inconsistent on both ends of the floor. After allowing the Warriors and Mavs to score more than 119 points per 100 possessions on Wednesday and Friday, they held the Wizards under a point per possession to climb back into the top 10 defensively. The five-game homestand that starts Wednesday is their longest of the first-half schedule and includes what could be a critical two-game series against the Grizzlies.
Week 6: @ NOP, vs. BOS, vs. DEN, vs. MEM
Last Week: 17 ↑
Pace: 100.3 (19) OffRtg: 109.9 (15) DefRtg: 108.1 (7) NetRtg: +1.8 (11)
Things are going so well for the Raptors that Nick Nurse has trusted his starting center (Aron Baynes) to play more than 10 minutes in four straight games. The Raptors have won five of their last six, going 4-1 on a homestand and then getting just their second road win of the season by edging the Pacers without Kyle Lowry (who’s missed the last two games) and Pascal Siakam on Sunday. Expert poacher Fred VanVleet took the ball from Malcolm Brogdon and always-active Chris Boucher blocked what looked like a sure bucket for Domantas Sabonis to seal the victory.
OG Anunoby was already starting to bust out before he scored a season-high 30 points on Sunday. He’s seen a big jump in the percentage of his shots that have come from 3-point range (from 40.3% last season to 55.6%), and he’s 26-for-43 (60%) from beyond the arc over the last seven games. But he’s also had some really strong takes to the cup — against both big and small defenders — over this stretch, with the post-up against Sabonis shown below being a pretty good illustration of his strength. Anunoby is right there with VanVleet in regard to deflections and played a big role in keeping Luka Doncic in check in the Raptors’ win over Dallas on Monday.
Week 6: @ IND, vs. MIL, vs. SAC, vs. ORL
Last Week: 22 ↑
Pace: 101.2 (11) OffRtg: 1120.2 (14) DefRtg: 108.3 (8) NetRtg: +1.9 (10)
Because they traded for him last February, Clint Capela wasn’t necessarily thought of as an “addition” for the Hawks this offseason. But he never played for them last season due to injury and, with Bogdan Bogdanovic and Danilo Gallinari dealing with injuries, Capela has been the most prominent new face on the team that’s seen the league’s biggest jump in point differential per 100 possessions. Capela has averaged 14.2 points and 14.5 rebounds (ranking second in rebounding percentage), and in Minnesota on Friday, he recorded the league’s first points-rebounds-blocks triple-double in almost three years.
Capela has totaled 22 blocks in his last four games, and he’s not just swatting shots from off the ball. He had a few blocks (one, two, three) against Detroit on Wednesday where he stopped the ball-handler and then quickly recovered to block his own man after the drop-off pass. The Hawks’ eighth-ranked defense has allowed 11.4 fewer points per 100 possessions with Capela on the floor (101.4) than its allowed with him off the floor (112.8). That’s a remarkable differential for a starter playing mostly against the opponents’ best offensive players.
Alas, all that shot-blocking gave Capela a sore hand, and he missed the Hawks’ loss in Milwaukee on Sunday, when they were outscored, 50-22, in the restricted area. That was the first of five straight games against teams that rank in the top eight offensively, so it would be good if that hand heals quickly.
Week 6: vs. LAC, vs. BKN, @ WAS
Last Week: 23 ↑
Pace: 98.3 (27) OffRtg: 103.5 (29) DefRtg: 107.7 (6) NetRtg: -4.1 (26)
Collin Sexton (selected with one of the picks from the Nets’ last monster trade) returned from a five-game absence to ruin the debut of Brooklyn’s big three, scoring 22 of his career-high 42 points in the two overtimes on Wednesday. He followed that up two nights later with a mere 25 points and nine assists (with just one turnover) to lead the Cavs to a two-game sweep. Despite a quiet night in Boston on Sunday, Sexton is averaging 25.5 points on an effective field goal percentage of 57%, shooting better from the outside, finishing better inside, and having seen a jump in free throw rate.
With the double-overtime win over Brooklyn, the Cavs are 6-1 in games that were within five points in the last five minutes and 2-7 otherwise. The late-game success is more about defense (their opponents have scored 70 points on 82 clutch possessions), but Sexton has shot 14-for-21 (including 5-for-6 from 3-point range) on clutch shots. He was actually 6-for-7 before going 8-for-14 on Wednesday.
It’s still not clear when Kevin Love will be back, but the Cavs have some depth, now with Darius Garland (back for the last two games), Taurean Prince (7-for-13 from 3-point range last week) and Jarrett Allen (who played more than seven minutes alongside Drummond on Sunday) coming off the bench.
Week 6: vs. LAL, vs. DET, @ NYK, @ MIN
Last Week: 21 ↑
Pace: 96.8 (30) OffRtg: 105.5 (25) DefRtg: 106.9 (5) NetRtg: -1.4 (19)
RJ Barrett’s effective field goal percentage (44.5%) is the same as it was last season and ranks 160th among 171 players with at least 100 field goal attempts, mostly because he shot so poorly (10-for-54) from 3-point range through the first 3 1/2 weeks of the season. But he’s 8-for-18 from beyond the arc over the last six games and he’s seen improvements in his mid-range field goal percentage (from 27% to 38%) and his free throw percentage (from 61% to 76%). So there are signs of progress with his shooting and Barrett scored a career-high 28 points (with one bucket as a roll man) in the Knicks’ big win at Golden State on Thursday.
That was the Knicks’ most efficient game (119 points on 100 possessions) since that Dec. 27 laugher against the Bucks. But they followed it with an ugly offensive performance against the league’s worst defense, somehow shooting 38% against the Kings.
Of the Knicks’ first 18 games, 13 have come against the 17 teams that are currently at or above .500. They’ll play three more against that group this week (with the Jazz and Clippers being the two hottest teams in the league) before their schedule starts to get a little softer.
Week 6: @ UTA, vs. CLE, vs. LAC
Last Week: 18 ↓
Pace: 101.1 (13) OffRtg: 107.3 (22) DefRtg: 111.2 (22) NetRtg: -3.9 (24)
Last season, the Heat outscored their opponents by 12.7 points per 100 possessions in the first quarter, the best mark for any team in any quarter. This season, only the Thunder (a remarkable -26.0 per 100) have been worse than the Heat (-18.3) in the opening 12 minutes. Miami has trailed at the end of the first quarter in six of its last seven games and by 11 or more points in three of its last four. The Heat came back from a 19-point deficit to beat the Pistons on Monday and erased almost all of a 18-point deficit in Brooklyn on Saturday, but Bam Adebayo’s career-high 41 points weren’t enough, because they couldn’t stop Kyrie Irving down the stretch.
Duncan Robinson (effective field goal percentage of 83.0% in the opening 12 minutes) is, for a second straight season, the league’s most effective first-quarter shooter. And the Heat actually rank sixth in first-quarter effective field goal percentage as a team. But they rank last, by wide margins, in both turnover rate and offensive rebounding percentage in the first period. Their opponents have basically gotten 2 1/2 more scoring chances per first quarter.
The Heat have been without Jimmy Butler and Avery Bradley for the last seven games and without Tyler Herro for the last five. None of the three are in Brooklyn for the second of their two-game series on Monday, and it’s not clear if any of them will be available when the Heat begin a six-game homestand on Wednesday.
Week 6: @ BKN, vs. DEN, vs. LAC, vs. SAC
Last Week: 26 ↑
Pace: 104.8 (2) OffRtg: 109.8 (16) DefRtg: 112.4 (27) NetRtg: -2.7 (21)
The Bulls were missing a starter (Patrick Williams or Wendell Carter Jr.) in each of their three games last week, so their bench rotation was a little different. But their bench was still terrific in wins over the Rockets and Hornets. They closed the Houston game with Thaddeus Young playing alongside Lauri Markkanen on the frontline, and then put the Charlotte game away with Young playing center alongside Otto Porter Jr. In 301 total minutes with at least two of their three veteran reserves — Porter, Young and Garrett Temple — on the floor, they’ve outscored their opponents by 6.7 points per 100 possessions.
Denzel Valentine has also been solid. He’s 19-for-47 (40%) from 3-point range and was making plays (one cross-court dime to Temple was particularly sharp) in the Charlotte win. With the return of Tomas Satoransky, Billy Donovan has an experienced, five-man second unit to back up his much younger starters. Chicago’s three-game winning streak came to an end against the Lakers on Saturday, when Young (though he came off the bench) was Anthony Davis’ primary victim. But the Bulls’ were just the second team to hold the champs under a point per possession this season and have allowed just 105 per 100 over their last five games. That’s progress.
Week 6: vs. BOS, vs. POR
Last Week: 24 ↑
Pace: 101.3 (10) OffRtg: 108.7 (19) DefRtg: 109.0 (13) NetRtg: -0.3 (15)
The DeMarcus Cousins comeback hasn’t been great. Cousins has taken almost half of his shots from 3-point range, where he’s shot just 28%. His 34% in the restricted area is the worst mark among 144 players with at least 35 restricted-area attempts. In the Rockets’ first three games last week, Cousins shot 3-for-27 and Houston was outscored by 25 points per 100 possessions in his 63 minutes on the floor.
But Cousins broke through in Dallas on Saturday, starting a second straight game for the injured Christian Wood. He scored 28 points, grabbed 17 rebounds, and dished out five assists in the Rockets’ 25-point win. His post-injury athleticism appears pretty limited (see that field goal percentage in the restricted area), but Cousins did bully rookie Tyler Bey for a dunk (his fourth of the season) in the fourth quarter.
The Rockets totally butchered their pick-and-roll coverage on a big defensive possession in Chicago on Monday and they were fortunate that the Pistons missed a bunch of late free throws on Friday, but their defense has, overall, shown signs of improvement. Over their nine games before trading James Harden, the Rockets had allowed 111.1 points per 100 possessions. Since then (six games), they rank 10th defensively, having allowed just 105.8.
John Wall returned from a five-game absence on Saturday and could play his first game alongside Victor Oladipo when the Rockets host his former team on Tuesday. Oladipo had 32 points and nine assists in his Rockets debut, but shot 11-for-38 over the next two games and sat out the win in Dallas (second game of a back-to-back).
Week 6: vs. WAS, vs. POR, @ NOP
Last Week: 19 ↓
Pace: 100.0 (20) OffRtg: 107.8 (21) DefRtg: 108.7 (11) NetRtg: -1.0 (18)
The Hornets are doing some funky things defensively. In a three-minute span in the third quarter against Chicago on Friday, they got backcourt turnovers from both a 1-2-2 press and a 2-2-1 press. In the half-court, they’ve been employing an amorphous zone that will turn into man-to-man in the middle of a possession. They can give up some wide-open shots at times and their opponents have taken 78% of their shots, the league’s highest opponent rate, from the restricted area or 3-point range. But the Hornets rank 11th defensively, having seen the league’s fourth biggest drop in points allowed per 100 possessions from last season, so it’s working to some degree.
Still, as has been noted in this space previously, they’ve been incredibly fortunate in regard to the strength of the offenses they’ve faced. Only one of their 16 games has come against a team (Brooklyn on Dec. 27) that currently ranks higher than 12th offensively. They’ll play a second game in two nights against Orlando’s 27th-ranked offense, having held the Magic to 18 fourth-quarter points on Sunday to come back from 14 down and end a four-game losing streak. After that, they’ll have three straight games against teams — the 10th-ranked Pacers and top-ranked Bucks — that currently rank higher than any offense they’ve faced in the last four weeks.
GORDON HAYWARD FOR THE WIN! 😱 pic.twitter.com/s3qEZ2PjsO
— NBA TV (@NBATV) January 25, 2021
Week 6: @ ORL, vs. IND, vs. IND, vs. MIL
Last Week: 20 ↓
Pace: 101.1 (12) OffRtg: 103.3 (30) DefRtg: 110.9 (21) NetRtg: -7.6 (28)
The Thunder hung around with the Clippers in the second of two straight meetings on Sunday, but have lost five of their last six games, needing a miracle comeback against the Bulls to pick up the one win. OKC had trailed four straight games by more than 20 points before falling behind by only 17 on Sunday. Al Horford has been out for this five-game stretch, and the Thunder’s starting lineup with Isaiah Roby in Horford’s place has been outscored more than 20 points per 100 possessions in 99 minutes over those 12 days. Roby did have a couple of intriguing moments — a short-roll dime for a Luguentz Dort layup, a Eurostep around Nikola Jokic into a wrong-foot runner off glass — in Denver on Tuesday.
While the starting lineup hasn’t been good, the Thunder offense is on another (not good) level when Shai Gilgeous-Alexander steps of the floor. OKC ranks last offensively overall and has scored 18.5 more points per 100 possessions with Gilgeous-Alexander on the floor (108.2) than it has with him off the floor (an anemic 89.7). Aleksej Pokusevski is still getting minutes and is now shooting 22.5% from the field, 5-for-9 in the restricted area and 11-for-62 (18%) outside it. He’s not slowing down, though. After taking eight shots in 17 minutes on Sunday, Pokusevski is averaging more field goal attempts per 36 minutes than George Hill, who led the league in 3-point percentage last season.
Week 6: @ POR, @ PHX, vs. BKN
Last Week: 16 ↓
Pace: 99.2 (24) OffRtg: 108.2 (20) DefRtg: 111.6 (24) NetRtg: -3.4 (23)
The Pelicans went 1-5, with only a narrow win over the Kings, on their road trip. They’re home for 15 of the final 21 games on their first-half schedule, but home-court advantage doesn’t mean much this season and the Pels have lost their last three at the Smoothie King Center. They’re 1-8, with the league’s 29th-ranked defense, over the last three weeks.
New Orleans hasn’t made more 3-pointers than its opponent since the first game of the season and has been outscored by an incredible 18 points per game from beyond the arc. In their two-game series in Utah last week, the Jazz got 29 corner 3-point attempts, while the Pelicans got just seven. And when Minnesota made just 12 3s on Saturday, the Pelicans were 10-for-33 (JJ Redick was 0-for-6) from deep, put the Wolves on the line for a season-high 37 free throw attempts, and allowed them to register a season-high 22 second-chance points. Lonzo Ball, Eric Bledsoe and Steven Adams have all been plus defenders in the past, but New Orleans has allowed almost 113 points per 100 possessions in their 196 minutes on the floor together.
Their game against the Bucks on Friday is the second meeting between Giannis Antetokounmpo and Zion Williamson (who shot 5-for-19 against Milwaukee last February), but it’s also the Pelicans trying to defend the league’s No. 1 offense.
Week 6: vs. SAS, vs. WAS, vs. MIL, vs. HOU
Last Week: 25 ↓
Pace: 99.3 (23) OffRtg: 104.8 (27) DefRtg: 110.4 (18) NetRtg: -5.5 (27)
Yikes. The Magic, once 6-2 (obligatory reminder), have lost eight of their last nine games, with the only win coming at the buzzer against the 4-11 Wolves. The return of Evan Fournier from a nine-game absence has given their offense (108.1 points scored per 100 possessions over the last three games) a small boost. He’s the one triple-threat on this roster, able to shake a good defender or read a bad one patiently. Without him and down two in the final minute in New York on Monday, the Magic put ball in the hands of Aaron Gordon and the result was cringe-worthy.
Even with Fournier, the Magic scored just 97 points on 96 possessions against Minnesota’s 26th-ranked defense. They continue to take care of the ball, but they just don’t get to the basket or to the free throw line, ranking last in the percentage of their shots that have come in the restricted area (21%) and 27th in free throw rate (21.9 attempts per 100 shots from the field). Nikola Vucevic is a terrific offensive player shooting 52% from mid-range (fifth best among 22 players with at least 50 mid-range attempts), but his free throw rate of 11 attempts per 100 shots from the field ranks 154th among 171 players with at least 100 total field goal attempts.
The Magic do get two shots at the Kings’ defense in the next few weeks. The first of those is Wednesday.
— NBA TV (@NBATV) January 21, 2021
Week 6: vs. CHA, vs. SAC, vs. LAC, @ TOR
Last Week: 29 ↑
Pace: 101.4 (9) OffRtg: 110.2 (13) DefRtg: 118.7 (30) NetRtg: -8.4 (30)
The Knicks’ offense has been held under a point per possession eight times already this season, it helps a bad transition defense when the opponent cares not to run, and there were possessions where the Kings got lucky on Friday. After 18 seconds of good help and rotations, Marvin Bagley III left Julius Randle open beyond the arc to cover a Mitchell Robinson roll that Harrison Barnes had already accounted for. But Randle missed the ensuing, wide-open 3. Still, the Kings holding any team under a point per possession is a big step forward. Mistakes were made, but the effort was mostly there in their 103-94 victory, and rookie Tyrese Haliburton came up with a couple of big defensive plays — a strip of RJ Barrett and a block on an Alec Burks 3 — down the stretch.
They had two games against the 26th-ranked Grizzlies postponed, but the Kings will face two more bottom-10 offenses (those of the Magic and Heat) this week. They were the only team to do the Texas Triangle trip (three straight road games against each of the Texas teams) last season, and they’re the only team with the new Florida Triangle trip (three straight road games against the Magic, Raptors and Heat) in the first-half schedule this season.
Week 6: @ ORL, @ TOR, @ MIA
Last Week: 30 ↑
Pace: 102.2 (6) OffRtg: 104.3 (28) DefRtg: 112.4 (26) NetRtg: -8.1 (29)
The Wolves are the only team that ranks in the bottom five on both ends of the floor. Poor defense is not unexpected, but it’s been brutal (119.5 points allowed per 100 possessions) with D’Angelo Russell on the floor. Before Cole Anthony’s game-winner on Wednesday, there was a possession where Russell was top-locking Evan Fournier and, when Fournier cut to the basket, used more effort to call for help than he would have needed to just follow Fournier and prevent the ensuing layup. And in the final minute, a miscommunication between Russell (switched a screen), Josh Okogie (recovered back to his man after initially guarding the roll) and Naz Reid (ended up guarding nobody) led to a wide-open Anthony 3 that cut the Wolves’ lead to two.
Without Russell (resting the second game of a back-to-back) on Saturday, the Wolves held the Pelicans to just 14 points in the third quarter and got their most comfortable win of the season. Jarred Vanderbilt missed the free throws that preceded Anthony’s game-winner, but he and Reid (the starting frontcourt these days) both had their best games of the season on Saturday, and the Wolves have allowed less than a point per possession in their 126 total minutes together. Jordan McLaughlin, meanwhile, has made a strong case for playing time after getting DNP’d earlier this month. He closed that game against Orlando alongside Russell and had a big bucket (off a Russell handoff) down the stretch.
Week 6: @ GSW, @ GSW, vs. PHI, vs. CLE
Last Week: 27 ↓
Pace: 99.2 (25) OffRtg: 107.3 (23) DefRtg: 111.3 (23) NetRtg: -0.4 (25)
With a minute and a half left and the score tied in overtime in Atlanta on Wednesday, Jahlil Okafor switched a Clint Capela ball screen for Kevin Huerter. Blake Griffin saw that Wayne Ellington was left to guard Capela in the paint, so he called for a “scram” switch, where he slid down to take Capela, with Ellington switching out to John Collins on the perimeter. It was a smart, selfless play and it was well-communicated; If you have the volume up on Pistons games, you hear Griffin talking on every defensive possession for which he’s on the floor.
But when Huerter whipped a pass to Capela on the baseline, Griffin was a half step slow to get there. Capela took one dribble in the direction from which Griffin was coming, absorbed a foul, and put in a reverse layup that gave the Hawks a lead they wouldn’t relinquish. The play was a good illustration of what Griffin has become in his 11th season, a team player doing the right things, but unable to do them with enough quickness or athleticism. He did have an incredible circus shot late in the fourth quarter of that loss to the Hawks, but only 21% of his shots (the lowest rate of his career by a wide margin) have come in the restricted area and his jumper has not been good.
Wayne Ellington (in his 12th season) is enjoying a renaissance, shooting 24-for-41 (59%) from 3-point range over the last five games. And the Pistons have been competitive, with 12 of their 16 games having been within five points in the last five minutes. But like Griffin on that overtime possession, they’ve been a half step from getting where they need to be.
Week 6: vs. PHI, @ CLE, vs. LAL, @ GSW
Last Week: 28 ↓
Pace: 105.7 (1) OffRtg: 112.5 (8) DefRtg: 114.7 (29) NetRtg: -2.3 (20)
The Wizards’ first game in 13 days started off well. They scored eight points on their first three possessions, held the Spurs to just 11 on their first 16, and had a 10-point lead late in the first quarter. Alas, still missing a bunch of bodies, the Wizards’ bench was no match for that of the Spurs, that lead disappeared quickly, and the Wizards’ eventually resumed being one of the league’s worst defensive teams. San Antonio scored 73 points on 50 second-half possessions to win going away.
Russell Westbrook is just four rebounds shy of averaging a triple-double. But his effective field goal percentage of 40.8% is the fifth worst mark among 171 players with at least 100 field goal attempts (he’s 2-for-17 on non-restricted-area paint shots) and the Wizards have scored a paltry 89.8 points per 100 possessions in his 87 minutes on the floor without Bradley Beal. The Wiz lead the league in pace, but Westbrook has somehow averaged just 2.4 fast break points per game, 2.4 fewer than he’s averaged in any of the last 10 seasons. He’ll be back in Houston (against a team he may not recognize) on Tuesday.
Week 6: @ HOU, @ NOP, vs. ATL, vs. BKN