Kawhi Leonard and the Clippers continue to find ways to win this season.
Here we go again …
In the last 21 years (from the 1999-00 season through last season), the Eastern Conference has had a winning record in interconference games only once. That was in the 2008-09 season, when the East went 231-219 (.513) against the West. In each of the last 21 seasons, the West has been better.
And we’re almost certainly going to make it 21 of 22. Only 96 (21%) of the 450 interconference games have been played thus far. But the West has already built a big advantage, going 59-37 (.615) through the first six weeks of the season. That would be the West’s fourth-best mark of the last 22 years, and its best since the 2013-14 season (.631).
Through January, only six East teams are at or above .500. In the West, there are 10 teams no worse than 9-9. And the discrepancy could get bigger. With the shortened season, the league removed in-conference games, rather than interconference games. In a normal season, interconference games account for 37% of all games played. This season, they account for 42%.
So get ready for a lot more. Over the last five weeks of the first-half schedule (between now and March 5), 17 of the league’s 30 teams are scheduled to play more games against the opposite conference than they are against their own. And this week’s schedule features a tasty, TNT double-header on Tuesday: Clippers-Nets and Celtics-Warriors. The Celtics will also visit the Clippers on Friday and the Suns on Sunday.
Speaking of the Clippers, they’re the first team to unseat the Lakers at the top of the Power Rankings.
Plus-Minus Players of the Week
Teams of the Week
- Make It Last Forever: Houston (3-0) — Undefeated with Walladipo.
- Something Just Ain’t Right: Dallas (0-4) — It’ll take more than having everybody in uniform to get the Mavs back on track.
East vs. West
Schedule Strength through Week 6
- Toughest: 1. Memphis, 2. Detroit, 3. Oklahoma City
- 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: Charlotte (+6), Houston (+6), Oklahoma City (+4), San Antonio (+4)
- Free falls of the week: Cleveland (-5), New York (-5), Portland (-5), Toronto (-5)
Week 7 Team to Watch
- Atlanta — The Hawks are one of two East teams with a winning record (4-2) against the West. But two of those wins came against the Wolves and another came against the Clippers without Paul George or Kawhi Leonard. So this week will be a real test of the Hawks, who have won four of their last six games overall and currently sit in sixth place in the East. They’ll host the Lakers on Monday, the Mavs on Wednesday, and the Jazz on Thursday. Then they complete the four-game homestand with a visit from the Raptors, one of the East teams they may have to hold off come playoff time.
Previous Power Rankings
- This time last year: Celtics, Raptors climb into Top 5; Jazz, Sixers tumble — The Raptors were 11 games into a 15-game winning streak, while the Wolves were 11 games into a 13-game losing streak. Damian Lillard had averaged 48.8 points over his last six games and with Clint Capela injured, the Rockets started playing without a center. Kyrie Irving registered his second 50-point game with the Nets, but his season was over the following night. Victor Oladipo made his season debut for the Pacers and hit a huge shot in a win over the Bulls, while the Kings pulled off a miracle win in Minnesota, coming back from 17 down in 2 1/2 minutes.
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 100.4 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes and 110.3 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: 98.1 (29) OffRtg: 116.7 (3) DefRtg: 108.9 (12) NetRtg: +7.8 (1)
Yes, we’ll see what they do in the playoffs. But the playoffs are 3 1/2 months away, and it’s time to appreciate how good the Clippers are right now. Even without Paul George and Kawhi Leonard last week, they hung around with the Hawks and beat the Heat. And with the stars back in uniform, they thumped the Magic and registered one of the league’s most efficient performances of the season against the Knicks’ top 10 defense.
Leonard and George are both shooting better than 50% from the field, 40% from 3-point range, and 90% from the line. The Clippers have won nine straight games in which they’ve played and outscored their opponents by 19.2 points per 100 possessions in 383 total minutes with both of them on the floor.
The Clippers were still without two starters on Sunday, but Marcus Morris is finding his rhythm off the bench and Patrick Patterson just shot 5-for-5 in replacing Nicolas Batum. With Patrick Patterson out, it would be interesting to see more minutes of Luke Kennard on the floor alongside George and Leonard, but Reggie Jackson has been starting at the point and Kennard has mainly been used for playmaking when the stars go to the bench. He played just six total minutes (all in Orlando) with both George and Leonard over the weekend.
Clippers-Nets should be more than modestly entertaining, and with the Celtics in L.A. Friday, we can’t forget how great last season’s two Clippers-Celtics matchups were.
Week 7: @ BKN, @ CLE, vs. BOS, vs. SAC
Pace: 102.1 (6) OffRtg: 111.2 (12) DefRtg: 106.8 (3) NetRtg: +4.4 (6)
The Sixers blew a 12-point lead in less than three minutes on Wednesday. But if they wouldn’t have done that, Tobias Harris wouldn’t have had his shining moment against the champs, getting the switch and then draining a mid-range jumper over Alex Caruso. Harris’ effective field goal percentage of 58.5% is easily a career-high mark and the difference from last season has mainly been in his shooting from the outside. His mid-range field goal percentage is up from 35% to 48%, and his 3-point percentage is up from 36.7% to 46.4%.
The Sixers remain undefeated (11-0) when they’ve had both Seth Curry and Joel Embiid. And apparently, the formula for winning without Embiid includes playing zone defense, which the Sixers did for much of the fourth quarter in Indiana on Sunday, coming back from 16 points down with less than eight minutes left to pick up their first Embiid-less W of the season. One of the Sixers’ only two losses with Embiid came in Brooklyn on Jan. 7. And the Nets are in Philly (where the Sixers are 10-0 with their starting center) on Saturday.
Week 7: @ CHA, vs. POR, vs. BKN
Pace: 99.5 (21) OffRtg: 112.5 (7) DefRtg: 104.8 (1) NetRtg: +7.8 (2)
The Lakers still have the league’s No. 1 defense, and it held the Celtics to just 17 points on 22 possessions in the fourth quarter to escape with a one-point win on Saturday. L.A. is now 3-1 in its four least efficient offensive games of the season and ranks in the top 10 in opponent effective field goal percentage (fifth), defensive rebounding percentage (eighth), and opponent free throw rate (first), having seen the league’s biggest drop from last season in the latter.
But three of those four worst offensive performances have come in the last nine days. In his (latest) return to Cleveland and against a top-10 defense on Monday, LeBron James had his highest scoring game (46 points) in more than 27 months. But two nights later, the Lakers came up empty from the outside in Philadelphia, the end of a seven-game stretch where Anthony Davis shot 6-for-46 (13%) from outside the paint. Without Davis on Thursday, the Lakers went scoreless over a near-seven-minute, fourth-quarter stretch in Detroit, giving them their first two-game losing streak of the season. Since that 7-for-10 performance in Milwaukee, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope has shot just 3-for-16 from 3-point range, with just five attempts over the last three games.
Davis was 6-for-12 from outside the paint in Boston and the Lakers complete their seven-game trip on Monday, visiting what has been one of the league’s most improved defenses.
Week 7: @ ATL, vs. DEN, vs. DET
Pace: 98.1 (28) OffRtg: 115.8 (4) DefRtg: 110.9 (18) NetRtg: +4.9 (5)
The Nuggets let one slip away in San Antonio on Friday, but they came back home and convincingly put an end to the Jazz’s 11-game winning streak two days later. With Nikola Jokic tying his career high of 47 points, it was both Denver’s most efficient game of the season (128 points on 99 possessions) and the most efficient game any team has had against the Jazz. The Nuggets have won 11 of their last 15 games, with three of the four losses have been within five points in the last five minutes.
Jokic has recorded a double-double in every game this season and now has a streak of 11 straight with 20 or more points. He’s registering career-high marks in minutes per game, usage rate, effective field goal percentage and true shooting percentage. He remains the king of shots from 5-9 feet out, but is also one of five players who have shot better than 53% on at least 50 mid-range attempts. Jamal Murray has had his ups and downs this season, and it hasn’t really mattered much.
The Nuggets’ first two meetings with the the Lakers are in the next two weeks. The first is in L.A. on Thursday, when both teams will have had two days off prior.
Week 7: vs. DET, @ LAL, @ SAC
Pace: 98.8 (25) OffRtg: 114.9 (5) DefRtg: 107.7 (6) NetRtg: +7.2 (4)
The Jazz’s winning streak might have been in peril when they lost Donovan Mitchell for two games. But they won the two first quarters against Dallas by a total score of 69-31, led both games by at least 25 points, and scored 121 points per 100 possessions over 96 minutes against the Mavs. The streak hit 11 and the Jazz had the best record in the NBA.
The offense remained efficient upon Mitchell’s return on Sunday. Though Mitchell and Mike Conley combined to shoot just 5-for-22 in Denver, the Jazz hit 20 3-pointers for the eighth time this season and went 33-for-39 at the free throw line. But they could not stop Nikola Jokic, who dropped 47 and has now scored 28 points or more in five straight regular season games against Utah. So the streak is over and the Jazz remain in a fight with the Clippers and Lakers atop the Western Conference. They’ll play three games against the L.A. teams later this month, but their next eight are against the Eastern Conference.
The Jazz have only three rest-advantage games in the first-half schedule. They won their first one (in Cleveland on Jan. 12) by 30 points, and the other two are this week: Tuesday (against Detroit) and Thursday (in Atlanta).
Week 7: vs. DET, @ ATL, @ CHA, @ IND
Pace: 102.6 (4) OffRtg: 116.8 (2) DefRtg: 112.7 (25) NetRtg: +4.1 (x)
The Nets are the new Wizards, playing at a fast pace, with high efficiency on both ends of the floor. Both the Nets and their opponents have scored more efficiently than the league average (110.3 points per 100 possessions) in 11 of their last 12 games. Brooklyn ranks first offensively (120.4 scored per 100) and 29th defensively (118.8 allowed) over that stretch.
Of course, while the Nets have more top-tier offensive talent than any team in the league, their inability to defend has them playing with fire almost every night, no matter the strength of the opponent. Nine of those last 12 games have been within five points in the last five minutes, and on Sunday the new Wizards got burned by the old Wizards when Russell Westbrook hit his first clutch 3 in almost 14 months. Close games also have the Brooklyn stars playing more minutes than they need to. Kevin Durant hasn’t sat for an entire fourth quarter (in a game he’s started) since opening night and when the Hawks took the Nets to overtime on Wednesday, Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden all logged more than 41 minutes.
More minutes lead to more rest days (Durant sat Friday and Harden didn’t play on Sunday), which lead to less continuity. The Nets’ most-used lineup this season has played just 48 minutes, includes Harden (who’s played in only eight of their 22 games), and isn’t a starting lineup. It’s their closing lineup of Irving, Harden, Joe Harris, Durant and Jeff Green, which has outscored opponents by 21 points in those 48 minutes.
Week 7: vs. LAC, vs. TOR, @ PHI
Pace: 101.8 (7) OffRtg: 117.9 (1) DefRtg: 110.6 (17) NetRtg: +7.3 (3)
The Bucks still have the most efficient offense of all-time. And their last four games have been their most efficient stretch (121 points scored per 100 possessions) since the first four games of the season. Giannis Antetokounmpo totaled 72 points over the weekend and has had eight or more assists in three of the last four games.
But the Bucks rank 26th defensively over the last two weeks, having allowed 117.5 points per 100 possessions over a 2-4 stretch that started with losses to the Nets and Lakers, but has continued with defeats at the hands of the Pelicans and Hornets. In the bubble last August, the Bucks became the first team in NBA history to allow 20 or more made 3-pointers in three straight games. This week, they’ve done it again.
Bryn Forbes is one reason why the offense has been so good. He’s shot 43% on a team-high eight 3-point attempts per 36 minutes. But (as was the case in San Antonio) he’s also one reason why the defense has been so bad. Coach Mike Budenholzer has cut down on the minutes that Forbes and D.J. Augustin have played together over the last few weeks, but for the season, the Bucks have allowed 119.5 points per 100 possessions in 176 minutes with Forbes on the floor with Antetokounmpo vs. just 103.9 in Antetokounmpo’s other 425 minutes. In Charlotte on Saturday, the Bucks were outscored by 31 points, allowing 46 points on 25 defensive possessions, in Forbes’ 11:06 on the floor.
Two top-10 offenses (those of the Blazers and Pacers) are at Fiserv Forum (where the Bucks have been much better defensively than they’ve been on the road) on Monday and Wednesday.
Week 7: vs. POR, vs. IND, @ CLE, @ CLE
Pace: 100.4 (13) OffRtg: 107.0 (24) DefRtg: 106.5 (2) NetRtg: +0.5 (14)
After an 11-day hiatus, the Grizzlies kept their winning streak (now at six games) going with a comfortable victory in San Antonio on Saturday. It was the seventh straight game in which the Grizzlies outscored their opponent by at least 10 points in the paint, but it also came with a season-high 17 3-pointers, 16 of which were assisted. They’ve weirdly shot much better on pull-up 3s (39.3%, second best) than they have on catch-and-shoot 3-pointers (33.0%, 30th), but have attempted only 84 of the former.
Rookie Desmond Bane is the exception to the rule, having shot 22-for-40 (55%) on catch-and-shoot 3-pointers, the second-best mark among 178 players who’ve attempted at least 35. He was 3-for-3 on Saturday and, along with De’Anthony Melton (4-for-7 from deep), helped the Grizzlies win the minutes (when the Spurs’ reserves are on the floor) that San Antonio usually dominates. It will be interesting to see how the rotation sorts out (and if Bane continues to see regular minutes) if/when the Grizzlies get fully healthy. For now, they’re without Jaren Jackson Jr., Jonas Valanciunas, Grayson Allen and Justise Winslow.
After the Grizzlies had a rest advantage on Saturday, they’ll be on even footing with the Spurs in the second-game of the two-game series on Monday. But Memphis will have two more rest-advantage games later in the week, with the Rockets and Pelicans both playing the night before.
Week 7: @ SAS, @ IND, vs. HOU, @ NOP
Pace: 100.1 (17) OffRtg: 111.6 (10) DefRtg: 108.9 (10) NetRtg: +2.7 (8)
The Celtics got less than two games with their four best perimeter players (and just 28 minutes with all four on the floor) before losing Marcus Smart for 2-3 weeks with a calf injury. They lost both games, scoring less than 104 points per 100 possessions, even though Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum combined for 107 points on 54% shooting. The Celtics outscored the Spurs and Lakers by 23 points in 56 minutes with both Brown and Tatum on the floor, but were outscored by 28 in 40 minutes (scoring just 63 points on 81 offensive possessions) with one or both on the bench.
Boston needs more from Kemba Walker, who shot 7-for-27 over the two games and had a couple of rough moments down the stretch: getting picked clean by Dejounte Murray and missing the step-back game-winner. The Celtics have lost their last four games that were within five points in the last five minutes and, without Smart down the stretch on Saturday, they closed with Semi Ojeleye alongside Walker, Brown, Tatum and Daniel Theis. Ojeleye could continue to get the call with the Celtics facing some big wings on a five-game trip that begins Tuesday. The Celtics have allowed just 111 points on 121 defensive possessions (91.7 per 100) with Ojeleye, Brown and Tatum on the floor together.
Week 7: @ GSW, @ SAC, @ LAC, @ PHX
Pace: 98.2 (27) OffRtg: 109.8 (17) DefRtg: 107.1 (5) NetRtg: +2.7 (10)
After having five straight games determined in clutch time and seeing two last-minute shots for the lead (one, two) rim in and out against Oklahoma City on Wednesday, the Suns finally got their first comfortable win of January. In what was their best defensive game of the season (93 points allowed on 103 possessions), they put the Warriors away with a big, bench-fueled run midway through the fourth quarter. They got back to nail biting on Saturday, but beat the Mavs with a 9-0 featuring three straight Chris Paul pick-and-rolls that resulted in a Paul jumper (he got to his spot), a lob to Deandre Ayton, and a Jae Crowder 3-pointer.
Paul’s 3-point percentage (30%) is his lowest mark since his rookie season. His effective field goal percentage (48.9%) and true shooting percentage (54.9%) are both his lowest marks since his second season. But he remains strong from mid-range (50% between the restricted area and the 3-point line) and his two highest scoring games of the season (32 and 29 points) have come in the last five days.
The Suns scored less than a point per possession in each of their first two games sans Devin Booker, but are now 2-2 without the leading scorer, who’s listed as questionable for the second game in Dallas on Monday. Cameron Payne and Dario Saric remain out.
Week 7: @ DAL, @ NOP, vs. DET, vs. BOS
Pace: 101.1 (10) OffRtg: 109.8 (18) DefRtg: 109.7 (14) NetRtg: +0.2 (15)
Derrick White played in just his second game of the season on Saturday, returning from a four-week absence to score 18 points in less than 22 minutes. His 3-pointer with a little more than five minutes left put the Spurs in position to make a closing run like they did against both Boston and Denver earlier in the week. But the Grizzlies scored 12 points on their next five possessions in what ended up being the Spurs’ worst defensive game (129 points allowed on 100 possessions) of the season.
White and Dejounte Murray each got contract extensions, and the third of the three No. 29 picks on the Spurs’ roster is also looking like a keeper. Keldon Johnson has scored in double-figures in 10 straight games, totaling 37 in the Spurs’ wins over the Celtics and Nuggets. The 21-year-old has shot just 6-for-23 (26%) from 3-point range over that 10-game stretch, but he’s been pretty relentless in attacking the basket. The Boston game featured him shaking Marcus Smart before a drive through traffic, grabbing an offensive board over three Celtics, and a tight crossover on Jaylen Brown (see below) that led to the game-tying dunk with a little more than a minute to go. Of course, Johnson has passed on just 14.5% of his drives, the lowest rate among 109 players who’ve averaged at least five drives per game.
The Spurs are in the heart of the play-in race and the loss to the Grizzlies on Saturday was just the start of a stretch where they’re playing five of six games against teams (Memphis, Houston and Golden State) also in the 7-10 range in the West.
Week 7: vs. MEM, vs. MIN, @ HOU
Pace: 104.0 (3) OffRtg: 108.2 (22) DefRtg: 108.9 (11) NetRtg: -0.8 (16)
The Warriors made a lineup change last week, from a group that’s been outscored by 16.2 points per 100 possessions to one that’s outscored opponents by 35.5 per 100. There’s probably not that much of a difference between the play of James Wiseman and Kevon Looney (who has averaged just 17.2 minutes in his four games as a starter), but the Warriors have allowed just 91.5 points per 100 possessions in 133 total minutes with Looney and Draymond Green (who’s played only 44 of his 426 minutes at the five) on the floor together.
The Warriors are 3-1 with the new lineup, having scored almost 120 points per 100 possessions over the three wins, a little less desperate for Stephen Curry to take, like, all the shots. They’re now 11-0 when they’ve scored more than 105 per 100 and 0-9 when they haven’t, in part because they’ve been relatively consistent defensively.
Speaking of consistency, Andrew Wiggins has weirdly been the model of such. He’s scored at least 15 points in every game since those ugly first four days of the season. In eight games over the last two weeks, he’s has averaged 18 ppg on an effective field goal percentage of 62%.
Week 7: vs. BOS, @ DAL, @ DAL
Pace: 110.2 (16) OffRtg: 111.8 (8) DefRtg: 109.8 (15) NetRtg: +2.0 (11)
The way the Bulls and Nets lost games over the weekend was more shocking, but the Pacers had an epic collapse of their own on Sunday, getting outscored 31-6 over the final eight minutes by the Embiid-less Sixers and turning a 16-point lead into a nine-point loss. With the Sixers mostly playing zone, Indy shot 1-for-10 and committed five turnovers over those final eight minutes after scoring 104 points on just 86 possessions (121 per 100) prior to that.
Fourth-quarter offense isn’t a new issue for the Pacers. While they’ve scored 115 points per 100 possessions over the first three quarters this season, they’ve scored less than 102 per 100 in the fourth, with Justin Holiday, Doug McDermott and Myles Turner having combined to shoot 15-for-63 (24%) on fourth-quarter 3-pointers.
Zone offense isn’t a new issue either and for a team that wants to get to the basket (the Pacers lead the league with 44.4 restricted area points per game), a zone can obviously present a challenge. According to Synergy tracking, the Pacers’ 0.86 points per possession against zone ranks 26th in the league. None of their next three opponents have played much zone this season, but the first two haven’t played the Pacers yet.
Week 7: vs. MEM, @ MIL, vs. NOP, vs. UTA
Pace: 100.3 (14) OffRtg: 113.9 (6) DefRtg: 114.9 (28) NetRtg: -1.1 (18)
The Blazers remain good for some thrillers, each of their last four games has been within five points in the last five minutes, and they had one of the most ridiculous finishes in recent memory on Saturday, with Damian Lillard draining two 3-pointers — one from 37 feet, one falling out of bounds at the buzzer — in the final nine seconds to beat the Bulls. He scored more points in those nine seconds than the Blazers scored over the final 3:51 (5) in a three-point loss in Houston two nights earlier.
Lillard ranks second behind James Harden with 54 total points with the score within five points in the last five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime, having shot 15-for-24 on clutch shots and 19-for-19 on clutch free throws. That clutch-ness has the Blazers sitting as one of two teams — the Warriors are the other — with a winning record and a negative point differential.
The Blazers are 2-3 without CJ McCollum, and they’ve managed to keep Lillard’s minutes below 37 per game over that stretch, even though they’ve also been missing one of their starting forwards for each of the last three games. Anfernee Simons was showing signs of that long-awaited breakout — 18.7 points per game, 14-for-25 from 3-point range over a three-game stretch — before scoring just eight points in Chicago on Saturday.
Week 7: @ MIL, @ WAS, @ PHI, @ NYK
Pace: 100.6 (12) OffRtg: 111.2 (11) DefRtg: 108.4 (9) NetRtg: +2.7 (9)
Trae Young was in a little bit of a slump a couple of weeks ago, but he’s averaged 37.6 points, shooting 54% from 3-point range and getting to the line for 13.2 attempts per game, over the last five games. In Washington on Friday, Young was beating the Wizards every which way, hitting long 3-pointers, putting up soft floaters, and getting all the way to the basket. His 45.5% shooting in the paint is the fourth worst mark among 76 players with at least 100 attempts there, but he’s made up for it with 88.5% on more than 10 free throw attempts per game. Among the 14 players with a usage rate of 30% or higher, Young’s effective field goal percentage (shots from the field) ranks 12th, but his true shooting percentage (scoring efficiency) ranks eighth.
The Hawks have won four of their last six to give the East six teams with winning records, and they’ve done it with defense as much as Young’s hot shooting. They’ve have seen the league’s second biggest drop in points allowed per 100 possessions, from 114.4 (28th) last season to 108.4 (ninth) this season. With their win in Washington on Sunday, they’ve already held their opponent to a point per possession or less as many times (8) as they did last season.
They’re home for six of their next seven, with two of the best teams in the league in town this week.
Week 7: vs. LAL, vs. DAL, vs. UTA, vs. TOR
Pace: 101.7 (8) OffRtg: 108.8 (20) DefRtg: 106.9 (4) NetRtg: +1.8 (12)
The Rockets have gone from 4-9 to 9-9 with a five-game winning streak in which they’ve allowed just a point per possession. They now have the league’s No. 1 defense (102.8 allowed per 100) since the James Harden trade and, while a big part of that improvement is opponent 3-point shooting (which can be random), they’ve also protected the rim and rebounded a little better. They were dead last in defensive rebounding percentage at the time of the trade, but are 16th over the last 18 days.
Though they’ve combined for 33 assists and just 11 turnovers in their three games together, the offense has not been great (102.1 points scored per 100 possessions) in the 65 minutes in which John Wall and Victor Oladipo have shared the floor. But things picked up on that end when Christian Wood returned from a three-game absence on Thursday and shot 19-for-25 in wins over the Blazers and Pelicans. Wood is shooting an amazing 82% in the restricted area (best among 57 players with at least 75 restricted-area attempts).
Only one of the Rockets’ nine games since the Harden trade (their win over the shorthanded Blazers on Thursday) has come against a team that currently ranks higher than 13th offensively. So tougher tests for that improved defense await. They’re just not necessarily coming this week, with the Thunder, Grizzlies and Spurs ranking 27th, 24th and 18th on offense.
Week 7: @ OKC, @ OKC, @ MEM, vs. SAS
Pace: 100.0 (19) OffRtg: 108.7 (21) DefRtg: 109.7 (13) NetRtg: -0.9 (17)
Bismack Biyombo went from starting on Monday, to coming off the bench for just nine and six minutes on Wednesday and Friday, to getting DNP’d on Saturday. Cody Zeller is back in the starting lineup, and in the Hornets’ win over the Bucks, he had 15 rebounds, seven assists, and a vicious dunk on Giannis Antetokounmpo. He was also on the floor making a few key defensive plays against Antetokounmpo and Brook Lopez as the Hornets closed the game on a 16-3 run after blowing a 20-point lead.
They built that 20-point lead with a big run spanning the first and second quarters with P.J. Washington at the five, where he played a lot more over the weekend (29 minutes over the two games) than he did earlier in the week (12 total minutes on Monday and Wednesday). For the season, the Hornets have outscored their opponents by 5.0 points per 100 possessions in 294 minutes with Washington at center, where he’ll continue to get regular minutes with Biyombo seemingly out of the rotation.
They lost Terry Rozier (still near the top of the league in catch-and-shoot 3-point percentage) to an ankle injury on Saturday, but Devonte’ Graham has been shooting better from the outside (40% from 3-point range over the last eight games, with a huge 3 against Indiana on Friday). And with Rozier out, LaMelo Ball scored 18 of his 27 points in the second half on Saturday. The rookie is kind of the anti-Graham, shooting poorly from the outside, but finishing stronger in the paint (18-for-21 over his last four games).
The Hornets now have wins over four of the six East teams that have winning records. They get their final shot at the Sixers, having lost the first two meetings by a total of 32 points, on Wednesday.
Week 7: @ MIA, vs. PHI, vs. UTA, vs. WAS
Pace: 99.2 (23) OffRtg: 109.0 (19) DefRtg: 111.0 (20) NetRtg: -2.1 (20)
The Mavs got most of their rotation back last week, but Josh Richardson, Dorian Finney-Smith and Dwight Powell have not been able to stop a defensive slide that began when they were lost to COVID-related absences. Through their first 10 games, the Mavs ranked second defensively, having allowed just 104.6 points per 100 possessions. Since then, they rank 25th, having allowed 117.5. The Mavs never lost more than two straight games last season, but they’ve lost five straight now, and they’re just two games into a stretch of six straight against teams that currently have winning records.
Of course, more disappointing is that the Mavs have seen the league’s biggest drop in points scored per 100 possessions, going from No. 1 to below average on that end of the floor. Richardson has missed all seven of his 3-point attempts since his return, and the Mavs have now shot worse than the league average (36.6%) from beyond the arc in 11 straight games. Nearly as important as the league’s second biggest drop in effective field goal percentage from last season has been its biggest drop in offensive rebounding percentage. The Mavs have scored 3.6 fewer second chance points per 100 possessions than they did last year, and that’s more than half of their overall drop of 6.9 per 100.
Week 7: vs. PHX, @ ATL, vs. GSW, vs. GSW
Pace: 96.1 (30) OffRtg: 106.6 (25) DefRtg: 108.0 (7) NetRtg: -1.4 (19)
Immanuel Quickley remains a reserve, but he’s seen his minutes jump to 24.8 per game over the last four games (from 17.3 per game prior). After scoring a career-high 31 points in Portland, Quickly shot 1-for-11 in Utah on Tuesday. But upon returning home, he totaled 50 points on 18-for-33 shooting against the Cavs and Clippers. Much has been made about Quickley’s floater, and he’s a solid 46% from 5-14 feet. He also leads all rookies in made free throws, shooting 45-for-48 (94%) from the line. But only 13 of his 168 shots have come in the restricted area and even a great floater isn’t as good as a layup or dunk.
The Knicks’ offense remains in the bottom 10 and their defense may be suffering from some regression (see the Clippers’ 17-for-38 from 3-point range on Sunday). But they’ve scored more than 110 points per 100 possessions in four of their last six games (not against the Kings’ defense, though) and 119 per 100 in 101 total minutes with Quickley on the floor alongside Julius Randle and RJ Barrett, who have been seen vast improvement this season. Randle is 4 1/2 years older than Quickley and 5 1/2 years older than Barrett, but we can forget that he’s still just 26 with more room to grow.
Week 7: @ CHI, @ CHI, vs. POR, vs. MIA
Pace: 101.3 (9) OffRtg: 105.2 (27) DefRtg: 112.3 (23) NetRtg: -7.1 (29)
While the Thunder’s other 19-year-old (Aleksej Pokusevski) continues to make less than 25% of his shots, Theo Maledon has started the last three games for George Hill (sprained thumb) and played a lot like … well, George Hill. With Shai Gilgeous-Alexander controlling the ball more than three times as much as any other Thunder player over their three games last week, Maledon was more of an off-the-ball point guard and shot 11-for-17 from 3-point range (hitting all six of his attempts against Brooklyn on Friday), with 10 of the makes coming off the catch.
Before getting torched for 147 points by the Nets, the Thunder finished a five-game road trip with a couple of impressive wins. In Portland on Monday, they blew a 17-point lead, but put together a run in the fourth and finished with their most efficient offensive performance of the season. In Phoenix on Wednesday, the Thunder came back from 17 down, put together another fourth-quarter run to pull out the win, and held their opponent under a point per possession for the second time this season. One commonality in the two wins: They held the Blazers and Suns to just four and eight fast break points, respectively. The 8.8 fast break points per game they’ve allowed would be the lowest opponent mark in the last 20 years.
Week 7: vs. HOU, vs. HOU, vs. MIN, vs. MIN
Pace: 100.2 (15) OffRtg: 110.9 (14) DefRtg: 110.1 (16) NetRtg: +0.8 (13)
Just when it looked like the Raptors had turned their season around and were playing something close to the level of defense that we expect from them, they lost three straight games, allowing the Pacers, Bucks and Kings (three top-10 offenses, to be fair) to score more than 122 points per 100 possessions. One issue with the Raptors’ defense this season has been fouls. They rank 28th in opponent free throw rate, with their opponents registering 30.4 attempts per 100 shots from the field. That number was 39.3 in their four games last week.
The Chris Boucher for Kia Sixth Man/Kia Most Improved/Prime Minister campaign has been derailed somewhat, with the 28-year-old averaging just 8.1 points on 36% shooting over the last seven games. Aron Baynes’ minutes continue to climb, but the Raptors have had to patch lineups together with Pascal Siakam or OG Anunoby missing in each of their last five games and Norm Powell also out over the weekend. For a few minutes on Monday, they played a frontline of Anunoby and Yuta Watanabe.
Their defense got a little break with a game against the struggling Magic on Sunday, and Game 2 of the home-and-home series is Tuesday in Orlando. Then it’s two days off before the Raptors get their first shot at the Nets.
Week 7: @ ORL, @ BKN, @ ATL
Pace: 100.0 (18) OffRtg: 105.5 (26) DefRtg: 111.0 (19) NetRtg: -5.5 (26)
Jimmy Butler returned from a 10-game absence on Saturday, scored 14 of his 30 points at the free throw line, and got the game-winning bucket on clever spin-back move against Harrison Barnes. That helped the Heat end a five-game losing streak that included three of the 23 games in which a team has scored less than 90 points per 100 possessions this season. They were able to keep three top-five offenses (those of the Nets, Nuggets and Clippers) in check for long stretches last week, but suffered some major droughts of their own: scoreless over 5:35 late against Brooklyn, four points over 7:09 in the fourth quarter against Denver, and three points over 7:32 after building an 18-point lead against LA.
Miami is 4-3 with Butler. Maybe most importantly — in regard to his return and given his team’s issues with taking care of the ball — is that he had no turnovers with his eight assists on Saturday. Six of the eight came on Butler’s 28 drives to the basket, which also produced 22 of his own 30 points.
The Heat also got Tyler Herro back last week, but they’ve been without Goran Dragic for the last three games, Maurice Harkless for the last four, and Avery Bradley for 10 of the last 11. Still, with Butler back, it’s time for the Heat to start climbing the Eastern Conference standings and out of the bottom five in offensive efficiency. The win over the Kings began a stretch of six straight games against teams that currently have losing records.
Week 7: vs. CHA, vs. WAS, vs. WAS, @ NYK
Pace: 98.2 (26) OffRtg: 103.9 (29) DefRtg: 108.3 (8) NetRtg: -4.3 (24)
In a season where home-court advantage doesn’t mean that much, the Cavs are one of the league’s worst road teams. That were already that (-9.8 points per 100 possessions away from home through Thursday) before losing in New York and in Minnesota over the weekend. They scored just 96.4 points per 100 possessions over the two games, shooting 12-for-42 from 3-point range and totaling almost as many turnovers (33) as assists (35). Larry Nance Jr. returned from a two-game absence and shot 2-for-12.
The Cavs rank last in the percentage of their shots (31.1%) that have come from 3-point range, with their 16 attempts on Sunday tying the fewest for any team this season. They’ve been outscored from beyond the arc in 15 of their 20 games and the downtown deficit against the Wolves (who rank 28th in 3-point percentage) was 36 points. The rematch between the two teams in a virtual tie for last in offensive efficiency is Monday in Cleveland, where the Cavs have won four of their last five. It could be five of five, but LeBron James (now 15-1 against the Cavs) went nuclear down the stretch last Monday.
Week 7: vs. MIN, vs. LAC, vs. MIL, vs. MIL
Pace: 104.0 (2) OffRtg: 110.3 (15) DefRtg: 113.6 (27) NetRtg: -3.4 (22)
Their game against the Blazers on Saturday was the most efficient game of the Bulls’ season and the first time in franchise history that they shot 50% or better and made at least 20 3-pointers. And, after coming back from a 19-point deficit … they lost. (Teams are 104-8 all-time when shooting 50% or better and making at least 20 3-pointers.) They lost because Damian Lillard hit two ridiculous 3-pointers in the final nine seconds, but also because they committed seven more turnovers than the Blazers, with the last of their 15 being the one sandwiched by Lillard’s two bombs. Only the Jazz (+3.4) have a worse turnover differential than the Bulls, who rank 29th in turnover percentage (17.1 per 100 possessions) and have committed 2.9 more turnovers per game than their opponents.
After a brief dalliance with good defense, the Bulls allowed more than 124 points per 100 possessions in their two games last week. These Bulls protect the rim much better than last season’s version, but the Celtics and Blazers shot 16-for-28 (57%) from mid-range and 32-for-71 (45%) from beyond the arc. The Bulls are one of four teams that rank in the bottom 10 in both opponent field goal percentage in the paint (27th) and opponent effective field goal percentage on shots from outside the paint (24th).
In 11th place, they’re back below the play-in cut-off. But they have a huge opportunity to make a move with two games against the ninth-place Knicks.
Week 7: vs. NYK, vs. NYK, @ ORL, @ ORL
Pace: 99.9 (20) OffRtg: 109.9 (16) DefRtg: 112.4 (24) NetRtg: -2.5 (21)
On the night that JJ Redick was DNP’d for the first time, the Pelicans tied a franchise record with 21 3-pointers, with Lonzo Ball and Eric Bledsoe accounting for 14 of the 21. Redick has shot just 30% from beyond the arc and the Pelicans have been outscored by 11.2 points per 100 possessions in his 320 minutes on the floor. But that breaks down to -18.5 per 100 in 163 minutes with Jaxson Hayes also on the floor and just -2.2 per 100 in 156 minutes with Hayes off the floor. Hayes was also out of the rotation in the Pelicans’ win over the Bucks on Friday and, with Steven Adams suffering a calf injury, was on the floor as the game got away from the Pels against Houston on Saturday. If Adams is going to miss games, the Pelicans could be in more trouble, though Zion Williamson’s’ limited minutes at center have been better over the last few weeks (+14 in 36 minutes).
With the Pelicans in 14th place, Redick on an expiring contract and with every playoff team in need of more shooting, a trade involving the 15-year veteran seems inevitable. Nickeil Alexander-Walker has begun to see more playing time, but has shot just 10-for-34 (3-for-19 from 3-point range) over the last three games. Rookie Kira Lewis Jr. had an intriguing few minutes in the fourth quarter on Saturday.
Week 7: vs. SAC, vs. PHX, @ IND, vs. MEM
Pace: 100.8 (11) OffRtg: 111.6 (9) DefRtg: 118.2 (30) NetRtg: -6.6 (28)
Over their three games in Florida, the Kings outscored their opponents by 32 points (103-71) in the first quarter, with Buddy Hield and Harrison Barnes combining to shoot 15-for-20 on their first-quarter threes. They rode those first-quarter leads to wins in Orlando and Tampa, recording assists on 69% of their buckets. The Kings have seen the league’s second biggest jump in ball movement (passes per 24 minutes of possession) from last season, and they have a lot of guys willing to make the extra pass.
That first-quarter lead didn’t hold up in Miami on Saturday, with the Kings scoring just three points over a six-minute stretch in the second quarter and then coming up empty when De’Aaron Fox was trapped on the final possession. The Kings’ two most-used lineups — their starters and their closing group (Tyrese Haliburton in Marvin Bagley’s place) — have outscored their opponents by 10.6 points per 100 possessions in 320 total minutes. But the Kings have been outscored by a remarkable 16.0 per 100 in 597 minutes otherwise. Glenn Robinson III has one of the worst on-off differentials in the league and was replaced in the rotation by Kyle Guy (who had played 43 career minutes at that point) on Saturday.
Even with the loss in Miami, the Kings are 5-2 against the Eastern Conference. They have two of the best teams in the West on the schedule this week, but still have 11 more games against the East on the pre-break schedule.
Week 7: @ NOP, vs. BOS, vs. DEN, @ LAC
Pace: 99.3 (22) OffRtg: 104.8 (28) DefRtg: 111.3 (21) NetRtg: -6.5 (27)
For the third straight season, the Magic are in the bottom five in transition possessions per game. But this season, they also rank last in transition efficiency (just 0.99 points per possession). Witness the play illustrated below, where what looked like a gimme, two-on-one break turned into nothing because the point guard didn’t make the easy pass.
Over their four games last week, the Magic played 63 total minutes with no point guard on the floor and Aaron Gordon basically running the offense. That didn’t’ work either; They scored 92 points per 100 possessions in those 63 minutes. Against the Kings’ 30th-ranked defense on Wednesday, they managed only 10 field goal attempts in the restricted area. And in two games since then, their two best offensive players have combined to shoot 14-for-56 (25%). Gordon left their loss in Tampa on Sunday with a sprained ankle.
Week 7: vs. TOR, vs. CHI, vs. CHI
Pace: 98.9 (24) OffRtg: 107.5 (23) DefRtg: 111.4 (22) NetRtg: -3.9 (23)
The Pistons have just five wins, but two of the five came last week against two of the four best teams in the league. The context is that the Sixers and Lakers were missing Joel Embiid and Anthony Davis, respectively. But the Pistons scored more than 120 points per 100 possessions over the two wins over two teams that rank in the top three defensively. Delon Wright had 28 points and nine assists against Philly, while Blake Griffin had 23 and six against L.A. The Jerami Grant Project continues to be fascinating and, while his scoring has been down, his assist rate over his last 10 games (15.6 per 100 possessions) is more than double that of his first 10 (7.7).
The offense has been erratic, but through Thursday, the Pistons’ starting lineup had scored more than 122 points per 100 possessions in its 128 minutes together. Then the Pistons began their five-game road trip with their least efficient performance of the season. Wayne Ellington’s hot streak (40-for-67 from 3-point range over eight games) finally came to an end (he was 0-for-5 from deep) and the starters got outscored, 50-26, in a little over 16 minutes. And that might have been the most winnable game on the trip.
Week 7: @ DEN, @ UTA, @ PHX, @ LAL
Pace: 102.4 (5) OffRtg: 103.9 (30) DefRtg: 112.9 (26) NetRtg: -9.0 (30)
Four days after the No. 2 pick got taken out of the starting lineup for Golden State, the No. 1 pick got moved into the starting lineup in Minnesota. And, given that the Wolves are 2 1/2 games out of 14th place, there’s probably no reason to ever take Anthony Edwards back out. In the words of the late, great Bob Watson, “Let the kids play!”
Edwards totaled 38 points on 50% shooting in his first two starts. Only one of his 13 shots on Friday came in the restricted area, but the first three of his 23 points (11 of which came at the rim or at the line) on Sunday came via a delicious spin move to the cup against Darius Garland. It’s not atypical for a rookie guard/wing to shoot poorly in the restricted area (Edwards’ 48.8% ranks 54th among 57 players with at least 75 restricted-area attempts), but that his ability to finish and get to the line will something to monitor over the next few months.
The Wolves ended a three-game losing streak, over which they barely scored a point per possession, with their win over the Cavs on Sunday. Offensive struggles aren’t surprising, given that Karl-Anthony Towns has played in only four games. But the Wolves just haven’t been able to make up for it on the other end of the floor, and replacement starter Naz Reid’s reaction time was lacking (both inside and on the perimeter) in the first of two losses in San Francisco last week. The win on Sunday was the start of a stretch where they’re playing four of five games against two of the four worst offensive teams in the league.
Week 7: @ CLE, @ SAS, @ OKC, @ OKC
Pace: 105.3 (1) OffRtg: 110.9 (13) DefRtg: 115.6 (29) NetRtg: -4.7 (25)
Ranking in the bottom five defensively for the third straight season, the Wizards need to score efficiently to be somewhat competitive. But, though they have the league’s leading scorer, the Wizards had the league’s worst offense (97.3 points scored per 100 possessions) through their first four games back from a 12-day hiatus, losing all four games by 16 points or more. They got Rui Hachimura and Davis Bertans back on Friday, and they combined to shoot 3-for-16 against the Hawks.
Two nights later, the Wizards got a couple of more bodies back. More important (though Ish Smith was a plus-24 in his return) is they got to play Brooklyn. The result was the most Wizardsy game of the year, with the two teams combining to score 130 points per 100 possessions in what was the second fastest-paced and highest-scoring game of the ’20-21 season. What was *not so Wizards-y is that the Wizards actually won, scoring six points in less than four seconds to stun the Nets after coming back from 18 points down. Russell Westbrook hadn’t made a clutch 3 since Dec. 9, 2019 (he’s only attempted eight since then) before draining the game-winner.
* The Wizards were involved in five of the 12 highest-scoring games of last season, and they lost all five.
The Wizards missed six games over that 12-day stretch, but have had three added back to their schedule, giving them two stretches of five games in seven days over the next four weeks. The first of those (the much easier one in regard to schedule strength) begins Tuesday with another game against another bad defense.
Week 7: vs. POR, @ MIA, @ MIA, @ CHA