Power Rankings, Week 8: Lakers return to No. 1; Jazz continue to rise
See where all 30 teams rank after the first seven weeks of 2020-21 season.
Every week, just before we get into the rankings, we make note of the league average in pace (possessions per team per 48 minutes) and offensive efficiency (points scored per 100 possessions). And a little over a week ago, the league hit a milestone in regard to the latter.
Last season was the most efficient in NBA history, with teams averaging 110.1 points scored per 100 possessions. This season, with the schedule a little less than 33% complete, the league has already surpassed that mark, scoring 110.7 per 100 through Sunday.
Maybe it’s the empty gyms. Maybe the lack of practice time has made it harder for teams to get on the same page defensively. Maybe the more condensed schedule is making it tougher to players to expend the requisite energy on on that end of the floor. And maybe, players are just more skilled every year.
It’s probably a combination of all that. But NBA offense has never been as efficient as it has been this season. And in the last two weeks, we’ve seen six of the highest individual scoring games of the season. Fred VanVleet had 54 on Tuesday, and then Nikola Jokic and Stephen Curry had 50 and 57, respectively, on the same night. Both of their teams lost because the opponent’s offense was better.
With all this offense, the No. 1 spot in the Power Rankings is back in the hands of the team with the league’s No. 1 defense. The Clippers and Sixers failed to hold onto their spots in the top two, so the champs are back in the top spot, with the red hot Utah Jazz right on their heels.
Plus-Minus Players of the Week
- Right Way: Bobby Portis (MIL) was a plus-95 in four games last week.
- Wrong Way: Ja Morant (MEM) was a minus-74 in four games last week.
Teams of the Week
- Make It Last Forever: Sacramento (4-0) — The Cardiac Kings have won seven of their last eight!
- Something Just Ain’t Right: Denver (0-2) — Life is tough in the Western Conference.
East vs. West
- The West is 73-44 (.624) against the East in interconference games after going 14-7 last week.
Schedule Strength through Week 7
- Toughest: 1. Detroit, 2. Denver, 3. Dallas
- Easiest: 1. Philadelphia, 2. Orlando, 3. Milwaukee
- 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: Sacramento (+13), New Orleans (+6), Utah (+3)
- Free falls of the week: Memphis (-5), Atlanta (-5), New York (-4), Oklahoma City (-4)
Week 8 Team to Watch
- Utah — The Jazz have the best record in the NBA and are in Salt Lake City for what could be a very fun and competitive, four-game homestand. It begins with a visit from the Celtics on Tuesday (10 p.m. ET, TNT) and after two days off, continues with a Friday-Saturday back-to-back, with the Bucks and Heat in town. And it concludes next Monday with a visit from the Sixers.
Previous Power Rankings
- Last week: Clippers jump Lakers for No. 1 spot
- Thursday’s notebook: Warriors’ creativity, Nets’ inconsistency and this season’s most improved shooters
- This time last year: Minor moves could have major impact on playoff races — The biggest trade at the deadline took place between the 14th and 15th-place teams in the Western Conference, with the Wolves trading Andrew Wiggins and a first-round pick to the Warriors for D’Angelo Russell. The Cavs got Andre Drummond for basically nothing, while the Heat acquired two guys – Jae Crowder and Andre Iguodala – who would help them reach The Finals. The Rockets went all-in on center-less basketball and the Clippers won the Marcus Morris Sweepstakes. The Wizards beat the Mavs with an inbounds play, the Jazz ended a five-game losing streak when Rudy Gobert got away with goaltending a Damian Lillard layup, and two nights later, Bojan Bogdanovic hit one of the craziest game-winners of the season.
- 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 100.2 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes and 110.7 points scored per 100 possessions this season.
NBA.com’s Power Rankings, released every Monday during the season, are just one man’s opinion. If you have an issue with the rankings, or have a question or comment for John Schuhmann, send him an e-mail or contact him via Twitter.
Last Week: 3 ↑
Pace: 99.0 (23) OffRtg: 113.0 (7) DefRtg: 104.8 (1) NetRtg: +8.2 (3)
The 18-6 Lakers almost got swept by the 5-18 Pistons. But after blowing a 10-point, fourth-quarter lead on Saturday, the champs scored 29 points on 18 overtime possessions, with LeBron James putting Detroit away with two step-back 3-pointers over Mason Plumlee in the second OT. James leads the league with eight clutch 3-pointers (on 17 attempts), with another one of those eight part of a personal, 7-0 run that put the Hawks away on Monday. His 38-for-86 (44.2%) on pull-up 3-pointers is the third best mark among 37 players who’ve attempted at least 50 and up from 32.8% over the last two years. If he can keep shooting like that, he’s going to be good player someday.
Between the two narrow wins over two not-so-great teams, the Lakers used a 46-14, second-half run to beat the Nuggets by 21. It was the first time the Nuggets have been held under a point per possession and it featured some of the best defensive energy that the league’s No. 1 defense has shown all season. A lot of that energy came from the reserves, with the Lakers having cut their rotation down to nine. Wesley Matthews and Markieff Morris have both been DNP’d in each of the last four games.
The Lakers are playing 11 of their final 15 pre-break games at home, but have a rematch with the Nuggets in Denver on Sunday.
Week 8: vs. OKC, vs. OKC, vs. MEM, @ DEN
Last Week: 5 ↑
Pace: 98.9 (24) OffRtg: 115.4 (4) DefRtg: 107.0 (3) NetRtg: +8.4 (2)
The Jazz’s loss in Denver eight days ago was just a hiccup, apparently. They went on to lead their next three games by at least 25 points and, with Mike Conley out for the last game of their three-game trip, they avoided further Sunday-afternoon issues and took care of business in Indiana. Less than 48 hours after setting the franchise record for 3-pointers (26 in Charlotte on Friday), the Jazz had their least efficient offensive game of this 15-1 stretch. But Donovan Mitchell tied his career high with 11 assists and they became just the second team to hold the Pacers under a point per possession this season.
The Jazz remain the only team that ranks in the top five on both ends of the floor and have now gone a full month with just one loss. Their stretch of Eastern Conference hoops continues with a fun four-game homestand, with the Celtics, Bucks, Heat and Sixers at Vivint Arena over the next eight days. The Jazz’s previous franchise record for 3-pointers came a month ago in Milwaukee in what was the first game of their 11-game winning streak.
Week 8: vs. BOS, vs. MIL, vs. MIA
Last Week: 2 ↓
Pace: 102.0 (6) OffRtg: 111.4 (13) DefRtg: 107.4 (4) NetRtg: +4.1 (5)
Ben Simmons is just 1-for-6 from 3-point range (his last attempt was two weeks ago and barely grazed the rim), but he leads the league with 93 assists on 3-pointers (4.4 per game), even though the Sixers rank 24th in total 3-pointers as a team. It helps that they have more shooters around him, but Simmons led the league in 3-point assists before the season was suspended last year. This season, the Sixers have shot 41% from 3-point range with Simmons on the floor and just 29% with him off the floor. And that discrepancy doesn’t shrink much (it becomes 39% vs. 29%) when you removed the numbers of Seth Curry, who has played 86% of his minutes alongside Simmons. Tobias Harris has been much more efficient alongside the starting point guard.
Without Simmons against Portland on Thursday, the Sixers went almost 30 minutes without hitting a 3-pointer, missing their first 12 attempts from beyond the arc. He returned on Saturday and assisted on five of their 10 3-pointers in an easy win over Brooklyn. He bends the defense with his attacks into the paint, he sees the entire floor, and he delivers sharp and accurate passes.
The win over the Nets improved the Sixers to 13-0 when they’ve had their starting lineup together. They’ve allowed 102.9 points per 100 possessions in those 13 games and 112.5 in the other 11.
Week 8: @ SAC, @ POR, @ PHX
Last Week: 1 ↓
Pace: 98.0 (28) OffRtg: 117.0 (2) DefRtg: 110.1 (12) NetRtg: +6.9 (4)
The Clippers have lost three out of four for the first time this season, but the two weekend losses came without Paul George (dealing with a sore right foot) and all three games were close. The Clippers are now 5-7 in games that were within five points in the last five minutes and 12-1 otherwise, with that latter mark being the league’s best record in games that weren’t close. Maybe it’s nothing to worry about.
Of course, their narrow losses speak to a larger issue. The Clippers have been getting by with the second best 3-point percentage in NBA history (41.9%) and have seen some slippage on defense, where they ranked fifth last season. Overall, they rank 12th defensively and in the clutch, they rank last, having allowed 90 points on 67 defensive possessions with the score within five in the last five minutes. Brooklyn, Boston and Sacramento combined to shoot 12-for-22 in the clutch against the Clippers last week, with six of those 12 buckets coming in the restricted area. Only three of the Clippers’ own 22 clutch field goal attempts came in the restricted area.
Despite the late-game struggles, there doesn’t seem to be a need for George to rush back given this week’s schedule. Next week’s slate — which includes two games against the Jazz and a rematch with Brooklyn — is much more interesting.
Week 8: @ MIN, @ CHI, vs. CLE
Last Week: 7 ↑
Pace: 102.1 (5) OffRtg: 118.9 (1) DefRtg: 108.9 (8) NetRtg: +10.0 (1)
The Bucks are still doing things a little differently this season, but last week was certainly their most 2019-20-Bucks week of the year. They were dominant, leading three of the four games by 30 or more points and holding their opponents to just 101.2 points per 100 possessions. The Pacers and Cavs (x2) weren’t going to kill them from 3-point range, but they began the week by holding Damian Lillard in check (with Brook Lopez defending out beyond the arc) and still protecting the rim (the Blazers shot 15-for-30 in the restricted area). Over the four games, Bucks opponents averaged just 16.3 free throw attempts.
After a four-game stretch in which he shot 28-for-45 (62%), Bobby Portis had a quiet night offensively on Saturday. But the Bucks still outscored the Cavs by 28 points in his 20 minutes, giving him a near-impossible plus-95 in 84 minutes for the week. For the season, the Bucks’ six best two-man on-court marks for point differential per 100 possessions belong to combos matching one starter and one reserve.
The Western Conference portion of the Bucks’ six-game trip includes games against the Nuggets, who rank sixth in 3-point percentage, and the Jazz, who rank second and drained 25 3-pointers (one off their season high) in a win in Milwaukee on Jan. 8.
Week 8: @ DEN, @ PHX, @ UTA, @ OKC
Last Week: 6
Pace: 102.4 (4) OffRtg: 116.7 (3) DefRtg: 113.7 (27) NetRtg: +3.0 (7)
Contact tracing cut Kevin Durant’s night short on Friday and has him missing three straight games (the first of which was Saturday) for the second time this season. With their losses to the Raptors and Sixers over the weekend, the Nets are 3-5 in games Durant hasn’t played or been allowed to finish (and 4-9 in Friday-Saturday-Sunday games). With that first three-game absence having come before the James Harden trade and with Kyrie Irving having missed the loss in Philly, Harden and Irving have played just 69 minutes together without Durant on the floor. Brooklyn has allowed more than 129 points per 100 possessions in those 69 minutes.
The Nets did pick up another quality win last week, scoring 21 points on a 10-possession, fourth-quarter stretch that turned a five-point deficit into a 10-point lead against the Clippers. Only one of their seven buckets over that stretch was assisted, with Durant, Irving and Harden each getting opportunities to do things on their own. As you might have expected, the Nets have seen big drops in both ball and player movement (along with a big jump in time of possession) since the Harden trade, going from above average to below average in both. But, at 1.19 points per iso possession, they’re on track to be the most efficient isolation team in 17 years of Synergy tracking, with Harden’s 2017-18 Rockets holding the previous high mark at 1.12.
Week 8: @ DET, vs. IND, @ GSW
Last Week: 4 ↓
Pace: 98.1 (27) OffRtg: 115.0 (5) DefRtg: 111.6 (20) NetRtg: +3.4 (6)
Nikola Jokic can score 50 points, but he can’t play 48 minutes. And when Jokic picked up his first career 50 Piece (with 12 assists and just one turnover) on Saturday, it was the fifth time this season that the Nuggets lost a game in which they outscored their opponent in his minutes on the floor. Missing four rotation guards (including Jamal Murray), the Nuggets had a backcourt of Markus Howard and R.J. Hampton on the floor for almost all of the 6:37 that Jokic sat against the Kings. Against the Lakers two nights earlier, Denver went from up five to down eight in the 3:04 that Jokic sat at the end of the third quarter.
With or without Jokic on the floor, the Denver defense remains an issue. It ranked fifth over a three-week stretch from Feb. 8-28, but since then has not held up against some strong offenses, allowing more than 120 points per 100 possessions over a 1-3 stretch. The Lakers’ 60 points in the restricted area on Thursday are tied for the third most in a game (for any team) this season, and the 70.4% that Denver opponents have shot in the restricted area would be the highest opponent mark in the 25 years for which we have shot-location data.
The Nuggets face the Lakers again this week, but they begin their four-game homestand with a visit from the team (the Bucks) that ranks second in restricted-area field goal percentage.
Week 8: vs. MIL, vs. CLE, vs. OKC, vs. LAL
Last Week: 10 ↑
Pace: 97.6 (29) OffRtg: 110.0 (18) DefRtg: 107.5 (5) NetRtg: +2.5 (8)
In his first game back from a four-game absence, Devin Booker drained the game-winning 3-pointer off a pretty play design from Monty Williams, expert in pretty play designs. Interestingly, with Chris Paul’s move to Phoenix, Booker has seen only a minimal increase (from 24% to 25%) in the percentage of his jump shots that have come off the catch and no increase in the percentage of his buckets that have been assisted (amazingly 45.9% in each of the last two seasons).
Booker has seen drops in both effective field goal percentage and true shooting percentage from career-best marks last season, because he hasn’t been getting to the basket or to the free throw line as much. As a team, the Suns rank 29th in both the percentage of their shots that have come in the restricted area (23%) and free throw rate (21.2 attempts per 100 shots from the field), having seen the league biggest drop from last season in the former (33%, 13th) and its second biggest drop in the latter (27.1, eighth). The lack of layups and free throws wasn’t much of an issue when the Suns ranked in the top 10 offensively a few weeks ago and they’ve still won five of their last six games with their top-five defense. But Mikal Bridges has cooled off from 3-point range (6-for-36 over the last eight games) and they certainly have guys — Booker and Deandre Ayton (four free throw attempts in the last four games) — who could be getting to the cup and to the line more than they have.
#DevinBooker. In his first game back.
— Phoenix Suns (@Suns) February 2, 2021
Week 8: vs. CLE, vs. MIL, vs. PHI, vs. ORL
Last Week: 11 ↑
Pace: 101.0 (10) OffRtg: 109.5 (21) DefRtg: 110.3 (14) NetRtg: -0.8 (17)
The Spurs are one of two teams — the Sixers (14-0) are the other — that haven’t lost a game they led by double-digits, in part because their bench lineups have been so good at taking care of business. They blew a 13-point, late-third-quarter lead in Houston on Saturday, but got to the line on six of their final seven possessions (the last two were take fouls) and made all 11 free throws to improve to 10-0 after holding a lead of 10 or more.
DeMar DeRozan’s shooting from the field hasn’t been quite as good as it was last season, but his true shooting percentage (60.7%) is a career-high mark, mostly because he has a free throw rate of 50.2 attempts per 100 shots from the field (also a career high). He was 6-for-7 from the line in the fourth quarter as the Spurs came back from 16 down with a little more than 10 minutes to go against the Wolves on Wednesday. They closed that win with both Derrick White and Dejounte Murray on the floor, and that was the starting backcourt (with Lonnie Walker IV out) in Houston. Floor spacing has been a concern with the Murray-White combo, but White has thus far taken more than half of his 55 shots from 3-point range.
Their game in Atlanta on Friday is the Spurs’ first visit to an Eastern Conference arena this season (they’ve played a league-low three games vs. the East) and the start of a seven-game trip.
Week 8: vs. GSW, vs. GSW, @ ATL, @ CHA
Last Week: 9 ↓
Pace: 99.3 (21) OffRtg: 111.9 (10) DefRtg: 109.8 (9) NetRtg: +2.1 (10)
With injuries to Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown, with Kemba Walker working his way back from knee rehab, and with the ups and downs of both young guards and veteran bigs, the Celtics are still searching for consistency and continuity. Over the 11 games since Walker made his season debut, they don’t have a lineup that’s played more than 28 minutes together. Carsen Edwards was out of the rotation at the beginning of last week and in the starting lineup on Sunday.
But the Celtics got good wins over the Warriors and Clippers last week after losing the first quarter by double-digits in both games. Brown (prior to his knee issue) gave them a huge lift (seven points on the game-deciding 15-2 run) at Golden State, Edwards gave them an unexpected boost in L.A., and Walker made the go-ahead step-back this time. Those were the Celtics’ first two wins within the group of 13 teams currently over .500 (which now includes the Kings) since their opening-night win over the Bucks. After their loss in Phoenix (the slowest-paced game of the season) on Sunday, with Walker and Edwards combining to shoot 5-for-26, they have the worst record (3-7) in games between those 13 teams. And the last game of their road trip (Tuesday in Utah) may be the toughest of the five.
Week 8: @ UTA, vs. TOR, vs. DET, @ WAS
Last Week: 12 ↑
Pace: 103.8 (2) OffRtg: 110.3 (17) DefRtg: 110.1 (13) NetRtg: +0.2 (14)
When the Warriors scored 147 points on 103 possessions (the third most efficient game for any team this season) in Dallas on Thursday, the Mavs’ defense wasn’t that bad. The Warriors’ offensive execution was just exquisite, leveraging The Stephen Curry Threat to get open shots for everybody else, along with 50 points (tied for their season high) in the restricted area. Playing small (with Kevon Looney and James Wiseman both out) gave them some extra quickness and it seems like the supporting cast is catching up with Curry and Draymond Green in regard to reading the defense. A well-timed dive from Juan Toscano-Anderson (after Curry was doubled and the ball was swung to Green) was one of many highlights in a 73-point second half.
The Warriors have scored more than 126 points per 100 possessions in 128 minutes with Curry and Green on the floor without Looney or Wiseman. Green at the five may not be something they can lean on heavily or that will work very well defensively (their loss to the Mavs on Saturday was their worst defensive performance of the season), but it sure is a lot of fun to watch. And the defense may hold up over the next couple of weeks. The Dubs host the third-ranked Brooklyn offense on Saturday, but seven of their next nine games are against teams that rank in the bottom 10 offensively.
Week 8: @ SAS, @ SAS, vs. ORL, vs. BKN
Last Week: 14 ↑
Pace: 100.3 (14) OffRtg: 114.0 (6) DefRtg: 115.4 (28) NetRtg: -1.4 (20)
Given how banged up they’ve been, the Blazers are probably OK with a 3-3 trip, especially because they got a win in Philly (where the Sixers were previously 10-0 with Joel Embiid) without Damian Lillard. The Blazers have generally struggled with both Carmelo Anthony and Enes Kanter on the floor, but on Thursday, Kanter’s work on the glass (seven offensive boards) helped them rack up 22 second-chance points and Anthony had one his most efficient scoring nights of the season. The Blazers’ 121 points on 101 possessions was the second most efficient game any team has had against the Sixers with Embiid in the lineup.
Of course, a 4-2 trip was within reach with Lillard returning for the finale in New York on Saturday. But the Knicks’ 25th-ranked offense was better than the Blazers’ 28th-ranked defense, which got punished for mistakes, for its aggressiveness in pick-and-roll, and for allowing Elfrid Payton to drive right through the middle of a 2-3 zone. The Knicks’ 13 3-pointers on Saturday were their most since December and it was just the sixth time this season they had 20 or more buckets in the restricted area. The Portland defense doesn’t do anything particularly well, ranking no better than 12th in any of the four factors, with the most important of those being opponent effective field goal percentage, where it ranks 28th.
The Blazers will host a pair of bottom-five offenses on a three-game homestand before hitting the road again for six of seven.
Week 8: vs. ORL, vs. PHI, vs. CLE, @ DAL
Last Week: 26 ↑
Pace: 100.8 (11) OffRtg: 112.3 (9) DefRtg: 116.8 (30) NetRtg: -4.5 (24)
The Cardiac Kings have won seven out of eight games for the first time since March of 2006 (Mike Bibby, Brad Miller, Kenny Thomas!), the same year they last made the playoffs. Their four-game winning streak has come against the Pelicans (who have since won three straight), Celtics, Nuggets and Clippers. That’s good work, even if it hasn’t come easy. The four wins have come by a total of 22 points.
In fact, six of the seven wins (and the only loss) in this 7-1 stretch have been close late. The Kings are now 11-4 in games that were within five points in the last five minutes and just 1-7 otherwise. (The Timberwolves are the only other team with just one non-clutch victory.) That doesn’t portend future success, but there’s certainly a positive in being comfortable in close games and the Kings have basically known who they’re calling on in those situations since Buddy Hield tipped in the game-winner on opening night. De’Aaron Fox, Tyrese Haliburton, Hield, Harrison Barnes and Richaun Holmes have each been on the floor for at least 49 of the Kings’ 62 total clutch minutes, seemingly taking the “super lineup” belt from the Thunder’s best-five lineup of last season. The 21.1 points per 100 possessions that the Kings’ group has outscored its opponents by is the second best mark among 23 lineups that have played at least 100 minutes together.
Fox has been the star, averaging 27 points and 7.8 assists over the 7-1 stretch. His 38 points in New Orleans on Monday included nine buckets in the restricted area (second most in his career), and with the Kings up one in the final minute on Sunday, he beat Kawhi Leonard off the dribble and fed Holmes for an easy dunk.
Week 8: vs. PHI, vs. ORL, vs. MEM
Last Week: 13 ↓
Pace: 100.3 (12) OffRtg: 111.7 (11) DefRtg: 110.6 (17) NetRtg: +1.1 (13)
The shine has come off the Pacers, who have lost five of their last six games to drop to .500 and leave the Eastern Conference with only four teams with winning records. Their issues have mostly been on defense, where they’ve allowed 19.7 second chance points per game (most in the league by a wide margin) over the last week and a half. They were fortunate that the Jazz cooled off from 3-point range on Sunday, but then allowed them to turn 17 offensive boards into a season-high 25 second chance points. With the Pacers down 3 with less than five minutes to go, Donovan Mitchell rebounded his own miss and the Pacers didn’t communicate on a rotation, allowing Bojan Bogdanovic to hit the biggest shot of the afternoon.
The offense has also slid out of the top 10. Without Caris LeVert or T.J. Warren, Malcolm Brogdon is the Pacers’ only serious threat off the dribble. But Brogdon has shot just 18-for-52 (35%) over the last three games and hasn’t been getting to the line much. Over the 1-5 stretch, Indy has scored just 105 points per 100 possessions in his 195 minutes on the floor. Domantas Sabonis shot 10-for-32 over the weekend, struggling against the size of Steven Adams and Rudy Gobert.
The Pacers’ only win in their last six games came when they had a rest advantage against the Grizzlies on Tuesday. They’ll have a rest advantage in five of their next eight games, including Wednesday in Brooklyn and Saturday in Atlanta.
Week 8: @ BKN, @ DET, @ ATL
Last Week: 16 ↑
Pace: 102.0 (7) OffRtg: 108.5 (23) DefRtg: 106.2 (2) NetRtg: +2.4 (9)
Eric Gordon has been a bright spot for the Rockets, averaging a team-high 23.3 points per game on 53% shooting in February. His effective field goal percentage of 57.0% is a career-best mark and up from 47.3% last season. He seemingly had nowhere to go but up after that rough year, but that’s one of the biggest jumps in the league.
Still offense has been a struggle. The Rockets’ 87 points on 108 possessions against the Thunder’s 19th-ranked defense on Wednesday was the third least efficient game for any team this season. It came with 21 turnovers, and the Rockets rank 28th in turnover rate (15.7 per 100 possessions) since the James Harden trade. Now, they’re without their most prolific and most efficient scorer, losing Christian Wood to an ankle (re)injury on Thursday.
The Rockets are entering an easier stretch of schedule. Their next five (and nine of their next 11) games are against teams with losing records, and they’ll have a rest advantage in three of those five.
Week 8: @ CHA, @ NOP, vs. MIA, @ NYK
Last Week: 8 ↓
Pace: 100.3 (13) OffRtg: 108.8 (22) DefRtg: 108.8 (7) NetRtg: -0.1 (15)
The Grizzlies have followed their seven-game, 25-day winning streak with three straight losses in which they’ve been outscored by 81 points in Ja Morant’s 88 minutes on the floor. Their top-10 defense has allowed more than 122 points per 100 possessions over the three games, with their losses in Indiana and New Orleans being the third and fourth times this season they’ve allowed more than 50 points in the paint (they’re 0-4 in those games). Their loss to the Rockets’ 23rd-ranked offense on Thursday included two first-half plays where two different on-ball defenders — Dillon Brooks and Ja Morant — made the same exact mistake at the same exact spot on the floor, turning too far toward a screen and getting beat the other way.
Jonas Valanciunas returned from a five-game, three-week absence to score 23 points in 24 minutes on Saturday, but Brandon Clarke was a late scratch (and will miss their game against Toronto on Monday) with a calf issue. So the Grizz played more than half the game with Xavier Tillman alongside either Valanciunas or Gorgui Dieng. They may not need to go that way against the less-beefy frontlines of Toronto and Charlotte, but a shoulder injury to De’Anthony Melton (also out on Monday) hampers their ability to play smaller. The Grizz have scored more than 120 points per 100 possessions in 184 total minutes with Melton on the floor alongside Morant and/or Tyus Jones.
Week 8: vs. TOR, vs. CHA, @ LAL, @ SAC
Last Week: 17
Pace: 100.2 (17) OffRtg: 109.9 (19) DefRtg: 110.4 (16) NetRtg: -0.6 (16)
An injury to P.J. Washington had LaMelo Ball, Devonte’ Graham and Terry Rozier (returning from an ankle injury) starting together for the first time against the Jazz on Friday. Prior to that, the Hornets had outscored their opponents by more than 18 points per 100 possessions in 73 total minutes with the three guards on the floor together. And on Friday, they got off to a good start against the team with the league’s best record. But Graham suffered a groin strain in the second quarter and an early, 12-point lead turned into a 25-point deficit and the Hornets’ worst defensive game of the season.
Ball’s ascent did continue with a career-high 34 points and eight assists (with no turnovers) against the league’s third-ranked defense. He’s 14-for-28 from 3-point range over the last five games, and James Borrego will have an interesting decision to make regarding his starting lineup when Graham returns from his injury.
The Hornets recovered from the loss to the Jazz, walloping the Wizards on Sunday. Now they play 12 of their final 13 pre-break games against the Western Conference, with this week being the easiest part of that stretch.
Week 8: vs. HOU, @ MEM, vs. MIN, vs. SAS
Last Week: 18
Pace: 99.8 (18) OffRtg: 110.5 (16) DefRtg: 113.0 (26) NetRtg: -2.5 (22)
Prior to Thursday, there were four games in NBA history where both teams made at least 20 3-pointers. Then, over the course of three days, the Mavs and Warriors made it six, combining to shoot 83-for-185 (45%) from beyond the arc over their two-game series. Dallas recovered from a second-half shellacking in the first game and withstood Stephen Curry’s 57 points on Saturday to earn a split.
That top-five defense that the Mavs had through the first four weeks of the season is long gone. They went from top five to bottom five in three weeks. But at least the offense is picking up, with the last three games (121 points scored per 100 possessions) being their most efficient stretch of the season. Luka Doncic has been getting to the line, they’ve kept their turnovers down, and they’ve shot 39% from 3-point range, with six guys hitting at least six 3-pointers over the three games. Doncic got a couple of catch-and-shoot 3-pointers late in the win on Saturday (only 30 of his 164 3-point attempts have been off the catch), before drawing a double-team and finding Maxi Kleber for the dagger.
The Mavs have five more games left on their homestand, and four of the five are against teams that rank in the bottom 10 defensively.
Week 8: vs. MIN, vs. ATL, vs. NOP, vs. POR
Last Week: 25 ↑
Pace: 99.4 (20) OffRtg: 111.6 (12) DefRtg: 112.6 (23) NetRtg: -1.0 (18)
A three-game winning streak has the Pelicans (who were in 14th place a week ago) knocking on the door of the Play-In Club, with a game against the 10th-place Rockets on Tuesday. They’ve been on fire offensively, scoring 120 points per 100 possessions or more in five of their last seven games, with three of those performances coming against top-10 defenses (those of the Bucks, Suns and Grizzlies).
They’ve done it behind a dominant starting lineup. In their 96 minutes together over the last seven games (Steven Adams missed one of the seven), the Pelicans’ starters have scored more than 137 points per 100 possessions and outscored their opponents by 78 points. Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson have combined to average 49.4 points on a true shooting percentage of 64.5%, Lonzo Ball and Eric Bledsoe have combined to shoot 45% from 3-point range, and Adams has averaged 5.7 offensive boards. With the Pelicans holding on to a one-point lead at the end of their game against the Pacers on Friday, Ball stopped Myles Turner at the rim.
JJ Redick returned to the rotation last week and shot 7-for-10 from 3-point range, while Willy Hernangomez has been getting the back-up center minutes instead of Jaxson Hayes. But the New Orleans bench has continued to struggle, especially defensively.
Week 8: vs. HOU, @ CHI, @ DAL, @ DET
Last Week: 15 ↓
Pace: 100.3 (15) OffRtg: 111.1 (15) DefRtg: 110.0 (11) NetRtg: +1.1 (12)
Like Denver/Jokic, the Hawks have five losses in games in which they outscored their opponents with Trae Young on the floor. The latest of those was Wednesday, when the Mavs took control of the game in the 5:18 that Young sat in the second half. The Hawks brought in reinforcements this season, but their offensive drop-off when Young sits (they’ve scored 16.7 fewer points per 100 possessions with him off the floor than they have with him on the floor) is bigger than it was last season (15.5). It’s the second biggest on-off OffRtg differential among players who’ve played at least 250 minutes this season, right behind that of Jokic (17.2).
The Hawks are obviously missing Bogdan Bogdanovic (avulsion fracture in his right knee), who got a slow-and-steady progress report last week and was supposed to be the guy running the second-unit offense. Rajon Rondo hasn’t helped much; The Hawks have scored just 100.9 points per 100 possessions in his 199 minutes with Young off the floor. De’Andre Hunter has seen improvement offensively, but has missed the last four games and is set to have meniscus surgery on Monday.
There is hope in that Danilo Gallinari has played in nine straight games since returning from his ankle injury, logging a season-high 24:35 in the Hawks’ win over Toronto on Saturday. Gallo’s effective field goal percentage (54.8%) and true shooting percentage (career-high 64.2% – he’s been getting to the line) are actually up from last season, but both his minutes and his mobility have been limited.
The Hawks are enjoying one of their two three-day breaks of the first-half schedule, but they still have three more back-to-backs (one this Friday and Saturday) over the next four weeks, having gone 2-6 (0-4 in the second game) in back-to-backs thus far.
Week 8: @ DAL, vs. SAS, vs. IND
Last Week: 21
Pace: 100.2 (16) OffRtg: 112.5 (8) DefRtg: 111.1 (18) NetRtg: +1.3 (11)
The Fred VanVleet story just keeps getting better. From going undrafted to grinding his way into the rotation of one of the best teams in the league, catching fire to help that team win its first championship, turning into one of the most disruptive defensive players in the league, cashing in on his bets on himself, and now, setting the franchise record with 54 points in Orlando on Tuesday. Four days before Stephen Curry had his second 50-point game of the season, VanVleet looked a lot like the two-time MVP, shooting 11-for-14 from 3-point range, and, late in the game, leveraging his hot shooting to get a handful of layups.
Kyle Lowry’s triple-double in that game went under the radar, but Lowry had his fingerprints all over the Raptors’ win in Brooklyn on Friday. Lowry scored 30 points, with a run of 11 straight turning the game around in the fourth quarter. The Raps have had five of their seven most efficient offensive games of the season in the last 10 days, but they lost two of those five.
With their loss in Atlanta (in which Lowry shot 4-for-16 with no free throw attempts) on Saturday, the Raps are 0-3 in the second games of back-to-backs, having allowed more than 124 points per 100 possessions over those three games. They have three more back-to-backs left on the first-half schedule, including one on Wednesday and Thursday to close their six-game trip.
— NBA (@NBA) February 3, 2021
Week 8: @ MEM, @ WAS, @ BOS, vs. MIN
Last Week: 22
Pace: 99.5 (19) OffRtg: 106.8 (26) DefRtg: 110.4 (15) NetRtg: -3.6 (23)
Maybe the Heat had to hit rock bottom, a loss at home to the Wizards on Wednesday, before beginning their climb up the standings. After coming up empty offensively down the stretch against the league’s 29th-ranked defense, they responded with their most efficient game of the season (122 points on 100 possessions) in the Friday rematch. Then they put up 109 (with six guys in double-figures) in a slow-paced game against the Knicks’ sixth-ranked defense. They’ve recovered from a stretch where they shot less than 30% from 3-point range over four straight games, with four guys shooting better than 40% on at least 19 attempts over the last six.
Jimmy Butler is not one of those guys. In fact, Butler hasn’t made a 3 this season (he’s 0-for-14) and is just 9-for-29 (31%) from mid-range, with his jumper as flat as ever. But the Heat’s offense has been much better with him on the floor, in part because he’s averaged eight assists and 11.4 free throw attempts in five games since returning to the lineup. (The quick-hitting, pitch-and-follow action below, with Butler going downhill and Duncan Robinson’s defender afraid to leave him, is a doozy.)
The Heat could use another win over the Knicks on Tuesday, not only because New York is a team they need to pass in the standings, but because that game is followed by a tough, seven-game trip.
Week 8: vs. NYK, @ HOU, @ UTA
Last Week: 19 ↓
Pace: 96.1 (30) OffRtg: 107.0 (25) DefRtg: 108.1 (6) NetRtg: -1.1 (19)
Derrick Rose is on his way back to New York and we now wonder what becomes of Immanuel Quickley, who saw his minutes reduced when Elfrid Payton had a couple of strong games in wins over the Bulls and Blazers last week. With the two point guards not having played together at all in the last three weeks (and for just 22 minutes total this season), Quickley’s minutes have been inversely proportional to those of Payton.
Of course, Quickley himself was pretty good in the win over Portland on Saturday, when the Blazers threw a few different pick-and-roll coverages at him. The rookie handled them all pretty well, passing against the blitz, attacking Carmelo Anthony when he dropped back, and draining a couple of step-backs when Anthony switched. Quickley’s 1.05 points per possession as a pick-and-roll ball-handler ranks fifth among 45 players who’ve averaged at least five ball-handler possessions per game, according to Synergy. And according to Second Spectrum tracking, the Knicks have been more efficient (1.08 points per possession) when Quickley has used a ball-screen than when any of their other guards have.
The Knicks are in the Play-In Club, they’re trying to win, and they’re in a stretch (six straight against teams are or below .500) where they can make some hay. Coaches are going to trust their vets, but the neophyte has been a delight.
Week 8: @ MIA, @ WAS, vs. HOU
Last Week: 20 ↓
Pace: 101.8 (9) OffRtg: 104.9 (28) DefRtg: 111.5 (19) NetRtg: -6.6 (28)
The Thunder are the proverbial box of chocolates. They’re 10-12 with the point differential of a team that’s 6-16, having lost six games by more points than their largest margin of victory (17). The most recent of those big losses was Monday against Houston, when they got doubled up (48-24) in the first quarter and lost by 30. Two nights later, playing without Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (and Luguentz Dort for the last 39 minutes), they registered that largest margin of victory, leading the same Rockets by as many as 30 in what was the third least efficient game for any team this season.
They’ve been dealing with a slew of injuries and absences, but the Thunder had both weekend games against the Wolves (in which they played with two vastly different sets of available players) go down to the wire. The Thunder have been outscored by 21.1 points per 100 possessions in the first quarter, the worst mark for any team in any quarter. And that’s after they won the first quarter by 19 points on Saturday … and still needed to score 16 points on nine possessions down the stretch to escape with a two-point win. Two nights earlier, Al Horford had his best game of the season (26 points, seven rebounds, eight assists, two steals and three blocks), but the Thunder were outscored by 23 points in his 18:57 off the floor. He’s one of 10 players who have played at least 350 minutes, with their teams having been at least 5.0 points per 100 possessions better on both ends of the floor with them in the game.
After two games against the Wolves, the Thunder play four against the Lakers, Nuggets and Bucks. But you never know what you’re gonna get.
Week 8: @ LAL, @ LAL, @ DEN, vs. MIL
Last Week: 24 ↓
Pace: 102.9 (3) OffRtg: 111.1 (14) DefRtg: 112.6 (24) NetRtg: -1.5 (21)
These two-game series reduce travel and increase rest, and they also offer opportunities for redemption. On Friday night in Orlando, Zach LaVine had a relatively inefficient night and committed one of the worst fouls of the season (down three, 90 feet from the basket, with the Magic in the bonus and 41 seconds left), keeping the Bulls from having another chance to tie or take the lead. In the same building one night later, LaVine scored 39 points on 16-for-25 shooting and the Bulls blew out the Magic. His career-high 27 points per game have come on career-high marks for effective field goal percentage (60.1%) and true shooting percentage (64.5%) by wide margins. The latter mark ranks sixth among 45 players with a usage rate of 25% or higher.
The Bulls have been without Wendell Carter Jr. and Otto Porter Jr., and they lost Lauri Markkanen to a right shoulder sprain on Friday (an injury he’ll miss 2-4 weeks with). So it’s been Patrick Williams’ time to shine. The rookie had his share of defensive mistakes in the loss on Friday: Slow with the double team, gambling on a pass, slow to get around a screen. But he totaled 36 points on 14-for-24 over the two games in Orlando and is shooting a solid 36-for-82 (44%) on shots between the restricted area and the 3-point line. He’s got both a an ease and a soft touch (see here, here and here) in that range that seemingly belie his age (19) and inexperience.
Week 8: vs. WAS, vs. NOP, vs. LAC
Last Week: 23 ↓
Pace: 98.2 (26) OffRtg: 103.8 (30) DefRtg: 110.0 (10) NetRtg: -6.2 (26)
Since their two-game sweep of Brooklyn improved them to 8-7, the Cavs are 2-7, with the two wins having come against Detroit and Minnesota. Their offense was already bad, but they rank 25th defensively (116.6 points allowed per 100 possessions) over that 15-day stretch, sliding from second to 10th for the season. Without Larry Nance Jr. (who’s now out six weeks with a new injury) for five of the nine games, their opponent turnover rate has been in the middle of the pack (as opposed to tops in the league). And they’re allowing an even higher volume of shots at the rim than they were before. Jarrett Allen remains one of the league’s best rim protectors, but he’s had to defend more shots at the rim per game with Cleveland (8.1) than he did with Brooklyn (6.0), even though he’s averaged fewer minutes (25.4 vs. 26.6).
It has been a tough stretch schedule-wise — their two losses to the Bucks over the weekend were the end of a stretch of five games in seven days – but the Cavs won’t have much of a respite until they have three days off from Feb. 18-20. They’re just three games into a stretch of nine straight against teams with winning records.
Week 8: @ PHX, @ DEN, @ POR, @ LAC
Last Week: 27
Pace: 99.2 (22) OffRtg: 105.3 (27) DefRtg: 112.7 (25) NetRtg: -7.4 (29)
The Magic are just one game out of a spot in The Play-In Club, but they have the Eastern Conference’s worst point differential (that of a team that’s 6-18), both on a per-game and per-possession basis. They lead the league in both games trailed by double-digits (18) and games trailed by 15 points or more (14). After winning a nail-biter against the Bulls on Friday, they got smoked by the same team 24 hours later, Chicago’s biggest win of the season.
The Friday win came with a career-high 43 points for Nikola Vucevic, with Daniel Gafford unable to keep up with him outside and Thaddeus Young unable to stop him inside. Cole Anthony has quickly learned that he can pick up some easy assists by simply getting Vucevic’s defender to take one or two steps away from him and allowing the big man to find space on the perimeter. Vucevic is one of seven players averaging 20 and 10, and he ranks second in the league with 63 catch-and-shoot 3-pointers. Alas, pick-and-pop excellence only gets you so far, and the Magic have been slightly better offensively with Vucevic off the floor (104.8 points scored per 100 possessions) than they’ve been with him on the floor (103.6). Free throws and offensive boards matter too.
Week 8: @ POR, @ GSW, @ SAC, @ PHX
Last Week: 29 ↑
Pace: 101.9 (8) OffRtg: 104.6 (29) DefRtg: 112.1 (22) NetRtg: -7.4 (30)
The Wolves are making some progress, having led each of their last five games in the fourth quarter. The progress has seemingly come on defense, with the Wolves allowing just 107.2 points per 100 possessions over the five games and climbing out of the bottom five on that end of the floor for the first time since Week 2. Of course, all five games have come against teams that rank in the bottom 10 offensively. And the Wolves lost three of the five, with their 16-point advantage in San Antonio on Wednesday being tied for the third biggest lead a team has had in the fourth quarter of a game it lost this season.
Jaden McDaniels has been getting regular minutes for three weeks, but seemingly had a coming-out party in the Wolves’ win in Oklahoma City on Friday, a game in which the rookie scored zero points, missing all four of his shots. He started the second half, had a big block on a Hamidou Diallo iso down the stretch, used his ridiculous reach to scare Diallo off his initial look at the last-second shot to tie, and registered a plus-20 in a game the Wolves won by three. For the season, Minnesota has been 21.5 points per 100 possessions better with McDaniels on the floor (+8.7) than they’ve been with him off the floor (-12.8), with the much bigger difference coming on defense. Among 288 players who’ve played at least 250 minutes for a single team, only Mike Conley has a bigger on-off NetRtg differential.
Karl-Anthony Towns, listed as doubtful for the Wolves game in Dallas on Monday, could be getting closer to a return.
ICE. IN. HIS. VEINS. pic.twitter.com/cZfzoodMbj
— Minnesota Timberwolves (@Timberwolves) February 6, 2021
Week 8: @ DAL, vs. LAC, @ CHA, @ TOR
Last Week: 28 ↓
Pace: 98.7 (25) OffRtg: 107.0 (24) DefRtg: 111.9 (21) NetRtg: -4.9 (25)
The Pistons’ loss in L.A. on Saturday pretty much defined their season to date. They were competitive against the full-strength Lakers, erasing a 17-point, second-half deficit and taking leads in both overtime periods. But they just couldn’t get the stops they needed to complete what would have been a pretty sweet season sweep. Having the second best offense against the league’s No. 1 defense is decent consolation prize, but Detroit is now 2-12 in games that were within five points in the last five minutes, with Pistons not named Jerami Grant having shot 24-for-71 (34%) on clutch shots.
Derrick Rose was 4-for-18 (with just two free throw attempts) in the clutch, and is now heading to New York in a deal finalized on Monday. Rose had some moments as a Piston and averaged 18 points last season (when he led the league in drives per 36 minutes), but never really elevated the Detroit offense. The trade could result in more minutes for rookie Saben Lee, who was on the floor for a good chunk of the Pistons’ fourth-quarter run on Saturday.
The Pistons are one of three teams (the Thunder and Spurs are the others) that have yet to play a rest-advantage game, having seen their first scheduled one (Feb. 1 at Denver) postponed. They’re scheduled for another on Thursday, with the Pacers playing in Brooklyn the night before.
Week 8: vs. BKN, vs. IND, @ BOS, vs. NOP
Last Week: 30
Pace: 104.2 (1) OffRtg: 109.6 (20) DefRtg: 116.2 (29) NetRtg: -6.5 (27)
The Wizards actually won ugly on Wednesday, holding the Heat to just two points on their final seven possessions in what turned out to be Washington’s best defensive game of the season (100 points allowed on 98 possessions). Rui Hachimura had a couple of late-game possessions – staying in front of both Goran Dragic and Jimmy Butler on the same play and contesting Tyler Herro’s shot for the tie – where he looked like the kind of mobile and switchable defender that every team needs.
But while the opposing offenses got back to eating over the weekend, things stayed ugly on the Wizards end of the floor. Bradley Beal shot 1-for-14 in the second game in Miami and everybody not named Beal shot 34% (including 6-for-31 from 3-point range) in Charlotte on Sunday. The Wiz have been held under a point per possession in five of their nine games since returning from a 12-day hiatus, with only the Cavs ranking lower offensively over that stretch.
The Wizards’ only two wins with Russell Westbrook (who missed the first Miami game) remain the two games they’ve played against Brooklyn.
Week 8: @ CHI, vs. TOR, vs. NYK, vs. BOS