Power Rankings, Week 9: Jazz jump Lakers for No. 1 spot; Suns enter Top 5
See where all 30 teams rank after the first eight weeks of the 2020-21 season.
The Utah Jazz had been pretty healthy. Through Feb. 5, their top nine guys had missed a total of eight games, four from Joe Ingles and two each from Donovan Mitchell and Derrick Favors. That had earned their 18-5 record at that point, but compared to other teams, they had been lucky in regard to health.
Then they lost Mike Conley, the guy who, at the time, led the league in on-off differential, with the Jazz having been 23.6 points per 100 possessions better with him on the floor (+17.7) than they’d been with him off the floor (-5.9). And a hamstring issue has had Conley out each of the last four games.
But the Jazz have just kept rolling along, beating four good teams to run their current winning streak to seven games, tied for the second longest winning streak of the season thus far. The longest, of course, was the Jazz’s 11-game streak that preceded it.
So yeah, the Jazz are finally No. 1 in the Power Rankings. And they’ve got three more tough games on the schedule this week, hosting the Sixers on Monday and then facing the Clippers twice in LA. Getting to No. 1 is one thing. Staying there is another.
Plus-Minus Players of the Week
- Right Way: Jamal Murray (DEN) was a plus-64 in four games last week.
- Wrong Way: Eric Gordon (HOU) was a minus-73 in three games last week.
Teams of the Week
- Make It Last Forever: Portland (4-0) — The Blazers continue to turn lemons into lemonade.
- Something Just Ain’t Right: Houston (0-4) — All four losses were to teams with losing records, and three of the four were by 22 points or more.
East vs. West
- The West is 93-55 (.628) against the East in interconference games after going 20-11 last week.
Schedule Strength through Week 8
- Toughest: 1. Detroit, 2. Denver, 3. Oklahoma City
- Easiest: 1. Orlando, 2. Philadelphia, 3. Toronto
- 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: Dallas (+6), Miami (+5), Detroit (+4), Phoenix (+4)
- Free falls of the week: Houston (-9), Sacramento (-5), Cleveland (-4)
Week 9 Team to Watch
- Toronto — The Raptors were making some hay with a 5-1 stretch, but have taken a step backward with losses to the Celtics (who have been struggling themselves) and Wolves (eternal struggle). So this feels like a big week, and it brings some old rivals and an opportunity to get back one of those games they dropped last week. The Raps will have a two-game series in Milwaukee on Tuesday and Thursday. Then they’ll visit Minnesota on Friday and return to Tampa for a game against the Sixers on Sunday.
Previous Power Rankings
- Thursday’s notebook: 3 teams better than they seem, Sixers’ strong shooting and LaMelo’s vision
- This time last year: Lakers return to No. 2 as regular season enters stretch run — The Sixers benched Al Horford, Spencer Dinwiddie hit a step-back game-winner in Indiana, and the Nets also put an end to the Raptors’ 15-game winning streak. The last game before the All-Star break was one of the best games of the season, with Jayson Tatum scoring 39 points to help the Celtics edge the Clippers in double-overtime. Buddy Hield won the 3-point Contest, Derrick Jones Jr. edged Aaron Gordon in the Dunk Contest, and Kawhi Leonard was the MVP of a thrilling, Elam-Ending, All-Star Game.
- 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 100.1 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes and 111.1 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: 2 ↑
Pace: 99.0 (24) OffRtg: 116.0 (4) DefRtg: 107.0 (2) NetRtg: +9.1 (1)
Twelve of the Jazz’s wins on this 18-1 stretch have come against teams currently under .500, but the quality wins have been coming. Without Mike Conley, they’ve beat the Pacers, Celtics, Bucks and Heat over the last eight days, leading both Milwaukee and Miami by more than 20 points over the weekend. The Jazz are 9-3 against the 14 teams that enter Week 9 at or above .500.
Their 3-point shooting dried up a bit over those last four games (32.8%), taking them below the 40% mark for the season. But while their 53.3 drives per game (third in the league) are mostly meant to get the Jazz open 3-pointers, they can also help get them to the free-throw line, and they’ve outscored the four opponents by 26 total points at the line over the four games. Rudy Gobert (fifth in free throw rate among players with at least 100 field goal attempts) remains a poor shooter at the stripe, but was 13-for-18 over the weekend, Donovan Mitchell is 29-for-33 (88%) over the four games, and Joe Ingles has more free throw attempts over these last eight days (16) than he had prior (15). Ingles scored a season-high 24 points (with 9-for-10 at the line) against the Celtics, and then tied his career high with 27 (shooting 7-for-9 from beyond the arc) against the Bucks.
The schedule doesn’t get any easier this week, and Conley remains out for their game against the Sixers on Monday, but the Jazz already have a win (behind 33 points from Conley) against the Clippers.
Week 9: vs. PHI, @ LAC, @ LAC
Last Week: 1 ↓
Pace: 99.2 (22) OffRtg: 112.1 (10) DefRtg: 105.1 (1) NetRtg: +7.0 (4)
We’re still three months from the start of the postseason, but it’s fair to be a little worried about Anthony Davis, who came back from a two-game absence and only played a game and a half before aggravating the tendinosis in his right Achilles on Sunday. The Lakers will clearly be more cautious going forward and the All-Star break is less than three weeks away.
We’ll see what becomes of the Lakers’ top-ranked defense. Three of their four worst defensive games of the season (more than 117 points allowed per 100 possessions) have come when Davis has been out (Jan. 8 vs. Chicago and Jan. 28 at Detroit) or when he hasn’t played the second half (Sunday in Denver). Davis leads the Lakers in both contested 2-point shots and contested 3-point shots, and he’s one of two players – Mitchell Robinson (also injured) is the other – with at least 30 steals and 30 blocks.
The Lakers played with fire in both of their games without Davis last week, trailing the Thunder by 11 points in the fourth quarter on Monday and by as many as 20 on Wednesday. They could have made things easier on themselves without so many transition issues (one, two, three) early on, but they did get the stops they needed eventually. The Lakers have trailed five of their last six games by double-digits, but they had a seven-game winning streak before losing in Denver on Sunday. They’re the only team with a winning record (they’re 8-5) in games they trailed by 10 or more points.
Week 9: @ MIN, vs. BKN, vs. MIA
Last Week: 4 ↑
Pace: 98.2 (26) OffRtg: 117.9 (2) DefRtg: 110.1 (11) NetRtg: +7.8 (3)
Paul George (sore right foot) has missed the last five games and Kawhi Leonard (leg contusion) missed the Clippers’ game against Cleveland on Sunday. And at some point, we may have to worry about the Clippers’ chemistry and continuity again, counting the number of games it’s been since they last had everybody healthy. But this cloud has a silver lining, and that has been the play of Lou Williams.
Through Feb. 2, Williams had averaged just 9.1 points on a true shooting percentage of just 48.4%, shooting poorly inside the arc and barely getting to the free throw line. But over the last six games, Williams has averaged 21.7 points on a true shooting percentage of 66.3%, shooting much better from 2-point range, getting to the line for 32 total attempts, and making 29 of those 32.
Despite the star absences, the Clippers were able to take care of business against the Wolves, Bulls and Cavs last week. The Sunday win began their longest homestand (six games over 10 days) of the first-half schedule. And it would certainly be fun if both George and Leonard are back for either game against Utah (Wednesday and Friday) and their game against the Nets on Sunday. The Clips have already lost to both teams.
Week 9: vs. MIA, vs. UTA, vs. UTA, vs. BKN
Last Week: 8 ↑
Pace: 97.4 (29) OffRtg: 111.8 (14) DefRtg: 108.4 (5) NetRtg: +3.4 (6)
The Suns have won nine of their last 10 games and picked up a couple of more Ws for the resume last week. They scored 126 points per 100 possessions over their wins over the Bucks and Sixers, perhaps demonstrating that it’s good to be a jump-shooting team against Defensive Player of the Year candidates whose primary concern is protecting the rim. The Suns shot 40-for-70 (57%) from between the restricted area and the 3-point line and 25-for-56 (45%) from 3-point range over the two games. For the season, Chris Paul (52.2%) and Devin Booker (50.8%) are two of the 11 players who have shot better than 50% on at least 100 shots between the restricted area and the 3-point line. (“Analytics” would not tell them to stop shooting from the mid-range.)
The Suns’ defense has suffered a little bit of slippage, but their bench, with Dario Saric returning to face his former team, came up big in the win over Philly. They outscored the Sixers, 47-31, in a little more than 17 minutes with Saric, Jae Crowder and Cam Johnson on the floor together.
The Suns have the third best record (7-4) in games played between the 14 teams that are currently at or above .500. And on Tuesday, they’ll host a team that’s tied for the best record (9-3) in those games.
Week 9: vs. BKN, @ NOP, @ MEM
Last Week: 3 ↓
Pace: 101.7 (7) OffRtg: 111.9 (13) DefRtg: 108.5 (6) NetRtg: +3.3 (7)
After a 14-0 start to the season, the Sixers’ regular starting lineup suffered its first two losses of the season on Thursday and Saturday. The starting group played a season-high 30 minutes in Phoenix and continued to put up big numbers offensively, but the two losses were the Sixers’ two worst defensive games of the season, with the Blazers and Suns combining to score 126 points per 100 possessions. The Blazers shot 15-for-30 on above-the-break 3-pointers, while the Suns were 20-for-34 between the restricted area and the 3-point line. When Joel Embiid ventured up to the arc, Devin Booker was able to beat him off the dribble.
The Sixers have been the league’s best mid-range shooting team (48.8%), but their 3-point volume remains low. They attempted only 17 3-pointers in Phoenix on Saturday and rank 27th in the percentage of their shots that have come from beyond the arc. They’ve been outscored by seven points per game, the league’s third biggest discrepancy, from 3-point range, with their 33-point discrepancy in Portland on Thursday being their largest of the season.
They close their four-game trip against the team that has outscored its opponents from deep by a league-high 16.6 points per game. Mid-range shots will present themselves against the Utah defense, but there will be pressure for Embiid to do damage against Rudy Gobert inside.
Week 9: @ UTA, vs. HOU, vs. CHI, @ TOR
Last Week: 6
Pace: 102.0 (4) OffRtg: 116.8 (3) DefRtg: 113.5 (25) NetRtg: +3.3 (8)
The Nets keep doing what they do. On Tuesday, they lost to the Pistons, allowing the league’s 22nd-ranked offense to record its most efficient game of the season to date (122 points on 96 possessions). And on Saturday, they destroyed the Warriors, handing the league’s eighth-ranked defense its third worst game of the season (134 points on 107 possessions). One notable difference (aside from the pace) is that they had Kevin Durant back for the win against his old team. They’ve still played just seven games with Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving, they still don’t have a lineup that’s played more than 76 minutes, and they’ll be without Durant (who has a mild left hamstring strain) for at least the next two games.
Starting Bruce Brown (with DeAndre Jordan out) on Saturday was an interesting wrinkle. The 6-foot-4 Brown was the primary defender on Stephen Curry on one end of the floor (though the Nets continue to switch liberally) and scoring buckets as a roll man (all 12 of his shots came in the paint) on the other end. Brown is one of 10 players (he’s either the only guard or the shortest center) who’ve shot 70% or better on at least 50 attempts in the restricted area and 50% or better on at least 25 shots elsewhere in the paint.
The Nets’ five-game trip gets much more interesting this week. They’re 8-1 in games between the 12 teams that currently have winning records, with the only loss (in Philly) having come without Irving and Durant. But Tuesday and Thursday will be their first meetings with the Suns and Lakers (both are on TNT at 10 ET).
Week 9: @ SAC, @ PHX, @ LAL, @ LAC
Last Week: 7
Pace: 98.1 (28) OffRtg: 115.5 (5) DefRtg: 110.9 (16) NetRtg: +4.6 (5)
The Nuggets have seen the biggest statistical drop-off from the first half of games (+11.0 points per 100 possessions) to the second half (-1.6), with the drop-off being almost entirely about their offense. They’ve had the league’s best first-half offense (121.9 points scored per 100 possessions) and it’s 21st-ranked second-half offense (109.2 per 100). First-Half Will Barton has an effective field goal percentage of 61.7%, while Second-Half Will Barton has an effective field goal percentage of 38.8% (the worst mark among 126 players with at least 100 second-half field goal attempts). Jamal Murray has also seen a pretty big drop-off (from 57.1% to 44.7%).
Against Milwaukee on Monday, the Nuggets lost for the sixth time after leading at the half, getting outscored, 27-14, over an eight-minute stretch spanning the third and fourth quarters. But two nights later, they came back from a 13-point halftime deficit against the Thunder, with Barton hitting two 3-pointers on the 12-0, fourth-quarter run that gave them the lead for good. After after a second-quarter run gave them a 12-point lead at the half against the Lakers on Sunday, the Nuggets didn’t let up, scoring 30 points on just 23 third-quarter possessions against the league’s No. 1 defense (missing Anthony Davis, of course). After losing the second half in five straight games, the Nuggets have outscored their opponents by almost 26 points per 100 possessions over the third and fourth quarters of their last three.
— Denver Nuggets (@nuggets) February 15, 2021
Week 9: @ BOS, @ WAS, @ CHA, @ ATL
Last Week: 5 ↓
Pace: 101.8 (6) OffRtg: 118.8 (1) DefRtg: 110.4 (13) NetRtg: +8.3 (2)
The longest homestand for any team in the first half of the schedule (eight games over 15 days) begins Tuesday and the Bucks have outscored their opponents by 13.9 points per 100 possessions, the league’s best home mark, at Fiserv Forum. But they arrive home with just their second (regular season) three-game losing streak in their three seasons under Mike Budenholzer. The Bucks went down to the wire in Phoenix on Wednesday, but they never got within striking distance of the Jazz after losing the second quarter, 34-21. And on Sunday, the lost to the Thunder without Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, getting daggered by Justin Jackson.
The Bucks were without Jrue Holiday for all three losses, starting Bryn Forbes (who’s not a point guard) at point guard. The back-up point guard (D.J. Augustin) shot 4-for-16 over the three games. Kris Middleton (registering a career-high assist rate) made some plays (the pick-and-roll he ran with Giannis Antetokounmpo to tie their game in Phoenix on Wednesday was sweet), but over their four games without Holiday, the Bucks haven’t been able to get to the basket as much as usual. Their 15.8 buckets per game in the restricted area over the four games are down from 20.0 (third in the league) prior to that.
Week 9: vs. TOR, vs. TOR, vs. OKC, vs. SAC
Last Week: 12 ↑
Pace: 99.8 (17) OffRtg: 115.2 (6) DefRtg: 115.0 (29) NetRtg: +0.2 (15)
The Blazers have the league’s 29th-ranked defense, they have the point differential of a .500 team, they’ve now been missing their second leading scorer for half of their 26 games, and they’re getting minimal offensive production from their two starting forwards. But they just keep winning, with Damian Lillard’s brilliance being supplemented by Enes Kanter’s offensive boards (he leads the league with 4.2 put-back points per game) and Gary Trent Jr.’s 3-point shooting (13th in the league at 45% for the season) .
Now, Carmelo Anthony is enjoying a revival. Through Feb. 1, Anthony had an effective field goal percentage of 42.9%, the eighth worst mark among 213 players with at least 100 field goal attempts at that point. But as the Blazers have won five of their last seven games, Anthony has averaged 18.6 points on an effective field goal percentage of 56.1%. He hit the game-winning free throw against Philly on Thursday, and though he was 1-for-8 from 3-point range in Dallas on Sunday, he made up for it by blowing by Maxi Kleber for a ferocious two-hand dunk. Lillard, of course, provided the heroics. The step-back 3 that put the Blazers ahead for good with 32 seconds left was his fourth bucket (on seven attempts) to tie or take the lead in the final minute of the fourth quarter or overtime. That leads the league, with three players – DeMar DeRozan, James Harden and Collin Sexton – having three.
The Blazers still have two games left (Tuesday and Wednesday) in their only stretch of five games in seven days in the first-half schedule.
Week 9: @ OKC, @ NOP, vs. WAS
Last Week: 9 ↓
Pace: 101.2 (10) OffRtg: 109.4 (21) DefRtg: 109.7 (9) NetRtg: -0.3 (17)
LaMarcus Aldridge has missed the last six games and the Spurs have gone 5-1. In 381 minutes with DeMar DeRozan and Aldridge on the floor together, the Spurs have been outscored by 9.3 points per 100 possessions, having allowed 120.4 per 100 (the fourth worst mark among 370 combos with at least 300 minutes on the floor together). In 349 minutes with DeRozan and Jakob Poeltl on the floor together, the Spurs are a plus-9.3 points per possessions, having allowed just 101.7 per 100. Poeltl (who’s younger than Derrick White) had 14 points (on 7-for-7 shooting), 12 rebounds, three steals and three blocks in just 28 minutes in Atlanta on Friday. As long he’s not shooting free throws …
The Spurs’ offense has been balanced, with seven guys averaging double-figures over the 5-1 stretch. And after doing enough to get by, it had two of its five most efficient games of the season (more than 120 points per 100 possessions) over the weekend, even though it wasn’t particularly potent from 3-point range. Keldon Johnson continues to attack the rim relentlessly and Dejounte Murray is trying to make up for Aldridge’s missing mid-range game.
With their weekend wins in Atlanta and Charlotte, the Spurs are a perfect 5-0 against the Eastern Conference, with three very winnable games in Eastern Conference arenas this week.
Week 9: @ DET, @ CLE, @ NYK
Last Week: 11
Pace: 103.6 (2) OffRtg: 109.9 (20) DefRtg: 109.6 (8) NetRtg: +0.4 (12)
The Warriors do not want to meet the Nets in The Finals, having lost their two meetings by a total of 43 points. They trailed their game on Saturday by as many as 28 and are now 5-11 against the other 13 teams that are currently at or above .500, with the difference between those 16 games (104.2 points scored per 100 possessions) and their other 11 games (118.3) being mostly about offense and mostly about players not named Stephen Curry. The two-time MVP’s effective field goal percentage has been only slightly lower against the good teams (64.7%) than it’s been against the bad ones (68.3%). And yeah, he should probably get the ball when the Dubs are down 3 in the final seconds, even if Draymond Green (who has a 36% chance of going 3-for-3 at the line) thinks he’s about to get fouled.
Of course, those 16 games account for most of the Warriors’ schedule to date. Only the Pistons (18) and Cavs (17) have played more games against the 14 teams currently over .500. And the Warriors are finally getting some relief in that regard, with each of their next five games against Eastern Conference teams that enter Week 9 with losing records. One of those is the Orlando Magic, who were just victim of Curry’s 17th career game with at least 10 3-pointers. Two of those 17 games have come in the last nine days.
— NBA (@NBA) February 10, 2021
Week 9: vs. CLE, vs. MIA, @ ORL, @ CHA
Last Week: 18 ↑
Pace: 99.6 (18) OffRtg: 112.9 (9) DefRtg: 114.6 (27) NetRtg: -1.6 (21)
In 12 days, the Mavs have climbed from 21st to ninth in offensive efficiency. In the same 12 days, they’ve sunk from 19th to 27th in defensive efficiency. They’ve combined with their opponents to score 125 points per 100 possessions over their last seven games, with the Mavs shooting 49% from the field and 41% from 3-point range and the opponents shooting even better (51% and 43%). Their four-game winning streak included the most efficient game for any team this season (143 points on 99 possessions against New Orleans on Friday), but also narrow wins over the Wolves and struggling Hawks. And when they went down to the wire against the Blazers on Sunday, Luka Doncic couldn’t match Damian Lillard.
Doncic is 0-for-3 on shots to tie or take the lead in the final minute of the fourth quarter or overtime this season (he was 0-for-10 last season before going 3-for-3 in Game 4 against the Clippers), but his and the Mavs’ overall clutch numbers are improved. Doncic has shot 17-for-35 (49%) on clutch field goal attempts and 11-for-13 on clutch free throws (he was bad at those too last season), helping the Mavs score 124 points on 105 offensive possessions (118 per 100) with the score within five points in the last five minutes of the fourth or OT. Unfortunately, they rank 28th in clutch defense and fell to 6-7 in games that were within five in the last five with the loss to the Blazers (in which Portland scored nine points on four possessions once the game got tight) on Sunday.
Week 9: vs. DET, @ HOU
Last Week: 10 ↓
Pace: 99.3 (20) OffRtg: 111.0 (17) DefRtg: 110.0 (10) NetRtg: +1.0 (11)
The Celtics have lost 10 of their last 15 games to fall to .500, which, fortunately for them, only drops them to fifth place in the East. Eight of the first nine losses in this 5-10 stretch were within five points in the last five minutes (their point differential over the 15 games is only -1.7 per game), and six of those eight were against teams that are currently over .500. But over the weekend, the Celtics lost to the Pistons and Wizards, scoring just 94.1 points per 100 possessions against defenses that rank 21st and 26th. Celtics not named Jaylen Brown combined to shoot 35% over the two games.
After ranking fourth in both offensive and defensive efficiency last season, the Celtics have seen significant drop-offs on both ends of the floor. The only thing they do particularly well is grab offensive rebounds, but they’re near the bottom of the league in regard to converting offensive boards into second chance points. Tristan Thompson leads the team with 68 offensive rebounds, but has shot just 16-for-38 (42%) on put-backs, the second worst mark among 31 players with at least 25 put-back attempts.
The Celtics’ transition offense has also dried up. After taking 14.2% of their shots in the first six seconds of the shot clock through their first 16 games, they’ve taken only 9.5% of their shots in the first six seconds over the last 10, according to Second Spectrum tracking. The rest of their first-half schedule is relatively soft, but they’ll have to beat the Nuggets on Tuesday to avoid falling below .500.
Week 9: vs. DEN, vs. ATL, vs. ATL, @ NOP
Last Week: 14
Pace: 99.8 (16) OffRtg: 112.0 (11) DefRtg: 110.5 (15) NetRtg: +1.5 (10)
Jeremy Lamb has an effective field goal percentage of 70.9% (fifth best among 225 players with at least 35 field goal attempts) in February, but the Pacers put an end to a four-game losing streak with Lamb’s move to the bench on Thursday. Doug McDermott had a relatively quiet night upon his move back into the starting lineup, but the new group was a plus-10 in less than 16 minutes and Lamb scored an efficient 17 points in Detroit. Two nights later in Atlanta, McDermott scored 26 points and was part of a hybrid lineup (with three small guards and Myles Turner) that turned a seven-point deficit into a 16-point lead with a ridiculous, 34-11 run in the fourth quarter.
T.J. McConnell has attempted at least one 3-pointer in five straight games for the first time since Dec. 2018, but remains relatively reticent to shoot. Yet the Indiana offense has been at its best (112.9 points scored per 100 possessions) with the back-up point guard on the floor and these two straight wins have come with McConnell playing more than 32 minutes for the first two times in his two seasons with the Pacers. He has the league’s highest assist rate (49.1 per 100 possessions used), dropping 12 dimes in Atlanta on Saturday. Five of the 12 came in the Pacers’ 41-point fourth quarter, with one of those coming after a McConnell special (a chase-down steal from Trae Young). McConnell and McDermott have averaged 4.65 and 4.63 miles per hour respectively, the two fastest rates among 223 players who’ve averaged at least 20 minutes per game.
Week 9: vs. CHI, @ MIN, @ HOU
Last Week: 16 ↑
Pace: 100.1 (15) OffRtg: 110.7 (18) DefRtg: 110.4 (12) NetRtg: +0.3 (13)
The Grizzlies remain shorthanded, and De’Anthony Melton was missed last week when they lost two games that they had control of late in the third quarter. On Monday, it was a 28-5, Toronto run spanning the third and fourth quarters that turned the game around. And on Friday, it was a 19-2 Lakers run spanning the third and fourth that flipped another game the Grizzlies led by double-digits. They’re 10-6 (only four teams have a worse winning percentage and only the Pelicans have more losses) in games they’ve led by 10 points or more.
Over the first seven games after Ja Morant returned from his injury, the Grizzlies were 45.3 points per 100 possessions better with Morant off the floor (+29.7) than they were with him on the floor (-15.6). Over these last four games that Melton has missed, the differential is 26.7 points per 100 possessions in the other direction. Morant is still struggling with his jumper, but he’s got 49 assists and just 13 turnovers over his last five games and four of the Grizzlies’ five most efficient games of the season have come in February. They blew those leads to the Raptors and Lakers, but took care of business against the Kings and Hornets to climb back to .500 and remain in the Play-In Club in the West. They have three games against teams chasing them (the Pelicans, Thunder and Mavs) in the next eight days.
Week 9: vs. NOP, OKC, vs. DET, vs. PHX
Last Week: 17 ↑
Pace: 110.2 (14) OffRtg: 110.7 (19) DefRtg: 111.1 (17) NetRtg: -0.5 (18)
Devonte’ Graham, Terry Rozier, Gordon Hayward and P.J. Washington have each started every game they’ve played in this season. But with at least one of the four missing each of the last eight games, Hornets coach James Borrego hasn’t had to remove LaMelo Ball from the starting lineup or tell one of those other four guys that they’re coming off the bench. With Hayward (back issue) and Washington (health and safety protocols) missing the Hornets’ loss to the Spurs on Sunday and Graham leaving the game with a knee injury, it’s not clear when Borrego will have to make that call. Right now, the Hornets are just making do, though they will have two days off before hosting the Bulls on Wednesday.
Though the rookie has assisted on only seven of his 60 buckets since he returned from the two-game absence that initially moved Ball into the lineup, Rozier seems to be enjoying his time starting alongside Ball, averaging 36 points on an effective field goal percentage of 70% over the last three games. Rozier was near the top of the league in catch-and-shoot 3-point percentage (45.9%) last season, and he’s been even better this year, making 65 (50.4%) of his 129 catch-and-shoot attempts. Malik Monk, who scored 23 points on Sunday, ranks as the league’s most improved 3-point shooter (from 28.4% to 50.0%) among 178 players with at least 100 attempts last season and at least 50 this season.
The Hornets won three of four before the loss to the Spurs, but they’ve had trouble defending the better teams in the league and, after hosting the Bulls on Wednesday, they’ll play five straight games against teams with winning records.
Week 9: vs. CHI, vs. DEN, vs. GSW
Last Week: 22 ↑
Pace: 99.3 (19) OffRtg: 106.0 (26) DefRtg: 109.5 (7) NetRtg: -3.4 (23)
The Heat had a four-game winning streak, with Jimmy Butler averaging 21 points, nine rebounds and 9.5 assists and with their opponents barely scoring a point per possession. And then they ran into the Jazz on Saturday, scoring just 94 points on 102 possessions and trailing by at least 15 points for the final 21 minutes. The defeat was a reminder that the four wins all came against teams on the south side of .500. The Heat are 10-6 against teams that currently have losing records, but just 1-9 against the 14 teams that are currently at or above .500. Their only win against the good teams (over the Bucks) came in December and, though they came up empty offensively on Saturday, the bigger difference in their performance vs. those two groups has been on defense.
Only four of the Heat’s final 10 games before the All-Star break are against the top 14, but three of those four are this week as their seven-game trip rolls on. To beat the best, the Heat need Goran Dragic, who has missed the last four games with an ankle sprain. But Kendrick Nunn (one of a few Heat players who can be starting one night and DNP’d the next) has done well with his opportunity, averaging 18.2 points per game on an effective field goal percentage of 62% over the last five.
Week 9: @ LAC, @ GSW, @ SAC, @ LAL
Last Week: 13 ↓
Pace: 101.0 (11) OffRtg: 111.9 (12) DefRtg: 117.1 (30) NetRtg: -5.2 (25)
The Kings are the “It was all good just a week ago” Team of the Week. They’ve followed their 7-1 stretch with three straight losses to drop back below .500. They hung tough with the Sixers on Tuesday and were without De’Aaron Fox (his arm was tired after taking 30 shots vs. Philly) when they lost to the Magic (who were even more shorthanded) on Friday. But with Fox back and an opportunity to hold onto their spot in the Play-In Club, they got thumped (at home) by Memphis, with the Grizz scoring 68 points in the paint. The Kings have been the league’s sixth best team in the first six minutes of the first quarter (+1.2 points per game), but they were in a double-digit deficit before Tyrese Haliburton could check in and were outscored by 15 points in his 17:13 on the bench.
As noted in this space last week, the Kings were surviving a lot of close games in their 7-1 stretch, and they still have just one win that wasn’t within five points in the last five minutes. They also still have a winning record (6-4) against the East, with their next eight games – three at home and five on the road – against the weaker conference.
Week 9: vs. BKN, vs. MIA, @ CHI, @ MIL
Last Week: 21 ↑
Pace: 100.4 (13) OffRtg: 113.4 (8) DefRtg: 111.7 (19) NetRtg: +1.8 (9)
The Raptors had a 5-1 stretch through Wednesday in which they scored more than 124 points per 100 possessions, their best stretch of offense in three seasons under Nick Nurse. Pascal Siakam has been able to find his way to the basket, with 71% of his shots coming in the paint and a free throw rate of 39 attempts per 100 shots from the field over his last nine games, up from just 57% and 25 per 100 prior to that. With the Raptors down two to Minnesota in the final seconds on Sunday, Siakam got a point-blank layup … which rolled off the rim.
Of course, the Raptors probably shouldn’t have been trailing the Wolves at that point. But Minnesota was the second straight Toronto opponent to make 10 or more corner 3-pointers, with the Celtics now having done it against the Raptors four times in the last 6 1/2 months. The Raptors can be a feast-or-famine defensive team, forcing a lot of turnovers but yielding a lot of 3-pointers, and the scale has tilted a lot more toward famine than it did last season. Only the Bucks (7.9) have seen a bigger jump in points allowed per 100 possessions than the Raps (7.0).
The Raptors do miss OG Anunoby, who’s been out for the last 10 games, on that end. They’ve allowed just 103.4 points per 100 possessions in 254 minutes with Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, Siakam and Anunoby all on the floor, but 116.4 per 100 in 249 minutes with the other three on the floor without Anunoby. Indications are that he’s close to a return, maybe in time for the Raptors to face the league’s No. 1 offense on Tuesday and Thursday.
Week 9: @ MIL, @ MIL, @ MIN, vs. PHI
Last Week: 23 ↑
Pace: 96.3 (30) OffRtg: 107.5 (24) DefRtg: 107.2 (3) NetRtg: +0.3 (14)
Derrick Rose and Immanuel Quickley are a tandem, with the rookie having been on the floor for 59 of the vet’s 63 minutes with his new (old) team. (Rose took Austin Rivers’ spot in the rotation.) The Knicks have outscored their opponents by 42 points (34 per 100 possessions) in those 59 minutes, picking up easy wins over the Wizards and Rockets over the weekend that gave them a positive point differential for the first time this season.
With Mitchell Robinson having suffered a fractured right hand on Friday, Nerlens Noel gets his opportunity with a starting lineup that has generally tread water (+0.9 points per possessions). Noel has actually shot better in the restricted area and averaged twice as many blocks per 36 minutes as Robinson.
The Knicks have improved offensively over the last few weeks, with their 111.6 points scored per 100 possessions over their last 11 games up from just 104.8 through their first 17. Julius Randle has shot 47% from 3-point range over that stretch and has seen the league’s fourth biggest jump in 3-point percentage (from 27.7% to 39.1%) among 178 players with at least 100 attempts last season and at least 50 this season. But he’s one of 12 players who’ve taken at least 100 shots from outside the paint with more mid-range attempts (133) than 3-point attempts (115).
Week 9: vs. ATL, @ ORL, vs. SAS, vs. MIN
Last Week: 20 ↓
Pace: 100.4 (12) OffRtg: 111.3 (16) DefRtg: 111.3 (18) NetRtg: -0.0 (16)
The Hawks have fourth-quarter issues. They’ve outscored their opponents by 2.5 points per 100 possessions through the first three quarters and have led 16 of their 26 games entering the final period. But they’re just 9-7 in those games and have been outscored by 8.4 points per 100 possessions, the league’s worst mark, in the fourth quarter. The Wolves (5-6) are the only other team with more than five losses after leading after 36 minutes.
On Wednesday in Dallas, the Hawks led by nine after three and by five with less than seven minutes to go, but then allowed the Mavs to score 22 points on their next 12 possessions. And at home on Saturday, they were up three after three before yielding a 41-point fourth quarter to the Pacers (Indiana’s highest scoring quarter of the season). The Hawks ranked fourth defensively (106.7 points allowed per 100 possessions) in January, but rank 27th on that end of the floor (119.1) in going 1-6 this month, a stretch which has taken them from sixth to 10th in the East. Their opponents have shot much better from outside the paint, but they also rank in the bottom five in both opponent turnover percentage and opponent free throw rate this month. It might not be a coincidence that De’Andre Hunter suffered his knee injury in the last game of January.
Eight of the Hawks’ final 10 games of the first-half schedule are on the road, with their visit to Madison Square Garden on Monday being a critical one in the standings. The Knicks won the first meeting (a game the Hawks led by 15 points in the second half) last month.
INCOMING 🔨 pic.twitter.com/KoOz1DbhuI
— Atlanta Hawks (@ATLHawks) February 14, 2021
Week 9: @ NYK, @ BOS, @ BOS, vs. DEN
Last Week: 19 ↓
Pace: 99.0 (23) OffRtg: 113.7 (7) DefRtg: 115.0 (28) NetRtg: -1.3 (20)
On Wednesday, the Bulls registered the highest effective field goal percentage (74.7%) for any team in a game this season. Two nights later, the Mavs had the most efficient game (143 points on 99 possessions) for any team this season. And two nights after that, the Pistons’ bottom-10 offense registered its most efficient game of the year (123 points on just 93 possessions). All three marks came against a Pelicans defense that surrendered 67 3-pointers (on 53% shooting) over the three games. The Pels outscored the three teams by a total of 38 points in the paint, but were outscored by 84 points from beyond the arc.
Stan Van Gundy’s primary task with his new team was to improve a defense that ranked 21st last season and looked much worse than that in some of the Pels’ most important games. But after these disastrous last five days, New Orleans ranks 28th defensively, having seem the league’s eighth biggest jump in points allowed per 100 possessions (3.2) from last season. They’ve seen the third biggest drop in the percentage of their opponents’ shots that have come in the restricted area (that’s good!), but in sinking weak-side defenders to the rim (when their bigs are outside defending pick-and-rolls), they often find themselves scrambling to contest on the perimeter. With the Pistons recording 16 assists on their 17 3-pointers on Sunday, 88% of Pels opponents 3-pointers, the league’s fourth highest rate, have been assisted.
Week 9: @ MEM, vs. POR, vs. PHX, vs. BOS
Last Week: 24 ↑
Pace: 101.4 (8) OffRtg: 104.7 (29) DefRtg: 110.5 (14) NetRtg: -5.6 (26)
The Thunder just played one of the tougher four-game stretches of schedule you’re going to see, they played it shorthanded (notably missing Shai Gilgeous-Alexander for each of the last three games), and they almost went 4-0. They led the Lakers by 11 points early in the fourth quarter on Monday and by as many as 20 on Wednesday, losing both games in overtime. On Friday, they led the Nuggets by as many as 19 points and were up eight with less than five minutes left, but couldn’t hold on down the stretch. They finally broke through on Sunday, losing a 12-point, second-half lead to the Bucks, but responding with a fourth-quarter run and holding on for their fourth win over the league’s top 10 teams.
Without Gilgeous-Alexander, the Thunder had some out-of-nowhere offensive performances. Kenrich Williams had a ridiculous first half on Wednesday (featuring a modified Smitty) and finished with a career-high 24 points, while Justin Jackson had the sixth and seventh 20-point games of his career over the weekend. Al Horford held the offense together, averaging 20.3 points and 7.0 assists, previewing what was to come by running pick-and-roll (as the ball-handler) on the very first possession on Wednesday. Despite all that, the Thunder didn’t score very efficiently. But over their four games last week, they held offenses that rank 10th, fifth and first to just 105 points per 100 possessions.
The Thunder are one of two teams (the Spurs are the other) that has yet to play a rest-advantage game. Their first is scheduled for Friday in Milwaukee, with the Bucks hosting the Raptors the night before.
Week 9: vs. POR, @ MEM, @ MIL, @ CLE
Last Week: 15 ↓
Pace: 101.3 (9) OffRtg: 107.2 (25) DefRtg: 108.2 (4) NetRtg: -1.0 (19)
The Rockets have seen the league’s third biggest drop in the percentage of their shots that have come from 3-point range, from 50.1% last season to 46.3% this season. But that 46.3% still ranks second and, having seen one of the league’s biggest jumps in turnover rate along with drops in free throw rate and offensive rebounding percentage, they’re still relatively dependent on those 3-pointers. So a stretch of five straight games in which they’ve made less than third of their attempts from beyond the arc, capped by an 8-for-43 performance in New York on Saturday, has resulted in a five-game losing streak.
After winning three straight corner 3 championships, P.J. Tucker ranks 11th with just 22 corner 3-pointers this season. He just wasn’t shooting many through January (2.3 attempts per 36 minutes, down from 3.4 last season), and he’s just 6-for-22 on corner 3s this month with an increase in volume. Danuel House (7-for-36 over the losing streak) has seen the seventh biggest drop in 3-point percentage (from 36.3% to 27.3%) among 178 players with at least 100 attempts last season and at least 50 this season.
The Rockets haven’t been able to take advantage of a soft stretch of schedule and remain banged up. Victor Oladipo began last week by blowing by an old friend for an explosive dunk, but finished on the shelf, having suffered a right foot injury on Thursday.
Week 9: @ WAS, @ PHI, vs. DAL, vs. IND
Last Week: 29 ↑
Pace: 98.1 (27) OffRtg: 108.7 (22) DefRtg: 112.4 (21) NetRtg: -3.7 (24)
With their victories over the Nets and Celtics last week, the Pistons have more wins over teams that are currently at or above .500 (6) than the Sixers, Warriors, Blazers or Bucks do. Their earlier wins over good teams were more about defense, but their 3-1 Week 8 was easily their best stretch of offense (119.5 points scored per 100 possessions) this season. The Brooklyn win on Tuesday was their most efficient game of the season, and then they topped that mark against New Orleans on Sunday. Saddiq Bey had been struggling a bit after a strong start to his rookie season, but he went and shot 16-for-23 (70%) from 3-point range last week and scored a career-high 30 points in Boston.
Jerami Grant’s 32 points (tied for his career high) against the Nets came with a step-through move against Kyrie Irving, an incredible runner over James Harden, and a quick-release 3 off the catch. He was also 6-for-7 at the line and, while he shot just 13-for-48 (27%) from the field over the last four days, he was 7-for-7 from the stripe over the weekend. Grant’s improved numbers are largely about increased minutes and usage, but he’s also seen the fourth biggest jump in free throw percentage (from 75.0% to 87.7%) among 91 players with at least 100 attempts last season and at least 50 this season. Mason Plumlee, who recorded his first career triple-double on Sunday, has seen the biggest jump (from 53.5% to 70.8%) among that group.
Week 9: vs. SAS, @ DAL, @ MEM, @ ORL
Last Week: 25 ↓
Pace: 102.4 (3) OffRtg: 111.3 (15) DefRtg: 113.1 (24) NetRtg: -1.8 (22)
Two nights after becoming the first team held under a point per possession by the Wizards’ 26th-ranked defense, the Bulls shot better than 50% and made 20-plus 3-pointers for the second time in franchise history (and the second time in 12 days). They lost the first instance, but beat the Pelicans on Wednesday in a game in which they were outscored by 29 points at the rim and at the free throw line. Coby White (30 points, 8-for-17 from 3-point range) and Zach LaVine (46, 9-for-14) became the first teammates in NBA history to each make eight or more 3-pointers in the same game.
The Bulls’ backcourt is a potent duo, but the team is only 3-5 when White and LaVine have combined to score at least 50 points, in part because the Bulls have allowed 119.5 points per 100 possessions with both of them on the floor. That’s the worst on-court DefRtg mark among 211 two-man combinations that have played at least 400 minutes together. They have seen their minutes on the floor together reduced a bit, from 25.8 per game through Week 5 to 22.1 over the last nine games.
We’re one week into the portion of the season when Lauri Markkanen (out 2-4 weeks with a right shoulder sprain) and Wendell Carter Jr. (who has missed last 11 games with a quad contusion) are both out with injuries.
Week 9: @ IND, @ CHA, @ PHI, vs. SAC
Last Week: 27
Pace: 99.2 (21) OffRtg: 105.3 (28) DefRtg: 112.3 (20) NetRtg: -6.9 (29)
Before the Magic got Al-Farouq Aminu and Michael Carter-Williams back last week, they lost Cole Anthony and Evan Fournier to injuries. On Thursday, they started Frank Mason III, who they had signed to a two-way contract just eight days earlier. And he promptly suffered a groin strain less than five minutes into the game. The following night, James Ennis left with a groin strain of his own. Making his season debut on Tuesday, Aminu was able to log only five minutes, and he hasn’t played since.
So, even with Carter-Williams back, the Magic have had just eight guys available for their last 60 minutes of basketball, and three of those eight are centers. Dwayne Bacon was playing point guard when Carter-Williams sat and instead of competing for playing time behind Nikola Vucevic, Khem Birch and Mo Bamba have played 41 minutes together over the last four days. The Magic have outscored their opponents (the Warriors, Kings and Suns) by 21 points in those 41 minutes, allowing just 76 points on 84 defensive possessions. Behind Vucevic’s 42 points and the team’s most efficient offensive performance of the season, they got a win in Sacramento on Friday.
It’s not clear if the Magic will get any more bodies back this week, but they do have two days off before hosting the Knicks on Wednesday. Seven of their final eight first-half games are at home, and they don’t have any more back-to-backs before the break.
Week 9: vs. NYK, vs. GSW, vs. DET
Last Week: 30 ↑
Pace: 104.2 (1) OffRtg: 108.0 (23) DefRtg: 114.2 (26) NetRtg: -6.2 (27)
The Wizards were the last team to have not held an opponent under a point per possession this season. But they did it twice last week, with the Bulls scoring 101 points on 102 possessions on Monday and the Celtics scoring just 91 on 107 on Sunday. The Wiz have a top-10 defense in February.
Of course, two nights after their win in Chicago, the Wizards looked rather disinterested defensively against Toronto. As the Raptors were seizing control of the game on Wednesday, they ran their favorite “hammer” play, with Fred VanVleet taking a handoff on the right wing and Chris Boucher setting a back-screen for Terence Davis to flare toward a left-corner 3. They had run it at the end of Game 7 against Boston last year, but the Celtics shut it down on both sides of the floor. On Wednesday, the Wizards shut down neither side. Deni Avdija couldn’t keep VanVleet contained and Boucher had nobody to screen, because Russell Westbrook (guarding Davis) was ball-watching and Bradley Beal (guarding DeAndre Bembry, who vacated the corner) wasn’t aware enough to make the same switch that Jayson Tatum had made five month ago.
Beal took a game off on Friday and looked refreshed against the Tatum and the Celtics on Sunday afternoon, scoring 35 points on 10-for-18 from the field and 11-for-11 from the line. His 31.2 points per game over the last two seasons is about increased usage, but also more (and more efficient) trips to the line. After registering a free throw rate of just 23.4 attempts per 100 shots from the field and shooting 80% at the line over his first seven seasons in the league, Beal is at 35.0 per 100 and 86% over the last two.
Week 9: vs. HOU, vs. DEN, @ POR
Last Week: 28 ↓
Pace: 101.9 (5) OffRtg: 106.0 (27) DefRtg: 112.9 (23) NetRtg: -6.9 (28)
Karl-Anthony Towns is back and we got a fun reminder of just how special a player he is when, after a timeout late on Friday, the Wolves ran a “Horns” play where Ricky Rubio set a screen for Towns and Malik Beasley handed the ball to him for a 3-pointer that cut the Hornets’ lead to one. The Wolves fell short in Charlotte, but got their first win with their star since the first week of the season two nights later in Tampa, with Towns giving them big buckets both inside and out. Free throw have been missing and turnovers have been an issue, but Towns has shot 57% (including 9-for-18 from beyond the arc) in his three games back, with the Wolves scoring almost 118 points per 100 possessions in his 96 minutes on the floor.
Malik Beasley has been putting up some numbers as well, averaging 24.6 points on an effective field goal percentage of 63% over the last seven games. The Wolves are in the bottom three in catch-and-shoot 3-point percentage for a second straight season, but Beasley and D’Angelo Russell are two of the 13 players who have shot 40% or better on at least 50 pull-up 3-point attempts.
THAT'S NASTY, ANT pic.twitter.com/YeKKwoZPAu
— Minnesota Timberwolves (@Timberwolves) February 15, 2021
Week 9: vs. LAL, vs. IND, vs. TOR, @ NYK
Last Week: 26 ↓
Pace: 98.4 (25) OffRtg: 104.3 (30) DefRtg: 112.5 (22) NetRtg: -8.3 (30)
The Cavs as a top-10 defensive team is a thing that lasted seven weeks, but not eight. In fact, the Cavs as a top-20 defensive team is also a thing of the past. They’ve managed to sink from seventh to 22nd in defensive efficiency in just 12 days, having allowed 126.4 points per 100 possessions over their seven-game losing streak and no fewer than 119 in any of the seven losses.
Andre Drummond is one of eight players who’ve averaged at least one steal and one block per game and Jarrett Allen remains one of the league’s best rim protectors, but the Cavs have allowed an amazing 146 points per 100 possessions in 75 minutes with the two centers both on the floor. After they actually started two games together last week, Allen was moved back to the bench on Friday and Drummond got the day off on Sunday. The Cavs’ defense remained bad.
Maybe Larry Nance Jr. (who has missed seven of the last eight games and is out until late March) was holding the defense together. Maybe the Cavs just can’t handle the league’s most elite offenses; Six of the seven games have come against teams that rank in the top six in offensive efficiency, and the only exception was a game against the surging Suns. The Cavs face Stephen Curry with a rest disadvantage as their five-game trip comes to an end on Monday, but none of their eight remaining pre-break games are against a team that ranks higher than 11th offensively.
Week 9: @ GSW, vs. SAS, vs. OKC