Power Rankings, Week 10: Suns hold No. 1 spot, Cavs enter Top 5
See where all 30 teams rank after the first 9 weeks of the 2021-22 season.
The best laid plans …
Omicron is here and it has hit the NBA hard. As of Monday morning and with Christmas just five days away, there are more than 70 players in Health and Safety Protocols. And the list includes a few stars — like Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kevin Durant, James Harden and Trae Young — who could miss the holiday showcase.
All the absences have created some abnormal circumstances where teams are basically playing with half a roster. Reinforcements are on the way, but it’s tough to evaluate teams that are playing multiple guys who arrived just before game time. But it seems that we will just have to get through this rough patch, hope for the best, and be as careful as possible.
Some teams are still mostly intact. And those include the Suns and Warriors, who remain at the top of the Power Rankings, with their third meeting of the season coming on Christmas. Cross your fingers.
Plus-Minus Players of the Week
- Right Way: De’Anthony Melton (MEM) was a plus-68 in four games last week.
- Wrong Way: Terry Rozier (CHA) was a minus-68 in four games last week.
Teams of the Week
- Make It Last Forever: Cleveland (3-0) — Last week’s victims of the Cavalanche: Miami, Houston and Milwaukee.
- Something Just Ain’t Right: Philadelphia (0-3) — Hopefully, keeping Stephen Curry from the 3-point record won’t be the highlight of the Sixers’ season.
East vs. West
- The West is 87-77 (.530) against the East in interconference games after going 14-7 last week.
Schedule strength through Week 9
- Toughest: 1. Portland, 2. Cleveland, 3. Boston
- Easiest: 1. Utah, 2. L.A. Lakers, 3. Golden State
- 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: Minnesota (+7), Boston (+5), Denver (+4)
- Free falls of the week: Atlanta (-7), Charlotte (-4), Washington (-4)
Week 10 Team to Watch
- Boston — The Celtics got Jaylen Brown last week, picked up a couple of wins, and played a close game with the Warriors. They currently sit in seventh place in the East at 15-15, just two games in the loss column behind the fourth-place Bucks and just a half game ahead of the 11th-place Hawks. And they have a big week ahead, hosting the eighth-place Sixers on Monday (7:30 p.m. ET, NBA TV) and the third-place Cavs on Wednesday. Then they’re in Milwaukee for Christmas.
Previous Power Rankings
- Last week: Suns overtake Warriors for No. 1 spot
- Thursday’s notebook: 5 most improved defenses this season
- This time last year: Lakers, Bucks and Nuggets start season on top — The 2020-21 season was about to tip off, with Giannis Antetokounmpo having signed his contract extension with the Bucks. The Jazz had a new owner, who immediately committed $400 million to Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert. None of the league’s GMs picked the Bucks to win the title, and only one had the Suns in the top four in the West. James Harden showed up late to Rockets training camp and the Nuggets were dishing, but LaMelo Ball had the best dime of the preseason.
- 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 98.6 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes and 108.7 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: 1
Pace: 100.8 (3) OffRtg: 110.6 (6) DefRtg: 103.5 (3) NetRtg: +7.1 (3)
The Suns have won five of six since their 18-game winning streak came to an end at Golden State. They had a pretty ugly loss to the Clippers on Monday (just the third time since Nov. 1 that they’ve been held under a point per possession), but continue to win with elite defense. Only Washington and Utah have allowed their opponents to take a lower percentage of their shots from the restricted area or 3-point range than the Suns (63%), and the Suns (seventh) actually rank higher than the Gobert-led Jazz (ninth) in opponent field goal percentage at the rim.
And the Suns’ offense got Devin Booker back on Sunday, when they eviscerated the Hornets’ 30th-ranked defense, with nine Suns scoring in double-figures and four dishing out at least five assists. They’ve won the last 18 games that Booker has played in, their last 12 games that were within five points in the last five minutes, and their last 14 games at home, with the Warriors coming to Phoenix for Christmas.
Tuesday brings the Suns’ first meeting with the Lakers since a 10-point victory in L.A. in Week 1. Their four-game homestand that begins Thursday includes three rest-advantage games, with the exception being the Christmas matchup.
Week 10: @ LAL, vs. OKC, vs. GSW
Last Week: 2
Pace: 99.4 (10) OffRtg: 111.7 (4) DefRtg: 101.3 (1) NetRtg: +10.4 (2)
Stephen Curry got his 3-point record and the Warriors got three wins on their five-game trip. So they voluntarily (and smartly, probably) played shorthanded in Toronto on Saturday, sending five guys home after their win in Boston the night before. At this point, the standings likely take a back seat to simply getting through the next few (several?) weeks as safely as possible. Andrew Wiggins didn’t go to Toronto and still entered Health and Safety Protocols on Sunday.
The three wins on the trip came by a total of just 15 points. And after playing just five of the Warriors’ 33 clutch minutes prior to that, Kevon Looney was on the floor down the stretch of all three. It was noted in a look at the league’s most improved offenses 11 days ago that the Warriors’ improvement has a lot to do with offensive rebounding, and that Looney (currently eighth in offensive rebounding percentage among players who’ve averaged at least 15 minutes per game) is a big part of that. His game-winning put-back against the Pacers (who rank fourth in defensive rebounding percentage) was his second career bucket for the lead in the final minute of the fourth quarter or overtime, with the first (a lob from Draymond Green) having come in the 2019 playoffs.
The Warriors’ game against the Kings on Monday is the end of a stretch of nine straight against teams currently at or below .500. Their game against the Grizzlies on Thursday is the start of a stretch of six straight against teams with winning records.
"STEPHEN CURRY…THE ALL-TIME THREE-POINT KING IN THE NBA."
— NBA (@NBA) December 15, 2021
Week 10: vs. SAC, vs. MEM, @ PHX
Last Week: 3
Pace: 98.5 (19) OffRtg: 117.2 (1) DefRtg: 106.8 (6) NetRtg: +10.5 (1)
The Jazz’s dominant, eight-game winning streak came to an end with back-to-back losses at home over the weekend. Both games went down to the wire, but they were otherwise different. The loss to the Spurs on Friday was one of the Jazz’s worst defensive games of the season, with San Antonio committing just seven turnovers and shooting 24-for-44 (55%) between the restricted area and the 3-point line. The loss to the Wizards on Saturday was one of their worst offensive games of the season, with Utah shooting 14-for-44 (32%) from 3-point range and just 19-for-30 (63%) from the free throw line. Seven of those 11 misses at the stripe came in the fourth quarter.
The Jazz are now 6-8 in games that were within five points in the last five minutes, even though they’ve shot 52% on clutch shots. That breaks down to 46-for-79 (58%) from Donovan Mitchell, Mike Conley, Bojan Bogdanovic and Rudy Gobert and 0-for-9 from everybody else. They were without Conley (rest) on Saturday and are now 0-3 without the starting point guard, with all three losses having come against the Eastern Conference (responsible for six of their nine defeats overall).
The Jazz also have more losses at home (6) than they did all of last season (5). But they still have just one loss (Nov. 11 vs. Indiana) that wasn’t within five points in the last five minutes, while every other team has at least two. Two days after that Indiana loss (Nov. 13 against Miami) was the last time they trailed a game by more than eight points. That’s why, despite the weekend losses, they’re No. 1 in the league in point differential (per game and per 100 possessions). Their six-game homestand concludes this week with a Christmas Day visit from the Mavs.
Week 10: vs. CHA, vs. MIN, vs. DAL
Last Week: 6 ↑
Pace: 97.9 (22) OffRtg: 109.3 (17) DefRtg: 103.3 (2) NetRtg: +6.1 (4)
If you were to use every team’s current point differential to project their record over the remainder of the season, the Cavs would finish first in the East at 56-26. They’re currently three games in the loss column behind Brooklyn, but have the conference’s best point differential (both on a per-game and per-possession basis) by a healthy margin. All six games on their current winning streak have been decided by double-digits, and only the Jazz (14-1) and Warriors (15-2) have better records than the Cavs (14-3) in games that weren’t within five points in the last five minutes.
The Cavs have had the league’s No. 1 defense (96.6 points allowed per 100 possessions) over the course of the streak, but Health and Safety Protocols have claimed Isaac Okoro, Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen, with more cases forcing the cancelation of their game in Atlanta on Sunday. The Cavs do still have five other guys who’ve averaged double-figures over the winning streak, a list that includes Kevin Love (15.5 points in just 19.8 minutes), who has shot 19-for-39 (49%) from 3-point range and 22-for-22 from the line over the six games. He’s yet to play more than 24 minutes in a game this season, and the Cavs have already played two games (mid-November losses to Brooklyn and Golden State) with both of the starting bigs on the shelf.
The Cavs have scored less than a point per possession in each of their two games (one win and one loss) against the Celtics thus far. The third and final meeting is scheduled for Wednesday in Boston.
ISAAC OKORO DEMOLISHES THE RIM! 🔨 pic.twitter.com/DbhV1R1uUV
— NBA (@NBA) December 16, 2021
Week 10: @ BOS, vs. TOR
Last Week: 5
Pace: 99.8 (8) OffRtg: 109.5 (14) DefRtg: 106.1 (5) NetRtg: +3.4 (5)
It shouldn’t be breaking news that there’s a big difference between “a bunch of guys are out, but Kevin Durant is still available” and “a bunch of guys are out and Durant is one of them.” The Kia MVP candidate enhanced his resume by leading the Nets’ skeleton crew to wins over Toronto and Philly last week, one of the most efficient pairs of games (119 points scored per 100 possessions) for the Brooklyn offense this season. Durant led the way with 68 total points and 19 assists, Patty Mills shot 11-for-22 from 3-point range, and the Nets’ got a bunch of second chances with 20 offensive rebounds from rookies David Duke Jr., Kessler Edwards and Day’Ron Sharpe.
With the two wins, the Nets had joined the group of teams that ranked in the top 10 on both ends of the floor. (Since joining the NBA, the Nets have never ranked in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency.) But Durant entered Health and Safety Protocols on Saturday and, without him, the Nets struggled to score against the league’s 28th-ranked defense. Their loss to Orlando (in which Mills shot 2-for-14 from beyond the arc) dropped the Nets’ offense out of the top 10.
The eventual return of Kyrie Irving, set to rejoin the team for practices and road games once he clears Health and Safety Protocols, will obviously give the offense a boost. Irving registered the 13th 50-40-90 season in the 42 years of the 3-point line last season, shooting a league-best 54% from mid-range (both Durant and LaMarcus Aldridge are beating that mark this season). The Nets could use both his north-south attack and his perimeter shooting.
The Nets’ initial group of Health-and-Safety guys (including James Harden) went into the protocols on Dec. 13 and 14, so they could be available for the Christmas game in L.A.
Week 10: @ POR, @ LAL
Last Week: 4 ↓
Pace: 99.5 (9) OffRtg: 109.9 (10) DefRtg: 107.1 (9) NetRtg: +2.7 (8)
The Bucks have played the most games (they’re 12-5) against the 13 teams that are currently under .500 and their schedule remains pretty soft for another 2 1/2 weeks. But schedule strength kind of goes out the window when Giannis Antetokounmpo (protocols) and Khris Middleton (hyperextended left knee) aren’t available. The Bucks lost in Boston after losing Middleton on Monday, and then went 1-2 against the Pacers, Pelicans and Cavs without both of their starting forwards.
Jrue Holiday (who’s missed seven games himself) has played almost as many minutes (215) without either Middleton or Antetokounmpo on the floor as he did all of last season (237). The Bucks have outscored their opponents (by 10 points) in those 215 minutes, but Holiday’s iso offense came up short in overtime in New Orleans (when the Bucks had just 16 assists on their 45 buckets) and he sat out the loss to Cleveland.
Grayson Allen also got the day off on Saturday, when Pat Connaughton had a relatively quiet night (3 points in 19 minutes). Allen (41.7%) and Connaughton (41.5%) are two of the five players — Patty Mills, Lonzo Ball and Desmond Bane are the others — that have shot 40% or better on at least 200 3-point attempts, and they’ve shot nearly as well with Antetokounmpo off the floor (41.3%) as they have with him on the floor (41.8%).
The Bucks play two more games against currently-below-.500 teams on Wednesday and Thursday. With Antetokounmpo having entered Protocols on Dec. 14, he could be available for Christmas.
Week 10: vs. HOU, @ DAL, vs. BOS
Last Week: 10 ↑
Pace: 99.2 (12) OffRtg: 111.2 (5) DefRtg: 109.1 (16) NetRtg: +2.1 (9)
The Grizzlies’ first five-game winning streak without Ja Morant was mostly about improved defense, especially if you throw out the 73-point win in which they shot 63% (rematch on Monday!). Their most recent five-game winning streak without Morant featured more potent (and much more consistent) offense, with six guys averaging double-figures over the five games. Dillon Brooks led the way, averaging 23.3 points over the four he played in, with two of those being the third and fourth times in his career in which he double-digit free throw attempts.
Brooks was 9-for-9 from the line as he scored a career-high 37 points (while also defending Damian Lillard) against the Blazers on Sunday, but he didn’t get much help. Desmond Bane (1-for-8 from 3-point range) finally cooled off, the Grizzlies scored just 20 points on 23 possessions in the fourth quarter, and they became just the second team to lose to Portland at home.
The Grizzlies’ schedule over this 10-2 stretch without Morant (who’s “getting really close” to returning) has been relatively soft. Only three of the 12 games have come against the other 16 teams that are currently at or above .500, and five of the 12 have been rest-advantage games. They won all three of those games against good/decent teams (the Heat, Lakers and Sixers), but the three-game trip that begins Thursday includes two much more interesting tests: Games against the Warriors and Suns (next Monday).
Week 10: vs. OKC, @ GSW, @ SAC
Last Week: 8
Pace: 99.0 (14) OffRtg: 109.7 (11) DefRtg: 106.8 (7) NetRtg: +2.9 (7)
DeMar DeRozan picked up right where he left off. Really. In his last two games before his COVID absence, DeRozan scored 31 total fourth-quarter points in New York and Brooklyn. And in his first game back (and the Bulls’ first game back after two postponements), he scored 19 fourth-quarter points against the Lakers, with four of his seven buckets (including the go-ahead jumper over LeBron James with 53 seconds left) coming from mid-range.
DeRozan ranks second (behind Kevin Durant) in total mid-range buckets this season, but his 35 in the fourth quarter (on 71 attempts) are 10 more than any other player has. He’s 15-for-27 (56%) on clutch shots and, among the 66 players who’ve attempted at least 15, he’s the only one who’s taken all of his from inside the arc. With him having made only 17 (16%) of his 104 clutch 3-point attempts in his career, that’s probably the wise move.
Despite their two DeRozan-less losses that preceded their hiatus, the Bulls are just a game in the loss column behind the first-place Nets. They could get Zach LaVine back this week and their next six games (including two each against the Pacers and Hawks) are against teams that are currently under .500. The four-game homestand that began with their win over the Lakers on Sunday is also the Bulls’ longest of the season thus far.
Week 10: vs. HOU, vs. TOR, vs. IND
Last Week: 7 ↓
Pace: 96.2 (28) OffRtg: 110.1 (8) DefRtg: 107.1 (10) NetRtg: +3.0 (6)
Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo are two of the best defenders in the league. But as they’ve played without them for all of December (save 25 minutes of Butler in a loss to Memphis), the Heat have ranked much higher on defense (11th this month) than they have on offense (23rd). The defense has benefited from playing some bad, struggling and shorthanded opposing offenses, but playing more conventional pick-and-roll coverage, they Heat have seen a fairly big drop in the percentage of their opponents’ shots that have come from the restricted area or 3-point range. And they haven’t felt Butler’s absence in regard to forcing turnovers.
On offense, the Heat have shot 3s at a much higher rate and with much more success in December (48% of their shots, 39.9% of them going in) than they did prior (40%, 34.7%). They made 18 or more 3s in each of their four wins over the last 12 days, with Gabe Vincent making seven (including the game-winner) in Philly on Wednesday and Max Strus draining eight in Orlando on Friday. But turnovers are up, while free throws and offensive rebounds are down. And in Detroit on Sunday, the Heat were held under a point per possession by a bottom-10 defense, unable to make up for a cold shooting night with the extras that Butler and Adebayo would provide.
The Heat are still 6-4 in games they’ve played without either of them. Their schedule is pretty soft for the next couple of weeks and the homestand that begins Tuesday (four games over eight days) is the their longest of the season thus far.
Week 10: vs. IND, vs. DET, vs. ORL
Last Week: 11 ↑
Pace: 99.3 (11) OffRtg: 106.3 (25) DefRtg: 105.4 (4) NetRtg: +0.9 (13)
Overall, the Clippers have been better offensively in their six games without Paul George (110.9 points scored per 100 possessions) than they’ve been in their 24 games with him (105.2). A big part of that has been 3-point shooting (40.2% vs. 35.4%), with Luke Kennard (27-for-47) and Eric Bledsoe (10-for-20) having combined to shoot 55% from beyond the arc over the six games. They were 4-for-7 as the Clippers beat the Suns on Monday.
But the defense isn’t the same without George. The Clippers couldn’t stop Utah’s No. 1 offense on Wednesday, and they got crushed on the glass in Oklahoma City before Justise Winslow (who got his first start of the season) opened the door for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s game-winner, missing the two free throws that could have sealed a win.
The improved 3-point shooting is critical, because the Clippers remain dependent on jump shots. They rank 27th in fast-break-point differential (-1.9 per game), 30th in points-in-the-paint differential (-6.2 per game), and 29th in second-chance-point differential (-3.8 per game). Their 9.6 second-chance points per game would be the lowest mark in the last 11 seasons.
The Clippers are now 3-3 without George, who was initially listed as questionable for their game in Oklahoma City on Saturday. So maybe there’s some hope for a return this week, with the Clippers having an important visit from the Nuggets (their first meeting of the season) on Sunday.
Week 10: vs. SAS, @ SAC, vs. DEN
Last Week: 16 ↑
Pace: 98.0 (20) OffRtg: 108.3 (20) DefRtg: 107.5 (12) NetRtg: +0.8 (14)
The Celtics couldn’t complete a comeback from 20 points down against the Warriors on Friday and they’ve lost six of their last seven games against the Western Conference, with four of the six losses having been within five points in the last five minutes. But they’ve won four straight (and nine of their last 12) within the East, having scored more than 119 points per 100 possessions against the Bucks (with Giannis Antetokounmpo) and Knicks last week. Jayson Tatum’s 42 points on Monday are tied for the most points scored against the champs this season.
Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier combined for 61 points in Boston on Saturday, but their return was ruined by Josh Richardson, who essentially replaced Fournier in the Celtics’ rotation and had his best game as a Celtic, registering 27 points, five rebounds, four assists, three steals, and a plus-12 in a seven-point win. Richardson’s 5-for-7 from 3-point range put him above 40% for the season, having seen the eighth biggest jump (from 33.0% to 40.5%) among 164 players with at least 100 3-point attempts last season and at least 75 this season. Grant Williams (from 37.2% to 45.3%) has seen the seventh biggest.
The seventh-place Celtics have three more important games within the East this week. They began the month of December with an ugly, 88-87 victory over the Sixers, who are back in Boston on Monday.
Week 10: vs. PHI, vs. CLE, @ MIL
Last Week: 9 ↓
Pace: 95.9 (29) OffRtg: 109.1 (18) DefRtg: 109.9 (20) NetRtg: -0.9 (19)
Nine days ago, the Sixers became just the second team this season to hold the Warriors’ offense under a point per possession, shutting down the Stephen Curry Show in what was probably their best win of the season. Unfortunately, there’s been no carryover since then. In fact, the Sixers enter Week 10 with the league’s longest active losing streak. Playing without Joel Embiid and Seth Curry on Monday, they got destroyed in Memphis. They came back from 20 points down against both Miami and Brooklyn later in the week, but came up short down the stretch, falling victim to big 3s from Gabe Vincent, Kevin Durant and Blake Griffin.
The Sixers have played a league-high 19 games that were within five points in the last five minutes, already having more losses (they’re 9-10) in clutch games than they had all of last season (when they were a league-best 25-9). They’ve scored just a point per possession in the clutch, with Embiid having taken only seven of his 48 clutch shots in the restricted area and with Sixers not named Embiid or Curry having shot 23-for-70 (33%). Tobias Harris is 4-for-17 in the clutch and continues to struggle with his jumper (34% from mid-range, 30% from 3-point range overall).
Another one of those nine clutch losses (when Harris couldn’t get the ball to Embiid on the final play) was Dec. 1 in Boston. The Sixers will be back there on Monday for one of their three big games within the East’s hovering-around-.500 scrum this week.
Week 10: @ BOS, vs. ATL, @ WAS
Last Week: 17 ↑
Pace: 96.9 (25) OffRtg: 109.6 (13) DefRtg: 109.7 (19) NetRtg: -0.1 (16)
The Nuggets continue to deal with injuries. The latest was Markus Howard’s sprained left knee, suffered Wednesday in a game (against Minnesota) they never led. But they continue to tread water. They’ve won three of their last four, and actually got some decent bench minutes last week. Wednesday and Friday were the first time this season that their reserves registered a positive aggregate plus-minus in two straight games. Howard was solid before he got hurt against the Wolves and Bones Hyland was huge in Atlanta, scoring 24 points (in 26 minutes) on 8-for-11 shooting.
That game turned on a 33-10 run in the second quarter in which Aaron Gordon had 10 points and two assists. Though six of those 10 points came from beyond the arc, Gordon still isn’t much of a 3-point shooter. But his effective field goal percentage (56.9%) and true shooting percentage (60.3%) are career-high marks, with 42% of his shots, his highest rate in the last six seasons, having come in the restricted area. His 74.8% shooting in the restricted area is the best mark of his career and ranks 13th among 68 players (and first among non-bigs) with at least 100 attempts.
The Nuggets were on a weird, Atlanta-Brooklyn-Oklahoma-City road trip, but the Brooklyn game was postponed and they don’t play the Thunder (their first of four meetings with the last-place team in the West) until Wednesday. They’ve won 11 of their last 12 against OKC.
Week 10: @ OKC, vs. CHA, @ LAC
Last Week: 21 ↑
Pace: 100.3 (6) OffRtg: 107.4 (22) DefRtg: 107.1 (8) NetRtg: +0.3 (15)
In Denver on Wednesday, the Wolves’ starting lineup (the Greatest Lineup Ever) outscored the Nuggets by 18 points in less than 20 minutes … and saw its season-long point differential per 100 possessions go down (from plus-50.0 to plus-49.6). With Anthony Edwards in Health and Safety Protocols, the GLE’s dominance is on pause. But the Wolves still outscored the Lakers and Mavs by 34 points in 62 minutes with Patrick Beverley on the floor (even though he shot 6-for-17) over the weekend.
It’s been a roller-coaster season, with the Wolves’ current, four-game winning streak having been preceded by a five-game losing streak. But health has been a factor; The winning streak coincides with them having Beverley and D’Angelo Russell both in the lineup for the first time since Thanksgiving. The Wolves are 12-6 with both of them in uniform and have outscored their opponents by 23.9 points per 100 possessions with both on the floor, the third best mark among two-man combinations that have played at least 250 minutes. And that’s with Russell having seen a drop in efficiency from last season. His true shooting percentage of 51.7% ranks 41st among 46 players with a usage rate of 25% or higher.
With their win over the Mavs on Sunday, the Wolves moved ahead of Dallas into eighth place in the West. To stay there, they’ll need to win the rematch (the second of four meetings) in Dallas on Tuesday.
Week 10: @ DAL, @ UTA
Last Week: 15
Pace: 101.1 (1) OffRtg: 106.4 (24) DefRtg: 107.3 (11) NetRtg: -0.9 (20)
With all the Health-and-Safety absences, actual injuries can fly under the radar. But the MCL sprain that Anthony Davis suffered in Minnesota on Friday is obviously a big one. Davis is surely the easiest of the the Lakers’ three stars to reintegrate after a long absence, but this team hasn’t given itself much margin for error, playing mediocre basketball through the first nine weeks.
Of course, they’re now more dependent on their two centers. But Dwight Howard is currently in Health and Safety Protocols and the Lakers have been outscored by 9.0 points per 100 possessions in DeAndre Jordan’s 335 minutes on the floor. They’ve played 121 minutes with LeBron James at the five (no Davis, Howard or Jordan) and outscored their opponents by 10 points in those minutes, but defensive rebounding is an issue. In their two losses over the weekend, the Lakers allowed 31 offensive rebounds and 39 second chance points. Through Sunday, the Lakers rank 24th in defensive rebounding percentage, having seen the league’s third biggest drop from last season (when they ranked seventh).
Even with the loss in Chicago on Sunday, the Lakers are 8-5 against the Eastern Conference. They’re 8-10 against the West, with 11 of their next 13 games within the conference.
"Austin Reaves 3-pointer… BANG!"
— NBA (@NBA) December 16, 2021
Week 10: vs. PHX, vs. SAS, vs. BKN
Last Week: 12 ↓
Pace: 100.7 (4) OffRtg: 113.2 (2) DefRtg: 114.8 (30) NetRtg: -1.6 (30)
While other teams were losing multiple players to Health and Safety Protocols late last week, the Hornets were getting their guys back. They lost Cody Martin on Sunday, but Terry Rozier has been back for four games and Lonzo Ball has been back for two, scoring 27 points in Portland on Friday. The Hornets’ offense has remained sharp, getting a season-high 41 points from Gordon Hayward in a win in San Antonio earlier in the week. Alas, no matter who’s in uniform, the Hornets can’t get stops, and they’ve lost eight of their last 11 games.
After winning the first quarter in only four of their first 20 games, the Hornets seemed to solve their early-game problems. But they’ve popped up again (in a big way) on their six-game trip. In their losses in Dallas, Portland and Phoenix last week, they were hammered by a combined score of 115-59 (!) in the first quarter, allowing more than 151 points per 100 possessions. On Sunday, the Suns were up 6-0 before the Hornets took a shot. And for the season, Charlotte has allowed 122 points per 100 possessions, 9.1 more than any other team, in the opening 12 minutes.
The league’s top two offenses will meet for the first time in Utah on Monday. The Hornets’ six-game trip ends Thursday in Denver, after which they’ll have a three-day, Christmas break.
Week 10: @ UTA, @ DEN
Last Week: 19 ↑
Pace: 96.3 (27) OffRtg: 110.1 (7) DefRtg: 108.8 (15) NetRtg: +1.4 (11)
The Raptors are 5-2 in December, with top-10 marks on both offense and defense this month and with the two losses having come by a total of three points. It’s been a soft schedule, especially when you consider that the Bucks (playing the second game of a back-to-back on Dec. 1) were without Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Nets (on Tuesday) were without half their roster, and the Warriors (playing the second game of a back-to-back on Saturday) were without four of their five starters.
But the Raps don’t need to apologize. As they got OG Anunoby back from a 13-game absence on Saturday, they lost Pascal Siakam to Health and Safety Protocols. So they’ve still had all three of their core vets — Anunoby, Siakam and Fred VanVleet — for just three of their 29 games (70 minutes total), and not since Nov. 15. They’re actually 0-3 with all three, but an eventual on-court reunion would be nice, even if it’s so they can have at least one of the other two on the floor when VanVleet sits. He leads the league at 37.9 minutes per game, because in 337 total minutes with him off the floor, the Raptors have been outscored by 12.1 points per 100 possessions. The OT defeat in Brooklyn (when they were outscored by 10 points in 5:46 with him on the bench) was the fourth time they’ve lost a game in which VanVleet registered a positive plus-minus.
With their game against the Magic on Monday being postponed, the Raptors will have to wait until Wednesday (at Chicago) for the opportunity to get back to .500 for the first time since they were 7-7.
Week 10: @ CHI, @ CLE
Last Week: 14 ↓
Pace: 97.4 (23) OffRtg: 107.0 (23) DefRtg: 109.5 (17) NetRtg: -2.4 (23)
The Wizards beat some good teams when they started the season 10-3, but their win in Utah on Saturday could have been their most important victory of the season, given the slide they’d been on. They’d allowed 118.3 points per 100 possessions (27th in the league) over a 1-7 stretch and were about to fall below .500 for the first time this season. But then the Wiz held the league’s No. 1 offense to just 103 points on 101 possessions, salvaging what had been a rough road trip. They benefited from the Jazz missing 30 3-pointers and 11 free throws, but also held them to a season-low 30 points in the paint, a particularly encouraging development given how weak the Wizards’ weak-side defense had been of late.
Bradley Beal has been on a little tear, averaging 27.4 points on an effective field goal percentage of 57.0% over the last seven games. He’s lowered his 3-point rate (only 19% of his shots, down from 30% prior) and has shot 57% inside the arc (including 20-for-39 from mid-range), dunking on Rudy Gobert on Saturday. The Wizards have still been better offensively (and defensively) with him off the floor over that stretch.
The significance of the Utah win will be determined by what the Wizards do from here. They’ve yet to face either the Knicks or the Sixers, who they’re scheduled to play on Thursday and Sunday, with their Tuesday game in Brooklyn having been postponed.
Week 10: @ NYK, vs. PHI
Last Week: 18 ↓
Pace: 95.9 (30) OffRtg: 108.1 (21) DefRtg: 108.5 (13) NetRtg: -0.4 (17)
The Mavs have been outscored by 5.3 points per 100 possessions (with bad offensive numbers) in 330 total minutes with Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis on the floor together. Nine weeks into the season, they haven’t figured things out, found any consistency, or reached their potential.
For any of those things to happen, the Mavs need Doncic and Porzingis healthy. But Doncic has missed the last four games (the Mavs are 2-4 without him) and if he returns this week, he might not have Porzingis beside him, because the big man left the Mavs’ loss in Minnesota on Sunday with a foot injury. There are obviously a lot of teams missing key players right now, but this one, given how inconsistent and disappointing its first 29 games have been, that really needs to find some kind of rhythm.
The Mavs had fourth-quarter leads against both the Lakers and Wolves last week, but they came up empty offensively down the stretch of both games (3-for-20 from 3-point range over the two fourth quarters) and nobody yelled “Same team!” when Porzingis and Maxi Kleber were both going for the rebound that would have sealed the win against L.A..
They got a win over Charlotte earlier in the week, but the Mavs have still lost six of their last seven games at American Airlines Center. They’re scheduled to host the Wolves (with a chance to regain eighth place) and Bucks there this week before beginning a five-game trip in Utah on Christmas.
Week 10: vs. MIN, vs. MIL, @ UTA
Last Week: 13 ↓
Pace: 98.9 (16) OffRtg: 112.8 (3) DefRtg: 111.2 (24) NetRtg: +1.7 (10)
The Hawks had a home game postponed on Sunday and their home-heavy stretch (now 12 of 17 in Atlanta) comes to an end on Wednesday. That’s probably a good thing, because they’ve lost their last six games at State Farm Arena (where they were previously 8-1). Offense was the bigger issue at first, but they allowed the Nuggets and Rockets to score 125 points per 100 possessions last week, losing games in which Trae Young totaled 75 points and 19 assists.
The Hawks weren’t a great defensive team last season; Even from the point Nate McMillan became the coach, they ranked just 13th on that end of the floor. And they’ve allowed fewer points per 100 possessions this season (111.2) than they did last year (112.1). But with the league average having seen a big drop, their small one has taken them into the bottom 10 defensively. They’ve gone from 17th to 23rd in opponent field goal percentage in the paint and from sixth to 17th in opponent effective field goal percentage on shots from outside the paint. For the second straight season, they rank 29th in opponent turnover rate.
But they’ve allowed just 106 points per 100 possessions as they’ve won their last five road games. They’ll now play eight of their next nine games on the road, with the five-game Christmas slate tipping off with their first of two visits to Madison Square Garden. Unfortunately, it seems that Young won’t be with them for this one.
Week 10: vs. ORL, @ PHI, @ NYK
Last Week: 20 ↓
Pace: 97.3 (24) OffRtg: 109.6 (12) DefRtg: 108.5 (14) NetRtg: +1.1 (12)
The Pacers have won four of their last six games, with the two losses being games against the Warriors and Bucks that they led in the fourth quarter. On one hand, it’s good that they were competitive against good teams. On the other hand, they now have nine losses (most in the league) in games they led in the fourth. Only the Hawks and Wolves have worse offensively than the Pacers (101.0 points scored per 100 possessions) in the final period.
Their 3-point shooting gets worse with every ensuing period (from 36.1% in the first to 29.0% in the fourth) and overall, they shot no better than 29% from 3-point range in any of their three games last week. They now have the league’s biggest differential between their field goal percentage in the paint (58.8%, fourth) and their effective field goal percentage on shots from outside the paint (47.2%, 26th). Domantas Sabonis (69.9% vs. 38.0%), Torrey Craig (68.5% vs. 43.0%), T.J. McConnell (58.7% vs. 40.5%) and Myles Turner (68.3% vs. 54.9%) have the second, eighth, 21st and 40th biggest differentials among 198 players with at least 50 field goal attempts both in and outside the paint.
The Pacers are still two games in the loss column out of a Play-In spot, but they’re one of nine teams that have been better than the league average (108.7 points per 100 possessions) on both ends of the floor. They’ll play two of the others (the Heat and Bulls) this week, part of a stretch where they’re playing just three games over 12 days (Dec. 17-28).
Week 10: @ MIA, vs. HOU, @ CHI
Last Week: 24 ↑
Pace: 98.7 (18) OffRtg: 109.4 (16) DefRtg: 112.3 (27) NetRtg: -2.8 (24)
Damian Lillard has been back for the last five games, and it might be that he’s been back for the last two. Lillard totaled 75 points in 75 minutes in weekend wins over the Hornets and Grizzlies, shooting 9-for-20 from 3-point range and 24-for-26 from the free throw line. It was just the fourth and fifth times (in 25 games) this season that he’s scored at least 30 points, having done so in 35 (52%) of his 67 games last season.
CJ McCollum remains on the shelf, but Norman Powell (28 points with two big shots down the stretch in Memphis) has picked up some of the scoring slack and the Blazers have ranked 13th defensively over the two weeks that McCollum has been out. And that’s with five of the seven games having come against teams that rank in the top six on offense. The Blazers obviously want McCollum back soon, but his absence is a clear opportunity to see how important it is to have more size on the floor. The lineup they’ve started the last five games (Nassir Little and Larry Nance Jr. at the forwards) hasn’t been particularly good defensively (114.3 points allowed per 100 possessions) in its 53 minutes, but they’ve allowed just 105.8 per 100 in 396 total minutes with Little and Nance on the floor together.
Week 10: @ NOP, vs. BKN
Last Week: 22 ↓
Pace: 96.4 (26) OffRtg: 108.9 (19) DefRtg: 111.0 (23) NetRtg: -2.1 (22)
Well, we found out what it would take for Kemba Walker to play again. With RJ Barrett, Derrick Rose, Immannuel Quickley, Quentin Grimes and Miles McBride out on Saturday, Walker got the start (over Wayne Selden) in Boston and scored a season-high 29 points. But the Knicks were outscored by 12 points in Walker’s 10:38 on the bench, and they continue to struggle defensively. They’ve ranked 28th on that end of the floor (117.2 points allowed per 100 possessions) as they’ve lost eight of their last 10 games.
Walker still has the highest on-court mark (they’ve allowed 115.9 per 100 with him on the floor) among the 12 Knicks who have played at least 100 total minutes, but he’s played only 37 over that 10-game stretch. Julius Randle’s fall-off on defense is is as much of an issue as his shooting (36% over the last six games) and turnovers.
The Knicks are 9-4 when they’ve held their opponent under the league average for efficiency, but they’ve done that just once in the last three weeks. They haven’t exactly played a bunch of elite offenses over that stretch, but they’ll face the 29th-ranked Pistons (who’ve scored the league average or better in just seven of their 29 games) and 23rd-ranked Wizards for the first time this week.
Week 10: vs. DET, vs. WAS, vs. ATL
Last Week: 26 ↑
Pace: 100.3 (5) OffRtg: 109.9 (9) DefRtg: 112.7 (29) NetRtg: -2.8 (25)
In a Western Conference where six teams are at least five games under .500, one of those six is going to hold the final Play-In spot. And at the start of Week 10, that team is the Kings, who have been about as inconsistent offensively as a team could be over their last seven games. In that stretch, the Kings have scored more than 120 points per 100 possessions four times and been held to 100 or less three times, with no in-between. And they’ve been that erratic while shooting 3-pointers at at relatively low volume (less than 35% of their shots over the seven games).
They’ve been without Richaun Holmes (probably their most consistent player) for all but 10 minutes of the seven games, and they lost six guys (including De’Aaron Fox) to Health and Safety Protocols over the weekend. But they got a big lift from their reserves (including Tristan Thompson) against Washington on Wednesday and huge games from Buddy Hield and Tyrese Haliburton against San Antonio on Sunday. That win improved them to 5-2 against the other five teams at the bottom of the West and 7-7 under Alvin Gentry.
For the third straight season, the Kings have been better with Fox off the floor than they’ve been with him on the floor. The differential this season (+4.1 vs. -6.8) is much bigger than it was in the previous two, and it’s entirely about defense.
The Kings’ longest homestand of the season is six games over 12 day, and it begins Wednesday with a visit from the Clippers.
Week 10: @ GSW, vs. LAC, vs. MEM
Last Week: 23 ↓
Pace: 99.9 (7) OffRtg: 109.5 (15) DefRtg: 110.0 (21) NetRtg: -0.6 (18)
Keldon Johnson remains a guy who will continually put his head down attack the basket. He still runs himself off of open 3-pointers and he still doesn’t pass much when he attacks. In fact, his pass rate on drives (20.8%, sixth lowest among 140 players with at least 100 total drives) is a tick lower than it was last season (21.2%). But Johnson has been shooting more of late. He’s 15-for-25 from beyond the arc over his last five games and is now 40-for-79 (51%) on catch-and-shoot 3s for the season. That’s the best mark among 192 players with at least 50 catch-and-shoot attempts and up from 35.1% last season.
The Spurs still rank last in the percentage of their shots (32.1%) that have come from 3-point range, which has them rank 14th in effective field goal percentage (52.6%) even though they’re fourth in the percentage of their shots that go through the basket. But their offense hasn’t been the issue as they’ve alternated losses and wins over their last seven games. They rank second offensively (118.3 points scored per 100 possessions) and 29th defensively (120.9 allowed per 100) over that stretch, which has dropped them from 10th to 21st defensively overall.
Three games this week against teams that rank in the bottom 10 on offense are an opportunity to climb back out of the bottom 10 on defense.
Week 10: @ LAC, @ LAL, vs. DET
Last Week: 25 ↓
Pace: 101.0 (2) OffRtg: 105.1 (27) DefRtg: 111.3 (25) NetRtg: -6.2 (27)
With trade season open, Eric Gordon could be one of the most interesting players for contenders to pursue. He’s had some injury issues (he played just 63 total games over the last two seasons) and he hasn’t played in both games of a back-to-back this season. But he’s played in 25 of the Rockets’ 30, has shot 48% on catch-and-shoot 3s (the fourth best mark among 148 players who’ve attempted at least 65), and he had a big game (32 points, 10-for-16 from the field, 7-for-9 from the line) in Atlanta on Monday, even doing some good stuff on defense in Houston’s comeback win.
The Rockets allowed more than 124 points per 100 possessions over a 1-4 stretch where they played five games in seven days. But they took care of business in Detroit on Saturday afternoon and have won nine of their last 13 games, with the league’s third-ranked offense over that stretch. There’s been improvement in the paint (and the Rockets continue to lead the league in free throw rate), but the run has largely been fueled by a big jump in 3-point percentage. Some players have shot better, but it mostly helps that the guy leading the team in 3-point attempts is Garrison Mathews and not Jalen Green (who led them through the first 17 games).
The Rockets are 6-7 against the Eastern Conference, with three more games (including a Wednesday-Thursday back-to-back) on their current trip.
Week 10: @ CHI, @ MIL, @ IND
Last Week: 28 ↑
Pace: 97.9 (21) OffRtg: 106.1 (26) DefRtg: 111.3 (26) NetRtg: -5.3 (26)
The Pelicans lost their first eight games that were within five points in the last five minutes, scoring just 24 points on 37 clutch possessions (65 per 100) and missing all 11 of their clutch 3-point attempts. Since then, the Pelicans are 3-1 in games that were within five in the last five, having scored 66 points on clutch 57 possessions (116 per 100) and making eight of their 15 clutch 3-point attempts. One of those eight was a buzzer-beating 61-footer from Devonte Graham, and four more (three from Graham) came on Friday, when the Pelicans outlasted the Bucks in overtime.
That was two games that went down to the wire last week, even though the Pelicans’ starting lineup outscored the Thunder and Bucks by 28 points in its 37 minutes. With Kira Lewis out for the season, Tomas Satoransky has been getting regular playing time, but the Pelicans were somehow outscored by 32 points in his 24 minutes over the two games. For the season, the Pelicans’ bench ranks as the third worst in the league, better than only those of the Nuggets and Magic.
Graham’s game-winner in Oklahoma City pulled the Pelicans out of the Western Conference basement. They’re back in the same building on Sunday.
— NBA (@NBA) December 16, 2021
Week 10: vs. POR, @ ORL, @ OKC
Last Week: 27 ↓
Pace: 98.8 (17) OffRtg: 100.4 (30) DefRtg: 109.5 (18) NetRtg: -9.0 (29)
The Thunder played two games last week, and they both featured ridiculous, side-step 3-pointers from Shai Gilgeous-Alexander in the final seconds. Against the Pelicans on Wednesday, he left time on the clock. Against the Clippers on Saturday, he didn’t. Gilgeous-Alexander remains under 30% (27th among 30 players with at least 75 attempts) on pull-up 3-pointers this season and has seen the second biggest drop in overall 3-point percentage (from 41.8% to 30.8%) among 121 players with at least 100 attempts in each of the last two seasons. He had missed his previous seven shots (he’s 5-for-15 in his career) to tie or take the lead in the final minute of the fourth quarter or overtime, but he’s assisted on or made three of them in the last 12 days. The Thunder remain one of three teams — Detroit and Orlando are the others — that have just one win (OKC’s was Nov. 17 vs. Houston) that wasn’t within five points in the last five minutes.
Overall, the Thunder’s 30th-ranked offense has shown some signs of life. They’ve still had some stinkers, but four of their five most efficient games of the season have come in December. Tre Mann has had a spot in the rotation since Thanksgiving, had had a couple of highlight dunks, and has shot 14-for-25 (56%) on catch-and-shoot 3s.
After those two wild finishes, the Thunder now return to the scene of the crime (the biggest margin of defeat in NBA history) on Monday.
— NBA (@NBA) December 19, 2021
Week 10: @ MEM, vs. DEN, @ PHX, vs. NOP
Last Week: 29
Pace: 98.9 (15) OffRtg: 102.5 (28) DefRtg: 112.5 (28) NetRtg: -10.0 (30)
Playing almost all of his minutes alongside another big and even 30 minutes as a small forward, Chuma Okeke is a little more of a floor spacer this year than he was as a rookie. He’s taken more than half (50.3%) of his shots from 3-point range, though, among 181 players with at least 75 attempts, only Blake Griffin and Josh Giddey have shot worse from beyond the arc than Okeke (25.3%), who had missed 11 straight 3s entering last week. But he was 7-for-14 over the weekend, hitting two big 3-pointers (including the go-ahead bucket with 1:11 left) down the stretch in Brooklyn on Saturday.
The Magic remain in the bottom five in 3-point percentage, with Franz Wagner having cooled off from beyond the arc (eight straight misses). But the rookie totaled 10 assists and just three turnovers in two games as the starting point guard (with Cole Anthony lost to an ankle injury). And with a bench that consisted of four guys they signed the day before, the Magic ended a seven-game losing streak (over which they allowed more than 120 points per 100 possessions) by outlasting first-place (and similarly shorthanded) Nets. Half of the Magic’s six wins have come in New York City, and their only loss there (Nov. 19 in Brooklyn) came by two points.
The Magic have lost their last 12 games (going back to Game 2 of the 2019 first round) against the Raptors, but had their Monday game in Toronto postponed. They’ve only lost five straight to the Hawks, who they’ll visit on Wednesday.
Week 10: @ ATL, vs. NOP, @ MIA
Last Week: 30
Pace: 99.0 (13) OffRtg: 101.1 (29) DefRtg: 110.1 (22) NetRtg: -9.0 (28)
The end of the Pistons’ losing streak didn’t come Thursday in Indiana, when they build an early, 10-point lead against a team that was, at that point, *0-12 in games it trailed by double-digits. The lead disappeared quickly and the Pacers scored 101 points over their next 70 possessions (1.44 per). The end of the streak didn’t come Saturday against the Rockets, the team that has the longest losing streak of the season. Houston committed 19 turnovers, but the Pistons committed 21 and never led after the first three minutes.
* The Pacers’ win on Thursday left the Pistons (0-22) and Jazz (0-5) as the only teams without a win after trailing by double-digits.
No, the end of the streak came Sunday, when the Pistons were playing with a rest disadvantage against the Heat, having lost all 17 of their prior games against the 17 teams that are currently at or above .500. They trailed by as many as nine, but took control with a 23-6 run in the third quarter, with Saddiq Bey scoring nine of his 26 points in those seven minutes. Prior to Sunday, the third quarter (in which they’d been outscored by 17.6 points per 100 possessions) was the Pistons’ worst by a healthy margin.
It was noted in last week’s notebook that, through Wednesday, Bey had seen the second biggest drop in effective field goal percentage (53.0% last season, 41.6% this season) among players with at least 200 field goal attempts in each of the last two seasons. In his three games since then, Bey has averaged 25.7 points on an effective field goal percentage of 64.1%.
Week 10: @ NYK, @ MIA, @ SAS