Otto Porter Jr. stepped up for Golden State in its big Christmas Day win in Phoenix.
The NBA continues to be hit hard by COVID, and there have been a few games (see Raptors-Cavs on Sunday) that haven’t been up to par.
But there has also been some solid competition. And the Christmas slate, though it was missing Kevin Durant, Luka Doncic, Anthony Davis and Trae Young, was highly entertaining. Last year (when the season had just started), the average margin of victory of the five Christmas games was 23.2 points per game. This year, it was 6.4, with four of the games having been within three points in the last five minutes.
All the absences, along with 11 teams being within two games of .500, does make it difficult to arrange all 30 in some sort of order. But there’s a clear top nine as we enter Week 11. And within that top nine is a clear upper tier comprised of the three best teams in the Western Conference. Two of those three teams have now met three times. The third has yet to play either of the other two.
The Utah Jazz will finally get their chance on Saturday (9 p.m. ET, NBA TV), when the Golden State Warriors come to Salt Lake City for the first of four meetings between the league’s No. 1 offense and its No. 1 defense.
Plus-Minus Players of the Week
Teams of the Week
- Make It Last Forever: San Antonio (3-0) — The Spurs won their three games by an average of 29 points.
- Something Just Ain’t Right: Sacramento (0-3) — From the outside, it seems odd to be “disappointed” about a team that hasn’t made the playoffs in 15 years. But that was the word that interim coach Alvin Gentry used to describe his group on Sunday.
East vs. West
Schedule strength through Week 10
- Toughest: 1. Portland, 2. Boston, 3. Cleveland
- Easiest: 1. Utah, 2. Brooklyn, 3. Milwaukee
- Schedule strength is based on cumulative opponent record, and adjusted for home vs. away and days of rest before a game.
Movement in the Rankings
- High jumps of the week: Charlotte (+4), Dallas (+4), New York (+3), Oklahoma City (+3), San Antonio (+3)
- Free falls of the week: LA Clippers (-4), L.A. Lakers (-3), Minnesota (-3), Sacramento (-3)
Week 11 Team to Watch
- Portland— Is there any life left in the Blazers? Damian Lillard has been shooting well of late and CJ McCollum could be back soon. After an extended Christmas break (thanks to a postponement), Portland sits in 11th place in the Western Conference, but just three games in the loss column out of fifth, with most of the six teams in front of them having their own struggles. They’ll play two of those teams this week, hosting the Mavs on Monday and visiting the Lakers on Friday. In between, they have the third-place Jazz at the Moda Center.
Previous Power Rankings
- This time last year: Lakers hold No. 1; Nets climb to No. 2 — The season tipped off with empty arenas, the Warriors lost their first two games by a total of 65 points, and the average margin of victory of the five Christmas games was 23.2. The Clippers beat the Lakers and Nuggets in their first two games … and then trailed the Mavs by 50 at halftime. The five undefeated teams at the end of the first week included the Cavs, Pacers, Thunder and Magic. Jayson Tatum banked in a 3 to beat the Bucks, Buddy Hield’s tip-in beat the Nuggets at the buzzer, and Spencer Dinwiddie suffered a partially torn ACL.
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 98.7 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes and 108.8 points scored per 100 possessions this season.
NBA.com’s Power Rankings, released every Monday during the season, are just one man’s opinion. If you have an issue with the rankings, or have a question or comment for John Schuhmann, send him an e-mail or contact him via Twitter.
Pace: 99.1 (13) OffRtg: 112.3 (3) DefRtg: 101.8 (1) NetRtg: +10.5 (1)
The late-game hero in the biggest game on Christmas was … Otto Porter Jr., who scored seven points on three possessions to put the Suns away in the closing minutes. And none of his three jumpers were easy, everybody’s-paying-attention-to-Steph, stand-still looks. He was moving away from the basket on the first of the three, he then drained a step-back with plenty of time left on the shot clock, and he completed the run with a Ray-Allen-esque 3-pointer on the move. Porter and the Warriors have clearly helped each other. He’s been a part of the league’s top-ranked bench while registering the league’s 10th biggest jump in effective field goal percentage (from 51.8% to 59.7%) among 245 players with at least 200 field goal attempts last season and at least 100 this season.
The win in Phoenix put the Warriors back in first place and gave them a 2-1 lead in the season series, with the finale not until March 30. They’ve won the last six games in which they’ve had Stephen Curry and Draymond Green and they have best record (9-3) in games played between the 12 teams that are currently over .500.
Before they face the league’s No. 1 offense for the first time, the Warriors play their first two games against the .500 Nuggets, having won six of their last eight games against Nikola Jokic. The reigning Kia MVP has averaged just 18.9 points on an effective field goal percentage of 48.3% against the Warriors over that stretch and, while Draymond Green and Kevon Looney split the assignment pretty evenly last season, Looney had more success in slowing Jokic down.
Week 11: vs. DEN, @ DEN, @ UTA
Pace: 100.7 (3) OffRtg: 110.5 (9) DefRtg: 103.4 (3) NetRtg: +7.1 (3)
The Suns’ loss to Golden State on Saturday ended a 20-game winning streak with Devin Booker in the lineup, a 15-game winning streak at home, and a 12-game winning streak in games that were within five points in the last five minutes. They entered clutch time down five and their defense wasn’t bad on the three tough Otto Porter buckets that sealed the win for the Warriors, but credit the Golden State defense for its pressure on a couple of Phoenix’s clutch possessions. The Suns remain No. 1 in both clutch offense (with Booker and Chris Paul having combined to shoot 12-for-17 from mid-range) and clutch defense.
Despite a rough shooting night (5-for-19 with only two free throws) from Booker, the Christmas loss was the Suns’ first in which they scored more efficiently than the league average, but the bigger difference between their wins and losses has been on defense. Their opponents have shot better than the league average from 3-point range in all six of their losses, but have also shot much better in the paint in those games (60% — the Warriors were 21-for-27 in the restricted area on Saturday) than they have in their 26 wins (52%).
The Suns have two more games on a stretch where they will have played 10 of 15 at home. Their visit to Boston on Friday is the start of a three-game trip and a larger stretch where they’re playing eight of 10 on the road. At 9-0 against the East (6-0 at home, 3-0 on the road), they’re the only team that hasn’t lost against the opposite conference.
Week 11: vs. MEM, vs. OKC, @ BOS, @ CHA
Pace: 99.0 (15) OffRtg: 117.1 (1) DefRtg: 106.9 (7) NetRtg: +10.2 (2)
You don’t have the No. 1 offense in the league without big contributions from multiple guys, and Bojan Bogdanovic has certainly been one of those guys for the Jazz, averaging 17.4 points on a career-best effective field goal percentage of 59.5%. Bogdanovic has been ridiculously consistent over the last 12 games, scoring between 13 and 25 points in all 12, with only one game where he registered an effective field goal percentage below 50%. For the season, he’s the only player who’s shot 40% or better on at least 100 3-point attempts and 85% or better on at least 100 free throw attempts. The Jazz got two clutch wins last week and Bogdanovic was their leading clutch scorer, draining three big 3-pointers to help put the Hornets and Mavs away.
The Christmas game against Dallas (in which the Jazz trailed 30-14) was the first time since Nov. 13 that they were in a double-digit hole. And it was the first time this season (they were previously 0-5) that they won a game they trailed by 10 points or more.
The Jazz will be 35 games into the season before they will have played another of the league’s top four teams. Their first of 10 meetings with the Warriors, Suns and Nets is Saturday in Utah, when Golden State will have a rest advantage (with the Jazz having hosted Minnesota the night before). Hopefully, Donovan Mitchell (out the next two two games with a lower back strain) will be back for the showdown.
As noted on Thursday, the difference between the Jazz’s top-ranked offense and that of the Hornets (now 4.4 points per 100 possessions) would be the biggest differential between No. 1 and No. 2 on offense in the 26 seasons for which we have play-by-play data. The Warriors haven’t been quite as dominant on defense, but they’re still the best team on that end of the floor by a healthy margin. So it will be No. 1 vs. No. 1 on Jan. 1.
Week 11: @ SAS, @ POR, vs. MIN, vs. GSW
Pace: 99.9 (8) OffRtg: 109.8 (12) DefRtg: 106.3 (5) NetRtg: +3.5 (6)
The Nets have the league’s fourth best record (16-2) in games they led by double-digits. They somehow lost leads of 17 and 23 points in L.A. on Christmas, but managed to escape with a win, thanks to St. Nicolas Claxton’s and-one thrunk on LeBron James. Claxton has started the last three games and his 32 minutes on Saturday were, easily, a season high. He’s the Nets’ only vertical threat (critical for James Harden’s pick-and-roll game) and he was was a huge part of some great fourth-quarter defense over a three-game stretch earlier this month.
So it will be interesting to see how minutes are distributed when LaMarcus Aldridge is back in the lineup. Claxton (3-for-18 from outside the paint in his career) and Aldridge (58% from mid-range this season) have both been available in just nine games thus far, and the only time in those nine games where Claxton played more minutes than Aldridge was opening night.
Aldridge entered Health and Safety Protocols with Harden and four other Nets who returned on Christmas, so he could be available soon. The same goes for Kevin Durant (who entered on Dec. 18), with the Nets having two days off after their second game against the Clippers on Monday. Not surprisingly, the win over the Lakers came with Harden’s highest usage rate of the season (40.4%).
The Nets’ game against the Sixers on Thursday begins a stretch where they’re playing seven of nine at home, with the road games (Kyrie Irving’s opportunities to make his season debut) being Jan. 5 in Indiana and Jan. 12 in Chicago.
Week 11: @ LAC, vs. PHI, vs. LAC
Pace: 99.5 (9) OffRtg: 110.4 (10) DefRtg: 107.0 (8) NetRtg: +3.4 (7)
Their game against the Celtics on Christmas wasn’t the Bucks’ best defensive performance of the season. But holy smokes, they made some huge defensive plays as they held the Celtics to just four points on their final 12 possessions of the game, coming back from 13 points down with a little more than five minutes to go. Jrue Holiday was incredibly timely with his blind-side double-teams, blocking Jaylen Brown and then stripping Jayson Tatum twice, with the second steal leading to Wesley Matthews’ go-ahead 3. Giannis Antetokounmpo then sealed the win with his incredible block on Robert Williams III with less than 10 seconds to go.
The Bucks miss Brook Lopez, but they still have the league’s best rim protector. Opponents have shot just 46.2% at the rim when Antetokounmpo has been there, the best mark among 61 players who’ve defended at least 100 shots at the rim this season. That (along with the presence of Holiday and Khris Middleton) is a big reason why the former two-time MVP doesn’t spend much time guarding the opponents’ best perimeter player. Antetokounmpo has played 29 clutch minutes this season, and 21 (74%) of those have come at the five (no Bobby Portis on the floor).
The Bucks are 7-1 against the bottom six teams in the league (the loss was 10 days ago in New Orleans, without Middleton or Antetokounmpo), and their next four games are against that group.
Week 11: @ ORL, @ ORL, vs. NOP
Pace: 98.3 (19) OffRtg: 109.8 (13) DefRtg: 103.1 (2) NetRtg: +6.7 (4)
There can’t be any real complaints about how the Cavs have played over the first 10 weeks of the season, and J.B. Bickerstaff was justly rewarded with a contract extension on Saturday. But in pointing the spotlight on Lauri Markkanen, we note that, among 245 players with at least 200 field goal attempts last season and at least 100 this season, he’s seen the 14th biggest drop in effective field goal percentage, from a career-high 59.4% to a career-low 49.8%. He’s seen big drops in both his marks in the paint (from 62.4% to 53.8%) and outside the paint (from 57.4% to 47.1%).
With three other starters out last week, Markkanen had a real opportunity to step forward, but he shot just 2-for-12, struggling both inside and out (with some help from Robert Williams III), in the Cavs’ loss in Boston on Wednesday. He bounced back (20 points on 9-for-13 shooting) on Sunday, but that came in a 45-point win over the Health-and-Safety-ravaged Raptors in which everybody got to eat. The Cavs’ point differential was already fourth best in the league, but it went from plus-5.4 to plus-6.6 per game (that of a team that’s 24-9) in 48 minutes.
Isaac Okoro has cleared Protocols, but didn’t play on Sunday. Evan Mobley (entered on Dec. 18) could be the next guy to get back.
Week 11: @ NOP, @ WAS, vs. ATL, vs. IND
Pace: 98.8 (16) OffRtg: 110.8 (7) DefRtg: 107.5 (9) NetRtg: +3.3 (8)
As the Bulls get players back, they continue to lose others (and head coach Billy Donovan) to both Health and Safety Protocols and injury. But through it all, they’ve won seven of their last nine games, a stretch that goes back to November, because they’ve had three games postponed. They’ve counted on clutch DeMar DeRozan for a few of those wins, but they took care of business last week, trailing for a total of just 1:43 as they beat the Rockets and Pacers. The win over Houston on Monday was the fourth most efficient scoring game (133 points on 94 possessions) for any team this season. The win over Indiana was the first time the Bulls won with DeRozan registering a plus-minus worse than minus-4.
Last season, DeRozan (1.20 points per possession) and Zach LaVine (1.14) ranked first and third in isolation efficiency among 42 players with at least 100 isolation possessions, according to Synergy tracking. This season, they rank second and fifth among 44 players with at least 50, with DeRozan (1.29) topping his mark from last season and LaVine (1.11) close to his.
The Bulls’ schedule (in regard to days off, at least) now gets a little tougher. Their win over the Pacers on Sunday began a stretch of five games in seven days. They’ll have a rest disadvantage in Atlanta on Monday and again in Washington on Saturday.
Week 11: @ ATL, vs. ATL, @ IND, @ WAS
Pace: 96.1 (28) OffRtg: 110.6 (8) DefRtg: 106.7 (6) NetRtg: +4.0 (5)
Before they could get Jimmy Butler back, the Heat lost three other starters, with P.J. Tucker and Dewayne Dedmon suffering knee injuries and Kyle Lowry entering Health and Safety Protocols on Christmas. But Butler did return on Sunday, totaling nine free throw attempts, six offensive rebounds and three steals in the Heat’s win over the skeleton-crew Magic. Through the injuries, Miami has won seven of its last nine games. And through Week 10, the Heat are one of three teams — the Jazz and Warriors are the others — that rank in the top eight on both ends of the floor.
Nobody on the Heat has numbers that really stand out over that 7-2 stretch, but the absences have provided big opportunities for three guys — Max Strus, Gabe Vincent and Omer Yurtseven — who weren’t a part of the early-season rotation. Strus has averaged 22.6 points over the last five games, starting in place of Tucker and draining the game-winning 3-pointer against Detroit on Thursday. Vincent has averaged 15 points and 5.1 assists as he’s started the last eight games. And while Yurtseven hasn’t grabbed every rebound over the last couple of weeks (he ranks eighth in rebounding percentage among 342 players who’ve averaged at least 10 minutes per game), it sure seems that way. All three are earning equity and it will be interesting to see what roles they have when the Heat are healthy.
The Heat’s longest road trip of the season (seven games over 15 days) begins Wednesday (in San Antonio) with the second game of a road-home back-to-back.
Week 11: vs. WAS, @ SAS, @ HOU, @ SAC
Pace: 99.2 (12) OffRtg: 111.2 (5) DefRtg: 108.9 (15) NetRtg: +2.3 (9)
Ja Morant made his return last week, and he totaled 38 points in the paint over the Grizzlies’ three games, with the floater looking sharp. The Grizzlies went down to the wire at Golden State on Thursday and thumped the Kings in the second half (scoring 78 points on 50 possessions) on Sunday. Desmond Bane (28 points on 11-for-19 shooting in Sacramento) continues his ascent.
But Morant made just one of his 10 shots from outside the paint over the three games and things fell apart after he put the Grizzlies up one with a short turnaround against Oklahoma City on Monday. In fact, it might be impossible for a team to look worse in the final minute of a close game. After Morant was blocked on their next possession, the Grizzlies didn’t match up in transition, allowing Josh Giddey to lay in the go-ahead bucket. Their next offensive possession went nowhere and ended with an awkward Kyle Anderson toss at the shot-clock buzzer. They allowed an uncontested dunk on the Thunder’s ensuing inbounds play and then turned the ball over on their own.
The Grizzlies started the season 8-2 in games that were within five points in the last five minutes, but they’ve lost their last three, having allowed 48 points on 34 clutch possessions, with eight of their opponents’ 15 clutch buckets having come in the restricted area. Their three-game trip concludes Monday (the second game of a back-to-back) against one of the best clutch teams in the league (who will be rested).
Week 11: @ PHX, vs. LAL, vs. SAS
Pace: 95.9 (30) OffRtg: 109.4 (15) DefRtg: 109.3 (17) NetRtg: +0.0 (15)
The Sixers would surely like to be more than one game over .500, but credit them for never falling below .500, even though (starting with their season opener) they’ve had seven opportunities to do so. They’ve held their opponents to just 101.0 points per 100 possessions over those seven games, which include a comfortable win over Washington on Sunday.
They continue to lead the league in games that were within five points in the last five minutes, and the Sixers’ fate continues to be decided by Joel Embiid’s jumper. He ranks second behind Trae Young in clutch usage rate (44.8%) and 35 of his 54 clutch shots have come from outside the paint. He drained three straight from mid-range (basically ignoring Marcus Smart’s double-team on the last one) to put away the Celtics on Monday, but missed the wide-open 21-footer for the tie against Atlanta three nights later. For the season, Embiid is 56-for-139 (40.3%) from mid-range, a mark which is in line with what he shot from mid-range two seasons ago (40.2%) and way down from the 49.1% he shot last season. Empty arenas were seemingly good for shooting numbers.
A game against the depleted Raptors on Tuesday is a real opportunity to keep that record over .500. Two nights later, the Sixers are in Brooklyn, having allowed 116.9 points per 100 possessions in two losses (both with Embiid in the lineup) to the Nets thus far.
Week 11: @ TOR, @ BKN
Pace: 98.2 (21) OffRtg: 108.3 (21) DefRtg: 107.6 (10) NetRtg: +0.7 (12)
Boston was on the other side of the Bucks’ late-game comeback on Saturday. It was the Celtics’ third loss in a game they led by double-digits in the fourth quarter (that’s tied with Atlanta for the league lead) and dropped them to 6-12 in games that were within five points in the last five minutes. As outlined in Thursday’s notebook, this is the fifth straight season when they’ve been worse in clutch games than they’ve been otherwise (10-5 after their win over the Cavs on Wednesday). In their losses to Philly and Milwaukee last week, the Celtics scored just 14 points (with six turnovers) on 25 total possessions with less than five minutes to go.
The Celtics’ everybody’s-healthy starting lineup has outscored opponents by 20.6 points per 100 possessions. But injuries and Health-and-Safety absences have limited it to just 87 total minutes, with only two games together since Thanksgiving. The Celtics are one of two teams — the Lakers are the other — that don’t have a lineup that’s played at least 100 minutes.
With Al Horford having cleared protocols prior to the Milwaukee game, the starters could be reunited this week. The Celtics have lost six of their last seven games against the Western Conference, but they could catch a couple of breaks with the Wolves and Clippers currently shorthanded.
Week 11: @ MIN, vs. LAC, vs. PHX, vs. ORL
Pace: 100.9 (2) OffRtg: 112.7 (2) DefRtg: 114.2 (30) NetRtg: -1.5 (21)
The league’s top two offenses met in Utah on Monday, and between them, they barely scored a point per possession. The Hornets actually shot better than the Jazz from the field, but were outscored 28-9 at the free throw line and allowed Utah to grab/tip 22 offensive rebounds (one fewer than the season high for any team). The Hornets’ 30th-ranked defense ranks 29th in opponent effective field goal percentage (54.8%) and 28th in defensive rebounding percentage (69.7%).
The rebounding has been better with Mason Plumlee on the floor (71.4%) than it’s been with P.J. Washington at center (67.6%). But Washington (who entered Health and Safety Protocols on Sunday) was at the five (with three other reserves and either Terry Rozier or Gordon Hayward) for all of a 38-13 fourth quarter in Denver on Thursday. He hit three big 3s down the stretch and, when the Nuggets charged at him, he assisted on the Hornets’ final two buckets of the comeback win. The Hornets are one of three teams — the Bucks (2-6) and Thunder (4-13) are the others — with multiple wins (they’re 2-9) in games they trailed by 18 points or more.
The Hornets have, thus far, played the league’s most road-heavy schedule (22 of 34), and they have the fourth biggest differential between their winning percentage at home (8-4, .667) vs. on the road (9-13, .409). They don’t really have an extended homestand for a while, but their three longest road trips of the season are in the rear-view mirror and they’ll play five of their next seven at the Spectrum Center.
Week 11: vs. HOU, @ IND, vs. PHX
Pace: 97.2 (24) OffRtg: 108.9 (19) DefRtg: 109.5 (19) NetRtg: -0.6 (19)
The Nuggets haven’t found much consistency on either end of the floor, though they continue to admirably tread water with two of their three best players on the shelf. (The issue is that those two guys may remain on the shelf until next season.)
Nikola Jokic has struggled with his jumper since he sprained his wrist in November. Over the 13 games since his return from a four-game absence, he’s registered an effective field goal percentage of just 44.0% on shots from outside the paint, down from 59.9% over his 14 games prior to the injury. And he’s made just one shot from outside the paint in each of his last four games (4-for-21 from the outside total). At the same time, he just registered consecutive 20-20 games (against the Hornets and Clippers) for the first time in his career.
More amazing than that may be that the Nuggets won a game (for the first time this season) in which they were outscored with Jokic on the floor. He was a big part of the game-deciding fourth quarter on Sunday, but they were still outscored by seven points in his 38 minutes against the Clips, and they wouldn’t have won without a big performance (15 points on 6-for-8 shooting) off the bench from Davon Reed.
At 16-16, the Nuggets are in sixth place in the West, with nobody behind them making much noise. But they now face the Warriors for the first two times this season.
Week 11: @ GSW, vs. GSW, @ HOU
Pace: 99.2 (11) OffRtg: 105.8 (27) DefRtg: 105.3 (4) NetRtg: +0.5 (13)
As noted last week, the Clippers have been better offensively in their games without Paul George (109.5 points scored per 100 possessions through Sunday) than they’ve been in their games with him (104.8). But, with George now out an extended period so his elbow can heal, it sure seems like they’re going to have to grind out some ugly wins. They turned a 17-point deficit into a nine-point lead against Denver on Sunday, but then scored just nine points (shooting 3-for-16 with five turnovers) over the final nine minutes, falling to 3-4 without their star.
It didn’t help that Reggie Jackson (Health and Safety Protocols) was out, but Jackson can’t be asked to carry too much of a load, and the Clippers’ offense isn’t necessarily built to spread the wealth. Jackson ranks 41st in isolation efficiency (0.71 points per possession) among 44 players with at least 50 iso possessions (George is also in the bottom 10), according to Synergy tracking. And the Clips rank in the bottom 10 in ball movement (22nd), player movement (21st) and assist percentage (21st). There’s no substitution for talent, but this is an opportunity for Ty Lue to show off his coaching chops.
The loss to Denver on Sunday began a stretch of five games in seven nights, with the Clips’ two games against Brooklyn this week being the second games of the two back-to-backs. They’re 0-4 in the second games of back-to-backs thus far.
Week 11: vs. BKN, @ BOS, @ TOR, @ BKN
Pace: 96.1 (29) OffRtg: 108.3 (20) DefRtg: 108.7 (13) NetRtg: -0.3 (17)
With Kristaps Porzingis returning from a two-game absence on Christmas, the Mavs had five guys with familiar names in the starting lineup. That starting lineup outscored one of the best teams in the league by 21 points in its 14.3 minutes. But among the six reserves who played was only one guy who wasn’t signed in the last week, and that guy was Moses Brown. There were some good Marquese Chriss minutes earlier in the week against Minnesota, but on Saturday, Mavs were outscored by 25 points (allowing the Jazz to score 98 on 75 possessions) with at least one of those reserves on the floor.
Before he could return from his ankle injury, Luka Doncic entered Health and Safety Protocols. So he’s missed the last seven games and probably remains out until at least Sunday. The Mavs have outscored their opponents by 1.4 points per 100 possessions in 361 total minutes with Porzingis on the floor without Doncic, but they obviously need them both if they’re going to climb into the top six in the West.
The loss in Utah dropped the Mavs to two games below .500 for the first time this season, but the competition gets much easier as their five-game trip wraps up this week. They’re currently 5-1 against the five teams at the bottom of the Western Conference.
Week 11: @ POR, @ SAC, @ SAC, @ OKC
Pace: 97.3 (23) OffRtg: 107.5 (23) DefRtg: 110.2 (21) NetRtg: -2.7 (23)
The Wizards continue to get it done in close games. They’re now an amazing *14-1 (.933) in games that were within five points in the last five minutes, having survived the Kemba Walker Game in New York on Thursday. The Knicks were within two with 2 1/2 minutes left, but the Wizards proceeded to make three 3-pointers on their next four possessions. With the Knicks shooting 1-for-9, the Washington defense has allowed just 88.1 points per 100 possessions in the clutch.
* The best clutch record in the 25 (previous) seasons for which we have play-by-play data was 30-4 (.882), from the 2015-16 Warriors team that was 73-9 overall.
But on a macro level, that defense continues to slide. The Sixers’ 117 points on 95 possessions on Sunday was their second most efficient performance of the season, topped only by a game against the Hornets’ 30th-ranked defense. The Wizards are 17-16, but they’re now one of five teams that rank in the bottom 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency. The other four are all at least 10 games under .500.
There are six teams that rank in the top 10 on both ends of the floor, and the Wizards will play two of them — Miami and Chicago — this week, with their other game coming against the Eastern Conference team with the best point differential. With their loss to Philly, the Wizards are 3-4 against the six teams ahead of them in the East standings.
Week 11: @ MIA, vs. CLE, vs. CHI
Pace: 100.1 (7) OffRtg: 107.7 (22) DefRtg: 108.1 (11) NetRtg: -0.4 (18)
A lot of teams are dealing with key absences, but the Wolves seem to be affected more than most. Among the players they lost to Health and Safety Protocols last week were Patrick Beverley and Jarred Vanderbilt. And without the two starters that were holding their defense together, their defense allowed 123 points per 100 possessions in losses in Dallas and Utah. The Wolves are now 3-7 without Beverley, having allowed 113.4 per 100 in those 10 games. With him, they’re 12-10, having allowed 105.6.
D’Angelo Russell still has the lowest on-court mark (the Wolves have allowed just 101.2 points per 100 with him on the floor) among the Wolves’ starters, but Jalen Brunson was seeking him out (choosing to isolate against Russell instead of Jordan McLaughlin) in a key stretch in the second quarter on Tuesday. The results were a mean step-back, an and-one drive, and a foul on a side-step 3. On the other end of the floor, Russell had 26 assists and just six turnovers, but shot 11-for-38 (29%) over the two games. That took his season-long effective field goal percentage (47.0%) below the lowest mark of his career (47.8% as a rookie). He’s actually seen a bigger drop from last season in the paint (from 53% to 45%) than he has from outside the paint (52% to 48%).
After the Wolves host the Celtics and Knicks on Monday and Tuesday, they’ll play 12 of their next 15 (and 17 of their next 23) games on the road. Anthony Edwards was the first of their starters to go into Health and Safety Protocols, and could be cleared early this week.
Week 11: vs. BOS, vs. NYK, @ UTA, @ LAL
Pace: 101.3 (1) OffRtg: 105.9 (26) DefRtg: 108.2 (12) NetRtg: -2.3 (22)
Anthony Davis is hurt and DeAndre Jordan is seemingly unplayable. Dwight Howard returned for the last two games, but the Lakers were outscored by 18 (allowing 85 points on 60 defensive possessions) in his 28 total minutes on the floor. So playing LeBron James at the five feels like the only option right now. They played James at center for more minutes on Christmas (34) than they did all of last season (25), and didn’t even use Howard or Jordan in the four minutes that James sat in the second half, instead playing Carmelo Anthony at the five in a couple of small lineups that included a guy (Darren Collison) who hadn’t played in 2 1/2 years.
James has been playing his best (offensive) basketball of the season, averaging 35 points on 58% shooting over the four games since Davis injured his knee. He’s set almost as many ball screens over the four games (70) as he did in his 18 games prior to that (74), according to Second Spectrum tracking. And while his 3-point shooting has cooled off, James has taken 44% of his shots in the restricted area, up from 34% prior.
Alas, the Lakers have lost five straight games for the first time since March of 2019. They’ve been outscored by 43 points in James’ 44 minutes on the bench over the losing streak, with Russell Westbrook unable to keep the offense afloat. Westbrook missing jumpers is nothing new, but he was 4-for-15 in the restricted area on Saturday, coming up short on a dunk attempt with the Lakers down three in the final minute.
The Lakers are still in seventh place in the West, with a couple of games against teams chasing them (Portland and Minnesota) this weekend.
Week 11: @ HOU, @ MEM, vs. POR, vs. MIN
Pace: 96.7 (26) OffRtg: 109.4 (14) DefRtg: 109.6 (20) NetRtg: -0.2 (16)
A week ago, the Raptors were 5-2 in December, with the league’s fifth-ranked defense over the first 19 days of the month. They had gotten OG Anunoby back from a 13-game absence and they had the opportunity to reach .500 for the first time since they were 7-7. But they were in the middle of a COVID outbreak.
In total, they had 11 (including all of their top seven) guys enter Health and Safety Protocols over an eight-day stretch, and two of their three Week 10 games were postponed. But Dalano Banton cleared on Christmas, which is what allowed them to lose by 45 in Cleveland on Sunday with four regular roster players and four hardship signees who met their new teammates on the bus to the arena. Yuta Watanabe was the lone bright spot, registering career highs for points (26) and rebounds (13) in a game that will hopefully be the nadir of Health and Safety Season.
The Raptors still somehow rank as a top-10 defense in December, and they’re scheduled to play seven of their next eight games at home. But it’s a fairly tough stretch in regard to the opponents and things get really road-heavy after that.
Week 11: vs. PHI, vs. LAC, vs. NYK
Pace: 96.3 (27) OffRtg: 109.2 (17) DefRtg: 110.5 (22) NetRtg: -1.3 (20)
Kemba Walker hasn’t just averaged 26 points — with a 44-point performance and a triple-double — over the four games in which he’s been back in the lineup. He’s also registered a positive plus-minus in all four games, as many times as he did in his 18 games before he was removed from the rotation. Of course, the Knicks lost two of the four games, getting outscored by 23 points in Walker’s 16 total minutes on the bench against Boston and Washington.
Ten days ago, it really seemed like Walker wouldn’t play for the Knicks again. But with how he’s played and with Derrick Rose (ankle surgery) out until at least the All-Star break, he’s more critical than ever. Things change fast in this league, and it pays to stay ready.
The loss to the Wizards on Thursday (in which they allowed 124 points on just 95 possessions) was the Knicks’ worst defensive game of the season. But they held both Detroit and Atlanta under a point per possession, and their next three opponents all rank in the bottom 10 offensively. The Knicks are one of eight teams with a better record on the road (8-7) than they have at home (7-11), and the four-game, six-day road trip that begins in Minnesota on Tuesday is their longest of the season so far.
Week 11: @ MIN, @ DET, @ OKC, @ TOR
Pace: 98.3 (20) OffRtg: 111.9 (4) DefRtg: 110.9 (24) NetRtg: +1.0 (11)
Cam Reddish scored a career-high 34 points against the Magic on Monday, with nine of his 11 field goals coming off the dribble. Three nights later in Philly, Bogdan Bogdanovic scored 10 points on five possessions down the stretch, pushing the Hawks to their first clutch win since Dec. 1. And John Collins averaged 21.7 points on an effective field goal percentage of 59% over their three games last week.
But, the Hawks’ top-five offense still (and obviously) depends on Trae Young, who’s missed the last three games. They’ve scored 16.2 more points per 100 possessions with him on the floor (115.9) than they have with him off the floor (99.7). Collins has shot 74% in the restricted area, but has gotten a lower percentage of his shots there when he hasn’t shared the court with the guy who’s assisted him 553 times over their four seasons together (110 more assists than any player has assisted a single teammate over that stretch). Without Young on Christmas, Bogdanovic, Collins and Reddish combined to shoot 13-for-45, and the Hawks scored just 87 points on 92 possessions against what had been the league’s 23rd-ranked defense.
Young entered Health and Safety Protocols on Dec. 19, so he’ll likely miss their game against the Bulls on Monday, but could be available for all of what’s their longest road trip of the season (six games over 12 days). The trip doesn’t include any back-to-backs, and the Hawks will have a rest advantage (opponent played the day/night before) against the Bulls on Monday and on three of the six games on the trip. But they’re just 1-2 in rest-advantage games (0-2 on the road) thus far, and they’ll likely be without Collins (who entered Protocols on Sunday) for at least the first few games.
Week 11: vs. CHI, @ CHI, @ CLE
Pace: 100.4 (5) OffRtg: 111.0 (6) DefRtg: 108.9 (16) NetRtg: +2.1 (10)
The Spurs are still four games under .500, but they’re in Play-In Tournament position and, among the teams below the top four in the West, they’re playing the best. Since Thanksgiving, they’re 10-5, with the league’s third-ranked offense. That stretch includes wins against the Warriors and Jazz (both on the road), and the Spurs have led each of their last three games by at least 28 points.
Seven different Spurs have averaged double-figure scoring over the 15-game stretch, and that doesn’t include Keita Bates-Diop, who dropped 30 on the Lakers on Thursday, when San Antonio was a plus-39 from 3-point range. Dejounte Murray was lost to Health and Safety Protocols on Sunday, and the Spurs scored 144 points on 111 possessions in a win over Detroit, recording a season-high 39 assists without their assist leader. Keldon Johnson has shot a league-best 55% from 3-point range in December.
When the Spurs were 4-13, it didn’t seem like coach Gregg Popovich had much of a chance at passing Don Nelson for the most career wins this season. But now, he’s just 12 victories away. And if you were to use the Spurs’ point differential to project their record over the remainder of the season, they’d finish 43-39 and in sixth place in the West.
The Spurs played three of their 15 road games against the East in the first 18 days of the season, but haven’t played one since. Their longest (concurrent) road trip of the season begins Friday in Memphis, but will then go through six East cities/boroughs, including all of the the Atlantic Division. It includes three back-to-backs.
Week 11: vs. UTA, vs. MIA, @ MEM, @ DET
Pace: 97.1 (25) OffRtg: 109.9 (11) DefRtg: 109.5 (18) NetRtg: +0.4 (14)
Caris LeVert remains a tantalizing talent, a shifty driver who can find a shot against almost any defense or drop a dime when he draws help. And with Malcolm Brogdon out for all but eight minutes of the last four games, LeVert has averaged 24.8 points, 7.0 assists and 1.5 steals. The scoring has come with an up-tick in efficiency (true shooting percentage of 57.4%), thanks to 30 free throw attempts over the four games.
The question is how long LeVert can sustain that kind of efficiency. He’s shown flashes throughout his six seasons in the league, but has never been very efficient for very long. Even with this recent up-tick, LeVert has a true shooting percentage of just 51.6%, a mark which ranks 41st (between Russell Westbrook and D’Angelo Russell) among 46 players with a usage rate of 25% or higher. Last season (42nd of 48) was basically the same story. The season before: 41st of 41. While he can look like a good finisher in the paint, the numbers don’t bear that out. And he’s had just one season where he’s shot better than 35% from 3-point range.
The Pacers’ offense has still been at its best this season (112.3 points scored per 100 possessions) with LeVert on the floor, and they did win two of the four games without Brogdon. But they remain buried in 13th place in the East, with a relatively tough schedule for the next four weeks.
Week 11: vs. CHA, vs. CHI, @ CLE
Pace: 98.5 (17) OffRtg: 109.3 (16) DefRtg: 112.5 (27) NetRtg: -3.3 (24)
The Blazers are somehow in the bottom five of a conference that includes the Thunder, Rockets, Pelicans, Kings, Spurs and Timberwolves. Because their game against Brooklyn was postponed, their only game last week was a loss to the Pelicans in which they allowed a bottom-10 offense to score 60 points on just 42 possessions in the second half. Their defense had shown some signs of progress over the last few weeks, but that was obviously a step backward. Portland’s is the only defense that ranks in the bottom five in both opponent field goal percentage in the paint (57.5%, 26th) and opponent effective field goal percentage outside the paint (52.6%, 28th).
The Brooklyn postponement did give them a five-day break and one fewer game missed for CJ McCollum, who will be reevaluated this week, with his collapsed lung having healed. Damian Lillard had a third straight game of more than 30 points in New Orleans and now has an effective field goal percentage of 67% over that mini-stretch. And it should be noted that, even though he’s registered the lowest effective field goal percentage of his career (48.8%), the Blazers’ offense has scored 13.6 more points per 100 possessions with him on the floor (113.6) than it has with him off the floor (100.0). That on-floor mark ranks 12th among players who’ve averaged at least 20 minutes per game for a team other than the Jazz.
The Blazers had a six-game home losing streak, but they’re 9-1 at the Moda Center with both Lillard and McCollum in the lineup. They’re home for six of their next seven, with their first meeting against the Mavs on Monday.
Week 11: vs. DAL, vs. UTA, @ LAL
Pace: 99.1 (14) OffRtg: 110.1 (29) DefRtg: 108.7 (14) NetRtg: -7.6 (28)
The Thunder have won four of their last five games, with three wins over teams in the top six in the West and the only loss having come to the Suns. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander continues to struggle from beyond the arc (he’s now down to 28.6% from deep), but he’s shot 65% in the paint as he’s averaged 25.6 points over the five games. The Thunder still haven’t scored anything close to the league average (108.8 points per 100 possessions) in any five-game stretch this season, but they remain competitive with what now ranks as a better-than-average defense.
The 4-1 stretch coincides with Darius Bazley being removed from starting lineup. The Thunder have been outscored by 14.8 points in 389 minutes with Bazley on the floor with three guys — Gilgeous-Alexander, Josh Giddey and Lu Dort — that have started every game they’ve played. But they’re a plus-4.9 per 100 in 123 minutes with the other three on the floor without Bazley. Kenrich Williams’ lack of extended playing time alongside SGA remains a crime of the highest order, but Williams (who’s a plus-29 for the season) has been on the floor down the stretch of the Thunder’s last six games that were within five points in the last five minutes.
Bazley is now in Health and Safety Protocols. Gilgeous-Alexander, meanwhile, has played in 29 of the Thunder’s 32 games. Without him (or Williams), they lost in Memphis by 73. With him (and Williams), they won in Memphis on Monday. And at 12-20, the Thunder are two games out of a Play-In spot. So their visit to Sacramento (13-21) on Tuesday is kind of a big game.
Week 11: @ SAC, @ PHX, vs. NYK, vs. DAL
Pace: 97.9 (22) OffRtg: 106.8 (24) DefRtg: 111.1 (25) NetRtg: -4.3 (26)
The Pelicans started to play somewhat competently when they got Brandon Ingram back (from a seven-game absence) in mid-November. As they went into Christmas with a four-game winning streak (in which Ingram averaged 28.8 points on 50% shooting), they were 12-14 with him and 0-7 without him. The fourth win on that streak came Thursday in Orlando, where Ingram shot 9-for-13 from mid-range, with the Magic unable to prevent him from getting to his left-shoulder turnaround. Only DeMar DeRozan and Kevin Durant have more mid-range buckets than Ingram this season, even though he’s missed those seven games.
But he might be missing more. Ingram left in the first half of the Pelicans’ loss in Oklahoma City on Sunday, dealing with left Achilles soreness. New Orleans came back from 17 points down to take a brief lead in the fourth quarter, but then allowed the Thunder to score 19 points on a stretch of nine possessions. With Nickeil Alexander-Walker (who scored 27 points in their win over Portland on Tuesday) having entered Health and Safety Protocols last week, individual shot creation could be a problem for the Pelicans as they begin a stretch of five straight games against top-10 defenses. The good news is that they’ll have a three-day break after they host the Cavs on Tuesday.
Week 11: vs. CLE, @ MIL
Pace: 100.2 (6) OffRtg: 108.9 (18) DefRtg: 113.1 (29) NetRtg: -4.2 (25)
After the Kings lost to Memphis on Sunday, interim coach Alvin Gentry, back from a five-game absence, said it was “the most disappointed I’ve been in 34 years in the NBA.” That’s an amazing statement coming from somebody who coached the Clippers (the pre-Chris-Paul Clippers) for three seasons. Heck, Gentry was on the Kings’ bench last season, when they had the league’s worst defense by a healthy margin.
Having allowed the Grizzlies to score 78 points on just 50 possessions after halftime (with 56 of those 78 coming in the paint or at the free throw line), the Kings have inched closer toward a second straight season in the defensive basement. They’ve still allowed 1.1 fewer points per 100 possessions than the Hornets, but that differential was 2.1 per 100 a week ago. The Kings had a second-half lead against the Warriors on Monday, but lost their three games last week by a total of 56 points, somehow getting outscored by 80 points (35.6 per 100 possessions) in Harrison Barnes’ 109 minutes on the floor.
Their six-game homestand continues with a game against the Thunder’s 29th-ranked offense. OKC won the first meeting when Lu Dort took De’Aaron Fox’s cookies in the final seconds.
Week 11: vs. OKC, vs. DAL, vs. DAL, vs. MIA
Pace: 100.5 (4) OffRtg: 100.7 (25) DefRtg: 113.0 (28) NetRtg: -7.1 (27)
The Rockets’ seven-game winning streak (that followed their 15-game losing streak) was built on improved offense. Their defense has never been particularly good, and it’s been particularly bad as they’ve lost seven of their last nine. The 124.1 points per 100 possessions they’ve allowed over the nine games is the worst mark in the league over that stretch by a large margin, and they’ve allowed at least 120 per 100 in eight of those nine games.
The Rockets have gone from fourth in opponent 3-point percentage (32.4%) through their first 24 games to 30th (39.1%) over the last nine, while also seeing a big drop in defensive rebounding percentage. Daniel Theis’ diminished role has something to do with that, but it’s also been a tough stretch of schedule. Five of the nine games have come against teams that currently rank in the top 10 offensively, and seven of the nine have come on the road.
They’re back home this week, but will face two more top-10 offenses (those of the Hornets and Heat) in the next five days. Jalen Green made his return on Thursday, shooting 6-for-9 from 3-point range, and the Rockets’ losses in Milwaukee and Indiana were the first time this season that Eric Gordon has played in both games of a back-to-back. They have two more back-to-backs this week.
Week 11: @ CHA, vs. LAL, vs. MIA, vs. DEN
Pace: 98.4 (18) OffRtg: 102.6 (28) DefRtg: 112.1 (26) NetRtg: -9.4 (29)
The Magic entered Health and Safety Season with four guys on their roster who (still) haven’t played all season, with Jalen Suggs (fractured thumb) on the shelf long-term, and with Cole Anthony having turned his ankle two weeks ago. So they had little tolerance for COVID cases.
The cases have come anyway. And among the top seven guys in total minutes over their last five games are Hassani Gravett, Admiral Schofield and Aleem Ford. With this stretch, the Magic have now gotten more total minutes from rookies and second-year players (4,001) than they did all of last season (3,933). And they now lead the league (jumping over Detroit) in the percentage of their minutes (49%) that have come from first and second-year guys.
But the stretch also includes the Magic’s only winning streak of the season. It’s provided opportunities for Franz Wagner to run the offense and for Gary Harris to find his rhythm. Harris has struggled with his shot over the last few years and is still at just 34.6% from 3-point range for the season, but his 44.4% from beyond the arc in December ranks 11th among 90 players with at least 50 attempts this month.
Alas, without Anthony, the Magic were held to just 83 points on 91 possessions in Miami on Sunday. That was the first of five straight games against top-10 defenses.
Week 11: vs. MIL, vs. MIL, @ BOS
Pace: 99.4 (10) OffRtg: 101.1 (30) DefRtg: 110.8 (23) NetRtg: -9.7 (30)
Efficient offensive performances do not come often for the Pistons. They’ve scored better than the league average (108.8 points per 100 possessions) in only eight of their 32 games. The most recent of those eight was Thursday in Miami, when they were without four starters against the league’s sixth-ranked defense. They shot 18-for-40 (45%) from 3-point range and 22-for-25 (88%) from the line, getting a career-high 28 points from Trey Lyles. And they had a real chance to beat the Heat for the second time in five days, leading by five with less than three minutes to go. But Miami scored 15 points on 10 clutch possessions, something went wrong with the “Hammer” play the Pistons tried to run in the closing seconds, and Cory Joseph’s ad-lib 3 for the tie was off the mark.
That previous game against the Heat is the Pistons’ only win in their last 18 games. They signed Derrick Walton Jr. on Saturday and started him on Sunday in what turned into their worst loss of the season, a 35-point defeat in San Antonio. Hamidou Diallo scored a season-high 28 points on 13-for-19 shooting (with several deft finishes in the paint), but the double-Diallo minutes (10.3 with him and Cheick on the floor together) were discouraging (the Pistons were outscored by 11 points).
The Pistons are now 1-11 against the Western Conference (the win was in Houston). They’ll get another shot at the Spurs on Saturday, with maybe a small chance that they’ll have Cade Cunningham (who went into Protocols on Dec. 22) back by then.
Week 11: vs. NYK, vs. SAS