The Grizzlies are hitting all the right notes of late as they climb to No. 2 in the latest Power Rankings.
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Believe it or not, the 2021-22 season is about halfway done. We’ll hit the official midway point (615 of 1,230 games) when seven of Wednesday’s nine games are in the books.
Six teams have already played 41 games, with three of them – Memphis, Milwaukee and Sacramento – having played 42. A few teams (those that had multiple games postponed) need to catch up, but rescheduled games start happening this week, with the Brooklyn Nets in Portland the day after playing at home.
Speaking of catching up, there are some teams hitting the midpoint of the season playing their best basketball. Through Sunday, there are four teams – Dallas, Memphis, Philadelphia and Toronto – with active winning streaks of six or more games. The Mavs’ streak has taken them from ninth to fifth place in the West, while the Raptors’ streak has taken them from 11th to seventh in the East. The Sixers’ streak has put them in the mix for a top-four seed, while the Grizzlies’ streak has solidified their position as a contender.
It’s also taken them to No. 2 in the Power Rankings, with a meeting against No. 1 set for Tuesday night in Memphis.
Plus-Minus Players of the Week
Teams of the Week
- Make It Last Forever: Memphis (5-0) — Strictly Grizzness.
- Something Just Ain’t Right: Sacramento (0-4) — Where the Hawks and Blazers go for wins.
East vs. West
Schedule strength through Week 12
- Toughest: 1. Portland, 2. Indiana, 3. New Orleans
- Easiest: 1. Milwaukee, 2. New York, 3. Utah
- 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: Memphis (+6), Toronto (+6), Dallas (+5), Minnesota (+5)
- Free falls of the week: Boston (-4), Six teams (-3)
Week 13 Team to Watch
- Golden State — Klay Thompson is back and the Warriors are embarking on a four-game trip that takes them through Memphis (Tuesday), Milwaukee (Thursday), Chicago (Friday) and Minnesota (Sunday). It doesn’t get much better than that.
Previous Power Rankings
- This time last year: Suns rise to No. 2; Warriors move into Top 10 — LaMelo Ball (coming off the bench for the Hornets) became the youngest player in NBA history to record a triple-double (one night after he came one assist shy). Markelle Fultz and Thomas Bryant both suffered ACL tears, while Bogdan Bogdanovic and Killian Hayes also suffered injuries that put them on the shelf for two and three months, respectively. Malcolm Brogdon hit a game-winner against a former teammate and Payton Pritchard beat the Heat with a tip-in.
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 109.2 points scored per 100 possessions this season.
NBA.com’s Power Rankings, released every Monday during the season, are just one man’s opinion. If you have an issue with the rankings, or have a question or comment for John Schuhmann, send him an e-mail or contact him via Twitter.
Pace: 98.8 (15) OffRtg: 110.8 (11) DefRtg: 101.9 (1) NetRtg: +8.9 (1)
After missing more than two seasons, Klay Thompson was not going to pass up any shots in his season debut on Saturday. He launched 18 of them in less than 20 minutes, registering the highest usage rate (42.6%) for any Warriors player (minimum 10 minutes played) in a game this season. He clearly forced things a little bit, but the stroke looked particularly good as he scored seven of his 17 points in the first three minutes of the third quarter to help the Warriors gain some separation from the Cavs.
Thompson’s return came just in time. The five games before Sunday were the Warriors’ worst stretch of offense (101.8 points scored per 100 possessions) this season, with Stephen Curry shooting 8-for-41 over two games before missing a loss in New Orleans on Thursday. The Warriors had ranked in the top five offensively since Week 4, but they’ve quickly slipped out of the top 10. Turnovers (only the Rockets have committed more per 100 possessions) remain an issue.
The end of a stretch where the Warriors will have played 13 out of 18 on the road is a fun, four-game trip. As noted in Thursday’s notebook, they’re 7-2 against the other seven teams that have won more than 60% of their games. They’ll face three of them this week, with the first game (Tuesday in Memphis) against the team responsible for one of those two losses (an October overtime game that Golden State led by 19).
Week 13: @ MEM, @ MIL, @ CHI, @ MIN
Pace: 99.3 (11) OffRtg: 112.2 (4) DefRtg: 108.2 (12) NetRtg: +4.0 (6)
The Grizzlies didn’t need to sweep their five-game week (that took them from Brooklyn to L.A.) for people to take them seriously, but they did. There are 15 teams that enter Week 13 with winning records, and the Grizzlies are now 15-7 (10-2 since Thanksgiving) against the other 14. Phoenix (12-5) has the best record within the group, but the Grizzlies have two more of those quality wins than any other team (the Warriors are next at 13-7). They’ve beat 11 of the other 14, 0-1 against Charlotte and have yet to play Chicago or Milwaukee. (They’ll face them both next week.)
Their nine-game winning streak, over which they’ve ranked fourth offensively and third defensively, is tied (with the Bulls’ streak that just ended) for the second-longest this season. They now begin a four-game homestand, and the one question we might have is if they’ll miss Dillon Brooks, who’s out 3-5 weeks with a sprained ankle that he suffered on Saturday. He’s certainly responsible for some of their defensive improvement over the last six weeks (over which they’ve gone from 30th to 12th on that end of the floor), but he’s already missed half of their games and they’re 15-6 without him.
One of those 15 wins came against the Warriors in October. The Grizzlies’ most recent defeat was to the Warriors last month with Brooks, though matchup data says that he was more successful defending Stephen Curry (who’s totaled 82 points over the two meetings) than anybody else the Grizzlies have thrown at him. The Warriors are in Memphis for Round 3 on Tuesday, the second game of a stretch of eight straight against teams no worse than the 20-20 Timberwolves.
Week 13: vs. GSW, vs. MIN, vs. DAL
Pace: 100.5 (5) OffRtg: 111.2 (8) DefRtg: 104.2 (2) NetRtg: +7.0 (3)
After winning their first nine games against the Eastern Conference, the Suns have lost two of their last three. And in both losses (New Year’s Eve in Boston, Saturday against Miami), they trailed by more than 20 points at halftime, allowing 138 points on 96 first-half possessions (1.44 per) over the two games. This team has taken care of business so well for most of the season, it’s kind of jarring to see them come out completely flat twice in the span of nine days.
The Suns still have the league’s second-ranked defense, both in the first half and overall. They’ve still trailed at halftime fewer times (11) than any other team, and they’re still tied with the Warriors for the best record in the league. Though they got blown out on Saturday, the loss came with the returns of Deandre Ayton (six-game absence), Jae Crowder (four-game absence) and JaVale McGee (six-game absence).
Cameron Johnson (one of three Suns who have played in all 30 games) has shot 48.1% from 3-point range over the last month, the fifth-best mark among 119 players with at least 50 attempts over those 31 days. Among 159 players with at least 100 3-point attempts in each of the last two seasons, Johnson (34.9% to 43.8%) has seen the fifth biggest jump in 3-point percentage. (Devin Booker has seen the ninth biggest.) And while Crowder’s return is obviously welcome, the Suns have outscored their opponents by 11.7 points per 100 possessions (allowing less than a point per possession) in 507 minutes with Johnson and Mikal Bridges on the floor together.
The Suns’ longest road trip of the season (five games over 10 days) starts Tuesday in Toronto against a team that’s won six straight.
Week 13: @ TOR, @ IND, @ DET
Pace: 99.1 (12) OffRtg: 112.0 (5) DefRtg: 108.5 (13) NetRtg: +3.5 (8)
DeMar DeRozan hit the game-winners and dished out a team-high 54 assists, but over the Bulls’ nine-game winning streak, Coby White, Zach LaVine, Lonzo Ball and Nikola Vucevic all shot better and scored more efficiently, which is a great thing. The Bulls have three guys who led their teams in scoring last season, and four other guards — Ball, White, Alex Caruso and Ayo Dosunmu — who’ve all shot 39% or better on catch-and-shoot 3s. Brooklyn now has its three stars, but it doesn’t have that much complementary shooting.
The Bulls had the league’s No. 1 offense over the course of the winning streak, but amazingly, the last eight games of the streak came against teams that currently rank in the bottom 10 defensively. And when the Bulls faced Dallas’ fifth-ranked defense on Sunday, the streak came to an end with Chicago scoring just 44 points over their last 50 offensive possessions.
The Bulls will face five more top-10 defenses over the next 12 days. They’re the only undefeated team (6-0) in rest-advantage games, and they’ll have two this week, against the Pistons on Tuesday and against the Warriors’ No. 1 defense on Friday. They’ll be at a disadvantage (they’re 4-2 in rest-disadvantage games) on Wednesday against Brooklyn (10th defensively, but fading fast).
Week 13: vs. DET, vs. BKN, vs. GSW, @ BOS
Pace: 99.1 (13) OffRtg: 116.8 (1) DefRtg: 108.0 (11) NetRtg: +8.7 (2)
Through Christmas, the Jazz had been relatively healthy. Rudy Gay missed the first 14 games of the season and Mike Conley had been rested on a few (back-to-back) occasions, but the other guys in their top eight had missed a total of three games. Then Donovan Mitchell missed a couple of games with a lower back strain. Rudy Gobert (who had missed just six games over the previous three seasons) entered Health and Safety Protocols on Thursday, and the Jazz played without the rest of their top eight in Toronto on Friday. They actually led the Raptors by 14 points in the second half, but fell victim to the Fred VanVleet Show.
More concerning was their loss in Indiana on Saturday, when they had everybody but Gobert and Joe Ingles back. The Utah starting lineup (with Hassan Whiteside in Gobert’s place) outscored the Pacers by 20 points in its 18.3 minutes, but they were a minus-32 in a little less than 30 minutes with at least one reserve on the floor, further evidence that they need both of their centers to succeed. The Jazz’s offense has remained efficient, but their five January games have been their worst five-game stretch of defense (117.5 points allowed per 100 possessions) this season. They haven’t protected the rim as well, and their opponents have seen jumps in both free throw rate and offensive rebounding percentage.
Gobert missed last week’s meeting with the Nuggets in Denver, but could be back when the Jazz are back there on Sunday. The Jazz have won the first two meetings, but (with Nikola Jokic having suffered a knee injury in the October game) Gobert and Jokic have been on the floor together for just seven minutes this season.
Week 13: @ DET, vs. CLE, @ DEN
Pace: 96.4 (27) OffRtg: 111.9 (6) DefRtg: 107.6 (7) NetRtg: +4.3 (5)
About the time that they lost both Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo to injuries, the Heat started shooting 3-pointers more liberally. Good results didn’t come right away, but since Dec. 8, they rank second in 3-point percentage (41.2%) and third in the percentage of their shots that have come from beyond the arc (45.6%). Though Omer Yurkseven is the only guy to have played in all 15 games, the Heat are 11-4 over that stretch. Their biggest win came in a 23-point victory in Phoenix on Saturday. They drained 22 3-pointers (tying the franchise record) against a defense that ranks second in the league and has generally been good at limiting shots (and success) from beyond the arc.
Tyler Herro was in a bit of a slump (29% shooting over the previous four games), but he scored a season-high 33 points in Phoenix. Herro’s effective field goal percentage (50.2%) and true shooting percentage (53.5%) are both down from last season (51.6% and 54.3%) when he was considered to be a second-year disappointment. But his per-game numbers are up because his minutes and usage rate (higher than that of Butler) have both seen a jump. Though Butler (ankle sprain) has missed the last two games, the Heat have had both Herro and Duncan Robinson coming off the bench, playing behind Caleb Martin and Max Strus. There will be no doubting the methods of Erik Spoelstra given where this team stands on both ends of the floor with Butler and Adebayo having missed 17 and 22 games, respectively.
Having gone 3-2 on the Western Conference portion of their six-game trip, the Heat have a three-day break before they play in Atlanta on Wednesday. Then they’ll play eight of their next nine games at home, where they’ve won six straight. They’re just a game in the loss column ahead of the fifth-place Sixers, who’ve won six straight overall and are in town on Saturday. Miami won the first meeting last month.
Week 13: @ ATL, vs. ATL, vs. PHI
Pace: 99.8 (8) OffRtg: 111.7 (7) DefRtg: 107.9 (9) NetRtg: +3.9 (7)
The Bucks won their most important game of the week, dominating the Nets from start to finish on Friday. Milwaukee accounts for the two most efficient games that any team has had against Brooklyn this season, and this victory came with a season-high 27 second-chance points for the champs. Rookie Sandro Mamukelashvili is the back-up center now that DeMarcus Cousins has been waived, and he had three offensive boards in 15 minutes on Friday. But the Bucks have been outscored by 15.9 points per 100 possessions in Mamukelashvili’s 250 total minutes on the floor, so, despite their success with Giannis Antetokounmpo at the five, they may still be looking for help on the frontline.
And while the Brooklyn win was big, the Bucks lost their three other games last week. They were without Antetokounmpo against Toronto and without Jrue Holiday in Charlotte on Saturday, but both (along with Khris Middleton) were in the lineup on Monday, when they lost at home to … [checks notes] … Detroit. Over the three losses, the Bucks lost the third quarter by a total score of 92-66. The Bucks are one of two teams — the 25-0 Suns are the other — that are undefeated (they’re 22-0) when taking a lead into the fourth. But only the Kings have been worse defensively than the Bucks (115.7 points allowed per 100 possessions) in the third period.
The league’s best third quarter team is the Warriors, who the Bucks will face for the first time on Thursday. Their loss in Charlotte on Saturday was the start of seven straight games against teams that currently rank no lower than the Warriors (11th) offensively.
Week 13: @ CHA, vs. GSW, vs. TOR
Pace: 99.9 (7) OffRtg: 110.6 (12) DefRtg: 108.0 (10) NetRtg: +2.6 (9)
The Nets’ win in Indiana in Kyrie Irving’s season debut on Wednesday was a perfect display of the margin for error that having a third offensive star offers them. They were able to play terrible defense for about 34 minutes and still pull out a victory by scoring 48 points over their final 30 offensive possessions. Irving scored 14 of those 48, giving the Nets a much-needed boost in transition. (It’s just one game, but…) He leads the league with 8.0 fast break points per game.
Of course, the Nets didn’t have Irving as they fell to 0-8 against the other seven teams that are more than six games over .500, getting clobbered by the Bucks on Friday. They’ve allowed more than 115 points per 100 possessions over those eight games and the loss to the champs capped a 1-4 stretch where they allowed 119.2 per 100. The Nets actually outscored Milwaukee by 22 points in the restricted area, but they were a minus-30 from beyond the arc and, with their OT win over the Spurs on Sunday, have been outscored from 3-point range in seven straight games. Patty Mills (12-for-46 over the last six) has cooled off and Joe Harris remains out.
If there’s a situation where it’s beneficial to have a star that can only play in road games, it might be the one the Nets have right now, playing in Portland about 31 hours after completing an overtime game (in which Kevin Durant and James Harden each played more than 43 minutes) in Brooklyn. The Nets will have both Irving and a rest advantage (Chicago hosts Detroit the night before) when they complete their season series with the first-place Bulls on Wednesday.
Week 13: @ POR, @ CHI, vs. OKC, vs. NOP
Pace: 96.2 (28) OffRtg: 110.9 (10) DefRtg: 109.1 (16) NetRtg: +1.8 (11)
Joel Embiid remains a phenomenon. The Sixers have the league’s second-ranked offense over their six-game winning streak, led by Embiid’s 33.2 points per game on a true shooting percentage of 65.7%. He’s scored 31 or more in all six games, and, while his mid-range game remains solid, the Sixers’ three January games have been the first three times in which he’s had double-digit attempts in the restricted area. Eleven of his 21 restricted-area buckets over those three games have been unassisted, with the Sixers’ win over the Rockets featuring a wicked Eurostep (see below) around Garrison Mathews and their win over the Spurs featuring a through-the-legs crossover that left Drew Eubanks in the dust. This dude is 7-0 and 280 pounds and moving like a small forward.
Matisse Thybulle has started the last five games he’s played and remains a defensive menace, ranking second with 4.9 deflections per 36 minutes. But his shooting will remain in the spotlight and he’s shot just 17-for-64 (26.6%) on catch-and-shoot 3-pointers, a mark which is down from 30.1% last season and ranks 220th among 233 players with at least 50 attempts. He was able to dive to the rim behind the Spurs’ double-team on Embiid a few times on Friday, but we saw a good example of where his shooting is critical in the second quarter. On the Sixers’ favorite empty-corner action, Bryn Forbes pinched to the nail to prevent Seth Curry (now a ridiculous 59.5% on pull-up 2s) from getting to his pull-up. Thybulle was open behind Forbes and knocked down the catch-and-shoot attempt.
The Sixers have passed the Cavs in the standings are just two behind Miami and Milwaukee. They’re 3-4 within the top six, with one of those losses having come (with Embiid shooting just 5-for-13) to the Heat last month. Both teams will be playing the second game of a back-to-back when they meet in Miami on Saturday.
Week 13: @ HOU, vs. CHA, vs. BOS, @ MIA
Pace: 96.0 (29) OffRtg: 109.7 (16) DefRtg: 107.1 (5) NetRtg: +2.6 (10)
We’ve been waiting for the Mavs to find their offense, having been the best team in the league on that end of the floor (with largely the same personnel) two seasons ago. But while we’ve been waiting, they’ve swiftly climbed into the top five on the other end of the floor, allowing just 96.7 points per 100 possessions over a six-game winning streak. Holding the Warriors to just 82 points on 95 possessions and ending the Bulls’ own nine-game winning streak were the highlights, but the most important win (in which the Mavs earned the head-to-head tiebreaker) came against Denver on Monday. They were playing the second game of a back-to-back, and they rotated competently and cohesively out of double-teams on Nikola Jokic, forcing 26 turnovers out of the Nuggets.
Much of this six-game stretch of defense is about opponent 3-point shooting (28.7%), so there’s reason to be skeptical. But the Mavs have also seen big improvements in opponent free throw rate and defensive rebounding percentage (in which they rank first over the streak).
Dallas will face another streaking team (the Grizzlies) with a top-10 offense this week. No team has defended Memphis over multiple games better than the Mavs, who’ve allowed just 100.5 points per 100 possessions as the teams have split the first two meetings. They’ll have a rest advantage (the Grizzlies host the Wolves the night before) on Friday, but that game will be the start of a five-games-in-seven-nights stretch for the Mavs.
Week 13: @ NYK, @ MEM, vs. ORL
Pace: 97.7 (22) OffRtg: 109.8 (15) DefRtg: 104.8 (3) NetRtg: +4.9 (4)
The Cavs are the first team to match their win total from last season (when they were 22-50), picking up win No. 22 in Portland on Friday. Though Portland was missing its two starting guards, the game was close midway through the fourth quarter. Then the Cavs went on a 9-1 run, capped by a Darius Garland, one-foot, step-back jumper on an isolation against Jusuf Nurkic. Garland isn’t one to iso too often, but his 1.15 points per possession on isos ranks second (behind Stephen Curry’s 1.24) among 54 players with at least 50 isolation possessions. He’s also one of seven players who’ve shot better than 50% on at least 100 pull-up 2-point attempts.
The Cavs are just 2-5 since Ricky Rubio tore his ACL (including the game in which he was injured), ranking 23rd defensively over that stretch, but those seven games also include absences from Garland (four of the seven) and Jarrett Allen (two of the seven). They’re 19-10 when they’ve had both Garland and Allen in the lineup and have outscored their opponents by 9.7 points per 100 possessions with both on the floor (despite some rough minutes against the Warriors on Sunday).
The Cavs’ loss at Golden State was the start of a stretch of five games in seven nights. They’re 3-4 in the second games of back-to-backs thus far, but the back ends of their two this week are in Sacramento and Oklahoma City.
Week 13: @ SAC, @ UTA, @ SAS, @ OKC
Pace: 97.0 (26) OffRtg: 111.1 (9) DefRtg: 109.7 (20) NetRtg: +1.4 (12)
It might be time for the Raptors’ broadcast to ease up on their Fred-VanVleet-for-All-Star campaign … so they can launch a VanVleet-for-MVP campaign in its stead. Mr. Bet on Yourself has averaged 31.2 points on 47/44/96 shooting for what has been the league’s third-ranked offense as the Raptors have won six straight games. He scored all 15 points (and was assisted on just one of his five buckets) on a 15-0 run against the Jazz on Friday, and he’s shot 4-for-4 on clutch 3-pointers over the winning streak, with a 34-footer to tie their game against New Orleans on Sunday and a similarly audacious transition 3 to take the lead on the next possession. For the season, VanVleet (11-for-20) is one of two players (Kyle Kuzma is the other) who’ve shot 50% or better on at least 15 clutch 3s. He was 8-for-34 (24%) on clutch 3s last season.
VanVleet still has a huge on-off differential for the season, but their last four wins have come with the Raptors outscoring their opponents by 35 points in his 46 minutes off the floor. VanVleet’s minutes have been staggered with those of Siakam, who’s averaged 23.7 points, 11 rebounds and 6.2 assists over the streak, with 33 points in Milwaukee and 29 against New Orleans. In two games last week, the Raps used a jumbo lineup — OG Anunoby, Scottie Barnes, Siakam, Chris Boucher and Precious Achiuwa — that outscored the Spurs and Bucks by 11 points in 10 total minutes.
The winning streak has taken the Raps from 11th to seventh place in the East, and they actually have fewer losses than the sixth-place Cavs. But they’re set to play three of the best teams in the league — Phoenix, Milwaukee (which has been without Giannis Antetokounmpo in both meetings so far) and Miami — over the next eight days.
Week 13: vs. PHX, @ DET, @ MIL
Pace: 101.3 (1) OffRtg: 112.9 (2) DefRtg: 113.5 (28) NetRtg: -0.6 (19)
The Hornets’ loss in Washington on Monday (in which they led by 14 points in the second half) dropped them to 0-8 in the second game of back-to-backs. Amazingly, all eight of those losses were within five points in the last five minutes. Terry Rozier (one of the best clutch 3-point shooters of the previous two seasons), Miles Bridges and LaMelo Ball are a combined 10-for-53 (19%) on clutch 3s, having gone 1-for-7 (with Rozier missing a last-minute shot for the tie) in that Monday defeat.
But the Hornets have won five of their last seven overall, and their victory over the Bucks (capped by a Rozier clutch 3) was surely the best of the bunch. They put themselves in another early hole, trailing by double-digits in the first quarter for the 15th time this season and the third time in the last four games. But they outscored the champs by 11 points (allowing just 40 on 48 defensive possessions) in P.J. Washington’s 23 minutes at center. Their overall success with Washington at the five (plus-6.3 per 100 possessions) has been more about the other end of the floor (118.4 scored per 100) and Washington now ranks third in the league in 3-point percentage at 44.3%.
The Hornets play the Bucks again on Monday. With the weekend win, they’re 3-6 against the seven teams ahead of them in the East, though their two losses to the Sixers (who they’ll visit on Wednesday) were decided by a total of seven points. (The first was one of those back ends of a back-to-back.)
Week 13: vs. MIL, @ PHI, vs. ORL
Pace: 97.1 (25) OffRtg: 108.8 (18) DefRtg: 109.1 (17) NetRtg: -0.3 (17)
There are now three clear tiers in the Western Conference, at least in regard to playoff and Play-In Tournament positioning. There’s the top four, there’s 5-9, and there’s the race for the last Play-In spot that nobody wants to win, apparently. With their loss to Dallas on Monday (which gave the Mavs the head-to-head tiebreaker), the Nuggets are 3-3 in the 5-9 scrum, with three games against the Clippers (x2) and Lakers (who they’ve yet to face) over the next 10 days.
The Dallas loss came with the Mavs double-teaming Nikola Jokic pretty aggressively. He scored an efficient 27 points (shooting 11-for-18), but with Dallas ready to rotate out of the double, he had just three assists. The Nuggets committed 26 turnovers (fourth-most for any team in a game this season) and were held under a point per possession with the MVP on the floor for just the fifth time. Defenses haven’t doubled Jokic in the post that much, but according to Second Spectrum tracking, they’ve been more successful when they have. Their loss to Utah two nights later was a different kind of game, but the Nuggets are now 4-9 when Jokic (the most-efficient high-usage scorer in the league) has recorded a usage rate lower than 30%.
The Nuggets’ longest homestand of the season (six games over 11 days) begins Thursday. As noted, it includes big games against the Lakers and Clippers. But it begins with a visit from the Blazers, who account for the Nuggets’ best offensive game of the season (a Nov. 14 win in Denver) and their second-worst defensive game of the season (a Nov. 23 loss in Portland).
Week 13: @ LAC, vs. POR, vs. LAL, vs. UTA
Pace: 100.2 (6) OffRtg: 108.6 (19) DefRtg: 107.7 (8) NetRtg: +0.9 (14)
The biggest return in the NBA on Wednesday didn’t take place in Indiana. No, it happened in Minnesota, where the Wolves starting lineup (the Greatest Lineup Ever) reunited after three weeks apart. It didn’t disappoint, registering a plus-17 in a little more than 15 minutes on the floor together (taking its season-long total to plus-141 in 142 minutes), allowing the Thunder to score just 20 points (with six turnovers) on 29 possessions.
Patrick Beverley (groin soreness) missed their two games over the weekend, but the Wolves took care of business in Oklahoma City and Houston with their second and third most efficient offensive performances of the season. D’Angelo Russell shot 11-for-12 (with 12 assists) on Friday, and Karl-Anthony Towns scored a season-high 40 points on Sunday. While Towns’ perimeter shooting is great for a big man, it remains critical that he score inside, and his eight baskets in the restricted area against the Rockets were the most he’s had in a game in almost two years (since Feb. 1, 2020).
A four-game winning streak has taken the Wolves back to .500 and into eighth place in the West. Their most efficient offensive game of the season came with their three leading scorers combining for 72 points on an effective field goal percentage of 75% against the Grizzlies in November. But they lost the (earlier) meeting between the two teams (blowing a 16-point, fourth-quarter lead) in Memphis, where they’ll be for Round 3 on Thursday.
Week 13: @ NOP, @ MEM, vs. GSW
Pace: 99.0 (14) OffRtg: 105.9 (27) DefRtg: 106.6 (4) NetRtg: -0.7 (21)
The Clippers have been feeling the absence of Paul George. They were outscored by 46 points (allowing 111 on 74 defensive possessions) in the second quarter over a three-game losing streak that took them below .500 for the first time since they were 3-4. Neither the Suns nor the Grizzlies shot particularly well against the Clips last week, but they combined for 37 offensive rebounds and 49 second-chance points. The Clippers are the only team that ranks in the bottom five in both offensive and defensive rebounding percentage, having ranked 12th and fifth last season.
But the Clippers got to play the Hawks on Sunday, and while Atlanta’s issues have been mostly on defense, the Clippers’ 106-93 win was just the fifth time that the Hawks’ third-ranked offense has been held under a point per possession. And while helping keep Trae Young in check, Amir Coffey (the guy who’s essentially taken George’s spot in the rotation) tied a career-high with 21 points on 8-for-12 shooting.
The Clippers are 6-9 without George, having slipped from fifth to ninth in the West since he last played. One of those nine losses came against Denver on Dec. 26, when the Clippers struggled to score down the stretch of what was a three-point loss. The Nuggets are back in L.A. on Tuesday.
Week 13: vs. DEN, @ NOP, @ SAS
Pace: 101.2 (3) OffRtg: 108.4 (23) DefRtg: 109.1 (15) NetRtg: -0.6 (20)
The Lakers won their first five games in which LeBron James started at center. And four of those five wins are among the Lakers’ five most efficient offensive performances of the season. Not only did James dominate, but Malik Monk averaged 23.6 points on an effective field goal percentage of 68.9% over the five games, while Avery Bradley was even more efficient on a lower volume. And along with the improved shooting came a reduction in turnovers.
But those five wins came against Houston, Portland, Minnesota (missing Karl-Anthony Towns), Sacramento and Atlanta, mostly bad teams with bad defenses. And when the Lakers finally faced a good team, they got clobbered, trailing the Grizzlies by as many as 29 points on Sunday before the third-string went on a big, fourth-quarter run. It was still a relatively efficient game for the Lakers (even pre-garbage time), with another low turnover count and James scoring 35 points on 14-for-19 shooting. But Monk, Bradley and Russell Westbrook combined to shoot 7-for-35 and the Lakers’ defense didn’t hold up, allowing the Grizzlies to score 62 points in the paint. They’ve now scored 113.8 points per 100 possessions and allowed 111.5 in 407 minutes with James on the floor without Anthony Davis, Dwight Howard or DeAndre Jordan.
The Lakers do get to play the Kings (who were the opponent for two of their six most efficient games of the season) again on Wednesday. They’ve yet to play the Nuggets, and some James-at-the-five minutes vs. Nikola Jokic on Saturday could be fun to watch. The Lakers are currently 2-3 against the other four teams in the West’s 5-9 scrum.
Week 13: @ SAC, @ DEN
Pace: 97.4 (23) OffRtg: 108.5 (21) DefRtg: 107.2 (6) NetRtg: +1.3 (13)
You can’t help but be impressed by how well the Celtics stick to the script. They lost two more close games last week, blowing a game-tying layup against the Spurs and then blowing a 25-point lead in New York, where they scored almost as many points in the second quarter (38 on 22 possessions) as they did in the second half (42 on 44). It’s been a season of angst in Boston and the disquiet seemed to hit a peak on Thursday when coach Ime Udoka said: “We need some leadership, somebody that can calm us down and not get rattled when everything starts to go a little south.”
With the trade deadline exactly one month away, Brad Stevens will have to determine if that leadership can be generated from the current roster or if it (and/or a point guard) needs to be imported from somewhere else. They’ve seen an uptick in ball movement since Christmas, but the Celtics still have a bottom-10 offense for what would be the first time since Stevens’ first season as coach (2013-14).
The defense (except against Evan Fournier) has remained strong. And because the Celtics can’t stay up or down for too long, they held the Knicks to just 75 points on 85 possessions (in what was the second slowest-paced game of the season thus far) on Saturday. The two teams are tied for 10th place in the East, having split the season series. The Celtics are now 7-16 (only Indiana and Orlando have been worse) in games that were within five points in the last five minutes and 12-5 otherwise.
The next several games will tell us if Saturday was some kind of breakthrough (with Jaylen Brown recording a career-high 11 assists) or just another high on the Celtics’ roller-coaster season. They’ve yet to play the similarly bad-in-the-clutch Pacers, and if either of this week’s meetings go down to the wire, something has got to give.
Week 13: vs. IND, @ IND, @ PHI, vs. CHI
Pace: 97.9 (21) OffRtg: 108.6 (20) DefRtg: 110.7 (23) NetRtg: -2.1 (23)
As they picked up an important win in Charlotte last Monday, the Wizards had no point guards and basically played seven guys (plus six minutes of Alize Johnson). But by the end of this week, the Wizards will likely be more #fullsquad than they’ve been all season.
Spencer Dinwiddie returned from Health and Safety Protocols on Friday and played alongside Bradley Beal after seven games apart. Rui Hachimura made his season debut on Sunday, playing 14 minutes (shooting 2-for-8) off the bench. Montrezl Harrell should return from a seven-game absence on Tuesday, and Thomas Bryant might also play (for the first time in a year) this week. That should create some interesting rotation decisions for coach Wes Unseld Jr. The Wizards’ bench ranks in the top 10, but they were outscored by 26 points in 62 total minutes with at least one reserve on the floor over the weekend.
The Wizards had issues beyond health as they lost five of seven, even losing a few clutch games (thanks in part to DeMar DeRozan and Kevin Porter Jr.) over the last two weeks. With Beal and Dinwiddie combining to shoot 10-for-30 on Sunday, they were fortunate to escape Orlando with a win. Their eight-game homestand that begins on Tuesday is the longest in the NBA this season, and it begins with three opponents that are at least nine games under .500. But (even with the win in Orlando) the Wizards are just 6-5 against the nine teams that have won less than 40% of their games.
Week 13: vs. OKC, vs. ORL, vs. POR
Pace: 95.6 (30) OffRtg: 108.0 (24) DefRtg: 109.7 (19) NetRtg: -1.6 (22)
RJ Barrett hasn’t seen much progress in his third season. The only area of the floor where he’s shot better than he did last season is in the restricted area (57.3% vs. 55.4%), but the percentage of his shots that have come in the restricted area has dropped from 39% to 33%. And his 31.9% shooting from outside the restricted area ranks 143rd among 147 players with at least 200 attempts (he’s slightly higher in regard to effective field goal percentage on those shots). But Barrett capped a 32-point performance with a big pull-up jumper that stopped a Pacers run on Tuesday and, two nights later, he capped a huge comeback by beating the Celtics with a ridiculous shot at the buzzer. Barrett is now 13-for-19 (including 6-for-9 from 3-point range) on clutch shots this season.
The Knicks scored almost 118 points per 100 possessions over the two wins, with Evan Fournier going off for a third time against the Celtics. But they went back to the ugliness of the previous week when they visited Boston (without Fournier) on Saturday. The Knicks’ three games last week were three of the seven slowest-paced games (for all teams) of the season, and while they’re 4-2 in games in which they’ve had 90 possessions or fewer, they could certainly help their offense by running a little bit more. According to Second Spectrum tracking, Julius Randle leads the league with 133 field goal attempts in the last six seconds of the shot clock, and he’s made just 43 (32.3%) of those shots (shooting 8-for-42 from 3-point range). Alec Burks (27-for-85, 31.8%) and Immanuel Quickley (28-for-88, 31.8%) have shot worse in the last six seconds.
The comeback win over the Celtics improved the Knicks to 5-3 in rest-advantage games (rested, opponent playing the second game of a back-to-back). They’ll have two more (against San Antonio and Atlanta) this week.
Week 13: vs. SAS, vs. DAL, @ ATL
Pace: 98.5 (18) OffRtg: 112.6 (3) DefRtg: 113.1 (27) NetRtg: -0.5 (18)
The Hawks’ win in Sacramento on Wednesday was the second time this season that the Last 2 Minute Report said that they got away with a foul on a shot (this one from De’Aaron Fox, the first was a Chris Duarte layup) that would have tied the game or given the opponent the lead in the closing seconds. But they’ll take what they can get, given their inability to put two wins together since they won seven straight in late November. They had two chances for a winning streak last week and they allowed the Lillard-and-McCollum-less Blazers and Lakers to score more than 131 points per 100 possessions combined.
While the Wolves have the Greatest Lineup Ever, the Hawks have a five-man unit — with Bogdan Bogdanovic and Kevin Huerter on the wings — that has outscored its opponents by 34.8 points per 100 possessions, the second-best mark among 44 lineups that have played at least 100 minutes together. But with all their injuries and Health and Safety-related absences, that lineup hasn’t played together since Nov. 27. All five guys were available against the Lakers on Friday, but Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot started over Huerter (who had a big game off the bench in Sacramento two nights earlier) and shot 0-for-5.
With a 2-4 trip in the books, the Hawks have a couple of days off before they play a home-and-home (their first two meetings) with the Heat. After that, they’ll play nine of their next 10 games at State Farm Arena, where they’ve lost eight straight. The first game in that stretch is against the Knicks, who have held the Hawks under a point per possession in both meetings thus far.
Week 13: vs. MIA, @ MIA, vs. NYK
Pace: 97.3 (24) OffRtg: 110.1 (14) DefRtg: 110.3 (21) NetRtg: -0.1 (16)
We all tuned into the Brooklyn-Indiana game on Wednesday to see Kyrie Irving’s debut with the Nets. And then Lance Stephenson stole the show, scoring 20 points (in 6:23 off the bench!) in the first quarter, draining a bunch of pull-up jumpers and adding a couple of tough finishes at the rim. It was a new and highly entertaining path toward … another Pacers loss in a game that was within five points in the last five minutes.
The Pacers have had the league’s best first-half offense, scoring 116.7 points per 100 possessions over the first and second quarters. But they rank 27th offensively (103.5 per 100) in the second half, having seen a big drop in effective field goal percentage and a big jump in turnover rate. In their back-to-back losses to the Knicks and Nets, the Pacers were outscored, 118-87, after halftime, shooting 5-for-36 (14%) from 3-point range.
They had another big first half on Saturday, scoring 61 points on 48 possessions against the Jazz. And then they lost almost all of a 16-point lead. But Justin Holiday hit two straight 3s to stem the tide and the Pacers completed a season sweep of the Jazz. Stephenson dished out a career-high 14 assists, with 10 of the 14 going to Domantas Sabonis, who scored a career-high 42 points.
The win improved the Pacers to 7-5 against the opposite conference. And their game against the Suns (who have the best record in interconference games) on Friday begins a stretch where they’re playing nine of 10 against the West.
Week 13: @ BOS, vs. BOS, vs. PHX
Pace: 100.6 (4) OffRtg: 109.4 (17) DefRtg: 109.4 (18) NetRtg: +0.0 (15)
LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan are gone, but Dejounte Murray is continuing the mid-range tradition in San Antonio, ranking fifth in the league in mid-range attempts. His 38.7% on those shots is down from 45.4% last season and ranks just 46th among 52 players with at least 75 attempts between the paint and the 3-point line. But Murray has been an improved finisher at the rim, shooting 66.4% in the restricted area, up from 61.2% last season and 55.1% through his first three years in the league. His 49 total points in Boston and Philadelphia last week included a couple of deft finishes over Robert Williams III, a slick gather-Eurostep around Joel Embiid, and a creative baseline spin-back against Tobias Harris.
Murray has also averaged 10.9 assists over his last nine games, but offense has been a struggle (102.3 points scored per 100 possessions) as the Spurs have lost six of their last seven. They made things interesting after trailing by 12 points in the fourth quarter in Brooklyn on Sunday, but scored just nine points on 15 clutch possessions, with Murray missing a transition layup that would have put them ahead in the final minute of overtime. The Spurs rank 26th in clutch offense for the season and remain the only team that hasn’t won a game (they’re 0-21) it trailed after the third quarter.
Their seven-game road trip concludes at Madison Square Garden on Monday, and a seven-game homestand (one of two the Spurs have this season) begins Wednesday with a visit from the Rockets.
Week 13: @ NYK, vs. HOU, vs. CLE, vs. LAC
Pace: 98.1 (19) OffRtg: 110.3 (13) DefRtg: 114.6 (29) NetRtg: -4.3 (24)
Anfernee Simons had the worst effective field goal percentage (40.7%) in December among 202 players with at least 75 field goal attempts last month. But it’s a new month (a new year, even), and January has brought three of the four highest-scoring games of Simons’ career. His effective field goal percentage of 70.7% in January ranks fifth among 150 players with at least 35 field goal attempts this month and the Blazers (still playing without both Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum) have scored 121.5 points per 100 possessions in his 147 minutes on the floor. Twenty-three of his 38 January buckets have come from beyond the arc, but his 14 points against Cleveland on Friday (the one January game not in his top four) included a bucket where he drove past Evan Mobley and finished around Jarrett Allen.
More important is that the Blazers are 2-2 this month, having outlasted the Hawks in a 136-131 barn-burner on Monday and having won ugly against the Kings on Sunday. This team went 3-9 between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, and it’s currently tied for the last Play-In spot in the West. Of course, Lillard may be out a while longer, McCollum’s return might be delayed by the birth of his first child, and Norman Powell entered Health and Safety Protocols on Sunday.
The Blazers have played the league’s most home-heavy schedule thus far (24 of 39 at the Moda Center) and they host the Nets with a rest advantage on Monday. They still have the fewest road wins in the league (they’re 2-13) and their longest road trip of the season — six games over 11 days — begins in Denver on Thursday.
Week 13: vs. BKN, @ DEN, @ WAS
Pace: 99.8 (9) OffRtg: 108.5 (22) DefRtg: 113.0 (26) NetRtg: -4.5 (25)
A Play-In spot is not a playoff berth and reaching the playoffs from the 10 seed (needing to win two road games) would be difficult. But it would certainly be the best chance the Kings have had to make the playoffs since 2006. And that 10 seed is absolutely up for grabs; The 15-24 Spurs (losers of six of their last seven) and 15-24 Blazers (6-16 since Nov. 24) aren’t exactly pushing Sacramento out of the way. But the Kings remain the Kings; They went into last week having won three of four, but they’ve since lost four straight.
De’Aaron Fox had a strong week offensively, averaging 26 points on 51% shooting over the four games. But the Kings somehow scored just 190 points on total of 199 possessions against two defenses – those of the Hawks and Blazers – that rank in the bottom five, with the loss in Portland on Sunday (their seventh straight road defeat) one that was doubly important in regard to the standings. The Kings continue to get dominated at the rim; Over their last 11 games, they’ve been outscored by an average of 12 points in the restricted area, with their minus-30 in the restricted area in Denver on Friday being their worst differential of the season.
The Kings just had a six-game homestand that ended eight days ago, and they’ve played four more home games (23) than road games (19) thus far. But they begin a five-game homestand on Monday, with their game against the Cavs being the end of a stretch of five games in seven days.
Week 13: vs. CLE, vs. LAL, vs. HOU, vs. HOU
Pace: 98.0 (20) OffRtg: 107.0 (25) DefRtg: 111.6 (24) NetRtg: -4.7 (26)
The Pelicans are 14-26, but their starting lineup – Devonte’ Graham, Josh Hart, Brandon Ingram, Herb Jones and Jonas Valanciunas — has been solid, outscoring opponents by 6.4 points per 100 possessions, a mark which ranks sixth among the 14 lineups that have played at least 200 total minutes. The Pelicans have even been pretty good (plus-5.8 per 100) in 427 total minutes with four of those five guys on the floor and one of them off.
But in 1,260 total minutes with at least two of the five starters off the floor, the Pelicans have been outscored by 10.5 points per 100 possessions, with much worse defensive numbers than they have with at least four of them on. They got a win against the Warriors (without Stephen Curry and Draymond Green) on Thursday, despite a rough bench stretch spanning the first and second quarters. But without Hart in Toronto on Sunday, they were outscored by 14 points in Jones’ 11:17 on the bench and lost by four. The defeat in his hometown wasn’t Nickeil Alexander-Walker’s worst game (he shot 4-for-9), but the third-year guard has been even less efficient than he was as a rookie. His true shooting percentage of 46.5% is down from 52.2% last season and ranks 202nd among 208 players with at least 200 field goal attempts.
Assuming Hart is back on Tuesday, the Pelicans’ starters will be tested against the Greatest Lineup Ever in their final meeting of the season with the Wolves.
Week 13: vs. MIN, vs. LAC, @ BKN
Pace: 98.8 (16) OffRtg: 100.8 (30) DefRtg: 108.6 (14) NetRtg: -7.8 (27)
One of the great things about the “Process” Sixers was the opportunities provided players who might not have gotten a real NBA look had it not been for that one team. And there’s an “All-Process Team” — Robert Covington, Jerami Grant, Richaun Holmes, T.J. McConnell, Ish Smith and Christian Wood — who were all either second-round picks (Grant and Holmes) or undrafted, got their initial exposure with the Sixers, and eventually got paid and stuck in the league. It’s interesting to wonder where those guys would be without Sam Hinkie.
The Thunder aren’t quite at that level and the undrafted Luguentz Dort got his initial burn on a team that finished fifth in the West. But Moses Brown’s 920 minutes with OKC last season probably allowed him (undrafted and now with the Mavs) to hang around in the league. And this season, the Thunder employ two of the four 2021 second-round picks that have played more than 400 minutes. Both Jeremiah Robinson-Earl (32nd pick) and Aaron Wiggins (55th pick) have been starting of late, and both have looked rather competent. Robinson-Earl is a floor-spacing big with a pretty nice stroke from 3-point range, while Wiggins is a slasher who has shot 65% in the paint. This season has provided more opportunities than any other (we’ve now had 586 players see floor time in ’21-22), but these guys will obviously stick around beyond Health and Safety season.
Oklahoma City has lost four straight, not seeing any kind of progress on offense, despite the occasional flashes from the kids. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has an effective field goal percentage of just 42% (he’s 8-for-47 from 3-point range) over his last nine games.
The Thunder play six of their next seven games on the road and seven of their next nine against the Eastern Conference. After losing their first seven games against the East, they’ve won their last three.
Week 13: @ WAS, @ BKN, vs. CLE
Pace: 101.2 (2) OffRtg: 106.4 (26) DefRtg: 114.7 (30) NetRtg: -8.3 (28)
Kevin Porter Jr.’s first three games of 2022 made for quite the story arc. He left at halftime after a locker room blow-up on Jan. 1, was suspended for the second game, and then came back to drain the game-winner in Washington on Wednesday, getting a big hug from Rockets coach Stephen Silas afterward. The victory ended an eight-game losing streak in which Houston allowed an amazing 126 points per 100 possessions.
The Rockets have been solid (plus-7.9 points per 100 possessions) in 244 total minutes with Porter on the floor without Jalen Green, but Porter’s offense isn’t the reason why. His true shooting percentage of 46.7% ranks 52nd among 54 players with a usage rate of 24% or higher and his 41.6% shooting in the paint ranks 189th among 191 players with at least 100 paint attempts. That game-winner came on an iso against Raul Neto, but Porter’s 0.66 points per possession on isolations ranks 53rd among 54 players who’ve had at least 50.
The Rockets (0-7) are one of two winless teams – the 0-8 Hornets are the other — in the second games of back-to-backs. They have another on Monday, with the Sixers’ visit having been moved up in last week’s schedule shuffle. The first meeting was this past Monday (the game in which both Porter and Christian Wood were suspended) when Houston had a one-point lead at halftime and then allowed Philly to score 41 points on 27 possessions in the third quarter.
Week 13: vs. PHI, @ SAS, @ SAC, @ SAC
Pace: 99.5 (10) OffRtg: 101.0 (29) DefRtg: 110.5 (22) NetRtg: -9.5 (30)
Last week’s entry for this team ended with “The Pistons remain the only team that hasn’t won two straight games and they’re in Milwaukee on Monday,” which was kind of an inferred (and seemingly safe) assumption that they would still be the only team that hadn’t won two straight games come Tuesday. But they beat the champs (who had all three of their best players in the lineup) on the road. And then (after two losses by a total of 59 points) they stayed out of the East (and league-wide) basement by holding off the Magic on Saturday.
The two victories were very different. The Milwaukee win was the Pistons’ second-most efficient offensive game of the season, with Saddiq Bey (34 points) and Josh Jackson (24) combining to shoot 13-for-20 from 3-point range. The Orlando win was just the seventh time they’ve held their opponent under a point per possession. One common denominator was Cade Cunningham making plays in the fourth quarter, a big shot over Giannis Antetokounmpo on Monday and a dime to Hamidou Diallo on Saturday. The No. 1 pick also had some good defensive moments (on-point rotations with active hands) against the Bucks.
With Isaiah Stewart returning from a six-game absence last week, the Pistons’ new starting lineup (with Diallo in place of Jerami Grant) has played 91 total minutes, with better numbers on both ends of the floor than the Grant lineup. The Pistons’ schedule remains tough; They’re just four games into a stretch where they’re playing 12 of 15 against teams that are currently over .500.
Week 13: vs. UTA, @ CHI, vs. TOR, vs. PHX
Pace: 98.6 (17) OffRtg: 102.9 (28) DefRtg: 112.3 (25) NetRtg: -9.4 (29)
The good news is that their five January games have been the Magic’s best stretch of defense (106.6 points allowed per 100 possessions) since early November. Playing the second game of a back-to-back in Chicago on Monday, they held the Bulls’ top-five offense to just 102 points on 99 possessions and were within a point of the best team in the East with less than four minutes to go. All five games, including one against the streaking Sixers on Wednesday, have been within three points in the last three minutes.
But the Magic haven’t been able to close any of them, scoring just 37 points (shooting 1-for-17 from 3-point range) on 49 clutch possessions over the five games and having a couple of egregious defensive breakdowns late in Detroit on Saturday. They’ve now lost nine straight overall, tied for the third-longest losing streak of the season. They’re 0-2 against the Pistons, with the Saturday defeat taking them into the Eastern Conference (and league-wide) basement.
The Magic will get a second straight shot at the Wizards (who they led by eight points in the fourth quarter on Sunday) this week. Then the Hornets’ second-ranked offense will test that improved defense.
Week 13: @ WAS, @ CHA, @ DAL