Ja Morant and Memphis continue to climb up the Power Rankings this week.
Maybe it’s that time of year, the period between Christmas and the All-Star break when the season can feel somewhat like a slog. Maybe it’s about some untimely absences or rough stretches of schedule.
Whatever it is, we’ve seen some slippage from the best teams in the league. The Golden State Warriors have lost five of their last seven games. One of their seven losses was against the Milwaukee Bucks, who have also lost five of their last seven.
The Brooklyn Nets lost six of nine before winning on Saturday. One of their three wins in that stretch was against the Chicago Bulls, who have lost four of five. The Utah Jazz, meanwhile, lost four straight before getting Rudy Gobert back on Sunday.
All that makes for some chaos in the top 10 of this week’s Power Rankings. And though the Memphis Grizzlies saw their 11-game winning streak come to an end on Friday, they take over the No. 1 spot, having beat the Phoenix Suns, the Nets, and the Warriors over the course of the streak before finally succumbing to the schedule (eight games in 12 days).
The Grizz face some more challenges in Week 14, one of the busiest weeks on the schedule. No rest for the weary.
Plus-Minus Players of the Week
Teams of the Week
- Make It Last Forever: New York (3-0) — Are the Knicks making the same climb that they made at this point last season?
- Something Just Ain’t Right: L.A. Lakers (0-2) — Embrace the mediocrity.
East vs. West
Schedule strength through Week 13
- Toughest: 1. Portland, 2. Indiana, 3. Orlando
- Easiest: 1. New York, 2. Milwaukee, 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: Philadelphia (+5), New Orleans (+4), New York (+4)
- Free falls of the week: Utah (-5), Chicago (-4), Indiana (-4)
Week 14 Team to Watch
- Memphis — The Grizzlies’ 11-game winning streak stopped on Friday at the end of a stretch of eight games in 12 days. After having the weekend off, they continue a stretch where they’re playing nine of 10 against teams currently over .500. They host the Bulls on Monday (3:30 p.m. ET, TNT), and then head out on a four-game trip that takes them through Milwaukee (Wednesday), Denver (Friday), Dallas (Sunday) and San Antonio (next Wednesday).
Previous Power Rankings
- This time last year: Lakers, Bucks hold top spots before matchup this week — The Nets traded for James Harden, sending Jarrett Allen to Cleveland and Caris LeVert to Houston (from where he was re-routed). Harden recorded had a 32-point triple-double in his Nets debut, while Nikola Jokic was averaging a triple-double through 13 games. The Lakers had the best record in the league, CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic both suffered injuries that would knock them out for two months, and Zion Williamson had a ridiculous, and-one finish in Sacramento.
Pace: Possessions per 48 minutes (League Rank)
OffRtg: Points scored per 100 possessions (League Rank)
DefRtg: Points allowed per 100 possessions (League Rank)
NetRtg: Point differential per 100 possessions (League Rank)
The league has averaged 98.6 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes and 109.4 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: 99.5 (10) OffRtg: 111.6 (7) DefRtg: 108.1 (10) NetRtg: +3.5 (7)
The Grizzlies’ 11-game winning streak came to an end on Friday with their least efficient offensive performance of the season (85 points on 99 possessions). But, given that it was their eighth game (and the second game of their third back-to-back) in 12 days, it doesn’t register as a real blemish on a resume that now includes two wins over the Warriors. The Grizzlies ranked fourth offensively over the winning streak and are seventh offensively overall.
Shooting is the most important component of any offense. In the 25 seasons (prior to this one) for which we have play-by-play data, only eight teams have ranked in the top 10 in offensive efficiency while ranking in the bottom 10 in effective field goal percentage. And none of them have ranked as high as the Grizzlies in the former (seventh) while ranking as low in the latter (23rd). The Grizzlies are one of three teams — New Orleans and Washington are the others — that rank in the bottom 10 in both 3-point percentage (22nd) and the percentage of their shots that have come from 3-point range (27th).
They’ve made up for their sub-par shooting by taking care of the ball and crashing the glass. They rank second in offensive rebounding percentage and lead the league in second-chance points (both per game and per 100 possessions). If you take away those, they’d rank 23rd in efficiency in the initial (pre-rebound) offense. Steven Adams leads the league in total offensive rebounds by a healthy margin and Brandon Clarke had another clutch put-back in the win over Minnesota on Thursday.
The Grizzlies’ four-game homestand comes to a close with a fun MLK Day matchup with the Bulls (first meeting of the season) on Monday. After that, they’ll play 10 of their next 13 games on the road, with a four-game trip (that starts Wednesday) including another great East-West meeting with the Bucks (also the first of the season) and a chance for revenge in Dallas.
Week 14: vs. CHI, @ MIL, @ DEN, @ DAL
Pace: 100.3 (6) OffRtg: 111.8 (6) DefRtg: 104.1 (2) NetRtg: +7.7 (3)
The last time the Suns had played a matinee in the Eastern time zone (New Year’s Eve in Boston), they were down 30 before halftime. But in Detroit on Sunday afternoon, you could see in the early-game defensive effort of Devin Booker that they weren’t going to let that happen again, even though they were able to come back from second-half deficits in Toronto and Indiana earlier in the week. The Pistons hung around with some tough shot-making in the first quarter, but Phoenix eventually gained separation and registered their most efficient offensive performance of the season and their ninth win by at least 20 points. (Only the Jazz — 10 – have more.) The Suns have won the last 28 games they’ve led by double-digits (having lost two in the first nine days of the season).
Two weeks ago, the Warriors and Jazz were the only teams that ranked in the top six on both ends of the floor. Now, it’s only the Suns, who rank first offensively and third defensively in the month of January. Alas, Deandre Ayton was back from his Health-and-Safety absence for less than four games before he turned his ankle in Detroit. Jalen Smith had actually retained a spot in the rotation with both Ayton and JaVale McGee healthy, playing some minutes alongside both of the other bigs over the last 10 days.
The Suns are 7-1 in rest-advantage games (only three teams have played more), and they’ll have three more over the next two weeks, with the first of those being their visit to Dallas on Thursday.
Week 14: @ SAS, @ DAL, vs. IND
Pace: 99.2 (12) OffRtg: 110.5 (12) DefRtg: 102.6 (1) NetRtg: +8.0 (1)
Suddenly, the Warriors are three games in the loss column behind the first-place Suns. Stephen Curry has missed two games in the last two weeks and they destroyed the Bulls on Friday, but that game looks like an anomaly (or more about Chicago than Golden State) more than a sign of recovery. The Warriors have dropped five of their last seven and, though the Chicago win was their most efficient performance of the season by a huge margin, they rank 29th offensively over that stretch, having scored just 96 points per 100 possessions over the other six games.
Klay Thompson (just 7-for-19 in the paint) needs time to find his rhythm and Draymond Green (out the last six games) has been missed. But he’ll continue to be missed for at least another two weeks, while Curry (34% shooting over the last two weeks) is dealing with an issue with his shooting hand. Long-term, this still looks like one of the three or four best teams in the league. But short term, it looks like one that opponents can take advantage of.
The schedule has been relatively tough and road-heavy over the last few weeks. The Warriors now begin a seven-game homestand, with only three of their next 11 games against teams currently over .500.
Week 14: vs. DET, vs. IND, vs. HOU, vs. UTA
Pace: 96.3 (28) OffRtg: 110.8 (10) DefRtg: 108.4 (11) NetRtg: +2.4 (11)
The Sixers’ seven-game winning streak came to an end on Wednesday when Philly turnovers and a lack of defensive quickness allowed the Hornets to get six dunks or layups on an 18-4, end-of-the-first-half run that basically decided the game. Despite the presence of both Joel Embiid and Andre Drummond, the Sixers’ defense is a little worse than average in regard to both opponent field goal percentage in the restricted area and the percentage of their opponents’ shots that have come at the rim.
But the Sixers rank second defensively since Christmas (104.5 points allowed per 100 possessions) and they’ve won nine of their last 10 games, a stretch that includes wins over the Nets and Heat. Embiid has averaged 31.8 points (including 9.5 at the free-throw line) over that stretch and Tobias Harris had one of his better games (22 points on 9-for-13 shooting) in Miami on Saturday.
The Sixers are very much in the mix for a top-four seed in the East, now 4-4 against the other teams in the top six. And they aren’t too far from ranking in the top 10 on both ends of the floor, something they haven’t done since they last won a championship in 1982-83. They’re in Washington on Monday afternoon, but 11 of their 16 games between now and the All-Star break are at home.
Week 14: @ WAS, vs. ORL, vs. LAC, @ SAS
Pace: 96.4 (27) OffRtg: 112.2 (5) DefRtg: 107.7 (8) NetRtg: +4.5 (5)
Omer Yurtseven has been both a great story (an undrafted rookie who wasn’t in the rotation through the first 22 games) and an important piece of the Heat’s success over the last month and a half. He’s averaged 13.6 points and 13.9 rebounds as he’s started the last 10 games, a stretch capped by 22 and 11 in less than 24 minutes against Philadelphia on Saturday. But in two games against the Sixers over the last five weeks (including a loss on Saturday), the Heat were outscored by 24 points (allowing 78 points on 55 defensive possessions) in 27 total minutes with Yurtseven on the floor against Joel Embiid.
They’ll gladly welcome Bam Adebayo (out the last 22 games) back this week. Now we see if Yurtseven still has a spot in the rotation, with Dewayne Dedmon also having returned from a (shorter) absence last week. We’ll also see if Duncan Robinson moves back into the starting lineup given his two-man chemistry with Adebayo. Since the start of the 2019-20 season (including playoffs), Adebayo has 185 assists on Robinson 3-pointers, 26 more than any other player has on a single teammate’s 3-pointers. Robinson had one huge game off the bench in Phoenix, but he’s missed his last 15 attempts from beyond the arc.
The Heat had a chance to climb into a virtual tie with Chicago for first place in the East had they beat the Sixers on Saturday, and they led by 13 points in the third quarter. But they were outscored, 56-32, over the final 19 minutes, unable to stop Embiid (25 points in the second half). That ended a seven-game winning streak at home, with seven games left on a stretch where they’re playing eight of nine at FTX Arena.
Week 14: vs. TOR, vs. POR, @ ATL, vs. LAL
Pace: 99.9 (8) OffRtg: 111.2 (9) DefRtg: 107.4 (7) NetRtg: +3.8 (6)
Back on Christmas, the Bucks beat the Celtics by shutting them down late in the fourth quarter. Since then, the Bucks are 0-5 in games that were within five points in the last five minutes, having allowed 37 points on 25 clutch defensive possessions (1.48 per). That drops them to 11-13 in games that were within five in the last five, under .500 for the second straight season. Last year, they were 13-15 in clutch games in the regular season, but 7-2 in the playoffs, holding their opponents to just 75 points on 84 clutch possessions (0.89 per).
The fourth-place Bucks do have the Eastern Conference’s best record (16-5) in games that weren’t within five in the last five, and they’ve clobbered both Brooklyn and Golden State in the last 10 days. On Thursday, Giannis Antetokounmpo (who had 30, 12 and 11 in less than 30 minutes) scored almost as many points in the restricted area (where he was 9-for-9) as the Warriors (11-for-23). The percentage of Antetokounmpo’s shots that have come in the restricted area this season is a career-low 46%, but he still leads the league (by a healthy margin) with 13.1 restricted-area points per game.
With some bench struggles and with Jrue Holiday (left ankle soreness) missing the last five games, the Bucks rank 24th offensively (107.7 points scored per 100 possessions) over this 2-5 stretch. After their MLK-Day visit to Atlanta, they’ll have their first meetings of the season with both Memphis and Chicago. The Bucks are 4-3 (3-1 at home) against the seven teams that currently have better records than their own.
Week 14: @ ATL, vs. MEM, vs. CHI, vs. SAC
Pace: 99.7 (9) OffRtg: 111.5 (8) DefRtg: 108.8 (13) NetRtg: +2.7 (9)
Kevin Durant is likely out until at least the All-Star break, having suffered a sprained MCL in his left knee on Saturday. Since they acquired James Harden a little over a year ago, the Nets have had Durant, Harden and Irving for just 16 (14%) of a possible 113 games (including playoffs). They have 40 games left this season, Durant is set to miss (at least) the next 17, and 15 of their 23 post-break games will be at home (13), at Madison Square Garden (1), or in Toronto (1). At this point, there’s no indication that Irving’s no-go status for those games will change in the upcoming weeks.
There are some silver linings (beyond the fact that Durant’s injury wasn’t worse) …
1. With the Nets playing 17 of their 22 games prior to the All-Star break on the road, they’ll have Irving for most of the next five weeks and he’ll get a chance to find a rhythm. The Nets have scored more than 120 points per 100 possession in Irving’s 96 minutes on the floor thus far.
2. They did get their first win over one of the best teams in the league on Wednesday, outscoring Chicago 43-8 over an 11:15 stretch in the second half in what was their most efficient offensive game of the season (138 points on 102 possessions).
3. At the time Durant got hurt (midway through the second quarter) on Saturday, the Nets were up 25 on the Pelicans, a rare game in which they came out strong at the start. It was just the second time since Christmas (11 games) that they had a lead after the first six minutes and just the second time all season that they led by eight or more (they were up 18-10) at the 6:00 mark of the first. And that was against what’s been a very good starting lineup.
Irving is 0-3 as a visitor in Cleveland, though he totaled 75 points in two games there last January. The Nets visit the Cavs on Monday afternoon, having won the first two meetings.
Week 14: @ CLE, @ WAS, @ SAS, @ MIN
Pace: 99.0 (14) OffRtg: 112.3 (4) DefRtg: 109.8 (19) NetRtg: +2.5 (10)
The Bulls haven’t just lost three straight games for the first time this season. The three games have been their three worst defensive performances of the season, with the Nets, Warriors and Celtics combining to score almost 136 points per 100 possessions against what had been the league’s ninth-ranked defense through Tuesday. (It now ranks 19th.) They still led the Celtics by six points with less than two minutes left on Saturday, but went scoreless on their last five possessions, with Nikola Vucevic missing a good look at a game-winning 3.
Chicago has had issues protecting the rim. No team has allowed its opponents to take a greater percentage of their shots in the restricted area than the Bulls (34%). They rank sixth in opponent field goal percentage in the restricted area (63.0%), but those two numbers are 37% and 67.1% (19th) over their last 14 games. At times, they’ve been able to make up for the lack of rim protection by forcing turnovers, but they rank just 27th in opponent turnover rate (12.0 per 100 possessions) over the 12 games since Alex Caruso last played.
Caruso should make his return this week, when the Bulls will face the guard who ranks third in points in the paint (Ja Morant), the dunkingest team in the league (the Cavs) and the guy who leads the league with 13.1 restricted-area points per game (Giannis Antetokounmpo). These are Chicago’s first meetings with the top-10 offenses of the Grizzlies and Bucks.
Week 14: @ MEM, vs. CLE, @ MIL, @ ORL
Pace: 97.6 (22) OffRtg: 110.2 (14) DefRtg: 104.9 (3) NetRtg: +5.3 (4)
The Cavs’ five games prior to their six-game road trip (a stretch that began with the game in which Ricky Rubio tore his ACL) were their worst stretch of defense this season (116.2 points allowed per 100 possessions). But they allowed just 105.9 per 100 as they went 5-1 on the trip, with the only loss coming at Golden State. That was all with their opponents shooting relatively well (37.7%) from 3-point range over the six games.
The Cavs allow a lot of shots at the rim, but they defend those shots well, leading the league in opponent field goal percentage in the restricted area (58.2%). That mark was just 55.7% over the road trip and is just 52.2% in 709 total minutes with Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley on the floor together. Cleveland has allowed just 99.9 points per 100 possessions in those 709 minutes and just 103.8 per 100 in 955 total minutes with one on the floor without the other.
And really, despite the injuries to Rubio and Collin Sexton, the Cavs have been OK as long as they’ve had Darius Garland and the two bigs. They’re 21-8 when they’ve had all three and 5-10 otherwise.
The Cavs have played a relatively tough schedule, but they’ve played only seven games (fewest in the group) within the top six teams in the East. They’re 4-3 (with three straight wins) in those games, though they’re 0-2 against Brooklyn, having lost both meetings back in November. After they host the Nets on Monday afternoon, they’re in Chicago (having won their first meeting with the Bulls) on Wednesday.
Week 14: vs. BKN, @ CHI, vs. OKC
Pace: 99.0 (13) OffRtg: 116.5 (1) DefRtg: 108.6 (12) NetRtg: +7.9 (2)
Not breaking news: The Jazz’s five games without Rudy Gobert were their worst five-game stretch of defense this season. They allowed more than 120 points per 100 possessions as they went 1-4, even though none of the opponents currently rank in the top 10 offensively and one of them (the Pistons) has had the worst offense in the league. The Jazz led by 22 in Detroit on Monday, but allowed the Pistons to score 78 points on 51 possessions (1.53 per) in the second half. Two nights later (playing without Hassan Whiteside too), they were outscored, 44-20, in the restricted area in a wire-to-wire defeat in Cleveland.
After praising Devin Booker’s defense, Gobert returned on Sunday. He tallied 18 points (shooting 7-for-7 from the field), 19 rebounds and two blocks, and the Jazz held the Nuggets (who were coming off two of the most efficient games for any team this season) under a point per possession in his 35 minutes on the floor. They’re now 5-1 against Denver since the Nuggets eliminated them in the 2020 playoffs.
So the order has somewhat been restored, though Whiteside is likely out at least another game. The Jazz are 0-4 in rest-disadvantage games, and they’ll have two in the next eight days: In L.A. on Monday and again next Monday (in Phoenix) when they face the Suns for the first time this season.
Week 14: @ LAL, vs. HOU, vs. DET, @ GSW
Pace: 95.9 (29) OffRtg: 109.5 (16) DefRtg: 106.5 (5) NetRtg: +2.9 (8)
Two nights after their own winning streak came to an end (with an ugly offensive performance) in New York, the Mavs ended the Grizzlies’ 11-game streak in Memphis, holding what was the league’s fourth-ranked offense to just 85 points on 99 possessions. That was Memphis’ least efficient output of the season and the Mavs are also responsible for two of the other 11 times that the Grizzlies have been held under 102 per 100. Dallas won just two of its first 11 games against the other 15 teams that currently have winning records, but (even with the loss in New York) it’s won six of its last nine against that group.
Luka Doncic had a triple-double and a season-high 20 points in the paint against the Grizzlies, but has shot just 9-for-47 (19%) from 3-point range since he returned from his ankle injury at the start of the month. Jalen Brunson has remained in the starting lineup since Doncic’s return and there have certainly been good offensive moments with the two on the floor together, but the Mavs have scored exactly one point per possession in 140 minutes with the two on the floor together in January. In 248 total minutes with one on the floor without the other, they’ve scored 113.2 per 100 with much better defensive numbers too.
With their win over Orlando on Saturday, the Mavs are tied with Toronto for the best record (5-2) in the second games of back-to-backs. They’ll face the Raptors in the first game of a back-to-back this week, with the Suns having a rest advantage on Thursday. Doncic missed both of their games in Phoenix in November, two losses that the Mavs led in the fourth quarter.
Week 14: vs. OKC, vs. TOR, vs. PHX, vs. MEM
Pace: 101.4 (2) OffRtg: 112.3 (3) DefRtg: 112.8 (26) NetRtg: -0.4 (17)
The Hornets have the league’s 26th-ranked defense overall, but have played the most zone (9.9 possessions per game) according to Synergy tracking and, among 19 teams that have played at least 50 total possessions of zone, rank second in points allowed per zone possession (0.83). And in winning three straight games against Milwaukee (x2) and Philadelphia, they played more zone than usual (24.3 possessions per game). That helped them hold the Bucks and Sixers (who both rank in the top 10 offensively) to just 101.3 points per 100 possessions overall. Since Christmas, the Hornets rank 10th defensively.
And they had a chance to climb out of the bottom five overall when they hosted the 25th-ranked Magic on Friday. But the Hornets’ offense wasn’t good enough in a loss to the last-place team in the East, scoring just 46 points on 57 possessions after halftime. Terry Rozier and Gordon Hayward have been shooting well (combined effective field goal percentage of 61% since Christmas), but were a combined 4-for-21 in that second half.
With those wins over teams ahead of them in the books, the Hornets’ next couple of weeks are about taking care of business against the teams on their tail. The Hornets are just 3-2 in games played between teams 7-11 in the East (three of the five games have come against Washington), with games against the Knicks, Celtics and Raptors in the next nine days.
Week 14: @ NYK, @ BOS, vs. OKC, vs. ATL
Pace: 96.6 (26) OffRtg: 110.6 (11) DefRtg: 109.6 (17) NetRtg: +0.9 (14)
The Curse of Casey continues to haunt the Raptors, who are 3-8 (with five straight losses) against the Pistons since they fired Dwane Casey. The Raptors never held a lead in their loss in Detroit on Friday, just the third time this season they forced fewer than 10 turnovers out of their opponents. There was a first-quarter possession that basically defined the night in which Pascal Siakam neither helped on Killian Hayes’ drive nor boxed out Hamidou Diallo (who threw down a tip dunk).
It also defines their season in a way, as the Raptors rank 28th in defensive rebounding percentage. Three nights before the Detroit loss, Devin Booker put the Suns ahead for good on what was Phoenix’s fourth shot on a possession with a little more than a minute to go. The Raptors rank last in clutch defensive rebounding percentage, having grabbed just 57% of available defensive rebounds with the score within five points in the last five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime.
But as much as the Raptors continue to struggle against the Pistons, they continue to have the Bucks’ number. They’ve won 10 of their last 13 games (going back to Game 3 of the 2019 conference finals) against the champs, and their win in Milwaukee on Saturday came with a 30-point triple-double from Siakam. The Raptors’ offense has cooled off after scoring 119 points per 100 possessions over their six-game winning streak, but they continue to grab a ton of offensive boards themselves, and Saturday was the sixth time in their last nine games that they’ve registered 20 or more second-chance points. VanVleet leads the league this season with 25 second-chance 3-pointers and he had an audacious one in Detroit.
The Raptors are 3-0 against the Bucks, but 1-6 against the other teams in the East’s top six. They’ve yet to face the Heat, who’ll they’ll visit Monday (and again 12 days later).
Week 14: @ MIA, @ DAL, @ WAS, vs. POR
Pace: 97.1 (24) OffRtg: 109.7 (15) DefRtg: 108.9 (14) NetRtg: +0.8 (15)
There have been 12 instances of a team scoring at least 138 points per 100 possessions this season, and two of those 12 came from the Nuggets in the span of three days last week. And, because they beat the Blazers and Lakers so badly, Nikola Jokic totaled only 37 points in 57 minutes over the two games. Denver shot 67% in the paint and 44-for-82 (54%) from 3-point range, with Jeff Green (15-for-16) leading the way inside and Bones Hyland (11-for-18) doing it from the outside.
Green hasn’t shot nearly as well from 3-point range as he did last season (very possible that was a fluke), but he’s now even with Giannis Antetokounmpo (and just ahead of teammate Aaron Gordon) in regard to field goal percentage in the restricted area (76.8%). The Nuggets’ starting lineup has scored 122.9 points per 100 possessions, the best mark among 15 lineups that have played at least 200 minutes together.
Unfortunately, those two uber-efficient wins were preceded by one of the worst second-half collapses any team has had this season. And they were followed by a game (against Utah) in which the Nuggets were outscored, 44-18, over the last 14 1/2 minutes. If that sounds somewhat familiar, it’s because the Nuggets’ second-half issues were detailed in this space two weeks ago. Through Sunday, they’re plus-8.8 points per 100 possessions in the first halves of games and minus-7.7 per 100 in the second halves.
That collapse from 25 points ahead last week came against the Clippers, who the Nuggets will face again on Wednesday. They’re 0-2 against the Grizzlies, who will be in town on Friday night.
Week 14: vs. LAC, vs. MEM, vs. DET
Pace: 97.1 (25) OffRtg: 108.8 (22) DefRtg: 107.3 (6) NetRtg: +1.5 (12)
The Celtics have won four out of five for the first time since Thanksgiving, and two of those wins came in the clutch! Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum combined to shoot 7-for-13 on clutch shots over the two games and Robert Williams III hit six huge free throws, a pair to draw within two of the Pacers, a pair to tie the Bulls and another pair to win that game on Saturday. He’s now 12-for-12 from the line in the clutch and 29-for-48 (60%) otherwise, just like Shaq if Shaq actually did make them “when they count.” (He was 49% on clutch free throws in his 15 seasons for which we have clutch data.)
Big picture, the Celtics continue to have ups and downs offensively. That clutch win over Indiana on Monday featured some brutally stagnant possessions and they scored just once on a stretch of 16 trips down the floor as the Sixers went on a 28-2 run in the first quarter on Friday. But their other two games last week — an easier win in Indiana and their clutch win in Chicago — were two of the Celtics’ five most efficient games of the season. The first came with Brown and Tatum combining for 67 points and 11 3-pointers, while the second came with more balance and more scoring in the paint.
The next three weeks could be an opportunity for that 22nd-ranked offense to find some consistency and make some real headway. Ten of the Celtics’ next 11 games are against teams that rank no better than 22nd defensively. Their first game against Portland (who they’ll host on Friday) was the second most efficient game for any team this season (145 points on 97 possessions).
Week 14: vs. NOP, vs. CHA, vs. POR, @ WAS
Pace: 95.5 (30) OffRtg: 108.8 (23) DefRtg: 109.3 (16) NetRtg: -0.5 (18)
The Knicks have the league’s biggest differential between their record vs. the 14 teams currently .500 or below (17-7) and their record vs. the 16 teams currently over .500 (5-14). They took care of business against the Spurs and Hawks last week and are now 3-0 against the team that eliminated them from the 2021 playoffs. But they also got a quality win over Dallas on Wednesday, winning all four quarters and scoring efficiently (108 points on just 94 possessions) against what has been the league’s best defense in January.
The Knicks themselves have had a top-five defense over the last four weeks. They’ve scored 113.5 points per 100 possessions (their best offensive stretch since October) as they’ve won five of their last six games to climb over .500 for the first time since they were 11-10 (Dec. 2). RJ Barrett (25.5 points) has led the way and Evan Fournier has shot well in a couple of games that weren’t against the Celtics. Julius Randle hasn’t shot well, but his passing remains solid — his nine assists (with just one turnover) in Atlanta included a couple of Jokic-esque dimes. (Randle and Nikola Jokic are two of three players averaging at least 18, 10 and five.)
After the Knicks host the Hornets (23-20) on Monday, they’ll play three straight games against teams under .500, having already beaten Minnesota and New Orleans on the road. The schedule gets tougher (and road-heavy) after that and it’s unclear if Cam Reddish (dealing with an ankle injury) will make his Knicks debut on the homestand.
Week 14: vs. CHA, vs. MIN, vs. NOP, vs. LAC
Pace: 100.3 (5) OffRtg: 109.0 (21) DefRtg: 107.9 (9) NetRtg: +1.1 (13)
The Greatest Lineup Ever is no longer the greatest lineup ever. In fact, it’s not even the best lineup (that’s played at least 100 minutes) this season. The Wolves starters actually got outscored in all three of their games last week, allowing the Pelicans, Grizzlies and Warriors to score 119 points on 100 defensive possessions. On the other end of the floor, an effective field goal percentage of 63% with offensive rebounds on almost half of the lineup’s misses was somehow unsustainable. Go figure.
The Wolves lost two games in New Orleans and Memphis by a total of 11 points, getting outscored by 18 points at the free-throw line. For the season, they rank last in opponent free throw rate by a wide margin and they have more than double the free-throw discrepancy (outscored by 4.0 points per game at the line) of any other team (Charlotte is next at minus-1.9 per game). Turnovers have also been an issue and they committed three straight (including two offensive fouls from Karl-Anthony Towns) down the stretch of the Memphis loss.
The Wolves did beat the Curry-and-Green-less Warriors on Sunday, getting 26 points from Towns and a big game off the bench from Jaylen Nowell. That pushed them into seventh place in the West, holding the head-to-head tiebreaker with the Lakers (who they’ll play again in March). They’ve played just five back-to-backs (tied for fewest in the league) thus far, but they’ll have one this week, playing in New York and Atlanta on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Week 14: @ NYK, @ ATL, vs. BKN
Pace: 98.8 (15) OffRtg: 105.2 (27) DefRtg: 106.4 (4) NetRtg: -1.2 (20)
The Clippers found another way to win on Tuesday, coming back from 25 points down in the third quarter against Denver by holding the Nuggets to just 26 points on their final 36 possessions. It was tied for the second-biggest comeback in a win this season and the Clippers’ own 87 points on 93 possessions was the least efficient offensive performance for any team in a win since October. Amir Coffey and Nicolas Batum hit a couple of big 3s and the Clippers improved to 13-7 in games that were within five points in the last five minutes.
But the Clippers have also been held under a point per possession in their two games since then, with their two leading scorers (Reggie Jackson and Marcus Morris) having combined to shoot 24-for-86 (28%) over the three games. They led the Spurs by five in the fourth quarter on Saturday, but then scored just once on their final 15 possessions of the game, with one brutal stretch of three straight turnovers.
It was on Christmas that the Clippers announced that Paul George had a torn ligament in his right elbow. Since then, they rank 13th defensively and 29th on offense, with only the Pistons having scored less efficiently. When they made that announcement, the Clippers said George would be re-evaluated in 3-4 weeks. It’s now 3-4 weeks since Christmas, but there doesn’t seem to be any indication that he’s near a return. The longest road trip for any team this season is the Clippers’ eight-game, 13-day trip that begins Wednesday in Denver.
Week 14: vs. IND, @ DEN, @ PHI, @ NYK
Pace: 98.0 (21) OffRtg: 109.1 (19) DefRtg: 110.9 (22) NetRtg: -1.8 (23)
The Wizards’ two starting guards have combined to shoot 31% from 3-point range. Bradley Beal ranks sixth in drives per game (17.4) and Spencer Dinwiddie is at his best when he’s getting downhill. They haven’t complimented each other very well, the Wizards have scored just 100.5 points per 100 possessions in 476 minutes with both on the floor, and that number is an anemic 98.6 per 100 in 312 minutes with Daniel Gafford at the five.
Gafford remains the Wizards’ starter and a solid rim protector (with much better numbers than Montrezl Harrell in that regard), but he played just 27 total minutes over the last two games, with Thomas Bryant making his return from a one-year absence. Bryant (41% on 115 3-point attempts over the last three seasons) is the best offensive complement for the starting guards, and the Wizards have been at their best (plus-3.4 points per 100 possessions) with Montrezl Harrell on the floor. The Wizards played all three centers (separately) in both games with Bryant last week and, for the season, clutch minutes have been split pretty evenly between Gafford and Harrell.
With Dinwiddie registering a 24/0 assist/turnover ratio, the Wizards had their first three-game winning streak since mid-November. But that came to an end on Saturday, when they allowed the Blazers to score 37 points on 23 possessions with Gafford on the floor. They’re 2-1 on the eight-game homestand that continues this week and includes a couple of huge games against Toronto and Boston. The Wizards are 5-4 within the 7-11 scrum in the East, 2-0 against the Celtics (both wins were in October) and 1-2 against the Raptors.
Week 14: vs. PHI, vs. BKN, vs. TOR, vs. BOS
Pace: 101.0 (3) OffRtg: 108.4 (24) DefRtg: 110.1 (20) NetRtg: -1.7 (22)
For the most part, the Lakers’ early success with LeBron James starting at center was about strength of schedule. But their latest loss with James at the five came Wednesday when their own defense was worse than that of the Kings and they allowed Sacramento to score a season-high 70 points in the paint. Dwight Howard was a plus-9 in the loss, so he got the start in Denver on Saturday … and the Lakers lost by 37. They’ve allowed more than 130 points per 100 possessions as they’ve lost three straight games to fall below .500.
And even after the loss in Denver, the Lakers have played the fewest games (17) against the 16 teams that currently have winning records. They’re 5-12 against that group overall and just 1-10 against those teams since mid-November, with the only win having come (on Austin Reaves’ game-winner) against a Dallas team missing Luka Doncic. A tougher schedule is ahead, with their first meeting with the Jazz on Monday, when an efficient game from the league’s No. 1 offense could drop L.A. into the bottom 10 on both ends of the floor.
The Lakers’ Grammy-Awards trip isn’t as long as that of the Clippers, but it’s still their longest trip of the season (six games over 10 days). It begins Friday and will take them through Miami, Brooklyn, Philadelphia and Charlotte.
Week 14: vs. UTA, vs. IND, @ ORL, @ MIA
Pace: 98.4 (18) OffRtg: 110.3 (13) DefRtg: 114.9 (30) NetRtg: -4.6 (26)
Last week brought some clarity on the Blazers’ backcourt. Damian Lillard had surgery on his abdomen and will be re-evaluated in late February or early March. CJ McCollum, meanwhile, is expected to make his return (from an 18-game absence) on Monday. So it will be a McCollum-Anfernee Simons backcourt for at least the next several weeks. The Blazers are 1-3 with McCollum and not Lillard, with the three losses having come by 29, 31 and 28 points (the win was over Detroit). But they’ve outscored their opponents by 1.7 points per 100 possessions in 250 total minutes with McCollum and Simons on the floor without Lillard.
And they’re 4-3 without either Lillard or McCollum in January, with the league’s sixth-ranked offense this month. They’ve won their last three games with Simons, who missed their loss in Denver on Thursday and has averaged 28.3 points (fourth in the league) and 8.2 assists in 2022. Jusuf Nurkic had his best game in a while (23 points and 14 rebounds) in Washington on Saturday, as the Blazers outscored their opponent in the paint for the first time in their last 16 games.
That was also just the Blazers’ third road win of the season, but it improved them to 9-6 against the Eastern Conference. They should also be getting Norman Powell back (he’s missed the last four games) as they complete their six-game trip this week.
Week 14: @ ORL, @ MIA, @ BOS, @ TOR
Pace: 98.0 (20) OffRtg: 107.7 (25) DefRtg: 111.7 (24) NetRtg: -4.1 (25)
Every game counts, and that 1-12 start to the season is still holding the Pelicans back. Their 15-15 mark since then (when Brandon Ingram returned from a seven-game absence) is seventh-best record in the Western Conference over that time, but they still have three teams (Portland, Sacramento and San Antonio) between them and 10th place. And it’s going to be a while (Feb. 12) before they get another chance to play one of those three teams head-to-head.
The Pels have won their last three games within the conference, though. On Tuesday, their starters outscored the Wolves starting lineup (that was a plus-50.5 points per 100 possessions prior to that) by six points in their 9.9 minutes on the floor together and Brandon Ingram capped a great shooting night (6-for-7 from 3-point range) with the game-winner. The Pels are now 3-for-3 on 3-pointers for the lead in the final 10 seconds of the fourth quarter or OT. And they’re 3-0 against the Clippers (who they handled on Thursday), having won all three games by double-digits. Among 13 teams that have played multiple games against the Clips’ fourth-ranked defense, only the Grizzlies and Nets have scored more efficiently against it.
The Nets also scored efficiently against the Pelicans on Saturday, though the New Orleans starting lineup recovered from a rough start to register a plus-4 in its 10.2 minutes and stands as one of five lineups that have outscored their opponents by 10 points per 100 possessions or better in at least 200 minutes. The loss in Brooklyn on Sunday began a stretch where the Pels are playing eight of nine against the East.
Week 14: @ BOS, @ NYK
Pace: 98.3 (19) OffRtg: 112.5 (2) DefRtg: 113.8 (28) NetRtg: -1.3 (21)
De’Andre Hunter made his return (from a two-month absence) on Wednesday and the Hawks traded Cam Reddish less than 24 hours later. It was clear that they weren’t going to be able to keep all their wings long-term, but they didn’t exactly help their current situation with the deal that brought back Kevin Knox and a protected first-round pick. Knox has the profile of a forward that can unlock small-ball lineups, but has shot just 34.4% on catch-and-shoot 3s over his career and has been mostly out of the Knicks’ rotation for the last two seasons.
Though Clint Capela’s numbers are down from last season, the Hawks have been much better playing big (plus-7.1 points per 100 possessions with John Collins and Capela on the floor together) than they’ve been playing small (minus-6.8 per 100 with Collins at center). Onyeka Okongwu had some good moments against the Knicks on Saturday, but the Hawks have been without Capela the last four games and they’ve allowed 121.6 points per 100 possessions as they’ve lost their last five. The numbers were worse in Hunter’s minutes last week.
The loss to New York began a stretch where the Hawks are playing nine of 10 at home, but they’ve lost 10 straight at State Farm Arena and their 28th-ranked defense will face three top-10 offenses (those of the Bucks, Heat and Hornets) this week.
Week 14: vs. MIL, vs. MIN, vs. MIA, @ CHA
Pace: 100.0 (7) OffRtg: 109.1 (20) DefRtg: 112.9 (27) NetRtg: -3.9 (24)
Marvin Bagley III was the Kings’ 14th man at the start of the season, with his agent making a statement about “mismanagement” in the Kings’ organization. But absences on the Sacramento frontline gave Bagley a shot to play and he’s (mostly) been in the rotation since early December. And last week, Bagley had his two highest-scoring games of the season, totaling 42 points (and 22 rebounds) in wins over the Lakers and Rockets. He’s mostly played the four (because the Kings have five other centers on their roster), but he was essentially the starting five (with Chimezie Metu the other big) in those two wins last week. And the Kings have outscored their opponents by 35 points (with great offensive numbers) in 73 total minutes with Bagley on the floor without one of the centers (Holmes, Jones, Len, Queta or Thompson).
But Bagley (shoulder soreness) missed the Kings’ loss to Houston on Sunday. Richaun Holmes returned from an eight-game absence, but Tyrese Haliburton was also lost to Health and Safety Protocols. The Kings erased an early, 16-point deficit against Houston, but, with a chance to move into 10th place, they went cold in the fourth quarter.
That probably won’t be the Kings’ last chance to grab the last Play-In spot in the West. But they’ll play their next seven games against the East, with a five-game trip starting Saturday in Milwaukee. They’re 5-8 (1-3 on the road) against the Eastern Conference thus far.
Week 14: vs. DET, @ MIL
Pace: 100.4 (4) OffRtg: 109.3 (17) DefRtg: 109.7 (18) NetRtg: -0.3 (16)
After playing just one back-to-back over the first five weeks of the season, the Spurs have had eight back-to-backs in the last six, with the worst of that timeframe (eight games, three back-to-backs) coming over the 12-day stretch that ended Saturday. Oh, and they’ve had six guys (including three starters) in Health and Safety Protocols over the last couple of weeks.
With all that (and with a seven-game road trip), the Spurs had a stretch where they lost nine of 10, scoring less than 105 points per 100 possessions (third-worst in the league) over the 10 games. The nadir was probably the first game of their seven-game homestand when a 41-20 Houston run in the second half turned a nine-point lead into a 12-point deficit. The silver lining was that rookie Josh Primo got some serious playing time with other guards unavailable.
The Spurs looked more whole at the end of that eight-in-12 stretch, getting 19 points from returning Derrick White and holding the Clippers under a point per possession on Saturday. So they’re 1-2 on the homestand with a few tough opponents in town this week. They’re 5-17 against the 16 teams currently over .500, with the last win (at Utah) having come exactly one month ago.
Week 14: vs. PHX, vs. OKC, vs. BKN, vs. PHI
Pace: 97.2 (23) OffRtg: 109.3 (18) DefRtg: 110.4 (21) NetRtg: -1.1 (19)
One way to describe the Jazz’s struggles of late: They’re the only team to have lost to Indiana (1-9) since Christmas. It’s been a tough stretch of schedule; All 10 of the Pacers’ post-Christmas games have come against *teams that are currently .500 or better. They’ve also had Malcolm Brogdon for just one of the 10. He returned from a nine-game absence on Wednesday, but left early in the second half after re-aggravating his Achilles injury.
* In total, the Pacers have played 33 games against the 17 teams that are currently at or above .500, and only 10 games (they’re 5-5) against the other 12 teams with losing records.
The Pacers have outscored their opponents by 9.7 points per 100 possessions in 280 minutes with Brogdon, Caris LeVert, Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner on the floor together, but there’s obviously a drop-off when both Brogdon and T.J. McConnell (out since late November) aren’t available. In fact, they’ve been outscored by 10.5 per 100 in 108 total minutes with LeVert, Sabonis and Turner on the floor without either of the top two point guards.
And the Pacers’ issues now go well beyond the team’s inability to execute down the stretch of close games. They had another one of those in Boston on Monday when their own clutch struggles outweighed those of the Celtics. But their two games since (against the Celtics and Suns) were their fourth and fifth losses by more than 15 points. The two losses to Boston last week were the Pacers’ worst offensive performance and worst defensive performance of the season.
The Pacers still have a winning record (7-6) against the Western Conference, but they’re just 3-16 (with seven straight losses) on the road. The five-game trip that begins Monday in L.A. is their longest of the season.
Week 14: @ LAC, @ LAL, @ GSW, @ PHX
Pace: 98.7 (16) OffRtg: 102.1 (29) DefRtg: 109.1 (15) NetRtg: -7.0 (27)
We don’t necessarily think of Lu Dort as a guy who only scores, and he does generally guard the opponent’s most prolific perimeter player. But he’s of three players in the league – Bojan Bogdanovic and Kelly Oubre Jr. are the others – who’ve averaged at least 15 points, with fewer than five rebounds and two assists per game. Even on defense, Dort is more unyielding than disruptive, ranking 254th among 350 players who’ve played at least 300 minutes with just 1.4 steals + blocks per 36 and ninth on his own team in deflections per 36 (1.8).
Dort totaled 44 points, six rebounds and four assists as the Thunder had their two most efficient offensive performances of the season (126.5 points per 100 possessions over the two games) last week. They lost a late lead in Washington on Tuesday, but cruised to an easy win in Brooklyn two nights later, just the third time this season they’ve led a game by 20 points or more. They led Cleveland by 18 on Saturday, but that run of efficient offense came to an end as they scored just 28 points over their final 40 possessions. They committed three more turnovers over that stretch (8) than they did in their entire game against Washington on Tuesday (5).
The Thunder will face another top-five defense (that of the Mavs) on Monday, and they’ll see the Cavs’ third-ranked defense again on Saturday.
Week 14: @ DAL, @ SAS, @ CHA, @ CLE
Pace: 101.5 (1) OffRtg: 106.5 (26) DefRtg: 114.6 (29) NetRtg: -8.1 (28)
After he scored 31 points on 9-for-10 from the field and 7-for-10 from the line in San Antonio on Wednesday, Eric Gordon said he “would just like more shots.” As one of five players who’ve shot 50% or better on at least 200 field-goal attempts and 40% or better on at least 100 3-point attempts, Gordon probably does deserve more shots. And as you would expect, his usage rate with both Jalen Green and Kevin Porter Jr. on the floor (14.2%) is much lower than it is overall (19.4%).
But at least Gordon (unlike another veteran guard on the Rockets’ roster) is getting to play. Houston’s starting lineup – Green, Porter, Gordon, Jae’Sean Tate and Christian Wood – has outscored its opponents and scored a pretty efficient 112.3 points per 100 possessions in its 123 minutes. And in the final minute in Sacramento on Sunday, a ridiculously athletic offensive rebound from Green turned into a game-sealing bucket from Gordon. Of course, that bucket was unassisted and Green has just five assists to Gordon in their 446 minutes together (while Gordon has nine to Green).
The Rockets have won two out of three games for the first time since their seven-game winning streak came to an end in early December. They’re still 0-16 against the top 10 teams in the West, set to finish their five-game trip at Utah and Golden State on Wednesday and Friday.
Week 14: @ UTA, @ GSW
Pace: 99.4 (11) OffRtg: 101.6 (30) DefRtg: 111.4 (23) NetRtg: -9.7 (30)
Their four January losses have come by an average of 33 points, but the Pistons have a winning record (5-4) in 2022. The Warriors, Nets, Bucks and Jazz do not, with two of those teams having lost to the Pistons themselves. Their win over Utah on Monday (in which the Pistons trailed by 22 points) came with a career-high 29 points from Cade Cunningham, who scored inside and out, and mostly against Utah’s designated perimeter stopper (Royce O’Neale). The No. 1 pick shot a solid 40% from 3-point range in December and he’s been an improved finisher in January, with his 19-for-26 (73%) in the restricted area being the fourth-best mark among 27 guards with at least 25 restricted-area attempts this month.
The bigger difference between their five January wins and those four defeats by 27 points or more has been on defense. The Pistons got absolutely eviscerated by both the Bulls and Suns last week, but held Toronto under a point possession in between. Their new starting lineup (with Hamidou Diallo) has been relatively solid defensively, and they’ve now allowed less than a point per possession in 200 total minutes with Cunningham and Diallo on the floor alongside Isaiah Stewart.
The Pistons are 1-7 (with seven straight losses) in Western Conference arenas. They’ll play six of their final seven games in West arenas between now and the All-Star break, with a four-game trip starting Tuesday in San Francisco.
Week 14: @ GSW, @ SAC, @ UTA, @ DEN
Pace: 98.5 (17) OffRtg: 103.1 (28) DefRtg: 112.2 (25) NetRtg: -9.1 (29)
The Magic are the only team that’s won less than 20% of its games, but they’re also the only team with a better record against the 16 teams that currently have winning records (6-23) than they do against the 14 teams currently at or below .500 (2-13). Those six wins are more than the Lakers (5-12) or Knicks (5-14) have against the top 16. The end to the Magic’s 10-game losing streak came Friday in Charlotte, when they held the league’s third-ranked offense to just 109 points on 108 possessions. (It was the fastest-paced game the Magic have played this season.)
The Magic still rank 25th defensively, but they’re in the middle of the pack over the last four-plus weeks and they’ve had flashes of real competence on that end of the floor, though they still have a few good defenders who’ve yet to play this season. Their loss in Washington on Wednesday included one brutal defensive breakdown, but also a few really good possessions.
The win in Charlotte came with the return of Jalen Suggs from a 20-game absence, and he shot 12-for-19 in two over the weekend, showing an ability to get to the cup (nine of the 12 buckets were in the restricted area). Suggs came off the bench in the two games and Wendell Carter Jr. (hamstring soreness) has missed the last five, but recall that the Magic’s original starting lineup has outscored its opponents by 11.4 points per 100 possessions in its 163 minutes together.
Week 14: vs. POR, @ PHI, vs. LAL, vs. CHI