Joel Embiid and the 76ers have climbed to No. 4 in the latest edition of the Power Rankings
The Eastern Conference has become more fascinating every week. At the beginning of this month, the Brooklyn Nets were tied for first place at 23-10, six games in the loss column ahead of the fifth-place Cleveland Cavaliers and sixth-place Philadelphia 76ers.
Thirty days later, both of those teams are ahead of Brooklyn, which sits in sixth place, just three games in the loss column ahead of the eighth-place Toronto Raptors (who were in 11th on Jan. 1). Of course, the Nets are also just two games in the loss column out of first, because the Sixers and Cavs are the only East teams that have been better than 9-5 this month.
We’re 10 days from the trade deadline, and any of the top six teams could have what it takes to win the East. The Nets and Milwaukee Bucks should still be the favorites, but more doubt seems to creep in with every result.
There is no doubt about which is the No. 1 team in the Power Rankings, however. The Phoenix Suns keep rolling, now holding two of the three double-digit winning streaks of the season.
Plus-Minus Players of the Week
Teams of the Week
- Make It Last Forever: Denver (4-0) — Take Nikola Jokic and some duct tape and you’ve got a pretty good playoff team.
- Something Just Ain’t Right: Sacramento (0-3) — The Kings do not have Nikola Jokic … nor duct tape.
East vs. West
Schedule strength through Week 15
- Toughest: 1. Portland, 2. Indiana, 3. Detroit
- Easiest: 1. Milwaukee, 2. Philadelphia, 3. Phoenix
- 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: Denver (+6), Atlanta (+4), LA Clippers (+4), Toronto (+4)
- Free falls of the week: Utah (-5), Milwaukee (-4), Dallas (-3), Washington (-3)
Week 16 Team to Watch
- Atlanta— The Hawks have won seven straight games to climb to within a game of .500 and into 10th place in the Eastern Conference. Given how packed the standings are above them and how good we know they can be, their ceiling is much higher than that. And this week provides both a big opportunity and a big challenge. The Hawks will have two games against the eighth-place Raptors, Monday in Atlanta (7:30 p.m. ET, League Pass) and Friday in Toronto (7:30 p.m. ET, NBA TV). They’ll also host the best team in the league (Phoenix) on Thursday (7:30 p.m. ET, TNT) and visit the Mavs on Sunday (6 p.m. ET, ESPN).
Previous Power Rankings
Pace: Possessions per 48 minutes (League Rank)
OffRtg: Points scored per 100 possessions (League Rank)
DefRtg: Points allowed per 100 possessions (League Rank)
NetRtg: Point differential per 100 possessions (League Rank)
The league has averaged 98.6 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes and 109.7 points scored per 100 possessions this season.
NBA.com’s Power Rankings, released every Monday during the season, are just one man’s opinion. If you have an issue with the rankings, or have a question or comment for John Schuhmann, send him an e-mail or contact him via Twitter.
Pace: 99.9 (7) OffRtg: 112.8 (3) DefRtg: 104.9 (2) NetRtg: +7.8 (2)
The Suns have been playing with their food a little bit, needing fourth-quarter comebacks against both the Jazz (who were without their top six guys) and Spurs (who were without three starters) last week. But no other team can turn it on late in games like this one. Over their 10-game winning streak, the Suns have outscored their opponents by 4.7 points per 100 possessions through the first three quarters and by an amazing 32.1 per 100 in the fourth. The bigger difference has been on offense, with Chris Paul having totaled 76 points (almost twice as many as any of his teammates) on an effective field goal percentage of 73% over those 10 fourth quarters. That includes a 14-for-22 (64%) mark from mid-range.
When a team can turn it on like that, it will hold onto leads and come back from deficits. And the Suns now have the league’s best record (34-2, with 33 straight wins) in games they led by double-digits and its best record (9-9, with four straight wins) in games they trailed by double-digits. At 40-9 overall, 27 of the other 29 teams have at least twice as many losses as this one.
The Suns now rank in the top three on both ends of the floor, something that only two teams — the 2014-15 Warriors and ’16-17 Warriors (both eventual champions) — have done in the 25 full seasons (since ’96-97) for which we have play-by-play data. The defense has ranked higher all season, but that’s the end of the floor on which the Suns will be challenged more over the next 11 days, playing five of their next six games against teams that rank in the top 11 offensively.
Week 16: vs. BKN, @ ATL, @ WAS
Pace: 99.7 (9) OffRtg: 111.8 (8) DefRtg: 108.3 (8) NetRtg: +3.5 (6)
It wasn’t too long ago when it seemed like the Grizzlies’ ceiling was the No. 4 seed in the West. But they’ve since blown past the Jazz to move into third, and they clinched the head-to-head tiebreaker with a win in Memphis (in which they didn’t lose a quarter) on Friday. The Grizzlies outscored the Jazz (who were without Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert), 54-20, in the restricted area with Jaren Jackson Jr. continuing to pick up bunches of blocks.
With four or more blocks in eight of his last 12 games, Jackson ranks second in the league (2.3 per game). Opponents have shot just 50.0% at the rim when he’s been there to protect it, a mark which only trails those of Giannis Antetokounmpo and Rudy Gobert among 23 players who’ve defended at least 200 total shots at the rim. The Grizzlies have been better offensively with Jackson playing alongside Steven Adams, but they’ve allowed less than a point per possession in 337 minutes with Jackson on the floor with Brandon Clarke. In those minutes, opponents have shot just 110-for-214 (51.4%) in the restricted area, the lowest mark among 628 two-man combinations that have been on the floor for at least 200 restricted-area field goal attempts from their opponents.
The Grizzlies are one of four teams that rank in the top 10 on both ends of the floor. They have a relatively easy schedule between now and the All-Star break, but their opponent on Monday (Philadelphia) ranks in the top seven on both ends of the floor in January.
Week 16: @ PHI, @ NYK, @ ORL
Pace: 98.9 (12) OffRtg: 110.9 (12) DefRtg: 102.7 (1) NetRtg: +8.2 (1)
The Warriors’ offense has returned to life. Their five-game winning streak has been their most efficient stretch of offense (116.6 points scored per 100 possessions) in the last two months. Though Stephen Curry made six of his 10 3-point attempts against Minnesota on Thursday, he’s otherwise shot 10-for-46 (22%) from 3-point range over the stretch. But his teammates have shot better than 42% from beyond the arc, the Warriors have had a couple of big games on the offensive glass, and no team has shot better in the restricted area (73.6%) over the last 10 days.
Klay Thompson had his biggest game (23 points on 9-for-16 shooting) against the Wolves, and he hit the dagger against Brooklyn after slipping out of a screen for Curry. The Warriors have scored an efficient 114.8 points per 100 possessions in 157 total minutes with Curry and Thompson on the floor together, and they’ve mostly played together over the last few games, with Jordan Poole able to keep the second-unit offense afloat. Over the winning streak, the Warriors have scored 114.3 points per 100 in 58 minutes with Poole on the floor without Curry. That’s up from just 99.1 per 100 prior to that.
The Warriors have the league’s biggest home-road differential, both in regard to winning percentage (24-4 vs. 13-9) and point differential per 100 possessions (+12.9 vs. +2.1). They’ve lost five of their last six away from the Chase Center and, with their seven-game homestand in the books, they’re on the road for four of their next five. Of course, the first three of those road games are against the Rockets, Spurs and Thunder.
Week 16: @ HOU, @ SAS, vs. SAC
Pace: 96.3 (26) OffRtg: 111.2 (11) DefRtg: 108.5 (9) NetRtg: +2.7 (10)
The Sixers are 14-3 since Christmas, ranking fourth on both offense and defense over a stretch that has made Joel Embiid (34.2 points, 10.7 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 1.5 blocks over the 17 games) a serious Kia MVP candidate — maybe the front runner. Giannis Antetokounmpo leads the league with 16 games where he had more points than minutes played (minimum 20 minutes), but Embiid ranks second with 13, and six of those have come in the last two weeks. The Sixers are 11-2 in those 13 games and 27-11 with Embiid (who’s played in 21 straight) overall.
The Sixers have reached a bit of a turning point in their schedule. Their last seven games have come against opponents currently below .500, but seven of their nine between now and the All-Star break are against teams that currently have winning records. They’re 11-11 against that group thus far, 5-1 since mid-December, and 10-5 with Embiid. He missed their first meeting (Dec. 13 in Memphis) with the Grizzlies, who are in Philly on Monday. (In fact, Embiid and Ja Morant have faced each other for just one half of basketball in Morant’s three seasons in the league. That was in a meeting almost exactly two years ago in which Embiid didn’t play the second half.)
One of the Sixers’ two pre-break games vs. below-.500 teams is Wednesday against the Wizards, who beat them in Washington two weeks ago. Philly is 2-0 against the Bulls, who they trail by one game for second place in the East. Round 3 is Sunday afternoon in Chicago.
Week 16: vs. MEM, vs. WAS, @ DAL, @ CHI
Pace: 96.2 (29) OffRtg: 112.3 (5) DefRtg: 107.6 (7) NetRtg: +4.7 (5)
One thing this Heat team shares with the one that reached The Finals two seasons ago is first-quarter dominance. They’ve outscored their opponents by 11.0 points per 100 possessions — the league’s second-best mark — in the first quarter. And, as they won the first three games of their four-game homestand, they outscored their opponents, 97-60, in the opening period. Jimmy Butler totaled a first-quarter triple-double — 21 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists — over the three games.
One thing that this Heat team doesn’t share with the Finals team is free throw rate. That 2019-20 squad led the league, averaging 29.9 free throw attempts per 100 shots from the field. This group (though it ranks higher offensively) ranks 18th at 23.8. And as the Heat played 20 minutes of clutch time against Toronto on Saturday (neither team led by more than three after Tyler Herro made it a two-point game with exactly 5 minutes left in the fourth quarter), they had 35 clutch field goal attempts and just one attempt from the line. With two misses on Saturday, the Heat are 0-for-12 on shots to tie or take the lead in the final 20 seconds of the fourth quarter or OT.
Despite the loss, the Heat remain in first place in the East, a half game ahead of Chicago. They’re 16-6 since mid-December and five of those six losses were within five points in the last five minutes. Thanks to rescheduled games, they’re are in the middle of a stretch of four in five nights, with the second back-to-back (at Boston and Toronto) being the start of a six-game trip.
Week 16: @ BOS, @ TOR, @ SAS, @ CHA
Pace: 97.3 (24) OffRtg: 110.1 (17) DefRtg: 105.3 (3) NetRtg: +4.8 (4)
The Cavs have the easiest remaining schedule among the top teams in the East and they’ve been very good at taking care of business against bad teams. Through Saturday, they had the league’s fourth-best record (17-5, with seven straight wins) against the 15 teams that were below .500 at that point. But a win on paper is not necessarily a win on the floor, and the Cavs blew a nine-point, fourth-quarter lead in Detroit on Sunday. With the Pistons scoring a season-high 60 points in the restricted area, the Cavs had one of their worst defensive performances (115 points allowed on just 93 possessions) against the league’s 29th-ranked offense.
The offense (two points and five turnovers on a stretch of 13 possessions) was worse than the defense as they blew that fourth-quarter lead. Rajon Rondo was on the floor for only half of Detroit’s 22-2 run, but he did have one turnover and one very questionable 3-point attempt in that fourth quarter and the Cavs have scored just 96 points per 100 possessions in his 123 total minutes on the floor.
Fortunately, the Detroit loss was preceded by an 8-1 stretch, capped by a big win over Milwaukee in which Kevin Love scored 25 points in 27 minutes off the bench. The Cavs are 6-4 (so are the Heat and Bucks) in games played between the top six teams in the East. They’re 1-1 against the seventh-place Hornets, who they haven’t seen since Nov. 1. It will be a top-five offense vs. a top-five defense when they meet in Charlotte on Friday.
Week 16: vs. NOP, @ HOU, @ CHA, vs. IND
Pace: 97.4 (23) OffRtg: 111.3 (10) DefRtg: 109.3 (13) NetRtg: +2.0 (11)
Denver doesn’t rank in the top 10 in either 3-point percentage or the percentage of its shots that have come from 3-point range, but there have been seven instances in January where a team shot 50% or better on at least 40 3-point attempts, and the Nuggets have accounted for three of the seven. The latest barrage came Sunday in Milwaukee, when they were 23 for 43 from beyond the arc in a 36-point win over the champs.
Joel Embiid is making a run in the MVP conversation, but it’s not like Nikola Jokic has slowed down. The reigning (defending, undisputed) MVP has averaged 27.0 points (on 59/42/97 shooting), 12.4 rebounds and 10.0 assists as the Nuggets have won five straight games to climb to seven games over .500, enter the top 10 in offensive efficiency, and solidify their spot among the top six teams in the West. The Nuggets’ regular starting lineup has outscored its opponents by 15.8 points per 100 possessions, the best mark among 11 lineups that have played at least 250 minutes together. And while the Denver bench still has its issues, Austin Rivers (in and out of the lineup with Will Barton missing a couple of games) has played well over the winning streak.
The Nuggets still have a Tuesday-Wednesday back-to-back left on their six-game trip. And if they can keep this streak going, they can move past the Jazz into fourth place. They’ve lost all three of their meetings with Utah thus far, allowing more than 121 points per 100 possessions over the three games.
Week 16: @ MIN, @ UTA, vs. NOP, vs. BKN
Pace: 99.9 (6) OffRtg: 111.4 (9) DefRtg: 108.5 (10) NetRtg: +2.9 (7)
Whether it’s a championship hangover, a January malaise, or the absence of Brook Lopez, the Bucks are now in fifth place. They’ve had absences well beyond Lopez (only Bobby Portis played in all 15 games this month), but even when they’ve had their key guys, they haven’t been great. They were just 3-3 in January when they had their three best players, getting outscored by 6.4 points per 100 possessions in 82 total minutes with Jrue Holiday, Khris Middleton and Giannis Antetokounmpo on the floor together this month, with the numbers on defense being slightly more alarming.
As noted in this space last week, the Bucks are a jump-shooting team, one of five that ranks in the top 10 in both 3-point percentage (eighth) and the percentage of their shots that have come from 3-point range (fifth). On the other end of the floor, the Bucks rank eighth in opponent 3-point percentage (34.2%), having seen the league’s biggest drop from last season (38.4%, 29th). But as has been the case in every season under Mike Budenholzer, volume can be an issue. The Bucks’ opponent rate (46% of their opponents’ shots have come from beyond the arc) is the second-highest in the league, with weak-side 3s available against a defense that puts bodies in the paint. In their wins over the Bucks last week, the Cavs and Nuggets combined to shoot 42-for-85 (49%) from beyond the arc.
After they host the Wizards on Tuesday, the Bucks will have a few days off. Then they begin a four-game trip with a visit to one of the other four teams (the Blazers) who rank in the top 10 in both 3-point percentage and the percentage of their shots that have come from 3-point range.
Week 16: vs. WAS, @ POR, @ LAC
Pace: 98.9 (14) OffRtg: 112.2 (6) DefRtg: 110.4 (20) NetRtg: +1.8 (13)
A relatively soft stretch of schedule has allowed the Bulls to right the ship somewhat. Their defense got chewed up in San Antonio on Friday, but they’ve scored 120 points per 100 possessions as they’ve won three of their last four. DeMar DeRozan (effective field goal percentage of 64%), Zach LaVine and Nikola Vucevic (70%) have all averaged more than 21 points and the Bulls have recorded assists more than two-thirds of their buckets over the four games. With their win against Portland on Saturday, they became the third team (following the Cavs and Wolves) to match their win total from last season (when they were 31-41).
Earlier in the week, the Bulls won a fun game against Toronto in which Pascal Siakam took advantage of the Bulls’ lack of a real power forward and Vucevic took advantage of the Raptors’ lack of a real center. He’s a jump-shooting big, but the Bulls are 12-3 when Vucevic has scored at least 10 points in the paint, and he did so in each of their four games last week. He’ll get another shot at the Raptors (a potential playoff opponent) on Thursday.
He’ll also get another shot at Joel Embiid this week. With Vucevic shooting just 7-for-23, the Sixers won two games in early November that were within five points in the last five minutes, scoring 22 points on 14 clutch possessions. Round 3 is Sunday night in Chicago
Week 16: vs. ORL, @ TOR, @ IND, vs. PHI
Pace: 96.2 (28) OffRtg: 109.8 (19) DefRtg: 107.0 (5) NetRtg: +2.9 (8)
The Mavs’ defense had been ridiculously good, allowing 6.0 fewer points per 100 possessions than any other team over a stretch of 3 1/2 weeks. Some regression was due, and for that regression to have come at Golden State on Tuesday (though the Warriors had been struggling a bit offensively) wasn’t a huge surprise. But a loss in Orlando on Sunday, in which the Magic scored 41 points on 25 second-quarter possessions and the Mavs didn’t show the requisite urgency until late, was a clear step backward.
The Mavs still have the league’s No. 1 defense in January and the two games in between the two losses — efficient wins over the Blazers and Pacers — pushed them out of the bottom 10 in offensive efficiency. Reggie Bullock’s shooting has been a disappointment this season, but with Tim Hardaway Jr. suffering a broken foot last week, Bullock will be needed more, and he shot 10-for-15 from 3-point range over the two wins. Of course, Kristaps Porzingis left the second of those with knee soreness and the Mavs most recent, everybody’s-healthy starting lineup has yet to crack the 100-minute mark. Only the Lakers (77 minutes) have a most-used lineup that’s played fewer minutes than that of the Mavs (103).
With last week’s schedule having taken them from Portland to Orlando, the Mavs now have two days off before they begin their longest homestand of the season. It’s six games over 11 days, with only one of the opponents being a team that currently has a winning record. That opponent is the Sixers, who are in town on Friday for the first of two meetings.
Week 16: vs. OKC, vs. PHI, vs. ATL
Pace: 99.5 (10) OffRtg: 112.0 (7) DefRtg: 110.0 (17) NetRtg: +2.0 (12)
If you don’t have your best scorers, you can still win with defense. But the Nets don’t have much of a defense right now. They’re without Kevin Durant, they’ve been without Kyrie Irving (no home games) or James Harden (hand strain) for each of their last three games, and they’ve allowed almost 120 points per 100 possessions as they’ve lost four straight for the first time this season. In mid-December, the Nets were 10-8 in games in which they scored fewer than 115 points per 100 possessions. Since then, they’re 1-10 when their offense has failed to hit that mark, unable to win ugly.
Brooklyn’s defensive fall-off (fifth through Dec. 31, 27th in January) has been about 3-point shooting (opponents shooting 31.4% from beyond the arc was rather unsustainable), shooting in the paint (54% vs. 57%) and free throw rate (23.0 vs. 26.3 attempts per 100 shots from the field). It really hasn’t been about strength of schedule, as none of the Nets’ 16 January games were against teams that currently rank in the top five offensively.
February begins with a game against the best team in the league (and its third-ranked offense). The worst opponent on the Nets’ five-game trip (which began with a loss at Golden State on Saturday) is the Kings, but their visit to Sacramento will be the second game of a back-to-back. Their loss to Denver last week dropped the Nets to 2-6 (with five straight losses) in the second games of back-to-backs thus far.
Week 16: @ PHX, @ SAC, @ UTA, @ DEN
Pace: 96.3 (27) OffRtg: 110.6 (13) DefRtg: 109.9 (16) NetRtg: +0.8 (15)
Before Saturday, the Raptors had four players in the top 11 in miles traveled per game. And then those four players, along with Gary Trent Jr., each played more than 53 minutes in the Raptors’ triple-overtime win in Miami, the seventh time this season that Nick Nurse has played fewer than nine guys. Fred VanVleet (2.90), Scottie Barnes (2.77), Pascal Siakam (2.71) and OG Anunoby (2.67) now rank first, second, sixth and seventh, respectively, in miles traveled per game.
Nurse only trusts a few guys beyond his starting lineup, but that starting lineup — as a five-man unit — hasn’t been great. It’s been outscored by 4.9 points per 100 possessions, a mark which ranks 26th among 34 lineups that have played at least 150 minutes. Still, the Raptors are 15-8 when they’ve had VanVleet, Trent and Anunoby (their three most prolific 3-point shooters) available. When VanVleet returned from a two-game absence on Saturday, they got that big win in Miami, holding the Heat’s fifth-ranked offense to just 120 points on 119 possessions over the 63 minutes. Siakam’s double-block on Jimmy Butler was the highlight.
The Raptors are playing four games in five nights this week, with two of them being pretty important games (their first two meetings of the season) with the Hawks. Toronto is 5-3 in the second games of back-to-backs thus far, and seven of those eight have been on the road.
Week 16: @ ATL, vs. MIA, vs. CHI, vs. ATL
Pace: 101.1 (2) OffRtg: 112.4 (4) DefRtg: 112.5 (26) NetRtg: -0.1 (18)
The Hornets were 0-8 in the second games of back-to-backs before they played in Indiana on Wednesday. And then they scored 158 points against the Pacers, with LaMelo Ball recording his fifth career triple-double and Kelly Oubre Jr. draining 10 3s off the bench. It was the highest scoring game for any team this season, but it was played at a fast pace, so it ranks as just the third most efficient performance of ’21-22.
Playing without Gordon Hayward, the Hornets have also two of their three least efficient performances of the season over the last eight days. They were also without Oubre against the Clippers on Sunday when Miles Bridges’ hot streak (effective field goal percentage of 68.4% over a stretch of seven games) came to an end.
The other end of the floor was the issue as the Hornets lost to Toronto on the front end of that back-to-back. Their defense had shown some promise over a 7-1 stretch earlier this month, but they’ve allowed 117 points per 100 possessions as they’ve lost three of their last five games. With teams ahead of them slipping, the Hornets have a shot at a top-six seed, but they also have some improving teams (including the one they visit on Wednesday) on their tail and a tough schedule between now and the All-Star break. Eight of their nine remaining pre-break games are against teams at or above .500.
Week 16: @ BOS, vs. CLE, vs. MIA
Pace: 97.1 (25) OffRtg: 109.1 (20) DefRtg: 106.3 (4) NetRtg: +2.8 (9)
It’s a make-or-miss league, and the Celtics have more really bad “miss” nights than any other team. Their loss in Atlanta on Friday was the fourth game in which they’ve shot worse than 20% from 3-point range, with Detroit (3) being the only other team with more than two such games. Overall, the Celtics have seen the league’s fifth-biggest drop in 3-point percentage, from 37.4% (10th) last season to just 34.0% (23rd) this season.
But the Celtics have had the league’s best defense (102.0 points allowed per 100 possessions) as they’ve won eight of their last 12 games. The Kings’ 75 points on 97 possessions on Tuesday (in a game the Celtics won by 53) was the worst offensive performance for any team since October, and that was as much about the Celtics being sharp defensively as it was about Sacramento’s issues. Boston’s starting lineup has allowed just 90.5 points per 100 possessions, the best mark among the 55 lineups that have played at least 100 minutes. And that number is just 79.1 per 100 in 63 total minutes over the last three weeks. The lineup has been outscored in only three of its 16 appearances together this season, registering a plus-7 in that loss in Atlanta on Friday, when the Celtics were outscored by 23 points with at least one reserve on the floor.
Bench minutes were an issue again in the second half of their back-to-back, but it didn’t matter as much with the Celtics leading by 19 points in the first quarter and holding the Pelicans to just 34 in the first half. The Celtics have had just two rest-advantage games this season, the fewest in the league. They’ll have two more this week, at Detroit on Friday and at Orlando on Sunday (probably not the two games they’d prefer). The Celtics are two games behind the seventh-place Hornets, having split the first two meetings and with Round 3 in Boston on Wednesday.
Week 16: vs. MIA, vs. CHA, @ DET, @ ORL
Pace: 100.5 (4) OffRtg: 110.4 (15) DefRtg: 109.3 (12) NetRtg: +1.1 (14)
D’Angelo Russell won the Wolves’ game in Portland on Monday with an isolation drive all the way to the basket, which was kind of surprising. Russell has generally had solid numbers in isolation (his 0.97 points per possession rank 25th among 69 players with at least 50 iso possessions this season), but he’s never been one to get to the basket. This season, only 13% of his shots, a rate which ranks 186th among 210 players with 250 field goal attempts, have come in the restricted area. (Two seasons ago, his rate was just 9%.) Maybe that’s why Anfernee Simons wasn’t ready for the drive.
With Patrick Beverley already out and Russell playing just 20 minutes over the last three games (suffering a shin contusion on Thursday), the Wolves have started Jaylen Nowell and Jordan McLaughlin at the point. But Anthony Edwards (who had 10 assists and just one turnover in Phoenix on Friday) has mostly been running the show, averaging a team-high 5.6 minutes of possession over the three games, up from 4.5 prior to that. The offense has held up, with the Wolves scoring 119.7 points per 100 possessions over the three games. But losses to the Warriors and Suns were (seemingly) the continuation of a downward trend on defense.
The Wolves did take advantage of the slumping and shorthanded Jazz on Sunday. And after they host the Nuggets, they’ll play four games against two teams – Detroit and Sacramento – that rank in the bottom 10 on both ends of the floor. They’ve split their first two games with Denver, with Edwards having made 10 3s in their Dec. 15 victory.
Week 16: vs. DEN, @ DET, vs. DET
Pace: 98.5 (18) OffRtg: 115.3 (1) DefRtg: 109.5 (14) NetRtg: +5.8 (3)
That the Jazz are still in fourth place in the West and have still scored 1.8 more points per 100 possessions than any other team just tells you how good they were through the first 12 weeks of the season. The hope should be that they can get back to that level once they have Donovan Mitchell (out the last seven games) and Rudy Gobert (out the last four) back in the lineup. But the knee injury that Joe Ingles suffered on Sunday looked bad and, while Ingles’ numbers (minutes, scoring, shooting) are all down from last season, his ability to handle the ball remains critical to the league’s No. 1 offense.
The Jazz have now lost 11 of their last 13 games, a remarkable fall even with all the absences. They don’t rank on the bottom five on either end of the floor over that stretch, in part because seven of the 11 losses have been within five points in the last five minutes. They kept things close in both their two games against the Suns last week (one in which they were without their top six guys), because the young guys who usually don’t play – Trent Forrest and Jared Butler – played … and played well.
The Jazz have played 11 of their last 15 games on the road, but they begin a six-game homestand on Wednesday. It includes no back-to-backs, two more breaks (after this current one) of two days, and visits from Denver, Brooklyn and Golden State.
Week 16: vs. DEN, vs. BKN
Pace: 98.5 (17) OffRtg: 113.5 (2) DefRtg: 113.0 (27) NetRtg: +0.6 (16)
The Hawks have had two losing streaks of five or more games, and both of them have been immediately followed by a seven-game winning streak. They’ve ranked in the top five offensively for two months now, but they rank fifth defensively (108.0 points allowed per 100 possessions) over the current streak, with three of the wins having come against teams – Milwaukee, Miami and Charlotte – that rank in the top 10 on offense. The Hawks’ own offense has also scored efficiently against top 10 defenses, and one key continues to be their ability to take care of the ball. They lead the league in turnover rate (12.5 per 100 possessions), and that mark has been just 10.7 per 100 over their last four games.
Bench minutes have also been critical. Trae Young has averaged 28.4 points over the streak, but the Hawks have also outscored their opponents by 11.8 points per 100 possessions in his 96 minutes off the floor. Bogdan Bogdanovic returned from a five-game absence to average 15.7 points off the bench over the last three, Lou Williams had one of his best games of the season (15 points and five assists in 19 minutes) against Sacramento on Wednesday, and Onyeka Okongwu has had a few big games over the course of the streak.
As the Hawks outscored the Lakers, 38-20, in the fourth quarter on Sunday (turning a 10-point deficit into a nine-point win), Okongwu had 12 points on 6-for-6 shooting. John Collins (1.51 points per possession) and Clint Capela (1.21) rank first and ninth in roll-man efficiency among 25 players with at least 100 roll-man possessions, according to Synergy tracking. And now Okongwu is at 1.48 points per possession (46 on 31).
The winning streak has taken the Hawks from 12th to 10th in the Eastern Conference. And two games against the eighth-place Raptors this week could go a long way in taking them higher.
Week 16: vs. TOR, vs. PHX, @ TOR, @ DAL
Pace: 98.9 (13) OffRtg: 106.7 (26) DefRtg: 107.2 (6) NetRtg: -0.6 (19)
In games they trailed by at least 24 points, the Clippers are 3-5. The rest of the league is 2-197. The Clippers’ latest crazy comeback came Tuesday in Washington, when they trailed by 35(!) late in the second quarter and scored 85 points on their final 59 possessions (1.44 per), with Luke Kennard scoring seven points in the final nine seconds. Kennard now has more clutch 3s this season (he’s 7-for-11) than he had through his first four years in the league (6-for-19).
The Clippers have won seven of their last 12 games, even though they’ve been outscored by 17.8 points per 100 possessions with Reggie Jackson, Amir Coffey and Ivica Zubac (the three guys who’ve started all 12 games) on the floor together over that stretch. There was no huge comeback in Charlotte on Sunday, but the Clips won by 25 with their starting lineup registering a plus-2 in its 18.6 minutes. Justise Winslow still can’t shoot — he’s 18-for-68 (26%) from outside the restricted area — but the Clippers have allowed just 85.9 points per 100 possessions in his 111 minutes on the floor over the 7-5 stretch.
The Clippers’ eight-game trip wraps in Indiana on Monday. When the two teams met in L.A. two weeks ago, it was (strangely, given where the Clips rank on both ends of the floor) one of three games this season in which both teams scored more than 130 points per 100 possessions.
Week 16: @ IND, vs. LAL, vs. MIL
Pace: 95.5 (30) OffRtg: 108.1 (24) DefRtg: 109.5 (15) NetRtg: -1.5 (20)
They had a decent shot for the win in Cleveland (where the Cavs have won 10 of their last 12), but the Knicks have lost six of their last seven games, ranking 29th offensively (only the Thunder have scored less efficiently) over that two-week stretch. The Knicks sought to improve what was a bottom-10 offense last season, and they rank lower on that end of the floor this season, with their drop in points scored per 100 possessions (-2.1) a little worse than the league average (-2.0).
The Knicks rank in the top 10 in both free throw rate and offensive rebounding percentage, but they’re one of three teams – the Pistons and Magic are the others – that rank in the bottom five in both field goal percentage in the paint (53.7%, 27th) and mid-range field goal percentage (35.5%, 27th). The recent addition of Cam Reddish (who remains out of the rotation) gives the Knicks six of the 32 players who’ve shot worse than 49% on at least 100 attempts in the paint, with Alec Burks having the worst mark (38.0%) among the 238 players with at least 100 attempts (also worse than his 39.2% from 3-point range). And among 47 players with at least 100 mid-range attempts, only Reggie Jackson has shot worse than Julius Randle (33.2%).
The Knicks have played four straight games against top-10 defenses, and they’ll get a shot at Sacramento (29th) on Monday, holding a winning record (9-6) against the Western Conference. They play their next eight games against the West and the start of their five-game trip (Saturday in L.A.) will be their first game of the season outside the Eastern or Central time zones.
Week 16: vs. SAC, vs. MEM, @ LAL
Pace: 100.6 (3) OffRtg: 108.5 (23) DefRtg: 110.2 (18) NetRtg: -1.7 (21)
The Lakers got Anthony Davis back and improved to 9-7 when they’ve had their three stars with a win in Brooklyn on Tuesday, holding the Nets’ top-10 offense (missing Kevin Durant, of course) to just 96 points on 95 possessions. But good health was short-lived, LeBron James has missed the last two games with a knee issue, and the Lakers lost both. Though the Hornets and Hawks each shot less than 33% from 3-point range, they combined to score 123.6 points per 100 possessions over the weekend, totaling 120 points in the paint. The Lakers are now one of four teams — the Rockets, Blazers and Kings are the others — that rank in the bottom 10 in regard to both opponent field goal percentage in the restricted area (66.0%, 23rd) and the percentage of their opponents’ shots that have come in the restricted area (32%, fourth highest).
NBA TV’s Channing Frye asked a very good question about this team after the loss in Atlanta: What, exactly, are the Lakers good at? With their season 62% complete, the Lakers are in the top 10 in just one of the four factors on either end of the floor, ranking ninth in opponent turnover rate. They’re also fourth in fast-break points per game, mostly because James (first among individuals) remains an unstoppable force in transition. So they can run when they have the opportunity. But non-turnover stops haven’t come often enough. The weekend losses were the eighth and ninth times L.A. has allowed at least 120 points per 100 this season. That happened just six times last season, when league-wide efficiency was higher.
The Atlanta defeat (in which they led by 11 early in the fourth quarter) was also the Lakers’ 12th (they’re 18-12) after leading by double-digits. That gives them the league lead over Cleveland (25-11) and Orlando (10-11).
With their six-game trip in the books, the Lakers are back in L.A. for their next four games. They’re just 2 1/2 games ahead of the 10th-place Blazers, with their final two meetings in the next 10 days. They’ve split the first games, which were the Lakers’ most efficient and least efficient offensive performances of the season.
Week 16: vs. POR, @ LAC, vs. NYK
Pace: 98.4 (19) OffRtg: 110.3 (16) DefRtg: 114.4 (29) NetRtg: -4.0 (24)
The Blazers had a nice 6-2 stretch in the middle of the month and CJ McCollum continues to look as good as ever offensively, averaging 21.6 points on an effective field goal percentage of 59.1% over the eight games since his return. Among 38 players who’ve attempted at least 35 pull-up jumpers over the last two weeks, only Mike Conley (61.8%) and Kyrie Irving (60.2%) have shot more effectively than McCollum (59.3%) on those pull-ups. And over that stretch, Portland has outscored its opponents by 10.9 points per 100 possessions in 153 minutes with its four full-time starters — McCollum, Anfernee Simons, Robert Covington and Jusuf Nurkic — on the floor.
The Blazers’ win in Houston on Friday was their third most efficient offensive performance (125 points on 102 possessions) since Thanksgiving. But this remains a bad defensive team, and losses to the Mavs and Bulls last week were the eighth and ninth times this season that the Blazers have allowed more than 130 points per 100 possessions. That happened just five times last season, when league-wide efficiency was higher and when the Blazers also ranked 29th defensively. Losing Nassir Little (likely for the season) to a shoulder injury is a blow to that 29th-ranked defense. The Blazers allowed less than a point per possession in 219 minutes with Little on the floor alongside Simons, Covington and Nurkic, but have allowed 120.1 per 100 in 186 minutes with the other three on the floor without Little.
They will play six of their next seven games against teams that rank in the bottom eight offensively (with two games each against the Thunder and Lakers), but the Blazers are halfway through a stretch of eight games in 12 days.
Week 16: @ OKC, @ LAL, vs. OKC, vs. MIL
Pace: 98.0 (20) OffRtg: 109.0 (22) DefRtg: 111.4 (21) NetRtg: -2.4 (23)
It’s funny how a one-point loss to a good team can feel like the worst performance of the season. But that’s what happens when you blow a 35-point lead. Heck, that’s what happens when you blow a seven-point lead with less than 20 seconds to go. It wasn’t the Clippers’ first big comeback, but the Wizards have generally been better after halftime. In fact, even with that 35-point collapse, only three teams have seen a bigger jump in point differential per 100 possessions from the first half (-6.0, 26th) to the second half (+1.1, 11th) than the Wizards.
That loss was extra painful, because it was followed by three days off, and then a stretch of six straight games against the top 10 teams in the league. And that stretch began with the Wizards trailing the Grizzlies by 22 points at halftime. They won the second half on Saturday, but not by 23. One thing the second half vs. the Clippers and the first half vs. Memphis had in common: Extra shooting attempts (via Wizards turnovers on Tuesday and via Grizzlies offensive rebounds on Saturday) for the opponents. For the season, the Wizards have averaged 3.2 fewer shooting opportunities (shots from the field or trips to the line) than their opponents. That’s the league’s fourth-worst discrepancy.
Even with the loss to Memphis, the Wizards are a respectable 7-11 against the top 10 teams in the league. Two of those wins came at home against the Bucks (Nov. 7) and Sixers (two weeks ago). They’ll visit both this week.
Week 16: @ MIL, @ PHI, vs. PHX
Pace: 100.2 (5) OffRtg: 110.5 (14) DefRtg: 110.4 (19) NetRtg: +0.1 (x)
The Spurs’ discrepancy between their actual record (19-32) and their “expected” record based on point differential (25-26) keeps getting bigger because they keep winning by larger margins than by which they lose. Over the last 12 days, they have three wins by a total of 61 points and four losses by a total of 34. The strength of the competition nor who the Spurs have available seem not to matter. Their last three narrow losses have come against the three teams – Phoenix, Memphis and Philadelphia – with the three best records in January. And without Dejounte Murray, Derrick White and Jakob Poeltl in Phoenix on Sunday, the Spurs went down to the wire (they led by 12 points in the fourth quarter) with the best team in the league.
Murray has recorded double-digit assists in each of the last six games he’s played. And the Spurs’ two wins last week were two of their seven most efficient offensive games of the season. The point guard was certainly missed as the Spurs scored just six points (shooting 2-for-11) on 10 clutch possessions against the Suns. But before Sunday, Phoenix was the best clutch team in the league, while San Antonio was one of the worst, just 7-14 with Murray in games that were within five points in the last five minutes.
The Spurs have three games left on a stretch where they will have played 12 of 14 at home. They’ll have a rest advantage on Tuesday when they host the Warriors, one of the teams against which they have a clutch victory this season.
Week 16: vs. GSW, vs. MIA, vs. HOU
Pace: 97.9 (21) OffRtg: 107.5 (25) DefRtg: 111.6 (23) NetRtg: -4.1 (25)
Injuries continue to be the story of the Pelicans’ season. Zion Williamson hasn’t played, Brandon Ingram’s early hip injury played a big role in their 1-12 start, and now, absences for both Ingram (ankle) and Jonas Valanciunas (illness) have kept them from gaining more traction in the race for the final Play-In Tournament spot in the West. The Pelicans did get their second win without Ingram on Monday, outscoring the shorthanded Pacers, 62-20, in the restricted area.
Though they haven’t had Williamson (who set a shot-location era record for restricted-area points per game last season), the Pelicans still rank third in restricted-area differential (+4.2 points per game). Master dive cutter Herb Jones ranks third on the team (and among rookies) in restricted-area buckets, but is also creating some as a pick-and-roll ball-handler and has 17 assists over his last five games.
Seeing the rookie continue to blossom is great, and the Pelicans were competitive against both Philly and Denver last week, but they’re now 2-11 without Ingram, having dropped three straight and having allowed 116.9 points per 100 possessions in those 13 games. They do have a couple of winnable games on a four-game trip that begins Monday in Cleveland. Their first meeting with the Pistons was one of their best defensive games of the season, while their first meeting with the Rockets (five days earlier) was one of their worst.
Week 16: @ CLE, @ DET, @ DEN, @ HOU
Pace: 97.6 (22) OffRtg: 109.9 (18) DefRtg: 112.1 (25) NetRtg: -2.2 (22)
With Myles Turner and/or Domantas Sabonis seemingly available for the right trade, the minutes of rookie big man Isaiah Jackson (acquired with the pick that the Pacers got for Aaron Holiday) have become a little more relevant. The 6-foot-10 Jackson (who just turned 20 this month) is mobile and bouncy, he’s averaged 3.1 blocks per 36 minutes, and he’s got a good-looking stroke from beyond the arc (legend has it that he made five 3s in a G League game). But he basically fell for every pump fake the Pelicans (bigs and guards) showed him on Monday, and his 8.4 fouls per 36 are the most (by a healthy margin) among 452 players who’ve played at least 100 total minutes. When you foul out in 18 minutes (like Jackson did in Dallas on Saturday), your coach can’t give you more playing time, even if he wanted to.
The Pacers have actually won three of their last four games that were within five points in the last five minutes, coming back from 16 points down in the second half to edge the Thunder in overtime on Friday. Sabonis returned from a four-game absence and recorded his 18th career triple-double (four of those 18 have come this month), and Justin Holiday made the big play. But they’ve lost four of their last five overall, and it’s been their worst stretch of defense this season (123.3 points allowed per 100 possessions), even though two of the five opponents were teams that rank in the bottom 10 offensively.
The Pacers will face two more bottom-10 offenses on Monday and Wednesday. They’re 5-2 in rest-advantage games this season and they’ll have a rest advantage for all three of their games on their three-game homestand.
Week 16: vs. LAC, vs. ORL, vs. CHI, @ CLE
Pace: 99.8 (8) OffRtg: 109.1 (21) DefRtg: 114.2 (28) NetRtg: -5.1 (26)
The good news from their visit to Philadelphia on Saturday is that the Kings didn’t trail by 30 (or 60) points, as they did in Boston and Atlanta earlier in the week. Tyrese Haliburton scored a career-high 38 points and they led by as many as 17. But they lost all of that lead and a late comeback come up short. The Kings have lost 11 of their last 13 games, with seven of those 11 defeats having been within five points in the last five minutes.
One of the other four was a 53-point loss in Boston on Tuesday, the third-worst offensive performance (75 points on 97 possessions) for any team this season (worst since late October). Of course, when you lose by 53, you have issues on both ends of the floor and the Kings’ six-game losing streak has been their worst stretch of defense this season (123.9 points allowed per 100 possessions). According to Synergy tracking, they played more possessions of zone against the Celtics (31) than they had all season to that point (12), but it obviously didn’t fare very well. The Kings have gone from 11th (last season) to 23rd in total zone possessions (they used a zone that turns into a man-to-man mid-possession in Boston), and from 30th to 28th in defensive efficiency.
On a lighter note, the Kings are the only team that hasn’t played at least one game for every day of the week, having yet to play on a Thursday. Their first of three Thursday games is this week at Golden State.
Week 16: @ NYK, vs. BKN, @ GSW, vs. OKC
Pace: 98.8 (16) OffRtg: 103.6 (28) DefRtg: 111.5 (22) NetRtg: -7.9 (28)
The Magic’s starting lineup was reunited eight days ago, the Magic have won three of their last four games, and the starting lineup has allowed just 96 points on 110 possessions (87.3 per 100) over that stretch. For the season, the lineup has allowed 92.5 per 100, the second-best mark among 55 lineups that have played at least 100 minutes. Some of that success comes from its size inside, but rookie Jalen Suggs is also a key ingredient on the perimeter. He’s got instincts, quickness and commitment on that end of the floor, as evidenced by his interception of a Cade Cunningham pass and his chase-down block on Rodney McGruder in the Magic’s win over Detroit on Friday. The 104.9 points per 100 possessions that the Magic have allowed with Suggs on the floor is the lowest on-court mark on the team, and he’s started 27 of the 30 games he’s played in (so he’s generally defending against other starters).
Orlando’s other two wins over the last eight days have come against teams much better than the Pistons. They held the Bulls’ sixth-ranked offense to its worst offensive output since Thanksgiving and they scored efficiently (110 points on 97 possessions) against the Mavs’ fifth-ranked defense on Sunday, with Franz Wagner hitting a tough go-ahead bucket in the final minute and Suggs getting a big steal in the closing seconds.
The Magic have more wins (they’re 6-22) over the 15 teams that currently have winning records than they do (they’re 5-18) against the 14 other teams currently at or below .500. Six of their nine remaining pre-break games are against the former group, with another game against the Bulls coming on Tuesday.
Week 16: @ CHI, @ IND, vs. MEM, vs. BOS
Pace: 99.2 (11) OffRtg: 102.8 (29) DefRtg: 112.0 (24) NetRtg: -9.2 (30)
The Pistons had about as Jekyll-and-Hyde of a weekend as any team could have, losing to the Magic on Friday and beating the Cavs (with a 22-2, fourth-quarter run) on Sunday. Cade Cunningham recorded his second career triple-double against Cleveland and his 10 assists came with just one turnover. As a team, the Pistons have committed 10 or fewer turnovers in three straight (and four of their last six) games.
They’re one of two teams (the Pelicans are the other) that rank in the bottom five in both effective field goal percentage and opponent effective field goal percentage, and they’re one of three teams (the Clippers and Sixers are the others) that rank in the bottom 10 in both offensive and defensive rebounding percentage. But the Pistons do force turnovers, and they’ve been taking care of the ball themselves of late. More minutes for Cory Joseph might have something to do with that, though the Pistons’ latest starting lineup – Joseph, Cunningham, Hamidou Diallo, Saddiq Bey and Isaiah Stewart – has allowed almost 130 points per 100 possessions in its 81 minutes over the last six games.
The Pistons now have as many wins (they’re 6-22) against the 15 teams that currently have winning records as they do (they’re 6-15) against the other 14 teams currently at or below .500. They have four pre-break games remaining against the latter group and three of the four (including two against the .500 Wolves) are this week.
Week 16: vs. NOP, vs. MIN, vs. BOS, @ MIN
Pace: 101.4 (1) OffRtg: 106.7 (27) DefRtg: 115.0 (30) NetRtg: -8.3 (29)
Some time off hasn’t done much for the Rockets’ 30th-ranked defense. They had three days off before hosting San Antonio on Tuesday, and they allowed the Spurs to score 82 points in the paint, tied for the most in a game this season. They had another two days off before hosting Portland on Friday, and they allowed the Blazers to register their highest effective field goal percentage (67.3%) in ’21-22. The Rockets allowed more than 125 points per 100 possessions over the two games, losing the two first quarters by a combined score of 66-43. They had Jae’Sean Tate guarding Jusuf Nurkic to start the Portland game.
For the season, Houston opponents have shot 59.6% in the paint, which would be the fourth-highest opponent mark in the last 20 years. The Rockets don’t have a history of bad defense. In fact, in the 37 years prior to last season, they ranked in the bottom five defensively just twice, ranking in the top five 13 times over that stretch. But it now looks like a strong possibility that they’ll be in the bottom five for a second straight year.
The Rockets are within three wins of their total from last season. But they have the league’s worst point differential (-10.5 points per 100 possessions) in January, with their nine losses having come by an average of 17.1 points. They’ve lost their last 10 games at home, with two more games (against two of the best teams in the league) left on their four-game homestand.
Week 16: vs. GSW, vs. CLE, @ SAS, vs. NOP
Pace: 98.8 (15) OffRtg: 101.7 (30) DefRtg: 109.0 (11) NetRtg: -7.3 (27)
The Thunder are 1-12 in January, and they just lost Shai Gilgeous-Alexander to an ankle sprain that will have him out until at least the All-Star break (10 more games). They already have the worst offense in the league, so they can’t fall any lower, but the Thunder have scored an anemic 94.7 points per 100 possessions in Gilgeous-Alexander’s 822 minutes off the floor. That number isn’t so bad (103.4) with their other three full-time starters – Josh Giddey, Luguentz Dort and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl – in the game, but those three have been on the floor without SGA for a total of just 87 minutes.
That minutes total will grow in the next few weeks. Tre Mann and Aaron Wiggins both started alongside Gilgeous-Alexander last week, though Kenrich Williams was on the floor down the stretch of their overtime loss to Indiana on Friday, when Mann came in for the final minute and missed the game-winning layup after Darius Bazley didn’t want to take it. Gilgeous-Alexander obviously leads the team in clutch usage rate (34.5%), though (somewhat surprisingly) he only ranks 13th in the league.
The Thunder will play three of their four games this week against teams – Portland and Sacramento – that rank in the bottom three defensively. They’ve yet to face the Blazers and have split two games with the Kings, getting a win in November when Dort did to De’Aaron Fox what Justin Holiday did to Dort on Friday.
Week 16: vs. POR, @ DAL, @ POR, @ SAC