Stephen Curry and the Warriors are off to an NBA-best 8-1 start this season.
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Is reality sinking in yet?
Through Sunday, teams have played an average of 9.7 games, not enough for a full evaluation of where they stand in the NBA hierarchy, but perhaps enough for some truths to have been told. Just ask the Boston Celtics, who seem to have had a let’s-just-put-it-out-there moment after getting outscored, 51-19, by the Chicago Bulls over the final 14-plus minutes on Monday.
Some truths probably haven’t been voiced out loud (and to the media), but there’s no erasing the 8-11 games that have played thus far. And within those 8-11 games, there are some clues as to where these teams will finish in the standings come April 10 and as to which players will contribute most (or least) to those results.
And that’s not necessarily a bad thing! Some teams have surpassed expectations thus far and are bound to remain on that path. The 7-3 Washington Wizards and 7-4 Cleveland Cavaliers are the two biggest surprises in the league, they rank sixth and seventh in this week’s rankings, and they’ll get to test themselves against each other when they meet in Cleveland on Wednesday.
Plus-Minus Players of the Week
Teams of the Week
- Make It Last Forever: Philadelphia (4-0) — The Sixers took their winning streak to six games, picking up a couple of good wins over the Bulls last week.
- Something Just Ain’t Right: Charlotte (0-4) — The Hornets remain entertaining, but the teams that got to eviscerate their 30th-ranked defense had most of the fun last week.
East vs. West
Schedule strength through Week 3
- Toughest: 1. Memphis, 2. Detroit, 3. Oklahoma City
- Easiest: 1. Minnesota, 2. Golden State, 3. Philadelphia
- 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: Cleveland (+13), Toronto (+6), Washington (+6)
- Free falls of the week: Charlotte (-10), L.A. Lakers (-8), Minnesota (-7)
Week 4 Team to Watch
- Philadelphia — The Sixers will remain shorthanded as they play a round-robin with New York and Milwaukee early this week, but playing shorthanded hasn’t kept them from winning six straight games. They’ll host the Knicks on Monday, the Bucks on Tuesday (7:30 p.m. ET, TNT), and the Raptors on Thursday (7 p.m. ET, NBA TV). Then they begin a six-game trip in Indiana on Saturday night.
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 100.0 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes and 106.4 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: 97.7 (28) OffRtg: 113.0 (3) DefRtg: 101.3 (4) NetRtg: +11.7 (2)
The Heat have scored 121 points per 100 possessions in their seven wins, but their two losses have been really ugly. On Thursday, they appeared to struggle with the Celtics’ switching, along with their own spacing, in scoring just five points (with 10 turnovers) over their final 23 possessions of the first half. In their two losses, they’ve taken just 19% of their shots in the restricted area and shot just 26% from outside the paint. Those numbers are 28% and 41% in their seven wins.
The good far outweighs the bad, of course. And the Miami offense rebounded from the Boston loss to score almost 20 more points per 100 possessions (130) than the Jazz have allowed in any of their other nine games, even though the Heat had just eight transition possessions all night, according to Synergy tracking. When you’re playing the Jazz, it’s good to shoot 58% (22-for-38) on non-restricted-area 2-point shots. The Heat have been opportunistic in transition, but they also rank sixth in effective field goal percentage in the last 12 seconds of the shot clock (51.8%), according to Second Spectrum tracking.
The Heat were just 7-8 in Western Conference arenas last season. They’re 2-0 this season, with a five-game, eight-day trip through the West starting Monday in Denver.
Week 4: @ DEN, @ LAL, @ LAC, @ UTA
Pace: 102.3 (5) OffRtg: 110.0 (6) DefRtg: 97.0 (1) NetRtg: +13.0 (1)
There’s no question that the Warriors have played a relatively easy schedule. Their 22-point victory over the 5-3 Hornets on Wednesday looked like a quality win, but Charlotte then lost by 30 in Sacramento. Half of the Dubs’ eight wins have come against the Thunder, Pelicans and Rockets, and the league’s No. 1 defense has played five of its nine games against teams that rank in the bottom 10 offensively.
But, after some close games in the first 10 days of the season, the Warriors have been taking care of business. They’ve actually led all nine of their games by double-digits and the last four wins have come by an average of 24.3 points. Stephen Curry has been relatively quiet offensively, it hasn’t mattered, and he’s been able to rest in fourth quarters. And while that No. 1 ranking on defense has been somewhat aided by the opponents, the Warriors are No. 1 by a wide margin. They had a top-five defense last season and they’ve been the league’s most improved defense this season, having allowed 12.4 fewer points per 100 possessions. Gary Payton II, leading the league with 3.9 steals per 36 minutes, has something to do with that and has earned a spot in the rotation with three big games last week.
The Warriors’ only loss, meanwhile, came in overtime. Some tougher opponents are in town as their eight-game homestand wraps up this week.
Week 4: vs. ATL, vs. MIN, vs. CHI, @ CHA
Pace: 100.1 (13) OffRtg: 105.8 (17) DefRtg: 103.4 (6) NetRtg: +2.4 (10)
The Nets haven’t started games particularly well. In fact, they’ve been the league’s third worst team (outscored by almost 22 points per 48 minutes) in the first six minutes of the first quarter. But their starting lineup has been solid (+8.5 per 100 possessions) overall and they’ve allowed just 96.0 points per 100 possessions in 169 total minutes with Blake Griffin as the lone big on the floor. An adjustment to his pick-and-roll coverage (drop instead of switching) seems to be working, though DeMar DeRozan (mid-range master) and Nikola Vucevic (pick-and-pop big) will challenge that coverage on Monday.
The offense has also started to pick up. The Nets have scored 111 points per 100 possessions over their five-game winning streak, up from 101 through their first five games. Kevin Durant’s shooting — 63% on 2-point shots even though only 21% of those 2s have come in the restricted area — remains ridiculous, James Harden has been shooting better from the outside, and the Nets have recorded assists on 73% of their buckets over the last three games.
After Detroit plays in Houston on Wednesday, the Nets will be the only team that hasn’t played a game against the opposite conference. They ease into their Western Conference slate with games in New Orleans and Oklahoma City on Friday and Sunday, the end of a six-game trip.
Week 4: @ CHI, @ ORL, @ NOP, @ OKC
Pace: 96.4 (30) OffRtg: 115.4 (1) DefRtg: 106.4 (16) NetRtg: +8.9 (4)
With health-and-safety protocols, a day off for Joel Embiid, and an injury to Danny Green, the Sixers have been shorthanded well beyond Ben Simmons’ continued absence. They basically had an eight-man rotation as they played their last three games over four days. But they’ve won six straight, with the league’s No. 1 (and second most improved) offense continuing to score efficiently. Seth Curry still hasn’t cooled off (he has the effective field goal percentage of a rim-running center) and he isn’t the only perimeter player shooting well as Embiid continues to get double-teamed at a higher rate than he did last season. The Sixers are the only team in the top 10 in field goal percentage in the paint, mid-range field goal percentage, and 3-point percentage, and they’re first in two of the three, ranking sixth in the mid-range.
Georges Niang averaged 16.3 points off the bench over the Sixers’ four wins last week, with a huge 3 in Chicago on Saturday. He also did some good work defensively, fighting over screens and giving both Jerami Grant and Zach LaVine a tough time in isolation. Niang isn’t nearly the menace that Matisse Thybulle is defensively (he’s ninth among rotation Sixers in deflections per 36 minutes), but the Philly defense has been at its best with him on the floor.
The Sixers’ last defeat (their worst defensive game of the season) came at the hands of the Knicks, who will be in Philly on Monday. The champs are in town 24 hours later.
Week 4: vs. NYK, vs. MIL, vs. TOR, @ IND
Pace: 98.7 (23) OffRtg: 113.2 (2) DefRtg: 104.0 (10) NetRtg: +9.3 (3)
The Jazz just completed a stretch where they played seven games in seven different cities in 11 days. So it shouldn’t be a huge surprise that they seemingly ran out of gas at the end of it, dropping both ends of a Florida back-to-back over the weekend. They allowed the Heat to shoot 60% on Saturday and then made just eight of their 42 3-point attempts in Orlando on Sunday.
They lead the league in 3-point rate (with 49% of their shots coming from beyond the arc) for a second straight season, but the Jazz are 26th in 3-point percentage (31.8%), having seen the third biggest drop from last season. Jordan Clarkson’s 21.7% is the worst mark among 73 players with at least 50 3-point attempts, and Donovan Mitchell (29.9%) and Bojan Bogdanovic (30.9%) haven’t been much better. If last week’s notes about the lack of ball movement were concerning, the good news is that the last three games have come with the Jazz’s three highest assist rates of the season.
They’re done with the road for a bit, and the five-game homestand that begins Tuesday is the first time the Jazz have multiple home games in a row. But they’re not done with the opposite conference, as all five games, including a second straight Saturday night meeting with the Heat, are against the East.
Week 4: vs. ATL, vs. IND, vs. MIA
Pace: 99.7 (16) OffRtg: 107.2 (15) DefRtg: 103.1 (5) NetRtg: +4.1 (7)
Midway through the second quarter of the Wizards’ win over the Grizzlies on Friday, Steven Adams switched a screen for Raul Neto, who then isolated against the Memphis big man. And with Adams subsequently playing Neto to drive, the point guard pulled up and drained a 3.
Having lost the mismatch on defense, Adams tried to win it on offense, running the floor to establish early position against Neto under the opposite basket, knowing that his own point guard (Ja Morant) would be on the same page and looking to pass ahead. But just as Adams began to bully Neto in the paint, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope arrived to rescue his smaller teammate. And then, half a second later, Kyle Kuzma arrived to to take over for Caldwell-Pope. The advantage that Adams was trying to gain never materialized and the Wizards got a stop when Daniel Gafford successfully defended a De’Anthony Melton iso.
That transition sequence (gif’d below) was just a few seconds of typical NBA basketball, but it was a clear display that the Wizards have made serious upgrades to their defense, both in regard to personnel and urgency. That defense has climbed into the top five, having held the Grizzlies and Bucks to just 90.5 points per 100 possessions over the weekend.
Of course, the Wiz have yet to play a team that currently ranks in the top 10 offensively. After a couple of days off, they’ll visit the 10th-ranked Cavs on Wednesday.
Week 4: @ CLE, @ ORL
Pace: 98.3 (25) OffRtg: 108.2 (10) DefRtg: 106.2 (15) NetRtg: +1.8 (12)
The Cavs are undefeated (4-0) in November, and only the Warriors scored more efficiently over the first seven days of the month. Six different Cavs have averaged double-figures over the winning streak, with their two bigs — Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley — combining for 38 points per game on 59% shooting. Allen has been playing so strong and efficiently that the Cavs went to him on two direct post-ups against Jusuf Nurkic down the stretch of their win over Portland on Wednesday. That game was won when both Mobley and Allen successfully defended Damian Lillard isolations in the final minute and a half.
That game also featured some brilliant pick-and-roll play from Ricky Rubio, who made a huge impact while shooting 0-for-7. Against the Blazers’ “show” coverage, Rubio was willing to get off the ball quickly. And against the Knicks’ “drop” coverage on Sunday, he was willing to hold onto it, shooting 8-for-9 from 3-point range and scoring a career-high 37 points. The Cavs have scored more than 120 points per 100 possessions in 121 minutes with Rubio and Darius Garland (11-for-14 from 3-point range over the last three games) on the floor together.
The Cavs have played eight of their first 11 games on the road. Now they’re home for eight of their next nine.
Week 4: vs. WAS, vs. DET, vs. BOS
Pace: 98.3 (26) OffRtg: 112.0 (4) DefRtg: 110.5 (27) NetRtg: +1.6 (13)
The Knicks got a big win on Friday, coming back from 21 points down, owning the glass, and beating the Bucks in Milwaukee. But they lost their other three games last week, allowing the Raptors, Pacers and Cavs to score almost 120 points per 100 possessions. With the league having seen a big drop in efficiency, only three teams have allowed more points per 100 than they did last season, and the Knicks have seen the biggest jump (+2.7 per 100) of the three. Like last season, they’re yielding a lot of 3-point attempts. Unlike last season (when they ranked first), they rank 23rd in opponent 3-point percentage (36.3%).
The defense has been at its worst (117.4 points allowed per 100) with Kemba Walker on the floor and the Knicks’ starting lineup has been outscored by 11.8 points per 100 possessions, the second worst mark (better than only that of the Rockets’ starters) among 18 lineups that have played at least 75 minutes. But, after shooting 4-for-19 over his previous two games, Walker was in street clothes (a rest day on the first night of a back-to-back) when the Knicks got torched by Ricky Rubio and the Cavs on Sunday.
We have a Bucks-Knicks-Sixers round-robin on Monday, Tuesday (when the Bucks are in Philly) and Wednesday. The Knicks already have wins over both the Sixers and the champs, having scored 116.5 points per 100 possessions over the two games.
Week 4: @ PHI, vs. MIL, @ CHA
Pace: 99.1 (18) OffRtg: 108.9 (9) DefRtg: 103.6 (7) NetRtg: +5.3 (5)
Javonte Green remains the starter and Alex Caruso has been the closer as seven of the Bulls’ nine games (including all three of their losses) have been within five points in the last five minutes. But Derrick Jones Jr. seems to have a firm grip on a rotation spot after playing less than three minutes through the first five games of the season. Jones and Caruso were on the floor for most of the Bulls’ 51-18 run to close their wild win in Boston on Monday, and even if you take that game away, Chicago has outscored its opponents by 17.6 points per 100 possessions with Jones on the floor.
The closing lineup did not close well against Philadelphia last week. In two losses by a total of 14 points, the Bulls scored just nine points on 12 clutch possessions, while the shorthanded Sixers scored 22 on 14. Nikola Vucevic is obviously the third option down the stretch, but the Bulls need him to shoot better than he has. His shooting on non-restricted-area 2-pointers (43%) is just a tick below his career average (45%), but he’s just 14-for-32 (44%) in the restricted area and 10-for-39 (26%) from beyond the arc.
The Bulls are one of three teams — the Rockets and Clippers are the others — that have yet to face an opponent that played the day/night before. But they’ll have five such games in the next two weeks, with the first of those coming Monday against the Nets (who were in Toronto on Sunday afternoon).
Week 4: vs. BKN, vs. DAL, @ GSW, @ LAC
Pace: 102.3 (4) OffRtg: 107.3 (14) DefRtg: 107.9 (21) NetRtg: -0.6 (16)
The bigger difference between the Suns’ 1-3 start and their current, four-game winning streak has been on defense, where they’ve held their last four opponents to just 101.9 points per 100 possessions. Perimeter shooting is a big part of that, and the Suns have outscored their opponents from 3-point range in two straight games after getting outscored by 21 points per game from beyond the arc through their first six. But they’ve also forced more turnovers and done a better job of protecting the rim, despite the absence of Deandre Ayton (leg contusion) for two of the last three.
The Suns haven’t exactly been taking care of business, even at home against the bad teams. Last week, they had second-half deficits of 14 points against New Orleans, nine against Houston, and 12 against Atlanta. But they scored 127 points per 100 possessions over the second halves of those three games, with Chris Paul shooting 12-for-14 and registering a 24/4 assist/turnover ratio. Now No. 3 on the all-time assist list, Paul is averaging a career-high 12.1 assists per game and registering a career-best assist/turnover ratio of 4.85.
The Suns’ defensive improvement will be tested with two games against top 10 offenses — those of the Kings and Blazers — on Monday and Wednesday.
Week 4: @ SAC, vs. POR, @ MEM, @ HOU
Pace: 99.6 (17) OffRtg: 107.2 (16) DefRtg: 112.7 (29) NetRtg: -5.6 (25)
The Grizzlies were just 5-16 against the seven other Western Conference playoff teams last season, but their two-game sweep of the Nuggets last week improved them to 3-2 against that same group this year. They also have a league-high five wins (they’re 5-2) against the 15 teams that are currently over .500.
Over the two games, the Grizzlies outscored Denver by 36 total points from 3-point range, with Jaren Jackson Jr. (8-for-13 from deep over the two games) leading the attack. He doesn’t need plays drawn up for him to eagerly launch from deep, but early in the first meeting, the Grizzlies had the 6-foot-11 big man curl off of three screens to get open. Desmond Bane, who’s seen the league’s fourth biggest jump in points per 36 minutes (from 14.8 to 20.7) hit the go-ahead 3 over Nikola Jokic in the second game.
The Grizzlies still have issues on the other end of the floor. Their defense is the only that ranks in the bottom seven in both field goal percentage in the restricted area (67.8%, 24th) and the percentage of their opponents’ shots that have come in the restricted area (33%, 27th). And as they allowed the Wizards to register 24 restricted-area buckets and 115 points on 101 possessions on Friday, they really struggled to stop Washington’s pick-and-roll, especially when Steven Adams was defending the screener. His pick-and-roll defense numbers are not good, and the Grizz have had more success when they’ve switched screens (with everybody but Adams).
The Grizzlies rank 29th defensively overall, and they’ll face the other two teams in the bottom three (Charlotte and New Orleans) this week.
Week 4: vs. MIN, vs. CHA, vs. PHX, @ NOP
Pace: 98.9 (20) OffRtg: 101.6 (26) DefRtg: 100.1 (2) NetRtg: +1.5 (14)
Things have not been pretty for the Nuggets. In fact, they’ve played the ugliest games in the league, combining with their opponents to score just 100.8 points per 100 possessions. Nuggets who aren’t the reigning Kia MVP have combined to shoot 27% from beyond the arc and score just six points per game from the free throw line. Michael Porter Jr. has missed 14 straight 3-point attempts and, having left with a back issue in the first quarter on Saturday, has seen his scoring average dip below 10 points per game. He seemed to barely touch the ball in the first six minutes of the Nuggets’ loss in Memphis on Monday, but overall, his touches and time of possession are at the same level as they were last season.
After two losses to the Grizzlies, the Nuggets did manage to survive a scare against the (now) 1-9 Rockets on Saturday. Nikola Jokic sealed the game with a back-handed block and, while his rim-protection numbers aren’t great, that wasn’t the wildest thing about the finish. The win was the first time in 44 games with the Nuggets that Aaron Gordon has made more than two 3s in a game, and he made two of his three on two straight possessions in the final two minutes, turning a five-point deficit into the one-point lead that Jokic ultimately preserved. Prior to that second 3, Jokic (13) and Jamal Murray (nine) had accounted for 22 of the Nuggets’ 25 buckets to tie or take the lead in the final minute of the fourth quarter or overtime since the start of the 2019-20 season.
The win was the start of a five-game homestand that will challenge the Nuggets’ second-ranked defense. The four remaining opponents all rank in the top 12 offensively.
Week 4: vs. MIA, vs. IND, vs. ATL, vs. POR
Pace: 97.0 (29) OffRtg: 107.9 (13) DefRtg: 105.2 (11) NetRtg: +2.7 (9)
The Raptors should remain a team that ranks higher on defense than it does on offense. Though their defensive aggressiveness can backfire at times, they’re a pretty relentless group and Pascal Siakam (who made his season debut on Sunday) will only make them better on that end of the floor. But as they won five straight games, the Raps scored more than 113 points per 100 possessions, the league’s third best mark over that stretch. OG Anunoby scored a career-high 36 points in New York on Monday, Fred VanVleet dropped 33 in Washington on Wednesday, and they’ve continued to give themselves a ton of second chances with their work on the glass.
But the winning streak came to an end with the Cavs registering 21 second chance points on Friday night. Then the Nets shot 17-for-38 from 3-point range (outscoring the Raptors by 30 points from beyond the arc) on Sunday afternoon. Brooklyn is obviously potent, but some of those 17 3s came via defensive mistakes and slow rotations and, over the two games, the Raptors allowed more than 118 points per 100 possessions. Defense has been the much bigger difference in their performance at home (where they’re 2-5, having allowed 110.1 per 100) vs. on the road (4-0, 96.7).
They’ll play eight of their next nine away from Scotiabank Arena. That stretch starts Wednesday with their second visit to Boston, where they won by 32 points in Week 1.
Week 4: @ BOS, @ PHI, vs. DET
Pace: 101.1 (10) OffRtg: 109.1 (8) DefRtg: 106.3 (14) NetRtg: +2.8 (8)
With how pronounced Damian Lillard’s early-season struggles have been, there are probably multiple factors (including an “irritated” core injury) involved. As noted last week, the Blazers’ offense is different, having seen big jumps in both ball and player movement. Lillard’s touches per 36 minutes (82) are at the same level as they were last season, but a higher percentage of those touches are originating in the frontcourt. He’s had possession of the ball for 18% of his minutes on the floor, down from 23% last season. And the percentage of his shots that have come after seven or more dribbles is down from 44% to 34%.
Lillard’s shooting (34% from the field, 22% from 3-point range through Friday) is still the strangest storyline of the first three weeks. The nadir might have been a blown layup to take the lead late in Cleveland on Wednesday. It led to a Cavs fast break and dropped the Blazers to 0-4 on the road, where they’ve allowed more than 115 points per 100 possessions (the league’s second worst road mark). Robert Covington hit three big 3s late to help them come back against Indiana on Friday, and Lillard drained a season-high six 3s against the Lakers on Saturday. Time will tell if that was the start of the inevitable hot streak.
The start of the Blazers’ four-game trip is their third meeting with the Clippers already. They’ve split the first two meetings, and neither one was close.
Week 4: @ LAC, @ PHX, @ HOU, @ DEN
Pace: 98.7 (22) OffRtg: 103.2 (23) DefRtg: 107.4 (20) NetRtg: -4.3 (24)
With Luka Doncic’s step-back buzzer-beater on Saturday, the Mavs’ six wins have come by a total of 33 points, while their three losses have come by a total of 72. So they’re 6-3 with the point differential of a team that’s 3-6, one of the toughest teams in the league to evaluate at this point. But, after two straight seasons in which they were worse in clutch games than they were otherwise, perhaps they were due for a reversal of fortune. Doncic has made six of his last seven shots to tie or take the lead in the final minute of the fourth quarter or overtime, a stretch bracketed by two home games against the Celtics.
Saturday also marked the return of Kristaps Porzingis, who scored an efficient 21 points in less than 28 minutes. Seventeen of the 21 came in the restricted area or at the free throw line, and four of those 17 (including a big tip-dunk after a nice short roll and kick out) were the Mavs’ last points before Doncic’s game-winner.
Jalen Brunson (who scored 13 straight points down the stretch of their one-point win in San Antonio on Wednesday) has done his part, but for the fourth time in the last six seasons, the Mavs rank last in the percentage of their shots (39%) that have come in the paint. That hasn’t been a huge issue in the past, but this season, they have the league’s second biggest differential between their field goal percentage in the paint (57.0%, ninth) and their effective field goal percentage on shots from outside the paint (44.9%, 28th).
A game against the Pelicans on Monday seems like their best early-season opportunity to fix that point-differential discrepancy.
Week 4: vs. NOP, @ CHI, @ SAS
Pace: 101.4 (9) OffRtg: 105.3 (18) DefRtg: 107.0 (17) NetRtg: -1.7 (19)
The Bucks have lost five of their six games with the league’s 25th-ranked offense (101.2 points scored per 100 possessions over that stretch). No team’s early-season results matter less, but it stinks that they could be without both Khris Middleton (health and safety protocols) and Brook Lopez (back issue) for all of what could have been a great five-game trip through the Eastern Conference, meetings with the Wizards, Sixers, Knicks, Celtics and Hawks.
Without the familiar faces, the new one in the rotation – Grayson Allen – is getting more reps alongside Giannis Antetokounmpo. And thus far, Allen seems to fit right in. Not only has he shot 40% from 3-point range, but he’s shown some defensive chops as well. In the Bucks’ win in Detroit on Tuesday, Allen twice blocked Isaiah Stewart (selling out to protect the rim is the Bucks’ way), also doing a nice job of closing out and (initially) containing a Jerami Grant attack.
Despite Allen’s efforts and the ridiculous block seen below, the Bucks just aren’t protecting the rim as well without Lopez. And they’ve seen the league’s biggest jump in opponent free throw rate (extra Thanasis minutes might have something to do with that). On Friday, they were outscored by New York, 61-38, on points in the restricted area or at the free throw line, allowing the Knicks to grab 20 offensive rebounds. They’ll face the same team on Wednesday, the second night of their Philly-NYC back-to-back.
Week 4: @ PHI, @ NYK, @ BOS, @ ATL
Pace: 103.7 (1) OffRtg: 105.1 (19) DefRtg: 106.3 (13) NetRtg: -1.2 (18)
The Lakers are building for April, May and June, and LeBron James has missed four of their 10 games. So early-season results aren’t a major concern. But given how soft and home-heavy their schedule has been, a 5-5 start — with two confounding losses to the Thunder (games they led by 26 and 19 points) and a narrow escape against the Rockets — is not good. They’ve been inconsistent from game to game and half to half, and they’ve allowed 65 points on 55 clutch possessions, in part because 19 (*45%) of their opponents’ 42 clutch shots have come in the restricted area.
* The league average for clutch shots is 28% coming from the restricted area.
Overall, 35% of the Lakers’ opponents’ shots, the league’s highest opponent rate, have come in the restricted area. They had the fourth highest opponent rate last season (when they had the No. 1 defense overall), but they’ve compounded the problem with the league’s highest opponent free throw rate (26.4 attempts per 100 shots from the field). That number has been highest with their reserves on the floor.
Better health will solve some of the Lakers’ problems, but it’s not clear when James will return and they could be without Anthony Davis (thumb sprain, stomach illness) against Charlotte on Monday. They’ve scored less than 87 points per 100 possessions in 64 minutes with Russell Westbrook on the floor without the other two stars.
Week 4: vs. CHA, vs. MIA, vs. MIN, vs. SAS
Pace: 102.2 (6) OffRtg: 104.6 (21) DefRtg: 100.4 (3) NetRtg: +4.1 (6)
The Clippers are alive, winning four straight games to rebound from a 1-4 start. The opponents haven’t been great and they’ve alternated ugly wins with more efficient ones, but they’ve gotten consistency from their bench. Neither Terance Mann nor Luke Kennard has started a game this season, but they’ve played as many minutes together (200) as all but one other Clipper combo (Reggie Jackson and Paul George – 252).
Kennard has shot 47% from 3-point range, Mann has filled in the gaps, and the Clips have outscored their opponents by 17.7 points per 100 possessions with the two on the floor together. That’s the second best on-court mark among 263 two-man combinations that have played at least 150 minutes total. And while it’s aided by the Clips’ 22-0, fourth quarter run (that turned a nine-point deficit into a 13-point lead) against Charlotte on Sunday, the Clips were already at their best with one or both of those guys on the floor.
The flip side is that Eric Bledsoe has an effective field goal percentage of 35.4%, the worst mark among 141 players with at least 75 field goal attempts. The Clippers have scored less than a point per possession with Bledsoe on the floor, even though 84% of his 234 minutes have come alongside Paul George.
The win over the Hornets was the start of a stretch where the Clippers are playing 12 of 14 at home, two six-game homestands sandwiching a two-game trip.
Week 4: vs. POR, vs. MIA, vs. MIN, vs. CHI
Pace: 98.8 (21) OffRtg: 104.5 (22) DefRtg: 106.3 (12) NetRtg: -1.8 (20)
Maybe Marcus Smart should have kept his comments about Jayson Tatum’s and Jaylen Brown’s passing inside the locker room. And maybe Smart (38% on 2-pointers, 28% on 3-pointers) doesn’t need to be shooting more. But the numbers regarding the Celtics’ two stars back him up. Among 41 players with a usage rate of 25% or higher, Brown (9.4 assists per 100 possessions used) and Tatum (11.0) have the third and seventh lowest assist rates. As a team, the Celtics rank 22nd in ball movement, averaging 314 passes per 24 minutes of possession (a drop from last season), according to Second Spectrum tracking. Tatum can certainly make some brilliant passes on occasion, but his overall development as a playmaker still has a ways to go.
The Celtics responded to their epic collapse against the Bulls (and Smart’s comments) by sweeping a back-to-back in Florida, holding the Magic and Heat to just 85.3 points per 100 possessions. They seem to be making real strides defensively since their first five games, though on Saturday, they fell victim to some hot mid-range shooting from the Mavs (16-for-23 on non-restricted-area 2s) and another step-back game-winner from Luka Doncic.
The Celtics are in the middle of the first of three three-day breaks this season. And their visits from the Raptors and Bucks this week are the first time they’re playing two straight home games.
Week 4: vs. TOR, vs. MIL, @ CLE
Pace: 99.9 (15) OffRtg: 107.9 (12) DefRtg: 110.2 (26) NetRtg: -2.3 (21)
Trae Young has been getting to the line more in November. His free throw rate last week (39.5 attempts per 100 shots from the field) wasn’t quite what it was last season (49.1), but it was almost double what it was through Week 2 (21.8). Of course, he’s still not shooting well inside (11-for-36 in the paint this month), a sign that he’s not getting all the calls he’s seeking.
And of course, offense isn’t the main issue for the Hawks, who have allowed 118.4 points per 100 possessions as they’ve lost five of their last six games. That is the league’s worst mark over the last 11 days. It’s been a tough stretch of schedule; They’re playing nine of their first 13 games on the road and they’re six games into a nine-game stretch against teams currently over .500. But they will need to defend better if they’re to count themselves among the elite. They rank 27th in opponent 2-point percentage (54.6%) after ranking 16th last season (53.4%).
As noted, the final three games of the Hawks’ four-game trip are tough. But a five-game homestand (their first time playing multiple home games in a row) begins Sunday, and all five of the opponents on that homestand are currently under .500.
Week 4: @ GSW, @ UTA, @ DEN, vs. MIL
Pace: 102.6 (3) OffRtg: 109.8 (7) DefRtg: 113.4 (30) NetRtg: -3.6 (23)
It’s still early enough that schedule strength and make-or-miss luck can have a big effect on where a team ranks defensively. But the Hornets didn’t look like anything better than the worst defensive team in the league when they allowed the Kings to score 140 points (on 103 possessions) on Friday. The first two of those 140 came when LaMelo Ball lunged for an offensive rebound and allowed Tyrese Haliburton to leak out for an uncontested dunk. There was ball watching, defenders getting spun around, nobody stopping the ball, no boxing out, and more bad transition defense after a made bucket on the other end. (The Hornets should know that trick.) Cody Martin was the only Hornet who seemed interested in playing defense. So, to borrow a phrase from Cole Anthony, shout to Cody Martin.
After a 5-2 start, the Hornets have lost four straight. Miles Bridges has cooled off, Terry Rozier has yet to warm up, Gordon Hayward has been a victim of Bridges’ increased usage rate, and P.J. Washington has missed the last two games with a hyperextended left elbow. They have two more games on their five-game trip and when they return home, they’ll face two top-10 offenses on Friday and Sunday.
Week 4: @ LAL, @ MEM, vs. NYK, vs. GSW
Pace: 99.0 (19) OffRtg: 108.1 (11) DefRtg: 108.7 (24) NetRtg: -0.6 (17)
Things are looking up for the much-scrutinized combination of Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner. Both bigs have come up … big … as the Pacers have won three of their last four games despite more absences for Malcolm Brogdon.
Against San Antonio on Monday, the Pacers made a season-high 18 3-pointers, but they also made the Spurs look small. They outscored them, 48-32, in the restricted area as Sabonis and Turner both took advantage of switches inside, while also out-muscling the San Antonio bigs when needed. Two nights later, Turner scored 25 points and two Sabonis-to-Turner assists sealed a wire-to-wire victory over the Knicks. And on Sunday, they combined for four steals and five blocks as the Pacers held the Kings to 40 fewer points per 100 possessions than they scored against Charlotte on Friday. In their fifth season together, the Pacers have allowed just 97.5 points per 100 possessions (and outscored their opponents by 5.9 per 100) in 194 total minutes with the two bigs on the floor.
This could be a four-game winning streak, but T.J. McConnell missed an uncontested layup for the lead with less than a minute to go in Portland on Friday. The Pacers did get their first road win in Sacramento, but the second half of their four-game trip is tough. They’re three games into a stretch where they’re playing six of seven against teams that rank in the top eight offensively, with the exception being their game against the 26th-ranked Nuggets on Wednesday.
Week 4: @ DEN, @ UTA, vs. PHI
Pace: 100.9 (11) OffRtg: 110.2 (5) DefRtg: 108.2 (22) NetRtg: +2.0 (11)
On Friday, the Kings had the most offensive efficient performance for any team this season, scoring 140 points on 103 possessions against the Hornets. It’s a make-or-miss league and they shot 50% from 3-point range (their 22 makes were a franchise record), but they also got plenty of layups and trips to the line, a night where good shots came via a combination of energy and execution (with some bad defense from the league’s worst defensive team thrown in).
Less than 48 hours later, the Kings were held under a point per possession (their worst offensive performance of the season) by a team — Indiana — that doesn’t rank much higher than the Hornets defensively. The energy and execution wasn’t there and De’Aaron Fox continued to struggle from outside the paint. They came back from a 15-point deficit, but they were stagnant and couldn’t get good looks as they shot 2-for-7 in the clutch.
The Kings still have a top-five offense overall, and their game against the Suns on Monday is their fourth straight against an opponent that (like the Kings themselves) currently ranks in the bottom 10 defensively. But Phoenix has shown improvement on that end of the floor since the Kings beat them 12 days ago.
Week 4: vs. PHX, @ SAS, @ OKC
Pace: 101.8 (8) OffRtg: 104.6 (20) DefRtg: 103.9 (8) NetRtg: +0.7 (15)
The Spurs have a top-eight defense, but that mark comes with the context that six of their 10 games have come against teams that rank in the bottom eight offensively. The highest-ranked offensive team that they’ve faced is the 11th-ranked Pacers, who had the second most efficient game for any team this season last Monday. The Spurs allowed 78 points in the first half and then yielded two layups (on the same play) on the first two possessions of the third quarter. And that game came before Jakob Poeltl was lost to health and safety protocols. The 2-2-1 press was cool, and the Spurs have held their last two opponents under a point per possession. You can only defend the teams that are on your schedule, after all.
With Poeltl out, Thaddeus Young is playing more, and he’s playing more like he did in his previous stops. Over the last three games, the Spurs have been much better with him on the floor, he’s connected on a few of his patented, Antawn-Jamison-esque, short-range flip shots, and he’s averaged 5.4 assists, 2.4 steals and 2.9 blocks per 36 minutes.
The Spurs will host the Kings’ fifth-ranked offense on Wednesday. Then they’ll play four straight games against offenses that rank no higher than 19th offensively.
Week 4: vs. SAC, vs. DAL, @ LAL
Pace: 101.9 (7) OffRtg: 100.5 (27) DefRtg: 103.9 (9) NetRtg: -3.4 (22)
If NBA games were only 24 minutes long, the Wolves would be 6-2 with the league’s No. 1 defense by a healthy margin. They’ve been the league’s second best first-half team, outscoring their opponents by 11.7 points per 100 possessions before halftime (though a 72-45 first half against Houston in the season opener is still carrying a lot of weight in that calculation).
Second halves have not been good. The Wolves have been outscored after halftime in seven of their eight games, with the cumulative second-half score of their 0-3 Week 3 being Opponents 187, Wolves 127. The drop-off has been about equal on both ends of the floor, they’ve shot worse from every area of the floor after halftime, and the defensive drop-off isn’t just about their opponents shooting better from the outside. In the first half of games, only 25% of their opponents’ shots have come in the restricted area. In the second half of games, that number is 35%. (The league average is 29%.)
After playing seven of their first eight games at home, the Wolves begin four-game trip on Monday. Opponent No. 2 on that trip (Golden State) has been the league’s best second-half team by a very large margin.
Week 4: @ MEM, @ GSW, @ LAL, @ LAC
Pace: 98.2 (27) OffRtg: 102.5 (24) DefRtg: 109.7 (25) NetRtg: -7.2 (27)
It’s very possible that this is Cole Anthony’s world, and that the rest of us are just living in it. Facts. Since a rough first two games of the season, the second-year guard has averaged 22.4 points on an effective field goal percentage of 60%, registering season highs (29, 31 and 33 points) in each of the Magic’s three wins. Facts. He has an effective field goal percentage of 61.2% percent on pull-up jumpers, the second best mark among 49 players who’ve attempted at least 50. Facts. In their win over the Jazz on Sunday, Anthony gave the Magic the lead with a pull-up over Rudy Gobert, and then put them up four by putting on the brakes against Bojan Bogdanovic. Facts. Then he topped it off with an epic on-court interview. Facts!
On the other end of the floor, the Magic no longer rank last. They allowed less than a point per possession over their four games last week, a huge improvement from the 115.4 they allowed through their first seven. Their opponents have seen big drops in how well they’ve shot both in and outside the paint. Chuma Okeke hasn’t shot well (he’s 8-for-26), but his return has been a big boost for the bench.
One of five teams that have played 11 games in 19 days, the Magic have two two-day breaks this week. But their five-game homestand ends with a couple of 7-3 teams at the Amway Center.
Week 4: vs. BKN, vs. WAS
Pace: 100.2 (12) OffRtg: 98.0 (29) DefRtg: 107.1 (18) NetRtg: -9.1 (28)
The audacious, 34-foot, pull-up 3 was the biggest highlight from the Thunder’s win in L.A., the second time in nine days that they came back from more than 18 points to beat the Lakers. But there was a lot of high-level offense from Shai Gilgeous-Alexander on Thursday, including two straight possessions (one, two) midway through the fourth quarter when he dribbled right past Anthony Davis after using a Derrick Favors ball screen. The Lakers tried double-teaming the 23 year old down the stretch and he calmly got off the ball, allowing a wide-open *Kenrich Williams to drain the go-ahead corner 3.
* As was the case last season (+7.0 points per 100 possessions), the Thunder have outscored their opponents (+4.2) with Gilgeous-Alexander and Williams on the floor together. But they’re probably waiting until the playoffs to give such a consistently good combo more minutes.
Gilgeous-Alexander shot just 5-for-16 against the Spurs on Sunday, but he had nine assists and the Thunder held their opponent under a point per possession for the first time. The Spurs attempted 100 shots from the field, but had just nine free throw attempts, pushing the Thunder to No. 1 in opponent free throw rate (16.2 attempts per 100 shots from the field). The defense hasn’t been very good with Darius Bazley on the floor, but his 0.7 fouls per 36 minutes are the fewest among 309 players who’ve played at least 75 minutes total.
The Thunder have won two straight games, and they visit the 1-9 Pelicans on Wednesday. The last time they won three straight was Games 7-9 of last season.
Week 4: @ NOP, vs. SAC, vs. BKN
Pace: 98.6 (24) OffRtg: 96.5 (30) DefRtg: 108.4 (23) NetRtg: -11.9 (30)
The Pistons have the league’s worst point differential (-12.3 per game), but they were pretty competitive against both the Sixers and Nets in a Thursday-Friday back-to-back last week, though the two games were entirely different in regard to scoring efficiency on both ends of the floor. The Pistons have had some serious third-quarter issues — losing the third period by a total of 40 points over their last four games — but Cory Joseph and Cade Cunningham led a fourth-quarter push to make things interesting against Brooklyn.
Cunningham missed his first 18 3-point attempts and his jumper does look shaky. His first make came in a no-time-to-think situation, but he followed it up with by shaking Matisse Thybulle with an in-and-out dribble and finishing around Joel Embiid (gif’d below). The following night, he took it to both James Harden and Kevin Durant. With his size and as he gets more reps under his belt, he should quickly improve on his 8-for-25 shooting in the paint.
Cunningham sat the second game of the Pistons’ first back-to-back, but he played both ends on Thursday and Friday. So he should be available for all three games this week, when the Pistons and the No. 1 pick visit the second, third and fourth picks of the 2021 Draft in that order.
Week 4: @ HOU, @ CLE, @ TOR
Pace: 99.9 (14) OffRtg: 101.8 (25) DefRtg: 112.5 (28) NetRtg: -10.7 (29)
The (good?) news on Zion Williamson that came last Monday is that he’ll get more scans on his foot in couple of weeks. Brandon Ingram, meanwhile, could be back this week after missing the last four games with a hip contusion. Without their stars, things obviously aren’t going to be easy for the Pelicans. But one thing they could conceivably do without Ingram and Williamson is defend at a level that doesn’t have them in the bottom five on that end of the floor.
Unfortunately, the only thing they’ve done well defensively is rebound. And unfortunately, when the opponent makes most of its shots, a team’s ability to rebound the misses isn’t as important. Each of the Pelicans’ last five opponents have shot 50% or better from the field, combining to shoot 65% in the paint. The Pelicans do prevent shots in the restricted area pretty well, but their drop coverage has allowed a league-high 23.1 points per game from pick-and-roll ball-handlers.
The Pels finish off their four-game trip on Monday, facing a team that employs a pretty potent pick-and-roll ball-handler.
Week 4: @ DAL, vs. OKC, vs. BKN, vs. MEM
Pace: 103.6 (2) OffRtg: 100.2 (28) DefRtg: 107.3 (19) NetRtg: -7.1 (26)
The Rockets’ earned their first clutch time of the season last week, taking both the Lakers and Nuggets down to the wire on the road. Jalen Green brought rain with a step-back 3 over Anthony Davis that gave them a chance in L.A., but Kevin Porter Jr. was 0-for-4 on clutch shots, missing the game-winner against the Lakers and a mid-range pull-up for the lead with less than a minute to go in Denver.
Daryl Morey, Mike D’Antoni, James Harden and Ben McLemore (he of the near-perfect season) are all gone, but the Rockets rank 29th (ahead of only the Jazz) in the percentage of their shots (7%) that have come from mid-range. Alas, they rank 28th offensively, with their starting lineup having scored a paltry 81.7 points per 100 possessions, 20 fewer than any of the other 11 lineups that have played at least 100 minutes. The Rockets have scored 102.3 per 100 (not good, but not startlingly anemic) in 171 minutes with Christian Wood on the floor without Daniel Theis.
There are three teams that enter Week 4 with only one win. The Rockets will host one of the other two on Wednesday.
Week 4: vs. DET, vs. POR, vs. PHX