Power Rankings

Power Rankings, Week 7: Warriors, Suns on top before 2 matchups this week

See where all 30 teams rank after the first six weeks of the 2021-22 season.

Steph Curry and Chris Paul are set to face off twice during Week 7.

We’ve made it to the quarter pole of the 2021-22 season. Through Sunday, 304 (24.7%) of 1,230 games are in the books, with teams having averaged a little more than 20 games played.

Before the 2019-20 season, we broke down what a team’s record through 20 games says about the likelihood it makes the playoffs in a full, 82-game season. Basically, 86% of the teams that won at least 11 of their first 20 games went on to make the playoffs, while 87% of the teams that won fewer than nine of their first 20 did not.

We haven’t had an 82-game season since that breakdown, and things are different with the Play-In Tournament. But the Play-In still heavily favors the teams that finish seventh and eighth in the standings.

Another thing that could be different this year: It might be more difficult to make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference than it is in the West. The West has had a better record than the East in 22 of the last 23 seasons, but the East is off to a strong start this year (see below). Through Sunday, nine of the 14 teams that have winning records are in the East.

Of course, the teams with the two best records are in the West. They’re the top two in the Power Rankings, and they’re playing each other twice this week. Christmas has come early.

(The Suns and Warriors are playing each other on Christmas, too.)

Plus-Minus Players of the Week

Teams of the Week

  • Make It Last Forever: Warriors (3-0) — The Warriors played three solid teams and beat them all by at least 15 points.
  • Something Just Ain’t Right: Orlando (0-4) — The Magic trailed the Bucks by as many as 51 points and the Bulls by as many as 38.

East vs. West

Schedule strength through Week 6

  • Toughest: 1. New Orleans, 2. Cleveland, 3. Houston
  • Easiest: 1. Utah, 2. Phoenix, 3. Golden State
  • 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: Dallas (+5), Milwaukee (+5), Minnesota (+4), New York (+4)
  • Free falls of the week: Denver (-8), Chicago (-3), Cleveland (-3)

Week 7 Team to Watch

  • Charlotte The Hornets are 7-2 at home, but have had some stumbles on the road, and they’re coming off an overtime loss in Houston on Saturday. The rest of their current trip is three big games within the Eastern Conference. They’re in Chicago on Monday, in Milwaukee on Wednesday and in Atlanta on Sunday.

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 99.1 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes and 107.5 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.

Last Week:1

Record: 18-2
Pace: 100.4 (6) OffRtg: 113.0 (2) DefRtg: 99.4 (1) NetRtg: +13.6 (1)

The Suns have won 16 straight games and the Warriors have been better, both offensively (114.8 vs. 112.4 points scored per 100 possessions) and defensively (98.4 vs. 101.2 allowed per 100), over the course of the streak. Their only loss over the last 31 days came by four points, and 13 of their 14 wins over that stretch have come by 13 points or more. Over the 15 games, the Warriors have outscored their opponents by an amazing 34.5 points per 100 possessions in the third quarter. For the season, their third-quarter differential (plus-29.0 per 100) is almost double the differential for any other team in any quarter, with Indiana’s plus-15.0 in the first quarter being the next best.

Both teams had quality road wins over the weekend, with the Suns coming out strong in Brooklyn on Saturday and the Warriors overwhelming the Clippers in the second half on Sunday. But overall, neither has played a very difficult schedule over these last 31 days. The Warriors’ last 15 games (cumulative opponent winning percentage of .463) have been a little tougher than the Suns’ last 16 (.441), but Golden State’s slate has also been more home-heavy (10/15) than that of Phoenix (8/16).

So how about we settle this on the floor? The Warriors and Suns will meet for the first time this season on Tuesday in Phoenix. Then they’ll be back at it three nights later in San Francisco, the second game of a back-to-back for the Suns.

Week 7: @ PHX, vs. PHX, vs. SAS

Last Week:2

Record: 17-3
Pace: 101.4 (4) OffRtg: 110.8 (7) DefRtg: 103.7 (3) NetRtg: +7.1 (3)

It’s kind of remarkable that the Suns, having reached The Finals in July, have been able to stay focused on the task at hand from night to night early in the season. They’ve played some close games against bad and shorthanded teams, but there should be minimal nitpicking of a 16-game winning streak.

The Suns’ third-ranked defense isn’t one that allows itself to get into rotation much. According to Second Spectrum, they rank last in the percentage of ball screens (3%) that they’ve defended with “blitz” or “show” coverage. But they chose to put themselves into rotation several times against the Knicks on Friday, doubling Julius Randle when he ventured near the paint and rotating from there. For the most part, the results were good.

Chris Paul said afterward that head coach Monty Williams asked the players how they wanted to defend Randle. They chose to bring two to the ball and Jae Crowder (Randle’s primary defender) was cool with it.

“That’s trust,” Paul said. “That’s the fun thing about being on a team where it’s not about one person, it’s not about an individual. It’s about the team.”

And it’s really trust on two levels: Williams’ trust in his players to make game-plan decisions and the double-teamer’s trust that his teammates will make the proper rotations behind him.

In the 25 seasons prior to this one, 24 teams had won at least 17 of their first 20 games. Nine of those 24 had reached The Finals the previous season, while 11 of the 24 would reach The Finals in the season they won at least 17 of their first 20. This season, we have two teams that have won at least 17 of their first 20 games, they both can’t reach The Finals, and they’ll face each other twice this week.

Chris Paul is 22-28 in his career (13-19 in the regular season, 9-9 in the playoffs) against Stephen Curry. Neither of them guarded each other much last season – Mikal Bridges guarded Curry, while Curry spent most of his time guarding the Suns’ forwards – but the point guard matchup is still one we need to enjoy while it lasts.

Week 7: vs. GSW, vs. DET, @ GSW

Last Week:4

Record: 14-6
Pace: 100.4 (7) OffRtg: 109.0 (12) DefRtg: 105.0 (7) NetRtg: +4.0 (6)

The Nets continue to have issues at the start of games. They actually had a lead after the first six minutes in Boston on Wednesday, but the Celtics (-2.6 per game) are one of only four teams that have been worse than Brooklyn (-1.9) in the first six minutes of the first quarter. The Nets have been able to recover against not-so-great teams (they erased a 12-point, second-half deficit in Cleveland on Monday), but their deficit after six minutes against Phoenix on Saturday (they trailed 21-8) was their biggest of the season, and they never cut what became a 22-point deficit to less than five.

Blake Griffin has the worst effective field goal percentage (24.1%) among 131 players with at least 25 field goal attempts in the first six minutes of the first quarter. He’s been DNP’d the last two games (replaced by LaMarcus Aldridge in the starting lineup), but James Harden has the third worst mark (31.0%) among those 131 players. And the Nets’ seventh-ranked defense has been at its worst (113.0 points allowed per 100 possessions, 26th in the league) in the first quarter.

The player with the best effective field goal percentage on at least 25 field goal attempts in the first six minutes of the first quarter is Joe Harris (92.6%), who has missed the last six games with a sprained ankle. It’s not clear if Harris will be back this week, but the Nets are in the middle of a stretch where they’re playing just two games in eight days. It ends with a Friday-Saturday back-to-back at Barclays Center, with the Bulls having a rest advantage for the second time (in two meetings) against the Nets.

Week 7: vs. NYK, vs. MIN, vs. CHI

Last Week:5

Record: 13-7
Pace: 97.2 (26) OffRtg: 110.5 (8) DefRtg: 104.4 (4) NetRtg: +6.1 (4)

Since their 6-1 start in which they outscored their opponents by more than 16 points per 100 possessions, the Heat are just 7-6 and plus-0.3 per 100. Playing in Minnesota on the second night of a back-to-back on Wednesday, they led by as many as 12 points, but scored a paltry 39 points on 52 second half possessions. It was the second time in three games that they lost after leading by double-digits.

But there have been some quality wins in that 7-6 stretch and overall, the Heat are 8-3 in games played between the 14 teams that have winning records through Week 6. That’s two more wins than any other team and the Miami offense has been much better in those 11 games (114.4 points scored per 100 possessions) than it’s been otherwise (106.0). Jimmy Butler (24.3 points per game) and Tyler Herro (21.9) have been the leading scorers against the good teams, but they’ve each missed two of the 11 games. Gabe Vincent filled in for Herro in Chicago on Saturday and scored 16 of the Heat’s 35 fourth-quarter points as they edged the Bulls.

The Heat will face some struggling teams this week before visiting the Bucks (the second game of a back-to-back) on Saturday. It’s the first meeting since the Heat thumped the champs (scoring 137 points on 107 possessions) in their season opener.

Week 7: vs. DEN, vs. CLE, @ IND, @ MIL

Last Week:10

Record: 13-8
Pace: 100.0 (9) OffRtg: 109.2 (11) DefRtg: 105.7 (12) NetRtg: +3.5 (7)

The Bucks are 7-0 since Khris Middleton returned to the lineup and 9-0 on the season when they’ve had Middleton, Jrue Holiday and Giannis Antetokounmpo available. Two weeks ago, they were 6-8. Now, they’re just two games in the loss column behind the first-place Nets and they’ve had the league’s best defense (98.9 points allowed per 100 possessions) over the seven-game winning streak.

The last five games have also been the Bucks’ best offensive stretch of the season (118.2 scored per 100). They’re not just winning games; They’ve led each of the last six by at least 20 points, and over the last five, they’ve trailed for a grand total of 183 seconds.

But the schedule has been weak, especially when you consider that the Nuggets were without Nikola Jokic on Friday. The best (current) record among the seven opponents on the winning streak belongs to the 11-11 Lakers and four of the seven wins have come against teams with fewer than seven wins. So this week’s slate – two opponents with winning records and a rest-disadvantage game in Toronto – will be a good test.

Bobby Portis has averaged 17.9 points on an effective field goal percentage of 66% over the winning streak, but the Bucks are reportedly set to sign DeMarcus Cousins, which makes one wonder about Brook Lopez’s recovery from the back issue that has had him out since opening night.

Week 7: vs. CHA, @ TOR, vs. MIA

Last Week:3

Record: 13-8
Pace: 99.2 (13) OffRtg: 108.9 (13) DefRtg: 104.7 (5) NetRtg: +4.3 (5)

The Bulls have hit their first rough stretch of the season. They’ve lost three of their last four games, with a 32-point loss to the Pacers and the surprising end to the Rockets’ 15-game losing streak included. DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine have continued to provide pretty consistent offense, but Lonzo Ball (0-for-7 against Indiana) and Nikola Vucevic (3-for-9 against Miami on Saturday) haven’t provided enough support. Coby White scored 20 points on 9-for-11 shooting in Orlando on Friday, but is otherwise off to a slow start after missing the first 13 games of the season.

Over the three losses last week, the Bulls were outscored by 28 points (scoring just 67 points on 86 offensive possessions) in 41 minutes with DeRozan on the bench. His on-off differential for the season is now 22.6 points per 100 possessions, about even on offense and defense. Alex Caruso has generally been a plus-minus star in his career, but the Bulls have even been outscored by 11.4 per 100 in his 149 minutes with DeRozan off the floor.

The losses to Indiana and Miami were both the second games of back-to-backs. The Bulls won’t have another back-to-back until Dec. 19 and 20 and they’ll have a rest advantage when they visit the Nets on Saturday. Before they get to Brooklyn, they’ll play the two teams directly behind them in the standings, so it’s a good week to see if the Bulls are truly back.

Week 7: vs. CHA, @ NYK, @ BKN

Last Week:7

Record: 13-7
Pace: 98.3 (20) OffRtg: 114.2 (1) DefRtg: 105.0 (8) NetRtg: +9.1 (2)

Last season, the Jazz lost two straight home games only once, and that was their first two home games of the season. This season, they’ve lost two straight home games twice, with their four total losses at Vivint Arena being just one fewer than they had all of last year. Their point differential at home remains strong, but they lost two one-point games to two not-so-good teams (Memphis and New Orleans) last week, with Jaren Jackson Jr. and Devonte’ Graham draining game-winning 3s in the closing seconds.

Donovan Mitchell missed a step-back attempt for the win after the Jackson shot, but his clutch usage rate (31.5%) isn’t as high as it was last season (40.5%). For the second straight season, the Jazz have mostly finished close games with their starters on the floor and Joe Ingles on the bench. At 34, Ingles has seen not-insignificant drops in minutes per game (from 27.9 to 24.7), usage rate (from 16.2% to 12.2%), and true shooting percentage (from 67.2% to 62.3%).

With Royce O’Neale out on Saturday, Ingles got the start and the Jazz got some revenge by blowing out the Pels (with their most efficient offensive performance of the season) in the second game of their two-game series. Their games this week against the Blazers (1-9 on the road) and Celtics (6-6) are the end of a stretch where the Jazz will have played 10 of 12 games at home. A four-game trip begins in Cleveland on Sunday.

Week 7: vs. POR, vs. BOS, @ CLE

Last Week:6

Record: 13-7
Pace: 98.0 (22) OffRtg: 106.6 (19) DefRtg: 105.6 (11) NetRtg: +1.1 (14)

With their loss to Charlotte on Monday (their first loss in a game that was within five points in the last five minutes), the Wizards weirdly have (and are the only team with) more losses within their division (3-4) than they do outside it (10-3). They’ve scored just 96.4 points per 100 possessions over their two losses to the Hornets, who rank 24th defensively. And because the Pelicans are kind of in the Southeast too, the Wizards lost to them on Wednesday, getting blown out in what was just the Pels’ fourth win of the season. The Wiz have the league’s second worst turnover differential (+3.1 per game) and over the two losses, they committed 16 more turnovers than their opponents (37-21).

They committed 13 more turnovers than their opponents over their Friday-Saturday back-to-back, but got back to winning close games, with Bradley Beal, Daniel Gafford and Kyle Kuzma combining to shoot 9-for-11 on clutch shots in Oklahoma City and Dallas. Spencer Dinwiddie leads the team with 27 points scored in the clutch (on 10-for-20 shooting), but the Wizards have been much more efficient offensively with Bradley Beal on the floor without Dinwiddie (109.0 points scored per 100 possessions) than they’ve been with the two starting guards on the floor together (97.5). Playing without Dinwiddie in Dallas on Saturday, they had their most efficient game (120 points on 95 possessions) since Week 1.

Good news for the Wizards: Their next game within the Southeast Division isn’t until after Christmas, and they now play six straight against teams that are .500 or below.

Week 7: @ SAS, vs. MIN, vs. CLE, @ TOR

Last Week:14

Record: 10-8
Pace: 97.1 (27) OffRtg: 107.2 (17) DefRtg: 108.8 (19) NetRtg: -1.6 (21)

With the Mavs’ original starting lineup having been outscored by 16.3 points per 100 possessions (the third worst mark among 25 lineups that have played at least 100 minutes), Willie Cauley-Stein replaced Dwight Powell in the lineup last week. But Cauley-Stein played just 27 minutes and the Mavs were outscored by 16 points per 100 possessions in 46 total minutes with one of the two centers on the floor over their two games.

They still got an important win in L.A. on Tuesday (as Luka Doncic returned from a three-game absence), getting 30 points (including six in overtime) from Kristaps Porzingis. He played big, taking advantage of switches and scoring 24 of the 30 points in the paint (where he shot 7-for-11) or at the free throw line (10-for-10). The Clippers blitzed or doubled Doncic quite a bit in the fourth quarter and overtime, and the Mavs took advantage, swinging the ball to open shooters. They were more efficient against Washington on Saturday, but they allowed the Wizards to shoot 58% and score 42 points in the restricted area.

The Mavs are one of two teams – the Spurs are the other – that have played just 18 games. Their schedule starts to get busier (seven games in 11 days) with a Friday-Saturday back-to-back where they’re hosting the Pelicans and Grizzlies. They’re 5-0 within the Southwest Division thus far.

Week 7: vs. CLE, @ NOP, vs. NOP, vs. MEM

Last Week:8

Record: 11-9
Pace: 100.1 (8) OffRtg: 104.4 (25) DefRtg: 102.2 (2) NetRtg: +2.2 (9)

We knew there would be a drop-off without Kawhi Leonard. And maybe the Clippers’ 3-point percentage from last season – 41.1%, fourth best in NBA history – was too good to be duplicated. But through Sunday, the Clips have seen the league’s biggest drop in offensive efficiency by a wide margin, having scored 12.3 fewer points per 100 possessions than they did last season. (The next biggest drop is Denver’s 9.9 per 100.)

Shooting is the most important thing in this league, and the Clips have seen the league’s third biggest drop in effective field goal percentage. But along with that, they’ve seen its fifth biggest drop in offensive rebounding percentage (which matters more when more of their shots are rebound-able) and its sixth biggest jump in turnover rate. They committed an amazing 25 turnovers against the Warriors on Sunday, giving them more games of 20 or more (5) than they had all of last season (4).

The Clips had a good stretch of offense earlier this month, but they’ve scored fewer points per 100 possessions than the league average (107.5) in seven of their last eight games (including each of the last five). And the Warriors were just the second better-than-average defensive team that they faced over that stretch. They won’t face another in their next five games, with four of the five against teams – New Orleans, Sacramento (x2) and Portland – that rank in the bottom five defensively.

Week 7: vs. NOP, vs. SAC, @ LAL, @ SAC

Last Week:9

Record: 11-10
Pace: 97.9 (23) OffRtg: 106.0 (21) DefRtg: 104.9 (6) NetRtg: +1.1 (13)

Robert Williams III has always tempted with his talent, and he’s always had trouble staying on the floor, playing just 113 total games through his first three seasons in the league. This season, he’s played just 14 of 21, having missed the last three with an illness.

In his absence, the Celtics’ starting lineups (Grant Williams in his place against Brooklyn and Toronto, Dennis Schroder against San Antonio) have been outscored by 42 points (69 per 100 possessions) in less than 40 total minutes over the three games. For the season, the quartet of Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and Al Horford has played 133 minutes together, outscoring opponents by 21.1 points per 100 possessions in 64 minutes with Robert Williams as the fifth guy and getting outscored by 39.3 per 100 in 69 minutes with somebody else in that spot.

The Celtics still got a win on Sunday, getting a lift from a bench that has struggled (it ranks 22nd in aggregate point differential per 100 possessions) for most of the season. Enes Kanter (Freedom) has started to get some burn over the last couple of weeks, he leads the league in offensive rebounding percentage, and the Celtics outscored the Spurs and Raptors by 43 points in his 40 minutes over the weekend.

Joel Embiid made it back in time for the Sixers’ first meeting with the team that he’s faced the most in his career. Though the Sixers won all three games last season, Embiid is 8-15 (including playoffs) in his career against the Celtics, who head out on a five-game trip after hosting Philly on Wednesday.

Week 7: vs. PHI, @ UTA, @ POR

Last Week:15

Record: 13-9
Pace: 101.8 (3) OffRtg: 110.9 (6) DefRtg: 110.3 (24) NetRtg: +0.5 (15)

The Hornets’ defense still has some issues. They made 20 3s and scored 143 points on 110 possessions on Saturday, but that’s now the most efficient offensive performance for any team in a loss this season, because the Hornets allowed the Rockets to make 23 3s and score 146 on 109. The Hornets are now 0-5 in the second games of back-to-backs, having allowed 119.4 points per 100 possessions over the five games. Otherwise, they’re 13-4, having allowed 107.5 per 100.

No matter the circumstances, a loss to Houston isn’t easy to digest. But the Hornets have won eight of their last 10 games overall, and the last five have been their best stretch of offense this season (116.6 points scored per 100). Five different Hornets have averaged more than 13 points over the five games, and that doesn’t include P.J. Washington, who returned from a 10-game absence on Wednesday and then totaled 30 points in his first two starts of the season (replacing the injured Mason Plumlee over the weekend).

The Hornets’ next back-to-back is Sunday (at Atlanta) and next Monday (vs. Philadelphia). Before they get to that, they visit the two teams directly ahead of them in the Eastern Conference standings. It’s their first meetings of the season with both the Bulls (Ball vs. Ball) and the Bucks.

Week 7: @ CHI, @ MIL, @ ATL

Last Week:11

Record: 10-10
Pace: 96.2 (30) OffRtg: 111.0 (5) DefRtg: 109.8 (23) NetRtg: +1.3 (11)

The Sixers went 2-7 over Joel Embiid’s nine-game absence and, when he returned to action on Saturday, they were outscored by 12 points (allowing 34 on 25 defensive possessions) in his 12:34 off the floor in what was a one-point loss in double-overtime. For the season, they’ve allowed 10.1 fewer points per 100 possessions with Embiid on the floor (102.3) than they have with him off the floor (112.4). Some of that is the opponents shooting much worse at the rim (62% vs. 68% in the restricted area), and some of it is them shooting less efficient shots.

What’s most important is that Embiid is healthy and available. That he scored an efficient 42 points in 45:26 against a top-10 defense on Saturday is rather remarkable. Most of the rest of the Sixers’ rotation was also back in action (only Shake Milton missed the loss to the Wolves) and after 20 games, this team can hit the reset button (which it will need to use again at some point).

Embiid’s return should help the Sixers climb out of the bottom 10 in defensive efficiency. They’ll play two bottom-10 offenses on Monday and Wednesday before beginning a stretch of seven straight games against teams that currently rank in the top 10 offensively.

Week 7: vs. ORL, @ BOS, @ ATL

Last Week:18

Record: 11-9
Pace: 97.4 (25) OffRtg: 107.8 (16) DefRtg: 108.0 (17) NetRtg: -0.2 (18)

The Knicks have alternated wins and losses over their last eight games and they couldn’t hang with the Suns on Friday, losing all four quarters and trailing by as many as 24 points. But they’ve held their opponent under a point per possession in each of their last four wins and have had a top-10 defense (104.6 allowed per 100) over the last two weeks. They blew a 25-point lead to the LeBron-less Lakers on Tuesday, but held L.A. to just 19 points on 5-for-19 shooting in the fourth quarter to stay above .500.

And their victory in Atlanta on Saturday, in which they held the Hawks’ third-ranked offense to just 90 points on 92 possessions, was probably the Knicks’ best win since they started the season 5-1. Both teams were playing the second game of a back-to-back, but Atlanta had the shorter travel distance and the Knicks were shorthanded. Their bench was without its best player (Derrick Rose) and its most important defender (Nerlens Noel), and it was comprised of two rookies and two second-year guys. But it still made the difference, as the Knicks outscored the Hawks by 18 points in a little less than 23 minutes with at least two reserves on the floor.

The first Knicks-Nets meeting of the season is Tuesday at Barclays Center (7:30 p.m. ET, TNT), a nice warm-up for Warriors-Suns. Brooklyn swept the series last season, but two of the three games went down to the wire.

Week 7: @ BKN, vs. CHI, vs. DEN

Last Week:17

Record: 11-10
Pace: 98.4 (19) OffRtg: 112.2 (3) DefRtg: 109.5 (22) NetRtg: +2.7 (8)

The Hawks won their first seven games after De’Andre Hunter was lost to a wrist injury, and their new starting lineup (with Kevin Huerter in Hunter’s place) outscored opponents by an amazing 34.9 points per 100 possessions in its 115 minutes over that stretch. It was particularly strong (+35 in 41 minutes) in the third quarter, and the Hawks won the third by a cumulative score of 108-54 in wins over the Thunder, Spurs and Grizzlies last week.

But the Hawks lost both starter Bogdan Bogdanovic (sprained ankle) and reserve Cam Reddish (sprained left wrist) in the first half against New York on Saturday. They were up five early in the third quarter, but were outscored, 29-13, over the final 8:45 of the period by the Knicks, who had been the league’s seventh worst third quarter team through Friday. Solomon Hill started the second half in place of Bogdanovic, but probably shouldn’t be on your fantasy radar; He ranks last in usage rate (6.5%) among 352 players who’ve played at least 100 minutes.

With the loss, the Hawks are 1-4 in the second game of back-to-backs and 10-6 otherwise. They’re in the middle of their first three-day break of the season and have just two back-to-backs over the next 6 1/2 weeks. The first of those two is Sunday (vs. Charlotte) and next Monday (at Minnesota).

Week 7: @ IND, vs. PHI, vs. CHA

Last Week:13

Record: 10-10
Pace: 97.8 (24) OffRtg: 105.5 (23) DefRtg: 105.1 (9) NetRtg: +0.5 (16)

Evan Mobley’s 2-4-week timetable for his elbow sprain turned out to be exactly 14 days, and he returned to help the Cavs end a five-game losing streak on Saturday, scoring 13 points and blocking four shots (the first block was rather ridiculous) in 33 minutes against Orlando. The last three games of the losing streak were the Cavs’ worst three-game stretch of defense (115.6 points allowed per 100 possessions) of the season, and with Mobley back in uniform, they held the Magic to just 92 on 96.

The context is that those three losses came against the Warriors, Nets and Suns, and that the Magic rank 27th offensively. But the Cleveland defense has been at its best (99.5 allowed per 100) with Mobley on the floor, and it’s been a little better than that (allowed just 98.2 per 100) in 157 total minutes with the rookie playing alongside Lauri Markkanen and Jarrett Allen. Saturday was the first time since Nov. 1 that the three bigs (the big three?) played together.

The Orlando win was the end of a stretch where the Cavs played eight of nine games at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse. They’re 5-4 on the road, but their three opponents on this week’s trip are a combined 19-5 at home.

Week 7: @ DAL, @ MIA, @ WAS, vs. UTA

Last Week:21

Record: 10-10
Pace: 99.9 (11) OffRtg: 106.9 (18) DefRtg: 105.4 (10) NetRtg: +1.5 (10)

An adductor injury to Patrick Beverley has temporarily disbanded what has been the league’s best starting lineup (+48.3 points per 100 possessions in 92 minutes). And without Beverley on Friday, the Wolves had their worst defensive game of the season (133 points allowed on 104 possessions), allowing the Hornets to shoot 56% and make nine corner 3s. Only Toronto (33%) has allowed its opponents to take a greater percentage of their 3-point attempts from the corners than Minnesota (31%).

But the Wolves came back and won a rest-disadvantage game in Philly, outlasting the Sixers in double-overtime in what may have been D’Angelo Russell’s best game with Minnesota. He scored 35 points, shot 5-for-8 in the clutch (with two huge 3s in the first OT), and came up with the steal that led to Taurean Prince’s game-winning bucket. Russell is one of 19 players who’ve attempted at least 200 clutch shots over the last four seasons (since 2018-19, regular season only), and he has the best clutch effective field goal percentage (54.3%) among those 19 guys.

The Wolves have won six of their last seven games, ranking in the top five in both offensive and defensive efficiency over that 12-day stretch. They have another chance to climb above .500 when they host the Pacers on Monday. They’re 5-3 against the 10 teams that enter Week 7 with losing records.

Week 7: vs. IND, @ WAS, @ BKN

Last Week:16

Record: 10-10
Pace: 98.9 (17) OffRtg: 111.6 (4) DefRtg: 111.5 (28) NetRtg: +0.1 (17)

The Blazers’ home-road discrepancy only got bigger last week. They’ve won nine straight games at the Moda Center, having taken care of business against the Jokic-less Nuggets on Tuesday. That win came with Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum combining for 57 points on an effective field goal percentage of 84.4%, easily their best combined mark of the season. But they then dropped to 1-9 on the road (the only win was over the Rockets), allowing the Kings and Warriors to score almost 123 points per 100 possessions over the first two games of their trip. Lillard and McCollum combined to shoot 34% over the two games and commit three costly turnovers down the stretch in Sacramento.

The Blazers’ have the league’s third biggest home-road differential on offense, having scored 11.2 more points per 100 possessions at home. And they have biggest home-road differential on defense, having allowed 11.9 more per 100 on the road. They’ve allowed more than 120 per 100 in seven of their 10 road games, having played only slightly tougher opponents on the road (cumulative winning percentage of .547) than they have at home (.519).

That strength-of-schedule differential will widen this week. The Blazers’ three-game trip ends Monday in Utah. Then they’re home for 15 of their next 19 games, a stretch that takes them into mid-January.

Week 7: @ UTA, vs. DET, vs. SAS, vs. BOS

Last Week:19

Record: 11-11
Pace: 101.9 (2) OffRtg: 105.6 (22) DefRtg: 108.5 (18) NetRtg: -2.9 (24)

Though the Lakers are tied for the most games played (22) through Week 6, their most-used lineup has played just 51 minutes, the lowest total for any team’s most-used five-man unit, and that lineup doesn’t include LeBron James. Their second most-used lineup (47 minutes) includes James, but also Kent Bazemore, who’s been DNP’d in each of the last five games. So you might say that the Lakers are suffering from a lack of continuity; Both James (suspension) and Anthony Davis (illness) missed games last week.

Frank Vogel did start the same lineup – Russell Westbrook, Avery Bradley, James, Davis and DeAndre Jordan – in their two games over the weekend, but it would be a shock if that group was ever on the floor together in clutch time. It was mostly Malik Monk and Carmelo Anthony alongside the three stars as the Lakers played three overtimes against the Kings on Friday.

More important than the two guys around them is that this team figures out how the three stars work together. At this point, the Lakers have been better with only one of the three on the floor (+4.6 points per 100 possessions in 313 total minutes) than they’ve been with two (-5.9 in 528 minutes) or all three (-2.1 in 195 minutes). Offense remains a struggle and it may be that they just don’t match up well vs. other starting groups, but can do some damage against second units.

This Wednesday and Thursday is the Lakers’ first multi-day break since Week 1. And after they play the Clippers on Friday, they’ll have their first three-day break of the season. James is 3-4 against the Clippers since coming to L.A.

Week 7: @ SAC, vs. LAC

Last Week:12

Record: 9-10
Pace: 96.4 (29) OffRtg: 106.4 (20) DefRtg: 107.5 (15) NetRtg: -1.1 (20)

The good news is that, as the Nuggets continue to wait for Nikola Jokic’s return from a wrist injury and with Michael Porter Jr. set to undergo another back surgery, they’re playing just five games over a 14-day stretch. So for now, it’s only a six-game losing streak (two losses with Jokic, four without him) and not something worse. But that’s all the good news there is.

The Nuggets have ranked last defensively (121.4 points allowed per 100 possessions) over the losing streak. It’s been a tough stretch of schedule (including games against three top-seven offenses and the improving Bucks), but they were also due for some improved 3-point shooting (32.1% through their first 13 games, 36.8% over the last six) from their opponents. They’ve slid from second to 15th in defensive efficiency and from third place to 10th in the Western Conference over the last two weeks. And the last three games, with the Nuggets being outscored 108-77 in the first quarter, haven’t been close.

The worst news is that P.J. Dozier suffered a torn ACL in Portland on Tuesday. The Nuggets’ bench has not been good – Denver has been outscored by more than 27 points per 100 possessions in 164 minutes with Jeff and JaMychal Green on the floor together – and it just got thinner, with their longest road trip of the season (seven games over 13 days) beginning Monday.

Week 7: @ MIA, @ ORL, @ NYK

Last Week:22

Record: 9-13
Pace: 98.1 (21) OffRtg: 108.1 (15) DefRtg: 107.0 (13) NetRtg: +1.1 (12)

T.J. Warren remains on the shelf, but the Pacers have been otherwise healthy for six straight games, which is a pretty long stretch for any team, especially this one. Their newest starting lineup (with Justin Holiday) has been solid (plus-18.8 points per 100 possessions in 80 total minutes) and they handed the Bulls their worst loss of the season on Monday. But a 32-point win is worth the same in the standings as a one-point escape, and the Pacers are now 9-13 with the point differential of a team that’s 12-10.

Having blown a nine-point, fourth-quarter lead to the Lakers on Wednesday and shot 2-for-11 in overtime, Indy is 3-10 (only the Pelicans and Spurs have been worse) in games that were within five points in the last five minutes. They’ve scored less than 90 points per 100 possessions (103 on 116) in the clutch, having shot just 33% with the score within five in the last five. Duarte was 0-for-6 in that OT vs. L.A. (after hitting a ridiculous shot to tie the game and not getting the foul call), but six different Pacers have attempted at least 10 clutch shots and none of them have shot them well.

Maybe that the Pacers are 6-3 in games that weren’t within five points in the last five minutes portends future success. Their longest homestand of the season (six games) begins Wednesday, but all six opponents have winning records.

Week 7: @ MIN, vs. ATL, vs. MIA

Last Week:20

Record: 9-12
Pace: 96.6 (28) OffRtg: 109.7 (9) DefRtg: 110.5 (25) NetRtg: -0.8 (19)

The Raptors continue to struggle defensively, with rebounding now as big a problem as any other on that end of the floor. In losses to the Pacers and Celtics over the weekend, they allowed their opponents to total 29 offensive boards and 43 second chance points. The Raps now rank in the bottom five in three of the four factors on defense: opponent effective field goal percentage (27th), opponent free throw rate (26th) and defensive rebounding percentage (28th). Minnesota (30th in each of the last two of those) is the only other team in the bottom five in more than one of the four categories. The Raps certainly miss OG Anunoby, but this defensive slide began before he was lost to a hip pointer.

The schedule might be partially to blame. The Raptors’ last seven games have been a six-game road trip (in which all six opponents had better-than-average offenses) and the dreaded first game after a six-game road trip. Their loss to Boston on Sunday was the start of their longest homestand of the season – seven games over 16 days, with three two-day breaks – and an extended stretch where they’re playing 17 of 21 at Scotiabank Arena. Of course, the Raps are just 2-7 at home to date.

They rank 30th defensively over the last 25 days, and the only other team in the Raptors’ vicinity over that stretch is the one they beat (with their most efficient offensive performance of the season) last week. They’ll finish the season series with the Grizzlies on Tuesday.

Week 7: vs. MEM, vs. MIL, vs. WAS

Last Week:23

Record: 10-10
Pace: 99.8 (12) OffRtg: 109.6 (10) DefRtg: 114.8 (30) NetRtg: -5.2 (25)

There have been 11 instances this season where a team has allowed more than 130 points per 100 possessions in a game. In just the last nine days, the Grizzlies’ defense has accounted for three of those 11 instances. Their loss to Atlanta on Friday was their sixth (most in the league) by 20 points or more, and more devastating is that it came with a left knee injury to Ja Morant, who’s expected to miss a few weeks.

But the Grizz got to play the Kings on Sunday, and they climbed back to .500 with a wire-to-wire victory in which Desmond Bane (19-for-36 from 3-point range over the last six games) continued to shoot a good ball. Morant has been their leading scorer in the paint, but they tallied 72 paint points (two shy of their season high) without him against Sacramento.

The Grizz still have two capable ball-handlers – Tyus Jones (who leads the league in assist/turnover ratio for a fourth straight season) and De’Anthony Melton – to run the offense in Morant’s absence. Through Sunday, the Grizz have been better with Morant off the floor (minus-2.4 points per 100 possessions) than they’ve been with him on the floor (minus-7.3), though that first number includes garbage time and this team has played a lot of garbage time.

Still, going back to January, the Grizz have won the last five games they’ve played without Morant. You never know with this edition of the Grizz (the next 25-point loss could be right around the corner), but they have some more winnable games this week.

Week 7: @ TOR, vs. OKC, @ DAL

Last Week:26

Record: 8-13
Pace: 100.0 (10) OffRtg: 108.9 (14) DefRtg: 111.2 (27) NetRtg: -2.3 (22)

You never know what to expect with the Kings, but closing a close game with a frontline of Marvin Bagley III and Damian Jones was not on the Bingo card for Alvin Gentry’s first week as interim head coach. With Harrison Barnes and Richaun Holmes injured, Bagley (who played in just one of the Kings’ first 13 games) actually shot 3-for-3 in the clutch as the Kings beat the Blazers and Lakers on Wednesday and Friday. He drew a smile from Gentry with his dagger 3 against Portland and he put the Kings up for good with his triple-overtime and-one against L.A., when he played some clutch-time minutes alongside Tristan Thompson.

Time will tell what Gentry’s frontline rotation looks like when Holmes (eye injury) and Barnes (foot sprain) are back in the lineup. The Kings’ closing lineup from last season – De’Aaron Fox, Tyrese Haliburton and Buddy Hield alongside Barnes and Holmes – hasn’t been as successful this year, especially on defense, where it’s allowed more than 120 points per 100 possessions. It also shot just 1-for-10 as the Sixers (missing four starters) outscored the Kings, 25-8, over the final nine minutes on Friday.

The Kings will play the Lakers for the second time in five days on Tuesday. Then it’s their first two meetings (Wednesday and Saturday) with the Clippers, with the home team having a rest advantage in each of the two games.

Week 7: vs. LAL, @ LAC, vs. LAC

Last Week:24

Record: 6-13
Pace: 99.0 (14) OffRtg: 100.0 (30) DefRtg: 107.0 (14) NetRtg: -7.0 (26)

Playing without Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, the Thunder were competitive against the Jazz on Wednesday, getting big games from Lu Dort and Josh Giddey. After shooting 15-for-64 (23%) from 3-point range through his first 10 games, Dort has shot 27-for-67 (40%) over the last eight. And at 6-8 with great court vision, Giddey is already a special playmaker who’s passing may be contagious. The Thunder have recorded assists on 61% of their buckets with the rookie on the floor and just 46% with him off the floor.

Gilgeous-Alexander returned from a two-game absence on Friday and dished out nine assists (with just one turnover) against Washington. The Thunder were again competitive against a good team, but Gilgeous-Alexander’s running 3 for the win rolled off the rim. After winning five of their first six games that were within five points in the last five minutes (a stretch that ended with Dort’s pick-six against Sacramento), they’ve lost four straight, with Dort and SGA having combined to shoot 2-for-14 on clutch shots.

Their three losses last week dropped the Thunder to 0-11 against the 14 teams that have winning records through Week 6. With their losses to the Hawks and Wizards, they’re also the only team without a win (they’re 0-7) against the opposite conference. They stay within the West this week, wrapping up their season series with the Rockets with a home-and-home set on Monday and Wednesday.

Week 7: @ HOU, vs. HOU, @ MEM

Last Week:25

Record: 5-13
Pace: 100.9 (5) OffRtg: 105.3 (24) DefRtg: 107.8 (16) NetRtg: -2.5 (23)

The Spurs haven’t been very good in close games. In fact, through Wednesday, only the Pelicans (0-8) had a worse record than San Antonio (1-8) in games that were within five points in the last five minutes. The Spurs made things interesting (after trailing by 15 with a little more than four minutes left) against Phoenix on Monday, but couldn’t control the jump ball that would have given them a chance to tie the streaking Suns (8-1 in clutch games) in the final seconds.

But the Spurs gave themselves another chance to win a close game on Friday by blowing a 24-point lead to the Celtics. They trailed by seven with three minutes left, but then closed the game on a 15-0 run, with Dejounte Murray (8) and Derrick White (6) combining for 14 of the 15 points. And appropriately, four of their five field goals in that run came on non-restricted-area 2-point shots. White put the Spurs ahead with a pull-up jumper over Al Horford and Murray’s dagger was a turnaround over Dennis Schroder from just inside the foul line. The Spurs have taken 42% of their shots, the league’s highest rate, from between the restricted area and the 3-point line.

That rate is actually a little lower (19/51, 39%) in the clutch, when Murray has taken 22 of their 51 field goal attempts. Among 119 players who’ve played at least 20 clutch minutes, only Joel Embiid, Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry and Ja Morant have a higher clutch usage rate.

The team with the best clutch record (10-1) is the team (Washington) that the Spurs will host on Monday. They’re 4-3 against the Eastern Conference thus far.

Week 7: vs. WAS, @ POR, @ GSW

Last Week:29

Record: 5-17
Pace: 98.6 (18) OffRtg: 103.6 (26) DefRtg: 110.8 (26) NetRtg: -7.2 (27)

It was a relatively good week for the Pelicans. Zion Williamson was cleared to fully participate in team activities and they had their first winning streak of the season, beating two good teams (Washington and Utah) on Wednesday and Friday. The two wins coincided with Devonte’ Graham’s return from a three-game absence, and Graham hit the game-winner in Utah. But that also capped what was the Pels’ best five-game stretch of defense thus far (100.2 points allowed per 100 possessions).

Herbert Jones continues to make an impact on that end of the floor. The rookie (35th pick in this year’s draft) kept both Bradley Beal and Donovan Mitchell in check last week, his 4.2 deflections per 36 minutes rank 10th in the league, and the Pels’ 26th-ranked defense has allowed just 104.3 points per 100 possessions in his 489 minutes on the floor. The team has been outscored by 168 points this season and he’s a plus-16. Maybe Williamson should come off the bench when he returns!

The Pels’ great run of defense came to an end when the Jazz shot 20-for-35 from 3-point range on Saturday in the second game of their two-game series. The Clippers (who New Orleans beat to start that five-game stretch) will be looking for some revenge of their own as the Pels’ three-game trip comes to an end on Monday.

Week 7: @ LAC, vs. DAL, @ DAL, @ HOU

Last Week:27

Record: 4-16
Pace: 98.9 (15) OffRtg: 100.1 (28) DefRtg: 109.2 (21) NetRtg: -9.1 (28)

The Pistons rank second (behind Orlando) in the percentage of their minutes (45%) that have come from rookies (13%, sixth highest rate) or second-year players (32%, highest rate). So, while it’s nice that Trey Lyles has averaged 15 points on an effective field goal percentage of 68% over the last three games and that Jerami Grant is 25-for-26 from the line over the last four, the kids remain the focus.

Cade Cunningham continues to show signs of advanced playmaking and there’s much to love about a big guard who seems to understand the game at a high level. But over the Pistons’ six-game losing streak, their first and second-year players have combined for an effective field goal percentage of just 40%. Saddiq Bey has yet to find the shot that carried him to a First Team All-Rookie selection last season, having seen the sixth biggest drop in 3-point percentage (from 38.0% to 29.4%) among 66 players with at least 100 attempts in each of the last two seasons (teammate Frank Jackson has seen the second biggest drop).

There’s still a lot of season left and the Pistons have played a relatively tough schedule. They should get some practice time (with a three-day break) after they complete a five-game trip in Phoenix on Thursday.

Week 7: @ POR, @ PHX

Last Week:30

Record: 3-16
Pace: 103.0 (1) OffRtg: 100.1 (29) DefRtg: 109.2 (20) NetRtg: -9.1 (29)

Jalen Green is a huge part of the Rockets’ future and he should be playing a lot when he’s healthy, because he needs reps to turn his talent into winning basketball. But at this point in his career, it’s fair to say that the Rockets are a better team without him. The end to their 15-game losing streak came after Green suffered a strained left hamstring in the first quarter against Chicago on Wednesday. And with Green having missed their game against Charlotte over the weekend (he’ll be reevaluated this week), the Rockets have a two-game winning streak. They’re 3-16 and have outscored their opponents by 8.2 points per 100 possessions in 362 minutes with the rookie off the floor.

It might not be a coincidence that Daniel Theis was also DNP’d in the two wins. Christian Wood totaled a team-high 49 points on 58% shooting over the two games and has a much higher effective field goal percentage with a higher percentage of his shots coming in the restricted area (44%) with Theis off the floor (58.3%) than he does with Theis on the floor (42.5%, 38%). While the Rockets have been better with veteran guards handling the ball instead of Green, the opposite could be said about Theis and rookie Alperen Sengun, who leads all rookies in points (17.3), rebounds (9.4) and steals (2.3) per 36 minutes, ranking fourth in assists per 36 (4.9) and second in blocks per 36 (1.1).

The Rockets take their winning streak into their final two meetings with the Thunder, having split the first two games.

Week 7: vs. OKC, @ OKC, vs. ORL, vs. NOP

Last Week:28

Record: 4-17
Pace: 98.9 (16) OffRtg: 101.0 (27) DefRtg: 112.0 (29) NetRtg: -11.0 (30)

Playing the last five games without Cole Anthony, the Magic have trailed three of the five by 29 points or more and scored just 96.2 points per 100 possessions. But that’s much better than their mark with Anthony off the floor prior to that (86.5), so maybe some progress is being made offensively. Two of the five games came against top-10 defenses and another two came against the Bucks, who’ve had the league’s best defense since Khris Middleton’s return.

Wendell Carter Jr. has totaled 45 points on 16-for-28 shooting over the last two games, with his 26 against his former team on Friday being two shy of his career high. He’s more than tripled his 3-point rate from last season and his jump in 3-point percentage (from 29.4% to 39.0%) is the sixth biggest among 164 players with at least 50 attempts in each of the last two seasons. Robin Lopez has been dusted off, and his 13 points on Saturday included five glorious hook shots.

The Magic have lost six straight and they’re 0-3 in games played between the six teams that have fewer than eight wins. Their first meeting with the 3-16 Rockets is Friday in Houston.

Week 7: @ PHI, vs. DEN, @ HOU