The Nuggets are riding high behind reigning 2-time Kia MVP Nikola Jokic.
This is always a weird time of the year across the NBA. We’re in the meat of the season, and the time between Christmas and the All-Star break can be a bit of a slog, with fatigue and complacency setting in.
At the same time, this can be a critical time of the season. And we only have to rewind one year to find a team – the 2021-22 Boston Celtics – that completely turned its season around in January. The Cs went from 18-21 (and in 11th place) on Jan. 8 to 51-31 at the end of the season and (eventually) to the Finals.
That was a remarkable turnaround and we can’t expect the 16-21 Timberwolves to do the same thing this year. But the next couple of weeks could very well be the defining time for one or more teams. And maybe this time will tell them that they’re not as much of a contender as they thought they were.
Two teams to keep an eye on: The Toronto Raptors and Utah Jazz. One team has seemingly underachieved for much of the season. The other was seemingly overachieving before losing its last four games. Can the Raptors make some hay in the next couple of weeks? Can the Jazz rebound from this losing streak and push forward, or will they continue to slide into irrelevance?
Even if neither team is a serious contender in any scenario, they could certainly help a contender with a trade before the Feb. 9 deadline.
Plus-Minus Players of the Week
Teams of the Week
- Make It Last Forever: Washington (4-0) — The Wiz have a five-game winning streak, and four of the five wins have come against teams with winning records.
- Something Just Ain’t Right: Orlando (0-3) — The Magic lost to three of the worst teams in the league by an average of 19.3 points.
East vs. West
Schedule strength through Week 11
- Toughest: 1. Washington, 2. Houston, 3. Detroit
- Easiest: 1. Atlanta, 2. Philadelphia, 3. Orlando
- 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: Washington (+5), Golden State (+4), Six teams (+3)
- Free falls of the week: Utah (-5), Minnesota (-4), Five teams (-3)
Week 12 Team to Watch
- Toronto— Are the 16-20 Raptors going to compete for a playoff spot this season or will they, perhaps, take a step backward before the trade deadline? This week, with the Raptors facing three teams in front of them in the East standings, could tell us a lot. Their first meeting with the sixth-place Pacers is in Indiana on Monday. And then the first two games of a six-game homestand are against the Bucks (Wednesday on ESPN) and the Knicks (Friday). The Raptors will then finish the week off with a visit from the Blazers on Sunday afternoon.
Previous Power Rankings
OffRtg: Points scored per 100 possessions (League Rank)
DefRtg: Points allowed per 100 possessions (League Rank)
NetRtg: Point differential per 100 possessions (League Rank)
Pace: Possessions per 48 minutes (League Rank)
The league has averaged 112.8 points scored per 100 possessions and 99.9 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes 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.
OffRtg: 116.7 (2) DefRtg: 114.2 (24) NetRtg: +2.5 (8) Pace: 99.4 (19)
The Nuggets went 6-1 on a stretch where they played seven straight games against teams that currently have winning records, and the one loss (Wednesday in Sacramento) came by a single point. Nikola Jokic averaged 27.4 points (on an effective field goal percentage of 65%), 10.9 rebounds and 11.4 assists over the seven games, with the Nuggets scoring 123.6 points per 100 possessions in his 255 minutes on the floor. The reigning two-time Kia MVP had 30, 12 and 12 as the stretch was capped by a Sunday win over the Celtics in which Denver scored 123 on 102 against a top-10 defense.
Non-Jokic minutes remain shaky, but Bones Hyland has averaged 17.7 points (shooting 11-for-19 from 3-point range) over the last three games. With Michael Porter Jr. (30 points in Sacramento on Tuesday) seemingly back at full strength, the Nuggets have more options with their rotation. They continue to use only one of the other starters on the floor in most of their non-Jokic minutes.
The Nuggets’ schedule remains home-heavy for the next three weeks, but it doesn’t get much easier in regard to opponent strength. After their game in Minnesota on Monday (their first meeting with the Wolves), they’ll play 11 of 15 against teams currently over .500, a stretch that includes two games each against the Clippers and Pelicans. The visit to Minnesota is the end of their only stretch of five games in seven nights and the Nuggets be at a rest disadvantage for that one, though Jamal Murray (who didn’t play on Sunday) should be available and Denver is 2-0 in rest-disadvantage games thus far. After a two-day break, they’ll have another back-to-back on Thursday and Friday, with another rest disadvantage against Cleveland.
Week 12: @ MIN, vs. LAC, vs. CLE
OffRtg: 117.2 (1) DefRtg: 110.6 (7) NetRtg: +6.5 (1) Pace: 100.3 (15)
The Celtics’ season can be broken into two parts. Through Nov. 30, they had the best offense ever, scoring an amazing 121.5 points per 100 possessions through their first 22 games. And since Dec. 1, they rank 26th offensively, having scored a pedestrian 110.9 per 100. The drop-off has been almost entirely about 3-point shooting (40.9% vs. 32.5%), with a sprinkle of mid-range regression on top. But there aren’t any clear indications of why they haven’t shot as well from beyond the arc; their ball movement has remained at the same level, they’re averaging just as many drives per game, and they’ve only seen a small drop (from 73% to 71%) in the percentage of their 3-point attempts that have been off the catch.
The offense was so good in those first six weeks of the season that the Celtics still rank No. 1 on that end of the floor. And they ranked second defensively in December, finishing the month off with a quality win over the Clippers in which they shot just 11-for-39 (28%) from 3-point range, but outscored LA by 16 points (59-43) on restricted area buckets and free throws.
But January began with a loss in Denver in which the Celtics couldn’t gain enough advantages offensively and couldn’t stop the Nuggets from shooting 57% (including 17-for-30 from 3-point range). The Celtics’ 33 3-point attempts on Sunday were their lowest total since Nov. 4, and the loss was the first time this season that they’ve been outscored by more than 15 points from beyond the arc.
With their loss in Denver on Sunday, the Celtics are 4-3 in Western Conference arenas, finishing up their four-game trip with visits to Oklahoma City, Dallas and San Antonio this week. Luka Doncic scored 42 points in Boston the day before Thanksgiving, but Tatum and Brown combined for 68 and the Celtics won comfortably.
Week 12: @ OKC, @ DAL, @ SAS
OffRtg: 115.7 (5) DefRtg: 112.1 (10) NetRtg: +3.6 (6) Pace: 98.7 (23)
The Nets almost lost in Atlanta on Wednesday, trailing by as many as 15 points and escaping with a one-point victory (over a team missing three starters) when Dejounte Murray’s buzzer-beating 3-pointer hit off the back of the rim. The Nets’ point differential (+3.5 per game, that of a 22-14 team) still ranks just sixth and their 14-3 mark in games that were within five points in the last five minutes would be the third best clutch winning percentage in the 27 seasons of clutch stats.
But their 11-game winning streak is tied* for the league’s longest in the last year (since the Suns’ 18-game streak ended in early December, 2021), and they now have the league’s second best record, just one game in the loss column behind the first-place Celtics. It’s rather amazing given their 1-5 start to the season and all the noise that surrounded it. The Brooklyn offense has scored 123.4 points per 100 possessions over the winning streak (4.6 more than any other team over that stretch), torching two top-five defenses (those of the Bucks and Cavs) along the way.
* The Grizzlies won 11 straight last December/January, and the Suns won 11 straight in January/February.
While they’ve been potent in the half-court, transition offense (sparked by defensive improvement) has been key for Brooklyn. The Nets’ 16.3 fast break points per game are up from 13.7 last season and would be the franchise’s highest average in the last 20 years (since the Nets last reached the NBA Finals in 2002-03). According to Synergy tracking, their 35 transition points in Cleveland on Monday (including a couple of ridiculous pull-up 3s from Kyrie Irving) were both their third highest total of the season and the third most the Cavs have allowed.
The Nets are now 12-7 on the road (the 12 road wins lead the league) and are only nine games through a stretch where they’re playing 15 of 20 away from the Barclays Center. Two of their five home losses this season have come to teams — the Pelicans and Bulls — they’ll face on the three-game trip that begins Wednesday in Chicago.
Week 12: vs. SAS, @ CHI, @ NOP, @ MIA
OffRtg: 113.4 (12) DefRtg: 109.1 (3) NetRtg: +4.3 (4) Pace: 101.2 (9)
Through Friday, the Pelicans had the league’s fourth biggest points-in-the-paint differential, having outscored their opponents by 6.2 points in the paint per game. And on Saturday night in Memphis, the score in the paint was Grizzlies 74, Pelicans 44, with the Grizzlies winning the game by 15 points despite shooting an abysmal 5-for-29 (17%) from 3-point range.
Jaren Jackson Jr. (12) was one of six Grizzlies with at least eight points in the paint on Saturday, while also blocking six shots on the other end of the floor. Jackson has been able to stay out of foul trouble in the four games since Christmas and he still has more total blocks (63) than personal fouls (58) for the season. His ability to stay on the floor will remain critical, but when he has been on the floor, the Grizzlies have allowed just 101.3 points per 100 possessions, the second lowest on-court mark among 225 players who’ve averaged at least 20 minutes in 15 games or more.
With a 20-point margin (64-44) against the Kings on Sunday, the Grizzlies have now outscored their opponents by 12.7 points per game in the paint, which would be the biggest differential in the last 10 seasons. After getting clobbered by the Phoenix Suns on Monday and despite being the only team playing a New Year’s Eve/New Year’s Day back-to-back, they beat two good teams over the weekend to climb back over .500 (11-10) in games played within the Western Conference. Maybe they are fine in the West.
That 11-10 record against the West includes two losses in Utah in late October. That was obviously before the Grizzlies had Jackson, and they were without either Ja Morant (who missed the first game) or Desmond Bane (who missed the second one) for each of the two games. Their third meeting with the Jazz is Sunday in Memphis, and the Grizzlies will have a rest advantage (with the Jazz playing in Chicago the night before).
Week 12: @ CHA, @ ORL, vs. UTA
OffRtg: 114.8 (8) DefRtg: 110.0 (5) NetRtg: +4.8 (3) Pace: 100.7 (11)
There have been a bunch of incredible star performances in the last couple of weeks, and Zion Williamson’s last three minutes against Minnesota on Wednesday was among the best. Returning from a three-game absence, Williamson scored a career-high 43 points against the Wolves, with 14 of those coming in those last three minutes as the Pelicans turned a five-point deficit into a one-point victory. That stretch included a 3-pointer (his seventh of the season), a spin-move jump hook, two drives around Rudy Gobert, and a fast-break dunk off a steal. Williamson followed that up with 36 points against the Sixers as the Pelicans ran their winning streak to five games on Friday.
Williamson still isn’t the best finisher. His 62.1% shooting in the paint ranks 47th among 183 players with at least 100 paint attempts, and he leads the league (for the second time) in how often he’s been blocked (1.6 times per game). But his free throw rate (52.5 attempts per 100 shots from the field) is his best mark in his three seasons and ranks eighth among the 196 players with at least 200 total field goal attempts. He’s also shooting a career-best 71.3% from the stripe, and the force with which he plays obviously opens things up for the other guys on the floor. Williamson seems to have a connection with Trey Murphy, who was the recipient of four of his five assists on Wednesday.
The winning streak came to an end with Williamson and CJ McCollum combining to shoot 10-for-32 against the Grizzlies on Saturday. The Pelicans have now had both their worst defensive game (Nov. 25) and their worst offensive game of the season in Memphis. They don’t have to play there again (at least until the playoffs), but they have similarly intriguing games in Philadelphia, Dallas, Boston and Cleveland in the next 15 days.
Week 12: @ PHI, vs. HOU, vs. BKN, @ DAL
OffRtg: 113.6 (11) DefRtg: 108.4 (1) NetRtg: +5.2 (2) Pace: 96.3 (29)
The Cavs still have the league’s No. 1 defense, but that defense had some issues, allowing 128.6 points per 100 possessions, over a three-game losing streak. Good (and bad) defense starts in transition, and the Cavs allowed Toronto and Brooklyn to total 72 transition points over the first two losses of the streak, according to Synergy tracking. (Those two teams have combined to average 47 transition points this season.) The Pacers had just 22 transition points (a little less than their league-leading average) on Thursday, but shot 19-for-31 from 3-point range. The Cavs’ latest starting lineup (with Lamar Stevens at the three) just topped the 150-minute mark and has allowed 118.2 points per 100 possessions, the fifth worst mark among the 27 lineups that have played at least 150 minutes.
The Cavs gave up 34 transition points to the Bulls (one shy of Chicago’s season high) on Saturday, with 15 live-ball turnovers being part of the problem. But their half-court offense was stout, and they allowed just 102 points on 99 possessions overall as they put an end to the losing streak. Caris LeVert and Kevin Love replaced Darius Garland (thumb sprain) and Evan Mobley (ankle soreness), respectively, in the starting lineup and combined to score 43 points. The Cavs have now allowed just 97.5 points per 100 possessions in 228 minutes with Love and Jarrett Allen on the floor together.
With the ups and downs of last week, the Cavs have allowed 4.4 fewer points per 100 possessions than the league average (112.8), which would be the second smallest differential for a No. 1 defense in the 27 seasons for which we have play-by-play data. Garland is listed as doubtful and Mobley is questionable for the second game of their home-and-home set with the Bulls on Monday. After that, they’ll play five straight games against top-10 offenses, though the one they’ll play twice in that stretch (that of the Suns) will be without its leading scorer.
Week 12: vs. CHI, vs. PHX, @ DEN, @ PHX
OffRtg: 113.1 (14) DefRtg: 109.1 (2) NetRtg: +4.0 (5) Pace: 97.9 (26)
Tyrese Maxey returned from an 18-game absence on Friday, but he came off the bench, with the Sixers sticking with the starting lineup (with De’Anthony Melton in Maxey’s place) that has now outscored opponents by 11.9 points per 100 possessions in its 182 minutes. Of course, while the Melton lineup has been great, the Sixers are just 7-6 in the games in which it’s played together. The starting group registered a plus-6 in its 17 minutes in New Orleans on Friday, but the Sixers lost (a game in which they shot 56%) by double-digits, because bench minutes were bad.
The key stretch was a 15-2 Pelicans run spanning the first and second quarters, and Philly allowed an amazing 59 points on 39 defensive possessions with Maxey on the floor. The Pelicans’ 30 fast break points were a season high and overall, it was the Sixers’ worst defensive game (127 points allowed on 98 possessions) since opening night in Boston. They still rank second defensively after holding the Thunder under a point per possession on Saturday, but the Sixers can be beaten in transition, with only three teams — the Rockets, Jazz and Lakers — having allowed more transition points per game, according to Synergy tracking.
Maxey, James Harden and P.J. Tucker all sat out the wire-to-wire win in Oklahoma City, in which Joel Embiid recorded his fifth career triple-double. All three should be available when the Sixers get another shot to stop New Orleans on Monday. They’ll play five of their next six games at home, where they’ve won 13 of their last 14, including nine straight dating back to before Thanksgiving.
Week 12: vs. NOP, vs. IND, vs. CHI, @ DET
OffRtg: 111.0 (22) DefRtg: 109.3 (4) NetRtg: +1.7 (11) Pace: 100.4 (14)
Prior to a single-digit win over the struggling Wolves on Friday, the Bucks had lost four straight games with Giannis Antetokounmpo in the lineup, scoring just 106.8 points per 100 possessions over the losing streak. They shot less than 30% from 3-point range and recorded assists on less than half of their field goals after the four games, and they lost one (Wednesday in Chicago) in which Antetokounmpo had 45 points and 22 rebounds. The Bucks led by 11 with 2 1/2 minutes left in the fourth quarter and by four in overtime, but the Bulls closed regulation with a 13-2 run and closed the extra period with a 13-3 run.
One would think that there would be some sense of urgency building, but, after the win over Minnesota, Antetokounmpo sat out the Bucks’ game against Washington on Sunday, though it was sandwiched by days off. (Jrue Holiday has also missed the last three games with an illness.) The Bucks got crushed by the Wiz, but are still 4-2 without their MVP candidate. And maybe if they’re not ready to step back on the gas, the rest of us shouldn’t be too worried about the fact that they’ve lost five out of six and are now just a game in the loss column ahead of the fifth-place Sixers. Milwaukee remains a league-best 12-5 in games against the 17 teams that currently have winning records.
The Bucks’ loss to the Wizards on Sunday began a stretch of 12 straight games within the Eastern Conference. They’ll play the Wizards again on Tuesday and their first meeting against the Raptors is the following night in Toronto, just the Bucks’ second rest-disadvantage game of the season. They’ve played just three back-to-backs total (tied for the fewest thus far), and Antetokounmpo has missed the second game of each of the last two.
Week 12: vs. WAS, @ TOR, vs. CHA
OffRtg: 115.0 (7) DefRtg: 114.0 (23) NetRtg: +1.0 (12) Pace: 102.2 (5)
The Kings were last week’s “Team to Watch,” because they were starting a stretch where they were playing 28 of 33 games within the Western Conference, and the first four were within the West’s top seven (through Christmas). A 2-2 start to that stretch, given the strength of the competition, is solid, even if both wins came by a single point. The Kings’ defense didn’t really hold up, but they scored more than 125 points per 100 possessions, with Domantas Sabonis shooting 24-for-30, over the two wins.
On Tuesday (playing without Domantas Sabonis), the Kings blew a 20-point lead and lost to the Nuggets by seven. Twenty-four hours later, they came back from 19 down and beat Denver on Malik Monk’s last-second free throw. The Kings have been at their worst (minus-5.4 points per 100 possessions) in the first quarter, but they lead the league with five wins (they’re 5-8) after trailing by 15 points or more, having gone 1-57 after trailing by 15-plus over the last two seasons.
The Kings never trailed by that much in Memphis on Sunday, but a bad stretch early in the fourth quarter kept them from mounting a real comeback. The second game of the Kings’ two-game trip is their second game against the Jazz in five days, as well as the start of a stretch where they’ll be playing nine straight against teams currently below .500. With their win against Utah on Friday, they have the league’s second best record (10-3) against that below-.500 group. One of the three losses (Nov. 23) was against the 17-19 Hawks, who will be in Sacramento on Wednesday for the start of a five-game homestand.
Week 12: @ UTA, vs. ATL, vs. LAL
OffRtg: 115.3 (6) DefRtg: 113.2 (18) NetRtg: +2.1 (10) Pace: 96.3 (30)
You could certainly look at the last 10 days with a glass-half-empty perspective. Over that stretch, the Mavs have needed a 50-point game from Luka Doncic to beat the Rockets by six, they’ve needed an unprecedented 60-21-and-10 performance (along with a miracle put-back) from Doncic to beat the shorthanded Knicks in overtime, and they’ve needed a 51-point game from him to beat the Spurs by one. It’s been noted in this space before that the Mavs have not been very good against bad teams.
But just look at those numbers coming from a player who is still just 23 years old. Over the Mavs’ six-game winning streak, Doncic has averaged 42.2 points, 10.8 rebounds, 10.2 assists and 2.5 steals while shooting 59% from the field (including 47% from 3-point range). He’s having the most efficient scoring season of his career by a healthy margin, and his true shooting percentage of 62.2% would be the fourth-highest* mark among the 21 players who’ve registered a usage rate of 35% or higher in the 27 seasons of play-by-play data.
* Topped only by Joel Embiid in 2020-21 (63.6%), Embiid this season (63.4%) and James Harden in 2019-20 (62.6%).
The Mavs’ six-game winning streak is tied (with a streak from exactly one year ago) for the Mavs’ longest in their five seasons with Doncic, and it’s taken them from 10th to fourth place in the West. They’ll have a pretty good chance to extend it to seven games with their third game against the Rockets in the span of 11 days, but the schedule gets tougher after that. Doncic has rested in the second game of the Mavs’ last two back-to-backs, the Mavs are 0-3 without him this season, and their next back-to-back is Saturday (vs. the Pelicans) and Sunday (at Oklahoma City).
Week 12: @ HOU, vs. BOS, vs. NOP, @ OKC
OffRtg: 110.2 (28) DefRtg: 110.0 (6) NetRtg: +0.2 (14) Pace: 99.0 (21)
The Clippers’ five-game road trip through the Eastern Conference was both their best offensive stretch of the season (122.3 points scored per 100 possessions) and their worst defensive stretch of the season (120.3 allowed per 100). The offensive highlight was the 26 points on 13 possessions (scored mostly by reserves) spanning the fourth quarter and overtime as the Clippers came back from 14 down with three minutes left in regulation to win in Detroit on Monday. Terance Mann sent the game to overtime with a short jumper and is now 16-for-26 (62%) on pull-up 2-pointers. Luke Kennard hit a big 3 in overtime and is in the top 10 in 3-point percentage (he’s fourth at 47.2%) for the third straight season.
The defensive lowlight was the 131 points on 102 points that the Clippers allowed the Pacers to score on Saturday. The Clippers have outscored their opponents from 3-point range in 14 straight games, but they haven’t outscored them in the paint in any of their last 16, and they were a minus-18 inside in Indiana. It was a 2-3 trip with all three losses within three points in the final minute and the Clips allowing their opponents to score 40 points on 27 clutch possessions (148 per 100) over the three defeats.
Kawhi Leonard obviously didn’t suit up for both ends of the Clippers’ back-to-back last week (he chose Toronto over Detroit), but he averaged 35 minutes over the four games he played. So (except for back-to-backs) it seems we’re now seeing the Clippers the way they were meant to be seen. Of course, they’re back home for just one game before playing another back-to-back (their ninth of the season) on the road on Thursday and Friday. The Clippers were without both Leonard and Paul George when they lost to Denver (at home) the day after Thanksgiving, and a full-strength matchup this week (along with Mavs-Celtics) would be a nice way for the TNT Thursday double-header to return.
Week 12: vs. MIA, @ DEN, @ MIN, vs. ATL
OffRtg: 116.0 (3) DefRtg: 112.7 (13) NetRtg: +3.3 (7) Pace: 98.5 (24)
Without Devin Booker for at least another 12 games and with guys like Torrey Craig and Josh Okogie playing more minutes, the Suns may need to be a hard-nosed defensive team that also scraps on the glass. They had a little bit of that identity as they won in Memphis on Tuesday, they’ve allowed just 102.1 points per 100 possessions in Okogie’s 380 minutes on the floor this season, and they’ve grabbed nearly half of the available offensive boards in limited minutes (62) with Okogie and Craig on the floor together. (It also helped that they shot 17-for-31 from 3-point range on Tuesday, avenging a 25-point defeat from four days earlier.)
But 24 hours after the Memphis win, the Suns had their worst defensive game of the season, allowing the Wizards to score 127 points on just 92 possessions as they lost to the 10th-place team in the East for the second time in nine days. Two nights later in Toronto, the Suns erased two double-digit deficits, only for the Raptors to close the game on a 14-3 run. That gave Phoenix more clutch losses (they’re 5-10 in games that were within five points in the last five minutes) than they had all of last season (33-9), while also dropping them to 3-7 against the Eastern Conference. They were 25-5 against the East last season, and only the Bulls (2-10 vs. the West) have been worse in interconference games this year.
More important is that the Suns are now just one loss away from matching their overall total from last season (when they were 64-18). They’ve obviously missed Booker’s offense as they’ve lost seven of their nine games without him (including the Christmas loss in which he barely played), but their defense has also seen the league’s third biggest jump in points allowed per 100 possessions from last season (106.8, third). And as fun as it’s been to see Craig and Okogie scrap, this team also misses Jae Crowder and Cam Johnson. It’s slipped into seventh place in the Western Conference, just a game ahead of the ninth-place Warriors.
To avoid falling further in the West, the Suns will have to win some games against the East. Their six-game trip concludes in New York and Cleveland, and they’ll play two more games against the East upon returning home.
Week 12: @ NYK, @ CLE, vs. MIA, vs. CLE
OffRtg: 113.2 (13) DefRtg: 113.8 (21) NetRtg: -0.6 (19) Pace: 101.9 (6)
The Pacers got clobbered by the shorthanded Pelicans on Monday, but they’ve won five of their last six games, with wins against the Celtics, Heat, Cavs and Clippers included in that stretch. They’ve scored 119.5 points per 100 possessions over the six games, even though they had a clunker in New Orleans and even though five of the six opponents rank in the top eight defensively. Plus, the Pacers capped off 2022 by scoring more than 132 per 100 in wins over the league’s first and sixth-ranked defenses.
Tyrese Haliburton has averaged 27.3 points over the 5-1 stretch and had 13 of the Pacers’ 18 clutch points (including the go-ahead 3-point play) against the Clippers on Saturday afternoon. Buddy Hield has been on fire, shooting an amazing 38-for-62 (61%) from 3-point range over the last eight games and is feeling it so much that he just grabbed the opening tip on Thursday, turned and drained the fastest 3-pointer on record.
The Pacers’ starting lineup — with Andrew Nembhard and Aaron Nesmith alongside Haliburton, Hield and Myles Turner — closed that win over the Clippers, but hasn’t been so good overall. It’s been outscored by 6.1 points per 100 possessions (allowing more than 120 per 100), the fourth worst mark among 27 lineups that have played at least 150 minutes. Replace either Nembhard or Nesmith with Bennedict Mathurin and you have two lineups that have combined to outscore Indy opponents by 22.3 per 100 (scoring 129 per 100) in 133 total minutes.
The Pacers have that option, because they enter 2023 in good health, with their top seven guys in minutes per game having all played at least 12 of the last 13. They also enter the new year just five wins from tying their total from last season, when they were 25-57. (Next closest are Thunder, Magic and Blazers who are each nine wins shy of their ’21-22 total.) They’re in sixth place and 3 1/2 games ahead of the 12th-place Raptors, but the Pacers’ first game of January (their first meeting with Toronto) feels like a big one.
Week 12: vs. TOR, @ PHI, vs. POR, vs. CHA
OffRtg: 112.7 (16) DefRtg: 113.2 (19) NetRtg: -0.5 (18) Pace: 103.0 (1)
It doesn’t matter that Stephen Curry is out. The Warriors are home, so the Warriors are winning. They’ve won the first four games of their eight-game homestand, with three of those wins coming against other top-10 Western Conference teams. They controlled their Christmas game against Memphis for most of the 48 minutes, but they needed fourth-quarter comebacks against both Utah and Portland last week. The champs won the two fourth quarters by a total of 25 points, holding two top-10 offenses to just 29 total points on 48 fourth-quarter possessions (60 per 100). Donte DiVincenzo’s last-minute strip of Damian Lillard was the defensive highlight of those two fourth quarters, and it was followed by his pick-and-pop dagger 3.
The Warriors have allowed just 96.9 points per 100 possessions in Draymond Green’s 132 minutes over the homestand, and in regard to point differential per 100 possessions for the season, Green now has a bigger on-off differential (19.1 per 100) than Curry (15.2). Jordan Poole’s minutes with Green off the floor weren’t so good through the first three games of the homestand and Poole was just 9-for-46 (20%) from 3-point range over a five-game stretch. But he was 5-for-10 from beyond the arc and registered a plus-10 with Green off the floor as he scored 41 points against the Blazers on Friday.
With the improved defense over the first half of the homestand, the Warriors have climbed out of the bottom 10 on that end of the floor. Their next three games are against teams that rank in the bottom 10 offensively, though the Dubs allowed the Pistons and Magic to each score more than 125 points per 100 possessions on their early-season road trip.
Week 12: vs. ATL, vs. DET, vs. ORL
OffRtg: 114.1 (9) DefRtg: 114.0 (22) NetRtg: +0.1 (16) Pace: 97.8 (27)
The Blazers still rank as the league’s most improved defensive team, having allowed 2.3 fewer points per 100 possessions than they did last season. But they’ve struggled to defend against good teams; they’re 0-4 since Thanksgiving against the other West teams that are currently over .500, despite scoring more efficiently over those four games (115.9 points per 100 possessions) than they have overall. They’ve allowed 122.6 points per 100 possessions over the four losses, with the Warriors’ 118 on 98 possessions on Friday being their second most efficient performance in their 11 games without Stephen Curry.
They were still up eight with less than five minutes left, but the Blazers then scored just two points on their final 13 possessions. They remain tied for the league lead with 13 buckets to tie or take the lead in the final minute of the fourth quarter or overtime, but the Blazers have lost their last three games that were within five points in the last five minutes. They’ve scored just 21 points on 31 clutch possessions over those three games, with nine clutch turnovers (three in each game). Damian Lillard just had the ball taken from him by Donte DiVincenzo with the Blazers down two in the final minute on Friday. And then he was really slow to recover back to DiVincenzo on the shot that put the game away.
Lillard is just 11-for-47 (23%) from 3-point range over his last four games, and has now taken at least half of his shots from beyond the arc in each of his last 14. His season-long 3-point rate (58.8%) is the highest of his career by a wide margin, but his free throw rate (38.5 attempts per 100 shots from the field) is also a career-high mark and his overall efficiency remains high. His true shooting percentage of 61.8% is the third highest of his career and ranks 11th among 55 players with a usage rate of 25% or higher.
The Blazers’ defense gets a boost with the expected season debut of Gary Payton II against Detroit on Monday. They’ve spent most of the last three weeks on the road, where they’ve lost four straight (and 10 of their last 14). But they’re home for just a single game before heading back out for a three-game trip.
Week 12: vs. DET, @ MIN, @ IND, @ TOR
OffRtg: 115.9 (4) DefRtg: 114.9 (27) NetRtg: +1.0 (13) Pace: 100.5 (13)
It feels like we’ve reached a critical point in the Jazz’s season, where the next couple of weeks could really determine if they remain in the “competitive” division of the Western Conference. They’ve lost their last four games to fall below .500 for the first time and into 10th place in the West. But the last three losses have come against good teams, and the four have come by a total of just 13 points, with the Jazz falling victim to heroics from guys named Huerter and Herro. They’ve fallen below .500, but they still have a positive point differential (seventh best in the West). Fourteen of their 20 losses have been within five points in the last five minutes, with only Cleveland (10/14) having a higher rate.
One harsh truth may be that this team just can’t defend. On Monday in San Antonio, the Jazz allowed the Spurs’ 26th ranked offense to score 126 points on 105 possessions, with 74 of those 126 coming in the paint as the Jazz got repeatedly beat off the dribble. And on Saturday, the Heat’s 24th-ranked offense (playing without Jimmy Butler) had its most efficient performance of the season (126 on 98), with 25 of those 126 coming in transition. As noted below, the Rockets are breaking their own record for transition points allowed per game, but the Jazz (24.7) are also coming pretty close to that record (25.0).
The schedule over the next couple of weeks is a good mix of good and bad opponents. With their loss at Golden State on Wednesday, the Jazz are just 1-2 in rest-advantage games. They’ll have two more – in Houston and Chicago – on the three-game trip that begins Thursday, but they’ll be at a disadvantage in Memphis on Sunday night.
Week 12: vs. SAC, @ HOU, @ CHI, @ MEM
OffRtg: 114.0 (10) DefRtg: 111.8 (9) NetRtg: +2.2 (9) Pace: 98.9 (22)
Much had been made about the Knicks’ three leading scorers playing every game this season, but that run was bound to end at some point. And some point was last week, when Jalen Brunson (hip soreness) missed all three games of the Knicks’ Texas trip and RJ Barrett (finger laceration) missed all but the first two minutes of it. Through the first 47 1/2 minutes of their game in Dallas on Tuesday, the Knicks looked like they had a chance to be the first team to sweep a Texas Triangle trip since the 2007-08 Celtics, because they were beating the one good Texas team by nine points.
Alas, what followed was probably the biggest, 30-second comeback you’ll ever see. The game wasn’t over after Luka Doncic tied it with a miracle put-back at the end of regulation, but the Knicks missed four free throws in overtime just four days after they went 0-for-4 at the line with a chance to seal a win against the Bulls. And then, down three and in need of a stop, Julius Randle put Doncic on the line with an imprudent perimeter foul with 34 seconds left.
The Knicks remain in the top 10 on both ends of the floor, but they scored just 20 points on 30 clutch possessions over the losing streak that reached five games with a non-clutch loss (in which they were outscored by 20 points in the restricted area) in San Antonio on Thursday. The overall offense hasn’t been bad without Brunson and Barrett, but the losing streak was the Knicks’ worst five-game stretch of defense (125.6 points allowed per 100 possessions) this season.
The streak came to an end in Houston on Saturday with the Rockets scoring just 88 points on 98 possessions. The Knicks are still just two games into a relatively easy stretch of schedule (10 of 13 against teams currently under .500), but the injuries obviously make things tougher. Brunson is listed as questionable as the Knicks return home for a Monday afternoon game against the Suns.
Week 12: vs. PHX, vs. SAS, @ TOR
OffRtg: 110.8 (24) DefRtg: 111.6 (8) NetRtg: -0.8 (20) Pace: 97.5 (28)
There are only five Eastern Conference teams that have winning records against the West, and they’re led by the Celtics (11-3) and Bucks (12-4), which isn’t too surprising. But the third-best mark belongs to the Heat, who are just 8-11 within their own conference, but now 11-7 against the other one. Last week, they finished off a homestand with wins over the Wolves and Lakers, over which they committed 32 fewer turnovers (16-48) than their opponents*. They beat Minnesota without Jimmy Butler and they beat L.A. with him scoring 27 points and picking up six steals.
* The turnover differential in Lakers-Heat on Wednesday (26-6) is tied for the fourth biggest in any game in the last 25 years.
Miami had a lead with two minutes left in Denver on Friday, but went scoreless on four straight possessions (with Tyler Herro missing two 3s) as Jamal Murray went on a 7-0 run to give the Nuggets a five-point victory. The Heat had more confounding issues in Utah the following night, fouling two 3-point shooters in the final 15 seconds and blowing a late, seven-point lead. But Herro saved the day with a running 3 at the buzzer, his third game-winner of the season and the final NBA shot of 2022.
The Heat lead the league in clutch games, with 25 of their 37 (including 13 of their 18 against the West) having been within five points in the last five minutes. They’re 14-11 in those games, ranking fifth in clutch defense (97.7 points allowed per 100 possessions), in the top seven for the third straight season.
The Heat have three games left on their five-game trip through the West, and they’ve beaten each of the three opponents already, though their wins over the Clippers and Suns came by a total of six points.
Week 12: @ LAC, @ LAL, @ PHX, vs. BKN
OffRtg: 113.0 (15) DefRtg: 112.9 (15) NetRtg: +0.1 (15) Pace: 98.0 (25)
The Raptors have used 18 different starting lineups in their 36 games and still seem to be searching for answers. Health has been an issue, but they’ve only outscored their opponents by 2.1 points per 100 possessions in 426 total minutes with their three core vets – Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby and Pascal Siakam – on the floor together (that number was plus-6.2 per 100 last season). Their best-five lineup — with Gary Trent Jr. and Scottie Barnes joining the other three — has been outscored by 1.9 per 100 in its 108 minutes. Starts to halves have been a problem no matter who’s on the floor; only the Pistons (minus-4.1 points per game) and Thunder (minus-3.1) have been worse than the Raptors (minus-2.5) over the first six minutes of the first and third quarters.
On Tuesday against the Clippers, it was the first few minutes of the third quarter that really put the Raptors in a hole they couldn’t climb out of. Two nights later against Memphis, they were down nine just four minutes into the game. They trailed both games by 23 points and they were the eighth and ninth times this season that the Raptors allowed at least 120 points per 100 possessions.
Missing VanVleet for the second straight game, the Raptors got off to good starts against Phoenix on Friday. It was just the eighth time this season they won the first six minutes of both the first and third quarters, though they needed a 14-3, game-closing run to hold off the Suns. The Raptors have been playing a tough stretch of schedule, but they’ve won three of their last five games, having won just two of their previous 11. It’s been their best five-game stretch of offense (117.5 points scored per 100 possessions) since early November.
There are probably a lot of us who thought the Raptors would be where the Pacers currently are in the Eastern Conference. The first meeting between the two teams was a rest-advantage win for the Pacers (in which the Raptors were without Siakam and blew a 15-point lead) in Indiana seven weeks ago. Meeting No. 2 is back in Indy on Monday, and it’s followed by the Raptors’ longest homestand of the season (six games over 11 days). That begins with their first meeting with the Bucks, a rest-advantage game on Wednesday. With their loss to the Clippers last week, the Raptors are just 3-4 in rest-advantage games thus far, with only two teams — Atlanta (5-3) and Oklahoma City (1-7) — having played more.
Week 12: @ IND, vs. MIL, vs. NYK, vs. POR
OffRtg: 111.6 (21) DefRtg: 112.9 (16) NetRtg: -1.2 (23) Pace: 101.6 (7)
The Hawks’ preferred starting lineup has outscored its opponents by 10.8 points per 100 possessions, the fourth best mark among 15 lineups that have played at least 200 minutes. And Atlanta is 12-7 (with wins over the Bucks, Sixers and Kings) when all five guys have been available. But all five have been available in just one of their last 14 games, with four available in just two of the other 13. De’Andre Hunter and Clint Capela have both missed the last three games, with Trae Young also out against Brooklyn on Wednesday. The Hawks lost all three, blowing 15-point leads at home against both the Nets and Lakers.
They had chances down the stretch of both games, but the Hawks couldn’t get stops against the Lakers (they allowed 107 points on 77 possessions over the last 36 minutes) and they didn’t call timeout against the Nets, instead attempting to go full court in five seconds. (AJ Griffin wasn’t on the floor, so he wasn’t left alone under the basket this time.) The Hawks now lead the lead in losses (they’re 10-4) after leading by 15 points or more (they were 30-4 last season), and the three-game losing streak has dropped them to two games under .500 for the first time.
That has them just a game ahead of the 11th-place Bulls and 12th-place Raptors, with a tough road trip to begin 2023. The Hawks are one of five teams that have yet to play in the Mountain or Pacific time zones, and seven of their nine games (they’re 4-5) against the Western Conference have been at home. They’ll play all four California teams on the four-game trip that begins Monday in San Francisco, where the Warriors are 16-2.
Week 12: @ GSW, @ SAC, @ LAL, @ LAC
OffRtg: 112.0 (18) DefRtg: 112.4 (12) NetRtg: -0.4 (17) Pace: 99.5 (18)
The Wizards’ season is not done yet. This team lost 13 of 14 games over a four-week stretch before Christmas, but has suddenly won five straight (for the first time since November of 2021) to gain admission into the Play-In Club in the Eastern Conference. Rui Hachimura (shooting 60% from the field), Kristaps Porzingis and Kyle Kuzma have all averaged more than 20 points per game over the streak, which has also been the Wizards’ best stretch of defense (103.4 points allowed per 100 possessions) of the season. That number comes with the context that the last two games have come against the suspension-stricken Magic and the star-less Bucks, but the defense was solid against better offensive teams prior to the weekend.
The last three wins have also come without Bradley Beal, who’s getting paid $250 million over the next five years. The Wizards’ preferred stating lineup has outscored their opponents by 13.0 points per 100 possessions in its 141 minutes, Beal has shown some good chemistry with Porzingis, and he’s had a solid offensive season overall, registering career-high marks for both effective field goal percentage (57.4%) and true shooting percentage (61.9%). But, aside from that starting lineup’s numbers, there’s not much evidence in that Beal really moves the needle for this team. The Wiz are 10-13 with Beal in uniform and now 7-8 without him. They’ve been better offensively with him on the floor, but better defensively (to nearly the same degree) with him off the floor.
The Wizards finish their two-game series in Milwaukee on Tuesday, and then they’ll play just one game over the next five days. The game in Oklahoma City is the end of a stretch where they will have played 17 of 23 on the road.
Week 12: @ MIL, @ OKC
OffRtg: 111.8 (19) DefRtg: 112.9 (17) NetRtg: -1.1 (22) Pace: 100.5 (12)
Last season, the Bulls couldn’t beat good teams. This season, they’re 5-1 against the top three teams in the East — Boston, Brooklyn and Milwaukee — after beating the Bucks in overtime on Wednesday. Chicago has allowed just 106.7 points per 100 possessions over those six games, with the Bucks scoring just 113 on 111 (despite 22 offensive rebounds) last week. That included seven points on 13 clutch possessions, with the Bulls coming back from 11 points down with less than three minutes to go in regulation. The biggest defensive play, of course, was DeMar DeRozan’s steal that led to Ayo Dosunmu’s game-tying dunk.
But while the Bulls are better against the best teams, they’re still having trouble beating the bad ones. There are eight teams with worse records than the Bulls through Week 11, and the Bulls are 2-5 against those eight teams after splitting home games against Houston and Detroit last week. The Bulls have allowed 118.7 points per 100 possessions in those seven games, with Houston scoring 133 on 101 (its second most efficient performance of the season) last Monday. The Rockets had huge runs (23-5 and 17-1) in both the first and third quarters and shot 30-for-42 (71%) in the paint. Chicago is one of six teams that rank in the bottom 10 in both in opponent field goal percentage in the paint (58.9% 21st) and opponent effective field goal percentage on shots from outside the paint (52.5%, 27th).
The Bulls almost beat the fourth-place Cavs on Saturday, but DeRozan’s game-winner was off the mark. They’ll be in Cleveland for the second game of the home-and-home set before playing two more games against good teams. The Bulls came back from 19 points down in their first meeting against the Sixers (Oct. 29 in Chicago) before losing on a late Joel Embiid 3.
Week 12: @ CLE, vs. BKN, @ PHI, vs. UTA
OffRtg: 112.2 (17) DefRtg: 113.7 (20) NetRtg: -1.4 (24) Pace: 102.6 (2)
LeBron James sent a pretty clear message on Wednesday that he doesn’t want to play for a non-contender, obviously adding pressure on the Lakers’ front office to improve the roster around him, maybe sooner than later. Two nights later (and on his 38th birthday), James took matters into his own hands, scoring a season-high 47 points, grabbing 10 boards, and dishing out nine assists in a comeback win in Atlanta. It was just the 20th time in his career (1,660 games, including playoffs) in which he had at least 26 points in the paint, and this one included eight straight points down the stretch.
James isn’t the finisher at 38 that he was at 28 and his free throw rate (24.2 attempts per 100 shots from the field) is the lowest mark of his career, but his 66.4% shooting in the paint still ranks 20th among 183 players with at least 100 paint attempts. He and Luka Doncic are the only players averaging at least 28 points, eight rebounds and six assists, and given his current pace (22.2 points per Lakers game this season), he’ll be the all-time leading scorer right around the All-Star break.
Maybe it’s sooner than that, because James did play both games of the Lakers’ Florida back-to-back last week and the Lakers will likely need to win with offense for as long as Anthony Davis is out. Having scored more than 120 points per 100 possessions in four of their last five games, they rank 10th offensively over the 15 days they’ve been playing without their big man. But they’re 29th defensively (only the Spurs have been worse) over that stretch, even though four of their last five opponents rank in the bottom 10 offensively for the season.
The Lakers’ five-game trip ends with a game against the league’s 30th-ranked offense on Monday, but the Hornets had their most efficient scoring game of the season (134 points on 107 possessions) in a win over the Lakers just 10 days ago.
Week 12: @ CHA, vs. MIA, vs. ATL, @ SAC
OffRtg: 111.8 (20) DefRtg: 112.8 (14) NetRtg: -1.0 (21) Pace: 102.2 (4)
Maybe the nadir for the Wolves wasn’t the four-guys-on-the-floor incident. Maybe it’s now, with them having lost six straight games to fall five games below .500. The first five losses on the streak weren’t too bad and they were against five teams that currently have winning records (including the Celtics, Pelicans and Bucks), four of the five were on the road, and four of them were within five points in the last five minutes. The Wolves had last-second chances to tie or win in Miami and New Orleans last week.
But Game 6 came at home against the Pistons, with the Detroit bench doing most of the damage. The Pistons’ 24 fast break points were a season high, their 22 second-chance points were tied for their season high, and their 56 points in the paint were tied for their second highest total. But for the Wolves, it was the fourth time on the losing streak in which they grabbed less than 70% of available defensive rebounds.
It was also the Pistons’ first win in the last 10 games that they trailed by double-digits. The Wolves have actually had halftime leads in five of these last six games (and in 12 of their last 14). But they’ve lost all six third quarters (and five of the six fourth quarters), getting outscored by a total of 31 points (77-46) over the last two. The Wolves now rank as the league’s third worst third-quarter team (minus-11.3 points per 100 possessions), with the 123.9 per 100 they’ve allowed in the third being the third worst defensive mark for any team in any period.
The Wolves are 3-0 in rest-advantage games this season, and they’ll have rest advantages in three of their next five games, including home games against the Nuggets and Clippers this week. They’ve yet to play Denver and their only meeting with the Clippers (Dec. 14 in L.A.) was their worst offensive performance of the season (88 points on 97 possessions).
Week 12: vs. DEN, vs. POR, vs. LAC, @ HOU
OffRtg: 110.5 (25) DefRtg: 112.1 (11) NetRtg: -1.6 (25) Pace: 102.5 (3)
Aleksej Pokusevski’s knee injury (with which he’ll miss at least six weeks) is a tough blow for a player who turned 21 last Monday and needs to play as much as possible. Pokusevski was averaging less than 23 minutes per game and the Thunder have been at their worst (minus-13.1 points per 100 possessions) with him on the floor, but he’s shown obvious improvement on both ends. With more arc on his shot, he’s 38% from 3-point range, up from 29% last season. And with the realization that he’s seven-feet tall with long arms, he’s blocked 2.2 shots per 36 minutes, up from 1.1 in ’21-22.
With both Pokusevski and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl out, the Thunder have been starting rookie Jaylin Williams (alongside rookie Jalen Williams). The taller (and skinnier) Williams had some strength issues as the Thunder lost in Charlotte on Thursday, getting bully-balled by Mason Plumlee and struggling to finish in traffic. But he flashed some defensive awareness (dropping off Plumlee to thwart a back-door cut) and made one deft pass out of the high post. (The Thunder might also have to give consistent minutes to Mike Muscala, having outscored their opponents by 12.0 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor.)
The Thunder’s home-heavy stretch (11 of 13 at Paycom Center) comes to an end this week. After their loss in Charlotte last week, they’re 7-6 against the other 10 teams that are currently more than two games under .500, a mark that includes wins over the Magic (who they’ll visit on Wednesday) and Wizards (who they’ll host on Friday). They’ll have a rest advantage against Dallas on Sunday, but are just 1-7 in rest-advantage games after their loss to the Sixers this past weekend.
Week 12: vs. BOS, @ ORL, vs. WAS, vs. DAL
OffRtg: 110.2 (27) DefRtg: 114.3 (25) NetRtg: -4.1 (26) Pace: 99.1 (20)
A week ago, the Magic looked like they were on their way to competing for a Play-In spot in the East, having won eight of their last nine games and set to play four more in a stretch of seven straight against teams with losing records. Now … not so much. The Magic had three of their five worst losses of the season last week, losing to the Lakers, Pistons and Wizards by an average of 19.3 points. They were outscored by at least nine points in five of the six halves, and the worst stretch of the week (a 31-10 run from the Pistons on Wednesday) was made worse by Moe Wagner’s bush-league foul on Killian Hayes and eight Magic players leaving the bench in the ensuing altercation.
The Magic rank 28th in turnover rate, but turnovers (other than the one that led to the Wagner ejection) haven’t been a big issue over these three games. Instead, the last two losses have been two of their three least effective shooting games of the season. They’ve shot 26% from 3-point range and Paolo Banchero has shot just 4-for-30 (13%) from outside the restricted area over the losing streak. The Magic still rank as the third most improved offensive team from last season (+6.3 points scored per 100 possessions), but they’re now back in the bottom five on that end of the floor.
They have one more game on this stretch of seven straight against below-.500 opponents, but Franz Wagner will be among the four guys suspended against Oklahoma City on Wednesday. And that’s the start of Orlando’s second stretch of five games in seven nights, with the other four opponents all currently holding winning records.
Week 12: vs. OKC, vs. MEM, @ GSW
OffRtg: 110.3 (26) DefRtg: 118.9 (30) NetRtg: -8.6 (30) Pace: 101.1 (10)
The Spurs remain the team whose record most belies their point differential, which is that of a team that’s 8-28. Their 24 losses have come by an average of 17.0 points, while their 12 wins have been by an average of 8.1. They’ve played the fewest clutch games in the league (12), but they have lost some close ones. And on Saturday, they almost got their first win in a game they trailed by double-digits. They came back against Dallas from a 17-point deficit (it was 10 after the third quarter), only to come up short in the final minute. Tre Jones (who’s eighth in assist/turnover ratio) committed a last-minute turnover, Jeremy Sochan missed a contested layup on a fast break for the lead, and Jones missed a free throw for the tie after successfully pulling off the intentional-miss move.
While most of their losses haven’t been close, with the Sochan miss, the Spurs are one of two teams — the Rockets (0-for-9) are the other — that haven’t made a shot (they’re 0-for-5) to tie or take the lead in the final minute of the fourth quarter or overtime. They also remain both the only winless team (they’re 0-22) in games they trailed by 10 points or more and the only winless team (they’re 0-20) in games they trailed after the third quarter. Even with the near-comeback against Dallas, they’ve been outscored by 19.3 points per 100 possessions in the fourth quarter, by far the worst mark for any team in any period (next worse is their own minus-14.4 per 100 mark in the first).
The Spurs did get two single-digit wins last week, outscoring the Jazz and Knicks by 46 points (102-56) in the restricted area over those two games. They had been outscored by 6.6 per game in the restricted area (the league’s second worst discrepancy) prior to that.
They’re just two games into a stretch where they’re playing 12 of 13 against teams currently over .500, with another game against the Knicks on Wednesday. The Spurs have as many wins (they’re 6-15) against that group as they do against the other 12 teams currently below .500 (6-9).
Week 12: @ BKN, @ NYK, vs. DET, vs. BOS
OffRtg: 107.9 (30) DefRtg: 114.8 (26) NetRtg: -6.9 (29) Pace: 101.3 (8)
LaMelo Ball has given the Hornets’ offense a boost, especially in regard to 3-point volume. They’ve still seen the league’s third biggest drop in 3-point rate (3PA/FGA) from last season, but it’s up from 34.1% (26th) through their first 27 games to 39.6% (14th) over the 10 since Ball returned from his second extended absence. Only Stephen Curry (11.6) has averaged more 3-point attempts than Ball (11.3), who (at 37.4%) has shot slightly better from beyond the arc than Damian Lillard (37.3%, also on 11.3 attempts per game). Of course, the Charlotte offense still ranks just 28th (110.3 points scored per 100 possessions) since the return of its point guard, with Hornets not named Ball having shot 28.8% from beyond the arc.
Reminder: The Hornets’ offense ranked eighth last season and in the top five through January.
The Hornets have finally turned over the backup center minutes to Mark Williams, the 15th pick in last year’s Draft. And the seven-foot rookie looked pretty good in a win over the Thunder on Thursday, scoring 17 points, grabbing 13 rebounds, and blocking two shots. He played big against switches, made a couple of nice interior passes, protected the rim, and rebounded well in traffic (he seems to have some strong mitts). With 32-year-old Mason Plumlee on an expiring contract and the Hornets seven games in the loss column out of a Play-In spot, you have to wonder when they’ll give all the center minutes to Williams and Nick Richards (a restricted free agent this summer).
The Hornets’ best offensive game of the season came 10 days ago against the team (the Lakers) that will be at the Spectrum Center on Monday. After a fun Ball-Morant matchup on Wednesday, the Hornets will play 13 of their next 18 games on the road.
Week 12: vs. LAL, vs. MEM, @ MIL, @ IND
OffRtg: 110.8 (23) DefRtg: 117.6 (29) NetRtg: -6.7 (28) Pace: 100.0 (16)
The Knicks’ loss in Dallas on Tuesday was probably tougher to swallow, but the Pistons had a pretty bad one 24 hours earlier. They led the Clippers by 14 points with three minutes left in regulation and were then outscored 30-5 over the final eight minutes of an overtime defeat. That was the sixth game of a six-game losing streak in which the Pistons allowed their opponents to score 122.9 points per 100 possessions.
None of those six losses were worse defensively than the Pistons’ game in Chicago on Friday, when the Bulls scored 132 points on just 97 possessions. But that loss was sandwiched by wins over Orlando and Minnesota, two of Detroit’s five best defensive games of the season. The Pistons got big lifts from their bench in both games, with Alec Burks and Saddiq Bey combining for 60 points against the Magic and with a five-man bench unit (featuring a recently dusted off Rodney McGruder) outscoring the Wolves by 18 points in its 14.3 minutes. Burks’ on-off differential isn’t quite Jokic-level, but the 10-29 Pistons have outscored their opponents by 36 points (1.2 per 100 possessions) in his 560 minutes. That includes a mark of plus-9.2 per 100 in 268 minutes alongside Cory Joseph.
With their second win over the Magic, the Pistons are 3-0 in games played between the bottom five teams in the league, having yet to play Houston or San Antonio. Their first meeting with the Spurs (Friday) is the final game of their five-game trip. McGruder has been playing (and Bey has been in the starting lineup) because Killian Hayes has been suspended, and that suspension lasts one more game.
Week 12: @ POR, @ GSW, @ SAS, vs. PHI
OffRtg: 108.9 (29) DefRtg: 115.6 (28) NetRtg: -6.6 (27) Pace: 99.8 (17)
It’s been noted in this space before that the Rockets are breaking their own record for transition points allowed, but it bears repeating given the events of the last week: Last season, the Rockets allowed 25.0 transition points per game, the highest opponent mark in 18 seasons of Synergy tracking. And this season, they’ve allowed 26.1 transition points per game, ranking last in opponent transition frequency (19.5% of possessions) and 28th in opponent points per transition possession (1.20).
Turnovers remain an issue; the Rockets rank last in turnover rate for the second straight season, and this season’s rate (17.2 per 100 possessions) would be the highest for any team in the last seven years. But they’ve actually averaged fewer live-ball turnovers per game (8.8) than they did last season (9.5), and their turnovers were relatively low (13.5 per 100) over their first three post-Christmas games. But their opponents averaged 30.3 transition points over the three games, with the Mavs’ 36 on Thursday being 21 more than their season average to date.
It would be one thing if the Rockets were playing up and down like last season’s Hornets. But Houston also ranks last in the percentage of offensive possessions (13.2%) that have been in transition. This was the second youngest team on opening night and Jalen Green is one of the fastest guys in the league, but the Rockets don’t bother to run themselves. They’ve registered more fast break points than their opponents just six times in their 36 games, and they’ve been outscored on the break in each of their last eight.
Wins and losses aren’t very important to this team, but habits probably should be. The above doesn’t even get into the Rockets’ lack of ball or player movement on offense, and Eric Gordon was pretty blunt in his assessment (“There’s no improvement.”) after the Rockets’ 20-point loss to the shorthanded Knicks on Saturday. It’s time for resolutions, and no team needs to turn over a new leaf more than this one.
Week 12: vs. DAL, @ NOP, vs. UTA, vs. MIN