Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks have looked dominant early on this season.
This is the week that will help determine the balance of power … in the NBA.
Yes, it’s finally time for some serious East-West action.
It’s been a slow roll-out for interconference games thus far, with only 31 (1.6 per day) through Sunday. As we enter Week 4, there are still five teams (one in the East and four in the West) that have yet to play a team from the opposite conference.
But the interconference schedule really kicks in over the next seven days. There will be as many interconference games in Week 4 (31) as there have been through the first three weeks. That includes nine (including Celtics-Grizzlies) on Monday, eight (with Jazz-Hawks) on Wednesday, and six (Nets-Lakers?) on Sunday.
Last season was just the second in the last 23 years in which the East had a winning record against the West, and the East entered this season looking stronger than ever. But the West has had the edge thus far, winning 17 of the 31 interconference games. The East can certainly turn things around this week, but it doesn’t help that it’s already lost six games to the Kings and Spurs.
East-West games aren’t just about bragging rights, of course. They go a long way in determining how many games you have to win to make the playoffs in each conference. Right now, the sixth-place team in the East is the 5-6 Bulls.
And with the West looking stronger thus far, there are seven West teams in the top 10 of the Week 4 Power Rankings. But the East does hold the top two spots, with the Milwaukee Bucks still undefeated and the Cleveland Cavaliers having won eight straight games.
Plus-Minus Players of the Week
Teams of the Week
- Make It Last Forever: Cleveland (3-0) — The Cavs’ pushed their winning streak to eight games with another overtime victory over the Celtics and two more important wins (against Chicago and New York) in the East standings.
- Something Just Ain’t Right: Detroit (0-3) — The Pistons were supposed to be somewhat competitive this season, but they looked far from that in losing to the Bucks and Cavs (without their two All-Star guards) by a total of 49 points on Wednesday and Friday.
East vs. West
Schedule strength through Week 3
- Toughest: 1. Houston, 2. L.A. Lakers, 3. Oklahoma City
- Easiest: 1. Milwaukee, 2. Indiana, 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: Brooklyn (+6), LA Clippers (+5), Miami (+4), Toronto (+4)
- Free falls of the week: San Antonio (-9), Golden State (-6), Charlotte (-5)
Week 4 Team to Watch
- Atlanta — The Hawks got a good win over the (full-strength) Pelicans on Saturday, they’ve risen into a tie for third place in the East, and they’ve got some pretty big games this week. They’ll host the undefeated Bucks on Monday (8:15 p.m. ET, NBA League Pass) and the 8-3 Jazz on Wednesday (7:30 ET, NBA League Pass). Then they’ll have a home-and-home set with the Sixers, playing in Atlanta on Thursday and in Philly on Saturday.
Previous Power Rankings
- This time last year: Warriors, Nets and Cavs rise up — The Sixers (six games), Nets (five games), Cavs (four games), Warriors (four games), Clippers (four games) and Suns (four games) were on winning streaks, and one of those would go on for a few more weeks. The Lakers blew another huge lead to the Thunder, with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s audacious pull-up 3 capping the comeback. Marcus Smart voiced some frustration with his teammates’ aversion to passing the ball, and Ja Morant pulled off a 360 against the Nuggets. Nikola Jokic saved a win with a block of Jae’Sean Tate, Luka Doncic beat the Celtics at the buzzer, and Cole Anthony gave an epic walk-off interview. Facts.
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 111.2 points scored per 100 possessions and 100.2 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: 112.0 (16) DefRtg: 100.6 (1) NetRtg: +11.5 (2) Pace: 100.7 (13)
The Bucks barely escaped their first of two meetings with the Pistons last week, needing a step-back 3 from Jrue Holiday to retake the lead (after losing all of a 16-point cushion) in the final minute. But in only three of their nine games have they trailed for more than a minute and a half. Their starting lineup has outscored opponents by 34.5 points per 100 possessions (allowing a paltry 85.1 per 100) in its 81 minutes and the Bucks are a league-best plus-24.1 per 100 in the first quarter.
The first quarter against the Thunder on Saturday was the first one the Bucks played without Giannis Antetokounmpo (resting the second game of a back-to-back) and the first one they didn’t win. But they were even after the first 12 minutes and up 22 after the next 15. They’ve now held their opponent under a point per possession in three straight games, something they hadn’t done (in the regular season) since February/March of 2020. Brook Lopez is 34, but seems to be defending as well as he ever has, and the Bucks continue to defend the 3-point line. Last season, their opponent made 15 or more 3s in a league-high 39 (48%) of their 82 games. This season, it’s happened just in just one of nine.
The Bucks have just one more back-to-back (Dec. 2 and 3) between now and January, so Antetokounmpo can continue to put up gaudy numbers (32.6 points in just 33.5 minutes per game ain’t bad) for the next few weeks. They do embark on their first multi-game road trip this week, with their visit to Atlanta on Monday seemingly the best chance for somebody to hand them their first loss.
Week 4: @ ATL, @ OKC, @ SAS
OffRtg: 114.8 (6) DefRtg: 102.9 (2) NetRtg: +12.0 (1) Pace: 97.7 (27)
The Cavs are undefeated in the United States, having won eight straight games since their opening-night loss in Toronto (a game they led by five with less than five minutes left). Darius Garland returned from his five-game absence to register 29 points and 12 assists (with just one turnover) in his team’s second overtime win over the Celtics. Donovan Mitchell then scored 33 points (going 12-for-13 from the line) in a comeback win over the Lakers on Sunday.
The weekend was also a display of the Cavs’ depth. They blew out the Pistons without either Garland or Mitchell on Friday, getting 21 points and 10 assists from Kevin Love. And the L.A. game was won with a 17-0 run spanning the third and fourth quarters with three reserves — Love, Cedi Osman and Dean Wade — on the floor. The Cavs have the league’s top-ranked bench and have outscored their opponents by 22.1 points per 100 possessions in Love’s 178 minutes on the floor. That’s the second best mark among 253 players who’ve averaged at least 15 minutes in six games or more. It should be noted that Cleveland opponents scoring less than a point per possession in Love’s minutes is partially due to a 28% mark from 3-point range, which could certainly be fluky. It’s the fourth lowest on-court mark among 281 players who’ve been on the floor for at least 75 opponent 3-point attempts. But it could also be noted that Love has drawn three more charges (9) than anybody else in the league.
The Cavs’ five-game trip concludes this week, and it’s not a bad time to be playing the Clippers and Warriors, though Cleveland has lost its last 14 games against Golden State, going back to Game 5 of the 2017 Finals.
Week 4: @ LAC, @ SAC, @ GSW, vs. MIN
OffRtg: 116.4 (3) DefRtg: 105.1 (3) NetRtg: +11.3 (3) Pace: 97.8 (26)
Cam Johnson had the second-highest scoring game of his career on Tuesday, dropping 29 on the Timberwolves, with two big 3-pointers on the 12-3, fourth-quarter run that put the game away for the Suns. In the first quarter of the next game, Johnson suffered a torn meniscus in his right knee. We don’t know yet how long Johnson will be out (it will depend on if his surgery is a repair or a removal), but it obviously hurts that Jae Crowder is just chillin’ at home, waiting to be traded. The trade market won’t really open up for another five weeks and even then, it will be difficult to find a deal that brings back a contributor at the same position.
The Suns started Torrey Craig in Johnson’s place on Saturday, and Craig registered a plus-22 in less than 22 minutes as they got some revenge for their loss to the Blazers the night before, winning by 20 points so they wouldn’t have to worry about incorrect travel (or non-travel) calls with the game on the line. They’re now 1-2 in clutch games (with both losses coming against the Blazers) and 5-0 otherwise.
The Johnson absence puts a little more of a spotlight on the slow return of Dario Saric, who had played just 16 minutes before logging a season-high 21 on Saturday. Saric’s minutes haven’t looked great, the Suns have scored just 63 points on 75 offensive possessions with him on the floor, and he’s yet to play alongside Deandre Ayton. But Phoenix will face three big frontlines this week and their worst rebounding game of the season was that win over the Wolves last week.
Week 4: @ PHI, @ MIN, @ ORL
OffRtg: 117.5 (2) DefRtg: 113.7 (23) NetRtg: +3.8 (8) Pace: 99.0 (21)
The Celtics’ win against the Wizards eight days ago seemed to be a defensive breakthrough, and their overtime loss in Cleveland on Wednesday was a pretty inefficient game on both ends of the floor (227 combined points on 220 possessions), with the Celtics shooting 0-for-5 on clutch 3-pointers. But the Celtics had a handful of botched switches in that game, including a particularly painful one that left Jarrett Allen alone for a dunk in the extra period. After three weeks, only the Warriors (+10.0) have seen a bigger jump in points allowed per 100 possessions from last season than the Celtics have (+7.5).
But the offense has certainly picked up the slack. And it hit a new high in New York on Saturday, when the Celtics made a franchise-record 27 3-pointers (tied for the fourth-most in NBA history) on 51 attempts. The Celtics lead the league in 3-point rate (47.3% of their field goal attempts have come from beyond the arc) and rank sixth in the percentage of their 3s (87.5%) that have been assisted. They’re Team Drive and Kick, now with seven players (no other team has more than five) who have shot 35% or better on at least 25 3-point attempts.
While their defense hasn’t been up to their standards overall, it has limited opponent 3-point attempts. And with that, the Celtics have outscored their opponents by 14 points per game (what would be the fifth best differential in the 44 seasons of the 3-point line) from beyond the arc. Saturday in New York was the third time they’ve made at least eight more 3s than their opponent.
The Celtics’ first game against the Western Conference is a tough one. They’ll visit Memphis on Monday, with the Grizzlies having the highest-ranked offense that the Celtics have faced thus far. The Grizzlies have also won 13 of their last 14 home games against the Eastern Conference, with the one loss being the Celtics’ win at FedEx Forum on the last day of last season (when the Grizzlies rested their starters).
Week 4: @ MEM, vs. DET, vs. DEN, @ DET
OffRtg: 114.1 (8) DefRtg: 109.0 (8) NetRtg: +5.0 (6) Pace: 100.4 (17)
The Jazz aren’t going away. They’ve won four of their last five games, with the one loss coming by three points in Dallas. They clobbered the Grizzlies (who had Ja Morant this time) early last week, ended the Lakers’ two-game winning streak on Friday, and then ended the Clippers’ three-game winning streak two nights later. The Jazz have scored 118.7 points per 100 possessions, with five guys shooting better than 40% on at least 15 3-point attempts, over the five games. The Jazz are now 8-0 when they’ve outscored their opponent from 3-point range (they were a plus-39 from beyond the arc against Memphis on Monday) and 0-3 when they haven’t (tied once, outscored twice).
Collin Sexton’s production off the bench has been pretty darn consistent, and he scored a season-high 22 points against the Clippers on Sunday with one Jordan-esque move (meaning a Jordan Clarkson-esque move) in the paint in the third quarter and a timely dive that put the Jazz up six in the final minute. None of this motley crew came from Houston during the offseason, but the Jazz are the new Rockets, having taken just 6% of their shots (the league’s lowest rate) from mid-range (between the paint and the 3-point line). Sexton had taken 20% of his shots from mid-range over his first four seasons, but he’s below 5% (3-for-5, 110 total field goal attempts) this year.
All 11 of the Jazz’s games have been within the Western Conference, and they’ll host the Lakers on Monday (their third one-game homestand of the season thus far). Their next four after that are against the East, with a three-game trip beginning in Atlanta on Wednesday.
Week 4: vs. LAL, @ ATL, @ WAS, @ PHI
OffRtg: 110.3 (20) DefRtg: 109.5 (11) NetRtg: +0.8 (14) Pace: 98.5 (23)
The Blazers are 2-2 without Damian Lillard, not bad considering that three of the four games have come against the Grizzlies and Suns (x 2). Their bench kept them in the first of two games in Phoenix, allowing Jusuf Nurkic to come up with two big buckets (one of which made him 6-for-9 from 3-point range this season) in the final minute, which set up Jerami Grant for the game-winner. The Phoenix-Portland season series is already over, with the Blazers picking up two clutch wins over the team that was 33-9 in clutch games last season.
The Blazers had a chance to beat the Grizzlies, too. But after erasing all of a 17-point, fourth-quarter deficit, they went scoreless (with two of their 20 turnovers) on their next four possessions. Their defense kept them in that game and ranks as the league’s second most improved defense from last season, with only the Bucks having seen a bigger drop in points allowed per 100 possessions. And that’s with five of the Blazers’ nine games having come against teams that currently rank in the top 10 offensively.
Anfernee Simons (foot inflammation) is doubtful, but Lillard (calf strain) is listed as questionable for the Blazers’ game in Miami on Monday. He was injured in their first meeting with the Heat, which was both the Blazers’ worst defensive game of the season (thanks, in part, to 13 live-ball turnovers) and the Heat’s best offensive game of the season (119 points on 96 possessions). After the question of whether Lillard plays on Monday, there will be the question of whether he plays both games of the Blazers’ Wednesday-Thursday back-to-back. The more important of the two games is obviously in New Orleans, and the Pelicans (in Chicago on Wednesday) will also be without rest.
Week 4: @ MIA, @ CHA, @ NOP, @ DAL
OffRtg: 115.3 (5) DefRtg: 113.3 (20) NetRtg: +2.0 (9) Pace: 100.9 (11)
The Nuggets have won the first quarter in each of their last six games, and the combined score of their last two first quarters was Nuggets 82, Opponents 56. Those 82 points came on 53 offensive possessions, with the Nuggets shooting 15-for-20 from 3-point range and recording assists on 22 of their 31 field goals. The offense cooled off a little bit in the latter periods, but the Nuggets still climbed from 15th to fifth in offensive efficiency last week, even though they played just two games.
Jamal Murray has helped with the ascension, averaging 19.3 points (in less than 30 minutes) over the last three games and shooting 11-for-15 from mid-range over the last four. His finishing in the paint isn’t there yet, but he did raise some eyebrows with a reverse dunk over two defenders in Oklahoma City on Thursday. Murray and Nikola Jokic have had 17 assists to each other over the last three games, including eight in just 23 minutes on the floor together against San Antonio on Saturday. Diming has been contagious, with Bruce Brown dishing out nine assists (his second most in 278 career games) in OKC and Bones Hyland dishing out seven (tied for his career-high) against San Antonio. It’s been a balanced attack overall and the Nuggets are the only team with seven players who have averaged double-figures in five games or more.
The Nuggets were home for just one game, and they’ll face the Spurs again on Monday. That’s the start of a four-game trip that includes their first three games against the Eastern Conference. They were 11-4 (second-best among West teams) in Eastern Conference arenas last season, though two of their 10 worst offensive performances of the season came in losses in Boston and Chicago.
Week 4: @ SAS, @ IND, @ BOS, @ CHI
OffRtg: 117.5 (1) DefRtg: 111.1 (14) NetRtg: +6.4 (5) Pace: 95.6 (30)
In Week 1, the Mavs beat the Grizzlies by 41 points. But each of the Mavs’ other seven games have been within five in the last five minutes. Their opponents have scored much more efficiently on clutch possessions than the Mavs have, but they’ve won four of those seven (including each of the last three), because they’ve more often entered clutch time with the lead. Witness their win over Toronto on Friday, when the Mavs held on down the stretch after losing almost all of a 19-point cushion.
Coach Jason Kidd made a starting lineup change for that game, replacing JaVale McGee with Dwight Powell, with the initial starting lineup having been outscored by 15.6 points per 100 possessions in its 56 minutes. The Powell lineup is a plus-34.9 per 100 in 48 minutes, but the Mavs have also been much better, especially offensively, with only one of Luka Doncic or Spencer Dinwiddie on the floor (plus-17.6 per 100 in 220 total minutes) than they’ve been with the two ball-handlers on the floor together (minus-8.0 in 167). We’ll see if the Doncic-Dinwiddie minutes trend differently with the change at center, but for now, the Mavs have the league’s top-ranked bench in regard to aggregate point differential per 100. Christian Wood ranks second in effective field goal percentage (66.7%) and third in true shooting percentage (68.3%) among 85 players who’ve averaged at least 15 points per game.
The Mavs’ five-game homestand concludes on Monday with a visit from the Nets, but another five-game homestand begins Saturday and includes games against the Blazers, Clippers and Nuggets (x 2).
Week 4: vs. BKN, @ ORL, @ WAS, vs. POR
OffRtg: 114.8 (7) DefRtg: 113.6 (22) NetRtg: +1.2 (10) Pace: 100.7 (14)
After allowing a league-worst 119.5 points per 100 possessions over their seven games in the month of October, the Grizzlies have allowed just 99.7 per 100 (fourth best) as they’ve gone 3-0 in November. The context is that the three games have come against the Blazers’ 20th-ranked offense (without Damian Lillard), the Hornets’ 27th-ranked offense (without Terry Rozier or Gordon Hayward), and the Wizards’ 24th-ranked offense (without Bradley Beal). Still, the Grizzlies just needed to get some stops, whether they came against the Washington Wizards or the Washington Generals, because they weren’t going anywhere with the league’s worst defense.
Desmond Bane is going places, like maybe to the All-Star game if he keeps this up. He’s averaged 29.5 points on an effective field goal percentage of 68% over his last six games. And for the season, Bane is 23-for-42 (55%) on pull-up 3-pointers, the best mark among 31 players who’ve attempted at least 25. The Grizz are 5-0 when they’ve had their full starting lineup (the Santi Aldama version), which has outscored their opponents by 19.0 points per 100 possessions in its 62 minutes.
In their first rest-disadvantage game of the season, the Grizzlies lost by 41 points in Dallas, allowing the league’s top-ranked offense to have its most efficient performance of the season. They’ll be at a disadvantage again when they host the Celtics (with the league’s second-ranked offense) on Monday, but they’ve won 18 of the last 20 (including each of the last nine) regular-season home games that Ja Morant has played in.
Week 4: vs. BOS, @ SAS, vs. MIN, @ WAS
OffRtg: 114.1 (9) DefRtg: 109.4 (10) NetRtg: +4.7 (7) Pace: 100.0 (19)
The Pelicans are 5-1 in regulation and 0-3 in overtime after two OT losses last week. Dyson Daniels missed two free throws before Matt Ryan’s game-tying 3-pointer in L.A. on Wednesday, and Larry Nance Jr. missed a wide-open layup on what was the Pelicans’ last opportunity to tie or take the lead in Atlanta on Saturday. With CJ McCollum having carried a pretty heavy load, the Pelicans have scored less than a point per possession in the clutch.
More important than the overtime record is that the Pelicans are whole again, with Brandon Ingram and Herb Jones both returning from four-game absences over the weekend. Of course, their starting lineup (which has taken only 19% of its shots from 3-point range) was outscored (by 10 points total) in both of ends of their Friday-Saturday back-to-back. Additionally, good minutes from the bench (and a big game from Nance) were needed against the very shorthanded Warriors (who’ve had the worst bench in the league). The starting lineup continues to have strong numbers (especially on the glass) overall, and it can, hopefully, build on its minutes total this week.
After their three-game trip wraps in Indiana and Chicago, the Pelicans (one of five teams that rank in the top 10 on both ends of the floor) will have played eight of their 11 games on the road. Their longest homestand of the season (six games over 12 days) begins Thursday, the end of the Pelicans’ only stretch of five games in seven nights this season.
Week 4: @ IND, @ CHI, vs. POR, vs. HOU
OffRtg: 116.0 (4) DefRtg: 108.5 (6) NetRtg: +7.5 (4) Pace: 97.8 (25)
Injuries suck and the groin strain that Pascal Siakam suffered in Dallas on Friday had particularly bad timing. The seventh-year forward is one of five players averaging 20, seven and seven this season, with the other four being three MVPs and Luka Doncic. And Siakam had just totaled 53 points, 22 rebounds and 17 assists in wins over the Hawks and Spurs last week. He was in a groove and, even if the injury doesn’t take a significant chunk out of his season, he could be out of rhythm when he returns.
The Raptors are still pretty deep and they still have ways of manufacturing offense. Though they haven’t shot significantly better from 3-point range than they did last season (they’ve seen the league’s 11th biggest jump in 3-point percentage), they’ve seen the fifth biggest jump in points scored per 100 possessions, continuing to take care of the ball and grab a bunch off offensive boards. And in their first game without Siakam (a win over the Bulls on Sunday), the Raps turned the ball over just nine times and turned 23 offensive rebounds (most for any team in a game this season) into 27 second chance points. Fred VanVleet had 30 points and 11 assists (with just one turnover) in his return from a three-game absence and rookie Christian Koloko (starting in Siakam’s place) blocked six shots.
The Raptors will face the Bulls again (this time in Chicago) on Monday. That will be the Raps’ second back-to-back and also the second where the second opponent is also playing the second game of a back-to-back. They have a league-low seven rest-disadvantage games this season, and the first of the seven will be Saturday in Indiana. The Raps were one of seven teams with winning records (they were 7-6) in rest-disadvantage games last season.
Week 4: @ CHI, vs. HOU, @ OKC, @ IND
OffRtg: 113.2 (12) DefRtg: 112.5 (16) NetRtg: +0.7 (15) Pace: 101.6 (8)
The Hawks were outscored by 52 points (120-68) over a 37-minute stretch of basketball spanning their games in Toronto and New York last week. That’s like losing a 48-minute game by 67 points, and it obviously comes with problems on both ends of the floor. But the Hawks only lost one of the two games, turning a 23-point deficit into a 13-point victory (one in which they allowed less than a point per possession) at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday. The Hawks had league’s biggest home-road winning percentage differential last season (27-14 vs. 16-25), but they’re 3-2 away from State Farm Arena this year.
Their best win of the season came at home, though. The Hawks blew a 13-point lead on Saturday, but outlasted the full-strength Pelicans in overtime (featuring one glorious dime from Trae Young), with Clint Capela (10-for-15) almost matching Zion Williamson (11-for-19) in points in the paint. Atlanta was outscored by 18 points in a little more than 11 minutes with Dejounte Murray on the bench, even though Trae Young was on the floor that entire time. Through nine games, the Hawks have outscored their opponents by 12.2 points per 100 possessions in 228 minutes with both guards on the floor and by 5.8 per 100 in 105 minutes with Murray on the floor without Young. But they’ve been outscored by 29.6 per 100 (having allowed 133.3 per 100) in 87 minutes with Young on the floor without Murray.
The Hawks were a minus-9 in less than 14 minutes with Young on the floor without Murray in their first meeting with the Bucks, an eight-point loss in Milwaukee. They’re playing both the Bucks and Sixers twice in the next eight days.
Week 4: vs. MIL, vs. UTA, vs. PHI, @ PHI
OffRtg: 110.5 (18) DefRtg: 109.6 (12) NetRtg: +0.9 (13) Pace: 100.9 (12)
The Bulls are still searching for some consistency on either end of the floor. But 11 games in, they’re still having major ups and downs. On Wednesday, they won a game (against Charlotte) in which DeMar DeRozan scored nine points. And two nights later, they lost a game (in Boston) in which he scored 46 (going 20-for-22 from the line).
The strength of the opponent obviously had something to do with those results, but it’s tough to be consistent when you don’t get much offense inside. The Bulls are the only team that ranks in the bottom five in both field goal percentage in the paint (49.4%, 29th) and the percentage of their shots that have come in the paint (46%, 26th). They’ve been outscored in the paint in six straight games, with a differential of 42 points (114-72) over their weekend losses in Boston and Toronto.
Those two games against top-five offenses dropped the Bulls out of the top 10 in defensive efficiency. And the next four games are also against teams that rank in the top 10 offensively. That includes their rematch with the Raptors on Monday, the Bulls’ sixth home game. Amazingly, four of those six have been the back ends of road-home back-to-backs.
The Bulls do play five of their next six games at the United Center, a 15-day stretch that includes three breaks of at least two days. That could help Zach LaVine fresh. He played both ends of the Bulls’ Tuesday-Wednesday back-to-back last week (scoring a season-high 29 points in Brooklyn), but sat out the first of the two straight games against Toronto. The Bulls have been outscored by 13.2 points per 100 possessions (with some bad offensive numbers) in the 143 minutes that LaVine and DeRozan have been on the floor together.
Week 4: vs. TOR, vs. NOP, vs. DEN
OffRtg: 109.3 (22) DefRtg: 111.1 (15) NetRtg: -1.8 (21) Pace: 98.6 (22)
According to Synergy tracking, the Heat have played the most zone in the league by a wide margin (152 possessions, with the Blazers second at 86). They have also had, by another wide margin, the best zone defense (0.73 points allowed per possession) among the 13 teams that have played at least 25 total possessions of zone. They played a bunch of zone in the second half in Indiana on Friday, when the Pacers scored just 39 points on 47 second-half possessions.
But the Heat rank just 15th defensively overall, with their man-to-man defense ranking in the bottom five, according to Synergy. Early in that Indiana game on Friday, the Pacers were able to take advantage of mismatches inside (or just Myles Turner rolling below the ball-handler’s defender) after Bam Adebayo switched onto the ball up top. According to Second Spectrum tracking, the Heat defense has been much better this season when Adebayo hasn’t switched screens than when he has, which is the opposite of the results last season.
Heat points allowed per chance w/ Adebayo as screener’s defender
According to Second Spectrum tracking
It’s early, but it may be that not having P.J. Tucker also on the floor (he was there for 63% of Adebayo’s minutes last season) makes it easier for Heat opponents to take advantage of those switches.
The Heat did pick up two wins last week, avenging their prior losses in Northern California. Kyle Lowry totaled 35 points and 16 assists in the two games, Jimmy Butler closed the win over the Warriors (three-point play for the lead, block on Stephen Curry, dagger jumper) and Tyler Herro hit the game-winner against the Kings.
But the Heat are 4-6 against what hasn’t been a particularly tough schedule when you consider the Warriors’ early struggles. Their game against the Blazers on Monday will be their first against a team that isn’t currently below .500 since they won in Portland 12 days ago.
Week 4: vs. POR, vs. CHA, vs. CHA
OffRtg: 112.1 (15) DefRtg: 116.6 (28) NetRtg: -4.5 (24) Pace: 103.3 (3)
On Tuesday, the Orlando Magic bench was pretty bad in Oklahoma City, when they lost a game in which Franz Wagner registered a plus-12 in 37 minutes. Two nights later, the Magic reserves looked great against what is now the league’s worst-ranked bench by a healthy margin. In the 26 seasons of play-by-play data, the worst aggregate bench NetRtg belongs to the bench of the 2011-12, 7-59 Charlotte Bobcats, which had a mark of minus-8.0 per 100 possessions. Through 10 games, the Warriors’ bench has a mark of minus-10.6 per 100 and the champs are 3-7, even though all five starters have a cumulative plus-minus of plus-20 or higher. The Warriors have three losses in which they outscored their opponents with Stephen Curry on the floor after having just five such losses all of last season.
And apparently, the bench is bad no matter who the starters are. Curry, Klay Thompson, Andrew Wiggins and Draymond Green all sat out in New Orleans on Friday, and the makeshift starting lineup outscored the Pelicans by 10 points in its 14 minutes. But the makeshift bench essentially lost the game with a 24-12 Pelicans run spanning the third and fourth quarters.
That doesn’t mean that the starters have been great. The Warriors have allowed 113.9 points per 100 possessions with Green on the floor, up from just 102.8 last season. The Warriors have seen the league’s biggest jump in points allowed per 100 possessions (10.0 more than they allowed last season), dropping from second to 23rd in opponent effective field goal percentage and from sixth to 24th in defensive rebounding percentage.
Last season, the Warriors had the league’s third biggest home-road differential in regard to winning percentage (31-10 vs. 22-19) and its biggest home-road differential in regard to point differential per 100 possessions (plus-9.7 vs. plus-1.2). This season, they’re 0-6 on the road, having allowed more than 121 points per 100 possessions over those six games. They’ll play nine of their next 15 games at home and they’ve won 13 of their last 16 in Sacramento, where they’ll be on Sunday.
Week 4: vs. SAC, vs. CLE, @ SAC
OffRtg: 111.0 (17) DefRtg: 112.8 (17) NetRtg: -1.8 (20) Pace: 100.6 (15)
A starting lineup with bad numbers is nothing new in New York. But coach Tom Thibodeau made a change a lot faster this season than he did last year, when his initial starting group was outscored by 13.8 points per 100 possessions in 428 total minutes together. On Friday, after 110 minutes of not-as-bad results, Thibodeau replaced Evan Fournier with Quentin Grimes. And when Grimes sat out the following night, Cam Reddish got the start instead of Fournier.
A second change to the starting lineup (Isaiah Hartenstein in for Mitchell Robinson) was a result of injury. And without Robinson for the second half on Friday, Thibodeau played Julius Randle and Obi Toppin together for the first time this season. The duo was a plus-14 in a little more than 10 minutes together, with all of that coming as the Knicks erased a 12-point, fourth-quarter deficit to edge the Sixers (who were without both James Harden and Joel Embiid).
Alas, the Randle-Toppin era might be short-lived. Thibodeau gave the combo another look against the Celtics on Saturday, but those stretches didn’t go so well, in part because Boston was 7-for-9 from 3-point range (and scored 33 points on 17 possessions) in seven minutes with those two on the floor together. The Knicks won the weekend game in which they scored 106 points on 105 possessions and lost the one in which they scored 118 on 99.
Overall, they’re in the middle of the pack on both ends of the floor, with their schedule having been a little tougher in regard to opposing offenses. The highest-ranked offense they’ll face this week is that of the Nets (13th), who are obviously without one of their two bucket-getters.
Week 4: @ MIN, @ BKN, vs. DET, vs. OKC
OffRtg: 114.0 (10) DefRtg: 113.0 (19) NetRtg: +1.0 (12) Pace: 96.5 (29)
Playing without Joel Embiid (illness) in a home-and-home set against the Wizards, the Sixers got outscored by 63 points (145-82) on restricted-area buckets and free throws over the two games, and the lack of rim protection was pretty glaring at times. But they earned a split by shooting 22-for-38 (58%) on non-restricted-area 2-point shots in Washington on Monday. James Harden is 14-for-24 (58%) from mid-range and those 14 makes are already more than he had in either the 2019-20 or ’20-21 seasons (10-for-20 and 9-for-19).
But Harden will be stuck at 14 for a while, reportedly out a month with a tendon strain in his right foot. Their first game without him (and Embiid) was the Sixers’ worst offensive performance (104 points on 103 possessions) since their ugly, Week 1 loss to the Bucks. They led the Knicks by 12 in the fourth quarter, but were outscored, 32-18, over the final 10-plus minutes. Starting guards Tyrese Maxey and De’Anthony Melton combined to shoot 14-for-47, and they each missed 3-pointers for the lead in the final 30 seconds. The Sixers have scored just 34 points on 37 clutch possessions (92 per 100), with Maxey and Melton a combined 1-for-11 on clutch shots.
The Sixers have played just two minutes with their other four starters on the floor without Harden and just 50 with Maxey and Embiid on the floor without the former Kia MVP. Embiid should be back when they host the Suns on Monday, but the Sixers’ second back-to-back of the season is this weekend, when they begin a five-game, 11-day homestand with visits from the Hawks and Jazz. Embiid sat out the first game of the team’s first back-to-back.
Week 4: vs. PHX, @ ATL, vs. ATL, vs. UTA
OffRtg: 113.0 (13) DefRtg: 113.6 (21) NetRtg: -0.6 (16) Pace: 98.4 (24)
The Nets went 3-1 in a week in which they fired their coach and suspended their point guard. It remains to be seen if they’ll actually hire Ime Udoka or if Kyrie Irving will ever play for them again. Either situation would obviously invite further distractions, and, over three weeks, this team has already had more negative drama than any team should inflict on itself over three years.
The three wins were their three best defensive performances of the season (fewer than 105 points allowed per 100 possessions), with the context being that the opponents were the Pacers, Wizards and Hornets. The other issue is that they came without Ben Simmons, who will likely still need a lot of time to get comfortable when he returns (maybe Monday in Dallas). Cam Thomas (who had been riding the pine) did take advantage of a move into the rotation, scoring 38 points over the two wins over the weekend.
If Irving is going to be out beyond the next three games, the Nets will have to find a way to lighten the load on Kevin Durant, who’s averaging more minutes than he did last season and registering the highest usage rate of his career (33.4%). Joe Harris isn’t going to take the ball out of Durant’s hands, but the Nets have to hope the strength in his surgically repaired ankle will eventually return. He’s 5-for-12 on corner 3s, but just 7-for-26 (27%) from the longer distance, mostly coming up short.
Their wins in Washington and Charlotte were the start of a stretch where the Nets are playing 10 of 12 games on the road, and their one home game this week (Wednesday against the Knicks) will probably feel like a road game, too. Brooklyn has won seven straight games against New York, though the average point differential over those seven wins is just 5.1 points.
Week 4: @ DAL, vs. NYK, @ LAC, @ LAL
OffRtg: 110.3 (19) DefRtg: 109.2 (9) NetRtg: +1.1 (11) Pace: 103.0 (4)
After scoring just 102.2 points per 100 possessions over their previous four games (including a brutal 85.4 per 100 in 90 total minutes with their two highly-paid big men on the floor together), the Wolves broke out offensively on Saturday, scoring 129 points (on 103 possessions) in a wire-to-wire victory. Seven players scored in double-figures, Kyle Anderson had his best game (16 points, six assists, three steals) with the Wolves, and Anthony Edwards got his first two dunks of the season. The caveats are that the win came against the 1-9 Rockets and without Rudy Gobert (Health and Safety Protocols).
Of course, while the numbers have been bad (minus-5.6 points per 100 possessions) in the Wolves’ 206 minutes with both bigs on the floor, they haven’t been all that great (plus-0.6 per 100) in 230 minutes with one on the floor without the other. Where the Wolves have made hay (plus-17.2 per 100) is in Naz Reid’s minutes. But while good bench minutes are a good thing, they obviously need to (eventually) be good with their best players on the floor.
Despite the starting lineup’s struggles, the Wolves have been able to cobble together five wins and a top-10 defense. Gobert is out for the Wolves’ game against the Knicks on Monday, so if the starters get a chance to work things out this week, it will come against one of the best teams in the league. The next three opponents – Phoenix, Memphis and Cleveland — are a combined 22-6, and the Towns-Gobert combo was a minus-17 in 21 minutes in Phoenix on Tuesday. The Cavs are also one of four teams with a higher-ranked bench than the Wolves have.
Week 4: vs. NYK, vs. PHX, @ MEM, @ CLE
OffRtg: 103.0 (29) DefRtg: 106.7 (4) NetRtg: -3.7 (22) Pace: 99.6 (20)
All four of the Clippers’ games last week were decided by eight points or fewer. And over the four games, the Clips were, amazingly, 50 points per 100 possessions better with Paul George on the floor (plus-15.0) than they were with him on the bench (minus-35.0). George averaged 32.3 points (on 56% shooting) and 5.6 assists over the Clips’ 3-1 week, hitting a tough game-winner against the Rockets on Monday to cap a night where he had 38 points, nine rebounds, eight assists, six steals and two blocks. Kawhi Leonard’s continued absence remains the primary story with the Clippers, but George has certainly stepped up and kept the Clippers afloat.
Of course, if Leonard was available and the Clippers could stagger the minutes of their two stars, that on-off differential (which is mostly about the offense) wouldn’t be so ridiculous. John Wall has had some exhilarating moments in transition and even looked good as a roll man on one key possession in San Antonio on Friday. But he has an effective field goal percentage of just 31.9% from outside the paint, the second worst mark among 150 players with at least 35 field goal attempts from the outside. Reggie Jackson (35.5%) and Norman Powell (41.2%) have the seventh and 21st worst marks, respectively. Luke Kennard (69.4%) is near the top of the list, but was out Sunday (chest discomfort) as the Clippers’ three-game winning streak came to an end with their worst 3-point shooting performance of the season (8-for-33).
The loss to the Jazz began a stretch where the Clippers are playing nine of 12 at home. That stretch includes their second meeting of the season with the Lakers (Wednesday), with the Clippers having won the last eight meetings.
Week 4: vs. CLE, vs. LAL, vs. BKN
OffRtg: 109.8 (21) DefRtg: 117.0 (29) NetRtg: -7.2 (28) Pace: 103.4 (2)
Devin Vassell has looked pretty incredible offensively in his two games back from a four-game absence, totaling 49 points (on 19-for-28 shooting) in a little less than 50 minutes against the Clippers and Nuggets. He was doing all types of stuff — short pull-ups, spin-back fadeaways, step-backs, in-and-out dribbles, drop-off dimes — in his first game back on Friday and, for the season, he’s 21-for-44 (48%) from 3-point range and has just seven turnovers with his 24 assists.
San Antonio led that game against the Clippers by seven points in the fourth quarter, but the Clippers then went on a 24-6 run to ruin Vassell’s return. The Spurs lost their other two games last week by a total of 68 points, getting outscored by the Raptors and Nuggets by 47 points (67-20) on fast breaks. Their 5-2 start was obviously a little fluky (weak schedule, negative point differential), and they’ve come back to earth with the three-game losing streak. They’re 5-5, but they’re the only team that’s trailed three games by at least 30 points and they have the point differential (third worst in the league) of a team that’s 2-8.
The Raptors and Nuggets both have top-10 offenses, and the Spurs’ 29th-ranked defense will play two more games against top-10 offenses this week, hosting those same Nuggets on Monday and then the fifth-ranked Grizzlies on Wednesday. Their Friday opponent doesn’t rank in the top 10 offensively, but it hasn’t lost a game yet.
Week 4: vs. DEN, vs. MEM, vs. MIL
OffRtg: 107.0 (25) DefRtg: 108.6 (7) NetRtg: -1.6 (19) Pace: 101.9 (6)
The best way to make the most of a not-so-talented (and/or young) roster is to play good defense, and the Thunder rank seventh defensively through the first three weeks of the season. They allowed just 101.0 points per 100 possessions over their four-game winning streak, capped by the last seven minutes of their win over Orlando on Tuesday, when the Magic scored just four points on their final 15 possessions and committed three of their 25 turnovers.
The Thunder roster is seemingly built to switch — their guards are pretty big and their bigs are pretty small. But they rank 23rd in the percentage of ball-screens (19%) that they’ve switched, according to Second Spectrum tracking. You’d expect the team that leads the league in opponent turnover rate (by a wide margin) to be blitzing a lot, but they’re not doing that, either. What they do have is a bunch of handsy guys with length (and strong hands too), and they also lead the league with 1.4 charges drawn per game.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander — 30.5 points on a true shooting percentage of 62.5% (seventh among 16 players averaging 25-plus) — has kept the offense from ranking 30th for a third straight season. He’s averaged 31.2 over his last four games without making a 3-pointer (he’s only attempted six). The Thunder were held under a point per possession for the first time against Bucks on Saturday, and they’ll face the league’s No. 1 defense again (probably with Giannis Antetokounmpo this time) on Wednesday in Oklahoma City.
Week 4: @ DET, vs. MIL, vs. TOR, @ NYK
OffRtg: 108.2 (24) DefRtg: 113.9 (25) NetRtg: -5.7 (27) Pace: 97.6 (28)
The Wizards split their two games with the Embiid-less Sixers last week, winning in Philly on Wednesday behind 59 combined points from Bradley Beal and Kristaps Porzingis. Beal attacked the rim, Porzingis did some post work, and 43 of those 59 points came in the paint or at the free throw line. Porzingis has shot 12-for-21 (with 10 free throw attempts) on post-ups, according to Second Spectrum. That’s only a few shooting opportunities per game, but it’s been good to see him take advantage of mismatches every night.
Washington opponents have taken advantage on the other end of the floor almost every night, too. The Wiz have lost five of their last six games, with the league’s worst defense (120.1 points allowed per 100 possessions) over that 10-day stretch. Their opponents shot 47.6% from 3-point range over the first five games of that stretch, and then the Grizzlies registered 22 fast break points on Sunday.
Beal missed that game, entering health and safety protocols for the umpteenth time. The Wizards’ offense has scored 116.8 points per 100 possessions in 260 total minutes with Beal and Porzingis on the floor together, but only 96.9 in 104 minutes with one on the floor without the other.
All of these last six games have come against teams that rank no lower than 13th offensively. The Wizards’ defense seemingly gets a break with their visit to Charlotte on Monday (the Hornets’ offense ranks 27th), but then they’ll play three straight games against top-10 offenses (those of the Mavs, Jazz and Grizzlies). That’s the start of the Wizards’ longest homestand of the season (six games over 11 days).
Week 4: @ CHA, vs. DAL, vs. UTA, vs. MEM
OffRtg: 113.4 (11) DefRtg: 115.0 (26) NetRtg: -1.6 (18) Pace: 102.2 (5)
The Pacers ranked 27th defensively through Thursday, having allowed more than 120 points per 100 possessions in four of their first eight games. And early in the second quarter of their game against the Heat on Friday, Miami ran the same exact play twice for Gabe Vincent layups (one, two), with Tyrese Haliburton seemingly botching a switch both times. But the Indiana defense looked terrific otherwise. Buddy Hield was making a clear and consistent effort to stay with the Heat’s shooters, T.J. McConnell was a pest, and they did stifle that same play multiple times later in the night. Ultimately, the Pacers allowed just 99 points on 103 possessions to win a game in which they had their least efficient offensive performance of the season.
Bennedict Mathurin isn’t the only Pacers rookie to keep an eye on. Andrew Nembhard will be limited by his size (6-foot-3), but the 22-year-old (taken with the 31st pick in 2022) did some good things on both ends of the floor in the win over Miami. Both rookies were on the floor down the stretch on Friday and coach Rick Carlisle had Nembhard guarding Tyler Herro on the Heat’s final possession (48 hours after Herro hit a game-winner against the Kings). He did so successfully, and he’ll probably continue to see increased minutes with Chris Duarte (sprained ankle) out 4-6 weeks.
We’ll see if the improved defense carries over as the Pacers’ homestand continues with three games against top-10 offenses this week. All nine of their games thus far have come against teams that are currently no better than .500, so this week’s competition is a huge step up.
Week 4: vs. NOP, vs. DEN, vs. TOR
OffRtg: 102.7 (30) DefRtg: 108.2 (5) NetRtg: -5.6 (26) Pace: 103.7 (1)
The Lakers still have a top-five defense, but just as they were starting to find some better results on the other end of the floor, they allowed the Jazz and Cavs to score more than 123 points per 100 possessions in two losses over the weekend. Utah made 17 3s and registered 25 second-chance points on Friday, and Cleveland was 32-for-36 from the free throw line on Sunday, taking control of the game by scoring 17 points on an 11-possession stretch spanning the third and fourth quarters.
Russell Westbrook is 10-for-22 (45%) over the five games in which he’s come off the bench. He ranks second on the team in total minutes over the five games, and the Lakers have been 23.1 points per 100 possessions better with him on the floor (plus-3.6) than they’ve been with him off the floor (minus-19.5) over that stretch. Alas, LeBron James had a stretch of 13 straight misses from 3-point range and Anthony Davis is now 7-for-32 (22%) from outside the paint for the season. The Lakers have just one of the 100 players who’ve shot 35% or better on at least 25 3-point attempts (the Thunder are the only other team with only one), and that’s Matt Ryan, who’s 12-for-26. He hit the (pretty amazing) shot that sent their game against the Pelicans to overtime, but the Lakers don’t get their second win of the season if Pelicans rookie Dyson Daniels just makes one of the two free throws that preceded it.
The Lakers are one of three teams — the Celtics and Knicks are the others — that have yet to play a rest-advantage or rest-disadvantage game. Their first of *the latter isn’t until Dec. 7, but they’ll have three straight rest-advantage games (all three opponents are playing the Clippers the night prior) starting with their visit from the Nets on Sunday night.
* Their game in Utah on Monday is the back end of the Lakers’ first back-to-back, but the Jazz also played (in the same arena 6 1/2 hours later) on Sunday.
Week 4: @ UTA, @ LAC, vs. SAC, vs. BKN
OffRtg: 112.3 (14) DefRtg: 113.9 (24) NetRtg: -1.5 (17) Pace: 101.1 (10)
Seven of the Kings’ eight games have been within five points in the last five minutes, and they’ve won three of their last four, scoring 62 points on 47 clutch possessions (132 per 100). De’Aaron Fox was 5-for-35 (14%) on clutch 3-pointers over the last two seasons (4-for-23 and 1-for-12), but he’s 3-for-5 this season, with the 31-foot game-winner in Orlando on Saturday being the highlight. Fox had 15 of the Kings’ 31 total points in the clutch in the win and now has the highest clutch usage rate (44.4%) among players who’ve played at least 15 clutch minutes. To be higher than Luka Doncic in that particular category is something.
The Kings have had better defensive numbers over their last four games than they had in their 0-4 start, and their (revised) starting lineup has allowed less than a point per possession in its 53 minutes. But each of the last four games have come against teams — Miami (x 2), Charlotte and Orlando — that rank in the bottom 10 offensively. So the jury is still out on whether coach Mike Brown is making an impact on that end of the floor. They have allowed their opponents to take only 33% of their shots (the league’s lowest opponent rate) from beyond the arc, which has allowed them to outscore those opponents by 9.4 points per game (the league’s fourth best differential) from 3-point range. They were a plus-33 from deep in Orlando on Saturday.
The Kings are 3-1 against the Eastern Conference and 0-4 against the West. Their schedule remains pretty mixed (seven of the next 13 within the conference) over the next few weeks, and now might be a good time to be playing the Warriors twice in seven days. The Kings never led in the first meeting, but erased almost all of a 26-point deficit after allowing 50 points in the second quarter.
Week 4: @ GSW, vs. CLE, @ LAL, vs. GSW
OffRtg: 108.9 (23) DefRtg: 112.9 (18) NetRtg: -4.0 (23) Pace: 100.1 (18)
The Magic are Team Heartbreak, and not just because they lost on a 31-footer at the buzzer on Saturday. Eight of their 10 games have been within five points in the last five minutes, and they’re 1-7 in those eight. If they had just split the close ones, they’d be in sixth place in the Eastern Conference instead of tied for last. Alas, they’ve allowed an amazing 101 points on 68 clutch defensive possessions (149 per 100), with their opponents shooting 23-for-37 (62%) on clutch 2-pointers, 10-for-16 (63%) on clutch 3-pointers, and 25-for-28 (89%) on clutch free throws. That’s rough!
Orlando did have some late-game fortune against the Warriors on Thursday, when Jalen Suggs made as many clutch 3s (2) as Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson combined. We knew Suggs is a future All-Defensive Team candidate, a menace on that end of the floor with his effort and anticipation. He’s basically been the new Kris Dunn (the player with the league’s highest defense/offense ratio), and he made some ridiculous defensive plays down the stretch of the Magic’s win over the Warriors on Thursday, thrice stealing the ball from Curry. But he also had his best game on the other end of the floor, shooting 9-for-17 as he scored a career-high 26 points. Maybe the Golden State win can be the launching point for a Jalen Suggs that isn’t an offensive liability, and maybe it was just an anomaly. It was sandwiched by games in which Suggs shot 5-for-21 and turned the ball over 10 times.
The Magic look pretty good right now for selecting Paolo Banchero (who had 33 and 16 in the OT loss to the Kings) over Jabari Smith Jr., but they’ll have their first head-to-head meetings on Monday, Game 3 of the Magic’s seven-game homestand.
Week 4: vs. HOU, vs. DAL, vs. PHX
OffRtg: 106.2 (27) DefRtg: 110.7 (13) NetRtg: -4.6 (25) Pace: 101.3 (9)
Absences on the Hornets’ perimeter have taken their toll. While there have been some good moments for Dennis Smith Jr., James Bouknight and Theo Maledon, the Hornets scored have scored just 95.6 points per 100 possessions over their four-game losing streak. And three of those four losses came against teams — Sacramento, Memphis and Brooklyn — that rank in the bottom 10 defensively. The Hornets had a four-point, fourth-quarter lead against the Kings, but scored on just three of their final 14 possessions. And their game in Chicago on Wednesday was basically lost with a 13-possession, third-quarter stretch where they scored just twice. Ultimately, it was the least efficient game (88 points on 103 possessions) for any team this season.
Terry Rozier returned from a seven-game absence on Saturday and scored 25 points, but he wasn’t particularly efficient, Smith went down with an ankle sprain in the first quarter, and the Hornets scored just 19 points on 22 possessions (against the Nets’ defense) with Rozier off the floor. They’ve now seen the league’s biggest drop in points scored per 100 possessions (-7.5) from last season, when they ranked eighth offensively.
Of course, they’ve been without their point guard the entire time, and they scored 4.2 more points per 100 possessions with LaMelo Ball on the floor last season (114.0) than they did with him off the floor (109.8) last season. Steve Clifford said Friday that Ball (along with Cody Martin) is “extremely close” to making his season debut. The Hornets will play another bottom-10 defense (that of the Wizards) on Monday, but they’re just two games into their only stretch of five games in seven nights this season, with a tough back-to-back (vs. Portland, at Miami) on Wednesday and Thursday.
Week 4: vs. WAS, vs. POR, @ MIA, @ MIA
OffRtg: 106.8 (26) DefRtg: 118.1 (30) NetRtg: -11.3 (30) Pace: 100.6 (16)
The Pistons have trailed all 10 of their games by double-digits, and their two biggest deficits of the season have come in the last two. They trailed the Bucks by 33 points on Wednesday and the Cavs by 30 on Friday. Over the two games, the Pistons were outscored by 62 points (116-54) in the paint, with issues on both offense (where they shot just 27-for-66 in the paint) and defense. The Pistons and Magic are tied for the worst record in the East, but this team has a point differential (minus-11.6 per game) that’s more than twice as bad as any other team in the conference.
The defense continues to be the bigger concern. The Pistons ranked 24th defensively last season and have seen the league’s fourth biggest jump in points allowed per 100 possessions (+4.8). Only one of their 10 games has come against a team that currently ranks in the top 10 offensively, and that was the loss to the Cavs, who were without both Darius Garland and Donovan Mitchell on Friday. Early defensive numbers can be skewed by (really good or really bad) opponent 3-point shooting, but the Pistons rank 11th in opponent 3-point percentage (34.7%) and have been outscored by just three total points from beyond the arc. They’ve struggled to defend the paint and secure the glass, ranking 26th in defensive rebounding percentage (68.4%), with their starting lineup having the second worst mark (71.0%) among 15 lineups that have played at least 75 minutes. Overall, it’s been the worst defensive lineup among those 15 by a wide margin.
Week 4 includes two games against the league’s second-ranked offense (that of the Celtics), but also a decent chance at a win on Monday. The Pistons and Thunder split their two meetings last season.
Week 4: vs. OKC, @ BOS, @ NYK, vs. BOS
OffRtg: 106.0 (28) DefRtg: 115.4 (27) NetRtg: -9.4 (29) Pace: 101.7 (7)
There are 87 players who’ve attempted at least 100 shots from the field this season. And among the 87, Kevin Porter Jr. (45.2%), Jalen Green (45.1%) and Jabari Smith Jr. (38.6%) rank 81st, 82nd and 87th in effective field goal percentage. Porter and Green have shot OK (a combined 35.4%) from 3-point range, but they’re a combined 46% in the paint and a brutal 10-for-48 (21%) from mid-range. We kind of knew that the Rockets would be bad defensively again this season, but there was some hope (especially with how good Green looked in the preseason) for some improvement on offense.
That improvement hasn’t come yet, though it should be noted that seven of the Rockets’ 10 games have come against teams that currently rank in the top 10 defensively, while only one (their weekend loss to Memphis) came against a bottom-10 defense. To that same point, all 10 of the Rockets’ games have come against teams currently at or above .500. They had a five-point lead over the Clippers in L.A. on Monday, but scored just five points on 12 clutch possessions, with Eric Gordon coming up empty — turnover, missed drive — twice in the final 35 seconds. The Rockets are 4-for-19 on clutch shots for the season.
Green’s shooting has been particularly bad (effective field goal percentage of 35.7%) on the road, and the Rockets have four more road games over the next 10 days. Only one of their first 30 games is against one of the other three teams – the Pistons, Lakers and Magic – that have fewer than three wins through Week 3, and that game is Monday in Orlando. After that, they’ll play three more games against top-10 defenses.
Week 4: @ ORL, @ TOR, @ NOP