The Jazz may have hopes for a playoff spot after their strong 12-6 start to the season.
So this Utah Jazz thing just might be real. With impressive wins over the Suns and Blazers last week, the Jazz are 12-6 and in first place in the Western Conference, having played a somewhat difficult and road-heavy schedule. See the notes under the Jazz logo below (they’re second in this week’s rankings) for what it has meant for a team to have won at least 12 of its first 20 games.
Also, see the “This time last year” note for a reminder about who the top three teams in the Eastern Conference were at the start of Week 6 last season. The Jazz’s season is just 22% complete, and a lot of things — both in and out of the organization’s control — can happen in the next five months.
But we are just one week from that point in the schedule when teams have played an average of 20 games. And we’re also 3 1/2 weeks from Dec. 15, when the trade market opens up with 2022 free agents eligible to be dealt. The meat of the NBA schedule is here and results do feel a little more real than they did in Weeks 1 and 2. Painfully real if you’re in Charlotte or San Antonio.
Where the Spurs were a surprise early on, the Sacramento Kings are the new darlings of the league, having won six straight games. The Kings are actually tied with Utah in the loss column, though reality might set in when they hit the road this week.
Plus-Minus Players of the Week
Teams of the Week
- Make It Last Forever: Sacramento (3-0) — Light the beam!
- Something Just Ain’t Right: San Antonio (0-5) — It was a stretch of five games in seven days, but four of the Spurs’ five losses (including a 31-point defeat at the hands of the Lakers) came by 18 points or more.
East vs. West
Schedule strength through Week 5
- Toughest: 1. Houston, 2. Philadelphia, 3. Oklahoma City
- Easiest: 1. Indiana, 2. LA Clippers, 3. Milwaukee
- 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: Sacramento (+6), Utah (+3), Six teams (+2)
- Free falls of the week: Miami (-7), Memphis (-4), Three teams (-3)
Week 6 Team to Watch
- Sacramento— The Kings have won six straight games and are currently in fifth place in the Western Conference. But five of the six wins have come at home and the other was against the Lakers. So a three-game road trip will be a nice test of just how good this team has become. The trip begins in Memphis on Tuesday, continues through Atlanta on Wednesday, and ends in Boston on Friday.
Previous Power Rankings
- This time last year: Suns, Heat rise, but Warriors stay at No. 1 — The Warriors and Suns (who had won 12 straight games) were a combined 28-5. The Nets, Bulls and Wizards were the top three teams in the East. Khris Middleton’s return sparked what would become an eight-game winning streak for the Bucks, while LeBron James was ejected for a flagrant-2 foul that had Isaiah Stewart seeing blood. The Kings fired Luke Walton and Paul George posterized Dwight Powell.
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 111.6 points scored per 100 possessions and 100.0 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: 119.1 (1) DefRtg: 111.4 (14) NetRtg: +7.7 (1) Pace: 99.9 (17)
Jayson Tatum has cooled off, shooting just 21-for-60 (35%) last week. And the Celtics have been without Malcolm Brogdon and/or Marcus Smart in each of their last five games. Robert Williams III, of course, remains out. But the Eastern Conference champs have still won nine straight games (matching their longest winning streak from last season) to climb past the Bucks into first place. Derrick White moved back into the starting lineup with Smart out and totaled 42 points (shooting 8-for-12 from 3-point range) as the Celtics won the first two games of a three-game trip, outscoring the Hawks and Pelicans by 63 points from beyond the arc.
The defense has been improved and has climbed from 22nd to 14th over the last nine days. Smart’s first absence (Wednesday in Atlanta) was the second time the Celtics held their opponent under a point per possession. They still rank last (and have seen the league’s biggest drop) in opponent turnover rate, but they’ve seen an uptick there (highlighted by Payton Pritchard’s pick of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander for a huge bucket on Monday), while also doing a better job of keeping their opponents off the free throw line. They needed to come back from 15 points down against OKC, but won their last two first quarters by a combined score of 70-43, holding the Hawks and Pels to just 43 points on 53 first-quarter possessions.
The Celtics’ only regulation loss this season – their worst offensive performance of the year – was in Chicago on Oct. 24. They’ll be back at the United Center (with both Smart and Brogdon in uniform) on Monday before beginning a six-game homestand two nights later. The visit from the Kings on Friday will be a (somewhat unexpected) meeting of the league’s two most efficient offenses.
Week 6: @ CHI, vs. DAL, vs. SAC, vs. WAS
OffRtg: 115.4 (4) DefRtg: 111.5 (16) NetRtg: +3.9 (7) Pace: 101.1 (9)
The Jazz lost to the Knicks on Tuesday, blowing a fourth-quarter lead by allowing New York to score 28 points on a stretch of 15 possessions. With that, they had a three-game losing streak and went into the weekend in fourth place in the Western Conference. And then they won both ends of a home-road back-to-back, beating two of the three teams that were ahead of them in the West standings before Friday. Their 134 points on 102 possessions on Friday was (by a wide margin) the most efficient game for any team against the Suns’ top-10 defense, and it was capped by a tough turnaround jumper from Lauri Markkanen in the final minute. The Jazz blew a 19-point lead in Portland the following night, but Jordan Clarkson took over in the fourth quarter (when he scored 15 of his 28 points) to push them to their 12th win.
Over the last 20 82-game seasons, 192 (91%) of the 211 teams that have won at least 12 of their first 20 games have gone on to reach the playoffs. The Jazz are now at 12 wins with two more to go until the 20-game mark, and one of those two games is against Detroit. The percentages go up with teams that have won 13 (147/154, 95%) or 14 (63/65, 97%) of their first 20, though we had an example of a 13-7 team (the Wizards) missing the playoffs last season. (The best record in NBA history through 20 games for a team that missed the playoffs belonged to the 2010-11 Jazz, who started 15-5.)
With Mike Conley suffering a knee injury on Saturday, the Jazz may have to deal with the first extended absence for one of their top eight guys. But they’re 12-6 against what has been a relatively tough schedule. Eleven of their 18 games have come against the other 15 teams that are currently over .500, and they’re 8-3 (best record within the group) in those games after the weekend wins over the Suns and Blazers. The Jazz are also one of four teams that have yet to play a rest-advantage game, and their first of 10 will be Wednesday against the Pistons, who are in Denver the night prior.
Week 6: @ LAC, vs. DET, @ GSW, @ PHX
OffRtg: 109.3 (23) DefRtg: 105.1 (1) NetRtg: +4.3 (4) Pace: 100.1 (14)
In their first meeting with the new-and-improved Cavs, the Bucks had one of their best offensive games of the season, scoring 113 points on just 94 possessions on Wednesday, despite an off night from Giannis Antetokounmpo. Brook Lopez is finally matching his 3-point volume with 3-point accuracy (career-high 39%), and he was 7-for-9 from deep against Cleveland, also adding three blocks to his DPOY resume. The Bucks have allowed just 97.4 points per 100 possessions in 411 total minutes with at least two of their All-Defense trio — Antetokounmpo, Lopez and Jrue Holiday — on the floor.
But even with that breakthrough against the Cavs (who were without Jarrett Allen), the Bucks have scored just 105.4 per 100 as they’ve lost four of their last six games. Holiday returned from a four-game absence on Friday, but continued to struggle from 3-point range (0-for-4) and made two defensive gambles that directly led to wide-open corner 3s for the Sixers, the latter of which gave Philly the lead for good with a little more than four minutes left in the game. The Bucks and Sixers have combined to score just 99 per 100 in their two meetings, so every point was critical and Antetokounmpo’s 4-for-15 from the line was just as painful. It was the first time this season that the Bucks have been outscored from 3-point range (-9) and at the free throw line (-3).
The loss in Philly was also the second game in a stretch where the Bucks are playing five of six against teams that rank in the top 10 in defensive efficiency. Their game against Portland on Monday (the start of a four-game homestand) is a matchup of the league’s two most improved defenses from last season.
Week 6: vs. POR, vs. CHI, vs. CLE, vs. DAL
OffRtg: 116.7 (3) DefRtg: 109.7 (7) NetRtg: +7.0 (2) Pace: 97.8 (26)
Over their first five games without Chris Paul, the Suns allowed 120.4 points per 100 possessions, 4.1 more than they allowed in any five-game stretch last season. In Utah on Friday, the Suns had their second most efficient offensive game of the season (behind Devin Booker’s 49 points) … and lost. The defensive regression was all about opponent shooting, both in the paint and from beyond the arc. The Jazz had 58 points (on 60% shooting) in the paint, while also outscoring the Suns by 21 points (48-27) from 3-point range.
The Suns’ offense was good enough on Wednesday (draining a season-high 21 3-pointers, including 10 from the corners) to beat the Warriors a second time. And their defense finally had a good game on Sunday afternoon, holding the Knicks under a point per possession to secure the Suns’ first win (they were previously 0-3) against the Eastern Conference. That defense was mostly about bench minutes, though. The Suns’ current starting lineup (with Cam Payne and Torrey Craig in place of Paul and Cam Johnson) has now allowed 122.1 points per 100 possessions, the worst mark among 19 league-wide lineups that have played at least 100 minutes. Rebounding has been an issue.
The Suns have had just one back-to-back, and it was a two-game series in Phoenix against the Blazers (who were without Damian Lillard). Their second back-to-back is also two home games, Friday against the Pistons and Saturday against the same Jazz who just touched them up for 134 points. (The Jazz will also be playing the second game of a back-to-back.)
Week 6: vs. LAL, vs. DET, vs. UTA
OffRtg: 111.9 (15) DefRtg: 110.3 (9) NetRtg: +1.6 (11) Pace: 97.6 (27)
Prior to Thursday, the Blazers were the league’s best second-half team (plus-8.9 per 100 possessions) and a perfect 7-0 in games they led by double-digits. But a 14-0 Brooklyn run to close the third quarter on Thursday turned an 11-point lead into a three-point deficit, and the Blazers eventually lost on Royce O’Neale’s tip-in with less than a second to go. Two nights later against Utah, the Blazers lost an early, double-digit lead, again coming up short down the stretch. Ten of their 16 games have now been within five points in the last five minutes and, while they’ve had the league’s second most efficient clutch offense, they’re now 6-4 in those games.
Jusuf Nurkic has hit some big shots down the stretch of some of those close games, but the Blazers have just as often closed with Justise Winslow or Drew Eubanks at the five. Eubanks gave the Blazers some great minutes against San Antonio earlier last week, when he and Anfernee Simons combined for 12 points on a 17-4 run to close the game, turning a six-point deficit into a seven-point win. Eubanks is registering career-high marks in both effective field goal percentage and true shooting percentage, and over the last five games, the Blazers have been 41 points per 100 possessions better with him on the floor than they’ve been with him on the bench.
Damian Lillard reinjured his right calf on Saturday, missing the fourth quarter of that narrow loss to the Jazz. So he’ll miss all of a four-game trip that begins Monday in Milwaukee. The Blazers have lost 10 of their last 12 games against the Bucks, though one of those two wins was part of their four-game winning streak right before the All-Star break last season.
Week 6: @ MIL, @ CLE, @ NYK, @ BKN
OffRtg: 112.9 (11) DefRtg: 108.7 (5) NetRtg: +4.2 (5) Pace: 95.5 (30)
Two weeks ago, the Mavs ranked first in offensive efficiency, having scored 117.5 points per 100 possessions through their first eight games. Over the last two weeks, the Mavs have ranked 25th offensively, having scored just 108.3 per 100 over their last eight games. And that’s with four of these last eight games coming against teams – Orlando, Houston and Denver (x 2) – that rank in the bottom six defensively. The Mavs were without Luka Doncic against the Rockets on Wednesday and they had a huge offensive night – a 33-point triple-double for Doncic, 28 on 11-for-16 shooting for Christian Wood – in their first of two straight games against the Nuggets.
But they came up empty in the rematch, scoring just 97 points on 95 possessions, including just four points on their last 10 possessions of a game they lost by one. With his miss at the buzzer, Doncic is 0-for-4 on shots to tie or take the lead in the final minute of the fourth quarter or overtime this season (and 16-for-43 in his career).
Everybody in the Mavs’ rotation but Tim Hardaway Jr. has shot worse over these last two weeks than they did through Week 3, and it was probably impossible for Hardaway to shoot worse than he did early on. He still has the fourth worst effective field goal percentage (42.0%) among 184 players with at least 100 field goal attempts, still looking to find his range after missing the last four months of last season.
If he’s going to find it, he’ll have to do it away from the American Airlines Center. The Mavs have played 11 of their 16 games at home, and they’ll now play seven of their next 10 (and 18 of their next 29) on the road, where they’re currently just 1-4.
Week 6: @ BOS, @ TOR, @ MIL
OffRtg: 114.0 (7) DefRtg: 113.9 (26) NetRtg: +0.1 (16) Pace: 99.9 (16)
Nikola Jokic probably has Michael Porter Jr.’s vote for another Kia MVP after Porter shot 11-for-34 (32%) in the Nuggets three games without Jokic (Health and Safety Protocols) last week. The Nuggets scored just 105.3 points per 100 possessions over the three games, including just 54 points on 68 possessions (79 per 100) in the three fourth-quarters. Their loss to the Knicks on Wednesday was the Nuggets’ first (they were previously 7-0) when taking a lead into the final period and their first (they were previously 4-0) in a game that was within five points in the last five minutes. Porter was 3-for-16 (19%) from 3-point range over the three games and Denver was 6-for-31 (19%) from beyond the arc in the three fourth quarters.
But one of those makes (in both cases) was the go-ahead bucket with less than a minute to go in Dallas on Sunday. The Mavs scored on just one of their last seven possessions and the Nuggets (who rank 26th defensively overall) have now allowed just 42 points on 54 clutch defensive possessions (78 per 100). With their 5-1 record in clutch games, they’re 10-6, having played their opponents even (1,822 – 1,822) over the 16 games.
This week is the end of a stretch where the Nuggets will have played 10 of 13 games on the road, and their second back-to-back of the season is Tuesday (vs. Detroit) and Wednesday (at Oklahoma City). They rank 26th defensively even though they haven’t played the toughest schedule in regard to opposing offenses, and it doesn’t more difficult any time soon. Four of their next five games are against teams — the Pistons, Clippers and Rockets (x 2) — that rank in the bottom six in offensive efficiency.
Week 6: vs. DET, @ OKC, @ LAC
OffRtg: 114.9 (5) DefRtg: 108.2 (3) NetRtg: +6.7 (3) Pace: 97.4 (29)
In his first two games coming off the bench (with Lamar Stevens being moved into the starting lineup), Caris LeVert shot 1-for-12, and he turned his ankle on Sunday, missing the second half of the Cavs’ game against the Heat. But the Cavs won LeVert’s minutes on the floor and, more importantly, they won the two games. After allowing 122 points per 100 possessions over their five-game losing streak, the Cavs allowed the Hornets and Heat to score just 99.5 over the weekend. And with the two wins coming by more total points (36) than the five losses (34), the Cavs remain in the top five on both ends of the floor, now 10-6 with the point differential of a team that’s 12-4.
Darius Garland and Donovan Mitchell had their best minutes of the season together in the Cavs’ double-overtime win over the Hornets on Friday, when the two combined for 75 points and the Cavs outscored Charlotte by 23 points in their 34 minutes on the floor together. Garland scored 14 of the Cavs’ 30 clutch points, draining two straight 3-pointers to tie the game in the first OT. But for the season, the Cavs have been much better (especially offensively) in 447 total minutes with one on the floor without the other (plus-9.0 points per 100 possessions) than they’ve been in 220 minutes with both on the floor together (plus-1.1). With Cedi Osman registering a plus-39 against the Heat on Sunday, the Cavs now have the league’s second-ranked bench.
With their loss to the Bucks on Wednesday (a game Jarrett Allen missed), the Cavs are 3-4 against the other 15 teams that are currently over .500. They have three more games against that group this week, featuring their first regular-season backcourt duel against the Hawks and their second trip to Milwaukee in the span of 10 days.
Week 6: vs. ATL, vs. POR, @ MIL, @ DET
OffRtg: 110.9 (17) DefRtg: 108.7 (4) NetRtg: +2.2 (10) Pace: 98.0 (25)
The Sixers have been the league’s best defensive team over the last 17 days (climbing from 23rd to fourth for the season), allowing just 101.6 points per 100 possessions over their last seven games. That includes just 93.0 points allowed per 100 in Joel Embiid’s 218 minutes on the floor over that stretch, which has included two games against top-five offenses. The seven opponents have combined to shoot just 29.4% from 3-point range, but have also shot worse in the paint (55.6%) than Philly opponents did prior to that (60.4%). The Sixers have also forced a lot more turnovers over this stretch.
It might not be a coincidence that the seven-game stretch of much-improved defense coincides with the absence of James Harden. It’s certainly not a coincidence that, with Harden out, the Sixers rank 29th offensively over the last 17 days. Tobias Harris missed both of their games last week and Tyrese Maxey is now out 3-4 weeks after suffering a small fracture in his left foot on Friday.
The Sixers were able to close out the Bucks, getting Embiid the ball on almost every possession down the stretch via pick-and-pop actions, with Milwaukee allowing him to shoot as many short jumpers as he wanted. He was 9-for-17 on non-restricted-area 2-pointers on Friday, but just 1-for-8 in a loss to Minnesota the following night, when the Sixers also committed 22 turnovers.
The Sixers have two stretches of five games in seven days this season, and the first begins Tuesday. So it’s not a great time to be so banged up, though the first four games of that stretch are against the Nets, Hornets and Magic (x 2). The Sixers have played just three games (they’re 1-2) against the 12 teams that currently have losing records.
Week 6: vs. BKN, @ CHA, @ ORL, @ ORL
OffRtg: 114.3 (6) DefRtg: 110.4 (10) NetRtg: +3.9 (6) Pace: 99.8 (19)
The Pelicans still rank fourth in the percentage of their shots (54%) that have come in the paint. But without Zion Williamson for their three games last week, they were a little more dependent on jumpers, taking more than 40% of their shots from 3-point range (up from 31% — which ranked 29th in the league — prior). And in their wins over the Grizzlies and Bulls, they shot 35-for-71 (49%) from beyond the arc, with CJ McCollum (10-for-21) breaking out of his shooting slump, Trey Murphy (8-for-12) filling in pretty well for Williamson, and Herb Jones making twice as many 3s in those two games (4-for-5 total) as he had made all season prior to that (2-for-18). The two wins were just the fourth and fifth times the Pelicans outscored their opponent from 3-point range, and they were a plus-45 from deep.
The Pelicans ranked 13th in 3-point percentage and ninth in points scored per 100 possessions prior to Tuesday, but a higher volume (even with Williamson in the lineup) can raise their ceiling offensively. Murphy will be critical in that regard as four of his eight threes over those two games were from 27 feet or deeper (he’s 14-for-28 from 27-plus this season). Every foot counts when it comes to spacing the floor for the Pelicans’ stars. Murphy missed the second half of a loss to the Celtics with foot soreness on Friday, but is listed as day-to-day.
The Pelicans didn’t shoot poorly from deep in that loss to Boston, but they allowed 20 3s to the team that leads the league in 3-point rate. Now, the Pelicans’ six-game homestand comes to an end with their second game (and their second rest-advantage game) against the team — Golden State — that ranks third. Williamson is expected to return this week, but Ja Morant’s injury means that we will likely (again) miss out on a meeting between the top two picks of the 2019 Draft. They’ve both been available in just four of a possible 11 meetings to date.
Week 6: vs. GSW, @ SAS, @ MEM
OffRtg: 111.2 (16) DefRtg: 110.9 (13) NetRtg: +0.3 (14) Pace: 102.1 (6)
It’s been written in this space before that Trae Young’s shooting from the field isn’t what makes him so good. It’s more his playmaking and his ability to get to the line that has really carried the Hawks’ offense, which has ranked in the top 10 in each of the last two seasons. Still, the Hawks need Young to shoot somewhat effectively, and he’s seen the fifth biggest drop in effective field goal percentage (from 53.6% to 44.5%) among 162 players with at least 250 field goal attempts last season and at least 100 this season. With that, only the Hornets (-7.3) and Bucks (-5.0) have seen bigger drops in points scored per 100 possessions than the Hawks (-4.1).
But the Hawks are 10-6, with the league’s sixth most improved defense. And they now have two wins over the Bucks, one without Young and one with him shooting 7-for-19, having held Milwaukee (which had Giannis Antetokounmpo in both games) to just a point per possession over their two November meetings. Of course, that improved defense has clearly benefited from some poor perimeter shooting; The Hawks rank third in opponent 3-point percentage (32.5%), the Bucks were 6-for-29 (21%) on Monday, and the Raptors were 8-for-37 (22%) on Saturday, when the Hawks won an OT thriller at the buzzer. Before feeding AJ Griffin for the game-winner, Young shot 12-for-21, just the third time this season he’s registered an effective field goal percentage over the league average (53.5%).
The win over Toronto was the Hawks’ second game in a string of four straight against top-10 offenses. They’ll have rest advantages in Cleveland on Monday and against the Kings on Wednesday, and the schedule gets softer after that.
Week 6: @ CLE, vs. SAC, @ HOU, vs. MIA
OffRtg: 118.6 (2) DefRtg: 114.9 (27) NetRtg: +3.8 (8) Pace: 101.6 (7)
Last week, it was noted that the Celtics had scored 3.4 more points per 100 possessions than any other team. Boston’s offense hasn’t fallen off much in the last seven days, but the Kings have closed that gap significantly, shooting better than 55% from the field and scoring more than 131 points per 100 possessions in all three of their wins last week. They’ve shot better than 50% in each of their six straight wins, while only six other teams have at least six total games of shooting better than 50%. Their 32-point win over Brooklyn on Tuesday was the third time this season a team has scored more than 140 points per 100 possessions.
Seven Kings have averaged double-figures over the winning streak, and they’ve been led by De’Aaron Fox (24 points), who has shot an amazing 15-for-23 (65%) from mid-range over the six games. Fox (from 50.6% to 61.2%) and Kevin Huerter (from 55.9% to 66.0%) have seen the third and seventh biggest jumps, respectively, in effective field goal percentage among 162 players with at least 250 field goal attempts last season and at least 100 this season. They combined for 14 points as the Kings closed their Sunday game against the Pistons on an 18-5 run, turning a five-point deficit into an eight-point victory.
Of course, that was a narrow escape against a team that had lost six straight games and was missing three starters. Five of the six wins over the Kings’ winning streak have come at home and the last five have come against teams with losing records. They’ll now play 10 of their next 13 games on the road (where they’re 3-3) and eight of their next nine against teams currently over .500. They’re just 1-3 within that group thus far.
Week 6: @ MEM, @ ATL, @ BOS
OffRtg: 112.8 (12) DefRtg: 112.7 (22) NetRtg: +0.0 (18) Pace: 100.1 (15)
The Grizzlies put up a pretty good fight for three quarters in Brooklyn on Sunday, getting a big game (31 points, four assists, four steals) from Dillon Brooks. But they’re now 0-3 without Ja Morant, who’s “week to week” after spraining his left ankle in a win over the Thunder on Friday. Three days before the injury, the Grizz were outscored by 16 points in a little less than 12 minutes with Morant off the floor, losing to the Pelicans by 11. The absence of Desmond Bane obviously hurts in regard to winning the games that Morant is out or just the minutes that he’s on the bench.
The Grizzlies continue to take care of the ball and give themselves a ton of extra chances, but they’ve registered a true shooting percentage of just 50.4% (worst in the league) as they’ve lost three of the four games since Bane’s toe injury. Some of their low-volume shooters have shot OK, but Brooks is now the only medium or high-volume guy who’s healthy right now, and he has the second worst true shooting percentage (48.1%) among the 69 players with a usage rate of 23% or higher.
The good news is that Jaren Jackson Jr. made his season debut on Tuesday. He shot just 10-for-30 (33%) in his first two games back, but blocked eight shots in 50 total minutes and had a monster dunk against the Thunder to put to rest any concerns about his legs. When Morant went down with an injury last season, the Grizzlies turned their season around defensively, and Jackson can obviously help them do that again this year. Their 22nd-ranked defense will face two top-six offenses — those of the Kings and Pelicans — this week.
Week 6: vs. SAC, vs. NOP, @ NYK
OffRtg: 114.0 (8) DefRtg: 112.5 (21) NetRtg: +1.4 (12) Pace: 102.1 (5)
After losing their first five first quarters of the season by double-digits, the Pacers seemingly fixed their early-game issues. But they popped up again over the weekend, when they lost their two first quarters to Houston and Orlando (combined record of 8-26) by a combined score of 53-32. For the season, the Pacers have been outscored by 20.6 points per 100 possessions in the first quarter, the worst mark for any team in any period. Bennedict Mathurin (38.5%) and Jalen Smith (40.2%) both rank in the bottom 10 in first-quarter effective field goal percentage among 167 players who’ve attempted at least 30 shots in the opening period.
But the Pacers are 9-6, having won eight of their last 10 games. They’ve scored just 96.2 points per 100 possessions in the first quarter, but 120.1 per 100 thereafter. And they already have more wins (they’re 6-6) after trailing by double-digits than they did all of last season (5-46). Four of those six wins have come in the last nine days, against the Raptors (trailed by 15), Hornets (by 13), Rockets (by 20) and Magic (by 11). After the Pacers lost their own double-digit lead against Orlando on Saturday, Aaron Nesmith saved the day with an incredibly athletic offensive rebound in a crowd, making both of the ensuing free throws to put his team up one with less than 10 seconds left. The Pacers rank sixth in offensive rebounding percentage, but that was just Nesmith’s fourth offensive board of the season.
The Pacers have three more games on a stretch of six straight against teams that are currently no better than .500, but things will get tougher after that. The longest road trips in the league this season are three seven-game trips, and the Pacers have the first of the three. It begins Sunday in L.A. against the team with the league’s best first-quarter defense.
Week 6: vs. ORL, vs. MIN vs. BKN, @ LAC
OffRtg: 108.7 (24) DefRtg: 109.6 (6) NetRtg: -0.9 (20) Pace: 98.6 (24)
The Wizards’ winning streak came to an end with Bradley Beal’s return and a loss to the Thunder on Wednesday, when the Wizards lost two different leads of more than 15 points before falling victim to Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s game-winning 3. The Thunder have the league’s 18th-ranked offense, but their 121 points on 101 possessions was, by a wide margin, the most efficient game that any team has had against Washington in the last 2 1/2 weeks.
The Wiz cleaned things up defensively in narrow wins over the Heat and Hornets over the weekend, somehow winning a game (vs. Miami, missing three starters) in which they scored just three points in overtime. These are not Scott Brooks’ Wizards*, and this team has allowed just 103.7 points per 100 possessions as it’s won six of its last seven games, climbing from 25th to sixth in defensive efficiency over the last two weeks. The offense hasn’t been particularly strong overall, but the Wizards have shot 40.6% from 3-point range over that stretch, with Beal and Corey Kispert combining to go 10-for-17 in the Miami win.
* It’s possible that Scott Brooks’ line was used in this space around this time last season, when the Wizards ranked fourth defensively through the first five weeks and 27th thereafter.
With their longest homestand of the season in the books, the Wizards will now play 17 of their next 23 games on the road. But their schedule remains pretty soft in regard to the opponents for the next 2 1/2 weeks, with only one of their next eight games coming against a team (Boston) that currently has a winning record. Their first visit to Boston was a wire-to-wire win for the Celtics that the Wizards trailed by as many as 25 points.
Week 6: @ MIA, @ MIA, @ BOS
OffRtg: 112.4 (13) DefRtg: 112.2 (19) NetRtg: +0.2 (15) Pace: 98.8 (22)
What had been the league’s No. 1 defense over the previous 12 days got absolutely waxed in Sacramento on Tuesday, with the Kings’ 153 points on 109 possessions being the third most efficient game for any team this season. But the Nets recovered from the 32-point defeat, they’ve won two straight games for the third time this season, and they now have Kyrie Irving back in uniform. He scored 14 points in 26 minutes as the Nets took care of business against the shorthanded Grizzlies on Sunday.
Just as important is that Ben Simmons has had his two best games of the season, totaling 37 points (on 17-for-19 shooting), 21 rebounds and 12 assists against Portland and Memphis. He’s looked much more confident and much more willing to shoot (just not from outside the paint), and the Nets have been at their best (plus-22.5 points per 100 possessions) with Simmons on the floor over the two games. Joe Harris (8-for-14 from 3-point range over the two wins) is also finding his legs and Yuta Watanabe (now an amazing 16-for-21 on corner 3s) has been on fire. The pieces are coming together, though defensive consistency and rebounding will remain major questions.
With Simmons playing much better, it’s not a bad time for him to make his return to Philadelphia, though (if he’s starting at center) he’ll be matched up with Joel Embiid. That game is the start of the Nets’ second (and final) stretch of five games in seven nights this season, and that stretch includes a couple of games against top-10 offenses (those of the Raptors and Pacers).
Week 6: @ PHI, @ TOR, @ IND, vs. POR
OffRtg: 106.5 (29) DefRtg: 106.4 (2) NetRtg: +0.1 (17) Pace: 98.9 (20)
Last season, the Clippers set a play-by-play-era record with three wins in games they trailed by at least 25 points. Their second deficit of 25 or more this season came Tuesday in Dallas, and they erased all of it, taking a five-point lead in the fourth quarter … only to come up short down the stretch. They ran a great play to get an offensive rebound off an intentionally missed free throw, but Robert Covington couldn’t hold onto the ball to attempt a game-tying put-back.
More important than the short-lived comeback was that the Clippers got Kawhi Leonard back last week. He started both games (he had come off the bench in his two games early in the season) and he played a little less than 47 total minutes in wins over the Pistons and Spurs. Alas, Luke Kennard was lost to a calf injury earlier in the week and Paul George didn’t make it through the San Antonio game, sitting the second half on Saturday with knee soreness.
Offense continues to be a struggle; The Clips haven’t gotten much offense in the paint and Leonard probably isn’t ready to help them in that regard. But they allowed just 102.6 points per 100 possessions over their four games last week and they’ve rebounded much better than they did last season.
The No. 2 ranking on defense comes with the context that eight of the Clippers’ 17 games have come against teams that currently rank in the bottom six offensively. (Eight of the Clippers’ 10 wins have come against the Rockets, Lakers, Spurs and Pistons.) Six of their next seven games are against teams with offenses in the top 10, and that includes two games against the Jazz, who beat the Clips in L.A. (despite 34 points from Paul George) 15 days ago.
Week 6: vs. UTA, @ GSW, vs. DEN, vs. IND
OffRtg: 113.4 (10) DefRtg: 113.4 (24) NetRtg: +0.0 (19) Pace: 103.0 (1)
The Warriors were already mishandling an incredible season from Stephen Curry, and on Wednesday, they wasted a 50-point performance from their star, falling to 0-8 on the road with their second double-digit loss in Phoenix. With the Suns making 10 corner 3s (tied for the most in a game this season), it was the fifth time in 15 games that the Warriors allowed their opponent (this one missing two starters) to score more than 120 points per 100 possessions, something they did just nine times all of last season.
The champs’ defense wasn’t much better (and it might have been worse considering the strength of the opposing offense) in Houston on Sunday. But they finally got a Klay Game, with Klay Thompson scoring 41 points to help his team get its first road win of the season. He was 10-for-13 from beyond the arc, with three of those 3s coming in a tightly contested fourth quarter (after the Warriors blew an early, 18-point lead. It was the seventh game in Thompson’s career (the first since Jan. of 2019) in which he’s made 10 or more 3s, and the Warriors haven’t wasted any of those (they’ve won all seven).
There’s still the (important) matter of the league’s worst bench; The Warriors were outscored by 15 points in 11 minutes with Curry off the floor on Sunday. But Thompson’s breakthrough was needed, and the Warriors did allow less than a point per possession (something they hadn’t done since the season opener) in both of their home games last week.
They’ll face two top-10 offenses — those of the Pelicans and Jazz — this week. The first of those games (Monday) is the Warriors’ second rest-disadvantage game in New Orleans this season. They rested four of their five starters in the first one.
Week 6: @ NOP, vs. LAC, vs. UTA, @ MIN
OffRtg: 110.7 (18) DefRtg: 111.8 (18) NetRtg: -1.1 (21) Pace: 102.7 (3)
After that amazing weekend where it went off against the Raptors and Knicks, the Thunder offense kept it going last week. And they got a win in Washington on Wednesday, with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s game-winning, step-back 3-pointer capping his 42-point performance and a five-game stretch where the Thunder scored 119.6 points per 100 possessions, 2.4 more than they scored in any five-game stretch last season. That wasn’t the only 3 Gilgeous-Alexander (who had been doing almost all of his damage inside the arc) made over that stretch, and some of his teammates were also shooting well from beyond the arc.
The Thunder defense will give up some 3s too. There were several occasions in that game on Wednesday when the Wizards got wide-open looks, because the Thunder’s weak-side defenders were so deep in the paint. The Wizards were 17-for-34 from deep (6-for-9 from the corners) and the Grizzlies were 8-for-15 on corner 3s against the Thunder two nights later. OKC has allowed the third most corner 3s per game and their opponents have recorded assists on 90% of their 3-pointers (the league’s second highest opponent rate).
Having allowed 118.7 points per 100 possessions over their last four games, the Thunder have slid from sixth to 18th in defensive efficiency. They’ll face three teams that rank in the bottom 11 offensively this week, but also Denver’s seventh-ranked offense on Wednesday. The Nuggets’ two games against OKC thus far are the two times they’ve made eight corner 3s.
Week 6: vs. NYK, vs. DEN, vs. CHI, @ HOU
OffRtg: 113.4 (9) DefRtg: 110.7 (11) NetRtg: +2.7 (9) Pace: 98.7 (23)
The Raptors have been shorthanded beyond the continued absence (eight games now) of Pascal Siakam. But they’d have themselves a three-game winning streak if Scottie Barnes had just made a layup at the end of regulation in Atlanta on Saturday. They continue to force a ton of turnovers and crush opponents on the offensive glass. Before the loss to Atlanta, four straight (and seven of the last nine) opponents had at least 19 turnovers, and the Raptors have grabbed at least 30% of available offensive rebounds in each of their last six games. What’s even more amazing is that the Raptors rank third in offensive rebounding percentage without any one guy ranking in the top 25 among individuals (who’ve averaged at least 10 minutes).
Last season, the Raptors had the biggest shooting-opportunity differential — they averaged 7.0 more field goal attempts or trips to the line than their opponents — for any team in the last 23 years, and their differential this season is an incredible plus-9.3. (The Suns rank second at plus-4.5.) That’s how you have a winning record (and the league’s ninth best point differential) despite ranking in the bottom six in both effective field goal percentage (25th) and opponent effective field goal percentage (26th). Canadian math is something different.
Weirdly, one of the three times this season the Raptors didn’t register at least 12 second-chance points was their Week 1 loss in Brooklyn. They’ll face the Nets (who rank last in defensive rebounding percentage) three more times in the next four weeks, and they’ll have a rest advantage at home on Wednesday. A stretch of eight days where they’re playing just two games is a good thing for a team so banged up.
Week 6: vs. BKN, vs. DAL
OffRtg: 110.1 (20) DefRtg: 113.2 (23) NetRtg: -3.1 (26) Pace: 100.8 (11)
After that game at home where they allowed the Thunder to score 145 points, the Knicks were looking at a daunting road trip, their only stretch of five games in seven nights this season. Through last Monday, the first four opponents on the trip were a combined 21-2 at home.
But the Knicks began the trip by handing both the Jazz and Nuggets their first home defeats of the season. They were trailing both games in the fourth quarter, but they turned a four-point deficit into a 10-point lead with a 16-2 run in Utah, and they turned a 10-point deficit into a five-point lead with a 17-2 run in Denver. The only two Knicks on the floor for the entirety of both runs were Immanuel Quickley (who had eight of the 16 points in the Utah run) and Obi Toppin, and the Knicks have now held their opponents to just 100.6 points per 100 possessions in their 253 minutes on the floor together.
The third and fourth games of the trip weren’t so good. The Knicks were held under a point per possession by both the Warriors and Suns, with Quickley and Toppin combining to shoot 1-for-20 over the two games. Despite the great defensive numbers, the Knicks have barely outscored their opponents in those minutes with both on the floor.
The Knicks did get Mitchell Robinson back on Sunday, and he should help the overall defense. They have both a chance at revenge and an opportunity to make it a winning road trip when they visit Oklahoma City on Monday. They’ll then have their first three-day break of the season before hosting the Blazers and Grizzlies over the weekend. That’s the start of a stretch where they’re playing six of seven at Madison Square Garden.
Week 6: @ OKC, vs. POR, vs. MEM
OffRtg: 111.9 (14) DefRtg: 111.5 (15) NetRtg: +0.4 (13) Pace: 102.3 (4)
The Wolves are 8-1 (tied for the league’s fourth-best record) when they’ve led by double-digits. And they’ve had double-digit leads early in each of their last three games (all on the road), winning the three first quarters by a total of 48 points (115-67). Those 115 points have come on 78 offensive possessions (147 per 100), with Anthony Edwards and D’Angelo Russell combining to score 52 first-quarter points on 20-for-30 shooting over the three-game winning streak that has the Wolves back at .500.
Their win in Philadelphia on Saturday came with Edwards’ highest usage rate of the season (33.3%), and the Wolves are now 7-2 when he has a usage rate over 25%. He wasn’t particularly efficient (shooting 3-for-14) after the first quarter in Philly, usage rate takes turnovers into account, and he had five turnovers in the win. But he made up for the last one by getting back and contesting the De’Anthony Melton layup that would have given the Sixers the lead with 11 seconds left. The Wolves have played just five clutch games (tied for the fewest in the league), but they’re 4-1 in those games.
After his two best games of the season (the win in Orlando on Wednesday also came with the best Towns-Gobert minutes the Wolves have had), Karl-Anthony Towns had a relatively quiet night (12 points on 5-for-14 shooting) in Philly. His own usage rate is down, but his effective field goal percentage (58.5%) and true shooting percentage (63.7%) aren’t far from his marks from last season (59.1% and 64.0%).
The Wolves will have a rest advantage in Miami on Monday, and it will be interesting to see which of their two bigs is matched up with Bam Adebayo, who limited Towns considerably when they were matched up last season.
Week 6: vs. MIA, @ IND, @ CHA, vs. GSW
OffRtg: 110.0 (21) DefRtg: 111.8 (17) NetRtg: -1.8 (23) Pace: 97.5 (28)
Last season, the Heat were incredibly resilient when they were missing their best players. They were 15-10 without Jimmy Butler, 12-7 without Kyle Lowry, and 17-9 without Bam Adebayo.
This season? Not so much. The Heat were 0-2 without Adebayo last week and they’re now 1-3 without Butler, who’s missed the last two games with knee (not general) soreness and is already ruled out for the Heat’s game in Minnesota on Monday. They did have a chance to win in Washington on Friday without both Adebayo, Butler and Tyler Herro (who’s missed the last seven games), but somehow scored just two points (shooting 0-for-8 from the field) in overtime. After registering their worst offensive performance of the season (87 points on 95 possessions) in Cleveland on Sunday, the Heat have scored just 97.6 points per 100 possessions in 362 total minutes with Butler off the floor.
Maybe the Heat are just an every-other-season franchise. Since LeBron James took his talents back to Cleveland, the Heat are 189-130 (.592) in seasons that end with an even number (2015-16, 2017-18, etc.) and 164-171 (.490) in seasons that end with an odd number. It’s still early in this odd-numbered season, but the Heat have seen the seventh biggest drop in points scored per 100 possessions (-3.0) and its sixth biggest jump in points allowed per 100 possessions (+3.4).
And the Heat are four games into a stretch where they’re playing 10 of 11 against teams that are currently over .500. The one exception is their game against the 8-8 Wolves on Monday, and that’s a rest-disadvantage game. It’s the end of a four-game trip, but another four-game trip will begin six days later, and the Heat are currently 1-6 (with six straight losses) on the road.
Week 6: @ MIN, vs. WAS, vs. WAS, @ ATL
OffRtg: 109.6 (22) DefRtg: 110.9 (12) NetRtg: -1.3 (22) Pace: 100.7 (12)
The Bulls are the only team in the league without a win (they’re 0-4) against the opposite conference, having lost to the Pelicans (for the second time in eight days) on Wednesday. They wasted a game in which DeMar DeRozan shot 11-for-15 and had seven assists with zero turnovers, allowing New Orleans to register their second highest effective field goal percentage of the season and score 124 points on just 98 possessions. The Bulls still have the league’s 12th-ranked defense, but they rank 24th in opponent effective field goal percentage, in the bottom 12 both in the paint (19th) and outside the paint (26th).
The Bulls are also the only team in the league without a clutch win, with Nikola Vucevic going 0-for-2 at the line (with the Bulls up two) before Jalen Suggs’ game-winning 3 on Friday. They’ve scored just 58 points on 64 clutch possessions (90.6 per 100) and are 3-for-15 on clutch 3s, but the Bulls were 15-for-16 on clutch free throws (and Vucevic was 36-for-39 for the season) before those two. Oof.
With those two defeats, the Bulls are 1-6 (with six straight losses) when DeRozan has scored more than 25 points. (They were 32-13 when he scored more than 25 last season.) They’ve lost four straight overall, ranking in the bottom six on both ends of the floor over that stretch.
After they host the Celtics on Monday, the Bulls will have played 10 of their 17 games at home. Their longest road trip of the season (six games over 12 days) begins Wednesday in Milwaukee, with the Bulls having lost 20 of their last 22 games (regular season and playoffs) against the Bucks. The trip doesn’t include any back-to-backs, but it does include five games against the Western Conference.
Week 6: vs. BOS, @ MIL, @ OKC
OffRtg: 107.3 (28) DefRtg: 110.0 (8) NetRtg: -2.7 (24) Pace: 103.0 (2)
The Lakers kept LeBron James on the shelf another week and have put together a little winning streak. They’ve scored almost 120 points per 100 possessions over the three straight wins, with Anthony Davis (35.0 points and 17.3 rebounds per game) dominating inside. Of the 105 total points that Davis has scored over the three games, 95 have come in the paint (where he’s shot 32-for-47, 68%) or at the free throw line (31-for-34, 91.2%). He’s 5-for-10 from mid-range over the streak and has attempted just three shots from beyond the arc (where he’s now 4-for-19 for the season).
For the season, Davis has taken 76% of his shots in the paint, easily a career-high rate (his previous high was 67% as a rookie) and up from 57% over his first three seasons in L.A. For a guy who has shot 62.0% in the paint and has an effective field goal percentage of just 40.8% on shots from outside the paint over the course of his career, that’s a wonderful thing … as long as he can stay healthy playing inside.
The three wins have all come with rest advantages (all three opponents were playing the second game of a back-to-back), against teams that have losing records, and at home. The Lakers have played 11 of their 15 games in L.A. (10 home games and a “road” game against the Clippers). They’ll now play nine of their next 11 (and 16 of their next 22) on the road. With the Warriors winning in Houston on Sunday, the Lakers (0-5) are one of two teams – the Pistons (0-10) are the other – that are still winless on the road. Their three-game trip begins in Phoenix (with the Lakers having lost their last seven games against the Suns), but they do have two road games this week against the team they just beat by 31 points.
Week 6: @ PHX, @ SAS, @ SAS
OffRtg: 110.6 (19) DefRtg: 113.5 (25) NetRtg: -2.9 (25) Pace: 98.9 (21)
After beating the Mavs and Suns, the Magic had a great shot at putting together their first three-game winning streak since Feb. of 2021 (a month before they traded their three highest-paid players). But they scored just 45 points on 46 first-half possessions against the Hornets on Monday, the first of two straight games in which the Magic never held a lead. They held double-digit leads in both of their games over the weekend, and both went down to the final possession, with Jalen Suggs draining the game-winning 3 in Chicago and Franz Wagner missing a potential game-winner the following night in Indiana. At 3-4, the Magic are one of three teams – the Pistons (2-4) and Rockets (3-4) are the others – with losing records when leading at halftime.
They’re 3-3 without Paolo Banchero, though having played so many close games (12 of their 17 have been within five in the last five), their numbers aren’t significantly improved on either end of the floor. They have played at a significantly slower pace over those six games (96.4 possessions per 48 minutes) than they did in their 11 games with Banchero (100.2), including 101.4 with him on the floor.
With all their other absences – Wendell Carter Jr. missed two games last week, Cole Anthony has now missed 12 straight – the Magic’s most-used lineup has played just 65 minutes, the third fewest for any team’s most-used lineup through Sunday. (Only the Lakers and Thunder don’t have a lineup that’s played that many, and OKC is intentionally keeping its number down.) A three-day break this week (separating two two-game series) could help with the health issues. The Magic are three games into a stretch where they’re playing 16 of 17 within the Eastern Conference.
Week 6: @ IND, vs. PHI, vs. PHI
OffRtg: 106.4 (30) DefRtg: 112.4 (20) NetRtg: -6.0 (27) Pace: 99.9 (18)
The Hornets put an end to an eight-game losing streak with a win in Orlando on Monday, outscoring the super-big Magic by 20 points (54-34) in the restricted area. Terry Rozier shot 1-for-9 away from the basket, but combined with Mason Plumlee for 24 of those 54 restricted-area points on 12-for-13 shooting. Overall, it was the Hornets’ most efficient offensive performance (112 points on just 96 possessions) since Week 2.
But before the Hornets got Gordon Hayward back from an eight-game absence, LaMelo Ball reinjured his ankle. The Hornets forced overtime with a miracle (12-2) run in the final minute of the fourth quarter in Cleveland on Friday, but they came up empty in the second OT and now have themselves a new losing streak. They’ve scored just 104.7 points per 100 possessions over the three losses, with Rozier shooting just 21-for-63 (33%). He’s now 8-for-35 (23%) from mid-range and has seen the second biggest drop in effective field goal percentage (from 56.6% to 46.3%) among 162 players with at least 250 field goal attempts last season and at least 100 this season. P.J. Washington and Jalen McDaniels have seen the ninth and 12th biggest drops, respectively.
Hayward played in both of the Hornets’ games over the weekend and had seven assists in Cleveland, but he was clearly dealing with shoulder pain on Sunday. Ball and Hayward have yet to play a minute together and the Hornets have slid to 30th in offensive efficiency.
The Hornets will have a couple of days off before they host the Sixers (with a rest advantage) on Wednesday. It’s probably a good time to be playing Philly, but that will be the third game on a stretch where the Hornets are playing six of eight against teams that currently rank in the top six defensively.
Week 6: vs. PHI, vs. MIN
OffRtg: 107.9 (26) DefRtg: 117.9 (30) NetRtg: -10.0 (30) Pace: 101.4 (8)
Remember when the Spurs were 5-2? They’ve since lost 10 of their last 11 games, with two five-game losing streaks sandwiching a win in a game in which the Bucks were without Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jrue Holiday. Four of the five losses on the most recent streak have come by at least 18 points, and after 18 games, the Spurs already have twice as many losses by 20 points or more (6) as they had all of last season (3). They’re 6-12 with the point differential of a team that’s 3-15.
The current streak was a stretch of five games in seven nights, and the Spurs (perhaps by choice) had their full starting lineup available for only one of the five games. That was the game – Tuesday in Portland – that wasn’t a blowout, and the Spurs actually led by six with five minutes left. But the Blazers closed the game on a 17-4 run, with Keldon Johnson committing three turnovers on the Spurs’ nine clutch possessions. The starting lineup still has a positive point differential (plus-1.7 points per 100 possessions) for the season (113 total minutes).
Of course, no matter the challenges of the schedule, allowing 124.9 points per 100 possessions over a five-game stretch is pretty rough, especially when the last two games came against two of the three worst offenses in the league (those of the Clippers and Lakers). The Spurs now rank dead last defensively, which just doesn’t sit right. If anything, this team was supposed to rank last offensively (still a possibility).
With their five-games-in-seven-nights road trip in the books, the Spurs have a couple of days off. They’ll play six of their next seven games at home, a stretch that includes two games each against the Pelicans and Lakers.
Week 6: vs. NOP, vs. LAL, vs. LAL
OffRtg: 108.7 (25) DefRtg: 117.7 (29) NetRtg: -9.0 (29) Pace: 100.7 (13)
Though the Pistons have had the league’s worst record since the start of the 2019-20 season, there have been times over those three-plus years that they’ve been pretty good defensively. This is not one of those times. Though they’re somehow losing a race with the Spurs to the bottom of the defensive rankings, the Pistons have allowed almost 120 points per 100 possessions over their seven-game losing streak. Through Week 5, Detroit and San Antonio have each allowed at least 2.6 more points per 100 than any other team.
Both the Spurs and Pistons have been on tough road trips. And by the end of last week, the Pistons were down to two healthy starters, with Isaiah Stewart (sprained toe) and Saddiq Bey (ankle sprain) joining Cade Cunningham on the shelf. (Bey was actually replaced by Marvin Bagley in the starting lineup before Stewart got hurt, but still.)
The Pistons have had some opportunities; They either had fourth-quarter leads or were within one possession in the fourth in all four of their games last week. Losses to the Lakers and Kings over the weekend (over which six different Pistons totaled at least 24 points) were two of their five most efficient offensive performances of the season. But they allowed 67 points on 48 defensive possessions (140 per 100) over the two fourth quarters on Friday and Sunday. The Pistons are the only team that ranks in the bottom 10 in three of the four factors on defense, and they rank 20th in the fourth (opponent free throw rate).
They’re now 0-10 on the road, and the second half of the Pistons’ six-game trip will probably be more difficult than the first. The Nuggets, Jazz and Suns are a combined 18-3 at home.
Week 6: @ DEN, @ UTA, @ PHX, vs. CLE
OffRtg: 107.6 (27) DefRtg: 115.1 (28) NetRtg: -7.5 (28) Pace: 100.9 (10)
The Rockets got the Mavs without Luka Doncic on Wednesday, and they took advantage, picking up their third win of the season despite turning the ball over 23 times and scoring just 101 points on 98 possessions. It was the second time this season Houston held its opponent under a point per possession, and the Rockets didn’t just sit back and let the Mavs miss shots (though Dallas did shoot 5-for-25 on wide-open 3s). Their 19 blocks in that game are tied for the second most for any team in any game in the last 20 years. Eight different Rockets blocked a shot on Wednesday, with Kenyon Martin Jr.’s sensational stuff of Christian Wood being the highlight.
The Rockets played another ugly game against the Pacers (who rank eighth offensively and were 8-for-28 on wide-open 3s in Houston) on Friday. And two nights later, they erased an early, 18-point deficit and went down to the wire with the Warriors. The Rockets still haven’t won a game that wasn’t within five points in the last five minutes, but half of their 14 losses have been within five in the last five. They’ve scored just 41 points on 57 clutch possessions (a league-worst 72 per 100), having shot 1-for-14 on clutch 3-pointers.
But maybe we’re seeing some small signs of progress from the team that ranked last defensively last season (and by a healthy margin before the Blazers tanked hard). The opponents’ 3s went in the basket on Sunday, and the Rockets will face the Warriors again in less than two weeks. Their longest (non-All-Star) break of the season is Monday-Thursday, and their first of four meetings with the Thunder (the other three are all in February) is Saturday, when both teams will be playing the second game of a back-to-back.
Week 6: vs. ATL, vs. OKC