The most anticipated game of the season was the best game of the season. Warriors-Cavs went down to the wire and lived up to its billing as the game to watch on Christmas Day.
The Warriors were in control for most of the afternoon. Through the first 39 minutes, Kevin Durant (36 points and 15 rebounds) appeared to be the trump card. But the Cavs came back, Richard Jefferson dunked all over Durant and Klay Thompson, and Kyrie Irving hit the game-winner.
— NBA (@NBA) December 26, 2016
It was Game 8. And fortunately for Golden State (and the rest of us), Game 9 is only three weeks away.
The Warriors were the best team in the league last year and they’re the best team in the league this year. But they haven’t been the best team on the floor the last four times they’ve played the Cavs. That’s all that matters with these teams on the path toward a third straight meeting in The Finals.
Last week: Rockets, Jazz continue runs toward the top
This time last year: West is wide open beyond the top three — The Warriors beat the Cavs in a very unpretty basketball game on Christmas, while Chris Bosh was Christmas Day’s high scorer with 30 points against the Pelicans. The Suns suspended Markieff Morris for throwing a towel at Jeff Hornacek, Blake Griffin suffered a torn quad, and both Alec Burks (broken leg) and Eric Bledsoe (knee surgery) were lost for the season.
Plus-minus stud: Klay Thompson (GSW) was a plus-71 in four games last week.
Plus-minus dud: Jeremy Lin (BKN) was a minus-62 in three games last week.
Hero team of the week: Cleveland (4-0) — The Cavs needed a 33-footer from LeBron James to escape Milwaukee with a win on Tuesday, but they’ve won the last 10 games that James has played in and there’s no arguing that they don’t know how to win with the game on the line. They’re now a league-best 11-2 in games that were within five points in the last five minutes.
Zero team of the week: Portland (0-3) — The Blazers continue to sink, and even a back-to-back against the Kings and Mavs couldn’t save them.
East vs. West: The West is 93-79 (.541) against the East in interconference games after going 9-8 last week. Sunday’s loss in Cleveland was the Warriors’ first loss to an Eastern Conference team after a 9-0 start.
Toughest schedules through Sunday: 1. Dallas, 2. Portland, 3. L.A. Lakers
Easiest schedules through Sunday: 1. Chicago, 2. Orlando, 3. Golden State
Schedule strength is based on cumulative opponent record, and adjusted for home vs. away and days of rest before a game.
High jumps of the week: Sacramento (+6), Atlanta (+5), Cleveland (+3), New Orleans (+3)
Free falls of the week: Detroit (-5), Portland (-5), Utah (-4)
Team to watch this week: Chicago — There are a lot of important games within the Eastern Conference this week, and they’re most important for the Bulls, who have slipped into ninth place and have three games against the two teams – Indiana and Milwaukee – ahead of them in the next six days.
Pace: Possessions per 48 minutes (League Rank)
OffRtg: Points scored per 100 possessions (League Rank)
DefRtg: Points allowed per 100 possessions (League Rank)
NetRtg: Point differential per 100 possessions (League Rank)
The league has averaged 98.7 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes and 104.9 points scored per 100 possessions this season.
NBA.com’s Power Rankings, released every Monday during the season, are just one man’s opinion. If you have an issue with the rankings, or have a question or comment for John Schuhmann, send him an e-mail or contact him via Twitter.