Power Rankings

Power Rankings

Power Rankings: Rockets rolling after hot December; Clippers continue to tumble

John Schuhmann

John Schuhmann

As we begin a new calendar year, we take stock of where the league stands. And the thing that stands out is that offense keeps getting better.

After scoring 103.9 points per 100 possessions through November, the league scored 106.6 in December and is now at a mark 3.0 points per 100 possessions better than it was at at this point last year. With a combination of better talent and better spacing, we are likely in the middle of the best offensive season of the last 40 years.

With so many elite offenses, playoff position may be determined by defense. In the West, there are now four teams fighting for the eighth spot and three of them – Denver, Portland and Sacramento – rank in the bottom 10 defensively. If one of those teams can start defending well, they could have the edge. And if the New Orleans Pelicans can continue to defend at a rate better than the league average as they play with a smaller lineup, that last playoff spot may be theirs.

The Cleveland Cavaliers still haven’t turned up their defense, but they’re holding on to the No. 1 spot this week, with their first trip through the Western Conference coming up.

Last week: Cavs rally to beat Warriors again

This time last year: Warriors tumble from lofty No. 1 perch — Jimmy Butler scored 40 points in a half, Kyle Korver missed 20 straight 3-pointers, Jarrett Jack tore his ACL, Stephen Curry was dealing with a shin contusion, and Chris Paul dunked.

Plus-minus stud: Ryan Anderson (HOU) was a plus-67 in four games last week.

Plus-minus dud: Jamal Crawford (LAC) was a minus-54 in four games last week.

Hero team of the week: Houston (4-0) — The Rockets finished their 15-2 month in grand fashion and are just a game and a half behind the Spurs for second place in the West.

Zero team of the week: New York (0-3) — The Knicks are undefeated at home against teams that are currently over .500, but their six-game road losing streak includes losses in Phoenix, Denver and Friday’s in New Orleans, where they shot 38 percent.

East vs. West: The West is 102-85 (.545) against the East in interconference games after going 9-6 last week.

Toughest schedules through Sunday: 1. Dallas, 2. Portland, 3. L.A. Lakers

Easiest schedules through Sunday: 1. Chicago, 2. Oklahoma City, 3. Denver

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: Portland (+4), Washington (+4), Six teams (+1)

Free falls of the week: LA Clippers (-4), Orlando (-4), New York (-3)

Team to watch this week: Toronto — The Raptors are 0-3 against the Cavs and don’t play them again until the last night of the season. But they can prove themselves against some of the best teams in the West this week. They finish their road trip in San Antonio on Tuesday, and then host the Jazz and Rockets on Thursday and Sunday, with a visit to Chicago in between.

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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 98.6 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes and 105.2 points scored per 100 possessions this season.

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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.

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