Week 12 Power Rankings: Golden State Warriors face league's toughest January schedule
The Golden State Warriors got their Christmas win over the Cleveland Cavaliers and got Stephen Curry back five days later. Without Curry, they had the best defense in the league over an 11-game stretch. With him, they have the best offense we’ve ever seen.
So now, we might witness the firepower of this fully armed and operational battle station. And if the Warriors still have the league’s best record and top-two rankings on both ends of the floor a month from now, we’ll know that they’ve hit their stride, because they have the league’s toughest January schedule.
The Warriors have both the fewest home games (five) and the most road games (nine) in the Western Conference this month. The also have the West’s toughest schedule in regard to opponent strength, with their 14 January opponents having a cumulative winning percentage of 0.562 heading into the month. Nine of their 14 games are against teams that are currently at or above .500, and four of the other five are against teams – the Mavs, Clippers (x 2) and Bulls – that are currently playing better than their overall record.
The Warriors’ January schedule will test that second-ranked defense in particular, as nine of their 14 games are against teams that currently rank in the top 10 in offensive efficiency, and only two are against teams – Dallas and Chicago – that rank in the bottom 10. Their month includes both of their games in Houston, as well as their only visits to Milwaukee, Toronto, Cleveland and Chicago.
Interestingly, the Cavs will have the Eastern Conference’s toughest January schedule. The Sixers have a slightly tougher slate in regard to cumulative opponent winning percentage, but 12 of Cleveland’s 14 January games are against teams that are currently at or above .500. And the Cavs will play three games, including their visit to Boston on Wednesday, with a rest disadvantage (where they’re playing the second game of a back-to-back and their opponent is not).
The stretch between Christmas and the All-Star break can be a slog for some teams. The Warriors and Cavs remain the favorites to return to The Finals in June and have the ability to flip the switch whenever they want, but it will be interesting to see how much resilience they show over the next 31 days.
- Last week: Warriors reclaim top spot with Christmas win
- This time last year: Rockets rolling after hot December — James Harden went for 53, 16 and 17 against the Knicks, and Russell Westbrook had a triple-double by halftime against the Clippers. Isaiah Thomas scored 52 points against the Heat, while Rajon Rondo was out of the Bulls’ rotation. Randy Foye beat the Hornets at the buzzer, Wilson Chandler denied Andrew Wiggins to clinch a win for the Nuggets, and Kawhi Leonard’s game-winner in Atlanta … spun out.
- Plus-minus studs: Tobias Harris (DET) and Jrue Holiday (NOP) were each a plus-48 in three games last week.
- Plus-minus dud: Thaddeus Young (IND) was a minus-64 in four games last week.
- Hero team of the week: Dallas (4-0) — The Mavs started their week by ending six-game winning streak. Then they got road wins in Indiana, New Orleans and Oklahoma City.
- Zero team of the week: Indiana (0-4) — The Pacers, without Victor Oladipo for the last three, lost their four games by an average of 14.3 points.
- East vs. West: The East is 112-110 (.505) against the West in interconference games after the West went 11-10 over the last six days.
- Toughest schedules so far: 1. Charlotte, 2. Philadelphia, 3. L.A. Lakers
- Easiest schedules so far: 1. Houston, 2. Cleveland, 3. Portland
- 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: Dallas (+5), Chicago (+4), Boston, Milwaukee & Philadelphia (+3)
- Free falls of the week: Indiana (-6), L.A. Lakers (-5), Sacramento (-4)
- Team to watch in Week 12: Milwaukee — The Bucks are bouncing up and down with some good wins and bad losses over the last nine days. But they’re coming off victories over two West playoff teams and now have an important week within the Eastern Conference. Their visits to Toronto and Washington sandwich a two-game homestand against the Pacers and Raptors.
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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 99.3 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes and 105.4 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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Last Week: 1
Pace: 102.3 (5) OffRtg: 112.8 (2) DefRtg: 101.6 (2) NetRtg: +11.2 (1)
The Warriors ranked 17th in offensive efficiency and 27th in 3-point percentage over their 11-game stretch without Stephen Curry. And with Curry returning on Saturday and draining an NBA season-high 10 threes, they had their best offensive game of the season. Their defense has been improved, though rebounding has been an issue once again. Over their last six games, they've grabbed less than 72 percent of available defensive rebounds, the league's worst mark over that stretch. After they visit Dallas on Wednesday, they'll play seven straight games against the league's top-10 offenses.
Week 12: @ DAL, @ HOU, @ LAC
Last Week: 5 ↑
Pace: 97.6 (23) OffRtg: 105.6 (12) DefRtg: 100.8 (1) NetRtg: +4.9 (4)
Jayson Tatum has cooled off from beyond the arc (6-for-22 from 3-point range over his last seven games), but is a remarkable 17-for-24 (71 percent) from the field in the clutch (best among players who have taken at least 20 clutch shots) after getting two big buckets in the Celtics' crazy win over the Rockets (in which they trailed by 26 points in the third quarter) on Thursday. They've won the race to 30 wins, in part because they've played two more games than any other team. Real schedule relief will come after their Jan. 11 game against the Sixers in London, but they will have a rest advantage on Wednesday when they host the Cavs, who play at home the night before.
Week 12: vs. CLE, vs. MIN, @ BKN
Last Week: 2 ↓
Pace: 100.6 (10) OffRtg: 109.9 (5) DefRtg: 102.3 (5) NetRtg: +7.6 (3)
The Raptors stumbled on the road last week, with DeMar DeRozan (7-for-32) and Kyle Lowry (9-for-27) going cold in Dallas and Oklahoma City. Their January schedule will be much tougher than their December schedule in regard to opponent strength, but seven of their nine January games against teams that are currently over .500 will be at home, where the Raps are 13-1, with the bigger difference between the Home Raptors and the Road Raptors being on defense. Friday's game in Milwaukee is one of the two exceptions and Wednesday's game in Chicago is tougher than the Bulls' overall record would indicate. Toronto is 4-7 against teams currently over .500, 2-1 at home and 2-6 on the road.
Week 12: vs. MIL, @ CHI, @ MIL
Last Week: 3 ↓
Pace: 101.4 (8) OffRtg: 113.0 (1) DefRtg: 104.8 (12) NetRtg: +8.2 (2)
Though they got Chris Paul back on Thursday and Clint Capela back on Sunday, the Rockets needed two overtimes at home against the struggling Lakers (and Paul going well over his minutes restriction and scoring or assisting on 22 of their 26 points in overtime) to put an end to their losing streak, which had reached five games and featured a brutal collapse in Boston. More damaging than James Harden's two offensive fouls at the end of that one may be the hamstring injury he suffered late in the fourth quarter on Sunday (after scoring 40 points and sitting for just 48 seconds in the second half up to that point). That could put a damper on Thursday's meeting with the Warriors, which is the second game of back-to-back for both teams.
Week 12: @ ORL, vs. GSW, @ DET
Last Week: 6 ↑
Pace: 96.4 (29) OffRtg: 105.1 (13) DefRtg: 101.6 (3) NetRtg: +3.4 (5)
It's not hard to see how the Spurs have lost games this season. They've scored less than a point per possession in 11 of their 12 losses, including Saturday's in Detroit, when they shot 12-for-46 from outside the paint. They've cut down on their mid-range shots this season (this is their first season with LaMarcus Aldridge that they've taken more 3-pointers than mid-range shots), but are still having their worst shooting season (effective field goal percentage of 51.2 percent) in the last 10 years. They've seen a big decrease in the percentage of their 3-point attempts that have come from the corners, in part because they've been missing (for all but six games) the guy - Kawhi Leonard - who accounted for more than 1/3 of their corner 3s via his shots and assists last season.
Week 12: @ NYK, @ PHI, vs. PHX, @ POR
Last Week: 4 ↓
Pace: 98.6 (19) OffRtg: 111.2 (3) DefRtg: 108.7 (28) NetRtg: +2.5 (7)
The Cavs' starting lineup had a rough night in Utah on Saturday, but has otherwise been strong, with Jose Calderon playing well enough for the lineup to have scored more than 115 points per 100 possessions in its 308 minutes. Defense continues to be an issue, both on the macro and micro levels. They ranked 26th defensively in December and this awful transition sequence loomed large in in a game that went down to the wire. So it will be interesting to see how the return of Isaiah Thomas (maybe this week?) affects their numbers on both ends of the floor, if the return of Iman Shumpert (their best backcourt defender) is just as important, and, of course, if anything we're seeing in the regular season matters come April 14. The East's toughest January schedule includes a five-game trip that begins in Boston on Wednesday and includes visits to Minnesota, Toronto and Indiana.
Week 12: vs. POR, @ BOS, @ ORL
Last Week: 10 ↑
Pace: 97.7 (22) OffRtg: 107.6 (8) DefRtg: 106.8 (21) NetRtg: +0.7 (12)
The Bucks are two games into a tough stretch (11 of 12 games against teams that currently have winning records), but have started it off strong, holding the Timberwolves (a top-five offense) and Thunder (an improving offense) to just a point per possession in a back-to-back sweep, getting some help from the no-call on Giannis Antetokounmpo's game-winning drive in OKC on Friday. They're 14-8 in games that were within five points in the last five minutes, with Khris Middleton (37) and Eric Bledsoe (35) having taken a lot more clutch shots than Antetokounmpo (21). The tough stretch gets more critical now, as 13 of the Bucks' 15 January games are within the Eastern Conference, with the first five against fellow East playoff teams. The Bucks start January in sixth place and the month includes six games against the other three teams - Washington, Miami and Indiana - holding the 5-8 seeds, as well as two more against the 10th place Sixers.
Week 12: @ TOR, vs. IND, vs. TOR, @ WAS
Last Week: 8
Pace: 99.5 (11) OffRtg: 106.3 (11) DefRtg: 103.9 (9) NetRtg: +2.4 (9)
The Wizards' Jekyll-and-Hyde, playing-to-the-level-of-the-competition weirdness continued until Bradley Beal and John Wall got to the basket just enough to beat the Bulls on Sunday. The difference between their performance against the good teams (they're 11-6 against teams currently at or above .500) and the others (10-10) has mostly been on offense, mostly from beyond the arc, and mostly with their complementary shooters. Otto Porter, Kelly Oubre and Jodie Meeks have combined to shoot 46 percent from beyond the arc in those 17 games (Porter was 7-for-11 against Houston on Friday) and 33 percent otherwise. The Wiz are two games into a stretch in which they're playing eight of nine at home, where they've won seven of their last eight.
Week 12: vs. NYK, @ MEM, vs. MIL
Last Week: 11 ↑
Pace: 97.8 (20) OffRtg: 110.1 (4) DefRtg: 107.6 (24) NetRtg: +2.5 (6)
With three starters out for the last four minutes of overtime against Denver on Wednesday, Jimmy Butler took over, scoring or assisting on all 14 of the Wolves' points in the extra period. With 12 of their 15 December games having been within five points in the last five minutes, Butler scored more clutch points than all of his teammates combined. But because the Wolves couldn't turn an 18-point, third-quarter lead into a comfortable win, they lost Jeff Teague to a sprained MCL late in the fourth quarter of that Denver game. The issue isn't replacing Teague with Tyus Jones in the starting lineup, but rather the loss of one of the few players that has Tom Thibodeau's trust. The Jones-at-point-guard starting lineup was a plus-48 in its 44 minutes over two games without Teague last week, but the Wolves were outscored by 37 points in 52 minutes with at least one reserve on the floor, with their bench being primarily responsible for Thursday's loss in Milwaukee. Their depth will continue to be tested as they play a league-high 17 games in January.
Week 12: vs. LAL, @ BKN, @ BOS, vs. NOP
Last Week: 7 ↓
Pace: 97.4 (24) OffRtg: 104.7 (14) DefRtg: 102.3 (6) NetRtg: +2.4 (8)
At 30 percent, Russell Westbrook ranks 69th in 3-point percentage among the 71 players who have attempted at least 150 3s, (barely) ahead of only Marcus Smart and Lonzo Ball. Overall, Westbrook has been taking fewer 3s over the last few weeks. But with the game within five points in the last five minutes, Westbrook has attempted almost as many 3-pointers (35) as all of his teammates combined (37) this season. He was 1-for-6 on clutch 3s over the weekend as the Thunder dropped close games at home to Milwaukee and Dallas. Though Paul George missed just the Friday game (with knee soreness), his absence disrupted the Thunder's offensive rhythm that had them winning six straight.
Week 12: @ LAL, @ LAC, @ PHX
Last Week: 12 ↑
Pace: 97.7 (21) OffRtg: 104.1 (18) DefRtg: 103.9 (8) NetRtg: +0.2 (16)
With Reggie Jackson suffering a nasty sprained ankle on Tuesday, the Pistons are without both of their starting guards. But they're 5-2 without Avery Bradley and got a wire-to-wire win over the Spurs without Jackson on Saturday, because their defense has been improved (they've allowed just 96 points per 100 possessions over the last four games) and because Reggie Bullock has made shots. He had the highest effective field goal percentage (72 percent) among 221 players who attempted at least 75 shots in December. The Pistons have one of the East's tougher January schedules, with eight of their 14 games against teams currently at or above .500 and no rest advantage games all month.
Week 12: @ MIA, @ PHI, vs. HOU
Last Week: 15 ↑
Pace: 103.3 (2) OffRtg: 104.0 (19) DefRtg: 103.7 (7) NetRtg: +0.3 (14)
With another bad fourth quarter, the Sixers blew an 18-point lead in Portland on Thursday. But Saturday's win in Denver was their first victory (after six straight losses) without Joel Embiid since Nov. 7 and Sunday's win in Phoenix gave them a 3-2 mark on their holiday road trip. They're a game and a half out of eighth place, but they have the league's toughest January schedule in regard to opponent strength, with five of their 12 games (including four of the first five) against the top five teams in the league and another four against Detroit, Milwaukee (x2) and Oklahoma City. The good news is that they have just one January back-to-back and will have three games (including Wednesday's visit from the Spurs) with a rest advantage this month.
Week 12: vs. SAS, vs. DET
Last Week: 14 ↑
Pace: 98.6 (18) OffRtg: 107.6 (9) DefRtg: 106.5 (19) NetRtg: +1.0 (10)
Jamal Murray is increasingly getting more potent and more consistent offensively. He averaged a team-high 19.1 points in December, when he and Trey Lyles were both among the league's top eight 3-point shooters. The Nuggets have scored 111 points per 100 possessions with Murray on the floor, and the minutes with him off the floor have been better since Emmanuel Mudiay went down with an ankle injury on Dec. 15. Through that game, the team had scored just 101 points per possessions with Murray off the floor. Since then, with Will Barton acting as the back-up point guard (and with Mudiay a healthy DNP last week), they've scored 108. Their January schedule is favorable, with 10 of their 15 games at home and 10 against teams that are currently at or below .500.
Week 12: vs. PHX, vs. UTA, @ SAC
Last Week: 13 ↓
Pace: 101.9 (6) OffRtg: 108.6 (6) DefRtg: 107.7 (25) NetRtg: +0.9 (11)
Rajon Rondo has collected a lot of empty assists over the last five years, when his teams were generally better (and sometimes much better) offensively with him off the floor than they were with him on the floor. But this season's Pelicans have been at their best offensively (having scored 112 points per 100 possessions) with Rondo on the floor and his teammates have an effective field goal percentage of 58.6 percent off his passes, which produced 25 assists (the most for any player in almost 22 years) in Wednesday's win over Brooklyn. The Pels had the league's second best offense in December, but finished the month with two losses at home to teams - Dallas and New York - that are otherwise 6-26 on the road. They still have a small cushion for eighth place in the West and will play a relatively easy January schedule, with nine of their 14 games against teams currently at or below .500. Their most important January game could be their first; They visit the 10th place Jazz on Wednesday.
Week 12: @ UTA, @ MIN
Last Week: 9 ↓
Pace: 99.1 (15) OffRtg: 107.7 (7) DefRtg: 107.0 (22) NetRtg: +0.7 (13)
Breaking news: Victor Oladipo is kind of important to the Pacers, who are 0-4 (including a November game) without him and carrying a four-game losing streak (and just a half-game lead over the ninth-place Knicks) into 2018. They've scored less than a point per possession over the streak, with Bojan Bogdanovic and Myles Turner both shooting less than 40 percent. Turner has been the league's second best mid-range shooter this season (minimum 100 attempts), but his overall numbers haven't shown much improvement and he has shot much worse with Oladipo on the floor (effective field goal percentage of 49 percent) than he has with Oladipo off the floor (66 percent).
Week 12: @ MIL, vs. CHI
Last Week: 16
Pace: 98.8 (16) OffRtg: 102.1 (27) DefRtg: 102.0 (4) NetRtg: +0.1 (17)
The Blazers have remained anemic offensively without Damian Lillard. They've scored a brutal 91 points per 100 possessions in 125 minutes with C.J. McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic on the floor without the starting point guard. But they've survived with some solid defense and an out-of-nowhere, 42-point fourth quarter against Philadelphia on Thursday. Shabazz Napier had 15 points in those 12 minutes and has averaged 21.7, 4.7 rebounds and 4.7 assists in his three games as a starter, with McCollum struggling in the absence of his regular backcourt mate. The Blazers will have a chance to find some sort of rhythm offensively this month, with the easiest January schedule in regard to opposing defenses. Thirteen of their 16 January games are against the bottom 15 defenses in the league.
Week 12: @ CHI, @ CLE, vs. ATL, vs. SAS
Last Week: 17
Pace: 97.0 (25) OffRtg: 103.0 (24) DefRtg: 105.0 (14) NetRtg: -2.0 (21)
Only the Pelicans and Nuggets have been more inconsistent from outside the paint than the Heat, who went from shooting 8-for-46 from outside the paint against Brooklyn on Friday to 18-for-38 in Orlando on Saturday. More important is that Goran Dragic (dealing with a sore elbow and ranking as one of the league's worst shooters in December) broke through his struggles and took over down the stretch against the Magic, scoring or assisting on five of the Heat's last six buckets. With James Johnson, Dion Waiters and Justise Winslow still out, bench minutes are touch and go, but minutes with both Kelly Olynyk and Hassan Whiteside on the floor haven't been so bad (plus-6 in the three games since Whiteside's return). Only two games in the win column separate fourth place (Detroit) from ninth (New York), so the Heat have a couple of important home games this week.
Week 12: vs. DET, vs. NYK, vs. UTA
Last Week: 20 ↑
Pace: 99.2 (14) OffRtg: 106.3 (10) DefRtg: 106.0 (16) NetRtg: +0.2 (15)
The Clippers have come back to life, winning five of their last six games to climb within a game in the loss column of eighth place in the West. They've had the league's best offense over that stretch, got Blake Griffin back on Friday (he averaged a decent 24.5, 6.5 and 6.0 in his first two games back), and got 40 points from Lou Williams against Charlotte on Sunday. They're eight days into a stretch where they're not leaving California for almost four weeks, and they'll have five games with a rest advantage (and only one with a rest disadvantage) between now and Jan. 24.
Week 12: vs. MEM, vs. OKC, vs. GSW
Last Week: 19
Pace: 98.7 (17) OffRtg: 104.4 (15) DefRtg: 105.0 (13) NetRtg: -0.6 (19)
Saturday's game in New Orleans was the 12th (and fourth straight) game in which the Knicks' failed to make more than five 3-pointers. Only two other teams - the Lakers (eight) and Wolves (six) - have had more than five games in which they haven't made more than five 3s. The Knicks are the only team that has taken more mid-range shots than 3s, and the absence of Tim Hardaway Jr. for all of December has hurt in that regard. But they got a rare road win (their first over a good team since they won in Cleveland on Oct. 29) because they got Kristaps Porzingis touches in the paint, because December's best 3-point shooting team (the Pelicans) shot 6-for-26 in its final December game, and because Joakim Noah gave them some solid minutes in just his fifth appearance of the season.
Week 12: vs. SAS, @ WAS, @ MIA, @ DAL
Last Week: 24 ↑
Pace: 99.5 (12) OffRtg: 100.0 (29) DefRtg: 106.5 (18) NetRtg: -6.5 (29)
The Bulls came up short in Washington on Sunday, but are still 10-3 since they got back Nikola Mirotic. Eight of the 10 wins (including three last week) have come against East teams ahead of them in the standings and seven of the 10 have come at home, where they'll play six of their next nine games. They've improved on both ends of the floor and the offense looked sharpest in Friday's win over the Pacers (despite the absence of Kris Dunn), with Lauri Markkanen (32 points) and Mirotic (28) benefiting from great ball movement (3.1 passes per possession and 31 assists on 43 buckets). Over the 13 games with Mirotic, they have an assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.03, the second highest mark in the league in that stretch.
Week 12: vs. POR, vs. TOR, @ DAL, @ IND
Last Week: 18 ↓
Pace: 96.9 (26) OffRtg: 104.2 (17) DefRtg: 104.5 (10) NetRtg: -0.4 (18)
It's not just that Donovan Mitchell is putting up numbers and producing highlights. It's that, with Ricky Rubio playing his best game in more than a month on Saturday, Quin Snyder had Rubio on the bench and Mitchell running the offense down the stretch of a close game against LeBron James and the Cavs. It worked and the Jazz got their first win in a game that was within five points in the last five minutes since Dec. 1. The Jazz have scored 102 points per 100 possessions in 551 minutes with both starting guards on the floor, and 109 in 525 minutes with Mitchell on the floor without Rubio. Since Thanksgiving, Mitchell has averaged almost 23 points per game (best among rookies by a wide margin) on an effective field goal percentage of 59 percent, the fifth best mark among 66 players who have attempted at least 200 shots in that time.
Week 12: vs. NOP, @ DEN, @ MIA
Last Week: 27 ↑
Pace: 96.8 (27) OffRtg: 103.9 (21) DefRtg: 106.7 (20) NetRtg: -2.8 (22)
The Mavs had seven December wins (most in the league) over teams that are currently at or above .500, picking up four (including three on the road) in the last six days, because the law of averages said that they couldn't possibly keep losing close games. All four were within five points in the last five minutes and Dennis Smith Jr. was their leading scorer in the clutch. He hit two pull-up threes (one off the glass) that gave the Mavs the lead in Oklahoma City on Sunday, and followed them up with a strong drive that put them up three with 30 seconds to go. The Mavs rank fourth offensively (115 points scored per 100 possessions) over their last seven games and Sunday's game was the second most efficient performance any team has had against the Thunder. Dirk Nowitzki doesn't move too well these days, but he shot 49 percent on catch-and-shoot threes in December, the sixth best mark among players with at least 50 catch-and-shoot attempts.
Week 12: vs. GSW, vs. CHI, vs. NYK
Last Week: 23
Pace: 102.7 (4) OffRtg: 104.0 (20) DefRtg: 107.2 (23) NetRtg: -3.2 (23)
The Nets' defense continues to have more bad games than good ones, but on the other end of the floor, the progress of Caris LeVert and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson remains encouraging. Hollis-Jefferson's boxscore numbers probably won't stand out enough to earn a spot on many Most Improved ballots, but the skill development is clear to eyes than have watched him over his three seasons. He led the team in scoring and rebounding last month and has averaged 17.8 points (on 51 percent shooting) and 8.7 boards over the last six games. It will be at least another year before he's comfortable beyond the arc, but he ranks sixth in mid-range field goal percentage among the 50 players with at least 100 attempts and ranks third in post-up field goal percentage among the 34 players with 50 attempts. It hasn't always been pretty, but it's been pretty effective.
Week 12: vs. ORL, vs. MIN, vs. BOS
Last Week: 23 ↓
Pace: 100.8 (9) OffRtg: 102.9 (25) DefRtg: 104.6 (11) NetRtg: -1.7 (20)
Maybe it's too late, and maybe Friday's win at Golden State (with a big game from Dwight Howard) is the start of something. Either way, the Hornets made it to the month in which they have the league's easiest schedule, with six of their 14 January games (including each of the next three) against teams that don't have more wins than they do. If they don't start picking up some victories quickly, maybe Malik Monk can start playing again. The rookie has been DNP'd in three straight games and now ranks 29th among rookies in total minutes, right behind the teammate - Dwayne Bacon - that was selected 29 picks after him.
Week 12: @ SAC, @ LAL
Last Week: 26 ↑
Pace: 103.0 (3) OffRtg: 102.5 (26) DefRtg: 108.7 (29) NetRtg: -6.2 (28)
Among the 252 guys who have played at least 500 minutes this season, Tyson Chandler (as a 16-year vet toiling for a bad team) ranks 250th in field goal attempts per 36 minutes. So it was nice to see him have the glory with the alley-oop game-winner against Memphis on Tuesday. The Suns had Chandler and Greg Monroe alternating starts and DNPs for a while (with Alex Len the permanent back-up center), but Chandler has started seven of the last eight games and Monroe is looking more and more like a buyout candidate. The Suns ranked as a top-10 defense over a stretch where they won five of seven (prior to Sunday's loss to Philly), and allowed just 96 points per 100 possessions with Len on the floor over that stretch (which included three games against top-10 offenses).
Week 12: vs. ATL, @ DEN, @ SAS, vs. OKC
Last Week: 21 ↓
Pace: 103.9 (1) OffRtg: 101.5 (28) DefRtg: 105.1 (15) NetRtg: -3.6 (25)
The Lakers' defense, which ranked fourth at Thanksgiving, has not held up against what has been a brutal stretch in regard to opposing offenses. Eleven of their last 16 games have been against teams that rank in the top 10 offensively, and they've allowed 110 points per 100 possessions over that stretch, falling from fourth to 15th. The offense hasn't show much improvement, and their six-game losing streak has included a team meeting and some lineup changes. One of the league's easier January schedules should help, but they begin 2018 with one more game against a top-10 offense, playing the second game of a back-to-back in Minnesota on Monday.
Week 12: @ MIN, vs. OKC, vs. CHA, vs. ATL
Last Week: 28 ↑
Pace: 95.6 (30) OffRtg: 103.1 (23) DefRtg: 106.4 (17) NetRtg: -3.3 (24)
If you throw away the game in which Stephen Curry returned from an 11-game absence and made up for lost time by shooting 10-for-13 from beyond the arc, the Grizzlies' defense has had a good road trip, holding the the Suns, Lakers and Kings (three bottom-five offensive teams, it must be noted) under a point per possession. With Tyreke Evans averaging 27 points and Jarell Martin showing some consistency, they've won three out of five games for the first time since before Halloween. They continue to give Kobi Simmons a chance to develop, and his 17 points on 7-for-10 shooting made the Golden State loss not so painful. The Grizz finish the trip in L.A. on Tuesday and have the league's most home-heavy January schedule, but have won just three of their last 15 games at FedEx Forum.
Week 12: @ LAC, vs. WAS
Last Week: 29 ↑
Pace: 99.4 (13) OffRtg: 104.4 (16) DefRtg: 108.2 (27) NetRtg: -3.8 (26)
No team has taken a bigger step backward defensively than the Hawks, who have allowed 5.0 more points per 100 possessions than they did last season. But they rank as the fourth most improved offensive team, having scored 2.0 more than they did last season, when they ranked last offensively after the All-Star break. Improvement has come in their 3-point shooting, both volume and percentage. Only the Pistons have improved their 3-point percentage more than the Hawks, and, among individuals who have attempted at least 100 threes in both seasons, only Aaron Gordon has improved his 3-point percentage more than Taurean Prince, who scored a career-high 30 points in Toronto on Friday. The Hawks lost that game, but have won three straight at home, scoring 113 points per 100 possessions over the three games (with two of them having been against top-10 defenses).
Week 12: @ PHX, @ POR, @ LAL
Last Week: 25 ↓
Pace: 96.4 (28) OffRtg: 99.7 (30) DefRtg: 110.0 (30) NetRtg: -10.3 (30)
On Wednesday, Vince Carter turned back the clock and the Kings handed the Cavs their worst loss (14 points) since Nov. 1. And because they're the Kings, they followed that up by allowing the Suns and Grizzlies to score 120 points per 100 possessions. With Memphis' 14 threes on Sunday, the Kings have allowed exactly 12 per game, something no other team in NBA history has ever done. They rank 29th in opponent 3-point percentage and last in the percentage of opponent shots that have come from 3-point range. With their own reticence to shoot threes, they've been outscored by 363 points (more than 10 per game) from beyond the arc.
Week 12: vs. CHA, vs. DEN
Last Week: 30
Pace: 101.6 (7) OffRtg: 103.2 (22) DefRtg: 108.0 (26) NetRtg: -4.9 (27)
The Magic got healthier and got a win last week, putting an end to their nine-game losing streak by holding the Pistons to 5-for-26 shooting over the last 14 1/2 minutes on Thursday. Evan Fournier and Aaron Gordon, who both missed most of the losing streak, combined for 62 points against Miami on Saturday. Still, the Magic were the only team that scored less than a point per possession in December, ranking in the bottom eight in each of the offensive four factors for the month. Bismack Biyombo is their best rim protector and offensive rebounder, but he's the starting center now and the Magic scored a paltry 91 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor in December.
Week 12: @ BKN, vs. HOU, vs. CLE