Week 9 Power Rankings: Kawhi Leonard returning soon to already-elite San Antonio Spurs
About 1/3 of the way through the season, we have a clear top six teams in NBA.
Six teams, three in the East and three in the West, have won at least 70 percent of their games. They’ve taken different paths to get here and, interestingly, all but one (the Toronto Raptors) have dealt with significant injuries along the way. Three of them (Boston, Cleveland and San Antonio) have been missing an All-Star all season, and two of those guys (Kawhi Leonard and Isaiah Thomas) were in the top five in MVP voting last season.
Other teams could be knocking on the door. The Milwaukee Bucks are 11-4 with Eric Bledsoe and the Indiana Pacers have four wins over the top six. The Washington Wizards, meanwhile, are one of just five teams (Boston, Cleveland, Golden State and Houston are the others) that has a winning record (they’re 7-4) in games played between teams that are currently over .500. And maybe the Oklahoma City Thunder will get on the same page one of these days.
Since the Cavs got past their early struggles, each of the big six has generally taken care of business against lesser opponents. But we’ve had just 11 games between the top six so far, with just one (the Spurs’ win over the Celtics on Wednesday) in the last 24 days. (Each of the six teams has least one win and one loss in those 11 games.)
We’ll get No. 12 on Friday, when the Spurs (with Kawhi Leonard expected to have made his season debut) visit Houston for their first of four meetings with the Rockets.
- Last week: Rockets ride seven-game winning streak to No. 1
- This time last year: Warriors, Cavs keep conference challengers at bay — The Grizzlies capped a six-game winning streak (without Mike Conley) with a 21-point win over the Warriors. Klay Thompson scored 60 points in three quarters, John Wall dropped 52 on Orlando, Russell Westbrook recorded seven straight triple-doubles, and Victor Oladipo posterized Dwight Howard.
- Plus-minus stud: Kyle Lowry (TOR) was a plus-65 in three games last week.
- Plus-minus dud: Enes Kanter (NYK) was a minus-46 in four games last week.
- Hero team of the week: Indiana (4-0) — The Pacers ended the Cavs’ winning streak and came back from huge deficits (17 and 19 points) against Chicago and Denver.
- Zero team of the week: Charlotte (1-3) — Three teams went winless last week, but the Hornets had losses at home to teams – the Bulls and Lakers – that are otherwise 5-20 on the road.
- East vs. West: The East is 84-79 (.515) against the West in interconference games after going 12-12 last week.
- Toughest schedules so far: 1. Detroit, 2. Philadelphia, 3. Miami
- Easiest schedules so far: 1. Houston, 2. Minnesota, 3. Cleveland
- 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: Indiana (+9), Milwaukee (+7), L.A. Lakers (+5)
- Free falls of the week: Detroit (-6), Philadelphia (-6), Charlotte (-4), Orlando (-4)
- Team to watch in Week 9: San Antonio — Kawhi Leonard is expected back for Tuesday’s game in Dallas, but Friday’s visit to Houston will be the game to watch. The Spurs enter the week having won eight of their next nine, while the Rockets have won 15 of their last 16.
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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 99.9 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes and 105.1 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: 101.5 (8) OffRtg: 112.9 (2) DefRtg: 101.6 (5) NetRtg: +11.3 (2)
The Rockets' winning streak (now at nine games) was threatened with a 14-point, fourth-quarter deficit in Portland on Saturday. But James Harden (15 of his 48) and Chris Paul (10 of his 26) scored 25 of their 74 points in the final period to push their record to 10-0 with Paul and to push Harden's fourth-quarter field goal percentage over 30 percent. Of course, the Rockets haven't needed much from their MVP front-runner late in games, because the Portland game was just the second that was within five points in the last five minutes as they've gone 15-1 since Nov. 1. Their longest homestand of the season (seven games over 12 days) begins Monday, with New Orleans playing the second game of a back-to-back.
Week 9: vs. NOP, vs. CHA, vs. SAS, vs. MIL
Last Week: 3 ↑
Pace: 103.6 (5) OffRtg: 113.8 (1) DefRtg: 101.0 (3) NetRtg: +12.7 (1)
The Warriors went 6-0 on their road trip, even though they trailed Monday's game in New Orleans by 21 points and were without Stephen Curry on Wednesday and Friday in Charlotte and Detroit. Curry's absence (he's out at least another three games) is an opportunity for the Warriors to improve their no-Curry offense, which has already been better this season (106.1 points scored per 100 possessions) than it was last season (102.4). Kevin Durant was already seeing an increase in usage rate before Curry's injury, and then topped his season high (with 35 and 36 points) in each of the last two games. The Warriors still won with defense, holding both the Hornets and Pistons under a point per possession and blocking 27 shots in the two games. They're up to No. 3 in defensive efficiency and their next five games are against bottom-10 offenses.
Week 9: vs. POR, vs. DAL
Last Week: 2 ↓
Pace: 97.8 (24) OffRtg: 105.6 (12) DefRtg: 99.0 (1) NetRtg: +6.5 (4)
Going back to the Aron-Baynes-at-center starting lineup has had the Celtics winning the first quarter by five or more points in five of their last six games. They're 11-0 when Baynes has played at least 20 minutes, and in his season-high 27 minutes on Sunday, he limited Andre Drummond to just six points and two offensive rebounds the Celtics' win over the Pistons. But some bad bench minutes (featuring Marcus Smart's worst plus-minus of the season) had the Cs blowing an early, 12-point lead in San Antonio on Friday. With Marcus Morris still dealing with knee pain (he's missed two of the last three games and won't play Monday in Chicago), those bench minutes could continue to be touch and go.
Week 9: @ CHI, vs. DEN, vs. UTA, @ MEM
Last Week: 4
Pace: 99.4 (15) OffRtg: 110.7 (4) DefRtg: 107.6 (22) NetRtg: +3.2 (7)
LeBron James missed four of his five 3-point attempts as the Cavs' 13-game losing streak came to an end in Indiana on Friday, but has averaged a triple double over the last three games (with 30, 13 and 13 in the second game of a back-to-back on Saturday) and is still shooting a career-high 42 percent from beyond the arc (with a step-back dagger in a win over the Kings on Wednesday). Oh, he's also shooting a career-high 78 percent (best in the league) in the restricted area, and the percentage of his shots that have come from the restricted area or 3-point range is a career-high 72 percent. This guy is in his 15th season and has played more than 8,000 more minutes (including playoffs) than any other player since he came into the league. The Cavs have still won eight straight games at home, with three more games at the Q before they begin a stretch where they play 10 of 12 on the road.
Week 9: vs. ATL, vs. LAL, vs. UTA, @ WAS
Last Week: 5
Pace: 100.3 (11) OffRtg: 111.1 (3) DefRtg: 103.1 (9) NetRtg: +8.0 (3)
Having averaged 7.0 dimes over the Raptors' six-game winning streak, DeMar DeRozan is at a career-high 5.1 for the season. He's Mr. Mid-Range in regard to his own shots, but 88 percent of DeRozan's assists have been on buckets in the restricted area or from 3-point range. That's the second highest rate (behind only that of James Harden) among 48 players with 100 or more total assists. Serge Ibaka has shot 13-for-21 from 3-point range over the last four games, having gone 0-for-12 over the previous four. The Raptors haven't played him too much at center (because Jakob Poeltl has been too good), but are a plus-30 in the 57 minutes in which they have.
Week 9: @ LAC, @ PHX, vs. BKN, vs. SAC
Last Week: 6
Pace: 96.4 (29) OffRtg: 105.5 (13) DefRtg: 101.1 (4) NetRtg: +4.5 (5)
The Spurs have won eight of their last nine games, with the only loss coming by three points in Oklahoma City in a game they played without LaMarcus Aldridge and Manu Ginobili. Their bench was never terrible, but it's been better over that stretch, with Ginobili, Bryn Forbes and Patty Mills combining to shoot 44 percent from 3-point range. Ginobili and Forbes each hit game-winners last week as the Spurs improved to a league-best 10-3 in games that were within five points in the last five minutes. After four straight starts, Rudy Gay should be rejoining the bench this week, with a guy named Kawhi Leonard expected to make his season debut in Dallas on Tuesday.
Week 9: @ DAL, @ HOU, vs. DAL
Last Week: 16 ↑
Pace: 100.7 (10) OffRtg: 108.3 (6) DefRtg: 105.9 (18) NetRtg: +2.4 (8)
The Pacers are 4-0 on their six-game homestand, with Victor Oladipo averaging 31 points per game (with a career-high 47 against Denver on Sunday). He has already attempted a lot more pull-up threes (77) than he did last season (51) and has been the league's fourth best shooter on those shots (minimum 50 attempts) at 44 percent, with two huge off-the-dribble highlights last week: the game-winner against Chicago on Wednesday and the shot that ended the Cavs' 13-game winning streak on Friday. The Pacers have won seven of their last eight games that have been within five points in the last five minutes, holding their opponents to 10-for-36 on clutch shots over that stretch. The homestand continues with Paul George's return (if he's healthy) on Wednesday.
Week 9: vs. OKC, vs. DET, @ BKN
Last Week: 15 ↑
Pace: 97.3 (27) OffRtg: 107.0 (9) DefRtg: 105.7 (17) NetRtg: +1.3 (11)
The Bucks have the league's fifth best offense (113.2 points scored per 100 possessions) since Thanksgiving, a stretch capped by their best offensive game of the season against Utah's top-10 defense on Saturday. Giannis Antetokounmpo (30.1), Eric Bledsoe (20.9) and Khris Middleton (20.4) are averaging a combined 71.4 points per game over the eight games, with the top six guys in their rotation all shooting 50 percent or better. The defensive numbers are still more improved since the Bledsoe trade, but the Bucks have played a league-low three games (just one with Bledsoe) against teams that currently rank in the top 10 in offensive efficiency. They'll play three more games against that group in the next nine days.
Week 9: @ NOP, vs. CHI, @ HOU
Last Week: 10 ↑
Pace: 98.1 (23) OffRtg: 108.8 (5) DefRtg: 107.9 (25) NetRtg: +0.9 (13)
It remains fascinating that the Wolves have a top-five offense, with only New York averaging fewer threes per game. They make up for their lack of perimeter shooting, by ranking in the top six in free throw rate, turnover percentage and offensive rebounding percentage. Each of their five December games have been within five points in the last five minutes, testing their short rotation (only eight guys have played over the last four). But they've shot well (16-for-30, with 24 of the 30 shots coming from inside the arc) in the clutch this month, though Jimmy Butler had a costly, last-minute turnover in Memphis on Monday. His usage rate in the clutch is at 46 percent in December, up from 29 percent in October and November.
Week 9: vs. PHI, vs. SAC, vs. PHX
Last Week: 9 ↓
Pace: 98.9 (16) OffRtg: 106.5 (10) DefRtg: 104.6 (12) NetRtg: +1.9 (9)
The Wizards went 2-2 on the Western Conference segment of their five-game trip (which has them going from L.A. to Brooklyn before going home for the second game of a back-to-back on Wednesday) and are 5-5 without John Wall (with eight of the 10 games having been on the road). Mike Scott's 22 points against the Clippers may have been more surprising than Bradley Beal's 51 in Portland, but quality bench minutes, which allowed them to survive a couple of poor shooting games from Otto Porter in Portland and Phoenix, are no longer a surprise. Wall practiced on Friday and will have another opportunity to do so on Monday, and it will be interesting to see if Tomas Satoransky (37 assists and just two turnovers over the last eight games) has earned the back-up point guard job when Wall is back in the starting lineup.
Week 9: @ BKN, vs. MEM, vs. LAC, vs. CLE
Last Week: 11
Pace: 102.3 (6) OffRtg: 107.4 (7) DefRtg: 107.1 (21) NetRtg: +0.2 (14)
If you want to see offense, the Pelicans are your team these days. Over their last six games, the Pels and their opponents have combined to score 113 points per 100 possessions, and their next four games are against four other top-10 offenses. They've had a 30-point scorer in each of their five December games, with Rajon Rondo registering a 57/9 assist-turnover ratio, E'Twaun Moore and Dante Cunningham combining to shoot 26-for-41 from 3-point range, and their opponents shooting pretty well too. They blew a 21-point lead against the Warriors on Monday and gave another one away against Sacramento on Friday, but beat Philly with a huge fourth quarter (44 points, including 19 from Jrue Holiday) on Sunday.
Week 9: @ HOU, vs. MIL, @ DEN
Last Week: 14 ↑
Pace: 98.8 (18) OffRtg: 102.1 (25) DefRtg: 100.2 (2) NetRtg: +1.9 (10)
The Thunder still haven't figured things out offensively, but they're winning some of the close games they were losing early in the season. Each of their last five games has been within three points in the last three minutes, and they've won four of the five, even though Russell Westbrook has shot 5-for-17 on clutch shots over that stretch. Paul George's absence over the last two games (he has a bruised calf) didn't really help Carmelo Anthony break out of his shooting slump, but Alex Abrines had a big game as a replacement starter in Memphis on Saturday, scoring 20 points and hitting three clutch threes. That was the Thunder's first road win since Oct. 31, and this week provides them an opportunity to get back over .500 for the first time since they were 4-3 after that Halloween win in Milwaukee.
Week 9: vs. CHA, @ IND, @ PHI, @ NYK
Last Week: 7 ↓
Pace: 103.7 (4) OffRtg: 104.6 (16) DefRtg: 104.7 (13) NetRtg: -0.1 (16)
The Jahlil Okafor saga is over, but the Markelle Fultz saga continues with an update that the rookie is pain-free, but still three weeks away ... from being evaluated again. More injuries (to Robert Covington, Joel Embiid, T.J. McConnell and Dario Saric) have them back at .500 with a four-game losing streak. They've outscored their opponents by 15.1 points per 100 possessions with both Covington and Embiid on the floor, but are a minus-4.5 per 100 with one of the two on the bench and a minus-15.6 per 100 with both off the floor. The Sixers are the only team that hasn't won a game it trailed by double-digits, now 0-11 with a double-digit deficit after last week's four losses.
Week 9: @ MIN, vs. OKC
Last Week: 8 ↓
Pace: 98.3 (22) OffRtg: 104.6 (17) DefRtg: 104.5 (11) NetRtg: +0.1 (15)
A six-game losing streak has dropped the Pistons from second to seventh in the East. They rank 29th offensively over the course of the streak, having scored less than a point per possession in five of the six games, with four rotation guys shooting less than 40 percent and Andre Drummond not cleaning up as many misses as he typically does. The schedule has been tough; All six games have been against teams with winning records and the only two at home were against the Warriors and Celtics. Things will get easier this week, with three of the four opponents ranking in the bottom eight defensively.
Week 9: vs. DEN, @ ATL, @ IND, vs. ORL
Last Week: 12 ↓
Pace: 97.4 (26) OffRtg: 105.5 (14) DefRtg: 102.1 (7) NetRtg: +3.3 (6)
Quin Snyder isn't giving his starting lineup (with Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert playing together) much time at the start of halves, bringing in Jonas Jerebko in for one of the bigs early in the first and third quarters. But it may be time to scrap the two-big look altogether. Before Snyder could get a sub in on Thursday and Saturday, the starters racked up a minus-29 in just 15 minutes against Houston and Milwaukee, two games that were lost by a total of 28 points. The Jazz have scored just 92 points per 100 possessions in 264 minutes with Favors and Gobert on the floor together and 110 in 732 minutes with one on the floor without the other (a number buoyed by how good they were offensively in the 11 games Gobert missed). They've been a bottom-10 team in both the first (minus-10.1 NetRtg) and third (minus-4.3) quarters and the league's second best team in both the second (plus-13.7) and the fourth (plus-12.6).
Week 9: @ CHI, @ BOS, @ CLE
Last Week: 13 ↓
Pace: 99.5 (14) OffRtg: 103.0 (21) DefRtg: 101.8 (6) NetRtg: +1.1 (12)
The Blazers followed a 4-1 road trip (in which they allowed 102 points per 100 possessions) with an 0-4 homestand (in which they allowed 115), with Bradley Beal and James Harden torching their top-10 defense for a combined 99 points on Tuesday and Saturday. Opponent strength (each of the last four opponents have top-10 offenses) had something to do with it, but they have one more tough game in that regard on Monday. Even with Jusuf Nurkic and Maurice Harkless out against Houston, the starting lineup held up OK. But over the two games last week, the Blazers were outscored by 23 points with at least one reserve on the floor.
Week 9: @ GSW, @ MIA, @ ORL, @ CHA
Last Week: 17
Pace: 99.6 (13) OffRtg: 107.1 (8) DefRtg: 107.8 (24) NetRtg: -0.7 (18)
The Nuggets' offense hasn't suffered without Nikola Jokic (even though Mike Malone has used four different starting lineups), scoring 110 points per 100 possessions over the last five games. They've shot 39 percent from 3-point range, seven guys have averaged double-figures, and five have recorded at least a dozen assists. But they've allowed 124 points per 100 possessions and a remarkable 60.7 points in the paint per game in their three Jokic-less losses. The 64 points in the paint that Dallas scored on Monday were 12 more than the Mavs have scored in any other game this season.
Week 9: @ DET, @ BOS, vs. NOP
Last Week: 18
Pace: 98.8 (17) OffRtg: 105.0 (15) DefRtg: 105.3 (15) NetRtg: -0.3 (17)
Injuries, inconsistency and more road woes have kept the Knicks from really taking advantage of what is their easiest stretch of schedule (nine of 10 games against teams that currently have losing records). They got Kristaps Porzingis back on Wednesday and, as they continue to hang around .500 and playoff relevance (and as Willy Hernangomez accumulates more DNPs), they're still leaning on their vets. Lance Thomas has started the last three games in Tim Hardaway's absence, and Courtney Lee (24 points in Wednesday's win over Memphis) and Jarrett Jack (19 in Sunday's win over Atlanta) both had big games last week.
Week 9: vs. LAL, @ BKN, vs. OKC
Last Week: 19
Pace: 98.3 (21) OffRtg: 101.5 (27) DefRtg: 104.9 (14) NetRtg: -3.4 (25)
A change to the starting lineup (James Johnson and Kelly Olynyk in, Justise Winslow and Bam Adebayo out), produced a good (but not good enough) game from the Heat's new starters in San Antonio on Wednesday and a better game from the bench in Mexico City on Saturday. Bench minutes seem to be pretty important, because they're 0-10 when perma-reserve Tyler Johnson (who scored 45 points in the two games last week) has a negative plus-minus. The win over the Nets began a stretch where the Heat are playing nine of 12 against teams that have losing records. The time for them to make a playoff push is now, though it's not clear when Hassan Whiteside will be back.
Week 9: @ MEM, vs. POR, @ CHA, vs. LAC
Last Week: 25 ↑
Pace: 105.1 (1) OffRtg: 100.0 (28) DefRtg: 102.7 (8) NetRtg: -2.7 (21)
The development of Brandon Ingram (who hit the game-winner in Philly on Thursday and had some impressive attacks of the rim in Charlotte on Saturday) continues at a fast pace. But the Lakers' starting lineup has still been rather anemic offensively, scoring just 95 points scored per 100 possessions in its 185 minutes. After ranking No. 1 last season (at 45 percent), the Lakers are back in the top five in regard to the percentage of their points that come from the bench (40 percent). And it was defense (which allowed just 100 points per 100 possessions) that got their four-game trip off to a strong start with wins in Philadelphia and Charlotte.
Week 9: @ NYK, @ CLE
Last Week: 22 ↑
Pace: 104.4 (3) OffRtg: 103.7 (19) DefRtg: 106.8 (20) NetRtg: -3.1 (23)
Jahlil Okafor appears to be an awkward fit in the Nets' pace-and-space system and they were at their best when Trevor Booker was on the floor, but they got a second-round to see what Okafor can do over the next four months. Only the Warriors and Celtics have seen a bigger increase in offensive efficiency from the first half to the second half than the Nets, who have been 10.1 points per 100 possessions better offensively after halftime. A pair of strong second halves got them wins over Atlanta and Oklahoma City last week, but they appeared to run out of gas late in their second game at the high altitude of Mexico City on Saturday.
Week 9: vs. WAS, vs. NYK, @ TOR, vs. IND
Last Week: 23 ↑
Pace: 97.6 (25) OffRtg: 101.8 (26) DefRtg: 106.0 (19) NetRtg: -4.2 (26)
The Mavs have held halftime leads in seven of their last eight games. They've had the league's best first-half defense (95 points allowed per 100 possessions) since Thanksgiving. But the second-half defense hasn't been nearly as good, allowing 112 per 100 as they've fallen to 6-9 in games they've led by double-digits. Maxi Kleber, their 25-year-old rookie, is becoming more than just a token starter. His minutes are increasing, he scored 16 points in Minnesota on Sunday, and he has shot 8-for-15 on corner threes and a LeBron-esque 78 percent in the restricted area.
Week 9: vs. SAS, @ GSW, @ SAS
Last Week: 24 ↑
Pace: 98.7 (19) OffRtg: 106.3 (11) DefRtg: 108.8 (28) NetRtg: -2.5 (20)
The Clippers got one starter (Danilo Gallinari) back on Wednesday and should get another (Milos Teodosic) back this week. But it was the play of their bench (mostly Lou Williams - 35 points, game-high plus-14 and the game-winner) that got them their first win (in five tries) without Blake Griffin (who isn't coming back any time soon) on Saturday. Their last two shots in that game pushed their clutch field goal percentage over 30 percent. Defense remains the bigger issue; The Clips have had the league's worst defense (by a huge margin) since they lost Griffin, falling from 19th to 28th for the season.
Week 9: vs. TOR, @ ORL, @ WAS, @ MIA
Last Week: 20 ↓
Pace: 101.3 (9) OffRtg: 102.7 (22) DefRtg: 104.3 (10) NetRtg: -1.6 (19)
Injuries, illness and anemic offense are putting the Hornets in a hole they probably won't be able to climb out of. They were without Frank Kaminsky, Jeremy Lamb, Cody Zeller and head coach Steve Clifford over the weekend, as they completed a 1-3 homestand with losses to two teams - the Bulls and Lakers - with losing records. With or without Kemba Walker, their offense is struggling, having scored less than a point per possession in seven of their last eight games, with Walker, Lamb and Nicolas Batum combining to shoot 38 percent (and 23 percent from 3-point range) over that stretch. Now they play two top-five defenses on the road, where they're 1-10.
Week 9: @ OKC, @ HOU, vs. MIA, vs. POR
Last Week: 21 ↓
Pace: 102.3 (7) OffRtg: 104.5 (18) DefRtg: 107.6 (23) NetRtg: -3.1 (24)
The injuries are piling up for the Magic, who were without Evan Fournier, Aaron Gordon, Jonathan Isaac and Terrence Ross in Atlanta on Saturday. Before Jonathon Simmons' game-deciding turnover gave them their ninth loss in their last 10 road games, Nikola Vucevic's first career triple-double helped them break out of a slump offensively. Vucevic had some Jokic-like dimes out of the post to cutters on Saturday and has seen an increase in assist rate in each of the last three seasons. His free throw rate is at a career-low 11 attempts per 100 shots from the field (129th among 137 players with at least 200 field goal attempts), but the Magic have been 16.3 points per 100 possessions better offensively with him on the floor than they've been with him on the bench.
Week 9: vs. LAC, vs. POR, @ DET
Last Week: 26
Pace: 97.0 (28) OffRtg: 98.1 (29) DefRtg: 108.8 (29) NetRtg: -10.7 (29)
Another new starting lineup (the Kings' 10th of the season) brought a 17-2 deficit four minutes into Sunday's game against Toronto. Good games off the bench from Buddy Hield and Jakkar Sampson made things interesting for a while, but 21 turnovers were too much. Earlier in the week, Sampson (playing just his fourth game of the season) grabbed 16 boards in his hometown of Cleveland, and Hield went back to New Orleans and scored eight points as the Kings closed the fourth quarter on an 11-2 run before beating the Pelicans in overtime. Zach Randolph has averaged 23.8 points on 61 percent shooting in five December games, but the young guys continue to be the Kings to watch.
Week 9: vs. PHX, @ MIN, @ TOR
Last Week: 27
Pace: 95.9 (30) OffRtg: 102.3 (23) DefRtg: 105.3 (16) NetRtg: -3.0 (22)
The Grizzlies escaped an ugly fourth quarter against Minnesota on Monday to put an end to their 11-game losing streak. And then they proceeded to blow leads of 12, 17 and 20 points in putting together a new streak (and making it six straight losses in games they've led by double-digits). Ben McLemore's failed attempt at a 360 on Friday was the lowlight, but four missed free throws (from three different players) in the final seconds (of regulation and overtime) against Oklahoma City on Saturday were much more painful. The Grizz are in the bottom two in opponent free throw rate for the third straight season and have attempted 96 fewer free throws than their opponents in the 15 games since the start of the first losing streak.
Week 9: vs. MIA ,@ WAS, vs. ATL, vs. BOS
Last Week: 28
Pace: 104.5 (2) OffRtg: 102.2 (24) DefRtg: 109.5 (30) NetRtg: -7.3 (28)
A night after scoring a season-high 46 points in Philadelphia, Devin Booker went down for 2-3 weeks with a strained left adductor. The Suns' offense didn't suffer much without their leading scorer (they scored 106 points per 100 possessions in two very slow-paced games against two good defenses), because they got to the line 58 times over the two games and turned 20 offensive rebounds into 32 second chance points. T.J. Warren even hit multiple 3-pointers for the first time this season in Saturday's loss to San Antonio. After having his two-way contract upgraded to a standard NBA deal, Mike James led the team in usage rate in Booker's absence and scored 25 points against the Spurs as the Suns erased a 19-point deficit before getting beat in the final minute.
Week 9: @ SAC, vs. TOR, @ MIN
Last Week: 29
Pace: 100.2 (12) OffRtg: 103.0 (20) DefRtg: 108.1 (26) NetRtg: -5.1 (27)
Injuries to the Hawks' other bigs have allowed Ersan Ilyasova an opportunity to play (and maybe showcase his value on a very reasonable, expiring contract to other teams), and he shot 16-for-20 (10-for-11 from 3-point range) over the weekend as the Hawks had two games go down to the wire. Opponent shooting has generally been the problem for Atlanta in close games (opponents have shot 55 percent in the clutch), but Kent Bazemore's steal won Saturday's game against Orlando and Dennis Schroder watching from the bench was the more interesting story from Sunday's loss in New York. The Hawks 113.7 points per 100 possessions that the Hawks have allowed with Schroder on the floor is the fifth highest mark among 283 players who have averaged at least 15 minutes in 10 or more games.
Week 9: @ CLE, vs. DET, @ MEM
Last Week: 30
Pace: 98.7 (20) OffRtg: 96.7 (30) DefRtg: 108.1 (27) NetRtg: -11.4 (30)
When the Celtics visit Chicago on Monday night, the Bulls will be the team on a winning streak. The streak should be three games, but they blew a 16-point, fourth-quarter lead in Indiana on Wednesday. They'll have to settle for having allowed just 99 points per 100 possessions over the three games and being 2-0 with Nikola Mirotic, who has made six of his 11 3-point attempts and played 24 of his 35 minutes alongside Bobby Portis on the Bulls' second unit. Kris Dunn has 21 assists and just four turnovers over the winning streak, and is becoming more of a shooting threat off the dribble. He's 14-for-28 on pull-up jumpers over the last three games.
Week 9: vs. BOS, vs. UTA, @ MIL