Power Rankings, Week 12: Bucks are No. 1 as start of 2019 looms
With one more night of hoops in 2018, it’s time to look back at the year that was.
Player movement is what gets clicks these days, so the biggest story of the year was LeBron James taking his talent to the Western Conference, leaving Cleveland after four straight trips to The Finals. No major free agents followed him, though. Paul George stayed in Oklahoma City, while disgruntled stars Kawhi Leonard and Jimmy Butler were sent East.
On the floor, the Golden State Warriors’ third championship in four years wasn’t much of a surprise, though we can’t forget how close they were to losing to the Houston Rockets in the conference finals, trailing both Games 6 and 7 by double-digits. In the Eastern Conference, the biggest on-the-floor story was the ascension of the Philadelphia 76ers, who quickly went from a decent team in a bad conference (they were in eighth place at 25-25 on the morning of Feb. 5) to title contender over the course of the year, while dealing with two of the most bizarre situations (those of Markelle Fultz and Bryan Colangelo) in recent memory.
More drama awaits us in 2019. The free agency and contract-extension decisions of Anthony Davis, Kevin Durant and Kawhi Leonard could alter the landscape of the league, and a much-hyped Draft class is on its way. The Warriors still have some business to take care of (and a fifth All-Star to integrate), and the San Antonio Spurs are looking to continue a 21-year playoff streak.
As we enter the new year, the Milwaukee Bucks are No. 1 in the Power Rankings, holding the league’s best record and ranking in the top three on both ends of the floor.
- Last week: Parity keeps Nuggets at No. 1
- This time last year: Warriors face league’s toughest January schedule — Stephen Curry made 10 3-pointers in his first game back from an 11-game absence, and Rajon Rondo dished out the most assists (25) for any player in a game in more than 20 years. In a preview of the final game of the season, the Wolves beat the Nuggets in overtime. Marcus Smart drew two straight offensive fouls from James Harden, and Al Horford hit the game-winner in between. Giannis Antetokounmpo got away with stepping out of bounds before scoring the game-winning bucket over Russell Westbrook, and Tyson Chandler used an inbounds, alley-oop game-winner to beat the Grizzlies.
Plus-Minus Players of the Week
- Mr. Plus: Domantas Sabonis (IND) was a plus-50 in two games last week.
- Mr. Minus: Kevin Knox (NYK) was a minus-55 in three games last week.
Teams of the Week
- Make It Last Forever: Houston (3-0) — The Rockets’ four-game winning streak includes wins over the Spurs, Thunder and Celtics.
- Something Just Ain’t Right: Washington (1-2) — Before losing John Wall to foot surgery, the Wizards lost to the Pistons and Bulls.
East vs. West
- The West is 106-75 (.586) against the East in interconference games after going 7-3 last week.
Schedule strength through Week 11
- Toughest: 1. Utah, 2. Phoenix, 3. New Orleans
- Easiest: 1. Miami, 2. Indiana, 3. Charlotte
- 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: Houston (+5), Four teams (+2)
- Free falls of the week: Philadelphia (-5), Miami (-3), Washington (-2)
Week 12 Team to Watch
- Toronto — The Raptors will open 2019 with a game against the Jazz on Tuesday, but the highlights of the week come later. On Thursday, Kawhi Leonard makes his return to San Antonio. And then, the Raptors will play a weekend back-to-back against two of the four other good teams in the Eastern Conference, visiting Milwaukee on Saturday and hosting Indiana on Sunday. They’re 0-2 against the Bucks thus far and it’s not clear whether they’ll have Kyle Lowry back before the weekend.
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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 100.8 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes and 108.5 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: 2 ↑
Pace: 103.1 (6) OffRtg: 112.7 (1) DefRtg: 104.0 (3) NetRtg: +8.6 (1)
The Bucks took care of business against the Knicks and Nets last week, with Giannis Antetokounmpo making more shots from outside the paint in the three games (10-for-22) than he did in his previous 14 (8-for-46) and recording his third triple-double of the season against Brooklyn. More important may be that the Milwaukee bench had some good minutes despite the continued absence of Ersan Ilyasova (who has missed the last seven games). George Hill has shot just 37 percent in his 10 games with his new team, but he has 21 assists and just two turnovers with the Bucks, who have been at their best (plus-12.5 points per 100 possessions) with him on the floor over the three weeks he's been in Milwaukee. The Bucks remain the only team that hasn't lost two straight games this season, they've won seven of their last eight, and the have four games left on their six-game homestand.
Week 12: vs. DET, vs. ATL, vs. TOR
Last Week: 1 ↓
Pace: 98.5 (26) OffRtg: 111.0 (8) DefRtg: 105.7 (7) NetRtg: +5.4 (5)
The Nuggets got Paul Millsap back on Saturday, though it was their no-Millsap starting lineup (plus-21 in 15.9 minutes) and 46 points (with nine 3-pointers on 11 attempts) from Jamal Murray that made the difference in their four-point win in Phoenix. But Millsap's return is timely, because the Nuggets have slipped to seventh in defensive efficiency, with their last five games having been their worst defensive stretch (114.7 points allowed per 100 possessions) of the season. Their new defense is prone to giving up layups (only the Lakers and Suns have allowed their opponents to take a greater percentage of their shots from the restricted area) and their opponents have shot 75 percent in the restricted area over their last four games. They'll have the West's easiest January schedule in regard to cumulative opponent winning percentage.
Week 12: vs. NYK, @ SAC, vs. CHA
Last Week: 5 ↑
Pace: 99.0 (25) OffRtg: 108.3 (18) DefRtg: 102.0 (1) NetRtg: +6.3 (2)
The Pacers suddenly have the league's second-best pace-adjusted point differential, leading the league in defensive efficiency and ranking ninth offensively (111 points scored per 100 possessions) since Victor Oladipo returned to the lineup. If you took current records and projected the final 15 weeks of the season based on current point differential, Indiana would finish with the second-best record in the league (58-24). But that doesn't take strength of schedule into account, and the Pacers have played the league's second-easiest schedule thus far. They're a league-best 18-3 against the 15 teams that currently have losing records and also have the best record (18-5) within the Eastern Conference. They play four of their next six games against the four worst teams in the East, but their five-game trip that begins Friday is their longest trip of the season and includes visits to both Toronto and Boston.
Week 12: vs. ATL, @ CHI, @ TOR
Last Week: 3 ↓
Pace: 100.1 (19) OffRtg: 111.6 (7) DefRtg: 106.4 (9) NetRtg: +5.2 (6)
The Raptors have now played 10 straight games without either Kyle Lowry (who has missed seven of the last eight with thigh and back injuries) or Kawhi Leonard. Their offense has suffered, scoring just 102.5 points per 100 possessions (the league's third worst mark) over the last 15 days, with guards Fred VanVleet, Danny Green and Delon Wright shooting a combined 36 percent over that stretch. Green did hit the game-winning 3-pointer in Miami on Wednesday and the Raptors scratched out an ugly win over the Bulls on Sunday, but in between was their worst loss of the season, in which they were doubled up in the paint (52-26) by the Magic. Leonard makes his return to San Antonio on Thursday, but weekend games against the Bucks and Pacers are obviously more important.
Week 12: vs. UTA, @ SAS , @ MIL, vs. IND
Last Week: 4 ↓
Pace: 101.7 (10) OffRtg: 112.5 (2) DefRtg: 108.6 (15) NetRtg: +4.0 (7)
We're still a few months from the point when the Warriors would have to really worry about inconsistency, and Klay Thompson's breakout (32 points on 12-for-21 shooting) in Portland on Saturday may be a sign that they will soon find their stride (with their next four games against bottom-10 defenses). But they don't rank in the top 10 in either offensive (13th) or defensive (11th) efficiency in December, and the last time they were better than the league average (108.5 points per 100 possessions) on both ends of the floor in consecutive games was almost two months ago (Nov. 2 and 5). A lack of turnovers -- the Warriors have the league's lowest rate (11.4 per 100 possessions) over the last two weeks -- has been a promising sign, but it was Stephen Curry's seventh turnover against Portland on Thursday that led to Damian Lillard's game-winner.
Week 12: @ PHX, vs. HOU, @ SAC
Last Week: 6
Pace: 103.5 (4) OffRtg: 107.9 (20) DefRtg: 102.1 (2) NetRtg: +5.9 (3)
The Thunder have the Western Conference's best point differential (plus-6.1 per game), but sit in third place because they're 6-12 in games that were within five points in the last five minutes, having lost nail-biters in Houston and Dallas last week. They rank 29th in both clutch field goal percentage and clutch 3-point percentage, with Russell Westbrook 1-for-8 on clutch 3-pointers after missing at the buzzer in Dallas on Sunday. Paul George hit a few big shots down the stretch in that game, but with his miss with four seconds to go, he's 9-for-70 (13 percent) on shots to tie or take the lead in the final minute of the fourth quarter or overtime in his career. (For context, the rest of the league has shot 32 percent on those shots over the same nine seasons.)
Week 12: vs. DAL, @ LAL, @ POR, vs. WAS
Last Week: 8 ↑
Pace: 100.2 (18) OffRtg: 110.0 (10) DefRtg: 104.3 (4) NetRtg: +5.7 (4)
The Celtics have trailed five of their last seven games by double-digits and one of the other two (on Christmas against the Sixers) by seven points in the fourth quarter and by five in overtime. They seem pretty comfortable playing with fire, having outlasted Philly on Tuesday, erased a 17-point, first-half deficit (before losing) in Houston on Thursday, and come back from 19 points down to win in Memphis on Saturday. Kyrie Irving has led the late-game comebacks, hit the two game-deciding 3-pointers against the Sixers, and now has a 17/2 assist-turnover ratio in the clutch, with two of those assists coming on Al Horford's two big 3-pointers on Saturday. The Celtics are just 10-9 in games that have been within five points in the last five minutes, but have had the league's best clutch offense (129 points scored per 100 possessions). They close out 2018 in San Antonio on Monday, but have the league's most home-heavy January schedule, with 11 of their 15 games at TD Garden.
Week 12: @ SAS, vs. MIN, vs. DAL
Last Week: 13 ↑
Pace: 97.0 (28) OffRtg: 112.5 (3) DefRtg: 111.2 (25) NetRtg: +1.3 (14)
A 9-1 stretch (with the only loss coming by two points in Miami) has taken the Rockets from 14th to fifth place in the Western Conference. James Harden has averaged 39.4 points (and almost 13 free throw attempts) over the 10 games, playing through a bruised calf last week, when the Rockets played only eight guys in their three wins. One of those eight was Eric Gordon, who suffered a knee injury in New Orleans on Saturday. Another was Austin Rivers, who was signed on Monday and played 31 minutes on Tuesday, guarding Russell Westbrook and hitting two big 3-pointers down the stretch of the Rockets' Christmas win over the Thunder. With good minutes from their short bench, the Rockets were a plus-21 in Harden's 30 minutes off the floor in the three wins. The next five games are tough (the five opponents have a cumulative winning percentage of .624), Chris Paul is still out, and Gordon will miss at least the Memphis game on Monday. But the schedule eases up after that.
Week 12: vs. MEM, @ GSW, @ POR
Last Week: 11 ↑
Pace: 99.0 (24) OffRtg: 111.8 (5) DefRtg: 109.6 (20) NetRtg: +2.1 (8)
The Spurs split their home-and-home with Denver, but in three games against top-10 offenses (those of the Nuggets and Clippers) last week, they held their opponents to less than 104 points per 100 possessions. Going back further, they rank third defensively (100.7 points allowed per 100 possessions) over their last 11 games, with a huge improvement in rim protection. Through their first 26 games, their opponents got 33 percent of their shots in the restricted area, where they shot 65 percent. Over their last 11 games, those numbers are just 24 percent and 54 percent, and the defense has been at its best (and the Spurs have outscored their opponents by more than 22 points per 100 possessions) with Jakob Poeltl on the floor. Their top-five offense will play six of its next seven games against top-10 defenses.
Week 12: vs. BOS, vs. TOR, vs. MEM
Last Week: 9 ↓
Pace: 100.3 (17) OffRtg: 109.9 (11) DefRtg: 109.3 (18) NetRtg: +0.6 (16)
The Blazers have dropped out of the top 10 in offensive efficiency (they ranked seventh two weeks ago), having scored just 103.3 points per 100 possessions over their last six games, with Blazers not named Lillard or Curry shooting 28 percent from 3-point range over that stretch. But Maurice Harkless (with a deflection) and Damian Lillard (with the game-winner) saved them in Oakland on Thursday, and they got their first double-digit win in more than three weeks on Sunday, scoring 106 points in the first 36 against the Embiid-less Sixers, when playing C.J. McCollum to start the second quarter (a change from the prior night against Golden State) sparked an 11-0 run that may have allowed McCollum and Damian Lillard to sit the entire fourth quarter.
Week 12: @ SAC, vs. OKC, vs. HOU
Last Week: 10 ↓
Pace: 104.0 (3) OffRtg: 108.7 (17) DefRtg: 106.8 (10) NetRtg: +1.9 (11)
After blowing double-digit, second-half leads to the Kings and Clippers earlier in the week, the Lakers came back from 11 points down in the second half against Sacramento to pick up their first win without LeBron James on Sunday (though their game-deciding run against the Warriors on Christmas came after James suffered his groin injury). James and Brandon Ingram had some good minutes together in December, but Ingram continues to have better numbers with James off the floor, and he registered 21 points, seven rebounds and a season-high nine assists in the Sunday win. In the three games, the Lakers were a plus-24 in 110 minutes with Ingram on the floor and were outscored by 29 points in 34 minutes with him on the bench. They begin their January schedule with a visit from the Thunder on Wednesday, but then play their next seven games against teams that currently have losing records.
Week 12: vs. OKC, vs. NYK, @ MIN
Last Week: 7 ↓
Pace: 102.6 (8) OffRtg: 109.6 (12) DefRtg: 107.6 (12) NetRtg: +2.0 (9)
Things might feel a lot different if J.J. Redick's game-winner didn't roll off the rim at the end of regulation on Tuesday, and that was the Sixers' first game against the Celtics since trading for Jimmy Butler. But with their Christmas loss in Boston, the Sixers are 2-9 against the Celtics over the last two seasons (including their 2018 playoff series), and over those 11 games, they've been almost 40 points per 100 possessions better with Ben Simmons off the floor (plus-24.7 in 135 minutes) than with him on it (minus-15.1 in 403 minutes). The teams won't meet again until Feb. 12, and after the Sixers visit the Clippers on Tuesday, they'll play seven straight games against teams with losing records.
Week 12: @ LAC, @ PHX, vs. DAL
Last Week: 12 ↓
Pace: 102.6 (7) OffRtg: 111.7 (6) DefRtg: 110.4 (21) NetRtg: +1.3 (13)
The Clippers have lineup issues. Their regular starting lineup (with Marcin Gortat at center) has been outscored by an amazing 31 points per 100 possessions in its 110 minutes over their last 10 games. They started Boban Marjanovic last week and the new lineup was better in wins over the Kings and Lakers on Wednesday and Friday. But they had another rough start against the Spurs on Saturday and it's been the third quarter when they've really had problems. The San Antonio loss was the fourth time in that 10-game span that they've been outscored by at least 12 points in the third period. As good as Tobias Harris and Danilo Gallinari have been this season, the Clippers remain dependent on their reserves. It was a five-man bench unit that was on the floor for most of their 22-0 run (spanning the third and fourth quarters) that decided their game against the James-less Lakers.
Week 12: vs. PHI, @ PHX, vs. ORL
Last Week: 14
Pace: 105.3 (2) OffRtg: 109.5 (14) DefRtg: 110.8 (23) NetRtg: -1.4 (22)
The Kings have the league's most improved offense (having scored 6.5 points per 100 possessions more than they did last season). But they're set to rank in the bottom 10 in defensive efficiency for the eighth straight season (and, amazingly, the 14th time in the last 16 years). They allowed more than 116 points per 100 possessions in their two losses at Staples Center last week, with the Clippers and Lakers both registering 20 second-chance points. Only the Nuggets (73 percent) and Hornets (73 percent) have allowed their opponents to take a greater percentage of their shots from the restricted area or 3-point range than the Kings have (72 percent), and both of those rank higher in regard to both opponent field goal percentage in the restricted area and opponent 3-point percentage. The Kings play seven of their next eight games at home, but their three games this week are all against top-11 offenses.
Week 12: vs. POR, vs. DEN, vs. GSW
Last Week: 17 ↑
Pace: 100.7 (14) OffRtg: 106.7 (21) DefRtg: 105.0 (5) NetRtg: +1.7 (12)
The Jazz have now held seven of their last nine opponents under a point per possession, climbing from 13th to fifth in defensive efficiency over that stretch. Over those nine games, they've allowed just 78.3 points per 100 possessions in 79 minutes with Derrick Favors (who has started the last six) and Rudy Gobert on the floor together. But it's going to take more than defense to climb into playoff position and this team is still prone to some ugly offensive performances, like when it shot just 38 percent against the Sixers on Thursday. The Jazz rank second defensively on the road (103.9 points allowed per 100 possessions), but only Dallas has had a bigger home-road differential on offense than the Jazz (7.6 points per 100 possessions), who begin a four-game trip in Toronto on Tuesday.
Week 12: @ TOR, @ CLE, @ DET
Last Week: 18 ↑
Pace: 101.0 (13) OffRtg: 109.0 (16) DefRtg: 108.5 (14) NetRtg: +0.4 (17)
The Mavs almost put an end to their road losing streak (now at eight games) on Friday, but Luka Doncic didn't get the ball and Dennis Smith Jr. didn't get a shot off on the final possession in New Orleans. Smith made up for it with the game-winning bucket (and some solid defense on Paul George) against the Thunder on Sunday, and the Mavs are now a West-best 15-3 at home. But with a four-game trip beginning (with the second half of a back-to-back home-and-home series) in Oklahoma City on Monday and with the losing streak having dropped them to 12th place in the West, they need to break through on the road. Their last four road losses have all been within three points in the final minute, so they're seemingly knocking on the door.
Week 12: @ OKC, @ CHA, @ BOS, @ PHI
Last Week: 16 ↓
Pace: 95.8 (30) OffRtg: 105.2 (26) DefRtg: 105.0 (6) NetRtg: +0.1 (19)
The Grizzlies are almost to the end of what has been a tough December schedule (12 of 15 games, including their game in Houston on Monday -- against teams currently over .500) that has taken then from fifth to 10th place in the Western Conference. There's some relief coming in 2019, but, with games against each of the top four teams in the league, they still have the fourth toughest January schedule (only easier than those of the Hawks, Knicks and Suns) in regard to cumulative opponent winning percentage. Their starting lineup has outscored its opponents by 14.3 points per 100 possessions in its 151 December minutes (the third-best mark among lineups that have played at least 100 minutes this month), but bench minutes remain an issue. They were outscored by 12 points in a little less than 29 minutes with at least one reserve on the floor against Boston on Saturday, blowing a 19-point, second-half lead.
Week 12: @ HOU, vs. DET, vs. BKN, @ SAS
Last Week: 15 ↓
Pace: 100.0 (21) OffRtg: 106.4 (22) DefRtg: 105.8 (8) NetRtg: +0.6 (15)
Justise Winslow is the Heat's starting point guard, because Goran Dragic had knee surgery and there are no other point guards on the roster. But Winslow has been as essential as a fill-in point guard (and defensive stopper) can be. Over their last five games, the Heat have been almost 45 points per 100 possessions better with Winslow on the floor (plus-27) than they've been with him off the floor (minus-17). The Heat went 1-2 on a three-game homestand because they got thumped in their normally-strong Adebayo-and-Olynyk minutes in the two losses. More than a year after he last played, Dion Waiters could return this week and the Heat have league's easiest January schedule in regard to cumulative opponent winning percentage, with seven games (including three this week) against the five East teams that are at least nine games under .500.
Week 12: @ CLE, vs. WAS, @ ATL
Last Week: 20 ↑
Pace: 101.3 (11) OffRtg: 109.2 (15) DefRtg: 109.4 (19) NetRtg: -0.1 (20)
The Wolves have won three straight road games for the first time in more than a year, but they let one get away at home on Friday, committing a game-changing inbounds turnover in the final seconds of regulation and shooting 7-for-17 from the free throw line over the last 16 minutes of an overtime loss to the Hawks. They rank eighth in overall free throw percentage (79.2 percent), but 29th in clutch free throw percentage (64.8 percent), with Andrew Wiggins now 5-for-14 from the stripe with the game within five points in the last five minutes. Karl-Anthony Towns has averaged 28.3 points, 19.0 rebounds, 5.3 assists and three blocks in his first three post-Christmas games, with 61 of his 85 total points coming in the paint (42) or at the free throw line (19).
Week 12: @ NOP, @ BOS, vs. ORL, vs. LAL
Last Week: 19 ↓
Pace: 99.5 (22) OffRtg: 109.5 (13) DefRtg: 110.5 (22) NetRtg: -1.0 (21)
The Nets remain one of the league's best teams (outscoring their opponents by 10.7 points per 48 minutes) in the first six minutes of the first quarter, but a rough start (they trailed 26-6) in Charlotte on Friday is what's keeping them out of playoff position right now. They still rank fifth offensively since the start of the 9-3 stretch that has them knocking on the playoff door. Joe Harris had a quiet night in Charlotte, but has otherwise been on fire and may not want to change the calendar. He shot a league-best 35-for-62 (56 percent) from 3-point range in December and scored a season-high 27 points (with a couple of huge threes and the game-winning bucket) in the Nets' wild, double-overtime win over the Hornets on Wednesday. They have a few days off, but begin their January schedule with two games against the Western Conference (against which they're 4-11).
Week 12: vs. NOP, @ MEM, @ CHI
Last Week: 21
Pace: 103.5 (5) OffRtg: 111.9 (4) DefRtg: 111.6 (26) NetRtg: +0.4 (18)
The Pelicans continue to have late-game issues. Their last eight games have been within five points in the last five minutes (though their loss to Houston on Saturday only got there with a late, 12-0 run and they never had a chance to tie), and they've lost six of the last seven. A 6-14 record in games that were within five in the last five has them at 16-21 overall, with the point differential (plus-25 for the season) of a team that's 19-18. But the Pelicans continue to have early-game issues as well. The 117.9 points per 100 possessions they've allowed in the first quarter is the most any team has allowed in any quarter this season, and they've won the first quarter just once in their last nine games. They've been outscored by 8.4 points per 100 possessions with Anthony Davis on the floor in the first quarter (even though that's been his best shooting quarter) and are a plus-9.5 per 100 with Davis on the floor in quarters 2-4. Elfrid Payton (who has missed 31 of the last 32 games) is expected to make his return on Monday.
Week 12: vs. MIN, @ BKN, @ CLE
Last Week: 22
Pace: 100.7 (15) OffRtg: 111.0 (9) DefRtg: 109.0 (16) NetRtg: +2.0 (10)
Plays at the end of the two overtime periods in Brooklyn on Wednesday -- Tony Parker missing a jumper by a couple of feet and Malik Monk fumbling the ball into the Nets' game-winning fast break -- were good examples of why the Hornets' late-game offense is usually so Kemba-Walker-heavy (and why the Nets were smart to get the ball out of Walker's hands on those possessions). Walker leads the league with 72 clutch field goal attempts (50 more than any of his teammates), but has turned the ball over just three teams with the score within five in the last five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime. Of course, that Brooklyn game wouldn't have gone to overtime (where the Hornets are now 0-4) had Walker not committed one of the dumbest fouls of the season, reaching in on DeMarre Carroll more than 75 feet from the basket with less than two seconds on the clock in regulation. The Hornets recovered to beat the Nets at home on Friday (one of their best defensive games of the season), but then lost in Washington a night later (their worst defensive game of the season). Through Wednesday, they will have played the league's most home-heavy schedule (22 of 37 games at the Spectrum Center). But Saturday's visit to Denver is the start of their longest trip of the season, six games over 10 days and part of the league's most road-heavy January (10/14).
Week 12: vs. ORL, vs. DAL, @ DEN, @ PHX
Last Week: 24 ↑
Pace: 98.3 (27) OffRtg: 104.7 (27) DefRtg: 108.3 (13) NetRtg: -3.6 (24)
A 2-7 stretch, capped by an overtime in which they scored just two points (at home) against the Suns' 27th-ranked defense, seemed to be the nadir for the Magic. But they've recovered well, handing the Raptors their worst loss of the season on Friday and then climbing back to within a half game of a playoff spot by beating the eighth-place Pistons on Evan Fournier's game-winner. Santa apparently left them some offense under the tree, because they've scored almost 114 points per 100 possessions over their three post-Christmas games after scoring less than 93 per 100 over their seven games prior to the holiday. Nikola Vucevic has remained efficient and D.J. Augustin has averaged 23.3 points (on 53 percent shooting and 23-for-24 from the line) over the three games. A six-game road trip begins with the second game (in Charlotte on Monday) of a back-to-back.
Week 12: @ CHA, @ CHI, @ MIN, @ LAC
Last Week: 23 ↓
Pace: 100.3 (16) OffRtg: 105.8 (23) DefRtg: 107.5 (11) NetRtg: -1.6 (23)
The Pistons closed 2018 by going 1-4 against a relatively easy stretch of schedule, losing to the Hornets, Hawks and Magic, scoring less than a point per possession (with Reggie Jackson shooting 33 percent) over the five games, and seeing their lead for the final playoff spot in the East reduced to just a half game. Only the Cavs and Knicks have had a worse record in December, and the Pistons will begin 2019 by playing six of their first seven January games against teams that currently have winning records. They're 5-10 against that group thus far, though five of the losses have been within five points in the last five minutes.
Week 12: @ MIL, @ MEM, vs. UTA
Last Week: 26 ↑
Pace: 105.9 (1) OffRtg: 103.4 (29) DefRtg: 110.8 (24) NetRtg: -7.5 (26)
The Hawks might be emerging as the best of the bad teams, having won five of their last six games, with seven guys averaging double-figures over that stretch. Interestingly, its been both the Hawks' slowest stretch (101.9 possessions per 48 minutes) and Trae Young's best shooting stretch (effective field goal percentage of 52.8 percent) of the season. Young has had nine or more assists in six of his last nine games and he didn't attempt a 3-pointer in Minnesota on Friday until draining the go-ahead 25-footer in overtime (after the Hawks blew a 22-point lead and then came back from nine points down in the fourth quarter). Having recorded double-doubles in 11 of his last 12 games, John Collins is the youngest of seven players averaging at least 18 points and 10 rebounds.
Week 12: @ IND, @ WAS, @ MIL, vs. MIA
Last Week: 27 ↑
Pace: 99.4 (23) OffRtg: 100.2 (30) DefRtg: 109.1 (17) NetRtg: -9.0 (29)
The league's worst offense has actually been worse in its 14 games with Lauri Markkanen (98.7 points scored per 100 possessions) than it was in its 23 games without him (101.0). But the Bulls rank eighth defensively since Jim Boylen took over for Fred Hoiberg, having allowed 106.4 points per 100 possessions in 13 games under the new coach. Only three of the 13 opponents rank in the top 10 offensively, but in two of those three games (Dec. 15 in San Antonio and Sunday in Toronto), they only allowed the Spurs and Raptors to score about a point per possession. Zach LaVine returned from a five-game absence on Wednesday and the Bulls were a plus-9 in 55 minutes with LaVine, Markkanen, Kris Dunn and Wendell Carter Jr. on the floor together last week.
Week 12: vs. ORL, vs. IND, vs. BKN
Last Week: 25 ↓
Pace: 102.5 (9) OffRtg: 108.1 (19) DefRtg: 112.7 (28) NetRtg: -4.6 (25)
John Wall's season is over and the Wizards are five games in the loss column out of eighth place. But this is the Eastern Conference, where the path to the No. 6, 7 and 8 seeds remains open and where the Nets just went on a 9-1 run without anybody as good as Bradley Beal. The value of finishing sixth, seventh or eighth in the East with one of the league's highest payrolls is up for discussion, of course. The Wiz went 20-21 without Wall last season and are 3-2 without him this year after their win over the Hornets on Saturday. Defensive improvement in Wall's absence would seemingly be more realistic, but with both Trevor Ariza (nine) and Jeff Green (seven) setting season highs in assists, the win on Saturday was the Wizards' second most efficient offensive game of the season. They're one of two teams (the Sixers are the other) that has never beat the Thunder (they're 0-9) in Oklahoma City, where they'll be on Sunday for the second game of a three-game trip.
Week 12: vs. ATL, @ MIA, @ OKC
Last Week: 28
Pace: 100.0 (20) OffRtg: 103.6 (28) DefRtg: 112.0 (27) NetRtg: -8.4 (28)
The Suns have lost four of their last five games (getting outscored 88-42 over a 28-minute stretch spanning losses to Oklahoma City and Denver over the weekend), but they've continued to play pretty well offensively. In fact, over the eight games since Devin Booker's return, they rank seventh (111.5 points scored per 100 possessions) on that end of the floor, with Booker averaging 29.5 points and 8.3 assists and T.J. Warren still in the "How is this guy in the top 15 in 3-point percentage?" Club (apologies to Rudy Gay, who recently lost his membership). The Suns have shot better (especially in the restricted area), but bigger improvements have come in turnover percentage (13.8 per 100 possessions, down from 16.5 through their first 29 games) and offensive rebounding percentage (31.9 percent, up from 22.6 percent).
Week 12: vs. GSW, vs. PHI, vs. LAC, vs. CHA
Last Week: 29
Pace: 96.8 (29) OffRtg: 105.5 (25) DefRtg: 115.2 (30) NetRtg: -9.7 (30)
The good news is that the Cavs are 8-1 in games they haven't trailed by double-digits. The bad news is that they're the only team that hasn't won a game after trailing by 10 or more points, now 0-28 after coming back from 11 points down in the fourth quarter in Atlanta on Saturday, only to lose because they couldn't get the rebound they needed on the Hawks' last two possessions. Coming back is hard when you can't get stops, but the addition of Patrick McCaw (signed to an offer sheet that the Warriors didn't match) can only help a defense that ranks 30th by a comfortable margin and has allowed 119.1 points per 100 possessions) over a six-game losing streak, with opponents shooting 56 percent from mid-range over the six games and registering at least 60 points in the paint in four of the six.
Week 12: vs. MIA, vs. UTA, vs. NOP
Last Week: 30
Pace: 101.0 (12) OffRtg: 105.5 (24) DefRtg: 113.2 (29) NetRtg: -7.7 (27)
The Knicks have lost seven straight games and 12 of their last 13, even though eight of those 13 games have come against teams that currently have losing records. They'll begin 2019 by playing eight of their first nine games against teams that currently have winning records, with the exception being their game against the Wizards in London. Enes Kanter is upset about playing time and in the two games (at Milwaukee and at Utah) since he lost his starting job (to the slender Luke Kornet), the Knicks have been outscored, 112-54, in the paint, though the numbers with Kanter on the floor (38-12) don't exactly absolve him of responsibility. The Knicks' points-in-the-paint differential is now a league-worst minus-9.1 points per game. The other two teams in the bottom three are Golden State (minus-8.9) and Houston (minus-8.4), but those two squads are a little more potent from outside the paint.
Week 12: @ DEN, @ LAL
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John Schuhmann is a senior stats analyst for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.
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