Power Rankings, Week 9: Big win in Toronto gets Bucks back to No. 1
Who’s your No. 1? It’s a serious question, because figuring out who should be at the top of these rankings has been relatively tough over the last month.
Over the last 30 days, every team but the 10-3 Dallas Mavericks has at least four losses, and the two teams that lead the league in pace-adjusted point differential — Milwaukee, Toronto and Boston — are 8-6, 10-6 and 8-5, respectively.
The LA Clippers have lost three of their last four, the Denver Nuggets have lost two straight, and the Oklahoma City Thunder just finished a soft stretch of schedule by losing to the Chicago Bulls.
With Draymond Green returning on Monday and DeMarcus Cousins getting closer to his season debut, the Warriors might be ready to take the No. 1 spot, and they did beat this week’s No. 1 in Milwaukee on Friday. But the champs are just 8-7 over the last month.
So you could go a lot of ways in ranking the top five teams right now. In this space, No. 1 is the team that still has a solid lead in point differential per 100 possessions and is coming off a road win over No. 2 in that category on Sunday.
- Last week: Raptors drop champs, ascend to No. 1 again
- This time last year: Leonard returning soon to already-elite Spurs — The Pacers ended the Cavs’ 13-game winning streak and the Rockets were 10-0 with Chris Paul. The Sixers traded Jahlil Okafor to Brooklyn, Brandon Ingram hit a game-winning three in Philly, and in the span of five days, Bradley Beal (51) and James Harden (48) combined to score 99 points in Portland. Giannis Antetokounmpo threw one down on Rudy Gobert, and Jaylen Brown dunked on Pau Gasol’s head before Manu Ginobili beat the Celtics in the final seconds.
Plus-Minus Players of the Week
- Mr. Plus: Daniel Theis (BOS – two games) and Kevin Durant (GSW – three games) were each a plus-58 last week.
- Mr. Minus: Trevor Ariza (PHX) was a minus-64 in three games last week.
Teams of the Week
- Make It Last Forever: Indiana (3-0) — The Pacers only beat the Bulls, Magic and Kings, but three more wins without Victor Oladipo (including one without Domantas Sabonis as well) is a good week.
- Something Just Ain’t Right: New York (0-4) — The Knicks’ week included losses at home to the Wizards, Nets (with a rest advantage) and Hornets.
East vs. West
- The West is 85-58 (.594) against the East in interconference games after going 10-6 last week.
Schedule strength through Week 8
- Toughest: 1. Phoenix, 2. Utah, 3. Chicago
- Easiest: 1. Toronto, 2. Detroit, 3. Miami
- 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: Golden State (+4), Four teams (+3)
- Free falls of the week: Detroit (-8), Houston (-7), LA Clippers (-4)
Week 9 Team to Watch
- Oklahoma City — After an 0-4 start to the season, the Thunder went 16-3 against a pretty soft stretch of schedule. But they’re coming off a loss to a team that nearly had a team mutiny less than 48 hours later, and their schedule is about to get tougher and more West-heavy. Having played 10 of their last 20 games against the East, they’ll play 13 of their next 14 games within the conference, starting with a week that includes games against the Jazz, Pelicans, Nuggets and Clippers.
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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 101.2 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes and 108.3 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: 4 ↑
Pace: 103.8 (5) OffRtg: 114.0 (2) DefRtg: 104.9 (6) NetRtg: +9.1 (1)
Since Thanksgiving, the Bucks have lost to the Suns, Hornets and Knicks. They had their worst offensive game of the season on Friday, getting outscored 57-21 from 3-point range by the Warriors (and no team has allowed more 3-pointers per game). But they got a huge road win in Toronto on Sunday (their slowest-paced game of the season), with Malcolm Brogdon turning a three-point deficit into a three-point lead with back-to-back 3-pointers in the final 1:07. Brogdon ranks fourth in the league in 3-point percentage (48 percent) and is 5-for-7 from beyond the arc with the score within five points in the last five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime. It will be interesting to see how George Hill (who has started 453 of his 469 games over the last seven seasons) fits into the Bucks' backcourt, though it's worth noting that they've been much better with Eric Bledsoe (plus-17.6 points per 100 possessions) or Brogdon (plus-9.2) on the floor without the other than they've been with both (plus-2.9).
Week 9: vs. CLE, @ IND, @ CLE
Last Week: 2
Pace: 98.8 (26) OffRtg: 110.5 (9) DefRtg: 104.3 (4) NetRtg: +6.1 (5)
The Nuggets have had one of the best benches in the league. They've outscored their opponents by 6.9 points per 100 possessions with Trey Lyles and Mason Plumlee on the floor together, Monte Morris leads the league in assist-turnover ratio (5.72), and Malik Beasley has had some big performances, including 15 points on 6-for-8 shooting in the Nuggets' big win in Toronto last Monday. But they could have just one opening-night starter against Memphis this Monday, with Will Barton (hip/groin issue) still out, Gary Harris (sore hip) and Paul Millsap (broken toe) joining him on the shelf, and Jamal Murray questionable with a shin injury suffered in Atlanta on Saturday. The injuries and a tough travel schedule seemed to catch up with them over the weekend, when they lost both games of a back-to-back in Charlotte and Atlanta, with the latter being their worst offensive game of the season. The visit from the Grizzlies is the start of a four-game homestand, but the first three games are against top-seven defenses.
Week 9: vs. MEM, vs. OKC, vs. TOR
Last Week: 1 ↓
Pace: 101.0 (16) OffRtg: 112.8 (4) DefRtg: 105.8 (7) NetRtg: +7.0 (2)
Maybe Kyle Lowry will find his shot on the West coast, though he can't break out of his shooting slump (8-for-42 over his last five games) if he doesn't shoot. Worse than Lowry missing shots is Lowry passing them up, because his ability and willingness to shoot 3-pointers off the dribble (he was the best pull-up 3-point shooter over the last two seasons) opens other things up (for both himself and his teammates), and when he does pass up an open shot, the Raptors might not get a better one on the same possession. That was the case on multiple occasions as they lost close games to Brooklyn and Milwaukee over the weekend, and it's not a coincidence that the last four games (four of the six games in which Lowry has attempted less than nine shots) have been the Raptors' worst stretch of offense (102.2 points scored per 100 possessions) this season.
Week 9: @ LAC, @ GSW, @ POR, @ DEN
Last Week: 8 ↑
Pace: 100.9 (17) OffRtg: 114.5 (1) DefRtg: 108.8 (18) NetRtg: +5.7 (6)
The Warriors are starting to look familiar. Their offense got rolling in Atlanta and Cleveland last week, they had one of their biggest third quarters of the season on Wednesday, and they shot 48 percent from 3-point range over the last three games of their trip. They're set to get Draymond Green back on Monday, but they didn't wait for his return to have one of their best defensive games of the season. On Friday, the champs were the first team to hold the Bucks under a point per possession, a performance that put their own offense in the familiar position of No. 1 in the league. Forget 50-40-90, Stephen Curry is going for 50-50-90, now at an even 50 percent (84-for-168) from 3-point range. The Milwaukee win began a stretch where they're playing nine of 11 games against teams that currently have winning records.
Week 9: vs. MIN, vs. TOR, @ SAC
Last Week: 6 ↑
Pace: 103.1 (7) OffRtg: 108.7 (13) DefRtg: 106.9 (10) NetRtg: +1.8 (13)
The diagnosis of a nerve issue in Markelle Fultz's shoulder leaves the door slightly ajar for Fultz to contribute to the Sixers' season at some point down the line. For now, Philly still needs guys like Wilson Chandler and Mike Muscala to make shots, and the pair had their best collective game on Friday, totaling 28 points and six blocks as the Sixers won in Detroit without Joel Embiid (rest). They were 2-for-10 in their loss in Toronto on Wednesday, when the Sixers basically lost the game (when Toronto went on a 9-0 run) with Jimmy Butler and Ben Simmons off the floor. Since Butler's arrival, the Sixers have been better in their Butler-Simmons minutes without Embiid and J.J. Redick (plus-10.1 points per 100 possessions) than they've been in their Redick-Embiid minutes without Butler and Simmons (plus-5.8). Both numbers are solid overall, but the schedule has been relatively soft and the Sixers are now 0-4 (0-1 with Butler) against the other three teams -- Boston, Milwaukee and Toronto -- we might expect them to be fighting for a trip to The Finals come May.
Week 9: vs. DET, vs. BKN, vs. IND, @ CLE
Last Week: 5 ↓
Pace: 103.0 (8) OffRtg: 107.9 (18) DefRtg: 101.4 (1) NetRtg: +6.5 (4)
Before the Thunder schedule started to really get tough, they struggled in games in Brooklyn and Chicago. Paul George saved them on Wednesday, with 47 points, including 25 (and the game-winner) as they came back from 20 points down in the fourth quarter, against the Nets. But George missed another potential game-winner against the Bulls after and Thunder the bench basically lost the game (they were outscored by 12 points in less than 13 minutes with Russell Westbrook off the floor) on Friday. Westbrook had triple-doubles in both games (and is again averaging a triple-double for the season), but eight more turnovers on Friday (10) than he had on Wednesday (two). The Thunder are 4-6 against the non-Suns division (top 14) of the Western Conference going into a stretch where they'll play 12 of 14 games within that group.
Week 9: vs. UTA, @ NOP, @ DEN, vs. LAC
Last Week: 3 ↓
Pace: 102.7 (9) OffRtg: 111.3 (6) DefRtg: 108.1 (14) NetRtg: +3.2 (9)
The Clippers were tied after the third quarter in Memphis on Wednesday, and they trailed by one after three against Miami on Saturday. And by getting outscored 57-25 in the fourth quarter of the two games (shooting 7-for-28 and committing 12 turnovers), they doubled the number of games that they've lost by double-digits. Last season, Lou Williams' true shooting percentage increased with each quarter (from 51 percent in the first to 63 percent in the fourth). This season, it has gone the other way (from 59 percent in the first to 47 percent in the fourth). The Clips have lost three out of four (and have been held under a point per possession in two straight games) for the first time this season, with their non-centers having shot 34 percent in the three losses.
Week 9: @ PHX, vs. TOR, @ SAS, @ OKC
Last Week: 9 ↑
Pace: 103.9 (4) OffRtg: 108.6 (15) DefRtg: 106.3 (9) NetRtg: +2.3 (10)
The Lakers lost their season series (3-1) to the Spurs, with last week's home-and-home featuring a pair of wild, fourth-quarter comebacks (one from each team). But they're are 9-4 against the other 12 Western Conference teams that aren't the Suns, getting a big win in Memphis on Saturday. They didn't need a big scoring game or big minutes from LeBron James in that one, but there could be concern that Brandon Ingram's ankle injury leaves the second unit without a playmaker. In the last three games (starting with the one in which Ingram was injured in the first quarter), the Lakers have scored just 96 points per 100 possessions in 35 minutes with James off the floor. Only Stephen Curry has shot better on off-the-dribble 3-pointers than James, who has taken a career-high 29 percent of his shots from beyond the arc, while seeing only a small drop in the percentage of his shots that have come in the restricted area.
Week 9: vs. MIA, @ HOU, @ CHA, @ WAS
Last Week: 12 ↑
Pace: 100.1 (22) OffRtg: 109.1 (11) DefRtg: 102.1 (2) NetRtg: +7.0 (3)
The Celtics' five-game winning streak certainly hasn't come against the toughest stretch of schedule, but they've outscored their opponents by more than 28 points per 100 possessions over the streak, winning last week's two games (against the Knicks and Bulls) by a total of 84 points. Jaylen Brown returned from a three-game absence and shot 15-for-21 in his first two games as a reserve (with Marcus Smart continuing to start next to Kyrie Irving). The Celtics have actually been getting to the basket or to the line less during the streak (with 26 of their shots coming in the restricted area and just 18 free throw attempts per 100 shots from the field) than they did prior (27 percent, 22 FTA per 100 FGA), but they've shot much better both in the restricted area (71 percent vs. 61 percent) and from 3-point range (45 percent vs. 34 percent).
Week 9: vs. NOP, @ WAS, vs. ATL, @ DET
Last Week: 10
Pace: 101.1 (13) OffRtg: 108.6 (14) DefRtg: 107.8 (13) NetRtg: +0.9 (15)
Luka Doncic was already the Kia Rookie of the Year favorite and had already made some big shots in close games. But he had a special moment against the Rockets on Saturday, scoring 11 straight points to turn an eight-point deficit into a three-point win for the Mavs, who have won nine straight games at home. Doncic has shot 14-for-22 (64 percent) with the score within five points in the last five minutes, ranking third in clutch field goal percentage among 55 players with at least 15 clutch field goal attempts. Only one of Doncic's 14 clutch buckets have been assisted and overall, he has shot almost as well on off-the-dribble 3-pointers(34-for-88, 39 percent) as he has on catch-and-shoot 3-pointers (19-for-48, 40 percent).
Week 9: vs. ORL, vs. ATL, @ PHX, vs. SAC
Last Week: 14 ↑
Pace: 98.7 (27) OffRtg: 107.4 (20) DefRtg: 102.8 (3) NetRtg: +4.7 (7)
The Pacers are now 7-4 without Victor Oladipo (counting the game in which he was injured in the first quarter). The offense has done some fun things and has been balanced (all nine rotation guys have averaged between 7.3 and 12.9 field goal attempts per game), and they've ranked second defensively (100.3 points allowed per 100 possessions) over that stretch, having held each of their last three opponents under a point per possession. The schedule has been relatively soft (the 11 opponents have a cumulative winning percentage of .424), but they won by 22 in Orlando without Domantas Sabonis on Friday and they forced the Kings to play their slowest-paced game of the season on Saturday. Sabonis and Myles Turner played a season-high 14:22 (including the final 6:34) together in a win over the Bulls on Tuesday and the Pacers have allowed just 86.3 points per 100 possessions in 68 minutes with the pair on the floor since Oladipo's injury.
Week 9: vs. WAS, vs. MIL, @ PHI, vs. NYK
Last Week: 11 ↓
Pace: 96.7 (30) OffRtg: 105.4 (27) DefRtg: 104.3 (5) NetRtg: +1.1 (14)
Joakim Noah has already played more minutes (48) than he did all of last season (40), and the early returns on his tenure in Memphis were great. Noah scored 17 points and registered a plus-11 in 30 total minutes over his first two games, allowing Marc Gasol to play less than 33 minutes for the first and second time in a month. JaMychal Green, meanwhile, had clearly found a rhythm as the other reserve big, totaling 43 points (on 16-for-24 shooting) and 19 rebounds as the Grizzlies got important wins over the Clippers and Pelicans on Wednesday and Friday, despite poor shooting games from Gasol (1-for-13 against L.A.) and Mike Conley (2-for-12 in New Orleans). But the bench came up empty against the Lakers on Saturday, as the Grizzlies lost by 23 in a game in which their starting lineup was a plus-3 in its 11 minutes.
Week 9: @ DEN, vs. POR, vs. MIA, vs. HOU
Last Week: 13
Pace: 100.9 (18) OffRtg: 110.9 (8) DefRtg: 109.0 (19) NetRtg: +1.9 (12)
After losing six of their previous seven games, the Blazers got to play the Suns on Thursday. They took care of business (without C.J. McCollum) and, more importantly, beat the Wolves two nights later, their first win in almost four weeks over a team that's currently .500 or better. They closed the eight-point win with a 17-3 run (featuring a lot of McCollum and Damian Lillard), but all 26 of their games have been won by the team leading after the third quarter. Coach Terry Stotts continues to give Evan Turner some minutes running the offense, even though the Blazers been outscored by 51 points in 92 minutes with Turner on the floor without either Lillard or McCollum over the last month. They're 1-5 on the road within the Western Conference (having allowed almost 119 points per 100 possessions in the five losses), with that only win coming on Oct. 30 in the city (Houston) where they'll be on Tuesday.
Week 9: @ HOU, @ MEM, vs. TOR
Last Week: 16 ↑
Pace: 104.1 (3) OffRtg: 113.2 (3) DefRtg: 111.2 (24) NetRtg: +1.9 (11)
Another week, another tweak (or two) to the Pelicans' starting lineup, with Solomon Hill replacing E'Twaun Moore on the perimeter and Julius Randle replacing Nikola Mirotic up front. The new lineup is a plus-20 in 40 minutes over the last three games, Randle has been putting up huge numbers (29.5 points per game on 60 percent shooting) in his four December games as a starter, and Moore had 17 points and a season-high six assists in his first game (against Dallas on Wednesday) as a reserve. But the Pelicans missed their last eight shots in blowing an eight-point lead against Memphis on Friday, and the lineup shuffling doesn't matter much if Anthony Davis isn't healthy. He returned to the game after suffering a hip injury in a collision with Blake Griffin in Detroit on Sunday, but shot just 1-for-6 in 20 second-half minutes, with Randle and Jrue Holiday (season-high 37 points) picking up the slack. Randle (434) and Mirotic (426) have played almost the exact same number of minutes alongside Davis, and the numbers are pretty good either way (plus-7.8 and plus-9.6 points per 100 possessions), as if Davis is the most important piece in the frontline trio.
Week 9: @ BOS, vs. OKC. vs. MIA
Last Week: 7 ↓
Pace: 101.1 (14) OffRtg: 106.4 (23) DefRtg: 107.0 (11) NetRtg: -0.5 (18)
The Pistons began the month with a win over the Warriors, but they've since lost four straight games and three rotation players (Reggie Bullock, Stanley Johnson and Ish Smith) to injury. Pistons not named Blake Griffin have shot 20-for-97 (21 percent) from 3-point range over the streak, and this weekend was the first time since Games 2 and 3 that they've allowed more than 110 points per 100 possessions in two straight games. The Pistons have played the fewest road games in the league, but will now play 12 of their next 18 away from Little Caesars Arena. They'd also played the fewest back-to-backs (two) through Saturday, but Monday's visit to Philadelphia is the second game of their third, with the Sixers having had the weekend off (and having won in Detroit without Joel Embiid on Friday).
Week 9: @ PHI, @ CHA, vs. BOS
Last Week: 19 ↑
Pace: 101.4 (12) OffRtg: 108.2 (16) DefRtg: 108.3 (15) NetRtg: -0.1 (17)
Andrew Wiggins finally broke out on Wednesday, scoring a season-high 26 points (and adding five assists) in the Wolves' win over Charlotte, a game in which Karl-Anthony Towns also scored 35 points. That was also the second time in three days that they won a game that they trailed by 15 points or more (they won just one such game all of last season). They almost completed another comeback (from 10 down in the second half) in Portland on Saturday, but didn't have Robert Covington (out with knee soreness) to help them get the stops they needed down the stretch. When the Blazers got open 3-point attempts from Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, it didn't help that the Wolves' 3-point shooters on the ensuing possessions were Taj Gibson and Derrick Rose (who hasn't made a three in his last three games after making 27 over his previous 11). The loss dropped the Wolves to 0-8 on the road within the Western Conference, with three more games on their current trip.
Week 9: @ GSW, @ SAC, @ PHX
Last Week: 17
Pace: 100.3 (21) OffRtg: 106.6 (21) DefRtg: 107.2 (12) NetRtg: -0.6 (19)
The Jazz did well with a few days at home, holding two top-10 offenses (those of the Spurs and Rockets) to just 97 points per 100 possessions on Tuesday and Thursday, even though Rudy Gobert got ejected less than three minutes into the Houston game. But upon hitting the road again, they got outscored 54-36 in the first 24 minutes in San Antonio on Sunday. Donovan Mitchell rebounded from an 0-for-6 first half to score all of his 27 points after the break, but the Jazz never really made it interesting and are now 1-11 when they don't have the lead at halftime. Jae Crowder and Derrick Favors have taken turns as the starting power forward in December, and the Favors lineup having performed better (plus-15 in 22 minutes) thus far.
Week 9: @ OKC, vs. MIA, vs. ORL (Mexico City)
Last Week: 18
Pace: 101.4 (11) OffRtg: 111.7 (5) DefRtg: 108.5 (16) NetRtg: +3.2 (8)
The Hornets got back to .500 and back to being a top-five offense by scoring 115 points per 100 possessions in weekend wins over the Nuggets and Knicks, even with Kemba Walker shooting just 39 percent. Tony Parker provided some offense (35 total points) off the bench and the Hornets got to the line a total of 65 times over the two games. They don't have nearly the foul differential that they had last season, but they have the league's lowest turnover rate (just 12.1 per 100 possessions) for the fifth time in the last six years. Their home-heavy stretch of schedule (13 of 18 at the Spectrum Center) continues into the new year and includes two important home games against the Pistons in the next 12 days.
Week 9: vs. DET, vs. NYK, vs. LAL
Last Week: 20 ↑
Pace: 105.2 (2) OffRtg: 108.9 (12) DefRtg: 110.1 (21) NetRtg: -1.2 (20)
The Kings began their road trip with two of their best offensive games of the season (in Phoenix and Cleveland, for the sake of context), but with their loss in Indiana on Saturday, they've lost the last four times they've played the second game of a back-to-back (and are 2-4 with no rest overall). Only the Bulls (thanks to their 56-point loss on Saturday) have seen a bigger rest-or-no-rest drop-off on offense than the Kings, who have scored 114.4 points per 100 possessions (a rate which would rank second in the league) when they didn't play the day before and just 98.2 (a rate which would rank last) when they did. After they finish their trip in Chicago on Monday (both offenses will be rested!), they will play their next 13 games against the non-Phoenix division of the Western Conference, with three back-to-backs (and no games against an opponent playing the second game of a back-to-back) over that stretch.
Week 9: @ CHI, vs. MIN, vs. GSW, @ DAL
Last Week: 22 ↑
Pace: 99.6 (23) OffRtg: 110.0 (10) DefRtg: 112.9 (29) NetRtg: -2.9 (24)
The Spurs remain the weirdest team in the league. They rank 29th defensively, having ranked no worse than 11th in the last 21 seasons. They have a top-10 offense, even though their leading scorer -- DeMar DeRozan -- is a shooting guard who's 6-for-35 from 3-point range. Their second leading scorer -- LaMarcus Aldridge -- has the worst effective field goal percentage (45.8 percent) among the 58 players 6-foot-10 or taller who have attempted at least 100 shots from the field. Rudy Gay ranks second in the league in 3-point percentage and they have three wins in which they've made five or fewer threes. They already have as many losses by 20 or more points (five) as they had in the previous three seasons combined. But they've rebounded from an ugly stretch and have won three straight home games (all against top-14 West teams), with four more games left on their longest homestand of the season (six games).
Week 9: vs. PHX, vs. LAC, vs. CHI
Last Week: 21
Pace: 99.2 (25) OffRtg: 106.1 (25) DefRtg: 108.7 (17) NetRtg: -2.6 (23)
The Magic's two games in Mexico City this week count as home games, and maybe it's not a bad thing that they're getting two fewer games at the Amway Center, where they're now 6-8 after losses to the Nuggets and shorthanded Pacers last week. The Indy loss on Friday was the sixth time they've scored less than a point per possession at home (the Suns are the only other team that has done it six times at home). The Magic remain pretty good as long as their four main starters are on the floor, but the latest fifth starter -- Jonathon Simmons -- has shot 32 percent in his six starts and has an effective field goal percentage of 35.3 percent for the season, down from 51.1 percent last season. That's the biggest drop among 197 players with at least 300 field goal attempts last season and 100 this season.
Week 9: @ DAL, vs. CHI (Mexico City), vs. UTA (Mexico City)
Last Week: 15 ↓
Pace: 96.9 (29) OffRtg: 110.9 (7) DefRtg: 112.2 (25) NetRtg: -1.3 (21)
A three-game losing streak has the Rockets just another three losses from matching their total from last season, with no other team closer than 12 losses away from matching their own mark. The Rockets' proximity has a lot to do with how good they were a year ago, but also their bottom-six standing on defense, where they allowed their opponents to score 123 points per 100 possessions in the second half of the three games. Last season, it didn't matter much that they were outscored in the fourth quarter, because they often built big leads (they led by 20 or more points in a league-high 34 games). This season, they don't have the same margin for error and they've lost their last four games that were within five points in the last five minutes. All four of those losses have been on the road and they have played one of the most road-heavy schedules (15/25) in the league thus far. They'll now play 17 of their next 25 games at the Toyota Center, with six rest-advantage games and only two rest-disadvantage games over that stretch.
Week 9: vs. POR. vs. LAL, @ MEM
Last Week: 23
Pace: 101.8 (10) OffRtg: 106.0 (26) DefRtg: 106.1 (8) NetRtg: -0.1 (16)
After his "potty break" excuse for leaving the bench early in the Heat's loss to Orlando on Monday, Hassan Whiteside had a perfectly good reason (the birth of a child) for missing the first three games (including the Lakers game on Monday) of the Heat's six game trip. The Heat are now 3-0 without Whiteside, with replacement starter Bam Adebayo registering 36 points (on 68 percent shooting), 18 rebounds, six assists, and a team-best plus-45 (with almost all of his 13 buckets being highlight-worthy) in weekend wins over the Suns and Clippers. The Phoenix win was relatively conventional, but the win over the Clips featured Udonis Haslem, five 3-pointers from Dwyane Wade, a zone defense, and a 30-8 fourth quarter. #OneLastDance has Wade playing his final games in four different Western Conference arenas this week, with Monday's game in L.A. being the last meeting between Wade and a guy he won a couple of championships with.
Week 9: @ LAL, @ UTA, @ MEM, @ NOP
Last Week: 24
Pace: 103.2 (6) OffRtg: 107.7 (19) DefRtg: 112.2 (26) NetRtg: -4.5 (25)
The Wizards won their first three games of December, but they were getting away with less than 48 minutes of good basketball against bad teams (Brooklyn, New York and Atlanta). They didn't get away with it in Cleveland on Saturday, with John Wall scoring a career-low one point and the team having its worst defensive game since early November. Wall is dealing with a bone spur in his left heel, though there's no indication that he's going to miss time. Tomas Satoransky started 30 games at point guard in Wall's absence last season, but is now making an impact starting alongside Wall. In his four starts, Satoransky is a team-best plus-33 and has 18 assists with just one turnover.
Week 9: @ IND, vs. BOS, @ BKN, vs. LAL
Last Week: 26 ↑
Pace: 99.4 (24) OffRtg: 107.9 (17) DefRtg: 109.5 (20) NetRtg: -1.6 (22)
The Nets suffered some more heartbreak last week, losing to the Cavs in the final seconds after coming back from 11 points down in the fourth quarter on Monday, and then blowing a 20-point, fourth-quarter lead to the Thunder on Wednesday. But they turned things around over the weekend, outlasting the Raptors in overtime on Friday and then winning a rest-disadvantage game in Manhattan on Saturday. They've played the most back-to-backs in the league and were 0-6 in the second game before the win over the Knicks. Their late-game defense against Toronto was a signal of overall progress on that end of the floor. They've allowed just 105.1 points per 100 possessions over their last seven games, down from 112.8 over their first seven without Caris LeVert.
Week 9: @ PHI, vs. WAS, vs. ATL
Last Week: 27 ↑
Pace: 107.0 (1) OffRtg: 101.1 (29) DefRtg: 110.2 (22) NetRtg: -9.1 (28)
John Collins got dunked on by Vince Carter, but has averaged 24.8 points (on 67 percent shooting) and 12 rebounds over his last four games, registering career highs (24, 26 and 30 points) in each of the last three. He has made multiple 3-pointers in two straight games for the first time, but 29 of his 48 buckets over that four-game stretch have come in the restricted area, where he has shot 74 percent (the seventh best mark among 109 players with at least 75 restricted-area attempts). Since Collins made his season debut 23 days ago, the Hawks have been 11.3 points per 100 possessions better offensively with him on the floor (scoring 103.6) than they've been with him off the floor (92.3). With Taurean Prince out a few weeks with a sprained ankle, they're starting Kent Bazemore and Kevin Huerter together, and the new lineup has recorded assists on 19 of its 22 buckets in two games. It got off to a rough start against the Nuggets on Saturday, but got the game (the Hawks' best win since Week 2) turned around in the third quarter.
Week 9: @ DAL, @ BOS, @ BKN
Last Week: 25 ↓
Pace: 101.0 (15) OffRtg: 106.3 (24) DefRtg: 112.3 (27) NetRtg: -6.0 (26)
The Knicks have allowed almost 116 points per 100 possessions (with their opponents shooting 41 percent from 3-point range) over their last six games, but it took a while for coach David Fizdale to turn to his best perimeter defender. After getting DNP'd for three straight games, Frank Ntilikina finally got the call over the weekend, scored 25 points (shooting 5-for-8 from 3-point range), and registered a plus-9 in 36 total minutes against Brooklyn and Charlotte. The Knicks have allowed just 96 points per 100 possessions in the 202 minutes that Ntilikina has been on the floor without Tim Hardaway, who has played 138 more minutes than anybody else on the roster. The Knicks have cut down on mid-range shots this season, but they rank last in field goal percentage in the paint (50.7 percent) and have been outscored in the paint in 10 straight games.
Week 9: @ CLE, @ CHA, @ IND
Last Week: 30 ↑
Pace: 97.0 (28) OffRtg: 106.5 (22) DefRtg: 115.1 (30) NetRtg: -8.6 (27)
With J.R. Smith still waiting by the phone, the Cavs sold off another veteran last week, trading George Hill to Milwaukee for a future first-round pick (while taking on more guaranteed money for next season). While we continue to wonder about the future of Kevin Love, Alec Burks is getting more of an opportunity (in a contract year). He had the game-winning dunk in Brooklyn on Monday, tied a season high with 22 points against Sacramento on Friday, and (with Rodney Hood out) got his first start of the season in the Cavs' win over Washington on Saturday. The Cavs have scored more than 111 points per 100 possessions in 124 minutes with Burks and Jordan Clarkson on the floor together. Collin Sexton tied his career high with 29 points and set a career high with six assists (highlighted by a fourth-quarter alley-oop to Larry Nance Jr.) in the win over Washington.
Week 9: @ MIL, vs. NYK, vs. MIL, vs. PHI
Last Week: 28 ↓
Pace: 100.9 (19) OffRtg: 100.2 (30) DefRtg: 110.9 (23) NetRtg: -10.6 (29)
Apparently, it took less than a week for Bulls players to push back against a new coach -- Jim Boylen -- that was pushing them a lot harder than Fred Hoiberg. Less than 24 hours after the worst loss in franchise history, it took some convincing to get them back in the practice facility for what turned out to be a pair of clearing-the-air sessions. It was only 24 hours before the loss to Boston that the Bulls got a really good win (featuring a 14-2 fourth-quarter run, a huge block from Wendell Carter Jr. and the game-winning bucket from Lauri Markkanen) over a team -- Oklahoma City -- that had won 16 of its previous 19 games. This team may need to stop in Zihuatanejo before making its way to Mexico City for its game against the Magic on Thursday.
Week 9: vs. SAC, vs. ORL (Mexico City), @ SAS
Last Week: 29 ↓
Pace: 100.7 (20) OffRtg: 101.3 (28) DefRtg: 112.5 (28) NetRtg: -11.2 (30)
The Suns are 0-7 without Devin Booker and have been outscored by 16.8 points per 100 possessions in his 571 minutes off the floor, with their no-Booker offensive issues being about turnovers as much as they are about shooting. Through six minutes against the Kings on Tuesday, they had seven turnovers and just four points, on their way to the first of two straight nine-point first quarters. The frustration with their latest losing streak (now at eight games) resulted in a pair of confrontations -- Mikal Bridges (who has shot 31 percent over the streak) and head coach Igor Kokoskov going into a timeout, and DeAndre Ayton and Booker in the locker room -- in Portland on Thursday. After scoring 21 points off the bench two games earlier, De'Anthony Melton got the first start of his career against Miami on Friday, and maybe that helped the Suns get to double-figures in the opening 12 minutes.
Week 9: vs. LAC, @ SAS, vs. DAL, vs. MIN
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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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