Power Rankings, Week 12: West playoff races heating up as Celtics rise to No. 2, Sixers tumble
See how all 30 teams rank as the season nears the halfway point
The race for the final playoff spot in the West remains fascinating. Teams that were probably counted out a couple of weeks ago are suddenly surging.
The ninth-place Memphis Grizzlies, who likely had no intention of making the playoffs when this season began, have won five of their last eight games and have more wins (15) than the eighth-place San Antonio Spurs. The 11th place Minnesota Timberwolves, who have been without their best player for 10 games and had an 11-game losing streak on Christmas Day, have won four of their last six. And the 14th-place New Orleans Pelicans, owners of a 13-game losing streak, have won six of their last eight and are just three games out of eighth.
It’s kind of ridiculous. Seven teams, all at least six games under .500 and all still in the mix for a playoff spot. The Grizzlies are the only team in the group that hasn’t had a disappointing season, but with more than half the season left (we’ll hit the midway point next Thursday), it’s still salvageable for any team that can put it together for more than a couple of weeks.
* * *
Plus-Minus Players of the Week
- Right Way: LeBron James (LAL) was a plus-58 in three games last week.
- Wrong Way: Cedi Osman (CLE) was a minus-68 in four games last week.
Teams of the Week
- Make It Last Forever: Houston (2-0) — The Rockets played just two home games, but double-digit wins over the Nuggets and Sixers is good work.
- Something Just Ain’t Right: Cleveland (0-4) — For when you want some player-management strife mixed in with your terrible defense and low assist numbers.
East vs. West
- The West is 100-89 (.529) against the East in interconference games after going 14-7 last week.
Schedule strength through Week 11
- Toughest: 1. New Orleans, 2. Atlanta, 3. Cleveland
- Easiest: 1. Brooklyn, 2. Houston, 3. Milwaukee
- 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: Minnesota (+6), Houston (+5), Oklahoma City (+4)
- Free falls of the week: Cleveland (-8), Philadelphia (-6), Detroit (-4)
Week 12 Team to Watch
- Memphis — The Grizzlies aren’t just fun to watch (thanks to Ja Morant’s highlight potential and some of the league’s best ball movement). They’re playing well, 9-6, with wins over the Heat, Thunder and Clippers, over the last four weeks. At 15-22, they’re just a half game behind the eighth-place Spurs, who they will host on Friday as part of a six game homestand that begins with a game against the 11th-place Timberwolves on Tuesday and concludes with the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day game at FedEx Forum.
- Last week: Clippers move past Lakers, Heat rise to No. 2 and Bucks hold top spot
- This time last year: Spurs surging at midway point — The Timberwolves fired head coach and president of basketball operations Tom Thibodeau, and the Grizzlies traded for Justin Holiday. DeMar DeRozan registered his first career triple-double as the Spurs beat the Raptors in Kawhi Leonard’s return to San Antonio, and James Harden capped a 44-point triple-double with a game-winning 3-pointer over Draymond Green and Klay Thompson. The Kings and Warriors combined for a record 41 3-pointers, Dwyane Wade left one in the air for Derrick Jones Jr., and Giannis Antetokounmpo destroyed Jon Leuer
* * *
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 100.9 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes and 108.7 points scored per 100 possessions this season.
* * *
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.
* * *
* * *
The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.
Last Week: 1
Pace: 104.8 (1) OffRtg: 113.9 (3) DefRtg: 101.5 (1) NetRtg: +12.4 (1)
Khris Middleton continues to go under the radar and the Bucks didn't break stride when he missed seven games in November. But in his eighth season and a year after earning his first All-Star appearance, Middleton is registering career-high marks in usage rate, effective field goal percentage, true shooting percentage and rebounding percentage. Giannis Antetokounmpo drives what this team does on both ends of the floor, but the Bucks have outscored their opponents by 9.5 points per 100 possessions in 314 minutes with Middleton on the floor without the MVP. They're now 26-2 since Nov. 10 and on pace for the third 70-win season in NBA history, having survived a poor shooting night from Middleton (5-for-18) and a close call against the shorthanded Wolves on Wednesday, with an Antetokounmpo 3-pointer being the biggest shot of the night. He's 7-for-17 from beyond the arc since his 0-for-7 performance on Christmas and a two-game absence.
Week 12: @ SAS, @ GSW, @ SAC, @ POR
Last Week: 3 ↑
Pace: 99.4 (23) OffRtg: 111.7 (6) DefRtg: 104.0 (3) NetRtg: +7.7 (2)
Over their last two games, the Celtics have been outscored, 87-42, from 3-point range. But these are not last season's Celtics, who ranked 27th in the percentage of their shots that came in the paint (43%) and 30th in free throw rate (21.5 attempts per 100 shots from the field). These Celtics rank 12th in the percentage of their shots that have come in the paint (50%) and outscored the Hawks and Bulls, 122-72, in the paint on Friday and Saturday to improve to 18-2 against the 17 teams that are currently under .500. With Enes Kanter making an impact (he led the team with 26 in the paint over the weekend), with Gordon Hayward seeing an increase in his paint shots with better health, and with Jaylen Brown ranking 16th in paint field goal percentage (61.0%) among 67 players with at least 200 attempts there, the Celtics rank third in point differential in the paint (+6.6 per game) and 14th in point differential at the free throw line (+0.9) after ranking 17th (-1.1) and 25th (-1.8) last season. Three of their four opponents this week (all except the Sixers) rank in the bottom five in the former.
Week 12: @ WAS, vs. SAS, @ PHI, vs. NOP
Last Week: 5 ↑
Pace: 100.4 (16) OffRtg: 111.9 (5) DefRtg: 104.8 (4) NetRtg: +7.1 (3)
The Lakers respond to losses to the Clippers pretty well. They followed their opening-night loss with a seven-game winning streak, and they've followed their Christmas Day loss with five straight wins, though maybe their bench could have done a better job of putting a couple of those wins away. They seem to get some scoring punch from a different third guy every game. It was Avery Bradley (18 points on 9-for-11 shooting) against Phoenix on Wednesday, Danny Green (25, 6-for-10 from 3-point range) against New Orleans on Friday, and just enough Alex Caruso (13 points in 24 minutes) in a not-so-pretty win over Detroit on Sunday in which Bradley was lost with an ankle injury. Kyle Kuzma remains the only Laker other than Anthony Davis and LeBron James averaging double-figures, and consistency has been a major issue with the third-year forward, who hasn't been able to keep the offense afloat with James off the floor. The Lakers have scored just 97.9 points per 100 possessions in Kuzma's 258 minutes with James on the bench. Fresh off a 20-block performance against the Pistons and having held the league's No. 1 offense to less than a point per possession in two of their three meetings thus far, the Lakers will face the Mavs for the final time on Friday.
Week 12: vs. NYK, @ DAL, @ OKC
Last Week: 2 ↓
Pace: 99.1 (26) OffRtg: 110.0 (11) DefRtg: 106.5 (12) NetRtg: +3.4 (10)
In the span of 27 hours, the Heat were on opposite ends of a pair of ugly fourth quarters. On Thursday. they held the Raptors to 16 points on 21 fourth-quarter possessions to improve to 6-2 in games between the top six teams in the East. And one night later, the Heat had *the least efficient quarter for any team in more than two years, scoring six points on 21 fourth-quarter possessions in Orlando to drop to 11-5 against the rest of the conference. The offense recovered without Jimmy Butler on Sunday and the Heat improved to 17-1 at home behind 29 points and 13 assists from Goran Dragic, who's having himself a nice bounce-back season after struggling through injuries last year. After making seven of his 10 3-pointers on Sunday, his 3-point percentage is at a career-high 41%, and he now ranks sixth in pull-up 3-point percentage (39.7%) among 68 players with at least 50 attempts. After losses in Washington and Orlando last week, the Heat are just 9-9 on the road, where they'll play five of their next six games.
* Since the Heat themselves scored 7 points on 25 possessions in the first quarter of a win in Chicago on Nov. 26, 2017.
Week 12: @ IND, @ BKN, @ NYK
Last Week: 4 ↓
Pace: 103.4 (6) OffRtg: 111.7 (7) DefRtg: 105.8 (8) NetRtg: +5.9 (5)
The Clippers have been the picture of inconsistency over the last few weeks, and they took the inconsistency to a new level in a wild win over the Knicks on Sunday, losing the first quarter by a score of 45-29 and winning the second quarter by a score of 47-24. The offense has stayed solid despite some injuries and absences; Without Leonard on Sunday, they still had three guys score more than 30 points. But their defense has allowed three below-average offenses to score more than 120 points per 100 possessions since Christmas, with Memphis scoring 140 points on 107 possessions on Saturday in what was the Clips worst loss (considering the competition) of the season. Better defense could start in transition. The Clips have allowed 19 or more fast break points in five of their last six games. It could also start with better health. They haven't had Patrick Beverley, Paul George and Leonard together in the last four games. But Beverley and George returned from absences on Sunday and they have four days off before hosting the Warriors on Friday.
Week 12: vs. GSW, @ DEN
Last Week: 8 ↑
Pace: 99.8 (19) OffRtg: 108.2 (19) DefRtg: 105.3 (7) NetRtg: +2.9 (12)
The Jazz have won 10 of their last 11 games and are tied in the loss column with the fourth-place Clippers (who they've beat twice). Their first five-game winning streak was their best stretch of offense (115.2 points scored per 100 possessions) to date, and their current five-game winning streak, with Donovan Mitchell averaging 27.4 points on an effective field goal percentage of 64%, has been even better (117.8 per 100). Their starting lineup has been generally strong (the Jazz have the two lineups that have played 200 minutes and outscored opponents by at least 15 points per 100 possessions) and when it had a rough first half (minus-14 in less than seven minutes) in Chicago on Thursday, the Jazz got some good minutes from their new bench. That victory gave them more wins in games that were within five points in the last five minutes (they're 16-6) than they had all of last season (15-18). The Jazz are undefeated with Jordan Clarkson and they'll continue to have a soft schedule for the next two weeks, though their next two opponents have been playing their best basketball of the season.
Week 12: @ NOP, vs. NYK, vs. CHA, @ WAS
Last Week: 12 ↑
Pace: 103.9 (2) OffRtg: 114.1 (2) DefRtg: 109.1 (17) NetRtg: +5.0 (7)
The Rockets' last five losses have come to teams that currently have losing records. But since their last loss to a team currently over .500 (Nov. 24 vs. Dallas), they've beat the Heat, Raptors, Clippers, Nuggets and Sixers. Those last two wins came last week with the Rockets scoring almost 123 points per 100 possessions against two pretty good defenses and scoring twice as many points as their opponents from 3-point range (84-42). James Harden has shot a ridiculous 24-for-41 from beyond the arc over his last four games and capped a 44, 11 and 11 triple-double on Friday by draining a pair of step backs with Sixers draped all over him. With the addition of Russell Westbrook, the Rockets have seen the league's second biggest drop (from 51.9% to 48.6%) in the percentage of their shots have come from 3-point range, though they still lead the league for the seventh straight season. They're 14-1 when they've shot better than 35% from deep and 10-10 when they haven't. Westbrook has sat out the second game of each of the Rockets' four back-to-backs thus far, but the second game of this week's back-to-back is Thursday in Oklahoma City.
Week 12: @ ATL, @ OKC, vs. MIN
Last Week: 6 ↓
Pace: 97.7 (29) OffRtg: 110.4 (8) DefRtg: 106.4 (11) NetRtg: +4.0 (8)
In his fourth straight game of meaningful minutes, Michael Porter Jr. broke out, scoring 25 points (mostly in the paint, but also with a sensational step-back 3-pointer) on 11-for-12 shooting in the Nuggets' win in Indiana on Thursday. Jamal Murray then scored a season-high 39 points on Washington on Saturday, getting to the line (where he has shot 92% - third best in the league) for 10 free throw attempts. But the Nuggets have quickly dropped from second in defensive efficiency (on Christmas morning) to 11th, having allowed more than 120 points per 100 possessions over their last six games. Their defense doesn't defend the rim particularly well; They rank 28th in opponent field goal percentage in the restricted area (65.8%), and their opponents have shot better than 71% there over this 3-3 stretch. They will face the offenses that rank last and first in the next three days.
Week 12: @ ATL, @ DAL, vs. CLE, vs. LAC
Last Week: 13 ↑
Pace: 99.2 (25) OffRtg: 108.6 (17) DefRtg: 107.1 (13) NetRtg: +1.5 (13)
The Thunder remain clutch. They've won nine of their last 10 games overall and 12 of their last 14 (including six straight) games that have been within five points in the last five minutes, coming back from double-digit deficits to beat the Mavs (with a 14-2 run to close the game) and Spurs (with a 63-48 second half) last week. Winning close games (often with a best-five lineup that is now a plus-79 in 98 minutes) is the biggest reason they're 14-4 (only the Bucks have been better) since Thanksgiving, but they've also improved offensively, mostly because they've cut down on turnovers and improved on the offensive glass. Their 18 offensive rebounds against Dallas on Tuesday were a season high (which they tied in Cleveland four nights later) and their four turnovers in San Antonio on Thursday were a season low. With a pretty tough week ahead that includes Westbrook's return to Oklahoma City, it's good to have a firm grip on seventh place.
Week 12: @ PHI, @ BKN, vs. HOU, vs. LAL
Last Week: 10
Pace: 100.7 (14) OffRtg: 109.1 (13) DefRtg: 103.6 (2) NetRtg: +5.5 (6)
The Raptors remain undefeated (19-0) against the 17 teams currently under .500, picking up wins over Cleveland and Brooklyn last week by outscoring the Cavs by 21 points from 3-point range and committing 16 fewer turnovers than the Nets. But they have the league's biggest differential between their winning percentage against those 17 teams and their winning percentage against the 13 teams currently above .500 (5-12, 0.294). The bigger difference in those games has been on offense, and in Miami on Thursday, the champs scored five points (on 2-for-16 shooting) over a nine-minute stretch of the fourth quarter, turning a one-point game into their worst offensive performance of the season. The Raptprs have had their opening-night starting lineup for just 11 games and Pascal Siakam's return from a groin strain doesn't appear to be imminent, but they've lost all five games in which they've had all five guys against the over-.500 group. Their win in Brooklyn on Saturday began a stretch where they're playing 13 of 15 games against teams currently below .500.
Week 12: vs. POR, @ CHA, vs. SAS
Last Week: 9 ↓
Pace: 99.4 (22) OffRtg: 109.0 (14) DefRtg: 106.0 (9) NetRtg: +3.0 (11)
The Pacers have lost four of their last five games for the first time, and it's been their worst defensive stretch (116.8 points allowed per 100 possessions) of the season. Their opponents have shot much better in the paint and they rank last in defensive rebounding percentage since Christmas. They didn't have Malcolm Brogdon back for eight minutes before he left their win over the Sixers with more back pain, and then they allowed 118 points in the paint to the Nuggets and Hawks. Indy still had a chance to win in Atlanta on Saturday, but shot 1-for-9 in the clutch and executed poorly (one slow-developing possession, one inexplicably long pass) with chances to tie in the final seconds. That dropped them to 8-8 in games that were within five points in the last five minutes and was their fourth straight loss on the road, where they will spend most of the next three weeks.
Week 12: @ CHA, vs. MIA, @ CHI
Last Week: 11 ↓
Pace: 100.1 (17) OffRtg: 115.3 (1) DefRtg: 108.3 (16) NetRtg: +7.0 (4)
Dealing with injuries to Kristaps Porzingis and Tim Hardaway Jr., the Mavs have stumbled a bit, losing three of four for the first time since mid-November. Losses to the Thunder and Hornets last week were different in that one was more about the offense (the Mavs shot just 36 percent in Oklahoma City) and the other was about the defense (they allowed Charlotte to register its second-best offensive game -- 123 points on 101 possessions -- of the season). But they were similar in that they were both close down the stretch and the Mavs (now 4-9 in games that were within three points in the final minute of the fourth quarter) couldn't close the deal. Luka Doncic has averaged 29.8 points, 10.2 rebounds and 9.0 assists over the six games since he returned from his ankle injury, but after missing a 3-pointer to tie on Tuesday and a 3-pointer for the win on Saturday, he's 0-for-6 on shots to tie or take the lead in the final minute of the fourth quarter or overtime (he was 6-for-11 last season). The Mavs finish their six-game homestand with visits from a few quality opponents this week.
Week 12: vs. CHI, vs. DEN, vs. LAL, vs. PHI
Last Week: 7 ↓
Pace: 99.9 (18) OffRtg: 108.9 (16) DefRtg: 105.3 (6) NetRtg: +3.6 (9)
Some of us are old enough to remember when the Sixers beat the best team in the league on Christmas Day. The Sixers are one of two teams (Brooklyn is the other) without a win since then, having followed their impressive win over the Bucks with an 0-4 road trip in which they shot 28% from 3-point range. Offensive issues aren't unexpected, but the Sixers have a bottom-10 defense (111 points allowed per 100 possessions) over the last 3 1/2 weeks, with a big drop in opponent turnover rate (even though Ben Simmons has still ranked in the top five in steals per game over that stretch) from their first 25 games. They got just 14 total turnovers out of Miami and Indiana before getting torched by James Harden on Friday. The context is that seven of their 12 games over that 3 1/2 week stretch have come against teams teams that currently rank no worse than 11th offensively. But of course, those are the teams they will need to stop come April and May. They'll play two of those same opponents again this week, already 2-0 against the Celtics and having lost to the Mavs without Luka Doncic.
Week 12: vs. OKC, vs. BOS, @ DAL
Last Week: 14
Pace: 101.4 (12) OffRtg: 109.8 (12) DefRtg: 111.4 (20) NetRtg: -1.6 (18)
LaMarcus Aldridge has discovered that you get an extra point for shots from outside that big arc painted on the floor. Aldridge is 18-for-27 from 3-point range over the last six games and Saturday in Milwaukee was just the second time in 372 games with the Spurs in which he attempted more 3-pointers (seven) than mid-range shots (four). The Spurs are in eighth place and have had the league's second best offense (116.3 points scored per 100 possessions) over the last 2 1/2 weeks, with Aldridge one of four rotation guys that have shot better than 50% on more than 50 shots over the last eight games. But they allowed the Thunder and Bucks to score more than 118 points per 100 possessions (shooting 61% in the paint and committing just 13 total turnovers) as the league's toughest January schedule got underway with a pair of losses.
Week 12: vs. MIL, @ BOS, @ MEM, @ TOR
Last Week: 17 ↑
Pace: 98.5 (27) OffRtg: 104.7 (27) DefRtg: 106.1 (10) NetRtg: -1.4 (16)
The Magic may have the most fundamentally sound defense (limited mistakes, all five guys on the same page) outside of Milwaukee. The Bucks and Magic are the two teams that rank in the top five in both (lowest) percentage of opponent shots coming in the restricted area and opponent free throw rate. When the Heat scored just six points in the fourth quarter on Friday (in what was probably Orlando's best win of the season), only three of their 19 shots came in the restricted area, and the team that leads the league in free throw rate didn't attempt a single free throw. Alas, that win came two days after the Magic lost Jonathan Isaac for two months with a left knee injury, and offense remains a struggle. The Magic are one of two teams (the Knicks are the other) that rank in the bottom 10 in field goal percentage in the paint (52.4%, 26th), mid-range field goal percentage (37.7%, 24th), and 3-point percentage (33.5%, 27th). They have scored more than 115 points per 100 possessions in each of their three games against the Wizards, who they'll face for the final time on Wednesday.
Week 12: vs. BKN, vs. WAS, @ PHX
Last Week: 15 ↓
Pace: 102.6 (x) OffRtg: 106.3 (x) DefRtg: 107.8 (x) NetRtg: -1.6 (x)
The Eastern Conference's run of having seven teams over .500 lasted less than four weeks. The Nets have lost five straight games and their schedule remains tough for the next 20 days. They had fourth-quarter leads in all three games of their 0-3 trip and were within one early in the fourth against Toronto on Saturday, but have lost the fourth quarter by a cumulative score of 117-82 (shooting 8-for-36 from 3-point range) over those four games. They ranked third defensively in December, but have opened 2020 by allowing both the Mavs and Raptors to score more than 120 points per 100 possessions. The Kyrie Irving update wasn't exactly promising, but Caris LeVert made his return from a 24-game absence on Saturday and shot 5-for-7 in 16 minutes off the bench, though he had three pretty careless turnovers in a game in which the Nets coughed it up 24 times.
Week 12: @ ORL, vs. OKC, vs. MIA, vs. ATL
Last Week: 19 ↑
Pace: 103.6 (3) OffRtg: 108.3 (18) DefRtg: 112.0 (25) NetRtg: -3.7 (23)
The Grizzlies aren't going away. They're 9-6, with the league's fifth-ranked offense (113.6 points scored per 100 possessions), over the last four weeks. Ja Morant is who you pay to see, but the rookie ranks 66th (and third on his team) in usage rate over that stretch. The Grizzlies share the ball. They rank second in assist percentage (having assisted on 65% of their buckets), third in ball movement (364 passes per 24 minutes of possession), and eighth in player movement (11.4 miles traveled per 24 minutes of possession). They've had at least 30 dimes in each of their last five games, a stretch highlighted by their 140-114 win over the Clippers in L.A. on Saturday. After getting a big win in Phoenix on Sunday, they're set to begin their longest homestand of the season (six games over 14 days), in which three of the six opponents are in that 8-14 scrum in the Western Conference.
Week 12: vs. MIN, vs. SAS, vs. GSW
Last Week: 16 ↓
Pace: 101.6 (11) OffRtg: 110.2 (10) DefRtg: 111.9 (23) NetRtg: -1.7 (19)
Given the strength of their January schedule, the Blazers needed to get some wins before they made to Miami this past weekend. They took care of business in Washington on Friday, with Hassan Whiteside picking up the first 20/20 of 2020, but not before blowing a 19-point lead to Phoenix and getting trounced at Madison Square Garden (despite a vintage performance from Carmelo Anthony). Damian Lillard has scored more than 30 points in five of their last six games, and the Blazers have generally been fine offensively, even without CJ McCollum (illness) on Sunday. But only the Nuggets have been worse defensively since Christmas and the Heat (who were without Jimmy Butler) had their second most efficient game of the season (122 points on 97 possessions) to drop Portland back into ninth place in the West.
Week 12: @ TOR, @ MIN, vs. MIL
Last Week: 20 ↑
Pace: 103.2 (7) OffRtg: 107.8 (20) DefRtg: 112.1 (26) NetRtg: -4.3 (24)
Zion Williamson is getting closer to making his NBA debut and the Pelicans are getting closer to seriously contending for a playoff spot, having won six of their last eight. Six different Pelicans have averaged in double-figures over the eight games and real improvement has come on defense, where they've allowed just 103.8 points per 100 possessions (the league's fourth best mark) over that stretch. With a core that includes Lonzo Ball, Jrue Holiday, Derrick Favors and the length of Brandon Ingram, the potential for good defense has been there (it was there last season, too) and Pels opponents (three of which rank in the top 10 on offense) have shot worse both in and outside the paint over these last eight games than they did over the first 28. They still have the league's 29th-ranked clutch offense, but J.J. Redick saved the day on Saturday with a scoop at the hoop. The Pelicans could be without Holiday (elbow contusion) against the Jazz on Monday.
Week 12: vs. UTA, vs. CHI, @ NYK, @ BOS
Last Week: 23 ↑
Pace: 102.7 (9) OffRtg: 110.3 (9) DefRtg: 111.1 (19) NetRtg: -0.7 (14)
Devin Booker has scored more than 30 points in six straight games, and the remarkable thing is that he's done it while making just five total 3-pointers over that stretch. He's tied for the league lead in total points in the paint since Christmas, he's averaged more than 10 free throw attempts (and has shot 92% from the line), and he has shot 60% from mid-range over the six games. His scoring spree has helped the Suns recover from an eight-game losing streak, but, after winning three of four, they lost to the Grizzlies at home for the second time this season, getting outscored, 54-18, from 3-point range on Sunday. Monty Williams has resolved the "DeAndre Ayton or Aron Baynes?" question by starting them both and dropping Dario Saric to the bottom of his rotation. Ayton fed a streaking Baynes for one of his nine assists over the weekend and the two bigs are thus far a plus-1 in 37 total minutes.
Week 12: vs. SAC, vs. ORL, vs. CHA
Last Week: 18 ↓
Pace: 101.2 (13) OffRtg: 103.8 (28) DefRtg: 105.1 (5) NetRtg: -1.3 (15)
A turn in the schedule has resulted in a three-game losing streak for the Bulls, who allowed the Bucks and Celtics to shoot better than 50%, came up short down the stretch against the Jazz on Thursday, and are now 1-13 against the 13 teams currently over .500. They've lost five straight third quarters and have been outscored, 99-65, in the third quarter over the losing streak. Wendell Carter Jr. hasn't exactly broken out this season, but he's seen increases in effective field goal percentage and rebounding percentage from his rookie year and had one of his best games of the season (18 points, 13 rebounds and four assists) against Utah on Thursday. This pick, roll, post and jump hook looked competent and would be something that could help a team that ranks sixth in the percentage of their shots that have come in the paint (52%), but 30th in field goal percentage there (50.2%). The Bulls have seen subtle progress on offense over the course of the season, but have yet to have a five-game stretch in which they've scored as many points per 100 possessions as the league average (108.7). Their first rest-disadvantage game of the season is Saturday in Detroit. Other teams have had as many as seven rest-disadvantage games (second game of a back-to-back vs. a rested opponent) already.
Week 12: @ DAL, @ NOP, vs. IND, @ DET
Last Week: 25 ↑
Pace: 97.6 (30) OffRtg: 106.2 (23) DefRtg: 112.7 (27) NetRtg: -6.5 (26)
The Hornets rank as the league's third worst fourth quarter team (minus-8.5 points per 100 possessions), but 12 of their 15 wins have been within five points in the last five minutes, and it was big fourth-quarter runs that got them wins in Cleveland and Dallas last week. They scored 12 points on five possessions to draw even with the Cavs on Thursday before Devonte' Graham hit the go-ahead 3-pointer with 23 seconds left. And two nights later, they held the Mavs' No. 1 offense to just nine points on its final 16 possessions of regulation to force overtime, where Terry Rozier hit the go-ahead 3-pointer (with Miles Bridges showing great poise amid a double-team) with 41 seconds left. The Hornets are in position to be a bottom-five defensive team for the first time since The Mike Dunlap Season in 2012-13, but they continue to do one thing really well on that end of the floor. They rank second in opponent free throw rate (20.9 attempts per 100 shots from the field) and put their opponents on the line for fewer than 18 attempts in each of their last four games.
Week 12: vs. IND, vs. TOR, @ UTA, @ PHX
Last Week: 29 ↑
Pace: 103.5 (5) OffRtg: 105.8 (24) DefRtg: 108.2 (15) NetRtg: -2.4 (20)
Though they're still without Karl-Anthony Towns and though Andrew Wiggins has shot 10-for-38 over the last six games (having missed four of the six), the Wolves are 4-2 since Christmas. Shabazz Napier has suddenly turned into the guard that LeBron James wanted the Heat to draft six years ago, averaging 21.8 points on 60% shooting over the last four games. Gorgui Dieng hasn't been as consistent offensively, but seemed to make all the big plays late in the Wolves' overtime win over Brooklyn on Monday and has been the anchor of the league's No. 1 defense (95.0 points allowed per 100 possessions) since Christmas. Now, that ranking comes with the context that five of the six opponents have have had bottom-10 offense, but the Wolves will take what they can get and, despite missing their best player for the last 10 games, they're just a half game behind the eighth-place Spurs. The soft stretch of schedule won't last much longer. Their game in Houston on Saturday is the start of a stretch where they're playing 15 of 20 games against teams with winning records.
Week 12: @ MEM, vs. POR, @ HOU
Last Week: 24
Pace: 99.6 (20) OffRtg: 104.9 (26) DefRtg: 111.9 (24) NetRtg: -7.0 (27)
The Knicks began their four-game trip with a couple of tough losses over the weekend, and the last two opponents on the trip - the Lakers and Jazz - are each 5-0 since Christmas. But that they've been competitive on the road - they led late in Phoenix on Friday and hung around with the Clippers on Sunday - is progress, because the Knicks were the league's worst road team (1-9) at the time David Fizdale was fired. Before the trip, they beat Carmelo Anthony's Blazers behind a big game (22 points on 11-for-11 shooting and only one foul in more than 27 minutes) from Mitchell Robinson. But after five straight games of shooting better than 50%, Julius Randle has come back to earth a bit, shooting 11-for-31 (including 1-for-10 from 3-point range), over the first two games of the trip. With the win over Portland, the Knicks are 7-4 (5-1 under Mike Miller) when Randle has scored more than 20 points.
Week 12: @ LAL, @ UTA, vs. NOP, vs. MIA
Last Week: 21 ↓
Pace: 99.4 (21) OffRtg: 109.0 (15) DefRtg: 111.6 (21) NetRtg: -2.6 (21)
Amid a slew of injuries and trade rumors, the Pistons have moved intriguing rookie Sekou Doumbouya (the No. 15 pick in last year's draft) from out of the rotation to the starting lineup. So far, so good. The youngest player in the league averaged 12.3 points and 8.7 rebounds in his three starts. Against the Warriors on Saturday, he showed off a smooth looking jumper in shooting 4-for-7 from 3-point range, his length and athleticism in recovering late to block a Damion Lee layup, and some good off-ball instincts in sneaking behind Draymond Green for a pair of easy buckets (here and here). One night later, Doumbouya was guarding both LeBron James and Anthony Davis as the depleted Pistons hung around with the Lakers for 48 minutes. There are still 31 days until the trade deadline, and the next 24 will tell us a lot about what the Pistons should do (if they haven't made that decision already). Eleven of their next 12 games are against teams with losing records, with three of those 11 against Cleveland.
Week 12: @ CLE, vs. CLE, vs. CHI
Last Week: 26
Pace: 98.0 (28) OffRtg: 106.9 (21) DefRtg: 109.7 (18) NetRtg: -2.8 (22)
Though De'Aaron Fox hasn't been able to run as much as he did last season, he's still getting to the line. His free throw rate of 47 attempts per 100 shots from the field is up from 38 last season and ranks 10th among 196 players with at least 200 field goal attempts. Against Memphis on Friday, Fox was 8-for-8 from the line on his way to 27 points to help the Kings end an eight-game losing streak. But for the season, his 69% at the stripe ranks 61st among 73 players with at least 100 free throw attempts and a 5-for-11 performance against New Orleans on Saturday came back to bite the Kings in a game they lost by two. The Kings are still in position to not rank in the bottom 10 in defensive efficiency for the first time in the last nine years, but the last five games have been their worst defensive stretch of the season (114.7 points allowed per 100 possessions) and they'll face a pair of top-10 offenses (not the Warriors, which is still weird) this week.
Week 12: vs. GSW, @ PHX, vs. MIL
Last Week: 28 ↑
Pace: 103.6 (4) OffRtg: 111.9 (4) DefRtg: 116.2 (30) NetRtg: -4.3 (25)
The Wizards beat two good teams - Miami and Denver - without Bradley Beal last week, because the rule of NBA pick-up is that anybody who plays for or against the Wizards can get buckets. Jordan McRae and Garrison Matthews combined for 57 points (on just 23 shots from the field) off the bench against the Heat, and Ish Smith and Troy Brown Jr. combined for 57 points off the bench against the Nuggets. Brown is the one of those four in which the Wiz have the most invested and has averaged 15.1 points and 7.3 rebounds over the last eight games. His jumper could use some work (he's 1-for-16 on pull-up 3-pointers), but he ranks third in rebounding percentage among 146 players 6-6 and under who have averaged at least 15 minutes in 15 games or more. In total, nine different Wizards have scored at least 25 points in a game this season and 10 different teams (including the Blazers on Friday) have scored at least 120 points per 100 possessions against them. The league's sixth-ranked offense will be at Capital One Arena on Monday.
Week 12: vs. BOS, @ ORL, vs. ATL, vs. UTA
Last Week: 30 ↑
Pace: 103.0 (8) OffRtg: 103.3 (30) DefRtg: 112.8 (28) NetRtg: -9.5 (30)
The Hawks didn't go a full game after getting Trae Young back from his ankle injury before losing John Collins to a back contusion in Boston on Friday. But they still got two wins last week, with Young dropping 41 on the Pacers' ninth-ranked defense on Saturday (improving Atlanta to 2-16 against the 13 teams currently over .500). Young is now being backed up by Brandon Goodwin, who gave the Hawks some huge minutes (with a career-high 21 points and a big defensive play that Young obviously doesn't make) in their win in Orlando on Monday. Kevin Huerter also did some nice things (this in-and-out, screen-reject move was particularly impressive) running the offense in the fourth quarter against the Magic's top-10 defense as the Hawks put an end to their 10-game losing streak. Even with Young's return, Huerter has totaled 43 points and 10 assists over the last two games.
Week 12: vs. DEN, vs. HOU, @ WAS, @ BKN
Last Week: 27 ↓
Pace: 100.5 (15) OffRtg: 103.7 (29) DefRtg: 111.6 (22) NetRtg: -7.9 (28)
The Warriors became the first team to surpass its win or loss total from last season (57-25) when they blew a late lead in San Antonio and lost a game (in overtime) in which they attempted nine more mid-range shots than the Spurs. It was OK when the Warriors ranked second in mid-range attempts last season, because 69% of those mid-range shots came from Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson. This season, D'Angelo Russell has been the league's second best mid-range shooter (minimum 50 attempts), but some of his teammates have taken a greater percentage of their shots from between the paint and the 3-point line than he has. On shots from outside the paint, the Warriors rank 21st in field goal percentage (36.0%), but 28th in effective field goal percentage (46.6%, or 0.93 points per attempt, if you will), because only the Spurs and Pacers, who have both shot much better from mid-range, have a lower ratio of 3-point attempts to mid-range attempts.
Week 12: @ SAC, vs. MIL, @ LAC, @ MEM
Last Week: 22 ↓
Pace: 99.2 (24) OffRtg: 105.0 (25) DefRtg: 114.0 (29) NetRtg: -9.0 (29)
It was a week of Kevin Love outbursts, both private (according to reports) and public. Things seem to be coming to a head with the Cavs and their star, and it would be interesting to know if he'd be happier on a losing team that passed a little more than this one does. Either way and as has been noted previously, trading Love is a lot easier said than done given the three years and $90 million remaining on his contract. On the floor, the Cavs got 30 points from Collin Sexton on Saturday, 28 from Dante Exum on Sunday and two games of seven or more assists (!) from Darius Garland last week. But they allowed 119 points per 100 possessions as they lost four straight amid the drama, and they're in comfortable position to finish in the bottom two in defensive efficiency for a third straight season.
Week 12: vs. DET, @ DET, @ DEN