Power Rankings, Week 9: Top teams continue to dominate as Lakers-Bucks matchup nears
The two best records in the NBA will meet in Milwaukee on TNT this Thursday
As we enter Week 9 of the 2019-20 season, there’s a clear gap between the good teams and the bad. Through Sunday, no team is within one game of .500 on either side, and the 13 teams over .500 are 172-34 (.835) against the 17 teams below, with the Los Angeles Lakers (18-0), Milwaukee Bucks (18-0) and Toronto Raptors (14-0) yet to lose against the bottom 17.
There’s been some movement between the groups. The Minnesota Timberwolves and Phoenix Suns were in the good group for a while, and the Brooklyn Nets have recovered from a slow start to join the other 12 teams with winning records. And at this point in the season, schedule strength has still played a role in where teams are in the standings.
Some teams in the lower group, like the Detroit Pistons and Sacramento Kings, have shown signs of life. But it might take a while before we have eight teams with winning records in either conference.
The East is still holding onto a slight edge in interconference games, and the No. 1 team in the East will host the No. 1 team in the West in the game of the week on Thursday.
Plus-Minus Players of the Week
- Right Way: Buddy Hield (SAC) was a plus-58 in four games last week.
- Wrong Way: Kevin Love (CLE) was a minus-73 in four games last week.
Teams of the Week
- Make It Last Forever: Charlotte (3-1) — The Devonte’ Graham Show hit stops in Brooklyn and Chicago as the Hornets ran off three straight wins for the second time this season.
- Something Just Ain’t Right: Atlanta (0-4) — The Hawks lost an overtime game by 14 points, and then lost to the Bulls by 34. They have three more games before John Collins returns.
East vs. West
- The East is 72-70 (.507) against the West in interconference games after going 12-11 last week.
Schedule strength through Week 8
- Toughest: 1. Atlanta, 2. New Orleans, 3. Cleveland
- Easiest: 1. Dallas, 2. Milwaukee, 3. Indiana
- 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: Charlotte (+4), Detroit (+3), Memphis (+3), Sacramento (+3)
- Free falls of the week: Minnesota (-6), Washington (-3), Three teams (-2)
Week 9 Team to Watch
- L.A. Lakers — The Lakers take their 14-game road winning streak to Indiana (Tuesday) and Milwaukee (Thursday), before returning home to face the fourth-place Nuggets on Sunday night.
- Last week: East passes West as season enters second quarter
- This time last year: Three big wins help Nuggets rise to No. 1 — The Jazz were 14-16 and in 13th place in the West. A three-team trade fell apart, because the Suns thought they were getting a different Brooks than the Grizzlies thought they were sending to Phoenix. The Wizards then traded Kelly Oubre straight to Phoenix for Trevor Ariza. The Magic won two games in Mexico City, the Bulls formed a “Leadership Committee,” and Spencer Dinwiddie got a contract extension two days after scoring a career-high 39 points. James Harden had a 50-point triple-double, featuring a posterization of JaVale McGee, against the Lakers. Two nights later, Lonzo Ball and LeBron James became the eighth pair of teammates in NBA history to record triple-doubles in the same game.
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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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The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.
Last Week: 1
Pace: 105.6 (1) OffRtg: 114.5 (2) DefRtg: 101.5 (1) NetRtg: +13.0 (1)
It's been 39 days since the Bucks last lost a game, and they haven't been giving their opponents much hope of late. They were down by five after the third quarter in Memphis on Friday, but that was just the second time in their nine games since Thanksgiving that they've trailed after halftime. They've won the first quarter in 14 of their last 16 games and have outscored their opponents by 25.5 points per 100 possessions (holding them to less than 88 per 100) in the opening period over their 18-game winning streak. They even took care of business with a 35-20 first quarter without Giannis Antetokounmpo against New Orleans on Wednesday. They're now without Eric Bledsoe (who was taken out by his own teammate on Friday) for a couple of weeks, but their reserve guards continue to play well. Luka Doncic's injury takes a lot away from the matchup of No. 1 offense vs. No. 1 defense on Monday, but the bigger game is three nights later, when the Lakers (who have won 14 straight road games) make their only visit (prior to June, at least) to Fiserv Forum.
Week 9: vs. DAL, vs. LAL, @ NYK, vs. IND
Last Week: 2
Pace: 100.7 (16) OffRtg: 112.0 (5) DefRtg: 102.9 (3) NetRtg: +9.1 (2)
Lakers-Bucks should be an old-fashioned battle for paint dominance. Milwaukee (plus-14.1) and L.A. (plus-10.0) rank first and second, respectively, in points in the paint differential per game. They rank first (61.4%) and second (61.1%) in field goal percentage in the paint, and first (46.2%) and fourth (51.6%) in opponent field goal percentage in the paint. Giannis Antetokounmpo leads the league in points in the paint per game among individuals (18.6), but Anthony Davis (13.8) and LeBron James (13.1, with 12 or more in 15 of his last 16 games) rank fourth and fifth. The Lakers have won 14 straight road games, handed the Heat their first home loss on Friday, and have held their opponent under a point per possession in four of their last six on the road, but their game in Indiana on Tuesday shouldn't be overlooked.
Week 9: @ IND, @ MIL, vs. DEN
Last Week: 3
Pace: 103.7 (7) OffRtg: 110.5 (8) DefRtg: 103.8 (7) NetRtg: +6.7 (5)
The Clippers have been trending in the right direction, outscoring their opponents by 8.2 points per 100 possessions over their last eight games, up from 6.9 in Games 11-20 and 5.2 in Games 1-10. They came back from a shellacking in Milwaukee to win four straight road games, holding the two quality opponents (the Pacers and Raptors) to less than 91 points per 100 possessions, and then getting 88 points from Paul George and Kawhi Leonard in Minnesota on Friday. But before they got Landry Shamet back from a month-long absence on Saturday, they lost both Patrick Beverley and Lou Williams to injuries. And with Kawhi Leonard sitting out the second game of a back-to-back in Chicago, Rodney McGruder was on the floor and making the defensive mistake that allowed Zach LaVine to get to the basket for the game-winning bucket (not that the game would have played out the same way had Leonard played). Paul George's return to Oklahoma City on Sunday is the second game of another back-to-back.
Week 9: vs. PHX, vs. HOU, @ SAS, @ OKC
Last Week: 6 ↑
Pace: 100.3 (17) OffRtg: 108.5 (12) DefRtg: 103.5 (6) NetRtg: +5.0 (9)
With the Lakers' win in Miami on Friday, the Sixers are the only team that hasn't lost at home, though they squandered double-digit leads against both Denver and New Orleans before picking up wins at the Whatevertheycallitnow Center (where they're now 14-0) last week. More important is that Joel Embiid was dominant (38 points, 13 rebounds and six assists) in what was easily the Sixers' best road win of the season, a game in Boston in which they scored 115 points on 93 possessions against a top-10 defense. Alas, without Embiid on Sunday, the Sixers had their worst loss of the season and allowed Brooklyn to score 64 points in the paint. They've had their full starting lineup together just once in their 10 games since Thanksgiving, but it should be healthy this week as they begin a stretch where they're playing five straight (and nine of the next 12) games against teams that rank in the top 10 offensively.
Week 9: vs. MIA, vs. DAL, vs. WAS
Last Week: 4 ↓
Pace: 99.5 (23) OffRtg: 110.9 (6) DefRtg: 104.1 (8) NetRtg: +6.8 (4)
The Celtics won their first two games without Marcus Smart, Gordon Hayward shot 56% in his first three games back from his month-long absence, and both Kemba Walker (44) and Enes Kanter (20) had their highest scoring games with their new team last week. But their losses to the Pacers and Sixers were two of their three worst defensive games of the season, with fouls being an issue. The Celtics have still seen one of the league's biggest jumps in free throw rate, but they were outscored, 49-31, at the line on Wednesday and Thursday. Joel Embiid's big game is obviously cause for some worry, but despite the departures of Al Horford and Aron Baynes, the Celtics rank fourth in the (lowest) percentage of their opponents' shots that have come in the paint (45%). The loss to the Sixers was the first time that Walker, Jaylen Brown, Hayward, Jayson Tatum and Kanter (what could be their best offensive lineup) played together since opening night in Philly, and five straight days off gives Smart a chance to recover from his multiple ailments.
Week 9: @ DAL, vs. DET, vs. CHA
Last Week: 5 ↓
Pace: 100.3 (18) OffRtg: 116.7 (1) DefRtg: 107.9 (14) NetRtg: +8.8 (3)
The Mavs were less than two minutes into their stretch of five straight games against the best teams in the East when they lost Luka Doncic to a right ankle injury. They came back from 24 points down to force overtime against the Heat on Saturday, they've had the league's best bench, and they've scored an efficient 111.4 points per 100 possessions with Doncic off the floor. But getting buckets down the stretch of games has been a struggle - they rank 28th in clutch offense, having scored just 90.2 points per 100 possessions (110 on 122) with the score within five points in the last five minutes - and could continue to be so without their Spanish-speaking star. Tim Hardaway Jr. has had a couple of big games of late, but has shot much better with Doncic on the floor (effective field goal percentage of 59%) than with Doncic off the floor (49%), and the spotlight will obviously turn to Kristaps Porzingis as the Mavs face four more top-10 defenses in the next seven days.
Week 9: @ MIL, vs. BOS, @ PHI, @ TOR
Last Week: 8 ↑
Pace: 99.9 (21) OffRtg: 110.0 (10) DefRtg: 105.0 (9) NetRtg: +5.0 (7)
Note to Miami opponents: If you're down by two in the final seconds of the fourth quarter, go for the win! The Heat are 5-0 in overtime games after a crazy, 22-0 run spanning the fourth quarter and the extra period against Atlanta on Tuesday and after Bam Adebayo saved them with his work on the offensive glass in overtime in Dallas on Saturday. They couldn't get to overtime (and suffered their first home loss) against the Lakers on Friday, because Jimmy Butler missed the game-tying 3-pointer. He's made a bunch of big plays down the stretch of these close games, but is now 1-for-9 on shots to tie or take the lead in the final minute of the fourth quarter or overtime. Adebayo has averaged 21.0 points, 12.2 and 7.2 assists over the last five games (with two overtime-aided triple-doubles), and the Heat have been 41 points per 100 possessions better with him on the floor (plus-14.8) than they've been with him off the floor (minus-26.0) over that stretch. Tyler Herro has cooled off in December and the bench misses Goran Dragic and Justise Winslow.
Week 9: @ MEM, @ PHI, vs. NYK
Last Week: 10 ↑
Pace: 97.5 (30) OffRtg: 107.9 (18) DefRtg: 103.0 (4) NetRtg: +4.9 (11)
Nikola Jokic has been looking more like an MVP candidate over the last 10 days. His usage rate over the last six games (27.9%) is up from the first 19 (24.0%), and the increase has come with a big jump in efficiency. The rest of the Nuggets' offense didn't really tag along as they finished up their road trip, but they've scored almost 119 points per 100 possessions as they've begun a five-game homestand with wins over the Blazers, Thunder and Knicks. Their weekend games were the first time since Week 2 that the Nuggets were without one of their top eight guys (Paul Millsap missed both games with quad strain), but Michael Malone only shorted his rotation, playing a 10th man (Michael Porter Jr.) for only four minutes against Oklahoma City and playing only nine (handing out DNPs to Malik Beasley and Juancho Hernangomez) against New York. The last five games have been the slowest-paced five game stretch (95.0 possessions per 48 minutes) for the team that ranks last in pace.
Week 9: vs. ORL, vs. MIN, @ LAL
Last Week: 7 ↓
Pace: 104.2 (4) OffRtg: 114.2 (3) DefRtg: 109.2 (17) NetRtg: +5.0 (8)
Mike D'Antoni continues to go only eight deep with his rotation and James Harden continues to lead the league in both minutes per game and usage rate. The usage has dropped over the course of the season and the Rockets have slowed down a bit; Three of their four slowest-paced games of the season came last week. But, playing without Russell Westbrook, they still ran out of gas in the second game of a back-to-back on Saturday, losing at home to a team with a losing record for the second time in six days. The Rockets are still just a game in the loss column behind the second-place Clippers, who they'll play for the third time this season on Thursday in L.A. After games of 55 and 54 points (in which he shot 20-for-33 from 3-point range), Harden's 39 against Detroit dropped his season average (now 39.3) and seemed rather pedestrian.
Week 9: vs. SAS, @ LAC, @ PHX
Last Week: 9 ↓
Pace: 101.6 (13) OffRtg: 108.1 (17) DefRtg: 102.9 (2) NetRtg: +5.2 (6)
Only the Warriors have been worse offensively than the Raptors (101.2 points scored per 100 possessions) since Thanksgiving. Kyle Lowry has shot 30% since returning from his thumb injury, OG Anunoby's 3-point shooting has regressed (he's 5-for-29 over the eight games), and Pascal Siakam's efficiency has sunk with heavier usage. But this is still an excellent defensive team, maybe the best in the league in regard to rotating out to shooters. The champs rank second in opponent field goal percentage in the paint (49.6%) and sixth in opponent effective field goal percentage on shots from outside the paint (47.4%). With Chicago and Brooklyn shooting a combined 26% from 3-point range, committing a combined 37 turnovers, and getting to the line for just 31 total free throws, the Raptors went 2-1 last week, despite scoring less than 94 points per 100 possessions over the three games. They'll face three top-10 offenses this week, though all three could be missing stars (Blake Griffin, Mo Wagner and Luka Doncic).
Week 9: vs. CLE, @ DET, vs. WAS, vs. DAL
Last Week: 11
Pace: 100.0 (20) OffRtg: 108.4 (13) DefRtg: 103.5 (5) NetRtg: +4.9 (10)
Until last week, Aaron Holiday hadn't been nearly as productive or efficient off the bench as he was as a starter when Jeremy Lamb and Malcolm Brogdon missed games in November. But the second-year guard was 8-for-9 in a big win over the Celtics on Wednesday (the Pacers' first over one of the teams ahead of them in the East), scored 11 points in the game-deciding fourth quarter, and has averaged 18 points on 63% shooting off the bench as the Pacers have won three straight. With a big jump in 3-point percentage from their first 13 games to their last 14, Indy is one one of three teams (the Bucks and Lakers are obviously the others) that rank in the top 10 both offensively and defensively over the last four weeks. They still rank 29th in the percentage of their shots that have come from 3-point range (30%) and they're last in free throw rate (just 21 attempts per 100 shots from the field), but the mid-range continues to work for them. The 43.9% they've shot between the restricted area and the 3-point line is the best mark in the league. The schedule is about to take another step up, with six of their next eight games against teams - the Lakers, Bucks, Raptors, Heat, Sixers and Nuggets - that are no worse than 17-8.
Week 9: vs. LAL, vs. SAC, @ MIL
Last Week: 13 ↑
Pace: 100.7 (15) OffRtg: 106.3 (22) DefRtg: 105.5 (11) NetRtg: +0.8 (13)
The Utah offense had both its least efficient game of the season (90 points on 101 possessions against the Thunder) and its most efficient game of the season (127 on 99 in Minnesota) in the span of three nights last week. The big difference in the two games was the performance of their bench, which had another rough night on Friday, when the Jazz were outscored by 17 points on a little more than 27 minutes with at least one reserve on the floor. But the starters - with 60 combined points and a pair of big 3-pointers from Bojan Bogdanovic and Donovan Mitchell - were enough on that night to survive a scare against the depleted Warriors. Mitchell has shot relatively well as the Jazz have won three of their last four and over the last two seasons, they're 39-6 when he has an effective field goal percentage better than 50%. This season, they're 3-0 at home and 0-4 on the road vs. the Eastern Conference, against which they'll play 14 of their next 17 games.
Week 9: vs. ORL, @ ATL, @ CHA
Last Week: 12 ↓
Pace: 102.6 (9) OffRtg: 108.2 (15) DefRtg: 108.1 (15) NetRtg: +0.0 (16)
The Nets are Even Steven. On Wednesday, they lost to a team (the Hornets) they probably should have beat. On Sunday, they beat a team (the Sixers) they probably should have lost to. They've been without Kyrie Irving for 15 games, but Spencer Dinwiddie has been playing like an All-Star in his place (and has bizarrely scored exactly 24 points, with either six or eight assists, in four straight games). They had to waive Iman Shumpert last week, but Wilson Chandler looked solid in his first game on Sunday. They've cooled off from 3-point range, but they've outscored each of their last five opponents by at least 10 points in the paint. They're 14-12, but they rank 15th on both ends of the floor and their cumulative point differential is ... zero. That could change as they play their next four games against teams with losing records. The Charlotte loss ended a streak of seven straight wins against teams currently below .500.
Week 9: @ NOP, @ SAS, vs. ATL
Last Week: 17 ↑
Pace: 97.6 (29) OffRtg: 106.8 (21) DefRtg: 108.6 (16) NetRtg: -1.8 (18)
The Kings lost to the Knicks, at home and after leading by as many as 16 points, on Friday, allowing the league's 30th-ranked offense to score 31 points on just 21 possessions in the fourth quarter. But the Kings are in playoff position - having played without their starting point guard for the last 17 games - because (there are only six good teams in the West and) they've won four of the last five. They were actually one stop in San Antonio (on Dec. 6) from being the first team since the 2007-08 Celtics to sweep a Texas Triangle trip. Nemanja Bjelica, Bogdan Bogdanovic and Buddy Hield all hit shots to tie or take the lead in the final minute of the fourth quarter in wins over the Rockets and Thunder last week, and the three Kings have combined for an effective field goal percentage of 67% over the last five games. Marvin Bagley made his return last week and scored 17 points in 22 minutes against the Warriors on Sunday.
Week 9: @ CHA, @ IND, @ MEM
Last Week: 14 ↓
Pace: 99.7 (22) OffRtg: 107.0 (20) DefRtg: 106.8 (13) NetRtg: +0.2 (15)
Trade season is underway and the Thunder are an obvious candidate to be a seller between now and Feb. 6. They're also in the middle of the West's playoff race, with a positive point differential and having played the conference's second toughest schedule to date, and they already have the league's biggest cache of future picks. They're still lacking quality wins (they're 2-9 against the 13 teams currently over .500), and their offense struggled last week, with Danilo Gallinari missing one game and shooting 6-for-26 over the other two, after showing some promise (116.4 points scored per 100 possessions) in their first four games of December. But they don't need to be in a rush to make a deal and their longest homestand of the season - five games over 11 days, with four of the opponents currently under .500 - begins Monday. They have the league's biggest differential between their effective field goal percentage at home (55.2%) and on the road (49.8%).
Week 9: vs. CHI, vs. MEM, vs. PHX, vs. LAC
Last Week: 19 ↑
Pace: 99.1 (24) OffRtg: 110.1 (9) DefRtg: 109.6 (19) NetRtg: +0.5 (14)
Blake Griffin is dealing with knee soreness and has shot 4-for-32 over his last three games. Andre Drummond, meanwhile, got taken out by an allergic reaction to an avocado in Mexico. But that just set up the Pistons' best win of the season, a 115-107 victory in Houston on Saturday in which, without Drummond and with only 15 minutes of Griffin, seven Pistons scored in double-figures, the team registered a season-high 26 fast break points, and James Harden was held (relatively) in check by Bruce Brown. Griffin's health remains a huge concern and the Pistons will play three of the top five teams in the Eastern Conference in the next eight days. But their bench has been terrific (it ranks fourth in estimated aggregate NetRtg), they've won five of their last seven, and they're knocking on the door in the Eastern Conference playoff picture.
Week 9: vs. WAS, vs. TOR, @ BOS, vs. CHI
Last Week: 15 ↓
Pace: 98.2 (28) OffRtg: 105.2 (25) DefRtg: 106.5 (12) NetRtg: -1.2 (17)
The Magic entered a tough stretch of schedule (10 of 15 against teams with winning records) last week, and things went just as you would have expected. They couldn't hang with the Bucks, Lakers or Rockets, scoring less than a point per possession against the two top-three defenses and then getting torched by James Harden. They're 1-11 against the 13 teams currently over .500, with the one win having come against the Sixers without Joel Embiid. But they got Nikola Vucevic back from an 11-game absence on Sunday and began a four-game trip by taking care of business (with eight of their nine rotation players scoring in double-figures) against the Pelicans. Their starting lineup with Vucevic has been 17.5 points per 100 possessions better than the version with Khem Birch in his place, and the All-Star came back just in time for a week in which the Magic will run into two All-NBA centers.
Week 9: @ UTA, @ DEN, @ POR
Last Week: 20 ↑
Pace: 101.4 (14) OffRtg: 108.2 (16) DefRtg: 111.7 (23) NetRtg: -3.6 (22)
As the Spurs became the first team in NBA history to play four straight overtime games, Gregg Popovich has played 11 different guys in clutch minutes. Patty Mills has been one of the constants (in more ways than one), but had struggled in the clutch (1-for-11) before hitting four big shots, including the game-winner, in their win over the Suns in Mexico City on Saturday. The Spurs won three of the four straight OT games to stay within a game of eighth place in the West, but a loss at home to the Cavs on Thursday, with a rest advantage and with DeMar DeRozan missing two free throws to ice the game in regulation, is one that could haunt them. They've had some better defensive games of late, but with DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge both 6-for-22 (27%) from mid-range this month, their five December games have been their worst five-game stretch of offense (101.4 points scored per 100 possessions) this season.
Week 9: @ HOU, vs. BKN, vs. LAC
Last Week: 18 ↓
Pace: 103.2 (8) OffRtg: 110.7 (7) DefRtg: 109.3 (18) NetRtg: +1.4 (12)
The Suns got Aron Baynes back last week and, with DeAndre Ayton eligible to return on Tuesday in L.A., had Baynes coming off the bench. But bench minutes were not good - Baynes shot 1-for-8 from 3-point range, committed 10 fouls, and was a team-worst minus-27 in 39 minutes - as they lost two games to teams (Memphis and San Antonio) behind them in the West standings on Wednesday and Saturday. Things might feel different if they had Devin Booker (who missed his first game of the season with a forearm contusion) or if they hadn't turned the ball over when they were up two with less than 10 seconds left in overtime on Saturday in Mexico City. They're now 4-9 in games that were within five points in the last five minutes, one of three teams with a losing record and a positive point differential. They'll visit one of the other two (Oklahoma City) in one of their two big games within that 7-12 scrum in the West this week.
Week 9: vs. POR, @ LAC, @ OKC, vs. HOU
Last Week: 24 ↑
Pace: 98.5 (26) OffRtg: 105.7 (23) DefRtg: 112.4 (24) NetRtg: -6.7 (25)
The Hornets did what they do last week, winning three games by a total of 22 points, and then losing by 22 in Indiana on Sunday. Devonte' Graham did what he does, shooting better from 3-point range than he did from inside the arc. His field goal percentage in the paint (42%) ranks 126th among 128 players with at least 100 field goal attempts there. But his effective field goal percentage on shots from outside the paint (57%) ranks 25th among 151 players who have taken at least 100 shots from the outside. One night after scoring 14 of his 29 points in the fourth quarter against Washington, he won the Hornets' game in Brooklyn and set a new career high (40 points) with two isolation jumpers in the final minute. P.J. Washington's broken finger, along with injuries to Nicolas Batum and Marvin Williams, led to an interesting starting frontline of Cody Zeller and Bismack Biyombo on Sunday. It was the first time in their year-plus together with the Hornets that the two centers had been on the floor at the same time.
Week 9: vs. SAC, @ CLE, vs. UTA, @ BOS
Last Week: 21
Pace: 102.2 (11) OffRtg: 109.4 (11) DefRtg: 111.3 (21) NetRtg: -1.9 (20)
Hassan Whiteside has been putting up numbers, including 33 points, 11 rebounds and four blocks in Denver last week. But his team just can't get enough stops (or rebounds) against decent teams. With the Nuggets hitting 18 threes and registering 18 second-chance points on Thursday, the Blazers have allowed more than 121 points per 100 possessions over their four December losses to teams ahead of them in the Western Conference standings. They've seen the league's biggest drop in defensive rebounding percentage from last season (when they ranked eighth) and have allowed a league-high 16.0 second-chance points per game. They're just 5-6 at the Moda Center, but they're less than halfway through the league's most home-heavy December schedule, and Wednesday is the start of a four-game homestand in which all four opponents are teams with losing records. First, they have a big game in Phoenix, their first of four meetings with the ninth-place Suns.
Week 9: @ PHX, vs. GSW, vs. ORL, vs. MIN
Last Week: 16 ↓
Pace: 104.2 (3) OffRtg: 108.3 (14) DefRtg: 111.4 (22) NetRtg: -3.0 (21)
Through November, the Wolves ranked 12th defensively, having allowed 106.8 points per 100 possessions over their first 18 games. In December, they rank last, having allowed 123.5 per 100 over their seven-game losing streak. Four of the seven opponents have been top-10 offenses, but four of the seven opponents (the Thunder, Lakers, Suns and Jazz) have also had their most or second most efficient games of the season against the Wolves over the last 15 days. The defensive decline is more about how well their opponents have shot in the paint (52% through November, 60% this month) than outside it, and has also come with jumps in both opponent free throw rate and offensive rebounding percentage, as well as a huge drop in opponent turnover rate. The Wolves rank last in the latter this month, having forced just 11.8 turnovers per 100 possessions over the losing streak. If the Pelicans don't beat Brooklyn on Tuesday, it will be seven-game losing streak vs. 13-game losing streak at the Target Center one night later.
Week 9: vs. NOP, @ DEN, @ POR
Last Week: 23
Pace: 101.8 (12) OffRtg: 103.2 (28) DefRtg: 105.0 (10) NetRtg: -1.8 (19)
The Bulls have the league's two worst offensive performances of the season, having twice scored less than 80 points per 100 possessions in a game. The first (84 points on 106 possessions) came back in October against the Raptors' second-ranked defense. The second (73 points on 93 possessions, including just 10 on 23 possessions in the third quarter) came Friday against the Hornets' 24th-ranked defense. That came four days after the Bulls blew another fourth-quarter lead by going scoreless (with six turnovers) on 10 straight possessions against Toronto. But the Bulls have the league's second-ranked defense (less than a point allowed per possession) in December, they took care of business against the Hawks on Wednesday, and on Saturday, they got their first win over a team that's currently over .500, beating the shorthanded Clippers on Zach LaVine's tough and-one with two seconds to go.
Week 9: @ OKC, @ WAS, @ DET
Last Week: 27 ↑
Pace: 104.1 (5) OffRtg: 105.4 (24) DefRtg: 111.0 (20) NetRtg: -5.6 (24)
Ja Morant and Brandon Clarke seemingly provided, like, all of the highlights last week, from Morant's dunk on Aron Baynes to all of Clarke's dunks against the Wizards and Morant's fabulous goaltending violation on a Washington fast break. Along with the highlights, the Grizzlies have won three of their last four games, with the one loss coming after they held a fourth-quarter lead against the Bucks. They've shot 40% from 3-point range over the four games, with Jaren Jackson Jr. draining nine of his 15 attempts on his way to a career-high 43 points against Milwaukee. Among 218 players with at least 200 field goal attempts last season and at least 100 this season, Jackson has seen the fifth biggest jump in the percentage of his shots that have come from 3-point range (from 24% to 45%). The Grizz still rank as the league's second worst third-quarter team (minus-12.4 points per 100 possessions), but they've won the third period in six straight games.
Week 9: vs. MIA, @ OKC, @ CLE, vs. SAC
Last Week: 22 ↓
Pace: 104.9 (2) OffRtg: 112.0 (4) DefRtg: 116.6 (30) NetRtg: -4.6 (23)
Davis Bertans was throwing flames in Charlotte on Tuesday, draining eight 3-pointers on his way to a career-high 32 points. The 115.3 points per 100 possessions the Wizards have scored with Bertans on the floor is the seventh highest on-court OffRtg mark among players who have averaged at least 15 minutes in 10 games or more, and he was a plus-17 in his 30 minutes on Tuesday. But the Wizards still lost (after coming back from two double-digit deficits), because the Hornets scored 19 points on their final nine possessions of the game. The league's worst defense has allowed its opponents register an effective field goal percentage of 76% and score 88 points on 66 possessions (1.47 per) with the score within five points in the last five minutes of the fourth quarter. There was no such clutch time on Saturday, because the Wiz allowed the Grizzlies' 24th-ranked offense to score 104 points through three quarters.
Week 9: @ DET, vs. CHI, @ TOR, @ PHI
Last Week: 25 ↓
Pace: 103.8 (6) OffRtg: 107.7 (19) DefRtg: 114.9 (29) NetRtg: -7.3 (26)
The Pelicans came a possession away from beating Detroit on Monday and they came back from 16 down to take a second-half lead in Philadelphia (where the Sixers are 14-0) on Friday. They got Derrick Favors back over the weekend, Brandon Ingram has been remarkably steady offensively, and they've been better with Jrue Holiday at point guard (where he's been with Lonzo Ball moving back to the bench last week) than at the two. But they enter Week 9 with a 12-game losing streak and their defense remains terrible. Seven of the 12 opponents over the losing streak (in which they've allowed more than 118 points per 100 possessions) have top-10 offenses, but they also allowed the 25th-ranked Magic offense to register its second most efficient game of the season on Sunday. The Pels don't face another top-10 offense until Dec. 29, and they have some winnable games this week.
Week 9: vs. BKN, @ MIN, @ GSW
Last Week: 26 ↓
Pace: 102.4 (10) OffRtg: 104.4 (26) DefRtg: 113.6 (27) NetRtg: -9.2 (27)
There's nothing wrong with having a little swagger. But when you're a streaky shooter who plays for a bad team, some of your more boastful moments might get thrown back in your face. Last November, Trae Young hit a long 3-pointer at Staples Center to put his team up four with less than five minutes to go, and he made sure Lakers' fans saw where he shot it from. The Hawks lost that fourth-quarter lead (in what was their fourth of 10 straight losses) and Young proceeded to make just one of his next 27 3-point attempts (with the one he made being a somewhat fortunate bank shot). On Tuesday, Young said "it's over" when his team went up six with a minute to go in Miami. The Heat proceeded to score the next 22 points, the Hawks have scored just 92 points per 100 possessions since Young's declaration, and the Miami loss began what is now a four-game losing streak. The Hawks hung tough with the Lakers on Sunday, but Cam Reddish missed a wide-open 3-pointer to tie the game and he's just one of six Hawks who have shot 35% or worse on at least 15 shots over the last three.
Week 9: @ NYK, vs. UTA, @ BKN
Last Week: 30 ↑
Pace: 98.3 (27) OffRtg: 102.6 (30) DefRtg: 112.6 (25) NetRtg: -9.9 (29)
The Knicks are 2-3 under Mike Miller and two of the three losses have been to good teams (Indiana and Denver) and within two points in the final three minutes. Elfrid Payton came up big down the stretch in Sacramento on Friday (scoring seven points in the game-deciding 12-2 run) and has had his minutes increased over the last three games, leaving Dennis Smith Jr. with three straight DNPs and limiting the minutes of the starting lineup. Payton is only a minus-1 in 225 minutes for this team and a lineup change could be coming, though Frank Ntilikina did some fun stuff (dunking and dishing) in Denver after a rough 21 minutes in Sacramento two nights earlier. With six guys averaging double-figures over the last three games, the Knicks have scored more than 110 points per 100 possessions in three straight for just the second time this season.
Week 9: vs. ATL, @ MIA, vs. MIL
Last Week: 29
Pace: 99.0 (25) OffRtg: 104.0 (27) DefRtg: 114.1 (28) NetRtg: -10.0 (30)
The Cavs ended an eight-game losing streak with a miracle OT win in San Antonio on Thursday. It was the fifth time the Cavs have held their opponent under a point per possession and Kevin Love's biggest game (30 points, 17 rebounds, and the game-tying 3-pointer) of the season. But it didn't come without more player-coach drama, as Tristan Thompson and John Beilein got into it on the bench. They seemingly squashed that beef over the weekend and Kevin Porter Jr. had the best week of his rookie season, totaling 39 points (with six threes on Wednesday) in losses to the Rockets and Bucks. While the 6-1 Darius Garland has been the worst finisher in the restricted area (44%) among 14 rookies with at least 50 attempts, the 6-4 Porter has been the second best (69%).
Week 9: @ TOR, vs. CHA, vs. MEM
Last Week: 28 ↓
Pace: 100.2 (19) OffRtg: 103.1 (29) DefRtg: 112.8 (26) NetRtg: -9.7 (28)
The Warriors are 1-7 against the league's easiest December schedule, having lost to six teams (a group that includes the Hawks, Hornets, Grizzlies and Knicks) that have losing records. They had one of their better offensive games of the season and came back from 22 down against New York on Wednesday, but were done in by a 9-0 Knicks run in overtime. Otherwise, the offense has been pretty ugly; They've scored less than 85 points per 100 possessions in two games (both against below-average defenses) this month, D'Angelo Russell hasn't been able to find his rhythm (or get to the line much) since his return from a nine-game absence, Draymond Green made an interesting decision on a fast break on Sunday, and they've somehow been outscored by 59 points in Kevon Looney's 91 minutes this season.
Week 9: @ POR, vs. NOP