LeBron James and the Lakers stay on top after an unpredictable Sunday slate of games.
The first week of the 2020-21 season was proceeding somewhat normally … or at least as normal as basketball can be in empty arenas in the midst of a pandemic. The good teams were mostly good, the bad teams were mostly bad, and there were some mixed results in between.
And then came Sunday.
It started with the notorious 12:30 p.m. tip at Staples Center. The Clippers were without Kawhi Leonard, but were coming off big wins over the Lakers and Nuggets, looking very much like the favorite to take the No. 1 spot in this week’s Power Rankings. But it didn’t take long for the Dallas Mavericks to squash that thought. Less than nine minutes into the game, the Mavs led by 20. By halftime, they had set an NBA record with a 50-point lead.
The Brooklyn Nets were next up on the list of contenders for the No. 1 spot, facing an opponent looking like No. 30 after losses to Cleveland and Oklahoma City. But the Charlotte Hornets wouldn’t go away, and they held off a late Nets rally to flip two different scripts.
Not to be outdone, the Cleveland Cavaliers beat the Sixers by 24. And to cap off Silly Sunday, the New York Knicks beat the Milwaukee Bucks by 20.
We could just disregard all that and think of the Clippers as the team that beat the Lakers and Denver, evaluate the Nets solely on their destruction of the Warriors and Celtics, and believe that the Bucks are never going to lose to the Knicks again. But the league office has confirmed that Sunday games count the same as games on any other day of the week. So we roll it all into this week’s rankings, which probably look as silly as the Sunday scoreboard.
The great thing is that all those teams that got upset on Sunday can put those results behind them this week. And if the rankings below are way off, we’ll get another try next Monday.
Until then, the champs are still No. 1. They’re the only title contender that didn’t get the Silly Sunday memo, taking care of business (and then some) against the shorthanded Minnesota Timberwolves.
Plus-Minus Players of the Week
Teams of the Week
- Make It Last Forever: Cleveland (3-0) — Rock N Roll forever!
- Something Just Ain’t Right: Golden State (1-2) — Uh oh.
East vs. West
- The West was 5-4 against the East in Week 1.
Movement in the Rankings
- High jumps of the week: Cleveland (+14), Orlando (+14), Indiana (+13)
- Free falls of the week: Golden State (-11), Milwaukee (-9), Houston (-8), Portland (-8)
Week 2 Team to Watch
- Milwaukee — It’s only Game 4 and 5 of a long season, and the Bucks are the “It doesn’t matter until the playoffs” team in the Eastern Conference. But they have an early opportunity to exorcise some demons with a back-to-back in Miami on Tuesday and Wednesday. After that, they begin a five-game homestand with a visit from the Bulls on Friday.
Previous Power Rankings
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 103.1 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes and 108.4 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.
Pace: 104.0 (12) OffRtg: 119.5 (1) DefRtg: 103.5 (9) NetRtg: +16.0 (2)
The league’s No. 1 offense meets its 30th-ranked defense on Monday, though it’s not clear if the Lakers will have Anthony Davis (who sat Sunday with a calf contusion) or LeBron James (who tweaked his ankle on Sunday) against the Blazers.
It’s also not clear if the Lakers need Davis or James to have the league’s best offense. Kyle Kuzma started in Davis’ place on Sunday, scored 20 points in 29 minutes, and has an effective field goal percentage of 67.6% (ninth among 109 players with at least 25 field goal attempts). Dennis Schroder has averaged almost as many assists per 36 minutes (8.3) as James (8.4) and Marc Gasol (eight assists in less than 21 minutes on Sunday) is functioning pretty brilliantly as an offensive hub himself.
Montrezl Harrell ranks fourth in effective field goal percentage (73.3%) among those 109 players who’ve taken at least 25 shots. He already has as many buckets from outside the paint (where he’s 4-for-7) as he did all of last season (4-for-47). Alex Caruso made a sky hook.
The Lakers rank in the top five in field goal percentage in the paint (65.8%, first), mid-range field goal percentage (51.1%, fourth) and 3-point percentage (39.8%, fifth). It’s early, but if there was a championship hangover, it lasted one game.
Week 2: vs. POR, @ SAS, @ SAS, @ MEM
Pace: 104.5 (10) OffRtg: 112.1 (8) DefRtg: 95.8 (1) NetRtg: +16.3 (1)
NBA offense can look easy in the hands of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. Brooklyn’s two stars are off to a scorching start, averaging a combined 56 points per game on an effective field goal percentage of 69%. When the Nets trailed by three at the half on Friday, they just needed to get the ball to Durant, who outscored the Celtics, 12-9, in the first 5 1/2 minutes of the third quarter. The Nets have scored 124.6 points per 100 possessions in the pair’s 95 minutes on the floor.
The Nets have depth beyond the stars, and Steve Nash has felt comfortable enough with his second unit (led by Caris LeVert) that he hasn’t staggered the minutes of Irving and Durant one bit. They’ve checked out and in together in all three games and the only reason Irving (95:03) has played 22 more seconds than Durant (94:41) is that he was at the free-throw line when they were set to check out in the first quarter on Tuesday.
But in 40 minutes with LeVert on the floor without Irving and Durant, the Nets have scored just 72 points on 88 offensive possessions (81.8 per 100). Those struggles didn’t matter much in the first two games, but in a two-point loss in Charlotte on Sunday, the 11:39 that Irving and Durant sat were the difference, as the Nets scored a paltry 14 points on 25 offensive possessions (shooting 2-for-16 from 3-point range and attempting just six 2-pointers) and were outscored by nine points.
Now, just three games into the season, that depth has taken a major hit, with Spencer Dinwiddie likely lost for the season with a knee injury. The Nets can still go 10 deep, but without Dinwiddie’s off-the-dribble juice, the margin for error and ability to keep Irving and Durant rested isn’t what it was just two days ago. Their longest homestand of the first-half schedule (six games over 11 days) begins Monday, but it begins with the second game of a back-to-back. So it’s possible that Irving and/or Durant sit all 48 against the Grizzlies.
Week 2: vs. MEM, vs. ATL, vs. ATL, vs. WAS
Pace: 105.2 (8) OffRtg: 112.0 (9) DefRtg: 101.6 (6) NetRtg: +10.4 (5)
Maybe all those 3-pointers in the preseason were just a Bjorkgren bluff. The Pacers are back to the bottom of the league (28th) in the percentage of their shots that have come from beyond the arc (31.3%). But they’re not back to shooting a bunch of mid-range jumpers. Instead, they’ve gone and averaged a ridiculous 68.0 points in the paint, more than they scored in all but two games last season. Their 76 points in the paint in Chicago on Saturday were the most in franchise history (points in the paint have been tracked for the last 25 seasons).
Domantas Sabonis, who hasn’t taken a single mid-range shot, has scored 61 of his 73 points in the paint (46) or at the free throw line (15), and he capped a week in which he averaged 24.3 points, 11.0 rebounds and 7.0 assists with a game-winning drive through Robert Williams’ chest. Sabonis’ minutes with Myles Turner have been strong, and the Pacers have won their three third quarters by a cumulative score of 99-59. Game 2 of their series against the Celtics is Tuesday.
Week 2: vs. BOS, vs. CLE, vs. NYK
Pace: 98.2 (29) OffRtg: 105.4 (21) DefRtg: 115.6 (23) NetRtg: -10.2 (27)
With wins over the Lakers and Nuggets, the Clippers were on their way to the No. 1 spot in this week’s rankings. With their lack of continuity and consistency, they never ranked No. 1 last season, despite having the best record (20-12) in games played between the 13 teams that finished over .500. And finally, the top spot was there’s for the taking …
… And then they were down 50 points (50!) at the half on Sunday. In 48 minutes, they went from third in offensive efficiency (through Saturday) to 21st.
The Clips are 2-0 with Kawhi Leonard (who missed Sunday’s game after taking a nasty elbow from Serge Ibaka on Christmas), and Paul George was fantastic in totaling 73 points and registering a team-best plus-31 through the first two games. He shot 5-for-9 on pull-up 3-pointers (with one particularly wicked step-back), he was 9-for-12 in between the restricted area and the 3-point line, and his 12 assists included an impressive reading of the back-line defense and cross-court dime to Nicolas Batum. George remains, of course, one of the league’s best perimeter defenders.
The Clips are playing 15 of their first 17 games within the Western Conference, and this week’s schedule provides a few more interesting tests to help them put that Sunday debacle behind them.
Week 2: vs. MIN, vs. POR, @ UTA, @ PHX
Pace: 105.8 (5) OffRtg: 114.2 (5) DefRtg: 107.3 (15) NetRtg: +6.9 (7)
The Magic are an offensive team again (the 2019-20, post-All-Star version of themselves), or maybe they’ve played two of their three games against the Wizards’ defense. (Stay tuned.) Terrence Ross (23.3 points per game, 10-for-19 from 3-point range, 16-for-16 from the line) is on fire, Markelle Fultz has shot 18-for-29 (62%) in the paint, and Aaron Gordon (one of the league’s worst high-volume shooters from the outside last season) hasn’t tried to shoot too much.
They’ve trailed in the fourth quarter of all three games, but the Magic vs. their opponents in the final 12 minutes has been almost as lopsided (115-72) as Mavs-Clippers was on Sunday. Orlando was 12-40 after trailing in the fourth quarter last season.
Four of the Magic’s next five games are against the Thunder and Cavs, and it’s up to you to project if that’s a soft stretch of schedule (it’s the Thunder and Cavs) or a tough one (the Thunder and Cavs are both undefeated).
Week 2: @ OKC, vs. PHI, vs. OKC
Pace: 98.6 (27) OffRtg: 110.6 (11) DefRtg: 118.4 (29) NetRtg: -7.8 (22)
Nikola Jokic has 53 points, 24 rebounds and 24 assists through two games and (going back to Nov., 2019) he’s made 10 of his last 12 shots to tie or take the lead in the final minute of the fourth quarter or overtime. But he can’t be a clutch shooter if he doesn’t shoot, and two Jokic turnovers (one at the end of regulation, one at the end of OT) cost the Nuggets in their opening-night loss to Sacramento.
More concerning is a defense that allowed the Kings to grab 18 offensive rebounds (including the one that determined the game) and allowed the Clippers to drain 19 3-pointers on Christmas. Michael Porter Jr. (not a big surprise) and Gary Harris (more surprising) got caught with their heads turned within two seconds of each other as Kawhi Leonard found Lou Williams for one of the Clips’ eight corner 3-pointers. Jamal Murray (10-for-29) is off to a slow start, but the offense will be there. It’s the defensive focus and effort that will determine the Nuggets’ ceiling.
Week 2: vs. HOU, @ SAC, vs. PHX, @ MIN
Pace: 101.5 (20) OffRtg: 107.9 (17) DefRtg: 103.4 (8) NetRtg: +4.5 (12)
Kendrick Nunn, who started 67 games and finished second in Rookie of the Year voting last season, was basically the 12th man (eight total minutes) as the Heat shuffled through lineups in Week 1. Nunn will surely get opportunities as the season goes on, but for now, Tyler Herro is the starting “point guard,” with the offense mostly running through Bam Adebayo. Adebayo’s mid-range shooting from the playoffs might be carrying over to the new season (he’s 3-for-6 from mid-range so far), but he had seven of the Heat’s 22 turnovers in their opening-night loss in Orlando.
The ball moved a lot more on Christmas (3.10 passes per possession) than it did in the opener (2.57), and Duncan Robinson was the beneficiary, draining seven 3-pointers after attempting just six two nights earlier. One of those 3-pointers came off a back-door cut from Avery Bradley, who made a big impact after sitting Game 1.
Jimmy Butler (who has eight steals in less than 52 minutes) missed the second half of the Christmas win with ankle stiffness, but the good news is that, before they play the Bucks on Tuesday and Wednesday, the Heat are enjoying their only three-day break of the first-half schedule. (Only seven other teams have a three-day break.)
Week 2: vs. MIL, vs. MIL, @ DAL
Pace: 101.7 (19) OffRtg: 106.2 (19) DefRtg: 101.3 (4) NetRtg: +4.9 (10)
The sustainability of Chris Paul’s clutchness was tested early this season, with each of the Suns’ first two games going down to the wire. Both Paul (he got to his spot) and Devin Booker (same spot) hit big jumpers to beat the Mavs on Wednesday, but three nights later, the Suns were one stop shy of giving themselves a real chance in a game in which they were outscored, 85-56, in the paint or at the free throw line.
It’s early, but so far, this has been a jump-shooting team. The Suns rank 28th both in the percentage of their shots that have come in the restricted area (24%) and in free throw rate (18.8 attempts per 100 shots from the field). Only one of their 17 clutch field goal attempts has come in the restricted area. They didn’t need clutch time against the Kings on Sunday, because their second unit did get a bunch of layups late in the third quarter.
Week 2: vs. NOP, @ UTA, @ DEN, vs. LAC
Pace: 99.8 (26) OffRtg: 114.0 (6) DefRtg: 105.7 (12) NetRtg: +8.4 (6)
The Mavs made some history in Week 1. On Christmas against the Lakers, they suffered the largest second-chance-points discrepancy (35-0) in the 25 years for which we have the stat, getting crushed on the glass by the champs. In the same arena less than 48 hours later, they held the the largest halftime lead in NBA history, outscoring the Clippers, 77-27, over the first 24 minutes.
Beyond the historical margin, there’s obviously a lot to like about the way the Mavs played on Sunday. And there’s a lot to like about the way Josh Richardson has played with his new team, averaging 16.7 points on an effective field goal percentage of 64%. If there’s one thing that the most efficient offense in NBA history could have used more of, it was some easy baskets in transition, and Richardson will get them those with his defense and his willingness to run. The Mavs’ 21.7 fast break points per game (second in the league) are up from 11.7 (22nd) last season.
Week 2: vs. CHA, vs. MIA, @ CHI
Pace: 100.2 (24) OffRtg: 108.0 (15) DefRtg: 116.9 (26) NetRtg: -8.9 (24)
Brad Stevens has to get minutes for the veterans who know what to do and where to be. With Kemba Walker out, the Celtics’ backcourt has been lacking and Stevens has started both Tristan Thompson and Daniel Theis. But with the Celtics having been outscored by 18 points in 30 minutes (and by at least five points in each of their three games) with the two centers on the floor together, it may already be time to put Thompson-Theis on ice. Kevin Durant (a unique problem at the four, for sure) chewed up Thompson in the third quarter on Friday, Theis has taken just five of his 16 shots in the paint, and Jayson Tatum is 3-for-13 with zero free throw attempts in those 30 minutes with both of them on the floor.
Of course, Tatum has just four free throw attempts total through three games. He’s taken just 34% of his shots in the paint, down from 45% through his first three seasons. And with the game on the line on Sunday, he put no pressure on the Indiana defense, settling for a 28-foot step-back that (like his game-winner from four nights earlier) he shot too long.
The Celtics have one stretch of five games in seven days in the first half of the season, and it begins Tuesday with Game 2 of their two-game series in Indiana.
Week 2: @ IND, vs. MEM, @ DET, @ DET
Pace: 103.2 (15) OffRtg: 118.6 (2) DefRtg: 114.0 (22) NetRtg: +4.7 (11)
The Bucks’ first week would probably have been the most angst-ridden first week ever had Giannis Antetokounmpo not signed that extension. They almost completed a huge, fourth-quarter comeback in Boston and blew out the Warriors on Christmas. And you can certainly chalk up their 20-point loss in New York to extreme variance in regard to 3-point shooting: The Knicks were 16-for-27, while the Bucks were 7-for-38. But 3-point shooting (on both ends of the floor) certainly isn’t a new bugaboo with this team. Neither is Antetokounmpo’s free throw shooting, which was what kept them from sending the Boston game to overtime.
The Bucks did start last season 2-2 before winning 22 of their next 23 games. But this team, with a few new faces and less reliable depth, might not be as ready to morph into a regular season juggernaut. It certainly hasn’t sustained any level of sharpness when you take all six games (including an 0-3 preseason) into account).
No matter, this Tuesday-Wednesday back-to-back in Miami, as long as both teams are at full strength, should be fascinating.
Week 2: @ MIA, @ MIA, vs. CHI
Pace: 101.8 (18) OffRtg: 113.2 (7) DefRtg: 106.4 (14) NetRtg: +6.8 (8)
In Portland on Wednesday, the Jazz looked both dominant and cohesive. When the Blazers trapped a Jordan Clarkson pick-and-roll midway through the second quarter, the Jazz attacked it deftly, with Bojan Bogdanovic overloading the strong side, where Donovan Mitchell fed him for a wide-open corner 3-pointer. Early in the third, a Rudy Gobert no-look kick-out off the short roll produced another wide open look for Bogdanovic in the right corner. They averaged 3.0 passes per possession and totaled 28 catch-and-shoot 3-point attempts in an easy 20-point win.
Three nights later against the Wolves, the Jazz looked rather mediocre, and less ball movement (2.6 passes per possession) resulted in fewer catch-and-shoot 3-point attempts (3-for-16). Donovan Mitchell can make up for that somewhat off the dribble, but he’s off to a slow start, just 3-for-16 on pull-up jumpers and 5-for-13 in the restricted area through two games.
Five teams have seven-game road trips in the first half of the schedule. The Jazz are one of the five, and their seven-game trip begins Sunday in San Antonio.
Week 2: @ OKC, vs. PHX, vs. LAC, @ SAS
Pace: 100.7 (23) OffRtg: 102.0 (27) DefRtg: 101.3 (5) NetRtg: +0.7 (14)
Priority No. 1 for new coach Stan Van Gundy was fixing the Pelicans’ defense, and it wasn’t a good sign when they struggled to locate Duncan Robinson and got beat three times in a row (for a dunk, a corner 3 and an easy layup) by the same play in the first half on Christmas. But they were much better defensively in the second half, with Eric Bledsoe and Josh Hart doing nice work staying attached to Robinson, JJ Redick picking up a couple of deflections, and Zion Williamson staying in front of Tyler Herro after a late switch.
Take out that first half against the Heat, and the Pels have allowed just 94.1 points per 100 possessions over 128 minutes. Even with it, they rank second in opponent free throw rate (17 attempts per 100 shots from the field) and first in defensive rebounding percentage (79.3%). Sunday against the Spurs was the first time since the 2018 playoffs that the Pels won a game in which they scored less than a point per possession. (They had lost 27 straight.)
The defensive success doesn’t mean that Brandon Ingram isn’t off to a great start offensively. He’s averaged 26.7 points and a very intriguing 6.7 assists through the three games. Ingram vs. Devin Booker on Tuesday (10 p.m. ET on TNT) could be fun.
Week 2: @ PHX, @ OKC, vs. TOR
Pace: 101.9 (17) OffRtg: 111.9 (10) DefRtg: 100.3 (2) NetRtg: +11.6 (4)
The craziest thing about where we are after six days of the 2020-21 season is that there’s not another digit to the right of the 2 in regard to where Cleveland ranks defensively. The Cavs have held two straight opponents under a point per possession for the first time since November of 2017. They’ve had some active hands in ranking second in opponent turnover rate (18.7 per 100 possessions).
The offense has been fun too. Collin Sexton (27 points per game) and Darius Garland (19 per game) aren’t going to sustain this kind of shooting (combined effective field goal percentage of 64%), but it’s clear that they made good use of their nine months off. JaVale McGee has made two 3s. The reel of Sexton’s 16 buckets in the restricted area is an impressive mix of speed, strength and skill.
There are five undefeated teams after Week 1. The Cavs are, amazingly, one of the five. And the first four games of the six-game trip that begins Thursday are against the Pacers (3-0), Hawks (2-0) and Magic (3-0).
Week 2: vs. NYK, @ IND, @ ATL
Pace: 100.8 (22) OffRtg: 104.3 (23) DefRtg: 104.0 (10) NetRtg: +0.3 (16)
If there’s a conclusion to be drawn about the Sixers’ first week it’s that this team is, as ever, inconsistent. Their starting lineup followed a bad game (against Washington) with a good one (in New York), while their bench did the inverse. And then, without Joel Embiid on Sunday, they got crushed in Cleveland, trailing by as many as 32 points. The bottom line is that they had three very winnable games (even with Embiid’s absence) and won two of them. One of their new shooters (Seth Curry) has shot well. The other (Danny Green) has not.
The defense is, as expected, way ahead of the offense, which went scoreless (against the Wizards defense!) over the first 5:54 of the third quarter (13 possessions, with six turnovers) on Wednesday. Doc Rivers hasn’t fully staggered the minutes of Embiid and Ben Simmons (seeing the Sixers employ a five-man bench unit might be weirder than empty arenas), but they did dig out of that hole against Washington when Embiid was on the floor with four somewhat capable shooters early in the fourth quarter. Rookie Tyrese Maxey was one of those four guys, has some pep in his step, and already has a couple of slick dimes (one, two) on his resume.
Week 2: vs. TOR, @ ORL, vs. CHA
Pace: 105.8 (6) OffRtg: 116.6 (4) DefRtg: 101.9 (7) NetRtg: +14.7 (3)
Because he shoots long 3s, drops crazy dimes, and fool defenders with fake behind-the-back passes that go through his legs, we can overlook Trae Young’s ability to get to the line. But among 155 players with at least 500 field goal attempts last season, he ranked 11th in free throw rate (44.8 attempts per 100 shots from the field). And in scoring 73 points through the Hawks’ first two games, Young had almost as many free throw attempts (31) as field goal attempts (36). In Memphis on Saturday, Ja Morant was targeting Young in the pick-and-roll, but Young got him back by drawing some fouls on the other end. And those free throws are even more valuable when you shoot 85% from the stripe.
The Hawks have been shorthanded, but they’re 2-0, holding up relatively well defensively and on the glass (where De’Andre Hunter can get after it) despite a lack of size. Clint Capela is expected to make his long-awaited Hawks debut against Detroit on Monday, but it could be a while before Kris Dunn (set to have ankle surgery on Wednesday) makes his.
Week 2: vs. DET, @ BKN, @ BKN, vs. CLE
Pace: 104.3 (11) OffRtg: 101.9 (28) DefRtg: 111.5 (19) NetRtg: -9.6 (26)
After the departure of Kawhi Leonard last year, the Raptors found their new selves pretty quickly, winning 15 of their first 19 games behind an elite and cohesive defense. With the departures of both of their centers this year, the learning curve may be a bit steeper. The main defensive issue in the Raps’ 0-2 start was a familiar one: The Pelicans and Spurs combined to shoot 33-for-76 (43%) from 3-point range. They weren’t a very good defensive rebounding team last season, and the San Antonio game was lost when they couldn’t grab a board in the final minute. The Raps are back at the top of the league in opponent turnover rate (20.7 per 100 possessions), but the rim-protecting anchors were important cogs, and there are adjustments to be made without them. Of course, if there’s a group that can figure it out on that end of the floor, this is it.
Speaking of familiar, Kyle Lowry played almost 39 minutes in the opener and Pascal Siakam played 43 on Saturday. The Raps did have two two-day breaks before Games 2 and 3 (Tuesday in Philly) and are tied with three other teams for the fewest back-to-backs (5) in the first half of the schedule. But they’ll have just two more two-day breaks going forward and Nick Nurse will need more from his bench. The Raps were outscored by 21 points in Lowry’s 22 minutes off the floor over the first two games.
Week 2: @ PHI, vs. NYK, @ NOP
Pace: 101.0 (21) OffRtg: 105.8 (20) DefRtg: 108.3 (17) NetRtg: -2.5 (18)
The Kings have ranked in the bottom 10 in rebounding percentage in each of the last four seasons, but they dominated the glass through their first two games. The big board was Buddy Hield’s tip-in game-winner in Denver on Wednesday, but they had 26 second chance points against the Suns on Saturday, with Richaun Holmes sealing the win a pair of free throws after another last-minute offensive board. The Kings have grabbed 60% of available rebounds and outscored their opponents by 21 points in 45 minutes with Holmes and Marvin Bagley (the starting frontcourt) on the floor.
Alas, the second of the two games got away from them when they allowed five layups in the final four minutes of the third quarter, with Bagley at fault for two of the five (a bad gamble here, little resistance there). After registering an encouraging 19 fast break points in the opener, the Kings totaled just 15 in their two games against the Suns. But they get the Nuggets again on Tuesday.
Week 2: vs. DEN, @ HOU, @ HOU
Pace: 104.7 (9) OffRtg: 110.2 (12) DefRtg: 105.1 (11) NetRtg: +5.1 (9)
LaMarcus Aldridge was supposed to be the Spurs’ new 3-point bomber this season. But after one week, it’s DeMar DeRozan who’s attempted more 3-pointers (8) than mid-range shots (7). And against his former team on Saturday, DeRozan drained two huge threes (on looks he would have run himself out of last season) down the stretch before Aldridge got the game-winning put-back. After six days, the Spurs rank only ninth in the percentage of their shots that have come from between the paint and the 3-point line (15%), having led the league in each of the last two seasons, (28% and 24%).
One thing that has been very Spursy is the strength of their bench. They’ve been outscored by 30 points in 70 minutes with both Aldridge and DeRozan on the floor, but Rudy Gay is a plus-44 in 76 total minutes and Patty Mills has averaged 14.7 points in just 24 minutes, with the highest true shooting percentage (80.5%) among 109 players with at least 25 field goal attempts.
Week 2: vs. LAL, vs. LAL, vs. UTA
Pace: 98.6 (27) OffRtg: 109.6 (13) DefRtg: 118.8 (30) NetRtg: -9.2 (24)
The Blazers’ defense remains bad. Through two games, 87% of their opponents’ shots (the league’s highest opponent rate), have come from the restricted area or 3-point range, the two most efficient areas on the court. (The context is that one of those two games was against Houston, but Utah – 85% – was getting efficient looks too.) The Jazz and Rockets combined to score 120 points on 102 possessions with Robert Covington and Derrick Jones Jr. (the designated defensive saviors) on the floor. It’s a small sample size, of course, but the film, especially against Utah, was not pretty.
But hey, more bad defense can lead to more back-and-forth thrillers like we saw in the bubble and like we saw against the Rockets on Saturday, with Damian Lillard (32) and CJ McCollum (44) combining for 76 points. The Blazers actually attempted more 3-pointers (45) than the Rockets (35), and McCollum’s game-winner was a TOUGH rise and fire after catching Lillard’s kick-out pass at knee level.
The Blazers will have a rest advantage in each of their two games in L.A. this week, with the Lakers and Clippers each playing Minnesota the night before.
Week 2: @ LAL, @ LAC, @ GSW, @ GSW
Pace: 103.8 (13) OffRtg: 102.3 (26) DefRtg: 108.7 (18) NetRtg: -6.4 (20)
Karl-Anthony Towns suffered a left wrist dislocation in the fourth quarter in Utah on Saturday, and the Timberwolves say he’ll be evaluated on a week-to-week basis. And this is where we have to remember that teams like the Wolves are competing to finish in the top 10 in their conference, rather than the top eight. If this was a season with no play-in tournament, the Wolves, despite a 2-0 start, might lose hope and prioritize player development pretty quickly. They got thumped by the Lakers in their first game without their star on Sunday.
But they’re not going to forget that 2-0 start and, especially, an impressive win over the Jazz in which Anthony Edwards scored 18 points in 22 minutes with some real polish to his offensive game. With how the Warriors looked in Week 1, a top-10 finish in the West looks a little more realistic than it did seven days ago. So the Wolves could remain in problem-solving mode, not just in regard to who plays the five in Towns’ absence, but also in regard to who plays the four (and maybe it’s mostly Edwards). Jake Layman (this year’s starter) and Juancho Hernangomez (last year’s starter) combined to play just 75 of 144 minutes available last week and (let’s forget the L.A. loss) the Wolves were outscored by 23 points in their 47 minutes in the two wins.
Week 2: @ LAC, vs. WAS, vs. DEN
Pace: 97.8 (30) OffRtg: 117.8 (3) DefRtg: 117.4 (27) NetRtg: +0.3 (15)
This is going to be a weird season for everybody, but the Rockets have already lapped the field in regard to drama and disquiet. Still, if James Harden’s in the gym, he’s going to get buckets. And his bucket-getting (44 points on 12-for-22 shooting) gave his current team a chance in Portland on Saturday, despite the absences of John Wall, Eric Gordon, DeMarcus Cousins and Ben McLemore. (Somebody named Brodric Thomas played 10 minutes.) Harden also tied his career high of 17 assists, with seven of the 17 going to Christian Wood, his first big and bouncy target since Clint Capela left Houston.
Alas, the Rockets weren’t able to get the stops they needed for Harden’s big buckets to hold up. Off-ball screens and cuts on the Blazers’ “delay” action (a Houston staple, ironically) were a problem on a few (one, two, three) late fourth-quarter possessions. And though they’re now playing with a center, the Rockets are back at the bottom of the league in defensive rebounding percentage (with an it’s-just-one-game caveat).
Wall, Gordon and Cousins are out one more game (Monday in Denver).
Week 2: @ DEN, vs. SAC, vs. SAC
Pace: 107.0 (3) OffRtg: 107.9 (16) DefRtg: 118.2 (28) NetRtg: -10.3 (28)
Ja Morant had himself a season debut, scoring 44 points and dishing out nine assists with just one turnover against the Spurs on Wednesday. But Morant can’t play 48 minutes a night, and over their two games, the Grizzlies were outscored by 30 points in his 27 minutes on the bench. And things were worse (minus-22 in his 12:50 on the bench, 17 points scored on 28 offensive possessions) in the game (Wednesday) in which De’Anthony Melton was available. Let’s just say that Tre (who didn’t play) was the more effective of the Jones brothers in that Grizzlies-Spurs game.
The Kyle Anderson Offensive Renaissance has been fun to watch, and against Atlanta on Saturday, he was doing all kinds of Slo Mo magic. There was a hanging runner, a leisurely Eurostep into a finger roll, a patient turnaround in traffic, and a bullying of Kevin Huerter. Alas, the Grizzlies scored 11 points on 20 total offensive possessions with Anderson on the floor without Morant last week, so even Kyle Anderson at full powers might not be ready to carry the second-unit offense.
Week 2: @ BKN, @ BOS, @ CHA, vs. LAL
Pace: 100.0 (25) OffRtg: 109.4 (14) DefRtg: 112.6 (20) NetRtg: -3.2 (19)
With Obi Toppin (strained right calf) and Immanuel Quickley (left hip pointer) both out with injuries, the Knicks’ hype train is stuck in one of the North River Tunnels. Fortunately, they have an endless supply of 23-and-under guys who need playing time. And in their Silly Sunday win over the Bucks, Frank Ntilikina (with Dennis Smith Jr. also out) found his way into the rotation and drained four of the team’s 16 3s.
Mitchell Robinson has started all three games and RJ Barrett is, once again, being given all the minutes he can handle. The shooting is still a major project (he’s 6-for-22 from outside the restricted area with 10 straight misses from 3-point range), but Barrett has been getting to the basket. The Knicks’ starting lineup got outscored by 23 points in 23 minutes through their first two games, but may have bought itself some time with a solid start on Sunday.
Week 2: @ CLE, @ TOR, @ IND
Pace: 106.2 (4) OffRtg: 106.9 (18) DefRtg: 113.8 (21) NetRtg: -6.9 (21)
Russell Westbrook recorded triple-doubles in each of his first two games with his new team, and the Wizards outscored the Sixers and Magic by 25 points in 49 minutes with both Westbrook and Bradley Beal on the floor. But, though Scott Brooks staggered the minutes of his stars, they were outscored by 41 points in the other 47 minutes over those first two games. With Westbrook not playing on Sunday, the Wiz were a minus-6 in less than nine minutes with Beal on the bench and blew a 16-point, fourth-quarter lead. Davis Bertans being on a minutes limit (about 20 per game) hasn’t helped, and Bertans shot just 3-for-14 from 3-point range in the weekend series against Orlando.
The Wizards were up 10 at the start of the fourth quarter in Philly on Wednesday, and still had a chance after losing the lead late. But Westbrook left the man standing under the basket to guard somebody else at the free throw line. Three nights later, Thomas Bryant outdid him by scoring two points for the Magic himself.
Week 2: vs. CHI, vs. CHI, @ MIN, @ BKN
Pace: 112.0 (1) OffRtg: 97.6 (29) DefRtg: 116.0 (25) NetRtg: -18.4 (30)
After what was a bruuuutal first couple of games, the Warriors needed a miracle on Sunday. And Damion Lee provided it, draining the game-winner in Chicago when the Bulls had Stephen Curry surrounded. Curry did break free a little more on Sunday, but the two-time MVP being surrounded will continue to be the theme with this team. Even with Draymond Green’s playmaking on the floor, it seems much of the Warriors’ success will come down to the open shots taken by their high-priced wings.
There are 109 players who’ve attempted at least 25 shots this season. Andrew Wiggins (36.7%) and Kelly Oubre Jr. (17.5%) rank 105th and 109th among those 109 in effective field goal percentage, with Oubre an incredible 0-for-17 from 3-point range. The Warriors obviously can’t give up on the two starters, but Lee probably needs to see some more playing time and even if some of those Oubre-and-Wiggins shots start to go in, there appears to be a wide gap between the Dubs and the best teams in the league. They trailed Brooklyn and Milwaukee by as many as 38 and 43 points, respectively.
Week 2: @ DET, vs. POR, vs. POR
Pace: 105.5 (7) OffRtg: 103.8 (24) DefRtg: 100.9 (3) NetRtg: +2.9 (13)
Break up the Thunder! (Wait, that’s already been done.) They’re 1-0, the only undefeated team in the Western Conference, after surviving a wild Hornets comeback on Saturday. It’s fair to say that they didn’t defend the 3-point line very well down the stretch, but there were a lot of arms in the way as Charlotte shot an amazing 8-for-28 (29%) in the paint in the second half. Offense is going to be a struggle, especially if they continue to play a full second unit that includes Theo Maledon, Aleksej Pokusevski and Kenrich Williams’ glorious shag. But there’s reason to believe, given the personnel, that this team can continue to defend decently.
As Shai Gilgeous-Alexander took the keys to the offense, he exhibited both great patience and great brakes. The Hornets blitzed his pick-and-rolls to try get the ball out of his hands. But he just waited it out, allowed the second defender to retreat, and then attacked. And when he attacks, he has that ability to just stop on a dime, let his defender keep going, and finish with the space he created. Witness the game-winner.
Week 2: vs. UTA, vs. ORL, vs. NOP, @ ORL
Pace: 103.7 (14) OffRtg: 105.1 (22) DefRtg: 107.4 (16) NetRtg: -2.3 (17)
The Hornets are the anti-Clippers in that, after losing to the Cavs and Thunder in their first two games, they were set to rank 30th this week. And then came Sunday, when they destroyed the Nets in the paint and held on for a two-point win over a team that was heading for that No. 1 spot after the Clippers’ loss. Gordon Hayward had almost as many points in the paint (20, tied for second most in his career) than the Nets did as a team (26). He was bullying the Brooklyn guards inside early and then draining some short-range jumpers late.
The Hornets rank 22nd offensively, but they’d rank 15th (108.7 points per 100 possessions) and have one more win if they were shooting the league average (75.9%) on free throws instead of a league-worst 38-for-64 (59.4%). The ball has been moving. They rank first in both ball movement (387 passes per 24 minutes of possessions) and assist percentage (73% of their buckets have been assisted), with both Hayward and Devonte’ Graham averaging at least seven assists per game.
Week 2: @ DAL, vs. MEM, @ PHI
Pace: 109.5 (2) OffRtg: 102.4 (25) DefRtg: 115.6 (24) NetRtg: -13.2 (29)
The good news is that, after being held under a point per possession in each of their first two games, the Bulls broke out offensively on Sunday, shooting 51% and getting 20 or more points from four of their five starters. The bad news is that the Warriors had an even bigger breakout after an even uglier first two games. And after Zach LaVine hit a tough jumper to give the Bulls the lead with five seconds left, Damion Lee kept Chicago on the schneid with the game-winner over Tomas Satoransky.
Playing at the league’s second fastest pace doesn’t seem to be agreeing with this team, though time will tell if that pace is more about the Bulls (who lead the league with 12.7 live-ball turnovers per game) or their three opponents thus far (who are all in the top eight in pace as well). LaVine has 15 turnovers and just six assists.
After opening the season with three games at home, the Bulls are on the road for most of the next three weeks (nine of 11 games).
Week 2: @ WAS, @ WAS, @ MIL, vs. DAL
Pace: 102.3 (16) OffRtg: 97.3 (30) DefRtg: 105.8 (13) NetRtg: -8.4 (23)
If you’re going to turn your offense over to Killian Hayes (a rookie) and Jerami Grant (not a playmaker), there will be growing pains. The Pistons had two wins in their hands last week – they led the Wolves by 12 points in the third quarter on Wednesday and led the Cavs by eight with less than four minutes left on Saturday – but let them both slip away. In Minnesota, it was two straight Hayes turnovers midway through the fourth that really burned them. And against Cleveland, Grant’s lack of awareness led to a shot-clock violation in the final seconds of regulation. They’d go on to blow a nine-point lead in the first overtime, with Derrick Rose committing two more turnovers in the final seconds. Over the two games, the Pistons scored just 17 points on 24 clutch possessions.
Mason Plumlee’s playmaking (11 assists and just three turnovers through two games) has been a bright spot, and he had a couple of delicious dimes (one, two) on Wednesday. But without much off-the-dribble punch, the offense could continue to be a struggle. The Pistons are the only team that has scored less than a point per possession in each of its games thus far.
Week 2: @ ATL, vs. GSW, vs. BOS, vs. BOS