The Golden State Warriors got their Christmas win over the Cleveland Cavaliers and got Stephen Curry back five days later. Without Curry, they had the best defense in the league over an 11-game stretch. With him, they have the best offense we've ever seen.
So now, we might witness the firepower of this fully armed and operational battle station. And if the Warriors still have the league's best record and top-two rankings on both ends of the floor a month from now, we'll know that they've hit their stride, because they have the league's toughest January schedule.
The Warriors have both the fewest home games (five) and the most road games (nine) in the Western Conference this month. The also have the West's toughest schedule in regard to opponent strength, with their 14 January opponents having a cumulative winning percentage of 0.562 heading into the month. Nine of their 14 games are against teams that are currently at or above .500, and four of the other five are against teams - the Mavs, Clippers (x 2) and Bulls - that are currently playing better than their overall record.
The Warriors' January schedule will test that second-ranked defense in particular, as nine of their 14 games are against teams that currently rank in the top 10 in offensive efficiency, and only two are against teams - Dallas and Chicago - that rank in the bottom 10. Their month includes both of their games in Houston, as well as their only visits to Milwaukee, Toronto, Cleveland and Chicago.
Interestingly, the Cavs will have the Eastern Conference's toughest January schedule. The Sixers have a slightly tougher slate in regard to cumulative opponent winning percentage, but 12 of Cleveland's 14 January games are against teams that are currently at or above .500. And the Cavs will play three games, including their visit to Boston on Wednesday, with a rest disadvantage (where they're playing the second game of a back-to-back and their opponent is not).
The stretch between Christmas and the All-Star break can be a slog for some teams. The Warriors and Cavs remain the favorites to return to The Finals in June and have the ability to flip the switch whenever they want, but it will be interesting to see how much resilience they show over the next 31 days.
- Last week: Warriors reclaim top spot with Christmas win
- This time last year: Rockets rolling after hot December -- James Harden went for 53, 16 and 17 against the Knicks, and Russell Westbrook had a triple-double by halftime against the Clippers. Isaiah Thomas scored 52 points against the Heat, while Rajon Rondo was out of the Bulls' rotation. Randy Foye beat the Hornets at the buzzer, Wilson Chandler denied Andrew Wiggins to clinch a win for the Nuggets, and Kawhi Leonard's game-winner in Atlanta ... spun out.
- Plus-minus studs: Tobias Harris (DET) and Jrue Holiday (NOP) were each a plus-48 in three games last week.
- Plus-minus dud: Thaddeus Young (IND) was a minus-64 in four games last week.
- Hero team of the week: Dallas (4-0) -- The Mavs started their week by ending six-game winning streak. Then they got road wins in Indiana, New Orleans and Oklahoma City.
- Zero team of the week: Indiana (0-4) -- The Pacers, without Victor Oladipo for the last three, lost their four games by an average of 14.3 points.
- East vs. West:The East is 112-110 (.505) against the West in interconference games after the West went 11-10 over the last six days.
- Toughest schedules so far: 1. Charlotte, 2. Philadelphia, 3. L.A. Lakers
- Easiest schedules so far: 1. Houston, 2. Cleveland, 3. Portland
- Schedule strength is based on cumulative opponent record, and adjusted for home vs. away and days of rest before a game.
- High jumps of the week: Dallas (+5), Chicago (+4), Boston, Milwaukee & Philadelphia (+3)
- Free falls of the week: Indiana (-6), L.A. Lakers (-5), Sacramento (-4)
- Team to watch in Week 12: Milwaukee -- The Bucks are bouncing up and down with some good wins and bad losses over the last nine days. But they're coming off victories over two West playoff teams and now have an important week within the Eastern Conference. Their visits to Toronto and Washington sandwich a two-game homestand against the Pacers and Raptors.
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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 99.3 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes and 105.4 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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