The Philadelphia 76ers and LA Clippers were among the favorites to meet in the 2020 Finals. But through the first eight weeks of the season, the Los Angeles Lakers and Milwaukee Bucks were head and shoulders above the rest of the league, each winning 24 of their first 27 games.
The Lakers were set to be the first top-five defense that LeBron James played for since the 2011-12 Miami Heat. The Bucks were picking up where they were before losing four straight games in the Eastern Conference finals.
And then came Christmas, when the Clippers and Sixers knocked off the Lakers and Bucks, respectively. The Clips put the clamps on a Lakers' offense that ranks 24th in effective field goal percentage on shots from outside the paint. Philly took advantage of a Milwaukee defense that is on pace to set another record for 3-pointers allowed.
But the Lakers and Bucks have remained the more consistent teams in their conference. The Clippers have lost four of their last seven games, while the Sixers have lost five of their last eight. Maybe the Christmas results are the most important, and maybe consistency matters more.
Some increased parity (within the league's two distinct tiers) has made this, perhaps, the most difficult week of the season to put 30 teams in order from best to worst. But it's clear that, despite the Christmas loss, the Bucks deserve the No. 1 spot for a fifth straight week.
Plus-Minus Players of the Week
- Right Way: Jrue Holiday (NOP) was a plus-67 in four games last week.
- Wrong Way: De'Andre Hunter (ATL) was a minus-64 in three games last week.
Teams of the Week
- Make It Last Forever: New Orleans (4-0) -- The Pelicans have risen from the abyss to win five of their last six games, picking up wins over the Nuggets, Pacers and Rockets last week.
- Something Just Ain't Right: Sacramento (0-4) -- The Kings' four losses were by a total of just 17 points, but two of them were to the Timberwolves (who had lost 11 straight games) and the Suns (who had lost eight straight).
East vs. West
- The West is 86-82 (.512) against the East in interconference games after going 6-2 last week.
Schedule strength through Week 10
- Toughest: 1. New Orleans, 2. Atlanta, 3. Cleveland
- Easiest: 1. Brooklyn, 2. Chicago, 3. San Antonio
- 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: New Orleans (+6), Utah (+5), New York (+4)
- Free falls of the week: Sacramento (-9), Houston (-6), L.A. Lakers (-3), Washington (-3)
Week 11 Team to Watch
- Indiana -- The Pacers have lost three of their last four, but are back home (where they're 14-3) to host a pair of tough opponents this week. On Tuesday, they'll play the Sixers with fifth place in the East on the line. And on Thursday, they'll face the Nuggets, who enter Week 11 having won nine of their last 10 games. The Pacers will finish the week with a game in Atlanta on Sunday.
- Last week: Bucks make statement; Heat enter Top 5
- This time last year: Bucks are No. 1 as start of 2019 looms -- The Lakers thumped the Warriors on Christmas and, afterward, were just two games in loss column behind the defending champs. Kyrie Irving, meanwhile, had 40 points and 10 assists as the Celtics beat the Sixers in overtime on Christmas. John Wall played his last game of the season and Enes Kanter was upset about a lack of playing time. Stephen Curry's turnover set up Damian Lillard's game-winner in Oakland, Joe Harris turned a loose ball into a game-winning bucket, and Bogdan Bogdanovic and Evan Fournier hit buzzer-beaters to beat the Lakers and Pistons, respectively.
* * *
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 101.1 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes and 108.5 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.
* * *