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As we enter Week 5 of the 2021-22 season, teams have played an average of 13 games. And with two more weeks until we hit that magical 20-game mark, this feels like a pivot point for couple of contenders.
The Golden State Warriors have the best record in the league. But when they began a four-game trip in Charlotte on Sunday, it was just their second game outside the state of California and just their fifth against one of the other 14 teams that enter Week 5 with a winning record.
The Los Angeles Lakers have had a more home-heavy schedule than the Warriors, having played 11 of their 14 games at the Staples Center. Their visit to Milwaukee on Wednesday begins a stretch where they’re playing 11 of 16 on the road.
The Brooklyn Nets have played a relatively easy schedule. But beginning with their game against the Warriors on Tuesday, they’ll play seven of 10 against teams that are currently over .500. The Phoenix Suns, winners of eight straight games, will see a similar uptick in strength of schedule. And beginning Wednesday, the upstart Cleveland Cavaliers will play four straight games against the Nets, Warriors and Suns.
The next seven days could also be important in regard to the returns of Jaylen Brown, Joel Embiid, LeBron James and Khris Middleton from injuries and illnesses. In all, it feels like a big week. And it starts with the Warriors on top of the Power Rankings.Plus-Minus Players of the Week
Right Way: Stephen Curry (GSW) was a plus-87 in four games last week.
Wrong Way: Jalen Green (HOU) was a minus-50 in three games last week.
Teams of the Week
Make It Last Forever: Denver (4-0) — So, is Nikola Jokic a Defensive Player of the Year candidate?
Something Just Ain’t Right: Sacramento (0-3) — The Kings are supposed to be on the tier above the Spurs and Thunder.
East vs. West
The East is 31-25 (.554) against the West in interconference games after going 9-9 last week.
Schedule strength through Week 4
Toughest: 1. Atlanta, 2. Indiana, 3. Boston
Easiest: 1. Phoenix, 2. Brooklyn, 3. Golden State
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: LA Clippers (+8), Charlotte (+7), Chicago (+7)
Free falls of the week: Memphis (-10), New York (-7), Philadelphia (-7)
Week 5 Team to Watch
Cleveland— The 9-5 Cavs continue to surprise, entering Week 5 in fourth place in the Eastern Conference and 4-4 in games played between the 15 teams that are currently over .500. They’re not on national TV, but they’ll be in the spotlight this week, playing a Wednesday-Thursday back-to-back against the Nets (in Brooklyn) and Warriors (in Cleveland). Before that, they’ll host one of the teams (Boston) they’re surprisingly ahead of in the East.
Previous Power Rankings
Last week: Warriors, Nets and Cavs rise up
Thursday’s notebook: Defensive changes, plus early look at team records
The archive: NBA.com 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 99.5 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes and 107.0 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.
Last Week: 2 ↑
Golden State Warriors
Pace: 101.9 (5) OffRtg: 112.0 (3) DefRtg: 99.3 (1) NetRtg: +12.7 (1)
Stephen Curry is about a month away from becoming the NBA’s all-time leader in 3-pointers made and, though his percentage is down, he’s got 13 more 3-pointers than any other player this season. Though they’re still waiting on Klay Thompson, the Warriors rank third in 3-point differential, having outscored their opponents by 7.8 points per game from beyond the arc.
But they’ve been even more dominant at the rim. The Warriors have outscored their opponents by 11.5 points per game in the restricted area, a differential more than twice as big as that of any other team. (Denver ranks second at +4.6 points per game.) In their four games last week, the Warriors scored twice as many points in the restricted area (150) as their opponents (74).
When you have a differential like that, it’s about both the offense and the defense. On one end of the floor, the Warriors are one of two teams — Cleveland is the other — that rank in the top 10 in restricted-area field goal percentage (69.3%, third) and the percentage of their shots that have come in the restricted area (30%, ninth). On the other end, they rank 11th in opponent restricted-area field goal percentage (62.6%) and first (by a healthy margin) in the (lowest) percentage of their opponents’ shots (23%) that have come in the restricted area.
The Warriors’ seven-game winning streak came to an end on Sunday when they shot 13-for-54 (24%) from outside the restricted area in Charlotte. Their four-game trip continues on Tuesday (7:30 p.m. ET, TNT) against the team — Brooklyn — that has a restricted-area discrepancy (-13.1 points per game) bigger than the Warriors’ differential.
Andrew Wiggins caps his 22-point, 9-9 shooting first half in style! 😱
— NBA (@NBA) November 11, 2021
Pace: 99.3 (15) OffRtg: 108.4 (13) DefRtg: 103.4 (5) NetRtg: +5.0 (6)
The Bulls’ loss at Golden State on Friday was their first that wasn’t within five points in the last five minutes. They were playing without Nikola Vucevic (health and safety protocols) for the first time, they got blitzed in the third quarter by the best third-quarter team in the league, and they got no offense beyond that of DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine. But the good outweighed the bad in a 3-1 week, with a big win over Brooklyn and road victory over the Clippers being the highlights.
DeRozan has taken 19 more mid-range shots than any other player in the league, but both he and LaVine attacked Blake Griffin early and often in the pick-and-roll on Monday, scoring 25 of their 52 points in the restricted area (14) or at the free throw line. Though there’s been some improvement in the last few games, the offense hasn’t been great (104.6 points scored per 100 possessions) with both scorers on the floor. It’s actually been at its best (114.5 per 100) with LaVine off the floor and DeRozan carrying a usage rate of 36%.
With Vucevic out and Tony Bradley totaling just 37 minutes in his two starts, the Bulls have been forced into some small ball. So games against Anthony Davis and Nikola Jokic this week could provide a challenge for a defense that hasn’t been great in regard to protecting the rim.
Week 5: @ LAL, @ POR, @ DEN, vs. NYK
Pace: 100.1 (10) OffRtg: 108.2 (14) DefRtg: 103.5 (7) NetRtg: +4.7 (8)
The Nets went 5-1 on the longest road trip of their season and the loss in Chicago on Monday was the second game of a back-to-back. They generally took care of business against lesser opponents on the back end of the trip and they’ve ranked in the top six on both ends of the floor as they’ve won eight of their last nine games. With no Kyrie Irving and with James Harden taking some time to find his rhythm (and/or the free throw line), this is still the first Eastern Conference team to reach 10 wins.
But the fourth quarter of that Chicago game (in which they were outscored 42-17) was concerning in that the Nets were seemingly hoping for Kevin Durant to rescue an offense that had gone stagnant. The beauty of the Nets’ offense is that they’re happy to play one-on-one if you want to defend them like the Celtics do, and they’re happier to play four-on-three if you bring two to the ball. But their north-south attack obviously isn’t as potent as it was last season. They rank 28th in drives per game (36.4) and dead last in the percentage of their shots that have come in the restricted area (22%), down from 24th (41.5) and 11th (31%) in those categories last season.
The Nets are back home for seven of their next nine games, a stretch that includes five two-day breaks, which may be important given that Durant is dealing with some kind of shoulder issue. Five of their next six games are against teams that, like the Nets themselves, rank in the top 10 defensively.
Week 5: vs. GSW, vs. CLE, vs. ORL
Pace: 98.8 (17) OffRtg: 107.1 (17) DefRtg: 102.4 (4) NetRtg: +4.7 (10)
Stars will win you championships, but depth is critical in the regular season. And with the haul they got for Russell Westbrook in the offseason, the Wizards have real depth. Montrezl Harrell could be on his way to his second Kia Sixth Man of the Year award in the last three seasons as, arguably, the league’s best interior scorer:
• Harrell has shot 81% in the restricted area, the second-best mark among 59 players with at least 50 restricted-area attempts.
• He has the third-highest free throw rate (56 attempts per 100 shots from the field) among 147 players with at least 100 field goal attempts.
• Put that together and his true shooting percentage of 70.9% is the highest mark among 77 players who’ve averaged at least 15 points per game.
The Wizards have outscored their opponents by 22.4 points per 100 possessions with Harrell on the floor alongside fellow reserves Raul Neto and Deni Avdija. That’s the seventh best mark among 416 three-man combinations that have played at least 100 minutes, with the trio having crossed the 100-minute threshold on Saturday, when the Wizards improved to 2-0 without Bradley Beal. Three nights earlier, they won the big, Eastern-Conference-surprise-team showdown in Cleveland when Beal assisted Kyle Kuzma for the game-winning 3 off a great ATO play (below).
The Wizards’ wins in Cleveland and Orlando began a stretch (leading up to Christmas) where they’re playing 17 of 23 games on the road. Even quirkier is that, over the next 10 days, they’ll play six games against the Pelicans, Hornets and Heat. They’ll be without Beal again on Monday and the four games against Charlotte (ranked ninth offensively) and Miami (fourth) could be the toughest tests the Wizards’ top-five defense has seen this season.
— NBA (@NBA) November 11, 2021
Pace: 102.4 (4) OffRtg: 109.1 (8) DefRtg: 104.0 (8) NetRtg: +5.1 (5)
Remember when the Suns were 1-3? Whether or not that’s enough games to qualify as a “slow start,” they now have league’s longest winning streak of the young season. They’ve won the eight games with Deandre Ayton having missed six and without a ton of offense from Devin Booker. Because who needs Ayton and Booker when you have Frank Kaminsky? The Suns’ third-string center (fourth string if you want to consider the injured Dario Saric) scored a career-high 31 points in the Suns’ win over Portland on Wednesday and might be ready to challenge Chris Paul for the title of best short-mid-range shooter on the team.
The Suns have allowed less than a point per possession over the winning streak, climbing into the top 10 defensively with their last three opponents having shot 21-for-95 (22%) from 3-point range. They ranked 21st defensively and 28th in opponent 3-point percentage just a week ago, so that is some rapid regression to the mean.
It’s also a soft schedule. The last seven wins have come against teams that currently have losing records, though Memphis was 6-5 before they got thumped by the visiting Suns on Friday. After they end a three-game trip in Minnesota on Monday (the second game of a back-to-back), the Suns will play seven of their next eight games against teams currently above .500.
CP3 with the nutmeg 🔥 pic.twitter.com/qkoin1JcYf
— NBA TV (@NBATV) November 15, 2021
Pace: 97.7 (26) OffRtg: 111.6 (4) DefRtg: 104.6 (9) NetRtg: +7.0 (2)
The Heat’s only two wins in the last 12 days have come against the Jazz. Their win in Utah on Saturday came with the long-awaited breakout of Duncan Robinson (22 points, 6-for-11 from 3), who took advantage of the opposing bigs hanging in the paint when he came off of Bam Adebayo’s screens. And when the Utah guards top-locked Robinson to prevent him from using those screens, he took advantage by going back door or allowing Adebayo to use both him and his defender as a double-pick for his own drive. The Heat put on a clinic in scoring 37 points on 24 possessions in the third quarter.
That ended a three-game losing streak over which the Heat shot 28% from 3-point range, with Tyler Herro (Wednesday against the Lakers) and Robinson (Thursday against the Clippers) missing open looks that could have changed the results. The Heat are 2-for-13 (15%) on clutch 3s, having ranked last in clutch 3-point percentage (19-for-83, 23%) last season. They’re still yielding a ton of 3-point attempts on the other end of the floor, but in only three of their 13 games has their opponent shot the league average (34.5%) or better from beyond the arc.
The Heat’s five-game trip through the Western Conference ends Monday in Oklahoma City. But they’re only home for two games before embarking on a four-game trip that will include visits to Washington and Chicago.
Week 5: @ OKC, vs. NOP, vs. WAS, @ WAS
Pace: 97.6 (27) OffRtg: 106.4 (21) DefRtg: 103.4 (6) NetRtg: +3.0 (11)
Though the Cavs are starting two bouncy bigs, the one thing they haven’t done well defensively is rebound. They rank 28th in defensive rebounding percentage (69.6%) and, as they lost their showdown with the Wizards on Wednesday, they allowed Washington to turn 12 offensive boards into 21 second chance points. The 13-3 Wizards run that closed the game began with both Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley trying to block Spencer Dinwiddie’s drive, Montrezl Harrell getting his hand on the rebound, and Dinwiddie finding Bradley Beal in the corner for a wide-open 3-pointer. The Cavs’ defensive rebounding percentage has been worse with both Allen and Mobley on the floor (68.3%) than it has otherwise.
That may be the only complaint that can be made about Mobley at this point. As the Cavs rebounded from the Washington loss to win both ends of their weekend back-to-back, the rookie totaled 35 points, 16 rebounds, four steals and six blocks. He was shooting pick-and-pop 3s and pull-up jumpers, and he looked very comfortable in the post on multiple occasions on Saturday, tying the game with a left-shoulder spin against Jayson Tatum with less than two minutes left on Saturday. They’ve generally made a bigger impact on defense, but Allen’s 9-for-13 and Mobley’s 9-for-14 are the fourth and fifth best marks among 41 players with at least 10 field goal attempts on post-ups, according to Second Spectrum tracking.
After the Nets and Warriors face each other on Tuesday, they’ll both have to face the Cavs over the following two days. Round robin!
Week 5: vs. BOS, @ BKN, vs. GSW
Pace: 96.9 (29) OffRtg: 106.9 (18) DefRtg: 101.3 (2) NetRtg: +5.6 (4)
The Nuggets’ last four opponents rank fourth, sixth, 11th and 10th offensively and have averaged 109.5 points scored per 100 possessions this season. And as they ran their winning streak to five games, the Nuggets held those four teams to just 104.1 per 100, solidifying their position as the league’s second best defense. In regard to where teams currently rank offensively, the Nuggets (five opponents in the top 10, four in the bottom 10) have faced a tougher schedule than the Warriors (three and six).
The question is how much of the Nuggets’ defensive improvement (they’ve seen the league’s biggest drop in points allowed per 100 possessions) is about fluky 3-point shooting numbers. According to Second Spectrum tracking, 17% of their opponents 3-point attempts, up from 14% last season, have been tightly or very tightly guarded. And while that’s less than one of out every five attempts, their opponents have shot just 12-for-72 (17%) on those tightly or very tightly guarded 3s, down from 28% last season. Also noteworthy is that the Nuggets have seen the league’s sixth biggest drop in the percentage of their opponents’ shots that have come from 3-point range. So they may really be defending the arc better than they did last season.
The Nuggets are playing without Jamal Murray and (now) Michael Porter Jr. They were without Nikola Jokic against the Pacers on Wednesday and without Will Barton against Portland on Sunday. Their bench still ranks as the fourth worst in the league and Jokic’s on-off differential is still huge. But they got key contributions from Bones Hyland (averaging 15 points over his last three games) and Zeke Nnaji (19 points in the game Jokic missed) last week.
With games against the Sixers and Suns this week, their run of playing some of the league’s best offenses isn’t over.
Week 5: @ DAL, vs. PHI, vs. CHI, @ PHX
Pace: 98.1 (23) OffRtg: 112.3 (2) DefRtg: 105.6 (11) NetRtg: +6.7 (3)
Efficiency is way down across the league, but, in losing four of their last five games, the Jazz have allowed almost as many points per 100 possessions (114.5) as they allowed in any five-game stretch last season, when their high was 115.4 allowed over a 3-2 trip in March. They’ve actually allowed fewer shots at the rim and fewer free throws than they did over their first eight games, but their opponents have shot 43% from 3-point range. The Heat executed well on Saturday, but it took a while before the Jazz showed any urgency in regard to defending Duncan Robinson.
The defense has been at its worst in the first and third quarters, and the drop-off has been dramatic in both the minutes with Rudy Gobert on the floor (113.5 points allowed per 100 possessions vs. 100.9 through the first eight games) and in the minutes with him off the floor (110.3 vs. 92.0). Rudy Gay remains out (though he’s getting closer) and the Jazz haven’t tried any non-garbage-time minutes with Eric Paschall at the five.
Having been outscored from beyond the arc in three of the five games (with struggles on their own end of the floor), the Jazz have dropped to second (behind Brooklyn) in 3-point differential (+9.5 points per game). Three of these last five games have come against top-ranked offenses (those of the Heat and Pacers), and the No. 1 offense in the league is in town on Tuesday. The Sixers will likely be without Joel Embiid, but they’ve still scored rather efficiently as they’ve lost four straight games without him.
Week 5: vs. PHI, vs. TOR, @ SAC
Pace: 101.5 (6) OffRtg: 106.7 (19) DefRtg: 102.1 (3) NetRtg: +4.7 (9)
Paul George is a superstar. As the Clippers closed out their win over the Heat on Thursday, George hit an absolutely ridiculous shot with Tyler Herro in his shirt. A few minutes later, he made an incredible defensive play, going vertical to thwart Bam Adebayo at the rim. Turnovers have been an issue (he had three of the Clippers’ 20 in their loss to the Bulls on Sunday), but George is the only player averaging at least 25 points, five rebounds, five assists, and two steals. His team is 8-5 and he’s clearly its best player on both ends of the floor.
He can’t do it alone of course. The Clippers’ bench, led by Luke Kennard and Terance Mann, remains terrific. Nicolas Batum has an effective field goal percentage of 81.7% (best among 158 players with at least 50 field goal attempts) this month. And lo and behold, Eric Bledsoe has come alive to average 16.8 points (on an effective field goal percentage of 59%) and 5.3 assists over the last four games. The Clips are one of three teams — the Hawks and Spurs are the others — who have six players who have averaged double-figures in 10 games or more.
While the Lakers are heading out for a longer trip this week, the Clippers’ schedule remains home-heavy through the end of the month. They’re in Memphis and New Orleans on Thursday and Friday, but then they’re back for a second six-game homestand.
Week 5: vs. SAS, @ MEM, @ NOP, vs. DAL
Pace: 96.4 (30) OffRtg: 114.3 (1) DefRtg: 109.5 (23) NetRtg: +4.8 (7)
The Sixers have been without Joel Embiid for the last four games, and they’ve lost all four, having allowed their opponents to score 117 points per 100 possessions over the losing streak. All four opponents have made 13 or more 3-pointers and the Bucks, Raptors and Pacers all scored at least 50 points in the paint. Andre Drummond has somewhat held things down, staying out of foul trouble, and grabbing (or tipping) tons of offensive rebounds. But his minutes off the floor have been rough defensively. For the season, the Sixers have allowed 103.0 points per 100 possessions (and 44.3 points in the paint per 100) with Embiid on the floor, 108.6 (and 45.3) per 100 with Drummond on the floor, and 124.4 (and 58.5!) with neither on the floor. There’s some garbage time mixed in there, but the value of having both centers healthy and available is pretty clear.
All four losses were within five points in the last five minutes, because the Philly offense has held up pretty well without Embiid. Tyrese Maxey averaged 26 points last week and has seen the second biggest jump in 3-point percentage (from 30.1% to 41.3%) among 146 players with at least 35 3-point attempts (and at least 100 last season). But down the stretch of those close games, the Sixers weren’t able to get stops, allowing their opponents to score 37 points on 23 clutch possessions (161 per 100).
Their loss in Indiana on Saturday was the start of the Sixers’ longest road trip of the season (six games over 12 days), and they might be without Embiid for both of their games against his fellow All-NBA centers this week. Embiid is 5-2 in his career against Rudy Gobert and 4-1 against Nikola Jokic, who he hasn’t faced in almost two years (since Dec. of 2019).
Week 5: @ UTA, @ DEN, @ POR
Pace: 98.3 (21) OffRtg: 106.2 (22) DefRtg: 108.0 (18) NetRtg: -1.8 (21)
So, was Friday night an anomaly or the start of a trend? The Mavs’ easy win in San Antonio was their most efficient offensive game of the season (123 points on 101 possessions), and it came with big nights from both Luka Doncic (32 points, 12 rebounds and 15 assists) and Kristaps Porzingis (season-high 32 points, three blocks). Just as interesting as their individual numbers was that seven of Porzingis’ 12 buckets were assisted by Doncic. That was two more assists than Doncic had to Porzingis in their first six games together this season, and three of the seven resulted in dunks.
Porzingis himself tossed a few nice dimes earlier in the week in New Orleans, when he and Jalen Brunson had some good minutes together. The Mavs are still one of two teams — Washington is the other — that rank in the bottom five in both ball and player movement. Doncic’s time of possession (9.4 minutes per game) leads the league by a healthy margin and is the second highest mark in nine seasons of player tracking (though it’s down from and incredible 12.1 minutes per game in the playoffs).
The Mavs have four two-game series this season, and two of the four are in the next nine days. They’re in Phoenix for two games against the Suns on Wednesday and Friday, and then it’s on to L.A. for two against the Clippers on Sunday and next Tuesday. Only three of their 12 games thus far have come against the other 14 teams that are currently over .500, but each of their next seven are against that group.
Week 5: vs. DEN, @ PHX, @ PHX, @ LAC
Los Angeles Lakers
Pace: 102.5 (3) OffRtg: 105.2 (23) DefRtg: 106.8 (12) NetRtg: -1.6 (20)
The Lakers’ home-heavy start to the season (12 of their first 15 games at Staples Center) comes to an end on Monday, and it’s not clear if they’ve yet found their footing. They’ve won three of their last four games, with Russell Westbrook recording his second and third triple-doubles of the season and getting three big buckets in their win over the Heat on Wednesday. Anthony Davis has been finding his way to the basket more, with 18 points in the restricted area against Charlotte on Monday and 20 more against San Antonio on Sunday.
But the three wins have come by a total of just 14 points, and they lost by 24 on Friday to a team (Minnesota) that is otherwise 0-7 over the last 16 days. When you take that loss into account, there hasn’t been much progress on either end of the floor. Only the Pistons, Thunder, Rockets and Magic have been worse offensively in the month of November.
Frank Vogel is still searching for answers in regard to a starting lineup around his two healthy stars. Carmelo Anthony got his first start of the season on Sunday, joined by Avery Bradley (who’s started the last eight games) and Talen Horton-Tucker, who was making his season debut. Horton-Tucker’s performance (17 points in 27 minutes) was certainly promising, and every day that passes is a day closer to LeBron James’ return. A five-game trip through the East begins Wednesday in Milwaukee.
Week 5: vs. CHI, @ MIL, @ BOS, @ DET
Pace: 102.5 (2) OffRtg: 109.1 (9) DefRtg: 110.6 (27) NetRtg: -1.5 (19)
The Hornets’ season has been a roller coaster. They went from 5-2 to 5-7, and now they’ve won three straight. Kelly Oubre Jr. scored 37 points in Memphis on Wednesday, Miles Bridges showed off his expanded offensive game (off-hand hook shot off the glass, spin move, scoop through contact) against the Knicks on Friday, and Terry Rozier seems to have found his shot. But the Hornets (who ranked 30th defensively a week ago) have also allowed less than a point per possession over the winning streak. And two of the three wins have come against teams — New York and Golden State — that rank in the top five offensively.
Friday was the first time that the Knicks have been held under a point per possession. And Sunday, in addition to being the Warriors’ first loss in regulation, was just the third time they’ve been held under 105 per 100. Stephen Curry shot just 1-for-8 in Golden State’s 14-point fourth quarter, the one make was a fast-break layup, and six of the seven misses were contested well. This team still does some quirky stuff defensively (Was this a zone?), but effort and focus can matter more than the scheme, and maybe the losing streak was a wake-up call in that regard.
The Hornets are the only team that’s played 15 games, so their first two-day break of the season (Monday and Tuesday) is a deserved one. The first-place Wizards are in town on Wednesday for the first of two meetings in six days.
SCARY TERRY TO MILES BRIDGES 🤯🤯
— NBA (@NBA) November 11, 2021
New York Knicks
Pace: 98.0 (24) OffRtg: 110.0 (5) DefRtg: 109.7 (25) NetRtg: +0.2 (14)
Through the first 9 1/2 minutes of the Knicks’ game in Charlotte on Friday, Kemba Walker outscored his former team, 17-16, by himself. Somehow, he still managed to register a minus-23 for the game. After a great start, the Knicks’ starting lineup was outscored by three points when it got back together in the second quarter and by 18 points over the first 8:50 of the third. In 103 total November minutes with one of their three centers on the floor with their other four starters, the Knicks have been outscored by 56 points (more than 25 per 100 possessions). The offense has been bad (effective field goal percentage of 47%, not enough free throws) and the defense has been worse (120 allowed per 100).
Derrick Rose and the rest of the bench have been terrific, but they can’t be asked to dig out of big holes every night. The Knicks are still on the right side of .500, but after a hot start, the offense has struggled. RJ Barrett has shot just 13-for-50 (26%) over the last four games, Walker and Evan Fournier have combined to shoot 17-for-69 (25%) from 3-point range this month, and Julius Randle just didn’t play very strong in Charlotte on Friday.
The Knicks play five of their next six games at home, having allowed more than 120 points per 100 possessions as they’ve lost three straight at Madison Square Garden.
Week 5: vs. IND, vs. ORL, vs. HOU, @ CHI
Pace: 98.0 (25) OffRtg: 104.9 (24) DefRtg: 104.7 (10) NetRtg: +0.2 (15)
Despite the absence of Jaylen Brown over the last four games, the Celtics are 4-2, with the league’s top-ranked defense (97.2 points allowed per 100 possessions), since their meltdown against Chicago and the ensuing Marcus Smart media session. Dennis Schroder has found a rhythm in the starting lineup, averaging 28.7 points on an effective field goal percentage of 61% over the last three games.
The Celtics got a measure of revenge against Toronto on Wednesday, when Jayson Tatum dished out seven assists, doing a nice job of finding the open man when the Raptors’ defense gave him extra attention. Smart’s comments after the Chicago game were about passing and it was noted in this space last week where Tatum and Brown rank among high-usage players in assist rate. But the bigger problem this season is Tatum’s inefficiency as a scorer. His true shooting percentage of 48.1% is a career-low mark by a healthy margin and ranks last among 47 players who’ve averaged at least 18 points per game. He’s seen a bigger drop in his field goal percentage in the paint (44.5% vs. 55.5% last season) than he has in his effective field goal percentage on shots from outside the paint (44.8% vs. 51.1%), perhaps a victim of fewer whistles.
Tatum shot 8-for-22 as the Celtics lost in Cleveland on Saturday, and he didn’t get much help as the they blew a 19-point lead over the final 15 minutes. They’re the only team that’s lost multiple games it led by double-digits in the fourth quarter, and they’ll get another shots at the Cavs on Monday.
Marcus Smart will hit you with a real dime every once in a while. pic.twitter.com/gjmyFFU2uK
— John Schuhmann (@johnschuhmann) November 13, 2021
Pace: 99.9 (12) OffRtg: 107.2 (16) DefRtg: 109.1 (20) NetRtg: -1.8 (22)
The Bucks won the Milwaukee-New-York-Philadelphia round robin last week, winning both of their games on the road. With five minutes left on Tuesday, they trailed Philly by one. And with five minutes left on Wednesday, they were tied with New York. And then they won the last five minutes of the two games by a total score of 40-18, shutting down the Sixers’ top-ranked offense (seven points on 11 possessions down the stretch) and shooting 7-for-8 from 3-point range against the Knicks.
But the Bucks couldn’t climb over .500. Playing without Giannis Antetokounmpo, they had another strong close to the fourth quarter in Boston on Friday. But that just got them to overtime, where they shot 2-for-9. Jrue Holiday was 0-for-3 in the extra period and has shot just 35% (including 9-for-35 from 3-point range) over the six games since he returned from his ankle injury. Meanwhile, the Bucks allowed 121 points per 100 possessions as they lost their two weekend games, getting torched by Dennis Schroder (38 points) and Trae Young (42).
The Bucks have played nine of their first 14 games on the road. Their longest homestand of the season is five games long, it begins Wednesday, and there’s hope that Khris Middleton (who’s missed the last eight games) will be available when they host L.A. The Bucks and Lakers are two of three teams — Minnesota is the other — that don’t have a lineup that’s played at least 50 minutes together.
Week 5: vs. LAL, vs. OKC, vs. ORL
Pace: 97.0 (28) OffRtg: 108.5 (12) DefRtg: 107.6 (16) NetRtg: +0.9 (12)
While the Raptors are once again near the top of the league in regard to forcing turnovers, they’ve generally done a good job of taking care of the ball themselves, and their turnover differential (-3.6 per game) is the best in the league. But a couple of brutal miscues (OG Anunoby and Scottie Barnes both getting the ball poked out of their hands) midway through the fourth quarter basically sealed their fate in a loss in Boston on Wednesday, their least efficient performance (88 points on 98 possessions) since opening night.
That was followed by two of their three most efficient games of the season, with the Raptors grabbing 31 total offensive rebounds against Philly and Detroit. It’s wild that the team with nobody bigger than the 6-foot-9, 233-pound Khem Birch leads the league in offensive rebounding percentage by a healthy margin, but that speaks to the Raptors’ aggressiveness in all facets of the game. And with all that crashing of the glass, only 13.5% of the Raptors’ opponent possessions (the league’s lowest opponent rate) have been in transition.
Alas, the Raptors somehow lost their most efficient game of the season to the team that ranks [checks notes] 29th offensively, because Dwane Casey seems to have their number (and because their defense was poor). With Fred VanVleet out, Goran Dragic was dusted off, looked pretty sharp for a guy who hadn’t played in three weeks, and scored 16 points in 28 minutes. It will be interesting to see if he remains in the rotation when VanVleet returns. A six-game trip begins Monday in Portland.
Week 5: @ POR, @ UTA, @ SAC, @ GSW
Pace: 98.2 (22) OffRtg: 109.3 (6) DefRtg: 109.1 (21) NetRtg: +0.2 (16)
The difference between the Pacers’ 1-6 October and their 5-2 November has been on offense, where they rank third (113.8 points scored per 100 possessions) this month. Seven different Pacers have averaged double-figures over the seven games, with Myles Turner third in effective field goal percentage (73.2%) among 158 players with at least 50 field goal attempts in November. Turner has seen a jump in his 3-point rate (3PA/FGA) every season he’s been in the league, it’s over 50% this season, and it’s come with a career-best 44% shooting from beyond the arc.
T.J. McConnell (65.1%) is ninth in effective field goal percentage this month (trailing Kevin Durant by a hair) and added five offensive rebounds (that led to 10 second-chance points) to his 21 points (second highest total of his career) in Utah on Thursday. The man can’t jump or shoot from beyond 15 feet, but McConnell is super-quick and has a nose for the ball. His put-back just before the first-half buzzer capped a game-changing, 22-9 run in which the Pacers dominated the glass against what has been the second-best rebounding team in the league this season.
They’re in the middle of a road-heavy stretch, but the Pacers’ win over the Sixers on Saturday was the start of five straight games against defenses that rank no higher than 19th. So they have a great opportunity to keep this run of good offense going and climb to .500 for the first time this season.
Week 5: @ NYK, @ DET, @ CHA, vs. NOP
Portland Trail Blazers
Pace: 99.8 (13) OffRtg: 108.8 (10) DefRtg: 109.3 (22) NetRtg: -0.5 (18)
The Blazers got their first road win of the season on Friday, getting good minutes from their bench to outlast the (now) 1-12 Rockets. Nassir Little had such a good start (3-for-4 in the first quarter), they drew up the first play of the second quarter for him. And really, with his versatility, if Little can build upon these last couple of games, the Blazers will be a better team in the long run.
Of course, nobody’s more important to this team than Damian Lillard, who missed the Blazers’ loss in Denver on Sunday with the abdomen injury that’s been bothering him. The Blazers got blasted by the Nuggets, in what was the most efficient game for any team this season (124 points on just 91 possessions) and the third time on the four-game trip that they allowed more than 120 per 100.
Good news: The Blazers now begin a four-game homestand, and they play 19 of their next 26 games at the Moda Center, where they’re 5-1. The first game is Monday and Lillard’s status is unknown, but after Wednesday, the Blazers will play just four games over a stretch of 11 days.
Week 5: vs. TOR, vs. CHI, vs. PHI
Pace: 99.5 (14) OffRtg: 106.5 (20) DefRtg: 113.3 (30) NetRtg: -6.9 (25)
The Grizzlies are still tied (with 5-3 Miami) for the most wins (they’re 5-5) against the 15 teams that currently have winning records. They dominated the paint (+15.5 points per game) over their four games last week. Brandon Clarke returned from being DNP’d to to give them 20 points and two huge offensive boards in overtime against Minnesota on Monday. And Dillon Brooks is back, scoring 43 points (in just 57 minutes) in his first two appearances of the season.
But the Grizz have lost three straight, with the defeat in New Orleans dropping them to last in defensive efficiency. They could probably turn things around by just being ready to defend from the opening tip. Over their last five games, they’ve allowed an amazing 138 points per 100 possessions in the first quarter, with their opponents having shot 60%, both inside and outside the arc, over those 60 minutes.
The Grizzlies should hope that the nadir was Saturday, when they allowed the Pelicans to end a nine-game losing streak with their most efficient offensive performance of the season. But the Grizz host the Rockets (losers of 11 straight) with a rest advantage on Monday, so things could conceivably get worse.
Week 5: vs. HOU, vs. LAC, @ MIN
Pace: 98.9 (16) OffRtg: 108.7 (11) DefRtg: 111.4 (28) NetRtg: -2.8 (23)
It’s weird to think of the Bucks as schedule relief, but that was the case for the Hawks, who, prior to Sunday, had played nine straight games against teams that are currently over .500, with seven of those nine having come on the road. They went 1-8 over that stretch, allowing more than 118 points per 100 possessions, with their opponents having shot 61% in the paint.
But the Hawks returned home to face the similarly struggling and road-weary champs. And the Hawks were the underperforming team that took advantage of the other. Trae Young came out firing, draining five 3-pointers in the first quarter on his way to a season-high 42 points. The other end of the floor (100 points allowed on 97 possessions) was equally or more important when you consider where the Hawks currently rank, but they’ve now won the last 12 regular season games in which Young has scored at least 35.
Alas, the win came on the same day that the Hawks announced that De’Andre Hunter will have surgery on his right wrist and miss about eight weeks of action. Though Hunter missed two games last week, the Hawks’ regular starting lineup has played the most minutes (214) of any five-man group in the league. What has been a somewhat disappointing bench – the Hawks rank 16th in aggregate bench NetRtg — gets a little thinner with Kevin Huerter in the starting lineup.
The win over the Bucks was the start of a five-game homestand and a stretch of seven games where six of the opponents are currently under .500. But games against the Celtics and Hornets this week should be good measures of the Hawks’ ability to turn their season around.
Week 5: vs. ORL, vs. BOS, vs. CHA
Oklahoma City Thunder
Pace: 100.0 (11) OffRtg: 99.4 (28) DefRtg: 107.5 (15) NetRtg: -8.1 (26)
The Thunder were pretty competitive for the first three months of last season, going 19-24 with the league’s 11th-ranked defense. But that group never won more than three straight games. This season’s Thunder went one better, and not surprisingly, it was defense that fueled their four-game winning streak. The Thunder allowed their opponents to barely crack a point per possession and shoot just 52% in the restricted area over the four games, which were all within five points in the last five minutes. The biggest stop of the streak, of course, was Lu Dort’s clean strip of De’Aaron Fox, leading to the game-winning layup on Friday.
Dort has scored 20 or more points in three straight games for the second time in his career, and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander remains a star. But there is very little offense beyond those two guys, so for however long the Thunder plan on remaining competitive, they’ll have to defend at a pretty high level. They couldn’t stop Kevin Durant on Sunday, but they’ve climbed from 28th to 15th defensively in the last two weeks and only the Warriors have allowed their opponents to take a lower percentage of their shots in the restricted area.
Lu Dort steals and scores to give OKC the win 😱 pic.twitter.com/yY2uvnh3zU
— NBA TV (@NBATV) November 13, 2021
San Antonio Spurs
Pace: 101.4 (7) OffRtg: 107.5 (15) DefRtg: 106.9 (13) NetRtg: +0.6 (13)
The Spurs are somehow 4-9 with a positive point differential (plus-1 over the 13 games). Their 14-point loss to the Mavs on Friday was their worst of the season, but some garbage-time success made it look closer than it really was (they trailed by as many as 27 points). Another fourth-quarter run got them to within two points with less than three minutes to go on Sunday, but they proceeded to allow eight points on the Lakers’ next three possessions.
Dejounte Murray recorded his sixth career triple-double on Sunday, but the loss was another in which the Spurs were killed (minus-17 in 9:48) with him off the floor. It also dropped them to 1-7 in games that were within five points in the last five minutes, having shot 3-for-13 (23%) on clutch 3s and 8-for-18 (44%) on clutch free throws.
With six guys averaging double-figures (and with Keldon Johnson, Doug McDermott and Devin Vassell combining to shoot 32-for-52 from 3-point range), the Spurs scored more than 117 points per 100 possessions in their three games last week. They also allowed more than 117 per 100, perhaps feeling the continued absence of Jakob Poeltl on that end of the floor. With the center having made the trip to L.A., he could return on Tuesday.
Week 5: @ LAC, @ MIN
Pace: 100.8 (9) OffRtg: 103.0 (26) DefRtg: 107.0 (14) NetRtg: -4.1 (24)
There were two ridiculous dunks in the Wolves-Warriors game on Wednesday, but Anthony Edwards wasn’t a part of either one. It was still a huge night for the 20-year-old, who was fantastic on offense, getting downhill early and often and finishing strong over multiple defenders. Beyond the career-high 48 points was some good decision-making. The Wolves actually got back in the game when the Warriors blitzed Edwards’ pick-and-rolls, because he got off the ball quickly and D’Angelo Russell got open 3-pointers against the Golden State rotations. The 30 ball-screens the Wolves set for Edwards on Wednesday were a high for this season.
The Wolves didn’t need much from Edwards on Friday, because Karl-Anthony Towns scored an efficient 29 points and the Lakers shot 26% from outside the restricted area. For the Wolves’ defense, that was more anomaly than trend, as they allowed almost 122 points per 100 possessions over their three losses last week. October’s fourth best defense has become November’s fourth worst, with the Wolves’ opponents having shot much better both in the paint and outside it, while also getting to the line more.
The Wolves have a four-game homestand this week, and it begins with visits from two teams who rank in the top 10 offensively.
Week 5: vs. PHX, vs. SAC, vs. SAS, vs. MEM
Pace: 101.2 (8) OffRtg: 109.1 (7) DefRtg: 109.6 (24) NetRtg: -0.4 (17)
The Kings have played a league-high 10 games that were within five points in the last five minutes. They’re 3-7 (with five straight losses) in those 10 games, struggling to score down the stretch. They’ve scored just 44 points on 57 clutch possessions (77 per 100), the only team with more clutch turnovers (13) than clutch field goals (11). The latest of those 13 turnovers came Friday in Oklahoma City, when De’Aaron Fox got picked clean by Lu Dort, who went the other way for the game-winning basket. In Phoenix earlier in the week, the Kings cut a 24-point deficit down to three, saw Devin Booker miss two free throws, and then couldn’t complete an inbounds pass.
They’ve lost four straight overall. Fox has started to shoot better, but others have cooled off and they’re still searching for answers on the frontline beyond Richaun Holmes. It seems that the Marvin Bagley Ship has sailed, and Tristan Thompson is also getting periodically DNP’d with the Kings’ defense having been bad (121 points allowed per 100 possessions) in his minutes on the floor. A new starting lineup — with Chimezie Metu in place of Maurice Harkless — was a plus-6 in a little less than 12 minutes on Friday.
Having come up short in San Antonio and Oklahoma City, the Kings’ super-soft road trip continues through Detroit and Minnesota. They’ll face some tougher opponents when they get home.
Week 5: @ DET, @ MIN, vs. TOR, vs. UTA
Pace: 98.4 (20) OffRtg: 99.4 (29) DefRtg: 108.9 (19) NetRtg: -9.5 (30)
The Pistons are tied for the league’s third worst record (84-148) over the four seasons that Dwane Casey has been coach (more about the players than the coach, of course). But with a comeback win in Toronto on Saturday, Casey is 7-3 against the Raptors in that time. His new team, even though the roster has completely changed over in the last two years, always seems to get up for games against his old one. The win on Saturday was, by far, Detroit’s most efficient offensive game of the season (127 points on just 96 possessions) and it came with seven guys in double-figures, along with a season-high assist rate (79% of buckets assisted).
Of course, the highlight was an unassisted bucket from Cade Cunningham on an isolation against OG Anunoby. The No. 1 pick went 2-1 against picks No. 2, 3 and 4 last week, scoring a season-high 20 points in Houston on Wednesday. He can often be stationed in the corner when Killian Hayes is handling the ball, but Cunningham (24.3%) has had the much higher usage rate (13.3%) in the 143 minutes in which the two starting guards have shared the floor.
The Pistons’ longest homestand of the season is five games long, it begins Monday, and it ends with visits from the Warriors, Lakers and Heat.
Week 5: vs. SAC, vs. IND, vs. GSW, vs. LAL
Pace: 98.5 (19) OffRtg: 100.7 (27) DefRtg: 110.1 (26) NetRtg: -9.4 (29)
Cole Anthony’s 33-point performance against the Jazz and ensuing on-court interview was awesome. But that win has been sandwiched by four losses over which the Magic have scored an anemic 88.8 points per 100 possessions. Anthony supplemented his 8-for-28 shooting last week with 12 free throw attempts on Saturday, but Jalen Suggs continues to struggle. His turnover rate (17 per 100 possessions) is the fourth highest among 210 players who’ve averaged at least 20 minutes and his effective field goal percentage of 35.4% is the worst mark among 252 players who’ve taken at least 50 shots. The last the last five games (18.9 turnovers per 100 possessions, effective field goal percentage of 34.0%) haven’t any better than the first five game of the season (16.8, 33.3%).
The Magic starting lineup continues to be strong defensively, allowing just 91.0 points allowed per 100 possessions, best among 27 lineups that have played at least 75 minutes. This is still a bottom-five defensive team overall, but only the Warriors, Thunder and Wizards have allowed their opponents to take a lower percentage of their shots in the restricted area.
The Magic will soon be coming to a city near you. With a five-game homestand in the books, they’re on the road for 12 of their next 15 (and 22 of their next 32) games.
Week 5: @ ATL, @ NYK, @ BKN, @ MIL
New Orleans Pelicans
Pace: 98.6 (18) OffRtg: 103.9 (25) DefRtg: 113.0 (29) NetRtg: -9.1 (28)
Brandon Ingram’s return from a seven-game absence (with 19 points and four assists) certainly helped the Pelicans end a nine-game losing streak and record their most efficient game of the season (112 points on just 91 possessions). But their most efficient performance prior to the win over Memphis was the night before against Brooklyn, so maybe they were already trending up. Whether or not they have Ingram, they need production from their backcourt, and they got 23.3 points per game on a true shooting percentage of 62.1% (good shooting from the floor, many trips to the line) from Nickeil Alexander-Walker over their three-game homestand.
Much of his 33 points against Oklahoma City on Wednesday came after the Pels were already down big, and Alexander-Walker has an effective field goal percentage of just 27.7% on pull-up jumpers, the second worst mark among 72 players who’ve attempted at least 50. But he’s had some success (with both tough finishes and deft dimes) in attacking the basket. It would be nice if there were more assists; Alexander-Walker’s shot-selection meter is sometimes tilting toward “chucker” mode and his assist rate has dropped from 20.9 assists per 100 possessions used as a rookie to 15.6 last season and just 12.2 this season.
That efficient performance on Saturday came against the only team that’s allowed more points per 100 possessions than the Pelicans themselves. They’ll now play three straight games against teams that rank in the top 10 defensively.
Week 5: @ WAS, @ MIA, vs. LAC, @ IND
Pace: 102.9 (1) OffRtg: 98.9 (30) DefRtg: 107.9 (17) NetRtg: -9.0 (27)
The Rockets continue to employ a starting lineup that has scored an amazingly anemic 81.9 points per 100 possessions, 25 per 100 fewer than the league average. It did have some better runs (plus-3 in 21 total minutes) against Detroit and Portland last week, but in its 15 minutes against Phoenix on Sunday, the lineup was outscored by 25 points, shooting 6-for-24 and committing eight turnovers on 32 possessions.
If you think that a Christian Wood-Daniel Theis frontline is a little clunky, you’re probably right. Overall, the Rockets have scored 14 more points per 100 possessions with Theis off the floor (103.6) than they have with him on the floor (89.6), though the loss to Portland on Friday did include three vintage screens of his own defender (one, two, three) to clear paths to the rim for six of Kevin Porter Jr.’s 18 points. The crowd comes to see you play the hits, after all.
With Theis’ help, the Rockets lead the league by a wide margin in the percentage of their shots (39%) that have come in the restricted area. But with New Orleans’ win over Memphis on Saturday, they’re the only team left with just a single victory. That came in Week 1 against the Thunder, who they’ll meet again on Wednesday.
Week 5: @ MEM, @ OKC, @ NYK