For a long time, the narrative about the Eastern Conference has been that it’s quite weak compared to the Western Conference. Judging by our Power Rankings, there may be some merit to that, as seven of our top 10 and four of the top five are Western Conference teams.
One thing the East has a lot of, though, is parity. A mere 1.5 games separate the third from 10th seed, and if we’re lucky, the trend will continue as the season progresses. Could you imagine a team losing three of their final five games of the season and go from having homecourt advantage in the first round to being in the draft lottery? Talk about suspense! As five different teams in the conference enter play on December 16 with 12 losses, we must say, every single game counts.
In this week’s rankings, the Houston Rockets and New York Knicks are rising. Meanwhile, we’re hoping that the Oklahoma City Thunder and Charlotte Hornets get their acts together.
Proof that record isn’t everything: The Mavs and Sixers are each 6-19, but one franchise seems to have bright days ahead while the other might as well begin scouting in earnest. We’re fairly certain you know which one is which.
The only thing better than the Sixers turning the corner is the fact that they may be entitled to the Lakers’ draft pick this season. By virtue of the Michael Carter-Williams trade, the pick is due to the Sixers if it falls outside of the top three. Two more lottery picks in Philly? Imagine the possibilities.
The Nets may have lost each of their games in San Antonio and Houston, but with Jermey Lin returning against his former club, the squad had a real opportunity to steal a victory. They didn’t, but with Lin returning after missing 17 games, the Nets will have a chance to win some games.
If there was one game Tom Thibodeau probably wanted to win, it would have been Tuesday’s matchup at the Bulls. The T-Wolves pulled out the 99-94 victory, but what we loved most about it was that Zach LaVine and Karl-Anthony Towns each took more shots than Andrew Wiggins. Wiggy being more efficient and less trigger happy would go a long way toward helping Minny.
The Suns were able to overcome Kristaps Porzingis’ career game on Tuesday night, but not Kawhi Leonard’s 18-point, 10-rebound double-double in Thursday night’s 107-92 loss to the Spurs. Even though New York was missing Derrick Rose, the Suns showed something in beating the Knicks. That’s more than can be said for some of the others.
It took 27 games, but Jrue Holiday finally turned in a double-double in a 16-point, 14-assist effort in Thursday night’s 102-95 win over the Pacers. It took as long for Buddy Hield to turn in a 20-point effort as well. Making up 11 games in the Western Conference is going to be difficult, but if those contributions become normal, it could happen.
The HEAT have begun their six-game home stand by winning their first two and if Hassan Whiteside comes anywhere near the 26 points and 22 rebounds he gave his team in Wednesday’s 95-89 win over the Pacers, the HEAT could find themselves playing for something. They’re just four games out of eighth.
Unfortunately, Sunday’s 118-112 loss to the Knicks meant the Lakers carried a six-game losing streak with them on their SEVEN-game road trip, which has begun with losses to the King and Nets. After the road trip, eight of their following nine will be at home – but until then, things might get even uglier.
The last time the Kings beat a team with a winning record was way back on November 23, when they defeated the Thunder. Since then, the Kings have gone 0-6 against teams with winning records, and that’s a fairly good indicator of where they are as a team.
After finishing up their six-game road trip at 2-4, the Nuggets dropped 132 points on the Blazers (whom they defeated). Even more impressive, Denver had EIGHT players score in double figures. Still, in this league, you need an alpha-male and we’re still not sure who that guy is in Denver.
Elfrid Payton had just one 20-point game all season long prior to being sent to the bench for the team’s November 27 contest against the Bucks. Since then, he’s had two, including in Wednesday’s 131-120 victory over the Hawks—their only win in their last five, unfortunately.
The Wiz have won three of four and, very quietly, only trail the third seed in the conference by two games in the loss column. Fortunately, in the Eastern Conference, it only takes one winning streak to find yourself right back in the thick of things, huh?
The good vibrations from Tuesday’s whooping of the Thunder (and ending their four-game losing streak) were short lived, as the Blazers got shellacked by the Nuggets on Thursday, 132-120. They have now lost four of five and are two games under .500 for the first time this season. They need a shot in the arm.
Maybe we’re jumping the gun, but with the Pacers a game under .500 at this point in the season, we are a tad concerned with Nate McMillan and the prospect of him keeping the gig long-term. He’s planning on moving Monta Ellis to the bench. We’ll see if that can ignite the squad.
With all due respect to the Magic, we wouldn’t have bet they could score 131 points in an empty gym, much less against the Hawks, but it happened on Tuesday night. The Hawks have given up at least 100 points in eight of their last nine. We’re still not sure what’s become of these guys.
Losers of four of their last five, the Celtics suddenly find themselves just one game over .500, which is an unpleasant surprise. It’s no coincidence that the team hasn’t had success without Isaiah Thomas in the lineup due to a groin injury. The floor general’s return is imminent, though. With Thomas, Al Horford and Jae Crowder together and healthy, maybe they can turn things around.
In Thursday’s 108-97 loss to the Bucks, somehow, Dwyane Wade managed to turn in a plus/minus rating of minus-28! Taj Gibson, Jimmy Butler and Robin Lopez were each minus-8, so Wade, apparently, was worse than all three of them? Maybe not. But the Bulls’ 1-2 week was very unimpressive.
The Bucks handled the Bulls on Thursday night. The win broke a three-game losing streak, but perhaps more interestingly, was the first of six games wherein the Bucks play three different teams in a home-and-home: Chicago, Cleveland and Washington. On the floor, effort seems to be improving, though, so we’re happy with their progress.
Charlotte dropped the first three contests of their five-game road trip. We can’t be mad at Saturday’s loss at the Cavs, but given how poorly the Pacers and Wizards have fared this season, we would have expected the Hornets to win at least one of those. They didn’t.
The Pistons are 8-4 over their last 12, but somehow got beat up by the Sixers on Sunday, 97-79. They managed just 12 points in the first quarter and never led the entire game. It only counts as one loss, but we think it should count as three. Even still, it’s hard to argue with their on-court improvements. Plus, the aforementioned eight wins helps a lot in the suddenly jumbled East.
The Knicks have backed into a top-10 ranking. After winning the first two games of their five-game road trip (against the Kings and Lakers), their losses to the Suns and Dubs are excusable since they were without a healthy Carmelo Anthony and Derrick Rose. Tied with the third-best record out East, it’s time to put some respect on Jeff Hornacek’s name. Still, it’ll all come crashing down dramatically if ‘Melo and Rose don’t get healthy, and fast.
Three games in a row with no triple-double for Russell Westbrook, so we’re a tad disappointed, especially since the Thunder went 1-3 over the past week. They’ve taken a step back, but that shouldn’t come as a huge surprise. Seven of their next 11 will be played on the road, so if Westbrook (currently averaging 30.6 points, 10.6 assists and 10.5 rebounds) doesn’t get his act together, things could continue to slip.
After going 9-2 over their past 11, the secret is out: Utah is for real. So long as they continue to play dominant defense (they rank third in defensive efficiency across the league), they’ll have an opportunity to beat anybody. They also lead the league in points allowed at 95.2 per game.
The Grizz have scored victories over the Clippers, Warriors AND Cavs, and they’re the only team in the league that can boast that. The Cavs win comes with an asterisk, but even without Mike Conley, they’ve been getting good minutes with rookie Andrew Harrison and spirited play from Marc Gasol.
With four wins in a row, the Raptors are getting great production from Kyle Lowry, who happens to be shooting about 58 percent from the field over his last 10 games. Clearly the second-best team in the conference, the next measuring-stick game doesn’t come until they visit the Warriors on December 28. Between now and then, they’ll only play one team with a winning record.
The Clips are 5-2 since since their three-game losing streak, and the next three (at Miami, at Washington, home vs. Denver) seem winnable. The next litmus test will come next Thursday against the Spurs. Who had the Clips locked in a dead heat with the Rockets at this point? Yet, here we are.
With eight wins in a row, the Rockets are currently carrying the longest winning streak in the association. What makes their immediate outlook even more promising? Seven of their next 11 will be played at home. Of those 11, only five will be contested against winning teams. They don’t play the Clippers until December 30. Safe to say we’re looking forward to that one.
We’ve gotta take the champs to task for leaving LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love at home when they traveled to Memphis to complete their home-and-home with the Grizzlies. No surprise, they lost without their big guns, ending their five-game win streak. So long as they remain healthy, the sky isn’t falling in Cleveland.
While everyone was paying attention to what Phil Jackson said about Carmelo Anthony and Russell Westbrook eating triple-doubles like they were cheeseburgers, the Spurs were busy going 15-2 over their past 17 games. Six of their next nine also happen to be against opponents less than .500, so the Warriors won’t be putting much distance between the two teams… Yet.
The Dubs took care of their business on Thursday night, beating up on the depleted Knicks by a final of 103-90. What makes them scariest (and unstoppable) is how they share the ball. On Thursday night, they had 41 assists on 45 field goals. For them, having an assist rate of 80 percent or better is quite routine. It’s also amazing.
The way things have gone over the first six weeks of the NBA season, it would appear that the Warriors, Spurs and Cavs are separating themselves from the pack. As we look ahead to Christmas Day, we can’t help but be a tad excited about seeing Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant make their first visit to Cleveland as teammates. Stay tuned, and be sure to check back next Friday to see where your team stands.
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