We watch the Toronto Raptors. We see them end the Houston Rockets’ 17-game winning streak and build a four-game lead (in the loss column) atop the Eastern Conference. We note that they’re the only team in the league that ranks in the top five in both offensive and defensive efficiency.
We watch the Cleveland Cavaliers. We see them lose two games in L.A. We note that they’re 14-19 since Christmas and have been outscored by four points over the course of the season. Through all their roster changes, ups and downs, they’ve been simply mediocre.
So … Is this the year that LeBron James doesn’t make The Finals? Are we ready to make that call with the playoffs 33 days away?
This is easily James’ worst team in the last eight years, but we still haven’t seen a healthy, post-trade-deadline Cavs roster, with Kevin Love having been out for almost six weeks now. We saw the Cavs flip the switch and sweep the Raptors (who had a much better regular-season point differential) last year.
This season, both in Cleveland and in Toronto, feels much different. But we’ll just have to wait until April or May before this drama unfolds. For now, the Raptors are No. 1 and the Cavs most definitely are not.
- Last week: West races heat up on both ends of playoff picture
- This time last year: No. 1 seeds at risk as schedule gets to Warriors, Cavs — LaMarcus Aldridge had a heart-related health scare and Andrew Bogut broke his leg in his first minute playing with the Cavs. Dirk Nowitzki reached the 30,000-point milestone, Marvin Williams threw one down on Bismack Biyombo, Devin Booker hit a game-winning buzzer beater in Dallas, and there was a gorilla on the floor in Phoenix.
- Plus-minus stud: Rudy Gobert (UTA) was a plus-83 in four games last week.
- Plus-minus dud: Elfrid Payton (PHX) was a minus-78 in three games last week.
- Hero team of the week: Utah (4-0) — The Jazz’s week included two road wins (by a total of 37 points) over teams – Indiana and New Orleans – that have otherwise been playing well of late.
- Zero team of the week: Grizzlies (0-4) — The Grizzlies’ losing streak reached 17 games with a 34-point loss in Dallas. P.S. The Mavs aren’t very good.
- East vs. West: The West is 203-173 (.540) against the East in interconference games after going 10-7 last week.
- Toughest schedules so far: 1. Dallas, 2. Philadelphia, 3. Chicago
- Easiest schedules so far: 1. Indiana, 2. LA Clippers, 3. Cleveland
- 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 (+3), Miami (+2), Toronto (+2)
- Free falls of the week: Atlanta (-2), Cleveland (-2), New York (-2)
- Team to watch in Week 22: San Antonio — We await the return of Kawhi Leonard. He won’t play in Houston on Monday, but it would be a big help if he came back for critical home games against New Orleans and Minnesota on Thursday and Saturday.
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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 99.5 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes and 106.2 points scored per 100 possessions this season.
For the complete NBA.com’s Power Rankings, click here.