Pretty eventful week in the NBA with Rudy Gay headed West, Kobe Bryant returning, the Pacers beating the Spurs, then Thunder thumping the Pacers, then the Pacers beating the Heat. Let's check in on the trends:
Elite Pacer defense... against the East?
The Indiana Pacers have only allowed 100 or more points four times this season, and each one of those games happened in the last week. The common theme: They were on a five-game Western Conference road trip.
The Pacers have the league's best defense and are allowing a ridiculous 95.9 points per 100 possessions, but gave up 100 to the Clippers, 106 to the Trail Blazers, 100 to the Spurs and 118 to the Thunder, the most they've allowed in almost two years.
So I couldn't help but wonder, are the Pacers just suffocating hapless Eastern teams while struggling to stop powerful squads in the West? Here are the numbers: Against the East, the Pacers are allowing 89.2 points per 100. Against the West, 100.3.
And while they're 19-3 (and went 3-2 on that five-game Western swing), they're 13-1 against the East and 6-2 against the West. The sample size could be skewed by the fewer number of games (the Thunder game, where OKC had an offensive efficiency of 124.5, definitely messes with it), or it could be a trend. So something to watch, maybe.
Brook Lopez, the best big in the East?
Defense matters, especially when you're big, which is why Roy Hibbert is still probably considered the East's best big man. And Andre Drummond has gotten off to a terrific start and is realizing some of that ridiculous potential he has.
But lost in their miserable first month, the Nets have themselves a star center. Lopez has been good the past few seasons and absolutely worthy of the max deal he got, but the seven-footer is taking things to new levels offensively. He's averaging 20.9 points on 57.5 percent shooting and has the league's second best PER at 28.47.
The hangup most have for Lopez is that he's not a great rebounder for his size (just 5.9 per game this season). Via SportVU, Lopez averages 12.1 rebounding opportunities per game, which is right ahead of Tyler Hansbrough, if that tells you something. Lopez brings in 2.7 contested rebounds a game which is 50th in the league right now. So he doesn't do that especially well.
But on the offensive end, he's unmatched right now. From post-ups to midrange to the pick-and-roll, Lopez is an complete force. So at least you've got that going for you, Nets fans.
Aberration, or are the Warriors sketchier than we thought?
They're 4-6 in their last 10 and are coming off bad losses to the Rockets (105-83 blowout) and Bobcats last week. Clearly, Andre Iguodala's absence has had a major impact on them, particularly on the defensive end, so they get some grace because of that.
Iguodala has been out since Nov. 23, and in that time the Warriors have gone 4-5. And defensively, they're allowing 105.4 points per 100 possessions. Compare that to the 12 games with Iguodala -- a defensive rating of 97.2. Clearly, Iggy has a significant defensive impact for the Warriors.
Question is, will he fix it all once he comes back from his hamstring strain? Hard to really say. The Warriors have slipped some and aren't lighting up the scoreboard quite in the same way they were earlier in the year. They're currently on the outside of the West's playoff picture, but I can tell you this: Whoever finishes first or second in the West most definitely doesn't want the Warriors as their first round matchup.
The Bobcats are defending really, really well
At 10-11, nobody is going to be throwing around Coach of the Year votes to Steve Clifford of the Bobcats, but maybe they should be.
When they signed Al Jefferson in the offseason, the message seemed clear: The Bobcats wanted to go from horrible to at least being slightly mediocre. Mission accomplished, as they're right at .500 and sitting fifth in the East (sigh).
But what's been so impressive is the defensive turnaround. They allowing just 92.4 points per game which can be misleading because of pace and such. But accounting for that, they're still elite, allowing just 97.7 points per 100 possessions, fourth in the league.
The big problem they have is on the other side where they can't score (95.5 points per 100), but for all coaches, there's always been a philosophy to focus on defense first because that's a backbone that needs installing. And Clifford appears to be conquering that with his young team.
Wait a second, Jordan Crawford?
Crawford, who pretty much believes he's the best player in the league (just look at his profile picture -- it says it all), is off to a very good start averaging 14.3 points, 3.2 rebounds and 5.3 assists as he fills in as Rajon Rondo's primary point guard replacement.
What he's done so well is managed himself by resisting those out-of-body moments where he just starts chucking everything to try and show off. He's shooting 46.2 percent on the season and even better, has True Shooting percentage of 57.1. In December (four games), he's averaging 21.3 points and 6.0 assists on 56.4/50.0/69.2 shooting splits.
So what kind of witchcraft has Brad Stevens used to make this happen?
"The only thing I wanted to make sure he knew from my standpoint was that it's a fresh start — that we believe in him," Stevens recently told Zach Lowe of Grantland. "I had seen him be almost unstoppable in college [at Xavier], in a game I coached against him. I knew he was a tough shot-maker. The other thing I knew was, he's not scared of the moment. I watched him play us, but also watched him play Kansas State [in the 2010 tournament] from the front row, because we were gonna play the winner. And he made huge shots. And in the NCAA tournament, in that tense of an atmosphere, that takes a lot of guts."
Well, whatever is, the question, is, can it keep up when Rondo comes back and Crawford's role diminishes? We could be finding that out sooner than later.
The Wizards are wizarding again
After getting to 9-9 and possibly finally righting the ship and getting on track, the Wizards lost to the worthless Bucks in overtime, then to the Nuggets by a point to fall back to 9-11. There's a lot of season to be played, but I feel like that Bucks loss could define the entire thing for the Wizards. They were finally gaining momentum, finally pushing forward, finally looking like the respectable team we thought they'd be. Plus they had a very winnable game ahead against a bad team to get over the .500 hump.
And they lost it. Wizards gon' wizard.