Welcome to your weekly look inside the NBA standings and schedule for the week of Dec. 12.
Inside the standings
Let's talk about win-loss profiles, because those may be the actually most relevant analysis of the results of this early season. It's already been established that point differential is a better indicator of future success and team strength than you record, but the last two years have started to make that tough. Why? Because there have been outliers in terms of teams and performances. It's easier to call this "the Warriors effect" but it extends to the Cavaliers and to a lesser degree the Spurs. However, while you're going to have some random wins against teams better than you and some random losses to teams worse than you, overall a team's resume can tell you a lot.
Let's start here. Here's a look at each team's win percentage vs. teams at or above .500, and against teams below .500. The four quadrant axis lines are drawn on the league average for each category.
Slight adjustment with league averages as the quadrant lines. pic.twitter.com/j48Rycgmwh— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) December 12, 2016
You want to be in the right upper-hand quadrant, obviously. You want to avoid the lower-left quadrant, obviously. What's interesting is that you want to be in the upper-left hand quadrant way more than you want to be in the bottom right. If you lose to good teams and beat bad teams, you're consistent, and building on success. If you're losing to bad teams and beating good teams, you're inconsistent. You can't predict what side you're going to come out on, and you have to have games you can reliably win. Every game can't be a coin flip.
You'd rather be the Knicks than the Pistons right now, because the Knicks have very few wins vs. the top teams, and a bunch of wins vs. bad teams. But the Knicks will face more teams with a worse record than them as opposed to a team with a superior record. Look at how most of the league is concentrated on that left side. So as long as you beat teams you're better than, you'll have a greater chance of making the playoffs.
Check out the Celtics -- dead center in the middle. That makes a world of sense, since they've combined a little bit of every quadrant so far.
The Sixers are stuck behind the Wolves, which says more about how bad the Wolves have been than anything.
Notably, this chart doesn't factor for how many games you've played against teams below or over .500. For example, the Mavericks have only played five teams below .500, the Heat only six. Meanwhile, the Lakers have played 18 games vs. teams at or over .500, the Pistons have played 17.
The Wizards stand out as a team that's likely a little better than their record, and the Celtics are a little worse.
Over the course of the season, you can expect this to drift further apart, as those top right four or five teams get better, the teams bottom left get worse. It's what happens to the top left and bottom right that will determine who gets into the playoffs. If you notice, those are, for the most part, the teams on the bubble.
What to watch this week
Game of the Week
|Friday, Dec. 16||7:30 p.m. ET||League Pass|
THIS EASTERN CONFERENCE SUB-TIER AIN'T BIG ENOUGH FOR THE BOTH OF US, PARTNER.
There are some good ones on the slate this week, but if you want the one with the most "stakes" for a December game, check out Hornets vs. Celtics on Friday (7:30 p.m. ET, League Pass). As we've covered in this spot before, tiebreakers matter, no matter when you play them. The Hornets are already down 1-0 to Boston, having lost at home when Charlotte was on a back-to-back earlier this year. If they go down 0-2 (with two to play) that could wind up coming back to bite them in a run for homecourt in the first round. Meanwhile, Boston should get Isaiah Thomas back, and in doing so have their full roster for maybe just the third time this season. This game means something, and they're two good squads with fun players. Kemba Walker vs. Thomas is going to be worth the show alone.
Can the Grizzlies really keep doing this?
Memphis lost Mike Conley, Chandler Parsons, Vince Carter, and James Ennis to go along with Brandon Wright, and then got clocked by the Raptors. So we all said a prayer and started wondering how good of a pick the Nuggets (who own Memphis' first-round draft pick) would get. No so fast, my friend. Instead, the Grizzlies have rattled off six straight, including a beatdown of the mighty Warriors on Saturday night. They have a home-and-home vs. the Cavaliers this week (Tuesday at 7 p.m. ET, Wednesday at 8:00 p.m. ET, both on League Pass), a game vs. the Kings (Friday, 7:00 p.m. ET, League Pass) then a meeting with the Jazz Friday (6:00 p.m. ET, League Pass). Can they go 3-1 in that stretch? How far can this group go with a bottom-five offense and without its best and third-best player? Can anything kill this team in a basketball game?
It's either going to get a lot better or a lot worse for the Blazers.
The Blazers have underperformed so far, and have the league's worst defense. But hey, every great team responds best when there's a challenge, and they've got it this week. They face the Clippers on Monday (9:30 p.m. ET, League Pass), the Thunder on a back-to-back Tuesday (9:30 p.m. ET, ESPN), travel to Denver in the altitude where they nearly lost earlier this season (9 p.m. ET, League Pass), and then face the Warriors on Saturday (9:30 p.m. ET, League Pass). Good grief. They need to go at least 2-2. Going 3-1 would give them confidence their season isn't already an exercise in pointlessness.
Is Milwaukee for real?
The Bucks had made a strong run and looked like a playoff team, then cooled off with two losses to bad teams late last week. They go primetime this week with a chance for national TV audiences to see Giannis Antetokounmpo (Thursday at 8 p.m. ET, TNT) as they take on the Bulls, then face Chicago again on Friday (7 p.m. ET, League Pass). They need to get a split, but this is also a good challenge for the Bulls, and these games could wind up having tiebreaker implications down the line.