It’s the middle of December, but the 2018-19 NBA standings are still super unclear. Seeds two through five in the Eastern Conference are just one game apart, and the bottom four are just two games apart from each other.
The Western Conference is where chaos truly resides. Only 5.5 games separate seeds 1 through 14. All 14 of those teams are within three games (either above or below) of the No. 8 seed.
Every little winning or losing streak can make a big difference in the standings right now. Which teams have and have not been doing well recently? Let’s take a look.
NBA Week 8 Risers
San Antonio Spurs (15-14, No. 10 in the Western Conference, Past week record: 4-0)
Last week, the Spurs made this list on the “fallers” section. They had lost 12 of their last 17 games and had suffered several recent blowout defeats.
Just a week later, the San Antonio squad looks completely reenergized by a home stand. The Spurs have beaten the Los Angeles Lakers, Utah Jazz, Phoenix Suns and Los Angeles Clippers by a combined 89 points. Efficient performances from Rudy Gay and LaMarcus Aldridge have led the way on offense, but it is a defensive turnaround that is spurring this team on at the moment.
One concern for this time moving forward is sustainability between home and road performances. though. The Spurs’ defense jumps from 106.4 points allowed per 100 possessions to 116.6 points allowed per 100 possessions on the road. This squad is clearly mailing it in on the road and bringing more energy when it plays at home.
Indiana Pacers (18-10, No. 4 in the Eastern Conference, Past week record: 4-0)
All the talk about the best team in the Eastern Conference this season has revolved around four teams: the Toronto Raptors, Boston Celtics, Milwaukee Bucks and Philadelphia Sixers. Those teams all have flashy superstars and have a lot of top-end talent.
Don’t forget about the Pacers. With a five-game winning streak going, a deep Indiana squad is quickly climbing the standings and barging its way into the discussion for the East’s top contenders.
The Pacers’ defensive personnel may not look special on paper, but they are playing together perfectly as a unit and actually rank second in the entire NBA in defensive efficiency. Offensively, balance is the name of the game, as Victor Oladipo, Domantas Sabonis, Bojan Bogdanovic, Myles Turner, Thaddeus Young, Tyreke Evans and Darren Collison are all capable options.
Indiana has the potential to do even better, too. The team’s lone All-Star from last season, Oladipo, has missed 11 games already. The Pacers’ depth allowed them to go 7-4 in his absence, but they are obviously still better with him playing.
Brooklyn Nets (11-18, No. 11 in the Eastern Conference, Past week record: 3-0)
For the past four years, the Nets have been known as a team that struggles in close games. They don’t really have any star power to put the team on its back in crunch time and usually end up losing contests that go down to the wire.
According to an expected win-loss record statistic that takes into account a team’s point differential, Brooklyn has underperformed record-wise every year since 2015-16 based on its point differential.
In the past week, though, the Nets have broken free from that habit. They have played three teams (the Raptors, New York Knicks and 76ers) with a combined record of 50-38, but they edged out all three teams, winning by a combined 12 points.
Point guard Spencer Dinwiddie has been the big catalyst throughout the stretch, averaging 27 points and 6.3 assists per game. However, hot shooting from Allen Crabbe and Joe Harris has helped, as has the rebounding and rim protection of young big man Jarrett Allen.
NBA Week 8 Fallers
Detroit Pistons (13-13, No. 7 in the Eastern Conference, Past week record: 0-4)
Make that six consecutive losses for the Pistons, who have failed miserably against a tough sequence of opponents. Detroit is now 3-10 against teams .500 or better and 10-3 against all other squads. The Pistons are clearly stuck in the NBA’s middle class, a group that struggles against good teams but usually beats bad teams.
Most of the recent regression has come due to major defensive struggles. The Pistons are a very good rebounding team led by Andre Drummond, but they consistently foul teams early in quarters and let their opponents get in the bonus early. In fact, they rank worst in the NBA in ratio of field-goal attempts allowed to free-throw attempts allowed.
On the offensive end, the lack of accurate three-point shooting is very troubling. Reggie Bullock is supposed to be the marksman of the team, but he is at a very mediocre 35.1 percent from downtown. The rest of the team is mostly average shooters or guys who don’t even try to take threes.
Minnesota Timberwolves (13-15, No. 14 in the Western Conference, Past week record: 0-3)
In 12 games between November 12 and December 5, the Timberwolves allowed a mere 103.8 points per game, which is an excellent number for today’s NBA. In their last three games, though, that number is all the way up to 123.3 points allowed per game. Not surprisingly, the team’s records in those two stretches were 9-3 and then 0-3.
The early boost the team got after the Jimmy Butler trade seems to have worn off. Also, like the Spurs in our “risers” section, a disturbing trend is developing with the Wolves. They are 11-4 at home, but just 2-11 on the road.
Minnesota’s offense, like San Antonio, also relies on a lot of midrange jumpers and doesn’t shoot a lot of threes. If the opponent gets hot from downtown, the Wolves don’t really have the personnel to keep pace.
New York Knicks (8-23, No. 12 in the Eastern Conference, Past week record: 0-3)
The Knicks have spent this season wavering back and forth between “this team is young and actually kind of dangerous” to “this team is young and stinks.”
Right now, the latter evaluation of the team is much more accurate. New York has lost six games in a row despite a relatively easy combination of opponents. The squad is looking very inexperienced on defense, with eight straight games allowing more than 110 points.
Unfortunately, in that same same stretch, the Knicks have only hit 110 points once. You can only win so much with Tim Hardaway Jr. as your primary offensive option and Trey Burke, Kevin Knox, Emmanuel Mudiay, Mario Hezonja and Frank Ntilkina all as key supporting players. There’s a lot of offensive inefficiency and below-average defense from that group.
New York just needs Kristaps Porzingis from his ACL rehab. This current Knicks roster is better built to support a star than exist on its own.