NBA Power Rankings Week 12: The Pacers Aren’t FadingJanuary 11, 2023
The Indiana Pacers weren’t projected as the worst team in the Eastern Conference this season but, in the eyes of many, the Pacers were in that discussion. Indiana entered the campaign with an over/under win total in the low-to-mid 20’s and, after a 25-win performance in 2021-22, that modest projection didn’t seem to be totally out of line. The Pacers then started the 2022-23 campaign with a 1-4 record and were off the radar for most casual observers. Since then, Indiana is 22-14 and the Pacers are a blistering 8-2 in the last ten games.
Over the last two weeks, Indiana’s only loss came on the road in overtime against the Philadelphia 76ers, and the Pacers continue to be rock-solid on offense. Indiana is scoring more than 1.17 points per possession in the last ten games, with Tyrese Haliburton leading the way with 22.7 points on 50.6 percent shooting and 44.6 percent from three-point distance. Haliburton also leads the NBA in total assists (402) and assists per game (10.3) for the full season, producing a career-high 20.3 points per game and operating with sky-high efficiency, including a 61.4 percent true shooting mark. His performance doesn’t entirely explain Indiana’s team-wide showing, but Haliburton’s ascent to at least fringe stardom is a fantastic building block for the franchise.
Haliburton is flanked by a pair of quality veterans in Myles Turner and Buddy Hield, both of whom have been in trade conversations for months but remain on the roster. Turner is a splendid defensive anchor, while Hield is scorching-hot from the perimeter right now, shooting almost 54 percent from three over the 8-2 stretch. A deeper look does indicate that the Pacers may be due for some regression, though, and just how much the team’s performance dips will be the determining factor in next steps.
Indiana has been incredibly resilient, leading the NBA with 11 wins in games after trailing by double figures. The Pacers are also 16-10 in games featuring what NBA.com describes as “clutch” situations, and Indiana is outscoring opponents by nearly 16 points per 100 possessions in those situations. As such, Indiana’s win-loss record is more impressive than its underlying metrics, and the good folks at Cleaning The Glass indicate that the Pacers have won 3.1 games more than expected from the team’s point differential, the second-largest gap in the league.
In the end, the Pacers may be over-performing their overall quality, but Indiana is already two wins from reaching last season’s win total of 25, which is wild when considering the team has played only half of its 82-game slate. In addition, Indiana is essentially a coin flip to make the playoffs, per FiveThirtyEight, and that is a fantastic story by all accounts.
How high are the Pacers in this week’s DIME power rankings? Let’s find out.
1. Memphis Grizzlies (27-13, Last week — 2nd)
We have a new No. 1 this week, even when acknowledging the margins are very slim at the top right now. Memphis has the longest winning streak (seven) in the NBA, pushing the Grizzlies into a tie for the Western Conference lead. With a home game against the lowly Spurs on Wednesday, that run projects as likely to continue.
2. Boston Celtics (29-12, Last week — 4th)
Boston’s bizarre blowout loss to Oklahoma City last week prompted a dip, but the climb is happening again. The Celtics have the NBA’s best record and had a huge road win over the previously scorching Mavericks this week. It should be noted that the offense has fallen off after an unreal start, but there is no denying Boston’s season-long profile right now.
3. Denver Nuggets (27-13, Last week — 3rd)
Denver continues to roll, winning 13 of the last 16 games. The Nuggets are tied with the Grizzlies at the top of the West, and Nikola Jokic has at least nine assists in 11 of the last 12 games. That is preposterous for any player, much less a center who is also averaging 25.8 points and 11.8 rebounds per game over that same sample.
4. Brooklyn Nets (27-13, Last week — 1st)
On performance alone, the Nets should probably be No. 1 right now. Brooklyn has won 18 of the last 20 games, including two strong road wins over the weekend. However, we’re splitting the difference due to the reality that Kevin Durant will miss the next few weeks with a knee injury. Brooklyn obviously isn’t the same team without Durant, and we’ll see how they hold up.
5. Philadelphia 76ers (25-15, Last week — 5th)
Joel Embiid missed more than a week before returning on Tuesday. In 24 (!) minutes of action, he scored 36 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in a blowout win over Detroit. The 76ers are also 13-3 in the last 16 games, and Embiid has at least 35 points in five of his last six games.
6. Milwaukee Bucks (26-14, Last week — 7th)
The Bucks were randomly blasted by the Hornets (at home) on Friday in a game that was such an outlier that it’s almost worth ignoring. Milwaukee responded with a road win over the Knicks, and the Bucks are at least staying afloat without Khris Middleton. It helps to have Giannis and a great defense.
7. Cleveland Cavaliers (26-16, Last week — 8th)
Cleveland is in the middle of a five-game trip through the West, and the Cavs are only 1-2 so far. That isn’t great for a potential contender, of course, but both losses were competitive and the Cavs have beaten the Suns twice in the last week.
8. Indiana Pacers (23-18, Last week — 12th)
This might be as high as the Pacers climb all season. Part of that is the team’s schedule is tough this week with road games in New York and Milwaukee sandwiched around home tests against Atlanta and Memphis.
9. New Orleans Pelicans (25-16, Last week — 9th)
The Pelicans have lost four of six and New Orleans has to face the Celtics on the road on Wednesday. That isn’t the best recipe even in the best circumstances, but it’s even less exciting with Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson both on the shelf with injuries. Ingram hasn’t played since the end of November.
10. Dallas Mavericks (23-19, Last week — 6th)
I guess we cursed the Mavericks. Dallas was featured in this space a week ago and promptly went 1-3 over the next seven days. The Mavs have three games left on a five-game trip, and the first is a TNT showdown against the Lakers on Thursday.
11. Miami Heat (22-20, Last week — 11th)
Miami made 40 free throws on Wednesday, which is a lot in any situation. The Heat also made 40 free throws… while attempting 40 free throws. That’s a new NBA record, and it’s just another way for Miami to remain frisky despite a weirdly middling season to this point. They just never go away.
12. New York Knicks (22-19, Last week — 13th)
This feels high for the Knicks, but there is a morass in the middle. New York’s four-game winning streak was snapped on Monday, but a narrow loss to Milwaukee isn’t grounds to drop in the pecking order.
13. Minnesota Timberwolves (20-21, Last week — 24th)
No team can match the “all over the place” nature of the Wolves. In only half of a season, Minnesota has eight (!) different streaks of at least three wins or losses consecutively. This time, it’s a four-game winning streak and a big jump in the rankings. Perhaps Rudy Gobert coming alive can bring some more stability in the Twin Cities.
14. Los Angeles Lakers (19-22, Last week — 19th)
Los Angeles is 17-12 in the last 29 games and 5-1 in the last six. The Lakers did have a winning streak stop on Monday (without LeBron) in Denver, but a five-game homestand begins on Thursday. Things are pretty positive, all things considered.
15. Sacramento Kings (21-18, Last week — 17th)
It would be difficult to construct an easier schedule for a week than what the Kings have coming in the next seven days. Sacramento has Houston twice at home and then a trip to San Antonio with a day between. Nothing is guaranteed, but the Kings should at least be able to maintain their upward trajectory.
16. L.A. Clippers (22-21, Last week — 16th)
The Clippers were going to tumble until a double-digit win over Dallas on Tuesday. L.A. still isn’t playing very well (and Paul George hasn’t played for a week), but that was a good and helpful win on multiple levels.
17. Phoenix Suns (21-21, Last week — 15th)
Title contenders don’t usually lose nine of 11 games. Granted, Phoenix operated most of that stretch without Devin Booker, and the Suns did beat the Warriors on the road on Tuesday. Things don’t get easier either, as the Suns travel to Denver, Minnesota, and Memphis over the next six days.
18. Golden State Warriors (20-21, Last week — 10th)
Until this week, the Warriors did a tremendous job holding down the fort without Stephen Curry. Then, Golden State lost at home to Detroit and Orlando. If you scroll down, you’ll find the Pistons and Magic, and that speaks for itself. Still, Curry returned on Tuesday, and that is the most important thing.
19. Atlanta Hawks (19-21, Last week — 26th)
Atlanta still isn’t firing on all cylinders, but the Hawks managed to post a 2-2 mark on a California road trip. That is a small win for an otherwise struggling team, but the Hawks are still facing some uncertainty following a summer of “win now” momentum and a sub-.500 record.
20. Chicago Bulls (19-22, Last week — 22nd)
It was a good week for the Bulls, even if it ended in a loss. Chicago lost in Boston on Monday, but three straight wins came before that minor hiccup. The schedule is also quite favorable in the next week or two for the Bulls, with some optimism creeping back in after a frustrating start.
21. Utah Jazz (21-23, Last week — 21st)
The Jazz are just 11-20 after a blazing, 11-3 start, and Utah’s defense is quite shaky. The Jazz are third-worst in the NBA in defensive rating over that lengthy sample, and gone are the days when Utah was seen as a potential buyer on the market. It seems like sell or nothing at this point, even as the Jazz are still in the play-in mix on paper.
22. Toronto Raptors (18-23, Last week — 25th)
Everyone is talking about the Raptors with the trade deadline looming, and that is the nature of an oddly constructed team with an 18-23 record. Toronto gets a boost here after back-to-back wins, but there is a great deal of uncertainty, both in the short term and the long term.
23. Orlando Magic (16-26, Last week — 23rd)
Monday’s 25-point loss in Sacramento wasn’t great, but Orlando showed some resilience in beating Portland on the road the next night. The highs are pretty high for the Magic, even if the lows are also pretty low. Also, Orlando is kind of in its own tier from a net rating perspective, with the Magic at -3.6 and the closest teams sitting at -6.5 (Charlotte) and -1.5 (Washington).
24. Oklahoma City Thunder (18-23, Last week — 18th)
The Thunder were on the wrong end of Miami’s 40-free throw eruption on Tuesday, but OKC was right in that game. It’s not really the fault of the Thunder that they are this low in the rankings, because OKC has overachieved compared to any rational expectation.
25. Portland Trail Blazers (19-21, Last week — 14th)
Trouble in Portland? The Blazers are 3-9 in the last 12 games, including four straight losses. All three wins came by double-figures, meaning Portland’s metrics don’t look awful in that sample, but a home loss to Orlando on Tuesday sounded some alarms.
26. Washington Wizards (17-24, Last week — 20th)
Washington’s roller coaster continues. The Wizards lost 10 in a row in late November and early December before winning six of the next seven. Now, Washington has lost three in a row by a combined 47 points. It’s an odd situation.
27. San Antonio Spurs (13-28, Last week — 27th)
The Spurs were already dead-last in the NBA in net rating and defensive rating. Now, they’ll be without Devin Vassell for an indefinite period of time after a knee procedure, and San Antonio’s outlook is even more bleak without him.
28. Charlotte Hornets (11-31, Last week — 28th)
On Friday, the Hornets beat the Bucks by 29 points on the road. That was one of the more shocking results of the season, but Charlotte continues to scuffle overall. For example, the Hornets are 4-16 in the last 20 games.
29. Detroit Pistons (11-33, Last week — 29th)
Detroit handed Golden State its third home loss of the season to begin this week, and that is a nice win even without Stephen Curry. The Pistons lost the next three by double figures, though, including a 31-point beatdown at the hands of the Sixers on Tuesday.
30. Houston Rockets (10-30, Last week — 30th)
The Rockets have exactly one (1) win in the last four weeks. Houston is on a seven-game losing streak with a 1-12 mark in the last 13 games. Since mid-December, the Rockets have been terrible on both ends of the floor by the numbers, including a -10.4 net rating, and Houston begins a four-game California road trip on Wednesday. It’s pretty dire.