Winners and Losers from This Week in the NBA
Late December is a time when winners start building separation from losers in the NBA.
Normally, that separation is between teams. But December 2012 has seen a separation between conferences. The Western Conference has 10 teams with an even or better point differential, while the Eastern Conference has only six.
The past week has also featured fantastic individual performances and seen some of the great teams be truly tested.
We only have one week left in 2012. Let's hope Week 52 is as exciting as Week 51.
All statistics used in this article are accurate as of Dec. 22, 2012.
Winner: Los Angeles Clippers
Taking care of business is what makes you a winner in this world.
That is exactly what the Los Angeles Clippers have been doing. They had another 3-0 week, adding to a win streak that stands at 12 games. In their wins, the Clippers outscored their opponents by 12, 16 and 12 points, respectively.
The only complaint is an unfair one: Their three opponents had a combined record of 21-60. Over the past 12 games, the Clippers haven't been tested by a great team. The biggest win was probably at Chicago. But for the most part, they have had a light schedule.
Still, you can only win the games on your schedule, and right now, the Clippers are playing as well as anyone in the league.
Blake Griffin shot 56 percent from the field while averaging 18 points and seven rebounds during the week. Chris Paul averaged a double-double, scoring 16 points and dishing out 10.7 assists per game.
Things will get tougher for the Clippers, with games against the Denver Nuggets, Utah Jazz twice and Boston Celtics all before 2013. For now, though, they remain the league's biggest winners.
Loser: New York Knicks
We've now seen the New York Knicks through a quarter of the season, and they have certainly been something to behold.
Their excellent play has given them the second-best record in the Eastern Conference.
Now what we get to see is how they handle success. After two years of finishing just above .500, the Knicks are 19-7 and establishing themselves as a great team in the league.
However, a 1-2 week raised a few questions about how they'll be able to handle this early success. They didn't handle it well in losses to the Houston Rockets and Chicago Bulls.
Against the Rockets, Jeremy Lin made his return to Madison Square Garden. Much of the summer was spent talking about Lin and his departure from the Knicks rather than the talented team still residing in New York.
And the Knicks seemed distracted in the game, as Lin scored 22 points and doled out eight assists. The Knicks also surrendered 17 turnovers, 52 points in the paint and 25 fast-break points. New York also missed 7-of-16 free throws.
The bigger story was the loss against the Bulls, in which Carmelo Anthony, Tyson Chandler and Mike Woodson were all ejected. Chandler made the big mistake of letting Joakim Noah's physical play get to him, which, in turn, led to Woodson letting his emotions get the better of him as well.
The Knicks have had a great start, but a big part of the championship equation is how you deal with success. And outside of a big win against Brooklyn, this past week showed the Knicks remain a work in progress.
Winner: Paul Pierce
Despite his team's 1-2 week, the captain of the Boston Celtics had himself quite a week.
Paul Pierce isn't having a great season. Many see him as aging rapidly and no longer able to carry his team. For one week at least, Pierce has proven those critics wrong.
For the week, No. 34 shot 65 percent from the field, averaging 30.3 points, 7.7 rebounds and 4.7 assists. He also hit on 11-of-17 from beyond the arc.
Of particular note was his 13-of-16, 40-point outing against the Cleveland Cavaliers. In Boston's only win of the past week, Pierce completely took control.
He finished the 12-point win with a plus-29 mark. His backup, Jeff Green, posted a minus-17. With Pierce off the floor, the Cavaliers were able to come back from a massive deficit. But when he returned, the game was over.
Pierce isn't going to have a lot of games like that. However, Celtics fans can take comfort in knowing that their captain can still crank out a series of games like this when the team needs him most.
Loser: Brooklyn Nets
The Brooklyn Nets didn't really want to be reminded of their struggles to beat quality teams, but that is exactly what they got this past week.
After two wins over bottom-feeders, the Nets put together an 0-3 run against potential playoff teams in the Chicago Bulls, Utah Jazz and New York Knicks.
In those games, the Nets averaged just 86 points and continued a disturbing trend of losing to good teams. The wins over the Los Angeles Clippers, and that first win over the Knicks now seems long ago for a team that is just 2-8 in December.
The formerly fearsome starting five for Brooklyn has been incredibly inconsistent and unable to shoot well for some time. There has been some inner turmoil as well, with Avery Johnson switching between Kris Humphries and Reggie Evans as the starting power forward.
The Nets are going to need to win against teams like the three they faced this past week. They looked terrible in a supposed rivalry game at Madison Square Garden and slowly allowed the Knicks to dismantle them.
They blew a 13-point halftime lead against the Jazz with a 33-point second half. Against the Bulls, they shot 39 percent from the field and surrendered 18 turnovers en route to just 82 points.
As long as the Nets continue going through droughts and posting 15- to 17-point quarters, they will keep losing.
Winner: Jose Calderon
There is a developing trend in Toronto, and it appears to be a winning one.
The Raptors are on a five-game win streak and had a 4-0 week. The biggest reason for this recent run of success has been the play of Jose Calderon.
The veteran point guard was forced into a reserve role after the acquisition of Kyle Lowry in the offseason. But Lowry has had some trouble with injuries and has already missed 12 games, including the last five.
This provided an opportunity for Calderon to play starter's minutes. He has taken full advantage, averaging 13.5 points and 11.3 assists as Toronto has gone 7-6 with him in the starting lineup.
He began last week with a triple-double on Dec. 16 against Houston. During the past week, he has averaged 15.3 points and 11.5 assists.
Whether the Raptors choose to keep Calderon or use him as a trade chip, he has used the past week to increase his value and prove he is still one of the game's best distributors.
Loser: DeMarcus Cousins
DeMarcus Cousins is an easy choice for one of the past week's losers.
The Sacramento Kings announced on Dec. 22 that they had suspended the young center indefinitely.
The official reason was "unprofessional behavior and conduct detrimental to the team." This has been the reputation of Cousins for some time now. In his third NBA season, it has became clear that he has yet to mature, leading to this suspension.
This was coming off an already disappointing 1-3 week for the Kings, in which Cousins shot only 33 percent from the floor. He failed to score in double digits in two of the four games as well.
Cousins had already been suspended twice this season for three games. There is no telling how long he will be out now, or even if he will play again in a Kings uniform.
This week will likely harm Cousins' value. A former No. 5 overall pick with the size and skill of Cousins is easily a max contract waiting to happen. However, with this new development, he is sure to make far less than he may have.
Winner: David Lee
David Lee had a hard time missing the basket over the past week.
The Golden State Warriors went just 2-2, but it was through no fault of their star power forward. Lee capped off a stellar week with a triple-double against Charlotte and a double-double against the Lakers.
He averaged 24.5 points, 9.8 rebounds and six assists on the week. His triple-double propelled the Warriors to victory on Dec. 21. Lee paced the team with 23 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists.
Lee has scored 20 or more points in 12 straight games, and he has been shooting an ungodly percentage from the field of late. Last week, Lee shot 63 percent in the four games.
This was simply another leg in what is turning into a career year for Lee.
Loser: Charlotte Bobcats
The Charlotte Bobcats can't catch a break.
After showing considerable improvement in winning seven of their first 12 games, they have lost 15 straight.
An 0-4 week featured three particularly harsh losses. Their point differential sits at minus-8.8 on the season. That has been drastically lowered over the past week. Charlotte lost by an average of 18 points against Phoenix, Golden State and Denver.
Kemba Walker, whose development has been a great storyline, shot just 31 percent from the field in the two most recent losses. The rest of the team remains wildly inconsistent.
Byron Mullens, Ramon Sessions and Gerald Henderson have been inconsistent. The lone bright spot was a solid few games from rookie Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.
Winner: J.J. Hickson
J.J. Hickson had as impressive a week as anyone in the league.
Despite a hobbled LaMarcus Aldridge, the Portland Trail Blazers have put together a five-game winning streak and jumped into legitimate playoff contention in the Western Conference.
While many players have contributed to this recent success, Hickson's numbers last week are astonishing. He posted double-doubles in all three games and never scored fewer than 19 points or grabbed fewer than 15 rebounds.
Hickson averaged 20.3 points and 16.3 rebounds per game. He shot 61 percent from the field and and led the Blazers to a win over the Denver Nuggets despite the absence of Aldridge.
The other games were against lesser competition, but they were still impressive for Hickson. He outplayed the likes of Anthony Davis and Marcin Gortat. These are the types of bigs he is going to have to dominate for the Trail Blazers to remain in the top eight of the Western Conference.
Loser: Dallas Mavericks
The Dirk Nowitzki return is coming...eventually.
When it does happen, supposedly soon after the holidays, the Dallas Mavericks would like to have a foundation in place. That, however, has not been the case of late.
The Mavericks had a 1-2 week, but they have now lost five of their last six. Their two losses came against top-tier teams in Miami and Memphis, which is somewhat excusable.
Things aren't getting easier for Dallas. The Mavericks are set to square off against San Antonio twice, Oklahoma City and Denver, all before the new year.
Their recent hard times have left them at 12-15 and more than a couple games out of the No. 8 spot in the Western Conference.
Nobody has played well in those recent losses, least of all O.J. Mayo. The Mavericks' leading scorer shot just 6-of-25 against Miami and Memphis. He is the player, more than any other, who must improve against these types of opponents.
The Mavericks will need Nowitzki's scoring punch if they are to make a run in 2013.