NBA Power Rankings Update: Boston Rising
In the last couple of weeks, the top of the Eastern Conference standings has gotten a lot tighter. The Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors have taken a step back, each going 5-7 in their last 12 games, making this the perfect time for the Boston Celtics to make their move.
Since the start of the new year, the C's are 11-4 and look to be a real threat to the status quo in the East. In their last game, they knocked off the Raptors, inching that much closer to the top spot.
This week, we will take a closer look at the Celtics' outstanding play and four other teams making noise, good or bad, in the NBA this week.
Our power rankings here at numberFire are not subjective or influenced by the latest hype; we put our faith and trust in our algorithms. Each week, we’ll list all 30 teams in the Association from worst to best based on our nERD metric, which is a predictive measure to help define what the team's winning percentage ultimately will be.
30. Brooklyn Nets (nERD: 22.5, Record: 9-40, Last Week: 30)
29. Los Angeles Lakers (nERD: 28.7, Record: 17-35, Last Week: 29)
28. Philadelphia 76ers (nERD: 29.2, Record: 18-31, Last Week: 28)
27. Orlando Magic (nERD: 34.6, Record: 19-32, Last Week: 26)
26. Phoenix Suns (nERD: 34.7, Record: 15-34, Last Week: 27)
25. Sacramento Kings (nERD: 38.5, Record: 19-30, Last Week: 25)
24. New York Knicks (nERD: 42.0, Record: 22-29, Last Week: 23)
23. Dallas Mavericks (nERD: 42.1, Record: 19-30, Last Week: 24)
Just when we thought the Dallas Mavericks were on their way to missing the playoffs for only the second time in 17 seasons -- a 4-17 start will do that -- they figure it out and start to play respectable basketball. After winning 8 of their last 11 games, Rick Carlisle's crew is only 2.5 games out of the 8th spot in the Western Conference.
They aren't just beating cupcakes either. On back-to-back nights, they ended a 12-game losing streak at the AT&T Center by upsetting the San Antonio Spurs 105-101 and turned back a late Cavaliers charge to beat LeBron and Co. by a score of 104-97.
While the defense has solidified in the past three weeks -- 102.0 defensive rating and an average of 97.6 points allowed in the last 11 games -- the emergence of Seth Curry in the starting lineup has given the Mavericks a much-needed spark.
Since taking over the starting shooting guard spot for Dallas, Curry has been showing off the trademark Curry family shooting touch. He is knocking down three-pointers (47.5% success rate), while shooting 50.4% from the field overall. The 26-year-old dropped a career-high 24 points on the Spurs and is averaging 18.6 points and 2.8 threes in his last 4 games.
T-21. Portland Trail Blazers (nERD: 44.7, Record: 22-28, Last Week: 22)
T-21. New Orleans Pelicans (nERD: 44.7, Record: 19-31, Last Week: 18)
20. Denver Nuggets (nERD: 45.0, Record: 21-27, Last Week: 18)
19. Minnesota Timberwolves (nERD: 45.1, Record: 19-30, Last Week: 20)
18. Indiana Pacers (nERD: 48.1, Record: 26-22, Last Week: 17)
Over the past month-plus, the Indiana Pacers have quietly been one of the better teams in the Eastern Conference. Since December 30, they are 11-4, and thanks to their current four-game winning streak, they've moved up to sixth place and are within shouting distance of the 3 seed.
One reason for their rise has been a soft patch in their schedule. Indiana has faced only two winning teams -- the Utah Jazz and Houston Rockets -- in their last 15 opponents. Another has been the efficiency of the offense. Over the last month, their offensive rating is fifth in the NBA (111.0) while their true shooting percentage (59.6%) is better than every team not named the Golden State Warriors.
Their lone All-Star, Paul George, was the worst shooter of their top five scorers, and he made 46.5% of his shots.
While George gets most of the attention, Myles Turner has been the Pacers best all-around player all year long. His 4.7 nERD rating -- good for 26th out of 460 NBA players -- dwarfs George's 0.9. Over the last 15 games, he is shooting over 53.9% on 12.0 attempts while averaging 16.8 points. That doesn't include his 7.5 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game, either.
Oh, and he is not even 21 years old yet.
17. Miami Heat (nERD: 48.6, Record: 20-30, Last Week: 21)
16. Oklahoma City Thunder (nERD: 48.7, Record: 28-22, Last Week: 11)
15. Detroit Pistons (nERD: 48.8, Record: 22-27, Last Week: 16)
14. Atlanta Hawks (nERD: 49.5, Record: 29-21, Last Week: 12)
13. Chicago Bulls (nERD: 50.4, Record: 25-25, Last Week: 15)
12. Milwaukee Bucks (nERD: 50.9, Record: 21-27, Last Week: 10)
Once seen as an up-and-coming squad in the Eastern Conference and looking like a safe bet to make the playoffs, the Milwaukee Bucks have fallen off the face of the Earth the past three weeks.
Since January 15, they have gone 1-9 -- only the woeful Brooklyn Nets have as many losses during that span. They also haven't been particularly close, as their opponents have outscored them by 12.2 points per game in their nine losses. While the defense has not been anything close to sterling -- 110.2 points allowed and a 111.5 defensive rating -- it is tough to stay in games when you can't sink shots.
In the nine losses, the Bucks are averaging just 97.6 points per game while shooting just 43.3% from the floor. No one will fault Giannis Antetokounmpo for the offensive woes, though -- he is averaging 22.6 points per game while shooting 48.6% during this stretch.
Point guard Malcolm Brogdon has seemingly hit the rookie wall, as he's struggled to make only 37.2% of his shots, costing him his starting job. Even the team's second-leading scorer, Jabari Parker, has had his moments, including a miserable 2-for-13 performance in a loss to the Celtics.
11. Memphis Grizzlies (nERD: 53.2, Record: 30-21, Last Week: 14)
10. Charlotte Hornets (nERD: 54.0, Record: 23-27, Last Week: 8)
9. Washington Wizards (nERD: 55.0, Record: 29-20, Last Week: 13)
8. Boston Celtics (nERD: 56.8 Record: 31-18, Last Week: 9)
Since Isaiah Thomas returned from a groin injury on December 16, only the Warriors and Washington Wizards have a better winning percentage than the Celtics. Currently on a five-game winning streak, Boston has climbed up from seventh place in the East to sole possession of second place. They're now just 2.5 games behind the Cavs thanks to an 18-6 record over the past seven weeks.
During the streak, their offense has been working like a well-oiled machine, scoring 116.4 points per game and a 114.7 offensive rating. Head coach Brad Stevens' squad has no fear from behind the arc either, taking (34.8 per game) and making (13.2) the second-most threes during that stretch. However, we can not talk about how prolific the Celtics' offense has been without returning to the heroics of Thomas.
In his last 24 games, IT2 has been unstoppable. He leads the league in points per game (33.0) while sinking the second-most triples (96) since December 16. Most of his damage is coming when the game matters most, too -- he is scoring an average of 13.0 points in the fourth quarter alone. He has scored 20 or more points in the final period four times this season, including a 29-point outburst in a comeback win over the Miami Heat on December 30.
7. Cleveland Cavaliers (nERD: 63.0, Record: 33-15, Last Week: 7)
6. Houston Rockets (nERD: 63.9, Record: 36-17, Last Week: 5)
5. Los Angeles Clippers (nERD: 64.0, Record: 31-19, Last Week: 4)
4. Utah Jazz (nERD: 64.2, Record: 31-19, Last Week: 6)
3. Toronto Raptors (nERD: 67.0, Record: 30-20, Last Week: 3)
2. San Antonio Spurs (nERD: 75.6, Record: 38-11, Last Week: 2)
1. Golden State Warriors (nERD: 84.6, Record: 43-7, Last Week: 1)
Stop me if you have heard this before: the Golden State Warriors are dominating the NBA. While someone will occasionally catch them on an off night, the Dubs always bounce back. They haven't lost back-to-back games since April of 2015. In the regular season, at least.
After being stunned by the Heat on January 23, they have rattled off five consecutive wins in dominant fashion. Even though they weren't even at full strength -- Stephen Curry and Draymond Green both missed games -- the Warriors have blitzed the competition by scoring 125.8 points per game.
While they have been sharing the ball at unseen levels all season long, they have taken it up a notch over the last five games and are averaging 31.8 assists per contest. That's a helper on 68.8% of their made baskets. The pinnacle of their offensive efficiency came against the Los Angeles Clippers this week.
While they have had the Clips' number the last two-plus seasons -- they have won nine straight over L.A. -- the beatdown they handed them last Saturday was staggering. The Warriors scored 144 points while shooting 62% from the field as they won by 46 points. Curry sank 9 three-pointers as he scored a season-high 43 points in just 29 minutes.