NBA Power Rankings Update: Heading Into the Break
For NBA teams, the All-Star break is a time to take step back from the daily grind. Players and coaches get a much deserved break, both physically and mentally. Front offices get a chance to asses their position and plot the course for the final two months of the regular season.
Some teams, like the Washington Wizards, risk losing their momentum as they take a week off. While other squads hope to come out on the other end, re-energized and focused on finishing the season out strong. This week, we will look at four teams for whom the break could not come at a better time, plus one team that is just biding their time until their superstar returns.
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: 22.9, Record: 9-47, Last Week: 30)
29. Los Angeles Lakers (nERD: 28.7, Record: 19-39, Last Week: 28)
After much promise and a 10-10 start to the year, the Los Angeles Lakers enter All-Star break in a mess. They are 9-29 since the start of December and are coming off an embarrassing loss that gave the appearance of a team that didn't want to be there.
In their 137-101 loss to the Phoenix Suns, Los Angeles made the NBA's second-worst team (based on record) look like a juggernaut. Phoenix shot 55.7% from the field while crushing the Lakers on the glass 59-36. The loss was one example of the uneven nature of their play lately.
Last Friday versus the Milwaukee Bucks, they came out hot, scoring 47 points in the first quarter. An easy victory, right? Instead, they got complacent in the second half, scoring only 19 points in the fourth quarter, turning a blowout into a slim victory. The recent performance of second-year point guard D'Angelo Russell typifies the team, as he has three 20-point scoring games in his last eight games. He also has three games with eight or fewer points in the same span.
28. Philadelphia 76ers (nERD: 29.9, Record: 21-35, Last Week: 29)
27. Orlando Magic (nERD: 32.3, Record: 21-37, Last Week: 26)
26. Phoenix Suns (nERD: 34.7, Record: 18-39, Last Week: 27)
25. Sacramento Kings (nERD: 38.6, Record: 24-33, Last Week: 25)
24. New York Knicks (nERD: 40.9, Record: 23-34, Last Week: 24)
23. Portland Trail Blazers (nERD: 42.9, Record: 23-33, Last Week: 21)
Once one of the leaders in the ugly race for the 8 seed in the West, the Portland Trail Blazers have fallen behind the pace in recent weeks with losses in five of their last six games. The play of former All-Star Damian Lillard has left a lot to be desired during the current downturn.
In the last six games, the point guard is shooting just 33.9% from the field while taking 20.7 shots per game, or nearly 25% of the Blazers' attempts. In a loss to the Dallas Mavericks, Lillard went 4-for-20 from the floor for 13 points. He repeated the putrid feat in Portland's last game, a 111-88 loss to the Utah Jazz, as he went 3-for-19. During the slump, the Blazers' superstar is actually making shots from beyond the arc at a higher rate (34.8%) than inside it (33.1%).
Without his dominant scoring, the Blazers are in the bottom nine of the NBA with 103.3 points per game. They aren't sharing the ball either, dishing out a league-worst 17.8 assists per game in the month of February.
22. Dallas Mavericks (nERD: 43.6, Record: 22-34, Last Week: 23)
21. Denver Nuggets (nERD: 44.3, Record: 25-31, Last Week: 20)
20. New Orleans Pelicans (nERD: 44.7, Record: 23-34, Last Week: 22)
19. Minnesota Timberwolves (nERD: 46.5, Record: 22-35, Last Week: 19)
18. Indiana Pacers (nERD: 47.1, Record: 29-28, Last Week: 17)
The Indiana Pacers, like a lot of NBA teams, are welcoming the All-Star break with open arms. Not only is it time to rest their legs and gear up for the final 25 games of the season, but it also give them a brief respite from their longest losing streak of the season.
Since February 8, the Pacers have played a league-high six games, losing all of them. To be fair, they played two back-to-backs and playing six games in just nine days. The competition has been tough too as they faced the red-hot Wizards twice, the Cleveland Cavaliers twice, plus the San Antonio Spurs. With that said, the way the defense has been non-existent, the Pacers have had no chance to win.
In all six games, their opponent has scored at least 110 points. Indiana gave up a season-high 132 points, at home, to the Cavs. They even allowed a Jabari Parker-less Milwaukee Bucks squad to score 116 with 17 three-pointers on them. The schedule doesn't do them many favors after the break either, with four games in six nights, starting on February 24.
17. Chicago Bulls (nERD: 47.3, Record: 28-29, Last Week: 18)
16. Oklahoma City Thunder (nERD: 48.6, Record: 32-25, Last Week: 15)
15. Detroit Pistons (nERD: 49.3, Record: 27-30, Last Week: 15)
14. Atlanta Hawks (nERD: 49.5, Record: 32-24, Last Week: 14)
13. Miami Heat (nERD: 49.8, Record: 25-32, Last Week: 13)
12. Charlotte Hornets (nERD: 52.3, Record: 24-32, Last Week: 11)
It is amazing how quickly and drastically the Charlotte Hornets' season has turned. At the end of 2016, they were 19-15 and solidly in the playoff race. Now, 22 games later, they are 24-32 and in 11th place. In their last 13 games, they have just two wins. Even those wins are nothing to hang your cap on as they both were over the nine-win Brooklyn Nets. They need to look no further than their ice cold offense to pin their struggles on.
Since the start of the new year, the Hornets own the worst shooting percentage (43.4%) in the league. Their offensive rating dropped to 104.4, while scoring only 103.8 points per game -- both bottom-seven ranks.The inability to get high-percentage shots, due to the lack of a down-low presence, has held the Hornets attack back.
Frank Kaminsky, really a stretch-four, has seen his minutes rise at the five-spot with Cody Zeller sidelined with injury. With their center roaming the perimeter, the Hornets rank 28th with only 14.4 made field goals in the restricted area in 2017. They also rank in the bottom four with only 8.1 offensive rebounds and 10.1 second-chance points per game.
11. Milwaukee Bucks (nERD: 53.1, Record: 25-30, Last Week: 12)
10. Memphis Grizzlies (nERD: 53.3, Record: 34-24, Last Week: 10)
9. Washington Wizards (nERD: 57.5, Record: 34-21, Last Week: 9)
8. Boston Celtics (nERD: 57.8, Record: 37-20, Last Week: 8)
7. Los Angeles Clippers (nERD: 63.9, Record: 35-21, Last Week: 6)
In the first nine games without their on-court leader, the Clips went 2-7. Even with Blake Griffin back for six of those contests, they managed just one win. For those three weeks, they owned the worst defense in the NBA, allowing 118.3 points per game with an 118.7 defensive rating. Since February 8, though, they have won four straight games to stop the bleeding and remain in the top half of the Western Conference playoff bracket.
In the last three games, the Clips have gone from worst to first, allowing only 86.0 points per game with an 89.6 defensive rating. In a pivotal matchup with a potential first-round playoff opponent, Doc Rivers' group shut down the Utah Jazz, allowing a season-low 72 points while limiting the Jazz to 32.2% shooting on their home court. Follow that up with a 99-84 beatdown of the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday, and the Clippers look ready to close out the year strong.
6. Cleveland Cavaliers (nERD: 64.1, Record: 39-16, Last Week: 6)
5. Toronto Raptors (nERD: 64.7, Record: 33-24, Last Week: 4)
4. Utah Jazz (nERD: 65.3, Record: 35-22, Last Week: 3)
3. Houston Rockets (nERD: 65.6, Record: 40-18, Last Week: 5)
2. San Antonio Spurs (nERD: 75.3, Record: 43-13, Last Week: 2)
1. Golden State Warriors (nERD: 84.8, Record: 47-9, Last Week: 1)