NBA Power Rankings Update: Playoff Positioning

Where has the season gone?

With just a month left in the regular season, the NBA playoffs are coming up fast. With them in view, teams are in a dogfight for postseason seeding in both conferences.

The Cleveland Cavaliers, Boston Celtics, and Washington Wizards are separated by just 3.0 games at the top of the Eastern Conference. The Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs are in a battle for the top overall spot in the West, as well.

This week, we will break down a few of the teams affecting the playoff race, plus some of the other more notable performances of the past handful of days.

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: 23.6, Record: 11-52, Last Update: 30)
29. Los Angeles Lakers (nERD: 28.1, Record: 20-45, Last Update: 29)
28. Philadelphia 76ers (nERD: 28.8, Record: 23-41, Last Update: 28)

Over the last month, the Philadelphia 76ers' season has fizzled out. After finishing January at 18-29, the Sixers have gone 5-12 since, posting the third-worst winning percentage in the league. The offense has struggled, shooting just 43.9% from the floor, while the defense is allowing 113.5 points per game. Add them up and the Sixers have the worst net rating (-9.0) and scoring margin (-9.0) in the NBA since February 1.

At the end of January, Joel Embiid was still on track to win Rookie of the Year honors. Five weeks later, the big man hasn't played another minute, is done for the year, and may lose his hardware to Philly's only bright spot over the past month, Dario Saric.

While many first-year players hit the proverbial rookie wall around now, Saric, thanks to limited playing time early, has taken off. In the past 17 games, he's emerged as the team's leading scorer by posting 17.4 points on 45.2% shooting from the field. He has been a fixture in the starting lineup since the All-Star break, averaging 19.0 points, 9.0 rebounds, and 4.6 assists.

27. Orlando Magic (nERD: 34.7, Record: 24-41, Last Update: 27)
26. Phoenix Suns (nERD: 35.6, Record: 21-44, Last Update: 26)
25. Sacramento Kings (nERD: 37.6, Record: 25-39, Last Update: 25)
24. New York Knicks (nERD: 41.1, Record: 26-39, Last Update: 24)
23. New Orleans Pelicans (nERD: 42.9, Record: 25-40, Last Update: 21)
T-21. Portland Trail Blazers (nERD: 45.0, Record: 28-35, Last Update: 22)

The month of March has been kind to the Portland Trail Blazers, as the squad has gone 4-0 and crept to within 0.5 games of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference behind the best offense this month.

In those past four games, the Blazers are averaging 121.0 points with an 119.7 offensive rating while shooting 51.8% from the field, including 45.2% from three (leading the league in all four categories). While two of the wins came against the sludge of the Eastern Conference in the Brooklyn Nets and 76ers, their other two victories came against the sixth-place team in the West, the Oklahoma City Thunder.

The key to this offensive surge has been the emergence of a third weapon to the dynamic duo of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. Over the past four games, Jusuf Nurkic is averaging 20.0 points and 5.8 assists while giving the Blazers the perfect inside presence to compliment the perimeter play.

T-21. Dallas Mavericks (nERD: 45.0, Record: 27-36, Last Update: 23)
20. Denver Nuggets (nERD: 45.4, Record: 29-35, Last Update: 20)
19. Chicago Bulls (nERD: 46.8, Record: 31-33, Last Update: 18)

After losing four of their last five games, the Chicago Bulls are on the verge of falling out of the playoffs -- they are currently just a half-game above the Miami Heat for the eighth seed in the East. In the last four games, the offense has disappeared, mustering only 92.8 points per game, which is dead last in the NBA.Their offensive efficiency has also hit rock bottom (95.8).

Between the missed shots -- 46.8% effective field goal percentage -- and turnovers -- 16.3% turnover percentage -- the Bulls can't seem to do anything right. While Jimmy Butler has been less than stellar -- 21.5 points per game with a 45.7% effective field goal percentage -- the two-game absence of Dwyane Wade (plus his poor play) has the team trending in the wrong direction.

In the two games Wade has played, he is averaging just 11.0 points while shooting 26.9% from the floor, a far cry from his season averages of 18.9 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 4.0 assists on 43.3% shooting from the field.

18. Indiana Pacers (nERD: 47.9, Record: 33-31, Last Update: 19)
17. Oklahoma City Thunder (nERD: 48.9, Record: 36-29, Last Update: 14)
16. Atlanta Hawks (nERD: 49.1, Record: 35-29, Last Update: 15)
15. Minnesota Timberwolves (nERD: 49.6, Record: 26-37, Last Update: 17)
14. Detroit Pistons (nERD: 51.0, Record: 32-33, Last Update: 16)
13. Memphis Grizzlies (nERD: 51.4, Record: 36-29, Last Update: 10)
12. Charlotte Hornets (nERD: 52.4, Record: 28-36, Last Update: 12)
11. Milwaukee Bucks (nERD: 53.0, Record: 30-33, Last Update: 13)

Left for dead in the playoff race after Jabari Parker tore his ACL, the Milwaukee Bucks have charged forward in the past week by winning four straight games to sit just one game back of the 7 seed in the East.

The Bucks have taken care of some quality opponents during the streak, too. They started it off by beating the Los Angeles Clippers behind Greg Monroe's 24-point performance off the bench. The next night, they took care of business against the Toronto Raptors behind a season-best performance from Khris Middleton.

After missing the first three-plus months with a torn hamstring, Middleton is back and helping fill the void in the offense left by Parker's injury. In his last five games, the forward is averaging 19.0 points, 4.0 rebounds, 5.2 assists, and 2.2 three-pointers while shooting 58.6% from the floor and 50.0% from three.

10. Miami Heat (nERD: 53.5, Record: 31-34, Last Update: 11)
9. Washington Wizards (nERD: 56.0, Record: 39-24, Last Update: 9)
8. Boston Celtics (nERD: 56.4 Record: 41-24, Last Update: 8)
7. Cleveland Cavaliers (nERD: 60.7, Record: 42-21, Last Update: 6)
6. Los Angeles Clippers (nERD: 61.6, Record: 39-26, Last Update: 7)
5. Utah Jazz (nERD: 64.1, Record: 41-24, Last Update: 5)
4. Toronto Raptors (nERD: 64.8, Record: 38-26, Last Update: 4)
3. Houston Rockets (nERD: 66.4, Record: 44-21, Last Update: 3)
2. San Antonio Spurs (nERD: 74.4, Record: 50-14, Last Update: 2)

While the Thunder may have denied the Spurs a victory on Thursday, the Spurs are still 9-1 in their last 10 games. They sit within two games of the Golden State Warriors for not only the number-one seed in the West, but also the NBA's best record.

The Spurs and Warriors face each other two more times this season, with the first showdown coming this Saturday.

Behind their typical suffocating defense, allowing just 98.4 points per game with a league-leading 99.4 defensive rating, the Spurs shut down Western Conference rivals Houston Rockets and Clippers during their nine-game winning streak. The defense has been a collaborative effort, but the offense has been driven by Kawhi Leonard over the past few weeks.

In his last 12 games played, Leonard has scored 30 or more points eight times and is averaging 29.5 points with 6.2 rebounds, 3.8 assists, and 2.3 steals during that stretch.

1. Golden State Warriors (nERD: 82.0, Record: 52-12, Last Update: 1)