NBA Power Rankings Update: Trouble in Cleveland
It seemed like a foregone conclusion that the Cleveland Cavaliers would be the Eastern Conference's - they have the most talent, the experience, and the championship pedigree. And for five months of the season, they have been locked into the top spot.
However, since reaching a season-high 24 games over .500 with a 41-17 record on February 24, the Cavs have collapsed. In the 18 games since, they are 7-11 and are currently sitting in second place, just 2.5 games ahead of the Toronto Raptors for the 4 seed.
This week, we will look at the struggles of Cleveland and four other notable team performances over the past few weeks.
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. Los Angeles Lakers (nERD: 26.3, Record: 21-54, Last Update: 30)
29. Brooklyn Nets (nERD: 28.2, Record: 16-59, Last Update: 29)
28. Philadelphia 76ers (nERD: 32.4, Record: 28-47, Last Update: 28)
27. Orlando Magic (nERD: 33.0, Record: 27-48, Last Update: 27)
26. Phoenix Suns (nERD: 33.8, Record: 22-54, Last Update: 26)
The Phoenix Suns are in full tank mode. Over the past month, they have shut down veterans Tyson Chandler and Eric Bledsoe, not for injuries but to 'try out' their younger and more inexperienced players. On March 23, they played the youngest starting lineup in NBA history. While it may have given Tyler Ulis, Marquese Chriss and Alex Len valuable playing time, it has also helped pile up the losses.
Losers of 10 straight, the Suns are in a tight race with the Los Angeles Lakers for the second-worst record in the NBA and therefore the second-most ping-pong balls in the NBA Draft lottery.
During the losing streak, Phoenix is scoring just 103.0 points per game. That even includes the 120-point output last Friday when Devin Booker piled up a historic 70 points. Overall, they have made less than 28% of their threes and 70% of their free throws -- ranking dead last in both -- as they have posted a 96.9 offensive rating, the third-worst mark in the league during the last three weeks.
25. Sacramento Kings (nERD: 35.9, Record: 29-46, Last Update: 25)
24. New York Knicks (nERD: 39.2, Record: 28-47, Last Update: 24)
23. Dallas Mavericks (nERD: 42.9, Record: 31-43, Last Update: 23)
The Dallas Mavericks have had a roller coaster season. After starting off with only four wins in their first 20 games, Dallas has been an above-average team most of the season, going 24-20 in their next 44 games. The were even within two games of the eighth and final playoff spot in the West. However, in the last two weeks, they have fallen back to Earth, losing five of seven.
During the recent slide, the offense has regressed, posting the fourth-worst efficiency rating (99.2) while scoring 91 or fewer points in four games. They mustered only 74 points against the Philadelphia 76ers on March 17 for their second-lowest output of the season.
In the last two weeks, Dirk Nowitzki is leading the team in scoring with only 14.7 points per game. Coming in second is the team's leader for the season, Harrison Barnes -- the 24-year-old forward has averaged just 14.0 points while shooting 40.6% from the field. Against his former team, the Golden State Warriors, Barnes scored just 5 points on 2-for-10 shooting.
22. Chicago Bulls (nERD: 46.8, Record: 36-39, Last Update: 21)
21. New Orleans Pelicans (nERD: 47.1, Record: 32-43, Last Update: 22)
20. Denver Nuggets (nERD: 47.3, Record: 35-39, Last Update: 16)
T-18. Atlanta Hawks (nERD: 47.7, Record: 39-36, Last Update: 17)
T-18. Indiana Pacers (nERD: 47.7, Record: 37-38, Last Update: 19)
T-16. Detroit Pistons (nERD: 47.9, Record: 35-41, Last Update: 15)
Just under three weeks ago, the Detroit Pistons seemed destined to be in the playoffs as they sat with a .500 record and were just a half-game away from the 6 seed in the East. Just 19 days and 10 games later, the Pistons find themselves in 10th place and 2.5 games away from the eighth seed. With only 2 wins in the last 10 games, Detroit is lottery bound, ending the season with more questions than answers.
Since March 12, they have scored an NBA-worst 92.5 points per game thanks to some horrific shooting. They rank 29th in field goal percentage (40.7%), three-point accuracy (28.6%), assists per game (18.8), and offensive rating (94.9). Three of their top-five scorers, during this recent slide, are shooting less than 39% from the field with recently shut down starting point guard Reggie Jackson making only 33.7% of his shots. As bad as he has been playing, center Andre Drummond has been worse.
The big man is averaging just 8.8 points per game while posting a team-worst -11.3 plus/minus in the last 10 games.
T-16. Minnesota Timberwolves (nERD: 47.9, Record: 30-44, Last Update: 17)
15. Portland Trail Blazers (nERD: 49.1, Record: 37-38, Last Update: 20)
There is no one hotter in the NBA than the Portland Trail Blazers. Winners of eight of their last nine, the Blazers have gone from 2.5 games behind the Denver Nuggets for the final playoff berth in the Western Conference to a 1.5 games ahead in just over two weeks.
During the hot streak, they have put up some impressive wins over the conference's elite teams in the San Antonio Spurs and Houston Rockets behind an offensive explosion. During their last nine games, Portland owns the third-best offensive rating (113.2), scoring nearly 110 points per game. More notable, though, has been the revolution on defense.
For the season, the Blazers rank 26th in points allowed (109.0) and 22nd in defensive efficiency (107.9). In the last two-plus weeks, they have flipped the switch, ranking third with a 100.6 defensive rating and fifth in points allowed (99.6). The addition of Jusuf Nurkic and his 16.8 points, 11.4 rebounds, and 2.0 blocks per game has proven to be the difference maker on both ends of the floor.
14. Memphis Grizzlies (nERD: 50.8, Record: 41-34, Last Update: 14)
13. Oklahoma City Thunder (nERD: 51.7, Record: 43-31, Last Update: 13)
12. Milwaukee Bucks (nERD: 52.5, Record: 39-36, Last Update: 12)
11. Charlotte Hornets (nERD: 54.0, Record: 34-41, Last Update: 11)
10. Washington Wizards (nERD: 54.8, Record: 46-29, Last Update: 10)
9. Miami Heat (nERD: 55.0, Record: 37-38, Last Update: 9)
8. Boston Celtics (nERD: 56.2 Record: 48-27, Last Update: 8)
7. Cleveland Cavaliers (nERD: 58.6, Record: 47-27, Last Update: 7)
The Cavs have won just two games over the past two weeks, and those were by an average of just 6.0 points against the Charlotte Hornets and Lakers, who have a combined record of 45-95. Their five losses have come against significantly better competition -- the Spurs, Los Angeles Clippers, and Washington Wizards included - but they have lost by over 18.0 points per game. The defensive issues have garnered plenty of attention -- they own a 116.5 defensive rating the last seven games -- but the offense has been just as bad lately.
A top-four offensive team for the season (109.8 points scored per game), the Cavs have been lost the last two weeks, ranking 23rd with just 101.4 points per game. Through the first 67 games of the season, they scored 90 points or fewer just twice, with 85 being a season low. In the last two weeks, though, they have scored under 80 points twice, including only 73 points versus the Spurs on Monday.
6. Los Angeles Clippers (nERD: 62.5, Record: 46-31, Last Update: 6)
5. Utah Jazz (nERD: 63.3, Record: 46-29, Last Update: 5)
4. Toronto Raptors (nERD: 64.7, Record: 45-30, Last Update: 4)
3. Houston Rockets (nERD: 66.1, Record: 51-24, Last Update: 3)
2. San Antonio Spurs (nERD: 73.9, Record: 57-17, Last Update: 2)
1. Golden State Warriors (nERD: 82.5, Record: 61-14, Last Update: 1)