NBA Power Rankings Update: Finish Line in Sight
The final day of the NBA season is looming. Next Wednesday, April 12th is the last regular season game for 28 of the 30 teams. Only the Charlotte Hornets and Phoenix Suns end their seasons the day before. While a lot has been decided, there are still a few teams fighting to make the playoffs or battling for seeding.
This week's edition of the Power Rankings update will focus on five of the teams with a lot on the line over the final few days of the season.
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: 27.2, Record: 23-55, Last Update: 30)
29. Brooklyn Nets (nERD: 30.2, Record: 19-60, Last Update: 29)
28. Philadelphia 76ers (nERD: 31.0, Record: 28-51, Last Update: 28)
27. Orlando Magic (nERD: 32.8, Record: 28-51, Last Update: 27)
26. Phoenix Suns (nERD: 33.4, Record: 22-57, Last Update: 26)
25. Sacramento Kings (nERD: 35.9, Record: 31-47, Last Update: 25)
24. New York Knicks (nERD: 39.4, Record: 30-49, Last Update: 24)
23. Dallas Mavericks (nERD: 42.3, Record: 32-46, Last Update: 23)
22. Minnesota Timberwolves (nERD: 46.9, Record: 31-47, Last Update: 16)
21. Denver Nuggets (nERD: 47.1, Record: 37-41, Last Update: 20)
22. Chicago Bulls (nERD: 47.2, Record: 39-40, Last Update: 22)
The Chicago Bulls have been a hard team to get a read on this season. Their inconsistent play has led to streaky performances. They have had five separate winning streaks of three or more games, but have also had seven losing streaks of three or more. Lately, we have seen more of the 'good' Bulls, as they have won six of their last eight games while posting a top-five defensive rating (102.2) and a net rating of 5.0.
Sitting at 39-40, they're in a tie with the Indiana Pacers for the 7 seed in the East. That puts them just 1.5 games out of the fifth spot, but less than one game away from the ninth-place Miami Heat. With two games against the Brooklyn Nets and one against the Orlando Magic, you would think Chicago has a postseason appearance in the bag. However, the Bulls own just a 22-20 record against sub-.500 teams this season and have lost to the New York Knicks, Philadelphia 76ers, and Magic in the last month.
The one thing the Bulls have going for them has been the play of Jimmy Butler. Ranking sixth in the NBA in nERD rating, Butler has look of someone determined to bring Chicago into the postseason, averaging 28.3 points, 6.1 rebounds, 8.1 assists, and 1.9 steals in his last seven games.
T-17. Atlanta Hawks (nERD: 47.7, Record: 40-38, Last Update: 18)
T-17. New Orleans Pelicans (nERD: 47.7, Record: 33-48, Last Update: 21)
T-17. Indiana Pacers (nERD: 47.7, Record: 39-40, Last Update: 18)
Seemingly a lock to make the playoffs, a four-game slide to end March dropped the Pacers down to the eighth spot in the East. Even after a pair of wins over the Toronto Raptors and Milwaukee Bucks in their last two games, Indiana is still just a half-game ahead of Miami for the final postseason berth.
Over the last nine games, the Pacers have lost six games despite improved offensive play. Their efficiency is at the best it has been all season, posting a 109.7 offensive rating while scoring 108.6 points per game in the last two-plus weeks. Their 40.6% success rate from behind the arc during the stretch -- third-best in the NBA -- has been key to the offensive surge. Just as with Butler in Chicago, the Pacers' All-Star, Paul George, has been playing out of his mind down the stretch.
George is averaging 30.9 points, 7.8 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 2.4 steals, and 3.8 three-pointers per game while knocking down nearly 50% of his shots in the last nine games. His epic double-OT battle against LeBron James on Sunday, where he dropped 43 points with 9 rebounds and 9 assists, will go down as one of the best performances over the last week.
16. Detroit Pistons (nERD: 48.0, Record: 35-43, Last Update: 16)
15. Portland Trail Blazers (nERD: 49.1, Record: 39-40, Last Update: 15)
14. Memphis Grizzlies (nERD: 50.3, Record: 42-37, Last Update: 14)
13. Milwaukee Bucks (nERD: 50.8, Record: 40-39, Last Update: 12)
After winning 14 of 18 games in the month of March -- where the Milwaukee Bucks climbed to the fifth spot in the East -- the club has lost three straight, undoing some of the progress they have made. Currently just 1.5 games ahead of ninth-place Miami, the Bucks need to win two out of their last three games to ensure themselves they don't miss the postseason for the second consecutive year.
In the last three games, the club has struggled to score, posting just 91.0 points per game, the worst mark in the NBA. The efficiency has been just as bad, with a 96.6 offensive rating and -16.2 net rating, putting them dead last in the league there, as well.
Against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Tuesday, the team managed just 79 points while shooting 35.8%. The leaders of their offense, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton, combined to go 7-for-21 for a total of 20 points. While the Greek Freak has held his own outside of the OKC game, Middleton has been off lately. In his last three games, the swingman is shooting just 36.1% from the floor and 23.1% from three, averaging 10.7 points per game.
12. Oklahoma City Thunder (nERD: 51.9, Record: 45-33, Last Update: 13)
11. Washington Wizards (nERD: 53.6, Record: 48-31, Last Update: 10)
10. Charlotte Hornets (nERD: 54.0, Record: 36-43, Last Update: 11)
9. Miami Heat (nERD: 55.1, Record: 38-40, Last Update: 9)
8. Boston Celtics (nERD: 55.8 Record: 50-29, Last Update: 8)
7. Cleveland Cavaliers (nERD: 61.0, Record: 51-27, Last Update: 7)
6. Los Angeles Clippers (nERD: 63.0, Record: 48-31, Last Update: 6)
Winners of eight of their last 10 games, the Los Angeles Clippers are starting to click on all cylinders just in time for the playoffs. Beset by an inordinate amount of bad luck with injuries, the Clips are finally healthy and are playing like one of the best teams in the Association.
In the last three weeks, the Clippers rank in the top nine in both offensive and defensive efficiency, and their 11.2 net rating ranks second to only the Golden State Warriors since March 18th. Keyed by an explosive offense that's averaging 113.9 points per game while shooting 50.3% from the field, the Clips have scored 124 or more points three times, including two instances of a season-high 133 points.
The barrage of points has been a truly collaborative effort, as six players are averaging double-digit points with three -- Blake Griffin, Chris Paul, J.J. Redick -- all posting at least 18 points per night. The trio has been hot from deep, making 65-of-145 three-point attempts for a 44.8% accuracy rate in the last 10 games. It hasn't been just threes, as they own a 65.4% true shooting percentage over the stretch too.
5. Utah Jazz (nERD: 64.0, Record: 48-30, Last Update: 5)
4. Toronto Raptors (nERD: 64.4, Record: 48-31, Last Update: 4)
The Toronto Raptors have been playing some of the NBA's best ball lately. Winners of nine of their last 11 games, only the Golden State Warriors have a better record since St. Patricks Day. While the offense has been respectable, ranking in the top 10 of efficiency (109.8 rating), games have been won on the defensive end. Their 102.0 defensive rating in the fifth-best over the last three weeks, while allowing just 99.4 points per game.
The recent surge has them tied for third place in the Eastern Conference with just three games to go. The Raps want the 3 seed since it will delay a possible meeting with the top-seeded Cleveland Cavaliers until the Eastern Conference Finals. The final three games won't be a cakewalk, though -- they face a Miami team trying to sneak into the bottom half of the playoff bracket and one more game against the Cavs.
Lucky for them, they have their All-Star backcourt duo back together as Kyle Lowry made his return from a nearly six-week absence on Wednesday. He showed no ill effects from the wrist injury, playing 42 minutes and scoring 27 points with 5 rebounds, 10 assists, 2 steals, and 2 three-pointers.
3. Houston Rockets (nERD: 66.0, Record: 53-25, Last Update: 3)
2. San Antonio Spurs (nERD: 73.0, Record: 60-18, Last Update: 2)
1. Golden State Warriors (nERD: 82.9, Record: 65-14, Last Update: 1)