NBA Power Rankings Update, Presented By Knightfall: The Houston Rockets Have and the Chicago Bulls Have Not

Chris Paul's Rockets are breathing right down the Golden State Warriors' neck in this week's power rankings. But what's happening with the rest of the Association?

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Here's one for all you NBA nERD nerds:

The difference in nERD rating between the 5th- and 30th-ranked teams in this week's power rankings is 46.4.

The difference between the 4th- and 5th-ranked teams is 9.8.

Breaking that down, teams 5-30 average 46.4 nERD, while teams 1-4 average 74.3.

When you glean that nERD is a team ranking on a scale from 0-100, with 50 as the league average, it's apparent that the already great divide between the haves and the have nots is widening.

If you're looking for a suitable metaphor, the gap between the top-ranked Golden State Warriors and the bottom-ranked Chicago Bulls is similar to difference between watching "Curb Your Enthusiasm" and literally any CBS sitcom.

What else did we learn from this week's NBA nERD movement?

Teams Ranked 30th to 21st

If we've learned one thing over the first 20-ish games of the NBA season, it's that there are eight or nine cities who are already preparing for the NBA Lottery.

Ranking Team Record nERD Last Ranking Plus/Minus
30 Chicago Bulls 3-18 12.0 30 Even
29 Sacramento Kings 7-16 15.2 29 Even
28 Phoenix Suns 8-16 24.7 28 Even
27 Atlanta Hawks 5-17 30.4 26 -1
26 Dallas Mavericks 6-17 32.8 27 +1
25 Miami Heat 11-12 37.1 24 -1
24 Brooklyn Nets 8-14 38.8 25 +1
23 Los Angeles Lakers 8-15 41.8 22 -1
22 Orlando Magic 10-14 41.9 21 -1
21 Memphis Grizzlies 7-15 42.7 16 -5

The Expected

Yeah, we're aware that it's not nice for us to use the Bulls as a punching bag week after week, but they give us no choice. They've lost eight in a row, five of which came at the hands of teams whose nERD ranks in the bottom-third of the league. As per, they place dead last in defensive rating and 28th in offensive rating, while their point differential is a league-worst -11.1. Their big summer acquisition, Zach LaVine, is expected back by the end of the month, so it's just possible we'll stop picking on them in January. Maybe.

Sacramento and Phoenix maintained their spots just ahead of the Bulls, but with an upset over an admittedly short-handed Warriors team, the Kings are showing a pulse. They'll need to maintain said pulse this week, as they face the piping-hot Cavaliers and the almost-as-piping-hot Raptors.

The Unexpected

We know things are a tad funky down in Memphis, what with a new coach and an 11-game losing skid, but seeing them alongside the Chi-towns and the Sactos of the world is kinda-sorta shocking after their 5-1 start. Mike Conley can't come back soon enough, people.

The Mavs have won three of their last five, and their margin of victory in those W's was 14.3. They've stepped it up on the defensive side of the floor, as quantified by their respectable 18th-ranked 105.7 defensive rating. It's doubtful they'll keep it up, though, as their next seven games are all against teams with .583-plus winning percentages, among them Boston, Golden State, and San Antonio. Still, it was fun while it lasted.

Teams Ranked 20th to 11th

The bad stayed bad but the middle class got better, as witnessed by jumps from a couple of butt-kicking small-market teams.

Ranking Team Record nERD Last Ranking Plus/Minus
20 Los Angeles Clippers 8-14 43.2 19 +1
19 New Orleans Pelicans 12-11 48.3 14 -5
15 New York Knicks 11-11 48.7 17 +2
17 Denver Nuggets 13-9 49.1 12 -5
16 Milwaukee Bucks 12-9 49.8 23 +7
T-14 Indiana Pacers 12-11 51.3 16 +1
T-14 Minnesota Timberwolves 14-10 51.3 15 +1
13 Detroit Pistons 14-8 52.3 13 Even
12 Philadelphia 76ers 13-9 52.4 11 -1
11 Utah Jazz 12-11 53.3 20 +9

The Expected

The Utah Jazz are ballin' out. They've won five in a row with an average margin of victory of +18.6, their efficiency numbers are phenomenal -- 7th in offensive efficiency, and 15th in defensive -- and best of all, Rudy Gobert might make his eagerly-awaited return to the court tonight. They're only 1.5 games away from the Western Conference's 4 seed, and they're evolving into one of those teams nobody will want to meet in a playoff series.

Our other big mid-level nERD-gainer, the Milwaukee Bucks, are on a roll of their own, having won 8 of their last 11. Giannis Antetokounmpo is doing his typical Giannis Anteokounmpo-y things, but early-season acquisition Eric Bledsoe deserves some props. He's averaged 22.6 points, 5.0 assists, and 2.2 steals in his last five outings, and his player efficiency rating (PER) since joining the Bucks is a respectable 18.50, second-best on the team behind the Grecian Freakazoid. Like the Jazz, the Bucks are only 1.5 games out of their conference's 4 seed. If you think nobody wants to play Utah in a postseason series, imagine how everybody feels about taking on Giannis.

The Unexpected

If you're a New Orleans Pelicans fan, you might not be feeling too good about your peeps. They've lost three of their last four, they have to play the Dubs and the Rockets on consecutive Mondays, and Anthony Davis is dealing with his annual injury. Interestingly enough, they're 2-0 in games without Davis this season, but, y'know, it's Anthony Freakin' Davis, and that's most likely unsustainable.

Why did the Nuggets, winners of four out of their last six, take a small tumble in the nERD rankings? Welp, those four wins came against the Lakers, the Bulls, the Grizzlies, and the Kings, who have a combined record of 25-64. The all-seeing nERD noticed.

Teams Ranked 10th to 1st

Coming into the season, nERD felt the Warriors might be the greatest team ever. Now they might not even be the greatest team in 2017-18.

Ranking Team Record nERD Last Ranking Plus/Minus
T-9 Cleveland Cavaliers 16-7 53.6 19 +9
T-9 Charlotte Hornets 8-13 53.6 8 -1
8 Portland Trail Blazers 13-10 55.5 7 -1
7 Oklahoma City Thunder 10-12 57.6 5 -2
6 Washington Wizards 12-10 58.1 6 Even
5 San Antonio Spurs 15-8 58.4 9 +4
4 Boston Celtics 20-4 68.2 3 -1
3 Toronto Raptors 14-7 70.4 4 +1
2 Houston Rockets 18-4 76.9 2 Even
1 Golden State Warriors 18-6 81.7 1 Even

The Expected

We knew that the Rockets would score buckets galore -- Harden + Paul + D'Antoni = points -- but we didn't know they'd be able to play (gasp) defense. Much to the surprise of anybody who's ever seen James Harden try to guard somebody, Houston sports the fifth-ranked defensive rating in the NBA, and their 102.7 points allowed is the seventh-best in the league. It's early, but home court throughout the playoffs is not out of the realm of possibility.

You could argue that Cleveland is playing the best ball in the Association. Or you could argue that they've won 11 in a row because they're beating up their weaker sisters. Of their 11 wins, only two have come against teams currently in the top eight of their respective conferences, those being Philadelphia and Detroit. Then again, 11 in a row is 11 in a row, and nERD appreciates a quality winning streak, thus the massive nine-spot jump. Their next two games are against Chicago and Sacramento, thus the streak shall continue.

Despite the fact that they rank just 18th in offensive efficiency, nERD is digging on the Spurs. But can you blame nERD? Even with their incessant injury woes, Team Popovich has won 11 of 14, and their scary-good 100.2 defensive rating is second in the league. They're a mere 3.5 games behind the West-leading Rockets, so when Kawhi Leonard finally sees the court for the first time this season -- which could happen this week -- look out.

The Unexpected

Two weeks ago, I wrote, "Considering their consistently lofty position in our rankings, one has to wonder if the OKC franchise has kompromat on nERD." I stand by that statement. The Thunder are 3-5 in their last eight games, their 23rd-ranked offensive rating is 102.6, and last week, they lost to Dallas and Orlando. On the other hand, over the last two weeks, they've beaten Golden State, San Antonio, and Minnesota, so howzabout we give nERD the benefit of the doubt. For now.

Odder, perhaps, is nERD's reverence of the Charlotte Hornets. The Bugs have dropped four in a row and 10 of their last 14, their point differential is -1.5, and they lost to the Bulls. So there, dear readers, is your kompromat.