NBA Power Rankings Update: Portland Blazing

The Blazers are rolling, and our numbers see them as a top-five NBA team.

Each week, I'll be translating numberFire's NBA power rankings, which can be found here, into words. The rankings are driven by our nERD metric, which is a predictive statistic to help define what the team's winning percentage ultimately will be.

Without further ado, let's take a look at this week's rankings.

30. Philadelphia 76ers (nERD: 2.1, Record: 0-14, last week: 30)
29. Los Angeles Lakers (nERD: 21.1, Record: 3-11, last week: 29)
28. Minnesota Timberwolves (nERD: 23.9, Record: 3-9, last week: 26)
27. Oklahoma City Thunder (nERD: 29.4, Record: 3-12, last week: 27)

Welp. The steady nightmare continues for Oklahoma's only professional sports franchise. Let's take a look back at some key dates for the Thunder from the last three years.

June 6, 2012 - OKC wins their fourth straight against the Spurs to make their first NBA Finals appearance since (the Seattle Supersonics made it in) 1996. Everyone around the NBA mentally prepares themselves for "the next NBA dynasty."

June 21, 2012 - The Miami Heat finish off the Thunder 4-1 to win their first Lebron James-era title. Radio hosts nationwide ponder whether the Thunder can win it all with three "me first" guys.

October 28, 2012 - The Thunder panic trade James Harden days before the 2012-13 season for Jeremy Lamb, one year of Kevin Martin, and a draft pick (now Steven Adams.) They still lead the league in offense, finish 60-22 and get the top seed in the playoffs.

April 24, 2013 - Russell Westbrook collides with Patrick Beverley after the whistle is blown in game two of a first-round series between the Rockets and Thunder. He somehow finishes the game, but x-rays reveal a torn meniscus and Westbrook is ruled out for the remainder of the playoffs. Kevin Durant and co. struggle without their point guard and eventually go down 4-1 to the Grizzlies in the second round.

May 15, 2014 - Serge Ibaka injures his left calf in Game 7 of the conference semifinals. He misses the first two games of the Spurs series (both Spurs wins) and the Thunder eventually go down 4-2 to the champs.

October 11, 2014 - Kevin Durant suffers a Jones fracture in his foot, declared out 6-8 weeks.

October 31, 2014 - Russell Westbrook fractures his hand against Clippers, declared out at least one month.

Now the Thunder sit at 3-12, the worst record in the Western Conference. They hope to get their studs back by mid-December, but as this site recently pointed out for ESPN, their likelihood of making the playoffs is slim. Let's assume they continue to win 20% of their games before Durant and Westbrook are back and playing at full strength. And that those two are good to go by December 16th. The minimum amount of wins for a playoff team in the West usually sits at 48, and assuming this year is no different, how well will they have to play to make it?

Current W/LGamesW/L before ReturnPotential W/L at ReturnW/LWin %

Best-case scenario, Oklahoma City will have to win 60% of their games when healthy. Worst case, they'll have to win three out of every four. And remember, this is just for the eighth seed, which means no home-court advantage (Chesapeake Energy Arena has been extremely kind to them) for any rounds of the playoffs. Still, if the Thunder can pull off the eighth seed, nobody will take them lightly.

26. New York Knicks (nERD: 31.8, Record: 4-11, last week: 28)
25. Orlando Magic (nERD: 35.2, Record: 6-10, last week: 24)
24. Detroit Pistons (nERD: 35.8, Record: 3-11, last week: 22)
23. Charlotte Hornets (nERD: 36.0, Record: 4-11, last week: 20)
22. Indiana Pacers (nERD: 37.9, Record: 6-8, last week: 21)
21. Utah Jazz (nERD: 38.4, Record: 5-10, last week: 23)
20. Milwaukee Bucks (nERD: 39.4, Record: 8-7, last week: 18)
19. Denver Nuggets (nERD: 44.0, Record: 7-7, last week: 25)
18. Boston Celtics (nERD: 44.5, Record: 4-8, last week: 19)

Brad Stevens was an incredible college basketball coach. He took Butler to back to back Final Fours - the first coach of a non-power-conference school since Jerry Tarkanian took UNLV to back to back final fours in 1990 and 1991. But he did it by slowing down the game, playing tough minded defense, and making timely buckets. Last season, his first in the NBA, he held on to some of that successful college style. This year, he's completely scrapped it. Check out some key differences between last years Celtics and this version.

SeasonPace (rank)Off. Rating (rank)Turnover % (rank)
2013-1493.3 (17th)102.9 (27th)14.2% (25th)
2014-1597.5 (2nd)107.3 (13th)12.8% (10th)

The Celtics are pushing the rock. They're the fourth-youngest team in the league with an average age of 24.9, and they're subbing a ton (9 players averaging at least 15 minutes per game). The results have been mixed - scoring is up, but they rank 26th in team defense. Expect them to improve their win percentage as they play more minutes together and their schedule eases up. To date, they've played the 13th toughest slate in the league.

Rajon Rondo has been healthy all year and the results have been, well, weird. He's averaging a near triple double with 10.1 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 10.7 assists per game, but he's shooting under 35% from the free throw line. What? No other point guard in the league is below 64% from the line.

The Celtics and their fans know this team is a work in progress, they're very aware of the looming Rondo trade. Heck, it's an annual tradition for GM Danny Ainge to publicly shop Rondo around the league just before the trade deadline. If Rondo is dealt, the Celts will likely acquire more picks and work towards a return to prominence sometime around 2017 and the keys will be turned over to injured rookie Marcus Smart. Until then, fans of Boston should appreciate the multitude of high scoring close games and revel in the relevant ineptitude of the Knicks and Nets.

17. Atlanta Hawks (nERD: 47.0, Record: 7-5, last week: 17)
16. Brooklyn Nets (nERD: 49.2, Record: 5-8, last week: 12)

Which brings us to...The Brooklyn Nets. Somehow still second in the putrid Atlantic Division, the Nets are piecing together an uninspiring run at the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference. They run a plodding inside out offense with Brook Lopez as the centerpiece. The results have been mediocre. They sit at 18th in offensive and defensive efficiency. They rarely run (22nd in pace), which makes sense because they're also the 7th-oldest team in the league despite the departure of 37-year-old Paul Pierce.

Speaking of Pierce, he's thriving in DC. The Truth is averaging 13.1 points, 5.8 boards, and 2.5 assists in limited minutes for the surging Wizards. Pierce's nERD is 5.2, good enough for 35th in the whole league. He also recently shut down Lebron when the high octane Cavs rolled into the capital city, holding him to 1-of-8 from downtown in a 13 point win.

Mirza Teletovic has done well in Pierce's old role. He's not starting, but playing more than 24 minutes per game at small forward. His 3.9 nERD is 47th in the league. Plus he's a lot cheaper, he makes $3 million to Pierce's $15 million.

The Nets had to start saving money somewhere. Last season they shattered the single season luxury tax record. The Nets reportedly lost $144 million last year. To give some perspective, the Wizards lost the second-most money in the league at $13 million.

But at least they haven't sacrificed their future for this current non-contender. Oh wait, they didn't have a draft pick this year, and they already traded away their unprotected first-round picks for 2016 and 2018. If we were doing a 'future rankings' column, the Nets would likely sit in last place.

Sadly, unless they want to spend boatloads of money on new free agents every year to keep the league's hippest (and hipster-iest) arena buzzing for each home game, this is the Nets window to win a title. If they're going to contend this season, something will have to change.

Maybe they should jump into the Rondo trade discussion? Maybe they should let Iso Joe Johnson know that he has teammates? Maybe they should bring former All-Star Brook Lopez off the bench? Last season, oddly enough, it was his foot injury that ignited this bunch. They were 5-12 with Lopez in the lineup and 39-26 without the big man. If the Nets continue to play at this level, they'll be back in the lottery for the first time in 3 years.

15. Miami Heat (nERD: 49.5, Record: 8-7, last week: 10)
14. Cleveland Cavaliers (nERD: 49.7, Record: 6-7, last week: 15)
13. Phoenix Suns (nERD: 54.1, Record: 9-6, last week: 14)
12. Sacramento Kings (nERD: 57.7, Record: 9-5, last week: 11)
11. Los Angeles Clippers (nERD: 58.3, Record: 8-5, last week: 13)
10. Chicago Bulls (nERD: 59.6, Record: 9-6, last week: 7)
9. San Antonio Spurs (nERD: 61.9, Record: 9-4, last week: 16)
8. New Orleans Pelicans (nERD: 62.9, Record: 7-6, last week: 9)
7. Washington Wizards (nERD: 63.7, Record: 9-4 , last week: 8)
6. Houston Rockets (nERD: 68.3, Record: 11-3, last week: 1)
5. Memphis Grizzlies (nERD: 72.2, Record: 12-2, last week: 6)
4. Portland Trailblazers (nERD: 73.5, Record: 11-3, last week: 4)

The Blazers are rolling (no pun intended.) They've won 8 straight and 10 of their last 11. Their only loss since November 2nd was a four-point nail-biter in L.A. against the Clippers. They've won all, but one game by more than five points and their average margin of victory during the win streak is 11.

So why isn't Portland our top team? They've enjoyed a friendly schedule thus far, playing 9 of their 14 games at home in the Rose Garden. They've only played two road games against teams with winning records, and they've lost them both. That said, their schedule doesn't get much harder. They'll only play one winning team in their next 10 games. The Blazers could sport the NBA's best record come Christmas day.

They had one of the best starting lineups in the league last season. Their starting five of Damian Lillard, Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum, LaMarcus Aldridge and Robin Lopez played over 1,300 minutes together last season - second only to the Pacers starting five in minutes. That Blazers unit dominated the league on the glass and shot a ton of threes. They averaged 7.9 more points per 100 possessions than their opponents.

This season, that lineup is even better, averaging 10.9 more points per 100 possessions than their opponents. More impressively, there has been almost no drop off since second year pro Allen Crabbe took the injured Batum's spot. That unit is besting their opponents by 10.7 points per 100 possessions. Crabbe played less than four minutes total in the first seven games, but has played at least 10 minutes every game since and he has yet to post a negative plus-minus.

If the Blazers continue to win in blowout fashion, they'll get more minutes from non-starters. They need to continue to develop a bench unit that hardly played last season and was exposed in the team's second round loss to the deep and well rested San Antonio Spurs.

3. Golden State Warriors (nERD: 76.9, Record: 11-2, last week: 3)
2. Toronto Raptors (nERD: 78.4, Record: 12-2, last week: 5)
1. Dallas Mavericks (nERD: 84.3, Record: 10-5, last week: 2)