NBA Power Rankings: Eyes on the 8th Seed

Some winning streaks have ended, and some are growing. But there's no reason to overlook the battles for the eighth seed in both conferences.

Each week, we'll be translating numberFire's NBA power rankings 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.

The Atlanta Hawks saw their 19-game win streak snapped last night, but they're still the best team in the East in our book. The Cavs have righted the ship and are trending upward. One top team in the West is slipping, and two really promising teams are vying for the final spot in the West.

30. Philadelphia 76ers (nERD: 14.5, Record: 10-39, last week: 30)
29. Minnesota Timberwolves (nERD: 19.2, Record: 8-40, last week: 29)
28. New York Knicks (nERD: 24.0, Record: 10-38, last week: 28)
27. Orlando Magic (nERD: 28.4, Record: 15-36, last week: 27)
26. Los Angeles Lakers (nERD: 32.6, Record: 13-35, last week: 26)
25. Brooklyn Nets (nERD: 36.6, Record: 19-28, last week: 25)
24. Denver Nuggets (nERD: 39.3, Record: 19-29, last week: 21)

After a five-game win streak, the Nuggets have dropped nine of their last 10 and have fallen three spots in our power ranks. The Nuggets have only two players who average at least 14.0 minutes per game and boast a positive individual nERD, which indicates how many wins a player would add to an average team if he were a starter. Ty Lawson (2.9) and Kenneth Faried (1.4).

The Nuggets, behind the 24th-best defense in the league, have been getting outscored 104.8-93.2 in that 10-game stretch.

23. Indiana Pacers (nERD: 40.5, Record: 17-32, last week: 23)
22. Miami Heat (nERD: 40.6, Record: 21-26, last week: 22)
21. Utah Jazz (nERD: 40.9, Record: 17-30, last week: 24)
20. Sacramento Kings (nERD: 41.4, Record: 17-29, last week: 20)
19. Boston Celtics (nERD: 43.1, Record: 16-30, last week: 19)
18. Detroit Pistons (nERD: 44.2, Record: 18-30, last week: 18)
17. Charlotte Hornets (nERD: 47.9, Record: 21-27, last week: 17)

Behind an early 10-game losing streak, the Hornets found themselves with a dismal 4-15 record, a sizable hole to dig out of even in the Eastern Conference. But despite the 29th-best offense in the league, per our math, and a knee injury to Kemba Walker, the Hornets aren't out of the playoff race just yet. The Hornets have five players with double-digit minutes per game and positive nERDs: Walker (3.0), Bismack Biyombo (2.7), Cody Zeller (2.4), Al Jefferson (2.2), and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (0.7).

The team is solid enough behind Walker, so it'll be interesting to see if the Hornets can cling to the eighth seed, which they currently own, as the season winds down.

16. Oklahoma City Thunder (nERD: 52.2, Record: 24-24, last week: 14)
15. Milwaukee Bucks (nERD: 52.5, Record: 26-22, last week: 16)
14. Phoenix Suns (nERD: 54.1, Record: 28-22, last week: 12)
13. New Orleans Pelicans (nERD: 54.2, Record: 26-22, last week: 13)
12. Cleveland Cavaliers (nERD: 55.6, Record: 30-20, last week: 15)

Honestly, I wanted to break down the Suns, Pelicans, and Cavs, but I figure I can just lump them all together. The Suns and Pelicans are currently eighth and ninth in the West, respectively, and the Pelicans just snapped the 19-game win streak of Atlanta last night.

The Cavs, Pelicans, and Suns rank fifth, seventh, and eighth in our offensive efficiency, respectively. They're about equally matched on defense, too. The Suns are 20th, the Cavs are 22nd, and the Pelicans are 23rd. But even with somewhat similar records and very similar metrics, the Cavs have a safe grasp on the fifth seed in the East, yet only one of the other two teams might clinch a playoff spot in the West.

11. Chicago Bulls (nERD: 57.1, Record: 30-19, last week: 11)
10. Washington Wizards (nERD: 58.3, Record: 31-18, last week: 10)
9. Houston Rockets (nERD: 59.6, Record: 33-15, last week: 9)
8. San Antonio Spurs (nERD: 59.9, Record: 30-18, last week: 8)
7. Portland Trail Blazers (nERD: 62, Record: 32-16, last week: 5)

The Blazers have dropped just two spots in our power rankings, but they've been reeling in the standings, having lost eight of their last 10 games. Six and a half games back from the Warriors, the Blazers are lucky to be in the Northwest, as they hold an eight-game advantage over the second-place Thunder. Still, during their current three-game skid, Damian Lillard is shooting just 27.6 percent from the field and 17.2 percent on 9.7 three-pointers per game.

Robin Lopez, who hasn't played since December 15th as a result of a broken hand, is expected back tonight against the Jazz. Lopez ranks 60th in the league in nERD (2.0) and will help cut back on Chris Kaman's (-0.5) minutes, which started creeping up to 24 per game over the Blazers' last 10.

6. Toronto Raptors (nERD: 62.7, Record: 33-16, last week: 6)
5. Memphis Grizzlies (nERD: 64.5, Record: 36-12, last week: 7)
4. Atlanta Hawks (nERD: 69.9, Record: 40-9, last week: 4)

Atlanta's streak ended, and I won't get into how good they were in detail. I'll just leave you with this awesomeness.

The loss of Thabo Sefolosha (2.1 nERD) might make the Hawks cool off while Kent Bazemore (-2.2) sees extended run, but even with this temporary downgrade, the Hawks are still the top team in the East.

3. Dallas Mavericks (nERD: 70.6, Record: 33-17, last week: 3)
2. Los Angeles Clippers (nERD: 72.2, Record: 33-16, last week: 2)
1. Golden State Warriors (nERD: 83.1, Record: 37-8, last week: 1)