NBA Power Rankings Update: Battle for Second Best in the East
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.
Last week, we highlighted a few teams that are competing for the 2 seed in the West. This week, we'll look at the teams competing for the 2 seed in the East: the Raptors, Cavaliers, Bulls and Wizards. No one seems to be catching the Atlanta Hawks, as they just became the first team this season to clinch a playoff berth.
The Cavaliers are an assumed favorite with LeBron James leading the way and the supporting cast of Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. We featured them a few weeks ago in these ranks as well, showcasing their improvement with the additions of Timofey Mozgov and J.R. Smith, but while the Cavs have the 2 seed in the East in their sights, there are three other teams that want it just as bad.
All four of these teams are within four and a half games of each other, but where do they all place in our power rankings this week? Take a look below!
#30 Philadelphia 76ers (nERD: 17.3, Record: 13-47, last week: 30)
#29 New York Knicks (nERD: 22, Record: 12-47, last week: 29)
#28 Minnesota Timberwolves (nERD: 24.5, Record: 13-46, last week: 28)
#27 Orlando Magic (nERD: 31.6, Record: 19-42, last week: 26)
#26 Los Angeles Lakers (nERD: 33.3, Record: 16-43, last week: 27)
#25 Denver Nuggets (nERD: 37.2, Record: 21-39, last week: 24)
#24 Sacramento Kings (nERD: 38.5, Record: 21-37, last week: 25)
#23 Brooklyn Nets (nERD: 39.5, Record: 25-33, last week: 23)
#22 Miami Heat (nERD: 42, Record: 26-33, last week: 22)
#21 Boston Celtics (nERD: 44.2, Record: 23-35, last week: 19)
#20 Indiana Pacers (nERD: 45.9, Record: 25-34, last week: 20)
#19 Utah Jazz (nERD: 45.9, Record: 24-35, last week: 21)
#18 Detroit Pistons (nERD: 46.7, Record: 23-36, last week: 17)
#17 Charlotte Hornets (nERD: 47.4, Record: 25-33, last week: 18)
#16 Phoenix Suns (nERD: 50.4, Record: 31-30, last week: 15)
#15 Milwaukee Bucks (nERD: 51.2, Record: 32-28, last week: 14)
#14 New Orleans Pelicans (nERD: 51.2, Record: 32-28, last week: 16)
#13 Washington Wizards (nERD: 53.4, Record: 34-27, last week: 13)
The Wizards faced off with the Bulls last night and lost, putting them in danger of missing the party for the 2 seed. Instead, they may have to fend off the Bucks to avoid a first-round matchup with the Cavaliers or Raptors. The Wizards actually held the 2 seed in the Eastern Conference on January 27, but they are tied with the Nuggets with the worst record of 4-12 since that date.
The Wizards were also 10th in our power rankings at the time and had a 5.4% chance to win the Finals, the sixth-highest percentage in the league. So, what's been the cause of the Wizards' slipping away in the race for the 2 seed? Let's look at their Offensive and Defensive Ratings to get at least part of the picture.
From the beginning of the season to January 27th, the Wizards had the seventh-best defense with a 100.0 Defensive Rating. Since January 27th, the Wizards defense had a 101.5 Defensive Rating -- not that much of a drop thanks to crashing the boards constantly (they rank second in the league) and only allowing an average of 98 points a game (10th in the league). Their defense has stayed on track for most of the season, but their offense has been a cause for concern.
On January 27th, the Wizards' offense had a 103.8 Offensive Rating, good for 13th in the league. Since then, the Wizards have only notched a 97.9 Offensive Rating, the sixth-worst mark during the last five weeks. If the Wizards want to stay in the race for the 2 seed, or at least in play for home-court advantage in the first round, they'll have to find their magic once again on offense.
#12 Oklahoma City Thunder (nERD: 57.1, Record: 33-27, last week: 12)
#11 Chicago Bulls (nERD: 57.5, Record: 38-23, last week: 10)
No Derrick Rose -- for four weeks at least -- no problem! As Brandon Gdula noted last week, the Bulls are still in position for a playoff spot and it's really just their championships odds (already slim) that took a hit, as Rose hasn't been himself this year. But losing Jimmy Butler for extended time will hurt even more.
The Bulls will have to replace their best offensive player on the team, as Butler had posted a 122 Offensive Rating and a 13.9 nERD score before getting hurt. The Bulls won't be the same offensively over the next couple weeks, and that could endanger their playoff seeding.
What the Bulls do have though is a strong defensive frontcourt as Nikola Mirotic, Pau Gasol, and Joakim Noah have Defensive Ratings that rank them in the top 40 of players who have played at least 1,000 minutes. While the Bulls may only have a 4.9% chance to win the title, they are all but assured of a playoff spot. But their seeding -- and winning their division -- may come down to how well their defense continues to hold up.
#10 San Antonio Spurs (nERD: 59, Record: 36-23, last week: 11)
#9 Houston Rockets (nERD: 59, Record: 41-19, last week: 8)
#8 Toronto Raptors (nERD: 60.1, Record: 38-22, last week: 6)
While the Bulls and Wizards rely on defense to win their games, the Raptors rely on offense, putting up 104.5 points per game, the fifth-highest average in the NBA and the highest in the Eastern Conference. And if you take a look at our Offensive Efficiency numbers, they move up to the third best in the NBA with a rating of 110.8. Though Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are leading the team in points per game (36.3 per game combined), it's more than just those two allowing the Raptors to hold on to the 2 seed.
Earlier this week, R.J. Walsh made a case for Jonas Valanciunas to get more minutes with the Raptors -- he's the highest-rated Raptor in our nERD player standings. And Louis Williams has been a sparkplug off the bench and is making a case for the Sixth Man of the Year award with 5.0 Win Shares (fourth on the team) and a 5.4 nERD (third on the team) on his resume for 2015.
With a potent offense, the Raptors have a great chance of hanging onto the 2 seed in the East, but it won't be easy as they, the Bulls, and the Cavaliers all have 38 wins at the moment. Given the relative ease of the Eastern Conference, they have the fourth-best odds (7.0%) of winning the NBA Finals, just 0.9% more than the Cavaliers, the team only 0.1 points ahead of them in the power rankings this week. The winner of the number-two seed is just too close to call at the moment.
#7 Cleveland Cavaliers (nERD: 60.2, Record: 38-24, last week: 9)
#6 Memphis Grizzlies (nERD: 61, Record: 42-17, last week: 5)
#5 Portland Trail Blazers (nERD: 62, Record: 39-19, last week: 7)
#4 Dallas Mavericks (nERD: 66.4, Record: 40-22, last week: 3)
#3 Atlanta Hawks (nERD: 67.6, Record: 48-12, last week: 4)
#2 Los Angeles Clippers (nERD: 71.5, Record: 40-21, last week: 2)
#1 Golden State Warriors (nERD: 80.7, Record: 46-12, last week: 1)