NBA Power Rankings Update: Will the Southwest Division Land 5 Teams in the Playoffs?
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.
Just over two weeks of games are left in the NBA before the playoffs start. Five teams have locked in spots in the East, as the Hawks have the top spot, the Raptors secured their division, and the Cavaliers, Bulls and Wizards round out the top five.
We've got five teams in the West as well: the Warriors claim the top spot while the Clippers and Blazers have punched their tickets. Memphis and Houston are the other two spots in the West so far, but more should join soon -- especially from the Southwest division.
But the question of the week is if the Southwest division claim five teams in the playoffs. Let's answer that question in our power rankings below!
#30 New York Knicks (nERD: 19.1, Record: 14-60, last week: 30)
#29 Philadelphia 76ers (nERD: 23.2, Record: 18-57, last week: 29)
#28 Minnesota Timberwolves (nERD: 23.5, Record: 16-58, last week: 28)
#27 Orlando Magic (nERD: 30.5, Record: 22-52, last week: 27)
#26 Los Angeles Lakers (nERD: 34.3, Record: 20-53, last week: 26)
#25 Sacramento Kings (nERD: 37, Record: 26-47, last week: 25)
#24 Brooklyn Nets (nERD: 40.2, Record: 32-40, last week: 24)
#23 Denver Nuggets (nERD: 40.9, Record: 28-46, last week: 23)
#22 Miami Heat (nERD: 44.1, Record: 34-39, last week: 22)
#21 Detroit Pistons (nERD: 46, Record: 28-45, last week: 21)
#20 Boston Celtics (nERD: 46.1, Record: 33-41, last week: 19)
#19 Charlotte Hornets (nERD: 47.1, Record: 31-42, last week: 20)
#18 Indiana Pacers (nERD: 47.6, Record: 32-41, last week: 18)
#17 Milwaukee Bucks (nERD: 48.7, Record: 36-38, last week: 17)
#16 Utah Jazz (nERD: 49, Record: 33-41, last week: 16)
#15 Phoenix Suns (nERD: 50, Record: 38-37, last week: 14)
#14 New Orleans Pelicans (nERD: 51.5, Record: 39-34, last week: 15)
The Pelicans are a great example of why the NBA might be better served granting the 16 best teams in the league a playoff spot as opposed to eight from each conference. They're above .500 and they've played well all season, dropping out of the top 16 in our rankings just once. With their 39 wins, they're only 2.5 games behind the Thunder for the 8 seed -- they'd be a 5 seed if their record was the same in the East and the 14 seed if we based the playoffs on best records in the league.
Anthony Davis may be an MVP candidate, but the Pelicans have a tough road ahead to get to the playoffs -- they still have three divisional games left -- they face the Spurs, Grizzlies, and Rockets all once more -- as well as one more tilt with the Warriors. If they want to gain ground, they can't afford to lose more than two games and hope the Thunder lose at least three. But our algorithms don't believe in their chances too much, giving them just a 9.3% chance to squeak into the playoffs. If they do get in, all five teams in the Southwest division would be in the playoffs.
#13 Washington Wizards (nERD: 53.4, Record: 41-33, last week: 13)
#12 Oklahoma City Thunder (nERD: 55.8, Record: 42-32, last week: 12)
#11 Chicago Bulls (nERD: 57.1, Record: 45-29, last week: 11)
#10 Toronto Raptors (nERD: 57.5, Record: 44-30, last week: 10)
#9 Houston Rockets (nERD: 58.4, Record: 50-24, last week: 9)
Like the Pelicans, the Rockets have their own MVP candidate, James Harden, putting the team on his back. Harden recently put up 50 points in a somewhat unusual manner and is still on pace for 700 free throws made in a season, a mark only hit by Hall of Famers.
The Rockets have been penciled in since the beginning of the season as a title contender thanks to Harden and Dwight Howard. Howard is back from his elbow injury, but they will have to deal with replacing Patrick Beverley. Houston has hovered between a 3.0% and 6.0% chance of winning the championship this season, according to our algorithms. The pieces are there, but can they land the right matchups to get through the Western Conference?
#8 Memphis Grizzlies (nERD: 58.5, Record: 51-24, last week: 7)
It should be no surprise that the Grizzlies are a top-five team in Defensive Rating because being a defensive team has been their mantra in recent memory thanks to the duo of Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph. The Grizzlies can't afford one of their offensive stars to have an off series, but they are putting themselves in position for the 2 seed in the West.
Memphis is in somewhat of a quandary for the 2 seed in the playoffs -- their second round opponent (if they move on), could be coming off a tough six-or seven-game series that could make them a little softer for the Grizzlies. But the Grizzlies may have to face a divisional opponent in the Mavericks or Spurs to even get to the second round, a matchup that is less than desirable. Currently Memphis has a 3.1% chance to win the NBA Finals, tied for the second-best shot in the Southwest division with the next team, the Mavericks.
#7 Portland Trail Blazers (nERD: 60.4, Record: 48-25, last week: 8)
#6 Dallas Mavericks (nERD: 61, Record: 45-29, last week: 5)
The Mavericks started off the season on a tear and even held the top spot in our rankings for a couple weeks before the Warriors took over. We've detailed and watched their offense all year, despite the supposed struggles with Rajon Rondo. The Mavericks had a 6.1% chance at the championship back at the beginning of the year and saw that rise almost to 8.0% at one point. The Mavericks have fallen from second in our standings from the beginning of the year to sixth currently, with just a 3.1% chance to hoist the trophy in June.
Their offense is still humming though, just not as well as it once was. At the beginning of the year, it was the second best in the league at 114.5 points per 100 possessions. Since, it has fallen a few spots to fifth, but they are still putting up a pace of 106.8 points per 100 possessions. There's a chance they could lose enough games to miss out on the playoffs, but with so few games remaining, a couple more wins should get them in.
#5 Cleveland Cavaliers (nERD: 61.1, Record: 48-27, last week: 6)
#4 Atlanta Hawks (nERD: 63.9, Record: 56-18, last week: 3)
#3 San Antonio Spurs (nERD: 63.9, Record: 47-26, last week: 4)
This team has been steadily on rise after being left for dead by many after four consecutive losses during their annual rodeo trip. After February 25th, we had the Spurs 11th in our rankings. As you can see, they are currently third, despite barely being third in their own division -- that's how much our algorithms love the defending champions right now.
While the Spurs could still win the Southwest division, especially with three division games on the horizon, it doesn't seem likely at this point. However, the Spurs could be even more dangerous as a 6 or 7 seed in the playoffs, representing the Southwest division well with a 4.9% chance to repeat as NBA Champions.
#2 Los Angeles Clippers (nERD: 71.4, Record: 49-25, last week: 2)
#1 Golden State Warriors (nERD: 82.5, Record: 60-13, last week: 1)