NBA Power Rankings Update: West Is Best?
The West is Best. That has been the case in the NBA since Michael Jordan retired for the second time in 1998, ending the Chicago Bulls' dynasty. Since that time, the Western Conference has owned a dominant 12-5 edge over the Eastern Conference in NBA championships. They also hold a .592 winning percentage in regular season games the last five years. In the past 15 seasons, 12 teams have made the playoffs with a losing record -- none of them have come from the West.
This year, however, the tides have turned.
The East holds a 51-45 edge in games played between the conferences this season. And as of December 2, two Eastern Conference teams with winning records, Charlotte and Detroit, will be on the outside looking in, while two teams with losing records, Minnesota and Phoenix, are battling for the 8 seed out West.
Earlier this week, we looked at the Western Conference as a whole to answer the question "Is the Western Conference Weaker Than Last year?"
For this edition of the Power Rankings Update, we will continue examining the West with a breakdown of some of the more intriguing teams in the Western Conference from the past couple of weeks.
Our power rankings here at numberFire are not subjective or influenced by the latest hype; we put our faith and trust in our algorithms. Each week, we’ll list all 30 teams in the Association from worst to best based on our nERD metric, which is a predictive measure to help define what the team's winning percentage ultimately will be.
30. Philadelphia 76ers (nERD: 14.8, Record: 1-19, Last Week: 30)
29. Los Angeles Lakers (nERD: 21.1, Record: 3-15, Last Week: 26)
The Lakers have had an eventful past few days. On Sunday, Kobe Bryant confirmed what we all had expected: that this season would indeed be his last. Tuesday then brought the shame of being the first team to be beaten by the previously winless 76ers. To make matters worse, the Lakers held an eight-point halftime lead before ultimately losing by double-digits. Playing in his hometown of Philly for the last time, Bryant had a disastrous send-off as he went 7-for-26 from the field and 4-for-17 from beyond the arc.
Heading into Wednesday's matchup with the Wizards, the Lakers were poised to lose for the eighth straight time. In shocking fashion, the Lakers stormed out to an early 12-point first-quarter lead and hung on to secure their third win of the year. Behind the 31 points from Kobe and the 19 rebounds of Julius Randle, L.A. snapped their seven-game losing streak and provided some solace before moving on to the third game of their massive eight-game road trip Friday in Atlanta.
One of the bright spots this season has been the play of Randle. Wednesday's win marked his third straight double-double and fifth in his past seven games. Averaging 11.7 points and 9.3 rebounds per game, in basically his rookie season, the former Kentucky Wildcat is giving the Laker faithful hope that the future will be bright when the Black Mamba is in the rearview mirror.
28. Milwaukee Bucks (nERD: 28.0, Record: 7-12, Last Week: 23)
27. New Orleans Pelicans (nERD: 28.2, Record: 4-15, Last Week: 29)
26. Denver Nuggets (nERD: 28.7, Record: 6-13, Last Week: 21)
25. Houston Rockets (nERD: 29.8, Record: 8-11, Last Week: 25)
24. Brooklyn Nets (nERD: 31.3, Record: 5-13, Last Week: 27)
23. Washington Wizards (nERD: 36.1, Record: 7-9, Last Week: 22)
22. Sacramento Kings (nERD: 38.0, Record: 7-12, Last Week: 24)
21. Memphis Grizzlies (nERD: 38.2, Record: 11-8, Last Week: 28)
Currently tied with Dallas for fourth in the Western Conference, the Grizzlies are far down in our power rankings due to their severe early-season struggles. Despite their recent success, having won 8 out of their last 10 games, Memphis still holds a negative point differential of -2.6 points per game on the season, thanks in large part to blowout losses to Cleveland (by 30) and Golden State (by 50).
The force behind the recent surge has been All-Star Marc Gasol's 17.4 points per game in the last 10 games. Gasol has managed two 30-plus point outbursts in the 10-game stretch after posting only 14.7 points per game while Memphis opened the year 3-6. The Grizzlies 103.3 points per game since November 13 has them solidly in the top 10 of NBA offenses.
While Gasol has done his part to get the Grizzlies back on track, especially with Zach Randolph missing five games, fellow team captain Mike Conley has been the real harbinger when it comes to wins and losses this year. In their 11 wins, the point guard is averaging 18.1 points, 2.0 threes, and a 3.5 plus/minus while posting a 63.7 True Shooting percentage. On the flip side, in the eight losses Conley has a 41.8 True Shooting percentage with only 12.1 points, 0.8 threes, and a horrendous -12.3 plus/minus.
If the Grizzlies are going to continue their winning ways, they need both Gasol and Conley to maintain their high level of play as of late.
20. New York Knicks (nERD: 42.7, Record: 9-10, Last Week: 17)
19. Phoenix Suns (nERD: 43.1, Record: 8-11, Last Week: 19)
Through 19 games, the Suns have one of the most explosive offenses in the league. Ranking third with an average of 106.3 points per game, Phoenix is getting it done from beyond the arc. With the second most threes per game, behind only Golden State, the Suns are knocking down long-range attempts at a nearly 40 percent clip. Leading the offense is the dynamic backcourt tandem of Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight, who both are averaging 20 plus points and over 5 assists per game. Despite having an 8-11 record, Phoenix is a half-game behind the T-Wolves for the eighth spot in the West.
Even with the top-notch offense, the Suns have lost six of their last seven games due to a horrific defense. With starting center and defensive difference maker, Tyson Chandler playing a total of four minutes in the last four games, a defensive decline was expected, but not to this magnitude. Over the past seven games, Phoenix has allowed a league-worst 114.0 points per game. Opponents are making 49.8 percent of their shots including 44.7 percent from three. Their struggles hit a new low Wednesday as they gave up 127 points to Detroit, a squad that entered the game with the 10th worst scoring offense at 97.4 points per game.
Playing at the fastest pace in the league the Suns are going to give up points, but if they do not tighten up on the defensive end of the floor soon, they could find themselves falling farther and farther out of playoff contention.
18. Portland Trail Blazers (nERD: 45.2, Record: 7-12, Last Week: 18)
17. Minnesota Timberwolves (nERD: 49.4, Record: 8-10, Last Week: 15)
16. Chicago Bulls (nERD: 49.7, Record: 11-5, Last Week: 14)
15. Detroit Pistons (nERD: 50.3, Record: 10-9, Last Week: 13)
14. Orlando Magic (nERD: 52.6, Record: 10-8, Last Week: 20)
13. Dallas Mavericks (nERD: 53.6, Record: 11-8, Last Week: 12)
12. Utah Jazz (nERD: 54.2, Record: 8-8, Last Week: 7)
Ever since we took a look at the growth of the Jazz on November 12, the squad has gone 4-5 and have fallen not only in the standings but our power rankings as well. To make matters worse, on Wednesday, stud center Rudy Gobert sprained his knee and will be out indefinitely, a huge blow to the once-dominant defense. In his place, Trevor Booker, Jeff Withey, rookies Trey Lyles and Tibor Pleiss will need to step up. Out of that quartet, Booker is expected to receive the increase in playing time.
While no one will be able to replace the rim protection and 4.2 nERD rating that Gobert has brought to the Jazz, Booker does carry a 99 Defensive Rating and averages of 9.8 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per 36 minutes. The real pressure will be on Derrick Favors to continue his hot start. Favors is posting a career-best 96 Defensive Rating and is ranked 10th in the NBA with an 11.7 nERD rating.
Even with Gobert the last nine games, the Jazz have fallen from the top in defensive efficiency, as they have posted a 103.9 Defensive Rating in that span. The central area of the blame for the defensive fall is opponent field goal shooting. After ranking first overall through their first seven games, Utah has bottomed out, as they have allowed opponents to shoot 47.1 percent over the last nine games, putting them 28th for that stretch and leaving them 18th on the season.
11. Atlanta Hawks (nERD: 56.4, Record: 12-9, Last Week: 9)
10. Boston Celtics (nERD: 59.3, Record: 10-8, Last Week: 10)
9. Toronto Raptors (nERD: 61.1, Record: 12-7, Last Week: 6)
8. Los Angeles Clippers (nERD: 61.5, Record: 10-9, Last Week: 8)
When we talk about the Clippers' struggles this year, we can not gloss over the fact that Chris Paul has been playing injured and will be out of action for the at least the next couple of games. That is on top of the four games that he has already missed this season. The Clippers are 1-3 in those games. Add in fellow starting guard J.J. Redick missing time as well and the already weak Clippers bench has been put to the test this season.
Austin Rivers has averaged only 7.4 points and 1.2 assists over the last five games. Jamal Crawford has been even worse with an average of 5.6 points per game on 22 percent shooting from the field in that same span. The bench as a whole ranks near the bottom of the NBA this season, 29th to be exact, with 39.4 percent field goal and 26.7 percent three-point shooting. When you count on Lance Stephenson, and his -14 Net Rating, for nearly 20 minutes per game, you know you have a problem.
This past summer, the Clippers may have come out on top versus the Mavericks in the battle for DeAndre Jordan's heart. But with an 11-8 record, Dallas is winning the war in the standings.
7. Charlotte Hornets (nERD: 62.5, Record: 10-8, Last Week: 11)
6. Indiana Pacers (nERD: 66.5, Record: 12-5, Last Week: 16)
5. Oklahoma City Thunder (nERD: 67.4, Record: 11-7, Last Week: 5)
4. Cleveland Cavaliers (nERD: 67.8, Record: 13-5, Last Week: 3)
3. Miami Heat (nERD: 68.4, Record: 10-6, Last Week: 4)
2. San Antonio Spurs (nERD: 76.1, Record: 15-4, Last Week: 2)
1. Golden State Warriors (nERD: 95.0, Record: 20-0, Last Week: 1)
Over the past two weeks, the Warriors have faced two top-eight defenses, played five of their eight games on the road, had two back-to-backs, were missing starting small forward Harrison Barnes for three games and still went 8-0 with a 15.5-point average margin of victory.
With their next five games on the road and with two more back-to-backs, the perfect season may come to end soon. But if they can get by the Raptors on Saturday night, we can all lay claim that we witnessed the best start to a season of any team in the history of professional sports.