NBA Power Rankings Update: Leastern Conference No More
Once seen as the inferior conference, the East is doing its best to changes its image and shed the Leastern Conference moniker.
This season, there are 10 teams in the East with a winning record, while only 6 in the West. The East also has six teams with a 60 percent winning percentage or better -- the West has only three. Of the top 12 teams in our power rankings, only 4 come from the Western Conference. In light of all this, I emphatically declare the East is least no more.
While the West is top heavy, the East is filled with parity. Only three games separate top seed Cleveland and 10th-place Detroit. Only one game is the difference between the eighth-seeded Bulls and second-place Hornets.
As expected, there is much volatility in the standings, as we sit only a quarter through the season. This week, we'll take a look at some of the more intriguing Eastern Conference squads over the past few 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: 13.6, Record: 1-21, Last Week: 30)
29. Los Angeles Lakers (nERD: 20.9, Record: 3-19, Last Week: 29)
28. New Orleans Pelicans (nERD: 28.6, Record: 5-16, Last Week: 27)
27. Denver Nuggets (nERD: 30.3, Record: 8-14, Last Week: 26)
26. Milwaukee Bucks (nERD: 30.8, Record: 9-14, Last Week: 28)
Defensive darlings last season, the Bucks have been unable to match the magic exhibited last year. A top 10 unit in points allowed and top 5 in defensive efficiency last season, the story has been far different this year. Allowing 101.9 points through 23 games, Milwaukee has become a sieve on defense with their bottom five 105.2 Defensive Rating.
Things are looking up however as in the last seven games. Since November 29th, the Bucks have a top four defense in both points allowed and Defensive Rating. Opponents are scoring less than 93 points while shooting only 41 percent from the floor.
The improved play over the last seven games is no fluke, as Jason Kidd decided to make a lineup change by inserting O.J. Mayo into the starting lineup and relegating Michael Carter-Williams to the second unit. Despite the improved defense in the last seven games, the losses are still piling up.
If the Bucks are going to turn things around and make a playoff run, their 29th-ranked three-point shooting over the past two weeks desperately needs to improve. With Jerryd Bayless out for at least the next two weeks with an ankle injury, the offensive struggles will likely continue as he was their leading three-point shooter with 2.2 makes per game.
25. Brooklyn Nets (nERD: 30.9, Record: 6-15 Last Week: 24)
24. Memphis Grizzlies (nERD: 33.8, Record: 13-10, Last Week: 21)
23. Houston Rockets (nERD: 35.2, Record: 11-12, Last Week: 25)
22. Washington Wizards (nERD: 36.7, Record: 9-11, Last Week: 23)
21. Sacramento Kings (nERD: 37.8, Record: 8-15, Last Week: 22)
20. New York Knicks (nERD: 40.9, Record: 10-13, Last Week: 20)
In the 2014-15 season, it took 45 games for the Knicks to win their eighth game. This year, the club accomplished the feat in only 14. With an 8-6 start, playoff hopes abounded in the Big Apple. With a legit Rookie of the Year candidate in Kristaps Porzingis, hope and excitement remains in New York, even as the club is struggling as of late.
The fourth overall pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, Porzingis already has 10 double-doubles and is averaging nearly two blocks per game. Even with a four-point outing Wednesday versus Utah, Porzingis is averaging 16.0 points per game in December and is a budding superstar in New York.
With seven losses in the last nine games, the Knicks have fallen down the standings to 12th in the East. The main culprit has been their atrocious offense, as they rank in the bottom three, behind only Denver and Philadelphia, since November 22.
During their current three-game losing streak, the Knickerbockers have averaged only 91 points per game and have been out-rebounded by over 11 per game. Not exactly the way you end a three-year playoff drought.
19. Phoenix Suns (nERD: 42.7, Record: 10-13, Last Week: 19)
18. Portland Trailblazers (nERD: 45.7, Record: 9-14, Last Week: 18)
17. Minnesota Timberwolves (nERD: 47.7, Record: 9-12, Last Week: 17)
16. Chicago Bulls (nERD: 49.3, Record: 11-8, Last Week: 16)
15. Detroit Pistons (nERD: 52.8, Record: 12-11, Last Week: 15)
14. Utah Jazz (nERD: 52.9, Record: 10-10, Last Week: 12)
13. Orlando Magic (nERD: 54.6, Record: 12-10, Last Week: 14)
Winning six of their last eight games, the Magic are one of the hottest teams in not just the East, but the entire Association. Since November 25, they have the fourth best Net Rating in the league with 8.4. Just like with Milwaukee, the recent success coincides with moving one of their young guards to the bench.
Since Victor Oladipo became the Magic's sixth man, the third year player is averaging 17.0 points per game in 28.5 minutes off the bench the last eight games, a 4.2 points per game improvement from his 12 starts this season.
Another change to the rotation was the inclusion of Andrew Nicholson. In the first 11 games, he played a total of seven minutes, but in the last 11 games, the fourth-year pro from St. Bonaventure has played 21.8 minutes per game and has averaged 9.6 points and 6.0 rebounds per game.
Both moves have solidified the defensive unit propelling the Magic to a top three rank in the last two weeks as they have allowed only 92.9 points per game.
12. Dallas Mavericks (nERD: 54.7, Record: 13-10, Last Week: 13)
11. Atlanta Hawks (nERD: 56.8, Record: 14-9, Last Week: 11)
10. Indiana Pacers (nERD: 60.4, Record: 12-8, Last Week: 6)
9. Cleveland Cavaliers (nERD: 60.6, Record: 14-7, Last Week: 4)
Still leading the way in the Eastern Conference standings, the Cavs have taken a tumble in the power rankings due to their recent slip. Losing four of their last seven, the Cavs are struggling to score.
Averaging only 95.1 points per game in the last two weeks, Cleveland is off the mark from the floor hitting only 41.5 percent of their shots. Their bench is barely scoring as well, as they are averaging only 25.6 points per game, 26th in the NBA.
The second unit's lack of production is forcing LeBron James to play heavy minutes recently, he's averaging nearly 40 minutes per game in the last two weeks. During those six games, King James is beasting, though, posting averages of 28.2 points, 9.7 rebounds, and 5.5 assists per game.
Despite the rough goings recently, the East still runs through Cleveland. With Kevin Love enjoying a strong bounce back second season in Ohio, with over 18 points and 11 rebounds per game, and Kyrie Irving on his way back soon, the big three will be on the court together soon. Then it will be only a matter of time before the Cavs separate themselves from the pack and become the runaway leaders in the Eastern Conference.
8. Boston Celtics (nERD: 60.8, Record: 13-9, Last Week: 10)
7. Toronto Raptors (nERD: 61.3, Record: 14-9, Last Week: 9)
6. Los Angeles Clippers (nERD: 62.1, Record: 13-9, Last Week: 8)
5. Charlotte Hornets (nERD: 64.7, Record: 13-8, Last Week: 7)
An 8-2 run over the last three weeks has the Hornets sitting in second place in the East, only one game behind Cleveland for the top spot. Now seated in the top five of our power rankings, Charlotte is by far the most surprising team in the Eastern Conference this season. They are doing on both sides of the ball, too.
A bottom three offense last year with under 95 points scored per game, the revamped Hornets are a top-10 offense in 2015-16 with an average of 102.2 points per game. The Hornets are nailing 9.6 threes per game, an over 50 percent increase from last season. The also commit the least number of turnovers in the NBA, with over 10 percent less than second place Dallas. Behind the resurgence of Kemba Walker, the offense is humming.
While the offense is thriving this season, the squad is still defined by their defense. A top-seven defense regarding points allowed and Defensive Rating, Charlotte is getting it done with the third-best defensive rebound percentage in the league. By limiting opponents offensive rebounds, they rank in the top 10 in opponents second chance points and top five in opponents points in the paint.
With wins over Chicago, Detroit, and Miami by an average of 14.6 points in their last three games, the Hornets are proving to be a force in the East. If Charlotte can survive the absence of Al Jefferson over the next few weeks, they will be a favorite to make their third playoff appearance since the franchise's rebirth in 2004.
4. Miami Heat (nERD: 67.2, Record: 12-8, Last Week: 3)
3. Oklahoma City Thunder (nERD: 68.3, Record: 13-8, Last Week: 5)
2. San Antonio Spurs (nERD: 82.7, Record: 18-5, Last Week: 2)
1. Golden State Warriors (nERD: 94.0, Record: 23-0, Last Week: 1)