NBA Power Rankings Update: Breaking Away From the Pack

The Raptors' recent run has them sitting pretty in the standings. Where do they sit in our power rankings this week?

As we move farther along into the season, teams are pulling away from each other. 

Some squads are rising and planting themselves firmly in the playoff picture while others are free-falling and securing their place in the lottery. This week, we will take a look at three teams moving up the standings and three teams who are starting to look towards the future.

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. Los Angeles Lakers (nERD: 17.9, Record: 10-41, Last Week: 30)

The Lakers are seemingly doing all they can to ensure they do not have to give up their top-three protected draft pick this summer. Currently, the second-worst team in the NBA, record-wise, the purple and gold crew have been at the bottom of our rankings for weeks now.

Before riding a Kobe Bryant 38-point outburst to a four-point win over Minnesota, the Lakers were mired in a 10-game losing streak. During that stretch, they only mustered 92.2 points per game while allowing 109.0 per game. The recent run of poor performance is nothing new as Los Angeles is dead last in the NBA with a -11.3 Net Rating this season.

A lot of the blame for the terrible play this season falls, rightfully so, on the shoulders of Byron Scott. While his head-scratching decision to limit rookie D'Angelo Russell's minutes gets all the publicity, Scott's downfall this season will be his continued ineffectiveness to coach defense. His teams (Cleveland for three seasons, L.A. for two) over the past five seasons have ranked 29th, 26th, 27th, 29th, and 30th in Defensive Rating.

29. Philadelphia 76ers (nERD: 18.2, Record: 7-42, Last Week: 29)
28. Phoenix Suns (nERD: 26.4, Record: 14-36, Last Week: 27)
27. Brooklyn Nets (nERD: 27.5, Record: 12-38, Last Week: 28)
26. Milwaukee Bucks (nERD: 35.4, Record: 20-31, Last Week: 25)
25. Denver Nuggets (nERD: 37.6, Record: 19-31, Last Week: 26)
24. Minnesota Timberwolves (nERD: 38.6, Record: 15-36, Last Week: 24)

The Timberwolves' promising 8-8 start to the season has been washed away by the atrocious play since. A 7-28 record since November 29 and with only four wins in their last 20 games, Minnesota has seemingly regressed this season despite the outstanding offensive performance of their young stars Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins.

Defensively a nightmare, the Timberwolves are posting a 29th ranked 108.3 Defensive Rating over the past two months. Opponents are shooting a league-high 47.7 percent from the field while scoring 104.9 points per game during the last 34 games., culminating in allowing 119 points on 50 percent shooting to an offensively challenged Lakers squad.

One of the bright spots, in what will be the 11th straight losing season for Minnesota, has been the top overall pick in the 2015 NBA draft, Towns. Averaging 16.5 points, 9.9 rebounds, and 1.8 blocks per game, the center joins an elite list of players to post those numbers in his rookie season. He, along with Shaquille O'Neal, is the only one to do it before the age of 21.

23. New Orleans Pelicans (nERD: 39.9, Record: 18-30, Last Week: 23)
22. Washington Wizards (nERD: 40.6, Record: 21-26, Last Week: 22)
21. New York Knicks (nERD: 41.8, Record: 23-28, Last Week: 21)
20. Orlando Magic (nERD: 42.9, Record: 21-27, Last Week: 19)

After a win over Brooklyn on December 30, Orlando was on top of the world at 19-13, in the thick of the playoff chase. Since ringing in the New Year, the Magic have collapsed. A 2-14 record since January 1 has dropped the team from the 5 seed all the way down to 12th and 3.5 games out of the 8th and final playoff spot in just over a month.

Obviously, when carrying a 12.5 percent winning percentage over the past month, a ton of things are going wrong. Orlando is no different. Third-worst in the Association with a 109.1 Defensive Rating, the Magic offense is not much better as they rank 28th with a 98.6 Offensive Rating. They are scoring only 95.9 points per game while shooting only 37 percent on all shots over five feet away from the rim.

Once thought to have their backcourt in place for years to come, the Magic must seriously consider if Elfrid Payton is good enough to be their point guard of the future. Since the start of 2016, he has struggled on his way to averages of 9.2 points and 5.2 assists per game. The offense has run much smoother with him off the court (104.0 Offensive Rating) than with him on it (99.1).

19. Sacramento Kings (nERD: 43.6, Record: 21-28, Last Week: 20)
18. Houston Rockets (nERD: 45.2, Record: 26-25, Last Week: 17)
17. Portland Trail Blazers (nERD: 46.8, Record: 24-26, Last Week: 16)
16. Memphis Grizzlies (nERD: 47.6, Record: 29-20, Last Week: 18)

Since January 14, four teams have lost only one game, Golden State: Toronto, Oklahoma City, and Memphis. With eight wins in their past nine games, the Grizzlies have separated themselves out West as they now have a two-game lead over Dallas for the 5 seed.

Considered a defensive team, Memphis has the fifth-best Offensive Rating over the past three weeks at 111.7. Shooting 48.9 percent from the field and 42.4 percent from three, the offense is rolling as of late. Sharing the ball and limiting mistakes have been key, as the Grizzlies have the fifth-best Assist Percentage and turnovers per game.

The backcourt play of Mike Conley has spurred the offensive efficiency while Jeff Green has been shooting lights out. Over the past two weeks, Conley has averaged 7.6 assists, good for 10th in the NBA, while playing only 28.4 minutes per game. The point guard is also averaging a minuscule 0.9 turnovers per game, giving Conley a league-leading 8.83 assist to turnover ratio in his past seven games. Green is averaging only 12.1 points on the season, but over the last nine games, the small forward is averaging 19.3 points and 1.7 threes per game while shooting over 54 percent from the field.

15. Chicago Bulls (nERD: 48.5, Record: 27-21, Last Week: 15)
14. Dallas Mavericks (nERD: 50.3, Record: 28-24, Last Week: 14)
13. Charlotte Hornets (nERD: 52.0, Record: 24-25, Last Week: 12)
12. Utah Jazz (nERD: 52.1, Record: 23-25, Last Week: 13)

Despite a wealth of injuries this season, the Jazz have found a way to hang around the 8 seed in the West. Now that they are finally getting healthy, Utah's once vaunted defense has returned. In their past six games, their opponents have scored only 86.8 points per game while the Jazz have a league-best 93.5 Defensive Rating. 

During the recent stretch, where they have won five of six games, teams are shooting only 42.4 percent from the field and 30.4 percent from three, both top-three defensive ranks, since January 22. The Jazz are clicking on all cylinders on both sides of the ball, as their offense has posted a 106.9 Offensive Rating the past two weeks. Their Net Rating of 13.4 is good for second in the league behind only the Golden State Warriors.

While the return of Rudy Gobert and Derrick Favors is crucial to the defense, Gordon Hayward and Rodney Hood have stepped up offensively to help offset the loss of Alec Burks and his broken leg. In the past two weeks, Hayward and Hood are averaging 20.0 and 18.7 points per game, respectively. The duo has nearly half of the team's three-pointers with a combined 4.2 per game with Hood making 45.7 percent of his nearly six attempts per game.

11. Miami Heat (nERD: 54.2, Record: 28-22, Last Week: 11)
10. Atlanta Hawks (nERD: 56.1, Record: 29-22, Last Week: 9)
9. Indiana Pacers (nERD: 56.5, Record: 26-23, Last Week: 10)
8. Detroit Pistons (nERD: 57.3, Record: 26-24, Last Week: 8)
7. Boston Celtics (nERD: 62.0, Record: 29-22, Last Week: 7)
6. Toronto Raptors (nERD: 62.2, Record: 33-16, Last Week: 6)

Pulling away as the clear number-two team in the East, Toronto has been one of the hottest teams in the league, winning 12 out of their last 13 games. Now sitting 2.5 games behind Cleveland for first and with a five-game lead over third-place, the Raptors have emerged as one of the better defenses in the league.

During their recent, franchise-best, 11-game winning streak, Toronto has allowed a league-low 93.9 points per game while posting the second-best Defensive Rating of 97.2. Cleaning up on the glass as well, they have a league-best 80 percent Defensive Rebounding Percentage while allowing a league-low 38 rebounds to their opponents. The 10.5 rebounds and 13.2 points per game by Jonas Valanciunas complements the All-Star backcourt nicely.

Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan have not only both been named to the Eastern Conference All-Star team but also the Raptors stars were just named co-Eastern Conference Players of the Month. Lowry posted 21.7 points, 5.5 rebounds, 6.7 assists, 2.4 steals, and 2.8 threes per game in January while DeRozan's line was just as impressive. He put up 23.9 points, 4.2 rebounds, and 3.8 assists in 14 games.

5. Cleveland Cavaliers (nERD: 65.7, Record: 35-13, Last Week: 4)
4. Los Angeles Clippers (nERD: 67.3, Record: 32-17, Last Week: 5)
3. Oklahoma City Thunder (nERD: 73.2, Record: 38-13, Last Week: 3)
2. Golden State Warriors (nERD: 87.9, Record: 45-4, Last Week: 2)
1. San Antonio Spurs (nERD: 88.3 Record: 41-8, Last Week: 1)