NBA Power Rankings Update: Second-Half Highs and Lows

The Clippers came out of the break with an improved defense and a terrible mascot. Have the changes affected their rank?

The extended layoff of the All-Star break can disrupt the timing and routing of NBA teams, leaving them out of sync at the start of the second half. Utah, for example, was 26-26 and were winners of seven of eight going into the break. The seven-day layoff for them came at a terrible time as they have stumbled losing six of eight in the last two weeks.

The Thunder are in the same boat as the Jazz with a record of 2-5 since the midseason break. Conversely, teams like Washington and Portland used their time off to regroup and have come out strong in the second half surging at the perfect time.

For this edition of the power rankings, we will look at a few teams on both ends of the spectrum regarding their performance over the past two 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: 18.0, Record: 8-53, Last Week: 30)
29. Los Angeles Lakers (nERD: 19.8, Record: 12-50, Last Week: 29)
28. Phoenix Suns (nERD: 22.6, Record: 15-45, Last Week: 28)

The Suns' season has spiraled down the drain since Eric Bledsoe's season-ending knee injury in late December. With the league's worst offense and defense, in terms of efficiency, it is not a shock that Phoenix has managed only three wins in their past 28 games. Even with a coaching change to Earl Watson, there has not been much of a difference. The rookie coach has led Phoenix to a 1-10 record so far.

As bad as the season has been, since the break, the Suns have been significantly worse. Allowing an averaging of 117.7 points per game, Phoenix has lost by an average of 21.4 points in their five losses including a 34-point loss to Charlotte and a 40-point massacre at the hands of the Clippers. While there is no excuse for the poor defense, the offense has been losing the war of attrition all season long.

The Suns' top four scorers on the season, Bledsoe, Brandon Knight, Markieff Morris, and T.J. Warren are all gone due to injury or trade leaving them searching for any offensive weapon. Since the trade of Morris, Mirza Teletovic has gotten his chance to show what he can do and has not disappointed. The 30-year-old forward is averaging 19.5 points and 3.7 three-pointers per game in the past six games.

27. Brooklyn Nets (nERD: 30.3, Record: 17-44, Last Week: 27)
26. Milwaukee Bucks (nERD: 38.5, Record: 25-36, Last Week: 26)
25. Minnesota Timberwolves (nERD: 39.3, Record: 19-42, Last Week: 24)
24. Denver Nuggets (nERD: 39.6, Record: 24-37, Last Week: 25) 
23. New York Knicks (nERD: 39.8, Record: 25-37, Last Week: 23)
22. New Orleans Pelicans (nERD: 40.8, Record: 23-36, Last Week: 22)

A playoff hopeful entering the season, the Pelicans' year got derailed from the start due to a rash of injuries, including playmaker Tyreke Evans. New Orleans as a unit has missed the second most games this season due to injury. The team's promising young MVP-candidate, Anthony Davis has suffered his fair share of ailments as he has missed seven games and been knocked out early in five others.

Despite all the misfortunes on the health front, the Pelicans seemed to have used the break to recover as they came out on fire, winning three of four. In their past six games, the Pels have averaged 108.2 points per game, more than a six-point increase over their first half scoring average.

After an enormous 123-point output in a victory over OKC, the playoff talk started to heat up once again. Unfortunately, it was not to be, as the Brow suffered another injury causing him to miss Saturday's game against Minnesota and play less than full strength against Houston. Both games ended up as losses, essentially quashing any momentum and playoff notions New Orleans had.

21. Sacramento Kings (nERD: 42.2, Record: 24-35, Last Week: 21)
20. Orlando Magic (nERD: 44.1, Record: 27-33, Last Week: 20)
19. Chicago Bulls (nERD: 44.5, Record: 30-30, Last Week: 17)
18. Washington Wizards (nERD: 45.7, Record: 30-30, Last Week: 19)
17. Houston Rockets (nERD: 45.8, Record: 30-31, Last Week: 18)
16. Utah Jazz (nERD: 49.5, Record: 28-32, Last Week: 13)
15. Memphis Grizzlies (nERD: 49.7, Record: 36-24, Last Week: 15)

Despite holding a 31-22 record and the 5 seed out West, many forecasted doom and gloom for the Grizzlies with star center Marc Gasol ruled out for the season with a broken foot. With a 5-2 mark in the past two weeks, Memphis has not only remained in the five spot, but they also have, in fact, strengthened their hold on a playoff berth by increasing their lead on ninth place Utah from five to eight games.

Even with the loss of starters Jeff Green and Courtney Lee though trade, along with the Gasol injury, the offense shockingly has excelled. Averaging 106.7 points, post break, is an 8.5-point-per-game improvement from the first 53 games of the season. The offense, as whole, has been extremely efficient, as they hold a 56.9 percent True Shooting percentage and a 110.2 Offensive Rating since the break, both top-six ranks in the NBA during that span.

Veteran point guard Mike Conley expectedly has shouldered a larger responsibility in the offense over the past seven games. His Usage Rate has jumped up two percentage points along with his scoring by nearly three points per game. The real number to know is his shooting percentage. A career 44 percent shooter and making only 41.2 percent of his field goals in the first half of the season, the soon-to-be free agent has made over 48 percent of his 13.1 field goal attempts since February 19.

14. Portland Trail Blazers (nERD: 50.8, Record: 33-29, Last Week: 14)
13. Dallas Mavericks (nERD: 51.9, Record: 33-28, Last Week: 16)

Throughout the course of the season, Dallas' offense has been anything but remarkable. Averaging 100.8 points per game, the Mavericks ranked 18th in points scored in the first 55 games of the season. However, since the break and in the subsequent six games, Dallas has been scorching the nets.

Buoyed by a favorable schedule out of the break, Dallas is surprisingly leading the NBA in scoring with a jaw-dropping average of 117.8 points per game, a full 3.5 more than the second place squad, the record-breaking Warriors. In their last three games, all wins, Dallas had scored over 120 points per game. In fact, in all six games since their 10-day layoff, Dallas has put up triple digits including four 121-plus point performances.

Leading the way for the past two weeks has been a completely healthy Chandler Parsons. The small forward is averaging team-high 19.7 points and 2.8 three-pointers per game. Finally living up to the enormous hype that comes with a $15 million per year salary, Parsons is keeping the Mavericks alive in the playoff chase with a 4-2 record out of the break.

12. Miami Heat (nERD: 54.9, Record: 34-26, Last Week: 11)
11. Indiana Pacers (nERD: 55.4, Record: 32-29, Last Week: 9)
10. Charlotte Hornets (nERD: 55.6, Record: 32-28, Last Week: 12)

Coming out of the break with teams like Philly, Brooklyn and Phoenix on their schedule, there is no surprise the Hornets are 5-2 in the last two weeks. The dominant fashion they have been winning in is another story, though.

Winning their last two games by an average of 27 points, Charlotte has been humming on both sides of the ball as showcased by their fifth-ranked plus 7.2 Net Rating post All-Star Game. The defense, in particular, has tightened the screws as they have allowed 96.9 points per game good for a top four rank since the break.

The second-half surge has left the Hornet as the 6 seed in the East, a half-game behind Atlanta and two games away from home-court advantage in the first-round and 4 seed Miami. With nine of their next 10 games coming at home, where they own a 20-9 record, Charlotte is in prime position to return to the playoffs for only the third time in the last 14 years.

9. Atlanta Hawks (nERD: 55.6, Record: 33-28, Last Week: 10)
8. Detroit Pistons (nERD: 55.6, Record: 31-30, Last Week: 8)
7. Boston Celtics (nERD: 61.5, Record: 37-25, Last Week: 7)
6. Toronto Raptors (nERD: 63.0, Record: 40-19, Last Week: 6)
5. Cleveland Cavaliers (nERD: 65.2, Record: 42-17, Last Week: 5)
4. Oklahoma City Thunder (nERD: 69.3, Record: 42-19, Last Week: 3)
3. Los Angeles Clippers (nERD: 69.9, Record: 40-20, Last Week: 4)

Unexpectedly, in the 23 games Blake Griffin missed before the All-Star Game, the Clippers went 18-5. Even without their superstar power forward, they were a top-nine offense and defense in terms of points scored and allowed. In the seven games since February 18, the Clippers offense has taken a step back and been downright mediocre, ranking 12th in the league. The defense on the other hand...

In the last two weeks, one team leads the Association in both points allowed and Defensive Rating. No, not the Spurs. Try the Clippers. That's right, the same squad that has not been even top 10 on defense since Doc Rivers took over has posted a 95.5 Defensive Rating and allowed 96.0 points scored in their last seven games. 

The defense is making a difference in the standings as well. L.A. clamped down on the Thunder Wednesday, giving up only 13 fourth-quarter points as the Clips came back from down 22 to win. The victory narrowed OKC's lead for the all-crucial (avoid the Warriors until the Western Conference Finals) 3 seed down to only a game and a half and boosted their championship odds.

Now if only the Clippers can correct what is already Steve Ballmer's biggest flop since the Zune, Chuck the Condor.

2. Golden State Warriors (nERD: 82.8, Record: 54-5, Last Week: 2)
1. San Antonio Spurs (nERD: 87.1 Record: 51-9, Last Week: 1)