NBA Power Rankings Update: March Madness
When the calendar turns to March, the focus of the basketball world turns to the NCAA Tournament. While the NBA may not draw the attention the collegiate ranks does, there is plenty of excitement as we head into the regular season's waning days.
The Eastern Conference playoff picture is wide open with four teams within a game of the 3 seed and three teams separated by only a game and a half for the eighth and final spot. While the West is pretty set, we have the possibility of not one but two 70-win teams.
For this edition of the Power Rankings Update, we will take a look at a few of March's fast rising and falling NBA squads.
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: 18.7, Record: 9-58, Last Week: 30)
29. Los Angeles Lakers (nERD: 21.2, Record: 14-54, Last Week: 29)
28. Phoenix Suns (nERD: 23.4, Record: 18-49, Last Week: 28)
27. Brooklyn Nets (nERD: 30.6, Record: 19-48, Last Week: 27)
The Nets looked like they were making progress as they recorded their best month of the season with a 5-7 record in February. In March, though, they have regressed with a 2-5 record including losses to the Lakers, Timberwolves, and 76ers. By allowing 111.6 points per game this month, Brooklyn has fallen to the back of the pack defensively as only Philly ranks worse in March.
In the month of March, opponents are shooting over 50.5% and averaging 26.9 assists per game -- both leave the Nets dead last in the Association. Not helping their cause was the disaster on March 5 when they allowed 132 points in a loss to the Timberwolves. In that contest, Minnesota set a franchise record by making 68.4% of their shots. Their mark was the highest in the NBA since the Clippers shot 69.3% in 1998.
On a positive note, the offense has stepped up to 108.4 points per game, ranking seventh in the league and 48.4% shooting, good for fourth. Leading the charge has been Bojan Bogdanovic. Averaging only 10.5 points per game this year, he has stepped up his scoring to 18.7 points per game in March -- buoyed by a career-high, 44-point outburst against the 76ers.
26. Minnesota Timberwolves (nERD: 39.6, Record: 22-46, Last Week: 26)
25. Milwaukee Bucks (nERD: 40.2, Record: 29-39, Last Week: 25)
24. New Orleans Pelicans (nERD: 40.2, Record: 25-42, Last Week: 24)
23. Sacramento Kings (nERD: 41.3, Record: 26-41, Last Week: 22)
22. New York Knicks (nERD: 41.3, Record: 28-41, Last Week: 20)
21. Denver Nuggets (nERD: 41.5, Record: 28-40, Last Week: 23)
20. Orlando Magic (nERD: 42.0, Record: 29-38, Last Week: 21)
The injury bug has finally hit the Magic, and four of their five starters have missed time in March -- only Aaron Gordon has played in all nine games. The inconsistent lineups have led to an inefficient offense, a league worst 98.8 Offensive Rating.
Scoring only 84 points against the Blazers and the second-worst defense in the league, the Suns, Orlando has desperately missed their leading scorer, Nikola Vucevic, who has missed five games. The lack of points can be tied to their poor shooting in March, as Orlando has put up the second-worst True Shooting percentage (51.6%).
The only thing holding them together is the play of former Indiana Hoosier Victor Oladipo. Posting an average of 21.5 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 4.2 assists per game over the past six games, the Magic guard has seemed to find his stroke and is shooting over 51% from the field in March.
19. Chicago Bulls (nERD: 43.0, Record: 33-33, Last Week: 19)
18. Washington Wizards (nERD: 46.0, Record: 32-35, Last Week: 18)
17. Memphis Grizzlies (nERD: 46.3, Record: 39-29, Last Week: 15)
16. Houston Rockets (nERD: 48.6, Record: 34-34, Last Week: 17)
15. Portland Trail Blazers (nERD: 49.4, Record: 35-33, Last Week: 13)
With a combined 18-7 record in January and February, Portland charged back into the playoff race. Sitting in the 6 seed out West, the Blazers have stumbled in March with a 3-5 record. To be fair, all five losses are to teams currently in the playoffs, including Western Conference powerhouse offenses Golden State and Oklahoma City.
With the third-worst defense, 111.3 points allowed and 111.2 Defensive Rating, in March, the Blazers allowed 128 points to both the Warriors and Thunder -- but also 124 to the Pistons. In the five losses, they allowed 122.4 points per game. The only thing keeping them afloat is the Blazers' excellent shooting.
The third-best three-point (41%) and free-throw shooting (83.2%) team in the league, the Blazers boast a backcourt duo of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, who have missed only three free-throws (76-for-79) in the past two-plus weeks.
They also have shot 44% from deep while averaging 47.6 points per game. Though not on par with McCollum's 15-seeded Lehigh squad shocking Duke in 2012, the fact the Blazers are in the playoff conversation is a Cinderella story in its own right.
14. Utah Jazz (nERD: 50.1, Record: 32-35, Last Week: 16)
13. Dallas Mavericks (nERD: 50.6, Record: 34-34, Last Week: 14)
12. Indiana Pacers (nERD: 54.1, Record: 36-31, Last Week: 12)
11. Detroit Pistons (nERD: 54.2, Record: 34-34, Last Week: 11)
10. Miami Heat (nERD: 56.5, Record: 39-28, Last Week: 10)
9. Charlotte Hornets (nERD: 57.6, Record: 38-29, Last Week: 9)
After a dismal 6-11 January, the Hornets' up-and-down season continues. Charlotte has gone 8-1 with the second-best scoring margin in the league, 11.4 per game in March. They own the second-best offense and third-best defense with a 114.8 Offensive Rating and a 102.0 Defensive Rating over their past nine games.
During their seven-game winning streak at the beginning of the month, Charlotte averaged 118.0 points per game with three games with 122 points or more. Quickly becoming a threat from beyond the arc, the Hornets averaged 12.1 threes per game nailing over 40% of their attempts, both top-three ranks. Kemba Walker, Nicolas Batum, and Marvin Williams all averaged over two makes per game. Walker, with 3.3 three-pointers per game, has been the key to the revitalized Hornets offense.
The 2011 Most Outstanding Player of the NCAA Tournament, Walker is finally fulfilling the massive potential expected of him when he led UConn to the title. Averaging 26.8 points and 6.4 assists per game on over 50% shooting, the fifth-year pro has led the Hornets to within one game of the 3 seed in the East -- far cry from the 33-win, 11th place Eastern Conference finish last year.
8. Atlanta Hawks (nERD: 58.6, Record: 39-29, Last Week: 8)
In the month of March, the Hawks have finally found their identity. With the best Defensive Rating, 92.8, and the second-fewest points allowed, 92.9, Atlanta has become an elite defensive squad .
In their eight games in March, the Hawks have the third-best scoring margin, 9.9, and a 6-2 record. They stifled the Jazz, Grizzlies, and Pacers to under 84 points each. While that trio may not be offensive juggernauts, both the Clippers and Warriors managed only 97 points in the regulation time. The Hawks are getting it done with a harassing pressure that has caused 15.6 turnovers per game. Their pressure also has limited opponents to shooting 39.5% from the field and 28.6% from beyond the arc.
With only 14 games remaining, the Hawks are in the thick of the chase for the 3 seed in the East, as they are a half-game behind Miami. They have plenty of competition, too, with Boston and Charlotte within a game of the Heat as well. Luckily for Atlanta, the schedule lightens up with their next seven games against teams with a .500 or worse record.
7. Boston Celtics (nERD: 59.9, Record: 39-29, Last Week: 7)
6. Toronto Raptors (nERD: 63.9, Record: 45-21, Last Week: 6)
5. Cleveland Cavaliers (nERD: 66.3, Record: 48-19, Last Week: 5)
4. Los Angeles Clippers (nERD: 67.0, Record: 43-24, Last Week: 3)
3. Oklahoma City Thunder (nERD: 68.9, Record: 46-22, Last Week: 4)
2. Golden State Warriors (nERD: 82.7, Record: 61-6, Last Week: 2)
Just as it has been all season long, the Warriors own the hottest offense in March. Putting up over 117.3 points per game, Golden State also sits atop the league in three-pointers (12.8 per game), assists (29.9), True Shooting Percentage (59.7%), Offensive Rating (115.9), and scoring margin (11.8).
Ever since struggling to only 95 points in a shocking loss to the Lakers, the Warriors have put up an average of 121.8 points on 51.7% shooting. In the six games since shooting 1-for-10 from downtown against L.A., Stephen Curry has been lights out, knocking down an average of 6.0 threes per game. Not to be outdone, Klay Thompson has hit on over 54% of his three-point attempts in the past six games.
While we expect the Warriors' backcourt to light up the opponents, a new face has been filling up the stat sheet in March. Over his last five games, Marreese Speights has gone on a scoring splurge. Despite playing only 15.6 minutes per game, the backup center has averaged 13.8 points and 5.0 rebounds per game. His 25-point outburst in 18 minutes against Phoenix helped preserve the Warriors' homecourt winning streak, now up to 50 games.
1. San Antonio Spurs (nERD: 86.9, Record: 57-10, Last Week: 1)