NBA Power Rankings Update: Eyes on the Playoffs

Which teams on the outside looking in could wind up in the playoffs? Who is set to drop out as a result?

The NBA season is a long one.

And when four or five teams in each conference are virtual playoff locks by New Year's, and another three or four in each are mostly incapable of flirting with a winning record and a postseason berth since, well, the season tips off, the 82-game schedule spanning from October to April can be a real grind.

When things are as top- and bottom-heavy as they are this year, that leaves little room for the middle men, the teams vying for the 7 and 8 seeds in each conference.

With 10 teams as 100% locks to make the playoffs -- and 7 teams with actual playoff berths -- as well as 11 squads with a 0% shot at the NBA Finals and 9 already mathematically eliminated, we're narrowing our focus a bit in this week's edition of the Power Rankings Update on the teams still vying for a playoff spot, though there will be some stray observations as well.

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: 19.1, Record: 9-66, Last Week: 30)
29. Los Angeles Lakers (nERD: 19.6, Record: 16-59, Last Week: 29)
28. Phoenix Suns (nERD: 23.4, Record: 20-55, Last Week: 28)
27. Brooklyn Nets (nERD: 30.7, Record: 21-52, Last Week: 27)
26. Minnesota Timberwolves (nERD: 39.2, Record: 25-50, Last Week: 25)
25. New Orleans Pelicans (nERD: 39.6, Record: 27-47, Last Week: 26)
24. Denver Nuggets (nERD: 40.7, Record: 32-44, Last Week: 24)
23. New York Knicks (nERD: 40.9, Record: 30-46, Last Week: 22)
22. Milwaukee Bucks (nERD: 41.9, Record: 31-44, Last Week: 20)
21. Sacramento Kings (nERD: 43.2, Record: 30-45, Last Week: 23)
20. Chicago Bulls (nERD: 43.2, Record: 37-37, Last Week: 19) 

Although the Kings aren't yet officially eliminated from the playoffs, our algorithms give them a 0% chance to clinch a spot at just 30-45. No big surprise, yeah? But the Bulls have a 17.6% chance to clinch, the ninth-best odds in the Eastern Conference.

Why does any of this matter? Well, they've got identical nERD scores. That can't be reassuring for Chicago fans, but when we look past the franchise name, these two squads aren't much different in terms of overall on-court efficiency.

19. Orlando Magic (nERD: 43.7, Record: 31-43, Last Week: 21)
18. Memphis Grizzlies (nERD: 45.1, Record: 41-34, Last Week: 18)
17. Washington Wizards (nERD: 46.4, Record: 36-39, Last Week: 17)
16. Portland Trail Blazers (nERD: 48.8, Record: 39-36, Last Week: 15)

Despite holding the 6 seed, our algorithms see the Blazers as the Western Conference's eighth-best team (albeit by a very slim margin). They do own a 96.6% chance to stick in the playoffs, however. So that's reassuring for those excited to see Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum in the playoffs (it can't be only me who's excited).

15. Dallas Mavericks (nERD: 48.9, Record: 37-38, Last Week: 14) 
14. Houston Rockets (nERD: 48.9, Record: 37-38, Last Week: 16)
13. Utah Jazz (nERD: 53.3, Record: 37-38, Last Week: 13) 

By rights, the Blazers (48.8 nERD) should have been clustered with the Mavericks (48.9) and Rockets (48.9), but the two teams from Texas share an identical record (37-38) with the Utah Jazz, whose 53.3 nERD is tops among this Western Conference cluster. 

The unfortunate news for the Jazz faithful is that -- despite the best efficiency score of the four -- their 71.8% chance to make the playoffs ranks just third behind Portland (96.6%) and Houston (86.1%) but ahead of Dallas (45.8%).

The three teams deadlocked at 37-38 aren't expected to separate much over the final stretch, with our algorithms seeing the Rockets win 41.1 games, the Jazz 40.9 games, and Dallas 40.2 games by season's end.

12. Detroit Pistons (nERD: 54.3, Record: 40-35, Last Week: 11)
11. Indiana Pacers (nERD: 54.4, Record: 39-35, Last Week: 12)
10. Miami Heat (nERD: 58.0, Record: 43-31, Last Week: 10)
9. Charlotte Hornets (nERD: 58.6, Record: 43-31, Last Week: 9)
8. Boston Celtics (nERD: 58.8, Record: 43-31, Last Week: 7) 

Not to be outdone, the Eastern Conference has its own three-team tie, but this one comes with all three squads well within the playoffs as the 4, 5, and 6 seeds. As of now, Boston holds the 4 seed, Miami has the 5, and Charlotte has the 6, though the gap in overall efficiency between each team is fairly negligible.

None of the three have clinched officially yet, but they're locks according to the algorithms.

Making matters more complicated, our numbers see a tight finish for these teams.

Team Record Finals Odds Proj. W Proj. L nERD
Boston Celtics 43-31 2.20% 47.4 34.6 58.8
Charlotte Hornets 43-31 1.90% 47.4 34.6 58.6
Miami Heat 43-31 1.70% 47.4 34.7 58.0

7. Atlanta Hawks (nERD: 60.3, Record: 45-31, Last Week: 8)
6. Toronto Raptors (nERD: 62.8, Record: 50-24, Last Week: 6)
5. Cleveland Cavaliers (nERD: 65.4, Record: 52-22, Last Week: 4) 

Each of these three teams have clinched a playoff spot, but things aren't looking great for the East's chance to win the NBA Finals. Cleveland (8.8%) leads the charge, but the second- and third-best teams in the East, Toronto (5.7%) and Atlanta (2.7%), don't seem as likely as the West's best to host a championship parade this season.

4. Los Angeles Clippers (nERD: 68.2, Record: 47-27, Last Week: 5)
3. Oklahoma City Thunder (nERD: 69.6, Record: 52-23, Last Week: 3)
2. Golden State Warriors (nERD: 82.1, Record: 68-7, Last Week: 2)
1. San Antonio Spurs (nERD: 85.2, Record: 63-12, Last Week: 1)

With the Clippers' leapfrog of the Cavs to be fourth in the Association, per nERD, the West boasts the league's top four teams.

Although they'll have a tough time going at one another prior to the Finals, the Spurs (31.9%), Warriors (29.6%), Thunder (7.8%), and Clippers (5.7%) all own great (or at least solid) chances at winning it all.

But, really, we all knew that months ago.