NBA Power Rankings Update: The End Is Near
Next Wednesday marks the end of the 2015-16 NBA regular season. It has been a long journey from October 27 to now. Due to the arduous road, many of the elite teams are resting players and coasting towards the finish line.
Despite the lack of drama in some of the remaining regular season games, there is still much to watch for over the last week.
While the Eastern Conference playoff participants are virtually locked in, the seeding is still up in the area. In the West, the top four seeds are nearly set in stone, but the final two seeds are in flux with three teams battling to avoid the lottery.
As the excitement of the playoffs loom, let's cut to the chase and see where the teams fall these last few days.
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: 19.6, Record: 16-62, Last Week: 29)
As the Lakers finish off what will be the worst season in their storied franchise's history, fans are counting the limited opportunities left to watch Kobe Bryant as he concludes his Hall of Fame career. While his final year has been forgettable in so many ways, let us not forget the greatness that was the Black Mamba.
The face of the Lakers' franchise, Bryant is the only player to play 20 seasons with one team.. He holds all the Lakers' scoring records; (single-season, career, game) as he has donned the purple and gold a franchise record 1,341 times. He also ranks third on the NBA all-time scoring chart with more than 33,500 points; Bryant is the only NBA player to record 30,000 points, 6,000 rebounds, and 6,000 assists.
So let's forget about the 35% shooting percentage this season and remember the time he was unstoppable and dropped 81 points on the Raptors.
29. Philadelphia 76ers (nERD: 20.3, Record: 10-68, Last Week: 30)
28. Phoenix Suns (nERD: 23.0, Record: 20-58, Last Week: 28)
27. Brooklyn Nets (nERD: 29.0, Record: 21-57, Last Week: 27)
26. Minnesota Timberwolves (nERD: 38.8, Record: 26-52, Last Week: 26)
25. Denver Nuggets (nERD: 39.2, Record: 32-47, Last Week: 24)
24. New Orleans Pelicans (nERD: 39.8, Record: 29-49, Last Week: 25)
23. Milwaukee Bucks (nERD: 41.0, Record: 32-46, Last Week: 22)
22. New York Knicks (nERD: 41.0, Record: 31-48, Last Week: 23)
21. Chicago Bulls (nERD: 43.2, Record: 39-39, Last Week: 20)
How the mighty have fallen. Seen as a threat to the Cavaliers for the top spot in the East, the Bulls are almost guaranteed to be sitting out of the playoffs for the first time in eight seasons. With four games remaining and a two-and-a-half-game deficit to the Pistons, we give Chicago only a minuscule 1.1% chance of sneaking in as the 8 seed.
Chicago will enter the offseason with a roster and possibly front office shakeup coming -- maybe the draft lottery is the perfect thing for the club. After all, the last time they had any ping pong balls they nabbed the ultimate prize in the draft that year, Derrick Rose.
20. Sacramento Kings (nERD: 43.5, Record: 31-47, Last Week: 21)
19. Orlando Magic (nERD: 44.3, Record: 33-45, Last Week: 19)
18. Memphis Grizzlies (nERD: 45.0, Record: 42-36, Last Week: 18)
17. Washington Wizards (nERD: 47.3, Record: 38-40, Last Week: 17)
16. Houston Rockets (nERD: 48.8, Record: 38-40, Last Week: 14)
Of the three teams fighting for the 7 and 8 seeds in the West -- the Rockets, Jazz, Mavericks -- Houston has by far the easiest road remaining. With games versus the bottom three teams in the West plus Sacramento, the Rockets can sweep and finish with 42 wins. The problem is that their loss to Dallas on Wednesday put them a full two games behind the Mavericks and one game behind Utah. The loss also reflected a common theme all year-long: maddening inconsistency.
In the Rockets' last six games, they have impressive wins over top-ranked teams Oklahoma City, Cleveland, and Toronto. At the same time, though, they alternated those impressive victories with losses in winnable games against more beatable competition (Indiana, Chicago, Dallas). With a 4-6 record in their last 10 games, Houston has been unable to gain any ground in the West.
Even with the favorable closing schedule, their recent struggles have made the Rockets possibly the odd man out. We give them a 58.5% chance of making the playoffs, the lowest odds of the three remaining teams. Anything short of a 4-0 finish in the final week will leave the defending Southwest Division champions home for the playoffs.
15. Portland Trail Blazers (nERD: 49.4, Record: 43-37, Last Week: 16)
14. Dallas Mavericks (nERD: 50.0, Record: 40-38, Last Week: 15)
With five straight victories, Dallas is surging at the right time. After a nail-biting win over Houston, the Mavericks hold a two-game lead over the ninth-place Rockets with four games remaining. The fantastic play of reigning Western Conference Player of the Week, Jose Juan Barea, has fueled the shorthanded Mavs' streak. His 24.2 points per game have eased the pain of losing Chandler Parsons and Deron Williams to injury over the last two weeks.
With a 77.2% chance of making the playoffs, a 32 percentage-point increase over last week, Dallas is looking good to grab one of the final two spots. If they can win their showdown with Utah on Monday, they will be all but locked in.
13. Utah Jazz (nERD: 53.9, Record: 39-39, Last Week: 13)
12. Detroit Pistons (nERD: 54.1, Record: 42-37, Last Week: 12)
11. Indiana Pacers (nERD: 54.1, Record: 42-36, Last Week: 11)
10. Miami Heat (nERD: 57.3, Record: 45-32, Last Week: 10)
9. Charlotte Hornets (nERD: 58.0, Record: 45-33, Last Week: 9)
8. Boston Celtics (nERD: 59.0, Record: 46-32, Last Week: 8)
7. Atlanta Hawks (nERD: 60.1, Record: 46-32, Last Week: 7)
One game. That is all the separates Charlotte with Atlanta, who are currently the 6 and 3 seeds in the East, respectively. In between the pair lie Miami and Boston. The battle for home-court advantage in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs looks like it will come down to the final day.
Of the quartet, Boston and Atlanta have the toughest road for the 3 seed. The Hawks' last four games bring matchups with the elite of the East, Cleveland and Toronto, as well as a crucial showdown with the Celtics before finishing off with the Wizards. The Celtics' road is littered with obstacles as well. After facing off with the Bucks, Boston closes out the regular season with contests against each of the seeding competitors (Atlanta, Charlotte, and Miami).
Our projections have Boston (48.2 wins) and Atlanta (48.1) grabbing the 3 and 4 seeds with Miami (47.7) getting the 5 seed and Charlotte (47.4) getting the 6 seed. Whatever the order they wind up, the four teams will face off amongst themselves with the survivors left with the unenviable task of trying to knock off the Cavs and Raptors in the next round.
6. Toronto Raptors (nERD: 62.1, Record: 52-25, Last Week: 6)
5. Cleveland Cavaliers (nERD: 66.2, Record: 56-23, Last Week: 5)
4. Los Angeles Clippers (nERD: 68.6, Record: 50-28, Last Week: 4)
3. Oklahoma City Thunder (nERD: 69.1, Record: 54-25, Last Week: 3)
2. Golden State Warriors (nERD: 80.6, Record: 69-9, Last Week: 2)
Perhaps the biggest question left to be answered this year is the one that has hovered over the league all season. Can the Warriors reach 73 wins?
All year long, Golden State has been breaking records. Best start to a season, longest home winning streak, most three-pointers made -- the list goes on and on. The greatest achievement has been in their sights as well: most wins in a season. Before Tuesday, it seemed like the Warriors were destined to break the 1995-96 Bulls' record of 72-10. After their unfathomable home loss to Minnesota, Golden State will have to sweep their remaining games to break the record. Not an easy feat.
Facing off with the Spurs twice and the Grizzlies twice, Golden State has seen their odds dwindle. In fact, we project the Warriors to finish with 71 wins, leaving them short of the prize. While Spurs coach Gregg Popovich has hinted he may rest players, Thursday's showdown in the Bay will go a long way determining the Warriors' record-setting hopes.
1. San Antonio Spurs (nERD: 85.0, Record: 65-12, Last Week: 1)