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Power Rankings #10: Get Back

(A quick note before we start, rankings are through games of Monday, February 24th)

68% of the season is in the books. The end is in sight. The players are cast. Final adjustments can still be made but for the most part, there are no hidden moves anymore. Teams are what they're going to be and if they have a plan, we know about it at this point. Miami, Indiana, San Antonio, OKC, Houston and maybe the Clips. 95% odds your finals matchup is amogst those six. Throw in the Warriors and as an outside shot the Grizzlies and you're probably at 99%.
 
We still have some matters to settle. The seeding out West will be critical. How will the deadline moves for the contenders play out? How will the returns of key parts impact the race? The early results are very intriguing.
 
Let's get to the rankings:
BoxScore Geeks Power Ranking as of 02/24/14
Rank Change Team Point Margin Sched Rk Sched PM Orank Drank
1 Up 5 Miami Heat 6.6 23 0.3 1 20
2 Up 12 Houston Rockets 6.4 19 0.2 7 11
3 Down 1 Indiana Pacers 4.1 30 1.0 18 1
4 Up 3 Golden State Warriors 4.0 28 0.7 13 4
5 Down 2 Los Angeles Clippers 3.9 4 -0.6 2 10
6 Up 13 Chicago Bulls 3.7 9 -0.5 28 2
7 Up 5 Charlotte Bobcats 3.5 15 0.0 24 9
8 Down 4 Memphis Grizzlies 2.9 12 -0.1 20 8
9 Down 4 Minnesota Timberwolves 2.7 10 -0.2 9 6
10 Down 1 Portland Trail Blazers 2.6 8 -0.5 3 16
11 Down 1 Phoenix Suns 2.5 26 0.6 8 14
12 Down 4 San Antonio Spurs 2.4 2 -0.8 5 7
13   Toronto Raptors 1.7 27 0.7 15 5
14 Up 3 Dallas Mavericks 1.5 14 0.0 4 27
15 Up 3 Brooklyn Nets 0.8 5 -0.6 14 21
16 Down 5 Sacramento Kings 0.2 13 -0.1 16 23
17 Up 4 Washington Wizards 0.1 25 0.6 17 13
18 Down 17 Oklahoma City Thunder 0.1 1 -1.0 6 3
19 Down 4 Atlanta Hawks 0.1 11 -0.1 10 19
20   New York Knicks -0.7 24 0.4 11 30
21 Up 1 New Orleans Pelicans -1.0 3 -0.7 12 22
22 Up 1 Utah Jazz -2.3 7 -0.5 23 28
23 Up 1 Detroit Pistons -2.4 22 0.3 21 15
24 Up 5 Cleveland Cavaliers -2.5 29 0.9 26 17
25 Up 2 Boston Celtics -3.6 18 0.2 27 12
26   Orlando Magic -4.1 21 0.2 25 24
27 Down 2 Los Angeles Lakers -4.6 6 -0.6 22 25
28   Milwaukee Bucks -5.2 17 0.0 29 26
29 Down 13 Denver Nuggets -7.6 20 0.2 19 18
30   Philadelphia 76ers -10.9 16 0.0 30 29
               
 
 
 
As always, the rankings include pace and schedule adjusted offense and defense. ICYMI, all the offensive and defensive ratings went up as a visual post. Let's talk highlights:
  • #1 Miami Heat Neutral Site Win: 72.2% (Up 5, #1 in offense, #20 in defense): Guess who? Anyone who thought Miami was done is in for a surprise. As we've been telling you all year, Miami at full speed is an entirely different animal. The key isn't Lebron (0.336 WP48 is monstrous); he's a given. The key is the health and presence of Wade (0.208 WP48). The big incentive for Miami is health come playoff time, but It does look like the one seed and homecourt advantage might be in play. This could get interesting if Indiana and the West teams continue to sputter. Miami might just let it ride and count on the extended rest and, ummm, more relaxed medical playoff restrictions to carry the day.
  • #2 Houston Rockets Neutral Site Win: 71.4% (Up 12, #7 in offense, #11 in defense): Houston is 17-5 in 2014, with three losses on back-to-backs against Memphis, OKC, and GSW. We told you this team was very, very good. What's interesting is that they're doing it in a Spurs-like fashion with multiple players at star (+2.5 POP48 for D12, Harden) or close to star level (Parsons, Jones). With Harden and Dwight they have the Finals pedigree and, as of today, are actually favored for the one seed in the West. It'll be interesting to see what they do now that they finally have their full complement of players (Beverley and Asik being the key). Houston at 8-1 to win the west (what I'm seeing listed as I’m writing this) is way too high.
  • #3 Indiana Pacers Neutral Site Win: 64.3% (Down 1, #18 in offense, #1 in defense): The Pacers keep coming down from their crazy early pace and are losing their early lead on Miami. So much so that the model now prefers Miami as the one seed in the East (with the Heat as the one seed in 59% of the simulations). Lance and Hill are still keeping up their level of play, but George and Hibbert have started to slump. Their trade deadline move is a big worry. Lavoy Allen (0.094 WP48) is a good pickup, but I don't think he features in their playoff rotation plans. Evan Turner (0.012 WP48), on the other hand, does. Turner is the kind of piece that could swing the battle for Homecourt against them and their Finals hopes may depend on it.
  • #4 Golden State Warriors Neutral Site Win: 63.9% (Up 3, #13 in offense, #4 in defense): Sometimes the Warriors look so good (10 straight wins in late December and early January) but then they look so bad (2-5 immediately after). We're in a good period right now (9-4). The issue is always injuries, durability, and depth. The Warriors have 5 killer pieces (Curry, Bogut, Iggy, Lee, and Green) but take any of those away and things get very, very dicey (Speights, O’Neal, and Jordan Crawford). I keep saying they'll be better in the playoffs (shorter rotations and, let's call it, better training through chemistry) and it is starting to look like that their survival is guaranteed (97% playoff odds).
  • #5 Los Angeles Clippers Neutral Site Win: 63.5% (Down 2, #2 in offense, #10 in defense): With how they'd played without CP3 and his subsequent return, I was ready to crown the Clippers as the dark horse contender in the bunch in the West. Then they went and signed the terrible Big Baby Davis (0.013 WP48 as a PF). Look, if you want to win the title, it's not a good idea to take a cast-off from a terrible team. Particularly if you're going to ask them to move to a tougher position (center) and play them big minutes. As a Celtics fan, I am very familiar with Baby and Doc's inexplicable man crush on him. Baby will be covering one or more of LMA, Lee, Bogut, or maybe even Dirk in a critical moment and it will not go well. In my heart, I have written off this team as a title contender.
  • #6 Chicago Bulls Neutral Site Win: 62.9% (Up 13, #28 in offense, #2 in defense): Yes, the goddamn Chicago Bulls. Thibbs is laughing somewhere right now. Bulls are 17-8 in 2014 and they've actually not been at 100% (Jimmy Butler, Noah, and Hinrich have been banged up). At full strength, the Bulls will have a star center (Noah, 0.256 WP48), a star wing in Butler, good solid pieces around them, plus the second best defense in the league. The seeding battle becomes even more interesting since a round 2 blood bath with the Bulls should be avoided at all costs. Bulls at 40/1 to win the East are probably way too high. Buy and hedge with a series bet in round two. You know, if you're into that sort of thing.
  • #7 Charlotte Bobcats Neutral Site Win: 62.3% (Up 5, #24 in offense, #9 in defense): At 8-5 over their last 13, the Bobcats are improbably rising up the charts. Big Al has been the difference. I'm still skeptical as to the long term viability of this. Basically because of the lack of any real stars. I expect a crash.
  • #8 Memphis Grizzlies Neutral Site Win: 60% (Down 4, #20 in offense, #8 in defense): At 16-5 over their last 21, Memphis seems over their early season swoon. Even with their star point guard (Mike Conley) and their All-World wing defender (trick or treat Tony) missing time, they've managed to stay within touching distance of the rest of the Western playoff teams. A big part of that has been the excellent play of James Johnson (0.228 WP48) and the good play of Courtney Lee (0.138 WP48). I do worry that time is their enemy right now. Right now they're only at 53% chance of making it in. If they do make it in, consider them the team most likely to pull a first round upset.
  • #9 Minnesota Timberwolves Neutral Site Win: 59.4% (Down 4, #9 in offense, #6 in defense): Kevin Love is awesome (0.326 WP48) and there is something really wrong with how this team closes games. Twolves are 2-14 in games decided by five points or less. In the West, that's unsurmountable. There is still a 6% chance they get in but too many things have to happen to make it so. In the East, they'd be a dangerous three seed. It's quite possible we are looking at the Kevin Love T-Wolves farewell tour.
  • #10 Portland Trail Blazers Neutral Site Win: 58.9% (Down 1, #3 in offense, #16 in defense): 5-7 over any stretch in the West is a bad sign. It doesn't help that the Portland injury fairy seems to have come back from its early season sabbatical and is working at hitting its big man injury quota. The Blazers early success almost guarantees they make it in, but a top four seed seems like a pipe dream right now. Never mind that the four teams behind them are charging and smelling blood. They're starting to look more and more like a first round out.
  • #11 Phoenix Suns Neutral Site Win: 58.6% (Down 1, #8 in offense, #14 in defense): The Suns standing pat over the deadline makes a ton more sense if you keep in mind they have four #1 picks in the upcoming draft, have the tantalizing possibility of an Eric Bledsoe return, and some serious cap room in the off-season. Given that, I can see how just letting it roll and trying to get some playoff reps is a good idea. 11-5 over their last 16 and 65% odds of getting in is nothing to scoff at. They're going to scare the living daylights out of someone in round 1.
  • #12 San Antonio Spurs Neutral Site Win: 58.3% (Down 4, #5 in offense, #7 in defense): Time to panic at the Alamo? Not quite. Spurs are on their annual rodeo road trip and are suffering some key injuries. In particular, their best player Kawhi is out (0.248 WP48) and Popovich has been playing his usual lineup games resting his starters and actively throwing winnable games in the short term for long term gain. Despite this, the Spurs are 6-3 on the road trip with wins at OKC and at Portland, with their losses coming with some...let's call them interesting...lineup choices. Now's that time of year where discerning sharps look up Spurs Western Conference and Finals odds (9/2 and 12/1). Buy now, before Kawhi comes back.
  • #13 Toronto Raptors Neutral Site Win: 55.8% (No Change, #15 in offense, #5 in defense): In almost a half season since the Rudy Gay trade, Toronto is 25-13 for a 65.7% win percentage that projects out to 54 wins over an 82 game sched. Toronto basically has young contender stats since that trade. Their road to the Finals is impossible, but they look like a sure thing to win a playoff series and will give Indiana or Miami a challenge in round two. It'll be interesting to see what Masai can do with an entire offseason with this team.
  • #14 Dallas Mavericks Neutral Site Win: 55.2% (Up 3, #4 in offense, #27 in defense): There has got to be a way to get Brandan Wright (0.267 WP48) more playing time. Sadly, I understand that it comes down to a personnel issue. Dallas is missing a true center and is having to make due with Dalembert and Dirk. That is working in stretches, but it could become a real issue against some of their likely first round playoff opponents (Houston, Portland, and San Antonio come to mind). I do believe that with its playoff experience, a resurgent Dirk, and shorter playoff rotations, this team is dangerous in the Western playoffs. 28 to 1 to win the West is a remarkable value.
  • #15 Brooklyn Nets Neutral Site Win: 52.7% (Up 3, #14 in offense, #21 in defense): There is a striking difference in the level of competence between the Knicks and Nets organization. Both are having car wrecks of a season but in the midst of chaos, the Nets have still managed to get back to competing while severely managing everyone's minutes. They've also managed to generate tremendous positive PR for their team with their Jason Collins signing. This team will be better come playoff time. The problem is that the teams in front of them are better than they are. They need to hope for the five seed and the Raptors if they want out of round 1, although the effect of lax chemical restrictions always seems to help older teams more in the playoffs.
  • #16 Sacramento Kings Neutral Site Win: 50.9% (Down 5, #16 in offense, #23 in defense): The penny went up for the Kings and it's starting to go down. Credit where credit is due, Rudy Gay has been much better in Sacramento (0.159 WP48) than in Toronto (-0.003 WP48), looking much more like the 2011 Rudy Gay. He is much better suited to being a complementary offensive player next to a big man (Boogie, Zbo, and Marc) than being a ball chucker. He's getting a point and a half more per 36 with 2.8 fga less. How much he is actually worth is a problem Sacramento should have a full season to ponder (and they shouldn't be in any rush).
  • #17 Washington Wizards Neutral Site Win: 50.4% (Up 4, #17 in offense, #13 in defense): The Wiz are 28-28 for the season, 14-14 in 2014 and the model thinks they'd win 50% of their games at a neutral site. They're a five hundred club. They've also just lost Nene (0.039 WP48) for six weeks. This is not a bad thing right now, as his minutes will most likely go to Trevor Booker (0.197 WP48), who is their best big man. Look for this team to make a run and make the top four race in the East interesting.
  • #18 Oklahoma City Thunder Neutral Site Win: 50.3% (Down 17, #6 in offense, #3 in defense): The model has not liked the reintroduction of Russell Westbrook to the Thunder lineup one bit, collapsing their rating 17 slots from their last go around. This is not unexpected. Russ was terrible when he came back from his first injury at the start of the season but eventually worked himself back to stellar form. The same pattern seems to be repeating. A smart coach would probably put Russ in a Manu or Harden second unit role while he gets himself back into game shape and leave the devastating OKC first unit – the one that was laying waste to the NBA – intact in the interim. But you know by now that Scotty Brooks is not my favorite coach and in fact remains my principal argument against the Thunder winning a title. The Thunder will move back up but, in the interim, may be surrendering homecourt advantage.
  • #19 Atlanta Hawks Neutral Site Win: 50.2% (Down 4, #10 in offense, #19 in defense): The Hawks are collapsing hard right now, going 1-8 over their last nine. Some of that is schedule (Indiana twice, Memphis, at Chicago and Toronto) but there is cause for concern. Are they packing it in for the draft? Given the injury to Horford and the recent injury to Millsap it wouldn't be surprising. Stay tuned.
  • #20 New York Knicks Neutral Site Win: 47.6% (No Change, #11 in offense, #30 in defense): The only win for the Hawks in that collapsing stretch? Your New York Knickerbockers. Knicks are 2-9 over their last 11 and they're doing this without the services of the worst player in the history of our database (Andrea "L'ancora" Barganani). To add insult to injury, they cut one point guard (Beno) and just had another one (Felton) who will probably be looking at some prison time after getting caught on gun charges. The really sad part is that it likely makes them better, as it means more playing time for better players (Pablo, Iman, and Hardaway). It's gotten so bad in NYC that I now find Carmelo freaking Anthony to be a sympathetic figure. It's so bad that they're having trouble staying ahead of teams that are obviously tanking. This is an epic level of management trolling.
  • #21 New Orleans Pelicans Neutral Site Win: 46.5% (Up 1, #12 in offense, #22 in defense): 9-18 in 2014 for the Pellies. The fact that Philly owns their number one pick if it's out of the top five is sad. So is the fact that this team is a mere five years removed from a core of CP3, Tyson Chandler, and David West. At least they have Davis. For now.
  • #22 Utah Jazz Neutral Site Win: 41.8% (Up 1, #23 in offense, #28 in defense): Utah is 10-12 in 2014. Yep, that's about right. Decent young core and two number 1 picks in the coming draft. Let's check back on these guys next year. This year, they're fodder.
  • #23 Detroit Pistons Neutral Site Win:41.6% (Up 1,#21 in offense, #15 in defense): Firing the head coach has not made this any better for the Pistons. Perhaps the person who put together this ill-fitting squad is not very good at running a basketball team? Fire Dumars, keep Drummond, Singler, Monroe, and maybe Pope. Everything else must go.
  • #24 Cleveland Cavaliers Neutral Site Win: 41.2% (Up 5, #26 in offense, #17 in defense): For some inexplicable reason, the Cavs keep fighting to get into the playoffs, going so far as to give up more picks to get a short rental on Spencer Hawes. Let's recap: the Cavs drafted Kyrie number at #1, and he's hinted that he's going to leave. They drafted Bennett number #1, and he's had the all-time worst numbers for a number #1 pick. They traded a 2015 first-rounder for Deng – who's leaving after this year – and two second-rounders for Hawes – who will most likely leave too. At this point, the Cavs need a restraining order against themselves.
  • #25 Boston Celtics Neutral Site Win: 37.6% (Up 2, #27 in offense, #12 in defense): Despite going 6-21 in 2014, Boston is only eight games out of the final playoff spot. But the tank is officially on. Rondo has managed to get back to decent form (0.111 WP48), but won't play enough to matter. Humphries has been their best player all season (0.190 WP48) but has been (suspiciously?) buried in the rotation. Sullinger's numbers are deceptive in that they're not great for a center, but they're great for a PF on a team with no centers (0.048 WP48). I expect that they'll compete, but for the most part this team is killing time until the draft.
  • #26 Orlando Magic Neutral Site Win: 35.7% (No Change, #25 in offense, #24 in defense): Orlando is 6-21 in 2014, but some of those wins are impressive (OKC and Indiana). What is going on? The roster on this team is quite good when they actually play and are not sidelined by freak injuries. Oladipo, Affalo and Vucevic are all good players. Don't be surprised if this team is next year's Phoenix.
  • #27 Los Angeles Lakers Neutral Site Win: 34.2% (Down 2, #22 in offense, #25 in defense): You have to go back 32 games for the last time the Lakers beat a team that currently has a winning record (an injury ravaged Memphis team on 12/17). This is a terrible, terrible roster. There are five guys on this roster that I could see contributing minutes on a contender in the Future (Hill, Marshall, Pau, Meeks, Wesley). Maybe. Everything else is fodder. The under is looking very, very good here.
  • #28 Milwaukee Bucks Neutral Site Win: 32.3% (No Change, #29 in offense, #26 in defense): 4-21 in 2014, with wins over Detroit, Orlando, Philly, and of course the Knicks. The Bucks have a lock on those ping pong balls right now. Rejoice, Bucks fans, because your rookies have actually been good (Giannis and Wolters). I also love the Jeff Adrien pickup; Adrien's been extremely productive in limited minutes. There are some interesting pieces here for the future.
  • #29 Denver Nuggets Neutral Site Win: 25% (Down 13, #19 in offense, #18 in defense): After being competitive for the majority of the season, the Nuggets have crashed to 6-13 over their last nineteen. Part of that is critical injuries (Nate and Lawson), but part of it may be some skullduggery. Has the squad given up on the coach, or is this front office laying the groundwork for a clear out of the roster? I feel like Denver has decided to scrap the current roster and move to something more like Shaw's vision. We shall see.
  • #30 Philadelphia 76ers Neutral Site Win: 16.7% (No Change, #30 in offense, #29 in defense): If Philly had a set of goals at the start of the season, I suspect they included doing everything possible to maximize the value of the pieces they didn't want, move them, get to a point where there is no bad money on the roster, and get as many draft picks as possible to fill the roster with low cost parts. They've achieved all those goals. Now we are in the part of the season where losing increases the expected value of their draft picks. Translation? the Sixers are about to get blown out and possibly set some records for losing.

 

Finally, let's sim out the rest of the season. How does the model think all this plays out over 82 games?

Season Simulation as of 02/24/14
NBA Rank Playoff Seed Team Win Proj Vegas
O/U
Playoff Odds Top 4 Seed
Odds
1 Seed
Odds
Avg Seed
1 E1 Miami Heat 60 60.0 100% 100% 58% 1.42
3 E2 Indiana Pacers 59 53.5 100% 100% 42% 1.58
13 E3 Toronto Raptors 46 36.5 100% 81%   3.74
6 E4 Chicago Bulls 46 56.5 100% 73%   4.03
7 E5 Charlotte Bobcats 43 27.5 100% 27%   5.26
17 E6 Washington Wizards 42 42.0 100% 13%   5.88
15 E7 Brooklyn Nets 40 52.5 97% 6%   6.56
19 E8 Atlanta Hawks 38 40.0 89% 0%   7.72
23 E9 Detroit Pistons 33 41.0 5%     9.99
20 E10 New York Knicks 33 49.5 5%     10.00
24 E11 Cleveland Cavaliers 32 40.5 4%     10.29
25 E12 Boston Celtics 29 27.5       11.69
26 E13 Orlando Magic 25 24.5       12.91
30 E14 Philadelphia 76ers 20 16.5       14.29
28 E15 Milwaukee Bucks 19 28.5       14.64
2 W1 Houston Rockets 56 54.5 100% 88% 31% 2.54
18 W2 Oklahoma City Thunder 55 50.5 100% 87% 29% 2.66
12 W3 San Antonio Spurs 55 55.5 100% 88% 25% 2.67
5 W4 Los Angeles Clippers 54 57.0 100% 73% 11% 3.52
10 W5 Portland Trail Blazers 53 38.5 100% 48% 3% 4.45
4 W6 Golden State Warriors 51 49.5 97% 13% 0% 5.89
14 W7 Dallas Mavericks 48 44.0 80% 2%   7.40
11 W8 Phoenix Suns 47 21.5 66% 1%   7.89
8 W9 Memphis Grizzlies 46 49.0 51% 0%   8.28
9 W10 Minnesota Timberwolves 42 41.0 7%     9.74
21 W11 New Orleans Pelicans 35 40.0       11.44
16 W12 Sacramento Kings 32 31.5       12.66
22 W13 Utah Jazz 31 27.5       13.08
29 W14 Denver Nuggets 31 47.0       13.25
27 W15 Los Angeles Lakers 28 33.5       14.54
                 

The really good news is that the East looks like it might actually have six teams finish with winning records! I'm sure the 9 and 10 seed in the West will be very happy about that.