The second half of the NBA season is upon us. Just over two months remain in the marathon that is the regular season, and we can now evaluate these teams using reliable sample sizes of data. Some teams are due for some regression after playing over their heads for about 37 games, while others will begin to ascend through the standings when play resumes.
For those who are just diving into the NBA for the second half, I’ve ranked these teams based on myriad factors. Let me be clear: This is not a power rating. I do not believe, for example, that the Suns are better than the Lakers or Clippers, but recent form and level of play has Phoenix playing like the third-best team in the league. I added some analysis of the second-half schedules for several teams as well so you can see what to expect.
1. Brooklyn Nets (24-13 SU/20-17 ATS)
Win total: 45.5
Record needed: 22-13
One of the hottest teams in the NBA, Brooklyn entered the All-Star break on a 10-1 SU and ATS run that includes wins over the Suns, Lakers and Clippers. Over these 11 games the Nets led the league in offensive rating, averaging 121.8 points every 100 possessions, and were second in net rating at + 9.7. Those are all impressive accomplishments, but when you consider their best player, Kevin Durant, played in just one of those games, it becomes all the more notable. And their third-best player, Kyrie Irving, missed two contests as well. Brooklyn is scoring at a historic rate, and the offense has not even been complete since acquiring James Harden. The defense is below average, as we expected, but if the Nets can maintain giving up about 112.2 points every 100 possessions, as they have during this streak, that will be enough for a team with this level of firepower. The second half of the schedule is not particularly daunting. They have seven back-to-back situations, but unlike many teams, you will not find a single five-games-in-seven-nights scheduling spot on the docket. That is extremely important for a team that has been cautious about the workload of its stars.
2. Utah Jazz (27-9 SU/25-11 ATS)
Win total: 42.5
Record needed: 16-20
Utah enters the second half considerably cooler, ending the first half on a two-game slide and a 3-4 SU and ATS stretch that culminated in a meltdown against Philadelphia. That speed bump puts the Jazz behind Brooklyn, but when a team goes 27-9 SU/25-11 ATS in the first half of the season, no way I can rank it lower than second. Utah is second in offensive efficiency (119.3) and defensive efficiency (107.9) and first in overall net rating (+ 11.4) in non-garbage minutes, according to Cleaning The Glass.