NBA standings based on clutch performance

Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images) /

The NBA playoffs are just around the corner, and teams are making their postseason push. Despite that, the league standings are still closely packed, particularly in the West. That means every game counts, and things could go down to the wire.

In fact, we likely won’t know many of the first-round matchups until the last night of the regular season. With that in mind, let’s look at each team’s performance in the clutch, defined as being ahead or behind by five points in the final five minutes of a game, this season.

NBA: Eastern Conference:

  1. Milwaukee Bucks-25-7
  2. Boston Celtics-22-10
  3. Brooklyn Nets-21-12
  4. Philadelphia 76ers-23-14
  5. Miami Heat-27-22
  6. New York Knicks-20-17
  7. Indiana Pacers-22-20
  8. Cleveland Cavaliers-19-19
  9. Toronto Raptors-19-21
  10. Atlanta Hawks-17-19
  11. Charlotte Hornets-16-21
  12. Orlando Magic-15-21
  13. Washington Wizards-15-23
  14. Chicago Bulls-12-22
  15. Detroit Pistons-11-22

Milwaukee and Boston have the two best records in the NBA and are similarly great in crunch time, particularly Milwaukee. They’ve won an impressive 76% of their close games, which is even better than their overall record and bodes well for their title hopes. Miami has done better than expected in close games, considering they’ve also played the most close games in the NBA.

While that experience could come in handy in the playoffs, playing so many close games could also be a knock on them too since each of the top eight teams in the NBA has played at least 10 fewer such games. That proves that they are a rung or two below the league’s best teams.

Cleveland is fourth in the East but has a mediocre record in close games. It’s an interesting stat, particularly since the core of their team hasn’t been together as long as the other top East teams. Could that spell trouble in the playoffs against more experienced teams like Milwaukee? Maybe.

Meanwhile, Chicago and Washington have two of the worst records in the NBA in the clutch but are still in playoff contention despite being the seventh and 11th teams in the East.

NBA: Western Conference

  1. Denver Nuggets-20-10
  2. Sacramento Kings-21-14
  3. Minnesota Timberwolves-22-16
  4. Los Angeles Clippers-20-17
  5. Dallas Mavericks-23-21
  6. Memphis Grizzlies-15-14
  7. Los Angeles Lakers-19-18
  8. Golden State Warriors-16-17
  9. New Orleans Pelicans-14-16
  10. Phoenix Suns-12-15
  11. Utah Jazz-20-25
  12. Portland Trail Blazers-14-18
  13. Oklahoma City Thunder-13-22
  14. San Antonio Spurs-8-15
  15. Houston Rockets-10-22

Unlike in the Eastern Conference, clutch performance is far less predictive in the Western Conference standings. Denver and Sacramento are still the best teams using this metric. However, the Grizzlies drop to sixth, while the current seventh-seeded Timberwolves jump to third based on their clutch play. Interestingly enough, the Phoenix Suns are currently fourth in the West but are 10th using this metric.

They have also played the second least amount of qualifying games in the NBA, even less following the Kevin Durant trade. Meanwhile, the Jazz, Blazers, and Thunder are vying for the 10th seed, but each has a poor record when they play games that are within five points in the final five minutes. They’ll each have to do better than that to sneak into the playoffs.

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All in all, seeing how each team performs in the clutch provides us with a glimpse of how they might perform in the playoffs. Based on this, we could be in for an exciting postseason.