1. Indiana (16-3): After a seven game winning streak the Pacers have gone two and two in their last four games, including losses to the Thunder and Blazers. To this point the season the Pacers only losses have been when they allowed other teams to dictate the pace, getting into high scoring affairs. When the Pacers play their brand of basketball they are almost unbeatable.
2. Portland (17-4): The Rose Garden is back! Everyone knew this team was good, but when they went toe to toe with Indiana and withstood Paul George‘s barrage, it was a recognition that this team had arrived. Aldridge is proving why he is one of the best Power Forwards in basketball and Lillard is playing some MVP caliber ball. They’ve proven that they belong up here.
3. San Antonio (15-4): The Spurs live under the radar. For some reason, they are rarely televised or talked about until the playoffs start. That’s right where they want to be. There won’t be much chatter about this team until April, I assume.
4. Miami (16-5): The Heat’s biggest enemy is themselves. Coming off of back to back championships there is always the chance that a team won’t be as focused night in and night out. When the Heat are at their best they are an unstoppable force, when they take their foot off the gas they lose to the likes of Boston and Detroit.
5. Oklahoma City (15-4): Yeah, so Kevin Durant keeps getting better. He’s averaging career highs in assists and rebounds and is somehow managing to maintain the bulk of the scoring load. In my opinion, this team still needs more help in the long-run, but a quality win over a very good Pacers team is enough to make me believe.
6. Houston (15-7) – If defense didn’t matter, that Rockets would be the NBA Champions. Easily. Too bad that’s half of the game and the Rockets are pretty bad at it. James Harden is a revolving door and Dwight isn’t the force of old. Speaking of Dwight, it is pretty evident that he lacks a ton of confidence in his post-up offense. He’s going to have to fix this issue if he plans on being a reliable player down the stretch of games.
7. Los Angeles Clippers (13-8): They just look off to me. Was JJ Redick that important to the team or is this team not built to win? They are definitely built to win 60 games, but can they win a 7 game series deep into the playoffs? Stay tuned.
8. Dallas (13-8): One of the feel good stories of the year for me. Everyone foresaw Dirk’s decline and Monta Ellis‘ shot selection destroying this team. Well, neither of those things have happened. Dirk is playing as well as he’s ever played and he finally has a viable sidekick. Dallas may be a dark house sleeper team in the playoffs.
9. Golden State (12-9): Last seed in the West, three seed in the East. Tough draw, Golden State. This team is in desperate need of some Andre Igoudala. As it turns out, he is the key that makes this car go and gives them a necessary perimeter defensive presence. I expect Dub-City to climb once he returns to the lineup.
10. Denver (12-8) – Thoughts of Denver’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. I still have no idea what they’re doing with their rotations half of the time, but dammit, it’s working. That Mile-High home court advantage is starting to show itself. Oh, and Nate Robinson is definitely worth a league pass subscription all in himself.
11. Atlanta (11-10): The Hawks are the best team of the irrelevant group of East teams (this group is made up of every team but Miami and Indiana). Even though Neil Olshey of Portland seems to have executive of the year locked up, Danny Ferry should get some consideration for signing Paul Millsap and Kyle Korver to bargain deals.
12. Minnesota (9-11) – The darlings of the league are on a bit of a slide. What happened? I think it may have something to do with the team’s general mindset to not play defense on anyone. On nights where they can’t light up the scoreboard, it’s more than likely that they’re going to lose. The Wolves need to diversify their bonds.
13. Phoenix (11-9) – Feel good story number two: the Phoenix Suns. No one expected this team to be competing for a playoff spot at this point in the season. It was assume that the Suns had the worst roster in the league. That was until Eric Bledsoe decided to become one of the best guards in the NBA and Markieff Morris refused to miss shots. Fun team* to watch.
*That means Gerald Green is lurking on that bench somewhere.
14. Los Angeles Lakers (10-10) – Kobe’s back and he didn’t play great. Also, Nick Young did this, so yeah.
15. Washington (9-10): The Wizards come in at 20th and 12th in their offensive and defensive rating respectively. Normally having an slightly above average defense combined with an below average offense will get you a ticket to the lottery, but not in the 2014 Eastern conference! WIth the mess out East this average team is probably the fourth best in the conference.
16. Memphis (9-10) – The grindhouse is grinding it’s way to mediocrity. I couldn’t find a more “meh” basketball team if I tried. The Grizz can’t put the ball in the hoop and they aren’t defending at a pre-Marc Gasol injury level. This is to be expected, but without their big man, this team isn’t going anywhere.
17. Detroit (10-11): Coming into the year, pundits were scratching their heads at the fit of Drummond, Smith and Monroe in the front court. Now about a quarter of the way into the season this lineup seems as dubious as it did when it was assembled. If the Pistons can move Monroe or Smith for a good wing scorer they have a good chance to capture the three seed in the East.
18. New Orleans: I miss the ‘Brow. There, I said it. With that out of the way, this team is still very talented and definitely hungry. Jrue Holiday is meshing well with Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson. That bottom spot is in reach if they can hold things together until Davis returns.
19. Boston (10-12): Boston is 6-2 in their last 8 games, granted they haven’t played the stiffest of competition. Considering they were expected to be one of the five worst teams in the league this team is wildly out pacing expectations. Brad Stevens has slowly corrected the problems that ailed the C’s under Doc Rivers, improving their rebounding and turnovers incrementally as the season goes along.
20. Chicago (8-10): With Derrick Rose out for the year, Jimmy Butler on the shelf for an extended period, the fourth highest payroll in the league, and a spendthrift owner don’t be shocked if the Bulls punt the season and build towards next year at the trading deadline.
21. Charlotte (9-11): The Bobcats are one of the few teams in the East that seem like they actually want to make the playoffs. They play extremely hard under Steve Clifford and despite a lack of top level talent they have found a way to stay in the mix in the awful East.
22. Toronto (7-12): The Raptors opened the trade floodgates when they dealt Rudy Gay to the Kings. WIth a new patient approach under Masai Ujiri the Raptors are going to build around the right type of prospects, accumulate cap space and eventually build a winner. Ujiri knows how good the talent in the draft is and will do everything in his power to draft a transcendent talent this summer.
23. Cleveland (7-13): Elite point guards shouldn’t lead teams to the worst offense in the league. Maybe Kyrie Irving isn’t that good, or maybe Mike Brown‘s brought his typical trash fire offense to Cleveland, either way the Cavs need to turn it around quickly if they want LeBron to entertain a comeback.
24. Philadelphia (7-14): The 76ers came out of the gate hot, to the surprise of basketball fans everywhere. Shortly after Michael Carter Williams “got hurt” and the team was back on it’s lottery course, everything is going exactly as planned in Philly.
25. New York (5-14): The Knicks looked like they were on the verge of turning it around during a two game winning streak. Then they hosted the Celtics who proceeded to hand them one of the worst losses in MSG history. Too bad the Knicks organization is not willing to take a year off to rebuild, because this team is going no where right now, and their future isn’t exactly bright with all the draft picks they have traded.
26. Orlando (6-14): Take a young team, sprinkle in some injuries and losses mount. With the Magic suffering injuries to Tobias Harris, Jameer Nelson and Nikola Vucevic, Orlando simply lacks the talent to win games.
27. Sacramento (5-13): Second worst record in the conference and you’re bringing in Rudy Gay’s shot selection to pair with DeMarcus Cousins not-so sunny demeanor? What could go wrong?
28. Brooklyn (6-14): Their coach is terrible, they are battling injuries at every possession and those that are healthy are either old or not very good. The prevailing wisdom is that this star laden team will turn it around, but if they don’t start soon it might be too late. If they are going to start their turnaround it will be tomorrow when Deron Williams and potentially Paul Pierce make their return against the Celtics.
29. Milwaukee (4-16): The Bucks actually have a solid young core in Larry Sanders, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and John Henson. Add a high pick in next years draft and the Bucks have a shot at an extremely long and entertaining young core.
30. Utah (4-18): Keep doing you, Utah. Trey Burke and Jabari Parker sounds like a team you could build around.