1. Indiana (20-3): Defense wins championships, and with the best defense in the league the Pacers are a championship contender. With Lebron coming up to free agency and the Heat getting older, this years Eastern Conference Finals matchup could be a changing of the guard.
2. Portland (21-4): LaMarcus Aldridge is making a case for First Team All-NBA and we recently found out that the team can win close games down the stretch. They have the clutch gene and a fearless young PG.
3. OKC (19-4): This team is going to ride or die on the growth of Jeremy Lamb, Reggie Jackson, Steven Adams and maybe Perry Jones. Jackson is looking like the incarnate of Eric Bledsoe and the jury is still out on Lamb, Adams and Jones. If there is an ounce of consistency out of those three (and they kicked Kendrick Perkins off of the team), they are the West favorite.
4. San Antonio (19-4): The Spurs are basketball porn. Everything they do is so well-crafted, meticulously thought out and ran to perfection. Tim Duncan is also drinking from the fountain of youth. The top passing team in the NBA is somehow getting better and better as their odometer increases.
5. Miami (17-6): The sorry state of the Eastern conference might end up being a bad thing for the Heat. Repeat champions have a tendency to get lackadaisical during the regular season. With only one team in their conference to test them, the Heat could drift through the whole year and not be ready when the playoffs hit.
6. Houston (16-9): Want to know something that many people don’t know? Dwight Howard can actually shoot the ball. His confidence is constantly wavering and he is arguably the most self-conscious player in the league, but he made a three the other night with perfect form and it struck fear into everyone’s heart. Ask anyone who has ever seen him practice or warm up. He has that skill in his repertoire, but he is rendered unable to use it. If Houston can somehow harness that ability, they become even more difficult to stop.
7. LAC (16-9): Chris Paul called their last win vs. the Wizards a “must-win” game for the club. When beating up on lowly Washington is considered a must-win they might have more problems than Charles Barkley calling them soft on a weekly basis. Doc’s still trying to work the kinks out.
8. Phoenix (14-9): Best surprise in the league. Phoenix is going to heavily regret not signing Eric Bledsoe when they had the chance since he is basically putting up all-star numbers. Remember when this team was supposed to be in the Jabari/Wiggins sweepstakes?
9. Dallas (14-10): Thank goodness for slump-busting Milwaukee or else Dallas may be in a fit of depression. Everyone saw what happened vs. Golden State (Steph Curry happened) and undermanned Sacramento beat up on them without Rudy Gay, so a Milwaukee game was just what the doctor ordered.
10. Denver (14-9): Typical Nuggets. Good regular season, no real superstars/go-to guys and an early exit in the playoffs. If they’re fine with that, more power to them, but there needs to be a change here.
11. Golden State (13-12): I’m starting to think this Igoudala injury is more than we are being lead on. At first it was a day-to-day bruise and now it’s been about a month with no return in sight. It’s very clear that this team is in dire need of the versatility that Iggy brings to the table.
12. Atlanta (12-12): After moving long term salary in the offseason and making some cost conscious signings the Hawks look to be in a good position for years to come. By the end of the week we will know if the Hawks will finally acquire the center that allows Al Horford to move to his preferred position of Power Forward.
13. Minnesota (12-12): Kevin Love is fighting the good fight on a nightly basis, but this team is so poor defensively that none of it really matters. There needs to be a philosophy change in Minnesota. Run N Gun doesn’t work when teams use your strategy to beat you.
14. New Orleans (11-11): Players like Eric Gordon, Jrue Holiday and especially Ryan Anderson are stepping up in Anthony Davis‘ absence, but it is clear that it’s not enough most nights. If they can manage to hold things off until his return, I can see this team competing for a playoff spot.
15. Los Angeles (11-12): Read this.
16. Boston (11-14): In what was supposed to be a rebuilding year, the Celtics are leading the Atlantic division without Rajon Rondo. More surprisingly, Boston has a top 10 defense under wiz kid Brad Stevens despite not having a single rim protector. If the rumors are true and Omer Asik is brought in the fold the Celtics suddenly could become the third best team in the East. Boston fans are reluctantly returning their custom Jabari Parker jerseys in droves.
17. Detroit (11-14): Detroit has talent but their pieces don’t quite fit together. With the emergence of Andre Drummond, it makes even more sense to move Greg Monroe for a small forward that spreads the floor and gives Drummond space to gobble up every rebound.
18. Brooklyn (8-15): Brooklyn has looked much better now that they are finally getting healthy. After watching them beat the Celtics and Clippers I started to think that this team has the potential when healthy to seize the Atlantic. The problem, as always is their health. All of the Nets who are vital to Brooklyn winning have injury history, but if they can stay healthy maybe they have one more magical run left in them.
19. Memphis (10-13): Grind house is still really grinding for points. Don’t overlook Mike Conley‘s career year, though. Also, Z-Bo is the man:
20. Charlotte (10-14): The Bobcats were hurt by the hand injury of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Jeff Taylor has helped to soften the blow, by giving them more of an outside threat but he is no MKG. The ‘Cats will be buyers this year so expect them to vault up the Eastern Conference standings by virtue of others teams ahead of them simply giving up.
21. Washington (9-13): Every time Washington gives us a glimmer of hope they go on a losing streak to temper expectations. Such is life when you rely on a player that is not ready to be “the guy” to take you to the promise land. At least they didn’t give him a long term contract that cripples their future cap, oh wait.
22. Chicago (9-13): Derrick Rose is wary of a rebuilding project in the windy city. What he fails to realize is, replacing veterans like Carlos Boozer with young legs might be the perfect thing to allow him to decrease his minutes coming back and ease him back into basketball next year.
23. Toronto (9-13): Toronto is having a fire sale. I want to congratulate Masai Ujuri for being the first GM in league to throw his hands up and move anyone of value despite being in contention in the awful Eastern conference.
24. Cleveland (9-14): Fresh off his Eastern Conference player of the week award, Kyrie Irving has vaulted the Cavs back into contention. By contention I mean they are .500 in their last ten games. I’m sure LeBron will give up South Beach for a shot to rebuild in the frozen wasteland that is Cleveland.
25. Sacramento (7-15): By the beard of Zeus, did Rudy Gay “figure it out.” It sure looks like it. He’s played his two best games of the season/in years and the Kings are winning. Let’s keep an eye on this squad.
26. New York (7-16): The Knicks are in a tough spot. They started off the season injured and in disarray. Without most of their first round picks owned by other teams and a star headed to free agency in the offseason the Knicks need to turn it around now or they could be doomed to the basement for years to come. On the bright side, if this happens maybe Dolan will sell the team and give them a real chance to win.
27. Philadelphia (7-18): After starting 3-1 the Sixers have gone 4-17 with their only victories being in overtime. Credit Sam Hinkie for making sure his team tanked, while at the same time doing it in a subtle way that makes fans excited to come to the arena (unless MCW isn’t playing in which case they are might as well just stay home).
28. Orlando (7-17) The Magic started off the season 3-2 before going 4-15 the rest of the way. Arron Afflalo is having a career year in Orlando and should bring back something substantial to improve their future. The problem for the Magic is their future has seemed to be several years away ever since they dealt Dwight.
29. Utah (6-20): So bad, so adorable. Trey Burke and Gordon Hayward are beacons of light in a dark landscape.
30. Milwaukee (5-19): The Bucks are awful, not a lot to say here. Instead let’s talk about how Larry Sanders looks like a baby taking his first steps on ice while getting beat like a drum by people half his size.