1. Indiana (24-5): Does Lance Stephenson deserve All-Star consideration? With the new format, he might sneak in. Didn’t think anyone would ask that question, right? That’s how good the Pacers have been.
2. Miami (23-7): It’s amazing what the Heat have done so far without playing a well rounded game. Sure the Heat are one of the elite teams but their defense, rebounding and ball security have not been up to their lofty standards thus far. Miami is elite at forcing turnovers (best in the NBA) and using their athleticism to score at the rim/get open shots. It makes it easier to lead the league in field goal percentage when you can throw it down like this.
3. Oklahoma City (25-5): It’s clear that OKC knows how to win without Russell Westbrook, but it is a little concerning that the injury bug has been hitting the iron-man guard more and more often lately. It’s Reggie Jackson‘s time to step up.
4. San Antonio (24-7): The Spurs have started well but can not be viewed as title contenders just yet, here is why:
5. Portland (24-6): Here’s what we know: Rip City is undoubtedly going to let you score over 100 points against them. Defense isn’t really their thing. Luckily, they have the luxury of incubating their young and inexperienced big men since they are capable of outscoring teams on a nightly basis.
6. LA Clippers (21-11): Two tough road losses to Golden State and Portland are not anything to discourage Clipper fans. Blake Griffin
is currently in the midst of his best career stretch, averaging 30 a game over his last 5 after dropping 40 against Utah Saturday. The most impressive thing about his current stretch? Griffin is shooting over 80% from the line during those 5 games (40-49). If he can stay hot from the line, Griffin becomes one of the best offensive forces in the NBA.
7. Golden State (19-13): This team is red hot after winning 5 in a row including a crucial momentum victory over the Clippers on Christmas day. I have a feeling Steph Curry is about to break out of his recent slump in a big way. 6 straight road games still to go on the 7 game trip, but I expect the Warriors to come out the other side primed for their difficult pre all-star break stretch.
8. Houston (21-12): The Rockets are an offensive team that shoots a lot of threes, when they lose it’s usually because those threes don’t go in. They are a team built to feast upon weak teams that turn the ball over but struggle against stout defenses that take care of the ball. If you want to know what their chances are in the playoffs just go watch their games against OKC and Indiana in the past two weeks. In those games they scored 81 and 86 under the stranglehold of elite defense, en route to blow out losses.
9. Phoenix (18-11): This team continues to impress with amazing balance. 7 players average in double digits so you never know who will show up game to game. I seriously love this team, the NBA’s biggest surprise is a must catch on your league pass.
10. Dallas (17-13): Poor Dirk, he is playing his butt off in Dallas, finally back after a lingering injury from the previous season but the Mavs just aren’t that good. Sure they can score against bad teams and win into a shoot out against good ones, but in the tough Western Conference that gets you an 8 seed and a first round exit.
11. Minnesota (15-15): The good news: they’re super fun. The bad news: fun does not equal wins. They score (except Ricky Rubio
–he might go down as the worst shooter in NBA history), dish and pass the ball at a high clip, but this team has no bench presence and zero interest in playing quality perimeter defense. 2009 Corey Brewer
isn’t walking through that door.
12. Atlanta (17-14): After years in NBA mid seed purgatory the Hawks looked to be the third best team in a soft Eastern Conference. Then, Al Horford
went down and the outlook changed. Will Jeff Teague
, Kyle Korver
and Paul Millsap
be able to keep it together long enough to grab the 3 seed or will Horford’s injury doom them?
13. Toronto (13-15): Winning 6 of 8 has this team rolling at the head of the Atlantic. DeMar DeRozan
and Kyle Lowry
look to have new found confidence since the team moved Rudy Gay
14. New Orleans (13-15): Anthony Davis
‘ unibrow must have mystical healing qualities. On December First, major news outlets predicted Davis would be out four to six weeks. Two and a half weeks later on December 19th Davis returned. Unfortunately the Brow’s magical powers aren’t enough to fix NOLA’s defense, which is the reason they will miss the playoffs.
15. Denver (14-15): I think the carriage is turning back into a pumpkin, you guys. The Nuggets lost 6 straight (granted, they were losses to quality teams) and have Miami tonight. They have a lighter stretch ahead, but after getting eviscerated by some of the West’s top teams, it’s hard to believe in them anymore.
16. Washington (13-14): All you need to know about the Wizard’s season can be learned from their last week of games. First they went into Minnesota and promptly got run out of town by an average Minnesota team (22 point loss). After returning home they beat a solid (by Eastern Conference standards) Detroit Pistons team by 24. Typical of a young team, the Wiz are much better at home than on the road, but honestly they aren’t very consistent regardless of the venue.
17. Charlotte (14-17): Sure the Bobcats are 1-2 this week but for a young team, building to get better everyday, the past 7 days have been encouraging. After gutting out a one point overtime victory against Milwaukee, the ‘Cats hung tough with the dominant Thunder and barely lost in OT to the three seeded Hawks. Baby steps for these baby Bobcats.
18. Chicago (11-17): Arguably the saddest basketball situation in decades. Bulls fans are a tortured breed and you can’t help but feel that this is a wasted year that everyone is dealing with until 2014-2015. Hey, at least they beat Brooklyn on Christmas. Who cares if that was the worst televised basketball game in 8 years?
19. Boston (13-17): The C’s may be struggling to get W’s during this stretch, but Avery Bradley
has been playing himself into a nice contract this offseason. He is shooting 46% from the field and above 40% from downtown. There’s a lot to like in Boston even with the dearth of victories.
20. Detroit (14-18): Josh Smith
keeps getting benched by Maurice Cheeks
. But don’t worry, the Drummond-Monroe-Smith combo with Jennings at the helm is totally working.
21. Memphis (13-16): After a five game losing streak Memphis has used their trademark grit and grind to win three of their last four, culminating with a 120 point offensive explosion against Denver. All they need to do is hold down the fort until Marc Gasol
returns and Memphis could jump right back into the playoff race.
22. Orlando (10-20): The Magic have won their last two games with Victor Oladipo
being the key cog off the bench in both victories. Over those two games Oladipo averaged 15.5 Points, 5 Rebounds, 9.5 Assists and 1.5 steals giving a glimpse into the special kind of player he is capable of developing into.
23. LA Lakers (13-18): 5 straight losses have the Lakers reeling. There really isn’t much to like here, but I can say confidently that Swaggy P is still swaggerly.
24. Sacramento (9-20): The individual skills are evident in Sactown, but its just not coming together in a team effort. Will this team ever click?
25. New York (9-21): They head to Texas for the Texas three step this week and frankly I expect three losses. Carmelo was playing well before the ankle injury, but without him this team is even more lost as JR Smith jacks up fade-away long twos as though its his charge from his coaches. For the sake of entertainment alone, I hope Melo goes on this trip.
26. Brooklyn (10-20): Man, the injuries to this team are bad, but the execution of the players on the court is worse. You just don’t expect this from a veteran laden team and someone needs to pay. Jason Kidd
; your head is squarely on the chopping block.
28. Philadelphia (9-21): The team has split their last 4 games all while trade-me-now power forward Thaddeus Young
has been making his case to contenders of his value. He has put up nearly 28 and 9 a contest over those 4 games and should produce a decent offer should the Sixers oblige is trade request.
30. Milwaukee (6-24): Larry Sanders
came back this week. He played 22 minutes and fouled out almost immediately. The savior is back, Milwaukee. Throw away the draft boards and stop paying scouts, the tank is off!