1. Indiana (29-7): The Pacers are playing their best defense of the season to compensate for their up and down offensive performances. The injury to Lance Stephenson allows the Pacers to audition Danny Granger for the rest of the teams in the league in hopes of adding a piece before the trade deadline.
2. San Antonio (29-8): Every time we count the Spurs out they go on a run and recapture the top spot in the West. The Spurs have won four in a row and 7 out of 8 to grab one seed in the wake of the Russell Westbrook injury. Even with Manu Ginobili and Tiago Splitter going down they are still the favorites for the number one seed in the West.
3. Oklahoma City (28-9): We have had the pleasure of watching this OKC team grow over the years. Stars have become superstars, role players have become starters and we can finally start seeing potential being met. If the Thunder expect to make some serious noise in the playoffs, it’ll be because of the evolution of their players. We will see how they fair against Houston, Golden State and San Antonio in the coming games.
4. Miami (27-10): The Heat have lost two in a row and are apparently “growing weary in their quest for three-peat“. However, when you are the two time defending champions the only thing that will remove the favorite mantle from your team is playoff elimination. The Heat will be fine, finding themselves in a battle with Indiana for the Eastern conference crown, just like we suspected before the season started.
5. Portland (28-9): Rip City has not even considered improving itself on defense (Paging Omer Asik!), but that has not slowed them down. This is one team that cannot afford a long term injury. With Nicholas Batum day-to-day, the ball movement begins and ends with Damian Lillard‘s ability to disrupt the defense. Until Batum returns, they really have no Plan B.
6. LA Clippers (26-13): With Chris Paul going down with a sprained shoulder for a month, It’s no surprise that a Doc Rivers coached team has the next man up attitude. Darren Collison, a starter for much of his career, has returned to that role averaging a shade over 17 a game to go along with six and a half assists in the four games since Paul went down (he had 20 in the game Paul was injured in too). The return of sharpshooter JJ Redick as well as the continued good play of Blake Griffin and Jamal Crawford have this team continuing to roll and have eased the burden of replacing their team MVP.
7. Golden State (25-14): Golden State has bounced back from their slow start this year to be one of the hottest and most dangerous teams out West. They are just a stacked team, with big time players at every position. Rarely do they get consistent good, efficient play from players in back to back games, but they really don’t need it. Someone always steps up. They have won 11 of 12 but do have two of the best teams in the NBA to face among their 4 games this week in OKC and Indiana.
8. Houston (24-14): Many (including myself) have suggested that the Rockets need to make an addition at the trade deadline to bolster their roster. Even if they don’t make a deal, help is on the way in the form of Chalder Parsons, who is expected to return from injury tonight in Boston.
9. Phoenix (21-15): Phoenix has lost 4 of 6 including 3 of 5 on it’s current road trip which finishes tonight in NYC. The Injury to Eric Bledsoe is devastating for Suns fans as they will likely see their playoff spot be given up as they slide back in the standings. The good news is that the meniscus tear is not as serious as it could have been, leaving the window open for Bledsoe to return sometime in February.
10. Dallas (22-16): This weekend the Mavs took advantage of a tough call to beat New Orleans in both legs of their home and home against the Hornets. If the NBA keeps giving Dallas favorable calls the sky is the limit for this team!
11. Denver (19-17): Probably the weirdest team in the league. After losing 8 straight, the Nuggets are looking for their sixth straight win tonight against the Jazz. Someone took Kenneth Faried‘s powers, Andre Miller is AWOL and Danilo Gallinari has been injured for the last 4 years. Somehow, this team is right on the outside looking in.
12. Toronto (18-17): Finally over .500, the leaders in the Atlantic are just playing high quality team basketball. I wrote an article on them last week, but without Rudy Gay this offense is much more efficient and much less predictable. Kyle Lowry has played so well, I think he stays instead of getting moved which seemed a certainty just a month ago.
13. Atlanta (20-18): After the Al Horford injury no one thought that the Hawks could hold onto the three seed in the Eastern conference. After back to back quality wins against Indiana and Houston this week, those concerns lessened. This Hawks team is spreading the floor with three point shooters to negate the length advantage teams have over them without Horford.
14. Minnesota (18-19): Minnesota is that promising pupil that just can’t seem to get things right. Hit the books and stop running with gangs, T-Wolves!
RIP Rubio’s jump shot:
15. Brooklyn (15-22): Like the other New York team, the Nets are 5-1 in the new year and look to have found a new level of energy. I love what Paul Pierce and Joe Johnson are doing offensively, but really the job Shaun Livingston is doing filling in for the once again injured Deron Williams has been invaluable for this squad. Brooklyn can still make some loud noise in the east.
16. New York (14-22): So it seems the Knicks waited till 2014 to start playing good basketball. They have won 5 of 6 since the start of the new year including 4 in a row. Wins over Dallas, Detroit and Miami are huge confidence wins for this team moving forward. Carmelo Anthony continues to play well, being much more efficient offensively as well as rebounding like a true power forward. He is averaging one more rebound per game this season than he ever had before.
17. Memphis (17-19): The Grizzlies have won three of their last four while scoring at least 104 points in their last 5 games. With news that Marc Gasol has already begun practicing it seems like talk of Memphis’ demise were greatly exaggerated.
Marc Gasol says he’ll go through contact practice today but center won’t set target date for his return
— Ronald Tillery (@CAGrizBeat) January 13, 2014
18. Chicago (17-18): The now Deng-less Bulls have just rattled off a 5 game win streak. Despite Joakim Noah‘s Luol-related depression, this team is just finding ways to win behind his impressive play as of late.
19. Detroit (16-22): I don’t think Detroit runs plays and Josh Smith rarely knows the game situation. Luckily they are in the Eastern Conference where 6 games below .500 means that you are a playoff team.
20. Washington (16-19): The Wizards have lost 5 of their last 7 games including an embarrassing 66-93 loss at Indiana on Friday. For all the talk of John Wall becoming an all star, the point guard has been unable to consistently lead his teams to strong offensive outputs. Well at least they have their own first this year…
21. New Orleans (15-21): We expected this to be the year that Anthony Davis breaks out and leads his teammates to the playoffs, instead it has been the year Anthony Davis’ teammates break. With long term injuries to Jrue Holiday and Ryan Anderson the Hornets playoff chances look about as strong as the health of their team.
22. Sacramento (13-22): Every time I watch a Kings game I walk away with a handful of positives. Mostly, DeMarcus Cousin, Isiah Thomas, or team rebounding related, but still, there are plenty of things to like when watching this team. They have one of the top interior players in the NBA in Cousins, who is having a below the radar monster season (23.3 and 11.5) and a newly rejuvenated, dare I say, suddenly (gulp) efficient Rudy Gay. Need to Know Stats: Before the trade Rudy Gay was shooting slightly below 39% from the field and taking just shy of 19 shots per game. Since the trade he is shooting slightly above 52% from the field on a little under 15 shots a game. And he scoring 20.5 for the Kings where he was scoring 19.4 for the Raptors. This new Rudy Gay is the franchise changing player the Raptors were hoping for and the Kings are now enjoying. 3 straight wins and counting for Sactown.
23. Charlotte (15-23): Early in the year the Bobcats were playing excellent defense and were talking playoffs. Fast forward to today and you have a team that has lost 8 of their last 9 games while giving up over 100 points in 6 of their last 8 games. Hopefully a Tuesday return by Michael Kidd-Gilchrist can right the ship for Charlotte.
MKG practiced today, but it sounds like plan hasn’t changed — they’re shooting for him to play Tuesday against the Knicks.
— Rick Bonnell (@rick_bonnell) January 9, 2014
24. LA Lakers (14-23): That 36 point beatdown the Clippers gave to big brother Lakers was just the most recent double-digit defeat for the team. They have lost 10 of 11 and should seriously be looking to deal off parts for future assets ASAP. Even Kobe Bryant has no chance of digging this team out of their hole when he returns. Sell Sell Sell.
25. Cleveland (13-24): Luol Deng is going to have to be a basketball player and a camp counselor. That’s the only way that this team can dig itself out from underground. Discipline and accountability are a good place to start and Deng can bring that.
26. Boston (13-25): Well, they are on an 8 game losing streak, but in a positive spin they have found themselves being competitive in many of those games. As a Celtics fan myself, this seems like the best possible stretch of basketball for our future. We need one of the impact players in this draft to be a contender going forward after this season, so competitive losses are fine by me.
27. Philadelphia (12-25): 4 wins followed by 4 losses have me feeling some mixed emotions about the 76ers. Honestly, it’s all about next year and adding one more big piece to Michael Carter-Williams and Nerlens Noel. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Evan Turner and Spencer Hawes be two of the bigger names being sold at the deadline.
29. Orlando (10-27) The Magic are in a free fall having lost seven games in a row. The Magic are apparently “giving the stiff arm” to teams interested in Arron Afflalo, but with this team clearly going nowhere fast, this stance is unlikely to hold.
30. Milwaukee (7-29): The Greek freak is the rose growing in the barren tundra. I want to not watch the Bucks so bad, but this kid is so damn intriguing.