1. Indiana (34-9): For their standards, the Pacers had a rough week. Their defense has taken a hit and teams are starting to play up to these guys. Two quality wins and two bad losses. That is not going to cut it if they want to be a seen as a proven threat to Miami.
2. Oklahoma City (35-10): Kevin Durant is doing things. Bad, bad things. For that reason, this team is going to be entrenched in one of the top spots as long as he is playing (as the 7 game win streak shows). We freaked out when he missed a game with a shoulder injury, but he quelled all of those fears when he came back and got a triple double vs. the 76ers.
3. San Antonio (33-11): While other teams might win with incredible athleticism, or amazing individual scoring efforts the Spurs win with excellent execution. For a window into the execution that makes the Spurs go check this out.
4. Miami (32-12): Dwayne Wade had been having a resurgent year, with the athleticism that made his game transcendent returning, all was well in Miami. Then Wade had to sit out four games with knee soreness, before suggesting to his coach that he come off the bench. If Wade can not return to form the Heat will be as vulnerable as they have been in the “Big 3″ era.
5. Portland (33-12): Portland played the meat of the Western Conference and came out 4-3. Not too impressive, but when you consider that an appropriate barometer for the playoffs, this was needed. Oh, and LaMarcus Aldridge is playing well enough to hang-glide into the MVP discussion.
6. LA Clippers (31-15): Blake Griffin continues to be a consistent dominant force and this team has been rolling winning 8 of 10. DeAndre Jordan, who leads the league in rebounding average, has recorded double digit rebounds in every game but 1 since December 1st. That is one dominant front-court.
7. Houston (29-17): Three point shooting can not be counted on game in and game out. If the Rockets are going to win they need to improve on the defensive end, and if you believe Daryl Morey that help will be coming in the way of Omer Asik. Morey spoke to Rockets season ticket holder saying “At this point Omer is very likely gong to be here until the end of his contract”
8. Golden State (27-18): Just two weeks ago, this was the NBA’s hottest team, but a recent skid has pushed them back to back half of the playoff picture. Steph Curry however, remains red-hot and I expect the Ws to start rolling again soon.
9. Phoenix (25-18): They have won 3 of 4 after a mid January rough stretch and as always with the Suns, it’s a total team effort. The Morris twins continue to play well, along with Goran Dragic, Gerald Green, Miles Plumlee, and Channing Frye, this team is a balanced attack biding time till Eric Bledsoe comes back.
10. Dallas (26-20): The Mavericks have had the same story all year, their offense wins them games and their defense loses them. Apparently defense wins championships but offense improves market valuation as Mark Cuban revealed that the Mavs are worth over 1 Billion dollars.
11. Memphis (22-20): The Grizzlies have won 7 of their last 8, bolstered by a Marc Gasol lead defense the Grizzlies have only given up over 100 once in that span. With the recent additions of “The Big Burrito” and Courtney Lee the Grizz have improved both their offense and defense.
12. Atlanta (23-20): The injuries just keep on piling up for the Hawks. First Al Horford gets knocked out for the year, then Pero Antic gets knocked out for two to four weeks then Jeff Teague goes down with a sprained ankle. Atlanta needs Teague, since his back up Dennis Schroder is simply not ready to contribute (or even wear the correct uniform for that matter).
13. Chicago (22-21): Believe it or not, the Chicago Bulls are one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference. I recognize that connecting the term “Eastern Conference” with any sort of clout or respect is laughable, but it is what it is. They also have an awesome habit of winning games without anyone on their team being the game’s leading scorer.
14. Toronto (22-21): Well well Terrence Ross, that was one way to breakout. His 51 point performance on Saturday was the most ever scored by a player averaging less than 10 points going into the game (with the game he is now averaging double digits). Unfortunately, the Raptors lost to the Clippers, their third loss in their last 5 games. While the seesaw season continues, the Raptors will need to elevate their play to hold off the fast charging Nets.
15. Denver (22-21): Hey Denver, stop being weird. First you lose some games, then you start winning, Andre Miller quits the team, then you started winning a ton, and now you’re just mediocre. Fitting that this team is basically .500. Call me crazy, but I think if they find some semblance of an identity and some consistency, this will be a scary team out West.
16. Brooklyn (20-22): The emotional return of KG and The Truth overshadowed the accomplishment of Brooklyn winning its 10th game in 11 outings. This remarkable turnaround has been highlighted by aggressive ball movement and much improved play from Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Mirza Teletovic. The Nets now sit just 1.5 games behind Toronto for top spot in the Atlantic.
17. Minnesota (21-22): The Good: They won their first close game of the season against the Warriors. The Bad: They can’t get over the hump and Kevin Love trade rumors are swirling like wildfire.
18. Washington (21-22): All you need to know about the consistency the Wizards play with was on display this week. After three wins in a row against top half Eastern teams Miami and Chicago (x2) the Wizards lost to the struggling Pistons, the terrible Celtics and the slightly less bad Jazz.
19. New Orleans (18-25): The Pelicans are dealing with some serious injuries right now, turning what was expected to be a breakout year into another lottery trip. Regardless of their record, this team has shown promise. Even the disappointing Eric Gordon has shown glimpses of the talent that got him a huge contract.
20. New York (17-27): Carmelo has been a beast all season and his 62 point outburst was just the most recent impressive statistical output. Alas, the Knicks are still a struggling team, 10 games under .500, and have zero shot to actually compete this season. I guess it’s all about retaining Carmelo and attracting another star to join him in the offseason. The Knicks have an easy week with 3 should be easy wins and one tough test against Miami on Saturday.
21. Charlotte (19-27): Try as they might the Bobcats simply do not have the talent to consistently win in the NBA. Sure they can use strong defensive efforts to knock of a top tier team like the LA Clippers, but on days they don’t come with the same effort they are liable to give up 62 to Carmelo Anthony while getting blown out. This team is poised to make the leap next year but they just aren’t ready yet.
22. Detroit (17-27): They’re on a four game losing streak and I don’t think they care. Mo Cheeks seems resigned to play a chaos theory brand of basketball. Continuously change starting lineups, bench promising rookies and bench Josh Smith every other game. Have to respect his “try everything” approach to this poorly designed team.
23. Cleveland (16-28): Uh oh. Kyrie Irving is starting to feel the burn from the media. The statistical darling and personable All-Star has done a lot for his brand, but little for the Cavaliers. Everyone was expecting the leap in Year 3, but many fans are worrying if this is going to be the norm.
24. LA Lakers (16-29):The Lakers continue to struggle and may in fact be the NBAs worst team if it weren’t for Pau Gasol‘s elevated play of late. His 4 straight impressive double doubles have resulted in zero team victories, but it has reminded us all what a force he can be when healthy.
25. Sacramento (15-28): This is an isolation team that is 4th to last in assist ratio. The recent injuries to Cousins and Gay have hurt, but it has opened up even more playing time for some of their young players like Ben McLemore.
26. Utah (15-29): Welp, they ran into the Minnesota buzzsaw and lost two straight to Wolves in three nights. Talent is everywhere on this team, but the performances are uneven. Enes Kanter, Alec Burks, Trey Burke, Derrick Favors, and Gordon Hayward can play basketball, but you don’t know what version you’re going to get on any given night.
27. Boston (15-31): Rondo is starting to look more comfortable with every passing game and the young core of Jared Sullinger, Kelly Olynyk, Phil Pressey and co have been getting valuable minutes for their development. The Celtics need to clear their crowded frontcourt situation by trading Bass and/or Humphries before the deadline, but things are looking up for a high draft pick this coming draft.
28. Philadelphia (14-30): The Sixers play at the highest pace in the NBA with over 102 possessions per game, but also have the league’s second highest turnover rate (14.8% of possessions end in turnovers). There continues to be a bright future for the team though as MCW has been the most impressive rookie so far this season. This is actually a very exciting time to be a Sixers fan.
29. Orlando (12-33): The Magic are bad, there are no two ways about it. However, Orlando could be getting some much needed reinforcements soon with Nikola Vucevic returning to practice after a horrific head injury.
30. Milwaukee (8-35): They beat Detroit this week and the corpse of Caron Butler scored 30 whole points! That’s all the positive there is to report out of Milwaukee.