2. Indiana (39-11): The key is to always remain a step ahead of Miami. The Heat are in their annual “are we worried about them?” mode, so this is the time to gain some ground. After a hard fought and exciting victory over Portland (great depth from George Hill and David West), they got suckered into losing to a weak Orlando squad. Not part of the blueprint. RIP Big Baby, though.
3. Miami (35-14): How do you know if a championship contending team has trouble focusing on bad opponents? Losses to a bunch of bottom tier teams like the Celtics, 76ers, Kings, Wizards and Jazz, that’s how. Even Chris Bosh has trouble focusing on basketball, with the olympics on.
Bosh said he could envision LeBron as a figure skater because of his creativity and Wade, “he’s short, so he could do that speed skating.”
— Ira Winderman (@IraHeatBeat) February 8, 2014
4. LA Clippers (36-18): Chris Paul is healthy again and the team won by a whopping 45 points against the lowly 76ers. Further more, Blake Griffin (GRIFFFFFIIIN FORCE!) continues to play the best basketball of his young career. I know I said it before, but DeAndre Jordan has had double digit rebounds in every game but one since the start of December. This team has it all, and looks to be opening up a sizable lead in the Pacific.
5. San Antonio (37-14): The Spurs are getting really thin at the wings, with Marco Belinelli, Manu Ginobili and Kawhi Leonard all out. Yet somehow they have won four out of their last five. If they are able to keep their head above water during the rest of their nine game Rodeo trip they should still be poised to garner a top 3 seed.
6. Houston (34-17): In the biggest coincidence of all time Omer Asik is coming back from his “knee injury” just in time to showcase himself before the trade deadline. I’m not a doctor but I predict if Asik isn’t moved his knee will “flare up” and he’ll be lost for the year. With the Rockets playing their best ball of the year, Asik coming back could provide an unneeded distraction, so they will be shopping him hard.
7. Portland (36-15): The Blazers have a tough stretch coming up before All-Star break with a back-to-back against the Thunder and the Clippers. If they come out of that stretch 2-0 before Damian Lillard‘s coming out party, watch out. They will be oozing with confidence.
8. Phoenix (30-20): After struggling in Houston, they found their way in dominating the Warriors this past Saturday. If they can add a piece, this team can be a real contender. Goran Dragic has been unbelievable, scoring in the mid 20′s consistently while shooting over 50%. Eric Bledsoe should return in March, just in time for this team to establish it’s chemistry going into the playoffs. Jeff Hornacek IS the Coach of the Year!
9. Golden State (30-21): The Warriors have slipped to 8th in the West, holding onto that final playoff spot by a couple games over Memphis. The Warriors have been putting up inconsistent efforts, often lacking the focus they need to show to be taken seriously as a contender. I’m not sure what to make of this team, but they may need to make a trade to bring in a consistent veteran presence.
10. Dallas (31-21): The Mavericks are humming on all cylinders, winners of five in a row and six of their last seven. Even reputed “me first” guard Monta Ellis is “buying in” by playing hurt to help the Mavs through this torrid stretch. His quick recovery epitomizes the new found grit that has infected this team.
11. Memphis (27-23): The Grizz have lost three of four following a six game winning streak (winning 11 out of 12 before their recent downturn). While their defense had lead them to wins, their offense was doing just enough to cement the victory during their hot stretch. Now their offense is simply letting them down, averaging 83.75 points per game over their last four. On the bright side they set a record Saturday against Atlanta.
With tonight’s 79-76 win over the Hawks, the Memphis Grizzlies become the first team to win a game with only one free throw attempt. #NBA
— NBA.com (@NBAcom) February 9, 2014
12. Toronto (26-24): The Raptors lost 2 of 3 this week, but still held onto the 3rd seed in the East and the lead in the Atlantic. Their guard play continues to pace them offensively, as both DeMar Derozan and Kyle Lowry are explosive, however inconsistent. The key for the Raptors is defense, as they have lost their last three games when allowing over 100 points. They need to right the ship with their relatively easy schedule ahead before they enter a difficult scheduling stretch in March. Terrence Ross, who gained national attention with his 51 point outburst January 25th, has yet to reach double figures in 4 games in February.
13. Brooklyn (23-26): A good week for the Nets as they won three of four to get back on track after losing three straight. Paul Pierce has shot over 50% in his last 5 games and Mason Plumlee had a breakout game in Sunday’s win over the Pelicans going for 22, 13 and 2 blocks on 8 of 10 shooting. Are they, and more so even, should they, be buyers or sellers at the deadline?
14. Minnesota (24-27): I’ve officially lost hope for the Wolves. Their bench play is woeful and even through Ricky Rubio‘s best offensive stretch of his career, they can’t string together any wins. They’re last impressive win was nearly a month ago versus Golden State.
15. Chicago (25-25): I think you need to drug and kidnap Coach Tom Thibodeau and Joakim Noah for this team to be out of any game. This type of passion (coupled with THIS type of passion) will make this Bulls team a tough out in the playoffs.
16. Atlanta (25-24): The Hawks are a .500 team, which is probably good for a top five seed in the Eastern Conference. Resigned to their fate of mediocrity the Hawks are apparently looking to acquire Jeff Green from the Boston Celtics.
— Mitch Lawrence (@Mitch_Lawrence) February 9, 2014
17. Washington (25-25): Most team’s fans would be disappointed by a .500 record. Normally that would mean a late playoff seed and the NBA purgatory that comes with it. Wizards fans are just happy that they finally have a semi watchable team. Maybe with a move for a back up point guard the Wiz will become slightly more watchable!
18. Denver (24-25): Ty Lawson has broken ribs, the team just lost to the now-coach-less Pistons and they play Indiana on the road tonight. These are all bad things. Very bad things.
19. New Orleans (22-28): With all the injuries the Pelicans have suffered you would think they need every able body on the roster to give them minutes. Apparently this is not the case as Tyreke Evans sat out Sunday’s game because of unspecified internal issue (just a hunch but the issue might have been defense). I’m sure the Pelicans are happy to be paying Evans and Eric Gordon over $26 MM combined this year…
20. New York (20-31): A dismal stretch for the Knicks has seen them drop any momentum they built in late January. Mike Woodson said it plainly enough with describing the season as being “kind of a disaster”. The Knicks are in a tough spot as they want to convince Carmelo to stay, but really should sell of assets to play for future seasons.
21. Detroit (21-29): The Pistons are a cluster-”f”word. No other way to put it. Everything falls on Joe Dumars‘ decision making. Winning a championship can only afford you so much leeway. Josh Smith is on you, Joe. Zach Lowe wrote a piece on Grantland highlighting the trials and follies that have lead Detroit to where it is now. Also this reaction can best sum up Detroit’s weekend:
— BRANDON JENNINGS (@BrandonJennings) February 9, 2014
22. Charlotte (22-29): The Bobcats are a mismanaged franchise and have been since their inception. This year they apparently are pushing their chips into the middle in order to secure a playoff spot. This could mean dealing the number two pick in the 2012 draft, Michael-Kidd Gilchrist before the 20 year old has a chance to develop.
23. Cleveland (18-33): After getting embarrassed by the Lakers’ Frankenstein lineup of four players, this team rattled off two impressive wins in a row beating Washington and Memphis (in OT). This is still an extremely bad basketball team, but if they can string together two wins versus Detroit and Sacramento before the All-Star break, there could be a distant light at the end of the tunnel.
24. Utah (17-33): This team cares and they get it. While it isn’t translating into consistent wins, these are good traits for a young team to have. Plus, they just upset the World Champs. Utah execs had to enjoy watching this interaction between Ray Allen and Trey Burke:
25. LA Lakers (18-33): Steve Nash‘s 40th birthday was nice, the team celebrated with a win and Nash himself had a retro performance. There was also the Cavs game where they had to finish the game with a disqualified player on the court. So those two wins are nice, possibly the highlights of the season for this terrible team. Sell Sell Sell in the next ten days.
26. Boston (18-34): Well Jared Sullinger is an absolute beast with 5 straight double doubles and continues to look like a franchise cornerstone as well as the steal of the 2012 draft. Rajon Rondo is also starting to round into form with back to back near triple doubles. The Celtics, if they can retain Rondo, have a bright future, but the fan base will continue to have to struggle through losses this season. Look for a major sell off of assets like Jeff Green, Brandon Bass, and Kris Humphries with the trade deadline looming.
27. Sacramento Kings (17-34): They have last place in the West all to themselves right now, winning the West’s tanking battle. Individually they have some elite talent as well as performances, but as a team, they just lack chemistry and leadership.
28. Orlando (16-37): The Magic are a very young team, and sometimes young teams give glimpses into their potential early on. Such was the case last night when Victor Oladipo lead the Magic to a comeback of the Eastern Conference leading Indiana Pacers. Who knows, this win could be the first step in the Magic’s turnaround.
29. Philadelphia (15-37): The singular win in their last ten games was a buzzer beater in Boston. The Sixers got absolutely steam rolled last night in LA, when they were down by as much as 56 points in the third quarter. This team is awful and if it weren’t for their dizzying pace offensively, they would be nearly unwatchable.
30. Milwaukee (9-41): The Greek Freak literally has the hope of an entire city on his back as he competes in the All-Star weekend skill competition. Here’s hoping that his family will be in attendance. They seem to like watching him play: