By Jake McCormick and Andy Weise
1. Los Angeles Lakers (38-12)
The big road trip hasn’t really slowed the Lakers and evidence showed as they went into Boston last Sunday and beat the Celtics. LeBron might be the best but it’s hard to argue in the closing seconds that Kobe is the most clutch.
2. Denver Nuggets (33-16)
I like Chauncey calling out J.R. Smith recently. The Nuggets are right in the sense that last year they had guys like Dahntay Jones and Linas Kleiza in case Smith decided to tune out of games. This year they need him a lot more and the success of the team might depend on it.
3. Dallas Mavericks (31-18)
I’ll admit I wouldn’t mind if Mark Cuban was an owner for a Minnesota team because I know he’ll do whatever it takes to win. But it is funny to read things like “Cuban will consider trades.” I wonder how much input Cuban does have on trades. I think the Mavericks should try to mix it up, they’re not going to beat Denver or the Lakers and some other teams below them might beat them too.
4. Phoenix Suns (30-21)
Amare Stoudemire sweepstakes go back and forth every day. I expect him to stay put with the Suns because I think he is happy there in Phoenix playing with Steve Nash. Once Nash is gone though, he’ll probably want out.
5. San Antonio Spurs (28-19)
The Richard Jefferson experiment probably has panned out the way most thought it would. The Spurs are still the team you don’t want to see in the playoffs as they are built for that time of the season. The regular season doesn’t mean much to some of these guys that have a few rings already.
6. Utah Jazz (30-18)
They haven’t lost since our power rankings two weeks ago, so that gives them a big time jump. Outside of Cleveland they’re the hottest team in the league, Paul M. Banks is smiling too because at the front and center is Deron Williams.
7. Portland Trail Blazers (29-22)
I expect the Blazers to make some type of deal that involves a wing or point guard to a team for a big. You see a guy like Jeff Foster’s name get thrown around. Has Foster really spent 11 seasons with the Pacers??
9. Memphis Grizzlies (26-22)
Last time I said Zach Randolph seems to be the difference maker so far. An all-star selection for the well-traveled power forward points to evidence that good things can actually happen for the Grizzlies franchise.
10. Houston Rockets (26-22)
You could put the Rockets with a team like the Clippers, you have a major piece of the puzzle out for the whole year so you just try to play through and hope for the best. If you don’t make the playoffs, best of luck in the lottery.
11. New Orleans Hornets (26-23)
Prediction: this team is blown up this summer. Roster wise, not arena or anything.
12. Los Angeles Clippers (21-28)
A Clippers fan can be pretty disappointed with how the season has gone but if you’ve held on this long, you might as well stay a little more patient. Having another lottery pick this year could definitely help but technically they aren’t out of the playoff race yet.
13. Sacramento Kings (16-32)
The Kings should float Kevin Martin around the league to a team that could send them some expiring contracts and a good younger player. Put that guy with Tyreke Evans, Spencer Hawes and Jason Thompson and you might actually have something. What if Kings land number 1? Wall/Evans??
14. Golden State Warriors (16-32)
Losers of seven in a row, the direction of this franchise could be questioned but so could many others. Some type of trade with the Warriors will happen before the deadline. Just my prediction.
15. Minnesota Timberwolves (11-38)
A two game win streak for the second time of the season! The Wolves are in a decent spot for lots of ping pong balls for the lottery but some teams like Golden State and Sacramento don’t appear to be moving up in the wins column. It comes down to what do Wolves fans want more, wins or increased chances to win the lottery?
1. Cleveland Cavaliers (39-11)
Question: What do you get when you mix a nine game winning streak, a 20-3 home record, and five straight upcoming home games? Answer: The perfect time for Mo Williams and Delonte West to get injured, and Daniel Gibson to become relevant again (13.5 points, 16-36 from the 3-point line in six straight starts).
2. Orlando Magic (33-16)
The Magic need to keep dropping Roosevelts. In games where Orlando records more or an equal number of assists as their opponents, they are 24-4. Vince Carter, as per usual, needs to prove that his 17 point, 10 rebound, and seven assist performance against the Milwaukee Bucks Wednesday is a true return to form.
3. Atlanta Hawks (31-17)
Props to Josh Smith for becoming the youngest player to reach 1,000 career blocks and Jamal Crawford for setting the record for four-point plays in a career in consecutive games this week. Crawford also leads the league in points per game for non-starters (19.2). Is it too early to give him Sixth Man of the Year?
4. Boston Celtics (31-16)
The same principle that applies to the Patriots applies to the Celtics: Slumps don’t dictate an entire season or organization. Boston is bruised and broken, but it’s too early to expect a head on collision because there’s a big drop off in quality teams after this point. Corny, I know, but I’ll never get the chance to use a New Found Glory reference again.
5. Toronto Raptors (27-23)
Chris Bosh continues to tear down anyone standing in his way, and averaged 20 points and 15 rebounds from Jan. 27 through Feb. 2. Although Toronto is 16-0 when holding opponents below 100 points, four of their last six wins have come with both teams in triple digits. That should say at least a little something about the Raptors’ recent surge.
6. Charlotte Bobcats (24-24)
Perhaps Gerald Wallace’s selection as the Bobcats first All-Star EVER is a harbinger of good things to come. Finishing a six game West coast road trip 3-3 after facing four potential playoff teams is something to hang their hat on as well. They’ll be rewarded with Washington, Minnesota, and New Jersey over the next two weeks.
7. Chicago Bulls (23-24)
Derrick Rose is playing as well now as he has at any point in his career. Last season, he had no 30 point games and led the team in scoring 18 times. After 47 games in 2009-10, Rose has five games of 30 or more points and was the team’s leading scorer in 20 games.
8. Miami Heat (24-25)
The Heat have wilted against tough competition lately, but losing Jermaine O’Neal, Mario Chalmers, Udonis Haslem and Michael Beasley at various points haven’t helped. If anything, it’s made Miami appreciate D-Wade more.
9. Milwaukee Bucks (21-26)
Monday’s win in Miami is the closest the Bucks have come to a signature road victory all season, and it’s pretty clear at this point in the season that Milwaukee beats who they are supposed to beat and lose to clearly more talented teams. With five of their next six games coming against opponents with inferior records, the Bucks have a good chance of moving up the playoff ladder.
10. New York Knicks (19-29)
More David Lee love (because let’s be honest, there’s not much else to talk about with this team right now): He’s second in PER and scoring by centers, first in assists by centers, is one of two players averaging at least 19.7 points and 11.5 rebounds a game, is first in field goals by centers from the 16-23 foot range, and is fifth in the league in double-doubles.
11. Philadelphia Sixers (17-31)
Since starting 7-22, the Sixers have played above .500 (10-9) since Dec. 28, mostly due to increased health. Philadelphia’s top six scorers have missed a total of 35 games this season after six of their top eight in 2008-09 played at least 79 games. It’s hard to string anything together with a young team when the lineup changes so consistently.
12. Indiana Pacers (17-32)
Pacer fans can relive the glory days of Reggie Miller through one of ESPN’s “30 for 30” documentaries about his rivalry with the New York Knicks, because the 2009-10 season of Pacer basketball isn’t going to get much better than reminiscing about Game 5 of the 1994 Eastern Conference finals.
13. Washington Wizards (16-32)
And so the Gilbert Arenas media rounds and pack to redemption begins. The injury to Caron Bulter not withstanding, the Wizards could pull a Timberwolves and flush their entire roster before the start of next season, and it would be tough to argue against that.
14. Detroit Pistons (16-31)
Ben Wallace is having his own Allen Iverson-like “ride into the sunset on a crappy donkey” moment. He became the 17th player in league history to record 2,000 career blocks on Tuesday and rookie Jonas Jerebko was selected to play in the T-Mobile Rookie Challenge. Those are probably the most exciting things going on in Detroit right now.
15. New Jersey Nets (3-38)
The Nets fourth win of the year and their subsequent celebration was reminiscent of my high school’s homecoming win the year after I graduated. It was their first win since my freshman year, but you would’ve sworn the state title was on the line. Then they got waxed by reality the next week.