By Paul M. Banks
1. Boston Celtics (7-1)
Historians will call this era the “Golden Age of Point Guards,” and Rajon Rondo is telling everyone with his play: “don’t forget about me.” Fast start for Beantown, conjuring up memories of 2007-08.
2. Orlando Magic (5-2)
We know EA Sports cover boy Dwight Howard is pretty much as good as it gets at his position in this league. The bigger question mark is Vinsanity. If Carter is on his A game this season, they could easily be back in the Finals.
3. Miami Heat (5-1)
Off to a hot start, and looking good in what is no doubt one of the league’s toughest divisions. But next year could be the year they really make some noise, as they could make a major splash in free agency. You might have heard a thing or two about some decent FAs becoming available next summer.
4.Chicago Bulls (4-2)
Record is pretty good considering they’ve shot above 42% in a game just once this season. Derrick Rose is obviously their headliner, but the guy making the leap this so far is Joakim Noah. His version of making the leap isn’t scoring, it’s more defense and rebounding. His numbers on the glass don’t lie; and did you see the way he forced LeBron to his left on the final possession in the big win at Cleveland? That’s getting a stop when it’s absolutely necessary.
5. Atlanta Hawks (5-2)
Of all the teams in the NBA that warrant national publicity, but fail to garner it, this team is likely the most talented. I could have said the “Hawks fly under the radar,” but I thought that it would have been a bit tacky and shopworn.
6. Cleveland Cavaliers (4-3)
Even with Shaq in the house, they still look way too overly dependent on LeBron. And what’s up with them not getting out and running? They will have more success this season if they quicken the tempo at Quicken Loans Arena, and utilize the King’s athleticism more.
7. Toronto Raptors (3-4)
They’re a good team, better than the lackluster start they’ve gotten off to. But they should win be in “win now” mode more than any other team, just in case they can’t keep Chris Bosh after this season.
8. Charlotte Bobcats (3-3)
The off-season was uninspiring, and having Gerald Wallace as your top gun doesn’t sound very exciting or intimidating on paper, but their depth and balance will surprise you. And they’ll win more games than you think they will.
9. Philadelphia 76ers (3-4)
The Phillies and Eagles have had a lot of success in 2009, but don’t expect the Sixers to join in. They have backcourt issues, and the frontcourt isn’t good enough to compensate for those issues.
10. Detroit Pistons (3-4)
Could this be the year? Well, yes if you’re defining “the year” as the season in which Detroit misses the postseason for the first time in quite a while. They were under .500 yet a #8 seed last year, and all the moves they’ve made since then did nothing to address their problems.
11. Washington Wizards (2-5)
They still need a beast down low. More athleticism and higher skill sets from their bigs is crucial. It would help if the forwards could stay healthy more often too.
12. Milwaukee Bucks (3-2)
The annual Michael Redd injury came early this year. How will they fill the scoring void? Possibly Brandon Jennings, the early favorite to win Rookie of the Year. Jennings and last year’s ROY, Derrick Rose are on their way to developing a phenomenal Central Division rivalry.
13. Indiana Pacers (2-3)
The last time the NBA had a team this white, it was the 1950s. Funny that this lily team is located in the “Hoosier” state too. Maybe Larry Bird should hire Gene Hackman and Dennis Hopper to coach them?
14. New York Knicks (1-7)
If team marketing slogans were actually honest, (and in this case brutally honest) you’d have “Knicks basketball: just one more season till our contracts expire!” Seriously, most of that wasted money comes off the books after this year, so hold tight: change you could possibly believe is on its way.
15. New Jersey Nets (0-7)
I’d use one of 2008’s biggest buzz words, “a hot mess” to describe New Jersey’s roster, but that is truly an insult to hot messes everywhere.