By Jake McCormick and Andy Weise
1. Los Angeles Lakers (28-6)
Artest rejoins the team and Gasol goes back out. Kobe’s finger is hurting and the team still finds ways to win. That’s what is nice about Lamar Odom, he’ll do anything you want, play any position, start or come off the bench. Must be nice.
2. Dallas Mavericks (24-11)
They did just get blown out by 30 against the Lakers so that’s a bit alarming but when you have Jason Terry and Josh Howard coming off your bench you shouldn’t be hitting the panic button.
3. Denver Nuggets (22-13)
Chauncey Billups has played 19 minutes in the last nine games, all of that coming in a loss to Portland. In that 9 game span 3-6 including a questionable win last night against the lowly Warriors. Ty Lawson and Nene both went out with injuries last night. Depth is the concern I’m telling you!
5. Phoenix Suns (22-13)
The once tough to beat team at home has now gone 3-3 in the last six games in Phoenix. That includes a 25 point embarrassing loss to the Grizzlies. How in the hell did that happen?
6. Houston Rockets (20-15)
They might be coming back to Earth a bit, I’ll still be surprised if they end up making the playoffs at the end of the year. Right now they have to decide what they want to do with Tracy McGrady. One rumor was Andre Iguodala coming back but that was more what Houston wanted. The Philly offered looked like Elton Brand. Good luck Daryl Morey.
7. Portland Trail Blazers (22-15)
Here was a team hoping this was the year they would live up to the potential people have been talking about. Down go your two centers and you’re left starting 36-year-old Juwan Howard. Life isn’t so grand in Portland right now.
8. Oklahoma City Thunder (19-15)
Here continues to be a young rising team that is fun to watch and most people want to cheer for. My hope is they slip into the playoffs and they might if Portland and Houston continue to drop.
9. Memphis Grizzlies (17-16)
Two weeks ago they were 7-3 in the last ten games. Today: 7-3 also, winning the last four. This one is hard for me to figure out, Zach Randolph and OJ Mayo appear to be the major scorers with Marc Gasol, Mike Conley Jr. and sometimes Rudy Gay helping out. Gay is the inconsistent x-factor, if he starts playing good every game, LOOK OUT!
10. Utah Jazz (18-16)
Never good when you read a headline that says everyone except Deron Williams available. Jerry Sloan is a great coach so you’d hope they figure things out. They might want to send out Carlos Boozer though and try to land an above average wing player.
11. New Orleans Hornets (16-16)
I still don’t know how this team doesn’t have major issues unless they make the playoffs. Chris Paul is way too talented to not have his team in the playoffs. New Orleans either blows everything up or starts making some deals to change things around.
12. Los Angeles Clippers (15-18)
They are hovering in a position where they could make noise once Blake Griffin is back. I’m excited about his return – they say January 20th right now. Do the Clippers try to send off Camby or Kaman then?
13. Sacramento Kings (14-20)
The Kings begin to drop where most thought they would be. What Tyreke Evans is doing is remarkable at 20-5-5 as well as over a steal a game but if they could get Kevin Martin back and then figure out that situation, they might actually get somewhere. Best scenario is this team lands back in the top 5 though.
14. Golden State Warriors (9-24)
I’ll admit the foul call last night against Denver was questionable but this is still a very shaky franchise. They need better direction. One week some guy wants out because he’s on the bench, the next he is starting and a franchise player. They head to Minnesota tonight in the battle of the best…
15. Minnesota Timberwolves (7-28)
Is it summer 2010 yet? With multiple first round picks, cap space and assets overseas in Rubio and Pekovic, I don’t know if there is a franchise (besides New York probably) more looking forward to the summer. Kevin Love is turning into a special player though he’s not ideal for being counted on for consistent scoring yet.
1. Cleveland Cavaliers (27-9)
A simple look at the Cavs wins over the past two weeks makes all the case they need for jumping to the top spot: @ Phoenix, @ LA Lakers, Houston, and back-to-back wins against Atlanta. Props to Mike Brown for winning December Coach of the Month for the East. This team is starting to look vintage 2007.
2. Boston Celtics (24-8)
The Celtics have an ongoing infestation of the injury bug, and last week’s three game losing streak can’t help the guys behind Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo, Kendrick Perkins and some guy named Kevin Garnett. Age is officially becoming a factor.
3. Orlando Magic (24-10)
99 out of 100 games you would take Dwight Howard over Roy Hibbert. Tuesday night was that one exception, and the Magic lost their second game in a row to a sub-.500 team. Orlando needs to defend the point and keep Howard out of foul trouble to Stan Van from blowing his top before the midway point of the season.
4. Atlanta Hawks (21-12)
The Hawks have been shot! The Hawks have been shot! Actually, they’ve mirrored the Milwaukee Brewers’ strategy over their four game losing streak: Catch fire early and flame out late.
5. Miami Heat (17-15)
The win Monday against the Hawks almost makes you forget their three game losing streak against the Hornet, Spurs and Bobcats. Something tells me they won’t be moving too far between the five and six spot in these rankings; the Heat are solidly lukewarm.
8. Toronto Raptors (17-18)
Apparently it took this long before the Raptors realized they have to play defense if they want to go anywhere past 82 games this season. They have yet to lose a game where they give up less than 100 points, and have done so in four of their past six wins.
11. Charlotte Bobcats (15-18)
Maybe Larry Brown’s magic is starting to work on the Bobcats, who have won two of their three road games on the season in the past four days. Considering they were in Miami and Cleveland, Charlotte has forced themselves into early playoff talk.
6. Milwaukee Bucks (14-18)
I’m loving Brandon Jennings new hi-top fade and their two game win streak against a good (OKC) and terrible (NJ) team. As Jeremy Schmidt at Bucksketball points out, the Bucks are 10-1 when Andrew Bogut scores over 17 points. Hopefully the haircut gets the team back to their early season pick and roll success.
10. Chicago Bulls (14-19)
Although the rest of his team continues their love affair with the worst shot in basketball (20 foot jumpers), Derrick Rose has come alive as of late. Could it be that Vinny Del Negro is forcing himself to actually live up to his title?
7. New York Knicks (14-20)
I think the Knicks recent overachieving is part D’Antoni and part LeBron audition. After all, when you’re the NBA’s Cleveland Indians from Major League (left for dead by ownership) why wouldn’t it be a bounding experience?
12. Indiana Pacers (11-23)
The only highlight of the Pacers’ last two weeks without Danny Granger is Roy Hibberts unexpected domination of Dwight Howard in an equally unexpected win over the defending Eastern Conference champions. So they’ve got that going for them. Which is nice.
14. Philadelphia Sixers (10-24)
Wins on the road against Portland and Denver should be taken with a mild grain of salt, but it’s something to build off of as Allen Iverson starts to get back into a consistent rhythm.
9. Detroit Pistons (11-22)
0-10 explains it all. This team has fallen far from the days of Rip Hamilton/Ben and Rasheed Wallace/Tayshaun Prince years. Funny thing is three of those four players are wearing Detroit uniforms. Not an easy year to be a fan of anything Michigan, except State basketball.
13. Washington Wizards (11-21)
I wonder if Agent Zero’s pregame playlist included Dr. Dre’s “Rat-tat-tat-tat” and “Bang Bang.” Caron Butler has got to look appetizing as trade bait, and even with him this team is pretty much down for the count. Like Alabama says about Mississippi: Thank god for the Nets.
15. New Jersey Nets (3-31)
This team doesn’t look that bad on paper, with a speedy point guard, fiery big man, sharp shooting guard, and versatile combo forward. Too bad their offensive identity is harder to find than Tiger Woods.