The Indiana Pacers continue to spank the league, and although the Miami Heat dropped a few, they’ve still got my attention. Down where Custer took his last stand, the San Antonio Spurs are showing the league that older gentlemen can get the job done as well, and with Portland tied for the second best record in the West, the “are they for real” questions can finally cease.
1. Indiana Pacers (29-7 and first in the Eastern Conference): A loss to the Washington Wizards won’t knock the Pacers off stride; not while point guard George Hill has only three turnovers in their last eight games.
2. Miami Heat (27-10 and second in the Eastern Conference): Although losers of their last two, LeBron James has scored in double figures in 531 consecutive games, the fourth longest streak in NBA history. Enough said.
3. San Antonio Spurs (29-8 and first in the Western Conference): Who says old men can’t jump? The Spurs might not be the league’s most flashy or athletic team, but they seem to get it done each week.
4. Portland Trail Blazers (28-9 and tied for second in the Western Conference): Have you ever wondered what Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry would look like with athleticism? Blazers point guard Damian Lillard has hit four or more three-pointers in 15 games this season. That’s a huge part of the reason why they’re first in scoring, averaging 109 points per contest.
5. Oklahoma City Thunder (28-9 and tied for second in the Western Conference): It seems Russell Westbrook is one of the most praised and underrated players in the league; and with him sidelined from a knee injury, the Thunder dropped their last two against Denver and Utah… yes, Utah.
6. Golden State Warriors (25-14 and fifth in the Western Conference): The Warriors have won six of their last seven games and four in a row at home. With the league’s fourth-best defensive rating of 98.5, the Warriors aren’t going anywhere.
7. Los Angeles Clippers (26-13 and fourth in the Western Conference): With Chris Paul sidelined, the Clippers have still found ways to win in their last three games, including a 36-point beat down against the Los Angeles Lakers. Who really runs L.A. now?
8. Houston Rockets (24-14 and sixth in the Western Conference): The Rockets came out of the week with wins over the Lakers and Washington Wizards with one loss to the Atlanta Hawks. The last time this team strung together a win streak was late December (three wins), and with no major injuries, the Rockets and their third highest points per game offense might have hit their ceiling.
9. Toronto Raptors (18-17 and fourth in the Eastern Conference): The Heat ended the Raptors five-game win streak, and in turn the Raptors ended the Brooklyn Nets’ five-game win streak. It’ll take more than Drake introducing the starting lineups to get Dwane Casey’s bunch in line for Eastern Conference contention.
10. Dallas Mavericks (22-16 and eighth in the Western Conference): Dirk Nowitzki was looking like the Dirk of old dropping 40 points on the New Orleans Pelicans, however with the injury bug nagging at rookie Shane Larkin and veteran Shawn Marion, the Mavs are in for a tough week.
11. Phoenix Suns (21-15 and seventh in the Western Conference): The Suns have only won two of their last six after news that Eric Bledsoe would be out for the remainder of the season. They’re only facing one team over .500 this week, but with Bledsoe out, their 103 points per game average will dwindle quickly.
12. Minnesota Timberwolves (18-19 and 10th in the Western Conference): With forwards Chase Budinger and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute the T-Wolves went .500 on the week. With reports that Kevin Love got into a bit of a locker room confrontation with Nikola Pekovic and the T-Wolves bench, there might be trouble ahead for Minnesota.
13. Atlanta Hawks (20-18 and third in the Eastern Conference): As a team, the Hawks have at least 20 assists in 19 consecutive games, and not to mention Kyle Korver’s streak of 107 consecutive games with at least one three-pointer made. However, they have a .333 win percentage on the road, and the worst road record among teams above .500. That won’t get it done.
14. Denver Nuggets (19-17 and ninth in the Western Conference): Andre Miller has played his last game under head coach Brian Shaw, and the Nuggets keep rolling as they’re currently in the midst of a five-game win streak.
15. Chicago Bulls (17-18 and fifth in the Eastern Conference): No Derrick Rose or Luol Deng, but the Bulls are still pushing forward, winners of their last five games. They sport the second best rated defense in the league and Joakim Noah is having a monster season as only one of eight players currently averaging a double-double.
16. Washington Wizards (16-19 and sixth in the Eastern Conference): John Wall is leading the Wizards and all Eastern Conference point guards in double-doubles this season with 12, and is averaging career-highs with 20 points and nine assists per game. However a 7-9 home record is not head coach Randy Wittman’s definition of success.
17. New York Knicks (14-22 and 10th in the Eastern Conference): Now that the Blake Griffin for Carmelo Anthony trade chatter has cooled, the Knicks have gone on to win their last four games with huge contributions from Melo and low interest in keeping guard J.R. Smith’s services. With Tim Hardaway Jr. playing big in their recent games, look for Smith to be traded by the deadline.
18. Memphis Grizzlies (17-19 and 10th in the Western Conference): The Grizzlies must get Tony Allen and Marc Gasol back on the court to be more competitive. They’re only putting up 96 points per game, and in a very competitive Western Conference, that won’t cut it.
19. Charlotte Bobcats (15-23 and ninth in the Eastern Conference): The Bobcats have dropped their last three games, and are still without center Brendan Haywood and forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. They are currently playing above .500 in the East, but things fall apart when they face any Western Conference teams as their current record stands at 3-11 against Western foes.
20. Brooklyn Nets (15-22 and eighth in the Eastern Conference): The Nets are finally starting to hold opponents under 100 points as teams have only scored an average of 92 points in their last seven games compared to 102 in their first 31. However, with Deron Williams and Brook Lopez on the sideline with injuries, the Nets will continue to struggle.
21. Sacramento Kings (13-22 and 14th in the Western Conference): The Kings have won three straight during a five-game home stand. In the last 14 games, Rudy Gay, DeMarcus Cousins and Isiah Thomas are averaging 65.9 ppg and account for 63 percent of the team’s offense. They put a 44-point shellacking on the Cleveland Cavaliers, but Mike Malone will need to find his consistent sixth man to contend against the better Western Conference teams.
22. Detroit Pistons (16-22 and seventh in the Eastern Conference): Greg Monroe is averaging 17 points in his last five games, however with no injuries the Pistons are still struggling to put up 100 points a game.
23. Philadelphia 76ers (12-25 and 13th in the Eastern Conference): The last player to average at least 17 points, seven assists, five rebounds and 2.5 steals in a single season was Chris Paul in the 2008-09 season and before that Michael Jordan in 1988-89, so it’s safe to say Michael Carter-Williams will be ROY. However as a team, the Sixers are giving up 111 points per game. Yuck!
24. Cleveland Cavaliers (13-24 and 11th in the Eastern Conference): The Cavs have gone 3-7 in their last 10, while guard Dion Waiters contributes 16 points off the bench to be the Eastern Conference’s highest bench scorer. Luol Deng looks comfortable in his new digs, however, the Cavs are having trouble keeping teams under 100 points per game. Their defense must improve.
25. New Orleans Pelicans (15-21 and 12th in the Western Conference): Losers of their last five games, the Pelicans are among one of the worst defenses in the league, giving up 103 points per game. Word is they’re desperate to ship out guard Eric Gordon, and with the loss of Jrue Holiday and Ryan Anderson due to injury, the future looks bleak for NO.
26. Orlando Magic (10-27 and 14th in the Eastern Conference): Losers of their last seven, the Magic have been continuously outrebounded and have the fifth-worst offensive rating (98.0) in the league. Look for trade chatter to heat up in Orlando leading to the trade deadline.
27. Boston Celtics (13-25 and 12th in the Eastern Conference): The Celtics have lost their last eight games, and although the return of Rajon Rondo looks imminent, right now they’re playing for the lottery. If they continue to stink after Rondo’s return, look for Jeff Green to ask for a trade.
28. Utah Jazz (12-26 and 15th in the Western Conference): Utah has split their last ten games even with a 5-5 record and with upcoming games against the Spurs, Nuggets and Pistons, it doesn’t seem like they’ll get a break this week.
29. Los Angeles Lakers (14-23 and 13th in the Western Conference): The Lakers are giving up 105 points per game, and although there’s great anticipation of Kobe and Steve Nash’s return to the lineup, there’s greater pessimism on their chances to make the postseason.
30. Milwaukee Bucks (7-29 and 15th in the Eastern Conference): The Bucks have lost their last five games, not scoring higher than 87 in each contest. There’s not much to say after that stat.