Again, I cannot state enough how variable these ranking and the play of teams will be this year since the range of tiredness for clubs will be much wider, causing more injuries and even more variance in how clubs perform.
1.Miami Heat (8-1): Big stars hurt, but the Heat keep winning. Word of caution, though: their schedule has been pretty easy so far.
2. Oklahoma City Thunder (8-2): Eric Maynor’s knee surgery could be a bigger deal than most fans think, as he was the smart, unselfish yang to Westbrook’s lots-of-bad-shots yin.
3. Chicago Bulls (7-2): Tonight they start one of the easiest back-to-back-to-backs anyone can hope to face: Detroit, Minnesota, and Washington – Timberwolves are the only chance of a trip up.
4. Portland Trail Blazers (6-2): Truly a fun team to watch, with lots of running and plenty of good players to make it work in a season when most opponents are tired.
5. Philadelphia 76ers (5-2): Four of five wins are by 20-plus.
6. Denver Nuggets (6-3): Thriving, spread-it-around offense helping PG’s look like geniuses. Expect even more good things when Nene returns and Kenneth Faried gets integrated.
7. San Antonio Spurs (6-3): If they’re going to lose, they’re going to lose big and get the bench valuable playing time. Keep an eye on rookie Kawhi Leonard.
8. Orlando Magic (6-3): Have gotten through easy schedule pretty easily, but they have no quality wins and a few tougher teams on the horizon (Port, SAS, LAL).
9. Atlanta Hawks (6-3): Riding very streaky shooting nights to very inconsistent results.
10. Los Angeles Clippers (4-2): If they want to truly show they’re at the next level, they need to win 2 of 3 against Portland, Miami, and LAL, their only 3 games all week.
11. Los Angeles Lakers (6-4): Getting some wins behind great rebounding and interior defense; on a related note, Bynum is back and playing at full strength.
12. Dallas Mavericks (4-5): Don’t look now, but they’re starting to get it and Lamar Odom is starting to do something. They could/should win all 4 contests this week (Det, Bos, Mil, Sac).
13. Phoenix Suns (4-4): Offense quickly improving. Markieff Morris is your early co-Rookie of the Year (Rubio).
14. Minnesota Timberwolves (3-5): Are playing better than their record, particularly on the defensive side of the ball (opponents shooting only 43% against them).
15. Utah Jazz (5-3): BARELY winning games, but winning them nonetheless.
16. Indiana Pacers (6-2): Good record against terribly easy schedule will take a hit soon – cue up the huge loss coming tonight in Philly.
17. Memphis Grizzlies (3-5): Offense sputtering without Z-Bo, but rookie Josh Selby is picking up the marijuana-related incidents slack.
18. Houston Rockets (2-6): Good offense, bad defense, and all against one hell of a schedule so far. Will improve once the league stops screwing them over with killer back-to-backs (like in LA 2 nights in a row, or against OKC 2 nights in a row).
19. Boston Celtics (4-4): Picking up some W’s against pitiful, pitiful schedule. Enjoy Dallas, Chicago, and OKC over next 7 days.
20. Golden State Warriors (2-6): Have actually shown improvement while losing last 3 in a row (by 6 in SanAn, by 7 in LAL, by 1 to Utah). Can they keep contests versus Miami and Orlando close?
21. Cleveland Cavaliers (4-4): Kyrie Irving getting better and more aggressive; his defense has looked good, as well.
22. New York Knicks (4-4): Have played a crap schedule and are barely staying even through it.
23. New Orleans Hornets (2-6): Sure the schedule’s been rough (and continues to be for the rest of Jan.), but this offense is not up to snuff.
24. Milwaukee Bucks (2-6): Injuries and a missing Andrew Bogut (personal issues) strike again.
25. Toronto Raptors (3-5): Bad schedule and bad losses means you slide.
26. Sacramento Kings (3-6): As hard as it is to believe, the Kings are probably even worse than their record indicates.
27. Detroit Pistons (2-6): Uh-oh.
28. Charlotte Bobcats (2-6): Racking up 20-point losses like they’re going out of style.
29. New Jersey Nets (2-7): Big-time implosion happening – can’t see how they’ll swing a deal for Howard with this mess going on.
30. Washington Wizards (0-8): Might be worse than last year’s Cavs or the previous season’s Nets and Timberwolves.