Here’s my latest crack at ranking the NBA clubs in a season of pure madness (and huge profits for the men who made it madness).
1. San Antonio Spurs (36-14): It’s scary to think the Spurs still barely look like they’re trying. Not only that, Duncan is starting to put up the quietest double-doubles in the league just to remind fans that are paying attention that he can do it pretty much whenever he wants (it’s called a post-season precursor).
2. Oklahoma City Thunder (40-12): Absolutely stomped the Heat, Lakers, and Bulls all in one week. It’s a shame they may not even make it to the Finals if the Spurs are healthy in May/June.
3. Chicago Bulls (42-12): Against the other 3 clubs that are over .700, the Bulls are 1-1 with Rose and 1-1 without, so don’t pretend yesterday’s annihilation in OKC would have been different with him. Who’s to say he’ll even make an impact in the playoffs with all his injuries piling up, anyway?
4. Miami Heat (37-14): There are far too many instances of lackluster Miami rebounding causing big losses for Heat fans to feel too confident right now. LeBron is still the MVP by a mile, however.
5. Boston Celtics (30-22): Even with Ray Allen out, the other major players are surging (highlighted by KG looking a bit like KG of old) and the team that began March 17-17 now has a record in the same neighborhood as the Lakers, Mavericks, Magic, and Pacers. The C’s remaining schedule, however, is the hardest in the entire NBA. Something’s gotta give.
6. Los Angeles Lakers (33-20): Because the Celtics look like a team that actually wants it right now and that isn’t about to fall apart at the drop of a hat, that’s why the Lakers are below them. That and the C’s haven’t needed a bunch of way-out-of-whack lopsided free throw totals to scrape by opponents recently.
7. Philadelphia 76ers (29-23): Spencer Hawes is playing himself into shape, but they’re so inconsistent right now they got blown out by both the Spurs and the Wizards by nearly identical scores in the same week. They need to figure it out soon or Boston will actually win the Atlantic, and Philly will be stuck with the Heat in Round One.
8. Dallas Mavericks (30-23): The Mavs are the Western Conference’s response to the Sixers as the team with not nearly enough to be a contender, but more than enough to scare any contender who has to face them in May.
9. Denver Nuggets (29-24): Are currently an inconsistent jumbled mess of injuries and JaVale McGee, but they’ll probably remain in the playoffs after W’s in Chicago and Orlando this past week. A win this Friday over Phoenix could make it a near certainty.
10. Orlando Magic (32-21): We knew they wouldn’t be consistent because of their style of play, but it was just a couple weeks ago that they were 28-15 and had beaten the Bulls, Pacers, and Heat within 5 days. The rest of their schedule is an absolute cakewalk, but can they grab the opportunity (for once) and lock up the East’s #3 seed?
11. Los Angeles Clippers (31-21): Chris Paul and the crew are on a tear, winning 5 in a row, including 4 of them against Western Conference foes all floating around that playoffs cutoff spot (Mem, Phx, Port, Utah).
12. Memphis Grizzlies (28-22): Minimize Zach Randolph’s role by making him a reserve = team looks much better and starts winning games again
13, Indiana Pacers (31-21): Did they just beat the Heat by 15 and then lose to the Nets by 16 a couple nights later? Indy’s decent defense, offensive rebounding, and 3-point shooting could throw a real monkey wrench into the playoffs, especially if they face the Bulls—a team they’re not afraid of and want revenge against—in Round 2.
14. Houston Rockets (28-25): Camby as a Rocket has been as good as expected. Dragic as a starter has been better than expected. Parsons as a second round pick forced to start has been way better than expected. All that being said, Houston is still fighting to stay in the playoffs, which they’ll probably do.
15. Phoenix Suns (26-26): Pushing to make the playoffs in what is likely Nash’s final season in Phoenix, but the remaining schedule is brutal. The nice caveat to that is that 6 of their remaining 14 games are against other teams trying to get/stay in (Utah twice, Denver twice, Houston, and Memphis), so wins in those contests would be doubly helpful.
16. Atlanta Hawks (31-23): Josh Smith continues to play out of his mind as fans are slowly figuring out what I’ve been saying all year: The Hawks might be the most overrated team in the league.
17. Milwaukee Bucks (24-28): Still trying to put their new roster together in order to seize the 8th playoff spot in the East, a spot that looks more and more seizable as their schedule gets easier and easier; half of their final 14 games are made up of the Wizards (twice), Cavaliers, Bobcats, Pistons, Nets, and Raptors.
18. New York Knicks (27-26): With Lin, Stoudemire, and Jeffries out, NY will have to rely more on Carmelo (never a good sign) and extreme backcourt inefficiencies with more minutes for Baron Davis and Iman Shumpert. Yeah, I’m still standing by my Bucks-will-get-the-8th-spot-over-the-Knicks position.
19. Utah Jazz (27-26): Utah remains insanely good at offensive rebounding (especially reserve youngsters Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter) yet unspectacularly average at everything else. Hello lottery pick in a lottery loaded with big guys. Trade, anyone?
20. Portland Trail Blazers (25-28): It’s hard to tell how many, if any, of the following groups/people in Portland are on the same page: management, the players, the interim coach, and owner Paul Allen.
21. Minnesota Timberwolves (25-29): You know who the Timberwolves sans Rubio and Pekovic remind me of? The Timberwolves from about 2 years ago. At least Derrick Williams is getting time on the floor, even if it’s not paying off this season.
22. Toronto Raptors (18-35): Speaking of underrated players, the Raptors are 10-11 when Bargnani plays at least 30 minutes in a game and 8-24 otherwise (which includes the 27 games he’s missed). Here's part of the reason why.
23. New Jersey Nets (19-35): Gerald Wallace is starting to influence the team’s effort level, the schedule eased up a bit, and they suddenly remembered they’re probably losing their draft pick anyway, so the Nets are now winners of 4 of their last 5.
24. Golden State Warriors (20-31): Weekly dose of “Mark Jackson is not a good coach”: He needs to go 10-5 the rest of the way to finish at last year’s 30-36 mark the Warriors had after 66 contests. In his 4 recent starts (including 2 vs. LAL), rookie PG Charles Jenkins is averaging 17 ppg (55% FG) and 7 apg (only 2 tov/gm) – that’s why you pick college players who were actually efficient when drafting in the second round.
25. Sacramento Kings (18-34): Do they seem like a team that has any amount of building block players in place to you? Supposedly Evans and Cousins are those types of talents, but the team has yet to show the improvements you’d expect if they really are.
26. Detroit Pistons (19-33): Three wins in a week while Prince is blowing up is great and all, but the W’s were over Washington, Cleveland, and Charlotte, and not by much.
27. Cleveland Cavaliers (17-33): Extreme lack of overall talent + young talent is hitting a wall = 10 losses in last 11 contests, including last 5 L’s by 25, 18,12, 37, and 17 points.
28. New Orleans Hornets (13-40): Similar to Cleveland, NO is simply limping out the last couple weeks of a really bad season in a most cringe-worthy way. Their offseason, though, should be a fun one to watch since they have a ton of cash to sign players with and 2 lottery picks (theirs and Minnesota’s [by way of the Clippers]).
29. Washington Wizards (12-40): Keep an eye on Kevin Seraphin’s emerging presence in the paint and Jordan Crawford’s fun-to-watch scoring exploits, both of which provide far more value than John Wall’s…whatever the hell it is he does that’s supposed to resemble a talented player orchestrating an offense.
30. Charlotte Bobcats (7-43): Somehow they’ll end up with the 2nd or 3rd pick in the draft and Michael Jordan will insist they take Andre Drummond or Perry Jones. It’s the only way I can imagine him making things even worse for this franchise.