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 (40-14): Why has it taken fans this long to realize how good the Spurs are when they’ve clearly been one of the top-3 teams all season?
2. Miami Heat (40-15): The team won the Thunder match-up for the sake of LeBron’s MVP race, and now they’re in a good position to pass Chicago for the #1 spot with 2 more contests against the Bulls on the schedule, and the rest of it is mostly crap.
3. Oklahoma City Thunder (41-15): A 3-game losing streak to Memphis, Miami, and Indy isn’t the worst thing in the world, but a wilting offense at this point in the season with the hungry Bucks and Clippers coming up could be enough to knock them into the West’s #2 spot for good.
4. Chicago Bulls (43-14): Rose is back, but he showed against NY that he still isn’t very efficient and that he doesn’t know when to be a distributor and when to be a hero – he just reverts to hero mode when he’s unsure. It didn’t work in last year’s playoffs, and it could hurt them again this year.
5. Boston Celtics (32-24): A lot of tough contests remain, but Boston is looking like they’re serious about crashing a few title contenders’ dreams this post-season.
6. Los Angeles Lakers (35-22): Missing Kobe for a little bit isn’t nearly as harmful as their recent defensive woes and whatever childish Bynum drama is brewing behind the scenes. 4 of their last 9 games are with the Spurs (3x) and the Thunder – ouch.
7. Los Angeles Clippers (34-22): Have remained on a tear, but can they actually catch the Lakers? The Clips still have OKC two more times and a few other inconsistent clubs you can never simply chalk up as a certain win (Memphis, Denver, Phoenix, Atlanta, New York).
8. Memphis Grizzlies (32-23): Took care of business on all fronts this past week, going 4-1 with huge wins over the Thunder and Heat. Should be able to secure the #5 spot and then cause trouble for whichever LA team has to face them in Round One.
9. Indiana Pacers (34-22): Should be able to coast through most of the rest of their schedule, but they still need more all-around consistency before the playoffs start.
10. Houston Rockets (31-25): They’re now certainly going to make the playoffs, but they just don’t have enough at this point in the season with Lowry, Martin, and Camby all either out or less than 100% to make the post-season interesting.
11. Milwaukee Bucks (28-28): Coming on strong against the soft part of their schedule is putting them in a perfect position to steal a playoff spot from either New York or Philly after sitting at 14-23 a month ago.
12. Phoenix Suns (29-27): Continue to hit a ton of shots and pick up some tough W’s as they claw their way back into the playoff discussion. The Suns sit within 2 games of Houston, Dallas, and Denver right now, so they have a lot of options and outs to get in the post-season.
13. Atlanta Hawks (34-23): Only beating teams like Charlotte, Detroit, New York, Washington, Cleveland, and New Jersey (who 8 of their last 9 W’s have come against) should tell you how hollow their overall record is.
14. New York Knicks (29-27): Playing hard but still inconsistent, although now the sinking Sixers may save NY from losing a playoff spot to the surging Bucks.
15. Denver Nuggets (30-26): They got the W over Phoenix to help their playoff hopes, but the Suns and Jazz are still right on their tail for the #8 seed. Unfortunately their remaining schedule is full of motivated clubs.
16. Orlando Magic (33-23): This late-season Dwightmare has dropped the Magic from 3rd to 6th in the East. They’re far too dysfunctional now to be a real contender even though they have the same team capabilities as 2009’s great run.
17. Toronto Raptors (20-37): Seriously, is Bargnani injured again? The Raptors are 12-12 in contests with him on the floor at least 30 minutes, so you can see how disastrous this season will end if his calf injury is more than just tightness. If he is OK, Toronto can finish their season with their heads held high before welcoming Jonas Valanciunas (#5 draft pick last summer) back from his international career.
18. Dallas Mavericks (31-26): Kidd is hurt. Odom is gone. And this team is officially out of mojo to make something unexpected happen, so expect a first-round stomping once this season is mercifully over.
19. Utah Jazz (29-28): There they sit within a few games of multiple playoff teams/positions, but I’m not sure anyone outside of Utah thinks they’ll actually catch one of them.
20. Portland Trail Blazers (27-30): At least the players and interim coach are trying hard at the end of the year – not sure the same can be said for their front office, who have done everything they can to set the club up for tank mode, but no one told the squad.
21. Minnesota Timberwolves (25-32): Pekovic is back at half-strength, which means Derrick Williams’ up-and-down time in the starting lineup is over, but the L’s keep on coming. Minnesota’s season can’t end soon enough.
22. Philadelphia 76ers (29-27): Slip-sliding away with worsening shooting. Can still be a problem for any Eastern contenders in the playoffs, but now they’re in a 3-team fight with New York and Milwaukee for the final 2 spots, so they may not even make it if they don’t quickly turn it around.
23. New Jersey Nets (19-35): Definitely going out swinging. It’s a shame the NBA doesn’t find a way to encourage bad teams to finish strong (NJ’s motivation is the probable loss of their draft pick).
24. Golden State Warriors (22-33): By sitting Curry the rest of the way, they’re pretty much acknowledging that they’re tanking for draft position. Charles Jenkins’ per36 numbers compared to Ricky Rubio’s: 12 ppg, 50% eFG, 6.4 ast, 2.2 tov (2.91 A/TO), 2.4 reb, 1.3 stl vs. 11 ppg, 40% eFG, 8.6 ast, 3.4 tov (2.56 A/TO), 4.4 reb, 2.3 stl
25. Detroit Pistons (21-35): Detroit’s won 5 of their last 8, but one of those was over Charlotte, at home, in overtime.
26. Sacramento Kings (19-38): One win away from being able to top last year’s .293 winning percentage. When Cousins is one of your stars, you’ll take anything you can get in terms of team improvement.
27. New Orleans Hornets (15-41): Nothing to see hear. Press fast forward until the offseason when they have buku bucks to throw around and 2 lottery picks (theirs and Minnesota’s).
28. Cleveland Cavaliers (18-36): Tanking almost as badly as they did in 2003…or they really don’t have any worthwhile talent behind the injured Irving and Varejao. At least rookie Tristan Thompson has been doing alright in the starting lineup.
29. Washington Wizards (12-44): Without Nene, the Wizards might lose in Charlotte tonight. How’s that for John Wall’s second-year improvement?
30. Charlotte Bobcats (7-47): Even with a shortened season, the Bobcats shouldn’t break the NBA record low of 9 wins held by the ’72-73 Sixers; they still face the Wizards (x2), Cavs, Pistons, Hornets, and Kings. Then again, MJ may have actually assembled the worst team in league history.