The NBA power still resides primarily in the West but the East is proving to be a battlefield of a different nature with its elite worthy of true title consideration. The Atlanta Hawks and Golden State Warriors have made winning look easy at the top while the Minnesota Timberwolves and Philadelphia 76er’s make basketball hard to watch at times.
We run through the association 1-30 with a quick take and look at each team as we inch towards All-Star weekend and the unofficial second half of the season.
1. Atlanta Hawks: It’s time to stop being surprised and waiting for their failure. They defend, their offensive scheme makes everybody a threat and their confidence is sky high. Good luck stopping the well-oiled machine driven by Jeff Teague, Al Horford and Paul Millsap who are All-Stars by the way.
2. Golden State Warriors: Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson continue to lead them while Draymond Green slows down. Thankfully David Lee and Andrew Bogut are back to looking like themselves which keeps this team as a menace in the West.
3. Memphis Grizzlies: The acquisition of Jeff Green gives them versatility but Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol are still the team’s bread and butter.
4. Los Angeles Clippers: Regular season success is becoming the norm for this team and they will be judged solely on their playoff progress. The bench is still a legit concern as the trade deadline draws near.
5. San Antonio Spurs: A healthy Spurs team is a title-contending Spurs team. Kawhi Leonard and Tony Parker seem to be back up to speed with a lengthy All-Star break looming. Look for them to close strong.
6. Portland Trail Blazers: LaMarcus Aldridge may be playing with fire (or his future) by playing through his injury but RIP City takes on a different meaning if they don’t have him.
7. Cleveland Cavaliers: Rumors of their demise seem to have been greatly exaggerated already. LeBron James looks fresh as the Cavs start to stack wins and their defense has been marginally better.
8. Houston Rockets: James Harden for president or at least M.V.P. should be the battle cry. Dwight Howard needs to be right but him missing at least a month is more than troublesome. Hopefully Terrence Jones can return to form to increase the team’s depth in the frontcourt.
9. Dallas Mavericks: A dark horse in the West that is looking for help behind Tyson Chandler. With Jermaine O’neal reportedly on the way the Mavs seem to have all they need to make a deep run assuming Rajon Rondo can turn things around.
10. Chicago Bulls: Derrick Rose has been questioned, Jimmy Butler is slowing down while Pau Gasol has been the most consistent. Health is always the concern for one the NBA’s best road teams but Thibs has to shorten the starters’ minutes before the playoffs.
11. Toronto Raptors: With DeMar DeRozan back the pressure is off Kyle Lowry to score and facilitate at the same time. They still need consistency from Valanciunas and for their defense to reach the level it did last season.
12. Washington Wizards: Having a great season but getting lost in the hype of the Hawks. Their size is a threat to all but they go as far as John Wall and Bradley Beal can take them.
13. Phoenix Suns: Having a different player lead them every night seems to be working but it’s hard to see guys like Goran Dragic and Markieff Morris get lost in the shuffle at times. Chemistry is key but they seem to have multiple parts that could be traded for an upgrade almost anywhere they chose.
14. Milwaukee Bucks: One of the truly great stories in the league that is getting lost in the dominance of some higher-placed teams. But without Jabari Parker the Bucks chug along using a similar approach that the Suns do treating each game “like a box of chocolate.”
15. Oklahoma City Thunder: Everybody expects them to catch the Suns to make the playoffs but nothing is guaranteed. Having two stars in Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant is great but it also leads to a lot of sightseeing by their teammates which is holding OKC’s offensive rating in the middle of the pack.
16. New Orleans Pelicans: Coach Monty Williams is doing a great job with Anthony Davis and the Pels are finally over 500. Jrue Holiday is once again banged up but Tyreke Evans is playing his basketball since his rookie season.
17. Miami Heat: They started out like a team on a mission but reality has quickly set in as Dwyane Wade continues to hokey-pokey in and out of the lineup. Chris Bosh was supposed to be grabbing double-digit rebounds and isn’t close to that at 7.5 per game. At least they have Hassan Whiteside…
18. Detroit Pistons: With Brandon Jennings out D.J. Augustin gets all the burn he can handle. If the Pistons can play through Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond they can sneak into the 8th spot even without Jennings.
19. Boston Celtics: Danny Ainge took options away from Brad Stevens and the Celtics have a more normal rotation as a result. The playoffs are within striking distance although that may not be what Ainge had in mind. More shuffling in Boston may still be on the way.
20. Charlotte Hornets: Should they be lauded or ridiculed for coming to the realization that the Lance Stephenson signing was a mistake? They are playing a little better but the loss of Kemba Walker makes their playoff outlook murky at best and it was already pretty polluted with him in the lineup.
21. Denver Nuggets: The ultimate ‘tweener’ team. Are they rebuilding or are they trying to compete? The answer seems to be somewhere in the middle as the Nuggets continue to disappoint with a semi-talented roster. Ty Lawson is toiling away without much direction from Coach Shaw and the organization as a whole.
22. Brooklyn Nets: The ‘kaboom’ is coming. Joe Johnson, Brook Lopez and Deron Williams will not be together past the trade deadline. Someone must go, with Lopez and Johnson looking like the most likely departees.
23. Sacramento Kings: DeMarcus Cousins has been marvelous but the ownership and administration seem to be in disarray. Why exactly is Ty Corbin coaching this team?
24. Utah Jazz: They’ve had some nice moments here and there. With the exception of blocking shots they don’t do anything particularly well. It was supposed to be a year of growth and that is proving to be true especially now with Dante Exum taking the reigns from Trey Burke.
25. Indiana Pacers: They thought Roy Hibbert and David West would be able to lead them every night and that hope has been misplaced. Hibbert doesn’t have the mindset and West is just on the downside of a nice career. Not having George Hill the majority of the season has also contributed to many of their woes.
26. Orlando Magic: Meet the Utah Jazz east. Plenty of talent that just needs seasoning although Jacque Vaughn is starting to be questioned as the coach.
27. Los Angeles Lakers: Welcome to the Jordan Clarkson and Nick Young era the rest of this season. With Kobe Bryant out the Lakers rival the 76’ers as the most unwatchable team in the league.
28. New York Knicks: They can’t wait to get rid of Jose Calderon and for Carmelo Anthony to finally shutdown. When those two things happen Langston Galloway and Tim Hardaway Jr. will have the keys to the kingdom the rest of the season. Fun times ahead!
29. Philadelphia 76ers: All jokes aside you can start to see why they don’t have much faith in Michael Carter-Williams long term. For now he’s the hero they deserve. It is a shame Nerlens Noel has been so inconsistent too.
30. Minnesota Timberwolves: They have the rookie of the year in Andrew Wiggins but otherwise it’s been a lost season as injuries ravaged them early on. With Kevin Martin, Ricky Rubio and Nikola Pekovic all returning (or already returned) it will be interesting to see if Wiggins continues to thrive in the way he did in January.