Mar 5, 2012, 1:33 PM EST
The top three are pretty much set, it’s just a matter of who is playing the best among them at this moment. Right now it’s Chicago. The bottom three are pretty much locked in, too, but the Bobcats have really grabbed hold of the last spot and made it their own.
1. Bulls (31-8, last week ranked number 3). Four games, four wins since the All-Star break — and that is with Rip Hamilton not really finding his footing yet since his return. Everybody already looking forward to a week from Wednesday when the Bulls face the Heat again.
2. Thunder (29-8, LW 2). They continue to close out games well despite pretty stagnant late game play calling. Why? They play great defense at the end of games (read Zach Lowe at SI). Their Achilles heel is turnovers, that’s what cost them against the Hawks in their one loss since the All-Star break.
3. Heat (28-9, LW 1). Back-to-back losses to the Lakers and Jazz — both teams with strong front lines playing the Heat without Chris Bosh. He matters a lot more to the Heat then people realize, and the drop-off after him is steep. As for LeBron James, he’s the one guy in the league who gets criticized for passing to an open teammate.
4. Clippers (22-13 LW 6). Hard-fought overtime win Sunday against a Rockets team that is tougher than everyone realizes. Expect a lot more games like that in the coming weeks — their March schedule is brutal. They are on the road this week and have a tough one Friday at San Antonio.
5. Lakers (23-14, LW 8). The Lakers got a signature win over the Heat on Sunday, a game where they really used their assets to exploit Miami inside. Kobe Bryant is shooting 54 percent since Dwyane Wade broke his nose — he says he’s not going to wear the mask any longer than he has to, but the way he is shooting he may want to consider going Rip Hamilton.
6. Spurs (25-12, LW 4). Tough losses to good teams in Chicago and Denver this week. Another test coming Friday against the Clippers. For a while it looked like this team could beat anyone, but do you really buy that when the playoffs get here.
7. Magic (24-14, LW 7). Lost to the Thunder last week… really, does anybody care about their games the next two weeks? Until the deadline the league is on Dwight watch.
8. Pacers (23-12, LW 9). Six wins in a row, but they continue to beat the league’s weak teams. This week the schedule is Bulls, Hawks, Heat and Magic. If you want to say you are upper echelon, talk to us after that gauntlet.
9. Grizzlies (22-15, LW 12). Won 10-12, but most of that at home. When they get Zach Randolph back and integrated, watch out. Who wants this team in the first round of the playoffs? (If the playoffs started today it would be a Lakers/Grizzlies first round, which would be a fascinating battle of bigs.)
10. Mavericks (22-16, LW 5). They had a five-game losing streak before Dirk Nowitzki went off for 40 and stopped it Saturday. Lamar Odom is back and says he is sorry for how things are gone, but the Mavs need actions to speak louder than words.
11. Hawks (22-15, LW 14). Impressive win over the Thunder last week. They have three games in four nights this week, and that is the kind of situation where a lack of mental focus can hurt a team. So, bad news for the Hawks.
12. Nuggets (21-17, LW 16). Nice wins over Portland, San Antonio and Houston last week. They are in the same boat as Houston — one of the last playoff spots in the west with Minnesota just two games back — but with a soft schedule this week they can start to create some distance.
13. Rockets (21-17, LW 11). Lost to Utah, Denver and the Clippers last week and now seven of their next eight are on the road. Right now they are the seven seed in the West but Minnesota is lurking two games back.
14. 76ers (22-16, LW 10). Flying under the trade deadline radar is Andres Nocioni — don’t be shocked if he gets moved.
15. Celtics (19-17, LW 18). Four wins in a row last week out of the All-Star break — this team is dangerous when rested. Some teams struggle when trade rumors swirl, but this veteran group should be able to play through it.
16. Timberwolves (19-19, LW 17). They are in the playoff mix (just two games out) but are going to have to fight to keep that spot — Clippers, Lakers and Blazers this week, then they head out on a lengthy road trip.
17. Knicks (18-19, LW 13). They are the eighth seed in the East, but Milwaukee is four games back so they likely can hold on to a playoff spot baring a total collapse. However, they are three games back of Atlanta at the six seed, and you really don’t want the Heat or Bulls in the first round.
18. Jazz (17-19, LW 19). They are showcasing Devin Harris for a potential trade — and he’s looked pretty good, including the game winner over the Heat on Friday.
19. Suns (17-20, LW 20). Three straight games where the Suns have rallied from more than 20 points back to win. We’re all watching for Steve Nash trade rumors, but right now it looks like they keep him.
20. Blazers (18-19, LW 15). Jamal Crawford trade rumors are going to engulf this team for the next two weeks, we’ll see how they deal with it. Right now they are not dealing well with much of anything well.
21. Warriors (14-19, LW 22). Their offense is just wildly inconsistent, which makes them a team that can beat anyone or lose to anyone on any given night. But they are entertaining while they do it.
22. Pistons (12-26, LW 23). They have dropped four of five and have looked pretty terrible doing it.
23. Bucks (14-23, LW 24). If they are going to make a playoff run they need to get very hot right now. That’s not going to happen, by the way.
24. Nets (12-26, LW 26). They have won three of five since Brook Lopez came back, with two of those wins over Dallas and New York. Of course, Lopez rolled his ankle and may miss a few games, so it will be back to the same old Nets for a while.
25. Raptors (12-25, LW 27). Here is how Raptors fans need to look at the season — next year they get Jonas Valanciunas and whoever they draft this year to come in to camp. It’s like two lottery picks in one.
26. Cavaliers (13-22, LW 21). They lost to the Wizards this week. They are lucky to be this high.
27. Kings (12-25, LW 25). Hey, they got a new arena deal. We’re just going to keep talking about that (and that they plan to bring back coach Keith Smart next season).
28. Hornets (9-28, LW 28). They are showcasing Chris Kaman for a trade and he is looking good — 16.5 points and nearly 10 rebounds a game since his return. Like the kind of player the Hornets should have been playing earlier.
29. Wizards (8-28, LW 29). Randy Wittman is trying to put his foot down and instill some discipline (like by benching JaVale McGee). Good luck with that.
Dec 18, 2014, 6:03 PM EST
The Mavs send three players and two picks to Boston.
Dec 18, 2014, 5:30 PM EST
They don’t want to give up picks.
Dec 18, 2014, 4:45 PM EST
Spurs star made same clutch shot a decade ago against Lakers
Dec 18, 2014, 4:05 PM EST
Down goes Rocky, down goes Rocky
Dec 18, 2014, 3:40 PM EST
Trail Blazers guard just waiting to check into game, when his personal space gets violated
Dec 18, 2014, 3:09 PM EST
The Warriors are +15.8 per 100 when he is on the court. They will miss him.
Dec 18, 2014, 3:03 PM EST
Celtics forward shows up Magic
Dec 18, 2014, 2:28 PM EST
Updated with Lakers’ reported offer
Dec 18, 2014, 1:36 PM EST
Trade talks for Celtics point guard heating up
Dec 18, 2014, 12:55 PM EST
Where does this rank among LeBron’s most-lopsided losses?
Dec 18, 2014, 12:22 PM EST
It would be very difficult for the Clippers to find a deal Minnesota would like.
Dec 18, 2014, 11:51 AM EST
Plenty of photos and a recap of this week’s launch event from Jordan Brand’s Terminal 23 space in NYC.
Dec 18, 2014, 11:13 AM EST
This would shake up the balance of power in the West.
Dec 18, 2014, 10:21 AM EST
It’s is the ninja turtle time of year.
Dec 18, 2014, 10:12 AM EST
He turned the table on the Clippers and dunked on them.
Dec 18, 2014, 8:00 AM EST
Don’t worry. He still got off a jumper (which he missed)
Dec 18, 2014, 2:05 AM EST
James Harden and Dwyane Wade broke the 40 point barrier.
Dec 18, 2014, 1:31 AM EST
Another fine defensive moment from James Harden.
Dec 18, 2014, 12:54 AM EST
I can’t wait until the Western Conference playoffs.
Dec 17, 2014, 11:46 PM EST
He walked off under his own power but did not return.
- Report: Celtics and Mavericks agree in principle to Rajon Rondo trade 3
- Andrew Bogut undergoes PRP therapy on knee, out indefinitely 6
- Report: Mavericks trading for Rajon Rondo could happen ‘sooner rather than later’ 10
- Carmelo Anthony introduces his latest signature shoe, the Jordan Melo M11 9
- Report: Rondo “open” to re-signing in Dallas, Houston if traded there 20
- PBT’s Wednesday Night NBA Winners/Losers: You will not question if Memphis is legit again 18
- Grizzlies top Spurs in triple overtime. Best game of the season. So far. 5
- Report: Mavericks and Celtics in ‘substantive discussion’ about Rajon Rondo trade 25