1. Los Angeles Lakers- With an overall record of 43-14, the Lakers are clearly the class of the NBA right now. With the injuries to Kobe Bryant, the boys in LA have also proven they can survive without their star for a period of time if necessary. The overall length of this roster provides a lot of problems for their opponents to address. Gasol, Bynum, and Odom down low are very difficult to handle on the boards and create mismatches all over the floor.
2. Cleveland Cavaliers- The Cavs made the biggest splash at the deadline, acquiring Antawn Jamison to take some of the pressure off of Lebron. James has proven he can do it all himself in the past but with Shaq and Jamison on board now, his task should be a lot easier. After the trade Big Z is expected to return to the Cavs through one of the ridiculous loopholes in the NBA bargaining agreement. This team is the favorite to come out of the East at this point.
3. Denver Nuggets- Sitting at 37-19, the Nuggets did not do much at the deadline, but did they really need to? Chauncey Billups playing at a career level, Carmelo Anthony taking over games by himself, K-Mart at the 4, and Nene in the middle, this roster is very dangerous. J.R. Smith coming off the bench is a pure scorer who can put the ball in the basket in bunches and the bird man is a defensive force. Watch out for this team in a crowded Western Conference. Thoughts and prayers go out to George Karl, who is in another bout with cancer.
4. Utah Jazz- On January 9th, this team was on the outside looking in at the playoff picture, sitting in the 10th seed. Since then all they have done is run off 17 wins in 19 games, pushing their record to 36-19. Jerry Sloan, the NBA’s longest tenured coach and recently inducted Hall of Famer is doing wonders with this group led by Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer. This team will go as far as Williams can take them.
5. Orlando Magic- When this team is playing to their capabilities, the Magic have as deep of a starting 5 as you’re going to see. Jameer Nelson has recovered phenomenally since his shoulder injury of last year and Vince Carter is suddenly rejuvenated after having a counseling session with former coach Lawrence Frank. Matt Barnes has been a welcomed edition to the starting lineup and Dwight Howard is putting up double doubles on a nightly basis. They are likely to at least hook up with the Cavs in the Eastern Conference finals.
6. Dallas Mavericks- Dirk Nowitzki finally has some reinforcements. The Mavs got rid of locker room cancer Josh Howard, acquired a much needed physical presence on the inside with Brendan Haywood, and another scorer to team with Dirk, Caron Butler. With Jason Terry coming off the bench and Jason Kidd running the point, this team is ready to hit its stride. This was a very productive trade deadline for the Mavericks.
7. Oklahoma City Thunder-This team’s overall youth scares a lot of people, but not me. Kevin Durant has scored 25 points or more in 29 straight games, an incredible feat. With Durant averaging just about 30 points a game and Russell Westbrook distributing the ball, the sky is the limit for the Thunder, who now sit at 33-22 and right in the thick of the playoff picture.
8. Phoenix Suns- Shockingly, Amare Stoudemire is still a Sun and Phoenix now has a chance to make some noise in the Western Conference. Even without their star point guard Steve Nash, the Suns pulled off a terrific comeback Tuesday against the Thunder to pull out the victory. With Jason Richardson, veteran Grant Hill, and Robin Lopez rounding out the starting five, Alvin Gentry has a squad that could wreak havoc down the stretch.
9. Atlanta Hawks- This team was a couple spots higher when I started this list but a 4th quarter collapse against the lowly Warriors knocks them down quite a few spots. Josh Smith is an all around star for this team and Jamal Crawford off the bench is turning the 6th man of the year award voting this season into a mockery, scoring 18 a game. Al Horford is fresh off of his first All-Star appearance and fellow All-Star Joe Johnson is having another electrifying season. This team was one of the hottest storylines of the first half but has tailed off a bit to sit at 34-20. They will certainly make the playoffs, but how far can they go?
10. Boston Celtics- At 35-19, I have this team ranked a bit lower than many others but it comes down to age and athleticism. Yes, Ray Allen has suddenly begun to shoot at his career norms for a 10 game stretch but can that continue? Kevin Garnett has been dealing with constant discomfort in his knees and Paul Pierce has been bothered by nagging injuries throughout the season. Rajon Rondo is the bright spot on this team with dazzling ball handling skills and court vision that cannot be topped. There is something to be said for veteran leadership, but that will ultimately be their down fall.
11. Portland Trailblazers- Let me start off by giving credit where credit is due. Nate McMillan has done possibly the best job in the entire NBA this season. The Blazers have lost both big men Greg Oden and Joel Przybilla to season-ending injury. The Blazers have compiled a record of 33-26 with the washed up veteran Juwan Howard at center. After pulling off a deadline deal for Marcus Camby, coupled with Brandon Roy, Andre Miller, Lamarcus Aldridge, and Martell Webster, this team finally has the size needed to legitimately compete. Once this team blends and gets its chemistry, watch out.
12. Toronto Raptors- At 31-24, the Raptors have a solid foundation in place. Chris Bosh is obviously the focal point of this team but Hedo Turkoglu adds some outside shooting to a team already filled with sharpshooters. Just about everyone on the roster can shoot the three ball, including center, Andrea Bargnani. This team does not play enough defense to ultimately rise to the top of the Eastern Conference, as they have given up almost 105 points per game.
13. San Antonio Spurs – This is another team I had ranked a bit higher until an embarrassing debacle against our very own 76ers in a 106-94 loss. They followed that with another embarrassing loss to another lottery-bound team in the Detroit Pistons, giving up 109 points. If you’re giving up 109 and 106 to the Pistons and Sixers, there’s a major issues with your team defense, but I’m going to give Greg Popavich the benefit of the doubt here and guess he gets this fixed. Tim Duncan and Tony Parker are enough to get them to the dance but not enough to get on the dance floor.
14. Chicago Bulls- Should we discuss anyone else besides Derrick Rose here? Probably not, but I guess we have to. Taj Gibson has been a nice surprise out of USC and this team has taken off since Kirk Hinrich was inserted into the starting lineup. With the trade of John Salmons, they also freed up major salary cap space for a signing this summer. Another tip of the cap to Vinny Del Negro, who was the subject of reports saying he would be fired before the All-Star break. Del Negro now has the Bulls at 29-27 and a virtual lock for a playoff berth.
15. Charlotte Bobcats- The Bobcats became the first team since 1985 to lose to the worst team in the league (New Jersey Nets) and then defeat the best team in the league (Cleveland Cavaliers) on back to back nights. This team is a mystery rapped in a riddle with their extreme inconsistency. They are a phenomenal home team but awful on the road and Stephen Jackson looks like he could be a premier player one night but will go ice-cold the next, as he did against the LA Clippers. Jackson was 1 of 16 shooting from the field; you read that right, ONE of SIXTEEN. Felton at the point is a nice player and Nazr Mohammed is having a nice season but this team ultimately doesn’t have enough to truly contend.
16. New Orleans Hornets- Chris Paul out for the season. Season over right? Not so fast. Darren Collison, perhaps the most underrated rookie has stepped right in and scored 20 or more in 7 of the last 10 games. With David West and Emeka Okafor in the middle, this team has surprised almost everyone with their play after Paul has been out. Do they have enough to sustain it? That is another story, but the Hornets have found a fine player in Darren Collison
17. Milwaukee Bucks- Scott Skiles has himself in the running for Coach of the Year for the work he has done with the Bucks this season. Brandon Jennings has surpassed expectations in his rookie season, and the deadline trade for John Salmons will be a welcome addition. But the real story here is Andrew Bogut, he’s averaging 16 points and 10 rebounds per game. Just the other night against the Knicks, Bogut went off for 22 points and 24 rebounds. With Bogut shooting almost 53% from the field this team could sneak into the playoff picture.
18. Miami Heat- At 29-28 in the Eastern Conference that is usually enough to put you comfortably in position for a playoff berth, but with Miami’s remaining schedule it will be a daunting task. After the season this team faces many questions regarding the future of their star Dwayne Wade. Will he stay or will he go? Either way they don’t have enough right now to compete for a Championship.
19. Memphis Grizzlies- This team had everyone fooled for quite a while. After starting the season 1-8, they found themselves 6 games over .500 just about a week and half ago. Another skid put them right back at .500 and in a fight for their playoff lives. This team is not short on talent, as they have O.J. Mayo and Mike Conley in the backcourt, Rudy Gay, a suddenly revived Zack Randolph, and Marc Gasol in the front court. With the deadline deal for Ronnie Brewer, this team has talent to compete but you ultimately don’t know what you’re going to get.
20. Houston Rockets- The absence of Yao Ming is really beginning to plague this team. Chuck Hayes at Center was getting them by for awhile but has ultimately become too much. The trade for Kevin Martin, Kyle Lowry, and Jared Jeffries will help, but ultimately their lack of size is troubling. Aaron Brooks is playing well and Scola is becoming a scorer out of the low post but the Rockets currently sit in the 10th seed in the Western Conference. Too little too late.
21. Los Angeles Clippers – The red headed step child in LA, is not doing much to shake that moniker with their recent play. Mike Dunleavy recently stepped down as head coach(finally), the Clips shipped Marcus Camby, Al Thornton and Sebastian Telfair to Washington, Portland, and Cleveland For Big Z in a salary dump. At 22-33, the Clippers do have some bright spots with Eric Gordon, Chris Kaman and Blake Griffin, who has yet to play an NBA game due to injury. Baron Davis’ contract continues to haunt this team as he is now shooting under 40% on the season. With cap space, Gordon, Griffin, and Kaman there is reason to be optimistic.
22. Golden State Warriors- One thing this team can do is score; unfortunately that alone does not win games. Stephen Curry is making a legit run for the ROY award and Monta Ellis continues to prove he is a legitimate scorer in this league. I don’t have much to say about the rest of this roster. Andris Biedrins may be the worst offensive player in the NBA, Tolliver and Morrow can shoot the three but ultimately play no defense. This team is giving up a whopping 111 points per game and has to build around Curry and Ellis for the future.
23. Detroit Pistons- How quickly has this franchise fallen? The Pistons were once perennial Eastern Conference contenders and now have sunk to 20-35 for this season. Stuckey at the point has improved and Rip Hamilton is averaging just over 19 points a game. Other than that there is not much here. This team needs to start over and rebuild from the core. Long season for the Pistons.
24. Philadelphia 76ers- A lot of issues with this team, where do you begin? If Eddie Jordan were fired yesterday it wouldn’t be soon enough. Ed Stefanski allowed the trade deadline to pass without freeing up cap space for this summer’s major free agent pool, unless you were a big fan of that Royal Ivey and Primo Brezec for Jody Meeks swap. The Sixers are now stuck with Andre Iguodala, their number one scoring option who can’t shoot, Sammy Dalembert, another albatross of a contract who has improved as of late, and Lou Williams 2-spot . Elton Brand’s rebirth is a major bright spot for the future but this team doesn’t have much flexibility and needs to rebuild. Major changes have to happen, unless you are a fan of starting Willie Green as your shooting guard on a nightly basis. Pray for a lottery selection Sixers fans.
25. Indiana Pacers- When you get this far down in the rankings in the NBA, you get a little sick to your stomach. The Pacers may have the worst team in the history of their franchise right now and it does not appear to be getting better. Danny Granger is the real deal, but aside from him there is not much to be excited about. Roy Hibbert has done fine out of Georgetown with 11 points and 6 boards a game but this roster lacks flexibility and any defense whatsoever. Jim O’brien deserves quite a bit of praise for squeezing 19 wins out of this sorry bunch. (By the way, how good would O’brien look on the Sixers bench right now?)
26. Washington Wizards- What a disastrous season for Flip Saunders and the Wizards. Gilbert Arenas gets suspended for the season for bringing a weapon into an NBA arena and their best player Antawn Jamison is dumped to free cap room. The recently acquired Josh Howard is already lost for the season due to a torn knee ligament. To top things off Saunders has to watch as Javale McGee and Andray Blatche lock down 2 out of his top 5 starting positions. This was a painful season in Washington and sadly it’s not over yet.
27. New York Knicks- Tracy Mcgrady made his arrival in New York with authority, scoring 26 points in his debut. Since then it has not worked too well. The Knicks sit at 19-35 and could not make it any more obvious what their goal is for this season; Free up as much cap space as possible to sign Lebron James. The Knicks have cleared enough cap space to afford two max contracts this summer and there should be plenty of fireworks. As for this season? Forget about it.
28. Sacramento Kings- The Kings picked up Carl Landry in a trade, which improves them slighty but this team has gotten really bad really fast. At the beginning of the season it looked as if the Kings might put together a productive season to build on, but it has crashed and burned. Tyreke Evans is having a fantastic year and has largely carried this team. The good news is this team is relatively young with some talent.
29. Minnesota Timberwolves- The 29th ranking out of 30 really does this team no justice. This team is awful, flat out awful. If this team played in any other season than 2009, they would be dead last at #30. Luckily for the T-wolves there is a team worse. At 14-44, the Timberwolves are being outscored by an average of 9 points per game. Jonny Flynn has scored 14 per game and Al Jefferson still puts up solid numbers but this team cannot compete. If you are looking for a bright spot, Kevin Love has 10 double doubles off the bench this season, 2nd most in the NBA.
30. New Jersey Nets- Oh my goodness. This team is 5-51 and free falling. The Nets have a chance to break the mark of worst record in an NBA season if this keeps up. That record is held by our very own 76ers. Devin Harris has been unable to duplicate his 2009 success into 2010 and Brook Lopez is not enough. There is not much left to say here but this could be a historic season for the Nets, but for all the wrong reasons.