In the perfect world, there would be sixteen teams with winning records entering the NBA playoffs. With the Eastern Conference crumbled and nearly wiped off the NBA map, only five teams in the conference have a winning record. Is it understandable that two of these teams would be the best teams in the NBA according to standings?
The thing is, the two best records in the East reflect the two strongest teams in the entire league, and it has more to do with star power and/or team chemistry than it does their total wins and losses.
In our world, well, we have the better half of the league: ten Western Conference teams paired with five Eastern Conference standouts. The most amazing fact about this: there are nine teams in the Western Conference that are on pace to win 50 games this season. If you think about it, one will not make the playoffs.
With that said, here are the top 15 teams in the NBA, based on overall record, statistics, strength of schedule, winning streaks, and anything else you can gather from the first half of the season. It's the better half, with no room for losing records.
1) Boston Celtics (41-9)
Notes: The Celtics are one of two teams to allow less than 90 points per game this season.
The Celtics are undefeated against Western Conference opponents this season and own the best record in the NBA. The only thing that I find difficult to understand would be the two consecutive losses to the disabled Washington Wizards during Rajon Rondo's injury. If the kid is that important to Doc's system, it makes you wonder if he'll be able to maintain his composure come playoff time.
2) Detroit Pistons (39-13)
Notes: Detroit is that second team.
To be honest, it was close between the two top teams in the East. Boston gets the nod, but the Detroit Pistons may have a chance to snag a number one in the second half of the season. The Pistons have a great shot at making the NBA Finals, and the only team that is standing in their way is a team they have defeated convincingly earlier this season.
3) New Orleans Hornets (36-15)
Notes: The Hornets have the second highest three-point percentage in the NBA.
Byron Scott is enjoying the show in New Orleans, and the show has nothing to do with trumpets and saxophones. All-Stars Chris Paul and David West, grouped with shooting-ace Peja Stojakovic, forms a tandem that could break a few hearts in the West come April and May. The amazing thing is, I didn't mention Tyson Chandler.
4) Los Angeles Lakers (35-17)
Notes: The Lakers are winning games by an average of six or more points, third in the league next to Boston and Detroit.
The world couldn't be large enough for Kobe Bryant and the Lakers, as it has been resting on their shoulders since Andrew Bynum's injury. With the young center missing another month, Bryant and new teammate Pau Gasol have no choice but to dominate at their positions. The Lakers are a contender in the West, but with Kobe's torn pinky finger, their current standing may be short-lived.
5) Phoenix Suns (37-16)
Notes: Phoenix shoots slightly over 49 percent from the field this season, a league-high.
Adding a slow, large Shaquille O'Neal to Phoenix's run-and-gun offense doesn't seem like the best plan for a team one suspension away from the NBA Finals. However, there's no reason to remove the Suns from their top five spot yet. For a team that's more focused on their virtual seven-second shot clock than their defense, it remains to be seen how O'Neal plays with the former MVP and the manchild, Amare Stoudemire.
6) Dallas Mavericks (35-18)
Notes: Mark Cuban's Mavericks are 25th in the league in assists per game.
Jason Kidd will be a Maverick, and it won't involve Jerry Stackhouse. Adding the triple double machine might help their assist totals, but the bigger question is still resting on the table: how do the Mavericks contend with the larger teams in the West? The Kidd trade will more than likely secure any wins against a sleeper in the playoffs, but Dirk Nowitzki will need to play his best basketball yet for Dallas to reach the Finals once again.
7) San Antonio Spurs (34-17)
Notes: Tim Duncan and the Spurs have won four titles in the last decade, but neverback-to-back championships.
Tony Parker's MVP performance in the 2007 NBA Finals was just a small piece of evidence proving Parker's value to the Spurs. If you want more proof, take a look at the Spurs with an injured Parker. In November, the Spurs racked up a 14-3 record. Where we don't know when exactly Parker started suffering from his heel injury, his turnovers increased soon after, and the Spurs are 20-14 since, actually going 6-1 in their last seven with Damon Stoudamire.
8) Utah Jazz (34-19)
Notes: The Jazz have won 17 of their last 20 games, including big wins over the Suns, Spurs, Hornets and Rockets.
It took some time for the Jazz to swing their way back into the top seed in the Northwest, but it has been a dogfight between Utah, the Nuggets and the Blazers. Quite frankly, many were surprised to see Utah in the conference finals last season, almost as much as they were to see them third in the division after Portland's surge in 2007. Fortunately, Deron Williams is playing excellent basketball, and Andrei Kirilenko is no longer the emotionally unstable player we perceived him to be in November.
9) Houston Rockets (32-20)
Notes: Houston is on an eight-game winning streak, winning 17 of their last 21 games.
After a poor performance in the months of November and December, including a six-game losing streak in mid-November, the Rockets are on a tear. Finally, Houston fans can make an argument as to who the face of the franchise is, as Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady are both battling it out (in a positive way, of course) and leading their squad to a nice record in the tough Southwest Division. The schedule may favor Houston a bit, but it's the case with every team at some point of the season.
10) Denver Nuggets (32-20)
Notes: Denver is first in the league in blocks and steals per game, and second in the NBA in rebounds.
By looking at statistics, you have to believe that the Denver Nuggets are a fairly good defensive team. In addition to the blocks, steals and boards, the Nuggets hold their opponents to under 45 percent shooting, which is sixth in the league. When you add two of the top scorers in the NBA to their roster, it makes you wonder why this team isn't a top five, at the very least.
11) Orlando Magic (33-21)
Notes: Orlando is fifth in field goal percentage, but in the bottom half of the league in opponents' shooting numbers.
Who would've known that Stan Van Gundy had planned on calling out Dwight Howard in public? It's now apparent that Howard used the criticism as a motivational tool, but the Magic are too good on paper to not be mentioned in the elite group of the East, which currently contains Boston, Detroit and LeBron James (don't ask me, ask the media).
12) Golden State Warriors (32-20)
Notes: Golden State is allowing over 47 rebounds per game, the worst in the NBA.
Don Nelson's Warriors are the highest scoring team in the league as of the break, also snagging the top spot in points allowed, and the bottom spot in rebounding by opponents. It's very clear what Golden State needs to work on, but unclear where to begin, which is why all the star power in Oakland couldn't turn Nelson's group into a contender out west. A start would be to turn them into a mock of the old Bucks team Nelson coached in the 80's, but it may be too late to rebuild.
13) Cleveland Cavaliers (29-23)
Notes: Cleveland is one of two teams above .500 (Portland is the other) that have been outscored by their opponents so far this season.
The Cavaliers are second in the NBA in rebounding differential, which is not hard to understand considering the fact that they have four players grabbing nearly eight or more rebounds per game. The Cavs started off the new year 10-2 before Anderson Varejao went down with an injury, and since then, they have managed a 5-4 record, although the schedule did seem to get tougher.
14) Toronto Raptors (28-23)
Notes: Toronto is the best three-point shooting team in the NBA, and the second best from the charity stripe.
Turnovers, anyone? You won't find them being committed by the Raptors. Toronto sits behind Boston as second best in least amount of turnovers per game, and it may be the extra bit of rope that keeps them hanging in the East. With Jose Calderon's assists-to-turnover ratio higher than that of Chris Paul or Chauncey Billups, it's not difficult to realize that the Raptors are playing smart basketball to cement their spot in the playoffs.
15) Portland Trailblazers (28-24)
Notes: The Blazers have lost their last four games, all being on the road. They scored over 85 points in just one of those games.
After winning 13 consecutive games with nine of them at home, against teams with a combined win percentage of .467 (as of today), the Blazers are 6-11 in their last 17 games. That's right, folks: 13-0 to 6-11. When you play Dallas, Houston, Detroit, Cleveland, New Orleans, Orlando and Boston, you're going to lose a few games (and that's seven of their 11 total losses).
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