With more than half of the NBA regular season behind us, there are a handful of teams that are ready to make a push at a title, while others are simply hoping to try their luck in the lottery come this offseason.
In a season that has left the middle of the field so wide open, the second-half stretch will force a number of teams to rise to the top of their games or ultimately fall out of the playoff picture all together.
A win over the third-place Orlando Magic last week almost keeps the Charlotte Bobcats out of last place, but four straight losses to three non-playoff teams keep them from going anywhere soon.
With just six wins so far, the Bobcats have a winning percentage of .150 this season and have been by far the worst team in the NBA.
Having lost Monday night to the Charlotte Bobcats, the New Orleans Hornets are almost worthy of the No. 30 spot this season.
With only 10 wins so far, the Hornets easily occupy the basement of the Western Conference. They have even fewer wins at home than they do on the road.
With the team not even sure about the futures of center Chris Kaman and shooting guard Eric Gordon, the outlook of the team has to be in question moving forward.
There hasn't been much to celebrate this season for the Washington Wizards, but a recent comeback victory over the Los Angeles Lakers gave the home crowd something to cheer for.
The team is willing to move just about anyone on the roster, as reported by Michael Lee of The Washington Post. This season appears to be nothing more than another chance at the lottery for a young Wizards team.
The Toronto Raptors have three wins since the All-Star break. Considering that those victories came over the likes of the New Orleans Hornets, Golden State Warriors and the suddenly struggling Houston Rockets, let's not get too excited for the team just yet.
Andrea Bargnani has played only 15 games so far due to injury, but with his return last week, the Raptors could look to begin slowly separating themselves from the bottom of the league.
The Sacramento Kings are giving up the most points per game in the NBA this season, and quite frankly, their offense just isn't good enough to make up the difference on most nights.
If this team can continue to grow together and add a few pieces, they could find that they have some legitimate talent and a ceiling that might be higher than most realize.
For now, though, they're too young and need to work on getting everyone involved in their seemingly uninspired offense.
In a year that has seen Brook Lopez fall to injury more than once, the New Jersey Nets are 14-29 and have yet to make a major change to their roster this season.
To make matters worse, Deron Williams could potentially leave in free agency in just a few months, putting a major damper on their move to Brooklyn.
This hasn't exactly been the season that Mark Jackson was hoping for in his first year with the Golden State Warriors.
The scoring is fine, but the team is allowing nearly 100 points per game and is near the bottom of the league in rebounds.
The team is coming out of the weekend 2-0 with wins against the Dallas Mavericks and Los Angeles Clippers. Despite being only three games out of the eighth spot in the West, it would be difficult to imagine them making a playoff push this season.
The Cleveland Cavaliers have shown improvement this season and find themselves just a game out of the playoff race in the Eastern Conference.
Quite frankly, that probably speaks greater volumes to the state of the competition than it does to the success of the Cavs.
Kyrie Irving has been very good in his rookie season, but if it weren't for a three-game winning streak against playoff-contending Western Conference opponents—the Denver Nuggets, Oklahoma City Thunder and Houston Rockets—this team would be out of sight and out of mind for most NBA fans.
Their 16-23 record is subpar, but in a season where the 18-24 Milwaukee Bucks occupy the eighth spot out East, a short winning streak could prove to be enough to get them into the playoffs if everything falls into place for Cleveland.
If it weren't for an ugly 4-20 start, the Detroit Pistons would likely hold a legitimate chance at making the playoffs out East this season.
Having won 11 of its last 18 games, Detroit has looked improved behind the stellar play of point guard Rodney Stuckey. He has averaged more than 21 points per game and five assists in the month of March.
A tough road stretch is ahead for the team, so we'll find out by the end of March whether or not a playoff push is in the cards for the Pistons this season.
With the injury to big man Andrew Bogut, Stephen Jackson wanting out and Brandon Jennings' future with the team suddenly up in the air, you'd think that the Milwaukee Bucks were doomed moving forward this season.
The fact is, though, that the team has some how managed to remain the eighth seed in the East, and a recent increase in scoring puts them in competition with the Cleveland Cavaliers and New York Knicks for the eighth spot in the conference.
The Portland Trail Blazers have been on and off all season. Since the All-Star Break, however, it's been far more off than on.
Back-to-back losses to the Minnesota Timberwolves snapped a 16-game winning streak against the division opponent. Those two games have come in a streak that has seen the team now lose five of its last seven games.
Quite frankly, if it weren't for the lowly New Orleans Hornets and Washington Wizards being on the schedule, the team might be 0-7 to begin the second-half stretch of the NBA season.
The Blazers have been awful on the road this season. In the midst of a seven-game road trip, it's hard to imagine things getting better just yet.
A win against the Miami Heat was fun to watch for fans of the Utah Jazz, but for a team that is on the outside looking in on the current playoff scenarios, a reality check hit them head on when they played the Philadelphia 76ers and the Chicago Bulls in back-to-back road games.
Don't take anything away from the victory against Miami; it was a great game for the Jazz. If the team is going to compete for a spot in this year's playoffs, though, it just might have to become a player in this week's NBA trade deadline first.
Heading into All-Star Weekend, the New York Knicks were the feel-good story of the NBA. Having now dropped six straight, however, the team is falling further behind the Atlanta Hawks in the Atlantic Division.
Tyson Chandler's absence has been part of it, and the return of Carmelo Anthony appears to be disrupting the Knicks' new flow as well.
There's no denying, though, that "Linsanity" took place during a relatively easy stretch of the season for the Knicks, and that the roster that looks quite different now than it did just a short time ago.
With the team once again fighting just to get into playoff position, they're going to have to get it together if they plan on making the splash we thought they were capable of just two weeks ago.
At one point this season, the Houston Rockets won nine of 10 games and were threatening to catch the San Antonio Spurs in the Southwest Division.
The Rockets won their first game after All-Star Weekend in a three-point victory over the Toronto Raptors, but since then have dropped six of their last seven, with their only win coming over the 14-29 New Jersey Nets.
Although still in the playoff hunt this season, the team is now in the eighth spot in the conference and is just a game away from being passed by the surprising Minnesota Timberwolves.
The Phoenix Suns are currently just 2.5 games out of the eighth spot in the West this season and are slowly making their way back to Western Conference relevancy.
Phoenix has not played great this season, but in a year where performance is down, a recent streak of five wins in 10 games—including victories over the Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Clippers, Memphis Grizzlies, Minnesota Timberwolves and Dallas Mavericks—has the Suns right back in the mix if they can keep it up in the second half.
Since Feb. 23, this team has victories over the Orlando Magic, Oklahoma City Thunder and Indiana Pacers. They played the Miami Heat to a narrow loss in South Beach and yet somehow managed to drop games to the Golden State Warriors and Detroit Pistons as well.
The Hawks have the potential to surprise practically any team on any given night, but they also have the potential to disappear and disappoint during the second half of the season.
Josh Smith's trade request certainly doesn't help matters, but with the way he's been playing, don't be surprised to see him stick around Atlanta for at least the remainder of the season.
Rajon Rondo's triple-double (18 PTS, 20 AST, 17 REB) will either be enough to keep him in Boston, or it will be enough to finally garner the assets management is looking for at the trade deadline.
The team has endured both significant winning streaks and losing streaks, showing just how hit-or-miss this season has been for the team currently sitting in seventh out East.
The Celtics' age may have officially trumped the team's experience, and it's clear that a change needs to be made in Boston. The question remains: Will that change take place in the offseason or before the March 15 trade deadline this Thursday?
The Dallas Mavericks haven't exactly looked like the defending champions this season.
Then again, not many people considered them favorites last season, right?
The difference between this season and last can be found as easily as looking at the roster.
No Tyson Chandler, no J.J. Barea and a struggling Lamar Odom have changed the face of this team. While still in the playoff picture, their sights have to be set more on acquiring big-name talent either by the trade deadline or via free agency this summer.
With Ricky Rubio now out for the season with a torn ACL, the Minnesota Timberwolves will have to look to Luke Ridnour and J.J. Barea to hold down the backcourt in order to keep the team riding the success they've had thus far.
The Timberwolves have been playing well as of late, having beaten both the Portland Trail Blazers and Los Angeles Clippers twice in the last two weeks.
The team has looked as if they could make some noise since inserting Rubio into the starting lineup. It's going to be interesting to see if they can keep themselves in the playoff race with him sidelined for the remainder of the season.
A 23-9 record currently has the Denver Nugget in the sixth seed out West, but there should be a couple of major concerns heading into the postseason.
While they remain the highest-scoring team in the NBA, their defense is near the bottom of the league. They are one of only four teams giving up more than 100 points per game.
The depth has been very good for the Nuggets so far, but if this team can maintain their playoff position by the end of the season, their lack of a go-to scorer could hurt them come playoff time, as evident by their 2-5 record in games that are decided by one possession this season.
Despite getting their first win in San Antonio in practically forever, the Los Angeles Clippers have dropped off slightly since the All-Star break.
Losses to the Phoenix Suns, New Jersey Nets and Golden State Warriors could prove crucial for a team that is currently fighting with their division rival Los Angeles Lakers for home-court advantage in the playoffs this season.
The Clippers should still be considered contenders out West, but they're only 3-6 in their last nine games—five of which were decided by four points or less. That has shown the team and its fans what they are missing with the absence of Chauncey Billups.
Evan Turner is finally starting to look like the player who was drafted No. 2 overall out of Ohio State University in 2010, and the Philadelphia 76ers are continuing their early season success large in part because of it.
The team has slipped to fourth in the Eastern Conference following a rough patch leading into All-Star Weekend, but quality wins against the Boston Celtics, Utah Jazz and New York Knicks have helped get them back on track for the second-half stretch.
The next three games will test the 76ers even further, though, as they take on the Indiana Pacers, Miami Heat and Chicago Bulls in four days beginning Wednesday.
The only reason the Indiana Pacers aren't lower in the rankings after their current four-game losing streak is because at one point this season, these same Pacers followed up a five-game losing streak with a six-game winning streak.
This team can find success and make a playoff push this season—no doubt about it.
If they remain plagued by their inconsistencies, however, their ranking may fall even further by the season's end. Their chances at competing with the top of the conference will wither beneath the higher seeds out East.
The Los Angeles Lakers are a confusing team right now, but their inconsistencies appear to be as simple as home versus away this season.
The team is currently 18-2 at home, while their record on the road drops to 7-14.
Following All-Star Weekend, the Lakers won three straight, including a big win at home against the Miami Heat. After that game, though, the team dropped consecutive games to the struggling Detroit Pistons and Washington Wizards.
They've been nearly unstoppable at home so far this season, but until they find any semblance of success on the road, they're going to stay stuck in the middle of the conference.
While most people want to focus on trade rumors at this point of the season, the Orlando Magic have quietly snuck back into third place in the Eastern Conference.
The team has been playing well, but the rest of their season is tough to predict without knowing what the roster is going to look like come March 15.
If they make a move to get assets in return for Dwight Howard, their season will be up in the air depending on who they acquire.
If no move is made, they look good, but probably not good enough to compete with the Miami Heat or the Chicago Bulls.
If a move is made, however, that keeps Howard in Orlando and places another weapon alongside him, things could get even more interesting out East come playoff time.
In a Western Conference that has been so wide open this season, it shouldn't come as a surprise that last year's Cinderella is having a fantastic season, having won 12 of their last 15 games.
Like last year, the Memphis Grizzlies have been shorthanded as the postseason nears. However, with Zach Randolph's return around the corner, this team could be even more dangerous than they were a season ago.
They could be set to make an even bigger splash come playoff time.
The San Antonio Spurs have come down to earth since the All-Star break and have gone 2-5 since entering the second-half stretch of the season.
Still second out West, though, this team is built for the playoffs, and the minutes Gregg Popovich is giving his young bench will likely pay off in a push to remain one of the most dangerous teams heading into the postseason.
If the Los Angeles Lakers' inconsistencies hang around for the final half of the season, this team should remain No. 2 in the conference and make some noise come playoff time.
The Oklahoma City Thunder have been the top team in the Western Conference nearly the entire season. So far, it looks as if no team will take that honor away this year.
Kevin Durant is having an MVP-like season thus far, and point guard Russell Westbrook is arguably not too far behind him.
This week, the Thunder were rumored to be approached by the Orlando Magic about a deal that would have sent Dwight Howard to the Thunder for Serge Ibaka and James Harden, but ultimately decided not to fix something that clearly is not broken.
The Miami Heat lost back-to-back games against the Utah Jazz and Los Angeles Lakers, but have bounced back nicely with three straight wins out East.
LeBron James and Dwyane Wade both stepped up in the clutch against the Indiana Pacers this past weekend. While the loss to the Jazz keeps them out of first place for now, a victory over the Chicago Bulls this week would certainly propel them into the No. 1 spot.
With a similar upcoming schedule as the Bulls, the Heat could find themselves either gaining ground or being left behind in the race to the top of the conference.
The Chicago Bulls have won 10 of their last 11 games, and while the debate will continue as to which team is the best in the Association this season, Derrick Rose and his team deserve any recognition that is thrown their way.
With a healthy Derrick Rose, the Bulls have looked nearly unstoppable, and while Rose is a legitimate MVP candidate this season, his teammates have stepped up to propel the team to the top of the East.
It won't be easy moving forward, however, as the Bulls face the Miami Heat three more times, and the health of the team currently taking a hit in this condensed NBA season.