NBA Power Rankings: 10 Hottest Teams in the League Right Now
With less than a month to go in the 2011-12 NBA regular season, there are a number of teams that are getting hot at the right time and beginning to justify their chances at a deep run in the playoffs.
Whether competing for a spot atop the conference, or simply looking to make a late-season push into the postseason, it's time for teams to step it up, and a handful of them have done just that with the playoffs right around the corner.
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Denver Nuggets: The Nuggets are doing what they can to get into the playoffs, and the depth has been used nicely since the loss of Danilo Gallinari. Who would've thought, though, that it would be tough to know who to go to when the team doesn't have a true, go-to player to be found on the roster?
Memphis Grizzlies: Having Zach Randolph back can hardly be considered a bad thing for the Grizzlies, as he is arguably the team's best player. A bit of a skid, though, has to bring up the questions of whether or not this team can repeat it's success from last year's run.
Atlanta Hawks: Three of their last four games have been losses, but right before that, the Hawks showcased a seven-game stretch of six wins during the middle of March. This team has been streaky, and the return of a healthy Al Horford could be just what the team needs to make a splash come May.
10. Indiana Pacers
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
The Indiana Pacers have seemingly cooled down since the All-Star Break, but a 7-3 record in their last 10 games has allowed them to maintain the No. 3 spot in the East for the time being.
Danny Granger has started off the month of April averaging 29.5 points per game, and the team has also excelled in hard-fought wins over the Houston Rockets and New York Knicks.
The Pacers are having one of their best seasons in quite some time, but the question remains whether or not they can get past the Chicago Bulls or Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference.
9. Dallas Mavericks
Sam Greenwood/Getty Images
The Dallas Mavericks began the season looking old and sometimes lost without center Tyson Chandler defending the paint.
Allowing the roster time to acclimate to its new pieces, however, has finally kicked in it seems, as the team has won seven of their last 11 contests, dropping games only to the San Antonio Spurs, Los Angeles Lakers, Miami Heat and Los Angeles Clippers.
Dirk Nowitzki is also finally starting to look like the Dirk from last year's playoffs, averaging 25.3 points per game.
Behind his leadership, the team is getting hot at the right time and is looking more and more dangerous as the postseason nears.
8. New York Knicks
Chris Chambers/Getty Images
Since the resignation of Mike D'Antoni nearly three weeks ago, Mike Woodson has stepped in and gone 8-3 in an effort to rejuvenate a team that had lost six of seven heading into the March 15 trade deadline.
While the recent stretch has certainly seen the likes of lesser competition, the Knicks have also had wins over the Indiana Pacers, Philadelphia 76ers and Orlando Magic.
This team has had one of the most on-again, off-again seasons throughout the entire NBA, displaying both significant winning streaks and losing streaks all over their schedule.
As it stands right now, though, the Knicks find themselves two games ahead of Milwaukee for the eighth and final playoff spot in the East.
After losing Jeremy Lin for the stretch run toward the end of the season, it will be interesting to see if the Knicks are able to keep it rolling and continue winning games despite the absence of their starting point guard.
7. Boston Celtics
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
Count me in as one of those who had counted the Boston Celtics out.
Entering the All-Star Break, the Celtics had lost seven of their last eight games and had begun to look as if the team's age had finally trumped the roster's experience.
The team has gotten back on track, though, winning seven of its last eight games, including a blowout victory against the Miami Heat this past weekend.
Whether or not this team can pose a threat in the postseason remains to be seen, but as for now, the team gotten themselves back into the upper-half of the seeding in the East and are actually looking like a playoff squad once again.
6. Los Angeles Lakers
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
While the Los Angeles Lakers have been plagued with drama and inconsistency seemingly all season long, the truth remains that they are still a dangerous team as the playoffs approach.
The month of March featured wins over the Miami Heat, Boston Celtics, Dallas Mavericks and Memphis Grizzlies.
It also showcased losses to the likes of the Detroit Pistons, Washington Wizards and Utah Jazz as well as the controversial benching of both Andrew Bynum and Kobe Bryant late in games.
The Lakers are still ahead of the Los Angeles Clippers in the standings, so if the team can trend upward for the remainder of the regular season, they should finish with a firm grasp on the division and home-court advantage in the first round of the NBA playoffs.
5. Los Angeles Clippers
Harry How/Getty Images
Immediately following All-Star weekend, the Los Angeles Clippers went 6-10 and had some wondering if head coach Vinny Del Negro had lost the locker room.
Six straight wins, however, has them back on track and back within reach of the division lead and third place in the Western Conference.
Free-throw shooting has been a major problem for this team throughout the year, and while they're winning now, this could become a problem the closer we get to the beginning of the playoffs at the end of this month.
The Clippers host the Lose Angeles Lakers on Wednesday, and if the "home team" takes the victory, it could mean big things for the Clippers in the race for the division.
4. Miami Heat
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
Embarrassing losses to the Oklahoma City Thunder and Boston Celtics last week are disconcerting for the Miami Heat, but it would be down right ignorant to remove them from the top five considering what they've done to earn the No. 2 spot in the East this season.
The team looked good in their victories against the Orlando Magic and Indiana Pacers last month. During that same stretch, however, they also looked less-than impressive in losses to those same two teams.
The month of March was not a kind one for the Heat, overall, as it left them with six losses—one fewer than they had the entire season beforehand—and leaves them outside of the top three on this list.
3. Chicago Bulls
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
What the Chicago Bulls have done this season without Derrick Rose is down right incredible.
Despite having lost their last two games to the Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder, the team is 14-7 without Rose and went 13-3 throughout the month of March.
Rose's health has to be a concern moving forward, but for now, the team is 42-13 on the year and has a one-game lead over the Oklahoma City Thunder for the best record in the entire NBA.
2. Oklahoma City Thunder
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
In one of their most impressive victories of the season, the Oklahoma City Thunder took down the Miami Heat in blowout fashion, and ultimately pushed Kevin Durant to the stature of the NBA's MVP front-runner in the eyes of many this season.
The question is, though, is one game really enough for Durant to legitimately take over the MVP race?
An entire season of great play would argue it's not, but we'll certainly find out come Wednesday if James can get revenge on Durant and the Thunder at home.
For now, though, the Thunder should be happy holding down the fort as the No. 1 team in the West for practically the entire season.
Wining six of their last seven contests keeps them as one of the league's hottest teams, but victories against the Heat, Los Angeles Clippers, Los Angeles Lakers and Chicago Bulls are what propels them into the No. 2 spot on this list.
1. San Antonio Spurs
Christian Petersen/Getty Images
The San Antonio Spurs may not be the best or most talented team in the NBA this year, but they are by far the hottest team in the league heading into the final month of the 2011-12 regular season.
Gregg Popovich's team has run off eight-straight wins and has won 11 of their last 12.
Despite Manu Ginobili missing more than half the season thus far to injuries, the bench has been more than reliable and Tony Parker is putting together one of the best years of his career.
San Antonio is likely going to have to avenge itself from last year's early exit in the playoffs in order to get the respect they deserve. As for now, though, they are heating up at the right time and are preparing for a deep playoff push in this year's postseason.