As people around the globe celebrate the start of a new year, front offices around the NBA are busy evaluating where their teams stand as the season's halfway mark rapidly approaches. It will determine what direction they head in moving forward.
It all comes down to expectations. As always, there are some teams such as the Los Angeles Clippers and Golden State Warriors that surprisingly asserted themselves as contenders. Other squads, such as the Los Angeles Lakers, haven't lived up to the hype. Not yet anyway.
With that in mind, let's examine where each team stands as they prepare to tackle the 2013 portion of their schedule. A deeper dive is taken into three teams that fans throughout the league will be watching closely after some struggles.
1. Los Angeles Clippers (25-6)
The Clippers are riding a 17-game winning streak. Only 11 teams in the entire NBA have won at least 17 games. Jamal Crawford's emergence as a third major scoring threat took them to another level.
2. San Antonio Spurs (25-8)
Say what you will about the mundane way the Spurs handle their business, but they are once again fighting for the league's best record. Their terrific depth should pay off in the second half.
3. Oklahoma City Thunder (24-6)
While everybody talks about Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, it's Serge Ibaka's improvement on the offensive end that makes the Thunder so dangerous. Another deep playoff run is likely.
4. Miami Heat (21-8)
It seems like the Heat are sleepwalking through the season right now. It's not uncommon for title teams to suffer a letdown early the next season due to a lack of motivation. The Heat will pick it up soon.
5. Golden State Warriors (21-10)
Even though the Warriors lack effective size on the interior due to Andrew Bogut, it's hard not to be impressed with their strong play lately. A back-to-back set with the Clippers will be telling.
6. New York Knicks (21-9)
The Knicks excelled without Amar'e Stoudemire, which is why the debate about the forward's role upon his return has raged on. If he can succeed without disrupting the rhythm, they are a serious threat.
7. Indiana Pacers (18-13)
Indiana doesn't have any superstars with Danny Granger, but the Pacers continue to grind out victories thanks to strong play from their role players. It's another example of the power of depth.
8. Memphis Grizzlies (19-9)
Owners of the league's best defense, the Grizzlies still need to find more perimeter scoring in order to survive deep into the playoffs. Their talent up front is good enough to carry them for now, though.
9. Atlanta Hawks (19-10)
The Hawks feature a young, athletic lineup that causes a lot of problems for opponents. It will keep them in the mix, but the lack of a true go-to scorer for crunch time could become an issue.
10. Houston Rockets (17-14)
Any questions about James Harden's ability to excel outside of Oklahoma City quickly vanished after his tremendous start. Jeremy Lin must step up for the Rockets to keep pace.
11. Los Angeles Lakers (15-15)
Expectations exploded in Los Angeles following the acquisitions of Dwight Howard and Steve Nash. Since the Lakers weren't able to match the hype due to Nash's injury and a lack of chemistry, their struggles were blown out of proportion.
Now that Nash is back in the lineup, it's only a matter of time before the Lakers start cranking out wins at a rapid rate to move up the Western Conference standings. They should be in fine form when the playoffs arrive, assuming no further injury setbacks pop up.
12. Denver Nuggets (17-15)
The Nuggets have been a tough team to get a read on. In some games, they look like a serious contender, and in others, they don't even look like a playoff team. Consistency is the buzz word looking ahead.
13. Chicago Bulls (16-13)
Although the Bulls have featured a strong rotation so far, the team's offense has a long way to go. The eventual return of Derrick Rose should help, but he won't be a miracle worker right away.
14. Minnesota Timberwolves (14-13)
Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic allow Minnesota to control the paint on most nights. The Timberwolves don't have enough outside scoring, however, and thus, they continue to hover around .500.
15. Milwaukee Bucks (16-13)
As expected, Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings have formed a formidable scoring duo for the Bucks. Getting more secondary production is vital to making a second-half charge.
16. Portland Trail Blazers (15-14)
Portland is a team with a very high ceiling. A lack of effective bench players is slowing the Blazers down right now, but if they can make some moves before the deadline to change that, watch out.
17. Brooklyn Nets (16-15)
Avery Johnson won the season's first coach of the month award and then lost his job less than a month later. If that doesn't illustrate how desperate the Nets are to win, nothing will. It was a risky move, but it definitely sends a message.
The roster is not devoid of talent. Brook Lopez and Deron Williams lead the way, with Joe Johnson and Gerald Wallace among the other prime contributors. The Johnson dismissal should provide a necessary wake-up call to those four stars and everybody else on the roster.
18. Boston Celtics (14-16)
Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo are taking care of business. The rest of Boston's roster isn't, and that's why the Celtics are falling short. Jason Terry and Jeff Green must improve.
19. Utah Jazz (15-17)
The Jazz have good depth up front, and Gordon Hayward has made further strides to help at the guard spots. They still don't want the wing scorer necessary to make some noise in the West, though.
20. Toronto Raptors (11-20)
After a slow start, the Raptors have won seven of their last 10, finally showing some signs of life. Jose Calderon, who's one of the league's most underrated players, is one of the main reasons why.
21. Philadelphia 76ers (14-17)
Right now, the 76ers are a team with a lot of talent that's still learning to play as one cohesive unit. Once that happens, they should be able to make a run. It all starts by improving on the offensive end.
22. Sacramento Kings (11-19)
It seems like the ongoing DeMarcus Cousins saga is going to overshadow the second half in Sacramento. One thing to watch aside from the drama is the slow but steady rise of Jimmer Fredette.
23. Orlando Magic (12-19)
Jameer Nelson is a frustrating player to follow. The talent Nelson possesses is obvious, but every time he builds up some momentum, an injury is sure to follow. And it's hurt the Magic offense as a whole.
24. Detroit Pistons (11-22)
While Greg Monroe continues to do his job for the Pistons, he isn't getting nearly enough support from him teammates to make a move in the East. The team is definitely a work in progress.
25. Dallas Mavericks (12-19)
The Mavericks have lost six straight games, including two thrashings at the hands of the in-state rival Spurs. That can't sit well with Mark Cuban or the fanbase, who waited patiently for Dirk Nowitzki's return to the lineup.
Nowitzki is still working his way back into game shape and hasn't provided the immediate spark the Mavs were hoping for. The team is still going to need more production from veterans like Vince Carter and Shawn Marion to turn things around, even when Nowitzki is at full strength.
26. Phoenix Suns (11-21)
Aside from Marcin Gortat, no other Suns player is averaging more than six rebounds per game. They really need another player who can help protect the paint before things can begin to turnaround.
27. New Orleans Hornets (7-23)
Getting Eric Gordon back should provide a nice boost for the Hornets, but staying on the court is a constant issue for the talented guard. At least fans can look forward to Anthony Davis' future.
28. Cleveland Cavaliers (7-25)
Rookie Dion Waiters needs to become a more efficiency scorer to prove he was worth the early draft pick. It's another rebuilding season in Cleveland, so he can gain valuable experience without pressure.
29. Charlotte Bobcats (8-23)
Kemba Walker's noticeable improvement in his second season is one NBA story that deserves more attention. Since he's stuck with the lowly Bobcats, that's not likely to happen.
30. Washington Wizards (4-24)
The Wizards don't have enough talent to compete, especially with John Wall sidelined. There's reason for optimism moving forward, but it's going to be another long season.
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