5 Hottest Teams in the NBA

Daniel O'Brien@@DanielO_BRFeatured ColumnistJanuary 11, 2013

5 Hottest Teams in the NBA

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    When breaking down the five hottest teams in the NBA, we ask, "what have you done for me lately?"

    A couple Eastern Conference clubs that were reeling in December have turned things around over the last couple weeks. Out West, a dark-horse franchise is soaring lately due to big wins over reputable opponents.

    Sometimes it's all about timing, health and wanting to win more than your adversaries. A shooting groove and extra energy can make all the difference.

    These squads might not be the most talented, but they shouldn't be taken lightly considering their recent feats.

    *Statistics gathered from Basketball-Reference.com and ESPN.com, accurate as of Jan. 10, 2013.

5. Brooklyn Nets

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    Heat check: 6-1 since Avery Johnson firing 

    With six wins in their last seven games, the Brooklyn Nets have regained their swagger under new head coach P.J. Carlesimo.

    Since Avery Johnson's firing, the Nets have taken care of business against some weak opponents. But they also earned an impressive road win against the defending Western Conference champs.

    In the win over the Oklahoma City Thunder, Joe Johnson and Deron Williams proved that they not only can coexist, but they can thrive and outgun an elite team. Defensively, Brooklyn re-established its ability to work as a unit to slow down a high-octane attack.

    The Nets aren't quite considered a late-postseason contender in the Eastern Conference yet, but owner Mikhail Prokhorov should be pleased they're back in a groove.

4. Boston Celtics

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    Heat check: Defeated the No. 2, No. 3 and No. 4 Eastern Conference teams last week.

    If you asked me two weeks ago who the coldest teams in the NBA were, the Boston Celtics would be near the top of the list.

    Doc Rivers' club quickly turned things around, upending the Indiana Pacers, Atlanta Hawks and New York Knicks in a matter of days.

    The win over the Knicks was particularly striking for the Celtics, as they won on the road without the suspended Rajon Rondo.

    Boston doesn't have loaded personnel in the paint, but they're getting just enough production from the diverse gathering of swingmen on the roster. Although the Celtics aren't a title contender, they could be a tough out as a low seed in the playoffs.

3. Los Angeles Clippers

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    Heat check: 100-plus points in seven of their last 10 games

    The Denver Nuggets and Golden State Warriors brought the Los Angeles Clippers back down to earth briefly, but Vinny Del Negro's crew rapidly regained its place in the NBA food chain.

    L.A. has won 20 of its last 22 and has become unstoppable at the Staples Center. The Clippers haven't lost at home since November.

    As far as ball movement and balance is concerned, the Clippers are starting to look like an athletic version of the San Antonio Spurs. Chris Paul is giving everyone open looks, including himself.

    As a result, he's prone to nights like his 19-point, 16-assist masterpiece against Dallas. How can anyone beat the Clippers when their point guard can create anything he wants like that?

2. Portland Trail Blazers

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    Heat check: Nine-game home win streak

    Early in the 2012-13 campaign, the Portland Trail Blazers were little more than a fun idea. They were considered a team with young talent but a short bench.

    The bench is still pretty thin, but the core rotation is turning this team into a playoff-caliber squad.

    Since Jan. 1, the Blazers have notched signature wins against clubs like the Knicks, the Memphis Grizzlies and the Miami Heat.

    Nicolas Batum has been uncontainable, Damian Lillard is continuing his All-Rookie run and LaMarcus Aldridge is owning the glass lately. To top it off, Wesley Matthews is 19-of-34 (56 percent) from distance in Portland's last five games.

    Golden State, Oklahoma City and Denver are up next on the Blazers' schedule. Is their surge over?

1. Indiana Pacers

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    Heat Check: Opponents averaging 85.5 PPG in last 10 games

    As recently as mid-December, the Indiana Pacers were under .500 and looking like a shadow of their 2011-12 selves. It didn't look like they'd survive the winter without Danny Granger.

    Frank Vogel's crew is now 22-14, good for third best in the East and tops in the Central Division.

    Defense has been the foundation of Indiana's recent success. In the Pacers' last five victories, they haven't given up more than 83 points. 

    The guards and swingmen cover the perimeter splendidly, as Indy leads the league in opponent three-point percentage (32 percent).

    Meanwhile, Roy Hibbert continues to protect the rim and can swat five shots on any given night. Collectively, they control the boards and limit foes' second chances.

    The big question mark is whether they can outscore LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony in a seven-game series this spring.

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