How many L.A. teams will play into the postseason?
With the NBA about to halt play for the All-Star break, it's a natural time to predict how the league's 30 teams will finish off the season.
There are plenty of storylines to hash out in the league's standings.
Will the Los Angeles Lakers finally put it together and get back in the playoff picture? Which Western Conference powerhouse will come out on top? How will the upcoming trade deadline affect the fates of teams like the Atlanta Hawks and Utah Jazz?
For each team, we'll outline where they stand now, how they're on pace to finish and where we think they'll actually end up.
As the league takes a weekend off to celebrate its best players, let's go around the NBA and look at every team, starting with the lowest of the low.
Current Record: 12-39
Projected Record: 19-63
Predicted Record: 17-65
Very few organizations would consider a 7-5 start to be reason for celebration. The Charlotte Bobcats belong at the very top of that list.
Since then, the Cats have come crashing back into the NBA cellar, winning just five of their next 39 games. With Michael Kidd-Gilchrist not yet ready to carry this squad, Charlotte is relying on Kemba Walker and a cavalcade of above-average guards, all of whom are being asked to do too much.
Though MKG and an improving Walker provide the Bobcats with some hope for the future, there isn't much reason to be optimistic in Charlotte at the present time.
Current Record: 15-36
Projected Record: 24-58
Predicted Record: 21-61
Here's another team that hung around longer than anyone thought.
The Orlando Magic were once 12-13, clinging to the fringes of the Eastern Conference playoff picture through unselfish defense and a makeshift offense built around Glen Davis, of all players.
Then Big Baby started getting banged up, and the Magic started losing left and right. Currently in the midst of a 3-23 stretch, Orlando's playoff window slammed shut long ago.
We expected Orlando to play like this after dealing away Dwight Howard, but the Magic aren't nearly as bad as they've been of late when Davis is on the floor. That should be good for some wins, but given Big Baby's health, not too many more.
Current Record: 16-36
Projected Record: 25-57
Predicted Record: 23-59
It's amazing that a team with a foundational player like Kyrie Irving is struggling so mightily.
Outside of Irving, the Cleveland Cavaliers have little offensive firepower. On defense, they're just a muddle of miscommunication and botched assignments—Irving included.
Of course, it always hurts to lose a player like Anderson Varejao, who was leading the league in rebounding before he went down for the season. But this team wasn't going to threaten for a playoff spot even with Varejao; Cleveland's problems run deeper than that.
As teams start to ease off the pedal near the end of the regular season, Irving's greatness should be enough to get the Cavs a few extra wins. On nights when he's anything less than superb, though, this team is very beatable.
Current Record: 15-35
Projected Record: 25-57
Predicted Record: 30-52
Remarkable how much easier the game of basketball is when you can play John Wall.
After a horrid 5-28 start without Wall, the Washington Wizards have gone 10-7 since his return. That winning play hasn't just come during an easy stretch, either, as the Wiz have beaten the Hawks, Nuggets, Bulls, Clippers, Knicks, Nets and Bucks with Wall back in the lineup.
The return of Wall has taken the pressure off every other Washington player, freeing up guys like Nene and Martell Webster for easier looks and more creative opportunities.
A full season of this type of play would put the Wizards in postseason contention. The hole is just too deep for Washington to emerge from now.
Current Record: 20-32
Projected Record: 31-51
Predicted Record: 32-50
Acquiring Rudy Gay gives the Toronto Raptors a star at long last, but he is not the player they really needed.
Gay is a drive-first small forward with a mediocre jumper, making him a poor complement to slashing point guard Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, another athletic wing with little offensive range.
Even so, Gay became the team's best player the moment he put on the jersey, and he makes more sense for the Raptors than having Jose Calderon platoon with Lowry at the point.
Toronto's trade is certainly an improvement, but it's nowhere near enough for now. Hopefully, Lowry and Gay mesh over the next two months; they're set up to play together for the long haul.
Current Record: 20-33
Projected Record: 31-51
Predicted Record: 34-48
Suddenly, the Detroit Pistons are starting to resemble a logically constructed team.
It made sense to pair Greg Monroe with a young point guard in Brandon Knight last season, but Knight still hasn't fully grasped his position at the professional level. That left Monroe with a struggling point guard and a bunch of middling role players.
In 2012-13, enter Andre Drummond, who has been a force around the rim for Detroit, giving the Pistons another inside look to contrast Monroe's more polished post game. Now Jose Calderon is in town for some fundamentally sound point guard play, giving the Pistons a facilitator for their two big men.
Calderon could walk after this season, but the Monroe-Drummond tandem is going to be together for a while. For now, this trio has what it takes to upset some good teams down the stretch.
Current Record: 22-28
Projected Record: 36-46
Predicted Record: 35-47
The Philadelphia 76ers' season has been decided by a player who hasn't played a single minute this season.
Andrew Bynum was Philly's big prize in the four-team Dwight Howard trade, but severe damage to both of Bynum's knees has kept him off the court. Per Jason Wolf of USA TODAY, Bynum is still experiencing "a lot of pain" in his rehab; he is unlikely to play in February, and there is no timetable for his return.
In his absence, the Sixers have gotten nice improvements from Evan Turner, Thaddeus Young and especially Jrue Holiday, who has established himself as an important piece of Philadelphia's future plans.
Yet Holiday and the Sixers really need a dominant big man to fill out their lineup. Without Bynum, this team doesn't have a chance to rise back to the .500 mark.
Current Record: 27-24
Projected Record: 43-39
Predicted Record: 41-41
Let's speak honestly here about the Boston Celtics.
When Rajon Rondo went down with a torn ACL, it looked like the end for a Celtics team that was already decidedly over the hill.
Out of nowhere, Paul Pierce reinvented himself as a point forward on the fly, and Boston surged to seven straight wins. Then the Charlotte Bobcats end Boston's run, and Kevin Garnett tells the Boston Globe after the game that Leandro Barbosa is likely done for the season with an ACL tear of his own.
That Bobcats loss highlights the Celtics' biggest issue: a crippling lack of depth. The Celtics are now down a second guard, and they still don't have anyone other than Garnett who can play even average interior defense. When Byron Mullens pulled Garnett away from the rim, Charlotte had Boston beat, simple as that.
No one in the East is really pushing the Celtics for a playoff spot, so they'll make it without much difficulty. Just don't expect this recent stretch to become a trend.
Current Record: 28-22
Projected Record: 46-36
Predicted Record: 42-40
Josh Smith's time with the Atlanta Hawks is coming to a close.
Zach Dillard of Fox Sports South proposes that with the market for Smith heating up, it's only a matter of days before the polarizing forward is shipped out of Atlanta.
It's not the ideal move for a playoff team to trade its leading scorer for less than fair value, which the Hawks would not get in a Smith deal.
He's the hottest commodity remaining on the market, but his attitude could also dissuade suitors worried about integrating him midseason. That said, he is likely to test free agency after the season; Atlanta knows this team isn't winning a title in 2013, so it must get something for Smith now.
Even if the Hawks' haul leaves something to be desired, they will surely get a couple of useful players. That will be enough to keep Atlanta over .500, but not to inspire any hopes of a postseason run.
Current Record: 25-25
Projected Record: 41-41
Predicted Record: 43-39
The talent is there with the Milwaukee Bucks, but the balance is not.
They have as explosive a pair of guards as any team in the league, but Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis are just too inefficient offensively and lax defensively for the Bucks to get the most out of that combo.
On the interior, Larry Sanders and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute have been defensive aces, but Milwaukee's frontcourt is limited offensively whenever Ersan Ilyasova leaves the floor.
When the Bucks are on, they can cause problems for some of the NBA's best teams. A lot of things have to fall right for that to happen, though, making this talented group of players merely an above-average squad.
Current Record: 30-22
Projected Record: 47-35
Predicted Record: 47-35
Neither the disappointment they were when Avery Johnson got axed nor the wrecking crew P.J. Carlesimo inherited, the Brooklyn Nets are actually something in between.
It's no surprise that the 12-2 run Brooklyn went on when Carlesimo took over hasn't held up (4-6 since). Outside of their three stars and the occasional nice games from Andray Blatche and Reggie Evans, the Nets just haven't shown the depth to be consistently great.
That said, Brook Lopez is having a career year and has been the NBA's best center this season. In the backcourt, would-be stars Deron Williams and Joe Johnson have improved their shooting in the new year, a welcome improvement for two disappointing players.
This is a very good team, not a great one. Brooklyn's regular-season record will reflect just that.
Current Record: 31-21
Projected Record: 49-33
Predicted Record: 50-32
Rejoice, Indiana Pacers fans: Danny Granger is almost ready to get back on the court, per ESPN.
On the other hand, Granger's return actually gives the Pacers more questions than answers.
When Granger went down with patellar tendinosis, Frank Vogel re-engineered Indiana's game plan to make Paul George the focal point of the offense. George has made great strides in that capacity, one he will likely have to cede back to Granger once they play together again.
That role reversal is just one of the growing pains the Pacers will experience when they reintegrate Granger. The veteran small forward will likely have to adjust after his serious injury, for one. Also, in a reverse of the Ewing Theory, Granger will take touches away from guys like George and David West, limiting the impact of his return.
In the long run, Granger can't significantly improve the offense or fix whatever is going on with Roy Hibbert, but he'll make a very good team even better.
Current Record: 30-21
Projected Record: 48-34
Predicted Record: 51-31
Unlike the Pacers, the Chicago Bulls aren't yet sure when their star savior will return.
Fortunately, the team has held up admirably in his absence.
Luol Deng and Joakim Noah are both playing huge minutes and contributing on both sides of the ball. The perpetually dispiriting Carlos Boozer has been less so this season, and Tom Thibodeau found some scoring punch at point guard in Nate Robinson.
This Rose-less iteration of the Bulls is being held together by a collection of hardworking, if not overworked, players who buy into Thibodeau's system. They have enough talent to win in the regular season without their point guard; the playoffs are another story.
Current Record: 32-17
Projected Record: 54-28
Predicted Record: 56-26
It's not fair to say the New York Knicks will get even better when they're fully healthy; that's never going to happen.
If all goes according to plan, the key pieces will be in working order when the playoffs roll around. For all their long-range prowess, the Knicks are actually light on scorers. If J.R. Smith, Amar'e Stoudemire or, God forbid, Carmelo Anthony misses a chunk of time, those open threes will get covered up quickly.
The same goes for Tyson Chandler. Though his ancient backups are always going to be banged up to an extent, there's always going to be a Marcus Camby or a Kurt Thomas to step in behind him. However, those guys cannot replicate Chandler's play inside, and the lane opens wide when he leaves the floor.
Those are just the worst-case scenarios, though. Mike Woodson's formula is working, and that's going to keep New York near the top of the East.
Current Record: 35-14
Projected Record: 58-24
Predicted Record: 59-23
The Miami Heat are pulling off the peculiar trick of appearing oddly susceptible and completely untouchable at the same time.
Miami is allowing 101.8 points per 100 possessions this season—a fine mark, but high for a team that sported a swarming defense during its 2012 championship run.
Guys like Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis have been potent shooting threats, but they're liabilities when it comes to defending the perimeter. That has allowed quick teams that can hit their threes to push the Heat.
So long as that is true, the Heat can coast to the Eastern Conference title in the regular season. Whether they're bulletproof in the playoffs remains to be seen.
Current Record: 17-36
Projected Record: 26-56
Predicted Record: 23-59
At least the Bobcats and Magic have some interesting players with untapped potential. The Phoenix Suns roster is just depressing.
That's no disrespect to Goran Dragic, Marcin Gortat or even Jared Dudley. They're all very solid players, but what you see right now is what you're going to get out of them, and that's not nearly enough for them to be the best three players on a team.
In terms of prospects, there's little to speak of. If the Suns are banking on Kendall Marshall and Markieff Morris to save this franchise in the future, it's going to go very poorly.
Phoenix ought to just tank the rest of this season, but this team is scrappy enough to win a couple games it really shouldn't. For Suns fans hoping for a high draft pick, those victories will be more bitter than sweet.
Current Record: 19-34
Projected Record: 29-53
Predicted Record: 28-54
There's something frustrating as a basketball fan watching the Sacramento Kings go down in flames.
DeMarcus Cousins has the potential to put up 20 and 20 or miss 10 consecutive off-balance jumpers on any given night. Isaiah Thomas leads the team in assists with just 3.3 per game. No one has a clue how to contain their man on defense, let alone execute any sort of scheme.
This group lacks cohesion, common sense and any semblance of order on a basketball court. Talented players like Cousins and Tyreke Evans are responsible for some of the ugliest basketball in the NBA, and that's just sad.
What we've seen from Sacramento is what we'll get. There's no late-season emergence happening, and the Kings will end the season with a highly dysfunctional whimper.
Current Record: 18-34
Projected Record: 28-54
Predicted Record: 33-49
Eric Gordon is having a down year by his standards, but his impact for the New Orleans Hornets can only be judged relatively.
Before Gordon returned from rehabbing his knee, the Hornets sat at 8-26 and were giving Austin Rivers starter minutes even as he was absolutely terrible in his transition to the NBA.
The star shooting guard has only been New Orleans' second-leading scorer since his return, trailing Ryan Anderson, but the team has taken off with Gordon in the lineup, rising from the West cellar with a 10-8 streak.
Now that the to-be Pelicans have a reliable backcourt scorer, a solid point guard in Greivis Vasquez and an exciting frontcourt with Anderson and Anthony Davis, that level of play should be more the rule than the exception.
Current Record: 22-29
Projected Record: 35-47
Predicted Record: 34-48
This is what happens when an old team does not adjust quickly enough.
We all thought that the Dallas Mavericks would get back into the crowded Western Conference postseason hunt once Dirk Nowitzki returned and took over for O.J. Mayo as the team's primary option.
Instead, we've seen a Dirk who is clearly regressing. He hasn't been on his game on offense and is a complete non-factor on defense. Though Mayo is keeping his production up, Nowitzki has in many ways been a liability for the Mavs.
This is just an aging, sub-.500 team with little to offer its fans now and even less in the long run. That's why Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News considers practically everyone expendable. This perennial playoff team has nothing left to play for this season.
Current Record: 19-30
Projected Record: 32-50
Predicted Record: 35-47
This was supposed to be the Minnesota Timberwolves' breakout season.
Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio were going to be another year better, Nikola Pekovic was ready to lock down the center position, and Andrei Kirilenko was back from Russia to join the fight. Minnesota would return to the postseason and have a formidable group to challenge the West's best.
Instead, Love has played just 18 games due to various injuries and has been inefficient when he has seen the court. In his return from a torn ACL, Rubio is back to his usual wizardry, but he has also been sloppier than he was as a rookie and has taken a step back in general.
Pekovic and Kirilenko have been solid contributors, but without Love and Rubio at full strength, the T'wolves are not a playoff team. They might cause problems down the stretch when Love returns, but this season has been lost.
Current Record: 25-27
Projected Record: 39-43
Predicted Record: 39-43
This is the curse of a team that tries to play without a second unit.
The Portland Trail Blazers have a very good starting five, but they also run them into the ground. Four of Portland's five starters play at least 35 minutes per game, and LaMarcus Aldridge, Damian Lillard and Nicolas Batum all get upwards of 38.
All five starters are holding up, but fatigue surely has something to do with the team's current 5-12 stretch. The workload is particularly worrisome for Lillard, a rookie point guard playing more athletic competition with a more grueling schedule.
Portland doesn't really have the means to improve its depth at the trade deadline, so the starters are going to have to maintain their endurance. That's not likely to get the Blazers back over .500, though.
Current Record: 25-28
Projected Record: 39-43
Predicted Record: 40-42
Let's just get two things straight.
First, it's officially a fool's errand to try to predict the future for the Los Angeles Lakers. Between the egos, the injuries, the media frenzy and the general sense of discord on the court, it's ridiculous to guess what will happen to this team next.
Second, for all Kobe Bryant's willpower, Mike D'Antoni's mediating and all the rest, the Lakers are going to miss the playoffs, which will be treated as a categorical disaster at every level of the organization.
Even with Kobe deciding to reinvent himself as an elite distributor, this team has remained inconsistent. Dysfunction is the Lakers' natural state, and it's too late for them to change that.
L.A. is playing well enough now to approach .500, but this season blew up in everyone's faces long ago.
Current Record: 29-24
Projected Record: 45-37
Predicted Record: 43-39
This prediction not only accounts for the fact that the Utah Jazz are playing ever so slightly over their heads, but also for any potential trades.
For starters, the Nets are looking at Paul Millsap to shore up their frontcourt, per Mitch Lawrence of the New York Daily News. According to Sheridan Hoops, the Spurs are interested in Al Jefferson, while Paul Coro of AZ Central reports Phoenix is asking about both Jefferson and Gordon Hayward.
With Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter waiting in the wings and both veteran Jazz big men in the final year of their contracts, at least one of the latter grouping is liable to be moved.
Like with the Hawks and Josh Smith, this long-term thinking will set the Jazz back for now, but giving the young bigs more minutes will help offset the loss. Any drop in production shouldn't be severe enough to knock Utah out of the playoffs.
Current Record: 29-25
Projected Record: 44-38
Predicted Record: 46-36
Playing off the strength of their offseason pickups, the Houston Rockets have found a successful formula.
Houston has built a high-octane offense around getting to the most efficient area on the floor: right at the rim. With James Harden and Jeremy Lin driving relentlessly, the Rockets are converting those great looks into tons of points.
On the other end, Omer Asik is parked in the paint to turn away all comers. He can't turn away driving guards on his own (the Rockets struggle when their backcourt loses contain), but he helps the Rockets prevent on defense the exact shots they seek at the other end of the floor.
This is a young team that can keep up this strategy through the rigors of the NBA season. The Rockets know what they want to accomplish on both sides of the ball, and that's going to lead to even more W's.
Current Record: 30-22
Projected Record: 47-35
Predicted Record: 48-34
The Golden State Warriors could not have asked for the pieces to come together in a better way.
Between Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Jarrett Jack and Harrison Barnes, the Dubs can rain threes over any defense, opening up the interior for David Lee, Andrew Bogut and Carl Landry to score inside.
That slate of players is incredible for an organization that has struggled to build a competitive nucleus with staying power. Savvy drafting and timely pickups have turned a Western Conference afterthought into a legitimate postseason team.
Perhaps the biggest accomplishment is that Mark Jackson has convinced an infamously defense-averse squad to lock down. Golden State can score all it wants (and it will), but that balanced approach is what's getting the Warriors past the regular season.
Current Record: 33-18
Projected Record: 53-29
Predicted Record: 50-32
The Memphis Grizzlies' recent play makes you wonder why they even bothered to trade Rudy Gay.
Tayshaun Prince, who has taken Gay's spot at small forward, was supposed to spread the floor and make room for Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph. Instead, he is working inside the arc even more than Gay did, shooting well in a small sample but raising concerns when it comes to Memphis' offensive versatility.
If anything, Prince is a moderate defensive upgrade over Gay, but that's already Memphis' bread and butter. The Grizz would not budge for anyone even when Gay was in town, making it seem more and more like this move was solely motivated by the salary cap.
It's a shame, because this team had the potential to do some damage in the postseason if it got the right package for its star swingman. That's not what happened, and the Grizzlies' performance the rest of the way will reflect the downgrade.
Current Record: 33-20
Projected Record: 51-31
Predicted Record: 53-29
Many were confused when the Denver Nuggets emerged from a road-heavy start in the middle of the pack in the West. According to Zach Lowe of Grantland, George Karl wasn't one of them.
George Karl saw his team's crazy early-season schedule, with 17 of their first 23 games on the road, and settled on a goal: Be two or three games over .500 on January 1. Then, when that road-heavy slog is over, go nuts and reach 40 wins by March 1.
The season has unfolded almost exactly as Karl envisioned. The Nuggets were 17-15 at the end of December, and after blitzing to a 9-1 mark in their last 10 games, they could still hit Karl's 40-win target by sweeping their next seven games.
The Nuggets are who we thought they were: a selfless team built on depth and athleticism that could cause serious problems for the Western Conference elite.
Even with Denver's frenetic pace, Karl's egalitarian distribution of minutes should keep his best players fresh when their opponents are gassed in March and April.
Karl's strategy is replete with flaws, from spacing difficulties inside on offense to rampant rebounding woes on the defensive end. His guys can execute the strengths of the system beautifully though, and that makes the Nuggets a difficult team to beat.
Current Record: 37-17
Projected Record: 56-26
Predicted Record: 55-27
The Los Angeles Clippers must have only one goal for the remainder of the regular season: keep Chris Paul healthy.
When he has played this season, Paul has dominated his position at both ends of the floor with stellar enough play to warrant mention in the MVP discussion.
However, Paul has only played in 42 of Los Angeles' 54 games thus far. With their elite point guard, the Clippers are 31-11 on the season. Eric Bledsoe and company just haven't been able to fill Paul's shoes, though; the team has gone a pedestrian 6-6 without him.
He'll play if he's able, but expect L.A. to keep a close eye on Paul the rest of the way. Being prepared for the playoffs is more important than shooting for higher seeding in the Western Conference.
It still feels strange to say that about the Clippers, but it's the truth.
Current Record: 41-12
Projected Record: 63-19
Predicted Record: 59-23
A single game can explain why this year's San Antonio Spurs team is so terrifying.
When Gregg Popovich's squad entered their Feb. 11 match at the Chicago Bulls, they were on a 12-1 tear, much of which Tim Duncan watched from the sidelines with a knee injury.
On that day, Popovich was without Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili in a road match against a suffocating defensive team, so naturally the Spurs shot 52 percent from the field and won 103-89.
For all of the highlights in his illustrious career, footage of that game alone could serve as Popovich's case for Hall of Fame induction. If Tom Thibodeau's defense gives up 103 to Spurs backups, what luck does anyone else have against their starters?
We'll find that out when the playoffs roll around. In the meantime, expect the Spurs stars to get ample rest. San Antonio's second unit won't shoot like that all the time though, and that will be just enough to knock the Spurs out of the top spot in the West.
Current Record: 39-13
Projected Record: 62-20
Predicted Record: 61-21
The Oklahoma City Thunder are every bit the juggernaut the Spurs are; the difference is that OKC will continue to play its best players through the 82nd game.
Though LeBron is distancing himself from the pack, Kevin Durant would be a worthy MVP candidate in just about any other year. He is neck and neck with Carmelo Anthony for the league lead in scoring, and he's doing it while shooting for the hallowed 50-40-90 Club.
Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka have all become much more well-rounded players in 2012-13. What's more, those three guys just never miss any action.
Over the past three seasons, Durant, Westbrook and Ibaka have missed six games. Combined. In fact, the notoriously erratic Russell Westbrook is a more consistent presence on the court than anyone in the NBA: He has yet to miss a game in his five-year career.
While the venerable Spurs are conserving themselves down the stretch, the young Thunder will keep rolling. Oklahoma City's youth will win the regular season, but only in the playoffs will we be able to determine which team is truly better.