With the 2012-13 NBA season in high gear, it's getting close to the time where teams start preparing for their playoff pushes.
There's roughly 30 or so games left for each team in the regular season. The pretenders are starting to be weeded out, while the contenders are continuing to solidify their positions near the top of the standings.
The end of the season can be a great time to start building momentum for the postseason, or at the very least the 2013-14 season. However, there are some teams that will be fading down the stretch as the season reaches a critical juncture.
Here's where each team stands, with those headed downward in italics.
1. San Antonio Spurs (40-12)
No other team in the league has 40 wins. Year in and year out, the San Antonio Spurs continue to be among the best teams in the league.
Tony Parker, in particular, has taken his game to an entirely different level. His PER and assists per game are the highest of his career. His performance has been vital with the way that Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili have hobbled at points this year.
2. Oklahoma City Thunder (39-12)
Is anybody really surprised that Russell Westbrook's antics were relatively meaningless for the Oklahoma City Thunder? They've won four games in a row and been absolutely dominant in doing so.
Games with the Miami Heat and Utah Jazz will be nice tests for the Thunder. Continuing that winning streak would be a huge statement to the rest of the league.
3. Miami Heat (34-14)
The Thunder game will also be a great test for a Heat team that has won its last five games. LeBron James can't possibly keep playing at the other-worldly high level he has been. While this is still a bit of a flawed team, with the way Miami has been playing, the Heat will be extremely hard to beat in the postseason.
4. Denver Nuggets (33-19)
While the Denver Nuggets' nine-game winning streak is over, they should be able to get back to their winning ways immediately, with a trip to Toronto on Tuesday. Then games over the Boston Celtics and Brooklyn Nets will be a good litmus test to see if Denver can maintain its current level of play.
5. Los Angeles Clippers (36-17)
Once one of the best teams in the league, the Los Angeles Clippers have fallen from grace a bit, due in large part to the injury to Chris Paul. Now that he's back, all should be right in the world in the red and blue half of L.A. He was pivotal in the Clippers' win over the New York Knicks on Sunday.
6. New York Knicks (32-17)
The loss to the Clippers hurt a little bit for the New York Knicks, but it wasn't as bad as the 10-point loss to the Washington Wizards. It's encouraging that the team is starting to get all of its players back finally.
Plus, who could have predicted the ease of Amar'e Stoudemire integrating seamlessly into a bench role?
7. Indiana Pacers (31-20)
Speaking of players returning. It's going to be interesting to see how Danny Granger is slotted back into the lineup. The Indiana Pacers could use his offense, but you wouldn't want it to come at the expense of the defense or the chemistry Frank Vogel has helped to build.
8. Golden State Warriors (30-21)
My how quickly a team's fortunes can change.
The Golden State Warriors have now lost their last four games. Games against the Houston Rockets and Utah Jazz don't make things any easier. The matchup with the Rockets in particular will be fun to watch after how the game between the two last week ended as Houston tried to break the record for made three-pointers in one game.
9. Memphis Grizzlies (32-18)
Beating the Golden State Warriors was a huge win for the Memphis Grizzlies. The jury is still out as to how well the team can compete without Rudy Gay, though. A relatively easy four-game stretch coming up should be a good way to help build the offensive continuity necessary for the team to continue improving.
10. Chicago Bulls (30-20)
It's hard to believe what the Chicago Bulls are accomplishing without Derrick Rose. Should management completely scrap any idea of trading Carlos Boozer and Andrea Bargnani (h/t Marc Stein of ESPN.com), the Bulls could make some major noise in the playoffs.
11. Houston Rockets (28-25)
Defense has become a bit of a dirty word for the Houston Rockets. They've given up 100-plus points in six of their last eight games. The Rockets have been playing better, but unless they get the defense figured out, they're not going anywhere in the postseason.
12. Boston Celtics (27-23)
Every year people start wondering if the Boston Celtics have enough left in the tank. Then came the injury to Rajon Rondo. Well, the Celtics have won their last seven games since Rondo went down for the season.
Paul Pierce continues to cement his legacy with the way he's been able to lift this team.
13. Utah Jazz (28-24)
It appears the Utah Jazz are finally going to move Al Jefferson (h/t Matt Moore of CBSSports.com). Something needed to be done, because the Jazz aren't going anywhere with the combination of Paul Millsap. One of them needs to go, and it looks like Jefferson is the guy.
14. Atlanta Hawks (27-22)
Trading Josh Smith is becoming a stronger possibility (h/t Zach Dillard of FoxSportsSouth.com). It's going to hurt the Atlanta Hawks in the short term, but it might be the smart move in the long term. Smith's talents are well known, but his off-court issues with coaches are as well.
15. Brooklyn Nets (29-22)
The Brooklyn Nets' season continues on its roller-coaster pace, currently in a bit of downward slide. This team can be one of the best in the Eastern Conference, but too many times it has struggled against much worse teams.
16. Milwaukee Bucks (25-24)
The Jim Boylan revolution appears to be dying down. The Milwaukee Bucks have lost their last three games in a row and are 4-6 in their last 10 games.
Their place in the playoffs looked assured a week or so ago, but now it's looking like the Bucks could very well see themselves slide right out.
17. Los Angeles Lakers (24-28)
At this point, nobody should be expecting the Los Angeles Lakers to make the playoffs. The waiting game has gone on long enough. Until the Lakers get over .500 and shorten up the distance between themselves and the Rockets, L.A. doesn't deserve the benefit of the doubt.
18. Portland Trail Blazers (25-26)
Things have been better for the Portland Trail Blazers. While they're still on the fringes of the playoff picture, the Blazers have lost three games in a row. A date with the Heat on Tuesday doesn't help things, either.
19. Dallas Mavericks (22-28)
The Dallas Mavericks have turned things up a bit over the last couple of weeks. It might be too little too late as the Mavs are still 4.5 games outside of the eighth spot in the West.
At this point, getting to .500 should be considered a huge accomplishment.
20. Toronto Raptors (19-32)
Rudy Gay has played very well since his move from the Grizzlies, scoring 20-plus points in every game. The problem is whether or not he makes the Toronto Raptors a playoff team. They're still seven games back from the Bucks, who occupy the eighth spot in the East.
Climbing that mountain may prove to be too much.
21. Philadelphia 76ers (22-27)
It's been Murphy's Law for the Philadelphia 76ers. Everything that could go wrong has. There's the impending return of Andrew Bynum at some point. By the time he does come back, the Sixers could find themselves completely out of the playoff picture.
22. Detroit Pistons (20-32)
It was a great move on part of Detroit Pistons management to get rid of Tayshaun Prince and Austin Daye, with Jose Calderon coming back in return. Calderon's expiring contract is beneficial to the books, and in the meantime, he should provide a solid return on the court in the short term.
23. Washington Wizards (14-35)
The Washington Wizards are starting to play like the team everyone expected them to be and have won their last three games. Getting anything out of this year is impossible, but fans should certainly start getting excited for this team's future prospects.
24. Cleveland Cavaliers (16-35)
Things are really starting to look up for the Cleveland Cavaliers, as they've gone 6-4 in their last 10. Making the playoffs is a bridge too far, but that shouldn't stop Cavs fans from looking toward the future with enthusiasm.
Marreese Speights has done a very good job of replacing Anderson Varejao, averaging 13.9 points and 6.5 rebounds a game since being traded to Cleveland.
25. New Orleans Hornets (17-34)
The New Orleans Hornets might have the second-worst record in the West, but they are starting to turn things around. The Hornets could really be going places building around Anthony Davis, Greivis Vasquez and Eric Gordon.
26. Sacramento Kings (19-33)
The Sacramento Kings have gone from looking like an awful basketball team to simply a below-average one. It's a sad state of affairs in regard to almost every facet of the team, whether it's ownership, management, the players or where the organization's future is.
27. Minnesota Timberwolves (18-30)
Fans and executives of the Minnesota Timberwolves should just chalk 2012-13 as a lost season. First, it was a matter of getting Ricky Rubio back. Now that he's back, there's no Kevin Love.
The rest of the year should be just about building momentum for next season and seeing if anything can be salvaged from Derrick Williams.
28. Phoenix Suns (17-35)
The Phoenix Suns are really struggling. When you looked at the team on paper when the season started, you wondered what the blueprint was for the team. They've got some productive players in Goran Dragic and Marcin Gortat, but as a whole, the Suns are in trouble.
29. Orlando Magic (15-36)
With a win over the Trail Blazers, the Orlando Magic ended their 12-game losing streak. Nobody expected much from this team after the Dwight Howard trade this past offseason, and the Magic's play has illustrated why. This simply isn't a good basketball team. Fans can only hope of getting a franchise player in the draft next year.
30. Charlotte Bobcats (11-39)
The Charlotte Bobcats are a mess, but of course that's become as common as the sun rising every day. The Bobcats have lost their last seven games and are 1-9 in their last 10.
Despite the Magic's struggles, there's no way Charlotte finishes anywhere but the basement.
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